This week’s encounter is Hippogriff Hunters, a battle in a rocky badland dotted with towering hoodoos. These monolithic rock formations are home to the nests of mythic hippogriffs—magical beasts with, to quote the Monster Manual, “the wings and forelimbs of an eagle, the hindquarters of a horse, and a head that combines the features of both animals.” Hippogriffs are shy creatures that tend to live apart from other creatures, namely because all sorts of flying monsters would like nothing more than to make them their next meal. Dragons, wyverns, griffons, and more adore the taste of hippogriff flesh, and prey upon these creatures.
Hippogriffs are highly empathetic creatures that can form deep bonds of trust with humanoids; some legends say that they were originally conceived as the offspring of horses and griffons, hence their name. They may be standoffish towards strangers, but heroes who come to their aid in their moment of need might make a lifelong friend.
Combat Encounter: Hippogriff Hunters
This combat encounter is suitable for a party of 3rd-level characters, but it can be scaled up to challenge a higher-level party. Parties with easy access to flight may have an easier time with this encounter.
While traveling through the badlands, the adventurers find themselves in the midst of a hunt in progress when the corpse of a hippogriff falls from the air in front them—immediately followed by still-living griffon, wyvern, or dragon that killed it. Characters who oppose the hunters may win themselves the loyalty of a hippogriff mount, but characters who aid them may win some of their treasure in exchange. On the other hand, you may wish to expand the world of this encounter beyond this moment in time; opposing a blue dragon whose parents rule these badlands with an iron talon to save a few hippogriffs may be a riskier (and more idealistic) proposition than allying with the dragon and piling on top of the underdog.
This encounter begins with a choice for the characters: get involved, or don’t. If the characters decide that it isn’t worth risking their necks for either the hippogriffs or their hunters, don’t force them to engage. Instead, consider the consequences of their inaction, and if it could affect them later in your campaign. If you can't think of any good consequences, just let the characters skip the encounter and get to their destination a little faster. Then, later on while they're traveling through the badlands, they're beset by the dragon and his hippogriff hunters. Filled with pride from their earlier victory, the dragon attacks with ferocious glee.
Once the characters have gotten involved in the encounter, they’ll quickly realize that fighting aerial enemies without any way to fly or easily scale 50-foot-tall hoodoos is a losing proposition. If the characters are in this position, and you suspect that they’ll enjoy an encounter that forces them to use their wits, don’t just drop the solution in their lap and offer them a temporary winged mount. The solutions that they come up with will be over-the-top and memorable for weeks, even years to come.
While exploring the badlands on the edge of a vast forest and an endless desert, the characters spot the native hippogriffs of this region being hunted by a blue dragon and its flying minions. They can choose to help the hunters or the hunted, or to avoid getting entangled in a fight that doesn’t concern them. If they choose to aid either side, they have the potential to earn lifelong friends or valuable treasure.
While the characters are traveling through arid badlands, ask for each of the characters to make a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check. On a success, a character notices that several tiny silhouettes are darting back and forth through the air above several towering hoodoos about a mile away. The road that they’re following through the badlands leads in that general direction. Noticing the distant battle may not necessarily change anything, but it may cause the characters to change directions while traveling, or approach stealthily.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 11th level, rain begins to pour as they approach the hoodoos. Dark clouds gather, rain begins to fall, and the occasional bolt of lightning splits the sky. This storm causes the area within 1 mile of the hoodoos to suffer from strong wind and heavy precipitation.
When the characters approach within a quarter-mile of the battle (taking about 15 minutes of travel on foot at a normal pace), a shadow passes over them. Read or paraphrase the following:
You draw near to the towering pillars of stone, and the silhouetted creatures darting about above them come into clearer focus. A flash of lightning streaks through the sky and crashes into one of the stone pillars. A half-dozen creatures fly away from the hoodoo as it falls, still crackling with arcing lightning, fifty feet to the ground below.
This tumbling pillar of stone may distract the characters. Any creature with a passive Wisdom (Perception) lower than 16 doesn’t notice the creature flying directly above them, until:
Suddenly, something crashes to the ground no more than five feet away from you! The mangled carcass of a winged beast the size of a cow, with the hindquarters of a horse and the front half of an eagle, slams down onto the ground. Moments later, another winged beast lands next to the carcass and begins tearing into it with its claw, burying its face into the body.
The dead creature is a hippogriff, and its killer is a griffon domesticated by a blue dragon named Fulgurath. The griffon has a resplendent golden collar around its neck decorated with twinkling sapphires. This collar is worth 250 gp as an art object.
The dragon and his beasts are attacking the hippogriff nest, in part for sport and in part for food. The griffons are mounts for Fulgurath’s winged kobold griffon knights, but this griffon has lost its rider, and has broken off from the pack to eat. If the characters don’t interfere with the griffon’s meal, it pays them no mind. If they do attack it, it fights until it is reduced to half its hit point maximum, and then flees towards the hoodoos to regroup with Fulgurath.
This beast is trained for riding, and a character that succeeds on a DC 15 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check can ride it, and it will follow orders. If the character or their allies have harmed the creature, the character has disadvantage on this check for the next 24 hours.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 11th level, the griffon is a wyvern instead. It behaves the same as the griffon, and flees when reduced to half its hit point maximum. Additionally, the collar the wyvern is wearing grants its rider the benefits of a saddle of the cavalier.
