Elan: Next, we go to the tavern. Roy: Why? I need adventurers, not a drink. Well, not JUST a drink. Elan: That's where adventurers are hired, silly! Roy: Why? It's not like they're looking for jobs on the wait staff. Elan: I dunno, it's just tradition.
So two Tropers walk into a bar...
The stereotypical opening to an adventure in tabletop RPGs: the protagonists are all gathered by prior intent or a "coincidence" of authorial fiat by the Game Master in an inn, bar room, or other common public meeting spot. Once there, some mysterious stranger or NPC of varying dubiousness will approach them with some job offer or plea for assistance. These strangers tend to seat themselves in the darkest corner of the tavern for some reason (probably to make themselves seem even more mysterious). Thus do our heroes receive their ticket to board the plot.
Careful, though, for the mysterious stranger has an odds-to-even chance of being the Big Bad or a similar miscreant. Expect a Bar Brawl or two in the tavern as well, particularly if the PCs start to get rowdy. Fortunately, though, the barkeep is usually a retired former adventurer willing and able to kick the asses of anyone who gets too uppity.
This trope is Older Than Print — no less an author than Chaucer had his adventuring party meet in an inn — but it later began to be considered a Discredited Trope through overuse. Actually starting an adventure with the words "So, you all meet in an inn..." may be seen as roleplaying's equivalent to "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night..." Thus, a lot of sources advise against using it, and give pointers on how to avoid it. The 3rd Edition Dungeonmaster's Guide for Dungeons & Dragons, in a list of ways to bring a party together, dubs this "The Cliche". David Morgan-Mar, of Irregular Webcomic! and Darths & Droids fame, provides a list of less overused ways to start an adventure, as do the folks at the dice of doom blog.
On the other hand, cliched as it may be, it really is a logical opener. Taverns are the center of social life in many cultures, making for a good place to meet new people, and food and drink are good for bonding with new acquaintances. Some people even use the trope deliberately as an invocation of gaming tradition. It's also quite easy to play for laughs, emphasizing the comedy potential of enjoying a few pints down at the pub and deciding to go out and slay a dragon with your new-found acquaintances.
Real Life group meetings at an Inn are usually a convention of some description. The "adventuring" usually takes place entirely within the building, and does not normally involve bloodshed, swordplay or dragons. Normally.
Compare You All Meet in a Cell. Contrast Closed Circle, for when the DM wants to keep you in the tavern.
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Samurai Champloo: Two of the three protagonist all meet at a tea house, where they immediate start a massively violent bar brawl. The third one wanders in by coincidence and joins in the fight. This very quickly leads to You All Meet in a Cell.
Legends From Darkwood involves several scenes with characters posting jobs or looking for jobs in "adventuring" posting to a bulletin board in an inn.
In On the Origin of PCs, Roy attempts to recruit party members on the street unsuccessfully. He is greeted by Elan, who says that to have a reasonable chance of finding willing party members, he must not only be in a tavern, but also sit in the corner, stare sullenly into his mug of ale, and wear an eyepatch.
The back cover blurb reads "Like all good stories ever, this one starts in an inn!" and in a fit of undoubtedly intentional irony, the book actually doesn't, and the inn scene quoted above happens near the end of the book.
In Start of Darkness, Right-Eye meets Eugene in an inn to attempt to convince him to resume carrying out his Blood Oath against Xykon. When Eugene mentions he doesn't have a party to take Xykon on anymore, Right-Eye shouts "Hey! Who in this tavern is an adventurer?", and everybody else in the room raises their hand, even the waitress.
The Sandman volume World's End takes place entirely in an Inn Between the Worlds. The coincidence that contrives to bring together so many dimensional adventurers and agents also keeps them there, telling stories that in some way involve The Dreaming and The Dream King.
This is how the Demon Knights meet. Paul Cornell says the trope hadn't occurred to him when he wrote the scene, but he's glad it plays into something like that.
Selune's Smile (shown as more of a bar than an inn, but definitely with the occasional paying guest as well) in the city of Waterdeep in DC's old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons comic justified the trope by having one of the protagonists work there as a bouncer in her spare time and at least some of her friends adopt it as a favorite hangout spot as well...thus making it often more a case of "you all are at your usual inn when trouble shows up on the doorstep".
Luke Skywalker and company met Han Solo and Chewbacca at the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star WarsA New Hope, which is basically a space tavern. (The expanded versions and the novelization suggest that Obi-Wan took them to the Cantina specifically for this purpose.) Star Wars is pretty much a fantasy story in space, so it runs into a lot of other fantasy tropes also.
