Tavern: Gamings Most Tired Cliche

“I find a corner of the tavern, and I drink my ail with my back to the wall and watch the room.”

How many times have you heard this? I know a player who always plays the same character. Sure, he was fun to play with, however I don’t think that he had as much fun as I did. He’d always try and play a ranger, but the only alignment that he could play was Chaotic Neutral, thus, he was lucky to stay a ranger for more then two sessions. Every game with him was the same! YES he was a thinker, he could puzzle with the best of them, but in regards to all of the stuff that doesn’t require a life and death decision, well, he was always the same CN Fighter. He became a total pain in the ass when he tried to get us to pay him to come along with our adventure. We said screw that and tried to just leave him in the Tavern, but of course he followed us.

He doesn’t play no more, nor do I believe that he has the interest to as I’ve invited him back into the group but he just lost the glow.

A discussion over at Noisms’ Monsters & Manuals blog got me thinking. It got pretty heated, but the crux of the discussion was overused ideas. Some players get stuck, and I think that the DM can reinforce this if he isn’t careful, by overusing the same idea. Probably the greatest misuse of the cliché is how you give your players information. Yes folks, I am blasting the Tavern! Not that we shouldn’t ever use taverns and bars, but the idea of using them every time is dryer then troll turd in the desert. Why not mix it up some? I suppose that by doing this, we just might have to change the dynamic of how we guide the players around the world that we’ve created. For the greatest amount of ideas as possible, lets just assume that our city will be a capital, it has the greatest amount of places to find work, and that is really what we are after, WORK!

What is an adventurer? Well, if he was around today then we would call him unemployed. But who wants to play somebody with a real job? NOT I, I say! Unless it’s a cool job, like sailor! But for the most part, adventurers are henchmen. They work for others doing running and such, always hoping to get enough cash to afford a treasure hunt where they’ll strike it rich. Information is their business! Especially in the acquiring of it. One place to collect work and rumor is, of course, the tavern. However this isn’t the only place, and depending on the exact line of work that the adventurers seek, there are different ways of accruing it.

Public Places

The easiest, and the cheapest form of information gathering is of course by going where people go regularly. Of course on the top of this list is Church. Weddings and Funerals are one of the best spots to gain work and intelligence, also during holidays when people gather to celebrate. Carnivals make great places to congregate as well, yes they only come around once or twice a year, but during times like this money flows pretty freely, and tongues loosen. The carnival also attracts a specific kind of information barker, CHILDREN!!! Folks talk pretty freely around kids, if you want information, employing a group of children is cheap and very effective.

The Market is a valuable source of info and work. Everybody has to eat, and these bright streets are the true hub and heart of any city, as is a well. Water is collected daily, all one had to do is hang out in this area and you will see everyone that lives in the area.

News is usually delivered by callers, or barkers, as well as boards placed in places of business that are useful to adventurers: Weapons Shops, Armories, Supply Shops and such.

Places of Entertainment

Folks need a change, Carnivals are entertaining, however we relax and blow off steam more then once a year. Games are an excellent place to find work, especially if you invest in it. The games are usually free to the public, and feature a variety of different sports. One way to make money, is of course to become an athlete yourself! But the wealthy will also go to these games to gamble and cheer, however they will be separated by the poor by buying passes. If you yourself are lower-class, one way to change your status is to purchase season tickets. In these seats you will be able to mingle with the elite, the more money you put into it, the more status that you will buy. A few favors to a lord or official will help you greatly in making a name for yourself. Wealthy merchants will also be in these seats, and normally have little jobs that need to be done.

Plays are an alternative for folks that just don’t have an interest in sports, you will find a better class of citizen congregating at these functions. The bards are more then just entertainment, they are also a warehouse of news from around the region. These are free to the public as well, however, the wealthy will buy tickets to these showings to keep away from the lower-class.

Public Executions were more then just law at work, it was entertainment and did offer a chance to bet and gamble. EVERYONE went to executions, the morbid fascination with death has been a hallmark of the human race since the dawn of our existence. Wherever people meet, there will be business to be done.

Public Services

The rich always tried to pamper themselves, but even relaxation and seeking entertainment doesn’t offer them a break from work, in fact, the wealthy preferred to do business in places like this.

Libraries were not free, one had to pay for membership. Museums also offered culture, they didn’t focus on history or fine art, the most common museums were of the taxidermist stock. Humanoids are probably off limits, and considered to be in bad taste, however everything else is open game. Adventurers can find work supplying these places, Libraries, museums, and other such businesses with their wares. An adventurer may also contract a taxidermist to stuff trophies of his own!

Of course the most preferred place to conduct business, is in the bath house, a very civilized place. It is the polar-opposite of a tavern, and yes it does cost money to go to a nice bath house, however the jobs that an adventurer can obtain while there may pay better the actual cost of the bath. The bath house is where promotions are discussed, politics are fixed, laws are created, and many dark deeds are contracted in private.

Another civil place where one can discuss things in private, as well as obtain the peace required for ruling a corrupt public is a garden. Gardens are kept behind walls and again, one must be a member to enjoy the splendor of them.


Guilds make the world go around, most workers are involved in guilds: Hoopers, Butchers, Smithies, all were active in guilds to determine how much a product should cost and how many products need to be made, as well as policing the industry. Even if one isn’t part of a guild, one can be employed in guild business, however doing small running is required to get one’s foot in the door.

Hunting clubs, beaches, gardens, specific libraries, magical shops which sell components can also require a membership. This can be any guild or secret society that a dm can imagine.


