Out of the Box D&D Encounter, Series 2, #49 – “Sting of Life”

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #48 - "It's Raining....Men?"
Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #50 - "The Sculptor"

Out of the Box introduction

I have been remiss in one aspect. I have failed to reveal a villain that has played a role in some of the homebrewed creatures featured in the Out of the Box series. This villain has been mentioned in The Broker, and will be featured in re-writes of The Passenger, Smells Fishy and others. The reasoning for this is clear, and it’s something that happens at more than my table.

Out of the Box D&D encounter giant insect monster
Starring Jim Davis! No, not that Jim Davis from Web DM. Actor Jim Davis played Dr. Quent Brady in this 1957 science fiction movie.

 

Dungeon Masters everywhere often stress about creating the right mastermind. There can be any number of reasons for this. Perhaps one or more villains have been used too many times, or the players are experienced and want something new. Perhaps the DM wishes to strike the right mood or tempo for a storyline, or perhaps they seek to have something unique at their table that a simple re-skin will not accomplish.

All of these can be valid concerns. Out of the Box Encounters has featured several new monsters thus far, but most have been of the minion-level variety, random thugs or wild creatures. One has been more of a lieutenant. None has been a master.

Let’s change that.

This encounter will introduce a new monster, the Vespidroi, or hive lord. Vespidroi can be a daunting foe, with possible lethal repercussions after a battle, whether it wins or loses. But what is a master without a master plan? This, too, can be something of an issue for DMs struggling with writer’s block. Therefore, we will start with something that appears simple, but holds deep insectoid horror within.

The plan will look superficial, but will have long reaching implications. It will be easy to understand, but impossible to immediately know how far it goes. This will have the effect of creating doubt and paranoia with the right delivery. And that’s the key — delivered to the right group of players, the DM could create an immediate sense of urgency.

Environment

Wilderness/rocky mountainous pass or canyon

Level

7-8

Monsters

Vespidroi (hive lord) — 1
Hive lord grub — 1-7

Treasure

The hive lord wears fine robes worth 50 gp, and carries an arcane focus — a black staff taken from a traveler (but not needed for its psionics), 25 gp, trade goods worth 100 gp worth, but heavy, weighing 100 pounds). The wagon is intact and worth 200 gp. What the hive lord did not know is the staff has a secret compartment in it, accessible by screwing off the top. Characters who succeed on a DC 17 Intelligence (Investigation) check will find a scroll of greater restoration hidden inside.

Description

giant insect monster
Insectoid monsters are just straight up creepy and terrifying, like the ankheg as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
The path twists ahead through rock and around steep ledges. It seems a wonder why any take this path at all sometimes. Yet, it is the most direct route through this area of the badlands. Steep walls of orange-brown mark either side of this roadway. It was once a popular place for banditry in the past before the rise of law and civilization, but even that has taken its toll. More than once the party has had to try to squeeze past carts or wagons either coming the other way or in a rush to get around slower travelers ahead. Time waits for no one, you guess.

But fellow travelers on this path have been few and far between of late. Rumors have persisted of the pass being haunted. Some have whispered that entire coaches of people have gone missing, sometimes even the beasts of burden. Yet patrols have found no trace of giants, ogres, or even gnolls in the area; the typical villains for this sort of behavior.

The demand for goods and the need to pay the bills have yet driven the desperate to take this pass, and you are no different. But as you start to make it past the next bend, a wagon blocks your path. Diagonal in the road with what looks like the remains of a horse in front of it, it fully impedes this 15 ft. wide pass through high walls of stone and earth.

The terrain here is unforgiving, but not impossible to deal with. The path itself is indeed 15 feet wide, and the walls are of a textured sandstone and clay. They aren’t sheer, but they are pretty close to it, and go 45 feet straight up for 100 feet in front of and behind the wagon. Climbing them will require a successful DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check at the start of each turn. Those who fail will fall from the distance at which they failed. Those who fail just at the outset of the climb will obviously not fall, but will simply not proceed upward (or sideways, if so inclined).

Those what wish to check the wagon or the horse will find the wagon itself is 5 ft. wide and 10 ft. long with low walls on the sides and front. It has a 4 ft. tall hooped frame covered with a canvas tarp for a roof. It is, in essence, a typical covered wagon. The back is covered with a closed canvas flap. It looks, just at the outset, very much intact from the outside, apart from the dead horse lashed to the front of it. The driver’s bench is unoccupied.

The horse itself has a large open wound in its stomach, and its entrails have spilled out. The smell is awful. At the DM’s discretion, you may require a successful DC 10 Constitution saving throw to not wretch for a turn from the smell for those standing next to the horse. Those wishing to inspect the horse who succeed on a DC 10 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Medicine) check will discover a large puncture wound on the back of the horse. If the Medicine check succeeds by 5 or more, a character will determine the puncture wound had some sort of poison or other toxic agent involved. A Medicine check that succeeds by 10 or more reveals the wound on the bottom of the horse is explosive and not implosive. In other words, the wound originated from within, and was not a result of being slashed, bludgeoned or pierced from outside.

