It's like Santicorn but I guess we didn't want to wait until Christmas. That's cool.
Note: Encounter 2 is about a giant spider. There are no images of spiders on this blogpost.
"A mini-adventure/crawl/collection of encounters for characters travelling down a river - may be either the driver of the adventure or just that randomness that happens on a journey".
So for this, I'm going to write a couple different things, with hooks and just a things for characters to see on their journey. 8 encounters for a group sailing down the river bank. For the sake of this table, I'm assuming that the PCs are on a boat, but I think these work fine anyway.
Each encounter is intended to stand on its own. Either just use this table or take the ones you like and put them on your table.
I'm also assuming that the PCs are at least fairly low level. It shouldn't be too hard to scale monsters up if you feel the need to. The Worst Hydra's stats were based loosely off of a Plesiosaur from the monster manual, just at a lower level.
A Glimpse of the Ferryman
Cult Meeting, You Weren't Invited
Do You Know Who I Am?
The Man on the Riverbank
The Merchant from the Weirdest Place
A Glimpse of the Ferryman:
"Folktales tell us a lot of the river Styx, but what they often leave out is the Styx kinda exists with the rivers around the world. Catch the right river at the right time, and you'll catch a glimpse of the ferryman, helping a soul pass on".
- This is a nighttime encounter, preferably while the PCs are camped on the riverbank. The PCs on watch catch a glimpse of Charon himself- it's obvious, definitely enough to not require a roll. The PCs see a spectral figure rowing a similarly-incorporeal boat, with 1d3-1 other spirits riding with him. This skiff has an otherworldly glow about it as it follows the stream down river.
- It doesn't interact with the PCs at all, but should the PCs follow the ferryman down the river (there's no roll needed provided they keep a brisk pace and don't stop for anything), the boat will eventually turn a blind corner and disappear into the ether. The PCs then notice that a tree stump nearby has a pouch on it. It contains some coin- Charon has no use for the money given to him by those who hire his services, so he leaves it behind when he passes through back to the netherworld.
- If anything is following the PCs or if you have a burning desire to throw a combat encounter in, immediately after the PCs follow this trip to the end is the perfect time to do so.
- The PCs pass through a wooded area, and the grim forest makes everything feel a lot more claustrophobic.
- It's not long before the PCs see skeletons, webbed into the trees. It's a nasty sight.
- There are two Death Widow spiders here, huge nasty grey spiders with the image of a red skull on their backs.
- The death widows watch from above the treetops, though the most perceptive PCs will notice them very quickly.
- The Death Widows have a limited amount of innate spellcasting that's related to necromancy- they can animate webbed up corpses within 60ft or so.
- Before the encounter begins, the widows ensure they've been seen by the PCs, and that they are preparing. Then, corpses in the webbed trees will attempt to grapple PCs that get too close, and every now and again one will break free of the webbing and attempt to grapple a PC that's out of their reach.
- Armour: as Chain
- Hit Dice: 3+3
- Hit Points: 16, 15
- Move: Standard, Climb 2x Standard (including webbing)
- Damage: 2 bites 1d6 each
- Cut Them Loose: Instead of attacking, a Death Widow that's near their webbing can cut loose 1d6 Webbed Victims.
- Armour: None
- Hit Dice: 2
- Hit Points: 1
- Move: Standard
- Damage: 1d2 + Grapple
- Passing through this area, the PCs notice swarms of butterfly-like creatures fly all around the banks. These are Brightflies, a common insect around these parts.
- They'll be all around the PCs ship (but rarely passing onto it) for a day or so. At night time, Brightflies glow in beautiful iridescent colours.
- This encounter's only real feature is that the PCs have a beautiful show tonight from the lights of these bugs.
- Of course, they won't clock that for a few minutes when you first announce that.
- Should your players be the kind who enjoy roleplaying in-character, this is an ideal moment for them to just take a breather and do their thing for a bit.
- If not, this is a good time to have them feel safe for a little bit before something else comes afterwards.
- At the GM's option, one player knows that Brightflies are harmless. Another player "knows" brightflies are an ill omen.
Cult Meeting, You Weren't Invited:
- The PCs aren't alone. They see them up ahead. There are multiple tents built around a single wooden shack and a small stone tower that appears to have been a lot taller once upon a time.
- At the GM's option, the PCs may see a few humanoid figures in this campsite. Or they might all be in their structures.
