Loops of vines hang from a dense canopy, swaying in the gentle, humid breeze. Or maybe they are snakes, waiting for the errant touch of an unaware adventurer. More dangers lurk beneath them, waiting below cover of foliage. Insects, serpents, and even living plants have set their traps in the tangle of green. The party cannot avoid them all.
From desolate deserts to verdant jungles, we move into our next set of encounters. These new jungle encounters are made with our maps, both new and old, in mind. As always, they come with detailed introductions, advice for running them, as well as different ways you might adjust the content for your own table. We hope they are able to inspire and guide your own party’s next expedition into the lush, danger-filled jungle.
1 – Giant spiders have set traps using web-covered ground and puppeteered victims.
Everyone in or near the jungle has heard of the abnormally large insects found within. Few have survived to know just how intelligent the beasts are. As the party travels, stepping through the underbrush and cutting away vines, they spot something in the distance. Humanoid forms stand, silhouetted between trees, silently waving for the group to approach. But as the party does, they find their boots sticking to the ground. By the time the effect becomes noticeable through the regular terrain, it is too late. Glints of sunlight reveal webs that hold the waving bodies upright like puppeteer strings. The same web covers the jungle floor. Above them, a canopy of legs skitters to life.
Giant spiders are great for jungle encounters but direct fights with them can become uninteresting. We want to avoid this by taking an approach that adds another layer to the encounter. The basic setup is that the local spiders have set an intelligent trap for adventurers. This is what the players will notice first. Describe the humanoid forms, perhaps with a cart or terrain-appropriate gear, motioning for the party to approach silently. One finger to the mouth and the other hand beckoning them over should work. Keep in mind your characters’ perception and insight abilities and what details these might reveal. While the general forms can be seen from a distance, drawing closer might alert them that something is wrong.
If your players are able to identify the strange, robotic movements and avoid the encounter, that’s fine. Spiders, especially those with boosted intelligence, will not pursue prey that navigates around their trap. You might consider trying to use the encounter again later but the unique lure makes this more obvious to players. Instead, consider letting them see what they managed to avoid. The path they follow, or perhaps just walking closer, can reveal light glinting off of the web strings. To make it extra creepy, describe the desiccation of the corpses as one turns its head to the players. A perceptive player can then visually follow the strings upwards, seeing the puppeteer spider and all its friends.
Hopefully, your players do take the bait. This will have their path lead them directly into the webbed ground. Describe this first, as they slowly realize that the ordinarily difficult forest terrain has become… sticky. Fortunately, the web spell gives us some good guidelines for handling this. Designate an area of the map (invisible to players) that is webbed. Moving into this area will have them notice the difficult terrain. Once they stop, likely to inspect the humanoids’ odd movements, the webs will stick enough to require skill checks. This is also when an appropriate number of giant spiders will skitter down the trees and their accompanying giant wolf spiders will crawl from the ground.
When balancing this encounter, be sure to remember the effects of being restrained. Players can avoid it with dexterity saves (or leaving the area), but being caught will make them easier to hit and impose disadvantage on their own attacks. On top of that, giant spiders have their own web attack. This all means that it is important to be careful with outnumbering and swarming your players. For lower-leveled groups, use fewer giant spiders and more giant wolf spiders.
2 – A man in torn rags finds the party after escaping from his captors, a tribal jungle cult. He has no memory of what they did to him.
Footfalls stomp through the jungle brush, headed in the party’s direction. They ready their weapons and await an attack. Instead, a flustered and confused man runs to them, panting and begging for help. He appears exhausted and emaciated, his clothes reduced to shreds. He bears no weapons. With the adventurers choosing to hesitantly assist the man, he tells them of the group he recently escaped. A cult, led by some sort of shaman, had attacked his caravan and taken him hostage. They fed and tended to the man, performing strange rituals with seemingly no effect. Now, he only wishes to leave the jungle. It is only days later that the results of the magic appear. Moonlight falls on him and he begins to transform.
To contrast the first, this jungle encounter is almost entirely character-driven. It begins with the introduction of the stranger, who the party will likely hear or see coming. Skillful perception will reveal that he is alone and moving frantically. If they prepare for combat or confrontation, be sure to play the man as desperate and with no desire to fight. He should clearly be an addled victim. Start by having him ask their intentions in a panic before begging for food and water, for which he will be immediately thankful. Once the situation calms down and conversation can resume, the man can request to travel with the players. This works best if they are headed to town. Otherwise, he may simply intend to stay with them until they come across an official path or landmark. Perhaps he wishes to find the ruins of his attacked caravan?
