Playing an RPG about being a shopkeeper in an RPG

I’ve been eager to play Shoppe Keep since I first heard about it roughly ten minutes ago (though it arrived on Steam Early Access back in August). You know how in RPGs like Skyrim you’ll routinely visit a shop, rifle through their overpriced wares, buy a couple things, then rush back out to raid a few hundred more dungeons? In Shoppe Keep you’re the guy behind the counter. No adventures, no raids, no dragon slaying. You just set up your store, order stock, deal with customers, and sweep up the dirt the real heroes track all over your floors. As someone who has spent a great deal of time pretending to be an NPC in RPGs, this is relevant to my interests.

I begin the game with only a few pieces of gold, having no doubt spent my life savings on the lease to my new, empty shop. Still, I have enough to place a few display pedestals, and I order the only items I can afford: health potions. I’d really like to set up a counter to stand behind, but the game tells me I haven’t unlocked it yet. This feels like a bummer. A counter is what makes a shop feel like a shop! What else am I supposed to rest my elbows on when people come in to buy things?

With just three potions for sale, I open my doors on day one and wait, my broom eagerly at the ready. As morning light spills over the town, I see a few adventurers strolling through the streets, but none come into my shop. Buy something, will ya? They won’t. Damn adventurers. They’re probably crafting their own artisinal health potions from the weeds and shrooms they pick while dashing from crypt to crypt. I know how they operate.

Finally, someone actually strolls in, walks up to my pitiful display tables, and buys a potion. «I am as well as can be,» he says as he wanders back out the door and 10 gold coins appear in my wallet. I’m happy to have a sale but I’m a little disappointed at the transaction itself. Shouldn’t I get to force an irritating bit of chit-chat upon him first? Something like, «Looking for potions? I’ve got the finest selection in all the land. Curatives, poisons… just about anything an adventurer needs.» And they have to stand there hammering their space bar impatiently to get me to shut up. And only then can they browse my inventory.

Oh well! I’ve made a sale, that’s what’s important, and two more follow, at which point I realize I’ve been selling my potions wholesale. I bought them for 10 and I’m selling them for 10. I’m treating my customers like they’ve maxed out their barter skills, having forgotten the advice of shrewd businessman Proposition Joe: buy for a dollar, sell for two. I pull out my clipboard, order three more potions, and when they arrive I jack up the price to 15 gold.

They sell out quickly. «Shopping Shopping ohhh shopping» one adventurer murmurs in a speech bubble as he walks out with his purchase. «I am so well!» declares another, leaving with her potion. Not the snappiest patter I’ve ever heard, but heroes tend to take a lot of severe blows to the head. I order a frost resistance potion to expand my selection. I’m starting to feel like I have a real potion shop!

Not all my customers are thrilled, however. Occasionally someone will walk in, examine my selection, and knock one of my potions to the floor, forcing me to scurry over, pick it up, and place it back on the pedestal. It’s annoying, but look, I get it. How many tables have I run around on in Oblivion, knocking goblets and plates and food to the floor? I’ve reveled in my wanton increase of entropy in game worlds. This is just karma.

There are worse offenses, however. In the afternoon, an adventurer walks in, strolls around, then abruptly bolts for the door clutching one of my health potions.

My first thief! Ooh, I’m so excited. Thieves are a rite of passage for any up-and-coming potion-slinger, and this one didn’t even crouch or wait until my back was turned. Plus, we all know the price of swiping a common item worth a few pieces of gold: a brutal and merciless death. Since there are no city guards to overreact on my behalf, I ready my sword and an electric bolt spell and chase the adventurer through the streets. I stab her in the back and she drops. While trying to pick up the stolen potion, I accidentally swing my sword again, cutting down an innocent bystander. Whoops!

Passersby react in the common, big city fashion: strolling past as if seeing two people casually murdered is no biggie. One even walks directly into one of the bodies, absentmindedly kicking it as he strides past, which gives me an idea. I kick the two bodies back down the street and into my store. Maybe they’ll serve as a warning to future shoplifters.

The day comes to an end, my doors close, and I prepare for day two. I buy another pedestal plus a table for larger items. With my profits, I’m thinking about expanding to armor sales, so I order some boots and gloves. I also rummage through the trash bin outside, and find that someone has discarded an expensive golden throwing star. I grab it and put it up for sale. With leather gloves, potions, and ranged weapons, I guess I’ve become a general store.

As the next day passes I sell out quickly, with the exception of the throwing stars. I kill a few more thieves, kicking their bodies back into my store to serve as grim decorations. I use my broom to sweep up all the mud the locals track in. I even level myself up as a merchant, giving myself a bonus that will make customers forgive some of my price-jacking (which has now climbed to double what I order my goods for).

It’s another record-breaking day in terms of profits, which isn’t difficult to achieve since it’s only my second day. But still! I’m doing well. I close up, buy more tables and pedestals, and do some repair work on my original furnishings—they degrade over time—by bashing them with an enormous hammer. And, while potions sell well, they’re not hugely profitable, so I’m only buying leather boots and gloves, wooden shields, and swords. I’ve evolved into a weapon and armor shop! I peer out my window at night, wondering if I’ll see an adventurer, his eyes glazed over, standing motionless in front of my door until morning comes, but no one is out there. Huh. Guess they haven’t figured out how to use the ‘wait’ function.

The next day, growing tired of disrespectful shoppers knocking over my merchandise, I use my electric bolt spell to reduce one to a skeleton. It’s harsh, I know: as an NPC I should really be tolerant of heroes knocking items off shelves, but now that my shop has grown I’m spending almost all of my time picking up and putting back swag, and it’s getting annoying. On the plus side, the skeleton falls in such a way that it looks like he was attempting to steal something. I can live with that, even if he can’t.

Business is booming. I’m selling out and replacing inventory several times a day, though I do feel like something is missing. None of these so-called adventurers are coming in to sell me goods of their own. Isn’t that mainly the point of a store in an RPG, not to buy stuff but to unload all the collected crap heroes loot out in the world? Where are the bloodstained dungeon crawlers looking to sell eight rusty daggers, 14 leather bracers, rolls of blank parchment, several pounds of uncooked venison, and handful after handful of dirty forks and four-page novels and roughspun tunics? I feel like I’m missing the other half of the experience.

The next day my shop is crowded with customers, and I’m swamped with sweeping, reorders, and replacing items people have knocked over. Just as I’ve gotten everything replaced and straightened up I see yet another inconsiderate goon become unhappy with my prices. He grabs a shield off a table and flings it into the air. It hits the ceiling and flops to the floor. Something about seeing the shield actually hit the roof causes me to hit the roof. I kill the customer on the spot. Then I completely snap and kill everyone else in the store. It’s not a good day!

As much as I thought I’d make the perfect NPC shopkeeper, I guess there’s just a little too much barbarian in me. Or perhaps I’m just following the example of the shopkeeper from Spelunky. I had a good time playing Shoppe Keep, though! It’s cute, though I’m hoping more items, options, and shopkeeper skills to be added. Shop Keepe is available on Steam Early Access.