The party finds a “Help Wanted” poster pinned to the wall of the local tavern. It is a request for a nightwatchman to oversee the establishment Buck E. Brie’s Pizzeria during the night and, possibly, solve its unsettling mystery. If the party decides to pursue this request, they can venture to the combination restaurant/arcade at the edge of town.
When the players enter the building, they find a brightly-colored room, decorated with streamers and other birthday-themed décor. To the right, the party sees an assortment of mechanical constructs that operate as coin-operated games, resembling an arcade or casino. To the left, there is a large wooden play castle, complete with tubes, ladders, slides, and a ball pit. Directly ahead, there is a small stage with a curtain drawn, concealing whatever is up there. All of the tables and chairs in the building are empty.
“I don’t suppose you’re here for the job?” asks a small, muffled voice. On the stage, the curtain begins to ripple and shake until an elderly gnome comes stumbling out through the opening. He’s wearing a pair of Buck E. Brie’s rat ears that are fastened to his top hat. Despite his tired eyes, he welcomes the party with a warm smile.
“Thank goodness. Let me introduce myself. My name is Bucky, owner and proprietor of Buck E. Brie’s arcade and pizzeria, home of the famous brie-and-berry pizza.”
The gnome glances around his establishment and sighs. “You know, this place used to be bustling with people. They came from far and wide wanting to enjoy delicious pizza, play fun games, and win amazing prizes. Now it appears that the childhood nostalgia that once drew them in has been replaced by a childish fear that drives them away. All because of those…stories.”
If the party asks for more details as to these “stories”, they will learn that, every night, the watchman has been run off the premises by possessed constructs coming alive. Word has spread about the “cursed” establishment, and now customers don’t even dare show up during the daytime hours.
If the party asks to see the constructs for themselves, Bucky will escort them to the stage and draw back the curtain, revealing the Buck E. Brie’s Animal Band:
- Kenneth: a kenku construct wearing sunglasses and holding a lyre
- Harriet: A harengon construct wearing a bow and holding a drum
- Ollie: An owlbear construct wearing a black bowtie and holding a lute
“I’ve hired artificers to come in and inspect the machines, but nothing about their mechanisms seems to be malfunctioning,” Bucky says. “I hate to say it, but maybe these rumors about a haunting are actually true. If you all aren’t able to figure out what’s going on and solve the problem tonight, I’m going close this place up for good.”
Bucky tells the players to help themselves to refreshments in the kitchen and leaves.
Bump in the Night
At first, everything will be pretty uneventful. At around midnight, however, the constructs on stage begin to rattle. Their eyes glow with an ominous red and a mysterious fog effect begins to stir around their feet.
“Leave now, interloper!” roars the Ollie the Owlbear construct. Its beak remains motionless, but its voice still echoes throughout the chamber. “If you refuse to leave, then we will have no choice but to cut you up and serve you on a pizza. Nom nom nom!“
At this point, the constructs have not yet descended from the stage. The players can choose to engage right away, or they can try to ask more questions to find a non-violent outcome. If they do decide to immediately battle the constructs, scroll down to the table in Option #2.
The players can try to earn the constructs’ trust by offering to help them (roll Persuasion roll, DC 15). If they succeed, a wizard will surface from the ball pit and approach the players with his hands raised.
Alternatively, using Detect Magic or investigating the play area will uncover a middle-aged wizard, camping out in the play castle (either tucked away in one of the tubes or submerged in the ball pit…a successful Perception check might spot a snorkel/reed sticking up, giving away his location).
“I never wanted to hurt anyone, or even the business,” the wizard pleads. “In fact, I love this place so much! It’s just that these games are so darn frustrating!”
He glares over at the game machines, shaking his fist at them. If he’s still magically controlling the animatronics, they too will look over at the game corner and shake their fists in unison.
“I mean, I graduated top of my class at the wizarding university,” he continues, “I have mastered spells that most mortals can barely fathom. But those games…I mean, they’re intended for children, right!? Why, then, are they nearly impossible!? It’s because of them that I did all of this. See, I can’t explain it, but I just need to win that prize.”
He points to a glass display case that’s kept locked. On the top shelf is a large golden Ollie the Owlbear plushie with a “100 Tickets” sign taped to it.
“I needed to scare other customers. It was the only way to keep someone else from winning that beautiful prize before I could. If you help me earn the remaining tickets and win the plushie, then I promise I’ll leave. I’ve already been at it for a few weeks and got a head start,” he reaches into his pockets and pulls out a handful of crumpled paper: a measly 10 tickets. “Will you help me?”
Option #1: Game On!
If you agree to help him win the remaining tickets, the animal constructs onstage will begin to applaud you. The wizard can even enchant them to play some exciting adrenaline-pumping tunes while you play the games.
He hands the party his remaining tokens (1 given to each player character). This will allow each player to choose a game that best appeals to their PC’s strengths/build (1 token=1 play). There is a strength game, a dexterity game, a wisdom game, and a charisma game. Additionally, some games are more involved (for those who like skill challenges with lots of rolls) and others are more straightforward.
