Vicious Venues06/17/2005

Forest Mound

Forest Mound contains encounters of level 6-9
and is suitable for use with any D&D campaign.

The mound stands tall and grassy in a sylvan clearing. Bright green turf studded with wildflowers covers the mound's smooth flanks. The whole affair seems geometrically perfect, and not a single tree grows on the mound. What keeps the trees off and grass trimmed?

Background for the DM

A mixed group of fey built this particular mound in ancient times. The mound is conical, with a flat top about 10 yards across and a base ten times as wide. Luxuriant grass and wildflowers cover the slopes and top. The mound hides the entrance to a deep cleft in the earth, where the fey have built a hamlet. A secret door in the mound's side allows entrance into the cleft. A guardian keeps watch over the entrance and attempts to distract or defeat any nonresidents who might try to enter.

The mound lies within a day's walk of several forest communities where humans and other humanoids dwell. Most of these people know about the mound and its eclectic mix of fey residents. One of the guardians, a spriggan called Thistle, is something of a metalsmith. Thistle oils and sharpens, or repairs, metal tools that nonresidents leave on a certain flat rock near the base of the mound. This simple arrangement helps to maintain goodwill between the fey and their mortal neighbors. Beyond that, the forest residents have little interaction with the folk of the mound. On clear summer nights, the mound dwellers emerge to dance atop the mound. The neighboring humanoids steer clear of the mound on such nights because they know the fey don't care for guests when they dance under the open sky.

Sylvanmound (Hamlet, Magical):AL CG; Spending limit 100 gp; Assets 1,610 gp; Population 322 adults; Races integrated (assorted fey, half-fey, and feytouched).

Authority Figure: Venlathii (CG female feytouched Drd 8, mayor).

Important Characters: Thistle (CG male spriggan expert 2, constable); Gingersnap (CG female faerie dragon, assistant constable).

Militia:9 pixies.

About the Guardians

The mound's guardians prove as strange as the mound and the community it conceals. Thistle, an unusual spriggan, and Gingersnap, a faerie dragon, share the duty.

Thistletheed (Thistle for short) is an orphan raised by two well-meaning half-elves. Thistle doesn't know the exact circumstances of his birth; all he knows for sure is that his adoptive parents found him as a toddler one autumn morning, trying to make a breakfast of thistle seeds. (Thistle remains fond of thistle seeds to this day, and his habit of eating them gave rise to his nickname.) City born and bred, the half-elves had decided to retire to the forest after a lifetime split between adventuring and working as merchants. They had little knowledge of the perils lurking in the woods, and they took in the waif without a second thought.

Thistle's adoptive parents believed their new charge had strayed from a gnome settlement nearby, or perhaps was a survivor from an attack on a gnome village or caravan. They named their foundling Fonkin, since that was the only male gnome name they could think of at the time, and set out to find his parents. They searched for more than a year before giving up. They visited many gnome families, but none were missing a little boy.

Fonkin proved to be a handful. He was a short-tempered and contrary child who loved smashing things. He also had a penchant for cruelty to other living things, but his adoptive parents cured him of that with firm but loving discipline. Fonkin's adoptive parents taught him to speak Common and Sylvan. They tried to teach him Gnome, but for some reason the boy didn't seem to take well to that language.

As Fonkin approached maturity, his spell-like abilities and power to change size came to the fore. For a time, his adoptive parents believed that Fonkin might be a budding sorcerer. A visit to an elf sage, however, confirmed his fey nature and true heritage. The sage guessed that Fonkin's natural parents probably were members of a spriggan raiding party. They most likely hid the child in a safe place before staging a raid in which they were killed. A very confused Fonkin bid his adoptive parents farewell and set off to find his place in the world.

The adolescent Fonkin might have come to grief if he hadn't met a new friend -- Gingersnap the faerie dragon. Gingersnap found young Fonkin one late summer morning munching on his favorite snack -- thistle seeds. The dragon's curiosity was aroused, and Gingersnap asked the strange youngster what he was eating. Since Fonkin's mouth was full, he couldn't speak very clearly. "Thistletheeds," he replied. Gingersnap thought Fonkin's response was uproariously funny, and she laughed hard. Gingersnap has an infectious laugh, and soon the pair were chortling and giggling together. After the fit of merriment had passed, Gingersnap led Fonkin, now nicknamed "Thistletheed," to the faerie mound. Gingersnap had been a member of the community within the mound for some time, and Fonkin quickly settled into the job of chief watchman for the group.

