Bessie's Back

An encounter for use in a “Tales of the Crimson Boar" adventure scenario

Brother Alouicious Dendy, the house brewer at the Crimson Boar Inn, perfected the brewing arts during his years of service to the gods of the vine in a monastery far away from the inn. The monks of his order revere the crafting of libations, and they take their ingredients very seriously. One of the keys to a good draught recipe is water quality – a clean draw of soft water from an unmuddied source.

The best water source around the Crimson Boar just so happens to be a cavern reachable by one of the tunnels beneath the Inn, which Brother Dendy only knows about because John Emrys clued him in to the spring’s location. The old monk, preferring naturally soft water to distilled, salt-treated steam, absolutely refuses to brew a batch of beer unless he can get a clean draw from the cavern’s crystal clear waters, which are fed by an underground river free of the pollution of the surface dwellers.

Unfortunately for Brother Dendy, every few years the river washes up a specimen of creature that is otherwise practically extinct in this part of the world: a freshwater elasmosaur, an aquatic reptilian behemoth with a long serpentine neck and powerful flippers. Dendy and the other patrons at the Crimson Boar call the old dinosaur Bessie, and she shows up every four or five years, lairing in the cavern for a period of months to lay eggs. No one has ever seen the young; it is presumed that they swim upstream after hatching and find other tributaries to terrorize. The young leave the nest quickly, but the hatching process is tiring for Bessie, who typically rests in the cavern for a month or so after laying. Normally, Bessie keeps her distance, but this time, she plopped herself down smack dab in the middle of Brother Dendy’s draw point: the deepest part of the cavern’s waters, just a few feet off a series of submerged stalagmites that the monk carefully traverses to reach the draw point.

The Crimson Boar cannot sustain its business buying outside wine and beer for long – Britomus has done the figures, and he has to make sure that Dendy keeps brewing to hold the business together. The old barkeep is desperate, and he’s looking for suckers – er, volunteers to chase off the river monster. He’ll try to convince them to do it for free room and board for a week, but if they press for better pay, he can spare up to 1500 gold coins (or a moderate amount of currency in your game world, roughly equivalent to the value of a basic magical weapon) to pay them for the job, with half down up front (Dendy’s brew will make that back and then some in a month). It’s a moderately difficult effort to convince Britomus to pay them, and a difficult task to convince him to make an advance down payment – and he’ll want results within 24 hours, or he’ll send Jules and Vincent around to straighten out the PCs’ priorities.

Bessie can be dealt with in a number of ways. A sufficiently powerful spellcaster might be able to charm the beast and coax it out of the cavern, but this should be assumed to be far more difficult than it would normally be for a beast of her size and intelligence, which is more or less animal-like. It may even require the caster to perform an extended ritual in the elasmosaur’s presence, forcing compatriots to guard the caster while he or she works the mojo.

Bessie is also famished from laying, however, and an offer of food – or the presence of proper prey – may spur her to leave her spot in pursuit of a meal. Alligator gar swim in the cavern as well, but they are not easy catches, and a character who approaches the ferocious fish without care will likely end up getting hurt. A character with sufficient knowledge of nature lore could also devise a way to drive the gar upstream, perhaps by gutting smaller fish and trailing their blood to the main cavern, or concocting a chemical mix that simulates the mating pheromones of
female alligator gar.

There is, of course, the direct approach of attacking, but Bessie is no pushover. The recently-calved behemoth is hyper-alert against approaching threats. She uses the darkness of the cave and her skill as a swimmer to elude capture, and will attempt to leave any subsequent altercation alive, fleeing if reduced to less than a quarter of her health. Until she is sufficiently wounded, though, she fights to defend her lair – after all, an elasmosaur does not grow to be fifty feet long by letting soft squishy land-dwellers push her around.

Running “Bessie’s Back” in D&D 3.X and Pathfinder

Both d20srd.org and d20pfsrd.com have archived statistics for elasmosauri. It is built as a CR 7 monster in both systems, making the encounter one of easy difficulty for APL 8 or above, normal for APL 6 or 7, hard for APL 4 or 5, and extraordinarily challenging for APL 3. You can increase or decrease the difficulty of Bessie on the fly in Pathfinder by adding the young, advanced, giant, and/or mighty templates, although the most accurate way to generate stats for her is to add or subtract Hit Dice from the base elasmosaurus and adjust other numbers and attributes appropriately.

