It’s the last post of 2022 and I’ve decided to dedicate it to, Tiny Taverns by Gallant Knight Games, a small game from two years ago. Why? Well, the short answer is that it was suggested a while back by DriveThru RPG and I was intrigued enough to check it out. The longer answer is that I think this is fun, easy game that could be the exciting one-shot you need this holiday season.
Tiny Taverns is part of the TinyD6 RPG family, something that’s always buzzed around the edges of my RPG notifications. While bigger projects like Fate and Powered by the Apocalypse have garnered a lot of attention with their various offshoots, there have also been literally dozens of TinyD6 games developed including fantasy games, sci-fi games, Cthulhu games, spy games, knock-off Mario games, teen witch games, Weird West games, and many more.
Today I’m here to talk specifically about Tiny Taverns, but let me first start by reviewing the mechanics of TinyD6. To take an action you roll 2d6 and you’re looking to get a 5 or 6 on either die. That’s a little better than even chances (it works out to 55.5% chance of success) which is good enough to create some drama while not feeling impossible. In addition, though, you can also gain Advantage on the roll which lets you roll 3d6 to find a success (about 70% chance) but also Disadvantage which gives you only 1d6 to roll (a 33% chance). Unlike D&D these don’t cancel out and Disadvantage supercedes Advantage.
You can also gain Focus on something you’re particularly good at which gives you a success on 4, 5, or 6 which really ups your chances for success. If you like, you can gain Complications on 1’s but that’s optional for this game. This game does have Fortune points, though, which you gain up to three by voluntarily taking a Disadvantage and spend to spin the story in your favor (negate someone else’s Disadvantage or turn a grumpy guard to a better mood).
How to Play
So what are you actually doing in Tiny Taverns? Well, the premise is that your group are all employees of a tavern in a fantasy world like you’d expect from your average D&D game. There is ale and fireplaces, magic and strange travelers, and lots of chores to keep things running. Reading through this I continually thought of the “narrative arc” of the Kingkiller Chronicle, where the retired tavernkeeper is regaling the audience with his story of incredible adventures in the past while dishing out stew and pulling pints.
Your Tiny Taverns character will be facing a host of different Obstacles, though the list will be different than your average fantasy story. There are Save Tests to avoid harm, Chore Tests to keep up the tavern, Notice Tests to… notice, Trade Tests to buy and sell, Attack Tests to fight, Magic Tests to do magical stuff, Charm Tests to make an impression, and Stealth Tests to sneak around. The GM can also mix and match for what’s available calling for a Magic Attack Test to hit someone with a bolt of fire or a Charm Trade Test to blackmail a merchant into a better deal.
Often these are just a straight-up roll (do you finish the sweeping? can you carry the heavy barrel without dropping it?) but other times you will be in a Contest against another PC, a Quarrel for social conflict, a Combat for physical fights, and an Action Scene for chases, stealthing, or something else exciting. For physical dangers characters can suffer Injuries which are descriptive rather than hit-point-based, and they can become emotionally Unwell if they go through something traumatic. Each of these parts of the game is full of options, twists, and guidance but I don’t want to get bogged down in those mechanics right now. Let’s take a look at making characters!
There are eight Heritages in the game, each with their own Traits to make them different and fun. Humans are “among the most prolific peoples” and “invasive”… I don’t love the continuation of humans as casual colonizers but thankfully the other Heritages are much better. Dwarves are the typical stocky, beer-swilling types but they can be just at devoted to other crafts like baking or storytelling. Firbolgs are forest giants who recently “reappeared” and are patiently waiting for the prophecy of their people to come to pass. Mandrakes are dragon-like creatures with wings and (sometimes) breath weapons… probably the least at home running a tavern in my book.
Panguri are your typical cat-people although their origin story involves a housecat that wanted to reach the moon and amused the Morrigan so that she transformed them. Pretty cute. Pixies are teeny tiny but fun jokesters and very stealthy. Pookas are not the shapeshifters of legend but rather inventors whose devices were mistaken for magic. Selkies actually are the same as the legends say, shapeshifters who can change from humanoid to seal. Lastly is a ninth secret option of a Mixed Heritage character who borrows Traits from both parent Heritages.
