I’ve been playing TTRPGs for over 20 years. Though for the past 4 or so I’ve been playing fifth edition, back in the days of my youth I got my start with a completely different system: Palladium Fantasy. This story is one of my all time favorites that I still tell it to this day. For those unfamiliar, Palladium Fantasy (though in essence is just like D&D) is a completely different rule set so in an effort to avoid confusion, I’ll be changing some of the terms to more familar ones.
So at the time of this story I was maybe 16 or 17 years old and my brother and our friends had been playing the same campaign for over a year. My brother is an amazing DM as he wrote episodic and highly narrative stories, complete with cutscenes. A few months prior to this we had completed part 1 of the campaign, in which we saved the Western Empire’s capital city from being decimated by the BBEG; the Nightlord Marlow. Emperor Itomas rewarded us quite handsomely and we ended up with nearly a year of downtime while we settled in to the city and assisted with the rebuild. During this time my character became quite friendly with the Emperor’s number one advisor; a powerful spellcaster who was known only as the Slayer of Mountains. He gifted my character with an amulet that was just a superbly cut green jewel hung from a gold chain. It didn’t provide any special abilities and was, overall, a mystery to myself and the rest of the party. The Slayer stated simply “You will know when you need it.”
Our party was pretty much unchanged since the beginning of the campaign so at this point we were all around level 10 or so. Our party consisted of:
Allora, the Elven Wizard
Xzen, the Human Fighter
Tyler, the Human Ranger
Erin, the Dwarf Cleric
and me, Rangus, the Wolfen Paladin.
While the rest of the party were pretty standard fantasy races, my brother wanted one character to be a Wolfen for narrative purposes. Wolfen are unique to Palladium Fantasy and if I could compare them to anything in D&D, they were closest to Tabaxi except wolf-like. In my brother’s campaign one of the main driving plot points was that the Human Empire was under attack from the Wolfen Empire of the Northern Wilderness, who are a sort of mixture between Norse mythology and Greek society. It was revealed during part 1 that Marlow was orchestrating these hostilities for his own goals. Our party discovered the plot and Rangus was sent in to help broker peace between the two nations. Rangus was a proud individual and as a Paladin of Wolvenar it was his sworn duty to uphold the honor of his people. He would do whatever it took to bring an end to the fighting and protect his friends and family.
So we were about 2 months in to part 2 of the campaign. For reasons I can’t quite remember, we were on the southern part of the world, deep in the Yin-Sloth jungles. We were searching for a lost temple of Ippotomei, the Goddess of Water, to find the fabled Water of Life. It was believed that the water could grant great magical power which would give us an edge against Marlow. After weeks of searching we finally found it and after convincing the local natives that we were demi-gods sent by Ippotomei (thanks to cleverly timed Flight and Invisibility spells) we were allowed entry into the temple. The temple itself was full of different tests and trials and once you failed one, you were instantly teleported outside and no longer allowed to enter. One by one our party fell to the trials until Rangus was the only one left. At the final trial I made a poor decision and failed, instantly returned to the entrance before temple collapsed. Thankfully, Ippotomei was impressed with our efforts and granted us one single vial of her sacred water.
Battered and bruised we began our trek out of the jungles to our next destination. Most of us were below half HP and almost out of magic. Resting mechanics are different in Palladium Fantasy so simply taking a long rest would not restore us to full fighting strength. Anyways, before we could exit the jungles towards our next objective we had to pass through a great burning swamp; a sulfury, firey expanse of death, ash, and muck. Now my brother liked to throw random encounters our way during long bouts of travel so it was at this time that he rolled for our first one. We all watched my brother’s face drop behind his screen.
Allora: What? What is it?
DM: Well…roll me a perception check.
Allora: *rolls* 19.
DM: Okay. As you trudge through the swamp, your boots squelching through the deep mud, above the sounds of nature you hear off in the distance what sounds like wings…huge, beating wings. A distant roar rolls across the sky.
That’s right. We all stared on in horror as a huge Adult Red Dragon came soaring in our direction. Since none of us were at full strength we decided to try and hide. Stealth checks were rolled and all succeeded except for Aaron, who got a natural 1. The dragon roared and dive bombed out of the sky towards us as we mentally prepared ourselves to lose a few party members. Now just like D&D, dragons are not mindless killing machines and not all were necessarily evil, However, Red Dragons were the most cruel and cunning of the bunch so we were in for a very tough fight.
DM: The dragon lands about 50 feet from you, sending mud and muck in every direction with the impact. It’s roar pierces the air, causing you to cover your ears in reflex. Smoke curls out of it’s nostrils as it almost smiles. “Mmmmmm…it’s been a while since I’ve had a good meal.” I need you all to roll initiative.
Rolls are made and as luck would have it, I’m up first. Now it’s important to note that I don’t always make the best decisions in the heat of the moment. What happens next lives on as one of the utterly stupidest moments I’ve ever had.
