Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: synopsis

D&D 5E: Scouting and Deception

Since last session, the kids’ schedules diverged a bit, so we ended up having a couple of sessions with varying numbers of players. This provided an opportunity to demonstrate the whole “short rest/long rest” recovery scheme, to both players and DM.

I’ve got this nefarious scheme where I’m trying to leverage D&D for educational purposes. (Hey, it worked on me.) As a part of that, I’ve rejected the seductive path of milestone leveling. When the PCs overcome an obstacle, I award XP, the players do the math, and we see if anybody levels up. I was worried that might slow down the game too badly, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I keep an eye on their XP totals, so I know when they’re getting close to a new level. I try to pace it out so that they level when it’s about time to wrap up for the day.

Reminder, we’re using the adventure, Gauntlet of Spiragos, if only loosely. From this point on, you will surely encounter spoilers. (One thing I did change: the original module has the local goblins being variants with six arms, among other mutations. I left it at just spidery eyes and a poisonous bite. I figured that would emphasize the monstrous nature of… well, you’ll see.)

What Happened

Reaper and RH settled down in a concealed location near the Chasm, keeping watch and eating sandwiches. Styx and Necro went to reconnoiter, approaching the Chasm more closely than before. They discovered that it was a deep, sheer pit. How deep, they could not tell, because a canopy of webs hanging dozens of feet below obscured the view. There were a couple of crude rope bridges, woven from giant spider web, leading from the edge of the pit to a couple of odd stone pillars in the hole’s center.

Taking care to be quiet, the two crossed over the nearest bridge to one of the columns. As they approached, they realized that the column’s surface was riddled with holes, some large enough for a goblin to slip through. Being a slender elf, Styx had no trouble doing the same.

Styx discovered two things. First, upon getting a close look at the column’s surface and interior, her alchemical training allowed her to notice that it was no normal stone, but fossilized bone!

Marveling at the thought of such a large piece of bone, she made her second discovery: the column contained an interior hollow space, dark and thickly coated in cobwebs, that formed a kind of descending spiral staircase. She called to Necro, who was able to squeeze inside with some difficulty. Without keen elven eyes, Necro wasn’t able to see as well in the darkness, so he summoned dancing lights.

They had only descended a short way before they heard something. It sounded like exhausted whimpering, perhaps a wounded creature of some kind. Looking around, they noticed movement a few feet below, behind sheets of webs. A humanoid form?

While they were distracted, the giant puppeteer spider struck! It grabbed Necro around his waist, but wasn’t able to secure Styx. The battle that followed was tense and desperate, fought at close quarters, but in hindsight, the outcome was inevitable. Being grappled by the spider, Necro was an enemy of the spider, within five feet of it, and not incapacitated… which meant Styx could lay down a sneak attack on her every turn. She took it apart.

It turned out the “humanoid form” was really a crude puppet made of webs wrapped around a humanoid skeleton. The spider had worked it like a marionette.

After a shiver at this grisly encounter, the two carried on, taking occasional peeks outside the column to see how they were getting on. Having descended some way, they decided to check the webs outside the column to see if they could support a person’s weight.

As it turns out, Necro is a rather poor climber. Seconds after leaving the inside of the column, he slipped and fell!

The good news was, the webs could support a person, so they quickly stopped his fall. The bad news was, at least some of them were sticky, so he was trapped until he could extricate himself. The further bad news came in the form of a swarm of spiders the size of house cats, looking to see what tasty morsel had fallen into their webs!

Unnoticed on her perch above, Styx reached into her pack and pulled out her lunch. She tossed it in a direction far away from Necro, who held very still. Feeling the impacts on the webs, the spiders were spoofed, and ran off to investigate. While they were out of the picture, Styx quickly climbed down to lend a hand. Working together, they were able to free Necro and return to the dubious safety of the column before the spiders returned.

Descending further, they came to where they could see the bottom of the column’s internal shaft. It opened out onto a makeshift platform, more-or-less filling the entire area of the Chasm. Around the edges of the platform, Styx’s keen eyes could just make out that the Chasm’s walls, at this level, were lined with some kind of metal wall with huts atop it.

Having seen enough, the two quickly and quietly returned to camp. There, they related everything they had seen. The entire party settled down in a concealed camp for the night.

(Overnight, both Necro and Styx leveled up.)

The next morning, the party welcomed back Angus, their dwarven driver, upon his return. Leaving him in charge of the camp, they crept back up to the edge of the Chasm, where Styx and Necro pointed out all that they had seen the day before. Their plan was to retrace their steps, crossing the bridge to the same column, then descending to the bottom of the internal stairway. They set out to follow this plan.

Reaper and RH didn’t care for that plan. Having heard about Necro’s close call, they decided to take the quicker, easier route. They jumped from the edge of the Chasm, trusting the webs would cushion their fall. Reaper insisted that, as a drow, he was good with spiders.

As it happened, he wasn’t all that good with spiders.

The web did catch them, but they hadn’t counted on the stickiness. Reaper isn’t really the athletic sort, so he was quite hampered by it. RH was able to free himself, though, and made his way to the outside wall of the Chasm. The spiders came out to threaten Reaper, who attempted to use drow secrets of spider training, to no avail. In the end, they had to use the same trick as the day before, throwing food as a tasty distraction while they fled.

The party descended in two groups, with Reaper and RH climbing the outside wall while Styx and Necro climbed down the goblin staircase. They hadn’t gone far at all before they realized that the commotion with the spiders above had drawn unwanted attention from below. Inside the column, two small goblins followed by one big goblin were climbing up from below, silently, knives in their teeth! At the same moment, RH and Reaper noticed a goblin climber coming up the outside wall, as well!

RH displayed an unexpected prowess with climbing, moving to defend Reaper, who split his time between harassing the goblin with spells and hanging on for dear life. After taking a few hits, RH used his shield to batter the goblin until it fell.

Inside the column, Necro used dancing lights to light up the vertical battlefield. The goblins engaged with darts, so the PCs advanced to melee. After a short duel featuring several attempts to hide and multiple sneak attacks, the goblins were slain.

Now seeing that splitting up the party has its down side, all four PCs regrouped inside the column. RH helped Reaper as they picked their way across the Chasm on the web.

Reaper took a close, hard look at the body of the larger, “boss” goblin. Reaper is a warlock, who knows Mask of Many Faces, which allows him to cast disguise self at will. While this is his favorite party trick, it hadn’t done him much good thus far, because he can only vary his height by a foot either way. The goblins were too short to imitate. But now that he had a big goblin…

When the party came to the bottom of the stairs, they boldly walked out onto the patchwork platform with Reaper in the lead, disguised as the boss goblin who had just gone up the stairs. They had guessed that the huts around the perimeter were guard posts, so he waved an “all clear” and led the party that way. They had guessed right: a goblin poked its head around the door with a questioning look on its face.

By luck, most of the party speaks the language of the goblins, including Reaper. He explained that he had run into these guys (points at the PCs) who had come to join up with the goblins, since they all worshiped the same titan. This being a religious matter, he had to take it to the matriarch.

The guard saw how this all made sense – or at least enough sense for its pay grade and challenge rating – and so the party was waved towards a big trap door. They slid down on ropes made from webs, descending through open air to a pile of rubble. The elves could see evidence of four tunnels off the main chamber along one wall, and a larger, barricaded tunnel to one side.

They were challenged by a gang of goblins, but again, Reaper went through his “it’s a religion thing” story and again, the goblins bought it. They waved the party through to the barricaded tunnel, escorting them into the presence of the tribe’s champion, a mutated, multi-armed giant of a goblin! Again, Reaper did his song and dance, and again, it worked, at least for a short time.

The tribal champion took the party into the matriarch’s chambers. There, under her questioning, the story started to ravel a bit at the edges. The champion finally put two and two together, moving to attack while shouting a warning at the matriarch. Before she could do much of anything to defend herself, she was charmed, and stood confused while the party dog-piled the champion, quickly silencing him.

Reaper settled down to have a nice conversation with his new best friend. With the keys to the city, so to speak, it didn’t take long for them to get what they wanted. She showed them the goblins’ treasure room, containing several hundred gold pieces’ worth of miscellaneous coin, gems, and jewelry. Then she showed them the tribe’s real treasure, two relics of the titan Spiragos: a dagger and a ring! (No gauntlet, though, even though it had been expected.) Finally, she showed them her secret back door that could be used to escape the Chasm without going back through the entire goblin tribe again.

The party collected the magic items and about 60% of the treasure. (They didn’t want to take all the treasure and leave the whole goblin village destitute.) They then took quick advantage of the matriarch’s secret tunnel, emerging some distance away from the Chasm, and then walking some distance to return to camp. Angus was happy to get on the road immediately, and so they returned to town after three days on the road.

While on the road, RH leveled up, and the party inspected the magic items. It was discovered that the dagger was a +1 weapon with some special poison-related powers, and the ring offered some spider-related spells and powers to warlocks. It was decided that Styx should have the dagger and Reaper should get the ring.

