This week’s encounter is The Hungry Xorn, a social encounter with a monster that would rather barter than fight. Like most elementals, a xorn is neutral in alignment, but unlike most of its elemental cousins, it’s quite a gossip! As beings of elemental earth, xorns tend to live in natural caverns, the Underdark, and abandoned mine shafts, but they can also be found in old underground dungeons, if their burrowing causes them to break through its natural walls. And their natural habit is, of course, the Elemental Plane of Earth, where massive geodes intersect at impossible angles with infinitely criss-crossing cave systems.
Exploring a subterranean realm is no mean feat for the player characters. Surviving the deep places of the earth requires ample supplies, sufficient information about monster movements, and the knowledge of where it’s safe to rest and recover from your wounds. All of these things are in short supply in a dungeon’s darkest depths. That’s where the xorn comes in.
As a gossip and an information-monger, xorn possess many things adventurers need. As treasure hunters and tomb-pillagers, adventurers are laden with the things that a xorn wants most: sweet, sweet gemstones! Xorn delight in devouring precious metals and gems, savoring the delightful melt-in-your-mouth texture of gold and the satisfying crunch of a nice, crispy diamond. Typically, xorns ignore organic creatures, since they can’t digest their weird, juicy flesh. However, a xorn’s preferred diet of precious stones and metals can be hard to come by on the Material Plane, and hungry xorn will search out adventurers laden with gold and jewels in order to barter… or steal, if pushed too far.
Social Encounter: The Hungry Xorn
This social encounter can turn ugly. If it does, it’s best suited for 4th-level characters, but it can be scaled up to challenge a higher-level party.
While exploring a subterranean cavern or dungeon, or an extraplanar geode on the Elemental Plane of Earth, the characters encounter a starving xorn. In order for this encounter to work perfectly, both the characters and the xorn need to possess one thing the other wants. Odds are, the characters have gold or jewels that the xorn wants to munch on. The xorn is brimming with useful information about the dungeon the characters are exploring; they need to want what the xorn is peddling.
How can you get your characters to need information in a dungeon? It may sound simple, but your players will thirst for information when they need to achieve something but don’t know how to achieve it. This requires the characters to have a clear objective (or several discrete objectives) within the dungeon, like finding and rescuing some captives, finding a magic item, or finding and defeating a villain. A lot of these objectives revolve around finding something, which means that a good bit of knowledge for a xorn to have is the location or a secret door, the password to a magically locked passageway, or the proper path through a trapped corridor. Or, maybe a red dragon lives in the dungeon and sits atop a pile of gold. The xorn can’t get the gold itself, but it is willing to burrow a back door into the dragon’s lair if the characters agree to split the gold with it.
Going beyond simply finding a person, object, or path, perhaps the players need to learn how to do something. Consider a dungeon in which the players need to defeat a major villain of their campaign, but also know that the villain is nigh-invincible, and they must discover how to harm him regardless of his invincibility. The xorn might know a secret weakness that they could exploit, or the location of a magical blade that could cut through the villain’s invincible armor.
Consider your own dungeon, and your own campaign’s circumstances. What information do your players need that this xorn could possess?
The characters encounter a xorn while exploring a dungeon. This xorn is initially quite cordial, offering to barter for information in exchange for some of the gold and jewels that the characters are carrying. If it is refused, it resorts to sarcasm, insults, and even plain-faced threats. If these tactics don’t work, the xorn snarls and attacks.
While the characters are exploring a cavern, read or paraphrase the following:
A bizarre creature emerges from the stone wall of the cavern, no more than 10 paces ahead of you. It doesn’t burst through the wall like a burrowing mole, but rather glides out of it like a fish glides through water. The creature itself seems to be wrought from stone, and has a body shaped like a clay pot, with a mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth on top. It trundles across the floor with three clawed feet, and scratches at its bulbous body with three clawed hands. This creature plods over to the opposite wall of the passage, then jumps in, smoothly entering the stone without displacing even a single pebble.
Then, its head pops out of the wall, and scrutinizes you with its three yellow eyes. It pops out of the wall and lands on its feet directly in front of you. It puts its three hands on its hips and says, “Xorn is hungry. Gold please.”
This creature is a xorn, with the following change: it can speak and read Common, Dwarvish, and Undercommon, but cannot write.
This xorn is starving. It hasn’t been able to gorge itself on a good silver ingot or an overflowing clawful of emeralds in days. However, it can smell the precious metals and stones on the adventurers, and is prepared to barter in exchange.
If the characters react with confusion, it simply repeats. “Xorn is hungry. Gold please.” It considers for a moment, then says, “Xorn can trade. Xorn knows many things, but can’t think on an empty stomach. Gold please. Or gems. Both are yummy.”
Feeding the Xorn
The xorn has learned three important pieces of information about the dungeon. One significant clue, one silly clue, and one vital clue. You should create three clues yourself that fit your campaign, your adventure, or your dungeon.
