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    It started in Saltmarsh... [ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5  Next]
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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1062
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Fri Feb 23, 2018 2:56 pm  
    It started in Saltmarsh...

    This thread will be a campaign journal for a game I started with co-workers. It is set in the southwestern Flanaess in 570 - the party started in Saltmarsh but are ranging farther afield with each adventure.

    I will use this first post as a Table of Contents

    Page 1
    1. Backstory for "Dirty Larry", Mountain Dwarf Druid, level 1.
    2. Backstory for Tyrius of Sterich, Human (Oerid) Paladin of Pelor, level 1.
    3. Backstory for Thokk, Half-orc Barbarian, level 1.
    4. Arrival in Saltmarsh.
    5. Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee, Half-elf Wizard, level 1.
    6. Backstory for Babshapka, Wood Elf Ranger, level 1.
    7. Backstory for Barnabus, Halfling Rogue, level 1.
    8. Arrival in Saltmarsh (reprise)
    9. The call to adventure
    Module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh - Characters start at Level 1
    10. The Haunted House, upper levels
    11. The Haunted House, lower levels
    12. A DM's Aside: About these players
    13. A DM's Aside: Detailing Saltmarsh
    14. A DM's Aside: Detailing the Town Council
    15. The Party meets The Council and Murphey's Flight
    16. Backstory for Willa
    17. Sanballet's Refrain
    18. Taking care of business
    19. Return to Saltmarsh
    20. Plans and Preparations
    21. Preparations, Plans, and a new party member
    22. Backstory for Shefak Ishu, Bakluni Monk, Level 1
    23. Battle for the Sea Ghost
    24. An Awkward Homecoming
    25. Sigurd and the Council
    26. The Lizardfolk Threat
    27. A Letter for Tyrius
    Module U2: Danger at Dunwater - Characters start at Level 3
    28. Scouting the Lizardfolk Lair
    29. Negotiations at Noon
    30. Stenchbrute!
    31. Hail to the Chief
    32. Lord Nehemeyer
    Module U3: The Final Enemy - During which characters level to 4
    33. En route to the Devils
    34. The Final Enemy, First Blood
    35. The Final Enemy, First Level Secured
    36. Old Elmo's Hoard
    37. Going too far?
    38. Race to the Ship
    39. A clean getaway
    40. Negotiations with Nehemeyer
    41. The Final, Final Enemy
    42. A Few DM Notes
    43. Sitting in Seaton
    44. Willa's Choice
    45. The Siege, and Farewell to Salinmoor
    46. On to Gradsul
    47. Barnabus' Choice
    48. Out and About in Gradsul
    49. The Riddle of the Malhel
    50. Willa's Chocie II
    51. Gradsul to Daerwald
    52. Dearwald
    53. The Riddle of the Malhel II
    54. Willa's Choice III
    55. Dearwald to Silglen
    56. Silglen
    57. The Riddle of the Malhel III
    58. Silglen to the Owl Stream
    Module I7: Ravenloft - During which characters level to 5
    59. A Willage in the Mists
    60. The House of the Burgomaster
    61. The Kirk of Father Donovich
    62. The Barge of Madam Eva
    63. The Townhouse of Mad Mary
    64. Castle Ravenloft
    65. The Court of the Count
    66. Strahd the Devil and Appropriate Level
    67. The Rooms of Weeping
    68. Going Down?
    69. The Dungeons
    70. The Riddle of the Malhel IV
    71. The Catacombs
    72. Strahd 5 - Party 3
    73. The Heart of Darkness
    74. The Fall of the House of von Zarovich
    75. Gertruda, Tatyana, and Ismark
    76. The Spoils of Victory
    77. The Heart of the Matter
    78. A final visit to the Castle
    79. Find Steed?
    80. A horse is a horse, of course, of course?

    Page 2
    81. The Price of Forbidden Knowledge
    82. Have Swords, will travel
    83. Willa's Choice IV
    84. A Series of Reunions
    85. Lavienth to Nighford
    86. Nighford
    87. Nighford to Highfell
    Module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness - During which characters level to 6
    88. Knight comes to Highfell Keep
    89. Know you this!
    90. The Keep, outside and in
    91. The First Tower (Southwest)
    92. The Second Tower (Southeast)
    93. The Third Tower (Northwest)
    94. The Fourth Tower (Northeast)
    95. The Ghost Tower (Entrance)
    96. The Ghost Tower (Air)
    97. The Ghost Tower (Oerth)
    98. The Ghost Tower (Fire)
    99. The Ghost Tower (Water)
    100. The Ghost Tower (The Soul Gem!)
    101. Return to Highfell
    102. Willa's Choice V
    103. Good does not mean Stupid
    104. Preparing for the Jump
    105. The Deep Ethereal
    106. Meetings and Reunions
    107. What happened with Shefak
    108. Battle Royale
    109. Exploring the Tower
    110. An Infernal Fury
    111. R & R (Rest and Reading)
    112. 'Splorin'
    113. Nholast?
    114. The Scriptorium and Beyond
    115. Waiting for the New Day
    116. Every Last Nook and Cranny
    117. Powerful Revelations
    118. Backstory for Umbra, Grey Elf Sorcerer, level 4
    119. Leaving the Tower
    120. A long, cold journey
    121. Not so lost afterall
    122. Giant Troubles
    123. Out of the Unknown
    124. Fort Thomas to Singleton
    125. Singleton to Fort August
    126. Fort August to Longspear
    127. The City of Shadow
    128. Longspear
    129. Willa's Choice VI
    130. Longspear to Cryllor
    131. DM's Notes: Up the Javan
    132. Cryllor
    133. Cryllor to Kilm
    134. Kilm
    135. Kilm to Crosswater
    136. Crosswater
    137. Crosswater to Elnore
    138. One does not simply walk into Elnore
    139. Elnore to Oytpass Keep
    140. Oytpass Keep
    141. Oytpass Keep to Tailbaire
    142. Tailbaire
    143. Tailbaire to Gorna
    144. Gorna
    145. Gorna to Oytmeet

    Page 3
    146. Down the Oyt Avon
    147. Oyt Ferry to New Midwood
    148. The Road to Dersyth
    149. A Long Journey almost Ogre
    150. The Road to Dersyth Part II
    151. Dersyth to the Lake of Rhun
    152. A Druid of the Council of Rhun
    153. The Lake of Rhun to Moradinath-Mor
    154. Moradinath-Mor
    155. The Orcs of Gruumsh
    156. Save vs. Cold
    Module S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks - During which characters level to 7
    157. The Unoerthly Cave
    158. The first Vegepygmy Battle
    159. Police Robot
    160. The second Vegepygmy Battle
    161. Worker Robot
    162. The Third Vegepygmy Battle
    163. Speak with Plants
    164. A Curious Spider
    165. The New Guy
    166. Backstory for 'Mathias' I
    167. Female Android
    168. Backstory for 'Mathias' II
    169. 'splorin'
    170. Backstory for 'Mathias' III
    171. Doppelgängers!
    172. Backstory for 'Mathias' IV
    173. An interrupted rest
    174. Backstory for 'Mathias' V
    175. Two clockworks at once?
    176. Backstory for 'Mathias' VI
    177. Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail.
    178. Jailhouse Blues
    179. Spores!
    180. Unit (#at†y [^']['h`/
    181. Work smarter, not harder
    182. Food Fight!
    183. No rest for the weary
    184. Data Dump
    185. The Plains of Arcadia
    186. North side plant men
    187. Brains!
    188. How do you solve a problem like Shefak?
    189. Nurse! Nurse! It's getting worse!
    190. Brain Hunt
    191. Ship's Log, Day 4
    192. Emergency Surgery Emergency
    193. How to win Friends and influence Robots
    194. Deeper - The Walkway
    195. One quarter retrograde
    196. With Mr. Roper, Three's Company, Too!
    197. Be Our Guest!
    198. A Sticky Situation
    199. New Best Friend
    200. Twin Hourglasses
    201. The Voice
    202. Are you serious?
    203. MFMF
    204. Exposition Blast
    205. Shedu? What should wedo?
    206. Scavenger Hunt
    207. Hunter Scavenge
    208. A note on some monsters
    209. Wakey, wakey, crates and snakeys!
    210. Level II
    211. Grey Card Express
    212. Central Computer
    213. Exit Ticket
    214. Fresh Air and Sunshine

    Page 4
    215. Barrier Epilogue - Level 7
    216. Coming down the Mountain
    217. The Rocky Road to Moradinath-Mor
    218. Departures and Arrivals
    219. Midnight Meeting
    220. Moradinath-Mor and More
    221. ...and More!
    222. Plans in Motion
    223. Everyone has secrets
    224. The Lake of Rhȗn to Dersyth
    225. Dersyth to New Midwood
    226. When Parting was no Pleasure
    227. Preston-on-Javan to the Temple of Hextor
    228. The Temple of Hextor to the trail to Pelyth Cove
    229. The Trail to Pelyth Cove
    230. South from Pelyth Cove
    231. Tenwalls-on-the-Bluff
    232. Aberglain
    233. Aberglain to Javan Ferry West
    234. Javan Ferry West
    235. Arrival at Istivin
    236. The Countess
    237. Meeting Doro Doof
    238. Gathering Resources I
    239. Gathering Resources II
    240. Gathering Resources III
    241. Istivin to Ebenenberg
    242. Ebenenberg
    243. Midnight Ambush
    244. The Eyes and Ears of the Earl
    245. Ebenenberg to Fort Stirrup
    Module G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief - During which the characters level to 8th
    246. Meta Reveal
    247. End Run
    248. Approaching the Steading
    249. Sneaking around the Upper Steading
    250. Sneaking around the Lower Steading
    251. Interlude in Headwater
    252. Escape from the Steading
    253. Solo Quest
    254. Taunting the Chief
    255. Ambushing the Chief
    256. Interrogating the Chief
    257. A Second Ambush
    258. Return to the Steading
    259. Upper Steading - Wolf Pen and Outbuilding
    260. Upper Steading - Chief's Hall
    261. Upper Steading - Remainder
    262. Tea Time for Giants
    263. Upper Steading - Looting
    264. At the Bottom of the Stairs
    265. At the Top of the Stairs - A brief respite
    266. At the Top of the Stairs - First Wave
    267. At the Top of the Stairs - Short Stories
    268. Taking the Plunge
    269. Victory! So now what?
    270. Prisoners and Spoils
    271. All your basement are belong to us
    272. ASI
    273. A Bright New Day
    274. The Temple
    275. Office Visit
    276. Story Time
    277. Loyalty Tests
    278. Leaving the Steading
    279. To the Ford
    280. Not Quite Sterling Bridge
    281. Attack on Headwater!

    Page 5
    282. Arrival in Headwater
    283. A Dark New Night
    284. The Dream of a Palace Garden
    285. Battle Plans
    286. Slugfest [Babshapka levels to 9th]
    287. Afterward
    288. Headwater to Fort Iron Axe
    289. Fort Iron Axe to the Fjell
    290. The Trial of Endurance
    291. The Trial of Struggle
    292. The Trial of Catching Stones
    293. The Trial of the Warrior
    294. The Trial of Throwing Stones
    295: The Trial of Spirit and a meeting with the Thane
    296: The Tunnel
    297: Oh Captain! My Captain!
    298: From the Fjell to Num-Theraz
    299: At the Gates of the City
    300: The Liberation of Num-Theraz [Everyone but Willa is now 9th level]
    301: We used to call this "name level"
    302: Num-Theraz to the Oestral Abyss
    303: Repository I
    304: Repository II
    305: Repository III [Willa levels to 9th, the last in the party to do so]
    306: The Dream of a Mid-Spring Night
    307: Reemergence
    308: Free Enterprise
    309: Chain, chain, chain...chain of fools?
    Module G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl - During which most of the characters level to 10th
    10: Snow Demon Bears
    311: Blue Eyes / White Out
    312: Sweeping the Floor of the Rift
    313: Take me to your leader!
    314: The Jarl's opening move
    315: Playing the Players
    316: Nosy Neighbors I
    317: Nosy Neighbors II
    318: The Jarl's Challenge
    319: No rest from the wicked
    320: The will of Thrym
    321: Fishing
    322: Meet the Carls
    323: Ambassador Lyn and the first Carls' Challenge
    324: Carl Måneskinn and the second Carls' Challenge
    325: The Jarl is dead, Long Live the Jarl!
    326: The Jarl's Private Chambers
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Jun 04, 2024 7:05 am; edited 65 times in total
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1062
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Fri Feb 23, 2018 2:59 pm  
    Post 1: Backstory for Dirty Larry

    Post 1: Backstory for Dirty Larry, Mountain Dwarf Druid, Level 1

    Larrenthal was born to a clan of Crystalmist Dwarves. His clan was wealthy, prosperous, and in the process of expanding its holdings and starting daughter colonies to explore new mines. His parents were among those chosen to pioneer a new colony, and they set out with him still in his mother’s arms. At three years old he was developing like any dwarven infant - he could crawl and babble but not walk or talk.

    What was supposed to be a short caravan journey in the late fall to an already-secure base instead turned into a nightmare when his parents and all their clanmates were ambushed by a combined force of ogres, bugbears, and goblins. The battle was long, bloody, and desperate. His mother was the last dwarf to die, just after she hid him under some bundles in a mule cart. The goblins were already leading the live mules away while the ogres feasted on the dead ones, when a huge bear came upon the scene. It must have been a cave bear, for it towered over even the ogres. After a few dozen goblins had been crushed by its paws, the rest retreated - for the moment.

    Then, the bear was gone and an elderly man was probing in the cart with his staff, seeking the source of the baby’s cry he had somehow heard through the din of the battle. The man took the dwarven babe and retreated to his cave before the humanoids could regroup. All through that winter the old man cared for the babe and by the spring, Larry was walking and talking – but he spoke in Flan, not Dwarven.

    The werebear druid had thought to return the babe to the first group of dwarves he found in the spring. Little did he know that the caravan massacre had prompted the dwarves of the area into a series of wars and genocidal campaigns against the humanoids that lasted for years. Dwarves aboveground had been rare before – now they were simply not to be found except in military hosts, none of which passed near the alpine valley that was the druid’s home.

    The first dwarven explorers to arrive after the war were seeking pasturelands for their goats. They came when the boy was ten. Of course they knew the story of the massacre, of course they knew to which clan Larry belonged, of course they offered to return him. But when Larry was taken back to the cold stone halls of his father’s clan, he found all of his near kinsmen had been killed in the wars. True, he had distant cousins who took him in. But what were they to make of the boy who cried at the dark, who begged to see the sun and feel the wind, and who couldn’t even speak Dwarven? The boy who preferred mud to woolens and trees to forges? After two weeks, “Dirty Larry” begged to be returned “home” to the old man – and his kinsmen did not take much to convince, did not even consider Larry a “real dwarf”, but a strange, wild “bear boy”.

    Over the next years the kindly old bear-man taught Larry the ways of the Old Faith, the Great Circle of the Flan, the names of all the gods and spirits of the woods and hills and mountains. Larry grew and learned and prospered, until his foster father initiated him into the First Mystery and told him that to learn more he would have to apprentice to another druid. No, he could not apprentice with the old man – they were too close and the druid's code prohibited apprenticeships within family. Besides, the man claimed to be too old.

    It was only a few months ago that the man determined to send Larry to the Great Druidess. He had heard tell that the current head of the Druidic Orders held moot in the Dreadwood, far to the south. A longer journey than the old man cared to make, and through lands far too civilized.

    The old man knew of a remote temple to the Old Faith, though. It was considered part of the
    country of Sterich, but they did not have to cross many farms or fields to get there. Just a few valleys over, really, though the journey took them weeks, scaling the mountainsides.

    The old man approached the temple warily, for in truth he seldom spoke to men, but the Head Priest knew the Old Ways well and welcomed them in the temple garden. He agreed to take Larry in and find a guide for him to the Great Druidess. Larry cried that afternoon, for the first time in many years, and would have had the old man stay if he could have moved him, but the man said his final lesson was that loss, too, was part of the cycle of life.

    Larry had not been at the temple a se’nnight when he was introduced to Tyrius, a bright young paladin of Pelor, shining like a newly-minted coin. The pair were a perfect contrast – the tall, handsome, worldly, noble-born youth and the short, stout, grubby dwarf who went everywhere barefoot. Tyrius escorted Larry down the valley into Sterich proper. Every hamlet they passed seemed a city to Larry, but the hamlets grew into thorps, the thorps to villages. Finally, in a bustling river-village, Tyrius booked passage on a boat headed downriver. It carried refined ores from the mountain mines and the dense cargo meant there was plenty of deck space for passengers.

    They navigated by day and pulled up at night, for the swift mountain river had many rapids that could only be safely run in the light. They had been on the water just a few days when came a misty morning. The captain advanced the boat slowly, but then ordered his men to make camp when they spied the first set of rapids. He would pilot it later in the day, when the sun had burned off the mists. Little did he know that this was a favored ambush spot of a band of hobgoblins who preyed upon the river traffic. They fell upon the camp in the mist and a half-dozen guards were slain in the space of a few minutes. The remaining guards rallied and carried the day and the hobgoblins were driven back.

    But as the mists cleared, there was a curious sight – a towering, misshapen man stood among the slain. He seemed just as surprised to see them as they him, and he drew a huge axe and began to chant. The boat guards surrounded him and prepared for another fight, but then the strangest thing happened. Tyrius stepped forward.

    Moving slowly, the paladin approached the misshapen man with hands open. Tyrius led him to the river’s edge. He showed him the corpse of a hobgoblin, and the man said he had not been with the hobgoblins, no, he had not attacked the guards; he was just looking for a meal. After that Tyrius began arguing with a riverboat captain. Tyrius told the captain that he needed more guards to replace his losses, and pressed him to accept the misshapen man into his service. The captain did not trust the stranger further than he could spit, but eventually his greed overcame his common sense. He gave the man a berth in the ship and meals and let him act as a guard without pay. Larry came to learn later that the man was not misshapen. In fact, he was a half-orc named Thokk, a wild raider from the mountains who was fleeing his home, much like Larry.

    The guards grumbled and cursed the stranger all the way downriver, past the confluence with the Javan and then the Hool, until the ship entered the trackless Hool Marshes. Then, after fights with lizardfolk, marsh orcs, and bullywugs, where Thokk and his great axe slew more than any of them, their grumbling ceased.

    Thus it came to everyone’s great surprise that when the ship emerged from the swamplands and docked in the port of Saltmarsh, the captain insisted that Thokk go ashore. The captain had just been made to pay for the King’s Protection on the remaining journey to Gradsul, he said, and he’d be damned if he was taking a free-loading orc bastard to the city when they’d left the combats behind. Tyrius argued with him past his patience, which resulted in the paladin being told to go ashore as well, along with Larry. In truth, it all seemed no great loss to Larry, for the town was a scant few leagues overland from Larry’s goal - the Dreadwood, but Tyrius did seem rather put out.

    Now Thokk, Tyrius, and Larry stand on the docks of Saltmarsh, watching the ship cast off.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:45 am; edited 4 times in total
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1062
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Mon Feb 26, 2018 11:30 am  
    Post 2: Backstory for Tyrius

    Post 2: Backstory for Tyrius of Sterich, Paladin of Pelor, Level 1

    Tyrius was born to an old and important Sterich noble family, themselves related to the Earl of Sterich (the nation’s ruler). Tyrius was the third son of a distant cousin of the head of his family. He was raised to be cultured, sophisticated, and elite – but the older he grew, the more tenuous he realized his position was. His father held lands that were smaller than his title was due. His eldest brother stood to inherit those lands, barely enough to maintain the family’s privilege. His eldest brother was the heir, his older brother was the spare, and Tyrius, as a third son, was just an inconvenience.

    He was barely twelve when they sent him away to take holy orders. He went to a large and respected pantheonic temple in Istivin, the capital city. He didn’t appreciate how much his family was paying, he only knew that he was not willing to trade his life of privilege for scrubbing floors as a novice. He complained constantly, he got into fights with the other novices, and he had no patrons among the clergy-teachers who were willing to advance his position.

    After several miserable months he was moved to a dedicated temple of Hieroneous. He was somewhat happier there, as at least the drudgery was supplemented with martial training, which he both enjoyed and excelled at. But the clergy there demanded strict obedience and deference, and Tyrius never missed an opportunity to remind the low-born war priests that regardless of his rank within the church, he was still their social better. After he had insulted his trainers one too many times, he was sent to a remote shrine to Pelor, something both he and his trainers considered more of a punishment than anything else. Pelor was a Flan deity for godssake – a god with no noble patrons and no presence at court, a lingering, embarrassing reminder of the conquered aboriginal people and their backward “Old Faith”. When she learned of this latest humiliation, his mother sent Tyrius a final letter – his family had had enough of his foolishness, they were ending his allowance, and they did not want to hear any more from him until he had been made a priest of some faith, any faith.

    The shrine to Pelor, the sun god, was small, with him the only novice among a handful of priests. There was even more manual labor than before – cutting wood, milking goats, dipping candles – but now the brother-priests worked alongside him rather than lording it over him. And as much as he railed at them and cursed his misfortune, they just smiled back. All the other, previous, priests had risen to his challenges, been insulted by his abuse – but these priests of Pelor were so selfless, so effacing. They honestly cared about him and ignored his tirades. Eventually he was intrigued and had to know their secret.

    They explained Pelorian dogma to him: “Justice and freedom are the fruits of charity, modesty, and perseverance. The truly strong don't need to prove their power. Perform so many good acts that evil has no room in which to exist. Pelor’s strength is the power of will and hope, the need to confront evil in the face of insurmountable odds. Be wrathful against the forces of evil, corruption, and darkness, and especially the undead. But remember that excessive attention to things of evil can blind one to more important things: personal compassion and goodness.”

    Tyrius had insulted their race and their low birth; they knew that social place does not bring goodness or happiness. Tyrius had insulted their lack of wisdom and education; they accepted his challenge to their vanity and had compassion for his anger. In the end, they won him over. Their honest desire for goodness in the world, for helping people, seemed more fulfilling to him then the anxious social scrambling of his own noble family. He still had a temper and had many relapses – but every time they forgave him, his faith grew stronger. He studied the dogma and mysteries, learned the healing arts and the arts of righteous warfare, dedicated his time to improving himself and helping others.

    By sixteen he was a man grown and was anointed a paladin of Pelor. He had been in a purifying vigil for a week and had not known of the recent arrival of a curious visitor to the shrine. The pair were a perfect contrast – Tyrius was by now tall and handsome, and had always been worldly and noble-born. The visitor was a stout, grubby dwarf who went everywhere barefoot, had atrocious table manners and who could barely speak Common. When the dwarf introduced himself as “Larrenthal, but you can call me Dirty Larry,” Tyrius was simultaneously appalled and delighted at the chance to put his faith to the test. The Head Priest told Tyrius that the dwarf was to be escorted to the moot of the Great Druidess, deep in the Dreadwood – and that Tyrius himself would be the escort as his first official duty as a paladin.

    His brothers in Pelor had given him just enough food for their journey overland to the headwaters of the Davish river, and just enough coin to book passage for them both in a merchant ship bound for Gradsul. In that great city the brothers of the shrine of Pelor would provide aid for the last leg of the journey.

    Tyrius escorted Larry down the valley into Sterich proper. Every hamlet they passed seemed a city to Larry, and Tyrius came to believe the dwarf truly had been raised in the wild. Finally, in a bustling river-village, Tyrius booked passage on a boat headed downstream. It carried refined ores from the mountain mines and the dense cargo meant there was plenty of deck space for passengers. The captain was a foul and grasping sort, and Tyrius took this as another great test of his faith.

    They had been on the river for just a few days, navigating by day and pulling up at night, for the swift mountain river had many rapids that could only be run in the light, when came a misty morning. The captain advanced the boat slowly in the open river, but then ordered his men to make camp when they spied the first set of rapids. He would pilot it later in the day, he said, when the sun had burned off the mists. Little did he know that this was a favored ambush spot of a band of hobgoblins. They fell upon the camp in the mist and a half-dozen guards were slain in the space of a few minutes. The remaining guards rallied (with help from Tyrius and Larry) and carried the day and the hobgoblins were driven back into the fog.

    But as the mists cleared, there was a curious sight – a towering, barbaric half-orc stood among the slain. He seemed just as surprised to see them as they him, and he drew a huge axe and began to chant. The boat guards surrounded him and readied themselves for another fight. At first, Tyrius prepared to defend his comrades, the ship’s guards, and protect his charge the dwarf. But then the strangest thing happened. Through the grace of Pelor, Tyrius looked upon the half-orc and simply knew that he was not one of the attackers. His mind kept returning to the lessons he had learned about St. Jalnir the Gentle, a half-orc Peloran priest of legend. Tyrius stepped forward. Moving slowly, he approached the man with hands open. Tyrius led him to the river’s edge. He showed him the corpse of a hobgoblin, and the man said he had not been with the hobgoblins, no, he had not attacked the guards; he had arrived after the battle and was just looking for a meal. Tyrius knew that the divine will of Pelor was in this meeting. He explained to the riverboat captain that he was low on guards and should take the man on. The captain claimed the half-orc would slit their throats at the first opportunity. Tyrius vouched for him and pressed the captain on his weak spot – coin. How much would it cost him to replace these guards, simple sellswords who had never been in a battle before today, when he could have this seasoned warrior for free? Eventually the man’s greed won out. He gave the half-orc, Thokk, a berth on the ship and meals and let him act as a guard without pay. The other guards grumbled and cursed the stranger all the way downriver, past the confluence with the Javan and then the Hool, until the ship entered the trackless Hool Marshes. Then, after fights with lizardfolk, marsh orcs, and bullywugs, where Thokk and his great axe slew more than any of them, their grumbling ceased.

    Perhaps Tyrius had still not learned the humility of a true Peloran. Perhaps he had failed to thank or praise the captain enough for simply doing an adequate job. When the ship emerged from the swamps and docked in the port of Saltmarsh, the captain insisted that Thokk go ashore. In Saltmarsh the captain would have to pay the tax for the King’s Protection on the remaining journey to Gradsul, and said he’d be damned if he was taking a free-loading orc bastard to the city when they’d left all the combats behind. Tyrius tried to reason with him, but old habits die hard and their discussion became an argument, the first time Tyrius had raised his voice in years. This resulted in both he and the dwarf being kicked off the boat as well.

    True, they were now only a few leagues from the Dreadwood, but on the wrong side of that vast forest. Tyrius had paid for passage to Gradsul, from where he could take the King’s Road to the northern side of the forest, and there beg an elven guide to the moot of the Great Druidess within. Entering here, on the south side, would mean crossing leagues of dangerous forest infested by humanoids, with no idea of where they were going or how to get there. Tyrius had some coin left in his purse, but he doubted it was enough to book passage for himself on another ship to Gradsul, let alone the three of them. And what was he supposed to do with the half-orc now? He had naively assumed that the captain would have been so pleased with Thokk’s performance in the marshes that he would have taken him on as a paid guard upon reaching Gradsul. But now, he could hardly leave the savage warrior with no means of employment in a peaceful port town - that was surely asking for trouble.

    Tyrius, Larry, and Thokk now stand on the docks of Saltmarsh, watching their former ship cast off.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Mon Jul 23, 2018 8:38 pm; edited 2 times in total
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    Fri Mar 02, 2018 11:04 am  
    Post 3: Backstory for Thokk

    Post 3: Backstory for Thokk of the Crystalmists, Half-Orc Barbarian, Level 1

    Thokk was born in a powerful orc tribe in the Crystalmist Mountains, although he was not himself an orc. His mother was a human woman, captured by an upstart orc chieftain on the first raid of his rule from among the rare human mountain holds. Most human captives were quickly worked to death, or tortured for entertainment and then eaten, but for some reason the chieftain instead made Thokk’s mother part of his official harem. He was young and brash and claimed that keeping a human enslaved was a sign of his power and prestige, and he was strong enough that no one in his tribe could argue, though the shamans muttered against him. No one expected the woman to live long, but she was of stout mountain folk and survived the petty cruelties of his other concubines without complaint. Much to everyone’s surprise she even bore the chieftain a son before the next winter and it was likely this that ensured her survival. Thokk never knew whether or not the chieftain had any actual feelings for his mother, but he did defend her against his tribe and that is about as tender-hearted as one could expect an orc to be.

    Though far stronger and more precocious than any human child, Thokk lagged behind his orc peers and was considered a runt and a weakling by everyone but his mother. He has no memories before his fifth summer, and looking back now he cannot imagine how she was able to keep him alive. His earliest memory is of his mother presenting him with a simple carven flute, and his next is of being allowed to play for the chieftain. After that he was much at the chieftain’s side, entertaining him and his personal guard as they lounged drowsily after feasts and ruts. Being in his father’s “court” often meant that Thokk had occasion to listen to visiting dignitaries, for his tribe was important, indeed. Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, even human priests and bandits, all passed through his father’s halls, and Thokk soon found he had a skill with language. By his seventh winter his mother was dead but he had secured a position as his father’s official interpreter.

    Though his growth was slow, he did keep growing, and by ten had even achieved the adult size and strength his peers had reached years ago. He asked to be made one of the tribe, underwent the ritual scarring, and killed a fellow applicant four years his junior with his bare hands as part of the initiation ceremony. The shaman named him “Thokk” after the sound his fists made bashing in the face of his opponent.

    Once he was actually a tribe member, his life became, if not easy, at least relatively free. Sometimes he volunteered for raids, and even won human-crafted weapons as blood booty. More often, though, he preferred solitary hunting, providing game for the chieftain’s household. He was not afraid of the fighting during battles, but he knew he faced as much danger from the tribemates at his back as he did from the enemies at his front - killing him in the confusion of battle would be an easy way to eliminate him. Twice his father sent him as interpreter on diplomatic missions afield – once to a bugbear king, once to human hold. It was on the latter that he was given a hunting trap in the vain hope he would convince his tribe to cease hostilities. Iron, gnome-crafted with a spring mechanism, the trap was finer than anything in the tribe and he concealed it from the others as the most valuable thing he owned. He never used it within less than a day’s journey from the lair.

    Then the day came that he had long dreaded. After a particularly fine feast, a member of the chieftain’s guard slew his aged father and assumed control of the tribe. Along with all the others, Thokk pledged his loyalty to the new chieftain, his own half-brother. He begged leave to go hunting and return with meat as a show of fealty to the new ruler. His request was granted.

    As he packed his few possessions (axes and javelins, a staff and a waterskin) he could already hear members of the chieftain’s guard wagering on how long he would live after his return. With his father dead, all his half-siblings were in danger - but Thokk especially so.

    For the next three days he did not sleep. He first traveled into the mountains to recover his trap, but then pushed east toward the human lands down in the valley. Nowhere was safe for him now within the territory of his erstwhile tribe, but outside its territory, nowhere was safe for a solitary orc. Thokk had fought against enough of his tribe’s respected neighbors to know he did not stand a chance against any of them alone, but his tribe had always derided the humans as soft and weak, so he thought his best chance for solitary survival lay in human lands.

    He skulked among the human holds of the land they called “Sterich” for the next week, moving at night and hiding in the day. He stole chickens and sucked eggs, found a rope and a tinderbox in a barn, and made it as far as the great river his people called the “Dagar” and the humans the “Davish”. He thought it wise to avoid the river as being too well-traveled, but on a cold and misty morning he heard the sounds of battle. Battle meant corpses, which meant he could scavenge gear or a meal or both. After the sounds had died down, he crept forward in the mists. He had just found his first fallen, a human soldier, but had not yet eaten of the corpse when the mists suddenly cleared and he realized he was surrounded by a whole squad of human soldiers. Though they were winded and bloodied, there were still six of them and only one of him. He pulled out his axe and began his death-chant.

    Even as the men began to surround him, the strangest thing happened. A young human man in a white robe, obviously not one of the soldiers, stepped forward. Moving slowly, he approached Thokk with his hands open and empty. Thokk was ready to split his head with the axe and then start on the soldiers, but something about the man’s eyes bewitched him. They looked on him not with the fear and loathing of the soldiers, not with the contempt of his tribemates, but with a concern and compassion he had only ever seen before in the eyes of his mother. Was it his hunger, or his weariness? Thokk did not kill the man, but allowed him to lead him to the river’s edge. The man showed him the corpse of a hobgoblin, and he surprised the man by speaking Common and answering his questions. No, he had not been with the hobgoblins, no, he had not attacked the soldiers; he was just looking for a meal. After that things became surreal as the man began arguing with a riverboat captain. Thokk did not catch much of their shouted, heavily-accented argument, but pieced it together over the next few days. The riverboat was transporting refined metals from a mine in the mountains to a market downriver. The boat had begun with a full complement of guards, but nearly half had been slain by the hobgoblin attack.

    The man, a priest named Tyrius, told the captain that he needed more men to properly defend the barge, and pressed him to accept Thokk into his service. The captain did not trust Thokk further than he could spit, but eventually his greed overcame his common sense. He gave Thokk a berth in the ship and meals and let him act as a guard without pay. The other soldiers grumbled and cursed him all the way downriver, past the confluence with the Javan and then the Hool, until the ship entered the trackless Hool Marshes. Then, after fights with lizardfolk, marsh orcs, and bullywugs, where Thokk and his great axe slew more foes than any of them, their grumbling ceased.

    Thus it came to everyone’s great surprise that when the ship emerged from the swamp and docked in the port of Saltmarsh, the captain insisted that Thokk go ashore. He had just had to pay for the King’s Protection on the remaining journey to Gradsul, he said, and he’d be damned if he was taking a free-loading orc bastard to the city when they’d left the combats behind for good. Tyrius argued with the captain past his patience, which resulted in the priest being told to go ashore as well, along with his odd dwarven ward. Once their argument began, Thokk was able to nick, unseen, a bedroll, backpack, and mess kit from one of the guards, and pass it to a dock worker for “unloading” as if it were his own.

    Now Thokk, the priest, and the hairy dwarf stand on the docks of Saltmarsh, watching the ship cast off.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:09 am; edited 1 time in total
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    Wed Mar 07, 2018 2:11 pm  
    Post 4: Arrival in Saltmarsh.

    Post 4: Arrival in Saltmarsh

    DM's note 1: Since my players were new to pen & paper RPG, and none of them had experience in Greyhawk, I decided to go with a real world calendar so that they could have a better sense of what time of the year it was without constant cross-referencing.

    DM's note 2: For the town of Saltmarsh, I adapted the map made by Yabusama, available at
    Within Saltmarsh, the bolded location numbers reference this map.

    27 July, 570 (afternoon) - Saltmarsh
    After the stevedores had unloaded their gear (for which Tyrius slipped them a copper each) and they watched their former ship set sail, the trio contemplated what to do next. Or rather, Tyrius contemplated, while Larry and Thokk returned the open stares of the passers-by. The dockworkers seemed rough-and-tumble men, and if they were taken aback by the newcomers in town, they did not let on. The inner harbor, however, was lined with a dirt road that ran all along the shore. Judging by the number of commonfolk stopping and gawking, the town did not see much in the way of half-orcs, grubby dwarves, or noble paladins. It was anyone's guess which of them made the bigger spectacle. Keoish manners seemed to prevail, however, and fortunately all the bystanders did was stop and stare, whisper, and occasionally cuff the bolder children who would have spoken to them had they been permitted.

    With the decision-making left to Tyrius, it seemed meet that they should first thank the gods for their safe arrival. Enough of the commoners sported the dusky hue of the Flan that Tyrius dared ask about a temple to Pelor, but the look he received spoke louder than the answer itself. Overhearing, an old man who sat mending nets nearby said that anyone who had any sense would thank Osprem for a safe arrival after a voyage at sea. He jerked a hand at the back of the harbor, where what was obviously a temple stood overlooking the water (4).

    The temple was of limestone without, decorated here and there with bits of coral. Inside were simple wooden benches without backs for pews, and a stone altar in front of what looked like a marble-lined wading pool that smelled of salt water. No clergy were present, even novices, so Tyrius offered what he hoped was an appropriate prayer. He looked up just in time to stop Thokk from entering the pool. The half-orc was convinced that they should collect the coins and pearls from the pool and use them for drinking money; Tyrius tried to explain to him several times that the valuables there were offerings, not for taking. He finally succeeded in convincing the barbarian not to take anything when he suggested that the treasures belonged to a sea goddess who would be mad when she found them missing, a line of argument that Thokk found reasonable.

    By the time they emerged from the temple, there was a gaggle of town watchmen waiting for them. They were escorted to the Customs House (17) which seemed, to Tyrius' surprise, to be a center for civil governance in the town. A junior customs officer questioned Tyrius at length, establishing that they were not merchants, had nothing of value that they needed to declare (or pay taxes on), and were not mercenaries. Having determined that they were not there on business, the functionary made it plain to them that Saltmarsh had laws against vagrancy - they would need to establish a residence by sundown, and gainful employment within a week. Tyrius replied that he doubted they would be staying that long, and the officer helpfully gave him the names of the three inns in town, as well as a tavern that had a common room. Finally, the officer clarified that as Larry and Thokk were neither humans nor crown subjects, they were legally considered as Tyrius' chattel - meaning that he was responsible for all their actions within the town, and any consequences thereof. Furthermore, the man said that while there was no law against freemen carrying weapons, he had already received several complaints about Thokk and his axes - he advised Tyrius to make sure that the half-orc never drew or brandished his weapons, or they would all face charges of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, at the very least. Tyrius agreed, but thought to himself that this was not going to be a leisurely sail through the Hool Marshes.

    With so many ways to run afoul of the local law, after they left the customs house Tyrius decided the best thing to do would be to find a room at an inn and placate Thokk with food and drink while he thought about their next move. The Inn of the Merry Mermaid (7) was close at hand, the owner Madam Ruth friendly even after seeing Thokk, the room adequate, the common bed cramped for the three of them but acceptable. Tyrius washed before preparing for supper - the others saw no reason to do so - and then counted the coins remaining in his purse. Not enough for a week's food and lodging, to be sure.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:18 pm; edited 1 time in total
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    Wed Mar 14, 2018 11:04 pm  
    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee, half-elf wizard level 1

    Aurora was born in Tringlee, the capital of the Duchy of Ulek. Her mother was the daughter of a wealthy human merchant, her father an elf. She never knew her father. Her mother spoke fondly enough of him, when her own father was not around. As Aurora had grown from babbling child to discreet young maiden, her mother explained that her father was a soldier, a guard to an elven noble in a delegation to the Duke, on a diplomatic mission that lasted all of one glorious summer. They met, they fell in love, he returned home before either knew she was with child, they never saw each other again.

    When you are older, her mother would say, when you are a young woman, you will understand such affairs of the heart. Why did her mother not go after him? Why did she not write? Why could she not find him? Aurora would ask. Her mother never answered directly, but always with a tale or lesson – about how some parts of the Duchy were forbidden to humans, about how her grandfather was a good man but was still subject to all the prejudices of men, about how she had known more than one person undone by the deaths of their children, and it was a sad truth that Aurora would surely die before her father…always the lesson was different, until Aurora did not know whether the true reason was one of these or some or all or none.

    Aurora grew into a highly intelligent child, and quickly surpassed any tutor that her grandfather could find. She could still remember the day, a month shy of her twelfth birthday, she first saw the mendicant illusionist doing cheap street theatrics in the market square. She had dragged her maid home early from shopping, politely slipped into a business meeting with her grandfather, and announced her intention to be a wizard. His face grew beet red, easy enough with his pale Seul coloring, but then he sighed. “Ah well”, he said simply. “Blood will out.”

    Aurora was apprenticed to a local Master of History and Magic, an ancient human sage with a lifetime appointment to the Duke’s Court, though one without much power or prestige (which was, he told Aurora, just how he preferred it). Like all his apprentices, it seemed she studied just as much history as she did magic, and did more text-copying, book-searching, and scroll filing than anything else. But still, over the years, she had mastered one spell after another, and delighted in practicing them.

    Like all students of history, she knew about the Twin Cataclysms (the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire), which had, a millennium ago, destroyed the two greatest nations the world had ever known, The Suel Imperium and the Baklunish Empire. She could recite several different authoritative texts (and note their contradictions and discrepancies) explaining how the Suel refugees passed over (or under!) the Hellfurnaces and brought human civilization to the east, eventually founding the Kingdom of Keoland. She could add, and in the presence of her master she would always add, how the people’s reaction to the destruction of their homeland by mages of power had led to a great distrust of magic among the populace, and that for the first five or six hundred years of its existence, the practice of magic was in fact forbidden in the Kingdom. And she would add, again at the insistence of her master, how lucky they were to live in an age and in a nation (for the Duchy was once part of the Kingdom, but was now independent) that were both more tolerant of the craft than the Keoland of old.

    One fine day, just a few weeks ago, her master had dismissed the other apprentices and asked Aurora to remain behind. Making sure the doors and windows were closed, he even used a few charms and wards to make absolutely sure they were alone. Given the strange beginning to their conversation, she was at first disappointed when he asked her to recite the texts concerning the migrations of the Seul houses and the founding of Keoland, even more disappointed when he asked her to recite the names of the principle Seul Houses, but she did as he bid.

    “And what became of House Neheli?” he asked.

    She answered by rote. “They founded Niole Dra and are today the most important noble house in the north of the Kingdom.”

    “And House Rhola?”

    “They founded Gradsul and are today the most important noble house in the south of the Kingdom.” She respected him too much to let her boredom enter her tone, but seriously? A private lesson for subject matter known to apprentices before their first week was done?

    “And House Malhel?” And here she paused. She had read this, of course, but had never been asked before.

    “Master, those of House Malhel were wicked and fought against the good Houses. After many battles they were banished from the Kingdom.”

    “Correct. And where did they go?”

    There was a long pause while Aurora searched her memory. “I imagine they dispersed, or died out…I have not read any record of them.”

    “Indeed. A House powerful enough to war upon the Neheli, and they just faded away?”

    “That does not seem likely, but…”

    “But that is what the texts would have us believe. Most of them.”

    Now Aurora had a creeping sensation under her skin and was beginning to think the wards had perhaps been a good idea.

    “Suppose,” continued her master, “they did not die out. Not at first anyway. Conjecture,” he demanded.

    “Well, they had the hubris to war upon the Neheli, thus they must have been both proud and powerful. Such people are unlikely to give up after a setback. While they could have fled, migrated out of the Sheldomar, it seems unlikely. More likely they would have withdrawn, regrouped, and planned revenge.”

    “Precisely,” her master said, pleased. “Logic is one of your most important tools, don’t forget that. So why do you suppose you have not seen any records of this?”

    “Because they didn’t regroup? Something else ended them before they could?”

    “Perhaps, or perhaps they did persist…and any record of their defiance has been destroyed, eliminated, or altered.”

    Now Aurora did not know what to say. Her master had instilled in her a reverence for history so profound that at first all she could feel was aghast at the crime against truth. But then, slowly, it dawned on her…who would have the power to make sure that this history was not known…and what else could someone with that power do? She thought of her master’s wards and shivered.

    The old sage lowered his voice to a whisper. “I believe I have uncovered an unedited text, describing how House Malhel retreated to the Dreadwood Forest, and from there planned their revenge. I have another text, very rare but likely authentic, claiming that the Mahlhel were powerful spellcasters, even while the Neheli and Rhola sought to ban magic. I will not tell you the names or locations of these texts, for your protection, and mine, and theirs. If I were a younger man, I would investigate this myself. You are my best student at the moment. I am charging you with learning more.”

    Aurora looked at the old man, shocked. “Master, you want me to…”

    “Travel to the Dreadwood, and see what you can find. Ruins, stories, texts, tales, anything. Most likely you will find nothing. But if I am correct, someone will find you. Someone will appear and, in the most delicate way, attempt to ascertain what you are doing and steer you away from any discoveries. And that is what we are after. I don’t expect you to find proof that the Malhel were in the Dreadwood. But if you can find proof that someone does not want us to know, then we will be sure that I am on the right track.”

    “Master, you honor me with your trust, but this sounds dangerous, and I am just an apprentice.”

    “No, Aurora, you are no longer an apprentice. Consider yourself a journeywoman, as of today. You have earned it. As to the danger, well, certainly there is plenty of physical danger in the Dreadwood. You will need to be ready for that. I suggest you get as close as you can safely, and then recruit a group of sellswords who fancy themselves heroes – what is it they call themselves? Ah yes; ‘adventures’. With your wit and charm I am sure you can convince them to go looking for treasure in the forest. But the true danger lies not in mindless monsters, but in whoever is protecting this information. And there you are safer than I, I suspect, or I would never send you. Should I, a Master of History, go poking about the forest, I am sure it would be immediately noted and defenses would be put into place. But you are a young, inexperienced wizard, seeing the world, seeking adventure…what do you know of possible hunting grounds for ancient, forbidden magic referenced only in the most esoteric texts accessible to a handful of academics?”

    “But Master, you have warned me many times against appearing as a wizard in Keoland.”

    “True enough, the common folk still harbor many superstitions about our craft. To the commoners you should appear as merely a scholar. But the more astute and discerning must not know you are interested in history, must instead perceive that you are a simple freemage looking for fortune, not a threat to their secret histories. Only you and I must be aware of your actual mission.”

    “So I must be an historian pretending to be a wizard pretending to be a scholar?”

    The old man smiled deeply. “As I said, Aurora, you are my best student.”

    Over the next several days they made their plans. Her master gave her advice on what to buy, what to bring, and what prices to pay. He told her not to take just any adventuring group, but to test them first. Would they be strong enough? Would they be easily manipulated into doing her will, all the while thinking it was theirs?

    He cautioned her against having another arcane caster, or anyone with too high an intelligence, in the group. He told her not to head straight for the Dreadwood, but to have a few preliminary adventures first, both to gain experience herself and to avoid suspicion. When she felt confident with a group she trusted, she could steer them to the forest, all the while making it seem like she was merely agreeing with their idea of what to do next. He told her that the northern Dreadwood was under elven control, and that the elves were surely in the pocket of the Kingdom and would
    report any investigations and block any discoveries. Far better she try the dangerous and unexplored south if she was to have any chance of either a real find or of drawing out those who did not wish to see her find anything.

    On the day before her departure, as she was cleaning out her desk area in the master’s tower, he burst upon her excitedly with a letter in his hand. “It is done!” he exclaimed, and then proceeded to explain that he had petitioned a friend of a friend to provide her a dedicated guard, someone she could trust beyond a mere adventuring oath. He was an elf of the Silverwood, and would join her when her ship made port in Kewlbanks.

    The next day she bid goodbye to her mother, her grandfather, and his staff, and boarded the ship on the Kewl. It was a passenger vessel, and while she did not have a private cabin, she did share a bunking room with other young ladies, mostly those going to court in Gradsul. It took a bit more than a day to get to Kewlbanks, and as promised, the guard was waiting for her there.

    He was not at all as she expected. Aurora had known many elves in Tringlee, and all were bright, curious, open beings – free and polite in speech, forward in questioning, and firm in friendship. This one, Babshapka by name, was the polar opposite. After confirming that she was indeed his charge, he had practically ignored her as he boarded the boat and stowed his gear. He asked her no questions and responded to hers with the bare minimum of answers. True, he did look capable enough, with his massive unstrung longbow, and twin shortsword sheaths crossed across his back.

    His traveling cloak was heavy and his boots worn. She was sure he would be both skilled in woodcraft and at guarding her person, but he acted as if conversation was a more serious threat. Even when she addressed him in her best Elven he seemed offended.

    All the next day they sailed downriver, with the green-grey Silverwood on their right and the farms and fields of the County of Ulek on their left. Babshapka leaned against the rail, watching the forest roll past as if in a trance. The next day they reached Junre early and spent the rest of the day in port – her guard remained sullen and distant. The day after they set sail again, soon reaching the confluence of the Kewl with the mighty Sheldomar. At last he seemed more personable, and even willing to exchange a few words with her on the two-day journey to Gradsul.

    Gradsul was the final destination of their passenger vessel, and it was from this point on that Aurora was fully in charge of the expedition (all previous arrangements having been made by her master). Of course, passenger ships did not exist on the Azure Sea (at least not commercial ones – the pleasure yachts of nobles being the exception, but those were not for hire). Her first order of business was finding a merchant vessel that would take passengers. She had thought the matter simply one of coin, but soon found two impediments.

    First, ships sailed with only a limited number of berths, and these were always filled. Out on the seas, after the death of a sailor, there were often free spaces – but ships left Gradsul fully manned. Second, most of the captains she talked with actually spoke, in serious tones, about the bad luck involved in having a woman aboard ship! “Best not to offend the Lady of the Waves,” they would say, or “Osprem is a jealous goddess, love.” After a full day at the docks she had not managed to find a passage anywhere, and was forced to use much of the meager allowance her master had given her on a second night at the inn.

    She sought to rouse her guard early the next day, but found him already in the common room downstairs. Determined to find passage, she arrived at the docks before any of the ships had left and immediately began harassing captains from one end of the quay to the other, with no different results than the previous day. Having been turned down yet again, she thought her patience was at an end, when a voice from beside the latest captain said, “Hold now, Cap’n, surely we can make things right for such a charming lass?”

    What followed was a rather spirited discussion in sea slang between the human captain of the vessel and a most curious hobniz sailor. She did not follow most of it, but as an end result the captain acceded to taking her and her guard on board, for nearly the entire sum she had remaining to her name.

    In the week that followed, she learned many things about the ship, its crew, and the hobniz Barnabus. Almost too much about him, in particular, as he claimed to be enraptured by her beauty. To her surprise he was not a sailor after all, but an entertainer – or, he preferred to say, “a good luck token”. He did no real work on the ship, but sang often, played the hornpipe, and if the weather was fair, his lute. It seemed the sailors were a superstitious lot and believed, almost to a man, that Barnabus brought them luck. Certainly he seemed lucky enough, for he won coin nearly every night in the games of dice or cards that took place below decks. Aurora was not permitted to see these but Babshapka reported, tersely, to her. Aurora herself got to stay in a cabin, small and cramped, but private. It turned out that Barnabus had won a week’s stay in the cabin from a foolish first mate and had been waiting for just such an opportunity to cash in his debt. Many of his songs were simple sea shanties to help the sailors work, but he also played her love ballads and, whenever the captain came round, he sang to the sea itself, or as he claimed, to the goddess Osprem, placating her jealousy over having Aurora on board.

    The ship was bound for Torvin with a cargo of hoes, plows, sickles, machinery, spirits, medicine, cloth, clothes, boots, and various and sundry other goods in demand on the plantations of the Sea Princes. Few ships sailed west, for it went against current and often against wind, so they had been lucky in that regard. When Aurora had made plans with her master, they had considered the two ports south of the Dreadwood – Anglar and Seaton, and had decided upon Seaton. Though father from the forest it was larger and would give her more chance to assemble the team she needed without drawing immediate suspicion. Thus she had told the captain that they would disembark when the ship took on fresh water in Seaton. But when, a week into their voyage, they rounded Cape Salinmoor the captain told them that the wind was not right and that he would be making port in Saltmarsh instead, a small fishing village rather than the county seat. She did not have near enough coin to make him change his mind and by this point Barnabus, tired of her rebuffs to his advances, did not seem interested in interceding on her behalf. Curiously, he did bid farewell to his shipmates and told them that he would be going ashore for a bit to spend their wages.

    As evening falls, Aurora, Babshapka, and Barnabus stand on the docks of Saltmarsh.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:38 pm; edited 2 times in total
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    Sun Mar 18, 2018 11:41 am  
    Post 6: Backstory for Babshapka

    Post 6: Backstory for Babshapka, wood elf ranger, level 1
    A thousand years ago, in the time of Babshapka’s great-grandparents, the Elven Kingdom of Celene ruled nearly a quarter of the subcontinent of the Flanaess. A huge forest filled the entire Sheldomar Valley, and extended unbroken from the mountains in the west to the sea in the east. There were a few foul monsters lurking in the darkest corners of the forest, but the realm of the Elven King was peaceful and prosperous. The elves had as much time for feasts as they did for hunting, spent as much time in song as they did in scouting. They learned from nature and celebrated life. The elven gods walked on the Oerth and took communion with their followers. There were humans in the open plains of the Flanaess, the primitive but kindly Flan. They avoided the elves, avoided the forests, and were of little concern.

    Then, over the mountains to the west, two huge and powerful human states began to war. Amid a cycle of escalating bloodiness, their greatest spellcasters called down ever more powerful curses upon one another, until finally both nations were destroyed and their lands turned into ash in the Twin Cataclysms. Hundreds of thousands perished, but tens of thousands crossed the mountains and entered the Flanaess as refugees. In mercy for what they had suffered, the Elven King allowed the humans to enter his kingdom.

    Almost immediately, the humans began to multiply. They cut down the forests to make their farms, they bred like locusts, and they continued to war amongst themselves. They enslaved the native Flan people and declared themselves Kings, ignoring the rightful claim of the Elven King. Humanoids, chiefly orcs and goblins, had been used by the humans as mercenaries, and they too fled the destruction of the western lands and came to the realm of the elves.

    By 750 years ago, the time of Babshapka’s grandparents, the “Kingdom of Keoland” was established and had driven a wedge between the forests of the west and the forests of the east, right along the Sheldomar River. No longer could the elves roam freely in their hunts. Every year humans ate away at the edges of the forest in their insatiable appetite for land. With the forces of the Elven King hindered in their movements, the old humanoids of the mountains and fens joined with the newcomers and grew quickly in number.

    By 500 years ago, in the time of Babshapka’s parents, the humans of the Kingdom of Keoland had established or conquered all of the nearby states, and the great Elven Kingdom was no more. An elven queen now held rule in Celene, but all throughout the Sheldomar Valley were isolated forests, with communities cut off from her lands. Keoland took to the sea and began exploring, conquering, and pillaging all along the coasts. The humanoids had swollen still further in numbers, and combined into nations and tribes of their own, growing bold and aggressive.

    Babshapka was born a scant 250 years ago, and is still quite young. He was born at the time of the greatest power and largest extent of Keoland. Within his lifetime he has seen the outer dependencies of the Kingdom struggle for, and eventually win, their sovereignty. Thousands of humanoids emerged from the mountains in a series of campaigns called “The Hateful Wars”. Most importantly, the King of Keoland was forced to recognize the nation of Celene and the right of the Elven Queen to rule. Fearing her power, Keoland created the Ulek States; the Duchy, County, and Principality on its eastern border. When Babshapka was born in the Silverwood Forest, Keoland claimed his home as part of its nation. Today, the land is considered part of the Duchy of Ulek, and is ruled by elven nobles who are independent, but still favor Keoland.

    And that is the problem. Too many elves have compromised with the Kingdom of Keoland. Rather than fight for Celene, they have accepted their new state. Rather than push the humans out, they have collaborated with them.

    Babshapka comes from deep in the Silverwood, in the part where humans are still not allowed, and that suits him fine. He had an idyllic life – chief huntsman for his village, respected by his peers, staunch warrior against humanoids on occasion but mostly free to live, sing, feast, dance, and hunt.

    And then, less than a small moon ago, all of that changed. His village is beholden to an elven noble, and that noble called for a ranger. Someone to serve as a guide, guard, and protector to a half-elven child of the Duchy. Babshapka did not volunteer. And yet he was selected. It was an unwanted honor.

    Babshapka gathered all his possessions and bid farewell to his villagemates. He traveled to the town of Kewlbanks and there met the riverboat with the half-elf on it. She was fair of face, but innocent and raised by humans. She spoke at length of history but never mentioned how the humans had destroyed the great Elven Kingdom. She talked incessantly at him, even over the next two days, as he was silently singing his song of farewell to the Silverwood, his only home. He will serve her faithfully, protect her as required by honor, but he does not have to like her.

    Things were easier after they passed Junre and he had the excitement of seeing new lands instead of mourning the loss of his home. The next day they reached the confluence of the Kewl with the mighty Sheldomar.

    Gradsul was the final destination of their passenger vessel. There, the woman spent two days wandering up and down the docks before she finally found them passage on a merchant vessel. They spent a week on the ship. A strange Halfling, too interested in the woman for his own good, gave her his cabin; Babshapka slept in a hammock among the reeking sailors.

    The woman had told the ship’s captain to let them off in the town of Seaton, but he chose to have them depart in Saltmarsh instead. As evening falls, Babshapka, the woman, and the halfling stand on the docks of Saltmarsh.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:40 pm; edited 1 time in total
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    Sat Mar 24, 2018 4:41 pm  
    Post 7: Backstory for Barnabus

    Post 7: Backstory for Barnabus, halfling rogue, Level 1

    Barnabus was born to a solid farming family of halflings on a pipeweed plantation in the Hold of the Sea Princes. As a child, he didn’t question their labors much, but he was not far into adolescence when he decided it wasn’t for him. The halfling community as a whole had a fair agreement with the noble human landowner – protection in return for a share of the crop sold at market. And they weren’t treated poorly – certainly not as poorly as the human slaves on other plantations nearby. It wasn’t even that the work was long and hard (although it was). Really, it was that it was boring. Monotonous, even. Barnabus’ parents, like all good halflings, valued security and comfort over most anything else, but he had always felt that excitement and freedom were worth a little discomfort and danger. This attitude brought him into conflict with his parents and the larger halfling community with greater and greater frequency as he grew.

    Finally, he decided to run away to “the city” – in his youthful naivety, Mantan being the only city he knew. It didn’t take him long to run out of coin, and he soon found himself hiding on a ship to escape an angry innkeeper. When the ship sailed with him on it, he became a cabin boy. Humans always seemed unsure of the age of a halfling, due to their small size, and a halfling with any cleverness could quickly convince a human that he was a child or a man grown as he desired.

    Barnabus liked just about everything about the seafaring life. He liked the colorful language, the interesting men, their stories and songs, the fascinating destinations, each different than the last. He didn’t like the buggery. All the other duties of being a cabin boy were easy, but he drew the line when he learned about that and immediately explained that he was a man grown after all. That put him in a difficult position, halfway through his first voyage. If he were a man, why then he was expected to do a man’s work on the ship – and though he was as strong as any of the human men, he did not have the size to go into the rigging, the weight to haul lines, and so forth. And if he couldn’t do a sailing man’s work by day, and he wouldn’t do the night work of a cabin boy, then what good was he? Well, he could play, he thought, for he had always been considered a good player, both for work songs and in worship on the plantation. With borrowed hornpipes he performed the pieces he knew, and set about learning those of the sailors. His efforts mollified the sailors themselves, but the officers told him he would have to pay for his passage. He had always been a bit of a card sharp, and he found the sailors such easy marks that by the end of the voyage he had enough coin to pay his passage and had a number of sailors praising his luck.

    Over the next few years he perfected this craft, and saved enough to buy a quality lute. He has performed at port towns all over the Azure Sea, and finds it easy to earn coin enough for meals and lodging wherever he goes. Sometimes on a bad night or with a sullen crowd he doesn’t get much, but a quick dip in the pockets of the drunkenmost patrons usually does the trick. When he has “played out” a port (or has received a visit from the local Thieves’ Guild demanding a membership fee and a cut of his take), he finds passage on a ship to somewhere new. He hasn’t paid for passage in quite some time; he now convinces the sailors that his songs to Osprem, the Lady of the Waves, can bring good luck and good weather and is offered his berth for free and meals as well more often than not. If there are those aboard who don’t believe in his luck, a few games of cards or dice can soon convince them.

    Barnabus’ life has thus unfolded quite pleasantly and he has few complaints about his lot. A week ago things looked even more pleasant. He was on a merchant ship in the docks of Gradsul when he discovered a breathtakingly gorgeous half-elven woman attempting to book passage on his ship! The Captain was denying her for obvious reasons – the bad luck of having a woman on board, and the practical consideration of not having a private berth for her. Barnabus convinced the Captain that he could solve both difficulties. He had previously won a week’s stay in the cabin of a foolish first mate and had been waiting for just such an opportunity to cash in his mark, and he eagerly offered that to the woman, one Aurora by name. As to the other, Barnabus promised to sing twice as much to Osprem on this leg of the voyage as he had previously, and to gamble only half as much, so as to not use up his luck. When the Captain accepted the woman on board, Barnabus’ heart lifted.

    The wind changed when he realized that the woman brought with her a wood elf bodyguard. Though there seemed to be nothing between them (in fact he seldom spoke to her), his constant vigilant presence put Barnabus off his game. And though he worked the entire next week on her, using all his best ballads, she refused to yield so much as a kiss or even a sigh! After several days, some of the sailors were even starting to doubt his luck. “Lucky at cards, unlucky in love…” they said helpfully, but he was unnerved and once they almost caught him cheating! Him! He never got caught!

    When the woman and her guard put ashore in Saltmarsh, he decided he would have to go with her. If the sailors saw her leave unconquered, they would doubt his abilities for the rest of the voyage. If he left with her, he could (and did) tell them that she was insisting they take to the privacy of the land to seal the deal. As far as his own affections, well – he would give her one more chance before denouncing her as a stone-hearted ingrate. Perhaps it was the close quarters and watchful eyes of the ship that was fueling her resistance, and he would find his fortune on land. If he could just get her away from that damnable wood elf!

    As evening falls, Aurora, Babshapka, and Barnabus stand on the docks of Saltmarsh.[/i][/b]
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Sep 11, 2018 1:37 pm; edited 2 times in total
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    Fri Mar 30, 2018 10:18 am  
    Post 8: Arrival in Saltmarsh (reprise)

    Post 8: Arrival in Saltmarsh (reprise)

    27 July, 570 (evening) - Saltmarsh

    In the gathering dusk, the setting sun reflecting off the Azure Sea, a cool salt breeze blowing over the docks, the town of Saltmarsh seems picturesque to Aurora, and she resolves to be unperturbed that it is not Seaton as she had planned. Her Master sent her because he trusted her to resolve just such difficulties, after all.

    By the time the three of them have gathered their gear and walked the gangplank to the dock, the Captain and Mate are engaged in conversation with a local customs officer, assuring him that they will not be unloading any goods and will only be taking on water, as soon in the morning as he can arrange, and paying with crowns of the realm. The officer is briefly distracted by the appearance of the trio, but after a word or two from the Captain, assuring him that they are passengers only, he waves them on distractedly and resumes his conversation. Most of the ship’s crew is lined up along the sheer strake, waiting to see whether they will be granted shore leave. When Aurora’s back is to them, Barnabus catches the crew’s attention and makes a lewd gesture, suggesting that he will indeed have her soon enough, and there is a laughing cheer in response.

    The streets are deserted; apparently the good folk of Saltmarsh have gone to their homes to take their evening meals and only stray dogs and cats prowl the docks, sniffing out the offal from the day’s gutted fish. In the town, lights fill the windows one by one as candles and lanterns are lit, and the sea air mixes with the scents of dozens of hearths. At the end of the dock a single human figure, a man dressed in brown robes, stands, as if awaiting them.

    As they draw closer, the man welcomes them to Saltmarsh, and says that he is “Flern, priest of Fharlanghn.”

    “A priest, excellent!” responds Aurora, and immediately begins a barrage of questions. “Do you have a temple in town? Can we stay there? Can we use it as a base of operations? Can you sell us healing potions…”

    The man holds up his hand and laughs good naturedly, more amused at her impertinence than offended. “No, no,” he says, “I have no kirk in town, neither temple nor chapel nor shrine, and nothing to sell you. My order exists to help travelers.”

    Barnabus suspiciously eyes the simple wooden bowl the man carries on his hip. “It looks like your order exists to beg.”

    The man smiles again, though this one is a little more forced. “I am a mendicant priest, yes, as there is not a local endowment for my order. Nevertheless, I help travelers such as yourselves. What do you wish to know about Saltmarsh, where do you wish to go?”

    “Know?” ponders Aurora. “What great deeds need to be done? What wrongs need to be righted? Who is in danger here that we can…”

    The man laughs again. “At sundown in sleepy Saltmarsh? The only ones in danger here are you, in danger of being arrested for vagrancy if you do not find a place to stay for the night. Let me right that wrong and I will take you to an inn. We can count that as my great deed for the day.”

    Flern leads the trio along the shore of the inner harbor. He does not have to work to avoid most of Aurora’s questions, since she keeps asking another before he can answer the first. They turn right at a crossroads and come to a solid, two-story building with a hanging sign showing a mermaid (7). “The Merry Mermaid,” says Flern. “Best inn in Saltmarsh.”

    Inside is a cramped common room, most of the first floor space apparently being taken up by the kitchen, and a steep stairway to the guest rooms above. At a rough wooden table a strange trio sits supping; a golden-haired man whose fine robes bespeak noble birth, a dirty dwarf in course traveling clothes, and a huge half-orc who might be naked, for he is bare from head to below the table he sits at. As Babshapka enters the room, the half-orc stands and his hand goes to a huge axe strapped to his bare back. Now that he is standing, they can see that he is indeed clothed, in a dirty loincloth that covers little more than his privates. The nobleman speaks soothingly to him, lays his hand on the brute’s shoulder, and eventually he releases his hold on the axe and resumes eating.

    A door to the kitchen bursts open, and a matron enters with a platter and three mugs of ale. She smiles broadly at the trio of potential customers and nods at Flern.

    Barnabus looks at those at the table, then at the ample-figured, middle-aged hostess. “Yes, well, I’m for the tavern,” he says, and turns for the door, pushing past Flern. He pauses, turns back, and stares suggestively at Aurora. “You really should come and catch my full repertoire,” he says, “It is much more refined than anything I play on ship.” He then leaves.

    Aurora speaks with the matron (Ruth) and arranges the let of a room with a single bed for herself and a chair for Babshapka to trance in. She orders dinner for herself and the wood elf, thanks Flern, and sits down at the table to meet the others, who look as much as anything like candidates for her new adventuring group.

    In the meantime, Barnabus has no trouble finding the the tavern (12). Although it is three blocks to the west, the noise of a boisterous crowd is unmistakable in the quiet streets of the town. It has been quite some time since he has been in a town as small as Saltmarsh, and the tavernkeep is dubious when he offers to sing in return for supper, drinks, and tips. “I’m Barnabus the minstrel,” he says reassuringly, “known in every port of the Azure Sea, and this is my standard deal.”

    “Well, I don’ know ye,” responds the tavernkeep sourly. Barnabus finally convinces him when the crew of his former ship begin to arrive and greet him by name. Soon even the locals are joining the seamen in calling for the halfling to sing, and the tavernkeep relents. By evening’s end, as the last drunken sailor is staggering from the tavern, supported by an equally-drunk shipmate, Barnabus is working on a plate of cold mutton. The singing was a success, of course, such a small town rarely hears an entertainer of his quality, and he has a pouchful of copper sparrows more than he came in with. But the vexing half-elf woman never came. Damned if he is going back to the “Merry Mermaid” without her invitation, and fie on her! Besides, he saw the look exchanged between the “priest” Flern and Matron Ruth when he arrived. Obviously the “priest” is hustling customers for the woman. “Finest inn in Saltmarsh”, my hairy halfling ****, he thinks. There was some highlands they passed at the harbor entrance with merchant warehouses and fine craftsmen’s shops - Barnabus would wager more than his bag of coppers that there is a better inn there. He bids goodnight to the tavernkeep and gives a salacious look at his daughter, a serving wench (why did he waste the night waiting for Aurora, instead of working his charms on her?), and steps out into the cool night air. His head is heavy with ale, but he manages to find the inn alright - “The Full Moon,” (19) it is called. He has to knock hard to rouse the innkeep, but he gets a private room with a bath, better than anything the fools at the Mermaid will have tonight.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Sun May 17, 2020 11:19 pm; edited 2 times in total
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    Mon Apr 09, 2018 1:13 pm  
    Post 9 - The call to adventure

    [DM's note: For the town of Saltmarsh, I adapted the map made by Yabusama, available at Within Saltmarsh, the bolded location numbers reference this map.]

    Post 9 - The Call to Adventure

    28 July, 570 (morning) - Saltmarsh

    Tyrius, Thokk, Larry, and Aurora are awoken by the smell of fresh bread and batter-fried fish. Babshapka has been awake for hours, having tranced early in the night. He has spent the time since seated near the open window of his and Aurora’s bedroom, staring out over the town.

    At breakfast, Aurora continues the discussion begun the night before, sharing stories and inching closer to a formal resolution that they will indeed form an adventuring company. Tyrius is reluctant to commit to anything long-term, as his goal is still to get Larry to the Moot of the Great Druid, but he recognizes that he will need coin to do that - and if these two others want to help him get that coin by doing good deeds, so much the better. They are still talking when visitors arrive - Lieutenant Dan of the town watch, and several of the watchmen that Tyrius encountered the previous day. Dan is meeting all of them for the first time, as well as verifying that they have found honest lodgings, are paying Ruth with good coin, understand that they now have six days to find employment or a patron, and understand that violence of any kind, including drawing weapons or threatening the townsfolk, will not be tolerated. Tyrius is serious but charming, and reassures Dan on every point.

    Aurora introduces herself as a scholar from Ulek, and invites Dan to tell them something of the local history of Saltmarsh. She says she is especially interested in current and perennial threats to the town, and how the brave men of the watch have dealt with them. Dan says that there really are no current threats to the town itself, and the efforts of the watch (under his leadership), mean that the townsfolk are quite safe. Historically, of course, there have been incursions of marsh orcs, there have been curses from the occasional bog witch, there have been goblin raids from the Dreadwood. Even at present, pirates on the Azure Sea are always a concern, but they do not menace the town itself. As a scholar, he says, Aurora has no doubt heard of the Long Summer, some 15 years ago, when the flickers came out of the marshes in the north and burnt and pillaged all up and down the Javan.

    “Of course, of course,” says Aurora, “but are there not any more contemporary concerns for you brave men?”

    No, says Dan. Under his watchful eye, Saltmarsh is peaceful and prosperous. And, he adds with just a bit too much emphasis, he intends to keep it that way, so if this group is composed of would-be-heroes, they will find nothing to interest them hereabouts, and really should clear off sooner rather than later.

    After Dan’s departure, Aurora puts the same questions to Ruth, hoping that the Lieutenant is hiding something, but her answers are nearly identical to his - except for the part about clearing off. Ruth is more than happy to accept their coin and they are welcome to stay at the Merry Mermaid as long as they would like.

    After breakfast, the group of five leaves the Mermaid and sets out to explore the town. They quickly find the Lord’s Marketplace (25), an open-air collection of stalls with people of all sorts buying and bartering for the dozens of different supplies and luxuries available in a town of this size. Aurora seizes upon the opportunity to talk to more than a score of stallkeepers and customers, asking each of them in turn the same questions about threats to the town, while she pretends to be interested in the wares on display. Babshapka trails her silently, his sharp eyes on the people around her and how they are reacting rather than the conversants themselves. The conversations are similar - though some sellers emphasize the orcs more (especially when Thokk lumbers by), and others the bog witches, and others the goblins, flickers, or pirates; the litany of villians is the same, without anyone naming a clear and present threat to the town.

    For his part, Tyrius is organizing the purchase of various supplies the group will need if they are to leave town together. Does everyone have a waterskin? A bedroll? Is there enough cheese and hardtack for a week at least? His purchases are careful, but also occur slowly as he spends as much time keeping Thokk and Larry out of trouble as he does negotiating trades.

    Eventually they come upon Barnabus, himself wandering the stalls. By way of greeting, the halfling mentions offhand that after a rousing performance in the tavern, he retired to a fine inn with a bath and a feather pillow. He hopes, of course, that their accommodations in the Mermaid were as comfortable as his. Aurora tells him that she has joined forces with Tyrius, Thokk, and Larry, and that there is room for him on their adventuring team if he desires.

