Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Pirates of the Emerald Eye" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 10


On the fourth day after setting sail from Port Nyanzaru, Captain Moleman  picked up a mirror and reflected the sun towards a spot on the bare cliff to port. A tiny light flashed back. Soon a sleek Dalusian dhow could be seen on an intercept course.

"Here, sit down and pretend to be captured prisoners." The party did as they were told.

The dhow pulled alongside. Rotting severed heads dangled from its bowsprit. A voice called out over a brass megaphone, "Heave to and prepare to be boarded!"

Captain Moleman picked up his own megaphone and called back, "I beg ye pardon, sir! I have come bearing prisoners! They'll make fine ransom! At the very least they can be sold as slaves! I am, alas, unable to detain them myself but perhaps they can be housed in yer own fine and secure facility!"

There was a moment of silence, "What do you have?"

"I have a stout theran from unknown lands, a lithe b'alam hunter from Bres, and a middle-aged Chelonian from the Snout!"

"Ehhhh." bemoaned the other ship, "What else?"

"I have a blue-skinned beauty from the sky-tribes of Akasa!"

"Now you're talking! Anything else?"

"Yes! Of course!" He grabbed Zeynap by the shoulder and lifted him up, "I have that unicorn you were looking for!"

Zeynap snapped his gaze at the theran captain in astonishment!

Captain Moleman looked up at the Eusebean smuggler with an evil smile.


CHAPTER 10, "PIRATES OF THE EMERALD EYE"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's parasaurolophus companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Hasegawa Tōhaku - a Horaian kamenin monk (Tortle Kensei Monk), a traveler, explorer, and artist. He was a friend of Nova Scotia Blackman in Akwa-Obio, the city of scholars.
UNICORNS FOR SALE

No automatic alt text available.

Xoc-Wik whispered to the others, "Okay. So, ah, what's the plan now?"

Apparently blinked and shook her head, her brain fever wearing off. "Um, what's going on?"

Tohaku said, "We're hunting pirates. We're pretending to be slaves and prisoners to lure them close."

She looked confused, "Wait, ARE we prisoners? Is this guy really selling us or pretending to sell us?"

Zeynap leaned over and said, "I'm not sure. I think he MIGHT be betraying us? I'm not sure how he knows about the unicorn."

Tohaku asked, "How does he know about the unicorn?"

Zeynap blinked, then turned to Captain Moleman, "Moleman, what makes you think I'm a unicorn? I mean, that's ludicrous!" 

Captain Moleman replied in hushed tones, “Oh, Mister Shiravadakar, you HAVE lost yer memory, haven't’ you? Just like Lord Feldercarb said to me back in Port Nyanzaru! You really don’t remember me?



DM Comment - When I did Captain Moleman's voice, he sounded vaguely like Tim the Enchanter. However, when Tokaku's player did Captain Moleman's voice, he sounded like Mister Gopher from Winnie the Pooh, which was perfect! So I just started telling him what to say and he'd repeat it in a much better voice. However, as time went on, his voice shifted and sounded more like Gilbert Godfried, which was even MORE perfect! So when you imagine Captain Moleman speaking, imaging Gilbert Godfried's voice!

"It was I who was hired to transport a certain unicorn out of Eusebea. You and your crew were supposed to deliver a unicorn to me on one particular night a few moons back!" 

The theran captain continued, "We all had specific instructions to not look at the unicorn, and by no means were we to TOUCH the unicorn! I knew that if you touched it, it would use you to escape!

"Well yo never showed up with the unicorn, did you? And your mates, they went back to the guild master, didn’t they? They said they found you alone with no unicorn and a bump on yer noggin! Plus you're all itchin to set out and do right and stop my employers. I ain’t no scholar but even I could read the writing in THAT book! 

"You may not be a unicorn, but I’m bettin' the buyers could still use you to SUMMON a unicorn! Maybe all the unicorns they need!

"Now play along or they’ll discover the ruse!”

The dhow came close enough to see the captain on the stern deck. He was an obese theran with two large tusks like a walrus. He wore a fancy green coat studded with emeralds. He had a green gem set into his left eye. His hair was thinning and his jowls were unshaven. He bore the countenance of a fat barbarian covered in disgusting bits of food and rivulets of reeking sweat.

To the captain's right was a tall primitive looking okor with red skin. To his left was a beautiful Chultan woman. 

She ship was painted dark green. Severed heads dangled from the bowsprit. 

Captain Moleman told the others, "That's the Emerald Eye under the command of Captain Zaroum Al-Saryak."

Image may contain: people sitting and table

Captain Al-Saryak called back over the megaphone, “A unicorn? You’re too late, Moleman! They already GOT a unicorn! We sold it to them two moons ago!”

Moleman replied, “This is BETTER than a unicorn! He’s got unicorn blood or something. It gives him some kind of connection to the Fairy Realm of Aeon! It gives him magic powers! Easier to transport! I’m sure that’s worth something!”

Captain Al-Saryak shouted, “The buyers got what they need, Moleman! They aren’t coming back! Your magic man and the rest of your little mongrels are worthless! You’ve done nothing but annoy me! For that, for wasting my time, we’re going to take your ship, your cargo, and your little pets! See those heads on my bowsprit, Moleman? That’s where I’m going to hang YOUR head! ATTACK!”


A BATTLE AT SEA

Image may contain: indoor

He gave the wheel to the Chultan woman and shouted orders to the red okor. The okor, apparently the first mate, shouted orders to the two bosuns to prepare grapples for boarding and crossbowmen to attack.

Captain Moleman ordered his crew to hoist sails and prepare to flee. The Brazen Pegasus was at least three times as fast as the Emerald Eye and could easily outdistance her and get away. Zeynap asked Captain Moleman to circle the Emerald Eye at a range of about a hundred feet. The party wished to pepper the Emerald Eye with bows and ranged spell attacks. Captain Moleman wanted instead to make speed and  had to be convinced to go along with Zeynap's plan. 

"I thought you wanted to INFILTRATE the pirates! What happened to that?" shouted the theran.

"We changed our mind. We want to capture that ship and take the captain alive!" replied Zeynap.

"That was not our agreement! I do business with these people!" said the captain.

"They were just now about to take your ship!" argued Zeynap, "Do you still want to do business with them?"

The captain reluctantly conceded the debate and did his best to circle the Emerald Eye at a range of 100 feet.

As the Brazen Pegasus made a wide parabolic arc around the bow and starboard sides of the Emerald Eye both crews exchanged missiles. Xoc-Wik and Apparently loosed arrows from their longbows. Xoc-Wik's shots were especially impressive at long range as he was able to hit accurately through light cover.

The pirates took cover behind the side rails and returned in kind with crossbows. Zeynap used his celestial magic to send magical rainbow bolts against the pirates. The okor first mate and other pirates without ranged attacks went below decks to ready their grapples. 

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, shoes and table

The Brazen Pegasus came passed the stern of the Emerald Eye within thirty feet. Tohaku took a long running leap from the deck and his 400+ pound chelonian body sailed through the air and landed on the stern deck near Captain Al-Saryak and the Chultan pilot.  A number of pirates ran from hiding and threw grapples onto the Brazen Pegasus. 

Xoc-Wik loosed a magically charged arrow that detonated a fiery explosion, sending a bosun and several sailors flying. The grapplers were momentarily startled and failed to secure their lines. They were dragged off the deck and into the water by the retreating sloop at full sail. 

No automatic alt text available.

Xoc-Wik pinned the captain to the mast with an arrow while Tohaku killed the Chultan helms-woman (whom the players dubbed Sails Magee) and fought a terrific fight with the okor first mate and one of the bosuns.  

Apparently and Zeynap fought and defeated a boarder at the bow of the ship while  the other two chased the captain from the tiller. The sloop careened wildly and Xoc-Wik eliminated one of the rear boarders with an arrow. Zeynap and Apparently rescued the captain from the third boarder and the Brazen Pegasus was once more secure.

Upon defeating the first mate and bosun, the remaining three pirates surrendered. The party had captured the Emerald Eye and taken its captain prisoner!

OKAY, NOW WHAT?


Captain Moleman ordered his crew of six to lower the sails and come alongside the Emerald Eye. Tohaku had tied up the wounded captain but was tending to his wounds. Zeynap came on board and set about healing the surviving crew. Apparently and Xoc-Wik dragged the dead crewmen to the side and heaved them into the water.

"Congratulations!" shouted Captain Moleman, "You caught the Emerald Eye! Now what?"

"Now we set sail to return to Port Nyanzaru to collect the bounty!" replied Zeynap.

"With what crew?" exclaimed the captain, "A ship this size needs a minimum of twenty crew. You killed all but three of them and they're not likely to serve you willingly! That leaves the five of you! Do you know anything at all about sailing a ship?"

Zeynap, suddenly worried, looked around at the carnage and scratched his head.



Tohaku suggested, "Um. Maybe we could use some of your crew?"

Captain Moleman glared at the tortoise man, "Mister Hasegawa, let me ask you a question. What is the minimum crew complement for a sixty foot sloop? Go ahead, guess. I'll wait."

There was an awkward pause and Tohauku tentatively answered, "-six?"

"SIX! The answer is six! How many men are in my crew? Please count them."

The tortoise man sighed and answered, "six."

"SIX! You are correct! I need MY crew to operate MY ship! Besides, do you remember when we arrived earlier? How I signaled the coast with my mirror? The pirates have a lookout up there. I signal them, they signal the other ship. That's how I arrange my meetings with them. Well, GUESS WHAT? They've been watching this entire battle! They know that the Emerald Eye was just attacked by MY ship! They've got another ship in their secret anchorage. That ship is no doubt being prepared to come out and hunt me down! I have no desire to stick around! So I am going to take MY crew and MY ship and set sail at top possible speed! Do you understand me? Good luck!"



"Wait!" pleaded Zeynap, "If we get this ship back to Port Nyanzaru, we'll be paid two thousand gold coins. What if we cut you in on an equal share?"

Captain Moleman sputtered, "Equal share? I would do no such thing for any amount less than half the total bounty - one thousand gold coins!"

After some further deliberation, Captain Moleman agreed to help the party bring the Emerald Eye back to Port Nyanzaru.

