D&D 5E [Let's Read] Turning the Tables Vol. 1 (7 one-shot adventures starring monstrous PCs)

Libertad

Hero
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Content Warning: Picture of an ettercap on the cover. I don’t know if that monster specifically triggers arachnophobia.

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The concept of playing monsters has existed for a long time in Dungeons & Dragons, from Gygax allowing a homebrewed Balrog growing into their power to 2nd Edition’s Reverse Dungeon and 3rd Edition’s Savage Species sourcebook. 5th Edition has been more lenient in allowing monstrous races as starting-level options, such as fairies, lizardfolk, and yuan-ti.

However, there are few adventures designed to be played from the monster’s perspective in the vein of Reverse Dungeon. Turning the Tables walks a similar path in creating seven one-shots each built around a specific monster or related groups of monsters, with the plots relevant to their natures. For example, one adventure places the PCs in the roles of imps summoned to discredit a nobleman after their rival sold their soul for power. And another adventure involves a party of kuo-toa scouring the Underdark for monster parts to fashion into a living deity to replace their slain god.

Each adventure has rules for making monstrous PCs. Some adventures use the default stat block of the starring monster but with some customization options, while others build a fully-fledged 20 level monster class. I’ll be reviewing those as well, and their functionality beyond the confines of these adventures.

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Arachnidnapped (Image spoilered In case of Arachnophobia)

Content Warning:
Arachnids, animal cruelty.

Our first adventure stars a group of 4 PC ettercaps (equivalent level 10th) whose giant spider friends have been kidnapped by a gang of korreds for an animal fighting ring. The adventure is a rather straightforward investigation-to-combat scenario, with a countdown timer that causes more giant spiders to end up injured or dead if the PCs lose time due to failed checks and taking rests.

In terms of character creation the PCs don’t have classes or backgrounds, with a default ettercap race along with one of six archetypes that have class-like roles and spider types that serve as subraces. The ettercap race is a modified version of the base monster, such as a poisonous natural bite, natural armor, and a climb speed among other things. The archetypes provide race-like ability score modifications and skill proficiencies along with special abilities. They are the Eight Palms of Nature (pseudo-monk with abilities such as extra attacks, a stunning poison, and can make healing secretion akin to a paladin), the Equipped (begin play with bonus gear including a magic weapon, extra attack, proficient with martial weapons and shields, adds Intelligence modifier to single damage roll and can shove as a bonus action when making an attack), the Fey Hunter (ranger-types who things like extra attack, deal +2 dice of damage once per turn when hitting a few, and advantage on saves vs fey creatures), Follower of the Spider Queen (cleric/druid type with limited spellcasting, blindsight, can turn their poison into a magical ranged attack, and can halve damage as a reaction and deals extra poison damage with weapon strikes), Ripper (barbarian-lite with extra attack up to three times, adds CON to natural armor, reduce speed of struck creatures and bonus action attack when reduce enemy to 0 hp), and Web Stalker (roguelike with advantage on maintaining/escaping grapples, have a sneak attack like feature that deals bonus poison damage, can shoot webbing as a ranged attack and can turn their webbing into a garrote-style melee weapon that can grapple and suffocate targets).

The three subraces correspond to existing real-world and fictional arachnids. They all give a single useful feature, such as an Assassin Spider increasing their reach by 5 feet, a trapdoor spider granting a burrow speed of 30 feet, or a Phase Spider that lets you turn ethereal until the end of your next turn once per long rest.

The adventure itself is split into three parts. The first begins play with the ettercap party noticing that more spiders are missing from their flock, and investigating around the nest area with skill checks (and blindsight or being able to speak with spiders) can uncover korred hair, dropped equipment by the fey, and/or hidden tunnels sized for Small creatures. The korred took the kidnapped spiders to a circle of rocks known as a Fey Crossing, where they planeshifted into the Feywild. Stepping into the circle transports them into a bright, sweet-smelling forest with a shining purple-orange sun. Following the hairs leads the ettercaps to the korred lair, which is concealed within a hill in the middle of a vast grassland. Three dead giant spiders have been thrown out and left to rot, and examining their bodies finds whip marks on them. The korreds use Stone Shape to enter and exit the hill, so the ettercaps need to get in via a burrow speed, or Athletics to breach a segment of wall to get inside.

