Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Wrath of Aulicus - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 24

As the sun set on the fourth day of their journey, Stephen DeManis became more agitated and exited, "We're close! We're close!"

The trees around them became more pallid, more ashen. There were fewer leaves and the branches resembled clawed fingers. The sound of frogs and insects disappeared. All was eerie silence. The water here was more dark red than black.

Through the trees a large earthen mound rose steeply from the swamp. The mound was covered in mud and trees. It would be difficult or impossible to climb.

An ancient stone platform extended from the base of the mound. The platform was 60 feet square. Six massive columns stood like barren tree trunks on the platform. The ceiling they once supported had long ago collapsed and the stone had been cleared away. Dozens of skiffs and rafts were tied to the platform. Where the platform met the mound was a wall embedded with tens of thousands of shells and skulls.

DeManis writhed on the boat in hysterical ecstasy, "We're here! We're here!"


The A-Team:
  • Annor Whalerson - Lawful Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Marlin Whalerson - Chaotic Good,  Human Seeker, treasure hunter, and scoundrel.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Aasimar Shipwright and Cleric of the Raven King.
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. 
Suffering the Brain Jellies this Week:
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Warforged Fighter.
A Stealthy Approach
Marlin exited the skiff and climbed the stairs to the stone platform. He stealthily made his way between the columns, carefully examining each column and the floor in front of him for traps.

He got close enough to the rear of the platform to notice that the wall that appeared to be embedded with shells was in fact a facade of animal skulls and shells suspended by dangling strings like a beaded curtain.  He carefully peeked behind the curtain and saw thirteen human fighters, five armed with crossbows, five with spears, and one who appeared to be a leader. Marlin recognized the man - it was Chaswick Headglove, leader of the smugglers who delivered to him the black dragon egg! The fighting men wore a motley assortment of clothes. The crossbowmen wore the rough leather armor of a brigand while the spearmen wore chain mail and the livery of the King of Keoland - they were survivors from the expedition from Burle! Each of them had a dead look inside, as if they had been brainwashed.

The bandits were standing at the rear of the room. Near the beaded curtain were three large pools of water. At the back of the room was an altar adorned with a statue of a black dragon's head, its mouth agape. Marlin retreated to the skiff to report his findings. The A-Team formed up in a straight line. They hurriedly crossed the platform and burst through the curtain ready for a fight!

Here Come the Ravens
Annor burst through the curtain of skulls and was immediately assailed by six crossbow bolts.
The rest of the A-Team assumed defensive positions behind Annor. The six spearmen closed the distance and attacked Marlin, Annor, and Aella.

Aella waved her hand and a peal of thunder struck three of the spearmen. Auric prayed to the Raven Son and summoned forth a miraculous swarm of celestial ravens. The ravens circled Auric like a tornado. The celestial ravens pecked and bit at all of the enemies within fifteen feet of Auric while ignoring his allies. Many of the bandits were killed outright.

Annor charged the back of the room and hewed a bloody swath through one crossbowmen after another. He quickly dispatched Chaswick Headglove in one-on-one combat.

The A-Team stood alone in the room surrounded by the slain bodies of their enemies. Auric's ravens continued to silently encircle him. There appeared to be no other exits from this hall.

DM Note-
I asked for a volunteer to roll percentile and tell me if the result was over 50. Aella's player volunteered. She announced a result of 68. I sighed and said, "Okay, here we go."

Enter Aulicus
The party froze as they heard a heavy rumbling sigh emerge from the rear wall. A booming gravelly voice demanded, "Who dares disturb my slumber?"

A massive head appeared through the facade of skulls and bones on the back wall. It was apparently another curtain of skulls and bones concealing a large passage cut into the earthen mound.

The head was that of a black dragon. Its eyes were clouded. Its face was aged and covered in scars. The dragon was missing scales and the tips of its horns were dulled with use and nicked from old attacks.

DM Note-
Aulicus had a 50% chance of sleeping through the previous fight. Aella's role indicated he had been awakened.

The old blind dragon sniffed the air, "Who are you? What have you done with my servants? Why are they all dead and lying in pools of blood?"

The party stood silently. No one dared speak.

Auric finally answered, "We have come to kill Sakatha."

The blind dragon considered this for a moment, "Sakatha serves me well. I shall not allow this. Prepare to die!"

DM Note-
I wanted to give the players an opportunity to fast talk their way out of this situation. Aulicus is blind and a little senile and was prepared to accept just a bout any bullshit answer. 

"We have come to kill Sakatha", while truthful, was the wrong answer.

In the original module, Aulicus is a straight-up very old average black dragon. In 5E even an Adult Black Dragon is a CL 14 monster. 

I softened him by making him geriatric. He was old. He was blind so I changed his blindsight to 30 ft and gave him Disadvantage on all attacks anyway. He limped, so I changed his movement to 20 ft. He was missing a wing so I took away his flight. I also gave him 75% maximum hit points so he had only 100 HP. His damage, however, was all still full damage.

Alas, Poor Auric
The party reeled with fear and panic. Annor and Marlin took cover behind the nearby altar. Auric and Aella froze in place, paralyzed by fear.

The dragon moved into the room, sniffed the air and said, "Do not think you can hide from me behind my altar. It will offer you no shelter!" He looked down over their cowering position and breathed a stream of hot acid onto Annor.

Annor screamed but so too did Auric who, through a miracle of the Raven Son, was absorbing much of Annor's wounds into himself.

Aulicus heard Auric's howls and turned towards the priest. He moved towards Auric and blindly walked into the swarming celestial ravens. The old blind dragon winced and howled in pain.

Aulicus bit and tore at Auric. The priest did his best to deflect the attacks.

Annor threw his small hand-axe at the mighty dragon while Marlin shot several crossbow bolts towards it. But the attacks did not deter the dragon.

With a final chomp the dragon bit Auric around the head and shoulder. His claws dug into Auric's sides. In one gory movement he ripped Auric apart, his limbs flying across the room, as he gulped down Auric's upper torso.

DM Note- 
Bite attack reduced Auric to zero hit points. Auric is daying.

The first claw attack is automatically a critical. Any damage Auric suffers while dying automatically causes two failed death saves.

The second claw attacks is also automatically a critical and Auric automatically suffers two additional failed death saves. There was very little left of Auric.

Death of Marlin
As Auric fell the celestial ravens vanished.

Marlin, hiding behind the statue, unfurled a scroll and began reading. He held his hand up towards the air as magical flame formed around his fingers. As he finished the incantation from the scroll, he pointed his fingers at a spot just behind the dragon. The dragon was engulfed in a fiery explosion!

