While your party is seated in a tavern (perhaps decompressing after a bigger mission), a man walks in through the tavern door. Immediately, the tavern hushes, and all eyes are on the figure. It’s important to note that no one is running away in fear; they are just staring transfixed with interest. Apparently, the locals are familiar with this character.
The figure is dressed in black leather with metal chains hanging from his side, dragging along the floor and jingling. More notably then any of that, however, is the man’s head: a flaming skull floating above his shoulders.
The man walks up to the bar to get a drink. The bartender asks, “the usual, Johnny Smolder?” The figure gives a demonic, raspy sigh before nodding his flaming cranium.
The bartender slides a very pink drink in a small dainty glass with little slices of fruit inside. As Johnny attempts to drink the concoction, steam rises from his mouth.
Suddenly, three burly-looking men approach Johnny at the bar. They lay a hand on his shoulder and forcefully spin him around on his stool to face them (with his eyeless sockets).
They clearly try to antagonize him with words and little shoves against his shoulders, telling him “oh, you think you’re so hard, Johnny Smolder” and “I don’t like you strutting around like you’re hot stuff.”
At this point, one of the men takes out a small club and makes a move to swing at Johnny.
This cues the bar fight.
Johnny, despite looking pretty badass in his biker-inspired duds, chooses a pacifist route, taking cover in an attempt to avoid getting battered. Your party can choose to intervene and help calm the crowd by grappling/knocking out the three brutish antagonists.
By winning the fight and helping Johnny back up to his feet, he graciously thanks your party for stepping in and helping him. He offers to buy you a round of drinks. If your party agrees, he will share with you his plight over some cold refreshments.
The Story of Johnny Smolder
Johnny explains how he has never been a fan of confrontation and has avoided crowds for his entire life, preferring to live a quiet, solitary life in the shadows. However, despite this fact, he has always dreamed of being a published novelist and sharing his imaginative story ideas with the world.
One evening, he was visited by a small devil named Jesterfield who offered him a deal: to be a famously successful author whose books touched the hearts of many, but only at the cost of being a “ghost writer” (meaning he would never receive any credit or acknowledgement for any of his marvelous words).
Johnny knew that devils delighted in making crooked deals, but he was never one for publicity or fame anyway. Seeing only the positives in this arrangement, Johnny immediately signed the devil’s contract.
However, that’s when he realized something was wrong…
The devil had intentionally or unintentionally misspelled “ghost writer” as “ghost rider.” As soon as Johnny’s signature was complete, a swirl of twisted red and black smoke wrapped around him, changing his outfit into black leather and his head into a flaming skull.
Now, this is his new state, and it has caused him endless trouble:
- As the “ghost rider”, he has a frightening appearance. This makes many people stare at him in shock or, in some situations, aggros others into wanting to fight him (like the tavern brawl).
- He is trapped in his black leather jacket. He might even demonstrate taking it off for the party. When he does so, the removed jacket is pulled off to reveal an identical black leather jacket underneath. The jacket that was just removed turns into black smoke and dissipates.
- He can produce an endless amount of clanking metal chains from his pocket, so he can never walk around without attracting even more attention to himself.
- If he sees a horse that is unmanned/available, he will leap onto the horse and instinctively ride it around the streets, taking turns quickly and being generally reckless.
- He does feel very creative and inspired to write moving, amazing stories, but sadly the embers and sparks constantly dropping from his burning skull always singe the paper he tries to write on.
Johnny will say that the devil responsible has offered to revise the contract and release him from this curse but only if he completes a task for him: destroy a rival devil named Trixie.
Speak of the Devil
If your party agrees to help Johnny, then he will lead the party out of the town, lighting the way through the night with his ghostly flaming head.
The party walks through a small stretch of forest that eventually opens up into a burned clearing where no plant life seems to grow. During this walk, describe the forest as being unnaturally quiet (a successful insight/perception check would determine that this is because all the fauna is terrified of your “ghost rider” companion).
When you enter the clearing, Trixie’s disembodied voice will giggle and say that she’s been expecting you, triggering the encounter. This fight can largely depend on the level of your party (in my mind, Trixie is a very minor devilish character, but she could always be something greater). Her spells should be quirky and fun though; it should be clear that she’s greatly enjoying this battle. She can cast the typical fire spells, but I think she would also enjoy using Invisibility, Mirror Image, etc. You could even tell her a joke or something when she’s invisible, making her reveal her hiding location through her giggles.
Right before the players finish her with a final blow, all time stops for your party. Only Trixie and Johnny (who will look terrified at this point) remain unfrozen.
Trixie giggles and says, “okay, okay. That was really a lot of fun. I’m satisfied, Jesterfield.”
At this point, Jesterfield appears and says something like, “so, you will destroy my contract then and lift the curse?”
Trixie sighs and says, “yes, yes, of course. I lift your curse. You can now spell things correctly again.” At this point, she manifests a scroll in thin air and shreds it to pieces with her devilish claws.
Relieved, Jesterfield turns to Johnny and apologizes for all this nonsense. “Obviously, I wanted to give you a rigged deal, but this definitely ended up stranger than I ever thought it would be. I mean, what even is a “ghost rider”, am I right? Anyway, I hereby nullify our contract and return you to normal.”
Then, with a snap of his clawed fingers, he transforms Johnny back into his human shape. Johnny sighs with relief, more so for being out of all that leather rather than having his head restored. With another snap, the two trickster devils ignite and disappear from this plane. In the same moment, the snap unfreezes your party, and the sounds of the forest return to normal.
Inspecting the ground will reveal a small glowing object left behind by the devils. If your party doesn’t investigate to find this item, then Johnny could always find it but say that he wants nothing to do with devils ever again.
Identifying this item will reveal that it’s called The Devil’s Advocate.
It resembles a small golden locket with a winking human face etched into the surface. Opening the locket will reveal a photo inside of a flaming skull and trigger the following events:
- The wearer’s head instantly bursts into flames and becomes a skull. Although looking horrifying, this is primarily an illusion and does not damage the wearer in any way.
- The wearer’s head produces a 5-foot radius of bright light and an extra 5-foot radius of dim light.
- Seeing this face will spark fear in the weak and incite acts of violence from the strong (a great way to attract attacks and “tank” during a fight).