Vicious Venues
The Old Stone Bridge
By Skip and Penny Williams

The crumbling stone bridge crosses a fast-flowing river in a single graceful (if bedraggled) arch. Patches of moss grow so thickly on the ancient masonry that the bridge seems wrapped in an emerald blanket, albeit somewhat threadbare. An expansive sandbar has built up on the bridge's upstream side, and a thicket of reeds and scraggly bushes have taken root there, creating a small island (at least while the river stays fairly low).

Background for the DM

As one might infer from its appearance, the bridge doesn't get much traffic these days. Perhaps the road that the bridge carries across the river has fallen into disuse because a newer, faster route has been opened through the area. Possibly the bridge is a remnant of a lost civilization. Perhaps the bridge lies along a trade route that has fallen into disuse for some reason -- war, resource depletion, or simply a shift in consumer tastes. Or perhaps the bridge is merely very old and was never heavily used.

In any case, the bridge proves a livelier place than it looks. Any number of wild creatures might find the bridge and its sandbar a handy lair, hunting ground, or just a place to chat with passersby. The next section details several possible denizens.

At the bridge, the water is about 20 feet deep and 60 feet wide, with a strong current. As noted earlier, a sandbar has built up on the upstream side of the bridge, forming a low island that extends from the left back about 20 feet into the river. The bar is about 70 feet long.

The bridge has a main span 70 feet long, with a short ramp at either end. The roadbed is about 5 feet above the average water level at the riverbanks and about 10 feet above the water at the center of the arch. Where it crosses the bridge, the roadway is 15 feet wide, with a stone parapet a foot thick and 2 feet high on either side. Two stone piers, each about 15 feet from the riverbank, support the bridge. Each pier is about 8 feet thick and runs the width of the bridge. The sandbar is piled around pier at the left bank.

Bridge Parapet: 1 ft. thick; hardness 8; hp 180; break DC 35; Climb DC 20.

Bridge Roadway: 2 ft. thick; hardness 8; hp 360; break DC 37.

Bridge Piers: 8 ft. thick; hardness 8; hp 1,440; break DC 51; Climb DC 20.

Despite the slope and the mossy stones, movement on or over the bridge isn't hampered, though the roadbed rises high enough to provide cover to a creature of Small or Medium size when it stands at one end of the bridge and the attacker stands at the other end. A Tiny or smaller creature has total cover when it stands at one end of the bridge and its attacker stands at the other end.

One can climb up 5 feet from the surface of the river or the sandbar (Climb DC 15) to the top of the bank and then move toward the bridge. A belt of saplings and brush about 15 feet wide provides soft cover, but the ground is uneven. Both the brush and the condition of the ground hamper movement. Characters move through the brush at quarter speed (one 5-foot square costs 20 feet of movement). Characters with the woodland stride class feature move at half speed (one 5-foot square costs 20 feet of movement). Charging or running isn't possible when movement is hampered.

The sandbar is smooth, but it is overgrown just as the riverbanks are. Movement is hampered on the sandbar unless the character has the woodland stride class feature. The thicket also provides soft cover.

Near where the bridge meets the riverbanks, characters can climb up 5 feet to the roadway (Climb DC 15 and +5 on the Climb check for having two surfaces to hold). It's possible to climb the piers as well. The piers are about 9 feet from the water's surface or from the sandbar to the top of the parapet.

Though the current near the bridge is fairly strong, it's not quite as deadly as a "strong" current described in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Swimming the river requires a Swim check (DC 15). On any failed check, a swimmer takes 1d6 points of nonlethal damage and is swept 1d4x10 feet downstream and must make a second Swim check (also DC 15) to stay on the surface; if the first check is failed by 5 or more, the swimmer automatically goes below the surface without a second check. The river takes many twists and bends, and after 1d4 failed checks, the current brings a failing swimmer up against one bank or the other.

The Setup

Read or paraphrase the following when the PCs first approach the bridge. The text assumes the bridge lies in a forested area and that the season is late spring or early summer. Adjust accordingly for a different time of year. Since most watercourses support lush plant life, the description works for most kinds of terrain.

The trail takes a sudden dive, then levels out into a brief stretch of cobblestones. Beyond that rises a bridge of flaking stone that spans a wide river in a single low arch. The span's center seems just high enough to block the view of the bridge's opposite end. The stonework seems well weathered. The roadway is clear except for a few branches from the overhanging trees. The air feels cool and moist, thanks to the shade from the trees, and it must be so most days, judging from the thick moss that clings to the bridge's sides.

Below the bridge, the river runs dark and swift, burbling like a pot just beginning to simmer. The force of the water has built up a sandbar against one end of the bridge. The sandbar fills half the river's channel and extends upstream at least as far as a close bowshot. A tangle of brush and reeds covers the sandbar and both sides of the river, though the path to the bridge is clear.