While traveling, be sure to play the stranger as friendly and appreciative. Your intention is to make the players like him. This can be difficult and will depend on the kinds of players you have. Keep in mind that the man is unaware of his own truth and happy to be free again. He will freely share his story, so prepare a short backstory. He may have been a guard for the caravan, giving him some combat prowess to assist the party. His time with the cult will be foggy, owing to the strange herbs they fed him and spells they cast.
Alternatively, they might tell him to take a hike and then leave him behind. There’s not much you can do about this, aside from the man begging for basic supplies and directions. If you do wish to keep him around or progress the encounter, he may find his way back to town. What happens when his transformation occurs surrounded by regular townsfolk? If you simply want to motivate players to help, have the man promise them a share of his or the caravan’s gold as payment.
Speaking of transforming, the encounter’s combat is relatively simple. Some days after their meeting, allow your players to set camp for the night, selecting what kind of location they look for and how they erect their camp as normal. A full moon will then rise. Confused and overcome with an uncontrolled ferocity, their new friend will transform into a raging weretiger. He can wield claws and any weapons he was given. Ultimately, combat shouldn’t last too long. His winning the fight might even see him realizing what is happening and fleeing, to be found the next day. The players will hopefully be hesitant to kill what should be a friend, thereby giving them a difficult decision. They must choose what to do with a weretiger that cannot yet control his bestial form. With time, though, maybe he could learn to?
For the characters of this encounter and many others, remember our hero token packs. If they aren’t enough, we also have a Token Editor for selecting and coloring your own…
3 – A monkey swings down and begs for scraps. Later, it returns with friends.
From amongst the rustling of trees and vines, a small monkey swings into view. It spends some minutes tracking and inspecting the party, curious but benign. It seems to like them. Apparently growing comfortable, the creature makes its way down to the visitors, extending tiny hands for a donation. Once it is satisfied with food, gold, or a trinket, it leaps back and excitedly vanishes into the trees. The next hour of travel is quiet and uninterrupted. That is until the monkey returns, now with a dozen or more of its kind. One by one, they approach the party and extend their hands.
Not every jungle encounter needs to have combat or even danger. This encounter is one such example, where the focus is more on engaging players and alleviating tension without compromising pace. The first monkey appearance will be an innocuous addition to your description of the environment as they travel. Point out that it follows them as they move, slowly moving closer to gauge their reaction. Your players can respond if they wish to, either coaxing it closer or scaring it away. In the latter case, it can return later and resume. Once it is comfortable with them, it will drop down either beside their path or on a cart. It will hold its hands out, waiting for players to give it something.
Give your players a small travel break before the monkey returns. This can act as an opportunity to speak amongst themselves, search for a place to camp, or simply continue your description of movement. About an hour later, they will hear the little guy return. Only this time he will have friends. Up to two dozen of the same monkeys will follow, mimicking the same apprehensive approach that the first showed. They will each beg for a handout. It’s at this point that your players will be given control. Hopefully, they will realize that giving the troop more will only worsen the situation by attracting more.
Your players will eventually stop donating to the monkeys. They will not like this. The group, or the single monkey with his backup if he was denied the first time, will grow agitated and forceful. They will try to pick at the players’ bags and pockets, making off with scraps of food or single coins. You don’t need to run this as combat, though. Simply ask each player what they wish to do to avoid, dissuade, or even attack the thieves. If there are any left on them after the first ’round’, make a basic roll for what is taken. It could be as easy as a d4 each (1 = a scrap of food, 2 = copper coin, 3 = silver, 4 = gold). Let your players be creative in their solutions and reward them for it. Remember that the monkeys are not attacking and will flee if injured.
4 – Zombies are attacking a jungle druid’s hut, held back by awakened plants.
The sound was the first warning. Drawn-out moans, rustling, and the guttural cries of combat echo out from the clearing. As they get closer, the party is able to see a large group of undead that have surrounded an overgrown hut. The building is being protected by shrubs and trees that have been brought to life. Suddenly, a number of the shambling corpses turn and notice the adventurers. They fall easily, their strength coming from sheer numbers. Initially unknown to the party, a jungle druid watches on from inside the hut, thankful for the assistance.
Sometimes, you want a fight that is short, uncomplicated, and rewarding. This is where we introduce… trees vs undead? Flora vs fiends? Whatever you want to call it, this encounter functions as a simple stop along the party’s path, with the possibility for a new ally and magical gadget.
