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The Essence of Small Towns in Dungeons and Dragons

A small town differs from a village not only in size, but also in feel and scope. Whereas a village will have but a few houses and perhaps an inn or one shop or irregular market, a small town will have greater organization.
Some of the houses will at least look permanent. There will probably be at least three or four places of business. Some degree of trade will have been established with both larger and smaller towns, cities and villages in the area.

For the designer this means a couple of things. First it means that there will be more NPC’s. This also means that the players will have more options. There will also be more buildings. This could mean that you have to go through a ton more work than you would in order to design a village, but in truth you don’t have to do that much more work.

In order to avoid going through a lot of work that is never used, plan the approach and exit of the PC’s. Are they going to be doing a lot of clue hunting or adventuring in the town? If not, why not? What is going to motivate them to move on? If they are going to stay, why? Where will the action take place?

If there are three inns or taverns in the town, most likely they will choose only one to deal with. They may make superficial inquiries to all three, but will probably settle on one as the primary base of operations in that town. I suggest making one grid of the inn. Make it complete, but don’t put any names on it. Whatever inn they happen to choose gets to be that inn.

The same principle would hold true for any guilds, major houses or other places of interest. There may be multiple, but the adventure will only happen in one of them.

This simplicity can be assured by providing little of interest in the other options. If there are no NPC’s, no treasures, no clues and so forth the players will tire and move on to the interesting bits. Make sure that the interesting stuff really is interesting and as fully developed as you can make it so that the players enjoy it.
Another part of capturing the essence of a town is giving it a purpose and a feel to it that fit well with your campaign. The predominant race will give clues about what is readily available and what is scarce or entirely unavailable. The age of the town will help determine the types of buildings, the level of influence that different people have in the community, and the sources of income. Capturing this flavor can go a long way towards convincing the players that it is worth their while to stop and explore.

Like any other aspect of campaign building, making a town should be fun!


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