After reflection and research back in town, the party realized…

… (spoiler space, no, don’t look)…

… the entire Chasm had been the gauntlet! The story goes, Spiragos and another giant-sized titan had fought on the site hundreds of years before. At one point, Spiragos fell, plunging one of his hands deep into the earth, where it was momentarily trapped. The other titan took advantage of Spiragos’ situation to cut off the titan’s trapped arm, leaving behind the gauntlet on that hand, the ring on one of the hand’s fingers, and the dagger that the hand had held. Over time, once they were out of contact with their owner’s flesh, the ring and the dagger shrank to human size. The gauntlet remained in contact with the titan’s bones, though, and stayed mega-sized.

Future Plans

Styx wants to go back, take the rest of the treasure, evict all the goblins, excavate all the giant titan bones, and return the gauntlet to human size. It is acknowledged that this might be a higher-level quest.

Everybody wants familiars. Styx wants a pseudodragon, and Reaper wants to research how to befriend a flameskull. (He first wanted a crawling claw, but I guess a skull wreathed in flame is more metal.) Once they get to town and can buy the right incense, though, they’re going to settle for spiders and bats.

 

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D&D 5E: The March

Since the kids’ last D&D session, they had the opportunity to go to our Friendly Neighborhood Gaming Store’s annual D&D camp. There, they were exposed to the 5th Edition. They wasted no time telling me that 5E is superior in all ways to my crusty old version. 🙂

So, we abandoned the Cyclopedia and switched to the modern version of the game. Their characters from camp had made it to 2nd level, and they wanted to continue those characters’ careers. To bump up their numbers, we decided to have each kid play two characters simultaneously.

We picked up 5E play with four PCs.  They are Styx II (female wood elf sage/alchemist Rogue 2, with an eye towards Arcane Trickster), Reaper (male drow elf noble Warlock 2), Necro (male-identifying warforged sage Wizard 1, aiming to specialize in conjuration), and Rienhardt (male human noble Paladin 1, also known as “RH”).

Just like the last campaign, I snagged a free adventure to jump-start things; in this case, that adventure was Gauntlet of Spiragos. I’m making little tweaks as I go along, but be warned, there’s still likely to be spoilers.

What Happened

Styx and Reaper were teleported home at the end of the camp adventure, but something went wrong. While the rest of their old party returned to their lives, our heroes were swept away by a strange arcane misfire. They found themselves on the dirt floor of a crude stone hut, far to the north of their previous location. RH had taken shelter in the hut earlier. His initial surprise at the others’ sudden appearance was compounded when he recognized his childhood friend, Reaper.

While Reaper and RH caught up on old times, Styx poked around in the dusty hut, discovering a coffin-like crate. It was locked, but this presented no barrier to an experienced 2nd-level Rogue. When opened, the create proved to contain a mothballed clockwork “robot” with a crystal face. It slowly awakened when Styx started clearing packing materials away from it. Barely able to speak, it introduced itself as Necro. Styx was drawn to Necro by curiosity, while Necro took Styx to be his creator, and thus worthy of loyalty.

When discovered, Necro had an old piece of parchment clutched in his hand, which proved to be a map. After some discussion and orientation, the party decided that the map pointed towards a location called the Chasm of Flies, and hinted that one might find three magical items there: a ring, a dagger, and a gauntlet. They left the hut and walked up the road a bit to the nearest town, Cragfort, where they got their expedition organized.

Styx and Necro visited an alchemist’s shop, where they became friendly with the gnome shopkeeper and picked up necessary supplies. The shopkeeper provided some scraps of information about the legend of the Chasm of Flies, saying that after it received its name, the infestation of flies had attracted spiders.

Reaper and RH reserved rooms at the inn for the night, and then retired to the common room for carousing. There, they met a dwarf who worked in the local copper mine who liked the way they drank.

Realizing that it would take them several days to travel to the Chasm and back, and being told that opportunities to forage along the way were limited, the party purchased a large amount of rations. Unable to afford mounts, they instead hired the dwarven miner to drive them to the Chasm in his wagon. Bright and early the next day, they left town, heading north. The trip was punctuated with good-natured banter and a steady stream of RH’s sandwiches.

While the party slept on the second night of the trip, Necro stood on watch. He spotted a flicker of movement in the distance. He cast dancing lights, sending the glowing orbs thus produced over to cast some light on the subject while he shouted an alarm. The others awoke to see a goblinoid dressed in black leather, standing surprised and blinking foolishly in the light with knives in hand.

RH came off his bedroll at a sprint. Not bothering to arm himself, he simply tackled the smaller creature, applying a grapple and seeking to beat its head against a nearby rock. The others joined in the dog-pile as well. Once the goblinoid was immobilized, Styx put the point of her rapier against its throat and demanded its surrender. It spat defiance, telling them that people like them didn’t belong here. Styx shrugged and sent it to its reward.

The next morning, they left the hills behind and made their way across the Devils’ March, a wasteland left devastated after magical wars a couple hundred years before. Shortly, they started to hear the baying of hounds in the distance, a sound that seemed to grow closer as they went. They cautiously proceeded, with weapons close at hand. It wasn’t long before the more keen-eyed of the group spotted a humanoid figure in the distance, half-running, half-staggering towards them.

Only seconds after they first saw the person, he was brought down by a pair of large dogs. The party shouted at the dogs, who raised their eyes towards our heroes, revealing themselves to be partially-rotted undead. They howled once, then charged. Their howls were answered as two more undead hounds came over the ridge.

The heroes jumped off the wagon and ran to engage. Styx had to use acrobatics to avoid being surrounded, and would have ran away, if she weren’t forced to run back to aid Necro, who had been pulled off his feet by one of the dogs. RH caved in one of the dogs with a single swing of his warhammer.

In the end, the party stood victorious. The hounds carried no treasure, but each of them was wearing a collar with a tag. The tags bore a rune, something like a simplified sketch of a fanged skull. The party was able to identify the rune as a wizard’s personal rune, but wasn’t able to identify the wizard.

After a short rest, the party carried on into the wasteland. In the early hours of the afternoon, they came within sight of a circular hole in the ground, about 150 feet across. The Chasm!

The party had their driver park the wagon behind a handy boulder, then formed up with RH in the lead to march the last couple hundred yards on foot. As soon as RH stepped out in the open, however, an attacker appeared atop the boulder! It was a strangely-misshapen goblinoid riding a giant spider, who threw a dart at the paladin. The dart bounced off his helmet ineffectively, but then a second goblin popped out of concealment, high above, to harass the rest of the party.

Having no missile weapons, RH drew his warhammer and struck a two-handed blow against the rock, hoping to shatter the surface and bring one of the spider-riding goblins down. It almost worked, forcing the spider to dance quickly upwards to avoid falling.

The magic-users were able to bring down one of the spiders with a combination of acid splash and eldritch blast. Its rider fell to the ground, where it stood to find itself at melee distance. It bared its needle-sharp teeth, ready to fight like a cornered rat.

Styx tried to use her short bow to cripple the other goblin’s spider, but wasn’t able to make the shot. Commenting that she was really coming to dislike the bow, she drew her rapier and ran acrobatically up the rock face to where the goblins lurked. There, she grabbed a handhold and wounded its spider. The spider bit back, injecting its paralyzing poison. Styx was left alive, but unconscious and unable to move, her hand locked closed around its perilous hold.

While the one goblin bit at RH and Reaper and the other played hide-and-snipe, Necro tried a desperate gamble. He cast sleep, knowing that RH was inside the area of effect, but hoping that the goblins would be affected before him. Hoping in vain, as it turned out; while one of the goblins and the surviving spider did fall asleep, so did RH!

The other goblin turned and ran. It ducked for a hiding place, eluding Reaper, but Necro spotting it where it lurked. Found out, it scurried up the side of the boulder and vanished over the edge of the top. After a few moments of confusion, the party spotted it when it broke cover on the far side of the rock, running swiftly for the rim of the Chasm. Reaper stepped backwards to get a clear shot, then took the goblin down with a well-aimed eldritch blast to the leg.

The party rescued Styx from her perch. RH laid on hands, healing her and bringing her back to consciousness, but couldn’t do anything about the paralysis. Necro examined her and concluded that she needed an hour or so to get over it. Accordingly, the group settled down for a rest.

While they waited, RH and Necro performed some interrogation. RH spoke the Goblin language, and Necro loomed threateningly. (He would have engaged in some light torture, just to make sure no lies were told, but RH wouldn’t stand for it.) They learned that the Chasm was home to a tribe of spider-like goblinoids. The captives didn’t know anything about any magical items, but said that if there were any such items in the Chasm, they would likely be held by the tribe’s matriarch.

Having extracted all the information they were likely to, the party loaded the bound captives onto the wagon and instructed their driver to take them some way out into the wastelands and turn them loose. He happily agreed to undertake this task, unloading a day or so of rations before driving off, whistling cheerfully.

The party turned their eyes towards the Chasm and the expected treasures within.

 

D&D Known World, Session #5: Troglodytes

The kids carried on, without the guest players. Despite the scuffle that broke out last time, they decided to give the magic sword to Timi, the halfling henchman.

What Happened:

Being out of spells and low on hit points, the party decided to camp out in the easily-defended room with the pit trap and the bed. During the night, Kohncrete and Nautical left with the charmed orc, to do some scouting, but they never returned. The next morning, Anya prayed over Styx, healing his wounds, before they set out for the day’s exploration.

