Cliffhangers Adventures

Over the Edge
Episode One: Hit the Road
By Will McDermott

Over the Edge is a short adventure for four 9th-level characters. The adventure is set in the Lortmil Mountains on a newly established trade route between Ulek and Verbebonc, but could be on any route that takes the characters through a mountain pass.

Adventure Background

Several years ago, the merchants of Tringlee, the capital city in the Duchy of Ulek, opened a new trade route through the Lortmil Mountains to the town of Verbebonc. However, in the last few months, reports of manticore raids along the route have filtered back to Tringlee. A month ago, the merchants hired a group of adventurers and sent them into the mountains to end the manticore raids. The party never returned.

The manticore raids are actually orchestrated by a juvenile red dragon that recently came to the region to increase its wealth and power. The red dragon, named Kardrako, has made its home in the back of the manticores' cave, which is set into a cliff several hundred feet below a bridge on the trade route.

Kardrako uses the manticores and, more recently, two hill giants named Geet and Gern, to waylay travelers and force them to pay a toll to cross the bridge. All of the money, of course, goes to Kardrako. The adventurers whom the merchants sent into the mountains did indeed locate the trouble they were sent to find. However, only one -- a rogue named Finglos – survived. Where his loyalties now lie is a matter for some debate.

The adventure consists of meeting Geet and Gern, finding Finglos, climbing down the cliff to the caves, exploring the caves, and ultimately facing Kardrako. All of the treasure that the manticores and the hill giants have collected rests in Kardrako's treasure trove.

Hooking the characters

Because Over the Edge takes place along a mountain path, DMs may find it easy or difficult to hook the characters into the adventure. If your characters are currently traveling through some mountains, you can easily stick the adventure right in front of them. If not, try one of the following hooks:

• The player characters overhear two merchants talking about the manticore problem and the missing adventurers. One merchant says, "We’ve waited long enough. We should send another group into the mountains."

• The heroes see a leaflet posted on the town notice board, stating the following: "Wanted: Adventurers to clear trade route. All expenses paid, plus stipend. Inquire at Merchant's Guild." The leaflet is dated two months ago, but it was not on the board the previous day.

• A merchant caravan leaving for Verbebonc in the morning hires the PCs as guards.

• One of the adventurers in Finglos's party was the brother (or sister or cousin) of a PC. That character overhears a merchant talking about the group’s disappearance in the mountains.

Encounter 1: Killian's Krew

Most of the action of Over the Edge occurs in Kardrako's cave and on the cliff-face above the cave. However, before the characters even make it to the mountain pass, they get a chance to help some merchants with another common problem on the trade routes -- bandits. This encounter can even serve as the hook to draw the characters further into the adventure, as the DM can use the cliffhanger as a way to give the background information to the characters.

Shortly after the characters enter the lower hills of the Lortmil Mountains, they hear a commotion happening around a bend in the road. Any character making a successful Listen check (DC 15) hears the following statement in Common: "Stand to or pay with your life!" A listen check (DC 20) also reveals the sounds of weapons being drawn. Once the heroes round the bend, read or paraphrase the following text:

Roughly 100 feet ahead stand three wagons half-filled with crates, casks, and chests. Two men sit in each wagon, all with their hands held up above their heads. The wagon drivers are obviously merchants and none of them have any visible weapons or armor. Six bandits in studded leather armor, all brandishing short swords, surround the caravan. The bandit leader stands at the front of the caravan with his hands on his hips. He wears a longsword at his belt and a bow strung across his shoulders, but no visible armor.

The bandit leader is a scoundrel named Killian. When the bandits spot the PCs and alert him, he turns around. "This is none of your affair," he says. "Leave us to our business and we shall let you pass unharmed." Should the characters give Killian and his comrades a wide berth, the bandits let them go but follow the group and attack at night. If the PCs attack, Killian's Krew turns its attention away from the merchants to fight the heroes.

