There can be no nameless NPCs, not even the guy at the general store who sells you iron spikes and bullseye lanterns. He needs a name, a personality, and at least a hint of a life outside of his interactions with the PCs. All of that is the stuff from which future adventures can be written and are every bit as important as stocking your megadungeon.
I can't say why this surprised me, but it did. I've been playing this way for decades now, allowing the PCs to build personal webs of association and alliance (and antipathy) with the people who live and work and love and fight around them. It makes the world feel more real, it gives the PCs something to care about and allows me to craft conflicts that the players will actually be interested in.
Poor Oddysey got a session-full of meeting the locals last Thursday. It started with her making this observation: “I continue east, though with the luck we've had so far, civilization will consist of a horde of angry bandits or something.“
She wasn't far off the mark. East of where they washed up was a hidden cove where a large gang of pirates had built their base. The good news was that most of the pirates were away on their ships, pillaging and plundering and all of that. The bad news was, that still left over a hundred women, children, and semi-retired pirates to hold down the fort. More than enough to handle a dwarf all on her own on a strange shore.
After skillfully dodging the small scouting party sent to investigate the funeral pyre the heroes had lit the day before to consume the body of a fellow traveler slain in the storm that shipwrecked them, Oddysey's dwarf came upon the base itself. Now, I'd envisioned the party maybe trying to steal supplies from the pirates, or just going around them, pushing deeper into the jungle to avoid being seen (and quite likely stumbling upon jungle-dwelling kobolds in the process).
Players, of course, never do what you expect. Rukmini marched right into the village and asked if she could have some water and maybe trade labor for a place to stay.
Yeah, I should have seen that one coming. She had no idea they were pirates; it's not like they had a big sign over the place saying “Seekret Pirat Baz” or something. And maybe Oddysey had read about the influence of Anne McCaffery's work on my campaigns. Regardless, Rukmini got to meet Myret, matriarch of the base and de facto leader while the captains are away, work with Jebin the peg-legged blacksmith, and get a promise from his grandson Kip to teach her the rudiments of sailing.
Now, Labyrinth Lord, like Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert before it, doesn't come with a built-in skill system. But Rukmini is a dwarf with a family background in brewing. So it made sense to say she could help Jebin repair a few broken machetes and other iron tools, as well as do a bit of work on their still. It also made sense that she wouldn't know much about sailing. No rolls were made on any of this. They simply were not needed. The smithing was very basic stuff, just minor repairs that any apprentice should have been able to handle on their own. And, after a brief '80s style montage, Rukmini will have mastered the basics of sailing and will have increased her knowledge of knots, weather, seabirds, fishing, and the like.
Finally, she helped the locals fend off an attack of angry snappers, aggressive turtle-humanoids, so it wasn't all drinking rum and singing sea-chanteys. (The village, by the way, got very luck in that attack. Two-dozen snappers should have been enough to level the place, but they rolled poorly and attacked without any sort of organization. Which is probably just as well.)
Next week, we'll start the game with Rukmini working with the pirates. Just how strong that relationship is remains to be seen. The dwarf brings some useful skills, but can she be trusted? And is she ready to trust a bunch of pirates? Only time will tell...