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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #398

Why Use Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants?


This Week's Tips Summarized 

Why Use Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants?

  1. A Place To Meet
  2. A Place To Eat
  3. A Place To Work
  4. A Place To Gossip
  5. A Place To Entertain
  6. A Place To Game And Gamble
  7. A Place To Stay
  8. A Place To Start Adventures
  9. A Place To Continue Adventures
  10. A Place To End Adventures

Readers' Tips Summarized 

  1. Ways To Slow Down Plot Progression
  2. Language In Fantasy Roleplaying
  3. Google Parchment For Props
  4. Craft "What You Know" Handouts

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

Best Of Roleplaying Tips Weekly? What Are Your Favourite Tips?

To celebrate issue #400 that's coming soon, I'd like to post tips from past issues that you thought were excellent. Do you recall a tip that changed your GMing? A tip that you still use today? A tip that made your games more fun?

Send me your favourite tip. Copy and paste it from a past issue, or hit the online archives and use the search feature to find the tip or link you're questing for:

Roleplaying Tips Archives

If you can't remember what issue your favourite tip appeared in, feel free to just send me an e-mail with a rough description of what it was about.

What Should The Next Contest Be?

Now that winter's glaciers have receded from my front lawn, it's time to think about a new contest. The most recent one was 5 Room Dungeons, which wraps up with volume 18 this week. Past contests have included interesting combat locations, roleplaying plots, and quest ideas.

Because contests usually turn back into free content for you to use in your games, I thought I'd ask you - what contest should be next?

The Final Volume of 5 Room Dungeons

The last volume of 5 Room Dungeons contest entries is now ready for download. If your entry did not appear in any of the 18 volumes, please drop me a note, as it would have been an oversight on my part, and I'll add it to a potential supplemental volume.

Featured in this volume:

  1. The Tomb of Three Brothers
    by Jake Sorensen
  2. The Wizard's Retreat
    by Jake Sorensen
  3. The Shifter
    by The Shifter
  4. The Braun Castle
    by Monstah

Download (PDF 810 KB)

Previous 5 Room Dungeons

Get your game on this week!


Johnn Four,

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Why Use Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants?  

By John Simcoe and Johnn Four

In addition to providing characters with food, shelter, and a place to party, inns, taverns, and restaurants are wonderful player and GM tools.

We GMs sometimes fall into the trap of running the same variations over and over. We build a limited menu of options, and because these establishments are common in cities, this robs gameplay of potential richness and entertainment.

Players use such locations as part of their tactics. Public places might be safer or make for easier escapes. They might force NPCs to act one way or another due to crowds, witnesses, or neutral territory.

Such places are also good bases and places for PCs to gather information to plot their next move. The better you are able to GM these locations, the more options and interest players will have.

Following is an array of uses for your city's dining, drinking, and lodging businesses to help you mix things up and keep games fresh.

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1. A Place To Meet 

When it comes to places to meet, there's nothing better than an inn, tavern, or restaurant. It offers food, drink, and entertainment, all in one place.

With such inviting accommodations, many organizations reserve a large section of the floor for their regular meetings. The organizations are usually mundane groups whose membership can include prestigious individuals of the town, businessmen, and fraternity members.

In meetings, members network with one another, using the organization to help better their financial or social position. Such meetings can provide interesting plot hooks for PCs if they're willing to eavesdrop.

Even groups with simple, unassuming names like the Farmers Cooperative, the Civic Improvement Club, or the Money- Changers Guild, are often more than what they appear.

The Farmers Cooperative might be complaining about how the crops have been spoiled since the Witch Lord disappeared. The Civic Improvement Club might be rallying to put an end to the gargoyle problem. And the Money-Changers might decide to hire out some mercenaries to destroy the orc raiders on the city's northern border.

Individuals prefer taverns and the like for meetings as well, for they offer neutral ground if the parties involved are in conflict. They are also fairly public places, though this doesn't stop some from casting spells and wreaking havoc. The relative anonymity of a hazy barroom appeals to many types of people.

Everyone has favorite haunts, and it's no different in a fantasy world. Politicians will have a favorite establishment, as will the president of the local thieves' guild.