You can introduce this encounter the same as any other random occurrence. A perceptive player might hear the commotion from a distance, or you might have them come across the clearing when searching for a campsite. An altruistic party could even be lured by the druid sending out a magical distress call through the jungle plants. Once your players reach the hut, having the undead notice them and attack is your way to bring them into the fight. Feel free to use a larger number of zombies and other undead, as the party will be assisted by a pair of awakened trees and many more awakened shrubs.
Once the combat is over, have the druid appear from his hut and thank the players. He can explain that the zombies were a failure of his testing magical spores, or you can tie the undead into a larger presence in your world’s jungle. Prepare a basic character outline and story for the druid but feel free to keep it brief. He can reward the players with food and shelter, though the real fun comes from a pouch of seeds (however many you wish) that he will give them…
Seeds of Awakened Green
A handful of large seeds that glow with a pulsing green of transmutation magic.
As an action, you can throw the seeds either at a tree or on the ground within 30 feet of you. The seeds then sprout and bind the tree or take root and grow. A tree is awakened into an awakened tree, while seeds thrown on the ground produce 1d4+4 awakened shrubs. The awakened plants are friendly to you and your companions and lose their magic after 10 minutes, becoming regular plants.
5 – The party has caught the eye of a bird that loudly mimics their conversations.
The jungle is home to many forms of life, some wonderous and exotic and some that are deeply annoying. It is the latter that now finds the party. A bird of bright plumage and curious disposition begins to follow them, showing interest in their conversations. Not long after, it displays its skills in mimicry. The adventurer’s quiet, cautious words screech from the small bird, filling the jungle and alerting an unknown number of ears.
One of my personal favorite types of encounters is one that modifies the party’s travel or subsequent encounters. This particular example allows you to add a moment of levity and challenge without disrupting your adventure’s pace. Much like the monkeys of Encounter 3, the lyrebird does not stop the party from moving. It can also become a lighthearted hindrance if you choose to connect it to another encounter.
The setup to this jungle encounter is incredibly simple, though the timing is important. You want it to have an actual impact on the players. This means it is best to use when they are favoring stealth or privacy. Alternatively, you can have it appear once and then reappear when these moments arise, as a running joke. The choice is yours! When it does appear, play it similar to how we described the monkeys. It can be seen at a distance, its plumage either camouflaging or exposing it. Have it observe the party for some time. In reality, you simply need to wait for the best or funniest moment for it to loudly repeat what they say.
If you’re not familiar with a lyrebird’s real-life talents, we would suggest looking up a video. They are exceptional creatures. This means that playing one will require you to have a vague ability to replicate your characters’ voices. But don’t worry too much about accuracy. This jungle encounter’s focus is on humor. If you don’t think you can do it well, just chalk it up to being a bird mimicking human speech! Finally, don’t drag the joke on for too long. Have the bird leave if attacked or shooed away and only bring it back once if the situation fits and you’re confident it will still be funny.
6 – A stream cuts off the party’s path, filled with hidden, magical leeches.
One of many jungle streams crosses the party’s path, forcing them to cross it or waste time by circumnavigating it. The water is shallow and slow-moving but the real danger swims under the surface. Magical leeches wait for any creature that steps in their waters. They would not be a problem if blood was all they drained, but these creatures are avoided for a reason. The party is about to find out why.
When considering natural obstacles, it can be a good practice to give them an extra layer. This shouldn’t be done every time, of course, but it is one way to develop a mundane annoyance into a more impactful jungle encounter. For this instance, we’re using a basic stream crossing. The water is no major issue for players on foot, though they may take precautions for a cart or to simply avoid danger. This means it is best to describe the water as being at least 15 feet across and with a depth and speed that can be crossed rather simply. Moving through will place them in difficult terrain but nothing seems to be waiting to attack them.
Of course, you know that the water is only a minor annoyance. The leeches are the real danger. Assign them a passive stealth score, taking into account their size and the water’s movement hiding them. 15 is a good choice, making it possible for perceptive characters to notice them early. They will stick to any part of the players that is submerged for more than a few seconds. If the players do not notice them immediately, it will come down to either a later perception roll or when the leeches’ effects come into play.
But what are the effects? You can opt for more potent versions of real leeches by having them drain a player’s hit dice after some time or even inflict damage to their maximum health (recovered by resting or via magic). Another version we’ve seen is magic-draining, progressively consuming a player’s spell slots. Our own suggestion is the ‘medusa leech’. Not only will they drain blood but their bite also slowly petrifies their victim. This would only become deadly to players if they decided to swim in the stream for several minutes. More likely, the effect can slowly impact their movement speed by petrifying their legs, eventually inflicting the poisoned condition. Feel free to develop the symptoms further as they are attached longer, such as complete restrainment or even resistance to healing magic. Resting can remove or slowly alleviate the effects.
