This massive supplement clocks in at 96 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 93 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
If I had a dime for every module I’ve read that begins by PCs being contacted in a party…and still. Unlike the 1st level module with goblins as foes and an ogre and/or shadow as boss and similar extremely trite and worn out clichés, there seems to be no law of diminishing returns regarding the tavern as an environment. Indeed, if anything, I know quite a few groups wherein the players have taken to spending copious amounts of gold on booze and professionals instead of on magic items because it feels right to them, because their emotionally scarred adventurers, regularly risking their lives for gold, glory and innocents, deserve a time off. It is quite telling that, similarly, barroom brawls did not receive that much support in the basic supplements, with Raging Swan Press’ by now classic little supplement seeing a lot of use at my table – for, indeed, the barroom brawl is a beloved staple of the fantasy genre. I know literally not a single player who doesn’t enjoy it.
It’s weird then, that there simply aren’t that many supplements out there dealing with the subject matter. This book is intended as basically a resource dealing with all things related to taverns – beginning with some basic pieces of information regarding glass-size and the like before introducing dynamic action-rules: Flexible bull rushing through cluttered areas, diverse improvised weapons (from scalding soup to steins and tableware), concise rules-summaries for swinging on chandeliers – there is a lot of material herein, including tables with hit points and hardness for rope and chain supports – in case you haven’t noticed by now, this is exceedingly detailed and each of the pages contains A LOT of text: Step-by-step breakdowns of combat maneuvers in a barroom brawl context also can be found herein.
Now, the usual reason for being in a given tavern (beyond scoring the next harrowing adventuring quest) would obviously be to get drunk – thus, the second chapter of this book is devoted to more detailed rules for intoxication: Basically, this book codifies alcohol in units and establishes an easy means of tracking size category-modifiers and codifies 3 types of intoxication as well as rules-repercussions for hangovers and blackouts. Now far from glorifying excess behavior, the pdf also sums up addiction-rules. The pdf also introduces an array of feats with the [Drunken]-descriptor that can be taken to increase your resistance to the effects of being intoxicated. From gaining resistance to nonlethal damage to gaining Skill Focus to stay out of trouble while drunk or for better spellcasting while drunk. While not particularly strong or brilliant, these feats very well support the respective character concepts.
The third chapter of this book would basically be the massive toolkit most GMs have been looking for – the big tavern-generator: A 200-entries-strong name generator kicks off the tables provided in this pdf to accompany the concise array of considerations GMs should think about when creating taverns. From drinks to food, bedding options to personalities and amenities, this provides a complex array of 50 unique tavern traits, and yes, there is a handy table of random divine/mystic patrons that may frequent the tavern. The pdf also sports DETAILS galore: From goblin Bufo to Grog, Serpentfolk Bloodwine or Wisp, there are A LOT of unique beverages herein, many of which provide unique benefits that make it significantly more likely power-gaming players will join in the revels. Beyond these excessive amounts of uncommon alcohol, we also receive a huge amount of diverse food selections with sample prices/refill-info – and yes, beyond general food tables, we also get handy daily stew tables and ones featuring common/delicacy cheese – and yes, the tables accompany more detailed write-ups for the respective foods. Now quite a few taverns also sport a selection of other goods to purchase and thus, from pitcher, parchment to whetstone and maple syrup, there are quite a few additional entries for your consideration.
Similarly, we do receive some basic guidelines on tavenr games, though in this regard, the pdf does not reach its usual excess level of detail. Trade goods and alchemical remedies as well as truly detailed amenities are just as well part of the deal as the precise prices for e.g. good locks for your rooms. Stables and transport-costs are part of the deal and in case your party’s dwarf is thinking about dabbling in brewing alcohol (or you’re trying to avoid ølfrykt), DCs for scaling qualities, aging processes and the like are explained alongside concise terms in the creation of beverages.
Of course, taverns are basically encounter-facilitators on a meta-level and thus, a massive generator of encounters (including dark alley encounters) are part of the next chapter – and yes, from diverse drunks to various degrees of powerful bar staffs, we also receive a solid array of NPC statblocks in this book, with general statblocks ranging from CR 1/2 to CR 11 – with the higher CR statblocks sporting brief sample NPC-fluff write-ups. Now here, the book becomes awesome: Full blown downtime-synergy rules with secret rooms, teams etc complement this chapter alongside downtime/kingdom-building rule events – kudos!
The final chapter provides the Sweet Hag’s Bossom – a massive tavern, lavishly mapped in full color, with the maps of both floors coming as versions that are furnished and unfurnished, for 4 massive maps – that also come in versions that have been blown up for battlemap-style use, with 4 pages of the maps making for one big version of the map – impressive indeed, particularly for the low price-point.
Editing and formatting are top-notch – I surprisingly noted no significant glitches in spite of the size of this book. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some sparse artworks in color. The cartography is excellent for the low price, but the absence of bookmarks is a nasty comfort detriment. The book comes with a second, printer-friendly version as well as with a .zip-file containing the maps in two different formats – nice bonus!
R. William Thompson and Justin Sluder deliver a surprisingly detailed book: There is A LOT of text crammed on every page – this book actually sports more content on each of its pages than you’d expect. This massive book provides so many details, so much intricate information, that I can’t fathom any GM out there using all of it – but at the same time, I can’t picture any GM being left truly cold by this book: Just about every group should be able to drawn something from these pages:
Whether it’s the unique liquor, the intoxication rules or just the statblocks – there is a lot of material in this inexpensive book. Not all of the material will blow you away, granted, but considering the focus of this book, it does contain a significant amount of material to use and enjoy.
The means by which you can infuse true life into a given tavern certainly is appreciated and in the end, this is what I will rate this as: A massive toolkit to make the favorite bar of your adventurers unique and stand out – to make them care for their tavern. As such, this book can be considered to be an inspired addition to dressing books like those released by Raging Swan Press. My only true gripe with this pdf, ultimately, boils down to the lack of bookmarks – hence, and due to the inexpensive price-point, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5: If you’re remotely interested in the subject matter and want a definite resource on the topic, this will have you covered.