The Approaching Swarm
By Eric Cagle
Episode Five: The Hive Mind
The adventurers have located the secret lair of Aleretheral, an insane half-orc druid with mastery over vermin. He has been breeding and training monstrous vermin to defend his territory. With the adventurers invading his home, he will do anything he can to protect it.
Inside the Lair (EL 14)
It is up to the DM to decide how Aleretheral fights the adventurers. Despite the size of the dwelling, there is relatively little inside. (Aleretheral killed off the elf that lived there before and disposed of most of his possessions aside from what treasure is listed below.) Given a choice, Aleretheral retreats to the Upper Quarters for his last stand.
Aletheral has several monstrous insects inside his lair that he has been using for experiments. He releases them to fight the characters if hard pressed. (The DM can adjust the number of vermin, depending on how injured the PCs are.)
Large Monstrous Centipede (2): hp 9, 8; see Monster Manual page 208.
Small Monstrous Scorpions (4): hp 7, 6, 6, 5; see Monster Manual page 208.
Giant Bombardier Beetle (2): hp 13, 12, 11; see Monster Manual page 206.
Aleretheral prefers to use his vermin to fight for him and remains invisible (via his potions) until they are defeated. He makes extensive use of his staff of swarming insects, and he casts magic fang on any vermin that are involved in combat.
Aleretheral: Male half-orc Drd13; CR 13; Medium-size humanoid; HD 13d8; hp 58; Init 1; Spd AC 14, touch 10, flat-footed 14; Atk +12/+7 melee (1d6+4, staff of swarming insects); or +9/+4 ranged (1d6, masterwork sling); SQ a thousand faces, animal companion (none), darkvision 60 ft., nature sense, resist nature's lure, trackless step, venom immunity, wild shape (Tiny, Small, Medium-size, Large, or dire animal 4/day), woodland stride; AL NE; SV Fort +9, Ref +4, Will +14; Str 16, Dex 9, Con 11, Int 9, Wis 17, Cha 11.
Skills and Feats: Concentration +5, Handle Animal +9, Heal +6, Intuit Direction +7, Knowledge (nature) +6, Move Silently +0, Profession (herbalist) +8, Ride (horse) +1, Sense Motive +4, Swim +8, Wilderness Lore +11; Brew Potion, Iron Will, Track, Vermin Control*, Vermin Defiance*
A Thousand Faces (Su): Aleretheral can change his appearance at will, as if using the spell alter self.
Animal Companion: Aleretheral may have one or more animal companions. These animals are ones that he has befriended with the spell animal friendship. The total Hit Dice of all animal companions at a time may not exceed 13.
Nature Sense: Aleretheral can identify plants and animals (their species and special traits) with perfect accuracy. He can determine whether water is safe to drink or dangerous.
Resist Nature's Lure: Aleretheral gains a +4 bonus on saving throws against the spell-like abilities of feys (such as dryads, nymphs, and sprites).
Trackless Step: Aleretheral leaves no trail in natural surroundings and cannot be tracked.
Venom Immunity: Aleretheral gains immunity to all organic poisons, including monster poisons but not mineral poisons or poison gas.
Wild Shape (Sp): Aleretheral can change into a Tiny, Small, Medium-size, Large, or dire animal and back again 4/day. He may adopt only one form per use of this ability. When he adopts an animal form, Aleretheral regains hit points as if he has rested for a day. He does not risk the standard penalty for being disoriented while in his wild shape. He gains all the creature's special abilities when he does so.
Woodland Stride: Aleretheral may move through natural thorns, briars, overgrown areas, and similar terrain at his normal speed and without suffering damage or other impairment. However, thorns, briars, and overgrown areas that are enchanted or magically manipulated to impede motion still affect him.
Druid Spells Prepared (6/6/6/5/4/3/2/1; base DC 13 + spell level): 0 -- cure minor wounds, detect poison, guidance, know direction, light, resistance; 1st -- cure light wounds, detect animals or plants, invisibility to animals, magic fang, summon nature's ally I, vermin friendship**; 2nd -- speak with animals, speak with vermin**, summon swarm (3), warp wood; 3rd -- cure moderate wounds, greater magic fang (2), poison, water breathing; 4th -- giant vermin (3), repel vermin; 5th -- insect plague (3); 6th -- antilife shell, summon nature's ally VI; 7th -- creeping doom.
Possessions: Staff of swarming insects, cloak of resistance +1, leather armor, amulet of natural armor +2, ring of protection +1, wand of cure light wounds, potion of blur, 2 potions of cure serious wounds, 2 potions of hiding, 2 potions of invisibility, 3 scrolls of summon swarm.
New feat; see below
Vermin Control [General]
You can channel the power of nature to gain mastery over vermin creatures.
Prerequisites: Vermin Defiance, ability to cast speak with vermin and vermin friendship.
Benefit: You can rebuke or command vermin as an evil cleric rebukes undead. To command an animal, you must be able to speak with it via a speak with vermin spell or effect, though you can issue your commands mentally if desired. The number of times per day that you can use this ability is equal to 3 + your Charisma modifier. Your highest divine caster level is the level at which you rebuke animals.
Special: Vermin you command through this ability count against the HD limit of animals you can befriend through vermin friendship.
Vermin Defiance [General]
You can channel the power of nature to drive off vermin.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast detect animals or plants.
Benefit: You can turn (but not destroy) vermin as a good cleric turns undead. The number of times per day that you can use this ability is equal to 3 + your Charisma modifier. Your highest divine caster level is the level at which you turn vermin.
As per speak with animals, but it applies only to vermin. This spell does not work on animals, beasts, or magical beasts.
As animal friendship, but the spell applies only to vermin.
Continuing the Adventure
Once Aleretheral has been defeated, the characters can mop up any remaining insects and claim the tree fortress for themselves. If they search, they can discover a hidden stash that contains the following items: +3 mighty composite longbow, +1 ghost touch longsword, banded mail (Medium-size), 2 flasks of alchemist's fire, 3 flasks of holy water, ring of swimming, and 160 gp. In addition, the rest of the swamp remains unexplored and the map that they have used to find the tree hints to other mysterious places. . . .
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.