5E D&D Encounter: Cake Castle - Peppermint Forest
This is the latest installment in a series of planned encounters that I will compile as a PDF for my patrons.  The entire campaign will run from 1st through 20th level.  It's a work in progress so feedback is appreciated. You can read all of the Welstar adventures, encounters, and articles here. .   

Chapter 2: The Gingerbread Witch

The witch, Henrietta Hook, is actually a hag who managed to escape the Coyaigne Campanile.  She properly calls it the Candy Campanile for reasons that will become clear later.

Not all of the residents died in the rise of the Campanile.  Henrietta was a kindly old lady responsible for baking sweets before Benoit came along -- the two were fierce rivals.  To her dismay, Henrietta discovered that nobody mourned her.  Having survived the attack with newfound powers, Henrietta decided to get revenge on both Benoit and the townsfolk by poisoning them with chocobunnies.  She knew Benoit couldn't resist using the secret ingredient and that his greed would be the downfall of the town.  

And yet, Henrietta is not without regrets.  She loves children and enjoyed their company, so in a twisted move that makes sense only to her, Henrietta lured the children to her hut with promises of sweets, using her magical charms to cloud their minds. She's fooling herself of course -- she can't stop her rising hunger and will eventually eat them if they are not rescued.

Gingerbread Hags have several powers at their disposal.  They have a natural aroma that smells delicious and makes them irresistible.  Victims who can eat candy must make Wisdom saves or suffer the effects of a suggestion spell.  Gingerbread hags can also disguise themselves as kindly old women. They are vulnerable to sesame seeds, which they must stop and count obsessively.  Gingerbread hags can swallow victims whole and have the ability to resurrect their foes as gingerbread men. 

Challenge 1 (Deadly): Peppermint Forest

Map 8: Peppermint Forest

See the map above.  Each square equals 10 feet.  

The forest around Henrietta's hut is sprinkled with peppermint-striped trees, becoming more numerous the closer one gets to her hut.  The forest floor is littered with double-striped branches. The trees are infested with small, vicious creatures known as gummibearen. 

Following Benoit's map, you delve deeper and deeper into the woods.  That's when you begin to notice a curious change in the thick foliage.  The first tree you notice is easy to spot from a distance -- it's red and white striped like a candy cane, with branches that stick straight out at right angles.  Then you see more and more.  Eventually the forest becomes full of only the striped trees, which makes for a confusing and disorienting journey as you are surrounded by nothing but red and white, with sticky peppermint branches cracking underfoot.  

Features of the Area

  • Illumination: The forest during the day provides shadowy illumination.
  • Peppermint Trees (AC 15, HP 30, DT 5, C 1/2): The candy cane trees have branches that are vulnerable to breaking with any creature larger than Small size, which allows the gumibearen to roam freely.  
  • Peppermint Branches (AC 15, HP 5, DT 8): PCs who make a Nature or Survival DC 15 checks can determine that the branches are more vulnerable to breaking. Most branches are about 30 feet up. PCs who break a branch cause it to fall, inflicting 3d6 bludgeoning damage. 

Navigating Peppermint Forest

Table 9: Navigating Peppermint Forest (Timed, Deadly; 10 successes, 3 failures)

DC | Skill   or Spell: Result

  •  10 | Dex (Stealth): The PC sneaks through the   woods undetected.
  • 10 | Int (Arcana): Maintain a spell that affects movement.
  • 10 | Int (Nature): The PC notices that the   double-striped tree branches are more prone to collapse, which is why there   are so many on the tree floor.
  • Auto | Spells that affect movement: One automatic success. 
  • 10 | Str (Athletics):  The PC jogs through the forest   at high speed, avoiding encounters.
  • 10 | Wis (Survival): The PC finds the best path through the forest. 

Results

  • Success: PCs reach the gingerbread house without incident.
  • Failure #1: Gumibearen #1 attacks.
  • Failure #2: Gumibearen #2 attacks.
  • Failure #3: Gumibearen #3 attacks, PCs suffer a level of exhaustion. Upon conclusion of combat they arrive at the gingerbread house.
  • Critical Success: The PCs come across a jump-wolf at 1 hit point buried under a pile of peppermint branches. PCs who are kind to the jump-wolf might bring it into the party as a NPC. 

