Mapping Tips For Inns, Taverns, And Restaurants

From John Simcoe and Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0395

A Brief Word From Hannah

New Editor

Hello all! I’m Hannah, the new editor. I’m a longtime Roleplaying Tips reader, and I’m excited to be helping out.

I’ve only been gaming for about six years, but I’ve managed to pack a lot of crazy wild fun into that time. At the moment, I’m running a tri-stat d8 game, wherein the party has just incurred the wrath of an entire city. The group consists of an assassin/monk, an assassin/bard, an assassin/mage, and a crazy, power-hungry mage, which works about as well as you can imagine.

I’m also playing as a rather incompetent pirate in a Star Wars d6 campaign. The original character concept involved hiding behind the wookie; the current character spends most of her time getting into firefights with entire regiments of Stormtroopers. My Iron Heroes character, on the other hand, is an easy-going, lyre-playing, fire-throwing Man-At-Arms.

My other RPG-related shenanigans include Chaotic Shiny. It’s a generator site aimed at helping GMs, especially those like myself who improv as much as they plan. It’s at:

Scion Game by Whitewolf

A friend and I recently picked up a copy of Whitewolf’s new RPG, Scion. We’re both classical mythology buffs, and whoever wrote up the Greek pantheon certainly did their research. There are a few details that are a bit questionable, but overall, the gods and purviews look great.

From what little I know of Voudoun, the Loa are spot-on, too. I don’t know much about the Norse, Aztec, Japanese, or Egyptian pantheons, but they seem accurate as well.

I’ve never played anything by Whitewolf, and the system looks like it has a steep learning curve. It seems like it will be a lot of fun once we get the hang of it, though. We’re hoping to get a campaign going in the fall.

5 Room Dungeons Volume 15 Now Available

The next volume of 5 Room Dungeons contest entries is nowready for download. Featured in this volume:

  1. Prison Break by Nathan Wells
  2. The Company by Nathan Wells
  3. Catching the Traitor by Amy
  4. The Wizard’s Land by Dr SciFi
  5. St. Nathanial – Harbinger of Doom by Thewizard63

Download (PDF 1 MB) – 5 Room Dungeons – Vol15

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Mapping Tips For Inns, Taverns, And Restaurants

The following mapping tips are from my recently released book, GM Mastery: Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants. For more information about this book, see the end of this e-zine.

Basic Layout Features

Restaurants, taverns, and inns require simple layouts compared to the complex dungeon and adventure locations you need to craft in other parts of your campaigns. They should center around the primary source of revenue – dining room, bar, guest rooms – and support areas should revolve around that.

In addition, these are public places designed to serve and expedite traffic, not repel invaders, trap adventurers, or support monster ecologies. For example, brawls require clear spaces, strong, simple furniture, and easy exits. Partitions, clever layouts, and delicate furnishings are not ideal. An owner expecting violence will design with this in mind.

If the place caters to drinking, it’s best to map level areas with few stairs. Drunken patrons are clumsy. Not only could they hurt themselves falling down stairs or tripping over a raised level, but they could damage dishes and furniture, or injure other patrons and staff.

Alternatively, steps and stairs are often desired in more expensive places. There’s a subtle feeling of superiority when sitting on high and looking down at others on lower levels.

It’s also a tactical advantage to have the high ground. Not only does higher ground give combatants bonuses in some game systems, but it can also provide better line of site for spot-type checks and better cover. For places where you want interesting combats, add lots of stairs.

Lines of Sight

Interactivity means a clear line of sight (LOS). Check LOS from various tables, the bar, the stage, and other locations where the PCs and other patrons would gather. Blocked views means people won’t have a chance to see each other or what people are doing, which means less interaction, and fewer interaction possibilities.

Perhaps blocked LOS is by design, though. For example, making PCs go with listen checks and eavesdropping allows you to add ambiguities for fun encounters, red herrings, and roleplaying. If the PCs are talking, close your eyes and imagine what others might be thinking based on hearing alone. Plan for NPC dialogue that can be easily misunderstood, and let the PCs jump to conclusions.

Alternatively, if visuals are important to your encounter, keep clear LOS in your maps.

As a general standard, poor places will have simple, open room layouts with no privacy.

Middle class places will have booths and cheap partitions for some semblance of privacy.

Upper class places will have partitions, different floors or raised levels, private rooms, and places with secure privacy. It’s more expensive to craft a place for privacy with broken line of sight, staggered layouts, partitions, and raised areas.

