Prelude:Each of you had your own reasons for responding when you heard there was a job to be had in Trostenwald, a small town in the south of the Dwendalian Empire. For some, it is purely for the gold, while others seek to find themselves, or adventure, or just the chance to do some good in the world. Some of you came alone, others traveled together. But whatever your reasons and however you came, each of you agreed - for a significant fee - to take on the risky mission that brought you to your present, dire straits.
The dwarf woman who hired you, Lawmaster Norda, explained the situation. In the wake of the recent war, the frontiers of the Dwendalian Empire have become more lawless. Recently, someone - bandits most likely - has been taking advantage of the situation to prey upon the trade route that brings merchants and travelers from the Menagerie Coast to the mighty city of Zadash, north of Trostenwald. First, just a few small groups disappeared, easy to overlook. But most recently an entire caravan has vanished, and Lawmaster Norda was determined to find out why, and put a stop to it. However, in the wake of the recent wars she was left with no troops to spare and no choice but to seek help from seasoned adventurers. That’s you.
After accepting the job, you traveled southeast from Trostenwald for several days, eventually discovering the site where the caravan had been attacked more than a week earlier. After that, Katali and Falenas helped you track the raiders into the wilderness, where another day’s hard travel brought you to the foothills of the Ashkeeper peaks, the very edge of the Empire. As the day was growing short, you decided to pitch camp for the night, deciding to take turns standing watch, as seemed prudent.
Midway through the night, Tissone and Falenas found themselves sharing guard duty. Happy to have some quiet time to talk after several days spent in the company of this group of strangers, they fell deep into conversation. But before long something caught Falenas’ attention, a sound where there shouldn't be, or maybe just some kind of heightened sense honed from his years in the wild. He turned to Tissone only to see them slumped over, apparently asleep. Before he could react, Falenas felt a sting in his neck. He reached up to pull out the tiny dart but was already collapsing, his vision swimming and then going black. The last he saw were the blurred shapes of tiny, colorful bodies moving towards the rest of the sleeping party. The sleepers had no chance at all.
And now here you are, all coming to consciousness as your bodies finally overcome the effect of whatever drug had overpowered you. You find yourself locked in a pair of cages, stripped of everything but your underclothes. There is little light in the old stone room room save that coming in from a door, through which you can also hear the strange yapping and chirruping voices of your captors. The air is dank and acrid. In another, smaller cage beside you, two bedraggled human children, a girl and a smaller boy, obviously siblings, clutch each other and stare at you with frightened eyes.
Setting: The wilderness of the southeast Dwendalian Empire, on the continent of Wildemount, near the Ashkeeper Peaks. The closest major settlement is Trostenwald.
Backstory: A Nergallid has discovered a Froghemoth spawning pool in an underground cavern adjacent to an old ruin, and used it to start a cult by drawing in a local tribe of feral Grung. The Nergaliid’s main motive is to provide sustenance for himself and the Froghemoth. Thus, it has been having the Grung raid local caravans and traveling groups, bringing back victims who it drains of life energies before tossing the bodies to the spawning pool to be eventually dragged under and consumed.
These raids have finally come to the attention of Lawmaster Norda in Trostenwald, who put out a call for adventurers to look into the situation. She hired a party of adventurers who have all heeded the call for a variety of reasons; this is our party. They have traveled towards the site of the most recent raid and set up camp for the night. During the second watch, one of the party members thought they heard something, and then felt a sudden pinch in their neck. They reached down and pulled out what looked like a tiny dart, even as their vision began to swim. As they slipped into unconsciousness, they thought they saw a strange, frog-like face moving towards them…
1. Cage Room (purpose: initial problem, motivator, setback, introduction to combat)
As the game begins, the party have been captured by the Grung cultists and regain consciousness to find themselves locked into cages in some kind of old, abandoned dungeon. The room is small, with two large cages containing the party, and a smaller cage holds two human children, Sage and Pietro. The party have been stripped of their belongings, and all that is in the cages is a bowl of some kind of old stew (the rogue might realize that some of the thin bones visible in the bowl could work as adequate, if fragile, lockpicks). The bars of the cages are rusty and so not quite full strength, though still fairly strong.
