The door swings open and you are met with a blast of warm air and the rich scent of a stout potato stew. Mugs clink against the bartop as Keshif, the half-orc bartender, pulls you an ale. Sliding the mugs over to you she nods her head toward the far corner where a cloaked figure sits, obscured by the shadows…
The tavern is an RPG staple. Whether it’s a roadside inn and restaurant in a medieval fantasy setting, a seedy industrial revolution pub, or a futuristic bar where they serve synth ale and you can jack in to download digital opium, at some point in time your party is probably going to end up at a tavern. Now, I LOVE a tavern. Yes they’re a trope but they’re just so useful; especially if you can twist something to surprise your players and break their expectations. And so, here are 3 unusual 5e tavern encounters you can use the next time your players head out to the bar.
It’s A Dead Man’s Party
The owner of the beloved local watering hole has sadly died and their daughter has returned to town to take over the business. She seems very friendly. So friendly in fact, that the employees of the tavern have moved in and are now living in rooms above the bar.
With a DC 12 Perception check the party will notice a scent of marigolds lingering on all of the employees. If they beat a DC 15 they will notice that many of the employees seem to move jerkily, and if they beat a DC 17 they’ll notice that there does not seem to be any life behind their eyes. The employees are all the resurrected dead! The daughter is a necromancer and has raised an army of undead to…run a bar? Roll for Initiative!
If you decide the daughter is an eeeeevil necromancer then perhaps she escapes to lick her wounds and build a larger army. A new nemesis for the party and a power in the world that is working against them. But maybe she just felt bad about the fact that the employees had died (maybe it was an accident, or had nothing to do with her) and brought them back in the only way she could. A powerful friend or a powerful enemy, which will she be?
Don’t Order The Special
All over town people have been turning up dead with large holes in their chests. The only thing they seem to have in common is that they all frequent Nostromo’s Mother, the local tavern.
A Nature or Survival check (DC 12) will tell the PC that the wounds on the bodies were caused by something bursting forth from inside, and a DC 14 Investigation of the bar will reveal that the food stores have been tampered with. A slaadi in disguise had infected the food with chaos phage, and anyone who has eaten the food there is in danger! A Greater Restoration or Remove Disease spell will cure anyone who hasn’t yet popped.
For saving the lives of anyone who had not yet died the town will undoubtedly reward the players highly. But…who is the slaad?
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
As the party is traveling down the road they come upon an inn they had not seen before. The patrons of the tavern all seem listless and dour. The bartender offers food, drink, and rooms for no coin. Nothing has a price, but everything has its cost.
If the players eat or drink anything they must make a DC 18 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed into staying the night. Anyone who stays the night must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take one point of Exhaustion. When the PCs wake up they are lying in a field and the inn is gone.
A full day has passed that the party has no memory of, but anyone who passed the saving throw now knows the answer to a question or a clue to their quest. If you want to add further complications, maybe more than a day has passed. What has that done to the world? What did the party do during that time that they don’t remember? What else might the inn have taken from them?
Hopefully these can offer some inspiration for the next time your player’s head straight for the tavern, or a way to spice up their next bar crawl. What are some memorable moments you’ve had in a tavern?