Miles of tangled plants stretch in every direction. Moisture fills the thick air. Every sound, every rustled leaf or rippled pond, could be another threat, camouflaged but watching. The jungle itself is hunting them. But the party must press on. They must face whatever lurks after them. They must survive.
As our jungle map releases continue, so too do our jungle encounters. This second set will explore more ruins, temples, lakes, and characters that might be found within your world’s jungle. Each one comes with the usual introduction, guidance, and variations that we aim for in all of our encounters. We hope they help in your planning and running, no matter your own experience level.
11 – A barge is available for crossing the wide lake, but something is lurking in the water.
The party’s travel through the jungle brings them to a large body of water that extends in both directions. Fortunately, a barge awaits them. The rickety wooden platform is old but functional. They begin their crossing, being sure to move swiftly and staying aware of their surroundings. Then they feel a shifting below the craft. Moving to the edge to take a look, they find nothing. They turn again, to continue rowing. Only now their other companion is gone, replaced by a splash on the surface of the water. Something has dragged them under.
This encounter is simpler than many of our others. It uses an environmental obstacle to add variety and depth to otherwise straightforward combat. Unfortunately, the introduction of this jungle encounter can seem obvious to players. Conveniently finding a barge to aid their crossing tends to scream “prepare for an encounter”. The easiest way to avoid this is to first have them come to the edge of a large river. Hundreds of feet wide, swimming is possible but ill-advised. Provided they have no easy access to flight or teleportation, this should prompt them to follow along the shore in search of a ford or other way across. Let them walk for a little while before they find the old, mossy barge.
Running the combat is equally as easy, with much of your focus being on balancing the creatures. This is due to the many disadvantages imposed on underwater fighting, as well as the possibility of drowning. The latter is unlikely but it is best to keep it in mind as it can quickly place characters in death-spirals. An obvious choice for the enemy units is a water elemental, perhaps with some minion water weirds. Another option is to have one or more (water-breathing) ropers below the surface. All of these behave in a similar manner, by using grapples and constriction to pull players off the barge and into the water. Elementals have a much greater advantage of being able to wash over the entire platform, as well as hiding within the river. You should keep these strengths in mind while planning.
The creatures should only attack once your party is near the middle of the river. This is not only because they are intelligent hunters but also to prevent your players from simply backtracking to shore and then struggling to find another way across. They will need to continue moving while they fight, which might require an athletics check to row. This is a good way to make them think intelligently but does mean you should avoid outnumbering them. Doing so only increases the likelihood that they are all dragged under, unable to help each other. Ideally, your players will have the option of engaging or focusing on rowing to escape, and most likely attempting both. Party members being dragged off will force them to balance their actions and work as a unit.
12 – Swamp guardians attack the party, assuming them to be invaders.
Cutting through another wall of vines, the party comes to one of their objectives: a ruined temple, overrun with growth. They approach, seeing no obvious guards or traps. Will they finally triumph with little or even no danger? No. Only a few steps into the area, their entry is met by a colossus of vines bursting through the opposite trees. Several masked men accompany it, armed with crude weaponry and magic. They scream accusations of invasion at the party, seeming to act on assumptions. Is the attack simply a misunderstanding? Will the adventurers survive long enough to calm the situation?
As in the description, this jungle encounter functions best when connected to another objective. It could be the party finding their way to their destination or simply as they stumble upon an old ruin when exploring or searching for a campsite. This is primarily to give the enemy faction a reason for thinking the party is encroaching on their territory. But this does not mean it is mandatory. If you choose to use it as a random, travel encounter, simply try to include another reason for the attack. They could have been following the party for some time and witnessing the players, in their eyes, attacking their land and animals. You could even link another encounter that includes other explorers to give the guardians a preconception of outsiders. This could then have lead to them taking the party to these people as the next encounter.