Few members of the mound community can match Fonkin's combat prowess, particularly when he's enlarged. Over the years, Fonkin has learned a few useful skills, including tumbling and metalworking. When not guarding the mound's entrance, Fonkin crafts useful metal items for his fellow mound folk. He also sharpens or repairs metal implements that other forest dwellers leave for him. The nickname Thistletheed has stuck to Fonkin, though most mound dwellers -- Fonkin and Gingersnap included -- shorten it to Thistle.

Thistletheed: Male spriggan expert 2; CR 6; Small fey; HD 5d6 plus 2d6; hp 24; Init +8; Spd 20 ft.; AC 22, touch 16, flat-footed 18; Base Atk +3; Grapple +0; Atk and Full Atk +7 melee (1d4+1/19-20, masterwork short sword) or +8 ranged (1d6/19-20, light crossbow); SA sneak attack +3d6, spell-like abilities; SQ low-light vision, size change; AL CG; SV Fort +1, Ref +8, Will +7; Str 12, Dex 18, Con 10, Int 11, Wis 11, Cha 11.

Skills and Feats: Climb +10, Craft (metalworking) +5, Craft (woodworking) +3, Disable Device +11, Handle Animal +3, Hide +14, Jump -4, Listen +7, Move Silently +14, Open Lock +15, Sleight of Hand+14, Tumble +8; Acrobatic, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (short sword).

Languages: Common, Sylvan.

Sneak Attack (Ex): Thistletheed deals 3d6 extra points of damage on any successful attack against flat-footed or flanked targets, or against a target that has been denied its Dexterity bonus for any reason. This damage also applies to ranged attacks against targets up to 30 feet away. Creatures with concealment, creatures without discernible anatomies, and creatures immune to extra damage from critical hits are all immune to sneak attacks. Thistletheed may choose to deliver nonlethal damage with his sneak attack, but only when using a weapon designed for that purpose, such as a sap (blackjack).

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- produce flame (+4 melee touch), scare (DC 12), shatter (DC 12).

Size Change (Su): At will, Thistletheed can assume Large size in a manner similar to the enlarge personspell. Thistletheed cannot use his sneak attack ability or his spell-like abilities while enlarged. Other changes are summarized below:

Thistletheed: Male spriggan expert 2; CR 6; Large fey; HD 5d6+15 plus 2d6+6; hp 45; Init +6; Spd 30 ft.; AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 16; Base Atk +3; Grapple +12; Atk and Full Atk +9 melee (1d8+5/19-20, masterwork short sword) or +4 ranged (21d6/19-20, light crossbow); Space/Reach 10 ft./10 ft.; SQ low-light vision, size change; AL CG; SV Fort +4, Ref +6, Will +7; Str 20, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 11, Wis 11, Cha 11.

Skills and Feats: Climb +14, Craft (metalworking) +5, Craft (woodworking) +3, Disable Device +11, Handle Animal +3, Hide +4, Jump +6, Listen +7, Move Silently +12, Open Lock +13, Sleight of Hand+12, Tumble +6; Acrobatic, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (short sword).

Possessions: +1 chain shirt, masterwork buckler, +1 ring of protection, masterwork short sword, light crossbow with 10 bolts, oil ofdarkness, potion ofbarkskin (+2), potion ofcure moderate wounds,potion ofhaste, 2 smokesticks, tanglefoot bag, thunderstone, 4 tindertwigs, masterwork metalworking tools, moss agate (10 gp).

Gingersnap loves a good joke and bedevils her neighbors with endless pranks, tall tales, and puns. She seldom hurts anyone, even strangers, but her tricks can become deadly if she senses a threat to herself or to her community. She's especially fond of her friend Thistle, and becomes as mad -- and as determined -- as a hornet defending her nest if anyone harms so much as a hair on his head.

