Dragon Encounters

Making dnd combat fun, finding monsters that fit together, monster tactics and strategies, and other ways of using the monsters of dungeons and dragons

CAMBION & How to Run Mysteries in DnD


Combat rating 7


1 Cambion (CR 5)

2 Hell hounds (CR 3)


Combat rating 8


1 Cambion (CR 5)

1 Harpy (CR 1)

1 Knight (CR 3)

1 Spy (CR 1/2)

2 Veterans (CR 3)


Combat rating 9


1 Cambion (CR 5)

1 Barbed devil (CR 5)

2 Bearded devils (CR 3)

1 Allosaurus (CR 2)


Combat rating 11


1 Cambion (CR 5)

2 Barlguras (CR 5)

2 Shadow demons (CR 4)


How to Use

The cambion comes in two different forms. One is a cambion that is living in the human world, (very possibly in disguise through use of alter self,) the other is the cambion who is openly working with the minions of the hells. I am going to spend most of this article on the cambion living among humans, but there will be a piece on the open cambion at the end.

The cambion living among humans will generally have clawed his way into significant wealth and/or made himself the ruler of a small town (mostly through using alter self to impersonate, frame, spy, and assassinate). While most of the people probably don’t know that he’s a cambion, his primary method of wielding power is through fear, and virtually everyone near him is afraid of him.

When meeting NPCs under his rule, the players will generally be given evasive responses, people denying that they know the answers to the players questions, and assurances of help that will never manifest. Sooner than later, someone will report in about the players and their activities.

When meeting with the cambion, he will be nice, he will be helpful, he will offer the players most of what they need (although not everything, as that would be suspicious.) If the players are asking for something he doesn’t want to give, he will promise to provide it but will explain that he needs a few weeks to have his people dig up the information or until he can free up the resources. The promises will never manifest.

If he can use the PCs, perhaps by sending them on a quest to take care of something for him, he will do so (it might even be worth fulfilling some of his promises if that’s what it takes to get it done. Use your own judgment.) If this isn’t the case, he’ll try to get rid of them by sending them away on a quest, real or fictional. (Preferably either far away or too dangerous, but not so much so of either that he can’t get away with it.) If this doesn’t work or isn’t applicable, he’ll try to get rid of them through assassination or have them arrested on false charges.

No matter what, he’ll always have good reasons prepared for why his promises aren’t being fulfilled and why this misfortune is befalling them. Most likely, he’ll try to excuse himself by shifting the blame onto someone else.

You will probably have to clue the players in through an NPC or in some other manner. The cambion will never choose to fight the players directly, and he is very good at evading suspicion. If everything else fails, he will disappear for a few weeks on a business trip [while leaving behind assassins] rather than fight the PCs. The only way a fight will manifest is if the players attack him.

Combat Encounter 1 (The Firetrap) (difficulty 6)

The cambion’s office and living chambers are highly decorated with thick rugs and wall hangings. It also has a high ceiling and large glass windows.

The cambion’s strategy is simple. He’ll take to the air, so that the melee fighters can’t reach him, and he’ll start using his fire ray. Any time he misses, it will hit a carpet and begin a fire. [If both shots hit on the first round, from then on he’ll deliberately miss his second shot if the first one hits. He’ll make it look as though he was trying to hit. Roll for it behind a screen and announce that it missed, regardless of the actual roll.

You’ll want to announce the spread of the fire and the increasing amount of smoke every round [probably on initiative 20]. When it’s his turn on the fourth round, it’s time for him to go. If he can reach the door without dashing, he’ll do that, and use his action to bolt it behind him. If he can’t reach the door, he’ll exit through a window or through the skylight.

[For added difficulty, it’s possible that the door has several locks that fall into place when the door is closed. This is a protection against assassins as well as for the sake of this strategy.

Mystery Challenge

(I’m presenting these three scenarios as one long story. They can be used individually, if desired.)

After fleeing, the cambion will be use alter self to hide in plain sight, masquerading as one of his servants or one of his guests. The original will probably be dead, killed by the cambion so he can take their place. Even if some of the other NPCs suspect, they’re frightened of the cambion and scared to rat him out. If they’re close to the person he’s impersonating, they probably don’t want to believe that their loved one is dead.

