The 2020 Gongfarmer’s Almanac has been released into the wild! (Download it free right here.) I’ve always enjoyed the GFA as a reader, but this year I got the chance to peek behind the curtain as an author, editor, and layout artist. I have to say: the amount of work organizers and contributors donate to this product is amazing.
My small contribution to this year’s GFA is Loose Change, an adventure for level 1 characters. The adventure features a pair of cat burglars on the run, a literal king’s ransom, a tribe of crocodile-headed kobolds, and (of course) a witch. The whole thing was wonderfully illustrated by Miguel Rodrigues. If you like it, consider downloading the entire compilation and check out the other contributors’ great work, as well.
Nickel and Dime are on the loose! Six months ago, the infamous cat burglars broke into the royal palace and stole a coffer of coins reserved as ransom for the city’s kidnapped king. The two stashed the coffer somewhere in the swamps outside the city and, despite their eventual capture, never revealed its location.
More recently, Nickel and Dime broke out of prison and returned to the swamp to retrieve their stash. Unbeknownst to the two thieves, a hag named Mrs. Pennyroyal had moved into their hideout in their absence. If the PCs wish to bring Nickel and Dime to justice, they must first help the duo escape Mrs. Pennyroyal and her gang of bumbling, crocodile-headed kobolds.
Loose Change is a short, location-based adventure for a party of 1st-level characters. It is designed to be played in a single session (2-3 hours of gameplay). If the characters survive, the adventure should provide enough adventure hooks to kickstart an entire campaign.
The adventure assumes that officials from the city have hired the PCs to track down Nickel and Dime and recover the king’s ransom. Alternatively, the PCs may have heard of Nickel and Dime’s daring escape, and now use the opportunity to follow the thieves into the swamp and steal the ransom for themselves. If the PCs simply stumble upon Nickel and Dime’s hideout on their way to another adventure, allow each character a DC 10 Intelligence check to see whether they know the story of the king’s stolen ransom.
Nickel and Dime
“Nickel” and “Dime” are the noms de guerre of Nicholas Erstok and Dimitrius Tench, a pair of notorious cat burglars. Nickel is a brooding human man whose remarkable strength belies his speed and skill with a blade. Dime, a halfling, is the smarter of the two, famous both for his wit and his talent for lock-picking. Together, Nickel and Dime are known throughout the city for their daring and elaborate heists, particularly their most recent triumph, the theft of the king’s ransom.
Both physically and in temperament, Nickel and Dime are an odd couple, but the two are fiercely loyal to each other. As the PCs interact with them, it quickly becomes clear that neither thief will betray his partner. Once reunited, Nickel and Dime work together to recover the king’s ransom, escape Mrs. Pennyroyal, and double-cross the PCs.
Nickel and Dime offer the players a unique roleplaying opportunity. Do the PCs ally themselves with the thieves to defeat Mrs. Pennyroyal? If so, how long does this alliance last? Though loyal to each other, Nickel and Dime have no sense of honor regarding the PCs: they abscond with the stolen ransom at the first opportunity, leaving behind the characters to deal with Mrs. Pennyroyal. The PCs may even come to blows with the thieves, especially if the party insists on returning them to the city to face punishment (a death sentence). Subduing Nickel and Dime may prove an interesting challenge for the PCs late in the adventure.
For many years, Mrs. Pennyroyal lived on the edges of the swamp, peddling herbs and other folk remedies to those in desperate circumstances. When it was discovered that her medicines often did more harm than good, the king’s men drove the hag deep into the swamp. More recently, Mrs. Pennyroyal discovered Nickel and Dime’s hideout (see The Abandoned Lodge below) and moved into the abandoned hunting lodge in their absence.
Mrs. Pennyroyal delights in causing misery and suffering, particularly among those in need of healing. Though she can use her magic to appear as a beautiful maiden, she prefers her true form: that of a withered crone dressed in rags. She rides an enchanted, giant catfish that can fly as well as swim, and she commands the loyalty of a tribe of crocodile-headed kobolds (“crockobolds”) that inhabits the swamp. In addition to the abilities detailed in her stat block, Mrs. Pennyroyal can brew most types of poison, as well any magical elixirs the Judge chooses.
The Abandoned Lodge
The adventure begins as the PCs arrive at Nickel and Dime’s hideout: an abandoned hunting lodge in the heart of a trackless swamp. The lodge perches atop a rounded hillock, mere inches above the foul-smelling water that surrounds it. A ramshackle dock stretches into the water, at the end of which is tied the rowboat Nickel and Dime used to get here. At the dock’s opposite end, a rope ladder dangles from the lodge’s rickety front porch (Area 1).
