Monday, August 20, 2007

Level Up Your Inn! Introducing Graduated Flavor Text

Just like any genre with a 25+ year history, the adventure module genre has its own set of clichés. Many of them — the wizard in his lonely tower and the helpless maiden in the villain’s lair — were inherited from the swords & sorcery genre that spawned D&D in the first place. One much-worn convention of this genre is the inn. In many a campaign, there is always a handy inn nearby with enough private rooms available for the PCs, a roast already cooking for them, and the best wine the PCs can afford — despite the fact that the inn is a remote building in the middle of nowhere.

The stereotypical inn is so common because is provides important elements of the adventure scenario — a place to meet plot hook NPCs, a safe base of operations, and a place to spend hard-earned treasure. While none of these translate into any game mechanic, they are still rewards as much as any Experience Point or Gold Piece. Yes, it is possible to begin an adventure without a plot hook, or run one with no safe base for the PCs to fall back, but both are advantageous in that they just make the adventure easier to play. There are many benefits, comforts, and perks the PCs may enjoy in role-playing that add no bonuses to their skill rolls, attack rolls, or saving throws.

Variation, in D&D, often takes the form of graduated improvement. The level system affects hit points, skill points, number of feats, number of spells, and more. It is equally possible to apply levels to role-playing rewards. It is not necessary that these levels should progress at any fixed rate, and “backsliding” every now and then can be enjoyable. Class- and race-based permutations to these tables are even possible. For instance, a religion could require its clergy to enjoy “20th-level feasts” (as per the What’s to Eat? table) at 1st-level, but expects them, by 20th-level, to have honed their desires down to their most basic needs (”1st-level dining”). Similarly, an elf tribe might only drink wine, and so have to skip every non-wine entry on the What’s to Drink? table.

The level advancement tables below are to be used as guidelines to facilitate change. Really, the most important goal here is to remind the DM that, as the PCs grow in power and prestige, they shouldn’t always be satisfied with the same services and rewards they were accustomed to as novice adventurers. This keeps the game from falling into a rut of the same old role-playing rewards, and — if not remove the clichés of the genre — at least keep them varied and interesting.

Table I: Services at the Inn Table
Level Description
1 Common room
2 Drinks
3 Food
4 Games
5 Shared rooms
6 Women of ill repute
7 Stabling
8 Palisade
9 Security
10 Storage
11 Private rooms
12 Performers
13 In-house brewery
14 Messengers
15 Curtain wall
16 Water supply
17 Private suites
18 Personal attendants
19 Vault
20 Demi-plane

In most instances, the levels for inns described here are cumulative. Thus, an inn with private rooms also has a common room. Exceptions to the rule are always possible.

1. Common Room. The simplest inns are wooden enclosures with straw-lined floors where travelers can stop and sleep. Nicer inns will have tables, benches, and one or more fireplaces in the common room, but it is still primarily a place for sleeping.

2. Drinks. Inns with the fewest amenities are simply taverns. The alehouse is so common an inn that every village is likely to have one or more. Better inns will have wine (though in some climates grapes grow better than barley, and so wine is the more common potable) or even stronger liquors. Juices, like cider, may be sold, but the rarest beverage of all should be clean drinking water.

3. Food. The inn has a kitchen staff that can prepare food brought by the guests. Better inns might have an angler, hunter, or poacher on retainer to regularly supply foodstuffs. Alternatively, near an urban market, the inn may send staff to buy food daily.

4. Games. The tavern has game boards for checkers, nine men’s morris, or the like. Fancier inns might offer chess, backgammon, or even dragon chess.

5. Shared rooms. In addition to the common room, these inns have smaller rooms, minimally furnished, that can house four and be secured from the inside.

6. Women of ill repute. An optional addition, but some inns will either have such ladies on staff or simply allow them on the premises.

7. Stabling. The inn has a secure, manned stable. Larger inns may trade or sell fresh horses for the traveler in a hurry with a tired steed.

8. Palisade. In a rural area, the inn has a wooden palisade built around it for the defense of its guests. In a safe urban area, the inn may simply have a fence.

