• Justin Handlin

D&D: 5 DM Tips for Creating Memorable Taverns, Inns, and Lodgings

Fantasy Inn and Tavern with red roof and fire lit windows
The Burnt Reed Tavern

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Do all your taverns, inns, seedy dives, and other lodgings pretty much come down to the same few descriptions? An innkeeper, some ale, and a room? Maybe some music?

If so, then you really should consider taking a moment to add that extra flair to each lodging. Think about it. No adventurer that is worth their salt would pass up the opportunity to rest under a roof without a good reason. Trekking through the savage wilderness and the natural elements is a taxing experience. On top of that, bandits, monsters, and random acts of the gods can just wear out an adventurer before they even get to the dungeon. There is nothing like a warm meal, hot bath, and soft clean bed to raise anyone’s morale. With the wilderness rarely offering any sort of hospitality, a safe, comfortable stay is a treasure unto itself.

No matter the quality, lodgings should be as vast and different as towering mountain ranges or clouds drifting in the sky. A place of rest can be just as much of an opportunity for world-building as anything. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the best ways to fill out the exploration pillar. Each lodge has its own story to tell. Each of which is generally tied to the area it resides in. As Dungeon Masters, this is a fantastic opportunity to introduce fun, and unique NPC characters. Set the mood of the area through clear descriptions and expand upon the local lore.

Below are 5 simple questions to ask yourself that will help you to build fun and memorable locations that your players will want to revisit.

Where is it located?

This may seem like an obvious one. But, the location is going to decide right away the type of establishment it’s going to be. If you decide that your lodging is going to be in a port city, then we instantly have several different senses we can touch on. Since it’s on a port, it likely means there is likely lots of seafood. This simple question means we now have a core menu, seafood as well as a scent (smoked fish) to fill out our inn.

What is its name?

In my experience, I have found that many DMs for one reason or another always just refer to the location the characters stay as an Inn or some other generic term. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it really takes away from the experience and reminder of the environment around the characters. Following up with our port theme above, arriving at a building with a fish-shaped sign hanging from a hook that reads “Salty SalmINN” is going to evoke the exact response you want, without even describing what’s inside. They can tell just from the name, and maybe even smell it in their mind’s eye. If we continue to use this name as part of our descriptions, then it is a constant reminder. It also makes it easy to imagine the flavor and theme of the inn. Chairs, tables, and even aprons are created in the likeness of salmon. Perhaps even the outfits are all a lit red salmon color. Once again, giving us a powerful tool to target our player’s senses.

Who Operates it?

Those who built and operate the establishment often have their personalities reflected in its design, meals, special services, etc. As for our “Salty SalmINN”, it’s owned by an older couple, the plump, stout dwarf Mazelynn and barrel-chested human Jonah Baxter. Mazelynn inherited the lighthouse, and Jonah’s love for fishing gave it its restaurant turned Inn the fish theme. It’s easy to imagine these two and their personalities immediately. This also allows us to easily have a simple backstory to share should the characters take interest. In either case, it helps ensure a memorable experience.

How much Wealth does it have?

Beyond just location, another significant question is whether the business has lots of money, or is barely scraping by. This question certainly isn’t one that every DM thinks of, but certainly should consider. An establishment’s wealth is going to determine the number of aspects surrounding the establishment. For this article, let’s focus on just two.

First and foremost, the size. The more successful the establishment, the more likely it is to have more rooms. Whether or not the size takes place like a vertical structure or a wide area structure. Once again, we can leverage our previous questions to expand upon this thought. Because we are in a port city, perhaps the city popped up around a lighthouse. The owner's husband was a great fisherman, so while his wife operated the lighthouse, he expanded its lower tiers from the bottom up to be a simple place to stay for wayward travelers. It slowly expanded to an inn over the years. The size of the structure might already be set based on its previous form, but can be expanded if the owners had the funds to do so. Or if not, it stays a simple one-room structure for those in need. In either case, the design and structure of the building are going to be greatly determined by its wealth.

Second, the staff. A business establishment with little or no money might not be able to hire more than one staff member. Thus, only the owners and a single helper. This is going to be much less attractive to most as it likely doesn’t have the best of food, security, or even beds to sleep in. In this case, we will consider our lighthouse or the “Salty SalmINN” as one of moderate wealth. They employ six other staff members. Five of the staff members are young children who seek to grow into great fishermen but have to earn enough to get their boat. The inn's “little fishes” are popular among adventurers and merchants. They always have smiles on their faces and are eager to do extra work for a bit of extra coin if they can. The last is a veteran adventurer who does basic security and maintenance.


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What Services does it Provide?

Beyond the traditional food, and shelter. Many establishments offer special services. While there are plenty of standards across the board to consider, such as job boards and entertainment. If we want it to truly stand out and be memorable, we need to try and be specific. Even if it is only one or two things. Specifically, we want a service that may appeal to the characters as a resource they can use. Harken back to our “Salty SalmINN”. It started out and still functions as a lighthouse. So it makes sense that the owners or at least Mazelynn would have knowledge and documentation on vessels that make routine passage through the area. This would be a great resource should the characters be seeking passage to a particular location, or seeking out a particular vessel that may have passed through recently. Likewise, Jonah being an expert fisherman may be able to point the characters to hazardous creatures out on the waters, good spots to spot rare creatures roaming the waterside for freshwater, or even point them to wrecks, sunken keeps, and more. Both these services would stand out as unique to this particular establishment, further making it a memorable location.

While these most certainly aren’t the only questions to ponder when creating an interesting lodging location. They certainly help to get the creative juices flowing. While you don’t have to string every thought together directly, the more cohesive it is, the more standout the establishment becomes. So, next time you need an inn, tavern, hostel, or similar lodging, consider these questions. Better yet, you can use this format for any sort of building. In any case, your players will think you’ve just got everything planned out all the time. Even if you just answered these questions on the fly to get some bullet points. Remember, it’s best not to let them know your secrets. Just let them ponder your well-thought-out plans (even picking ideas from them) and use it as another tool to take your Dungeon Master skills up to the next level.

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