Adventure Hooks and Encounters Inspired by Cicadas

Over on G+, +Greg Gorgonmilk shared a picture of a cicada. This got me to thinking, “How would this affect various creatures in D&D?”

What if there were forms of various burrowing monsters, Ankheg, bulette, etc. that had a cycle like the 17-year cicada. There are not just one group of cicadas, but multiples, and not just 17 years. I believe there is also a 13 year cicada. There are both Periodical, every 13 or 17 years, and Annual Cicadas, which have a life cycle of 2-4 years.

Inspired By Cicadas

Their base stats would be the same as in their source book. Keep it simple, right? Each monster type would just need to kill a certain number of HD of “food” in a set period before burrowing for the next sleep cycle. Say 2-3 weeks, each HD of creature needs to “eat” 2-3 HD for every HD it posses.

Solitary creatures would emerge to eat and mate. Eggs would hatch for laying species, making voracious babies needing several times their HD in food for the rapid growth that occurs before they burrow to hibernate.

Placement & Cycle

To place the groups lay out your campaign map and drop a die indicating how many are in that location. the number could represent either groups or individuals. Roll a d12+6 to see how many years in the cycle for each group.

Of course, there is nothing to say that the cycle is in years, that would put them in living memory. What adventurers wouldn’t want to go out and find the fresh burrows/dens to slay monsters, find treasure, and collect parts for wizards? Better yet, have the cycle in decades or centuries, depending on which race’s living memory will lose track of them. That way, they emerge suddenly and unexpectedly. Only some dusty old tomes might mention it.

By being outside of living memory, it would make even more sense for the crazy weird creatures to emerge when and where they do.

Duration of Last Cycle

To determine how long since the last emergence, either roll those same dice , or 2d6, if using years. For decades or centuries, use what suits your campaign. For worlds that evolve over many campaigns, this would be another aspect to help it come alive.

Alternatively, assign a percentage chance that this year is the end of their cycle, or that they emerge early, as some 17-year cicadas emerged 4 years early this year.


For sandbox games a burrow of say, hibernating bulettes, could be placed on the map and set to emerge when the party reaches that hex. Or you could have a random encounter prepared to come up when the party is travelling.  Here, the term burrow or den is used loosely. Some monsters are not found in groups, if you want to go by the book, so a den or burrow would be a generalization for an area where the creatures congregated before burrowing. For bulettes and other very large creatures, they might be spread over many square miles of territory.

If you have a creature you really want to show up in your game, use this to make it happen.


Players that encounter such a variation on the usual type of monster might get the bright idea to go dig up these slumbering creatures for “easy” XP. That is easily solved when these creatures curl up and secrete a substance that encases them in a hard shell that disguises their identity and also protects them from scrying. This will make it impossible to determine what kind of creature is in the “shell” if it is found, and reduce the ability to find it.

The secretions will reduce the ability to find it via scrying by 5% per day for the first week. 5% per week for the next month, and 1% per each subsequent month. So 35% after 1st week, and 55% at the end of the month after that, and 67% the year after that.  If one sticks with an additional 1% per month, after an additional two years and seven months it would hit 100%. I would say it shouldn’t be 100% effective. Based on how your preferred rules handle scrying, there should at least be a chance. Rolling 01 on a d100 should find it, unless other modifiers make it impossible.

Earthquakes, floods, new construction, wizard battles,  wars, and battling titanic monsters, like dragons, are some of the things that interrupt the normal cycles. Character wants to build a stronghold, assign a chance that they happen to pick a site  near or over a “burrow”. For example, 10% chance to be near (1d6 miles, hexes, etc.) from a burrow, and 1% chance to be over one. The GM can roll for it, or make the player do it.

Change It Up

To make them different from the book descriptions, make them a different color, smell, size, or flavor of meat (if the party eats its kills).

Where’s the Table?

This should be something each GM can make their own table. But for starters, here is what I am thinking for my own table.

CREATURE BASE CYCLE (Years, Decades, Centuries) TIME SINCE END OF LAST CYCLE PLACEMENT NOTES (Map Location, Treasure, etc.)
Ankheg d6+d12 2d6 Grab some d6’s and drop on the map. Numbers indicate number of groups/dens. Under farmer Bob’s barn
Bulette d6+d12 2d6 Grab some d6’s and drop on the map. Numbers indicate number of groups/dens. Under, within, or next to the dungeon

Keep going with each burrowing monster, or monster you re-skin as a burrowing monster.

