I live in a large town in the north of England that used to be known for its woolen industry. These days we seem to be little more than a net importer of students, but that’s not a bad thing, as it keeps us fairly well stocked on new recruits for our gaming society. One other thing my home town does pretty well is places to grab a drink. True, a lot of the pubs I drank in as a teenager, and even in my early twenties, have long since closed their doors, but there is still a huge array of choice for the discerning drinker. This is how it should be in any large settlement, but in most fantasy settings, pubs are either bawdy taverns or gentile gathering places. I’m going to show you some other options.
The Adventurer’s Rest. This is what i think of as a typical tavern in fantasy settings, and even in some cyberpunk and sci-fi worlds too. It tends to be run by someone who used to make their living in much the same way that the player characters do now. There’ll be a board with adventuring opportunities, and plenty of shady corners for people to smoke pipes in. All much of a muchness, so lets move on.
The Student Bar. Most large cities have some form of higher education institute. Just think about Ankh-Morpork of Discworld fame. Although the Unseen University is by far and away the most famous – and in other fantasy cities, a Mage’s college is not too difficult to include – each guild could reasonably have a training college. So imagine a city of thieves in a fantasy world. There would almost certainly be either competing guilds, or one large one in charge of most municipal affairs. Having a college devoted to teaching anyone who can afford it the finer arts of sneak thievery and cut-pursing would be a great way to make more money. And the moment any kind of institute of education opens up, local publicans are quick to cater to young people with spare cash and a far from restrictive schedule.
Adding such a watering hole to a campaign world is pretty easy then, but why would the characters go there – unless students themselves, in which case; job done – for a pint. Hiring a student to a do a job is far cheaper than bringing in professional help, although risky to say the least. It is also not unheard of of faculty to share a drink with the students, and could be a way of getting an informal audience with someone whom has no desire to converse with adventurers.
The old man’s pub. I’m half way through my thirties, and have been a fan of this kind of pub for a very long time. I like being able to chat with friends rather than shout over other noises, and the choice of ales that are available are usually top notch and more varied than the more popular watering holes. In a game world, this will be about as far removed from the bawdy taverns and nightclubs as it’s possible to get. I know it doesn’t sound very interesting in role playing terms, and using this may get differing mileage for different GMs, but it can be quite good fun.
Seething resentment can be well hidden in such venues, with cliques that have existed for decades still sharing the same 12 foot of bar with their bitter enemies. New people coming into the pub are treated with suspicion, and if you’ve ever seen an American Werewolf in London, you’ll know the kind of thing I mean. There are usually bar games to play though, and I imagine that a lot of retired adventurers are much more likely to be found in such a pub. Not everyone likes having it rubbed in their faces that they’re too old to do what they were great at only a decade or so ago.
The Sports bar. They exist in any world that enjoys organised sports, even if the GM has totally made them up himself. Decorated in local team colours, with prints on the walls of famous players, and maybe even a trophy cabinet. The atmosphere will certainly seem jolly from the outside, but team affiliation is key in some of these venues. Walking in wearing the wrong colours can be enough to ensure you don’t walk back out, in the rougher class of drinking houses. They do have their uses though, as mobs can quickly be formed from their patrons, and famous folk from around the city like to call in to show their devotion to a team.
In some worlds, it’s far from a stretch to imagine that organised crime cartels would have something to do with such establishments too. Book making and contest rigging are sure fire ways to make money, and if a sport is very popular indeed, it can do a gangster’s credibility good to be seen with such respected public figures. Hell, maybe the characters are just fans of the sports team, and fancy a drink in friendly pub, what happens after that is up to the GM.
So there you go, just a few examples of how to change your drinking holes into something a bit different. I hope some of it was useful, and feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section below.