This jungle encounter, like many others, involves relatively basic combat with a single twist. Try to combat the sameness by using an interesting map, with different obstacles, points of cover, and elevations. The central unit can function as a shambling mound, though you might wish to upgrade him to a huge creature. Inside the mass of vines is actually another human, controlling the plants like an armor. He will be assisted by regular humanoids, each with javelins and nature-based magic. Start with Poison Spray, Thorn Whip, perhaps Primal Savagery, Entangle, and Ensnaring Strike. You can add more depending on what your party can handle. Notice also that many of them are crowd control spells, chosen to display their command over the environment and strike fear into the party.
The fight will begin with the guardians yelling in their native tongue. Sylvan and druidic are fitting choices that make it possible for certain party members to understand. If they do not, the natives could shift to common after hearing the party speak. They will threaten the players and insult them for being invaders who tread with no care for the jungle. This should make it clear to the party that it is a misunderstanding, motivating them to negotiate their way out of combat. Or they might kill them all, in which case the guardians were kind of right, weren’t they? Their responses will be cautious and rooted in previous negative experiences, though successfully calming them will show them to be very friendly and curious, if overzealous.
13 – A famed explorer camps outside of a jungle temple. He would pay the party handsomely to aid his expedition.
Lord Bernard Islington-Wellerby is nothing if not determined. His exploration party cut through the jungle at great cost, both in gold and lives. But now he does not have the numbers to breach the temple. That is until the party finds his camp, lavishly ill-equipped, and is immediately offered paid roles in his expedition. Accepting would pay well, but Bernard seems quite comfortable in having them face all the traps and dangers while taking the credit for himself.
The purpose of this jungle encounter is to introduce a humorous micro-dungeon. Aside from the conversations and interactions, the content is a short crawl through an abandoned temple. Filling its halls and chambers can be undead, spiders, other monsters from our encounters, or almost anything else. An important note is to make full use of traps, as they play into the interactions with Lord Bernard. When it comes to the final rewards, you have two basic options. There could be a glistening treasure trove, which the party will surely negotiate (aka threaten) their way into taking the whole pile. Alternatively, they could find next to nothing. Bernard will still have to pay their promised wages, though he will be less-than-happy about it.
So what about Bernard himself? The best way to play a pompous nobleman stuck in the jungle is by doing it for laughs. His argument with the last survivors of his employees could be what alerts the party to the camp. When they speak to him, Bernard will maintain his position as a renowned explorer while also begging for them to help him. Play him as a character that will always act as if he holds the power, despite buckling easily if pressed or threatened. Should the players accept the job, Bernard will remain behind them and far out of trouble for the entire exploration. That is until he thinks he sees something valuable, triggering every trap as he rushes to it.
Keep in mind that Bernard and the encounter are being played as jokes. He may trigger multiple traps, catching players in their area, but these stop being funny when the traps play a real threat. It is better to have ten traps that each barely scrape the players than three with the possibility of killing them. You will hopefully have some idea of what is funny to your players, which is what you would focus on. They might prefer conversations, watching Bernard be injured but pridefully brushing it off, or even playing up their own characters’ damage at his hands. But try not to overuse a single joke, for risk of it getting old. This is also the reason for keeping the delve short.
14 – The skull-shaped cave booms with a threatening voice, commanding fealty from those that approach.
The cliff’s stone forms into the shape of a skull, weathered and ominous. It looms over the party in threatening shadows. A stream runs from its mouth and offerings of food and treasures surround the entrance. Suddenly, the ground shakes with a booming voice. Commands bellow out from deep within the tunnels, demanding that visitors kneel before the great being and prove their fealty. It requires offerings. But something is off. Firstly, its accent is recognizably non-native. There is also a shadow moving inside and it appears to be… humanoid?
The best way to explain and run this jungle encounter is by starting with the true story…
Some time ago, the traveling caravan of an affluent bard came under attack. His attackers, a local tribe of goblins or other local races, chased him to a strangely skull-shaped cave. Terrified, he hid inside. They managed to follow his tracks to the entrance, at which point he tearfully begged for his life. But something about the cave’s structure and its brilliant acoustics echoed his voice into that of a thundering giant. The attackers, believing that the ‘cliff god’ had consumed the man and could do the same to them, kneeled and begged for their lives. As any good bard would, he saw this as an opportunity. He has since taken residence in the cave, living off of offerings as his grip on reality slowly deteriorated. He has begun to believe his own lie.
