I WAS A GOBLIN – Check The Rumour Table
Enough of the rules. How did a typical D&D game actually unfold?
The adventure would begin with a lengthy introduction – very lengthy, in the case of some published modules. It would usually start “It has been many leagues since you last saw a friendly hearth” and end with your players arriving in a village, possibly touching on some troubling portents along the way. Whatever atmosphere this stuff created would be quickly corroded as the referee, whose ability to conjure purple prose from nothing was limited, took control. “You see a tavern. Do you want to go in?”
The truth about role-playing is this: the conflicts between the heroes and their monstrous foes are feeble compared to the ongoing struggle between the referee and the players. Every session would see a titanic battle of wills as the referee attempted to get the players to do something that would move the plot along and the players happily did anything but. It didn’t help that published adventures were written by inhabitants of a utopia where player characters did outrageously unlikely things at the slightest hint. As a referee you would learn to fear blithe phrases such as “when the players figure out the puzzle” or a laughably optimistic instruction to “stress the might of the opposition – players will soon realise that combat would be hopeless”.
So of course the players wouldn’t want to go into a tavern. “We’ll sleep in the open.” “A guard comes along – you can’t sleep here mate, he says, there’s rooms IN THE TAVERN” “I kill him”. OK, rewind. They go to the tavern. “The bartender hands you a foaming mug of ale.” “I murder him and take his gold.”
Eventually things would settle down and the players could get on with talking to the rich merchant who was looking for adventurers to rescue his daughter from the goblins. Or to the shadowy hooded figure in the corner – Tolkein unwittingly to blame for the whole tavern trope, as with so much else. “Will you help my child? he pleads piteously” “I backstab him.” And so on until the dungeon was reached.
(This wretched way of starting adventures was hardly unique to D&D. Other games in other genres would still involve a rich merchant equivalent – sci-fi RPG Traveller for instance codified such people into “Patrons” and every single game would involve a meeting with The Patron in The Spaceport and a few rolls on the Patron Encounter Table. Of such things is wonder made.)