|Sea Hulda in repose|
1. Vampire Apes: Hulking, 8’ - 9’ tall, four armed and pale furred predators. The Apes resemble Plague Monkeys on a massive scale, and perhaps are magically warped from them, but where Plague Monkeys are cowardly Vampire Apes are aggressive and fearless. Only loosely under the control of the Malign Intelligence, and with greater than animal cunning, they believe themselves the nobility of the Morass, vassals only to their Ape King who holds court from the overgrown superstructure of the Risen Empire. Vampire Apes will not see reason, they will not make deals but will suffer lesser, properly deferential, creatures to live until the Apes are hungry, and will duel anything that acts like a rival one on one, and not always to the death. Communication can be hard however as Vampire Apes know only bellowing whoops, growls and expressive body language.
Vampire Ape (1D6/2): HD 4+4 (27) AC 8(12), ATK 4* (fists), DAM 1D6, MV 60’, ML 11, SV F4
* At range the Vampire Ape can throw tree trunks and small boulders - 1 attack for 1D6+3 damage)
Vampire Ape 5E (1D6/2): HD 4D10+12 (32 HP) AC 12, ATK 4* (melee) +5 hit, DAM 1D6+3, (fist - bludgeoning) MV 40’, STAT (S: 19, D: 12, C: 16, I: 5, W: 13, CH: 5)
* At range the Vampire Ape can throw tree trunks and small boulders - 1 attack at +5 for 1D6+3 damage)
2. Malign Thrall: Having succumb to the promises of the Malign Intelligence (See Vampire Ecology above) this former castaway, explorer or scavenger has become its vampiric thrall -- emaciated, flesh shrunken to the bones, hard as wood. Clad in the the rags of a shipwrecked sailor or a treasure hunter’s tattered leather armor and armed with only a dagger or stick. Living in a twilight state of blood fueled ecstasy, appetites restrained only by the dominance of the Intelligence Thralls furtively stalk the Morass. Retaining a varied amount of mortal will and intelligence, Thralls seek to please the Intelligence, serving as diplomats and troubleshooters. They are unlikely to attack, but will also keep their secrets (claiming to be castaways and hermits), spying, watching and feigning harmless madness until the Intelligence needs them. If a party they travel with appears to be losing a fight, especially to the unruly Vampire Apes, Thralls are likely to join in, seeking to steal at least one victim from the Apes to satiate their own hungers
Malign Thrall (1): HD 4 (HP:24), AC 5 (15)*, ATK 1, DAM 1d6 (claw or by weapon), MV 60’, ML 12, SV CL 10
* Normal weapons hardly damage the abdead flesh of a Malign Thrall and no single attack can inflict more than 6 points of normal damage.
5E Malign Thrall (1): HD 5D8+15 (40 HP) AC 14*, ATK 1 (melee) +4 hit, DAM 1D6+2, (claw- slashing or by weapon), MV 40’, STAT (S: 15, D: 14, C: 16, I: 12, W: 13, CH: 15)
* Striking a Malign Thrall is like chopping wood, damage resistance to normal weapons and immunity to poison.
3. Dead Men: The Morass returns its dead to a half-life, a dreaming, predatory wander. They congregate in packs, bony antiques who died scuttling the stone ships and newly dead explorers or scavengers hunt side by side. More active at night, but in the shadowed channels of the Morass the dead never rest. Implacable, the Morass’s dead are dazed and sometimes ignore (on a positive reaction roll) potential prey. Likewise they tend to be uninterested in devouring their prey and generally leave the unmoving and fallen untouched beyond a few cursory slashes of their claws.
Dreaming Dead (1D6+4): HD 2 (HP:10), AC 8 (12), ATK 1*, DAM 1d8 (maul), MV 40’, ML 12, SV F1**
* Dreaming Dead are sluggish and always act last in combat.
