Not every adventure happens to heroes. Sometimes the adventurers go looking for trouble, and no adventure is more iconic than when hunting for a specific monster.
Often it starts with a rumor; some story or tale about a horrid beast terrorizing local farmers, woodsmen, or street urchins. Chasing this rumor is often the stuff of a session, that culminates in an epic battle as the characters catch and defeat the beast. Unfortunately, its often the combat that gets all the attention. What about the hunt?
There are several ways that a party might begin their hunt. Learned characters with access to a library or other store of knowledge might hit the books, while more social characters might talk to witnesses. Armed with some information the party is likely to scout the area for additional clues before either laying a trap or delving into the beast’s lair.
There really aren’t specific rules for hunting a monster, though some rules might be adapted. What I try to do here is design a more unified, easy set of rules that you might use to augment a story in which the party is trying to hunt a monster. While these rules generally describe the monster as some sort of beast, very few alterations would be needed to adjust these rules to an NPC villain.
Also check out my previous related column Storybuilding: Rumors and Story Hooks that might be helpful for finding rumors.
Hitting the Books
From a large library in a major city to records under the village shrine, there all kinds of collections that interested adventurers might turn to for information regarding their quarry. Searching a library requires an Intelligence (Investigation) check, possibly with advantage or other bonuses due to a character’s class or background features.
Not every party will have an experienced researcher or educated monster hunter however, so you might augment the roll and highlight specific skills by allowing advantage on the Intelligence (Investigation) check for characters who are proficient in a skill relevant to the target.
Arcana: Aberrations, Celestials, Constructs, Dragons, Elementals, Fey (especially if from another plane), Fiends, Monstrosities, Oozes
History: Giants, Humanoids
Nature: Beasts, Fey, Plants, Oozes
Religion: Celestials (especially if related to a deity), Fiends (especially if related to a deity), Undead
If the GM decides that the library contains useful information, the character might locate several pieces of information based on their ability check. If the GM already knows the library has no information, then no matter how high the player rolls, there is nothing to be found.
A character that spends eight hours researching learns information about the general species of creature, unless there are records specific to a creature that has plagued an area for many years. In that case there might be tales specific to that creature.
|DC||Type of Information Gained|
|5||Creature type and general environment|
|10||Some general background|
|15||General combat tactics or attacks|
|20||An immunity, resistance, or vulnerability|
|25||A special ability or attack|
The information is mixed with stories and secondhand tales, so it doesn’t have to be entirely reliable.
Since the records likely don’t pertain to the specific individual monster, there might also be variation from that particular beast. This can be represented by a 1 in 6 chance that a character has uncovered an incorrect piece of information.
An Example of Hitting the Books
The characters hear rumors that travelers have gone missing on the way to The Shaded Haven in the Charnault Kingdom. One survivor described a monster like a large green lobster-like creature with tentacles on its face. Armed with this story, the characters visit the library before heading south toward the village.
Pamela’s character, Llianna, is a monster hunter with the One of the Taken background. Her GM allows her to make her Investigation check with expertise, as the monster she is researching is a type written about in her monster grimoire. She rolls 1d20 getting a 14. She adds her +5 bonus to Investigation, plus another +2 proficiency for expertise. With a total of 21, she learns four pieces of information. The GM also secretly checks for misinformation and rolls a 1, so something is wrong with the information she gets.
The GM tells her that Llianna uncovers the story of a ranger named Bastien Greenfeather that hunted a similar creature decades ago. The creature was a type of aberration called a chuul that he had tracked into a swamp by following tracks along a river (DC 5 type and environment).
The creature was lairing underwater, perhaps guarding a strange ruin in the swamp (DC 10 general background).
When Bastien and his wolf companion tracked the beast into the ruin, it charged at him using both its pincers and tentacles and did not seem especially clever (DC 15 general tactics).
Bastien was able to kill it using poisoned arrows and his account even gives the recipe he used for making the poison (DC 20 an immunity, but also the GM includes the misinformation here as chuuls are immune to poison and Bastien simply killed it with a well-placed shot).
Llianna now tells the party that their prey is probably in a nearby swamp, possibly in a ruin, and she has a list of some rare herbs they should acquire to make a poison before heading south, adding a fun side quest to the adventure as the characters try to locate the herbs.
Talking to Witnesses
If there are survivors of the beast’s attacks or those who know folklore about the creature, the characters might be able to question locals in the area. The previous Storybuilding: Rumors and Story Hooks column gives rules for gathering rumors, so we’ll cover what sorts of things witnesses might be able to share using the same system.
False: For an untrue rumor the NPC is either lying to get coin or believes some tall tale. An example of a false rumor might be blaming the attack on a creature from local folklore that is entirely unrelated or laired in a different place.
