Where does this silly (but fun) cliche come from? I couldn't find a definitive answer online.

The value of the tavern as a place where characters can meet, find new adventure hooks, and spend gold is obvious. And there are no shortage of inspiring taverns & inns in fantasy fiction.

Did multiple gamers independently start using inns & taverns as a launching pad in the early days of D&D? Or maybe Gary Gygax or Dave Arneson were in the habit of dropping their players into taverns and it caught on as a narrative device?

  • It sounds to me like there are two questions here, the origin of the cliche (non-gaming) and the origin of the gaming cliche. Most of the answers so far have concentrated on the former, but that is more of a question for scifi, the latter question would be more appropriate here, given your tags. – Mark Booth Jan 21 '15 at 18:16
  • 5
    @MarkBooth - Good point - I don't know if the tavern became a tired cliche in fantasy fiction before it became a cliche in fantasy RPGs. I suspect the popularity of the tavern setting became widespread due to games like D&D even among players who hadn't read Fritz Leiber. – RobertF Jan 21 '15 at 18:27
  • There are plenty of alternative bases of operations where PCs could start their adventure: castles, academies, guild halls or organizations. Or the PCs share a prison cell or are survivors/deserters fleeing a battlefield. But indeed it's hard to beat the flavor and social networking opportunities of ye olde tavern, especially for a sandbox campaign where players want freedom to roam. And you can pack a sampling of different professions, races and classes into a tavern, it's like a microcosm of your campaign world. – RobertF Jan 22 '15 at 16:44
  • When I read this question I thought it was an XKCD reference: xkcd.com/244 – BrianH Jan 22 '15 at 18:30
  • It's not limited to Fantasy. – TecBrat Jan 22 '15 at 20:46
up vote 30 down vote accepted

The Comeback Inn played a prominent role in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign:

From the day the walls started to go up, the establishment was an important landmark in the North. Few who stopped in Blackmoor failed to make an appearance there. As a result, the inn soon became an informal labor exchange and information market. Whether a person sought to hire the services of a wizard, wanted to hear the real tale of the founding of Lake Gloomy, or just craved good food and drink, the Comeback Inn was where he would stop.

It was also set up as a gateway between Blackmoor and other worlds, further facilitating adventures. As other answers have mentioned, the concept of an inn as an information and transactional hub was well established long before RPGs were created, but given the importance of Blackmoor it's likely the Comeback Inn strengthened the role of the inn in fantasy RPGs.

  • 7
    In the intro to the Blackmoor setting book (Zeitgeist Games, 2004), Arneson described his thoughts behind the creation of the Comeback Inn in 1974: "Where did the players meet? Inns were popular in a lot of books and it was logical that the guys would meet in a public establishment. And there had been this neat medieval restaurant in Chicago called The Comeback Inn." Since Blackmoor was a popular D&D campaign setting in the 1970s (not to mention the first D&D campaign setting) it's fair to say the Comeback Inn was the tavern that set the standard for the cliche so common in fantasy games. – RobertF Jan 21 '15 at 19:31

I think this is because fantasy roleplaying games were influenced by pre-existing literature. As from TV Tropes:

Though not at the beginning of the story, Frodo and friends meeting Aragorn in the Prancing Pony in The Lord of the Rings likely influenced many later examples.

and

all the characters meet at an inn before starting their pilgrimage in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

Probably because of these (and myriad other) examples, and because of the real prominence of inns and taverns as places where strangers might run into each other, they became the default meeting place for FRPGs.

Inns were the places where travelling merchants and other (wealthy) travellers stayed for the night. This made inns the source of news (a.k.a. rumours) from afar. Local villagers would come to the inn after work for an ale (given that they could afford it). This makes the inn an hub of local rumours. The caravan merchants might need guides, hired swords for protection, and porters, which might attract adventures looking for money.

Other sources where an adventurer/hired sword might get a job (and money) are:

  • local guard (but watchmen stay in the village, thus this is probably not that adventurous)
  • wealthy (local) patron
  • thieves guild/crime lord
  • market (but asking random merchants (or others?) "do you have a job for me?" would probably not work that well)

So the inn might be the most logical place for adventurers looking for a job.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser met for the first time in a tavern in Lankhmar. That story predates RPG as we know it...

  • The Silver Eel: scrollsoflankhmar.com/rpgguide:silvereel - this might be the direct inspiration for the tavern trope. – RobertF Jan 21 '15 at 17:45
  • 14
    Did they? Ill Met in Lankhmar has them meeting in the streets after separately attacking the same band of thieves. – Sean Duggan Jan 21 '15 at 18:01

Your Answer

 

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.