The King’s Head Tavern Pt.1

This article assumes the magic system is as per Chapter 5: Paths and Books of GURPS Thaumatology, and is using Effect-Shaping, Books, Magery optional, and Magery adds to Rituals. It also has Alchemy, as detailed in GURPS Magic.

This article details a North American (English Language, Western CF) tavern/bar locale useful for a “low fantasy” secret magic modern day (TL 8) Earth setting, in the style of Unknown Armies, Esoteric Enterprises and GURPS Cabal. It was inspired by a lot of urban fantasy fiction (including the just previously mentioned stuff) and the GURPS supplement Encounters: The Harrowed-Hearts Club. Also helpful for writing this was Thaumatology, Locations: Metro of Madness, Horror and Thaumatology: Urban Magics.

The King’s Head Tavern

The King’s Head Tavern is a hotspot for the city’s occult underground (“The Scene”), it is frequented by street wizards, criminals, urban explorers, grey market dealers and other underground occultists. Assume it is located in a medium-sized North American city, where monsters are lurking below the surface and real magic is kept secret by a covert subculture of shady occultists. The city’s occult underground is a loose web of shifting alliances, rivalries, gangs, independent operators, grey markets, cults, forbidden knowledge, eldritch locations and monster populations. Being involved in the shady subculture (or just being a magician and/or alchemist) is a Secret worth at least -10 points.

Sally Carnby, the owner and manager, named it the King’s Head after a lewd joke she heard on a vacation in London. That, coupled with its location on the corner of Star Avenue and Maiter Street, convinced the local occulterati that it *must* be a font of secret Masonic power. Fights regularly break out over whether Maiter is pronounced like “Mitre” and thus a relevant clue, or if it’s pronounced “MATE-er” and you’re a poser looking for secret knowledge from a cartoon truck with a hillbilly accent.

Where Troubles Are All the Same

The layout is unusual (“misshapen” with unnecessary rooms that seem to serve little purpose), with dark corners and private rooms at the back. The tavern plays contemporary music over the speakers near the back rooms. Away from the back and at the bar, the place has a TV on, for watching sports. The jukebox is at the far end of the bar counter. An ATM is set up just next to the front door, as is a payphone. In the centre of the establishment are three pool tables and two dartboards. Dining tables are set up along the sides, where most patrons eat and drink. The restrooms boast odd and cryptic graffiti, with two more payphones located just outside them. The exterior of the tavern is sparse, dull and clean. The tavern takes up 2380 square feet of area total.

The tavern’s menu is completely normal American food and drinks that is typical for the state, served excellently and tasting great. Rumours tell of a “secret menu” that requires magic to discover and order from.

The decor is uninteresting at first glance – sports paraphernalia, local news, kitschy drinking iconography, awards won, photos of happier times. The tables and chairs are clean and polished, but dull coloured. Closer inspection of things show repeating number patterns. Toothpicks in holders. Napkins in dispensers. Glasses behind the bar, ridges on the glasses etc. Certain occult numerology theories would suggest something disturbing about all the patterns…

A sharp eye may catch a party photo of a crowd shot on the wall, people posing at a celebration of New Year’s Eve 1999. The photo inexplicably accrues more people in the crowd over time, modern regulars who have died are now smiling with the old partiers where they weren’t before.

The Grey Market

The back rooms of the tavern are where the serious action is. Not only is there gambling, typically floating poker games, but also shady deals and meetings for people in The Scene. Occultists sometimes claim there is a place of power in one of the back rooms. Someone involved with The Scene may be dealing in Pawns of Raw Mana (Thaumatology page 227-229, +3 to Ritual rolls per Pawn or used as ingredients in Alchemy, $240 per Pawn, 10 Pawns to a Rook, 10 Rooks to a Queen), Alchemical elixirs (use the higher prices for rare magic campaigns given in Magic), ritual charms (precast Rituals, varying skill levels, price also varies from $50 to $1000), ritual Books containing about eight Rituals (price as Supernatural Manuals from High-Tech page 17 and Loadouts: Monster-Hunters page 7-8, $200 and 6 lbs., higher if the Book is Good or Fine Quality for bonuses), mundane contraband like drugs or guns, monster parts (useful as ingredients and symbolic materials), formularies teaching a Elixir recipe (price as Supernatural Manuals from High-Tech page 17 and Loadouts: Monster-Hunters page 7-8, $200 and 6 lbs., higher if the formulary is Good or Fine Quality for bonuses), workspace equipment for spellcasting or alchemy (lab gear as per alchemical laboratories, Magic page 211), enchanted items, anti-monster herbs, incense, poisons, wooden stakes, silver (and silver bullets…), Common Manuals for Occultism ($50 and 6 lbs., Loadouts: Monster-Hunters page 7), Esoteric Manuals for Hidden Lore ($100 and 6 lbs., Loadouts: Monster-Hunters page 7), and miscellaneous valuables “found” in the undercity and monster lairs by clued-in urban explorers.

Regulars

When it comes to the loyalty of the patrons and staff, you can expect a purely mercenary relationship. You’ll be treated like everyone else with money, and troublemakers get charged more. There are no special policies regarding discretion, but everyone in “The Scene” generally minds their own business. On the plus side, connections with The Scene are strong. You can find mercenaries, alchemists, ritualists, monster hunters, sages, cultists and crooks drinking every night here. A few gangsters, outcasts and domestic terrorists round out the crowd for seasoning. Anyone who is clued-in to the occult underground (Contacts, Allies, Streetwise, Current Affairs (Supernatural), Occultism, or other appropriate Traits) has easy access to a dedicated info broker with tips on the city and local politics, you can usually find what you’re looking for.

Amongst the “generic” customers who regularly hang out here are (the GM should prepare stats and names in advance when using them);

  • Someone the PCs have inadvertently hurt during their adventures
  • Someone on an important and delicate assignment who cannot afford interference
  • Someone with an cultural background that is extremely interesting to PC/s
  • Someone who can’t help but accidentally reveal secret valuable info
  • Someone who is incredibly distinct and out-of-place (so it’s easy to assume they’re important)
  • A competent patron who challenges a PC to a good-natured wager over a contest of skill

The GM should find the Hoodlum and Patron Templates from Encounters: The Harrowed Heart Club page 9-10 useful for the generic patrons above, customised and added on as the GM wants. More detailed NPC Patrons will be presented in future blog posts.

Danger at The King’s Head

If you have the supplement Action 5: Dictionary of Danger, you can use the content in that for this setting.

Obviously, the tavern has a Kitchen (page 19-21) with Bottle Service.

The pool tables and dart boards mean Sports (page 30-32) is relevant.

The owner and manager has her own office, to deal with business. Be Devious (page 10-11) and Generic (page 15-16) if you wanna use the stuff inside as weapons.

The back rooms are a host to shady deals in the occult underground, so a magic-flavoured version of Quantum (page 27-28) can be used to represent enchanted items, alchemical elixirs (see also Chemistry, page 9), ritual charms and so on. A grimoire or formulary is a heavy book (worth +1 damage to punch damage if used as bludgeons).

Outside, there is a car park and street, so Vehicles (page 35-37) become important.

As a fairly public area, the tavern needs to be Up to Code (page 34) with fire extinguishers.

Like most modern buildings, the tavern has Doors (page 6) and Electricity (page 12-13).

TO BE CONTINUED

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