NerdNYC Game Table: Tavernless Gaming

by Rob Trimarco

by Jay Stratton of Pantheon Press

“Okay: Gruffin Elderblade, Frego son of Flatulo, Mina Harkenbronte, and Tav Darkcloak; you all meet in a tavern. Suddenly you are approached by a mysterious stranger. The stranger looks you up and down and begins speaking. ‘My friends, I must ask you for your help. My daughter has been kidnapped…’”

How many campaigns have started like this? Even as I type it, I feel a wave of nostalgia. Suddenly I am back in middle school with my hearty ranger ready to journey into another dungeon during school lunch period! But I am writing to suggest a better way, a more mature way, maybe even a funner way: Tavernless Gaming!

Now this post is not about the virtues of abstemiousness, nor do I mean gaming groups should actually avoid taverns themselves. Personally, I love beer! I also love taverns, (because they have beer there). What I am really talking about is giving the players a better way to invest in the campaign.Instead of hiring the players to go do something, give them their own reason. If your campaign is about rescuing a kidnapped daughter, cut out the middle man: make one of the PCs the girl’s father! How much higher then, will the stakes be to rescue her?

“Okay, well what about the other 4 PCs, you may ask? They can’t all be the girl’s father!” Totally fair point, my binging friend! There are two ways to handle this. First, you can build relationships TO the PC who is the girl’s father. Could another PC be the father’s brother or sister? Or an old war buddy who owes a favor? Could another PC even be the missing girl’s Romeo-and-Juliet-esque beloved? Sure the father disapproves, but they must set aside their grudge and work together to save her!

Second, you can create concurrent storylines to involve other PCs. Got a dark PC who is a stranger and a foreigner? That character isn’t going to be happy being the brother or buddy or boyfriend sworn to help. So give them another reason. Sure, this PC doesn’t care about the poor kidnapped daughter, but he might be seeking vengeance on the evil mastermind that took the girl. And he knows that he will never be able to exact his revenge without help.

What about character background and freewill, you ask? Okay, this is a totally legit and fair point. Work with the players when they make their characters – solicit willingness. Find out if any of them is interested in being the girl’s father, or uncle, or boyfriend. Often a player with a brand new character doesn’t have a strong idea. They may be grateful for the guidance!

Taverns are good places to get beer, mead, maybe even a cup of mutton stew! But they are poor places to create investment in a storyline. Instead of the tavern, let the campaign start in the lives of your characters!

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{ 1 comment }

Janais July 19, 2011 at 8:03 am

A few years ago I’d have to pay somneoe for this information.

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