An encounter inspired by Norse cosmology. A mysterious man and his wolf companions guard a magical secret in the heart of the woodlands…
A legend is told in the towns at the mountain’s feet. Every person and every village tell it with unique embellishment, but the core remains the same. They speak of a ritual site, hidden away in the forest and protected by an ageless guardian: Ulfganga, the Hunter Across Realms.
This hidden grove is said to exist across all worlds, linking them at their closest points. Its standing stones have been used by heroes of legend to pass between realms. But they do not do so without difficulty. The power to cross worlds cannot be allowed to just anyone. And so, Ulfganga protects it.
Who Ulfganga was, or if he ever was a man at all, is unknown. He exists only in rumors and tales, said to pass between realms with every step. He is man and wolf, leader to a pack that hails from every realm, and the protector of the gateway between them.
Were that not fearsome enough, the stories also describe him as undying. To destroy him, one would have to do so in every realm he walks, before he can reform. None have ever succeeded in doing so. Few have managed to defeat him even once.
The Woodland Nexus
|The thick pines and chaotic, undulating land break into a clearing of vibrant green. The circular area is centered around a lone stump, broader than any of the other trees and cut clean a little over three feet high. Its strong roots snake in and out of the ground. They reach out to find and encircle eight towering stones that stand in a ring around the stump.|
|The air in the clearing is still and uneasy and flavored with confusing scents. You hear the canopy swaying around you, yet you feel no wind. Breathing in, you are met with waves of sickly sweet flowers, then thick humidity with the burn of phosphorus, and then a stench of decay. Each smell is subtle but distinct and, looking around, sourceless. Whatever is creating them is not visible to you.|
|Stepping closer, you begin to realize the detail on the stones and stump. Each tall, flat-faced standing stone is adorned in text and crude carvings. Each is unique. One seems to show a dense forest, another a raging fire, and another the sun and moon. Similarly angular runes are inscribed on the surface of the stump in concentric circles, akin to a teleportation circle or other ritual. Peering at your feet, you can make out lines of the same text written along the roots of the tree.|
The Nexus is a ritual site for planar travel. It lies at an intersection of the planes, existing in every realm simultaneously.
Eight standing stones surround the central stump, each one marked to represent one of the eight other realms (the Midgard stone replacing a realm’s stone when in that realm).
The face of the stump is carved with ritualistic depictions of its function. A character can make a DC 20 Intelligence (Arcana) check to interpret the instructions. On a success, they learn how to power the stones.
A Gateway Between Realms
Correctly charging one of the stones can open a gateway to its corresponding realm.
To do so, one must copy the runes on the stone of their destination. These runes must be drawn on the center of the stump with chalk, ink, another writing implement.
|You complete the set of runes, stepping back in anticipation. Slowly, the text begins to emit a faint glow, both on the stump and the matching stone.|
The next step is to charge the spell. The ritual is much like a plane shift spell and requires seven total spell slots to charge it. These can come from any number of spells but must add up to seven (e.g. casting thunderwave seven times or finger of death once). Once a rune combination is marked on the stump, any spell cast within the border of stones will be absorbed to power the ritual.
|You release the spell, its energy emitting from your fingertips as usual. But, before the magic can form into the shape of the spell, it is pulled away. The broken sparks whip to the center of the stump. They sink into the runes, its light grower slightly brighter.|
Once the seventh spell slot is contributed, every creature within the ring of standing stones will be transported to the Nexus’ counterpart in the destination realm.
|Another spell, and the runes grow stronger again. The light builds, crackling and spitting, sending a dancing pillar of colors into the sky. It captivates your attention before slowly fading. You shake your eyes away and quickly realize that the landscape around you has drastically changed.|
Ulfganga, Hunter Across Realms
|The figure is a ghostly apparition of a man. He seems to fade between material and immaterial, coming and going with ease. When he is visible, you can make out studded leather and furs in a clear mix of styles, most of which you do not recognize. He is hooded, with illuminated eyes above a thick beard. A sword is sheathed at his side, a quiver at his belt, and a bow in his hand.|
Ulfganga patrols the forest perimeter around the Woodland Nexus, ensuring that no one attempts to use it. He will stalk any intruders, remaining hidden and watching to ascertain their intentions. Three of his wraith wolves accompany him at all times.
If he is attacked, or if a group tries to reach the nexus, Ulfganga will first send his wolves to engage them. He will assist with his longbow and use the nexus to continue summoning more wolves. If he perceives his opponents to be a threat, Ulfganga will cast blink, stepping between realms to avoid damage and hide his location. He will likewise use his pack to empower himself, casting the spells they grant however he can.