- There's a small outpost of cultists here, that worship the monster that inhabits this lake. They bring their human sacrifices here. The creature is like a Hydra, except it's only got one head. The Worst Hydra has more in common with a tiny plesiosaur than a hydra.
- The cult leader is a human named Elgar, and he's a 3rd level Magic-User, though at the GM's option he may have a couple cleric spells too. Most of the rest of the cultists are 0-level, with one or two 1st level Fighters in the mix.
- Elgar's headdress is notable because it's exquisite craftsmanship, with many scales, a crown made of bone and on the top there's a bone-carved plesiosaur reaching out. While Elgar wears this headdress, he can attempt to control prehistoric creatures directly in a nearby radius, and call for assistance 1/day in a much longer radius. It works automatically on prehistoric creatures with 5 or fewer HD (i.e. virtually none of them if you're running the dinosaur stats in the old-school monster manuals), and creatures with more get saving throws to resist.
- The 1st level Fighters are Elgar's more elite cultists. They're decked in armour that's leather covered with a few fossilied bone parts on top to reinforce it a bit. Each might have a really cool helmet made from a small dinosaur skull that's been hollowed to fit a human head.
- At the GM's option, Elgar may carry one or more additional magic items. I'd suggest potions, scrolls, rings and talismans, especially ones he may get to use if the PCs attack.
- The cultists themselves are mostly armed with wavy daggers and clubs in the shape of plesiosaur heads, although a few are armed with scimitars and some with shortbows.
- The tower is where the worship happens. There is a trench in the riverbed that passes through to the tower's underground. Sacrifices are brought into cages with false bottoms and they are fed to the Worst Hydra by pulling a lever and dropping them in.
- The cult isn't actually hostile to the PCs immediately. They're clearly deeply strange, but as they have a lot of sacrifices already, they won't do anything to PCs that don't do anything to hurt them first. They are willing to trade a few nice art objects for supplies, which may be worth more than the supplies when the PCs return to a settlement.
- The tower is off-limits to visitors. They say it's sacred to them. If the PCs enter, they won't see the secret entrance to the cult's worship room right away. There's a spiral staircase at the back that goes up to a second floor and should go up higher, but most of the tower is gone and the second floor is now the roof. An illusion obscures the fact that the staircase goes down into a basement as well.
The Worst Hydra:
- Armour: as Leather
- Hit Dice: 4
- Hit Points: 20
- Move: Swim Standard
- Damage: bite 1d8
- Vanish into the River: The water is deep and murky enough for the Worst Hydra to vanish while its under the surface. It's neck is also long enough for it to reach more or less anywhere on the boat that is uncovered.
Do You Know Who I Am?:
"The vodyanoi is a water spirit, appearing as a naked humanoid with a frog-like face, greenish beard and skin like a seal. Their eyes burn with red-hot coals, and their magical abilities are weirdly inconsistent"
- The PCs get this encounter while travelling down the river. Vasser, a Vodyanoi rises up out of the water at a spot where only one PC can see him, and he attempts to cast Charm Person (or your games' equivalent) on them.
- Should the creature pass their saving throw, Vasser will try to play it cool and defuse the situation, relying on the PC not knowing that was indeed a spell Vasser tried to put over on them. If it escalates, he will flee, but continue following the PCs' boat, and try again with someone else, but while invisible this time.
- If Vasser successfully charms the character, he will tell them to go and get one of their friends, and repeat the same process. Then, he and these two PCs are going to attempt to take the barge by force.
- Vasser will not show himself to the other PCs, instead choosing to order the PCs under his control via the Message spells he has. He might cling onto the underside of the boat with Spider Climb or even just tail it as the PCs work.
- Vasser wants the PCs' treasure, and he's doing all the underhanded stuff he needs to to get it.
Vasser the Vodyanoi
- Armour: as Leather
- Hit Dice: 6
- Hit Points: 21
- Move: Standard, Swim 2x Standard
- Damage: 2 swipes 1d3/1d3
- Innate Spellcasting: Vasser can cast Audible Glamer, Change Self, Message and Spider Climb at will, Charm Person 3 times a day and he can cast Invisibility and Levitate once per day each. He will use his at-will spells to mess with players as best as he can, while he'll save his once per day spells for absolute emergencies. He counts as a 6th level caster.
- Vodyanoi's Gaze: Vasser can use his red eyes to shoot a red-hot laser beam that shoots forward in a 20ft line, once per day. All creatures in the line take 2d4 points of damage, save for half.
- Saving Throws: Vasser saves as a 6th level Wizard or your system's equivalent.
