A Fishy Encounter
My “Fall One-Shots Campaign” is in full swing. It’s neither fall nor are we doing one-shots. We’re having a blast! Originally, I was going to DM different settings and stuff each week, and that quickly devolved into Gomer the Ranger, Anna Jones the Wizard, Vikrid the Druid, and Bharash the Barbarian on a long, involved quest to defeat a blue dragon who’s conquered Amn and is coming for dear old Candlekeep next. I think the story of how this came to be is
fun, but I’d prefer to zoom in on a fun encounter we had and look at a pretty cool monster from the Veins of the Earth.
During his down-time, Gomer trained with Drow in the underdark, which I thought was cool. Then, when the session was live (we deal with downtime via our Facebook group), and the party was tasked with killing the aforementioned blue dragon, he suggested to the party that, since he trained in the Underdark, it’s not unreasonable that he’d be able to navigate it to skip some of the challenges they knew were on the road ahead.
So they headed toward the nearest entrance to the Underdark and I chucked away two weeks of campaign prep. (You never really waste prep, but it’s always amusing to me when the party finds a way to make me discard 12 hours of work.)
Then I discovered that I didn’t really have any fresh ideas about the underdark. And exploring so far had been very bland, in an empty-seeming world. I wanted to fix that when we came back to the darkest caves Faerun can offer — so I picked up a fantastic PDF called Veins of the Earth and gave it a read.
I was instantly enchanted by it and after an excruciating month-and-a-half-long break from D&D (because we have jobs and apparently those don’t pay us to roll dice, I guess. Hey, speaking of which, you should subscribe to our patreon or go buy one of our comic books!) and finally got to break out some content from it a few nights ago.
My party rolled into an ambush and the dice landed on an Anglerlich.
Without giving away VotE’s content, an Anglerlich is an extradimensional fish with a lure. The lure is a horrible villain. The fish is hungry for heroes. The villain does horrible things to try to draw heroes out or else to inculcate new heroes. The fish emerges when the hero is heroic
enough to eat, and it devours them, experience points first.
The lure is meant to be easy to kill – or at least, meant to be non-lethal. The fish, not so much — though I softened it up a touch out of style preferences, and because the party had just emerged from a deadly encounter.
I have a homebrew answer to the Exploration Pillar being scant (stay tuned), and this naturally involves ways to find interesting locations, fights, traps and other things that are fairly randomized. The party first encountered the Anglerlich as it was spearing myconid sproutlings, eating them, and cartoonishly shouting “Evil!”
VotE says to color the Anglerlich a shade off of the tone of the rest of the campaign, and while I had fun turning it into Snidely Whiplash, I definitely made it too easy to divine the nature of the creature. He was too out of place. Our Druid (hi, Duke) and Wizard (hi, Angela) were both instantly suspicious. And the Wizard had heard about some of the VotE content before, so she knew Anglerliches could potentially exist, even though no one in the group had ever encountered one before, meta or otherwise.
They saved the Myconid sproutlings and pinned the Anglerlich (well, it’s lure, which I decided was its tongue) under a massive boulder. The monster waited around to see if the party would take the bait and then left when they didn’t.
A bit more travel happened and then the Anglerlich was in their way again, this time torturing some Duergar. Our Dwarf ignored that hot mess and on they marched. The Anglerlich was getting angry. (A n g l e r y !)
At the next settlement (a random drow village from one of my tables), our Barbarian passed a DC 20 insight check to realize that the anglerliche was stalking them through village after village, torturing people to try to get the attention of the Good characters in the party. If they wanted any hope of safe places or friendly encounters in the underdark, they would
need not to be seen as harbingers.
The party decided to ambush the Anglerlich.
They backtracked to a fortress they’d found (an abandoned Amnish undertaking) so that they’d have room to fight. This was a smart choice.
They “killed” the Anglerlich’s tongue, and I decided to keep him cartoonish. I had his body glow, as if he were in a video game and needed to be looted. The party had already guessed that the creature was some kind of trick, and Bharash had even used the word “anglerfish” when trying to get across what he suspected it was. (They’re a pretty sharp bunch, and again, I over-sold the encounter.)
The fish itself became furious at the party’s teasing and attacks. It burst from its extra-dimensional hidey hole and real combat began.
Three people were swallowed. Experience was siphoned away. The fish would face from existence, leaving its awful lure out to fight, then re-emerge and try to swallow people who were fighting the lure.
Anna Jones and Gomer’s faithful goat saved the day with 24 damage from burning hands (She had a boon from a shrine of Lolth that would let her next attack do maximum damage) and something like 8D4 piercing damage from its horns. (It’s not actually a goat. It’s some kind of goaticorn. But it’s really just a goat.) The fish’s armor class is very high, and my party’s a bit low level, so I modded the stats so that people other than the wizard had a shot of hurting it – attacking its open mouth dropped the “shield” from its AC, and I had made the Lure be the Anglerliche’s tongue, specifically, so that the soft target could be hittable for most of the encounter.
Can’t have a beastie swallowing away their experience points if there’s no way to kill the damn thing.
I was a bit nervous about running a systems agnostic encounter in a 5e game, but it worked brilliantly. I naturally had to take the creature and stat it so that it worked in a 5e encounter, but the book gave me more than enough tools to do so, and the writing in the book is brilliant and engaging.
And yes, I’m aware that 5e is not built for exp-loss encounters, but we’re already so steeped in homebrew that makes the game feel a bit more old school that the Anglerliche fit in just fine.