The introduction can come in one of two ways. Players might simply stumble across the cave, the bard inside mistaking them for his followers and calling out for their offering. It would then come down to player investigation. The visible offerings and scraps that float downstream will be their first clue and you can also use an accent that is specifically foreign to the area. You may wish to include a group of worshippers that appear once the players discover the truth, creating an awkward situation and prompting them to decide how to act.
Another option is having the players encountering the goblins first. This could come in their actual camp, or a group on their way to give their offerings. Perhaps they will attempt to fight the party but retreat to the cave when they begin to lose. Just make sure the cave is nearby, or have the goblins steal an offering from them, to ensure players don’t just let them go and miss the real encounter. The voice then calls out when they approach and the goblins will sit by as the players are ‘fed’ to it. From there, you end up in the same interaction as the previous path. Your players must take control and decide the outcome of the situation. Do they leave it be in exchange for a portion of the offerings, expose the man, or help him back to civilization?
This encounter can link perfectly to Encounter 16. The worshippers might come from the dragon’s tribe, believing them to be the two true gods. Unfortunately, they also have prophecies of the two gods warring against each other. Inform players of this either through seeing the prophecies or, ideally, by having previously experienced Encounter 16. The cave bard’s reaction will change drastically when he realizes that they expect him to fight a dragon!
15 – A planar portal has opened in the jungle, releasing creatures and affecting nearby plants.
Somewhere amidst the dense trees of the jungle, the veil has weakened and torn. A hole opened between the material plane and another. Auroras spill forth as it releases strange creatures and enchants the area around it. Vines and trees begin to move as faeries dance around them. The sight is admittedly beautiful as it drifts over the party. That is until they begin seeing the remains of other victims within the trees.
The setup of a planar portal gives enormous freedom in encounter design. It could open to the fire plane, spilling out lava and burning the jungle, or the earth plane could have created a desert in its vicinity. For our jungle encounter, we’re going to focus on a connection to the Feywild or another nature-based plane. This works to create a jungle encounter in which the environment is exaggerated rather than contrasted.
You can introduce this jungle encounter from some distance away. Players might notice the aurora-like lights drifting through the area, spanning a wide radius. While they are unlikely to seek out the visible source, their path might force them to travel through it. As they do, make a note in your descriptions that the plant life is growing denser and harder to navigate. Characters with an affinity for the terrain or general memory might even notice that the plants have moved after a night of camping. It should only be once they are too far in to turn back that they catch sight of bodies strung up in vines or absorbed into the trunks of trees.
There are a number of options you can use here. The first is to simply have it affect the environment as a large area of increased danger. Your party might encounter awakened trees and shrubs that attack their camp and giant versions of regular snakes, spiders, and other beasts. Vines could reanimate their victims. Make this area feel like the core of the jungle, where everything is more dangerous and exaggerated. If you wish to leave it at that, you can have their travel take them past the central grove to tease the option of dealing with the portal. You can also lean further into the faerie side of the encounter. Players notice dryads, satyrs, and sprites that observe them from a distance. They could be curious or malicious, attempting to lure the party towards the portal.
Including a central fight is easy enough, provided they choose to face it. If you want to motivate them, have characters either in town or en route to the portal offer to pay for its closure. You can use a temple battle map or construct a grove clearing. Include sparse trees that will lash out and attempt to bind, then consume, players that stray too close. These don’t need to require difficult saves to avoid, as they function as map obstacles. Choose an appropriate number of the aforementioned fey and plant creatures. For the climax, keep in mind whether players can dispel the portal and give them an alternative if they cannot. Perhaps it is held open by a ritual being maintained on the other side? Closing it is also sure to anger those that are now stranded in our world.
16 – A local tribe has taken a ruin for themselves, worshipping the beast that lives within.
It is not uncommon to find nomadic tribes within the jungle, or for groups to congregate around the various ancient structures. This community seems to be different. They strictly follow the guidance of their leader, an unknown creature that rarely leaves to confines of its temple. That is probably for the best, as the depictions of it around the area show a great serpent that easily destroys its enemies. The party now finds themselves before this tribe, preparing to meet their beast of legend.
