The party continues down as the thick stone doors grind open, revealing the pathway into Verdantguard’s crypt. They have already faced spiders and witnessed the ghosts of the tower’s memories. What more could hide beneath the earth? Exactly what beasts await in the Bramblejade’s innermost heart? Whatever the adventurers are to face, they must brave the danger if they’re to have a hope of curing Greybanner’s fallen fighter.
This third and final section of Greybanner’s ‘Into the Bramblejade’ chapter sees the party descend into the ominous subterranean crypt of Verdantguard Tower. The eggs that they seek are only steps away, but these precious treasures have not been left unguarded. In addition, the tower’s ghosts still hold some few, final secrets. Will the characters be able to lay these souls to rest, abscond with the eggs, and make it back through the Bramblejade? Should they succeed, they may find that their adventures are far from over.
The steps descend into a square room filled with stale, bitter air. Alcoves extend into the walls to your left and right, each just large enough to hold a stone sarcophagus, with a similar but larger extension on the opposite side. The center of the chamber lowers to an intricate ring of stonework in the ground. Collapsed across the mural is a ragged, dusty skeleton, seemingly undisturbed since its death. And beyond the far wall, through openings of crumbled bricks, are the surfaces of a cave, illuminated in a dim orange and coated in thick webs that creep out and into the crypt.
The Verdantguard tower’s crypt was once the burial place of its most esteemed druids; those who died in service of the Bramblejade. Their tombs are memorialized within. The most venerated of these is Alessia the Thorn, who is buried beneath the floor in the center of the room. As Verdantguard has remained largely unreachable since the spreading of the blight and the tower’s abandonment, its only visitors have been Vincent MacHale and a group of ettercaps that later burrowed a hive adjacent to the crypt.
Ceilings. The crypt has a gently arched ceiling that is 10 feet from the floor where it meets the walls and 15 feet high in its center. The walls of the alcoves holding the druids’ graves arch into domed ceilings that are 10 feet from the floor.
Light. Torch sconces decorate many of the crypt’s walls, though none are lit, leaving the room in darkness. The dim light of the ettercap hive is visible through the openings in the walls but does not illuminate the crypt.
Vincent’s spirit. The echoes of Vincent’s last day show him descending the stairs, stopping before he turns to enter the crypt. Another stands over Alessia’s tomb, repeatedly striking the stonework with a miner’s pick before collapsing to its knees, roughly where the skeleton rests.
Vincent’s skeleton. The skeleton slumped near the center of the room is Vincent MacHale’s. His final day ended with another failed attempt to unearth and burn Alessia before he sat and spoke to her, allowing himself to slip away. The body has completely decomposed in the time since. All that remains of his clothing is its withered, musty leather, scraps of cloth, and the various buckles and other metal elements. One of the latter is Vincent’s medallion (see the ‘Treasure’ section). Beside the skeleton rests a single flask of alchemist’s fire and the miner’s pick that Vincent had used. Its wooden shaft is old and cracked; if a character rolls a natural 1 on a skill check or attack roll using the pick, its handle breaks.
Druid sarcophagi. Most of Verdantguard’s druids were simply buried in the forest, usually in an area that they had personally tended or felt a connection to. Those that had assisted Alessia in her ritual to bind Harazai and who were sacrificed in doing so were granted the honor of being interred beneath the tower. Each was placed in a stone sarcophagus, decorated with a carving of their respective druid. This was intended to resemble a knight’s tomb as a show of reverence from MacHale and the other people whom the druids’ deaths saved. To uphold their own beliefs, the sarcophagi are also bottomless, returning the druids to the earth. The druids that came in the years after were simply told that these four were honored leaders of Verdantguard. When Vincent MacHale came to Verdantguard decades later, he opened, burned, and resealed the graves.
The tombs’ lids are heavy but can be slid free without requiring an ability check. Inside each is only shards of splintered bone and what little metal there was in the druids’ clothing, mixed into the bed of earth that makes the coffins’ bottoms. A character can make a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check to discover burn marks on the edges of these scraps and find that the entire inside of each sarcophagus and its lid is blackened with ash, which will also stain a character’s hands if they touch it. There are also scratches and scrapes around the exteriors that resemble those on the tower’s rooftop and the floors of the druids’ quarters. On an 18 or higher, the character also deduces that the fire must have been sustained to achieve this level of scorching. These factors indicate the use of either magic or alchemist’s fire, which fits with Vincent’s letter and the flask left by his skeleton.
The sarcophagus closest to the entryway is shattered open. Behind it is an opening into the ettercap hive. The opening has a dense curtain of webs that must be destroyed (AC 10; 5 hit points per 5-foot square; vulnerability to fire damage; immunity to bludgeoning, poison, and psychic damage) for any creature larger than Small to fit through. A Small creature can squeeze through. The interior of the sarcophagus bears the same scorch marks as the others. A DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Survival) check reveals marks where the bed of the grave was roughly dug away, as well as a smear of dirt leading beyond the web curtain. These are from the ettercaps scavenging what they could of the blighted body, long after Vincent burned it.