Killian: Mail human Rog5/Ftr4; CR 9; Medium-size humanoid; 5d6+5 plus 4d10+4; hp 52; Init +6; Spd 30 ft.; AC 19; Atk +12/+7 melee (1d8+6/19-20/x 2 crit, +1 longsword), +10/+5 ranged (1d8+3/x 3 crit, masterwork mighty (Str 16) composite long bow); SQ Evasion, Sneak attack +3d6, Uncanny Dodge (Dex bonus to AC); AL NE; SV Fort +6, Ref +7, Will +2; Str 16, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 12.

Skills and Feats: Appraise +9, Climb +10, Disable Device +9, Hide +10, Jump +10, Listen +8, Move Silently +10, Open Lock +10, Spot, +8, Search +9, Tumble +10, Use Magic Device +8; Dirty Fighting, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Leadership, Mobility, Spring Attack, Weapon Focus (longsword), Weapon Specialization (longsword).

Possessions: +1 longsword, masterwork mighty (Str 16) composite long bow, 20 arrows, +1 mithril chain shirt, +1 buckler, 2 tanglefoot bags, 115 gp.

Killian's Krew (6): Male human Rog1/Ftr2; CR 3; Medium-size humanoid; 1d6+1 plus 2d10+2; hp 20; Init +6; Spd 30 ft.; AC 16; Atk +6 melee (1d6+2/19-20/x 2 crit, masterwork short sword), +5 ranged (1d6+1/x 3 crit, masterwork mighty (Str 12) composite short bow); SQ Evasion, Sneak attack +1d6; AL CN; SV Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +0; Str 14, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 8.

Skills and Feats: Appraise +5, Climb +6, Disable Device +5, Hide +6, Jump +6, Listen +4, Move Silently +6, Open Lock +6, Search +5, Spot, +4, Tumble +6, Use Magic Device +3; Dirty Fighting, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Mobility, Weapon Focus (short sword).

Possessions: Masterwork short sword, masterwork mighty (Str 12) composite short bow, 20 arrows, masterwork studded leather armor, masterwork buckler, 2 tanglefoot bags, 15 gp.

Tactics: Killian and his Krew attempt to flank as many characters as possible to get the flanking bonus and deliver sneak attack damage. In addition, all of the bandits fight dirty, so they deal extra damage on full attack actions. If Killian has trouble hitting with his second attack, he foregoes this extra attack to get the Dirty Fighting damage. If the fight goes badly for them, Killian calls a retreat; the bandits use their Mobility to disengage from melee and their tanglefoot bags to discourage pursuit.

Dirty Fighting [General]

You know the brutal and effective fighting tactics of the streets and back alleys.

Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +2.

Benefit: Make a melee attack roll normally. If successful, you inflict an additional +1d4 points of damage. This feat requires the full attack action. (See Sword and Fist, page 6.)

The Cliffhanger

Assuming the characters either defeat or drive off Killian and his krew, the leader of the merchant caravan -- Berimir, a tailor of some renown -- thanks them and offers each a custom-tailored outfit the next time they are in Tringlee. In addition, Berimir tells the heroes about two hill giants that he and his fellow merchants met about four days earlier at a bridge up in the mountains. The giants killed all his guards, but then let the merchants pass after they agreed to pay a toll for crossing the bridge.

Over the Edge
Episode Two: Rocky Road Ahead
By Will McDermott

Encounter 2: The Bridge

The route through mountains winds as it rises into the pass. If the characters do not attempt to sneak through the mountains, Geet and Gern hear their approach and the first encounter happens right after they round a bend. If the characters are being quiet, give Geet and Gern one listen check to hear the characters before they round the bend. Once in view of the giants, any character making a successful Spot check (DC 25) sees the giants in time to act during the surprise round. All other characters are flat-footed for the first volley of rocks.

Once the heroes spot the giants, read or paraphrase the following text:

You round the bend to see a sturdy bridge, just wide enough for a merchant's cart, suspended over a chasm about 150 feet away. Two hill giants stand on the path in front of the bridge, each with a pile of rocks at his feet -- and two in hand, about to be hurled at you.

Geet and Gern: CR 7, hp 118 (Geet) and 98 (Gern); See Hill Giants in the Monster Manual page 98. Between them, Geet and Gern have just 20 silver pieces in their pouches and nothing else of value.