Creatures

Player characters might meet almost anything at the bridge. Here are some possibilities at several different encounter levels.

Lizardfolk (EL 3-4)

The lizardfolk have been hunting and fishing near the bridge. They might be a hunting party from a nearby colony or perhaps they are scouts form a more distant colony sent to find a site for a splinter colony.

Lizardfolk (2-3): hp 11 each, see Monster Manual, page 169.

Tactics: The lizardfolk most likely see the PCs as a source of fresh meat and loot. Usually one keeps watch from the riverbank while the remainder fish from the sandbar right below the bridge. The sentry gives a hiss, then hails the PCs, demanding a toll for the privilege of crossing the bridge.

"You there," says a sibilant voice from the riverbank. A single armed lizardfolk blocks the entrance to the bridge. "Thisss bridge belongsss to lizardkind, and hazzz since my great-grandsire took it in fair combat from the humansss who built it. If you would passss, you must pay the toll."

The toll requested depends upon how well off the party appears, but 1 gp per person is the average. While the sentry talks, its comrades take to the water and climb out on the riverbank opposite the party. They use the bridge to screen themselves from view. When the party approaches the sentry or tries to cross the bridge without paying the toll, all the lizardfolk attack.

Wood Apes (EL 5-8)

Dire apes aren't the only savage primates that can menace the PCs. A troop of aggressive monkeys (we're using statistics for advanced baboons here) has moved onto the sandbar, using it as a base for raiding traffic moving along the road. You might think of baboons as tropical creatures, but baboonlike animals can be found in almost any clime, and this troop could lurk not far from the PCs' own back doors.

Wood Apes (5-10): CR 1; Medium animal; HD 3d8+3; hp 16; Init +2; Spd 40 ft., climb 30 ft.; AC 13, touch 12, flat-footed 11; Base Atk +2; Grp +4; Atk +4 melee (1d6+3, bite); Full Atk +4 melee (1d6+3, bite); SQ low-light vision; AL N; SV Fort +4, Ref +5, Will +2; Str 15, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 4.

Skillsand Feats: Climb +12, Listen +5, Spot +5, Swim +5; Alertness, Athletic.

Tactics: The bulk of the apes stay hidden on the sandbar, but they keep sentries posted on the bridge. The sentries sit on the highest points, atop the parapets on either side. The sentries give a low hoot when they notice anyone approaching.

The troop might be cautious or aggressive. Cautious troops live by hunting. Their sentries stand their ground, hopping around and screeching as the PCs approach. If attacked, or even if a character comes with in15 feet, the sentries dive off the bridge and swim to the sandbar. If pursued, the whole troop attacks. The troop might later follow the PCs to their campsite and try to raid their food supplies.

An aggressive troop lives by hunting. They're cagey enough to try to take their victims off guard. The sentries for an aggressive troop hop around, hooting and capering. Their antics seem somewhat comical. While this display is going on, however, the rest of the troop leaves the sandbar and circles around to attack.

Trolls (EL 7-9)

Yes, it's hackneyed (and a bad pun as well), but every campaign should have at least one "troll bridge." In this case, the trolls are scrags.

Scrags (2-4); hp 63 each, see Monster Manual, pages 247-248.

Tactics: Since the scrags regenerate only when they're immersed (or mostly immersed) in water, they attempt to draw the PCs into (or at least near) the river if they can. To this end, the trolls have stuffed some old clothes and discarded armor with leaves and twigs and left this crude mannequin partly concealed on the sandbar. Near the mannequin lies a torn backpack with several bottles, vials, and rolls of cloth spilling out.

Half the scrags remain out of sight under the bridge, and the other half lie concealed on the sandbar, not far from the mannequin. These trolls, too, are out of sight thanks to the thicket growing on the sandbar. When either group of scrags hears any activity on or near the bridge, one of them lets out a low moan. Thanks to the acoustics and the rushing water, it's impossible to tell exactly where the sound comes from. Anyone looking at the sandbar spots the mannequin and the backpack. The mannequin lies about 40 feet from the center of the bridge. It looks amazingly lifelike lying in the reeds. To a casual viewer, it looks like a body in armor. Even someone who takes an action to study the figure might be fooled. If the viewer is not adjacent to the mannequin, it takes a DC 15 Spot check to realize it's fake. A -1 penalty applies to the check for each 10 feet of distance (-4 for a viewer at the center of the bridge).

If no one seems likely to approach the mannequin, or if anyone calls out to it, the scrags try for a bit more communication (one scrag speaks Common).

