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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Floating Algae Island of Death and Meerkats. [3.5, Encounter, Life of Pi spoilers]

    The Giant Floating Algae Island of Death. And Meerkats.
    CR: 4






    Introduction Narration

    Spoiler
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    Game Rule Information

    Spotting the island is not difficult; requiring only a DC 10 Spot check. If a PC makes this check, they spot the island when it first appears over the horizon; a distance of approximately 3 miles. The DC decreases by 5 for every half mile; PCs automatically spot the island when it is 2 miles away.


    You’ve spotted something in the distance! You almost missed it, passing over it as your gaze swept over miles and miles of water. After the vast, unbroken blue of the open ocean and the open sky, the green smudge on the horizon almost seems like a mirage; an unreal, hazy blot against the smooth line where the water meets the sky. But you look again. It’s still there, seeming to burst up out of the water like a massive green whale.

    The closer you get, the stranger it appears. The island (which seems to bob up and down ever so slightly on the waves) looks to be roughly ovular and about a half mile in diameter. A thick covering of vegetation grows over the beach and into the water, completely covering all the land that you can see. A large grove of trees obscures the interior of the island from your view. The trees are banyan-like in appearance, with thick winding roots that merge with the ground cover and fibrous tendrils that dangle from their outstretched branches. If you concentrate, you can just make out the sound of rustling leaves and the scent of growing plant life, both of which contrast pleasantly with the lap of waves on your boat and the pervasive salty tang of the ocean air.




    First In-Person Encounter

    Your boat’s keel gently and silently nudges the plants that cover the island’s shore. Rather than the rough scrape of wood on sand, your feet feel the plants softly cushion the keel and bring it to a smooth halt. Looking over the gunwale, you notice that the island doesn’t slope into the water like you would expect but rather ends abruptly, as if it were floating on the water’s surface rather than growing up from the seafloor.

    You step carefully out of the boat, feeling the springiness of the plants under your feet. They feel tough and resilient; long tubular strands of dark green plant material that lie in a tangled mat over the entire surface of the beach (at least that you can see).

    Spoiler
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    Game Rule Information

    A successful DC 15 Knowledge (nature) check reveals that the ground cover is a form of algae grown far beyond the bounds of anything you’ve experienced or heard about before. This check (or a successful DC 15 Survival check) reveals that the algae are probably safe to eat.

    A DC 25 Spot or DC 20 Search check reveals that there is no discernible soil under the algae; the whole island seems to be composed of plant material.


    A closer view of the trees reveals that your initial impression was more-or-less correct; they’re banyan trees or closely related. Most of them are fairly short (around 25 feet tall), with thick trunks and strong, twisting branches. Their leaves are ovular and come to a slight point at one end. The beach stretches approximately 50 yards before the grove of trees begins.

    Spoiler
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    Game Rule Information

    A DC 20 Spot or DC 15 Search check will reveal that the trees’ roots don’t sprout from any type of soil; they disappear into the algae, seeming to merge with the plants underfoot and drawing their sustenance from the algae, rather than conventional soil.

    If a PC climbs up into the trees, a DC 20 Spot or Search check reveals a few spherical fruit-like clusters of leaves. They are obviously leaves rather than fruit, but they’ve grown together in a tight cluster, almost like a head of lettuce or cabbage about the size of a medium-sized creature’s palm. If the PCs peel back all the leaves of one of these clusters, they will find a single tooth at the center. A DC 20 Knowledge (nature) or Knowledge (local) check reveals that it is a human tooth.


    Eating the Algae

    You drop to your knees and, grasping a strand of algae, rip it from the island and bring it to your mouth. As you bite in, you find that each strand is composed of two tube-like layers. The outer layer is moist, sweet, and delicious; similar to asparagus in taste and consistency. The inner layer is also edible, but incredibly salty, as though completely permeated with sea water. Even after the first bite, you feel energized and refreshed. You guess that you could subsist on the algae for a long, long time.


