Today’s encounter is the third guest contribution from Lxi! We can’t thank him enough for sending this along. More on Lxi:
Lxi is a dedicated DM and a father, crafting dynamic and exciting D&D adventures for family and friends. His goal is to minimize repetition and avoid slogfests, ensuring each encounter is as engaging as possible. (But to be honest, some of his ideas are dumb.)
A Message from the Sky
The adventuring party is caught by surprise as a piece of parchment comes floating down from the sky. It is a flyer with the following text:
“Daring Adventurers Required!
Baron Denham beckons bold souls for the Grand Expedition to unearth the Lost Treasure of the Money Pit.
Glorious rewards await.
Inquire at Baron’s manor; this parchment points the way”
The parchment is shaped like an arrow. It magically points to the Baron’s manor at the edge of what looks like a sand desert. The desert, spanning about 10 square miles, is an inverse oasis: a local climate anomaly amidst fertile land, characterized by hot sand and relentless sunshine. Presenting the flyer to the guards grants the heroes access. The Baron meets them at the dining hall.
Denham’s manor looks like the home base of a Victorian-era explorer with all kinds of trophies and maps on display. On the floor is the skin of a tiger, and on the walls several stuffed heads of strange animals. The baron, dressed like a British lord on safari and sporting a massive moustache, strolls in with enthusiasm, humming the theme from Indiana Jones. “Ah, the new resources,” he mutters as he approaches the party.
Baron Denham’s Unmet Expectations
The baron looks at the party of adventurers with a measuring gaze, examining their weapons, muscles and teeth, smiling and nodding approvingly. “Excellent material, excellent!” he muses.
He continues, “Have you heard of the Legend of the Money Pit? Well of course you haven’t. If it were common knowledge, everyone would be running here, competing with me to recover its hidden treasures. Long time ago, there was a rich civilization that lived here and they had this culture where everyone was equal —can you imagine?—and they had no need for money. So they used this massive pit in the desert where a creature called Devourer lives and tossed all their money down, and there it awaits the daring adventurers, and no one has been able to recover the treasure.” The baron spreads out a blueprint. It depicts a cross-section of a deep hole, with representations of money and question marks at the bottom.
The baron’s smile fades as he tells you the following. “Now, I have been funding an attempt to recover the treasure for a while, but it seems to take ages and I am yet to be shown some concrete results. The expedition leader, a gnome tinkerer named Ove Arup, has built a shelter and is building something inside it, but when I went to inspect their plans and progress, I was met with an ogre guard at the door and was denied access. The behemoth said something about making sure they are not disturbed and that they work at a “sustainable pace”. This will not do. I need strong adventurers like you to get past this muscle at the door, have a talk with Ove and let him know that he has exactly one week to deliver me the treasure or I will cut the funding of his crew. Also, I want you to stay and help Ove with whatever he is doing to recover the lost treasure. For doing this, I will reward you with 1% of the earnings of the Expedition and a pre-payment of 50 gold coins for each of you.”
The Construction Site
Ove’s construction site has a shelter, like a massive barn that could house an airplane, and Thug the ogre is guarding the entrance. Thug’s instructions are to keep Ove and the crew safe. Though his intelligence may be limited, he has a strong sense of worker’s rights and professional pride. If the heroes explain that they want to help, Thug allows them to meet with Ove, but joins the meeting and stands close with his intimidating presence.
Ove is an artificer gnome and an engineer. (DM’s note: feel free to go over the top with your description with clockwork tools, goggles and everything.) Ove explains that his crew is making progress and the Baron promised to cover all expenses, so everything should be in order. When told there is a new deadline and that funds will be cut off, he panics at first but then sets up a brainstorming session with his gnomes and comes back: “We have found a solution to recover the treasure within the new timeline. However, we are still missing the Extraction Crew. But if YOU will go down and load up the valuables, we can use the M.V.P. to go down and bring back the treasure. We are willing to give 1% of our reward to you. We have calculated that there must be at least 4.567 metric tons of gold down there. We used one week for these calculations alone, so 1% will get you a fancy title and a manor, too, if you like.”
Inside the construction hall there is a lift the gnomes have built, which they call Magnificent Vertical Platform (M.V.P.). It was originally intended as a prototype to validate their idea. However, the new timeline necessitates its use as the primary instrument for the recovery attempt.
The lift will be transported to the desert on a massive 16-wheeled cart and positioned over the gaping Pit. The lift consists of a structure on top, a pulley system with endless rope, and the platform. The lift can move up or down with a speed of 5 feet per round, or it can be stopped. Thug the ogre operates the lift and will follow the party’s instructions, but they will have to shout pretty hard to get heard or use some other means of communicating.
DMs Note: this is your opportunity to run a vertical dungeon! The gnomish lift going down can reveal multiple entrances to levels of caves that can have all kinds of challenges in them. Feel free to expand the adventure in all possible ways.
On the bottom awaits the Devourer. It is a cursed creature, forever hungry. Its bowels serve as a gate to the Astral plane, ensuring its hunger is never satiated. If any treasure was poured in, the coins and goblets are gently floating somewhere between the realities, impossible for anyone to recover. The baron will have to auction all his belongings and the manor to pay all his debts when he finds out, but hey let’s concentrate on the adventure.
Fighting the Devourer
The Devourer has a terrible maw and a flexible wormlike head on the bottom of the pit. The creature itself is much larger; in fact, the walls of the pit are part of its body. It attacks using tentacles that emerge from these walls. It is attempting to break apart the lift so that the whole thing would plummet to its maw.
Down here, the pit itself is wider as well. The M.V.P. lift platform is 30 feet in diameter, but the pit around it is 40 or 45 feet so that there is a gap between the platform and the wall, where the tentacles emerge and try to hurl down unfortunate adventurers.