Carefully working their way past the pit trap, they paused at the door so Styx could listen and peek through the keyhole. He heard voices, and observed a group of troglodytes dragging a bound woman into place in front of a stone idol shaped like a humanoid alligator. While the trogs chanted, Styx slipped up behind them, making off with a couple of stone clubs and taking up a position behind the dagger-wielding priest.

Shouting war cries, the rest of the party burst from the room and engaged the trogs from behind. Everyone but Styx was sickened by the troglodytes’ terrible stench. Shadow charmed one, while the others fought to the bitter end.

The party took a bit of damage, and used a couple of spells, but was left in generally good shape. Their new troglodyte ally was dubbed Clod the Trog. Once woken, the would-be sacrifice introduced herself as Aniria, a cleric. She healed Styx, who took special pride in the rescue.

For a moment, it looked like there would be a disagreement about who would get the glowing, obviously-magical dagger, but then Styx noticed the alligator-idol’s two gem-set eyes. He climbed the idol to pry out its eyes, in approved old-school fashion, while Shadow put the dagger in his belt.

With that settled, they turned around and retraced their steps. They went all the way back to the room where they had appeared after falling victim to a teleport trap. There, they again went through the “everybody in the room, close the door, open the door” cycle a couple more times, just to make sure they didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t.

Since the trap still seemed to be one-way, they went back the way they came, re-examining the route. Thinking it led upwards, they returned to a stairway they had marked on their map, but discovered that it actually led down. No thanks!

Taking a right where they had previously taken a left, they came to a door. When Styx listened at the door, he heard nothing, but he detected the telltale smell of trogs. Clod wasn’t able to talk to the others, as none of them shared a common language, but he pointed at the door, shaking his head vigorously and holding up six fingers.

Rather than taking a head-on approach, they decided to try for subterfuge. They sent Clod in, while everyone else hid. After a few minutes, Clod returned, bringing one of the troglodytes out with him. Distracted by Clod, the trog was easy prey to a group backstab.

Shadow liked the way that had worked out, but wanted to speed up the process. Pulling a chicken leg from Timi’s rations, he opened the door and waved it at the five surprised troglodytes, shouting “Come and get it!”

Of course, all five charged. Battle was joined, as it so often is, at the doorway. Aniria tried to help, but with no armor and only a stick of firewood for a weapon, she wasn’t all that effective and soon fell back, wounded. Timi was knocked unconscious and Shadow had to drag her out of the melee. In the end, everyone was wounded, some badly, but only one troglodyte remained standing against them. It chose to turn and flee rather than carry on. The party chose to let it go, rather than pursue.

Once more entirely out of spells and low on hit points, the party decided to go to ground again, in the trogs’ old room.

 

D&D Known World, Session #4: The Endless Tunnels play tricks

The kids’ D&D adventures continue, this time with a couple of guests. As of last session, Styx had become a 4th-level thief, while Shadow is still a 3rd-level magic-user. This time, they were joined by a couple of guest players, bringing in some new PCs: Arnt Knott and his identical twin brother, Nautical, both 2nd-level fighters, and Kohncrete Sinderbloke, a 2nd-level dwarf. The party was rounded out by the surviving henchmen and hirelings: Bob the Goblin, who failed his save and therefore continued on, still charmed; Anya the 2nd-level cleric, now receiving spells; and Timi, 1st-level halfling.

This session, the kids experienced several classic D&D moments for the first time. Sadly, one of those classic moments was a squabble within the party over magical treasure, explaining why the session came to a somewhat-abrupt end. On a happier note, after looking at some of the illustrations in the Cyclopedia, they finally realized that “halfling” means “hobbit”. Much to their relief: it turns out they had been worrying that Timi’s hairy feet were a sign of something sinister. 🙂

As for our guests… They were adults with D&D experience, but only going back so far as 2nd Edition. They seemed a little appalled at some of the differences: “3d6 in a row” was one thing, but “Dwarf is a class” needed some explaining. They were good sports about the weirdness, though, even when… well, it’ll come up in the story. The guest PCs come in partway through the story.

What happened:

After the great haul last time, the whole party was eager to return to the  The Endless Tunnels of Enlandin (copyright © 2003 by Stefan Poag). After consideration of the 3-day travel time to the dungeon, most of the party decided to pack extra rations. Shadow decided he would save the money and live off the land, hunting for food. That didn’t turn out so well, as he was only able to find food on one day of the trip. Rather than let him starve, Timi shared some of her fresh rations with him, after extracting a promise of repayment upon their return to civilization.

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D&D Known World, Session #3: Entrance to the Endless Tunnels

The continuing adventures of the kids’ first D&D characters, using the rules from the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. Last session, both PCs again leveled up, bringing us to Styx, the 3rd level thief, and the Shadow, 3rd level magic-user. They added a hobgoblin to their charmed gang, so their starting henchmen were Bob the goblin (also known as Boblin and, in formal moments, Robert the Goblin) and the hobgoblin, variously referred to as Steve, Joe, Steve-Joe, Joven (half Joe, half Steven), and “hey you”.

This session, the kids grappled with encumbrance. I had been taking care of it for them, while showing them what I was doing; this session, I had them look up numbers and do the math for themselves. The only question from the younger of the two: “How many coins can I carry before I can’t move?” Enough to bring a tear to a 16th level fighter’s eye, it is.

They also independently invented the “15 minute adventuring day”, as we’ll see in due course.

SPOILER ALERT: This session leads our intrepid heroes into The Endless Tunnels of Enlandin, an adventure Copyright © 2003 by Stefan Poag. If you don’t want its secrets given away, you might want to skip this session.

The adventure describes itself as “An old school adventure for 5-8 low-level characters” which made me nervous in the beginning. The introduction gives some history, though, saying that this dungeon was used as a starter for new 1st level characters. I figure, two 3rd level PCs plus henchmen stack up to just about as much as six 1st level PCs, especially since they would level up as they went.

What happened:

Having gotten into the groove of things, our heroes went shopping. While in Threshold, Shadow scanned all their accumulated treasure with detect magic. Finding nothing new, they sold off the jewelry from the ghoul room for a sizable profit, then turned the money around to improve their gear. Having noted his attribute adjustments (penalty to melee for low Strength, bonus with missile from high Dexterity), Styx picked up a short bow. Shadow bought a backpack. They considered buying a healing potion, but decided it was too expensive (at the AD&D pricing, from the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide).

One of Styx’s unsavory friends approached him with an offer to sell him a treasure map. He eagerly accepted. The map showed the location of the long-lost castle of the Mage of Enlandin, about three days’ travel from town.

So, they started thinking about henchmen.

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Pirates! Session #5: “Operation Greasy Jesus”

Embarrassing side note: The PCs were seeking Jacob, the NPC who had escaped Hell alongside Van der Decken, to use as a guide back into Hell. Due to a memory slip, I spent the entire session calling him “Joshua” rather than “Jacob”. Sigh.

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, aspiring wizard
  • Gabby, cannon-whisperer
  • “Mad” Mags, destroyer of sheds
  • Mo’, ax man
  • Raphael, peeker at doors
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, vanishing voodoo priest

What Happened:

As we left off last time, Captain Courvoisier had approved of Gabby’s plan to go ashore and wreak havoc upon Port Coleman. She was given command of the ship’s boat, with a dire warning of the consequences should the boat be lost, along with a crew of “volunteers” – all the PCs.

Port Coleman was a rough village on a rocky area of the Moskito Coast. There was a single crude dock at one end of a strip of beach, with a handful of makeshift barns and sheds spead along the beach. A wooden stairway and capstan-driven lift provided access to the top of the thirty-foot bluff that sat behind the beach. The main part of the village was built atop this bluff. In particular, there was an earthen fort there, with several cannon aimed out to sea.

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Thanks to those cannon, the ship could not approach the harbor. Courvoisier performed some clever navigation and anchored the ship well inside the cannons’ range, but in the shelter of a tall outcropping of rock off the beach. Raphael took a spyglass to examine the fort, noting that it flew the English flag – a disappointment to the several members of the crew who would rather be fighting the Spanish.

The mission started with a flurry of “hurry up and wait”. First, there was a rush of last-minute preparation:  folks loading their weapons, knocking the bottom out of a barrel and putting it in the boat (for reasons unknown, as it remained there for the rest of the session), and so forth.

Papa performed further magical healing on Raphael to un-cripple his sword arm.

Raphael brought out a jug of oil and suggested that everyone cover themselves with it, with an eye towards making them too slippery to grab. There was no rush to take advantage of this plan.

Dirty attempted a ritual which backfired badly, disintegrating his fine clothes and leaving him wearing nothing but a loincloth. “Meant to do that,” he announced, taking the oil jug from Raphael and upending it over his head.

Finally, the group decided that they needed to wait for nightfall, anyway. The rushed preparations were shelved, and the deep plotting and planning began. In the end, they came up with a daring plan, which they dubbed “Operation Greasy Jesus”. (GM Note: I think it’s best appreciated if you pronounce it with a Dixie accent:  “greeeee-zeee”.)