    The Island’s Interior

    Feeling the need to further explore the island, you move from the beach and into the trees. Making your way is difficult; the algae strands are springy and forgiving under your feet but tend to tangle around your ankles. The roots of the banyan trees twist and wind together forming a dense and uneven tangle of roots and algae. You find yourself taking a circuitous route as you dodge tree trunks, branches, and dangling tendrils. The air, normally cool and salty as it blows off the ocean, feels still, heavy, and close. The salty smell of the sea is completely overpowered by the musty plant smell of the algae and trees.

    After awhile, you start to here a strange rustling that begins to break the stillness and quiet of the grove. It’s different than the sound of wind in the leaves; it doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard since you embarked on this voyage.

    Spoiler
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    Game Rule Information

    The grove of trees counts as difficult terrain; each square counts as two squares of movement and running or charging are impossible.

    The closely-spaced trees make vision difficult. PC begin making Spot checks at only 30 feet. All creatures outside of this range have partial concealment.

    A DC 15 Listen check reveals that the rustling sound is probably the result of a large number of small animals congregating in an area not too far ahead.


    The Meadow and the Pools


    After about 150 yards of struggling through the unevenness of the grove (your winding route making it difficult to judge the distance accurately), the trees abruptly open into a wide meadow, easily 500 yards across. The source of the strange rustling sound suddenly becomes clear; the meadow is full to bursting with thousands of meerkats. Small, tawny-colored, rodent-like creatures with long tails and black faces, the meerkats are packed tightly into the meadow, scurrying past (and sometimes on top of) each other.

    Many of the meerkats are clustered around several large, circular pools that dot the meadow. They look to be approximately 20 to 30 feet in diameter and are filled to the brim with clear water. Some of the meerkats are drinking from these pools. Others are swimming down under the water and surfacing with dead fish of all different types clutched between their tiny, needle-like teeth. Still others are sitting and grooming each other or feasting on the carcasses of half-consumed fish. They chatter constantly to each other in rapid series of high-pitched squeaks and good-natured growls.

    Spoiler
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    Game Rule Information

    A DC 15 Knowledge (nature) check reveals that meerkats are carnivorous creatures of the mongoose family who, under normal circumstances, pray on insects, snakes, and small mammals. They live in colonies, usually dug into the soil of their savannah homes. Who knows how they live on this island, though. Even the largest recorded meerkat den would be dwarfed by this massive assembly. They’re typically fairly docile, only attacking larger creatures in order to defend their dens and their young.

    A DC 10 Knowledge (nature) or Survival check tells you that, since the meerkats are drinking it, the water in the pools is probably fresh. Unless the meerkats have somehow adapted to consume salt water. But you’ve never heard of anything like that before. You area also able to tell that the fish they’re feeding on are exclusively salt water fish.

    Meerkat Swarm

    {table]
    Size/Type:
    |Tiny Animal (Swarm)
    Hit Dice:
    |6d8 (26 hp)
    Initiative:
    |+2
    Speed:
    |20 feet (4 squares), Climb 20 feet
    Armor Class:
    |14 (+2 size, +2 Dex), touch 14, flat-footed 12
    Base Attack/Grapple:
    |+4/-
    Attack:
    |Swarm (2d6)
    Full Attack:
    |Swarm (2d6)
    Space/Reach:
    |10 ft./0 ft.
    Special Attacks:
    |Distraction
    Special Qualities:
    |Lookout
    Saves:
    |Fort +5, Ref +7, Will +4
    Abilities:
    |Str 2, Dex 15, Con 10, Int 3, Wis 14, Cha 2
    Skills:
    |Balance +10, Climb +10, Hide +6, Listen +2, Move Silently +6, Spot +8, Swim +10
    Feats:
    |Alertness, Stealthy, Weapon FinesseB, Ability Focus (Distraction)
    Environment:
    |Warm deserts, giant floating algae island of death and meerkats
    Organization:
    |Solitary, clan (2-4 swarms), mob (5+ swarms)
    Challenge Rating:
    |3
    Treasure:
    |None
    Alignment:
    |Always Neutral
    Advancement:
    |None
    Level Adjustment:
    |--[/table]

    Combat

    Distraction (Ex) - Any living creature that begins its turn with a swarm in its square must succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save or be nauseated for 1 round. The save DC is Constitution-based.