9. Security. The inn employs personnel to ensure the safety of its guests. The security force is likely to consist of no more than a few low-level fighters, though larger inns may employ wizards for magical defense.

10. Storage. Inns of this size may house small caravans, and will provide secure warehouse space for their goods overnight.

11. Private rooms. The inn provides nicer rooms wherein one or two guests could stay in comfort. The rooms have their own fireplaces and the doors have locks. There are furnishings like a wardrobe and chest of drawers.

12. Performers. The inn could have a bard on retainer, poets who recite during a meal, or even an animal trainer to stage bear fights during a feast.

13. In-house brewery. The inn has a reputation for its own brand of beer, ale, or another potable. Optionally, the inn could have incorporated a different business to serve its customers, such as a tailor on the premises, or a blacksmith in the stables.

14. Messengers. The inn employs runners, or perhaps even horsemen, who will travel 30+ miles to make deliveries for the customers.

15. Curtain wall. While the previous inns might have had a fence or short wall, these inns have high curtain walls — complete with battlements and arrow slits — as defensible as a small keep.

16. Water supply. The inn has a well, spring, or other source of clean water on the premises. The inn could endure a short siege with this water and a stock of provisions. A large enough inn might use this water supply for a functional moat, or decorative pools and fountains.

17. Private suites. These inns cater to the rich elite when they’re away from home. Each guest has at least one room, and possibly as many as 30 — each more extravagantly furnished than the one before. The best suites could have walls covered in ornamental gemstones. with tiger skin rugs heaped on the floor.

18. Personal attendants. Each guest has from 1-36 attendants waiting on them hand and foot — bathing, grooming, and feeding, as well as anything else the guest demands.

19. Vault. While the inn’s guests enjoy going for walks past hanging gardens on copper nugget-lined paths strewn with rose petals, or lounging by a pool where they can swim with mermaids, they can rest assured that their valuables are protected by the best traps and guardians — both magical and mundane — that money can buy.

20. Demi-plane. The inn is safe from any threat on the Prime Material Plane, because it resides safely in its own demi-plane. Guests can enjoy complete peace and privacy in this miniature version of paradise.

Table II: What’s to Drink? Table
Level Description
1 Mead
2 Weak black beer
3 Fruit juice
4 White beer
5 Red beer
6 Honeyed ale
7 Clean drinking water
8 Spiced ale
9 Light-bodied red wine
10 Light-bodied white wine
11 Stout black ale
12 Brandy
13 Medium-bodied red wine
14 Medium-bodied white wine
15 Golden ale
16 Whiskey
17 Full-bodied red wine
18 Full-bodied white wine
19 Sparkling wine
20 Aqua vitae

This progression of potables was determined with the historical context of these beverages in mind — both their chronological appearance and their importance in the medieval mindset.

1. Mead. A primitive drink of honey, water, herbs, and spices.

2. Weak black beer. Weak beers are heavily watered down. Alternatively, it could be a primitive brew made from half-baked loaves of barley bread.

3. Fruit juice. Any unfermented, pulped fruit, preferably in season.

4. White beer. This light-bodied beer has a hint of butter and a vanilla aftertaste.

5. Red beer. Strong, dry, and tart — with a coppery head.

6 Honeyed ale. Optionally seasoned with cedar, nutmeg, or lavender.

7. Clean drinking water. A rare treat, requiring a tavern to have its own well or spring.

8. Spiced ale. Strong, with a hint of anise and an herbal nose. Slippery and lively.

9. Light-bodied red wine. Herbal, ripe nose. Strong raspberry and strawberry flavor. Acidy aftertaste.

10. Light-bodied white wine. Floral, smoky, and tangy nose. Crisp, yet earthy character with a hint of peach. Long, acidy aftertaste.

11. Stout black ale. This ale has a thick brown head and a fruity hop nose. Black malt, roasted barley, and hops have been combined into a dense, yet mellow, brew. Optionally, replace this with absinthe — a very strong, acidy liquor flavored with anise seed and wormwood (a hallucinogen).

