Vicious Venues10/27/2006

Wilderness Monastery

Wilderness Monastery contains encounters of 7th-13th level and is suitable for use with any D&D campaign.

A towering fortification clings to a remote mountainside like lichen on a rock. The fertile valley below contains a few ruined buildings and abandoned fields. Still, crops grow on terraces below the fortification. What has prompted the residents to spurn fertile bottomland for the harder task of farming the mountainside?

Background for the DM

The monastery's sensei, Qonnak, first came to the Material Plane several years ago as part of a rrakkma (a hunting party dedicated to locating and destroying mind flayers) that suffered a calamitous defeat in a battle deep underground. Qonnak, the sole survivor, escaped only through judicious use of his Tumble skill and a great deal of luck. Unable to return to his home monastery in Limbo, Qonnak wandered for several weeks, dodging mind flayers and living by his wits. He eventually made his way to the surface and fell in with a group of human settlers eking out a living in a remote mountain valley.

Qonnak had no love for the humans, but he realized he'd have a much better chance for survival with a community around him. Qonnak helped the settlers deal with the occasional marauding beast (including one red dragon) and taught a few of them the rudiments of self-defense. In return, the settlers taught Qonnak Common. They also built him a hut and provided him with food and fuel. After a few years, the settlers decided to move on in search of a more hospitable environment, but Qonnak stayed behind. By that time, he had collected a group of students and assorted servants. The group located a cave high above the valley floor and fortified the entrance. Qonnak began drilling his students in martial arts and the monastic life favored by the githzerai. Those former settlers who weren't suited to Qonnak's teaching became servants to the monks, growing food, making clothing, and maintaining the building. So far, the arrangement is working well. The monastery is self-sustaining and Qonnak's students have become a formidable military force. To his students and servants, Qonnak is simply "Sensei", and he has ceased to use his former name while on the Material Plane.

Qonnak has continued to hone his own powers during his time on the Material Plane and has reestablished contact with his home monastery (thanks to his plane shift ability). Qonnak's superiors are none too pleased about his freelance operations on the Material Plane, but they've decided to allow him to continue. After all, Qonnak's students, though merely human, could prove useful in future conflicts with the mind flayers or the githyanki. Qonnak has no real fondness for his students or servants, but he thinks of the monastery as a useful diversion.

These days, Qonnak spends most of his time training his students. He leaves the day-to-day operation of the community to his assistant Brother Moss (see below), and he occasionally questions a merchant or traveler about what's happening in the wider world. Qonnak hopes these sessions might give him a clue about mind flayer or githyanki activity in the area.

The Setup

The monastery is located in a fertile, but isolated valley surrounded by high mountains. No roads or trade routes go anywhere near the place. It's unlikely that the PCs will find it unless someone sends them there or some other errand draws them there. Of course, if the PCs get lost in the mountains, they might stumble on it. Here are a few things that might draw the PCs to the monastery:

  • One of the original settlers' relatives hires the PCs to carry a package or letter to the settler.

    Perhaps the missive merely contains news about the family, or perhaps the PCs are entrusted with a valuable inheritance. The PCs can find the remains of the settlers' village, but little else. It's possible that the missing person has become a monk or other member of the monastic community, but it's more likely that he or she moved on with the other settlers. The monks aren't sure where the settlers went, but they can give the party a pretty good guess where they were headed when they left.

  • A new group of settlers bound for the valley hires the PCs to act as bodyguards.

    Thanks to the monastery's presence, the area is now fairly safe for noncombatants. "Sensei" is willing to allow newcomers to colonize the area if they agree to stay off the monastery's grounds and fields. He also demands a nominal tribute in the form of goods or services from the settlers. The settlers might be glad for the monastery's protection and support, or they might resist. In the latter case, Qonnak and his monks do their best to drive them away.

  • A tribe of giants has moved out of the mountains and begun conducting a series of raids on the settled lands below. Citizens or rulers from the area look to the PCs for help.

    Qonnak and his monks drove away the giants from their lair near the monastery some time ago. The giants moved somewhere else after their defeat, and they are trying to get established in their new location. If the PCs deal with the giants, they find only a temporary camp crammed with bundles of goods salvaged from the giants' old lair. The PCs can get the full story if they interrogate a captured giant, or perhaps Qonnak sends a scout to keep an eye on the giants. The scout can give a brief description of his monastery.

