The Road to Baldur’s Gate has led our heroes past a forest’s edge before, and it wasn’t good news. This time, the adventurers are sure to be on their guard. Any little noise from the forest’s edge should cause them to draw their weapons in readiness, let alone the bloodcurdling screech that echoes out of the forest when they’re spotted by the Raiders of the Reaching Woods.
This week’s encounter is titled Raiders of the Reaching Woods, and pits the characters against a group of demon-possessed maniacs in the middle of the wilderness. “The Road to Baldur’s Gate,” in which a group of adventurers will travel down the Sword Coast over road and wilderness, from the gates of Waterdeep to the threshold of Baldur’s Gate. You may use this series as an introduction to the upcoming D&D storyline Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, as an expansion to the caravan sequence in the first D&D storyline adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, or piecemeal as standalone encounters.
You can keep track of this journey on this massive map of the Sword Coast, originally presented in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. The trip from Waterdeep to Baldur’s Gate covers about 750 miles of both road and off-road wilderness. A small party on horseback can cover about 24 miles per day at a casual pace, with just under two days off for rest per tenday of travel. All in all, this journey takes just over a month to complete for a small party of adventurers—assuming they’re well-prepared and no serious complications arise. And note, not every day of travel needs to be represented by an encounter; the characters may go for days with only minor encounters with passing merchants or travelers.
This is the tenth encounter along this journey. The previous encounters are:
- The Road to Baldur’s Gate
- Devil in the Details
- Danger in Daggerford
- Misty Marauders
- Detour Past Dragonspear
- Trollclaw Terrors
- A Break at Boareskyr Bridge
- Najaran Nemeses
- Deathly Demons!
The characters should be at least 3rd level by the time they begin this encounter. Though this encounter series is supposed to lead directly into Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, that adventure begins its characters at 1st level. You can choose one of the following options, or create your own plan, in order to make this series flow smoothly into Descent into Avernus:
- Treat this series as a prologue, and start Descent into Avernus fresh at 1st level with new characters
- Scale up the Baldur's Gate content in Descent into Avernus from 1st to 3rd level, and slow XP gain down significantly by halving or even quartering XP values until they reach Avernus.
- Skip the Baldur's Gate content and go straight to Avernus.
Combat Encounter: Raiders of the Reaching Woods
This combat encounter is suited for 3rd-level characters. The combatants are chaotic but bloodthirsty, and tend to focus all of their attacks on one character in order to defeat them as quickly as possible.
In this encounter, the characters are attacked by common bandits—or so it seems. This group of lawless brigands are known throughout northern Elturgard as the Raiders of the Reaching Woods, and stories of their bloodthirstiness and cruelty are legendary. The truth behind the matter is much more dire than the people know: the Raiders of the Reaching Woods were once common cutpurses and highwaymen, but one day they stole an idol of the Demon Lord Yeenoghu from a demon worshiper traveling along the Trade Way in secret. When the Raiders returned to their hideout, the acolyte of Yeenoghu followed them back unseen, and then slaughtered the Raiders’ leader before all of his allies as an offering to the Beast of Butchery.
The remaining bandits tore the cultist limb from limb in a frenzy, and from that day forth they were little more than pawns of the Lord of Savagery, Yeenoghu. These men and women have degenerated to the most primal forms of their mortal beings, practically running on all fours, and devouring the flesh of their victims after plucking any shiny baubles from their corpses. These are the foes the adventurers face on this leg of their journey.
Before the Encounter Starts: Pip Kip and the Soul Coin
If the characters took the soul coin from Kendrei all the way back in Encounter of the Week: The Road to Baldur’s Gate, the demon-frenzied raiders focus their attacks on the character holding it. If you don’t know which character is holding the soul coin, but don’t want to give things away, consider using this optional scene in the morning before the encounter:
First, ask which character is holding the heavy coin marked with an Infernal rune that they found at the beginning of the journey. Then, read or paraphrase the following to that player.
Morning has come, and you feel a strange lightness when you awaken. A heavy weight has vanished from your being, and only by its absence do you realize that the weight was there in the first place. You quickly realize what it is: the coin is missing.
If the characters are traveling with Pip Kip, then the imp is sitting out in the middle of their camp, holding the coin and turning it over in its tiny hands. It looks up at the character as they approach, and tries feebly to hide the coin behind its body. “I just had to see it…” the imp says sheepishly. “I’ve been sensing it on you this whole time. The smell of a mortal soul. Of a soul coin!”
The imp reluctantly gives up the soul coin if pressed, and explains everything it knows about it:
- Soul coins are the currency of the Nine Hells.
- They are literally forged from a mortal soul that has been lost to the Nine Hells.
- In Avernus, the level of the Nine Hells that Pip Kip hails from, soul coins can be used to power the hulking war machines that blaze across the blasted plains of the Hells’ first layer.
- Demons sometimes seek out these coins, not because those chaotic monsters have any need for currency, but just because they like hoarding souls!
If the characters aren’t traveling with Pip Kip, the coin has rolled, seemingly of its own volition, into the tall grass. The sun glints off it menacingly, and anyone that succeeds on a DC 10 Wisdom (Perception) check can find it.
This is a brief scene with low stakes, but it establishes who has the soul coin going into the main encounter—if they have it at all.
As the characters travel between the villages of Triel and Scornubel, read or paraphrase the following:
A fresh breeze blows over the plains, rustling the tall grass and showering you with the scent of fresh wildflowers. In the distance, you can see the edge of the Reaching Wood, and the mighty River Chionthar cutting through it. In time, that river will guide you straight from Elturel to Baldur’s Gate, if your map is to be believed.
Then, the wind changes. It blows westward, from the woods, and a foul scent assaults your senses. Blood. Musk. Rot. Something is coming.
If the characters stand still long enough to make a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check, they can see a small horde of humanoids running on all fours with blades strapped to their backs, or clenched between their teeth. This group of eight bandits have the following additional traits:
Aggressive. As a bonus action, the bandit can move up to its speed toward a hostile creature that it can see.
Demonic Fortitude (Recharges after a Short or Long Rest). If damage reduces the bandit to 0 hit points, it can use its reaction to make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is from a critical hit. On a success, the bandit drops to 1 hit point instead.
They begin 1000 feet away from the characters, and move 90 feet closer to them every turn. If a bandit dies, its soul immediately falls under Yeenoghu’s complete control. The Beast of Butchery transforms the soul into a maw demon, which gestates and explodes from the bandit’s chest 1d4 rounds after the bandit’s death. The bandits and the demons that burst from them are drawn to the soul coin—if the characters possess it—like moths to a flame, and focus all their attacks on the character that carries it.
If you don’t have Volo’s Guide to Monsters, you can substitute a quasit for a maw demon. These quasits have 15 hit points instead of 7, but are witless, bloodthirsty monsters, and never use their Invisibility action.
One of the bandits still possesses the golden idol of Yeenoghu that began all this tragedy. It is in a leather pouch on her body, and just holding it is enough to send a shiver down most folks’ spines. The idol isn’t magical, but it does possess a faint connection to Yeenoghu, as a ritualistic tool. Any merchant willing to take such an unpleasant item would pay 200 gp for it. It could also be sold to a smith or a jeweler for 50 gp, as they would melt the idol down into raw material.
This attack is more than just an unexpected random encounter; it’s a sign that the Beast of Butchery is active in the world. And when a Demon Prince is active in the world, surely he is active elsewhere throughout the planes, too. If the characters present the idol of Yeenoghu in Scornubel or Elturel, perhaps they’ll hear an ancient tale of Elturgard in times long past.
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 Platinum Bestseller 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.