Ulfganga will shift into his hybrid form if it becomes advantageous. It may reduce his offensive output but grants him complete immunity to mundane weaponry.
When Ulfganga transforms…
|The ghost’s brow furrows and his teeth gnash as if stifling painful rage. You hear his body crack and break, the sounds ethereally distant, as his arms thicken, elongate, and claws emerge from his fingertips. Looking back up, his hood rolls back to reveal the bestial visage of a spectral wolf.|
Ulfganga, roughly meaning ‘wolf-walk’, began as a combination of a werewolf and a werebear. His hit points were of the latter, while its Strength score was moved to his Dexterity to make him a more fitting archer. Likewise, he was given a longbow, his spear was swapped to a shortsword, and the ability to pass on lycanthrope was removed.
Constant immunity to non-silvered weapons was toned down to resistance as part of merging him with a ghost. For a fun dynamic, he retained the immunity to nonmagical weapons but only as part of his hybrid form. The ghostly upgrades also included giving him Incorporeal Movement, a number of condition immunities, and Ethereal Sight (which grows stronger at the ritual site).
He was then further customized to fulfill his role and increase challenge…
- Studded leather armor and proficiency (and expertise) in stealth and survival, as he is a trained hunter.
- The ability to speak Giant, mostly for thematic flavor.
- An innate casting of the blink spell. This is the most straightforward way of having Ulfganga “step between realms” in combat, without introducing even more unique mechanics. It allows him to stay mobile and hidden, letting his pack attack while keeping the pressure off of himself.
It should be noted that, while Ulfganga himself is CR 5, the encounter’s CR is higher due to the numerous additional wraith wolves and lair actions. Consider your own party’s level and ability to deal with multiple threats when considering balance.
Guarding the Nexus
Ulfganga protects the Nexus in every realm. His proximity to it and his ability to cross between worlds allows him to call upon his wraith wolves and become stronger by embodying other realms.
|The spectral man lowers his head, seeming to inhale. You hear him begin to whistle as he raises again, the sound echoing as if coming from the air itself. Then, in an instant, he vanishes. The sound disappears with him.|
|One of the stones pulses with light, its runes illuminating, then fading. The same happens to another, and then a third. The hunter appears again, as quickly as he vanished, still whistling before trailing off. Spectral energy pours from the three stones like a thin mist. It coalesces at their bases, each one forming into the shape of a different wolf, snarling and looking to their prey.|
On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), Ulfganga takes a lair action to whistle while stepping between realms, summoning 3 additional wolves that emerge from their realm’s standing stone. Roll 1d8 per wolf, using the number rolled on the die to determine the realm from which the wolf originates, as shown below.
Ulfganga shares a telepathic connection to his pack and commands them wordlessly. His wraith wolves share Ulfganga’s initiative roll and he can choose whether to act before or after them.
If Ulfganga is fighting in a realm other than Midgard (Prime Material plane), replace the realm with Midgard on the list.
Each wraith wolf has only 11 hit points and so should be dealt with easily. If this still seems too much for your party, there are several different ways to balance it:
– Only allow Ulfganga to have 3 wolves active at once. He can replenish their numbers with his lair action, but only to a maximum of 3.
– Change the lair action to become part of Ulfganga’s turn, requiring no action but recharging on a roll of 4-6.
– Instead of an additional 3 wolves, change the lair action to a roll of 3d10. A result of 1-8 will summon the corresponding wraith wolf, while a result of 9-10 will do nothing.
Ulfganga also becomes stronger in areas where the veil between realms is thinnest. While within 100 feet of the Woodland Nexus, he gains the following:
Nexus Senses. Ulfganga can see and hear 90 feet into all planes.
Embody the Realms. Ulfganga is empowered by the wraith wolves at his side. For each wraith wolf within 60 feet of him, he is able to innately cast one spell, based on the wolf’s realm, as shown below.
|Jotunheim||enlarge/reduce (can only cast enlarge, targeting himself)|
|Muspelheim||shield of faith|
Each spell can only be cast once per wolf, and the wolf must be alive for Ulfganga to cast its corresponding spell. If Ulfganga is concentrating on a spell and the spell’s corresponding wolf dies or moves more than 60 feet away, he does not lose concentration. His innate casting ability is Constitution.
