Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Down the River" Chapter 4 of the Xanthus River Campaign

This week we were joined by a new player: Matt.

As we left our party, they were escorting a merchant down the Xanthus river to the coastal city of Thither. Whilst in Swallow, the merchant hired a river barge to take them the rest of the way down river. Half-a-day out of Swallow, as they passed the confluence of the Xanthus and the Atrous river, 16 pirates in war canoes emerged from the Atrous river and were quickly closing on the party.

The pirates charged closer, gaining on the river barge, closing the distance by 30 feet/round. Valerius the Squire told the captain to slow down and let them get closer, allowing the pirates to gain 40 feet/round. When the pirates got within bow range, three of the pirates began firing longbows. The party, along with the four-man crew of barge, pulled up sections of the deck and used the sections as makeshift shields. The first arrow immediately killed the fat drunken barge captain.

As the pirates were closing, Gwen the elf summoned an eagle (+2 attack, 1d6 damage, AC 12, 2d8 HD, 40' flight), then fired a few volleys from her own longbow. One of the crewmembers, an elfish falconer, let loose his own falcon (+0 attack, 1d4 damage, AC 10, 1d6 HD, 40' fly) on the pirates. The eagle occupied one of the archers while the poor falcon was quickly cut down.  Gwen immediately summoned another animal, this time a pterodactyl (+4 attack, 1d8 damage, AC 12, 4d8 HD, 40' fly) I temporarily forgot you needed a piece of the creature in question to summon it, but I suggested it and Bill went with it).

Ultimately most of the arrows fired by either side went into the river.

Eventually, the canoes came alongside the barge and the pirates used grappling hooks and ropes to begin boarding. Valerius and the crew of the barge (four 0-level PCs played by Matt), set their weapons to receive boarders. Valerius immediately cut down the first boarder in one chop. The sight of the violence sent a shiver of hesitation through the pirates. The pirate captain (4 HD) and his three veterans (3 HD each) chose to hold back and let the younger pirates (all 2 HD) take care of the action (the captain and the three veterans, plus a few pirates, all failed their morale saves).

On the deck of the barge, the battle was furious and fluid. The crew held their own using pitchforks, shovels, and weapons donated by the party. Only one of the crew-members, a farmer, was killed by a pirate. Absalom the Holy Man cast Holy Sanctuary on himself so that he could provide succor to the wounded without impediment, then paralyzed one of the pirates. Gwen found herself near death (down to 1 HP) before repelling the boarders. Having seen the direction the battle had taken, the remaining pirates, their veterans, and their captain, chose to shove off and return up the Atrous River empty-handed.

The party healed their wounds and searched the bodies of the pirates. They looted chain mail armor and scimitars. On one pirate, they found a folded piece of paper.

Afterwards, the party continued down river to Wince. Wince is a small walled river-side village of about 400. The town a tower and keep, and a mill at the end of a long pier powered by a paddle-wheel, and a dock with several river barges and boats.  A group of angry dogs fought on the docks over a fish. The entire area is a patchwork of walled farms dotted with small compounds. While the merchant dealt with the gruff dock-master, the party removed their gear. While doing so, they discovered a woman being held prisoner in the bilge under one of the deck boards. They freed her and discovered that her name was Shau, that she was the daughter of one of the noble families of Thither, and that she was kidnapped by bandits when they raided her home and sold into slavery. The bastard ship captain purchased her six days ago and has kept her bound and gagged in the bilge ever since. She claimed that her family would pay a reward for her safe return!

The party was dismissed to their own recognizance for the evening. They were given group accommodations in the single inn and a stipend for essentials. It was suggested that Shau share a room with Gwen, the crew share a room, and Valerius and Absalom share a room. The party spent the night making plans, eating stew, and drinking ale.

In the middle of the night, Gwen the elf, who was new to having a physical form, woke to a strange new biological urge, a biological compulsion to which she was unfamiliar and by which she was startled and confused. She felt the urgent need to evacuate waste from the lower orifice of her corporeal shell. Confused by this sensation, she asked for guidance and assistance from her roommate. Shau suggested that Gwen utilize the village latrine behind the inn and provided a brief, and awkward, lesson in its usage.

Gwen darted outside and was almost run down by a speeding wagon. Annoyed and covered in mud, Gwen noticed the wagon come to a stop in front of a barn by the river and was met by several cloaked figures, whispering. After taking care of her more pressing needs, she decided to investigate.

She spied a clandestine transaction between four smugglers and half-a-dozen robed and hooded figures. After the smugglers unloaded nearly a dozen clay amphorae and demanded their payment, the hooded figures produced blowguns from their robes and shot each smuggler with a dart, causing them to fall instantly. Startled, Gwen ran back to the inn and roused the rest of the party, including the barge crew.

