Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tavern Menus and PC Bait

I really like the tavern menus at these two blogs... Thinking about the colorful descriptions there made me realize how I'd been under-utilizing them in our role playing.

I suspect that in most games, DM and players usually limit menus and food descriptions to something along the lines of “What’s on the Menu? Oh? I’ll have the blank,” and then the DM continues along the same lines with, “The blank arrives. It actually tastes blank. Be sure to deduct blank gold pieces from your inventory.” Maybe that suspicion is unfounded, but I’ll confess to personally having been guilty of it in the past.

In the case of Amityville Mike’s Tavern Meal Table however, one item on the menu caught my eye in particular. Dog Head Soup immediately reminded me of an Andrew Zimmern moment, and the role playing possibilities in my head started awhirling...

I imagine some cocky player deciding to select this particular item in order to provoke reactions from his fellow players, or to somehow accept the bait offered by the DM without fully understanding the consequences. Once the dish is served, a young boy (say, aged 8 or 10) bursts into the tavern, crying loudly and asking anyone that will listen if they’ve seen his missing dog. Whereupon he will suddenly see the dish in front of the PC, scream in a loud, high-pitched manner, and then attack the PC most furiously in a fit of insanity and outrage, presumably recognizing and knowing about this type of soup being served here and assuming that's where his dog ended up...

At this point of course, there are a number of ways which this can go - but let’s assume that no one else in the bar seems to notice or do anything about this attack. Perhaps the characters themselves will try to not take any action, preferring to wait this out, until such time as the boy begins to do a real hit point or two of damage, escalating his attack by grabbing a chalice from the table and striking the offending PC with it.

Once the party or PC in question actually responds in any way at all that can be interpreted as violent towards the child, an indignant and self-righteous hero will appear to defend and avenge the boy, perhaps with allies. Should the party attempt diplomacy, the hero will demand restitution for the boy’s assault. If the party should in turn suggest the tavern be held responsible, it will be brought to their attention that they are the ones who ordered the meal (thus contributing to local demand for such a dish), that the chef can’t be expected to find every stray dog's owner, and it was the PC and not themselves that assaulted the dog’s owner... Local constabulary may need to be consulted.

If on the other hand the boy’s hero (and potential allies) are defeated in grappling or combat, or perhaps Charmed, it may suddenly be confessed that the entire thing was a setup and con, that the boy, hero, and tavern owner were in on it from the beginning, with restitution being offered to the party, rather than demanded of it, perhaps being provided in the way of valuable information of some sort that will become the hook for the next major adventure.

I used the Dog’s Head Soup example here because it was just too easy, but I’m going to make a strong effort, when I plan to use menus like these, to briefly mentally sketch out some ways in which the meal can be used to broaden the game environment and role playing other than just as more wallpaper. In other words, as DM, suggesting that the “Fruit is wonderful, and strangely out of season in these parts” might be a hook to dangle in front of the players. Maybe there’s a magic portal to a distant land or other plane near by. “The mutton is wonderful, but seems ridiculously overpriced” - that’s because a nearby infestation of orcs/goblins/monster X is responsible for the slaughtering of the local flocks. Even a choice of spirit might provoke the server to exclaim, “Well! The 21 year old Bloodhound Brandy! A fine choice, they just don’t make ‘em like that one any more, ever since the Battle of blah blah ruins blah blah...”


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