Their first task was bringing the Brazen Pegasus alongside the Emerald Eye. They transferred all the supplies from the smaller sloop to the larger dhow. They carefully moved the six-ton macetail onto the larger ship using leather straps and a series of heavy cranes, counterweights, and pulleys.

Upon seeing the behemoth in the larger hold, Apparently commented, "Spike should be more comfortable in here."

"Did you just name it 'Spike'?" asked Zeynap.

"I did."

Zeynap chucked, "Bramble will not approve."

Once everything had been transferred to the larger ship the sloop was rigged behind the Emerald Eye so it could be towed. This arrangement, along with the inadequate crew, reduced the Emerald Eye's speed to about one knot.

They hoisted sail and began their journey north.

A QUICK INTERROGATION
Xoc-Wik and Tohaku joined the bound Captain Al-Saryak in the hold with the behemoth. They had already taken his emerald-studded jacket appraised at over a thousand gold coins and they had taken his emerald-studded sledge hammer appraised at over five hundred gold coins. Captain Al-Saryak was fuming. Hate dripped from his every pore.

They asked him about the parts of the Soulmonger. Captain Al-Saryak replied that he knew nothing of anything called the Soulmonger. They listed some of the components and asked about the buyer. He said that the buyers were robed men from the interior. At least he assumed they were men for they concealed their faces in shrouds. They paid in ancient Chultan gold coins. He said they smelled of rotting death. They paid for their items and returned to the jungle via the Gorge of Death. That was three moons ago and he hadn't seen them since.

Xoc-Wik exchanged a knowing glance with Tohaku. Their benefactor Syndra Silvane wore a mask and smelled of rotting death. Was she connected? Did she represent a rival faction?

Captain Al-Saryak began spitting curses and insults soTohaku stuffed a gag in his mouth to shut him up.

Xoc-Wik examined the captain's gleaming emerald eye. Captain Al-Saryak's silent look reeked of anger and defiance. Xoc-Wik held the Captain's head and plucked the emerald from the eye socket. Captain Al-Saryak clenched his meaty eyebrows and pinched Xoc-Wik's feline paws. Xoc-Wik drew his hand and the emerald away with a yelp. He examined the emerald. It slowly grew dim and became a dull grey stone. Captain Al-Saryak screamed angrily into his gag. Xoc-Wik shrugged and placed the grey stone back in the captain's eye socket and was once again angrily pinched by the theran's muscular eye-brows. They left the captain bound and squirming in the hold.

STORMY WEATHER

The storm arrived on their second night of travel and didn't let up for thirty-six hours. They trimmed the sails and tried to heave-to but were pushed into the storm cliffs.

Captain Moleman did his best to steer through the rocks below the cliffs but he was unable to prevent the Emerald Eye from smashing against them. The hull was breached and the dhow began to take on water. The unmanned Brazen Pegasus was likewise smashed against the rocks.

DM Commentary - I rolled some ocean random encounters from the DMG and didn't get anything more interesting than "the ship comes across some wreckage". However, I rolled a d20 for the weather and got 19 three rolls in a row. I quickly adapted the rules for avoiding the rocks of Jahaka Bay. Roll a d20 three times. On a roll of 11+ nothing bad happens. On a roll of 5-10 the ship takes damage and gets stuck. ON a roll of 1-4 the ship begins to sink. I had Zeynap's player roll three times with Disadvantage to represent the bad weather and insufficient crew. He got 7, 4, and over 11, I forget the specifics. 

The Emerald Eye was stuck. Massive waves kept pounding over the side rails, flooding the deck. Spike the macetail had become anxious and was beginning to panic. Apparently ran below decks and soothe the behemoth. Once soothed, she coaxed the beast into rocking back and forth. The motion of the behemoth freed the ship from the rocks.




DM Commentary - I asked the group how they would get themselves unstuck. Apparently's player suggested the rocking maneuver. I asked her to roll Animal Handling with a DC of 15 and she succeeded. 

The ship was free but still taking on water. It was foundering. Apparently and Tohaku both tied lines to themselves and went overboard with some emergency repair supplies. Apparently's jin parentage granted her the ability to hold her breath indefinitely. Likewise Tohaku, as a chelonian, was adapted to the water. They went underwater and fought the pounding waves to apply tar and caulk to temporarily seal the hull breaches.

DM Commentary - Another spot-ruling. I asked them to make Athletics or Acrobatics checks vs DC 15  because, like, what the hell skill would you use to repair a ship? So, I went with brute force or finesse. 

The emergency repairs had sealed the holes but the bottom decks were flooded. Although the ship was now free of the rocks it could make no headway. After a few more hours the storm subsided.


Later that night, Xoc-Wik stood watch while the exhausted crew and party slept. The ship was half-submerged and listing heavily. The hairs on Xoc-Wik's necks bristled and he looked around. To his surprise the dark silhouette of a sailing ship slid slowly out of the night and into the lantern light of the deck of the Emerald Eye. A dragon's head was painted onto the bow of the other ship's hull. There were many evil looking men standing on deck, weapons drawn.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, April 16, 2018

Journal of Malcolm Magnum, 1943

By Trevor Hanson


12 January, 1943
My mentor and benefactor has shared some secrets and insights about possible research areas that may change the way we view the universe. He believes that Einstein is only partially correct, and vast parallel universes awaits discovery. He asked that I go pursue those endeavors. Alas, he is sick, and I intend to see him through his final days. I have not the heart to tell him that I am working for the US/England alliance in RADAR research. He distrusts governments so.

28 February, 1943
It has been 3 weeks to the day that I left New York after my benefactor’s demise. As a participant in US Army Air Force’s radar and scientific research I was flown to England as VIP, rather than taking 6 weeks by ship. I am to be attached to the RAF bombing command. Because I am an Officer but lack pilot training, I will am to take the position of radar operator and navigator. This is a perfect position to observe and help my countrymen at the same time. I am anxious to get started.

7 March, 1943
First mission is tonight. I have been briefed on the operation of H2S radar. The scouting boys are also using Oboe and Gee radio navigation, so creating a triangular radio wave vortex may be possible. Imagine the lives saved if we can transport you planes right over Germany and back without having to fly for hours!

17 March, 1943
No success in 3 missions. I did detect feedback from German ground radar that registered on my oscilloscope. Nikola calculated that the feedback loop would require much power, and I think using the German ground radar is key to proving the theory.

23 March, 1943
Success! At least it appeared from my instruments that a stable field existed for almost a minute. During the night mission, I couldn’t see anything.  I shall endeavor to join the Yank’s on one of their daylight raids.

1 April, 1943
I have been allowed to join the USAAF’s Eighth Air Force for a daylight raid. I have been assigned the radio operators station in this B-17E. There’s superb view topside. I can also traverse a small door to the rear of the aircraft and look to either side through the waist gunner’s positions. If I am so inclined, I can also travel through the Bombay via catwalk to the cockpit. If I can generate another sustained field, I sure to get a description of it! I have brought along all of my equipment, including a small Tesla Coil to boost out power on board.

Now all I have to do is survive the Jerry’s and Herring’s Luftwaffe.

1 April, 1943
3 Hours after takeoff and we have passed into France. Our plane was hit twice from attacking fighters. Our tail gunner is dead. I have a Browning 50 cal mounted in the roof window and I need to help watch for attack from above rear. I hope that I can eliminate the need for our boys to fly through Germany’s ace pilots. I have the frequency for the Gee markers that the RAF used last night. I will begin searching when we cross over into Germany.

3? April, 1943
I am unsure of the date. Both because so much has happened, and also because the vortex has worked!!

Let me start where I left off. Our run into Germany was contested by flak batteries and several more intercept attempts by the Jerry fighters. Our aircraft made it through without further damage, but we lost 9 planes in out formation. As we approached the target, I managed to set up a feedback loop with the German radar. I believe that helped reduce the accuracy of their anti-aircraft guns. But, more importantly, we were passing over the RAF beacon from the previous night’s raid. As soon as our bombs dropped, I discharged the coil into our radar, boosting the power. Our Bombardier, Lieutenant Hal Graves, came over the intercom exclaiming that there was a huge electrical disturbance in front and below our aircraft!

At that point we must have been hit. I was tossed about the small radio compartment and when I regained my senses, I heard the captain giving the order to bail out. I tried to open the hatch to the fuselage, but it was jammed shut by shrapnel. So I opened the hatch into the Bombay.

I remember seeing Hamburg burning below. The bomb doors had not been closed after the drop. Then the intense smell of ozone assaulted my nose and I saw the vortex pass beneath us! But the scenery had changed from city to forest! We didn’t fly over the vortex; our stricken plane had fallen through it! I had no way of knowing where the vortex was connected too, but rather than try to salvage my instruments from a burning plane, I jumped.



I awoke hanging in a jungle? It took a few minutes to gather my sense’s and remember what had happened. Africa!?! The vortex had taken us to Africa! Or possibly India, maybe even Brazil! Imagine if the Yank’s could bomb Germany from the Americas!

After I Struggled to free myself from the parachute and climb to the ground, I realized that most of my pockets had been picked my monkeys living in the jungle canopy. These monkeys had wings! I don’t ever recall reading about flying monkeys. Maybe I am in India. I know very little about that place.

After a day of scouting and foraging, I located the wreck of the Flying Fortress, surprisingly intact, stuck high in some trees. The right wing has been ripped away near the inboard engine mount. The tail section severely damaged. Although the tail section damage may have been the result of the Messerschmidt attack. That is one rugged American Plane!

I have finally climbed into the wreck through the hole left by the missing belly turret. The wreck is a good 12 meters up, hanging in the branches. I hope the belly gunner got out before the jungle canopy ripped the glass bubble from the plane. It may take quite awhile to get back to civilization. I need to find any usable survival items to help me facilitate my trip.

4(?) April, 1943
I stayed the night in the radio room. Throughout the night I heard scraping and rattling about the plane. I presume the monkeys have lost their fear of the shiny sliver bird in the trees.  I have been gathering bits and pieces from the aircraft that will be useful, and breaking down the smaller pieces of radio equipment that I have. I may have a very long trek, so I am improvising as best as I can.

It seems that the vortex has had some effect on my Knapp sack! It seems to have a dimensional vortex inside and I can insert large items, larger than the sack itself! I plan to gather any med kits and other items that may be useful.
The rattling in the tail section continues. I am going to investigate.