Geared up and seeing no one, the party of six brazenly approached the barn. Valerius opened the barn door to find a startled figure wearing a hooded robe preparing to exit said door. Both were surprised. After recovering their composure, both angrily demanded to know the others identity and to know what the other was doing here. A section of the wooden floor of the barn was opened, revealing a secret passage to an underground stairway. Annoyed by this stalemate, the robed figure turned to descend down the stairway to get help. Abasalom, thinking quickly, reached out and paralyzed the robed figure with a touch. After binding and gagging their quarry, Absalom noticed a strange tumorous lump in the abdomen of the prisoner. Unnerved by the sight, they left the prisoner alone and descended the stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs was an unlocked door. Opening it revealed a room lit with several glowing braziers. The floor of the room was carpeted in deadly snakes (+1 bite, 1 point damage + poison, AC 11, 1d8 HD, 5' move, 1/2 damage from non-area attacks).

A massive pillar a few feet in front of the door obstructed most of the view of the room. Several bookshelves were visible along the wall to the right. A door guarded by two robed figures stood on the wall to the left. A corridor disappeared around the corner to the far left. A large marble table was on the far wall piled with the bones of what appeared to be a gigantic snake.

A fight ensued, with Valerius battling the enraged snakes, Gwen uselessly firing arrows into the room, and one of the crew members loosing sling stones. One of the guards is immediately killed, another flees down the corridor, the rest fire blowguns at the intruders. Suddenly, a large two-headed snake erupted from the abdomen of the first fallen guard. Absalom doused the snakes in oil and set them ablaze while Valerius decapitated the remaining snakes. Absalom was hit by a blowgun dart and fell immediately unconscious. Depleted of darts and snakes, the guards charged forth, scimitars drawn. Unfortunately, one guard broke his weapon in the attack and the other was cleaved in twain by Valerius' mighty blade. Valerius mocked the other guard, offering his own weapon in order to continue the fight. The surviving guard, as well as his two companions, fled down the corridor. Finally, although it menaced the party, the two-headed abdomen-snake was quickly destroyed by Valerius.



It was another fun night. The group really seemed to enjoy the river barge fight. The morale rules felt natural and real. It made sense that the veterans became veterans by holding back and knowing when NOT to fight. Heh.

I totally forgot about the requirement of having a piece of the animal to summon. We will remember that next time. We figured an eagle feather and a young pterodactyl weren't out of the ordinary.

In other spellcaster news, Gwen's player can't wait to get to Thither to spend two weeks casting spells: one week for patron bond and one week for summon familiar. The Midkemia Press Cities book has tables for determining what happens to PCs during "down-time" and I can't wait to use them.

As a GM, I enjoy riffing off of player suggestions and also off of random events. In tonight's adventure, the addition of Shau happened when one of the players, Scott, suggested "We should search the captain's cabin, he probably had a prisoner in there." so I said, "There's no cabin, but you find a prisoner in the bilge." Bill absently minded said, "Be careful, she's probably a demon-witch!" to which I replied, "What? No!" and quickly wrote down "Demon-witch?" in my notes.

Likewise, the entire adventure with the cultists came from rolling a mundane random event in the middle of the night: Gwen is splashed by mud from a passing cart. That challenged me right off the bat by asking "Why would this happen in the middle of the night?" and I remembered that Gwen was an elf, and in the world of Agartha, Elves are spirit beings given mortal form in our world. They are unaccustomed to having physical bodies. Everything is new to her, and she has only had a body for 3 or 4 days now. Hey, she has to go to the outhouse! That got her outside.

I could have just left it at that but I had to think of a reason for myself why the wagon was going so fast in a walled village in the middle of the night. It seemed an odd event to me and one likely to provide investigation by a player. So I quickly thought of smugglers and cultists. At first the cultists were just going to be Hollow Ones from the DCC book but Scott said something about them being serpent men! So I changed them to snake cultists!

I always make sure to reward my players for coming up with story points like that. Scott one 1XP for Shau and 1 XP for the snake cultists. Bill got 1 XP for demon-witch idea (whether I use it or not).

In other news, this was our first game with Matt, and he was a great player. I recruited Matt from the G+ DCC Community. We had never met Matt before tonight. He fit right in and did a great job. He added a lot to the group and to the evening and everyone really enjoyed themselves.

By the way, we rolled for Gwen's elfish attributes.
She has pale white skin, white hair, and milky white orbs for eyes. She has two nub horns growing from her forehead.

Next week: room two of the Sinister Secret of the Serpent God!