Back in June, I posted about the problem that a number of people have mentioned on various message boards about the problem of starting a new campaign with experienced D&D 5E players who find the usual low-level monsters are pretty boring.
I mentioned a few different options and gave a rough sketch on how one might combine various monsters to make a first-level adventure without a single goblin or kobold in sight.
After that post, I received a few emails from people asking me to write up such an adventure. I considered doing up something to be published, but then decided it would be more helpful to simply put something together and post it here. Note that this is just a quick example of what you might throw together using monsters from published sources.
This adventure uses the Drow Outpost example that appeared in my original post back in June.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that this is only written up in the most basic form. The maps were something I pulled together in 30 minutes in Photoshop. None of this is up to my usual standard for published products, because I’m just throwing this out there for people to see as an example of using different monsters for first level adventures.
Premise: A small group of drow—along with a few derro and human slaves—have been sent to the surface to take possession of a location where the drow may set up a forward base, in preparation for an incursion of the drow into the area. At this point, the drow priestess who will be in charge of the forward base has not arrived yet.
Hook: Three of the hunters who catch game within the forest and sell it in the village have disappeared in the last week. The village leader asks the PCs to go into the forest to find out what happened to the hunters, rescue them if they’re still alive, and report back to the town if there is a problem in the forest that they need to worry about.
Goal: Once the PCs find the drow outpost, their main goal will be to drive off the drow or eliminate them entirely before the priestess arrives with reinforcements.
Location: You’ll need a small village near a moderately-large forest. At some point in the past, there was a military outpost of stone that was built on the edge of the forest. It’s been long enough that the forest has expanded and the outpost is now entirely within the outer edge of the forest. The forest itself is generally believed to be a normal forest in all respects—plenty of game, no supernatural influence, no large enclave of elves, etc.
Experience Points: If you are using the standard experience point awards for monsters defeated, there is enough experience points in this adventure for the characters to reach second level. As the adventure is very short, I recommend not allowing the PCs a chance to level up until the adventure is complete.
Getting Hired: The leader in the village approaches the PCs and asks them if they can help. The leader explains that there are a few hunters who live in the village. They regularly go into the forest to trap or hunt game, which they bring back to the village to sell to the other villagers. Just under a week ago, three of the hunters left the village, and have not returned. They generally are not gone more than one night, and since none of the three have returned, the leader is concerned that something happened to them in the forest.
Exploring the Forest: The PCs can follow a faint dirt path into the forest, which soon disappears into the ground foliage. The hunters would use the path to enter the forest edge, but then would generally go their separate ways to check their snares and hunt the larger animals that live among the trees.
Any character with Survival should be able to follow the three trails of the hunters.
See the Forest Map near the end of this post for the locations of these encounters.
- The PCs eventually come upon the dead body of the hunter. He’s been killed by a couple of deep thrusts of a blade to the chest—close examination indicates that the weapon was a shortsword.
- This is where the second hunter was captured by the drow. They shot him with their poisoned crossbow bolts and then the human slaves dragged him back to the outpost. The trail is rather easy to follow and leads in an almost straight line right to the clearing where the old outpost stands. Anyone examining the trail figures that something—possibly a body—was dragged through the undergrowth.
- One of the drow spellcasters (take the apprentice wizard stat block and give it the drow racial abilities and the hand crossbow attack) is in this area, searching for spell components. He is accompanied by a pair of derro slaves. He is not focused on moving silently, and so the PCs have an average chance to hear him and his slaves as they move through the undergrowth.
If he hears the PCs before they hear or see him, he attempts to get close enough to spy on them. This drow is one of the most overzealous of those who have come to the surface, and he figures that, with his derro slaves helping, he should be able to capture the entire PC party.
He targets the strongest-looking PC with his poisoned crossbow, and then switches to spells. The derro stand in front of him and attempt to hold off anyone trying to attack him directly.
Note that due to the overhead cover from the trees, the derro have enough shade that they do not have to worry about their sunlight sensitivity.
- This is where the third hunter was captured by the drow. Like his compatriot, he was hit by the poisoned drow crossbow bolts and fell unconscious. He’s been dragged back to the outpost, and the trail is rather easy to follow.
- When the PCs near this area, they have a good chance to hear a fight happening—the roar of a wounded animal (bear) and the yells of some humans trying to coordinate their attacks.
A single drow is on patrol with his three human slaves, and they just found a couple of bear cubs. The drow ordered the cubs slain, which sent their returning mother bear into a frenzy. It’s up to the DM if the cubs are already slain, or if one was merely wounded before running off. Either way, the mother bear is attacking the drow and the three slaves.
The slaves were given simple hides (protects as hide armor) and spears in case they needed to protect the drow. Use the tribal warrior stat block for these slaves. When the PCs arrive at the scene of the fight, the three humans are using their spears to keep the black bear at bay, while the drow stands behind and laughs.
Don’t roll for the combat between the humans and the bear. If the PCs watch from hiding and don’t interfere in the fight, then it plays out as follows: In the first round, the humans inflict 12 points of damage on the bear, and the bear kills one of the humans outright. On the second round, the humans inflict another 4 points of damage on the bear, and the bear hits one of the humans with its claw, inflicting 7 points of damage. On the third round, the humans slay the bear.