- Skee-Ball: This classic game involves rolling 3 wooden balls down a lane in an effort to land them in rings of various colors/point values. Have the player roll 3 athletic checks (STR).
- If 5 or lower, the ball lands in the gutter and does not score points (0 tickets)
- If 6-10, the ball lands in the green ring (5 tickets)
- If 11-15, the ball lands in the blue ring (10 tickets)
- If 16-20, the ball in the red ring (15 tickets)
- If 21+, the ball lands in the gold ring (20 tickets)
- Pinball: This game requires some quick reflexes and fast reaction times. The player receives 2 balls. This game involves rolling sleight of hand checks (DEX) in succession to determine if the player is fast enough to slap the flipper buttons and keep the ball in play.
- If 5 or lower, the ball is lost
- If 6 or above, the ball remains in play: whizzing through spinners, ricocheting off bumpers, and shooting up ramps.
- If 6-10, the ball hits a few bumpers (5 tickets)
- If 11-15, the ball bounces off bumpers and shoots up a ramp (10 tickets)
- If 16-20, the ball bounces off bumpers and whizzes through a spinner, racking up serious points (15 tickets)
- If 21+, the ball ricochets for a while between bumpers before landing in a special hole that activates a slew of lighting/sounds effects before launching the ball back into play (20 tickets)
- DM Note: You can make the pinball game even more fun by giving it a theme (as is the case with most pinball tables). For example, a magical fey forest theme, where the ball is bouncing off glowing mushrooms, spinning small metal pixies, and rolling through fallen tree logs.
- Whack-a-Badger: Like Whack-a-Mole, this game involves wielding a hammer to whack mechanical badgers as they pop up randomly from their holes. Admittedly, this game also involves dexterity, but consider asking for a perception check (WIS) instead just to give a nice gaming option for your druids players/wisdom-based classes (also, they are badgers even thought they’re artificial, so…animal handling?)
- Player completes a single ability check. Whatever they roll on their d20+modifier is the number of badgers that they smash with their hammer before the timer runs out. If the player is proficient with hammers/mallets, consider giving them advantage on this roll.
- For each badger whacked, the player earns 1 ticket.
- If the player scores 15 or above, they get 1 additional “free game” to roll again, hitting d20+modifier worth of badgers and earning that many extra tickets.
- Dance, Dance, Revolution: This dancing, rhythm-based game involves dancing around and stepping on arrow buttons, responding to flashing cues provided by the device. Again, this game would make the most sense with another Dex ability check (acrobatics), but allow a performance check (CHA) option as well.
- Player completes a single ability check to determine how successful they were on the performance. Whatever they roll on their d20+modifier represents the number of perfect steps/moves they completed during their dance routine and, therefore, the number of tickets they receive.
- If the player scores a 15 or above, they get free “encore” performance for the game. Again, have them roll another d20+modifer ability check, and they can earn that many additional tickets.
DM Note: If the players each complete a game and are still short on tickets from lousy rolls, they can explore the premises and look for abandoned/lost tokens, allowing them to have additional turns playing the games.
Any artificers in the party could also try “hacking” a game. If they decide to do so, have them roll with their artificer tools at a DC 15. If they succeed, any subsequent plays on the game will yield double tickets. If they fail, then that machine short circuits and no longer works.
Once the party has earned 100+ tickets for the wizard, he will be thrilled, leaving the tickets on the counter and accepting his Ollie the Owlbear plushie. Also, you can create additional smaller prizes that players can choose from if they earned a surplus number of tickets.
Option #2: Game Over.
Of course, instead of helping the wizard win his much-sought-after prize, you can choose violence. Since he does not want to break his concentration for Animate Objects, the wizard will misty-step behind the prize counter, which is fenced off by a metal security grate, offering him some added protection from attacks. He will avoid engaging in battle directly, saving spell slots for recasting Misty Step (to escape harm) and Animate Objects (if his concentration is ever broken).
To win the battle, the party must defeat the performing animatronic animals.
These constructs follow the guidelines set out by the Animate Objects table. Ollie the Owlbear is considered “large” whereas Kenneth and Harriet are both “medium.”
When a construct is destroyed, it sprays harmless sparks before collapsing into scrap metal.
There are an assortment of rewards that can be gained from this encounter depending on the choices made by the players:
- Gold given by Bucky for completion of the night’s investigation. He can even throw in a little bonus if you help to not only to solve the mystery but fix the problem. If the party damages any machines or steals prizes without leaving tickets on the counter, however, this payment will be reduced. If the party destroys the possessed machines, Bucky will be sad to lose such an expensive investment but brush it off as “they were kind of creepy anyway.” He is simply relieved that his business is saved and that he can continue bringing childlike joy to people.
- A Wand of Animate Objects. This wand is a gift from the wizard for helping him win his prize. Additionally, the party can pluck this wand from the wizard’s robes if they defeat him/his machines in battle (in this case, it will require identification). As the name indicates, it is a wand that allows the wielder to cast Animate Objects.
- As DM, you can decide if you want to set the wand to 3 charges per long rest or, if that feels too OP for your campaign, only 1 use per long rest.