This week’s encounter is A Tale too Far, a social encounter with a copper dragon in the guise of a traveling bard. While most adventurers would be happy to receive the gifts of a metallic dragon, this mighty wyrm is more trouble than he’s worth. The bard invites the characters to join him and trade tales around the campfire, and he is a gracious and amicable host with a pack filled with delicious food. What’s the catch? The dragon won’t let the characters stop telling stories, cracking jokes, and entertaining him—even preventing them from falling asleep in order to satisfy his hunger for entertainment.
While this dragon doesn’t wish his guests any harm, he is dangerously ignorant of the harm he is causing his guests. Only the characters’ savvy will get them out of this predicament—lest they commit to fighting a dragon much more powerful than themselves. Every party will have a different solution to this problem, and this encounter accounts for them all.
Social Encounter: A Tale Too Far
This social encounter can be solved through engaging roleplaying, or through a skill challenge. This encounter is balanced for characters of 1st level, but can be scaled up to challenge a higher-level party.
This road, which winds through the hinterlands of a great kingdom or city-state, sees many adventurers returning from the wilderness laden not just with treasure, but with stories. A copper dragon wyrmling named Zemidriath has just left his parents’ nest and is eager to start building his treasure hoard of stories and jokes, and has staked out this road to find some adventurers willing to share a story.
As night falls somewhere along a well-worn road, the characters catch the scent of a delicious meal wafting towards them on the breeze, then spy a campfire glowing in the woods just beyond the path. Just like bait upon a hook, the dragon in human form sitting beside the campfire hopes to lure adventurers with tales to tell to his camp.
The copper dragon wyrmling Zemidriath accosts the characters while they’re traveling at night upon a hinterland road. If they choose to join him at his camp and swap tales, he overzealously refuses to let them leave, demanding more stories hour after hour. The characters can tell him a story so outrageous that he lets them go, satisfied, or they can use their wits to fool or shame him into letting them leave. And if none that works, they’re still adventurers armed to the teeth; scaring him off is always an option.
When night begins to fall as the characters travel home from the wilderness, road or paraphrase the following:
The sun is setting behind the western hills as you travel along his old, dusty road. Cicadas begin to chirp from the trees on the side of the trail, and the exhaustion of the long day’s travel begins to drag at your limbs. Then, you smell it. A thick, savory scent of cooking meat and vegetables mixed with the smoky smell of a campfire. A faint light flickers from within the trees about fifty feet ahead.
If the characters follow the scent and wade through about five feet of underbrush, they find a campfire. Read the following (and note that the bard’s physical appearance is different depending on the age of the dragon; see below):
A youthful human man with his clean-shaven face, sits at the side of a tidy campfire, roasting a juicy cut of meat on a spit and cooking hearty roots and vegetables by the side of the fire. He looks up at you and smiles. The light dances on his copper-brown skin and sparkles in his hazel eyes. “Are you travelers?” he asks. He beckons you over, and says “I’m wandering bard looking for a new tale to sing songs about. Come and sit, I’ll trade you plenty of food for a few good stories.”
The bard appears as a teenage half-elf with copper-brown skin and hazel-green eyes. He wears a simple traveler’s cap, which his black hair curls out from underneath, and idly plucks upon the strings of a beautiful, ornate lute as he speaks. This bard is truly a copper dragon wyrmling named Zemidriath, using a ring of dragonshaping to appear in humanoid form. This copper ring has the shape of a serpentine dragon coiling its tail into its jaws; it allows a dragon of any age to use the Change Shape action of an ancient dragon. He goes by the name of Zemmy in this form.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 5th level, the dragon is a young copper dragon disguised as a young male dwarf with a thick, bushy beard, carrying a mandolin. If the characters are at least 11th level, the dragon is an adult copper dragon in the form of a human man with long hair and the look of an old star performer. He carries a harp. If they are at least 17th level, the dragon is an ancient copper dragon in the guise of an ancient elf with deep wrinkles and a cloud of wispy white hair atop his head. He carries a magnificent harp. In all these forms, he always has deep copper-brown skin and shimmering hazel-green eyes.
Also, if Zemidriath is an ancient dragon, he does not have a magic ring, but instead uses his Change Shape ability to appear as a humanoid.
If the characters decline Zemmy’s offer, he begs them to stay, and reveals that he’s really very lonely and just wants to hear a few stories. He says he left his parents’ nest just a few months ago, and is desperate to hear tales of adventurers’ derring-do. If they still decline and decide to camp somewhere else, he sighs and shrugs, and asks if they can at least give him an exciting book to pass the time with.
Skill Challenge: The Teller of Tales
Once the characters have settled down and begun to eat, Zemmy strums his lute and begins to sing. The young bard sings a folk tune that’s a bit too sad or a bit too wistful for someone his age to be singing. A character that makes a successful DC 12 Wisdom (Insight) check reveals that the bard doesn’t seem to truly understand the words that he’s singing; he’s just picked it up from somewhere else. If you want to sing in-character, the song he sings could be based off of a traditional folk tune like Black is the Color, or a more modern folk song like Blowing in the Wind.