Dirty, still covered in oil and nearly naked, cast a ritual to allow him to walk on water for a few minutes. Papa, being a much quicker worker of magic, cast another ritual in parallel, summoning a school of bio-luminescent jellyfish, and ordered them to follow Dirty, under the surface, to provide dramatic lighting at the proper moment. The rest of the party set off in the boat with muffled oars, stealthily heading towards the dock, while Dirty set off at a trot, angling for a spot further up the beach. When he came close enough, the jellyfish lit up and he started chanting a few ominous-sounding biblical phrases that Mags (being an English-speaker, unlike most of the other PCs) had taught him.

In short, the plan was for Dirty to provide a distraction, so that the others could get ashore unobserved, by pretending to be the bizarre arrival of Jesus to the shores of the New World.

As it happened, the plan was fairly successful. Only a few of the bystanders on the beach were overcome with religious awe, but all eyes were at least drawn by the spectacle. Several people began moving towards Dirty, just to get a better look. Stepping over the waves, Dirty waved for a couple of nearby men to approach, which they did. He raised his hand as if in benediction, stepping out of the water onto the beach. This, of course, triggered his “dapper me!” charm, which instantly stripped all the oil from his body and left him wearing the cleanest, whitest loincloth you would ever care to see. He waved his hand as if blessing one of the approaching men, even as the man’s eyes went wide from seeing the sudden change from “greasy Jesus” to “clean probably-not-Jesus”… and Guillermo, Dirty’s magically-animated “living bullet”, zipped in from where it had been lurking in the darkness, going straight through one of the man’s ears and out the other.

Meanwhile, the others had taken advantage of the distraction to pull the ship’s boat up to the docks. The crew approached the peering bystanders from the rear, some more stealthily than others. Of the small group of four standing near the docks, only one noticed anything amiss, and he was only able to shout “Hey!” and point out Raphael before the PCs cut the entire group down. Notably, Mo’ cut down more than one person with no more than a single swing apiece from his boarding ax.

Papa stepped out of the boat onto the dock, but never made it to the sand of the beach. Instead, he vanished in a cloud of voodoo magic on an unknown, but no doubt important and mystical, mission of his own. (GM Note: Player had to leave. All kinds of mystical.)

During the initial scuffle, another enemy walked out of a nearby barn to see what the commotion was, only to be cut down with a major wound. Mags paused to poke him until he stopped wriggling, and Raphael moved to make sure there were no other reinforcements lurking inside the barn.

Unfortunately, there were three more men in the shed. Brandishing his blood-covered rapier and utilizing his fearsome glare, Raphael cowed them through intimidation. They obeyed his gesture to sit down and stay put. Then, Mags and Mo’ came in, planning to kill everyone inside. Mo’ again demonstrated how he could nearly bisect a man with one swing of his ax. Mags decided to one-up him: she reached out her sword and tipped a nearby candle over. Onto some straw. Right next to a keg of black powder.

The evacuation of the shed was immediate. Everyone besides Mags tried to leave. In the case of the local men, they managed to successfully evade Mags and make it out the door. As for Mags, she lingered in the doorway, stabbing folks in the back as they tried to run away. When the shed exploded a few seconds later, Mo’ took some incidental damage from flying debris, but since Mags had used up so much of her running-away time in Bloodlust, she took the brunt of the explosion. This was enough to throw her across the beach, into the water. Through sheer grit (and good dice rolls), she did not lose consciousness, and was left badly wounded, barely able to hold her head above water.

Meanwhile, further up the beach, Dirty was engaged in his own fight. He was able to use Guillermo and the element of surprise to take down another man, but then found himself pursued by a sailor carrying a flintlock. Dirty retreated back out onto the water, throwing himself flat to take cover behind the waves. After a few seconds of cat-and-mouse, Dirty finally found his shot, and took it, killing the enemy.

At some point during all this excitement, there came the sound of cannon fire from the fort. There was some concern that the fort was firing on the beach, but since nothing on the beach besides the shed exploded, the pirates concluded that this was not the case.

After the adventure with the shed, Raphael was even more determined to not let anyone get behind them and close off their path of retreat. He moved to the next shed up the beach, opened the door, and stuck his head inside.

Unfortunately for him, what he did not know was that there were two men inside that shed. They had heard the events outside, and had decided to mount a last, desperate stand. They were both armed with a pair of flintlocks. The plan was for one of them (later identified as Bob) to throw open the door, at which point the other man would charge out, guns blazing. The plan was for Bob to follow directly after. As it happened, though, Raphael opened the door first.

Even as this triggered the second man’s Wait, Bob got off a shot at Raphael, hitting him in the face. Only a grazing blow, this wasn’t quite enough to put Raphael down for the count, but it did put quite a fright into him and knock him to the ground. The second man rushed outside, meeting Gabby’s ready and waiting blade.

Even as she repeatedly stabbed the man, Gabby explained about how she was here to do a job, and she was going to do that job, by thunder, if she had to chew the eyelids off every man-Jack on the Spanish Main! She pointed her rapier at Bob, announcing that she was here to kill Bloody Bill Coleman, and asking if he would like to give her a hand?

Bob agreed that he had never really liked Bloody Bill all that much, anyway. Furthermore, it had been his life-long dream to one day turn pirate. What a lucky day it was for both of them!

With the immediate fight over, and everybody besides Gabby wounded, some gravely, the pirates took shelter in Bob’s shed. As they took turns bandaging one another, they searched through the shed’s contents. Luckily, they discovered a supply of medicine, which was a big help in getting Mags back on her feet, if only barely. Gabby interrogated Bob. They learned that Bloody Bill was up in the fort, no surprise. More usefully, Bob told them about a palm tree growing nearby that could be used to climb up to the top of the rise with ease.

Once regrouped, the party went to check out this palm tree. After some debate, they came up with a new plan. Gabby went up the tree, scouted out the situation, dropped a rope, and then slipped off to skulk around in the darkness. Everyone else gathered behind a building at the top of the cliff. (Dirty left Guillermo on patrol at the bottom of the tree, to defend their escape route.) There, Mags tied all their hands together, using trick knots that they could untie with a single tug. Carrying only concealed weapons, they had Bob drag them into the light, loudly claiming that he (and his comrades, still on the beach) had captured a bunch of attacking pirates!

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This bluff was sufficient to get them into the fort itself, which was abuzz with activity as they fired the cannons out to sea. There, Bob was directed to a particular shack. He knocked, announcing the “news”. The door opened from inside. Bloody Bill Coleman stuck his head out. All the supposedly-bound pirates, and Bob, threw themselves prone. And…

… we rewind back to when Gabby slipped off into the darkness. With utmost stealth, she made her way to the only unattended cannon in the fort. (GM Note: As I recall, my words were something like “What unattended cannon? <looks> Oh, I guess there is one…”) Using the noise, smoke, and confusion of the cannons as cover, she had turned the cannon around, so that it was aimed directly at Bloody Bill’s front door. Then, when his face came into view and all Gabby’s comrades got out of the way… she fired a round of canister shot at him.

….

Well, it hit him, of course – Gabby’s a gunner prodigy, you know – but it ended up leveling his entire house. There wasn’t much left of Bloody Bill at all.

The pirates jumped to their feet, waving weapons, in the sudden surprised silence, and announced that now they were in charge. What with the sudden, brutal loss of their none-too-popular leader, the locals weren’t inclined to argue much. Gabby announced that from now on, Port Coleman would be known as Fort Gabby. Again, nobody wanted to argue the point.

The pirates signaled the ship. In the immediate looting, while the ship was making its way around to the dock, there were several noteworthy finds. First, a large amount of rum. Second, Dirty found another fancy outfit of clothes and put them on, to everyone’s relief. Finally, Raphael poked his head through yet another door – to the horror of the other players, in light of his earlier door-peeking – and discovered Jacob. (GM: Using the alias of “Joshua”! Yeah, that’s it…)

Jacob was politely, but firmly, taken into custody and handed over to Captain Courvoisier when he came ashore. The captain was observed to go in to speak with Jacob, only to emerge some time later, obviously in a fury. With the quartermaster unavailable, Dirty felt that it was his responsibility to see to his captain’s wishes. He went to speak with the captain, taking a bottle of rum with him.

As they drank and talked, the captain admitted that Jacob wasn’t willing to give up the exact location of the hole in the sea. Dirty asked what that information would be worth, if someone could get it out of Jacob? The captain replied, the person who got that information would be promoted to quartermaster and be put in charge of the next ship they took. That sounded good to Dirty, so he poured a glass of rum and announced that he would use his mystic arts to change it into a potion to compel truth.

One critically failed roll, and the glass of rum exploded into flames! Dirty took the worst of it, since he was holding the glass at the time, and was rendered unconscious. Captain Courvoisier was badly singed, and thrown back so hard that his chair fell over backwards.

Captain Courvoisier threw open his door and kicked Dirty out – literally, kicking him in the ribs hard enough to do even more damage – cursing him and his heathen magic the whole way.