Reservoir Dogs: The first scene is the bankrobbers relaxing in a diner making small talk before their heist. They've all met and planned the job beforehand, however. A later flashback reveals that Mr. Orange received his interview with Joe in a bar.
Only slightly different, the founding members of the Mystery Men meet in a diner, and while they do recruit the Bowler II at a backyard barbecue, the Spleen was recruited at the same diner and the Sphinx was found by going to a Mexican Restaurant and giving a secret phrase, and it is after sending out feelers for membership from the diner that they meet Invisible Boy who ends up being the one to go against the trope and say they need to do a recruiting drive with a backyard pool party barbecue. In addition Mr. Furious meets his love interest at the diner, she's their waitress.
In the Dungeons & Dragons movie, The Book Of Vile Darkness, after the main hero's order is slaughtered, this is how he meets up with the unsavory band he's infiltrating to get closer to the ones that killed his companions and kidnapped his father. A blatant and unapologetic Shout-Out to many a classic D&D campaign start, as stated in the trope description.
Stalker - Stalker, Writer, and Professor start off in a bar.
In Joel Rosenberg's The Sleeping Dragon, the heroes (a group of college-age roleplayers) are transported to a fantasy world, and the first thing they decide to do is...go to an inn, where one of their number is killed when he tries to pick the pocket of a nobleman.
Gandalf meets Thorin in a bar in events beforeThe Hobbit. And later states outright that the entire future of Middle-earth and the outcome of the War of the Ring was affected by their meeting.
Gandalf: Yet things might have gone far otherwise and far worse. When you think of the great Battle of Pelennor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valour of Durin's Folk. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell. There might be no Queen in Gondor. We might now hope to return from victory here only to ruin and ash. But that has been averted—because I met Thorin Oakenshield one evening on the edge of spring in Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth.
Though not at the beginning of the story, Frodo and friends meeting Aragorn in the Prancing Pony in The Lord of the Rings likely influenced many later examples.
The first novel in the series (which is based on Dungeons & Dragons to begin with) opens with the heroes meeting at an inn. This is justified; not only are the protagonists old friends who promised to meet here many years prior, but one of them has backed out on her promise, foreshadowing far worse things to come. There's even a mysterious hooded guy in a corner, though he turns out to be a good guy. He even rearranges the furniture for dramatic effect.
The heroes meet the people who start off their major quest in the inn, as well.
The action of Robert Jordan's enormous Wheel of Time series begins with Rand al'Thor meeting up with both established friends (Mat & Egwene) and newcomers (Moiraine, Lan & Thom) at the Winespring Inn in the local village. Which, to be fair, is pretty much the only location of note, in the widest sense of the term, in the entire region.
In Spellfire Ed Greenwood as the creator of the setting sets the trend and subverts this classic trope deliberately, by having a party of adventurers meet at an inn, spontaneously decide to investigate the nearby ruined city of Myth Drannor, and then be annihilated (the main character aside) by the denizens of the ruins, whom they lacked the ability or experience to face.
Azure Bonds starts this way. After a fashion — one character was found unconscious on the tavern's porch, another was a client who happened to be a wizard and got curious about her tattoo, third followed her to the tavern.
Smoke Powder and Mirrors by Jeff Grubb proposes a good hypothesis on this trope:
On reflection, Jehan Wands realized why most adventures begin in taverns. It takes a combination of noise, bustle, the late hour, wrong-headed opinions, and ale, all in specific amounts, to convince otherwise rational people to do stupid things like go on quests and slay dragons. And only a tavern could bring all this together in one spot.
And then of course there's Callahan's Place where strange people of unusual talents meet in a bar and more or less stay there. Which still doesn't stop them from fulfilling this trope since the barkeep, Callahan, turns out to have specifically opened the bar so he could recruit people to help him save the world.
In Hogfather, a group of "businessman" meet in even worse Bad-Guy Bar, answering the call of Big Bad Teatime. They mostly know each other and are on edge because Teatime is late to meet them and tell them what their assignment is. Then, it turns out the place never had waiters... Cue Oh Crap moment.
Lampshaded by Vimes in Jingo: "You'll be surprised how many people were ready to do business with a complete stranger they have met in a bar just a few minutes ago."
In Queen of Wands, invoked by Hjalmar at the start of the quest to rescue Janaea.
Not precisely an inn (nor are they all necessarily on friendly terms with each other), but the common interest of staying at Rotherwood for the night on the same night at the start of the story is what brings most of Ivanhoe's main characters together for the first time.
The modus operandi of the short story series The Astral Cafe is the main characters sitting around a restaurant until they are needed to go on an adventure.