Similar to the last, this jungle encounter functions around creating a tribe and location and integrating that into your world. Because of this, we will also include some ideas for including it as a random encounter.
Possibly the simplest way of guiding players into the ruin is to place something they need inside the building. This would likely lead to an assault on the tribe, an infiltration, or negotiation. The first two are far more likely than the third for most parties. You can also advertise the tribe as being generally nonviolent, using another character (townsfolk, Encounter 4’s druid, Encounter 10’s lizardfolk, etc.) to tell the players that the tribe’s ‘leader’ might have useful information. To introduce it randomly, the party could come across the temple and witness people being led inside. A less altruistic party can be motivated by another group sent to retrieve prisoners from the tribe. These characters could offer pay, as well as mentioning the rumored hoard kept within.
But what about the tribe itself? While regular humanoids are fine, using either goblins or kobolds can make for a more memorable experience as well as enhancing the later reveal. Their leader is either an adult/ancient green dragon or a lazy, overfed hydra. Keep in mind that the latter, as an unintelligent creature, should instead be tended to by a tribal elder that ‘interprets’ its wishes. The purpose of this is to build to subversion when the party faces this leader, finding it to be content and manipulative, but not particularly malicious. You can enhance this further simply by focusing your descriptions on the weapons and masks of the tribe warriors, as well as the many animal trophies in their camp.
What happens once they reach the leader can depend on the type of encounter you are aiming for. A hydra is much more likely to lead to combat, especially if the tribe is actually kidnapping and feeding people to it. A dragon is smart enough to speak with the party, allowing them to bargain. It could propose a trade, in exchange for them completing a task for it. Dealing with the previous two encounters’ planar portal and false god are two great examples. Alternatively, they could add to its hoard. Play the dragon as powerful but unenthusiastic to give players some control of the conversation. If combat is initiated with the tribe, possibly for infiltrating or attacking them, the dragon’s fickle loyalty will go to the highest bidder.
17 – An ogre sits, sulking among the huts of his captured friends. He needs help to get them back.
A tight collection of mud and leaf huts surround the ogre’s form, towering over them and sniffling. The mound of grey muscle, initially threatening, appears to be whimpering. Closer inspection reveals that he is lamenting his captured friends, presumably the residents of the huts. Unfortunately, this closer inspection alerts him to the party’s presence. The giant spins around, wiping his nose and spotting the band of heavily-armed individuals. They look strong, and brave, and heroic; surely they will help get his friends back!
This jungle encounter uses a similar subversion to the last. The difference is that the previous encounter used the twist as its climax, while this builds it into the setup. Players will likely avoid the ogre at first, which makes it important that they are able to perceive its cries. They would also need stealth checks to move around the small clearing, giving it a chance to hear them. If it does, it will obviously not attack. Instead, have it spot them, squint and scan, and then grin widely. He can ask for their help, flattering them with how heroic and strong they look. If your players ask for or generally only go for monetary motivation, the ogre can mention that he has seen gold where his friends were taken.
Helping the ogre is a fantastic way to lead players to other encounters. His friends could be trapped by the spiders in Encounter 1 or the plant in Encounter 7, or taken by Encounter 15’s faeries or Encounter 16’s tribe. If you have an encounter that you’re having difficulty introducing, use it here! If not, your options are almost limitless. We will cover two possible examples…
A raiding band of yuan-ti cultists attacked the camp at night. They took the residents to a nearby ritual site, where their nightmare speaker is now conducting a ceremony. The party must interrupt the ritual and save the prisoners before they are sacrificed to create an anathema. The ogre will assist in combat, entering a rage if he sees his friends fall.
A humorous alternative is to have the party track the ‘attackers’ to a human caravan. The ogre will accuse them and prepare to attack. It will fall to the party to quell and understand the situation. In reality, the explorer caravan came across the crude huts, filled with what they believed to be valuable idols, left unguarded. The ogre’s tantrum will aid the party in negotiating the return of his ‘friends’, which are actually roughly crafted dolls. In this case, the ogre can cheerfully thank the players by giving them another of his friends: an actual idol with a significant amount of gold in its design.