    Lookout (Ex) - In order to better observe their surroundings, some of the meerkats in a meerkat swarm can balance on their hind legs, raising their heads high above the ground. The swarm can initiate this ability as a standard action and maintain it more-or-less indefinitely as a free action each round. While using this ability, the meerkat swarm's speed is reduced to 5 feet per round. While using this ability, the swarm gains a +8 circumstance bonus to Spot checks.

    Skills - A meerkat swarm has a +4 racial bonus on Hide and Move Silently checks, and a +8 racial bonus on Balance, Climb, and Swim checks. A meerkat swarm can always choose to take 10 on all Climb checks, even if rushed or threatened. A meerkat swarm uses its Dexterity modifier instead of its Strength modifier for Climb and Swim checks. A meerkat swarm has a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. It can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. It can use the run action while swimming, provided it swims in a straight line.


    Secrets of the Island
    (Not for PC eyes!)


    As idyllic as it first appears, the island has a dark and dangerous secret. The algae are able to survive and proliferate in such abundance because they are carnivorous. The strands secrete a potent acidic substance that dissolves all flesh and bone it comes in contact with; only tooth enamel seems able to resists its destructive effects. The island itself is, in some ways, a massive trap, luring creatures with the promise of fresh water and abundant food before slowly devouring them.

    Whether it is an intentional feature designed to make visitors to the island feel safe or an accidental byproduct of the secretion process, the acid produced by the algae is somehow neutralized by sunlight. During the daylight hours, a creature can walk on the algae without suffering its effects. By night, however, setting foot on the algae can be deadly.

    The acid does not reach up into the trees. As dusk approaches, the island’s entire meerkat population rushes for the grove and spends the night huddled on the branches of the banyan trees. The fish in the pools (at least, those that haven’t already died of exposure to fresh water) are killed by the acid which permeates the water in the pools.

    Spoiler
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    Game Rule Information

    After sunset, any creature who is in bodily contact with the algae or the water in the pools takes 1d6 points of acid damage per round. DMs wishing to make the island a more threatening encounter to higher-level parties should consider changing this to untyped damage instead of acid damage and noting that it bypasses energy resistance, damage reduction, and regeneration. A successful Reflex save halves this damage for the first round, but no further saves are allowed if the creature remains in contact with the algae for subsequent rounds. Water consumed during the day does not become acidic. Only creatures whose bodies are made of flesh are subject to this damage. This includes creatures of the aberration, animal, dragon, fey, giant, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, outsider, undead, and vermin types.

    The acid also damages flesh-derived substances such as leather and hides. A layer of plant-based fibers does not protect against the acid, though wooden boards, metal plates, and other non-flesh items provide protection, as long as they’re at least 1/2 inch thick. The trees do not secrete this acid; remaining in the trees until sunrise will protect a creature.

    A successful DC 20 Knowledge (nature) or Survival check indicates a successful guess at the general nature of the meerkats’ dusk exodus to the trees. The character doesn’t know the exact threat, but he or she can guess that there is a reason why the meerkats don’t stay on the ground at night.


    There is also a chance that past occupants of the island have survived the acid and remain on the island. There is a 10% chance that the island is inhabited by a tiger (or dire tiger, for higher-level parties). This tiger has had extensive contact with humanoids in the past; characters using Wild Empathy or Handle Animal to influence or train him gain a +2 circumstance bonus on their checks. He answers to the name “Richard Parker.” If the PC uses this name, the bonus on their Wild Empathy and Handle Animal checks increases to +4. DMs should also feel free to include additional survivors or replace Richard Parker.

