Fools Rush In
(A D&D Scenario for a Party of Bards) - Dedicated to @Snarf Zagyg
When Barangajangle the Clown finally died of old age, most people of the Kingdom of Serri did not expect the notoriously humorless King Arduous to announce a contest to replace him. Barangajangle was Arduous’s father’s Court Jester, and rumor had it that the King only kept him around out of respect for his father’s memory, and no one expected for a new jester to be appointed. Called “The Feast of Fools,” the contest is a grand carnival that will draw scores of songsters, minstrels, jesters, and the like from the four corners of the known world, in hopes of winning the coveted prize of being the wealthy and powerful king’s Court Jester and having the right to say whatever they want without punishment and temper his tendency towards violent and unjust answers to national crises with the wisdom of the fool—a strong tradition of the otherwise oppressive regime. The contest was a surprise, given the king’s reputation, but sages and members of the court see this as evidence that as the once young king matures, he is embracing the customs of the lang and tempering his power.
Barangajangle was also, unknown to many, a spy who worked against the king’s more onerous policies and fed information to the King’s enemies and opponents. The PCs are summoned to the Feast by Barangajangle (sending a final message from his deathbed) in hopes that it will provide them with a way into the castle to foil the evil king’s latest plans of death and conquest.
The player characters could be bards, rogues, or a mix of classes - but chances are they will have to either all pretend to be bards or part of a bard’s entourage in order to enter the contest and be allowed onto the castle grounds.
Announced as a three-day event, on the first day after all the contestants and their helpers are registered and their weapons and obvious magical items confiscated (no dangerous anything is allowed near the king) there is an inaugural feast before the contests begin. (there will be a feast each night). It is here that the format is announced. The king explains that the person who survives the three-day event will be the new jester - assuming they can pass the final test. He says, “survive” because those who lose will be executed and the would-be jesters are encouraged to trick and harm their fellow competitors to get to the end. All the bards are locked into the castle grounds, and anyone who tries to leave forfeits their place in the contest and their lives.
This should be reinforced right away by several of the would-be contestants getting up as the announcement is made, to make a run for it and being dropped by a rain of arrows from the castle walls.
Loyal citizens and servants of Serri have also been invited and encouraged to throw things at the bards, respond to disliked performances with violence, and the like. The Feast of Fools is a carnival in terms of the dark underbelly of the carnival trope - with a community working out their frustrations and xenophobia on the visiting bards.
There should be plenty of evil bards and their retinue there because while some want to temper the king’s evil, others want to encourage it and profit from it.
The player characters have another reason to be here, however. The information from Barangajangle explained that the king was working on a powerful magical item with his equally evil court wizard, Azzafrance, and the weapon has been waiting for the proper time (an alignment of the music of the spheres and stars) and the blood of 100 bards to be finally ready to unleash on the world. This will also mark the end of the period time that the king and his court wizard can used a magical anti-music box they have access to, to transform the castle into a dreamscape that will make it difficult to for the bards to want to escape or work together to break free, because each day ends like a dream - making the events of the day seem foggy and unreal. Each morning any sign of the previous day’s carnage will be gone. But each day this dreamy feel fades, until the actual horror of what is happening is unavoidable when the magic mecha rises to kill everyone.
The weapon is an immense clockwork golem that the king or his loyal servants can magic jar
into, basically wearing it as a battle suit. Yes, it is a “mecha.
As such, while the PCs are participating in the contest and trying to keep from being murdered by other contestants, they will be hunting for the magical workshop
beneath the castle where the Court Wizard is working on the mecha-golem, getting it prepared for the festival finale, which the king plans to use to destroy any remaining bards and their retinues - including the supposed winner. Essentially King Arduous hates bards and music and plans for this to be a good start for banning all kinds of music and humor (esp. any that could be considered subversive) by killing as many friggin’ bards as he can.
To begin with one out every five plates at the opening feast is poisoned, doing an amount of damage that would kill most characters of the PCs level (half on a save). Each night the dinner feast will have an increasing rate of poisoned meals and/or drinks. 1 in 3 and then 1 in 2.
This adventure should require lots of sneaking around, making alliances, lying, acting, and singing. Oh and improvisation, as the PCs might not have access to some of their best gear while this is going on.
Possible Bardic Contests:
- Performance Marathon: A musical jam that lasts until the second to last performer drops. It will last over 24 hours, with bards playing instruments and singing improvisationally (imagine like the D&D version of Phish). It will require both performance checks and Constitution saving throws to go on. Those who break the developing theme or play off key or fall behind the rhythm are shot by the king’s guards.
- Joke-Telling Contest: In each round the would-be jester must tell a joke on the given theme for the round. Those who don’t get beyond a certain number of laughs from the audience are beaten (some to death). The final round is politics, required careful joke telling as the contestants do not have legal protection yet.
- Lore Test: A grueling oral examine testing the bard’s ability to know relevant lore. This knowledge is tied to solving deadly puzzles.
- Battle Bards: A knockdown drag-out brawl using nothing but musical instruments as weapons
- Agility Course: Just what it sounds like, but deadly.
The player characters may gain the aid of other contestants who rushed to register for the contest for the power and prestige it would provide and now have second thought. They might also have allies in the form of those in the court who helped Barangajangle’s agenda and enemies in the form of those who would profit from the king’s wars of conquest and crushing draconian rule on the people.
If the player characters find the magical workshop, they will find it under the sway of the magical anti-music box. While it looks like a music box, the item really emanates a zone of silence
and absorbs sound, which feeds the power of the mecha until it is charged up, drenched in bard blood and ready to go. The box also causes confusion
- reinforcing the dreamlike sense of the scenario. This can make casting spells in the workshop difficult. The mecha will have a similar zone of silence around it. If the PCs do not stop the final ceremony, the mecha emerges from a secret trapdoor in the ground of the main courtyard and begins killing every bard and bardic ally it can find. It’s next stop will be accompanying the king’s mounting armies to a neighboring nation to conquer it.
- Fools Rush In - The title, but also the many bards and performers who cast aside doubts about the evil king’s motives in hopes gaining power and prestige.
- Mecha - The enormous clockwork golem the king can magic jar into.
- Weapon in Waiting: The afore-mentioned mecha that needs the proper alignment and bardic blood to work.
- Fading Dreamscape: Within the workshop is a music box that creates the cursed conditions for the contest.
- Feast of Fools: The festival/carnival itself - and the increasing foolishness of anyone who eats at the poisoned feasts.
- Magical Workshop: Where the clockwork mecha-golem is stored and where the magic music box is kept.