18 – The jungle quakes under the footsteps of a towering ape as it patrols its territory.
One rarely expects earthquakes in a jungle. Yet, as the party travel, the ground beneath them shakes. Birds fly from trees and the frantic footsteps of escaping animals rustle through nearby underbrush. Several moments pass. Then, another tremor. This pattern continues, each quake growing more powerful until the source becomes visible through the canopy. An ape of colossal size, at least twice as tall as the trees, walks nearby. Its steps lone shake the area. As the party watch through a gap in the trees, its head turns and two eyes fix on their location.
There are no prizes for guessing the reference in this jungle encounter. Fortunately, the setup does not require the beast to be an ape. You can avoid any external references by changing the creature to another animal of similarly extraordinary size. Just try to keep in mind how it will affect the path you want the encounter to take, particularly with how the creature can hunt and attack. With that in mind, there are also a number of distinct ways to running this encounter…
The first is to have the beast be curious. Once it spots the party, it can lean down to investigate rather than attempting to attack. This is when you give players the opening to respond. But, in the background, you need to determine how intelligent the colossus is. Giant apes have an intelligence score of seven, making them as smart as an unfortunate player character. Players could be able to negotiate, barter, or simply convince it to help them. It doesn’t have much of worth to them, but could easily carry them to a destination or help in a particularly dangerous fight. Of course, you can also lower the beast’s intelligence to that of other animals. Players could still tempt it with food, though its reactions should be much more fickle and temperamental.
You can also reverse the ape’s behavior for a more direct jungle encounter. It can attack the moment it sees the players. Rather than making this a regular combat encounter, you can use the creature’s size for a unique twist. Its attacks can act more akin to the actions in a lair, in response to players’ movements. The monster’s turns will rely on when and where it can see players, with its massive slam attacks creating areas of damage. Players in the radius will make dexterity saves to avoid being hit and each attack should crush trees and change the environment. Your party has the option of moving evasively to escape or attacking, though it will shrug off regular weaponry. Significant magical attacks might be enough to dissuade it, though.
The third option is to use the creature as a backdrop. This can be done either by using the slam attack lair actions of the previous example or by having the ape engage another colossus. Meanwhile, the party will fight regular creatures. Once again, you can choose almost any other beast as the ape’s opponent. Spiders are a great example due to their young being extremely small. In this case, the enormous ape will move into combat with a spider of similar size to itself, near the party. The ape’s first few blows will shake the spider’s babies off its back, dropping giant (wolf) spiders near the players. The party will fight them as per normal, with added lair actions of tremors, webs, and crushing footsteps from the two monsters fighting in the background. The victor of their fight can mirror the party’s, or you can roll for it!
19 – A jungle hag crosses the party’s path. She requests aid from them. If denied or insulted, she will curse their journey.
The sun is shining bright and hot, mosquitoes are biting through armor and clothing, and sweating pours from the adventurers’ skin. It’s just another day in the jungle, until an old woman crosses their path. She walks slowly but assuredly and is accompanied by a pack of wolves, formed from bones and plant matter. If that did not already expose her as a hag, her green skin and elongated smile would. But she does not seem to harbor ill intent for the strange group wondering her jungle. Instead, she has a request for them to retrieve an important reagent. There is a reward for doing so, and conversely a punishment for earning her ire.
This is one scenario that works particularly well as a random jungle encounter. The party simply finds themselves crossing paths with the witch, the results of which come down to their interaction. This does mean that your first priority is showing her to be a green hag, as the intention is not for that to be a twist or reveal. Try to also emphasize her connection to the jungle. She could be traveling in a Baba Yaga-esque chicken hut or carried or accompanied by awakened trees and beasts formed from jungle plants. Her reaction to the players will be opportunistic and excited, and she will speak with a sense of pride. She should see herself as the owner of the jungle, appropriately addressing the players as visitors to her land.
