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The Treasure Thieves
By Robert Wiese

Welcome to another installment of Use This Book Tonight, wherein you’ll find suggestions for introducing recently released Dungeons & Dragons books (and other material) to your players. You might find an encounter (as with this month’s "Treasure Thieves"), but there might also be new creatures, magic items related to the book’s contents… or who knows what else.

Draconomicon (as one might suspect) is all about dragons, but also includes detailed information on their lairs, adventure hooks and quests, as well as other dragon-related monsters such as in this installment’s encounter. For the following, you will need to have to have Draconomicon available for the creature stats (since we are not reprinting them in their entirety), but page references are provided. This encounter is written for 11th level adventurers, and includes suggestions for modifying it up or down by up to four levels; however, it should be easy to modify the encounter even further if your group is very much outside this range.


The Treasure Thieves

Dragon lairs are normally difficult (to outright impossible) to find and penetrate, but well worth the effort if (if!) you succeed. However, sometimes you just get lucky… or unlucky depending on how you look at it, and stumble across something that you are not entirely prepared for. This is precisely what happens in today’s sidetrek—the adventurers, off traveling somewhere in the wilderness, are suddenly tested by an unexpected encounter.

Adventure Hooks

The following encounter can be used virtually anytime the adventurers make camp for the night and you, as the DM, decide their watches will not all go smoothly. Ideally, the adventurers are somewhere deep in the wilderness, preferably near a mountain range; however, as this encounter takes place underground, it can conceivable be used just about anywhere.

Alternatively, the adventurers may have heard something of the lore of this area, or even have come here specifically in search of Lunroarer. A skill check to learn more of the region they’re traveling through might reveal the legend of this ferocious purple dragon; a female that—as the legends go—found an agreeable mate only to kill and devour him, then add his hoard to her own. True or not, a purple dragon had been known to trouble the region for many years, though it has not been seen for quite some time. Whatever became of Lunroarer’s hoard has since become the stuff of legends, with prospectors occasionally heading off into the nearby mountains in search.

In any event, during one of the late night watches, one of the PCs may be drawn ever slightly away from the camp (whether to investigate the distant echoes of the kobolds below, or perhaps by mischievous woodland fey looking for the PC to take a misstep). One square on the overland map you are using is rigged to collapse into a sinkhole of sorts (you may provide a Passive Perception check for the PC to notice and avoid the hole, or to hear the distant sounds of activity).

The sinkhole drops 50 feet through the hardened crust of the ground, down to an underground system of caverns and passages. While the area immediately below the sinkhole is devoid of interest (aside from a PC now possibly in need of healing), a passage leads off into the rest of the underground complex… and those subtle but compelling noises persists, sounding almost as if someone were moving around a great deal of coin (a sound innate to any adventurer!). Should they investigate, the adventurers must travel a mile or so in complete darkness before reaching the following encounter.

7th level Encounter (1750 xp):

  • 1 Dragonkin Kobold Pact-bound Adept (p. 227)
  • 8 Kobold Minions (Monster Manual p. 167)
  • 1 Portal Drake (p. 223)
  • 2 Bluespawn stormlizards (p. 219)

11th level Encounter (3350 xp):

  • 1 Dragonkin Kobold Pact-bound Adept (p. 227)
  • 8 Kobold Minions (Monster Manual p. 167)
  • 1 Portal Drake (p. 223)
  • 1 Greenspawn razorfiend (p. 219)
  • 2 Bluespawn stormlizards (p. 219)

15th level Encounter (6650 xp):

  • 1 Dragonkin Kobold Pact-bound Adept (p. 227)
  • 8 Kobold Minions (Monster Manual p. 167)
  • 2 Portal Drakes (p. 223)
  • 2 Greenspawn razorfiend (p. 219)
  • 2 Bluespawn stormlizards (p. 219)
  • 1 grayspawn fleshtearer (p. 220)

Setup

The encounter map can be assembled using tiles from Lost Caverns of the Underdark, although any sufficiently large cavern map will suffice. As an additional bonus, we’ve also created an alternate map also using the forthcoming Dungeon Tiles set: Caverns of Carnage.

When the encounter begins, place the kobolds near the center of the map (with the hoard encompassing the dragon skull), and their barges near the river area. The adventurers enter along the bottom edge wherever you feel most appropriate.

If the adventurers listen, they can hear the gurgling cascades of an underground river as well as the noise of the treasure hoard being plundered. The kobolds inside are entirely absorbed in their find and will not hear the adventurers approaching.

When the adventurers arrive in the cavern, read:

After traveling for a mile or so in complete darkness, you emerge into a huge cavern colored with incredible cave deposits—not just stalagmites and stalactites, but even more elaborate draperies and flowstone can be seen all around. Perhaps the most beautiful sight of all, however, is the huge pile of gold, gems, and other treasure in the center of this cavern area. Swords, spears, tapestries and more stick out from a great pile, looking very much as if someone heaped gold coins over the rest of their hoard. Atop this vast pile rests a great purple dragon… apparently asleep, its head facing the other direction.

When the adventurers get closer, they see that the dragon is dead and has been for quite some time, decaying from the inside. Perception checks opposed by the Stealth checks of the other inhabitants of the cavern will reveal the presence of creatures on the other side of the treasure pile.

Rounding the treasure pile, the adventurers see a group of kobolds carrying treasure over to barge-like boats on the underground river. Their leader barks directions, while a number of other creatures look on in boredom. Their boredom ends when they perceive the adventurers, and they bound gleefully to attack.

