We have a guest editorial from a new writer, Sean P. on using some of the lesser known monsters in D&D to good effect in your next campaign!
Hop into Volo’s Guide to Monsters
Greetings fellow Dungeon Masters! …I have a problem.
I buy new D&D supplement books with no real motive or thought beyond – “Oh look! New book!” I flip through them, I look at the artwork, and after I give them a solid “well that’s neat” – I find myself banishing them to the IKEA bookshelf I bought in college.
And I’d be willing to bet there’s others out there in the same boat. Maybe you have hundreds of dollars locked away in these books that spend all their time on your IKEA bookshelves. So let’s use these Frontline Gaming articles to help us blow off the dust from our D&D libraries.
Our goal here will be to build out interesting scenarios using a randomly selected monster from across the 5e D&D catalogue. Once the scenario is outlined, hopefully it’ll be in a state where you can pick the encounter up and drop it into your home campaign or – at the very least – inspire you to consider using a new monster.
Alright – so I’ve grabbed my copy of Volo’s Guide to Monsters. I picked this up when it originally released in November 2016 and wow…for a book I spent $30 on I think I’ve literally only used it to play as a Lizardfolk character in a campaign about a year ago. I know there’s cool monsters in here: expanded types of hags, eldar brains, arcane mindflayers…let’s open to a random page aaaand…Grungs. What the hell is a Grung?
(Pg 156-157 – Volo’s Guide to Monsters)
Turns out that Grungs are tree-frog people, which is an absolutely absurd concept. But then again, “a giant floating eye that shoot laser-beams out of smaller eyes” is a decent description of one of the most iconic D&D monsters. So, I think we can make Grungs work.
I’d include Grungs in the same broad category of creatures as Kobolds and Goblins. All three are small-sized, evil creatures to pit against low-level parties. But obviously, Kobolds and Goblins have unique characteristics. Kobolds are dragon worshipping trap builders and Goblins are cowardly tricksters. Defining the Grungs’ uniqueness will help build our scenario.
If we have to boil them down to a couple attributes provided by Volo’s research – Grungs are caste-based and capture slaves.
Caste-Based. Grungs come in green, blue, purple, red, orange and gold varieties – and the colors’ rank in Grung society progresses in that order. One twist to this caste system is that it is not 100% rigid. Volo’s states that “on rare occasions, an individual that distinguishes itself with great deeds can earn an invitation to join a higher caste.” The elevated Grung even undergoes a physical transformation to match its new position of authority. This ability to climb the social ladder is going to be our villain’s motivation for the Scenario.
Grungs use their bodies’ natural poison to microdose their captives which leaves them “lethargic and compliant” according to Volo’s. This allows the diminutive Grung to maintain control over physically superior slaves.
Capture Slaves. Adding this detail solidly puts Grungs in the “evil” category and gives your heroic PCs the moral go-ahead to kill these (admittedly) cute frog people. It also provides the “why” these xenophohic tree-frog folk have descended from the jungle forests to interact with the civilized humans, dwarfs and elves of your campaign world.
But Grungs’ desire to keep slaves is mainly because “they just like bossing them around” rather than some economic scheme. When taking their caste-based system into account, it’s easy to imagine that the more slaves a particular Grung owns, the more status that Grung can command. We’ll use this trait as the “how” our Grung villain plans to achieve their goals.
The Scenario (Appropriate for Level 2-4 characters)
Thick-Throat is an ambitious female blue Grung. She had been neglecting her assigned work in the tribe as a Bead-Threader and instead spent her nights sneaking into the hut of the village’s red shaman to steal macabre trinkets and read forbidden texts in an attempt to learn the medicine man’s closely guarded arcane secrets.
Two months ago, she was discovered and in a moment of panic, murdered the shaman rather than face the consequences of her trespassing. She quickly summoned the small group of followers her traitorous whispers had amassed and slipped into the jungle before the crime was discovered.
But her exile causes her constant angst- Grungs are social creatures and she longs to return to her people, but knows she cannot return empty handed. Her scheme is to return with an impressive new collection of slaves – and then intimidate the Grung villagers with the new powers she has acquired. Hopefully then her blasphemous transgressions will be forgiven and she will be able to take the place of the slain red shaman.
Making her way to a nearby river, her band of Grung outcasts stumbled upon a cargo barge transporting imported furs and ivory. Using their amphibious ability, her cadre was able to cling to the underside of the vessel and sneak aboard to poison the crew’s food supplies. After unknowingly ingesting the toxins for a week, the sailors found themselves too physically and mentally drained to oppose the Grung’s capture of the ship.
Like living zombies, the crew obeyed the gestures and grunts of their new masters and set sail downriver towards the Grung village.
This scenario starts in a small-to-medium sized port town. Three days ago, a cargo barge ran aground on a sandbar a three-quarters of a mile out to sea (or lake). This particular sandbar is rather famous in the area and the port authorities found it strange that the ship’s captain would make such a blunder. The port master sent a customs agent and a few underlings in a rowboat to the stuck vessel to determine what assistance the town could provide – but they never returned.
The player characters are hired by the port authorities to discover the whereabouts and/or fate of the missing customs agent.
Under the influence of the Grungs’ poison – the crews’ abilities were sufficiently diminished to the point where avoiding the sandbar was impossible. Thick-Throat is once again thrown into a panic. She orders her followers underwater in a futile effort to remove enough silt to dislodge the ship. When the port authority’s men arrived on board to investigate – she had them all killed.
A steady trickle of Grung have already begun to abandon the doomed coup attempt and Thick-Throat’s allies shrink at an alarming rate. Still, she refuses to leave the ship behind and has hidden a number of her tribe’s relics (stolen from the red shaman’s hut) in the captain’s quarters.
