At the center of the Banahogg is a single, larger ritual site. Monoliths hold the few prisoners still alive, waiting their turn to join the other sacrifices. A Green Hag stands over the altar, conducting the ceremony with an ancient speech. Her sisters lurk unseen. The intruding adventurers have little time until the hags succeed. Will they save the hostages and defeat the witches, or will they fall and add to the pile?
The hag encounter is the third and final part of our Banahogg Swamp Adventure. With the introduction and swamp encounters out of the way, it’s time for the party to face their villains. We will cover the arena of the encounter, the hags’ abilities and tactics, and the adventure’s resolution. Whether you follow my campaign’s version or one of our variants, it all ends here.
The final confrontation consists of a single hag encounter. This makes it sound simple, but the climax should be one of the most memorable moments of the adventure and campaign. It is important to prepare for the fight and its possible results, which will largely depend on how your players act and who their characters are. It is impossible to cover every variation, but we will address the general points and different ways you might adjust your own version. As with every session, you should be ready to improvise and adapt while at the table.
We will include as many links as possible to the previous entries in the adventure for easier navigation and explanation. If you have not read these, we would advise having a look before reading further, as they explain how the adventure leads to this point. You can find links to the other sections at the top of each article.
The Playing Field
One of the most important steps in planning the hag encounter is creating its location. This will, of course, depend largely on your hags’ characters and behaviors. The final arena should be a direct reflection of their vile power and designed specifically for the purpose of attaining their goal. It should be visibly related to the other sites the party has come across.
My map centered around a stone table, similar to that of encounter 10 but larger and without carved channels. Surrounding it were five large stone monoliths, the same as those in encounter 12. One of the Myrrholm captives was tied to each of the obelisks, but only two were still alive. Beside one of them was a small girl, crying into her hands. Channels ran from the central table to each of the captives, with those leading to the dead stained red. Thick underbrush formed a border on one side and water cut off the other. On the bank of the water was a stinking pile of rot where bodies had been disposed of. The Blight Lord stood motionless between two obelisks, its vine tether connecting to the Green Hag as she tended to her rituals. Her sisters waited, either disguised or out of sight.
When creating my map, it was imperative to have variety in the terrain. I knew the site would be vaguely circular and repeat features of past encounters to maintain a cohesive visual theme. The obelisks and trees gave cover for my party’s ranger and bard while requiring the monk to think more tactically in his movement. It also provided ways for the Night Hag to climb where party members could not. Having water on one side gave a defined border but could also have been used by the party. The victims’ restraints not only held them in place for the hags but also put them in harm’s way. The party’s first goal was to get them out. I had also included a handful of inanimate blights for the Green Hag to summon as a way to add difficulty in case my party was steamrolling the encounter through sheer force.
A Map for Every Party
If you are creating your own map, take into account your party’s strengths and weaknesses. You want to provide ways for them to move, take cover, and possibly escape. Conversely, you also want the map to make them think and plan. The border of underbrush acting as difficult terrain means choosing to risk close-quarters combat for the sake of movement. Objects to use as cover or elevation can be used both by the party and the hags, particularly for ranged fighters. If your party is melee-centric, give them ways to draw the hags into chokepoints or confined areas. You might use a second ring of stones to give them additional cover against the Night Hag while they deal with the two others in melee.
Looking back, a change I would have made to my map would be to add elevation levels. Placing the hag encounter on the flattened side of a hill could divide the combat into three sections and allow the party to better control the fight. Thanks to the Mobile feat, my party’s monk could traverse the map extremely quickly while his companions fought at range. Adding slopes on either side of the map might slow him down, but could also assist him in isolating hags and giving the ranger and bard a vantage point. Hags pulled to the lower level would be less able to assist their sisters and limits the cover they could take. The higher level would have also helped their pre-combat stealth movement. Consider your players’ favored tactics when decided on the map’s details, and do what you can to incorporate options and challenges for them.
