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Themed Fantasy Tavern Week: The Pixie Ring

The Pixie Ring is a cozy cottage, part-time tavern, small inn, and herbalism shop sitting in a beatific glade just out of site of a major trade road. There’s a small town just another hour or so down the road, but the Pixie Ring stands on its own near the mouth of an extensive, wild valley. With a living thatched roof, multiple ovens often baking sweetbreads and hearty soups, herb trying racks, and a small brewery in back, it’s often said that when the wid is just right, the smell of the place bringing in more customers than any sign or visibility could. It’s also said that despite being isolated and apparently undefended, the Pixie Ring is the last place anyone would want to attack, because it’s protected by the forces of nature itself. It’s proprietor, an ageless-looking woman named Vassilya Darghrace (who seems both matronly and filled with the bloom of spring) just smiles when asked, and says it’s true, without ever going into details if she can help it.

(Art by Artlier Sommerland)

And, indeed, the Pixie Ring is so protected, because Vassilya Darghrave is renowned in the fairy realms as a “Fey Chirurgeon,” a mortal who can solve ailments of the Fair Folk. This reputation stems from her saving a winged pixie from an (iron) bear trap when she was a child, right on the location where the Pixie Ring now stands. The pixie was a favorite of the a major Fey Court noble, who swore to protect Vassilya whenever she was in the field where she saved the pixie. No fool, Vassilya built a small cottage there as a teen, so she had a place to go if ill, moody, or in danger where the fey realm itself would defend her.

What Vassilya did not count on was other fairy creatures bringing her their problems. She has no special powers as a Fey Chirurgeon, just an expectation from sylvan beings that, given her reputation, she can fix any problem they bring her. Over the decades she has soothed a unicorn’s broken heart, stitched a shadow back onto its grig, made peace between warring lilac fields, split 1 keg of honey into 7 equally-large kegs promised to 7 fairy nobles by turning into mead, and nursed a whole host of sprites through winter cold by feeding them herbal soup.

Each fairy problem she has been brought has forced Vassilya to find a solution, which has often meant picking up a new skill. She’s become a master cook, herbalist, brewer, seamstress, woodworker, and painter. While she learned the basics of each skill through hard work and dedication, often travelling for months to reach a master able to teach her what she needed to know, once she used a craft to aid a fey creature, other fey creatures often paid her for her services in secret knacks. Spiderfolk taught her to weave secret eaves. Brownies shared their secrets of brewing morning dew. Tommyknockers showed her their woodworking techniques. As she practiced these arts, her humble shack grew bigger, and grander, and more beautiful.

(Art by Artlier Sommerland)

In time, non-fey began to drop by as well, and being a hospitable person, she tended to feed and house them. In appreciation, most paid her… though she was just as likely to ask them to chop wood, or bring her hard-to-get seasoning on their next time through. Locals tried to keep her presence secret, but once a few traders found her, word of the off-the-path reststop spread. Vassslya slowly expanded her home, trading seasonable contracts with caravans for ceramic stoves in her fireplaces (no iron!), construction materials, labor, and unfinished furnishing she could refine herself.

Vassilya turns no one away. Those with problems are offered solutions if Vassilya can think of one, and given advice on where to get some if she can’t. The hungry are fed, the sick tended to, the tired allowed to rest. Payment is asked only of those who seem likely to afford it. Money is accepted (and tossed carelessly into a drawer, where fey friends carry it off to a more secure location, bringing her coins when she needs them), but trade and service are just as good. If someone just has one spare wagon wheel to trade, Vassilya takes it with the same gravitas as gold or a hand-painted doll. And, in her experience, someone will eventually come along who really needs a wagon wheel.

And, of course, as a crafter, she often turns broken barrels into tables for her garden. Indeed, she often repurposes something just before she or someone else unexpectedly find need for it. Even Vassilya doesn’t know if this is some effect of fairy influence, or is the fates just spun the thread of her life to overlap others’ at useful moments.

(Art by Obsidian Fantasy)

The Pixie Ring is now a “common secret,” a place lots of travelers and traders know of, but most people don’t share knowledge of without good reason. Most people never see the fey who come for help, or the ones who have become friends and tend to live in her building. Their presence is sometimes hinted at, when birds help set the table, scuttering occurs in shadows, wolves and bears appear to growl at the unruly, or things get fixed or cleaned when left unattended. Those few people Vassilya consider close friends or family are more likely to be trusted with seeing the fair folk, as are druids, bards, and similar visitors, but only when “outsiders” are not present.

