Taverns and inns are very important in D&D games—it’s where players go after a long day of hard work! However, it’s very easy for a tavern to feel generic, so let’s look at five easy steps you can use to make your D&D tavern feel unique!
1. Start with the genre for your D&D tavern
Your world’s genre will define the expectations your players have about a tavern. In a cyberpunk setting, they’ll expect neon lights everywhere, and in a high fantasy world they’ll expect a bard playing in the corner. Use this to your advantage! If the tavern fits the usual tropes of the genre, your players will be able to imagine it without you having to make a detailed description. They will know to expect an innkeeper, local patrons drinking ale and possibly sharing rumors, and a quest board for up-and-coming adventurers like them.
But you can also flip the script! In a modern-day setting, you could have a fantasy-looking tavern. Is it just in appearance or is there something deeper going on? Just playing with the atmosphere of the campaign can create new plot hooks for your players.
2. Lean into the mood and themes
One of the best ways to create a campaign that feels coherent is to keep a consistent mood and reinforce your world’s themes. For example, if your mood is grimdark, make sure to describe the dirty floor and the raucous crowd, which is probably not very welcoming towards foreigners. Or if your campaign theme is the struggle of good versus evil, you might choose to name your tavern something like “Candle in the Darkness”, or even have purple-black vines slowly engulfing the building. If you keep this kind of symbolism going through the whole campaign, your players will be much more immersed—even if they don’t know why!
But mood and themes don’t have to be just atmospheric details! You can use them to create plot hooks too. For example, scorch marks in the wall might represent a decaying mood but it’s also a plot hook to discover where the burn came from. Or, if the theme of your world is about nature reclaiming the world, there could be a massive griffin nest on top of the tavern—that’s a problem for your players to solve!
Want to learn more about mood and theme? Check out our blog post about the world meta!
3. Don’t forget the basics of a D&D tavern!
Remember all the elements a D&D tavern should have! It needs a bar, places to sit, a kitchen, and, depending on the kind of establishment, bedrooms too. And where do the innkeepers live? They could have separate homes, or maybe they live in the same building. You probably want at least one member of the staff sleeping there, in case something happens at night!
Use the genre, mood, and theme to spruce these basic elements up. In a fantasy world, you could have ghosts serving as waiters. Or, depending on the setting, you could instead have magic-powered automatons! This will make the tavern a hundred times more memorable instead of being just another place for the players to sleep in.
4. Add a space for games and entertainment
Having a place to sleep, drink, and start bar brawls is great and all, but what if it could be more than that? This can be a great opportunity to not only add more opportunities for plot hooks but also to give your players fun downtime activities. The great thing about downtime is that it usually requires less prep time on the DM’s side and it gives breathing room between adventures. It’s a win-win situation!
Consider adding a bard or a band playing ambient music. This is a small detail, but if you give them an interesting description, you’re giving an easy opportunity for social interaction to your players. Then, think about minigames: a dartboard, gaming table (playing D&D in D&D sounds fun!), or even a full-on bowling set-up.
5. Add in a secret or two!
Players love uncovering secrets, so make sure to include some! This could be a hidden passage, a stashed treasure from a previous adventurer (guarded by their ghost!), or a criminal activity the innkeeper is involved in. These could be plot hooks that take the players on a full adventure or simpler one-off encounters. But in both cases, they are interactive elements that don’t require a ton of prep and will make the tavern more memorable. And anything that is low-prep but highly enjoyable is a good idea!
And at the risk of sounding like a broken lute, remember your mood and theme! If you’re going for a more lighthearted mood, the adventurer’s ghost might actually be happy to let them get the treasure in exchange for a funny riddle. Or, in a darker world, the innkeeper might be a vampire that feasts on their guests!
Looking for some more inspiration? Check out our video on this very topic!
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