The dragon roared in pain. Aulicus immediately turned its attention to Marlin, "You cannot hide from me pesky bug! I may not be able to see you but I can still destroy you!". Aulicus' maneuvered around the statue and confronted Marlin. The dragon's toothy maw closed around Marlin, biting him as he ripped into him with his talons. Marlin crumpled under the assault and fell down unconscious. With no priest to provide a miraculous recovery, Marlin lay on the floor and bled. He eventually died after his life blood drained from his body onto the floor.

Death of Annor
Aella tried to remain on the opposite side of the room from the dragon. She took cover behind one of the three water-filled pools.

The water in the pool next to which she stood rose up and took an amorphous rippling form. The animated water coiled around Aella but she was able to twist and dodge out of the way. She quickly moved over to the other pool. To her dismay she was attacked by another watery creature residing in the second pool.

Annor ran to her aid. His mighty flamberge sliced through the water in a powerful stroke. The animated water turned its attention from the half-elven sorceress to the human warrior. Annor found himself enveloped by the animated water, unable to breathe.

The blind dragon Aulicus closed on the struggling form of Annor, biting down on him and tearing him asunder with his terrible claws! Annor exploded in a bloody catastrophe!

Aella's Escape
Aella was the last member of the A-Team standing. She took a deep breath and focused her courage. She unleashed a powerful witch-bolt spell onto Aulicus. The dragon screamed and collapsed. Aella felt hope well up within her - the dragon was near death!

Aulicus dragged himself back onto his feet, inhaled deeply, and sprayed a stream of acid onto Aella. She screamed in pain. She turned and fled through curtain of skulls onto the platform. She took shelter behind one of the stone columns.

Aulicus gave chase, dragging himself slowly onto the platform. He sniffed the air behind each column. He was methodical and deliberate.  He called to her, "Where are you going little mouse? Come face me so that you might join your companions in death!"

Aella had been holding her breath. She was injured. She knew she wouldn't last another ten seconds with the dragon. She finally took a deep inhalation and moved away from her hiding place. She was out of her primary magic. She had only her minor magical cantrips at her disposal.


Versus a dragon.

It was all or nothing.

She pointed at the dragon and a bolt of fiery magic streaked from her hand. It struck the dragon in the mouth, igniting the acid dripping from his jaws. Aulicus was surprised by this and instinctively swallowed. The burning acid was sucked into the dragon's body where it ignited the acid within. Smoke and flame began to emerge from the scars and gaps in Aulicus' scales. A great swelling moved from the dragon's lungs up its throat and into its head. Aulicus tried to swallow it back down but it was too late. The dragon's eyes bulged wide before its head exploded on its neck! Burning acid sprayed all over the platform as the decapitated dragon fell lifeless onto the stone.

Aella had won!

Rest and Treasure
Aella poked at the smoking stump of the dragon's neck with her staff. It sizzled in the acid.

"Well", she said to herself, "I guess I'm not taking the head back to town as proof of my deed."

She looked around. Alot Aname stood mutely on the skiff still holding the pole.

She sighed and went to the back of the hidden chamber. She checked on Marlin. The others had been literally disintegrated but she had hope Marlin might still be alive. Alas, he was gone. Perhaps she could return his body to Saltmarsh and have the priest of Procan perform a miracle and raise him from the dead. She did the math. She wasn't sure she'd make it in time.

The curtain of skulls and shells that had concealed the entrance to the dragon's lair had been blown away by the fireball. She cast a minor light spell and followed the passage into large cavern. The cavern reeked of acid and her eyes stung. In an alcove in the rear of the cavern was a pile of treasure - the dragon's hoard!

She was exhausted. She had no more magic and she knew she wouldn't survive another fight. Should she just grab what she could carry and leave or stay and take an inventory of the treasure? Maybe she could transport it out of the swamp on the skiff.

She went back to the skiff and addressed Alot, "Hey, Beep Boop. Do the brain jellies keep you from helping me carry stuff?"

The warforged silently laid down his pole accompanied her into the dragon's cavern.

A while later she had gathered all the magical items and mundane equipment she could recover from her fallen companions. She had made an accounting of the approximate amount of coinage and gemstones present in the hoard. There were also weapons and armor but she had less interest in those.

She heard a scraping noise from the outer hall. She stopped what she was doing and crept behind a tattered remnant of the curtain of skulls and shells. She saw the dragon statue move aside revealing a secret passage!

A male human poked his head up and looked around.

He reported what he saw to someone below him that she couldn't see.

"They're all dead! Even Aulicus! There's going to be chaos among the lizard clans! What should we do?"

"We should inform Mordrin and Gormundel immediately."

"Wait!" said the man looking around, "I thought I heard something! You there, come out!" He looked right at Aella.

Aella emerged, pretending to be frightened and lost. The man climbed out of the secret passage. He wore the livery of the King of Keol.

"What happened here?" demanded the guard.

Aella said "I'm not sure. I got lost in the swamp and I came across all- this. I- I just need to return home. I need to get back to Saltmarsh immediately. Can you help me?"

Although he seemed to believe her story, the man said, "Look, we can't let you return to Saltmarsh. I better bring you to Mordrin immediately."

The guard's companion joined him on the platform.

She resisted, "NO! No! I need to get back! Say, What if I tell them about the dead dragon? The people will - uh - they'll be afraid of anybody who could kill a dragon?"

The facade started to crack. The guard had become confused by her fluidly changing story. "No, no we really don't want you to do that. No, I think you're coming in here with us."

The two guards grabbed her and wrestled her into the passage.

Unnoticed by the guards, Alot Aname stood silently in the back of the cavern staring at the cave wall.

To Be Continued...
DM Note- 
Aella's player rolled really well for deception and I was prepared to give her a LOT of leeway in her story. But her "I was just walking by and found it like this" and her request for them to help her leave was just too much.  I was expecting her to try to infiltrate or even pretend to be a bad-add don't mess with me story or something. But I just couldn't find any way to work with what she gave me. 

Next week - Introducing the B-Team!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Into the Drowned Forest - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 23

Auric and Aella caught up to Councilman Annor, Marlin, and Alot Aname on the hillside trail overlooking what used to be a small farming village a little after noon. They were crouched behind some rocks observing the tableau below.

Village was perhaps too grand a word to describe what at one time was 28 huts, a communal barn, and a public house. All but five of the huts had been burned to the ground. Those that remained appeared damaged and abandoned. There was a meadow south of the town and a large copse of trees. Southeast of town was the great Hool Marsh which spread as far as the eye could see. A little over a mile to the east was the Drowned Forest, a dark flooded forest of moss-covered cypress and mangroves. A grisly miasma seemed to hover over the twisted evil trees of the forest.

"What's going on?" asked Auric.