Treat the tentacles and the body of the Devourer as separate creatures that act on the same initiative count. On its every turn, if the Devourer is alive and has less than 6 Tentacles left, it will spawn d4 more that appear in random locations around the heroes.
To hit the Devourer, the players can target the walls or the mouth with their attacks. Consider using a visible tracker, a boss health bar, showing the relative amount of Hit Points it has left. (Of course, this method limits your ability to fudge the Hit Point pool and to kill the creature off at the most dramatic moment. But do whatever fits your DMing style.)
Every round in the combat, the Devourer attempts to grasp the structure of the lift with its tentacles. If it lands two hits (against AC 8 of the lift structure), it means the creature has grasped the lift from both sides. On the subsequent turn, if the players don’t destroy the tentacles, the Devourer flexes its muscles and shatters the lift.
When the lift breaks, it becomes a pile of timber that still hangs from the ropes. Everyone has to roll a Dex Save DC10 or fall down. Otherwise they end up hanging from the remains of the lift and need to use one hand all the time to hang on. Those that fall down are now prone, on top of the Devourer.
If anyone from the party gets swallowed, it becomes evident that there is no treasure down here. Just a gate to the void. If someone wants to travel through the gate in an attempt to “complete the mission”, give them a fair warning. The characters will just know at that moment that anything that goes down there, is lost forever, be it money or a living person.
When the Devourer dies, the vortex in its bottom sucks it in and finally nothing but a black hole remains on the bottom of the pit. Falling in would be terminal for any character, so ask each player to narrate how they avoid this, and let them succeed without any rolls.
The gnomish lift is equipped with a failsafe that activates at the right moment (chosen by the DM). A wooden beam cracks open, unveiling long, metallic, spider-like arms. These arms reach out, grip the pit’s edges, and begin a slow ascent.
When the adventurers come up from the pit, Ove is hyperactive and wants to interview everyone. He seems to completely ignore the fact that there is no treasure. Instead, he asks for details about how the lift broke apart and at what point did the failsafe mechanism activate and the anatomy of the Devourer and the void gate at its rear end. He starts planning experiments to discover what happens to matter that comes in touch with the gate.
Despite the catastrophic outcome of the Expedition, Baron Denham wants to compensate the valiant efforts of the adventuring party. He gives them the following items from his Wondrous Collection of items:
The Sponsor’s Blade: A magical weapon (of DM’s choice) that consumes gold coins in exchange for magical power. When using the weapon for an attack, the user must declare whether they want to make their attack with +1, +2 or +3 to hit and damage, and gold coins from their person (or from the party’s possession) are consumed so that +1 consumes 1 gp, +2 consumes 10 gp, and +3 consumes 100 gp for every attack, regardless of it’s a hit or miss.
Moustache of Prestige: A finely groomed, detachable moustache that can be worn over any existing facial hair. Once donned, it grants the wearer advantage on Charisma checks, but disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks as it’s just too eye-catching.
Bureaucrat’s Briefcase: Any coins or financial documents placed in this briefcase disappear, replaced by stacks of seemingly endless paperwork that detail the losses.
From the author:
Balancing encounters is hard, and the CR system is not perfect. That’s why I like to playtest my designs before running them. For the Devourer’s Pit encounter I used a vertical battle map drawn with my trusty dry-erase markers. I tracked initiative, hit points, conditions and spell slots in a spreadsheet and stacked a party of 4 characters on level 5 against the Monster: a fighter, rogue, wizard and cleric.
At first the fighter got grappled by a tentacle and it kept him and the rogue busy trying to get him free. The casters started blasting down on the head of the monster with ranged attack spells. They ignored the tentacles gripping the lift, and on the following round I drew the new situation as the lift was torn apart. (I also added numbers to my tokens to track the different tentacles.)
I ruled that the Devourer is nice and soft to land on, and halved the fall damage as the wizard and cleric plummeted down. This made me, as the “players”, realize that jumping down is the best move. The tentacles were left behind without anything to do. As a rule of cool I allowed a single melee attack to land an auto-crit, if it hits when jumping down on the monster.
On the next turn I decided the Devourer can also retract tentacles that are not needed and spawn new ones where its enemies are. When they appear, they are idle for the first turn before starting to attack. This makes moving around a good tactic for the players and the whole encounter more dynamic.
When the rogue got swallowed, I added a stomach map. At this moment it becomes obvious that there is no treasure to be found, only death! When in monster’s belly, you can use your action to hurt the beast with double damage (it is vulnerable to all damage types from the inside), or try to climb out before you sink to the bottom. The rogue was low on hit points, so he quaffed a potion of greater healing to stay alive, as he sunk 5 feet deeper.
The heroes won, barely, at the end. The wizard was at negative Hit Points, and 3 out of 4 were inside the belly of the beast when they finally inflicted the last of the necessary 277 points of damage! Here’s what it looked like at the end:
The testing led me to make the following changes to the first version of the encounter:
- Let the players roll the d4 at the start of each turn for how many new tentacles appear (if there are less than 6 to start with)
- Let the Devourer retract tentacles that have no enemies within reach and remove them. This means their total number goes down, and on the following turn, new ones can be spawned next to the player characters
- Devourer AC should be really low! The cleric would have missed a Guiding Bolt attack and that just felt wrong. I changed the AC 18 natural armor to AC 10.
- Epic leap: if you drop down from the lift on the Devourer and your melee attack hits, it is an automatic critical hit, but you land prone.
- Swallowed movement: it is easier to track if sliding 5 feet down happens at the start of each swallowed character’s turn.
- Falling on the Devourer: it is surprisingly soft, and you take only half of normal falling damage. For higher level characters you could skip this, but for level 5 the fall damage would have been too much.