New on Desk #65 — Flea Market Report

Another fairly moderate week. The most interesting bit was closing down my flea market operation. I don’t normally explain my feature images, but let’s just say that William Blake was a lovely painter, and Ghost of a Flea is a classic piece.

The story of the geek cruft salesman

Occurred in the last episode:
As the long time reader might remember, my brother’s life-long collection of geek paraphernalia dropped on my lap last summer. I took it upon myself to arrange for some medium-to-long term storage for like 20 cubic meters of geek cruft — comics, boardgames, paperback novels, movies on DVD, miniatures, rpg books and so on. Just thousands of articles altogether. And I arranged to begin to get rid of the stuff, because I mean, I don’t have that particular geek brain damage myself.

The ideal workflow in reducing the collection is to sell what can be sold, throw away what can be thrown away, and store the rest in a long-term way that allows me to forget about it. This would no doubt be simpler to perform if I didn’t have cultural inhibitions towards waste; the overall process is objectively very inefficient simply because I hesitate greatly to throw away things that I know perfectly well to be worthless, just on the off-chance that somebody else might value them.

The Covid era makes this project particularly joyful; we’ve pretty much concluded that packing a van full of geek stuff and driving to a summer convention or two wouldn’t be the worst way to go about finding new homes for all this stuff, but that’d be in a world that actually had geek conventions. Maybe in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, what I’ve been doing over the last half year is selling things off piecemeal at a flea market in Iisalmi, the “Vaahteramäen Kirpputori”. The deal is that you get a meter-long, four-shelves high unit of frontage for 14 € per week, and can arrange anything you’d like to try selling on those shelves. You price tag the items on sale yourself with bar coded price tags that streamline things at the cash register. The flea market enterpreneur manages the store, so your part is just to keep price tagging stuff and shelving it regularly so your little slice of shelf keeps being utilized efficiently.

Over the half year I got the sense that most people hold a shelf for a couple of weeks, so my project was longer-term than usual. I even ended up moving to an endcap unit after a couple of months, gaining better visibility. We had a lot of different things to sell, and only stopped the arrangement this week because the easy sales had largely been exhausted over the winter.

The How-To of second hand sales

The flea market was unfortunately only ever relevant for a minority of the geek cruft library: most of it is in English, most of it is geek hardcore stuff, which intersects poorly with the flea market audiences. Of the material that was deemed worthy of even trying to sell much was ultimately returned unsold. I would characterize the nature of the sell-through in this hobby to be skimming: you take a 500 liters of cruft to the flea market, and later return with some money and 400 liters of cruft that didn’t sell.

The one important piece of wisdom I can summarize from this experience is as follows: the overhead of price-tagging and shelving stuff is enough that it’s not worthwhile to sell items of low value and low sales intensity. Slow sellers must be priced at 10 € or more to economically justify the overhead; quick sellers, if there is such a thing, could be priced as low as 2 € per item. Every item you prepare for sale has eaten up time to evaluate, tag, carry to the flea market, shelve, and very possibly carry back unsold. Every item also eats up shelf space that you’re paying for one way or another.

If you value the idea of recycling your old stuff into new homes greatly, perhaps consider going down a bit from those numbers. The important part, though, is that much of the old stuff you’d consider for second-hand sales belongs in that sub-10 € price slow seller price category that I just defined: don’t try to sell those, it’s apparently not worth it! You will get some sales, I won’t deny that, but it’ll be too slow and random to make it worthwhile. This is the sense in which the flea market institution may be considered a scam: it’s not obvious to you as a newcomer to the scene that the vast majority of the kinds of items you consider selling at the flea market are ultimately not a good idea.

