Kassoon

No Prep Module: Crossing The Desert for D&D or RPGs

This adventure can be can be easily customized to a party of any size or level, or run as a level 2 adventure for 5 players. It can work as a small side adventure in an existing campaign, as a standalone one-shot, or the start of a new adventure. Use the links to the tools in their relevant section to customize the adventure to your party.

Appleheller Falls is defended by magical constructs and wards, and is known for its piety. The ruler (Heather Durkin, Female Human) is a feared tyrant. Half-Orc are seen as refugees.

A half-orc noble by the name of Shag Barton will seek out the PCs to hire them for a dangerous expedition. He needs a capable group to defed Kithri Swiftwhistle and ensure that her merchant caravan makes it across the desert to the city of Princelun. He'll additionally tempt them with a reward of 1000 gold, to be paid upon safe arrival.

Shag Barton, Male Half-Orc

Description: This man is very fat, and tends to wear a heavy leather apron. Coupled with his rolled up shirt sleeves this gives him a very relaxed look. His silver hair is kept up in a ponytail inside a top hat. His eyes are gray.
Personality: He runs his personal life as if detached from it. He organizes appointments and outings based on perceived benefits he will get from it. A true patriot, Shag would do anything for his country. He is fiercely protective of his fellow citizens and foreign allies. Voice: Draws out vowels

If the PCs agree, they'll be introduced to Kithri. She seems dubious of the player's ability, but will relent with some convincing from the PCs themselves or Shag. She warns the PCs that her and her troupe aren't combat capable and that the desert trek is long and dangerous, so exercising caution is in their best interest.

Kithri Swiftwhistle, Female Halfling

Description: She has the majority of her body covered in plate. She carries a battered ceremonial dagger and tarnished hand crossbow as well. She has moderate length black hair. She was beautiful and young once, which still shows through her age, but it is a faded beauty.
Personality: She takes her job very seriously, in part because she fears she cannot get a new one. She is motivated by money and will often try and persuade people to work for cheap. She haggles over everything, upselling her goods and buying cheap. She is persistent in everything. Voice: Soothing and warm

Treat each hex as a day of travel. The party can choose to follow the road (which is safer but slower) or follow the coast of the river (which is faster but dangerous). The merchants, fearing for their lives, will want to follow the road but the PCs can convince them with a quick skill challenge

Travel along the river is very dangerous, with 1d4+1 deadly encounters each day of travel, which you can generate using the Encounter Builder. Along the river, water is easy to come by and doesn't require a roll. Hunting and fishing are in more plentiful supply, only requiring a DC 10 Survival check with appropriate tools.

Attempting to cross rivers, hills, or mountains while not on a road requires passing a skill challenge, and if the party doesn't have appropriate tools (boat, climbing gear, etc) then their checks will be made with disadvantage. They'll additionally need to figure out how to get the merchants and their caravan across safely.

Following the road takes roughly 24 days to reach the city. They'll need to have adequate food and water and survive harsh conditions to make the trek. The merchants are carrying 25 days of food and water for themselves, and will suggest taking a pit stop at the small mountain town of Emer Prairie to resupply, which will add an additional 8 days of travel to the journey overall if they follow the road. Again you can use a quick skill challenge to convince them to push through, but encounters and conditions may take a toll on their supplies so the PCs will likely need to obtain more supplies in the wilderness. Foraging in the desert is a DC 20 Survival check to find edible cacti and small game to hunt.

Here are a list of locations and encounters for each day of travel. Creatures encountered are likely looking for food and will target either people or supplies to sate their hunter. Most NPCs in the caravan are Commoners, though a couple can use the Noble statblock. They'll be killed quickly if targeted, so use this to up the stakes and danger when needed. Killing NPCs will mean less mouths to feed and make supplies last longer, while raiding the supplies will do the opposite. Alternate between the two as needed to make your group feel the pressure of survival in the desert.

You may want to use the Gritty Realism rules (DMG 267) for travel due to the harshness of the desert, or combine multiple encounters into one day if your players are under-challenged. If you need more encounters, use the Encounter Maker, but know that this will significantly slow down the adventure

Enemy Patrol: 2 Poisonous Snake (CR 1/8: Monster Manual p. 334), 2 Thri-kreen (CR 1: Monster Manual p. 288) [Hard, 450 XP rewarded] [Customize]
Chance of Encounter Per Rest: 20%

1

You climb above the blanket of fog that engulfs the desert. Timeworn boar statues, covered with dust, perch atop arches. To the northwest, gray cliffs rise sharply, framing two concentric rings of cairns that encircle the hillside.

