D&D encounters

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #50 – “The Sculptor”

Out of the Box D&D Encounter, Series 2, #49 - "Sting of Life"
Out of the Box: Encounters for 5th Edition Lives!

Out of the Box introduction

There’s a song my wife and I hold dear that describes seeing someone differently all of a sudden despite seeing them a thousand times before. This sort of event is all too real. The moment of realization where the one viewing, reading, listening, or interacting with a person, place, song or book in a completely new and surprising way can be a huge flash of creativity. Have you heard a song in a completely new way because the context in which you heard it changed? It’s likely.

Out of the Box D&D encounters fomorian
A fomorian as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]

Likewise, reading something again I’ve read before, but with new eyes tends to lead in all sorts of new directions. This happened recently while perusing the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. Specifically, when reading the entry on the fomorian giant. I’ve encountered them as a player, but to be fair, I only ever saw them run as a sack of hit points with a magical attack.

They’re so much more. They’re a creature steeped in Feywild and giant mythology, and notorious for their cruelty. When I read the phrase about the creative ways (and I use that phrase very liberally) they mark their territory, what comes to mind isn’t to a sack of hit points. I get flashes of horror. I see the films of Clive Barker, and Silence of the Lambs. I see 1980s-era slasher flicks and the twisted works of Rob Zombie.

I’ll bet you didn’t think this would go from Blue Rodeo to giants to Rob Zombie. Welcome to my brain.

This kind of accidental and tangential logic is core to creative thinking and should not be overlooked. Dungeon Masters of all kinds should feel free to let their minds wander when creating encounters or campaigns, as it will often lead characters to new and interesting places….and possibly inspire the players to do the same.

To highlight this, we will wander into the realms of horror. Be forewarned: This encounter will contain graphic imagery and will invoke disturbing images if it works like I think it will. If this sort of encounter will upset or disturb your players unduly, then I suggest either the imagery be played down, or the encounter not be used. Roleplaying games are meant to be fun, and I would hope the fun at your table isn’t ended for some because of emotionally upsetting content.

Tread carefully.

Environment

Caves/Underdark

Level

7-9

Monsters

Zaleko the Sculptor – fomorian

Shriekers (5)

Treasure

Ring of the Ram, 1500 gp, 1000 sp, and a broken gold hand mirror worth 100 gp

Description

The tunnel has been twisted for some time now, but constantly enlarging. Bioluminescent fungi dot here and there creating a kaleidoscope of twisting orange and green light with slashes of shadow, rocky ridges erupting like rows of teeth and tongues of pink glowing mushroom caps. Eventually this underground gullet widens to a roughly 30 ft. diameter opening, lined with sharp stalactites along the top, and several stalagmites along the base. The entire experience feels like entering or exiting a mouth.

Beyond, a huge cavern opens up, vast in proportions and pungent with fungal odors. Starting at the 30 ft. wide opening, the chamber expands greatly in two directions. At first, from the entrance, it expands to 70 ft. wide and stretches in an irregular but generally forward path for 80 feet. Twenty feet down the right wall is another 20 ft. wide circular opening, and from within, a green glow can be seen.

The 70 ft. x 80 ft. section contains five enormous stalagmites, each roughly 10 ft. in diameter and stretch to the ceiling 60 ft. above like conical pillars. Four of these stony pillars are roughly in each corner of this section, 10 ft. away from each wall. The fifth pillar sits almost directly in the center of the room. This chamber stinks of rot and mold, and the ceiling above drips constantly in slow irregular rhythms. The floor is damp and slippery, with tiny pools of water here and there surrounded by tiny green and orange bioluminescent mushrooms.

The floor is indeed slippery, which is easily crossed with care. However, should a character choose to Dash or use a movement rate over 30 ft. per turn, they will need to succeed on a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check or slip and fall prone. The DC for the check is 10 plus 5 for every 10 ft. of movement speed over the base 30 ft.

For those wishing to explore this first chamber, there is much to be discovered. Anyone looking up who succeeds on a DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check (assuming they can see in dim light 20 ft. up the pillars) will notice odd shapes upon the pillars. These shapes will be odd figures…

Out of the Box D&D encounters
A shrieker as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
Complicating this will be the tall, man-sized gray mushrooms with doughnut-like apertures covering their caps surrounding the central stalagmite. These five fungi are shriekers and they will react to light or the presence of living creatures within 30 ft. of the base of the central pillar. This will cover the width of this chamber. Should the shriekers be activated, other fungi in the room will react. There are currently unlit bioluminescent fungi surrounding and growing from all of the odd figures suspended from the stalagmites in the room. Should the shriekers go off, the purple mushrooms will respond and light up so long as the shriekers wail. This will make seeing these figures obvious, but identifying them will not be so clear.

