This week’s encounter is Ensnared by Ettercaps, a tense race to free a flock of faerie dragons’ from an ettercap’s web before you are noticed trespassing in its lair. The characters must work quickly to save the faerie dragons, or face a brutal fight without their help. Of course, less scrupulous characters could avoid a fight altogether, and simply take the ettercap’s plundered treasure and leave the dragons to their grim fate. The choice is the players’ alone to make.
Part of Something Bigger
Ettercaps are despoilers of nature. When they enter a forest, they bring with them darkness and death—and monsters. These spider shepherds always travel with their eight-legged flock, and in their wake come other giant insects and predators that lurk in the darkness. A forest overtaken by ettercaps and their spiders could soon become as lightless as the Underdark, and become home to troglodytes, kuo-toa, and even mind flayers. Opportunistic drow might even establish an outpost in this web-strangled forest as their wood elf kin flee from the monstrous invaders.
This encounter could be used as a way to introduce your party to an adventure—or even a full campaign!—set in forest like this one.
Stealth Encounter: Ensnared by Ettercaps
This stealth encounter is suitable for a party of 2nd-level characters. It is still suitable for parties of higher-level characters, but they will find it easier to complete without alerting the nearby monsters.
An ettercap has taken up residence in a forest that once brimmed with life and greenery. Fey creatures, including a vast flock of faerie dragons, once swarmed through the air. Now these creatures hide in darkness, leaving only to hunt at high noon when faint rays of warding sunlight pierce the web-choked canopy. One unlucky family of dragons—several children and their father—were captured in an ettercap’s web, and now await their demise. The dragons’ father has been using his illusory magic to call out to anyone nearby who will listen. Will the adventurers answer his call?
If the characters answer the faerie dragon’s call, they are led to a dark, web-strewn cave. There they find a family of faerie dragons wrapped in the web, and a pile of treasure plundered from the various fey and elven inhabitants of this forest. If the adventurers try to help the faerie dragons, the ettercap may sense their presence through the webbing on the floor and try to sneak up on them. Otherwise, the ettercap senses them when they begin cutting through the web. Then, it’s a fight to the finish!
While exploring a dark and web-strewn forest, the characters hear a disembodied voice enter their minds. Read or paraphrase the following:
The forest is nearly pitch-black, as if you were traveling through a tunnel deep beneath the earth, rather than walking along a well-traveled trade road in a verdant forest. Everything you heard suggested that this forest was once a haven for elves and kindly faeries, but the forest around you is half-dead and choked with thick curtains of spider webs.
You travel along the road for a short way—and then you see it. A woman, dressed in a green, hooded robe, standing in the middle of the road.
This woman is a dryad that heard the plight of a faerie dragon named Estival. The tree she is bonded to is close to a nearby ettercap’s lair, and she saw the monstrous spider-shepherd carrying a flock of faerie dragons bound in webbing back to its lair. When a creature approaches within 15 feet, it becomes clear that the woman isn’t wearing a robe at all, but is actually wreathed in leaves and vines, and that her skin is marked with lines like the rings of a tree.
Read or paraphrase the following:
The woman looks at you with dull green eyes, and frowns. She begins to speak, and her voice is dry and crackling, like the sound of dozens of fallen leaves being stepped upon in unison. “I have been tasked to deliver a message to creatures of power and honor. You will suffice. A spider-shepherd has come to this forest and captured a dragon named Estival. He begs your aid.” The dryad turns around to the northwest and points up to the top of a forested hill, covered with cobwebs. “That is where he is trapped. If you have love of justice or love of treasure in your hearts, Estival entreats you to save him.”
The dryad then slowly turns and walks in the direction she pointed, then puts her hand upon a nearby tree and fades into its trunk.
The Ettercap’s Cave
If the adventurers follow the dryad’s guidance, and climb the rocky hill his illusion gestured towards, they find the entrance to a cave at its peak. The cave is pitch black and festooned with strands of webbing. Ten feet from the mouth of the cave is a patch of webbing designed to alert the ettercap within to intruders, using its Web Sense. Any character that travels 10 feet into cave must make a successful DC 10 Wisdom (Perception) check or plunge their leg deep into the webbing and become restrained until another creature uses its action to pull them out. Creatures that can’t see automatically fail this check.
Webbing Network. All webs in this cave connect back to the ettercap’s chamber in the back of this cave. If the ettercap senses any creatures enter the cave with its Web Sense, it stealthily climbs to the roof of the cave above where the faerie dragons are bound up in webbing, and hangs upside-down, waiting for the intruders to let their guard down.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 5th level, the DC of this check is 12. If they are at least 11th level, the DC is 15.
The tunnel corkscrews downward about 100 feet before opening up into broad chamber, about 50 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet tall. Towering stalagmites and dripping stalactites nearly converge into columns of stone in various places around the cave. One 30-foot wall is completely covered with silky webbing, and is plastered with the exsanguinated corpses of dozens of elves, fey, and woodland beasts. In the center of the wall of webbing are five colorful dragons, each the size of a housecat. Four are bright red, and one is a shining sky blue. There is a pile of shining treasure on the far end of the room, near the mouth of another tunnel that leads deeper into the cave.
