A shanty town lies on the edge of the Banahogg swamp, an ancient and profane land. The village of Myrrholm is not fond of or accustomed to visitors, but it now requires help. A curse has spread from the Banahogg, causing people to fall ill and silent. At night, they are lured away in their sleep. Deep within the swamp’s marshes is a coven of hags, and they require sacrifices in service to their dead god.
Following on from our d20 Encounter Charts and our With a Twist encounter series, we bring the first of our crafted adventure settings. Designed with a town, characters, a full encounter list, and a villainous hag coven, the Banahogg is ready to be placed into any campaign. As much detail as possible will be included to make it straightforward and easy for even an inexperienced DM. Ideal for a campaign’s starting point or for a more experienced party, the horror of the Banahogg awaits all who might face it.
Part 2 – d20 Swamp Encounters | Part 3 – A Hag Encounter
Before we proceed, a word of warning should be issued. We designed the Banahogg as a nightmarish swamp adventure inspired by horror movies and monsters. As such, many of the themes, creatures, and locations are crafted to instill terror and unease in players and characters. It is not appropriate for those who do not enjoy this type of content. We strive to use these themes in a tasteful and controlled manner. However, if body horror, animated dead, or similar themes and detailed descriptions are offputting to you or your players, we would advise against using this adventure.
The Banahogg will be delivered in three parts. This first part will cover the swamp adventure’s introductory town of Myrrholm, the terrain of the Banahogg, and the villainous hags. The second details a d20 list of encounters for the exploration of the swamp. Our third comes with the final confrontation with the hag coven. You can find links to the other parts at the top of each article.
Myrrholm, a shanty town on the swamp’s edge, is where the adventure begins. Aged buildings stand on raised supports, with wooden walkways connecting them. Farm plots cover the ground level, making use of the once-fertile soil that is now poisoned by the cursed corruption. The town is largely self-sustaining, thanks to its crop and animal farming as well as hunters. Toward the center of town is a tavern, the ‘Sodden Coffer’, created long ago as one in a chain of inns. Its original proprietors abandoned it due to lack of business, leaving it to a local family. Overgrowth creeps up the supports and structures, and the town is quiet as the party enter.
The swamp adventure’s introduction works best if your players are not locals and therefore must interact with other characters to learn of the situation. My campaign’s party had been pursuing kidnappings across the country, and their employer’s research had informed them of the Banahogg’s situation. If the Banahogg is your campaign’s introduction, consider having their origins lure them there individually, possibly for different purposes. They could arrive close to each other and realize that working together would be ideal. One player could have come to the town the night before, letting you give them some starting information to work from. Otherwise, heroic adventurers can simply seek to save the victims or could be contracted by the locals or a nearby lord.
Even more important than the town itself is the curse that befalls it. The bulk of the effects will apply to the swamp itself, but the Myrrholm should be the players’ first taste of it. It should poison the soul as a start, withering crops and killing animals. A sickness should hang in the air, and color will seem to fade as the party approaches the swamp. Clouds hang overhead without rainfall or wind.
The residents should be similarly affected. My town’s men had fallen ill and lost to unmoving comas, while the women had become inexplicably mute. The specific effects were tied to my campaign’s narrative, but the key is to show the hags’ maliciousness and creativity. They are vile tricksters, using twisted logic in their spells and deals. Their curse had taken the women’s voices so that they literally could not call for help. At night, feverish dreams would cause sleeping victims to wander into the swamp and become lost. You can choose different symptoms of the curse, but always keep in mind what the hags have designed it to do. They want to isolate Myrrholm from assistance and prevent help from entering the swamp, leaving them free to steal their victims away without disruption.
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The first character my players encountered in Myrrholm was Elle. The name is largely irrelevant and can and should change to reflect your setting. What is important is the purpose of the characters. Elle acts as the party’s first introduction to the town and a trustworthy source of information. She was a farmer and owner of the outermost land in Myrrholm and stopped the players as they came to the town. The situation has eroded Myrrholm’s trust for outsiders, but Elle ultimately hopes that the adventurers have come to help. Her questions should reflect this, with the conversation also serving to inform them of the curse and its effects.