** Dreaming Dead have all undead immunities.
5E Dreaming Dead (1D6+1): HD 3+9 (22HP)*, AC 8, ATK 1 (melee)+4 hit**, DAM 1D6+1 (maul - bludgeoning), MV 20’, STAT: (S: 13, D: 6, C: 16, I: 3, W: 6, CH: 5)***
* If killed with normal weapons the dead keep fighting for 1D6/2 rounds, at -1 to hit while ignoring further damage.
** Dreaming Dead are sluggish and always act last in combat.
***Immune to poison, sleep, charm and other mind affecting spells. Can move and act in darkness.
4. Scavengers: Insurrectionists and renegades of the Lost Lambs. Wary, committed, and grim. Their equipment may be a ragged hodgepodge of armor scraps, cord backed marsh hunters’ bows and dented cutlasses, but they have learned the harsh lessons of survival in the swampy marches of the Umber Havens. In Aurum Ferro they rightly call the Lost Lambs bandits and buccaneers, but their stubborn creed of mutual aid means they are more likely to offer help to fellow travelers in the Morass then to rob them, leading them back to their beach camp near the Cruelty. The Lost Lambs will demand a reckoning from any in the livery of the Aurum Ferro nobility or Imperial Navy. (SEE AREA A - THE CRUELTY for details and leaders)
Scavengers (2d6): HD 1 (5HP), AC 5 (15), ATK 1 DAM 1D8/1D6 ranged (by weapon), MV 40’, ML 10, SV F1
heavy piecemeal armor (AC 6/14), cutlass, boarding axe or glaive, shortbow, 20 arrows, black sheepskin pelise, trinkets and coins worth 1D6 GP, ration of dried fish, wineskin.
Scavengers (5E) (2D6): HD 2D8+2 (HP: 11) AC 13, ATK 1 (melee or ranged) +3 hit, DAM 1D8+1 (hand weapon - slashing)/1D6+1(bow - piercing), MV 30’, STAT: (S: 11, D: 12, C: 13, I: 10, W: 10, CH: 10)
5. Owlbears: Owlbears, more often known as “Growlyhoots” or “Ursostrigiform Arcanovores” are endemic to the entire Successor Empire where they feed on the Empire’s many magic sinks and adapt rapidly to unique environments. Those of the Green Morass are round, small, blubbery beasts with soft grey fur, bright pink feathers and hooked beaks in waxy gleaming red. While the Malign Intelligence cannot dominate the Owlbears’ magic immune minds, they are the same cantankerous, territorial, predatory horrors as every other sub-species.
Owlbear (1D6/2): HD: 3+3 (HP 21) AC 5 (15), ATK 3* DAM 1d6/1D6/1D8 (claw/claw/beak) MV 60’, ML 10, SV CL 5.
* If an Owlbear strikes the same target with both claws it will knock them down, gaining +2 to hit and damage against them the next round and stunning them.
Owlbear 5E (1D6/3): HD 6D8 +21 (HP66), AC 13, ATK 3 (melee)+6 hit*, DAM (claw/claw/beak - penetrating) 2D6+4/2D6+4/2D8+4 , MV 40’, STAT: (S: 18, D: 13, C: 16, I: 3, W: 13, CH:7)**
*If the owlbear’s two claw attacks hit a single target the target is knocked prone and stunned for the next round.
**Owlbears are resistant to mind affecting spells and illusions and save with advantage to them. Owlbears have advantage on perception checks, and excellent night vision.
6. Plague Monkeys: Vicious pests, more resilient and aggressive then normal simians they act as the eyes of the Malign Intelligence as they hunt and bicker among the treetops. Lichen green with tiny red eyes and mouth of oversized, backwards swept fangs, the monkeys of the Green Morass will attack rarely, preferring to follow groups of delicious outsiders through the treetops -- hooting are screaming until distracted with fresh blood or living prey. While escorted by a troupe of Plague Monkeys all exploration rolls of 1,2 or 4 result in an encounter (and prevent the party from achieving surprise). Plague Monkeys won’t follow strangers into wrecks or beyond the edges of the Mangrove, but otherwise they are shockingly persistent.