Alternately, if the party isn't doing well and need the help, the DM might reward them with a jump-wolf on a regular success. See the sidebar for more details.

Training a Jump-wolf

Jump-wolves are uniquely suited to attacking candyborn. Given that adventurers are an enterprising lot, the odds of a hero trying to train one are high. Jump-wolves are easier to domesticate than regular wolves because of their half-bunny heritage. As such, a jump-wolf can be brought into the party as a NPC if a PC is particularly kind. In this case, healing the jump-wolf qualifies.

The jump-wolf's loyalty score begins at 8 and increases by 1d4 if it is healed. Feeding the jump-wolf (including letting it feed on candyborn) increases its loyalty by another 1d4. A jump-wolf with a loyalty score higher than 10 protects the PC who healed first and the PC who feeds it second. The jump-wolf's maximum loyalty score is equal to the PC with the highest Charisma. 

Of course, the jump-wolf's loyalty has its limits. Failing to feed the jump-wolf or heal it after it is hurt (the jump-wolf quickly acclimates to being healed after combat) reduces its loyalty by 1d4. If a PC is harmful or aggressive to the jump-wolf its loyalty is reduced by 2d4.

Remember that having a jump-wolf is a great asset in combat but a liability during negotiations. A jump-wolf's natural instinct is to gorge on candyborn -- it will vomit up the contents of its stomach to make room if it's full -- and will require an Animal Handling check (DC 15) to prevent it from attacking. The PC who helped it gets advantage on this check, but will have to do something else to increase its loyalty (feed it, heal it) to get advantage on a subsequent Animal Handling check. This check also applies to anything else unusual PCs may expect of the jump-wolf.

Loyalty | Action

0 | Leaves   or attacks.

1-10 | Acts   selfishly, but will still follow party.

11+ | Will   fight on behalf of the party and defend it. 

+1d4 | Feed   or heal the jump-wolf.

-1d4 | Fail   to feed or heal the jump-wolf.

-2d4 | Abuse   the jump-wolf.

Gumibearen (3)

This pudgy bear-shaped creature is semi-translucent and comes in a variety of colors. It nimbly climbs from tree to tree, bouncing off branches and the ground as it goes. 

Medium fey (candyborn), unaligned

Armor Class 13

Hit Points 22 (4d8 + 4)
Speed 40 ft., climb 30 ft. 

STR          DEX          CON          INT          WIS          CHA

12 (+1)     17 (+3)     12 (+1)     10 (+0)     13 (+1)     11 (+0)

Damage Resistances bludgeoning 

Damage Vulnerabilities fire, piercing

Skills Perception +3, Stealth +5

Senses passive Perception 13
Languages Gumibearen understand Sylvan but can't speak it
Challenge 1/4 (50 XP)

Candyborn. Any creature can make a Perception check (DC 10) to determine if a creature is candyborn. As a reaction, any creature with a mouth can bite the candyborn, inflicting 1 point of piercing damage per creature’s size (small inflicts 1 point, medium inflicts 2, etc.) or using its existing bite attack. Bestial creatures with sharp teeth (as per the DM’s discretion) inflict double damage. Creatures who inflict damage on a candyborn with a bite are healed an equal amount. 

Keen Hearing and Smell. The gumibearen has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.

Semitransparent. Even when the gumibearen is in plain sight, it takes a successful DC 10 Wisdom (Perception) check to spot a gumibearen that has neither moved nor attacked. A creature that tries to enter the gumibearen’s space while unaware of the gumibearen is surprised by the gumibearen.

Actions

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) piercing damage.

Bounce (Recharge 4-6). The gumibearen bounces up to 40 feet to an unoccupied space it can see. Before or after bouncing, the gumibearen can make one bite attack.

Branch. Range Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 30/60 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6+1) bludgeoning damage. 

Gumibearen look like bears but are capable climbers and jumpers, hopping from one striped branch to another. Gumibearen seem to chiefly stick to only the peppermint trees (in truth, their entire diet consists of the peppermint in a fashion similar to pandas and bamboo).   They attack by throwing branches at first from 30 feet up. 

Next up: The Gingerbread House!

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