Kickstarter Spotlight: Tavern Tales

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I run a weekly Dungeons & Dragons game every Sunday. As a DM, I’ve flipped the switch from spending hours drawing up maps, planning out exactly what’s in each and every room in a dungeon, and writing out entire sessions that the players are, without fail, going to rail road, to approaching each session with a loose outline and the ability to improvise my way through almost anything the players throw at me. It took some time to realize that I’m the kind of Dungeon Master who enjoys and welcomes spontaneity. I spend hours and hours creating worlds and races, writing page after page of back story for my own characters, and agonizing over whether or not one of the deities should have an H at the end of their name or not. How can I be cool with players going crazy in my meticulously crafted worlds? Two reasons: a) I love improv, and luckily, my players love it too, and b) its far less taxing on my time if I can come to the table unrestrained by my own creativity and let the fun just happen.

Though Dungeons & Dragons is the most recognized tabletop roleplaying game out there, it is not necessarily the best option, either for individuals or entire gaming groups. The same can be said for Pathfinder, Shadowrun, GURPS, and any of the other amazing rpgs available. A system has to fit its group, allowing them to maximise their enjoyment by speaking to their needs. Are you a player who loves minutae, numbers, and tons of options? Pathfinder might be one way to go. Would you prefer something that focuses on narrative without that damnable math getting in your way? Perhaps a World of Darkness game is something you’d prefer. Options abound because tabletop roleplayers are not all one and the same (shocking right?). Me? I’m pretty open to anything out there, be it crunchy or not, as long as it allows me to focus on the key feature of these types of games: roleplaying. However, I think I have found a system that might just dethrone 5th edition DnD at our gaming table. Everyone, let me introduce to Tavern Tales.

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The awesome Tavern Tales logo, sourced from taverntalesrpg.com.

A fantasy-themed roleplaying game developed by Dabney Bailey, Tavern Tales focuses on narrative over everything else. It emphasises “thinking cinematically over mathematically” and that’s a philosophy I can get behind. Players are able to create virtually any kind of character they can think up using a mixture of Themes and Traits that allows them to play something as simple or as complex as they want without being overpowered. Have you ever wanted to play a storm dragon who glides along lightning trails and summons clouds with a roar? Check out the Dragon and Elements Themes, grab some Traits listed in those categories, and boom! time to bring the thunder. Would you rather keep it old-school? Look into the Nature and Tracking Themes and pick out whatever Traits will best compliment your always classic elf ranger. Tavern Tales ditches common race/class combinations for something far more free-form, which should be a breath of fresh air for all those players who’ve heard “you can’t play one of those!” time and time again.

The meat of the gameplay focuses on Telling Tales. All it comes down to is that if a player wants to do something, they tell a tale; usually one or two sentences of description. There are three categories of Tale – Good, Neutral, and Bad – and each pertains to a particular type of action that the player is doing. Good Tales are positive, Neutral Tales are insignificant but descriptive, and Bad Tales are negative. A player can draw his sword (Neutral), attack an orc with their weapon (Good), and lose their footing (Bad). To resolve these actions mechanically and if they afford some amount of risk to the character, the player rolls three twenty-sided dice (3d20). They select the die with the middle value, add any appropriate bonuses or penalties, and will either succeed, fail, or succeed, but with a consequence. The GM – Game Master – never rolls dice, the story staying focused on the players themselves.

What I appreciate about the Tavern Tales system is that it allows both choice and interpretation. The reason it grabbed my attention was because it shares similarities to a tabletop roleplaying game I’m developing,  in all the best ways. Spells and attacks are not given definitive statistics, for example, it’s all up to the player and the GM to decide if it works or not. Discussion is not only encouraged, but practically weaved into the DNA of the game itself. If the player wants to do something and the rest of the table agrees, it’s go time. The Themes give you enough limitations that you can create a truly unique character without being completely non-sensical, and by segmenting Traits between Combat, Exploration, and Interaction, all players at the table – from power gamers, to min/maxers, to hardcore roleplayers – should be able to make characters that are both viable and exactly what they want without sacrificing imagination. Tavern Tales, from what I’ve seen, is the best implementation of a feats-heavy system I have seen because the “feats” are not extremely specific, they’re interpretive. Your Traits are what you make them, and that’s fantastic.

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Some of the gorgeous art that will be in the Tavern Tales book. Sourced from the Tavern Tales Kickstarter page.

Tavern Tales is currently live on Kickstarter hoping to raise $19, 500 to create gorgeous hardcover books that dorks like me can add to their ridiculous tabletop rpg collections. At the time of this writing, there are six days left in the campaign and its about $9000 under its funding goal. That is a crying shame. Granted, there is still some time and there is usually a large uptick in pledges during the last few days, but I’d prefer to see this game funded before the clock nearly runs out. If you play a weekly DnD, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, or any other game, and love the hobby, back this project. If you love narrative focused rule systems that give you all the choice without any of the drawbacks, back this project. If you are a nerd, a geek, or, most of all, a dork who wants to see this book on your shelf, filled with beautiful art, back this project. Still on the fence? You can download a .pdf of it right now to try out, for free, at the Tavern Tales website. What more does this guy have to do to peak your interest?

This is Dabney Bailey’s tale, everybody, but we decide the ending. Let’s make it a happy one.

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