There are 3 Giant Lizard (CR 1/4: Monster Manual p. 326), 2 Feathergale knight (CR 1: Princes of the Apocalypse p. 189) [Deadly, 550 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

2

Through the gloom, you see a yellow bird circling overhead. Through the dunes you see the empty shell of an old granite cottage, half of which has sunk into the sand. The blanket of brown sand crunches softly underfoot and the air smells floral and damp. You see a tarnished signpost next to the trail, the two arms of the sign pointing along the two branches. To the southeast the trail slopes up gradually to a mist-shrouded passage. To the east and down the dunes you can see an imposing statuette, crudely formed from clay and thatch and lashed together with rope.

In the cottage is A Shrieker (Basic Rules pg. 309)

3

The dunes part to reveal an expansive clearing: a timeworn dank limestone church, with the facade of some kind of temple carved into the sheer cliffs ahead nearby. A towering brick bridge arches over a dark gap, connecting to a worn path on the far side. The trail splits, one branch heading west into a low valley, and the other leading southwest into a foggy clearing.

There are 3 Poisonous Snake (CR 1/8: Monster Manual p. 334), 1 Acolyte (CR 1/4: Monster Manual p. 342), 1 Thri-kreen (CR 1: Monster Manual p. 288) [Medium, 325 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

4

A natural gap has opened in the plain to the southeast, splitting the land like a tear. The trail hugs a barrow mound, before the trail spans outward for several miles. To the northeast, a hole flows through a wide expanse of sand.

If the area is searched, they find 18 sp

5

Ahead, the dirt road splits in two, widening toward the north. There you see patches of cobblestone, suggesting that the branch was once an important thoroughfare. The road branches west and climbs rocky bluffs, ending at a gatehouse built into a fifteen-foot-high wall of granite.

If the area is searched, they find 14 cp

There is a puzzle: The party enters into a corridor that looks normal but ends in a dead end with a stone wall. There is no light in the room. When the party reaches the dead end and turns around there is a brick wall, essentially trapping them inside the corridor. The new brick wall has an inscription that reads “Keep your eye on the wall.” If they walk backwards while staring at the brick wall they will walk into the next room. Solving the puzzle causes the door to slowly open at the gatehouse.

6

Plumes of smoke from countless campfires rise into the sky, and loud, guttural speech and shouts fill the air. To the east, gray cliffs rise sharply, framing an abandoned camp. Pulled up along the northwest shore of a quicksand are two small row-boats. To the north, gray cliffs rise sharply, framing an abandoned camp.

In this area is A Shrieker (Basic Rules pg. 309)

7

A lonely church on a precipice, stands at the entrance to this desert. A large pool gently bubbles to the east. The road branches west and climbs rocky bluffs, ending at a monastery built into a fifteen-foot-high wall of granite . To the southwest, gray cliffs rise sharply, framing an arching bridge of old and crumbling brick that runs across a natural crevasse. Halfling busts cloaked in brown mold perch on the corners of the bridge, their faces ruined.

In the area is a puzzle: What starts with a T, ends with a T, and has T in it? A: A teapot.

If the puzzle is solved, they find 1600 cp, 900 sp, 110 gp, Potion of healing,

50 gp valuables (200 gp total): Jasper (opaque blue, black, or brown), Carnelian (opaque orange to red-brown), Bloodstone (opaque dark gray with red flecks), and Moonstone (translucent white with pale blue glow)

There are 2 Bandit (CR 1/8: Monster Manual p. 343), 2 Zoblin Boss (CR 1: Nerzugal's Extended Bestiary p. 97) [Hard, 450 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

8

The ground grows soft and dirt-caked in this branch of the desert; initially dotted with a decrepit house, covered in chipped and weatherworn paint and its roof covered in a layer of heavy vegetation, it transforms into dark hot arid wastes after a few hundred yards. A wary-looking peasant woman lurks behind the dunes, a rusty lantern clutched in one smooth hand and a scythe clutched in the other. A trail to the south has a company of soldiers that have set up a roadblock to question travelers. The trail comes to an X intersection, with branches to each cardinal direction.

