Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #47 – “The Stray”
Out of the Box introduction
If there is one thing consistent with nearly every campaign I have played or Dungeon Mastered, at least one player will try to turn something (if not a lot of things) into either mounts or companions. There seems to be a little of “the collector” in all of us, but in these players the collection of creatures or things is king. It can be hard to either justify or facilitate such players, as their choices may be neither logical nor timely. Circumstance and choice often work against these players. Even worse, some groups always have the player who seeks to stir the pot and sabotages such efforts.
Without going into the political dynamic of dealing with that specific form of problem, this encounter is designed for such collector characters. What will be presented is an opportunity to try to tame something. However, it should not be easy. Therefore we will make the creature both dangerous and possibly unpredictable. However, we will also provide some of the means necessary to optimize the taming experience if it turns out to be a success.
Furthermore, we’ll add a repercussion to the taming (outside of the logical needs for food and shelter for this new companion). This repercussion will be tied to the benefits of having ready-made equipment available. To put this in simpler terms, we will introduce a possible mount. This mount will be a dangerous yet desirable mount. The mount will already have tack and a saddle. But, and this is a big but and cannot lie, the tack and saddle did not materialize out of thin air. It had to have belonged to someone else. That someone else will have lost this beast and will likely want it back. They will especially want it back because the creature will be hard to tame, harder to acquire, and very, very obvious.
Because it’s a wyvern.
A possible mount, or a 500 gp reward, depending on the circumstances
The road ahead twists through farmland and grasslands. Scattered copses of hardwood trees stand here and there surrounded by crops or swaying grass. A gentle breeze blows cool on open skin, a refreshing break from the heat of the previous few hours. The breeze carries an odd sound, faint and distant.
A character who succeeds on a DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check will be able to pick up an odd noise, half shriek and half roar. Should the check exceed 15, the character will be able to determine the direction (to their left somewhere). On the chance that the Wisdom/Perception check passes a 20 or more, they will also hear the distant rustle of a tree or branches being whipped about violently.
Following this noise can be done by passing either a Wisdom/Perception or Wisdom/Survival challenge. That challenge will consist of three consecutive checks against a DC of 15 or better. Should the party fail to pass three consecutive rolls, move the encounter further away and continue the noise. Optionally, you may wish to allow a critical success (natural 20) to count as two successes. This might be an option if your players can’t seem to make three in a row. If they make ten attempts and cannot make three in a row, the encounter will change as noted in complications below.
If the characters do manage three consecutive successes, roll 6d6 and multiply the result by 10. At that distance, they will see a huge tree, old and twisted with a few branches left that still have leaves. Tangled in the tree is a long chain attached to a loud and roaring creature with large wings like a bat. It’s orange-brown skin is covered in scales, and a long tail whips about furiously. The creature pulls at the tree by trying to fly, but cannot get higher than 30 feet for short periods of time. It pushes at the tree with two powerful legs, or bites the ancient plant to no avail. A quick look makes it obvious the creature has something else: a saddle. No rider appears present, and the creature is alone save for the tree and the party now witness to these events.
This is a wyvern. Animals, and indeed angry wyverns, do not think like bipedal humanoids and may require a different approach. To reflect this, as well as to reward those not usually in the social spotlight, there’s another way. For those trained in Animal Handling, you may allow the characters to use this skill in place of Charisma-based skills when dealing with this creature. This will reward those who have been sitting on such skills for a while and have not had their time to shine when it’s typically bards, paladins, sorcerers and warlocks who do all the talking. This is, as always, the call of the Dungeon Master and the players. If no such character exists, feel free to use the standard array of social skills. There are also a few magical options for those so inclined, but it’s important to read the spell descriptions in these cases.
If the DM does indeed have a character skilled in Animal Handling consider allowing them to use it in place of Insight as well. A successful DC 12 Wisdom (Animal Handling or Insight will reveal the animal is more panicked than angry. Should a character succeed on a DC 17 Intelligence (Nature) check they’ll know wyverns respond well to food, and this wyvern may indeed be hungry if it’s been trapped here for a long time.
This should create a difficult dynamic that cannot easily be solved with a single roll. Spells are one thing, but the vast majority have to solve their problems without the aid of magic. Therefore we will focus on that path. The hard way.
To address this, we will use another challenge mechanic, but this one will be a cumulative one (versus a consecutive one like before). In order to succeed, either the characters should select someone to be their wrangler or the DM could suggest one. Speaking as a person who has dealt with animals all my life, I can tell you animals do not respond well to being approached by multiple people at the same time. They feel trapped and will respond accordingly. Therefore a spokesman, or wrangler, is likely the best approach. If the players do not know this, feel free to allow checks like Wisdom, Animal Handling, or Survival; or background features or backstory elements to reveal this little nugget. It’s an important one and should not be ignored. Skill in these areas should mean a DC 10 should be good enough to realize a wrangler is a good idea.
