Vicious Venues
The Road to Nowhere
By Skip and Penny Williams

The Road to Nowhere contains encounters of level 7-10
and is suitable for use with any D&D campaign.

Most roads serve the practical function of getting travelers from one place to another. This one, however, seems to lead nowhere -- it's just a stretch of smooth, hard pavement that winds through the countryside. It starts in a marsh and ends in a rocky hillside (or perhaps it's the other way around). Tumbledown ruins, most no larger than a peasant hut, lie at the intervals along the way.

Background for the DM

This particular road was once part of a complex network used for mass processions. Priests once collected the faithful, who then walked along en masse as part of an annual religious festival. The heaps of ruins along the road were once roadside shrines and pilgrims' hostels. The deity for whom the processions were organized might be long forgotten now, though a long-vanished cult of a current deity (from the D&D pantheon or whatever pantheon you use in your campaign) might actually have organized the processions. Fharlanghn, the deity of travel and roads, is an obvious choice, but a nature deity such as Obad-Hai would also be appropriate. An athletic deity such as Kord could be a good choice as well.

The road owes its current good condition to Yurlada and her band of derro companions. The group stumbled across the road a few years ago and quickly grasped its former religious significance. They promptly took it upon themselves to restore the pavement, though their motives at the time weren't clear even to them -- the urge to repair the road was merely an outgrowth of derro racial insanity. After they had completed a stretch of road several miles long, their bloodthirsty natures asserted themselves and the group began planting traps along the road. Today, the road looks smooth and safe, but it marks a deadly route.

The Setup

The road can wind through any kind of terrain, but it should exist in a remote area. Since the road doesn't really go anywhere, PCs aren't too likely to stumble across it by accident, but they could stumble on it while moving cross-country. More likely, the PCs find the road while investigating a rumor, such as those below.

  • The road forms a series of figures that are clearly visible only from the air. Local legends claim that the figures writhe and move at certain times of the year, but only at night. In the morning, they reveal some secret hidden in the clouds above or in the earth below.

    These tales have some basis in fact. The figures' apparent shifting, however, is strictly due to the derro's efforts to clear and maintain the road.

  • According to some tales, not all the ruins along the road are empty. A few contain hidden vaults crammed with offerings of jewels and precious metals left by generations of pilgrims. These treasures have remained unlooted for various reasons, including ever-vigilant divine guardians, complex locks, and deadly traps. A lively trade in treasure maps, keys, and clues purporting to unlock the secrets thrives at several sites along the road.

    DMs can choose to hide some ancient treasures along the road. The maps and clues offered for sale, however, almost certainly are fakes.

  • The ghosts of ancient pilgrims (or sacrificial victims) still wander the road at night, and occasionally on stormy days. More ghosts dwell in the ruined buildings by the roadside. Most of these spirits have a thirst for living blood.

    No ghosts haunt this road, but tales of spirits in the area might be based on encounters with Yurlada and her cronies, whose skill at stealth makes them seem ghostly indeed.

Exploring the Road (EL 7-10)

A trip along the road eventually produces an encounter with the derro's traps. Yurlada and her cronies lurk near their traps.

Traps: Like most derro, Yurlada and her group prefer traps that secure victims for capture. Below are a few examples of their work.

Camouflaged Pit Trap: CR 6; mechanical; location trigger; manual reset; multiple traps (pit and entrapment at the bottom); DC 20 Reflex save avoids; 40 ft. deep (3d6 + 1d6 nonlethal, fall); multiple targets (first target in each of two adjacent 5-ft. squares); Search DC 25; Disable Device DC 17. Market Price: 8,300 gp.

The 5 feet of soft clay that the derro have added to the bottom of the pit makes this trap effectively two CR 4 traps. The clay accounts for the nonlethal damage from the fall (see page 303 in the Dungeon Master's Guide).

Creatures that fall into the pit become stuck in the clay -- and possibly mired and immobilized. Anyone who falls into the pit must attempt a DC 16 Reflex save. Success means the character can struggle free as a full-round action and is considered entangled until he leaves the clay. Failure means the character is trapped in the clay, immobile and helpless, until he makes a DC 20 Strength check to wrench himself free.