It's at these places PCs can find out who bends the ear of whom. In addition, if important people patronize an establishment then they'll draw a crowd of their own that contains servants, groupies, sycophants, and hangers-on.

When a powerful person claims a tavern or other business as "his own," he approves who comes in and who's allowed to stay. He is always interested in whatever is happening inside. For example, if the PCs bust up The Fallen Acorn — the second home to the city guard captain — there will be retribution.

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2. A Place To Eat 

The menu is a great tool for the GM to inject flavor into a game (pun intended!). Tavern food is legendary. Some provide a meal so succulent that a king would be envious, while others don't even wash the dirt off their turnips before mixing them into the stew.

Restaurants' main service is dishing up food; it's often their exclusive service, so they produce the best menu possible. Inns might supplement their services by offering food, whether it's prepared in-house or brought in from a nearby restaurant or pub.

Varying food quality might cause occasional illness for patrons. Those who succumb might feel ill for a few hours, and suffer an action penalty. Serious cases might result in temporary stat point loss. This would definitely make an otherwise standard meal a memorable event!

On the flip side, PCs might receive a temporary skill boost or other boon from sitting down to a good meal, particularly after they come in from a long adventure where they've subsisted on scavenged scraps for weeks. Offering such a bonus might convince especially thrifty PCs they shouldn't always eat trail rations.

Your region will have its own eating customs, such as popular foods, standard meal times, and expected portion sizes, so be sure to make your eating establishments reflect them. Other ways you can use to make meals different and interesting are:

  • Type of dining: buffet, smorgasbord, live animals, "normal"
  • Dishes and drink holders: type, size, shape, pattern, material
  • Eating utensils, if any: purpose, types, size, shape, material
  • Seating arrangements: types of furniture, seating position and location
  • Servers: many NPC opportunities here, plus types, nature, and quality of service
  • The bill: who's expected to pay, payment rituals and processes

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3. A Place To Work 

Inn, taverns, and restaurants offer many employment opportunities. These jobs are ideal for characters who live in the city, for PCs who need a temporary income, and for party members performing undercover work. The type and nature of establishment will dictate how the PCs can serve, but some example jobs are:

  • Waiter, waitress
  • Bouncer
  • Stablehand
  • Maid, manservant
  • Butler, stewardess
  • Maitre de, hostess
  • Bellboy
  • Messenger
  • Cook, chef
  • Bartender
  • Manager
  • Owner

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4. A Place To Gossip 

Whether the news comes from a town crier who stops by once a day, a community bulletin board, or regulars who come in to gossip, inns, taverns, and restaurants are great locations to catch the PCs up on the latest rumors, plant plot hooks, and guide players to more productive paths.

Independent of PC and GM needs, many communities will meet at these places to exchange information, whether the news is true or not. Every community is unique in membership and flavor, and this will impact the establishment.

Town guards will hang out with fellow guards at a traditional location that other citizens will probably avoid; mages will sip liqueurs at a tavern they insist on calling a club; sailors will drink and eat at places full of cheap, non-breakable furniture.

Here's a sampling of news types to keep in mind when designing:

  • New laws and how people think they'll be affected
  • Recent events and their interpretations
  • Engagement announcements
  • "Help wanted" notices
  • Important personages visiting the city
  • Foreign relations and world events

In addition to news, PCs and NPCs might use these places to exchange messages:

  • Someone could post a mysterious warning: "The great gray beast lurks below." Such postings might provide clues to the PCs in their adventures. These might be posted by a villain who wants to lure the PCs into a trap or by a villain's hireling who is developing a conscience, but is afraid to cross his master openly.
  • An adversary can exchange threats with the PCs: "Biddle Sickleleaf's bow has about as much pull as the boot shiner." While appearing to be simple insults, they help build a character's story. Through the bulletin board, a PC can swap barbs with an unseen adversary instead of swapping blows.
  • Tension increases, as does the PC's appreciation of his counterpart. As the story plays out on the board, a variety of surprises can await the PC as to the identity of the poster. It could be the king, a former school mate, a polymorphed dragon, or a monk under a vow of silence.
  • A character can brag about his exploits: "On this day, Tantiv V, 1023, let it be known that Sir Frewtic of the Mountains did defeat a foul, evil black dragon of resounding strength, malicious magic, and vile intent, known as Tylkoputak. The destruction of this beast has ensured the continued safety of the City of Woodharp. Signed, with greatest appreciation, Mayor Grig Tarberry."