Tactics: Geet and Gern are immediately hostile toward the characters and throw rocks until the characters close into melee. At that point, Geet fights with his greatclub. Gern, however, attempts to grapple his melee opponent. If successful, Gern then tries to pin on his next action. Should Gern successfully pin the grappled PC, he uses his partial action to move to the edge of the cliff and drop his opponent as a free action. The chasm is 1,000 feet deep, so a dropped character suffers 20d6 points of damage from the impact. Any character not in melee with either giant may make a spot check (DC 25) to notice Gern glance at the cliff edge during the initial grapple attempt.

The Cliffhanger

After dealing with Geet and Gern, the characters hear a scraping noise. A Listen check (DC 10) enables the heroes to determine that the sound comes from the chasm. Any character who surpasses a DC 20 on the Listen check realizes that someone or something is climbing up the cliff face.

Over the Edge
Episode Three: Once More Unto the Breach
By Will McDermott

An Unexpected Ally

After dispatching Geet and Gern (the hill giant bridge guards), the group hears ominous scratching noises echoing in the chasm. A Listen check (DC 20) identifies the sounds as someone (or something) climbing up the cliff face. A voice calls out, "A little help, please?"

The climber is Finglos, the lone survivor of the previous adventuring party sent into the mountains by the Tringlee merchants. He appears friendly and continues to ask for help or a rope (if the characters have not already helped him), telling them that he's been hiding in the manticore's cave below for two weeks waiting for a chance to escape.

Finglos: Male human Rog9; CR 9; Medium-size humanoid; 42 hp; Init +4; Spd 60 ft.; AC 18 (touch 15, flat-footed 18); Atk +11 melee (1d6+5/18-20/x 2 crit, +1 rapier); SQ Evasion, Uncanny Dodge (Dex bonus to AC, can't be flanked), Sneak Attack +5d6; AL CN; SV Fort +4, Ref +10, Will +2; Str 18, Dex 18, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 9, Cha 11.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +12, Climb +16, Craft (traps) +7, Disable Device +7, Hide +16, Jump +20, Listen +11, Move Silently +11, Open Lock +10, Search +13, Spot +11, Tumble +16; Cleave, Dodge, Mobility, Power Attack, Spring Attack.

Possessions: +1 rapier, +1 studded leather armor, 2 potions of darkvision, boots of striding and springing, thieves tools, silk rope (100 ft.).

Finglos has actually been a captive of Kardrako for several weeks and is currently under the effects of Kardrako's charm person spell. A Sense Motive check (DC 25) detects the presence of the enchantment, as does a successful detect magic spell cast upon Finglos. Unless the charm person is dispelled, Finglos tells the group that the entrance to the manticore cave is some 200 feet down the cliff face and that with the group's help he can finally avenge the deaths of his comrades. Further, Finglos informs the characters that the manticores are currently out hunting and that he knows of a perfect spot inside the cave to ambush them upon their return. He explains that fighting the manticores in the open would prove suicidal because the beasts stay aloft at great range and fire spikes from their tails.

In reality, Finglos is trying to lure the characters into the cave to face Kardrako. Kardrako's charm person spell lasts only three hours, so Finglos has explicit instructions to return at the end of two hours. Should the heroes hesitate or wish to rest until morning before venturing down the cliff face, Finglos pleads with them: Now is the best opportunity he will get to destroy the creatures that killed his friends. If his entreaties fail, he attempts to climb back down the cliff face, saying that he will face the monsters alone if that's what it takes.

Encounter 3: Cliff Attack!

Unbeknownst to Finglos, once he and the characters begin their descent to the cave, the manticores attack per Kardrako’s orders. If Finglos returns alone or doesn't return at all, the manticores wait until the PCs begin their descent (waiting until the next day if necessary).

Once the group gets halfway between the top of the cliff and the cave entrance (100 feet down from the top), four manticores fly out from behind outcroppings to either side of the characters and attack.

Manticores (4): CR 5, 57 hp; see the Monster Manual, page 130.

