Saturday, July 23, 2011

Twenty Questions, Part 3: Taverns

Jeff's thirteenth question is "which way to the nearest tavern?" While it struck me at first as something that could be assumed, it's grown on me as a way to give your setting character.

Answer 1: You're in one right now, actually. Cliched, but effective. In a few minutes, the owner will come over and tell you about the rat problem he has in his cellar, thus starting your first adventure. You'll discover secret, long-forgotten and abandoned tunnels and chambers and exterminate all the rats. In appreciation, the tavern owner will allow you to occupy some of the chambers as a home base free of charge, thus encouraging your party to stick around this area of the map, since that's what I've put the most work into. (You can use the sample adventure at the end of the Dungeonslayers rules if you don't want to come up with your own.)

Answer 2: The last tavern you went into is actually why you're making this long, dangerous trek through the Undersky. Assuming you'll survive, it'll be a long, long time before you see a tavern again, and even longer before you can work up the courage to go into one. That's what you get for grumbling about how I started the last 7 campaigns in a tavern.

Answer 3: Every day's-journey-length or so along this road. Taverns play an important role as support and safe havens for merchants and trade caravans and are ubiquitous. As you travel from City A to City B, you can stop at a tavern each night, where you'll get the hook for the local adventure I've cooked up for tonight's session. (This would serve as a nice set-up for Raggi's Grinding Gear, by the way.)

Answer 4: Behind you. Waaaay behind you. You and your buddies are trekking into the wild to carve out some land for yourselves, or maybe you're outlaws, and you can't go back to civilization without disguises, and even then only for a short time and only to the outskirts of civilization. In the near future, you'll be seeing a tavern only when you head back to civilization for a break, meaning that you'll only see a tavern when you need more supplies, you've been really unsuccessful and need time to heal and lay low (you know you're in a bad way when the best place to lay low is where you're wanted, dead or alive) or when you've been really successful and need to stow the mountains of loot you've recently acquired in a safe place. The best stuff is several days, or even weeks, out, and traveling back into civilization is a drain on your resources, so you try to do it as little as possible (except for the fabulous success part). Once you've really made it, you'll never need to go back, since you'll have your own castles, towers and fortified monasteries with their own villages growing up around them, each with their own little tavern where you get free grog, since you own the whole village. (This is basically the setting of the West Marches campaign, possibly on steroids, depending on how seriously you take not wanting to go back to civilization.)

Answer 5: Wouldn't you like to know, you degenerate, shiftless, debauched lout?! Only a criminal knave would ask such a thing! Alcohol's been banned by the Lawful-Nosey High Cleric of Mworm, god of Progress, as one of his first acts after being put in power by the people. Other tenets of Mworm's religion of Progressivism include the direct election of Mayors (who for some inexplicable reason are now called "Senators"), letting women vote (but for what, exactly, besides mayors?) and a very meddlesome, self-righteous and idealistic shift in attitude in our foreign policy. Oh, and I hear they're going through with this whole "u-genics" thing, so you better have your babies now if you're going to have them at all, you uncivilized, undeveloped, amoral cretin!

Yeah, this one is totally satire of the Progressive movement of 100 years ago in the US, but it also serves as an example of how what you do with simple staples of vanilla FRPGs can give your setting more character. I predict a lot less Lawful Good characters in your party and a lot more PCs interested in running speakeasy taverns if you answer the question this way in your campaign. Also, lot's more regicide, and, really, who couldn't use a bit more regicide in their campaign?

Answer 6: That way, a good month's journey on. Or a day's journey back, actually, but you can't go there because They are after you, and if They find you… you're not quite sure what'll happen, but you're pretty sure They don't work for the candygram company. Your trusted friend and mentor left you and told you to meet him in the tavern a good month away. He's the only one you think could take Them. You've got a long treck ahead of you, my friend, and you better hope you find some friends and good hiding spots along the way… also, at my option, your friend won't be there and you'll have much more journeying to do before you can go to sleep without wandering if you're going to be stabbed to death by Them while you snore.

Yes, totally ripped off of the Fellowship of the Ring, but, again, an example of how the way you treat taverns characterizes your setting. Frodo & Co. couldn't stop at a safe tavern or inn every night. Instead, they had to rough it and trust both strangers and luck/fate/Iluvatar's providence/Tolkien's good graces in order to make it through the wilderness, since the area they were travelling through was wild. Also, talk about motivation when it comes to a hexcrawl!

So, what other twists on taverns that give character to your setting can you think of?