Elle should feel the most ‘human’ of the characters. She is strong and determined but still has the clarity of someone that has not had a family member taken. Her strength places her as a de facto leader to Myrrholm’s remaining people and allows her to make promises to the party. If required, she can speak on Myrrholm’s behalf. Other characters might disagree with this, but the curse and kidnappings have left them desperate and open to listening to someone with Elle’s fortitude. She may have a husband who has fallen ill to the curse, but this does not weaken her. Once she trusts the party and their intentions, she will do everything she can to assist them.
I chose to have Elle be in her late 20’s or early 30’s and resembling someone ill-fitted for the swamp but making the best of the situation. Her husband had been the original reason for her moving to Myrrholm. As Elle is the first impression for the players, I wanted her to reflect the struggle of the town, but also its resilience. She likewise needs to be interesting, as they will be spending time interacting with her. She was a kind woman, forced to be strong by her situation and the town’s current need for an anchor.
Elle’s other purpose is to introduce the minor character of Raymond Tomson. He was one of the town’s best fighters, perhaps a retired soldier, who venture in when the disappearances started. There has been no sign of him since. The townsfolk believe him to be lost but would appreciate confirmation. Raymond himself is not an important character and does not require a deep backstory, but should be mentioned to give the party a secondary objective. This will assist in their planning and also foreshadow one of the swamp adventure’s possible encounters. It also helps to show the efforts of Myrrholm to help itself, however fruitlessly.
The second of Myrrholm’s standard residents is Dina, the current owner of the Sodden Coffer. A central inn or tavern is a classic and easy place for the party to stay, plan, and discuss, and is often the first place players will head for. The Sodden Coffer is an old and damaged building, having been abandoned by its original, much richer, owners. You can place a group of locals at a table, drinking their troubles away, but the focus should be on Dina.
An older and surlier local to Myrrholm, Dina is everything you would expect from someone living in such harsh and isolated terrain. She is stocky and physically strong, crass, and judgemental of visitors. The recent events have made her particularly untrusting, with people she has known for years disappearing and odd strangers arriving. One of the most recent to disappear was her daughter, Talia, driving Dina to become harsher and less welcoming. She stresses easily, especially when questioned. Days before the party’s arrival, Dina dreamed of seeing her daughter at the swamp’s edge and tried to run to her. Svikar stopped her sleepwalking body, which Dina now denies aggressively.
Using Dina gives you the opportunity to show the atmosphere of Myrrholm and the opinions of the people. While Elle is the temporary leader, the barkeep is where people go to complain. Dina knows details and histories that Elle might not. To add tension around the party, Dina and Elle might disagree with each other or simply not get along. Dina may believe that the problem is theirs to solve, with Elle’s sending out a call for help to nearby towns angering her. She is obviously not thinking clearly, but her closeness to Myrrholm and its people has clouded her judgment. For the sake of convenience, Dina and the Coffer can act as a general store for simple items your players might want or need for the coming swamp adventure.
The real information about the swamp comes from Svikar, a centuries-old swamp druid. As a resident of the Banahogg, unknown to even those in Myrrholm, he was present when the curse began. Thanks to the druid’s Timeless Body ability and Svikar’s friendship with the fey, he remains young and strong despite living in the swamp for so long. This means that the hags see him as a direct threat, and have specifically cast him out of the swamp. He is now unable to enter and will need someone else to do it for him. In the meantime, he will do everything he can to prevent more people from being taken. He already saved Dina, though she will not admit it.
The key to playing Svikar is showing his isolation from human interaction. He is not crazy, but he should not act like the others. It was not his choice to leave the Banahogg, and his only goal is to defeat the hags, return, and tend to the fey. He should be direct in conversation and pay little attention to other characters’ feelings or reactions. Similar to the others, the situation has made him untrusting and hesitant of the party. He will only tell them what he must, and may not believe that they can succeed. Svikar should hold many secrets; his name means ‘traitor’, after all.