  • The PCs hear tales of a mysterious order of fighting monks who rule over a mountain valley that they guard jealously.

    The tales might include additional claims, such as a great treasure or ancient artifact hidden in the monastery, and such details might even prove true. Qonnak and his students might have collected a great deal of loot from their victories over the years (a level 11 to 13 treasure of up to triple value). Qonnak might be willing to trade some of his loot for items he needs, such as magical weaponry or protective devices for his assistants or advanced students.

Visiting the Monastery (El 7-13)

Qonnak doesn't encourage visitors, but he doesn't waste effort trying to exclude travelers from the valley, either. Lost or wounded visitors receive what they need to get them back on their feet and a gentle invitation to leave as quickly as they can (lest they disturb the monks' tranquility). Travelers who find the valley most likely meet Brother Moss, Qonnak's second in command. The following text assumes the PCs approach the monastery on foot.

The winding mountain trail makes a sudden plunge into a deep, green valley flooded with sunlight. Tall alpine grasses and young trees carpet the valley floor. Here and there, parts of ruined stone walls and gutted cottages peek out from beneath the foliage. Open fields around the ruins might have been tilled once, but they're nothing but weeds now.

One of the valley's flanks sports a series of narrow terraces where crops grow. A winding path connects the terraces. A gatehouse blocks the foot of the path, and above the terraces the path ends at a tall fortification of some sort. A group of intact cottages stands outside the gatehouse. Grazing animals and field workers are visible on several of the terraces.

The ruined cottages mark the original settlement (see the Background section). The newer cottages house the monastery's servants. The monks have built the terraces on the valley wall to ensure steady supplies even if they are besieged. The only ready access to the terraces is the path, which climbs some 1,200 feet from the valley floor to the monastery gate. One must literally scale a mountain to reach a terrace or the monastery otherwise. Qonnak prefers the security this approach offers even though the valley floor is arable.

The fortification hides the caverns that house the monastery proper. It's about 70 feet high, with eight floors and a battlement on top. The trail ends at a portcullis in the base of the outer wall. Flights of stairs (all as steep as ladders) climb all the way to the battlement. The entrance to the caverns is located on the third floor from the bottom.

The outer fortification holds guardposts, rooms for meditation and training, and a barracks for the junior monks. The caverns hold kitchens, halls for meals and meetings, storage areas, an armory, a treasury, and quarters for Qonnak and the senior monks.

Brother Moss, a lively young human with a passion for martial arts and an aversion to hard labor, is the monastery's prior. He is in charge of overseeing the servants and workers, as well as instructing the junior monks. Brother Moss has a talent for turning up wherever something even vaguely exciting is happening -- a quirk that serves him well in his job. Thus, when PCs approach the cottages, the terraces, or the monastery itself, it's a good bet that he will be on hand to greet them -- most likely seated on a large rock overlooking the gatehouse and the lower portion of the path, where he can oversee the workers tending the gardens. A handful of junior monks (usually 1-4) follow in his wake, and he may switch between teaching one of them a new martial arts move and chatting with a worker or two. Read or paraphrase the following when the PCs come within sight of him.

On a large, flat rock jutting out from the mountainside just above and to the side of the gatehouse stand three humans. All are dressed in loose-fitting tunics and trousers tied with sturdy belts, but the clothing of one is green with white trim, and that of the other two is plain, peasant brown. The green-clad man says a few words to the other two, then seemingly without warning, he leaps into the air and executes a twisting kick, grabbing one of the other young men with his legs on the way down and toppling him to the ground. "Now you try it," he calls to the other, releasing his opponent and helping him up. The other young man makes an attempt at the maneuver, but both he and his intended victim end up sprawled on the rock in an ungainly heap.

"No, no!" cries the green-clad man, rushing over to help them up. "You have to start the twist on your way up, not your way down." He pauses while brushing some dirt from one of the men to address a young peasant woman who has just emerged from one of the cottages. "Elizabeth! Do you have any more of that blue dye made? Sensei needs a new cloak." The young woman nods and returns to her cottage.

When Brother Moss notices the PCs, he calls out a cheerful greeting to them.

"Good morning, travelers!" the green-clad man calls out. "Welcome to the valley. What news do you bring of the outside world? Do come up and visit a while."

Continue with the following if the PCs accept Brother Moss's invitation to join him atop the rock.

