Combat rating 1/4
1 Manes (CR 1/8)
1 Hawk (CR 0)
2 Hyenas (CR 0)
Combat rating 1/2
2 Manes (CR 1/8)
3 Twig blights (CR 1/8)
Combat rating 1
3 Manes (CR 1/8)
1-2 Shadows (CR 1/2)
Combat rating 1
4-5 Manes (CR 1/8)
1 Grey ooze (CR 1/2)
How to Use – Combat Encounter 1: The B.O. (Difficulty 2)
The manes erupt into a cloud of extremely bad smelling gas when killed. For our first combat encounter, realize that this would trigger an alarm.
You’ll want a situation where the players are trying to sneak through a base to achieve their goal[s] without raising the alarm and having to fight every single guard. You can generally achieve such behavior by having an NPC, probably the one giving the quest, cautioning them the be careful not to attract too much attention.
Drawing their attention to the fact of the manes releasing a bad smell is much harder. You could have them be told about it in advance, either by a skill [knowledge] check or by an NPC, presumably the one who advises caution. If you do, the challenge is to overcome the manes without killing them. See below.
If you don’t want to tell them about it straight out, you have to provide them with the information beforehand, and to make that information significant enough that they’ll remember it, without making it so significant that it will be obvious what you’re doing. [Technically, you could not let them know at all, but then you might as well have had them trip an alarm, or just posted the guards where they couldn’t avoid them. A trap that they can’t avoid is just an automatic penalty.]
I would suggest that you’ll have to have them encounter manes at least once before, so they can see what happens when they kill them. To make it memorable, make a show of trying to come up with a good description for how stinky it is. If you have any past history with stinking gym socks, or something else that happened in the past and that your players know about, use that. Fart jokes also might work, assuming you’re willing to use them.
You can also encourage your players to help you come up with a description. Ask them if the description sounds bad enough, and if not, what would they suggest. Do not use a bad smell that you and they wouldn’t have experienced, as that isn’t very memorable.
Having two previous encounters involving manes will increase the chances of them remembering the smell a lot, provided you work to make it memorable both times. Having an NPC with them who can also comment on the smell will also help, especially if used on the second encounter with the manes. Finally, if you can place an enemy that is already using smell in the area where they have to avoid killing the manes that will help put the idea of smell into your players’ minds. At this level, I would suggest a death dog.
The next challenge is finding a way to get rid of the manes without killing them, if they do realize the need. This isn’t so hard, as manes are not especially strong, do not do all that much damage, are fairly slow, and are very stupid. They’ll attack the nearest PC that they see, and they most likely won’t think to dash.
Classic ways of getting rid of them would be to provide one or more rooms nearby that some of the PCs can duck into. Then, when the manes follow the PCs in, the other PCs can shut the door. This necessitates giving at least one way for the PCs to escape the room other than the doorway. Alternatively, if the room is big enough, they should be able to find a way around the manes and duck back out. Illusions, or hiding places [you run past the manes, duck into hiding, and the manes continues on, assuming that the PCs are ahead of it. This assumes that the manes can’t see to the end of the room.] You can also use grapple or push to force them into the room.
Open pits also work. You place any sort of covering above the pit, and the manes probably doesn’t realize that the covering can’t support its weight [provided that this isn’t totally obvious]. Or you cross the pit on a plank of wood, and it doesn’t occur to the manes that you can knock away the plank from under it when it tries to cross. Again, grapple or push will also work.
The third easy solution is to find a way around the manes and then bar the passage to stop it from following. Or to distract it/them and then sneak past. [Like always, I’m placing solutions because it’s your job to give the players the tools. Then they get to figure out how to use them. And obviously if they come up with different solutions you should let them work, if the ideas are at all rational.]
Combat Encounter 2: The recurring foe. (difficulty 1)
Manes are one of a few enemies that are able to come back to life. The Monster Manual says they come back to life in the place that they’re killed after twenty-four hours, which means that they don’t get pulled back into the Abyss when killed. (It could also mean that they don’t die a permanent death when killed in the Abyss. Both interpretations violate basic rules as they apply to other demons, and I’m inclined to say that they’re both true.)
What this means is that they are an enemy that you can have the players face multiple times, as long as there’s 24 hours between each time.
I would suggest creating a location that you know will be relevant multiple times, and infesting it with manes. It could be a site where special magic can be activated, used, or destroyed, and you’ll make either one large quest or a few unrelated small quests that call for activating/using/destroying a series of objects. [With some reason why waiting until all the objects are collected is unfeasible or unwise.] It could be a portal that they’ll need to use a few times. It could be that several dungeons will send them to portals near there, and they’ll have to make their way through the site in order to leave.