Gabby went to see if she could help improve the captain’s mood, learned about the offer he had made to Dirty, and decided to take it up herself. (Courvoisier specifically warned her to leave Jacob alive.) Grabbing the rum, she went to where Jacob was being held, where she engaged him in drinking and conversation. After a short while, she struck up a bit of a friendship. Eventually, she convinced him that all he had to do was give them the location, and he would be free to go, unharmed. He agreed. Requesting the local charts, he marked the location of the hole in the sea. Furthermore, he wrote down a profane chant that would cause the hole to open into Hell.

This was pleasing to the captain, and so Gabby was named quartermaster. Her first job was to restock the ship for the next leg of the adventure.

After about a week of recuperation, refitting, and restocking, the ship set sail for the hole in the sea. This trip was accomplished with no particular drama.

(GM Note: In hindsight, I really should have sic’ed the kraken on ’em. I think they were expecting it. I remember several remarks along the lines of “the kraken is lurking just off shore” and so forth, earlier in the session. But it was getting late, and I was eager to show ’em pictures of the Great Blue Hole, and I just plain forgot about the kraken. I guess it was out running an errand and they slipped past it. That’s ok, there will come a rematch.)

There was some upset once they realized that the hole in the sea is actually a hole in a reef, making it impossible to place the ship over it without ripping out its hull. They remembered from Van der Decken’s story that his entire ship went through the hole. In time, they remembered that there had been some mention of it happening during a storm. Clearly, they reasoned, the ship must have been carried over the reef on a wave! But how would they do the trick?

Remembering how a previous critical failure at ritual magic had summoned bad weather, Dirty set out to perform a ritual to summon a big wave. He figured, either it would work, and he would have the necessary wave, or it wouldn’t, and they would get a storm, which might do the trick anyway!

Pushing his magic (and his luck with rolling the dice) to its limits, Dirty did the trick! A single rogue wave appeared, washing the ship over the reef with inches to spare, leaving it smack in the middle of the hole.

Next, the profane chant. Being the most literate among the crew, Raphael got the job. With a crack of thunder, the ship dropped through the hole, and into… well, Hell, or so they say. The sky there was roiling red and black. The ship floated on something like an ocean, but they weren’t at all certain that it was a sea of water. More pressing, though, was the sudden, nearby appearance of a huge ship with tattered sails.

Though there wasn’t a breath of wind – “Is there air?” was one muttered comment – the crew saw the other ship’s rags of sails stir. Slowly, creakily, the other ship began to move… towards them. The pirates could see movement on the deck of the other ship, but couldn’t make out any details until one of them went aloft with a spyglass. Then, they saw that the ship was manned by rag-clad skeletons.

Nobody wanted to be out-maneuvered by a bunch of ghosts, so Dirty again set out to make the most that he could of his relatively-weak magic. He performed a ritual to “let our sails use the same wind they’re using”. After several excellent rolls, he succeeded. A slim, tiny breath of wind came up, just enough to set them moving.

As the two ship maneuvered at an aching, snail-like pace, Gabby went below to ready the cannons…

Next time: against the ghost ship!


Cool Point: Gabby, for taking out Bloody Bill in such a decisive manner.

Booby Point: Dirty, for the “truth serum” scene, where he had everything riding on a single roll of the dice, only to roll triple-six and explode. (“Gee, Gabby, I’m sorry your bosun blew up…”)

The moral of the story:  Even low-down dirty pirates need social skills.

D&D Known World, Session #2: The Haunted Keep

The continuing adventures of the kids’ first D&D characters, using the rules from the Dungeons & Dragons Rules CyclopediaLast session, both the PCs gathered enough experience to level up, so now we’re talking about Styx, the 2nd level thief, and the Shadow, 2nd level magic-user… plus, Bob, the charmed goblin.

One of the highlights of this session was the kids’ first argument over alignment. Shadow’s player objected to Styx’s repeated pickpocket attempts. He felt they were risky, and more the kind of thing a Chaotic thief would do. Styx’s player wasn’t impressed by this argument, pointing out that he’s a thief, and thieving is just what he does.

There’s no cleric in the party. In the Cyclopedia‘s edition — “BCEMI D&D”, I guess? — the assumption is that there’s no market for magic items, so one can’t just buy a healing potion off the shelf. As far as I can tell, after repeated searches, the Cyclopedia has no rules for natural healing. (Immortals regenerate 1 hp per day, though, which establishes an odd baseline…) I’ve ruled that a day of rest restores 1d4 hp, modified by the character’s Con adjustment, minimum of 1 hp. Furthermore, because I’m a big softy and the kids both chose classes with d4 hit dice, I’m allowing any character to bandage another after a fight to restore 1d3 hp.

If you’re wondering: yes, this Haunted Keep is the same Haunted Keep that’s the example dungeon from the Basic Rules. So, uh, I guess, SPOILER WARNING for a two-page example dungeon from a product that’s ©1980 by TSR Hobbies Inc. (Further spoiler: TSR doesn’t make it.)

What happened:

Our heroes made it to the town of Threshold, where they sold one of the goblins’ pearls, keeping the transaction out of Bob’s line of sight. (When he stole the pearls, Shadow went to some trouble to make it look as if they had been taken by a raccoon, so it would be hard to explain how they came to be in his pouch.) This provided enough cash to pay for rooms at the inn for the humans, and a haystack in the stables for Bob.

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Pirates! Session #4

The Crew:

  • Big Tuna, over-sized brawler
  • “Dirty”, dabbler in the Path of Matter
  • Gabby, guns, stealth, and trickery
  • “Mad” Mags, rescuer and voice of reason
  • Mo’, agile, impulsive, and acquisitive
  • Raphael, not so young as he used to be
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, quartermaster and voodoo priest

What Happened:

A few days of uneventful sailing went by. Half the PCs put points into Navigation. Dirty used secret magical rituals to tame the enchanted bullet, naming it “Guillermo”.

The next event of note was when some of the crew tossed Pedro, an NPC sailor, overboard. Even before this fact was reported to Papa Sean Geaux, there was a race to be the first to raid Pedro’s sea chest. When Mo’ arrived, he found Gabby sitting atop it, whistling innocently. Even as they agreed to split the loot, Dirty showed up to claim a share.

When they broke open the sea chest, they found a modest amount of money and some spare clothes. They found several twisted up tobacco leaves, which were later identified as Mayan “sicars“. More ominously, they found a little doll made from corn husks, among other things, bearing a striking resemblance to the quartermaster. They decided to keep this to themselves.

Throughout the day, Mags noticed that the reduced crew had become sullen, with lots of grumbling and slacking off in small groups. It seemed to her that there were quite a few dirty looks aimed at Mo’, but before she could work her way into the conversations to find out more, Papa cracked down on the slackers and put them to work to still their tongues.

That evening, after they dropped anchor and the crew started the heavy drinking, Gabby showed the effigy to Papa. He was concerned, especially when she started playing with it, making it dance about, threatening to do things to it, and so forth. Luckily, Gabby is in no way a skilled magician.

As they pondered, a sailor came up from below-decks, shouting “On this day, Raphael has become a man!” The word was that he had proven his valor in battle (in previous sessions), he had shown that he could hold his liquor, and now, he had… fulfilled the last requirement for adulthood, in the pirates’ eyes, with the help of one of the female members of the crew. (More importantly, he had spent the points to buy off his Social Stigma: Minor!) As he spoke, the sailor continued, several crew members were holding Raphael down and piercing his ear.

This, inevitably, prompted a fresh round of toasts, which led to further drinking.

During the evening, Dirty talked Papa into helping with restoring his “dapper me!” enchantment, the one that cleans up and restores his clothes every time he steps onto dry land. To aid the ritual, he smoked one of the sicars, gaining a modest bonus to his roll.

Later that night, after nearly everyone was asleep, Gabby arose to sneak around the ship. Unknown to anyone, she dumped handfuls of ash into the PCs’ boots. The next morning, this caused much uneasiness, and was generally taken as a sign of further magical attack.

Some days later, as they drew closer to their destination, they realized that they were being followed by some… thing under the water, something larger than their ship. This prompted much concern, obviously. Details were hard to make out, but it appeared to be something similar to a squid, but larger, and with more arms. It was immediately dubbed a kraken.

Gabby proposed that they engage the kraken with the cannons, but Captain Courvoisier wasn’t persuaded. He argued that, to bring the cannon to bear, they would need to turn to the side, which would greatly hamper their speed and ability to flee. If they engaged, it would be a do-or-die move: they would either be victorious, or dead, with little chance of escape. He proposed that they try to run, first. If they could make it to the shallow water near the shore, perhaps they could elude the beast.

Papa got to work organizing the crew for maximum speed. Meanwhile, Dirty turned to magic, starting a ritual to create a huge net, figuring to drop it in their wake to hamper the kraken. He asked for volunteers from among the crew to contribute energy to the ritual, but was informed that most of the sailors weren’t entirely comfortable with participating in his profane rituals; the worst kind of sinners they might be, but they’re Christian sinners, when it comes down to it. After a bit of bullying, a couple of the crew agreed that they probably would rather bend their faith than be eaten by a sea monster, and finally did help out.

Overcome with aggressiveness, Gabby and Raphael tried to talk the captain into letting them take the ship’s boat in an effort to lure the monster away. He didn’t care for this plan, either, pointing out that they only had the one boat, and he didn’t want to feed it to a kraken.