Such postings provide excellent incentive for PCs to brag about their deeds, let their exploits be known, and provide valuable public relations, which could lead to future missions. They also act as a fun reward by issuing proclamations that bring honor. The PCs can use such proclamations as a resume of sorts when they travel.

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5. A Place To Entertain 

A tavern is a fantastic place to find great live entertainment. Amazingly, there's a wide variety of it to be had: comedy, plays, acrobats, jugglers, weapon experts, song, and dance.

In a high-fantasy world, those don't have to be the limits. Other on-stage entertainment can include illusionary stories (a story of the gods), trained monster acts (Calavini and his Blink Dogs), magic shows (summon monster spells are always impressive), and even miracle shows (watch the Amazing Macu bring the dead back to life). Response to such shows vary from city to city; some will be stunned and amazed, while others will think it's about as ordinary as a farmer plowing his fields.

Every bard knows the best tips come from drunkards who don't know how much they're spending — or spilling. Because of this, entertainers provide GMs plot opportunities in the guise of spies, informants, plot hooks, and encounter situations.

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6. A Place To Game And Gamble 

Inns, taverns, and restaurants form natural places to game and gamble due to their public accessibility, willingness of management to accommodate, and access to alcohol.

Local laws will dictate what games are allowed in public and those that must be played outside of official eyes. Neighborhood customs will determine what games are popular.

Games are played for a number of reasons:

  • Out of enjoyment, such as a pleasant game of dragon chess between scholars
  • To bet on and support gambling
  • Ego and bragging rights
  • Neighborhood pride
  • Public spectacle

Use these reasons to craft different encounter situations. The same game will play out differently if competitors are motivated by defeating rivals versus trying to win a few coppers for supper.

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7. A Place To Stay 

Most inns' primary revenue source is offering shelter for coin. Taverns and restaurants are also places one can find room and board. Owners might clear the floor to be a common room at night, and rooms — often little bigger than a closet — above and at the back of the establishment might be made available to certain patrons.

PCs new to a city won't have permanent residence, thus they'll naturally go to these places seeking room and board. They might not think of restaurants and taverns as places to stay, so you could have an NPC plant the idea in their heads. Such quarters might be a nice break from the classic night-at-the-inn routine.

Flavor of accommodations can vary greatly, so this element represents a great design opportunity. Consider mixing up these factors:

  • Cleanliness: vermin, pleasant, too clean for bloody and dusty heroes
  • Size of rooms/space: too small, huge, odd proportions
  • Furnishings: lots, none, ruined, bizarre
  • Quality of room service, if any
  • Sleeping arrangements: small bed, four poster king-sized bed, palette on the floor, bunk bed, magical floating mat
  • Private or common accommodation
  • Quietness and peacefulness of location: busy intersection, serene inner garden, noisy club nearby

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8. A Place To Start Adventures 

Sowing adventure seeds and plot hooks is the classic GMing purpose for these public places. Though this GM tactic is often ridiculed and criticized these days, the truth remains that it's a fun, fast, and easy way to launch a new adventure or campaign.

Unless your group is jaded and bored, it's ok to continue starting stories in these types of establishments. Most players enjoy roleplaying in familiar stomping grounds, and GMs often have a repertoire of tried and true scenarios.

Next time you start an adventure in an inn, tavern, or restaurant, consider adding a slight twist to keep the players guessing:

  • A bar fight breaks out and the plot hook is literally smacked out of an NPC. Perhaps the plot hook is fragile and the PCs must rescue and protect it until the fight is over.
  • A mysterious stranger approaches the PCs with a job, but he's murdered before he can give them the details. Now the PCs must perform a pre-adventure investigation.
  • A mysterious stranger approaches the PCs with a request for help. Then another stranger interrupts, denouncing the first NPC as a fraud and liar. Which NPC should the PCs trust? Which offer will they accept?
  • While the PCs are negotiating a deal with a new employer, rival NPC adventurers appear on the scene and try to lure the job away.
  • The PCs are not the ones chosen to partake in the adventure, but they overhear all the details about the job and can decide if they want to try beating their rivals to the location.
  • The tavern is a trap. Patrons, barkeep, and wenches are all in on the scheme. As the floor opens beneath the PCs' table, a mysterious figure chuckles from the shadows.

