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One-Shot D&D Adventure for New DMs & Players: The Zeppelin Effect

Karen lives in Jackson, MS with her husband and son, and works as an accountant. She enjoys writing, reading, and D&D role playing game.


A Starter Adventure for Newbies Trying out Dungeons & Dragons for the First Time

I created this one-shot as a short adventure to play with family over Easter break. Most of my family members had never played before, and I am new at DMing, so I had to keep it simple yet entertaining. "The Zeppelin Effect" is a campaign about a strange threat near the small village of Altimira.

The player characters (PCs) are a group of adventurers from nearby towns and villages who have answered a plea for help from Lord Skipwyth. The village is mostly built around his estate, Skipwyth Manor.

Non-player characters (NPCs) are introduced, and help to both explain the situation and to assist the PCs in formulating a plan of action.

The entire adventure should take 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size of your group and whether or not you play in some of the optional encounters I am including. (I have run this adventure twice, and both times were quite different!)

Note: the basic rules for playing Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, are not included here, but if needed can be downloaded free from Wizards of the Coast.

The Zeppelin Effect


You travel with fellow adventurers to the small village of Altimira...

... where you have been tasked with helping to save the town from an onslaught of deadly creatures!

The circumstances are so dire that villagers are afraid to come out of their homes! The situation is even more urgent because of a recent accident at the nearby school of wizardry a tenday past, causing a strange effect on the creatures as well as other creatures.... If we cannot stop them now, we may not be able to save the village!

You meet Lord Skipwyth in the center of town...

Skipwyth explains

"We have been facing an onslaught of giant spiders for the past several months. It began last spring and now it is mid summer and they are still coming! We have sent our best people to find the source, or a colony, or just to find out why they seem to be multiplying in our area and attacking our townsfolk. It has been a few weeks, but they have not returned."

People here have several theories….

  • We have checked the well water for any strange taste or smell, and it seems to be the same as always. Though we have had a bit of a drought this Summer.
  • Watchman Adam Lacey's theory is that the spiders' presence has something to do with a violent spring storm we had. There were tornadoes and horrific winds. Several old trees were lost in town. Could be something got stirred up in the woods.
  • Someone thought the church wine might be drawing them. We have a new priest who has really been stocking up on tawny port!

Mr. Kilgore here at the leather shop helped make a harness for you to restrain a spider. The wizard needs you to send back a live specimen, if possible. We aren't taking any chances though. The harness will be inside a larger wooden crate. Both are waiting for you at the Wizardry along with the students who will be trailing behind to take the live captured spider back to Wizard Selwyn. Those things can get to about 10 feet wide if you measure from the tip of one leg to the end of another!

Past the schoolhouse here is the heartstone bakery. They call it that because they believe the stone they bake their bread on can mend an unhappy marriage or bring a child to a childless couple. This comes from an old folk tale about there being a true heart stone in the area that has those effects. I think that story was started by the owner. He's as old as dirt! Anyway, I have asked him to help you get stocked up before you head out.

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People are afraid to come out of their homes, especially after dark when it is more difficult to be sure the road is clear of these varmints. There is an old citadel northeast of town, where a group of men have been trying to lure the spiders, to keep them away from the town proper. They are having little success.

You hear the sound of spiders being attacked in the distance...

Lord Skipwyth:

"I hear them killing spiders now. We will provide you with supplies and 100 gold pieces each if you agree to help us."

Map of Altamira

The first run through I played was online, and this was the map I used (repurposed) for the town of Altamira

The first run through I played was online, and this was the map I used (repurposed) for the town of Altamira

Nicholas Selwyn, Ancient Wizard and Headmaster of the Wizardry

"I am Nicholas Selwyn, the headmaster here. The urgency is because of an accident in my lab last week. I have been working on a spell to banish or kill these spiders. I think I was getting pretty close - but a couple of my senior students got drunk and broke into my laboratory and fumbled around with my work, casting the spell only halfway in their inexperienced clumsiness, and before it was finished. The result is that it has only a limited effect on the spiders, and, at the same time, the effect is not limited to the spiders but also seems to affect smaller woodland creatures in the area.

The spell was cast in a mist, which, depending on the wind and weather that night, might have not reached high enough in the trees to afflict all of the spiders. Since it was cast without supervision, there is no way to know for sure exactly the circumstances, but it was a mild night, so there is the very real possibility you could come across unaffected spiders.

We have students and volunteers who are collecting the affected woodland creatures as they can to keep them safe, but they are staying away from the areas known to be more populated with the giant spiders.

