The party is browsing wares in the market when they notice a man desperately emptying his pockets of coin. He appears to be buying whatever pieces of amor that he can and slapping them onto his body. Already, the man is overloaded, decked out with layers upon layers of leather, furs, and chainmail, restricting his movement and forcing him to waddle from vendor to vendor.
Unsurprisingly, he trips and lands facedown in the mud, flailing his arms and legs helplessly in the air as he struggles to get up. If the party chooses to help the man back to his feet, he will thank them.
“You’re all so kind,” the man says, his eyes misty with tears. “When I’m dead tomorrow morning, you have permission to take whatever you want from my place. I mean it. I’m an artisan, and there’s plenty there. I have no family to speak of, so I’ll just will the lot of it to you folks, okay? Just ask for old Phillip Foldsworth’s place, and someone will point you there. Just mind the mess when you find me lying on the…the… ”
At this moment, Phillip completely breaks down and sobs, tears streaking down his muddied face. If your party pushes further to learn what’s wrong, he will say, “I made a huge mistake this morning, and now I’m going to pay the ultimate price.”
The Black Book of Death
Phillip tells the party of a mythical black tome that sits on one of the bookshelves in the city library: The Black Book of Death. According to legend, only those who wish death upon another can locate the book amongst the clutter. They can then use the book to summon the help of a band of assassins called the Dewey Decimators.
“Well,” he says, “A neighbor of mine said something mean about my art, so I did the responsible thing…and stormed into the library looking for the Black Book of Death.”
He gives a forced little smile, but it quickly fades into a deep frown of despair.
“I found the book alright. Scary-looking thing. I figured that I’d just sign my name to request to meet with these assassin folks and get a quote or something. Maybe talk through my feelings a bit and just vent, ya know? Well, stupid Phillip didn’t read the directions first. Apparently, you write the name of who you want to be killed. Of course, I had already written my name, big and bold, right there on the page.”
Phillip glances down, ashamed at his ridiculous appearance. “I decided to buy all this armor to try and survive the night, but clearly this isn’t going to work. If the Dewey Decimators don’t get me in the dead of night, then the heatstroke certainly will.”
Phillip will start to unfasten some of his armor and then pause. “You folks look awfully strong…and intimidating,” he says, “Do you think you could help me? I just need you there with me for one night. When the assassin shows up, you can give them pause, and we can talk through this whole misunderstanding together. What do you say?”
If the party agrees, then the quest begins.
Visiting the Library (Optional)
Although there is no reason to visit the library, the party might still choose to do so to try and find this supposed “Black Book of Death.” In the library, the party will need to be stealthy and keep their voices down. If they get too loud, the librarian, a young woman in her early 30’s, sporting black-framed glasses and long hair pulled back into a tight bun, will shush them aggressively. She asks if they need help finding anything in particular. If the players bring up the Black Book of Death, the librarian will play dumb, laughing, rolling her eyes, and suggesting you search for such things in the “fantasy” section.
The players can attempt a mid-high DC investigation check to find the book themselves. Additionally, if a player character really does have some murderous intent in their backstory, then that character gets advantage on the investigation roll. If the party finds the spot where the book should be, they will detect traces of dark magic and see the shape of a book in the dust, but the book itself will be gone.
The Bell Tolls for Thee But Not For Me
Phillip will be waiting for you outside his front door just as the sun is beginning to set. His house is bizarrely decorated. Professionally, he creates paper-based art, using the pages cut from old books and folding them into various sized cranes, dogs, and other assorted animals/figures. Samples of his art sit out on display shelves or dangle on string from the ceiling. On the floor, the husks of old books, their leather covers and metal fasteners, lay useless and discarded.
Once the sun has completely set and nighttime descends, have a couple of players roll a perception check. If they succeed, they hear the barely audible picking of a lock at the front door or at one of the side windows.
After a few seconds, a hooded assassin, dressed in typical black garb, appears in the open door/window. The figure glances silently around the room, momentarily confused by the large party that’s gathered in such a tiny house/studio.
“A challenge then,” the assassin says, her calm and collected composure returning. “I accept.” Although her face is still shrouded in shadow, she turns to point a finger at Phillip. “The Dewey Decimators has accepted the request for your murder. I will now close the book on your disappointing life.”
“No wait,” Phillip pipes up, his voice cracking, “it’s all one big misunderstanding. You see, I’m the one who wrote my own name in the book. Haha, silly, I know. But anyway, there’s no need for any murder here, so you can go home now…”
The assassin pauses to consider this, even going so far as to drop her guard if player characters also vouch for Phillip.
However, while this dialogue is happening, her eyes fall onto the littered remains of upcycled books on the floor. She gasps, looking genuinely alarmed for the first time since she arrived. “What is this carnage?”
“Oh, you mean my art?” Phillip offers, not reading the room at all and gesturing to the various paper creatures hanging about. “Please, take whatever you would like. Consider it a token of my gratitude for you having come out all this way. Do you have a favorite animal?”
The assassin composes herself and then, with total conviction, says, “The hit is still on. Stand in my way and suffer the consequences.”
At this point, the assassin raises a finger to her lips, on which is a magic ring. She activates it by saying, “Shhh.” This triggers the “Silence” spell for everyone in the room.
Have the party roll for initiative.
For the assassin, you can use the stat block found on DnD Beyond. Although the build has access to a crossbow, she favors close-quarters combat and using her shortsword.
If the party visited the library earlier, then they might choose to roll an investigation/perception check (low DC) to determine that, yes, this assassin is, in fact, the same librarian from earlier. In fact, if she is pressed on that, she will disclose that all members of the Dewey Decimators are librarians who moonlight as assassins.
While the battle is going on, Phillip will take cover beneath a table.
If a player character has a book in their inventory, then throwing the book at the assassin will momentarily distract her as she catches the book to keep it safe.
The party can choose to either kill the assassin or incapacitate her with non-lethal damage. Either way, searching the assassin’s body will reveal little else save for her cloaks, leathers, and weapons (nothing on her person discloses the whereabouts of the Dewey Decimators or ties her to the organization). However, from her finger, your party can retrieve the sound-absorbing Ring of Whispers.
The ring can be used once a day. If the wearer holds their ring finger up to their lips and says “Shhh”, then the entire room (regardless of the room’s size) falls under the effects of “Silence.” The ring recharges and can be used again after a long rest.
Phillip is incredibly grateful now that he has been saved and offers to make origami art pieces of each party member. Finally, he announces that he has learned an important lesson from this whole ordeal: never sign anything called the Black Book of Death.