Location Ideas: Taverns & Inns
Updated: Mar 4
Everyone knows that when it comes to a lot of Fantasy RPGs, particularly DnD, taverns are a core element of the experience. Many games have your characters start and meet in one, and this is largely because they act as the hub of the local community - the place to meet the residents of whatever village or town they've ended up in, to hear rumours and pick up quests, and also to really give a party the vibe of the town itself. They are nearly always a welcome sight, whether they are a source for decent food and drink at the crossroads as your party travel between towns, or a comfy bed at the end of a long stint of camping, or even the chance for a party to feel like nobility for a day as they spend a little more on accommodation than they normally would. They provide excellent RP opportunities for players and DMs alike too!
The history of taverns and inns in the real world is a rich one - naming them is said to have started in Roman times when the Tabernae would hang vine leaves outside to represent the wine found within, and this was carried over to Britain when the Romans invaded! The history of pub names is actually very interesting, and I recommend a read of this article for a bit more of an insight into the history and folklore around certain names! There are many examples of fictional pubs, taverns, inns and bars that act as a staple 'go-to' for the characters of the story to meet and interact. The Harry Potter universe contains both 'The Leaky Cauldron' and 'The Three Broomsticks' as great examples, and the 'Mos Eisley Cantina' is famous within the Star Wars universe in the same way. It's hard to imagine The Simpsons without 'Moe's Tavern', Shrek 2 without 'The Poison Apple' or Eastenders without 'The Queen Vic'.
As pubs, taverns, and inns are SO important, I really feel that it's paramount that players feel invested in spending time there and really getting to grips with each inn or tavern they come across. I DM the module Icewind Dale: Rime Of The Frostmaiden and do a lot of home-brewing/filling in the blanks as I progress and one of the first things I came across to expand upon was the 'Five Tavern Centre' - a small square in the town of Bremen encircled by five taverns that are in constant competition. There's a little backstory about five brothers building them long ago because they could not agree on how to run one tavern together (which in itself is perfect material for some intriguing side quests - especially if you decide to have the tavern still be run by the five brothers), and the names of the taverns themselves, but beyond that the module gives absolutely nothing else and it made me think a lot about fleshing them out and creating unique, quirky taverns that are worth exploring!
You can of course find a ton of generators online and in books to help do that - I like using Wisdom Save Media's Pocket Companion: A Tavern Guide, Loresmyth's Remarkable Inns & Their Drinks, and Mage Hand Press's Taverns & Tankards personally for some great roll tables covering the buildings; their owners, patrons, and wares; and rumours that may be found there! There's also donjon's Random Inn and Tavern Generator that adds some unique menu items or if you like a lot of detail and the idea of a signature drink, try DnDspeak's Random Tavern Generator. In fact, search 'Tavern Generator' online and the options are endless. I thought I would provide my own example roll tables too so that DMs can see how just adding a quirk or two will really make visiting taverns remain interesting throughout your adventure, especially if you are playing a long campaign!
Exterior (Roll 1d6):
This will be the party's first impression of the place and giving the description a little boost may immediately raise questions and give inspiration to the tavern's place within the community. Is it well looked after? Does it suit it's surroundings or look out of place compared to other, local buildings?
A run-down, ramshackle looking building that looks like it is centuries old. Over time, it has been expanded upon with various extensions from later time periods. It seems the owners buy a new sign for the business and ADD it to the collection of signs on the exterior walls rather than replacing it, so there are a variety of art styles to admire.
A relatively regular looking building, save for the glass front doors that allow people to peer in and see the cosy interior, giving it a distinctly modern look compared with other nearby architecture. The doors appear to have some kind of enchantment that causes them to open when people step near with the intent to enter the building.
The doors are flanked by some beautiful trellises with gorgeous flora and fruits growing up them. They emit delicious smells that are guaranteed to attract the attention of those passing by. At spontaneous moments the plants seem to shift and move.
Everything about the exterior screams expense - the gilded doorframes, intricately carved stone work, statues, and plants that neatly line the entrance, and beautiful golden paint. It sticks out like a sore thumb nestled amongst the drab, crumbling buildings around it.
It's very difficult to admire the charming wooden exterior as written messages have been carved into the woodwork - 'DO NOT ENTER!', 'THIS PLACE IS CURSED!', and 'DEATH DRINKS HERE!' among others. Those passing by cross to the other side of the path when walking past. The windows are boarded up, but the sign clearly indicates that the place is open.
Nothing seems too out of the ordinary except for the multitudes of cats hanging around the entrance of the place. They are sleeping along the walls, one is curled up on a bench outside, and many are sat on the roof gazing at the party with disinterest. They only seem to be congregating here, and the rest of the street is feline free.
Interior (Roll 1d6):
Once your party are inside, they get their first true taste of the tavern and what to expect from their interactions there. Is it inviting? Popular? Do the clientele seem like regular folk or does there seem to be a shady dealing or two taking place?