Once he’s done, he eagerly begs the characters to each share a tale of their last adventure. It doesn’t matter to him if one character doesn’t want to talk much, as long as someone’s talking, he’s happy. Whenever a character finishes telling a story—or whenever one event finishes, if multiple people are sharing—ask the storyteller to make a Charisma check; this check can use any skill or tool proficiency, so long as it relates to the story. For example, a storyteller could use their proficiency in the Nature skill to enhance their description of an herb that was vital to their quest, a plant monster they fought, or the spell the party druid or ranger cast. Likewise, a character proficient with thieves’ tools could use that proficiency with their Charisma check to describe the visceral sensation of picking a lock or disarming a trap.
If the player tells their story particularly well, you can determine that the check is made with advantage.
If the result of this check is greater than or equal to 18, the character wins a success for the party; Zemmy is pleased with the story and begs for another. If the result of the check is less than 18, the character earns a failure for the party; Zemmy is disappointed in the story and scoffs, demanding a better story.
At Higher Levels: The difficulty of this skill challenge increases as Zemidriath grows older, and has heard more and more outlandish tales of adventures over his many years. If the characters are at least 5th level, the DC of this check is 20. If the characters are at least 11th level, the DC of this check is 25. If the characters are at least 17th level, the DC of this check is 30.
If the party manages to earn three successes before three failures, Zemmy stands and applauds them. He whistles and exclaims, “Those were some of the best stories I’ve ever heard!” He winks slyly and whispers, “And dragons like me hear a lot of stories over the years.” He then transforms into his draconic form and offers the characters his treasured instrument as a reward in exchange for their stories (see "Treasure," below).
A copper dragon is difficult to impress, and most characters will fail this skill challenge. If the party accrues three failures before three successes, Zemmy begs for more and more stories. At this point, the players should be able to simply say they “tell a story,” as their characters continue on and on through the night. Then, read or paraphrase the following:
Several hours pass, and even as you grow exhausted, the bard seems just as eager for stories as the moment you started. The fire glints dangerously in his green eyes, goading you to keep talking. What do you do?
If any of the characters fall asleep, Zemmy shouts at them to wake up. If that doesn’t work, he gets up and shakes them awake—even shaking them violently if he has to. If the characters try to leave, he roars at them to stay and keep telling stories, and his campfire flares with green flame. He explains, “You’re adventurers, aren’t you? You have countless tales to tell. I need them, those stories. After all, every dragon needs a hoard.”
As his words ring in the air, Zemidriath transforms into his true draconic form and attempts to physically block the adventurers from leaving. He doesn’t attack or act violently unless attacked first, but he will grapple characters and use his Slowing Breath to keep them from leaving, if he must. If the characters wish to escape from him, they must make a DC 17 Charisma check. A Charisma (Persuasion) check could convince him that his actions are cruel, even if he doesn’t realize it. A Charisma (Intimidation) check could startle him into realizing how much he’s tormented these adventurers. A Charisma (Deception) check could trick him into letting them go to get more stories for him. Or, a Charisma (Performance) check could allow the party to tell a magnificent tale that placates Zemidriath, and he agrees to let them go.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 5th level, the DC of this check is unchanged. If they are at least 11th level, the DC of this check is 19. If they are at least 17th level, the DC of this check is still 19.
A character can take the Help action, granting another character advantage on this Charisma check as usual. However, other party members can help as well. Rather than granting advantage, every further use of the Help action is this circumstance grants the character making the Charisma check a +2 bonus to their roll.
Combat Encounter: “No” for an Answer
If the characters dispense with the pleasantries entirely and decide to win their freedom by force, the bard transforms into a copper dragon, if he hasn’t already. He fights to keep the characters from leaving, but chooses to nonlethally knock a character out when they are reduced to 0 hit points. He pursues the characters until he is reduced to 0 hit points, at which point he falls unconscious and is dying. He makes death saving throws like a player character.
If Zemidriath is knocked out and revived by the characters, he apologizes profusely for being so cruel, and promises to never bother anyone like this again.
An End to the Tale
If the Zemidriath realizes that it wronged the characters, he apologizes profusely. “If I had realized that I was being cruel to you, I never would have kept you!” he says, wiping tears from his face. “I would love to hear more stories from you in the future, but I understand if you never want to see me ever again. I’ll let you get some sleep now.” As a token of his apology, he grants the characters his treasured instrument. Once he has done so, he takes wing and flies off into the sky.
The dragon gives the characters his doss lute, an instrument of the bards he was gifted from his parents’ treasure hoard. He does not offer his ring of dragonshaping, but this item can be taken from him if he is left unconscious or killed.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 5th level, the instrument is a Canaith mandolin. If the characters are least 11th level, the instrument is an Anstruth harp. If they are at least 17th level, it is an Ollamh harp.
Did you like this adventure? You can pick up more adventures I've written on the DMs Guild, such as The Temple of Shattered Minds, a suspenseful eldritch mystery with a mind flayer villain (for 3rd level characters). My most recent adventure is in Dragon Heist: Forgotten Tales, a book by the Guild Adepts which gives you a new beginning, middle, and end to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. It's the perfect way to give this adventure even more replay value! My new beginning is a great way to introduce a campaign focused on either the drow or devil cult factions causing trouble in Waterdeep. Check out all of my other adventures on the DMs Guild, too!
Also, for more free encounters, take a look at the other encounters in the Encounter of the Week series!
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their feline adventurers Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.