You might create layouts that deviate from the standard to add more interest. Perhaps a dive has an expensive, albeit rundown, layout because the building is old and has seen better days, or because the owner is an expert with carpentry. Maybe an upper class place is an open room because it’s trendy and makes patrons feel like they’re slumming a bit.

Entrances and Exits

Entrances and exits are a strategic mapping decision as well:

  • Access. Greater access, such as a street entrance, means more walk-in and spontaneous foot traffic. It also means less privacy for those who want their comings and goings out of the public eye. For PCs, greater access means more difficulty keeping their movements undetected and catching fleeing opponents.
  • Location. Front, rear, or side door? Front access makes it easier for customers to find the place and allows a public facade for catching the eyes of passersby.

Side doors can offer prestige to patrons who qualify to enter, if operated in that fashion, or they can provide private access. Side doors are good for staff and suppliers to use so they don’t get in the way of patrons.

Rear doors have a reputation for privacy, secrecy, escape routes, and alley access (where there’s often garbage and offal). It’s also a place for staff to take their smoke breaks, eject unruly customers, and have whispered conversations.

On your maps, by default, craft a front and rear exit. More interesting designs might offer one or more side doors and additional exits depending on your adventure needs.

Multiple exits provide more retreat options for your villains and foes. They also allow more entry options for PCs. The locations of access points affect future battles as well. An ambush against PCs exiting into a narrow alley is a different combat than against PCs in the middle of a wide street.

  • Size. Door size depends on function and need. Folks prefer to have lots of room when entering and exiting. What constitutes lots of room varies by race, and creates interesting mapping and design opportunities.

The Half-Pint Bar & Grill might specialize in serving halflings, and this is quickly communicated by the small door that larger races have to stoop or crawl through. Tactically, larger races need to squeeze through to enter, which might be interesting during combat situations.

Suppliers and mounts might need larger portals. It’s difficult rolling large ale barrels through narrow openings, and horses don’t crawl. In addition, large entrances such as double doors and grand archways speak to the class and prestige of the business, and therefore to the class and prestige of its patrons.

Extreme sizes make things interesting for PCs. Very short or narrow spaces might prevent PCs in big armour with large weapons or large equipment from entering. Wide portals give opponents more chances to slip by, possibly even avoiding attacks of opportunity. Tall portals give climbers and flyers easy access.

  • Speed. Narrow entrances and exits might get clogged with traffic or require squeeze actions, slowing PCs or their opponents down. If you plan a villain encounter at a business location but are worried about his survival, give them speedy, accessible exits in case they need to flee.


Lighting is important and greatly affects mapping. Lots of light creates a bright, pleasant atmosphere. Too much light or sharp light creates a stark, uncomfortable atmosphere. Low light can be romantic, dangerous, or frustrating because it’s hard to see or read.

Windows provide natural light during the day, and sunlight is free (i.e., less expensive than lamp oil), so map out tables and booths to be near windows. Fireplaces also provide a wide ray of light, so many places will create clear line of sight to hearths to help provide illumination. Fireplace smoke usually goes up the chimney or out the ceiling hole with little spread.

Lanterns are usually cleaner burning, but expensive. They pose a greater fire danger than fireplaces, so they’re often posted high or few and far between, which means seating needs to be closer together to take advantage of the light.

Torches and candles are cheap, but smokey, so having to rely on lots of those for light means a smoke clogged room. They do allow a more spread out or spacious layout, because it’s easy and not too expensive to illuminate things table by table.

More expensive candles or small lanterns provide private, clean-burning light sources that allow better class establishments to offer private layouts.

Window seats are not private or secure. However, smart business owners will seat folks at windows to make the place look busy, social, and popular. Eating or drinking at an empty place is boring and sometimes uncomfortable. During the day most owners will want to keep window blinds and shutters open to let in free, natural light.

Therefore, map out rooms, tables, and booths to be near windows, but also create a few, more private locations away from the public eye or insecure access.

Big windows and skylights are great for light, comfort, visual interest, and cheery atmospheres. They are also expensive (think bar brawls), so map big windows out only for peaceful places. Glass might not be available in your world, or it might be expensive. Poor places will have small windows or openings to retain heat and keep costs down.

Mapping windows gives you some messaging opportunities. Big, open windows, skylights, and sunrooms (where the walls are glass too) communicates openness, freedom, and power. Small windows, lack of windows, and windowless holes for light and air communicate secrecy, poverty, and passive hostility.

