I’m a big fan of the Myths and Legend Podcast. More than a few episodes havw given me inspiration for my Dungeons and Dragons games. The stories they tell often reflect a whimsy and fantasy logic that is hard to capture in a game. Episode 309-Scandinavian Folklore: The Enemy of my Enemy contains a bunch of shorter stories. One of these in particular seems like the basis for a small side-story arc. This isn’t so much a random encounter, but a small module you can plug in to your game. As such, it has a trigger instead of being rolled as a random encounter.
In your game you likely have a king/queen or other noble that the players must interact with. In this encounter, I refer to this character generally as a monarch. Plug in the appropriate character from your campaign in it’s place.
The party encounters a teenage boy on their way to visit a monarch. The boy is outside the monarch’s castle, begging for anyone to help him get in to see the monarch. He seeks an audience with the monarch in order to redress a crime that has been committed: His family’s butter was stolen and now they are even more destitute than ever. He hopes the party will take him with them to meet the monarch.
For the DM:
The young man, Oleg, is not the sharpest tool in the shed. His mother asked him to take some butter to market and sell it. On the road to town Oleg saw a rock which, being roughly the shape of a human, he mistook for one. He offered the rock a taste of his butter, which melted on its sun-heated surface. Oleg proceeded to feed the rest of the butter to the rock, and then demanded payment. He took its silence for refusal, and vowed to come back the next day, when he expected to be paid.
Time to get paid:
Having no weapons at hand, Oleg came back with a shovel the next day. The rock remained silent, and he attacked, punching the rock repeatedly, and then giving it a shove. The tall thin rock toppled and remained motionless. Oleg, believing himself to be a murderer, proceeded to use the shovel to dig a grave for the rock, and turned up a coffer containing several gold coins. He buried the rock in a shallow grave.
He returned to his mother with the gold. She was too desperate for money to bother asking her son why he had been paid so handsomely for the butter. His mother used the money to pay off debts that had accrued since the passing of Oleg’s father, bought a few head of cattle, and slaughtered one. She kept some of the meat for them and sent her son to town with rest to sell.
Oleg found a group of eager buyers for the meat at the edge of town. He fed them a sample of the meat, and they barked for more. He fed them the remainder of the meat, and asked for payment. Surprised that they seemed to have no money, Oleg captured one of the dogs, tying a rope around its neck. He dragged the ruffian off to the castle, hoping the monarch would make things right.
Trigger: The encounter is triggered when the party is en route to meet a monarch that they have not previously encountered.
Part 1: A Bump in the Road
On the way to the castle, the party comes across a large mound of dirt at the side of the road. It is approximately 6 feet long by 1.5 feet wide. A Perception check (DC 5) will reveal that the mound is about the size of a humanoid and is freshly turned; the dirt is damp and unpacked. If the party decides to dig, they will find a tall thin rock, roughly the same dimensions as the mound. The rock is broad at one end and tapers to the other. An Investigation check (DC 10) will determine that the rock is saturated with butter on the tapered end, and that there are bloody smudges, suggesting someone had punched it repeatedly before burying it. The party will find no other information.
Part 2: Well Fed Dogs
The party has a medium-difficulty combat encounter with feral dogs (use wolf stat block). Inspecting the dogs using a Nature or Investigation (DC 10) will reveal that the dogs have fed well recently. Even though they look mangy, their bellies full, and they were emboldened to take more prey.
Part 3: The Boy at the Castle Gate
|What Oleg Thinks:|
-Oleg believes the rock and the dogs are humans,
and cannot be persuaded otherwise
-Oleg believes himself to be a murderer. He will
not discuss this with anyone but the monarch.
-He believes the dogs are people and therefore
the monarch will be able to punish them for
stealing from him.
-Oleg feels that fair compensation for the loss would
be 500 gp.
What Oleg Wants:
-Oleg wants the thieves punished. He will not be
satisfied if the party offers to repay him for the meat.
As the party approaches the castle gates, they see a boy with a dog on a rope lead. He’s talking to the guards at the gate when one of them shoves him. Another guard kicks the young man’s behind. The guards laugh at him has he stumbles away towards the party.
The boy sizes the party up, and recognizes them as adventurers bound for the castle, asks them for help, “Are you going to see (insert monarch’s name here)? Please, take me in with you! I must see them!”
If the party declines to take him, Oleg will offer them a portion of whatever compensation the monarch determines is appropriate. He can be bargained up to giving all of it, as long as justice is served.
Part 4: Audience with the Monarch
When the party makes it to the monarch, another young adult, the monarch’s heir (i.e., princess/prince) will be present, and of similar age to Oleg.
If the Party Has Declined to Help Oleg:
If the party has declineed to help Oleg, the monarch will ask them about the young man they have seen out the window of their throne room. When they hear that the party refused to help the young man, they will be negatively predisposed to them. The party will have disadvantage on any Charisma- or Wisdom-based checks that target the monarch. The monarch will ask their guards to bring Oleg in for an audience, and will speak to him first. The dog will be left outside.
If the Party has Agreed to Help Oleg:
Oleg will rush ahead and of them and address the monarch first.
Oleg relates his story: “Your majesty! Ruffians in the streets of your domain have stolen from me! I offered to sell them the beef and gave them a sample. They demanded more. I gave them the rest and they refused to pay. I brought one of them to face your justice!
The Rest of the Conversation
The PCs should play out the rest of the conversation, acting as intermediaries between the monarch and the boy, with the following outcomes:
- If the young man tells his story without intervention from the party, the monarch will believe he is a murderer and have the guards take him to the dungeon. The encounter is over.
- If they are able to explain most of the story, either the dogs or the rocks, the boy will be offered compensation for his loss by the monarch. The monarch will no longer be hostile to the party.
- If they are able to explain both the rock and the dogs, the monarch’s child will begin laughing, and the monarch will no longer be hostile towards the party.
Compensation for His Losses
If the monarch offers the young man compensation for the butter and meat, the young man will decline compensation. He will insist on receiving 50 lashes of the whip for his crimes. The frustrated monarch will agree. Before the monarch’s executioner can administer the punishment, the young man will inform the monarch of any deal he made with the party, and insist that they be given whatever compensation was agreed upon, as a portion of the lashes. The monarch agrees, as it seems only fair. The Execution will deliver the lashes as nonlethal damage, so the worst that can happen to the party is that they are beaten unconscious and wake up in another part of the castle.
Make sure there are enough guards around to subdue the party if they choose not to accept their punishment…
A Royal Engagement
The Monarch’s child has never laughed in their entire life, and has refused to marry unless a suitor can be found that makes them laugh. The young man’s story is absurd enough to amuse them and they laugh. The monarch will hesitate to offer their heir’s hand in marriage, and attempt to persuade the young man to take compensation instead. The young man will respond the same as above, taking the lashes, and reminding the party of any portion of the compensation they agreed to. The PCs can intervene in whatever way they see fit. If the young man takes the lashes, the Monarch sees his resoluteness and decides to allow the engagement. The young man and his new spouse will shortly take charge of the castle and replace the former monarch as the NPC the party interacts with.
That’s all for this encounter. Maybe take a look at the stat blocks I’ve created for Mordenkainen, Themberchaud and a few other notable characters?