We have a wide array of fitting, pre-made maps, as well as environment tokens to modify them. Many also have eery night variants, exclusive to Patrons…
A Breadcrumb Trail
As mentioned in our d20 Swamp Encounters, you might wish to have the party follow a defined path as they approach the climactic fight. There are many reasons why you might do this, with the two most prominent examples being to add urgency and remove randomness. The curse’s effects can leave the characters weakened. This can be an interesting way to make them think tactically in the final combat but can leave the experience feeling cheapened if they are constantly failing skill checks or, even worse, dying. You don’t want this for your climactic fight. The easiest way to do this is to include encounter 16 as either an encounter or campsite in the end stretch. It’s a reprieve and a checkpoint, and can even give them a vantage point to spot the ritual site from.
The party could also be motivated by a clear indication that the hags have almost succeeded. It doesn’t need to be the ‘beam of blue light shooting up into the sky’ trope from every superhero movie ever. Clouds could converge over the ritual, with the air growing thick with death and pulling inwards toward it. Blights and the Blight Lord could ignore the party to make their way there. Giving the party unquestionable urgency and showing them where to go should guarantee they head for the hag encounter. It also puts them on the clock, and you can have them briefly pass other encounters as they move. They can always stop to inspect them on the way out. Showing them that they have headed the right way and are now close can also make the encounters they faced feel more worthwhile.
Encounter 20, in particular, can be incorporated into the final map. It’s an important location with the explanations for the hags and their history and it would be unfortunate for the players to miss it. If they have not come across it and you did not have it connected to another encounter, it could simply be behind the combat map. It makes sense that the hags might live at the ritual site, and can make players even more curious to explore it. Be mindful of the party interacting with it in combat and prepare for if the fight heads in that direction. Basic outlines of the floors can be used to improvise battle maps. If not, you can just run it as the encounter once combat concludes.
Svikar’s knowledge can be expanded to cover the contents of the hags’ journals, in the case of the house being destroyed. This is somewhat unlikely, but it helps to account for the kind of player who might panic and start setting fires. And let’s be honest, we all know one. Players will feel more rewarded for discovering the information themselves, so you might instead have the history written in the Green Hag’s spellbook. Ultimately, your goal is to have the party learn of it organically and understand the truth of what they are stopping, even if the option of exploring the house is removed. Again, needing this is unlikely and you would rather they learn of it prior to the fight, but it helps to have contingencies.
The Sisters Three
Combat will always come down to an element of randomness and improvisation, but this does not mean you should not plan the villains’ tactics. Quite the opposite, in fact, as hags as a creature type are intrinsically linked to their sisters. In some ways, they are like an enemy party. The sisters will cooperate and act to protect and assist each other. They are old and have been doing this for as long as they have lived, and combat with them should reflect this. The trio should function like a well-oiled, insidious machine, making it difficult for the party to outsmart them.
On top of their inherent intelligence and synchronicity, the hags also have knowledge of the party. Remember that the Hag’s Eyes (Monster Manual p.176) have been watching the players during their travels and encounters. The Green Hag has studied their favored tactics and general behavior and will have relayed it to her sisters for the sake of strategy. The hag encounter’s ritual site may also be modified to reflect this. This works best for a party that discovered the eyes during the adventure, as they will understand that they have been watched. If they have not, consider toning down the knowledge the hags have. They can still comment on the party’s nightmares and surface thoughts, but the encounter won’t feel cheapened by them seeming to have meta-knowledge.
Scaling monster stats down for lower levels can be difficult and daunting. I have included examples of the edited statblocks used for my party of three level sevens, with their modified spells, AC, and damage values. These three points are the first things I would advise scaling down, followed by the stats and proficiency bonus. Always remember that you can adjust and improvise during the game if it feels badly tuned. Reducing maximum hit points is an example of a balance change that can be made behind your screen, but only if it becomes necessary.
The Green Hag and Blight Lord
The leader of the hag coven will engage from the protection of her Blight Lord. She is vulnerable and committed to her ritual as the hag encounter begins, with her focus being the creation of their god’s vessel. Your players will most likely engage by attacking her while rushing to the captives, provided they do not attempt to remain hidden. She has enough hit points to take a round of damage, after which the tether will retract and her Blight Lord will animate. At that point, it effectively replaces her on the battlefield. Even if the players effectively lock her down with control effects, her sisters are available to assist.