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9. A Place To Continue Adventures 

You never know who might be eating or staying at the local pub or inn. This gives you unlimited opportunities to introduce NPCs who are fun to roleplay with. Some groups enjoy gaming in-character for awhile without any plot considerations. Other groups prefer to roleplay with purpose. In either case, they can meet and chat with local and visiting non-player characters in uncontrived ways to their content.

If the PCs don't know what to do or where to turn next, bring them back to an inn, tavern, or restaurant. Such places make introducing clues, hints, and NPCs easy and logical. The party often stays or eats at such an establishment, so you can rely on the place to stage encounters that will get the game moving again.

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10. A Place To End Adventures 

Adventures are often born in places of food and drink, but they rarely end there, which is a shame — and an opportunity.

  • Start your next adventure in a tavern and then be sure to have a celebration party in it once the world has been saved. This ties things up nicely, gives NPCs an opportunity to pat the PCs on the back, and provides satisfying closure.
  • The villain's lair is a hotel, tavern, or restaurant. While there are some security issues to address, this would be a clever and interesting base of operations, and a cool location for a climactic battle.
  • The mother of all barroom brawls. The final fight takes place in a tavern. The mighty spells and powers brought to bear during the battle turns the site into a place of legend within the city.

* * *

The preceding tips were an extract from my recently released book, GM Mastery: Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants. For more information about this book:

GM Mastery: Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants at RPG Now

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Readers' Tips Of The Week: 

Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to - thanks!

1. Ways To Slow Down Plot Progression 

From: Steve Comrie


Today I was trying to come up with ideas for an upcoming campaign that would allow me to have a broad arcing storyline that would span the length of the campaign, but at the same time would not limit my ability to introduce side- quests or particularly well crafted stand-alone adventures.

I wanted to make sure the introduction of side quests was done in a way that did not detract from the overall arc, nor were they randomly inserted as fodder when the PCs had potentially more urgent matters to attend to.

I tried to work up a list of simple reasons the plotline could be delayed or put on hold in a way that would allow the players to drift toward the prepared adventure without having fall back on meta-gaming to accept it.

Ideally, just a quick description of the roadblock would create enough of a seed that it could be easily planted into an on-going campaign or pre-crafted standalone.

  1. An NPC friendly to the party travels to a library to perform research on their behalf. In the meantime, the PCs are left to their own devices without any leads to follow up on.
  2. The PCs are required to make an extravagant purchase (a sailing vessel and crew, a rare uncut gem, a spell cast by a high-level wizard) to assist them in the next leg of their journey but are left without the means to do so.
  3. While en-route to their next rendezvous over barren territory, an event on their ship (train, caravan, etc.) causes it to crash or become otherwise temporarily disabled. To get moving again, the PCs will need to acquire an item from (or complete some task) nearby.
  4. The PCs have just achieved a minor victory (i.e., defeating a major henchman). As the enemy re-groups the PCs follow-up on any lead that *sounds* as though it might lead them to the weakened villain, regardless of whether or not that turns out to be the case.
  5. The PCs must prove their worth to a tribal leader before he will allow them to pass through his clan's territory or assist them on their quest.
  6. One of the members of the party is mistakenly accused of (or framed for) a crime he did not commit. The magistrate will allow the PC and the party to prove his innocence, but holds on to an important item as collateral. Instead of collateral, failure to prove innocence could result in a country-wide warrant for the arrest of the PC (and his companions) that would prove too inconvenient not to prevent.
  7. And of course, the old stand-by: A patron or "clue- holder" refuses to give up important information until the PCs complete a task for him. While this one can be dry and a little boring, it can be fleshed out if you draw on background information from one or more of the PCs in the party.

I wonder if this is something that you would want to ask subscribers to see if anyone else cares to submit their ways for slowing down plot progression to incorporate side quests and stand-alone adventures.

