Last Sunday, the world of gaming lost one of the best and brightest of its unsung heroes. Jason had a quirky sense of humor, a powerful sense of justice, and one of those minds that was always grinding away in a creative frenzy. Among the many hats he wore, Jason was a friend, a husband, a father, a writer, an actor, a cunning wit, a model, a gardener, and a cook. The worlds he would create effortlessly always brought you right into the flow of things. We at Multiverse wish he could have stayed with us at the table a little longer, and shared a little more of his imagination and sense of wonder with us.
– Michael R. Smith
What you are about to read is an article from issue #6 of Gygax magazine. Jason would have continued to write and collaborate with TSR Games had the universe have different plans for him. We have posted this article as a tribute to someone that will be missed in the gaming community.
Last-Minute Locations: Fantasy Villages
Ten fantasy villages with their own plot hooks
By Jason Sinclair
Being the Dungeon Master is a tough gig. You create a campaign world for your players (or at least borrow one), populate it with hundreds of interesting non-player characters (NPCs), and cook up labyrinthine plots for them to unravel. But no matter what you do, the player characters (PCs) always want to go to the one place you didn’t have time to flesh out.
For example, consider the humble yet bucolic village. Home to farmers, innkeepers and various agrarian folk, it is a place where most adventures (and adventurers) seem to begin – yet often they’re simply unnamed dots on a map. But fear not! Should your PCs stray off your well-planned path or need to swing by the nearest village for resupply, here’s a handy list of ten villages they could visit and some idea hooks to go with them. Just pick one that works for your campaign or roll a d10 if you’re feeling intrepid. If you need a name for your village, look to the sidebar for an easy naming table…
- This village isn’t known for anything in particular other than a fine cider they make from their apple orchards. However, if the PCs ever visit they will learn about Jasper Glunk, a peculiar old hermit reputed to be crazy as a frog in a sock. Through chance encounter the PCs will meet Jasper, who will waste no time in warning them about the “Watcher in the Woods.” Jasper’s hazy on the details (or proof), but he seems convinced there’s some kind of malevolent force keeping tabs on the village – as to why, none can say.
- The Watcher is a hoax. Searchers find only trees, rocks and startled wildlife. It’s not a total loss, however, as the PCs find several spell components and a large clump of tasty blackberries.
- Jasper’s Watchers turn out to be a bandit camp with 1d10 low-level bandits and a higher level commander, all working out of a well-concealed cave. Their camp is relatively new, so they haven’t collected much in the way of treasure.
- The Watchers turn out to be a small group of goblins who were sent to keep an eye on the village by their chieftain in the next valley over. However, the goblins aren’t the aggressors – in fact, they’re terrified of the villagers. Something is seriously wrong with the village and the goblins need the PCs help.
- Through blind luck, the PCs discover the Watchers by finding their camouflaged, self-contained research station. The Watchers are beings from another world, having travelled to the campaign world through a variety of means (dimensional gates, spacecraft, magical ships, celestial dragons, whatever). The Watchers might be hostile and planning to invade, or they might be welcoming and allow the PCs to travel to new worlds with them…
- The rolling fields surrounding this village helps it raise some of the finest horses in the kingdom. Any PC in need of an excellent steed should look no further. Furthermore, the village hosts a yearly horse race, a cross-country run that draws huge crowds (and much betting). Those who win the race are allowed to ask a boon of the local powers that be, such as a ruling by a lord regarding land division, the resurrection of a loved one, or borrowing a division of soldiers to fight off a horde of orcs…
- The PCs attend the annual horse race, whereupon they are hired by Sir Angus Mantlemont to protect the horse he’s entering in the race. Obviously, somebody doesn’t want the Mantlemont to win, so the PCs have to deal with a variety of attacks on the horse, and the jockey. Who is behind the attacks? A local crime boss? A rival knight? Mantlemont’s son, who wants his own horse to win?
- Alternatively, the PCs might be hired to take out the competition. They could be paid in gold or promises of items or information that would help them with a different quest. Note that the authorities would frown upon this should the PCs be caught.
