What is the Town’s Attitude?

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 20, 2013

Kelmarsh medieval villageA lot of D&D adventures begin with the PCs arriving in town. In most cases it’s someplace the PCs have never been before so everything is new – the people, the locale, and the problems. This is just a natural part of the adventurer’s life; going from place to place, getting in adventures and helping people along the way.

I’ll admit that I’ve run many adventures that start just like this. It’s not a bad thing, but it is a bit boring. The longer you play D&D the more often this will happen and the more trivial each town will seem as you continue on your quest for adventure.

After playing through this scenario for the umpteenth time during last week’s D&D Encounters introduction it occurred to me that a clever DM can turn this traditionally boring introduction into something a lot more interesting by adding one little detail – the town’s attitude towards strangers.

The town’s attitude is a reflection of the people who reside there. It may not be exactly the same view held by every single person, but in small communities it’s safe to say that the majority will all share a common view. If the DM decides what that view is before the PCs arrive in town, it can make for a very different experience. Here are a few examples.

1) Bringers of Doom

Strangers are trouble; adventurer’s doubly so. Wherever they go, trouble follows them. They are beacons of disaster. The town projects tremendous hostility and disrespect towards the PCs. The locals may not be bad people, but they’ve learned the hard way that even adventurers with the best of intentions still end up bringing doom be it in the form of a monster attack or a massive town fire. The only time the locals smile is when the PCs are leaving.

2) Messengers of Hope

Regardless of whom the PCs are and why they’ve come to town, the locals see them as saviours. These heroes will resolve all of the town’s problems and hardships, even if it doesn’t seem plausible. It might be something simple like stopping the bandits who are troubling the town or it might be something as difficult as making it rain. No matter how carefully the PCs position themselves and try to temper expectations, the locals all but revere them as deities.

3) Customers Welcome

It doesn’t matter who the PCs are or why they’re here, as long as they’ve got coins to spend they are welcome. Adventurers always need a place to sleep, food to eat, ale to drink, and equipment to be replaced – all of which come at a price. If the town is prosperous enough to have an alchemist or an enchanter then the PCs may even look to acquire potions or magical items. Since money attracts thieves and bandits, the town is likely walled, and getting in requires the PCs pay a toll. When the PCs run out of coins the town’s attitude changes sharply and the PCs are strongly motivated to get out (until they have more coins to spend).

4) Strangers Are Bad

Do you know why you haven’t seen another town in days or weeks? Because these people wanted to be left alone. They chose to live someplace isolated and value their privacy. They don’t know you and they don’t want to know you. In their eyes strangers are not to be trusted; in fact when it comes to strangers the locals believe a healthy does of fear is a good thing. They may be convinced to let the PCs enter their community, maybe even stay the night and resupply, but there’s almost no chance that the PCs will be allowed to stay a second night.

5) Labourers

Why should the locals do the dangerous jobs themselves when a strapping young adventurer will be along any day now to do it for them? PCs always seem to be looking for work; some way to make a quick buck. The people in this town have learned to exploit this trait by getting adventurers to do all the things they don’t want to do. This could range from the tedious jobs like re-shingling a roof, to the danger jobs like slaying a nasty Ogre that raids the village every spring. The locals know that PCs will need food, shelter and supplies and have learned to take full advantage of those needs. In this community currency is not as valuable as favours.

These are just a few examples, and the more extreme ones at that. It’s up to you to decide what the town’s attitude towards PCs is going to be and then how that attitude will work itself into the adventure. The next time your adventure has the PCs arriving in a new town give the town an attitude (good or bad). I guarantee that it will be a memorable experience for your players and it may give you a new focal point for future adventures instead of just saying that they are visiting another nameless, meaningless, throwaway town.

Have you ever given your town an attitude? How did it work out? Did the PCs even realize that you’d added this little detail? Do you think this is something you’re likely to do in your upcoming adventures? What other town attitudes can you think of?

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1 Joe Lastowski February 20, 2013 at 12:12 pm

There was a fantastic Bringers of Doom/Strangers Are Bad adventure published a few months ago in Dungeon (#205, “Infernal Wrath” by Logan Bonner). I love towns with over-arching fears/prejudices.

I find that local politics can also be enough to make a town unique. PCs will remember that town where the slavers and the abolitionists were fighting, or where the dwarven brewmasters & elven winemakers competed vehemently for business, or where the mayor was a corrupt crimelord and the young idealist was trying to win an election against impossible odds.

One thing I liked about the current season of Encounters is that they made a big deal about the animosity between the two religious philosophies: old nature & new laws. I highlighted that when I ran it, so that folks knew that there was definite bad blood between the temple of the lawbringer and the druid grove (to the point where the PCs tried to bring the injured lawbringer paladin Sir Moonbrook to the druid, and she wouldn’t treat him, saying that “his people” would probably be better suited to help him). Little prejudices can often lead to big roleplaying, which is sort of the point of towns anyway.

2 Shawn February 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I thought about this concept a great deal while working on the Encounters season. With the goals of melding together three classic adventures, I had to take into account what the towns meant for each adventure. In Keep on the Borderlands, the Keep was the town, and while it played a small role in the “plot” of the adventure, the main part of the adventure was meant to happen elsewhere. The Village of Hommlet did assume that some parts of the adventure would be played within the town, and there were some great interactions to be had with the NPCs there, but again the main part of the adventure was meant to be played elsewhere. Against the Cult of the Reptile God turned the typical adventure up to that point on its ear a bit by making the happenings in the town a significant portion of the adventure. That’s why Orlane will always be one of my favorite D&D towns: it through out the notion that adventures happened in dungeons and the town was pretty much safe.

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