Alot filled him in on the details. They had decided to wait just outside of town to allow Auric and Aella to join them before entering the town.

Annor asked Auric, "Did you run into a soldier headed back to Burle?"

Auric said that he did not. Annor said, "Huh. That's weird," but dismissed the unexpected incongruity.

Marlin left the group and skirted the village towards the meadow and the copse of trees. He looked inside the standing house and saw that it was stripped bare and heavily damaged. He quickly moved into the copse and saw no trace of a bandit camp. He exited the trees and signaled to the others that it was safe for them to join him.

The team met at the abandoned house and walked towards the public house. There was a mule in the barn and a dog running around.

They entered the front of the public house and saw that it, too, had been stripped bare. A man walked out from the back room and was startled by the intruders. He was a portly man with a bald head. He wore traveling clothes and carried a sack filled with cloth. "Oy! Who are you? What do you want?"


The A-Team:
  • Annor Whalerson - Lawful Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Warforged Fighter.
  • Marlin Whalerson - Chaotic Good,  Human Seeker, treasure hunter, and scoundrel.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Aasimar Shipwright and Cleric of the Raven King.
Suffering the Brain Jellies this Week:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. 
The Sack of Waycombe
After Annor introduced himself as a town councilman from Saltmarsh and convinced the man that their intentions were amiable, the team learned that the man's name was Busby. He was the proprietor of the pub and the last remaining resident of Waycombe.

Busby gave the team his last remaining bottles of ale and told them how the town was sacked by brigands from the Drowned Forest two nights ago.

Busby said there'd always been bandits and smugglers hiding out in the Hool Marsh to the south, but they were mostly harmless to Waycombe. They'd even come into town to spend their ill-gotten coin from time to time. But in the past few weeks, he'd seen those same bandits heading into the Drowned Forest, which was odd since nobody went into the Drowned Forest. Even odder, the bandits all seemed to have blank stares and didn't talk much. 

For the past few weeks he'd occasionally spot groups of bandits heading west. They seemed more organized, and they were accompanied by bands of lizard-folk and some other folk he'd never seen - priests of some sort.

Then, two nights ago, they fell upon Waycombe for no reason. Waycombe was a small village with nothing to steal. The bandits and lizard-folk just razed the village out of spite. He and a few others managed to hide. The others went to Burle. He was gathering the last of his belongings and headed out today. He hoped to reach Burle by nightfall.

When asked whether forty bandits had camped in the meadow Busby said he had never seen such a thing. However, he added, he had seen the odd campfire near the copse of trees every night for several weeks. He figured they were the bandits camping before they headed into the Drowned Forest.

Busby also mentioned the old hermit that lived in a hollow tree down by the edge of the Drowned Forest - old Stephen DeManis was his name. He said the old coot was crazed and would never leave the town. He also warned them that DeManis was - difficult - to interact with on a good day.

Despite his protests, Annor paid Busby a bag of silver for his drinks. With that, Busby took the last of his belongings and left town.

Stephen DeManis

DM Note- 
Alot's player said, "Wait, his name is Stephen DeManis? It's not some crazy made up alien name? WEIRD!"

The A-Team left Waycombe and ventured into the edge of the Drowned Forest following Busby's directions. They soon came across an area littered with broken bits of everyday items overgrown with weeds and ferns. Ahead of then, through the trees, they heard the sound of an old man singing.

"They all thinks I'm crazy, so crazy I am;
But I'll still be here when they ain't what they am!
They'll all be taken to Sakatha's lair,
But me I'll be free as a bird In the air!"

They called out, "Stephen! Stephen DeManis!" and the singing voice stopped. The singing voice then replied, "Oh, the voices talk back now! That's new!"

They soon found the singing man - a wiry old fellow in his seventies with shaggy white hair and beard. He was wearing rags and digging in the dirt for fat grubs which he would promptly eat. Stephen DeManis was deranged. His mind wandered here and there and he occasionally imagined himself covered in snakes or bugs. In reaction he would at first try the brush them off then frantically try to gather them up and shove them in his mouth.

The party asked the mad old hermit about Sakatha. DeManis claimed he knew nothing about Sakatha but said that Stephen had once been kidnapped and taken to Sakatha's Tomb in the center of the Drowned Forest. Only Stephen knew the way.

"Aren't you Stephen?"

"No! I'M Stephen!" the old man would angrily shout before scrabbling for more imaginary bugs.

They eventually convinced the demented old man to lead them through the flooded forest to the Tomb of Sakatha.

DeManis began wading into the cloudy black water and mud and was up to his waist when he turned around and shouted, "Follow Stephen! Stephen's showing the way!"

The rest of the team stood awkwardly, hesitating at the thought of wading into the swamp. Marlin found a nearby skiff turned upside down and covered in leaves.

"How about we take this boat?"

"Bah! No! That's not the way!" shouted DeManis.

The team set the skiff into the water and hauled DeManis on board.

Day One - The Shrine to Aulicus
DM Note-
The original module called for a random encounter check six times a day. Rolling a 1 on 1d8 indicated an encounter. I checked using this method but I determined the encounter using the table for the Drowned Forest in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign book. I also rolled daily for a strange event in the Drowned Forest and rolled 1d8 to determine how many hours into their travels they encountered the strange event. I took a quick break to quickly roll 1d8 six times a day for four days of travel before I continued.

They only had a few hours of daylight to pole the skiff through the shallow flooded swamp of the Drowned Forest. It soon became obvious DeManis was keeping them close to the dry land and not heading any deeper into the forest.

Progress was slow. The sludge and muck of the flooded forest made passage difficult.

They soon came across a totem pole stuck in a small island. The totem was carved with the faces of beasts and gods. The top of the pole was carved to resemble a dragon head flanked by leathery wings. Around the base of the totem was a pile of decayed sacrificial offerings, piles of skulls, stacked rocks, and small standing stones.

DeManis said, "This. This is where we begin."

The sky was darkening and it was too late to continue. They camped on dry land and ate some meager trial rations while Alot the sentinel stood watch all night.

Day Two - The Abandoned Skiff
The next morning Stephen DeManis led them towards the center of the Drowned Forest.

Barely an hour into their journey the came across an abandoned skiff. The skiff appeared to be laden with bolts of cloth, likely stolen from the merchant caravans. The A-Team poled their skiff closer and noticed that the cloth was discolored and damaged as if by acid. They came alongside the abandoned skiff so that Marlin could use his sword to rummage through the bolts of cloth.

Suddenly an amorphous black mass the size of a large boulder heaved up from under the cloth and attempted to envelop and smother Marlin. Alot laid the pole down, drew his short sword, and commanded Annor to lay down his flamberge, saying "Switch weapons! Don't slash it, you'll only create two! Don't you have a hammer?" before stabbing the pudding-like mass.