In this area is a trap. This trap is activated when an intruder steps on a hidden pressure plate that releases the spell stored within the trapped object.

Effect: +7 to hit against one target, Casts Inflict Wounds centered on the trigger with a DC of 14 (if relevant)

Trigger: pressure plate, activates when 20 or more pounds are placed on it.

Countermeasures: A successful DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check will spot the pressure plate, and wedging an iron spike or other object under the pressure plate prevents the trap from activating.

Casting dispel magic (DC 20) on the trap will cancel the stored spell. [Customize]

9

Ahead, the dirt road splits in two, widening toward the northeast. There you see patches of cobblestone, suggesting that the branch was once an important thoroughfare. A trail leads up toward a great granite temple atop a high hill nearby. An old wooden gallows creaks in a sweltering wind that blows from the shore of a small quicksand to the north. A frayed length of rope dangles from its beam. To the southeast, the land, the sweltering arid wastes, and the sky vanish behind an immense wall of light mist.

In this area is Green Slime (Drops from above. DC 10 Dex, 1d10 acid damage, damage each round until removed. Nonmagical wood, metal weapon or tool used to remove is destroyed. Destroyed by sunlight, cure disease, cold, fire, or radiant)

10

The trail hugs the side of a cliff, before the trail spans outward for many miles. The road branches north and climbs ridges, ending at a outpost. Pulled up along the north shore of a quicksand are two small row-boats. To the south, the land, the humid arid wastes, and the sky vanish behind a large wall of rain.

There are 2 Sacred Stone Monk (CR 1/2: Princes of the Apocalypse p. 196) [Easy, 200 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

11

As you're walking, you find a halfling corpse half-buried in the sand about ten feet from the road. A fleet of two airships fly overhead. You discover an additional foot trail that cuts northeast through the wilderness.

12

The dirt soon turns to sand as the trail dissolves toward a small river of sand, next to small pools of foggy quicksand. Embedded in a tree is a shiny maul, beneath which lies a halfling skeleton. To the west, a river of liquid sand flows through an ominous valley. The well-worn road splits here, and a signpost points off in three directions. The southwest fork slants down and disappears into the dunes, while the south fork clings to an upward slope.

In this area is a trap. +7 to hit against one target, 10 (2d10) piercing damage

Trigger: ropes, a number of ropes are hanging from the ceiling that activate the trap when disturbed.

Countermeasures: A successful DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check will find that the ropes are connected to hinges which trigger the trap when moved. Burning or cutting the ropes without causing them to sway will disable the trap, if handling the ropes directly a successful DC 15 Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check is needed to avoid disturbing them too much. Alternatively crawling underneath them will avoid the trap entirely.

[Customize]

13

You discover an additional foot trail that cuts north through the wilderness. The road branches northwest and climbs rocky bluffs, ending at a windmill.

In this area is a trap. An enemy in disguise asks for help and triggers the trap when the PCs get close, which causes a camouflaged net to fall on any creature caught below.

Effect: Targets all creatures within a 10 ft. square area, DC 15 STR save or become restrained and take 9 (2d10) poison damage, half on save

Trigger: enemy, an enemy in disguise asks for help.

Countermeasures: A successful DC 10 Insight check can tell that the enemy is lying. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves' tools disarms the trap.

[Customize]

14

You climb above the blanket of fog that engulfs the desert. There's a statue carved from a single block of granite that depicts a faceless, hooded figure, bearing horns. A natural brook of sand has opened in the forest of cacti to the northeast, splitting the land like a tear. To the southeast, the land, the arid wastes, and the sky vanish behind a long wall of gloom. The trail comes to an X intersection, with branches to each cardinal direction.

An object in this area creates a force field.

15

A wary-looking peasant man lurks behind the dunes, a rusty lantern clutched in one smooth hand and a bow clutched in the other. Ahead, a towering edifice of granite looms over the arid wastes, carved into the face of a huge mountain. You see a faded signpost next to the trail, the two arms of the sign pointing along the two branches. To the southwest the trail climbs gradually to a mist-shrouded plain. To the south and down the dunes you can see a sprawling field of flowers.