Acting as an extension of the hag, the Blight Lord is not itself a creature. As such, I decided not to give it its own hit points or mental stats. It instead drew on the stats of the witch and I similarly had half the damage it took dealt to her. The players were accustomed to monsters that couldn’t simply be destroyed by damage, so it did not come as a surprise to them. This gives the hag an effective hit point value of 164, which is plenty for one of three opponents. She would attack with her greatsword when able to hit multiple targets, otherwise using her multiattack. Her priority was to grapple a target and Bite them, with the lances acting as a backup for a missed Grab or for attacking other targets.
The Green Hag’s Bite would expose her, making it risky against multiple opponents. Mechanically, it was a copy of her Claws that did lower damage but dealt it as poison. To incentivize its use, I had the poison magically drain targets to heal her. You can shift the balance of this, but I chose to have it heal the witch for half of the damage it dealt. This gives her a reason to be doing it and motivates characters to escape the grapple rather than using it to attack her in melee. Biting would leave her outside of the Blight Lord until her next turn. They were still the same creature, but the hag could be targetted. Her armor class is higher, but attacks that connect would deal full damage.
We’ve put together creature statblocks for exactly how the hags appeared in my game, using Reddit user chickenwraith’s 5e Statblock Generator. My party of three was all level seven, so adjustments should be made if you’re earlier in your campaign…
You may wish to give the Blight Lord a hit point threshold before it breaks apart. This would be when the Green Hag will become desperate, separating from it to complete the ritual. Reducing her to a quarter of her total hit points is a good trigger, though you may wish to adjust the amount based on her total health. As her armor loses form, she will return to the fight with her base statblock. Her role will then match the spellcasting Night Hag, though she will use her Invisible Passage and rush to the altar. It is very unlikely that she could succeed at this point. In the event that the party survives and escapes, she is free to complete her casting over the next hour or so and the story will take a drastic turn. More likely, she will fall in another attack or two.
For even more challenge, the Blight Lord could act independently of the Green Hag. This requires balancing on both creatures and better suits parties at a significantly higher level. The Green Hag could command the Blight with her bonus action, with the tether remaining in case they require it.
The Night Hag, Vanishing Spellcaster
The second sister is much less dependent on unique mechanics. Her purpose is to be the group’s primary spellcaster, focusing on assisting her sisters and pursuing ranged party members. Her Etherealness ability allows her to move safely at the cost of an action, meaning she can reposition if she becomes a target. This is how she will begin the hag encounter, perched atop one of the obelisks.
During combat, the Night Hag will focus on keeping her sisters close and dispensing their coven magic. Staying at a higher elevation helps her work around cover, which she can do by either climbing rocks and trees or by riding the Blight Lord. You may wish to expand the range requirement of their coven magic depending on the map size, or reduce it to only needing proximity to the elder Green Hag. This allows you to have them move more dynamically and be more threatening, but also raises the Night Hag’s effective power. Be wary of making these adjustments, particularly against lower-level characters or players who are sticklers for the rules.
It is a good idea to tone down the level of spellcasting the hags are capable of. The other two sisters are well-suited for dealing damage, so the Night Hag should be prioritizing disruption spells. I stripped mine of her 5th and 6th level slots and had her 4th levels reduced by one. Lightning bolt is a devastating option in a pinch, but most of her slots will be going towards Counterspell and Hold Person. Keep in mind that these can be VERY annoying spells and so should be used sparingly. Paralyzed party members will also fall very quickly in melee. Ideally, after successful use, the party will understand the value of eliminating the Night Hag. She always has Magic Missile for damage between other spells. There’s no requirement to use all of their slots, so don’t front-load the encounter with a barrage of debilitating effects.
While she is the most likely target for the party to focus-fire, the Night Hag is also incredibly elusive. Her Etherealness means that, against most parties, she can simply choose to be safe until she uses an action to return. Try to highlight this by describing her Heartstone flaring as she does it, to insinuate that the players could stop her by removing it. If both the Green and Annis sisters fall, the Night Hag can escape into the ethereal plane. She can either leave or remain to observe the party. This will still conclude the hag encounter as the Green Hag was the curse’s source, but keeps the remaining hag as a possible threat. Her sisters died, but her loyalty to them did not.
