Beginning a TTRPG adventure in a Tavern gets a lot of bad wraps. Taverns are cultural meeting places, where no matter how rich or poor you are you can all gather for a drink. Sometimes you don’t need any intricately laid out plan for your wayward travelers to meet, but instead a whisper or a rumor that peaks interested adventurers’ interest. “You Start in a Tavern” is how Tavern Tales begins, a perfect start for a collection of anthological adventures set in a tavern. The Trip Away Inn isn't just a stop along the journey, but a destination itself.
What is the Trip Away Inn?
The central focus of this setting book is the Trip Away Inn. This isn’t just some standard inn that you could pull out of nowhere but one filled with a fully realized cast of characters, secrets in the walls, and a connection to the greater world.
Owned by Flip Krongovsko, a Gnome who left the Top of the World Circus, the Trip Away Inn is staffed by a collection of former circus employees. Mia and Tia were former pickpockets turned security, Nix is a Sprite who left the Feywild and now acts as a mixologist, and Estabon the Dragonborn ensures all of the patrons are well fed, though it seems he knows more of high society than he lets on.
These characters all have a fully fleshed-out history, competitive stat block (even the Mixologist is a CR 5), and a series of notes to help the GM inform their performance and future growth of each character. Having so many rich NPCs is an absolute luxury for a DM. Each is laid out similarly allowing you to quickly reference what information you might need a refresher for before going into the game, and gorgeous character art.
The Inn is further fleshed out by an in-world menu of sweets, mains, and beer for your party to partake in. There is also all manner of pub games from drinking contests, to a lottery pot, and even a full obstacle course for players to try their best at. Games like this could also be a fun measure of a party understanding how far they’ve come.
The Circus has come to town in Tavern Tales
One of the important parts about being aware of Flip and his employees’ past is that their connection to the Top of the World Circus is still a healthy one. Every now and then when the party meets up at Trip Away Inn, or even when out in the world they can run into this circus.
Flip’s family, a group of performers known as the Flying Krongovsko, are the headline act of the circus performing shows. Ringmaster, Tattooed Wonder, Werewolf Strongman, and Owlbear Tamer this family invites many to come and see the wonders of the circus. When not watching the performances players can indulge in the gift kiosk and other stalls, feed Owlbears, and play other carnival games. The level of detail in the attractions of this circus are the kinds of things that players will remember for years to come. Taking something so regular and part of the real world and putting an in-depth fantasy spin on it will have your players engaging in wild roleplay.
It’s not all fun and games… adventure awaits!
A large part of Tavern Tales isn’t just the setting and world-building resources that are available to the DM, but the adventures that the players can go on. Within the pages of Tavern Tales, players will find fourteen different adventures ranging from level 1 all the way up to level 13. An interesting difference between this book and some of the anthology sources that we’ve seen from official D&D content is that the majority of these adventures don’t just span a single level, but are enough to take players across multiple levels.
The locations in these adventures are all generic enough to be able to be placed almost anywhere in the world. Some might mention a few days of travel to a destination but there’s enough there for a DM to work with to allow these adventures to take place anywhere.
These adventures might simply have you exploring the mysterious origins of a talking battleaxe that’s known to hang over the hearth in the Trip Away Inn, but higher-level adventures will have you venturing into castles, rubbing shoulders with a reclusive Lord, or into a Gold Mine. It’s in this variety that this collection will be a welcome addition to your table.
What will really set these adventures apart if you’re running them as a DM is the in-depth iconography system that is utilized. Each of the beautifully detailed 2D maps that the DM will have access to are able to clearly denote important information such as where a chest might be locked, or where the treasure could be stowed. That same icon is then utilized in the room description to easily catch DMs eyes. No more flipping between map and book looking. This iconography is also used to help differentiate what information is for the DM, what should be said aloud, and what the players might be able to see. It was such a refreshing feeling to be able to flip to any page and understand so easily what each portion of text is for, and more importantly, when running a session it makes it easier for a DM to sift through the text. Icons like this should definitely be implemented by everyone.
Last and definitely not least this book includes with it new backgrounds and subclasses. All of these new player options are tied heavily into the theme of the Circus and all that the book has to offer. As a Fortune Teller, Acrobat, Clown, or Tent Master. A personal favorite feature of the Clown background is that while wearing your clown makeup and costume you have Advantage in intimidation checks. Whether those that you’re trying to intimidate are fans or afraid of clowns though… is very much up to your DM but certainly an excellent addition as a gameplay element as well as a roleplay one.
The two Subclasses are the Owlbear Tamer Ranger, somewhat similar to the new Drake Ranger that has a pet Owlbear that grows with you, and the Ink Devil Warlock. As an Ink Devil Warlock, your abilities are tied to the written whether that be an ability to read anything that is penned in ink or to be able to pull the tattoo of a knife off your body to use as the real thing. These are two fun subclasses, not only for someone looking for higher damage to deal but also for those utility players that never want to be ill-equipped for any situation. Suddenly I want to play an Owlin with an Owlbear for a pet, but I also feel there’s something wrong there…
What are our final thoughts on Tavern Tales?
What’s great about Tavern Tales isn’t just that it is a new fleshed-out location filled with multi-dimensional NPCs or a Circus with plenty of opportunities for fun and games. It’s also not just about the adventures that spawn out of this location but it’s how everything works together as a coherent package. A player could start as a Level One dish boy in the kitchen of the Trip Away Inn and just by following leads (and generous amounts of PTO from Flip) could stay under the shelter of the roof and make their way up to Level Thirteen.
Should you buy Tavern Tales?
As with any Dungeons & Dragons content, the big question on whether you should buy it is how much of what you heard about above immediately starts speaking to you as a player or as a DM. If you heard about a sentient battle axe and you wanted to go on that adventure, or the idea of running a stall in a circus had you run to a blank character sheet then it’s something you should pick up. Alternatively, if you’re someone who just enjoys reading more D&D content then it’s here. If you’re happy with your current campaign and don’t feel the need to expand then likely this book will just gather dust on your bookshelf.
The copy of Tavern Tales used to produce this review was provided by the publisher.