The Approaching Swarm
By By Eric Cagle
Complete Cliffhanger (288k ZIP/PDF)
The Hive Mind
The Tree
Stalking Prey
Caught in the Web
Creepy Crawlies
Cliffhangers Archive
The Approaching Swarm
Kingdom of the Blind
Into the Forsaken Temple's Crypt
The Trouble in Town
The Light of Despair
Training Grounds
Lorin's Chasm
Bridge Work
Nest of Corruption
A Giant Ransom
Black Water
The Horror of Lannock Hill
Over the Edge
The Proper Count
The Tower of Lore
The Candlemaker's Fire
The Hallowed Hills
The Village of Camiram
Unearthing the Past
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Cliffhangers Adventures
The Approaching Swarm - Episode One: Creepy Crawlies
By Eric Cagle

Episode One: Creepy Crawlies

The Approaching Swarm is a short adventure for four 9th-level characters. The party can consist of any mix of classes, but it should include at least one character that is good in wilderness settings, such as a druid, ranger, or barbarian, and at least one cleric. This scenario should prove a reasonable challenge for characters from 8th to 10th level. The adventure takes place in a swampland that is near a small settlement.

Cliffhanger Notes

A great deal of this adventure takes place in swamplands. The characters will often be knee-deep in water, mud, and other unstable footing. This can add some unique circumstances for the characters.

Water: Characters in the water have a 1 circumstance penalty on all their attacks.

Mud: While moving through mud, anytime a character moves faster than half speed, engages in combat, or casts a spell, the DM can have him or her make a Reflex save (DC 10) to avoid slipping and falling.

Adventure Background

A band of rag-tag settlers have carved out a small settlement, called Crivdall, on the edges of a great swamp that is infamous for its terrible creatures. The area is rich with resources, and the settlers have done well hunting and foraging in the swamps. Unbeknownst to them, however, an insane druid has taken notice of their transgressions and wants them to leave.

The druid, Aleretheral, is a half-orc with a curious affinity for insects and vermin. The swamp is home to numerous breeds of monstrous insects, some of which the druid has begun to breed to make them even larger and more aggressive. Through his abilities, Aleretheral has set enormous vermin onto the helpless settlers, preying on them as they venture into the swamp. With autumn rapidly coming to a close, the settlers are becoming desperate as more of their numbers are killed by hordes of marauding vermin.

Adventure Synopsis

The PCs enter a swamp that has a rather large population of giant insects. The settlers who have made the swamp their home are having problems with these huge bugs, and they need some help. It is up to the characters to figure out what's going on and how to stop it before all of the settlers meet their many-legged dooms.


Print out the following maps, which come courtesy of the Map-a-Week Archive:

Character Hooks

Any time the characters travel into a swampy area, they have the opportunity to visit Crivdall. The villagers are unbelievably relieved to meet adventurers who might help defend their humble settlement from the insects. They offer whatever meager wealth they might have, but it still might take more for the characters to get involved. Here are some hooks the DM can use to get the characters interested:

  • A sudden squall keeps the characters from leaving Crivdall. As they wait out the storm, spotters call out about vague figures moving along the swamp at the edge of the settlement. The characters might decide to wait for both the storm and the figures to leave, or they might uncover the danger that awaits those who dare leave.

  • Traversing through the swamp, the characters find a young girl named Bethany who has just gotten stuck in a nasty batch of quicksand. As they work to get her out, a hunting party from Crivdall finds them and helps them the girl out. (The DM should attempt to make it a harrowing rescue with Strength checks (DC 20) and other relevant checks to pull out the girl.) The hunters then try to appeal to the characters to help them out with the vermin that are attacking the village. Alternatively, the DM could first throw a few patches of quicksand at the PCs and see if they fail to see them. Allow for Search checks (DC 30) and Wilderness Lore checks (DC 15) to see the patch, then allow for Reflex saves (DC 20) to avoid falling in. The hunters could assist in getting the PCs out of the patch they fell into and then ask for help in turn.) For more information on quicksand and other hazards, check out the Book of ChallengesD&D release!

  • The characters have been offered a princely sum to bring back several different species (alive, preferably) from this particular swamp. Crivdall is the only real civilization in that area and would work well as a base of operations for the characters. Of course, the patron is not aware, or does not disclose, the fact that giant insects besiege the town.

Crivdell (EL 9)

As the characters approach the settlement, read or paraphrase the following text:

A cold rain drizzles upon you, soaking your clothing and making the march through the swamp even more miserable. As you round a bend, you spot a small fort carved out of somber mangroves. Even at a quick glance, the fort looks impoverished and ragged. The walls and gate of the fort have what appear to be long scratch marks dug out of the gnarled wood. A sentry sees you approach and raises a friendly hail.

The settlers welcome the characters into the fort and offer what little hospitality the settlers have. In short order, the villagers regale the characters with stories of giant insects lurking in the swamps.

The Attack!

Sometime in the dead of night, the characters might hear a curious sound outside the wooden walls of the settlement -- clicking and skittering. (DMs should call for Listen checks (DC 10).) Without more warning than that, a small horde of monstrous vermin attacks the settlement from all angles. They clamber over the walls of the fort with relative ease.

Large Giant Stag Beetle (2): hp 52, 50; see Monster Manual page 206.

Huge Monstrous Centipedes (3): hp 19, 18, 18; see Monster Manual page 208.

Huge Monstrous Scorpion: hp 104; see Monster Manual page 209.

The giant scorpion bursts through the fort's gate and starts attacking the closest person to it. If a character makes a Spellcraft check (DC 20), they realize that someone tampered with the gate by using a warp wood spell.


As the characters finish repelling the insect horde, they have a chance to see (Spot check DC 25) a humanoid figure standing at the edge of the swamp and watching the attack with some interest. If the PCs take action, the figure flees into the swamp. If some of the insects remain after 5 rounds of combat, the figure lets out a piercing cry that sounds like a flurry of cicadas. The remaining vermin then withdraws back into the swamp, with the figure following closely behind.

About the Author

Eric Cagle splits his time evenly as the administrative assistant and part-time designer for the R&D department of Wizards of the Coast. In addition to numerous web articles, he has written several articles for Dragon Magazine, contributed to two Star Wars RPG products, and contributed to the Arms and EquipmentGuide for D&D. A lunch hour rarely goes by where he isn't writing for, playing, or thinking about a game.

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