Here are the main product categories that we tried to sell, and my summary wisdom of their worth:
Music vinyls — ~4 € per disc — Low value, poor sales; check for collectibles and throw the rest out.
Music CDs — ~2 € per disc — Moves a bit better than vinyls, but individual purchase value is too low to make them worthwhile.
Books — ~2 € per book — Moves slower than music records; essentially not worth it.
Movie DVDs — ~2 € per disc — Low value and poor sales, as above. Same for tv show compilations etc.
Comic books — 2–5 € per book — Similar to above, but type matters; euro classic album stuff moves well enough to be worth it.
Video games — 5–30 € per — High value, good flow! Games for the rarest consoles and for the PC aren’t as good, but games for old consoles seem to sell surprisingly well.
Game consoles — 20–30 € per console — Old game consoles seem to move pretty well, too. And peripherals. You’re unlikely to have so many that it’d be too slow. A bit more work to package for shelving than most items, but worth it.
Anime DVDs — ~5 € per disc — The higher price makes this worthwhile, it’ll just take a while for the otaku to come by.
Board games — 10–15 € per game — I think the pricing and audience had difficulty meeting, and that made it slow; I’m apparently unwilling to let this stuff go at the price the flea market customer base expects.
Novelty trash — 1–5 € per item — Worst sales of all, maybe one in 50 items will actually move over a month.

My practical recommendations for what to sell and what not to sell at flea markets can therefore be condensed as follows:

Don’t sell novelty items or books. These items are too much trouble to process and too cheap for the demand. You’ll save yourself more work by throwing them out directly (if you can) than you make money trying to sell them. You’ll literally make more more money by sitting at a street corner and begging for the number of hours you spend tagging and shelving this stuff.

Sell media recordings judiciously. These items are only worth it if they’re good quality products from popular (evergreen) artists. It’s very easy to put too much work into media by e.g. price tagging a thousand random music CDs at 2 € a pop and then only selling the 5% with some merit to them. If you can’t distinguish the items that might sell better (as we found eurocomics and anime DVDs to do), I recommend not bothering in the first place. The thing to do is to check collector sites for prices, separate valuable individual items, and chuck the rest.

Sell relatively valuable items. We found that the only items that were indisputably worth the bother of selling were the video games and video game consoles. They retain high prices compared to other media recordings

Don’t sell actually valuable items. We generally filtered out items with actual collector value on the premise that the flea market’s not really very secure as a store; the only thing preventing people from just walking out with stuff without paying is that the items are so cheap that there’s not much temptation. The customers are also not likely to be willing to pay a lot. Ultimately the limit we settled on in the video games (which run the gamut of prices) was 30 €. I also had Tactics Ogre at 100 € in a cash register display for a couple of weeks, but didn’t manage to sell it.

Milestone conclusions on the great sell-off

At 14 € a week, I ended up paying ~450 € to the flea market for the privilege of having my stuff on sale. We tagged a bit over 1300 items for sale; the vast majority was low-priced items like various media. Total revenue from the exercise was a bit over 4k €. Aside from the flea market’s rent, the main expense was time spent and the items lost to the buyers.

Reselling personal property is non-taxable in Finland up to 5k € in annual profits, so that’s not a concern here either.

Given that I essentially evaluate most of this junk to be worthless, and the total amount of work put into the affair over the winter wasn’t more than some dozens of working hours, this was a mildly profitable exercise. However, in hindsight the vast majority of the profit came from some very narrowly defined product classes, namely video games. Aside from that general category, the good sales (clear demand, good price) were singleton items like a LP player, some classic erotica and a bunch of anime DVD boxes. The rest of the sales was a slow stream of random low-price items from various categories, moving far too slowly to justify the effort of bringing them to sale in the first place. In CDs, for example, we tagged maybe 200 and sold half of them over six months, despite having 20% of shelf space dedicated to them throughout, for a revenue of ~200 €. Maybe not even that much, I can’t be bothered to count them.

The worst part of the endeavor in the big picture is that with most of the geek library being basically unsuited to being sold at a flea market, I didn’t end up reducing the library’s space requirements that much in the end. Maybe ~500 liters in all? We did pick through the video game morass and set aside all the actual collector stuff (rare Atlus JRPGs, etc.), so that’s going to be useful when I figure out how to sell these online. Baby steps, all in all.