One thing to consider about Svikar is his history. Who was he before he exiled himself within the swamp? Where did he gain his abilities and his affinity for fey? Is there a reason for his name? The history of the character will largely depend on your campaign’s history and factions but it should be something your players question. He should come across as rude and alien, meaning your characters might not trust him. Luckily, his story can be expanded in detail if your players happen across his hut as an encounter. He may likewise offer to answer any questions they have in exchange for removing the hags, but only once their swamp adventure has proven successful. My version of the character tied into the backstory of one of my player characters, much closer than they would ever have guessed.
Crowne is a character that may not appear but could prove a boon for the players if they pursue him. He was a character I did not plan in advance and actually had to improvise. My party was in search of healing potions and were asking Elle if Myrrholm had an alchemist. This is why he, unlike Dina and Elle, has a last name. He lived in a classic alchemist hut, covered in moss and growth, a short walk out of town. His house is small and secluded, surrounded by beds of herbs and flowers for his potions.
Castor is reclusive and visitors will surprise him but he will welcome them eagerly. It’s strange for people to want to try his potions, and he will leap at the opportunity. My Castor was a dwarf, played to be on the uncomfortable side of weird. He was a hermit who had clearly tried his own supply. The players were hurried into his hut and excitedly asked to trade. Whether Castor knows or even cares about Myrrholm’s affliction is up to you, but making him concerned is a good way to lower prices for a fledgling party.
Potions in 5th Edition are expensive. They are also invaluable, especially for parties lacking healing magic. Because of this, you may wish to either lower Castor’s prices or offer a way for players to barter a discount. My version of the dwarf offered a price reduction in exchange for the party taking experimental potions. He asked them to return later with notes on their effects. They took three and used two during their swamp adventure. Each time, I just had the player roll on the sorcerer’s Wild Magic table and used the result as the effect. If the result was not applicable to the character, I had them reroll. Always keep in mind that some of these results can cause huge damage to the party or player, so you may wish to adjust them should they come up.
Similarly, feel free to homebrew potions based on what the party might need. This will depend on what your players are looking for and the funds they have, but can provide interesting flavor to Castor and the adventure. Ask them what effects they might look for, and let them be creative. Castor will happily whip something up. My players sought a way around the curse’s covering of the sky. After some conversation, they walked away with cheap potions that would allow them to see the sun’s location through any obscurement. They didn’t use them, but that just gives them one more toy for future adventures!
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Within the Banahogg
The Road Less Travelled
The Banahogg is an unpredictable and cruel region. Its swamps shift between dense thickets and marshy lakes, with thick overgrowth covering almost every inch. Only thin streaks of light penetrate the canopy and the ground constantly threatens to fall away into hungry muck or subterranean tunnels. The air is cold and carries a viciously noxious odor. Several attempts at settling within the swamps over the centuries were all abandoned, leaving sparse traces of buildings under the foliage. Any roads or paths that once existed are likewise overgrown, with only the remains of Svikar’s supplies left behind. The only standing structures that the party might find are those belonging to either Svikar or the hags.
Having the party traveling into largely uncharted territory gives the perfect setting for Part 2’s d20 list. The terrain can change between each leg of their swamp adventure depending on what you need for the next encounter. Be sure to describe the change in terrain and small details as they progress. This gives them time to interrupt you if they want to stop and do something or to converse with each other. The transitions should flow naturally and seamlessly, while still giving you the freedom to shift into the next encounter. Some require specific details, while others leave the arena design largely up to you. Try to have the maps feel different and distinct from each other while using the time between them to emphasize the sameness of the swamp. When they set camp, ask what they might look for and try to accommodate their request, within reason.
Your party’s source for information on the area will be the people of Myrrholm. Dina is the best to use here, as her time in the town means she has known others who tried to brave the swamp. This is also a good reason for Elle to direct the party to her. Dina will offer second-hand stories of the other adventurers, giving small details of the terrain they might find. She similarly may have dealt with their injuries, such as bites or scratches from enormous beasts. Svikar, conversely, has a great deal of information that he does not wish to share. He will tell the party of the land while omitting details of its inhabitants in order to protect the fey. Adequate persuasion should reveal the existence of his house and boat, but only those he trusts most will be told of the monsters he saw before he was exiled.