(if/when they ask) The effect is a sort of half concious spider. They will still attack, but they only do about half of their normal damage, and they do not seem to be searching all that intently for food - rather they seem to be just eating whatever they come across, which is mostly the also dumbstruck aforementioned woodland creatures. There have been several who have made it to the town.

I do not know how long these effects will last, but we feel like this is our best chance to save the town, while we have the advantage.

I am working on the spell again, though I had to start all over."

Zoomed in Map of Altamira

If your party lacks a wizard, he can be persuaded to accompany you: however, he is feeble and could slow you down. If you decide to let him join you, give him the powers of a level 3 wizard, but a decreased constitution score (8) and dex of 9.

Alternatively, or in addition to, depending on your party makeup: if you have no cleric or healer, the wizard gives the party 1d4 healing potions per 4 party members.

The Wizard Gives the Group 6 Magic Items

add to or replace as needed for size of party and type of characters you have. Not all magic items will work for every character type. These are the ones I used, but we did have to substitute two of them during the second run.

Magic ItemAdvantageActionEffects/ other Info

Dagger of Venom: 1d4 piercing damage. Melee Weapon range 20/60

+1 bonus to Attack & Damage Rolls

Use action to cause thick black poison to coat the blade. lasts 1 minute or until it hits

Creature must succeed on DC 15 Constitution saving throw or take 2d10 poison damange & become poisoned for 1 minute

Elvin Chain: Medium Armor

Gain +1 bonus to AC while wearing. You are considered proficient even if you lack proficiency with medium armor.

Wear armor to gain bonus to AC

Higher Armor Class

Giant Slayer: Magic Weapon

Gain a +1 bonus to Attack and Damage Rolls made with this weapon. When you hit a giant (any creature with the giant type, including giant spiders), the giant takes extra 2d6 damage of the weapon's type and must succeed on DC 15 strength saving throw of fall prone.

Melee Attack

higher rolls for attack and damage; more damage to giants

Insignia of Claws

While wearing the insignia, you gain a +1 bonus to the attack rolls and the damage rolls you make with unarmed strikes and natural weapons.

The jewels in this insignia of the Cult of the Dragon Flare with purple light when you enter combat empowering your natural fists or natural weapons.

bonus to attack and damage rolls (unarmed strike & natural weapons)

Mace of Smiting: 1d6 bludgeoning.

You gain a +1 bonus to Attack and Damage Rolls. The bonus increases to +3 when you use the mace to Attack a construct.

When you roll a 20 on an Attack roll made with this weapon, the target takes an extra 2d6 bludgeoning damage, or an extra 4d6 bludgeoning damage if it's a construct.

If a construct has 25 hit points or fewer after taking this damage, it is destroyed.

Shield of Hurling

While holding this shield, you have a +1 bonus to your AC. This bonus is in addition to the shield's normal bonus to AC.

you make a ranged weapon attack with the shield as if it were a simple weapon with the thrown property with a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet

It deals 1d6 plus your Strength modifier bludgeoning damage on a hit and returns to your hand at the start of your next turn, regardless of whether it hits or misses. If you don't have a hand free, the shield lands at your feet.


First Encounter: In the Forest

An observant group spots one of two or two of two afflicted spiders crawling around a bushy tree, toward the group's path. If they do not state they are actively searching, the spiders gain a surprise round.


You Come Upon a Greater Version of This Spotted Owl...


Optional Encounter and Storyline: Help From the Owl and the Werebear

The adventure runs fine without this part of the story, but I added it in to break it up, so it was not all about spiders.

After killing the first two stupefied spiders, they come across a giant owl.

Giant Owl - Large beast, neutral

  • Armor Class 12
  • Hit Points 19 (3d10+3)
  • Speed 5 ft., fly 60 ft.

STR 13 (+1)

DEX 15 (+2)

CON 12 (+1)

INT 8 (-1)

WIS 13 (+1)

CHA 10 (+0)

  • Skills Perception +5, Stealth +4
  • Senses Darkvision 120 Ft., passive Perception 15
  • Languages Giant Owl, Understands Common, Elvish, And Sylvan But Can't Speak
  • Challenge 1/4 (50 XP)


  • Talons 1d20 + 3 2d6+1

The owl is eating a giant spider and looks at each party member, one at a time, with his big owl eyes, sheltering his kill with his wings... he is defensive, but does not strike unless attacked. Then...

The Giant Owl Speaks!

"spider….. dumb

...many more

...I eat every day more spider


...Little ones stupid too

...(nods toward hidden werebear) Friend"

If they ask him to show them where there are more spiders, he takes a spider leg in his beak, then flies off to the northwest

Later, As you travel through the forest, you occasionally spot him high and far off…. Sort of like he might be leading you, or watching over you.