Branson is alive!! Or was? I approached the tail section and realized that sergeant Branson was trying to get out of the wrecked tail gunner’s position. I helped pull some wreckage from his path, and when he got free he lunged at me! His eyes were milky white and he smelled of rot and gangrene. I yelled at him to stop, trying to block his attacks. I didn’t want to hurt him further, so I scrambled back through the plane. He seems to sense where I was even through it didn’t appear that he could see. I thought he might have a jungle disease that took his sanity from him, but he fell through the ball turrets hole in the floor before I could administer any aid. When I looked out, his form had splattered all over the ground! It appeared that h was rotten throughout. How could the body move if it was long dead?

After wrenching my rations up, I searched the aircraft thoroughly for other crew members. No others were present. Either they climbed from the wreck, or they bailed out. I have no way of knowing if they are in Germany or in the jungle with me.

5(?) April, 1943
A very large jungle animal visited last night. At first I thought it was an elephant by it size and the tremors of its foot falls. In the moon light it appeared to be a very large reptile walking on hind legs! I decided discretion was the better part of valor and stayed hidden.

In the morning I found the courage to investigate the ground. The footprints were impressive. Could that be a dinosaur? My mentor had not mentioned the possibility of time travel. There my no civilization to find.

Staying here will not reveal any solutions, so I will bring my equipment and head back on the trajectory that the B-17 came down from. Maybe somewhere in this place has a power source that allowed the vortex to open here. The vortex in my knapsack is stable so far. This is a weird place.

(6)? April, 1943 
Correction, Day 4 PV (post vortex) year unknown
Since the flying monkeys have made off with my sidearm, I am taking a Browning 50 cal from the waist gunner’s position and stripping it down. It may be awkward, but I think I am in for a fight for survival.

The beast of a gun weighs about 30 kilo’s. After removing part of the housing and rebuilding the trigger assembly, I decided that having an automatic gun this heavy was useless. I could never control it, so I removed the gas blow back gear and the air cooled housing. It is not going to overheat firing single shots. I have to load it by manually actioning the cocking lever, but it also acts as a fore grip. Now it weighs a mere 10 or 12 kilo’s and still accepts the belt feed for efficient reload. I am scavenging extra ammo from my radio room gun and adding it to my knapsack.

I have managed to scavenge:

  • Cold weather gear
  • Survival Hatchet
  • Oxygen tank
  • Bayonet
  • Several first aid kits
  • Tool kit from the plane
  • Electronic tools and parts
  • Several radio transponders (so far the batteries have remained strong)
  • 3 flares
  • Modified M2 Browning machine gun
  • Flak Jacket
  • Parachute from Branson
  • 8 ration packs
  • 2 canteens
  • A bottomless Knapsack


I am leaving the aircraft that has been my home for 4 days and heading south.

PV 7
After 3 days of hiking on the jungle, I am beginning to believe that my benefactor was correct in saying that worlds could be connected with a vortex. I have seen several huge reptiles. Far larger than any I have read about. I also have discovered a rock floating in the sky. There are no apparent means of suspension, and water falls from it. Where does the water come from?  Could this have the power source that formed the vortex on this side? There seems no way to ascend to it.

PV 9
I have discovered an encampment. The sign says, "Camp Vengeance". I believe that the uniforms are from the old British Empire! I must be in India, thank The Almighty!

Hopefully they can help me get back to Europe. I am going to greet them…

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Update to the History and Cosmology of Antara

I have fleshed out more of the cosmology of the world of Antara, adding new gods to the pantheon (and re-shuffling some of the old ones) and writing up info about the planes (the Antaran equivalent to Feywild, Shadowfell, elemental planes, heaven, Olympus/Asgard, etc.).

Gods of Antara

Cosmology of Antara

Ages of Antara

Monday, April 9, 2018

"The Offer of Syndra Silvane" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 9


A woman sat in a comfortable chair. She wore long loose white silk garments. A silver mask concealed  her face. Her head and neck were concealed by a habit. She spoke in a Eusabean accent.

"I am Syndra Silvane. Thank you for coming. Please, sit. Would you like some wine? Fruit?"

They accepted her hospitality and became comfortable.

"I would like to hire you to find and destroy the Soulmonger."


CHAPTER 9, "THE OFFER OF SYNDRA SILVANE"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's parasaurolophus companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Hasegawa Tōhaku - a Horaian kamenin monk (Tortle Kensei Monk), a traveler, explorer, and artist. He was a friend of Nova Scotia Blackman in Akwa-Obio, the city of scholars.
THE OFFER

"We're listening," said Bramble, warily.

"Before I tell you who I am, please, tell me about yourselves." the mysterious woman replied.

Each member of the party introduced themselves. Apparently coughed quietly and withdrew to the back of the room. 

DM Comment - Damned Brain Fever!

"I am a member of an organization known as the Erelim."

"Did you say the Erelim?" said Zeynap.

"You've heard of us?" she answered.

Bramble looked at Zeynap incredulously.



"Yes, they're some kind of covert brotherhood. They also called 'the Watchers'. They oppose those who try to take over, or destroy, the world. They also collect and destroy dangerous artifacts." explained Zeynap.

"How do you know this?" asked Xok-Wik.

"Ah, you know, I hear things." explained the former smuggler of dangerous artifacts.

DM Comment - Guess who rolled a 20 on their history check!

"It's true," said Syndra, "and I have come to Chult in search of the Soulmonger. You see, our agents have tracked the collection of several powerful magical artifacts smuggled from locations throughout Antara - a live unicorn from Aeon, a crystal lens from Bres, meteoric jade from Plaksha, Residuum from Agartta, and others. The theft of any of these artifacts would be cause to worry. However, together they form the components of a fearful device - the Soulmonger."

"Yes, we've heard of it." said Zeynap, the knot on his forehead throbbing angrily at the mention of the live unicorn.

"Indeed?" responded Syndra, intrigued.   

"As I said, I, ah, hear things."

"I see. My agents learned that all of the objects were all bound for some secret pirate port on the west coast of Chult."

"What does this thing do?" inquired Bramble.

Syndra explained, "It acts as a kind of magical energy source. It drains life from the living and stores it for use in powerful necromantic rituals."

"..and let me guess, when you die from having your life drained, your body becomes a zombie." he interrupted. 

Syndra was visibly taken aback, "Y-yes. How do you know this?"

Bramble explained, "You won't find your parts in the pirate port."

"Why not?" asked Syndra.

"We have reason to believe the parts were taken to the interior, somewhere in southern Chult." said the theran druid, "and that it is assembled and activated."

Syndra Silvane tensed and grabbed the sides of her chair, "How do you know this?"

"The dead are rising in the jungles. We've encountered them. A witch woman in Mbala told us that the Soulmonger was responsible. She said the power emanated from somewhere in the south. What's worse, it's growing."

"Where is this witch woman?" inquired Syndra.

"We killed her." replied Bramble coldly as he stared intently at the figure in the silver mask. 

There was an awkward silence. 

"That it has already been activated is unwelcome news. As its power increases so too will its influence. Soon it will spread across all of Chult. It will keep expanding until it has encompassed Atlantis, Bres, Meropis, Avallonis, and beyond. It will one day drain all life from Antara."

Again there was an awkward moment of silence. Someone cleared their throat.

"You must destroy the Soulmonger! I will pay you each fifty Eusebean gold coins up front if you take the job. You will be each paid five thousand gold coins upon proof of its destruction."

"Give us a moment to discuss this." said Bramble. Bramble looked around the room, "Do you have a table?" 

"Please," said Syndra as she gestured with her hand toward a nearby desk.

Bramble, Xok-Wik, Zeynap,  Hasegawa Tōhaku, and Apparently gathered around the table. Bramble swept all the clutter off the table and brought a candelabra over. He spread out a number of maps on the table and the group began to collaborate on a plan. 


Looking at the map, Bramble suspected that the hidden pirate port was located in Jahaka bay. This suspicion was based on statements made by the attempted mutineers as they entered Chult and a statement made by Zalma Haik who claimed to enter Chult via "Jahaka". Bramble also concluded that the Heart of Ubtao was important to the plot and made that landmark their primary target. 

The team discussed several options - travel back up the River Soshenstar to Camp Retribution and from there head to the Heart of Ubtao. They decided that their best bet would be to follow the smuggling route. For that they'd need to find this secret pirate port. To do that, they'd need to make some inquiries around Port Nyanzaru. They also figured that any journey to the south of Chult and back would take more than a hundred days and they would need to provision accordingly.

"So are you accepting my offer?" asked Syndra.

Bramble looked around and everyone nodded, "Yes, I guess we are."

"Then let me share with you a parting gift. In exchange for taking this job, I will bestow upon each of you a magical gift." She produced several boxes.

"For you, Xok-Wik,  a magical arrow. It will not break."

"For you, Zeynap, a shard of the Eye of Heaven. It possesses angelic spells."

"For Tohaku, a vial containing any spice you may require."


"And for you, Bramble, if give you this potted plant. I have been growing it for several weeks."

Bramble took the gift with a quizzical look, "Is this because I'm a wise man of the forest?"

"It is a magical plant. It comes alive and can move about at your command."

Bramble reassessed his gift and was impressed. He nodded in approval, "We thank you for these gifts." 

ERRANDS
They exited the stiflingly hot confines of Silvane's dark quarters into the wet humid streets of Port Nyanzaru. They had work to do.

Their first task took them across town to the Hall of Gold - the gleaming temple to Trapezitam, the Ysian god of merchants. The temple stood atop the highest hill in Port Nyanzaru. The temple interior was ostentatious. Music played and female dancers clad in gauzy chiffon writhed on pedestals near the entrance. There were paintings of the beautiful high priestess in her dress made of black and gold plates that resembled rectangles, triangles, and eyes.


They exchanged their vouchers from the Knights of the Circle for gold coins and concluded their business. From there they descended the hill through the Red Bazaar. They exited the city gates and emerged into the Tiryiki Anchorage outside the city walls. There they perused the available livestock in search of a beast of burden. They finally decided to purchase a macetail (aka- an ankylosaurus).

"What should we name it?" asked Xok-Wik.

"We're not going to name it!" replied Bramble, curtly, "Don't get attached to it. We may have to eat it or abandon it to save our lives. We're not risking our lives for this thing because we gave it a name!"

Xok-Wik raised his hands in surrender.

ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION
That afternoon the party took their newly purchased macetail over to Malar's Throat in search of the b'alaam scouts named River Mist and Flask of Wine. They hoped the scouts might know something about the smuggling scene in Port Nyanzaru.

As they descended the steep muddy trails past the ramshackle buildings they heard a shout and a crash. Xok-Wik and Tohaku barely jumped aside as a massive barrel filled with rain water came rolling down the path towards them. The barrel crashed into the ravine below. At the top of the hill Bramble saw the fleeing form of Lord Feldercarb as the mage disappeared behind an uphill structure.

"Should we chase him?" asked Zeynap.


"No, let him go. We have other things to do." replied Xok-Wik

They found River Mist and Flask of Wine sitting in an open-air tavern built on a wooden platform over the ravine at the bottom of the throat. They exchanged pleasantries and answered questions about their recent adventure upriver. When asked about smuggling in Port Nyanzaru the two wilderness scouts admitted that they knew nothing about that. They suggested instead that the party talk to Zindar the harbormaster.

THE BRAZEN PEGASUS
The party made their way to the docks, macetail in tow. There they found Zindar, the humanoid dragon, busy directing stevedores in the unloading of a ship. He finished his work and paused to speak with them.

When asked about smuggling in Port Nyanzaru, Zindar proudly proclaimed that he ensured there WAS no smuggling in Port Nyanzaru! Pirates, however, was another matter! He spat and complained that pirate ships plagued the seas beyond the Bay of Chult. Everyone knew there was some kind of secret pirate base somewhere on the west coast but no one knew where it was. He lamented that the Merchant Princes had no navy to protect their shipping and relied too heavily on Aremag the Dragon-Turtle to protect the city from attack. He also noted with pointed suspicion that the Ysian ships that trade at Fort Belaurian seem to never suffer a pirate attack. He informed the party that there was a bounty of two thousand gold coins for ever pirate ship brought into port plus an extra five hundred gold coins for each pirate captain arrested and submitted for justice in Port Nyanzaru.

Bramble's eyes grew wide. He looked at his companions and they all shared the same thought - PIRATE HUNTING! It was suggested that Silvane's mission could wait, depending of course on how quickly the effect of the Soulmonger spread across the world.

DM Commentary - and thus the campaign took a 90-degree turn from the intended plot. Okay, maybe only 45-degree. They're still headed in the right direction. 

There was a small crash elsewhere on the docks and Zindar cursed. He excused himself and flew off to attend to the newest minor crisis.

The party looked around and the various ships in the harbor. They saw the Karanja. Captain Abasi was recruiting a new crew. They did some quick math, assessing how long it would take to sail down the western coast. They figured twenty days at sail to reach Jahaka Bay.

A raspy voice spoke to them, "If it's speed ye want, then ye should ignore that old garbage scow. Ye'll be wanting a fast ship! My ship! The Brazen Pegasus! We do ye need to go?"

They turned to see a short theran, no taller than a man's chest, with light brown velvety skin, an elongated face, short arms, and large hands with long muscular fingers that terminated in thick claw-like nails. He wore dark goggles over his eyes and large incisors stuck out under his up-turned upper lip. He had a hunched posture and held his long hands with his fingers pointing down in front of his chest.

"Jahaka Bay," replied Bramble.

"Jahaka Bay you say?" the short sailor inquired suspiciously. He scratched his scruffy head with long fingernails, "I see." He acted like he understood a joke no one was telling. "Lots of pirates near there. The Brazen Pegasus can outrun any pirate ship!"

"Actually, we were hoping to find the pirate base."

The wee captain jumped back, "Ye gods! Whatever for?"

"What do you know about," Zeynap looked around conspiratorially, "smuggling?"

The captain looked offended and coughed defensively, "I, uh, that is, well, look, yer not working for Zindar, are ye? If  ye are, by law ye have to tell me!"

Zeynap held his hands palm out, "Absolutely not, my friend!"

"Well, let's just say I may have facilitated the transport of goods into and out of Port Nyanzaru."

"Look, I get it," said Zeynap, "I've been there myself. And of course you've never sold pirated goods in Port Nyanzaru. Nothing, say, you may have acquired from some pirates at their secret base."

The captain came in very close, his nose twitching. He hissed through his teeth, "Okay, mebbee I did. Mebbee I know how to contact the Jahaka pirates. Mebbee I've been to their secret hideout, but I tell ye, they take yer ship, blindfold ye, and pilot ye in. I couldn't find it if I had to."

"Well that's not necessary," said Bramble, "Just get us in contact with them. We'll do the rest. How long will it take us to reach Jahaka Bay in your sloop?"

"Four days!" bragged the captain.

Bramble was genuinely impressed, "Excellent! How much?"

"Ten gold coins a day for the lot of ye. Plus another six a day to transport ye wee beast there!"

"Deal! What's your name?"

"Captain Jannes Moleman, at yer service!"


THE MIST CLIFFS
The sea voyage south along the west coast of Chult was uneventful. The Mist Cliffs loomed everpresent to the left. Fog poured over the tops of the cliffs like a waterfall of cloud. The sloop was a small craft, sixty feet long with a shallow draft and many large sails. There was only one cabin and it belonged to the captain. The crew of six slept on deck. The small area below deck was devoted to cargo which was currently occupied by the unhappy macetail. The passengers slept on the open deck with the crew.


On the fourth day, Captain Moleman  picked up a mirror and reflected the sun towards a spot on the bare cliff. A tiny light flashed back. Soon a sleek Dalusian sailing ship could be seen on an intercept course.

"There they be," said Captain Moleman, "Here, sit down and pretend to be captured prisoners." The party did as they were told.

The Dalusian ship pulled alongside. Rotting severed heads dangled from its bowsprit. A voice called out over a brass megaphone, "Heave to and prepare to be boarded!"

Captain Moleman picked up his own megaphone and called back, "I beg ye pardon, sir! I have come bearing prisoners! They'll make fine ransom! At the very least they can be sold as slaves! I am, alas, unable to detain them myself but perhaps they can be housed in yer own fine and secure facility!"

There was a moment of silence, "What do you have?"

"I have a stout theran from unknown lands, a lithe b'alam hunter from Bres, and a middle-aged Chelonian from the Snout!"

"Ehhhh." bemoaned the other ship, "What else?"

"I have a blue-skinned beauty from the sky-tribes of Akasa!"

"Now you're talking! Anything else?"

"Yes! Of course!" He grabbed Zeynap by the shoulder and lifted him up, "I have that unicorn you were looking for!"

Zeynap snapped his gaze at the theran captain in astonishment!

Captain Moleman looked up at the Eusebean smuggler with an evil smile.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Life and Times of Hasegawa Tōhaku

by Jeffery Low


Come, my new friends.  Let me tell you my story.

My hatching name was Grey Mist Morning.  Human cultures have many names for my kind. My human father often called me a "kamenin". I have heard the Avallonians call me a testudo while the Atlanteans say I am a chelonian. My people have no special name by which we call ourselves. We simply are.

I hatched on the sandy beach of the island known to my people as the Snout of Ogmar. It is all that is left of Ogmar, The Ancient One, after he chose to sink back into the sea in the time before now.  While listening to the old ones who were my parents tell me stories of their travels throughout the lands of men, I grew to adolescence, and within a year I was strong and nearly full grown.  After their spirits departed their shells, I abandoned my birth hut to begin my own journey, filled with the wisdom they had imparted to me.  Since that day I, like many of my kind, have traveled the lands of men.  My people have no permanent settlements of our own, you see.  Only the short time with my parents and learning their life stories constitutes our way of life.  After that, the young of my kind are left on their own to survive until the call to return to the Snout and find a mate.

What's that now?  My name, Tohaku?  You are correct.  It is from the land of Horai.  The first culture I came across was a man named Hasegawa Hideyoshi, a sailor wrecked upon the Snout of Ogmar.  He was sick and wounded, so I helped him to recover and survive.  In return, he taught me about his culture.  As he recovered, he gave me the name Tohaku and adopted me as his own son.

In time, we managed to signal a ship and bartered passage to Port Nyanzaru.  I traveled with him for two years and he taught me to defend myself, as his father taught him, in the way of the kensei.  He also taught me the art of ink painting and to find and embrace the peace it provides.  It was during a sea voyage in our third year together that my new father's spirit departed his body.  He was honored by the sea tribe of the Seasprite Dancer, with whom we had been sailing during this time, in their traditional way and was given to the sea.  I bade farewell to the tribe of the Seasprite Dancer when we made our next port in Agartta. 

I've had many travels since then. I have made it my life's mission to study different cultures.  I also continue to paint the vast landscapes I encounter as a hobby.  Someday I hope to show my own hatchling the paintings in the book as I saw them.

I have traveled from Agartta to the plains of Mu where I lived with the nomads, a fascinating culture.  The mystical forests of Moar were a home as I learned the ways of the Aeonians, as well as the steaming jungles of Bres were I hunted with the jaguar-men.  I have seen the gleaming tower of Artorius Rex in Avalon and lived for a year with the batiri in the fetid swamps of South Zazamanc.  I have shared wisdom and survival ideas with a guzi tribe in North Zazamanc for several years, becoming a warrior-priest in their culture.  I briefly visited the frozen halls of the fair haired peoples of Boreas, but even their summers were too cold for me to stay long.

My life is now half over as 37 years has passed since my hatching. My people consider a life of fifty years to be a full life. I already hear the call of Ogmar, to return for the Mating time.  So long as I can resist, I will continue my travels.  So now I am here in Chult to find out more about some of the cultures deeper into the interior of this vast land.  I am happy to have you all as new friends and hope to help you learn as much about my people as I do about yours. 

I thank you for taking me into your tribe.  I will always strive to be a worthy member.



Thursday, April 5, 2018

"The Blessings of Ubtao" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 8


FAREWELLS
The expedition packed up and prepared to leave Mbala. They bade farewell to Nova Scotia Blackman who would remain behind. The Nova Scotian would clean and prepare the site for the coming of the knights of the circle. Ser Baric Firstenhartenburger would remain with him to help defend the camp. Meanwhile Ser Gent Slaughter would return with the others to Camp Vengeance.

DM Commentary - You guessed it, I let the players name the unimportant NPC.

