We’ve all had at least one campaign start in a tavern (Heck my latest campaign is about characters that own and run a tavern). Its such a common trope at this point that it is kind of taken for granted. Heck, the players regularly rest at these establishments throughout their adventures and I tend to hand wave tavern encounters way just to keep the story moving. However, I think that can be detrimental to the game since the tavern can serve many purposes for your game.
Tavern’s Cork board
Do the locals have a problem that they need handled? Is there a festival happening soon? Are the villagers planning to hold local elections and the Tavern is where they’ll be counting votes? Is someone trying to sell their card? Well, the tavern cork board is a great place for you as the DM to drop a fun mix of world building, plot hooks, and provide them interesting options to go out and spend gold. Its a great way for you to info dump useful information to the players without them needing to talk to every NPC at the bar.
Taverns are gathering places to eat, drink, and relax. You can use this swath of nameless NPCs to convey a lot of interesting details to your players. Do the mass of NPCs walk with a skip in their step after the capture of a mysterious murderer or are they weary and trudge to their seats after a grueling day in the fields. How are they dressed? Are their clothes frayed and patched or are the heroes sticking out like sore thumbs since everyone is wearing blue? That’s not even taking into account dialogue.
What are the NPCs discussing? Do they talk about current events, the stuff on the cork board, and how do they feel about them? I often forget to fill my taverns with life, but it is through these NPCs that players grow attached to the fictional world your creating. You may be surprised to see your players who aren’t willing to do anything for Lord Hoity Toity, slay dragons for the tavern boy who just won the pig racing competition.
Innkeepers have all kinds of gimmicks to attract customers and keep them there. Some taverns allow gambling or provide equipment for some game. If games don’t quite fit the tavern’s feel there are other forms of entertainment that better suite them. Old saloons had a full stage for dancers to twirl and sing on and in the 20s some establishments had space for a big band ensemble to provide music for those enjoying their meal. There is nothing stopping us from stealing the more fun qualities of history to enrich our game.
Instead of a more entertaining establishment a place could have a more pragmatic feel. Some eateries provide private meeting rooms for patrons to enjoy their food in peace while discussing private information. There could also be an attached shop to purchase goods, or acquire important documentation to venture into the city.
The point is if your tavern is just an empty place to eat, sleep, and leave you are denying yourself countless ways to enrich your story 🙂 Have fun everyone.