Vassilya does her best to not have to leave the Pixie Ring anymore, and often pays others to find materials or bring crafting manuals to her so she can fins the problems mortals and fey bring to her. In a more extreme case, if she must leave for a short jaunt, she finds someone she trusts (she’s an excellent judge of character) and leaves them “in charge” for a few days or weeks. When this happens, some shy minor fey almost always shows up with a problem they considered too minor to brother the “great fey chirurgeon” with, which may be as simple as needing advice on what to wear to a fairy dance, or as complex as being exiled from their home court under pain of death. Anyone who can successfully deal with such issues is generally rewarded, and often becomes part of Vassilya’s trusted inner circle.

If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Themed Fantasy Tavern Week: The Wandering Monster

The Wandering Monster is an unusual tavern, in that it literally wanders. A sturdy 2-story wagon (or very small enclosed civilian siege tower, depending on how you look at it), The Wandering Monster is a combination mobile bar, potion and elixir shop, and residence for its owner, the retired gnomish alchemist and conjurer Kykin Dinferthort.

(Art by Obisidan Fantasy)

Dinferthort trained to be a guild potion-maker, or possibly a court sage, but found the idea of living in a single location much too restraining to accept any of the standard positions upon ending his apprenticeship. Instead, he allowed himself to be hired by a band of adventurers delving into an ancient cistern complex (or, as Dinferthort refered to it, an “adventure hole”) to guard their basecamp and brew potions for them. This proved lucrative enough Dinferthort was able to buy a merchant wagon, and create a roving elixir business. He began traveling an “Adventure Hole Circuit,” hitting locations where adventurers were trying to clear out ancient labyrinths, long-lost sewers, chaotic caverns, buried cities, and other large-scale site-based sources of danger and wealth. Over time he discovered he could make more money on booze and cleaning or mending spells than potions, and upgraded his wagon to a full-fledged (if compact) mobile tavern.

(Art by Obsidian Fantasy)

The lower floor of the Wandering Monster has a single bar with a few casks and stools, though Dinferthort also has a number of leather cushions and tarps to make drinking outside nearby a comfortable option. The gnomish proprietor has focused on items popular with adventurers, including a few simple comfort foods, money-exchange spells (turning copper pieces into platinum pieces or even gems, for just a small cut), communication magic and, of course, healing and curse-removal potions and weapon oils. The upper floor is Dinferthort’s loft, bunk, and personal storage (which is tight, even for gnomish scale, but adequate for his needs… especially since he can conjure extradimensional space if he needs it).

Dinferthort is friendly, but not stupid. He normally only uses his conjuring to provide a few assistants as needed to run his business and creatures to pull the Wandering Monster itself, but always has a fair number of combat and escape-related magics and conjurations ready, just in case. Usually, however, his services are just too useful to adventurers in the field for anyone to dare attack him, or cause trouble for the Wandering Monster.

If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Themed Fantasy Tavern Week: Titan’s Keg

Legend has it that the Titan’s Keg is partially built out of an actual keg of mead once owned by a titan, or at least a very large giant. This idea is reinforced by the fact the Meadhall section of the tavern has a deep, pleasant honey-mead scent permeating its wooden exterior and, of course, the barrel-like appearance of that section of the building.

(Art by Warpaintcobra)

The truth is more prosaic, though arguable interesting in its own right. The Titan’s Keg sits in a section of town reserved for residential shops and guild offices–places where people both live and work as crafters or representatives for crafters. The only enforcement mechanism for this vague zoning law is that shop signs must be approved by local crafter guilds, and to discourage public houses they don’t allow signs for inns or taverns. To get around this, the owner of the Titan’s Keg bought scrap wood from a shipyard wrecker, and used it to add a room to his home that had a keg-like appearance. The fact the wood came from a ship that had be damaged in a storm and hundreds of mead barrels had broken in its hold and soaked into the wood was a happy coincidence, though now the owner stains the interior wood every year with alchemical compounds that reinforce and restore the honey scent.

In addition to being a tavern and home, the Titan’s Keg is also the guild-independent shop of Ruvald Hain, an alchemist who specializes in food and flavoring. because his arts could be used to mask the taste of poisons (which he never works with), the Alchemist’s Guild and Herbalist’s Guild both insist he should pay them vast sums of money to oversee (and in his opinion, spy on and copy) his work. In defiance he refuses to join or work with either guild, and thus is only allowed to work in, sell from, and buy materials in his own building. The Titan’s Keg brings in most of his revenue (his experiments in flavors often leading to popular, often limited-time, drink flavors such as cheery mead, orange-blossom red wine, and the startlingly popular lime beer), which Ruvald spends convincing customers to bring him alchemical reagents for him to buy without doing business outside his building.

