Welcome to the town of Blackleaf.
My players have been onto me for (I just realized how long it’s been now) two years to make them a map of their home town. I was always happy to do it… but somehow opportunity and inclination never coincided. (Also one of my players once expressed an interest in making the map, and I have a policy about doing work anyone else in the world might be willing to do… but apparently that isn’t going to pan out.) Anyway, I finally got far enough ahead in my own work and was thinking about what a fun map might look like, and BAM! There was Blackleaf!
Now the town is of course named for the strange strain of grape grown there, unique to the area in all the world, which produces a blackish leaf throughout the first half of the growing season. The town is not named for the ill-fated character in the Jack Chick tract Dark Dungeons. (No, the town is named after the grape. The grape is named after the character in the tract.)
The thing I like best about this little town is the way the players in my game have put their stamp on it. When the game began Blackleaf was dying a slow, lingering death. The actions of the players brought it back from the brink, and the townsfolk know it. The ranger Elias slew over a dozen giants in the streets during the first Cold Day, when the hill giant army brought their blizzards to town… so the townsfolk erected a statue in his honor and put it right in the middle of the square, now renamed the Square of Elias. Since Lady Ravanna became the official noblewoman at the Vineyard, (the name everyone calls the keep at the base of Blackleaf) “Ravanna” has become the number one most popular name for newborn girls. Children in the street fight over who gets to play the part of Joon, the party’s fighter, and who has to play Dimas, the dirty rogue. An entire new religion has sprung up around the teachings of Mother Vexation that is swiftly sweeping across the whole of the country, and the warlock Schadenfreude, who’s only wish was to keep as low a profile as possible, now walks the streets disguised and unmolested, with everyone thinking she is dead.
The Winehouse has three different drinks named after Joon, the bakery makes a Schadenfreude chocolate cake, “Dimas got it” is slang for anything that goes unexpectedly and inexplicably missing, people stand up straighter and drunks run for the alleyways when Mother Vexation comes walking by… in short, the town itself has become a reflection of the players, and they are now an integral part of the town.
So what’s the big? Why does this make a difference? Well, in addition to that all-important “sense of place” that gives players a real vision of where their characters live and what to expect from the world on a more or less daily basis, a set-up like this gives you the chance to reward characters in a staggering variety of ways. A character who makes the group laugh night in and night out, and who loves the mystery and romance of gypsies, gets a gypsy camp blowing through town. A character who provides sound tactics and leadership gets a statue. Great roleplaying gets a crumbling old mansion in the swamp with the potential to be the most impressive home for miles. There are many, many more examples, but the point is that if you can give the players a place they can care about, you, the DM, are holding the best tool any game master can have.