The Annis Hag and her Crushing Hug
Even simpler still is the Annis Hag. Designed as a trap for interlopers, she sits in wait as a small girl, crying in terror. Her first action as the party enters the encounter is to choose one of them and rush to their side. She will most likely target the closest but this can change if one of them is specifically saving hostages. If she sees a character attempting to sneak, her rushing to them can help intentionally expose their presence to the sisters. Treat her hug as a grapple, but with a smaller movement penalty. My version of her Disguise Self was a physical metamorphosis, so she had the form and weight of a child. Any medium character could likely carry her in one arm without much impedance.
Once the Annis Hag grows and reveals herself, her role is damage. As long as she maintains her Crushing Hug she cannot attack, but vomiting out a Fog Cloud is fair game. This gives her cover from archers and helps mitigate the damage from other fighters. Once they break the hug, she will start punching. Her claws and fists allow her to engage multiple targets, battering them away when she needs to move. This is especially useful if your game uses the optional flanking rule (DMG p.251). Her punch can move one player away from her, removing the flanking advantage before the other character makes their attack. She will only attempt a second Crushing Hug if she is fighting one-on-one, or requires a meat shield to hold against area-of-effect spells.
The Annis Hag is the youngest of the three, and also the weakest. She is designed to be less intelligent than her sisters, fighting more like a barbarian or wild animal. Damage will not slow her or change her tactics and she will fight until she dies. You may wish to include some form of rage ability or return her damage resistances, but it is ultimately unnecessary. The other two provide ample threat beyond the Annis Hag’s defeat.
Dungeons and Dragons players can be notoriously difficult to predict. You never quite know what your party will do or what they will come up with in the heat of combat. In saying that, it helps to understand their favored tactics and tendencies. If your party is a new creation, use their time in the swamp to observe how they fight together and their strengths and weaknesses. This will help you adjust the hag encounter’s map and mechanics to suit them. As mentioned, the Green Hag has been watching and has learned about her enemies.
Just like the map, your creatures should change according to the party. Your intention should be to challenge them while keeping it balanced. They should come out hurt, but alive and successful. A party healer would draw the attention of the Night Hag, who might counter the casting of an important healing spell. The Green Hag could use her Blight Lord’s size to give her sisters cover from archers at the cost of her own health. The Annis Hag’s fog could hide the Night Hag between her turns, freeing her action from needing to use her Etherealness. You need to balance their knowledge of the party to keep it fair and challenging. As always, be ready to scale numbers up and down during combat if you need to. You would rather secretly lower a hag’s health than have her wipe your players.
As this is the climactic fight, it’s a good time to involve roleplay or story elements, assuming they are relevant and fitting. The example in my case was my bard, whose warlock-multiclass patron stepped in to assist a wisdom save. It also gave him the new ability to use his bardic inspiration dice as Hellish Rebuke-style counter damage. It depends entirely on your characters, but the idea is to give a reward outside of gold and items. A fey-aligned warlock or druid might appeal to and receive assistance from the blights, for example. A mid-fight, anime-esque power-up moment might be cliche but can feel great when in favor of the party. Only do this if it links to the characters and their stories, whether related to their past or giving a new path for their future.
Resolution and Return
Hopefully, your party survives and succeeds in felling the vile sisterhood. As the Green Hag dies, the air in the swamp begins to noticeably clear. The atmospheric weight loosens and shades of color slowly return. This is a good place for a session to wrap up as it’s important to give your players time to breath after the fight. Emphasize that the curse is gradually lifting to assure them that they have won. It should be slow, so they can calm down from the frantic nature of combat. There is still work to be done, but the greatest hurdle is behind them.
The party’s most pressing issue will be dealing with the surviving captives and investigating the area more thoroughly. Survivors of the hag encounter will be too shaken for prolonged conversation, so roleplaying them is quite simple. They will manage some words but are eager to leave the swamp. What they do will depend on how the party deals with them and they will follow the players’ lead. If you included the hag house on your map, your party now has time to investigate. Refer back to encounter 20 for its description and contents. They should likewise take stock of the ritual area, so be ready to describe its specific details. Otherwise, they may lay the bodies to rest, burn the hags, and search for loot before turning to leave.
