The Thursday Blog: Appreciate Your Players Edition

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.

41 Responses to The Thursday Blog: Appreciate Your Players Edition

  1. I agree with this 100%. Some of my favorite moments of role play were from rewards that were far more then just gold to buy the next shiny. Like when my paladin became an Abbot Protector of Sarenrae, or when he proposed after a long courtiship, invited the entire town he and his friends had saved, got married. (To a literal harpy, long story).
    This is what makes table top role playing so potentially rewarding, which makes even hyper detailed simulations Dwarf Fortress and NetHack so shallow in comparison.
    I love my hobby.

  2. Absolutely great!!!

    That’s the thing I love about table-top RPG’s: that, if done right, they become a world unto themselves and the players become residents as well as players, living a second (or third or twenty-seventh{hey, what can I say? I looooove making characters}) life there.

    I just got back into a group (finally) after a much-too-long break and I am doing my best to convince Chris that letting me play more than one character won’t over-balance the party. After all, what party is complete without a cockney-accented gnome stealing everything that’s not tied down?

    My favorite part of playing a character is making his/her history as real as possible. I can tell you more about Tarnel’s childhood than my own.

    Role-playing games give people an outlet that helps deal with the mundanity of life. Quite simple. Without them, I’d have been locked up in a nut-house or a maximum-security prison ( roll a d6 to decide which) long ago.

    I applaud you for going that extra mile with your players and giving them a home within your world. I hope I can do the same when I dust of my GM hat and start torturing the players myself.

    • It probably won’t unbalance the game, after all the DM can just power-up the bad guys a little to compensate. However, my experience is that typically you will pick a favorite, and the other character will get the short shrift, role-playing-wise. For that reason, if you’re going to do it, I’d suggest making the second character a hireling or someone who is actually secondary to the group. That way the play seems natural, and it doesn’t look like you’re ignoring anyone.

      • I have actually been multi-charactering my entire gaming life, so it is natural for me to split between two characters. The only reason he’s not letting me now is that we have a larger group than we originally planned on and buffing up the game to compensate for another character would take too much time.

        It’s not that big a deal. I am getting ready to start a secondary game so I can get my multiple personality craving satisfied.

  3. Somewhere along the line I missed the fact I had a statue erected in my honor.

    Aw, shucks. You’re embarrassing me.

    • Old man Wallace’s statue was destroyed during the giant attack, and the citizenry thought it would be more appropriate to replace it with one of Elias. It’s been awhile. (I just checked, and the giant attack was one year ago this month.)

      • The gypsy foretold to me that in a few months the statue will be marred by graffiti. Just warning you.

      • I remember the old statue falling during the fighting, but I had forgotten about the replacement.

    • May I ask how a waterslide was installed? For what purpose? Why? What could the players possibly of done to get the town to install a waterslide?

        • There are plenty of spells that would be incredibly useful in construction…Rock to mud (and the reverse), Passwall, and so on…just build what you need from mud, turn it into rock, embed a few decanters of endless water set on full blast in the mud at the bottom of a large resevoir near the top before you solidify it and voila…not only do you have an eternal waterslide, but the town has a completely reliable, inexaustable water supply (Just be sure to take drainage out of town into account so you don’t wind up flooded)

  4. Just noticed this, it is no wonder that the jail is so close to the Vineyard.

  5. hmmm if I was better at blender Id love to make some kinda organic 3D model of this

    yea its too bad I never practiced

    although no offense to DnD players and its wonderful game, I think I would much prefer video games to tabletop

      • You could always shackle your party in the basement and only let them out whenever you feel like playing.

        • That never works. I forget to feed them and then the problems just mount up after that. It is so hard to find a decent spot to stash one body, much less five

  6. A temple with a spider on it?

    Hmn…don’t suppose there’s a particularly dark skinned elf with white hair in the party?

        • Oh, boy. How much time do you have? 😀

          The Cliff’s Notes version is that the Spider Goddess Shaadess claims to be Ravanna’s sister, and recruited Mother Vexation as her high priestess when Vexation was excommunicated from her former church for starting a war.

          Nobody in the party is a drow (or even an elf for that matter).

          • Now that seems rather harsh, don’t you think? Excommunication just for starting a war?
            In RL you usually get declared a saint for it.

            • Well if the deity was “the goddess of peace” or something, it’s perfectly understandable.

              (Paraphrasing “Never Set the Cat on Fire”)

              Don’t start an interspecies war, it has no helpful uses.
              When people ask you “what’s it for?” you’ll only make excuses!
              If Thirty Thousand folks get hurt, you’ll go to bed with no desert!
              Don’t start an interspecies war!

              • It had very little to do with the god, and much more to do with the political situation which Mother Vexation’s superiors in the church were attempting to engender with the same people she started the war with. They were not pleased.

                It currently appears that Mother Vexation may yet have the last laugh.

      • “Honey Glazed Ham” – By Tom Smith

        See the tree, how big it’s grown
        Since I have lived here on my own, And it’s been good,
        Since Christopher began his fun
        And brought us all to live in Hundred Acre Wood.

        Well, I came home today to stretch
        Before the mirror, and then fetch My hunny-pot.
        Now, I’m a simple-minded bear,
        But I know there was hunny there, And now there’s not.

        And Hunny, I miss you, You left without a sound,
        Wait! What’s at the bottom? — Oh, bother. Piglet drowned.

    • Garret is soooo much more the guy you’d want your daughter dating than Dimas is. They’re both thieves, but that’s more or less where the resemblance ends.

  7. Character fame is a key part of a good campaign. It’s all part of “A sentient world does exist around you, that goes about its own business with natural consequences if you leave it alone and reacts accordingly when you don’t.”

    • Recent years have been very good to Otto. He has been just savvy enough to ride the wave of the players’ success, and several years ago, when he thought he saw things turning upwards, was able to purchase a new store in the north of town. This more or less coincided with his daughter’s marriage and as terms he demanded that the new son-in-law work in the north store. (Her marriage prospects with Elias the party ranger fizzled the day Zillana came to town. Zillana…)

  8. First comment ever, just to mention I love your comics and had quite a few DnD games like that.

    One of those had my thief ogre. He went directly to his carry, took their wallet, then screamed: “You never saw me!” and ran off. Strangely enough, nobody ever saw him.

    He had this habit of using an elfin bow (it shot real elves!) to use the group’s paladin as a grappling hook (hey, if gods loved him so much, he would survive, right?), which eventually lead said paladin to become a blackguard.

    The blackguard part was hilarious. 4 Int/24 Cha paladin goes out to town: “Hey guys I was feeling a little low so I went to town. I found this great shop called “The Fallen Paladin”. I don’t know what “Fallen” means, but it was written Paladin, so it can’t mean anything bad, right?”

    So his class became “Paladin (blackguard, but he doesn’t know)”. This small imp companion became his “conscience” and told him what to do. “Thanks conscience! What would I forget to do to the peasants without you!”

    DnD games should always look like that.