- Perhaps the PCs need the boon for themselves. It’s up to them to find a steed and a patron, enter the race, protect themselves from rivals and then ride at a breakneck pace across grueling terrain. To make matters worse, the other riders and their patrons aren’t the only things to worry about out there. Perhaps some monsters have blundered onto the path, drawn by the enticing smell of horseflesh. Or there’s a group of angry elves blocking the way. Or possibly the PC rider simply gets lost…
- Another possibility is that once every ten years the race is for anything except a horse. Monsters, giant sheep, mechanical devices – it’s all fair as long as it involves a rider and something ridden (that doesn’t fly). The PCs might need to be incredibly creative, or they could be hired to ride a dinosaur or test out a velocipede.
- The PCs don’t care one whit about the race and they’re only in town to buy a few nice horses. However, the horse they buy turns out to be stolen and the previous owners come looking for it. Or perhaps the horse they buy isn’t really a horse after all, but a person cursed to take the form of a horse. Can the PCs undo the curse and free them? If they do, is the person a noble hero or a villain?
- If the PCs ask about this village, they’re told it’s a pleasant if unremarkable mining community — but nobody seems to have heard from any of the residents in quite a while. If the players investigate (or stumble upon) the village, they discover that it is completely abandoned. Looking for clues, the PCs find meals half-eaten, washed clothes partially hung up to dry and even iron in the smith’s now cold forge, as if all the residents and livestock simply vanished.
- The residents are all nearby in the mine, hiding from some intelligent monsters that recently arrived in the area. The villagers are safe for now, but they’re low on food and the monsters are still out there.
- The residents are still in the village, except now they’ve all be transformed into inanimate objects thanks to a curse sprung by an idiot staying at the inn. The fellow in question is a man of great martial skill but scant wit, one who was hired to transport a package to a powerful mage in the next kingdom. Though he had been warned not to open the box, curiosity and a bottle of wine got the better of him and he peeked inside (the PCs are in no danger of being transformed as the magic has been spent). Instructions and papers found in the man’s effects can help the PCs piece together what happened and possibly unravel the curse. Alternatively, the PCs might have to trek to the mage who hired him and explain what happened – which could lead to more adventures.
- The residents are part of a doomsday cult that worships an unnamed, sanity-shattering god. The stars have aligned, the comet is in the sky, the cicadas have hatched – whatever sign the cult needed has appeared to let them know it’s time to open the gate they have constructed in the lower parts of the mine. The PCs might figure out what is happening by reading a diary found in a house or by finding a half-crazed resident who’s had second thoughts and is hiding from the others in a chicken hutch. If the PCs act quickly, they could interrupt the ritual and stop the gate from opening.
- This village is known for the artisans who live there and the fine goods they produce. There are famers and innkeepers of course, but the real economic draw are the artists themselves. Perhaps they carve wood, assemble musical instruments, or forge fine weapons – whatever the PCs fancy. The village itself is prosperous and peaceful enough, but it’s also something of an armed camp as the merchants who sell the goods the villagers produce have hired mercenaries to protect their investment.
- The PCs need to know who purchased a unique item that bears the stamp of its maker, one of the village artisans. Perhaps the item is a clue in an assassination attempt or was part of a bribe to a corrupt official. When the PCs get to the village, maybe the artisan doesn’t like to divulge information about her clientele, or maybe the original owner has caught wind of the PCs plans and has silenced the artisan permanently (and possibly frames the PCs).
- The PCs are looking to buy some goodies for themselves. However, the grumpy dwarf blacksmith doesn’t think the PCs are worthy enough for one of his fine war hammers, etc. Perhaps the PCs need to prove themselves with a short quest or doing him a few favors before he’ll sell.
- The PCs have cleaned out a dungeon/castle/lair/monster retirement home and need to unload some art pieces. However, merchants in the big city say the art is a forgery and worthless. If the PCs take the art to the artist who reputedly created it, they can discover the truth. Perhaps it is indeed a forgery and the artist is so upset she hires the PCs to track down the forger. Perhaps the artist is a forgery and is truly a doppelganger who has taken the (now deceased) artist’s place and has been forced to produce slipshod art under the watchful eye of the mercenaries.
- The village is not at all what it seems. The artists are actually prisoners in their own homes, watched around the clock by the mercenary troops surrounding the village. The merchants force the artists to produce goods with threats, beatings and holding family members hostage. If the PCs can liberate the artists without any of the hostages getting hurt, the villagers would be intensely grateful.
