"Inns" and Outs

At the end of a hard day adventuring, the most popular place for PCs to rest their weary heads is typically the local inn. It is the adventurer’s home away from home, base of operations, and the best place to celebrate a successful journey.

As it is generally one of the places that you can expect your PCs to be spending a lot of time, it makes sense to put a bit of effort into making the inn more than just a place to sleep. A memorable inn can be so much more—a place to introduce new characters and plot hooks both major and minor, and a place that actually feels like home. It could even be possible to run an entire adventure based solely in the inn, if it is set up correctly.

Step by step

The first step is to come up with a good name for your inn. If your PCs think of it as nothing more than “The Inn”, they won’t feel any connection to it. By ensuring that you have a memorable name for the inn, you make it less nondescript and more like a major location. Good names for inns should sound as if there is some story behind them—try and make the PCs curious about the name of the place. Creating a local legend does more than simply add color; it can be an excellent way to set up an adventure hook.

Next, invest it with a sense of place. What does the inn look like? Is the sign faded? Is the name painted on the wall, or on a sign hanging above the door, or is it represented some other way? Do the chairs in the common room look comfortable, or are they likely to give splinters? Are the floors dusty wooden boards, smooth tile, or covered in furs or thick carpet? Is it cheerily lit or smoky and dim? Does the roof leak? Are the beds soft and inviting or stained and flea-ridden? Are the walls whitewashed, or does the flaking paint bear the stains of food-fights and brawls long past?

All these details help bring the place to life, just as you would describe a dungeon’s features—but it is important not to overwhelm the players with too much description at once. Spending too much time on description at once will bore them, but since they will spend so much time here over repeated visits, you can dole out the descriptions as needed to keep it fresh and interesting in the players minds.

Who runs the inn?

Next, flesh out the staff. A good inn in a major city may have a surprisingly large staff:

  • A maid or maids to clean the interior and freshen the rooms
  • A cook and assistants to prepare supper for the guests
  • Waitresses or barmaids to deliver the food
  • A host or hostess to greet and welcome new customers and arrange their lodgings
  • A stableman to care for the mounts
  • Various hands to chop firewood, mend the roof or walls, ensure the food stocks are delivered, and generally do the odd jobs around the place

If the inn sees a lot of traffic or is sufficiently large, there may be a number of services provided in addition to the basic tasks above:

  • A farrier or blacksmith
  • A seamstress to mend the various rips and tears on the road
  • A storyteller or minstrel to entertain the guests
  • A peddler to provide various essential small goods that may have been lost on the road
  • A coach service or horses for rent or sale

Many of these roles can be doubled up—the stableman may be responsible for keeping the wood stocked and the roof mended, the cook’s assistants may be expected to deliver food to the customers, and so on. The individual needs of your inn should be considered when deciding how many people work there and what their roles are.

Giving the staff their own personalities and goals can be a lot of work for such minor characters, but it can also be an excellent way to introduce adventure hooks both major and minor. The young stable boy, enamored of the heroes staying at the inn, gets it into his head that he will be a hero himself—play it up over a few sessions, then have him get into trouble that the PCs need to get him out of. The staff can hear local rumors, have relatives who need the kind of help only adventurers can provide, or just provide a bit of flavor or roleplaying.

Who else?

The final thing to take into consideration is the identity of any other guests. Are they just passing through, or have they been staying long enough to be considered nearly residents themselves? Is it their first time in the region or are they familiar with the area? What brings them here—simple business, visiting family and friends, or something more sinister?

The PCs fellow guests can provide adventure hooks in high volume, as every week may see new faces from distant locales, with their own stories of the road. Even the death or mysterious disappearance of a guest may bring its own story—a murder mystery set entirely within the inn, or the beginning of a long manhunt as the party tracks down someone who stole an important heirloom from another traveler and slowly learns that it was only the first component in a sinister plot to free an ancient evil. The possibilities are endless.

So the next time your players send their PCs to the inn to rest and recuperate between adventures, devote a little bit of time in your game to developing the inn. It is, after all, an important place for the characters—so make it one for the players, too.

Comments (7)

Sian (August 19th, 2009)

one campaign world I was in, every major town seemed to have a Doomed Adventurer, a chain of inns, with signage that featured a chromatic dragon of locally appropriate color breathing on a small party of figures. They had consistent prices and layout across all chain locations, and every manager/bartender was a retired Fighter who packed a repeating arbalest behind the counter, just in case anyone thought to cause trouble. Folks rarely did. The Doomed Adventurer chain of inns then started spreading to other worlds…

Tetsubo (August 19th, 2009)

In every campaign I have ever run, regardless of genre, there has been a Dancing Ferret Inn.

Bruce Russell (August 19th, 2009)

I participated in a TSR-run adventure in the late 80’s at the International Superman Exposition in Cleveland, OH, which focused ona an adventure at the aptly named “Withered Wizard Inn.” Standard D&D inn, but with a lich in the closet. Since then, I’ve used multiple version of the Withered Wizard Inn for my own campaigns, at one point establishing the place as a trans-dimensional nexus with shifting characteristics.

Jonathan Drain (August 19th, 2009)

One of the coolest inns I heard of was deep underground in a very secret location. The only way to get there is by teleporting, thus limiting membership to high-level characters who had been there before, and their guests.

Another was an inn in an epic demiplane city. It had a portal to the Demiplane of Beer.

Eberron has an inn frequented entirely by warforged. It’s handy as they don’t drink.

Noumenon (August 20th, 2009)

That teleport-only inn is a great way to make your players’ teleport skill sexy and to use up one of their teleports/day!

Triptych (August 24th, 2009)

That teleportation bar is an awesome idea. I think it will suit the paragon tier in my campaign very nicely.

I’m thinking of ways to my make the inn’s my characters visit stand out from each other and one idea I came up with was the food and drink available.

When you travel in the real world theres lots of regional dishes and drinks that really help you remember a place. Even describing them helps add some “flavor” (ugh pun!) to the inn.

David Devine (June 19th, 2010)

I think my favourite Inn was the “Comeback Inn” from the Blackmoor setting … I remember us being stuck in there, being terrified that we couldn’t leave, didn’t want to explore the gate in the basement … my DM at the time made the place a centre of our action, not just as a tool for us to get from our original world to the Blackmoor setting … in fact he tied the whole ‘timeless’ aspect of it, as a central tenant in the game, where it became the anchor for past, present, and future events.

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