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You Meet in a Tavern: Trope or Cliche?

Someday I’m going to write a book called “You Meet in a Tavern”*. It’s going to be nothing but ways that player characters can be brought together. Having them randomly drinking in the same establishment is a fun trope, but it’s still a cliche. There are far more inventive ways to assemble a party.

I think that one of the reasons I gravitate to certain settings is because they offer built-in reasons for the player characters to work together. Most of them provide not just a common employer, but some sort of structure. You’re the crew of a starship.  Everyone belongs to an ancient monster-hunting order. You play agents of some government intelligence bureau. Survival horror forces characters to work together. In all of these cases, there are consequences for not cooperating.

Why Are You Here?

This “meet in a tavern” this bugs me because of personal experiences. I have been in campaigns, both as a player and a guide, where player decides to be a jerk. They don’t want to go along with the central conceit and accept the mission. They need to be sold on why their character would agree to work with all of the other player characters. While the trope/cliche does point out some huge logical flaws, it really just establishes that the player is difficult to work with.

I reached a point where I’d tell contrarian players that if that was their character’s stance, they could sit and watch or go home. They wanted to play, this is what we’re playing, go along with it or leave. As I became more confident as a guide, I learned to say no to unreasonable characters. The guy who wanted to play a lawful evil assassin in a heroic high fantasy campaign. That one person who shows up with a Klingon when your Trek game is set in an era when they’re at war with the Federation. Then they expect me to make their antagonistic character concept work.

Having a common purpose before character creation even begins eliminates all of that. It also ties the characters to the setting better, as well as to each other. It sets an expectation as to what types of characters are acceptable, and what won’t fit. Having some conversations with people ahead of time helps, too. When everyone is on the same page before session zero even begins, the whole campaign will be a lot more enjoyable.

*I wouldn’t be surprised if the title’s already been taken; I haven’t looked.

You Meet in a Tavern

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.