In my campaign, the fey were left trapped in their blight forms. This was to tie into the larger narrative but also meant that the Blight Lord was left behind. His form broken apart and shrunk to reveal a more humanoid shape. Yours might simply release the fey within. The purpose of this is allowing the party to converse with them and learn their side. It’s a great way to introduce another perspective and provide lore. It also answers the question of what will happen to them. Them escaping is a key detail, but you might wish to avoid the conversation as it requires planning their history and what beings of their age would know. In saying that, fey conversations are typically cryptic, so try not to have them just spew exposition. If you want to tease magical plot hooks, this is a great time to do so.
Journeying back to Myrrholm is a great opportunity to cover any encounters the party might have missed. The trip will be safe and should be faster than their way in, with the curse lifting and navigation normalizing. Any important encounters, specifically ones with valuable information, could crop up on their path. They should be changed to reflect the absence of the evil that created them. Blights might have burst open and frozen, the fey having escaped. Raymond will have died peacefully, smiling in his final moments. The area is returning to life and danger has passed, but the remains of the encounters will still exist for any lore or details missed on the way in.
Including more vibrant maps or repeating maps from your encounters can show the life returning to the swamp. They can become brighter and more vivid as the party makes their way out…
Completing the adventure is satisfying, but players will still be looking for items or monetary rewards. Hags themselves won’t particularly value gold but a good replacement is to have them carrying gems or rare and expensive reagents. Plain gold payment will come from the thankful residents of Myrrholm. Players with spells that require valuable material components will be happy to find them among the hags’ belongings. If a party member has fallen, having another with Revivify finding the requisite diamonds is a great last-moment climax to the hag encounter.
The most obvious and interesting reward for defeating powerful witches is, of course, magical items. This is a fantastic time to introduce an enchanted item or weapon with an abundance of spaces to do so. It could be deep in the hag house, laying on the sacrificial altar, or even the dagger the Green Hag used in her ritual. Try to steer clear of flavorless items. While a basic +1 shortsword is an effective boon, it doesn’t exactly reflect the Banahogg, does it? Homebrewing an item allows you to better fit it to your players while also tying it to the themes of the adventure. It might have been corrupted by the hags that wielded it or could come as thanks from the fey.
One example is adapting the Green Hag’s powers into her sacrificial knife. Attuning to it could bestow a single, daily use of Barkskin to reflect her Blight Lord. Her ability to leech health through her bite could translate into vampiric damage that heals the wielder on a critical hit or kill. The Annis Hag may have worn a necklace that now grants a daily use of Enlarge/Reduce, restricted to enlarging the wearer. Think about effects, balanced to your party, that represent the area and method of their acquisition. A magical item is many times more valuable and interesting when its effect tells its story. And who knows, maybe items owned by the hags carry traces of their evil in the form of a curse.
Recovering the Lost
The level of danger in the climactic hag encounter means that a party member may be lost. You shouldn’t be aiming for this, but sometimes difficult fights go badly and the dice are not in the players’ favor. Fortunately, the Banahogg provides a unique circumstance for player death. Nothing dies in the Banahogg, after all. My party actually lost their monk when encounter 5‘s shambling mound crushed and almost ate him. He rose a few moments later, reanimated like the swamp’s animals. This lets a player hold on to their character for the adventure’s duration without sacrificing the impact of the death. The curse is sustaining them and ending it will mean they fall again.
This is not a problem for parties with Revivify and diamonds, but those lacking it must find another solution. It might be within the fey’s power or even Svikar’s, but I find that the resurrection of low-level characters is more interesting when it comes at a cost. Bringing back the dead is a big deal and should carry weight. This is where the Night Hag escaping can come into play. Hag deals are a dangerous game, but the proposal might be accepted by a desperate party. They don’t have long to find a solution before the curse lifts. Her voice will creep in as she flits between the material and ethereal planes, commenting on the magic weakening and their friend dying. Other solutions might exist outside of the swamp, but do they take that risk?