Now that we’ve exhausted the easy local divestation options, the next step in getting rid of the geek collection is probably going to be online sales. The monkey work involved in photographic, pricing, dealing with a web sales forum, packaging and shipping isn’t exactly something I look forward to, but realistically speaking that’s probably the only way to get rid of the really big storage items like the ten million superhero comic books and such. Aside from driving them to the landfill, of course, which would be sort of a shame to do in a world where some people still appreciate this paper print stuff.

Collector: If you’re interested in ’90s–’00s video games, American comics (mainly various TPBs and Marvel singleton issues from the ’90s), Finnish-language Marvel comics, random CCGs from the CCG craze, or paperback genre novels (scifi and fantasy), and want to pay reasonable fractions of going value + shipping (really, I’m not very greedy — just, you know, some respect here), get in touch. It’s cheaper now than whenever I get around to setting up an EBay workflow of some kind, I promise.

A Coup Update

Ten sessions have gone by since my last general update on how Coup de Main in Greyhawk is doing, so let’s review again. I do admittedly write about the game every week, but usually the focus is on single-session events, so I feel this is a good practice to keep up. For reference, here are the earlier general reviews:

The original campaign pitch
The Decaton Review
The Icosiad Celebrations
The Tritonian Review

The major campaign arcs of the Tritonian decaton were as follows:

Coup in Greyhawk:

  • A quick expedition to Castle Greyhawk penetrated the dangerous woods and set sight upon the massive ruins. Intimidated by the sight, the adventurers returned home.
  • The dwarf escort mission took the party to the far reaches of the Cairn Hills and back. An educational mid-length hex crawl journey with many twists and turns. No prize but the experience of doing it.
  • Rhett’s astral adventure was a conceptually ambitious OC astral-crawl adventure that ended relatively quickly due to bad luck. At least it didn’t wipe more than one 2nd level Cleric.
  • The cow milking quest is currently underway and involves some of the campaign’s top talent trying to reach a haunted farm house deep in the Mist Marsh so as to gather some valuable ingredients of the poisoner’s craft.

Coup in Sunndi:

  • A dangerous raid on the troglodyte warrens in the Vast Swamp nearly met with disaster due to bold counterstroke on the part of the trogs.
  • The new evil adventuring party, Beast Society, happlessly tackled God that Crawls — and survived!
  • The Habavaara ruins proved an attractive dungeoneering target for some simple, lower-tension dungeon crawling. Hopefully we’ll keep going back there in the future, too.
  • Business at the Temple of Doom is a socio-political adventure in a veritable nest of metaphorical vipers. On-going, and perhaps more of a fantastic campaign milieu (dare I say, a megadungeon-you-live-in) than an adventure.
  • Who Killed Eären-Raven? is a traditional whodunnit adventure revolving around the sudden death of an important government official. Ongoing and tense for how high the stakes are.

All in all my personal, subjective experience is that we’re deep into the meat of this kind of roleplaying game, and I’m eager to keep progressing. The scope of activity is epic, with these individual adventure arcs taking several sessions each to resolve, and strategic success often requiring patient work over dozens of sessions. Great fun, and both campaign forks have clearly been progressing over the last decaton in important ways.

One thing I notice is that if I divide scenarios based on whether they’re original material or adventure modules, the last decaton saw roughly half and half original material. That’s unusually high for me, and it does show in how little time I have to prep for the massively complex affairs like the Temple of Doom stuff. So far it’s been working fine, though.

Both campaign forks have had plenty of players participating, with typical sessions in the online branch attracting ~5 players, with one or two more in the Sunndi branch. Some players participate in both. The players have been overwhelmingly Finnish, with only the occasional foreign visitor. Overall both forks can fit in more players if necessary, but I’m feeling pretty good about the number of people participating at the moment.