    “Team with you?” he begins loudly. “I wouldn’t…” he pauses, his previously planned speech for denouncing her for all the marketplace to hear as a shrill and fickle harpy stalling on his tongue. Everyone knows about adventuring groups, of course. They merely set foot outside town and fissures in the earth open for them, leading to caves with monsters and treasures. If these fools want to tackle the monsters, he doesn’t mind a share of the treasures. It is said that adventurers even have magic items thrown at them by the denizens of the darkness. For some useful magic items, he can swallow his pride and suffer this annoying temptress. Barnabus’ pride is strong, his lust stronger, but it is his greed that is strongest still. “I wouldn’t want to refuse such a potentially lucrative venture. At least not until the next ship comes to town.”

    Aurora tries a few more stalls, but gets nowhere. All along, she has also been asking about who sells magical supplies, such as potions of healing, as well as quality incense (that she might use in her find familiar spell, although she does not mention that last part). Most of the townsfolk stiffen at the mention of magic, and a few even make signs to ward off evil. Some of the more trusting sorts take her “potions of healing” to mean herbal remedies, and point her in the direction of the town’s herbalist, which lies across the commons from the marketplace.

    When Tyrius has conferred with Barnabus and declared that their party is fully equipped for travel, and Aurora has not gotten a single lead for a potential adventure or magic component for sale, they leave the marketplace and start heading across the commons. The grass is a lush green but close-cropped, for knots of sheet and goats graze here and there. Curiously, as they begin to walk across the grass, Aurora notices a throng of children leaving the marketplace and following them at a distance. When she comments on it, Babshapka sighs. Speaking for the first time that day, he says, “They have been following us ever since we entered the market. We have attracted every guttersnipe in the town.”

    The herbalist’s shop stands on the other side of the road from a much larger building of strange construction. It is all of wood, with a lower story and a roofless upper level. Both levels are without walls, with large timber support columns and beams so that the whole structure is open to the elements except that the floor of the upper level forms the ceiling of the lower. A railingless spiral stair is made by narrow planks set into a vertical post in the center of the lower level and ascending to a trapdoor.

    Behind the building and perpendicular to it are a series of bound straw bales covered in lime - apparently archery targets for the town watch or whomever else practices with a bow hereabouts. There is a single crude, scarecrow-like manikin as well, dented and scratched. A small shed behind the building is roofed and has three walls, but one open side reveals several cut yew boughs curing.

    As they get still closer, they can spy wooden frames set with cressets on both the lower and upper stories of the open building, and Tyrius is the first to take them for altars, and the whole building a temple of some kind. Since all the walls are open, there does not appear to be an “entrance” per se, but he leads them around to the side nearest the road for formality’s sake. Just then a man emerges from a small dwelling next to the temple, a house they later learn is the temple’s rectory. The man is dressed oddly, in loose breeches but no shirt. He does, however, wear a light linen cape. Undoubtedly his odd style is comfortable on this hot midsummer’s day, but it seems awfully immodest for local mores - other than Thokk, they have seen no-one bare-chested in town but babes. The man’s pale skin is covered in freckles, particularly his broad shoulders and face.

    The man introduces himself as Aeravis, priest of Phaulkon. He confirms that the building is the Temple of Phaulkon (21), or as he calls it, the Aerie. In response to Aurora’s questioning, he explains that while he is a priest, he does not have potions of healing for sale. If someone was wounded, he would be able to administer a cure in exchange for a suitable donation. When asked about incense, he says that he does have some, but it is for use during services - he does not have extra for sale, and it is hard to come by in the small town. The next time a merchant ship makes port with some on board, if Aurora is still in town, he will let her know. When she mentions Flern, he chuckles. “That ne'er-do-well? Let’s just say that some of us worship the wind, and some of us are blown by the wind from town to town. I wouldn’t get accustomed to seeing him around, if I were you.” Aurora asks him about threats to the town, and he replies with the same litany as the others, but adds one more. “The greatest threat here is complacency, of course. It has been peaceful so long that it is hard to get these staid townsfolk to prepare for danger. Look at yon gaggle of followers you have attracted,” he says and points to the children, most now sitting in the shade of the bow shack or the practice targets, but still watching the party. “Why, there’s at least two of of those strapping lads strong enough to string a bow, but do they come to practice of a week? No, the lazy urchins. Why don’t you ask them what threats they face? Most like their father’s belt is the only thing they ever were afeared of.”

    Aurora laughs derisively, but Tyrius looks inspired. He takes out his brightest copper coin, then begins tossing and catching it so that it glints in the sun. Once he has attracted the attention of the youths he ambles slowly over to them. “We don’t need to be chasing boggarts,” Aurora calls after him, but Tyrius ignores her. Aurora crosses the street but finds the door to the herbalist’s shop (22) closed.

    “Out gathering herbs,” calls Aeravis and shrugs.

    Tyrius greets the children with a toss of his long golden hair, and one of them, apparently a girl beneath the street dust and scabbed knees, blushes. “So, I have a game for you,” he says in perfect Keoish, but his northern accent sounding exotic to their ears.

    “A game?” they respond in chorus, some eagerly and some with suspicion.

    “The game is this - I ask you a question, and if you answer truthfully, you get a copper sparrow.” The youngest of the children begin jumping, begging to be chosen, but the largest boy turns on them, brandishes his fist, and they sit down sullenly. He turns back around to Tyrius.

    “Ain’t nothin’ fer free,” he says. “What’s ther catch?”

    “The catch is this,” smiles Tyrius. “I am a servant of the sun god,” and he points up at the disk of the sun, now almost directly overhead. “If you take my coin and lie to me, you’ll have Him to reckon with.” The boy snorts - but he doesn’t offer to play. Sensing the restlessness of his band, though, he waves another boy foreward, smaller than him, but still one of the largest present.

    “I’ll play,” says the youth.

    “Allright,” says Tyrius, and holds forth, but does not release, the coin. “Here is my question - What is it you fear the most?”

    “Me Pa, when he’s been in the cups!” the boy says without hesitation. A roar of laughter goes up from the children. Tyrius smiles and hands the boy the coin. He is instantly mobbed by children all trying to see if it is real. He bites it and grins.

    Tyrius fixes his gaze upon the girl, and draws forth another copper from his pouch. “And you, young miss, what is it you fear?”

    “I ain’t afeared o’ nothin’,” she says defiantly, and then, when a nearby boy sniggers, she shoves him so hard he falls to the ground.

    Tyrius closes his hand about the coin and frowns. “The coin is only for those who tell the truth,” he says, “those are my rules, and the rules of Holy Pelor.”

    The girl stares at her feet. “Malenxa, the bog witch,” she whispers, and a few of the children shudder. Tyrius tosses the copper at where her gaze is fixed on the ground. She snatches the coin up, then takes off at a run across the commons.

    “I bet she be goin’ ter buy sweets!” says one of the smaller boys jealously.

    “Nah,” says another. “She be buyin’ milk fer her baby sister. Her ma’s done gone dry an’ don’t her sister holler all night!” That gets laughter as well.

    Tyrius points at another youth, one of the smaller lads. He pulls a third coin from his purse. The boy starts to answer, then stops, then starts again, and stops. “Petey’s afeared o’ so much, he don’t even know what he be afeared of ther most!” cracks the largest boy, and everyone laughs while the boy flushes.

    “The alky-mist ghost!” the small boy blurts out, and the unruly crowd goes coldly silent. Tyrius notes that a few of them make the ward against evil.

    “Aurora,” he calls over his shoulder. “You might want to hear this.”

    The full tale takes thrice as long to tell as necessary, with half of the children interrupting each other and trying to tell it at the same time. Just outside of town, along the coast road, on a lonely cliff overlooking the sea, is the abandoned house of a long-dead alchemist-magician. Even while alive he was an evil sort, but death has made him worse, as his ghost haunts the house and kills, in quite terrible ways that seem to vary with each child doing the telling, any who enter. That would not be so bad, were his spirit confined to the house. But there is one way (no, two! NO, three!) that he can actually leave the house. For anyone who walks the coast road (for business, travel, or even a spot of poaching in the wood) and passes the house, if they are incautious and allow the shadow of the house to fall on any part of their body, then the ghost can leave the house, come to them at night, and strangle them in their bed. Furthermore, if one is so foolish as to travel the coast road by night, it is more than likely that one will see eerie lights, or hear screams, coming from the house. In that case, the ghost can also come to you. The only escape in any of these cases is to spend the next night in a temple, and any of the five temples in town will do. The ghost can’t chase you on holy ground, and so will give up, return to his house, and you are safe.

    When the tale is largely done, and the urchins are just arguing over details, and who really knows someone who was killed by the ghost, no really, the party members look at one another. Tyrius and Aurora find this as likely an adventuring idea as any they have heard so far. Larry says the undead are abominations and need to be destroyed. Babshapka rolls his eyes and says his duty lies in protecting Aurora. Barnabus asks a few clarifying questions of the children - yes, the alchemist could turn lead into gold, and yes, there is a mysterious treasure still hidden in the house that was never recovered after he died - and then declares that he is “in.” Only Thokk objects. “Fah - ghost made of wind! Thokk’s mighty axe cleave ghost in one stroke. Fight over too quick to enjoy.” He reaches for his axe to pull it out and demonstrate, and Tyrius has to physically restrain him. “Yes,” says Tyrius as he struggles with Thokk, “an adventure outside of the town limits would be perfect.”

    The party makes plans to return to the Mermaid and collect their gear (including Tyrius’ chain hauberk), have lunch, and pass by the Full Moon on their way out of town. They retrace their steps across the commons with the gaggle of urchins surrounding them, though several of the children are pulled away by angry parents upon their return to the market. Those that remain are chased off by Ruth and her broom when they arrive at the Mermaid.

    Unnoticed by the party, one of the youths is not taken by parents or chased off by Ruth. Rather, he darts behind a stall as soon as they reach the marketplace, and then dashes off by himself down a side street. Ultimately, he arrives breathless at the shop of Master Merchant Murphy.[/b]
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Sun May 17, 2020 11:35 pm; edited 3 times in total
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Apr 16, 2018 9:43 am  
    Post 10: The Haunted House, upper levels

    [DM's note: While it should be obvious, this post will include numerous spoilers to the first section of Module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. Bold numbers in the text refer to keyed building locations.]

    Post 10: The Haunted House, Upper Levels

    28 July, 570 (afternoon and evening) - Saltmarsh to Haunted House

    After Ruth has served them luncheon as part of their bill of fare (with some extra coin for Barnabus), they question her about the alchemist’s house, hoping to get a less sensationalist view than that of the children. Ruth admits that the place is as like as not haunted, but hardly a threat to the town.

    Through their conversation with her, they learn that the Haunted House is some four miles east of Saltmarsh - it is doubtful any of the ragamuffins they spoke with has ever actually seen it. It is indeed just off the old coast road and looking out to the sea. Until some twenty years ago, when she was in the flower of her youth, it had been the residence of an aged alchemist and magician, and he did indeed have a sinister reputation - as anyone who practices magic deserves, really. The townsfolk mostly shunned the house because of the occupation of the owner. He disappeared under unexplained circumstances - his body was never found. He simply stopped receiving the weekly lot of food he purchased from the sundries store in Saltmarsh. After several missed pick-ups and payments, the Town Council ordered the house searched. Nothing was found - though over the next few years, everyone in the search party, to a man, suffered ill luck and untimely ends.

    The house is now long-abandoned and dilapidated, and in recent years there have indeed been reports of ghastly shrieks and eerie lights emanating from within it. Not even the bravest of the townsfolk dare enter it now. Were it restored, the house would make a wonderful country estate for some wealthy merchant or noble from Seaton, and the fact that the Town Council (who assumed title to the land and house after no heirs to the alchemist appeared) has been unable to sell it for even a paltry fee attests to its unsavory reputation.

    After lunch, the party organizes and packs all of their gear and settles accounts with Ruth, who is sorry to see them go. As they pass through the streets to the Full Moon, the urchins gather, so that they eventually have an even larger crowd than before. By the time they leave Saltmarsh proper, a full score of youths are in tow. However, the youngest of these do not last long once the town is no longer in sight. By the time the four miles have gone by, and the vague outline of the house appears, only the oldest and boldest remain.

    The Haunted House stands on the cliff top some seventy feet above the sea and eighty feet from the edge. A six foot high stone wall, topped with rusty ironwork, surrounds the property, looking a bit out of place since there are no neighboring buildings. An ornate iron gate pierces the wall, and a weed-choked stone and earth drive leads to the well-traveled coastal road.

    The handful of youths remaining take one step forward for every two steps the party takes once the house is in view. They can clearly see the party pass through the open gate, at which point two of them bolt and run, and three remain, hesitantly.

    Beyond the gate, the party sees an overgrown garden and the back of the house. The drive actually curves around the side and disappears from view, for the front of the house, and presumably the main entrance, faces the sea. Moving cautiously through the garden, the party finds a stone well. No bucket is in sight but there does appear to be water in the bottom. From the garden, the party can see a dozen windows and two doors on the back of the house, on the ground floor. A second bank of windows indicates a first floor above, and the steep roof hints at a large but unlit attic. The windows have glass panes, a sure sign of wealth. The panes are largely intact but so caked with dust inside and out that little can be seen through them. Each door has a window next to it, but only one of them opens on to the same room that the door does, and that off of a back patio.

    Babshapka finds the door to the patio unlocked, and slips silently into what appears to be a ground floor living room (4). The room is bare save for a pile of refuse in the corner, but has a stone hearth and a door to the main house. Cobwebs and rat droppings are everywhere. After a second for his eyes to adjust, Babshapka continues - at which point a booming voice calls out, “Welcome fools - welcome to your deaths!” Babshapka’s blood runs cold and he freezes, but no further sound is forthcoming. The voice came from the ceiling, and the force of it shook loose some plaster that now has fallen to the floor.

    Once he finds the hearth cold and nothing reacts to him prodding the refuse pile, Babshapka calls the others into the room. They carefully and methodically search all the rooms on the ground floor (1-3, 5-10). The wood is rotten and there are several loose floorboards. Mold and water damage is abundant. There is no sign of undead, or of life beyond vermin. Aurora collects a few books from the library (2). They kill a large spider in a drawing room (8) - while the party is occupied with this, Barnabus finds a magic ring hidden in a chimney. As he secrets it on his person, he shakes his head. The tales are true, he says to himself. Magic items throw themselves at adventurers. Giant centipedes are killed in the kitchen (9). In the scullery (10), a narrow stair descends to (presumably) a basement, but the room is so covered in mold, the party avoids it.

    The ground floor thoroughly searched, the party ascends to the first floor. The grand staircase in the main entrance hall seems untrustworthy, so they use the steeper but sounder kitchen stairs.

    At the top of the stairs is a landing (18), with access to the rest of the house and a collapsed stairway to the attic. They explore the first floor; empty bedrooms and storage rooms (16, 17) in the northern wing (though Tyrius does find a scroll of hold person), and empty bedrooms in the west wing (11, 12). In one of these is a wardrobe, and while Thokk is investigating it, he is covered in mold spores from what Larry says is a potentially deadly yellow mold. Larry claims that the key to eliminating fungal growth is to stay dry - he rips plaster off the walls, grinds it up into a powder, and covers Thokk head-to-foot so that the half-orc appears a ghost himself.

    The passage between the west and east wings has a section of dangerous flooring; Larry devises a safety rope and pitons, but all present safely jump across the sagging section of rotten wood. The three bedrooms of the east wing have more interesting contents - in the first (13) are two large spiders to kill. The second (14) has odd scratches, obviously recent, on the window sill. The door to the third is (15) locked, but the key is nearby on a sill. Inside, gagged and bound and with a lump on her head, is a woman in her smallclothes!

    Of course Tyrius is the first in the room and works quickly to free the woman, and then gives her his cloak to cover her modesty. The floor in the room is unsafe, so they retreat to the bedroom with the slain spiders to talk. The woman says that her name is Nadine Shakeshaft and she hales from Seaton. She is a mercenary and has worked mostly as a guard - for warehouses, ships, and caravans (her current state of undress shows that she has both the build and hands for such work). She had been traveling from Seaton to Saltmarsh the previous evening, looking for work, but due to delays on the road could not reach Saltmarsh by dusk. She took refuge in the house at sunset, but had only entered through the door to the scullery and gone into the kitchen when she was attacked from behind and knocked unconscious. She awoke, bound and gagged, sometime this morning. Her boiled leather armor, metal helm, and sword are missing along with her clothes. The party loans her a dagger and says that they are happy to escort her to Saltmarsh, but not until they are done searching the house. She agrees to help them by standing watch and such.

    With the first floor clear, but now even more suspicious of a malign presence in the house, the party decides to head for the attic. Most of them manage to jump the gap in the collapsed stairs and attain the floor of the attic (19), but when Nadine is helping to boost Tyrius up, he slips and falls, tumbling not only to the floor of the landing, but all the way down the stairs into the kitchen, suffering a number of bruises along the way.

    Eventually everyone is able to ascend into the attic, which is one open space underneath the sloping roof of the entire house. As they explore it, they come upon a stirge nest and begin a desperate battle in cramped quarters. They have just managed to slay the last of fully a dozen stirges, with several of them wounded but Aurora having recovered a magic ring, when a swarm of giant ants begins flooding up from below. Surrounded, Larry calls upon his thunderwave spell. This succeeds in killing the ants, but also collapses much of the floor of the attic under him. He is left dangling by his hands from some sagging crossbeams while the rest of the party stares helplessly. Tyrius attempts to rescue him, but the weight of the northern paladin plus his armor finishes the collapse of the floor, plummeting both of them to the first floor in a shower of splintered wood and a cloud of dust and plaster. No sooner have they hit the first floor landing when that, too, gives way, and they fall to the stone floor of the entryway. Their limp bodies are half covered in debris. Sensing the urgency of the situation, Babshapka leaps through the open hole in the attic floor, tucks and rolls and safely lands on the first floor, then does the same thing to attain the ground floor. He clears the debris and checks his companions - after some first aid on his part, he has them stable but unconscious.

    The Saltmarsh youths had in the meantime crept to the stone wall, and listened eagerly at the faint sounds of combat emerging occasionally from the house. At the peal of thunder and crash of timbers, however, all three of them turn and run back to town.

    The party assembles in the entry hall. With both of their healers unconscious, they are in no state to continue. Larry and Tyrius are coincidentally the two heaviest members of the party, and there is no way they will be able to transport them both to Saltmarsh, even with the help of Nadine, but Aurora is adamant that they will not spend the night in the house. They withdraw across the road and a hundred yards or so into the forest. There they take their evening meal and set watch while they wait for their companions to regain consciousness.

    Thokk and Nadine share the first watch, and then Barnabus and Aurora, and finally Babshapka on his own - Aurora having carefully selected someone with darkvision to be on each shift. What Barnabus and Aurora do not notice is that Nadine actually slips off into the forest on their watch, leaving Tyrius’ bundled cloak in her place. Much like the urchin before, she too pays a visit to Merchant Murphey in Saltmarsh, before returning by the light of the moon and taking her place back in camp with none the wiser.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Sep 25, 2018 2:33 pm; edited 1 time in total
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    Tue Apr 24, 2018 9:05 pm  
    Post 11: The Haunted House, Lower Levels

    [DM's note: While it should be obvious, this post will include numerous spoilers to the first section of Module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. Bold numbers in the text refer to keyed building locations.]

    Post 11: The Haunted House, lower levels

    29 July, 570 - The Haunted House
    Sometime during the previous night, both Tyrius and Larry regained consciousness. Those on watch encouraged them to keep resting, however. By morning Larry is able to cast two healing spells, and Tyrius to lay hands on himself, so they are mostly recovered. Still, they are now bereft of magic ability and the party is not keen to return to the house with one of their two primary spellcasters at “empty”. They decide to let Larry continue communing with nature, and set out in the afternoon.

    [The generous DM rules that since more than half of the first long rest occurred on the “24 hour period” of the 28th, the party may take their long rest on the 29th immediately after the spellcasting in the morning]

    After a leisurely morning, the party has a large lunch. Nadine doesn’t have food to contribute, her supplies having been taken along with her clothes, but she does provide assistance with gathering wood, cooking, and washing up, so the party doesn’t begrudge her the meals. Thanks to Tyrius’ planning, they have a week’s worth of supplies, and are in no danger of running short soon.

    In mid-afternoon, the party breaks camp and returns through the woods to the house. Arriving there, however, they find it surrounded by townsfolk! Mostly the young and spry, but people of all ages have gathered - many having brought a picnic lunch with them. They are spread out along the road or camped on high spots so as to see over the wall - a few youths are even perched in trees, studying the house. None have dared cross the wall or enter the garden, however - and the more observant in the party note that they stay well away from the shadow of the wall.

    When the party emerges from the woods, a cheer goes up. As they walk toward the road, they are surrounded by the smaller children. Why have these people come? Did the boys from the day before report the thunderclap, and they have come to be entertained, or is something else at play? Nadine successful hides the smirk on her face from the party.

    Most of the party is confused and taken aback by the cheering crowd. Only Tyrius seems to take it in stride. He smiles and waves and tosses his golden hair. “So nice of the small folk to turn out for us,” he murmurs contentedly.

    The cheers grow muted and fade into silence as the party approaches the gate, and when Babshapka steps through first, there is an audible gasp from the spectators. Ignoring the stares as best they can, the party follows the drive around the house to the sea-side and up to the front entrance.

    The entry hall (1) is as they left it the afternoon before - in a shower of shattered timber, plaster, and dead giant ants. They pick their way carefully across the room, then down the hall to the kitchen (9) and open the door to the scullery (10). There the abundance of mold again gives them pause. Most tie rags over their faces before proceeding forward, though Thokk scoffs at the idea.

    As Babshapka takes the top step of the stairs, hideous screams emerge from the basement, as of a soul in terrible torment. That gives them all more pause. As a party, they decide that tormented spirits are more the province of paladins than rangers, so Tyrius descends first.

    The basement (20) is a single open room, obviously a former wine cellar, though now a mess of collapsed shelving and broken bottles. The most striking feature is a human corpse in plate mail on the floor, his flesh well rotted away. Thokk and Babshapka agree that he is several weeks dead, and unlikely to have been the source of the screams - unless they were his soul. Tyrius is much impressed by the quality of the man’s plate armor (far superior to his own chain shirt), and estimates that the man is about his size. While he is handling the corpse, however, a number of large, maggot-like creatures emerge from it and spring on to his gauntleted hands. While the grubs root around seeking some way to his flesh, Aurora quickly firebolts them. Considerably more care is taken as they further examine the rest of the body and its possessions, and Aurora burns a half-dozen more of the maggots before the armor has been stripped from the corpse and laid aside, along with the sword and shield. The remaining possessions and the body itself are soaked with oil, moved to the open hearth, and then burned.

    All this noise alerts the smuggler guard on the other side of the secret door to the presence of the party. He goes to inform his companions, and Sanballet organizes an ambush in the cave complex, such that when the party enters, they can be suddenly set upon from two sides at once, trapped by his full force of smugglers and gnolls.

    The party searches the wine cellar, but finds nothing more, and completely misses the secret door. Tyrius comments that as large as the cellar is, it underlies only the north wing of the house, and there may be some other access to a seperate cellar they have not yet found. Aurora in particular does not believe that they have gotten to the bottom of the mysteries of the house, though Nadine remains skeptical and asks when they will be returning to Saltmarsh.

    The party returns up the stairs and back to the main entry, when something catches Babshapka’s eye. None of them have been down the east hallway since their return to the house this morning, and yet there is a set of footprints in the new layer of plaster and dust from the collapsed attic. The prints lead down the center of the hallway to the door at the end.

    What the party does not know is that these tracks were left by a careless smuggler the night before, assigned by Sanballet to check on damage to the house from the party after hearing the explosion and collapse. Sanballet was principally concerned with whether it was still possible to get to the bedroom from which he signals the ship.

    Babshapka follows these tracks into the living room (4), but once past the closed door the trail is lost - the new layer of dust and plaster was mostly stopped by the door. The party agrees that this room merits a more thorough search than they gave it the previous day.

    About halfway between the hearth and the door to the patio, approximately under the spot from which the spooky voice emerged the previous day, Babshapka finds a disguised trap door in the floor! Opening the door reveals a wooden staircase descending into the earth. The space below is no dark basement, though - it is lit!

    The party arranges themselves carefully, and then starts down the stairs with trepidation. What they find is in no ways objectively eerie, but curiously it has this effect on them. The well-lit and reasonably clean quarters below (21) are obviously tended and lived in - there is no mold, no water damage, no cobwebs. There are cots for ten men, personal trunks, a long wooden trestle table, and various kitchen supplies. For some reason, after the disorder and decay of the abandoned house itself, the party is spooked by the thought of a large number of men living beneath them the whole time. The sausages hanging from hooks along the wall seem especially creepy. What’s more, although the space itself is obviously recently used, there is no one currently about - heightening the sense of dread about when all of these men will be returning!

    They search the foot lockers and the wooden bins, but find only personal effects and food supplies. The sense of dread about when, and how, the occupants will return, grows. At the east end of the room are two doors - one normal and wooden, the other similar but barred with a stout wooden bar set into metal brackets on the wall. The door has the word “DANGER” scrawled across it in chalk, in Common. Listening at either door reveals nothing.

    The party decides to try the unbarred door, which opens upon a large 15’ by 20’ bedroom (22). The furnishings are comfortable and obviously of better quality than the common room. The party crowds into the room and closes the door behind them as they search. They find a lantern, oil, a scroll with curious marks, a naval almanac with the times of the tides for the surrounding coastline, and a number of other mundane items.

    After the search they hold a hushed conversation - if all of the occupants return at once (and they are now counting eleven), they will be outnumbered. It is better to have the element of surprise, they reason. They decide to hole up in this room, wait until the occupants return, and take them unawares.

    After perhaps an hour or so of waiting in the caverns, it becomes apparent to Sanballet that the intruders have either not found the secret entrance or have no plans to descend into the caverns. He sends a scout ahead, who reports that there is no one to be seen in the cellar. Returning, he finds obvious signs that the room has been searched, and one of the smugglers hears hushed conversation coming from his personal quarters. If these intruders will not come to Sanballet’s ambush, he will bring the ambush to them. As quietly as possible, he motions his men to clear the stools out of the way and pile them in front of the secret door to the wine cellar to block that exit. The table is turned on its side, rotated, and used to barricade off the western end of the cellar. He puts his men behind the table to shield them from missiles or spells. The gnolls he stations next to him to guard against anyone who gets over the table. When all is prepared, he calls out across the room, “Ye can come out ter talk - we ken yer in t’ere!”

    Taken aback by the strange voice’s offer, the party sends Barnabus out. He remains hidden in the gloom of the eastern end of the cellar. Peering around the corner, he can see the defensive fortification that has been set up - with not only eleven men (and one of those in robes), but two monsters as well. He doesn’t like these odds, and says as much when he returns to the party.

    Tyrius is the party’s most charismatic member. He and Babshapka (Aurora’s guard) go out - “to negotiate” - and Barnabus uses them as cover to get to the south wall without being seen. Thokk wants to join them, but the party restrains him, saying it will be “only talking.”

    “Parlay,” calls Tyrius, as he strides across the room, “let us parlay.”

    When Tyrius and Babshapka are about halfway across the room, Sanballet calls out “T’at’s far enou’. Here be the conditions o’ yer surrender - lay down yer weapons and ye can walk outta ‘ere an’ nae be returnin’”. Of course, Sanballet has no intention of keeping his word, but if he can get the party to lay down their arms this fight will be that much the shorter, and go far better for his side.

    Tyrius has lost track of Barnabus - he hopes that the halfling ‘minstrel’ is in a good position. The paladin has come out prepared to negotiate in good faith - but when he sees the sour and hard-bitten faces of the men, notes that their leader is unarmored and most likely some sort of spell-caster, and sees that above all he is in command of these monstrous humanoids, his opinion changes. Filled with the righteousness of Pelor, he knows what he must do. Tyrius responds to the leader of the smugglers. “Actually, those were the conditions I was about to offer you. Lay down your arms, and your men are free to go. Only you and the brutes will face the King’s Justice.”

    This brings a raucous, incredulous laughter from the smugglers. The gnolls join in with strange, barking calls, though it is doubtful they have understood the exchange. When the sounds fade away, Tyrius waits for Sanballet to begin his response, and at the mage’s first words, he shouts “Charge!”

    Pulling forth his warhammer, “Molly”, Tyrius charges the table, swinging overhead at the men behind it. Babshapka falls back to the corner and begins loosing arrows. Thokk charges from the room, swinging his axe as he runs at the table. Larry, Aurora, and finally Nadine emerge from the room - though the latter, unarmored and armed with only a dagger, hangs back from the fray.

    Sanballet is in the middle of shouting orders to his men when he screams out in pain. A shortsword is stuck in his side, the other end attached to a halfling with a elegant moustache. He curses, points at the halfling, and says a word in gnoll. One of the humanoid brutes forces the halfling back with wild swings of its axe. Sanballet sends the other gnoll halfway up the cellar stairs to guard his escape route in case he has misjudged the strength of the party.

    Aurora completes her sleep spell, and several of the smugglers fall to the floor. Thokk runs up to a now-unguarded section of the table and vaults over it. He lands on the other side and starts toward Sanballet, but the gnoll guard intervenes. Barnabus takes the opportunity to disappear into the shadows again. Tyrius moves to the table and tries to either haul himself over, or pull the table down trying.

    For a brief moment, it appears as if the party will make short work of the smugglers. Then Sanballet completes a color spray and several of the party are blinded, Tyrius among them. The gnoll is having the better end of the fight with Thokk, and the half-orc is seriously wounded. The heavy table is proving to be very effective cover, and the smugglers are not taking much damage from the arrows of Babshapka or the cantrips of Aurora and Larry, while a few have thrown daggers at the party with some effect. By the time the smugglers have woken up all of their comrades, many of them are wounded, but only two are down. Even after he regains his sight, Tyrius has been unable to either scale or pull down the table. Barnabus’ location is unknown. Sanballet himself has vanished in thin air, though he is still shouting orders in a disembodied voice.

    “Fall back!” cries Tyrius, “back to the room!”. He stays at the table only long enough to cover Thokk as the barbarian climbs back over, then retreats himself, walking backwards with shield held in front of him as the smugglers jeer and hurl insults. Everyone in the party falls back to Sanballet’s room except the missing Barnabus. Even with two of the men down the party is still outnumbered, and Tyrius hopes they can at least even the odds by defending the doorway.

    With the cellar clear, the smugglers fall to squabbling over the coins and jewelry of the two dead men. Sanballet lets them bicker for a while then orders them to inch the table forward, closing half the distance to his own quarters. He has each man take up a stool, to use as an improvised first volley missile weapon should the party charge again. When no response comes from the party, he orders the table moved, halving the distance again and abutting the end against the nearer east wall to completely block off the narrower portion of the cellar.

    Inside the bedroom, the party is panicked. Tyrius is trying to organize a last-man defense of the doorway, but the others are urging him to flee. Barnabus is nowhere to be seen - presumably, he is still in the cellar, but for all they know he has slipped past the gnoll on the stairs and is even now making his escape. Finally, Babshapka slips out the door stealthily, charged by Aurora with trying the barred door to find an alternate escape route. The wooden bar is heavy and swollen, and Babshapka struggles with trying to lift it without being heard. “I’ve got you, mate,” whispers Barnabus, his hands already on the other end of the bar. Together they lift it, then set it down silently on the floor and open the door a crack without the smugglers being aware.

    Pulling the door outward half way, they peer in. Light from the cellar behind them spills through, but the room beyond (23) is dark. “What do you see?” whispers Barnabus, for while Babshapka has darkvision, he doesn’t.

    “No exits,” says Babshapka bitterly, “just some dead bodies. Skeletons, really. Uh…”


    “I think they are moving…”

    Sure enough, the three skeletons in sight are slowly swiveling their skulls and staring at Babshapka with eyeless sockets. Another three out of view of the door are staggering to their feet from where they were slumped against the wall.

    Just then the smugglers make out the open door and the shadowy figures in front of it. “Ther fools be openin’ ther door!” calls more than one to Sanballet.

    “Attack them! And close it, fast!” he yells back, but it is too late. By the time the smugglers get the table down so they can move forward, Babshapka and Barnabus are back in the bedroom, with the door closed. The first skeleton is through the door and the others are close behind. Babshapka is trying to get the party to brace the bed room door with furniture.

    A second later the party hears shouts outside and the ring of steel, then cries of pain and the howl of one of the gnolls. The combat is brief - the smugglers have numbers, but the table is down, many of them are already wounded, and their broadswords have little effect on the fleshless undead. As the cries of the living grow fewer, the party removes the furniture from the door and forms up for a charge. They spill from the room just in time to see the last smuggler fall from a blow of the last skeleton. Tyrius does not hesitate in his charge, and shatters the skeleton’s skull with his hammer. It disanimates and drops to the floor in a pile of disarticulated bones.

    Tyrius shouts orders to secure the room as he and Larry check the men - they find two still alive, though unconscious. They bind their wounds, but also their hands and feet. Thokk slits the throat of the fallen gnoll without checking whether it is alive or dead. All told, they count one gnoll, ten men, and six skeletons among the fallen. The other gnoll, and what they assume was some sort of mage, are nowhere to be seen. Nadine looks around the cellar, apparently dumbfounded.

    “Hey, you alright down there?” calls out a deep voice from the top of the stairs. Three faces peer through the trapdoor. The local youths sport bare wisps of beard, but have the muscles of stevedores or plowmen. Tyrius lays hands on each prisoner to restore them to consciousness, then leaves his companions to tidy up while he ascends the stairs to assure the townsfolk that everything is fine, and that the party has just overcome a band of brigands or outlaws of some kind. He tells the people that the show is over, and that they can return to their homes - there will be more news on the morrow, after the party has had the chance to consult with the local authorities.

    By the time he returns, he finds the two prisoners conscious but sullen, and Thokk suggesting various methods of torture while Aurora listens and nods sagely. “We’ll have no such thing,” Tyrius says in a voice that brooks no argument, then turns to address the prisoners. “We need answers,” he says in a friendly tone, “who are you, what illicit activities you were pursuing in this place; tell us all, admit your guilt, and we shall show you the mercy of Pelor.”

    “I ain’t tellin’ ye nothin, godsman,” says one of the prisoners.

    Tyrius looks at him sternly. “Your silence only condemns yourself,” he says. “If you will not speak to us, you force me to declare you outlaw, and execute the King’s Justice upon you.”

    “Do yer worse,” says the man, and spits at Tyrius’ face, though it falls short. “Kill me an’ answer ter yer jus’ an’ good god.”

    Tyrius bows his head in prayer, then retrieves one of the trestles from the table. He maneuvers the man into laying his neck over the wooden crossbeam, and holds him from behind. He calls for Thokk to bring his axe. “We can make him talk!” says Aurora hurriedly. “We need this information.”

    Tyrius shakes his head solemnly. “We do not torture,” he says firmly. “He has chosen his fate.” He nods to Thokk, and the half-orc cheerfully severs the man’s head from his neck.

    Tyrius uses some rags to clean the spattered blood from his face and chest, then turns to the remaining prisoner. “Please accept the mercy of Pelor,” he says, “and tell us all you know.”

    The man eyes Tyrius suspiciously. “What mercy be this? A quick death, like ye gave yon Paxton?”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “No; tell us all, and tell us true, and you leave from here a free man - free to mend your life, gods be willing. Although I would suggest you wait until the townsfolk outside have dispersed.”

    Since Tyrius returned, Nadine has busied herself picking through the fallen men’s weapons until she finds a broadsword sized for her, and then stripped one of the smaller men’s leather armor and begun to don it. She takes a dead man’s dagger and returns the one the party loaned her. They do not see the relief on her face when Thokk kills the prisoner, nor her expression of concern when Tyrius seems on the point of convincing the remaining man to talk.

    The sole remaining prisoner stares into Tyrius’ pale blue eyes for a moment without flinching, and then sighs and begins his tale. Aye, they are outlaws, right enough - though smugglers and he ain’t never harmed a soul, honest. True, some of his companions killed the knight what found his way into the basement some three weeks ago, but he wasn’t there for that. Most of his time has been spent unloading ships and loading wagons and nothing worse than that. The boss’ name be Sanballet and he a wizard and all, with some magic way to control those two hulking gnolls he got godsknowwhere. Sanballet has a deal with some merchant guy in town name o' Murph o' somesuch - he ain't never seen him in person. A ship with another lot of smugglers brings in goods - mostly silk and brandy - from other ports in the Azure Sea, and lands them here. They pass the goods off to the merchant at night, and he uses fancy book-keeping so it looks like he paid the crown tax to the customs house to import luxuries when he hain’t neither - at least that be what the other smugglers say, but he don’t claim to know the truth of that. The merchant then sells the goods in larger markets like Seaton and further afield. Sanballet communicates with the ship somehow at night - there be a lantern and signal codes involved, but he don’t know any of them. He don’t know when the ship be coming - every few weeks Sanballet goes upstairs in the house above each night, and then one night or another tells them it is time. They take the boat out of the sea cave below, row out to the ship, and bring in the smuggled goods. Usually it takes several trips. Sanballet then sends a message to town - he don’t know how that works - and the next night a wagon shows up for them to load. The merchant be fat enough, but he hain’t never seen the good gentleman’s face in the light.

    Tyrius asks him to repeat parts of the story he found unclear, and keeps him talking until he is satisfied about everything except the “sea cave below”. With Thokk hoisting the bound man, they walk over to a section of the south wall until the man indicates where to find a secret door. Sure enough, beyond it is a series of caves (25-30), several filled with bolts of silk and casks of brandy, sloping down to a cave that meets the sea and has a small jollyboat drawn up inside.

    Tyrius tells the man that they will release him at dusk.

    With the prisoner safely tied, the party then feasts on the captured supplies throughout the afternoon. As evening approaches, they make sure there are no townsfolk about the house. True to his word, Tyrius then releases the man and tells him to “go forth and do evil no more.” The man starts off down the coast road to Seaton with the clothes on his back and a dagger Tyrius returned to him only once they were outside the house.

    Taking one bolt of silk, the head of the gnoll, and the painted shield of the fallen knight as their proofs, the party, including Nadine, set off back to Saltmarsh, arriving just after dark. They resume their lodging in the Merry Mermaid, and ask lieutenant Dan to set up an emergency meeting of the Town Council at their earliest convenience. Nadine says that she will need to look for cheaper lodging, perhaps in the common room of the tavern, and disappears into the night. As soon as she is sure she is not being followed, she returns to the townhouse of Master Merchant Murphey.

    Meanwhile, when the tide of battle turned against his men, Sanballet retreated with the unwounded gnoll to the stairs. He stayed just long enough to see Tyrius smash the last skeleton, and then fled upstairs. Invisible, he left through the front of the house and then worked his way along the cliff face until well away from the house and townsfolk, crossed the road, and returned through the woods until nearby. He let his gnoll sniff out the party’s campsite from the night before, and lingered there in case a chance for revenge presented itself. He and the gnoll watched from the cover of the trees as the entire party left the house in the evening, and then they crept back inside. The party had not found his spellbook nor his treasure chest, so he recovered both of these, gathered some food, cast a final magic mouth spell in his room, and left, walking the coast road to Seaton through the night.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    Mon Apr 30, 2018 4:28 am  

    This is an excellent tale, Kirt! I am enjoying your writing style as much as the encounters your players are involved in.

    "Lieutenant Dan" Lol! Laughing

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    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Apr 30, 2018 11:50 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is an excellent tale, Kirt! I am enjoying your writing style as much as the encounters your players are involved in.

    "Lieutenant Dan" Lol! Laughing


    Thanks! This campaign was actually started three years ago, so I have a lot of material, and plan to keep posting about once a week.

    It often happens when my parties meet an NPC I have not prepared beforehand, that I have to come up with a name on the spot - and I'm not very good at it. I threw out Lt. Dan without thinking about it, completely innocently - and the party laughed and started calling him "Lieutenehnt Dahan" in their best Forrest Gump drawls. It wasn't planned, but it was funny!
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Mon Apr 30, 2018 2:29 pm  
    Post 12: About these players...

    Post 12: A DM's aside: About these players

    At the start of the campaign we had three players, two of my colleagues from work and the son of one of them. Each was running two PC's, thus:

    Player 1: Thokk and Aurora
    Player 2: Barnabus and Tyrius
    Player 3: Larry and Babshapka

    All three of them had extensive computer RPG experience but none had actually played a pencil and paper RPG before, so it was fun watching them explore and learn. The upper level of the Haunted House is particularly forgiving for first level PC's and novice players. Although I must say it was hilarious when the druid chose to thunderwave in the attic after a dozen room descriptions emphasizing the decrepit state of the house. The collapsing floors were resolved with luck rolls and it was even more hilarious when the party found that both of their healers had been knocked unconscious in the fall. As they say, "Ain't no party like a D&D party, 'cause a D&D party don't stop - until the healer is unconscious and all the potions are used".

    A fourth player wanted to join the game, but at the point she talked to me we had already done character creation, backstory, and had played the first session. I had her come in as the NPC Nadine Shakeshaft, with the pledge that we would find a more permanent character for her later. I explained to her that she worked for the merchant in the town who was receiving the smuggled goods, and that her goals were to keep the party from discovering the smugglers and, failing that, to provide the merchant with ample warning of the party's activities. Assassination was on the table, but I told her she wasn't going to sacrifice herself for her employer - that is, killing a party member in a way that led to her own discovery and death was not an option. If you recall the party's ascent to the attic, she deliberately forced the dexterity check that led to Tyrius falling from the attic stairs all the way down into the kitchen - almost taking him out, but not quite. I'm not sure why she wanted the house surrounded by townsfolk the next day - perhaps she thought the audience would discourage the party from searching further.

    The party was indeed very spooked upon encountering the lived-in basement - to this day, their fear of "sausages" is a running joke in the campaign. When they decided to hole up in Sanballet's room (and thereby let the smugglers ambush them), I honestly thought that they were in for a TPK. Their opening the door to the skeletons and then shutting the door to their own room was something I had not predicted - a sort of desperate blunder that directly led to their survival. I actually rolled out the fight between the smugglers and the skeletons, and luck was heavily on the skeleton's side. I think that one scene really set the tone for the whole campaign - inexperienced players with bumbling characters who survive more often through luck than skill. A similar combat would later play out on the Sea Ghost. The Haunted House added a whole Scooby Doo-esque feel that was quite appropriate.

    For the campaign as a whole I decided to dispense with xp, and just award levels at an appropriate point in the story, typically after a specific PC had faced a particularly challenging and class-appropriate event. Thokk (as a barbarian, who had charged into numerous combats in the House) and Barnabus (as a rogue, who had both recovered a ring of protection without the party noticing and had won a share of all the smuggled goods) were the first up. The morning after their return to Saltmarsh, I told them they had leveled and they had access to all their new class features immediately. The other characters had leveled, I decided, but would not be aware of it until they did something story appropriate to "unlock" their new powers - Tyrius, for example, would need to pray in a faith-appropriate temple in Seaton before I told his player he was level 2.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Mon May 07, 2018 1:45 pm  
    Post 13: A DM's Aside: Detailing Saltmarsh

    Post 13: A DM's Aside: Detailing Saltmarsh

    While looking online for maps of the coast of Salinmoor, I came across a roadmap of the area around the real world Seaton in Devon, England.

    "Seaton" is not shown on the Darlene maps, so I am assuming that Seaton, Saltmarsh, and Burle were all creations of Browne and Turnbull for U1-U3. It looks to me like they used the real world Seaton for Greyhawk Seaton, and then roughly made "Sidmouth" into Saltmarsh, "Budleigh Salterton" into the new lizardfolk lair at the mouth of the Dun, and "Exmouth" into the old lizardfolk lair at the mouth of the Javan.

    The original U1 says that Saltmarsh
    U1 wrote:
    is a small, respectable fishing town. The inhabitants are relatively sober, hard-working and amiable. There are adequate facilities for justice and law-enforcement - debtors and bankrupts are dealt with particularly harshly. Fishing is the main industry but there are some tiny farms in the neighboring countryside. The town boasts a small weekly market to which traders are attracted from two larger towns (Burle inland to the northwest, Seaton along the coast to the east). In general, be guided by any small south-coast English fishing town of the 14th Century with a population about 2000.

    However, it leaves much of the detailing to the DM, and on p.3 specifies that
    U1 wrote:
    attention be given to at least some of the following:

    1. The Town Council. Name the members ; determine their trades/occupations and something of their background; decide how powerful and wealthy each member is, relative to the local community.
    2. Treat other prominent local citizens who are not members of the Council in a way similar to the Council members (in particular the merchant-receiver whose part in the plot is explained in the description of room 15)
    3. Draw a map of the town, locating prominent buildings and the places where Council members and other important people carry on their business.
    4. Decide where the characters could stay when resting in the town between adventures (the best inn? the only inn?); draw up a tariff (list of expenditures) for their accommodation and food.
    5. Decide where to locate the town's place(s) of worship and which deity is worshipped there.

    There are a number of online, fan-made maps of Saltmarsh, and as previously noted, I decided to go with Yabusuma's map at

    This solved numbers 3, 4, and 5 of the list above, and gave me a starting place for 1 and 2.

    To finish out my detailing, I used a house-rules system of my own devising, created to help me populate areas. The premise is a quasi-feudal pyramid of social rank and political-economic control. In this system, "Rank 1" is the population base of producers for the economy, while the ranks above are increasingly fewer individuals with religious, military, or political power who live off of the labors of the Rank 1 families.

    With 2000 people, this equates to 800 families, distributed as:

    R1 = 670 families of producers (fisherfolk, pastoralists, farmers)
    R2 = 80 families of petty landowners, local officials, and specialized craftspeople
    R3 = 32 families of master craftspeople and skilled professionals, community leaders and minor officials, and churchless clergy
    R4 = 16 families of wealthy merchants, major officials, and landed clargy
    R5 = 1.6 families of nobility

    With the Yabusuma map as reference, I detailed the

    670 Rank 1 families as
    580 Fisherfolk
    50 Fishing boat owners
    20 Farmers
    10 Dockworkers
    5 Goatherds, Shepherds
    3 Teamsters
    1 Servant
    1 Digger (graves and wells)

    80 Rank 2 families as
    13 Petty merchants and traders
    12 Temple clergy
    5 Militia officers
    5 Constabulary officers
    5 Customs officers
    3 Royal navy officers
    2 each: Merchant Boat Captains, Shipwrights, Salters, Coopers, Carpenters, Basketmakers, Netmakers
    1 each: Ropemaker, Woodseller, Weaver, Tinsmith and Lanternmaker, Thatcher, Tavernkeeper, Tanner, Tailor, Supplier, Shoemaker, Shingler, Locksmith, Lighthousekeeper, Herbalist, Gaoler, Cartographer, Butcher, Bowyer, Blacksmith, Quartermaster of the Militia, Bailiff of the Constabulary, Bailiff of Temple Farm, Bailiff of Saltmarsh Manor

    32 Rank 3 families as:
    14 Itinerant Priests (Xerbo (5), Norebo (2), Procan (2), Kord (1), Phyton (1), Fharlanghn (1 - Flern, whom the party met (cf. Post 8), Merikka (1), and Sol (1))
    11 Town Elders and Community Leaders
    3 Innkeepers (including Ruth of the Merry Mermaid)
    2 Fishbuyers
    1 Salt Merchant
    1 Master Shipwright

    16 Rank 4 families as: (note that (TC) indicates a seat on the Town Council)
    The High Constable of Saltmarsh (TC)
    The Reeve of Saltmarsh (TC)
    Secun, the Chief Customs Officer of Saltmarsh (TC)
    Aeravis, Head Priest of the Temple of Phaulkon (TC) (whom the party met, cf. Post 9)
    Hipoteco, Head Priest of the Temple of Zilchus (TC)
    Siluana, Head Priestess of the Temple of Osprem (TC)
    Head Priestess of the Temple of Lydia
    Captain of the Saltmarsh Militia (TC)
    A fishmonger (TC)
    A spice merchant (TC)
    A metals merchant
    A grain merchant (TC)
    A merchant fleet owner (TC)
    A fishing fleet owner (TC)
    A general goods merchant (TC)
    A general goods merchant (Murphey, the receiver)

    1.6 Rank 5 families as:
    Hewell II, Viscount of Salinmoor and Lord of Saltmarsh (nominally the head of the Town Council but generally residing at his seat in Seaton)
    Hewell's adult son and heir.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Thu Jan 03, 2019 10:56 pm; edited 3 times in total
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    Mon May 14, 2018 10:54 am  
    Post 14: DM's Aside: Detailing the Town Council

    Post 14: DM's Aside: Detailing the Town Council

    There are three main power blocks or alliances on the 14-member Town Council.

    First, those who are primarily loyal to the Viscount. Second, those who are primarily loyal to the people and town of Saltmarsh. Third (and most numerous), those who are primarily loyal to their own pocketbooks. Most of the time these three groups agree and work well together, for in the long term, keeping the people of Saltmarsh safe and prosperous is good for business, which is good for the taxes of the Viscount. The only time true conflict arises is when a “wedge issue” breaks one group off - for example, if a policy would be bad for Saltmarsh itself but would increase trade throughout the larger county, the merchants and the Viscount’s representatives might favor it while the town loyalists would oppose it. Such issues are rare, however.

    Viscount Block Members (4):
    *The Viscount himself: As Lord of Saltmarsh, he is nominal Head of the Council. In practice, he rarely leaves his seat at Seaton, and is seldom present at Council meetings. Occasionally, if there is a close or symbolically important debate or vote, he will send his son and heir as his representative, and his son's family makes more use of the Lord's Estate in Saltmarsh than the Viscount does. Although it is obvious that the derivation of Seaton is Sea-Town, more than one scurrilous wag in Saltmarsh pronounces it Seat-On, when he wishes to make the point that the Viscount has installed himself there and doesn't look to the affairs of his subjects in Saltmarsh.
    *The Viscount’s Reeve (appointed by the Viscount, collects taxes for him)
    *The Chief Customs Officer (technically an agent of the King, but appointed by the Viscount)
    *The High Constable of Saltmarsh (responsible for civic order, appointed by the Viscount)

    Saltmarsh Block Members (4)
    *The Militia Captain (appointed by the Viscount, but must be a born citizen of Saltmarsh, responsible for the defense of the town against outside threats)
    *Head Priestess of the Temple of Osprem (goddess of the sea and fishing)
    *Head Priest of the Temple of Phaulkon (god of the winds and storms)
    *Fishing Fleet Owner (the margins on fishing are so slim, and morale of the fisherfolk so important to profitability, this wealthy merchant more often votes with the town than with the other merchants)

    Merchant Block Members (6)
    *Head Priest of the Temple of Zilchus (god of trade and commerce)
    *Fishmonger (not a wealthy person, this position rotates among the petty merchants in town on one-year terms. It is the closest there is to having a commoner's voice and perspective on the council)
    *Spice Merchant
    *Grain Merchant
    *Merchant Fleet Owner
    *General Merchant

    Other important and powerful people in town who are not on the Council include:
    *General Merchant Murphey (the receiver, who hopes to use the wealth from smuggling to obtain a position on the Council, possibly displacing his rival, the other general merchant)
    *The Head Priestess of the Temple of Lydia (supported by, appointed by, and a distant cousin of the Viscount, but not popular in town)
    *The Metals Merchant
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue May 22, 2018 5:45 am  

    Double Post
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Oct 02, 2018 10:33 am; edited 1 time in total
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    Tue May 29, 2018 7:43 am  
    Post 15: The Party meets the Council -and- Murphey's Flight

    Post 15: The Party meets the Council - and - Murphey's Flight

    30 July, 570 - Saltmarsh
    Tyrius, Aurora, and Barnabus hold a hushed strategy session over breakfast, even going so far as to take a different table from the other three and to stop talking whenever Ruth appears. At first, Tyrius says that they will simply need to appear before the Town Council and give them all the details of what transpired in the Haunted House. Aurora and Barnabus quickly tell him that he is being naive.

    Barnabus’ concern is simple - the disposition of the recovered smuggled goods - bolts and bolts of silk, casks and casks of fine brandy. Barnabus is sure that as soon as the Council learns of this windfall, they will seize the goods without a second thought. He counsels Tyrius that they can report everything they found in the cellar, down to the last gold earring if he wants, but they are better off keeping what was found in the sea caves a secret. He is convinced that in time he can find a way to move the goods to Seaton and sell them there, for the benefit of the party - equal shares all around. Tyrius replies that he will not lie or hide goods for simple monetary gain.

    Aurora’s argument is more subtle. Whomever was receiving these smuggled goods, she explains, is likely to be both wealthy and powerful. If they are not on the Council themselves, they are likely to have allies, eyes and ears, on it. For all they know, the Council itself could already be aware of the smuggling ring, and be using it to enrich the town at the expense of the King. Aurora says that they will have to tread carefully, for the smuggler could have given them the name of this Master Merchant Murphey as a ruse or decoy. If the Council, or at least some members of it, are complicit, the party as strangers in town are more than likely to be set up as fall guys, and charged themselves with the crime of smuggling. The less they reveal to the Council the better, especially about the sea caves - they are safer pretending they don’t even know about these, so that they don’t make anyone tip their hand.

    This argument Tyrius takes more seriously. He finally agrees to be more circumspect, and leave most of the talking to Aurora. He warns her, though, that he will not lie - if he is asked a direct question, he will answer truthfully, if not fully, and he will not allow her to blatantly lie in his presence. Aurora and Barnabus exchange glances and decide that is the best that they can expect from a paladin.

    Lieutenant Dan summons them to the Council meeting at mid-morning. Larry and Babshapka remain at the Merry Mermaid; Thokk is left outside the Council chambers with orders to guard their escape route in case one is needed but otherwise not to interact with anyone, and Tyrius, Aurora, and Barnabus are ushered in before the Council.

    There are ten people already in the room - they are told that the full Council numbers fourteen, but not all of them could make it on such short notice. The worse for the party, thinks Aurora, when introductions are made, for Murphey could well be one of those missing. All of those present are men except for a priestess of Osprem, and all are dressed in fine, if not noble, clothes. There are other priests, a number of merchants and tradesmen, and various civil officials. It soon becomes clear that the meeting is being run by a man named Secun, who is the Chief Customs Officer of Saltmarsh and an agent of the King himself. The others talk either when he invites them or, occasionally, when he does not object to their interruptions.

    Aurora introduces herself as a traveling scholar of little account, simply here to document the exploits of an odd band of would-be adventurers. She tells the Council members of the party’s arrival in town just three days ago, of their lodging at the Merry Mermaid, of the warm reception they have received from the townsfolk. Recognizing Aeravis on the Council, though in much finer robes than when they last saw him, Aurora even says that their decision to explore the Haunted House was at his suggestion, really. The priest looks puzzled but does not contradict her.

    Aurora describes how they found nothing of interest in the upper part of the house (she never mentions Nadine), but how when they found a hidden basement they were immediately set upon by a large band of ruffians. She tells them of the silk and brandy found in the basement, and how the sole survivor claimed to be a smuggler, their goods destined for “a merchant in town”. This last bit causes a stir of fevered whispering which Secun has to silence. Secun presses Aurora for more information on this merchant, and she carefully scans the faces of those present, trying to see anyone who looks angry, frightened, or guilty. Aurora insists that the party is not making any accusations themselves, merely repeating the words of the self-confessed smuggler. Secun notes dryly that since the party failed to take any prisoners that could be interrogated by the Council, instead either killing, letting escape, or even freeing the men, they will have to take her word for what it is worth. Aurora gives up the name of Master Merchant Murphey, and the uproar this time is even more frenzied. One merchant even rises from his chair and moves to speak directly with Secun, exchanging heated words that can almost be overheard, before he is sent back to his seat with a host of eyes following him. Aurora tries to note the man’s face, as she does not remember his name from the introductions.

    When the Council is done asking questions, Tyrius presents them with the bolt of silk, the head of the gnoll, and the knight’s shield. The three of them then leave the room and are brought refreshment while the Council deliberates.

    Eventually they are called back to the Council chamber and its disposition announced to the trio. The Council formally thanks the party for bringing this matter to their attention, but say that they cannot issue a final decision until they have more evidence. Secun explains that a force of constables, led by a customs officer, will be dispatched immediately to the House to see that all is as the party has reported. The High Constable interjects, apparently repeating a previous petition to be allowed town funds as a hazard bonus for his men, since “everyone knows that the House is cursed.” At a frown from Secun, he changes this to because “the common men believe the House is cursed”, but he maintains his petition until a quick vote is held which effectively denies him those funds.

    It is further resolved that a force of constables be sent to the various locations frequented by Murphey - his shop, his townhouse, his warehouse - and that he be brought in for questioning. Secun expressly warns the party not to interfere in this, as the Council does not want to prejudice the witness before he has a chance to testify under oath. Aurora agrees and they take their leave, but not before Secun further warns her, as a “simple scholar,” to stop trying to buy magic components in the town, since she is scaring the marketfolk.

    They are not half-way back to the Mermaid when the commoners in the streets have begun gossiping about Murphey. News travels fast in the small town, apparently. Tyrius is distraught. How will justice be served if the constables do not apprehend Murphey before he can catch word and escape? After Secun’s personal rebuke, Aurora does not want to raise her profile in town, so she returns to the inn, but Tyrius gets Barnabus and Thokk to accompany him to the shop of Murphey, which it turns out is a general store.

    A crowd has already gathered around it but the shop is closed, itself an oddity, and Murphey is nowhere to be seen. Tyrius pounds on the door and demands that it be opened, but receives no response. Thokk, not exactly knowing why they are there but excited by Tyrius’ calls, slams his shoulder into the door and breaks the simple latch. The trio of them search the store, and even the stock rooms in the back, but find no trace of anyone.

    Nadine, watching from the crowd in a simple brown threadbare peasant’s robe with a hood, sees the trio enter the store of her employer. She walks around back to the stable, quickly saddles and bridles a riding horse, and puts a cart horse on a lead, then takes both horses into the alley behind the shop. She returns to the stable, empties a half-lantern’s worth of oil onto a manure pile, and uses flint and steel to set it ablaze before returning to the alley.

    “Fire!” calls someone in the crowd, when the flame is seen through the open stable door. The cry is immediately taken up, even by those who do not see it. Precious few buildings in Saltmarsh are of stone - a fire could easily sweep through the town and render dozens dead and hundreds homeless in a few hours. The alarm spreads and the constables arrive on the scene just in time to forget their charge and join those running to wells with buckets.

    Hearing the commotion, Tyrius exits the shop and immediately sees what is happening. He calls off the search and begins to direct the bucket brigade, making people form lines rather than haphazardly dash about. Thokk returns to the store only long enough to grab a bushel basket of oranges before dumping out the fruits and heading off for a well. Barnabus strums his lute quickly and calls out in a clear voice, setting a fast tune that helps the people move in unison.

    With everyone thus occupied, Murphey emerges from the secret attic of the store, exits through a back door, and meets Nadine in the alley. He carries with him saddlebags full of food, gold coins, and even a few gems. He passes a small gem to Nadine while she holds the horse for him to mount, and then he rides through the streets of Saltmarsh and out to the coast road, receiving only a few cries of “Isn’t that…” and “Hey, stop!” after him before he is away. Nadine walks her cart horse slowly to the other end of town before leaving. Murphey has a long head start on her and a saddle, but his horse is laden both with his baggage and his considerable bulk. She has no doubt she will be able to catch up with him before their arrival in Seaton.

    An hour later, with the fire long out and no one hurt, Tyrius is on his way to a warehouse said to be owned or rented by Murphey, when he and the others are intercepted by a group of militia men, and told to return to the Merry Mermaid until summoned by the Council.

    That evening, Tyrius, Barnabus and Aurora appear before the Council for a second time, and this time the Council numbers thirteen, with the only missing member being the Lord of Saltmarsh himself. Secun is, not surprisingly, not the only member to be wroth with the party for expressly violating the mandate to leave Murphey alone. The High Constable assures the other members of the Council that without the party’s interference, his men would have taken Murphey alive. Tyrius apologizes profusely. More than by his contrition, however, many on the Council are mollified by the situation itself. With Murphey fled, the merchant can be declared guilty by admission in absentia, saving a prolonged and uncertain trial that would pit his word against that of the strangers. With no known heirs, the Council is free to seize his considerable assets in the name of the town. More than one of them looks to profit either personally or professionally from his downfall, and it appears to be only the officials of the Viscount that are left out and legitimately angry with the party.

    Furthermore, even Secun is forced to admit that the constables and customs officers dispatched to the House have returned and reported that everything was exactly as the party claimed, further strengthening the case against Murphey and legitimizing the party’s story of having broken up a smuggling ring. While the Viscount’s officials may not be getting a share of Murphey’s estate, they will likely receive a commendation or reward from the Viscount or even the King for having ended this crime against the Crown.

    Lastly, those on the Council representing the temples of Saltmarsh thank the party for helping to end the idea of the Alchemist’s House as cursed and as a blight on the name of the town.

    The Town Council has decided to award the party 300 gold lions for their efforts to date in breaking up the smuggling ring, to be divided among the party members as they see fit.

    The High Constable has declared the slain gnoll a "monster" and all the slain smugglers to be "outlaws" so that the party will face no legal repercussions from their kin (charges of manslaughter, or claims of weregild) for their deaths.

    The party is awarded the "Right of Pillage" on all goods recovered from the Haunted House, and may take immediate possession of them. However, the Council specifically and clearly states that since the Crown Tax has not been paid on the silk and brandy, the party will have to pay the 25% duty on them in order to take legal possession.

    Two nights' food and lodging (from the time the party left the Haunted House yesterday followed by the crowd, to tomorrow morning after tonight’s meeting with the Council) have been paid for at the Merry Mermaid from Council funds. While the Council has not granted title to the Haunted House or its land to the party, they say that the party will be given "squatter's rights" to the property so that they may camp there free of any fee for the time being and without being charged with vagrancy. When Aurora asks why they would want to camp there, Secun clears his throat and has the High Constable check the doors and windows to make sure there are no listeners about.

    The Council notes that assuming the smuggler’s tale of supply by ship is true, it is very likely that the sea-based smugglers have no idea of the party's actions against their land-based crew, as there is no easy communication between the two groups. They therefore propose that a trap be laid, such that the next time the smuggler's ship appears (estimated to be between two weeks and a month hence), the party will row out to it pretending to be the smugglers, and then seize the ship and take prisoner its crew. The Council is prepared to promise them 50 gold lions each to any surviving member as well as right of pillage for anything they manage to capture from the ship. If the party agrees to this, the Council would ask that no more than half of them be absent from Saltmarsh (or the House) at any point in time until the smuggler's ship reappears. The Customs House will send out patrols, day and night, of excise men to be on the lookout for the ship and will notify the party as soon as it is spotted.

    Tyrius and Aurora thank the Council for the reward, and say that they are very interested in the offer of future employment, but that they will need to take it up with the rest of the party. They then return to the Mermaid to inform their companions.

    That evening, Aurora gathers her five teammates at a single table at the Merry Mermaid, and bids them drink as much ale as they will, for the Council is buying. Even before the meeting is officially convened, everyone has pledged to help in the upcoming battle against the sea-going smugglers. Once everyone has had a round, Aurora begins talking of the future.

    "First of all, everyone, congratulations on a wonderful and successful adventure! Despite a few missteps along the way, we've handled ourselves admirably and saved Saltmarsh from looming criminal activity right on its back doorstep. Cheers!”

    “However, I worry that we have stepped on quite a few toes in the doing. By now, my friends, you know me as a capable…” she leans in and whispers spell caster, “ search of adventure, but a good friend of mine once wisely advised me to keep a low profile in this area of the world. The town harbors deep-seated prejudice against the magical arts, and so I present myself to others as a writer and common scholar. I believe it would be a smart course of action for me to burnish that side of my reputation. We've also annoyed the Council and the rather important Master Secun in the way our efforts were concluded, so I think a little massaging of the egos of the local community is also in order. I think that I can help kill two birds with one stone and offer to publish an extremely flattering account of our latest activities as a broadside. How does this sound to everyone?”

    Aurora writes with an imaginary quill in the air as she recites, “A lowly group of ragtag mercenaries are hired in secret by the Saltmarsh Town Council to investigate a local building of suspicion. Disbelieving the legends of ghosts and necromancers, the wise High Constable, Chief Customs Officer, and Lord of Saltmarsh encouraged the mercenaries to infiltrate the house and learn the truth of the situation, fearing that the house may present a threat to the town or the King's authority in the region. Proving their suspicions correct, the mercenary band uncovers an extensive smuggling operation and learns of a local contact in Saltmarsh working with the smugglers to defraud the King of justly-earned tariffs! On instruction from Chief Customs Officer Secun, the mercenaries were then sent to reconnoiter merchant warehouses believed to be the most likely sources of the urban contact. Once again validating Master Secun's outstanding deductive skills, the fence of the goods was quickly revealed as a local merchant. Sadly, though, a deceitful co-conspirator set fire to a stable and threatened to burn down not only the stables and the general store (containing much of the evidence against them), but half of Saltmarsh itself! Good Master Secun and the Council courageously ordered the mercenaries to divert all their efforts to fighting the raging fire, saving the town in the process, although allowing the merchant to temporarily flee. The Council has now set its goal toward ending the smuggling operation for good, and restoring the King's authority to the region in their charge.

    The rest of the group chuckles over their drinks as Aurora slides into old habits of storytelling, but decides that it can't hurt to try and mend a few bridges with their current employers.

    “That is fine and well”, muses Barnabus, “but not many of the folk hereabouts can read. Mayhap you should write your account for the parlors of the elite, while I compose a ballad for the commoners…”

    “Indeed,” agrees Aurora. "Also," she continues, "I suggest that we offer to keep ourselves somewhat secluded in the 'haunted house' to help avoid any further unpleasantness from occurring in this provincial little town. We could even help fund a few stability repairs to the home and suggest that, with our help, the haunted house could be turned into a minor attraction along the coast road after we've dealt with the smugglers - ‘come relive the terrifying tale of the haunted house of Saltmarsh!’ Of course," Aurora rolls her eyes, "the council's wisdom and loyalty to the King will be a central part of the information presented on tours, and proceeds from the house can benefit Saltmarsh at their discretion for years to come. We can use all this as a perfect excuse for making a few trips to Seaton. I, for example, ‘need to pick up supplies’ for writing the account of the council's heroics."

    Chuckles erupt from the party members. "Actually, I am anxious to meet with someone who might teach me a few new tricks, and could use some additional reagents for spells I think we all might find handy. We'll need some basic lumber and building supplies for stabilizing and improving the smuggler's house, too. Tyrius, you mentioned you're wanting to visit a temple as well.”

    “Just so,” replies the noble paladin. “I am told there is a temple to Sol in Seaton. Many of my faith consider Sol and Pelor to be two faces of the same god. I doubt I will find a temple to Pelor here in the south, so I would wish to be shriven by a priest of Sol in recognition of the divine providence we received in routing the smugglers.”

    "While we're there,” continues Aurora, “we might as well sell off the treasure we collected at top coin - surely we can find multiple goldsmiths, curio shops, and gem shops in such a big city. Collecting bids and bartering up the price will likely get us a far better deal than we could in turning over our spoils to the merchants of Saltmarsh. Seaton is likely to have a few trading houses where we can stash something for a rainy day, as well. Oh, one last thing, we never told the Council about the secret passage leading down the caves into the rocky area by the sea. It seems to me highly likely that they'll discover it on their own eventually, what with all their customs agents coming and going on the lookout for the smuggler’s boat. I suggest we tell them about the caves immediately, say we held back the information because we knew everyone would want to discover the identity of the fence first, and then offer to pay the full 25% duty as directed. We can offer to help sell the goods and settle all charges in Seaton."

    Barnabus grumbles that if they are selling things in Seaton, he is sure he could move the silks and brandy without paying the King’s tariff - but Tyrius informs him that that is not going to happen.

    After the drinks and celebration all of the party stays that night in the Merry Mermaid, with Barnabus already working on his ballad.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 05, 2018 3:19 pm  
    Post 16: Backstory for Willa

    Post 16: Backstory for Willa

    Corporal Willhemina Stoutly (Willa)
    Second Level Fighter / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 17 (+3), Int 10, Wis 9 (-1), Dex 15 (+2), Con 12 (+1), Chr 9 (-1)
    Hp 18
    (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast)
    (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting
    Chain armor, sword, dagger

    Wilhelmina ‘Willa’ Stoutly was born in Saltmarsh as the first child of a poor fishing family. Her father owned a small rowboat but mostly worked on the larger trawlers of more prosperous men. Her early life was happy, with a kind and industrious mother and a hard-working and indulgent father. Her father didn’t begrudge her being a girl and indeed raised her to know the fishing craft as well as he did. Neighbors often said he simply never noticed that Willa was a girl, which was fine with her, as she was strong, swift, and adventurous.

    She had lived so long as an only child, until the advanced age of eight, that she simply assumed she would always be one, and perhaps her parents did as well. Everyone seemed surprised when her mother was again with child. Still, Willa was a big girl (nearly a maiden!), confident in her parents’ love, and did not worry overly much about the new arrival.

    Willa and her father were off fishing, more from pleasure than necessity, when her new brother Tom was born. It was an unexpectedly difficult birth and her mother passed soon after. Her father was devastated. He went through the motions of providing for the family, but the joy had gone out of his life. The sympathy and charity of neighbors kept the babe in milk for a year or so, but after that it was increasingly Willa’s job to look after the family. The more she grew, the more responsibilities she could assume, but the more her father retreated into idle depression and drink. Yes, she resented the sibling that had cost her both her parents, but she was also the only one keeping Tom alive - and as he grew, he did show her all the affection and appreciation that a child would its parent. He was never as serious as she, never as responsible, but then he never had to be.

    It was around the time Willa was 12 or 13 (she doesn’t remember well, but knows she hadn’t bled yet) that the militia officers began to hassle her father for not showing up for the monthly drills, or, when he did show up, for being drunk. After numerous warnings, he spent a weekend in the stocks. The next time muster was called, Willa went in his stead. The pimply-faced serjeant told her she couldn’t represent her family as long as there was an able adult male, and she told him she would go home if he could beat her two falls of three in wrestling. When she pinned his arm behind his back and made him cry yield on the first bout, he didn’t ask for a second fall.

    Willa had initially gone to the militia as her civic obligation and to spare her father, but was surprised to find that she actually enjoyed it, especially the weapons training. When she acquitted herself well in a skirmish with marsh goblins, she was hooked. She put in for auxiliary patrol duty, up and down the road to Fort Bale. The patrol work was occasional, but it was a guaranteed wage, and better than fishing all day and coming home with empty nets.

    The real breakthrough came when a position as an excise officer opened up. Sure, her sex was held against her, but the Saltmarsh Customs House could find no one else at the moment who could both competently swing a sword and navigate a boat. Her corporal told her that she would be replaced as soon as they did find someone, but she managed to distinguish herself in an encounter with pirates and get promoted before they dismissed her, and after that she became a fixture. Excise work was still part time, but it was regular and any one day spent checking tariffs and cargos earned her as much as three to five days fishing on her own.