Where Is the Werebear?

It's up to you whether to make them search for him, or whether he just plops in front of them.

They see him first as a man, bedraggled and very injured, having just fought off a couple of Worgs

At the discretion of DM; you could add this Worg battle into the story - perhaps the PC's come across the Werebear and Owl fighting them, or the man version of the werebear is speaking with you and then they attack, and you get to see the kind of fighting he can do as the bear and as the man, and how the owl is helpful. If you need more time, working this in can add another 10 minutes or so minimum. Above link is to their stat block.

Regardless of how you decide to first meet the werebear, he should be as a human, and the first thing he does is warn you to stay away from him, immediately warning you of his condition. It will be up to the players whether to trust the owl and the werebear and to use them. I left them out of the first round due to time constraints. The second group had them join, but basically used the werebear as spider fodder, putting him out front to fight the big battle. - and did not utilize or engage the owl at all.

Worg (Dog-wolf)

Worg (Dog-wolf)

The Werebear's Backstory

In case you want to work it in, this is his story:

My name is Jonathan. I have obviously not always been like this. I was a soldier once, then a husband. I think I am a father as well. After I injured my leg in battle, and could no longer fight, I went to work as an apprentice for a silversmith. This was… a faraway place. The owl has brought me many miles from home. I fell in love and married my boss's daughter and we were were to have a child. My boss/father-in-law and I were on a hunting expedition when we were attacked by the thing - the bear that was more than a bear. My father in law was killed. I was only scratched, but that was enough to make me turn. I never went home, for fear I would hurt my wife and unborn child, and from the guilt of not saving my wife's father. I stayed nearby for a few months, hoping to get a glimpse of my child from the woods, but was attacked by other hunters while in a rage. I took me a while to learn to control it. I don't think I killed any of them but cannot be certain. Anyway, the owl found me and basically saved me. We have been together ever since - for many seasons now.


Medium humanoid (human, shapechanger), neutral good

  • Armor Class 10 (In Humanoid Form,11 In Bear And Hybrid Forms )
  • Hit Points 135 (18d8+54)
  • Speed 30 ft. (40 ft., climb 30 ft. in bear or hybrid form)

STR 19 (+4) DEX 10 CON 17 (+3) INT 11 WIS 12 (+1) CHA 12 (+1)

  • Skills Perception +7
  • Damage Immunities Bludgeoning, Piercing, And Slashing Damage From Non-magical Weapons That Aren't Silvered
  • Senses passive Perception 17
  • Languages Common (Can't Speak In Bear Form)
  • Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)


The Spider Web and Unafflicted Giant Spider

As the party continues to search through the forest, you come across a clearing (see cover photo) where a large spider web covers the entire path between two large trees. The web can be spotted with a DC 15 perception check. Otherwise, at least one PC (or two, if they are traveling side by side) is restrained by the web—Stat block here.

In addition, a spider (unaffected by the spell because he was high enough in the trees) hops down from the tree above and attacks the restrained PC(s). If none are restrained, he is threatening to attack the group. Either way, roll initiative here. This gives new players an idea of what a real monster can do.

If Jonathan and/or the giant owl are with you, they know how to find the spider colony from here and lead you directly to it, after any healing needed, etc. If not, you navigate by seeing the owl flying in the distance and leading you toward it.

The Heartstone Lair

The Big Battle Ensues

At last you come upon the lair. This large stone is the "heartstone" mentioned in the beginning - that the baker claims is real. This is why the spiders are being drawn to the stone and are multiplying. It was apparently unearthed during the big storms earlier in the year. It would look something like the picture above, except for the fact that it is Covered in afflicted spiders. How many you use is up to you, but I would say a minimum of 20, to make it interesting.

In addition, the PC's must destroy the stone, or more spiders will continue to come. The stone itself has 150 hit points, which you can adjust up or down, but make sure it is tough to destroy. (I made the mistake of not assigning hit points initially, and it was really difficult to gauge damage to the stone without the hp). In addition, note that stone has an AC of 17, which I did not realize at the time. That would have helped too!

Once your PC's have killed all the spiders and destroyed the stone, the adventure is completed - you could have them return to Lord Skypwith or just narrate that part, where they are rewarded their 100 gp each and the thanks of the relieved villagers.

Where to next? If you've engaged Jonathan and the owl, you can use them to bring the PCs to another adventure.... it is up to you

Questions & Answers

Question: Any chance you have a word doc or PDF of this one-shot D&D adventure "The Zeppelin Effect"?