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2. Language In Fantasy Roleplaying 

From: Patrik Renholm

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #394

As a linguistics student, I simply had to chime in after reading this week's guest tip on using accents to give different races individual identity. I am going to use Dungeons and Dragons as my reference, since that is the game I am most acquainted with.

Dungeons and Dragons is guilty of the crime of having a language simply named Common. This language is spoken by most of the civilized races in any given D&D setting.

The problem is it feels contrived, since Common as a language has no parallel in our world. Oftentimes it makes the world feel unnatural and bland. To solve this problem, a GM would do well to add the concept of regional dialects into his world.

Consider the Common tongue as the language of a human empire that existed at some point in your world's history. At one point this empire encompassed most of your known setting and thus one language was the native tongue of all its inhabitants.

Even within one nation united by a common language, though, variations will start to emerge in different regions. To draw a real-world parallel, the Romance languages (e.g. Spanish, French and Italian) were, at one point, regional dialects of Latin. Even if all the human kingdoms of your setting speak the same common tongue, there will be regional variations.

If we assume such a thing as a common tongue exists, you can add colour to your different fantasy nations by proposing regional variations. Eberron, of all the D&D settings, takes this into account in the book Five Nations by proposing speech patterns and turns of phrase for each of the major nations of Khorvaire.

If one of your nations is known for its religious zealotry, you might emphasise this in the speech of the people from that region by peppering it with religious references. If one nation has a long and proud history of warfare, make sure to add lots of synonyms for warfare and things relating to that into their speech.

Another thing to take into account is social variation: even within a certain society there are bound to be differences in speech depending on a person's social status, gender and age.

Upper classes will likely speak in a more codified manner, while young people might be more innovative and cosmopolitan. To get your point across, have your working classes speak in a Mockney accent and the upper classes in Queen's English.

In a setting where one language is spoken by the majority of creatures, there will be those who'll learn the language simply for the opportunities it gives. Consider the implications of people who learn Common as a second language and how they use it.

To use English as an example again, there have been many studies done relating to English as a lingua franca; that is, English used in communication between people who don't speak it as their native language.

Consider the implications of, say, a dwarf and an elf who have both learned Common as a second language and who are forced to communicate with each other. How will their use of Common differ from the speech between two native "commoners?"

If you are a non-native speaker of English and have ever visited a country whose native language you did not speak, remember those discussions in English you had with the natives?

In such an environment, the grammar tends to be more lax and the speech becomes more goal-oriented. In the above example, the dwarf and the elf might sound like they're speaking "broken common," but they are communicating successfully.

Language is one of the defining features of culture, and while many GMs are capable of coming up with extremely vivid and complex cultures, they often ignore the implications of language on the setting.

So, next time you imagine up a fantasy setting, take a minute to consider the linguistic situation of your world. It'll be worth it once your players recognize an NPC as a street-savvy cove from Sharn, instead of a faceless NPC, simply because of the Mockney accent you conjured up for him.

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3. Google Parchment For Props 

From: Dave McAlister

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #394

Hi Johnn,

With reference to the recent issue and the Reader's Tip "Use Props As Clues," I find I can never get the effect I want when I try and use tea and the oven. (I've set fire to far too many pieces of paper.)

Instead, try searching through Google Images for parchment or scrolls. There are a lot of very good images you can use as a background to your documents. Then print out the document and rip (or burn) the edges.

Once that's done, scrunch it up into a ball, open it, and scrunch again. Repeat as necessary to get the desired effect. If you happen to rip the document a little while opening it, that's not too much of a problem (and, indeed, might add to the effect).

I've done this most recently for a treasure map for my Pirates of the Spanish Main campaign, and the players are going to love it.

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4. Craft "What You Know" Handouts For Your Players 

From: Palmer Of The Turks

I suggest handing out a "what you know" sheet to each player at the start of each session. The main advantage to this is information about the world comes out to the players in small, digestible chunks. This is better than a long and possibly daunting list/description of stuff, which may turn them off or make them lose interest.

Plus, a bit at a time is easier to learn and remember than all at once. It also slowly immerses them more and more in the world as time passes, both in knowledge they "already had" and in ways that the world changes around them (through use of rumours).

