Not long ago, I told you about a brand new role playing game where you have some major roles in the development of the game – Tavern Tales. Players use themes to create their own unique characters and the GM’s have the freedom to take the game in any direction they please. I had the chance to ask the creator, Dabney Bailey, some questions about the system and how it came to be.
How long was Tavern Tales being developed for before you went live?
Technically, 1 year. Realistically, more like 10 years.
I’ve been designing games my whole life, but I’m kind of an unorthodox game designer. I don’t design games because I want a finished product — I do it because the process of game design is so much fun for me. Whenever I design a new game, I playtest it with my 3 closest friends. My games never survive the first playtest. It’s not that my games are bad, it’s just that I think, “I can totally rebuild this and make it even better than it was before!” Then I take a wrecking ball to the rules and start over from scratch.
That’s what happened with Tavern Tales. I designed an RPG, we playtested it, and then I rebuilt an entirely new (and better) RPG from scratch. This happened again and again and again. TT took about 1 year to create, but every other RPG I’ve ever made was like a proto-version of TT. It’s kind of like how an amoeba evolves into frog, which evolves into an iguana, which evolves into an alligator, which evolves into a sweet fire-breathing dragon. I couldn’t have made TT without first making all of the other games that came before it. If you look back over my old RPGs, you can see evidence of TT gradually taking shape.
TT is basically the first game that I thought was good enough to publish.
What was your biggest influence when writing Tavern Tales?
- DND: This was my first ever RPG. It definitely shaped my early gaming years.
- FATE: I was delighted when I discovered the freeform flexibility of FATE. It’s the exact opposite of DND in some ways, so discovering that game for the first time really opened my eyes to the potential of RPGs.
- Dungeon World: I was really impressed with DW because the designers seemed to be on the wavelenth as me. Keep the fun of classic dungeon-delving, but get rid of complicated rules. Sign me up!
- Star Wars: Edge of the Empire: I was inspired by the dice system. I loved that the players instantly know whether or not they succeed — no waiting around to discover if they met the target number. This game was instrumental in my creation of the 3d20 system.
You’ve got a great idea for a living, ever-changing game by making frequent updates and taking the players’ opinions into consideration. What inspired you to create a game like this?
Homebrewers and RPGs fit together like peanut butter and jelly. Look at the forums of any popular RPG and you’ll find dozens of homebrew classes, magic items, monsters, etc. It’s kind of tragic, because homebrewers represent an absolutely massive (and wasted) pool of creative energy. A fan of an RPG might create an incredibly cool and balanced monster, but only like 5 people will ever see it.
So I figure, why not tap into this resource? If TT gets popular, fans are going to create homebrew content no matter what. I may as well put the homebrew content online so that everybody can enjoy it!
So far, I’ve been really impressed by user submissions. In fact, my favorite magic item of all time (Abyss Heart) was made by a fan. I like to think that I’m a pretty creative guy, but there’s no way that I’m more creative than 100s of fans combined.
I really like that you have the game open for player contributions such as monsters and items. Do you think that you’ll take more user-created content in the future, such as adventure templates?
I believe that freedom leads to creativity, so I’ve put zero limitations on homebrew content. Players can create anything: magic items, sample characters, themes, adventures, etc. I had a fan ask if he could translate the game to Polish. I had another fan ask if he could write optional in-world lore. Sure, why not? I’m even open to fans rewriting the rules. If somebody writes a certain section of the rules more clearly than I did, I’d be happy to publish it.
The only restriction I place on fans relates to quality. I don’t publish sub-par material because I hold homebrew content to the same rigorous standards that I hold myself to. If somebody posts a cool idea but it doesn’t have a good implementation, I fiddle with it a bit and post an edited version. That ensures that TT stays diverse and high quality.
I’m really excited to see the future of TT. The forums only have about 100 subscribers and they’ve submitted probably 50+ magic items in the past month. Can you imagine what could happen with 1,000 fans? Or 10,000 fans?
When you play TT, what role do you personally enjoy more, player or GM?
GM, of course! I love game design, and GMing is kind of like designing a miniature game that will only get played once. It’s right up my alley.
If you had to choose one thing you liked about Tavern Tales the most, what would it be?
Tough call. I really like my 3d20 system because it’s simple, fast, and heroic. I’m also a big fan of the flexibility of character creation.
To be honest, though, my favorite design element is hidden traits. Hidden traits are monster weaknesses that players can trigger. It includes stuff like blinding a cyclops, chopping off the tentacle of a giant squid, or decapitating a zombie. There’s also a slug monster which, when critically hit, will waste a turn devouring its own spilled entrails. Hidden traits encourage players to think outside of the box by looking for weaknesses that they can exploit.
In fact, during my last session, me and my adventuring group attacked cultists who had taken over an abandoned fortress. Some of the cultists started a demonic ritual mid-fight. Our wizard used Dispel to disrupt their casting, so the GM gave the wizard creative license to “make the ritual go horribly wrong and destroy a body part.” Our wizard said that disrupting the spell caused the demonologist to summon a demon inside of him rather than next to him. A flaming worm exploded out of the demonolgist’s arm, sending bits of smoldering gore in all directions.
That’s a hidden trait.