The tables and chairs are of a smaller size than the party are used to, with only one regular sized booth available. This booth and the bar have steps leading up to them and it's very busy, with the whole place filled with smaller races - halflings, kobolds, gnomes and goblins are just a few that can be immediately spotted.
The party enter and find the place completely empty. There is no sign of any staff, or customers, but the place seems oddly clean and well-kept. One of the party eventually notices the sound of light snoring coming from behind the bar.
The most striking thing about the interior of this inn is that the walls are lined with taxidermy and hunting trophies from all manner of creatures - strange teeth, Owlbear beaks, Yeti horns, and, the most eye-catching of all, a large Dragon wing stretched across the back wall.
As the party enter, they find themselves having to tread delicately as the place is lined with shelves and tables throughout that contain various different bottles, kegs, and casks of alcohol. It seems that everyone is serving themselves while staff meticulously add up prices for each table.
Hanging from the ceiling, and stuck to the bar and floors are a variety of talismans, amulets, and charms. The party can see many protective runes and incantations inscribed into them in various different languages.
The room has customers but is very quiet with a small bar. There appears to be very little in the way of choice here for drinks, but the place is cosy with a few bookshelves and a roaring fire. The barkeep sits behind the bar reading. They barely glance up as you enter.
Staff (Roll 1d6):
Whether they are the barkeep, or the owner overseeing a number of staff, or even a server it's likely that your party will end up coming into contact with the staff of the establishment. The question is - what are they like and do they have any quirks? Secretive? Solemn? Perhaps they trade in gossip? It's up to you!
The tavern is manned by identical triplet gnomes which are extremely hard to tell apart. One of them is a little gifted with magic and will provide small magical services for a sum of money (perhaps something that the party build does not have easy access to, such as the spell Identify). They do not talk about the fact that they are actually quadruplets as they have fallen out with their other brother.
A half elf that is a little aloof and nervous owns the tavern. Her father bought her the place before he died and she wants to honour his legacy. No one in the community knows, but she is actually in crippling financial debt and is stealing stock from other establishments in order to cut her costs.
The bar is owned by a half-orc and his fiancé is a talented musician and provides the entertainment - as a drag queen! The day the party enter is the drag queen's first ever performance night in drag, and he is nervous that the community will not like the change in his act.
The barkeep that has been left in charge (as the owner is often away) likes to trade in information. He hires children and teenagers to clean and serve and expects them to listen in on people's conversations and pick up secrets. He will then either sell this information on for a price to sources who will find it valuable, or blackmail the patrons into paying him money to keep it secret. He keeps everything he has on people written in a ledger stashed behind the bar.
The owner of the inn is actually a spy for a rival town/city/kingdom or a significant villain that the party are facing. They gather information and send it back to their master. The methods they employ usually involve getting their targets drunk to loosen their lips, or rooting through people's belongings in their rooms.
The ostler was born with the gift of being able to talk to animals and, if the party are nice to them, will divulge this and tell the party how their horses are feeling or what they need. If the party have treated the animals poorly they will free them into a nearby forest and stage a break-in.
Patrons (Roll 1d6):
It isn't just staff that can make interesting characters to stumble across in a tavern. The patrons can be equally as intriguing and often may have important information to divulge, quests to embark upon, or story significance. Perhaps they are indirectly involved with one of your players backstories? Or they are a God or powerful being in disguise? They could be a valuable ally, or the game's BBEG. The choices are endless!
A drunken man sits at the bar every night ordering more and more alcohol. He talks freely about all of the strange critters he can see around the room, and becomes frustrated or upset when everyone else in the room gives him a pitying stare or talk about his 'insane ramblings'. The thing is, one of your players can see the creatures too.
Your party is surprised to stumble upon a talking sheep within the tavern, who is dominating most of the conversation with the locals. He reveals he was awakened by a druid and has been travelling ever since in the search of adventure and purpose.
The mayor of the town has fallen in love with the tavern-keepers daughter and frequents the establishment in an attempt to talk to her and get her attention. She is actually in love with the baker's daughter, and the two are keeping their relationship a secret in fear that there will be repercussions for both of their family's businesses if they are found out.
A local mystic often sits in at the bar at a table by herself. Many avoid her, but she will offer an insight into the future of those that are brave enough to approach her and ask if they will buy her a drink.
The captain of the guard will often drop in, claiming to be there to keep an eye on the locals for both their and the town's safety. No one knows this, but she is actually incredibly lonely and really just visits to be around people.
A mysterious looking stranger will sit at a table alone, acting suspiciously and making a habit of staring at people around the room to make them uncomfortable. Many people are cautious of him and will spend the night keeping a close eye on him, leaving his associate free to pickpocket them without being noticed.
I hope these tables have provided some valuable inspiration! Taverns and Inns are useful establishments but often feel difficult to make unique or exciting for players who have been to so many. Have you ever included any unusual tavern ideas in your game? I'd love to hear them!