10 Strange Things to See Behind a Seedy Tavern’s Bar

Most adventuring parties spend a lot of time in bars, pubs, inns and taverns. Often such places are a party’s home away from home.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Occasionally, the party will spot one or more strange items behind the bar. Often, such items have a history and reason for being there. They could have great significance to the tavern’s owner or to one or more of its regular patrons. Alternatively, they could serve no purpose but decoration.

Use the table below, to determine what strange items the party spots behind the bar:

  1. An oversized dagger—more the size of a short sword—with a wickedly serrated blade hangs behind the bar. The tip of the weapon is missing. The weapon once belonged to a hill giant and is poorly made; a local claimed to have slain the giant and swapped the dagger for a month of free drinking.
  2. A dusty glass bottle stands on a pedestal in a niche high up behind the bar. Cobwebs cover the bottle and the label is faded and unreadable. Local lore has it that as long as the bottle remains full, good fortune will befall the tavern and its owner.
  3. A battered hat of strange design and appearance rests on one of the ale barrels behind the bar. The hat has a red brim and a covering of yellow felt. A ragged hole—where the wearer’s forehead would be—pierces the fabric.
  4. A cage stands on the counter behind the bar. A single, obviously malnourished and agitated, stirge lurks in the cage. Anyone who tries to leave without paying, or who molests one of the servers, is forced to thrust a hand through the bars to feed the creature. Shockingly, there is little violence and few disturbances in this tavern.
  5. An array of battered and hacked shields decorate the back wall of the bar. They hang from wooden pegs and sometimes the staff rearrange them (for no apparent reason). A few of the shields are plain wooden affairs, but most bear heraldic devices. Present are the symbols of several nearby humanoid tribes along with the devices of five adventuring bands (two of which were wiped out during their adventures).
  6. A collection of fine and delicate goblets and wine glasses cluster thickly upon a narrow shelf lined with faded yellow cloth. The innkeeper never lets anyone use the glasses—saying they are for “quality” customers only. What he means by this is anyone’s guess. When the inn is quiet he often takes the various glasses down and polishes them carefully.
  7. A yellowing giant’s skull hangs from the ceiling over the bar. Burning candles set in the eye sockets give the whole thing an eerie appearance.
  8. Copper coins fill a metal bucket behind the bar. Customers are encouraged to throw their spare coppers into the bucket. At the end of the month, the owner distributes the coins to his staff (or perhaps local needy children). He may—or may not—be skimming some off the top for himself.
  9. A portrait of the current king or other local ruler stares down haughtily over the bar. The barkeep is particularly patriotic and does brook any unkind words about the portrait’s subject. People uttering such are refused service.
  10. A tapestry hangs down behind the bar completely obscuring the wall. The tapestry is one of several the tavern possesses and every now and then the barkeep replaces it with another. Some of the tapestries are worn and faded while others are almost brand new. The owner will pay good gold for new additions to his collection. (Unbeknownst to the customers—and most of the staff—the tapestry covers several secret viewports in the wall the owner uses to spy on his customers; each new tapestry has small holes cut in it over these holes).

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20Front_#1_220This article appears in  20 Things #1: Seedy Tavern, which is available now. It will also appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2017.

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7 thoughts on “10 Strange Things to See Behind a Seedy Tavern’s Bar

  1. In a campaign as a ninja in Ravenloft, he and a few members of his clan used a tavern as a base of operations (They had it in the same land as Dominic D’Honaire, IIRC). They would run it as a tavern for the most part, using hidden rooms and caches to stash equipment and gear when needed. On top of that, the Golden Fox Tavern became a clearinghouse of information. After all, when your staffed by ninja, they tend to be pretty good at listening in discreetly.

  2. I did something like out of 12 o’clock high, where they had that stein on the mantel when they would turn it around for a coming mission…that informed the PC’s that the militia was being called to arms, it wasn’t much but I thought it was kinda neat….I also did something with #5 but instead of shields I used skulls and bones some of which were still on the bloody side..