The PC’s are attempting to buy a magic item from some sort of metropolitan area. This encounter might play best shortly after a successful adventure.
While attempting to buy a magic item, an odd gentlemen steps forward and offers a similar item at a quarter of the price. The miffed shopkeeper asserts that this stranger’s counter offer is ridiculous and won’t lower her price to match it (perhaps suspecting that the PCs are attempting some kind of scam).
The stranger asserts that he’s heard of the PC’s good deeds, and thinks that’s worth a significant discount. Besides, he has no use for the item. But the item this stranger offers is cursed. It is possible the PCs will suspect something is amiss, and may even expose the stranger for what he is – an assassin. If this is the case, the encounter could easily lead to a chase or interrogation scene, played out with a skill challenge and serving as a hint to the greater goings on in your campaign’s plot. Even if the players simply ignore him, it should not be so easy to simply walk away, and a skill challenge to lose the man as he follows their every move would also lead to a tense scene and some critical thinking to escape this mysterious stalker.
The exact nature of the curse placed upon the item is up to you, and may be able to play into your story in a significant way. Below are the intended circumstances of this event –
The stranger is an assassin, sent by enemies of the PC’s to eliminate them when they are caught off guard. The item they receive unleashes an arcane explosion as soon as it is firmly in a PCs hands:
Hold Person Curse – Close Burst 3 – Creatures in Burst – Encounter Level +5 vs. Will – On Hit: Target is Stunned (save ends); Miss: Target is Dazed (save ends)
The assassin (an elite or solo humanoid lurker of a level appropriate to the players) then takes advantage of the PC’s incapacitation to strike, perhaps even signaling disguised allies nearby to assist. The players will most likely survive, but the assassin will make an attempt to flee once he is bloodied.
To make this encounter more complicated, before fleeing from (or falling to) the PCs, have the assassin thank the shopkeeper for her assistance and assure the woman that “payment will be arranged as we discussed.” This is, in fact, a lie, and the shopkeeper is completely innocent and unaware of the nefarious plot. However this might cause the PCs to compromise their good reputation by abusing an innocent bystander – a fitting vengeance for the assassin.
Possible Rewards and EXP
Plan for this Incident to become a potential combat encounter, and regardless of its resolution, grant the amount of experience appropriate for the monsters or skill challenge complexity you selected. Additionally, once the magic item’s curse has been expelled (if you are indeed using the item as a one time trap of sorts) it may be perfectly useable to the PCs (a consequence the assassin didn’t anticipate even being an option, considering his success guaranteed). Or perhaps the curse lingers but the PCs now have the chance to use or seek out a ritual to cleanse the otherwise useful item.