It took a little over an hour to descend the side of Mbala. At the bottom Apparently met her beast companion, the  parasaurolophus she named "Chak'sa".

That evening as the sun began to set they came across a strange figure sitting on a stone and painting. He was located near the edge of the jungle overlooking a field of tall grass gently sloping down to the Aldani basin. The setting sun illuminated the puffy clouds to the east setting the sky ablaze with pink, red, and orange. The western mountains cast long shadows across the plain before them with the far side still lit by the late afternoon sun. In the distance, standing alone in the field about two thousand feet from where the painter sat, was a single carved stone, a marker of some kind, rising from the mud and grass and overlooking a ring of objects piled all around it.

The figure was a humanoid tortoise. His composure was peaceful and serene as he finished his painting, cleaned his brushes, and put away his watercolors. He greeted the newcomers, "Hello. I am named Tōhaku. I understand that your culture uses family names. I have a family name which I can provide upon request."

There was an awkward silence. Eventually Xok-Wik rolled his eyes, "Okay, I'll ask. What is it?"

The tortoise-man replied simply, "It is Hasegawa."

When asked about the pile of objects around the statue, Hasegawa Tōhaku said he had not yet inspected it. He was at the time more interested in the beauty of the scene and capturing its essence for posterity.

The party, accompanied by their new friend, hiked across the field towards the statue. The grass proved to be shoulder high and the ground was wet and muddy. As they neared the statue they noticed that half a dozen humanoid figures had risen up from the mud. They were the reanimated remains of long-dead Chultan natives covered in decades of muck and soil! One of the figures was twelve feet tall and wielded a tree trunk and roots as a club! The reanimated remains shambled towards the party in a threatening manner.

Image may contain: shoes and table

Tōhaku and Chak'sa rushed into battle against the smaller zombies. Zeynap broke to a clump of small trees to the left and focused his hex magic and Xok-Wik loosed arrow after arrow into the large zombie. Bramble transformed himself into a bear and provided assistance to Tōhaku and Chak'sa. All of the zombies were soon defeated.

No automatic alt text available.

Upon investigating the statue they saw that the pile of objects were offerings - bones, pieces of pottery, twigs, rocks. The statue was a stylized humanoid figure with an over-sized head. Around the base of the statue was caved a maze.

No automatic alt text available.

Apparently said she had heard that the people of Chult once worshiped the god  Ubtao and that Ubtao loved mazes and bestowed blessings upon those that completed them.

At the bottom was a triangle indicating a starting point. A matching triangle at the top indicated the exit. Xok-Wik traced a path through the maze, easily finding the exit.

DM Commentary- Natural twenty! We joked that the solution to the maze was a straight line from the beginning to the end.

The eyes of the statue glowed and Xok-Wik felt the blessing of the ancient god.

DM Commentary- Xok-Wik won the reward: a one time use of the spell "Find Path".



CHAPTER 8, "THE BLESSINGS OF UBTAO"



THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's parasaurolophus companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Hasegawa Tōhaku - a Horaian kamenin monk (Tortle Kensei Monk), a traveler, explorer, and artist. He was a friend of Nova Scotia Blackman in Akwa-Obio, the city of scholars.


THE MOVE
The party, under the nominal command of Ser Slaughter, returned to Camp Vengeance. The camp had recently prospered with the party's donation of the magic jug that produced clean drinking water. The camp had been preparing for the possibility of moving for the last five days and was ready to go. With the report that Mbala was cleared for settlement the entire contingent was ready to make the move the following day.

Without beasts of burden the caravan transported only what they could carry. Camp Vengeance would be abandoned. The entire contingent of 61 marched through the jungle led by Apparently and Chak'sa. The skies opened up and rain fell heavily on the contingent as it slogged though the mud and made their way slowly through flash flooded streams and rivers.

Day 27
It was the second day after leaving Camp Vengeance and the contingent had barely made it ten miles. Apparently was at the front of the train. She came upon and startled a large reptilian beast. The creature had three horns and a wide armored crest behind its head. The beast backed away defensively but maintained a threatening body posture. Apparently called for the train to halt and attempted to calm the beast. She successfully earned its trust. She told the others that it was a mother defending its nest. Zeynap suggested she lure the beast away so they could sneak past and find the nest so that they could steal an egg or two. Bramble the druid reluctantly approved of the plan so long as they left one or two eggs in the nest.



Apparently tried to lure the three-horned beast away but it would not move. Zeynap shrugged. Apparently kept the beast calm while the train made its way carefully past as it continued on its way.

Day 33
The rains continued for several days but eventually let up. The air was warm and thick with humidity. As it became dark the contingent was forced to make camp only five miles from Mbala. The camp consisted of five separate campfires spread over a large area.

That night Zeynap was on guard while everyone slept. He failed to notice the massive fifty food long constrictor snake stealthily move through the underbrush and coil around the sleeping form of Apparently. The demijin woke as the constrictor wrapped around her and twist across the ground. She called out for help, waking the others around the campfire. Her companions leaped to her aid as she fought off the snake with her short sword. The snake eventually let go and fled into the dense foliage. Zeynap blindly cast several magical bolts after the creature.

Day 34
The train arrived in Mbala and slowly made its way up the side of the tepui. They met Ser Baric Firstenhartenburger at the top. Out of respect of the Knights of the Circle and their potential reaction to his new status the Nova Scotian chose to hide in the nearby Pteran caves which he had converted to his new home. Tōhaku went to find his former friend from Akwa-Obio to catch up. The knights and soldiers of the Circle set about establishing their new camp which they named Camp Retribution.

Day 35
The party bade farewell to the Knights of the Circle and began their return journey to Port Nyanzaru with their payment vouchers. They made good time and set camp roughly halfway between Mbala and the old camp.

It was the dead of night and Tōhaku was on watch. The kamenin monk smelled a sweet aroma drift from the west. He gently roused the b'alam Xok-Wik to make use of the cat-man's excellent sense of smell. Xok-Wik sniffed the air and his eyes grew wide. Without saying a word Xok-Wik began running towards the source of the aroma.



Tōhaku ran after the b'alam but could not keep up. He called for the others to wake up and help. Apparently and Chak'sa rushed after Xok-Wik while Bramble went to wake up Zeynap.

Xok-Wik ran into the night but stopped at the edge of an ancient ruin overgrown with fines and plants. He shook his head and cleared his mind of the urge to continue. He hard a crashing through the jungle behind. He quickly moved aside as Chak'sa lumbered past at a gallop. Chak'sa did not stop until the beast was entangled in a mass of writhing vines and plant growth.


The others caught up to Xok-Wik and saw the giant mouth-like parts of the animated plants futilely try to wrap around Chak'sa. Tōhaku and Apparently waded into battle against the plants, chopping at their thick vines and stems. Xok-Wik turned and darted back to the camp to grab his bow and arrows. He passed Bramble and Zeynap. He grabbed his weapons and caught back up to Bramble and Zeynap in a flash.


Bramble transformed himself into a bear and attacked a nearby plant. The plant's "head" wrapped itself around the bear and tied itself closed with vines. Bramble was wrapped up and held tight. The plant began to secrete digestive acids. Zeynap and Xok-Wik focused attacks on that plant and were able to cut it from its trunk. The plant fell and disgorged Bramble from its mouth-like leaves.


The battle continued in this way as the party fought the remaining four animated man-eating plants. Bramble or Apparently would be engulfed and the others would focus attacks to kill the plants quickly.

The man-eating plants were eventually destroyed and the injured party retreated to their camp.

THE JOURNEY DOWNRIVER
The party arrived in the now empty Camp Vengeance. When they left there were five boats and canoes on the shore. Now there were only two. Apparently bade farewell to Chak'sa for the great beast would not fit in the boats. She hoped the parasaurolophus would travel downriver on its own and meet up with her in Port Nyanzaru. The party set off in the two canoes with Tōhaku, weighing in at over four hundred pounds, occupying his own canoe.

On the fifth day of their journey downriver they heard a hoarse voice calling for help. They where near the location where they heard a similar call for help from shore when they first traveled upriver. The voice called to Zeynap specifically and the party decided to go to shore.


They met Lord Feldercarb the mage, the sole survivor of Zeynap's original expedition into the jungle. They had been separated when zombies attacked their camp in the ruins of Camp Righteous and had become lost. The fact that Zeynap did not recognize his former traveling companion caused Lord Feldercarb great sadness and offense.


Later that night Lord Feldercarb confided to Zeynap that he felt nothing but disdain for Zeynap's new companions. They had ignored his calls for help on their journey upriver. He told Zeynap that he planned to kill them in their sleep.

Zeynap tried to dissuade Lord Feldercarb of this action but Zeynap only became frustrated when 

Feldercarb mistook his meaning and instead decided to hire assassins when they arrived at Port Nyanzaru.





Zeynap warned the others the next day. Bramble suggested they preemptively kill Feldercarb and eliminate the potential threat. Zeynap argued in his former friend's defense suggesting that he was simply overcome with emotion. Xok-Wik and Apparently supported Zeynap and they decided to keep a close eye on Feldercarb for the rest of the trip.
On the eighth day of their journey downriver they set camp at the mouth of the River Soshenstar. On the ninth day they took their boat and canoe into the ocean for the remaining twenty miles to Port Nyanzaru. Ahead of them in the distance they could see three other boats. In one of the boats was the merchant explorer Zalma Haik. They arrived at the port city late that afternoon and procured a room at Kaya's House of Repose. Xok-Wik curled up next to the fire in the common room while Tōhaku withdrew into his shell.

A POLITE AWAKENING
The next morning they came down the stairs to find a short brown-skinned foreigner standing near the door flanked by two large Chultans. He introduced himself as Aazon Talieri, representative of Master Jobal, one of the merchant princes of Port Nyanzaru. He was pleasant and polite and allowed the group to have some breakfast. As they did so he informed them that they were invited to meet with Master Jobal some time today before noon, at their convenience. He instructed Strombo, one of the large attendants, to stay behind and escort them to Master Jobal when they were ready.

They finished their breakfast and planned their day then went with Strombo to Master Jobal. They were led to a walled hilltop district containing the palatial villas of the merchant princes. There were three hilltops connected by marble bridges.

Strombo took them to Jobal's villa and were instructed to wait in the sitting room. Joining them in the sitting room was an unknown prospector and Zalma Haik. After making small talk catching up with Zalma Haik they were led to the meeting place in Jobal's garden. Several muscular men who could have been Strombo's brothers stood watch discreetly in the corners.

