When you play tabletop games for an appreciable length of time, you rack up a lot of dead ends. Whether you’re a player or a Game Master, it’s inevitable: there are games you never finish, plotlines you never develop, characters that you build and never get the chance to use. In my decade of play, I’ve been involved in dozens of different games, and I could probably list the ones that have actually reached their proper end on one hand.
A while back, I was thinking about some of the characters I’d left behind in games that went unfinished. I have a lot of fond memories of some of these folks, and I decided that just because their games were over didn’t mean I had to say goodbye. I could still use them–maybe even give them the epilogue they never got in their original story. The problem? Like I said, I’ve played in dozens of games, many of them in different systems and distinct settings. I’m a bit of a continuity nerd, so I didn’t just want to have people from Golarion pop up in Faerun with no explanation.
Thus, I developed the Portable Hole.
The Portable Hole is a bar–but not just any bar. No, the Portable Hole is a very special tavern with a unique property: it can hop between dimensions. Imagine the TARDIS, but instead of transporting between planets and through time, it shifts across various fantasy realms.
Alright, here’s the setup. It all starts with my very first D&D 5E character, a dragonborn Warlock named Garvus Scaleyman. He was built for a one-shot-turned-short-campaign that a friend of a friend ran years ago, before I was playing 5E regularly. He was assembled in a hurry, and his backstory was simple: bandits killed his family, so he made a deal with a devil to get revenge. After said revenge was had, he decided to set out as an adventurer. Nothing fancy; after all, it was just a quick one-shot character for a group I probably wouldn’t play with again, right?
Wrong! Garvus ended up getting several sessions of play-time, and at some point it became a recurring joke that he was a huge music buff. He would spend all of his gold on concert tickets, and if I missed a session, Garvus’s absence was explained away as him following a band on tour. Towards the end of that game, Garvus and another player character resolved to start their own band; shortly afterward, the campaign fell apart.
Therein lay the origins of the Portable Hole. Garvus, I decided, did indeed go on to form a band. A hugely popular band, in fact! After a meteoric rise to stardom, Garvus was filthy rich. And that’s when the devil he’d forged a pact with years before came to call… and whatever price he demanded of Garvus was too steep for the dragonborn to pay. So, he used his vast fortune to purchase a pub–a pub he fitted with some bespoke enchantments that allow it to travel across the bounds of reality, helping him elude a devil that is constantly bearing down on him.
The Portable Hole can pop up anywhere, any time. It’s outfitted with the fantasy equivalent of a ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’ Field: anyone who finds the bar suddenly remembers that, oh yeah, they’ve heard of this place! It opened a few weeks ago, right? They’ve been meaning to stop by but haven’t had the chance. Once the bar moves again, anyone who’d visited recalls that the place had closed down, or perhaps it had been a town over–hard to remember, they’d only stopped in once or twice.
With the mechanism established, I populated the bar with characters I was fond of from past campaigns (as well as a few new ones).
First and foremost, every bar needs a bartender, and I knew just who that should be: my very first D&D character ever, way back in 4E, an eladrin Wizard I had oh-so-cleverly named Draziw Nirdale. Draziw had ultimately sacrificed himself to take out the Tarrasque in a convoluted, rule-breaking scheme involving Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion… and that was my hook to bring him back. The last our party had seen of him, he was disappearing into the Mansion, so I decided that shortly thereafter, The Portable Hole had crashed into the demiplane that spell creates. There, Garvus met Draziw, nearly dead from his confrontation with the kaiju. Garvus nursed the now-amnesiac eladrin back to health, and now Draz works the bar at the Portable Hole.
Next up, every good club needs a bouncer, right? Again, I had the perfect candidate. Way back in the day, I ran a game in the Dark Sun campaign setting. In that game, one of my players rolled up a brusque minotaur named Jack. Jack was one tough cookie; he garnered a reputation for starting bar fights, for example. He did start to mellow out as the campaign wore on, however. Sadly, that game fizzled out around the time my group moved to Pathfinder instead of D&D 4E. But thanks to the Portable Hole, Jack’s story didn’t have to be over! I figured he’d jump at the chance to get out of Athas (who wouldn’t?), so when the proprietor of the little bar that wasn’t there yesterday offered him a job running transdimensional security, Jack signed up without a second thought.
Now, Garvus might be a decent fighter and a great musician, but he’s not the most fiscally responsible or mature individual, so I knew that someone else would need to be in charge of the Portable Hole’s day-to-day operation. For that task, I selected a dwarf named Bronzehammer. Bronzehammer had been a major NPC in a Pathfinder game I ran a while back; he’d been a close friend and steadfast ally to the characters in that game. He was always responsible, always a voice of reason, and well-liked by my players, so why not bring him back? Now he handles the business end of the Portable Hole while Garvus guides the dimension-hopping, trying to stay one step ahead of the devil on his tail.
Lastly, I knew that as a lover of music, Garvus would want to have a house band. This was actually how I introduced the Portable Hole to my players: I ran a one-shot where they each played a member of a band doing a gig at the tavern. The band consisted of Halen Silverstar, the half-elf Sorcerer singer who loves the limelight; Rondo Babba, a dwarf Cleric bassist who believes the best way to honor his god is through his music; Amber Grognarr, a human Fighter (and the responsible one of the group) whose talent with the tambourine is only matched by her skill with a greatsword; and Sharpe, the dragonborn Ranger drummer, who mostly slacks off and hangs out with his trusty animal companion, a lizard named Biscuit, Jr. Together, they were the Morningstars, and after winning a fierce Battle of the Bands, they were offered a permanent spot as the Portable Hole’s long-term band.
I’ve only used the Portable Hole once or twice, but it’s always fun when it pops up. It’s assembled quite the cast of characters–the mysterious owner, the scarred and stoic bartender, the dwarf manager who’s barely holding everything together–and my long-time players like the nods to the previous games we’ve shared.
So, how can you use the Portable Hole? There are a few different ways.
The first would be to use it exactly as it’s presented here: a tavern that appears one day, populated by Garvus, Draz, Bronzehammer, Jack, and the Morningstars. Tweak their personalities as you see fit. I like to think there are a few good hooks in there for any campaign; maybe the bar is running low on something that’s hard to get in other dimensions, so Bronzehammer hires your players to help him stock up. Maybe Jack needs to bring on extra security for a big event the bar is holding. Or, there’s always the chance that Garvus’s luck has run out and the devil has finally cornered him, so he needs the party’s help to escape!
Alternately, you could toss all those characters out the door and do what I’ve done: fill the bar up with old favorites! Like I said, I think everybody who games for a long time accumulates unfinished stories; use this same setup (a tavern that traverses worlds, or time, or whatever works best for your purposes) to bring together characters you never got to give a proper sendoff. You can come up with an actual plot that unites them all, like I’ve done, or you can just say “screw it–this is a fun little location that the players will visit once, get some nostalgia, and never see again. No need to come up with a bigger story than that!”
Either way, I had fun making the Portable Hole, and I hope you had fun reading about it. Maybe it’ll pop up in your world next–or, if not, maybe it at least gave you some ideas for your next game!