CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

People. People are as important to a bar as the location or atmosphere. As I write this I am sitting at a local ale house, having an IPA and some food, looking around at all the people. It’s a little after quitting time so the ones already here are probably teachers or construction workers that finish up before five. Those straggling in have just finished putting in another day—whether it’s a job they love or one they hate is a secret known only to them. The older gentlemen sitting three seats down from me I’ve seen here a few times. He arrives early, is probably retired, and spend his afternoon here until it’s too crowded and noisy.

The thing about the bar is that people go regardless of circumstance unless, of course, they don’t drink. If the economy is booming people go to the bar, in a recession people go to the bar. They go to celebrating their ups, from new jobs to birthdays, and commiserate with others on their downs. People go to the bar. And if we want to continue to make sure our tavern is way more than just a trope we need to explore who those people are. These are just a few examples to start filling out your watering hole.

The Pity Case

There’s a guy in the neighborhood who spends a little time in every bar. He’s an older man, definitely mute, maybe deaf and possibly developmentally disabled. I’ve seen him in here;  he comes in right after they open and, without a word, grabs a broom and starts sweeping the sidewalk outside and then the entrance way. For his troubles he gets a few free drinks before he moves on to the next place.

Sometimes when I’m drinking with a friend he’ll come up and use pantomime to ask if I’m driving. He’ll follow this up by shaking his finger and then mimic drinking and driving. His concern is genuine. He has never once hit me up for a drink, although I’ve seen some regulars pay for one for him. He’s generally harmless and I’ve never seen him become aggressive but it has to be an odd sort of life. I sometimes wonder at his circumstances; maybe he’s a war vet? Maybe he’s always been challenged? Nothing about him gives a clue.

The thing is I’ve seen this guy, or someone like him, in bars all over the city. Maybe in your fantasy game he’s an old dwarf, a veteran of too many wars. Possibly he’s a gentle giant who thinks of the tavern as a second home. Maybe he’s just old and senile with nothing better to do. Much like the bars he frequents, the hows and whys are a thousand fold as to who this character is.

The Alcohol Inspired Artist.

Take me for example, here I am sitting on my laptop being as creative as can be. I have a beer I’m sipping on and the creative juices are filling the page with ideas. I’m not the only writer who gets most of his best work done in a bar with a beer. I’m not sure if it’s true or not by I always picture Hemingway sitting in Cuban bar with his typewriter, or James Joyce with pen in hand working on a manuscript in an Irish pub.

The alcohol-inspired artist isn’t only relegated to writers. I’ve been going to nightclubs since I was sixteen, don’t tell anyone, and there was always this older artist in the club every weekend. I’m sure he had to know a few of the people there but to me he always seemed like a recluse. I never saw him talk to anyone and even though he had that creepy old man vibe I never saw him hit on a single girl. He would just sit at his table looking out over the dance floor, his pencil flying over the pages of his sketchbook.

In your story this could be anyone, writer (of course), sketch artist, composer, or whatever forms of art exist in your world. Many times this person seems stand-offish even if they aren’t. The look they have when absorbed in their work makes others feel like they’re unapproachable. Many bars, however, host an artist in residence.

The Traveling Performer

I can personally only think of two examples of this that I’ve seen first-hand, but they were both exciting characters to behold. The first was a sketch artist who would draw your likeness and then come up to you and try and get you to buy it. This version of the character is a little annoying and off-putting, although I admit to purchasing my sketch ‘because it was really that good. This person has to have both talent and charisma to talk people into buying his work or else he just wasted however much time on a sketch.

Another versions of this is the troubadour or group. A group of traveling musicians, a brass band, who walk from bar to bar and ask for permission to play. Not only are they amazing, they are novel. Nobody really does brass bands anymore, at least not here, so they usually have an instant audience for something unique. These performers are usually a little less off-putting because they need permission to be in the bar and their targets are all the patrons so you don’t feel singled out as a mark.

In a fantasy setting you can use any type of performer for this role. Sketch artist, painters, singer, musician, comedian and even poet. The good thing about these characters is they get around. Whereas most of the others will only know about the few bars they frequent, the traveling performer probably knows many of the local establishments. If you’re looking for someone and know they frequent one of the bars in a city, these may be the people to ask.

The Slumming Youth

This is mostly a dive bar phenomena, but kids who come from money think it’s cool to hang out in a seedy place. You can pick them out of a crowd in pretty easily; dressed down but not down enough, hanging out in a little cluster, chattering about how exciting it is to be where they are. Regulars usually look at them with a certain amount of derision because it’s obvious why they are there.

Why are these slummers possibly important to your game? If you’re trying to find out about the upper class these are the people to talk with. Many times they feel like talking to a local gives them some kind of credibility and are willing to divulge things they otherwise would not. If your characters are trying to hinder the plans of a noble, nothing helps that better than kidnapping their child when they’re having a night out.

The Regular

Almost every bar has one of these, but they aren’t one specific type of person. The regular goes to the same bar every day or at least a few times a week. If you want to talk to someone who knows everyone and everything that goes on in a bar, the regular is your man. He’s seen it all and isn’t surprised by anything.

Beyond just being there often, the regular can come in many flavors. The curmudgeon, who thinks of it as his bar, may have to be plied with many drinks before he’ll speak with anyone. The welcoming committee, who smiles and finds you a seat, telling you all about the place he loves so much. The guy passed out in his beer at the end of the bar, hard to talk to till he sobers up a bit. Could be anyone, as long as the bar is their usual hang out.

The Bartender

Probably the most important person in the bar. Sometimes the bartender is also the proprietor, but this isn’t always the case. The type of bartender you get is different from bar to bar. The one thing almost all bartenders have in common is the knowledge of all the regulars who come through the establishment and an instinctive understanding when someone is “done” for the night. Other than that bartender traits can be as all over the charts as their patrons.

Many establishments, especially dive bars in popular neighborhoods, will hire only female bartenders. The women are usually single -- or pretend to be single -- because flirting with the male customers is part of the game. A lingering smile or a knowing look often gives the patrons a reason to stay longer, order more, and leave bigger tips. By the way, at the end of the night, you never get to go home with the bartender. Sports bars, on the other hand, usually have male bartenders. Even though it’s sexist to assume that only “men” talk about sports. The local Dive will have older bartenders, usually area locals.

One of my favorite type of bartenders is the heckler. This bartender will make fun of everyone who walks in. To some that behavior means they’ll never return, but that’s how you keep the riff raff out of the bar. To others it is a challenge to be accepted, can you stand up to the abuse? If you can make it past the jibes of the person pouring your beer then you’ll be accepted as part of the bar’s fellowship. You have joined an elite group and found a home.

Those are only some of the many characters you might find in any type of pub. There are so many more that it’s almost impossible to list them all. Make sure that each of the people in your bar serves a purpose, dictated by location and atmosphere. If you can marry all the aspects we’ve spoke about so far, your tavern will have gone from a trope to a living, breathing organism all its own.

Are you a regular here at the tavern of the CRB? Consider becoming a patron over at my Pateron for as little as $1 a post you can help support the creative. And make sure to join me over on the CRB’s other social media. On twitter it’s @SimonSezCRB and I live tweet my weekend games for your enjoyment. The CRB is also on Tumblr where I post some thoughts that are more than 140 characters and reblog inspirational artwork from some great fantasy artists.


  1. Fantastic post. Stuff I would have never been able to think of. Gonna use this in my next game.

  2. I'm glad it could help you out Rodrigo, its always good feeling when my writing can inspire others.