Welcome to Ridiculous Encounters, a series of short stories that transform menial tasks and everyday situations into exciting adventures. We make the benign exciting, the humorless fun, and brighten your day. Included with each story are the specifics of the encounter so that you can incorporate these circumstances into your own homebrew campaign.
This month’s article is the first in a series of encounters focusing on the player characters’ revelation and journey through the dangers of a workplace environment.
Recommended Player level: The very end of this encounter is considered hard-to-deadly for two level 5 characters.
Awakened by the incessant ringing of the phone, you blearily reach out across your desk to just make it stop. Why won’t these people understand that you’ll finish their reports faster if they leave you alone? As the fog starts to lift on your mind, you half-remember the dream you were having. Something about a spell and some gloves. Or were you fighting a large man? The dreams fade with the sleepy haze as the phone stops ringing. The person can leave a message if it’s so damn important.
You stretch your arms and shake your head to wake up. On the desk before you stands your royal steed of computation, and on its screen is a blank spreadsheet. What exactly were you doing before you fell asleep? As you rub your eyes, you see the flash of a sword, and suddenly a piercing headache engulfs the back of your head. Wow, that must have been one crazy dream.
I need a glass of water. A mug decorated with the words “Potion of Recovery” sits empty on your desk, so clearly that means it’s time to visit the break room. Dragging your feet, you walk past rows and rows of cubicles with no end. The clack clack of busy keyboards ring across the never ending wave of cubicles; every employee is fixated on the task displayed on their screen. Mindless fools, you hear in your head. You look back a second time but pause in surprise as your fellow coworkers now display large arms that end with a hook. Your eyes widen as each person now dons a beaked face similar to a bird. You gasp, shake your head, and when you open your eyes again, their arms are back to normal and everyone looks like a normal human again. My Gods, what did I drink last night?!
If the player succeeds on a DC 12 WIS saving throw, they are briefly treated to a view of an underground cavern, in which the player is mining alongside Hook Horrors (MM pg. 189). If the player succeeds with a 15 or higher on this save, they also see a tall humanoid creature with tentacles where its mouth should be standing beside a large man with a deadly scimitar hanging from his belt. This vision lasts only an instant, and things flash back to the office.
A hand claps your shoulder, bringing you out of your shock, as Steve joins you at the coffee maker.
“Morning, Z. Looking a bit rough there. Mondays, huh?” Steve’s pale face appears above you, decorated with a crooked smile smothered in a stubbled beard. You can smell his foul breath as he speaks.
A piercing headache and a high pitched sound ring through your head as Steve speaks. And just when the pain becomes unbearable, it suddenly stops as you relax.
“Z, you sure you’re alright? The way you’re looking, it’s no wonder you’ve been having trouble getting a promotion. All play and no work, hm Z? Tell me, where have you been sneaking off to? Maybe if you invited your coworkers once in awhile, you would be more liked.”
You mutter out something about “just needing to get away” and turn to leave, coffee in hand.
But Steve steps in front of you. “Oh come on, Z. I was just joking with you. Lighten up buddy and drink your coffee with me! We’ll chat.” He flashes a toothy smile as a sudden rush of anxiety overwhelms you.
It is the DM’s decision whether or not to initiate a skill challenge with the PC’s primary goal being to escape a casual work conversation with Steve. Depending on the player’s previous interactions with Steve, this skill challenge could be moderate (DC 15) to difficult (DC 20). Steve’s job is to make sure the player buys into the illusion and is fully under the Illithids’ thrall. There is a wide range of skills that are available to the players. For example, a successful INT roll could reveal physical aspects of the Ilithid or the lair in which the PC is being held. Also, a successful Insight roll could help the PC gain an understanding of Steve’s dishonesty. If Steve thinks the player is onto him, he will signal for a manager to come over who is really an Illithid. If the Ilithid manages to touch the PC, the character must make an Intelligence saving throw (DC 20) or the skill challenge immediately ends and the PC has disadvantage on all future Perception, Insight, and Dexterity rolls.
Stuffing your sweaty palms into your pockets, you straighten up to face Steve. “Thanks, man. I knew you were joking. I am just not feeling great. I think I should sit back at my desk-” Suddenly, a flash of white light unveils a scimitar casually dangling in Steve’s hand by his side. Steve’s forcefully joyful smile reveals crooked teeth, two of which are encapsulated in gold .