Also, consider giving Bessie the Elusive ability found on the Sea Serpent (also available on d20pfsrd.com). This allows her to escape more easily if you wish to include her as a recurring problem for Brother Dendy and the Crimson Boar.

Moving any distance across the slippery stalagmites in the cavern requires a DC 15 Balance check (3.X) or Acrobatics check (Pathfinder); failure means the character falls prone, with a 50% chance of falling into any adjacent square of water where applicable. Some of the stalagmites are spaced apart, and require Jump (3.X) or Acrobatics (PF) checks to clear the water between the rocks – DC 12 for 5-foot jumps, and DC 22 for 10-foot jumps. Making characters roll Swim checks at DC 10 to tread water or move adds to the urgency of the situation, especially if someone drops underneath the surface and begins to drown – Bessie may well single out such a character as an easy target, snatching him in her jaws and swimming away to parts unknown with her meal.

To add a layer of challenge to this encounter, you can also add a swarm of small carnivorous fish to the water. These scavengers follow in Bessie’s wake wherever her travels take her, snapping up morsels left behind by the behemoth. Any character who enters their squares or is wounded and in the water is savagely assaulted by the fish, who move at top speed toward the closest creature in the water other than the elasmosaur.

Online Resources:

D&D 3.5 Elasmosaurus

Pathfinder RPG Elasmosaurus

Piranha Swarm

Alligator Gar (NOTE: I recommend adding the Young template to the alligator gar to create a CR 5 variant if you are running multiple gar, unless the PCs are of extraordinarily high level. Two young gar and Bessie, if fought together, are equivalent to a CR 9 encounter.)

Running “Bessie’s Back” in D&D 4e

Running “Bessie’s Back” in D&D 4E: This document assumes that your PCs are, on average, level 10, with the encounter scaled to suit parties of levels 8 to 12. Use the notes for 3.X/Pathfinder as given above, but with the following mechanical changes:

  • Athletics checks are made at DC 10 to tread water or swim in the cavern. Remember that failure by 5 or more means the character sinks 1 square beneath the surface.
  • Acrobatics checks to balance on the slippery rocks are set at 20. Failure means the character falls prone; if he was on a rock immediately adjacent to the water, there is a 50% chance that he falls in.
  • Jumping from rock to rock requires an Athletics check at DC 17 for 1-square gaps and DC 22 for 2-square gaps. Failure means the character falls into the water.

Bessie’s stats are based on the elasmosaur build published on the ENWorld message boards; she was adjusted downward from a Level 21 Brute to a Level 15 Brute using the guidelines in the 4E Dungeon Master’s Guide to suit high Heroic-tier and low Paragon-tier heroes. To spice up this encounter, you can add three to six Giant Archerfish (from HS2, Orcs of Stonefang Pass – see the DDi Compendium) to accompany Bessie. Attracted by the stirring of the water and the smell of blood, these scavengers swim into the cavern one round after Bessie first strikes, attacking any PC who has already been wounded in the fight (or the closest PC, if no one has taken damage yet).

Elasmosaur (Thickbody Sea Behemoth) – Level 15 Brute
Huge natural beast (reptile) – XP 1,200
Initiative + 16; Senses Perception + 17
HP 182; Bloodied 91
AC 27; Fortitude 29; Reflex 27; Will 24
Speed 4, Swim 8
Frenzy (when bloodied): The elasmosaur takes -2 to its defenses but deals an extra 1d8 points of damage on all melee attacks.
Basic Melee Bite (standard; at will): Reach 2; + 18 vs. AC; 3d8 + 4 damage.
Melee Tearing Lunge (standard; at will): Reach 3; + 17 vs. AC; 2d10 + 4 damage, plus ongoing 10 damage (save ends).
Melee Grab and Shake (standard; encounter): Reach 2; + 16 vs. Reflex; Hit: 1d10 + 4 damage, and the target slides 3 and is stunned (save ends).
Alignment unaligned; Languages none
Str 23; Dex 20; Wis 21
Con 21; Int 2; Cha 7

Bessie's Back

Tales of the Crimson Boar deadeye2891