What you’ll end up with is a mystery, where the players have to figure out which suspect is actually the cambion.

I’m going to digress into how to use mysteries in an RPG.

I want to start by mentioning that one of the most typical mistakes people make when running RPGs in general, and mysteries in particular, is to have one clever solution and expect the players to figure it out and go with it.

Reality: No two people think alike! What is obvious to you almost certainly is not obvious to anyone else.

With that in mind, there are two completely different genres that are both called mysteries.

The first is the detective story, with Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Agatha Christie as the best-known names in the genre. In these stories, the detectives come in once the crime is done and have to figure out whodunit based on various clues.

If you’re using this type of mystery, I highly recommend that you provide at least triple the clues that you think they should need. After all, they won’t necessarily find all of them, and of the ones they find they won’t recognize the significance of half of them.

Remember that a crime (or other plot, for that matter) has three components. Motive (why it was done) means (how it was done) and opportunity (when it was done.) Ideally, you’ll plant multiple clues for each of these.

Avoid false clues [red herrings]. It will be hard enough without them, and the players will probably misinterpret some of your clues anyway [thereby turning them into red herrings.]

Give the players a number of suspects [I would suggest 4-6,] one of whom is the guilty party. If there is no set list, the players are left directionless. And if it turns out that the guilty party wasn’t one of the suspects, your players are going to feel cheated, and rightfully so. (It doesn’t have to be suspects. It could be a number of places where the villain could have escaped to (a la Carmen Sandiego,) or which of the deceased’s magic items is the cursed item, or anything else that gives them options to choose from. The idea is that they should have to find the correct option out of several.) I will be giving a quick guide to creating NPCs below.

Finally, keep it simple, and if you’re using magic or monsters as part of how it was done, make certain the players know exactly which spells or monsters might be involved. (In our case, let them know that Cambion’s have alter self and fiendish charm.) There are too many spells and monsters for the players to be able to work it out otherwise.  

The other type of mystery is the suspense/action story. This includes Hardy Boys and Enid Blyton, as well as Lee Child (Jack Reacher) and many other books. (There are both children’s books and adult books in both genres.) In these stories, the villain doesn’t sit passively. He’s actively working to foil the hero, often by trying to kill him. These crimes can be solved through deduction, through the villain making too many mistakes when trying to kill the hero(s) and thereby tipping his hand, or through a combination of the above.

I would recommend this type for D&D, although both types work. Even if the villain isn’t trying to kill the PCs, even if he isn’t doing anything and he’s just lying low, you can in many ways capture the spirit of this type by letting the players lead their own investigation. They can question the suspects in any way they choose to, and they can set traps for the villain (for example, by suggesting that they have a spell that can link the murder weapon to the murder, or in our case link the cambion’s signet ring to the cambion. This will force the villain to try to steal the item before the players can long rest and thereby prepare the spell.)

You’ll want to prepare a backstory for each of the suspects, but if the players ask something you didn’t expect try to make something up rather than brushing it aside. Since many people find improvision difficult, try to prepare several pieces of background that the players won’t necessarily discover but that are there if the players grill the suspects too much. I’ll be giving a quick guide to building NPCs below.

In a classic mystery, I would sprinkle a few reasons why the suspect wouldn’t or couldn’t have committed the crime among the backstory. In our mystery, where the players are trying to find out who is the cambion, just being able to verify the person’s background will be enough. Even if they can’t verify it, if the other people’s backstories are consistent and the cambion makes a mistake or two, that might be enough.