The obvious problems that you’ll encounter is that the fight will be a boring repeat after the first time, and that they’ll go up levels, making the fight easier and easier until it seems pointless. Here are a few suggestions to make the fight harder and keep it interesting. (Unlike most times when I provide a list of suggestions, here you might want to seriously consider using all of them.)
Difficulty 1. The area becomes more damaged each time, probably as a result of the powerful magic that they call up after defeating the manes. (My suggestions as to why they need the area multiple times, above.)
- This will make the floor difficult terrain.
- This will also allow placing obstacles splitting up the area, making it hard for the players to arrange themselves properly [especially when the manes can and will come from multiple directions, and when they might not know where they all are at the beginning of the fight.]
- Finally, it can give you objects that imperil the PCs directly. Stone blocks that shift under them; pits, revealed and/or concealed; the possibility of parts of the roof or walls collapsing and trapping them, and more.
Difficulty 2. Each time they have to enter in a different way, and it’s harder each time. This can be because of collapses like above, because their enemies take action to block entrances off, or because they get teleported to a different adjacent area each time. (This last one goes together with my third reason to visit the location repeatedly.) Note that some of the ideas require advance preparation before they visit the area the first time.
- Entrance 1: The front entrance. No special obstacles.
- Entrance 2: The roof. Finding a way to descend while several manes gather around to attack them as soon as they land. [Some manes don’t notice them, to prevent them being killed by ranges attacks before the players descend.] Also, parts of the roof might collapse under them.
- Entrance 3: A narrow passage that they can crawl through. They enter prone, one at a time, and have to make way for the PCs following them.
- Entrance 4: Through the water. [The room contains a pond/pool/well/cistern that they can swim in through.] All the difficulties of entrance 3, plus exhaustion, partially suffocated, and they have to clear room in a hurry before the other PCs drown.
Difficulty 3. You can also start with them damaged and missing spell slots, if you place a few encounters that they have to get through on the way to this location. Even if the first time you let them come in rested, that might not always be the case.
Difficulty 4. You can have an enemy pursuing them, and that participates in the fight. I would not have the enemy be waiting for them with the manes, as that will render the manes irrelevant, but if that enemy is chasing them from outside while the manes wait inside, you might be able to get away with it.
Of course, you’ll need a reason why they don’t fight the enemy before entering. It could be that the enemy is invincible outside the area [that would require homebrew]; it could be that they’ve got a time limit, perhaps before more pursuers show up, or perhaps the area can only be used at a specific time; and if you’re using the water entrance idea then that’s its own reason. (You can’t fight underwater if you don’t want to drown.) That will require that the enemy be able to swim, and most likely that it can breathe underwater. A humanoid with a spell, a fiend with minor homebrew, or any construct are all good choices.
Combat Encounter 3: (difficulty 2)
As demons, manes can be summoned. As a CR 1/8, you can have a steady stream of them without having to worry about overwhelming your players, even at level one. This idea is to have a puzzle, preferably the type where the PCs have to move around from place to place to pull levers and the like, and in the meantime a steady stream of manes will be appearing and will need to be dealt with.
If the players are at level 1-2, you might want to limit it to one manes a turn. If they’re at levels 3-4, definitely do two a turn. (At higher levels than that, manes are too weak, and you’ll need to find a higher CR monster to substitute in.) You might also want to limit it to 10-15 manes overall, as in once there are that many no more appear until the players lower the number by killing some.
Below is an extremely simple puzzle you can use. I’m counting on the manes making it somewhat difficult, and on the players needing time to discover what lever does what. This is why I kept it so simple. You can substitute your own puzzle if you’d like.
The players start in a large, open area. This is also where the summoning circle that the manes spawn from is located. To exit the area, the players have to go through three gates, all of which start shut. There is chasm at the side of the room, and two small “Islands” stand up from the chasm, each with a lever on it. There is a bridge connecting the big area to one of the islands. Finally, at the side of the large area, there’s an enclave with a lever in it, but a portcullis is down, blocking it.
Each of the levers on the island will open or shut [open if closed, shut if opened] a different gate. Pressing the lever will also cause the bridge to change which “Island” it connects to, [anyone standing on the bridge when it moves will be pushed off onto either the island or the large area, whichever is closer] and will open or shut the portcullis. The lever inside the portcullis will open the third gate, and will close the portcullis if it’s opened (but not open it if it’s shut.)
If you want more player movement, have a lever glow a certain color when pressed, and have the PC who pressed it glow the same color. That PC cannot press the same lever again until he presses a different lever.