It is assumed that, like Nickel and Dime, the PCs have traveled here by boat. Human-sized characters forced to enter the water move at half speed, while dwarves and halflings must make a successful DC 5 Strength check each round to avoid becoming stuck in the fetid mud until the start of their next turn.
Area 1 – Porch
A covered porch wraps the southern and eastern sides of the lodge. The porch is several feet above the waterline, and the PCs must either use the rope ladder or find some other way to climb in order to reach it. Curtains of moss obscure the porch’s interior. Dirty glass windows along the porch allow the PCs to peer into the lodge’s front hall (Area 2) and dining room (Area 5).
Six giant mosquitos cling to the porch’s ceiling like bats. If they sense fresh blood nearby, the mosquitos swoop down to attack.
Mosquito, giant (6): Init +6; Atk proboscis +3 melee (1d3 plus blood drain); AC 14 (10 while latched); HD 1d4; hp 2 each; MV fly 40’; Act 1d20; SP blood drain (1d3 automatic damage each round); SV Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +1; AL N.
On a successful attack, a giant mosquito latches onto its victim and refuses to let go until the creature’s blood is completely drained. Characters can remove a mosquito from themselves or another character with a DC 5 Strength check. A success detaches the mosquito but also deals 1 point of damage to the victim. Attacks that miss a latched mosquito (both melee and missile fire) have a 50 percent chance of hitting the victim.
Area 2 – Front Hall
Antlers and other hunting trophies decorate the walls of this L-shaped hall. Double doors directly opposite the front entrance offer a glimpse into a sitting room beyond (Area 3). At the north end of the hall, narrow stairs wind upwards to a second-level landing (Area 6).
Soon after Nickel and Dime returned to the lodge, Mrs. Pennyroyal’s crockobolds overpowered Nickel and stuffed him into a cupboard beneath the stairs. Nickel’s limbs are bound, and a gag prevents him from calling out, but if he hears someone speaking in Common (as opposed to the crockobolds’ barks) he pounds on the cupboard door to summon help.
Nickel has no weapons or armor (his gear is in Area 10). If the PCs rescue him, he tries to convince the party to help rescue Dime. When Nickel last saw his partner, the crockobolds were dragging the halfling into the lodge’s dining hall (Area 5).
Nickel (human warrior): Init +1; Atk longsword +3 melee (1d8 + 3); AC 13 (11 without studded leather armor); HD 2d12; hp 15; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP Mighty Deeds (+d4); SV Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +0; AL N.
Area 3 – Sitting Room
Moldering easy chairs surround an ash-filled hearth on the north wall. A taxidermy boar stands in the southeast corner. The boar’s head is missing; a mix of cotton and sawdust spills from the boar’s open neck-hole. Barks, muffled shouts, and the clatter of silverware can be heard from beyond another set of double doors to the west.
A closer inspection of the boar reveals its head was recently sawed off. The crockobolds removed the head and are now forcing Dime to wear it as they “hunt” him (see Area 5).
Area 4 – Kitchen
The lodge’s kitchen has gone unused since Nickel and Dime’s arrest several months ago. Towers of rusty pots and pans balance atop a counter along the southern and eastern walls. A door in the northwest corner leads to a small porch outside.
The first time the party passes through the kitchen, the character with the lowest Luck score must make a DC 12 Luck check. On a failure, the character inadvertently overturns one of the stacks of kitchenware. The racket alerts the crockobolds in Area 5 unless the character succeeds at a DC 12 Agility check to catch the pots and pans before they tumble to the floor.
Area 5 – Dining Hall
An impressive oak dining table runs the length of this dining hall. A humanoid the size of a halfling—but with the head of a boar, apparently—scrambles up and down the table as six of Mrs. Pennyroyal’s crockobolds poke at it with forks, knives, and spears.
The boar-headed humanoid is Dime. The crockobolds have forced him to wear the head they removed from the taxidermy boar in Area 3 and now pretend to hunt him for entertainment. The crockobolds have tormented Dime for several hours now, and the halfling teeters on the edge of exhaustion (currently, he has 2 hit points).
The crockobolds attack the PCs as soon as they become aware of the party. Dime uses the distraction to flee. Once out of danger, he removes the boar’s head and begins searching the lodge for his partner, Nickel (see Area 2). He has no weapons or armor (his gear is in Area 10).