12. Brandy. Smooth, heady-scented. Grape, apple, or cherry-flavored.

13. Medium-bodied red wine. Aroma of blackberries. Rich-flavored.

14. Medium-bodied white wine. Light, spritzy nose. Crisp, sweet, juicy taste. Strong pear flavor.

15. Golden ale. This golden-colored ale has a creamy head, big body, a rich mouth feel, and a sweet, cherry-like aftertaste. It is lightly hopped, but triple fermented using two different yeasts.

16. Whisky. Smoky-flavored, made from fermented barley. Strong.

17. Full-bodied red wine. Spicy, anise/minty nose and intense black cherry flavor.

18. Full-bodied white wine. Rich, oaky nose. Earthy, spicy character. Long finish.

19. Sparkling wine (champagne). A medium-bodied wine. Light-golden color, toasty nose, and a ripe, fruity character.

20. Aqua vitae (vodka). Literally called “the water of life,” this colorless, odorless, tasteless liquor is STRONG. Made from fermented rye.

Table III: What’s for Dinner? Table
Level Description
1 Gruel
2 Blood pudding
3 Bean meal mash
4 Pigeon pie
5 Rabbit
6 Salted fish
7 Partridge
8 Quail
9 Roast pork
10 Ox tripe
11 Sliced pork & goose
12 Braised chicken
13 Duck casserole
14 Fried crane
15 Beefsteaks & chicken liver
16 Lobster & giant fire beetles
17 Giant crayfish
18 Pike liver & pheasant brains
19 Spiced sow udders & rooster combs
20 Fried dragon eggs & lamb

The goal of this table is to present, not only increasingly elaborate dishes, but also to stress what was considered “good eating” by earlier human standards as opposed to those of the average gamer today. Some consideration was also given to historical chronology, so that (for example) foods caught by hunter/gatherers tend to come sooner on the list than domesticated animals.

1. Gruel. A simple bread porridge served in a trencher (a bowl made of wheat bread). Optionally seasoned with acorns or butter.

2. Blood pudding. Or haggis. Either way, a boiled sheep’s stomach with onion and other stuff (probably other sheep organs) in it. In wet regions, fish liver is substituted.

3. Bean meal mash. A porridge-like legume soup. Served with artichoke.

4. Pigeon pie. Or a stew. Best not to ask which parts of the pigeon are in it. In a coastal region, substitute fish heads, like from cod or flounder. Served with cabbage and goat cheese.

5. Rabbit. A roasted quarter-rabbit, served with barley bread, and afterwards a desert of unleavened bread cakes dipped in honey. In a coastal region, substitute eel, perhaps served with olives.

6. Salted fish. A small, whole fish like a trout or carp, or many tiny fish like anchovies, served on a bed of rice. In a clime where rice doesn’t grow, the fish will be served plain, or perhaps with a mustard and dill sauce. May be accompanied by a side dish of asparagus and cucumbers.

7. Partridge. Or grouse, either small game bird served whole and roasted. Served with broccoli or turnips, cereals, and a porridge of bread crumbs, onions, and chickpeas fried and seasoned.

8. Quail. Or duck. Served with a mushroom soup, mild cheese, pears or other fresh fruit, and frumenty (wheat mixed with broth, milk, and eggs) with honey on top for desert. In wet regions, a freshwater fish like red snapper might be eaten instead.

9. Roast pork with apple slices. Or roast kid (goat). Served after sliced chicken and mushroom soup and a salad of eggs, olives, carrots and radishes. Clams and mussels are served on the side, followed by a bowl of fresh blackberries and a dessert of candied sweetmeats.

10. Veal. Sliced veal served in a black bean sauce, with pickled vegetables, onions, and walnuts. Comes after a meatball and vegetable soup and a salad of cabbage, olives, and celery. A loaf of rye bread is sat at the table next to a plate of broiled halibut. Fried honey cakes are served for desert. Ox tripe might optionally be replaced with beef ribs or ox tripe (innards).

11. Sliced pork & goose. The goose is cooked in brandy, and possibly the pig as well. Served after vegetable soup. Sausage, mushrooms, and figs are mixed in one bowl, beside stewed pears and blueberries in another. Fruit jellies and cheese bread is served for dessert. In wet regions, smoked salmon may be substituted for the entrees.