For those wishing to investigate the wagon, a successful DC 10 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Perception) check reveals the driver’s bench has no sign of struggle, and no blood stains. Further investigation will reveal the same on the outside of the tarp of the wagon. To gather more information, characters can investigate within the wagon. Should they listen for anything inside the wagon while standing outside, with a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check a character detects the faint sound of scratching within. Inside the wagon’s 5 ft. x 10 ft. x 4 ft. high space, there are an assortment of barrels and sacks pushed to the front of the wagon, with what look like rolled bedrolls scattered about. The moment anyone enters the wagon, the hive lord grub hiding in the sacks attacks. It looks like an orange and black striped pill bug with large black multifaceted eyes, four clawed legs and a long black stinger at the end of its abdomen.

Given that the grub is alone and the characters are of a much higher level, this should be a very quick fight. When the hive lord grub dies, characters within 120 ft. of the wagon will hear the following message telepathically.

“How dare you strike my children! Worms! Now you shall be reborn in pain into a perfect form.”

The vespirdroi will rise over the ridge to the right of the cart at a height of 60 feet above the wagon. It appears as a wasp-like humanoid with a chitin covered, segmented body and large black unblinking multifaceted eyes. Its black and orange striped body is held aloft with two large insect wings and is adorned in wizard or priest-like raiments covered in mystic runes. It holds a black staff in its two arms. It has two main goals on its agenda. Either Egg Sting everyone to generate more young, or kill those who resist. It will use every ability it has to do this, even if that means convincing the characters to climb up the ridge to its hidden nest above to either be implanted or feed its young.

It’s opening attack will be to cast enthrall on each character it can see. If it succeeds in charming everyone it sees, on its next turn it will convince whoever appears to be the biggest threat, or the most heavily armored to begin climbing the ridge. This will serve two purposes. It intends to implant eggs in every victim. If the charmed targets break the spell, it can then choose to attack those still climbing to make them fall. It can also just enthrall again as needed. If the vast majority of characters resist the enthrall, it will drop to 30 feet and use its Sonic Stunner ability. Stunned characters will be attacked with the Egg Sting ability.

If one character resists on a regular basis, it might use suggestion to convince that character it was merely trying to protect its children, and that the character should really help it rebuild its nest after travelers attacked it. If a character seems resistant or continues to save versus its psionic barrages, it will simply try to kill it, with or without the Egg Sting.

If any character climbs the ridge before or after the attack begins, or scouts above via spells or abilities, they will discover an indentation approximately 20 feet in diameter filled with what looks like a strange daisy-shaped tent. It has a central 3 ft. diameter hole in the centre, with six 2 ft. wide and 7 ft. long capsule-like “pedals” around it. Each pedal has a small entrance onto the central opening. The structure has a similar color to the orange-black soil around it. Should anyone touch it, it will have a rough texture like hand-made paper, and will be about as firm as cardboard. The entire area will have a strange smell like a mixture of rotting meat and nectar.

This is the vespirdroi’s birthing chamber. Each pedal is actually a cocoon that holds the dead body of a human traveler from the wagon below. The chamber has an AC 12, and vulnerability to fire damage. It takes only 10 damage to open a chamber, and inside they will find a human corpse. If the bodies are not destroyed by fire or acid, they will each birth a new hive lord grub in 24 hours, which will each wander off to start new hives of their own.

If the hive lord is successful in implanting a character, and that character is dropped to 0 hit points, it will be laid down here as a new petal and the vespirdroi will use a mixture of soil, chewed plant matter and saliva to build a new petal around their body until the new grub is born.

Complications

The single greatest complication is the risk of being implanted with a hive lord egg via the Egg Sting attack. Worse yet is not knowing such as occurred and the character has survived the conflict…with a grub growing inside them. If a character has such a condition, and you do not wish to surprise them with it, mention chest or intestinal pain, a problem with breathing, and constant nausea.

Perhaps viewing movies from a franchise where alien creatures burst forth from living hosts would give you an idea of what they might experience. It is truly horrific, and not a heroic death. Such is the nature of those who deal with beings from the Far Realm. Consider this first before treading into this territory. If your table would be averse to this sort of fate or are sensitive to such things, perhaps a different encounter might be best.

Vespidroi (hive lord)

D&D encounter giant insect monster
A thri-kreen as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
Proud and ruthless. Hailing from distant realms, vespidroi, or hive lords, seek dominance and control over everything they see. Their hunger for prey and breeding stock have driven them from world to world looking to implant fresh hive lords upon them to conspire for control.

