As the party traverses the countryside, they follow a dirt path that winds its way up to a forest. Suddenly, there’s the sound of cracking branches and rustling leaves.
If the party approaches the sounds, they are greeted by a halfling who comes tumbling out of the thicket before faceplanting onto the dusty road. He glances up at the party. Then, looking somewhat dazed, his eyes wander to the sign at the forest entrance: “South Entrance.”
“No, no, no,” the halfling moans, pressing his forehead back down onto the ground and pounding the dirt with clenched fists. “I thought I had it this time.”
If the party helps the man up and inquires what’s going on, he explains his situation:
“I’m trying to get home. My village is on the north side of this forest, but for some reason, I can’t seem to find my way there. If I stick to the path, I just end up walking in a loop through the trees and am returned here to the start. I even tried taking shortcuts this time, cutting through the underbrush, but that didn’t help either.”
The party can offer to escort the young man through the forest and better investigate what’s going on. As DM, you might also create an organic reason for the players to also need to make it through the forest and reach the northern side.
If the party agrees to help, the halfling will smile and shake each player’s hand excitedly. “Oh, thank you so much. I can’t stress enough how many times I’ve attempted to get through this forest. I should have been home hours ago.”
As the party ventures through the trees, everything looks and sounds fairly normal: birds are sweetly chirping, winds gently blowing, etc. The path also doesn’t appear strange in any way: it’s just a typical dirt path as one would expect to see in rural areas.
During the first part of this walk, the halfling introduces himself as Arlan Appleseed. He tells the party how he was away for business, gathering foreign seeds and saplings to replant outside his village. He’s excited to return home to his wife and newborn baby, both of whom he misses dearly.
Suddenly, the air changes and players feel a chill on the backs of their necks. As DM, you would know that the party has now stepped into a sizable 24-hour spell field called “Hallucinatory Terrain.” If a player chooses to carefully investigate their environment, they must roll a high DC 20 intelligence (investigation) check against a green hag’s magic. Succeeding on this ability check allows the player to see through the illusion and detect where the real forest path leads. Failure causes them to follow an illusory path through the trees and in the wrong direction.
Eventually, the winding path leads into a small forest clearing where a cozy homestead sits, nestled against a backdrop of trees. Smoke puffs out pleasantly from the chimney, and the smell of a hearty stew, cooking over a fire, ensnares the players’ nostrils.
“Nooo!” Arlan cries out, collapsing to his knees and looking dumbstruck at the sight. “Not this place again.“
Suddenly, the door of the cottage swings open, and a voice calls out, “Oh, Arlaaan!”
Hags and Kisses
A beautiful young woman steps out onto the front steps. She is dressed in a modest outfit with an apron wrapped around her waist. “Arlan, baby,” she says, waving her arms excitedly and blowing him kisses, “you’re back! What are the odds? I swear it must be fate that keeps bringing us together like this. Truly, it’s kismet.“
“Hey, Johanna…” Arlan says with a half-hearted wave in return.
“Don’t be a stranger now, honey,” the woman calls, “come inside for a little supper. Your friends are more than welcome to join us at the table too; I’ve made plenty!” She disappears back inside the cottage.
Arlan starts to mechanically, almost defeatedly, trudge toward the front door. If the players ask what’s going on, he whispers to them, “Her name is Johanna. Johanna Denvar. I didn’t even know her before today, but now, every time I walk this path, I always wind up here. I can’t seem to get away from her.”
Once inside, Johanna neatly sets the table for Arlan and the rest of the party. The smell of the stew is especially strong indoors and even more delicious. The house is small but nicely decorated, tidy, and warm. Johanna continues to be the perfect hostess, only snapping at players if any of them try to:
- Flirt with Arlan or compliment him
- Sit in Arlan’s seat at the table (which is pushed up right against hers)
- Bring up Arlan’s wife and child back home
During the dinner, conversation is awkward. Johanna keeps batting her eyelashes at Arlan and giggles whenever he says anything (which isn’t often since the halfling is clearly distraught and confused). The party can, once again, attempt an investigation check (DC 20) to see through Johanna’s disguise: she is a Green Hag who has cast “Illusory Appearance” on herself.
If the party pushes enough of her buttons, Johanna will tell Arlan to go into the other room and grab some pepper from the spice rack. Once he’s gone, Johanna will whisper to the players, explaining that Arlan is actually her husband, and he’s just very confused at the moment which is why she’s playing along like they’re strangers. She will even “prove it” by walking over and grabbing a painting that’s leaned against the wall. “We took this down to get it touched up for our 8-year anniversary, but see for yourselves.” She flips the canvas around and shows them a ridiculous-looking painting of Arlan standing beside Johanna, both of them dressed in traditional wedding attire, beneath a wooden arch covered in flowering vines (like everything else, this painting is also part of the hag’s illusion).
The party can choose to leave the cottage and continue the journey, but doing so will cause them to walk until they, once again, wind up back at Johanna’s cottage or the south entrance where the encounter began. The only way to break this cycle and save Arlan is to reveal Johanna’s secret and destroy her/her illusion.
Love is a Battlefield
By either breaking through the hallucinatory terrain in the beginning, or seeing through Johanna’s illusory appearance at the cottage, the players trigger a battle with the hag.
She is desperately in love with Arlan and will not let him escape her clutches so easily. If the party prefers more non-combat solutions, they can attempt to persuade Johanna Denvar to let them help her find love elsewhere, but this will be a hard sell requiring a high DC persuasion check.
Otherwise, roll initiative and enter combat with the green hag.
Once Johanna is defeated, the tingly feeling that the party felt before will completely disappear. All illusory paths vanish to reveal overgrown brush. The quaint cottage is replaced by the remnants of a cabin that likely caught fire and burned down decades earlier.
If the players investigate the house (or what’s left of the house), they find a variety of witchy objects, potions, and jars of strange alchemical ingredients. Additionally, there’s a small lockbox beneath the broken planks that were once a bed. Inside this box, players find a variety of knick-knacks (e.g. broken pocket watch, small dagger, Dragonchess pieces, etc.). There is also a diary where Johanna wrote about her crushes on various travelers who wandered into her woods over the years; each of the objects seems to be a souvenir that she snatched from them before they either slipped away or made the fatal mistake of breaking up with her.
Returning to the official, non-illusory path, the party has an easy and uneventful trek through the forest. Arlan is so pleased when they finally manage to clear the trees. He can reward the party with some gold for helping to escort him through or offer them a place to stay in his nearby halfling village if that better suits the main campaign.