Quick guide to character creation:

Each NPC who is worthy of having a name and appearance should also have the following:

  1. What do they need? Whey are they working for the cambion, visiting him, or whatever. Don’t just answer that they need the money, what do they need it for? Possible answers include: Parent of young children, taking care of a sick parent, saving up money to get married, trying to rise out of poverty, etc.’.
  2. What do they want? The previous was long-term goals, but everybody has stuff they enjoy doing in the short term, whether it’s social, alcohol, art, or anything. Sometimes these can be contradictory to the long-term goals and to each other. For example, I need a profitable job to support my family. I want my blog to be successful, and I also want to read fiction online, and since I only have so much time, these are more contradictory than I would like.
  3. What do they think of the people around them? If they spend time around the other suspects, they’re going to have friendships or enmities with them.
  4. How are they memorable? If you want your players to remember your NPCs and be able to tell them apart, you need to give them some funny name, accent, or personality quirk that will make them memorable. An easy way to do this is in the player’s handbook. Open the part about backstories, and they give tables of character flaws, motivations, strengths and so forth and just choose one item from one table. If you can make it significant in their behavior, it will work fine.
  5. (Optional) What do they have to hide? To make more give and forth between the players and the NPCs, each of the NPCs can have something to hide. One of them has been stealing china, one has spied on one of the guests and knows a secret that the guest would kill him for if it was known that he knew, one grew up in a rural village and has been lying about that fact (servant is high-class compared to peasant,) and so on.

And now, back to the main plot.

While the players are investigating, the cambion will be doing one of three things:

  • Trying to kill the PCs (the Hardy Boys option): He can do this through sneak attacks (because a single crossbow shot or falling item won’t do that much damage to a PC, give him magic items that takes time to charge up but does a lot of extra damage), poison (if you want him to fail, offer the players to food and ask if they want it. If you want a chance at success, try to hide a potion or food as though trying to keep it away from the players,) releasing a dangerous monster, rigging a staircase to collapse, or trapping them in a room that starts to fill with water, has a descending ceiling, is filled with poisonous snakes, or simply an empty room where they’ll be trapped until they starve or until guards come. (If you haven’t started with the first combat scenario, setting the room on fire would also make sense.) If he can get near a PC, he can use command or fiendish charm to have that PC lure the others into a good position for him.
  • An alternate objective: This can include retrieving certain items (either as preparation to escaping or a [single-use] powerful magical item that needs to be put together,) activating a ritual; or carrying out a plot that he was planning to do anyway and which can now be blamed on the PCs (for ideas, see any murder mystery.) (He may also have made his choice of who to impersonate with this plot in mind.)
  • Another possible option is to have an NPC whom the players need to protect and the cambion is trying to kill. The advantage of this is that it is quite a lot easier for the cambion to kill this NPC than to kill the players, and therefore the threat is greater. The disadvantage is that the cambion might succeed, and that failure in this will be much more upsetting to the players than failure in virtually anything else.
  • Biding his time: He knows that his guards will be here within a certain amount of time. He just has to wait.

Regardless of what he’s doing, he’ll try to make certain that all evidence [both original evidence and evidence caused by what he might be trying to do know] points away from him.

Combat Encounter 2: The Climax

At this point, the guards arrive. The cambion sheds his disguise (although he might still be hiding the fact that he’s a cambion. I just mean that the players can now recognize him,) and orders the guards to arrest the PCs. The guards, terrified to disobey, advance on the PCs.

The premise of the fight is that the players can’t fight all the guards. Instead, they have to block the guards, and kill the Cambion before the guards take them down. The cambion will stay near the guards, frightened that to be seen leaving would make him look weak and erode the people’s fear of him.

There are two ways this fight can be run. For a change, which ends up being used isn’t your choice so much as your players.

  • If you think your players will care about NPCs, then you can make the guards weak. They have to take down the cambion without killing the guards. After all, the guards aren’t at fault so much as trying to do their duty.
  • If the players won’t mind killing the guards, probably pleading necessity, then you want to make the guards too much for the PCs to able to kill. I would suggest using the veteran statblock for the soldiers and the knight statblock for the leaders, and have as many as 10-15 guards in total. The players’ other advantage, besides the fact that they only have to kill the cambion and not kill everybody, is the fact that at least some of the guards don’t really want to kill them. They know the players are their best hope for ending the cambion’s dominion.

As already mentioned, as soon as the cambion is dead the fight is over. The guards don’t simply surrender, their faces light up with incredulous disbelief as though they can’t believe that the cambion is finally dead.

