Introduction: Volo’s Guide to Monsters is an excellent resource for new and interesting encounters and campaigns. Furthermore, the lore on several species of monsters and humanoids have added new depth to the understanding of these adversaries, making them more of a developed foe than a simple two-dimensional thug.
One that I was glad to see further development on was the Yuan-Ti (which I pronounce WON-tee, given it’s Mezo-American “feel”). These complex and (honestly) creepy foes are rich in culture, faith, architecture, and machinations. An encounter with Yuan-Ti (the same word in plural as it is in singular in my mind … like sheep or deer) should be more than a simple initiative roll followed by the swinging of martial weapons. Yuan-Ti are devious. Yuan-Ti are patient. Yuan-Ti are the stuff of nightmares. An encounter with them should leave the players wondering if they are being watched, and if this was but the first of many run-ins with these serpentine villains. The actions of these humanoids reflects the worst of what we think of when it comes to performing live human sacrifices. Like the Jaguar Warriors of the ancient Aztec Empire, Yuan-Ti will often range far and wide to capture victims for either sacrifice or to transform into one of their thralls.
To those who are not of the snake men, we are all but a resource to be used. That inhumanity should be evident when you unveil any encounter with the serpentine lot. The feeling of hopelessness among the common citizenry, or perhaps even whispered rumors or ancient paintings/pictographs of rituals performed by the Yuan-Ti (covered in growth, moss, dust, etc. for added effect) would be great clues to foreshadow any run-in with these humanoids. I would even suggest setting up such an encounter perhaps a week ahead of time just so the players are informed but have time again to become complacent in looking out for such a thing.
Yuan-Ti are very much a Cthulian horror slithering through the jungles, so set-up and mood are essential. You may even wish to have positive interactions with a few common NPCs who are secretly Yuan-Ti Purebloods who have taken precautions to hide their true natures … only to be revealed later in this drama to have betrayed the player characters all along.
Environment: Wilderness/Jungle is a primary source, but feel free to throw the players a loop by having this in a secret Urban setting, too.
Suggested level: 5-6, but can be adjusted upward by adding more Pure Bloods.
Description: The players may find themselves in jungle territory. The oppressive heat and humidity may make day-to-day activities stressful. Biting insects fill the night air, and the sounds of wildlife never, ever go silent. Huddled around their campfire for the night, if only to drive some of the mosquitoes away with the smoke, the players may notice (Wisdom/Perception DC:10) that something is amiss. For a brief moment in the night, the sounds of crickets, frogs, cicadas, and other noisy vermin fall silent. Those who succeeded in their Wisdom/Perception checks with a 17 or higher will have noted the silence not only occurred, but moved. The silence picked up by the higher roll seemed to pass by the camp as if moving slowly from one side to the next.
Nothing more will happen that night. The next morning, however, the player characters will awaken to find their backpacks, doffed armor, and other items with open space, to be inhabited by small, harmless grass and tree snakes. These tiny beasts will slither away if allowed to escape. For any character who puts out their local campfire, allow then an additional Perception check (DC:15). Those that succeed will notice a strange pattern in the ashes. Should they make anyone trained in Religion aware of these markings, those that are trained in such a skill can divulge (Religion, DC: 17) that a symbol associated with “Sseth, The Sibilant Death” has somehow burned its way into the ashes of their fire. You may even wish to allow any Warlock with a Great Old One patron to make a Wisdom check even if they do not possess the Religion skill. One resident of the Far Realms may well know of another, and so the connections between a Warlock and their Patron may allow for this connection to unveil such a secret.
As the party breaks camp, have them notice periodically that it seems like the snakes in the trees are watching them pass. Their eyes on slowly swiveling heads, always watching – never blinking. Tongues flicker to taste the air as the player characters pass. The undergrowth will become dense and unforgiving. Leaves wet with rain that fell days ago will brush them and soak their clothes, hissing as large leaves brush leather and metal. Thick, wet vines will drop upon them as if on command, brushing against bare skin and then slithering to the ground by either gravity or an unseen will.
It’s important to harass the party this way for some time. They will become frustrated and likely wish to find some sort of clearing or break in the foliage to find respite. Make note of the heat and humidity, and play up the insects that get into everything, including their drinking water.
Then, periodically, introduce a similar moment of pure silence as the night before. They will likely not notice it while moving because of the wet leaves, so increase the DC to 15 for a successful Wisdom (Perception) check.
As the party proceeds through the thick jungle, start having them encounter thin vines upon which grow small orbed fruit covered in thorny spikes. These vines will create a tripping hazard, and will take a successful Perception (DC:15) to avoid, or a successful Dexterity (DC:12) not to trip. These will occur perhaps once every ten minutes of game play, and do no damage. Even a fall from one is not intended to do any damage. However, the fruit will rattle loudly when such a vine is struck. Once this has happened three times, begin the final phase of the encounter.
Watching through their snake spies, signaled by their wild cucumber trip-vines, watching at length throughout their journey in these jungles, the Yuan-Ti know exactly where the party are and have been waiting in ambush. Like the Jaguar Warriors of our own ancient world, they see the player characters as fresh offerings for their Great Old One. They will want them alive if possible.
“Xochipek,” the Mind Whisperer (Volo’s, pages 203-204) will start the offensive. He will open with casting Hypnotic Pattern on the party (Wisdom save, DC:14 – see page 252 PHB for details). The two Purebloods, “Yaretzi” and “Zolin,” will use their first actions to throw Nets on two characters, preferably obvious spell casters (Net – PHB, page 148). Two Broodguards (Volo’s, page 203) will rush in and grapple two other randomly selected characters who are not already restrained by nets. Note that Broodguards have been specially indoctrinated in ancient rituals that give them Advantage on any Hypnotic Pattern spells, and are blindingly obedient to their Pureblood and Malison masters.
The success or failure of this opening gambit is important. If it succeeds, then the Yuan-Ti will take the time to tie up their victims and lead them back to their temple for future “use” (Volo’s has a sample Temple, pages 100-10,2 in case you need a quick reference). If this opening assault fails or has less than 50% success, the Yuan-Ti Purebloods will then try Suggestion (Wisdom, DC:12) on two of those not affected. The Suggestion will be akin to “We mean you no harm. We are here to protect you from the dangers of this jungle. Why else would be try to capture you unharmed?”
If this fails, too, then they will try to escape as best they can. The Broodguard will then attack to kill in order to buy their Pureblood and Mind Whisperer masters time to flee.
But worry not, like a wise man once said – they will return, and in greater numbers …
Monsters: “Xochipek” – Yuan-Ti Mind Whisperer (Volo’s pages 203, 204)
(2) “Yaretzi” (female) and “Zolin” (male) Yuant-Ti Purebloods (MM, page 310)
(2) Yuan-Ti Broodguards (Volo’s, page 203)
Treasure: Xochipek weilds a Rod of The Pact Keeper +1, explaining why his spell DC is 14 and not 13. Xochipek also wears elaborately carved jade bracelets (100gp each) and a golden torc worth 500gp.
The two Purebloods each have a set of one fine gold necklace (75gp each) and Jade rings carved to look like coiled serpents (50gp each).
Complications: The biggest complication is being dragged off to be either sacrificed or turned into Broodguards. However, even the threat of this demise has a silver lining. This may only be the set-up for a larger “dungeon crawl/prison break” based out of a Yuan-Ti step pyramid temple. If the player characters succeed in fending off this attack, and you wish for the set-up to be the case, feel free to try again with a larger force or have the player characters chase the Yuan-Ti to the clearing where their Temple lay. This is an excellent opportunity to show the characters (and yourself) that failure can be a success in disguise.