Once decided, the target number for this challenge is 100. To get to that lofty number, the wrangler can do several things to achieve this goal. The wrangler must be within 30 feet of the wyvern. It is totally permissible for other characters to give the Help action, as noted below. The wrangler will make Wisdom (Animal Handling) checks, once per turn, with the results adding up to try and break the 100 total. Those rolls can be affected in the following ways:
- A successful DC 15 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check. Only checks of this value or above count toward the goal of 100 total.
- Food in the form of fresh meat is provided. (A fellow character can use the Help action if they have fresh meat like game or other supplies a wyvern might eat at the DM’s discretion. If Help is allowed the Animal Handling check is made with advantage.
- No open flame. Fires will spook most creatures, and if one is already panicked the sight of torches might induce further panic. A character who succeeds on a DC 12 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check will realize this, unless they come with it on their own. If they do not, and they have open flame for any reason, Animal Handling checks are made with disadvantage.
- If the wrangler rolls a natural 1 on their Animal Handling check, roll again and subtract the next unmodified d20 result from the accumulated total.
- If the wrangler rolls a natural 20 on their Animal Handling check, the next one they make will be with advantage.
If the specific DM would like to interject other suggestions that can shift the total either way, they should feel free to do so. This whole process might take some time, and will likely generate no lack of noise. If the characters are struggling, feel free to roll for wandering monsters after the challenge completes. They may have been drawn by the sound of the struggling wyvern.
It has not gone unnoticed that the wyvern has yet to attack. If it is approached by anyone, including the wrangler before the challenge succeeds, the wyvern will attack. Any and all food (raw meat) given to the wyvern will have to be thrown to it (not at it, there is a distinction). Optionally, the DM could rule the wrangler can approach the wyvern the amount they have accumulated. Should anyone attack the wyvern during this process, the wyvern will become hostile and the whole process will start again, if at all.
It is also conceivable the characters will just try to kill the wyvern outright. If that’s the case, and they attack, allow the wyvern a bonus action each turn to break the chain, at which point it may escape to rampage across the terrain in search of sheep, goats, dogs, or people to sate it’s hunger. Given the strength of the Wyvern, this is not inconceivable.
Should the player characters accumulate the total of 100, the wrangle can then safely approach the Wyvern. If they do so, they will be able to notice a badge on the saddle consistent with heraldry. A successful Intelligence/History check (DC:15) will reveal this saddle, and likely the Wyvern, to be the property of a noble family called the Mortez. (Kraken displayed Or on a field of purpure dexter and sable sinister…or in English, a gold kraken on a field that is half purple and half black).
Note that this does not mean that they can mount or ride the wyvern. Riding a flying mount is a skill in of itself, and will take time to learn (like the rules for learning a new skill in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. The wyvern is technically tame, but not by the player characters, and therefore will balk at being mounted. To successfully mount the wyvern, the attempting character will need to succeed on a DC 20 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check, followed by a successful DC 17 Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to stay in the saddle. If they can do so for two turns, the wyvern will settle down and get used to that character in the saddle. The more time the wrangler spends with the creature, the more accustomed the creature will get to the wrangler.
How much time it will take to get to the point where the creature is tame with regard to the rider is up to the actions and choices of the character involved, as well as the opportunities that arrive.
But there is a further complication. The Mortez. They will be missing this lost steed and will want it back. To make matters even more interesting, the Mortez are a noble house unlike many others. They are a strange mixture of the ruthless, arcane, misplaced, and are well-funded. They are reputed to be mad and strange, which could be as true or misleading as the DM wishes.
As a note, this is the noble house used at my own table, and they are indeed as weird and delightful as you might think. The Mortez will have spies and agents, mercenaries and mages. If the characters are bent on keeping this wyvern, they may well have a nemesis on their hands that could provide no few complications. If the characters discover the nature of the original owners and wish to return this steed, they must might be in line for a just reward. It would be reasonable to expect a reward of 500 gold pieces for the safe return of this mount. This result, as well as the noble house in question, are both open to the interpretation of the DM in question, and the DM may wish to alter the name and the nature of the noble house and the reward as they see fit.
There are several. Trying to tame the wyvern could end with the death of the wyvern, one or more party members, or the wrath and attention of a jealous and ruthless noble family. This encounter is loaded with possible complications and offshoots that could occur simply because of the presence of this creature, and the attention it may draw. In essence, it follows the old adage “be careful what you wish for – you may get it.”….and all that implies.
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