Written by Jake shultz
The Briarfen is a swamp that can be placed anywhere in your game world about a day out of any medium city or fort. We’ll call the city Rosewood for ease of reference in this document, but it can easily be substituted for any big settlement in your campaign. The Briarfen includes three points of interest and two factions vying for dominance of the once fecund, but now poisoned and diseased swamp.
This document is meant to spark ideas, and will give you a high-level overview of the circumstances surrounding the swamp, as well as some example encounters, but most of the particulars are left open so you can fill in the blanks for your own campaign.
The Briarfen is watched over by an amphibian spirit creature of water and fertility named Quartle, who in the past nurtured the plant and animal life of the swamp, developing a diverse and vital ecosystem full of a variety of sentient and non-sentient life. Years ago, Quartle was tricked by a coven of malicious fey into eating a poisonous root that infected Quartle and his waters. The poison has slowly spread throughout the swamp, contaminating it with disease and causing a surge in hostile monsters.
The Crocs are a group of aggressive crocodilian humanoids that live in the swamp. They believe that Quartle is angry at a lack of respect and oblation offered to him by the other Briarfen denizens, and that the corruption is a punishment. The Crocs have gathered a number of sacrifices in the hopes of appeasing Quartle, including several abducted Rosewoodians and other swamp life.
The Crocs are subservient to Tounac, the King of Reptiles. Tounac is currently touring his domains and subjects and is due to visit the Briarfen and the Crocs within a few days. The Crocs are preparing for an extravagant feast and ceremony for his arrival that will feature the ritual sacrifice of their captives.
The Hoppers are a group of bullywug, grung and other swamp creatures that have formed a loose community in order to survive the worsening conditions in the swamp. They oppose the Crocs attacking other swamp life, but are not particularly fond of non-swamp intruders such as those from Rosewood. They believe that Quartle’s corruption is the result of the dry-folks stealing resources, hunting or capturing animals and generally meddling in their affairs. However, they believe Quartle can be cured through magic and have been gathering components for a cleansing ritual. Unfortunately, they cannot perform the ritual without their queen, Grook, who has been captured by the Crocs and slated for sacrifice.
If the Hoppers can’t rescue their queen and cleanse the swamp before Tounac arrives and the sacrifice begins, they fear the worst for the swamp and all its citizens.
The Briarfen can be added as a stop on an existing adventure, or you can use one of these hooks to draw the party there.
- Attacus Cornwell, captain of the guard of Rosewood, is seeking assistance. Several of his people have gone missing on regular patrols near the swamp, and he is offering a reward to the group of adventurers who can find the culprits and bring his men and women home.
- Ester Slatt is a student of the arcane arts and apprentice wizard. Her master, Millston, went on his regular yearly retreat to a tower in the swamp where he studies the flora and fauna of the vibrant ecosystem. Ester hasn’t received his usual correspondence, now a week overdue, and is worried something has happened to him. Ester offers her arcane services in the form of useful potions and scrolls if they can help her find him.
- Deela is a druid concerned with the health of the swamp and nearby ecosystems, as the poison and diseased land seems to spread with each year. They wish to try to appease the spirit of the swamp, but struggle with the decision they may have to make if the spirit is inconsolable, in the name of stopping the spread and protecting the land around it.
The Briarfen itself is a large, overgrown, wet, and heavily wooded swampland. You can adjust the size and distance between locations to increase or decrease the urgency and time before Tounac arrives. There is a simple walkway of wooden planks from one end of the swamp to the other, created by Rosewood to facilitate trade and travel. The walkway marks a relatively safe route that bypasses sinkholes, toxic swamp gas and the territories of the Crocs and the Hoppers. Heading to Crockopolis, New Ribbiton, the Submerged Tower, or otherwise straying from the path exposes travellers to these dangers, requiring DC 15 Wisdom(Survival) checks each day to avoid danger and find their way.
At the start of their second day in the Briarfen, the party can hear rhythmic drumming and the sound of colossal footsteps in the distance from Tounac’s procession (see appendix A) as he heads towards Crockopolis.
Encounters & Challenges
- Patrols of crocodilians (see appendix A) creep close to the walkway, waiting for a chance to strike and secure more sacrifices
- A body floating face down in the water is a grung and bullywug ambush, set to scare dry-folk away from their territory.