    As an option for DMs wishing to increase the challenge rating of the encounter, consider treating Richard Parker as the former animal companion of a druid who washed up on the island and died. Give him the traits of an animal companion of a 10th level druid, including the bonus HD.


    Adaptation

    Given that it is a floating island, the Giant Floating Algae Island of Death and Meerkats is easy to insert into any aquatic campaign. It can serve as an interesting and inconsequential diversion en route to a major destination. The PCs might even pass it by with just a brief visit or without stopping at all. It could easily be a feature to add a sense of wonder and depth to a campaign setting.

    That said, it could also be a crucial element in a maritime plot arc. This is best achieved by having the PCs encounter the island after having been shipwrecked, becalmed, or otherwise limited in their resources. The island can be a crucial source of life-saving food and fresh water, especially if the PCs don't have adequate spellcasting resources to obtain these necessities magically. Such a situation would force the PCs to leave the safety of their vessel and venture onto the island, potentially exposing themselves to its dangers.
    Last edited by Mephibosheth; 2013-04-15 at 06:51 AM.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The Giant Floating Algae Island of Death. And Meerkats. [3.5, Encounter]

    So, I recently finished reading (and subsequently watching) Life of Pi and immediately thought that the island would make a great D&D encounter. I'm interested to hear what you think. I've never written something like this before; if there's any information that I should include that's missing, please let me know. I look forward to your comments!

    Mephibosheth
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Floating Algae Island of Death and Meerkats. [3.5, Encounter, Life of Pi spoiler

    Bump for completion, now with 100% more meerkat swarms!
    Last edited by Mephibosheth; 2013-04-11 at 08:00 AM.
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    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: Floating Algae Island of Death and Meerkats. [3.5, Encounter, Life of Pi spoiler

    Ahh, this is nice to see. It's strangely familiar somehow.



    But...but...MEERKATS!!!! You statted out meerkats! This is quite possibly the highlight of my day.

    The Lookout ability for meerkats is awesome. Might I suggest some form of alarm call to go with it? Not sure how that would work, just seems thematic.

    Originally Posted by Mephibosheth
    ...the meadow is full to bursting with thousands (possibly millions) of meerkats.
    Hm. Thousands sounds like quite a lot already.

    Millions? Frankly, I find that hard to believe.

    Originally Posted by Mephibosheth
    A DC 15 Knowledge (nature) check reveals that meerkats are omnivorous rodents who, under normal circumstances, pray on insects, snakes, and small mammals.
    Actually, meerkats are in the mongoose family, the Herpestidae, and thus carnivores rather than rodents.

    Originally Posted by Mephibosheth
    [A meerkat] can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered.
    Fortunately they're currently listed as Least Concern.

    Also, I'm pretty sure meerkats in the wild don't actually swim, since their natural habitat tends to be dry, stony grassland. Your encounter, however, may actually involve the extremely rare diving meerkat, Suricata natans. Since conventional meerkats are heavily insectivorous, your meerkats' fish-based diet would tend to support the species distinction.



    So, meerkattery aside, this is a nice writeup of what's evidently a very strange episode in the book and movie. The acid damage is harsh; lower-level characters who roll poorly on their climb checks would be chemical frittata in very short order. What CR do you think the island would be?

    Also, adding Richard Parker is hilarious (if a bit of a giveaway). Overall a rather oddball encounter (or setting for an encounter) but all the better for its strangeness, since the players (unless they've read the book or seen the movie) won't know what to make of it.

    The main question I'd have, if I were going to include this in a campaign, is how deep the island is beneath the surface. Is it like an iceberg, where most of the mass is underwater? Are there passages leading from the ocean beneath up into the freshwater pools?