Alessia’s tomb. Alessia would not accept the same reverence given to those that she sacrificed but did relent to the other druids’ insistence of a marked, honored grave. She was buried in the center of the crypt, beneath the circular pattern of stonework. This masonwork mural loosely depicts the binding of Harazai, from the largely uninformed and thus flattering perspective of the druids that came years later, during Greybanner’s establishment. It shows Alessia and the druids she sacrificed in her ritual, who were later believed to have simply died in willing protection of the forest. Though badly damaged from Vincent MacHale’s attempts to unearth her grave, the majority of it is still visible. As a character moves to inspect or interact with the mural, read the following:
The stonework in the center of the crypt is arranged in a carved mosaic of five figures. While much of the detail has been chipped and cleaved away, the larger pieces still remain discernable. The middle depicts a familiar tower on a hilled grove. The shape of a woman rises over it, her arm reaching out with a staff in hand. Vines and flowers spread from the staff’s head, forming an outer ring that connects four other figures by their own outstretched arms. Along the border of vines are lines of faded runes and sigils.
A character can make a DC 14 Intelligence (Investigation), Intelligence (History), or Intelligence (Religion) check, depending on their knowledge of the area, to discern the meaning of the mural. On a success, they gather that the central figure is Alessia, symbolically shown establishing and protecting the Verdantguard tower and Bramblejade forest alongside her fellow druids. The depiction fits with the believed history of Verdantguard and the five druids that first inhabited it. On an Intelligence (Investigation) check of 16 or higher, the character can link minor details on the other figures, such as general features and items of clothing, to the carvings on the other tombs in the crypt.
Succeeding on a DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check of the mural’s runic text allows a character to identify that the mural is enchanted with a combination of abjuration and evocation magic. On a 20 or higher, the character recognizes the use of the hallow spell, specifically applied to repel fiends and undead, including those afflicted with the blight. The party may infer that this is the reason that the ettercaps have not unearthed the body or taken Vincent’s for themselves.
If a blighted creature starts its turn within the mural’s space, it must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, it must immediately use its movement to exit the mural’s area and it has disadvantage on all attack rolls and ability checks made until the start of its next turn. The enchantment is dispelled if the mural’s outer ring is broken.
The stone paving that comprises the floor and mural is 5 inches thick. A character can dig through the stone by dealing sufficient damage to the tiles (AC 15; 150 hit points per square foot; vulnerability to bludgeoning and thunder damage; immunity to poison, psychic, and slashing damage) or by spending ten minutes and making a Strength (Athletics) check with a miner’s pick or another appropriate tool. On a 10 or lower, the character is unable to break through. On a 20 or higher, the digging takes half of the amount of time. This creates enough noise to alert the nearby ettercaps. Beneath the stone is 2 feet of packed earth that can be easily dug away to reveal Alessia’s sarcophagus, which resembles the others in the room but lacks the carving on its lid. The characters can spend an additional ten minutes clearing the rest of the dirt and paving that covers the tomb, before making a DC 17 Strength check to remove its 3-inch-thick lid. Alternatively, they can also break through by dealing enough damage (AC 15; 90 hit points per square foot; vulnerability to bludgeoning and thunder damage; immunity to poison, psychic, and slashing damage) to the stone.
Assigning armor classes, health values, and skill check DCs to structures, such as the stone paving and coffins of the crypt, is imprecise and does not factor in choices that the characters may make. Fortunately, they also aren’t as important as balancing combat encounters. As such, the values given are only rough guides based on similar scenarios (such as the wall of stone spell and official rules for objects’ health values). Rather than following them to the letter, use them as a point of reference for whatever your party attempts. Feel free to raise or lower the values, or give your characters advantage or disadvantage, depending on what they try.
Alessia’s body lies within her sarcophagus, preserved and bound in the blighted roots of the forest. When a character opens the tomb, read the following:
The moment you open the coffin, you are struck by the stench of preserved death. You clutch at your mouth and nose as the smell pulls on the contents of your stomach, and take a moment before continuing. Below you, the grey stone walls of the coffin surround a single body that rests on a bed of earth. It is old, joints bent within the constriction of desiccated skin. Roots of unknown plants breach the soil below her, tightly grasping and binding the corpse, themselves devoid of color and spotted with acrid fungus.
Upon Alessia’s burial following the Duel of the Founders, the roots of her home forest found their way to her body. The blight quickly took hold of them and began spreading outwards. As the central point of the infection, Alessia’s body and the roots that bind it show potent symptoms of the blight. A character can make a DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check on Alessia to identify that, while withered, her body does not appear as old as it should be, or is preserved in some way, owing to the regenerative effects of the blight. On an 18 or higher, the character recognizes that the aging is uneven; the skin close to the roots appears the least decayed, indicating that it is the blight causing it, which is most potent in the roots. Areas of skin in direct contact with the roots even appear alive and healthy.