- Built within the largest graveyard in the kingdom, this village is in the center of where the bones of the kingdom’s fallen soldiers are interred, as well as the mass graves for paupers and those of unknown origin. Most of the villagers work as coffin makers, grave diggers, headstone carvers, dressers of the dead and so forth, supplying all the various labor in the end-of-life industry (villagers can be hired as mourners in a pinch). The village and the graveyards are kept largely free of any pesky undead issues due to a strange anti-magical zone unique to the area.
- To keep track of where such a huge volume of the dead are buried, this village has an impressive set of historical records. If the PCs needs to research an event or person from the past, this is an excellent place to do it. Access to these records isn’t free, however, and the PCs might need to perform a service or pay a fee to get the answers they seek.
- The anti-magic zone suppresses the undead, but a few pop up here and there. While in town, the PCs might be asked to help destroy a few lesser undead wandering around, or they might be hired to be temporary cemetery keepers until a new crew of paladins comes in from the city.
- Perhaps the anti-magic field is due to an item buried far under the village, like a meteor or an artifact or a frozen droplet of blood from a god. Whatever the McGuffin is, some villains might be interested in it and try to dig it up. Can the PCs stop them? Or do the PCs need the item themselves as part of a quest?
- Some necromancers have figured out a way to work around the anti-magic field and set up shop in an old crypt. The PCs need to stop them before the countryside is overrun with an army of undead.
- The PCs need (or simply want) an item in one of the larger, older tombs reserved for royalty. To get said item, the PCs will have to figure out what tomb it’s in, get into the tomb and bypass the copious traps, and then deal with angry villagers and guards on the way out.
- This village is unique in that most of its structures are built on or at either side of an enormous bridge. The bridge spans a large gorge and is the only crossing for quite a distance, so it sees a fair bit of traffic. A toll house has been set up by the kingdom to extract funds for the royal coffers, but the steady flow of customers keeps the rates low. Most of the real money earned around the village comes in the form of information, in the sense that half the populace is paid to keep secrets and the other half is paid to ferret them out. As one of the main crossroads of the kingdom, clandestine meetings, duplicity and strangers skulking in the shadows are all part of a normal day here.
- The PCs might be summoned to the village to a meet with a shady individual. Perhaps this person has a deadly secret they need protected – or just as likely, they need the PCs to find out somebody else’s secrets. Whatever the reason, the PCs will meet up with stiff resistance from outside sources.
- The PCs might be tired after an adventure and simply want a room for the night. However, a case of mistaken identity can cause all sorts of harrowing things to happen, from clumsy seduction attempts to burgled rooms to attacks by masked assassins.
- The bridge is a strategic location and taking it out would be a serious blow to the kingdom. Perhaps the PCs catch wind of a plot to detonate the bridge by some rebels or invaders from a neighboring kingdom. Alternatively, the PCs themselves may be hired to take the bridge down – after they deal with the village watch, several kingdom spies and a few high-level mercenaries first.
- Ages ago, a huge, magical fortress cruised the skies and provided military superiority for a long forgotten civilization. Nobody knows what brought it tumbling to the ground, but pieces of the wreckage covered a huge tract of land and can still be seen to this day. Sages, wizards and other researchers flock to the site and a village was built to support them. Nowadays it’s not unusual to find a shepherd tending his flock next to an archeological dig or find mages in a loud argument over history at the local tavern.
- The PCs might need some rare spell components or a bit of knowledge to complete a new spell they’re creating. Alternatively, they might have a bizarre gizmo or scroll that only the experts in this village can identify.
- While the PCs are there a crew of diggers unearths a malfunctioning construct that goes on a rampage. The PCs might get asked to stop the construct, or even capture it for study.
- One of the dig sites has proven to be especially complex and the sages need the PCs help. Perhaps spells are needed to move piles of stones or the inner chambers are booby-trapped. Even worse, some undead members of the original pilots might lurk inside.
- A powerful artifact is unearthed and starts to cause havoc on its own. Another possibility is that the artifact is benign but attracts the attention of a local warlord or villainous mage. Can the PCs keep it out of the enemy’s hands?
- The PCs figure out a way to get a small part of the fortress back into the sky. Could this be a new base of operations for them? Can they control where it goes or will they drift on the wind? What if it makes a beeline for “home” and the residents there aren’t too pleased with the PCs suddenly showing up?
- This village is a lovely, idyllic place notable only for its relative quiet and the excellent hams and sausages they produce.
