Saturday, January 10, 2015

Meeting at the Inn - A Lament


How many of you started some RPG campaign of any genre by meeting a group of people in an inn, bar, tavern, or Mos Eisley Cantina?  Raise your hand, because you know we've all done it.  How good was it?  Yeah, it pretty much sucked.  I don't think I've ever heard someone say, "And it was so awesome how we all started as characters who didn't know each other sitting around a table at a tavern when..."

Part of the reason this motif gets eye-rolls is because it's SO contrived with nothing supporting the players.  Why would strangers be loyal to each other?  Or if they knew each other, why didn't the motivation for the campaign arise from their shared experiences and history?  Why are the characters suddenly risking their lives on a tip taken from one of the least reputable places in any town?

Another reason it usually stinks on ice is that the people in the tavern or inn are transient.  They aren't staying in one place, even the barkeep and stereotypical barmaids are easily replaced.  Hence, there's nothing for the players to ever really come back to for validation, help, or enrichment.  The tavern little more than a springboard and then forgotten, at least in my experience and in all the anecdotes I've ever heard.  It's sad how the tavern where the adventure began becomes so astonishingly unimportant to the action later on.

I would like to see someone take this tired, lifeless old trope and really make it good.  I've played a few modules that tried (like Return to the Tomb of Horrors), but none did a very good job.  I lament the tavern meeting for this: it is usually so unsatisfying that it leaves a blotch on the memories of those who have played using it, and I want people to have the best experience they can playing RPGs.

So, if you have some great tavern stories OR a theory on how to improve ye olde tavern campaign kickoff, I'd love to read about it in the comments! :)




Troy_Costisick said...

I like the idea of tavern owners. Nice idea! :)



Unknown said...

I played a campaign a while back where the starting tavern was an integral part of the game.

The reason this tavern became so important and memorable was be cause of two reasons.

1. The players designed the tavern, We got to choose where it was, its name and any flavoring of it.

2. The tavern was linked into two of the characters back-stories. As they rented a permanent rooms within the tavern, in exchange for odd jobs.

This made the tavern something the players continuously came back too, to share drinks after adventures. The tavern practically became it's own character within the game.

Veritomancer said...

A lot of this boils down to universally good GM advice (no matter the setting or system): link your setting/situation to the interests of your players and the backstories of their characters.

Beyond that though, another cool approach would be to run a campaign (or even create a game) where the player characters are, far from being wandering vagabond hero(ine)s local folk with more or less normal lives who inevitably get caught up in all manner of strange events.

Then the tavern stops being a plot device and starts becoming (as a previous poster mentioned) a character all it's own.

Characters in such a game don't go to the tavern because that's where the quests are. It's because they want to chat up their husband's buddies to make sure he's not straying, to shoot the shit with the village reeve (and hopefully get the money she owes them), and to drag your cousin's boy kicking and screaming away from a band of so-called "adventurers".

"Adventurers heh." "More like murderers, thieves, and scoundrels. Am I right? Another pint Abram, if you please. It's going to be a long night if I'm going to be explaining the youngin's new book of spells to my dear sister."

Q.X. Odd said...

I once kicked off a campaign with all of my players waking up on a tavern floor with no recollection of who they were or how they got there. The rest of the staff and patrons suffered the same fugue, and the players soon discovered that the entire town, and in fact the entire world, had all woken up with no memories at the same time. It was fun.