The roots themselves are also enchanted by the magic they have drained from Alessia, resembling the enchantment of the tree in her garden sanctum. The six largest roots that bind her (AC 10; 15 hit points; vulnerability to slashing damage) each recover 10 hit points at the end of every turn. A creature that hits them with a melee weapon attack must succeed on a DC 10 Strength check to pull the weapon free as the roots immediately begin to regenerate. On a failure, the root heals around the weapon, and the DC increases to 12 for further attempts to pull it free.
Hatched nest. An additional breach in the southern wall opens into a circular hive chamber of no more than 15 feet across. It is covered in the same webs as the ettercap hive. Clusters of ettercap eggs are nestled in these webs, still glowing orange but split open and empty, having hatched recently but long enough ago for the fluid to have dried. While these eggs cannot serve the characters’ purposes, they can give the party more information about the eggs and the obstacles in the adjacent cave, such as the webs’ impedance and acid. A character can also make a DC 13 Intelligence (Nature) check to determine that the creature that laid the eggs must be at least Large in size, given the size of the eggs.
There is a hidden room in the north-west corner of the crypt. This corner was originally used as a small altar to prepare offerings and components of burial rites. When overcome with the blight, Vera, one of Verdantguard’s druids, sealed herself in the space. She refused to endanger the others and urged them not to free her until she was dead or either she or they had discovered a cure. The blight overtook the tower before the latter could be accomplished and Vera remained imprisoned.
A character can make a DC 17 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Perception) check of the area near the hidden room to notice a difference in the brickwork; rather than stacked stones or bricks and mortar, the wall is formed of a single mass of stone that has been magically shaped to create the appearance of bricks. The wall is also far thinner than it appears and can be easily broken. Once the players make it into the room, read the following:
As the stone crumbles to the ground, a thick wave of stale air escapes, assaulting your nose with years of airtight decay. Fighting your turning stomach and tearing eyes, you look inside to see a small room decorated with only a stone table. The table is adorned with a frayed cloth, mostly covered in dust but with a bright red visible beneath. Sitting atop the table is the darkened shape of a sword. A hand still rests limply on the handle, connected to a deteriorated humanoid form slouched against the wall, motionless aside from long, faint breaths.
The blight turned Vera into a blighted zombie, like Yestis in the Druids’ Quarters’ north-eastern room. Unlike Yestis, however, Vera remained contained and sedentary and is now unresponsive to the characters. She will not react aside from minor twitches and sounds. Vera’s weapon and pack are in the room with her, containing several of her belongings (see the ‘Treasure‘ section). The walls and floor of the space also show clear signs of where they were magically moved to create the fake wall.
Alerting the ettercaps. Many blighted ettercaps await the party within their hive, either aware or unaware of the characters depending on their actions in the forest and the rooms above (see the ‘Developments’ section of the ‘Ettercap Hive’). If they are aware of the party, the ettercaps are hiding and attempting to remain silent. If the party has remained stealthy enough for the ettercaps to be unaware of them, the creatures are busy feasting on a dead spider, and the characters can hear disturbing, chattering echoes of their movement and eating.
The characters may spend some time exploring the crypt before moving into the ettercap hive. If the ettercaps have detected the characters and the party spends more than ten minutes in the crypt, the ettercap drones become restlessly curious, while the ettercap hivetenders have more time to hide. The latter spend this time disguising themselves behind layers of web, giving them advantage on their Dexterity (Stealth) checks. Meanwhile, small groups of the drones scurry to the edges of the hive’s dim light and observe the party. The characters are likely to hear them moving, spotting the creatures amidst the webbing at the cave entrance and the broken sarcophagus. These drones scatter and retreat if they are threatened or if a character moves within 15 feet of them.
Alessia’s body. If the party found Vincent MacHale’s letter to Alessia in the southern room of the tower’s Druid Quarters, they are aware that he had attempted to dig up Alessia’s grave in order to burn her body. They can also infer this from the evidence within the crypt. The party is able to do the same using Vincent’s alchemist’s fire and miner’s pick, or by their own means. If any flame touches the body, read the following as it ignites:
The moment the flames touch the body, they erupt like a bonfire doused in oil. A column of fire blasts upward, causing you to step back as the sudden heat dries and singes your face, before it lowers again, a scorched patch left on the ceiling. You hear wood loudly cracking and splitting within the burning. As the fire dims enough for you to look in, you’re jolted by the sight of movement. Within the amber light, the roots that bind Alessia twist and contort, desperately gripping tighter as they are consumed. But slowly the fungus burns away in the heat of the flames and the grey of the wood parts to its natural brown, then a charred black. The roots release her, curling and twisting like the legs of a dead spider as the body is reduced to ash and smoke. And for just a moment, you believe that you hear a distant, relieved exhale.