Gingersnap: Faerie dragon; CR 6; Small dragon; HD 8d12+8; hp 60; Init +8; Spd 30 ft., fly 100 ft. (perfect), swim 30 ft.; AC 19, touch 15, flat-footed 15; Base Atk +8; Grapple +4; Atk +13 melee (1d6, bite); Full Atk +13 melee (1d6, bite) and +8 melee (1d4, 2 claws); SA breath weapon, spell-like abilities; SQ darkvision 60 ft., immunity to magic sleep effects and paralysis, low-light vision, spell resistance 18, water breathing; AL CG; SV Fort +7, Ref +10, Will +8; Str 11, Dex 18, Con 12, Int 17, Wis 15, Cha 18.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +15, Concentration +6, Diplomacy +11, Disguise +7 (+9 acting), Hide +19, Intimidate +6, Knowledge (nature) +16, Listen +13, Move Silently +15, Sense Motive +13, Spot +13, Survival +8 (+10 above ground in natural environments), Swim +8; Flyby Attack, Improved Initiative, Weapon Finesse.

Breath Weapon (Su): 20-foot cone of euphoria gas. Any creature within the cone must make a DC 15 Will save or become dazed for 1d6 rounds.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- dancinglights ,detect magic, ghost sound (DC 14); 3/day -- charm monster (DC 18), entangle (DC 15), glitterdust (DC 16), invisibility (DC 16), major image (DC 17), obscuring mist; 1/day -- animate objects, mind fog (DC 19), projectimage (DC 21), summon nature's ally IV; 1/month -- commune with nature. Caster level 12th.

The Setup

The mound is located in a particularly rugged portion of the forest. The land is rugged, strewn with massive boulders, and covered with dense thickets of massive trees. The PCs aren't likely to stumble upon the mound unless they go hunting for game or have some other reason to search the countryside. Any of the following might do the trick:

  • The PCs pick up a rumor (or hear a bard's tale) of a magic rock located deep in the forest. Any well-used edged weapon or sharp implement can pick up a magical enhancement if left exposed to new moon on the rock.

  • This story is loosely based on Thistle's habit of sharpening weapons and tools for his neighbors. The tale has exaggerated the facts.

  • The PCs are encamped in the forest when they receive a visit from Gingersnap. The faerie dragon uses her spell-like abilities to play some sort of prank on the group. One of her favorite tricks is to use dancing lights and ghost sound to create the illusion of a group of gruff-voiced humanoids or giants singing around a campfire. If anyone goes to investigate, Gingersnap takes the opportunity to lead the party's mounts off into the woods or swipe something from the party. To recover the missing items, the PCs face a protected negotiation with some unlikely creature, such as a massive green giant or a talking porcupine (most likely a major image with Gingersnap providing the voice). Gingersnap most likely leaves the filched item or animals in Thistle's care until she's finished with her gag.

    In such an assumed form, Gingersnap might address the party as follows.

    "Oh ho! Lost something, have you? Careless of you, I must say. Creatures like yourselves are always mooning about the woods and then complaining that they lost something. How would you like it if the fairies camped in your home and barbecued your pet for dinner and left trash all over the place and then accused you of stealing from them? Hmm? But you think everything's about you, don't you? You probably just misplaced whatever you're looking for. You have no attention spans at all. It's probably a result of eating meat. You know, creatures like you aren't cut out for eating meat. Dulls your senses. You don't even have teeth like predators, let alone the noses to track prey. You just like to pretend you're at the top of the food chain for the status. Maybe if you ate more vegetables, you'd be able to sharpen up your senses and hone your awareness a little. Carrots -- those are great for the eyes. And spinach builds you up. You won't be losing things if you eat those! How about if I help you find some nice vegetables, and then maybe you can find what you've lost?

    "No? Well, what is it you think I can do for you? You think I can just drop everything I'm doing to help careless twits clomp around the woods and search for things? I have a job here, you know. Who's going to harvest the mustard blossoms and knit sweaters for the fairies out of spidersilk if I'm always out doing favors for other people? Who's going to tune their violins? Entertainment's a very important part of life, you know. I don't suppose you can do anything amusing, can you?"

