Tavern on the Edge of the Dwindling Forest (or, my idea for a fantasy bar-management game)

One of these days, I’ll get back to ‘Ryerson’s Bluff’, but right now I’m feeling like a 180º twist is in order. This time, I’m going to be attacking the Fantasy genre for a solo RPG game, but in a completely different way…

Players love a good tavern or inn as a common ground in a roleplaying game. It’s the place where everyone meets everyone else, where adventurers feel comfortable among peers, where lives are changed forever, and all with the smell of burnt oak and stale beer hanging in the air like curtains. But there’s nothing truly special, gaming-wise, about starting out your adventure in a tavern. It’s been done, ad infinitum.

But what if the game stayed in the tavern? What if stories lived and died by the embers of the communal fireplace? A good tavern owner or barkeep is worth their weight in gold, so what if that character actually managed adventuring episodes instead of going forth into the unknown?

Sounds intriguing, yes? So if the PC is the barkeep, how would the player manage the PC’s little world? How would you make a game out of this idea?

PikeandGrogReadSmallI thought a lot on this over the week since I’ve had the idea to try to pull this off as both a roleplaying game and as a solo game specifically. My barkeep PC is going to be “the guy” who knows what’s happening in the area (a sale at the armorer’s shop, who’s daughter was caught with the baker’s son, who characters should talk to for more info on the horned monster seen on the outskirts of town this week), who can set a guy up with the right people to go adventuring with (in the form of NPC groups, maybe adventuring in a simplistic meta-game), and who knows how to tell a tale to make men swoon and women wish to grab a crossbow and kick some arse! Part actor, part cook, part manager, part retired explorer.

I’m the kind of person who likes management-type games such as SimCity, Cities in Motion, and Roller Coaster Tycoon. I love micromanaging the places and people I’d love to visit and talk to in meat-space. What makes those games work for me? Well, the computer handles the really small details, like populating land once I mark it for residential use. I like micromanaging, not nanomanaging. So I’ll need a system which can fill the holes in my larger plot points (by quickly generating stories). This sounds like a job for tables, tables and more tables!

I like being able to soar above the cities I create in the computer games I play, and dive in for a close-up to get that extra detail when I just gotta know what Gerald Motorputter is thinking about the bus line he took today. So there needs to be some type of a centralized management tool to keep track of the threads of the stories/games my barkeep will weave. This is probably best handled by a mind-mapping tool. I don’t have one of those, but I DO have OmniGraffle (think Visio, but for Macs). I also have Scrivener, a celebrated writer’s tool which is renowned for helping writers keep track of multiple points in their stories. Though I like to take my solo RPG play offline as much as possible lately, this is the kind of game I think would benefit from using the computer for tracking.

Soaring above the city requires there to be a city to soar above. That takes rules. So I’m going to need a set of rules to keep things in-check. This is where I stumbled a bit. I have hundreds of RPG systems I’ve picked up over recent years, from simple to complex, from crunchy with dice to story-driven diceless wonders, and everything in between. However, I’ve not even played once with 90% of them! I’m addicted to collecting things. It’s pretty bad.

I put up the question to the Lone Wolf Roleplaying group on G+, and received some interesting ideas. The majority felt this would be the kind of gaming project (and yes, it’s becoming that for me already, and I haven’t even started!) which would benefit from a very open, easy-going ruleset/engine. I used one such, Miso RPG, for my Ryerson’s Bluff series (yes, I know, finish it already!), but I’m feeling a bit like I need to explore some other options, to get a feel for different systems at this end of the RPG spectrum. I’m thinking So1um, or a recent mashup of minimald6 and So1um which Sophia Brandt published for free.

Others felt World of Dungeons would make an excellent match, but as I read that system, I believe it would have me playing the PC “in the adventure” too much, and that’s not really the kind of thing I was leaning toward. The action is all happening IN THE TAVERN, not outside of it (though there could be some fights which burst through the doors and spill out into the muddy side alley). Ironsworn has been my favorite system of late, but it’s a more gritty, confrontational type of RPG and I can’t imagine it handling the light story management I need.

It’s either an emulator and story-driven rule system (like Mythic + Fate Accelerated, or CRGE + Dungeon World), or a much simpler combo (like miniso1d6) and maybe some extra tools like BOLD. I think I’m talking myself into the second option, at least to start out with. I can always change it up later (and hey, that may be a fun way to continue the idea so it doesn’t get stale, like having different “guest” artists ink different issues of a comic for a single writer).

Most RPG systems are geared toward helping to drive the adventure forward. As there’s no real adventure, per se, I’m going to be interpreting moves as story generation hints. I’ll have to decide what that means, though. Another post will delve into what I’m thinking to accomplish.

To sum up, I’m going to need:

  • Tables of various flavors (for generating quick NPC groups, adventures, and parts of the world)
  • Engine: miniso1d6
  • NPC generator: BOLD
  • Maps: I may just draw these in Inkarnate, or by hand. Heck, maybe I’ll just use the millions of maps I have of Dyson Logos’!

To be continued…

One thought on “Tavern on the Edge of the Dwindling Forest (or, my idea for a fantasy bar-management game)

  1. I love the idea of resource management in a tabletop and looks like you’ve put a lot of thought into it – I’d love to see it developed further.

    For mindmaps, I highly recommend SimpleMind Pro, it’s absolutely worth the investment, in my opinion!

    You said you’re leaning towards specific systems – why don’t you try all of them out by play-testing them? You’ll probably be surprised by which ones you liked more. Also, if you get familiar with other systems and maybe pick and choose certain specific rules you like, you could be on your way to making your own ruleset! Your idea seems pretty unique to me, I think it might end up needing its own ruleset to pull it off.


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