If this scene is familiar to any of you grognards, then congratulations. You’ve been gaming for a lot longer than I have. This encounter and the gnomish captain’s dialogue are lifted directly from the 1985 Dungeons & Dragons Module B8: “Journey to The Rock.”
…A dozen or so more humanoids are picking up round logs from the rear of the ship and carrying them as quickly as they can to the front of the ship, where they drop the logs in the ship’s path to serve as rollers. Even so, the weight of the ship pushes the logs into the soft sand, and the pullers are straining with all their might against the obstinate bulk. Standing atop the foredeck is a small humanoid with a beard almost as long as he is tall. He is shouting through a megaphone, exhorting his workers to pull harder and sing louder.
I for one love this type of encounter. It takes place in the middle of a parched desert, and it introduces a completely unexpected element to the game world. And even though the concept is silly (the gnome read a book about sailing, built a ship, and is now trying to find the sea) the encounter teaches its lesson beautifully: Players should not get too comfortable. This is a game where literally anything can happen. As a part of the B-Series, a group of introductory modules designed for use with the Basic Dungeons and Dragons rules system, that lesson is a valuable one for new players. However, I’d go a step farther and say that it’s a good lesson for all players. After all, no one goes adventuring in search of the known.
Questions of the day then: What’s the weirdest, most out-of-left-field-bizarre encounter you’ve ever come across as a PC? What’s the weirdest encounter you’ve inflicted on your players?