Well Met at the Keg ‘n’ Kettle

Posted in EpicTable Blog on December 21, 2007 at 2:00 am

tavern imageWhat’s this about kegs and kettles? And why do I sound like I’m LARPing? First of all, let me assure you that there’s nary a not going to be any more of that kind of talk in this blog. This blog, which I’m calling, “Knowledge, Roleplaying”, is going to be all about techniques and technologies for improving your game.

My name is John Lammers. I’m the founder of Realityforge, the creator of EpicTable. EpicTable (in case you’ve not come here via the main page) is a virtual tabletop, sometimes called a VT. You can read all about EpicTable and VT elsewhere on the EpicTable site , but that’s not the purpose of this blog. Sure, I’ll talk about virtual tabletops sometime, and EpicTable is sure to come up from time to time, but I plan to talk about a wide range of tools and techniques. When I talk about tools, I mean “club in the hand of Moon-Watcher ” every bit as much as “virtual tabletop”. I’ve played D&D since it came in a box, and I’ve DM’d for much of that. A lot of the tools I use regularly are low-tech, and there’s plenty to talk about there. I’ll probably also talk about products that I really like and about game systems that I’m exploring.

Making Meeting Places Memorable

As an introductory post, this is going to be kind of short, but lest you leave here feeling like this post was completely overhead, lets talk a bit about the theme of introductions and the title of this post, “Well Met at the Keg ‘n’ Kettle”. You’ve probably guessed that the Keg ‘n’ Kettle is a tavern, and if you’ve played D&D at all, you’ve likely met in a tavern–met the other player characters in a tavern, met the NPC supplying the plot hook in a tavern, etc. Depending on your perspective, this can be a horrible cliché or a time-honored tradition.

There are a lot of other ways to handle introductions. Here are few ideas:

Alternatives to the Tavern

Sudden Allies

Player characters start out not knowing each other and find themselves suddenly allied in a fight together. This works out better if you have experienced roleplayers who will separate player knowledge from character knowledge. Even then, you have to be try to surprise them with it, or it will seem contrived. A good way to do that is to start the session with the characters separated, each doing things that appeal to their players’ desire to start fleshing out their character. For instance, the rogue is in a tavern, getting the lay of the land, while the fighter is at the weaponsmith’s, and the wizard is reading under a tree, studying a spellbook. What the players don’t know is that their characters are within a few yards of each other and are about to be embroiled in a fight.

Obviously, you can’t keep up this charade for very long, but you only need to pull it off for a few minutes to surprise your players, creating a memorable start to your campaign. Of course, once the action starts, they’re going to recognize that their characters are all in the same place, so to make their instant alliance plausible, the foe needs to be pretty unambiguous–goblins, for instance.

Dead Like Me1

This one’s more of a campaign starter. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile and haven’t had a chance to try. Be sure to comment here and let me know how it went if you try this or have tried something similar. The player characters awake in a tomb, dressed for burial. Perhaps they’re set upon by grave robbers, making this a variant of “Sudden Allies”. The key is they don’t know who they are or how they got here. Bound together by their common lack of identity, they set out to discover who they are, why they were dead, and why they’re not anymore. I suppose this would be an opportunity to run a campaign with undead charactersm, but the way I’ve thought about it is that they’ve been brought back by some mysterious power or entity.

Building a Better Tavern

Of course, you don’t really need to avoid the tavern. It’s the tavern as a transparent plot device that’s the cliché . If you make the tavern real to the players, it’s more than a plot device. Consider the Keg ‘n’ Kettle: In my campaign, the Keg ‘n’ Kettle has a couple things going for it that make it more three dimensional. First, the characters quickly learn the origin of the name–the Keg ‘n’ Kettle has a huge stewpot that’s been on the hearth continuously for years. Cyril Varyn, the owner of the tavern, replenishes it daily with whatever the local farmers and hunters bring in. It’s always partly yesterday’s stew, but Cyril’s a good enough cook that that doesn’t matter, and the “everfull stew pot” has become a bit of a local curiousity. No magic involved, just a bit of local color. In addition to this, one of the players opted to play a character that was Cyril’s daughter, Drayla, so instantly, there was a connection between the party and the tavern. Finally, I made sure to involve the Keg ‘n’ Kettle in city events. Straathaven, the city in which the Keg ‘n’ Kettle resides, borders a nation of advanced lizard folk. Not everyone (on either side) is happy with the new, closer relationship between men and lizardfolk. The Keg ‘n’ Kettle, and by extension the party, finds itself embroiled in this issue, because Cyril employs a mute, scarred lizard man as a bouncer.

[1] Dead Like Me was a TV series back in 2004. It has absolutely nothing to do with this, other than its being a catchy title for this campaign idea.

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