Written by: James S.
Villagers are the ordinary folk who inhabit the countryside and rural areas in many tabletop role-playing games. They wear plain, everyday attire, and their faces reflect the hardships and joys of rural life. They come from diverse backgrounds and may include farmers, blacksmiths, traders, and more. When encountering Villagers using the "Crossroads" Czepeku battlemap, consider these simple elements:
- 1d10(+1) random encounters for the road in an idyllic, rural setting.
- All is not what it seems. There is always a twist to these seemingly simple meetings.
The whole world walks the road. Who do you meet coming the other way?
The key to these encounters is to create a simple premise but then make it more interesting with the addition of a ‘but,’ a ‘not only,’ or an ‘and.’ This helps to create conflict, the stuff stories are made of. It can help you run the encounter, spurring your imagination and creating avenues of future possibilities and lines of questioning for the players, which might lead them to places they hadn’t expected. Or perhaps just a bit of welcome fun in an otherwise arduous adventure.
- A rider and horse, but the rider has fallen. She lies sprawled amongst the long grass at the side of the road, dead, and her piebald mount nibbles grass nearby. She has 1d6 gold in a pouch on her belt. Other possessions include a small knife, a waterskin, a knapsack containing biscuits and honey, a chunky almanac detailing seasons, tides, important astrological dates, and a leather-bound journal of scribblings about an ancient monument called ‘the roaming rock,’ a standing stone said to confer great luck, but which never appears in the same place twice. Someone in the next village recognises the rider’s horse.
- A group of three travelling musicians shares a small meal outside a colourful tent at the side of the road. They are arguing about the lyrics to a song and ask the players to help settle their dispute or perhaps write new lyrics to satisfy them all. They can’t remember what the song is supposed to be about. Is it a chaste romance? A bawdy love song? A fantastic epic? Or perhaps a sorrowful lament? In the next town, people are already singing the song the players helped write, and the villagers there say they’ve been singing it their whole lives.
- A shepherd goes to market alone. He is not taking sheep to the market; he is going to get sheep from the market. His flock simply disappeared, and he has no idea how or why, so with a simple shrug of the shoulders and a stubborn forbearance that only rural people possess, he goes to buy a new one. Where did they go? Why?
- A family moves house. They’re not just moving from one house to another, though; they’re moving their whole house bit by bit. Thatch, timbers, and stones, all of it loaded onto a massive hay wagon. Where are they moving from or to? And why? Are they seeking something new or fleeing from something behind them?
- A travelling shoe merchant who cannot stop walking. Anyone who buys a pair from this man also cannot stop walking. They even sleep while walking, often ending up miles away from where they closed their eyes. But, to be fair, the shoes are of excellent quality; they never wear down.
- An itinerant priest travelling to the next village to preach. He left the last town because he was getting too popular and he didn’t like all the attention. People kept asking for advice, but he just wanted to preach in peace. It seems the people around here really like his sermons. But what does he preach? Why do people like it so much? How can he get what he wants?
- 1d4+1 young children looking shifty and nervous with a bag of stolen vegetables, but it was the vegetables that instigated the theft. They told the children to take them somewhere they wouldn’t be eaten. Are the vegetables really talking to the children, or are there perhaps some fey playing cruel tricks?
- An old drunk, ragged and stinking of wine. He has been constantly drunk for years but swears blind that he hasn’t touched a drop in that whole time, not since the deep, enchanting Summer of his 28th year. Everything about the poor man suggests he is telling the most barefaced lies. But is he?
- An eloping couple. But they’re not married to each other. They’re both married to another, the same other, and they’re trying to find him/her/them/it. They stand at the signpost in the centre of the crossroads, unable to figure out where they’re supposed to be going. They seem befuddled and confused. Bewitched?
- Forest-dwelling hermit. Her old patch was, as she puts it, “Too damn loud.” She wants a new place somewhere totally silent, “I want to be able to hear myself think!” She pulls from her pocket a diamond the size of her fist and suggests that she really doesn’t need this, but other people seem to want it. If anyone can find a totally silent spot for her to live in, she’ll give them the useless hunk of rock (which is clearly worth thousands of coins, maybe even tens of thousands). But does a truly silent place even exist?
- A flock of sheep without a shepherd. They walk along the road in single file, placidly but with more purpose than sheep normally do. If anyone in the party can speak sheep, they might learn where these woolly pilgrims are headed and why they decided to forge ahead on their own in the first place. What are they up to? Perhaps they resent being reared simply for their meat, milk, and fleece. Perhaps they merely seek a more competent shearer, one who won't nick their skin with the shears.
Conflict isn’t always swords and spells or even arguments. At its simplest, it is one thing and another pulling in different directions. Use this ‘but’ construction in your games to generate conflict even at the smallest levels of play. Random encounters can still be interesting and have the potential to open up into much wider, grander arcs if the players want to pursue them. Use the space created by the ‘but’ as a cauldron to pour your imagination into. Let the players speculate, too, and maybe even let them be right from time to time. Players love when their guesses turn out to be correct.
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