7 – The floor of vines opens, dropping the party into the stomach of an acidic plant.
Below the jungle ground is a plant of enormous size. Its mouth is covered in a mesh of vines, waiting to open in response to a wayward step. Those that fall victim to it are dropped into the pool of acid that fills its belly. This is where the party now finds itself. The liquid burns into their clothing and skin and the mouth has shut above them. Their time is limited. They must escape. But is there something else in the chamber with them?
Similar to the last, this jungle encounter is primarily an environmental hazard. This means that your first job is introducing it. You can feel free to use it as a random encounter with the possibility for passive skills (nature and perception) to give players clues before they fall in. Alternatively, you could position an animal or character as a ‘lure’, stuck in the vines and being slowly dragged down. Your party might move to help, though you should keep in mind that they might succeed, negating the rest of the encounter. Another option is for the plant to have its own bait. This could be similar to Encounter 1’s puppets or the plant might have created a clearing, the perfect campsite, to draw in its prey.
Once the majority of your players have stepped into the area, a simple strength save can be called for them to avoid being dragged down. It does not have to swallow them all, as dividing the players can make for an interesting twist to the encounter. Those that succeed will be left in difficult terrain. Ending subsequent turns can require another strength save, adding risk to assisting those inside the plant. Speaking of which, the players dropped into the plant will be taking acid damage each turn. Think about your players’ maximum health points and try to balance for them to survive five rounds or more.
The party can ‘kill’ the plant but their real goal is to escape it. This will come down to their own choices. You might require a threshold of damage within a turn for it to open its mouth, with a weakness to fire. To make the jungle encounter more involved, consider adding other victims within the belly. This is a great way to instantly show the threat they face and the bodies could even still have their bags and belongings. Do players prioritize escaping or risk their lives for loot? Perhaps the plant’s interior is reinforced with grappling vines, or reanimates the bodies of those it consumes?
8 – The party easily avoided the boulder trap. That was until the rock turned to follow them.
The jungle’s ruins and temples are renowned for their traps but not for their subtlety. A pedestal holding a golden relic, with an enormous boulder suspended above it, is more than enough to tip the adventurers off. They move to avoid the stone’s path, allowing them to take their prize without much issue. The boulder drops, rolling predictably past them down the slope and coming to a stop against a tree. The group triumphantly move to leave but hearing a heavy grinding. Behind them, the stone begins rolling again. It rushes towards them, not planning on giving up.
One of the most fun ways to design jungle encounters is to add a twist to classic tropes. This example takes Indiana Jones’s boulder trap, as well as the ‘just run to the side’ trope of Prometheus and many other movies. Our boulder is enchanted and will actively pursue the players. The large ‘creature’ will have a speed of 40 feet to outpace most characters’ regular movement while allowing them to dash away. It will not have a health value, owing to it, well… being a rock. Spells such as shatter will chip away at its form, perhaps slowing it or simply creating weak points. Otherwise, the players must find a way to stop its movement until they can get out of ‘sight’. This could mean ducking through other ruins or sprinting through the jungle as it blitzes through the trees to chase them.
The beauty of this encounter is its flexibility. You can incorporate it into the ruins and temples of your other encounters (we have some in part 2!), or have it stand on its own. If you do place it in a populated or guarded structure, we would advise leaving it for the end. Not only does it make sense for the trap to be guarding the central treasure, having a sentient boulder chase the party as they make a frantic escape can make for a hilarious, creative climax. Using it as a random, standalone encounter is as simple as placing a small ruin with a single prize at the center. The boulder will be the entire encounter and the prize can either be magical or valuable enough to sell later. In both cases, have the trap be obvious so that players can prepare for it before the twist becomes apparent.
9 – A small body of water drops suddenly into a deep fissure, opening into a parallel plane.
The party comes to another small stream, thin and shallow, that they must cross. Doing so is easy and will cost them naught but wet boots. As they move to cross, the stones and mud that make up the ground give way below the water. An inexplicable torrent of water rushes to fill the space, dragging them into the depths. Seaweed surrounds them. A light shines some distance below. Swimming to it, they find themselves now in a separate plane. There are only ruins, statues, and sleeping residents.