    One of the challenges in my seafaring campaign was a PC who was completely amphibious, so for an encounter like this I'd want to know what a character would come across if he had time and leisure to explore the island's underside from below.

    This is really somewhere between an encounter and a setting, and there's enough here to fill a full gaming session, especially with Richard Parker the dire tiger. Very nicely done, indeed.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Floating Algae Island of Death and Meerkats. [3.5, Encounter, Life of Pi spoiler

    Yay comments! Thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    The Lookout ability for meerkats is awesome. Might I suggest some form of alarm call to go with it? Not sure how that would work, just seems thematic.
    I think this would make more sense if the stats were for individual meerkats. But since this is a swarm, all of the constituent individual meerkats sort of work together, so an alarm-like function is sort of built in to the subtype.

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    Hm. Thousands sounds like quite a lot already.

    Millions? Frankly, I find that hard to believe.
    Fine. You win. Thousands it is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    Actually, meerkats are in the mongoose family, the Herpestidae, and thus carnivores rather than rodents.
    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    Fortunately they're currently listed as Least Concern.

    Also, I'm pretty sure meerkats in the wild don't actually swim, since their natural habitat tends to be dry, stony grassland. Your encounter, however, may actually involve the extremely rare diving meerkat, Suricata natans. Since conventional meerkats are heavily insectivorous, your meerkats' fish-based diet would tend to support the species distinction.
    This is what I get for trying to stat up real-world animals without an advanced degree in zoology/taking the time to look it up on Wikipedia. Change'd! Except for the swimming and fish-based diet. Those are pretty set in stone. You're right; these are special meerkats.

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    So, meerkattery aside, this is a nice writeup of what's evidently a very strange episode in the book and movie. The acid damage is harsh; lower-level characters who roll poorly on their climb checks would be chemical frittata in very short order. What CR do you think the island would be?
    You know, I probably should put something about CR. It's kinda difficult to figure out. You're right that low-level characters would drop like flies if they couldn't get to the trees or find some other shelter. But, the Climb check for the trees is pretty low and there are a lot of them; even if they took acid damage once, there's a good chance that they'd make it into the trees before they took more damage. But if they didn't...

    I would probably put it in the CR 3 or 4 vicinity, unless you cranked things up a few notches. It's not really intended to be an encounter that kills the PCs. It's more of a weird diversion they pass by on their way to the rest of the plot. It really comes into its own as a survival device for shipwrecked PCs or PCs whose supplies have run low. Even with Richard Parker (unless the DM makes him dire), it's still not above CR 4.

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    The main question I'd have, if I were going to include this in a campaign, is how deep the island is beneath the surface. Is it like an iceberg, where most of the mass is underwater? Are there passages leading from the ocean beneath up into the freshwater pools?

    One of the challenges in my seafaring campaign was a PC who was completely amphibious, so for an encounter like this I'd want to know what a character would come across if he had time and leisure to explore the island's underside from below.
    The book doesn't really get into the depth of the algae underwater. In my mind, there's a significant amount of algae underwater but not iceberg-levels. The book does indicate that the pools open to the ocean, they're just desalinated by the surrounding algae. That's how the salt water fish get there.

    I'd say that what's underwater depends on what sort of encounter the DM wants to run. It could serve as a means of enticing the PCs into a whole underwater adventure, where the island is really just the topmost canopy of an underwater kelp forest with sinister inhabitants. Or it could just be an entertaining diversion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    This is really somewhere between an encounter and a setting, and there's enough here to fill a full gaming session, especially with Richard Parker the dire tiger. Very nicely done, indeed.
    I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the comments and for keeping me zoologically honest!
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    Default Re: Floating Algae Island of Death and Meerkats. [3.5, Encounter, Life of Pi spoiler

    I actually just finished this book about a week ago; this was probably one of my favorite parts of the book. I haven't seen the movie yet but I'm curious as to how they put the whole thing together. That said, let's move on to the critique.