Answer: I might have most of it in word. I wrote it in sections so the doc I have is probably not exactly the same. I also did several edits once I published it.

I was able to print to pdf which didn't turn out too bad.

Question: How many first level characters can you play before I would need to increase the toughness of the encounters?

Answer: If they are beginners, up to around 6. If they are experienced players, I wouldn't go over 4 without increasing the toughness a little bit at least. You could also not give out the magic items if they are experienced players.

Question: What level should the PCs be?

Answer: It was created for level one, but has been played up to level 3 I believe.

Question: What are the stat blocks for afflicted spiders in D&D?

Answer: see the section called "Stupefied spider" - this is the stat block for spiders afflicted by the spell.

© 2018 Karen Kay

Let me know if you played the adventure, or if you have any questions or comments!

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on May 21, 2020:

I'm sure you'll be fine. You can print this page directly. It's not super printer friendly but it will work. I do not have another print out.

anna on May 18, 2020:

can you reply me a link to print out it's my first time doing and I'm trying my best since it's my players first time too and I don't want them to hate dnd because I've tried and failed

Jase on March 25, 2020:

what level characters do you make

Needle on March 24, 2020:

Thanks for making this guide (i guess?). Your one shot is simple yet fun. I will be dm-ing a 3 player party with one new player who is just introduced to dnd recently. I hope she will like the game and want to play more after playing this one shot.

Shamoo on March 20, 2020:

That map is the map from the official D&D 5e starter set, so I'd be wary of "repurposing" it as it's possible it might be under copyright.

Bryce on March 17, 2020:

This is a great campaign! I use this to test out all my new groups from now on. It was mine and my first groups first campaign. You have no idea how much I appreciate this one shot. One of my first players is starting to dip their toes into dming and they asked me to send them this because they had such a fun time playing. My first group actually still is using this town as their HQ.

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on February 13, 2020:

Thanks Julian. The only way I know is to print directly from the website to a pdf file

Julián on February 10, 2020:

Where can i find they PDF foto this amazing one shot?

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on December 16, 2019:

good to know!

mochi on December 15, 2019:

My party took 40 minutes to destroy the rock.

Overall, was good, aside from the rock having an AC of 17 and HP of 150. I probably should have changed it.

Eric Muensterman on October 18, 2019:


Thank you for this one shot. I’m currently writing a 6 arc story that takes place in territory that has Were folk. I wanted a one shot to introduce the group before we set sail to the larger longer journey. But with your alt Were,Owl Arc this is a perfect. I’m making a few changes to the Were back story that will case my group to journey by ship to my world. I will report back when we have run your arc, and I wanted to say thank you!

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on October 08, 2019:

So glad Jamie! Thank you!

jamie stewart on October 07, 2019:

this was a good base for my first adventure I'm going to run and it was really helpful

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on September 13, 2019:

How fun! Please let me know how it goes!

Rye Allison on September 12, 2019:

This is such a cool story!

I'm brand new to DnD and me and a few friends started a group that I'm DMing, definitely using this for our first adventure!

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on August 21, 2019:

ouch! DM'ing is such hard work! I tip my hat to you!

Ian on August 21, 2019:

So I played with 2 people that had never played before and started them at level 3 as I thought it would be fair as I felt that they were to be outnumbered. Druid and Warlock. So it turns out they are actually very good.

- They both walk into the web, druid casts spider climb, succeeds saving throw, walks out of the web

- The warlock sees all the spiders on the heartstone, proceeds to cast Cloud of Daggers and kill every single one of the spiders, and can concentrate for the full minute cause no spiders can even touch her to foil her concentration. I was dumbfounded.

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on August 05, 2019:

Fun! Thanks so much Gus!

Gamer Gus on August 04, 2019:

Loved this! Going to use it for my first adventure as a DM. Tks!

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on July 10, 2019:

Wow! you made it so much more awesome! I am so impressed by the creative ways you all have played this simple little adventure!

animuse on July 06, 2019:

Hi Karen! I just ran this with two fairly experienced players and they had a lot of fun (5th level so they were a little over powered, whewps). Here were the tweaks I made:

- The priest in town was a priest of Waukeen and was selling wine to the wizard's tower - the apprentice that messed up the spell had been sneaking the booze (the priest got an earful when the adventurers got back to town!)

- I had some war veterans manning the old citadel (Captain Hornswaggle and Seargent "BattleAxe" Mirin among others) when a placid spider attacked the town, and played them as an old " We were in the war!" couple.

- The player wizard had a scroll of speak with animals, which they used at the wizard's tower to question one of the placid animals. It was great entertainment for the wizard students because the goat they talked to was not with it at all (the player wizard later kicked herself because she couldn't use it to talk to the owl!)

