As the party walks the countryside toward [city name], they hear a loud clatter and a shouting of commands. Investigating the source of the noise leads them toward an hill on which sits a complicated monstrosity of a trebuchet. A team of scholars and tinkerers are busy at work, fine-tuning various parts of the machine and feverishly jotting down notes and mathematical equations on clipboards. Other individuals, dressed in formal wear and robes, are also gathered, pointing to sections of the mechanism and deliberating amongst themselves.
As the party approaches, one of the tinkerers, a mousy middle-aged man with thinning hair and tired eyes, steps forward and warns the party to keep their distance as this is a dangerous work zone.
To figure out what’s going on, the party will need to try either a persuasion check (DC 15) or an intimidation check (DC 10). If they succeed, the man will elaborate on what’s going on.
“We tried more conventional means, but those Drow have made this whole process of diplomacy very difficult.” He says, his voice exasperated.
According to the tinkerer, in the nearby mountains, there is a large chasm that descends down into the terrifying Underdark. In recent months, city mining operations in the mountains, as well as wildlife conservation efforts in the region, have been interrupted by angry Drow. The creatures sneak up from the chasm under the cover of night and attack these well-meaning miners and rangers, labeling them as trespassers.
“The city has tried to send diplomats to smooth things over,” the tinkerer continues, gesturing toward the robed men gathered off to one side of the trebuchet, “but they get chased off before they can make any sort of offer. Therefore, the brightest minds of [city name] have put their heads together and come up with this genius solution.”
A Rock-Solid Solution
The tinkerer leads the party around to the other side of the trebuchet, attracting curious looks from the gathered congregation of men and women. Once around to the other side, the party observes a massive boulder (20-30 feet in diameter). The boulder is completely covered with Undercommon text that’s been carved into the stony surface.
“Since they won’t hear us out,” the tinkerer says, “our best diplomats and translators have worked for 72 hours straight inscribing the terms of the peace proposal on this rock. We will use our trebuchet to launch the boulder through the sky, landing it directly down into the mouth of the chasm where the Drow will have no choice but the read it.”
He is clearly very proud of this plan and will get moody if anyone in the party calls it dangerous or stupid.
“Maybe you can help us out with our final step,” the tinkerer says. “We know that there is a chasm, but no one here amongst us has specifically seen it for themselves or knows its exact location. Even our diplomats, in their efforts to make contact, were always stopped before reaching the entrance to the Underdark.”
He reaches into his overcoat and pulls out a scroll. “We would go ourselves, but my colleagues and I are so busy with fine-tuning the machinations of the trebuchet. Likewise, the diplomats and translators are in no condition to go; most of them are still icing their hands from their 72-hour stone-carving marathon.”
The tinkerer points with the scroll off into the distance before passing it to the party. “Go through those trees there to reach the mountains. Find the chasm and then use this scroll of ‘Find the Path.’ Return back to us, concentration unbroken, and tell us the precise distance between our trebuchet and the chasm. We will determine the angles of trajectory, calibrate the machine, and launch the boulder.”
If the party agrees, the tinkerer encourages them to hurry and make it there/back before nightfall.
The Chasm’s Edge
It won’t take long walking through the forests that the terrain becomes rockier and more mountainous. Investigation checks can be used to help players find Drow markings on the rocky cliff walls or Drow weapons (e.g. discarded crossbow bolts) strewn across the stony and lichen-covered ground.
Eventually, the party finds the rocky mountain path widen some into a clearing. At the center of a clearing, there is a large chasm with ladders and such bolted to the side; this is definitely the point of passage between the Underdark and the world above.
The scene is unsettlingly quiet. Even the birds and other wildlife seem to be totally absent from this area. A few things will trigger the encounter here:
- The spell “Find the Path” is cast using the scroll, triggering a hum from down inside the pit (a “Detect Magic” security measure was in place and your player just tripped it).
- The party fails miserably on any stealth checks as they explore the clearing, alerting the Drow of their arrival.
- The party peers over the edge of the pit or tries to “throw something down it” to see exactly how deep it goes, alerting the Drow of their arrival.