- The PCs come across a loner fishing at the lake. He will wave at the PCs when they come over.
- The man's name is Mace, and he claims to be a loner who subsists off of fish and game, and occasionally sells what he's got left over and fur products to get some stuff from some nearby settlements.
- PCs chatting to him about these things can get information on nearby areas, possible future encounters and a few heavily exaggerated "war stories", especially if they trade him some alcohol or cheese.
- He's not got a lot on him now, but if the PCs were to wait at this point he could bring some of the stuff on his cart.
- This is a trap. Mace is part of a group of morally questionable adventurers. He's the groups' ranger. When he goes to get his cart, he also informs the rest of his group that they have a possible mark.
- The idea is Mace's group is smaller and weaker than the PCs, so they're going to use the element of surprise to their advantage as best they can. You can also adjust the morale of these guys down a bit. They pick their battles and know when to run. If they do, you might have a possible recurring enemy on your hands.
The Man on the Riverbank:
- The PCs see a single humanoid man on the riverbank, only half-looking at them, also looking at a pocket watch he has in his off hand.
- The man seems to know everything that the PCs are going to do, and is counting down for something. He does not respond if they call out to him, though will use the Shield spell or similar magics to protect himself if he is attacked.
- As the PCs pass the man, he very quickly hops over their boat and onto the other side of the bank.
- If any PCs attempt to intercept this guy, he ducks and dodges as if he knew that was coming, and he zig-zags in just the right way that unless the PCs come up with some way of catching him that you the GM definitely didn't see coming, he'll get away.
- If pressured, he'll use the Shield or Haste spell on himself, but he won't if he can avoid it.
- After he gets away, out from the woods (possibly from chasing him) are a group of Orcs/ Gnolls/ Human Bandits/ something else. He deliberately timed this so that the PCs will be attacked by the raiders that
- Assuming he gets away, the PCs will learn that this isn't the only weird occurrence today. The man is going to be in the next dungeon the PCs raid. He's a powerful sorcerer who learned through future-scrying magic when his own death is going to be, and he's doing everything he can to ensure that doesn't happen, not knowing that seeing his own death has decided that it will happen.
- When this second encounter happens, he has just the spells/ tactics he needs to counter the PCs for the first few rounds, but after that point he will rapidly get overwhelmed.
- His belongings are mostly unexceptional except for a book of insane scrawlings and the pocket watch. However, if you wish to put a magic item on his person, that would make sense too.
- If a spellcaster holds the pocket watch and focuses into it, they get a glimpse of a possible future. I've considered this item as simply a vision of a possible death that the PCs now know to avoid or as a d20 that they can roll in-advance and substitute any d20 roll for, but I like the former more than the latter.
- The book of insane ramblings, when examined, explains what's happening here. If someone stares into the clock for too long in too short a period of time, you see a vision of your death, and each time you dream at night you dream of the same death, with a few minor details changed each time. The rest of the book is a record on exact times certain events happen (including the PCs passing through on the barge), and a big list of possible ways to survive this day (all scribbled out).
The Merchant from the Weirdest Place:
- The PCs find another encampment on the side of the riverbank, at a makeshift port.
- Several tents line up and down the bank, there's about 100 people here in total.
- This is the crew of a few weird merchants. If your campaign setting has a particularly strange and gonzo country that the players haven't seen yet, these merchants are from there.
- Otherwise, you should describe their fashions and habits as very strange to whatever the norm is as of the PCs- they could have a weird exotic headdress, bright yellow, twisted into a weird contorted shape and bells of silver hanging from the top.
- Most of these merchants speak broken common, but are not foolish.
- There are a few figures that co-operate with the merchants- humanoids with pale red skin, clad in silks (each of these are sorcerers from a guild in their homelands. Their spells vary, but all know Comprehend Languages & some more exotic spells the PCs have not seen)
- The other important figures are weird ogre-like creatures with a more elephant-like appearance in brass armour. Each carries a huge hammer.
- The merchants are trading goods, spells and tales from their own lands, and tales include a city on stilts where giant monkeys rule, an undersea palace on a plane where there is an ocean without a surface, and a parallel world where one city moves like clockwork on a mechanism that was old when humanity was young. It's up to the GM whether any of these places exist, and if there's any strange places in your own setting, describe them too.
- The goods can include exotic weaponry and armour, fruits that function as healing potions, spells that haven't existed in this campaign setting at all up to this point or other things that are ideas that you've had that feely wildly out of place compared to the rest of the setting.