The blue faerie dragon has a passive Wisdom (Perception) score of 13; if it notices the characters enter this chamber, it casts major image and manifests an illusory version of itself on the shoulder of one of the characters. This illusion whispers, “I can’t speak too loud. The spider-shepherd might hear. I’d come to you, but I’m a bit tied up at the moment. Come over to me, so we can talk.”
The four red faerie dragons are young children, no more than five years old, whereas the blue one—Estival—is just under 40 years old. The tips of his scales are tinged with indigo. If the characters come within 10 feet of the dragons, he gratefully thanks them for coming, and explains the situation he and his children have been entangled in. Despite being trapped in a deadly predicament, this faerie dragon and his children haven’t lost their sense of mirth, and speak jovially, and pepper their speech with puns and wordplay.
Cutting the Web. The faerie dragons can be freed from the web by simply destroying the web. Each 5-foot square of the webbing has AC 12, 10 hit points, vulnerability to fire damage, and immunity to bludgeoning, poison, and psychic damage. If the web takes any damage, it alerts the ettercap, which arrives after 1d4 rounds. If the ettercap is already in this area, (see “Ettercap Ambush,” below), it attacks with surprise as soon as the web is attacked. Estival orders the young dragons to turn invisible and flee as soon as they are free, but stays behind to fight alongside the adventurers once he is freed; he uses his Euphoria Breath and major image spell to keep enemies at bay while the characters fight against them.
Ettercap Ambush. Four giant wolf spiders rest upside-down on the ceiling, awaiting the ettercap’s orders. If the ettercap has been alerted to the presence of intruders through its Web Sense (or if they make any loud noise in this area), it climbs to the top of the ceiling and hides behind one of the massive stalagmites. A creature must succeed on a DC 19 Wisdom (Perception) check to spot the hidden ettercap.
Treasure. There is a pile of treasure at the far end of the cave, near the passage to the ettercap’s chamber. See “Treasure,” below.
Web Network. The faerie dragons aren’t aware that the 10-foot area of floor adjacent to the web wall is also covered in webbing, and that stepping on it automatically alerts the ettercap to the presence of intruders. This fine webbing is so thin, only a creature that succeeds on a DC 16 Wisdom (Perception) check can spot it before stepping in it. The webbing is difficult terrain.
Combat Encounter: Web Garrote!
Once the web is damaged, the ettercap attacks. If it was hiding (see “Ettercap Ambush,” above), it crawls down from the ceiling and tries to use its Web Garrote action to quietly pick off one of the characters in the back. As the ettercap climbs down, the giant wolf spiders descend on long strings of spider silk. If the ettercap or a giant wolf spider reduces a faerie dragon to 0 hit points with its Bite attack, it devours the dragon, killing it instantly. Otherwise, the faerie dragons fall unconscious and begin dying when reduced to 0 hit points.
The spiders fight to the death, as the ettercap commands them to. The ettercap flees when it is reduced to 10 hit points, fleeing from the cave the same way that the characters entered. If it can, it uses its Web action to slow down its pursuers.
This ettercap has the following action:
Web Garrote. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one Medium or Small creature against which the ettercap has advantage on the attack roll. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 12). Until this grapple ends, the target can’t breathe, and the ettercap has advantage on attack rolls against it.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 5th level, the giant wolf spiders are replaced with giant spiders, and there are two ettercaps rather than one. If the characters are at least 11th level, the giant wolf spiders are replaced with two yochlol demons in the shape of giant spiders, and there are four ettercaps rather than one.
If the faerie dragons survived, Estival bestows a charm of heroism upon one of the characters as thanks for saving them. If all four red faerie dragons survived, they combine their powers and grant one other character a charm of darkvision, as well. Estival bids the characters farewell—unless you have other adventures planned in this dark, spider-infested forest, in which case he may be a wise, if mirthful, guide within this corrupted realm.
Before the dragons go, they tell the characters that the ettercap plundered treasure and riches from the beings of this forest. He says, “It’s not exactly mine to give, but I think you deserve it.”
The ettercap’s plundered treasure is a pair of slippers of spider climbing, surrounded by a pile of 500 gold pieces.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 5th level, the treasure also includes an alchemy jug decorated with floral carvings. If the characters are at least 11th level, the treasure also includes a suit of +1 studded leather armor of poison resistance.
Did you like this adventure? If you want to read more, take a look at the other encounters in the Encounter of the Week series! If you're looking for full adventures instead of short encounters, you can pick up the 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 adventures are included in the Gold Best Seller Tactical Maps: Adventure Atlas, a collection of 88 unique encounters created by the Guild Adepts, which can be paired with the beautiful tactical poster maps in Tactical Maps Reincarnated, recently published by Wizards of the Coast.
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.