The korred lair is a seven-room dungeon, with the main opposition being three korreds cheering on a pair of giant spiders in the middle of a large cavern that serves as a fighting ring. There isn’t really anything in the way of unique treasure or gear besides the korred greatclubs, which ettercaps aren’t proficient with unless they have the Equipped archetype. There are also 3 gargoyles guarding the fey’s bedroom, and the other 5 giant spiders are kept in a pen and traumatized, needing Animal Handling (advantage if ettercaps can speak with spiders) to be trusted and Medicine to have their injuries healed. The korreds are intoxicated, so they can’t multiattack, and also used some of their abilities they normally have access to such as Otto’s Irresistable Dance and Conjure Elemental to create the gargoyles. Another factor in the PCs’ favor is that the spiders being forced to fight can join the PC’s side with a successful Animal Handling (they’d fight the PCs otherwise).

PCs who defeat the korreds will dissuade them and other fey from menacing the spiders of the forest, and the rescued spiders will be eager to return home.

Thoughts: The pseudo-classes and subraces for the ettercaps are clever and provide for some distinctive diversity in options. However, while the ettercap PCs in this adventure are considered to be 10th level, the lack of a scaling class prevents them from being easily adapted for lower-level play, and the archetypes have less stuff than a typical 10th-level PC. The Follower of the Spider Queen is pretty strong, as it gives a bunch of spells to be cast once per long rest each, while the Equipped feels the weakest in that the extra damage pales in comparison to the other archetypes, such as the Web Stalker’s sneak attack like feature or the Ripper’s triple attack. Its function may depend on how generous the DM is with letting you pick magic weapons.

As for the adventure itself, it’s a bit too linear for my taste. Investigation-based adventures are at their best when they’re more sandboxy in allowing for non-linear development. While there’s a variety of clues for PCs to take advantage of and some fail forwarding in the form of dead spiders, it still fundamentally follows the same path, and there are a few challenges that have to be passed or else the PCs are locked out unless they have a special ability like blindsight or a burrowing speed.

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This adventure is more wholesome and PG-friendly in comparison to Arachidnapped. The PCs are an undescribed number of 1st-level blink dog puppies being trained by an adventurer and their elders in how to teleport accurately. But they must put their skills to the test when the lord’s son of the nearby village goes missing!

Blink Puppies are both a race and a 20 level class, gaining maturity at 5th level. They are predictably a mobility-focused melee fighter, with some customization in the form of Traits that are separated into Tiers. They begin play with a bite attack and the ability to teleport (both of which improve with level), the Perception and Stealth skills, and can choose from one of five Innate Traits that serve as their subrace, granting them proficiency in additional skills and saving throws along with special abilities such as Pack Tactics, Pounce attack that can knock a target prone, or Puppy Dog Eyes that makes a target suffer disadvantage on all attack rolls against the Blink Dog if they fail a Wisdom save. A Blink Pup/Dog gains a trait at 1st level based on their Innate Trait, and at 3rd level and every 4 levels after (save for 19, which is gained at 20th instead) they can choose to raise a trait up 1 tier or gain a new additional trait at starting tier. The traits and their tiers relate to aspects of blink dogs, such as more damage done with Pack Tactics, gaining double proficiency on the gained skills, or additional monster types and conditions that work with Puppy Dog Eyes.

For the adventure itself, it starts out innocently enough on one sunny spring morning, with the PCs coming out for training after a nice breakfast. A friendly adventurer by the name of Miranda and the blink dog elders as their instructor, and the training is a series of skill challenges where they learn to harness their teleportation powers. Blink puppies don’t have full control of it, so depending on the results of their skill checks can determine random harmless effects. The adventure provides a list of skills and how they can be justified.

Afterwards the PCs’ next challenge is a mock hunt, where they are to chase a clockwork rabbit through a forest to corner it and make it give up. The chase is a more involved challenge involving a mixture of Constitution saves to save vs exhaustion and Perception checks to quickly spot ideal places to teleport. Failing on Perception causes a Chase Complication to arise from a 1d20 table, such as a frightened deer taking an opportunity attack on a Blink Pup or a fox joining the chase against the rabbit unless it’s scared off via Intimidation.

PCs who do well during these tests are rewarded with Blink Biscuits, which if eaten restore 1 hit point, grant 5 temporary hit points, and Inspiration!

Things get serious when a man comes running up to the group with one of the adult blink dogs, saying that the lord’s son went missing and the entire town is looking for them. Miranda and the adult blink dogs kick into high gear, forming their own search parties, splitting up in ever-widening circles to cover as much ground as possible, with the PC puppies searching as a group. This section of the adventure is a DC 27 Survival check, but the DC is lowered by 3 for every PC who succeeds on a DC 15 Perception check in sniffing the scarf that belonged to the son. The DC can be lowered by 5 if they go slow, but that gives them fewer successful attempts to find him; going faster increases the DC by 3 but gives them 7 attempts.