The fire burning Alessia’s body lasts for five minutes, and releases her from the blight and cuts off its source. This holds long-term implications for the entire forest (see the ‘Conclusion’ section) but also has immediate effects within Verdantguard. Much like the roots holding Alessia, those binding the root-bound chest within the tower’s Garden Sanctum recede and release the chest, making it easy for the characters to open (see the ‘Root-bound chest’ section of the ‘Garden Sanctum’). The smoke of the fire also fills the crypt and renders it lightly obscured. Areas that are both dimly lit and obscured by smoke are considered heavily obscured. This lasts for an additional ten minutes after the fire dissipates, until the smoke spreads into the ettercap hive and thins enough to no longer affect vision. Taking the time to unearth and burn Alessia also alerts the ettercaps in the hive and gives them time to prepare (see the ‘Developments’ section of ‘Hive of Horrors’).
Remember the rules for characters with darkvision! The darkvision feature allows them to see in darkness as if it were dim light, meaning the smoke in the room will still heavily obscure those areas.
A circular metal medallion that depicts a crest of a knight riding atop a rearing stag, a lance in his hand and a warhound standing alongside him. Text is inscribed around its border but is too faded to read.
This medallion, and others like it, were one form of identification for a leader of a noble house, particularly when traveling far from their own lands. They bear the crest and any motto of whichever family they represent.
A character can make a DC 15 Intelligence (History) check of the medallion’s crest to identify it as the crest of House MacHale. Any native of Greybanner can also tell them the same.
Vincent’s Damaged Pick
A mining pick found in the crypt of Verdantguard Tower and once used by Vincent MacHale in an effort to unearth and burn his beloved. Its age has left the shaft cracked and weakened.
If you roll a natural 1 on a skill check or attack roll using the damaged pick, its handle breaks, rendering it unuseable.
The hidden room also contains Vera’s shortsword, two potions of healing, and two pages of paper containing Vera’s recordings of her own symptoms. Many of the notes are unreadable, but those that remain read the following before the handwriting becomes scattered and unintelligible:
Time: 3 days
Symptoms: Exhaustion, paranoia, joint pain, infrequent auditory hallucinations
Notes: I saw what this sickness was doing to others. I refuse to endanger them but am also the only person able to medically study the symptoms. For now, I will seal myself in this corner of the crypt and only leave if they or I can manage a cure. These notes will track the progression.
Time: 6 days
Symptoms: Bouts of anger, lost time, feeling of movement beneath the skin, almost constant visual and auditory hallucinations, nightmares. Endlessly hungry and thirsty, no matter how much food and water I conjure.
Notes: Symptoms have advanced quicker than I expected. Eamon has stopped checking on me, so I can only assume the same is happening for them, or that they’ve abandoned the chance of a cure. Perhaps they’ve abandoned the tower completely. Gods, I hope they haven’t left me.
Symptoms continue to worsen. My moments of lucidity grow shorter and less frequent. There are scratch marks and blood on the wall, but I don’t remember making them and my fingers are unhurt.
Notes: I stopped creating water days ago. The sickness won’t let me die.
The shortsword was an heirloom given to Vera when she set out as an adventurer, prior to her joining the Verdantguard druids. Unfortunately, it is aged and damaged and must be restored before it is useable again. An experienced blacksmith, such as either Eva Cinderbrow or Harrison Dell of the Cornerforge Quartermasters, can repair the weapon for a cost of 100 gp, requiring two days to do so. The result is a restored wayfarer’s shortsword.
Weapon (shortsword), Uncommon (requires attunement)
A basic but fine-crafted shortsword with a rune set at the base of the blade and a pearl embedded in its pommel. The pearl’s color swims gently with different shades.
As an action while holding this weapon, you can cast the light cantrip on the sword’s pommel.
Additionally, you can spend one minute focusing on the illuminated sword. At the end of the minute, the light focuses into a beam that points north. This effect lasts for the duration of the light cantrip or until you dismiss it as an action.
Is a shortsword not useful to any of your characters? The wayfarer’s weapon can be changed to almost any other weapon type, so feel free to change it into a dagger, glaive, or anything else that might excite your party!
The crypt’s stone parts into the tunnel of a cave. Its walls are almost immediately covered from top to bottom in thick webs that stick your feet to the ground and glisten with an orange light from deeper within. They drape and hang, some in sheets and others with single threads. The putrid, stinging smell in the air grows overbearing as you step further in. Around the corner, the tunnel opens into a larger cavern, lit dimly by the same sickly light that you see comes from clusters of orbs, each one foot across, nestled into the webs. The floor snaps and crunches under each step. You quickly glance down to see chips and shards of discarded bone littering the surface like twigs on a forest floor.
Connecting to the Verdantguard crypt is a hive of blighted ettercaps. The crypt walls to the immediate left of the entry stairs, as well as on the far side of the room, open into web-covered caves that the ettercaps use as their home and breeding ground. Clusters of eggs are kept safe in their sanctuary, tended to by their grown siblings. The corpse of a giant wolf spider lays on the floor of the cave, either abandoned or being eaten depending on the state of the present ettercaps (see the ‘Hive of Horrors’ encounter).
