An encounter with animated plants in an eerie graveyard, with a location, character, and stat blocks for use with D&D 5E.
Dawngrove Cemetery is no longer accepting visitors or new burials. While the cemetery has hardly ever been a tourist attraction, the message of its locked gates does draw attention from the noble family to whom the land belongs. They worry that something may have happened to the groundskeeper, Quilbek Mudtender, and that the crypt may have finally earned its reputation for hauntings.
Even worse, news of the situation is beginning to spread. Based on only shreds of information and with no one able to verify them, gossip is being passed around about what might be occurring. Those who are aiding in the rumors’ diffusion are far less concerned with Quilbek’s safety and far more accusatory of his involvement, owing to a sentiment of distrust over the nobility hiring a goblin to oversee what was once an honored local burial ground. Some less creative gossips name him as a necromancer, while others label him as a shapeshifting hag, and some even claim that he is a demon, feasting on the bones of their dearly departed.
The family will not stand to see this situation continue. They are willing to hire a group that is trustworthy and capable to travel to the cemetery and ascertain its current status. In conversation, they place particular emphasis on ensuring Quilbek’s safety and request that he be brought to them. They wholeheartedly trust that he is innocent but they must hear his side of what has transpired. Finally, they ask that the hired group be discrete, as a band of sellswords being seen on their way to the graveyard or returning with Quilbek in tow would only add further fuel to the fiery rumors.
The truth of the situation is almost as strange but far less sinister than the gossiped stories. In his seclusion as groundskeeper, Quilbek took to botany as a hobby. He delights in understanding and experimenting with the plants that he grows, going so far as to learn basic alchemy that could aid in his gardening. Unfortunately, this recently took a turn for the worse. Perhaps from a combination of his chemicals and some latent undeath in the graveyard, the plants’ mutations have spiraled out of Quilbek’s control. They show no hostility to him but their violent responses to wandering wildlife prompted Quilbek to send word of the cemetery’s temporary closure. Quilbek knows he has limited time before someone comes knocking. He needs to find a solution before he loses his job, his plants are able to hurt anyone, or worse, they have to be destroyed.
The road overgrows and the sky darkens as a metal gate curves into view in the distance. Wind passes overhead, rustling the leaves and creaking the branches of faded trees, yet you don’t feel even the slightest breeze on the ground, between the dense forest walls. There is only a chilling calmness and the smell of soil after rain.
Another gust rattles the gate as you reach it, sending the shrill screech of neglected iron ringing through the graveyard beyond. The cemetery is a dilapidated assortment of paths that wind through the clearing to clusters of headstones and statues, all coated in creeping moss and vines. In the center, just beyond the gate, is the gnarled husk of a great tree. A building stands in a state of disrepair not far behind that. The wind blows again, carrying the smell of mildew and an icy dampness that clings to your skin and clothes.
Dawngrove was once an important graveyard for the nearby noble family. As traditions changed and another cemetery was established within the town, Dawngrove saw diminishing use. The family did not want to see the area completely deteriorate, however, so they hired Quilbek Mudtender as a groundskeeper to maintain the graves. He fulfills his role with great vigor, but the most recent developments of his botanical hobby have resulted in many of the plants growing out of control, giving the graveyard the appearance of neglect and even damaging Quilbek’s home.
Closed for business. The graveyard’s front gate is held closed by a loop of chain that is secured with an iron lock (requiring a successful DC 15 Dexterity check with thieves’ tools to pick). A single plank of wood hangs above the lock, painted with the words ‘DO NOT ENTER’ in both Common and Goblin.
If the party opens, moves, or climbs the gate without doing anything to silence it, the old metal creates a sound that is loud enough to alert Quilbek and the nearby plants to their presence.
Ghostly murmurs and vicious vines. The graveyard is not haunted but the sounds of Quilbek’s animated plants may give the impression of lurking specters. Characters moving through the graveyard hear the central tree occasionally crack and groan as the rotted wood adjusts. A character that succeeds on a DC 16 Wisdom (Perception) check also notices faint rustling from amidst the tombstones and grass. The sounds, which are other plants moving, are mostly hidden within the wind but also sporadically occur whenever no one is looking. The plants do not move if they are within a creature’s line of sight.
The sounds around the graveyard are the plants waking to the presence of the party. It takes the central tree, which is a shambling bloodoak, roughly one minute to awaken and attack, while other rotblooms and writhing moss awaken faster but slowly and stealthily close in on their victims before engaging.
Quilbek’s house. The building at the side of the graveyard is Quilbek Mudtender’s home. Though it appears damaged from the outside, the interior is a well-maintained alchemy workshop and bedroom. The hole in the roof provides sunlight to a corner of the main room that is overrun with Quilbek’s plants.
