Thursday, May 22, 2008

Geek Indulgences: Tabletop bartending

or "Cocktail guides for sourcebooks and jiggers for 12-sided dice"

Warning to non-nerds: You may find the following blog post too obscure, uninteresting or even sleep-inducing to non-nerd sensibilities. Proceed with caution.

Warning to nerds: My role-playing experiences are more from video games than tabletop even though I've dabbled in the latter. But feel free to nitpick in the comments section if I'm missing anything because, though familiar, some of the nuances might be lost on me.

I remember after asking about how to deal with content for this, Bret answering with, "It's your blog."

I think after I post this he's going to regret ever telling me that. In fact, I'm regretting that he told me that.

Whenever I've tried to describe to people I know the mixology/bartending scene as I tried to make myself increasingly familiar with those behind the bar, it'd take me a while to think. Bartenders for the most part, at least know of each other. Pretty well in some cases, even though they might not be friends or anything. They might be in opposite coasts in the country, but have corresponded via email. The point is There's a level of camaraderie not unlike some kind of extended family meets unofficial guild. All joined together by the love of the cocktail. Or something similar to but a lot less hokey than that last sentence.

"Well, it feels like everyone knows each other," I'd start. "But it's not just that they're all friends, though some of them just know each other professionally. I mean some are friends, but it's more like..."

I'd give a great pause to try and find what I was going for.

"...It's like that group that meets for Dungeons and Dragons at the local comic shop every Friday. Some are good friends, the group can fluctuate, and newcomers come and go, but they are connected by the fact that they're all really, really...REALLY into what they're doing."

And I mean that in the best way possible. Please, don't hurt me bartenders and mixologists out there.

One day it hit me. Bartenders would TOTALLY make a legitimate and fun role-playing character. Maybe even a whole character class depending on what universe you were working in.

For example, you could create some kind of pre-Prohibition chemist/bartender from New Orleans who decided to see the world so he packed up and became an itinerant bartender caught up in some kind of adventure with a ragtag group of adventurers after he overheard them discussing a new adventure when they stumbled into a tavern he was working at one night. Something set in the world of Castle Falkenstein maybe? (Thanks for the game world suggestion, Elizabeth)

Or if you were to take a similar character and transplant him or her into the Jazz Age of say something like Call of Cthulhu? Then you could probably drum up a horror-mystery storyline for a failed Miskatonic University chemistry student turned speakeasy bartender who suddenly finds himself out of a job after a raid and ends up volunteering to work as an assistant for a former schoolmate and researcher friend. It just starts out as something the character does as a lark for "a change of scenery" as well as to make ends meet. Then of course things start going horribly wrong as research team gets pulled more into the world of the mythos.

Basically, I felt like it would work in any more "modern" settings where you needed a malleable character who wasn't just an adventurer/fighter type. Someone with knowledge of "magic" (chemicals, potions and tonics) with some sort of basic melee skills.

"I remember you talking about this before, but you're going to have to explain this a bit more to convince me," Don Lee of PDT said at Taste of the Nation when I brought it up again. In fact, the last time he overheard me try to explain this, he looked downright horrified.

"OK, so what I'm thinking is if I were to create a RPG character type, they'd be something like a cleric you know?"

Don looked skeptical.

"Sort of like a role-playing version of Jerry Thomas. The ability to revive? Heal? Bring back the dead? You know, like an old school pre-Prohibition bartender who had something for what ailed ya. Tinctures, infusions, cordials, what have you. But he could also throw down a bit if things got hairy."

At that moment I couldn't help but imagine a bartender wielding a muddler like mace.

Don raised an eyebrow and looked about 70% convinced. Like Icarus I took this as my cue to fly high.

"...I'm thinking though that even if based on clerics, they'd be more of a chaotic good alignment."

Instantly Don's face changed and my imaginary wax wings melted, "I don't know about that."

"No chaotic good??" I asked incredulously.

"Well, you had me up until the chaotic part," he said. "But good? I don't know."

Don's reaction brought me back to the root of why bartenders might be a bit tedious to create a character for. Whenever I talked to people about this idea, they all seemed to have their own idea of how they would craft their bartender character. Not that this is surprising, but bartenders came in all shapes, sizes, personalities and alignments. Maybe as a one-off classless character you styled after a certain class, but its own class? It was just too tricky. It would be like dealing with elves. Maybe you can work around it be creating several canonical varieties of bartenders with their own style and skill sets, but left unmoored you'd just KNOW that someone like your friend's annoying cousin who does badly rendered fantasy "art" involving thinly veiled aspirational versions of himself is going to insist that he's a special snowflake by making some ridiculously bulky character weighed down with back story where he's some kind of half-elf/underwater elf/dragon druid or something and he'll get TOO into it and would ruin everyone's game with his inability to..., but I'm getting carried away.

Anyhow, the point being, your bartender could be anything depending on what comes to your mind when you think "bartender".

Jeffrey Morgenthaler thought cleric wasn't too bad, but if he had to give himself a character, he thought of himself more as a paladin. He also pointed out that thanks to learning the bar trade in seedier venues his character would always have +2 Strength. And I could definitely see that.

Fellow NRN-er Elizabeth Licata said that bartenders were more bards in her opinion. OK, this I could see too.

It all depended. The more I thought about it, I could see how a assassin or rogue filling up your next drink. And one bartender might think of themselves as more of a wizard while another might find themselves to be more of a sorcerer.

Then think about what edition rules you were going to try and base a game on and the alternate classes out there. I thought about all the bartenders I knew and found that, yea, pretty much there was a character class and unique style out there for any of them. The possibilities are simply endless. Which actually, makes it kind of cool from a story-telling standpoint.

I don't know. It's been a while and I never actively played *too* much so maybe it's not as hard as I'm making it out to be, but all the complexities does convince me even more that someone needs to play out a bartender character. That is, if this has not happened already somewhere out there in the wide world of tabletop gaming. If it has, let me know how it worked out for you.

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