Weak: Weak rumors have heard something second or third hand that is still useful, but at best tangential to the creature. These often include confirming things the character knows, such as where the attacks have taken place, or the name of someone who survived or saw the creature. These types of rumors lead to another step in the search, but don’t give much useful information directly.
Moderate: A moderate rumor is useful and akin to researching enough to gain a description of the creature, the name of the creature’s species, or what tactics it used in combat.
Strong: Strong rumors have significant information and include information that sets the individual creature apart from others of their kind. Noting specific mutations or armaments, seeing it cast a particular spell, or when and where it often hunts, are all examples of strong rumors.
Amazing: Acquiring an amazing rumor should be incredibly useful like an eyewitness account of the creature going in and out of its lair, allowing the character to go straight there.
An Example of Talking to Witnesses
Arriving in The Safe Haven, Garret’s bard Ixillian goes into the local tavern to ask about the missing travelers. Garret rolls poorly and earns a false rumor. A local fisherman tells Ixillian that the attacks were caused by the Goatman of Button Hill, a bestial ogre-sized creature with a goat head that stories say has plagued the area since the fisherman was a boy.
Garret decides to spend some more time asking around town looking for stories about the Goatman of Button Hill. This time he uncovers a strong rumor and manages to find a traveling merchant who survived the chuul’s attack.
The traveling merchant gave the general description of a chuul, confirming that the Goatman of Button Hill is a local legend and not related. The merchant also notes that the creature that attacked his small caravan had acid dripping from its claws. The acid didn’t seem to bother the chuul but melted the flesh of one of the merchant’s guards before she died.
The merchant can give the party directions to where he was attacked.
Scouting the Area
Once the characters have enough information to narrow down the general area where the creature is prowling, the characters might choose to look around, hoping to find out more information before confronting the creature. There are lots of different skill proficiencies that might come up. Here’s a few examples:
Animal Handling: A character might attempt a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check to notice that the behaviors of animals in the area are disturbed. This might be used to narrow down the area where a large predator or pack of monsters are hunting.
Arcana: Markings left on objects or bodies might help one learn about the spells or types of elemental effects the creature can generate.
Investigation: Where Perception helps you find things you might not have initially seen; Intelligence (Investigation) is most useful for making a deduction from clues you already have in front of you. The shape of a victim’s wounds suggest what weapon or claw might have been used. Blood sprays suggest the height or direction of attacks, such as a spider descending from the trees above. Finding a place where the weeds are matted down suggests the creature waits in ambush.
Medicine: If the characters are fortunate to have the remains of one of the monster’s victims, a character can determine if the creature used claws, teeth, or a more exotic attack such as constriction or poison.
A Medicine check combined with Investigation can also suggest something about the creature’s behavior. If the remains are mostly consumed, the creature is hunting for meat. If the victim is viciously torn apart but most of the parts are still present, then the creature might be given to rage, easy to provoke, might not be a meat eater, or maybe has another source of food and wasn’t hungry.
Perception: Calling for a Wisdom (Perception) check is the obvious choice to find signs of the monster’s passage. While likely one of the options to find a set of tracks or note effects on the local foliage, remember to take advantage of other skills as well.
Survival: While 5e gives GMs rules for following tracks, don’t forget more can be gleaned from tracks than just where a monster went.
The size and depth of tracks can tell you a lot about the size of a creature. The shape of tracks might suggest whether the creature has a claw attack. The effect on the ground such as dead plants or scorching might imply that the creature exudes acid, poison, or fire.
In addition to learning about a monster from its tracks, characters might also look at the area to note the locations of food sources and water. Most creatures need both, and it gives places where the party might lay an ambush, especially if they can determine what the creature likes to eat.
An Example of Scouting the Area
Having learned where the merchants were attacked, the party travels out to look at the area. After inspecting the area thoroughly, Joe’s character Kerric notices an area 10 feet off the road where the swampy ground is disturbed from something large having been unearthed.
Close inspection, and a successful Wisdom (Survival) check helps Kerric to realize that the chuul buried itself here, waiting in ambush. In addition, since the ground is wet and the water table is high here, the creature can likely breathe water. In addition to learning about how the chuul hunts, Kerric notes obvious tracks leading into the swamp.
Llianna inspects the remains of the deceased guard and uses Intelligence (Arcana) to confirm that in addition to obvious claw wounds, the guard did indeed suffer from acid damage. This chuul must be unique in some way since it uses acid as part of its attacks.
Laying the Trap vs. Entering the Lair
Once your party has gathered all the information available, they now must decide whether they want to lay an ambush of their own or try to venture into the creature’s lair.
If the party learn what type of food the creature likes and where its hunting, they might want to lure the creature into terrain favorable to the party.
Not knowing much about the creature’s habits but having found tracks that lead back to its lair, other parties might try to delve into the lair and catch the creature sleeping. The choice is up to the characters! Either way, its bound to be exciting!