If the characters give the xorn 500 gp worth of gold or gems, it shares the significant clue, and then asks for more in exchange for more information. If they give the xorn an additional 1,000 gp worth of gold or gems, it shares the silly clue—and then asks for more. If the characters snub the xorn, it panics and begs them to reconsider, teasing them that “The next thing xorn learned is really amazing!”
If the characters give the xorn an additional 1,000 gp, it then shares the vital clue. If the characters were reasonably kind to the xorn throughout this encounter, and fed it a total of 2,500 gp worth of gold and jewels, it offers to accompany them as long as they’re underground.
At Higher Levels: Higher levels don’t inherently mean that characters have more money, but this tends to be the case. Multiply the gold amounts by 2 if the characters are at least 11th level, and by 4 if they’re at least 17th level. This is more of an art than a science, and should be tailored to your party.
Scorning the Xorn
If the characters refuse to give the xorn what it wants, it pouts and tries to guilt them. It does this even if they explain that they simply don’t have enough gold or gems to satisfy its hunger. “Xorn is starving!” it yowls. “Surely, if xorn does not get to munch and crunch on tender gold and crunchy jewels, xorn will wither away and die!”
If this doesn’t melt their hearts, the xorn gives away the significant clue it was planning on giving them if they fed him 500 gp worth of precious metal and gems. Then it says, “Wasn’t that a good tidbit? Xorn would like tidbit of tasty gold now.”
If this doesn’t work, the xorn grows angry and tries to bully them. It says, “You are terrible! Xorn is starving and you are heartless! Drop your gold on the ground or xorn will tear you open and take it for xornself!”
If the characters do not throw at least 500 gold worth of coins and gems at the xorn now, it attacks.
Combat Encounter: The Xorn, Mad with Hunger
The furious xorn attacks the adventurers who refuse to give it the treasure it desires. Its tactics are simple: it tries to attack one creature while staying away from as many other characters as possible. Then, after attacking, it escapes into the cavern’s stone walls while provoking as few opportunity attacks as possible. It repeats this process on its next turn by gliding through the wall, hopping out, attacking, and trying to flee back into the stone wall.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 11th level, the xorn coughs up a rough iron oil lamp out of its jagged mouth on the first turn of combat. It uses its action to desperately wail “Mom!? Help!” as it frantically rubs the lamp. The lamp summons its mother, a dao, from her palace on the Elemental Plane of Earth. She scowls at her foolish son and commands him not to waste her time on trivial adventurers, but lovingly defends her son nonetheless. The dao arrivals with her pet earth elemental.
If the characters at least 17th level, the xorn produces the legendary war pick Ironfang from its mouth, holds it aloft, and uses its action to shout “Hey dad! Some adventurers are being mean to me!” The ground quakes with fell power as the xorn summons the progenitor of elemental earth: Ogrémoch. The mighty prince of elemental evil bursts through the floor of the cavern and roars at the characters with a mountainous hatred for all mortal life.
Pointed in the Right Direction
If the characters gave the xorn what it wanted, it is more than happy to gobble up their gold, point them in the right direction, and part ways amicably. If the characters were kind to the xorn, and it opted to follow them and aid them throughout the dungeon, it could even reappear in later dungeons if the characters go back underground later!
If the characters fought the xorn instead of negotiating with it, they find some treasure. Its gullet contains 250 gp worth of half-digested precious metals and stones. (Plus half of whatever they chose to feed it, if they were cruel enough to trade for the xorn’s information, and then stab it in the back.)
If the characters are at least 11th level and fought the xorn’s mother, they also find the iron lamp it used to summon her. Once per day, a character can rub this lamp and speak aloud the words engraved upon its side: dol-Xokur kobrakur. Saying this phrase transports the lamp’s bearer and up to 20 living creatures within 30 feet of them to the dao’s palace of Xokur. It sits within in a massive geode on the Elemental Plane of Earth.
If the characters are at least 17th level and fought Ogrémoch, prince of elemental evil, the primordial terror is destroyed and its spirit is whisked back to the Elemental Plane of Earth, where it painfully reforms over the next 365 days. In its place, Ogrémoch leaves 10,000 pounds worth of jade, emeralds, alexandrite, malachite, peridot, and other green gemstones, worth about 500,000 gp. The xorn also leaves behind the legendary war pick Ironfang.
Did you like this adventure? You can pick up more adventures I've written on the DMs Guild, such as The Temple of Shattered Minds, a suspenseful eldritch mystery with a mind flayer villain (for 3rd level characters). Fire, Ash, and Ruin, an expedition into a demon-infested volcano where you can ally with a red dragon and fight a balor (part of Season 7 of the D&D Adventurers League, for 11th–16th-level characters). The Cannith Code, an Eberron adventure in which you infiltrate a secret weapons research facility and bust out a master codebreaker (part of Embers of the Last War, a D&D Adventurers League storyline, for 1st–4th-level characters). All Eyes on Chult, in which the Xanathar Guild tries to wriggle its way into a position of power in Port Nyanzaru (Only available as part of Xanathar's Lost Notes to Everything Else; Adventurers League-legal, for 1st-level characters).
Also, check out other encounters in the Encounter of the Week series!
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their feline adventurers Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.