“Do not raise your voice on Starling Thursday, Imp, or I’ll have your mouth sewn shut.”
“But master, the Noxious Underwizard Archwell is at the door. He’s located a specimen of the rare paradise stirge and wishes to sell it!”
“Paradise Stirge! At last! At last my collection is complete! Bring him in immediately, whilst I open my chest of platinum!”
Obsession is a wonderful thing in roleplaying games, and few are as obsessive as true collectors. Collectors can give you so many options in your game: the helpfully obsessed collector who pays over the odds for rare goods, the demented madman who kidnaps and takes whenever he can, the curious expert who has a benevolent role to play in an adventure. These NPCs and their collections stand out from standard nonplayer characters, and the obsession they have can be used to make them seem real, mad, or sad.
Here are twelve such collectors for you to use in your adventures, some have obvious motives, others less so. They are, as always, given to you to use as you wish, perhaps to inspire other NPCs or plots, or maybe to use as permanent NPC friends who are always interested in what the PCs have to sell. One use you could put them to in particular is the lure: an NPC who pays the greatest prices, perhaps through an intermediary at first, but then slowly establishing a relationship with the PCs; a relationship that slowly but surely corrodes as the NPC’s true motives become apparent.
1. Dorcas Threb, the Thing about Finger-Bones…
The oddness starts at his front door, which has a knocker made of finger-bones jointed on wire. In the lobby, a spiral stair made of giant finger-bones rises to his attic—the spiral stair is Threb’s pride and joy. He made it himself over the course of eleven summers after collecting enough giant finger-bones to realize one of his many ambitions.
The strangeness continues in the other rooms; he’s made cup-handles from finger-bones fused by magic, pokes his fire with a poker made of the finger-bones of a bone devil, and reads his books or makes more objects beneath a chandelier made of the finger-bones of sahuagin.
Threb is curiously handsome but has an odd air. He glances over people’s shoulders, examines their fingers with admiration, and asks if—perhaps—they would donate a hand to his collection after their death.
2. Havanri Habb, the Butterfly Collector
Habb’s home is a narrow (some would say claustrophobic) tower by the banks of a river. The tower is built upon four levels, with a tiled rooftop. Within, Habb has been taken over by his collection of butterflies and moths. Every inch of space is some form of display cabinet or display drawer; level after level of cases, some deep, some tiny, some gilded, some plain.
Habb couldn’t properly tell you exactly how many butterflies he has, since it changes almost daily, but, at the last great audit he held, it was 11,208. He has developed a bookish demeanour, and his thin hair is swept comically over his pate. He has a weatherworn look about him.
His collection contains some huge specimens, including the rare goliath moth, the great evening paradise butterfly, and the huge batmoth of the jungle. His collection is crowned by two exhibits: a vermilion gloomwing and a mothman pickled in brine and vinegar.
3. Janwen and His Knives
It’s true Janwen is a butcher, so that’s where he may have got the fascination, but now it’s gone beyond a joke. His wife left him just over a year ago, taking their baby with her and claiming Janwen was barking mad. He has a thing about knives, you see. More than a thing actually—it’s a consuming passion or even a need. There are curved knives, short knives, long knives, heavy knives, long pointy knives, serrated knives, pocket knives, giant knives, obscure strange-handled knives, knives with filigree work, knives with names carved on them, knives with scrimshaw handles, knives with pearl handles, knives without handles, and broken knives that need fixing.
Janwen spends his idle hours sharpening his collection, using a variety of techniques, whetstones, and knife-sharpening machines. He’s always looking for the perfect knife for his collection, and he becomes greatly agitated if someone shows him a knife that is lovely, but then tells him he can’t have it.
He’s as close to the edge as he can get, and one day soon he’ll snap and put his knives to better uses than displaying.
4. Marquis Elman, the Tormentor of Lycanthropes
He had to kill his son after the werewolf bit him. They were far away from help—on a great exploration of the peaks—when he contracted lycanthropy. Killed him with his own hands, using a silver blade he always carried for luck.
Since that day Elman has become obsessed. If only he had a cure—if only he could cure all lycanthropy. He studied, he learned, and he became obsessed with his enemy: the disease, the terrible wicked disease. Now Elman works on subjects, tries out methods and techniques, cures and preparations, in an attempt to cleanse them of the sickness.
The marquis has taken a residence far from prying neighbors: a secluded old church he now uses as his laboratory. And within, he collects specimens of sickness—wererats and werewolves, werebears and wereboars, anything that is afflicted. He pays handsomely for live subjects, but does not want any questions asked. He has plenty of ready cash from his title and estate, and a small group of trustworthy souls has let it be known that the marquis is engaged in vital studies to advance the art of physicians everywhere. He pays 500 gp per Hit Dice for live lycanthropes, double that for rarer subjects. But once paid, he wants no one to learn of his collection nor interfere in the great work ahead.
5. Moinman’s Silent Menagerie
Stuffed animals of all sizes stare from the chambers of Moinman’s crooked townhouse at the end of a curious street in the city. His fascination began when he was a child and saw a stitched and fake mermaid in a museum in his home city. He stole the object, and that began his collection. Some find the curiously tall Moinman unsettling, there is a little sadness in his eyes, and the stories about him singing hymns to his animals at night just refuse to go away.
He pays handsomely, however, for the unblemished new curio, the strange beast, and the oddest aberration. His collection has grown large, and he’s recently bought the house next door to house more of his exhibits, including a huge number of stuffed swans and birds of paradise he purchased recently.
6. Necrus Twill, the Spider Collector
Twill has to live just outside of town now; his exhibits kept on escaping, and one day a child was taken. They said Twill’s Tarantulus Gargantua did it, but never proved it. Twill was very careful to hide the evidence, but after it had a taste, and he saw the effect it had upon the spider’s size, he knew he must keep feeding it such prime meat.
Twill, a nervous slight man, keeps himself to himself and makes light of the thousands of spiders he keeps in his claustrophobically hot chambers. If visitors get too pushy, he shows them the Great Jungle Dog-Eating Spider, the deadly Widow’s Cause, or the revolting webs of the great Cluster Swarm Spiders, who allegedly eat horses.
Because, in truth, Twill just wants to be left alone to see what effect the feeding of fresh flesh has upon his Gargantua Spider.