Plague Monkey (4D6): HD ½ (HP: 2), AC 6 (14), ATK 1*, DAM (bite) 1D4, MV 60’, ML 6, SV F1.
Plague Monkey Swarm 5E (1D6/3): HD 8D8 (HP: 36), AC 12, ATK 1 (close - 0’) +2 hit*, DAM 3D6** (devour - penetrating), 60’, STAT (S: 13, D: 15, C: 12, I: 5, W: 10, CH: 7)
*Swarm: A mass of plague monkeys will drop or scramble over a victim to move into its space and devour it alive. The swarm can scamper through openings small enough for a 8lb, 1’ tall monkey. It cannot regain HP or temporary HP. Because of its numbers the swarm has damage resistance to all normal weapon attacks, and immunities to: charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained and stunned conditions.
** Biting Swarm: The monkeys will attack one target within their space and inflict only 1D6 damage after once below ½ HP.
7. Sea Hulda: Placid singers of the Pyre Sea’s brackish verges and kelp beds, Sea Hulda are an arcane devolution or mixing of human blood with the fey Merrow of the deep sea. Soft and doleful faced, the Sea Hulda are magical creatures of terrible power and dangerous inhuman mores. Swimming in from the sea they build temporary reed or fern nest huts at the shore of the Umber Havens among mangroves and on shaded beaches. Making simple tools of shell, stone and bone the Sea Hulda appear to desire only peace, but their bewitching song carries and brings with it sadness and conflict.
Sea Hulda (1D6+1) HD 2 (HP: 12), AC 8 (12), ATK 1*, DAM (claw, club or stone knife) 1D6, MV swim 40’, 20’ ML 8, SV F2
*Sea Hulda can sing instead of acting in combat, and their song - an unknowable, deep, moaning much like whalesong causes sorrow and depression in anything capable of such feeling (except Sea Hulda). When a Sea Hulda sings all in hearing 300’ range are overcome with a sudden wave of despondence, and must Save v. Spells or collapse, paralyzed with sadness and regret. Even on a successful save listening to the song causes uncontrollable weeping and a -2 to all rolls. The sorrow fades back to mere gripping, ineffable sadness within 1D6 rounds after the song stops or the Hulda move away. For each Sea Hulda joining a song after the first all saves are at -2. Deafness or plugging the ears will prevent this effect.
Sea Hulda 5E (1D6): HD 4D8+4 (HP: 22), AC 12, ATK 1* (melee - 5’) +3 hit, DAM 1D6+2 (claw or weapon - slashing), swim 40’, 20’, STAT (S: 14, D: 12, C: 15, I: 12, W: 16, CH: 13)
* In lieu of combat actions a Sea Hulda may sing. Their song - an unknowable, deep, moaning much like whalesong, causes sorrow and depression in anything capable of such feeling (except Sea Hulda) within 300’. The song’s sudden wave of despondence requires a DC15 save to avoid collapsing paralyzed with sadness and regret. Even on a successful save listening to the song causes uncontrollable weeping and a -2 to all rolls. The sorrow fades back to mere gripping, ineffable sadness within 1D6 rounds after the song stops or the Hulda move away. For each Sea Hulda joining a song after the first the DC check increases by 2. Deafness or plugging the ears will prevent this effect.
8. Droning Birds: Darting bloodthirsty daggers a crimson jeweled spite and malice named for the deep thrumming of their beating wings. Vampiric, the Droning Birds flock for mutual defense, nesting in hollow trees they strip of bark to whet their razor edged beaks. The opalescent red and purple feathers of each Droning Bird are worth 10GP to clothiers and haberdashers in Aurum Ferro (with 2D6+4 birds per swarm)
Droning Bird Swarm (1D6/2): HD3 (HP: 9), AC 7 (13), ATK special*, DAM special*, MV fly 60’, ML 6, SV F0.