    Now, at twenty-five and an “old maid”, she is the corporal. The Customs Master, Secun, trusts her implicitly. He has said more than once that he would name her captain of the excise officers in a heartbeat if he thought the appointment would be approved by the Viscount. She is more often than not the ranking officer on missions, so she commands in fact if not in title. Just this last year she was finally able to bully and cajole Tom into starting as an excise officer at 15. She understands that he prefers the freedom of private fishing, but how he intends to ever make enough to take a wife he hasn’t been able to articulate. He says he has no plans to marry, but then he has no plans for anything and with the number of maids he frequents it will not be long before one is found to be carrying. He actually does a decent job at officering, so long as Willa is not in his group.

    Several days ago strangers arrived in town and caused a big commotion by exploring the Haunted House and supposedly discovering a smuggler’s nest, though their claim was long on conjecture and short on evidence. Willa doesn’t doubt that there were smugglers, but the real motives of the strangers, with not a one of them a crown subject, are suspect. Could they have been working with the smugglers all along? Could they be attempting to gain some sort of local notoriety to hatch an even bigger crime? They drove merchant Murphey out of town without a trial and upset the Town Council to no end. Her patron Secun, in particular, had some choice words for them that almost brought a blush to her cheeks, and she reckons she can sling invectives with the saltiest sailor. The Council has asked them to seize the smuggler’s supply ship when next it makes port. Secun has told Willa that she will be going with them. As far as they know, it will be to navigate and assist, but her real job will be to find out more about them, especially whether they are who they are presenting themselves as and whether they are representing their actions accurately to the Council. Secun let her choose one private to take with her, and she picked Tom. Ordinarily she would take anyone else, as he always finds a way to subvert her authority on missions, but in this case he was the only one she could trust not to mouth off in town about what their real mission is.

    Willa is taking her suit of chain with her. Though it was second-hand and ill-fitting when she got it, it is a prized possession and was a present from Secun from when she made corporal. She has worn it on the coast road and the Bale road numerous times, and it even saved her from a blade once. She’s never worn it at sea and is not sure she wants to, but she wants it along just in case. She is also bringing her preferred weapons - longsword and dagger. The dagger is for when the craft is so small that a step could unbalance it, but she prefers the sword any time the deck is stable. If there is space, she prefers to use the sword two-handed for maximum effect, though she has been known to switch to one-handed so as to throw her dagger left-handed, a move seldom suspected. She has never really taken to shields - lots of the officers carry them, but she finds them completely impractical at sea. She would like to purchase a greatsword, and perhaps she will if she can make a claim to a fair share of whatever booty is captured from this smuggler’s ship.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jun 12, 2018 8:33 pm  
    Post 17: Sanballet's Refrain

    Post 17: Sanballet's Refrain

    31 July, 570 - Saltmarsh

    [DM’s note: Upon waking, both Barnabus and Thokk are at second level]

    Barnabus the Minstrel (Barnabus)
    Second Level Rogue / Halfling (Entertainer)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 17 (+3) Con 11 (0) Int 15 (+2) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
    Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled)
    Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
    Studded leather armor

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Second Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 17 (+3) Dex 14 (+2) Con 15 (+2) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 19, Languages Orc, Goblin, Common
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Shield, battle axe, hand axes, javelins

    Some of the party are already awake when the smell of Ruth’s cooking comes from below. Others, having indulged in too much ale the previous night, need to be roused from their beds when the food is lain on the table. Eventually they are all downstairs and eating, some eagerly and some reluctantly.

    In through the door strides a tall, broad-shouldered, dusky woman. Her features are predominantly Flan, though not purely so, with a copper-brown skin and black tresses. Whether her mixed ancestry includes Oerid, or Suel, or both, is not obvious. Ruth nods in recognition of her, then does a half-curtsy in respect. The new woman is dressed in an old but well-maintained tabard bearing a device on the left sleeve, a loose linen blouse under, tight leather breeches, and high boots. The hilt of a longsword projects above her shoulder - it is worn in a back-harness under her tabard, and a dagger sits comfortably on her hip.

    The woman grins, more in satisfaction than friendliness, “No mistakin’ ther lot o’ ye fer Moorfolk, be t’ere?” she asks rhetorically. Thokk, looking up from his plate of fried fish, smiles in reply, spiky tusks protruding from his broad mouth. He takes an immediate liking to the newcomer.

    “Excuse me?” asks Aurora. She speaks Keoish well enough, but is taken aback by the thickness of the lower-class Salinmoor accent used by the woman.

    The woman tries again in Common, but her accent is just as thick. “I be sayin’, ther lot o’ ye be ther strangers wot met wit’ ther Council.”

    “Oh, yes, quite!”

    The woman introduces herself as Corporal Wilhelmina Stoutley, chief excise office of the Saltmarsh Customs House. Under the direction of Secun, she has been tasked with both conveying the party back to the alchemist’s house and retrieving any goods that they wish to turn in for reward under their right of pillage. She says she has a wagon ready outside. Aurora thanks her for bringing the wagon but says they are only part-way through breakfast, and after that they will need time to pack and load their gear. Wilhelmina scowls, gestures at the window, says they are burning daylight, mutters about layabouts, and takes a chair on the other side of the room, glowering at them as they eat.

    Ruth brings her out a plate of fried herring, which she refuses at first, then reluctantly accepts. Ruth says something to her too softly for the party to hear, but her response is clear enough, “Tom stays wit’ ther wagon!”

    Those sitting across from the window later see Ruth bringing out a fried egg sandwich to a man sitting in the passenger side of a wagon drawn by a single draft horse. Ruth even has a handful of raw oats for the horse, and she and the man talk amiably for a while.

    When the party is finally finished with their breakfast, they load their gear into the back of the wagon, and then themselves. There is only room on the seat for two, with Wilhelmina driving and the other excise officer sitting beside her. The lad introduces himself as “Private Tom Stoutley, at yer service!” They quickly notice that he addresses the woman as “Willa,” not “Corporal”. There is a strong facial resemblance between them, but the youth is much lighter in skin tone and a good ten years younger.

    It is a bit bumpy and jostly in the wagon, and Thokk soon elects to walk alongside them, his long strides easily keeping pace with the draft horse. There is no way little Barnabus, or Tyrius in his heavy chain, could keep up, though, so the party remains in the wagon, and arrive at the house before midday.

    Willa drives the horse right through the gate, without a hint of superstitious hesitation, and up to the front entrance of the house, on the sea side. Aurora comments that the horse does not shy away from the wall or the gate, unlike the townsfolk, and Willa says that the horse has more sense than most humans. She spits into the long grass, perhaps to emphasize her point.

    The party shows the excise officers the trapdoor into the secret basement, and points out the cask of brandy they want taken back to the town. The odds and ends like gold earrings removed from the smugglers they still plan on personally selling in Seaton. While Willa and Tom are rolling the cask up the stairs, Aurora confers briefly with Tyrius. When the officers return, Aurora shows them the secret door, and then walks them through the sea caves, counting casks and bolts, and ending at the lowest cave, which is half filled with seawater.

    “Ye dinnae mention aught o’ t’is t’ ther Council” says Willa hotly.

    Before Aurora can answer, Tyrius apologizes, and says that they did not want to inform the Council of the full extent of the smuggling ring until they were sure that the smuggler did not have allies on the Council. Now that Murphey has been run out of town, they are confident that the Council will be able to do the right thing with all of this contraband.

    “And by do the right thing, Tyrius means pay us the full value of all the goods,” says Barnabus.

    “After the excise tax,” adds Tyrius.

    “It nae be me place ta make decisions fer ther Council,” says Willa, “but we can bring all yon casks an’ bolts back. ‘Twill take more’n one trip, tho.”

    Meanwhile, Tom is looking out into the Azure Sea through the cave. “I musta been by t’is cliff a hunnerd times an’ never seen t’is cave.” he wonders.

    “Nae, yon rocks be concealin’ it,” answers Willa, and points out a rocky promontory that would shield the cave from view from the open water. “Ye’d need t’ be in tight t’ ther cliff face t’ see it - perfect fer smugglin’, all right.”

    Willa, Tom, Thokk, and Tyrius pack the wagon full of casks and fill the empty spaces with bolts of silk, and then the two excise officers set off back to town, leaving the party in the basement of the house. Before they set up camp, however, Aurora suggests they finish searching the secret cellar, as they did not have time to do that previously.

    Their first stop is the room of the leader. Even as he steps inside, Babshapka knows something is amiss. The bed has been moved, and the floor that was previously under the bed has had a flagstone removed to reveal a large hollow underneath. As he approaches, a voice booms out, seemingly coming from the hole itself but filling the room. It sounds suspiciously similar to the voice that greeted them upon their first entry to the house.

    “Fools! So you have returned. Well, you’re too late! Thanks to your premature departure, I now have my spell books AND my treasure, so there is naught more here for you. Me and the merchant and the captain had a nice little smuggling operation set up, and we would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for you meddling adventurers! Well, don’t you worry. Sanballet doesn’t forget. Enjoy your success for now, but heed my words - I am out there, and I will have my revenge. And next time, I won’t be stopped by a room full of skeletons! I will have my revenge! AH-AH-HAHAHAHAHA!”

    Sobored and a bit nervous, the party carefully searches the room but finds nothing. They then move to the “danger” room from whence the skeletons came. Rapping on the walls, Aurora quickly discovers a secret door, but not how to open it. After several minutes watching her try, Thokk bores and leaves, but soon lumbers back, carrying the wrought iron stove that had been in the hearth.

    “Thokk, what are you...?” begins Aurora, but doesn’t have a chance to finish.

    Thokk shouts “Thokk open door!” and hurls the heavy stove at the wall. It crashes into the wall and then to the floor, but has broken through the dust-covered lathe to a thin layer of wood beneath. Thokk retrieves the stove and hurls it again, this time cracking the wood and revealing an open space on the other side. After several more blows, the stove is a smashed and rent ruin, but the doorway is open and large enough for them all to step through.

    The room beyond (24) contains the remains of a laboratory and, apparently, the famed alchemist. The party recovers several items of gold from the table in front of him, coins from his rotting belt pouch, and Aurora even finds a water-damaged spellbook in a secret drawer of the table, plus a specialized text on alchemy. Thokk finds a glowing stone clutched in the skeletal fist of the alchemist but eventually turns it over to Tyrius. Tyrius has taken to carrying the small valuables recovered by the party (gems, jewelry, coins and such) as the only one whom everyone trusts.

    Next the party searches the cellar itself, and this time they manage to find the secret door to the wine cellar. Tyrius takes the plate armor - he is eager to try it on, but still cautious about the corpse worms from before. He decides to requisition a single cask of brandy, break open the top, and soak the armor in it, reasoning that the potent alcohol will kill any remaining pests.

    After this the party does set up camp, to some extent. Barnabus declares that he has finished composing his ballad, and will be returning to town. Aurora (with her guard Babshapka) and Tyrius say that they will be taking the coast road to Seaton, leaving only Larry and Thokk in the house itself, which they say is fine with them.

    Several hours later, when Willa and Tom return with the wagon, the party informs them of their plans. Willa reminds them that the Council specifically enjoined them to have half their members in the house in case the smugglers returned, and Aurora reminds Willa that the language used was half their members in the house or town, so with Barnabus in town and Larry and Thokk in the house, they do indeed meet the requirement. Willa sighs, opens a small chest in the wagon, and takes out a wax-sealed sheet of parchment. If they are going to Seaton, she explains, the Council has prepared a letter of introduction to the Viscount for them. Although Aurora reaches out for the letter, Willa hands it to Tyrius, who carefully tucks it away. They then work on loading the wagon a second time, and manage to fit all the remaining casks and bolts aboard.

    In the early afternoon, Willa and Tom head back to Saltmarsh with Barnabus riding in the wagon and trying out his ballad on the captive audience. Between the three inns and the tavern in Saltmarsh, Barnabus plans on working out an arrangement of performing local songs, plus his featured ballad, in one each night in succession in exchange for food in the day and lodging at night. The stanzas of the song feature all the action of the search of the house and the climactic battle with the smugglers, and mention each of the party members by name. The chorus, curiously, refers to himself:

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    there was danger by the fistful,
    but through it all there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    Aurora, Babshapka, and Tyrius begin walking down the coast road to Seaton as Barnabus’ voice fades behind them, while Larry and Thokk wave goodbye from the gate.

    Thokk, with Larry’s help, carries the bodies of the nine smugglers and the gnoll out of the house, and tosses them in the bushes on the other side of the road. He is hopeful they will attract wolves, or even a bear! He would like to fight a bear.

    Thokk and Larry did not understand the function of the stove and don't miss it. They cook a hearty supper cooked over the open hearth and then talk about where they will each sleep, Sanballet’s narrow bed being too small for the both of them together. Speaking of the mage has gotten them a little spooked, now that they are alone in the house at night. After a bit of conversation, they decide that they would be better off in the woods across the road from the house. If the mage returns, it will be harder for him to find them, and they both are more comfortable in the woods, anyway. They pack a few things and leave the cellar, setting up camp in the woods.

    Stretching out his shoulders before bed, Thokk smiles wistfully at all the glorious blood that has been shed recently. He remembers fondly the looks of admiration the townsfolk gave him after his return to the Merry Mermaid the day before - perhaps living among humans is not so bad after all.

    At second moonrise, Thokk is snoring heavily but Larry can’t sleep. He goes even deeper into the woods to commune with nature.

    Meanwhile, Aurora, Babshapka, and Tyrius have continued along the coast road all afternoon, carrying with them the gems, trinkets, and coins recovered from the house. By nightfall they have past several outlying thorps, but are not within sight of the lights of Seaton and so make a camp alongside the road.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1062
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jun 19, 2018 1:50 pm  
    Post 18: Taking care of business

    [DM’s note: Upon waking, Larry is at second level. He chooses to pledge himself to the Circle of the Land (Mountains)]. New features in bold

    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)
    Second Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (0) Dex 14 (+2) Con 15 (+2) Int 11 (0) Wis 17 (+4) Cha 4 (-3)
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Leather armor, shield, scimitar, quarterstaff]

    Post 18: Taking care of business

    1, 2, 3 August, 570 - various locations in Salinmore

    At the Haunted House, Larry spends his time in the woods, communing with nature, and only visits the basement of the house to pick up food supplies. Thokk sets off into the woods to reinvigorate his hunting and foraging skills. He bags a number of small game, but on the third day he catches a deer in his hunting trap. When moving in to put the deer out of its misery, he is attacked by one of the largest wolves he's ever seen. The wolf dodges his first attack easily, and sinks his fangs into Thokk's forearm. The second swing of his battleaxe neatly guts the wolf, and Thokk decides to commemorate the battle in his camp that evening. He cauterizes his wounds with the tip of a dagger, neatly preserving every bite mark in permanent scar tissue, while he collects the wolf's teeth into an intimidating necklace that he vows he'll never remove, thinking of the power totems the orcs of his tribe would wear.

    On the Coast Road, Aurora, Babshapka, and Tyrius continue, soon drawing close to Seaton on the first of August. For Babshapka, even Saltmarsh was an unwelcome chaos of noise and foul smells - Seaton looks to be even larger and more repugnant. Though sworn to guard Aurora, he has resolved to entrust her safety to the Tyrius and the Viscount while she is in Seaton. Several miles before they reach the city itself, he sets his eyes on the last true stand of forest near the city and bids his companions farewell.

    When Tyrius and Aurora reach Seaton, they travel directly to the palace of the Viscount. The staff there seem to have been prepared for their arrival, or at least to have been briefed on recent events in Saltmarsh, for their letter of introduction is accepted without any questioning and they are shown to a waiting room in the palace and offered refreshment while the letter is being read by someone unseen. Tyrius also turns over the shield of the knight he originally showed to the Town Council; the armor is still in Saltmarsh and he retains the emerald for the time being.

    Some time later, they are told that a meeting with the Viscount himself “won’t be necessary.” Tyrius is provided directions, and a page for a guide if he desires, to the city’s Temple of Sol. Aurora is given a small but comfortable guest room in the palace (of a kind that might be afforded to the retinue of someone important rather than an important person herself). She is told that she will have access to the library of the Viscount’s Court Wizard, supervised by one of his apprentices, and possibly a meeting with the Wizard himself, at his convenience.

    Aurora soon finds herself so engrossed with her studies, with the Court Wizard visiting with her more than once and having her regularly attend his lectures to his apprentices, that she has no time to visit the markets and sell the smuggler’s treasures individually for the best price each as she had planned. On the second of August she visits Tyrius at the temple and gives the valuables over to him, asking him to take care of it. The paladin is fasting and praying and considers such worldly affairs a distraction - so he immediately meets with a merchant of the Saltmarsh Town Council, in Seaton on business, turns everything over and says he asks only a fair price for the goods.

    On the third of August, Aurora again visits Tyrius briefly. She is frustrated by his decision but can’t really argue as she did not have time to do the haggling herself. Upon receiving the money from him, she suggests that they use these, party funds, including some of their reward money, to buy a number of magic supplies - for the benefit of the party. She suggests that she needs 100 gold lions just to identify the stone they picked up from the dead alchemist. “We know it's magical in some way, but we don't know who should have it or how to use it until we identify it, and for that I have to buy a pearl worth 100 gold lions. I also need 25 gold lions to buy the materials to write the spell "Message" into my spellbook, which may come in handy if I ever need to speak to one of you in combat, or secretly, or through a door or something. And, if I can spend another 9 gold lions on incense, I can cast an involved spell allowing me to call a creature to me as my familiar. I was thinking that a hawk would be a good idea - we can use it to scout the ship once it comes in, as I will be able to see and hear through the hawk.”

    After a bit of discussion, Tyrius agrees that she can use party money of 200 gold lions to purchase two “identify” pearls, 27 gold lions for a brass brazier and incense for three "find familiar" castings, and 25 gold lions for her to inscribe the spell Message into her spellbook. They had also talked about purchasing building materials to improve the haunted house, but when Tyrius does the math for splitting what remains of the party treasure six ways, he decides the others should explicitly approve of that purchase first. They plan on meeting early on the morrow to make these purchases in the markets of Seaton and then returning to Saltmarsh.

    By evening’s end, Aurora has finished her “historical accounts” of the events in Saltmarsh - three copies on different sheets of parchment - and she presents one to a secretary of the Viscount. She has also copied some spells (both ones taught by the court wizard and some from the alchemist’s book) into her own spell book, and has made a complete backup spellbook in the event that something should happen to her own book. She had considered specializing as a diviner (like her master and patron), but ultimately decided that if she is to continue the adventuring lifestyle rather than that of a sedate researcher, being an enchantress would be more appropriate. The wizard makes sure she has the training she needs to enact her decision, and gives her a list of enchantment-based spells appropriate for her level, but in response to her request says that he does not have a version of the spell detect thoughts for her to copy.

    In Saltmarsh, Barnabus enjoys playing three nights in the taverns and inns. The crowds are enthusiastic, and though he does not make anything in tips, each day finds him with a full belly and, on more than one evening, with a companion for the night.[/b]
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1062
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jun 26, 2018 2:16 pm  
    Post 19: Return to Saltmarsh

    [DM’s note: Upon waking, Babshapka, Tyrius, and Aurora are all at second level. New abilities are in bold]

    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Second level ranger / Wood elf (Folk Hero)
    Str 12 (+1) Dex 16 (+3) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands)
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding
    Spells: Alarm, Ensnaring Strike

    Tyrius of Sterich
    Second level paladin of Pelor / Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 14 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 11 (0) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Spells: Cure Wounds, Heroism

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Second level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 9 (-1) Con 12 (+1) Int 17 (+3) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion

    Post 19: Return to Saltmarsh

    4 August, 570 - Seaton

    In the morning, Tyrius arises early and at dawn he is blessed by a priest of Sol. Pelor grants him the ability to cast spells and the clergy of the temple wish him well as he takes his quest back to the world. He goes to the palace and is told that, based on the shield, the armor he found belonged to a landless knight, one Cyrus Stanforth, in the retinue of the Viscount. The knight disappeared a month ago while on assignment patrolling the coast road from Seaton to Burle, scouting for highwaymen and monsters. The Viscount would be greatly appreciative of the party's return of the armor to the heirs of Stanforth. While the family of the knight can offer Tyrius their gratitude, they are not in the position to be able to grant him a reward. Tyrius turns over the emerald and asks that it be given to the family - he pledges to send the full suit of armor when he has the chance. Tyrius is also given a sealed letter from the Viscount to deliver to the Saltmarsh Town Council.

    Tyrius is met by Aurora, and together they visit the marketplace and quickly acquire the brazier, incense, and pearls Aurora wanted. The inks and materials she needed she had already purchased from the court wizard and used for spell copying. Aurora doesn’t think enough money is left to worry about putting it into a merchant bank, but she does manage to find one which promises confidentiality for placing the alchemist's spell book in a safety deposit vault (after she has copied the spells from it in which she was interested), as well as her own recently-finished spare spell book.

    Their business in Seaton concluded, the pair set out on the coast road. They have not been walking an hour before Babshapka appears silently from the brush and joins them. They are traveling lighter than when they came, and had an earlier start, and they manage to arrive at the haunted house by dusk.

    Checking the basement, they see that Thokk and Larry have been using the food stores, but find no sign of them. Even calling for them and searching the house reveals nothing. Babshapka does find obvious tracks on the other side of the road which lead him to their campsite, and the two companions are eventually found and recalled to spend the night in the basement with the others. Thokk beams when Aurora complements his new scars and necklace.

    After dinner, Aurora addresses the group, explaining to them how she has spent both the party booty as well as some of their collective reward money. She reassures them that “We should have enough to keep us well-fed and housed for the next three to five weeks until the ship comes in, and we're bound to find lots more treasure on the smuggler's ship. I know my use of party funds was asking a lot, and I'm sure I'll be asking again in the future, but most of us are going to need help beyond our individual means as some point, and my magics will benefit us all. Tyrius, I know your donations to your god and the costs of some of your spells will be high at some point. Babshapka, Dirty Larry, and Thokk, you will likely need to . . . um . . . pay for companionship occasionally since . . . well . . . your social graces are . . . I mean to say . . ." It quickly becomes clear to the party that no one other than Tyrius has any notion of what Aurora is talking about. None of them seem particularly concerned about the money, either - Larry and Thokk have little use for it, and Babshapka is honor-bound to guard her, not a paid mercenary. The hard sell, she realizes, will be with Barnabus - who is still in Saltmarsh. She is still considering the best approach as they drift off to sleep.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 03, 2018 6:34 am  
    Post 20: Plans and Preparations

    Post 20: Plans and Preparations

    5 and 6 August, 570 - Saltmarsh

    In the morning, the party walks from the alchemist’s house to Saltmarsh. Tyrius delivers the letter from the Viscount to Secun at the Customs House. Secon opens and reads it on the spot, nodding as he goes. When he finishes, he says that based on the letter, Saltmarsh is prepared to offer the party the following, in addition to their previous considerations:

    The merchants on the Council will agree to pay a "fair market price" for any goods the party wishes to sell or turn into cash, whether left over from the house or what they may acquire in the future from the ship. The price will be a fair price. If the party wishes to take the time to travel to Seaton and sell individual items in an attempt to earn more, they are free to do so.

    The merchants on the Council will agree to import from Seaton any gear or equipment the party should need for their assault on the smuggler's ship, for the market price in Seaton, with no charge for the transportation.

    The clergy on the Council will agree to make available to the party healing or other divine assistance and services for the rates generally applied to "favored non-worshippers."

    Tyrius thanks Secun and returns to the party at the Mermaid, who have been successful in locating Barnabus, and mostly successful in rousing him despite his objections about the hour. Once they are all assembled, Aurora says that the first order of business is to use her new pearl to identify the magic stone that Tyrius has. Tyrius searches his bag and his pockets carefully, but says that he cannot find it.

    “This glowy-stone?” asks Thokk, drawing it forth from a pouch. “Thokk find after you leave! Thokk think Tyrius play trick and hide in Thokk pouch!” Aurora doesn’t like the sound of that, and Tyrius shakes his head, denying responsibility. Aurora tells Ruth that she is tired from the morning’s walk, and would like water and a room upstairs to lie down in before they lunch, but once alone she arranges the supplies needed to mix up an identify potion and she drinks it along with the pearl. As she feared, she discovers that the stone is a cursed luckstone which has been attuned to Thokk, the first one who handled it. She wonders if the stone had anything to do with the death of the alchemist.

    In just the time it takes Aurora to walk downstairs to report to the party, the stone disappears from her pack and reappears in Thokk’s pouch. Aurora, Tyrius, and Thokk go to the temple of Phaulkon to beseech the aid of the priest. To Aurora’s great relief, Aeravis says that he will be able to remove the curse, and he says he will abide by the Council’s decision to charge her a good price for it, even though she is both a stranger and a non-believer. But when the “good price” turns out to be 65 gold lions, her heart sinks.

    Having now spent most of the party’s reward money, they return to the Mermaid and talk over lunch. Aurora decides to just say “after identifying and removing the curse” when talking about their current finances, and not mention to Barnabus that she spent far more on purchasing another pearl and copying spells. Sighing heavily, Aurora addresses the group: "Well, there's nothing for it. Our grand plans to disband and retire to a life of luxury after capturing this smuggling ship are going to have to be set aside for a while. I foresee us traveling and working together for quite some time into the future if you're all up for it.” They agree that they may want to remain together a while. It is warm afternoon, and thinking of the cost of a room for the night, everyone but Barnabus decides to walk back out to the alchemist’s house.

    Before they have finished their lunch, however, a bleary-eyed Wilhelmina Stoutley appears. She explains that she and Tom have been patrolling the coast at night, even though no one thinks the ship will come in so soon. Willa dismisses Ruth and closes the shutters, over everyone’s objections, and posts Tom outside. She asks them how far their planning and preparation has gotten. The party replies that when one of the excise officers sees the ship, they will row into the hidden sea cave and alert the party, who will row out in the captured jollyboat. That is really as far as they have discussed. Willa is not impressed. She peppers them with questions, and seems quite doubtful of their abilities. “Can any of you swim? Can you row? Can you row quietly? What about the signaling system - have any you deciphered the lantern code? Will you be wearing armor? What happens if one of you falls into the sea while wearing armor? Have you thought about your spell selection?” What follows is a multi-hour strategy session, with much back and forth. Only when Ruth reappears in the midafternoon, and says she must start on their supper, does Willa relent and let the party go - but on the condition that they will all, minus Barnabus, now be walking out to the alchemist’s house and making their own supper there. Tomorrow at first light, she says, they will begin a strict training schedule that includes swimming and rowing lessons every day.

    Willa tells Tom that he will be doing the nightly patrol by himself tonight, as she is accompanying the party to the house - the excise cutter docks in Saltmarsh at the end of each of its patrols, so as not to draw attention to the house. When they get to the alchemist’s house, the party immediately begins cooking while Willa inspects the smugglers’ jollyboat. She is pleased to find that there is sackcloth for muffling the oarlocks, and two grappling hooks, but she is dumbfounded to learn that the party had not even looked in it yet! Willa shakes her head in disbelief at the party’s incompetence.

    The next day, Willa has the party in the jollyboat as soon as it is light enough to see in the sea cave without a torch. As a small mercy, she says they will be doing the rowing first, when the morning is coolest. She orders the party’s seating in the jollyboat, explaining to them about the importance of balancing their weight especially port and starboard, but also fore and aft. She rows them out of the cave itself, and even the most casual of them is immediately impressed by the skill she needs to get them beyond the surf zone of water crashing on the huge rocks that conceal the entrance of the cave. Once they are out in calmer, open water, she allows them on the oars. First Thokk and Tyrius try rowing each alone, with two oars, and then she puts them together in teams, such that each of them is handling a single oar but the two sides of the boat are rowing in tandem. After much practice, when they are all hot and sweaty, she takes them away from the house and along the rocky coast until she spies a small spit with a protected pool behind, only perturbed by the largest of waves. Beaching the jollyboat, she has them strip down, wade in, and practice floating, then make short ventures out to the open water and back using a doggy-paddle. Thokk has the best time of any of them, and whoops and hollers as he splashes about, but he also ends up drinking far more salt water than he should and Willa tells him he will pay for that later. When they are all cold, shivering, and cramping she allows them back in the boat and tells them that they can warm up by rowing back to the cave.

    Barnabus joins the party at the house while they are at lunch. Despite his protests that he was “Born on a ship (nearly)”, Willa has him join them in the afternoon’s swimming and rowing lessons as well. Over their objections, she insists they draw up a watch schedule and send someone up to the second floor to watch out over the sea all night. More than one of them ends up spending their “watch time” sleeping against the wall of the room upstairs.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jul 10, 2018 6:30 am  
    21. Preparations, Plans, and a new party member

    Post 21: Preparations, Plans, and a new party member

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    Thokk’s anger it did kindle,
    but through it all there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    7 August, 570 - Alchemist's House and Saltmarsh
    The swimming and rowing lessons continue for the next several days.

    Now able to cast three first level spells, and no “action” during the day, Aurora has begun casting mage armor on three people (including herself) every night before she turns in. That way she uses, rather than wastes, her spells and she is ready to memorize in the morning.

    With Thokk and Tyrius now potentially capable of rowing the jollyboat by themselves, and the others capable so long as they have a partner, some of the party put forth that it might be best to have the smuggler’s jollyboat act as a decoy, rowing slowly out to the ship, while the excise cutter sneaks around from the seaward side with the real boarding party. To accomplish this, they decide that they will need more grapnels, so they request that Willa purchase these in town, along with a set of dark cloaks for all of them to hide their features. Further, they have been debating among themselves about what to do with anyone on the ship who surrenders. The disposition of prisoners proved to be a major point of contention before, and they don’t wish to make that mistake again, especially in a time-sensitive situation. After much circular discussion, Tyrius finally suggests that they get instruction from the Council, as that could obviate the need for debate. Willa says that she will venture to Saltmarsh to report to the Council the next morning, and that they are ready to practice without her supervision.

    8 August, 570
    When Willa returns in the afternoon, she has the grapnels as well as a clear instruction: the party must not under any circumstances let any of the smuggler officers go, nor are any deals to be struck with them. They must be captured if possible and turned over to the Council; if they cannot be captured they must be killed. However, any common smugglers who are captured may be dealt with at the discretion of the party.

    Willa also has further news of interest - the party’s “right of pillage” granted by the Council extends to the smuggler’s ship itself! The party had not asked about this, but are very pleased to find it out.

    (In fact, Willa asked about it for them - after several nightly strategy sessions, she was growing increasingly concerned by Aurora’s repeated requests for her to purchase acid in town, and even more concerned about Larry’s mutterings of “First we thunderwave to clear the deck! Then we set the ship on fire! Burn it all down!” Willa had decided it would be better for all concerned to give the party a reason to capture the ship intact.)

    9 August, 570
    The party returns to their training regimen under the supervision of Willa. She tells them that they are doing well and that she has a surprise for them on the 'morrow.

    10 August, 570
    The party has a “holiday in town,” which is good for everyone to let loose a bit after having lived in close quarters in the cellar for nearly a week. Willa arranges for them to tour a trading cog captained by a friend of hers (Saul) who is in port for the day. They look at it from the docks, then go above and below decks, getting a feel for the size and space, approaches, managing the ladders between decks, and so forth.

    Rather than walking back out to the house in the afternoon, Willa and Tom sail them back in the excise cutter. The party is now sure that their strategy will involve using both the jollyboat and the cutter, so Willa has persuaded Secun that the cutter needs to be based in the sea cave rather than the town, and Tom will be joining them in the cellar.

    That evening a new strategy session is launched. They are agreed on a dual approach to the smuggler’s ship, but have now decided that most of the party will need to be in the smuggler’s jollyboat so as not to arouse suspicions from the ship. Thokk and Barnabus, the huge half-orc and diminutive halfling, are the least likely to be mistaken for smugglers, so they will be in the excise cutter and will try a stealthy approach, passing beneath the prow of the smuggler’s ship and attempting an unseen boarding on the far side. Barnabus can then attempt to eliminate opposition without being seen, while Thokk creates a distraction on deck that allows those in the jollyboat to board. Starting the next day, Thokk will practice rowing the cutter by himself, though Tom and Willa will still need it for patrols at night.

    11 August, 570
    More swimming and rowing practice. Although Luna is nearing full, summer storm clouds have been building at sea and the nights are growing darker. Willa believes the smugglers may attempt to use this to get near shore without being seen, and feels an attempt is imminent. At the night’s strategy session, she says she will be contacting the Council on the 'morrow.

    12 August, 570
    In the morning, Willa returns to Saltmarsh to give another report to the Council, and the party practices on their own. Tom seems content to sleep all day after sailing all night. When Willa appears in the evening, she brings strange news and a stranger person with her. The news is that, by order of the Council, Tom will not be going with them in the boarding attempt, rather the stranger will. Over their objections, Willa reminds them that someone will need to remain at the house to signal the ship even after they launch, “Altho’ o’ course ye hae not considered t’at afore now.”

    The strange woman with Willa is slight of build, almost frail in appearance, although she moves with a fluid grace. She wears simple traveler’s robes and carries a staff, with no obvious weapons or armor about her. But it is her skin that is the most striking - it is of a golden hue such as none of them have ever seen before. She has green eyes. Her eyebrows indicate that she should have dark black hair, but her head is smoothly shaven. She speaks an oddly accented Common, and with a little questioning, Aurora is able to determine that she is of the Baklun people, far to the north and west, in a place she calls the “Plains of the Paynims”. How she is to help the party in taking the ship is not addressed.

    13 and 14 August, 570
    After two more days of practice, the party has their strategy sessions. The new woman, who calls herself “Shefak Ishu”, is silent during the deliberations. The meetings are brief; they turn in for the night.

    Thick storm clouds obscure the sky, and a light fog is on the water. Far off at sea there is heat lightning visible, but not even the sound of thunder reaches the shore. Most of the party is asleep when Tom bursts into the cellar from the secret door to the sea cave, shouting that he has spotted a ship. Without pausing to answer questions, he grabs a lantern and heads up the stairs to the house.

    It is on!
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:33 am  
    Post 22: Backstory for Shefak Ishu, Bakluni Monk, Level 1

    Post 22: Backstory for Shefak Ishu, Bakluni Monk, level 1

    Shefak Ishu was born to a wandering tribe of horse nomads in the Plains of the Paynims. Although physically weak, she was considered wise beyond her years by the holy women of the tribe. When she was a girl, her tribe’s travels took them near a temple to Xan Yae, “The Lady of Perfection,” the Bakluni goddess of Mental and Physical Mastery. It was there that she was enrolled as an acolyte, with her family hoping that she would become a priestess. After years of training, it was found that she excelled more at physical combat than prayer and spell-casting, so her training became that of a monk.

    Eventually she was told the story of Zuoken, the most perfect disciple of Xan Yae. About sixty years ago, Zuoken was imprisoned, but no one knows where. It is the goal of every follower of Xan Yae to find and release Zuoken.

    When Shefak completed her initial training as a monk, she asked to travel and look for clues as to where Zuoken might be imprisoned. Though she was young and inexperienced, she was also wise and dedicated and her petition was granted.

    Shefak followed the rising sun to the east and the rivers to the south. After months of travel she eventually found herself in the nation of Keoland. There, the people all stared at her as most of them had never seen a Bakluni woman, but that did not bother her or deter her from her quest.

    She has heard of an ancient forest called the Dreadwood, which is supposed to be home to many evil secrets. She thinks that would be an excellent place to start looking for Zuoken, but she knows she is not yet skilled enough to enter it on her own.

    For the past month, she has been in the city of Seaton, trying to find people who would want to explore the Dreadwood with her. She has had several run-ins with the local constables, who do not appreciate her presence. But she has studied the local law and has made sure to never do anything illegal, so they have been unable to arrest or deport her.

    One week ago, a representative of the Viscount of Salinmor (the lord of Seaton) met with her and explained that he knew of a group of adventurers who might wish to go to the Dreadwood with her. First, however, she must accompany them on a mission and prove herself capable. Shefak agreed to this and traveled to the town of Saltmarsh to meet the group. It appears that their mission is to attack a ship of smugglers, and she has been training with them to this end for several days.

    Shefak Ishu
    First Level Monk / Human (Bakluni) (Acolyte)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Insight, Religion, Stealth
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Jul 23, 2018 8:40 pm  
    Post 23: Battle for the Sea Ghost

    Post 23: Battle for the Sea Ghost

    Note: While it should be obvious, this post will include numerous spoilers to the second section of Module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

    DM's Note: Successfully taking the Sea Ghost and discovering the arms-running plot were the story requirements for the characters to level to third, with the exception of Shefak. Since the monk joined the party after the Haunted House, her participation in taking the ship would get her to second level. The player of Willa was allowed to start her at second level due to her pre-existing role and position in the customs officers, and the stats provided for her as an NPC in the module. Thus, she leveled to third along with the others.

    14 August, 570 - The Sea Cave

    Tom had sailed the excise cutter into the sea cave, taking down the mast to enter but not removing it from the ship in his haste. Willa directs its removal, then sees Thokk and Barnabus loaded and launched while she puts the rest of the party to order in the jollyboat.

    Thokk strains against the oars and pulls his craft out into the black, rolling sea. His darkvision is sufficient for him to avoid the rocks around the cave mouth, but for Barnabus it is a terrifying few minutes of blackness and crashing waves, being tossed about the cutter and wet with spray while Thokk heaves and frets. Once they are out beyond the surf zone and into the open sea the waves calm and Thokk concentrates on rowing silently with a steady pace. Every so often the half orc looks over his shoulder, trying to detect a dark ship against the dark sky so that he has somewhere to make for more precise than “away from land”.

    Willa checks everything twice in the jollyboat before shoving off - she is in no hurry, and wants Thokk to have as long a lead as possible. Her hauberk of chain is neatly folded under her aft seat. Her lantern is lit, and she directs the beam through the fog and across the rocks as she calls orders to those at the oars - Tyrius and Babshapka at the outset, though she will spell them out if needed.

    Tom has made his way to the first floor window in the bedroom overlooking the ocean and has his lantern lit but covered. He scans the dark waters, trying to find the ship he saw before. After several minutes he still has not seen it - but he does see a flash of light! It is a long flash, followed by three short flashes. He looks at the parchment given him by the party, and reasons that it is the first line of the code - but how is he to respond? They have not told him! The same signal - a long flash followed by three short ones, is repeated twice more, with a pause between each. Tom decides the safest bet is to repeat the sequence itself, and this he does, uncovering one wall of the lantern and holding it toward the sea. He waits anxiously for a response. He cares little for the strangers, but is acutely aware that his sister, his only living family, is on board the jollyboat with them, even now rowing out to a ship full of cutthroats.

    “Thokk!” hisses Barnabus, seeing flashes over the shoulder of the barbarian. He directs his companion to take their cutter more in the direction of the light, estimating they are perhaps half the distance out to it or more. In the jollyboat behind, Willa sees the signal as well, and she whispers to Babshapka to pull harder so as to turn them. Aurora has been in-and-out communicating with Barnabus through her message, but Thokk is keeping the cutter just at the edge of her range.

    On board the Sea Ghost, Captain Sigurd “Snake Eyes”, Punketah the Mage, and two crewmen stare up at the decrepit mansion. “Ol’ Sanballet’s gone barmy,” mutters Punketah. “That ain’t the response signal, no how. That be our signal.”

    “Nae be ye wrong,” replies Sigurd. “Too much brandy, or wacthin’ t’em coloured lights too long? Wait a fair bit an’ hail ‘im again,” he orders.

    Ten minutes later, Sigurd has the crewman on the lantern flash another signal at the house. In the house, Tom sees the same signal as before, frets silently, and then repeats it again. The smugglers watch from the rail of the Ghost. “T’at’s wrong, alright,” says a crewman, shaking his head.

    “Might be…” says Punketah, drawing his words out, “that Sanballet’s got summit to say to us and is coming out hisself - and one o’ those land lummuxes he uses fer muscle don’t know ther signal from his arse.”

    “‘Tmight be,” says Sigurd, unconvinced. “Or ‘tmight be Sanballet got hisself caught, an’ yon light’s made by no friend o’ ours.”

    “Kingsmen?” spits Punketah. “Nahh, it be past ther bedtime. Kingsmen don’t sail o’ ther night.”

    Nevertheless, Sigurd calls up to the man in the crow’s nest, “Luke! Eye’s up! All directions, laddie!”

    Sigurd waits a few minutes more, just to give whomever is in the house the chance to right the signal, but it does not come. “We be cuttin’ bait,” he decides, then shouts to the man at the fore, “Weigh anchor, lad!”

    The man aloft calls down, “Cap’n, jolly t’ starboard!”

    “Belay t’at!” shouts Sigurd to the man at the capstan. He has the crewman with the lantern shine it low across the water. The approaching jollyboat is dimly illuminated - and it holds fully six figures, though their identities cannot be made out in the misty air. “Bjorn, make ready t’ receive ‘em,” Sigurd calls out to his mate on the lower deck.

    “Do ye want our jolly launched?” Bjorn calls back.

    “Nae jes' yet.”

    “Mayhap ye be right,” Sigurd murmurs to Punketah, “a full boat could mean Sanballet’s comin’ out fer a parlay - or ‘tmight be me in ther right, an’ t’ese nae be friends. When t’ey gets close enou’ t’ see, be ye castin’ yer web t’ keep ‘em in t’ boat, t’en sleep, t’en we be guttin’ any left standin’.”

    “Aye, Cap’n,” agrees Punketah darkly, and his hand opens a belt pouch and draws forth a pinch of cobweb.

    With most eyes on the approaching jollyboat, Thokk and Barnabus slip the cutter in front of the prow of the still-anchored Sea Ghost. Thokk’s oar strokes yield no more noise than the sea lapping gently against the hull of the great ship, and they pass unseen to the seaward port side of the Ghost. Barnabus takes out a grapnel, its hooks muffled by sackcloth, and tosses it neatly up to catch on the rail above.

    Bloody Bjorn and a crewmen stand by at the starboard rail, the crewman with a rope ladder in hand. On the stern deck, the man with the lantern keeps it shining on the approaching jollyboat, and several of the figures aboard can be seen to lean in and whisper to one another.

    When the prow of the jollyboat is some twenty yards from the hull of the Ghost, the mist parts enough to reveal that all those in the boat are strangers, though they are concealed by dark cloaks. The stout dwarf is the first giveaway, but none of those below are familiar to those on deck. Bjorn draws his broadsword, and the man next to him drops the ladder to the deck. “Now!” bellows Sigurd, and Punketah begins the words of an incantation.

    Those in the boat are quicker. Babshapka drops his oar, turns and stands, pulling forth a bow, already strung, from beneath his cloak. He looses an arrow - a single shot that strikes Bjorn square in the chest - but the arrow shaft erupts in a tangle of vines that wrap around the mate and take him to the deck. His companion is hit by a firebolt from Aurora but does not go down.

    Willa lunges across the seats to take up Babshapka’s oar. Together with Tyrius, she steers the jollyboat and then pulls in the oar so that they grind to a stop against the hull of the Sea Ghost, the two ships broadside to one another.

    Larry has been mumbling under his breath for several seconds, perhaps even before Punketah. Suddenly, the whole jollyboat and the main deck besides are covered in a thick fog bank, obscuring all. A second later Punketah completes his web, but now has no targets in sight. The web splashes harmlessly in the water, its fringes adhering the jolly to the larger ship, but catches no beings in its sticky strands. Punketah utters a foul oath. Sigurd yells for the anchor to be raised and draws his own sword.

    Under the shroud of Larry’s fog cloud, those in the jollyboat throw up grapnels and ascend to the main deck of the Ghost, even as Barnabus and Thokk climb aboard on the other side. “Sleep, damn you Punketah!” curses Sigurd, while the mage pulls forth a pinch of sand and mutters that he cannot sleep what he cannot see. The wounded crewman at the main deck rail slashes at a shape in the fog but is then felled by a blow from an unseen opponent as those in the jollyboat clamber aboard.

    The stern crewman’s lantern dances through the fog but reveals nothing. Suddenly from the main deck comes a great cry of rage: “Thokk bathe ship in blood!”

    Blown astern by the east wind, the fog advances across the main deck, and the boarders use it for cover as they move aft. Barnabus ascends the port ladder to the poop deck ahead of the fog but immediately darts into the shadows. With a clatter of heavy booted feet, Thokk, Tyrius, and Willa ascend the starboard ladder to the poop deck and engage the smugglers in melee. Shefak runs across the fog-covered deck but ignores the ladder. Rather, she uses her staff to vault over the railing to the poop deck, rolling as she lands.

    Before the first blow is struck, Punketah completes his sleep spell, centering it on the attackers surging up the ladder. The first to collapse is Shefak, but then the crewmen at the tiller and holding the lantern go down. The lantern clatters to the deck but does not spill oil. Barnabus, sneaking up behind the man on the tiller, also succumbs to the sleep before he can strike. Aurora and Babshapka, still on the main deck but approaching the ladder, feel a brief moment of drowsiness before their fey heritage asserts itself.

    With Thokk, Willa, and Tyrius now confronting Sigurd and Punketah on the poop deck and no one else there conscious, Tyrius calls for Sigurd to drop his sword and surrender his ship. In response, Sigurd roars defiance and slashes at Thokk faster than they can follow. After three devastating cuts the deck is wet with blood and Thokk falls to his knees. He is still struggling to rise when Sigurd runs him through with a final stab. The massive half-orc collapses with a groan.

    [DM’s aside: With Tyrius and Willa arriving behind Thokk on the ladder, I ruled they could move but not attack on the first round. Barnabus, Shefak, and the two crewmen would have been allowed to attack but all were incapacitated by the sleep spell before their initiative came up, so only Sigurd and Thokk remained to go for the first round of this combat. This was the first 5E game I had run, and I converted Sigurd over as a 5th level fighter, champion duelist. In retrospect, a second level party facing a fifth level enemy fighter in 5E is a much steeper contest than the same level difference in the 1e original module. Had the party not been lucky with the previous initiative and gotten Larry’s fog cloud off before Punketah’s web, it would have easily been a TPK. In the case of Sigurd vs. Thokk, Sigurd was at +8 to hit and +7 to damage. He chose action surge in the first round to make four attacks. His first three hits on Thokk with d8+7 each did more than 38 damage total, which could have taken Thokk to -19 and instantly killed him. However, Thokk had his rage up for half weapon damage. He was knocked to zero but used his half-orc relentless endurance to persist at 1 hp until Sigurd’s fourth blow, which took him again to 0 hp.]

    Babshapka ascends the ladder to the poop deck next and just behind him is Aurora. He joins the melee while she slaps Shefak and Barnabus awake. Aurora then takes an arrow from the man in the crow’s nest. With Tyrius busy trading blows with Sigurd and unlikely to notice, Barnabus takes the opportunity to kill, not capture, the two sleeping crewmen. This makes it five of the party against just Sigurd and Punketah in the melee, with Aurora and the man in the crow’s nest still trading arrows for firebolts. Punketah goes down quickly, but even at five-on-one Sigurd holds his own for quite a while and both Tyrius and Willa are seriously wounded by the time he falls.

    The party holds the ship for the moment. The fog has cleared from the main deck, revealing a single dead smuggler by the rail. The formerly entangled mate is gone, as is the man who was at the capstan, and the anchor is still down. Thokk, Punketah, and Sigurd are all found to be alive though unconscious - the latter two are bound. Between Larry and Tyrius, Thokk is revived and some of the worse wounds of Willa and Tyrius are healed.

    As the party crosses the main deck, a cabin door is flung open. Three lizardfolk charge the party, and Thokk is the first to meet them, blocking their javelins with his large hide shield. A small flying creature is with them, and it sinks its tail barb into the half-orc as combat is joined again. Seeing the beast, Aurora begins “Isn’t that a dragonne…” but that is as far as she gets before Thokk slices it in half with his axe. After the lizardfolk are slain as well, and dumped overboard besides, the deck is again clear and calm. Willa retrieves her chainmail hauberk from the jollyboat and dons it.

    The subsequent battle below decks is desperate and hard-fought on both sides. It involves fighting on rope ladders, climbing on and over brandy casks and even attempts to roll them down upon others, thrown daggers in the dark, and the use of all of the party’s remaining spells. In the end, all of the party are wounded, most of them severely. Five common smugglers are dead, three have surrendered, and all of the ship’s officers (the Captain, the Mate, the Bosun, and Punketah) have been knocked unconscious, captured alive, and bound to the mast in the hold.

    Besides the items recovered from officers themselves (jewelry, armor and weapons, and possibly magical gear) and the obviously valuable cargo of silk and brandy, the party’s search of the ship uncovers a cache of odd coins in the cabin of the lizardfolk, strange papers and four (labeled!) potion vials in the captain’s cabin, a spellbook and a wand in Punketah’s cabin, a secret room filled with weapons, and a secret prison cell with a manacled sea elf (who is soon after released).

    The smuggler’s role in supplying Sanballet and Master Murphey with brandy and silk is already obvious. Between the accounts of the surrendered crew, the letter found in the captain’s cabin, the hundred electrum pieces the lizardfolk had, and the store of weapons, the party quickly surmises that the smugglers are also dealing in arms, supplying weapons to lizardfolk. Willa, in particular, is concerned about this for if she is reading the captured map correctly, the lizardfolk lair is at the mouth of the Dun River, which is just a few hours west of Saltmarsh by sail.

    Where these arms are coming from, and for what purpose the lizardfolk are purchasing them, is not as obvious, for the three crewman claim not to know, and Sigurd has already told the others, “I’ll nae be sayin’ naught, an’ ye’ll do ther same, if ye hae any wits aboot ye.” The crewmen do say that the silks and brandy are loaded in the port of Jetsam in the nation of the Sea Princes, but none of them ever saw the arms come aboard.

    The party decides to interrogate each of the four smuggler leaders separately. Aurora clumsily tries to get Tyrius to watch the remaining prisoners so that he will not be present during the questioning, but he quickly sees through that and has Thokk guard those remaining. Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora spend some time alone with each of the prisoners in a below-decks cabin before returning them to the group bound to the mast. The common smugglers have had their hands and feet bound, but are sitting on the deck and not tied to anything for the moment.

    Captain Sigurd “Snake Eyes” is calm, collected, and quiet during his interrogation. He tells them his name, inquires after theirs, and agrees that he is captain of the Sea Ghost. Other than that, he steadfastly refuses to provide them with any information.

    The first mate “Bloody Bjorn” struggles a bit and curses them as they take him away from the others, but settles down once they are alone with him and asks for a deal. Once he learns (from Tyrius) that his freedom is non-negotiable, and that regardless of what he says they will be turning him over to the Saltmarsh Town Council, he goes thoughtfully quiet. Eventually he tells them that Sigurd has a contact in Jetsam for the weapons. He says he could recognize the man and point him out in a crowd, but he does not know his name or the location of his business. The silk and brandy are brought aboard as legal goods in Jetsam, but the weapons are handled only by the officers and without the knowledge of the port’s customs officials or the crew. Bjorn knows that they have been running the arms to the lizardfolk for months, since the spring, but he does not know why. He also says that they captured the sea elf sneaking on board their ship while docked in Jetsam, but that no one has been able to speak with him, and that Sigurd is considering selling him to slavers. In return for this information, Bjorn asks them to not say anything to his shipmates about what he has told them, and he asks Tyrius to tell the Town Council that he has been cooperative, and Tyrius agrees to both of these conditions.

    The bosun “Foul” Frithoff is sullen when they pull him from the mast, but once they have him alone in the cabin he lets fly with a string of invectives the likes of which even Willa has never heard. He curses them and their families, past and future, and goes into lurid detail about what he will be doing to each of them once he is free. His interrogation is effectively over after a minute, but they keep him in the cabin as long as the others so as to sow doubt among them. When they finally drag him out his voice is hoarse and their ears are red.

    Lastly they separate Punketah. Tyrius begins by saying that the Saltmarsh Town Council has required them to turn over the smuggler officers but has empowered them to make their own decisions about the common crew. Punketah replies that he is not an officer and is outside the chain of command of the ship - he is more like an adjunct specialist, who reports only to the captain but does not rank higher than the sailors. He emphasizes that he was not personally involved in the smuggling or in breaking the King’s law - he was just hired by Sigurd as a spellcaster to defend the ship. In that case, Aurora reasons aloud, the party should be free to deal with him as they see fit. When Tyrius does not object, she asks Punketah what he is willing to trade.

    Punketah claims to know even less about the weapons deal than Bjorn did - he says he does not know where they are from or how they get on board. He does confirm that the weapons are ultimately sold to the lizardfolk, and that they have a large lair at the mouth of the Dun. He also agrees that the brandy and silks are purchased legally in Jetsam, and that the sea elf was captured in that port. He says that since the party is free to deal with him as they choose, he would like to offer his magic items in return for his life and freedom. Aurora replies that they already have, by the Council’s affirmation of their right of pillage, his spellbook and wand, so unless he has some magic items they have not found, he still has nothing to bargain with. Punketah replies that he will tell the party the command word for the magic wand, and also describe to them how his magic ring functions (the party had taken his ring, suspecting but not sure of it of being magical), both valuable pieces of information. While they consider that, he also offers the following: the lizardfolk are arming themselves for an attack on Saltmarsh, he says, and the town is in imminent danger. If they allow him to keep his spellbook and magic items, he will join them in defense of the town or their pre-emptive attack on the lair, so long as he can go free with his possessions once the lizardfolk are defeated. Tyrius, Willa, and Aurora say that they will consider his offer, but need to talk amongst themselves.

    Once all four captives are back at the mast, the party leaves Larry and Thokk to guard them and goes above decks to talk. They take the surrendered crew with them, releasing their leg restraints but leaving their hands bound. Out of earshot of the prisoners, Willa, Aurora, and Tyrius convey to Barnabus, Babshapka, and Shefak what Punketah and the officers said, and they talk about what they believe and what they don’t. The involvement of the Sea Princes is worrisome, as both Barnabus and Willa relate that the Princes are ancient rivals of Keoland, and that the nations have fought many naval wars in the past. If the Princes are indeed involved in arming lizardfolk to assault Saltmarsh, it could be part of a larger plan to invade all of Salinmoor!
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:03 am  
    Post 24: An Awkward Homecoming

    DM's note: This post includes numerous spoilers to the second section of Module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

    Post 24 - An Awkward Homecoming

    15 August, 570 - Azure Sea, early morning, after the battle
    The party, at least those inclined to discuss such matters, has spent most of the night talking. All of the gathered loot has been placed in a single pile, and Aurora has made a ritual casting of detect magic on it. The three common sailors have had their hand restraints removed so that they can give sea burials to their dead companions, and after observing them during this act, Tyrius declares that they are to remain unbound, so long as they remain above decks. The three smuggler officers, and Punketah the mage, after their separate interrogations, remain tied to the mast in the hold and under the guard of Thokk and Larry. With the grapnels and hard work the party and sailors together have pulled both the smuggler’s jollyboat and the excise cutter aboard and lashed them to the deck. The sky is getting lighter and lighter as dawn approaches.

    There has not been time to tell Tom back at the House what is happening. Willa hopes by waiting until it is light enough for him to see that they are sailing to Saltmarsh, he will deduce the ship has been successfully taken. As Willa directs the smugglers to raise anchor, she can see the the ship itself, painted on the prow, bears the name The Sea Ghost, an appropriate moniker for a smuggling vessel if ever there was one.

    Willa takes the tiller while the three sailors raise the sail and work the ropes. Aurora asks her whether the crew of four will be enough to get to harbor in Saltmarsh. Willa points off the port side to where storm clouds blacken the southern horizon. “Wit’ ther fair east wind we hae right now, an’ calm seas, aye we be arrivin' soon eno’, though we willnae be settin’ any speed records. I nae be wantin’ t’ be out on ther open sea wit’ only four sailors on deck if summit blows up, tho'. That thar storm out t’ sea durn’t look t’ be gettin’ any closer, but we hae better be safe in harbor if she hits.”

    One of the reasons Willa is at the tiller is so that she (rather than the sailors) can be in control of the ship’s direction, but the other is so that she can stand easily and speak with the rest of the party, who are on the poop deck discussing what happens next.

    Willa and Tyrius are adamant that the captain, first mate, and bosun will be turned over to the Council, and will brook no contrary argument. For the common sailors, and Punketah, however, opinions are divided, as the council explicitly (or implicitly, in the case of Punketah) said that the party could use their discretion.

    Should the mage be turned over to the Council? Should he be held by the party and the Council just told about him? Should they even mention him? By his own claim, the party will need him to safely approach the lizardfolk lair, since he warns of dangerous shoals and lizardfolk traps, but can they trust him? He said he would help them in return for his life and his gear.

    As for the common sailors, they know the ship and could prove a valuable crew, but can they be trusted? Willa has already said they will not be sufficient to crew the ship should the party want to use it to sail to the mouth of the Dun, and more sailors will need to be hired. That being the case, why not just crew the ship entirely with Saltmarsh sailors of more certain loyalty? Then again, will the party be taking the ship to the lizardfolk lair? Even Punketah has said that he can only help them navigate if they approach during the day - but in a day approach the ship will be seen from miles off. Should they instead sail one of the jollyboats or the cutter, or even approach from the land?

    Also, there is the question of the sea elf, who Babshapka has said is named Oceanus. For the moment he seems content to speak with Babshapka, who is filling him in on not only what the party is doing at the moment, but the history of the Haunted House as well. Should he leave the ship before it reaches Saltmarsh? If he stays on it, would he be summoned before the Council or possibly even seized or interrogated by them?

    Finally, there is the question of the disposition of the magical treasure. It is generally agreed on that all the monetary treasure will be equally split, with Willa (but not Tom) receiving a full share. But since the magical loot cannot be divided equally, who will receive it?

    Aurora is of the opinion that the gear should go to “whomever can best use it for the benefit of the party”. Items she has identified as being magical include:

    The captain’s longsword - this is large and could be used one or two-handed - the most obvious choice would be Willa

    The mate’s broadsword - this has a single edge like a large cutlass - it seems most fitting for Thokk but might not do as much damage as his axe. It could also be used by Babshapka, and seems light enough he could still use his shortsword in the other hand. It is similar enough to Bakluni falchions that Shefak would also be able to wield it.

    Punketah’s ring - not yet identified, though he claims it is protective and has offered to explain its use.

    Punketah’s wand - not yet identified, though he claims it is of magic detection, and has offered to provide the party with its command word.

    Punketah’s spellbook - not yet read.

    The four phials from the captain’s quarters - not yet identified, but labeled as healing, healing, cure disease, and neutralize poison.

    Not magical, but possibly important, is an unopened scroll tube that was found with Punketah’s spellbook. Babshapka and Dirty Larry find that two of the officers' three chain shirts fit them well enough to use. They are rusty and missing links in places, to be sure, but still an improvement over their own leathers.

    Tyrius, while arguing his own opinion, makes it clear that he will abide by the decision of the party, but that whatever deal they offer to the mage, Tyrius will make sure both sides hold to the agreement.

    Aurora thinks it'd be best to hand over all the officers to the authorities (including the wizard, despite his offer to "help"). She believes they should be very clear to the Council that the smugglers were involved in an attempt to foment a revolution against the mainland, and so they should use all means at their disposal to wrest information from the prisoners, especially the Captain, Snake-eyes, who was uncooperative when the party questioned him. With luck, that should garner a little information to help the party assault or handle the lizard folk.

    As far as the three sailors, Aurora votes that the party hire them on as deckhands for their new vessel, but she would propose some type of test for them. Perhaps they could anchor the boat off the coast, hide a few members of the party on board (Barnabus and Shefak are obvious choices) and then make a show of "everyone" leaving to go ashore. They could then listen in on conversations and be prepared to kill them and resume control of the ship if they are disloyal. The party could also hire another couple of sailors (if needed) from Saltmarsh to balance them out. Aurora thinks that they should ask Oceanus what he would most like the party to do with him and, assuming he wishes to be released close to his people, perhaps try to enlist his people's help in the fight against the lizard folk.

    Aurora is also most curious about the spellbook and what it may contain. If they are useful spells, she'd like to propose pooling money to pay for their inscription into her spellbook. After that, she'd like to deposit this book in the same bank in Seaton where she put the first one (from the Alchemist).

    Regarding the magical booty, Aurora suggests that Thokk could make good use of the ring of protection, given how often he is in the forefront of attacks, and she is happy to identify the magical weapons to be on the safe side (to be sure they are not cursed), but she would appreciate it if the party could split the cost of the expensive pearl required for each use of the spell. She thinks Thokk could make use of the longsword as well, but if Willa would like to use it she should get priority if Thokk gets the ring.

    Thokk is happy relaying his opinion up to Aurora via her message spell, although he doesn’t get the part about whispering to her and instead speaks plainly in front of the prisoners. He thinks the easiest thing to do would be just to kill the entire crew, including those who surrendered and the fish-elf, but he's fine with letting the officers go to the Council at Saltmarsh if that is the decision of the party. He personally offers to slay any people who need slaying, and to test out the fancy new weapons in the process if anyone would like him to. He loves the look of the ring, and thinks it would complement his scars. While he admires the craftsmanship of the longsword, he has some sentimental connection to his trusty battleaxe, so he may take some convincing to use the sword. He is exceptionally excited by the prospect of killing hordes of lizard folk and begins nagging the party as to when that will happen.

    Shefak is not interested in the broadsword. She says that by relying on magic as a crutch, one will never learn to truly focus the body and mind. She doesn’t mind contributing to the cost of identifying the magic items themselves, because pursuing knowledge is inherently worthwhile. She warns anyone who doesn’t want to contribute that a foolish attachment to money and other material things will surely bar them from spiritual progress. She is willing to accept the decision of the party with regards to the sailors, mage, and officers - they have all chosen their path and must walk it to its conclusion.

    Babshapka is willing to take the broadsword, provided that magical identification shows that it is more potent than the weapons he now wields, and that it is light enough for him to continue using two blades. He does not comment on the disposition of the prisoners beyond saying that he will not allow Thokk to harm Oceanus.

    Willa is very interested in the magic longsword, although she is is also considering purchasing a greatsword with her share of the booty. She agrees with the assessment of Aurora regarding the wizard, the officers and the crew. She likes the idea of hiring more crew in Saltmarsh for the ship. She, of course, will follow the direction/orders of the Council and the Chief Customs Master, Secun, in any matter they decide upon.

    It is eventually decided that Punketah will be turned over to the Council along with the three officers, but with a warning to them that he might be useful to the party later (so a swift execution is not in anyone's interest).

    The three sailors will not be turned over.

    Willa takes the longsword, Babshapka the broadsword, Thokk the ring, and these are practiced with but not identified. Aurora takes the wand, spell book, and scroll tube.

    Babshapka speaks with Oceanus, and the sea elf says that he would like to go with the party to assess whether the lizardfolk are a threat to his people - if so, he would then return to his home and ask that his people help the party in dealing with the threat. He warns Babshapka that just because the lizardfolk want to attack the humans of Saltmarsh, they will not necessarily be seen as threatening to his people.

    15 August - Saltmarsh
    In the early morning, the Sea Ghost docks in Saltmarsh harbor. She has been seen coming in for hours, and the docks are full of customs officials and a dozen guardsmen, while the length of the harbor is lined with small folk.

    Chief Secun approaches once the ship is tied off and a gang plank lowered. He calls to speak with Willa, and when she answers, he asks her permission to come aboard. Those unfamiliar with naval custom are surprised or confused that her superior would ask her permission, but Willa stands a bit taller and pauses before granting him leave. Once he is aboard he asks her to order that no one comes aboard or leaves, and then the two head for the Captain’s cabin to have a private conversation.

    Willa begins by telling him everything that happened the night before, and everything they learned from the prisoners. He remains thoughtful for half a glass of brandy, and then tells her that so long as the common sailors stay on the ship, they are outside the jurisdiction of Saltmarsh, but should they step on shore, they will be arrested for smuggling. He also says that while the party may speak freely about the smugglers to the townsfolk, they are on no account to speak of the lizardfolk, so as to avoid scaring the townspeople. The Council will need to debate the meaning of all this before making a public announcement. It would have been better had Oceanus remained below decks as well, but half of Saltmarsh has seen him now, so that ship has sailed. Secun says that the town constables are waiting to receive the ship’s officers. They will be taken first to the blacksmith, to be fitted for hand-manacles and leg irons, and then walked to the town’s single-cell gaol. Upon reflection, he doesn’t want the mage stored with the others - he believes that the butcher’s ice-cellar will do for Punketah.

    When Willa and Secun emerge, the party decides to take the officers off the boat one at a time. The captain goes quietly, without concern, with hands tied and feet hobbled. He is marched slowly up the harbor road toward the blacksmith’s.

    Foul Frithoff is next. He is halfway down the gangplank when he hops neatly out into the air and plummets straight down into the water. Thokk and Barnabus immediately dive in after him, but by the time they are next to him he already has his hands free, having used the sharp barnacles and mussel shells of a dock piling to cut the ropes that bound them. Oceanus also dives in: by the time Frithoff has been sliced by Barnabus, stabbed and brought to the surface by Oceanus, and shot with an arrow from the crow’s nest by Babshapka, he is dead. His body is laid along the shore for the people to gawk at, and his blood slowly stains the gravel around him.

    After this, Thokk insists on knocking the prisoners unconscious before he hauls them off the boat. The captain and mate Bloody Bjorn share the town’s gaol cell; the wizard Punketah, after being manacled, is kept separately in the butcher’s basement.

    The party are told there will be a late-night Council meeting; Tyrius and Aurora are expected to attend.

    The party turns over most of the items of value found on the Sea Ghost, but they retain the magical items, the armor of the officers, and the weapons (both used and stored) of the unmentioned lizardfolk. Aurora uses their single remaining pearl to identify the wand of magic detection and learns that it holds more than 30 charges. After selling what they can to the merchants of the Council and paying excise taxes on the cargo, an eight-way split is 171gp for each of them (including Willa but not Tom). Party members except for Willa are given an additional 50gp from Council funds as a reward for capturing the smugglers.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:22 am  
    Post 25: Sigurd and the Council

    Post 25: Sigurd and the Council

    15 August, 570 - afternoon - Saltmarsh
    Most of the party remains on the ship, using the galley to fix meals. Aurora copies several spells from Punketah’s book into her own.

    Willa goes ashore and buys a greatsword for herself. She sets aside the entire remainder of her share of the booty for a fishing cottage, boat, and nets for her younger brother Tom, so that he is now provided for with an inheritance and means of supporting a family, should he marry. While she is out, she also cruises the bars and taverns searching for available deckhands. She finds none, but learns that a merchant ship is due in to port which will have several men available.

    In the evening Aurora and Tyrius go to the Council meeting. Babshapka is able to gain admittance as Aurora’s bodyguard, and Willa also attends as an aide to Secun.

    The meeting starts with Secun, the High Constable, and the Militia Captain revealing to the rest of the Council the lizardfolk menace. There is great consternation - fear at the threat itself, and anger that the information was kept from them until now. There is an immediate resolution to ask the party to assess the threat posed, and an offer of a reward. Aurora makes a claim that if the threat is real, the Council ought to be paying the party more than what is offered...but this is not well received, especially considering that they were just granted an entire merchant ship and its cargo as their plunder.

    The Militia Captain says that messengers have been dispatched to Bale Keep and to Seaton. They have not heard back from Seaton yet (not surprising since the city is more than 20 miles away). The commander at Bale Keep has his troops on alert, ready to dispatch to Saltmarsh if necessary. Bale Keep patrols the Hool Marshes, but the patrols penetrate deep into the marshes themselves only during the winter, when the ground is firmer under foot and there are less mosquitoes and poisonous snakes about. During the summer (such as now), they patrol at the edges of the marsh only, and make sure nothing threatening emerges. Thus, they can say with certainty only that if a lizardfolk lair exists at the mouth of the Dun, it was not there last winter.

    When it is the party’s turn to speak, Aurora clarifies the connection between the lizardfolk, smugglers, and the Sea Princes. Most of the Council dismisses her idea at first, as they do not feel that the “flickers” could be part of a sophisticated plan, or that the Princes would be interested in a land war (since the previous animosity between their nations has been confined largely to naval battles). However, Aurora is persistent and persuasive. When she hits on the fact that the electrum coins used by the lizardfolk to pay for the weapons were of Sea Prince mint, several members of the Council do start to look concerned, and some are even alarmed. Willa has to intervene, telling Aurora privately to stop speaking along this line before the Council itself panics. Secun works to steer them back to the business at hand.

    Captain Sigurd is brought in, still in irons. He calmly confesses to his part in the smuggling and arms running, although he offers no oaths. He explains that an assistant to one of the Sea Princes told him of the opportunity to run arms to the lizardfolk after he was already smuggling silks and brandy, and that the two operations are not connected. He does not know, and never asked, from where the lizardfolk got their coins. He names his contact for buying arms in the Sea Princes.

    The Council asks him if he is repentant, and he says no, because he is not guilty. At least, he clarifies, he is not legally culpable, because he intends to demand trial by combat to prove his innocence before the law. Given that it took the entire party, plus magic, to bring him down, he is confident that he will be found innocent when fighting any of them in single combat in a fair fight. He doubts that Saltmarsh has anyone more challenging to offer as an opponent than Thokk, Willa, or Tyrius.

    Aurora is incredulous and asks the Council whether Sigurd can do that. The High Constable explains that if he is a freeborn crown subject with no previous convictions, and the crime in question was not witnessed within the boundaries of Saltmarsh itself, he does indeed have the right to trial by combat. Sigurd nods sagely, apparently having known this all along and counting upon it.

    However, the High Constable adds pointedly, since smuggling is a crime against the King, the Council has the right to petition for the King’s Champion to fight on their behalf, and as skilled as the Captain might be, he would not win such a fight.

    The Captain agrees that he would not win that fight, but says nonchalantly that summoning the King’s Champion would assuredly take a great deal of time, and long before he arrived the town would be under attack by flickers. The Captain says that he is hopeful the Council will grant him clemency in return for his fighting on their behalf, for if they are willing to free him he will gladly defend the town, or accompany the party to scout the flicker lair. The Council members are outraged, but have to admit he makes compelling arguments.

    The party members briefly question the Captain. They trade him some of his personal papers back in return for the command word to Punketah’s wand. He is then led away. Aurora claims that the party has no need of Sigurd's help in scouting the lizardfolk lair, and recommends that they do ask for a Champion to prove his guilt. There is a brief debate among the Council members, and it is agreed that it is better to keep Sigurd on hand in the gaol until the party returns with the results of their mission.

    The Council concludes that it is more urgent than ever for the party to assess what is going on with the lizardfolk. They are prepared to offer a reward of 500gp total to the party to split as they choose, plus the right of pillage to anything they find in the lair. Aurora tries to get them to assign someone “expendable” to scout the lair from the sea under guise of a fishing expedition, but she is told coldly that none of the citizens of Saltmarsh are expendable and that the Council is only willing to pay the party the small fortune of half a thousand gold because they expect that the party is able to handle such dangers without hiding behind the good folk of the town. Tyrius interjects and says that they will set out as soon as they have a full crew for their ship.

    16 August - Saltmarsh
    When Shefak wakes in the morning she finds she is now second level.

    Tom Stoutley joins the crew of the Sea Ghost. The excise cutter is returned to Customs service, but the Ghost still has two jollyboats - one that was on deck, and the other from the sea cave.

    Willa is able to find at the cartographer's shop a nautical chart showing the coastline around the mouth of the Dunwater; the Customs Service buys this “for customs use” and she stows it aboard the Sea Ghost.