After polite introductions Jobal began his inquiry, "I understand you have just returned from an expedition into the interior, please tell me about your journey."

Apparently related the story of their expedition, occasionally answering questions from Jobal as they arose.

"Ah, so you were hired by a patron. For what services were you hired?"
"To act as guide and scout," she replied.

"I see. And how much were you paid for this service?"

"We were each paid 2 Avallonian gold coins a day totaling 48 gold for Bramble and myself and 24 for Zeynap who joined us later. Tōhaku here was not a part of the arrangement."

"Indeed. Ms. Jones, do you know what I do here in Port Nyanzaru?"

"I'm not sure."

"I arrange work for the local guides and scouts. Employers such as the merchant and prospector you met in the sitting room come to me to hire experienced guides to help them navigate through the jungle. I ensure they meet my personal requirements for quality, knowledge, and customer service. In exchange I am exact a percentage of the transaction. In order to ensure that my clients receive the highest level of customer service and quality, I require the engagement of all guides and scouts in Port Nyanzaru to be personally arranged by myself. In that way I maintain a certain- equilibrium here.

"I have been informed that not only did you originally seek to employ the services of two scouts..."

"We did?" interrupted Zeynap.

"We did," said Bramble, "the two b'alam."

"River Mist and Flask of Wine," said Apparently.

"Yes!" said Jobal coldly, "River Mist and Flask of Wine. They are outlaws who do not work within the system. I have issued orders for their arrest. Not only did you seek their services over more qualified offerings, you chose instead to provide your own services as guide and scout! Through your actions you have unintentionally threatened the delicate equilibrium!"

He paused to let the implications sink in. Apparently looked around at the guards in the corners and didn't like where this was going.

"Ordinarily I would have no choice but to punish you for disrupting the equilibrium. I would be forced to confiscate all your wealth and property and sentence you to Executioner's Run. However, I understand that you were new to Port Nyanzaru and hadn't taken the time to learn our customs. I am willing to offer a compromise."

Apparently narrowed her eyes, "Which is?"

"I happen to have another job opportunity that you and your friends would be uniquely qualified to undertake. Undertake this mission and I will overlook this initial oversight of our ways."

"What is this job?"

"I cannot tell you the particulars, but I will give you a reference to the employer. Her name is Syndra Silvane and she is currently a guest with Master Wakanga Otamu. I will give you twenty-four hours to meet with Silvane and hear her mission. If you agree to her undertaking and agree to operate within the rules and customs of Port Nyanzaru for all future transactions, I will forgive your transgressions. If in twenty-four hours you decline this offer, I will inform my men to arrest you and send you to the Run. Are we clear?"

"Very." said Apparently and they were dismissed.

SYNDRA SILVANE
"Well? Do we take the job?" asked Apparently.

"We should at least hear her out," said Bramble.

So they took the letter of reference to Wakanga Otamu's residence. They were led to a darkened room. The curtains were drawn. Despite the heat a fire burned in the fireplace. Incense burned in the corners filling the room with a thick spicy aroma.

A woman sat in a comfortable chair. She wore long loose white silk garments. She wore a silver mask over her face. Her head and neck was concealed by a habit. She spoke in a Eusabean accent.

"I am Syndra Silvane. Thank you for coming. Please, sit. Would you like some wine? Fruit?"

They accepted her hospitality and became comfortable.

"I would like to hire you to find and destroy the Soulmonger."

TO BE CONTINUED...

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"The Ritual of Stolen Life" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 7


Baba Nunu (what my players call Nanny Pu'pu) prepared the dead body of Nova Scotia Blackman for the ritual. She laid his body on a large flat slab of smooth cold stone and shaved him of all hair using a ritual blade. She collected the hair into a clay bowl. She then bathed him and cleaned his body using ritual liquids and oils. She drained his body of any remaining blood or fluids and sewed his wounds closed. She inserted a quill into his arm and began pumping a strange liquid into his veins. She painted various magical sigils onto his skin and arranged pine needles, various salts and powders, and smooth round stones on the slab around his body. Flying monkeys continuously brought her necessary tools and ingredients from her hut as she needed them.

A cold breeze picked up and the sky darkened from a passing cloud.

She began the ritual, chanting in a strange unintelligible muttering. She then reached into the litter of pteran hatchlings and pulled forth a wriggling live specimen the size of a toddler. Its beak was tied shut and its clawed wings and legs were bound. She laid it on the slab near Nova Scotia's head. She placed the precious gemstone upon the squirming pteran's forehead. It seemed to attack through some unseen adhesive.

She looked at Xok-Wik as if daring him to interfere and said, "If any of you are weak of stomach, this next part may cause a problem for you. Shall I proceed?"

Xok-Wik consulted Zeynap and Apparently. They nodded in agreement. She continued.

The struggling pteran became weak. Its breath became labored. It stopped squirming and lay still on the stone, panting feebly. The gemstone began to glow purple. The creature stopped breathing.

Baba Nunu removed the glowing gemstone from the forehead of the now dead pteran hatchling and placed it upon the forehead of Nova Scotia.

There was a moment of silence. The breeze had stopped. The cloud had grown large and was now ominously dark. There was a peal of far off thunder.

Nova Scotia Blackman took a deep gasping  breath. His eyes opened wide in horror. He began panting. He looked around as if in panic and rolled off the slab.

The illusion of the pteran hatchling was gone revealing the lifeless body of an aarokan hatchling.

It began to rain.


CHAPTER 7, "THE RITUAL OF STOLEN LIFE"

THE EXPEDITION
  • John Henry Blackman, "The Nova Scotian" - a black Canadian archaeologist (Human Bard) from 1920s Earth who was transported from Greenland to the strange continent of Zazamanc. He is searching for a way to return to Earth but has come to appreciate his new home. He is seeking a man named Artus Cimber.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.

BRAIN FEVER
Bramble shook his head and stood up. He felt disoriented and slightly dizzy. He felt like he had just awakened from a nap. They were standing in Mbala. It was raining. He was standing in the rear of the group near two Avallonian soldiers. He knocked his head a few times and shook off the dizziness. It was the damned brain fever! It had struck Apparently over a week ago, now it had hit him! 


DM Note- Whenever a player misses a week, we say they come down with a case of "Crypt Cough" or "Brain Fever" or some other temporary malady. The symptoms include a loss of personality and the inability to interact with one's surroundings. Those who suffer "Brain Fever" can still walk at a normal pace and follow simple instructions including "Run", "Hide", or "Play dead!" but generally they simply fall asleep for several days. Once the Brain Fever has run its course, the victim regains full consciousness with a loss of all memory of the time they were affected.

He saw Xok-Wik, Zeynap, and Apparently watching the old crone doing something to Nova Scotia's naked shaved body lying on a slab of stone. A bird hatchling the size of a todder lay dead near Nova's head. He walked up to Xok-Wik and asked what was going on.

The feline b'alam began to explain but started coughing. He began to sway and his eyes fluttered. He moaned and passed out. Brain fever had struck again! He handed Xok-Wik off to the Avallonian soldiers and turned to Zeynap and Apparently, "Okay, what happened?"

The pair recounted the events of the previous two days. Bramble Wolf looked at Nova Scotia, rising from the dead as a reanimated corpse. Anger and frustration welled up inside the beast-man.

"In the two days I was out you people undertook a mission for an evil witch, massacred an entire nest of pterodactyl-people for nothing, got half the expedition killed, facilitated an evil sacrifice, and turned Nova into a zombie! I WAS ONLY GONE FOR TWO DAYS AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS!!"

DM Note- This is pretty much how it went down with the players. Bramble's player missed a session. The others filled him in on what he missed. Bramble's player became frustrated and dressed the others down using almost exactly the same words above, except he said "I WAS ONLY GONE FOR ONE WEEK!" Needless to say, he was not happy.

Zeynap winced, "Look, I'm sorry. In our defense, she didn't seem THAT evil at the time and it all seemed like the right thing to do."

"In your def..?!" sputtered Bramble. He pointed to the deserted ruins behind them, "Were the piles of human skulls not a sufficient clue that SHE," he pointed at Baba Nunu, "...is EVIL??"

"Okay, I'm sorry.  I can only say I'm sorry so many times! What's done is done."

THE FATE OF THE NOVA SCOTIAN

Baba Nunu helped Nova Scotia Blackman back to his feet. She reached into a pouch on her belt and gave him  a handful of what looked like large prunes made of jerky.

“Eat one of these whenever you become very tired. Yes. Yes. When eaten, the juju moyo will restore your essence.  Yes. Yes. If you want more juju moyos you must pay the price. Yes. Pay the price.”

Zeynap asked the Canadian how he felt. Nova Scotia held his head and explained that he felt strange. "I remember-", he paused and took a breath, "I remember EVERYTHING!"

"That's- great?" replied Zeynap nervously.

"No, you don't understand! I remember every single moment of my life! I remember what kind of cake I had on my fifth birthday! I remember what I got for Christmas when I was two!"

"What's 'Christmas'?" interrupted Bramble.

"It's a holiday where I'm from. That's not important now. You don't understand, I remember MY BIRTH! No one is supposed to remember that! How do I remember that?"

Bramble shot Zeynap a dirty look. Zeynap shrugged apologetically.

Baba Nunu was waddling back to her hut carrying the dead aarokan hatchling like a dead chicken.

Nova contemplated the five juju moyos in his hand, "How can I get more juju moyos?"

Baba Nunu paused. “More juju moyos you want? Baba Nunu can make more for you. Yes. But only if you bring Baba Nunu what she needs. Baba Nunu is lonely. Yes. Bring someone to keep Baba Nunu company. Yes. That is all. Someone to talk to. Yes. The more the merrier! Bring them! More friends, more moyos. All the moyos you need!” She disappeared into her hut.

Nova sat down on the cold stone slab and contemplated his fate. He stared at the edge of the table mountain and considered his options. 

Bramble noticed the two surviving Avallonian soldiers standing awkwardly nearby. "Are you guys okay with this?"

Ser Slaughter replied, "Absolutely not! We were against it from the start! Avallonian soldiers in the service of the Knights of the Circle pledge their lives to fight and eliminate the forces of Thanatos!"