You might, for example, place a thieves’ den in a restaurant with many large windows for a twist or to subtly communicate power. A headquarters for agents of law and good that is small and windowless would be another neat twist.

Details and Variations

Floors communicate much about the establishment. Solid, expensive flooring is expected by upper class patrons. Middle class just want stable footing. Lower class prefer cheap prices and will put up with any flooring, such as dirt and straw.

Some floor materials are easier to clean than others. This creates an expense for some owners, and a hazard for others. Slippery footing adds an exciting element to brawls and combats.

Floor leveling is another design quirk option. Poor foundations, bad construction, and catastrophe are some of the ways floors can twist or sink, creating low and high points. Buckled floors create tripping hazards. Weakened or unsupported floors can give way or be stepped through at unexpected – and often the worst – times.

Don’t forget about the roof. Though most of the action in your business encounters and scenes will take place indoors, roof design is important if the PCs have climbers, flyers, or spies.

Steep roofs, often used in areas with high snowfall, present greater climbing challenges, as do smooth and wet ones. Metal, thin, and creaky roofs are more difficult to tread without making noise. Thick roofs and high ceilings are harder to hear through.

Many taverns and inns have private rooms and exterior buildings. These areas provide privacy and encounters where there aren’t pesky crowds. They are also good places to store or hide things. Some places might sport grand or unusual features that require special mapping, such as fountains, indoor gardens, sculptures, fighting pits, or open kitchens. Keep in mind their primary benefit to the business, and map accordingly. For example, if they are crowd pleasers then they should be front and center in the main room or entrance area.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Session Debriefing Template

From Joachim de Ravenbel

Here is my session debriefing template. I use it to track attendance, NPCs met, locations visited, events, and special notes.

395 Debriefing Template

Here’s an example, filled out, in PDF format – 395 Debriefing Example

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Planet Builder Spreadsheet

From Matthew Selznick

Here is a very technical Excel spreadsheet for working out the properties of your solar systems, celestial bodies, satellites, and more.

Planet Builder (Excel 110 KB) – 395 Planet Builder

Graphic of section divider

Considerations For Designing A Stronghold

From Syd Halterman

re: 6 Techniques For Maintaining Player Interest – RPT#160

The tips on building/designing a starship from Issue #160 made me think of some interesting ideas in my fantasy campaign (D&D). Specifically, about strongholds, castles, keeps, towers, etc.

The characters in my campaign have decided they are going to build a stronghold as a base of operations. They are working on acquiring the necessary funding, and choosing a suitable location; you can’t just build anywhere.

The method we are using for the design is to decide what things we need in it – bedrooms, kitchens, guard barracks, a smithy, a wizard’s research lab, towers, etc. – before we even draw the first line on a map of the building. By the way, the Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook by WotC is excellent for this.

As I was reading about the design of starships, I also thought about the design of strongholds. What if the stronghold was built by hobbits, halflings, or gnomes? Wouldn’t everything be built on a smaller scale?

What about hill giants? Or stone giants? Considering the race that built a stronghold can give an idea of how big everything could be.

The typical human stronghold would have hallways that are 5 feet wide, except at entrances or wherever a ‘grand’ feeling is desired. But most giants would feel a little cramped in a 5 foot wide hallway. So 10 feet might be the standard. If they were bigger, maybe stone giants, the average hallway would be 15 feet wide.

Also, the height of the ceilings and therefore the roof/upper floors would be much higher. For that matter, everything – furniture, pictures, eating utensils -would be scaled up for larger occupants. The characters could get a real ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feeling.

By the same token, a castle built by gnomes or smaller folk could get the characters feeling like they are in a doll house – except the ‘dolls’ are probably a good fight!

So, the considerations for designing a stronghold either for the characters to build/own or for the site of an adventure would be:

1. Size and race of the builders

2. How elaborate/simple is the place?

  • A palace/mansion for a king/noble
  • A simple guard tower for a road toll plaza
  • A residence for a retired (and probably wealthy) adventurer

3. Use of the stronghold (similar to item 2 but with more detail)

  • Research for a wizard/alchemist
  • A temple for a paladin/priest

4. Furnishings

An adventurer will likely have trophies (weapons, magic items) on the walls. A king would have art to impress visitors. A wizard would have room after room filled with books. This is the icing on the cake.

All of these things could be summarized into a paragraph before you draw the first map or place the first wall.

Keep up the great advice!