06 February 2018

Rambler Reviews: Remarkable Inns & Their Drinks

“You all meet at a tavern...”

Veterans of Dungeons & Dragons, and similar fantasy role-playing games, have no doubt heard that phrase uttered countless times. Inns and taverns are staples of such games, providing a place for adventurers to assemble, learn gossip, recruit allies, or just rest and recuperate after a long and dangerous journey. Since adventurers typically spend almost as much time at inns and taverns as they do adventuring, game masters will often need to know a lot of details about these iconic locations. In fact, designing a detailed Inn could easily take as much time as stocking a dungeon, if not more, and often this is time that game masters just don't have.

Enter “Remarkable Inns &Their Drinks,” a book from LoreSmyth that seeks to assist the time-strapped GM by not only providing several ready-made inns and taverns, but also providing tools and tips for running inns in your game and creating your own unique locations quickly. So how does it do? Lets take a closer look.

First of all, the book itself is softcover, and consists of 88 full-color pages. The layout is professional, and the artwork is consistent throughout, with a handful of color illustrations and several high-quality thumbnail sketches that I really like. This is the second LoreSmyth book I've reviewed, and the second time I've been impressed by the layout and design quality. As for content, the book is divided into three broad sections. The first section of the book provides details on the titular “Remarkable Inns and Their Drinks,” the middle section offers advice on “Bringing Your Inn to Life” and, lastly, there is a small section with advice and tables that can be used to create your own remarkable inn. We'll take a closer look at each of these sections and then I'll wrap things up with a summary opinion and some final thoughts.

The first, and largest section, does an excellent job of including details for inns that are representative of a wide variety of geographical locations. Briefly, these are: a dwarven trading town, a northern fishing village, a seedy inner-city, a desert oasis, and the edge of a jungle caldera. There's also an elvish hunting lodge and two truly remarkable locations: a gnomish inn on a floating island and an inn located within the realm of the fey.

Each entry begins with a small table that summarizes useful information like how pricey and dangerous the inn is (on a scale from one to five), what type of services are available, what type of patrons are typical, and what biases there are (if any) towards certain races, classes, or alignments. The entry then goes on to describe the inn itself and provide details on the location, who owns it, and who some of the more notable staff and patrons are. Each inn also has a list of drinks that it is known for, many of which can provide imbibers with temporary in-game effects like resistance to heat or cold, or perhaps a small negative modifier to stats like charisma or dexterity for the next few hours. Potential plot hooks are scattered throughout each entry, ranging from the mundane (guard a caravan from goblins) to the epic (investigate the a malevolent blight that has taken root in an area of the fey realms).

Overall this section of the book does a good job conveying the atmosphere of each inn and the mannerisms of its occupants, while also giving you a decent idea of what sort of things player characters might get up to at each particular location. However, like much of the artwork in the book, these entries are just thumbnail sketches, and will require at least some investment of time and effort if you want to expand them into fully fleshed out locations. Additionally, it should be noted that Remarkable Inns & Their Drinks is system agnostic, so if you want or need any game information (beyond race and class) for the NPCs presented here you'll have to stat them up yourself.

The second section of the book offers advice on “bringing your inn to life,” and includes information on accommodations, services, food, additional drinks, gambling, brawling, storytelling, and more. Information about the rating system presented in the first section is presented here as well, offering additional details about an inn's wealth, prices, security, authority, and influence. I found the lists detailing additional food and beverage options (including some magical drinks), and the lists detailing the costs for accommodations and additional services like horse stabling and message delivery to be the most useful information presented here. I particularly admire the creativity that went in to detailing the unique drink options presented here and elsewhere in this book. I also liked the inclusion of a small table that gives a rough idea about how much of a reward is typical for a variety of quests. Other sections, like those on tavern brawls and random events, I found to be less useful. Your mileage may vary, but I don't think I would use a lot of this information as presented. I thought the percentage chances given for unfortunate events to occur were rather high (75% chance per visit of an unfortunate event occurring at the lowest security inns) and, while I might take inspiration from some of the entries presented on the random tables, most just wouldn't work for me as random events, either because they take away player agency, spontaneously spark detailed side quests, or wouldn't fit with my gaming style. In the Songs & Tales section, I would like to have seen several more short songs, as well as some toasts and riddles; I honestly didn't care for the longer tales presented here as they were far too specific, and it was obvious that they didn't receive the same editorial attention that the rest of the book received.

The last section is the one on “creating your own inn,” and I have to say - I quite like it! Whereas the first section of this book is useful for adding inns to your game that you plan to use frequently, this section shines at helping you create a unique location “on the spot” (although there is no reason you couldn't use these tables  ahead of time to create a more permanent fixture). There is a clever name generator, followed by a few tables to help quickly establish a feel for the inn and its patrons, including tables detailing atmosphere and even smell, which is a nice touch. Just as clever as the name generator are tables that allow you to quickly establish the dress and demeanor of the innkeeper and his staff, and several, more specific tables if you really want to delve into your innkeeper's motivations and mannerisms. There are even tables for determining an inn's location (including a table of “unusal” locations) and what it's made out of if you're feeling particularly random. Finally, there are larger tables for determining unique details and story hooks for your newly created inn, though for these table I'd recommend picking and choosing results rather than rolling randomly. I can see getting a lot of use out of this section, and I'll probably use the “innkeeper generation” tables to help me come up with details for all manner of NPCs on the fly.

So what do I think of Remarkable Inns & There Drinks? I think it's very ambitious in scope and scale, and while it falls short in a few places it hits more often than it misses. The remarkable inns presented feel at once both archetypal and unique, and could be added to most game worlds with minimal fuss. The “bringing your inn to life” section, while floundering in places, still presents a lot of useful information, and I especially like the wealth of fantastical food and drink options. As for the “creating your own inn” section, I can't imagine a game master who wouldn't find value here. Moreover, I appreciate that throughout the book an obvious effort was made to present ideas that work with high fantasy games, low fantasy games, and a lot of things in between. There is something here for everyone, but everything presented isn't for everyone, and not only is that fine, it appears to be by design.

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