If you leave things to your players, their characters will live in a bubble. They’ll return to town with their loot, say they are buying this and that, and head back out to the dungeon. But that’s not how real life imaginary life works. Characters will interact with an awful lot of people, making friends with some and, invariably, making enemies of others.
Upon returning to town, characters pass through the gates and interact with the guards. They go to an inn and arrange accommodations with the innkeeper. They visit various establishments in order to sell their loot and replenish supplies. After an extended foray into the murky depths of a dungeon, they probably want to take a long hot bath, enjoy a lavish meal, and drink a few gallons of ale while regaling everyone with their exploits.
All of these tasks involve interacting with various npcs and probably making some friends along the way. All the while, their actions are undoubtedly being watched by those that are wondering just what is in those bulging saddlebags and chests, where the loot came from, and how it may be liberated from the characters. Even others may be seeing the characters’ lucrative successes as an affront to themselves and their own lack of success in the same avocation. “Why”, these people ask themselves, “should we be living on breadcrumbs and sleeping in alleyways when those adventurers are living the high life?”
Every time the characters return to town they are in the spotlight. Each time they return with bags of loot, the more their renown grows. Some people want to be friends with wealthy, successful people. Others want that wealth for themselves. Some resent that success and want to do harm against the adventurers just because they are successful. All in all, it is a far cry from the anonymity that the players may assume their characters are enjoying.
Why Do I Need Friends?
Everyone wants to have friends and to be treated as heroes. It is a boost to the ego and it feels good. Furthermore, that friendship brings with it various benefits. That may mean a discount on lamp oil, first-use water at the bath house, or simply the assurance that when you order a burger no one is spitting on it. But friendly, casual acquaintances make fair-weather friends. If the characters are, for instance, accused of murder, such friends may quickly seem to no longer remember them. Sometimes, characters need real friends that they can count on in a pinch.
You may need a guard who will look the other way when you want to sneak something in or out of the city. Often you will need to find a buyer for valuable magic items, without attracting dangerous attention. The group may want to build a stronghold and need an official to lend their support in gaining permission or title to the land. These things require real friends.
Where Do I Gain Real Friends?
Obviously, the best way to build such a friendship, is to do someone a favor. It is up to the DM to present opportunities for the adventurers to do favors for people of influence, and up to the characters to recognize, and act on, these opportunities. The party may come across a guard sleeping on duty and see the captain coming from a block away. It is up to them to recognize what trouble he could be in and that he may be appreciative if they wake him before the captain notices. If they don’t wake him, and he finds out that they could have prevented his being found asleep at his post, they may instead create an enemy.
I once had a small girl approach the adventurers (in town) stating that her kitten had fallen into the sewer. They could, of course, have ignored her. But instead, they went into the sewers and faced a rather lengthy and annoying task of locating and retrieving the kitten. Much later, the girl appeared as a young woman who had spoken to her father (the Duke) about hiring the adventurers for a very lucrative job escorting their retinue to a neighboring town and back. Rescuing the kitten was actually a rather small thing, which the party wrote off as a simple hook to get them into the sewers. But from the little girl’s perspective, this was an enormous favor that she would never forget. Being, unbeknownst to them at the time, the daughter of the Duke, this little girl was now a very reliable and powerful friend.
So Why Do I Need Enemies?
Would the Harry Potter books have been nearly as much fun without Malfoy? At the beginning of the first Indiana Jones movie, Indy had just escaped with the idol only to have it taken from him by his nemesis. Most great adventure stories include a recurring bad guy. It adds depth to the story. It gives you someone to hate, and thereby makes you want to cheer for the hero all the more. It allows your adventure to include enormous riches, but not topple the local economy since the bad guy keeps the party from actually claiming the prize. Obviously, you need to provide a means for the villain to “win” and get away, without killing the heroes. But the extra work is well worth it. I won’t even apologize for a bit of railroading, as it is a small thing and to everyone’s enjoyment.
Once, I introduced a bad guy that was someone that one of the characters had known (and disliked) through their mutual training in fighter school. The party had cleared most of a dungeon and returned to town for additional equipment before taking on a wyvern. With the dungeon cleared, especially the nasty kobold den and all their traps, taking out the wyvern would be fairly simply. But they wanted a cage in order to capture it so they could sell it.
The party stayed in town for a couple of extra days for something or other, and I saw my chance to introduce Damian. As the adventurers were fully prepared and leaving town towards the dungeon, they saw Damian and his cronies entering the town with a caged wyvern. Damian mocked them and said they shouldn’t talk so loudly about their plans in the bar (No one said they were keeping it a secret so I took a little license). Town is more or less of a sanctuary, so the party had no opportunity to retaliate, and Damian had a good time rubbing their noses in their loss. It was the beginning of a beautiful hatred.
Even if the party does manage to kill off the villain, there is always a subordinate to take his place. Alternatively, the villain could be an underling to a more powerful mob boss or evil priest.
The point is, characters need both friends and enemies. They both can be important and add a lot of fun.