    At noon, “Bloody” Bjorn (who, unlike Sigurd, does have prior convictions) is hung from a gallows outside the village gaol, for crimes including imprisonment, extortion, smuggling, manslaughter, and assault upon the King’s representatives. There is a good turnout from the town to witness the execution.

    No merchant ships come into port this day, but Willa is able to convince “Old Lefty,” a retired sailor, to come out of retirement for one last voyage on behalf of the town. He is too arthritic to climb the rigging, but she trusts him at the tiller and declares him First Mate of the Ghost and in charge of the crew when she is not on-board. He will be charging the party 1gp per day, or 24gp if they wish to pay him for a month in advance.

    17 August - Saltmarsh
    In the early morning a merchant ship makes port in Saltmarsh. Two locals have ended their service with the voyage and disembark. They are immediately met at the docks by Willa and Tyrius, who offer them employment at the rate of 1gp per day, provided they are ready to leave before midday. They are reluctant to miss their shore leave, but agree. This brings the crew of the Ghost to eight, with Willa, Tom, three smugglers, two locals, and Old Lefty.

    As the party finishes an early lunch, a private letter arrives for Tyrius.

    High tide is around 1pm; the ship casts off just as the tide turns. Since she was sailed into the harbor prow first, crewmen row the jollyboats while pulling the ship about. Once she is facing out of the harbor, Willa lets the tide pull the ship out into the open sea. When she is well beyond the rocks of shore the jollyboats come aboard, the sails are raised, and they begin their journey to the mouth of the Dunwater.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:34 pm  
    Post 26: The Lizardfolk Threat

    Post 26: The Lizardfolk Threat

    15 August, 570 - evening - Saltmarsh

    Willa remains by Secun's side after the party leaves, as the Council continues to discuss the state of affairs. To her surprise, he asks her to stay on for a private conversation even after most of the Council has left. When they are alone, he asks for her assessment of the situation.

    Saltmarsh is not walled, and it relies on the broad Janustream River as a natural barrier to threats from the Hool Marshes in the east. In time of need, the soldiers of Bale Keep are tasked with the active defense of the town, but both Secun and Willa know full well that a foe like lizardfolk, accustomed to traveling through the marsh, could arrive long before soldiers from the Keep. In the event the town had to defend itself without outside assistance, they figure the following would be available and dependable as combat officers:

    The High Constable and the five town constables, and possibly the gaoler
    The Militia Captain and the five sergeants of the militia
    The five part-time customs officers, including Willa and Tom, but not Secun himself (as he is too old to lead troops in the field)
    The priest of Kord
    A few of the priests of Xerbo
    The priest of Sol

    In terms of troops, all of the heads of household of Saltmarsh are required to train one day a month in the militia (or to support ten militiamen with arms and equipment, which is what most of the wealthy do). Many of the town youths train at their own option as archers. The fishermen are stout folk, and the militia itself would easily number 500 able-bodied men if there was a general muster, assuming there was time for a muster. In an open field, in the day, Willa and Secun are confident that Saltmarsh could stand against any threat unless the lizardfolk numbered in the several hundreds.

    As Willa and Secun discuss scenarios, what they fear most is lizardfolk deployed more strategically, who could attack with coordinated raids all along the seashore, coming up undetected from the water and not making any formal troop engagements. Once the families of the militiamen were under attack, most would not have the discipline to remain under the command of their sergeants; rather “every man for himself” would take his family and evacuate the town by whatever means were at hand. This would be exacerbated if the raids occurred at night, or if they came too swiftly for the militia to be mustered. If companies of militia, drastically reduced by desertions, faced a dedicated lizardfolk host, they would likely fail morale, break and run.

    Secun's original charge for Willa was to assess the true nature of the party - were they actually fledgling adventurers, or was some ulterior motive in play? She can now assure him that they are well-intentioned but very inexperienced. With that in mind, he now assigns her the task of leading this scouting expedition to the lizardfolk lair. The safety of Saltmarsh itself may depend on it.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Mon Aug 20, 2018 4:03 pm  
    Post 27: A letter for Tyrius

    Post 27: A Letter for Tyrius

    17 August, 570 - Saltmarsh
    As the party is staying aboard the Sea Ghost in Saltmarsh Harbor, a private letter arrives for Tyrius (cf. Post 25). The letter is unopened and bears the official seal of the Viscount of Salinmoor. It was delivered by a functionary of the Town Council.

    Taking the letter back to the cabin he shares with Barnabus, Tyrius breaks the seal and reads:

    Tyrius, paladin of Pelor, nobleman of Sterich,

    Good sir,

    I wish to offer you and your party my sincere congratulations on your capture of the smuggler’s ship and its crew and officers. Ending this scourge on the honest merchants of Saltmarsh and the rightful income of the King is a service to my Viscounty and the Kingdom as a whole, and you have my heartfelt gratitude.

    I wish also to thank you for your return of both the armor and gem belonging to my former knight. I have vouchedsafe their bequeathal to his heirs, who thank you as well.

    Finally, I understand that you have taken possession of the smuggler’s ship, which the Saltmarsh Town Council granted you by right of pillage. No doubt the ship will prove useful and diverting to you so long as you stay in fair Salinmoor. However, if I am not misjudging you, no doubt adventure and noble deeds will eventually call you away from Saltmarsh and Salinmoor, at which time possession of the ship may prove to be more of a burden than a boon. Unless you are prepared to wait for some time in Gradsul (an expensive proposition in and of itself) you are unlikely to receive a fair price for it, and even then you would must needs pay a significant fee to whichever auction house helped you find a purchaser. I, on the other hand, would be eager for the ship to see service in either my merchant fleet or my navy, whichever were more appropriate to the design and status of the ship. While I am not at the moment able to offer you coin for the vessel, I do propose the following trade:

    Should you decide to yield title of the ship to the Viscounty, I would be happy to host you and your party in Seaton, for as long as it takes my personal armorers to prepare for you and your henchmen any armor which they are capable of making, of your request, newly forged to your own measurements. I trust that such will prove more useful to you in your future exploits than the ship.

    Please do not hesitate to call upon me at my court.

    Hewell II
    Viscount of Salinmoor, Lord of Saltmarsh, Vice Admiral of the Azure Sea, Defender of the Southern Realm, etc, etc.

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    Tue Aug 28, 2018 6:56 pm  
    Post 28: Scouting the Lizardfolk Lair

    DM's Note: This post contains significant spoilers for module U2: Danger at Dunwater.

    After the party's bumbling near-TPK in the basement of the Haunted House, and a better-planned but still rather lucky assault on the Sea Ghost, I was interested to see what their scouting run of the lizardfolk lair would entail, and how long it would take them to realize the true nature of the module. They both surprised and impressed me with the careful planning and reasonably skilled execution of their initial scouting raid. Perhaps they were learning! The addition of Willa and Shefak certainly helped to add a more careful, deliberate element to the party.

    Post 28 - Scouting the Lizardfolk Lair

    17 August, 570 - evening - Salinmoor coast, several hours' sail west of Saltmarsh
    The Sea Ghost sails west from Saltmarsh for a few hours, nearing the promontory shown on Willa’s chart, but without any specific idea of where the actual lair might be, having refused Punketah’s help in locating it. There are storms out to sea, but close to the shore it is merely cloudy and overcast. After a brief strategic discussion among the group members, they collectively decide they will divide up and disembark in the two jollyboats to make a show of fishing up and down the coastline, while actually scouting the banks of the mainland and sending Aurora’s spirit owl familiar Hedwig out on flying reconnaissance trips. They converse with the crew of the Ghost, setting up a system of signals: sparks will be sent into the air by Aurora (if things are desperate) or a more subdued lantern code will be used for normal activities. The Sea Ghost is to sail slightly northeast and remove itself from view by the shore, but will revisit the general area every six hours, starting at midnight. The jollies head first to the mouth of the Dunwater, and will then proceed south and west around the point. Oceanus patrols underwater close to the surface, keeping an eye out for submerged threats.

    Close to the river mouth, Hedwig spots a trail of sorts, winding its way along the river bank. She also sees a fork in the trail with one path continuing north along the river and the other turning south and west and heading deeper into the marshland. Sailing up-river would be a suspicious behavior for fishermen, so the party comes about and lazily “fishes” along the coastline as they had planned. Hedwig follows the trail to the southwest, noticing that half way around the bend, the trail diverts up the hill, terminating just short of a small cave entrance.

    As they continue west around the promontory, Larry suddenly notices an opening in the shoreline, a low sea cave not unlike the secluded entrance below the Alchemist’s house. The group notes the location and continues traveling toward the southwest tip of the area on Willa’s map, and then reverses course when they seem to have discovered all they can by jollyboat. They decide to sail back up the coastline (as it is now dusk and growing darker) and opt to make landfall near the path, planning on working their way up the trail toward the small cave entrance under cover of darkness. With nightfall comes a cool sea breeze, which when it hits the warm, humid swamp creates a layer of fog that envelops the low-lying marshlands and reduces visibility on all sides. Swarms of blackflies and mosquitoes increase in the darkness as well. After the party disembarks, Tom waits with one jollyboat at the ready in the water just offshore, while the other boat is pulled up and hidden among the reeds.

    Unfortunately for poor Dirty Larry, he is less familiar with swamplands than mountains. Trying to lead the party overland to the trail Hedwig spotted, he suddenly mis-steps into a soft quag, quickly sinking and gulping in a few mouthfuls of the stinking bog as he cries out and struggles to stay afloat. Thokk chuckles at the hapless druid, and offers his ten foot pole to fish out the soggy dwarf. Sadly, Thokk too is baffled by the swamp and its mysterious ways, and stumbles into the same watery hole while trying to help his companion. Finally, Tyrius and Babshapka are able to pull the bumbling duo to firmer ground successfully, and the ranger dryly offers to help lead the party the remaining distance to the edge of the trail, carefully poking the ground ahead of him with Thokk’s pole as he goes.

    Once on the trail, the party sends Babshapka to the front and Barnabus to the rear, so that they might stealthily approach any hidden dangers. All along the way they can hear the roguish halfling complaining about the enveloping darkness, his lack of darkvision, the party’s reluctance to shed some light on the dim ground, and the clouds of biting flies that surround them. As they make their way up the gentle slope, they notice the ground drying a bit and giving way to grassier surroundings. The fog thins as they gain elevation as well. Quietly and uneventfully, they arrive at the cave mouth in the late evening, peek into the gloomy narrow crevice in the hillside, and then gingerly creep forward toward a door at the back of the cave. The door is of stout wood - an impressive construction for supposedly primitive lizardfolk, and they debate whether they are even in the correct place or have actually found an altogether different lair.

    Dirty Larry hears nothing behind the door and, after a quick inspection, Barnabus assures the party with his typical swagger that they need not fear any traps, so Thokk slowly advances into the lizardfolk lair. The group files into a narrow, rough-dug passageway that extends ahead toward a dimly lit juncture, with another small passageway on their immediate right. Barnabus creeps forward through the party, but stumbles over Aurora’s robes in the oppressively dark corridor. Babshapka and Dirty Larry offer to scout ahead instead - they are not as stealthy as Barnabus, but that may be a worthwhile tradeoff in return for actually being able to see. As they poke their heads around the corner of the passageway immediately at hand, they see five lizardman guards milling about in an adjacent room. With cool aplomb, the ranger and druid back away from the corridor slowly and retreat with the rest of the party outside the lair to discuss an approach.

    Thokk readies his battleaxe and looks positively giddy with the thought of finally putting aside all this sneaking about, but his hopes are dashed when Dirty Larry offers to scout ahead in weasel form. Larry suggests that he advance through the passageways, taking the right hand path whenever possible and thereby giving the party the best chance to find him quickly if things go awry. “If things gae right cocked oop, I’ll juss transform, thunderwave th’ hell oot of all aboot, and then hide meself as a spider on ceiling.” Thokk chuckles and slaps Larry on the back approvingly as the muddy dwarf disappears into his tiny weasel form.

    Larry is quite successful at scouting, it seems, and with his keen weasel sense of smell and hearing is able to chart close to a dozen rooms and numerous passageways. He discovers the kitchen, some living quarters, several other rooms of unknown purpose, and a locked and barred gate closing off a stairway down. At this location he can smell the sea, but he can also detect that there are other scents here besides the common lizardfolk he is quickly becoming accustomed to. After reporting all of this back to the party, the group decides that it would be risky to scout much further, and instead they opt to return to the Sea Ghost and report in, possibly trying out another approach later in the night.

    Babshapka helps the party return to the jollyboats and, after subtly marking the location they used to hide the boat in case they wish to return, they row out to meet the Ghost for the midnight rendezvous. The torchlight inside the lizardfolk lair has suggested to the party that perhaps the reptiles do not have darkvision - if this is the case, they likely have an advantage over the lizardfolk at night, so they return to the jollyboats - this time to explore the sea cave. Oceanus, who has been swimming just under the boats so as to protect against an ambush from below, informs the party that he has not seen any threats in the dark water, but also notes that the cave passage into the hill has a dense carpet of seaweed along the ocean floor that could easily hide guards.

    As the group silently rows into the cave, they send Hedwig to fly about the back side of the large chamber within, but the owl is able to discern little that the party members themselves couldn’t already see. Just as the lead boat approaches the back of the cave and finds a stone staircase leading out of the open chamber and into the hillside, however, the party is spotted by two figures who immediately flee the cavern. One splashes quickly off to the left, retreating into an adjoining cave, while another, clearly a lizardman, leaps from the water and onto the stone steps.

    There is a flurry of hasty activity by the party. A crack bowshot from Babshapka hits the lizardman squarely, though he muscles out of the ranger’s attempt to ensnare him with magic vines. Thokk and Willa strain at the oars to rapidly narrow the distance to the stairs as Larry successfully yanks the warrior back toward them with his thorn whip. Aurora, her better sense apparently overcome by the thrilling events of the evening, leaps from the jollyboat and attempts to charm the lizardman into submission. This fails spectacularly, and the warrior attacks her, though the disorientation of the thorn whip and his lack of darkvision cause both his dagger and bite attacks to miss. Barnabus illuminates the reptile with his lantern and Tyrius nails him with a thrown light hammer, but it is Sheffek who finally subdues the warrior in spectacular fashion. She jumps from the rear boat, flips over the heads of Thokk and Willa to land neatly in their boat without upsetting it, then clears the remaining ten foot distance separating her and the lizardman in a single bound, and finally knocks him unconscious with a single, precise blow of her staff. She then assists Aurora in hauling him down the stairs and into the closest boat. Turning around swiftly, the party rows furiously and noisily to escape the cave before reinforcements arrive, and they make it back to the Sea Ghost without further incident. Oceanus later tells them that two more figures were following them under the water, but they left off pursuit when the boats exited the sea cave into the open water.

    By the time they reach the ship, a light rain has begun, and the wind is picking up. They tell the sailors to gain some distance from the promontory. The crew grumbles about having been on duty since noon and now having to sail after midnight in the rain, but Willa aims some choice invective at them and tells them they are being paid to sail, not complain. Her stern captaining seems to arouse more respect than resentment.

    The party ties the lizardman to the mast, asks Tyrius to heal him just enough to rouse him to consciousness, and then proceeds to interrogate him. They initially try the carrot, rather than the stick, and offer him water and fish while they attempt to calm his panicked reaction. Aurora casts comprehend languages so that she can understand him, if not vice versa, but the party is pleased to find that Shefek seems to have a strange natural affinity for picking up lizardfolk words. Over the next few minutes, they are able to work together and convince the lizardman, who names himself Sssessenek, that they mean him no harm but desperately need some information. Over the course of the next half hour, they are able to convey and are told the following:

    The lizardfolk are buying weapons, but they are unaware of any larger plot involving human nations.

    They are buying weapons solely for the purpose of protecting themselves from the Sea Devils, an evil rampaging aquatic race dedicated to conquest.

    The Sea Devils attacked their home six months ago, forcing them to relocate to their present underground lair (in retrospect, Larry attests that the hillside resembled a simple home rather than any sort of advance war post).

    The party successfully conveys to Sssessenek that the humans of Saltmarsh believe the lizardfolk mean to attack the town, to which the warrior appears genuinely surprised. Nothing could be farther from the truth, he says, as his people have their hands full desperately trying to rebuild a home and preparing to defend themselves.

    Aurora asks how the lizardfolk are paying for these weapons, and hits a sticking point. The lizardman nobly refuses to answer, saying “I have told you the truth and all the information that I am free to provide, in the hopes that you will spare my life. But now you ask about knowledge that may imperil my lair, and I will readily die for my lair.”

    Willa offers him the suggestion that they meet with whomever is responsible for the smugglers bringing the weapons. Sssessenek agrees and reveals that it is their chief that parlayed with Snake-eyes and his crew. He offers to speak with the chief and arrange a meeting at the mouth of the Dunwater at noon the following day.

    After a quick discussion, the group decides that the potential benefit of such a meeting outweighs the risks, so they completely heal the lizardman of his injuries, sail him on a jolly to within a short swimming distance of the sea cave, and release him. The group returns to the Sea Ghost and retreats to a safe distance to rest and discuss the events of the evening.

    DM's Note: The wildly successful conclusion of this scouting run was made possible by their diplomacy with the lizardman. Aurora's comprehend languages allowed them to understand him, but crucial to their success was him understanding them, as well. Shefak has the highest Insight score of any of them, and began play with an undedicated language slot as well. When her player asked me if she could learn the lizardfolk language "as she went", I agreed but said that she would then be locked into having selected lizardfolk as her language of choice, and that the language was unlikely to prove useful later in her adventuring career. She accepted that condition, and her being able to pick up and use a smattering of lizardfolk over the course of that first conversation proved instrumental.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Sep 04, 2018 10:05 am  
    Post 29: Negotiations at Noon

    DM's Note: This post contains significant spoilers for module U2: Danger at Dunwater.

    Post 29 - Negotiations at Noon

    18 August, 570 - midday - mouth of the Dun River, Azure Sea
    At mid-day, the party rows both jollies to the mouth of the river. A number of mangrove-covered sandbars dot the wide mouth, and on the largest a regal and authoritative lizardman waits for them, surrounded by a large retinue of warriors. Tyrius (the party’s diplomat) leads the group ashore and approaches the chief cautiously. Oceanus (underwater) and Babshapka (in the underbrush) remain hidden, but communicate with Aurora via her message spell. They tell her with some concern that the channels underwater and the sand spits neighboring the one on which the meeting is taking place are positively crawling with concealed lizardfolk. Aurora relays this to Tyrius, who tries to exude confidence nonetheless. Tyrius addresses the chief and, after a few initial verbal mis-steps, is able to gather the following information:

    *The chief speaks in an accented but easily understandable form of Common

    *Everything that Sssessenek told them under interrogation is corroborated. Six months ago, the lizardfolk fled their home for this new location and have been arming themselves with what they call “me-tal” ever since, anticipating renewed conflict with the Sea Devils.

    *The chief mentions that he feels the release of his captured warrior by the party means that they are either very courageous or very foolish. He is hoping that it is the former.

    *The chief says that he has entered into an alliance with both the Merfolk and Koalinth. He appears to approve of the party’s ignorance of the latter race, and believes it lends credence to the claim that the group has no larger aims on the lizardfolk other than the mistaken belief they planned to attack Saltmarsh. He says that when selecting allies, the lizardfolk considered approaching the sea elves rather than the Koalinth, but they believed that the Koalinth were stronger and so more valuable. He suggests that the party allows Oceanus to join the conversation, and points to the place in the channel where the sea elf lurks under the water.

    *The chief explains that his tribe has made these allies to stand united against the Sea Devils. It is the Merfolk who have been raiding what he calls underwater “soft-skin log ruins” (shipwrecks?) for the “small bits of me-tal” that the smugglers valued.

    *The chief came to the arrangement with the smugglers by simple chance - after they had sent out numerous lizardfolk groups to attempt contact, the smugglers were the first vessel found whose occupants didn’t immediately attack the reptiles and were then open to a trading arrangement. The chief convincingly denies that there is any attack planned on Saltmarsh. He does not see the “soft skins” (humans) as anywhere near as dangerous a threat as the Sea Devils, and he only moved them this close to their town because he was forced to do so.

    Tyrius asks for a break and consults privately with Oceanus, using Aurora as a translator. Oceanus relates to the party that the Koalinth are a goblinesque underwater race that has warred with the elves for as long as Oceanus can remember (that is, centuries). The lizard chief appears to be speaking truthfully, as Oceanus can attest that the Sea Devils are a tremendous threat. And, yes, it makes absolute sense strategically and militarily for the lizardfolk to join with the Koalinth and the Merfolk against a common foe. The Koalinth and the sea elves do despise each other and would never ally. “No,” Oceanus concludes, “no matter how dire the threat from the Devils, I cannot ever see us joining in any coalition with the Koalinth. The oceans themselves will dry up before that day will ever come.” Oceanus also informs the party that while the Sea Devils are a foe he greatly fears, he himself has never seen one, for they live in the deep, cold, sunless waters far offshore. For them to displace a lizardfolk colony on the very shore itself is a grave threat to the folk of the sea and land both!

    Tyrius, Oceanus, and Aurora rejoin the chief for more discussion and learn that there was a Koalinth ambassador at the lizardfolk lair the night before (likely the source of the strange scent weasel-Larry smelled near the sea port stairway but could not identify). Unfortunately for the health of the original alliance, the Koalinth ambassador believes that the capture and interrogation of a lizardman warrior by a party of “soft skins” is a reflection of weakness among the reptiles. His people were divided as to the benefits of the alliance to begin with, and this embarrassment appears to have pushed them toward abandoning the coalition. As such, the lizardfolk would entertain the notion of a possible alliance with the sea elves and even the humans, but only if they can prove their worth. The chief says that his advisors are convinced that soft skins are worth little more than hissing hatchlings in battle, but their actions during the raid on the sea cave and the respect they have shown him in the meeting today hints to him that there may be more to them than his advisors know.

    The chief proposes a trial, and tasks the party with killing a rampaging giant crocodile interfering with their hunting grounds. Half a company of his own warriors could easily dispose of the threat, but their belief system forbids them from harming other reptiles.

    The party agrees that this is a fair request and enthusiastically begins preparations to locate and slay the beast, which the chief says they have named “Stenchbrute,” and which lives up the “moving water.”

    As the party prepares to launch the jollyboats, Willa offers the chief a seat in one. He stares at her, his tongue flicking in and out, with no trace of a recognizable emotion on his face. “Do not think we are alliesss yet, or that I would be foolisssh enough to go off with the group of you by myssself.” He speaks briefly with a large warrior by his side in their own tongue, then says “My trusssted officccer will obssserve your battle and report back to me.”

    Willa shrugs and makes room for the lizardman officer in the boat.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 11, 2018 1:57 pm  
    Post 30: Stenchbrute

    Note: This post contains spoilers for module U2: Danger at Dunwater.

    While I ran the lixardfolk lair pretty much as written in the original module, for the battle with Stenchbrute and the wyrmling I did rely on Appendix A of the 5e conversion of the module by Jon Weir available at: Most of the treasure suggested therein I kept, but I changed the bracers of archery to a crystal of clear thought. The latter is an item of my own invention. Once identified and attuned to a monk character, it allows the character to gain one ki point beyond the per level maximum if it is contemplated during the character's meditative practice.

    Post 30: Stenchbrute

    18 August, 570 - afternoon - Dun River

    It is not far up one of the narrow channels at the mouth of the Dun before the jollyboats are grounded on a sandbank. After that, they need to be pulled through an area of thick reeds. For the next quarter mile, the party spends more time out of the boats, dragging them through thick grass and shallow water, then in them. It is hot, sweaty, muddy, buggy work. Finally they are past the sediment-clogged delta and out in the open river. Willa had occasionally wondered why the Dun never became a trade route like the other rivers of its size in the region and now she knows - there is no way a craft of any size would be able to get through its mouth to the sea!

    It is hard work rowing against the current upriver, but no one complains. There are many hands for the oars and away from the reeds there are fewer bugs and even a light breeze. For the first time Barnabus navigates one of the boats while Tom and Willa sit together in the other, she filling him on the state of the negotiations, their deal with the Lizardman chief, and other matters spoken of in lower voices.

    As the boats continue upstream, and the novelty of floating on the water rather than swimming in it wears off (for this is surely his first trip in a boat), the lizardman officer grows chatty. Perhaps he wishes to impress them with his Common, or warn them of what lies ahead. For whatever reason, he begins with “Our wissse chief did not tell you all of the ssstory of Ssstenchbrute,” and, when he sees that everyone in the boat is paying attention, he continues.

    “When our colony firssst arrived at our new home, we sssoon discovered that Ssstenchbrute had itsss lair in the marssshesss nearby. Thisss wasss at firssst of no concccearn - crocodilesss are sssacred to our tribe and we thought itsss presssenccce wasss a good omen. True, one thisss large could be dangerousss, but our ssshamen have alwaysss been able to commune with other ssscale-ssskins. A ssshaman can sssimply asssk a crocodile to leave, and it will. But then the crocodile attacked and devoured three membersss of a patrol which had pausssed to ressst near itsss lair, and it would not lisssten to the ssshaman! Sssince then Ssstenchbrute hasss taken by sssurprise many of our patrolsss, eaten many of our warriorsss and once even an officccer. Sssome of the men believe that it is actually hunting usss! We are forbidden by our faith from harming it, asss you know. What is worssse, itsss lair liesss very close to a posssible route of approach of sssahuagin, ssso we cannot jussst avoid it and leave that area unpatrolled. Our lossses have continued to accumulate, and I for one will be much relieved if you are able to drive it off!”

    The party discusses strategy after that, calling out ideas from boat to boat as they row. Babshapka expounds on the ecology of crocodiles, explaining that they are faster in the water than on land, that they have powerful bites, that they can knock people over with their tails, and that they have been known to grab people and drag them underwater. The lizardfolk officer agrees with all of this, and adds that while he personally can outrun a crocodile on land, in the water he would not stand a chance. As for the party, with their funny foot-wraps and metal scales...he can only imagine how slow they will be on marshy ground.

    “No worries,” says Thokk, as he pulls on the oars and the sweat rolls off his glistening biceps. “Thokk finally get to fight! No need for running. Plan is simple. Thokk distracts crocodile, then hits it. Everyone else come in after Thokk, and hits it. Then, Thokk hits it again, and it dies.”

    “Yeah, great, you do that.” says Babshapka. “Arrows from a tree sounds good to me.”

    The lizardman advises them when they are getting close, and the conversation dies down. The boats pass single file through a narrow channel, itself running alongside a large, deep pool but not intermingling due to a sodden strip of land between. The boats are pulled up on the land, and the lizardman points to the pool as being the most reliable place to find the crocodile, although really it could be anywhere. On the far side of the pool the land rises and the marshes give way to trees, but the area between the trees is obscured by mist. Aurora sends out Hedwig to circle the pool, then the general area, but there is no sign of the beast.

    In a hushed conversation, Aurora points out a large willow tree near the edge of the pool. She tells the party to arrange themselves in a line near the tree and hide to the best of their ability. She will create a “silent image” of a lizardman to walk along the banks of the pool in an attempt to draw the beast out.

    As they file quietly away from the beached boats, Tom carefully arranges the oars and gear for a quick departure. He stands near the prow of one of the boats, a loaded crossbow in hand.

    Most of the party has arranged themselves under or near the willow, crouching in the grass, but Aurora notices that Willa is standing, not hiding, about 20 yards back from the tree and alongside the lizardman. Aurora passes by and asks what is going on, and Willa says loudly, “I am guarding our honored observer - if something happens to him, their wise chief will not know how we fared.” She then leans in to Aurora and whispers, “As the chief said, we are not allies yet - this “test” could be an ambush, and if things go south, I want a hostage when we run for the boats. If it is really just a crocodile, there are enough of you to handle it.”

    Aurora is frustrated but continues on, crouching by the willow. In a few seconds, she has created a convincing-looking lizardman, who appears suspiciously like the officer accompanying them but who is completely silent. This image walks up and down the banks of the pool, sometimes leaning tantalizingly over the edge, or dipping a toe or tail tip in.

    WOOOOSH! The pool explodes and a shower of water falls along the banks as the huge bulk of the most massive animal any of them have ever seen emerges. SNAP! Jaws as large as any of their torsos close around the image of the lizardman, which instantly disappears. The croc shudders and looks about, angered at missing its prey. With a rousing cry, Thokk bursts forth from hiding, charging just out of reach of the creature, but next to its head, dancing forward and back, daring it to bite at him. The others run out, taking positions all alongside the enormous flanks of the creature, striking at it with sword, staff, spear, and hammer. SNAP! the brute turns and strikes again, now at Thokk, but he backs up just in time, even as the others continue to slash, pierce and bludgeon it. THWAK! The massive tail of the creature, it alone outweighing her several-fold, crashes into Shefak, knocking her to the ground in an unconscious heap. THOKK! Thokk’s massive axe cuts deep into the neck of the creature, lodging in its spine but not severing it. Then the true thrashing begins, and all standing nearby are covered in blood, mud, and water.

    When the creature ceases its movements, Thokk tilts his head back and issues a deep cry of exultation, furious love of battle. The others around him relax and watch, until they see Babshapka’s eyes go wide and his jaw drop. They follow the pointing of his quivering finger. There, emerging from the mist behind Thokk, is the head of a black dragon, mouth agape.

    Thokk whirls about, but just in time to be struck full-on by a mass of belched acid that burns and sizzles as it eats at his flesh. Barnabus and Tyrius, standing nearby, attempt to dodge away and each take a half-dose of the deadly acid-vomit. When it is over, the creature pauses, as if it cannot understand how Thokk is still standing. Then the half-orc again utters his battle cry, and he, Oceanus, Barnabus, and Tyrius charge the dragon. Of the other croc-fighters, Shefak is still lying unconscious in the marsh, Larry is retreating even as he heals Thokk with magic from a distance, and Babshapka is backing up but firing his bow as he goes.

    Now surrounded and taking damage, the dragon leans forward to bite Thokk, but the arrow in its neck from Babshapka sprouts vines that wrap around its jaws and muzzle it! It rears up and stretches out its wings, trying to fly, but the nearby willow tree reaches forth its branches to entangle it. As it struggles in great bounds, its whole chest is exposed to Thokk, and he opens it to the bone with his great axe. The momentum of its last leap rips it free of the tree, and it sails over the pool to come crashing to earth, dead, just at the feet of Babshapka.

    Now Thokk lets free another exultant cry, and this time he is joined by all the others, except Tom, Willa, and the lizardman officer, who are all competing for who can appear more stunned.

    After several minutes, Thokk rests his axe head on the marshy ground, the rage leaving his body and now painfully aware of the acid burning his flesh off in large open wounds. The others are climbing on and around the bodies of the monsters, marveling at them. Tyrius is kneeling at Shefak’s side, restoring her to consciousness. Thokk looks over his fallen foes: the croc, indeed, is an impressive beast, worthy of a totem spirit, had he not already been chosen by the wolf he slew in Saltmarsh. But the dragon, well, it is actually small. Of course it looked much bigger emerging from the mist and surprising everyone, but now, slain, the bulk of its body is not larger than a man, though its neck and tail are quite long. Honestly, for a dragon, even his first dragon, it is small. Thokk tries to focus on this rather than on his increasingly-painful acid burns. A dragon this small must have a correspondingly small territory - it would stay close to its lair, so as to avoid the attention of other dragons that could easily pilfer its hoard - its hoard must therefore be close-by. Thokk walks off into the mist, attempting to trace the tracks of the dragon back to their source.

    Meanwhile, the lizardman at Willa’s side flicks his tongue pensively. “A wyrmling? That mussst be why the crocodile could not hear our ssshamen. The wyrmling wasss controlling it!”

    Tyrius and Babshapka begin a friendly argument. Babshapka wants to remove the teeth from the dragon’s mouth as souvenirs - Tyrius wants to mount the head, intact, on the prow of “his” ship. When the lizardman hears them, he hurries over. “You are not talking of dessicrating the bodiesss of thessse animalsss, are you?” Tyrius looks momentarily annoyed, then composes himself. “Of course not. Forgive us, most-trusted-officer of the chief. We respect your belief system. What shall we do with these bodies, noble ally?”

    “We musst bring them to our home, ssso that we may honor their ssspirits at the victory feassst tonight.”

    “Of course. Just so.” Tyrius strides off to requisition some rope from Tom.

    Thokk is followed into the mist by Barnabus, and it it is not long before Aurora and Larry are trailing him. Thokk walks up the hillside until he sees a huge stone, flat against the ground, as if a massive boulder outcrop had been eaten away by acid and claws. In a depression in the stone are heaps of coin, but other objects poke out as well. Thokk sticks his axe into the mix, stirring the coins to see what lies beneath. “Fah, no weapons,” he says disgustedly. “Stupid dragon.” He retreats under a tree, leaving the treasure to the others so they won’t see his grimaces of pain from the acid-burns.

    Aurora, Barnabus, and Larry comb through the treasure. Barnabus pulls out a small suit of leather armor and a closed iron box, then starts searching the box for traps. Aurora finds a scroll tube, and helps Larry separate the rest of the pile into coins (copper, gold, platinum), gems, jewelry, and art objects. When she is done, Aurora pulls forth Punketah’s wand and says “Abracaphagic!” The suit of leather armor glows. Aurora can sense protective magic - but something else as well - tiny lights play across the runes etched into the metal plates that reinforce the vulnerable parts of the armor.

    Barnabus opens the box. In it are three flasks of liquid and a perfectly clear, spherical crystal. When Aurora sees them she curses, blushes, then uses another charge from the wand. All four objects glow - she is reading protective magic on one potion, superior healing on the second, and strength-granting on the third. The use of the crystal remains obscured to her. She opens the tube and finds a scroll of “protection from undead”.

    Barnabus examines the armor. The designs on it appear like gears, though they are decorative, not functional. This, plus the size and shape, lead him to believe it is of gnome-make. He might be able to fit in it, though it looks to be too long and narrow for him.

    As he adjusts straps and belts, it actually fits quite well. In fact, the longer he has it on, the better it feels. Supple, responsive - he feels protected, but like he is missing something - the runes on the metal plates hint at another power, if only he knew how to activate it. “I wonder what else it does?” he muses aloud.

    WHAMM! Thokk hits Barnabus squarely in the jaw. The halfling tumbles over backwards into the grass. He does not get up. In fact, he does not move. “Hmmf,” grunts the half-orc. “Armor not good either. This rotten dragon treasure. Thokk going back to boats.”

    While the strong people cooperate in dragging the bodies to the boats, tying them securely, and rolling them into the stream, the fast people make trips back and forth to the hoard-rock, eventually loading all of the treasure into the boats, with the coins loose in the bottom and the potions, scroll, and valuable items tucked away. Eventually they are ready to cast off, though a groggy Barnabus has a huge purple welt on his jaw.

    The trip back to the lizardfolk lair is uneventful. Rowing downriver is easy, even with the bodies floating behind. Portaging through the delta is twice as hard as before until they are spotted. Then the boats are suddenly swarming with dozens of lizardmen, and twice-dozens of hands lift, pull, and drag until they make it to the trail leading to their lair.

    [DM's Note: Thokk's player had a good time with this session. First he successfully used the "dodge" action to keep the crocodile attacking him but missing while the others piled on the damage. Then, when Barnabus tried on the new armor, he reasoned he could determine the armor class by making a single unarmed attack. Of course, he did not consult with Barnabus' player first about this tactic. As luck would have it, he rolled a critical hit - and the resultant unarmed damage was enough to knock Barnabus unconscious!]
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:09 pm  
    Post 31: Hail to the Chief

    Note: This post contains spoilers for module U2: Danger at Dunwater

    Post 31: Hail to the Chief

    18 August, 570 - evening - mouth of the Dun River, Azure Sea
    Once at the trailhead, the crowd of lizardmen moves off, hauling the dragon and the crocodile, and leaves the party momentarily to themselves. Tom, Thokk, Larry, and Tyrius consolidate the coins in one jollyboat and launch it into the sea, heading for the ship. Aurora, Babshapka, Barnabus, Willa, and Shefak pull their jollyboat far onto the land, then follow the trail toward the lizardfolk lair. By the time they get to the “hidden” door, the black dragon has been arranged outside as if on guard, but there is no sign of the crocodile. They wait patiently as if they do not know of the door, and eventually it is thrown open and lizardfolk usher them into the underground lair. From the doorway they pass down the hall and beyond the guardpost, almost directly ahead to a door that weasel-Larry examined but did not enter.

    Inside the door is a large banquet hall, fully fifty feet wide and nearly twice as long. Outside the room the narrow tunnels were of earth, but this room has been carved from stone bedrock and has six stone pillars in two rows supporting the high ceiling. Several wooden tables have been placed together, end-to-end, running down the length of the room between the pillars. Wooden benches flank the table - depending on how closely they are packed in, Willa estimates the table could easily seat 50 of the lizardfolk, perhaps as many as 70 or 80. At the far end is a large wooden chair, flanked by four other chairs and apart from the common benches. The room itself contains knots and clusters of conversing lizardfolk, though none of them are yet seated.

    The five party members are shown to the benches at the far end, nearest the chairs that are presumably reserved for the most important members of the tribe. Lizardfolk are setting the table for a feast, bringing out plates with fish and waterfowl. Some of these are cooked and some are raw, but they have all been prepared in some way - scaled or de-feathered at least. The lizardfolk laying the meal appear different from the others of their kind, those heretofore seen outside - these are taller, but more slender, and their head-crests are much less pronounced. Babshapka offers the opinion that these are actually female lizardfolk, whereas the warriors, officer, and chief were males. The party sits at the benches, talking casually and watching the preparations around them. On the tables are a variety of earthenware pots, jars, plates and mugs, and a number of wooden trenchers. There are woven baskets containing small, dark loaves of bread. There are two tall wooden cupboards in the room, one against each of the long walls.

    As the party relaxes, they are offered drink but not food. The room becomes noisier and warmer as more and more lizardfolk enter, though none of them sit. There are even diminutive lizardfolk (children?) from time to time, trying to snatch food from the table and being chased away or cuffed by the larger ones.

    *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

    With four people rowing, it does not take long for Tom, Thokk, Larry, and Tyrius to reach the Sea Ghost. Once on board, sacks are found to stow the coins, and they are placed in the captain’s cabin (currently occupied by Willa and Tom). Tom and Tyrius talk to Old Lefty - he reports that the crewmen are tired from long shifts but otherwise in good spirits. The crew brings up the bundles of weapons that were the most recent planned delivery for the lizardfolk and loads them into the jollyboat. At that point, everyone is ready to go except Tyrius. He insists on going to his cabin (the mate’s cabin, belowdecks, that he is currently sharing with Larry), washing, and changing clothes. He is, after all, going to a feast. Thokk is baffled. The feast is in honor of slaying the crocodile - so what is more appropriate than wearing the clothes with the crusted gore of the crocodile on them? (Not that Thokk actually has more than one set of clothes, but in principle). Larry agrees with Thokk. Tom didn’t get dirty in the fight but is covered in mud from the portaging in the delta; but then he isn’t going to the feast. Willa is, though: “typical” Tom mumbles.

    When Tyrius finally emerges from his cabin - not as polished as he would be for a noble banquet, but good enough for lizardfolk and certainly better than anyone else in the party - the sun is just starting to set. Tom orders a lantern hung on the ship and three crewmen into the jollyboat - his plan is to drop the three party members off, but return to the Sea Ghost with at least one of the jollyboats. He tells Tyrius that the men have been nervous the whole time the party has used both jollyboats, since they prefer keeping at least one on board as a lifeboat - they have only tolerated both being gone so far because the Ghost has been within sight of land the whole time. The crew rows them back to the shore and they arrive while there is just enough light to make out the other jollyboat. After Thokk, Larry, and Tyrius disembark, they are passed the bundles of weapons and then the jollyboat pulls off into the gathering darkness.

    Since the beached jollyboat was so near the lizardfolk trail, Larry does not lead them into any meres but straight to the lair door (and just around the corpse of the black dragon). “Stupid dragon,” mumbles Thokk as they pass, but with more mirth than invective, as his skin is now less raw and starting to scab over. Immediately after they enter the lair, they are whisked to the nearby banquet hall. The throngs of lizardfolk around them are practically humming in anticipation, and Tyrius gets the feeling that everyone has been waiting for them. He tries to not feel pleased by that, as he is supposed to choose modesty over pride.

    *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

    The party in the feast hall has been waiting quite some time. Sheffek and Babshapka seem impervious to boredom or frustration, but it has been hard on Willa. At first she amused herself by making tactical estimates of the strength of the lizardfolk, but that done, she has had nothing to do but pretend to listen to the vapid comments of Aurora, who hasn’t stopped talking. Barnabus, at least, has found the lizardman officer who observed their battle, and has asked him to recount the scene several times, all the while working out a new ballad.

    It is with great relief that Willa notes the increased conversation among the lizardfolk that is the immediate prelude to Thokk, Larry, and Tyrius entering the room. Almost as soon as the party is united, a hush falls over the hall. A dozen lizardfolk, straining and heaving, haul the body of the crocodile in through a door opposite the one the party entered. The croc is lain near the head of the table, the chairs adjusted slightly to account for its presence. The lizardfolk stare in silent awe. Then, entering through the same door, comes the chief. At once all the lizardfolk present adopt a curious, hunched over position, almost squatting. The party looks to one another, trying to decide whether they too should assume this posture. Tyrius shakes his head at them and whispers that the chief wants strong allies, not subservient minions. So they are the only ones erect when the chief strides up to the table and stands near the great chair. After him come two lizardfolk, presumably females, with their skin dyed in places and both wearing jewelry. These take places at the chairs to either side of the chief. Finally one last pair come in. There is a lizardfolk female bearing a staff, and an ancient male wearing a large gold chain. He is hunched and has scales missing in many places. His teeth look blunted and he even has a pair of brass-rimmed spectacles on his nose!

    The female with the staff pauses by the head of the croc, throws her arms wide, and makes a brief pronouncement in the lizard tongue. Sheffak listens intently, then whispers to the party that she is welcoming the spirit of the croc to the feast. After she stands by a chair, the aged lizardman hisses something barely audible, and gestures at the party before taking his place by a chair. Sheffak says she thinks he was welcoming them. There is a moment of silence, and the chief takes his seat. Finally the assembled lizardfolk stand from their crouched position, and begin to move about again, talking loudly. They gradually squeeze into places along the benches, with much jostling and polite shoving, male and female alike, though no children are present.

    The feast is long and very satisfying, with plenty for everyone’s taste. Some in the party prefer the cooked waterfowl and fish, some the raw - some try the bread, others avoid it. Two huge carcasses on spits are carried in - one looks like an enormous fish, but bigger than Thokk. The other is human-sized and -shaped, but is thoroughly cooked and its exact identity is unrecognizable. Choice parts of these are served first to the chief and his retinue, then the party, and then the carcasses make their way slowly down the table, with the feasters calling for this part or that to be sliced off for them. Neither the chief nor his retinue speak to the party, nor indeed do most of them make eye contact, the exception being the wizened, bespectacled lizardman, who occasionally steals glances at them.

    It must be late in the night indeed when the chief stands and the conversation again dies down, but this time slowly, with those at the far end of the room only gradually becoming silent. With a single gesture to the party to follow him, the chief turns and strides out the door he entered through.

    As the party gets up, a number of lizardmen, presumably an honor guard, interpose themselves between the chief and them. While they are busy collecting the bundles of weapons, the party notices that lethargic, sated lizardfolk are retreating from the table, while others are just now coming in to enjoy the feast. The newcomers are generally smaller than the departing ones, and presumably of lesser status.

    Following the guards, the party leaves the feast hall and enters earthen tunnels like those that preceded them. They turn right and almost immediately left and pass through a set of open wooden double-doors. The room beyond is large and carved from stone, though with the same six support columns as in the feast hall. It is about the same area, though wider and less deep. There are no furnishings save for a low stone dais at the far end with a large wooden throne on it, on which sits the chief. In the light of several oil lamps, gemstones glint and glitter from the throne. The two dyed and jewelried lizardfolk are gone, but the female with the staff and the ancient male flank the chief on his dais. Nearby the dais are several large officers, and there is a row of troops down each wall of the throne room. On the walls are mounted trophy heads; among them are a giant crayfish, a gnoll, a hippopotamus, a bear, a lion, two sharks, and a giant frog. Two other heads are not immediately recognizable. One is humanoid-sized and -shaped, but it has scaled skin and a heavy brow, a finned ridge, and many sharp, pointed teeth. The other head appears like some sort of giant worm or larva, with many large tentacles protruding from its face.

    Once the entire party is in the room, the chief bids them approach his throne. They are perhaps thirty feet away when the female lizardfolk with the staff stiffens and begins to interpose herself between them. At once Tyrius takes a step back and the rest of the party arranges themselves behind him.

    “Tell usss,” commands the chief to one of his officers, “how thessse sssoft-ssskinsss ssslew Ssstenchbrute.”

    The lizardfolk officer begins the tale in Common, and the party quickly realizes that he is the one who accompanied them to the pool. His tale is accurate, even flattering. When he is done, the chief asks the party, “Isss thiss true?”

    Thokk nods proudly as the rest of the party assents. “Tell me now in our own tongue,” says the chief, though his own command of Common leaves no doubt that he understood. The officer begins the tale again, recognizable by all the same gestures, though with different words. This time, however, the guards lining the walls are intent, listening carefully.

    When the officer finishes, the chief speaks again. “It ssseems that you sssoft-ssskinsss are more powerful than my advisssers led me to believe. I will invite you to join our allienccce againssst the sssahuagin.”

    “Thank you, wise chief,” says Tyrius. “Together we shall surely vanquish the evil sea devils.” With a gesture from the paladin, other members of the party lay before them the bundles of weapons and open them, so that the metal gleams in the lamp-light. “As a token of our good faith in the alliance, we wish to present you with the weapons we believe you purchased, weapons which were found on a ship we captured.”

    The chief beckons to an officer, and the lizardman steps forward, raises the shield that is adorned with the symbol of the lizardman with tongue extended, holds it forth and turns for all the room to see.

    “Thossse are indeed the weaponsss of me-tal that we purchasssed,” says the chief. “Our dealingsss with the sssoft-ssskinsss of the floating log were thusss: we would give them the sssmall bitsss of me-tal in exchange for the weaponsss - half the bitsss before the purchassse, the other half after. The part after would be held by our tribesssmen on the log until we had reccceived the weaponsss. Did you, then, find the bitsss on the log asss well?”

    Barnabus makes to interject, but Tyrius beats him to it. “Yes, wise chief, we found many small bits of metal - half in the captain’s cabin, and half in another.” Barnabus scowls.

    “Well then, you are welcome to thossse bitsss. Asss we now have the weaponsss by your handsss, it is jussst that you have their payment. However, I mussst asssk if you alssso sssaw our kinsssmen on the log, or know what became of them?”

    Here even Tyrius gives pause. Willa eyes the distance to the chief, estimating whether she could charge him before the officers could respond. She catches Aurora’s eye and inclines her head at the female with the staff, but Aurora just mouths silently back at her, “What? what?”

    Finally, Tyrius says in a firm voice, “Yes, wise chief. We fought three lizardfolk warriors on the ship. They came upon us, weapons drawn, while we were already in a fight with the humans. We slew them in honorable combat. Knowing what we know now, we regret their deaths, but feel we were acting in our own defense.” Willa’s hand moves slowly, comes to rest casually on the hilt of her sword.

    The chief does not avert his gaze or betray any emotion. “If they fought to defend the weaponsss, then they fought to defend their tribe, and their deathsss were good. But if we are to ally with you, it mussst be asss equalsss. There isss a debt to be paid, a…(here he struggles to find the word, and the aged lizardman bends and hisses at him)...yesss, a wereguild. The tribe mussst be compensssated for their losss. Do you agree?”

    Thokk understands that the slaughter of another orc means that a complainant gains the right to exact revenge in ritualistic combat. Of course, whether or not the wronged party is successful and slays the offender is up to the gods and the strength of his arm. Thinking that this is what the chief intends, he heartily agrees. Indeed, he is practically salivating at the chance to slay their greatest warrior in single combat and so prove that the lizardmen on the ship were killed without consequence.

    Aurora, on the other hand, is very cautious about what the cultural differences between them may be, and would like more information. She interjects, “Chief, there are differences between our peoples. The things we eat, the gods we serve, the interactions of males and females, etc…We have different customs, traditions, and justice systems. In the interest of fairness and our future relationship, would you please explain to us how wereguild works in the lizardfolk culture, so that we may better answer your question?”

    The chief looks carefully over the party - or is he casting sidelong glances at the advisers next to him before he speaks? “The lossss of a lizzzardfolk is a lossss to the tribe - it makesss the tribe weaker, more vulnerable. Sssomeone who deprivesss usss of a member owesss a debt to the tribe. Among ourselvesss, causssing an unjussstified death meansss the killer mussst take on the tribal dutiesss of the killed. The three lizzzardfolk you killed were not proven warriorsss or huntersss, asss they were young. But they had learned Common, and were tasssked with helping provide weaponsss for the tribe. Thusss, the wereguild I would impossse upon you would be to help usss acquire more weapons. I am asking that you pay ten of the little me-tal bitsss for each of us you ssslew - thirty in all, thirty of the yellow bitsss marked with lionsss. I asssk again, do you agree?”

    Tyrius turns and looks to the rest of the party, but there are mostly shrugs and blank stares. Barnabus suggests, in as low a voice as he can register and still be heard by Tyrius, “Much as I resent having to pay to kill these things, rather than get paid, ten gold a head is selling themselves pretty cheap. That’s not even four lions each split between us, and we will be getting more than 60 each in reward when we get back to Saltmarsh, plus what we took from the dragon. Let’s just pay and be done with these dark tunnels!”

    Thokk is not sure why he has to pay four gold to fight their champion, but he nods his agreement. What other use does he have for the coin?

    Tyrius turns around with a broad smile. “As a wise chief you protect and care for your tribe. We will of course contribute so that you may purchase more weapons for their safety. I believe we have this amount on our ship at the moment, but you will have to allow us to return to it and count.”

    The chief again gives no indication of whether he finds Tyrius’ words pleasing, but he does say, “You have proven your bravery and your ssskill in combat. You have proven your willingnessss to treat usss as equalsss and compensssate our lossssesss. I believe we ssshould include you in our allianccce against the sssahuagin. Return to your log now, but in the morning, be prepared to take with you our delegation.”

    Tyrius is nonplussed. “Your what now?”

    “Our delegation. Our diplomatsss. You will transssport them to the sssoft-ssskin lair to negotiate your people’sss participation in the allianccce. And you, sssea elf.” (the chief turns to Oceanus) “The koalinth have formally abandoned the allianccce. I would ask that you carry news of the sssahaugin threat to your people, if they do not already know, and requessst that they join usss asss well.”

    It takes a while for what the chief is asking to sink in, but then there is little the party can do but say their formalities and take their departure. In particular, Thokk is very frustrated that he will not be allowed to challenge anyone. The party are escorted out of the lair and down to their beached jollyboat.

    The row out to the Sea Ghost is uneventful; the way is clear to the lantern on deck. Aurora manages to circle the ship once and check the deck with Hedwig before she falls asleep - it is late, she is full, and she isn’t working an oar. Barnabus stifles yawns the whole way out to the ship.

    18 August - late night - Azure Sea
    While the others retire to their cabins, Barnabus, Tyrius, and Willa go through the sack of coins in the captain’s cabin. First they set aside 30 gold for the lizardfolk. Between the gold, platinum, and copper left, there is enough to pay the seven sailors on board (including Tom, but not Willa) a month’s salary, and still have a few coins left over. The more valuable items will have to be sold to the merchants of Saltmarsh before their worth can be divided among the party.

    With that settled, Willa checks with the sailors on watch to confirm that there is a good watch schedule until the morning, then turns in.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1062
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Sep 25, 2018 1:28 pm  
    Post 32: Lord Nehemeyer

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy

    When they awake in the morning on the ship, Thokk, Shefak, Willa, and Aurora are at third level. Attributes which have been added since second level are in bold.

    Sergeant Willhemina Stoutly (Willa)
    Third Level Fighter / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 17 (+3), Int 10, Wis 9 (-1), Dex 15 (+2), Con 12 (+1), Chr 9 (-1)
    Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Martial Archetype: Champion
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting
    Chain armor, greatsword, longsword+1, dagger

    Shefak Ishu
    Third Level Monk / Human (Baklunni) (Acolyte)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Insight, Religion, Stealth
    Monastic Tradition: Way of the Open Hand
    Unarmored defense, staff, dagger, darts
    Crystal of Clear Thought

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Third Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 17 (+3) Dex 14 (+2) Con 15 (+2) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 32
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Primal Path: Totem Warrior (Wolf)
    Unarmored defense, Shield, ring of protection +1, battle axe, hand axes, javelins

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Third level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 9 (-1) Con 12 (+1) Int 17 (+3) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 18
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
    Staff, ring of protection+1, wand of magic detection

    Post 32: Lord Nehemeyer

    19 August, 570 - Azure Sea
    In the morning, the party enjoys a breakfast prepared in the galley, then makes ready to go ashore and pick up the lizardfolk diplomats. The cabin which the other lizardfolk were bunking in before still smells musky and swampy, so is set aside for them, although that means the party is two or three to a room in the private cabins. Willa and Tom are in the Captain’s cabin - they have shared a bed since Tom was born. Aurora, Babshapka, and Oceanus are in Punketah’s cabin - Aurora has sole use of the bed since the elves can trance while sitting. Tyrius and Larry are in the Mate’s cabin; Tyrius has sole use of the bed, since Larry had only ever slept in a bed during his brief stay in the Pelorian temple and is quite comfortable in a pile of sacking on the floor. Thokk and Shefak are in the Bosun’s cabin; they have worked out an arrangement to timeshare the bed. Finally, Barnabus has a hammock in the crew cabin - he is comfortable around the sailors, and his relationships with several party members are...complicated.)

    An away team rows back to shore soon after sunrise. They turn the thirty gold coins over to the chief and take two lizardfolk aboard the jollyboat. One is large and burly, nearly as grand as the chief, with thick, knotted muscles. The other is normal-sized, though appearing diminutive next to the first. If Babshapka is correct that sex can be determined by the type of back-ridge, the smaller is a female. She bears a satchel made from woven reeds; the male carries nothing but weapons affixed to leather straps. By the deferential way the large male is treating the female, she must have some kind of important position or status in the tribe.

    When the away team and dignitaries are back aboard the Sea Ghost, Willa orders the anchor raised and sails unfurled - it should be a short journey back to Saltmarsh, as the weather is fair and wind is with them.

    Once the lizardfolk are settled in their cabin, Oceanus calls the party together. With Babshapka and Aurora translating, Oceanus tells the party that he has a difficult decision to make. The lizardfolk chief has asked him to return to his people and offer them a place in the alliance. Personally, he wishes to stay with the party, as he expects that the Saltmarsh Town Council will be hiring them to strike against the Sea Devils, and he believes that having a fully aquatic party member will be of great benefit to them. He would like to do both of these things, but he is worried that whichever he chooses to do first, he will miss the second. He would like to hear the opinions of the party on whether he should depart at once for his homeland or remain with them a while longer.

    The party agrees that Oceanus should stay with them - if he has to make that choice. But they think there is plenty of time for him to return to his people, alert them to the threat, and still return to Saltmarsh before the Ghost leaves. Oceanus agrees to try. An hour later, when the ship is rounding the cape that is its furthest point south on the voyage, Oceanus says his farewells and dives overboard.

    They have not sailed much further when Babshapka, in the crow’s nest, spots an approaching ship. It is about their size, and flies the colors of Keoland. As it gets closer, they can see that it is likely a warship, and its many sailors are in uniform. Willa orders the Sea Ghost to lower sails and set a course to intercept, and the approaching ship matches. It raises a flag indicating a parlay is requested, and the two ships slowly draw alongside one another. A jollyboat comes over, bearing marines and a man in exquisite red leather armor and a black cloak. The party is initially very suspicious of him, thinking this could be an elaborate ruse by pirates, but eventually comes to accept that he is genuine.

    He introduces himself as Lord Horatio Nehemeyer Rhola, First Officer to the Viscount of Salinmoor. Lord Nehemeyer tells them, with a bit of bluster, that he is here to both deliver the sailors that the party had requested of the Viscount and to assess whether Saltmarsh needs the troops they had requested to defend against the lizardfolk.

    He decided to be personally involved because several members of the Saltmarsh Town Council had been convinced that the lizardfolk were being armed as a plot by the Sea Princes to destabilize the Viscounty as a prelude to an invasion or naval war - and he wanted to both assess this and put an end to the (most likely absurd and dangerous) rumor.

    He meets and speaks with the lizardfolk dignitaries, and surprises the party by demonstrating an ability to speak their language, and much more fluently than Shefak at that. When he learns about the Sea Devils, his manner changes from that of doing a necessary but boring duty to one of a highly competent man executing an urgent mission. He speaks with Willa briefly in private, transfers five sailors to the Sea Ghost, and has Aurora, Babshapka, Tyrius, and the lizardfolk return with him to his ship to sail immediately for Seaton.

    The Sea Ghost later arrives in Saltmarsh without incident. Willa speaks with the Council, and then privately with Secun. In both meetings she advises that now is the time for Sigurd to earn his clemency, but discusses what safeguards need to be in place so that he does not turn cloak and flee.

    Larry and Thokk retreat to the woods outside the town. Shafak meditates. Barnabus retires to the Haunted House and practices skulking and attacking from hiding.

    In Seaton, the lizardfolk are presented to an emergency meeting of the Viscount’s Small Council. Tyrius and Aurora are told to stay close, but Babshapka slips off into the woods. Aurora attempts to speak with the Viscount’s court wizard, but is told that he is busy at the moment but may be free later.

    When Lord Nehemeyer emerges from the council meeting, he briefs Aurora and Tyrius. The Sahuagin at the mouth of the Javan pose a threat to the realm itself - the Javan River carries half the trade of the kingdom, and a sahuagin fortress there would allow them to sink ships or raid cargo indiscriminately. The lizardfolk described their former lair as three levels of underground caves with access to the sea. A conventional siege would be impossible without an underwater blockade, since the devils could continually bring in troops and supplies beneath the waves. Thus the fortress will have to be taken by force. A well-fortified position, defended by sea devils, could require hundreds of troops to take and result in massive losses for the humans. The Viscount is currently raising an army, but the party has been requisitioned to act as a scouting force, and offered 1000 gold lions plus the right of pillage in return for four key pieces of information:

    (1) The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances)

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc.

    (4) How advanced their preparations are - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking?

    Aurora tries to negotiate for a higher reward but eventually accepts the offer. Lord Nehermeyer advises them that the sahuagin are numerous, cunning, organized, and vicious; that they have a blood-frenzy and preference for attacking the wounded, that they can breathe air for hours at a time but less than a day, and that they are often controlled by female priestesses serving the evil shark god Sekolah. He also says that they frequently have trained sharks defending their lairs. The lizardfolk confirm this, and add that the sahuagin prefer to operate in darkness or dim light and are least active in the middle of the day.

    Tyrius leaves to pass the night in vigil at the Temple of Sol and take his final set of vows to become a true Paladin of Pelor at first light. Aurora finally gets to see the court wizard, and he allows her to copy two spells from the Viscount’s arcane library to her spellbook (but not Detect Thoughts, to her chagrin). Aurora also purchases four pearls suitable for identify and the material components for a few other spells.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1062
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Oct 02, 2018 10:28 am  
    Post 33: En route to the Devils

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy

    When they awake in the morning, Tyrius (in the Temple of Sol), Babshapka (in the woods outside Seaton), Barnabus (in the basement of the Haunted House), and Larry (in the fields outside of Saltmarsh) are at third level. Attributes which have been added since second level are in bold.

    Tyrius of Sterich
    Third level paladin of Pelor (Sacred Oath of Devotion)/ Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 14 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 11 (0) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Hp. 22
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Chain armor, war hammer
    Spells: Cure Wounds, Heroism, Protection from Evil (oath), Sanctuary (oath), Divine Favor
    Scroll of Protection from Undead, Scroll of Hold Person

    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Third level ranger (Hunter Archetype: Giant Killer)/ Wood elf (Folk Hero)
    Str 12 (+1) Dex 16(+3) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Hp. 29
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands)
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding
    Chain shirt, broadsword+1, shortsword, longbow
    Spells: Alarm, Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark

    Barnabus the Minstrel
    Third Level Rogue (Assassin Archetype/ Halfling (Entertainer)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 17 (+3) Con 11 (0) Int 15 (+2) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
    Hp. 19
    Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled)
    Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
    Leather Armor+1, glamoured, Ring of Protection+1, shortswords, shortbow

    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)
    Third Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (-1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 15 (+2) Int 11 (0) Wis 17 (+3) Cha 4 (-3)
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Chain shirt, shield, scimitar, quarterstaff

    Post 33: En Route to the Devils

    20 August, 570 - dawn. Seaton
    Soon after Tyrius has taken his vows, he, Aurora, Babshapka, and the lizardfolk diplomats are put on a naval cutter, one typically used for scouting or as a command courier. She is small and fast, and arrives in Saltmarsh by late morning. The reunited party is given a copy of a map the lizardfolk produced of their lair. They are told the Viscount has authorized (and is paying for) six marines from Saltmarsh to be part of their reconnaissance group, in addition to the five sailors already on the Sea Ghost.

    20 August, 570 - late morning. Saltmarsh
    When the cutter from Seaton arrives in Saltmarsh, Willa learns that she has been commissioned as a sergeant of the Excise Officers, and Tom has been promoted to corporal. Willa will be in command of the what the Viscount called “six marines from Saltmarsh,” but she and Tom are apparently two of the marines. The other four are all well known to her: Corporal Ebeneezer Smithson (a good blade from the militia), the Fisher brothers (Nathaniel and Dan, Excise Officers and good sailors and navigators), and Jeremiah Brown of the town constabulary (strong as an ox and almost as smart). In the afternoon, she leads Captain Sigurd, still in manacles, to the Sea Ghost and has him quartered in her captain’s cabin, with either herself or Tom with him most of the time. She tells him that “a certain letter exists” granting him clemency in return for his service against the Sea Devils - but that she and Tom will both have to return safely to Saltmarsh for him to receive the letter.

    Aurora uses two of the four pearls to identify Barnabus’ new armor as leather +1, glamoured and the crystal as a crystal of clear thought. She buys herself a lanthorn.

    In the early afternoon, the party boards the Sea Ghost. While they are waiting for the tide, Oceanus arrives. They set sail in the late afternoon and reach the lizardfolk lair by evening. The delegates depart and tell the chief about their mission to ally with the humans. The chief meets with Thokk, and confirms with him that it was his axe that dealt the death blows to both the crocodile and the dragon. The chief grants the “mighty warrior” command of two lizardfolk officers, with each of them in command of six lizardfolk troops, for fourteen lizardfolk in all. These board the ship as well and make camp on the open deck. “Thokk so happy!” the half-orc later beams to Willa. “Thokk have evil advisor and now Thokk have own army!”

    With eleven sailors aboard the Sea Ghost and good moons besides (Luna a few days past full and Celene approaching its first quarter) it is possible to sail the ship on all three watches. Willa tells the crew to prepare for departure after midnight, so that they should arrive at the Devil's lair well after sunrise of the next day.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 09, 2018 6:40 pm  
    Post 34: The Final Enemy, First Blood

    Note: This post contains spoilers to the module U3: The Final Enemy.

    Post 34: The Final Enemy, First Blood

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the tentacles did wriggle,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    21 August, 570 - pre-dawn on the Azure Sea
    The Sea Ghost sails from the lizardfolk lair soon after 1am. On board are the party (numbering nine, including Tom and Willa), eleven sailors (three former smugglers, Old Lefty, two Saltmarsh men, and the five seamen on loan from Lord Nehemeyer), four recently-impressed “marines” from Saltmarsh (Ebenezer Smithson, Nathaniel and Dan Fisher, Jeremiah Brown), and fourteen lizardfolk, for a total of 38 souls. Willa has set watch hours for them to arrive at the sahuagin lair well after sunrise with everyone having had a full night’s rest (her goal: 9am). She takes the first watch, along with Tom, Thokk, and Aurora.

    They are perhaps an hour into the journey when the ship begins slowing - the helmsman shouts to Willa that she is not responding. On deck, gleaming in the moonlight, are many massively thick writhing tentacles. Four of them are fastened securely about the ship’s midsection, while another twelve are probing about the decks. In the fight which ensues, Tom, a sailor, and Aurora are all entwined and crushed before the tentacles on them, and the others, are severed and the hidden giant beast(s) of the deep are driven off. The lookout on the prow, one of the original smugglers, is caught by two tentacles, each pulling him in opposite directions. He dies screaming as his limbs are pulled out of their sockets, though not completely off. By the time Tyrius reaches his side, he is already dead.

    Aurora begins talking about gentle repose, but the already superstitious sailors are none too keen to have a foreign witch casting hexes on the body of one of their own, even a smuggler. Willa calls all hands on deck, and there is a brief funeral service before the sailor’s broken body is committed to its watery grave. Then she sends everyone back to their stations, and the Sea Ghost continues its silent glide through the dark waters.

    The sun has been up for hours by 10am when the Sea Ghost sites the promontory that lies just before the erstwhile lizardfolk lair. Guided by the lizardman officers of “Thokk’s army”, the ship sails behind the cliff, never siting, or hopefully being seen by, the lair itself.

    The jollyboats are launched, each with six members of the away team and two sailors to return to the ship for the next load. Aurora uses her spirit hawk familiar, “Buckbeak,” to scout the landing site next to the stream, while Oceanus scouts beneath the waves. The sea elf reports that game fish are not to be found, that the waters are fished out, and that the sahuagin population must be large and voracious. Load by load the away team assembles on the shore, with the lizardmen fanning out to scout through the marsh. When everyone is finally assembled (c. 11am), one jollyboat returns to the ship with four sailors, while the other is beached and hidden by the lizardfolk. Willa gives orders to the departing sailors for the Sea Ghost to retreat eastward along the coast, but to return to the landing site at least an hour before dusk.

    The path to the lair is narrow and a few missteps could easily plunge one into a bog, so the lizardfolk are interspersed through the long, single-file line of the team. They set off briskly in the humid air of late morning with a cloud of biting insects about them. The lizardfolk are in fine spirits it seems, and Thokk reads them as eager to retake their ancestral home. After several hundred yards (c. 11:15am) the tenuous and narrow coastal path intersects with another trail running inland. Thereafter it doubles in width, becoming apparent even to the humans. Willa advises Thokk to send a squad of lizardmen down the inland route to scout, with two remaining at the intersection as a perimeter guard. There is no way she wants their escape route to the hidden jollyboat cut off. Thokk gives the orders and beams. Not only does he have an army, and an evil human to advise him, just like all the powerful orc chieftains, he gets to lead his army to fight shark people! What a great day! While Thokk is grinning stupidly, Willa whispers to Sigurd, reminding him that if they need to retreat, his eventual receipt of the letter of clemency depends on him getting her and Tom to the jollyboat first, regardless of who else ultimately makes it or not.

    The main host continues along the trail, but slower, as they come into sight of the lizardfolk lair (11:45am). The mood of the lizardfolk has changed - they are crouching, almost cringing, at the sight of their home. Thokk calls for a halt and Willa orders everyone to get down among the reeds. Thokk asks his officers what is happening. They tell him that the promontory of the lair should be much larger and higher, with the causeway reaching its base and a trail leading up its side to the high cave that is the land entrance. Instead, their island has lowered and shrunk, and the causeway now falls short of reaching it. The cave entrance is now just above sea level. While Thokk puzzles on this, Aurora asks out loud, “What kind of magic could sink an entire island? Even an archmage…”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “Fie on archmages. ‘Tis little to a god to sink an island - and less to a god of the sea.”

    “They worship a shark god,” says Willa darkly.

    Shefak looks calm, but speaks gravely. “They have sunken the first two levels - when the last is sunk, their fortress will be complete. Then they will begin their raids.” [And the DM awards Shefak’s player, his 11-year-old daughter who has had no previous experience with this module, an Inspiration Point]

    Aurora sends Buckbeak to do an aerial tour, low over the water and high over the island. She sees no sahuagin, on land or in the water. The island has lichen, moss, a few tufts of grass, but no trees or other cover. There are barnacles and mussels at the waterline, but no other life - not even the nesting seabirds that should favor the rocky crag. It is low tide, and the causeway stands a good five feet above the sea, with a dry, rocky stretch to the island that will likely be beneath the waves when the tide rises. Just beyond the edge of the causeway is a flat ledge, with a recessed back, in which are set two massive stone doors. When Aurora asks about the doors (which can’t be seen from where the party is), the lizardmen do not know what she is talking about. (12pm)

    Crouching, the whole group moves quickly along the trail to the base of the causeway, to the furthest extent of where they can go without losing all cover. After preliminary scouting, two lizardfolk are sent ahead up the coastal trail, and another two back to the intersection behind them, leaving six and two officers still with the party.

    A long, hushed conversation follows about who should advance along the causeway. Finally, Sigurd, Babshapka, Larry, Shefek, and Barnabus step forth (1pm). Before they leave, Aurora casts invisibility and Larry darkvision on Barnabus. The five walk down the long causeway, silent except for the lapping of waves at its base, and then pick their way across the rock ledges and tidal pools and up to the large flat surface before the doors.

    The stone doors are each five feet wide and ten feet high. One has a small rectangular hole which ends on the inside with a metal plate but which shows the doors are at least two feet thick. No hinges are visible - the doors open inward and Barnabus concludes that they are likely either locked or bolted inside, such that nothing they have with them is likely to breach them. Babshapka and Sigurd are sent to fetch the rest of principle party members.

    After much discussion (1:30pm), Larry transforms himself into a small weasel, and Thokk ungently stuffs him into the hole. He pushes at the metal plate but cannot move it, at least not without making noise, and he distinctly smells sea creatures on the other side. He backs out, becomes a dwarf, and the party again confers, then lines up for battle.

    Larry now adopts the form of a tiny springtail. The doors are flush to the ground, but don’t actually touch, and the flat insect slowly makes his way in the crevices underneath them, then climbs up the inside of the stone door until his antennae touch wood, likely a stout bar. With no idea of whether he will be able to reach the bar in time, and no perception of what else is in the room given his insect senses, Larry again resumes his dwarf form.

    The room is dark, but he sees five sahuagin as well as a massive bronze gong. Larry lifts the bar at the doors, then turns and throws it at the closest approaching sahuagin, delaying him just long enough for the doors to crash open and the party to rush in. The initial fight is brief, the sahuagin easily overcome, but then a volley of crossbow bolts from behind a recessed portcullis cause the party to pause and take cover.

    Thokk and Willa move forward, and despite the missile fire are eventually able to lift the portcullis with muscles alone, allowing the party into the room beyond. Thokk charges, leaving Willa straining to hold the heavy bronze gate alone and cursing him with all her breath. She is relieved by the arrival of Sigurd, but just in time for him, Larry, and Aurora to be caught under a heavy net set with metal hooks and the portcullis to come crashing down. The fight beyond the portcullis is more costly for the party than the first, but by its conclusion they slay four more sahuagin and capture a lieutenant of the shark people.

