The PCs are at a tavern/inn in a metropolitan area – a large city makes the most sense but a small town in an area of diverse cultures or at a crucial trading post also works
A local inn is hosting a talent show and competition! Everyone is encouraged to participate and prizes will be handed out for the winning performers. Ideally one or more PCs enter the competition; The reward should appeal to the players – a few good magic items being up for offer – to encourage more than just the bard from entering (see “Possible Rewards” below). Given that many members of the community are present to watch the show (and that wagers are being staked on favored acts) it shouldn’t be difficult to get even an untalented or disinterested bunch of PCs into the mix.
The villain of this encounter is Carlin Tenzle, a conniving gnome illusionist bent on winning the grand prize. Tenzle will seek to bribe judges, sabotage acts, and in general be rude and destructive to the other participants while bowing to the whims of the crowd. If the PCs don’t intercept the illusionist’s schemes, she wins regardless of the hero’s (or any other contestant’s) actual talent!
Each performer has a goal or quality (other than winning the competition of course) to guide you in portraying their character and depicting their stake in winning the competition. These performers could be a help, hindrance, added complication, plot device, comic relief, adventure hook, or any other tool for your game.
- Carlin Tenzle – Queen of Mystery: Tenzle is has all of the exaggerated excitement and sincerity of a musical theatre auditioner who is trying way too hard. Her makeup is done with exquisite care, her hair wound tightly in pigtails, and the boots on her foot have lifts, to compensate for some of her small stature as a gnome. Tenzle dazzles the audience with admittedly impressive spells – she can make magical images and eldritch music she composes with a flick of her wrist (creating the fantastical equivalent of a hologram show). That said she’s a bit of an artiste, and some of her work is too self-indulgent for the audience to enjoy.Goal: To win. By any means necessary. Because she is the best, wether she needs to cheat or not. Tenzle will do the following throughout the night:
-Bribe a judge.
-Tells any participating PC quite cockily that they may as well bow out – she’s the best around!
-Snap the strings on Merwyn’s most impressive marionette.
-Flirt with the Otram Brothers, pitting them against each other and “Yokoing” the band into quitting in a near fist-fight with one another halfway through their set.
-Putting a rat into one of the mugs Korla is using for her finale.
-Casting an illusion over one of Lucien’s cards, ruining his most impressive “is this your card….” trick.
-She boos Grizz, calling him a monster and inciting the crowd to throw food at him.
-Tenzle has doused one of the metal objects that rusty is going to eat in a very strong alcohol. When the poor rust monster consumes it, he gets sick, and adorably vomits up a pile of brown dust, and woozily wanders off stage to rest.
- Merwyn the Wise: An old man with a white beard, thin hands and gleaming eyes. He puts on a marionette show depicting local historical moments of significance. He is practiced enough to use three such puppets at once.Goal: Merwyn is hoping to sell any magic items he wins (or use any raw coin) to fund a children’s library. He hopes to offer free reading lessons to urchins, orphans, or anyone who never mastered their letters. He is quite upfront about this desire – pulling at any loose heartstrings the greedy PCs might happen to have.
- Otram Brothers Jug Band: These six halflings play a variety of instruments made from junk, though their primary means of making music is the glass jug. They are a little taken aback by civilization, having lived on a very isolated farm for much of their lives. They play three songs: “Turnips For My Ankheg”, “Loneliest Harvest Moon” and the upbeat “Who’s my Darlin’? You’se My Darlin’?”Goal: The boys are hoping that fame and (minor) fortune will help them to find some wives, as they are all getting about the age to settle down and start simple but honest agrarian lives of their own. They would be very distracted by the advances of sweet, pretty, smallfolk lady.
- Korla: This creature’s act is a juggling performance using small wooden balls, progressing to knives, and finally filled beer mugs. Though she appears as a four armed lizard creature similar to a Marilith (though much smaller), Korla is in fact, a doppelgänger. She has gone much further in the mastery of her abilities and can take on alien forms, and even project her shape shifting into localized illusions on her clothing and equipment. Though she is a talented juggler, she hasn’t really progressed past two objects, and uses her abilities to “supplement” the number of items she has spinning in the air.Goal: Korla is a consummate performer and is here simply for the thrill of being on stage. She wants desperately not to be found out for what she really is – suspicion follows doppelgängers and she would likely be run out of town.
- Lucien The Magnificent: Handsome and lithe with a charming stage presence, this self-styled “magician” does a number of convincing card tricks and prestidigitations. Though none of his talents are actually magical in nature, this elf is a talented sleight-of-hand artist; a skill he developed as a ranking member of the local thieves guild.Goal: Lucien loves winning and loves being adored even more. He does, however, hate losing and not being the center of attention. If he isn’t the competition’s champion, he vey well might purloin one of the prizes (rationalizing that the competition was rigged to begin with) or recouping his time wasted by emptying a few purses on the way out (perhaps even nabbing some coin off a PC!)
- Grizzgot The Unstoppable: A bugbear is an unusual sight in town, but this one is here to perform, not to cause trouble. Grizz is a triple threat; a strongman, firebreather, and agile dancer. That said, he’s embarrassed to speak in front of the crowd and simply gives polite nods to the audience.Goal: One of the items offered as a reward to the winner is an artifact taken from Grizz’s tribe by adventurers many years ago. He’s here to singlehandedly win it back. Though violence was not the plan, if he doesn’t succeed, he just might need to get the item via other means…
- Sondra and Rusty: This twelve year old girl is dragging with her a big wooden cage that is difficult to see into. When the slats open, out bounds a horrific and adorable sight – a baby rust monster! Barely the size of a golden retriever, “rusty” does a number of tricks – catching and eating small metal ingots thrown throughout the tavern by his trainer, and answering the question “Rusty, I love you…how do you feel about me?” by gnawing on the sides of a dented old steel shield until he fashions a makeshift heart out of the metal. Rusty also loves belly-rubs.Goal: Sondra performs to supplement her hardworking parent’s income, but she has no illusions about the dangers of her pet. She just got done paying off an angry knight whose gilded and enameled plate mail poor rusty took a chunk out of. All Sondra wants to do is perform, hopefully win, and ideally run into no problems. But Rusty is in rare form, and is twitching his antennae at the blacksmith’s shop. His trainer can hardly afford another “incident” and might ask a PC with a Primal Power class (or someone not clad head to toe in steel) to help her look after the rascally creature.
Possible Rewards and EXP
A gold parcel, or a magic item or two would be sufficient rewards for winning the talent show. Indeed the rewards themselves could be an interesting plot hook. Consider rewarding the players with experience similar to a skill challenge, since they will likely be using a number of skills to foil Tenzle’s rotten plots.