“Yeah, Z. You are looking pretty pale. Why don’t you come sit with me and let me take a look at you? You may have a fever. Here, let me check.” Steve takes a step towards you with hands (one of which contains a scimitar!) outstretched, but you quickly duck out of his way.
“Hah! I am just joking with you. I feel fantastic. That’s what you get, Steve, for pulling my leg earlier!” A nervous chuckle escapes your mouth as the scimitar absorbs into Steve’s towering body and his face is coerced back to its happy state. He stares a moment, but his face slowly softens ever so slightly to reveal what can only be described as relief. “Really, Steve. I’m great!” you declare, arms outstretched.
He pauses for a second, eyes searching your face. Then, Steve’s mouth stretches back into that toothy smile as he cackles. “Hi Great, I’m Steve! You really look more like a ‘Z’ to me, though!’” His forced laugh follows you as you finally escape the breakroom.
Back safely at your desk, you log in to the network to find an email from Jeanine in human resources marked “urgent”. This better not be another bullshit payroll issue, you sigh.
It has come to our attention that a few of your coworkers feel you are less than amicable with them in your day to day interactions, to the point where one such complainant classified projects with you as “unfit work conditions”. Due to this, it has been decided that you will need to attend a refresher of our “Company Workplace Etiquette” course this afternoon. I have attached the pertinent information for you to find your way there.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
The pounding in your head grows as you read the email. An uneasy dread fills your mind. Something about that name – Jeanine Illthead. . . The moment passes, and you shake your head.
Man, what a day. I think it’s time for yet another break. Or maybe it’s just time to give up and go home. You pack your things, thinking that it’s time to start heading toward the door. However, remembering your long commute, you detour into the bathroom.
And there is Steve. Again. Steve (fucking Steve) chatting up another coworker in the bathroom who is clearly suffering from a migraine. While quickly deciding whether to fight or fly, your eyes dart towards the coworker. Suddenly your memory flashes to him clad in full armor with a barbarically massive sword, and you realize that this person was in your dream earlier.
“H-Herzog? Wh-What’s going on?” you blearily ask as another piercing ray of pain engulfs your brain.
Steve turns to you, “Z! What are you doing? You can’t go home yet.” Malice creeps into Steve’s voice with each word. “The workday isn’t over, and you wouldn’t want to disappoint the executives. . . Would you?”
“Steve, I understand that the day just started, but I can’t shake these migraines. I really think it’s best for me you go home,” you explain as you make your way to the sinks. Maybe some water will help me.
“Yeah, I’ve been having the same problem all day,” the other coworker says. “I’m thinking I’ll go home, too. I’m Her- er Henry, by the way.”
Steve stands in the doorway. “I’m very disappointed in you two, and am going to insist you stay here.” From seemingly nowhere, Steve pulls a short curved sword out, and leaps toward you.
Steve has the stats of a Bandit Captain (MM pg. 34), but his goal is to subdue the PCs, not to kill them. He will do primarily nonlethal damage until he reaches 15 hit points. If reduced to 0 hp, Steve’s head splits open, and an Intellect Devourer (MM pg. 191) leaps out. The Devourer is panicked, and is just trying to escape and get back to its Illithid master. However, if the PCs attack the Devourer, it will defend itself.
As soon as Steve attacks, the PCs could see a flash of reality long enough to identify what items in the “bathroom” are weapons in the real world, or simply have items identified that can be used as weapons (a fire axe is a good option). If the player is a magic user, have them access their magic in a moment of panic. Let them describe what happens as this reawakens in them.
You stare, mouth agape, at the charred brain. . . thing laying on the ground. Henry (not Henry, Herzog you think as a fog clears) drops the toilet seat… no… Great Axe of Bergdorf he found and stares at your hands. You suddenly remember the gout of flame that erupted from you, and you hold your hands up.
“Z, what the hell is going on? Where are the others? Better yet, where the hell are we?!”
You see Steve’s phone on the ground, the number to “The Executive” on the screen. “I have no idea, Herzy, but I think I know where to get some answers. I hope you have some vacation saved up. Looks like we have to take a personal day.”