Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Taverns and Clichés

There's been a bit of talk recently about the good old fashioned "Tavern" cliché of D&D. I figured I would share some thoughts on this one.

My first game of D&D was in my sophomore year of college. I enjoyed the idea of D&D and so had proposed it to a few friends. Consequently, it was my first game, two or three others at the table as well, and then a couple vets, with a DM who I assume had played but not DMed before. All told, a pretty normal group I suppose. Anyway, We all rolled people up, which of course took hours since it was 3.0 and half the table had never played. Before we got started, one of the vets said something that interested me and still sort of defines D&D in my mind.

"Ok now forget the D&D videogames you've played, because now you can do anything."

Honestly I forget if it was Buddha or Shawn. Doesn't matter.

Anyway, that was sorta exemplified in the first scene we all played out. Speaking of "played out", it was a scene where everyone met in a tavern. Starting a D&D campaign in a tavern is by far the most horrendously cliché beginning possible. I can't say the result of the tavern meeting was exactly atypical either. Everyone was playing somewhat chaotic stupid, and we ended up with a barfight during which the level one gnomish sorcerer cast Burning Hands an ended up leveling the building with a fire. I don't recall how much trouble, if any, we had with the town guard after that. I do recall that the DM hadn't planned on all that happening. That's what cemented my interest in tabletop gaming as a whole. We broke the plot.

If you aren't a videogamer by default, that probably doesn't mean much to you. D&D plots get cracked all the time. Nothing ever really goes the way the DM wants it unless it's forced that direction. Forget all that freedom and put yourself in the shoes of someone who has only played videogame D&D, like Neverwinter Nights and Icewind Dale. In NN, you can't choose not to save the Waterdhavian creatures. You can't choose to kill Aribeth in the beginning of the game. You can't ingratiate yourself to The Chimera in Icewind Dale 2, and sack Targos. It's the same as trying to ally with the ghosts in Pac-man. It just isn't in the code.

That's all sort of off topic, but leads to my point in this shortish sort of article. Many of my favorite experiences in D&D occurred in taverns. Barfights, fires, Horrid Wiltings, Dark meetings with strangers, plot givers, goblins, whatever. The tavern is overplayed, sure. Every adventuring party has been in one and picked up quests. I mean, my blog is named "The Verbing Noun" because I ran out of tavern names at one point and used it.

Of course your games need variety. I'm not saying the party should always spend their money on ale and whores. They shouldn't always be smashed off their arses with beer, mead, wine, or any other drink. The tavern doesn't have to have anything to do with everything the party does. My point is this: taverns are fun. They offer fun things to do. Don't close your mind to them entirely. The freedom of D&D means that nothing is ever played out.

Make them fun again!

1 comment:

Badelaire said...

Nice article - some very good points. The tavern is indeed a cliche, but it is such simply because it works so damn well at what it does - it provides a common meeting ground for the PCs, part headquarters, part rallying point, part hotel, part brothel.

Been thinking about writing something of my own about this - will be sure to link to here.