The Approaching Swarm
By Eric Cagle
Episode Four: The Tree
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.
The characters attempted to cross back through the swamp to their base of operations. Along the way, they may have got stuck in mud and probably were attacked by a variety of flying insects. They arrive just a bit too late to stop a massacre that occurred back at Crivdall -- the fort is ruined and it appears that almost everyone is dead or missing.
Aleretheral, an insane half-orc druid who has mastery of vermin and insects, attacked Crivdall with his insects. He has often infiltrated Crivdall by posing as a harmless elf hermit who lives in the wood. In reality, he wants the settlers destroyed and out of his swamp.
The Surviving Force (EL 6)
A few giant insects remain in the compound and attack the characters on sight.
Wounded Giant Praying Mantis (2): hp 17, 11; see Monster Manual page 206.
Wounded Giant Stag Beetle: hp 25; see Monster Manual page 206.
Ad Hoc XP Adjustment: Since the insects are wounded, the PCs gain only half of the XP normally granted for this encounter.
A Cry for Help
As the characters investigate the ruins of Crivdall, read or paraphrase the following text:
The settlement is in complete disarray. Almost everywhere you look, you see horribly mutilated bodies of the villagers that were torn to shreds by cruel claws and fangs. Some corpses are blackened from terrible poison. Bodies of all manner of giant insects litter the courtyard: scorpions, centipedes, ants, wasps, and beetles -- some reaching enormous sizes. Several buildings are still smoldering and probably burned down due to knocked-over torches and spreading fires.
At first, it seems as if no one is left alive, but then you hear a lone, quiet voice asking for help.
If the PCs seek out the source of this voice, read the following:
While searching for the source of the voice, you find the sole survivor of Crivdall -- an elderly man who you recognize as Ulrich, the settlement's quartermaster. He is near death due to the cuts and tears in his body, and he twitches involuntarily.
Allow the PCs to make appropriate checks and cast any healing spells that they may have left. Ulrich has been poisoned by a huge monstrous scorpion; refer to the Monster Manual for the scorpion's poison information. Regardless of whether the PCs heal him or not, he tries to tell them what happened. When given a chance, he states the following. Be sure to interject coughs and spasms if he isn't fully healed. If he isn't healed of the poison, it runs its course and kills him. Otherwise, he should be fine:
"They came just after you left," he gasps. "As if they were waiting for you to get out in the swamp. We fought as hard as we could, but there were far too many of them. We noticed someone moving among them. He called out in some blasphemous language."
"When it was obvious that we were done for, he pulled back his cloak. It was Aleretheral! That elf that lives out in the swamp!" He points off to the north. "We trusted him . . . he traded with us many times. Find him and bring us vengeance, please. He lives in a large tree . . . in the swamp. There's a map in my cabin."
Ulrich can point out the cabin in question. The PCs can see that the cabin is not entirely damaged but it's obvious that if anything flammable is inside, it won't last for long.
A Search check (DC 13) of reveals several ledgers and maps. One of the maps is a relatively new map made by the inhabitants of the village and it reveals several landmarks they have discovered in the swamp around them. On it, they find a marking indicating a large tree with the word "elf" written next to it. There is no scale to the map. (It should take four hours to get to the tree if the characters walk.)
If the characters leave to investigate the tree, they encounter no resistance other than the slow pace of marching through the swamp. The map is very accurate and leads them directly to the tree.
The Tree (EL 8)
Located deep in the swamp is the tree of Aleretheral (use the Swamp map). Read or paraphrase the following text to the players:
After several hours, you come across an enormous mangrove tree standing alone in the water. A series of small houses nestles in its boughs, though vines and moss cover these houses to some extent. A rickety stairwell spirals up the trunk of the tree. Dim lights flicker inside several of the buildings.
If the characters approach the tree, they make it halfway across the waist-deep water before being attacked by an enormous centipede (bigger than anyone has seen before) that rises out of the water.
Colossal Monstrous Centipede: hp 136; see Monster Manual page 208.
Once (and if) the characters defeat the monstrous centipede, what horrors remain inside the fortress of the mad druid Aleretheral?
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.