A village blacksmith is packing up his shop for the final time.
“After 50 long years serving this community, I’m now officially retired,” the old-yet-burly man says as he effortlessly carries stacks of iron ingots and organizes them into crates. “I’ve loved my work, and it makes my heart proud knowing that my son in the next town over has taken on the mantle, running a successful smithy of his own. Now if only I could get this to him…”
The old man carefully walks a lantern over to the party; its contents swirl with a magical purple flame. “This fire has been kept burning, in our family’s hearths, for two centuries now. I would love to get it to my son so that he can carry on the flame and use it in his own smithy.”
“You folks have strong, young legs,” the blacksmith comments. “Maybe you can do me a favor and see that this flame gets to my son? I can pay you some gold upfront, of course, and just in case,” he carefully opens the lantern and holds a candle against the flame. Its wick catches with a small purple flame of its own. “Not that I’m losing faith in any of you,” the old man adds, setting the candle down on a table, “I just need a little insurance. This flame is a family heirloom after all. Can’t go getting it snuffed out on my watch. Not to mention…there are the stories…”
If the players ask for him to elaborate, the old man tells of the mythical Smokey the Owlbear. “They say he and his woodland friends keep a watchful eye on the fields and forests, looking to quench any unwanted flames. Most don’t encounter him and his crew directly, but travelers wake up in the middle of the night to find extinguished campfires and claim to hear the sounds of retreating critters.”
If the players agree to help the old blacksmith, they can take the lantern of historic dragon flame and begin their journey.
The journey to the neighboring town will take about 1 day, requiring the party to spend at least one night camping out in the wilds (and thereby triggering the main event of the encounter).
The dragon flame will always give off an incriminating glow, even if the players try to somehow drape/mask it from being seen (just say that the light is magically able to permeate just about everything).
For flavor, have players roll passive perception checks to spot suspicious behaviors of nearby animals as the party traverses the various forests and grasslands:
- Bunnies chasing each other in a field, only to stop and stare intently at the party as they pass.
- Squirrels chittering in one another’s ears; one gasps when it (presumably) hears from his squirrel friend that the party is harboring an illegal flame, prompting him to angrily smash the walnut in his paws.
- Birds circling overhead and cawing loudly, as though tracking the players’ movements.
The party stumbles across a very flimsy looking rope bridge across a brook. As they cross, it is clear to anyone with engineering experience that this rope bridge is newly crafted and intentionally made in such a way to easily break. When crossing, have each party member roll an acrobatics check. If they fail to meet the DC 14, that player plummets into the water and destroys the bridge. If the lantern falls into the water, the flame is extinguished and the party must backtrack to have the flame relit by the blacksmith.
As the sun begins to set, the players need to establish camp for the night.
Provided that the party has someone keeping watch at various points throughout the night, they will be well aware when the the chirping bugs and other forest noises fall eerily silent.
Suddenly, there’s a rustling of bushes as a large owlbear, dressed in forest ranger attire, comes walking out on its hindlegs, staring angrily at the smoldering campfire.
“Fires are dangerous,” it grumbles before snapping its clawed fingers. Two eagles come flapping out of the trees, clumsily holding a pail of water in their talons, that they drop with careful precision onto the flames. There is a satisfying hiss as a plume of smoke rises from the soggy logs.
Now, illuminated only by moonlight, Smokey the Owlbear looks more ominous than ever. Instead of turning around and returning to the underbrush, he remains, planted in place. He sniffs the air, scowls at whoever is keeping watch, and begins to growl.
“Something…still…BURNS!” he roars.
At this point, the players can relinquish the lantern with the dragon fire (in an effort to avoid combat) or roll initiative.
Smokey the Owlbear will not be alone in this battle. As a bonus action before his first turn, he releases a shriek, prompting a small legion of firefighting woodland critters to appear from behind the surrounding trees. Select animals that challenge your party, although it might be hilarious to throw in some minor critters as well, like rabbits wearing ranger hats and what not.
DM Note: Smokey the Owlbear and his critters are magical beings from the Fey realm, summoned to protect these fields and forests from those who might cause it harm. Therefore, no real animals are truly hurt in this battle; when an animal is defeated, have it “poof” into magical smoke.
Smokey can be momentarily distracted by fire-based spells, especially if players try to cause diversionary forest fires to distract/overwhelm Smokey’s safety-conscious crew.
Once Smokey is defeated, he will begin to fade away from this mortal plane. Before he has completely dissolved away, he will choose 1 random party member, lock eyes with them, and charge them with the line, “Now…only you…can prevent…forest fires.”
Then, in the mere moments before he fades away completely, he tosses that player a small iron ranger badge. Once identified, this item is revealed to be Smokey’s Badge of Fire Detection.
When worn, the player gets advantage on detecting and tracking anything that’s burning/on fire. They can also always build fires with safe perimeters and keep them properly fueled.
Once the party has arrived at the neighboring town, they can search out the smithy and “pass the torch” to the old man’s son. The son will be very grateful for the delivery, stressing that it’s not particularly useful or special fire (aside from the color) but that he’s know it’s important to his father and, therefore, promises to take good care of it.
As this point, the party will have already received some GP upfront from the old man as well as getting the (likely unwanted) Smokey’s Badge and the bonus responsibility of being an honorary park ranger.
You may choose to provide a perk here in this new town as well, such as the blacksmith offering special deals on equipment, or even using the dragon flame to shape/forge players’ weapons and giving them a pretty violet hue (no bonus effects or anything…just in a nifty recoloring).