Your character is personalized with Traits, character aspects and abilities that allow you to do cool stuff and (mechanically) gain Advantage or suffer Disadvantage on various Tests. Each character starts with a standard set of Heritage Traits, usually one standard one (firbolgs gain Giant Strength, for instance, and selkies have Sealshape) and then an additional one chosen from several options (for example, your selkie might also be Spell-Touched with extra magic, have a Sealskin to lend their shapeshifting to others, or be Born to the Sea to gain Focus with actions in the water).
Some Heritages (the panguri and the pixies) actually have two standard Traits (so they get three Heritage Traits in total) but in general you start with two from your Heritage (even Mixed ones). Then you get two more from a list of general Traits which includes things like Animal Companion (create a small animal that’s always around), Charismatic (gain Focus on Charm Tests), Geas (you’ve made magical promises in exchange for extra Traits), and Wealthy (you can get a stack of gold or gems once per session from your cache).
Next you pick two Proficiencies which can be anything you make up like Bartending, Poker, Thievery, or Wine Knowledge (not Languages, though, you just speak what makes sense). When you think your Proficiency applies then you can gain Advantage on the Test. If you like, you can use your second Proficiency choice to instead gain Mastery in a subject which lets you gain Advantage on a normal roll or negate a Disadvantage on a difficult roll. To finish rounding things off you pick a Tavern Trade (are you the bartender, the cleaner, the bouncer, etc), your core Belief (you become Unwell if these get challenged, which helps with advancement), your Belongings (another fairly open system), and your Relationships with other PCs and important NPCs. There’s also Spellcraft which can be Hedge Magic, Folk Magic, Performance Magic, and Season Magic depending on your character.
Just as important as the PCs is the tavern they work at. Making the details of the tavern is a group effort and has six different steps, with a seventh that everyone does separately. First, you pick the Tavern Type or roll it randomly on a two part table to create a Haunted Boarding School, for example, or a Rustic Inn. The one that I ended up when I played was a Magical Gambling House which I named the Nine-Sided Die and I love it.
Next up you choose or roll for a Location, determining where the tavern is located and what’s nearby. You might end up with an Extra-Dimensional tavern near a place blessed by some ancient deity, a City location near the busiest marketplace for miles, or (in the case of the Nine-Sided Die) a Seaside Port that’s near a “powerful yet unclaimed source of magic.” It turned out to be a mysterious crystal spire sticking out of the ocean that we do not talk about. Next you choose or roll the Unique Feature or Claim to Fame of your tavern which for the Nine-Sided Die ended up being a magical lighthouse that my character was in charge of keeping up (warning against a danger that seriously, we do not talk about!).
The group then establishes the Typical Guest, such as the Rowdy Sailors and Masked Pilgrims who frequent the Nine-Sided Die, and then Invent Regulars (at least two) who are often seen around. You’re on your own for typical guests but the regulars have a table that can produce some hilarious patrons. At the Nine-Sided Die, as an example, we often see Jovis Murt, a human bard who’s filthy rich but loves the stage; Loola, a selkie thief who pinkie-promised not to steal from us and keeps up enchantments to clear her tab; Herrix Bel-Garrish, a dwarven storyteller who was not very good but he’s the cousin of our baker; and Lady Nelle Penwick, a human knight who was actually a dragon and was terrible at keeping that a secret.
To wrap things up you come up with an Establishment Name (I already spilled the beans there) and then, after character creation, you sketch out a map of the place and everyone separately establishes where their Living Quarters are and what they look like. My character, an excitable pixie enchanter, lived in an old cask in the back of the Nine-Sided Die that on two occasions almost got refilled with ale while he slept. He eventually wrote Do Not Fill! on the side in the fantasy equivalent of neon puff paint.
As the game progresses, you can expand your tavern as your story continues. You might be doing well and put on a new room or two, discover some magic that transforms the tavern in some way, or find a secret passage to a portion of the tavern you didn’t even realize was there. It’s entirely up to you and is as open as your storytelling is.
Character advancement is a little more numerical and is governed by an Advancement Bar of fifteen boxes, every third of which is special. At the end of each session you answer five questions and mark a box for each “yes.” These questions are did you keep the tavern safe, did you learn something about yourself, did you question or champion your Belief, did you restore your Wellness or someone else’s, and did you suffer a setback or personal loss. The first “yes” is easy which makes for a steady increase, but the others are a mix of good and bad outcomes to amount to “did you really amp up the drama/fun at the table.” If you are an engaged player you can really fly through these boxes.