If the PCs are successful in tracking down the boy, they find him screaming from a nearby rock crevice, menaced by the blink dog’s natural enemy: a displacer beast who is fortunately a younger member of the species.

Content Warning: Discussion of potential child death

If the PCs are unable to track the son down, his fate may differ depending on the DM’s whims: the displacer beast may have killed him, or perhaps the boy has been chased out of his safe spot in the crevice and is in more active danger by the time the party arrives.

In terms of stats the Young Displacer Beast is a weaker version of the default monster, having 33 hit points, an 11 AC, and can multiattack with tentacles that deal 9 damage total and can substitute a Displacement instead of an attack that imposes disadvantage on attack rolls targeting it.

The adventure’s conclusion presumes that the PCs saved the lord’s son. The puppies are praised as heroes, given a giant leg bone carved as a key as a reward, with a picture of their celebration posted on notice boards throughout the city.

Thoughts: Blink of Danger is a cute idea, and the biscuit treats granting healing and inspiration provide an in-game reward for doing well on the non-combat challenges. While there are means of reducing it, I feel that the Survival DC for tracking down the lord’s son is way too high for 1st-level PCs, who by all accounts likely have a +5 modifier at best and no double proficiency. The chase involving the clockwork rabbit may be my favorite part, as it’s pretty involved and has some random elements to liven up what would otherwise be a straightforward skill challenge.

As for the Blink Dog class, I will admit that at-will teleportation is a very useful ability. However, the class is a bit lacking in that it is fundamentally built for one role, with little in the way of variety. Compare this to the myriad Cleric domains or even Ranger Conclaves with their bonus spells and mixture of combat and utility stuff.

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This one-shot is suited for 3-4 1st level Imps tasked with sabotaging the party of one Sir Brum Westley, an ever-present thorn in the side of madame Lenore Felik. Felik is desperate enough to sell her soul to the Nine Hells in order to get a leg up on the competition, and the PCs are tasked with making it a fair…well, fairer bargain. Unlike the prior adventures this one is primarily a stealth mission, where initiative may not even need to be rolled at all. In fact, the PCs need to find a way to screw up Westley’s soiree without leaving behind infernal evidence.

For character creation there are two suggestions: using the default imp stat blocks, or customized versions where the info is split up into a generic race and five subraces with their own unique abilities. The generic traits are ones we’re already familiar with, such as a poisonous stinger and fly speed. But the imp types include such interesting option as the euphoric Imp (can turn invisible up to one cumulative hour per long rest), bloodbag imp (can heal other fiends by letting them drink their blood), and familiar imp (has limited spellcasting in the form of cantrips).

The adventure begins with the imps being tasked by their devil boss, Dregonthyss the Harvester, in sabotaging the noble party before being summoned to the Material Plane. They end up in Felik’s manor just after she signed a contract with a bone devil, where she explains the details of the party and the mission. The mission is open-ended, but there are some general success/fail states: first off, the PCs must be discrete. If the Westleys think that the party was sabotaged by devils then that will bring in unwanted attention; staff members raving about devils are more likely to be dismissed, but the words of the noble guests carry more weight. Additionally, while sabotage that can be passed off as embarrassing accidents are preferred, murder that is done in a way that can be detected as such will also bring a failure to the mission. The intent of the mission is to make the nobility of the city think that Sir Westley is a poor party planner at best, an offensive boor at worst. An apparent murder in his estate may shift people’s attention away from Westley, and in some cases even bring pity upon him or a shared desire for justice to mete out the culprit. To succeed, at least two of the three events during the soiree must be sabotaged.

The Westley Manor has a lot of guards and guard dogs, although not much if anything in the way of magical defenses. PCs can sneak in via typical Stealth checks while also searching for unconventional entrances such as via the chimney or a glass ceiling in the exhibit room. The adventure notes that you shouldn’t have the mission be a failure due to one failed Stealth roll: for example, a dog barking at the presence of a devil that ducks into cover may irritate its less-perceptive master who then drags it away by leash, while a guard saying they spotted a devil may be chided for seeing things.

The Westley party has three events: a pedigree pet competition, an auction of valuable items, and a dinner party. Each event has a variety of ways it can be sabotaged. For instance, some of the pets may be vicious and can be provoked into lashing out, while the fish tank of a nearby aquarium may be broken and splash water onto nearby guests. As for the artifact auction, one of the items on display is a live colony of fire ants, while the dinner party takes place in a room full of chandeliers which can be unscrewed, and imps who can shapechange into rats can ruin the appetite of many a guest.

Thoughts: I love this adventure. It’s open-ended, has plenty of room for creative solutions, and has reasonable room for failure for a stealth mission. While there are mostly binary success/failure rates for the prior two adventures, Hell of a Party has more ways things can go wrong or right. It is one of my favorites of Turning the Tables.

