How many D&D adventures have started with a line like this: “You sit at a round table near the kitchen of a bustling tavern. The air is loud with conversation and thick with the smell of mead and cooked meat.”
The actual number is somewhere between a lot and a bajillion. If, however, you answered too many, then you're in the majority. Many people feel that beginning a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in an inn, bar, or tavern is tired, tropey, and cliche. But is it?
Basically, Taven Tales is a 300-page sourcebook for a setting-agnostic watering hole called the “A Trip Away Inn” that is a lot more lively and interesting than anything this side of the Yawning Portal.
Note: The author was provided a review copy of Tavern Tales by the publisher, Escape Plan Games.
You Start in a Really Big, Well-Designed Tavern
When I said it was a full sourcebook, I mean just that. This has a lot of content packed into it, and way more than I expected when I dug in. Here's what we get:
- 14 Adventures for levels 1 to 13
- 12 Merchants
- 4 Player Backgrounds
- 2 Player Subclasses
- 22 Tavern NPCs
- Magic Items and Weapons
- Rules for Player-run Shops
And really, that's all on top of all the original art, maps, stat blocks, lore, and random tables for just about everything inside. It's a lot.
I remember hearing about the Tavern Tales Kickstarter when it was going on, but like a lot of people, I have a hard time keeping up with the sheer number of awesome third-party 5e content that's being crowdfunded these days. I didn't get a chance to back it, but I am so glad this one made it through to the finish line.
Digital and Physical Versions
In talking with Mike Pisani, one of the lead designers of the book about doing a review, he offered to send me a physical copy as well as the digital one to look over.
And I have to say that when I got it in, I was unbelievably impressed by the quality of the printing and the add-ons. Not only did I get the hardcover copy of Tavern Tales, but Mike sent along an actual recipe book from “A Trip Away Inn” and a stunningly gorgeous set of red-blue ombre dice with gold flakes suspended within them and a tankard in place of the 20.
As much as I love digital TTRPG content (and I do love it and own a lot of different kinds), I'm still the kind of guy who likes a hardcover sourcebook on my shelves. I like DMing out of books more than off my iPad. So when I opened up the hardcover of Tavern Tales, Vol. 1, I was excited because it was a shiny new hardcover but wasn't prepared for just how nice it was.
The pages are not full-gloss, but a sort of matte/satin, and the spine actually bends and stays open without cracking and making me feel like I'm already destroying it. It is genuinely the highest-quality physical TTRPG book I own, with a close second to the Cortex Prime & Tales of Xadia core handbooks (both of which are exceptionally nice).
The Player Options
I'm not gonna lie, my favorite single part of this book is the Ranger subclass, The Owlbear Tamer. The art is adorable, the class mechanics are really cool, and it's the only time I've ever been tempted to play a Ranger (or ranger-style class) in any TTRPG whatsoever.
They're not really my jam, but nurturing and raising a family of owlbears who love me? Yes, please.
The Ink Devil Warlock patron essentially makes it so that you have a bunch of living tattoos that grant you tons of powers. And as much of a fan as I am of the magic tattoos from Tasha's, this is right up my alley. (I'm thinking of swapping patrons somehow to this one instead of the Hexblade I'm currently playing.)
What's not up my alley, though, are the player backgrounds. I'm sure I am biased, and they do fit in with the adventures and setting the book creates. However, they're not really the kinds of characters I make. But then again…I'm not a big fan of backgrounds in 5e, either–especially the flaws, bonds, ideals, and traits part.
But if you do like using all of the background system, there are some great ideas here, and each one of the 4 backgrounds (Fortune Teller, Acrobat, Tent Master, Clown) comes with unique trait tables for you to choose from or roll on. They feel a little close to the Entertainer, Charlatan, or Witchlight Hand. But again, I think that's me, and it's definitely picking nits.
That said, however, the Fortune Teller seems like it would be a lot of fun to use as a character base, and I could see myself using it at some point.
The Adventures of a Lifetime
It's rare for a setting sourcebook to have a full-length campaign in it, even an official one from WotC. When they are, the level range is small–such as The Light of Xaryxis in Spelljammer 5e going from level 5 to level 8.
And while Tavern Tales doesn't have a technical campaign, it has adventures that you can run in sequence from levels 1 to 13, all based around the A Trip Away Inn. It's really more like Candlekeep Mysteries or Radiant Citadel in how it is set up to be an anthology you can pick and choose from, centered around a hub location.
All of the tales in Tavern Tales are based around individual patrons. You'll meet people like Arvad Quillforge, a Dwarf poet, and Florence Neverbee, a Hafling honey heiress. Each one gets a map, a list of tavern behaviors, physical descriptors, and even pronouns so you can really flesh them out as three-dimensional characters.
The one I am waiting to get through is about a Doppleganger gambler called “Mist” and it was written by Jessica Marcrum. I don't want to spoil much, but…it's the adventure for levels 12-13 and there's a dragon.
I'm a sucker for dragons, y'all. Just love 'em so much.
From a huge selection of adventures, interesting NPCs on almost every page, and advanced rules for player shopkeeping that I am totally going to use when my Spelljammer crew decides they've had enough scavenging Wildspace and settles down, Tavern Tales is solid from cover to cover.
Like any 300-page sourcebook, there will be a lot of picking and choosing which parts go into your own sessions. Not everything is for everyone, but in terms of third-party 5e titles, Tavern Tales is top-tier. Do yourself a favor and grab it asap.
And if you're feeling like you need to treat yo'self, I can't say enough good things about the physical version and resin dice. You can grab those from the Escape Plan Games store.