* When a swarm of Droning Birds descends on a foe they can’t miss, some of the sharp beaks will get through to inject venom and drink blood. Each round they inflict 1D8 damage, modified by the target’s armor. Full damage for no armor, -2 points for light, -4 for medium and -6 for heavy. In addition to injury the toxins in Droning Bird saliva are paralytic and a Save v. Paralysis is required to avoid being stunned for 1D6 rounds.
Droning Bird Swarm 5E (1D6/2): HD 7D8-7 (HP: 24), AC 13, ATK 1 (close - 0’) +4 hit*, DAM 2D6** (pierce - penetrating), fly 60’, STAT (S: 9, D: 13, C: 6, I: 5, W: 11, CH: 7)
*Swarm: A swarm of droning birds can surround over a victim to move into its space and drain its blood. The swarm can fly through openings small enough for a 1lb, 1’ long bird. It cannot regain HP or temporary HP. Because of its numbers the swarm has damage resistance to all normal weapon attacks, and immunities to: charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained and stunned conditions.
** Draining Swarm: The birds will attack one target within their space and inflict only 1D6 damage after once below ½ HP. The toxic saliva of the droning birds slows and stuns those they bite, requiring a DC 10 save v. poison or inflicting the stunned condition for 1D6 rounds.
Running Random Encounters: Previously one of these notes discusses why random encounters exist in this style of adventure (to add risk to travel, to deplete character resources, to offer setting and faction information, to set adventure tone): this note is about how specifically to run random encounters in an exploration focused game.
The first, and likely very repetitive if you’ve been reading this blog, caution is that a Random Encounter need not be a combat encounter.
Random Encounters exist to create “threat” as a consequence for movement and exploration -- they encourage players to weigh the risk of wandering monsters vs. caution. But Random Encounters don’t need to end in combat. The exploration die system provides alternative types of encounter, but even when the party directly encounters a ‘monster’ this doesn’t mean a fight is automatic - and a smart party will likely try to avoid one, as wandering monsters rarely have treasure and thus offer nothing except risk in an adventure like Plague Ships where XP is based on Gold recovered (nor do they in the popular milestone XP system). Mechanics exist to determine when and how combat will occur and to set up the encounter.
First. The first issue with the wilderness encounter, and one unique to it, is shrinking the scope of adventure down to the encounter scene. Where exactly in the wilderness and when does the encounter occur exactly? Usually this is something the GM makes up, building off a location that comes to mind when they visualize the wilderness the PCs are travelling through: A clearing around a muddy sink hole, at the feet of a huge tangle of trees and vines, where the stream opens up into a muddy reed choked marsh. For Plague Ships the tables in “APPENDIX A - Random Morass” will be available to help with this.
Second. Determine surprise and distance. The next step, the Reaction Roll, tends towards parley and negotiation (or tense standoffs). Surprise counteracts this tendency, as aggressive creatures (almost everything here except Scavengers and Malign Thralls) will use their surprise to attack from ambush based on GM determination of the creature’s intent. This, and its interaction with Reaction Rolls, is a very old mechanic, dating back to the earliest editions of the game. Surprise has traditionally been determined by a D6 roll for each group (PCs and monsters) without a light source where 1 or 2 indicates surprise. In the wilderness context the light rule is unlikely to apply except at night, but the rest of the mechanic works, and it’s far simpler then the 5th edition mechanic which requires stealth and a passive observation check. It may also be worth noting that surprise in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is not an automatic possibility -- perhaps because there are no reaction rolls or because direct combat confrontation on a level playing field is the default encounter? Either way bringing surprise rolls into your game more often can help 5th Edition encounters become more varied and present the players alternative choices and considerations beyond tactical combat. Does the party flee after a surprise attack and return on better terms? Do the adventurers sneak past a dangerous beast that hasn’t seen them yet, retreat, or attack in hopes of dispatching it from ambush?