Thoughts So Far: It’s one thing to make rules for monstrous PCs, but quite another to fashion adventures suited for said monsters. Turning the Tables is certainly creative as far as one shots go, and the novelty alone is a good drawing point for gaming groups. Of the three initial adventures, I’d have to pin Arachidnapped as my least favorite, as it feels too much like a typical adventure as well as being a bit too linear for my tastes. Blink of Danger follows a similar pace, although the creativity of the blink dog tests and the more light-hearted nature gives it more points in my favor. Hell of a Party really stands out in my eyes for reasons I outlined above.

Join us next time as we cover the next two adventures, one with PC hags competing in a tournament of unseelie fey and another with PC purple worms going on a kaiju rampage across the Underdark!
 

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Libertad

Hero
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This adventure is suited for 3 to 6 PCs who take the roles of a covey of hags competing in the Unseelie Hie, a competitive tournament hosted by the Queen of Air and Darkness. The prize is the deed to magic-rich land, and as the PC’s covey is currently landless gaining it would be a huge boon to their power.

For character creation a player picks from six stat blocks representing different types of hags. It’s far simpler than other adventures, as the stats are pre-determined, albeit with some additions such as additional skill proficiencies or spells. The only things the players have to choose are one of two traits and a single magic item per PC, both depending on their hag types. As the party’s part of a covey, they gain access to a collection of shared spells and spell slots up to 3rd level. The magic items are derived from official Wizards of the Coast material but are themed around witch and fey motifs, such as a bheur hag’s graystaff that functions as a flying broom, or an Iron Token that is formed from the attuned person’s teeth or nails and can be given to others to share a whispered conversation with them.

As the PCs and the various other contestants are a hive of feyish scum and villainy, cheating to gain an edge is to be expected in this competition. The adventure has no short or long rests, being a series of five events, and at the end of each event teams who did well enough advance while those who failed are disqualified from the contest. PCs who are caught cheating will notice one of the eladrin watching over the events write something in the air with their golden quill, but otherwise no other action is taken.

Before the PCs can participate in the games, they must convince the eladrin taking note of arrivals that they’re totally invited to the competition (they’re not on the official list) via a relevant DC 13 skill check or clever use of magic. Once that is done, they and many other teams will find themselves in the middle of a stadium-sized fairy ring. The unseen Queen of Air and Darkness will announce to all the prize…but no rules or guidelines for the upcoming events. The DM can run the events in any order or amount as they desire, with 3 recommended for faster sessions or 4-5 if time is no object.

The first event is a game of keep away as a horde of yeth hounds fly into the fairy ring. The PCs must roll initiative and avoid getting bit or clawed by the hounds, with formations of hounds and their numbers determined by initiative result (lower results usually means more hounds). The event concludes after 5 rounds, and PCs can cheat by concealing their wounds via Deception or magic.

The second event is one of precision, where teams throw dizzy pixies like darts at circular targets. Hitting the boards is an attack roll, and certain actions can help even the odds such as bribing a pixie to aim themselves more towards the center or “accidentally” knocking over the board to reset the game.

The third event is a riddle puzzle involving brewing ingredients in bubbling cauldrons full of poison supported by tripods. The teams must brew the antidote to counteract the poison by using flowers in bouquets as ingredients. Skill checks can help push PCs towards the right ingredients and order. After the time limit (10 to 15 minutes is suggested) is up, the teams stand under the cauldrons which are dumped on them. Those who failed to brew an antidote will lose the contest as the poison makes their skin sizzle and develop boils.

The fourth event has the teams take their places on lily pads in the middle of a pond, and blindfolded eladrin wielding padded spears will swing them wildly. In order to win the teams must not get knocked into the water. This is resolved as a kind of combat, but with Balance Points instead of hit points and special actions can be taken to minimize or avoid the blind swings. Like the yeth hound event it lasts for 5 rounds.

The fifth and final event is a treasure hunt, where a chest is placed in the middle of the fairy ring. The chest is actually a mimic that has been greased up to make it better escape grapples and restraints, and the contest is won if the mimic is killed, at which point it will spit out the land deed as the prize.

PCs who won the last event will have the Queen of Air and Darkness herself appear and congratulate the covey. If at any point they cheated she will whisper that she knows it wasn’t won honestly, but will not hold it against them as she admires such cunning given that she didn’t actually establish rules in the beginning.

If the PCs lost, the adventure ends with them still landless, although hooks are provided for future adventures. Such as the winning NPC(s) offering the land deed if the PCs can steal the crown of the Queen of Air and Darkness for them, or some other great task.

