20 Things to See in a Seedy Tavern

Adventurers often seem to be found in seedy dives and other disreputable drinking establishments.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Whether they are hunting a thief or looking for their next job, an adventurer’s visit to such an establishment is almost certain to be eventful. Use the table below, to generate minor events of interest to flesh out such a visit.

  1. Two men sit at a table drinking. As the evening progresses their conversation gets more and more heated. Eventually, one of the men slams his empty flagon down on the table and storms out of the tavern.
  2. A drunk half-orc totters through the crowd in search of the privy. He suddenly stops and throws up on the floor. Cheers and laughter greet this event.
  3. A scantily clad woman leaps to her feet and throws a drink into the face of the man with which she was sitting. With a splutter and roar he staggers to his feet, but the woman is faster—and darts off through the common room.
  4. A half-dozen drinkers sit around a table playing a complicated dice-based gambling game. Many empty flagon stand upon the table; as the evening progresses the drinkers gets more and more raucous.
  5. A single near destitute man (if his garb is anything to go by) sits morosely at a table nursing his drink. At his feet lies a miserable-looking, scrawny dog of indeterminate breed.
  6. A small gang of rough and ready men and women enter the common room and all surge toward the bar at the same time. All of them are armed, and all seem slightly worse for wear.
  7. An old man dressed in rags moves from table to table offering to tell fortunes for only one silver coin. The man has a modicum of power and offers a surprisingly prescient—if garbled—description of an important event or encounter in the party’s near future.
  8. A drunk man sitting alone at a table roars for another flagon of wine. When one appears, he tries to fondle the serving wench bring it to him. She slaps him across the face before flouncing away.
  9. A wide and impressively muscled dwarf sits alone at a table by the wall. He seems to be drinking, but a perceptive watcher realises he is actually stone cold sober…and watching the other patrons intensely.
  10. A small group of patrons suddenly break into a rowdy (and obscene) drinking song. The song ends with roars and drunken cheering.
  11. A well-dressed man is in deep, intense conversation with two heavily armed women. They, however, seem bored and keen to leave. The man is oblivious and continues talking, becoming more and more animated as they get more and more bored.
  12. A small child wanders into the tavern and slowly looks around the common room before leaving.
  13. After a short conversation, an attractive, scantily clad woman leads a drunken merchant from the tavern. Neither returns. (In fact, the woman is a thief and is leading the besotted merchant outside to be mugged).
  14. Shouting from the bar draws everyone’s attention to a heavily scarred warrior—hand on sword hilt—demanding credit. The landlord stands behind the bar shaking his head from side to side.
  15. Two men arm wrestle at a table surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. Eventually, one man loses and much silver changes hands among the watching crowd.
  16. As the PCs sit drinking a man totters up to their table and asks—surprisingly politely—if they would lend him some money. His clothes proclaim him a manual worker of sorts, and he seems rather desperate for the money.
  17. Raised voices at the bar, herald an argument quickly spirally out of control. Before it can come to (proper) blows several regulars step in and bundle the two arguers outside.
  18. A man sits alone—his head on the table surrounded by several empty wine flagons. Perceptive watchers notice one of the serving wenches relieve the man of his coin pouch.
  19. A tall, muscular man enters the bar, and suddenly everyone stops talking. He surveys the crowd before picking an empty table and calling for wine. Gradually, the mood in the common room returns to normal.
  20. A hooded figure sits alone in a shadowy corner. If approached, he spins a clever tail of needing adventurers to carry a certain parcel to an associate who waits just outside town. This is—of course—a trap; the man only talks to the PCs once they’ve been drinking for several hours and his associates wait outside for the marks to stumble into their ambush.

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20Front_#1_220This article appears in  20 Things #1: Seedy Tavern. It also appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things I. Both are available now.

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6 thoughts on “20 Things to See in a Seedy Tavern

  1. 21. Two low-level wizards cantrip dueling with wooden spoons, using bowls as shields.

    22. A bottle of shimmering elven brandy sits on a table under the sunlight coming through a nearby window. The barkeep is keeping a careful eye on it.

    23. A mercenary captain and a few of his men enter the bar looking for ‘runners’ who have abandoned their posts and violated their contracts of service. They also ask if any are willing to sign-up for service as a caravan guard.

    24. A halfling sits scribbling in a book at a small table, propped up by several other books he’s stacked on top of the chair. He has tipped over a vial of ink, but pays it no mind as it slowly drips across the table and to the floor, thoroughly engrossed in his writing.

    25. ‘Nilster’ the Tavern’s prize mousing cat sits on a table in the center of the room, lazily playing with an empty, covered tankard – which seems to be sequel whenever he swats it, sending it spinning in circles.

    26. The barmaid, a fair haired woman with flaxen hair, is having trouble with one of the kegs behind the bar. The tap isn’t working correctly and the bartender is busy with other customers.

    27. The city/town watch makes a leisurely pass through the tavern, on patrol to ensure everything is right and order is being kept. They’re chatty, and might be amiable to talk if offered a drink or a kind word.

    28. A brief squall has crossed the township and driven everyone off the streets. The tavern is packed and seats are at a premium. More than one cut-purse can be spied in the crowd by those with a wary eye, as well as number of well-off merchants, traders, and buskers. All are thirsty and talkative as they wait out the torrential downpour.

    29. A tremor has shaken the earth around the tavern and thrown people, chairs, and numerous bottles of costly beverages to the floor. While no one is critically hurt, the locals seem ill at ease to discuss the tremor and the reasons behind it.

    30. For an instant, the tavern goes complete dark and silent, as if the party had just dropped off the face of reality. Then they’re back, in the tavern, lamps lit, the smell of ale and crispy bread in the air. But, it’s eerily silent. All the other patrons, with the exception of the party are gone. In the center of tavern stands a Gnome of diminutive height, with a long beard. He’s holding a some kind of apparatus made of black metals and dark mirrors in his hands. He looks at the party and utters a single word, “Oops.”

  2. Another fine list! Thanks! I have found playing is that there often seems to be one specific or narrow vision of a place. This list is great for helping GMs break out of that comfort zone and spice up their establishments. The great thing about this list is that it would be easy to tweak just a bit to fit any genre or game you are playing.