If it comes to a deal with the hag, be creative. Hags are tricksters and swindlers and will twist words in their contracts. She might ask for something that seems innocuous, but the true meaning is altogether more sinister. My Night Hag had escaped and reappeared to offer the return of 5/6 of the monk’s life. Her phrasing suggested that his life would be shortened by 1/6, which seemed less impactful due to him being an elf. He had centuries left to live. In reality, she took 1/6 of every day he had left. Every time he rested with his Trance ability, he fell dead. He would awaken after the four hours, but in that time his life belonged to the hag.
It should be emphasized that this is just one option. It opens up possible story paths and future plots for the campaign, namely reencountering the Night Hag. Finding an alternative could also be the next step in the story, but it does mean the player could be dead for a time. Svikar might offer to magically preserve their body, or the fey could possibly trap enough of the curse in them to keep them on their feet. If you’d prefer to not have this, the easiest solution is for Svikar to have a resurrection spell and offer it as a reward. You could also just have the character die, of course.
Back to Myrrholm
Returning to Myrrholm shouldn’t take long and means you’re almost done. The number of captives saved will determine the townsfolk’s reaction, which will also depend on who was saved. Just like the introduction, the majority of conversation will be from Elle, Dina, and Svikar. Elle can speak on Myrrholm’s behalf, thanking the party profusely and tending to those who have returned. She can also speak of the town’s future plans. Dina will ask about her daughter, who may or may not be in the group. Those that were debilitated by the curse will be recovering and the town will celebrate those saved and mourn those that were lost. When the celebration quiets and the party is free, Svikar will approach them.
Svikar’s conversation is perhaps the most prominent. He will intend to return to the swamp and see it healed, but he knows that he owes the party. His lack of empathy should lift slightly. This is where the players can converse with him openly and he will answer whatever questions they have. His knowledge will depend on how impactful you wish for him to be in your campaign. It could be as limited as the Banahogg’s history or his age could grant him knowledge of lost tales. The interaction allows players to fill in any holes in the story, receive possible plot hooks, and make a future ally. Svikar will disappear quietly into the swamp once they are done but remain a powerful friend that can return later.
The party has saved Myrrholm and should be rewarded fittingly. The town is not wealthy but will offer anything they can spare. Food, supplies, and accommodation will be offered to the party before they depart. Dina might offer them free access to food and bedding in the Coffer any time they wish. The party could even receive a house in Myrrholm. Endless gratitude from a small town is a great way to celebrate the party’s achievement without suddenly making them exceedingly rich. For the sake of a gold reward, the lord presiding over Myrrholm might add to what the town can afford. If they were there on a bounty or contract, the payment grows further.
With our token packs and Token Editor, you can create an entire town’s worth of people to celebrate the party’s victory…
Saving a town is an ideal way for a fledgling adventurer group to establish itself. Word of their deeds will spread to potential future friends and foes. A party that started out with this adventure should be walking away with new items, experience, a reputation, and up to several hundred gold. This gives a jumping-off point for them to take control of the campaign and decide their next actions. Their decision could come from clues from Svikar or even a summons from someone who heard of their hag encounter. This is the perfect time for the party to either receive a title or give themselves a name.
From there, your campaign can open up. Where you go from there is up to you and your players. The next steps should be informed by their success in the adventure until they move on to even greater triumphs. Rumors of Myrrholm’s saviors will spread, nearby NPC’s will recognize the heroes, and new opportunities will open. But word also creeps into the shadier corners and to the ears of future enemies.
And that’s it! That covers everything you should need to run the Banahogg adventure or your own variation of it. From there, your party can venture forth on their next journey, bolstered by experience, rewards, and tales of their exploits. What will they stumble across next?
With the adventure concluded, we’d love to know what you thought of it. Feel free to comment on any of the parts below. Let us know any feedback you have or ideas it might have given you. If you do end up using it in your campaign, we would be overjoyed to hear how it goes!
Have a look at our other d20 Encounter Charts, With a Twist Encounters, and map resources in our blog and gallery.