Her request for them can be as simple or complicated as you wish. This is also another great opportunity to involve other jungle encounters. Perhaps the item she requires is within Encounter 16’s dragon’s hoard or protected by her arch-enemy, the druid of Encounter 4. Or you could simply keep it contained within this encounter. Try to consider why the hag cannot reach it herself, such as it being in a hallowed area or under guard. She might require a flower that only grows in a nearby town, forcing players to steal it from under the noses of town guards. Or perhaps it is simply more dangerous than she would like. The heart of a shambling mound or hydra would be enough.
When it comes to her curse, you have one of two options. The first is for her to cast it on anyone that insults her or fails in their task. In this case, cursed players are likely going to be under its effects for the rest of their journey in the jungle. If you wish for it to be a limited affair, have the hag curse them upon meeting. She will then give them her request, offering the dispelling of the curse as a reward. This is sure to motivate players that would otherwise avoid encounters. Make a note to yourself of who is cursed. For as long as they are in the jungle, you can either increase their DC’s or give them disadvantage to avoid the jungle’s various effects and challenges. Describe it as being magically unlucky, as if roots and bugs are now seeking them out.
Try to make the connection to the curse clear when these obstacles arise. A root or vine could move to obstruct an acrobatics check, or trees could part to let a ray of sunlight hit a character right in the eyes. The disadvantage appearing magical helps to emphasize that it is coming from the curse, as well as making players feel less frustrated with poor luck.
20 – A family of ettercaps finds the party, inviting them home for dinner.
Human-sized bugs, bulbous and muscular below their thick chitin, find the party. The pair approach cautiously, their black, orbed eyes investigating the strange intruders. As the travelers begin to draw their weapons, the larger monster rears onto its hind legs. One hand of long, jagged claws reaches forward and opens to reveal a section of raw meat. It edges closer, obviously hoping for the strangers to accept its gift. It chirps excitedly if they do, its mate joining in. With crude, haphazard communication, they invite the party back to their cave. Waiting inside is a nest of webs, collected food and prey, and the creatures’ children.
We like to include a non-combat, rewarding encounter for rolling a 20 on our list. This jungle encounter does this with a humorous twist: everything the creatures do seems like a trap, but isn’t. The ettercaps will approach either as nightfall is encroaching or when the party is setting camp. They will do so hesitantly, treating the players as if they are skittish animals. Have them move slowly and without stealth to put your players on edge. They will produce a small amount of food either when they are close enough or when your first party member threatens violence. Despite their appearance, they do not wish to hurt the players and are in fact trying to be accommodating.
This contrast is the basis for the encounter. Try to use a disturbing, somewhat monstrous description of the ettercaps as they appear. This will contrast with their kind offer. Should your players not accept, the insect will place the food on the ground and back away, watching. Play it like a person trying to give food to a frightened deer. If and when players accept it, the pair will chirp happily and invite them to follow. Your players will hopefully be nervous and curious, making them more likely to further engage with the encounter. But they still might not. If they don’t, reorient your encounter slightly and have the ettercaps leave, repeatedly returning to give the party more morsels of food. Is it a trap? Is the food poisoned? No!
Accepting and following the ettercaps will have them escort the party to their cave nest. It should be a small distance away, hidden behind vines and growth and coated with sticky webs. Inside, a dozen or more small ettercaps will rush to investigate their guests. Try to maintain the fun of the encounter by keeping one question in your players’ minds: “are WE dinner?” The webbed floor might instantly restrain their legs as they enter, with the children’s skittering echoing from deeper in. Moments later, one of their escorts will apologetically cut their feet free. The younger ettercaps could approach with flaming sticks, salivating mandibles glistening in the light, before passing the players to create a campfire for their parents to cook the food. Keep the joke going for as long as it can be funny. Ultimately, players can walk away the next day both fed and rested.
The vines and trees part, and safety is in sight. This marks the end of our jungle encounter list. Worry not, for our next entry will be a guide on running your jungle adventures. While you wait for that, feel free to leave any feedback or ideas you guys might have. We love hearing what you have to say to support us or help us improve.
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