A week or two ago, our heroes finished haggling with vendors at Honeyfest. They might have even come out of the deal with a magic item or two. However, as any geek who’s ever been to a convention before knows all too well, passing items back and forth and touching hands with countless strangers has side effects. In our world, we know of this foul ailment by many names. Con crud, PAX plague… the list goes on. In this world of fantasy, it is known by the name of this week’s encounter: Spring Sickness.
As the adventurers depart Honeyfest to go on their next adventure, one or more of the characters may suddenly come down with a terrible sickness. To make matters worse, as they make to leave town (or visit the local apothecary), the market square is suddenly thrown into chaos by a plague wizard and his pet otyugh spreading filth!
Setback Encounter: Spring Sickness
This encounter is suitable for characters of 3rd-level, but it can be scaled up or down to suit higher-level parties.
This encounter is centered on a strange and potentially deadly disease being passed to one or more of the adventurers. The encounter assumes one or more of the characters being exposed to this sickness before the adventure begins, possibly during one of the haggling sessions in a previous encounter: Honeyfest Hagglers.
When the adventurers wake up, every character that participated in the haggling or looked at any items in the marketplace the day before must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, a character contracts a disease from the spell contagion. Roll 1d6 to determine which of the six possible diseases that character contracts. A result of 1 indicates the character contracts Blinding Sickness, a roll of 2 results in Filth Fever, and so on.
Don’t worry that lesser restoration can eliminate this disease with the snap of a finger. At low levels, the use of a 2nd-level spell slot is a serious cost. At higher levels, spending a significant number of 2nd-level or higher spell slots to wipe the disease from everyone involved will still have an impact on the caster’s combat prowess in the encounter itself.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are 5th level or higher, increase the DC of the saving throw to resist the disease to 16. If the characters are 11th level or higher, increase the DC to 19. If the characters are at least 17th level, increase the DC to 22.
When the characters awaken in an inn or their own residence in a village or city, read or paraphrase the following:
The first light of dawn rises over the rooftops of the buildings around you. There’s a dull ache in your bones, and a strange scratchiness at the back of your throat. A wave of dread passes over you as you come to consciousness—could you have gotten sick?
If you recently played Honeyfest Hagglers, each of the characters who haggled or interacted with one of the shopkeepers or their goods must make a Constitution saving throw. See above for the DC of the saving throw and the effects of failing a save. If you didn’t play Honeyfest Hagglers, roll a die with as many faces as you have players (rounding down to the nearest even number).
Once the characters have realized that they either succumbed to a disease or managed to fight it off overnight, any character with a passive Wisdom (Perception) score of 13 or higher notices that a slip of paper has been pushed under their door. This paper is an advertisement for an apothecary in town, selling “cure-all” potions. The apothecary goes by the name of Pyotr Panacea, and has a shop in the market square of this town (or the market district of this city).
In truth, Pyotr is the alter ego of a secret plague mage known as the Father of Filth. He raises otyughs in the trash heaps of this village (or the sewers of this city) and uses his magic to spread sickness throughout the city. He worships Talona, goddess of sickness, but also uses his skill as an apothecary to make money by selling bogus cures for the diseases he spreads. They alleviate the symptoms temporarily, while doing nothing to treat the actual disease. Honest clerics and healers despise this man for his phony practices, but the poor and desperate that flock to him don’t heed their warnings; Pyotr’s cures are, in many cases, the only ones they can afford.
Combat Encounter: Death and Disease
If the characters investigate Pyotr’s flyer, it leads them into the middle of a horrific attack in the market. If the characters decide not to investigate, a serving boy from the inn knocks madly on their door. He shouts, “You’re adventurers, right? There’s an attack in the market! Horrible monsters, and a manic wizard! You have to help!”
Once the characters are in the market, the following scene unfolds before them; you can read or paraphrase these bullet points to your players as if they were read-aloud text:
- The wide-open market square is in chaos.
- The market is a roughly 100-foot diameter circular area with a 20-foot-wide thoroughfare leading out to the north and south.
- Two dozen innocents are fleeing towards the thoroughfares, while easily twice as many are sick on the ground, coughing or vomiting. (Use commoner statistics).
- A green-robed wizard wearing a copper, demon-faced mask cackles and incants foul spells, while a hideous, tentacle monster reeking of sewage grabs innocents and sinks its massive teeth into their bodies.
The wizard is Pyotr, a half-elf magewith the following changes; these changes reduce his challenge rating to 4 (1,100 XP):
- He only knows the following cantrips: infestation, poison spray, primal savagery
- He has only the following spells prepared:
- When he is reduced to 20 hit points or fewer, Pyotr casts dimension door to escape. If he can’t escape after this, he casts feign death and allows himself to be captured. When he awakens, he pretends that he was possessed by an evil spirit which forced him to go on a rampage. A character that succeeds on a DC 10 Wisdom (Insight) check recognizes that he’s a terrible liar.
The tentacle monster is an reduced-threat otyugh (this modified monster originally appeared in “Dead in Thay,” an adventure printed in Tales from the Yawning Portal). It can understand Common (but not speak it), and follows Pyotr’s orders perfectly. At the moment, it is grappling innocents with its tentacles (without dealing damage) and sinking its teeth into them as gently as possible. This deals only 1 point of piercing damage, but the commoner contracts a disease.
This otyugh has the following change: when a creature is hit by its Bite attack, it is instead affected by the spell contagion, instead of contracting the disease that the otyugh’s bite would otherwise confer. This has no effect on its challenge rating.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 5th level, the otyugh is a full-strength otyugh, and Pyotr is a mage with the listed spells available in addition to the spells he already has prepared. If the characters are at least 11th level, there are three otyughs, and Pyotr has an accomplice called Dalton the Diseased, also a mage with the same spell selection as Pyotr. If the characters are at least 17th level, there are five otyughs, and both Pyotr and Dalton are archmages with the same altered spell selection.
Once the characters defeat Pyotr or allow him to escape, the town guard (or city watch) runs in, prepared to help the sick and injured escape. The characters are free to try and search for leads as to the maniac’s identity—or, if they captured him and unmask him, the city guard is well aware that this man is Pyotr, and the characters may explore his shop and search for clues that could tie him to the filth-cult of Talona.
If a character is brave enough to cut open the otyugh and search through its fetid guts, they find a periapt of health within its large intestine.
Did you like this encounter? If you want to read more adventures, 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.