Similar to Myrrholm, the Banahogg’s curse makes up half of its character. The hags have cast a necrotic shroud over the entire region, sapping it of life and preventing even the strongest from surviving. The atmosphere is cold and uncomfortably still. Moisture fills the air, but clouds do not move and the sky remains in perpetual twilight. Neither the sun nor moon is visible above, making effective navigation nigh impossible. Whatever animals remain are silent, whether frozen by fear or exhaustion. The moment the party steps from Myrrholm’s walkways and into the swamp, color seems to drain from their vision. A grey fog fills the air, which reeks of death and decay.
Aside from the weakening effect and other symptoms brought about by the Night Hag, the curse holds one defining trait: Nothing dies in the Banahogg. Animals and other victims will rise back minutes after their deaths, resuming their actions in a hazed instinct. Whatever damaged was inflicted on them will persist, causing them to deteriorate until they are no longer able. Their minds, over time, experience the same decay. This means that players must destroy, disable, or escape the undead monsters to survive. The same fate can also befall the party, who will return in unlife if they fall. For the sake of fairness, they should come back without pieces missing unless they then fall a second time. There should be a way for the character to come back, at a cost. We will cover this in Part 3.
The hags’ intention for creating the curse is to isolate the swamp and guard themselves. You may wish to choose different or additional minor effects, but the purpose for its creation should be kept in mind. They should grow stronger as the swamp adventure progresses, indicating to the players that they are getting closer. This is a small way to make them feel less like they are wandering aimlessly. You want the minor effects to be a representation of the swamp’s affliction, while not directly harming the party. That will fall to the most potent examples, namely the creatures they face and the Night Hag’s haunting. They will be most potent at their source, which will be either the central ritual site or the Green Hag herself. Defeating her will cause the curse to slowly lift.
The monsters of the Banahogg fall under three categories: risen beasts, trapped fey, and the hags’ creations. The former is the simplest, both to explain and to run. Animals and beasts that were native to the swamps will have persisted beyond their deaths, reanimated with visible physical damage. Many of the encounters are designed to illustrate this and make use of it in combat. To emphasize that the swamps were dangerous long before the hags’ curse, you should make use of hybrid monstrosities and giant beasts. Several of our encounters use them, but you can always add more for the party to see at a distance. The nature of the undeath also makes the monsters particularly durable, requiring the players to think tactically rather than ‘keep hitting it until it stops’, as many are prone to do.
Svikar’s fey friends once populated the swamp in peace. While they will not appear in their true forms until the affliction is lifted, the party will encounter some in the form of blights. As the fey would have resisted the hags’ machinations, they began their conquest by sealing the faeries in wooden puppets. The bodies, sculpted from driftwood and assorted plant matter, hold the fey prisoner and use them as magical fuel. Their wills are not their own. The swamp adventure has a number of blight fights, including the Green Hag’s Blight Lord. Charisma-based characters might receive a warning about the blights from Svikar, who will also request that they be careful in not killing the creature inside.
Several encounters also make use of the hags’ experiments. The most grotesque of the monsters come from the hags personally creating guardians from the bodies of animals and victims. These include a dullahan, a hangman’s tree, and also the Night and Annis Hags themselves. The party may also stumble across locations used to create such monstrosities. They tend to be stronger than the other foes and of unique design, but will also not resurrect like the animals. How they ‘die’ is up to you, but I had my dullahan petrify as its ‘life’ slipped away. In describing them, your intention should be to display the extent, savagery, and sadism of the hags’ power. It also indicates what might be happening to the lost townsfolk. In truth, the hags crafted them for protection, from remaining spare parts.
An Ancient Evil
Perhaps more important than the hags’ appearance and abilities is the motivation behind it all. This is also the part that can vary the most between each campaign. The most important factor in creating their background is that it must inform their actions. Begin with questions that you think your players might ask. Why are they taking the people? How are they doing it? How are they creating the curse and monsters? Build from these first, then fill in the gaps and links you need. Consider their relationship with both Svikar and the fey and the reason for why they are acting now after being quiet for so long. The narrative can be simple, but try to include enough details for your characters to discover and feel as if they are uncovering secrets. Several of the swamp adventure’s encounters will give them information on its history.