Ceiling. The space within the burrowed hive ranges from 15 to 20 feet high from the ground. As a creation of its occupants, it does not bear natural formations such as stalagmites or stalactites.
Light. The many egg clusters in the hive are bioluminescent and each give off dim, orange light in a 5-foot square. The rest of the room is dark.
Uneven ground. The hive is divided by two curved ridges of stone, webs, and the bodies and belongings of the ettercaps’ victims. Each ridge is 5 feet high and 5 feet across, and may provide cover to creatures behind it.
Acidic webs. Every surface of the cave is covered in webs that also drape between the walls, floor, and ceiling, and are coated in the ettercaps’ corrosive acid. These webs are difficult terrain, though they can be destroyed (AC 10; 5 hit points per 5-foot square; vulnerability to fire damage; immunity to bludgeoning, poison, and psychic damage). If a creature is knocked prone in a space covered in webs and does not possess the Web Walker feature, the creature is also restrained by the webs. A creature restrained by the webs takes 1 acid damage at the start of its turn and can use its action to make a DC 11 Strength check, freeing itself on a success.
Egg clusters. Amidst the webs on the hive’s floor are clusters of the ettercaps’ bioluminescent eggs; the party’s objective for traveling to Verdantguard. Each egg is an orb with a diameter of 1 foot and weighing 15 pounds. Their exterior is formed of a slick, leathery membrane that is roughly an inch thick, and filled with a stringy, viscous fluid. A character that looks closely can see a tiny silhouette suspended within.
A single egg can be safely freed from its webbing with a DC 13 Strength check or by destroying the webs around it. A character can also use an action to fill a single glass jar or similarly sized container with fluid from an egg that is leaking but not destroyed, at a rate of roughly one and a half jars per egg. An egg that is destroyed (AC 5; 5 hit points; vulnerability to slashing and piercing damage; immunity to acid, poison, and psychic damage) spills its contents across the floor. If a creature is carrying an egg or lying prone in the space of an egg when that egg is destroyed, the creature is covered in the egg’s fluid, which also soaks into any clothing they are wearing. As long as the fluid remains, all ettercaps have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) and Wisdom (Survival) checks made to find the creature.
When the time comes to collect the eggs and fluid, don’t be afraid to remind your party what Elias had requested, if they have forgotten; he needs three glass jars of the fluid but offered additional rewards if they could procure and return with intact eggs.
Dead spider. The body of a giant wolf spider sits in the center of the hive, on its back and with its legs curled, obviously dead. Two of the legs have been removed and its midsection is split open from the ettercaps having been feeding on it. Whether the ettercaps are still there depends on the characters’ actions up to this point (see the ‘Developments’ section of ‘Hive of Horrors’). A character can make a DC 14 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Survival) check of the body to notice bloodied drag marks that run to the caves’ eastern wall. Following the tracks leads them to the entrance of one of the ettercaps’ access tunnels, the other side of which emerges between the roots of a tree on the north-eastern edge of the clearing around Verdantguard.
Access tunnels. Multiple branching tunnels connect to the walls of the hive, leading into the forest. These give the ettercaps access to the deeper reaches of the Bramblejade while allowing them to remain hidden and move undetected. Each tunnel is only larger enough for an ettercap or other medium creature to crawl through and their surfaces are entirely covered in webs, making them difficult terrain. The webs in these tunnels are acidic, though not enough to damage a creature. A character that succeeds on a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check within the hive can identify several tunnel entrances amidst the other webs.
Hive of Horrors
Within the hive is the blighted ettercap hivemother, two ettercap hivetenders, and sixteen ettercap drones. Their positions and awareness depend on whether or not they have detected the party’s presence during their time in the Bramblejade and Verdantguard (see the ‘Developments’ section).
The ettercaps beneath Verdantguard live in the heart of the blight. The hive was constructed by a group of them that were drawn to the blight many years ago, burrowing into the tower’s crypt and beginning to lay their eggs. This proximity to Alessia and her druids quickly changed the creatures that were born there. They first presented the same symptoms as other blighted animals, but further generations spawned in the hive became suffused with the sickness, remaining physically weaker than others of their kind but overcoming some of its drawbacks. This also prompted an appetite for furthering their own blight. The ettercaps hunt and consume other blighted creatures and have made previous attempts to do the same to the interred druids. Their limited successes eventually gave rise to the ettercap hivemother; the most purely blighted creature in the forest, who passes the curse onto every egg she lays.
The creatures have the bodies of humanoid insects, with exaggerated limbs that end in long claws. Jagged shards of bone protrude haphazardly in patches where the purple hide has grown to hold them in place. Others are affixed like plates of armor. Despite their size, the monstrosities move across the webbing with ease, always with one of many eyes fixed on those who have intruded on their home.
