I once found a free adventure online that delved into a concept that D&D has often covered, but essentially in reverse. We have seen Underdark versions of several surface races. Duergar, Derro, Drow, Svirfneblin, etc., have all been a part of D&D for decades, and the public has accepted them as part of the D&D canon. It’s often the case whereby we will take any number of surface races and apply this non-specific “Underdark template” to these races. However, this online adventure did one thing that, at least to my experience, has never been done before – it turned that concept around in 180 degrees. It had surface, swamp dwelling Kuo-Toa. Perhaps this is due to a particular and very popular MMORPG that shall remain unnamed in this article.
This was a concept that immediately struck a cord with me, as it opened up an entire selection of races and creatures that needed only slight modification to exist in another terrain. It was simple yet brilliant. Even with that door opened, the concept of surface Kuo-Toa still stuck with me, and made their way into my steampunk, island-jumping, ship-based adventure. Using the chaotic-yet-ever-present Kuo-Toan tradition for affecting transformation through acts of their mad faith, I inserted a Kuo-Toan Paladin into the player characters. This was something I also drew from the Monty Python classic, “The Life of Brian.” I used the concept of an accidental “messiah,” threw in the Kuo-Toan transformative ability based on their cult-like belief, and created an NPC who would be that player characters’ “head of the faith” wherever they might roam. This Kuo-Toan would garble their praises to all who would tolerate it, bringing humor to normally serious encounters as well as adding personnel to an otherwise thin party roster. All it took was two simple changes. The surface Kuo-Toans lost the 120’ darkvision in favor of 60’ darkvision, and therefore lost Sunlight Sensitivity in the balance. Done. A new race was added.
With regard to the rest of this encounter and how it should scale, we’ll do something a little different. Instead of measuring the difficulty by the level of the group, we’ll do it based on the number of players in the group. Typically this sort of encounter should be at lower levels, so we’ll factor that in as an “obvious” thing. Most player characters can individually crank out a certain amount of damage, and given that this encounter can repeat in a certain way (see below), making it deadly would defeat its entertainment value.
Suggested level: Any, but should be 3+
Description: For the purposes of this encounter, we’ll keep the theme swampish, just to make the scenario more “believable.” This will give a reasonable location for this surface Kuo-Toan (which should be enough to raise an eyebrow for any experienced player), as well as utilize a common surface terrain that can be commonly experienced by travelling bands of adventurers.
The player characters will be travelling down a winding path through twisted alder bushes, nettles, and swampy pools. The sound of insects, the smell of stagnant marshy water, and the sour scent of algae, milkweed and broken thrushes fills the air. Alders twist into the path, creating annoying tangles in gear and lashing at open skin every time the thin, springy branches are bent and not constrained. Mosquitoes whine in ears and sneak into gaps in clothing and armor to deliver itchy bites. The entire experience is unpleasant and strains the patience of even the most level-headed of compatriots.
Suddenly breaking the drudgery of swamp travel are the odd screams and shouts of alarm from beyond the next copse of alders. When the player characters break through this tangle, they will witness the following:
The alders, thrushes and swamp grass open up in a small, circular clearing. That clearing houses a strange pantomime of alarm. A five-foot-tall humanoid fish-man runs about the clearing. It shouts with its arms flailing above its head in alarm, running about in wild patterns. It’s being pursued relentlessly by a translucent creature. This creature appears as a large mouth ringed with jagged yellow teeth, perhaps five foot in diameter, with wriggling black tentacles swirling about in an aggressive fashion. A large tongue darts out from the maw of this creature, dripping with saliva. Despite having no visible eyes, the creature seems to chase the fish-man with unerring precision about the clearing, only just being evaded.
At first, the fish humanoid takes no notice of the party. A successful Wisdom (Insight) check (DC:10) will reveal the slightly obvious fact that this creature is obviously in fear.
The fish man, its scaled skin glistening a bright green striped with black, has bright red eyes rimmed in yellow. Its simple tribal garb is fashioned in leather and wicker. What looks like a flat wooden club rimmed with jagged pieces of black stone or glass lays in the middle of the clearing.
The Kuo Toa, named Glopanlop (after the same such NPC in my past campaign) is being chased, literally by a figment of his own imagination. Here’s the trick – he fully believes that this creature exists, so based upon the nature of Kuo-Toan belief, it DOES exist – if only temporarily. Kuo-Toan belief is such that if a large enough number of them collectively believe in a certain thing, then that thing will change to reflect that belief. Glopanlop is unique in that his belief is very powerful, but only affects himself. So if he truly believes that something might help or harm him, it just might – but only if it serves a story or creates humor or drama. Otherwise this ability might get abused. It’s always wise to build safeguards into this sort of thing.
This figment of his imagination is a horrendous creation, which for the purposes of this encounter will scale with the number of player characters in the group. This imaginary creature has 20 hit points for each player character in the group. It has a base AC of 10 plus 1 for each character in the group, rounding up. This figment has a number of attacks equal to the number of player characters on the group divided by 2 (rounding up). The bonus to attack is equal to half the number of player characters in the party, divided by two (round down). The damage per attack is 1d8 Bludgeoning, plus 1 for each member in the group. It has no skills and its saves are all +1. It Hovers at a rate of 30’.
Therefore, a party of four would face a creature with an AC: 16, 80 hit points, 2 attacks at +4 each, dealing Bludgeoning damage equal to 1d8 + 4. Its saves are at +1, and has no skills (so all perception or other rolls are flat with no bonuses). If or when the party defeats this creature, which has no “type (beast, abberation, giant, etc.),” whomever delivers the killing blow becomes the “savior of Glopanlop.” Whomever this “savior” is, they will gain Glopanlop as a follower. He will change from being a basic Kuo Toa into a Knight (see below), devoted only to that PC. They will become an NPC with a level equal to 4, or 2 less than the player character who wins him, whichever is lesser. Glopanlop will be a loyal and devout follower of that player character regardless of the PC’s race or class, and will try to follow his “liege’s” orders to the letter. He will gain the ability to understand that PC’s native language, but will only speak the Kuo-Toan garbled version of Deep Speech. It’s up to that PC to find a way to speak with him.
For statistics on Glopanlop, once he becomes a follower, change his ability scores from “Kuo Toa” (page 199, Monster Manual) to “Knight” (page 347, Monster Manual), with the following exceptions. Glopanlop will not magically gain any armor, and will want to use the macuahuitl (the weapon in the center of the clearing) as his chosen weapon. His armor class will stay the same as the standard Kuo-Toa, he will retain the 60’ darkvision and will retain Amphibious, Otherworldly Perception, Slippery, and Bite. He will gain the ability scores, saves, CR, Multi-attack. and Leadership of the Knight. That Leadersjip will be used to benefit his savior/liege whenever possible.
The macuahuiltl can be considered to be a greatsword, but is not made of metal. That changes nothing about how it works outside of any vulnerability to rust.
Monsters: The “Figment” detailed above
Treasure: A follower!
Complications: The complications to this are twofold. This encounter bears the standard dangers of any encounter where physical danger exists, but also gains the additional fun of a possible follower that the party are not ready or trained for. This adds an element of role-playing to a normally combat oriented series of events, and also adds a social element where the “liege” will have to develop methods of communication with their new follower, as well as any new and unusual behavioral traits that a clever DM will want to insert for Glopanlop to challenge or entertain the player characters. Given the range of these possibilities, I’ll leave that up to the individual DM. That sort of freedom can allow a given DM to insert plot hooks for Glopanlop (like where he came from, why he thought this monster was attacking, how he came to be in the clearing, etc.), as well as challenge the party in other ways apart from combat.