The tavern is one of the, if not the, quintessential meeting places for young and experienced fantasy adventurers alike. I have often wondered why this is, given that there are many better ways to introduce characters to each other that involve more than chance meetings in a tavern. Perhaps it's because the tavern represents an easy way to jump straight into an adventure, or perhaps it is simply because it is the quintessential meeting place that many DMs choose to use it. Whatever your preference of tavern encounters, this product, Tankard Tales - Willowbark's, offers something that turns the tavern from a meeting place into something more - an adventure, adventure location, and a different way to start an adventure.
The product comes as a very well presented pdf file. I've said this before about Myth Merchant Press and it certainly bears repeating - the quality of their presentation is excellent, and they really go the extra mile to include everything that you might need in their product and then some more. Tankard Tales - Willow bark's contains some good and vivid writing, some excellent descriptive material, wonderful plans and tiles for the tavern, and some excellent maps. The layout is very well done, and in a way instantly recognisable as a product for the 4e GSL because of the style and layout of the product. This is another excellently presented and professionally done pdf from Myth Merchant Press.
This 16 page pdf product contains a description of the tavern, details on the core staff of the tavern, and two encounter scenarios associated with the tavern - one of the heroic tier and one of the paragon tier, making this product applicable to most party levels. Scaling should be straightforward if you wanted to use either of these encounter scenarios for a different level. Included with the encounter scenarios are short battlemaps indicating relative positions of the creatures in the encounter, and 1-inch scale tiles that can be used to represent these battlemaps with miniatures on the gaming table. The entire tavern is represented by these tiles, and an additional sheet of objects is included so that you can spice up the encounter with barrels that can be thrown, add obstacles, or just further decorate the tiles that make up the tavern.
This is very much a multi-faceted and open ended kind of product, since the tavern and its NPCs provide more than just background material for the two encounter scenarios. There are other interesting avenues that one could explore, and this allows the DMs imagination to build on what the pdf contains. There's also good opportunity for roleplaying with the core tavern staff, and a handy list of rumours that can easily be expanded on or modified.
The two encounters themselves involve a local adventurer's guild which posts notices and advertisements in the tavern. These allow the adventurers to easily get involved in the two encounter scenarios and even to join the adventurer's guild to further their pursuits of fame, glory or fortune. I do wish that more had been said about this organisation, perhaps fleshing it out so that it could be used more easily in this way. The encounters themselves are interesting and should be fun, one involving a brief journey to another plane of existence, and the other a more straightforward assault and kill the bad guy scenario. The scenarios are well constructed, and I particularly liked the brief overviews given of each encounter, that presents the encounter setup and resolution. Naturally these scenarios contain a handful of new monsters, including a thief apprentice, dire porcupine and a couple of new goblin variants.
Myth Merchant Press have put together a useful tavern with two tavern scenarios and roleplaying opportunities as the characters involve themselves with the staff and their affairs. The product is very well presented, with some great 1-inch scale tiles, and well constructed scenarios that are clearly set up, easy to run, and interesting. The pdf provides enough material to use and run with as is, but also adds in a few other elements that can be used to expand on the material contained in this product. While the tavern is set on the edge of the wilderness, it could easily be placed in another location that might suit the campaign better. Overall, a good product from Myth Merchant Press.