Make a new table for each genre you run. Of course, some creatures could easily be used across genres.

Vary the cycle units (years, decades, centuries) and number and type of dice used to set the base cycle and time since last cycle.

For placement set one color of dice for each creature and roll all at once. Vary the number of dice used based on the size of your campaign map. If you have a world map, use more dice than a map that is only a portion of a continent.

Make a spreadsheet to keep track of all this, especially the location. Once you know a location, how can you make it interesting? If a location is a far off place, be sure to have the party encounter that cluster of creatures, especially if you haven’t used this variation yet.

If the location is within a dungeon, perhaps the builders of the dungeon avoided waking the creature(s) through blind luck, or build around it on purpose. Another way for creatures to get into a dungeon when “it doesn’t make sense.”


Have you ever placed creatures in this manner? Is this something you would use in your game?

Modding The Sleep Spell

I’m an AD&D 1e player & GM. There are parts I really like about it. Recently I was thinking about the lowly Sleep spell and how it has the same efficacy for all levels of spell caster.

I see two different ways to mod the spell without making it over-powered. After all, magic missile adds more missiles, fireballs adds more hit dice.

Number of Dice

By changing the number of dice used with a formula of an additional die per 5 levels, it raises both the minimum and the maximum. The high end of the hit dice affected don’t change, but rather the chances of affecting an ogre. Boosting the chances from 50% to 75% and finally automatic. Why shouldn’t a name level Wizard be able to take out an ogre? An ogre with maximum hit points has 33 and the average damage from an 11th level fireball is 38.5 hp.

Hit Dice No. Affected 1st – 5th level Wizard 6th – 10th level 11th level +
Up to 1 HD 4d4 (4-16) 5d4 (5-20) 6d4 (6-24)
1+1 to 2 HD 2d4 (2-8) 3d4 (3-12) 4d4 (4-16)
2+1 to 3 HD 1d4 (1-4) 2d4 (2-8) 3d4 (3-12)
3+1 to 4 HD 1d4/2 (1-2) 1d4 (1-4) 1d4 + ½ d4 (2-6)
4+1 to 4+4 HD 1d4, 3 or 4 (0-1) 1d4, 2-4 (0-1) 1 Creature

Size of Dice

Changing the size of the dice raises only the maximum affected, but use similar changes for the top tier as in the number of dice example.

Hit Dice No. Affected 1st – 5th level 6th – 10th level 11th level +
Up to 1 HD 4d4 (4-16) 4d6 (4-24) 4d8 (4-32)
1+1 to 2 HD 2d4 (2-8) 2d6 (2-13) 2d8 (2-16)
2+1 to 3 HD 1d4 (1-4) 1d6 (1-6) 1d8 (1-8)
3+1 to 4 HD 1d4/2 (1-2) 1d4 (1-4) 1d6 (1-6)
4+1 to 4+4 HD 1d4, 3 or 4 (0-1) 1d4, 2-4 (0-1) 1 Creature

Other Possibilities

A third possibility would be to allow the spell to affect up to 5 to 6 HD creatures on a 1d4, with a roll of 4. However, there aren’t many monsters in that category, other than NPCs. At that level, I’d give a saving throw if they were affected.  But to me, boosting the level does make it seem overpowered.

Another possibility would be to increase the Area of Effect, so instead of a 3″ diameter circle. For example, add 1″ at 6th level and another 1″ at 11th level. This wouldn’t change the number affected, just the size of the affected area.

A final way to mod this spell would be to boost the minimum. At 6th -10th level make the minimum affected be half the count, and at 11th+ make the minimum 75% of the count, such as below.