  • Communities near the mound have suffered a rash of petty but troublesome pranks and thefts. Wagon wheels have been rigged to fall off, foodstuffs have been spilled or spoiled, and unwary folk have been attacked in the night and nearly bludgeoned to death. Now several children have been abducted, and the villagers' patience has come to an end. The folk of the mound seem the most likely suspects, and the elders from several communities have banded together to hire someone to deliver an ultimatum to the folk of the mound: Desist or move on. The villagers also want the abductees returned (and no changelings, please).

In fact, a group of jermlaine has moved into the area, and those evil creatures are behind the trouble. The jermlaine have taken care never to be seen. Their goals simply may be to cause trouble, or perhaps they seek to have the mound folk driven off so they can take over the settlement. In any case, it falls to the PCs to uncover the truth and deal with the menace.

Visiting the Mound (EL 6-9)

No trail leads directly to the mound, but several villagers who have brought implements for Thistle to sharpen or repair can direct the group to mound.

The forest all around has an untamed look about it. Massive boles of ancient trees rise from the rugged ground and tilt in all directions, like the pillars of a great hall rocked by an earthquake. Is seems as though only the branches interlocking overhead keep the great trees from falling over. Here and there, a forest giant has collapsed, leaving behind a sunny spot where a tangle of thorny vines grows. Under the standing trees a damp, verdant gloom prevails.

Larger clearings where the ground seems too rocky for trees to grow provide some warmth and relief from the shadow. One of these clearings sports a fringe of jumbled rocks, moss-covered and garlanded with ferns where branches overhang the rocks. A smooth-sided mound covered with grasses and wildflowers rises from the rocks. The slope looks as steep and regular as a rampart leading up to a castle wall. All is quiet, except for the rhythmic scraping of stone on metal. It's hard to tell where the sound is coming from, but it seems to arise from the trees near the base of the slope.

The characters can track down the sound eventually. It comes from a natural bowl not far from the base of the mound. The mound is rocky and moss covered, with a few trees struggling up through the rocks and a profusion of ferns growing everywhere. One flat rock holds two small piles of axes, knives, scissors, and other assorted metal implements. The items in one pile look shiny and new. The other pile has items that look well used, if not broken.

This area serves as the guardpost and greeting area for the mound. The actual entrance is a secret door in the mound's side, about halfway up the slope. To open the door, one must knock three times at the base of a particular climbing rose vine. The vine is about as thick as a halfling's forearm, but covered with thorns, which makes knocking on it a delicate operation if one tries it with bare knuckles (the residents usually use a stick). The secret door has two thick stone panels covered with living turf and wildflowers.

Secret Door: 9 in. thick; hardness 8; hp 135; break DC 26, Search DC 25.

Creatures: Either Thistle or Gingersnap (see above for statistics) is here at any hour of the day or night, keeping watch for visitors. There is a more or less equal chance that either will be present at any given time; both guards could be present, as well. The rasping sound the PCs heard when they arrived at the mound could be Thistle sharpening a tool, or it could be one of Gingersnap's ghost sound effects.

If Thistle is present, he may be singing to himself as he works. He tends to sing snatches of a lullaby that his spriggan parents sang when he was an infant. Thus, as they approach, the PCs may hear a song something like this one.

Never leave the bones behind! They're good for making bread.

Dry them out and grind them fine, then bake them, Mama said.

Never leave the eyes behind! They make the greatest snacks.

Just yank them out and dip in blood, then take a few more whacks.

Though he isn't a bloodthirsty creature, his parents were, and the song sticks in his mind.

The mound folk also keep two fairly tame wolves or dire wolves nearby to discourage intruders. These animals are trained to assist the guards. They might be on hand to help defend the mound, or they might be off frolicking or hunting in the forest. Feel free to choose whichever combination of guardians will make the best encounter for your campaign.

Wolves (2): hp 13 each; see Monster Manual page 283.

Dire Wolves (2): hp 45 each; see Monster Manual page 65.

Tactics: Both Thistle and Gingersnap prefer to keep their distance in a fight, especially if they are on guard alone. Thistle prefers to stay hidden behind the ferns and question visitors about their business. In a fight, Thistle plays the sniper, popping out of hiding to use his produce flame ability, then hiding again. Occasionally, he hides and changes position to keep foes guessing about where he his. He prefers to direct his produce flame attacks against armored characters. If he defeats the armor wearers, he assumes Large size and uses his short sword against the survivors. If the foes close with him, Thistle likely uses his oil of darkness or a smoke stick to give him enough concealment to hide and temporarily break off the fight, but he soon returns to resume sniping from another location.