The core of this is based on something that my own party briefly experienced. It acts as less of a singular jungle encounter and more as a way to expand and add depth to your world. There are almost limitless ways to adapt the foundational idea. We will cover one version that functions as an encounter, as well as some other ways you can develop the portals.
To start off, you can position this jungle encounter anywhere you wish. The only important aspect is the water entrance. This could be a pool of water in a small ruin, similar to the previous encounter. Perhaps the party follows a river to its origin, where the water simply rises out of the depths of a small lake. This would be a great way for it to integrate with their larger goals if they have been tasked with searching for something at “the river’s source”. Our example uses a stream that must be crossed for the option of using it as a random jungle encounter and to avoid players easily or accidentally bypassing it. If another option fits better for your game, it can easily be changed.
Once in the water, players will find themselves in a watery ‘nexus’. There will be no discernible up or down and seaweed hides any surrounding walls. A small glint of light will draw them into the other plane. Following it will find them breaching into a set of grey ruins in a land of obfuscating fog. In my party’s version, we rose out of a small pool to find multiple rings of statues that all held cryptic books and pointed towards the central water. What was the meaning? Well, we haven’t found out yet. But the air of a damaged, lost world was the perfect atmosphere for such an alien environment. We were on edge and panicked the whole time. Doing the same or similar is a great way to inspire curiosity in your players.
Your jungle encounter will also ideally have an objective. This could come from a larger goal or assignment. Otherwise, the simplest way to do this is with combat, by having a group of merrow or merfolk attack them. You can also include strange artifacts or discoverable lore in the area, similar to the books we found. This will all depend on what best motivates your players. In either case, try to maintain the creepiness of the environment. You can encircle the ruins with an ocean that fades into the mist. The architecture could be inhumanly simple and precise, or a petrified natural formation. Keep in mind how you want to explain the location and whether it will appear again. Even if it is just a section of the water plane, many players will want an explanation for whatever they find there.
Another way to expand this encounter and make it more integral to your world is to fill the watery ruins with other pools. Swimming back through the pools will return them to the material plane. Each one can connect to another point in the jungle, vastly reducing travel time if they can navigate them. Of course, doing so might come at a cost. Could something be watching them in this other plane? What might benefit from their repeated use of the pools? If doing so thins the barrier between it and the material plane, could something escape?
10 – The party finds a cart of lizardfolk who offer to trade strange and exotic goods.
The jungle is an environment of both isolation and dense danger. One must always be on guard for the many tribes of beastmen, with their vile magic and savage physicality. At least, that was what the party heard. These warnings seem more confusing than helpful as a cart pulls in front of them, a group of lizardfolk scrambling out to… trade? They speak in their own tongue yet their movements appear to mimic eccentric and charismatic salesmen. The only thing stranger than their demeanor is the items they offer.
This jungle encounter serves to act as a curiosity and moment of levity. The idea is to subvert your players’ expectations by making them anticipate combat and then delivering the opposite. You can emphasize this by having them see what appears to be a cart, either on the road or in their path, with lizardfolk crawling across it. They will instinctively move into ‘encounter mode’, perhaps attempting to get the first hit. If they do attack, have the leader of the traders react by waving his hands and motioning for peace. This is when players can notice that he is wearing a human coat and hat and that the cart is set up as a stall.
What the lizardfolk are selling and why they are doing it is up to you. The encounter is inherently silly so feel free to make them motivated by curiosity. Maybe they enjoy the feel and shine of coins and had observed how human traders acquire money. Did they kill those traders and take their cart and clothes? Maybe. Include some local delicacies and oddities in their stock, focusing on what lizardfolk would want or think humans would want. There could be crude weapons, strange poisons and remedies, and scavenged supplies that really suggest that they may have killed the previous owners. If you choose to include magic items, you may wish to limit them to thematically fitting, minor or unusual effects.
Do you want this jungle encounter to progress into combat? Then subvert your players again. The lizardfolk could have previously seen how many people approach traders. Surely this means it would be the perfect bait for travelers! While your players are browsing, have the traders’ assistants attempt to move behind and club the party. The encounter is lighthearted so the ambush doesn’t need to work and the players will quickly triumph. Just be sure to tone down the power of what they are selling, in this case, as the players will have free access once the injured lizardfolk scramble away.
Ah, a clearing! Time to set camp, assign a watch rotation, hopefully not get eaten by a plant, and wait for the second half of our jungle encounters. Our next ten encounters are already in the works, followed by a brief guide on how to run your jungle adventures. In the meantime, let us know what you think! Did you enjoy our encounter ideas? Is there something you’d change? Or maybe you have a story of your own jungle encounter?
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