- Violent waters have caused an area of land to slip away, destroying the walkyway. The party will have to find a way across the sinking land and violent waters.
- Bubbling, toxic swamp gas or pools of poisoned water, where water elementals driven mad by the swamp’s corruption lie in wait.
- A variety of dangerous creatures live in the swamp, including Shambling Mounds, Hydras, will-o’-wisps, Trolls, Giant Spiders, and Poisonous Snakes.
New Ribbiton is the home of the Hoppers, where groups of amphibians have banded together to increase their odds of survival against the swamp’s corruption, attacks by the Crocs, and the encroachment of the dry-folk. The 60 or so occupants are mostly grung and bullywug, though there are a few other amphibious creatures such as newts and a lone aldani. They keep giant toads and frogs as mounts or beasts of burden. The settlement is composed of a dozen huts made of mud, reed and vines, and a large spawning pool in the center of the huts full of eggs.
The Hoppers are always wary of dry-folk intruders into their swamp, and are particularly on edge now with the capture of Queen Grook (See appendix A). However, they are willing to cooperate with the party in the interest of rescuing their queen and/or defeating the Crocs. The bullywug chief Gripit (see appendix A) will petition the party for their help, insisting that the dry-folk owe them for the trouble they’ve caused the swamp by angering Quartle. He is proud and standoffish, loath to admit to needing help, instead merely offering an opportunity for the dry-folk to redeem themselves. However, keen observers may sense the desperation he’s hiding. If pushed, Gripit will also offer his Gnarled Staff as a reward, see Appendix B.
Encounters & Challenges
- The queen’s consort, Keee(see appendix A), unashamedly pleads for the party to assist them in recovering his queen before the sacrifice. He is apologetic for the standoffish nature of the rest of the Hoppers, explaining that things have been difficult for the community. He points to the spawning pool and the dozens of eggs that require the queen to properly gestate. Keee will offer to help the party navigate the swamp, providing advantage on their survival checks.
- In the night, countless insect swarms descend on the village. It appears this is a regular occurrence since the swamp’s corruption, and the Hoppers are ready with torches, and a large bonfire near the spawning pool to scare away the insects. Still, some breach the defences and will have to be dealt with.
- A lone aldani lives amongst the Hoppers, having travelled from a far away land. The aldani knows a great deal about the monstrous creatures of the swamp, and can provide useful information about avoiding or fighting them in exchange for coin. He freely describes the dangerous Reptile King Tounac, his procession, and his fears for the Hoppers, the rest of the swamp life and even Rosewood should Tounac be crossed.
The Crocs make their home in the city of Crockopolis. A wooden palisade surrounds two stone ziggurats, lit by large braziers. The first smaller ziggurat houses the population of approximately 40 crocodilians. The larger ziggurat is currently under construction, with crocs hastily hauling large stone slabs up wooden ramps and scaffolding, hoping to complete it before the Big Welcome when the Reptile King Tounac will arrive. The main feature of the larger ziggurat is a large altar devoted to Tounac, which is being prepared for the sacrifice meant to calm the swamp spirit Quartle.
The leader of Crockoplis, Atzi (see appendix A), is in a panic ensuring that everything is in order for the Big Welcome. She fears a single dusty altar or misplaced sacrificial dagger could disappoint Tounac and put her out of a job…. or worse. The whole city is a flurry of activity as she barks orders and ensures the final preparations go off without a hitch. As such, she has little time for the party, and would sooner ignore any requests for an audience or entry into the ziggurat. But she will not hesitate to order her soldiers to apprehend anyone who would threaten the completion of the Big Welcome, adding them to the lineup for sacrifice.
Encounters & Challenges
- With most of the Crocs busy preparing for the Big Welcome, the walls are not particularly well guarded. One gate is guarded only by a young crocodilian named Gux, who wears a bloody tabard of a city guard and a helmet several sizes too big. Though just as aggressive as most of the other Crocs, he has a powerful curiosity, childlike naivety and a strong interest in the dry-folk and their ways.
- Any Crocs the party encounters are fervently preparing for the Big Welcome, and sing the praises of the Biggest-Best-Reptile King Tounac. They extoll his might and predict doom for any who would dare to cross him.