Third. Determining distance and setting the scene. Distance for the initial encounter is discussed in the prior post, but it’s a worthwhile mechanic, because it helps the GM visualize the physical environment and starting position of the encounter. Do the adventurers and monsters spot each other across a channel, or do they meet face to face as they push through dense foliage?
After determining distance, think about the specific location for the encounter - does it have interesting or special features that the GM can describe to better set the scene, especially if those environmental elements might impact combat. In the Morass this means: water, concealing foliage and obstacles in the form of mangrove and wreckage. Likewise, other senses can help make the scene more compelling: the smell of stagnant water or perfume of jungle flowers, the sound of rushing water, a chorus of frightened frogs or flock of birds or even the oily taste of rot and clouds of flies that accompany the dreaming dead. Unlike a keyed location these elements are something that the GM has largely to improvise, making wilderness random encounters somewhat difficult. Luckily it doesn’t take much: a single detail or sense impression is usually enough. Mentioning a shady gully of ferns, a creature emerging through a curtain of hanging moss or the sudden flight of a flock of flamingos can set the scene and make the encounter both more memorable and more exciting for the players -- while also providing some indication or clue about the nature of the wilderness the party is traveling through.
Fourth. When surprise doesn’t result in combat the GM should roll for a reaction from the monster -- if the characters haven’t charged to the attack! This is a 2D6 check to determine the creature’s basic mood, dependent on its overall character. Generally a 2 or 3 is extremely negative, and an 11 or 12 positive. Everything in between (4-10) is a gradient of hostility. For intelligent creatures this usually means that the monster will make a demand: pay a toll, go away, surrender, or help me. Animals are likely to simply ignore the party on a positive reaction and make a threatening display on a negative one. Another use for the reaction roll is to see how long the monster will interact with the party before attacking, leaving or demanding a gift - this is especially useful with long winded players because it prevents spending ½ the session pointlessly quizzing a random encounter - once mollified the creature will answer one question for every pip on the reaction roll above 4 (e.g. subtract four from the reaction roll). With unintelligent creatures this can also represent the number of player actions the creature will wait before attacking or fleeing. An excellent basic practice is to remember that unintelligent creatures can usually be mollified with food, while intelligent ones generally accept coins or other treasures as bribes or distractions (except owlbears who are only, and always, distracted by magic items, spell books or the flesh of spell casters).
Finally. 5th Edition doesn't utilize morale, but you can and should add it -- very few creatures are willing to fight to the death if they can avoid it, and mechanically morale helps make combat less time consuming by making fights end once one side is unlikely to win. It’s also a benefit to players, and presents another opportunity for trickery and schemes, because one needn't destroy an enemy, only scare them enough so they run or surrender. Morale is noted as a number between 1 and 12 (or N/A) after the "ML" stat and represents how stubborn, brave, or unthinking a creature is. Check morale by rolling a D12 (or 2D6, but remember the curve) and if the roll is higher the creature decides it’s had enough of a combat. Generally check morale when things go badly for a side - the creature is at ½ HP, something scary (magic, fire, enemy reinforcements) happens or several of its allies/its leader falls. Check more than once if it’s appropriate, check in the first round even. Modify the Morale value based on factors that would either concern or embolden the foe: it’s already killed a few of the party, it’s badly injured, the party seems really potent, etc. If a creature’s morale fails it’ll try to salvage the situation: running if it can (even grabbing the fallen if it’s possible), surrendering if it can’t escape, knows how and doesn’t think the party will murder it out of hand. This leads to interesting situations, where the party can interact with monsters, even after a combat, and where factions are likely to learn about the characters, and dislike them, when the party defeats their wandering patrols.
At this point the random encounter has likely resulted in a pitched fight or concluded peacefully in retreat or settlement. Either way the players have been challenged, learned a bit about what else haunts the wilderness they’re exploring or even made contact with one of the adventure’s factions.