Bathtub Review: A Night at the Tavern

Bathtub Reviews are an excuse for me to read modules a little more closely, but I’m doing this for my own edification: Whether I’d choose to play them, if I’d need to modify them significantly to run them, and whether I’d adopt some of the modules approaches when writing myself. They’re stream of consciousness and unedited harsh critiques on usually excellent modules. I’m writing them on my phone in the bath.

A Night at the Tavern is a four page system-agnostic module by Sandy Pug Games, with art by Beowulf and Raul Volpato. I backed it on Kickstarter. Each page details an hour of a night at Zar’s tavern, The Soggy Dog, using a “mood” summary, NPC summaries (there are 12, some with different descriptions in different hours), and an isometric map of the tavern showing where each character is and who they’re with.

The pixel art maps and character art are excellent, and leverage the simplicity of the character designs to make it fairly clear who is in what room and what they’re doing. Pages 2 and 3 are darker and have some particle effects on them, and a broader range of character designs and colour choices might have made it easier to use. On the other hand, the maps are a very clever way of utilising art to facilitate running a social location, and they work most of the time.

All of the characters appear to be monsters in Zar’s tavern, and the first hour is getting to know these monsters, despite the fact that a party of adventurers is coming to ransack the place. The character descriptions on page one do an great job of world-building the fantasy world from the perspective of work-a-day monsters without exposition, and don’t fall into the Name/Look/Agenda trap of feeling similar and blurring together. Tension builds in the second hour, with the arrival of some thugs pretending to be adventurers, an assassin, and a cultist, all arriving to complicate matters. In the third act, these new arrivals act on their intentions (it is implied, at least, by the missing sprites and descriptions that something happened in the interim). The fourth page implies the arrival of the adventurers and the summoning of a world-destroying demon.

This is excellently written, the concept is very interesting, and I don’t think I could bring it to my table, except perhaps as a one-shot. The world is too specific and different from most fantasy worlds to be a drop-in module (although it’s fun and interesting and something more comprehensive that explored A Night At The Tavern’s world would be cool). It’s not intuitive to me who the players in this scenario would be, as the entire tavern is self-sustaining and the agendas of the NPCs are entirely internal and secret. As a one-shot, I could probably run this as a free-form, mystery module where each player takes one of the characters already in the tavern? Frustratingly, some of the major events are elided by the time skips between hours, resulting in my having to figure out who the ‘collateral damage’ was by flipping back and forth through pages two and three. These elisions happen throughout the document – for example, the tavern’s name is the Soggy Dog, but I only know that from the summary, not from the module itself.

However, I almost certainly think they design is really useful for party scenes in RPGs. Using a small map with multiple rooms, easily identifiable sprites that move between rooms according to time or event, to help to run something like this, and changing moods and timed events, are all very cool approaches to writing a locked party scene for any adventure. It’s well written and attempts valiantly to incorporate its lore and worldbuilding into as few words as possible, unfortunately not achieving its goals. I’d certainly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in innovative approaches to module design, even if I don’t think the execution lives up to the potential of the concept. I could totally see these methods and approaches utilised again, they just need refining.

24th March, 2023

Idle Cartulary


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