Some of my favorite cult-related foes in the D&D world are the Yuan-Ti. Servants of a snake god, they often kidnap regular folks so that they can infect them with snakey parts. The more pious the servants, the more snake-like they become. This can create an interesting dichotomy between the Yuan-Ti who became so by choice, and those who were kidnapped into the cult and now have no other option.
Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. This year we’ve decided that every article will provide our readers with new adventure hooks. Today “Y” is for Yuan-Ti, the serpentine race of snake folk. Thanks to Joe Lastowski for another great contribution.
Growing up watching Conan the Barbarian, where James Earl Jones portrays the snake-like foe Thulsa Doom, the Yuan-Ti are exactly what I wanted to fight in my younger gaming days. And somehow, that desire has never changed. Ever since their debut in the 1981 AD&D adventure “Dwellers of the Forbidden City”, something about the Yuan-Ti just cried out to me. Also, there are a wide variety of D&D, Pathfinder, and generic RPG minis out there of snake people, so chances are you can populate a map fairly easily, too. Here, for your perusal, are some snakey plot hooks related to the Yuan-Ti.
Adventure Hooks: Yuan-Ti
1. Snake In the Grass
The party, while camping one night, is attacked by an unnaturally large amount of snakes. Or maybe one party member (or NPC) gets bitten by a snake, but needs to find it so the Druid can make a proper antidote (works great with low-level parties who don’t have access to Remove Poison yet). Either way, the party should be trying to track the snakes, and can stumble upon an apparently abandoned Yuan-Ti temple. The energy of the temple attracts the snakes, and maybe a recent earthquake or sinkhole unearthed them. Either way, destroying the temple could become a challenging tactic when other Yuan-Ti start waking up.
2. By the Light of Pelor
A nearby town has a very prominent church to the Sun God (Pelor, Lathander, Ra, take your pick). In a weird ceremony, the whole town shuts down at noon every day to go up to the mountain and lay in the sun. Someone in the party with Nature training may recognize this as snake-like behavior. It’s up to you whether the town are aware Yuan-Ti in disguise, or humans being turned slowly by the psychic powers of a stronger Yuan-Ti abomination nearby.
3. Why is the Dungeon Smooth?
It’s important not to fall into the trap of letting every dungeon look the same. If the party goes into a dungeon where the tunnels are strangely round, with occasional weird grooves or lips all the way around, you can certainly pique their interests. If they then realize (much too late) that the corridors were designed for GIANT SNAKES from the Yuan-Ti temple at the bottom of this dungeon, you can bet your party will be more observant of the details of every dungeon they enter afterward.
4. Shedding Expectations
A priest sends a note to the party for help. His town/cathedral/whatever has been getting attacked every night by undead snake monsters, but none of his holy power or anti-undead wards have been working against them. Eventually the party will realize that these “undead monsters” are just animated shed skins from the Yuan-Ti cult nearby.
5. Snake-Like Friends
One of the great things about Yuan-Ti is that they can pair up well with a number of other monsters. Naga might certainly worship the same snake gods as the Yuan-Ti. A Medusa is another great option, with that extra stony threat (Basilisks, too, if you go with the more Harry Potter-ish snake-like imagery). And then there might be a serpentine dragon who aligned with the Yuan-Ti (and oh god… imaging a dragon that was “blessed” with extra snake powers by the Yuan-Ti. “His breath weapon is a blast of snakes. Yes, you heard me right. Now save or die.”)
6. Assassins Guild (Part 1)
Conveniently, Zehir is a god of snakes and assassins. When the party investigates a string of murders of high-ranking officials, they are shocked to realize that the “bodies” were just empty husks, and that the “real” officials have been turned into Yuan-Ti snake creatures who shed their old skins.
7. Assassins Guild (Part 2)
If you’ve got a Rogue/Assassin player character, a famous & secretive assassination guild might contact her to join. It’s only after she’s too committed to turn back that she learns that in order to prove her devotion to the god of assassins, Zehir, she must also give herself over to Yuan-Ti conversion.
8. Whacking Day
In a tribute to the classic Simpsons episode, generations ago the people of So-And-So City defeated a horrid cult of Yuan-Ti, and now every year they gather to sweep the nearby swamps and destroy all the snakes there. A local Druid may ask for the party’s help in fighting against this, or perhaps a good snake spirit of some sort asks for the party’s support. When it turns out that a secretive Yuan-Ti cult has actually been hiding within the city’s government and distracting the populace into feeling safe with the “Whacking Day” festivities, fangs will fly.
9. The Hypnotic Tunes of the Zither Band
A regional band has been gaining huge popularity lately, but their fans all seem to say very similar things (pick a few particular phrases, and have every fan say them exactly, word-for-word, when talking about the band “They made me feel like I was reborn in a new skin” “That music made all my fear and anxiety slither away”, etc.). Worse, some fans have been disappearing, but none of the others who were at the concert remember what happened to their friend “One second, he was just gone… but let me tell you how that music just made my fear slither away.” Of course, the band is connected with a Yuan-Ti cult that is hypnotizing people into becoming new members. If you want to have an awesome 80s G.I. Joe reference, call the band “Cold Slither.” Or don’t. Some parts of the 80s are better forgotten.
10. The All-Out Conan Treatment
Sometimes you just need to pull directly from a movie. If you present an entire city devoted to an evil Cleric/demi-god who is a Yuan-Ti, and who is corrupting the populace into evil snake-people, your party will have quite a problem to deal with. Do they slay the lesser Yuan-Ti, who may still be turned back to normal Humans (or Elves, or whatever)? Can they trust anyone who doesn’t appear to have changed yet? And how will they deal with the poisoned snake arrow that hits one of their characters in the heart? Seriously, if you haven’t seen this film, find it on Netflix. Every part of it can be translated into a D&D game, and every part of it is awesome.
11. Snakes on a Demi-Plane
I’m not necessarily putting this out as an actual adventure hook… just a quick gag. Imagine a dimension or plane of existence made entirely of snakes. Call it “Ophidia”. Then send the players there… to prove that their DM hates them. Er… I mean… “to provide an interesting and unique challenge.”