The party ventures past [village name] in a marshy region of the realm and hears the sound of commotion and banjo music. Visiting the village will reveal that today is the the annual “Muskrat Festival.” Vendors are selling an assortment of Muskrat-themed items: furry hats with little rat tails, scrumptious ice-cream treats shaped like aquatic rodents, and cotton shirts with the stitched message “I went musking, and all I got was this lousy shirt.”
The festival has clearly attracted a variety of people from neighboring towns, all clearly caught up in the ridiculous novelty of the event.
In the crowd, a young Tiefling woman stands out. Unlike the locals and village visitors, she is not decked out in silly muskrat apparel or snacking on rodent shish kebob spears. Instead, she is frantically writing down little numbers on color-coded tags.
As she is not looking where she is going, she bumps into the party.
“I’m so sorry!” she exclaims. “Are you okay?”
If the party chooses to introduce themselves, they will learn that this young woman is the area environmentalist and researcher Alexandra Doomah.
“Quite the festival, isn’t it?” she comments, looking around at the gathering crowd. “It’s really important to my work. The people get to enjoy a fun afternoon of catching muskrats with their bare hands, and I get to tag them—er, the creatures, not the people,” she laughs awkwardly. “I keep a record here of the muskrat population as part of a wildlife conservation program. They’re such majestic creatures, aren’t they?” she asks, staring with genuine awe at a horrendous muskrat plushie being toted around by a small child.
She will go on to say that she loves this village and that the residents, despite being a little “out there”, living in swampy isolation and celebrating muskrats, are very good people. Even though she’s a Tiefling, Alexandra has never received a judgmental look from any of these good-natured folk.
A horn will sound. “Oh!” Alexandra exclaims. “That means the games are about to begin! Quickly now. Walk with me to the swamp’s edge.”
All for One, and One for All
As the crowd gathers, the mayor, shirtless and wearing only boots and waders, will welcome the game’s contenders and walk them through the rules.
Every person may catch and bring back ONE muskrat. Only return with a muskrat when satisfied with its size and weight. Then, prizes are awarded based on the three tiers of muskrat sizes.
- Tier 1 (Small)-A scrawny little muskrat (“no pups, please,” the mayor will remind everyone, “they should be left alone with their families”) will earn the player 1 silver piece.
- Tier 2 (Medium)-A standard-sized muskrat, which are feisty and more challenging to catch, will earn 5 silver pieces and 1 free item from the “Muskrat Festival Giftshop”.
- Tier 3 (Large)-A beefy muskrat is very tough to catch and, more importantly, heavy to carry all the way back while also maintaining a firm grip on its slippery coat. Catching a large muskrat will earn 5 gold pieces and entry into a raffle for a very special item.
“What if someone finds Elonia?” a voice asks from the back of the assembly.
Suddenly, the excited chatter of the crowd hushes. The contenders, busy stretching and dressing themselves for the marshland’s difficult terrain, also take pause and listen intently.
An old woman, dressed in tattered clothes that are muddy from the swamp, creeps a little forward until the mayor can pick her out in the crowd.
“Please, madam,” the mayor laughs uncomfortably. “Everyone knows that Elonia, the Musk Mother, is just a myth and nothing more.”
There is a disagreement in the crowd now. Half the people nod and applaud the mayor’s sensibility, while the other half seem to support the old woman, claiming things like, “Hey, my grandpappy saw Elonia with his own two eyes out there!” and “I swear I once heard Elonia chewing on the side of my house in the dead of night!”
Annoyed with the commotion and tonal shift, the mayor will raise his flag into the air and drop it, prompting everyone to snap back to the contest, holler with excitement, and run (or trudge) out into the shallow muddy waters and thick trees of the swamp.
Before venturing out, the party can choose to talk with a chosen few:
- The old woman can give more information on the lore of Elonia the Musk Mother. According to legend, she prefers to live deep in the swamp, far away from people, where she looks after her brood and serves as the ageless matriarch of muskrat-kind. Legend also says that she can be soothed with music, especially this tune: [hum a tune for your players to try and remember later].
- Alexandra can inform the party how best to approach muskrats, including what to look for (scratches on bark, scat, etc.), what their nests look like (big dome-shaped piles of of reeds and mud), etc. She also explains how, in her experience, rocking a muskrat gently in your arms can put it to sleep very easily.