The short story The Crystal starts with this, and even provides a nice bit of narration to lampshade it.
Justified in the Ironclaw novel Dream Carvers, based on one of the author's campaigns. Baron Treeden was specifically looking for Capt. Salvatore, one of his house's Privateers, and Sister Annarisse in turn was trying to find the baron, to whom she'd just been assigned as a confessor.
Each episode of Estate of Panic begins this way in the foyer of the estate.
Cheers, the show that's entirely about a bar, its employees, and its patrons.
Warlord, a self-referential D&D-inspired card game, has a card called "Meet At The Inn". Its Flavor Text:
"Come on, guys! I have an overwhelming urge to go to the nearest inn and meet a pair of strangers who will help us in our quest!" "What, so soon after our two friends died?"
Feng Shui, which makes no effort to hide the fact that everything in the game that's not a fight scene is a mechanism to get to the next fight scene as quickly as possible, demands this. GMs are instructed to decide where all the players will be when the story begins, and then simply inform the players of this unassailable fact. Players must then give a reason for why their character is at this place, with rewards given for reasons that tie well into their character's backstory in some way. An example:
GM: You're all in a restaurant. Tell me why. Player 1: I heard a rumor that some operatives for the shadowy cabal that kidnapped my sister like to eat here and I'm staking the place out. Player 2: Since my character's very poor, he's been taking odd jobs lately to help pay the bills. I'm cleaning tables here. Player 3: This place has really good noodles.
This game has its own version: "You all get a call from a man calling himself 'Mr. Johnson'..." This was intended to be a Shadowrun trope from the beginning, as it's established in the rulebook that all sorts of "Mr. Johnsons" all over the country are looking to hire shadowrunners to do their dirty work.
Lampshaded in one of the Shadowrun novels, in which an employer admits that her name really is Johnson after screwing her hirelings over.
"You All Meet in an Inn" is also played straight in Shadowrun. Since Johnsons often treasure their anonymity, places like bars, taverns, restaurants and nightclubs are often where runner teams will meet up. White noise generators help ensure privacy from anyone trying to listen in. Some establishments who deal more regularly with the shadowrunning business often have booths with built-in white noise generators to allow for private meetings between Mr. Johnson and shadowrunners.
There's also the "Stuffer Shack" convenience stores. One module has the PC's patronizing such an establishment when it gets robbed.
In the Sega Genesis and SNES Shadowrun RPGs, nightclubs are specifically used as a place to purchase fellow shadowrunners' services.
The modern-day equivalent is "You All Meet at a Nightclub". Given the typical diet of the denizens of, say, Vampire: The Masquerade, you could easily see the nightclub as just another inn, providing food, drink and entertainment. Often simultaneously.
In Eberron, the city of Sharn has two adventurers' district. Those districts both have taverns that are specifically designed to serve this trope: they not only offer the usual services expected of a tavern but also offer services allowing adventurers to find people to team up with, as well as employment. Incidentally those taverns tend to be owned or be operated by retired adventurers. These taverns also tend to have irregular shapes, and intentionally poor lighting, so that they have more shadowy corners than usual.
Warhammer's WFRP rulebook justifies this trope: taverns are common meeting places; and, given the likely diversity of the party members, may well be the only reasonable way for the PCs to meet.
...and went to Baldur's Gate to celebrate their victory. Thick-headed with too much ale, they agreed to take on a job from a mysterious merchant (now believed, after several divinations, to be an agent of the Red Wizards) who sent them into the Troll Hills, which is the last anyone ever heard of them.
Special mention has to go to the 2nd Edition module "Reverse Dungeon", where the players are a group of goblins trying to save their tribe from an (apparently endless) stream of adventurers. The way the module suggests they achieve this is to destroy the tavern, so that the heroes can't recruit replacements for their fallen comrades.
Before the Spellplague, the Forgotten Realms had a justified example - one of the bars in Waterdeep, one of Faerûn's great metropolis, was not only run by a retired adventurer, but also happened to have an entry-point to Undermountain (a very, very large dungeon) in it. That, of course, made it a convenient place for adventures looking to strike rich in Undermountain to gather.
The 1977 Holmes Basic D&D boxed set. In the sample dungeon the PCs could gather at the Green Dragon Inn in the city of Portown before going on an adventure.
The AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide (1979) has this suggestion for getting a party of PCs together.
As background you inform them that they...met by chance in an inn or tavern and resolved to journey together to seek their fortunes in the dangerous environment.
