I recently ran "Trouble in Red Larch," the introductory adventure to Princes of the Apocalypse, and I accidentally fell in love with the titular village. I grew to appreciate it so much, in fact, that I'm very likely to swap whatever generic town is inevitably written future one-shots I run for Red Larch.
My default starting location tends to be Baldur's Gate. I know it pretty well, because I've played a lot in it. I've played tabletop games there, I've played video games there, I've read books and comics, and setting books. I'm comfortable in Baldur's Gate, and when players want to buy, fence, repair, craft, research, hire, learn, steal, worship, or travel the planes, I know where to take them. It's a big enough setting to have whatever plot device you need it to contain.
But it's big. And it's not exactly the nicest city. On one hand, Baldur's Gate sets the tone pretty accurately for games I run, but on the other hand it can be overwhelming for short adventures.
In my regular game, my players have explored a lot of Baldur's Gate. They the different districts, the levels and the gate, they know where to go for gar, and so on. The setting serves the adventure.
But in a quick one-off game where you're only in town to get a quest and to buy supplies, there's no time to get to know the city. And if the only location you know to exist in a big city in a store and a temple, then what's the point of making it a big city?
There's a reason the Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate games (to name a few) starts you out in a small village. There are obvious mechanical benefits. You spend a little time in your little hometown learning the basics of the game. It's a relatively safe space, so even though you're killing rats in the cellar or clearing giant spiders out of the forest, there's a familiar temple or family doctor to run back to.
Because a small setting doesn't have that much to explore, you're usually compelled to move on pretty early. You don't spend half the game in the small village of your youth. You learn the basics, and then you move on to bigger adventure.
This reflects your character's development, too. You start small, naïve, insular. Your world is small and your idea of a threat is limited to ROUS (rodents of unusual size.) But eventually you move on to bigger things, both literal and figurative.
Starting characters out in a big bustling city is exciting sometimes. But sometimes marrying the literal to the figurative is an easy way to inspire and reward your players. There's a certain sense of accomplishment and growth you feel, as a player, when you return home to your childhood village after months of adventuring, only to realize how tiny a mere 26 locations really is, and how those giant spiders in the forst die with one hit from your warhammer. It's hard to mimic that with a metropolis that, if anything, only grows over time.
Red Larch is nice not just because it's small. There are lots of really good small villages out there, and admittedly my newfound love for Red Larch is heavily influenced by the fact that I've spent the last several weeks there. There are lots of good villages out there, especially from Raging Swan Press, but also from Paizo (Sandpoint comes immediately to mind.) But I stumbled into Red Lanch and got comfortable with it, and I can see myself using it in the future.
Here are my favourite qualities about Red Larch:
Red Larch isn't an amazing village. It's a plain village. What I love about it is that it's easy to learn. You get familiar with it within a few sessions, but it's got most of the absolute necessities and, maybe more importantly, it doesn't have everything. Players can get what they need in Red Larch, but when you need something to be hard to find, it's believable that they can't find it there.
Whether it's D&D's Red Larch or Saltmarsh, or Paizo's Sandpoint, or Raging Swan's Edgewood, you owe it to yourself to get a small village. Spend a few adventures in it, get comfortable with it. Keep it in your back pocket so you always have it when you need a (non) generic town for new adventurers.