When the party arrives, Quilbek is at work at his alchemy station. A character that succeeds on a DC 13 Wisdom (Perception) check hears his rushed movements inside. If Quilbek hears the characters enter and approach, he slowly cracks the front door to see who they are. When Quilbek realizes that he does not recognize the characters, he calls out to them and hurriedly beckons them into his house, knowing that his plants may attack at any second.
Map & Asset Downloads
The Dawngrove Cemetery is based on our new Haunted Graveyard battle map, which features Quilbeks house and the dormant shambling bloodoak. We also have a number of other cemetery and crypt maps that would be suitable for the encounter!
(CG male goblin)
The acrid scent of compost drifts from a goblin man with messily tied hair and wearing mud-caked boots, overalls, and gardening gloves. His expression is alert, yet distant, and there are darkened bags under his eyes. He looks around apprehensively as if expecting something before dusting a glove against his clothing and reaching out in greeting.
Quilbek Mudtender is a reclusive but polite and studious man. He prefers the gated confines of the cemetery, though this is owed to awkwardness and discomfort in more civilized areas, rather than any disdain for others. Formerly employed to maintain the property of the local noble family, Quilbek’s disposition and hardworking nature led to him being offered the role of groundskeeper of the Dawngrove Cemetery, which he heartily accepted. Not only did it provide the privacy that he so enjoyed, but it also gave him the space and time to pursue his building interest in botany.
With the recent, unfortunate development surrounding his plants, Quilbek has been thrown off-kilter. The missive denying entry to the cemetery was all he could think of in his blind panic to rectify the situation as the dread of losing his plants and employment overwhelmed him. He has spent the time since sending the notice tirelessly developing a potion that should negate the violent tendencies, if not the animation itself, of the mutated plants.
Quilbek is apprehensive at first but is more than happy to cooperate with the characters once they explain their objective. He openly shares his side of events and laments his part in them. He is pleased to hear that the family still has faith in him and is determined to not let them down, but adds that he does require the party’s help to do so. Quilbek asks that they restrain the plants without destroying them, giving him a chance to replant them in soil laced with the potion. He understands that this request makes the task more dangerous for the characters and that he does not have anything of value to offer in exchange, but he says that he must ask regardless, as the plants are important to him. Regardless of his garden’s fate, he will return to town with the party once the graveyard is safe.
Another rustling draws your attention to the side, where you see a patch of grass coming to rest after being disturbed. Now vigilant, you instantly turn to the next sound. You again see a mottled collection of moss, vines, and other foliage, but there is nothing moving through them. Rather, it is the plants themselves that are shifting and snaking forward.
An unknown complication in Quilbek’s gardening experiments has imbued many of his plants with not just a facsimile of life, but also a tendency to violently attack other creatures. These plants are indistinguishable from those around them when at rest and waiting in ambush. When a creature strays too far into the graveyard, however, the foliage creeps closer, preparing to strike, poison, and consume its victims.
The tree’s desiccated wood groans with aching movement that continues into the ground, cracking the earth with tremors. Its roots lift and scrape through the soil, while gnarled branches bend and snap as if stretching its weary limbs. Where the wood splits, you see thin streams of red trickle out.
Animated from the tree in the center of the graveyard, the shambling bloodoak is the most outwardly violent of Quilbek’s garden. Its hardened bark makes the tree more durable than the other plants but does not stop it from moving or swinging its powerful branches at nearby creatures. These strikes sap their victim’s life in order to heal the bloodoak which, alongside the crimson sap that drips from its wood, earned the tree its unsettling name. The bloodoak can also burst its roots from the ground to damage and disorient creatures in its vicinity, leaving them vulnerable to the other plants.
A shrub of serrated leaves and thick roots surround clustered bulbs of the same diminished green. The flowers pulse, then unfurl, revealing a deep maroon inside and releasing a cloud of spores that quickly spreads through the air.
The rotbloom is a carnivorous flower that has mutated to release its digestive fumes in a potent mist. Its prehensile roots cannot pull the bloom with any impressive speed but its ability to scale surfaces and the range of its persistent, poisonous mist allow it to slowly damage targets, particularly if they are held in place by another plant.
The mound of moss and vines suddenly whips with movement, pulling and tumbling over itself as it scrabbles forward. Its surprising speed makes it difficult to get a clear view, but you do see a slick sheen forming across the surface of the foliage.
In contrast to the rotbloom’s slow speed, writhing moss is a verdant collection of moss and vines that is able to use the latter to quickly propel itself forward. The same vines search for prey, which the moss binds in its vines before secreting a digestive acid.
More Fiendish Fungi
We also have a number of other plant and fungus creatures that could fit into Quilbek’s experiments in our previous article, Mushrooms, Moss, and Monsters!
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