Thoughts: I like this adventure. The other contestants and living beings (save the mimic) don’t have full stats, instead having just enough for what is relevant to the specific event. The events themselves may not all be appropriately hag-like, but include some funny ideas like pixie darts and I can see groups having fun coming up with ideas on how to cheat or otherwise get a leg or broom up on the competition.

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This is a combat-heavy adventure suitable for 4 purple worms of level 6. A group of duergar stole a group of eggs belonging to the Sentinels, a clan of sentient purple worms who speak Terran and ruled much of the Underdark in times long past. With the eggs in the Citadel of Pan Mo’al, the PCs are a group of Sentinels who seek to retrieve them…no matter how many cities and fortresses they smash through!

For this adventure, character creation provides a default purple worm race along with level 1 to 20th progression. It goes without saying that purple worms are extremely melee focused, with an amazing d20 for Hit Dice, scaling natural armor, a punishing stinger or bite plus grapple/swallow attack, a multi-target body slam attack, and the ability to burrow along with blindsight and tremorsense which gives them some useful mobility in this Underdark adventure. As for subclasses, they choose one of five existing classes (Barbarian, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard) which determines their saving throw and skill proficiencies. Additionally they gain 1-3 special abilities from said class. For Barbarians they can Multiattack and Rage, Clerics can heal by touch, Fighters have increased AC and Multiattack along with adding one damage die a limited number of times per long rest to a weapon attack, Rogues have increased speed and a slower Sneak Attack progression, while Wizards can cast spells with slower progression and spell slots than a typical core wizard.

For lower level games purple worms are an overpowered option. At 1st through 5th level they are Huge, Gargantuan at 6 and beyond. They also get great bonuses to Strength and Constitution (+8/+2 or +6/+4 allowing some variety) which each have a cap of 30 rather than 20. Their bite and swallow/body slam damage die are 3d8 and 6d6 respectively. Their stinger also deals the same damage as bite but the poison deals 12d6 more poison damage on a failed Constitution save. Add onto the ability to burrow through solid rock and blindsight, and you’d be a fool not to play as one for a melee fighter build.

As for later levels, I’d say that purple worms become less OP yet still strong by 11th and greater. At this point in the game there’s a lot more challenges and opposition that can’t be easily dealt with by sheer muscle, and while a Wizard worm gets spellcasting they don’t have the versatility of full caster classes. Their Gargantuan size makes them quite ideal for personal aura and touch spells given they can cover more surrounding squares.

Now onto the adventure! It is a rather linear progression of 4 areas the purple worms go through before ending up at the duergar citadel. While in two cases it is possible for the PCs to dig out or around to run away from combat, they are places such that they are in the party’s path of destruction and the adventure’s theme is akin to a kaiju monster movie where the beasts are heedlessly barreling through as smaller folk try in vain to stop them.

The first area is a compound of drow cultists, being a mixture of normal drow with some elite warriors led by a mage who can attempt to summon a shadow demon. The normal drow and giant spiders are unlikely to be much of a threat. Although they can still be a speedbump, as they all have poisoned weapons that can inflict the Poisoned condition or even unconsciousness for every 3 attacks made on a single worm provided the worm fails a Constitution save.

The second area is a region known as the Roots of the Eldritchmark, a magical forest on the surface whose roots reach deep into the earth and are immune to non-magical damage. The worms will need to burrow to the surface to bypass them, and there are some huge bridges going over the forest to allow for travelers to cross. The bridge is patrolled by normal human guards who are dumb enough to try attacking the worms without any kind of magic or siege weapons. They’ll be a cakewalk. Aternatively the PCs can bypass the roots via an underground tunnel which is flooded, and needs skill checks to safely traverse.

The third area deposits the purple worms in the middle of a cavern network that is the lair of a mind flayer community. The section the PCs fight in has 3 ogre slaves who will initially fight, and 4 mind flayers at rest who may be alerted if combat with the ogres goes on for more than one round. The adventure mentions that the Sentinels and mind flayers are ancient enemies to encourage the PCs to take vengeance upon them. The mind flayers will be similarly fearless, eager to kill and harvest their brains.

The penultimate area is the Chasm of Chaos, a huge void in the Underdark. The PCs’ blindsight and tremorsense can sense the lack of stone ahead of time, and the party can safely camp on a ledge. The chasm stretches hundreds of miles north to south, and this particular section is 75 feet wide with jets of scalding steam at the bottom. However, there is a wooden bridge spanning the chasm for travelers, which is maintained by two duergar. The duergar, unlike the human guards, will not be eager to stick around and fight the purple worms, and may set fire to the bridge to help their retreat although they will initially be reluctant to do so as its destruction will result in a lot of paperwork.

