For less ordinary citizens, like the PCs, they are of no less importance. They provide a place to stay for those new in town, even if that place is just a sticky patch of floor near the hearth, and they are an excellent place to pick up on local gossip and the news of the day.
For most, a visit to the local watering hole is the best way to find out what's going on, as most are illiterate.
The following inns and taverns are described so that they can be placed in any large settlement throughout the kingdom. However, it may be worth altering them to fit the mood of certain places. For instance, in large towns or cities, the inn or tavern may have an extra floor, or two, with extra rooms for guests.
The Arena Inn
Sign: A chainmail glove
The Arena is a little different from other inns. First-time visitors are struck by the large sunken area in the middle of room, and the gutters carved into the stone floor that ferry spilt drink and vomit away on busy nights. The Arena has this striking appearance because it was originally a fighting arena, until Oscar Olmarsson, one of the tougher pit fighters in town, bought and renovated the place. That sunken area used to be the pit, and those gutters once carried away blood.
To get down to the main drinking area, still affectionately called the pit by regulars, you have to walk down a flight of stairs. The pit is 7 feet deep and 30 feet in diameter and has an overhang running around its edge. The spikes that once prevented combatants from climbing out now hold the candles to light the pit. On the floor of the former arena, there are half a dozen tables and the wenches are constantly ferrying drinks down from upstairs. Drinkers who don't like getting too far from the alcohol sit on the benches around the pit. Upstairs from the bar is a common room and several private rooms where pallets can be rented.
Occasional bands of entertainers perform at the Arena, and on such special occasions the tables are moved out of the pit and it is turned into a stage, with the audience looking down at the performers. The acoustics aren't the best, but it puts the viewers in a ripe position for throwing food at performers who disappoint.
Oscar is a Dwarf, and has managed to get good deals on dwarven ales and beers. He sells these for the price of normal drinks, which has won him many loyal customers.
Not everybody loves Oscar though. The other pit-fighters in town resent the loss of the pit, and with it their livelihoods, and threaten Oscar's business by throwing stones with angry notes wrapped around them through the windows. So far they're just a nuisance, but the pit-fighters are an unimaginative lot and things are bound to escalate.
Additional Ideas (1)
The Crow and Cat
Sign: A crow, perched on the back of a black cat
The Crow and Cat is a single storey tavern that backs onto a river. To the casual observer it appears to be a simple, well appointed tavern, offering beverages and basic grub. Thieves will know better. Signalling one of the staff with whatever thieves sign they wish when paying for a drink, and they'll let you know with a curt nod if the back is open for business.
The tavern has two to four staff members behind the bar most of the time. As well as several tables, there are semi-private curtained booths along the walls for customers who seek a little privacy. It seems a little colder than the usual pub but is otherwise ordinary.
At the end of the hallway leading to the private rooms is an unmarked door. Knock once for each worker behind the bar when you entered and you'll be given entrance to the back rooms.
Being that the Crow and Cat is visited often by many of a larcenous bent, the back rooms are little more than a gambling den. The atmosphere here is noticeably more jovial than in the front room, perhaps because the drinks are 10% cheaper. Under the watchful eyes of two well armed rogues, roulette tables and card games do a brisk trade. The odds are fairer than at a typical gambling den, and 1 coin in 10 is expected to be tithed to the house.