Saturday, 29 March 2014

You find yourself in a tavern...

http://bejzar.deviantart.com/
I don't believe I've ever begun to run an adventure with those words, and as far as I can recall, I've never played in a game where the DM started us out in a tavern, being approached by a Mysterious Stranger. Even by 1981, which is when I first started playing roleplaying games, it was a cliché to be avoided. It's kind of a pity, because it's a starting point ideally suited to provide a whole lot of background colour for the party without a whole lot of effort on anybody's part.

Who hangs around in seedy, smoky taverns, picking up dodgy jobs from furtive, wary strangers? Not your bright shining heroes, that's for sure. And nobody who's already well off. Immediately, everyone sitting at the gaming table knows that they're not the sort of people who are going to be invited to a royal garden party any time soon, and they're probably not a group who has an easy, problem-free relationship with whatever law-enforcement authorities may exist.

If the tavern looks anything like the one in this picture, everyone can be pretty sure from the get-go that they're not too plump in the pocket. That's not a salubrious or respectable establishment, and that doesn't look like a good neighbourhood, so the work they're likely to pick up is pretty likely to be... questionable, at best. Obviously there are much better, more comfortable parts of the city to be — we can see them over there, in the background — but we're not there. We're on the outskirts, in this shit-hole, associating with the scum of the earth.

Just showing this picture and starting with "you find yourself in a tavern...", and you've immediately set the tone for the whole campaign.

There's a reason why clichés become clichés. They work.