The final area, the Grand Citadel of Pan Mo’al, is in a huge cavern home to six buildings, with the eggs kept in a cryogenics lab in the east. There’s nearly 20 duergar here, with 3 specialists using priest, mage, and bard stat blocks. There’s also two mercenary trolls and 3 ballistae the dwarves will use against the purple worms. The main villain of the adventure is Nimimy Terraphoerm, a duergar conjurer who will arrive when combat happens in the cryogenics facility, dramatically announcing her name and how she’s the sister of the archmage who gifted the first Sentinels with intelligence. Viewing her brother’s experiments as a mistake, she hopes to reverse the process and make the Sentinels mindless to rid the Underdark of their threat. She uses the stats for a Duergar Conjurer and casts Summon Shadowspawn instead of Summon Elemental. The eggs themselves are guarded by a steel door, and busting in through the surrounding walls has a chance to damage the eggs at the DM’s discretion.

Thoughts: While I’m not the biggest fan of adventures that are linear and night combat-exclusive, I can make an exception when it comes to playing as big honkin’ purple worms. The PCs have great opportunities to pulverize their foes with heaps of damage, but there is still some risk as some of the more powerful opposition such as the mages and mind flayers have some spells up their sleeves that can target the purple worms’ likely weak points. Even so, the ability to burrow through rock along with tremorsense allows the PCs to easily make tactical retreats if need be and come at their foes again from other angles.

My main point of criticism would be that the PCs don’t exactly have much incentive to stick around in the pre-Citadel combat areas. While the book does encourage the players in a few ways (“you hate mind flayers,” “why don’t you test out your destructive capabilities on some hapless drow?”) it doesn’t have any real carrots such as treasure or in-game benefits like you’d see in more traditional adventures.

Thoughts So Far: I don’t have much to add that I haven’t already covered above, but I like these adventures. They both play to the strengths of the specific monsters in question, and while the Unseelie Hie has more variety the Purple Worm one strikes the right kinds of notes to mitigate its simplicity.

Join us next time as we finish up this review with awakened animals investigating weirdness in a halfling village and a village of kuo-toa building their own god!
 
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Libertad

Hero
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This adventure takes place in a remote halfling village located within a forest. Miss Blue is a mage whose magic item creation hobby has had side effects in the local spring, where her experimental Awaken potions got into the water supply. A few animals drinking from it gain self-awareness, and the PCs are among such newly-awakened animals. They start to look into their newfound status and the greater mystery around the village.

For character creation the players choose the stat blocks of nonmagical Challenge Rating 0 animals which would plausibly be native to a forest or halfling village. The major changes are that they have Intelligence of 8 if said stat is lower by default, it’s encouraged to roll for hit points in order to ensure they start play with more than 1 hit point, they choose two additional skill proficiencies, and they begin play with an unconventional piece of equipment such as a pair of clean socks (absorbency can be used to stabilize bleeding), a wooden spoon (improvised weapon that deals 1d4 damage),or a skein of knitting yarn (can be used for a variety of ropelike tasks with advantage).

The adventure begins with descriptive boxed text of the PCs experiencing the Awaken effect, and also that a mysterious hawk with a blue spot on her forehead has been monitoring the party before flying off to the top of a hill near the village. The hawk is Briarwing, Miss Blue’s familiar who has been scouting to oversee the animal population in order to learn further about the situation.

The adventure is mostly skill-based and noncombat. The PCs cannot speak with the halflings (barring Miss Blue and one half-elf druid who have spells to communicate), but they can speak with other animals. Each major location in the village has characters and events that can help the party, such as befriending a girl in the village square via a Charisma check to gain 1d4 bardic inspiration, or a bakery with magic sticky buns that gives those who them eat temporary hit points. The animals can gradually point the PCs to Miss Blue and her familiar, who is fond of using a blue spiral motif on the various gifts and items she gives to others around the village. Some of these magic items can be obtained as equipment by the PCs, such as a bracelet that can cast a simplified version of Color Spray that affects 3d10 hit points worth of targets rather than 6d10.

The next portion of the adventure has the PCs go up the hill, where they encounter obstacles such as finding a way past the wooden gate blocking their progress, or rescuing a dog named Wiggles from an awakened wolf who is wrestling with the morality of his carnivorous nature. The final area of the adventure is in front of Miss Blue’s cottage, where four other awakened animals believe that they have great power and painted blue spirals on their foreheads to emulate Briarwing. Daffodil, the chicken, wants to become a familiar and views the PCs as dangerous rivals. The other animals fearfully follow her orders, and while combat is possible these animals (save Daffodil) can be convinced to surrender via a Charisma check. Briarwing will watch the combat, and depending on the prior actions of the PCs Miss Blue may aid them via her familiar and touch spells.