DM Note-
Sometimes I lament playing with extremely experienced players. They can't un-know how to fight a Black Pudding. Its so hard to surprise them anymore. 

Marlin managed to escape the grabbing pseudopods of the pudding. Annor gently laid his ridiculously long sword in the bottom of the skiff, took off his backpack, and removed the hammer he carried. Between Marlin and Alot's stabbing and Annor's crushing hammer the pudding was soon punctured. Its acidic gelatinous interior oozed out onto the boat and into the water as the rubbery membranous hide slowly deflated.

Later that evening as the already dim light of the Drowned Forest began to fade the A-Team encountered a strange phenomenon. The water around the skiff began to agitate as if vibrated by some invisible property of sound. Suddenly the skiff came to a stop. It was held in place by the water itself! The water around the front of the skiff began to well up until it overwhelmed the bow of the flat-bottomed boat. The upwelling of water flooded the front of the skiff and began to drag it under.

Marlin drew his magic short sword, Alot drew his own magic short sword, and Annor held aloft his magical flamerge. The three sword-fighters, supported by Auric the priest of the God of Death, plunged their blades into the water until it collapsed into normal inanimate liquid.

Day Three - The Astral Residuum
On the third day DeManis directed the team through an opening in the forest canopy. Ahead was a a wide circular open area about a hundred feet across. The area was completely round and surrounded by a circular ridge of ground. The trunks of the cypress trees surrounding the circular area were all bent away from the circle but appeared to grow back towards the center. The moss and vines draped from the tree limbs waved and swayed in an undulating motion towards the center of the circular open area as if moved by a non-existent wind. Everything slowly pulsed in strange unnatural colors - pink to purple to green to black.

Marlin spoke, "This is an impact crater. There's probably a shard of astral residuum at the bottom."

"Doesn't that stuff, like, cause mutations?" worried his brother Annor.

Marlin looked greedily towards the center of the circular area, "Yeah, given enough exposure. We should retrieve it and sell it to Keledek."

"Is he still speaking to you?" inquired Auric.

Marlin looked back at the priest, "As far as I know, he doesn't suspect it was us who stole the dragon egg. He might still honor his bounty. That's 300 gold coin for a shard!"

Alot handed Annor the pole for the skiff, "I'll get it. I'll be right back."

Alot dove into the deep black water. It was dark and cloudy and muddy and Alot could barely see  the ends of his hands. His metal and ceramic body sank like a stone. The mud at the bottom was soft and indistinct. 

As he descended deeper, Alot noted the prevalence of dead and partially decomposed starfish, hagfish, and other deep sea scavengers - an unusual sight in the middle of swamp. They were pale and tattered and their insides were exposed through gaping holes. They, too, pulsed with eerie color. To his horror the partially decomposed sea animals began moving. They crawled over his legs and arms, covering him and pulling him down.

At the center of the pool he encountered a large mussel. The mussel was the size of a boulder and covered in a thick shell that pulsed with the same unnatural light. Bony growths and spikes protruded at odd angles. The mussel was open as he drew near. Within he could see the small glowing sliver of crystal no bigger than a needle. When he reached out to grab the sliver within a piece of cloth the mussel slammed shut on Alot's mechanical arm.

Alot wrestled with the mussel and was finally able to force it open. He held the tiny sliver within the cloth in his hand. He trudged up the side of the bowl-like lake, pulling zombie-starfish and hagfish off his body as he climbed. He eventually emerged from the water at the edge of the crater covered in mud and slowly pulsating weeds.

He boarded the skiff and gave the sliver to Marlin. Marlin tied the cloth up with some string and placed the package in his magical bag of holding.

Day Four - A Trio of Trolls
It was the fourth day of their journey into the Drowned Forest. The team were growing weary of the slow progress through the overgrowth and mud. Alot poled the skiff but a person on land could walk faster.

Suddenly three massive lanky humanoid forms burst from their hiding places under the black water and attacked Marlin, Auric, and Annor. They had wrinkly green skin and were covered in muddy slime, moss, and long stringy weeds. Their long skinny arms ended in dagger-like claws. Their misshapen heads sported long beak-like noses. Their wide mouths were filled with shark-like teeth. The trolls slashed at -

Annor shouted, "Look out! Moss Goblins!"

Everyone, including the trolls, froze in mid-action and looked at Annor.

Marlin said, "They're clearly trolls!"

One of the trolls said in a gravelly voice, "I mean, obviously."

Annor stood his ground, "We always called them 'Moss Goblins'."

Auric shrugged, "I like it. Moss Goblins it is!"

With that, the deadly melee recommenced!

The talkative troll  moss goblin bellowed, "We're tired of your bandits coming through our territory! Just give us your gold and we'll let you go!"

Alot laid down his pole and drew his short sword, "We're not bandits!"

Marlin added, "And we don't have any gold!"

"Ha! Right!" countered the moss goblin as he slashed at Marlin with clawed hands.

Annor swung his fantastically long sword at the middle moss goblin. Each swing would slash and cut the moss goblin but the wounds simply resealed as the moss goblin regenerated its lacerated flesh.

Alot called out to the rest of the team, "Does anyone have any fire? Moss goblins regenerate unless they're burned with fire!"

DM Note-
Sigh. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes I lament having experienced long-time D&D players. 

"No!" replied Auric, who was busy dodging moss goblin attacks behind his shield, "It's day. And all my prayers affect life energy."

"What about Aella. Does she know any fire spells?"

"She had brain jellies!" said Auric, "No spells. And I don't think she knows any fire spells anyway. Light a torch!"

Had Alot lungs to breathe, he would have sighed in frustration. "Lighting a torch would take too long. Hold on, I have an idea!"

Alot instructed Marlin to pull one of the clay pots off the pack on Alot's back. "Its Alchemists Fire! Throw it at the nearest troll."

"Moss goblin!" Marlin replied before doing as Alot requested. Marlin's aim was off and he wound up throwing the pot away into the swamp. It disappeared. "Gah!"

Alot cursed the luck. He sheathed his magical short sword. He then reached behind him and removed the second and last clay pot as well as an unlit torch. He threw the clay pot against the closest moss goblin. The pot shattered and its contents burst into flame. The moss goblin screamed in pain.

Alot jammed the torch into the alchemist fire burning on the moss goblin. The pitch on the torch ignited.

The burning moss goblin backed away from the skiff and submerged itself into the black murky water.

Meanwhile, Annor continued to have difficulty fighting the middle moss goblin. Unless the wounds were burned it would simply regenerate and heal itself!

