8 Ways to Start a Campaign in a Tavern

Adventure time! Gather your character sheets! Pull up your chairs! Pencils and dice at the ready!

And what better place to start a campaign than in a tavern. The ol’ faithful, the most traditional way to start a campaign. We’ve previously written how you might avoid this trope, but why not embrace it?

Here’s a few ways to do the “You all meet in an inn” thing and still keep it fresh and interesting.

The Inn Is the Campaign

That’s right, folks – the campaign centres around the inn. It’s about the inn. You’ll spend a whole heap of time in the inn. Perhaps you might not even ever leave the inn!

Here’s one way of doing it. Your players have a favourite haunt, a lovely little inn by the river. The beer there is excellent, the bar wenches comely, the bartender friendly and generous. He is a large, loud, outgoing sort – his moustaches quiver when he lets out his raucous, belly laugh, which happens every few minutes it seems. He loves to hire whatever wandering minstrel comes through town and the best of them seek this inn out. His wife, who is also large and friendly, cooks the most wonderful roasted meats and breads and makes a range of excellent cheeses. They have a son, 12 years of age, who is learning the business from his parents.

One night a couple of rough looking types turn up. The innkeepers usually cheery demeanour seems to crack at the edges. They’re a little rude and pushy, and before long the bartender asks them to step into the back room to discuss the matter in private. He reassures any characters that try to intervene that everything is in hand.

After a few minutes the rough looking types leave the room. The innkeeper doesn’t come out.

The innkeeper has been murdered over some “debts” he supposedly owes. Or perhaps because of who he used to be? At any rate, the PC’s now have the choice whether to help out the widow and her son, perhaps try to help them pay off the debts which the ruffians insist are still due, or take out the organisation to whom the innkeeper was indebted, or try to figure out the murky past which doomed the jovial fellow.

The Bender’s Aftermath

The PC’s are kicked awake by the crotchety old barmaid. The early morning sun dazzles you and points out in striking detail the fact that you are intensely hungover. Looking around at your companions a realization slowly forces its way through your murky consciousness – why does everyone have that wierd looking mark covering half of their face? Here, wipe it away with the edge of your sleeve. Nope. And ouch. Oh gods – it’s a tattoo!

What does the mark mean? Why does everyone have it? Is there any way of removing it?

From here you can have the PC’s try to patch together what happened the night before. Memories are hazy or non-existent. But perhaps they can persuade that barmaid to recount what happened. Maybe they can find other people who were present the night before who aren’t too scared to talk about it. Perhaps the local temple will know something about this mysterious mark.

Temple of Booze

In your culture’s setting, booze is not just considered something nice to indulge in, it has religious significance. Instead of going down to the pub after a long hard day’s work, people congregate on special occasions at the temple, where beer is passed out among the congregation, the sacraments being enthusiastically performed by any member of the culture of a sufficiently high wealth.

Describe the ritual in detail. The high priest lifts his arms to the heavens and intones a chant of blessing over the barrel. The ornate ladle is dipped again and again into the golden liquid, poured out into ornate bull’s horns. Minor priestlings take these to the gathered worshippers, whispering the secret blessing into their ear as the horn is passed out. At the stroke of a gong everyone drains their cup.

Yuck. The beer is terrible.

What has happened? Have the gods turned their back on the community? Has someone poisoned the drink? What’s going to happen to the Holy Brewer? Should he consistently make bad beer he will be ceremonially executed in expiation of the god’s displeasure. Perhaps the characters are implored by the brewer to discover the problem.

The Inn of Infinity

Walking through what you thought were familiar streets you come upon an inn which you haven’t seen before. Is it a new establishment? Have you just been completely preoccupied whenever you walked through this area? You decide to have a look inside. As you step through the front doors there is a cry of dismay – the aged, grey-bearded patrons urge you to go back, get out while you can. If the characters try to leave, they find themselves stepping back into the bar from the door opposite. Alas, there is no way out!

What strange curse has condemned these poor people to a never-ending existence in this inn? Exactly how many rooms can such an inn have? Why does there always seem to be meat and beer when you never see anyone actually bring anything into the bar? And why is the cellar door barricaded over so heavily?

Someone Else’s Adventure

You’re sitting at the table next to what are obviously a group of adventurers. They seem to be veterans of the art. Their equipment, if a bit battered, is still of excellent quality – it was obviously extremely expensive when first bought but has seen the hard edge of many battles. Even the wizard’s hat has a singed hole in it through which you can espy a mysterious man approaching the table.

As you’re sitting at the table you manage to overhear the mysterious man offer your neighbours a job. There’s plenty money involved, and they can keep whatever treasure they find. Only bring back the McGuffin!

After a brief discussion the group agrees.

The PC’s have a few options here. Do they follow the other party, hoping to ambush them  as they return with their treasure? Do they offer to help? Might the other party sub-contract the PC’s to do the job and skim a bit of the profit as a “finder’s fee”?

On the other hand, perhaps the contract being handed over is to find and kill the party…

Mystery Men

This is a bit of a variant of number 5. As you sit in the inn, quietly sipping your beer, you slowly become aware that the patrons of this bar are a bit strange. Now, one adventuring party sitting at the bar might seem about normal. But here there are five, each at their separate tables. What an odd coincidence.

Through the door come five mysterious, dark strangers. They look around the room, briefly confer with each other, then each walks up to a different table and whispers. “You look like a mighty group of adventuring types. I have a job for you if you’re up to the task. The pay is good and you can keep whatever treasure you find.”

You don’t doubt that each of the other tables is hearing the same offer.

Press Ganged

So you all meet in an inn. This is a coastal city, and you’ve wandered down to the docks to find some cheap booze and easy favours. A good night on a tight budget. The inn is a bit rough-and-ready – you just avoid getting into a brawl when you accidentally knock someone’s ale over their “date” – when a bunch of sailor types armed with cudgels walk through the door. The man in the lead brings out a scroll of parchment, from which he reads:

“His Majesty, King Nodwick of SpoonHoonPooch (long may he reign in splendiferous glory), does command his loyal subjects residing in…” (he whispers to the man next to him) “… the 3 legged Hound Inn to join his Royal Navy.” He rolls up the parchment. “So line up everyone or we’s got to scone you on the bonce with these here cudgels.”

There’s too many of them to resist.

And so ensues a nautical tale.

There’s Something About This Wine…

As good patrons of this particular inn the barkeep sometimes slips you new or different product when it comes in. In this case, he approaches your table with an odd-shaped bottle. “Had a strange one come by the other night, lads. He offered a few bottles of this stuff for a roof over his head for a couple of nights. Disappeared on his second night here – nowt left in the room but his hat and a few of these here bottles. Care to try some? You’ll be the first.”

If the PC’s agree and down a glass or two you might have a whole lot of different options. For example:

  • The PC’s are transported to a wild and different place, utterly alien and odd.
  • Any character drinking might gain a strange power.
  • Any character drinking might receive a curse.
  • Anything else!

If you have any other interesting campaign beginnings set in a tavern let us know!

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About Paul

Cuchulain (otherwise known as Paul) has been playing roleplaying games since he was 10 years old. Although he'll play any game under the sun, he prefers characterisation and plot over tactics and mechanics. He is never happier than when playing in or mastering a horror campaign - preferably with heavy Cthulhu Mythos overtones or theme.
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