- They ran across the owl and werebear and they became party members. During the final fight(s) I gave them to the players to play

- The final fight ran in waves - 12 to start (mix of placid and regular spiders), then two additional rounds of spiders coming at them as they tried to attack the heart stone

- I made the heart stone a gem inside the stone. The player wizard picked it up and the rest of the party was basically charmed all the way back. It will wind up with the bakery, the stone there had been made from part of the stone around the gem

- She also dispelled the True Polymorph spell on the owl, who was an elf druid and had been an owl so long he'd lost his memory :)

Matt on June 25, 2019:

Oh. Here are the comments. Heh. Oops.

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on June 18, 2019:

Having an issue replying to Bill's comment below but just wanted to say amazing creativity there! I love the heart stone hot tub idea! Kudos!

Vince on June 16, 2019:

Hey Karen!

I'm going to start my first dm session soon and this will really help me. Thanks for putting in the effort to create and share this amazing free adventure!

Bill on June 13, 2019:

Fun and enjoyable story to start newbies on. Played two players. Ranger and druid team sent out to investigate a report of giant spiders. Selwyn the wizard needs a couple live spiders to come up with Spider Sleep Spray. Ranger meets a couple NPCs in the Shepard Inn and gets them to thelp. A thief and a "fighter". Actually son of Lord Skipwith. (Comedy relief). Anyway while wiz biz works on potions, ranger and co hear rumor of bear that keeps coming to this young widows house then runs away before the village watch can get there.

So ranger tracks bear to woods. Finds werebear in human form. Is human hunter from village that went missing a month or so ago. (People thought spiders got him). Wants to be human. (Yes that is his young widow he keeps sneaking to see). Guy needs help. Hey, Let's see if the new cleric in the church can help. Well he would be happy to but you know, the tawny port he likes is made by halflings in Littleton which is down the road a bit. They are having an issue with a pack of wovles that moved in recently (another online adventure I found).

Selwyn creates spider sleep spray. Team brain storms way of dispersing potion (Bucket, hose, fire bellows of course). Yada, yada, yada.... spiders gone. Oh, don't destroy the heart stone. See, winter storms broke banks of pond where rock was submerged and caused it to block geothermal vent. Druid figures way to lift rock and dam up pond again. Boom! Instant heart stone hot tub.

Next stop, wolves in Littleton.

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on June 03, 2019:

Hi Ben, I think that map was from I just repurposed it for my adventure.


Ben on June 01, 2019:

Hi, I was wondering what software you used to make your map? I've been looking for an easy way to create one.

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on May 06, 2019:

I have added a link, per request in the comments, to a zoomed in version of the map of Altamira. It is in with the text under the map. or click here:

Thanks everone!

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on May 06, 2019:

Thank you Adria!

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on May 06, 2019:

so glad! Thanks so much!

Jason on May 01, 2019:

Great module! I was looking for a module to run with my Modern Fantasy Fiction class, most of whom are first-time gamers, and this was perfect.

Adria on April 05, 2019:

I am running this with my family for my first time being DM. Its a great one shot.

Joebob on April 02, 2019:

Wanted to thank you for this excellent one shot! Ran it for my first-time playing sister and my semi-experienced wife. My sister has decided she loves DnD now and wants to continue the character we created for her. Thanks for making quality content!

Knittedfox on March 28, 2019:

I'm going to run this today, as my first time DM'ing. Looking forward to such a fun looking adventure!

Cyn on March 18, 2019:

If I only have two players (level 2/3) how many monsters should I have them fight for the Final battle? (Factoring in that they could get help from the duo?

Ashley on March 15, 2019:

I want to run this as my first adventure, but I can't read the text on the map, would it be possible to post a more high-quality map or write out what those buildings are?

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on January 10, 2019:

Hey Daniel,

Thanks for your question. There were 7 of us - four of which were brand new. We played all at level one.

DanielVuela on December 27, 2018:

Hey, for how many players did you balance this, were they thought for lvl 1s?

Greg VB on December 09, 2018:

I've been looking for a one shot to introduce a bunch of new players to D&D and this is both simple and just complex enough to be the perfect story to use. Thank you.

Karen Kay (author) from Jackson, MS on September 17, 2018:

I hear you Eder! Sound advice. I wanted them to have some confidence, being beginners. Honestly they did not overuse though!

Eder on September 17, 2018:

Nice one shot :)

Really liked the simplicity around it.

A workd of advice though: giving 6 magic itens, some of which are RARE, is a BIG balance change.

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