Marlin cried out, "Hold on brother!" He waved his fingers and Alot's torch magically flew out of his hand, floated through the air, and danced around the moss goblin fighting Annor.

Alot became visibly annoyed, "What the hell! I'm using that!"

Marlin replied, "I need to help my brother!"

Alot shouted, "I can help your brother better than you can, you fool!" Alot withdrew a second torch.

After several slashing strokes Annor decapitated the lanky creature. Its head fell to the bottom of the boat. Alot grabbed the hovering torch from the air and used it to light his second torch. He jammed the newly list second torch into the severed neck wound of the headless moss goblin. The body of the moss goblin shuddered and fell backwards into the water.

Annor turned his attention to the moss goblin attacking Auric. Auric was busy deflecting blows with his shield.

To his horror, the severed head rolled towards Annor and began biting his leg. Annor cried out, shaking his leg, "What is biting me!"

"Its the head of the troll you killed," explained Alot. Auric shot Alot a dirty look.  "Sorry, MOSS GOBLIN!" The lenses of Alot's artificial eyes made a rolling motion.

"They can do that??" exclaimed Annor.

"Yes!"shouted Alot as he burned the head. Annor kicked it out of the skiff and into the water.

Alot had trouble getting to the rear of the skiff in order to help fight the third moss goblin. Alot handed his torch to Marlin, picked up the pole, and maneuvered the skiff so that the moss goblin was more centrally located. He put down the pole, took his torch, and was now able to join the fight. The moss goblin screamed as Alot burned the wounds created by Annor and Marlin. The moss goblin fell into the water dead.

The first moss goblin re-emerged from the water. It had extinguished its flames. It shouted, "Just give us your gold! C'mon!"

Alot replied, "We won't! Also, we're not bandits!"

Marlin maneuvered around Alot to attack with his magical short sworld wile Alot brandished his torch.

The moss goblin capitulated. It raised its arms and backed away from the boat. "Okay! Okay! You win! We're done fighting." It turned and began trudging away through the forest. The headless troll rose and joined him. "All we wanted was your gold! Sheesh! Anyway, good luck in your dungeon! Have a great day!"

Auric and Annor waved as they left. Auric shouted, "You betcha!" Annor shouted, "So long! Bye!" Marlin said, "See ya!"

DM Note-
That was a fun challenging random encounter. The trolls kept backing away into the water, healing, and coming back. It was really frustrating for the players. 

The Hunter's Cabin
Around noon on the fourth day, an estimate at best since no one could see the sun through the dense canopy, the party came across a small island. Atop the island was an old hunter's cabin. The cedar wood looked old and the roof was bowed in and nearing collapse. The door lay loose and unhinged. A strange white lichen covered the ground around the entrance to the shack. It appeared to spill out of the inside of the shack and radiate away from the door.

Alot poled the skiff over towards the shack. Marlin and Auric disembarked and cautiously approached the cabin.

Within they found the body of somebody long dead. They appeared to be human. The body was propped up against the back wall of the cabin and held in place by a massive growth of white lichen. The body had a massive hole in its chest as if something within the body exploded outward. The lichen radiated away from the gaping chest, out along the wall, and down onto the floor, radiating away from the dead body.

Auric wrinkled his nose, "Okay..."

Marlin said, "I think we should probably go."

They withdrew to the skiff and left. Alot asked what they found. Marlin replied, "Nothing good."

The Tomb of the Lizard King
As the sun set on the fourth day of their journey, Stephen DeManis became more agitated and exited, "We're close! We're close!"

The trees around them became more pallid, more ashen. There were fewer leaves and the branches resembled clawed fingers. The sound of frogs and insects disappeared. All was eerie silence. The water here was more dark red than black.

Through the trees a large earthen mound rose steeply from the swamp. The mound was covered in mud and trees. It would be difficult or impossible to climb.

An ancient stone platform extended from the base of the mound. The platform was 120 feet square. Ten massive columns stood like barren tree trunks on the platform. The ceiling they once supported had long ago collapsed and the stone had been cleared away. Dozens of skiffs and rafts were tied to the platform. Where the platform met the mound was a wall embedded with tens of thousands of shells and skulls.

DeManis writhed on the boat in hysterical ecstasy, "We're here! We're here!"

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Ambush at the Dreadwood River Bridge - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 22

Marlin met with his brother Annor, "Brother, I have some important news."

Annor became immediately anxious, "What?"

"Okay. First, I still have the dragon egg."

Annor was unsurprised, "I assumed  you did."

"Right. Well, nobody else knows. Which leads me to the second thing. Captain Xendros knows I have the egg and she wants me to sell it to her."

Annor looked momentarily confused, "Who's Captain Xendros?"

"The woman who runs the Faithful Quartermasters of Iuz? Red skin? Devil horns? Always trying to get us to sell our souls to the devil?"

"Oh! Is THAT her name? Wait, she's a captain?? Captain of what?"

Marlin grabbed his burly brother's shoulder, "Yes. Brother. Focus. Stay on topic."


"Anyway, somehow she knows I have the egg. Maybe she's scrying on me. I don't know. But she said that if I don't sell her the egg, she'll tell the wizard Keledek who really stole the egg. Also, she'll tell Eliander Fireborn."

Annor glared at his brother for a moment. It was obvious he was struggling to contain his annoyance.

Annor said through gritted teeth, "You're going to destroy the egg, right? You're obviously not going to sell it to her."

Marlin paused to find the right words, "Look. She really wants the egg. If I were to destroy it, she'd probably still tell Keledek to punish me. To punish us. I was thinking I could just murder her."

"No!" was Annor's stern reply.

"But it would eliminate the problem!"

"You're not murdering her! First - its murder! Second - where would we buy our magic items if she's dead?"

"Well, if I can't sell her the egg and I can't murder her, I guess I'll just break the egg and we'll deal with the consequences."

"YOU'LL deal with the consequences!"

Marlin nodded, "Understood".

The next morning, Marlin went to the Faithful Quartermasters of Iuz with the black dragon egg.

He left without the black dragon egg.


The A-Team:
  • Annor Whalerson - Lawful Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Warforged Fighter.
  • Marlin Whalerson - Chaotic Good,  Human Seeker, treasure hunter, and scoundrel.
Suffering the Brain Jellies this Week:
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Aasimar Shipwright and Cleric of the Raven King.
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. 
DM Note-
Marlin's player and I did our negotiations via secret note. Marlin asked Captain Xendros to swear on Iuz that the black dragon egg would be taken away from Saltmarsh. She raised her hand, crossed her heart, and assured him the dragon egg would be taken far to the north.  Marlin's player said "I assume she's LAWFUL evil so I trust her word."

