It’s funny to me that so much in D&D happens within a tavern yet we have comparatively few written rules regarding them. Sure, there are a lot of options available for running taverns in your downtime or what have you. But Tavern Brawl Builder by Jean Lorber is the first of its kind that I have seen. It doesn’t mean it’s the only one. It’s just the only one I’ve seen so far. Regardless, I like what I see.
Tavern Brawl Builder
Writer: Jean Lorber
Publisher: DMs Guild
Product Length: 26 pages
Tracking combat can get complicated in a hurry. There’s a reason DMs will often have an initiative order that looks like this:
- the cleric
- the rogue
- the fighter
- the wizard
- the kobolds
The kobolds all get the same initiative order because few DMs want to worry about the individual kobolds within a pack. I imagine that’s why I can count on one hand how many tavern brawls I’ve been involved in. I’ve had characters get in fights in taverns. But an honest-to-goodness bar fight? Those have been rare. Thankfully, Jean Lorber has created a cool tool for simplifying the mechanics behind the tavern brawl so the story can advance unimpeded.
This DMs Guild review doesn’t follow my usual format of Originality, Writing, Production, and Design. Instead I’ll just talk about some of the more compelling reasons I think you should buy this without being as formulaic as I can be with an adventure. After all, this isn’t an adventure.
It Fills a Void
For a tool to be useful it must have a purpose and that purpose has to be simplification. A hammer would do us no good if it was more trouble to drive a nail into a wall with it than with our bare hands. This product helps a DM track a brawl the same way you could track a swarm of insects or rats. You treat the group as a single entity. That entity has its own stats and can be defeated, even if it is defeated with nonlethal damage. It is perfect in this regard.
Not only are there basic mechanics for running a brawl, there are also mid-brawl complications (like a barkeep pouring soapy water allover the place to help end the find and hopefully save some furniture). There are tables for accessible items during a brawl too. Everyone always imagines a beer mug or a chair. But how about a turkey leg or the beard of a nearby brawler? Now we’ve got some vivid details to make the brawl as memorable as it is functional!
I was surprised to find not just a list of ten taverns in this product but full descriptions of these taverns. What makes them unique? Who are their proprietors? Any one of them will help you create an imaginative scene for your players and a few of them can even provide great adventure hooks.
Speaking of hooks, Tavern Brawl Builder also provides ten brawl encounters. I think my favorite is the jilted woman demanding her dowry of goats be returned. Or the one where the skeleton walks in and drops a coin purse on the bar.
Easily the most subjective part of anything is the art. What I find incredible might not even raise an eyebrow of someone with a more refined appreciation for art. But I loved Christopher Spence’s line art within the pages of this accessory. It’s simple and has a wonderful old school vibe that I hope I never tire of seeing. I prefer it to his cover art, as a matter of fact.
Tavern Brawl Builder is not an accessory that I will say every DM needs to own. It is great. I love it and will probably use it a good bit. But I know some DMs who wouldn’t use it. Not because they’d be unimpressed with Jean Lorber’s work. But simply because their DM style doesn’t lend itself to brawling. There’s nothing wrong with such a style. But for the DM who enjoys a free-range style of play or isn’t in a hurry to get things moving, this is a perfect product. If you’re that DM, go buy this product and implement a good brawl in your next session.
Thanks, Jean Lorber, for the review copy of Tavern Brawl Builder.