The bear cannot tell the difference between the PCs and the other humans and drow, so the animal friendship spell won’t work on it. However, a character who casts the speak with animal spells and gives the bear the idea that they on the bear’s “side” will allow the casting of animal friendship once the attacking humans and drow are dead.
- This the outpost. It is a stone building with two floors and basement. There is a single reinforced wooden door leading into the building, though it is not kept barred as the wooden bar has rotted away, and the drow are not worried about incursions into their base.
- A pair of derro slaves are collecting berries and such for the drow inside the outpost. They will try to flee into the outpost to warn the drow, and will only fight if cornered. If the derro manage to flee, they will head straight down into the dungeon and alert the drow leader and drow spellcaster.
- Main Courtyard: There are no drow in the main courtyard, nor any animals. There are signs that living humanoids have been moving around here recently (tracks in the dirt, etc.).
- Drow Chambers: The drow warriors who follow the commands of the drow leader all stay together in this large room. They spend most of their time practicing individually with their weapons, maintaining their armor, or praying to Lolth.
If the PCs enter this room, the drow immediately leap to the attack. They don’t try to capture the PCs with their poisoned crossbow bolts, assuming that the characters are part of an attack on the entire outpost. The drow fight to the death unless the PCs show overwhelming force and offer to parley.
- Spider Nest: Two giant spiders accompanied the drow up from the underdark. One of the spiders is out on patrol with the drow scout, while the other waits in its web in this room. The spider immediately attacks anyone who is not a drow—this includes derro and human slaves—unless ordered not to by the drow scout or drow leader.
- Dungeon Prison: One of the two captured hunters is in the first cell in this area. The cell door is closed and locked. Four skeletons stay in the other four cells, animate and emerge whenever anyone living spends more than 1 round in the prison area. The skeletons attack anyone in the prison area who is not locked in a cell.
The skeletons were animated by a necromancer who stayed in this outpost for a short time many years ago. The necromancer moved on and forgot about the skeletons who had wandered into the prison area.
The drow don’t stay in this area long enough to deal with the skeletons. They thought about destroying the animated undead, but felt they were an added precaution against the prisoners escaping, so they left them alone.
- Dungeon Storage Room: The drow leader (use stats for a drow, but increase his Intelligence to 14) stays in this room, which has a table and a few chairs (dragged down from the ground floor rooms above). Currently, the table holds the body of one of the hunters, tied down so that he cannot move. The hunter is alive, but barely, and the drow leader and the second drow spellcaster (take the apprentice wizard stat block and add the drow racial abilities and hand crossbow attack) are torturing the human, not so much for information about the village anymore, but purely for pleasure. If the PCs do nothing, the drow will kill in the hunter a few minutes later and throw his body into the prison area.
- Drow Ambush: This drow scout (take the scout stat block and give it the drow racial abilities and hand crossbow attack) and his giant spider were checking out the forest to the east of the outpost when the PCs arrived. He has just returned and noticed the tracks of the PCs (unless the PCs managed to completely obliterate any signs of their passage.
This drow scout is cautious and doesn’t particular care for the well-being of his fellow drow, and so waits outside the outpost at the very edge of the trees. He figures that, even if the PCs manage to kill all the drow in the outpost, they will be severely weakened by the time the battles are over.
The drow scout sends his spider up the side of the wall above the main doors to wait for his signal. When the PCs emerge, the drow attacks them with his poisoned crossbow bolts, while the spider attacks in melee. While the PCs are distracted by the spider, the drow continues to hide among the trees and shoot them with his crossbow until all are unconscious.
If the drow scout succeeds in defeating the PCs, he takes all their equipment, including weapons and armor, ties them up, and throws them into a couple of cells in the prison area (determine randomly which characters are together in each of the two cells). Then he waits for the drow priestess to arrive with reinforcements. The PCs should be given at least one opportunity to attempt to escape before the priestess arrives.
Ending the Adventure
If the PCs slay all the drow, or convince the drow that there is an overwhelming force ready to wipe them out so that the drow abandon the outpost, then they are considered successful by the village’s leader. In this case, when the priestess arrives, she sees the destruction of her advance force and immediately retreats for her own safety. You may have the priestess return to the underdark and consider the attempted incursion as a failure, or more likely have her make another attempt in a different location. With the second option, the PCs may run into the priestess at some point in the future, when they are higher level and have a better chance of taking her on and winning.
Creature Stat Blocks
All of the creatures use the official stat blocks by Wizards of the Coast. All the monsters appear in the basic rules, except for the derro, which appear in the adventure Out of the Abyss, and can also be found on D&D Beyond.
Here are the two maps for use with this adventure.
Map #1: Forest Area
Map #2: Abandoned Outpost
I hope this very simple adventure is of use to you as an example of something that can be used for first-level characters, without falling back on the standard evil humanoids that make up so much of early adventures (i.e. goblins and kobolds).
If you do use this adventure at the start of your own campaign, tell us how it went in the comments.