DM: Alright Rangus, you’re up first. What do you do?
Me: I take out the amulet that the Slayer gave me and hold it up. “Begone, foul creature!”
The party collectively look at me like I’ve lost my mind.
Tyler: What in the hell are you doing!?
Me: The Slayer said I would know when to use it! Maybe this is the moment! I was thinking maybe it would activate or something!
Everyone face palms and my face goes red.
DM: *holding back laughter* Okay…well. The dragon gives you a puzzled look for a moment before it’s eyes go wide once it sees the amulet in your hand. It snarls “You will give that to me now, mortal!” It bellows and begins lumbering towards you.
The table is freaking out now.
Xzen: Great, now we’re definitely gonna die.
Again, I don’t always make the best decisions so in the moment I shout out “How about a deal, then!?”
Aaron: Seriously, just stop talking! You’re going to make it worse!
DM: You say that to the dragon?
DM: Wow okay. Ummm…well the dragon stops just a few feet from you. It cranes it’s large, imposing face down just inches from yours. You can feel the heat and smell brimstone coming from it’s mouth as it speaks. “A deal? Hmmm…you amuse me, mortal. What could you possibly offer that would appeal to me that I could not simply take from you?”
Me: “I was thinking more of a trade, really. You say you want the amulet? Then you can have it! We won’t fight you or put up any sort of resistance. All we ask in return is a simple ride to the edge of the jungle to the northeast. It’s a simple task for one of your power and you won’t need to soil your claws with us lowly mortals!”
DM: *laughing* O…kay. Uhh…roll a persuasion check.
Me: *rolls* Natural 20.
Stunned silence from the table before everyone erupted in cheers.
DM: The dragon considers your offer for a long while before a chuckle rumbles in it’s throat. “It has been a long while since I’ve encountered such a bold mortal…very well. Your ‘deal’ is accepted.”
We all take a few minutes to calm ourselves down as my heart is pounding at this point. Our party climbs up on to the dragon’s back and we take off. Now just to emphasize how much time this saved us, even on the back of a dragon it still took almost a full day to reach the edge of the Yin-Sloth jungles. This gave us some time to heal, restore a few spells, and while not at full strength we were far better than we were before. During the flight, however, I began scheming with my party.
Allora: Did you see how it looked at the amulet? It obviously knew what it was! We gotta get it back!
Xzen: No way. Even with us being a little healed up, there’s no way we can take it in a fight. I say we just walk away and continue on.
The party argued back and forth for a while before the group decided it was smarter to just let it be and walk away. I, however, had different plans.
DM: After what feels like an eternity, the dragon finally begins drifting down towards the ground. It lets you off and begins to walk away, it’s wings unfurling as it prepares to take off in to the sky once more.
Me: Dragon! I have another bargain for you!
The Party: What!? NO!
DM: The dragon turns it’s head and snarls. “You amused me once, mortal, but you are beginning to try my patience.” A small gout of fire shoots out from it’s nostrils. What do you do?
Me: That amulet holds great sentimental value to me. So in exchange, what if I offered you something that would dwarf that paltry trinket you hold. What if I could tell you exactly where you could find the Water of Life?
I was banking on the fact that if it knew what the amulet was, it would most certainly know about the Water of Life.
DM: Alright. Roll me another persuasion check but you’re gonna need to roll super high.
Yup…you guessed it. Another. Natural. 20. The whole table goes crazy. Tyler literally fell out of his chair when he jumped up to cheer. My brother’s face was a combination of anger that it worked and pride I even thought of it in the first place. Needless to say, the dragon was convinced! Rangus spent the next hour detaling the approximate location of the temple based on landmarks nearby, gave him the solutions to every puzzle inside, and thanks to a high roll on one final deception check about the last puzzle, the dragon returned the amulet and took off in to the sky towards the temple ruins. What we didn’t tell him was that the temple was completly destroyed once we failed. Obviously, we then made a very, very hasty retreat as far away as we could possibly get. To this day we joke that there’s an extremely angry dragon flying around the Yin-Sloth jungles looking for us.
Come to find out that the amulet I was given was essential to the story! After our encounter with the dragon, Allora began playing around with the amulet and eventually got the idea to pump a spell in to it. Immediately the gem lit up and a beam of light shot off into the sky. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that this was a piece of the legendary blade Castlerake; an extremely powerful weapon from the time of a Thousand Magics that had been scattered to the winds to prevent it’s use. Over the course of the next few months we followed the beam of light and reassembled all the pieces of the blade, eventually using it to sunder the final spell cast by the Nightlord Marlow, and end the campaign for good.
Sadly, Rangus was not present for the final battle…but that’s a story for another time. Still, never again have I had both an equally stupid and amazing idea turn out so well and I’m not sure I ever will again.