"That's what I thought." He looked back to Zeynap and Apparently, "So, where'd you get the idea for this crazy plan anyway?"

Apparently answered, "It was one of the Chultan warriors, the only one who survived the battle in the nest."

Bramble looked around, "Where is he now?"

The warrior was nowhere to be found. "What? Where?" stammered Zeynap, "Did he run away?".

Bramble rubbed his forehead in frustration, "No," he sighed, "he was was probably Baba Nunu the entire time. You were tricked."

Zeynap looked sullen. After a moment of introspection, he came upon an idea, "Okay, well, we can undo this. We'll just take him to someone who can..."

"Do what?" demanded Bramble, "Perform the miracle to raise the dead or have him reincarnated? He's an undead now! We can't bring him back! Nothing short of true resurrection can bring him back now!"

"Or a wish!" offered Zeynap defiantly.

"...or a wish. So all we need is a high priest who can perform the miracle of true resurrection or a wish." Bramble rolled his eyes, "No problem!"

Bramble cautiously approached Nova, "Nova, please let me examine you."

Nova was putting on his clothes, "Sure."

Bramble examined Nova Scotia, noting the runes, looking into his eyes, turning his head back and forth, etc.  "Hmmm.."

"What is it?"

"There might actually be a way."

"Really? How?"

"You're not a traditional zombie. You are wearing someone else's soul."

"That would explain why I feel- different."

"Yes. You see, you are not the Nova Scotian. I think the soul in this stone is wearing the Nova Scotian's body like a suit. It's absorbed his knowledge and memories so it thinks like the Nova Scotian. It knows everything the Nova Scotian knew and can do everything he could do. You might even be fooled into thinking you're the Nova Scotian. But Nova Scotia Blackman's soul is trapped in limbo. We may be able to restore his soul to this body using the lesser miracle of raising the dead."

Zeynap interjected, "See? No problem!"  Bramble shot the Eusebean a look of annoyance.

THE SOUL MONGER
Nova Scotia then asked, "So what did Baba Nunu say about whatever is creating the undead in the jungle?"

Zeynap hit his forehead, "Shit! We completely forgot!"

Bramble spun around and glared at Zeynap. Through gritted teeth he hissed, "That. Is why. We came. Here in. The first place!"

Nova Scotia rolled his eyes and approached Baba Nunu's hut. She could be heard chopping away and singing some ancient Chultan song. "Baba Nunu. May we speak with you?"

The wrinkled old woman exited her hut, staring blindly around, "Yes?"

"Tell us what was causing the dead to rise in the jungles below."

The old woman played coy, "Oh, knowledge you seek, a price must be paid."

Apparently spoke up, "No! We had an arrangement! We bring you one pteran egg and you'd tell us the answer. We brought you six eggs and six live hatchlings! Now tell us what we came for!"

The  old woman sighed, "Very well. It is the Soul Monger. The Soul Monger is the cause of the Death Curse. Destroy the Soul Monger and you stop the Death Curse."

"Where can we find the Soul Monger?"

"Somewhere in the South of Chult."

"Who is causing it?"

"Your credit has expired, my dear. For more information, you must pay the price. Yes yes. Perhaps if you leave one of those nice soldiers here to keep Baba Nunu company, yes yes. They would do nicely."

The two soldiers looked nervously at each other.

Bramble interceded, "No! We're leaving."

Baba Nunu smiled as the party gathered their gear and moved towards the exit.

STAYING BEHIND
The party paused at the gate before leaving the ruins of the city. They discussed their options.

They thought about returning to Port Nyanzaru to search for a priest to perform the miracle of raising the dead. The soldiers objected. Their orders were to come to Mbala and discover what was causing the Death Curse. They had done that and they needed to return to Camp Vengeance to report. Apparently suggested they split up. 


Ser Slaughter replied angrily, "Absolutely not! You, lady, are our guide and navigator!  Unlike you lot, we can't find our food and water as we go. Unlike YOU, we can get lost, fairly easily I might add! Without you, we will become lost, will run out of food, and will get eaten by a monster! You will come with us back to Camp Vengeance to report!"

"What about him?" Apparently indicated the Nova Scotian.

"Yeah, we got a real problem with him! Me mate and I, we joined the army of the Knights of the Circle so we could hunt down and destroy the likes of him!" He shot a finger at the Nova Scotian, "He will be an unwelcome travelling companion on our return journey and will be met with violent disapproval at Camp Vengeance!"

"That won't be a problem," said Nova, "I'm staying here."

"What?" said Bramble.

"I'm choosing to stay. She's the source of these chicken heart things. I've only got five."

"They're just dried chicken hearts! We can get more chicken hearts!"

Bramble held his face in his palm, "They're not chick hearts, Zeynap!"

DM Note - When Zeynap's player said this, I even said, "Oh Jeffy, bless your heart! They're not really chicken hearts. You know that right?"

"What?"

Nova Scotia explained, "They're human hearts, or at least the hearts of humanoids, shrunken down and preserved through her magic. They're probably the hearts of the people who lived in Mbala."

"Oh? OH! Ugh!"

"Anyway, I'll stay here and keep her company. I'll play her music and keep an eye on her."

Bramble grabbed Nova Scotia's shoulder. It was cold in his grasp, "We'll be back. We're going to get reinforcements from Camp Vengeance and come back and take this hill top town. It will be the perfect new base for the Knights of the Circle in their war against the undead."

"I'll be waiting."

PASSING THE TIME

Nova Scotia Blackman sat on a boulder reading his traveler's journal. He had been watching the little flying monkeys dart around the Tepui. Baba Nunu ignored him. She went into her hut and never came out. It was becoming dark. The monkeys disappeared, apparently returning to wherever it was they nested.

He got up and called to Baba Nunu. She didn't answer. He walked towards her hut. No light could be seen from within. He pulled aside the tattered curtain at the entrance to her hut.

It was dark within the hut. The dimly lit sky shone through the many small openings of the ancient structure made of bone and hide. He could see nothing.

Baba Nunu's disembodied voice called out urgently from the darkness, "Number One Assistant! Awaken!"

A tall humanoid form emerged from the darkness opposite Nova Scotia. It was as if the figure had been standing there against the far wall, motionless. It interposed its body between Nova Scotia and the interior of the hut and forced him to back away from the entrance.

The humanoid form was over a head taller than Nova Scotia. It was bald and its body appeared hairless. It was asymmetrical, misshapen, and deformed. Its left arm was larger than its right. Its legs too were twisted and inconsistent. It stood awkwardly to one side and lumbered. It made no sound other than a gurgling breathy moan.

The disembodied voice seemed to resonate all around, “Do not be so bold as to think you may enter the abode of poor old Baba Nunu. No. No. You best leave poor old Baba at peace.”

Nova Scotia backed away with his palms raised. "I get it. I get it. I just wondered if we could talk."

"Baba Nunu has no need to speak with you. If you want to help Baba Nunu, go find her real friends. Bring them back. They will entertain Baba Nunu. Yes Yes. You make for poor company."

He made no further effort to enter the hut.

He spent the next several days observing and recording. He felt no need to sleep nor eat. His body remained cold and clammy. At night he would simply lie down in his tent to avoid the occasional rain. He would occasionally play the harmonica.

He sat and watched the vast horizon of Chult around him and waited.

This was his life now.

THERE AND BACK AGAIN
The remainder of the expedition retraced their path to Camp Vengeance. They made excellent progress. Apparently's skills at a guide were improving. The return journey took only two days!

DM Note- We're using the Rangers from Unearthed Arcana. I ruled that the jungle was "Difficult terrain" and that Apparently could lead the group through the jungle at two hexes per day instead of the normal one. 

They returned to Camp Vengeance under the guise that Ser Slaughter was the leader of the expedition. They had convinced Lord Commander Toriad when they left that they could avoid conscription if they accompanied the expedition to Mbala. Their mission was to eliminate whatever it was that was causing the so-called Death Curse in Chult.

The knight provided his report to the Lord Commander. He informed his superiors that the mission was a failure but that they had gained crucial intelligence. He reported all that the group had learned about Baba Nunu. He relayed her information regarding the Death Curse and its reported cause - the Soul Monger - located somewhere in southern Chult. He further relayed the vital role the foreign escorts had played in guiding the mission despite the loss of two Avallonian soldiers and all four of the Chultan warriors.

Finally he pointed out that the ruined city of Mbala would provide a superior base of operations to that of Camp Vengeance if only it could be liberated from its sole resident - the old witch Baba Nunu.

Ser Salhana voiced support for a mission to take Mbala. Ser Ord Firebeard was concerned about the feasibility of such an operation given the depleted state of their current forces.


Lord Commander Toriad considered his options. Camp Vengeance was down to the following personnel:
  • Himself
  • Ser Salhana
  • Ser Ord Firebeard
  • Five knights (including Ser Slaughter), two of which were out on patrols
  • Eleven soldiers (including the one who had returned with the expedition), four of which were out on patrols
  • Sister Cyas, priestess of Saint George
  • Six acolytes of Saint George
  • Wolf Rygor, an scout of mixed Avallonian and sylvan parentage, who was out on patrol
  • Lorsa Bilwatal, a native scout, who was out on patrol
  • and eleven native warriors, six of which were out on patrols

He agreed to the plan, assigning Ser Slaughter and one of the other two knights and four of his seven soldiers to the mission. The foreigners would act as guides and escort the mission back to Mbala. 

Their mission: Ensure that the witch Baba Nunu would pose no future threat to an Avallonian base camp to be established atop Mbala.


SNOW  IN THE JUNGLE
The expedition assembled and set out the next day. It had been nineteen days since they had left Port Nyanzaru. The rain was heavy and the mission made little progress.

The weather was much more cooperative on the following day and they traveled to within ten miles of Mbala. They set camp for the evening and went about foraging for food and water.

Suddenly Bramble felt a chill in the air and heard the far off thumping of giant footprints. He cautioned everyone to be wary and to gather near the camp fire.

Two massive white wolves covered in frost appeared through the trees. They eyed the mission suspiciously. They let out howls to guide their masters to their location.

The temperature dropped precipitously as three massive frost giants from Polaris approached through the jungle.

The party stayed their hands and no one spoke.

Eventually one of the frost giants spoke. He asked for the human named Nova Scotia Blackman.

The party replied that he had died atop Mbala.