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Mire
Muskrat hunting requires players to perform a series of skill challenges. Consider having any of these rolls be at advantage if the player has particular proficiency/experience in something or tries to do something clever. Likewise, using any of Alexandra’s strategies above can grant advantage.
- Search for signs of a muskrat (roll an investigation, perception, or nature check):
- 9 or lower: player struggles with seeing anything in the mosquito-filled air and the murky, muddy waters. They are unsuccessful at finding anything and might even get into trouble: bitten by a poisonous snake, stuck knee-deep in mud, dropping an item from their pocket into the opaque waters.
- 10-13: player finds the trail of a small muskrat
- 14-16: player finds the trail of a medium muskrat
- 17+: player finds the trail of a large muskrat
- Find and capture the muskrat (roll for dexterity, more specifically acrobatics, with a DC of 10).
- Secure the muskrat (roll for animal handling with a DC of 10). If the player uses the rocking-to-sleep method, then the muskrat soundly slumbers for the next hour. If the player is just holding the muskrat, then their hands cannot be used for weapons/grabbing anything (unless they release the rodent). Also, as time progresses, consider having players complete dexterity saving throws as muskrats attempt to wriggle free.
At some point, the party sees something truly alarming: very, very large muskrat pawprints in the mud.
If they choose to follow the prints deeper and deeper into the swamp, they will eventually arrive at what looks like a very large muskrat nest (a huge dome of mud and vegetation). If the party approaches this nest to investigate, the entire nest will move, rise, and shake off the mud; it isn’t a nest at all…it’s Elonia, the Musk Mother.
Elonia will attempt to fight the party, but it should be noted that glowing purple liquid is dripping from around her eyes and out of her mouth. She also cries extra loudly if the party strikes at her back.
If the party remembers the tune to the old woman’s song, they can try to sing it now (seriously…have them try to hum/sing it) and roll a performance check. Grant advantage if they did a nice job remembering the melody. Doing so successfully will temporarily calm Elonia for 1 turn, her reverie broken only if a player attacks her.
A successful perception check reveals that there is a broken spear stuck into her shoulder, apparently causing her tremendous pain and poisoning/cursing her. A player can use their turn to scale Elonia, climbing up her back a la Shadow of the Colossus. Elonia instinctively uses her reaction to try and shake the player off her back (unless she is still in her reverie), forcing the player to succeed on an dexterity saving throw. If the player is successful at hanging on, they can use their next turn to pull out the spear with a strength check (DC 12).
Removing the spear instantly causes the player to roll off Elonia’s back. The Musk Mother lets out a roar but then immediately calms down again, realizing that the party has helped her. To express her gratitude, she sheds one of her incisors and gives it to the party. This massive tooth is extremely hard and can be fashioned, by a blacksmith or craftsman, into a very interesting +1 axe . The party can also take the broken spearhead and do something with it later; just be mindful of the tip and its apparent poison/curse effect.
If the party saves Elonia instead of defeating her, any muskrats already in their possession will stop squirming and follow them obediently back to the village.
The player receives an award based on the size of their held muskrat While they are handed their prize (listed earlier in this post), Alexandra will scribble in her field notes and tag the muskrat’s ear with a tracker, color-coded in accordance with its “tier.”
Any player who brought back a “large” muskrat also enters the rare item raffle (they must choose a number 1-8). Roll a d8. If the number matches any of the selected player numbers, that player is awarded the item below. Alternatively, if the players share their story of Elonia and have her incisor to prove it, the town will be left awestruck and moved to joyful tears that you helped her in her time of need. As a reward, they will forgo the raffle entirely and simply hand you the Musky Mitts.
When worn, the player can trigger the special ability of the Musky Mitts:
- The wearer immediately starts to gather nearby materials (sticks, mud, leaves, and whatever else they can find) and begins assembling a large muskrat lodge.
- After 30 minutes, they will have created an enterable dome that has a 6-foot radius and that lasts for 1 month. Think of it as a significantly sadder Leomund’s Tiny Hut.
- While the party is inside the dome, provided that it was created in a natural environment and not, say, the middle of busy city street, they can avoid any suspicion or detection from passerby.
- The interior is kept warm and dry from outside elements.
- For flavor: while the player is in “muskrat mode” assembling the lodge, their eyes dilate, their nose twitches, and they can only communicate in chirps and squeaks.
Note: If you like the quirkiness of animal-based skill challenges, consider reading our fishing tournament: Blue: What Lies in the Depths?