Tactics: Unless engaged in melee by flying characters, the manticores exhaust their spikes (6 per round each for 4 rounds) before closing to attack with their claws and teeth. If the characters are clinging to a rope, one manticore flies up to the top, lands, and attempts to chew through the rope.

The Cliffhanger

After defeating the manticores, the characters reach the cave entrance without further attacks. Read or paraphrase the following text:

The cave entrance is nothing more than a large gash cut into the side of the cliff. The narrowness of the chasm prevents the sun's rays from penetrating very far into the opening at any time of day, so the cave becomes pitch black after 20 feet. "There are at least five more manticores," Finglos says. "Come, we must get to the ambush spot quickly." He then quaffs a potion and races off into the darkness.

Over the Edge
Episode Four: Into the Inky Blackness
By Will McDermott

Headlong Flight

Finglos drank a potion of darkvision, allowing him to see 60 feet into the darkness of the cave. He moves at double speed every round unless it looks like the characters will catch up to him, in which case he ducks into one of the side chambers and attempts to hide. If the PCs do catch up to Finglos, he points ahead and says, "Quickly, the ambush spot is just around the corner!" Finglos then waits for the heroes to take the lead going down the passage.

The cave itself is fairly straightforward. The main passage is roughly 20 feet wide and about 25 feet high. It extends roughly straight back into cliff face for 120 feet and then turns to the left. Three passages off the main tunnel (two to the right and one to the left) open almost immediately into small caverns (each about 50 feet across). Should the characters explore these side caverns, they find single manticore nests in each of the first two. The third has two such nests. A successful spot check (DC 20) enables PCs to notice that one of the two nests is much newer than any of the others. No treasure lies in any of these side caverns.

Encounter 4: Down the Shaft

At the bend in the corridor awaits a 20-foot wide pit trap that engulfs the entire floor in that section of the passage. If the heroes have dispelled the charm person cast on Finglos, he warns them about the pit trap, which Kardrako forced him to construct during the past four weeks. The trap can be avoided by jumping (DC 10) across a 5-foot gap at the corner. Any character failing the Jump check automatically falls into the pit.

Spiked Pit Trap: CR 4; 60 ft. deep, no attack roll necessary (6d6); +10 melee (1d4 spikes for 1d4+5 points of damage per successful hit); Reflex save avoids (DC 20); Search (DC 20); Disable Device (DC 20).

The trap can be disabled only from the other side of the pit (around the corner). If one of the characters jumps across and attempts to disable the trap, immediately proceed to the cliffhanger section. Should all members of the party jump across the pit at the corner, complete this encounter before proceeding to the cliffhanger.

Finglos knows of an underground passage at the bottom of the pit but has not yet explored the passage. Finglos does not know that a black pudding recently found its way into the bottom of the pit. It now covers the entire floor of the pit (having reformed itself around the spikes), and immediately attacks any character who falls in.

Black Pudding: CR 7, 115 hp; see the Monster Manual, page 145.

The black pudding suffers damage from the falling character as described in the Falling Objects section on page 89 of the Dungeon Master Guide: 6d6 points if the PC's body and gear weighs more than 200 pounds; 3d6 if the total weight is 101-200 pounds. However, as soon as a character lands on the black pudding, his or her armor must succeed at a Reflex save (DC 19) or dissolve due to the pudding's acid. Weapons dropped on (or used against) the black pudding must also make a Reflex save (DC 19) or dissolve.

Tactics: The black pudding tries to slam opponents, dealing both slam and acid damage. After a successful slam, the pudding makes an improved grab attempt as a free action. On subsequent rounds, the pudding attempts to constrict a grabbed opponent, dealing automatic slam and acid damage. Weapons do not deal damage to a black pudding; they merely split the pudding in two (each half has one-half of the original's hit points).

The Cliffhanger

The passage continues another 60 feet , but beyond that lies pitch blackness. Characters who make it past the pit and succeed at a Spot check (DC 5) notice an acrid, sulfur smell wafting down the tunnel. Anyone making a Spot check (DC 20) also notices that the tunnel seems slightly warmer on this side of the pit. Should a hero Listen (DC 15) for noises coming from the blackness ahead, he or she detects the sound of wings flapping.

