The Genesis of the Idea
In the same way that How to Succeed in Evil riffs on the superhero genre, the Merchant Adventurer riffs on fantasy. While working on Wasteland 2 I did a lot of thinking about storytelling in cRPGs. I was somewhat surprised to find that I had a deep knowledge about the genre. From Wizardry, Nethack, Ultima, Elder Scrolls, I’ve played them all. And, in my youth, I closed out the fantasy genre in both my local bookstore and library.
As I was writing dialog for many of the NPCs in WL2, I had this thought: What must a cRPG look like from the point of view of the guy who runs the shop?
For me, the archetypal shopkeeper is Boltac, the merchant in the first Wizardry. Boltac’s was the only place you could buy, sell or get things identified. He had no personality in the game, but he was absolutely ruthless with his pricing. Perfect arbitrage meant that you got no value from looting the dungeon. He charged exactly what something was worth to identify it! You couldn’t win with this guy.
So from Boltac’s perspective, all these half-assed adventurers come through, try to nickel and dime him, and then go off to defeat the Evil Wizard. And none of them succeed. And most of them get killed. In short, the Heroes are incompetent. “Yeah, yeah, kid, here’s your sword. Good luck, whattya want on your tombstone?”
So my question became, under what circumstances does the Merchant take matters into his own hands and save the day? How do you get that character off the sidelines and into the action? And further, how could the Merchant actually win?
The result is the kind of book Terry Pratchett might have written if he grew up in Brooklyn.