Not only that, but it becomes easy to plant tons of true rumours and other adventure hooks into the game without them being blatantly obvious.

Categories could include:

  • Several items of "common knowledge" that characters would be assumed to know, but haven't been explicitly stated before either in-game or in the setting background handout.
  • A few "rumours" they've picked up over the course of time - not necessarily between when last session left off and this one began, because they might break off in the middle of a non-rumour collecting area like a dungeon.
  • A few pieces of "uncommon knowledge" that will probably be directly tied to their background and/or class-profession.
  • A section titled "Dream" where a single dream is described. The section could be defined as "the most memorable dream you've had in the last while."

The trick is to make each week's sheet personalized. You can give mostly or completely different "Common Knowledge" for each character, then let them choose whether they want to share it out of character or mention it in-character at an appropriate time.

Rumours should be 25-50% duplicated among the sheets of the players. Common rumours will be heard by multiple players. If everyone gets the same one, they'll know it's a "everyone knows" rumour.

Uncommon knowledge and Dreams should be personalized.

The "common knowledge" category might be things like:

  • Names and titles of the monarch and those in line to inherit the rulership, as well as who's in line for the crown, and in what order.
  • The same stuff about the local ruler.
  • General public opinion of said rulers and/or their offspring.
  • Anything notorious the above nobles have done, good or bad. "Has a dozen bastards, keeps raising taxes, built and funds state-run orphanages, abolished slavery"
  • Major products of an area (i.e. salt, wood, grain, gold) that drive the economy.
  • Major imports of an area.
  • Status/position/role of women in society.
  • Status/position/role of foreigners.
  • Usual manner of dress.
  • Common weapons used by private citizens or the military. For example, a heavily forested nation is likely to be big on bows and spears rather than swords.
  • How common is magic? Magic items? Magic users? Magic user guilds/organizations?
  • Unusual laws or practices.
  • State religions.

"Rumours" are just that. Make up a bunch for each area the party travels to. If they're between locations (traveling/in a dungeon) be sure to note where they heard the rumours, and what they are about.

Try to keep the rumours relevant to what the PCs are doing, about to do, plan to do, or should be doing. You can also date them if you desire. "You remember some time back overhearing someone in a bar talking about the McGuffin of Dingus. Supposedly, it was buried in the ruins of Trokair after it was destroyed by the dragon."

Of course, the week this gets on the sheet is the week the characters are either exploring, heading to, or passing by the ruins of Trokair. Or they're in an unknown/unidentified ruins that _could_ be Trokair.

75% of the false ones should be believable. The other 25% should be fanciful and easily dismissed as silly and false by "worldly adventurers."

Then again, it's good to put in a small fraction of "rather fanciful and easily dismissed as silly and false" rumours that are true, just to keep them on their toes.

The best way to handle rumours is to write up a ton of them beforehand and pluck them out randomly each week.

Uncommon knowledge can include:

  • A rogue knowing the identity of the local thieves' guildmaster.
  • Most anyone knowing about a notorious villain, who probably did something really bad in the area the character grew up in.
  • A former soldier knowing the ranks, organization and practices of his former army, and likely the names and something about the personalities of some major officers. (General Narrak likes to order head-on charges, Captain Grann is a stickler for regulations and protocol, Sergeant Virt is a slacker who always shifts blame, etc.).
  • The native of a certain port knows about some of the major shipping lines and companies.
  • The character from wherever knows a few local legends that might or might not have grains of truth.
  • A priest knows the secret that his faith's leader is deathly ill and bedridden. The leader's appearances lately have been done by stand-ins in disguise. The priest might have a secret mission to obtain an cure, or he might be affected by political in-fighting among potential successor factions.

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Johnn Four's GM Guide Books 

In addition to writing and publishing this e-zine, I have written several GM tips and advice books to inspire your games and to make GMing easier and fun:

Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants - new

How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG's most popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice as well, plus several generators and tables

Adventure Essentials: Holidays

Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not only expand your game world but provide endless natural encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks.

GM Mastery: NPC Essentials

Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for any game system and genre. This book will make a difference to your GMing.