One of the best parts about DMing is that you get to be 'everyone else', that is you get to play the role of everyone that the characters are not. For some, this is their raison d'être, the thing that draws them to the DM's seat.
I used to primarily enjoy being the 'bad guys', inhabiting the wicked souls of the men and creatures who opposed the efforts of the party. There was nothing as much fun as that crazy banter between the bad guy and the hero, so filled with venom and cliche. "Now I have you!" or "see how far you've come only to fail..." were phrases that filled my black little heart with glee.
I'm older now (much older), and the bad guy role is one I gladly inhabit as needed, but it is far from the one that I relish. These days I look forward to the 'oddball npc', that man, woman, or creature who has a small bit to play, a little clue that's needed, or a thing that must be purchased in order to propel the game forward. These 'people' are often the heart of the game world, and are often left thin and 2-dimensional even though they are unbound by class, race, gender, or motivation.
City/Dungeon, Wilderness, Town/Dungeon, Wilderness, Village/Dungeon...It's a pattern we repeat again and again ad infinitum. What we (DM's) often fail to do is place our players into new, and yes, mundane places. What fun might be had at the Mill? What mystery could be unraveled at the monastery? Who knows what adventures lie in wait at...the farm?!
The Farmer. Often simply ignored as the players pass by the back forty on their way to an ancient ruin or wizards tower, the common farmer should not be given such short shrift. Things are happening on the farm beyond the corn, chickens, and cattle...or perhaps beneath. The farmer's place in the more generic fantasy setting is both iconic and highly important, even though he is often ignored as the players and their characters pursue loftier goals. Most frequently it is from the farm that the young hero escapes, looking past a hum-drum life to a world of fame, fortune, and adventure.
What a waste.
If you've read my module, Adventure Most Fowl, you'll know that I went to great lengths to provide a glimpse into a strange and wonderful world inhabited primarily by farmers and their families. A party could spend the formative part of their early level-growth in/around the farming village of Kith and never be bored. This didn't happen by accident...
I may be a native Philadelphian, but I spent a decade living in/around Houston, Texas. You don't have to drive very far to spot a farm, and once you start seeing them, the horizon will bring you nothing but. I was lucky enough to make many friends in that city, not a few of which had friends and family who lived or made their living farming. It was a life so foreign from my experience growing up in the city that I rarely got my fill of my time spent among them, on the farm and in their company. The closest I ever got to that life as a kid was camping trips with my dad, and if you are, or know, a farmer then you know that's not even close to the same thing.
The Farm is very often a self-sufficient, solitary lifestyle. The farmer and his family can go days or weeks without interacting with other folk, and this makes the farm a great setting for strangeness and odd circumstances that would make for more than an interesting adventure. Placing a farm or two between the city and the dungeon will give the players a chance to 'rest', and it gives the DM fodder for fun and fiendishness. Here are a few examples of things that might make a stop at the farm a 'less than simple' affair:
- The Grubner farm, a great place for blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. The farm also plays host to an ancient oak in the center of it's primary field, a tree that is inhabited by a wicked gnome who is holding the family hostage, forcing them to continue to grow his luscious berries! With the harvest, the gnome brews a number of wicked potions as well as brandy with a healing touch! He is in possession of the soul of Magda Gruber, the farmers eldest daughter, which he will destroy if the farmer does not continue his labors.
- There's something special about the soil at ol' Reston's farm. His veggies grow with such rapidity and ferocity that he harvests three times a year! Some folks think it's that odd rock that sits poking up from his cornfield that has something to do with it...the strange letters on the sides that sometimes glow in the mid-summers moonlight. It's not. It's what lives inside the stone...an ancient and long forgotten relic of a fertility deity. It has more power than Reston knows, and it calls out to the players seeking it's release. Perhaps the party will unlock it's secret...
- At the height of the Harvest Moon, the three Karick brothers, breeders of cattle and pig, hold their annual fall festival. It's a glorious time of food, drink, song, and dance, and the party is most welcome to join in! They slaughter a cow, a pig, and a goose for the occasion. The wives bake pies and cakes, the kids choose a wheel or two of the Karick Kase cheese, and the men even break out the summer ale that's been brewing beneath the old barn! Oh, but it's a tasty and wicked brew, and hard to resist (make a Wis save or DRINK!). If the party isn't careful, they will find themselves drunk beyond their senses and awake with both a hangover, and tied to a stake in the middle of the barn as the farmers prepare them for their wicked ceremony. What makes a Karick cow so delicious? Why, human sacrifice of course!
It's not hard to think of the odd things that might happen on a farm in the boonies of your fantasy setting! It's as easy to drop in your story driven game as a hex-crawl, so don't forget the farm!
While I'm on a farmer-kick, I recently watched Peter and the Farm on Netflix and I was inspired to use a solitary farmer with something of a temper and an alcohol problem as an NPC/Encounter in my game. It's a really interesting documentary that is worth a watch if you have the time.