Journey to Burle
It was a little past dawn when Marlin joined his brother Annor and the warforged fighter Alot Aname at the north gate. They were prepared for the hike to Burle, ten leagues north of Saltmarsh on the Janustream river.

"Why aren't we taking a river boat?" Marlin inquired.

"Because the bandits are hitting traffic along the road," replied Annor.

"Okay, but why aren't we on horses?"

"We don't need horses. Marching is good for you," said the former soldier. Alot nodded.

"Where are the others?"

"They're taking a river boat. They'll catch up to us in Burle."

Marlin grumbled at that answer.

Annor looked Marlin up and down, "Is that all you're packing?"

"We're just going to Burle!"

Annor shrugged, "Did you take care of the dragon egg?"

Marlin got a head start walking towards the gate, "All taken care of! Nothing to worry about!"

The Robin's Breast Inn
Around noon they arrived at the confluence of the Dreadwood and Janustream rivers. Here the road crossed the Dreadwood over an ancient stone bridge. The location was halfway between Saltmarsh and Burle. A few farmers lived nearby and a small roadside inn, the Robin's Breast, was perfectly situated to serve travelers between the two towns.

They stopped at the Robin's Breast to get some lunch and a pint of ale. The inn was usually bustling with merchants and farmers but today there were only a handful of surly locals. A bored minstrel sat in a corner plucking a stringed instrument.

The innkeeper, William Brightboy, took their order. When asked about the light business he explained that attacks along the road north of Burle had deterred merchants from making the journey to Saltmarsh.

"Wait," interjected Annor, "The bandits are attacking the road NORTH of Burle?"

"Yes, brother," replied Marlin.

"Then why isn't Burle dealing with this?" the fighter said incredulously.

"They tried," said William Brightboy, "They sent a force of thirty soldiers into the Drowned Forest last week in search of the brigands. Nothing's been heard of them."

"A point you raised only yesterday to the Merchant Guild, my brother, and they told you the same thing," Marlin reminded him, "Remember? It's why you accepted this mission!"

"Hurmmm." said Annor.

Alot did his best to stare impassively into the distance.

The bored minstrel stood up and approached the party, "Greetings! My  name is Pluck! I am at your service! Might I play a tune for you weary travelers?"

"Of course!" replied Marlin.

"I present to you, the Ballad of Sakatha!"

The surly farmers fidgeted. They were displeased by the choice. One objected, "Let evil lie sleeping, you fool!" His companion added, "Why invite more trouble? Stick with your silly songs and leave us in peace."

Pluck ignored the naysayers and sang a pensive ballad.

Sakatha once was the Great Lizard King,
Said to have power stored in a ring.
O'er swamplands and plains lands his dominions they spread;
His very name filled all creatures with dread 
To build his great tomb in the midst of the marsh,
Many men died in slavery most harsh.
His minions took all of our best for his altar;
Not for a day did his bloody thirst falter. 
Then there arose the Adventurers Four,
The greatest of heroes in those days of yore;
They slew Sakatha in the Battle of Waycombe;
The Lizard Men carried their slaughtered chief home. 
And now he awaits in the cold sleep of death
His day of awakening, his first newborn breath.
Though deep in the ground his followers closed him,
He'll come back for vengeance on those who opposed him.

The end of ballad was met with awkward silence.

Annor was intrigued, "What can you tell me about Sakatha?"

The minstrel dismissed the question, "Very little! It is naught but a ballad used to
frighten naughty children at night. There is nothing more to it than that, I suspect."

Having finished their meal and drink, the party gathered their gear and set off towards the old stone bridge.

As the party crossed the bridge, they noticed strange humanoid shapes darting beneath the bridge and hiding behind the trees and foliage. Lizard-folk lurked below and behind! They were already on the bridge. They readied themselves for attack and prepared to turn back.

Suddenly the sky was filled with javelins! One struck Alot.

A lizard-man riding a large reptile darted out from the foliage behind then and charged up the bridge. Another mounted lizard-man similarly charged onto the bridge before them. They were trapped!

Annor charged forward and cut down the lizard-man's mount with a single swing from his massive flamerge. His follow-up attack cut the rider in half. He was soon replaced by three other lizard-men.

The lizard-men were adorned with dried mud painted onto their scaly skin in garish patterns. Many bore pendants of a dragon head with leathery wings - they were servants of Aulicus!

Alot held the rear flank with Marlin darting around him and stabbing enemies from behind. They quickly dispatched the mount and its rider but were soon fighting three reinforcements. Meanwhile, a handful of lizard-men continued to harass them with javelins from the river bank.

Once he had cleared his side of the bridge, Annor ran back and fought side-by-side with Alot. The javelin-throwers from the far bank then ran towards the bridge and charged in a second wave. They moved more cautiously onto the bridge. Annor, Alot, and Marlin destroyed the three lizard-men behind them. Annor then charged back towards the newcomers on the far side of the bridge, cutting them down with wide arcing strokes of his ridiculously long sword.

The final lizard-men abandoned their javelin positions on the near bank and charged Alot and Marlin but they too were soon dispatched.

Tired, injured, and covered in blood, the A-Team decided to retreat to the nearby Robin's Breast Inn to recuperate, despite the delay in their travel plans.

DM Note-
The fighter - fighter - rogue combo had no cleric for support and no magic user for ranged attacks. It was a pretty brutal fight. Both Annor and Alot were bloodied and desperately needed to spend some Hit Die in a short rest.

Welcome to Burle
Burle is little more than a walled keep near the Janustream River. A few farms and walled compounds were located in the surrounding countryside. The A-Team arrived at Burle an hour after sunset. Lanterns illuminated the tops of the wall and the windows of the gatehouse. Very few guards could be seen on the wall.

They asked for entry and were challenged by the gate-keeper - an elven ranger named Aquiel. It was unusual to see elves guarding a keep of Keoland. Aquiel allowed them to enter. The interior of the keep was unusually quiet. There were fewer guards, soldiers, and horses than one would expect. Aquiel said that the thirty soldiers sent into the Drowned Forest had not returned and the worst was feared. In the meantime, elves from Silverstand have volunteered to watch the walls while they were gone.

Annor explained that he was a member of the town council of Saltmarsh and that he and his team had been dispatched to deal with the brigands as well as find the missing soldiers.

Aquiel became excited. He told Annor that he should meet with the castellan immediately. She was taking her dinner in the main hall and he would take them to her.

Marlin suddenly became interested, "Did you say, 'she'?"

Dinner with the Castellan
Aquiel brought the trio to the main hall of the keep. The room was built to accommodate over a hundred soldiers but tonight less than a dozen took their meal. The mood was somber and few spoke.