|The creature resembles a spectral wolf. Its translucent body fades and shimmers, the fur dissolving into ghostly mist at its ends. It flows as it moves, retaining its bestial shape yet never appearing truly real or coherent with the world around it.|
The wraith wolf is a relatively simple take on a ghostly wolf. It was built from the regular wolf, given a ghost’s Incorporeal Movement, Ethereal Sight, condition immunities, and resistance to nonmagical weaponry. The only other changes were increased Bite damage and hit points, to further elevate it beyond its simple, corporeal origin.
|Thin plates of pristine, gold-trimmed armor protect the wolf’s body. Passages of runic text run along the gold, sparking arcs of crackling energy.|
For the realm with a less singular identity, the wolf acts as an aggressive upgrade based around pure offense. An orc’s Aggressive ability allow it to close the distance before attacking multiple targets with a ranger’s Whirlwind Attack, all capped off with immunity to lightning.
|The wolf ripples between light and dark. Its form flows and shifts between being comprised of pure shadows, to that of glowing light, and back again.|
This wolf is an attempt to balance being both light and darkness-based in an interesting way. It has darkvision and can move through darkness with a shadow’s Shadow Stealth, but then deals radiant damage (which it is immune to) and heals itself and nearby allies.
|The wolf’s spectral body flows in ghostly blue. For a moment, you think you see faces deep within it. Your terror is confirmed when the beast snarls and sorrowful wails echo out.|
Leaning further into the theme of death and undead, the wolf is immune to necrotic damage. Its bite also deals necrotic damage and drains the target’s hit points akin to a wraith’s Life Drain.
|Runes beneath the wolf’s fur shine with aurora-like ribbons of magic. It shimmers as it moves, splitting into three versions of itself that phase and weave through each other.|
This wolf is purely magical, possessing no direct offensive abilities. It gains Magic Resistance instead of a damage immunity, as well as Magic Weapons. Finally, it has a quicker, slightly weaker version of mirror image that it can use once, embodying its realm’s illusions and chaos.
|The wolf wears crude metal armor over most of its body. It should be heavier than the beast could comfortably carry, yet it moves as it the metal were not there.|
This is, essentially, the reverse of the Asgard wolf. It has no offensive boost, but its resistance to weapons is now complete immunity. It also possesses the Parry reaction, as well as the protection fighting style in the form of a Protective Pounce, in case it would rather guard an ally.
|Sparking, spitting flames engulf the wolf’s fur. Embers drip from its body and mouth and the ground beneath its feet dries and burns.|
This one was easy; it’s all fire. It has fire immunity, its Bite is fire, and it has a fire elemental’s Fire Form, scaled down to become its Burning Form. The lingering fire damage is removed, as the cost of an action to put it out is too steep, given the number of sources and the possible number of wolves.
|Clumps of the wolf’s fur are matted in sharp icicles. Its body is coated in similar frost that emanates a blue glow, deep beneath. The wolf opens its mouth and exhales thick, frigid mist.|
Like its fiery opposite, this wolf is very simple. The existing winter wolf lends its cold immunity and Cold Breath, the latter having its recharge removed due to the lower DC roll and damage, and the wolf’s short life expectancy. To embody the realm’s fog, it has one innate casting of the fog cloud spell.
|The wolf’s flesh and fur appear petrified, yet mobile. You hear stones grinding as it moves and see dust and sand falling from its joints.|
Creating a cave or earth-based wolf was not as clearcut as others (without allowing it to petrify targets). Thunder was the closest damage type, which also fit with giving the wolf an innate casting of thunderwave, presumably as a howl. For more direct ties, it also has short-ranged tremorsense and a burrow speed. The burrowing, combined with Incorporeal Movement, allows it to easily disappear and reappear behind targets.
|Vibrant green roots and vines swirl in the shape of a wolf. Around it, seedlings and underbrush sprout from the ground in a chaotic tangle.|
Based simply around plant life, it has an immunity to both poison and acid damage. Its bite is similarly acidic, and it has a constant aura similar to the entangle spell but changed to synchronize with the wolves’ ability to leave their targets prone.
As always, we have statblocks for all of our custom-made creatures…
Creating the specific wraith wolves meant adjusting and enhancing their abilities.
For a start, Ethereal Sight became Sight Beyond Realms, to better link the wolves to their master and the lore behind him. It is longer-ranged but limited to his location.
They were also changed from undead to elementals, as they are not truly ghosts but rather representations of their realms.
Next, each realm’s wraith wolf was given a fitting ability and damage immunity. Some were based on other creatures, while others were from spells.
To balance their new abilities, keep them the same CR, and highlight them as being minions to their master, their hit points were reduced back to a regular wolf’s. Each one will go down quickly, but their strength is in their numbers and the pressure they apply to the party.