Sage and Pietro will explain that they are all that is left of a caravan that was attacked a week ago, and that the “frog people” have been taking away the others, one by one. The last adult, one of the caravan guards, was hauled off last night. They were traveling alone; their mother died not long ago in Nicodranas and so they were being sent to live with their father in Zadash. Basically, they exist for a bit of exposition and to give the party emotional stakes and motivation to keep moving. I’m going to really sell how scared and vulnerable these kids are - all the players are parents.
Within minutes, the door slams open and three Grung barge in, one using a spear to menace the party while the other two grab the struggling and crying children and drag them off. At this point, the party presumably will be trying to break free to help, though the children will be hustled off quickly, before whatever the party is attempting can come to fruition.
There are an additional half dozen or so Grung in the adjoining room, along with the party’s possessions, which are strewn about and having obviously been pawed through. This should be a relatively easy fight, though made more challenging since the party begins without weapons or armor. The room has stairs leading up but these are blocked by an ancient collapse, so the only exit is through another door that leads to the Levers and Ledges room. The Grung don’t have much treasure the party will care about, but there is a driftglobe that they are using for light. (There is Grung treasure but it is shells and shiny rocks and stuff).
2. Levers and Ledges (purpose: build party cooperation; logic task)
Escaping the prison, the party makes it to a room that will test their problem-solving skills; this is the Levers and Ledges room per Dwarven Forge “Build of the Month”: .
As players arrive they startle a Grung who had been hiding from them and who makes a panicking run for it by trying to leap over the water weirds; emphasize how brutally it is dragged down and torn apart.
Lever 1: moves the small island tile from one side to the other.
Lever 2: Extends the ground in front of lever 1 so that it is possible to walk across using the small island tile, but also retracts the tiles moved forward by lever 3.
Lever 3: Moves the tiles in front of levers 2+3 forward to connect to the opposite side, but retracts the tiles extended by lever 2.
Lever 4: Moves the key til so that it can be reached by using the small island tile.
***note: make it clear that Grung can sort of crawl along walls with their suction-y fingers and toes, so the levers and things have clearly not been used in ages - all rusty etc. So it doesn’t seem weird that the treasure key hasn’t been used. Maybe have a few use this ability in the first encounter.
Retrieving the key allows the players to open the magically locked trapdoor, beneath which a deck of illusions is nestled in an ornate silver case. Sigils on the case describe the contents but are only readable with a DC20 arcana check or an identify spell.
Getting past this room leads to a hole in the dungeon wall. Beyond is the guarded cavern tunnel.
3. Guarded Cavern Tunnel (purpose: test strategic cooperation)
This tunnel leads to the Spawning Pool Cavern and the exit is guarded by the two Grung who took the children earlier. They are easy to defeat but will try to flee in order to warn the Nergaliid, unless the party can figure out how to prevent this. They are a bit dopey and have no reason to suspect that the party has escaped unless they have been really indiscrete.
4. Spawning Pool Cavern (purpose: climactic battle)
This large room contains a deep pool on one end, within which lurks the Froghemoth (in effect, this will create lair actions to create a little mayhem during the battle, and the rise of the Froghemoth plus flooding in the room will act as a ticking clock). The party are not intended to fight the Froghemoth directly; they will likely die.
As the party enters, the Nergaliid finishes off the guard it has been draining and tosses the body towards the pond. It lays there for a moment, then a tentacle suddenly lashes out and drags the corpse under. The Nergaliid then leans into the huddled, terrified children and says something in Abyssal, licking its monstrous lips. The children scream in terror as he prepares to feed, and this should cue the party into action.
Nergaliid lines: “Grook. Nu shattoth qua og goorah tose.” (“Fine. It chooses to be the first devoured.”)
“Hurdu karak aggo. [creepy laugh]” (“The meat fights back.”)
