A little backstory before we begin:
As the DM for my party, I want my friends to feel happy with their characters. So, when our Paladin player didn’t want to make a character like all the other Paladins he’d read about, I was there to help. He asked me if there were other options, so I crafted a homebrew Oath that basically had him take on the job of aiding All the gods of his pantheon. The only stipulation was he didn’t have to do any tasks asked of him that directly opposed something else he’d been asked to do.
And because I like to punish myself, I made a pantheon of 20. Now, when he calls for divine assistance, he has to roll to see which deity answers him first. Any spells he uses are flavored to reflect the last deity he spoke to.
Now for the encounter.
The party is comprised of a Satyr Barbarian, a Dwelf Knowledge Cleric, our Centaur Paladin (who we will call Banain), a Human Wizard, and a Half-Orc Ranger.
Our party had just escaped a coup in the kingdom that framed our adventurers for the event. But that’s a story for another time. The party falls into a cavern, and, without any other options, they followed down the path available to them. This leads to a ruined underground cathedral. The route heads straight through it, and despite half the party being afraid to go in, there’s no other option. They’d no more made it into the vestibule before they were surrounded in a red light.
Nobody can move, and the cleric immediately tries to come up with plans, throwing each idea aside as they find them unacceptable. The wizard and ranger are in the back of a sled because they’re dealing with lingering effects from a previous battle (aka their players couldn’t make it to the session). The barbarian is stuck in the middle and at a loss, and then there’s Banain. He’s reeling trying to figure out if there’s anything he can do.
Lo and behold, heh, there’s a beholder coming for them and the Knowledge Cleric realizes it has caught them in his paralyzing gaze. This beholder is huge. Like, eat our Centaur in two bites huge.
Banain’s player is now frantically looking through the pages I sent him about his oath. He’s looking through the list of possible gods that can answer to him, weighing the odds in his mind.
As I’m answering a question for the cleric, I hear Banain say, “I would like to pray for help from the gods.” I answer the cleric quickly and turn to Banain.
“Roll a d20.” He rolls and winces when he sees the result, and I smile. He rolls a Nat 1.
It’s a deity he’s never spoken to before, but one he’s never Wanted to speak to before, either. Jophel, the Undead god of vice and corruption.
And I begin to narrate:
“Sickly, wraspy; if sound had a color it would be a dark purple so deep it’s almost black, with mold beginning to grow on it. You’ve never heard this voice before, and the voice says “I’ll help, but at the cost of someone close to you. Lose one, or lose five, Banain, the choice is yours alone.”
At this point, the player asks for a break. He’s got a lot on his mind with this deal. We return from break and the cleric had another idea. So I start explaining to her how the plan she’s suggesting might play out.
And I hear the centaur’s player say “deal” in the softest weakest voice I’ve ever heard him speak in.
So I hold up my hands to stop everyone from talking and I turn on Jophel’s voice again.
“The bargain has been struck.”
I told him to make a list of twelve people his character cared about, and rolled a d12 to see who was selected.
“Erren. I think I want her.” The sickly voice chuckles, this time speaking so all can hear as the red light fades from around them.
Erren, a Centaur woman he’d recently met and been intimate with, got the axe. But because of their particular relationship, I had him roll a d6 (odds good evens bad). He rolled a 5.
“The sickly voice returns, an unexpected layer of mirth in his tone as he says. “Oh, this is even better than I hoped… your payment, it’s more than I expected. I’m sure you’ll understand when you return to her.” And the voice leaves.”
The cleric asks to insight check the voice, and she rolls high.
“The good news,” I explain, “is only one soul was taken. Only one person died from this bargain. But it wasn’t Erren.”
“What?” Says the player. The barbarian’s players almost immediately understands and they start freaking out. The cleric realizes a moment later. The Paladin is still confused. I resume the scene without clarifying, and they end up defeating the beholder.
The “help” Jophel had offered was simply to remove the paralyzing ray from the beholder. The bargain was lopsided, in the party’s opinion, and they vowed to make Jophel pay for cheating them… somehow.
After the battle, the paladin’s player asks me.
“What did you mean Only One Died?”
“Well, he was going to take Erren, Banain’s girlfriend.”
“But the good new is only one died… and it wasn’t Erren.”
“I don’t get it.”
“If only one dying is the good news.” Says the barbarian.
“Then the bad news would have been more than one death.” Said the cleric. “And how would that be possible if he only chased down the one woman you’ve been intimate with?”
The paladin’s player paused, thinking. He looked away from the other players back to me.
“Dude, was she pregnant?!”
“She was… Until you bargained with Jophel.”
We had to take another break after that.