A farmer on the edge of a bayou has a problem: his giant catfish are dying. A customer who depends on his prized fish request help for the struggling farmer who has no idea the ghastly truth of his predicament.
A Cursed Bayou
Estimated Duration: About 1 hour
Encounter Type: Combat, Investigation
Challenge Rating: 6
This encounter can be a side quest for a party that finds itself in a particularly swampy region. A farmer, Fabrice Pellerin, is the proprietor of a small catfish farm on the edge of a bayou. He enjoyed the business up until a few weeks ago when his prized livestock began dying of a mysterious ailment.
Unbeknownst to Fabrice, he built his farm on an area once home to a vampire defeated but turned into a vampire mist. The mist had long fed on the areas swamp life and the occasional lizardfolk but when Fabrice moved in, his school of catfish were perfect food for the hungry terror. Rather than killing Fabrice outright, the mist slowly feeds on the catfish in the middle of the night, savoring their tasty blood in addition to its usual swampy cuisine.
As the party makes its way through a swampy region they come to a small town, which contains the only option for drink and a night’s rest beneath a comfortable roof. The building is a rundown, raucous inn and tavern, one that has very recently been serving the best catfish burgers around. As the party enters, read the following:
The gloomy interior is lit by a large fireplace. The sounds of raucous banjos and laughter bounce off the dilapidated wooden walls but the atmosphere of the crowd is warm and friendly. A large dragonborn behind the counter beckons you over, asking your business in a friendly tone.
The innkeeper, Aubert, informs them after introductions are made that the tavern and inn, called the Swampy Retreat, recently served the best catfish burgers around but that the owner of the catfish farm has recently stopped deliveries of his succulent fish. Aubert would be grateful to anyone who could speak to the farmer the next time he stops by and see what the issue is as the burgers were selling tremendously well.
The farmer has been incredibly cagey and refuses to answer any questions, only asking around for a local druid when he stops by and then drinking quietly in a corner until he passes out. If they agree to talk to the farmer, the innkeeper offers them free lodging and free catfish burgers – as many as they can eat.
If the party agrees, then not long afterward, the sullen farmer arrives by wagon and takes a seat at the rear of the tavern with a tall pitcher of ale. Read the following:
A scrawny male human in overalls and a wide-brimmed hat sits slumped over a large pitcher of ale. He periodically picks at his teeth with a hand-whittled wooden fork, sighing loudly as he looks ready to drink mug after mug, clearly trying to drown away his sorrows.
Fabrice is reluctant to share what’s going on at first but after a few mugs of ale he opens up about his situation. Astute characters will notice on a successful DC 17 Wisdom (Perception) check that Fabrice is slightly pale but if questioned he chalks it up to nerves.
It seems some disease has befall his catfish, causing them to perish overnight without any prior signs of illness whatsoever. He hoped to reach out to a local druid of the area to investigate but she’s been gone for several weeks and he doesn’t want anyone else to know that a sickness that has taken hold on his farm. His catfish burgers are very popular and everyone in the area has eaten at least one in the past month. The only reason he is telling the party these details is because they aren’t from the area. If any of them has experience with animals or medicine, he would happily bring them back to his farm so that they could investigate, offering 25 gp if they are able to cure his farm of the mysterious illness.
Assuming the party agrees, Fabrice pays his tab and takes them back in a rickety wagon. He is slightly inebriated and more talkative on the trek home which is along dirt paths that wind their way through a muggy, swampy region full of thick trees that traverses waterlogged terrain by the narrowest of margins. He mentions he bought the property several months ago from an eager seller and moved his two dozen catfish onto the farm as soon as he had built enough cages. Eventually, the party arrives at Fabrices farm.
Once on the farm read the following:
Fabrice’s home is a simple wooden shack with dozens of submerged wooden cages connected by a series of aqueducts, scattered throughout the property. Each cage sits in a dugout shallow pool and is home to an incredibly large catfish, roughly the size of a dog. The farm is surrounded by a crude wooden wall and a light fog rises from the moist earth, hanging over everything, making visibility difficult.
Light: The lighting on the entire farm is considered to offer concealment to anything beyond 10 feet.
Shallows: The area around the farm has many shallow pools of water in addition to the sunken catfish pools. A character who falls prone on the farm must succeed on a DC 11 Dexterity saving throw or slide into a nearby shallow. A shallow is considered difficult terrain, filled with swamp water and is 3 (1d6) feet deep.