The frost giant looked disappointed. He said that he and his companions were searching for a human named Artus Cimber. They had recently encountered another human, the Ysian named Zalma Haik. Zalma was also looking for Artus Cimber and revealed that Nova Scotia, too, was searching for him.

Zalma told the giants that Nova Scotia knew nothing but the giants did not believe him so they sought Nova Scotia to question him themselves.

The party apologized for disappointing the giants.

The giants said that they had a base camp on the north east coast of Chult. If they found Artus Cimber, it was imperative they bring him there.

The group agreed and the giants left in peace.

Bramble, Zeynap, and Apparently each exchanged knowing looks and exhaled nervous sighs of relief.

DAY 21
That morning Apparently befriended a saurian jungle beast - a parasaurolophus.

The skies were cloudy as the mission climbed the narrow path leading to the top of Mbala. Apparently reluctantly left her new friend at the base of the tepui. The path was too narrow for the lumbering reptile. It made deep plaintive trumpeting noises with its head-tube that she heard all the way up the side of the stone monolith.

They were greeted by Nova Scotia Blackman just before they reached the top. It was mid-afternoon. The sky was dark gray and the thick humidity seemed to absorb all sound. Nova Scotia had observed their climb and came out to meet them.

Nova Scotia told the group about "Assistant Number One" saying that Baba Nunu was protected by some kind of Frankenstein's Monster. The group had no idea who he was talking about but Bramble deduced it was some kind of animated golem made of flesh.

Apparently had befriended the flying monkeys, speaking to them in their own tongue and convincing them to stay away from Baba Nunu in exchange for food. "How do we defeat it?" she asked.

"I don't know. But in the book and in the movies it disliked fire." replied Nova.

"I've got a plan," said Bramble.

THE BATTLE FOR MBALA
Nova Scotia Blackman carried a container of lantern oil. He was running through the ruins of Mbala towards the side of Baba Nunu's hut of hide and bone. He was followed by his companions and six Avallonian soldiers who fanned out.

He opened the container and began pouring it onto the side of the hut.

Baba Nunu appeared out of thin air! She was no longer blind. She bore a fiendish countenance with serpentine arms and elongated hands and fingers that bore deadly claws! She grabbed the container and ripped it from his grasp. "No!" she screamed, "How DARE you! Betrayer! Assistant Number One! Destroy this betrayer!"

Assistant Number One burst from the interior of the hut. It was a twisted caricature of a human being sewn together with mismatched parts! It emitted a raspy semi-roar as it charged Nova Scotia.

A globe of flame appeared next to the creature! It recoiled from the flame in horror. Baba Nunu hissed! Assistant Number One tried to move around the ball of flame to attack Nova Scotia but the flame moved to intercept only amplifying the golem's anger and frustration.

Nova Scotia dodged and weaved as he disengaged from the pair and fled towards the nearby stone table on which he was revived. Meanwhile the fire had ignited the spilled oil and had quickly spread up the side of part of Baba Nunu's ramshackle hut.



The flame sputtered out of existence but was replaced by two glowing green halos that enveloped both Baba Nunu and Assistant Number One. Baba Nunu screamed a stinging epithet at Bramble for ruining her ability to become invisible with his druid's spell of faerie fire!  She had hoped to distract the druid and break his concentration but failed. She ordered Assistant Number One to destroy the druid responsible. The golem lumbered off towards Bramble who had taken cover alongside one of the Avallonian soldiers behind some nearby ruined walls and rubble.


Two of the other soldiers moved to assist Nova Scotia by the table as he fought off the attacks of the witch.  The soldiers thrust their spears into Baba Nunu again and again but she continued to fight!

Apparently loosed several arrows into the golem while one of the knights loosed several volleys at it with his crossbow. None of the arrows or bolts seemed to affect the large muscular creature as it bore down upon Bramble.

Zeynap placed a hex upon the witch and proceeded to harass the golem with bolts of magical force, the only attacks that seemed to have any effect upon it! Bramble and the soldier ran and split up. They led the golem on a chase around the piles of skulls and rubble. Frustrated, the golem gave up and returned to help its mistress.

The golem arrived just in time to see Baba Nunu fall before a rain of arrows and crossbow bolts. In his anger and frustration he ripped apart two of the soldiers with his bare hands, ripping them apart at the shoulder in a gruesome display!

Nova Scotia saw the mutilated bodies of the dead soldiers lying on the ground. He could smell their blood. He stared at their remains and was momentarily filled with a sickening desire to consume their fresh hearts. He tore his gaze away in disgust.

Assistant Number One knelt down and picked up the broken body of Baba Nunu. He emitted a wail of anguish as a final magical bolt destroyed him!


THE AFTERMATH
The team worked to extinguish the fire that had destroyed half of Baba Nunu's hut. In what remained they found a container of almost one hundred juju moyos - no doubt created from the inhabitants from Mbala. They also found the body of the Chultan warrior that they believed had led them to Baba Nunu. She had killed him in the night before their assault on the pteran nest and had taken his place. His body hung from bone hooks. His organs had been removed and stored in jars. His heart was cut out of his chest. Several of his extremities had been cut off and gnawed upon. Some of his parts had been evidently added to Assistant Number One.

Bramble examined the nearby well. He hoped to determine if the water was drinkable and whether it could be used by the Avallonians. The surface was covered with a thick layer of sludge but the well could otherwise be utilized. He also noticed an odd trail of mold and slime that led from the well to the hut. As if something frequently entered and exited the well on its way to and from the hut.

Bramble changed his form into that of an octopus and dropped into the water. He felt around until he found a hidden passage that led to a secret hideout. No doubt the witch would often retreat here to rest or hide. Within he found a bag with ten metal ingots, a handful of precious gemstones of the kind used in the Ritual of Stolen Life, and a sealed scroll case. He returned to the surface and revealed what he had found. The scroll, as it happened, contained a spell for magically comprehending any language.

They prepared to camp in the same spot they had six nights previous. Around the fire they spoke of their immediate ambitions -
  1. Return to Camp Vengeance to report that Mbala had been secured.
  2. Return to Port Nyanzaru.
  3. Adventure!
Nova Scotia Blackman played his harmonica, his bald hairless face illuminated by firelight, but the music felt hollow and distant. He stopped playing and sat in silence. He had become someone- something- different. He did not like what he had become.

TO BE CONTINUED...

DM Notes-
First of all, missed opportunities. I had originally planned to beef up the Nanny Pu'pu fight by adding a few zombies and some creepy crawling hands. I'm very annoyed that I forgot to do that. 

Also, I should have kept Nanny Pu'pu invisible and had her pick off the outliers one by one instead of trying to save her shack. Bramble getting faerie fire on them both early in the fight was a major win for them! Bramble's player even exclaimed, "That's the first time in the history of anyone playing D&D ever that faerie fire has ever worked!" 

Final  missed opportunity - Nova Scotia should have been Charmed by Nanny Pu'pu. 

Other Notes- 
As-written, the Ritual of Stolen Life is a non-starter. At least not at this early stage in the game. The characters are only level 3 and losing 2d4 maximum hit points a day just won't do. So I re-designed Ritual of Stolen Life to be more interesting to play.

Characters who have been restored using the ritual of stolen life experience the following effects:

  • The character is considered undead.
  • The character is not affected by healing magic.
  • The character is immune to poison and is not affected by the poisoned condition.
  • The character does not need to eat, drink, sleep, or breathe. 
  • The character feels and experiences pain as normal. 
  • The character temporarily subtracts 1d4-1 from their maximum hit points per day due to the slow physical decomposition of their bodies.
  • Any time the character is wounded by bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage, the character’s maximum hit points are temporarily reduced by 1.
  • Any time the character’s hit points are reduced to less than half of the character’s maximum hit points, the character is rendered unable to speak. 
  • If damage reduces the character to 0 hit points, the character suffers +1 level of exhaustion and drops to 1 hit point instead.
  • The character does not make death saves. The character immediately dies if they suffer six levels of exhaustion. The gemstone embedded in their forehead shatters and the character's body becomes a mindless zombie. The character cannot be revived or rejuvenated short of true resurrection. 
  • The character may take a short rest as normal and may benefit from any effect that requires a short rest. 
  • The character may not take a long rest. 
  • The consumption of a juju moyo puts the character into a state resembling death for 8 hours. After 8 hours have elapsed the character is returned to life with the following effects:
    • The character regains all lost hit points.
    • The character regains spent Hit Dice, up to a number of dice equal to half of the character’s total number of them (minimum of one die).
    • The character regains any expended spell slots.
    • The character's maximum hit point total is restored. 
  • A character can’t benefit from more than one juju moyo in a 24-hour period, and a character must have at least 1 hit point when consuming the juju moyo to gain its benefits.
  • Unlike other necromantic rituals, the soul of the character is not tied to the undying body. A “false soul” is instead controlling the body. The “true soul” is trapped in limbo and may be returned to the body using Revivify or Raise Dead if the “false soul” is removed.

 Juju moyos are specially prepared humanoid hearts. They are dried and shrunk down so that they look like desiccated chicken hearts.

Unknown to the players, consuming a heart of a living humanoid, or a humanoid that has been dead less than one minute, imparts the same effect as consuming a juju moyo. The player should learn this only when they encounter a freshly dead corpse. The character might "smell" the heart in the body or be overcome by a desire to consume the heart, etc.

Only Nanny Pu'pu knows how to prepare juju moyo. She will prepare more for you if you pay the price - bring her a living humanoid to "keep her company". Leave them in Mbala and just walk away. She will provide one juju moyo for every living humanoid you leave to keep her company.

She provides 2d6 juju moyo to anyone who has undergone the ritual of stolen life. Unknown to the players, she has a stockpile of XXX* juju moyo in her hut in Mbala. it is imperative that the players do not know this when the ritual is performed.

*as many as the DM feels is sufficient or deems necessary. I put the number at 200 so that the player can continue playing the character to the end of the campaign but I might lower it to 100. However, she might easily have 50, 20, 10, or none.

Part of the Ritual of Stolen Life involves shaving all the hair off the body. She collects this hair and uses it to create a fetish. Creating a fetish takes 2 hours. The fetish is linked to the humanoid that provided the hair. That humanoid is considered charmed by Nanny Pu'pu. Dispel Magic or Greater Restoration.