Other facts:

  • It’s probable that the cambion will lose concentration during the fact and be exposed for what he is. He’ll respond by claiming that the PCs cast a spell on him to disfigure him (which won’t keep him from using his wings.) At least some of the guards probably already suspected, and combined with the fact that they’re afraid of him, they’ll attack the players regardless.
  • To portray his fiendish charm, have him be saying something (probably a calm assurance that they can’t defeat him) and state that his face and his calm manner distracted them, and they didn’t notice him stepping sideways. A different time you can state that they locked blades with him, and the sneer on his face and/or his penetrating eyes mesmerized them to the extant that they were taken by surprise when he kicked them. (The players might protest that they wouldn’t have done that, and you’ll have to tell them that you’re just describing a failure to hit due to AC.) DMDavid has an article where he mentions that you shouldn’t describe missed as comedic failures for laughs (one of the best pieces of DM advice I’ve seen) and I’m adapting this here.

Combat Encounter 3 (Minion of the Hells) (Difficulty 6)

When openly working with the devils (or demons), the cambion will still attempt to hold a position of authority. Failing that, he’ll present himself as the mouthpiece of the horde. If at all possible, he’ll try to negotiate rather than fight outright. Very possibly, he’ll conceal their true goals and present his goals as being something more or less acceptable to the players’ position. (It is entirely possible that he used alter self to scout the players out beforehand.)

Common cambion style would be do agree to leave the city alone if the players obtain a certain item for him, then occupying it as soon as the players leave on the quest. (Not to mention lying about what the item does.)

If the players do engage in combat, here are a few ways in which it might use its fiendish charm against them. (You might want to start with command first. This will let the cambion know who is likely to fail a WIS save, and can be used to bring them near (“Come”.) Command has a sixty-foot range, and fiendish charm only has thirty.)

  • (Difficulty 7) Order the player to go as far away from the combat, as fast as possible. If the other players don’t stop the player, they will lose him for the rest of combat. To increase the tension, order him to kill a specific NPC, such as the mayor, in a public setting (or even better, to kill a non-combat NPC that the players know and care about.) He can also send the player to a specific place, and only afterwards let the other players know that it’s boobytrapped, or contains a powerful monster, or that it’s going to be burned down. (Since the player being sent there doesn’t know about the danger, it doesn’t count as a suicidal request to grant another saving throw.)
  • (Difficulty 6) Order him to walk into the middle of the cambion’s forces, and to throw down his weapons (I’m assuming this doesn’t count as suicidal because it isn’t directly suicidal. If you disagree, send him to a nearby position where the cambion has troops hiding, unknown to any of the players.) Then he will use the PC’s life as hostage to negotiate for a cease fire. If the players agree, he will then use the cease fire to sneak attack the town that night, assassinate the PCs, frame them for murder, or all of the above.
  • (Difficulty 7) This one will work best if the cambion finds a way to approach one of the players secretly before the battle. He will give them instructions for behavior during the battle, such as to volunteer to attack the cambion’s mages or protect the PC mages, while secretly deliberately missing each time he rolls. If the target is a mage, he’ll get his spell list from him and then tell him which spells he can use, which spells he can’t use, and which spell he should use against the other PCs, along with when. Also, instructions not to take damage, not to do anything [other than obeying the cambion’s instructions] to reveal that he’s controlled, and that when he does turn against the PCs, he should then retreat into the cambion’s army and continue fighting on the cambion’s side. He’ll also instruct his forces not to hurt this PC.

[Give this player full instructions at the time of being charmed. This will let him at least have the ability to decide how to carry out the instructions, rather than just serving as the mouthpiece while you control his character. It will also give him some chance to figure out a way around the cambion’s instructions. If he finds a way out, don’t thwart him unfairly. This is him winning the game.

Some players will find hiding a secret from the other players interesting. Try to choose a player who will be willing to cooperate if you can. Remember to award this player with inspiration points and other rewards at the end of the fight. Also, don’t do something like this twice to the same player without a very long time in between, and try to find him an important role [that he’ll like] soon afterwards.

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About Me

I have been a DM for several years, and I was designing home RPG games since my young childhood. I have been a fan of many different types of games (computer, board, RPG, and more) and have designed several for my own entertainment. This is my first attempt to produce game content for a wider audience.