Nightmare Tavern: The Groaning Leviathan

Seriously? One of your players just flirted with your barmaid NPC? What is this, a 1980’s parody of D&D? I mean, it’s not as bad as a 2019 Saturday Night Live parody of D&D, but still.

Hey, it’s me, Dan Telfer again. I wanted to feather fall  you down from this particular cliff, the one where someone makes that flirty barmaid choice, and despite it feeling rote you want to do something fun.

To me this flirting with barmaids trope feels not unlike when a comedian has a stranger find out their profession and insist, “tell me a joke.” It sucks, it’s dumb, and somehow you’ve done it before. Maybe you thought of a fun name for the tavern, like the Groaning Leviathan (you’re welcome), but you don’t (or at least, should have to) have a prepared response for such predictable stupidity. I mean there’s much more fun flavors of predictable stupidity out there.

“The barmaid… maybe... spits in your drink,” you mumble, wishing you’d had her do something more nefarious to punish them.

So… let’s lean into nefarious. 

The Table of Rejection

Instead of going easy on them with a line of impolite dialogue, roll a d10 (noisily, perhaps while clearing your throat or making uncomfortable eye contact) and announce one of the following events:


The Rejection


"The barmaid locks eyes with the bartender, who then lowers himself behind the bar, as if by some kind of silent dumbwaiter, and he does not return."


"The barmaid sighs deeply. You notice several bar patrons turn and stare. Upon further inspection, you notice these patrons have unusually pale, fish-like complexions."


"The barmaid reaches into the pocket of her apron, produces an ancient-looking notepad, and begins scrawling quickly."


"The barmaid stomps loudly on the floorboards three times with her heavy-heeled shoe, then walks away stoically.”


"The barmaid makes two staccato clicking noises and nods her head in your direction."


"The barmaid pauses, seemingly unmoved by your comments. Then she announces cheerily, 'This round’s on the house. Enjoy.'"


"The barmaid places a hand on your shoulder and says 'Aw. First time at a tavern? Let me know if you want a sippy lid for that.' She then walks to the next table."


"The barmaid calls out to the tavern’s bard, 'Hey Bliggs! Play this guy out, like the plague that took his mother!'"


"The barmaid whistles loudly and a disturbing smirk crosses her face, as you hear loud whinnying and clomping coming from the hitching post outside. The whinnies become otherworldly shrieks."


"The barmaid waves her hand, and suddenly every wooden window shutter in the tavern slams shut with a BANG. She grabs a nearby stool and smashes it on the bar. She wields the shattered stool like a club, and it begins to hum with magical energy."

That’s right. The Groaning Leviathan is a den of eldritch terror, and you’re about to go full nightmare mode on them. Feel free to borrow from other numbers at will to ramp up the misfortune, and if you roll a 9, I mean nightmare mode quite literally.

See below for how your announcement shall continue to play out.

Outcomes By Roll

1: Stop Hitting Yourself

The bartender thinks the way you've insulted his friend while she was trying to work was gross. As such, he is now going to use the powers he developed as a spy for a local archmage to get the offending character to attack the rest of their party, for their party to attack them, and for the offending character to attack themselves.

He has entered a crawl space and is watching the bar through the eye-holes of a portrait high on the wall. He has the stats of a mind mage but wields a mace in place of a dagger.

Players can find the crawlspace by inspecting the bar with a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check, and crawl up for close-quarters combat in the walls. Only one other person can fit in the walls. By scoping the entire bar with perception or investigation and beating a DC 20 check instead, they can see the eyes move. The wall has an AC of 10 and 40 hit points.

2: Innsmouthy

Four of the patrons scream loudly, and turn out to be deep scions disguised in heavy clothing.

After some more assorted shrieking and other conversation-interrupting nonsense, they soon rip free of their hybrid form’s clothing and assume their true forms, attacking the offending party member.

If players attempt a perception roll of the crowd and roll over a 15, they will notice a few eyes in the crowd look glassy in a similar way, implying more could reveal themselves if things go south and players get too proud.

3: Mind Melt

The barmaid has just set off a programmed illusion and the party now believes their skin is slowly melting off. This will continue until they have left the bar, are removed from the premises, or succeed on a DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check to see through the illusion.