    What follows is a careful, measured exploration of the entire first level of the complex, with Barnabus scouting far ahead. The natural cave system of the lizardfolk has been greatly expanded and turned into finished stonework, square rooms, and straight corridors at every turn. There are even rooms tiled in blue or green and they argue about whether these are for sahuagin officers or air-breathing allies. They find a massive armory with nets, tridents, and crossbows. In the deep recesses of the mountain Barnabus hears the noises of construction, and eventually comes upon a crew of slaves with sahuagin guards and overseers. The workers (half-starved hobgoblins, orcs, and lizardfolk) are finishing a chamber with stairs leading down. Barnabus smells seawater in the stairwell, but does not approach close enough to look directly down. This appears to be the only unfinished room on the level, indicating that the fortress is, perhaps, nearing completion.

    Withdrawing, and hoping that the noise of construction will cover the combat, Barnabus then leads the party in a rapid assault on a guardpost of three sahuagin outside a slave pen. In the pen they find a frail, emaciated, dying human. Tyrius eases his suffering but cannot prevent his death. The old man, Elmo, in confused and rambling phrases, tells them that he is the last survivor of a party of five adventurers, sent to explore the lair by the Prince of Monmurg. They entered through the sea cave below and found that the entire third level was flooded. They were ambushed by the entire lair, led by a massive powerful sahuagin he called “The Baron”. His party overcome, Elmo was enslaved and put to work digging and carving the second level of the complex, which he still believes he is on. He tells of feeling an earthquake soon after switching pens, and the party suspects that he was moved to the upper level just before the island was sunk and the middle level flooded. The party extracts as much information from him as they can before he pleads to feel the sun one last time and collapses. Tyrius carries him outside. Feeling the sun on his skin, he rouses, clutches at Tyrius and whispers “Remember metamorph,” and then dies. (4 pm)

    “Metamorph?” Aurora says, overhearing his final words. “What do you think he means by metamorph?”

    “Hmmmph, we must kill this metamorph, I think,” Thokk grunts, rather pleased with his own logic. He looks to his human evil advisor, Willa, and smiles, searching for her approval.

    “Um, aye, possibly we will Thokk. But we should probably find oot wha' a metamorph be first.”

    “Speaking of finding out things,” Aurora interrupts, “I don’t think we have really discovered much of what Nehemeyer sent us to be discovered. Yes, we seem to have a rough indication of what their plans are in sinking this fortress, but we’ve only fought some common troops and a lieutenant or two on this first level. I doubt we want to approach the underwater entrance like Elmo did and we have no real means of doing so. And, aside from the net trap over the gate, we haven’t encountered any heavily fortified areas. If we want to return to Saltmarsh with more information than we have (not counting some information we may gather from our sea devil prisoner), I think we need to free those slaves working on that last portion of their lair. Not only could they provide us with a wealth of information, but we may very well delay whatever plans they have afoot, buying us time. What do you all think?”

    Shefak frowns. She speaks, but does not look at anyone - instead, she is shading her eyes with her hand and scanning the rocks and sea nearby. “It is obvious, we must attack that last room the halfling found. First, because enslaving sentient beings is an affront to all, and they must be freed. Second, because we don’t even know if the next level down is flooded. Yes, the halfling smelled sea-water - but what if it was simply a pool or reservoir? Or perhaps the entire level is flooded - but just to a depth of one foot. If there is a possibility we can scout more, we can not walk away now.”

    Turning to Aurora and Dirty Larry, Willa asks, “Do ye have any magic up yer sleeves t’at would subdue or stop ther saughin near ther openin’ into ther lower levels from fleeing inta ther water fer reinforcements, while we kill ther guards in ther room?” She adds, “If ye can secure t’at openin’, I’m certain Thokk and ‘is “men” can secure ther room.” Willa wipes her blade clean, and says to the group, “I be assumin’ we will keep ther lizardfolk slaves fer questioning and release the orcs and hobgoblins. Aye?”

    Dirty Larry says, “The only magic what I have to stop people is spike growth, and moon beam. Spike growth grows spikes out of the ground and deals damage to people who run into it, but I can only hold it for a wee few minutes. Moonbeam is a beam of light that does damage to anyone what walks through it, but again I can only hold it for a might bit o’ time. Either o’ those would hurt someone running through them, and could be cast on the entrance, but they wouldnae necessarily stop someone willing to take the damage from getting through. For me, I think that we must finish what we started - wherever that takes us.”

    Aurora glances at the sun and winces. “I have used both of my higher level spells already. The invisibility on Barnabus and crown of madness in our earlier fight. It looks like we have another 3 hours until sunset, that is, until the ship comes back for us. We could rest for an hour and recuperate a bit? I would then be able to cast web around that watery stairway if need be. Larry could heal Thokk and Babshapka of their wounds and then recover both of those spells. He’d also get back his ability to transform another two times if we needed it. That would still give us another two hours to explore whatever we can before dusk, though I admit it may not be a bad idea for us to give ourselves full daylight to get everyone back to the ship, rather than traveling at dusk.”

    She continues, “I think the potential benefits of going further outweigh the dangers. If we’re lucky, we can kill that group and keep our losses to a minimum. If we’re very lucky, we can kill that group without raising an alarm. We’ll free prisoners and perhaps be able to recon the second level a bit. Even if we’re unlucky and things get out of hand, we will still have hours to retreat, and we have the spells needed to make that very likely. If we’re very unlucky and we can’t even get back to the ship, we can likely retreat inland and outrun them. I’m guessing that these ‘sharkies’ are none too keen on overland multi-day journeys.”

    “Here’s what I propose. We rest for an hour and recover some magic and the ability of our druid to transform. Then we attempt to lure the sahuagin force, or part of them, away from that chamber. I can use a silent image of poor Elmo as if he were making some sort of crazed inept attack, and then have him retreat, hoping some or all of them follow him. Given the noise down there, we’d only have to get him around a corner or two and they’ll be out of earshot of the others. With the element of surprise, I suspect we can down the others in a matter of seconds. Thokk’s army can rush in and hold the entrance to that stairway, denying anything easy passage to or fro. We’ll never get another chance at surprise after today. While some of us are resting, I’d also suggest that we reset the net trap over the portcullis but then sabotage it - see if we can find a way to tie the net to the ceiling so that it will not actually fall when tripped. Ooh, or perhaps some way that we can trip the net onto enemies unsuspectingly? And is there any way that we can sabotage the door to make it easier to open the next time around? Perhaps the hinges can be weakened in some imperceptible way?”

    When it appears that Aurora is descending into “what ifs”, Sigurd raises his voice. “I agree we caint go back yet. I sailed fer Nehemeyer, tho’ ‘e wouldn’t recognize me. I were third mate on one o’ the ships in ‘is fleet and ‘e came aboard all o’ three times that I remembers, but I ‘eard plenty o’ talk aboot ‘im from the other officers. ‘e wants things done and done ‘is way, an’ ‘e don’t care what the cost is, so long as it ain't none to ‘imself. We return with only one o’ ‘is “four goals” complete an’ ‘e’s jess going t’ send us back - an’ by then ther whole place will be right up in arms, fer sure. Our best chance be to do as much as we can afore they know we’s ‘ere. I don’t even mind fighting ‘em in small groups as they come out o’ whatever that hole is - they don’t seem so tough on land, so far, and if Thokk ‘ere calls all his flickers in we’ll outnumber them up until it’s time t’ run away, anyway. One thing, tho’ - I think we should ‘it ‘em now, nae wait and rest. Ain’t no tellin’ when their shift will end and they march those slaves back t’ their cell. If they find out ther guards are dead and Elmo’s gone while we be restin’, then we’ll be worse off than if we hadn’t rested t’ begin with. It’d be nice t’ have a web to block off that hole, but we don’t need it. I bet if me and Thokk charge that entrance, we can keep them from getting by us while the rest of you clear the room. Then we can take an hour to rest if ye want.”

    “Hmm”, Willa ponders thoughtfully out loud, “Aye, I agree t’at we attack today afore returnin’ t’ ther ship. What I need t’ consider is if we go now, or wait fer one hour…Tyrius - can ye heal Thokk and Babshapka now?”

    “Aye, by the grace of Pelor I can heal, or I can use my own meager faith to lay on hands.”

    Willa nods, satisfied. “Aurora - can ye cast silent image now or do ye need to wait?”

    “Oh, sure, silent image is a first level spell and I have plenty rearing to go. It’s a wonderful spell that makes an image. . .”

    “Agggh, we go now!” Thokk interrupts.

    “Um, yes, well okay if that is what everyone agrees,” Aurora shyly assents. “How about we heal up Thokk so the devils aren’t getting that frenzied blood lust attack against him [Thokk’s current hp is 21/32]? Babshapka is wounded [Babshapka is at 16/29], but if he’s in the rear with a bow, it’ll only do us favors if sea devils break out of their pack to attack him.”

    “No more talking! Army!! We go kill more devils!” Thokk roars at his troops, forgetting that only the officers speak Common. But the officer present quickly translates and the half-orc seems puzzled at the bizarre hissing sounds that rush out of them all. “Hhmmph, okay.”

    [DM's note: Lord Nehemeyer's Goals for the Party:
    (1) The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses Partially complete - the party has fought warriors and a lieutenant, but does not know other officers or numbers

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances) Partially complete - Elmo confirmed an underwater entrance and the party has mapped the land entrance and most of the first level

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc. Partially complete - the party knows about the barred entrance doors, portcullis, and net trap

    (4) How advanced their preparations are - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking? Partially complete - the party surmises that the raids will begin when the first level is complete
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Oct 16, 2018 12:08 pm  
    Post 35 - The Final Enemy, First Level Secured

    Note: This post contains spoilers to the module U3: The Final Enemy.

    Post 35 - The Final Enemy, First Level Secured

    21 August, 570 - afternoon - the lair of the sea devils

    The party leaves the body of Elmo on the rocks just outside the entrance door. They, Sigurd, and the lizardmen reenter the first guardroom, where the Saltmarsh marines wait with more lizardmen. Tom steps up to Shefak and hands her the rope which she had used to bind the prisoner. The captured sahuagin lieutenant lies dead on the floor, still bleeding out. “Ye killed him?” asks Willa indignantly.

    Tom shrugs. “The lizardmen wanted to kill him. I just didn’t get in their way.” Thokk chuckles. Larry and Tyrius heal Babshapka and Thokk while Willa sketches a map with a stone on the floor, in the light of the open doorway. She draws the chamber with the entry to the second level and the branched hallway outside. Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora derive a plan while Thokk waits impatiently, but trusting in his advisor.

    Aurora will try to draw out the devils with a silent image, while the main force waits in both the storeroom and around the corner to ambush them. After they have eliminated whatever devils they can draw from the room, they will rush the room to attack those remaining and try to block off access to the stairs down. Oceanus will pursue any sahuagin that manage to flee down into the water they presume is there, and any lizardmen present will follow Oceanus. When they all agree to the plan, Willa divides them into three groups for the march there. Barnabus will go first and alone, stealthily. He has already lost Aurora’s invisibility, but still has Larry’s darkvision in effect. Behind him will come a group who are able to see without light. Behind them, after a discreet pause, will be those who cannot see in the dark led by a few who can, but without light sources.

    Willa assigns the marines to secure the gatehouse, leaving one great door closed and one door partially open to observe outside, but with orders to close and bar it should any sahuagin emerge from the water or return along the causeway.

    Just before they head out, Barnabus says “hey presto chango” and his armor changes form. Up close, in the light, it looks like he is wearing a costume shark suit - thin, supple scaled green leather covers his chest, arms, and legs. From a distance he appears to be a miniature sahuagin, except for his head. He pulls up his hood and plays with the shape until it more-or-less resembles that of one of the shark people. Standing next to him, no one would be fooled - but from a distance, in the dark, he might just be mistaken for one of the devils, albeit a small one.

    The party sets out, heading down the long eastern corridor that has a nearly 200’ straight run to the slave-pen guard room. They aren’t halfway there when Barnabus sees two devils emerge from the arched doorway at the end of the hall - and by their posture, they have seen him as well. Immediately he tells Aurora (in the middle group and in message contact with Barnabus and Willa), to back up and hide. As the party behind him ducks into two different side-rooms, one of the sahuagin holds forth her arms and calls to Barnabus in a solicitous tone, as one would address a lost child.

    Barnabus kicks at the floor petulantly, twirls and jumps, and starts making his way leisurely back up the hall. The sahuagin pair follow, with one of them continuing to call to him. He leads them to just past the open archway where Oceanus and Babshapka stand poised to attack. By this point, Barnabus can see the pair clearly - a large male sahuagin, larger than even the lieutenant they captured, and a smaller, thinner one he takes to be a female. The male wears the same gold armband the lieutenant had, but his is inlaid with polished coral. The female has a gold armband, but bears no weapons.

    As the male passes the archway, he freezes, turns, and immediately begins attacking the elves with his spear. The female calls out to Barnabus in increasingly concerned tones. Though no one in the party can understand her speech, if they could it would be something like, “Come here little one! ..why do you have knives?...what is wrong with your face?..ah, the creature is attacking me!

    As Barnabus advances on the female, she points a finger at him and a bolt of black energy shoots forth. He dodges it nimbly, and it strikes the wall, blasting a small hole in the stone. Barnabus leaps through the shower of pebbles and strikes at the female, wounding her gravely. As she turns to run, he stabs her in the back and she collapses. A few seconds later the male falls as well, though he wounds Oceanus first.

    The bodies are dragged into the side room and quickly searched. The female, whom they believe to be a priestess, is carrying a short wand-like object with the grip of a cutlass. It is covered with some sort of insulating material but has an engraved metal rod underneath. Aurora uses a charge from the wand of magic detection and concludes that jamming it into a creature will release an electric shock.

    The party reforms, continues down the hall, and sets up in their planned positions outside the room where the labors of the slaves are still easily heard from outside. Barnabus slips into the room and hides behind a pillar, reporting through message that he can see seven common sahuagin and a gold armband lieutenant, as well as ten slaves of various humanoid races. When he is ready, Aurora sends a silent image of Elmo in, animated and capering wildly. It takes a few minutes for the sahuagin to even notice the silent crazy old man in the noise and darkness, but eventually the lieutenant dispatches two warriors to restrain him.

    The warriors follow the retreating figure, but immediately run into Thokk, who just can’t keep himself from prematurely charging around the corner at them. The ambush sprung, the pair of devils are quickly overcome, the fight and their shouts fortunately covered by the noise of the slaves’ labors.

    Aurora sends "Elmo" back. This time, the lieutenant himself leads two warriors in pursuit, but not before signaling the other guards to be at the ready beside the stairs. When Barnabus relays this, the party charges, and a general melee breaks out in the room. Thokk braves the attacks of many devils to secure the stairs, which has water lapping at the very top steps. Two devils manage to slip by him and start into the water, but Shefak blocks one. The second takes another step and then dives into the water. Oceanus charges, with a pack of lizardfolk following him, but he trips over hidden Barnabus before he can vault the railing surrounding the stairs. Oceanus recovers and enters the water, six lizardmen close behind him. The stairs lead to a large, completely flooded room below with an exit corridor at the far end. Oceanus and the lizardmen are able to surround and kill the escaping devil just before he exits the room below. In the meantime the party finishes off the remaining devils above, but not before many of them are wounded.

    In less than a minute it is over. The slaves, having ceased their labors at the first sign of combat, look on in stunned silence. The party members breathe heavily. Oceanus drags the body of the sahuagin from the water, leaving a plume of blood behind.

    Willa, Sigurd, and Shefak calm the slaves while the others search the bodies of the devils and secure the room. Thokk at first makes a great show of smashing the leg chains of the lizardmen, but quickly loses interest when Shefak converses with them and tells him they do not wish to join his army. They are not from this lair, not of his lizardfolk tribe, and they merely wish to be released. Sigurd converses at length with the single hobgoblin in a goblinoid tongue - there may be more to this smuggler captain than they suspected. Willa talks to each of the slaves in turn, using Shefak, Sigurd, and Thokk as needed for translation. She learns that they all are from nearby tribes and camps, none of them more than a half-day’s travel from the sea coast or river, by which she concludes that the sahuagin either can’t or won’t spend more than a day out of water. None of the slaves have been below this level, and for them the second level has always been flooded - they were all captured recently. When they arrived, Elmo was already a prisoner, as well as a dwarf who was worked to death and then hauled away a few days ago. The slaves say they are are worked in a long shift with the same guards, then taken to their pen for food and rest when the guards change. When the guards change again, they are brought out for more work. Willa takes this as a sign that eventually there will be a guard change up here, so they need to be prepared for the arrival of more foes. The slaves are all humanoid and don’t really fathom the human concept of “hours,” but can say that their next shift change is still a good way off. They have not heard of the “Baron,” and say that mostly they see normal warriors and lieutenants, and only occasionally a chieftain or priestess - though one of each did pass through a short while ago. They are all emaciated and badly whipped and beaten, and would offer little to the party’s force even if they were willing, so Willa is content to let them go, and allows Shefak to lead them to the entrance of the lair so that they can get by the marines without incident. The monk looks carefully at the sky, and when she returns she tells Willa that they have another two and a half hours until sunset, and a half hour of dusk after that before it is night.

    Aurora surveys the room, frustrated at the inability of most of them to enter the water. She asks Larry and Barnabus to search the upper level more thoroughly, convinced that there must be something they missed or some other, dry, way down to the next level.

    The halfling and dwarf leave silently. As they pass the open archway to the storeroom, Larry gestures questioningly at it, but Barnabus shakes his head. “I already searched that before, by myself. All I found was some blue tiles.” The pair head north.

    Aurora paces and talks to herself - “There must be another way down…”

    “So what if thar be atother way down,” scoffs Willa. “What be flooded be flooded, an’ we cain’t enter.”

    “Thar may be atother way…” says Sigurd, almost off-handedly. When he sees that Aurora has stopped her pacing and turned to him, he continues. “I ‘ave an idear. But if I be right, I wants me sword back.” [Sigurd’s magical longsword+1 was taken by the party after his defeat on the Sea Ghost and is currently being carried by Willa, although in the fighting so far she has used her new greatsword.]

    Now everyone remaining is staring at Sigurd (except Oceanus, who with the lizardmen, is taking shifts guarding the stairs, and Shefak, who is sitting cross-legged in a corner, meditating). “What’s your idea?” demands Aurora.

    “Now, now,” Sigurd laughs easily. “If I tells ye, I ‘ave no leverage, do I? An’ ye’ll ‘ave no reason t’ give me me sword. I want t’is sworn in front of yon priest” (he gestures at Tyrius). “I’ll tell ye me idea, an’ if it works, ye swear to give me back me sword.”

    “How do we know you won’t use the sword against us?” says Babshapka, “You did before.”

    “Aye, t’at I did,” responds Sigurd. “Because ye war attacking me ship, an’ me crew! An’ without provocation! Now, ye’ve taken me ship, an’ me sword, and yon lass ain’t even used it! All I wants is t' get back t’ ther profitable life I had afore I crossed wit’ any of ye! Yon lass has a paper granting me clemency, but if I attacks ye, I cain’t ‘ave it. Even if I kills ye all, I’m cursed t' be an outlaw fer the rest o’ me poor days. What possible reason would I ‘ave to attack ye?”

    Tyrius holds his hammer Molly in front of him and leans on her as he speaks. “Let’s hear your idea.”

    Sigurd looks back and forth between the party members, and finally at Tyrius. “Ol’ Elmo came in wit’ five other adventurers, ‘e did. That’d be six souls all entering, he said, t’rough the sea cave, unner ther water, prepared t’ fight unner ther water. They ‘ad to ‘ave magic what let t’em breathe an’ move. And now ther devils ‘ave all t’ose magic items. T’ey’re no use t’ t‘em, but t’ey knows ther items be valuable. So t’ey be keeping t‘em somewhere ‘ereabouts - an’ I t’ink I ken whar.”

    [DM's note: Lord Nehemeyer's Goals for the Party:
    (1) The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses Partially complete - the party has fought warriors, lieutenants, a chieftain, and a priestess, but does not know numbers

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances) Partially complete - Elmo confirmed an underwater entrance and the party has completely mapped the land entrance and entire first level

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc.Partially complete - the party knows about the barred entrance doors, portcullis, and net trap, as well as that the second and third levels are under water

    (4) How advanced their preparations are - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking? Complete - the party surmises that the raids will begin when the first level is complete, and they know that just one final room remains to prepare
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Oct 26, 2018 4:46 pm  
    Post 36: Old Elmo's Hoard

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy

    DM's Note: One of the peculiarities of U3 is that the party cannot complete the module unless they have a means of breathing under water. The module solves this by providing them with a number of magic items belonging to Elmo's former party, but places these items in a secret room. Thus, the only way for most parties to "win", is to find that one secret room, which comes down to them making a singular secret door check in the right place on an entire dungeon level. Barnabus failed that check when he searched the room, which left my novice players up against a time constraint (wanting to be out before dark) and with no means of entering the water. I decided to give Sigurd the ability to speak goblinoid and have him provide a clue to the party in return for them having to return a magic item to him, someone they did not really trust.

    DM's Note: As explained in Post 12, this campaign was a novel experiment for me in that I did away with tracking xp and had all leveling as a function of story awards. Up to this point (leveling to 2 and 3) I had kept the events that would "unlock" leveling secret, and informed the party after the fact. For the current scenario, however, I wanted to emphasize the importance of the party completing the four goals that Lord Nehemeyer had set for them. Since there were eight PCs at this point, I told them that for every goal they completed, two PCs would advance to 4th level; one chosen by me, and one chosen collectively by them. At the end of the last post they had completed goal (4). I do not remember why I chose Shefak to advance, but I do recall their discussion about choosing Larry - it was explicitly so that he could attain wild shapes with a swim speed and thus have access to a number of forms that would allow him to better scout underwater.

    Post 36 - Old Elmo's Hoard

    21 August, 570 - late afternoon - sea devil lair, upper level

    Sigurd pauses a moment for them to grasp his logic.

    “An’ I tell ye w’at. Ye don’t even ‘ave t’ give me me sword back. If we can find Elmo’s gear, I’ll take me first pick o’ w'at’s thar an’ call it even.”

    As soon as Sigurd speaks about how Elmo’s party must have had magic items for underwater travel, Aurora knows he is right - but she still can’t fathom how he could know where the items are. She nods to Tyrius.

    “You have my oath as a Paladin of Pelor - if you help us find the gear of Elmo’s party, we will give you EITHER your sword, OR first pick of the items, at our discretion.”

    Sigurd scowls, but nods. “I be thinkin’ afore t’at ther items be deep in ther lair, an’ we’d ‘ave t’ send ther flickers an’ ther wet elf t’ look in every locker below. But t'en, I be speakin’ t’ ther ho-jebli slave. An’ ‘e said t’at after ther slaves finished ther storeroom, ol’ Elmo an’ ther dwarf spent a long time in t’at particular room wit’ just guards, an’ no tother slaves. Dwarves means fine stonework. T’at’s ther first place I’d look.”

    Aurora nods. “Barnabus said he checked that room - but it can’t hurt to check it again, and using light this time. It’s just outside.”

    Leaving the lizardmen and Oceanus to guard the stairs, Aurora, Thokk, Babshapka, Tyrius, Willa, and Sigurd leave and walk to the storeroom. Shefak stays behind, meditating.

    Tyrius calls forth the holy light of Pelor, and it does not take long for Babshapka to find the vague outline of a secret door in the far wall. Immediately Aurora is on it, looking for a means of opening it. She finds a panel that yields to her touch, and hears a click as she presses it - but also sees a glowing rune appear under her hand.


    Electricity arcs out from the now-glowing rune and courses through the wizard’s body. Aurora is blown across the room, her face and hand blackened with soot. Hair still standing on end, she unsteadily rises to her feet. “I...I think I found it…” she mumbles.

    Peering through the now-open door, the party sees a small room of plain dressed stone. There are several items of interest within - a leather cloak hanging on a peg, a human-sized suit of plate mail and a pile of chain mail of undetermined size, three shields, a spear, a longsword within a fine scabbard, and, at the far end of the room, a large stone coffer.

    Undeterred by her fragile state, Aurora is the first one into the room, and she is immediately drawn to the coffer. She tries to open it with her mage hand, but finds it locked - and a pattern of slits around the keyhole suggests it may be trapped as well. She calls for Barnabus - but then remembers that he is off searching the rooms of this level at her behest.

    “Well,” Aurora starts, still feeling woozy from her unfortunate encounter with the electrical rune, “I think we should probably bring in an expert with chests to handle this lock. And as much as I hate to admit it, that is our favorite halfling. Willa and Sigurd, would you two be willing to go find Barnabus and Larry and bring them back here to help? Thokk and Tyrius could go if you’d prefer, but I think they should rest a bit and bandage their wounds. We’re not safely back on the boat yet.”

    “Ye nae be tryin’ to rheneeg on our deal, are ye, lass? I ‘ave been fair by ye, aye?” Sigurd responds to Aurora.

    “Thus far, you have dealt fairly with us, Sigurd, admittedly,” Tyrius interjects. “You have my word as a light of Pelor that I will honor our agreement. Do you trust me equally?”

    “Aye, ‘tis fair, priest. C’mon lass, ‘tis just ye an' me, eh?”

    “Yes, ahem,” Willa nods, “just ye, me, an' yer sword. Tyrius, might ye be willing t’ hold t’is fer me ‘til our return? I want t’ be sure our new addition . . . behaves.” Tyrius nods and takes Sigurd’s captured sword, glancing disapprovingly at Aurora’s curious gaze.

    “Aw, ye don’ trust me, lass,” Siguard moans, feigning indignation.

    “Trust? Ha!” Willa smirks, “me papi said ye can trust a whole boatload o’ sailors, as long as it’s sunk. Let’s go, smuggler. After you.” Willa stretches her arm forward into the doorway. Sigurd bows and saunters by her, stepping perhaps a bit closer than needed as he passes.

    “Heh,” Thokk chuckles proudly, “my advisor commands even that fine warrior to do her bidding. Thokk chose her well.”

    “Oh, Willa,” Aurora whispers to her quickly before she leaves, “if you return to the entrance looking for Larry and Barnabus, perhaps you could have your marines sabotage the net trap and the doors? If nothing else, perhaps they could just remove the pins on the doors and wreck the hinges? We may appreciate an easier entrance to this level if we return at a later time.”

    After the pair has left, Aurora turns to the others. “Well, gentlemen, I should very much like to sit down. Thokk, Tyrius, Babshapka, shall we rejoin Shefak and tend to our wounds? I suspect we will need your healing potions and spells before this day is through, so let us rest if we may. I propose we carry the items found here back to the other room and collect them with the other things we’ve recovered. Once the chest has been opened we can detect magic among the lot of them.”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “No, if we have to beat back another patrol, I don’t want them to see that we have found these items. We can store them here for now, and it will be quicker to retreat with them if need be. And if Barnabus and Larry, or Sigurd and Willa, come back, I don’t want them to waste time looking for us. I’ll go get the other things we have taken so far and bring them here.”

    Tyrius hasn’t been back but five minutes when Willa and Sigurd, bearing the lantern, return with Barnabus and Larry. Apparently the duo had just finished searching the slave pen when they were found.

    [5pm] “Bugger all, I should have found that the first time around,” Barnabus laments, looking at the secret door. “But what have we here, eh? Yes, this coffer shouldn’t be too much trouble. Thokk, mind if I borrow your shield to put in front of me just in case these slits release something nasty?”

    Thokk tosses his shield to a lizardman officer, who carries it over and holds it as best as he can in front of the halfling. Barnabus then sets to work investigating the lock carefully while asking Larry for a bit of guidance. Barnabus quickly determines that the shield will be unnecessary - the trap is a spring-loaded blade, not anything fired. Of course, in order to open the lock he will have to put his hands at risk, and the shield would just get in the way. “Ah, yes, you little minx, you. I think I’ve got you.” The lock opens with a satisfying click, and without a blade being thrust into Barnabus’ hands.

    Even as the party members come forward to see what is inside, Barnabus waves them back. “Since the Devils obviously didn’t want anyone messing about with this chest, I’m opening this a wee bit carefully. Larry, mind bringing a pole over here?” Barnabus edges his dagger under the lip of the coffer and raises the cover a hair, just enough for Larry to wedge the pole up against the lip where he can then flip open the lid from 10’ away, being sure not to stand in the line of the slits from the front. The lid creaks open and . . .

    Inside are a stoppered bone tube, a stoppered brass jar, a velvet bag, and three small books.

    Resisting the urge to sort through the precious discovery, Aurora begins her short rest and encourages the others to do the same.

    Tyrius, unwounded and full of faith in their find, examines the items so as to save time later. The bone tube has a securely-fastened stopper, but can be opened with firm twists. It contains a slim, six-inch piece of thin ivory, carved with sigils in scrimshaw.

    The brass jar is about half-full of a thick, green, cloudy, briny-smelling liquid.

    The books are interesting in that they are covered front and back with hard leather, but the parchment pages are not sewn in as they would be in a normal book. Rather, they are each bound with four brass rings that penetrate the covers and pages equally. The pages themselves are hard and stiff, and appear to have been treated with a clear shellac or varnish. They are covered in arcane runes he does not understand. One of the books has four loose pages in the back, not fastened with the bronze rings. Taking these out, he finds that he can read two of these - they are prayers in the Common tongue, one of silence and one of continual light. The other two are covered in the same runes as the bound pages of the book.

    The velvet bag has four rings, three with carved runes, one inside, one out, one both. One is plain. None of them are set with gems.

    The leather cloak is full-length and human-sized, with a hood.

    The plate mail is human sized, and would fit him well - or Willa or Sigurd, for that matter. It is of exquisite craftsmanship - he has never seen any more fine in his life. The other armor and weapons are also very good quality, though he finds the chain is both short and wide - apparently sized for a dwarf.

    After 30 minutes, Shefak enters the storeroom - she is rested and ready to go. She relieves Tyrius in watching over the party and he moves to the stair-room, after allowing his light of Pelor to fade out. [It is now 5:30pm]

    [DM’s note: Shefak has leveled to 4th. New features in bold.

    Shefak Ishu
    Fourth Level Monk / Human (Baklunni) (Acolyte)
    Str. 7 (-2), Dex. 18 (+4) Con. 12 (+1) Int. 11 (0) Wis. 15 (+2) Chr. 10 (0)
    Hp. 27
    Skills: Acrobatics, Insight, Religion, Stealth
    Monastic Tradition: Way of the Open Hand
    Unarmored defense, staff, dagger, darts
    Crystal of Clear Thought, Ring of Invisibility]

    After another 30 minutes, everyone in the party has had a short rest.
    [It is now 6pm, with 1 hour of daylight and half an hour of dusk remaining]

    [DM Notes:
    Aurora spent three hit dice and recovered 15 hp, taking her to 17/18 and recovering a 2nd level spell slot.
    Tyrius uses 1 lay on hands point to take her up to full (currently 12 lay on hands remaining)

    Thokk rested and used one hit dice. He is at 32/32.

    Babshapka rested and used one hit dice. He is at 29/29.

    Oceanus rested and used three hit dice to recover 19hp. He is at full 22/22.

    Larry cast cure light wounds on Barnabus and healed him for six. This takes him to 16, and Tyrius lays on hands to improve him to 19/19 (currently nine lay on hands remaining).

    After finishing his short rest, Larry recovers some spells. He also levels to 4th. New features in bold.

    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)
    Fourth Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (-1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 11 (0) Wis 18 (+4) Cha 4 (-3)
    Hp. 38
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Wild shape now includes the ability to become a creature with a swimming speed
    Chain mail +1, shield +1, scimitar, quarterstaff]

    In the last ten minutes of the rest period, Willa decides things need doing. “Everyone, we need t’ be smart ‘ere. It’s near six ev’ntime, and we only ‘ave an hour or so o’ daylight left t’ us. It’ll take twenty minutes fer a round trip to ther Sea Ghost, so if we want t’ get everyone back safely, we gotta get movin'. Each jolly can only take eight, maybe a couple more if our smaller members sit tight, an’ there’s . . . (Willa takes a quick mental note of the party: 8 party members, 14 lizardfolk, four marines, Tom, Sigurd, and Oceanus)...Damn, there’s near thirty of us all together.” She pauses a moment, thinking.

    “We gotta start now.” Willa motions the lizardfolk lieutenants over to her. “Thokk, I’d advise t’at ye ask fer a couple o’ lizardfolk volunteers t’ stay ‘ere with us and ‘elp us scout the second level a bit. T’ey should be safe, but it’ll mean t’ey’ll be swimming back t’ the Sea Ghost in ther dark. The rest of the flickers can ‘ead back now wit’ a message to the marines. Tom, Ebeneezer and the lizard soldiers need to leave fer ther ‘idden jolly immediately - t’ey can pick up ther lizard guards on ther trails on their way out. Ther lizardfolk will swim back t’ the boat, keeping careful watch fer Sahuagin ambushes, while Tom and Ebeneezer go snag ther ship’s jollyboat and t’en return to ther landin’ t’ wait fer us. When we leave, we’ll be our party o’ eight, plus Oceanus, Sigurd, and the two lizardfolk what stayed. That’ll be sixteen, just eno’ fer ther two jollies.”

    One lieutenant nods curtly and hisses to the group of lizard soldiers. They appear nervous, but eager to find out more about their submerged former home, and four of them step forward. The lieutenant quickly chooses two and motions them back to the stair room to gather up the others and take their place guarding the stairs. The lieutenant looks quizzically at the tools in the storeroom, then orders a few of the remaining lizardfolk to gather up pickaxes and pry bars before they leave. In the stair room, the lizardfolk have decided to go underwater, but to stay concealed in the stairwell. They take turns relieving one another as their breath runs out.

    Aurora searches her bag for quill, ink, and parchment and writes out a set of instructions. Willa nods and continues, “Ther three marines can stay an’ finish sabotaging ther front guard room, but not past another ‘alf hour. Fix ther net t’ ther ceiling somehow if they can, but yon doors gotta come down. Take out ther hinge pins and smash ther hinges. Throw ther doors over ther causeway if t’ey can manage.”

    “We’ll join t’em after we scout around a bit more down ‘ere. ‘opefully we won’t have any devils on our tail an’ we can make our way back t’ ther landing just before sundown.” A minute later Aurora folds the parchment and hands it to the lieutenant. The lizardfolk salute Thokk and head out of the chamber toward the entrance, hissing softly but proudly among themselves. Thokk chuckles as he sees a few of them spit on the sahuagin corpses on the way out of the room.

    Aurora closes her eyes and spends five more minutes in meditation, until the symbols rearrange in her mind and she knows she has recovered the ability to cast another spell.

    Standing up, Aurora immediately turns to the pile of items that Tyrius had carefully arranged before her, and uses a charge from her wand of magic detection. The cumulative glow that results lights up the storeroom, easily overwhelming the meager lantern light. Sigurd gives a low whistle. “Thar be eno’ firepower t’ outfit a galleon! What say we forget about t’ese devils, take back me ship, and try our ‘ands as privateers? Equal shares fer all?” He looks around, searching the faces of those gathered, but receives only disapproving glares (and the barest flicker of interest from Barnabus). “Fine, then. ‘ave it yer ways. But I’ll be takin’ me pick now.”

    “Well, as you no doubt recall, Sigurd,” Tyrius interjects, “we agreed that we would decide either to return to you your sword, or to allow you your first pick. Given the presence of some of these items, I suspect we will agree to return to you your sword. You have been fighting along our side and we are not ungrateful, but we also know that you hold toward us no particular loyalty.”

    Seeing nods of approval among the party, Willa steps forward and returns Sigurd his longsword. “It’s a very fine blade ye ‘ave here, Sigurd,” Willa says salaciously.

    “Aye, I’d take ye fer an expert on that score,” he teases in return.

    None of the weapons or jewelry taken from the sea devil officers is glowing, with the exception of the electric-shock wand from the priestess that had already been examined. The spears and daggers are taken away to a corner of the storeroom.

    Aurora calls for silence and examines each of the remaining items in turn, holding the object in one hand and her wand in the other. She announces each item as she struggles to understand them.

    [DM's note. The wand provides, at a minimum, the school of magic. I then allowed Aurora to make an Arcana check, with higher numbers revealing more, such as identity, command words, charges, etc. The Arcana roll for each item is noted]

    Leather Cloak (26) - strong transformation / transmutation magic, tied to elemental plane of water. [No command word - most likely activated when worn while in contact with water.]

    Plate Mail (27) - strong abjuration magic [human-sized plate mail +2, base AC 20, counts as light armor, attunes to wearer, no additional powers]

    Chain Mail (14) - abjuration magic - dwarven-sized full chain armor [counts as light armor, AC and powers not known until worn in combat or identify spell used]

    Shield (17) - abjuration magic [AC and powers not known until worn in combat or identify spell used]

    Shield (22) - abjuration magic [shield +1, provides +3 to AC, no additional powers]

    Shield (17) - strong abjuration magic [AC and powers not known until worn in combat or identify spell used but likely better than the other two shields]

    Spear (21) - strong evocation magic, tied to positive elemental plane [spear +2, damage d6+2 / d8+2, no additional powers]

    Longsword (16) - evocation and abjuration magic [the blade is obviously made for fighting but hints that it may have other powers - the hilt and blade seem mismatched, as if it is a replacement hilt - the blade is covered in Suelese runes that call it “The Sunsword, Vanquisher of Darkness” The initial properties are as the module, but the Suelese runes and mismatched hilt are foreshadowing of this being important in the future]

    Ivory wand (14) - strong transformation magic [spell-casting wand, command word unknown, number of charges remaining unknown]

    Ring (10) - runes inside and out - abjuration magic [protects ring-wearer automatically, will need to be worn in the situation it would protect from to determine its power, or be identified]

    Ring (8) - runes outside - transmutation magic [grants wielder power or ability in certain situation, must be worn in the situation to determine power or be identified]

    Ring (28) - no runes - enchantment magic [ring of invisibility - requires attunement - you may use an action to become invisible - you will become visible when you attack, cast a spell, or use a bonus action to become visible]

    Ring (20) - runes inside - strong enchantment magic [ring of delusion - wearer will believe the ring is whatever sort of magic ring the wearer most desires, and will create self-delusions to maintain this belief as long as possible, counts as a cursed item]

    Brass Jar (22) - transmutation magic, tied to elemental plane of water [potion of waterbreathing, four doses]

    The three books are obviously spell books, though the contents are not discernible without time to decipher them. The two scrolls, however, are meant to be read (out loud), and use the “standard runic notation” that anyone versed in arcane lore can read. One is “Knock,” one “Ice Storm.”

    The lizardfolk have reached the front gatehouse and delivered Willa's commands to the marines.

    "Right," says Tom. "'ow we goin’ t’ sabotage a bronze gate an’ stone doors when alls we 'ave is swords?"

    The lizardfolk lieutenant steps forward and motions his men to hand over the picks and pry bars.

    "Well I'll be danged," says Ebeneezer. "Never thought I'd see a flicker with more smarts then you, Tom." The older man chuckles and Tom reddens.

    "That's Corporal Tom to you, Ben," he huffs, and then starts ordering his men about.

    Willa's letter tells Tom to leave at once, but he doesn't trust the sabotage operation to the Fisher brothers and Jeremiah acting alone. He tells the lizardfolk officers to gather their people off of the trails and then wait at the head of the causeway. He directs his men to raise the portcullis as high as they can, then has Jeremiah use a pry bar to open the portcullis frame until the heavy gate it is swinging free by its chains. It is then lowered to the ground so that it lies flat on the floor. The bronze suspension chain is too heavy to break easily, but Tom has the wooden wheel of the winch smashed so the portcullis cannot be raised again. While all this is going on, the Fisher brothers are cutting the net with their daggers until it lies in a dozen pieces on the floor.

    "Damn shame, wasting a fine net like that," says Daniel.

    "Ayep," says Nathaniel.

    “Well,” Aurora says, “that potion is a good find but will work for only four of us. We know there were six in Elmo’s party, so some of the other items may still help us breathe or act underwater. I think we may have a bit more experimenting to do. We have a transmutation ring of some sort, but we don’t know what it does exactly. The same issue applies to this cloak, here. It is possible that the transmutation magic embedded in these may reveal itself in the presence of a certain stimuli, hopefully the need to swim or breathe underwater. This ivory rod may do something as well. Any volunteers to test out some of these things? We can sample them or put them on and go swimming a bit -- see what happens? We can decide who should have what when we figure out what things do.”

    The party members, even as Aurora is speaking, begin to gather up the items and move into the room with the stairs. Oceanus takes the spear as if it were already decided and heads down into the water to relieve the two lizardmen who are still on watch below.

    “Wait!” calls Aurora after him. “We haven’t decided who will get that!” but the sea elf ignores her. She turns to Tyrius, hoping for support. “We are trying to divide up the items, but we still don’t know what many of them do…”

    “How many permanent items are there?” Tyrius says in a voice used to command.

    “Uhh...thirteen, I think,”

    “And there are nine of us, with Oceanus. So long as we each get one and no one gets more than two, it is fair. Let us do this, wizard - the favor of my god is waning with the sun and I wish to be out of this den of iniquity before dark.”

    Babshapka likes the look of the cloak as, if nothing else, it is likely to serve him well in the wilds. He coolly picks it up from the floor next to the wizard and throws it on over his chain shirt.

    Working together, the five marines have closed one of the huge stone doors but left the other one cracked for light. With careful blows of the pick-axes they have freed the huge bronze hinge pins from the hinges, then separated the door hinges from the frame hinges. Still the massive stone door stands upright, balanced on its casters. All of the marines charge the door at once, slam into it, and it topples out onto the landing with a resounding crash, several tons of stone falling against stone.

    “Wha’ wuz dat?” asks Larry, looking around.

    “What?” say the others.

    “Big thump - the floor jumped.”

    No one else had felt anything, and several say so. “Well, of course not,” Larry scoffs. “Yer all wearin’ shoes. How ya gonna feel anything?” He strides over and picks up the set of dwarf-sized magic chain armor, then tears his own chain shirt off and throws it away in a heap. Lowering the mail onto his shoulders, he sighs contentedly. “Now that’s better. Nice and light and it fits just right!”

    The marines warp and crush the hinges on the wall by the fallen door, then repeat the process of felling the other door. That one falls so that it partially overlaps the first, creating a huge stone barricade in the entrance way. The stones are too big to move, so the gatehouse entrance still has a fair degree of cover, but it is no longer a secure entrance by any means. That done, the marines quickly cross the causeway and meet up with the lizardfolk on the other side. The sun is low on the horizon and the wind is beginning to shift from a seaborne breeze to an onshore air.

    Willa eyes the suit of plate armor appreciatively. “I doubt t’is will help me breathe unnerwater, but t'will be easier t’ transport out of 'ere wearing it, t’an it will be t’ pack it.” She asks Sigurd to come help her don the heavy plate.

    “Of course, m’lady,” he says playfully, “jess let me ‘elp you doff your old chain aforehand.”

    As the smuggler helps Willa adjust the straps and buckles of the plate armor, she gasps. It feels like the armor itself is changing, shifting, conforming to her shape. By the time it is all in place it looks as if it were forged for her and perfectly measured at that. There is now no way it would fit anyone else in the party - only a person of exactly her figure. Sigurd whistles in appreciation - of the armor, or her figure, he doesn’t say.

    Barnabus nonchalantly picks up the abjuration ring and looks it over appreciatively. Holding it up to the light off to the side of Aurora’s gaze, he wonders aloud, “Aurora, you weren’t able to decipher these runes completely were you? What’s your best guess?”

    “Oh,” she smiles and starts explaining in greater detail, “these runes are likely from the third Suelese dynasty. You can tell from the nature of the boar rune along the side there. When we get back to the boat I can’t wait to cast my comprehend languages spell and gather some more information about it. I suspect . .”

    With Aurora easily distracted, Barnabus quickly places his left hand on the ground beside him, pocketing the ring of transmutation unnoticed. He has a hunch what this ring may do, and cannot resist the temptation to sneak up behind some unaware Sahuagin.

    “Yes, that’s fascinating, Aurora. You keep at it girl.” He flips the ring of abjuration into the air toward her. Aurora attempts to catch it from the air but fumbles the attempt. It hits the floor and rolls back toward her robes. The half-elf blushes and fishes for it from underneath her in a rather undignified manner.

    Shefak walks forward next and offers to take the ring of invisibility, “Masters of my order can move unseen without the need for magic, just through the power of their perfectly focused minds. I am still a novice, but I know the value of hidden movement. With this, I will be able to eliminate the greatest threats to the group before they know I am there.”

    “Well, the rest of this seems fairly straightforward,” Aurora says. “There’s a shield here for each of our shield wearers. Thokk is a bit less armored than Tyrius and Larry, so perhaps he should have this one,” and she points at the one whose magic detected as strongest. “Larry and Tyrius can swap out their standard shields for these instead?”

    Thokk looks down at the frail half-elf as if she has wounded him. His lip curls in a sneer. “Thokk not take this because he needs more armor. Thokk takes this shield because it is the biggest. And Thokk is the biggest!” He scoops up the shield she had indicated for him anyway. Larry and Tyrius don the other two, testing their balance.

    Aurora continues hesitantly. “And this sword and cursed ring probably deserve some further investigation. Where did that ring of transmutation go?”

    As Aurora pats the ground frantically around her, Barnabus snickers gleefully to himself. The rest of the group quickly surmises what must have happened and glares at him. “Oh, relax,” he offers while deftly flipping the ring across his fingers, “I suspect we’ll all want me having another little trick up my sleeve. You can’t blame me for having a little fun with her while I’m at it.” Tyrius sighs audibly and rubs his temples with his thumb and forefinger.

    Aurora picks up the abjuration ring, hesitates, then slips it on. She packs up the remaining ring, the sword, the wand, and the books and scrolls. Already Babshapka and Barnabus are headed for the flooded staircase. The elf wades down into the water, pulling the hood over his head after he is fully submerged. The leather cloak changes color from dull brown to a steely blue - it flows out behind him like wings - through the cloudy water he appears not so much like an elf in a cloak as a huge manta ray. He takes a trial swim through the underwater room at the bottom of the stairs - he is swimming fast, and is quite able to breathe underwater.

    Meanwhile, Barnabus is gingerly easing himself down, step by step. “Well, I’m still wet,” he says. “And still cold.” He shivers. The cave has been much cooler than the tropical air outside, but this water is colder still. After a few more steps, he says “Curious.” Two more, and he goes under, then comes up a second later, sputtering and coughing. “Well, it sure doesn’t let me breathe,” he says, “but I feel fast - like the water has no resistance. I mean, I can feel that it is there, but it is not holding me back or slowing me down.”

    The others gather together on the stairs, but none of the armor or other items seems to change properties in the water.

    “Okay,” announces Aurora. “We have Oceanus and Babshapka who can breathe underwater. The two lizardmen can hold their breaths for a while. And we have enough potion for four of us. So who is scouting, and who is staying here?”

    “I’m not going underwater,” says Willa, for what seems like the hundredth time.

    “I will scout,” says Larry. “and I won’t be needin’ no foul potion, neither. “What should I be? If we are just scoutin’, I’ll make myself a fish - but if you think we’re gonna mix it up down there, I can be a crocodile. If it’s a little bit of both I’ll be a giant frog.”

    Although it seems a simple question, the resulting discussion of who will be going in the water takes another half an hour to resolve.

    [It is now 7pm. Outside, the sun is setting]
    During the discussion, the two lizardfolk are sent out with instructions to return all of the lizardfolk to the stair room, and three of the marines to gate room. Tom and Ebeneezer are still to be waiting at the launch, with the two jollies ready for the retreating party. Also during this time, Aurora uses a pearl and a first level spell to further identify the sword found. It is a sword+1, with the further ability to improve saves by 1. More powers are possible if it can be reunited with its original hilt.

    By the time the entire complement of lizardfolk return (including the ones that had been assigned to guard the trail heads), they report that Jeremiah and the Fisher brothers are in the guardroom, and that both the gate and the stone doors are down. Tom and Ebeneezer have indeed readied the boats (with lizardfolk assistance in finding the hidden one in the growing dusk), and now have them hiding in the reeds (not as well hidden as it was initially, but still hidden and much readier for a rapid departure).
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Oct 31, 2018 4:30 pm  
    Post 37: Going too far?

    Note: This post contains spoilers for module U3: The Final Enemy. Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed map locations.

    DM's note: I estimate Saltmarsh and the Sea Devil Lair to be at about 25N latitude, 5W longitude. This is approximately the latitude of Miami, FLA. On August 21st, there are approximately 13 hours of daylight, from 6:00am to 7:00pm.

    Post 37 - Going too far?

    21 August, 570 - evening - Sea Devil Lair, upper level

    It is finally decided that two of the lizardfolk will remain at the stairs, while the rest go into the water with Barnabus (potion), Babshapka (cloak), Thokk (potion), Tyrius (potion) and Oceanus. Willa, Sigurd, and Aurora will remain on the first level and attempt to parallel the scouting party directly below them, staying in contact with them mentally through Aurora’s message while Sigurd lights their way with a lantern. Larry (as a fish) and Shefak (potion) will return to the gatehouse, enter the open water outside, and scout the outside of the sea cave entrance. Before the party splits, Larry casts darkvision on Shefak and Tyrius, leaving him with one second-level spell slot he is holding in reserve for a spike growth to cover their retreat. Barnabus, Thokk, Tyrius, and Shefak each drink from the potion of water breathing, finishing it and starting a metaphorical hour clock for the scouting mission.

    Both water-scouting teams enter the water; one inside, one out. Once inside the water, Larry changes his form to that of a small saltwater predatory fish. [stats as Quipper but for saltwater] He immediately notices that Shefak, though invisible beside him, is easily discernible as she is leaving a human-sized “space bubble” where water should be but isn't. She decides to float on the surface, with her head in the water looking down, and follow Larry-fish from above so as to displace the least water and be the least visible. They travel around the outside of the mountain-island in the gathering darkness to the far side facing the open sea. With Shefak watching from above, Larry dives below and finds the entrance to the sea cave. It is protected by a huge bronze portcullis, perhaps twice the size of the one on the first level. The openings between the bars are easily large enough to allow fish access, so Larry darts in and out, scouting the cave beyond.

    The cave is huge, and goes back farther than Larry’s darkvision can see. Most of the cave is filled with a massive seaweed bed, but he sees rock formations at the limits of his vision. Just inside the cave entrance is a large winch with a bronze chain. The size and depth of the seaweed could obscure dozens of devils, so Larry does not dare enter. Larry and Shefak decide to scout the outer surface of the mountain for other entrances. They do not find any, but they do find, hidden by a rock outcrop, a second winch with a chain leading into a small hole cut in the rock. It is possible the winch could be worked by one creature, slowly, as there is a ratchet mechanism.

    Goals (1) and (2) - sea entrance, sea cave (60), both winches

    Meanwhile the main scouting force inside descends into the water-filled staircase. Their first impression is that the water is cold, dreadfully cold - at least the seawater outside the lair has been warmed by the tropical sun all day, but this water feels as cold as the larder room where they found the remains of Elmo’s party.

    [DM’s note: Warm-blooded creatures in the cold water of the sahuagin lair will need to make a CON save (DC10) after 20 minutes of immersion. Oceanus is immune to this effect. The lizardfolk are cold-blooded.]

    They proceed into the large chambered room (20) scouted before. The group tracking them from above is faced with a wall to the north, so Willa, Sigurd, and Aurora have to jog out and around through the halls to try to stay in contact. Thokk posts six lizardfolk as guards, two at each entrance to the room, and the main group takes the left (west) arched entrance. Some of the party (Barnabus) are light enough to swim, others (Tyrius) are wearing enough heavy armor that they have sunk to the bottom and are walking. For some of them, it is slow going.

    [DM’s note: Water counts as “difficult terrain” (double movement cost) for any creature without an inherent swim move. Oceanus and the lizardfolk have a swim move; Babshapka is granted one by the cloak, Barnabus’ unidentified ring of free action means he isn’t slowed by difficult terrain. Thokk and Tyrius are moving at half their normal land speed while in the water.]

    The corridors bend and turn, but always at precise, clinical right angles. Barnabus scouts ahead, swimming with his “child sahuagin” suit, and checking at corners with his mirror before advancing. He leads the party into two rooms that look like the tiled officers quarters above, but flooded (22, 23). They have stone tables and benches, closed and locked stone coffers, and colored tiling, with only the colors of the tiles distinguishing one from another. Each also has a seaweed bed; a thick growth of stalks and leaves that obscures vision and runs from floor to near the ceiling. Oceanus believes that the sahuagin rest in these, using the stalks to keep themselves from drifting while they sleep. Thokk attacks the one in the first room furiously, but methodically and carefully stabs through the one in the second to make sure nothing is hiding within. Barnabus lingers over the coffer, but Aurora chides everyone to keep moving, reminding them that their potions of breathing are flowing away like sand in an hourglass. The lizardfolk with them peel off, return to the upper level to breathe, and come back at intervals.

    Goals (1) and (2): officer’s quarters (22, 23)

    By the time the scout force gets to the third arched entrance in the hall, Aurora and company have run all the way to the far southern corridor of the upper level. Barnabus sees a huge room, farther across than his darkvision can scan (24). It has an open center with tables and benches, but the walls are lined with seaweed beds everywhere but the entrance itself. Dozens of females and young swim, drift, sit, or play. The young come in all sizes, from nearly that of the adult females to smaller than he is. After a minute of watching, Barnabus turns the group around and they return to the stairs level.

    [DM’s note - 7:20pm Babshapka, Barnabus, Thokk, and Tyrius make their CON saves.]

    This time the scouting party takes the east entrance. They pass and inspect a single, empty, officer’s quarters (21). After that, the corridor bends round and comes into a large chamber with seaweed, females, and young (24). The room is large enough that Barnabus suspects he has found a second entrance to where he was before.

    Goals(1) and (2): officer’s quarters (21)

    They again return to the room with the stairs and the lizardfolk have a chance to gather air. They set out down the northern corridor, which quickly branches east and west. They go east, and then east again when the corridor branches again. At the far corner is an arched doorway. Barnabus peers through it and finds a room with at least a dozen sahuagin, and several officer types (27). Some are lounging, but some are swimming in formation - drilling? This is definitely a barracks. and not a place the scouting party wants to be. Barnabus watches from the doorway, and ushers the others past him when he thinks it is safe.

    Goals (1) and (2): Barracks (27)

    The corridor returns to its northward direction after this. At the next branch one hallway clearly runs northward to stairs going down. The other goes west, passed an arched doorway, and ends in another arch. Barnabus investigates the doorway, and finds a guardroom (39) with two soldiers entertaining two female sahuagin. With just four devils and only one entrance, the party feels confident about being able to take this group out - more confident than their chances of slipping past unseen, anyway. And if this is a guardpost, what is it guarding?

    Goal (2): Guardroom (39)

    Led by Barnabus, the party bursts into the room. Between the halfling, Babshapka, Oceanus, and the lizardfolk, the two warriors are killed before they can respond. The females, however, before they are laid low, savage Barnabus. Tyrius and Thokk, hampered by the water, do not even have the chance to attack before the fight is over. Tyrius staunches Barnabus’ wounds with a single laying-on of hands, but the four sahuagin bodies are slowly filling the room with blood. The party recovers coins and jewelry from the bodies. The males have electrum arm bands - seemingly ranking them above unadorned common warriors, but not as high as the lieutenants with gold bands. Oceanus hides the bodies in the seaweed bed, twisting the plants around them them so that they can’t drift away. The party concludes that these are elite guards, and are even more eager to discover what they are guarding. But first, Barnabus needs more healing. The lizardfolk are sent back to the stairs to breathe, but are instructed to pick up the three potions of healing from Willa.

    Goal (1): fighting capability of elite guards

    [DM’s note: When fighting in water, characters with slashing or bludgeoning weapons have disadvantage on to-hit rolls. Piercing weapons and “natural” attacks (including unarmed strikes) are not affected.]

    [DM’s note: When fighting in water, creatures without a swim move are slowed. They may attack only every other round, and even when they attack they automatically lose initiative to any creature with a swim move. Barnabus’ ring prevents this, so only Thokk and Tyrius are affected.]

    [DM’s note: The female sahuagin were unarmed, but proved surprisingly vicious as they had five attacks each - underwater, sahuagin attack with bite, two clawing strikes with their hands, and two raking strikes with their feet.]

    It is now 7:30pm, and truly dark outside. Floating on the surface of the water, Shefak hears the metallic clanking of the sea gate being raised. A group of ten sahuagin with an officer swim out, going straight out into the depths of the sea. Five minutes later, another similar group emerges, and moves to parallel the coastline to the east. They do not spot Shefak or Larry-fish, but their current course will lead them to intercept the Sea Ghost if they simply follow the shore. Five minutes later, another group of ten plus officer emerge and move west along the shore. The sea gate is then closed.

    Goal (3): Sahuagin patrols emerge shortly after nightfall, and go east, west, and south.

    Looking carefully about, Shefak swims to the shore, trying to find a landing where she can climb up on the rocks without being battered by the waves. She opens her wineskin in the shallows and lets go of it, so that it becomes visible. Larry-fish immediately darts inside, and she closes it. When she picks it up again, it disappears, and now on land, she is leaving no telltale “hole” in the water. It is a cloudy night, and dark, but not windy or stormy. It is slow work picking her way along the rocks and around the outside of the mountain lair, but she is aided greatly by her darkvision.

    Inside the guardroom of the lair, the party waits nervously for the return of the lizardfolk. Thokk, on guard at the corner, spots them first. Barnabus downs a potion of superior healing, the one taken from the wyrmling dragon hoard, and is restored to full health. Oceanus tells the others that he can still taste blood in the water, even in the hallway outside the guard room, and that they need to get moving.

    The party passes through the archway into a large, long feast hall (41). Eight columns support the high ceiling, and in the center but above the floor level there is a niche with a stone statue jutting out. Massive stone tables line the center of the room. There is an arched doorway exactly opposite them, and another in the center of the north wall, but the latter is decorated with black and gold wave-shaped designs. It obviously leads somewhere important, and Barnabus heads through it while the others quickly search the room. The lizardmen are incensed to find that the statue of their god, formerly ensconced in the niche, has been torn down, and only the defaced head remains.

    Barnabus passes down a short hallway and hears conversation coming from the room beyond. There is no archway to hide in at the other end, so Barnabus hugs the wall and trusts to his luck. The room opens into a large chamber (42). At the north end there is a massive, ornately carved throne on a blue dais. On the throne sits a huge, four-armed sahuagin. His upper two arms hold a net and trident, while his lower two grip the arms of the throne. To his right on the dais stands a female sahuagin holding a short wooden stick, to his left is a normal-sized male with a spear and dagger.

    In front of the throne, at the foot of the dais, stand three sahuagin, armed with trident and net. Their backs are to Baranabus and their body postures are rigid. There may be some other figures between them and the dais, but the halfling cannot see from his vantage point.

    Goal (1) - Identifying the Baron. The female with a staff next to him is possibly a high priestess.

    Barnabus is looking for other exits, and it seems that along the far wall there are recesses into shadows on the right and left. Suddenly, from the west one, a figure emerges. A male sahuagin, and he is swimming straight at Barnabus! It will take him some time to cross the length of the room, so Barnabus swims leisurely and in what he imagines is a playful, child-sahuaginlike manner, retreating back down the hall. At the same time he is frantically trying to reach Aurora mentally, telling her to clear the feast hall.

    By the time Barnabus appears in the feast hall, Tyrius is ushering everyone out, down the hall to the guard post. Barnabus swims behind the column closest to the exit, then hides. Several seconds later the sahuagin appears in the room, calling in an oddly pulsating voice. Halfway across the room he stops calling. Barnabus sees him from behind just as he enters the archway to the corridor. He is tense and moving carefully, as if to enter the corridor without being seen.

    From the second the sahuagin is in the hallway, Babshapka and Oceanus are on him, and he is slain before he can call out or turn around. His body is hidden in the seaweed bed of the guardpost.

    Aurora has been in mental contact with everyone except Shefak and Larry-fish. She does not need to speak out loud to communicate with them, merely in a whisper, but she has found it expedient to speak in a normal voice so that Willa, standing next to her, is kept informed. The burly Saltmarsher woman has been growing more agitated the longer the scouting has continued, and now responds, “Aurora - get our people out of there NOW!”

    “But, Willa,” she vacillates, “we don’t know anything about the third level - and most of the second. They still don’t know we are there...just a bit longer…”

    “By the time they know we are there, it will be too late!” shouts Willa. “Thokk and Tyrius can’t outrun a sea slug, let alone a sahuagin! They need to leave, and we ALL need to get back to the ship. It is well after dark.”

    “Okay, okay…” but still the half elf hesitates. “Babshapka is fast - faster than the devils with that magic cloak. What if just he was to keep exploring - say just a peek down the stairs at the third level, while the rest start back…?”

    Willa groans, torn between risk and duty. “Fine, ask him if he is willing. But start the rest back NOW.”

    Aurora tells Tyrius and Thokk to get the others back to the stairs, but she asks Babshapka if he would be willing to scout more - just scout, not engage. “Let’s do this,” she hears back from the wood elf. A second later, as he darts down the stairs to the third level, he is lost to contact with her.

    Just as well, as she is busy working her way down the long hall, trying to keep pace with Thokk and Tyrius as they lead the lizardfolk up to the barracks. Barnabus is scouting ahead and reaches the open archway of the barracks first. With his mirror he watches the room. Most of the sahuagin inside are swimming about in formation, doing some sort of drill as before. Barnabus uses hand motions to usher people forward or to halt them, having them pass the archway in groups of two and three when they are least likely to be seen.

    [By the time they are all on the other side of the barracks it is 7:40pm - they have been in the cold water 40 minutes and take another Con check now at DC11. Thokk, Babshapka, and Tyrius are now all affected by the cold (Level 1 exhaustion) and will be at disadvantage on any skill check, including stealth.]

    As they make their way back to the stairs, Thokk and Tyrius begin to shake violently in an involuntary effort to stay warm. The water has stopped feeling cold to them and now feels as if it is burning them. Thokk has been in enough cold mountain winters to know that he will need to get out soon or he might lose control of his functioning and be unable to walk - already his hands and feet feel numb. Several of the lizardfolk look lethargic and listless as well. Barnabus is shivering, but hiding it well - does his shark-armor protect him? “Hey Tyrius, let’s get going! I know you’re a blue-blooded aristocrat, but come on!” the halfling goads. Of any of them, Tyrius has the naturally fairest skin - but his whole face is tinged blue now, and his lips are purple. He is steadying himself against the stone walls as he walks methodically down the corridor.

    In another five minutes the entire group (less Babshapka) stand at the base of the stairs leading to the first level.

    [7:45pm. One of the patrol groups that left the sea cave has spotted the Sea Ghost. Half of them return immediately to the lair, while the other half stay to observe.]

    Meanwhile, Mantabshapka has floated silently down the hallway toward the stairs, sticking close to the ceiling. It is a long way down, perhaps forty feet of vertical descent and more forward. At the bottom of the stairs, an arched doorway opens to the left.

    From above the doorway, Mantabshapka silently, gingerly lowers his head down past the upper lip. There is a large, plain stone room beyond (48). He can feel the pulsing motions of several creatures in the water, but from his vantage point can see only one - a sahuagin, and from his metal arm-band, some kind of officer. He is giving verbal orders, directed at others in the room out of sight. The flow of water, particularly the cold water along the floor, indicates that there is an open exit to the room very close by - likely just around the corner from where Mantabshapka is spying. Suddenly the devil stiffens, and turns his attention to the doorway.

    With a flash of steely blue, Mantabshapka whirls and glides back up the stairs. At the top he pauses for a moment, listening for sounds of pursuit, but does not hear any. He does not recall being informed of what way the party planned on taking in their retreat to the stairs, and he does not see or hear them either. Reasoning that new scouting reports will be more useful than covering the same ground, he glides along the ceiling of the feast hall and out the arched doorway on the other side.

    The corridor beyond is a mirror image of the one he came from. If nothing else, these devils do seem to have an inordinate fondness for symmetry. Mantabshapka cautiously enters the archway corresponding to the guardpost (40) on the other side and indeed finds it a duplicate of the one he fought a battle in a score of minutes ago - the two-toned green tiling, tables, benches, four closed stone coffers, and thick bed of seaweed. Only the guards are missing, although they could easily be concealed in the weeds. After a quick tour around the room, Mantabshapka emerges and takes the hallway to the left at the intersection. The right one, as before, looks to lead to stairs down.

    Goal (2) - guard post (40)

    At this point, Mantabshapka begins to tremble. His cloak allows him to breathe but it is not protecting him from the cold of the water and he appears to be at his limit. He decides to take the closer of the two passageways, which he reasons will take him to the stairs. In fact it does so, and he is soon gliding up the steps and emerging into the air to leave the oppressive cold of the water behind him. As soon as he is completely out of the water his manta form falls away and it is just a sodden and shivering elf in a leather cloak that stands at the top of the stairs. A minute later and Willa, Aurora, and Sigurd enter the room through the door, the last bearing a lantern. In a minute more the first of the lizardfolk are emerging from the water until eventually the entire scouting party is there.

    Willa does a quick head count and declares everyone present. She asks Aurora whether she is going to web the stairwell or if they can withdraw immediately. Aurora nods affirmatively and quickly mutters a few arcane words. She smiles as gooey webs fill the sea entrance. Using the two finished railings and the floor on the open sides as anchor points, she soon has the entire stairwell filled with five feet thick of webs. “Alright, that’s should buy us a little time - let’s move!”

    The party travels rapidly down the twisting halls towards the front gatehouse, arriving five minutes later. [7:50pm] The brisk walk has returned the blood to the extremities of Thokk and Babshapka - Tyrius, still soaked and covered by layers of cloth, gambeson, and armor, is still trembling,

    [Warming up; DC11. Thokk and Babshapka succeed, Tyrius fails and is still exhausted.]

    They pause to appreciate the smashed winch and downed portcullis, then find Jeremiah and the Fisher brothers just outside the gatehouse, crouched behind the massive fallen stone doors. Outside, standing vigil over the body of Elmo with a full waterskin in hand, is a visible Shefak. “Quiet?” asks Willa.

    “Too quiet,” agrees Nathaniel. “Are we going?”

    “‘ells yes! Time to cut bait afore the storm.”

    [7:55pm. The sahuagin patrol returns to the sea gate and informs the lair of the presence of the Sea Ghost. A larger patrol body begins to muster. As the message begins to be relayed throughout the lair, the Baron’s elite guards are found slain. Eventually the web is found over the entrance to the first level. Waves of alert run through the lair. Messages and commands are relayed.]

    The party - seven humans, a wood elf, sea elf, half-elf, halfling, fourteen lizardfolk, and a dwarf-fish-in-a-bag, arrange themselves to cross the narrow causeway, with those who can see in the dark in the front and rear. The moons have not yet risen and it is well and dark - the shore of the land cannot be seen. The place stinks of fish and death - the previously slain sahuagin from the gatehouse have been lying out since the early afternoon, all except the one taken by the escaping slaves as food for their journey. Tyrius says he will be carrying the body of Elmo with them. Thokk snorts derisively at his sentimentality, but the paladin insists that as they are all wearing the largess of his former party, it is the least they can do to carry out his body.

    “Fine, whatever,” says Willa to move them along. “It can’t make sir-clanks-a-lot any slower than he already is.”

    They move out along the causeway, tense and not speaking. It is a cloudy, muggy night but with no hint of a storm. They can tell they are getting close to the land when they hit the cloud of biting insects. Slapping and cursing and hushing one another, they proceed along the trail, with the lizardfolk keeping them on the trail itself and not stepping off into the marsh.

    The moons are now up (with Luna full and Celene in a waxing crescent) but unseen behind the clouds when they round the promontory and thread their way between the river and the rock face. They can see the lights on the Sea Ghost a mile out to sea before the lizardfolk tell them that they are approaching the shore. They reach Tom and Ebeneezer guarding the jollies and ready the boats with whispers. Babshapka, thinking of the frigidity of the water within the fortress, tests the temperature along the shoreline while being careful not to wet his cloak. The water is colder than the warm swamp air, but not nearly as chill as that in the sunless caves of the sahuagin lair. They should be able to make the swim out to the ship without difficulty. The effort of moving along the trail with the body of Elmo across his shoulders has finally warmed Tyrius.

    [Warming up; DC10. Tyrius succeeds, no longer exhausted]

    [8:10pm. A large response force leaves the sahuagin lair and heads for the Sea Ghost. The water breathing potion has ceased to function.]

    [DM's note: Lord Nehemeyer's Goals for the Party:
    (1) The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses Partially complete - the party has fought warriors, elite guards, lieutenants, a chieftain, and a priestess, but does not know numbers. They have seen the Baron and possibly identified a high priestess. They have found officer quarters (21),(22), (23), barracks (27)

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances) Partially complete - Party has scouted the underwater entrance and completely mapped the land entrance and entire first level. Has found officer quarters (21), (22), (23), barracks (27), guardrooms (39), (40)

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc. Partially complete - the party knows about the barred entrance doors, portcullis, and net trap, that the second and third levels are under water, and that the underwater entrance has a portcullis with both inside and hidden outside winches. Sea patrols leave shortly after dark and go east, west, and south.

    (4) How advanced their preparations are - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking? Complete - the party surmises that the raids will begin when the first level is complete, and they know that just one final room remains to prepare
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Wed Oct 31, 2018 4:31 pm  
    Post 38: Race to the Ship

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3:The Final Enemy

    DM's note: The players' continual delay at leaving the lair and the discovery of the Sea Ghost by the sahuagin patrol meant that the resultant play session would be a race back to the ship. If the sahuagin were able to overtake the jollies, they would first decimate the lizardfolk surrounding them (both outnumbering them and at five attacks to the lizardfolk's two) and then try to flip the jollies and put the remaining party into the water. On the other hand, should the party reach the Sea Ghost first, they would have the the high draft of the ship plus the railings as defenses, and I planned to give them a number of combat advantages over the attempted boarders. Thus, arrival time would be essential in how this would play out.

    I had already determined that the sahuagin would arrive at the Ghost at 8:20pm - I knew this even before the party had decided to leave the lair, but they did not know the time constraint. The party launched the jollies at 8:10pm. Before I went over their strength scores or who would be in which boat, I had decided that their time to the Sea Ghost would be ten minutes assuming a total strength score of 20 pulling at the oars and two people on board. I would then reduce time based on the strength of those pulling, and increase it based on the number on board]

    Post 38: Race to the Ship

    21 August, 570 - 8:10pm, Azure Sea

    Sigurd insists that both Tom and Willa go into the same jolly as he does, as the only way he has a chance of getting them both to safety and earning his letter of clemency. Their strengths are each (17). Also in their jolly are Aurora (13), Jeremiah (19), and Barnabus (15). [Total strength 98 for 5.5 people; will reach Sea Ghost in six minutes]

    In the other boat are Ebeneezer (16), Thokk (17), Tyrius (14), Shefak (7), and the Fisher brothers (14 / 14). [Total strength 82 for six people; will reach Sea Ghost in eight minutes]

    The initial swimmers are Mantabshapka, Oceanus, and the entire troop of the lizardfolk. Soon after they set out, Aurora asks Larry-fish via message if, assuming the sahuagin are looking for humanoids or a manta ray, he would be willing to swim a bit below the rest of the group to extend the range of their vision. She doubts that the devils would reveal themselves just to attack a little fish, but if he could give the group advance warning to avoid surprise it could be enormously important. She reminds him that there are 16 swimming people at the ready to grab him if he is hit and transformed into his lovable dwarf self. When she gets the mental answer back that he is ready, Shefak empties her waterskin over the side of the boat.