"Go back and practice for a while and I will join you soon," the young teacher says to the two men in brown. They bow and withdraw to one of the terraces, where they continue sparring. "It's good to meet new friends now and again," he says with a grin. "Oh, is that your weapon? It looks very finely balanced. Where did you get it? May I try it? I just love trying new things, don't you? You never know when you might find something that would fit in well with your personal regimen. It's important to approach life in an orderly manner, but one must constantly evaluate options.

"You know, you should try wearing green -- the color of nature. It would suit your complexion, I think. Have you all been adventuring? Have you slain any dragons or rescued any young royals in distress? Or perhaps pitted your strength against the foul hazards of the Underdark? Perhaps you have a bard who can sing of your travels? Maintaining a good record of one's deeds is very important, you know, and music is the ultimate form of expression -- rigorous in form but rapturous in content. Don't you agree?"

Brother Moss is unfailingly cheerful regardless of the PCs' responses to his seemingly endless chatter, and he happily talks with them at length about nothing in particular. If a PC allows him to handle a weapon, he twirls it experimentally, testing its balance, takes a few practice thrusts, exclaims over the workmanship, and hands it back with thanks.

If asked, Brother Moss can tell the PCs that the monastery doesn't really have a name -- to him it's just home. The monks here value mental discipline and physical austerity. They desire peace with their neighbors but have been forced to fight many times against invaders from the surrounding mountains. The PCs are welcome to stay in a cottage down in the valley for a day or two if they feel the need, but should move on as soon as they find it convenient to do so.

If he takes a liking to a visitor, Brother Moss might offer that person an audience with Sensei, who (Brother Moss claims) occasionally supplements his regimen of mental exercises with a lively conversation with a more worldly soul.


The community here includes about twenty 1st-level human commoners and their families, who serve the monastery. The monastery proper houses Qonnak, the prior (Brother Moss), three instructors (4th-level human monks) and between twelve and eighteen 1st- and 2nd-level junior monks, all human. Use the NPC statistics in Chapter 4 of the Dungeon Master's Guide for the assistants and the junior monks.

Brother Moss CR 7
Male human commoner 2/monk 6
Init +5; Senses Listen +7, Spot +3
Languages Common

AC 18, touch 16, flat-footed 17; Deflect Arrows
(+1 Dex, +1 monk, +1 armor, +1 deflection, +1 natural, +3 Wis)
hp 39 (8 HD)
Immune normal disease
Resist evasion
Fort +7, Ref +7, Will +9; +2 against enchantments

Speed 50 ft. (10 squares)
Melee unarmed strike +7 (1d8+2) or
unarmed strike +6/+6 (1d8+2) with flurry of blows or
+1 sai +8 (1d4+3) or
+1 sai +7/+7 (1d4+3) with flurry of blows
Ranged mwk light crossbow +7 (1d8) or
+1 sai +7 (1d4+3) or
Base Atk +5; Grp +7
Atk Options Blind-Fight, Improved Disarm, Rapid Reload, Stunning Fist 6/day (DC 17), ki strike (magic)
Combat Gearpotion of cure light wounds, potion of invisibility, potion of owl's Wisdom

Abilities Str 14, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 17, Cha 12
SQ evasion, slow fall 30 ft.
Feats Animal Affinity, Blind-Fight, Deflect Arrows[B], Improved Disarm[B], Improved Initiative, Rapid Reload, Stunning Fist[B]
Skills Climb +4, Diplomacy +6, Handle Animal +8, Hide +5, Listen +7, Move Silently +6, Ride +5, Spot +3, Swim +6, Tumble +3
Possessions combat gear plus amulet of natural armor +1, bracers of armor +1, ring of protection +1, +1 sai, masterwork light crossbow, 10 bolts, cloak of resistance +1, copper and bloodstone cloak pin (12 gp)

Brother Moss is an energetic and gregarious soul -- very much the opposite of his calm and taciturn sensei. Despite his capacity for self-discipline and basically active nature, Brother Moss doesn't care for hard work. Sensei gave him his name early in his training because of his propensity for sitting on the mountainside and just enjoying nature (literally sitting like moss on a rock). Still, the young man had a passion for martial arts and focused his efforts long enough to earn a place in the monastery. Sensei quickly realized that Brother Moss's outgoing personality was better suited for managing the monastery's workaday affairs than his own. As the monastery's prior, Brother Moss oversees the servants and gives basic instruction to the junior monks. Sensei and his three instructors handle advanced training and matters of defense and strategy. When Sensei leaves to consult with his superiors in Limbo, Brother Moss takes charge of the whole monastery. Brother Moss and the junior monks remain unaware or Sensei's planar jaunts, but the instructors know the truth. Brother Moss and the junior monks believe that Sensei merely retreats to his chamber to meditate when he visits Limbo.

