I can’t speak for other players or DM’s, but I get a lot of my inspiration from music. The simple act of listening to the radio in my car, or a playlist on my phone while showering, can lead to outbursts of “I have to write that down!” Songs inspire character concepts, back stories, encounters, scenes I want to lay out for my players, or images that lead to character sketches and other artwork. This encounter was inspired when I heard “Albatross” by Big Wreck.
In this encounter, “The Albatross” is a metaphor. Since “Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner”, the concept of “wearing the albatross” (aside from one Monty Python sketch) as come to mean being saddled with a burden or a debt to be repaid. It could mean being wrongfully vilified, perhaps even willingly so, just to serve a greater good. It could mean bearing an immense responsibility, or taking on a curse to save another from it.
In this case, “The Albatross” will create a burden, and in an environment or setting not normally expressed in a tabletop game, but which occurs frequently in an online RPG setting – the escort mission. The intent is to test the resolve of the party, as well as the willingness to share a burden.
Environment: Wilderness, but it could be anywhere travel is required.
Suggested level: variable.
Perhaps as the party travels through the wilderness in a twisting forest road, a hazardous mountain trail, or fog-covered tangled swamp passage, the party will hear the faint cries for help. A successful Perception (DC: 12) will determine it to be female, but in a voice that doesn’t sound human. If the party would like to find the source of this voice, they will need to make either a successful Survival (DC: 13) or Investigation (same DC) roll.
Should they pass the appropriate checks, they will come upon an unusual scene. Hidden in the space of a
Monster Manual (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
hollow trunk, a small cave, or thatch of weeds will be an elven woman, obviously badly wounded, and carrying a swaddled infant.
When the players discover her, she look up at them in a very unsure manner and speak in very shaky Common. “New chief. Please help.”
She will then hold the infant up to be taken. She will look weaker and weaker, finally expiring whether they take the baby or not. When she dies, it will be unrecoverable, so a simple Cure Wounds or Medicine Kit will not help.
It now falls to the characters on what they do. The baby will start crying almost immediately. After a minute of that, the players will hear noises in the distance. A successful Perception or Survival (DC 12) check will determine that this is the sound of a hunting party. Echoing from out of sight in the wilderness will be the sound of beating sticks, drums and the like normally used to flush large game. A Successful Insight (DC 15) check might determine that who or whatever they are happen to be communicating with each other and are closing in.
If they don’t react swiftly, feel free to add this:
“As you stand there discussing what to do, two triangular bladed weapons strike the soft ground next to you. Their alien nature surprises you for a moment.”
A successful Nature (DC: 17) check will determine that these are Thri-Kreen weapons called “chatkcha”. Thri-Kreen love to eat elf flesh. They will be on you in a moment, and will surely eat the infant and the dead mother. If there are Elves in the party, give them Advantage on this Nature check.
You are being HUNTED!
What begins now is a variable chase. The intent is to create enormous tension and to use the Thri-Kreen in waves. The size of each wave and the number of them is determined by the size and level of the group, and should also account for any previous wounds the group might already have.
The Thri-Kreen should attack from out of the fog, and always from a different direction – but never from the front. The players should almost feel compelled to run forward toward whatever they think is the right destination. It doesn’t matter what the destination is, so long as they head for it. Hiding out will simply make the Thri-Kreen eventually find them and will have essentially all the waves find them at the same time – not so good. Unless your players are keen defensive fighters with an understanding of cover, concealment, firing arcs, and are well-supplied…it’s better to keep moving.
To start off, attack with one Thri-Kreen. Always have it start with ranged combat, with the fog counting as “light obscurement”. The ‘Kreen will launch two volleys of chatkcha for two rounds before closing to melee. When this Thr-Kreen falls, add two more. When these fall, add three. If necessary, keep adding and make it seem more and more desperate. Keep the battle moving if at all possible, and keep the descriptions intense. Impress upon your players how important it is that they keep moving. If/When you have your players absolutely against the ropes and badly outgunned, have the following happen:
“You can see and sense the mantis men closing in. They know you have the infant, whose cries seem like a siren cal to them. They approach, and you begin to hear a new sound. Like the wind whistling too loud from too high above. The fog begins to darken slightly.
Arrows rain down and into the group of Thri-Kreen. Dozens of arrows. The ‘Kreen dance like marionettes with half-cut strings and those who have survived your defence fall under the weight of these missiles. As the last of them fall, silhouettes emerge from the mists. Slim figures in hooded cloaks coloured to match the terrain emerge. Many still have bows knocked with arrows, but not raised yet.
A single figure approaches and draws it’s hood back to reveal a beautiful Elven woman with hair the colour of Autumn leaves. She puts away her weapon and approaches with arms outstretched.”
At first, she speaks in Elven. For those who know the tongue, they will hear “We have come for the lost chief. Please hand over the child.”
If the party does not respond, she will repeat herself in Common, likely after rolling her eyes.
If the party hands over the child, she will smile and cradle the infant. All aggression from her will fade. She will remove and intricately forged and woven silver bracelet that resembles tangled vines, and hand it to the party. She will add, without even looking up from the baby, “You have made safe the lineage of my people. The bracelet will grant you safe passage through our lands so long as you respect them.”
If the party refuses to hand over the child, she will ask again, but all the bows will be drawn and aimed. If she asks yet again and no positive response comes, combat with them will ensue as well.
Hopefully, though, they will turn over the child. She will then turn and walk back through the lines of surrounding elves and fade into the fog like a ghost. One by one, the armed elves will do the same until none remain. They will vanish into the fog like they were part of it.
Monsters: Thri-Kreen (6+) as per page 288 of the Monster Manual
Elves: Use “Scout” as per Monster Manual, but also add the Racial features from Wood Elf as per page 23-24 of the Players Handbook.
Elven Woman: Use “Bandit Captain” as per Monster Manual, page 344, but also add the Racial features from Wood Elf as per page 23-24 of the Players Handbook.
Treasure: “The Bracelet of Elders” – To common folk, this will be just valuable jewellry of fine elven design. Among the Wood Elves, however, this bracelet signifies an ally of the Wood, and grants safe passage to non-Wood-Elves through their territory, so long as they respect the land and the people.
Complications are many and varied. One thing that will not occur unless the party makes it happen is that the child will never be the direct target of an attack by the Thri-Kreen. They will make it look like that, but any attacks will be directed at the person carrying the baby so that they can take the baby alive.
If the party member carrying the baby drops, then the party have two rounds before a Thri-Kreen will get close enough to grab the baby. That may produce it’s own chase, but in reverse order, with the party chasing the Thri-Kreen.
If the party have a member that falls unconscious, they will have to decide if they leave that person behind, carry another body, or stand and fight. Feel free to adjust the waves of ‘Kreen for this. The intent is not to kill the party. The intent is to make them run and feel tension. This should feel like they are in a replay of a Aliens or Predator movie.
If the party choose to fight the Wood Elves, you may want to add a “poison” feature to their weapons that knocks the players unconscious. Again, the Wood Elves would rather not kill. They just want their heir back.
If you wish, add plot hooks around the bracelet. Perhaps tribes of Orcs or Goblins will recognize it and it will have exactly the opposite effect. Perhaps this Wood Elf community will reach out to the party in the future, as their contacts “in the outside world” might be limited, and they are the most trustworthy of all the other options.
You could even use this chase as a way to get the party from point A to point B, or have it end among ancient ruins. It’s all up to you.
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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