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by Mike on 13 November 2023
When the characters reach a town or other large settlement, the pacing of our D&D game changes — and not always in a good direction. Towns are tricky environments to run. They have a wide range of locations, oodles of NPCs, and often too many options for things to do.
"You enter the village of Redtower. What do you want to do?" can be a game-killing introduction.
So how do we ensure when the characters reach a town, it's as interesting as the rest of our game? Let's take a look.
What makes this town unique or interesting? What noteworthy feature grabs the characters' attention when they enter the town? What famous or infamous landmark lies near the town? Add at least one of these fantastic features and probably no more than three – enough to define the town in the eyes of the characters and your players.
Here are ten examples of notable features:
You can find more fantastic features, and generate your own, using the "Random Monuments" table on page 12 of the Lazy DM's Workbook or the "Core Adventure Generators" tables on page 6 of the Lazy DM's Companion.
When the characters enter the town, it works best if they get involved in something right away. Try launching into a situation just as they walk into town. Such situations help define the town and offer interesting choices. Here are ten examples of situations the characters may encounter in town:
Come up with your own list of potential encounters as the characters first travel into the town. You don't need one every time they return but something to set the stage always helps. The "Framing Events" table in chapter 3 of the Dungeon Master's Guide is a great go-to, as are the "Random Town Events" table on page 15 of the Lazy DM's Workbook and the "Settlement Events" on page 37 of the Lazy DM's Companion.
When the characters come to town, they might have twelve to twenty options or more. Do they go to the inn? Visit the blacksmith? Talk to the local mining guild? The decisions can be paralyzing. Instead of building a huge town and offering the whole thing to the characters we can start with the characters and build the town around them. What sorts of locations would they be interested in? Here are ten examples:
These locations of interest are based on classes but you can do the same thing with races or backgrounds. Perhaps the mushroomfolk character finds a local compost heap where others of their kind hang out, enjoy the meal, and share rumors. Perhaps the clockwork character is interested in the local Temple of Rava — deity of the clockwork folk.
When you're preparing to introduce your town, write down locations you think may directly interest the characters based on their class, race, background or interests.
It's hard to think of a town as another location of adventure but that's what we're trying to do. Instead of running a town with an open end of possible directions and decisions, focus your town to make it an interesting place to run a session.
By giving the characters interesting things to see, interesting places to go, and interesting things to do, a town can be as exciting as any other location they visit in their games.
This week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on RPG Adventure Pitfalls – What are GMs Doing Wrong? and Gelatinous Cubes! – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 10 Lazy GM Prep.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:
Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:
Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's tips:
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