One-Shot D&D Adventure for New DMs & Players: The Zeppelin Effect
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...
"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.
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...
"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
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."
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
Effects/ 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.
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!
...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.
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)
- Bite 2d10+4
- Claw 2d8+4
- Greataxe 1d12+4
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 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