12. Braised chicken. The chicken is braised in honey. It is served after mutton and vegetable stew. Crayfish or shrimp is served as a side dish. Rabbit roe in yogurt is served before a sesame cake dessert. Lamb chops may be substituted for the chicken.

13. Duck casserole. Served with dice loaves (bread made with anise, cheese, and oil), minced beef soup, fresh seasonal vegetables, strong cheese, eel roe, and roasted chestnuts for dessert.

14. Fried crane. The crane is stuffed with wafer bread (made with wine, milk, and pepper). It is served after a bean curd soup and a salad of lettuce and dates in oils. Whole broiled mackerel and a meat organ pie (perhaps steak and kidney pie) are side dishes. Dessert consists of custard-filled pastries and assorted cherry fruit tarts.

15. Beefsteaks & chicken liver. Crabmeat and bean curd soup comes before a platter of mixed seasonal vegetables in oil and a stack of freshly-baked sweetrolls. Beefsteaks marinated in whiskey before grilling are served with a basil garnish, along with chicken liver on wafer bread. Smoked herrings and crab legs rest on a side platter. Raspberries, strawberries, and hazelnuts topping little cakes make dessert.

16. Lobster & beetles. After a diced seafood and mushroom soup comes a bowl of walnuts and hazelnuts in honey. Freshly-steamed lobster drenched in butter and garlic is set out before a giant fire beetle soaked in brandy and set aflame! Then a roast boar is wheeled out, but the boar has been hollowed and stuffed with sausages. Following that is a dish of camel brains in a sour sauce, with poppy-seeded bread to sop it up. Lastly, a dessert of cherry-flavored shaved ice in little silver bowls.

17. Giant crayfish. An appetizer of fish eggs proceeds a diced seafood and spinach soup. A salad of rose petals and lotus blossoms is brought out. Boiled, half-hatched pheasant and quail eggs are produced. A giant crayfish is boiled, stuffed with garlic and other herbs, cut into manageable portions, and served in lemon sauce.

18. Pike liver & pheasant brains. A shredded duck and mushroom soup and an appetizer of salted snails precede steaming plates of pike liver, pheasant brains, peacock brains, flamingo tongues, and lamprey roe. A dead crocodile is wheeled out — one cut open and filled with fish cutlets. Honey-dipped dormice are served for dessert.

19. Spiced sow udder & rooster combs. The appetizers include spiced sow udder, rooster combs, rabbit legs, flamingo tongues, ostrich brains, large snails in sweet and sour sauce, and the testicles of various animals. This is followed by dormice dipped in both honey and poppy seeds. Then live fish are brought to the table and killed with scalding hot sauce. Tiny fig-pecker birds covered in raw yolk and pepper come next. Statuettes carved entirely from pork are brought to the table. Then comes a cow stuffed with lamb stuffed with pig stuffed with rooster stuffed with chicken stuffed with thrush. Dessert is cakes and pickled rabbit roe.

20. Fried dragon eggs & lamb. The meal starts with a shark fin and crabmeat soup. Then fried dragon eggs are served in a sauce of saffron and sesame. Lamb covered in poppy seeds comes next, and then smoked salmon stuffed with walnuts, baked cod in a sweet and sour raisin sauce, chicken served with dried pears and peaches, and then tiny birds drowned in a potion of healing. Sherbet and plum jelly make up dessert. All dishes were blessed by a cleric before eating.


Allen, Stewart Lee. In the Devil’s Garden: Sinful History of Forbidden Food. New York: Balantine Books, 2002.

Andrews, Tamra. Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology. Santa Barbara, CA.: ABC-CLIO, 2000.

“A Brief History of the Old English Inn.” Ed. by The Old English Inn Society. Available on The National Pub & Brewery History Website, at

Johnnes, Daniel with Michael Stephenson. Daniel Johnnes’s Top 200 Wines: An Expert’s Guide to Maximum Enjoyment for Your Dollar. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Kallen, Stuart A. The 50 Greatest Beers in the World: An Expert’s Ranking of the Very Best. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1997.

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