    The two jollies then have a ring of lizardfolk around them at the surface and Larry-fish and Mantabshapka underneath. Oceanus swims ahead to scout the water between them and the Sea Ghost. Soon after they launch, it becomes obvious that Tyrius’ boat is lagging behind Willa’s. Willa, facing backwards as she rows, yells to the other boat that they need to “Man up and keep up!”

    [DM's Note: At this point, the players asked me what they could do to row faster. I told them that they could attempt a DC10 Athletics check. If they made it, I would temporarily add to their strength for calculating the speed of their boat. If they failed, their effective strength would stay the same. A critical failure would mean they were no longer able to row. Before they made the check, Thokk enraged himself so that he would have advantage on the check.]

    Thokk, his masculinity challenged by Willa, grips his oar fiercely and bellows into the darkness. The others on his jolly try to match his furious pace.

    [DM's Note: Strengths for those on Tyrius’ boat: Ebeneezer (now 18), Thokk (now 19), Tyrius (fail - still 14), Shefak (fail - still 7), Nathaniel (now 17), Daniel (now 17). Total strength 92 for six people; will reach Sea Ghost in six and a half minutes.]

    Thokk and the marines dig deep and start pulling in faster, harder strokes. Shefak and Tyrius, fortunately matched across from one another, can’t keep up. Shefak concentrates on not interfering with the other oars while Tyrius pulls hard but also steers, keeping sight of Willa’s jolly. They slowly fall behind, but it is almost imperceptible and Tyrius judges that they will arrive at the Sea Ghost within a minute of each other.

    Willa restricts herself to checking over her shoulder every thirty strokes to get a bearing on the Sea Ghost, or at least the single lantern light she hopes is the Ghost and not a decoy. After she checks their orientation, she calls for a few port- or starboard-side-only strokes to adjust. Tom, Sigurd, and even Jeremiah follow her commands automatically; Barnabus picks it up quickly. Aurora...just keeps rowing, to the same time and pace she has since they left the shore, whether it is her side called on to row or not. Willa generously assumes that she is communicating with the scouts underwater and not actively listening.

    8:13pm. The jollies are about three minutes out and halfway to what they take to be the Sea Ghost when Oceanus emerges from the water, doing a quick breech and dive near Aurora in a bid to get her attention. When she contacts his mind he reports that he has spotted at least five sahuagin on the seafloor, perhaps a hundred feet down, almost directly under the Ghost. They appear to be attempting to hide among the rocks and weed beds, so there may be more. He also says that he has not seen on-deck, but he takes the ship to be the Ghost as it is the correct size and shape. It is currently at anchor. [Note: these sahuagin are left over from the patrol that discovered the ship, but did not return to the lair]

    When Aurora reports this to Willa, she tells the half-elf to have the lizardfolk on the surface go a bit deeper - to form a shield under the jollies, but not be provocative or engage. Sahuagin hiding on the bottom are welcome to stay on the bottom - her immediate goal is to get anyone who can’t swim onto the deck of the Ghost. As she continues to row, Willa looks over her crew - they are all reasonable swimmers, Aurora perhaps the worst, but at least she has no armor. “When we board...huhn...I want ye up ther ladder first...huhn…” Willa says to Aurora, as she pulls on the oar. “T'en Tom...huhn...get out your bow...huhn...and cover ther boats…” Willa looks instinctively at the other jolly, but can’t make out forms in the darkness. She tells Aurora to tell Tyrius that she wants him and his armor out of the jolly first, and then Ebeneezer.

    The boats continue to glide through the darkness, growing closer to the Ghost but widening the gap between them, now at more than 50 feet. When Willa sees over her shoulder that her jolly is within hailing distance, she tells Aurora (next to her on the bench) to lay off her oar. Willa stands, and turns facing forward. “Jollies comin' aboard!” she yells through cupped hands. “Weigh anchor! Lower ther mainsail! Prepare t' be off!”

    Willa guides the four rowers of her jolly on their last strokes to bring the boat parallel to the ship on its starboard, then has those on the ship’s side stow their oars. Freed from her rowing duties, Aurora summons Buckbeak, her spirit hawk, to cruise the deck. The bird’s night vision is poor, but it can tell the difference between a human and a sahuagin at closes range and all it sees on deck are normal sailors.

    8:17pm. Boarding starts for the first jolly as the second one is just coming into range. Aurora, Tom, Jeremiah, Sigurd, and finally Willa climb up the rope ladder. Barnabus actually climbs up the ladder while Jeremiah is on it - up and over the man, who does not seem to notice.

    8:18pm. Situation: All of the party from the first jolly are boarded, and the second jolly is against the port side of the Ghost with a rope ladder lowered and Tyrius ready to board. Larry-fish, Mantabshapka, Oceanus, and the lizardfolk are all in the water, around and under the ship. On the Ghost, sailors 1 and 2 are at the capstan, raising the anchor (which will take 2-3 minutes). Sailors 3 and 4 are lowering the mainsail. Sailors 5 and 6 are preparing a block-and-tackle to lift the first jolly on-deck. Sailor 7 is steadying the rope ladder into the second jolly. Sailor 8 is on the fo'castle and has a lantern, and is currently directing it over the main deck so that the other sailors have light to work. Sailor 9 (Old Lefty) is alone on the poopdeck manning the tiller. Tom has his crossbow out and is covering the side of the incoming jolly. Barnabus is skulking the deck, ready to hide. Jeremiah has his sword out and is guarding the two sailors raising the empty jolly. Aurora is standing in the center of the main deck, communicating mentally with the troops underwater. Sigurd and Willa are standing next to her, with Sigurd suggesting orders for the sailors, as he knows the ship better, and Willa calling them out, as she is in command.

    Action: Boarding starts for the second jolly. Tyrius climbs up the rope ladder. Once Tyrius is up, Willa calls to him to throw down a rope for others to board. There are plenty of coiled ropes on deck. Tyrius throws down one which is caught by Thokk. Ebeneezer is exhausted from the hard rowing and has several slips and mis-steps, taking half a minute to climb the ladder. Thokk easily scales the rope and drops onto the main deck as Ebeneezer struggles with the ladder. Shefak moves to the very tip of prow of the jolly, signalling to the Fisher brothers to balance her by moving to the stern. As Ebeneezer struggles up the ladder, Shefak and the Fishers take turns rocking the boat fore and aft in a see-saw fashion. As both Fishers come down on the last rock, Shefak leaps straight up, catapults over the ship’s rail, somersaults in the air, and lands lightly on the main deck. The Fisher brothers climb the rope ladder after Ebeneezer, arriving just at the end of the minute. Willa calls to Jeremiah to get the rope ladder out of the way of the jollyboat being lifted, so that others can use it. Surprisingly, he understands and works to haul in the ladder without interfering with the sailors.

    8:19pm. “Marines!” shouts Willa. I want ye fore, aft, port and starboard! Let’s bring those flickers on deck!”

    Jeremiah, already handling the rope ladder on the starboard side, moves several feet away from the sailors hauling up the jolly and settles the ladder into place, hovering protectively over it. Ebeneezer steadies himself on the port side rail. Daniel and Nathaniel clap each other on the shoulder - one moves back to the poop deck and stands next to Old Lefty on the tiller, and then is joined by Tom, still using his crossbow to cover the deck. The other moves to the fo’castle and guards the sailors raising the anchor.

    Thokk turns back to the port railing he just climbed over and stabs his four javelins into the deck at easy reach. He then loops a free rope around his arm and lowers the end down to the waterline, prepared to yank up members of his army.

    Tyrius moves to the base of the main mast and calls for the light of Pelor. The main deck is awash in a golden glow.

    Aurora contacts the swimmers each in turn - Larry-fish, Mantabshapka, Oceanus, and the two lizardfolk officers, and tells them to board. She then pulls a scroll out of a scroll tube and moves to the aft hatches, just behind the mainsail.

    The two sailors (1/2) at the capstan continue to bring in the anchor, although it is by now well off the bottom and the Ghost is starting to drift landward. The two sailors (3/4) who were lowering the mainsail have it lowered, but they are standing by to trim it under Lefty’s orders. The two sailors (5/6) who were raising the first jolly have maneuvered it on to the deck by the end of the minute. One sailor (7) continues to steady the rope ladder on the port side, preparing for lizardfolk. The sailor (8) that had been holding a lantern moves to the port railing, sets the lantern down on the deck, and tosses a rope down into the water.

    By 8:20pm (arrival of the sahuagin) there are 9 lizardfolk on deck, one on the starboard ladder, and four still in the water. Larry-fish, Mantabshapka, and Oceanus are still in the water.

    What follows is a furious, pitched battle.

    [DM's Ruling: races that have claws (lizardfolk, sahaugin, thieves with tools) must make a DC 12 strength check (proficiency for athletics or acrobatics applies) to climb the side of the ship in one round. Those without claws need at least a rope to be allowed the check; a rope ladder gives advantage.]

    [DM's Ruling: If there is an opponent within range when someone climbs over the rail itself, the opponent may make one attack of opportunity. A successful hit requires the climber to make a concentration check or fall back into the water.]

    The sahuagin attempt to scale the sides of the Sea Ghost in groups of eight at a time, trying first the port side where the jollyboat is still in the water, then the aft, then the starboard side. With the large numbers of lizardmen on hand on deck and the advantage of height, the party is generally able to hold the sahuagin to the rails. Few devils actually make it onto deck until a chieftain and three warriors take the fo’castle. Once on deck they prove more dangerous, as they forgo attacking and simply knock people overboard (push attack).

    Dan Fisher is thrown into the sea, and immediately set upon by three devils still in the water - he is dead in seconds, torn to shreds.

    The chieftain knocks Sigurd into the water, but the old smuggler swims just ahead of the devils [Athletics check], and then hauls himself up a rope thrown him by a sailor [Athletics check]. Arriving back on deck, he cuts down the chieftain and his guard with two massive blows of his sword. “Not on me own ship, ye don’t!” he spits, then [Action Surge] leaps over the fo’castle rail and knocks one of the few remaining devils on board into the drink.

    A sailor is lost, and four lizardmen are struck down, before the devils are finally driven off. Besides the six dead on the party’s side, another nine are wounded. Larry’s moonbeam saves the party from a wave of devils, and Aurora uses the gust of wind scroll to fill the sails and pull away much faster than they would have been able to without it. Everyone did their part, with Shefak sometimes felling multiple devils at a time. Ebeneezer collapsed under an onslaught of devils, and was nearly dead before multiple sailors came to his aid.

    After the three sahuagin remaining in the jollyboat turn and dive into the water, the Sea Ghost slowly comes about until it is pointing east-by-southeast. With the foresail furled and the mainsail at full mast, she gradually gathers speed. Nathaniel Fisher moves away from his position guarding Old Lefty at the tiller, and simply stares over the aft rail, looking off into the sea where, somewhere in the darkness, is the savaged body of his brother.

    The crew goes about their business, there being much to do and much more to be attentive to in a night sail. The wind is not directly behind them, so they are constantly angling back and forth across its path. They mutter when they pass one another in their duties. About half of them seem to think that the party heroically arrived just in time to save them, the other half think the party let them be at anchor, like sitting ducks, a full hour after dark, guaranteeing an attack by the devils.

    Barnabus methodically strips the armbands and pouches of the fallen sahuagin before getting Jeremiah to pitch the corpses over the rail. The slain lizardfolk are arranged on deck and the officers say a few hissing, rasping words before they too are committed to the arms of the deep.

    Even when the sailors call that they are at full sail, Willa does not feel like they are going very fast, certainly not as fast as they came in. When she asks Sigurd, he confirms it. "Oh, 'ells no. We've a rum poor wind behind us, 'tis certain." When Willa asks if the devils could catch them at their current speed, he nods grimly. "Aye, I reckon' they could. 'Course, they'd need ta swim back t' thar stronghold, gather a larger force, an' then come after us. We'd be at least an 'our out afore that, but unless this wind picks up, they could catch us indeed. I suggest ye set watches, with casters restin' first. An', by yer leave m’lady, I won't be puttin' me manacles back on any time soon."

    Willa doesn’t answer, her face somewhere between a scowl and a grin. Truth to tell, she saw Sigurd pull himself back on deck after getting knocked into the water, and slay the sahuagin chieftain who knocked him in besides. She has no intention of fettering him for the time being. She turns to look over the crew and party. “I want all hands on deck fer ther first ‘our, as t’at is when we be most like t’ be hit ag’in,” she commands. “An’ if ye ‘ave any pull with ther gods, now would be a good time fer ‘ealin’ yerself or others.”

    8:30pm: Healing: Larry casts cure light wounds on Oceanus [7/22], healing him for 6. He then casts it again, healing him for 8 (Now 21/22). Tyrius uses 1 point of lay on hands on Oceanus to bring him to full, and then heals Ebeneezer for 1 point to return him to consciousness and allow him to later spend his hit dice on a short rest.

    Current status: (spent hit dice are from the rest in the sahuagin lair)
    Larry: 38/38 hp, 4 hit dice remaining, no level 1 spells, no level 2 spells remaining
    Aurora: 18/18 hp, 0 hit dice remaining, no level 1 spell, no level 2 spells remaining
    Thokk: 24/32 hp, 2 hit dice remaining, no rages left
    Barnabus: 19/19 hp, 3 hit dice remaining
    Babshapka: 28/28 hp, 2 hit dice remaining, 3 level 1 spells remaining
    Shefak: 21/27 hp, 4 hit dice remaining, 3 Ki points left
    Tyrius: 14/22 hp, 3 hit dice remaining, 2 level 1 spells left, 7 lay on hands points remaining
    Oceanus: 22/22 hp, 0 hit dice remaining
    Sigurd: 29/41 hp, 5 hit dice remaining
    Lizardfolk 6/22 hp, 3 hit dice remaining
    Lizardfolk 9/22 hp, 3 hit dice remaining
    Lizardfolk Officer 2/22 hp, 3 hit dice remaining
    Ebenezer 1/13 hp, 2 hit dice remaining]

    With Oceanus healed, Larry examines him critically for any open wounds that might trail blood in the water and allow the ship to be traced. With none found, Oceanus dives overboard, hopefully to provide warning should another cloud of devils approach below the surface. Two ropes, one port and one starboard, are set to trail in the water should he need to catch hold, and sailors are set to each to pull them out if need be. Aurora takes position on deck, sitting with her back against the sterncastle and continually checking the minds of Oceanus and the party with her message. She would like to check in with the sailors as well, but she knows that they are already deeply suspicious of her and her comrades and would not take well to her being "inside their heads".

    As suspected, Oceanus is easily able to keep up with the ship at their current speed. He could perhaps not swim thusly all day and night without resting, but for a few hours at least he does not have to overexert himself to keep pace.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 13, 2018 3:25 pm  
    Post 39 - A Clean Getaway

    Note: No obvious spoilers follow, but there are some contingent results of all three modules in the U series.

    DM's Note: Looking at the list of scouting goals met (cf. post 37), the party had completed most of each of the first three goals, but not all of any one of them. They were unlikely to complete any one of them without completing all of them, either.

    However, there was considerable debate within the party over whether the risk of returning to the sahuagin lair was worth the reward. A number of the players felt that they should just abandon the adventure at this point and refuse to help Lord Nehemeyer further. With six of them not yet level four, they had a strong incentive to just walk away and try their luck elsewhere. I thus decided to allow four more of them to level. This both encouraged them that with more power they would be able to face a now-warned lair, and served as a guilt-inducing incentive to complete the goals for the leveling of the final two members of their party, who would otherwise be "left behind".

    Thus, I allowed Barnabus and Babshapka to level after a short rest, Thokk after a long rest, and Tyrius after he had been shriven and blessed by a priest of Sol. I didn't tell the party about my plans for when they would level beforehand, I just let them know that they would in response to unspecified future events as each event happened. As I had predicted, the tenor of the continuing discussion on whether or not they should return to the lair changed after each character leveled.

    Post 39: A Clean Getaway

    21 August, 570 - 9:30pm - Azure Sea
    After an hour of sailing without incident, everyone except the sailors has had a short rest.

    [Babshapka and Barnabus have leveled. Attributes which have been added since third level are in bold.

    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Fourth level ranger (Hunter Archetype: Giant Killer)/ Wood elf (Folk Hero)
    Str 12 (+1) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Hp. 34
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands)
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding
    Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, shortsword, longbow
    Spells: Alarm, Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark

    Barnabus the Minstrel
    Fourth Level Rogue (Assassin Archetype / Halfling (Entertainer)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 15 (+2) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
    Hp. 29
    Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled)
    Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
    Leather Armor+1, glamoured, Ring of Protection+1, Ring of Free Action, Staff of Shock, shortswords, shortbow

    Thokk and Sigurd spend 1 hit die each and are now at 32/32 and 41/41 respectively. Shefak, Tyrius, and Ebeneezer spend two dice each and are now at 27/27, 22/22, and 5/13 respectively. The three wounded Lizardfolk spend three dice each and are now at full except for the officer who is at 21/27. Tyrius lays on hands for six to the Lizardfolk officer to take him to full (one lay on hands left), then uses a cure wounds on Ebeneezer to get him to full as well.]

    With no one remaining wounded and now a full hour away from the sahuagin lair, Willa dismisses most of the party belowdecks and tells them to get some rest, especially the casters. She keeps herself, Sigurd, and Old Lefty on deck for the first four-hour watch.

    [First watch (Willa in command): 9:30pm-1:30am]
    Oceanus and two lizardfolk “swimmers” take turns in the water scouting ahead and behind, relieving one another and resting on deck. At least one is always in the water, but no one is ever so long at one stretch that they get tired or lag behind.

    Aurora, before turning in, asks Barnabus, Sigurd, and some lizardfolk to help her in the hold. Using empty cargo nets and the abundant spare rope, they funnel off the narrow ladders leading down into the hold from the main deck, both fore and aft. Now anyone coming down from above cannot leap off the sides of the stairs (as they themselves did when they took the Ghost from the smugglers), but must proceed one-at-a-time to the bottom. When it is finished, she shows the results to Willa, explaining that they should try to fight the sahuagin on the rails of the ship, but if there is not time to call everyone on deck, or if they are overcome, they should retreat and defend the hold rather than being knocked into the sea.

    Willa looks closely at Aurora and sees a landlubber. "So ye want t’ abandon ther ship t’ ther sea devils an' be trapped in ther hold? An' if t’ey can sail a ship, an' take us back t' thar lair, wha’ t’en? An' if t’ey can't sail an' we run aground? Do ye 'ave a magic way out o’ ther hold if ther sea devils don't follow ye in?"

    Aurora reddens, turns, and strides off to her cabin.

    Sigurd chuckles. “Aww, don’ be too ‘ard on ‘er, lass. She’s jess tryin’ t’ ‘elp. Nae much chance o’ bein’ trapped in ther ‘old - thar be four easy ways out and portholes besides. I prefer makin’ me stand on ther deck, too - but it might nae be a bad idea ta send at least the sailors below if we get attacked ag’in. Now, as far as yon wizard...if ‘twar me, I’d be sendin’ 'er ta ther crow’s nest a’ ther first sign o’ devils - she can firebolt ther whole deck from oop thar an’ be reasonable safe asides…”

    Willa and Sigurd walk the decks of the ship through the night. Sometime after midnight, Sigurd takes a lantern from a sailor and casts the beam on the mainsail, then on some pennants flying on the mast, then back to the sail. “Come aboot, bless ye, come aboot now…” he mutters and stares. By the time Willa calls for the end of the first watch, he is looking in fine spirits. The mainsail is full and the Sea Ghost is heading due east with a fair wind behind her. Sigurd keeps a crew of four sailors on deck but tells the other three that they can go below to rest, even as he will be.

    22 August - The Azure Sea
    Willa calls for Tyrius and Babshapka to come up on deck, sends Oceanus below, and switches out the two swimming lizardfolk for a new one and an officer.

    [Note: Babshapka has tranced for four hours, has completed a long rest, and is at full HD, hp, and spells]

    [Second watch (Tyrius in command): 1:30am-5:30am]
    The sky is lightening and the wind has flagged again when Tyrius and Babshapka go to wake Tom, Thokk, and Aurora. When Tyrius enters the captain’s cabin he wakes not only Tom, but Willa and Sigurd as well. Sigurd, once awake, goes on deck, checks the wind, curses, and sends the sailors on duty to rouse the others as they will need to begin tacking again. Tom changes the lizardfolk on duty for two fresh ones.

    [Aurora has had a long rest, has her full HD, hp, and spells]

    [Third watch (Tom in command): 5:30am-9:30am]
    By midway through Tom’s watch, many of the party are up and about though not officially on duty - the smell of frying sausages in the galley has called them from their beds or hammocks. It is a fine, clear summer day, and the Ghost moves slowly closer to shore and then farther out again as it tacks its way eastward. At mid-morning, Tom finds Nathaniel Fisher in his cabin. The Saltmarsher is grim but responsive, and agrees to take command. He goes about ordering the crew on his watch. The lizardfolk are changed and their second officer has a turn; Barnabus is roused and Larry brought out from the galley.

    From 8am to 10am, Aurora is deciphering the spells in the waterproof spellbooks recovered from Elmo's party
    Book 1: Charm Person (first level, enchantment), Friends (cantrip, enchantment), Shield (first level, abjuration), Unseen Servant (first level, conjuration - ritual), Light (first level, evocation)
    Book 2: Arcane Lock (second level, abjuration)
    Book 3: Fireball (Third level, evocation), Water Breathing (third level, transmutation - ritual)

    [Larry has had a long rest, has his full HD, hp, and spells].

    [Fourth watch (Nathaniel Fisher in command): 9:30am-1:30pm]
    The wind picks shifts to the west again on Nathaniel’s watch, and soon the Sea Ghost is running at full mast rather than tacking. She makes good progress, and by early afternoon, as Nathaniel is preparing to hand off command, the mouth of the Dun River and the lizardfolks’ temporary home come in to view. The schedule Willa made for command before retiring calls for Jeremiah to take the helm, but Sigurd scoffs at ceding control of the Ghost to the simpleton, and comes back on deck himself. Soon after the changeover, however, the wind shifts to the south and Sigurd and the full crew have to work hard to keep the Ghost out to sea and not running aground.

    [From 10am to noon, Aurora is studying the Arcane Lock spell to understand it better in an attempt to determine whether it is worth copying into her own spell book.]

    Thokk rouses himself in the morning. He is filled with pride at the vast numbers of sahuagin slain, and rage over the loss of four of his trusted lizard army. He feels even more powerful and capable and argues (unsuccessfully) that they should turn around now and finish the devils off. Only Aurora and Willa together insisting that he should let Lord Nehemeyer pay tribute to his new prowess first convinces him to wait.

    [Thokk is now level 4. New abilities are indicated in bold:

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Fourth Level Barbarian (Totem Warrior - Wolf) / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 18 (+4) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 46
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Unarmored defense, Shield+2, ring of protection +1, battle axe, hand axes, javelins]

    [Fifth watch (Sigurd in command (nominally Jeremiah): 1:30pm-5:30pm]
    As the sun moves into the west, the offshore wind finally shifts and the Ghost again begins making progress. Sigurd estimates that they will make Saltmarsh by nightfall.

    [Sixth watch (Willa in command): 5:30pm - sundown in port]
    After dining in the galley, Willa joins Sigurd on deck. Many of the party are gathering as word goes 'round that they are nearing port. From about six pm on they see numerous other vessels ahead, spread out from one another, all small craft - cutters with step-down masts. Getting close to a few they find them each manned by two sailors wearing the uniform of the Keoish navy, with one always bearing a spyglass. A set of complicated banners flies from the masts, and the ships appear to be positioned in a rough half-circle a few miles out from Saltmarsh. In one of these cutters a sea elf is spotted. The first such vessel they pass hails them and has a brief conversation with Willa. As they pull away, the craft raises yet another banner, and like a ripple on a pond this banner is taken up in series by the vessels nearby.

    By six-thirty the Sea Ghost is less than two miles from Saltmarsh Harbor. A pod of merman ride their bow wave for some time before saluting and disappearing. The lizardmen doing subsurface scouting report that there is just as much activity under the waves as above, with small groups of mermen, sea elves, and fishmen moving about.

    The red-golden light of the setting sun illuminates the fields around Saltmarsh, which are now crowded with scores of tents. Babshapka claims he can see the reflection of the light on the window panes of the alchemist’s house on the hill outside of town. In the inner harbor there are docked three large war vessels, troop galleys by Willa’s estimation. Three more ships are at anchor in the outer harbor just outside the breakwalls, two bristling with ballistae and the last flying the personal colors of the Viscount of Salinmoor.

    The sun has just dipped below the horizon and there is perhaps half an hour of twilight by which to navigate safely as the Ghost approaches the warships guarding the entrance to the harbor and comes into ballista range. “Should we be droppin’ anchor out ‘ere or go in?” Willa asks Sigurd, “thar seems t’ be room at ther docks, yon galleys notwithstanding.”

    “I’ll take ther Ghost anywhere t’at gets ‘er closer t’ t’at letter yer holdin’ fer me, m’lady.”

    On Willa’s command, Old Lefty steers the Sea Ghost through the gap between the two warships and the sailors work the sails for maximum control at low speed. Lantern lights from both warships are run along the decks of the Ghost; ballistae are loaded, wound, and aimed, but they are allowed to pass into the inner harbor and dock.

    Troops move up and down the dock area. There is a surge of locals coming to see the Ghost, but the soldiers shout at and then disperse the crowd - a squad of men guards the end of their dock. A sergeant calls for Willa and explains that she, and only she, is to disembark - she has a private meeting with Lord Nehemeyer. Nathaniel Fisher catches Willa’s eye. He mumbles, “Beggin’ yer leave ta go ashore, sergeant Stoutley...I need...I need ta see me brodder’s widder.”

    Willa argues with the officer on the docks to allow Nathaniel ashore but in the end it is only she who leaves the Ghost.

    “Tell him, advisor!” shouts Thokk from the ship behind her. “Tell the perfumed lord how many devils Thokk and his army slew! Tell him how the decks ran with their blood! Tell him!” The soldiers on guard duty shift uncomfortably under his bellows.

    Willa is gone several hours - it is late at night and most everyone has turned in by the time she returns to the ship.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Fri Nov 16, 2018 5:31 am  

    This is awesome stuff, Kirt! I love the background detail you provide for your players. Keep these posts coming and I will keep reading. Smile

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    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Nov 16, 2018 9:55 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is awesome stuff, Kirt! I love the background detail you provide for your players. Keep these posts coming and I will keep reading.

    Thanks, and will do!
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Nov 23, 2018 9:06 pm  
    Post 40: Megotiations with Nehemeyer

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy

    Post 40: Negotiations with Nehemeyer

    23 August, 570 - Saltmarsh Harbor
    In the morning, the party wakes to what they think is the smell of cooking from the galley, but it is actually coming from the dock area. Laborers have two large iron cauldrons, fires going underneath, heating up thick, rendered fat. Willa calls for a party meeting.

    “Ther good news be: Lord Nehemeyer be pleased wit’ all ther information we collected. Ther bad news be: he be demandin’ we go back,” she begins, and then fills them in on her meeting the previous night.

    The salient points are that upon learning from Willa that two-thirds of the sahuagin fortress is submerged, the Lord realized that the large human host he has assembled in Saltmarsh will be practically useless in a direct assault, and a land blockade would accomplish nothing if the devils can re-supply or even re-garrison through the sea cave. The aquatic members of the alliance (sea elves, fish-men, mermen, and even lizardfolk) are capable of fighting underwater, but they simply do not have the numbers to take on the entire fortress of devils without sustaining massive losses. After speaking with a representative of the elves, Lord Nehemeyer has made the following plan: assuming the first level is still dry when his force arrives, he will capture it with his human infantry. Once held, he will bring in gnomish-made mining pumps. When these are in place, a combined force of fish-men, merfolk, and sea elves will rapidly assault the outside of the fortress. Striking quickly, the elven mages will seal off the access to the sea, making the complex water-tight. The human forces will then begin draining water, eventually being able to assault the second level and then the third as they are drained dry This will take quite some time, but Nehemeyer is practiced in siege warfare. It may be that the devils can be starved out before their lair is fully drained, but Babshapka’s scouting suggested that they have a high-level priestess. If she can create food they may be able to last a siege indefinitely, so ultimately the Lord is prepared to take the place by force.

    This plan requires additional intelligence, however. Nehemeyer needs information on how many sahuagin are in the sea cave, and how close are any barracks to the exits. It is essential for him to know how rapidly they can respond to the appearance of the elven host - if the devils can overwhelm the elven mages before they manage to seal off the sea entrances, the plan will not work. Likewise, the map the lizardfolk provided shows a second entrance to the lowest level. The lizardfolk called it “the backdoor,” and claimed that it went to the water’s edge, on the shore. Surely it is now sunk as well, which means that it would also need to be sealed off, but the party didn’t report any intelligence on its location or current use. Finally, while the party found one barracks on the second level, there is a likely second one if the complex is a “mirror image” as Willa has suggested. It is vital that Nehemeyer knows how rapidly the devils can respond to an assault on the first level. He is confident that if he has time to set up his men defensively in the unfinished hall, his troops can handle any devils as they emerge from the water, since the stairs will act as a choke point and restrict their numbers. But if the devils can leave from the barracks, set up first, and defend the first level at multiple points in the corridors, Nehemeyer might not be able to take the stair room and install the pumps.

    Thus, the entire alliance assault plan depends on three vital pieces of information - (1) the sea cave and any nearby barracks, (2) the “backdoor”, and (3) the putative “mirror barracks” on the second level. Once the party has reconnoitered these, Lord Nehemeyer will happily reward them for their valiant service, but until he has this information it would be pointless to launch the assault.

    Aurora is incensed, and demands that Willa arrange a meeting with Nehemeyer. The Saltmarsher woman leaves to request it. As the morning wears on, the laborers from the docks come aboard, and begin “painting” the sides of the Ghost with the hot, liquid fat, applied with tarring brushes from railing to waterline. Sigurd nods approvingly and guides their work.

    Nehemeyer arrives in the early afternoon and is escorted to the mate’s cabin, where he is met by Aurora and Willa. Tyrius is otherwise occupied - a priest of Sol has come aboard and is performing a dedication ceremony for the Paladin.

    “Look, Nehemeyer,” begins Aurora, after pleasantries.

    Milord Nehemeyer,” corrects Willa. Aurora continues unphased.

    “We got all the information you sent us for, and we nearly got killed. We lost six men. We want our reward and then we are done. We are not going back.”

    “Your efforts are most sincerely appreciated. But you did not, in fact, collect all of the information I sent you for. Rather, you discovered approximately three-quarters. As I am sure Sergeant Stoutly explained, the success of our assault requires just three more pieces of information. Only then will you have completed your agreed-upon service.”

    “You haven’t given us anything - and even the reward you promised, a mere thousand lions, is paltry. We need gold to identify things, and by the time that is paid, there will be little left to split between us.”

    “I am sorry the Viscount cannot offer more. In case it had escaped your notice, I have an army encamped outside Saltmarsh, as well as a flotilla of six vessels. That is not cheap in and of itself. And now I learn that I am in for a siege, and may have to maintain these troops in the field, away from any town that could supply them, for a month or more? I fully agree that your valor and service merits a higher reward, but I simply am not in any position to pay it.”

    “That’s your problem, not ours. There is no way we are going back without more compensation. Open your purse or we are done here. None of us but Willa are crown subjects, and you have no authority to compel our service. I am ready to leave today.”

    Lord Nehemeyer cooly regards the brash young woman for several moments in silence, then begins on a separate tack. “I understand that identifying magic is expensive, but that doing so will likely be useful in your continued mission. I have taken the liberty of procuring several pearls, as I thought they might be useful.” He produces a small velvet pouch and slides it across the table to Aurora. “I would be happy to advance them to you for now, counting them against your final reward when you receive it.”

    Aurora smiles thinly. “Keep talking.”

    “However, the fact that you already have in your possession magical items which you have not yet identified implies that they were looted from the fortress. One of the rewards of your contract was the right, duty free, to any items you recovered while in the process of gathering information. If you feel that your future reward is too small, you are free to go. But I will be retaining any and all items you have recovered so far in the name of the Viscount.” Aurora’s eyes narrow. “And I am sure that Sergeant Stoutly can give me an accurate accounting of all the items in question.” Willa nods curtly and Aurora reddens.

    “Even if we wanted to go back, how can we explore the underwater parts of the lair? We don’t breathe underwater. If you want information on the second level, you need to supply us with potions of water breathing.”

    “I have seen the maps you made - you have already begun to explore the underwater parts. You have a sea elf, you have lizardfolk - a dozen or more of your force can function underwater, if not breathe. However, I do have a few officers in my fleet equipped with potions of water breathing. I would be willing to loan them to you - the potions, not the officers - but I would expect that the value of any that were not returned would also be counted against your reward.”

    “I need to learn the spell gust of wind. It will be essential for a fast getaway.”

    “I will check among the few battlemages we have with our force whether any have that spell.”

    “We lost troops last time, and we had surprise. We will not catch them unaware this time. We need more men, and more firepower. Send one of your warships with us, and a complement of marines with missile weapons.”

    “Now, that is something I could do, but I do not find it advisable. As far as the fish-man scouts tell me, the devils are not yet aware of the force I am mustering. I do not want to tip my hand, and warn them into a more defensive position, or, worse yet, encourage them to summon aid from whatever deepwater realm they were sent from. No; they must be led to believe that when you return it is the same ship, with the same few adventurers on it, not the vanguard of an assault force. My own force will leave the day after yours, and trust that you will have the information we need when we arrive for the assault. I can replace your current sailors with a fresh crew - royal navy men trained to both sail and fight, and see that they have crossbows, but your scouting force itself must remain the same.”

    “We will need spears and crossbows for our own troops as well, the lizardfolk and Saltmarsh marines. What are left of them.”

    Nehemeyer nods impatiently.

    “And we need some sort of defensive barricades on the railings of the ship.”

    “Sergeant Stoutly spoke of that to me already. My men are greasing the sides of your ship even as we speak - the barricades will be delivered as soon as they are completed. If there is nothing more?” The lord rises from his seat.

    “I still didn’t agree that we will do it,” says Aurora petulantly to his back as the lord leaves. Willa rolls her eyes.

    Shortly after Nehemeyer has left the Ghost, Sigurd enters the cabin with a “Beggin’ yer pardons, miladies.”

    “Wha’ be ye wantin’, Sigurd?”

    “Now that it be day an’ all, I war wondrin’ iffen ye hae me letter?”

    Willa drops her gaze, looks at the cabin floor. “I asked ‘is lordship fer it. ‘e twarnt willin’ ta give it ta ye until after we come back from our next mission, as it twer.”

    Sigurd frowns, but controls his obvious anger. “Now, haint I done efferthing ye’s asked o’ me? Haint I been fair and square on me end o’ the deal?”

    “Ye 'ave, Sigurd,” says Willa. “But ‘e’s nae givin’ it back, yet, nonetherless.”

    “Well, then, why should I be goin’ back?” He stares hard at them both.

    “What do you mean?” asks Aurora.

    “The wind blows both ways, lassie. I hard ye talkin’ ta Nehemeyer in ‘ere. Ye said yerself ye twarnt goin’ back fer nothin’. Now by me reckonnin’, ye’s getting a reward o’ a thousand lions, an’ a hold full o’ magic, assides. More than one item fer each o’ye. What hae I got? Me own sard an’ me own chain shirt back an’ nothin’ more fer sheddin’ me blood against the devils two times?”

    “What do ye want?” says Willa calmly.

    “I want me ship back!” he roars suddenly.

    Willa nods. “Tha’ be fair - when our need o’ it be done, ‘tis yers.”

    “No way!” protests Aurora. “He’s welcome to leave! We don’t need him, and we’re not giving him the ship.”

    “We do need ‘im. Ye know ‘e’s the best sword we got - better’n me or Thokk.”

    “Tyrius will never agree to this, and neither will the others.”

    “‘Tis already done,” says Willa, and leaves, ignoring Aurora’s protests and Sigurd’s grin.

    Later, a red-robed mage appears at the docks. After insulting Aurora’s training, background, and abilities in the most polite and courtly language, he begins negotiating with her. The end result is the exchange of one page from Elmo’s spellbook containing Unseen Servant for one page from his own “traveling” spellbook containing Gust of Wind.

    Aurora uses one of the pearls from Nehemeyer to identify the lesser staff of shock recovered from the sahuagin priestess, and another to identify Elmo’s wand of polymorphing, and learn its command word, “metamorph”. “Oh, that’s metamorph,” she says wryly.

    Finally, the new crew arrives, nine sailors and two excise men (Bill and Bob) and with them two log barricades, of the hastily-built type used to protect field camps, with long, sharpened stakes fixed all around them. The barricades are arranged on the decks at midship. Aurora and Barnabus direct the crew in nailing chains to the railing. The sailors leave the ship under guard - just to keep the crowds away and ensure they don’t reveal any sensitive information until after the fleet sails on the morrow. Willa bids farewell to the old sailors, and especially Nathaniel.

    The Sea Ghost sails from Saltmarsh at about four in the afternoon. It is accompanied by a dozen fish-men cavalry (mounted on giant eels), who provide the underwater scouting.

    The sun is setting when they pass the mouth of the Dun River. Willa has the Ghost brought close to shore, and sends a lizardfolk officer to update the tribe. He returns with two volunteers to replace their losses, and the news that most of the warriors in the lair have already left, as they are moving overland to assume forward positions near the sahuagin base.

    Once he is shriven by the Priest of Sol, Tyrius gains a level. New features and abilities are in bold.

    Tyrius of Sterich
    Fourth level paladin of Pelor (Sacred Oath of Devotion)/ Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Chain armor, shield +1, war hammer
    Spells: Cure Wounds, Heroism, Protection from Evil (oath), Sanctuary (oath), Divine Favor
    Scroll of Protection from Undead, Scroll of Hold Person
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:16 am  
    Post 41: The Final, Final Enemy

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy.

    In Post 38, I recounted my house rules for ship boarding by the sahuagin. Since then, the party's efforts to grease the sides of the ship meant that the devils would climb the sides at disadvantage, and, once on deck, the addition of the barricade would require an additional Athletics (or Acrobatics) check to pass, with failure indicating the devils were stuck behind it for the round.

    Cover became very important, with the crew of the Ghost using the railings as half cover (or three quarters, when crouching), and the wounded below using the port holes as three-quarters cover.

    I liked the party's thought of nailing a heavy iron chain to the railing and using it to transmit the staff of shock, so I allowed a luck role to see how many devils could be targeted at once when passing over it.

    I didn't think the Baron or the High Priestess would emerge for what seemed like an assault by one ship. It turned out that a sortie of fifty devils with javelin volleys, supported by a few lesser priestesses and decoys, was just the right amount of force. The party was seriously challenged, almost all of them (PC and NPC) were wounded, and they were concerned enough about the arrival of another sortie to flee rather than face it, but only after their scouts had reported in, which added to the tension. This was a long combat to run, but very exciting all around.

    Post 41: The Final, Final Enemy

    24 August, 570 - Azure Sea, near the mouth of the Javan River

    In the morning the Ghost is close to rounding the point that will bring them within view of the lair. The wind is from the west, and Sigurd doubts it will be changing all day. Willa has them continue to the southwest, moving offshore rather than following the curve of the coastline, for several miles out into the open sea. At this point their cavalry escort drops away, leaving to scout for the arrival of Nehemeyer’s fleet on the morrow. The Sea Ghost sails past the lair from afar, finally coming about and moving north when up against the swampy delta of the mouth of the Javan. As it approaches noon they are west of the lair, near the coast, and moving east with full sails and a strong wind behind them. While they may be spotted, they are moving fast enough that any scouts will be hard-pressed to report them before their arrival.

    Once the twin promontories are seen it is all hands on deck. The plan is to sail directly for the western-most point of the lair, and just before turning to the south-east dispatching three scouts: Oceanus (headed for the back door), Mantabshapka (going for the land entrance and thence to the second level), and Larry-fish (whose goal is the sea-cave). Once the Ghost is near the sea cave entrance, half the lizardfolk will mount a sortie to attract attention, which will ideally pull troops out of the lair and act as a diversion so that the arrival of the scouts will not be noticed. Once the devils are in pursuit, the lizardfolk will return to the ship, which will tack as close to south as the wind allows, pulling any devils away from the lair before making a grand turn in the open ocean and approaching for a second pass from the west. By the time the ship passes the lair again, the scouts will, if all goes well, be ready to board.

    All three scouts are dispatched into the water, with Babshapka having been rendered invisible by Aurora. He and Oceanus travel together to the foot of the causeway, but Oceanus is spotted by a handful of sahuagin. The devils appear to have missed Mantabshapka, so Oceanus turns and attempts to lead them back to the ship. Meanwhile Larry-fish is not halfway to the mouth of the sea entrance when he spots a force of fifty sahuagin or more coming straight at him. He retreats to the ship and is able to raise Aurora by mental contact, alerting them to the coming wave. Then he descends to deeper waters, as does Oceanus - neither of them appear to have been followed.

    The first sign of the sahuagin force is a group of about ten, off the port side, keeping pace with the ship (which has its sails at half-mast now), with just their heads out of the water. They are well off from the ship, just at the edge of crossbow range, and appear to be only watching. Suddenly, a group of fifteen devils break the surface just off the port side. They explode from the water in synchrony, coming completely out as they turn, face the ship, and hurl spears over the rails before arching their backs and entering the water head first. “Take cover!” shouts Willa and the lizardfolk and sailors crouch behind the railings. Only Thokk remains standing, shaking his fist at the rippled wakes of the devils.

    Perhaps half a minute later, they emerge again (the same group, or another?), this time off the starboard bow, and throw their spears at the relatively few figures there. A sailor goes down and is hustled to the main deck for Tyrius to help. The sudden volleys continue sporadically, and then ten sahuagin appear at the waterline on the starboard side. A few are climbing to the rail, but it appears most are unable to ascend the still-greasy sides. The sailors shoot crossbows and the lizardfolk rain down javelins. In the end, only three of the ten devils make it onto the deck, and two of these are (literally) shocked when Barnabus applies the staff to the railing chain as they clamber over. Aurora is in the crow’s nest, hurling firebolts and attempting to polymorph the devils into snails with Elmo’s wand. Suddenly the port railing of the crow’s nest explodes in a shower of splinters. Several of the distant figures, visible only as heads, are hurling their spells at her - seemingly the same black explosive bolts that the priestess shot at Barnabus previously. Aurora crouches, but the next volley includes one bolt that hits her squarely and knocks her unconscious. Shefak, invisible from her ring, climbs the rope ladder to the crow’s nest, hoists Aurora across her back, and slides down to the main deck before another volley can be sent. Tyrius revives the wizard with a cure spell. When the last starboard boarder is killed the bobbing heads that are watching them from the water submerge, and the Ghost sails on for several minutes without seeing any devils. They are about halfway to the entrance of the sea cave. Two sailors, wounded but conscious, go below and open port-holes so as to continue firing crossbows from relative safety, one each port and starboard.

    The next wave begins with a full thirty sahuagin emerging alongside the Ghost on the port side and throwing spears. Although the spears are ineffectual against the crew and party crouching behind the railings on deck, it does allow nine sahuagin to begin to climb the port side. They seem to have an easier time of it, and Tyrius detects an aura about them, as if they have been blessed. Half the thirty sahuagin launch another volley, while the other half swims under the Ghost and begins to scale the starboard side. Shefak stands boldly on the port side, attracting spears which she deflects with rapid blocks and kicks. At this point three sahuagin priestesses emerge, casting spiritual weapon to create three glowing, floating tridents on deck to attack the defenders. Each priestess is flanked by two “decoy” sahuagin, imitating the motions of their casting so that the defenders cannot target the spellcasters. The fighting is furious for several moments - a lizardfolk is lost, and many more are wounded. Wounded sailors and marines go below and use the cover of portholes to shoot until the sahuagin begin entering the hold through the openings. Then Thokk takes some of his lizardmen into the hold. Shefak continues to clear the decks of sahuagin until a misplaced flip lands her on the barricade, and a devil follows up by knocking her out. Barnabus, hidden behind the railing, continues to slay unsuspecting devils from behind. Aurora and the sahuagin priestesses trade spells through the portholes. The last knot of sahuagin boarders is overcome by Tyrius, Thokk, Sigurd, and Willa working together, and the remaining devils sink beneath the waves. At this point the ship is turned due south, sailing directly away from the lair.

    After five minutes and near a half-mile, the Ghost turns to the southwest, sailing as close into the west wind as it can. They are sailing thus, unopposed, when a quipper-like fish leaps into one of the side-borne jollies and transforms into Larry. Hauled aboard, he gives his report on the sea cave, three nearby barracks, and the underwater arena. He also tells the party that the devils are mustering an even larger force for a third attack wave, giving them all serious pause for thought.

    After a few minutes the Ghost is turned northwest, again as close to the wind as it can sail, for nearly twenty minutes. Along this trajectory Oceanus arrives. He explains that the “back door” entrance took him some time to find, as it is hidden among piles of rocks on the seafloor. Inside is an unfinished guardroom, in what looks like the original lizardfolk lair. Beyond that a narrow, twisting tunnel dead-ended; sealed off by a large block of finished stone. Oceanus could feel current and smell the water beyond, so it was not watertight. Nowhere along its length did he find any guards, meaning an elven assault force should be able to easily take this portion.

    When the Ghost is due west of the fortress, Sigurd orders her brought about and all sails raised. He is not keen on making another pass by the fortress, but Babshapka has not returned. The wounded are sent below, with crossbows in the open portholes, and just those sailors needed remain on deck. The crew and party braces for another assault. They are half a mile from the sea cave when Babshapka finally appears, and Willa immediately orders them to turn south and away from the lair. Babshapka has been wounded, and recounts his narrow escape from the lair, and the location of another barracks on the second level. With all Nehemeyer’s mission completed, the party with great relief sails further and further out to sea, several miles out, before they finally turn east.

    All throughout the afternoon the Sea Ghost gradually returns closer to shore as it works its way east. When the sun is low in the sky, a fleet of six ships is spotted, obviously that of Lord Nehemeyer. Willa brings the Ghost closer for a rendezvous. In a brief meeting aboard the flagship, she reports to him, and this time he is satisfied. He quickly pens letters to the Viscount and the Saltmarsh Town Council, confirming that Willa and her party has faithfully and honorably fulfilled their mission and may receive their reward - including the pardon for Sigurd. He also tells her that the Viscount would like to entertain them at his palace in Seaton until the victory celebration - in fact, the Viscount “insists”. His tone indicates that this is both a reward and “insurance” that the scouting information they have given him is accurate and will lead to the successful conclusion of the campaign.

    While Willa is meeting with Nehemeyer, the sailors are busy abovedecks. The extra spears and javelins are collected, the borrowed potions of water breathing returned, and the unwounded sailors are transferred over to Nehemeyer’s fleet - the Vice Admiral seems to think they will need every last man. The Sea Ghost is allowed to retain her wounded sailors to make it as far as Saltmarsh, and the Saltmarsh marines stay aboard as well, in recognition of their service - all of the other militia and excise men from the town have been levied and are already onboard the fleet. Willa learns later that even Nathaniel Fisher was impressed into service, over Secun’s strong objections, but that he was able to find her brother Tom a place in a fleet message-cutter sailing for Seaton, an assignment which should keep him out of at least the first week of fighting. The fleet is being continually circled by fish-men on giant eels, and the water is calm, so while Willa is reporting the lizardmen feel confident swimming across the open water to greet their nestmates on the other ships. They report that most of the lizardfolk force left several days ago - they are traveling as a grand host overland to the sahuagin fortress, with just a few troops being assigned on each of Nehemeyer’s ships. The warren has been left with virtually no warriors, so when the lizardfolk get back to the Ghost they are anxious to return to their temporary home and protect the young and females who remain.

    When Willa is back on board the Sea Ghost, the crew and party bid good luck and farewell to the fleet with fanfare and salutes. Thokk is sulking in his cabin - frustrated that he did not get to face the Baron and that he will soon be losing his army.

    With just a few sailors aboard, all tired and wounded, and the fleet between them and the sahuagin, Sigurd has the Ghost pull in to shore and anchor for the night, while Willa sets a night watch rotation, heavily favoring the lizardfolk.

    Final Goal Log:
    The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses GOAL COMPLETE
    The party has killed 48 troops (no band, bronze buckles) and five lieutenants (gold band, electrum buckles), giving a troop-to-officer ratio of about 10:1.

    They have killed 3 elite guards (electrum bands, bronze buckles) and two normal females (no bands but non-standard jewelry, bronze buckles).

    They have also killed two chieftains (gold band with coral beads, gold buckles) and a priestess (gold band, no buckles).

    The fortress is commanded by “The Baron”, a huge four-armed sahuagin. To his right was a female they took to be a high-level priestess and to his left a powerful warrior.

    On the upper level there was an armory with weapons for many warriors.

    They have seen a barracks of one or two dozen sahuagin, have seen thirty leave on a night patrol, and have faced off against a sortie of fifty.

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances) GOAL COMPLETE
    For the land entrance, see goal 3 below.
    On the upper level there are numerous decorated chambers, for officers or dignitaries.
    On the upper level there is an armory with weapons for many warriors.
    On the second level there is a barracks room (27) and three officer’s quarters (21, 22, 23)
    The sea entrance opens into a huge sea cave (60) with dense seaweed beds

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc. GOAL COMPLETE
    The land entrance has bolted stone doors that would require a battering ram to open (but these have been dismantled). Inside there is a bronze portcullis with a winch and a suspended net protecting access to the upper level. The portcullis can be guarded by missile troops. Both the net and the portcullis have been sabotaged.

    The sea entrance is guarded by a huge bronze portcullis, with a winch inside and a hidden winch outside.

    Patrol groups leave the sea cave at nightfall.

    On the second level there is a barracks room (27) and three officer’s quarters (21, 22, 23)

    (4) How advanced are their preparations - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking? GOAL COMPLETE
    The lower two levels have been completely flooded. The upper level is nearly “finished” and will likely be complete within a week. If it is flooded then, the sahuagin will have a completely underwater base, which will be nearly impossible for humans to assault. It is likely that they will begin raids and declare their presence at this time.

    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Dec 10, 2018 4:17 pm  
    Post 42: A Few DM Notes

    Post 42: A Few DM Notes

    Both during the initial race to the Ghost, and the subsequent diversion with the Ghost while three scouts infiltrated the lair, I realized that I needed to come up with some guidelines for seafaring movement, acceleration, and directional change. In particular, it was relevant how quickly the ship could go from "zero to full speed", both while under full sail with a good wind, and under the less optimal conditions of tacking.

    Individual characters and monsters might come to approximately full speed within their six second turn, but it would break the suspension of disbelief to have a huge ship do so.

    The website proved to be a great resource in this regard.

    I began with the base assumption that the top speed of the Ghost was 7mph under full sail with a good wind directly behind her, and converted this to 10.3 feet per second, or c. 60 feet in a combat round to scale with the sahuagin pursuers.

    Using the website above, I figured the acceleration of the Ghost to be:
    ⅓ speed in 250 sec, ½ speed in 500 sec, full speed in 5000 seconds

    Under poor wind conditions (such as when tacking or during the first escape of the Ghost), I took the speed to be 4 mph = 5.9 ft/sec = c. 35 feet in a round
    Half speed: 18 feet per round
    Third speed: 12 feet per round

    Note that sahuagin can swim at 40 feet per round, without taking a dash - so with poor or indirect wind conditions, the Ghost would not be able to outrun pursuers. Furthermore, the sahaugin would be able to make a full move as well as launch a missile attack while staying even with the ship, which they did during the "diversion".

    While the ship was at full speed with a good wind, however, sahuagin would be able to keep pace while pursuing it, but only by continually taking the Dash action, which would not allow them to attack.

    A second area for which I had to create some guidelines was for Nehemeyer's plan to drain the lair of water.

    The map of the second level is 31 x 41 blocks, each of 10 feet, or 127,100 square feet.
    About half of this is solid rock, the other half open water: 63550 square feet
    Most of it is about 15-20 feet high, so around 1,112,125 cubic feet = 8,319,273 gallons

    I don't want my campaign to have working, advanced steam engines, but I was willing to consider special "gnome-made" devices to pump water from mines, the equivalent of a Newcomen Engine.

    However, the 8.3 million gallons of water would take a typical Newcomen engine some 33 days to pump out, which was longer than I wanted the party to wait in Seaton for the siege to be resolved.

    Before the Newcomen engine, teams of horses were used to work mechanical pumps, with four teams of horses equivalent to one engine. I calculated that if Nehemeyer could use ten teams of horses, he could drain the entire second level in 12 days or so, which worked for my planned timeline.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Dec 19, 2018 7:27 pm  
    Post 43: Sitting in Seaton

    Note: With the successful completion of all their adventuring goals (cf. Post 41, above), the last two members of the party attained fourth level. New abilities in bold.

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Fourth level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 10 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 18 (+4) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 28
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
    Staff, ring of protection+1 x2, wand of magic detection, wand of polymorph

    Sergeant Willhemina Stoutly (Willa)
    Fourth Level Fighter (Martial Archetype: Champion) / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 18 (+4), Dex 17 (+3), Con 14 (+2), Int 10 (0), Wis 9 (-1), Chr 9 (-1)
    Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting
    Plate armor +2, greatsword, dagger - magic longsword returned to Sigurd
    Potions of neutralize poison, healing x2, cure disease

    Post 43: Sitting in Seaton

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the slaves all dropped their chisels,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    25 August 570, Azure Sea
    In the morning, Willa and Aurora feel exceptionally refreshed and powerful. The lizardfolk lair is reached by late afternoon. The farewell is short - the lizardfolk invite the party to the lair for a feast, but Sigurd wants to make Saltmarsh by nightfall, and most of the party agree.

    The Sea Ghost arrives in Saltmarsh harbor just before nightfall. The docks appear almost deserted, as many of the able-bodied men have been levied and have sailed with the assault fleet. The remaining citizens appear anxious and fearful, and the few wounded sailors and relieved marines returning on the Ghost are greeted warmly, although they soon are given town watch assignments.

    26 August, Saltmarsh
    In the morning Sigurd triumphantly presents his letter of clemency to the Saltmarsh Town Council, who formally release him of all charges. He spends the rest of the day scouring the fishing docks and taverns for seamen. By nightfall he has assembled a motley crew of those too young, too old, or too lame to have been levied. “I’d nae take ta the open sea w’ ‘em,” he tells the party, “but they’ll do ta limp along the coast ta Seaton, an’ then Gradsul. Gradsul’s a big enow port I can be findin’ a real crew.” He offers the party passage to Seaton and they accept, although many grumble about the loss of the Ghost.

    Aurora appears before the Council and collects the party’s reward (less what Nehemeyer advanced in pearls, which they were apparently explicitly informed of), then apportions it out to the party (including Willa, but not Oceanus). Willa is ready to say her farewells to the party and await the return of Tom in Saltmarsh, but Secun explains to her that the Viscount’s “invitation” to his court included her as well.

    Oceanus wishes the party well - he intends to return to his home, and then perhaps rejoin the fight, if it is still going on.

    27 August, Saltmarsh to Seaton
    It is a short journey to Seaton, where Sigurd hustles them off the Ghost and sails again within the hour. True to his word, the Viscount has them quartered in his palace (though in a far wing, removed from the main court). Without the Ghost to trade in, they have no armor commissioned, but their own armor is taken for much-needed repair and maintenance by the palace smiths, free of charge. They are all also measured and fitted for clothes, as none of them own clothes that would be presentable at the Viscount’s table (Tyrius’ clothes once were, but are now travel-worn and adventure-stained).

    28 - 30 August, Seaton
    The next several days sees the party largely resting and relaxing. Some of them eagerly follow the dispatches arriving from the battle, which has turned into a siege.

    Willa spends her first day free trying to locate Tom, only to find, eventually, that his message-cutter has already sailed back to the main fleet. Whether he will be kept on fleet dispatch duty or might have to join in the fighting is not clear. After this she tries to remain in their rooms in the palace, but feels anxious and stifled by the atmosphere and servants. She soon decides to practice with the palace guard when they do their weapons drills. When she is not at weapons practice, she spends the rest of the time along Seaton’s docks and wharves, talking with sailors and stevedores and trying to find out anything she can about the ongoing battle.

    Babshapka and Larry spend as little time in the palace as possible. Larry feels uncomfortable in Seaton itself, the largest city he has ever seen, and more so in the palace, where servants click their tongues at him, and follow after him cleaning whatever he touches. Fortunately the palace has a large garden and he spends his time there, even when it is raining. Babshapka is not bothered by the servants, for he is clean and well-mannered, but nevertheless he seems to chafe at the sheer number of people about. After their first miserable full day in the palace, the two discover a group of men leaving the city to hunt in the Viscount’s Forest for game for the palace tables, and convince them to take the pair along. Once they reach the woods outside of the town they take their leave of the group, which warns them that even their status as heroes will not allow them to poach game. They spend the next two days camping and roving, and finally return in the evening of the last day on a wood-cutter’s cart.

    Shefak knows Seaton better than any of them, for she spent a month here before meeting the party. She has little interest in exploring the town. Mostly she passes her time in the palace meditating and practicing her armed and unarmed combat techniques, though she prefers to do this alone rather than with the palace guard. Occasionally she wears the “cursed” ring recovered from among Elmo’s effects and can be heard giving orders to imaginary servants in her native Baklunish.

    Barnabus adapts well to palace life, using his magical armor to copy the styles of court dress he sees and turning up in many intimate places uninvited. He charms the noble ladies and serving women alike. He also slips off into the town, and while the party does see him from time to time, his bed in their quarters remains unused. Unbeknownst to the party, he uses his time on the town to look for a contact who might teach him disguise or poison brewing, but finds the criminal element in Seaton disorganized and unprofessional. He will have to find another location to train in these assassin skills, and he sets his sights on Gradsul.

    Thokk enjoys himself the first day, bellowing at servants and demanding things, but he soon becomes bored and restless. He is frustrated at the loss of his army and the fact that the fighting is going on somewhere else, without him. His efforts to provoke fights with nobles in the palace meet with sharp disapproval from the party and the palace natives alike. His growing violence over the course of the first day threatens to have him, or perhaps all of them, confined to their quarters or worse for the duration of their time in the palace. Aurora suggests that Barnabus, Willa, or Tyrius take him on tours of the town's taverns and brothels to keep him occupied. Barnabus laughs and says that he has his own things to do. Willa seems to think that having Thokk pass the time in a cell in the Viscount’s dungeon would be better for everyone involved. Only Tyrius seems ready to assume responsibility for the barbarian, though he has several particularly cutting remarks to Aurora about her casual suggestion of brothels. Instead, he introduces Thokk to the cooks and cellar-men of the palace, and engages him with copious food and drink. Fortunately, Thokk has not had much experience with alcohol before, and is content to spend the next three days drinking, drunk, passed out, or hung over.

    Aurora and Tyrius are the most comfortable in the palace. Although Aurora is not nobility, she is used to talking to servants and being served. They are distracted by trying to keep the rest of the party out of trouble, but take advantage of the situation nonetheless. After the first day they plan and execute a market day, in which they sell off the small amounts of loot, mainly armbands, that they recovered from the sahuagin. After this they have their own pursuits. Aurora is copying and practicing spells, including new spells she has gained access to through the Viscount’s court wizard. He still claims he does not have a copy of Detect Thoughts, to her disappointment. She peruses the many volumes in the Viscount’s library to maintain her image of being a traveling scholar, and she visits the banks of the town where she has sequestered the various tomes they have recovered in their adventures.

    Tyrius, for his part, besides keeping Thokk drunk and manageable, is found much at the Temple of Sol, praying. At other times he explores the armorers and horse markets, guided by suggestions from the palace staff. Without the Ghost in trade, he does not have enough money to commission a full set of plate armor for himself - but a fitted suit of splint armor is within his price range and nearly as good. Then again, perhaps he should be saving for a warhorse.

    On the 30th, the palace is abuzz with excitement and activity, as a grand dinner party is being planned for the morrow.

    31 August
    In the morning, the party finds new clothes delivered - from smallclothes to dinner jackets (for the men) and evening gowns (for the ladies), all of fine quality and well-fitting. Not coincidentally, they are invited to dine with the Viscount in the evening. Tyrius and Aurora spend the day coaching the party on manners (though the lessons are largely lost on Larry and Thokk) and palace servants help them all to dress.

    To Aurora’s disappointment and Tyrius’ relief, they are not seated at the high table with the Viscount himself, but at one of the lower tables, surrounded by knights and a few lesser noblemen, with their ladies seated at a safe distance from Thokk and Larry. Thokk is seated next to Tyrius, with two particularly burly knights on his other side. The dinner progresses smoothly, with those about them making amiable small talk, interrupted by occasional toasts from those seated at the high table.

    Near the end of the evening, when they are enjoying custards and after-dinner liqueurs, the Viscountess calls upon Tyrius to tell those assembled something of his native land of Sterich. The paladin, seemingly without surprise or pause, stands and gives an account of the harsh weather of his homeland - the deep winter snows, the terrible mountain winds, the raging alpine streams. Several of the more well-traveled among those present smile and nod knowingly at their less peripatetic dining companions. When Tyrius concludes with how pleasant he finds the climate in Salinmoor in contrast, and how “the warmth of the land is almost matched by the warmth of the Viscount’s court and the warmth of the Viscountess’ smile,” there are polite murmurs of “hear, hear” and “good show”, and the Viscountess herself leads a round of applause. With a wink to his companions, Tyrius takes his seat.

    After those present have had ample time to discuss the paladin’s remarks, the Viscount himself rises and calls on “Sergeant Stoutley” to give an account of the party’s exploits. Willa feels herself go pallid, and then blush hotly. Fortunately this is lost to all but those at her table, given her dark complexion. “Uh..I ain’t much fer speakin’, milord…” she says, and titters at her lowborn accent fill the room.

    “Nevertheless,” his lordship replies simply.

    To give herself time to think, Willa begins all the way back at the Haunted House, giving a modified version of the speech she gave to the Saltmarsh Town Council. She makes certain to leave out any references to magic or spellcasting by the party, and plays up the battle scenes, hoping they will be appreciated by the knights at least. She stumbles a bit when it comes to the assault on the Sea Ghost, for in her narrative she has already painted Sigurd as a villain and smuggler before she remembers that she needs to end with him as a hero on their side, but then decides she will later emphasize his sincere repentance due to the grace of the Viscount. Despite the snickers at her speech patterns, the audience does seem interested - and by the time she gets to the battle with the giant crocodile and the black dragon, she can see them leaning forward eagerly. Though she has never really enjoyed speaking herself, Willa has heard enough tavern tales to have picked up the rudiments of pacing and embellishment. She remembers to be circumspect in her description of Lord Nehemeyer and his demands, for he is obviously in the Viscount’s favor and undoubtedly has allies at court to boot. By the time she arrives at the viciousness of the sahuagin, she even remembers to say a few words about the wisdom of the Viscount in forming the alliance of sea nations and mustering his fleet, trying to keep her tone sincere and her concern for Tom and Nathaniel Fisher from her voice. When at last she concludes, there is scattered applause before the Viscount says simply, “Entertaining and most informative.”

    Willa has barely taken her seat before Barnabus is standing on his. “May it please your lordships...” he begins and the hall is immediately silent, everyone aghast at his impertinence in addressing the Viscount without having been spoken to. “Now that you know the basic narrative of our adventures, perhaps the gentlefolk assembled would care to hear a few ballads I have composed on the subject?”

    The halfling smiles winningly, but the Viscount says icily, “Certainly, you may play your tavern music for any who wish to remain. I myself have a war to run and regret that I must retire early.” About half the nobles assembled disperse for the night but those remaining seem quite willing to hear the halfling play. The party, of course, has heard the ballad innumerable times while on ship, and in ones and twos they take their leave. As Willa makes her way to the party’s quarters, one of the palace guards sidles up to her. “My lord the Viscount would speak with you in his drawing room,” he says simply, before continuing on.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Dec 27, 2018 7:53 am  
    Post 44: Willa's Choice

    DM's Note:The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa, and not any of the other players.

    Post 44: Willa's Choice

    31 August, 570. Seaton - The Palace of the Viscount of Salinmoor

    As Willa makes her way to the party’s quarters, one of the palace guard sidles up to her. “My lord the Viscount would speak with you in his drawing room,” he says simply, before continuing on.

    Willa lets the rest of the party return to their rooms while she pauses. Once they are out of sight, she returns to the great hall, where Barnabus is still playing his lute, and asks a guard for an escort to the Viscount. The guard does not seem surprised at her request.

    She is shown to a parlor room, with the Viscount at a desk cluttered with maps and communiques. Two guards were outside the door, but there are none inside the room. The Viscount motions her in, offers her a seat and a glass of brandy to match his own, already on the desk.

    Willa knows enough to let him do the talking. She sits stiffly in her chair as he continues to go over his maps. Finally he looks up. “Sergeant Stoutley.”

    “Yes, milordship?”

    He chuckles at her pronunciation of his title. “I must say it is refreshing to have one such as you at court. I enjoyed the tale of your group’s exploits.”

    “Thank ye, milordship, but beggin’ yer pardon, them ain’t me group, if ye please.”

    The Viscount smiles slightly, and raises his snifter. “No, I suppose they are not. And yet you were awfully careful in how you described their adventures, very circumspect regarding their use of magic and so forth.”

    Willa looks nervous and the Viscount chuckles again. “Don’t worry - I have read in detail all of the reports Secun has sent me regarding them - reports in which you were the principal informant. I know you have been a faithful servant to both the crown and Salinmoor.”

    Willa exhales, relieved. “Aboot th’ story, I jes’ thought it be more…(she searches for the right word)..politic not t' mention some t'ings in public an’ all.”

    “Indeed,” the Viscount agrees. “In addition to your skills as a warrior, you have a knack for discretion. Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t been made Captain of the Customs Officers yet.”

    Now Willa is stymied. Secun had always told her he wanted her to be Captain, but that the Viscount would never approve it. “Thank you, milord,” she offers uncertainly.

    The Viscount seems to change tack and gestures at his maps. “Suppose we are victorious, gods willing,” he offers. “What is next, then, for Sergeant Stoutley?”

    “Well, milordship, Secun charged me w’ watchin’ yon foreigners whilst they be in Saltmarsh, an’ then I jes’ kinda got caught up in everythin’, as t’were. If me work w’ them be done, I suppose I’ll go back t’ bein’ a Customs Officer. Keepin’ Saltmarsh safe an’ solvent an’ trying’ t' keep me baby brother out o' trouble.” She pauses, then adds, in what she hopes is the correct and deferential tone, “T'ough I wouldnae mind tryin’ me 'and at a Captaincy, if one be offered, sometime.”

    The Viscount has been staring into his snifter, but listening to her. Now he looks straight at her. “Stoutley, what’s your honest assessment of this group? Politic aside, are they a threat to Salinmoor?”

    Willa swallows. Was this what this whole meeting was about, absent pretense? “Well, milordship, I did t’ink so afirst. I couldnae believe t'ey be as foolish as t'ey seemed. I even t'ought t'ey might be makin’ up the whole ‘smugglers’ story. But now as I know ’em better, yes, t’ey be that foolish. Betwixt ther lot of them, nae be enough sense t’ fill a shite bucket...erm, a chamber pot, milord. Tyrius be a good man, an’ he tries t' keep a rein on ‘em, but t’ey’re too many an’ too wild. Ther halfling be too smart fer ‘is own good and be as larcenous as the day is long, besides. Ther orc’s a simpleton but ‘as a keen bloodlust. An’ ther wizard, well, she thinks ther party exists t' fuel ‘er own power an’ not much else. As long as t’ere be atother threat like smugglers o' sea devils, t'ey be a useful tool fer yer lordship. But I wouldnae wan' 'em around too long withoot somethin’ t’ occupy ‘em - t’at’s jes’ askin’ fer trouble.”

    The Viscount nods. “Indeed, that was my very assessment. But of all of them, it is the wizard who troubles me the most. When they arrived in Saltmarsh, they were hard-pressed to defend themselves against giant ants, as I understand it. But now they are fighting off a whole colony of sea devils. Every time they visit Seaton, that wizard is asking my court mage for more spells, and more powerful spells. They have gone from an amusing distraction to a very real, though still potential, threat.”

    The Viscount pauses, scanning Willa’s face for a reaction, and finds her nodding in agreement.

    “This Aurora has twice now asked my mage to learn the spell detect thoughts, and he has twice put her off, though of course he has it. Stoutley, I have a foreign wizard of unknown loyalties in my land, trying to learn magic that will allow her to read people’s minds, and in loose command of a well-equipped band of skilled killers. I hope you can appreciate my concern.”

    “Of course, milord.”

    “When my steward first reported that the wizard was asking for access to my map room, I was thrilled, hoping that they would be soon departing. But the maps she has looked at have all been of the Dreadwood.”

    “Beggin’ yer pardon, milord?” Willa stares at the Viscount blankly. Up until now, she had shared his concerns. Her reports mentioned that Tyrius wanted to take Larry to the Great Druid in the Dreadwood. If Aurora wanted to come with, so what?

    “The Dreadwood,” he says. “A wizard in the Dreadwood!” Seeing that his meaning is lost on Willa, he falls silent. From the shadows in the corner of the room, a figure emerges. Willa starts, her hand reaching for where her sword should be, were she allowed to wear her weapon in the palace. The Viscount waves at her to stand down.

    The figure approaches, entering the light of the oil lamp on the Viscount’s desk. He is of medium height, but broad-shouldered. A scar runs across his pale face, from his hairline, down the side of his face, and ends at the corner of his mouth, giving him a perpetual smirk. His beard is thick but neatly trimmed, jet black with highlights of gray. His robes are black, but have the red lion rampant of Keoland - or at least half of one, on his right breast. The left breast is plain, as if the other half of the lion were missing.

    He begins without introducing himself. “You know the Dreadwood only as a wild place of fell monsters, and perhaps as the court of the Great Druid,” he says. Willa nods warily. “But there is more to it than that. The forest also holds many secrets - among them, dark magic. It is not a place the King would have foreign wizards visit, particularly those who, as you say, are interested in growing their own power.” Willa nods again, beginning to see where this is going. “And yet, were the King to simply forbid entry to the wood, particularly to wizards, then it would become common knowledge that it holds more than monsters.” He looks at Willa expectantly.

    “Ye don’t want Aurora t’ gae t’ere, but ye don’t want ‘er - or others - t’ know that ye don’t want her t’ gae t’ere.”

    “Just so,” the man says simply. The Viscount pours a third glass of brandy, but the unnamed man ignores it and he leaves it untouched on his desk.

    The unnamed man continues, “If, however, we were to have someone accompany the wizard, someone we could trust, someone who could tell us where the wizard went in the wood and why, and what she found there, then we could decide whether our concerns were well-founded, and what the most appropriate, and unobtrusive, action to take would be.”

    “You have a choice, Stoutley,” the Viscount says. “And you have earned the right to make it freely. Your service to Salinmoor is duly noted. Retire to Saltmarsh and enjoy your Captaincy. Become an envoy to the lizardfolk, and the sea elves and the merfolk and even the fish-men, however they call themselves. Take care of your town and your brother. I will write your commission tonight.”