Where people live has been discussed, but where people work will afford an adventurer with opportunities that simply hanging out in Taverns can get you. Can’t afford a sage? Try talking to a sailor, these guys get to see the world, many learn vocabularies which would humble a language scholar. Mines need hunted, even abandoned mines need rescuers to enter then from time to time to fetch people out. Docks and Merchant routes offer the odd job, especially if the goods are worth stealing. By helping merchants protect their routes, one can get their name out there, and a name is really what makes adventuring profitable.

Soldiering is a business. Freelance soldiers had best be good at what they do! How you chose to dish out work to adventurers is up to you. Perhaps the local Man-At-Arms has a list of work which he employs freelancers with on a weekly basis. All of the freelance adventurers gather there in the morning and wait to see if they can gain work. The Man-At-Arms will usually pick people who he knows by name to be dependable. These jobs will usually require traveling some distances, and involve much danger, risks he wouldn’t want to expose his own men to.

A local constable is usually over worked and under manned, bounty-hunting is very profitable, as is aiding the constable in solving mysteries, however don’t expect much support from him or his men. The fact that you are there implies that they are incompetent.

The Underground

Sometimes an adventurer needs info from sources that are unavailable to even the richest noble, crime infested dregs of society! Beggars, whores, thieves, homeless murderers, these men and women haunt the cities underworld. One can find them wandering the streets above and below. Dealing with these people is harder then one would at first assume. If you just pay them for information, then you will normally get nothing but lies, else mobbed on a regular basis. Many of these people at one time desired to take the path that the adventurer is taking, but failed. Most never had a chance! Taverns is where they hang out, spending what little money they could steal to feed their addiction to cheer, these people are surprisingly unfriendly and just as likely to set the adventurers up so that they can rob them, as they are to stab them right there in the bar.

Brothels, jails, sewers, make-shift camps, all of these places you can find these dangerous individuals. Why you would want to is solely for information. Favors are the preferred coin of the realm, they will except money, but money can corrupt them even worse. Handling the lowest criminal elements should be an adventure in itself!


And finally, we get to the holy grail of jobs. Official jobs!!! These are never given out, officials don’t trust just anybody with a sword. Getting this kind of work takes money. Gift-giving, finding ways to enter the right circles through paying your dues and doing lots of grunt work. Official titles are not earned, they are bought! Art objects, magical items, rare gems and jewels these are the quickest route to gaining their favors. The coin of this realm is always the coin of the realm itself, attending feasts is desirable, making a name for yourself on the freelance market, sharing information with the right people. This is how a nobody of common birth can obtain land and secure his future. This is a cut-throat business and only the strong survive, gaining information from taverns alone will get you drunk, and little else. It takes imagination as well as courage to become a successful hero, one can keep their lives and still lose this game, potentially every thing is a challenge!

(EDIT: TheLemming told me about a cool website here that is also interesting.)


TheLemming said...

Hi Ripper,
great posting - I just thought you might not know the following link: http://www.dangermouse.net/gurps/reject/tavern.html - it's a good (though not great) resource for an alternate-start idea.
Hope you enjoy it.


Edward Ott said...

I found myself stating during one game session there are no chairs along the wall the only two free tables are in the center of the rooms. I had the most nervous bunch of PCs ever. But more so they had a lot of fun.

RipperX said...

Hey guys, thanks for the comments! I did a quick and lazy edit for the link that you gave me Lemmings.

I am guilty of using the tavern as well, but I too try to make sure that I have as many "Encounters" as possible.

Patrick W. Rollens said...

Steer clear of the tavern! I couldn't agree more. When I played Blue Planet, I ended up making the local fish market (hey, it's a water world!) into the gossip hotspot. It was open-air, only in operation in the bright sunlight, yet the PCs could still get dirt on the latest villainy afoot.

Anonymous said...

Look at the real world... people meet in taverns. More importantly, it's the best place in a D&D-type world to meet a variety of people you might not otherwise encounter, in a casual environment that's conducive to discussion (unlike busy markets with people focused on buying/selling). It's a classic, and classics never get old. If your taverns have become boring or feel tired out and cliche'd I respectfully propose it may be your skill as a DM at using them, not the concept of the tavern itself.

Tala said...

Look at the real world... people meet in taverns. More importantly, it's the best place in a D&D-type world to meet a variety of people you might not otherwise encounter, in a casual environment that's conducive to discussion (unlike busy markets with people focused on buying/selling). It's a classic, and classics never get old. If your taverns have become boring or feel tired out and cliche'd I respectfully propose it may be your skill as a DM at using them, not the concept of the tavern itself.

I couldn't disagree more. I've been playing for what seems like eons, and one can only do so many bar fights, drunk old fools spinning yarns, or asking the barkeep or bar wench what the local gossip is.

Taverns can be interesting places, but to use it constantly as a source to find information is boring. Besides for the fact, that if one uses taverns on a consistent basis, and that is what the players become accustomed to, then they are completely lost when they are thrown into a situation where the town may not have a tavern.

I'd also have to disagree with the fact that in real life that the local bar or tavern is where people meet. I've spent my fair share in a bar and you don't get much gossip or local tales there. If one was to walk into any of the local bars that I know and ask for some sort of information like who the dirtiest lowlife is, you are either going to get your a$$ kicked or shunned for the rest of the night. So I don't think that's a very good comparison at all.

To my own real life experience, some of the most interesting people I've ever met was at work. Gossip reigns supreme, and depending on how public the job is, like say a cashier at a local gas station, you really get a fantastic feel for the locals. I had worked at a Casey's gas station some fifteen years ago, and I got to know my regular customers as well as the local gossip incredibly well.

As far as Rip's skills as a DM, they are quite superb. I have been a DM and a player, and he's one of the best DM's I've played with. So no, it has nothing to do with his skills, the taverns are just plain old and wore out. The way I see it, when players gravitate to a tavern it's coming out of laziness as a player and not using the creativity that's before them.

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