Dragon Encounters

Creative Combat Encounters, and other ways of using the monsters of dungeons and dragons


COUTAL: The Hidden Advisor

minions/allies

Combat rating 5

 

1 Coutal (CR 4)

2-3 Lizardfolk (CR 1)

1 Lizardfolk Shaman (CR 2)

 

[See the encounter idea below.]

Combat rating 6

 

1 Coutal (CR 4)

1 Giant Eagle (CR 1)

1 Giant Elk (CR 2)

1 Lion (CR 1)

1 Saber-toothed tiger (CR 2)

 

Combat rating 7

 

1 Coutal (CR 4)

1 Unicorn (CR 5)

 

Combat rating 8

 

1 Coutal (CR 4)

2-3 Centaurs (CR 2)

1 Werebear (CR 5)

 

[A coutal who decides that it needs to
reveal itself might also ally with knights, priests, and other good aligned
humanoids.]

How to Use

The coutal is good aligned monster that is clearly designed to be a quest giver. It only exists because in order to fulfill a mission given by a long-forgotten deity, it stays in hiding when it doesn’t have a pressing need to act… How else can it possibly be used?

(Do they reproduce when they don’t need an heir to take over their mission? My reading of the Monster Manual suggests that they don’t, especially since they live in hiding, their whereabouts hidden even from each other, but the answer isn’t absolute. You could also have a coutal who fulfilled its mission and is now living out the rest of its life.)

The fact that they exist to fulfill these missions raises the old question. So why are they sending the PCs to do it in their stead?

(Do not even think of having them accompany the players. While their CR isn’t high, their immunity to non-magical damage will make a mess of any dungeon unless you want to choose your monsters very, very carefully. I also suspect that their CR should actually be higher, except that CR relies on calculating damage and I don’t think they calculated the power of the coutal’s bite properly.)

Some reasons for the coutal not to go on the quest: (the short answer is that the deity left them instructions to do it this way. These are possible reasons for the deity’s instructions.)

  • This is only one of the quests left for this coutal to complete. It’s important for the coutal to stay undercover so as to allow it to complete a later quest someday (possibly long after the PCs are dead.)
  • The deity foresaw that the PCs would gain valuable experience from this quest that they would need in order to successfully complete a later quest.
  • If the enemy realizes that a coutal is involved, they will panic and escalate their plans. This will result in stuff happening faster than the players and/or coutal can deal with it.
  • The coutal needs to be handling a different aspect of the quest at the same time as the players do their part. This part shouldn’t be bigger or more important, [as the game is about the players, they should be the ones to shine,] It should instead take advantage of the coutal’s ability to infiltrate with its shapechanging and/or precise pre-knowledge to achieve a small goal that needs a lot of precision. Rescuing an important item, document, or NPC would be a good example, as would nudging events along in a small but vital manner (more on this below.)

Streamlining the Story

The coutal’s shapechanging ability allows it to meet up with the PCs and give them new instructions as soon as they complete the first quest. (It can also do it indirectly, by planting a document or sending an NPC with instructions.)

If you look carefully at any well written novel (choose any novel you especially like. Chances are it didn’t become a favorite by being poorly written,) you will see that the story goes out of its way to streamline events. Conversations between side characters are always assumed to have already happened when the main character finds out about them (no side character ever says “I’ll ask so-and-so and get back to you,) as many events as possible are made to happen in the same area, right after each other, and the story streamlines itself in many other ways similar the these. Movies do all this also. If anything, they do it more.

The reason behind this isn’t just so as not to have to write into the story how the main character traveled around, or met with the person a second time. Tightening up a story like this helps to maintain the tension in a small, but significant, manner. Doing likewise in your D&D game won’t do anything except improve it. (In D&D, there’s a second reason you might want the coutal to come to them. Players are notorious for not going back to the quest giver for instructions as long as there’s a lead they can follow, no matter how thin.)

Another way you can use the coutal to streamline matters would be to have it arrange for everything the players need to be available as it becomes necessary. In addition to information, as mentioned above, this can include an item, an NPC, and/or transportation.

You can even have it streamline matters by helping the villain, causing him to have available what he needs and moving his plots along all the faster. Later on, you’ll justify this by having the coutal explain that if the villain had not been rushed he would have dug in, and it wouldn’t have been possible to destroy him as thoroughly.

(All this advice about streamlining applies even in games without a coutal. Having a coutal just makes it easier.)

Combat encounter (difficulty 5)

Finding a scenario in which attacking a coutal is justified is hard. They know the future, and are always on the side of good.

We can have a coutal who completed his mission already and is now acting in a manner that, while probably meant well, is causing problems. (Perhaps the coutal has an item they need and isn’t willing to let them have it.)

