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, February 24, 2016

Inns, Taverns and Seedy Dives

Upscale taverns, country inns and seedy dives are a few different kinds of drinkeries you might find in a fantasy world. We spoke last week on why the "your party meets in a bar" trope isn’t always a bad thing. But as a GM how do you make the watering hole seem like a living breathing place? The first thing you need to do is figure out what kind of establishment your group is in so you can give it the right ambiance.

The Seedy Dive

My favorite type of real world bar is the dive. The dive bar is, in my mind, full of the most colorful characters. The first thing you want to get across about the dive bar is the darkness. Most dives have smaller windows that don’t let in a lot of light. It’s the kind of place old retired guys hide from their wives and drunks conceal that they started on the sauce at noon or earlier. The whole place should seem like everyone wants their anonymity, but in truth most the patrons are locals who all know each other and the bar is like a second home.

Seedy dives even come in a few different varieties and each should seem different. The local dive as I’ve outlined above should be dark but oddly homey. You’ll find many a dive bar in the dock area with nautical themes and seamen as the regular clientele. These places are more welcoming to strangers because they see a lot of sailors passing through. Instead of unfamiliarity being the barrier to acceptance, it’s more the look and the language. If you don’t talk like a pirate or a sailor then you’ll likely get the cold shoulder if you’re allowed entry at all.

There is also the cover bar, an establishment that covers up for even seedier activity. Whether it’s a meeting hall for a crime syndicate, a place where illegal gambling den or even a safe house for an underground railroad freeing slaves, these bars try and keep a low profile. It’s easier to do dishonest work if there aren’t a lot of honest folk crawling about. But these kinds of places can usually supply some of the best information, if you can get people to talk.

Country Inns

As I’ve pointed out in the original article, many smaller towns or villages have one inn or tavern that is also a meeting place for the townsfolk. The place will seem a lot more homey and friendly when your characters walk in, especially if they’re from the area. Where in seedy bars there is little light, in the country you’ll usually find a roaring fire illuminating the whole place. You may also find the walls covered in trophies from townsfolk, current and past; the head of a giant boar the town guard took down 20 years ago, The bow that Old Johnson used when he won at the autumn festival tournament 12 years running, or a painting by one of the town founders that’s hung on the wall since the place was built.

If you remember the opening of the Dragonlance Chronicles, think back to the Inn of the Last Home in Solace. The roaring fireplace, communal tables, the barmaid everyone knew, and Otik’s spiced potatoes. Many country inns will have a food item or a house brew they are famous for. One surefire way to give a country inn its own personality is to come up with a menu item everyone orders. When the characters come through town and ask for a place to eat and a local recommends the one tavern with “Heron’s fantastic mudfish.” These kinds of small things really add storytelling flavor.

Upscale Taverns

Not every character is going to be low born, some will be nobles or at least part of the gentry. The bad part of town does not have a monopoly on drinking establishments. When you walk into one of the hoity-toity upscale taverns you will find that, much like the Country Inn, it will be far better lit than a seedy dive. But unlike the county inn it will have what the owner and patrons will call ambiance or décor. Much more lavish decorations will adorn the walls of these establishments. In many instances these will have a theme; there is nothing that upscale places like more than to seem exotic. A tavern in a European analog cultural town might be decorated with Arabian or Oriental analog cultural decorations so that their patrons can feel worldlier.

In the aristocratic areas you’ll also find that the prices are heavily inflated. The beer that costs you a silver or two in docktown might cost you a gold or more in the marble district. The thing is the peerage doesn’t care what they’re being charged, and the more common patrons understand that they’re paying for the prestige of being seen in these upscale places. The whole see-and-be-seen culture of the upper class really takes hold in the places they choose to drink.

Variety and rarity are two things you’ll find most often in these kinds of places, although not necessarily in the same place. You’ll find upscale ale houses that pride themselves on not serving the swill of the lower class but a bit from every fine brewer they can buy from. Here you’ll find 100 taps of many of the best small breweries in the world. On the other end you will also find places what won’t even stoop to serving beer. Beer is for the lower class wines, and spirits some of which were only vinted or distilled in short runs get served to the crème de la crème. The patrons of these taverns paying extra for being one of the few to ever taste these spirits.

Those are three very broad-brushed examples of types of watering holes. You can take just about any kind of place people go to share inebriation and place them in these categories. Your Arabian Nights hookah bar can fit into upscale tavern mold easily and its darker sister, the opium den, can fit the seedy dive bar. The Japanese tea house can be just like a very homey country inn – check out my mystical Kofusachi’s Tea House – whereas a sake house could fit in either the seedy or the upscale depending on your needs. You just need to remember that every drinking establishment is different and you will bring to life these places that start many an adventure.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the second part in the CRB’s tavern series. If you are enjoying the CRB, one of the main ways I help support my writing endeavors is through my Patreon so consider becoming a patron today. If you want to see some of my other ramblings between posts check out the CRB;s Tumblr. And for the 140 character version, which includes live tweets of my weekend Pathfinder games, follow me on Twitter @SimonSezCRB.

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