Ettercap hivetenders are the matured ettercaps with the duty of maintaining and protecting the hive. They act as carers for their queen and her drones, ensuring their needs are met. This includes constructing the hive itself, expanding the access tunnels into the forest, as well as using these tunnels to hunt and trap creatures to feed the hive. They have also taken to breeding the giant wolf spiders that live in Verdantguard. The minimum number of spiders are kept alive, while the ettercaps take the rest as a food source.
The hivetenders’ intelligence and care for the hive mean that their priority, should it come under threat, is to protect the eggs. They do what they can to direct combat out of the hive itself and prevent damage by isolating, directing, and disabling attackers. Even more so, they prevent intruders from taking the eggs. Their most effective strategy is to restrain opponents in either their own or the hive’s webs, allowing the ettercap drones to rush in and safely attack the target. Should the situation grow dire, the hivetenders are the first to sacrifice themselves in service of their hive, queen, and drones.
Smaller shapes dart across the cavern’s surfaces, glints of reflected light giving the illusion of stars as tiny black eyes stop, turn to you, and then scurry off again. In those moments, you can make out varied bodies that are similar to the others, though much smaller and quadrupedal. Tiny claws scratch across the stone and a chorus of excited chirping swells in expectation of a new meal.
The youngest of the ettercaps are the drones; small, quadrupedal beasts that have not yet developed the intelligence of their elders. They act more akin to the forest’s blighted beasts when not shepherded by their hivetenders, and are driven by a chaotic combination of curiosity and hunger. While they avoid direct combat and danger, owing to their individual frailty, the drones take any opening they can find to rush and swarm targets that cannot fight back, usually in groups of three or four. This includes the deaths of their own kind, which become meals for the drones. Intruders may find themselves quickly overwhelmed by the drones’ numbers.
All of our ettercap creature tokens are thanks to David Wilson, one of our token artists. Be sure to look through his other contributions and consider supporting him…
The ettercap hivemother is the hive’s blighted queen. As the oldest of the ettercaps and the most affected by the blight, she has grown to be the most bestial and ferocious. Like other insects, her hivetenders fulfill most of the nest’s duties and leave the hivemother to her spawning of eggs, in no small part as a way to keep her calm and contained. They are also tasked with ensuring her safety. The unique circumstances of her creation and development make her imperative to the hives’ survival; the raising of a new queen is unlikely, if even possible, were this hive to be destroyed.
The hivemother rests, attached to the ceiling near the far corner of the room, secured by thick webs but able to easily free herself. Characters that are able to see her position can identify a large, heavy shape that moves gently within the webs with a DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check. Should half of the ettercap drones or both the ettercap hivetenders within the hive be killed, more than four eggs destroyed, or if the hivemother herself is damaged, she rouses and becomes enraged and the party immediately notices her rustle to life. Roll initiative for the hivemother when this happens. At the start of her first turn, she tears herself free and crashes to the ground before commencing her assault. Read the following when this happens:
A form larger and more bulbous than the others groans to life. Its head jerks up, clusters of eyes inspecting the room as two small hands scrape at a maw of dripping mandibles and row upon row of ragged, misaligned teeth. A mane of affixed bones runs from its head to its back and across the shoulders of a second pair of thick, muscular limbs that form barbed and serrated hooks in place of hands. The beast lifts itself. An uneven, asymmetrical array of spider-like legs crunch into the cave floor under its weight, the larger arms acting as powerful forelimbs. Strands of web still hang from the creature’s carapace that juts out in ridges like volcanic rock. The air bristles and burns as the monster releases a deep, intensifying snarl.
When the hivemother is roused, she wildly attacks intruders with the intent to kill rather than to drive them out, unlike her hivetenders. She also disregards pain and fights without care for her own survival. This makes her the most individually dangerous of the ettercaps, especially in the hive’s confined space. Fortunately for their enemies, the death of the hivemother also represents the defeat of the other ettercaps, as they are forced to refocus on their own survival rather than hers.
This may be your party’s first introduction to monster lairs. Creatures almost always have innate advantages within their own homes, even if these do not take the form of lair actions, as is the case with the ettercap hivemother. This makes them significantly more difficult to face and requires the characters to be more careful in their actions. While many can infer the increased danger, it is still important to emphasize it in your tone and descriptions, particularly for new and inexperienced parties.
In this instance, the party must contend with the darkness of the hive as well as the acidic webs that coat it and the additional abilities of its denizens. This is why the hive’s description includes allusions to the stickiness of the webs, as well as their acid, and even to the hivemother’s Stench. They are also very likely to see the hivemother herself. These act as clues to what the party is about to face and may prompt them to make skill checks to find out more. They can take this information into account when acting, and may seek to overcome the obstacles or instead draw the ettercaps into the crypt. These are good solutions that should be rewarded in how the encounter plays out.
The hive is feeding on the body of a giant wolf spider when the party arrives. If they do not detect the characters, one of the hivetenders and six ettercap drones are gathered around their meal in the middle of the hive. The other hivetender is busy with the eggs in the far corner, below the resting hivemother, while the remaining ten drones are moving amongst the webs.