"Ohhhh...help me please," groans a gravely voice. "They threw me off the riverboat . . . my friends . . . wanted my treasure . . . But all they got was my money. . . not my. . . ."The voice fades off to nothing.

The scrags attack anyone who climbs down to approach the mannequin. They tend to stick to the water, where they can regenerate, and they have cover against attacks launched from land. A character on land, however, gains a +1 bonus on melee attack rolls against the scrags for being on higher ground. If the scrags' ruse fails, they scramble up the banks and attack as best they can. They may attempt to grapple characters and drag them into the river, or they may simply fight awhile, then return to regenerate. (Once immersed, they can regenerate any damage they have taken except for fire or acid damage.) The latter tactics works well if there are more than two scrags.

Nymph (EL 7-8)

The bridge's cool beauty has attracted a nymph, who has made the sandbar her abode. They nymph might also have a pair of tigers or brown bears as allies.

Nymph: hp 27, see Monster Manual, page 197.

Brown Bears (2): hp 51 each, see Monster Manual, page 269.

Tigers (2): hp 45 each, see Monster Manual, page 281.

Tactics: The nymph isn't hostile unless the PCs have been despoiling the countryside near the bridge.

Most of the time, the nymph sits at the far end of the sandbar (away from the bridge) and sings to herself. She takes a dip in the river from time to time just because she can. She's curious about travelers, however, and swims down to the bridge to check things out if she sees or hears anyone crossing the bridge or entering the river:

"What ho!" calls a sweet feminine voice from the general direction of the rushing water. "What brings you to this lonely place? And what news have you?" A quick look around reveals a shapely female humanoid swimming in the turbid water. The creature has long, coppery hair, but apparently no raiment at all.

If the PCs stop to converse with the nymph, she asks about their business and about various individuals from the nearest town, some of whom have visited the bridge in the past.

"And what of the miller's son Aaron?" she asks with a twinkle in her eye. "Such a fine, strong lad. And the widow Holbright? She comes often to gather herbs and chat, but I've not seen her for nigh onto three weeks now. I hope nothing has happened to her. The widow's tales make it seem as though I know everyone in the town -- the farmer who keeps a heavenly horse, the junk dealer who accepts donated items a bit before their owners are ready to part with them, the woman who sleeps during the day because she charts the stars by night -- everyone thinks she is a lady of the evening or worse. Or have you tales of other towns and other folk for me?"

If the PCs prove hostile, the nymph sticks to the river and uses her spells and special attacks to drive them off. While swimming, she has improved cover against attacks from creatures that aren't also swimming (+8 AC). If using the typical spell array given in the Monster Manual, she begins with call lightning and calls one bolt each round until the spell is exhausted. If anyone comes within 30 feet of her, the nymph uses her stunning glance or blinding beauty power.

If the nymph has any bear or tiger allies, she sends them to circle around the party and attack from the rear.

Green Dragon (EL 10)

Erilguolvag, a female juvenile green dragon, has picked up a partner -- Jouglar, an evil tallfellow halfling rogue. The pair has found that the bridge is an ideal spot for one of their favorite scams.

Erilguolvag: Female juvenile green dragon; CR 8; Large dragon (air); HD 14d12+28; hp 119; Init +1; Spd 40 ft., swim 40 ft., fly 150 ft. (poor); AC 23, touch 10, flat-footed 22; Base Atk +14; Grapple +22; Atk +17 melee (2d6+4, bite); Full Atk +17 melee (2d6+4, bite) and +13 melee (1d8+2, 2 claws) and +12 melee (1d6+2, 2 wings) and +12 melee (1d8+6, tail slap); Space/Reach 10 ft./5 ft. (10 feet with bite); SQ darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, immunity to acid, water breathing; AL LE; SV Fort +11, Ref +10, Will +11; Str 19, Dex 12, Con 15, Int 14, Wis 15, Cha 14.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +16, Concentration +12, Diplomacy +16, Hide +11, Intimidate +14, Knowledge (geography) +7, Knowledge (nature) +7, Listen +19, Move Silently +11, Search +16, Sense Motive +12, Spot +19, Swim +12; Flyby Attack, Hover, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (claw), Wingover.

Sorcerer Spells Known: (5/4; save DC 12 + spell level): 0 -- detect magic, ghost sound, mage hand, message; 1st -- shield, true strike.

Jouglar: Male tallfellow halfling Rogue 8; CR 8; Small humanoid (halfling); HD 8d6; hp 31; Init +4; Spd 20 ft.; AC 22, touch 16, flat-footed 22; Base Atk +6; Grapple +2; Atk +11 melee (1d4+1/18-20, +1 rapier), or +11 ranged (1d3, sling); Full Atk +11/ +6 melee (1d4+1/18-20, +1 rapier), or +11 ranged (1d3, sling); SA sneak attack +4d6; SQ evasion, improved uncanny dodge, tallfellow traits, trap sense +2, trapfinding, uncanny dodge; AL CE; SV Fort +3, Ref +11, Will +3; Str 10, Dex 19, Con 11, Int 14, Wis 10, Cha 10.