Exalted has this built into certain locations for ease — like in Nexus, where no-one is allowed to eat alone after dark, so it's easy to just say, "You're all in Nexus, it's nighttime, so you all had to sit at a table together." Although it still strains Willing Suspension of Disbelief when you're one of, at best'', 700 Chosen in a world of billions. The answer to that is usually Because Destiny Says So and/or Sidereals (which are often the same as the former and becomes extra convenient if you have one in the party.)
There was an early lampshading of this in Adventure 2 Research Station Gamma. The characters are space travelling ex-Navy, Scouts and whatnot, and where do they all meet? In an inn on some backwards world with 18th/19th century technology. All of them had the great idea to go there and now don't have enough credits to get off this hole. Of course the adventure then takes exactly the course you would expect from this beginning it's a dungeon crawl, just in a high-tech psionics research station.
Adventure 0 The Imperial Fringe plays it straight. The Referee is encouraged to tell the players "You're all sitting in the Starhaven tavern". The PCs quickly get into a Bar Brawl and meet their patron, who gives them a mission that will take them the length and breadth of the Spinward Marches.
The boardgame Tomb by AEG has a board that consists of two sections. One is the titular Tomb, full of monsters, traps, and treasures galore. The other section is the Inn, where you build your party to invade the Tomb.
Red Dragon Inn is an inversion. The entire game takes place back at the Inn after the grand adventure, where the adventurers gamble and attempt to drink each other under the table.
The Paranoia adventure "Orcbusters" starts here, and the D&D tropes keep on going...
At the start of the game, you are placed at the entrance to an inn. Then, for the first part of your adventure, your stepfather tells you to meet some friends in a nearby inn.
The second game includes an inn (The Copper Coronet) where a total of three potential party members make their first appearances. Most party members, should you drop them, will wait for you here.
The minor (as much as an Ancient Red Dragon can be "minor") villain Firkraag exploits this very trope. He waits at the Copper Coronet for adventurers he can trick and toy with. After all, a Red Dragon is just a few steps away from a cat.
Bars are where you go for sidequests in Final Fantasy Tactics, but your party begins as soldiers of the same troop.
In homage to its spiritual predecessor, Vaan looks up his very first Hunt in Final Fantasy XII at the local tavern, the Sandsea. He will graduate up to Clan Hunts afterward, but he can always find a minor Hunt or two on the tavern's billboard.
The two Final Fantasy Tactics Advance games similarly use the bar as a quest hub (both main and sidequests), and many cutscenes play out in one of them as well, including the main character's introduction to the clan. By contrast, it's not used as a place to hire new members.
Icewind Dale opens with the party in an inn, though they have not just met each other. Unless you rewrite their histories so that they really did just meet up at the inn...
In Knights of the Old Republic, you meet no fewer than three party members in bars. It is also possible to meet Calo Nord, a minor villain, for the first time in the first bar. One of said characters even tells you how to acquire a fourth character when you meet him at the bar.
In the third expansion, the PC starts out and meets several future party mates in an Inn (a specific inn the source material had already established as being a common meeting place for adventurers seeking to enter Undermountain). Only one of them will stay with you until the end of the story—the other four in the Inn all go back to the surface at the end of the first chapter. The three potential party members that are not in the Inn at the beginning are met under much more unusual circumstances.
Several fan-made expansions also contain examples. In "A Dance with Rogues", your first encounter with Pia is in a private dining room at an inn, your first encounters with Bran, Norah, and Gemli in the second chapter are also in an inn. You technically meet Diane in an inn in the first The Bastard Of Kosigan module, but you actually recruit her in a forest if you so choose. Several possible henchmen in A Hunt Through The Dark, in the final chapter, show up in the inn for the first time.
Neverwinter Nights 2 has the expansion pack Storm of Zehir, with all the original party members meeting (technically) on a ship. Additional party members can be in a variety of places, but you'll find a good third of them in inns.
In just vanilla Neverwinter Nights 2, you meet the fighter Dwarf at the inn you're just passing by. Starting a bar brawl. And then, when you meet him, another bar brawl happens. You also meet the Deadpan Snarker wizard and Sociopathic Hero ranger inside a later inn that's the party's base of operations in Neverwinter, and the pyromaniac sorceress outside its front door.
The eight protagonists of Resident Evil Outbreak have never met before, but all happen to be in the same bar right before it all hits the fan with the zombies.
Dragon's Crown begins in an inn where your character and a thief named Rannie recounts how you both met. The inn is also where you recruit AI party members.
In fantasy strategy game Heroes of Might and Magic, buying the Inn building in your castle allows you to recruit other Heroes (army leaders).
Paradoxically, in the Vampire: The Masquerade game Vampire: Redemption, taverns and pubs play no role in the Dark Ages portion of the game. In the modern era, however, you meet most of your party members (and undertake half the plots) in bars and nightclubs.