After four rounds of combat or after its end the mage will appear, stopping the fight with the sleep spell if necessary. She will explain to those present the effects of her awaken potion getting into the water supply. She will give PCs who displayed upstanding moral behavior during the adventure a choice: to return to their prior self, or keep their newfound intelligence. PCs who have acted cruelly or sought to kill Daffodil’s team will have her dispel the awaken effect without a choice.

Thoughts: A rather cute, short, and simple adventure. I will say that the measly hit points the PCs have can make combat over way too soon, although as by nature a TPK is impossible (the wolf will run off with the first slain PC rather than killing any more than needed) unless the PCs end up taking falling damage or some other unaccounted for hazard, it doesn’t exactly have any real stakes beyond being an interesting story to tell.

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Some Assembly Required

Content Warning: Arachnid in image above

This adventure is designed for 3-4 5th level kuo-toa PCs. The hook is that the party are of the monitor social class of kuo-toa, servants of Hall’cthunk the high priest and through him the god Shmeepshmorp, who also shares the same name as their village. The god was murdered by an adventuring surface dweller who sneaked into their settlement, and Hall’cthunk has called an emergency session for the party to scavenge the surrounding Underdark to build a new god. The PCs must gather 3 body parts from 3 different creatures: a head, upper body, and lower body. The various monsters in this adventure can be harvested for such parts, and depending on what parts are used determines the powers and personality traits of the new god. They have 24 hours to assemble the parts, lest Shmeepshmorp descend into violent chaos from godlessness.

For character creation, things are similar to the ettercaps from the first adventure. There is a default race with basic traits which are equivalent to 5th level characters, and 6 Monitor Paths reflecting their more specialized powers. The default kuo-toa use the stats of a whip, minus the spellcasting capabilities but with a +3 proficiency bonus. The six Paths are Aquira (telekinetic powers such as a higher AC of invisible force, a ranged telekinetic toss attack, and a rechargeable telekinestic blast AoE cone), Fish Fist (can dash as a bonus action, add Wisdom modifier to unarmed strikes and AC, unarmed strikes deal bonus lightning damage and can let the PC learn one resistance/weakness of the target), Gourmand (slow but larger, can regain spend Hit Dice by eating corpses, resistance and advantage to poison damage and poisoned condition, can perform a multi-target rolling charge attack), Mumbler (aware of unknown horrors, higher Charisma and proficiency in several Charisma skills, bite attack can impose a delirium die on a target where they subtract a d8 from a d20 roll with the PC’s reaction, a rechargeable hysterical mumbling that has a confusion-like effect on nearby targets), Sticky Brawler (lose the slippery trait, gain spider climb, proficiency in athletics, nature, and survival, and can make two unarmed attacks and a bite with multiattack), and Supplicant (divine caster, higher Wisdom and proficiency in priestly skills, can cast cleric spells up to 3rd level, can fall prone to supplicate a nearby willing creature to giant them a bonus to their attack bonus or AC equal to your Wisdom modifier).

Much like ettercaps, there is some variety among the choices. The Supplicant is a strong option as while their cleric spells are predetermined, they gain access to some good spells such as Spiritual Weapon and Spirit Guardians. Their Supplication is good for a boost, but as they cannot concentrate on spells and remain prone while doing so it is a tactical trade-off. The rechargeable abilities are pretty useful as they aren’t limited by short or long rests, and while their use in combat is rather random it can be assumed they’re regained between fights so PCs can afford to use them liberally throughout the adventure. There’s quite a few options for battlefield control, which I like, such as the Aquira’s telekinetic blast or the Mumbler’s pseudo-confusion.

The adventure is semi open-ended in that there are several places to explore with a variety of monsters to harvest. The beginning takes place in the kuo-toa settlement of Shmeepshmorp, where a Charisma Investigation check can give some tips for their quest. Loobloop is the Grand High General of the town militia who has maps of the surrounding areas, but as she secretly hates the high priest will attempt to sabotage the PCs’ efforts with bad advice and maps. Loobloob is secretly plotting a coup against Hall’cthunk, and if the PCs convince her that they aren’t fond of the current leadership she will entrust them with a bag of green gems to insert into the monster parts. It will grant Loobloob total control of the deity, which she will use to kill Hall’chunk and gain rulership. PCs who report this treachery to the priest will have him thank the PCs, but won’t act against her yet.