Finally, Gabby became too impatient with the discussion, and jumped overboard, planning to engage the kraken in its native element. From his post aloft, Mo’ saw this, but didn’t understand what was going on; he thought she had fallen overboard. In an effort to rescue her, he performed a perfect dive from the top of the mast into the ocean near her…

… and then rolled a natural 18 on his Swimming roll. “Glub!”

Gabby only made it a few strokes in the rough water before she, too, started to have troubles keeping her head above water. Big Tuna jumped in, using his cork-like floating powers to rescue them both. Mags threw them a line, and organized a team of sailors to pull all three aboard using the capstan. Meanwhile, Dirty completed his ritual, and the crew threw the net into the sea.

This misadventure was taken as just more evidence that taking the boat was a good idea. Raphael and Gabby brought up the the plan again, but Courvoisier had had enough. He ordered Mags to restrain them, tying them to a mast if need be, before one of them decided to do something else crazy.

This initiated a scuffle, as Mags went to wrestle them down. Gabby drew her rapier. Thinking he would put an end to the fight before it got out of hand, Dirty drew a flintlock and fired a shot into the deck at the feet of the combatants.

That was his intention, anyway. What happened was, he rolled an 18, and accidentally shot Raphael, breaking his right arm and leaving it crippled for, as it turned out, the next two months.

Raphael, it may be noted, is not left-handed.

Almost forgotten by everyone but Pap in all the drama, the kraken encountered the net and was, in fact, somewhat hampered. The crew bent themselves to the task of making speed, and was able to get to the coastal shallows without being overtaken. Papa used his magic to heal Raphael a bit, but he wasn’t able to correct the broken arm.

Later that day, the ship came within sight of the Moskito Coast. They approached a harbor with a small town. Courvoisier studied the shore through his spyglass, then swore. When the others looked they spotted two things. First, a skeleton dressed in pirate finery, tied to a post so that it would be submerged at high tide. Clearly, a warning. Second, a sign announcing the town to be named Port Coleman.

Courvoisier explained that the Coleman from the name was Bloody Bill Coleman, an old acquaintance. If they tried to sail into the harbor, they would be blown apart by land-based cannon, he was certain. Sadly, they needed to enter the harbor, as there is a village beyond it, where he hopes to find Jacob, the other person to escape Hell in Van der Decken’s story, who they need as a guide.

Gabby enthusiastically volunteered to take a small force ashore to put down ol’ Bloody Bill in the most fearsome way possible, and take the port for the pirates. For once, Courvoisier liked one of Gabby’s plans. He announced that he was seeking volunteers for the mission, then immediately thanked several of the PCs for volunteering.

Next time: the invasion!


Cool Point: Dirty, for being so good a shot that he can’t miss, even when he wants to.

Booby Point: Mo’, for heroically drowning during his rescue attempt.

The moral of the story:  Sometimes the dice will tell you things about the world that you never knew.  (Courvoisier kinda prefers to run, don’t he? I didn’t intend this to be a part of his character. If anything, I intended him to be indecisive. What I’ve been trying to do is, I’ll try the players to suggest courses of action, and then I’ll see how the reaction rolls go. The dice keep saying, Courvoisier doesn’t like risky plans, he’d rather run to make a profit on another day.)

 

Pirates! Session #3

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, better bosun than captain
  • Gabby, better gunner than pilot
  • Mo’, better thief than sailor
  • Raphael, better interrogator of spirits than fearsome pirate

Players absent, and thus receiving no screen time:

  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, quartermaster and head bokor
  • “Mad” Mags, ropes and swift justice

What Happened:

Picking up where we left off, the beaches of Port Royal were under attack by a force of reanimated drowned sailors. The air was full of screams and smoke, as the attackers chased townsfolk and put several dockside buildings to the torch. Boats at anchor were also under attack, with zombies climbing aboard. Their battle cry: “Give us Van der Decken!”

Our “heroes” had rendezvoused on the quarterdeck of their single-masted sloop, La Fille Joile, where Captain Courvoisier was shouting orders at the diminished crew. Several crew members were patrolling the rail with pikes, pushing back any approaching dead men. Furthermore, the harbor mouth was threatened by a two-masted Spanish frigate. Courvoisier asked for ideas.

Dirty suggested that they leave the harbor as quickly as possible, to get out of the area of zombie infestation, and if the Spanish ship tried to stop them, they should flee, making a race of it. It was pointed out that all things being equal, the Spanish ship was likely to have a bit of a speed advantage over the sloop.

Gabby liked the overall plan of leaving town, but instead of running, wanted to engage the frigate with cannon. She was confident that they would prevail in such a contest. It was pointed out that given the size of the other ship, it likely carried more cannon, and would put up quite a fight.

Mo’ offered a variation: rather than a blast-’em-to-splinters battle with cannon, what if they played to their own strengths, boarded the frigate, and took the battle to hand-to-hand? Courvoisier tossed Mo’ his spyglass and sent him aloft to get a look at the other ship. (Later, it was noted that he never asked for it back, so now Mo’ has a high-quality spyglass!) Close examination showed the warship to be well-manned, unlike their own ship, with a large compliment of soldiers with muskets.

Raphael said he didn’t care how did it, he would be happy with any plan that killed Spaniards. They destroyed his family, he said, and now they needed to pay.

Courvoisier invoked his mantra (“Is there money in it?”) and announced his plan. They would head for open water, hoping for the best. If the Spanish ship tried to stop them, they would fight back: he instructed Gabby to go below and get the cannons ready to fire on the other ship’s masts.

As our heroes’ ship came around to make a run for the ocean, almost all eyes were aimed ahead, at the Spanish ship. From his post aloft, though, Mo’ was keeping an eye out in all directions. He saw that they weren’t the only ones leaving town. Several other ships and small boats were heading in the same direction; some appeared to be other Brethren of the Coast, but at least one rich man’s yacht was in the impromptu fleet. With a shout, Mo’ drew the others’ attention to this fact. Quickly, the pirates modified their course, allowing several of the other ships to draw ahead, allowing them to be the first to engage.

The Spanish ship moved to block the harbor, and was the first to fire, sending a warning shot over the bow of the lead boat. The Port Royal ships responded with ragged cannon fire. Courvoisier gave the order to fire, and Gabby went to work, pounding at the frigate’s masts with the ship’s 12-pound guns. Visibility declined rapidly as black powder smoke filled the air across the entire harbor mouth.

On the deck of La Fille Joile, one the the men handling the sails took a bullet and fell. A rope went slithering away, loose, and a sail started flapping, dumping wind, which brought the entire ship up short. Most of the crew slipped and fell at the unexpected change in speed. Atop the mast, Mo’ just took a firmer grip and rode it out without complaint.

Gabby ordered the cannons reloaded with chain shot, and fired another volley. With loud splintering and screams from the men aloft, one of the frigate’s masts came down, falling across the deck and dragging in the water to one side. Obviously, this severely affected the frigate’s handling. It slewed off-course and slowed considerably.

Meanwhile, Raphael had gone tumbling across the deck after the loose rope. He caught it, got a good grip, and leaned into it with all his might. Between his quick action on the deck and Mo’s efforts aloft, they managed to get the sails under control. Seconds later, with the rest of the crew back on their feet and at their stations, they were again able to get up to speed.

At that point, it became a limping chase. Courvoisier gave orders, and they executed a classic pirate maneuver to shake off pursuit. They took the ship across a nearby reef, where the water was deep enough for their small sloop, but not for the deeper draft of the Spanish frigate. Shortly, the pirates considered themselves free of pursuit.

At which point, Courvoisier slumped sideways and fell to the deck, unconscious.

The kids, Gabby and Raphael, rolled the captain onto his back, revealing the spreading red stain on his shirt. At some point during the recent action, he had caught a bullet. Dirty knelt next to the captain and began muttering prayers. Mo’ turned and went straight to the captain’s quarters, where he started looking around for valuables to pocket.

Over the course of several minutes, Dirty’s prayers grew in volume and vehemence. His eyes rolled back in his head. He foamed at the mouth. Blood began trickling from his nose. As he shouted at the spirits, the bullet popped out of Courvoisier’s wound and fell to the deck! (Later, Raphael would look for the bullet, but couldn’t find it.)

Meanwhile, Mo’ had found the captain’s locked sea chest. Using a handy rock paperweight, he beat the lock until it broke. This attracted Raphael’s attention, since he had moved away from the nausea-inducing blood and heathen goings-on back on the quarterdeck, putting him close to the hatch to the captain’s quarters. While initially aghast at Mo’s blatant thievery, he was soon convinced to join in.

Inside the chest, they found half a dozen doubloons, which they split, and a leather pouch, wrapped three times with a red cord and tied in an elaborate knot. Raphael pointed it out, saying he knew what it was: it was the magically-taken tongue of the captive they still had in the hold! The two dithered about what to do with this piece of loot. This already-murky decision was further complicated when they realized that, when it comes to these kind of occult dealings, one would be wise to be wary of untying elaborate, possibly-mystical knots.

