Trigger this encounter as the party is enjoying an evening stroll in the city. Just as players turn a corner, a university student carrying a tower of books/papers collides directly into them. Roll an acrobatics or sleight-of-hand check to determine if anyone in the party can successfully catch the items before they drop to the ground.
Regardless of how the collision plays out, the student will apologize profusely.
“I’m so sorry,” he says, looking exhausted and scattered. “I’m a Clerical Studies major at the university, and my final med exam is tomorrow morning. If I can pass it, I earn my license to be a practicing cleric in the realm.” He rubs his eyes sleepily. “I just need to finish studying a few more books, but I can’t get anything done at home because of my aggravating parents.”
If the party presses for details, the cleric, who introduces himself as Meriadoc (“Merry”) Grey, explains how his parents are successful bards and have tried desperately to push him into the performing arts.
“They just don’t understand,” Merry says, exasperated, “My heart isn’t in it. I want to practice medicine and help heal others with my hands, not music. They’re so embarrassed when they tell their friends that they’ve raised a cleric instead of a musician. Anyway, they know how important tomorrow is, and they’ve been trying all evening to get me to close the books and sleep…but I know what they’re doing; they want me to fail my medical exam so that I go back to taking lute lessons.”
The cleric informs the party that he’s heading to the university library, where he plans to finish his studies in peace. However, he’s worried that his parents will stop at nothing to get him to sleep.
“This probably sounds ridiculous,” Merry says, “but could I…hire you? I just need you to keep me from falling asleep tonight until I can finish working through these textbooks. Who knows what my parents might be up to…will you help me?”
If the party agrees, they can accompany Merry to the library.
Hit the Books
When the party arrives, the night custodian is mopping the floors of the otherwise empty library.
“Oh, hey there, Merry, my boy!” he says, with a cheerful smile, “burning the midnight oil tonight, are we?”
“That’s right,” the cleric responds, “I’ve brought some…study buddies along as well. I hope that won’t be a problem?”
The custodian inspects the party and eyes them suspiciously. “I don’t know, Merry…they look a bit old to be students…” he rubs his chin and ponders. Then, he chuckles and gives a warm and welcoming smile. “It’s so good to see folks of your advanced age looking to better yourselves with a formal education! I’ve been thinking of going back to school myself, come to think of it. Anyway, the library is yours. Oh! One more thing…”
The custodian hands Merry a bundle. “I sort of expected you’d be showing up because your folks dropped this package off for you.”
Merry grumbles before tearing it open and revealing a soft fleece blanket with a note saying “Take a Nap -Love Mom and Dad.”
“Ugh,” the cleric responds, before wadding up the blanket and leaving it in a pile on his table.
As the night progresses, if Merry falls asleep at any point, and is not woken up almost immediately, the mission is failed; he’s a heavy sleeper and, once he drifts into a deep sleep, he will struggle to find the energy or motivation to wake up and continue his studies.
For the first few hours of the night, nothing happens. Any players who don’t find something engaging to do to pass the time (or who can’t find pleasure in reading the books on the shelves) should roll a constitution save or fall asleep themselves in the quiet, dimly lit halls of the library.
Shortly after midnight, the custodian pauses by a window, staring, before asking someone to go over and take a look: “My old eyes might be failing me, but it looks like someone is prowling around out there in the shadows…”
This is meant to be a diversion to pull the players away from Merry. The custodian, slowly dragging his mop and water bucket, walks just behind the deeply-focused Merry before commenting:
“You look tired, young Merry…I think it’s about time…for you to sleep.” This final part of the sentence is delivered in a deep and ominous voice.
Suddenly, the custodian’s gentle form melts away, revealing himself to be a frightening Oni.
If the players attempt to speak to the Oni before immediately engaging, the creature will briefly comment that he works for Oni Oneirics, and that he was hired to make sure Meriadoc Grey sleeps tonight (even if it’s against his will).
The Oni tries to put Merry to sleep using a variety of methods while simultaneously fighting off the party. Of course, he never attempts to kill the players; if HP gets low enough, he will simply knock them out with a melee attack for non-lethal damage.
Here are some of the strategies that the Oni uses to try and put Merry to sleep (based on the 5e skills given to Oni, as seen in the above statblock). To keep it fun, consider allowing this creature to perform a spell (with Merry being the primary target) while also allowing the Oni to attack the players (thereby still making him a worthy adversary for the party).
- Sleep spell-Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. As an Oni, he gets to use the Sleep spell once per day. If Merry is hit, a party member needs to use an action to shake Merry awake before the cleric falls into a deep sleep.
- Darkness-The Oni casts a sphere of magical darkness around Merry, making him disoriented and groggy; a party member needs to pull the cleric free from the magical darkness before he dozes off.
- Cone of Cold-Since the body sleeps better in colder temps, the Oni blasts Merry with a non-lethal dose of a cold spray, leaving the target’s HP intact but causing him to nod off.
- Polymorph-In a variation of our encounter “Nothing Bleats a Good Night’s Sleep“, the Oni transforms into a sheep and begins leaping up and down, overtop Merry, trying to make him sleepy.
- Blanket of Smothering-On a whistled cue, the blanket that was given as a “gift” earlier in the encounter comes alive and wraps around Merry, making him snuggly and sleepy; this creature operates as a modified Rug of Smothering (just without the crushing-a-person-to-death part). The party needs to defeat it or somehow pry it off Merry before the cleric drifts off into a deep sleep.
If the party drops the Oni’s HP close to 0, the creature will say that he “isn’t paid enough to deal with this” before turning into a gaseous form and escaping the library.
If the party successfully fends off the Oni and his sleep-inducing tactics, Merry will be incredibly grateful. As the night comes to a close and dawn approaches, he comments that he’s feeling ready for his exam and that, perhaps, his parents had a point.
“Sure, their motivations might be all wrong,” Merry explains, “but I see how pulling an all-nighter might not be the healthiest choice in the world. I feel ready now, and the exam isn’t for a few more hours. I’m going to reward myself with a quick powernap, and then I’m showing that medical exam who’s boss.”
As a reward, Meriadoc Grey can give the players a sum of GP (although not too much…he is only a college student after all) or offer them an assortment of potions, healing and otherwise; since he’s about the be a fully-fledged, licensed cleric, I’m sure his concoctions can be trusted.