(Art by ratpack223)

The Meadhall of the Titan’s Keg is kept clean and brightly-painted. A cauldron is always on the fire, though patrons have learned to confirm it’s cooking food before dipping themselves a mug of its contents. The interior arches are lined with shelves that have serving plats and steins, but also various alchemical agents Ruvald doesn’t have room to keep in his residence. In fact, Ruvald’s personal possessions often end up scattered about, and regulars keep an eye on them to make sure no one makes off with anything important. Often, the unmarked bottles simply have flavor essences and preservatives but not always, and only Ruvald knows which is which.

Ruvald has a small, but dedicated staff of halfling and gnome cooks, bartenders, and servers who keep the place running smoothly more in spite of him that with his help. They also double as his alchemy assistants, housekeepers, and bookkeepers. He pays them well, but most work for him as a kind of informal apprenticeship, picking up culinary and alchemical knowledge by observing and assisting him. They keep the Meadhall open most hours, but if Ruvald is sick or sleeping after several days of work, they may insist everyone “keep it down” so he can recover.

If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Themed Fantasy Tavern Week: The Rise and Fold

I’m looking at pulling a ton of my personal campaign notes, from up to 22 years ago, into actual for-sale polished products (maybe on Paizo Infinite, maybe just as rules-light, map-, art-, and flavor-heavy pdfs on OpenGamingStore and DriveThru –anyone have opinions on which you’d rather see?).

That includes a TON of material I wrote on locations for 3.x/Pf1/4e/Wizards & Warlocks games–some as part of old professional projects that ended up not happening, some for home campaigns, some for my previous online efforts before this blog. While a great deal of that material really needs the conext of a world or city to link it to, some stand on their own pretty well as drop-anywhere fantasy locations.

Especially the taverns.

Throughout this week I’ll be putting out short descriptions of four Fantasy Taverns. they are designed to be unusual and interesting, the kinds of places PCs gravitate towards, investigate, buy, or turn into regular hangouts. (Wednesday will be an Owen Explains It All article tying-in to the show recording Feb 14th.)

None of these are as complete as I’d produce as for-sale products (which would include exterior shots, interior shots, and maps for each one), but if you like these snippets, let me know and maybe I’ll add some polish to the bigger entries of my old material and turn them into a professional product. The longest entry is the first one, and the rest are currently more written sketches. But, if they are popular enough, I can easily do another week worth of entries from Feb 21-25.

The Raise and Fold

Officially, The Raise, a Public Parlor and The Fold Alehouse are two different businesses, and indeed they have two different owners. It’s not even known if the owners like each other–they are never seen together or speak of one another–but they obviously have some kind of arrangement to benefit both establishments.

But since the two businesses are the top floor and bottom floor (respectively) of the same building, and a tab run up at one must be paid off before purchases can be made at the other, and they both feature gambling and drinking, people just call them The Raise and Fold, unless greater specificity is needed.

(The Raise and Fold, art by 3drenderings)

The Raise, A Public Parlor

“The Raise” is run by Gyster Feirn, a half-elf poet and scion of a winery-owning family who seems to have been stuck with the tavern to wait from him to “season” over a few decades before being allowed to benefit from any other familiar businesses. Feirn is genteel and runs a small, expensive, selective establishment where from dusk to dawn there is always a table of high-stakes As-Nas being run by the house and buying 20 gp/glass drinks is part of the cost of participating. In addition to socializing and playing cards, numerous deals are made within the parlor of “The Raise,” often including the buying and selling of “opportunities,” which range from the rights for caravan goods stolen by bandits (which you can buy for coppers and the gold… but then need to go recover yourself), to ancient maps, logbooks from sunken cargo ships, and debts due to be collected from grumpy dragons or infamous wizards.

Feirn acts as host and card dealer more than proprietor. Business issues are generally handled by the quiet, taciturn dwarf Drun Ironnail, who rumor suggests is related to the owner of “The Fold,” though no one who would know is ever willing to talk about that. Drun is a very minor spellcaster, using cantrips to clean and brighten the room and fetch drinks, spending about as much time in the tiny “back room” (where money goes and drinks come from) as in the parlor which takes up most of the upper floor. No one else seems to work for “The Rise,” though if anyone starts trouble, “cudgelers” from “The Fold” quickly stomp up the stairs to deal with it.

“The Raise” is kept bright, clean, and fresh-smelling, with comfortable and high-end (though mismatched) furnishings, warm carved wood tables and posts, and is set up more like the sitting room of a minor noble than a pub or gambling house. Pillows, books, flowers, and teapots are common, with many patrons appreciating a hot tea chaser and a few sweetcakes to go with their fine wines and expensive card games. Small trays of foods keep easily, including sweets, cheeses, nuts, and dried fruits, can be purchased along with a vast and ever-changing wine, mead, and spirits list.