I will use my campaign as an example while being vague to avoid spoilers for the player that will be reading this. The hag coven was taking people from Myrrholm to construct a vessel for their dead god. They pledged themselves to this god in ages past, before it was sealed away in a great war. The hags had fled to a swamp of its ‘children’, the fey, and slept. But the god’s influence recently roused them, which links to other events in the campaign. The hags found that the fey had drifted from their obedience to the god, and therefore sought to punish them. They bound the fey in blights, banished Svikar, and set the curse upon the swamp. By fashioning the perfect physical form for their master, the hags seek to set it free and reignite the ancient war.
The connection to my world’s larger narrative was necessary due to its placement and timing. If you are using the swamp adventure as a starting point, you may wish for it to tie into your own story. Otherwise, it can still act to galvanize the party before they go on to get involved in larger problems. In this case, you can remove the connection to a god and the fey. Your hags might simply be seeking to expand their coven or create another, greater monster. They could also be taking the people for a ritual which would allow the witches to step into another plane. Perhaps they will spread their influence into the Feywild, with the opportunity to craft an entire army of blights and monstrosities.
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The Green Hag
The Green Hag is our swamp adventure’s primary antagonist and the leader of the hag coven. She is a powerful sorceress and is the source of the curse and creator of the monsters. She will only appear at the climax of the adventure, otherwise tending to the ritual sites and giving life to the monsters the party faces. As the entire Banahogg has become their lair, their coven abilities are enhanced and altered. They’ve grafted trees throughout the swamp with Hag Eyes (Monster Manual p.176), allowing the Green Hag to monitor intruders. This is significantly stronger than the rulebook’s version but serves to remind the party that they are in the hag’s domain, and grants the witches no combat advantage. A high enough perception check while traveling or at camp will reveal them.
Standing taller than a human, the Green Hag is sickly and slender. Her features are gaunt and exaggerated and long, grey hair falls over her face. She wears a dress and shawl of assorted leathers, furs, and skins. Vines tangle around her form, weaving in and out of her skin and staining it green where they pierce her. They rise from under her shawl to form an extended collar of petrified, wooden fingers, flexing slightly against the air. The other end of the vines snakes out from the back of her dress, twisting together in a thick rope that tethers her to an enormous blight monster. When under attack, her collar will wrap around her face and reach into her mouth and eyes. The tether will retract, pulling her back into the Blight Lord.
As the physically weakest of the hags, direct engagement is not the Green Hag’s forte. For this, she has the Blight Lord. The gigantic beast sits as a dormant form of moss, wood, and bone until the Green Hag requires it. Its form is similar to a centaur, with two hoofed back legs and the two front legs being thicker, clawed hands. Above those is an enormous, shield-like right arm, and two smaller limbs on the left that clutch a mighty greatsword. Between those are smaller arms with jagged wooden lances. Its face is formed from the hags’ victims in a cluster of eyeless human faces. When the Blight Lord animates, the eyes fill with tiny, blue embers of magic. Its underside opens to reveal a writhing mass of dozens of human arms that will draw its master in and protect her from damage.
The Night Hag
The Banahogg coven’s Night Hag is their scout and stalker. She uses powerful dream and illusion magic to abduct the people of Myrrholm, as well as target the party. She also knows the Banahogg, and her Heartstone allows her to traverse it with speed and safety. Prior to the swamp adventure’s conclusion, she is the only hag that the party might encounter. Her purpose is to learn about the characters and weaken them as they travel. At the final ritual, she sits on an obelisk and observes from the Ethereal Plane. When with her sisters, the Night Hag will act as the primary spellcaster, staying close to them to draw on their coven magic. As the only one of the three with an escape strategy, she will flee the fight if the others fall. Her loyalty is strong, however, and she will not forget the party.
Enhanced with gifts from her Green sister, the Night Hag has two ‘forms’. To those who do not know her, she wears the disguise of a small girl in a heavy cloak, face and all. She will hide in the cloak and play the part of a scared and lonely child. Her true face is revealed when discovered, or to instill terror. The child’s face turns in the hood, revealing another with dark, purple-grey skin. A fanged, lipless smile extends from ear to ear. Her tongue snakes out, covered in barbs. One of her eyes was stolen from a human, with the other replaced by her jet black Heartstone. Her left arm has likewise been replaced by one that bares a ring, while her right is still her own, leathery and clawed. Six more mismatched, human arms extend from her waist as legs and allow her to effortlessly climb.