    I feel like most of the Spot/Search checks would really fit better under just Search; Spot is typically to notice something in the open, while Search is to find something hidden. I might also bump up the DC to find out there's no soil and that the trees merge into the algae to 20. Other than that it seems fairly solid.

    I feel like you could make Richard Parker more threatening by instead statting him out as the Animal Companion of a Druid (Pi), even if Pi is not included in the adventure at all (which he probably wouldn't be). Perhaps if the party was level 5, Richard Parker is treated as the Animal Companion of an 8th-9th level Druid. At higher levels, change him to a Dire Tiger but leave this method in place. If you want him to really be powerful, don't account for the adjustment of effective druid level to the the power of tigers.

    Only other thing is that the algae does acid damage. It makes the most sense, but typing it as damage makes it really easy to avoid/ignore. Perhaps listing it as untyped damage (That bypasses DR/Regeneration) would help to make the algae more of a credible threat even if it wouldn't outright kill.

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    Default Re: Floating Algae Island of Death and Meerkats. [3.5, Encounter, Life of Pi spoiler

    Quote Originally Posted by Phippster View Post
    I feel like most of the Spot/Search checks would really fit better under just Search; Spot is typically to notice something in the open, while Search is to find something hidden. I might also bump up the DC to find out there's no soil and that the trees merge into the algae to 20. Other than that it seems fairly solid.
    Maybe, but then why is Spot the skill used to oppose Hide? With something like this, I think it's better to allow different options than to require one specific skill check. With something like this, I could see it fitting into Spot (noticing these aspects of the island in passing), Search (actively looking, hands-and-knees style, examining the algae up close), Knowledge (nature) (recognizing the plant as a kind that grows in the open ocean rather than on land), or even Survival. Maybe I'll make the Spot DC harder for some of them; some of these checks would seem easier if you were examining things up close.

    Quote Originally Posted by Phippster View Post
    I feel like you could make Richard Parker more threatening by instead statting him out as the Animal Companion of a Druid (Pi), even if Pi is not included in the adventure at all (which he probably wouldn't be). Perhaps if the party was level 5, Richard Parker is treated as the Animal Companion of an 8th-9th level Druid. At higher levels, change him to a Dire Tiger but leave this method in place. If you want him to really be powerful, don't account for the adjustment of effective druid level to the the power of tigers.
    Interesting. I've never seen anything about what (if any) powers an animal companion keeps or loses if its druid is killed or abandons it. I kind of like that idea. I'll put it in as an option. Thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by Phippster View Post
    Only other thing is that the algae does acid damage. It makes the most sense, but typing it as damage makes it really easy to avoid/ignore. Perhaps listing it as untyped damage (That bypasses DR/Regeneration) would help to make the algae more of a credible threat even if it wouldn't outright kill.
    I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, while I'm afb right now I seem to remember the book specifically describing the substance as an acid. On the other hand, it would ramp the danger up a notch or two. But the more I think about it, the more I think this encounter works better at lower levels, before acid resistance becomes easily-available. And it's not supposed to be deadly necessarily, mostly just interesting, with deadly as a possibility for the unwary. I think I'm going to keep it as is, but I'll make a note that DMs should consider changing the damage type when running the encounter at higher levels.

    Thanks a lot for the comments! I really appreciate your input.
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    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: Floating Algae Island of Death and Meerkats. [3.5, Encounter, Life of Pi spoiler

    Originally Posted by Mephibosheth
    I've never seen anything about what (if any) powers an animal companion keeps or loses if its druid is killed or abandons it.
    Actually, I've never seen anything about this either. The rules are presented from the character's point of view, and what happens to the animal companion is completely overlooked.

    Originally Posted by Mephibosheth
    But the more I think about it, the more I think this encounter works better at lower levels, before acid resistance becomes easily-available.
    A hearty +1 to this. The fact that it's acid is central to the island's design, in the encounter and apparently in the novel as well. Keeping it acid...well, it feels right.

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