Hit Dice No. Affected 1st – 5th level 6th – 10th level 11th level +
Up to 1 HD 4d4 (4-16) 4d4+4 (8-16)* 4d4+8 (12-16)**
1+1 to 2 HD 2d4 (2-8) 2d4+2 (4-8)* 2d4+4 (6-8)**
2+1 to 3 HD 1d4 (1-4) 1d4+1 (2-4)* 1d4+2 (3-4)**
3+1 to 4 HD 1d4/2 (1-2) 1d4,1 (1),2+ (2) 2 Creatures
4+1 to 4+4 HD 1d4, 3 or 4 (0-1) 1d4, 2-4 (0-1) 1 Creature

* Add 1 to all 1’s rolled
** Add 1 to all 1’s & 2’s rolled

If one wants a more powerful sleep spell, one could make an Improved Sleep of a higher spell level. There is nothing to prevent a PC from researching this. Some ideas for this are for affecting either higher hit dice creatures, or perhaps creatures unaffected by sleep. The latter might require some ingredient from a ghast, since their touch affects elves. Discovering this spell when up against an enemy spell caster would really get the players’ attention.


I’m not sure if I will add one of these to my house rules. I had to write this out so I could pull back and consider the ramifications for game balance. I don’t often mod spells, but this one captured my attention. At time like that, I just need to write it out. Then I can come back later and review it after I have had time to ponder it.

Have you modded the sleep spell? Did you make it more or less powerful?

Announcement From Frank Mentzer

Frank Mentzer was talking about this at Gary Con 9, and said he hoped to Kickstart in a couple of months. Obviously, things of this scale take a bit longer.

Frank has a letter from Gary Gygax giving permission to include his campaign in the Greyhawk setting. Frank makes clear in the comments on the FB thread that there will be no official Greyhawk information and Greyhawk will only be released in the introduction to the work in reference to the note from Gary.

What’s really cool in the comments is all the tidbits mentioned. All the old school artists still in the field have expressed interest. As is clear from the announcement, Darlene is doing the maps! Frank mentioned that he has ran his campaign via online methods for over 11 sessions across 25 years! Here I thought that 263 sessions over 3.5 years on Roll20 was a lot! [I play in a weekly AD&D game Wednesday nights.]

Here’s the Announcement from Facebook:

Press Release:
Historic Dungeons & Dragons® Campaign Returns

Loxley, Madison WI, August 11 2017

Legendary game designer Frank Mentzer, famed for his worldwide version of the Dungeons & Dragons® game, has teamed with fiction author Ted Fauster to revisit one of the earliest known D&D® fantasy worlds. The game continues to be one of the most popular of all time, and Mentzer’s version is still available in fourteen languages, on every continent.

In 1981, Mentzer was given written permission from E. Gary Gygax (co-author of the original game in 1974) to establish and develop this little-known portion of Oerth, one of the game’s original settings. This new realm of Empyrea has a 40-year history (starting with simple materials from Judges Guild) and is still actively used. The artist Darlene, who painted Gary’s maps in his 1980 product, will create similar maps for this one. Other famous artists of that era — including Caldwell, Dee, Diesel, Easley, Elmore, Holloway, Jaquays, and Otus — are being invited to join the project.

Empyrea is on the mysterious and isolated continent of Aquaria, east of Gygax’s World of Greyhawk™ setting. Until now, knowledge of this portion of the world has remained largely a mystery, as the broad and dangerous Solnor ocean separates the two. The continent is briefly described in the Advanced D&D® adventure “Egg of the Phoenix” (Mentzer & Jaquays, TSR Inc., 1987).

“It’s time to share this Dungeons & Dragons® world with hobby gamers,” Mentzer says. “Unlike others, Gary approved this personally. Empyrea combines both traditional fantasy and science fiction elements. Magic is dominant, but technology lurks. And it’s one Realm… this isn’t a cluster of medieval city-states like Greyhawk.”

Author Ted Fauster has accepted the role of Creative Aide, which was Mentzer’s original title when he worked with Gygax at TSR in the 1980s.

Mentzer and Darlene will finance the set through crowdfunding, with support from Judges Guild. It will be compatible with the most recent Fifth Edition D&D® game (D&D 5E) as well as Mentzer’s own world-famous “Red Box” edition of the game.

An official start date for the Kickstarter will be announced shortly after the GenCon® 50 Game Convention in August.

For More Information, contact:
Loxley LLC
Fauster :
(Ownership of trademarks indicated is not disputed)

Ted Fauster shared it here.

+Joseph Bloch of Greyhawk Grognard shared it here.


Here’s a video to learn more about +Ted Fauster who is working with +Frank Mentzer on this.