4: Old Stalky

There is a senile, elderly beholder living beneath the floorboards named Old Stalky, and he has just set off his lair action to have black smoking tendrils extend from the floor to grapple and strangle the offender. He can see through the old floor’s knotholes just enough to cast a ray at any party members who may try to pry open the floor. After that he will quickly flee through a tunnel as the tentacles subside and the bar staff escorts the party out.

5: You’re Infested

A swarm of bats descends from the high ceilings and whips furiously around the resident creep. In addition to the bats, mixed in are 4 quasits in bat form that attach themselves to players’ faces and start biting ferociously. One will absolutely get tangled in the player’s hair. 

6: Ichor Pale Ale

The bartender overheard the bad pick-up line and set off an ancient, arcane trap built into the tavern, to be used in the event of the staff being threatened (alerting the barmaid with his spies’ murmur via telepathy that he has done so, inspiring the free round).

All drinks held by the offending person and party members known to the bartender are now transformed into demon ichor, and the next time they drink they will need to make a DC 18 Constitution saving throw. All failures mean 3d6 + 4 poison damage, plus they will slowly become a fish-like hybrid creature over the next 6 days, their skin becoming moist and pale green, webs forming between their digits. The effect is largely cosmetic but can only be removed with a remove curse or greater restoration spell.

The same thing has happened to the liquid in any waterskins the players hold, and even if the players figure out their ale is cursed and choose not to drink it, they may face the consequences during their next rest. The cursed liquid is indistinguishable except with a detect magic spell, which finds a transmutation aura. 

7: Tortle Power

The barmaid just cast guidance on you. And good thing, because her old friend, a tortle druid named Thuxle Puxmeister, is about to take her cue, rise from her seat, and try to beat the ever-loving Avernus out of the adventurer with her staff.

Thuxle is brutally cruel but not especially interested in dying today. She will only look to get in a solid blow or two before settling for getting the entire bar to laugh at the insulting patron.

If Thuxle knows she is doomed to fail, she will beg for mercy, but when she believes the offender is no longer paying attention, she will attempt a final humiliation with druidcraft (the player's pants suddenly fill with flowers) or hold person (the player freezes as they bring the tankard to their lips, spilling their alcohol down their front), but attempting to do so from the cover of the chattering crowd or just outside the door.

8: Crown of Shame

The bard, Bliggs, is a lampooner, and openly attacks the party. He focuses on the barmaid’s new enemy. This also mixes well with the tortle druid from option #7 joining the fray. If you need an opening gambit for the bard, I suggest having him sing the following to cast crown of madness upon the offender:

I see an orc in the back as a matter of fact
Eyes red like he wears a dread helm
And the girl in the corner, why won’t you ignore her
Cause she thinks your wiles do underwhelm

I can’t tell you to sing that exactly to the tune of Ballroom Blitz, but it’s an idea I had.

9: Horseplay

Three nightmares burst through the tavern doors and attempt to trample the party as the patrons sweep out of the way as if guided by an eerily prepared hive mind. They make three attempts to stampede across the floor and trample the offending character or their companions, then charge out the door again and disappear down the road. The patrons have seen this before and ignore the flying tables as the nightmares carefully miss them and their drinks.

10: Barmaid’s Revenge

The barmaid has slammed the windows shut with thaumaturgy and will attack the players directly. Event 1 also occurs, and then 2 and 5 escalate the fight in succession as rounds pass. She is a spellcaster and has the same statistics as Wiggan Nettlebee while wielding a shillelagh.

 If you don’t want to name the bartender and barmaid yourself, may I suggest Lutho Thockwagon and Dalia Proudwallop? They’re about to make your friends’ lives miserable in a way you’ll want to savor, though, so take all the ownership you like.

I hope you enjoyed this nanosecond gone wrong, and that it makes your party think twice before catcalling anyone again, be they human or tabaxi.

Dan Telfer is the Dungeons Humorist aka Comedy Archmage for D&D Beyond (a fun way they are letting him say "writer"), dungeon master for the Nerd Poker podcasta stand-up comedian, a TV writer who also helped win some Emmys over at Comedy Central, and a former editor of MAD Magazine and The Onion. He can be found riding his bike around Los Angeles from gig to gig to gaming store, though the best way to find out what he's up to is to follow him on Twitter via @dantelfer.


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