Location, location, location. One of the most important things to consider when creating an engaging opening to your campaign.
Now you’ve read 'Not Another Tavern' and have come up with a perfect introductory scene for your players, but where are those players in the world, or where is the first populous location they’re heading towards?
The town, village, outpost your campaign opens in needs to offer a few things to the players:
1- A Gentle Introduction to the Campaign World
If your players have never experienced this specific game world, or even the local area you’re focusing on before, then it is important that you start in a location that embodies the type of world they’ll be exploring without being overwhelming.
The easiest way to do this is to keep the starting settlement small, focus on its connections to only one or two of your larger area's themes and features, and include a few small references to its surrounding areas (natural and settlements).
There is one exception to this rule, and that is if the campaign is designed to be jarring, for instance a horror campaign might start the players in a much more normal town before they step out into a world full of horrors to which this town was the antithesis. However, be careful with this one, if you leave that safe town to exist in your horror filled world the players might lean too heavily on spending time there since it will offer a familiar safe haven.
2- A Few Key Resources
Your opening location should offer a few resources your party might need to equip themselves for early encounters and feel confident about making it to their next location. But, it should also keep them from accessing too many useful things they might want, encouraging them to explore to find or purchase them elsewhere.
A few things I like to have available in a traditional fantasy starting town include: a tavern, an inn or camping spot, a low level blacksmith, a general goods store, and two other small businesses that fit the location. (for example, one of our starting locations offers a ceramics guild and a bakery). Keep these extra businesses or resources realistic to your area and its people, and consider having one of them exclusive to that location.
3- A Reason to Leave (or Two… or Three...)
The most important part of a starter town is that it's just that: a START. It should offer a basic introduction and equipment, maybe a quick in town quest or two, and then thrust your characters into the wider world. It helps your players to begin their adventure more quickly if you give more than one reason for them to venture out.
The limited availability of resources will offer the first of these reasons, and the demands of the main plot should offer the second, but as GM it's up to you to offer one or two other quest lines that will take the party to other specific locations. This will offer your players choice on what to pursue first while giving them enough direction to start them on their journey without need for hesitation.
Everything a starter town should have culminates in this: it should be a starter TOWN not a starter CITY. Now this doesn’t mean it needs to be a town specifically, but it should be a much smaller development than a city with fewer resources and npcs. Things like outposts, villages, or even large camps can often work as a great starting hub.
If you’re building this location yourself, we recommend having 30-60 buildings total (most of which should be residential), place it near an important natural resource, and offer 3-5 shops, a place to eat, and a place to rest.
If you want a prebuilt map to populate we have three great starter town options for you free to download and customize:
Bannockburn Village: Download
Afterbrow Trading Post: Download
Brightshore Village: Map Download
The basic, unannotated Brightshore map will always be available for free but look out for posts in the coming months as the full Brightshore town package will be released in our store January of 2022!