Netcaster Traps: CR 2 each; mechanical; location trigger; manual reset; Atk +6 ranged touch (entanglement, net); Search DC 20; Disable Device DC 20. Market Price: 2,000 gp.

These traps hurl nets up to 10 feet as a Medium attacker with a Strength score of 18. Yurlada and her derro have placed them in groups of four to six.

Creatures: The derro usually hide in ruins or undergrowth near the road. They always make sure they have protection from the sun during the day.

Occasionally, Yurlada serves as bait for a trap, sitting by the side of the road or up in a tree singing a nonsense tune. She renders the lyrics in a sort of singsong manner similar to that of a child's rhyme, and indeed this song was built from several of those. However, she supplements the tune with hauntingly beautiful accompaniment on her instrument.

From somewhere ahead, the strains of a tune drift downward from above.

"Ring around the mulberry tree,
A pocket full of posy,
Mary lost her little lambs three,
But her tuffet's very cozy.

The weasel hunts the dire bear now,
The lion flees the mousies,
The dogs hide in the barn with the cow,
And the cats live in their housies."

Yurlada's ditty is best sung to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel." The rest of her band hides nearby. Should the PCs stop to talk with Yurlada, she asks them to clap if they like her tune. Those who wish to comply must put down or sheathe their weapons to do so. Thus, they do not have weapons in hand when she signals her band to attack.

Statistics for several different examples of derro are provided below; feel free to mix and match them as you like. Two versions of the leader, Yurlada, are included. A fairly weak derro group might consist of Yurlada (1st-level bard), Urbak, and two derro, plus four netcaster traps. A more powerful group would contain Yurlada (3rd-level bard), Urbak, four derro thugs, and a pit trap.

Derro (2-6):hp 16 each, see Monster Manual page 49.

Yurlada: Female derro bard 1; CR 4; Small monstrous humanoid; HD 3d8+6 plus 1d6+2; hp 27; Init +6; Spd 20 ft.; AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 17; Base Atk +3; Grp -2; Atk or Full Atk +4 melee (1d4-1/19-20, masterwork short sword) or +7 ranged (1d6/19-20, masterwork repeating light crossbow); SA poison use, sneak attack +1d6, spell-like abilities; SQ bardic knowledge +2, bardic music 1/day (countersong, fascinate, inspire courage +1) 1/day, darkvision 60 ft., madness, spell resistance 15, vulnerability to sunlight; AL CE; SVFort +4, Ref +8, Will +11; Str 9, Dex 14, Con 15, Int 12, Wis 9, Cha 21.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +8, Concentration +4, Hide +15, Listen +4, Move Silently +11, Perform (oratory) +10; Blind-Fight, Improved Initiative.

Languages: Common, Undercommon.

Poison Use (Ex): Derro are not at risk of poisoning themselves when handling poison.

Sneak Attack (Ex): Any time a derro's opponent is denied his Dexterity bonus to AC, or if a derro flanks his opponent, she deals an extra 1d6 points of damage. This ability is just like the rogue's sneak attack and subject to the same limitations.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- darkness, ghost sound; 1/day -- daze (DC 15), sound burst (DC 17). Caster level 3rd.

Bardic Music: Use bardic music once per day. See the bard class features on page 29 of the Player's Handbook.

Countersong (Su): Use music or poetics to counter magical effects that depend on sound.

Fascinate (Sp): Use music or poetics to cause one or more creatures to become fascinated with her.

Inspire Courage (Su): Use music or poetics to bolster her allies against fear and improve their combat abilities.

Madness (Ex): Derro use their Charisma modifier on Will saves instead of their Wisdom modifier, and have immunity to confusion and insanity effects. A derro cannot be restored to sanity by any means short of a miracle or wish spell.

Vulnerability to Sunlight (Ex): A derro takes 1 point of Constitution damage for every hour it is exposed to sunlight, and it dies if its Constitution score reaches 0. Lost Constitution points are recovered at the rate of 1 per every 24-hour period spent underground or otherwise sheltered from the sun.

Bard Spells Known (2; caster level 1st, arcane spell failure 15%): 0 -- detect magic, flare (DC 15), mage hand, resistance.