“Nu quagrot nu trosstror.” (It needs to know its place.”)
“Drak! E draknar usommen!” (“No! I won’t go back!”)
This is an extra large Nergaliid with 84 hp and legendary actions:
1 action: makes a tongue lash attack.
2 actions: leaps to attack a target within 30 feet without provoking an opportunity attack. The target must make a dexterity saving throw or suffer 2d6 damage from the impact.
3 actions: Uses siphon life ability.
As a bonus action, the Nergaliid can summon a giant toad that is resting in one corner of the room and direct it to attack the party.
Past the Nergaliid, a tunnel leads to the wilderness beyond.
Lair Effects (occurring on initiative 20)
Each Round: While submerged (it is busy eating the guard) the Froghemoth can make a single tentacle attack on anyone who wanders within 10’ of the pond; it can sense this, though because it is attacking blindly it is at disadvantage and does half damage, and its grapple is only DC 12 because its attention is divided. It will attempt to drag its victim into the pool.
Round 1: the water of the pond bubbles and sloshes menacingly and releases noxious fumes; anyone within 5’ must make a DC10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 poison damage and suffer the poisoned condition.
Round 2: the room begins to shake and small pieces of rock fall from the ceiling as fault lines begin to appear; this is caused by the party’s actions, or those of the Froghemoth, or both. Three randomly chosen party members must make a DC10 Dexterity saving throw or take 1d4 bludgeoning damage. The noxious fumes now affect any party member within 10’ of the pond.
Round 3: The Froghemoth’s eyes appear out of the water, like a periscope. It can still only make one tentacle attack (still holding the guard) but is no longer at disadvantage. The room is shaking violently and collapse is clearly imminent; at the same time, water sloshes out over the floor from the pond while more noxious fumes bubble out. Three randomly chosen party members must make a DC10 Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone. The noxious fumes now affect any party member within 20’ of the pond.
Round 4 and Beyond: The Froghemoth starts to rise from the pond as the room is now rapidly filling with noxious fumes. Three randomly chosen party members must make a DC10 Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone. Movement in the cavern is reduced to half speed. The noxious fumes now affect the entire room. At this point it is clear that the party needs to leave soon or die. In subsequent rounds the Froghemoth can attack any remaining party members but its rampage causes the total collapse of the room by the end of round 5, dooming anyone left behind.
5. Exit Tunnel (purpose: reward; denouement)
This slopes upwards and leads to a forested area. While traveling through the tunnel, each party member has to make a DC10 dexterity saving throw each round or take 1d4 bludgeoning damage. The tunnel collapses behind the party, crushing any party member left behind. Nearby is a small lake where the waters are agitated by a large whirlpool in the center, where it is getting sucked into the cavern below. Piled outside the cave entrance is a bunch of random caravan loot, including silks, trade goods, etc. (we can roleplay to make it fun - they can come up with items) Several locked strongboxes contain a total of 150 gp/party member. Everyone reaches level 3! (not that it matters, but fun and lets us explain the concept)
Post action report - it went pretty well. I ran something heavily influenced by the Delian Tomb (thanks for the link), with a small cute animal (I used a quokka) doing the Lassie thing trying to get help for its kidnapped master (and thanks for that idea too). Quick roleplaying encounter with a crotchetty old man (who was persuadable to help the cause by contributing some alchemist's fire), added a giant spider with a big web trap and some giant rats to increase encounter variety, and a goblin shaman as the final boss, and with him Animating a fossil dinosaur skeleton embedded in a cave wall to add some time pressure and drama and a BIG scary monster (hampered by the fact that it was animated before being completely extracted from the rock).
PCs escaped by the skin of their teeth after rescuing the prisoners and collapsing the cave on the rampaging dinosaur skeleton using an improvised bomb made by combining all the alchemist's fire. I fudged and dictated dice ruthlessly, but I think everyone had fun (it was a bit complicated and too much waiting around for the 5yo, predictably, but he just wanted to be included with his siblings' game)