Fairy tales often involve heroes traveling from place to place, and encountering conflicts along the way, much like the classic D&D party. Most campaigns have used random encounter tables to represent this element, and I have done one here inspired by several sources that I was thinking about when we decided on our fairy tale theme. These encounters can be inserted into almost any fantasy setting and campaign, and most have a bit of a side-quest element to them. They are generally geared toward a party of 5th-10th level, but can be easily adapted for higher or lower level parties. Whenever you need to spice up a journey, or just need an idea to fill in a session, roll a d8 or pick your favorite!
*Note – monsters, items, and spells in italics can be found in the D&D Core books or the SRD.
1. The Unicorn in Distress
The characters begin to notice the woods around them are particularly gorgeous and whimsical. A DC 10 Intelligence (nature) check will recognize have the signs of a unicorn’s territory, see the regional effects in the Monster Manual for examples. At some point while in this territory, they hear the sounds of combat and loud whinnying. When investigated, they see a unicorn defending itself against a mixed group of goblinoids (goblins, hobgoblins and/or bugbears – use enough to be an appropriate challenge to your party, with a couple extra that harry the unicorn). If the unicorn survives, it will attempt to heal the characters’ wounds with its magical abilities and may come to the aid the characters in any struggles within its woods in the future. If the unicorn is slain, the goblins flee with the severed horn to take back to their chief. The woods become gloomy and dismal, and will likely be overrun by the goblinoids when the characters next visit the area.
2. Witch’s House
The characters see a small, winding path off the main road and smell a cooking fire and see whisps of smoke in the direction it leads. As they follow the path, describe some odd features in the surrounding plantlife, and try to create an eerie atmosphere. At the end of path lies the home of a witch (in this case, actually a hag).
1 – Obvious witch’s hut: A creepy, run-down little house with obvious features like a large cauldron outside, twisted trees and thorny plants surrounding it, shadows that seem to move of their own accord, etc.
2- Gingerbread house: This house is made of edible gingerbread, with eaves covered in icing and candy decorations all over. If a character eats about a handful of the gingerbread, the house satifies them as if they had eaten a full meal, but they also become lethargic, gaining one level of exhaustion. The house grows back any eaten portions within 1 week.
3- Illusionary house – as #1, but disguised as a pleasant cottage via illusion magic. Characters can make a Wisdom saving throw at DC 12 to recognize the illusion when they first enter the area, otherwise it appears normal until the hag attacks.
4- Animated house: This house appears to be an ordinary home, but it is a living creature, subtly shifting and breathing, and able to close or open its own doors and windows, and alert the witch to intruders with sounds like grinding stone. The house cannot move, but has an Int of 8, a Wis of 12, and a Cha of 8, and makes Wisdom (perception) checks at +6 against any creatures within it or within 60 feet of it. It may have an ordinary appearance, or a fantastic one at your option (standing on a pair of bird legs, perhaps).
The house is occupied by a green hag, using her illusory appearance to disguise herself as a kindly old woman. She offers the adventurers food and drink (which can be delicious or awful, whichever you find appropriate). She will then try to misdirect the characters and get them to leave without investigating her house, as she has a local child in captivity, kept locked up in a small secret room in the house and being fattened up. If the characters are in the garden or the dining area, it takes a DC 20 Wisdom (perception) check to hear the muffled cries of the child; further in the house it is only a DC 15, or a DC 15 Intelligence (investigation) check to find signs of a captive and the secret door. If the child is discovered, the hag will attack. If a single green hag is not a sufficient challenge for the party, give her a minion or two, such as an imp familiar (also in disguise) or some animated objects inside the house. If you really want to ramp it up, you can have a coven of 3 green hags occupying the house instead.
3. The Cursed Soldiers
A flock of a dozen swans (or geese or ducks, if you prefer) is sited multiple times throughout the day; this being an unusual sight for the area and/or the time of year. The characters come upon the strewn equipment of a group of soldiers, either at a campsite or piecemeal along the road. A DC 10 Investigation check will conclude the soldiers were not slain, but appear to have abandoned their armor and clothing and disappeared (they were transformed into the birds). Eventually, the swans will approach, and honk loudly at the characters, as if in some attempt to communicate. They radiate transmutation magic to those who can sense it, and a DC 15 Arcana check can discover nature of the curse. To break the curse, a remove curse spell must be cast using a rare herb found in the area as a material component, which requires an Intelligance (Nature) or Wisdom (Survival) check of DC 15 and 1d4 hours of searching to locate (if the characters cannot make the Arcana check, have the geese bring them a small sample of the required herb). A single casting of the spell breaks the curse on all the soldiers. When the curse is broken, the soldiers will offer the characters escort to their nearby city, where there will be a feast and a monetary reward. How they became cursed is up to you; if you need to introduce a new villain, this can be a good opportunity!