A look at the campaign’s stat block:

Play Group: 2 distinct groups with ~6 alpha, ~3 regular, ~6 irregular players in total
Character Stable: 31 living PCs (up from 18)
Roll of the Dead: 11 dead PCs (up from 6)
Hirelings: 3 (Team Rocket), 1 (Sven’s batman), 1 (Vilttitossu)
Retainers: 1 (Heinähattu)
Reigning High Score: 9 289 (up from 5 402 XP), Rob Banks the Near-Mint Foil Elder Brother (Thief 5)
Runner-Up: 7 910 XP (up from 6 977 XP), Phun Eral, Junior Magister of Wee Jas (Cleric-Monk 3)
2nd Runner-Up: 2 517 (first appearance on the list), Fridswid the Elflock (Elf-Friend Hedge 2)
Honorary mention: 6 030 XP (up from 5 107 XP), Sven Torsson, Mint Reaver (Barbarian 3) — the player’s on hiatus

The campaign high score list is dominated by the elder campaign fork in Greyhawk, as one expects; the Sunndi crew’s high scorers are at 2nd level now, with ~2000 xp, so not very far from ousting Frida the teenage witch from the leaderboard. We’ve seen the base broadening some in Greyhawk, with Frida in particular making strides, but the dynamic duo of Rob and Phun remain the clear tip of the spear.

The last 10 sessions didn’t really present major XP gains for either party. The one exception was Rob, whose XP gain mostly originates in the party finally getting around to identifying a pair of valuable magical boots that, as per campaign standards, score XP. Otherwise the recent adventures haven’t been very rewarding. They have, in fact, been failures, albeit not catastrophic.

A new campaign advertisement

I had a moment today, and it seemed timely, so I created a new campaign ad for Coup. Look upon it and be amazed; I figure that creating these is helpful in communicating to the players about how cool this thing we’re doing is.

Hmm, maybe I should translate this into Finnish, switch out a few details and give some of these to the Sunndi group to distribute around. We have sufficient players now, so not really in a hurry, but maybe they’d like that.

Monday: Coup de Main #39

Last time we’d managed to drive the adventurers into a pretty dangerous, albeit somewhat rare situation: they were exposed to a great storm of near-hurricane strength. The storm rages for several days and brought with it cold rains. The surrounding terrain was a rocky and muddy plain, with a river nearby. Lots that could go wrong.

The party managed to save themselves mainly thanks to Phun’s adaptive theurgy: as a something of a ritual spellcaster Phun the Cleric managed to construct a ritual circle to cast his Protection from Elements on, thus covering the entire party and their shelter from the rain and winds. Pretty cool dude.

Idle hands are the Devil’s tools, so when the party were forced to wait out the storm, Frida the teenage witch had ample time and inspiration to create a new spell, Frida’s Camp Building Song. (Hedge mages — witches — have an inspiration-based spell research system that can sometimes put out spells pretty quickly.) When the party continued on their way after the storm, Frida had the opportunity to try out the new spell at their next camp site.

The spell, combined with a critical success in the choice of camping spot, caused a mixed blessing: a company of elves were attracted by Frida’s song and asked to share the camp with the adventurers. Being polite fellows they accepted and allowed prince Viusdul Daro to tell them about his noble quest: prince Viusdul was traveling to Castle Greyhawk, intent on consulting with the Oracle of Zagyg so as to discover where the missing elven princess Sarana had disappeared to. He was planning to rescue her, as one does.

(Sarana is, by the way, the fairy godmother of princess Rahasia, which I’m sure Finnish punsters with a penchant for old D&D can appreciate.)

There was peril to meeting with the fae, as is well known: prince Viusdul’s valiant words inspired the party and Charmed half of them to join the prince on his quest that was clearly much more important than their own. Besides, the elves were nicer and prettier, too. Frida was particularly smitten, spontaneously becoming an Elf-Friend and losing her soul to the fairies after all the hard work Phun had put into raising her into an honest and Lawful woman.

The remaining party members got some blood money — gifts, I mean — from the elves in exchange for their friends. The greater gift was a fairy dog, the lesser a bag of gold. After the forced party split we decided to keep following the original mission with Rob and Phun (actually, it was the entire rest of the party who left with the elves, so they’re a dynamic duo now), which is probably what we’ll do next time. Gotta see about that elven adventure to Castle Greyhawk at some point too, it seems like it’ll be fun times.