SaGa Frontier and its sequel both exhibit this. The first game has a bar in Scrap; a visit here at the start of a game could completely fill your first fighting party. The second game starts as a team joining to search for treasure and ends 3 generations later fighting a Cosmic Horror Story antagonist.
While most recruitable characters are found in random houses, the fact that Adventurer's Inns in Might and Magic VIII serve as the mechanism for storing surplus recruited characters and exchanging characters is very likely a reference to this trope (possibly by way of Heroes of Might and Magic).
During Starcraft II's development, units like the Reaper were hired at the Merc Haven, a bar with a holographic dancing Night Elf. It ended up being phased out (the building is still used, but just as a prop), but in the campaign you hire mercenaries from a man in the Hyperion's cantina.
Goblin Hollow includes an arc where the characters are playing D&D. The GM opens the tale with the traditional phrase, is interrupted by snarks from the players about his lack of originality, and continues by smugly adding, "...and wake up the next morning in the county jail."
In Yamara, local bars double as employment centers, even officially. The title character goes out drinking with her friend Stress, and warns against trying to fight off the hordes of adventurers, sages in dark cloaks, and barmaids with the low-down on local dragon hoards, since a bar fight will likely lead to a memorable encounter and forming a lifelong fellowship with some dweeb, and who wants that? Then she announces they'll join the party of whichever group buys them the most drinks, and the two of them get plastered for free.
Spoofed in Exiern in an entire arc where Tiffany (and several background characters) are just trying to have a quiet drink without being bothered by the stereotypical adventure seekers, fortune tellers, and quest-givers (they fail).
The DM sighed, and in a voice that sounded like a very bored computer, he read the opening portion: "All right you guys are in a bar and a woman comes up to you and says 'Hey do you guys want a job?'"
In the opening of the parodic fantasy audio webserie Reflets d'Acide, the first protagonist hires his team in a tavern. The player playing the character complains to the DM because how stereotyped it is.
Public houses, coffee houses, cafes, beer gardens, saloons, etc. have historically served as meeting places for various groups who would, in turn, discuss politics, religion, economics, revolution, science, etc. Hence, not only adventures, but great societal movements, began with someone meeting in an inn:
The Raleigh Tavern was the spot of several noteworthy (minor but crucial) events in the lead-up to the American revolution and was a spot where many leading Virginians, including George Washington, were known to dine. The United States started at an inn. Okay, that's stretching it a bit but it's a historical location you wouldn't want to overlook as concerns this trope....
The French cafes were notorious as meeting places of various Enlightenment thinkers, some of whom became the later revolutionaries who overthrew the monarchy.
On a rainy day, a group of youths gathered in a coffee house somewhere in a subjugated country to discuss a list of social demands they planned to submit to the government office. Things like stopping censure, release of political prisoners, that sort of thing. By the end of that day, a full-blown peaceful revolution involving tens of thousands was behind them, eventually escalating into a war of independence that saw, among other things, The Empire's military and various armies of imperial-supported minorities getting so utterly humiliated by the insurgents that they had to Summon Bigger Fish in the form of another superpower to quell the uprising. Sounds like a fictional story but this is actually what happened in Hungary during 1848. All caused by a meeting in Coffeehouse Pilvaxnote although the original building was demolished in 1911, the coffee house is still in business. That's one hell of a resume...
In their early days, both the London Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange were a bunch of broker-traders who hung out at a set of coffee shops in the same neighborhood, like Change Alley in London circa 1700, or the Merchant's Coffee House and Tontine Coffee House in NYC circa 1790. Lloyd's of London started in Llyod's Coffee House circa 1688.
In some cases, coffee houses got such a reputation for being dens of anti-establishment dissent that the government actually tried to suppress them. Naturally, this only added fuel to the fire in a lot of cases.
The three guys who would go on to form Austrian black metal band Summoning met up at a pub. Oddly appropriate, seeing as how the main theme of the band is Tolkien high fantasy.
Guy Fawkes worked with twelve other people, one of whom was drafted for being the only person sitting at the next table in the pub. (Unfortunately for them, this was the man who wrecked their plan by writing a letter to his friend in parliament telling him not to go because of the plot.
There is a diner called Buck's in Woodside, a small town in Silicon Valley, where several IT / Internet firms were founded. (See here).
The United States Marine Corps is traditionally regarded as having been founded at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia.
The Shu faction of the Three Kingdoms period in Ancient China supposedly started in a "Peach Garden". This can be interpreted to be anything from a bunch of trees, an inn, a restaurant, a brothel or other.