An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet
Type: Casual, Humor, Exploration
System: D&D 5e or Pathfinder
Ideal Party Size: 4-5
Recommended Level: 1
Life in the village of Aelindorg has always been boring yet comforting in its predictability. It is nestled within a fertile forest valley and flanked by two large cities, either barely a three-day walk away, so resources are always bountiful. The occasional wild animal attack and visit from an eccentric adventurer breaks up the monotony, but otherwise your upbringing has been tranquil.
But one day, on a standard trapping and hunting expedition, you and a group of fellow villagers journey farther than usual in pursuit of a great stag with golden-streaked horns. The mysterious creature eludes your party and you quickly find yourself lost beyond the expanse. After some bushwhacking you discover a clearing that houses a circular arrangement of massive moss-covered stones. Based on what you can interpret from the more legible hieroglyphs, this structure appears to the dilapidated remnants of some ancient civilization that lived in the wilds and performed primitive magics. Whether they were destroyed, migrated away, or simply evolved through the passage of centuries, no one knows.
The stones are engraved with lengthy scripts of a long-dead language and most of the words are blocked by plant growth. All seems inert and eerily silent. But after brushing aside some moss in order to uncover more of the words and pictures, the engravings begin to glow brightly and emanate warmth as the stones vibrate. The phenomenon accelerates as you recoil in instinctual fear, but it is too late to avoid. In a blinding flash of light, you are knocked unconscious.
When your eyes clear, your body feels different. As you attempt to regain your bearings, you realize that your perspective has been altered and your senses amplified. Your hunting companions are also gone, and you find yourself among several sleeping wild creatures. You move to place a hand upon your throbbing head, and feel the contact of something inhuman against your brow. After a brief period of overwhelming panic, you realize what has just happened: everyone has been transformed into a wild beast.
The stag with the golden horns reappears before you, this time wreathed in light, and a disembodied voice echoes in your heads. “Greetings, wildkin. Welcome to the first stage of your initiation. I have blessed you with the beast forms best fitting the lesson you must learn. Use them to complete your journey to God’s Eye and thou shalt receive the Traveler’s Blessing.” After giving you these cryptic directions, the creature dissolved into a fine mist and left you in an stunned silence.
Functionally the player characters are under the effect of the transmutation spell Polymorph (PHB pg. 266), but the effect is much longer lasting; they will retain their animal forms for five days. During this period all transformed characters retain their alignment, personality, skill and saving throw proficiencies, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. The remaining stats are replaced by the corresponding animal’s ability scores, as well as the hit points and hit dice.
Similar to the druid’s wild shape (PHB pg. 66-67) class ability, if a character’s animal form is reduced to 0 or fewer hit points, the character is returned to their original humanoid form after taking whatever carry-over damage need be applied. However, the characters are not aware of this fact from the offset. It is entirely possible that they just wait out for the effects to end, if they can figure it out by deciphering the runes.
A successful Intelligence (History or Religion) check will reveal that the original purpose of this bizarre primitive ritual was to initiate youths into adulthood via a convoluted spiritual journey. It had obviously fallen out of favor as civilization advanced, but the magic has unfortunately lost none if its potency. The pilgrimage dictates that the transformed travel across the wilderness from this beacon to the complimentary beacon, located at a place called “God’s Eye.” As a native to the region, you inherently know that God’s Eye was the former name for Mount Kametyr, which is located 20 miles north of the village and stands at 2 miles at its highest peak. The stag spirit directed you towards that destination, and once you arrive at the sister beacon the spell will end.
Animal forms can either be randomly assigned, based on thematic preference, player choice, or DM’s discretion. For ease of play, here are some recommendations. Character that focus on direct martial combat are transformed into larger beasts with increased physical strength. These options include: black bear (MM pg. 318), boar (MM pg. 319), and elk (MM. 322). The characters that prefer stealth, hit-and-run tactics, or indirect conflict resolution are changed into smaller and swifter creatures. These forms include, but are not limited to: constrictor snake (MM pg. 320), weasel (MM. 340), wolf (MM pg. 341), and any species of bird appropriate to the individual.
If casting magic in animal form is entirely forbidden, as per the strict interpretation of the core rules, then skip the following two subsections. Otherwise, magic users must be turned into one of two things, which allows them to still use their magic but in a limited capacity. They are morphed into either an ape (MM pg. 317) with fingers capable of performing somatic gestures, or a raven (MM pg. 335) that can croak phrases for verbal spells. Resolving the material components required for casting are entirely at the at DM’s discretion. Consult the following lists (filtered via http://donjon.bin.sh/5e/spells/) for possible spell-loadouts.
Spells Without Somatic Components
Spells Without Verbal Components
This is not meant to be a particularly lethal adventure, although death is entirely possible if the characters are careless or unlucky enough. It is meant to test the player’s ability to survive and explore the wilderness under unconventional circumstances. In their wild forms, they will possess newfound advantages in feats such as acquiring food, environmental traversal, and enduring the elements. Conversely, they may also experience interactions with other humanoids but under stranger contexts. For instance, a wandering druid (MM pg. 346) may attempt to adopt one of them as a companion, or a ranger (Scout, MM pg. 349) may try to capture and eat one of them. Experiment with the concept and design the hazards along the route towards the mountain accordingly. Whether the “Traveler’s Blessing” actually confers upon the players any boon is up to the DM.