Over the Edge
Episode Five: Kardrako's Lair
By Will McDermott

Encounter 5: The Dragon Attacks

Kardrako has been waiting for Finglos to return and report on the fracas at the bridge. (In fact, if Finglos is still charmed, he will have returned and told Kardrako that the characters are coming.) So the dragon lurks about 100 feet from the pit, watching the passage. Once the heroes reach the far side of the pit (or if one character -- even Finglos -- jumps across and attempts to disarm the trap), Kardrako flies out of his lair to attack.

Kardrako: Red dragon juvenile; CR 9; 159 hp; See the Monster Manual, pages 67-68.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +18, Diplomacy +18, Intimidate +18, Jump +25, Knowledge (arcana) +18, Listen +18, Search +18, Sense Motive +18, Spellcraft +18, Spot +18; Flyby Attack, Multiattack, Power Attack, Spell Focus (enchantment/charm), Wingover.

Spells Known (cast 6/5; base DC = 12 + spell level): 0 -- arcane mark, dancing lights, detect magic, mage hand, mending; 1st -- charm person, doom, shield.

Tactics: Kardrako attempts a Flyby Attack to bull rush any characters on his side of the pit into the trap, then uses a Wingover to turn around and prepare for another Flyby. He breathes on any characters still in the passage before going into melee.

If Finglos is still charmed, he remains hidden during this battle (either behind the treasure trove or in one of the manticore caverns, depending on where he ended up after the pit trap encounter).

Kardrako's Treasure

Kardrako has amassed a sizeable treasure by forcing the manticores, hill giants, and even Finglos to waylay merchant caravans for him. Much of the treasure is too bulky for the characters to remove from the caves (large bolts of rough cloth, caskets of salt, and crates and crates of pottery). However, the merchants of Tringlee may pay a reward for learning the whereabouts of all of their goods. If the heroes defeat Kardrako and Search (DC 20 for each category) through all of the cargo in the back of his chamber, they can find:

Coins: Three chests each containing 6,000 sp, 2,400 gp, and 150 pp.

Gems: Four silk purses each containing 3 gems (3 tiger eyes worth 10 gp each; 3 moonstones, 50 gp each; 2 white pearls, 100 gp each; 2 black pearls, 500 gp each; 1 emerald worth 1,000 gp, 1 diamond worth 2,000 gp).

Trade goods: Scattered amongst the goods are a small bolt of silk worth 105 gp, a crate of unrefined mithril worth 550 gp, and a small wooden box containing a set of silver combs inset with sapphires worth 1,050 gp.

Magic items: In addition to the regular merchant wares, coins, and gems, characters might find a +1 cloak of resistance, dust of disappearance, figurine of wondrous power (serpentine owl), glove of storing, ioun stone (dull gray), and a necklace of fireballs (type I).

Finglos's items: Lastly, Kardrako kept all of Finglos's items stored in a chest, allowing the rogue only a few items (armor and weapon) when needed (and only when charmed). The rest of Finglos's items still lie in the chest. They are: 280 gp, a +1 mighty composite shortbow (+2 Str), a ring of feather fall, and 3 potions (1 cure moderate wounds, 2 spider climb).

Continuing the Adventure

Characters can continue the adventure in several ways after they meet Kardrako. If they defeat the dragon, the passage down in the pit trap could lead to further adventures in the Lortmil Mountains. Should the heroes find Kardrako too tough to handle, the red dragon could become a recurring enemy who hounds them whenever they journey through the region. When the characters return to Tringlee, the merchants could have a new and bigger problem on their hands. A devious DM could even have Finglos turn on the party sometime after the battle and attempt to steal the treasure.

About the Author

Before moving to the Online Media department at Wizards of the Coast, Will McDermott was editor in chief of TopDeck magazine and, before that, The Duelist. Will has written strategy guides for both Magic: The Gathering and the Pokémon TCGs, and is currently writing a Magic: The Gathering novel.


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