While in the market district of [City Name], the party overhears a conversation at one of the stalls.
“Please, just take it. I don’t want anything to do with it anymore!” a man cries out, holding in his hand what appears to be a hairy bundle of flesh. Upon closer examination, the party observes that the strange item in the man’s hand is a severed monkey’s paw, each of its fingers curled up to make a small fist.
Those who use Detect Magic will notice a dark and sinister magic radiating from the bizarre item. A weaker dark magic also surrounds the distressed gentleman.
The vendor looks a little nauseated at the ugly severed limb being pushed up into his face and insists that the man moves along and takes his strange wares elsewhere.
If the players approach, the man will light up and eagerly offer them the monkey’s fist. “Please! I just want to get rid of this evil thing. You have no idea how badly it’s turned my life upside down.”
If the party accepts the “gift”, the man braces himself, clearly hoping for some sort of change. His eyes stare fixedly on the paw, but the fingers remain tightly bunched into a fist. After a few seconds, he frowns and goes back to looking equal parts distressed and depressed.
He introduces himself as Herbert, a modest farmer, who came into possession of the odd talisman while on a vacation in [distant region in your world]. He purchased the object from a Paw-N Shop (a shop that specializes in selling lightly-used paws of all shapes and sizes). The seedy-looking merchant told him that this particular object grants its owner three wishes.
“I was skeptical at first,” Herbert confesses, “I mean, this world has no shortage of strange and magical items, I’ll admit, but they’re always ornately decorated spell tomes and golden amulets encrusted with gems, right? Not an flea-ridden severed limb. I didn’t know that the merchant was speaking the truth until it was too late…
The man explains to the party how he brought the novelty back home and cast his 3 wishes. Each wish was answered, in a way, but they were warped by the paw’s dark magic, making his life worse instead of better. He believes that if he can reverse the damage done by his reckless wishing, then the shadow of the monkey’s paw will finally release him and let him go back to his simple life.
At this point, the party can choose to help Herbert or let the poor man suffer with his curse.
“I wished that I smelled nice and was considered attractive,” Herbert explains. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t clear what I wanted to smell like or to whom my smell would attract. Now, I constantly reek of stagnant pondwater and fish. As a result, Kuo-toa keep showing up at all hours, knocking on my farmhouse door, asking me on dates. They’re very persistent.”
This encounter can happen at any point while the players are walking with Herbert. As DM, you can have players roll a die to determine when/if an encounter with an admirer happens.
The Kuo-toa suitors should come bearing gifts, like boxes of “candy” (that are actually filled with assorted pond mollusks) and moldy stuffed animals. Some can masquerade as bards and recite garbled love sonnets to Herbert. They should come dressed in their finest waterlogged suits and carry bouquets made of drooping seaweed; they slick their dorsal fins back with their finest algal slime pomade.
The party can attempt to make Herbert unappealing to the Kuo-toa by somehow altering his smell/masking his scent, but this will need a high DC on whatever roll is done to prove successful.
More likely, a battle will need to happen, either in the conventional way against a handful of Kuo-toa suitors who do not take romantic rejection well, or in some other challenge, proposed by either the players or Herbert himself, as a competition to “win his heart.”
If the players succeed in fending off the advances of the Kuo-toa, the monkey’s fist reacts, and one of its fingers uncurls. Almost immediately, Herbert begins to feel the effects of the curse lifting and tells the party as much, eyes twinkling with hope that this nightmare might have an end.
“I wished to have fertile fields and a bountiful harvest. Unfortunately, my entire property is now an overgrown and weed-filled mess. I will never be able to mow it all back on my own.”
Herbert walks the players to his farmstead, where they are greeted with grasses and wheat so high and overgrown that the farmhouse in the distance is barely visible.
If the players attempt to navigate the grasses without somehow holding hands/tying a rope around one another, have them roll survival checks with DC 14 or else they get separated from the group and are lost in the overgrowth.
At the center of this field is a terrifying shambling mound that must be slain by the players. Herbert doesn’t know this creature exists yet, but he won’t be surprised since none of these wishes have proven to be positive.
If the party succeeds in defeating the monster, and helps Herbert slash back a lot of the dense vegetation, the monkey’s fist reacts yet again, and another one of its fingers uncurls.
“I wished that I had 2000 GP,” Herbert says, “Unfortunately, the gold was stolen from a dragon’s cave somewhere nearby. The bandits who swiped it stashed it in my shed. I overheard them in the middle of the night whispering about how they’d come back for it once the heat dies down…apparently, they saw how overgrown my yard was and assumed my property was abandoned. I’m not sure when the dragon will wake up, but I think I should get his gold back to him before he does…”
The players can investigate the shed (once the overgrowth has been hacked away and the buildings are accessible again) to see the large, heavy sack of stolen dragon gold and other rare gems.
A perception/investigation check will help the players spot a small slit in the bottom of the sack. Looking around outside, the party can find a gold coin that had fallen out when the thieves carried the booty here…then another coin…then another coin. In fact, there is a trail of gold leading conveniently across the countryside and towards the site of the sleeping dragon’s hoard. This is convenient to help return the gold to its owner, but it’s also inconvenient because the trail would easily lead a newly-awakened (and angry-at-being-robbed) dragon right to Herbert.
After following the trail for a couple of hours, the players arrive at a small cave. As they descend, deeper and deeper, they eventually enter an open and spacious room where a young blue dragon is sleeping; behind him is a pile of golden coins and other assorted treasures.
Players must roll for stealth if they intend on returning the gold to the dragon without disturbing him. Another option, of course, is trying to defeat the dragon if your party feels up to the task (but a “reverse-robbery” stealthing situation sounds like it would be more interesting). Add some sleeping blue dragon wyrmlings if you really want to encourage the stealth option and discourage combat.
If the players succeed in returning the ill-gotten gold, the monkey’s fist reacts and one of its fingers uncurls.
DM Note: If the players are completing these wishes out of order, and they decide to return the dragon gold before attending to the persistent Kuo-toa, have a player roll a straight d20 upon entering the dragon’s main layer. If the the player rolls a 5 or lower, then a Kuo-toa should appear at the entrance of the layer, shouting, “Playing hard to get, my darling Herbie? I’ve found you! My heart will always lead me to you!” Obviously, this loud and zealous proclamation awakens the sleeping dragon and triggers combat.
After all the wishes have been reversed, Herbert finally feels at ease again, no longer burdened by the weight of the curse.
“That’s the last time I make a wish on a severed body party,” he comments.
Knowing that this talisman is far too dangerous to remain in his hands, he will entrust it to the party (if they want it). If the party accepts it, they will learn that the monkey’s paw has the following effects now:
- Allows the user to cast “Wish” up to 3 times. After the third time, the paw’s fingers are curled, and it’s simply a fist; it still radiates dark, cursed energy, but it can no longer be activated or used for wishing by anyone.
- The “Wish” spells must be distorted in some way. As DM, you can tell the players that the wishes take 24 hours to take effect rather than acting instantaneously; that way, you can buy yourself time to figure out a clever way to twist or alter the wish. You can even have players roll a d20 to determine whether the “twisted” nature of the wish just makes it somewhat lesser than what was requested or creates a scenario that’s dramatically worse.