4. How do you like them apples…
The characters come across a grove of dozens of fruit trees, with plump, delicious apples (or other fruit appropriate to the setting/climate). However, if the fruit is picked, many of the trees turn out to be awakened trees and become hostile, insulting the characters and pelting them with fruit (ranged attack, +0 to hit, 1 point of bludgeoning damage). Choose a number of awakened trees to sufficiently challenge your party. If attacked, the trees will fight back with deadly force. If the characters leave, the trees will not pursue, but will warn them not to come back. This may be the work of a cantankerous druid, a treant, or other spellcaster who lives in the area.
5. Sylvan Revel
The characters spy a procession in the woods at night, consisting of a mixed group of fey and their friends. Roll 1d6 four times, keeping duplicate results:
1 – 2 centaurs
2 – 4 satyrs (including 1 piper)
3 – 8 pixies
4 – 4 putti or sprites
5 – Faerie dragon, or a wyrmling metallic dragon
6 – 2 wood elf nobles and 2 wood elf scouts, with a blink dog or a pseudodragon pet.
The creatures are having a party of some kind, drinking wine, dancing, joking and feasting, and are quite friendly. This can be a seasonal or religious festival if you like, or simply a good time. Players joining in the revel will be feasted and drank under the table. If putti, sprites or pixies are present, they may try to swipe shiny objects or treats from the player characters. If the characters are no fun or try to disrupt the revelry, the creatures may decide to have a bit of sport and trick them into a compromising situation or humiliate them in some other way.
6. Giants Three
A trio of hill giants named Ug, Og, and Agamemnon are drinking and boasting, settling their rivalry to be the chieftain of the area. They will attempt to eat anyone they see as weak, but if the characters show some gumption and appear threatening enough, they will instead bet them their sacks of treasure in 3 one-on-one contests. One character must volunteer to face each giant in each contest. The giants warn the characters not to cheat, but are not smart enough to notice most methods the characters may employ.
Wrestling match – A character must beat the first giant, Ug, in single unarmed combat, by pinning him in a grapple or reducing him to 1/2 of his hit points.
Eating and drinking contest – The character who volunteers and the 2nd giant, Og, begin to devour legs of mutton, wheels of cheese, loaves of bread, and guzzle flagons of ale (the giant gives them a smaller portion to account for size, but it is still far too much for a humanoid to eat normally). Keeping pace with the giant requires a constitution save against a DC of 12 every 10 minutes, increasing by 2 each time. Each failed save imposes a level of exhaustion; if the character reaches 4 levels of exhaustion, they lose the contest. If the character successfully makes 4 of these saving throws, they are able to eat all of their food before the giant, and win the contest.
Targeting contest – The character and the 3rd giant, Agamemnon, try to best each other in difficult shots (any ranged attack is acceptable to the giant), picking targets and trying to hit them. The giant goes first, shattering a distant tree with a thrown rock; note the result of his ranged attack. The player has to beat the giant’s attack roll to make a better shot; the winner makes the next shot that must be followed, and so on. The contest is best 3 out of 5.
If all 3 giants lose, they will become enraged and attack. If 1 loses, the other two berate and belittle the loser, who leaves sulking, then the remaining two resume their squabbling. If 2 giants lose, the 3rd giant becomes the chieftain. He will allow the characters to leave with their well-earned treasure, but will try to kill them if they come back to his territory, as he knows they are dangerous.
The sacks of these giant should contain appropriate treasure for your party; they may even have a unique item among them.
7. The Beggar
The characters come upon a beggar in the road, who gruffly asks them for any food or coin they can spare. He is truly wretched in appearance, smells awful, and is quite rude and boorish; almost as if he is trying to antagonize the characters, though he will not do anything violent. If the characters aid him, either with food, drink, money, or even a job offer, his demeanor will soften, and then he will reach into his ratty cloak, and pull out a bag and give it to the characters as a gift, disappearing in a wisp of smoke shortly after.
1-3 – Bag of Holding
4-6 – Bag of Tricks (choose a color at random)
7-9 – Bag is full of gems worth 1d6x1000 gp.
10 – Bag of Beans
If the characters are cruel or mistreat the man, he will reveal himself to be a powerful wizard in disguise (use the stats of an archmage if needed). He will lecture the characters on treating others how they would wish to be treated, cast a 9th level bestow curse (lasts until dispelled) on the character who abused him the worst (choosing the stun option, or disadvantage on the characters highest ability score), then teleport away. This beggar could even be a god (such as Odin) if you wish, or some powerful entity from your world.
8. The Big Bad Wolf!
The characters encounter the Big Bad Wolf in one of its many guises. It may be stalking a local child, or be disguised as a human to play cruel tricks on them, or simply decide the characters look like its next meal. This can be an opportunity to introduce the Wolf as a recurring villain, or you can simply have the Wolf attack and withdraw once you have given the characters a good scare.