The ettercaps may be aware of the characters’ approach from a number of sources. The party’s movement within the Bramblejade and the tower itself may have alerted the giant wolf spiders above, which the ettercap hivetenders realize, or the creatures may have simply heard the characters in the crypt near them. If the ettercaps know that the characters have made their way into the crypt or hive, they will leave the spider as bait and position themselves for an ambush. Three ettercap drones remain feeding on the spider. The hivetenders direct the rest of the drones to hide amongst the webbing and access tunnel entrances while they themselves climb onto the ceiling, one above each tunnel leading into the hive from the crypt. Make Dexterity (Stealth) checks for the two hivetenders (+4 modifier) and another for the hiding drones (+3 modifier).
Retreat. Slaying the ettercap hivemother forces the remaining ettercaps to flee, bringing the combat to a gradual end. If any hivetenders are still alive when this happens, they begin backing off and releasing a trilling sound that instructs the drones to follow them into the access tunnels. These allow them to escape into the forest. The survivors intend to vacate and establish a new hive, or possibly return to the crypt once the party has moved on. A character that succeeds on a DC 14 Intelligence (Nature) check can guess, based on knowledge of other insects, that raising a new hivemother may take the ettercaps years, if it is even possible. Their long-term success and the effect this has on the Bramblejade also depends on the state of the blight itself (see the ‘Conclusion’ section).
If no hivetenders remain to direct the drones once their hivemother is dead, the drones remain acting as they have been. They continue hiding on the cave’s webs and only attacking if given a clear opening. The characters can easily scare them away with continued attacks, particularly those that deal fire, radiant, or thunder damage, causing the drones to chaotically disperse into the tunnels and the forest beyond.
With the hive cleared, the characters are free to harvest egg fluid or take the eggs themselves (see the ‘egg clusters’ in the ‘Ettercap Hive’). A character can also spend time making an Intelligence (Investigation) check to check the various bones piles for valuables. On a 10 or higher, they find 18 (4d8) gp, 52 (8d12) sp, and 11 (2d10) cp in loose coins that dropped from the ettercaps’ victims. On a 15 or higher, the characters also find several trinkets and pieces of jewelry (worth 45 gp and able to be sold to Kreston Weller or other visiting merchants in Greybanner).
Awarding Experience Points
Exploring Verdantguard tower, defeating the ettercaps in its crypt, and returning to Elias Gilderoy with the requested egg fluid completes a story milestone. Award each character 150 XP upon delivery of the fluid and an additional 100 XP if they brought Elias undamaged eggs.
Verdantguard, vacated. The conclusion of the combat with the ettercaps marks the end of the tower’s greatest danger. The party is free to go about harvesting egg fluid, taking the eggs themselves, and exploring Verdantguard in relative safety. This may include unearthing Alessia in the crypt and returning to the Garden Sanctum to access the released root-bound chest. They may also wish to rest within the tower’s protection. Any remaining ettercaps will not return as long as the characters are present. The spider eggs and blighted zombie may still remain, however.
Return to Greybanner. Once the characters have concluded their business within Verdantguard and are satisfied that they have found everything of interest, they must make the journey back to Greybanner. Repeat the process of the party navigating to the tower (see the ‘Journey to Verdantguard‘), now in reverse; one skill check in the blighted heart, two in the inner Bramblejade, and then two in the outer forest.
Any ettercap drones that escaped the hive are drawn to the eggs or egg fluid that the characters carry and make Wisdom (Survival) checks contesting the party’s Dexterity (Stealth), to pursue them. The drones have advantage on the check if a character has spilled any egg fluid while traveling. If they succeed, a group of four ettercap drones make Dexterity (Stealth) checks and stalk the characters. If they are not discovered and driven off, the drones attack the party when they make camp or enter another encounter in the forest. The drones will not pursue the party beyond the inner Bramblejade.
If the characters destroyed the rest of the eggs in the hive, any surviving ettercap hivetenders join the drones in their attack. They wait for an adequate distraction before entering the fray with the singular purpose of stealing the eggs back and escaping. If the characters do not roll for an encounter before leaving the inner Bramblejade, the ettercaps ambush the party at its border.
If the party absconded with ettercap eggs, keep in mind how they are carrying them. The eggs are large, heavy, and need to be protected to avoid them bursting. At the same time, do not be unfair with the possibility of the eggs being damaged, as losing even one can have a huge negative impact. Do not damage them randomly and only put them at risk if it is the focus of a fair encounter.
Alessia put to rest. If Alessia’s body is found and burned, as instructed in Vincent MacHale’s letter, the source of the Bramblejade’s blight is destroyed with it. This represents a great change in the forest and for Greybanner, but one that will take time for its effects to be seen. Blighted creatures still remain within the forest. Fortunately, the dissipation of the forest’s ambient blight ceases the possibility of new infections.
