Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #10 – “Fish Bowl”

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #10 – “Fish Bowl”

D&D encounter
Did someone say fish bowl? Better not mess with The Xanathar’s goldfish. Cover to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything from Wizards of the Coast. [Art by Jason Rainville]

Introduction

Terrain is everything to an fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons encounter. It determines the intent and feel. It determines what monsters can be used or what spells might work. It sets the stage.
But what if the terrain were to change…say almost instantly? What if the player characters weren’t ready for a change in terrain and were placed into a setting they may not be ready for? This is the basis for the fish bowl encounter.
Imagine, if you will, the exploration of a setting like a wizard’s tower, dungeon, or other interior setting. The setting might be so mundane as to allay any suspicions…until one or more player characters do something – seemingly innocent, to change the course of the entire moment. Then, out of nowhere, there might be one or more player characters fighting to survive while the rest scramble for solutions to the problem at hand.
That’s Fish Bowl. A mad and unexpected scramble to solve a problem. It’s part trap, part encounter, and entirely unexpected.

water encounter

Environment

Dungeon and Aquatic

Level

5+

Description

The party will enter into what should be a typical example for it’s type. It may be a study, library, laboratory or other type of room where items of all kinds can be available. One item will be what looks like a simple fish bowl, perhaps 8 in. in diameter and, at first glance, normal.
Should any PC cast detect magic in the vicinity of this bowl, it will glow with an aura of transmutation. Unless touched, this fish bowl filled with water will remain quiet and otherwise uninteresting (aside from the aura of transmutation magic, of course)
However, should one or more PC touch this fish bowl (perhaps during the course of an Investigation check), they will be immediately affected by it’s magic. They will have to succeed on a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or be teleported and shrunk to 2 in. tall and captured within the fish bowl.
D&D water
A water elemental, as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
The water in the fish bowl is not water, but a water elemental which has also been captured. It will then attack the shrunken and captive PCs. What happens next depends on what happens inside and outside the fish bowl.
Inside the fish bowl, in addition to fighting the water elemental on it’s own terms, the trapped PCs will have to start dealing with the rules on drowning (see Suffocation, Players Handbook, page 183). Furthermore, the trapped PCs will also have to deal with the rules for underwater combat (Players Handbook, page 198) on top of the restrictions provided by the water elemental itself (Monster Manual, page 125). Defeating the water elemental ends the magic of the fish bowl and releases them.
Outside the fish bowl, other PCs have a few options.
Should a PC cast dispel magic upon the fish bowl, the dispel magic will have to beat a DC 15 using the spellcasting ability. (For example, a wizard will need an Intelligence check of 15+, whereas a cleric would need a wisdom check against the 15. Dispel magic must be cast by the person making the check as per the spell description – Players Handbook, page 234.)
Should that spell and check be successful, both the elemental and the PCs will be released from the fish bowl at normal size. Combat may then continue outside the fish bowl as normal. They will appear beside the fish bowl or in the nearest unoccupied space within 5 ft. of the bowl – whichever is closer.
Should a PC choose to break the fish bowl, that will be relatively easy as well. The fish bowl is made of glass and is small in size. That gives it an AC 13 and 5 hit points. Damage to the fish bowl does not transfer to the creatures trapped inside if it’s broken by a weapon strike or other mundane means (like dropping it or smashing it against a wall.)
However, should anyone attack the fish bowl with an attack that deals lightning damage, the damage taken by the fish bowl will transfer to the creatures within the bowl, with any pertinent saving throws being allowed by those contained within the fish bowl, whether or not the fish bowl is destroyed in the process.
As above, should the bowl be destroyed, any surviving creatures can act normally at their normal sizes as above. (Appearing normal size beside the wreckage of the fish bowl, or the nearest unoccupied space within 5ft. of where the fish bowl would have been.)
Should conditions exist where no unoccupied space exists where the water elemental and the PCs can safely appear, all former occupants will take 4d6 force damage and then appear in the nearest occupied space next to each other.

Monsters

Water elemental (1) – as per Monster Manual, page 125

Treasure

None

Complications

D&D encounterThere are a few. Dying in the fish bowl to a water elemental because a PC has no one around who knows they’re trapped in the fish bowl is a real possibility. Drowning is a real threat. Being surprised by lightning damage from outside the fish bowl while being “rescued” by one’s fellows is certainly a reality.
The rare chance of some cruel fellow party member burying the bowl (or other method of preventing no safe space around the bowl) is also a possibility.
This is both a magical trap and a monster encounter in an unexpected environment. Players who might panic in such cases should not be subjected to this sort of encounter. However, should a DM feel confident that their party might be able to handle such an oddball encounter, then they should feel free to use this encounter.
A prospective DM should note the level of the encounter. Note the “5+.” If a DM wants to use this encounter for higher level encounters, feel free to scale up the monster trapped within. If the DM wants a dragon turtle hiding in a tiny cave in the fish bowl, then there’s no reason why it should look any different from a very small snapping turtle to the casual observer…until it’s too late.
I have to admit…the thought of a gargantuan dragon turtle spilling into a dungeon room, crushing the occupants and then breathing steam as a response…is hilarious to the “evil DM” within me.
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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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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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