The Night Hag enjoys inflicting mental torture and torment. She will stalk the party during their travel with her Etherealness, waiting for them to sleep to cast her Nightmare Haunting. The nightmares pull the adventurers to their darkest, most violent, or guilt-inducing memories, disrupting their sleep and plaguing their minds. The effect in my campaign was simplified to having them make a charisma save to avoid taking a point of exhaustion, but it affected all of them as they rested. Whatever effect you choose should be minor at first, but stack up over time. Just be mindful of possible snowballing. The purpose is to instill a sense of urgency and the ways to undo the effects are limited. Luckily, you are always able to manipulate events to bring them to a cure if it gets out of hand (preferably before someone dies).
The Annis Hag
The youngest and most straight-forward of the coven is the Annis Hag. She is the muscled bruiser of the sisterhood, staying close and guarding the Green Hag. She is also a trap for the players, pretending to be a victim by using a disguise even more convincing than the Night Hag’s. Once the Annis Hag is revealed, it’s time to go berserk. She will engage as the melee fighter to occupy the party and prevent them from hitting her sisters. The Annis hag requires very little writing as her purpose is to round out the coven and your swamp adventure’s climactic fight. Hopefully, by the time your party reaches the coven, one of them will have an inkling that there should be a third witch lurking nearby.
At the central ritual site, the Annis Hag sits in the form of a young, distraught girl. She has short black hair, wears a mud-soaked nightgown, and buries her face in her hands. Unlike the other hostages, she is not tied to an obelisk. Your party may or may not notice this. As they enter combat or are discovered, she will rush to their side. The crying child will ‘grapple’ a party member in a sobbing, terrified hug, which they can choose to avoid. The child is small, so she should not impede their movement as much as an adult would. She will stay attached to the hero until combat has properly erupted, at which point she will enter the initiative order and unveil herself.
The Annis Hag will laugh and grip tighter as she grows. Her small form will expand to a large creature, muscles flexing and expanding. Her skin will turn a stone grey as she ‘Hulks out’, growing taught and splitting against the muscular mass. Spines of bone and wood jut out from the wounds, and her features deform to barely resemble a human. Her left arm alone matches her body in size, supporting her like a gorilla. Her right separates into three distinct arms at the shoulder, with the central limb dividing again at the elbow. The grappled hug she holds on her savior will become her Crushing Hug action as she coughs a Fog Cloud for cover.
That concludes our introduction and context for the swamp adventure into the Banahogg. With this, both you and your party should be scared and prepared for what comes next. The next step is to face whatever evil lies within the swamps. What dangers will they face? Will they too fall prey to the Banahogg’s curse?
Part 2 can be found here, covering the party’s trek through the swamp. Part 3, found here, concludes the adventure with the final hag confrontation.
Have any feedback, thoughts, or ideas on anything here? Leave a comment down below. We’d love to hear what you think of the adventure so far. If you think you might use it or have ideas on how to expand or develop the adventure, let us know!
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Really cool! I’m looking forward to the next parts. Subscribed!
Wich level (and number of PC) do you recomend?
I ran the adventure for a group of three, all level seven. They were a monk, bard, and ranger.
Parts 2 and 3 have some notes on adjusting the combat encounters, specifically for lower levels. My quick advice would be to start by scaling down health and damage values, as well as things like save DC’s and proficiency bonuses (to attacks and other rolls). Most importantly, be careful to not outnumber your entry-level party and keep in mind progressive damage features like the Mound’s Engulf. You can, of course, make changes behind the screens in-session if you think you’ve mishandled planning.
If I were to use this adventure for a campaign’s first step, I think I would include a preliminary quest. They might need to venture out and find a herb for Castor, allowing him to brew potions that help against the swamp’s effects. Throwing in a few encounters would get them to level 2 or 3. This would give some more freedom in using later encounters as well as alleviating the stress that comes with balancing for the earliest levels.
How many sessions did this take you?