The party is afforded the use of a small rowboat and upon reaching the barge find the previous investigators’ boat abandoned – but still tethered to the side of the larger ship.
On the portside of the ship, the oars hang limply in the water, and on the opposite side – they stab practically straight down into the murky waters.
On the main deck, the party discovers 1d4+2 sailors in various states of delirium. They may be repeatedly lowering and raising sails, swabbing the same portion of the deck, or stumbling aimlessly with no particular goal in mind. Anything they say to the party will be incoherent. A successful DC 13 Medicine check will allow a character discover the crewmen are under the effect of some sort of poison. Despite the crew’s robotic cleaning, the party will notice the deck of the ship is overgrown with thick patches of moss.
While standing on the main deck, any character with a Passive Perception of at least 12 can clearly hear grunts of exertion and movement coming from somewhere inside the ship.
High above in the crow’s nest – a single green Grung [use the Grung stat-block on pg 156 of Volo’s Guide] hides as a look-out. If the party leaves the main deck, he will make his way down from the crow’s nest and warn the Grung underwater of the new intruders. If players devote their attention to the crows nest or the sails – make a Stealth (+4) vs. Perception check to determine if the Grung is spotted. Either way – the single Grung will not engage the party by himself and does his best to escape into the water.
If the party makes their way below deck – they’ll pass through a galley with several open windows just above the waterline. The Grung used these portholes to first gain entry to the ship. A drugged crewman lethargically cooks a large pot of boiled fish and rice. The party’s entry interrupts him just as he spoons more of the Grung’s poison into the pot. The captured sailors must regularly consume the mind feebling poison for Thick-Throat to maintain her control.
Leaving the galley, the party finds a deck full of benches for the crew to row the ship’s oars. On the starboard side of the vessel, a number of Grung order the bulk of the surviving crew to push the oars into the sandbar to try to pry the barge loose. So far the effort has been unsuccessful. When the Grung see the party, they immediately attack. [Again – use the Grung stat-block on pg 156.] Have the party outnumber the Grung by two in this fight.
Stowed amongst the cargo in the storage room are the bodies of the slain custom agents. Their bodies are riddled with small arrows. A successful DC 14 Medicine check will allow a player to determine these arrows are poisonous.
The fight below deck has given the Grung underwater enough time to make their way to the main deck to challenge the latest batch of interlopers. Thick-Throat [Grung Wildling pg 157] leads a cadre of her followers in a frantic last stand. Stick-Thump [Grung Elite Warrior pg 157] is a male orange Grung who saw Thick-Throat’s coup as an opportunity for power. He serves as her second-in-command and leads the remaining Grungs’ attack.
The bulk of the attackers are blue and green Grung [Grung pg 156] (equal to the number of players in the party). Two of these Grung have entered the ship using the open portholes in the galley and attempt to flank the party from the stairs leading below deck.
When the fight begins – Thick-Throat commands the crewman encountered on the main deck earlier to attack the party [Commoner pg 345 Monster Manual]. As they are poisoned, all of their attacks and ability checks are made at disadvantage.
If you would like to increase the difficulty – include the ship’s captain [Bandit Captain pg 344 Monster Manual] as a combatant. Their attacks are also made with disadvantage.
Thick-Throat will use her spellcasting abilities (plant growth and spike growth) on the moss covered deck to attempt to keep a barrier between the enslaved crewmen engaging the party with clubs and her Grung followers who prefer to hurl daggers or, in Stick-Thump’s case, fire his shortbow from a distance.
Take advantage of the Grung’s Standing Leap ability to add some extra tactical opportunities to the fight. Having Stick-Thump make a vertical jump 15ft up to balance on a cross beam of the mast to loose poison-coated arrows on the party is a dramatic moment that will make your party feel as though they are being overwhelmed from all angles Don’t forget they all have a 25 ft climbing speed as well!
As long as Thick-Throat and Stick-Thump are both alive, the remaining Grung will continue to fight. If either leader is slain, each remaining Grung has a 50% chance of fleeing combat. Once both Thick-Throat and Stick-Thump are slain – any surviving Grung immediately makes a speedy retreat towards the water.
Thick-Throat carries a key to the locked Captain’s Quarters. Hidden inside is her stash of stolen Grung artifacts. Most of the trinkets could only be described as ‘valuable’ by a Grung, but it also includes a cash of coins and a trident of fish command [Dungeon Master’s Guide pg 209].
Obviously, one question that will be answered during the combat is “will the party kill the enslaved crew?” The crew is certainly trying their best to kill the party, but only at the command of their Grung masters. Even if Thick-Throat and Stick-Thump are killed; the poisoned crew will continue to attack. The sailors below deck will continue to work the oars against the sandbar until they pass out from exhaustion.
Any surviving crew members will need to be tended to by clerics from the nearby town. After this prolonged exposure to the Grungs’ poison – the sailors will need to be cured by magical means.
If the attacking crew are killed in the battle on the main deck – the surviving crew understands the party had little choice and holds no ill-will; but no great admiration either.
If no crew members are killed by the party – the crew’s captain shares the crews’ extreme gratitude by giving the party a ring of feather falling (Dungeon Master’s Guide pg 191) which had been used as a safety precaution by crew members assigned to repair the sails during rough storms. Furthermore, the next time the party is in a port city, allow them to be recognized by one of the surviving sailors who has found employment on a new ship. The grateful sailor will offer the party free passage to some plot relevant destination that his ship happens to be going.
The port authority happily pays the party the promised sum and in the next few days – sends other ships to help tow the beached barge to safety.
What a fun adventure to have! Let us know what you think about it and especially if you give it a try.
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