When the encounter is triggered, two Drow with crossbows will appear behind the party, weapons at the ready. Another Drow, a magic user, will climb up from the pit and position herself on the edge, ready for combat. She will simply hiss, “Trespassers!” and strike defensive pose.
Your party could, at this point, try to talk their way through the situation. However, unless there is a Drow amongst them, it is unlikely to work. Saying that you are diplomats from the city, there on official business of peace, will also only make the Drow more suspicious of your intentions and prompt them to attack.
During the battle, it’s important to protect whatever party member had cast “Find the Path”, since maintaining the precise location of the chasm requires concentration (and it was a single-use scroll). Being hit with an attack will require a constitution saving throw to maintain concentration.
Of course, using force magic or wind to push the Drow sorcerer back into the pit is a great way to remove her from the fight entirely, allowing the party to focus their attention on the crossbow-carrying rogues.
Once the Drow have been defeated (preferably non-lethally, especially if your party identifies themselves as being from [city name]), the party can leave the chasm and return to the hill with the trebuchet.
A Stone’s Throw to Peace
Once you return to the hillside, the tinkerer approaches you again, clipboard in hand, and he asks you for the exact distance to (and direction of) the chasm. Whoever has “Find the Path” activated will be able to give this information with 100% accuracy. If concentration was broken during the scuffle with the Drow, then the player can try an educated guess at the distance with an intelligence check, but this should have a nearly impossible DC. The tinkerer nods, jots down some numbers, angles, and variables, and returns to his team without so much as a “thank you.” The team deliberates over numbers and calculations before turning cranks and pulling levers.
The trebuchet begins to creak and pivot, the sounds of gears notching into exact positions.
The trebuchet activates, hurling the carefully-inscribed boulder effortlessly through the air and into the distant mountains.
The crowd cheers and there is a great shaking of hands amongst the townsfolk gathered there, congratulating one another. The tinkerer approaches you yet again, this time looking far more relaxed.
“I feel really good about this.” he says, a confident smile overpowering his tired eyes. “Now, we just need to wait for them to read the terms and see what they say. But for your troubles…”
The rewards for this quest can vary from the conventional to the bizarre. If you want conventional, it could simply be a matter of earning the town’s gratitude and receiving discounts on all shops during your visit. Alternatively, the team of tinkerers/scientists could offer their services and edit your existing gear in clever ways (so long as trebuchets aren’t involved).
Or, since there was a light “math” theme to this encounter, you could be awarded the Mathemagician’s Hat.
When donning the hat, you may activate its ability once per day. Once activated, roll a d4. Each side triggers a different mathematical operation:
- Roll a 1…Division! For 1 minute, your character is split across the middle and can now act as two (half) characters. Your upper torso’s movement speed reduces to 10 feet, but you can have advantage on grappling legs, receive “prone” advantage to ranged attacks, and can easily be carried/thrown by other party members. Your lower torso/legs maintain full movement and can perform various kick attacks.
- Roll a 2…Subtraction! For 1 minute, your character is “subtracted” out of existence. This can mean you either take cover in some other plain of reality (to escape a battle entirely) or turn invisible for the duration.
- Roll a 3…Addition! For 1 minute, you sprout one additional body part. If it’s an arm, and you have another weapon in your inventory, you get a bonus attack with that weapon. If it’s a leg, you can add 30 feet to your movement speed.
- Roll a 4…Multiplication! For 1 minute, your character is now two. You control both versions of yourself and each character receives a full turn for actions, movement, bonus actions, etc. Both versions share the same HP pool.
Depending on how long your party is there on the hill, talking to various members of the town, they could experience this in person or hear about it later.
Suddenly, someone shouts, “Incoming!” Everyone runs from the hill and takes cover as another boulder comes flying down upon them. It lands with a crash, obliterating the trebuchet and sending up a cloud of dust and debris. When the air clears and the people of the town approach to inspect the damage, they find that the otherwise totally average boulder has the letters “OK” etched into the side.
The people of the city realize that this is their answer. They all cheer a second time, thrilled that the peace treaty has been granted and that, at least for the time being, the Drow will no longer be a threat to their community.