    “Or,” says the unnamed man, “leave the service of your Viscount and enter the service of your King. Become Special Agent Stoutley and help us keep track of this wizard.”

    Willa looks closely at the stranger - an agent of the King? To buy time to think, she sips slowly at her brandy, the finest she has ever tasted.

    "'most all me life, I 'ave served milordship an' Saltmarsh. I always t’ought I would be content t’ continue in t’at service, an' a Captaincy sweetens ther deal. Me brother, Tom, be set up fer his life in Saltmarsh now, an' I find meself chafing a’ ther yoke o’ keeping 'im out o’ trouble. Ther current campaign agin’ ther devils should see Tom inta manhood an' responsibility."

    Willa takes another sip, "Yon group o’ adventurers 'ave caught me up in a merry chase. I 'ave seen interestin' t’ings an' terrifyin' creatures an' sailed in new waters. I also dinnae trust ther wizard an' wouldnae wish t’ see 'er become a threat t’ me countrymen. So, I accept yer offer t’ enter ther service of ther King."

    "An’, beggin' yer pardon, but jes’ who might ye be?" asks Willa boldly as she regards the stranger.

    “You do not need to know my real name, and you’ll be needing to pretend we have never met, should you see me in public. But you can call me “Runnel” as a code name. I am a knight of the Malagari as we call ourselves, or in Keoish, the Dark Watch.”

    Willa knows just a handful of Suel words, but she does know that “mal” means dark, or bad. She has never heard of the Dark Watch, or seen the man’s half-lion heraldry. The “Knights of the Watch” are well-known though; they guard the northern borders of the Kingdom. Perhaps the Dark Watch are a secret organization within that Watch, dedicated to protecting, well, dark secrets?
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    Fri Jan 04, 2019 10:29 am  
    Post 45: The Siege, and Farewell to Salinmoor

    Note: This post contains spoilers to module U3: The Final Enemy

    Post 45: The Siege, and Farewell to Salinmoor

    1 September, 570 - Seaton
    The next day Tyrius is again invited to dine with the Viscount, though no one else in the party is. Willa’s informants among the navy messengers tell her that the campaign against the sahuagin is going well, but it is a slow siege with no early resolution in sight. Sensing that they will be the Viscount’s “guests,” (that is, social hostages) for quite some time, Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora meet. Tyrius says that he cannot keep Thokk drunk forever, and sooner or later an unfortunate incident is bound to occur. For some reason Willa seems more inclined than before to help. It is decided that they will ask permission for Thokk, accompanied by Larry and Babshapka, to retire to the woods to “commune with his wolf spirits,” while the rest of them remain at the palace.

    It may be that the Viscount doesn’t deem the orc / dwarf / elf trio “responsible” (or valuable enough to hold until the conclusion of the sahuagin campaign) - they certainly are not the party leaders. Or it may be that he himself is concerned for what might happen should Thokk remain at the palace. For whatever reason, permission is granted, and before the day is out Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka are on their way to the southern Dreadwood, with admonishment that large game are for the Viscount’s table, only. Although Willa has grown up on tales of the Dreadwood being full of hostile monsters, Tyrius has spoken to enough knights to convince him that, at least within the Salin River valley, the forest is regularly patrolled and reasonably safe. Beyond the valley, however, they are just as likely to find goblin tribes, bugbears, or even ogres, as well as fell monsters.

    2 - 4 September
    The next three days, with just Tyrius, Willa, Aurora, and Shefak in the palace, are much quieter and pass peacefully. Barnabus is out on the town more than he is in (and see Post 47: Barnabus' choice).

    5 September
    Willa is taking a mid-day meal at a harbor-front tavern when a bustle from the dock area attracts her attention. A ship has been spotted coming into port, with the flags of a naval message cutter. Two or three of these a day have arrived since she has been in Seaton, so she finishes her meal before going out to the docks to meet it.

    As it comes in, she can see that there are two men working sail and rudder, and another bearing an official messenger’s pouch but with his arm in a sling. Then she recognizes the messenger as Tom. As the sailors throw lines to the men on the dock she shouts “Tom!” and then, thinking better of it, “Corporal Stoutley!” He grins and waves at her.

    Tom is initially close-mouthed with her, but apparently more than the other two on his cutter, and before they reach the end of the docks and can find a cart to the palace, the waterfront is ringing with cries of “Victory!” Tom, full of his official duty, will say nothing to her during the cart ride other than that his wound is not serious. He is whisked away to a private meeting with the Viscount upon his arrival in the palace, and Willa does not see him again for several hours.

    Later, after dinner, Tom is happy to spin the whole long yarn to the five party members still at the palace.

    Lord Nehemeyer’s fleet approached the sea devil lair from the east, with the three troop galleys they saw in Saltmarsh landing at the protected river mouth while the two warships and the flagship headed for the lair itself. Immediately the three ships in the lead were set upon by sahuagin. Within moments it was clear that their intent was to take the flagship - about four times as many devils were involved as in any of the waves the party had faced, at least two hundred devils in all. A hundred surrounded and assaulted the flagship with javelins, and another fifty each the two warships as distracting forces, to keep them from coming to the flagship’s aid. Once the decks of the flagship were crowded with human defenders, a great wave arose from the sea and washed many of them overboard. Riding the crest of the wave was the first sahuagin boarding force. In addition to the three priestesses the party had faced before, at least another two were involved in this fight, with the head priestess capable of casting control water, which she then used to clear the lower decks of the other two ships with more massive waves. While the sailors and marines washed overboard were quickly torn apart in the sea, there was a desperate fight on the deck of the flagship. The lesser priestesses concentrated on incapacitating the ballista crews of the other two ships, as these were on the fore- and aft-castles, and too high for the priestess’ waves to reach. The priestesses seemed to have a limitless supply of paralyzation spells. The entire crew and marine contingent of the flagship was slain, and it was down to just a handful of Nehemeyer’s personal guard against numerous sahuagin warriors, lieutenants, and chieftains. Nehemeyer himself was already lightly wounded, and would likely have have been slain or captured had the fish-men giant eel cavalry not arrived - Nehemeyer had held them back as a reserve force. When the fish-men's charge temporarily relieved the two other warships, they could move to assist the flagship and the sahuagin on board were forced to retreat. Their main assault broken, all the remaining sahuagin present fell back to the sea cave.

    Nehemeyer pressed the advantage by having the sea elf wizard teams move in immediately to seal off both the sea cave entrance and the back door with magically-created rock. Guarded by fish-men, the sea elves were able to seal both entrances before the retreating sahuagin could respond.

    By the end of the first hour of combat a total of about half the marines and crew of the three warships combined had been lost, but the allies controlled the waters around the lair and the two sea entrances were sealed, so that only the land entrance remained.

    Once the sea was secure, the troops that had landed on the coast were met by the lizardfolk force that had moved in overland. The lizardfolk guided the humans in staying on the trail and not falling into the marsh until they reached the causeway. Nehemeyer sent his heroes and veteran heavy infantry in first, as the vanguard crossing the causeway. They met light resistance once they were inside the sahuagin lair, but their heavy armor gave them the advantage fighting on land and it appeared that most of the sahuagin force had been involved in the sea battle and were still recovering from wounds or exhaustion.

    Once the heavy infantry had taken the first level stairway room, Nehemeyer moved in his light infantry levies, marine crossbowmen, and shortbowmen levies. All through the first night the sahuagin tried sorties to break the allied hold of the staircase room, but the prevalence of allied missile fire always beat them back, with losses on both sides.

    When the room was still held at the start of the second day Nehemeyer moved in his pumps. Twenty horses working ten mining pumps set up positions in the various rooms and chambers of the first level. Tubes snaked everywhere throughout the first level, taking water from the staircase room and emptying it along the causeway and even into the latrines of the slave pen, which apparently drained outside.

    During the second day, the sahuagin and their priestesses attempted to breach the rock barrier of the sea cave. The elven wizards were able to keep pace with them however, creating rock as fast as they could destroy it, and keeping a watertight seal. Merfolk now helped to guard the sea elf wizards.

    The lizardfolk were now dispersed into the marsh, going far inland outside the range that the sahuagin had been foraging, with their need to stay close to the sea. They hunted game and supplied much of the fresh meat for the allied army to supplement the grain that had been brought aboard the galleys. The fish-men fanned out under the sea, scouting to make sure that the allied force could not be surprised by a relief force of sahuagin from the depths.

    By the end of the second day the water level had dropped by two feet. Men assigned to the staircase room gave a cheer every four hours as a new stair emerged from the water.

    By the third day the sahuagin had given up trying to breach the water barriers and had turned their priestesses to supporting the sorties on the staircase room. Their attacks grew more desperate, but also more strategic - targeting specific individuals to cause a few deaths rather than many wounded that might recover with rest or healing. The wounded sahuagin, meanwhile, grew more apt to retreat as they cycled through their forces. Nehemeyer likewise adopted a rotation schedule to make sure he always had fresh troops in the room for the next assault.

    All the next week was largely a repetition of the third day, as the water slowly drained from the sahuagin lair. The Baron began making appearances, a huge sahuagin with four arms who would engulf the missile troops in a magic net and dispatch the infantry with an enormous trident. Each time, though, he and his forces were driven back to the water, and as the water dropped the lead time for the remaining allied missile troops increased, leading to higher sahuagin casualties.

    By the tenth day of the siege the entire second level of the complex was in water just two feet deep. Nehemeyer sent his remaining army down the stairs in a single massive charge. It was during this action, Tom mentions, that he was wounded, in capturing the second level, fighting the devils while sloshing through knee-deep water thick with blood and floating bodies. When the sahuagin broke before this combined assault and began retreating to the third level, which was still completely submerged, the sea elves opened narrow breaches in both the sea cave and back door. While the fish-men went in the back door, the entire lizardfolk force, which had been recalled slowly over the previous days, entered the sea cave, supported by the elven casters and the merfolk. There the sahuagin made their final stand, with the forces of just the aquatic races remaining to finish them off after the lizardfolk had to retreat to the second level to breathe. Tom heard that Oceanus was among the elves and merfolk who slew the Baron and the high priestess, but he has not seen him since to know whether he survived or not. With all the sahuagin slain and the fortress taken, the pumps were removed, water was allowed to refill the second level, and the whole place was turned over to lizardfolk. The sea elves have stayed on for now to help the lizardfolk until their females and young can be moved back in, while the fish-men are even now escorting the human fleet back to Saltmarsh and Seaton. Tom was sent ahead on this first message-cutter to personally bring news of the victory to the Viscount.

    6 September
    Some of the Viscount’s Own Foresters, rangers of renown, are dispatched to the Dreadwood to summon Thokk, Larry and Babshapka back to court. Meanwhile, the Viscount takes advantage of their absence to hold a victory celebration, with the rest of the party as his guests of honor, seated at the high table with the Viscount himself. That evening, in front of the entire court, the Viscount commends the party and makes it known their key role in the allied victory. During the dinner, he speaks with each of them personally, thanking them and inviting them to stay on as his guests through the celebrations that will greet Lord Nehemeyer upon his triumphant return to Seaton. “After that,” he chuckles, “I can’t imagine that adventurous types such as yourselves would be interested in staying much longer in as peaceful a place as Seaton…”

    7 September
    Knowing they will be leaving soon, Aurora withdraws her gold and the cached spellbooks she had in Seaton’s mercantile bank. Willa and Tyrius distribute the Viscount’s reward money to the party. In the morning, Tyrius visits the landless noble family who was given the plate armor he found in the cellar of the haunted house. After much exchanging of pleasantries, the impoverished nobles he meets with intimate that they have already sold the armor.

    In the afternoon, Tyrius leads an expedition to Seaton’s marketplace. He spends nearly all of his savings on a suit of splint mail, while Shefak buys a tent and a few other supplies that may be useful on their planned overland trek to the Dreadwood. The other members of the party pick up a few odds and ends, but store most of their gold in the Seaton bank.

    In the evening, Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka arrive in Seaton and return to the palace.
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    Fri Jan 11, 2019 8:11 pm  
    Post 46: On to Gradsul

    Note that Willa's Background gives Ship's Passage.

    Post 46: On to Gradsul

    8 September, 570 - Seaton
    Willa visits the docks early in the morning, looking to find a vessel bound for Gradsul. There is a large whaling vessel in port. The ship has a full hold of whale fat, which will be rendered into oil upon arrival in Gradsul. She is taking on fresh water for the journey, but plans to depart as soon as she is re-supplied. After talking to the captain, Willa secures passage for the party, then hires a carriage back to the palace and has it wait for them. Fortunately they are mostly packed, mostly awake, and have little in the way of gear. They make it back to the docks just in time.

    The quarters aboard the ship are cramped and stink of rancid fat and sweaty sailors, but the ship itself is fast and their passage is free. The whaler travels all day and all night with a fair wind behind her.

    9 September - Azure Sea
    By mid-morning the tallest buildings of Gradsul can be seen and the whole party gathers on deck. Barnabus has been in all the ports of the Azure Sea, and Aurora and Babshapka passed through Gradsul on their way to Saltmarsh, but the rest of the party is increasingly amazed as more and more of the city comes into view. Gradsul is a thousand years old and is rumored to have more than fifty thousand inhabitants - it is the largest city that any of them have ever seen, and approaching from the sea they have a great vantage of it, from the slums along the waterfront to the terraced garden estates of the nobles on the hills, from the great stone walls and numerous keeps and barracks, to the isolated towers jutting up all over the city. Tyrius has been in all the cities of his homeland of Sterich, but even the capital of Istivin is as nothing compared to this. Aurora recalls that her master once told her that Gradsul was home to the largest number of free mages anywhere in the Sheldomar Valley. Larry mentions that the human swarms in the streets and plazas look “worse than fleas in a winter cave.” Thokk seems uncharacteristically subdued. He grew up on tales of famous orc warlands uniting the tribes and burning down the human cities - but he does not understand how even a hundred orc tribes could assault such a place as this.

    As they lower sails, keeping just those required to maneuver, and glide into the dock area, they can see that several of the recently-arrived ships are being met by the city watch and customs officers, checking new arrivals and collecting taxes. With a word to the second mate, Barnabus manages to get them off the whaler on a jolly before the ship itself docks. He directs them to a busy commercial part of the wharf where the watch do not notice their arrival. “If anyone asks you for a sword tax,” he says looking them over, the party all bristling with weapons, “tell them you already paid.”

    “I will do no such thing,” huffs Tyrius indignantly as he carefully climbs from the boat.

    Once they have left the docks and are making their way up a busy street crowded with shops and foot traffic, Barnabus tells the party that he has business to attend to and he will meet back up with them in several days. Before anyone can react, he melts into the crowd and disappears (see Post 47: Barnabus’ choice). “But, he doesn’t even know where we are staying…” says Aurora. “Uh, where are we staying?”

    Willa smirks and tells them to follow her. She goes one block inland, takes a right at the next cross-street, and works her way parallel to the shore. Eventually she finds an acceptable inn - of the kind frequented by sailors between tours. It is cheap and serves food, but is none too clean and there are several beds to a room and common beds in some. At the moment it is unoccupied, all patrons having set sail that morning, and for a few silvers more the owner assures Willa they will remain the only guests for the duration of their time there.

    In the afternoon, Willa takes Thokk back to the docks area, making sure he can find his way from the inn to the docks and back. Cities are unfamiliar terrain for him, but he is a quick study. She makes him promise to leave his axes at the inn and bring only a boot knife with him. She spends some time with him going from dockside tavern to tavern until she finds several that look like the kind of places in which he can easily get into bar brawls, but not be knifed and rolled if he is knocked unconscious. She makes him memorize the painted signs outside her choices and repeat them to her until she is sure he remembers and recognizes them. She tells him he is welcome to spend his days here drinking and fighting and she will know where to come find him when it is time to leave the city.

    Thokk sighs wistfully. “Thokk lose his army...but he still has best evil advisor ever. Life of Thokk is great.”
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    Sat Jan 12, 2019 10:07 pm  

    This is great, Kirt! Thanks for posting. Happy

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    Master Greytalker

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    Sun Jan 13, 2019 9:47 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is great, Kirt! Thanks for posting. Happy


    As great as the life of Thokk?
    Next up: what is Barnabus doing? It's just business, not personal...
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Sat Jan 19, 2019 8:50 am  
    Post 47: Barnabus' Choice

    Note: This side post connects back to the main narrative line in multiple places. Like Willa's Choice, it was known only to the player in question, not the group.

    Post 47: Barnabus' Choice

    In Seaton: 27 August - 7 September
    Playing for noble ladies in court is profitable in many senses, but Barnabus is bored and frustrated during his time at the Viscount’s palace, and is more often to be found in the numerous taverns of the town. He chafes at the wasted time - if it were up to him, he would be in Gradsul by now, learning disguise and poison techniques from the Thieves’ Guild he knows is there. But Aurora collected their latest reward from the Saltmarsh Town Council and hasn’t distributed it yet, and that is a fair bit of gold. Of course, he could just take his share when she wasn’t around (and a bit more for his trouble), but he plans on spending some time in Gradsul. If the Viscount wanted him back and sent people to look for him, that would make his planned Gradsul stay rather more inconvenient.

    So he bides his time, waits, and ponders his decision. Tyrius has made no secret of the fact that as soon as they are free to leave Seaton, he intends to resume his original quest to transport Larry to the Great Druid of the Dreadwood. That means traveling inland, upriver at first and then into the forest. What is in this for Barnabus? Not much. Or is there? These bumbling adventurers seem to stumble over monsters and treasure hoards like cobbles in a stone road. Barnabus has made more in his month with them than in several years previous combined - both in coin and in material for songs. True, it has come at a greater risk, but there is no reward without risk. But does he really want to leave the sea, leave his freedom? Is being stuck under the self-righteous eye of the paladin worth the gold? Barnabus can’t believe he left his last ship for a chance at a tumble with Aurora. The ditsy wizard is a half-elf, true, and Barnabus is greatly swayed by the power of novelty - after all, he is an epicurean, with an eye to sampling all the world provides. But now a month with her and even the promise of novelty has worn off - and a half-dozen maids have given him more satisfaction in his time in Seaton than the silly enchantress ever will.

    So here he is at the crossroads. When the Viscount gives them leave to go, Barnabus can take his gold, bid them farewell, and resume his free life on the sea, having profited greatly from the association. Or, he can demand that they go to Gradsul first, test the loyalty of his so-called comrades in arms, and see whether they are as willing to wait for him as he has been to live under the pious dictates of the paladin. Or, he can accompany them to the Dreadwood - meekly and with his eyes always open for the profit these fools seem to attract like flies to honey.

    In Gradsul: 9 September
    It is not difficult for Barnabus to track down an actual member of the Thieves’ Guild - a little coin here, the right words there - but he takes the better part of the day chasing the trail. A guy knows a guy who knows a guy...Halfway through he is aware he is being followed, and that most of this is for show - they are sizing him up, trying to see if he is working with anyone else, etc.

    By the evening, he is finally introduced to someone who claims to be a member of the guild, and Barnabus states his intentions of purchasing a disguise kit and of learning how to brew and handle poisons. He is given the name of an inn to sleep at and told that he will be given an appointment in the morning.

    In Gradsul: 10-13 September
    After Barnabus has a horrid breakfast of gruel (he almost sends it back before reflecting that the innkeeper is likely affiliated with the guild in some way) a street urchin pops her head in the door and calls that Barnabus has fifteen minutes to get to another inn halfway across town. The girl is gone before Barnabus is out the door and it is all he can do to make it to the location, only a few minutes late.

    He is taken to a back room upstairs, and finally introduced to “Jimmy Diamond”, a capo of the Guild. There is muscle in the room and on the stairs and, if Barnabus is any judge, in several adjoining rooms besides. Barnabus again pleads his case and Jimmy listens. His biggest concern is where Barnabus will be plying the skills he wants to learn, and whether he will be competing with guild killers. When Barnabus is able to convince him that he is a traveling adventurer, that all his kills will be done far away, but that he would likely be spending the money he gains from them upon his return to Gradsul, Jimmy grows much more friendly.

    Jimmy offers Barnabus a disguise kit, a poisoner’s kit, and a short course in how to use the latter for 200 gold lions. Barnabus asks if Jimmy is a betting man, and proposes they play for it. Jimmy smiles broadly, and says that if he wins, it will be 300gp, and if Barnabus wins, it will be 100gp.

    Over the next hour of cards, Jimmy catches Barnabus palming a card to use later and Barnabus nails Jimmy for pulling a card from his sleeve. They both laugh it off and get on excellent terms with one another. The game they play, Farango, is common among sailors, well-known among the port cities of the Azure, and requires betting on hands over a specified number of rounds. At the end of the hour, their respective piles of chips look about equal. “Another 15 hands?” asks Barnabus carefully.

    “Sorry, amicino mio, but I have other obligations. Two card draw, high card wins,” Jimmy says, and offers the deck to Barnabus.

    Barnabus pulls forth the four of cups - Jimmy, the seven of wands. When Barnabus sighs and reaches for his purse, Jimmy laughs and claps him on his back. “Look at dis guy!” he orders his mooks, “I like dis guy!”

    After a midday meal, much better than his breakfast was, Barnabus is shown to an apothecary shop where he will be ‘prenticing. Over the next four days he learns about the making and use of poisons. The master complains about his “nimble fingers and slow wits” but he manages to concoct mixtures that kill a number of stray cats and dogs without managing to poison either himself or his teacher.

    On the night of the 13th his teacher announces him graduated, and Barnabus takes his leave.
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    Sat Jan 26, 2019 5:21 pm  
    Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul

    Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul

    10 September, 570 - Gradsul
    In the morning Thokk is up early, eager to begin a day of brawling. Tyrius says that he and Larry will remain at the inn and watch over the party’s possessions. Aurora says that she will be taking Babshapka and attempting to do historical research in the city (see Post 49; The Riddle of the Malhel). Willa says that she will be working the docks area, looking for signs of Sigurd and the Sea Ghost. (see Post 50: Willa’s Choice II). Shefak says that she will be exploring the Foreign Quarter of the city, attempting to find and talk to Baklunish people like herself.

    Shefak returns to the inn in the evening, and finds everyone else there. It was not a long walk to the foreign quarter, as it is in the “lower city” near the docks. The Baklunish people there are not well off - mostly poor and crowded into tenements, at best. She was assaulted several times and had to use her monk abilities to defend herself until word got around that this strange frail-looking woman traveling alone was not to be trifled with. Eventually she was able to speak with some community leaders and got the locations of a few temples which she plans on visiting on the next day.

    11 September
    In the morning Thokk and Shefak again leave while Tyrius and Larry stay. Willa returns to the docks, while Aurora announces that her research is taking her to some country estates north of the city. She will be renting a carriage for the day but will be back by nightfall.

    Willa finds that Sigurd and the Ghost were indeed in Gradsul, but only just long enough for him to recruit a full crew of seasoned sailors. He departed for ports unknown.

    Aurora and Babshapka return in time to share the evening meal with the party. Aurora says that they have been invited to a dinner party at the estate of Lord Farquarr on the morrow - provided Tyrius will relate to them the tale of their campaign against the sahuagin, which is apparently en vogue among the nobility at present. Tyrius is dubious at first, but Aurora convinces him that no dishonesty is involved and he eventually agrees.

    Shefak says that her second day among the Baklunish was more productive but ultimately unsuccessful. Her people could not provide her with the locations of any monasteries, saying that all of them are far away in the mountains of the northern Sheldomar. The Keoish folk she asked don’t understand the true meaning of “monks” and “monasteries”, believing them to to be the vain palaces where fat men and women pray and light candles all day. Such places abound in this decadent city, but are not the ones Shefak is looking for.

    Thokk arrives, covered in welts and bruises, after the meal has been cleared away. He proudly displays a block and tackle he has purchased, saying that it will make him “four times as powerful” and then begins bellowing at the innkeeper to prepare his meal.

    12 September
    Since Tyrius and Larry are leaving with Aurora and Babshapka, Shefak agrees to spend the day at the inn. Willa plans on going to the dinner party as well, while Thokk returns to the docks.

    At the estate of Lord Farquarr, the party are celebrated guests. They are glad they still have the clothes made for them in Seaton by the Viscount’s tailors, and only worn once. After an amazing dinner that surpasses even the Viscount’s table, Tyrius tells a tale of their adventures that has the nobles applauding loudly and Farquarr beaming. At the prompting of Aurora, he tells a bit of history at the end, of a campaign against the sea devils from another age, in which a distant relative of the Lord figured prominently.

    Larry has spent the day outside, talking to the gardeners and groundskeepers of the estate. During the dinner, he stands on a veranda in a light rain, silently munching raw carrots and picking his nose as he watches the brightly-costumed people in the dining hall inside, his friends among them. Those of the party at the estate are given guest rooms for the night; Larry finds a warm, straw-filled stall in the stables.

    13 September
    Those who were at Lord Farrquarr’s estate have returned to the inn by mid-day. They spend the rest of the day planning the trip from Gradsul to Silglen. Willa was able to look at some maps in a cartographer’s shop, although she did not have the coin to purchase them, and declares that the distance is about 225 miles, the entire journey over roads or tracks, passing through several towns and innumerable hamlets, small farming communities along the edge of the Dreadwood. Supplies are discussed, as is the potential purchase of a cart and pony, but Willa voices against any further use of “party” treasure for the time being. The party turns in with plans made. Sometime during the night Barnabus appears, though no one notices when - he is just found to be in one of the beds in the morning.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:07 pm  
    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Note: All of the information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora. While Babshapka was involved in her investigations to some extent in Gradsul, she was not honest with him about her objectives.

    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Excerpt from Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee
    Like all students of history, she knew about the Twin Cataclysms (the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire), which had, a millennium ago, destroyed the two greatest nations the world had ever known, The Suel Imperium and the Baklunish Empire. She could recite several different authoritative texts (and note their contradictions and discrepancies) explaining how the Suel refugees passed over (or under!) the Hellfurnaces and brought human civilization to the east, eventually founding the Kingdom of Keoland...

    ...he asked her to recite the names of the principle Suel Houses.

    “[House Neheli] founded Niole Dra and are today the most important noble house in the north of the Kingdom. [House Rhola] founded Gradsul and are today the most important noble house in the south of the Kingdom. House Malhel was wicked and fought against the good Houses. After many battles they were banished from the Kingdom.”

    “[W]here did they go?”

    “I imagine they dispersed, or died out…I have not read any record of them.”

    “Indeed. A House powerful enough to war upon the Neheli, and they just faded away?”

    “That does not seem likely, but…”

    “But that is what the texts would have us believe. Most of them. Suppose they did not die out. Not at first anyway. Conjecture!”

    “Well, they had the hubris to war upon the Neheli, thus they must have been both proud and powerful. Such people are unlikely to give up after a setback. While they could have fled, migrated out of the Sheldomar, it seems unlikely. More likely they would have withdrawn, regrouped, and planned revenge.”

    “[W]hy do you suppose you have not seen any records of this?”

    “Because they didn’t regroup? Something else ended them before they could?”

    “Perhaps, or perhaps they did persist…and any record of their defiance has been destroyed, eliminated, or altered.”

    [W]ho would have the power to make sure that this history was not known…and what else could someone with that power do?

    “I believe I have uncovered an unedited text, describing how House Malhel retreated to the Dreadwood Forest, and from there planned their revenge. I have another text, very rare but likely authentic, claiming that the Malhel were powerful spellcasters, even while the Neheli and Rhola sought to ban magic. I will not tell you the names or locations of these texts, for your protection, and mine, and theirs...Travel to the Dreadwood, and see what you can find. Ruins, stories, texts, tales, anything. Most likely you will find nothing. But if I am correct, someone will find you. Someone will appear and, in the most delicate way, attempt to ascertain what you are doing and steer you away from any discoveries. And that is what we are after. I don’t expect you to find proof that the Malhel were in the Dreadwood. But if you can find proof that someone does not want us to know, then we will be sure that I am on the right track.”

    Additions to Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul
    10 September - Aurora goes to the Royal University of Gradsul, and charms a lowly library clerk into telling her which nobles nearby have important volumes in the early history of Keoland, dealing with the settlement by the refugee Suel houses. She gets a number of contacts from him, and leaves her name as “Scholar Wilhelmina of Saltmarsh.”

    Aurora goes to the townhouse of Lord Baldin in Gradsul City. As the Lord is not home, she bribes a major domo with gold to have a quick look at the library. After a quick reconnoiter of the volumes therein, she she speaks with the major domo while messaging Babshapka. At her command, he uses stealth to cut four pages out of a volume of history without a chambermaid seeing him. She later tells Babshapka that the volume is of family history, and concerns her efforts to discover the identity of her elven father.

    Back in the boarding house, she reviews the pages which mention that the Malhel, once defeated in war, fled south and west through the Dreadwood forest, and eventually settled in the land now known as the Yeomanry. This is the first textural account she has seen both linking the Malhel to the Dreadwood and the Yeomanry.

    11 and 12 September - Aurora goes to the country estate of Lord Farquarr. With two days’ access to his library, she finds four different volumes stating that the Malhel, once defeated in the war, were driven from the Sheldomar Valley. What is odd is while that the volumes she finds have decades between them and more than two centuries from the most recent to the oldest, and while they all have different authors, the passages concerning the Malhel are virtually identical. The rest of the historical accounts are similar, accepted history, but display nothing of the nearly-identical voice and phrasing that the passages about the Malhel do. In some cases, the script appears to have been elongated or compressed to make it fit in the appropriate space. She detects magic on the books but finds nothing.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Sat Feb 09, 2019 1:54 pm  
    Post 50: Willa's Choice II

    DM's Note: The secret quest of Aurora to understand what happened to the Malhel, and who doesn't want her to know, and the secret investigation of Willa into what Aurora is attempting to do, had by now become important subplots in the campaign. The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa.

    For Willa's Choice I, see post 44:

    For Aurora's perspective on what is happening, see the previous post (49).

    For what is public knowledge about this day in the party, see two posts ago (48).

    Post 50 - Willa's Choice II
    10 September, 570 - Gradsul

    Aurora and Babshapka leave the inn in the morning. Willa announces she is headed for the docks, but she doubles back after a block and catches up to them. She is concerned about Babshapka noticing her trailing them, as she has seen him in the woods. There he hears twigs snap that none of the rest of them even notice. But in the city, it seems he is in sensory overload, confused by all of the noise, motion, and color. It is all he can do to keep Aurora from stepping in front of carriages, let alone survey the crowd behind him. She follows them at half a block behind and is confident she is not noticed.

    They go to the Royal University of Gradsul, spread over several blocks of the Old Town, and ask directions until they find the library. Willa’s simple sailor’s clothes are already attracting attention among the scholars of the place and she dares not follow them into the library itself. She feigns a nap under a tree, hoping they leave by the same entrance they came.

    She is surprised when they emerge soon after - not even an hour has gone by. She follows them higher and higher in the city, up into the hills that house the estates and townhouses of the wealthy merchants and minor nobles. Willa nearly bumps into Babshapka when she turns one corner - Aurora has stopped to examine the statuary of a fountain. Amazingly, the elf does not see Willa although she is just five feet from him before she turns about and retreats. They continue, then are stopped by a city watch patrol, and then escorted to an impressive - looking townhouse. After a brief exchange at the door the pair pass inside.

    Willa looks about - there is certainly nowhere to loiter unnoticed in the clean and meticulously groomed neighborhood. Already the watch patrol is eyeing her suspiciously. She heads for a cafe diagonal across the street from the townhouse and takes a seat inside from where she can see the street-level door of the townhouse through an open doorway onto the al fresco tables of the cafe.

    Again they emerge after less than an hour, but when the door closes behind them Babshapka is immediately in Aurora’s face, speaking angrily and waving a few sheets of paper in his hand. Aurora speaks soothingly to him and takes the papers. They leave back down the street they came in.

    Willa has had to nurse her simple pastry and glass of white wine for an hour, to the growing indignation of the cafe staff. When they tell her her bill is one gold lion, her stomach twists, but she produces the single coin, to their apparent surprise. Perhaps she should talk to Runnel about an expense account - assuming she ever sees him again.

    Willa catches up to them and follows them long enough to be reasonably confident that they are headed back to the inn, then she doubles back and returns to the university library. It is early evening and many of the students are leaving lectures and heading out to public houses, but the library is still lit so she enters. She tries to gain information about what Aurora was doing there and who she spoke to, but the staff are uniformly rude to her and, when she tries to press the issue, threaten her with calling the city watch. She makes it back to the inn halfway through dinner and tells the party what she learned about Sigurd and the Sea Ghost, claiming to have spent the whole day at the docks.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Sat Feb 16, 2019 1:05 pm  
    Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald

    DM's Note: The party was now embarking on the first "overland adventure" of the campaign. As a DM, this meant I needed to add three things; (1) travel rates, (2) weather, and (3) large scale maps.

    Travel rates were simple at first (although I would add more detail later in the campaign). I initially decided to use the World of Greyhawk Glossography (p.3) rate of 30 miles per day for movement afoot, unencumbered. At the time, I mostly handwaved encumbrance so long as loads were reasonable. I assumed a typical day's march was 10 hours, from 7am to noon, and 1pm to 6pm.

    Weather was basically according to the tables of randomly generated weather in the World of Greyhawk Glossography (pp.18-25). That system has temperature tied to season (date), adjusted for latitude and elevation. I estimated the latitude of Gradsul from p. 18 as about 26.4 N. In the absence of official data on elevation, I used the following estimation: Any 30-mile (Darlene) hex with a hill symbol that touched a non-hill symbol was 2000 feet elevation, whereas any hill hex completely surrounded by hills was 4000 feet. Any 30-mile (Darlene) hex with a mountain symbol that touched a non-mountain symbol was 5000 feet elevation, whereas any mountain hex completely surrounded by mountains was 10000 feet. Further increments of 5000 feet were possible along increasingly surrounded isoclines.

    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel in Keoland, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. Note that that map specifically is no longer a valid link, but will redirect to more recent versions of her work. I would highly encourage any Greyhawk DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the sweat it ran like drizzle,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    14 September, 570 - Gradsul
    The party spends the day in the markets purchasing a week’s worth of fresh food.

    15 September
    The party sets out from the inn at first light, shortly after 6 am - it is already in the mid-80’s and muggy. Carrying all their gear, on foot, they have not even left the city walls by the time they are sweating profusely. As the sun continues to climb, the day gets hotter. They are able to put in a good half-day’s march in the morning, staying together despite the crowded traffic along the forest road. The road is ascending as it travels away from the coast, but after the first few miles’ hard climb out of the Sheldomar River Valley the slope is hardly notable. The road is excellent, paved and well-maintained, and they make good progress despite the heat. By 11 am it is over 100 degrees. They fill their waterskins in a public fountain in one of the many townships that lie beyond the city walls and rest in the shade, swatting at mosquitoes.

    It is three in the afternoon before it is cool enough to continue, and so they have only a short afternoon march before dark. As the settlements become smaller and farther between, they can actually see the fields to either side of the road. The sweet corn fields have all been harvested, but melon patches and orange groves are still in production. Barnabus soothes their journey with music from his lute, until Thokk begins to chase him with melons and he is forced to hide from the sun-crazed half-orc. At day’s end they camp in a cow pasture between towns, some 21 miles outside of Gradsul going by the last stone mile marker they passed. In the dark of night, enormous Gradsul is still visible below them on the coast, innumerable lights in the city itself, and then a trail of lights along the road toward them, gradually spaced farther and farther apart.

    16 September - Forest Road (21 miles from Gradsul, just under the “o” in the Forest Road)
    Having put some distance between themselves and the coast, and gained a bit in elevation, the day dawns a few degrees cooler, and the mid-day high barely breaks 100 degrees. They are still soaked in sweat, but after lunching at a tavern in the large town of Tanglewoods, they are able to get a full afternoon’s march in. (The tavern proprietor, after seeing how much ale Thokk was disposed to drink, relented and allowed them to eat their own food indoors in the shade of his establishment rather than requiring them to buy his tavern fare). All morning the clusters of houses along the roadside have grown fewer and smaller, and Tanglewoods has no true settlements for five miles on either side of it - just the crowded bunkhouse clusters of plantation communities. As they have left the coastal lowlands behind them, the fields of corn, melon, and cotton have given way to more and larger citrus groves - orange, tangerine, lemon, and grapefruit. They have yet to see any freeholder fields, but work crews numbering in the dozens are common - gangs of landless serfs toiling on the noble estates, nearly all of them dark-skinned Flan. Slavery is outlawed in Keoland, unlike in the lands of the Sea Princes to the south, and that is a point of pride for the nation. However, looking at the plantation serfs through the eyes of a free sailor, Willa wonders whether there really is that great a difference between a serf and a slave.

    By day’s end they have marched 30 miles, and are now 51 miles from Gradsul.

    17 September - Forest Road (between the twin “T’s” of The Forest Road and Tanglewoods)
    With night dipping into the seventies, the party is uniformly glad to be away from the worst of the coastal heat. In the morning, they make rapid progress along the Forest Road, although the day reaches the 90’s. They have just passed the stone marker indicating that they are 59 miles from Gradsul when the road splits. To the north, the wide, paved Forest Road continues, and a sign in Keoish indicates that “Oakheart” lies that way. To the south, the road becomes a hard-beaten dirt trail, and a sign says that way leads to Daerwald.

    Tyrius recalls that Silglen, their final destination, is reached through Daerwald, and suggests they take the trail. Willa responds that a road from Oakheart also leads to Daerwald, and while that route may be longer, they will likely travel much faster along the better roads.

    Aurora turns to Thokk. “Thokk, dear, you are our skilled wilderness guide. Which road do you think we should take?”

    Thokk shields his eyes from the sun and stares down both paths. “Stone road is flat - dirt road climbs into hills. Thokk want high ground and cool air - Thokk is sweating like roasting pig - sweat makes Thokk’s manly parts itch. Also, stone road passes boring lands where not-men poke in ground for food. Dirt road gets close to forest - maybe something to fight.”

    “Well,” says Aurora, “I’m not looking for something to fight, but I think we could all use someplace cooler. I liked being on ship in the sea breeze better than marching, that’s for sure.”

    Willa shrugs and starts off up the trail. “As long as it doesn’t rain. This dirt trail will turn into a mud pit faster than Thokk can scratch his manly parts.”

    The party heads up the narrow dirt trail. Sure enough, it is not long before they are laboring up a steep incline on a hill slope of tall grass and low scrub trees. There is no way a laden cart or wagon could ascend the steep slope, which is more than likely the reason the paved Forest Road does not run directly to Daerwald. After an hour of hard climbing, the trail levels out and they break for lunch in the shade of a stand of trees, the most extensive wild growth they have seen since leaving the city.

    After lunch they continue along the trail. To their left is a light, wild forest that rises above them. To their right the ground rapidly slopes away down, allowing them to see the distant farms and pastureland and villages that cling to the Forest Road. Having left the mile markers behind them with the paved road, they have no way of knowing how far they have come, but their progress along the trail is certainly harder-fought than it was on the road. As they make their camp at nightfall, a few huge spiders even venture out of the woods. Thokk cheerfully dispatches them, then sets about collecting firewood for dinner.

    18 September - Trail to Daerwald (by the “s” of Thestos)
    After another warm, buggy night in the 70’s, the party prepares for a day’s march in the 90’s along the dirt track. Soon after they start, the track heads downslope, until they have lost nearly all the elevation they gained the day before. As they descend, the wild woods are left behind, and they are again in farm country, much to Thokk’s disappointment. Here the farms are different, though - small fields of subsistence crops meant to feed a village, not the large plantations of cash crops bound for the markets of Gradsul. They pass through two such villages before, near midday, they come to a small river running north and crossing their track.

    The river is spanned by a large stone bridge - seemingly overbuilt for the size of the river at present, but Willa suspects they are not so far inland that storms coming of the Azure Sea can’t reach here, and a long summer storm could easily swell and flood the small river to a torrent. A little wooden shack on the near side of the bridge provides shade for a toll-collector, a grizzled old man with one leg and a crude wooden crutch. At first he gruffly demands a copper each from them to cross the bridge, but after they have paid and Aurora invites him to share their midday-meal, he warms to them enough for her to ply him with questions.

    The bridge is called “The Duke’s Bridge”, he tells them, and the river marks the boundary between the Duchy of Gradsul, which they are leaving, and the Barony of Raya, which they will enter on the other side. Daerwald is the baronial seat of Raya, and lies another 35 miles along this track, which should take them another day and a half or so, “unless it rains” (and Willa nods knowingly). The toll collector is a veteran - he was a soldier in the Duke’s army, until he lost his leg to bandits. He has manned this toll booth ever since. The Daerwald market will be an excellent place for them to stock up on supplies of food, and by Aurora’s calculation they should be just about out by the time they hit town.

    They thank the man and set out in the afternoon. After the bridge, the road climbs gently, and they soon are on a ridge like that of the day before, with wild forest to their right, and a small river valley downslope to their left. They pass two more villages, but the trail does not go through them. Rather, horse paths lead down from the trail to the villages, which are built along the river. In addition to the peasant huts, each of the villages has a large, wooden building next to a millpond, so Willa takes the structures to be saw mills. They camp on the ridge overlooking the second village, and during the night sounds of music and cheer drift up to them.

    19 September - the trail to Daerwald (under the “p” of Crypt)
    The elevation and the shade from the mature forest help cool the late summer air, and after a night in the seventies, the party is able to march all day in the eighties - the most comfortable they have been since they left Gradsul. The trail continues to climb slowly, but once they are beyond the river valley in which the two villages lie, the ground to their left rises up sharply until a high ridge towers over them. Now they are marching over a long pass, with a steep forested ridge to their left and a less steep forested slope to their right, the track completely under the trees and with little visibility. The perfect spot for an ambush, and Thokk hums eagerly thinking of the possibilities. The rest of them are more preoccupied with the mosquitoes, which come out in full force under the shade of the trees, large and in thick clouds. The party eats a quick, cold lunch, not wanting to tarry while being savaged by the insects. Babshapka rummages through the supply bags and removes their entire store of garlic, then shows them how to crush and rub it on their skin, which helps somewhat, although their sweat makes for diminishing returns.

    After lunch they continue on the narrow trail through the woods. The forest is alive with bird calls and apart from the mosquitoes is quite pleasant. The ridge to their south blocks the sun and they break march for an early camp while there is still light. After getting a good fire going, Thokk scouts about for wet, green leaves to top it off. The thick clouds of smoke he generates help to cut down on the insects, and most of them move their bedrolls downwind of the fire. Shefak’s tent is the envy of the party that night.

    20 September - trail to Dearwald (under the “r” of Daerwald)
    KRACKOOOM! A peal of thunder shakes the forest around midnight and rain begins to fall. Lightning flashes along the southern ridge as one, then another, tree is hit. The mosquitoes disperse and rain pelts the campsite. For the next three hours the thunderstorm passes overhead, lightning constantly touching down on the southern ridge and setting more than one tree ablaze. Fortunately the party is camped much lower and none of the strikes are near them. They all have thick bedrolls (and Shefak has her tent), so they are reasonably dry, but in the morning the campsite is a morass of red mud. The sloping land to either side has funneled the storm’s water on top of them, and there are standing pools and puddles all about.

    The first half of the day’s march is downhill, descending the pass into the valley beyond, but it is slow going. The mud pulls and tugs at their boots, and they slip and - more than once - collapse in the steep parts and slide down the trail. By mid-day, after five hours of grueling effort, they have not gone even five miles.

    After mid-day they are able to pick up the pace. Now they are down in the valley bottom, overlooking a vast, wide valley mostly filled with a huge lake. The town of Daerwald sits at the near end of the water’s edge. Down here on the flat-land the rain did not pool up as much, and all the morning’s sun has baked the sodden ground dry. The dirt track is soft and exhausting, but passable.

    While there are plenty of outlying farms and pastures, there are no true village centers before they come upon Daerwald itself, so there is little of interest to look at as they march along with difficulty. Willa finds herself staring out across the lake, amazed that a body of water so large could be so calm, wondering at the many sailing vessels she sees traversing it, wondering if it is fresh like a giant bathtub.

    In the glorious golden late-afternoon light they finally come upon the cobblestone streets of the town itself and are able to scrape off the last of the mud clinging to their boots. The streets are thronged with people, giving the appearance of a place much larger than it actually is, for in reality Daerwald is likely smaller than Seaton. People stop and stare at the mud-covered travelers, and children laugh, for everyone seems in a festive mood. A fat friar bows at them and says “Merry Brewfest!” in a booming voice.

    Brewfest! Of course. Willa claps her hand to her forehead. Brewfest is a week-long harvest celebration, marking the transition from summer to fall. In Saltmarsh, dominated by fishing families, Brewfest has only a token following, but she imagines it is a much bigger deal here in farm country. Imagines? No, she can see it is a much bigger deal. For his part, Tyrius has seen plenty of Brewfest celebrations before - he just didn’t know that is where they were in the calendar, since cold, mountainous Sterich has a much earlier fall. There, Brewfest is a week’s relief from feudal labor obligations, and there is much public celebration and drinking. As he looks about him, he expects it is the same here.

    It is after dark by the time the party finds an inn that has two nights’ lodging for the eight of them. The common room downstairs is crowded with drinkers and revelers, but the private upstairs bedrooms are mostly available. Exhausted from their long day fighting the muddy road, the party barely has time to wash and eat before collapsing into bed. Larry doesn’t even wash. Thokk skips both washing and bed, but stays downstairs drinking and in the morning can be found collapsed in a chair in the common room.
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    Wed Feb 20, 2019 12:42 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    (by the 's' of Thestos)

    Sounds like an oath:
    "By the S of Thestos, you shall be avenged!" Razz

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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Feb 20, 2019 2:53 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt wrote:
    (by the 's' of Thestos)

    Sounds like an oath:
    "By the S of Thestos, you shall be avenged!" Razz


    Perhaps Barnabus will have to work that into his ballad.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Feb 26, 2019 8:48 am  
    Post 52: Daerwald

    Post 52 - Daerwald

    21 September, 570 - Daerwald
    The party eats their last day of trail food while they use the inn as their base to shop for more. The markets are crowded with Brewfest revelers and it is slow going. Willa goes lakeside to check out the fish markets, selecting some fresh for the morrow but mostly smoked for the coming week. Aurora and Babshapka work the central market for vegetables, flour, and dry noodles, while Barnabus roams the butchers’ stalls in search of fresh and cured meats. Shefak is given a pass from purchasing, as the vendors tend to sell higher to the Baklunni woman. She is in charge of drying out their bedrolls in front of the fire in the inn’s common room so that they don’t mold. Tyrius and Larry clean and polish Tyrius’ armor, and then the paladin instructs the dwarf in the art of laundering clothes. Thokk snores loudly in the common room, bellowing at anyone who wakes him.

    By the evening Thokk has recovered and is able to eat dinner with them. When he talks of how he has another night of Brewfest drinking planned, his evil advisor reminds him that they are marching out in the morning, and he will need to be ambulatory. He grumbles that marching in the day is stupid, and that the humans in the party should learn how to march and see at night.

    22 September
    Sometime after midnight the party is awakened to the sound of wind and rain. All over the town, shutters are banging, awnings are ripping, and carts are being turned over. Willa and Barnabus are no strangers to the sound - it is an autumn gale blowing in off of the Azure Sea. There is less rain than in a summer tropical storm, or even the occasional hurricane, but the autumn gales have an abundance of wind. Willa doesn’t know whether to curse their luck that they may be several more days paying for staying at the inn, or thank their stars that they were not on the trail when it hit. Wind gusts of over 40 miles an hour would slow traveling to a crawl, and put them in real danger of being killed by flying debris or uprooted trees. She worries about Tom in Saltmarsh, and tries to remind herself that in his new house he is safer than they ever were in their parents’ shack, so long as he was not out to sea when this hit.

    Barnabus spends his time turning the moods of the inn’s patrons from bitter over the loss of the remainder of Brewfest, to grudging mirth at his songs and stories.

    23 September
    With little to do, Aurora wonders if she can perhaps continue her genealogy research. She learns a bit about the Baron’s court from their innkeeper, easily convinces Barnabus to play for the nobles, and asks Tyrius if he couldn’t see about getting her an introduction. Tyrius replies that he will, so long as it results in good for people. Aurora responds that learning about the party’s adventures will surely inspire the nobility, and perhaps even get them to regard his god with more respect.

    The trio goes across town, oilskin cloaks braced against the wind and rain, and show up on the Baron’s proverbial doorstep. They plead their case to a servant, who sniffs that His Lordship the Baron is trying to salvage Brewfest, protect the town and harbor from damage in the storm, and entertain his noble guests, and thus has better things to do than admit uninvited foreigners of dubious merit. Aurora responds brightly that with all of his lordship’s concerns, why not let them assist, as they can surely provide entertainment for the noble guests for the evening. The servant allows them to enter as far as a dry cloakroom before he tells them to wait.

    Some twenty minutes later, the major domo arrives to tell them that Aurora is permitted to use the Baron's library, provided Tyrius and Barnabus entertain the guests for the rest of the evening. His Lordship regrets that he will not be able to meet them in person, as he will be using his time in pursuit of the protection and defense of Daerwald, rather than at the evening's festivities. “You see, Tyrius?” says Aurora before they separate, “Already you have allowed a leader to dedicate more of his time to his people - how can that not be good?”

    [Note: For Aurora’s work in the library, see Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II]

    It is well after midnight when the nobles' thirst for Tyrius’ stories and Barnabus’ songs is finally sated, and Aurora has long since joined them in a music hall. She takes a moment to ask whether any of the assembled nobles would like to donate to the cause of a band of good adventurers, protecting the lands of the King...and receives hearty well-wishes and little more.

    For her part, Willa is bored stuck back at the inn. In the evening, she announces that she is going out. “Where?” asks Larry, somewhat miffed that Tyrius would leave him behind.

    “Public 'ouses. Drinkin',” Willa shrugs.

    “Bu' there be drinkin' 'ere!” Larry protests.

    “Look, I be tired o’ baby-sittin' Thokk, an’ ther bar be full o’ cheap, fat merchants and gilded ladies. I be goin’ t’ ther docks. Mayhaps I can meet a sailor or some ot'er real man.” Willa storms out.

    [Note: For Willa’s luck, see Post 54: Willa’s Choice III].

    24 September
    With everyone stuck back at the inn, this day is a tedious affair of listening to the wind and rain assault the inn.

    25 September
    The day dawns clear and bright, and the party again goes shopping to acquire a week’s worth of rations. They could have set out in the morning, but Willa advises them to give the trails at least a full day of sunshine to dry out.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Mar 05, 2019 4:38 pm  
    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II

    Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee

    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II
    Concurrent with Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald
    15 - 17 September: Aurora travels from Gradsul on the Forest Road, and passes through Tanglewoods on her way to Daerwald. The names (“forest” road, “tanglewoods”) amuse her, as there are no woods or forests to be seen - just farm fields and open orchards. She reflects on her knowledge of history and reasons that hundreds of years ago, the boundaries of the Dreadwood must have extended much farther into the plains - perhaps the “Forest Road” really did traverse a forest, then. Most likely the farms and pastures of Keoland have been steadily eating into the edge of the Dreadwood for centuries.

    Early on the 17th, the party faces the choice of taking a longer but better road, or a shorter but worse road, to Daerwald. Aurora slyly maneuvers Thokk into opting for the shorter road, as it takes them deeper into the true forest. If, as her master believes, the Malhel did retreat into the Dreadwood, but that fact has been hidden, it seems that she is more likely to discover evidence of their occupation the deeper into the forest they go.

    Concurrent with Post 52: Daerwald
    23 September: In the private library of the Baron of Daerwald, Aurora finds three volumes about the early history of Keoland, and one about the Yeomanry.

    Although Suel migrants and interaction with Keoland figure prominently in the volume on the Yeomanry, nowhere are the Malhel mentioned. This seems curious considering Lord Baldin’s book claiming that is specifically where the Malhel went, but that was the only reference she has seen about the Yeomanry so far.

    In the three volumes on Keoland, she finds the same curious passage, of exactly the same wording, describing how the Malhel were driven from Keoland, despite the three different books being of different ages and authors. In the first volume, the passage seems perfectly at place. But in the second, it looks as if it has had to be compressed to fit into the space allotted, and in the third, it is as if the line spacing has been temporarily increased to fit a short phrase in a large space. Each of the books is handwritten, and in each case the passage about the Malhel is in the same hand as that of the book - but something is definitely off. Aurora spends some time examining the pages, but cannot find anything of note. She even casts detect magic over the volumes - and then surreptitiously uses it to see whether any of the Baron’s books or scrolls are magical. She is left concluding that she needs to investigate whether a spell exists that could alter words on a page without leaving a magical trace, and whether there is a spell that could nonetheless detect the effects of such a spell.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:15 pm  
    Post 54: Willa's Choice III

    Note: The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa

    Post 44: Willa's Choice:

    Post 50: Willa's Choice II:

    New material:
    Post 54: Willa's Choice III
    Concurrently with Post 52: Daerwald
    Willa waits at least half an hour after the departure of Tyrius, Aurora, and Barnabus from the inn before following them to the Baron’s palace, as anyone out in this weather will attract attention. She slips a silver coin to a liveried servant at the palace and inquires after the trio. He is incensed that she would bribe him to spy on guests of the Baron, and has a mind to call for the palace guards. Willa hastily assures him that she is an agent of the Viscount of Salinmore (which helps quiet his objection to her accent) working in service to the King, keeping tabs on some suspicious characters (and here he agrees with her as well - Aurora certainly is suspicious). For a few more coins he agrees to send someone later to a pub she names.

    Two hours later, another servant, just off-duty, arrives at the pub to tell her that Aurora spent much time in the library, and according to the second-story maid, read and examined in a most peculiar way books about the early history and founding of Keoland, and also about the Yeomanry. All told, Willa is out a lion and half for the evening, but she does make it back to the inn before the trio.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Mar 19, 2019 2:10 pm  
    Post 55: Daerwald to Silglen

    Note:By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel in Keoland, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 55: Daerwald to Silglen

    26 September, 570 - Daerwald
    On a bright, clear day the party finally takes their leave of Daerwald. The first half of the day is spent traveling the track to the north, passing through the farmlands that skirt the western edge of the lake. By mid-day, when the temperature has climbed into the low 90’s, the track turns west to follow the edge of the forest. In late afternoon the party passes through a village built around a bridge, a saw mill, and several grist mills along a river that will eventually feed into the great lake of Daerwald. Aurora, missing her comfortable bed at the inn already, asks whether they should stop for the night, but Willa shakes her head. “Thar still be an hour o’ light left an’ plenty o’ track left t' march. We’ll hae time t' rest when ther next rain comes t'rough - I ain’t marchin’ in mud agin.” Secretly, Willa wonders whether they should have just stayed on the paved Forest Road all the way to Woodsage, a more northern route, and then cut south through Grayhill to Silglen. A sailor through and through, she hadn’t figured on foul weather slowing their travels to such an extent.

    27 September - track to Silglen (under the second “a” in Raya)
    The party marks a good pace in the cloudy, muggy morning, but the clouds darken as they continue. By the time they are finishing their mid-day meal, heat lightning is playing in the sky all around them. Willa calls an end to the day’s march, and they prepare for an extended camp. There is a spotting of rain over the next four hours, but mostly lightning and wind. The sky clears for a glorious sunset over the verdant farmlands.

    28 September - track to Silglen (where the track bends to the north)
    With highs in the almost-comfortable 80’s, the party makes good progress tramping along the dirt track through farming country.

    29 September - track to Silglen (under the “f” in "of")
    Clear skies all day and in the low 90’s, but the party marches on. All throughout the morning the farms grow smaller and farther apart, until by mid-day the party rests just outside the edge of what appears to be a thick and wild woods. They spend the afternoon on the dirt track passing through the forest. There are signs of recent travel along the track, but the occasional uncleared deadfall as well. They are obviously entering a more remote part of the Barony.

    30 September - track to Silglen (about halfway through the easternmost forested section of the track)
    By late morning the party has emerged from the woods into a few miles of open clearing. There are settlements here, but these are rugged outposts, where people practice a mix of farming, logging, hunting, and trapping. Seeing a skinned and trussed deer roasting over a crude spit in a cluster of huts, they doubt the poaching laws carry much weight here - they have finally come to the edge of civilization. They camp for the night at the far side of the clearing, just before the track again enters the woods.

    1 October - track to Silglen (after the track turns north at the edge of the woods)
    After a short morning’s passage through a narrow stretch of woodlands, the party emerges into open country again. Now they are in foothills overlooking a broad valley below. There, a large round lake is surrounded by dense farmland, every bit as developed and bucolic as that around Daerwald. Up here in the highlands, though, the track skirts the edge of the Dreadwood and passes through tiny logging hamlets where the only agriculture is half-hearted subsistence plots and vegetable gardens. With one day of supplies left, there are no farmsteads about to purchase from, at least not without descending off the track and into the lowlands. If they have to forage they will be unlikely to run into agents of the Baron, which is consoling. At the turn of the month, the party gives thanks for a week’s good traveling weather.

    2 October - trail to Silgen
    The party continues to work their way through the highlands overlooking the lake. The track goes up and down following the slopes of the hills, but they have a sense that each hill is slightly higher than the last. They stop for their mid-day meal in a logging camp, and the burly lumberjack residents claim that this is the last settlement they will find on the trail before they arrive in Silglen. In late afternoon they enter the Dreadwood proper, and from that point on the woods just get deeper and darker as they march. They build the campfire high that night, and celebrate by eating the last of their food stores. They will need to forage on the morrow, but Tyrius is unconcerned, knowing that they are so close to Silglen. Once they have set their camp for the evening, Thokk goes off the track into the woods and finds a deer-run, then sets his hunting trap there.

    3 October - Dreadwood, trail from Daerwald to Silglen
    The camp wakes early but does not breakfast, as they are without food. Willa starts a fire and collects mint to make tea; Thokk, Tyrius, Larry, and Babshapka head into the woods to hunt.

    Willa, Aurora, Barnabus, and Shefak are sitting around the fire, glad of the smoke to keep away bugs, when Barnabus whispers, “Act natural,” but loosens his blades in their sheathes. Even Aurora manages to not look startled a few moments later when five men emerge from the woods onto the track.

    Aurora stands up to greet them - all five have good-looking leather armor and heavy cloaks - they are obviously ranger-types, used to traveling in the wilderness.

    “It is we who should welcome you,” says the one in the lead, in Common. “Welcome to the Barony of Greyhill. Have you paid the entrance fee?”

    Willa assesses the men - hungry eyes, lean frames, dirty faces - these are no servants of a baron. [Willa's insight roll was considerably better than Aurora's, who was willing to take them at their word].

    Willa stands up, one hand on the hilt of her sword. “Aye, we hae,” she says coldly. “‘twar at ther bridge aways back,” and she hooks her thumb down the track behind them. All eyes follow her gesture - and when they return to the camp, Barnabus is not to be seen.

    “I’m afraid I don’t know the bridge you speak of,” says the lead man. “This track leads through the lumber camps of the highlands - there aren’t any bridges there. If you have paid, please show us your voucher.”

    “O’ course,” says Willa. “Once ye show us yer badges, or marks o’ service t’ ther Baron, o' whatever else ye be usin’”.

    The lead man looks at his men, and they spread out in a looser formation, as if each is setting up to target someone in the party, but casually. “Our Captain has those,” he responds. “A few hundred yards up the way there is a stone cairn what marks the boundary between the Baronies of Raya and Grayhill. The Captain is there with the rest of our company - we are just scouts.”

    Aurora reaches up to her face, tries to use a hair toss and head scratch to cover the somatic gestures she needs to message any of the hunters from their party, if they are near enough, but her motion and mumbled words are instantly recognized. One of the men whispers to his companion, and at a glare from the leader, says out loud in Keoish, “Ya see that! She cast a spell, she did! She’s a witch! I ain’t fighting a sorceress!”

    Things happen fast - Willa draws her sword - the five men turn and run - Shefak takes off after them in pursuit, but is forced to pull up short when a mass of sticky strands flies over her head and explodes at the edge of the woods. Aurora’s web does not hit any of the men, but neither does it ensnare Shefak. The men get clean away. Barnabus, when he reappears, says all the tracks he found were just of the five, but he wouldn’t discount them having a larger camp nearby.

    Half an hour later, Thokk bursts from the woods, humming contentedly, an immature boar carcass slung over his shoulder. Tyrius trails him. The barbarian stops when he sees the webs, looks about at the fresh tracks in the dirt road, then throws the boar down to the ground. “Thokk miss fight?” he yells with frustration. “Thokk sooo maaaad!”

    An hour later, stomachs satisfied, the group prepares to march. Between the sackful of roots, berries, and nuts found by Babshapka, and the half a boar remaining from Thokk, the party has enough food for all this day and two meals the next. They set off down the track. Sure enough, after a quarter mile, there is a pile of stones by the side of the road - but no sign of any “Captain,” or his men.

    With fair weather the party makes good progress, and by the end of the day they have come upon Silglen.

    The town is like no other they have ever seen. There is no clearing, there are no roads - it is as if dozens of houses have been set in the woods in no particular order, without disturbing a tree or bush. Many of the houses are rough log cabins, while others are dug into the sides of hillslopes, with rammed-earth walls and sod roofs. A few even hang from tree branches - great chambers made of woven fibres, like man-sized oropendola nests reached by rope ladders. Most of the folk about are elves, of all ages. There is a minority of humans, and these are practically all adults, men and women clad in the simple robes of druids, with only a few youths and no children. Every now and then they spot a forest gnome, nearly always outside some sort of workshop or trade store worked into the roots of a giant tree.

    Having no idea where to go, Aurora starts asking the elven children for directions, and soon finds Hyacinth, a local “girl guide,” fiercely proud of the red ribbon that marks her as an official aide to strangers in the city. Aurora offers her perfume for her services, but the elfling wrinkles her nose and says that for a haunch of Thokk’s boar she will take them to both the Welcome Temple, where Larry can meet representatives of the druid hierarchy, and to the Stranger’s Bungalows, where visitors to the city are required to stay.

    Along the way Hyacinth tells them all about Silglen and the druids, in response to questions from Aurora. No, they don’t have any libraries, although the druids keep many books privately. Yes, they have many temples to forest gods and earth gods, elf gods and human gods. No, they don’t really have anywhere of “interest”, no public places beyond the Welcome Temple; large gatherings of people are discouraged since that would result in the formation of trails, erosion, and waste disposal problems. They have many shops, but there is no shopping district, they have many craftspeople, but there are no guilds.

    Nominally the town is in the Barony of Grayhill, but for all practical purposes it is independent, and there are few men of the Baron present. It was founded by the Great Druidess Reynard Yargrove, twenty-three years ago when she ascended to control of the druid hierarchy, as a place for her to host the apparatus of her governance and to entertain representatives of the various powers with whom she deals. Although the druids are nearly all human, or rarely half-elven, most of the townsfolk are elven. This is because few humans who are not druids can abide to live by the low-impact ecological principles of the community. The harvesting of food, disposing of waste, and collecting of resources for work, are all closely regulated by the druids and few humans are far-sighted enough to see the importance of doing these things in a sustainable manner. As Hyacinth speaks, her tone is a curious mix of childlike innocence and an already well-developed prejudice for elves as superior to all other races.

    While there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of druids in the world, all of them are under the control of one of the Nine Druids. Each of the Nine is responsible for a different part of the world, a different Biome - such as deserts or forests. Each of the Nine is under one of the Three Archdruids, and all of them serve the Great Druid. Or, in this case, the Great Druidess. The physical and administrative center of the druid hierarchy is chosen by each Great Druid in turn upon their ascension, and when Yargrove became Great Druidess two decades ago she created Silglen.

    The Barony of Grayhill is both small and not very populated by Keoish standards, and most of the humans live in the highland city of Grayhill. Economically, it serves mostly as a source of lumber and mineral wealth for the neighboring and more-important Barony of Sayre. However, Grayhill became suddenly more important politically about six years ago when the new King of Keoland was elected from the Skotti house, an Oeridian noble family based in Grayhill.

    When Aurora asks Hyacinth about dangerous places, she furrows her brow. No, nowhere nearby is particularly dangerous, not if you have any woodcraft or common sense. There are plenty of monsters and such to the south - and if that is what the party is looking for, they need only take the Dreadwood Road south from Silglen and they will find more of that the farther they go. Here, the large number of elves means that the woods are safe for good folk.

    Hyacinth leaves the party at the “stranger bungalows”, a collection of squat huts made with woven leaves and branches. Each hut can sleep two or three people on a dirt floor. There is a well nearby, a fire pit, and a long-drop in another hut, but little else in the way of amenities. The elf lass promises to look in on the party in the morning and take them to the Welcome Temple.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Mar 26, 2019 1:06 pm  
    Post 56: Silglen

    Note: What would a community designed to be the administrative center of the druid hierarchy be like? My approach was certainly anachronistic in terms of ecological principles, but it got home to the players that this is a very different community than they are used to, and that the thinking of the druids is alien to their own pseudo-feudal mindset.

    I suppose this post could just have well have been called "Larry's Choice", for much like Barnabus in Gradsul, Larry's player here faced the decision of whether to continue playing the character with the party or allow him to become an NPC, with plot repercussions for either choice.

    Post 56: Silglen

    4 October, 570 - Silglen
    This deep in the forest it is comfortably cool - with nights in the high sixties, and days in the high seventies. Plagued by mosquitoes since they left Gradsul, the party finds them blessedly scarce in Silglen. Hyacinth, arriving soon after the first of them are up in the morning, explains that many of the plants and flowers of the town have been chosen to ward off biting insects, and there may be druidic magic involved, as well. Perhaps that is what Larry will be learning as an Aspirant?

    After they have breakfasted, Hyacinth leads them across town to the Welcome Temple. There, a large natural grotto has been reshaped into an amphitheater for public announcements (the most severe alteration of the landscape they have yet seen in the town), and an adjoining rough timber building houses both new aspirants and official visitors to the town.

    In a formal ceremony, Tyrius introduces Larry to the druid warden of the temple, and turns over a letter of introduction from his own temple (see Posts 1 and 2, backstories of Larry and Tyrius). Larry is blessed with earth, air, fire, and water, and accepted as an Aspirant. The warden regrets that he does not have a traditional robe in Larry’s size (short and broad) on hand, but says that one of Larry’s first duties as an aspirant will be to learn weaving so that he can make his own robes. The party hears him ask “Boot when doo I larn ta tarn intoo a bar?” as he is being led away.

    After that, Hyacinth returns them to the bungalows. Aurora, who was hoping to learn her way about town, notices that they take a completely different route, and asks her about it. Hyacinth replies that low-impact principles encourage them to choose a different route any time they travel anywhere in the city, and that knowing many different ways to arrive anywhere is one of the qualifications for being a girl guide. The party invites Hyacinth to lunch with them as they discuss plans.

    With his duty officially discharged, Tyrius is now free to return to his homeland of Sterich, far to the north. But he seems in no particular hurry - in fact, he has plans to stay on at least a few days. “That dwarf is a queer sort,” he says, “and I don’t think the druids are even used to run-of-the-mill dwarves. This town has a lot of rules, and if those come from the druids I bet their training program has even more. Rules aren’t really Larry’s strong suit. I’d like to be here long enough to see whether he is going to make it or not. If he is happy, I will feel better about leaving, and if he is not, I can help him get to wherever he is going next.”

    Aurora, too, says that she would enjoy staying on - there seems to be much lore she could learn here - and she reminds Hyacinth to tell her about any book collections or old historians she can find out about.

    Ever practical, Willa says that if they are staying here, they need to be resupplying themselves, as they will not have enough food for dinner. She asks Hyacinth to take them to some food markets. The elfling maiden replies that she can show them where to buy food, but that first they will need ‘purchase vouchers’, and they can get purchase vouchers only after they have applied to the Harvesting Office. The Harvesting Office evaluates all visitors to the town and decides how much food they are allowed to buy and how much they will have to provide for themselves. If the visitors have not brought enough food with them, they are assigned certain hunt days in designated locations outside of the town to find food. The girl explains that this is to ensure that too many “tourists” don’t arrive in the city and buy locally-produced food with foreign gold to the extent that the local resources are over-harvested and the ecology is unbalanced, at the same time that food prices become inflated and thus impoverish the native residents. This seems needlessly complicated to Aurora, but Willa shrugs it off. “If it’s wha' we hae t’ do t’ get by ‘ere, so be it. As an excise officer, I’ve ‘ad to enforce stranger laws wit’ less reason. Thokk an’ Babshapka can hunt fer ther rest o’ us. ”

    At the mention of his name, Thokk, who has been ignoring the conversation and concentrating on perfectly roasting his boar, starts. “What?” he says. “What Thokk need to do to get more food?” Willa explains to him that strangers to the town have to hunt in certain places, and Thokk takes it as some kind of challenge or contest. “Ha! Ha ha! Thokk will show puny elves how to hunt! Thokk will kill so many deer that elves will cry from hunger while Thokk feasts!” Hyacinth looks aghast.

    Barnabus chuckles. He thinks to himself, Wherever laws are made, opportunities are made in breaking the law. If people in this town are only allowed to buy a certain amount of food - there must a black market to provide food for those who want, and can pay, more. That will give him a project for the days they remain here - he will locate some black market dealers, and make a profit from selling the excesses of Thokk’s hunting to them…

    After lunch, Hyacinth takes Willa and Aurora to the Harvesting Office, and then the Voucher Distributor, and finally to some of the food markets. They arrive back at the bungalows just in time to actually begin the preparation for dinner.

    5 October
    The day is spent uneventfully in Silglen. The party was assessed at being allowed to buy half of their food, and expected to supply the other half. Thokk and Babshapka are given hunting permits, and Babshapka leads them out of town, to the area he was told to go to. They return with a fine brace of rabbits and a sackful of wild apricots (11.5 pounds, with 8 left after the day’s eating).

    6 October
    Before sunrise a predawn chill drops the forest to the mid-fifties. Several of the party rise early in the cold, stoke the embers from the night before, and warm themselves as the sky turns from black to gray. They are cleaning up from breakfast and the air is still brisk when Aurora notices a young elf walking by with an odd burden - an ancient elf on his back. The old elf is mumbling softly, in elven, “Fall is coming, yes indeed, fall is coming again…” while the young elf staggers forward and looks about. Eventually he locates a nearby patch of sunlight, where the morning rays penetrate a hole in the leafy canopy and fall full and direct on the forest floor. He gingerly sets the ancient one down in the warm sunlight, then hurries off as if he still has his morning chores to attend to.

    Aurora and Shefak come to the side of the withered elf. His skin sags, he seems as thin as a reed, and his open eyes are thickly clouded over. “Who’s there?” he demands, for apparently he cannot see.

    “A traveler. A stranger to Silglen. Grandfather, can I make you more comfortable?” asks Aurora in her best Elven.

    “So cold this morning. Do you have anything warm to drink?”

    Aurora leaves Shefak by his side while she makes tea over the still-hot breakfast fire. Thokk and Babshapka are preparing to depart for a day of hunting; Barnabus has left already for parts unknown; Willa is tidying up the cookware.

    When Aurora returns to the elf’s side, they have a brief conversation in elven, and then Shefak returns to the fire as well. Aurora continues to speak for quite some time with the ancient one, before his caretaker returns and carries him off again. (for the contents of the conversation, see Post 57: The Riddle of the Malhel III)

    Thokk and Babshapka return in the afternoon, bearing with them more game, but not as much as the day before. (Additional 5.5 pounds, total 13.5 on hand, down to 10 by day’s end).