Tactics: In a fight, Brother Moss uses his sai to disarm the most aggressive foe while his juniors hang back to guard his flanks. The weapon gives him a +4 bonus on the opposed roll to resolve the disarm attempt. Thanks to his Improved Disarm feat, the attempt does not provoke an attack of opportunity. If Brother Moss disarms a foe, one of the junior monks pounces on the fallen weapon, kicking it out of the foe's reach. If they can get it out of reach, the junior monks then collect fallen weapons and use their superior speed to carry them off. Once he has disarmed foes who threaten physical attacks, Brother Moss uses his Tumble skill or potion of invisibility to maneuver for attacks against spellcasters. He uses his light crossbow against flying opponents or foes who are otherwise out of reach.

Sensei CR 12
Male githzerai monk 11
LN Medium humanoid (extraplanar)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +14, Spot +7
Languages Common, Githzerai

AC 28, touch 23, flat-footed 27; Deflect Arrows, Dodge, Mobility
(+3 Dex, +2 monk, +2 deflection, +1 natural, +5 Wis, +1 insight)
hp 60 (11 HD)
Immune normal disease, poison
Resist evasion, improved evasion; SR 16
Fort +8, Ref +10, Will +12; +2 against enchantments

Speed 60 ft. (12 squares)
Melee unarmed strike +10/+5 (1d10+2) or
unarmed strike +10/+10/+10/+5 (1d10+2) with flurry of blows or
+2 nunchaku +12/+7 (1d6+4) or
+2 nunchaku +12/+12/+12/+7 (1d4+3) with flurry of blows
Ranged+1 light crossbow +12 (1d8)
Base Atk +8; Grp +10
Atk Options Combat Reflexes, Improved Trip, Rapid Reload, Stunning Fist 11/day (DC 20), ki strike (magic)
Special Actions psionics
Combat Gearpotion of displacement, potion of haste
Psionic Abilities:
3/day -- daze (DC 9), feather fall, shatter (DC 11)
1/day -- plane shift

Abilities Str 14, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 11, Wis 21, Cha 8
SQ inertial armor, slow fall 50 ft., wholeness of body (22)
Feats Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Deflect Arrows [B], Dodge, Improved Trip[B], Mobility, Stunning Fist[B]
Skills Balance +5, Climb +8, Diplomacy +6, Escape Artist +10, Hide +10, Jump +16, Listen +14, Move Silently +10, Spot +7, Swim +8, Tumble +10
Possessions combat gear plus amulet of natural armor +1, ring of protection +2, dusty rose ioun stone, +2 nunchaku, +1 light crossbow, 10 bolts, +2 headband of Wisdom

Inertial Armor (Sp) Sensei gains a +4 armor bonus (already included in the statistics above) as long as he remains conscious.

Sensei rarely leaves the monastery and avoids contact with visitors unless he decides to grant one of his rare audiences. He prefers to meet only one stranger at a time. Most adventuring groups balk at those terms, however, and Sensei will agree to see a whole group, provided their weapons are peace bound (tied in their scabbards) and all spell component pouches are tied shut. When meeting a group. Sensei always has Brother Moss and two instructors in attendance.

Whenever he goes outside or meets a stranger, Sensei remains enveloped in a bulky robe that hides his frame and features. When dressed that way, he looks like a tall elf or a thin human -- it isn't immediately obvious that he's a githzerai. When conversing with a stranger, Sensei usually sticks to current events and the visitor's recent experiences, though he'll occasionally discuss the benefits of law and order.

Tactics: In a battle, Sensei prefers unarmed strikes, though he'll use his nunchaku if he has trouble hitting the foe. He tries to hurt the enemy quickly. He might make a trip attack against the opposition's main fighter (using his Improve Trip feat) or he might use his speed or Tumble skill to reach a foe who feels safe. His Stunning Fist feat (DC 20) is useful for neutralizing a foe quickly. Sensei prefers to use stunning attacks against spellcasters and other foes who have weak Fortitude saves. He prefers tripping fighter types and other characters with better Fortitude saves.

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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