- In the ziggurat, several prisoners are being kept. 4 city guards from the nearby town, the arcane researcher Millston (see appendix A), and Queen Grook (see appendix A). The guards and Grook are willing to fight for their freedom. Millston is happy to provide any information or support he can, but would not fare well in a direct fight.
Off the main trail is a stone wizard’s tower that had stood for many years. A recent shift in the land has caused the tower to sink, with only the uppermost level above water. Exploring the tower will be difficult, requiring capable swimmers or magical assistance. The tower was built as a base of operations for a group of arcane researchers studying the swamp, it’s denizens, and the spirit that watches over it. Millston, Ester, Gripit, the aldani, or Deela can all provide hints to the party regarding the tower as being a possible source for the corruption.
Today, the tower is held by Erlina, Belina, and Melina, the coven of spiteful hags who are behind the troubles in the swamp. Using their mimicry and illusions, the hags tricked Quartle into consuming the poisonous root, then convinced the Hoppers that the dry-folk are responsible while persuading the Crocs that the sacrificial ritual is the only solution. The hags revel in the chaos and suffering they’ve caused, while setting their sights on manipulating Rosewood and beyond.
One of the hags is currently disguised as Millston, one of the researchers. The second has infiltrated the Croc leader Atzi’s inner circle, and the third is likewise disguised as a grung with Gripit’s ear. In an underwater cave attached to the tower, the coven keep Quartle in his sickened, bloated state. His toxic excretions seep into the ground and water around him, furthering the corruption of the swamp.
Encounters & Challenges
- Navigating the submerged tower will require highly proficient swimmers or magical assistance. If the party is working with Ester or has already freed Millston, either could provide water breathing through potions, scrolls or magic. Likewise, the druid Deela can cast water breathing. Alternatively, the party could find potions of water breathing in a room within a pocket of air one or two skill checks into the tower, as the old occupants used them for researching underwater specimens in the swamp.
- In a dry room in the tower, the party can find journals and records of the researcher’s work. The researchers were aware of the true cause of Quartle’s corruption, and were working on a spell to cleanse it. Unfortunately, the Hags got to them before they could complete their work. The information here provided to Queen Grook should be enough to devise a spell to remove the poison root and cleanse Quartle, if they can get past the Hags.
- Erlina, Belina and Melina are Green Hags with the Coven variant. They are protecting Quartle in the underwater cave while plotting their next schemes. This area is rife with poisonous water and toxic gas spouts, providing hazardous terrain to work around. Quartle himself excretes virulent poisons and must be approached with caution. To scale the difficulty, you may have one, two or three hags present, with the absent hags infiltrating Crockopolis, New Ribbiton or Rosewood.
If Tounac’s Procession arrives in Crockopolis before the party can rescue Queen Grook, the ritual sacrifice will commence. If they can’t stop the sacrifice, the Crocs will be in a position to overrun the Hoppers and take complete control of the swamp. Tounac will be pleased with Atzi and provide his support, eventually turning their conquest on Rosewood and beyond.
If the party can rescue Queen Grook, they should have the information and components they need to complete the spell and cleanse Quartle. Tounac will be furious at the perceived slight, and his procession will march towards New Ribbiton to crush them. If the party can get past the hags and cleanse Quartle in time, the purified spirit will quickly heal the swamp and control the terrain to force Tounac out of the swamp. If you instead wish to continue Tounac’s story, the combined forces of Rosewood, the party and the Hoppers could face him directly. Alternatively, he could instead point his anger towards Rosewood and lay siege.
If you wish to continue the story of the Briarfen and any of the hags survived, they may still be infiltrating either of the swamp communities or Rosewood
Revealing the hag’s deception will go a long way to healing the injured relationship between Rosewood and the Hoppers. The Crocs however will not easily be swayed so long as they still fear Tounac’s reprisal.
Appendix A: NPCs and Monsters
Atzi leads the Crocs of the Briarfen from the ziggurats of Crockopolis. She demands perfection from each of her subjects and herself. She does not suffer failure or interference gladly. Much of this stems from her fear of Tounac should she disappoint the powerful Reptile King.
Atzi uses the Lizardfolk Subchief stat block. If you want to increase her difficulty, add additional caster levels.
The crocodilians are an offshoot of lizardfolk with long snouts and a maw full of teeth. They’re more intelligent than their lizardfolk cousins, with the patience and ingenuity of skilled hunters. They use a slightly modified lizardfolk stat block, ditching the shield for a grappling bite.