Skills and Feats: Appraise +13, Balance +17, Bluff +11, Climb +5, Diplomacy +2, Escape Artist +15, Hide +19, Intimidate +2, Jump +2, Listen +2, Move Silently +15, Search +4, Sleight of Hand +17, Spot +13, Tumble +15, Use Magic Device +11; Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Weapon Finesse.

Evasion (Ex): If exposed to any effect that normally allows a character to attempt a Reflex saving throw for half damage, Jouglar takes no damage with a successful saving throw.

Improved Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Jouglar can no longer be flanked, since he can react to opponents on opposite sides of him as easily as he can react to a single attack. This defense denies another rogue lower than 13th level the ability to sneak attack him by flanking him.

Tallfellow Traits: +2 morale bonus on saving throws against fear; entitled to a Search check when within 5 ft. of a secret or concealed door is as though actively looking for it; +1 racial bonus on all saving throws, +1 racial attack bonus with a sling or thrown weapon, +2 racial bonus on Listen, Search, and Spot checks (already figured into the statistics given above).

Trap Sense (Ex): Jouglar gains a +2 bonus on Reflex saves made to avoid traps and a +2 dodge bonus to AC against attacks made by traps.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Jouglar can react to danger before his senses would normally allow him to do so. He retains his Dexterity bonus to AC even while flat-footed or when struck by an invisible attacker.

Possessions:+1 studded leather armor, +1 buckler, +1 ring of protection, ring of climbing, +1 rapier, sling, 20 bullets, potion of cure moderate wounds, wand of cure moderate wounds (38 charges).

Tactics: Erilguolvag and Jouglar have developed the following scam. They stay in hiding (in this case, hunkering down in the thickets along the riverbank) and keep a sharp lookout for any creatures approaching. Given the dragon's keen senses, the two usually have no difficulty detecting potential victims before they're seen.

Once they spot potential victims (in this case, the party), the dragon casts shield (increasing her Armor Class to 27), and then she and the rogue stage a mock fight. In the PCs' first view of the sham battle, Jouglar staggers backward, gagging and choking. Then Erilguolvag seizes the halfling in her jaws (she doesn't have the Snatch feat, but she can grab the halfling when he helps). At that point, Jouglar appears to notice the PCs.

"Help, please!" cries the fellow in the dragon's jaws. "Arrrrgh!! Hurry! You can get him if you *urk* close in now and go for it together! He's just breathed! ARRRRGH! We'll *ack* split the treasure!"

Jouglar knows the dragon is a female, but he's aware that thinking characters would wonder how he knows such a thing, so he uses the male pronoun.

If the ruse works, Erilguolvag waits until the PCs get with about 15 feet, then drops Jouglar (a free action) and breathes on the PCs. The halfling lands on his feet and delays any actions until after the dragon breathes. After that, he tumbles into a flanking position and sneak attacks a PC or lobs a sling bullet at a spellcaster. In subsequent rounds, the dragon moves in to make melee attacks, and the rogue tries his best to get into sneak attack position. Erilguolvag breathes again as soon as she is able, but she tries to avoid damaging Jouglar. She uses her Power Attack feat whenever she thinks she can get away with it (she usually adds only 3 or 4 points to her damage). On a round when she cannot breathe, she may cast true strike, then follow up with a bite; she uses Power Attack to gain the maximum damage bonus of +14.

If he or Erilguolvag takes heavy damage, Jouglar can use his Use Magic Device skill to activate his wand of cure moderate wounds to heal the damage.

If the two start losing the fight, they beat a hasty retreat. Jouglar leaps into the river and does his best to stay afloat until Erilguolvag can pluck him out. Erilguolvag simply flies away, and she even returns for the halfling if she thinks she can do so without getting killed.

About the Authors

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and has been the Sage of Dragon Magazine since 1986. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (his borscht gets rave reviews).

Penny Williams joined the roleplaying game industry as Game Questions Expert for TSR, Inc. in the 1980s. Since then, she has served as RPGA Network Coordinator, PolyhedronNewszine editor, and Senior Editor and Coordinating Editor for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Now a busy freelancer, Penny edits for several game companies and runs the online playtesting program for Wizards products. When not enhancing the cruelty of the deaths PCs will suffer at the hands of designers, Penny puts up jam, works jigsaw puzzles, and tutors students in math and science.


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