Art by Kennon James
They slay dragons, liberate the oppressed and defy the nefarious plans of unspeakably evil villains. Some of them wear suits of armor and ride into battle on noble steeds while others stay far from the melee and rely on intellect and study for their combative prowess. However, what fantasy heroes have in common is that they are mortal beings who need rest & relaxation just as much as you or I do, especially when you and I are playing them. If the Dungeon Master needs a break from the action or if your party is low on hit points, the answers is almost always the closest inn.
It’s more than just a place to recover one’s lost health, though. Considering that most fantasy settings are full of more threats than one party of adventurers to address, it’s highly likely that a given innkeeper will have his common room filled with more than one expedition on a given night. And provided that the various travelers aren’t from opposite sides of the alignment tracks, a good meal and some ale is a sure-fire way to get them talking to one another. There are likely to be some very interesting stories told of past exploits, and rumors of even more daunting challenges are bound to arise sooner or later.
When it comes to tabletop games, the inn is a classic place to introduce new characters, side quests, or major plot points. Tolkien gave future fantasy authors & game audiences a fine example of the “average” inn with the Prancing Pony in Bree, and the tavern your party stops in can range anywhere from a bright and colorful place that feels miles away from any sort of peril to a mix of a Viking mead hall and the mosh pit at a Slipknot concert. Regardless of the state of affairs within, inns are rarely boring places, and even if the person behind the screen at the head of the table is finding themselves burnt out or starved for ideas, a few moments of in-character interaction around the table can lead to a new adventure. Or at least some interesting or amusing moments when the fighter catches the thief with an extra card up their sleeve.
MMOGs with fantasy settings tend to have their inns run by non-player characters, and you’ll have people with no interest or ability in role-playing darting in and out to complete quests, buy supplies or beg for loose change, but you can still find a good story and perhaps some people to hang with on a regular basis if you can tolerate the bad apples. In fact, I’m helping some of the friends I’ve made on our server in World of Warcraft put together a new guild, with the premise being the members are people who simply meet in an inn or tavern somewhere in the game world and swap stories, often volunteering to travel with one another into dangerous places. It’s a flexible and classic idea, and I hope we can take it in exciting and fun directions.
Just be careful if the innkeeper’s willing to let you stay free of charge. Final Fantasy teaches that such things lead inevitably to a cutscene, drama, or even loss of a character, so you’d better save your game first.