Gripit is the second in command of the Hoppers, and the bullywug representative. Gripit is fiercely proud of the bullywug and hesitant to admit needing help, especially from the dry-folk that have caused him trouble many times in the past. Gripit uses the Bullywug Royal stat block, but also wields Gripit’s Gnarled Staff, granting him additional benefits. To adjust his difficulty, add a higher CR frog mount or additional bullywug guards.
Hags (Erlina, Belina and Melina)
Erlina, Belina and Melina are irredeemably evil creatures seeking only to sow chaos and drink in the suffering of their victims. They use the Green Hag (coven variant) stat blocks.
The queen of the Briarfen Grung and leader of the Hoppers. She was instrumental in bringing the different tribes of swamp denizens together to form the community. She is hopeful for peace, but will not hesitate to protect her own. Grook is a modified Grung with cleric spellcasting. Add more cleric levels to increase Grook’s challenge rating.
Keee is Queen Grook’s consort, and a kind, intelligent soul. He is often dispatched as a liaison between the different tribes of the Hoppers or other swamp denizens. He knows the swamps well, thanks to his many trips from across it to visit different communities.
Millston is a researcher who has made regular visits into the swamps to study the flora and fauna. His curiosity often gets the better of him, and unfortunately often overrides any sort of moral code he might have. He doesn’t mean harm, but often overlooks it in the pursuit of advancing his studies.
Tounac, the self-proclaimed King of Reptiles, is a powerful lizardfolk who rules over several groups of different reptilian tribes within a wide domain. He demands unfailing fealty from his subjects, and seeks to grow his territory, conquer his neighbours and grow his power. He is vicious and unforgiving to his enemies, but takes good care of his loyal followers. He is currently touring his domain and visiting his subjects. If he finds them lacking, he will cut off support, but those that impress him will be rewarded with resources, slaves, soldiers or other boons.
Physically, Tounac cuts a muscular, intimidating figure. His scaly skin is chipped and battle worn, but painted with deep crimson and black paints in the shape of dozens of eyespots. He wears a grim array of trophies taken from fallen foes, including shrunken heads, fingers, ears and teeth.
His procession is a considerable threat, and should be powerful enough to threaten to overwhelm the party without help from Rosewood, Quartle or the Hoppers. You may choose to place him at a currently insurmountable threat level, and use his arrival as a strict deadline to cleanse the swamp and gain Quartle’s protection, leaving him for later in the campaign. He is accompanied by a retinue of soldiers including Lizardfolk Shamans, Renders, and Scaleshields, the number of which can be adjusted to pose an appropriately significant threat.
Perhaps even more dangerous is the Grootslang, the powerful, legendary beast that carries Tounac’s howdah. Resembling a thick, squat elephant with a long serpentine tail and mottled brown skin, it is a fearsome opponent.
Quartle is an amphibious spirit resembling a slimy humanoid figure with an oversized frog-like head. For generations he fostered life in the swamp, protecting it and developing it into a diverse and vigorous habitat. Normally, he generates pure but virile life-giving water that promotes supernatural growth. Hover, due to the hags’ poison root only excretes deadly toxins, leaving his body bloated to several times it’s usual size.
Appendix B: Items and Spells
Gripit’s Gnarled Staff
Staff, Very Rare (Requires Attunement)
This staff calls on nature to protect you from danger. It can be wielded as a magic quarterstaff that grants a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with it. Additionally, while standing in natural terrain, the staff counts as a shield, granting +2 to AC.
You can use your reaction and spend a charge to cast Absorb Elements. The staff has 3 charges, and replenishes 1d3 charges each dawn if you are in natural terrain.
2nd level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: 30 ft
Components: V, S
Touch an adjacent creature suffering the effects of a poison or the poisoned condition. You pull the toxins from their body, neutralizing the effects of one poison afflicting the target and creating a ball of toxic energy. You can immediately launch the poison orb at a target within range who must succeed on a constitution save or become inflicted with the extracted poison. Use your spell save DC for any saving throws required by the poison.
If you choose not to attack with the orb, you can instead direct it into a vial or similar container, where it regains its original properties and can be used again later.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the target also takes 1d8 poison damage on a failed save for each slot level above 2nd.