GM’s Advice: 5 Different Places to Hold a Market

The traditional view of a marketplace is a large open space filled with tents and stalls. Such a location is a staple of almost every fantasy town or city. And there’s nothing wrong with that…


Except, it’s a little bit boring. It’s standard—what’s expected. Adventurers often spend a lot of times in markets replenishing their supplies, selling the proceeds of their most recent quest and so on.

To breathe character into your town or city, consider placing a market in one of the following atypical places.

  • On the Docks: In this aquatic scenario, traders sail (or row) to the marketplace. They moor on the docks and display their wares on the decks of their vessels. A market of this sort enables traders to travel much further to show off their produce. Those visiting the market can do so on foot or if they wish to dodge the congested gangways they can hire (or use) their own waterborne transport.
  • On a Bridge: Bridges are excellent spots for small markets. Travellers must pass every stall, making it easier for the traders to hawk their wares. After all, many medieval bridges had buildings on them—built out over the water! Traders with stalls on bridges could even trade with vessels passing under the bridge, perhaps using baskets on ropes to lower goods to their customers.
  • In a Church: Often, churches are some of the largest buildings in a town or city. If the deity has trade or industry in its portfolio it makes perfect sense for the clergy to host a market. The market might not be daily, but it could be weekly—in fact depending on the faith’s exact beliefs running a market could in itself be a form of veneration. A market in a church is unaffected by weather and—of course—the clergy of the faith would guarantee the safety of the traders and their customers. Under the watchful eyes of the clergy, petty crime might also be much reduced making it a safe place to trade or visit.
  • In a Ruin: Large ruins make a perfect venue for a market. Such unused places offer more safety and shelter than that offered by the town square. Assuming such a place has an obvious entrance, it means those putting on the market can charge an entry fee for the traders and/or their customers. Such locales are often safer than a normal market square as thieves don’t like a restricted number of escape route.
  • Underground: Some markets might be literally underground. Of course, the most likely market of this ilk is one that deals primarily in illicit or stolen goods. Other markets may be underground because the traders prefer the darkness—think a dwarven hold trading with the humans in the city above. Also, simply, there may be no space in the city above big enough to hold the market.

Remember when designing your market that some markets can be specialised while others are more generalised. For example:

  • A market set underground might deal only or primarily with the fruits of the Ebon Realm.
  • A market set in a church may deal with items of religious interest such as holy relics, blessed water and so on.
  • A market set on a dock may deal with the fruits of the sea—fresh fish, crabs and so on—as well as acting as a place for petty merchants to buy direct from the merchants importing goods to the town.

What Do You Think?

Have you placed a market in your campaign in a similarly odd or unique location? Let me know where, in the comments below!

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

5 thoughts on “GM’s Advice: 5 Different Places to Hold a Market”

  1. In Nairobi I saw people that use traffic jams as a marketplace. They would walk along traffic selling fruit and other goods to people suck waiting. If a town has large crowds waiting to get through the gates, you could have merchants take advantage of this situation in the same way.

  2. How about on a ship anchored offshore, where only those who have connections or pay the entrance fee can shop? or at a crossroads?

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