Behind the Screen: Spicing up tavern antics…

2008 March 17
by Dante

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, one of the most drinkin’est holidays on the standard calendar (and one of my favorite days of the year). In that vein, I would like to look at a few fun and easy ways to spice up a layover at your campaign’s local tavern.

The Colorful NPC

One of my personal favorite things to do in a tavern is to introduce a colorful NPC to liven up the standard “I want a drink / I want to kill some time / I have nothing better to do” cycle that usually brings in our adventuring patrons.

These NPC’s don’t necessarily need to have a specific purpose or be particularly powerful or important. If you try this a few times with the focus on color and entertainment and less on driving home yet another plot point, you may find that your players interact more richly with the NPC and you can drive some storyline with them at a later time.

In fact, in our recent campaign a disposable NPC ended up married to Vanir’s character, Bat Loaf, precisely by this process. It works, people. Trust me!

The Random Item

If you’re up for a little excitement, you can always introduce an out of place item. Be it an expensive gem unexpectedly found at the bottom of your glass of grog, or a wondrous item found slipped under the door, you can start an excellent detached moment of intrigue and you gain the ability to practice your ad-libbing skills based on how your party reacts to this stimulus.

It might help in either one of these scenarios to have a chunk of episodic content woven around your approach, but it isn’t required. If you have a chaotic enough party, they might just pocket the extra bit of treasure and “fly casual” with the loot. Whether or not someone catches them is an entirely different story…

The Local Color

This is something that runs slightly tangent to my first point, but it is important to give your local tavern some life. How many bars have you been in that have touted to have the World’s Best of something? Your tavern should have some sort of a hook or special feature that makes it have a little curb appeal.

If you find yourself in a world where your party travels overland often, towns start blurring together and without some level of distinction you can get that cursed affliction that they warned you about in high school driver’s education: highway hypnosis. If every bar looks the same in every town, eventually your players will want to handwave that whole process and you will loose that opportunity to interact with them.

Just don’t skimp!

I highly recommend taking a few minutes before your next game session and map out an opportunity or two for your players to have some quality roleplaying time inside of their next tavern. The great thing about tavern encounters and color is that you can plan them and use them whenever they are needed, and it gives you some great practice to work on your impromptu dungeon mastering skills!

Luck favors the bold, so give it a go this week!

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