Seated at a place of honor was the castellan - Kiara Shadowbreaker. She was a woman in her forties with short cut hair. She wore a fur-lined cape over her plate armor. She seemed ill at ease and snapped angrily at her attendants.

Aquiel introduced the guests to Shadowbreaker. The castellan seemed unimpressed. She expressed her lack of confidence in any aid sent by Anders Solmor, whose name she said dripping with disdain.

Marlin took offense at her remark and replied, snidely, "Well, maybe if your forces were a little more competent, you wouldn't need our help."

Shadowbreaker became angry, "Excuse me, PEASANT? How dare you speak to a member of the noble class in such a manner?"

Marlin escalated the scene, "Do you know who I am? I am the brother of a member of the town council of Saltmarsh!"

"I don't care who you are! Anyone affiliated with ANDERS SOLMOR has earned my enmity! "

Annor put his hand on his brother's shoulder and whispered, "Marlin? The castellan is perhaps a little sensitive tonight. Perhaps your escalation isn't helping matters." He then turned to the castellan and attempted to diffuse the situation by changing the subject, "I am curious, Madame Shadowbreaker, why do you feel this way about Anders Solmor?"

She took a deep breath before replying, "Have you ever heard of the Scarlet Brotherhood?"

Annor looked at Marlin and whispered, "Help me out, brother."

Marlin continued, considerably more controlled than before, "The Scarlet Brotherhood is a secret society who believe that ancient race of the Suel are superior to the modern races of the Flaeness. They seek to overthrow the kingdoms of the Flaeness and replace it with the surviving Suel people as the nobility of a new empire."

"Right!" said Annor, "Those guys!"

The castellan said, "I have reason to believe that your Anders Solmor is an agent of the Scarlet Brotherhood and an enemy of the kingdom of Keoland!"

"We know," said Marlin.

"Wait, what?" was Shadowbreaker's incredulous reply.

Marlin explained that Anders was an innocent pawn that was being manipulated by his family butler, Skerrin. He recounted all the missions they had undertaken on behalf of Anders as well as the consequences their missions may have had on regional politics. He told her about their mission to recover the missing promissory notes and Anders' desire to become a count of Keoland. He also told her that the guild of smugglers and pirates known as the Organization opposed this and plotted against Anders. He told her that Gellan Primewater, agent of the Organization in Saltmarsh, with the help of the Ketan wizard Keledek, had managed to place a ring onto the hand of the Duke of Seaton in order to manipulate and control his thoughts. As a result, the Duke had withdrawn all the naval forces to Seaton and opposed Anders' request.

Shadowbreaker sat in stunned silence at the new information. Eventually she stood up and said, "Come with me. I have something to show you."

She led them to her private office. She withdrew a curtain on one wall to reveal a large map of the Flaeness. Each of the towns and cities of the land were marked with a pin and all were connected by a cat's cradle of red thread. Various notes were jotted onto bits of parchment and pinned to each town and city. Each note detailed a plot, event, or personage.

She said, "I've been tracking the Scarlet Brotherhood for years. They've working hard to infiltrate our nobility and destroy us from within. You have brought me invaluable information, and for that I thank you. Let us talk and compare notes."

Shadowbreaker beckoned Marlin to sit next to her. They began to share stories and theories.

Annor and Alot stood awkwardly nearby. Annor cleared his throat and interrupted, "Um, that is to say, about the brigands."

Shadowbreaker was broken from her fixation on Marlin and talk of the Scarlet Brotherhood, "Yes. Right. I have received word that the brigands most recent target was the small farming community of Waycombe on the edge of the Drowned Forest, four leagues to the west. This was their first attack against a village, as far as I know. There is a small path that leads you there. I will have Aquiel show you the path but I can't spare him to accompany you. You are welcome to stay in the finest guest room in the keep tonight as my guest! Tomorrow I shall outfit you with whatever you need."

"Thankyou, milady."

Annor and Alot took their leave.

Marlin said, "Madame Shadowbreaker, if I may continue."

She inched closer to Marlin, "Please, call me Kiara."

DM Note-
At this point I literally said, "...aaand - scene!"

Journey to Waycombe
The next morning, the A-Team assembled in the bailey of Burle. They'd have someone ferry them across the Janustream River. After that it was a half-day hike around the hill to Waycombe.

"Wait," said Marlin, "Isn't the rest of the team coming up river? Should we wait for them?"

"Nah," replied Annor, "They'll catch up."

They set off through the humid morning mist towards the Drowned Forest. 

The Great Split Oak
They had traveled roughly three leagues and expected to be arriving in Waycombe shortly. The trip thus far had been uneventful. They had journeyed south from Burle, hiking over a low hill covered in tall grass, shrubs, and the occasional copse of trees. Now they were descending the far side of the hill. The Drowned Forest could be seen in the valley ahead of them in the distance maybe twelve miles away. The Hool Marsh stretched out to the left towards the horizon.

The path continued downhill. A few hundred yards off the path to the right was an old oak tree that had split in two halves by a lightning strike.

DM Note-
I described the tree as a young treant from Silverstand who had been struck by lightning and died years ago. 

"How can you tell it was a treant?" one player asked.

"Because it has a face and its branches look like arms with fingers," said another player. 

This little bit of description had nothing to do with anything but the players appreciated the additional detail.

Sitting at the base of the tree was what appeared to be a human man. The man appeared to be resting on the ground against the tree.

Annor cautiously approached the man. He stood up and picked up his shield and sword. Emblazoned on his shield was the lion rampant of the kingdom of Keoland. He was a soldier from Burle!

Annor called out to the stranger and assured him of their peaceful intentions. The man allowed them to approach but stood at the ready. Upon closer inspection it appeared that the man had barely survived a battle. He was covered in blood, dirt, and loose twigs and leaves. He appeared injured.

The man introduced himself as Barto Trume. He was a soldier from the Burle garrison. Trume seemed relieved to learn that the A-Team had just come from Burle and were searching for the missing expedition. Trume said that he and the expedition had traveled into the Drowned Forest on skiffs. He said that they came across a little old man standing on an island. He didn't know what happened next - it was a blur. They were attacked - decimated - by human brigands and lizard-man savages working together! He was knocked unconscious and taken somewhere deeper in the forest. He managed to escape and wandered lost in the Drowned Forest for days.

Just last night he managed to find his way to Waycombe. There he saw a force of about forty enemy brigands and some kind of priest camped in a large field behind Waycombe. He fled Waycome and had to rest. He said he had to get back to Burle!

Annor offered to accompany him back to Burle. Barto objected. He said he was well enough to travel and that if the party was headed to Waycombe, they were only an hour away. If they went back to Burle, the brigands might be gone by the time they returned.

Annor rubbed his chin and agreed. He gave Trume some supplies and asked him to relay the same story to two others who might be coming up the trail behind them.

