Today we will be addressing probably the fist and most abused RPG Cliche. You all find yourself at an Inn/Tavern.
clichés can be a danger to any storyteller for many reasons. First off it is an easy go to in a pinch and requires virtually no work or effort. Many Game Masters feel this is not an issue because after all in the case here most of the time. This Cliche is being used to get the party together and move directly onto the story as quickly as possible. That said it is in these very first moments that you can LOSE your players. What for you was only a vessel to move the group from introductions to adventure easily may have just lost you the group. And when playing with gamer’s for the first time, new players or at a convention this is a bad foot to start off on. It can cost you precious time and or set a bad tone with some of your group and leave the rest of the game falling flat, or at least moving from a stall to an uphill grind. I don’t know about you but as a GM at the end of a con game or a game in general to hear players thoughts expressed as . Great game slow start but it picked up speed after the introduction.
This does not mean I am implying never to use these locations. What I am implying is these settings are Cliche for a reason. They work, and rather successfully. So as A GM if you decide to use them be mindful that any encounter location the devil is in the Details. You would never just put your players in dungeon with no description of the setting. Yet often when players are placed in an Inn or Tavern it is given to assumption that they know what the location looks like.
This is the first failing of falling back on a Cliche. In the requiring less work in its preparation for use in the game things like descriptive flavor fall by the way side almost without a second thought. Simple descriptive flavor of the world around the players can help bring this back into perspective and help you from losing your players in the first few moments of the game.
Here are some examples of flavor that will help bring your Tavern scene to life.
The Tavern has a central fireplace the flickering flames warm the room with its heat and occasional snap and pop from the logs.
The scent of firewood and Smoke are thick in the air and a thin cloud of smoke hangs along the ceiling as you look for a seat.
The smell of Dirt, Sweat and Ale fills your nostrils as you step into the Tavern house, Laughter to your left draws your attention as you cross the threshold and the patrons all in unison take a drink as you enter.
Short sentences like this go a long way to breathing some life back into a clichéd location. And as players often do when they hear good descriptive text they begin to sit up and become aware. This is often because when there is descriptive text often something is about to happen. And that is the goal in any game, To have your players attention on you
A more drastic yet exceptionally rewarding way to lay out a clichéd encounter is to take that encounter and stand it on its head. When you take what feels like a standard run of the mill situation that the players are used to and then flip it. Your players will more often than not be on the edge of their seats. Minds begin to work and if done well you have now set the hook for the adventure to come.
Here are a few Ideas of how to take a Tavern/Inn encounter on its head.
No sooner do you get your first glass of Ale and tip it back refreshing yourself from the days travel then an Arrow strikes the wall next to you. You drop your mug and turn as Orc’s burst through the entry way. Swords held at the ready.
You purchased your room for the night and as you sit back to enjoy your dinner the sound of an upturned tables from behind. You turn and watch as the center of the room becomes a sea of drunken fists and thrown drinks. A moment later the Captain of the guard and the guard watch enter the room. With a shout he declares that the constant bar fights over the last week have left him no more choice. Everyone is about to spend the night in lock up.
As you go to pay for a room for the night the innkeeper tells you that with the storm (Rain or Snow Hurricane) all his rooms are full but you can stay in the barn with a few of the others that he has turned away. The storm is intense and the safety of shelter is essential to wait out the storm.
So maybe next time your stuck with trying to come up with a creative way to bring your party together. Instead of throwing out the options of a clichéd location you will consider with a little bit of work. You can make something memorable and fresh out of something that has been used often.