These upright wasp-like humanoid figures are intelligent and conniving, though that is hard to recognize when looking at their unblinking, large, black, multi-faceted eyes and chitinous faces. Adults have four small arms to manipulate the world around them, and two long legs upon which they walk about. Their bodies are covered in smooth chitin, and varies in color depending upon the hive from which they originate. Many are yellow and black, but orange and black, blue and black, or bright green and black are not unheard of. Regardless of the color of their exoskeleton, they have two long, diaphanous wings with which they can fly about, often a shade of the color of their exoskeletons.

Hive lords are proud and vain, and will always seek to remain clean and well groomed. They will garb themselves in fine silks woven from the gossamer of arachnid prey, fine jewelry, and other finery when every they can.

Hidden speech. Vespirdroi communicate when necessary with outsiders through telepathy, but when among their own kind they also use pheromones to convey ideas, emotions, and plans. This form of communication is silent and invisible, and only faintly detectable those to most sensitive noses with a successful DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check to detect a faint floral scent.

Warring for control. Vespirdroi do not suffer rivals in their territory. They despise all arachnids and their spawn. However, above all else, hive lords will seek out any thri-kreen in their territory. The hatred between these two species runs deep, and neither is divulging its origin. Furthermore, vespirdroi will seek to subjugate any coh leop hives within their domain. These insect humanoid species are readily compliant to their hive lord pheromones, and the hive lords are not above using them as instant slave labor and front line troops. Hive lords will slay coh leop queens who do not comply with vespirdroi rulership, and may simply kill queens as an example to keep the lower coh leop in line.

Distant parents. Vespidroi do not remain behind to care for any hive lord grubs. Each offspring seems born with all the evil intent and ruthlessness required to succeed in their genre, and grubs tend to mature quickly if not discovered and slain. This leaves the young to carve out their own domain, spreading hive lord influence to new territory.

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Follow Mike Gould:
I fell into gaming in the oddest of ways. Coming out of a bad divorce, my mom tried a lot of different things to keep my brother and I busy and out of trouble. It didn't always work. One thing that I didn't really want to do, but did because my mom asked, was enroll in Venturers. As an older Scout-type movement, I wasn't really really for the whole camping-out thing. Canoe trips and clean language were not my forte. Drag racing, BMX and foul language were. What surprised me though was one change of pace our Scout leader tried. He DMed a game of the original D&D that came out after Chainmail (and even preceedd the Red Box). All the weapons just did 1d6 damage, and the three main demi-humans (Elf, Dwarf and Halfling) were not only races, but classes. There were three alignments (Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic). It was very basic. I played all the way through high school and met a lot of new people through gaming. My expected awkwardness around the opposite sex disappeared when I had one game that was seven girls playing. They, too, never thought that they would do this, and it was a great experiement. But it got me hooked. I loved gaming, and my passion for it became infectious. Despite hanging with a very rough crowd who typically spent Fridays scoring drugs, getting into fights, and whatnot, I got them all equally hooked on my polyhedral addiction. I DMed guys around my table that had been involved in the fast-living/die young street culture of the 80s, yet they took to D&D like it was second nature. They still talk to me about those days, even when one wore a rival patch on his back to the one I was wearing. We just talked D&D. It was our language. Dungeons and Dragons opened up a whole new world too. I met lots off oddballs along with some great people. I played games like Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Car Wars, Battletech, lots of GURPS products, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Rolemaster, Champions, Marvel Superheroes, Earth Dawn...the list goes on. There was even a time while I was risiding with a patch on my back and I would show up for Mechwarrior (the clix kind) tournaments. I was the odd man out there. Gaming lead to me attending a D&D tournament at a local convention, which lead to being introduced to my paintball team, called Black Company (named after the book), which lead to meeting my wife. She was the sister of my 2iC (Second in Command), and I fell in love at first sight. Gaming lead to me meeting my best friend, who was my best man at my wedding and is the godfather of my youngest daughter. Life being what it is, there was some drama with my paintball team/D&D group, and we parted ways for a number of years. In that time I tried out two LARP systems, which taught me a lot about public speaking, improvisation, and confidence. There was a silver lining. I didn't play D&D again for a very long time, though. Then 5E came out. I discovered the Adventurer's League, and made a whole new group of friends. I discovered Acquisitions Incorporated, Dwarven Tavern, and Nerdarchy. I was hooked again. And now my daughter is playing. I introduced her to 5E and my style of DMing, and we talk in "gamer speak" a lot to each other (much to the shagrin of my wife/her mother...who still doesn't "get it"). It's my hope that one day she'll be behind the screen DMing her kids through an amazing adventure. Time will tell.

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