Possessions:+1 studded leather, masterwork short sword, masterwork repeating light crossbow, 20 bolts, cloak of resistance +1, potion ofcure moderate wounds, wand offlare (17 charges), 2 bloodstones (10 gp each), 16 gp, 15 sp.

Yurlada: Female derro bard 3; CR 6; Small monstrous humanoid; HD 3d8+6 plus 3d6+6; hp 38; Init +6; Spd 20 ft.; AC 20, touch 14, flat-footed 18; Base Atk +5; Grp +0; Atk or Full Atk +6 melee (1d4-1/19-20, masterwork short sword) or +9 ranged (1d6/19-20, masterwork repeating light crossbow); SA poison use, sneak attack +1d6, spell-like abilities; SQ bardic knowledge +4, bardic music 3/day (countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire courage +1) 1/day, darkvision 60 ft., madness, spell resistance 15, vulnerability to sunlight; AL CE; SV Fort +5, Ref +9, Will +12; Str 9, Dex 14, Con 15, Int 12, Wis 9, Cha 21.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +8, Concentration +8, Escape Artist +8, Hide +15, Listen +4, Move Silently +11, Perform (oratory) +14; Blind-Fight, Dodge, Improved Initiative.

Languages: Common, Undercommon.

Poison Use (Ex): Derro are not at risk of poisoning themselves when handling poison.

Sneak Attack (Ex): Any time a derro's opponent is denied his Dexterity bonus to AC, or if a derro flanks his opponent, she deals an extra 1d6 points of damage. This ability is just like the rogue's sneak attack and subject to the same limitations.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- darkness, ghost sound; 1/day -- daze (DC 15), sound burst (DC 17). Caster level 3rd.

Bardic Music: Use bardic music three times per day. See the bard class features on page 29 of the Player's Handbook.

Countersong (Su): Use music or poetics to counter magical effects that depend on sound.

Fascinate (Sp): Use music or poetics to cause one or more creatures to become fascinated with her.

Inspire Competence (Su): Use music or poetics to help an ally succeed at a task.

Inspire Courage (Su): Use music or poetics to bolster her allies against fear and improve their combat abilities.

Madness (Ex): Derro use their Charisma modifier on Will saves instead of their Wisdom modifier, and have immunity to confusion and insanity effects. A derro cannot be restored to sanity by any means short of a miracle or wish spell.

Vulnerability to Sunlight (Ex): A derro takes 1 point of Constitution damage for every hour it is exposed to sunlight, and it dies if its Constitution score reaches 0. Lost Constitution points are recovered at the rate of 1 per every 24-hour period spent underground or otherwise sheltered from the sun.

Bard Spells Known (3/3; caster level 3rd, arcane spell failure 15%): 0 -- detect magic, flare (DC 15), ghost sound,mage hand, read magic, resistance; 1st -- cure light wounds, grease (DC 16), magic weapon.

Possessions:+1 studded leather,ring of protection +1,masterwork short sword, masterwork repeating light crossbow, 20 bolts(5 treated with greenblood oil), cloak of resistance +1, potion ofcure moderate wounds, wand ofblindness/deafness (16 charges), 2 bloodstones (10 gp each), 16 gp, 15 sp.

Urbak: Male derro expert 1; CR 4; Small monstrous humanoid; HD 3d8 plus 1d6; hp 19; Init +6; Spd 20 ft.; AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 17; Base Atk +3; Grp -2; Atk or Full Atk +4 melee (1d4-1/19-20, masterwork short sword) or +7 ranged (1d6/19-20, masterwork repeating light crossbow); SA poison use, sneak attack +1d6, spell-like abilities; SQ darkvision 60 ft., madness, spell resistance 15, vulnerability to sunlight; AL CE; SV Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +9; Str 9, Dex 14, Con 11, Int 13, Wis 7, Cha 16.

Skills and Feats: Appraise +1 (+3 traps),Bluff +6, Craft (trapmaking) +8, Escape Artist +8, Hide +14, Listen +3, Move Silently +10, Search +1 (+6 finding secret doors, traps, and similar concealed objects); Blind-Fight, Improved Initiative.

Languages: Common, Undercommon.

Poison Use (Ex): Derro are not at risk of poisoning themselves when handling poison.

