The Approaching Swarm
By By Eric Cagle
Complete Cliffhanger (288k ZIP/PDF)
The Hive Mind
The Tree
Stalking Prey
Caught in the Web
Creepy Crawlies
Cliffhangers Archive
The Approaching Swarm
Kingdom of the Blind
Into the Forsaken Temple's Crypt
The Trouble in Town
The Light of Despair
Training Grounds
Lorin's Chasm
Bridge Work
Nest of Corruption
A Giant Ransom
Black Water
The Horror of Lannock Hill
Over the Edge
The Proper Count
The Tower of Lore
The Candlemaker's Fire
The Hallowed Hills
The Village of Camiram
Unearthing the Past
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Cliffhangers Adventures
The Approaching Swarm
By Eric Cagle

Episode Two: Caught in the Web

The Approaching Swarm is a short adventure for four 9th-level characters. The party can consist of any mix of classes, but it should include at least one character that is good in wilderness settings, such as a druid, ranger, or barbarian, and at least one cleric. This scenario should prove a reasonable challenge for characters from 8th to 10th level. The adventure takes place in a swampland that is near a small settlement.

Adventure Background

The characters have just arrived in the small settlement of Crivdall, which is a fort on the edge of a huge, dangerous swamp. In the dead of night, a small armada of monstrous vermin attacked the characters and their hosts, and the PCs may have spied a mysterious figure that controlled their actions.

The Aftermath

After the attack, it's likely that the characters want to pursue the mysterious figure. If they try to go to where the figure was located, jump to "The Note" section below. In case they do not and want to wait until dawn, read or paraphrase the following text and adjust it as necessary:

You wait until dawn, which is when the settlers slowly start to rebuild their fort. The giant vermin had inflicted terrible damage to the wooden walls, including bursting through the gate with apparent ease. Several of the settlers were killed or injured during the fray, and the sound of weeping drifts throughout the entire settlement.

The rain has finally stopped and the muddy ground is thick with blood, debris, and footprints.

The Note

If the characters do not investigate the location where the figure (Aleretheral) was spotted, one of the townsfolk looks for himself and finds a set of footprints. A successful Spot check (DC 12) reveals a note tacked to a tree with what appears to be a giant insect claw. It is crudely written in Common and simply reads "Leave."

The Pursuit

Following the tracks is relatively easy. Anyone with the Track feat can follow them along (DC 5). If the party does not have someone with the feat (or if they were killed or incapacitated during the last encounter), then they can follow along with a Search check (DC 15). The footprints lead deep into the swamp, where few of the settlers have ever been. Two young huntsmen from Crivdall, Menrin and Tobis, can go along as guides. If they remain with the party through any encounters that earn the party XP, they receive fewer XP due to the presence of these two NPCs.

Merin and Tobis: Male human War3; CR 0; Medium-size humanoid; HD 3d8; hp 13; Init +0; Spd 30 ft.; AC 12, touch 10, flat-footed 12; Atk +4 melee (1d8+1/x3, shortspear), or +4 ranged (1d6/x3, shortbow); AL NG; SV Fort +3, Ref +1, Will +1; Str 13, Dex 11, Con 10, Int 9, Wis 10, Cha 10.

Skills and Feats: Climb +2, Handle Animal +2, Intimidate +1, Knowledge (local) +0, Move Silently +3; Power Attack, Track, Weapon Focus (shortbow).

Possessions: Leather armor, shortspear, shortbow, 20 arrows, quiver.

The Spider's Lair (EL7)

As they head into the swamp, the PCs and NPCs follow the tracks to a small cave nestled among some ancient trees. If they enter inside, read or paraphrase the following text:

The tracks lead to a small cave that juts out from between a mass of ancient mangrove trees. Moss and vines thickly cover it, but it appears to be high enough to be out of the stagnant swamp water.

If they choose to go in, read or paraphrase the following:

As you move inside the gloom of the cave, you can see that it is relatively dry, but it reeks of decay and rotting vegetation. The shuffling tracks that you followed through the swamp are abundant here, but they seem to meander. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you notice that the walls are densely covered in what appear to be . . . webs.

The cave is home to a brood of monstrous giant spiders, which attack from the cave ceiling. They try to web the characters in place before attacking, and at least one attacks Menrin and Tobis sometime during the battle.

Huge Monstrous Spider (2): hp 60, 55; see Monster Manual page 210.

Medium-Size Monstrous Spider (4): hp 11, 10, 10, 9; see Monster Manual page 210.

Aleretheral used his trackless step ability to get out of the cave without leaving footprints. Upon searching the spiders, the characters can find that each of them is wearing a "collar" that is made up in a primitive fetish of stones, feathers, and insect parts.


Having no trail and at least one party member in dire straits, the party may feel compelled to return back to Crivdall. If they do head back, the party should catch glimpses of more giant insects looming in the reeds and trees of the brackish swamp. While they do not attack, they do send an indication of imminent danger. If they don't, the DM should certainly feel free to have these insects attack the PCs until the PCs head back to recover, until the PCs are dead, or until the insects all die. Aleretheral can call upon three times as many insects as you see represented thus far (minus those used in later encounters).

About the Author

Eric Cagle splits his time evenly as the administrative assistant and part-time designer for the R&D department of Wizards of the Coast. In addition to numerous web articles, he has written several articles for Dragon Magazine, contributed to two Star Wars RPG products, and contributed to the Arms and Equipment Guide for D&D. A lunch hour rarely goes by where he isn't writing for, playing, or thinking about a game.

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