These can be emptied to add to your Traits, expand the tavern, or gain some Fortune points, but saving up can give you some really big rewards. If you empty a dozen at a time you can gain an Epiphany which is something really huge and one-shot like the sudden Awakening of a power you didn’t know you had or the fortuitous discovery of a powerful Magic Artifact. I never got enough boxes saved up to make use of one of these but they sound a lot like the big powers you get at high tiers in Spire and Heart which is both unexpected and wonderful.
Playing Tiny Taverns
In gameplay, Tiny Taverns is very quick and fun. As with all the TinyD6 games the mechanics are a breeze to get through so you can focus on the story. The fact that you aren’t constantly worried about your health in this and instead accumulating Injuries that play into the story really helps. You also move between Moods of Neutral, Good, and Cranky which have Advantages and Disadvantages, and this also works for NPCs and provides an easy throughline. There’s a long list of Statuses which can be a lot of page-flipping but again is much better than hit points for this genre, plus when you come up with an unknown situation it’s easy to make a new status since you just need to note when Disadvantage comes up and how it’s cured. For example, one episode featured folks showing up to the Nine-Sided Die with the Crystal-Veined Status that gave them Disadvantage on being kind to people without the Crystal-Veined Status. Luckily we figured out that loud noises cured the Status by shattering the crystal growths so we just threw a rave. I still suspect that the Status comes from that spire out in the ocean but seriously, and for the last time, we don’t talk about that and I mean it!
There’s guidance in the book for many different minigames to fit into the story or take out as you need. The Chores and Mixologist systems are pretty straightforward and mostly serve as inspiration for GMs. Likewise the Cooking minigame is a must-use and our dwarven baker really loved using it, though it does require some significant player initiative. The Tavern Service minigame is crunchier and has stats for the tavern itself (Reputation, Size, Safety, and Demand) and we ended up skipping it to focus on story
On the other hand, the Trade, Markets, & Buying Stuff systems were big for our panguri floor manager who did a lot of buying and selling of goods (one might say too much as it left us with weird overstocks to move more than once). This system abstracts a lot of the coin-counting into Value that leads to bartering or haggling of different goods and services. When it works it’s really satisfying but then sometimes you end up finding out your floor manager promised to stable three dangerous riding dinosaurs for a week in exchange for a discount on some enchanted mead… for example.
The Weather system is another fun one and easy to tack on if you live somewhere with a lot of dramatic weather changes (like the seaside), and all the advice on telling slice-of-life stories and randomly generating connections between PCs and the random NPC for that week are excellent. There’s even a five-page random generator for episode plots if you want to mix things up or get inspired. We didn’t end up using the Hunting & Foraging minigame much except for a very memorable trip into the water for infernal oysters for Hellfest. As a way to dip our toes in this went seamlessly and I could see it being a really fun part of a tavern in another, more wilderness-like location. Lastly, the Enemies and Sample Bestiary are excellent and provided everything we needed for some great stories.
This game is a happy medium between different play styles all wrapped up in a really fun setting idea. The TinyD6 system is crunchy but also narrative and setting the game in the familiar-and-dangerous world of a D&D-esque campaign but putting the characters in the steady-and-contained setting of a tavern makes for some great storytelling. There’s an element of a bottle episode with this game and I imagine if you played it for years you might feel like you were recycling plots too much. For our short “limited series,” though it was just the right mix of variety and fun.
I recommend this game for anyone who wants a different view of a world like the Forgotten Realms. I’d also recommend it for someone who, say, is spending some time hanging out with friends and family with limited time. This would be an excellent way to stay up for New Year’s, for instance!
Well, that’s it for this mephit for this year. See you all in 2023!
3 thoughts on “Tiny Taverns Review”
Excellent review! Just wanted to point out though: Tiny Taverns is by Gallant Knight Games, not Fat Goblin.
The first link labeled Tiny Taverns also seems to go to the Fat Goblin heritage composer, instead of Tiny Taverns.
That’s really weird! Thanks for the heads up, I see how I got mixed up initially but don’t know why I linked the wrong product and didn’t notice! Embarrassing…