The surrounding Underdark contains three broad regions: Deep Lake, Fungal Forest, and Twisting Tunnels. Each region has two smaller encounter areas, and using the false maps or poor survival checks with no maps will cost the PCs additional hours on their journey.

Deep Lake contains a crashed illithid nautiloid, and a chuul is in the cargo deck along with a tentacle rod as treasure. There’s also a lair of a lake troll who has troll stats but with a swimming speed, resistance to cold damage, and is amphibious. A third party are a group of piercers on the cavern ceiling who will drop onto anyone wandering beneath them.

The Fungal Forest has a section where a phase spider lives, which has captured a duergar woman alive and has cocooned her for a later meal. PCs who free her during combat will have the duergar aid them in the fight, and one of the cocooned corpses has a wand of web as treasure. A Persuasion check can convince the duergar to join the party for 1 more encounter location. The other location in the forest is a grove where a pixie known as Fluffertwinkle is seemingly trapped in a cage on the tree. She is pretending to be a damsel in distress, and is on top of a shambling mound which will come to life and attack anyone who gets near enough. Fluffertwinkle has developed a hatred for other Underdark denizens and will use her magic to aid the mound in combat.

The Twisting tunnels are home to a Drow Encampment. Four drow have captured 3 kuo-toa and are forcing them to sing and dance for their lives, and being thus distracted the PCs have various opportunities for an ambush. They can also roll a conveniently-placed boulder which can kill both the drow and captive kuo-toa, but will also destroy their equipment and has a chance to make harvesting one or more of their body parts impossible. The kuo-toa, if freed, will accompany the party for the rest of the adventure. Which is a really nice benefit as it practically doubles the party size. The other location is a trail of blood leading into a cavern where an injured mind flayer by the name of Orloka has been exiled from its people due to researching arcane magic. It does not wish to fight and will put up an intimidating deception to try and convince the party to leave.

Content Warning: Attempted Suicide

If at any point Orlaka is reduced to 20 hit points or less in combat, it will use a scroll of fireball to target the ceiling above, causing a cave-in which will kill the mind flayer and injure nearby PCs. As the illithid has read the party’s minds by the time they arrive, it will seek to rob them of what they seek even in death.

If the PCs come back home with 3 required parts in time, the high priest and remaining monitors will stitch the new deity together, and the PCs will have the honor of naming it. If the PCs inserted the gems at Loobloob’s orders, she will take control of it and command it to kill Hall’cthunk and his supporters, including the party. This will most likely be a TPK if the PCs seek a straightforward fight, as in addition to Loobloob and six of her whip allies, the new deity has a huge amount of hit points (350) and deals a punishing slam attack. However, Loobloob is using a control rod which if wrested from her will obey whoever holds it. If the rod is destroyed, the deity will go berserk and seek to destroy everyone in the settlement.

If the PCs do not return in time, the commoners of Shmeepshmorp are leading a violent revolution, and Hall’cthunk is dead. Loobloob is attempting to seize control but with little progress without a divine backing. Even in this case the PCs may be able to assemble a god in time, but it has an 85% chance of going berserk and trying to kill everyone like in the above scenario.

As for the god and its desires, the head determines the god’s greatest goal: for example, a chuul will seek to rebuild the Aboleth Empire, while a troll will merely wish to remain fed and happy with large tributes of food. The upper body determines what race it longs to destroy; for instance, a phase spider’s upper body will demand its followers to declare war on the duergar, and a drow’s will be the same but for all surface dwellers instead. The lower body determines how it regards its followers; for example, a mind flayer’s lower body encourages the god to turn their followers into mindless servants via mental domination, while a phase spider’s will be nurturing and mothering, treating them like its own children.

Thoughts: This is a rather neat adventure with a variety of challenges, and I like that in addition to the variety in harvested body parts virtually each encounter has some kind of treasure or benefit like NPC allies. So even with a one-shot there is still a visible sense of progression, and the time limit plus the variables in travel helps encourage resource management. The party can get away with one long rest hopefully, but depending on the quality of their maps and Survival checks (along with the encounter results themselves) may rob them of needed short rests.

Final Thoughts: Turning the Tables is a criminally underrated sourcebook, judging by the fact it doesn’t even have a Best Copper status on the DM’s Guild (copper meaning that it sold at least 50 copies). The monster-themed one shots are an interesting, diverse assortment of neat scenarios with enough variety that they all feel sufficiently different from each other. The fact that their events and themes tie strongly into the nature of the playable monsters is an added bonus. This shows that the writers have good heads on their shoulders for what makes these creatures iconic. It is for these reasons that I’m hoping a Volume 2 is released someday.
 
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