Tactics

The kobold minions do not enter the fight at all. Their job is to move treasure, and that’s what they continue to do (moving back and forth across the battlefield as a kind of moving screen). If they are threatened in any way, they retreat to a barge and use it to escape. A barge can move at speed 10 in the river when poled by the kobolds (or speed 3 if it somehow is freed and starts drifting). The pact-bound adept uses its ranged abilities to either defend the minions or escape, but does not actively attack the adventurers unless forced. His job is to get the treasure back to his master, and that’s what he’s going to do!

The dragonspawn attack using the tactics given for them in Draconomicon:

  • Bluespawn stormlizards: A bluespawn stormlizard begins with lightning charge to knock its enemy to the ground, then presses the attack. It loses interest when its prey stops moving, turning its attention to another target. Stormlizards work well together, keeping close to one another and defending their packmates with counterbolts.


  • Greenspawn razorfiends: A greenspawn razorfiend jumps into the midst of its opponents, using its wingblade flurry against a different opponent each round. It spits a glob of venomous phlegm into the face of any foe that remains unbloodied. Whenever its attacks score a critical hit, the razorfiend slides an opponent into its reach, using an action point to make another devastating attack.


  • Grayspawn fleshtearer: A grayspawn fleshtearer moves to attack the largest and toughest opponent, marking it to keep it in reach. As ropes of acidic goo burn through its foe, it continues to tear at that opponent until it falls. The fleshtearer isn’t concerned about other threats but uses marked superiority to threaten nearby enemies.

The portal drakes are there to move the other creatures around, so they remain as far away as their powers allow and use slip through space to move dragonspawn allies or portal burst to move kobold minions out of harm’s way. The dragonspawn have trained with the portal drakes, and as a group these creatures make best use of the drake’s teleport abilities. Be as clever as you can be with this power. The portal drakes reserve the tactic of using portal burst to move enemies into dangerous positions for a last resort, since there are not a lot of pits or ledges to fall off. Remember that the drake’s catch a ride ability can be used when it causes another creature to teleport, so feel free to use it to move the drake out of harm’s way or into a better (or hidden) position every time it uses its powers.

Features of the Area

Illumination: Darkness.

Ceiling: The rough stone ceiling in the cavern rises to a height of 35 feet above the dragon hoard, and 25 feet along the outlying walls.

Ground: The cavern floor is considered rough terrain due to many irregularities (small mounds, depressions, and such).

River: The river is 20 feet wide and over 25 feet deep. It flows up to the surface and empties in a lake some miles away (this is how the dragon came and went from its home). The flow is turbulent, and requires a DC 15 Athletics check to swim in the river and maintain control of direction.

Hoard: This treasure hoard was originally much larger, but the kobolds have already moved much of it away. What remains is an 11th level treasure. Build it using parcels 2, 6, and 10 from the Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 127 under “Party Level 11.” You can also start with the Level 11 sample hoard listed on page 73 of Draconomicon, which amounts to the same thing. Additional, you may also make use of the Dragon Hoard as Terrain rules (p. 60), and treat any movement through the hoard as vicious treasure, inflicting 5 damage at the heroic tier, 10 at paragon, and 20 at epic (the kobolds concentrating on carefully moving the treasure ignore this hazard).

Complication

If the adventurers are having too easy a time (or perhaps you simply feel like expanding the encounter), then the fight in the lair and attempted theft of the hoard causes the spirit of the dragon to return to this place and animate the body as a winged putrescence. Suddenly, as the fight rages around it, the great head of the zombified dragon rises and fixes its dead glare on the intruders in its home. With a kind of gurgled roar, it lurches to its feet and stretches its wings. Then it attacks (of course attacking the adventurers first).

9th Level Encounter (800 xp):

  • 1 winged putrescence (p. 205)

Tactics
On its first round, the winged putrescence leaps at a group of PCs and uses wing beat to blow them backward and knock them prone. It also uses putrid blast this round, which would immobilize at least some prone PCs for one round so that it can rip into them with claws on the following rounds. After that, it uses its claws to grab and tear apart enemies, and putrid blast as often as possible to immobilize foes.

Aftermath

This encounter only encompasses what happens in the cavern itself. As you wish, you may add underground encounters along the way (perhaps the kobolds have taken the foresight to post guards outside the cavern, or a pair of ropers haunt the tunnels). The cavern system may well be a vast complex that extends for miles, and has not have been discovered by other humanoid settlers in the area. (If you do extend this encounter, I suggest reading up on the Wind Cave National Park and find some cave passage maps; you’ll get an idea of what you can do with a cave system.)

There’s also the matter of the hoard; if the kobolds have taken most of it, the adventurers may well wish to go after the rest—after all, a nest of kobolds must be easier to face than a living dragon, right? (Tucker’s kobolds notwithstanding.) Plus, those missing prospectors may have never found the treasure, but if they crossed paths with the kobolds then they may be in need of rescue. Alternatively, should the adventurers make off with this portion of the hoard, the kobolds back at their warren may have the exact same thought (better to face adventurers than a dragon), and hunt them down.

Or it may be that the legend of the dragon is only partially true. Lunroarer may indeed have stolen the hoard of a fellow dragon, but did not eat him. Now that the hoard has been rediscovered, he comes looking to recollect his rightful treasure….

About the Author

Robert Wiese has been playing D&D since 1978 after he watched a game played in the car on the way home from a Boy Scouts meeting. He was fascinated, and delved into this strange world of dragons and magic and sourcebooks. Years later, he was hired to edit tournaments for the RPGA Network, and from there progressed to running the network after his boss was assassinated in the great Christmas purge of 1996. Times were tough, but he persevered and brought the RPGA into a shining new era. Eventually he met a girl who liked to play D&D too, and he left Renton for the warmth and casinos of Reno, Nevada. Now, he works in the Pharmacology department of UNR studying mouse foot muscles and the effects of RF emissions on same. He spends as much time as possible with his wife Rhonda, son Owen, and newborn daughter Rebecca.
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