- The village is a complete fake. Aside from a lone pig farmer (the source of the excellent sausages), everybody in the village is part of the kingdom’s elite private guard. The village operates as a safe zone for political dissidents of rival countries, illegitimate-but-sane heirs to the throne, and whatever else the top brass of the kingdom needs. Perhaps the PCs are sent there to collect and transport a person of interest – or remove them permanently. If the latter, they’ll meet stiff resistance from the elite guard. Another possibility could be the PCs need to hide out in the village themselves.
- The village is a complete fake, run by a gang of criminals, possibly thieves, assassins or worse. Perhaps the PCs need to get training for a rogue or bardic character. Maybe they’ve been hired to bring the gang to justice. Maybe the village is run by a rival gang and the PCs have been sent by their own gang to rob them blind. A bad possibility is that the tired PCs have stumbled into town looking for a room for the night and have quite a surprise on their hands if they figure things out…
- The village is a complete fake. The villagers are really operatives from an enemy kingdom and the village is their base of operations. Alternatively, the danger level could be raised by making the invaders intelligent monsters posing as humans (such as demons, devils, githyanki and so forth).
- A long time ago, some religious pilgrims took a rest on their journey by some hot springs they discovered. The pilgrims viewed the springs as divine providence and built a shrine to their god/s. The shrine is still around and a village was built to care for the shrine and those who come to visit. On a less spiritual plane, the village also makes a small profit by operating a small bathhouse and relaxing spa.
- The PCs need to visit the shrine as part of their clerical or paladin training, or perhaps it’s one of the stops they need to make on the path of atonement.
- The shrine and the village is part of a different pantheon than the official religion of the kingdom. The kingdom officials are unhappy about this and send the PCs to shut the shrine down for good. Obviously the villagers will do everything to prevent this from happening.
- The village and shrine is in a really remote place, so far away that they don’t get much communication from the major political and religious centers of the kingdom. The PCs may have been sent to check on villagers or bring updated information, or they might have stumbled in after a hard adventure elsewhere. Whatever the reason they are there, the PCs find the religious teachings have gone horribly awry from what is believed everywhere else. The difference could be comical, deadly or just plain bizarre.
- The PCs go to the village for the hot springs and to relax a little in-between adventuring. Sadly, their vacation is ruined when a villain the PCs previously defeated follows them to the springs and attacks when the PCs guard is down. Or perhaps a water elemental forms in the hot spring while the PCs are having a soak. Or maybe the PCs spot some nobles in the middle of a tryst and the nobles decide to silence the PCs by having them murdered…
- An adventurer of some repute retired to this village after he passed his fighting prime. He got involved in local politics and was quickly elected as the chief alderman. Using his wealth from his former career and his political status, the alderman built his own personal zoo to remind him of his grand days of adventure. It’s a small zoo, but well-built and stocked with some unusual – and deadly – specimens. Besides the usual employment in the village, many villagers also work as zookeepers, guards and trainers. Furthermore, the zoo draws many visitors, ranging from the merely curious to mages researching a particular creature, so the three village inns are always busy.
- The PCs need a rare spell component or must research a monster for some reason, and it so happens that the zoo has a mated pair.
- The alderman wants to expand his zoo. He’ll pay handsomely for the PCs to go out and get some monsters for him, provided the beasts come back alive and unharmed. Alternatively, clients want the PCs to swipe a live monster from the alderman’s zoo and bring it back to them, such as an intelligent monster trying to get back its kidnapped children.
- One of the monsters in the zoo is really a shapeshifted or cursed person. The PCs need to rescue the trapped person and get them out of there so they can be transformed back to normal. Unfortunately, the person/monster might think with a monster brain and be quite uncooperative.
- A group of well-meaning but over-zealous druids and rangers invade the village and set all the animals free, with ensuing mayhem. The PCs need to protect the villagers, break up fights between monsters, and possibly return a few to their cages, all the while exchanging blows with the druids. On the other hand, maybe the PCs are hired by the druids to free the creatures and the PCs come to blows with a gang of savage hunters.
Village Name Generator
Roll 2d20 and assign a die to each column. Place the results from the two columns next to each other, make any grammatical adjustments needed and presto! You have a village name. This generator can also be used to name Internet start-ups in a pinch.
Artwork by Del Steigeler