In order for them to know that this is the case, they would have to get the information from a very good source. Either another coutal, or some equally reliable monster, such as an angel. They could also get the information from the coutal himself. He admits that he’s finished his mission and has no other mission, but he maintains that giving up the item (or doing whatever) would be a mistake and refuses to contemplate doing so. Adding in a personal grudge on his part would help justify the attack in the players eyes. The other way to set up this scenario is to have the coutal be corrupted by dark magic.

The scenario is simple. Having met with them previously to warn them off, (thereby letting the players know that they’re going against a coutal,) the coutal assembles a few animals or allies so that the players won’t know exactly where the danger is [which one is the coutal.] These animals or allies will help fight, but of course not knowing which one is the coutal makes quite a difference, strategy wise.

The key to the puzzle is that the coutal will turn itself into something that doesn’t fit the climate at all. If the area is jungle, use three jungle animals and have the coutal be in the shape of a polar bear. If the area is dessert, use three dessert animals and a crocodile. And so forth.

I know some of the people reading this will think that this is a ridiculously easy challenge. A five-year-old could pick out which animal doesn’t belong. The answer is that with D&D puzzles, the challenge isn’t the solving of the puzzle, but realizing that the puzzle can be solved in this manner. If you try to make it an animal whose state of not-belonging is less obvious, you render the puzzle all but impossible.

If the coutal is using humanoid allies instead of animals, have one of them be drinking, two of them be gambling, and one of them be sitting cross legged, with his eyes closed in peaceful meditation. [Guess which one’s the coutal.] (Obviously you’ll describe the four of them at greater length.)

When setting up this puzzle, be aware that most people’s attention is drawn to the first and last items mentioned. (The last more than the first.) The puzzle’s difficulty will increase or decrease significantly depending on where the coutal appears in the list.

When using minions instead of animals, I would suggest lizardfolk. The coutal only gets to use its bite ability while shapechanged if the creature it’s shapechanged into has a bite attack, and there are only two humanoids in the Monster Manual with a bite attack, lizardfolk and gnolls. (It’s unlikely to be using gnolls given that they’re both chaotic evil and demon spawn.)

If for some reason you need to run this encounter twice, switch from animals to humanoids or vice versa. I would still use an obvious animal unless you are absolutely certain that they already figured out the solution. Then you can use a less obviously out of place animal.

Combat encounter (difficulty 4)

If they killed the first coutal, the coutal’s child will be angry at them. One possible move would be for it to inspire someone else to kill them, possibly letting bandits know that they have wealth or the authorities know that they committed a crime, and then grapple one of them right as the enemies arrive to help subdue them.

In this scenario, it isn’t using its bite because it wants the PC it’s subduing to see what he did wrong and learn to regret his behavior. (Also, I can’t think of another reason why the coutal would ever use its grapple instead of its far more powerful bite.) Only if its allies seem to be losing the fight and it needs to help them will it start using its bite.

The coutal is still a good creature. If it sees that the PCs are regretting their actions it might switch its mind and let them go. (Of course, they would have to sincerely regret their actions. The coutal is smart, and I wouldn’t let them fool it easily.)

It will still feel that it has to look out for the people it sicced on the PCs. If they’re bandits, it will probably bargain with the players, insisting that they give the bandits a significant monetary compensation. (For their part, the bandits will have to swear off crime. Again, the coutal isn’t easy to lie to, and will probably check up on them.) If they’re city guards, the compensation will probably be the PCs agreeing to help out the city with some problem (I.e., quest.) The players having to pay money or labor will be their punishment for killing the other coutal. (If the players were truly blameless, the coutal will compensate the NPCs without asking for PC help.)

Aftermath: The Abandoned Mission

If the story is that the coutal went evil and abandoned its mission, there is a logic to make the fact that the mission was left uncompleted be a major plot hook.

Whether you do or don’t is your own choice, I’m not here to decide your plots for you, but I want to caution that if you do decide to go this route you’ll want to start soon after the coutal’s downfall. If you wait, even just for a few sessions, your players will most likely have mostly forgotten about the coutal and it will come as an unrelated, new plot to them.

You don’t have to start the actual plot right away, but you have to have something happen that seems as though it could be the mission that the coutal was sent to perform. For example, perhaps when they killed the coutal they took a sword that it was guarding. Immediately afterwards, an evil adversary starts trying to take possession of the sword, and they form the conclusion that the coutal’s mission was to keep the sword out of the hands of evil until it’s needed.

This plot ensures that the coutal’s death will remain prominent in the player’s minds. If you want to later reveal that the coutal was maintaining a sacred shrine (or the sword was maintaining it by being there) and it’s the destruction of that shrine that’s the real calamity, you will be able to do so.



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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.

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