Back above-decks, Mr Doolittle, the ship’s surgeon, had finally arrived. He had the crew pick up Courvoisier and carry him below, to the surgeon’s area, for further treatment. Finally having a moment of peace, the crew looked around and took stock. The quartermaster was located, dog-drunk and uselessly unconscious in his galley. With the captain and the quartermaster disabled, by chain of command, this left… the bosun… in charge.

Dirty was at least as surprised as everyone else.

Motivated partly by “If I were to be a thieving crew member, where would I be right now?” and partly by “I bet the captain has some really fine liquor stashed away”, Dirty went to the captain’s quarters, where he discovered the ongoing mutiny. After some scolding, he decided to throw in with the other two once he was shown a bottle of brandy.

Having seen that Dirty had some knowledge of the supernatural, they showed him the suspicious knot. He declared that it was just a knot, then urged Raphael to untie it. The boy was doubtful, and asked for Dirty to untie it, instead, if it was as safe as all that. The two engaged in a battle of wits to see who would do the deed, which quickly evolved into a battle of intimidation. Raph’ tried his trademark intimidating glare, but was finally unnerved when Dirty bared his not-so-much-teeth-as-rotten-stumps at him.

Meanwhile, having been left unsupervised, Gabby was engaging in her favorite hobby: practical joking. She crept stealthily around the ship, first stealing some makeup from Mags’ chest, then using it to give the unconscious captain a makeover. After that, she noticed that nobody was paying that much attention to the ship’s wheel, and decided to go play with it…

In the captain’s quarters, Raphael opened the bag to reveal a moist human tongue. To his horror, it began to move and speak! He dropped it on the charts atop the captain’s desk, where, under questioning, it told its tale.

“I am Willem Van der Decken,” it announced, “and I sailed under Captain Hendrick Jacobszoon Lucifer.” It told of how Lucifer’s fleet of three ships took a Spanish treasure ship and looting a tremendous amount of treasure, including indigo, fine furs, jars of frankincense, and a variety of unique items, particularly including an old book with a sinister aura about it. The fleet split up after the battle, with Van der Decken’s ship heading for the Moskito Coast. As they neared land, there were omens and portents, strange atmospheric disturbances, and an outbreak of St Elmo’s fire. The ship, the tongue said, fell into the ocean and came out in Hell. Among other bits of disjointed rambling, the tongue mentioned “terrible beasts”.

This, the tongue continued, was too much for Van der Decken. Assisted by his buddy, a Moskito Indian named Jacob, he took the ship’s boat and fled, leaving the ship and its crew to its fate. Jacob and Van der Decken rowed like mad, back the way they came, with Jacob muttering prayers to his gods the entire way. Just as Van der Decken thought they were lost, they “fell back through the ocean” and returned to the mortal world. With some difficulty, they made it to shore, where they split up. Jacob went to return to his people, while Van der Decken struck off on his own to seek rescue. Sadly, he was picked up by the Spanish, who took him prisoner and questioned him under torture.

Dirty had just poured a generous portion of brandy over the tongue, it having complained of being dry from all this talking, when the ship suddenly changed direction. The hanging lantern swung over and everyone had to change their footing to remain upright. Raphael quickly wrapped up the tongue and slipped it into his pocket, as the three moved outside to see what was going on.

What they found was a scuffle taking place around the ship’s wheel. It wasn’t immediately apparent what was going on. Really, Gabby had tied the wheel to an incorrect course, as a prank, but unbeknownst to her, had aimed the ship on a course that would see them broken on the shore. Several crew members had rushed to make corrections, but Gabby was hiding and striking from stealth to spoil their efforts, pitting one against the other to incite a brawl. Meanwhile, the ship drifted ever-closer to ruin.

Firing a shot into the air, Dirty put a stop to the horseplay. Things were put right and the ship made safe again. Everyone ignored Gabby’s suggestion that they go check on the captain.

Once again, Dirty expressed his amazement at being left in charge. He drank more brandy. There was some discussion as to next steps, and a quick inventory. The ship was fully stocked, particularly with rum, thanks to the quartermaster’s earlier efforts. Several of our heroes called for a return to Port Royal, either to rescue the place from the walking dead or to press the attack against the Spanish frigate. At this point, they realized that none among them was competent to conn the ship, much less navigate.

Our heroes landed on a new and more complicated plan. The first step was to take the ship’s boat out and capture a smaller Spanish vessel. They took a swivel gun to mount on the boat, loaded up a crew of volunteers, set up a small sail, and set out. (While none among them could handle the command of a full-sized ship, there are several experienced boaters among our heroes.)

This cruise was marked by disagreement and derision. Raphael maintained that they were wasting their time, and should simply sail the boat back to Port Royal to attack the frigate… from the ship’s boat… with a single swivel gun and raw enthusiasm, apparently. This plan was shot down as impractical and the product of too much reading. Several plans of attack were suggested and rejected, including at least one that appeared to involve using small boats to take larger boats and thus trade up until they, themselves, had a warship as big as the frigate.

Finally, towards the end of the day, just as they were about to turn around and return to the ship, they stumbled onto a small fishing boat. They hoisted their stolen Spanish flag. The fishing boat responding in kind, and one of its crew came out to hail them. In Spanish, of course.

It was then that the crew realized that only one among them spoke Spanish: Mo’, not generally considered to be much of an actor. He did surprisingly well at allaying their concerns, until Raphael’s calls to attack became somewhat audible. Spooked, the Spanish crewman vanished from the rail. The fishing boat’s sails shifted, and they began to quietly sail away. Armed as they were, our heroes didn’t have many options to stop them. So, dejected, they returned to the ship.

Arriving after dark, they found a party in full swing. A barrel of rum was open on the deck, every lantern on the ship was lit and hung up, the musicians were playing, and there was vigorous dancing. Surprised, the heroes came aboard, finding themselves face to freshly-scrubbed face with Captain Courvoisier, leaning heavily on a crutch. He was less than pleased with the outcome of Dirty’s time in command, but didn’t seem to have an specific evidence of wrongdoing. He ordered Dirty to stay up all night making sure the ship was clear of evil spirits.

During the night, while everyone else slept, Dirty walked the deck, burning herbs and muttering spells. (He may not know anything about talking with spirits, but he knows how to put on a good show.) On the quarterdeck, he noticed a flicker of movement. Quick as a striking snake, he drew a flintlock and fired. Only then did he look closer to see what he had shot. He expected a rat, but what he found was far stranger:  it was an over-sized bullet, apparently the one he had extracted from the captain, but now dented and vibrating, seemingly full of unholy life, but now wounded!

The sound of the firing flintlock drew attention from the sleeping crew, and so shortly before dawn, our heroes joined the captain in his quarters. The bullet buzzed inside an inverted tin cup on the desk with a couple of books set atop it. Dirty confirmed that it was a charmed bullet, similar to those that he himself used on occasion.

The captain decided to let our heroes in on his plans, somewhat, since by now they had all heard the story told by Van der Decken’s loose tongue. “You who have sailed with me for some time know that I am a student of history. I believe,” he said, “that Túpac faked his death.”

He explained how Túpac Amaru, the last emperor of the Incas, came to die at the hands of the Spanish Empire in 1572. After three weeks of siege at the city of Vilcabamba, Túpac’s people fled. A hand-picked group of Spanish soldiers pursued Túpac hundreds of miles down-river, then fifty miles cross-country, only catching him because his wife was in labor and they stopped for a short rest. History records that Túpac was brought back by the Spanish, given a show trial, and executed.

Courvoisier said that he believed history was wrong. He believed that Túpac was able to evade the Spanish so effectively because he had access to powerful movement magic – the Path of Crossroads, though he didn’t call it by that name. Furthermore, he believed that this magic was contained within a book, Túpac’s Codex, which was…

“The book from Van der Decken’s story!” our heroes exclaimed.

Courvoisier agreed. He explained that his plan was simple. They would follow in the footsteps of Van der Decken’s story, track down his former ship, and take from it all of its loot. As a first step, this would make them all fabulously wealthy. As a second step, however, it would put the Codex in their hands.

“Imagine,” the captain said, “being able to sail a ship through the oceans of Hell and return to the world in another place, unobserved. A ship that could make that kind of voyage would be unstoppable.”

Our heroes agreed that this sounded like a worthy plan, which any hearty pirate would cheerfully embark upon, and drank to the captain’s health and their collective future enrichment.


Cool Point: Earned by Dirty, for being so manifestly unfit for command – “I built this character to specifically never be in charge!” Whenever the group started coming up with ideas, his Disadvantages forced him to favor the most violent and foolhardy. The more suicidal the idea, the more he endorsed it. Worse, he has sufficient Charisma that the crew mostly went along with anything he ordered.

The moral of the story:  It’s good to have a backup navigator/pilot/doctor/whatever for when the primary isn’t available.

 

Pirates! Session #2

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, the dapper bosun.
  • “Big Tuna” Heketoro, plus-sized warrior.
  • “Mad” Mags, rope expert and capable swimmer.
  • Mo’, able seaman with a can-do attitude.
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, quartermaster and man of reason.
  • Raphael, cabin boy.