Crockobolds (6): Init +1; Atk javelin +1 missile fire (1d6, range 30/60/90’) or bite +1 melee (1d4); AC 12; HD 1d6; hp 3 each; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 100’; SV Fort -1, Ref +0, Will -2; AL C.
Dime (halfling burglar): Init +2; Atk throwing dagger +3 missile fire (1d4, range 10/20/30’); AC 13 (12 without padded armor); HD 2d6; hp 7 (currently 2); MV 30’; Act 1d20 (d16/d16 when throwing 2 daggers); SP infravision 30’, thief skills (sneak silently +5, hide in shadows +3, pick lock +3, find trap +3, disable trap +3); SV Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +1; AL N.
Area 6 – Second-Level Landing
The stairs from Area 2 end at this T-shaped hallway. A second set of steps to the south leads upwards to a third-floor landing (Area 9). A water closet fills the space between the two staircases, while a door-lined hall stretches to the west.
A single crockobold occupies the water closet. Unless the PCs catch him by surprise, the crockobold emerges from the closet just as the party passes by. He raises an alarm that alerts the crockobolds in the guest bedrooms (Area 7), as well as the crockobolds’ war-chief, Skint, at the end of the hall (Area 8).
Crockobold (1): Init +1; Atk javelin +1 missile fire (1d6, range 30/60/90’) or bite +1 melee (1d4); AC 12; HD 1d6; hp 3; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 100’; SV Fort -1, Ref +0, Will -2; AL C.
Area 7 – Guest Rooms
Before Mrs. Pennyroyal and her minions moved into the lodge, these bedrooms sat empty for years. Crockobolds not out hunting or tormenting Dime in Area 5 rest in the rooms. If the crockobolds become aware of the party, they raise an alarm and attack.
Crockobolds (2 per room): Init +1; Atk javelin +1 missile fire (1d6, range 30/60/90’) or bite +1 melee (1d4); AC 12; HD 1d6; hp 3 each; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 100’; SV Fort -1, Ref +0, Will -2; AL C.
Area 8 – Skint’s Room
Among the crockobolds, Skint ranks second only to the tribe’s shaman, Stinga (Area 10). At nearly five feet tall, the crockobold war-chief stands a good head taller than his brethren. He wields a tortoise-shelled shield bristling with poisoned spikes.
Skint (crockobold war-chief): Init +1; Atk spiked shield +2 melee (1d6 plus poison) or bite +2 melee (1d4); AC 13 (12 without shield); HD 2d12; hp 14; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 100’; SV Fort +2, Ref +1, Will +1; AL C.
Skint coats the spikes of his shield with a concentrated pennyroyal extract, a gift from Mrs. Pennyroyal herself. 1d4 rounds after the initial attack, a character injured by Skint’s spiked shield must make a DC 14 Fortitude saving throw. On a failure, the character takes an additional 1d4 damage and must spend their entire turn doing nothing but vomiting. Multiple doses of the poison stack, so a character hit several times by Skint’s shield may find themselves completely incapacitated later in the battle.
Area 9 – Third-Floor Landing
The stairs from Area 6 end at this landing. A door to Area 10 stands in the west wall. The landing appears unremarkable otherwise, although a search of the area and a successful DC 10 Intelligence check reveals a hidden panel in the ceiling north of the stairs.
The panel opens into the lodge’s attic (Area 12). Thus far, Mrs. Pennyroyal and her minions have overlooked the panel, but both Nickel and Dime are aware of it, as they hid the stolen ransom in the attic before their arrest.
Area 10 – Stinga’s Den
This once-comfortable den contains a pair of easy chairs, a threadbare couch, and a locked cabinet pushed against the southern wall. The crockobolds’ shaman, a doddering crone named Stinga, has taken up residence here. Unable to cast any real magic, Stinga poses little threat to the PCs, but the same can’t be said of her pet albino crocodile, Smiles.
Smiles (crocodile): Int +4; Atk bite +6 melee (1d12 + death roll); AC 18; HD 5d8; hp 22; MV 30’ or swim 30’; Act 1d20; SP death roll (DC 16 Fort or 1d6 and knocked prone); SV Fort +6, Ref +3, Will +2; AL N.
If Smiles makes a successful bite attack, his victim must attempt a DC 16 Fortitude saving throw. On a failure, the alligator shakes the victim furiously, dealing an additional 1d6 damage and knocking the creature prone.
Stinga (crockobold shaman): Init +0; Atk staff +1 melee (1d6) or bite +1 (1d4) melee; AC 12; HD 1d6; hp 3; MV 20’; Act 1d16; SP infravision 100’; SV Fort -1, Ref -1, Will +2; AL C.