If he has wolves or dire wolves to help him, Thistle is a bit bolder. He sends in the wolves to attack, and possibly trip, the enemy's fighter types and he uses his Tumble skill to get into position for a few sneak attacks.

When fighting on her own, Gingersnap prefers to use her Flyby Attack feat and then use her breath weapon on as many foes as possible. She then uses glitterdust or entangle on anyone who isn't dazed. After that, she usually tries charm monster on the most dangerous-looking foe. If she thinks she needs help, she uses summon nature's ally or animate objects (there are plenty of rocks to animate). If Thistle and Gingersnap are on guard together, the faerie dragon uses summon nature's ally or animate objects immediately, so as to give Thistle chances to make sneak attacks, then she uses charm monster or her breath weapon against foes that prove dangerous to Thistle.

Visiting the Settlement

If the PCs open the secret door, they find a passage sloping down to a chasmlike cavern with naturally terraced walls. A subterranean brook runs through the center and feeds a crystalline pool. The rocky slopes are thick with a variety of brightly colored fungi, some the size of mushrooms found at the dinner table and others the size of oak trees. Many of the fungi are luminescent, and hundreds of continual flame spells provide additional light.

Gaily painted cottages, huts, and rambling palaces rise amid the fungi, and twisting streets connect them all. A sandy area around the pool serves as a marketplace and open-air dance hall. Many of the luminescent fungi shine only 12 hours a day, and this provides a noticeable cycle of light and dark in the hamlet. Each evening at twilight, the residents gather near the pool to sing and dance for hours.

The residents aren't terribly fond of visitors, especially if Thistle or Gingersnap will not (or cannot) vouch for them, but strangers who keep the peace are welcome to shop in the marketplace and even sing and dance a little, so long as they do not stay beyond the next sunrise in the outer world. Most of the items for sale in the market are made for creatures of size Small or smaller, but there's a smattering of goods suitable for Medium creatures. The joke-loving fey aren't above trying to pick visitors' pockets or selling illusory goods. A complaint to mayor Venlathii, a feytouched druid (see Fiend Folio, page 71) will secure either a refund or the genuine goods.

Dealing with the Jermlaine (EL 6-7)

If the PCs visit the mound to investigate the jermlaine's nefarious activities, the PCs quickly learn that the mound folk not only have nothing to do with the attacks on the neighboring villages, but that they too have been harassed. The jermlaine have established a lair in the cellar below a ruined building located in or near one of the woodland villages in the mound's vicinity.

Creatures: A fairly large raiding party of jermlaine has moved in. During daylight hours, all the jermlaine are in the lair. At night, about half the jermlaine are out doing mischief. The kidnapped children are here, too. The jermlaine have them busy enlarging their lair. To add some challenge to the jermlaine encounter, consider adding a wererat or two.

Jermlaine (8-16): hp 1 each; see Monster Manual II page 131.

Rats (0 or 4-16): hp 1 each; see Monster Manual page 278.

Dire Rats (0 or 2-8): hp 5 each; see Monster Manual page 64.

Wererats (0-2): hp 12 each; see Monster Manual page 173.

Tactics: The jermlaine prefer to fight from the cellar's walls and ceiling, which are riddled with tiny runs that allow then to scurry around unseen. They have several nets hidden in the ceiling beams. The jermlaine drop the nets on anyone unlucky enough to step under them. The rats, dire rats, and wererats do their best to surround and bite foes. When not dropping nets, the jermlaine keep up a steady fire of darts.

About the Authors

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for 18 years. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.

Penny Williams joined the roleplaying game industry as Game Questions Expert for TSR, Inc. in the 1980s. Since then, she has served as RPGA Network Coordinator, PolyhedronNewszine editor, and Senior Editor and Coordinating Editor for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Now a busy freelancer, Penny edits for several game companies and runs the online playtesting program for Wizards products. When not enhancing the cruelty of the deaths PCs will suffer at the hands of designers, Penny puts up jam, works jigsaw puzzles, and tutors students in math and science.

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