No Laughing Matter
Posted on January 02, 2019
I grew up playing D&D, and stumbled into the role of DM with the release of 5e. This particular moment is noteworthy for being as unexpected as it was entertaining.
I had not been a DM for more than a matter of months when one evening came that we were trying to get the regular party together, only to end up short by more than one or two. After some discussion, the party decided that they'd rather not continue the campaign. I had recently run across the idea in one of the manuals about throwing a party together by having a dragon teleport them into the middle of their lair. So the players first adventure would be trying to survive escaping with whatever they could carry. I mentioned this and found everyone excited about the idea of pulling out a character they had not yet gotten to play (most of us have a bad habit of serial character creation) and going through a one-shot dungeon.
Being the naive DM that I was (still am, really) I said sure and dropped everyone's character together on a pile of treasure. The adventure was fun, but fairly by the numbers as I somewhat randomly pulled monsters and traps from the books to throw at them. Until they reached the front entrance.
It had taken long enough for them to get there that I had this last encounter well formed in my mind. To set the scene, the front room was a long hall with the skeleton of a minotaur posed at the center, with similarly posed skeletons, and statues lining either side. All very dramatic and, I felt, suitable for a dragon wanting to impress any visitors. Naturally, most of the decoration was as innocent as you'd expect (which is to say, not at all). I was excited, but also wringing my hands a little. The danger this room presented to this party of strangers who were certainly not at their peak was not insignificant. The minotaur alone would have been a challenge for them to beat (or so I had thought).
They went in cautiously, but still determined to make their escape. Partly because the session was running late and we wanted a resolution; this was supposed to be a one-shot after all. Things were going pretty well as they managed to keep each other alive, until the minotaur skeleton stepped off it's dias to take a swing. At this point, I was afraid I was going to be facing some sour players (PC deaths were rare for them). That is, until my little sister's Warlock, Rimdro, took his turn.
Rimdro had been saving a precious spell slot for this moment. These were not high level characters, so there would be no massive fireball or anything equally devastating. It turned out Rimdro didn't need flash however. The spell he cast was Tasha's Hideous Laughter. Being unfamiliar with it, I had to look the spell description up myself. And then check the stats of a Minotaur Skeleton. Because, I thought, surely something like laughter wouldn't affect a soulless pile of bones, right?
The rules gave me no reason for the spell to not work, so I rolled a wisdom save for the undead minotaur. As you might imagine, skeletons of any variety are not known for their wisdom. It failed.
The epic moment of this massive final boss entering the fray turned to hilarity as the fleshless minotaur fell flat on it's back, cackling with it's dry teeth. Everyone at the table started laughing and the encounter was forced to wait until we could all breathe again.
Once the fight was rejoined, it was hardly a battle. The party took full advantage of the opening and made short work of the other enemies before turning together on the poor amused minotaur skeleton. They walked out of the dungeon alive, but not with their heads held high because they were too busy holding in their own laughter.
To make matters worse, the picture for the Minotaur Skeleton in the 5e Monster Manual looks just close enough to the moment the spell hit, laughing as it starts to fall over that I cannot flip through the book without remembering that moment a low-level Warlock with a little known and easily overlooked spell entirely stole the show.