D&D Tavern Games: 5 Fun Mini-Games an Lots O Ale

Every adventure either seems to start at a tavern or end in one. Often with a brawl, the bard seducing the barmaid, or an elf and dwarf entering a drinking match. And then of course there are the games. No tavern is complete without them.

Now you could easily run a dice game or ordinary card game as a mini-game in your tavern. And while they can be fun, they don’t really add anything unique that helps define your D&D world. No lad (or lass), what you need are some original D&D flavored Tavern Games! So what makes a good tavern game for your D&D world?

Crafting Better D&D Tavern Games

Tavern Games for D&D should be unique to your world. The game itself should be steeped in the history of your world. This way, the players aren’t just playing a game within the D&D game. No, they are immersing themselves in your world and learning something of its inhabitants.

Good tavern game also have simple rules and are quick to set up and play. Non-D&D tavern card games, for instance, often take between 20 to 30 minutes to complete. That is way too long. Players like a bit O flavour, but they also want to get to adventuring. So a good D&D tavern game only takes about 5 minutes.

Here are five tavern card games I’ve created that you can use with D&D (or any other roleplaying game). They are available as part of the Floor Puzzles pack in my webstore.

These 5 games can be played with a deck of just 17 cards and a game board both in printable and VTT format. The deck consist of seventeen cards. One jester, and four crowns, swords, hearts and shields. To speed things up, some of the rules to these 5 games are universal:

  • Each player always receives three cards at the beginning of play.
  • Two to four players can join a game.
  • Start a new game when a player has lost. If you’re playing for coins, the losing player pays one coin to all other players.

1. The Orc Sword Tavern Game For D&D

“Considered a complex tactical game amongst Orc generals, Orc Sword teaches bravery and ferocity. To choose your direction, attack and never look back! Amongst other races it is considered a children’s game.”

  1. Orc Sword is played with the backside of the playing cards.
  2. Each player receives three cards. During their turn players play one card. Players can refill their hand to three cards for as long as there are cards in the deck.
  3. The player that has most recently won a fight may begin play.
  4. The first player places a sword card on a square of the gaming board. The sword card may be placed horizontally, vertically or diagonally but must point toward at least two successive empty squares.
  5. The next player places a sword card on one of the empty squares that the last placed sword card is pointing to. The newly placed card must point towards at least two successive empty squares.
  6. The player that is unable to place a sword pointing toward at least two successive empty squares loses the game.

For example, in this game the green player begins in the top left corner. On the sixth turn the blue player places a downward facing sword. The green player cannot place a sword pointing towards two empty squares and loses the game.

2. The Elven Crown Tavern Game For D&D

“A game of Elven Crown encompasses the values of strategy and manoeuvring. Elves understand that there is always another way. To keep your options open is to survive.”

  1. Each player receives three cards. During their turn players play one card. Players can refill their hand to three cards for as long as there are cards in the deck.
  2. The player that has most recently fired a bow begins the game.
  3. The first player places a card on a square of the gaming board.
  4. The next player may place a card next to a card already in the game in a horizontal or vertical direction. The card must have either the same number or sign as any other card its touching.
  5. The jester can represent any sign and number from 1 to 4.
  6. The player that is unable to place a new card, loses the game.

For example, the green player places a ‘four of swords’ in the upper left corner. The next player places a ‘four of shields’ (same number) horizontally next to it. On the fifth turn the green player plays a ‘three of swords’ which touches both a ‘four or swords’ (same sign) and a ‘three of shields’ (same number).

3. The Dwarven Shield Tavern Game For D&D

“Unbending and dependable. These are the Dwarven values encompassed in Dwarven Shield. Dwarfs know there is strength in cooperation. They count on each other to keep from being pushed from the battlefield.”

