In 2023, it’s not all that wild to hear that a game was conceived while its creator was watching TikTok. That’s exactly how upcoming cozy visual novel Tavern Talk came to be.
In Tavern Talk players take on the role of an innkeeper whose main clientele is wandering adventurers straight out of every fantasy TTRPG you’ve ever played. As you serve these heroes drinks, you listen to their tales from the road, whether they were epic triumphs or colossal failures. Depending on how you prepare the drinks you serve, you can use your magical abilities to give the adventurers different buffs that will aid them on the road to their destiny.
We at Gayming got the chance to sit down with Jasmin Düsterloh, the game’s narrative designer, to discuss where this idea came from, the inspirations that have fed Tavern Talk, and how found family factors into the game in a huge way.
Where did the idea/inspiration for this game originally come from?
One day our producer, Selima Heister, was browsing Tik Tok and came across the popular Innkeeper TikToks, the likes of Quincy’s Tavern, where you experience the POV of an adventurer venturing into a tavern and interacting with the local Innkeeper. They thought “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if this was a game and you could influence whether the adventurer returns to you or not” and boom, Tavern Talk was born. Now we influence less the adventurers’ return rate and more the flavor of shenanigans they will get up to on their quests, but the base idea stayed. Somehow, thanks to our Kickstarter, we got Quincy’s tavern on board as well. Feels like a full circle moment.
Why did you decide to go with the visual novel format for this, as opposed to maybe like a cooking game or management sim?
Long story short (pun intended), we wanted to focus on the narrative aspect of the game. Both in terms of overarching story as well as the interaction with the Innkeeper’s patrons. Management sims, while fun, often have less of a heavy focus on the narrative aspect of a game and more on, well, the managing. For the kind of story we wanted to tell, we wanted the focus to be the player’s relationships with the characters and the influence they can have on their lives. A visual novel just seemed like the most fitting format for that, I guess.
What made you all want to take the Coffee Talk approach to your mechanics?
Since our player was to play as the Innkeeper, we wanted some kind of bartender mechanic in there. Games like Coffee talk, Red Strings Club or VA-11 Hall-A perfectly embody what makes the barista genre so enjoyable to many and so we naturally drew a lot of inspiration from them.
We found that the combination of a fun drink mixing mini game that, in our case, lets you influence your patrons’ fate with your drinks, mixed with the narrative medium of a visual novel and the set up of the quiet and observant advice giver (aka your barista or Innkeeper) worked best with what we had in mind for Tavern Talk.
We were especially inspired by the Red Strings Club drink mixing mechanic where you can influence your patrons’ emotions with your drinks which influences what kind of conversation you may be able to get out of them. For example, the drinks you serve in Tavern Talk will influence what path a patron might take on their quest. Will they try to talk to the werewolf or fight it? It’s up to you.
How do you all plan to make Tavern Talk stand out amongst similar games that have already released?
First of all we have a setting currently fairly unique within the genre. The fantasy Innkeeper, usually only known as the NPC, that experiences all those triumphs and calamities second hand has not yet had their time to shine in a game exactly like this. It’s also a setting that comes with fun and unique characteristics reflected by the gameplay and narrative.
We try our best to fully embody the feeling of playing a TTRPG with your friends and that includes finding the right mechanics to represent the Innkeeper.
Besides the drink mixing game that can influence the fate of Tavern Talk’s many characters, you can also collect rumors and piece them together into quests you can send your patrons on. The branching narrative you encounter is influenced by your drinks and many dialogue choices that can lead you in all kinds of different directions. Even the evolving interior of your tavern depends entirely on the choices you make.
Tavern Talk also comes with an approximate runtime of 10 hours for one run and a plethora of replayability, due to all the different quest outcomes, dialogue branches and multiple endings.
We hope that we can join the list of cozy visual novels that people will come back to in comfort. Just like the ones that we love so much.
Why was found family a theme you all wanted to focus on in this game?
Multiple reasons, really. One, found family is popular and well loved trope within the TTRPG community that we are pulling so much inspiration from. Many of us TTRPG players will have played at least one or 20 campaigns that ended up with their lovable cast of (probably slightly strange) characters finding a home in one another. We want Tavern Talk to capture the same feeling playing D&D can inspire and so it only felt natural to include this aspect of it as well. Even if we are playing as the Innkeeper this time. I mean, after all, how many of us have included a reluctant NPCs in our little found families?
It’s also, outside of D&D, a theme that deeply resonates with our community. Found family is a comforting trope for many people who have felt like outcasts some time in their lives, such as the queer community or many others.
It is important to us that the many queer themes of our story are not just found in the struggles we sometimes face – like the desire for (self-)acceptance, the want for a place of belonging, the search for identity – but also in the hopes that fill those spaces for you. Like finding your own family, a safe space of people who will love you no matter what and who will help you grow into a better version of yourself. We want to recreate that precious feeling through our game as best as we can.
It’s also one of mine and Selima’s favorite tropes and we are writing this thing. So there’s that.
Tavern Talk has already blown past its goal on Kickstarter — currently sitting at $121,858 out of its $21,471 goal — so fans can look forward to a fully fleshed out version of the game with additional features and characters some time during Q2 of 2024.