Fetishes crafted from bone, bird feathers, and clam shells adorn the tip of Stinga’s walking staff. Alongside these worthless fetishes hangs a tiny brass key that opens the cabinet on the south wall. Opening the cabinet without the key requires a successful DC 10 Pick Lock roll or a DC 12 Strength check. The cabinet contains Nickel and Dime’s gear: a set of padded armor sized for a halfling, a human-sized set of studded leather armor, a longsword, a bandolier with seven throwing daggers, and a collection of thieves’ tools.
Stinga is under orders to guard Nickel and Dime’s possessions, but if it looks as if the party will overpower Smiles, the shaman flees to Area 11 to alert Mrs. Pennyroyal.
Area 11 – Conservatory
This sprawling conservatory occupies nearly half of the lodge’s uppermost floor. In many places, the conservatory’s glass walls have shattered, allowing clouds of biting flies to invade the room. The scent of peppermint—a bouquet cast by the pennyroyal plants that have overtaken the garden—fills the hot and humid air.
Unless alerted to their presence sooner, the swamp hag Mrs. Pennyroyal awaits the PCs here. Riding atop her mount—a giant, flying catfish—she circles a bubbling cauldron on the far side of the conservatory. The cauldron is filled with the same pennyroyal extract that coats the spikes of Skint’s shield (see Area 8). Once complete, Mrs. Pennyroyal plans to serve this batch of “tea” to Nickel and Dime. If the PCs fail to defeat Mrs. Pennyroyal, the hag captures them and forces them to attend the gruesome party, as well.
Mrs. Pennyroyal: Int +2; Atk spells or claw +1 melee (1d4); AC 13; HD 3d8; hp 13; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP spellcasting (spell check +4, spells known: cantrip, choking cloud); SV Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +4; AL C.
Giant, Flying Catfish: Int +4; Atk bite +3 melee (1d8 + swallow); AC 13; HD 3d12; hp 19; MV swim 40’ or fly 40’; Act 1d20; SP swallow (a halfling-sized or smaller creature bitten by the catfish is swallowed whole and takes 1d3 dmg each round until the catfish dies or the creature escapes by making a DC 13 Strength check); SV Fort +3, Ref +4, Will +1; AL C.
Area 12 – Attic
Nickel and Dime discovered the hidden entrance to the attic shortly after moving into the abandoned lodge. They’ve stashed the king’s ransom among the dusty furniture, steamer trunks, and dressing forms that fill the space. To further protect the ransom, Dime has rigged the area with a web of nearly invisible tripwires strung to crossbows. Depending on how the PCs have treated Dime up to this point, the halfling may allow the characters to explore the attic without warning them about the trap, in the hopes his handiwork distracts the party long enough for him and Nickel to escape.
Noticing Dime’s tripwires without setting off the crossbows requires a successful DC 15 Find Traps or Intelligence check. To retrieve the king’s ransom safely, a thief must cut the tripwires with a successful DC 10 Disable Traps roll. Alternatively, any character may attempt two consecutive DC 15 Agility checks to avoid the wires. Failing any of these checks causes the crossbows to fire. Characters in the attic when the crossbows fire must make a DC 15 Reflex saving throw. On a failure, the character takes 1d6 damage as the attic fills with flying crossbow bolts.
The coffer containing the king’s ransom is hidden beneath a bedsheet at the south end of the attic. It holds 10,000 gp worth of assorted coins, or whatever treasure the Judge deems appropriate for their campaign. The rest of the attic’s contents are worthless, although the Judge may decide to plant a hook for a future adventure (a forgotten journal or treasure map, for example) among the other items.
Mrs. Pennyroyal has little concern for the stolen ransom. With some good roleplaying and a successful DC 14 Personality check, particularly ruthless PCs may even convince Mrs. Pennyroyal to let the party retreat with the coins, in exchange for leaving Nickel and Dime behind. If this occurs, you may decide that one or both scoundrels escape from Mrs. Pennyroyal anyway and exact revenge on the party later in the campaign.
If the PCs deny Mrs. Pennyroyal her tea party, she gathers a hunting party of crockobolds to chase down the characters. Should Nickel and Dime escape the swamp, the scoundrels offer to split the ransom with the party in exchange for their continued freedom. PCs who refuse this bribe and bring Nickel and Dime to justice may be called upon to deliver the ransom to the king’s captors, a clan of wicked walrus-men who live in a frozen fastness far to the north.