What Happened:

Captain Courvoisier emerged from his quarters after several hours. He took Papa aside to ask a technical question. Would it be possible, he asked, for Papa to use his profane magical gifts to silence a man for a time? In effect, to take a man’s tongue?

Papa allowed as how such a thing might be done, but he would need a few things: five chickens, one red rock, and one blue rock. Oh, and a bottle of rum. Intrigued, the captain gave orders to collect these things. Those of the crew not required for sailing took part in a mad scavenger hunt. The rum was no problem, of course, and there were enough live chickens on board, but locating two specific rocks proved challenging. Raphael found one, stuck in the heel of his boot, while Dirty was able to coerce the crew into locating the other. Papa performed his ritual, and presented the captain with a pouch of powder.

Captain Courvoisier took the pouch and returned to his quarters. Several minutes later, he emerged. Several of the PCs observed him tucking a wriggling bag into a pocket. Raphael spoke up, questioning what the captain had, there? The captain responded with a glare, making out as if he hadn’t heard the question. “What’s a cabin boy doing lounging around on deck?” he shouted, and ordered the boy aloft. “Make sure he doesn’t kill himself,” he ordered Mo’, an expert in the rigging.

Raphael demonstrated that he’s not only no sailor, he’s no climber, either. He was nimble enough to keep from falling, but had trouble making any progress. Finally, Papa called him over and performed a quick ritual to give him a bit of help. With this assistance, the boy was able to make it to the crow’s nest alive.

Again taking the quartermaster aside, Captain Courvoisier announced his intention to embark upon a voyage to the Miskito Coast. The captain didn’t give any details, but did agree that it would be prudent to keep some spare room in the hold in case of taking on cargo. The two calculated that it would take perhaps ten days to get there, plus another ten days back, with an allowance for ten days there, meaning they would need to take on provisions. Therefore, they would make for Port Royal.

(The voyage to the Miskito Coast was to remain privileged information, but Big Tuna overheard the conversation from his place of hiding from labor, in Papa’s galley.)

The crew was much in favor of some time in port, and so everyone turned with a will towards making good speed. The weather was fine, and everything was going smoothly. Then, Dirty decided that he would do a little ritual to help things along, to make the ropes work a little more cooperatively.

Sadly, he botched it. The boat’s lines came to violent life, bucking and heaving as if they resented being tied down. Mo’ and Raphael were barely able to keep their perch. Mags was not so lucky. She was thrown free and pitched into the ocean. Being able to swim, she quickly came back to the surface and began looking for a way to climb aboard. Big Tuna grabbed a loose rope, quickly wrestled it into cooperation, and jumped in the water after here. Mags didn’t wait to be rescued. She planted a boot squarely in the big man’s face, using him as a foothold to get started climbing up the rope. After some spluttering, he followed.

Papa didn’t know who had caused the havoc or why, but he knew the effects of bad magic when he saw it. He cautiously moved to correct the problem, reaching out with a spell of communication, trying to make contact with the angry spirits in a bid to soothe them. This did not work out at all. The spirits were offending by the ritual. The weather had been clear, but now swirling storm clouds began to form. The wind began to pick up.

Raphael had had enough of all this. He slid down the mast to the deck and went to the quarterdeck, where the captain was standing. Most of the other PCs converged there, as well.

Dirty announced his theory that the spirits would only be placated with blood. He suggested that they should choose a random member of the crew to act as a sacrifice. Papa objected strongly to this course of action.

As they argued, a crew member called out, pointing towards a sail on the horizon. Big Tuna pulled out his spyglass for a closer examination. He observed two masts, and sails decorated by huge red crosses. A Spanish warship!

At this news, the argument expanded. Some of the PCs wanted to attack, while others wanted to flee while flight was still possible. The balance of the discussion shifted, as different crew members changed their minds.

Finally, two decisive actions ended the arguments.

First, Mo’ dropped out of the rigging, brained a passing seaman with his boarding ax, and hacked off the man’s head while everyone nearby was still stunned. Holding up the bloody head, he shouted to the skies, saying that if any spirits wanted a sacrifice, they were welcome to this one. He then handed the head off to Papa.

Second, the captain weighed in on the fight-or-run question, pointing out that there wouldn’t likely be much profit in a battle. The crew agreed, better to run off to find richer targets.

Sadly, it looked like the Spanish ship was somewhat faster than La Fille Joile. The PCs cooked up a scheme to slow them down.

Papa used his magic to call a friendly swordfish to the surface. The crew dug up an extra-large grenade, which Dirty enchanted to enable to float. Papa also drew a seagull on the side of the bomb, so it wouldn’t look suspicious. Mags tied up a rope harness so the fish could drag the bomb along behind it. The plan was to have the fish carry the bomb to the Spanish ship, with a long fuse burning, and then leave it behind, attached to the ship’s hull.

Everything with the plan went perfectly, up to the point where it went horribly and completely wrong. (GM Note: This would be, I think, the third triple-six of the night. The dice were not kind.) Once armed, the swordfish took off, swimming powerfully… in a big arc that brought it around, full circle, to aim at the PC’s boat! Big Tuna threw a harpoon at the swordfish, but it dodged out of the way. Just as it was closing in on the boat, Dirty leaned out over the water and fatally shot it.

Having had enough of magic for a while, the PCs depended on mundane discipline and sharp shiphandling for their escape. It took the rest of the day, until long after dark, but they finally lost the Spanish ship.

As soon as they were out of obvious danger, the drinking started. Captain Courvoisier called Raphael over and ordered him to go collect food and rum. Especially rum. And as long as he was about it, he should take a meal to the prisoner, too.

Raphael followed orders, but then got caught up in choosing a bottle to stash for himself. Eventually, the captain got tired of waiting, and sent Mags below to hurry him up. When she found the boy lingering over the spirits, she put a boot to his behind and told him to hurry up. Heated words were exchanged. Mags smacked him, once, when his words became too heated. Intimidation rolls were made, going both ways. In the end, Raphael ran away, shouting “You’re not my mom!” behind him.

After finishing his delivery to the quarterdeck, Raphael took some food to the now-mute prisoner, in the captain’s quarters. While there, he snooped around a bit, examining the captain’s small library and some charts that were out. He tried to figure out what the charts might mean, but lack of navigational skills made this impossible.

In time, they came to Port Royal. Most of the crew was eager to get ashore, sweeping aside the suggestion that shore leave should be cancelled.

Papa went to purchase provisions for the upcoming voyage. While he was there, he heard a voice in the distance that sounded like the captain’s, telling him to buy more rum. Seeing sense in this, Papa did as he was ordered.

When Dirty stepped onto the beach, his signature enchantment activated, leaving him cleaned and starched. He went into town to visit a gunsmith, hoping to improve his armory. Along the way, he noticed a beautiful, obviously-wealthy young woman waiting outside. He paused to flirt, exchanging a series of meaningful glances and lifted eyebrows. Just as he was about to open his mouth (and speak, and ruin it all, no doubt), he felt a tap at his shoulder. He turned to meet an older, obviously-wealth gentleman, clearly irritated, holding a pair of gloves in his hand.

Well, Dirty knew how to play that game – he had always wanted to be in a real, live duel, like the fancy folk have in Paris! He backhanded the gentleman, not bothering to remove his hand from his glove.

After recovering, the gentleman said that he agreed to Dirty’s challenge. They would meet at dawn, on the beach, and fight to the death with rapiers. (This was where the player remembered that the challenged, not the challenger, gets choice of weapons.) With that, he gathered up his companion and left.

Word spread, and the next morning, there was a bit of a crowd on the beach. Dirty was there, passed out on the sand, snoring, when the unnamed gentleman found him. The gentleman nudged Dirty with his boot, then turned to take a step back, moving to draw his rapier.

Meanwhile, Dirty opened one eye, pulled his primed pistol from where he had held it under his arm, and shot the man in the vitals, from behind. The gentleman fell, dead.

While the PCs gathered around to shake Dirty’s hand (and pick the dead man’s pockets), there came a commotion from up the beach. As the pirates turned to see what was the matter, they saw several apparently-drowned sailors standing up from the water and striding up on the beach, cutlasses drawn.

The PCs’ response was mixed. Some went on the offensive, while others weren’t so eager to engage. Mo’ threw a bystander in front of himself as a human shield, then took a look around to get an idea of the wider situation. He saw that there were actually dozens of the drowned sailors coming ashore, all up and down the beach. He could also see that several ships in the harbor seemed to be having troubles, as well. There were screams of fear and sounds of ragged gunfire.

Even as they put down the nearby sailors, the pirates began a retreat. Mo’ wanted to head inland, seeing that the uncanny creatures were coming from the ocean, while the others moved towards the nearby longboat. When someone on La Fille Joile started firing the cannons to give them cover (“Yay, Gabby!” the players shout) he changed his mind and joined the group. They got the NPC crew members rowing, with Papa providing inspirational music on the balafon.

Everyone made it back to the boat, where the captain gave orders to take the boat out of the harbor, away from the menace of the sailors. As the crew turned their eyes towards the harbor’s mouth…

… they saw, in the distance, sails bearing a red cross….


Cool Point: Earned by Dirty, for his unconventional dueling style.

The moral of the story, according to the players:  “Magic never solves anything!”

 

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