The odd figures will be the “artwork” of Zaleko the Sculptor, a fomorian giant of deep cruelty and the foulest intent. This entry chamber is his gallery, intended to both warn other fomorians of his presence, and to alert Zaleko of potential new material to work with.

This artwork will likely shock onlookers. A character who succeeds on a  DC 12 Intelligence (Nature) or Wisdom (Medicine or Survival) can identify the remains and logically deduce exactly what these figures used to be.

The artwork is a series of remains of humanoids torn apart and sewn back together in twisted forms. As an example, there might be a male orc torso, naked and flayed, with the limbs and head removed and then sewn back on in the wrong place. There may be a head in an arm socket, a leg for a head and so on.

There may be a mix of species, with different races and different sexes randomly assembled, sewn together with scraps of leather, sinew and string.

The purple mushrooms grow from rotted and empty eye sockets, agape mouths, and from open wounds. Entrails dangle from some, or are draped like twisted wigs or garments from others, all bespeckled with tiny glowing mushrooms from their slick surfaces. Beetles crawl over these forms like tiny maintenance teams, travelling in and out of open wounds like tenants.

Returning to the 20 ft. opening in the right wall, it opens into a 60 ft. diameter, 30 ft. high domed chamber. The entrance to this room sits in the middle of the leftmost section of wall contacting the 70 ft. x 80 ft. chamber outside. The pervasive green glow comes from brain-like patterns of bioluminescent fungi covering the walls.

In the center of the room sits a great stone cauldron or pot carved from a massive boulder. Cracks in the floor issue steam that hisses as it surrounds the massive 10 ft. diameter, 3 ft. high structure. In the center of the domed ceiling, a series of cracks allow the steam to find escape upward to an unknown destination. The smell of rot and boiled fat hang heavy in the air mixed with the pungent odor of fungus and a whiff of sulfur.

Scattered about the outer perimeter of the room are several small stalagmites that have grown into the wall like castle bulwarks, each dangling chimes constructed of bones strung together with leather or sinew. Tapestries of humanoid skin hang from the ceiling, decorated with runic language. (For those so inclined, the tapestries are each a dedication in the Giant language to Vaprak, the god of trolls and ogres.)

“I create as you destroy,” “hunger made to art” and other such phrases — a DM should feel free to indulge themselves here.

Standing immediately behind the stone vat of bubbling goo is a massive figure, twisted and deformed. Even with its hunched back, this purple-skinned creature stands a good 16 ft. tall. One eye stares out larger than the other, bloodshot and yellow. Teeth of varying sizes jut from black lips, and bumps and warts cover bare flesh. Skulls of various creatures dangle from ropes of entrails around its neck, and swirls of black charcoal decorate bare flesh. This is Zaleko the Sculptor, a deeply twisted fomorian.

D&D encounters
The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1512-1516 (oil on panel). [Art by
Matthias Grünewald]
Zaleko will have a 100 percent chance of knowing about an intrusion if he hears the shriekers, and a 75 percent chance of noticing the purple glow from the fungi growing on and near his artwork even if the characters choose to use a silence spell or similar tactic. If either of these conditions are met, Zaleko will not be surprised and will be ready.

He will, as his opening tactic, use his action to tip the vat over toward the entryway to his inner chamber. This will splash forth a bubbling hot stew of humanoid fat and bodies in a 15 ft. cone. Apart from the horror of it, character must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw or take 14 (4d6) fire damage, or half as much on a successful one. In addition, the affected area becomes difficult terrain, as well as making it greasy and slippery. Characters who begin their turn in the area, travel through the area or end their turn in the area must succeed on a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw or slip and fall prone. Complicating this already poor situation, the stew on the floor will still be boiling hot for the first 3 rounds, so anyone in the area will take 3 (1d6) fire damage for each turn they traverse or end their turn there.

After this opening gambit, he will utter dark plans in Giant about what mad creations he will make from them after he’s boiled their fat away, and will use his Evil Eye ability as often as possible, reverting to his great club only if pressed in melee. He will delight in targeting elves with the Curse of the Evil Eye, as to strip any beauty they possess away from them.

For those who take the time to sift through the remains that have spilled onto the floor, a Ring of the Ram will be found on a finger. This may require a detect magic spell, or a successful DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check to find. There will also be a large sack at the back of the chamber which will contain three random items from the Items from a Giant’s Bag table (available for free reference or download from Wizards of the Coast) as well as 1500 gp, 1000 sp, and  gold hand mirror with a smashed glass surface worth 100 gp.

Complications

There’s potentially a lot of falling prone, which may be more silly than deadly. However, the real concern is the true horror of what the fomorian has done with his victims, and the risk of upsetting sensitive players. As stated earlier, if the DM feels that this may be a valid concern, perhaps another encounter might be appropriate, or remove the artwork in the gallery. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: If fiendish artist villains interest you, check out and download Empusia: Curator of Souls for free in the Nerdarchy store.]

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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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