The first signs of the Bramblejade beginning to heal are seen a week after the characters return to Greybanner. Lumberers in town and speaking in the taverns at night mention that the area has felt more peaceful and lively, though they are unsure why. At this point, it is mostly conjecture and the feelings of some of the workers. These workers approach or call over the characters if they previously saw them venturing into the forest from the Lumberyard. They offer the party drinks in exchange for telling them what happened within the forest. If the characters share the story of the adventure, have them make a DC 10 Charisma check for their retelling and use this result to modify the bets on their next Arena fights (see the ‘Spreading the Word’ section of Arena Betting). Regardless of the check’s result, the lumberers the party speaks to become fond of them.
As the adventure continues, rumors may spread of the party’s actions and their effects on the forest. There is little time to divert resources during the Tournament but Mayor Trivellan expresses an interest in an investigation of the Bramblejade. He may call on the characters to hear their version of their events, pledging to assemble teams of guards and hunters to reach Verdantguard and confirm the story. This entire process takes a number of weeks and is likely to be delayed by the adventure’s other events, but eventually leads to an organized effort to root out the remaining blighted beasts. With them dealt with, the forest can begin to truly heal.
A champion, cured. The delivery of the blighted egg fluid allows Elias Gilderoy and Marla Durand to study its effects and develop a treatment for the ailing fighter. This takes them time, though they assure the characters that they are hopeful. Two days after the party’s return, the pair begins administering curative potions to the champion as a stopgap measure, managing to halt the blight’s progression. Another seven days later, Elias creates a salve that replicates the ettercaps’ ability to feed on the blight to drain it from the infected, applying it to the fighter’s wounds and gradually improving their condition. The fighter awakens soon after. Though they remain weak and bedridden for a while longer, they are told what was done to help them and express their gratitude if they meet with the party.
The creation of a treatment for the blight is a crucial development for Greybanner, but one that Elias asks the characters to not mention, for a time. He warns that revealing its existence will lead people to realize that the champion had been infected and thus spawn questions about the Arena. This could create conflict with the town council by threatening the Tournament proceedings. Instead, he requests that they allow him to deal with the council. Marla is sure to point out that they will continue administering the treatment to whoever needs it, in the meantime.
Events like the destruction of the blight and the creation of a cure are major turning points, but their effects may not be immediately visible. Rather than having a sudden change in the characters or landscape, make a note of the party’s actions and their results and use these to make smaller changes later on. You can even use the Tournament calendar to help keep track of developments. This helps show how far-reaching and long-term the effects of the characters’ actions can be in the world, as it changes in response to their choices. They may also become more important later in the adventure…
Gilderoy’s payment. Upon delivery of at least three jars of ettercap egg fluid, Elias Gilderoy pays the party the agreed-upon 50 gp, plus an additional 30 gp that he remarks is “for actually being the kinds of people that would go out of their way to help.” Elias is genuinely impressed and glad that the characters both took the job and succeeded.
As was also mentioned in his original agreement, Elias has further rewards for characters that managed to bring him entire, intact eggs. He offers them either potions of healing or the future results of his planned alchemical experiments with the eggs. Whichever combination of the two that the characters choose, he only has enough reagents to brew a total of four potions, for now. Elias promises to have the potions ready in four days’ time. Additionally, he is also willing to sell them spell scrolls of any of the spells he has prepared, up to 3rd-level (100 gp for a scroll of a cantrip or 1st-level spell, 500 gp for a scroll of a 2nd or 3rd-level spell).
Elias calls on the party to collect their potions once they are complete. He tells them the name and purpose of the experimental potions of insect-kind that he has created and also notes the sickening after-effects, touching his own stomach and telling them that they are welcome for him having tested the potions beforehand. If asked, Elias assures them that he could stabilize the potions with several more weeks of experimentation and many more egg samples.
Regardless of whether they brought him eggs, Elias is then able to continue producing potions once he can restock his components. This takes him three days, after which he is able to take paid requests. He requires the appropriate amount of time to produce the potions, as well as the appropriate sum of gold to be paid upon pickup, as determined by the potions’ rarity.
Experimental Potion of Insect-kind
A clear liquid congeals in faint webs at the bottom of the bottle, spreading from small flecks of a cloudy solid. The smell of the bottle burns your nostrils and is surely much stronger inside.
When you drink this potion, you gain the abilities of an ettercap for 10 minutes. During this time, you gain darkvision out to a range of 60 feet and can walk on walls and ceilings as if under the effects of the spider climb spell. When the effect expires, you must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, you are poisoned for 1 hour.
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The party’s return to Greybanner and Marla’s Infirmary will mark the conclusion of their first true adventure as a group! But what comes next? There will be other forays into nearby dangers as the characters aid Greybanner, learn of its history, and uncover more and more details of the shadowy plot. For now, they likely have Silversteel Challenge and Grand Tournament fights to prepare for. Refer back to ‘Greybanner Arena, Part 1‘ and Part 2, and feel free to leave comments with any feedback you might have. We love hearing from you!
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