Sneak Attack (Ex): Any time a derro's opponent is denied his Dexterity bonus to AC, or if a derro flanks his opponent, she deals an extra 1d6 points of damage. This ability is just like the rogue's sneak attack and subject to the same limitations.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- darkness, ghost sound; 1/day -- daze (DC 13), sound burst (DC 15). Caster level 3rd.

Madness (Ex): Derro use their Charisma modifier on Will saves instead of their Wisdom modifier, and have immunity to confusion and insanity effects. A derro cannot be restored to sanity by any means short of a miracle or wish spell.

Vulnerability to Sunlight (Ex): A derro takes 1 point of Constitution damage for every hour it is exposed to sunlight, and it dies if its Constitution score reaches 0. Lost Constitution points are recovered at the rate of 1 per every 24-hour period spent underground or otherwise sheltered from the sun.

Possessions: Masterwork studded leather, buckler, masterwork short sword, masterwork repeating light crossbow, 20 bolts (one coated with greenblood oil), cloak of resistance +1, goggles of minute seeing, 2 potions of cure light wounds.

Thugs (0-4): Male and female derro warrior 2; CR 5; Small monstrous humanoid; HD 3d8+3 plus 2d8+2; hp 31; Init +7; Spd 20 ft.; AC 21, touch 14, flat-footed 18; Base Atk +5; Grp +3; Atk or Full Atk +9 melee (1d4+3/19-20, +1 short sword) or +10 ranged (1d6/19-20, masterwork repeating light crossbow); SA poison use, sneak attack +1d6, spell-like abilities; SQ darkvision 60 ft., madness, spell resistance 15, vulnerability to sunlight; AL CE; SV Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +5; Str 14, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 8, Wis 5, Cha 14.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +3 Climb +3, Hide +13, Move Silently +8; Blind-Fight, Improved Initiative.

Languages: Undercommon.

Poison Use (Ex): Derro are not at risk of poisoning themselves when handling poison.

Sneak Attack (Ex): Any time a derro's opponent is denied his Dexterity bonus to AC, or if a derro flanks his opponent, she deals an extra 1d6 points of damage. This ability is just like the rogue's sneak attack and subject to the same limitations.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- darkness, ghost sound; 1/day -- daze (DC 12), sound burst (DC 14). Caster level 3rd.

Madness (Ex): Derro use their Charisma modifier on Will saves instead of their Wisdom modifier, and have immunity to confusion and insanity effects. A derro cannot be restored to sanity by any means short of a miracle or wish spell.

Vulnerability to Sunlight (Ex): A derro takes 1 point of Constitution damage for every hour it is exposed to sunlight, and it dies if its Constitution score reaches 0. Lost Constitution points are recovered at the rate of 1 per every 24-hour period spent underground or otherwise sheltered from the sun.

Possessions:+1 studded leather, +1 buckler, +1 short sword, masterwork repeating light crossbow, 20 bolts (four coated with greenblood oil), potion of cure light wounds.

Tactics: As noted earlier, the derro tend to lie in wait near a trap (or group of traps), using their Hide skills to wait in ambush. They usually wait until potential victims fall afoul of their traps, but they might attack and drive their foes into a trap if necessary. For their initial attack, the derro fire poisoned bolts (if available) from their repeating crossbows. If they catch the enemy flat-footed, these attacks are sneak attacks if the derro are within 30 feet. After the initial volley of arrows, most of the derro use their daze abilities and Yurlada uses bardic music (usually inspire competence) for a round or two. After expending their daze attacks, all the derro except Yurlada try to knock out foes who aren't dazed, either with more poisoned bolts or with sound burst effects. After that, the derro keep up their ranged attacks until the foe is defeated or moves in for melee attacks. The derro then switch to melee weapons; when possible, they bring their sneak attacks into play by flanking foes. Meanwhile, Yurlada switches to spells or her wand, hitting the most troublesome characters with blindness/deafness (blindness effect), flare, or grease. The derro fight to the death or until Yurlada falls. When the bard is defeated, the surviving derro use their darkness abilities to confuse foes. They keep attacking for a round or two, but withdraw if the foe keeps up the fight.

About the Authors

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for 18 years. 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 (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.

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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