Fabrice takes the characters to the most recent catfish fatality. Its large body floats listlessly on its side at the top of a five-foot deep pocket of water, inside a wooden cage. Fabrice has no idea why the animals are dying and has refused to touch them for fear of getting sick. He notes that they appear exceptionally pale, their scales nowhere near the glistening sheen of a healthy fish.
Characters can investigate the dead fish and notice with a successful DC 13 Wisdom (Medicine) or Intelligence (Investigation or Nature) check that the fish appears to have been drained completely of blood but has no wounds. There are four other catfish around the farm that Fabrice can show them, all having died in a similar way over the past few weeks.
A search of the area nearby reveals on a successful DC 13 Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) check that there are tiny droplets of blood leading away from the cage to a large tree on the far edge of the property. If the characters were able to discern the fish was drained of blood, they have Advantage on this second check. Characters unable to find the blood instead notice odd movements of the fog that surrounds the tree as they go about their investigation.
As the characters approach the tree, read the following.
A giant twisted mangrove sits on the edge of the farm, half its roots extending into shallow pools of swamp water around its base. The fog that envelopes the area seems incredibly thick here and markings of some type of creature or creatures are obvious in the damp earth around the tree.
The markings are the slithering trails of poisonous snakes that nest in pools beside the tree. They are too small to be of any interest to the vampire mist but have learned to attack in concert with it, devouring the flesh off the bones of its various victims.
Characters with a passive Wisdom (Perception) of 13 or higher notice movement in one of the shallow pools and are not surprised as three swarms of poisonous snakes emerge from the pools to attack them. Any character not aware is surprised.
Suddenly writhing masses of snakes emerges from the shallow pools all around you, slithering and swarming, looking for food.
The sentient remains of an ancient vampire that once lived on the property hangs about this tree on the edge of the farm. The vampire had retreated to the swamp, looking for a place to rest having grown tired of the ‘modern’ world. Unfortunately he was tracked down by an old rival and staked in the tree on the edge of the estate, decades ago. His coffin was consecrated and its spirit thus became a vampire mist, thereafter subsisting on various swamp animals.
When Fabrice moved in, the mist began feeding on him but soon found his catfish even tastier, restraining itself from completely devouring the farmer so that he could attend to his livestock.
Once combat with the snakes begins, the vampire mist attacks the characters in the second round, thinking it won’t be noticed in the conflict. It prefers to pick a character separated from its allies. A character attacked by the mist can clearly see their blood siphoning out of their pores and being absorbed into the mist. The first round after it feeds, the mists body begins to grow a flickering pink, turning redder and redder as it continues to drain the blood it craves.
If the characters realize what is going on and begin attacking the mist, it defends itself but will flee if it starts to lose. Otherwise, the mist returns the following night to continue feasting on whichever character it initially chose.
Characters can track and follow the mist if they engaged in combat with it, following it as it flees into the swampy region around the farmland on a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception or Survival) check. The mist doesn’t travel too far from the tree, its spirit tied to the site of its destruction and will begin feeding on catfish on the following evening if it can, allowing the party to prepare for its return.
A search of the tree reveals a wooden stake rammed into its bark, about chest high of where a medium sized humanoid would be if it was standing adjacent to it.
In the shallow pools of the immediate vicinity of the tree are the bodies of a dozen large alligators and two lizardfolk – all drained of blood and in various stages of decay. The snakes living around the tree have also had their fill of the bodies, leaving bit marks all over them and consuming much of their flesh. A thorough search of the area reveals on a successful DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check a sunken coffin in a shallow pool of water not far from the tree. Opening the coffin reveals dozens of empty glass bottles marked ‘holy’. Pulling the coffin out of its purchase and searching the muddy soil beneath turns up a silvered greatsword inscribed with the name Tristan the Terrible along with a pair of silvered shortswords.
Fabrice is incredibly grateful to the characters and is shocked to learn it was some mist monster and not a disease that was befalling his fish. He gives them 25 gp for their heroics as well as two catfish to take with them. He also offers to cook them up a catfish stew before they leave. He lets them keep any rewards they find in or around the coffin.
If the party goes back to the inn and tavern, the innkeeper lives up to his word and allows them to say as long as they wish, serving them as many catfish burgers as they want.
When Fabrice arrives the next day, it is with a smile on his face and a large catfish in tow.
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