  1. The Dwarven Shield Card Game uses the border of the gaming board as squares, creating a six by six playing field.
  2. Each player receives three cards. During their turn players play one card. Players can refill their hand to three cards for as long as there are cards in the deck.
  3. The player that has most recently been underground begins the game.
  4. The first player places a card on the border of gaming board.
  5. The next player may place a card in horizontal or vertical direction of the previous played card. The distance to the newly played card must be equal to the number of the previous played card.
  6. The jester can represent any number from 1 to 4. (Signs are irrelevant in this game.)
  7. The player that is unable to place a new card on the game board, loses the game.

For example, The green player places a three in the top left corner. The blue player places a one horizontally three squares away. On the fifth turn the green player plays a four. There is no square on the game board in either horizontal or vertical direction for the next player to place a card. Blue loses the game.

4. The Halfling Heart Tavern Game For D&D

“Light heartedness and agility are values taught by the game Halfling’s Heart. The small must be quick and agile, stepping lightly and lively where others plough through.”

  1. Each player receives three cards. During their turn players play one card. Players can refill their hand to three cards for as long as there are cards in the deck.
  2. The player that has most recently avoided detection begins the game.
  3. The first player places a card on a square of the gaming board.
  4. Signs are similar to chess moves. A heart is like a knight, a shield like a rook, swords like a bishop and a crown like a king. (see example for chess moves).
  5. Players must place cards in such a manner that – if the chess move corresponding to the placed card were made – it would point to at least one empty square.
  6. The next player must place a card on an empty square the previously placed card points to.
  7. The jester can represent any sign. (Numbers are irrelevant in this game.)
  8. The player that is unable to place a new card pointing to at least one empty square, loses the game.

For instance, the green player places a crown in the top left corner. Since in chess a king can move one square in any direction, the blue player must place a card on a square next to it. He places a shield. A shield is like a rook. In chess a rook can move any distance in horizontal or vertical direction. The green player places a another rook above it. Then the blue player places a heart beside it. A heart is like a knight. It moves in an ‘L’ shapes that consist of two squares horizontally then one square vertically, or one square horizontally then two squares vertically, in any direction. In this case, the green player places swords on square to the left and two squares down. Swords are like a bishop and can move any distance diagonally.

5. The Goblin Grab Bonus Tavern Game For D&D

“Get in, get out. Don’t get caught!”

  1. The Goblin Grab Card Game uses the golden signs on the border of the game board. Cards can only be placed on the four by four square of the game board.
  2. Each player receives three cards. Place one extra card face up on a random square of the game board.
  3. The player that has most recently told a lie begins the game.
  4. The first player must choose a sign in the border and place a card with the same sign in a straight line one or more squares beyond the card on the board. The player then places that card in his hand. No additional cards are drawn in this game. All cards follow a horizontal or vertical line over the game board except for the jester, which can only follow diagonal lines.
  5. The player that is unable to place a new card, loses the game.

You can print these cards and the game board or upload it to a virtual table top such as roll20 which has a function for creating a deck of cards.

The Surprise Secret of These Tavern Games

Playing a couple of these tavern games can be a lot of fun and teaches the players something about the values of each race. Of course, you can change the names of the games to represent other races or factions that fit your world. That way, the tavern game blends seamlessly with your D&D world.

These 5 tavern games hold another secret. As I’ve mentioned, the card games come with the Floor Puzzles pack. While PCs are playing the card games, they are also learning the secret to solving puzzles they will encounter later in your game. I’ve designed these puzzles so they correspond to the rules of each game.

Imagine it. The unsuspecting PCs play a card game and later in your story they enter a dungeon. There, they find a floor puzzle which holds the symbols of the card game they’ve just played. The PCs realise the puzzle can be solved by following the rules of the card game. Following those rules, they must walk the correct pattern over the floor puzzle to activate the mechanism that opens a door.

So instead of the DM saying: “Here’s a puzzle and here are the rules” the PCs get a totally immersive puzzle experience, where they’ve already learned the rules to solving puzzles without even realising it. There are 20 floor puzzles in the pack.

Floor puzzles with its 5 card games and puzzles is part of the Vault Bundle which is now available at a drastically reduced price. So be sure to check it out in our webshop.

By Paul Camp

Image credit: WotC