Welcome back. Last time we talked about challenges your players might face while on the road between adventures. This time we’re taking a look at different things that might challenge them in town.
More often than not players look at the time their characters spend in town as down-time. It’s where they go to spend their treasure, restock supplies, and maybe listen for rumors. In fact many players look at town as nothing more than the place their characters rest between adventures. This mindset makes town the perfect place to challenge characters by making them not take things for granted. Here are a few more ideas designed to make players look differently at heading back to town:
- “Adventurer Tax”: I grew up in a small resort town where every summer the prices of everything skyrocketed because it was tourist season. Borrowing from that real-world example I imagine when a settlement has adventurers roll into town, people known for blowing tons of cash and operating on a totally different economic scale, prices suddenly shoot up. Adventurers live a gold-piece lifestyle in a copper-piece world. When the heroes in my campaign start spending gold in some village it has an impact; it’s no longer 2 silver for a room and a bowl of stew, instead it’s 10 gold for three nights in a private room, three meals a deal and turn-down service. Need directions? Cost you a gold or two. Weapons and armor repaired? 50 gold. Restock rations and consumables? 25 gold. Need to use the public library? 5 gold tax. Want to speak to the village elders? 10 gold fee. Healing at the temple? 100 gold donation. You get the idea.
- Outbreak: From a simple flu to a dangerous plague, a pox-ridden settlement is not only inconvenient but may also pose a real danger to the heroes. Even if the’re not worried about contracting the disease heroes may still be forced to deal with a town where shops are closed, the inn is serving as a makeshift infirmary, and healers are preoccupied. If the disease is deadly they may also be seeing mass graves or piles of burning corpses on the edge of town. A supernatural disease may pose an even bigger challenge or may serve as the start of a new adventure. For a twist on the theme have the town in question be one the heroes are returning to after being gone for a little while. They find a disease plagued population that blames them for bringing the disease into their settlement!
- Refugees: When bad things happen in a region the local populous often flees for a safer settlement. Refugees could be crowding a town due to disease, war, famine, natural disaster, or even a supernatural disaster! The impact on a a village or town when its population suddenly swells to double its normal capacity is tremendous. There’s no place to stay, food becomes scarce, even basics like fresh water may be hard to come by. In addition to making things inconvenient for the heroes, the refugees themselves may be looking for adventurer types to help them by taking care of whatever problem forced them to flee their home in the first place.
- Military Action: Trying to get into town while it’s under siege can be a real problem; although it might be easier than getting out of a town under siege! Even if a town isn’t in direct conflict, a settlement whose kingdom is currently at war can provide a real challenge. Town guards may be heightened alert scrutinizing all that want entry. Searches at the city gates may be required. Weapons may be locked up while visiting. Curfews might be enforced. The heroes might even find themselves limited to only visiting a certain part of town. Not to mention, you can guarantee strangers won’t be allowed anywhere near important people. On the other hand, assuming the locals trust the heroes, they may try recruiting them to their cause.
- Boomtown: A settlement in the middle of a resource boom can offer all sorts of challenges. Supplies may be hard to come by or extraordinarily overpriced. Lodging might be nearly impossible to find. Tradesmen may be in such high demand that services are all but impossible to come by. On the plus side a wild boomtown can be a hotbed of rumors and information and jobs may be easy to find. Those cashing in on the boom may be looking to hire guards and mercenaries to protect their new wealth from bandits and such. Characters with more larcenous intentions might find the people of a boomtown easy marks. No matter how you approach it the boomtown can be an adventure all itself.
- Better Days: Pretty much the opposite of Boomtown. Whatever once drew people here is long gone. Buildings lie abandoned, the local temple unused, and fields are left to overgrow. In a town like this a desperate population might offer very reasonable prices but there isn’t much left to spend the coin on. Most of the smiths and craftsmen have moved on and basic supplies are hard to come by, on the other hand there are plenty of rooms available and labor is cheap and plentiful. Depending on the reason for the settlement’s downturn there may also be plenty of opportunities for adventure.
- The Law: Let’s face it; adventurers are not conducive to a peaceful and orderly settlement. Even the best of heroes seems to have a hard time avoiding barroom brawls and other forms of disorderly conduct. Even if the heroes are fairly well behaved it seems like their enemies are always looking for them and are out for revenge. Not only that but let’s not forget the possibility of corrupt guards. Town watchmen can cause no end of difficulties for the heroes, especially if the locals support the guards (or at least don’t want to cross them).
- Celebration: If you’ve ever been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras or Daytona during spring break, you have some idea of how crazy a place can be during a celebration. Whether a small local event or a major empire-wide holiday, a town full of celebrants can make visiting difficult. Don’t forget to consider the nature of the event, a festival celebrating mid-summer may be very different than one honoring the memory of a beloved ruler.
Not only can any of these challenge the players in a way they’re not expecting, but they’re also great ways to continually build campaign verisimilitude by showcasing towns as having their own life and existence independent of the heroes’ adventures.
When I GM I like to show the players aspects of the world that are not focused on the heroes, their actions, or the plot lines they interact with. I like to immerse them in the campaign setting’s history, cultures, and events without resorting to long-winded narrative. In essence, I like to show, not tell. The kinds of challenging circumstances I’ve talked about go along way to breathing life and realism into your campaign world and make for a setting your players aren’t soon to forget.