Attack on the Hippogriff Roosts
The hippogriffs roosted on a dusty plain dotted with hoodoos, tall pillars of sedimentary rock worn away by wind erosion over hundreds or thousands of years. This field of hoodoos is about 300 feet in diameter, with a pillar of rock cropping up about every 30 feet, creating a vague “grid” of pillars. Each hoodoo is 50 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter. Each hoodoo has 22 hit points, an AC of 18, and a damage threshold of 20. Damage that fails to meet or surpass this threshold is not subtracted from the hoodoo’s hit points. Hoodoos are immune to poison and psychic damage, being poisoned or prone, and exhaustion. They also automatically fail Dexterity saving throws.
If a hoodoo is reduced to 0 hit points, it cracks and tumbles 30 feet in a random direction. Any creature or object beneath a falling hoodoo must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the target takes 21 (6d6) bludgeoning damage and falls prone. A creature climbing a hoodoo when it falls makes this save with disadvantage.
Read or paraphrase the following when the characters approach within 100 feet of the hoodoos:
The sound of angered squawking and screeching fills the air. Blood-stained feathers drift down upon the breeze. A blue dragon and its five flying minions swoop between the towering hoodoos in pursuit of a full dozen hippogriffs. Atop the fifty-foot pillars of stone are their nests, and it seems that most of the hippogriffs are swooping around and defending them. What will you do?
The leader of this attack is Fulgurath, a blue dragon wyrmling decorated with gaudy jewelry made up glass formed when lightning strikes sand. He is accompanied by five griffons, each of which are mounted by a winged kobold. All five of these griffon riders are busy chasing the hippogriffs, but break off their pursuit and fight back if the characters attack them. There are 12 hippogriffs flying about the battlefield, fleeing or fighting their hunters. To simplify combat, assume that each hunter is only attacking and being attacked by one hippogriff at a time, and that each combatants attacks hit its enemy, and those attacks deal average damage.
Fulgurath lands atop one of the hoodoos when the characters draw near to survey the hunt. Unless the characters approach stealthily, the dragon notices them and addresses them imperiously: “I am Fulgurath, the Cobalt Death! These hippogriffs are my quarry. You will join my hunters, or make yourselves my enemy.”
If the characters choose to join the hunt, the kobold griffon riders rejoice and immediately land atop the hoodoos and rummaging through the nests. They start stuffing hippogriff chicks in their haversacks for a tasty meal back home, leaving the actual hunting to the adventurers.
If the characters oppose Fulgurath, he ducks behind the hoodoo and attacks using his lightning breath from afar. Fulgurath fights dirty, and does his best to avoid attack by keeping out of reach of melee weapons and using the pillars of rock that dot this landscape to avoid attack. He particularly likes blasting the hoodoos and letting them collapse upon his attackers. If the characters have having a hard time fighting back against Fulgurath and his hippogriff hunters, consider having one of the hippogriffs swoop down and allow the character to use it as a mount. Maybe other characters can hijack one of the hunters' flying mounts, too!
Additionally, Fulgurath can use an action to call one of his kobold griffon riders to attack the characters. The blue dragon attempts to flee when reduced to half his maximum hit points, and calls for his warriors to retreat as well. He also retreats once all the hippogriffs are dead.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 9th level, Fulgurath is a young blue dragon. If the characters are at least 16th level, Fulgurath is an adult blue dragon, his griffons are replaced with wyverns, and his kobold griffon riders are replaced with half-blue dragon veterans. If the characters are at least 20th level, Fulgurath is an ancient blue dragon, and his minions are also replaced with wyverns and veterans.
Additionally, if the characters are at least 16th level, the number of hippogriffs being hunted are increased to 24, instead of 12.
Fate of the Hippogriffs
If the characters defended the hippogriffs and at least one of the hippogriffs survived this encounter, it swoops down after Fulgurath is dead or fled, and bows deeply to one of the characters, pledging itself to protect the adventurer just as they protected it. If multiple hippogriffs survived, a number of survivors equal to the number of characters fly down in unison and bow before them. This new hippogriff companion serves as the character’s mount, and fights independently if needed. It does not take orders unless it is being ridden, but will consider the character’s requests. It does not have a saddle, and must be equipped with an exotic saddle to be ridden comfortably.
A single hippogriff can carry up to 510 pounds. While there are no rules covering how much a creature can carry and still fly, consider using this house rule: the hippogriff cannot fly while heavily encumbered. It is heavily encumbered while carrying at least 340 pounds of gear and passengers.
If the characters sided with Fulgurath, he cackles when the last of the hippogriffs is killed and booms, “I knew you insects were good for something. Now make yourself scarce before I decide to start hunting you, too!”
Fulgurath provides the characters no reward for their compliance.
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). My most recent adventure is in Dragon Heist: Forgotten Tales, a book by the Guild Adepts which gives you a new beginning, middle, and end to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. It's the perfect way to give this adventure even more replay value! My new beginning is a great way to introduce a campaign focused on either the drow or devil cult factions causing trouble in Waterdeep.
If you want Adventurers League-legal adventures, take a look at The Cannith Code, set in the magic-punk Eberron campaign setting, All Eyes on Chult, a high-stakes adventure set in Port Nyanzaru included in Xanathar's Lost Notes, or Fire, Ash, and Ruin, a demon-filled dungeon delve in an active Chultan volcano! This post contains DMs Guild affiliate links, which means that I—James Haeck—get an extra 5% of the sale if you buy anything from the DMs Guild using these links. You don't pay any extra, but your purchase helps support my work. Thank you so much!
Also, for more free encounters, take a look at the 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.