Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GM Wednesday! - It All began In the Tavern

People talk about this cliche and how to avoid it a lot. But I'm here to support the tavern trope (well just a bit). While it doesn't seem to have much place in modern or futuristic games, there is a perfectly valid reason for it in fantasy games.

In medieval times, the Tavern was a central part of any town. It wasn't just a place where adventurers could get put up for the night. The tavern was the medieval version of Facebook, LinkedIn, and the help wanted pages.

In a world without electric light, the workday ended at sundown. At that point many went to the tavern to drink (alcohol being a safer choice than water in those days), and to wheel and deal. Contracts, trade, services, all were bartered at the tavern. Neighbors could make arrangements with each other, or with travelling merchants who were staying the night. A man could walk into a tavern and come out with a deal to sell some of his cattle as well as an STD from a local prostitute.

So the idea that adventurers would find work at a tavern is a very realistic concept and a trope that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

I recently read Eloy Lasanta's chapter "You're In a Bar" from Engine Publishing's Unframed (a quality book about improvisation for RPGs). He discusses the trope of the tavern as an easy way to get the party together and better solutions should be found to knit the groups psyche to form a stronger bond. I agree in spirit, but I don't blame the Tavern. In fact, I see the Tavern as a role-play opportunity.

For instance, several of the games I have run I used the Tavern as the location for recruitment. A patron wants to hire adventurers to perform a task. I pick one character who seems like a good choice for team leader and have him or her under the Patron's direct employ. What follows is this character interviewing the other characters. If done well, the players can get a peak into what each brings to the table as well as a hint of backstory in the exchange.

Of course there are always those players that want to see what the GM will do if the player intentional makes a mess of the interview. The answer is very simple, if they don't get hired then they don't play. If the player throws a tantrum, he or she is not really someone you want to game with. If they realize their mistake, they will shift tactics and the problem should correct itself. Just make sure that this type of player isn't the one doing the hiring.

Another idea is to use the hiring scene as a flashback. Start your adventure with the team already together and in the middle of combat. After the combat, have a flashback scene where the players describe how they came to be employed by the patron. You could run the tavern hiring then, or you can have them describe how they were approached individually by the patron. Was it just a simple matter of the money being right, did they owe the Patron a favor, did the Patron have incriminating evidence on them? The point here is that the player already knows the result of the exchange (they are doing a job for the Patron) but the way that exchange unfolded can give their characters more depth and Plot Hooks that the GM can use to spotlight that character.

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