Is there any fantasy setting more iconic to the genre than a tavern? Whether it’s the stereotypical Dungeons & Dragons adventure that always starts in a local watering hole or a fantasy novel where characters are forever stopping off for grub, ale, and shelter at descriptive inns, the tavern is downright ingrained into our expectations. It makes sense, then, that MMOs are littered with taverns.
Some of my favorite places in MMOs are taverns. I was always enthralled with them in the early days of World of Warcraft — the crackling fire, the kegs of brew in the cellar, the charming music (heck, there’s even an entire WoW tavern music album out there). DDO wasn’t about to forsake its heritage by not including a score of taverns, and there were plenty of them to be found. While LOTRO has quite a few taverns, such as the Prancing Pony, the Shire is notorious for a “tavern on every corner.” Even in other settings, they exist under different names (“cantina” for instance).
Any time I see a tavern in an MMO I take a few minutes to explore it. Usually it’s just set dressing with little to do, but I dig the feelings that it evokes in me. Fantasy adventure to me is traversing the wilds by day but always coming to a warm, friendly tavern at night. It’s more than just a place to get drunk; it’s life and civilization and comfort and a temporary home.
I’ve always thought it was a little sad and a wasted opportunity how so much obvious effort is poured into the creation of these little buildings in MMOs while so little is done to encourage players to do anything in them. I mean, sure, they’re popular RP places, but what do the devs make for you to do there? You don’t need to rent a room to stay the night, the food and drink sold is typically useless, and the NPCs stand around having the same non-conversations they’ve been having for years.
So what could be done? More quests could take place in taverns, sure. The use of minigames comes to mind — get players to congregate to play games-within-the-game. Perhaps a particular type of crafting (brewery?) could only be done in these places. And maybe it’s an idea to bring back place-specific buffs that you can accumulate while hanging out in a particular venue. I also would love to see more NPC scripting, such as conversations or even performances.
I just would hate to see taverns fade away except for light set dressing. Perhaps it’s already happened; we’re too on-the-go for any place to tempt us to stay still in a bar for a length of time. Maybe the stereotype has evolved. It’d be a shame if that was the case.