(The Raise Parlor, Art by Digital Storm)

No one gets into “The Raise” unless they are a member, the guest of a member, or are recommend by Maridern of “The Fold.” Anyone who makes trouble or can’t pay their debts are banned from “The Raise,” and directed to “The Fold.”

The Fold Alehouse

The Fold is much lower in asperations than it’s upstairs neighbor, but is also shockingly much, much larger. Though from the outside it looks to take up only a single lower story, in fact “The Fold” has 5 lower levels, which have rooms for for private meetings and parties, storage, cooking, living quarters for its owner and her “cudgelers,” a small infirmary, and a vault (in the middle of lower-level 3, with no exterior wall that doesn’t have a room on the far side). Lower levels are always guarded, and are heated by brick stoves connected to the main kitchen fires.

(Lower level stove in The Fold, art by Ralf Kraft)

However, most patrons never go below the main level, which is the open “Aleroom,” a dark space light by candles (which seem to glow more than their flames should suggest), with sturdy wooden furnishings designed more to survive a brawl than provide comfort. The walls and floor are stone, the room more thick wood (though any loud commotion from “The Raise” can clearly be heard), with a few fire pits, a serving station and a secure counter and door where cudgelers watch for troublemakers, and keep anything the Tavern’s owner, Maridern decides not to let patrons hold on to while drinking.

Maridern is a older dwarven woman whose face has been compared to an dried potato… a comparison she doesn’t mind. She’s an ex-adventurer, though no one is sure how long ago or what her area of specialty was, and she retired to “the Fold” when her bones creaked more than the doors she’d burst through. She runs her Alehouse like the stern grandmother of a rowdy family, shamelessly admitting she has favorites who get better deals and care than typical patrons, and if someone doesn’t like it they can drink and play tiles elsewhere. In addition to a diverse crew of staff (which Maridern treats as her grandchildren–for good and ill), there are a half-dozen “cudgelers,” enforcers of good behavior that are trained to use their cudgels to make a point without killing anyone. At least, not anyone who behaves after getting cudgeled once.

“The Fold” offers cheap but not watered-down drinks, simple food (leaning towards stews, meats, grains, root vegetables, and fungus), and a a rule that stealing or stabbing a fellow patron will be dealt with harshly. The second rule in the Fold is that if anything said would mean you have or were going to break the law or insult or threaten someone, you are assumed to be lying for entertainment of others. This rule is the source of many tall tales, but also allows lawmen and rogues and members of opposing factions to drink at the same table, though overlooking such statements doesn’t always last beyond the alehouse’s walls.

(The Fold Aleroom, art by IG Digital Arts)

If someone drinks until they pass out, or is knocked out, they get moved to the corner near the cudgelers, and looked after until they come to. The major pastime is betting on games of “tiles,” a dwarven dominos-like game played with square tiles with numbers on all 4 sides, and one of the 4 corners. Maridern loves teaching tiles to new players, and allows trusted players to set up coin-per-round tables, but never, ever plays or bets on the game herself.

Newcomers pay for all services in coin-in-advance, but someone clearly down on their luck, and trusted regulars, are allowed to run up a tab. Tabs in theory come due every month, but Maridern often allows token payments for those who are genuinely trying to make good. She also appears to buy debts from “The Raise,” and people not allowed into that establishment for any reason that doesn’t put them in jail are generally allowed to work off their debts (or reputation as a troublemaker) by working at “The Fold.”

Another way to wipe out a debt is to “leave your sword.” In this case something Maridern accepts as an important weapon or tool owned by the debtor is left behind, stacked up on a counter behind the cudgeler post in the Aleroom. Anyone can buy it for whatever the debtor owes (including the debtor if they come into money later), or when the ex-debtor shows up again, Maridern retains the right to give it back to them, in return for it being used to perform a service for her. Maridern has a reputation for being harsh, but not evil, and while she has given people back their swords and told them to go kill someone, in general that’s always been someone the community agreed needed killing.

The Fold is often a popular bar for mercenaries, guards, thieves, and adventurers. Maridern often directs people toward, or away, from such careers as she judges best for them, though she never insists. She also lets people coming up in the world, with money and class and manners, know that if they want, she can get them an invite into “The Raise.” Some adventuring groups have formed from tables of regular tiles players having one of their number begin visiting the Raise, then coming back with an opportunity for adventure for which they need assistance.

If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).