    In the evening, Larry blusters into camp, growling. “Stoopid drooid’s sarcle! Mak me an aaspirant when I kin kick the arse oof anyoone in the claass! Mak me larn ‘ow too weave when I already hae clothes! Woon’t even shoe me ‘ow too tarn into a bar. I bet thaat “maaster” dinnae even ken ‘ow. Kenning all thoose plaants an' barries an' roots be bonny and aall, bu' when doo I larn fighting? When doo I larn spells? Bet I cood tak oot the whoole claass with oone thundarwafe. Woon’t even promise me I’ll get choosen by the Drooid oof the Mountain! What if I get choosen by the Drooid of the Desart! What woold I doo then? Stoopid drooid’s sarcle!” Without even a word to his companions, he huffs into the bungalow that was his on the first night and slams the woven-twig door behind him.

    “Sooo…” ventures Tyrius. “We leave on the morrow?”
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

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    Wed Mar 27, 2019 7:10 pm  

    Lol! Laughing

    I hoped Larry would choose to stay with the party. Happy

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    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Mar 28, 2019 9:44 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I hoped Larry would choose to stay with the party.

    Yeah, given his personality I didn't expect him to stay with the druid hierarchy long. Why follow rules when you can adventure?
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Apr 02, 2019 10:21 am  
    Post 57: The Riddle of the Malhel III

    Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee:
    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel:
    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II:

    Post 57 - The Riddle of the Malhel III
    Concurrent with Post 56: Silglen
    The old elf is very informative. Aurora tells him that she is an elf searching for her heritage, but asks him all manner of questions. He lowers his voice and speaks in an archaic form of elven that she struggles to understand, because, he says, he talks of things that “the humans are not supposed to know”.

    He claims to be 1327 years old, and to be able to remember personally when the first Suel arrived in the Sheldomar Valley. At this time there was no “Dreadwood”, just a continual band of forest all across the valley (where there are now the Dreadwood, Axewood, and Silverwood, but all points between as well). This was before the Invoked Devastation that destroyed the Suel Imperium, so the Suel that were already in the valley were raiders and outlaws, vile and untrustworthy. After the Suel and Baklunish destroyed one another with magic so powerful it left “rifts in the weave that remain to this day”, there was a massive wave of immigrants - humans and humanoids. Some of the Suel were good and some were not. A few respected the elves, and met with them “under the moon and stars on the Gray Hill” from which the local barony gets its name.

    The old elf claims that the Suel houses that arrived were the Neheli, the Rhola, the Secunforth, the Lizhal, the Malhel, and many others he has since forgotten. The Neheli went north and fought against the empire of the Whispered One. The Malhel dominated the plains north of the forest. The Rhola went south to the coast. When the Neheli were forced to retreat, they contested with the Malhel for control of the plains and eventually won by enlisting the aid of the other houses. The Malhel were few in number but had powerful wizards and sorcerers among them. When they were driven off, they took refuge in the deep Dreadwood and vowed revenge. That, however, is a secret - something that the elves promised not to tell the humans. The Malhel made dark experiments and summoned powerful fiends, attempting to bind them to their service and use them to attack the Neheli. Eventually they summoned something too powerful for them to control and destroyed themselves. The ruins of their cities still can be found in many places in the Dreadwood, but these are all protected.

    When Aurora asks him why humans are not allowed to know this, the elf says he is not sure - he thinks he knew once, but has since forgotten. At some point the elves made a promise to the rulers of the human nation (he stumbles at remembering the name “Keoland”, but agrees when Aurora suggests it to him) to not talk about such things. Humans are a superstitious lot and he thinks their rulers may have been trying to keep their people from being afraid. Elves don’t like to talk about the Malhel either, but not because they are afraid - rather, it is a tragic tale, and elves are sensitive sorts and can sicken when they dwell too long on sorrowful things.

    When Aurora asks if there are Malhel ruins about, the old elf says “of course”, and then whispers the name to her “Valadis”. Valadis apparently was a Malhel city near Silglen. The elves agreed to seal it off and keep humans from approaching it. The old elf suspects that when the human druid woman made Silglen here, it was also to watch and protect the place. Aurora asks where it is - so that she can avoid stumbling across the ruins by accident. The old man says it is so carefully warded, that there is no danger of that, so long as she does not accidentally travel up the Owl River.

    Aurora asks him for the name of the local elven houses and clans, but does not recognize any that might be her father’s. She also asks him about Zuoken. He says that Zuoken was a mortal Bakluni man who was so dedicated to Xan Yae, the “Mistress of Perfection”, and who so mastered the unity of his mind and body, that he ascended to godhood. He remembers Zouken walking in the Dreadwood - but does not remember if that was decades ago or centuries, when he was a man or when he was a god. He thinks there may be temples to Zuoken, or Xan Yae, or both, in the southern Dreadwood, but then he thinks one can find just about anything in the southern Dreadwood - the part most overrun by all the humanoids that arrived when the Suel and Bakluni fought.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Apr 09, 2019 1:15 pm  
    Post 58: Silglen to the Owl Stream

    DM's Note: By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used her map of Keoland the party's travel, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 58: Silgen to the Owl Stream

    7 October, 570 - Silglen
    In the morning most of the party pack up camp while Tyrius goes to visit the Master of the Welcome Temple. The master explains that while Larry has great power and promise, he is entirely impatient with the rules and procedures of the druid hierarchy. They will not be able to train him until he is willing to submit to their authority.

    There certainly are druids in the world who are outside the hierarchy - many individuals have been gifted by the gods and spirits of nature with druidic powers - from the shamanic leaders of wild tribes to the fey folk to one such as the bear-man who was Larry’s mentor and foster father. It is entirely possible that Larry will continue to advance in power and understanding without the guidance of the hierarchy. However (and here the master looks Tyrius directly in the eyes), there can be only nine Druids, that is, true Druids, such as The Druid of the Mountains. If Larry ever makes it to that level of ability, he will have to challenge one of the nine Druids of the hierarchy, and attempt to take his or her place. Until then, the hierarchy is content to let Larry go about his business, since for the moment he seems to be doing little harm to the balance of things and some help besides.

    Back at the camp there is some discussion of where the party should travel next. Tyrius had, the night before, offered to show them his home country of Sterich, but that lies hundreds of miles to the north and west and none but he were eager to make that journey. Shefak was adamant that they need to explore the southern Dreadwood and seek temples to her gods, and none of them were terribly opposed to the idea. Thokk welcomed battle and Tyrius the chance to smite evil. Today, in the light of morning, they discuss how they might be making that journey. “The Dreadwood Road” leads south out of Silglen, and many people besides Hyacinth have assured them that by simply following that route they will reach the southern Dreadwood, with the forest becoming ever wilder as they go. However, none of them are too keen on another long overland journey should a quicker way present itself. Aurora suggested that they take another route out of Silglen, the one leading to the Javan River valley. From there, they would be able to find passage on a boat, much as Tyrius, Thokk, and Larry had done months ago. Going downriver on the Javan, they would quickly arrive back in the Viscounty of Salinmoor, at which point they could enter the southernmost, wildest portion of the Dreadwood directly. When Tyrius returns from the temple they speak to him, and he agrees to go along.

    By the time they use their remaining purchase vouchers to buy a half-day’s worth of food, it is a late start to the day. The forest cover keeps their journey cool, and it is afternoon before the temperatures approach the 80’s. Much sooner than that, however, they lose whatever protection the vicinity of Silglen has given them against insects, and the mosquitoes and other biting flies are out in force. They see no other travelers during the entire day. Night is approaching when they reach an obvious intersection in the road. It is unmarked, but Willa and Aurora both agree that the northern branch will take them to Greyhill, while the western one will lead to a mountain pass and then down to the Javan river. There are a number of deserted buildings at the intersection, and the forest growth is different, as if there was a failed attempt to clear fields and make a community here that was abandoned decades ago. They make camp in the most sturdy-looking of the structures (and are obviously not the first to do so), but not before all the buildings are searched and Thokk and Babshapka scout a short distance in each direction. It is a strange feeling to be in this ghost-town, and several of them do not sleep well.

    [The party’s purchase of four pounds of food brings their supply total to 14 pounds, which is down to 6 pounds by the end of the day - they will have to forage on the morrow.]

    8 October - Track from Silgen to Javan River - at the intersection of the Greyhill, Silglen, and Javan trails
    Babshapka’s time for trance has long since passed and he stands a silent vigil in the pre-dawn. The rest of the party is sleeping silently - the woods are transitioning between the night creatures and the creatures of the day. Babshapka reaches out with his primeval awareness - he lets the wind tell the leaves, the leaves tell the trees, and the trees speak to him. His senses extend out for six miles in each direction, and he finds no trace of unnatural things. Everything is as it should be. Here and there fey linger at the edge of his consciousness, but they are mischievous, not malicious. He cannot detect evil - for all he knows there is an orc warband up the trail - but he is confident that there are no abominations nearby. Satisfied, he climbs a tree and scouts the lands ahead, planning where he will hunt. They are short on provisions, and he and Thokk will be walking off-trail for most of the day. Even searching thusly, they will be easily able to keep up with Barnabus and Larry. But it will mean that Babshapka is leaving Aurora's side for hours at a time. Knowing that any enemy they face will at least be natural, he feels confident leaving her with the main body of the party.

    After breakfast Babshapka and Thokk pack a lunch for themselves, in case they do not reunite with the party until the night camp, and set out into the woods. The remaining six members of the party pack their gear and head up the Javan trail. “Up” is the right word, for the trail is definitely ascending, and when they pause in clearings, they can see that the land before them is ever higher, rising up into low, forested mountains. Still, the weather is pleasant and the company good and they manage a fair day’s march. When Thokk and Babshapka find them later in the day there is fresh meat and greens for dinner.

    [Six pounds plus 9.5 gained foraging, less 8 eaten is 7.5 pounds remaining].

    9 October - track from Silglen to Javan River - where the “h” in the "Barony of Greyhill" intersects the Javan trail
    Babshapka’s primeval awareness again convinces him that it is safe to forage away from the main group.

    They continue up the trail. It is just as steep as the day before, but now they can see high peaks to either side of them as well as in front. The trail is taking the most gentle ascent up a wide valley.

    Around three in the afternoon a light rain begins to fall and Willa calls a halt to the march. The rain does not obscure their vision or slow their movement much at the moment, but several hours of it on a steeply-sloped dirt trail could easily turn into a mud-pit, and she would just as soon have a clean campsite and dry night for those with tents.

    When Thokk and Babshapka find them later, after a bit of back-tracking, they carry with them the bounty of the forest.

    [7.5 pounds plus 11 gained foraging, less 8 eaten is 10.5 pounds remaining.]

    10 October - track from Silglen to Javan River
    On this morning, Babshapka’s primeval awareness detects the presence of something, just at the edge of its range. It is strange, like nothing he has felt before. He believes it is extraplanar in origin, and of uncertain intent. It is disquieting enough that he decides to spend the day on the trail by Aurora’s side. Since they have enough supplies for the whole day, he convinces Thokk to march with the party as well. Whatever the creature or being is, he wants everyone together if it decides to menace them. He did not understand what he sensed, but he knew that it was powerful.

    They continue up the trail. Babshapka is immediately convinced that they are being watched, but none of the rest of the party are aware of anything and put it off to a “bad trance” the night before. He has half a mind to dash off into the underbrush and flush out the person or creature that is watching, and following, them, but he restrains himself thinking that that is perhaps what the thing wants, to separate them.

    While Aurora ignores Babshapka’s presentiments, she does seem awfully interested in the trail on which they are marching, specifically whether they could have missed any side trails. She badgers Willa to take out her map, but Willa refuses, citing the rain they had the day before and the delicate nature of the map. When questioned about her behavior, Aurora replies that the elderly elf she spoke to in Siglin told her that there was another trail, a shortcut to the Javan River, that ran southeast and that would have to be along this stretch somewhere. She even sends her spirit hawk Buckbeak high into the sky all morning, soaring in circles and searching (and causing Aurora to trip clumsily up the trail as she cannot see what is in front of her when viewing through his eyes), but she never locates the side branch she claims exists. Even Babshapka sees no evidence for any branches off of the trail they are on, and he is incessantly monitoring the woods around them.

    As morning turns into afternoon Babshapka relaxes somewhat, and Aurora gives up on locating the missing side-branch. After their mid-day meal the trail becomes truly steep, requiring all their effort and attention to climb as it ascends to a rugged saddle between two peaks. For some time the soil is so thin and the ground so rocky that they even leave the forest and hike through alpine meadows.

    In the late afternoon they finally begin their descent down into the Javan River valley. Here the forests are even more lush and dense than those they have been walking through since leaving Silglen. It is not long before they pass a large stone cairn that marks the boundary between the Barony of Greyhill and the Dreadwood Protectorate. At least at this border crossing there are no self-proclaimed tax collectors. The Protectorate is not a traditional fiefdom run by some human noble. Rather, it is the name for all of the Dreadwood that is really too wild to be ruled, too savage to collect any regular revenue from. Here in the north, the land is claimed and patrolled by elven tribes nominally loyal to the Crown and the party is in little danger, but the more southern regions of the Protectorate, their ultimate goal, is truly a lawless wilderness.

    They work their way downslope along the base of a great cliff-face. Fortunately the cliff is to their north, giving them enough light from the south to march until well in the afternoon. Finally, as the sky is turning deeper shades of blue, Willa calls a halt for the day. It is cool, already in the sixties, and though they are hot from marching she thinks they will be cold in the night, here on the mountainside. As they make camp she sends out some of them to gather enough wood for a large fire. Thokk goes off a way to set his trap. They have just enough supplies for a full dinner tonight and a good breakfast in the morning, and then they will be completely out of food.

    [10.5 pounds and no foraging, less 8 eaten is 2.5 pounds remaining.]

    October 11 - track from Silglen to Javan River, in the Dreadwood Protectorate
    It does indeed get cold at night - down into the forties, perhaps, and the party is slow to rouse in the morning. Willa, Aurora, and Tyrius have a discussion over breakfast - they will soon be upon the river, with perhaps no towns of note before then. It would be better to have a full stock of supplies if they will be negotiating for their passage on whatever barge floats by. They have been keeping themselves fed, but barely, as they travel with just the casual foraging of Thokk and Babshapka supplying them. If they take a day of rest here and concentrate on provisioning themselves, they may be able to start the next day with full packs. In particular, Thokk and Babshapka have been eager to bring down a deer, but Tyrius had previously restricted them to small game, not wanting to be accused of poaching from the Baron. But here in the Protectorate, there is no local law to speak of - or at least the elves who allow hunting do not reserve large game for the tables of their nobles. This camp affords them the best opportunity to stock up before they arrive at the river. It is decided that they will keep their camp for one day while Thokk, Babshapka, and Larry dedicate the day to hunting and gathering.

    Thokk first checks his trap set the night before. It has been sprung, and snapped off a giant beetle leg! Estimating from the size of the leg, Thokk imagines the beetle stands higher than he is, and he is sorry he missed it. Giant beetle carapace makes good improvised armor, and the wing and mandible muscles are huge and edible, if tough.

    While the others spend a quiet day at camp, resting and mending gear, Thokk and Babshapka bring back a young buck and Larry returns with armloads of mushrooms, greens, acorns, and fruit. He also has a small cache of grubs and worms just for himself. The total bounty is nearly a week’s worth of food.

    [2.5 pounds with 43 pounds from foraging, less 8 pounds is 37.5 pounds remaining.]

    12 October - track from Silglen to Javan River, in the Dreadwood Protectorate - near the crossing of the Owl Stream
    In the morning the party breaks their two-day camp and sets out back down the Javan trail. It descends steeply and there is more than one section of switchbacks. A few hours into the march the trail crosses a sizable stream at a broad ford; larger than the alpine brooks they have previously walked or waded through. It is not yet mid-day. Here Aurora calls a halt and confers with Willa on whether she thinks this is the “Owl Stream.” When Willa checks her map and agrees that it is, Aurora says that they should move upstream and try the fishing. When everyone stares at her blankly, she explains that the elderly elf from Silglen told her of the excellent fishing in the upper reaches of the Owl Stream.

    “Why fishing?” asks Tyrius. “We have plenty of food now.”

    “Food for ourselves, yes,” agrees Aurora, “but with a few baskets of fish besides we could trade for passage on the river and would not have to offer gold to the captains.”

    The party remains unconvinced, but Aurora is stubbornly insistent that they need to go fishing. Willa is curiously silent on the matter after a few questions to Aurora.

    There seeming no way around it, the party reluctantly agrees rather than split. Leaving the trail, they begin to follow the Owl Stream upriver. At first they walk along its banks, but before long the stream itself lies in the bottom of a narrow glen and they follow it from the forest floor above. Less than an hour after they have left the trail, Babshapka, scouting the lead, finds a curious barrier. The entire hillside is closed off by a thick thorn hedge, as far as they can see in either direction, except for the narrow glen ravine, which at this point is more than fifty feet below them. Buckbeak confirms that the thorn hedge goes both directions, blocking access for miles at least, but that on just the other side of the barrier the forest is unremarkable. Even with hand-axes, it would take them hours to hack their way through, and walking around would take more than a day.

    Instead, they fell trees, strip limbs, and Thokk quickly ties the trunks together with rope from three different kits to make an improvised raft. The raft is lowered to the bottom of the glen with his block-and-tackle, and the party either climbs down or is lowered. Strapping their gear to the raft as best they can, they set off up the stream.

    Where the thorn barrier is overhead corresponds to the narrowest part of the glen between high rock walls, and the stream’s course is deep and strong. Thokk had been wading on the stream bottom, pushing the raft ahead of him, but in the narrows the water is already over his chest and likely to get deeper. Now he mounts the raft, and tries to use a grappling hook to pull the raft through the ravine. They are about halfway through when his hands slip on wet rope and the raft lurches back, gathers speed, and smashes into the ravine wall. The next few seconds are a chaos of flailing arms, bucking logs, and desperate grabbing.

    When everyone is safely on shore downstream, they take stock. Many have lost a small personal item - much of the rope is gone. Thokk has lost his mechanical game trap, and Willa had her vial of “cure disease”, captured from the Sea Ghost, smashed.

    Thokk ponders awhile, then declares that the raft was too complicated an idea. He takes the largest remaining log and into it axes leg-holds, like a giant flume. The party repacks all their gear. As they mount up in the water, Thokk tells them to hold on with their legs and thighs, because they will likely roll more than once, which helps no-one’s confidence.

    Barnabus stands behind Thokk. They use two grappling hooks and lines. Barnabus throws one, and when it is set, transfers it to Thokk, who advances them with the block-and tackle while Barnabus looks for their next hold.

    While the log rocks and bucks and pulls in the current, it does not roll, and some twenty minutes later they have emerged from the narrows into a large, placid pool. They hand-paddle to a bank and mount the shore. Before them is a great expanse of woods, like that they left behind, but older, thicker, and darker.

    Buckbeak is sent aloft, and reports a mountain with a village at its foot several miles ahead as well as a divot in the canopy that reflects an old, but usable, road beneath. The party spreads out their clothes to dry in the mid-day sun while they take their lunch on the banks of the pool. Here and there on the hillslopes behind them they can see bits of the thorn wall. Aurora says that they can likely reach the village by nightfall, and no one seems surprised that she hasn’t mentioned fishing lately.

    Their clothes are reasonably dry and their stomachs full by the time dark afternoon clouds roll in. They set off into the woods and soon find the road. It is ancient indeed, still recognizable although saplings of all sizes grow up through it. They proceed in the direction of the mountain while the sky grows darker all the time; around two in the afternoon a brief thunderstorm breaks, soaking them again. Although it quickly passes, in its wake the cool air and standing water have made a light fog. Black pools of water stand like dark mirrors about the muddy roadway. Thick, cold mists spread a pallor over the land. Giant tree trunks stand on both sides of the road, their branches clawing into the mists. In every direction the mists grow thicker and the forest grows more oppressive.

    The party continues along the road for at least five hours. The sun is long-lost to view but its last rays illuminate the top of the mountain above them when they come to a strange gate. Jutting from the impenetrable woods on both sides of the road, high stone buttresses loom up gray in the fog. Huge iron gates hang upon the stonework. Dew clings with cold tenacity to the rusted bars. Two statues of armed guardians silently flank the gate. Their heads, missing from their shoulders, now lie among the weeds at their feet. They greet the party only with silence.

    By now the entire party is spooked. Larry approaches the gates cautiously, tossing a handful of dirt between them. When nothing happens, the party walks through. However, when the last of them has entered, the gates swing closed of their own accord, groaning against their rusting hinges. As they clang shut, the mists seem to spring up thicker than ever. Deep in the mists, an unseen and unidentified beast growls.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:47 am  
    Post 59: A willage in the mists

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft. Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    While the party was in the woods, I used the ambient sound mix at There was a wonderful unscripted moment when they finally walked through the gate - I described it closing behind the last player, and there then occurred the first one of the random howls. They were very freaked out!

    Post 59: A Willage in the Mists

    Just inside the gates (B), the party carefully scans the mists for signs of the beast, but slowly realize the sound was distant. They proceed cautiously down the road through the dark woods.

    After a half-mile, the woods fall away from the road and they enter an area of pasture and fallow fields. Tall shapes loom out of the dense fog that surrounds everything. The muddy ground underfoot gives way to slick, wet cobblestones. The tall shapes become recognizable as the dwellings of a village. The windows of each house stare out from pools of black nothingness. No sound cuts the silence except for a single mournful sobbing that echoes through the streets from a distance.

    The party proceeds toward the village, their boot steps sounding unnaturally loud against the cobblestones in the silence of the night. As they approach, they notice that the village is surprisingly dark - it is only an hour after nightfall, and even poor folk without candles should still be knitting or mending by the light of a hearth fire. There seems to be light only in the village square - all of the other buildings are dark.

    The first two outbuildings of the village appear abandoned. On the main street, other buildings, shops and houses, are also empty - some looted, with smashed doors and fallen shutters, others perhaps still occupied but bolted up tight against the night. Everywhere the walls, especially on the door frames and window sills, are covered in scratches. Aurora examines them and believes them to be the work of zombies, but perhaps the eerie nature of the place is coloring her judgement.

    Thokk throws his shoulder against the door of a house, but it is barred from inside. The resulting crash echoes up and down the dark streets. Frustrated, he growls and takes out his battle axe. “No!” says Willa sharply. “We’ve already made enough noise. We are going toward the lights in the square.”

    Three blocks later they stand in the village square, which is actually a circle. The haunting sound of sobbing and wailing is louder now, and seems to be coming from the street to the south. While the square itself is not lit, two buildings, one to their left and one to their right, have lights on inside, and the light spills out into the darkened streets. They move to the left first - the light comes from behind heavy, drawn curtains. There is a sign hanging outside the shop, creaking on hinges over the door, but the lettering is unfamiliar to most of them. “It’s in Suel,” announces Aurora, “not ancient Suel, but a rather archaic form of modern Suel. I believe it says “Bildrath’s Mercantile.”

    (E1) They knock on the door, and the curtains are drawn back, but the face that looks at them is in shadows. A second later a stout bar is removed and the door is opened. “Come in, come in,” says a man in a heavily-accented Suel that only Aurora understands. “But be quick! The streets of Barowia are not safe at night.”

    Bildrath, if indeed that is his name, is a middle-aged man, but it appears the years have not been kind to him. His hair is sparse and gray, and he has heavy bags under his eyes. His hands seem to move of their own accord, nervously, fretfully. After the last of the party is through the door he closes it, hurriedly puts the bar back in place, and moves behind the counter.

    The shop is lit by oil lamps mounted on the walls, with polished tin plates behind them to reflect more light, but it somehow still seems dim. Dusty, half-empty shelves are everywhere, but even so there are a number of various and sundry goods about, and it appears as any general store they have been in - though perhaps this one has seen better days. The more valuable items are on the shelves behind the counter, inaccessible to the party. Most of the party give a cursory inspection of the items on the shelves. Larry helps himself to a few pickles floating in an open pickle barrel - they are crunchy and briny and quite good. Aurora wanders about the store, nonchalantly picking trinkets of small value off of the shelves and placing them on the counter, as she converses with the man in Suel.

    “You said the streets are not safe...what makes them so?”

    “Volves, and vorse…”

    “Do you have anything that might help us against such creatures? Silver weapons or wolfsbane or somesuch?”

    “No, no. I’m afraid in Barowia the demand for such items far outstrips my meager supply.”

    “We are travelers - do you have many of those?”

    “Trawelers in Barowia are rrare, but not unknown. Eet has been more than a year since I haf seen any, certainly.”

    “Why are so many of the houses in the village empty?”

    “Thees land ees under a currse.”

    “Indeed! What is the nature of the curse?”

    “The currse ees the devil - the devil Strrahd!” as Bildrath says this last part, he whispers, and then makes a gesture to ward off evil.

    “What is the devil Strahd?”

    Bildrath winces at Aurora’s loud, offhand repetition of the name. “Thees things are not to be discussed at night.” He looks at the items she is putting on the counter. “Perhaps eef you rreturned in the day, ve might talk. Eef you rreturn.”

    “Hmm. We are looking for a place to stay for the night…”

    “No! Not een my store!” Bildrath exclaims. “Try the tavern across the street. They may haf rrooms to let above.”

    Aurora pays for her purchases, and finds the bill is about ten times what she would pay in a town like Daerwald or Seaton. Larry is pulling pickles out of the barrel with his bare hands and trying to stack them in his arms like kindling. Bildrath glowers at him, then hands over a pair of tongs and a large earthenware jar with a lid.

    The party leaves the shop and walks across the street. A single shaft of light thrusts into the main square, its brightness like a solid pillar in the heavy fog. Above the gaping doorway, a sign hangs precariously askew proclaiming this (in Suel) the "Blood on the Vine Tavern."

    (E2) They make their way into the building. The once finely appointed tavern has grown shoddy over the years. A blazing fire in the hearth gives scant warmth to the few huddled souls within. The silence here is broken only by the occasional sip of wine. The barkeep is behind the bar, cleaning glasses. He looks up as the party enters, but returns immediately to his work. Three men with dark skin and in brightly colored clothes are at a table on the left. A solitary man, much paler, sits mysteriously in the shadows to the right.

    Larry approaches the man in the shadows, attempting to discern whether he is some kind of undead. “You look like a stranger to Barowia,” the man says, in a heavily-accented Common. “Are you trawelers?”

    “We’re adventurers!” booms Larry brightly. Shefak notices the three men on the other side of the room bend their heads together and whisper.

    “Adwentures? Then you are used to helping people in dangerous situations?”

    “Of course.”

    “Come, let us go to my house.”

    By now, Aurora and Tyrius are standing next to Larry. “Why don’t you tell us what you need first.”

    “Not here,” the man demurs. He leans in and says softly, “There are too many ears here.”

    The man leads them out of the tavern and down the street to the south. A moaning sob floats through the still, gray streets, coloring their thoughts with sadness. The sounds flow from a dark, two-story townhouse they pass (E3). The party asks the man what the sound is.

    “Ah, that...that is Mad Mary,” he sighs, and makes a warding gesture.

    (E4) At the very end of the street a weary-looking mansion squats behind a rusting iron fence. The iron gates are twisted and torn. The right gate lies cast aside while the left swings crazily in the wind. The stuttering squeal and clang of the gate repeats with mindless precision.

    Weeds choke the grounds and press with menace upon the house itself. Yet, against the walls, the growth has been trodden under to form a path all about the domain. Heavy claw markings have stripped the once-beautiful finish of the walls. Great black blottings tell of the fires that have assailed the walls. Not a pane nor shard of glass stands in any window. All the windows are barred with heavy planking, each plank marked with stains of evil omen.

    The man thrusts aside the gate impatiently and strides up to the front door. He pounds on the door, calling, in Common, “Sister! Sister, open. It is Ismark!” By the time the door is opened, the party is clustered around the man at the threshold. Immediately light spills from the mansion, and a second later, the strong stench of death overwhelms them. Their hands go to weapons, but in the doorway is only a young woman of surpassing beauty.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Apr 23, 2019 1:40 pm  
    Post 60: The House of the Burgomaster

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft. Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Post 60: The House of the Burgomaster

    12 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia
    The young women in the doorway stares dumbfounded at the party, and then at the face of her brother. He nods at her and she ushers them inside, immediately barring the door behind her while he drags a small table with a holy symbol on it in front of the door.

    The interior of the house is well furnished, although the fixtures show sign of considerable wear. Obvious oddities are the boarded - up windows and the overuse of holy symbols in every room. An older man is in a side parlor to the left, dead. He is lying on a settee in a room that is dark, despite the candles burning in his honor. The stench in the house is horrible.

    “Sister,” says Ismark, sounding greatly relieved, and he kisses the young woman on both cheeks. He turns to the party. “To thee of might and walor, I present my sister Ireena Kolyana.”

    Tyrius bows deeply and a few of the others hastily imitate him.

    “And who are these strrangers, Ismark?” she asks, following his lead and speaking in Common.

    “Adwenturers,” he says, “I think they can help us.”

    “We may be able t’ help ye,” says Willa cautiously, “but firs' we need t’ know what be going on 'ere.”

    Ismark and Ireena lead the party into a dining room across the hall from the parlor with the dead man. Between them, they tell a long tale. They explain that the man was the Burgomaster, the village leader of Barovia, and that they are his children. The village of Barovia is a sad place now. Most of the shops have been forced to close. The night, and its creatures, belong to the devil Count Strahd von Zarovich, Lord of Barovia. When the sun sets, the people of Barovia barricade their homes, trembling in fear. Each night the attacks get worse. Recently, the Burgomaster's mansion has been the center of most attacks - although it was not like that when the siblings were children. Each night now, wolves and other, terrible creatures attack the house. The Burgomaster's heart could not stand the constant assault and he died a natural death. Strangely, just since his death, the wolves have not attacked the house. The Burgomaster has been dead for nearly ten days, but no one from the town has been brave enough to help Ismark take him out for burial. During the same attack in which the Burgomaster died, his mansion's greatest holy symbol was stolen, and Ireena and Ismark are now without protection.

    The poor villagers of Barovia have been terrorized for generations by "the devil" Strahd. No villager has left Barovia for centuries. Those who tried never returned, dying from the vile snapping teeth of the Barovian wolves and the choking deadly fog. The dark Svalich woods surround the village and cliffs. There is a deathly stillness in the dark woods, yet they are patrolled constantly by the wolves and serving beasts of Count Strahd. Strangers occasionally arrive in the village, like the party, but they never leave. This is because of the trapping mists that exist everywhere in Barovia. Once they are breathed, they infuse themselves around a person's vital organs like poison. When they leave Barovia, the poison becomes active, killing them - if the wolves do not find them first.

    The men the party saw in the tavern were Rhenee boatmen. They are spies for the devil, and it is rumored that they can pass in and out of Barovia as he wills. When the party asks whether they should return to the tavern and kill the men before they can report to Strahd, Ismark looks shocked, and Ireena aghast. No, they say, the Rhenee are spies, but they do not hurt the people of Barovia. And even if they could be silenced, the devil has many spies, and most assuredly Strahd already knows that the party is here.

    On the outskirts of the village sits a church. Only the constant prayers of the priest keep it safe at night. In the morning, with the party’s help, Ismark will take his father’s body there for burial. The party wonders why he could not do this by himself, or surely the two of them together - their father was a large man, but not so large he couldn’t be moved in a hand cart. Ismark simply repeats that it is “too dangerous”.

    Far above the village sits Castle Ravenloft, Strahd's home and fortress. Certainly, Barovia will never be safe until the evil in his castle is destroyed. No one knows what hides within the castle. Ancient tales tell of dungeons and catacombs deep under the castle. Other stories recall the great halls, treasures, and glory of Ravenloft centuries ago. Sometimes Strahd “calls” to certain people in the village, and they must come to his castle - usually young women. Such was likely the fate of Gertruda, Mad Mary’s daughter. The old woman kept her daughter confined in her house, never allowed to leave, and even the other villagers had never seen her. But last week she broke out and has not been seen since. Mary has been disconsolate, and her moans and sobs continue unabated.

    The party eats dinner from their own supplies, but heated in the kitchen of the mansion. They then arrange a watch schedule. Those resting are shown to the Burgomaster’s bedroom on the second floor, after Ismark extracts a pledge from all the men that they will not disturb Ireena, and a promise from Tyrius that he will enforce their pledges. Those on watch are shown the stairs to the garret, and a corkscrew from the kitchen is used to drill peepholes into the boards in the four windows of the tower.

    Thick clouds obscure the moon, but Aurora estimates it is around midnight when a dozen wolves take up a howling, right at the base of the mansion’s walls. The building shudders, and frantic messages arrive to Aurora, telling her that the wolves are throwing themselves against the doors and windows. Aurora looks desperately from peephole to peephole, but cannot see the source of the attacks.

    With a fantastic crash, the back door breaks in two against the restraint of the bar. The lower half falls into the hall as wolves and bats enter the mansion. Babshapka, Larry, and Barnabus hold off the intruders. Finally, out on the front path, Aurora spots a single man, cloaked in a dark cape and with dark hair, almost invisible against the night. Around his feet slink wolves, heads cowed. Peering through the peephole, Aurora prepares and targets her magic missile spell, sending the missiles exploding into the figure’s shoulder and chest. His cape sizzles and burns, but his body does not move. He cranes his neck toward the garret, and Aurora can feel his hateful red eyes upon her, with her as exposed as if she was standing naked in front of him in broad daylight, rather than behind boarded-up windows at night. With a flourish of his cape the figure turns on his heels and strides away, laughing cruelly, followed by a host of wolves and a cloud of bats.

    The battle over, Thokk slays one of the unconscious wolves and drags the other one into the pantry, laying a leg of meat beside it and shutting the pantry door. Hours later but before dawn he can hear it whining and scratching at the door. He begins a ritual, calling his wolf totem to himself so that he can see through its eyes and speak with its voice. When Thokk is ready, Larry opens the door for him and Thokk faces the wolf.

    Using his totem to speak to the spirit of the wolf, Thokk learns that the wolves of Barovia call Strahd the “Master of the Pack,” and must obey him because he is “The Master”. Sometimes he calls them to his stone house, but they do not like to go there because there are many dead things there. Rather, they live in dens all over the woods and hunt the creatures of the forest when he is not commanding them. Thokk gathers as much information as he can before he mercifully kills the wounded wolf, and none-too-soon for Ireena, who is both upset about the attack on their house and incensed that Thokk would keep one of the beasts that attacked them, alive inside the house.

    Watch and sleep schedules are re-adjusted, so that those wounded in the fight, or who used spells, can still get a full rest. The party had planned to debark at daybreak, but now they tell the Kolyana siblings that they will not be leaving the house until mid-morning. Privately, Ireena voices her concerns to Ismark that these adwenturers may not be the help they had hoped for.

    Those in the garret swear they see shapes in the woods around the mansion at various points in the night, but there are no further attacks.

    13 October, 9am
    Well after dawn the entire party, as well as Ismark and Ireena, depart the house, the siblings with their father wrapped in a sheet and carried between Thokk and Tyrius. Ismark and Ireena have, between them, one sword - a family heirloom, though both also carry long daggers. They pass up the cobblestone streets to a hill on the north end of the town. Here and there villagefolk can be seen moving about in the daylight, but they turn the other way when they see the party, or dart into doorways, so that none of them can be seen clearly or for long.

    (E6) Atop a slight rise, against the very roots of the castle's pillarstone, stands a gray, sagging edifice of stone and wood. This church has weathered the assaults of evil for centuries on end and is worn and weary. The bell tower hangs to one side, its sweet tone long silenced. The rafters strain feebly against their load. The party pauses at the unlocked front doors.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 1:17 pm  
    Post 61: The Kirk of Father Donovich

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    I decided to make the generic "gypsies" of the module into Rhenee to tie them more specifically to the Greyhawk setting. I kept one wagon but added some barges.

    For the camp itself, I used the audio file at:

    Post 61: The Kirk of Father Donovitch

    13 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia
    Passing through the doors, the party finds the church interior a shambles, with overturned and broken benches littering the dusty floor. A body is slumped over a claw-scarred altar toward the far end. Babshapka approaches it silently - until his foot kicks a bronze offering plate that clangs across the floor. With a sharp intake of breath the slumped figure jerks upright, hands clutching at the holy symbol around his neck. When he comes to his senses, he asks in a voice hoarse from all-night chanting, “Who is there...Ireena Kolyana, is that you?” His blood-shot eyes strain to see them.

    “Yes, Father, and Ismark with me.”

    “And who are these strangers?”

    “Trawelers, Father, here to help us bury…” her voice breaks off.

    “Who is that in the sheet then, is that…?”

    “Our father, the Burgomaster,” says Ismark, as his sister cannot bring herself to answer.

    “It is as I had feared,” the priest hangs his head resignedly. “Still, ve can give him a decent rresting place. Let us go outside.”

    Behind the church is a small cemetery (E7). Some of the graves have stone markers, some even statuary. Most have simple flat wooden plaques with carved sunburst designs, and many are unmarked. The grass is a bit greener here than the rest of the village, and it seems a quiet and peaceful place in the morning light. Not far beyond it, however, towers a vertical cliff face that rises more than a thousand feet. At the very top can be made out the towers and walls of Castle Ravenloft, looming over the village.

    Father Donovitch brings picks and shovels from a shed and Ismark, Thokk, Tyrius, and Larry quickly dig a grave. Just as the grave is finished and they are preparing to lower the Burgomaster into it, a howl splits the morning air and a huge wolf-like creature dashes from the edge of the woods straight at them.

    Everything happens so fast, it is difficult to say whom the beast is targeting - the Burgomaster’s body, the Kolyanas, the priest? As it races past Shefak, she lands a swift punch to its flank, making it list to one side. She follows up with a swipe from her staff, completely knocking it off its feet, and a party member finishes it off with a sword. Standing over the body, Babshapka declares, “That’s no wolf; that’s a worg.”

    Ismark looks around at everyone who questioned why he did not bury his father before. “As I said, it was too dangerous.”

    The worg is carried out of the cemetery and the Burgomaster laid to rest. Father Donovitch gives a eulogy in Suel, and Tyrius says a few words in Common as well. The Barovian priest listens carefully to the paladin, and stares intently at his holy symbol of a blazing sun, then draws him aside for a private conversation. Ireena, with the party, turns to discussing the Rhenee. Father Donovitch at some point in the eulogy mentioned Madam Eva, and the party is curious. Ireena explains that Madam Eva is the leader of the Rhenee, and heads their camp at the base of the waterfall. The party decides that they need more information about her. Ireena will lead them to the camp while Ismark returns to the mansion to attempt to fix the broken back door. Ismark gives Ireena their sword, and Father Donovitch kisses her forehead and blesses her.

    (c.10:00am) Ireena and the party take the road south out of the village and come upon the ancient stone bridge that spans the River Ivlis. The river is as clear as a blue winter sky, and in no way reflects the dismal gray clouds overhead, as if it was the last uncorrupted thing in the valley. For the next half-mile, the road passes in and out of the forbidding Svalich Woods, near to, and then far from, the Ivlis River. Then the party suddenly comes to a fork.

    (F) The northern path climbs slightly uphill while the southern route goes down and around a spur of the mountain. Dense fog obscures vision, but Ireena says the northern route will take them to the Rhenee, while the southern road leads to the castle of the devil. A cold autumn wind whistles down the northern lane, cutting icily through their clothing. Dead brown leaves rush about. There is no sound other than the wind and leaves, and their own breathing.

    The party takes the northern route up and over a hill. As they come down the other side, the woods close in quickly until they overshadow the road itself. The sound of the river is faint but grows louder. The canopy of mist and branches overhead suddenly gives way to black clouds boiling far above. There is a clearing here at the edge of a large, placid pool. Dry, brittle grass rustles in the biting wind. On the far side of the clearing is a covered wagon, and moored at the edge of the pool are several colorfully painted covered river barges. The mournful strains of an accordion mix meekly with the moaning of the wind. Several brightly clad figures surround a large, roaring fire. The road seems to pass close by this camp, but its cobblestones have given way to a dirt track.

    Before emerging from the trees into the clearing, Shefak puts on her ring of invisibility and Barnabus disappears into the foliage. The somewhat smaller party then approaches the fire.

    One of the men stands and nods as they approach. “It vas fated that you vould wisit this humble camp. Madam Eva foretold your coming. She awaits you." The man leads the party to a barge, the other men at the fire seeming not to notice them. The party steps aboard the barge, pausing at a narrow doorway to the covered portion.
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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 5:30 pm  

    I am so excited to read your party's adventures in Barovia! This is an exciting, though unexpected, turn of events. :)

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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 6:52 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is an exciting, though unexpected, turn of events. :)

    Who knew Barovia was in the Dreadwood, right?
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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    Tue May 07, 2019 6:00 am  
    Post 62: The Barge of Madam Eva

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.

    Post 62: The Barge of Madam Eva

    13 October, 570 - A Rhenee camp at the base of Tser Falls, Barovia

    The party steps aboard the barge, then duck their heads to enter the covered portion of the vessel through a narrow doorway.

    Within, all is dimly illuminated in pools of red light. A small, low table stands across from the doorway, covered in a black velvet cloth. Glints of light seem to flash from a crystal ball on the table as a hunched figure peers into its depths. She speaks. Her voice crackles like dry weeds. Her tone soars and falls like the wind outside. "At last you have arrived!" Her sudden cackling laughter bursts like mad lightning from her withered lips.

    “Come in, come in, velcome, one and all,” she intones, speaking rapidly to each of them as they enter and squeeze in to make room for the others. “Thokk of the Mountains, mind your head on the cabin roof, dear. Tyrius, paladin of light, you are about to be sorely tested in this land of darkness, no? Aurora, close you are to vhat you seek, yes? So close! And your guard, Babshapka of the Silwervood, yes, will you find out vhy you must guard this voman? I think you vill, some day, but not here, no. Villa of Saltmarsh, you...vell, I had better not say in public, eh? Ireena, my condolences on your loss, child, yes, he vas a good man. Larry, ah yes, little Larry - ooh, vipe your feet before you come in, there’s a dear...but vhat is this? There are two missing, no? I cannot tell your fortunes vithout the whole group present! I cannot! Please, please to call them in, yes?”

    Aurora, awed at the crone’s knowledge of their group, messages Shefak and Barnabus (who remained hidden outside), and soon they too squeeze into the cabin. “Now ve are all here, yes? Take hands, please, eweryone take hands - your fortunes are all joined, this is wery clear…” When everyone in the party, plus Ireena, has linked hands, Madam Eva produces a deck of cards, thin, painted wooden plaques, wrapped in a bright piece of silk. She bids them each in turn mix the cards, but refuses to touch them herself once they are out of the wrapping.

    Once everyone has handled the cards, she motions for them to spread the cards out, face down, on the table with the crystal ball. Turning to Tyrius, she tells him that he must select the first card, and that the card “is a symbol of great power. It tells of a powerful force for good and protection against the forces of darkness. You vill need this if you are to triumph.”

    Tyrius flips a card over, to reveal “Eldred, the Wizard of Warriors.

    Madam Eva gasps. “This is a wery bad sign. This is in the wery heart of darkness: his home, his source. It is his center and his life. It is the one place to which he must rreturn. Seek the symbol there, but bevare! The Varriors are a dark shadow of evil cast over that place. If you fight there, they will conspire against you!”

    Next, Eva indicates that Aurora is to choose a card. When she has selected it, Eva says, “This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand a foe.” When Aurora turns the card, she reveals “Morgan, the Baron of Druids.”

    “Aha!” says Madam Eva. “The Baron is a crafty one, no? You should seek for a carefully hidden place of great vorldly vealth. I see a blazing fire protecting the place. The Druids sustain your strength here, but hold you from your wictory, taking more time than it otherwise vould. This is a good place to rest - but not to fight. Take care you are not caught there.”

    Third, Eva calls upon Willa to choose a card. To guide her hand, Eva says “This is the object of your search! Ah! I see darkness and evil behind this card! It is a powerful man whose enemy is light and whose powers are beyond mortality!”

    Suddenly Willa feels drawn to one particular card. She turns it over, showing “Basil, the King of DragonLords.”

    Madam Eva nods knowingly. “Yes, always brooding on his power is that one. You vill find him on a king’s throne. The DragonLords are a very good influence there. If you fight him there, the powers of good will aid you.”

    Fourth, Madam Eva encourages Thokk to choose a card. Before she can even say anything, he flips over “Gaff, the Fool of Warriors”.

    Eva smiles. “This card is good for you, barbarian. It is a card of power and strength, the wictor’s card. It tells of a veapon of light, a veapon with a wengeance. It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful. It is in a place of visdom, varmth...and despair. Great secrets are there. The Varriors cast their shadow over that place as well, for he is often there. Do not fight there if you can help it, but carry the veapon forth to engage him elsevhere.”

    Finally, Eva looks upon Ireena pityingly. “Yes, child. You must choose this one.” Ireena hesitatingly puts her hand forth, hovering over the table. The light from the crystal ball fades and flares, and then she puts her hand down. Eva says in a low tone, almost whispering, “And here is the root card. Out of darkness and chaos, this card finds the reason and foundation for darkness and chaos. This card shows the purpose of all things. It is the key to life and death and else beyond.” Her hand trembling, Ireena flips the card over. It is “Aurelia, Princess of DragonLords.”

    “Yes, yes,” says Madam Eva, almost to herself. “Of course, the Princess - the young voman not yet married, but surely betrothed, no?” Then, to Ireena and all the party, with a tone of insistence, “The darkness loves a light and desires it. Great subtle plans are in motion about you; plans that the dead may find varmth from the living!”

    Madam Eva collapses back as if exhausted, and rests for several moments before speaking again. “There, now you have the fortunes of all of you, combined. That I provide for you, as I must - as the fates decree. Howewer, should you vish to know your personal fortune, that I can prowide to you indiwidually, for just five gold a person, no? Now you all leave my cabin a moment - but if you vish me to pierce the weil of your future, please rreturn one at a time.”

    One by one the party exits the cabin on the boat, heads abuzz with strange new information. Many of them wish to know their fortunes, and even convince those who, at first, do not. One by one Madam Eva entertains them in her cabin, always starting the conversation with “Place the coins on the table, please. Ah, Lions I see! Good, good. Difficult to see is the future, alvays in motion - and yet, Madam Eva has the Gift - the Gift of Sight. Our fates are full of light and dark, all of us. Some folk - be they pure of intent or simply awaricious, look only at vhat they may gain. Others, those who are cautious or afeared, think only on awoiding loss. I can tell you one thing, just one thing my child, for in focusing on the one, the other slips avay - but you must choose, light or dark.”

    When Aurora has had her fortune told, she lingers in the cabin, attempting several times to get Eva to reveal more information about Strahd. The woman steadfastly refuses. “No, no, Strahd is the Master of this Realm, and ve are all his guests. Vhat I told you before vas only vhat the fates decreed that I must, I had no choice there. But I vill not tell you anything about Strahd. Vhile I vish you success in your endeawor, your fate is already sealed. And should you fail, my people vill still be here, and Strahd vill still be here, and I must protect my people. I vill not abuse the trust he has shown me, nor allow my people to be punished for my ill manners.”

    It has been at least an hour that the party has tarried in the camp of the Rhenee, and now they return up the road through the woods toward the fork. (c. 11am) As they walk, they speak of their private fortunes - some openly, some cryptically, some not at all.

    “So, Aurora, tell us a’gin what fishin’ experdtion brought us ‘ere?” says Willa, with just a hint of menace.

    “You know, fishing, the old elf told me…”

    Willa interrupts sharply. “Aurora, in case ye hain’t noticed, we all be trapped in some nightmare world. We be fightin’ a devil an’ even if we run, the mists’ll kill us. I fer one would apperciate knowin’ just why we be ‘ere in ther firs' place - an' it ain’t fer fishin’!”

    Aurora petulantly starts into her tale of fishing again, but by now Tyrius has become involved. He waves his hand for the party to stop walking - they are now nearly at the crest of the hill, on the road from the river back to the fork. He has the enchantress face him as he speaks.

    “Aurora - you are being untruthful. You have led us here to a realm of great peril. We deserve to know why.”

    “Ok, ok, I haven’t been entirely truthful with you, but it is a highly personal matter. The truth is, I am looking for my family history. Babshapka will attest to this,” she says as she gestures at the wood elf, who is even now scanning the trees on each side of them and ignoring the conversation. “I never knew my father…” Aurora pauses to let this phrase elicit sympathy for her, but the faces around her are unmoved. “Yes, well, I never knew my father, aside from the fact that he was an elf of some nobility. I have been researching elven noble families and family lines. I did this around Gradsul, and I was attempting to do it here. The old elf told me that there was a ruined city near here called Valadis, and that I might find information there that would help me. I told the story about fishing because I wanted to find Valadis and learn about my father. That is the truth.”

    Tyrius stares at her, looking deep into her eyes for near half a minute after she is done talking. Then he says dryly, “I don’t believe you. You are still lying.”

    “I don’t see why it matters,” says Aurora, loud and exasperated. She turns away.

    Tyrius turns red and stretches forth his gauntleted hand to grab her and force her to look at him, but stops short before he touches her. His nobleman’s pride struggles with his vows of humility and selflessness. He takes a deep breath and walks around in front of her.

    “It matters because we need the light of Pelor. Aurora, we are fighting a creature of darkness. He commands wolves and bats and, according to Thokk, he commands the dead. The only way any of us make it out of this place alive is by the grace of Pelor. I am not the most powerful fighter in this group, nor the most canny spellcaster. But the powers that Pelor grants me, to heal, to detect and repel evil, to bring light in the darkness, are our only chance of salvation.” Tyrius pauses to let his words sink in.

    “Aurora, your power comes from your knowledge, but mine comes from my faith. If I break faith with my vows, if I forswear myself, the power of Pelor will desert me, and then we are all of us doomed. Pelor is a god of truth, and a god of justice. If I tolerate your lies for the sake of convenience, if I feign ignorance of your duplicity, I am not fulfilling my oaths as a paladin.”

    [DM’s note: Tyrius’ Oath of Devotion requires him to enforce, in himself and to a lesser extent in others, the values of Honesty, Courage, Compassion, Honor, and Duty]

    Cornered, Aurora sees no way out. “Fine,” she hisses. “I’m looking for information about the Malhel.”

    “The who now?” says Willa, both trying and failing to keep the triumph out of her voice.

    “The Malhel. They were one of the early houses of the Suel that fled the Invoked Devastation a millennium ago. The settled the Sheldomar Valley along with the Rhola and Neheli, founding Keoland. Unlike the other houses, they were evil. So the other houses drove them out. Supposedly they were defeated and exiled, never to be seen again. But I have found some information that maybe they settled here in the Dreadwood. For some reason some powerful people want this information to be secret, so it has been hard to learn what I need to know. I was hoping to find Valadis and learn more.”

    Tyrius considers this. “So you tricked us into coming here to research an ancient, evil, Suel house?”

    “Yes! But not because I want to take on their evil power or study their evil magic or something like that from the fables. It is just historical interest, but it appears to be a closely guarded secret, for reasons I don’t know. Yet. And,” she adds as an afterthought, “I had no idea this Barovia place existed and I had never heard of Strahd or the von Zaroviches before we came here. I am just as lost as any of us.”

    Tyrius again regards her closely, this time for a full minute after she has finished speaking. “Fine,” he says at last. “I am satisfied.” He begins striding up the hill.

    “Now hold on!” cries Aurora behind him. “As long as we are being so honest, as long as your god doesn’t allow secrets, what about you? You refused to tell us your fortune! Don’t you find that just a bit hypocritical? Well?” she demands.

    Tyrius responds calmly. “My personal fortune concerns only myself - it cannot harm you. Neither have I demanded to know your fortune, as I presume it does not affect us. But suspecting that you deceived us all into coming to a realm of peril, for unknown reasons? That is not a private secret, that is a secret that affected us all, and that threatened us all. Your motivation in bringing us here was something that concerned us all. I assure you, I keep no such secrets, myself.”

    Frustrated, Aurora is not about to give up. “What about Willa, then? What is she keeping from the party? Could it harm us? Not only won’t she tell us her fortune, but she has some kind of hidden agenda! I think she is a spy or something! Probably for the Viscount!”

    Tyrius turns to Willa, arching one eyebrow. The dark woman shrugs broadly. “Fair’s fair. I’m an agent for the Crown, I admit. I’ve bin tryin’ ta figger out what Aurora’s bin up ta, is all.”

    Tyrius nods, but gives no indication he is interested in hearing more.

    Aurora is incensed. “Talk about your outside agenda! Keeping secrets! How can we trust her in the party! What are you going to do about her, Tyrius?”



    “You heard her. She’s an agent of the Crown. If she works for the King of Keoland, she has a right to keep tabs on folk like you, what with your looking for secret knowledge in dark places. We should be glad the King has such agents and move on.”

    “Aaaaagghhh!” Aurora roars in frustration, and stomps rapidly up the hill, faster than Tyrius can follow in his armor, forcing Babshapka to jog to catch up to her.

    Willa chuckles.

    If Willa manages to find out what it is that Aurora seeks in the Dreadwood, she will gain a level.
    [DM’s note; For fulfilling her “positive” fortune, Willa is now level 5]

    It is many minutes later when the party stands again at the crossroads (F), with one road leading down to the village of Barovia and the other up into the mountains and thence to the castle of the devil. Here they pause and converse. Aurora is sullen, and does not speak.

    They debate whether, knowing what Madam Eva has told them, they should march immediately upon the castle or retire to the village to wait out the day and night. It is late morning - the sun is nearing its highest point, though obscured by the thick, gray clouds. Some put forth that they should move against Strahd now, before he has a chance to learn that they have been aided by Madam Eva. Others argue that they may need all of a day in the castle - should they face Strahd at night, they are surely lost, and the hours between sunrise and noon may be what determines their fate. They say the party should hole up in the village one more night and leave at the morrow’s dawn. The first group contends that this is playing into Strahd’s hands, as once he knows where they are, he will surely attack again in the night. The debate goes back and forth for quite some time, with more daylight being wasted, until finally those who favor immediate attack concede.

    The party then turns east along the road. They ask Ireena repeatedly for where they can fortify for the night. Is there not some stone basement, some safe room walled by stout timber? She stubbornly insists that the Burgomaster’s house is the most defensible site in the village, but that should the devil wish to assault them, nowhere in Barovia is safe - only the great holy symbol was able to protect her family, and now that is gone.

    After a few hundred yards of walking, the party approaches a depression, where the woods grow closest to the road but then give way to the banks of the Ivlis River. Ahead of them, in the center of the road, are three huge wolves. The largest is on his haunches, while the others lie on the muddy stones. The party immediately halts, and the wolves don’t move, though they do stare intently at the group.

    Barnabus and Babshapka retreat from the party, and then fade into the woods on either side of the road - the halfling to the north, the elf to the south. Thokk motions those who remain to fall back behind him, while he squats and begins chanting in orcish.

    While they wait, the party discusses the meaning of this blockade.

    “It is obvious he wants to drive us to his castle, and prevent us from returning to the village,” says Tyrius.

    “Wha’ever he wants us to do, we should do the opp’site,” insists Larry.

    “Unless he actually wants us to go to the village, but he knows that we will oppose whatever it looks like he wants, so he put the wolves there to make it seem like he didn’t want that…” suggests Shefak philosophically.

    After ten minutes, Thokk strides toward the wolves, ready to talk to them through his totem. He can see the dark shade of Strahd hanging over them, and they grow more restless at his approach. Hackles raise, fur stands on end. Before he can speak, a hidden wolf breaks from the woods to the north, running full-speed at Ireena, and then the others rise and attack.

    Ireena defends herself with her family’s sword, but the wolf savages her off-hand before it is slain. The party makes short work of the other three, and then bandages Ireena’s wound. They return to the village. Ireena wants to go directly to her home, but some in the party insist on stopping first at the house of Mad Mary, to Ireena and Willa’s chagrin.

    They try the front door, but it is locked and barred from the inside. Barnabus easily scales the framing timbers of the house to the second story, though the incessant sound of weeping and wailing from within is disquieting.

    DM's Note on the Fortunes of Ravenloft
    I wanted to use the Fortunes of Ravenloft method given in the module to place the "quest items", with the draws of the players determining their locations. However, I felt that using a normal deck of cards would weaken the suspension of disbelief. Fortunately, I had on hand a set of cards from the Dragonmaster Game. These cards, beautifully illustrated by Bob Pepper, come in four suits (DragonLords, Druids, Warriors, Nomads) and eight ranks (King, Queen, Prince / Princess, Wizard, Duke, Count, Baron, Fool), and so could perfectly replace the cards needed for the Fortunes draws.

    The Dragonmaster game is briefly described at and links at the bottom of that page show the cards themselves.

    I decided that the most appropriate four of the party members should draw for the first four fortunes, as follows:

    Tyrius, the Paladin, would draw for the location of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind

    Aurora, the historian, would draw for the location of Strahd's Diary. I had decided to place with the diary a copy of The Chronicle of Secret Times in order to further her secret subplot.

    Willa, the party leader, would draw for the location of Strahd himself.

    Thokk, the party warrior, would draw for the location of the hilt of the sunsword. Thokk already had the blade of the sunsword, which he had obtained from me planting it as part of Elmo's party's hoard (and see Post 36, Old Elmo's Hoard).

    I had already decided the root card, Strahd's motivation, which was to win the love of Ireena. I had known this since our new player agreed to join the game as Ireena. I had planned to let her draw a card and then to read the description for the pre-chosen fortune regardless of the card's identity - but when she turned over the Princess, I got goosebumps. It was just too perfect.

    As Madam Eva said above, that was the party's group fortune. I then let those who wished to return privately pay for their individual fortune. Observant readers will recall that in this game I am not tracking xp, but rather allowing the PC's to progress at "plot appropriate points," (and see Post 12, A DM's Aside) when they complete story goals. The last story goal was the successful completion of U3, which saw them all to fourth level. For those who wished to have their individual fortunes told, I explained that I had individual story goals for each of them, and that meeting their story goal before the end of the module would gain them a level. However, I also had negative story goals for each of them, and that if they completed their negative story goal in the module, they would lose a level. The menace of them doing the wrong thing and then losing a level definitely added to the "horror" flavor of the setting (especially considering that even undead monsters in 5e typically cannot cause permanent level loss). Finally, I explained that when Madam Eva said she could look to the light or dark, but that they would have to choose, it meant that I would reveal one story goal to them, but not both. I would, through Madam Eva, either tell them what they needed to do to gain a level, or lose a level, and they had to choose which one they wanted me to reveal. This provoked a great amount of hand-wringing as they tried to figure out which they wanted to know more, and then, once they knew their fortune, whether or not they wanted to reveal it to the other party members. Eventually, those that had their fortune told convinced those that had decided not to, to have it done, although not everyone has revealed their individual fortune to the party.

    Private fortunes (Light) - (Willa, Aurora, Tyrius, Babshapka, Shefak)
    Willa: It seems Willa is now a Knight of the Black Watch - or at least in their service. If she manages to find out what it is that Aurora seeks in the Dreadwood, she will gain a level.

    Aurora: If Strahd is hundreds of years old - why not a thousand? If anyone knows about the Malhel, it would be he. There must be something in his castle that will tell her what she wants to know. If Aurora can discover clear information about the Malhel, she will gain a level.

    Tyrius: When the demon Strahd is vanquished, Tyrius will know that he is truly a champion of the Light. If Strahd is forever destroyed, Tyrius will gain a level.

    Babshapka: Nowhere is Babshapka’s service more likely to be put to the test than here. If Aurora makes it safely out of Barovia, whether Strahd is vanquished or not, Babshapka will gain a level.

    Shefak: Strahd is hundreds of years old, and a powerful ruler. He must know something of Zuoken, and that information is likely to be in his castle. If Shefak can discover a clue about Zuoken’s location before leaving Barovia, she will gain a level.

    Private fortunes (Dark): - (Larry, Barnabus, Thokk)
    Larry: Larry does not fear Death, for it is a natural part of the cycle of Life. But to be trapped in Undeath is the worst perversion there is. If any of the party become undead, Larry will lose a level.

    Barnabus: No treasure or story is worth dying for! If Barnabus dies while in Barovia, he will lose a level, even if he is later raised from the dead.

    Thokk: The demon Strahd commands the spirits in Barovia - he even dares to command Thokk’s totem spirit! If Thokk loses a combat with wolves (he is knocked unconscious or flees), he will lose a level.

    For the player of Ireena, I did not offer a light or dark fortune. Rather, I had Madam Eva tell her, in private, that there was no point in telling her fortune, for she had done it dozens of times before. When Ireena objected that she had never been to Madam Eva, Eva said perhaps not in this body, but still. Nevertheless, she said, things might be different this time - these adventurers had been brought to Barovia by fate, and perhaps they could finally change Ireena's fortune. Finally, I had her tell Ireena's player that the initial backstory I had told her - of her being the Burgomaster's daughter, was false - that the Burgomaster had actually found her in the woods, at the base of the pillar rock of the castle, when she had been a young girl, and adopted her.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue May 14, 2019 3:30 pm  
    Post 63: The Townhouse of Mad Mary

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    For the carriage ride through the Svalich Woods, I used

    Post 63: The Townhouse of Mad Mary

    13 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia

    From his perch atop the second-story window ledge, Barnabus pries a few boards loose from the boarded-up window and drops lightly to a hallway within the house. A narrow staircase leads down; two doors lead off the hall, with the weeping coming quite obviously from one. He pries a few more boards free, then lowers a rope and other party members start ascending while Willa stays at the bottom and frets. “Really? We be doing t'is?”

    Once inside, Tyrius calls forth the holy light of Pelor and leads the way into a bedroom. A woman lies collapsed on the floor, hugging an empty dress to her chest. She is pale and disheveled, but very much alive, and not a groaning spirit as some had suggested. At first her grey hair and sagging skin make her appear ancient, but as the party tries to rouse her they see that she is actually middle-aged but hard-worn with grief. Nothing they can do seems to make her respond - she only sobs and shakes and barely notes their presence. While the party is occupied with the woman, Barnabus is casing the room. It appears that this is not her bedroom - what few simple dresses there are, are styled for a young woman and cut for a fuller figure than hers. There are meager possessions - a set of combs and brushes, a child’s rag doll. Barnabus finds a board on the floor that has been removed from the bedroom window. Below, in a flower bed (though the flowers are all dry and dead), are footprints and a rope made from bed-sheets.

    Finally Ireena comes into the room. “Mary,” she soothes, laying her hand on the woman’s head and mumbling a prayer. The woman pauses in her sobs and looks up, her eyes swimming in tears but briefly lucid. “Ireena? But oh, my Gertruda! The devil has Gertruda…” she gasps. Ireena leads her by the hand to her own bedroom and helps her to drink water. She collapses into a catatonic slumber in her own bed. The house is eerily quiet now that her sobbing has finally ceased. Tyrius collects food from the kitchen and places it beside her bed for when she wakes, praying for Pelor’s mercy on this poor woman. The party leaves, returning to the Burgomaster’s house.

    Ismark has been busy, repairing the shattered back door, cleaning the bloodstains from the floors and the death-stains from the settee. The party sets a watch schedule designed to have everyone rested and ready by dawn.

    14 October
    Shortly after midnight there is another wolf attack, this one even more frantic than the first. Numerous swarms of bats accompany the wolves and there is much desperate fighting within the house, although none of the animals attack Larry. Larry is guarding the back door, and through it he can see the dark figure from the night before.

    DM's Note:The following colored section was at the time known only to the player of Larry.
    Although the figure speaks in whispers, Larry can hear his voice clearly. The man says he is glad Larry has come - there is a curse on the land, and he needs the help of a powerful druid to remove the curse. Larry immediately agrees to help, and the man is pleased, and Larry finds that he is happy that the man is pleased. The man says not to mention this meeting to the party. Sometime soon, he says, he will ask Larry to do something, to perform an action, that will help remove the curse from the land, but the magic is such that he cannot tell Larry until the precise moment. Larry says he understands, but that the party may want to fight with the man. The man says Larry should not be afraid, that the party cannot hurt him - Larry should play along, can even try to attack the man. Everything will be fine as long as Larry does what he says when it matters, to break the curse and free the land. The man fades back into the darkness.

    Larry’s moonbeam proves highly effective against the attackers - Aurora’s web, not so much, perhaps inconveniencing the defenders more. Many of the party are wounded in the fight, and most have lost their rest. It is not until 9:30 the next morning, with the sun well up, that the party sets forth from the Burgomaster's house.

    In the morning, there is a brief debate about whether the Kolyanas should accompany the party to the castle. Ireena is insistent that she go, but Aurora is suspicious. Tyrius proclaims that he cannot protect her unless she accompanies them. Ismark decides that he must stay in the village to lead the townsfolk and besides, they have only the one sword between them. The siblings embrace before the party leaves.

    Babshapka searches around the house for tracks from the night before. He follows the wolves' prints to where they crossed the Ivlis River at the bridge outside of town. When Aurora remarks it odd that wolves would need to cross the narrow river at a bridge, Ireena shakes her head. “They trawel vith the devil. They can cross running vater, but he may not.”

    After crossing the bridge themselves, the party walks for an hour along the dirt road. They pass unmolested by the site of the previous day’s battle with wolves, though the bodies no longer remain. If some of the party feel that there are eyes in the woods, the others reassure them that nothing is there. Indeed, after leaving the sounds of the village behind them, it is silent except for wind and the occasional bird call.

    After the crossroads where one road leads to the Rhenee camp, the other road curves around a spur of the mountains and then up into the mountains themselves. The woods creep closer to the sides of the road until the tree branches overhang the road itself. In many places there is almost no visibility, while at other times the road hugs the edge of a slope too steep for trees and the vista opens to breathtaking views of the River Ivlis or the valley of Barovia below. The clouds above seem to darken the higher they climb.

    After many twists and turns and steady climbs the road seems to be headed to a place suspended in air, where the mountains fall away on either side. Arriving, the party finds themselves on a ledge a thousand feet above the river. To their left, the Tser Falls plunge nearly the entire distance down into the valley below. Great plumes obscure the base of the falls and what must be a deafening roar below reaches them as a quiet murmur. The space across the gorge over the river is spanned by a massive, narrow, stone bridge, ancient in age and worn smooth with time.

    The party pauses at the edge of the bridge, and Larry goes so far as to throw a handful of dirt on it before crossing, wondering if it is real. Willa snorts and strides past him, ignoring the giddiness they all feel as the wind buffets them and the ground spins beneath them as they cross.

    Once over the bridge, the wind dies down and a thick fog emerges from the woods. As they continue up the fog-shrouded dirt road, dead leaves crackle along their track. The road eventually splits in two (I). One path continues to the northwest. The other, wider, branch leads east into the heart of the dense forest. Patches of cobblestone show up through the east road, telling that it was once great.

    Ireena says she has not been here before, but that she believes the left-hand road leads to the western gates of Barovia (B) while the right-hand road continues on to the castle. Her explanation dies in her throat though, as she spots something at the crossroads, and a second later the entire party is silent.

    (10:30am) To the right side of the fork stands a large carriage with two horses. Both horses are black as pitch. The horses snort violent puffs of steamy breath into the chill air. The carriage door swings open silently.

    What follows is an intense debate among the party about whether to mount the carriage or not. Ireena insists that the devil knows they are coming - he is inviting them in, and there is nothing they can do now to surprise him. Willa stubbornly insists that she is not riding in that “death trap”. People approach the horses, then back away. Babshapka searches the carriage carefully, then mounts the driver’s bench and invites Aurora inside. Eventually the entire party climbs aboard, even Willa. The black wood of the coach is polished to a fine shine; the leather seats inside bespeak comfort and luxury.

    As Willa pulls the carriage door closed behind her, the horses immediately strain at their harnesses and move forward down the road, their hooves clopping on the increasingly frequent cobblestones. Soon they are moving at a brisk pace. The woods flash by, difficult to see through the growing gloom. Though it is only mid-morning, it is hard not to feel as though night is coming as the sky blackens and occasional flashes of lightning pierce the darkness.

    After passing through the craggy peaks of the Balinok Mountains, the road takes a sudden turn to the east and the startling awesome presence of Castle Ravenloft itself towers before them.

    Having gone a scant half-mile along the road, the carriage comes to a stop just in front of twin guardhouses of turreted stone, broken from years of use and exposure. Beyond these, a 50-foot-wide precipice gapes between the Balinok cliffs and the walls of Ravenloft, a chasm of dizzying depth that disappears into the fog-shrouded distance far below.

    The lowered drawbridge of old shorn-up wooden beams hangs precariously before the arched entrance to the courtyard. The chains of the drawbridge creak in the wind, their rust-eaten iron straining with the weight. From atop the high strong walls, stone gargoyles seem to stare down from their hollow sockets and grin hideously. A rotting wooden portcullis, green with growth, hangs in the entry tunnel. Beyond this, the main doors of Ravenloft stand open. A rich warm light spills from them into the courtyard. Torches flutter sadly in sconces on both sides of the open doors.

    With the horses now still and unmoving, the party descends from the carriage as a light, dismal rain begins to fall. They cross the drawbridge one at a time. Under Tyrius’ weight, a wooden crossbeam breaks, and a dinner plate-sized chunk of the bridge is freed. The wood spirals into the depths below, disappearing into the fog. Tyrius hurries to cross the remainder of the bridge.

    (10:45am) After the harrowing drawbridge, the party passes under the portcullis and out into the front courtyard (K1) of the castle, which is surrounded by tall stone walls. Thick, cold fog swirls around in the darkened space. Sporadic flashes of lightning lance the angry clouds overhead. Thunder pounds. Ahead, torch flames flutter in the wind on each side of the keep's open main doors. Warm light spills from those open doors into the courtyard. Doors in the gate towers on each side of the tunnel entrance are shut against the rain. A howling wind rushes through the courtyard. The dark towers of the keep loom above in the mists. Flickering lights shine from a short round tower on the southeast side of the keep.

    Ireena stands transfixed for a moment, a strange look upon her face.

    “What is it?” asks Tyrius, and her face clears.

    “Oh, nothink. A strrange feelink, an old memory, nothink more.”

    “I thought you said you have never been here,” asks Aurora suspiciously.

    “Vell, I hawen’t, of course.”

    The ornate massive doors of the keep hang open. Fluttering torches cast dim yellow flickers of light from the entry way. As the first in the party approach, a second set of doors suddenly swings open effortlessly and the sounds of organ music flow out. Overhead, in the entryway, four statues of dragons glare down, their eyes flickering in the torchlight.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue May 21, 2019 9:47 am  
    Post 64: Castle Ravenloft

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    For the music playing upon the party's entrance to the castle, I used Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor at

    Once the organ ceased, further exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 64: Castle Ravenloft

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, at the entrance to Castle Ravenloft

    The party passes quickly through the 20’ by 20’ entryway (K7), pausing only to make sure that the dragons are, indeed, statues. They continue into the room beyond, with the sound of the organ growing louder.

    Cobwebs hang from dust-covered columns of the great hall beyond (K8), illuminated by torches fluttering in iron sconces. The dust and webs cast strange, moving shadows across the faces of stone gargoyles squatting motionlessly on the rim of the domed ceiling. Cracked and faded ceiling f