Session #40 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 29.6., starting around 15:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like. In honor of the Quadratic celebration, expect square-based characters and locations to be particularly potent in the session.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #14

Meanwhile, in the face to face fork, we continued with the Business at the Temple of Doom. The Beast Society had travelled through Sunndi to bring their blood libel political literature to the Temple, hopefully to be copied and distributed far and wide. The Temple is this snake pit of mainly Chaotic Evil cults and colorful cult figures, the perfect place for the Beast Society to make their mark.

The entrance to the Temple had a bit of a rough start, though, when the party had to convince Khata, the uncomfortably sexualized were-panther murder-cannibal about their prospects. The high-stakes social game started immediately, and Cultist, the PC leading the party, took out the big guns: he killed one of his party members and offered him to the cannibal cult for a feast ingredient. The party of course stayed for the feast. At least Khata didn’t suspect them of being undercover cops after that one, but it wasn’t a very nice thing to do to a fellow player character. I guess all that time we were talking about the evil brotherhood of the Beast Society was all just filthy lies. Who’d have guessed.

Sinister Thaal is, of course, based on Thaal Sinestro. I never claimed this was a highly original adventure.

At the Temple proper Cultist was locked into meeting with Sinister Thaal next, what with his deciding to call for Thaal’s protection with Khata. Thaal is pretty interesting, the grandiosely called Grandmaster of the Order of Fear, a Lawful Evil chivalric order consisting of him and like ~30 people he’s trained over the years. Cultist happens to be one of them, for all that Thaal discarded the boy after Demogorgon (Chaotic Evil demon) started whispering to him.

So Thaal’s this hard on the outside, brittle on the inside level 7 Blackguard that you probably don’t want to mess with on account of the Yellow Light he seems to serve (not like he’d fuck you up otherwise with a butter knife if he wanted to). Cultist has gotten the party into deep doodoo, as the backstory the player set up specifically has Thaal pretty miffed at Cultist; the party’s starting at attitude rating 3; barely contained hostility.

But Cultist goes aggressive again, deals with Thaal very competently, the way he should; showing no fear, claiming his place among the Order, offering Thaal the precious book the party’s been bringing, and throws a couple more of his fellow adventurers to the wolves by volunteering them to join Thaal’s chivalric order. A total sea-change in Thaal’s attitude! Cultist gets a private meeting with Thaal, who considers maybe killing the boy on account of his live-in demonic influence, but Cultist gets out of that as well.

The induction rites for the Order of Fear were fun: the two PCs got to do Ninja Warrior over a 100′ pit and then fight each other (one with a blunted blade, because fairness is for ducks) to impress the Grandmaster. Somewhat miraculously they both actually did manage to impress him, otherwise it’d just been a matter of fighting until one’s dead. Good times at the Temple of Doom.

Each of these cult leader supervillains has their own relationship rating that the party can work on, and when you get it over 6 points, they start pushing quests at you. Khata would like the party to steal an important fetish from “Grandi”, some kind of Mardi Gras undead mobster demon haunting the underside of the Temple; Sinister Thaal wants very sinisterly for the party to participate in his upcoming tournament arc. (That’s funny if you’re into shonen manga.)

The rest of the session was pretty much spent in Cultist continuing his habit of selling his party members down the river. He even got 100 xp per person he managed to drop off; it was a quest of sorts. We got to meet colorful people like Grodd (Gorilla Grod), Crowly (Scarecrow), Captain Manta (Black Manta) and so on. They even ambled back and gave one particularly besmitten PC to Khata to discipline. (He seemed enthusiastic, so maybe it’ll work out for them.)

Now that the Beast Society has entered the Temple of Doom, they’re not likely to win back their freedom for like a couple of years at the soonest. The funny thing is that the rest of the party was actually excited about Cultist “helping” them join some cults. It was all really quite amazing.

State of the Productive Facilities

Muster

15%

CWP

10%

I did write a new CWP this week, Martial Arts. Not as productive as I’d have liked, but I’m healthy and loved, so what more could you ask, really.

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