There are 2 Ninja (CR 1: Nerzugal's Extended Bestiary p. 76) [Medium, 400 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

16

Gray fog spills out of the desert to obscure the trail behind. The well-worn road splits here, and a signpost points off in three directions. The northeast fork slants down and disappears into the dunes, while the west fork clings to an upward slope. To the east, between dunes, you glimpse an abbey perched on a mountainside coated with sand beyond a long stretch of fog-veiled pines. A powerful bouquet of competing floral fragrances floats throughout the area.

There are 4 Giant Fire Beetle (CR 0: Monster Manual p. 325), 2 Zombie (CR 1/4: Monster Manual p. 316) [Easy, 140 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

In the north passage is an unlocked door.

17

Through the dunes you see the empty shell of a crumbling granite temple, half of which has sunk into the sand. Several giant motes of earth hang gently in the air, each floating at a different height. The well-worn road splits here, and a signpost points off in three directions. The east fork slants down and disappears into the dunes, while the southwest fork clings to an upward slope. A trail to the southeast has a company of soldiers that have set up a roadblock to question travelers.

In this area is a trap. This trap is activated when a creature touches its surface, which causes the false door to fall forward onto anyone in front of it.

Effect: Targets any creature that touches it, DC 10 DEX save or take 10 (1d10) damage and knocked prone.

Trigger: touch trigger, activates when surface is touched by a creature.

Countermeasures: A spell or other effect that can sense the presence of magic, such as detect magic, reveals an aura of divination magic around the surface. A successful dispel magic (DC 10) cast on the surface destroys the trap.

Damaging the door causes the trap to trigger. A crowbar or iron wedge can be used from the side to tip over the door safely. [Customize]

18

The road gradually disappears and is replaced by a loose path through the desert. A sandy path eases down a gentle slope showered with Sun-bleached bones. The well-worn road splits here, and a signpost points off in three directions. The northwest fork slants down and disappears into the dunes, while the west fork clings to an upward slope.

There are 5 Bandit (CR 1/8: Monster Manual p. 343), 1 Acolyte (CR 1/4: Monster Manual p. 342) [Easy, 175 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

19

You climb above the blanket of fog that engulfs the desert. In a clearing a few hundred feet from a stream of sand, is a well that's blackened by fire. The road branches southeast and climbs rocky bluffs, ending at a tower built into a twenty-foot-high wall of granite. You discover an additional foot trail that cuts east through the wilderness. To the southwest, a gap flows through a broken canyon.

There are 3 Orc (CR 1/2: Monster Manual p. 246) [Medium, 300 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

20

The road gradually disappears and is replaced by a sandy path through the desert. Two concentric rings of cairns that encircle the hillside, stands at the entrance to this desert. A natural fissure has opened in the coast to the east, splitting the land like a tear. The road branches northwest and climbs cliffs, ending at a temple.

There are 2 Yuan-ti Pureblood (CR 1: Monster Manual p. 310), 1 Giant Vulture (CR 1: Monster Manual p. 329) [Deadly, 600 XP rewarded] here. [Customize]

In the west passage is a locked door (DC 15). Key could be found on a nearby creature or furniture.

Reaching The City

Shag Barton assumed the party would fail and saw it as a convenient way to dispose of a rival in a tragic (and importantly) accidental journey. While the noble didn't directly hire any bandits, he made the expedition no secret and had servants discuss it loudly in various seedy taverns.

As a final, last-ditch effort Shag hires mercenaries via carrier pigeon to attack the caravan before it reaches town. If the mercenaries are defeated and searched the party can find the letter, or if they decide to question the mercenaries they'll give up Shag Barton as their employer with a quick skill challenge.

The mercenaries are no pushovers, and realize a party that's made it this far is likely capable. They'll use guerilla tactics to try to soften up the party as much as possible and may leave some simple traps in their path before engaging.

When the mercenaries finally do engage at night, use this encounter: Mercenary Group. With enough traps, hit-and-run tactics, and a good ambush location, this should be a difficult fight for even a well-rested party.

If Kithri Swiftwhistle survives the expedition, she rewards the PCs from her shop with 100 gp and a Staff of the Python.

The PCs may want revenge against Shag Barton, which could lead into another adventure where they try to track down the noble and his web of contacts.

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