With that, they parted ways with the survivor and continued to Waycombe.

To Be Continued...

DM Note-
If you notice there's a lot more dialog and role-playing in this write-up, it's because Auric's player was out this week, leaving no restriction on Marlin's and Annor's players and allowing them to do all the role-playing and interaction they want. Auric's player likes to be more organized and to stay on focus which can have the effect of stifling the pair's interaction sometimes. Plus, Auric's player literally physically sits between them. So his absence removed that figurative and literal impediment to their style of fun wordy interactive role-play.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Adventures in Goat Herding - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 21

Annor decided to spend the day watching his goats. He gave the shepherd boys the day off. He took the crook and led his goats up the hill overlooking the Kingfisher river and the shallow expanse of marsh beyond. It was a warm sunny day and a cool breeze blew in from the ocean.  He took off his shirt and looked around. Saltmarsh was his home town. It had its problems, it could use some improvement, but it was a good town all told. The sound of the wind in the tall grass and the gentle bleating of his goats pleased him. This was a good day. 

The A-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. 
  • Annor Whalerson - Lawful Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Aasimar Shipwright and Cleric of the Raven King.
Suffering the Brain Jellies this Week:
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Warforged Fighter.
  • Marlin Whalerson - Chaotic Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.

It was an idyllic time in Saltmarsh. For five weeks, the A-Team had nothing to do but attend to their personal priorities. 

Aella spent the first week learning the language of the sea elves. Annor purchased some additional land for his goats and hired some workers to build a barn. Auric conducted rituals for the remembrance of the dead at his temple near the graveyard.

By the end of the second week, Aella felt she had a good grasp of the sea elf language. Annor learned the skill of goat herding from the young men in his employ. Auric hired a sculptor from Seaton to create a statue of Saint Ogden, keeper of the Book of the Dead.

During the third week, Eliander Fireborn, captain of the guard of Saltmarsh, led an expedition northeast to the Dreadwood. A werewolf was harassing loggers in the area. Aella spent the week carousing and getting to know the local merchants at the Wicker Goat. Annor continued to learn the ins and outs of goat farming, herding, and breeding. Auric studied herbalism under the tutelage of Ferrin Kastilar, the halfling druid who dwelled within the forest grove near the marsh behind the town.

The fourth week brought news that the Duke of Seaton had recalled all the ships of the king's navy. As a result, piracy and smuggling in the region had increased sharply. Aella spent the week in her home, nesting. She adopted a cat. Annor continued learning goat herding and Auric continued his studies in herbalism.

The fifth week saw the arrival of refugees from farther down the coast. The pirates had begun to raid coastal settlements. The survivors abandoned their burned out villages and came to Saltmarsh. Aella spent the week carousing and making friends at the Wicker Goat. Annor continued to herd his goats. Auric continued to study herbalism.

DM Notes-
We spent five weeks of downtime using the various downtime rules in the DMG and Xanathar's Guide. 

Some house rules we apply to down time include:
1. Every week I would roll a random event for the town from the Ghosts of Saltmarsh book. I'd give the players some narrative control by giving them the choice of: Traditionalist Events, Loyalist Event, or Wildcard event. 

2. According tot he Player's Handbook, learning a new language or tool proficiency requires 255 days. That's untenable. So I figured that's assuming one hour of study every day while adventuring. If you divide 255 hours of study over eight hour days, you get 32 days, which fits nicely in about a month. A week of downtime learning a new language or tool proficiency counts as 40 hours of study towards your 255 hours requirement. So a character can learn a new language or tool proficiency in about 6 weeks - assuming two days off per week. That's much more workable given the constraints of adventuring and the typical time frames of our campaigns. 

3. During this time, Annor was running a business making goat cheese. At first I adapted the business rules from the 3.5 DMG2 but this soon became unrealistic. So we switched to the business rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide, Fifth Edition, on page 129. However, I gave Annor's player some modifications from the 3.5 DMG2 table. If he spent 1000 gp on improvements, it gave him a permanent +1d4 on the weekly roll. He also rolled a weekly event for his business which might modify that week's roll up or down. 

The Faithful Quartermasters of Iuz
Marlin walked through the doors of the Faithful Quartermasters of Iuz. He wished to speak to Captain Xendros about possibly obtaining a set of magical goggles that would allow him to see in the dark.

Captain Xendros greeted Marlin warily. She obviously still remembered his insult from a few weeks ago. She politely listened to his request. There was a moment of awkward silence before she smiled and requested to speak with Marlin privately. She pulled the curtains and closed the door to her office.

She peeked through the curtain and checks outside the window to ensure they weren't being watched.  Her tone becomes hushed, conspiratorial.

She smiled warmly, "Meester Whalerson. I have a special proposition for you. I will seek and obtain the item you seek - I will forego the finders fee - I will even forego the sale price and provide it free of charge - in exchange for... the egg of Aulicus. Give to me the dragon's egg and I will give you the goggles you seek for free. Do we have an arrangement? "

Marlin responded, "IF I had something so precious…so valuable in my possession,  it would be worth more than the single item I request.  FAR more, if I had such a thing."

"I have ways of knowing that you are in possession of this thing. Many mysteries are revealed to me by my lord and master Iuz." She paused and considered his insinuation, "I have seen red dragon eggs sold for 2000 gold pieces. Perhaps a black dragon egg is worth 1000 gold pieces? "

Marlin looked uncertain. How could she know he had the dragon egg? Did she have a way to track it?

She continued, "If you are uncertain about my offer of two thousand gold pieces, you should be aware that the wizard Keledek might be interested in learning who was actually responsible for the theft of his property. You have perhaps already witnessed the extent of his tolerance towards those he believes to have crossed him? Or perhaps Captain Fireborn may have an interest? By comparison, two thousand gold pieces and an uncommon magic item at no price seems a desirable alternative, no?"

Marlin's face became grim, "Don’t threaten me!" He stepped toward her and smiled. "After all, your threats are meaningless as you would lose the prize you seek, no?"

"You will pay me what I want or you don’t get it at all, understood devils-daughter.  And If I would take some time to consider your offer, you will wait with all-do patience."

Captain Xendros stared at him in cold silence.

"Okay, listen.  We got off on a wrong foot for a misspoken comment on my part.  I’m sorry.  But there’s no reason we should remain at loggerheads.  We could actually help each other.  I am a treasure hunter and sometimes come across many interesting items in my travels.  I could sell what I or the team don’t want to you for resale.  Win-win."  Marlin made direct eye-to-eye contact with the tiefling.  "We are both professionals, and I was not treating you with the respect you deserve.  I can admit that."

Marlin turned away and picked at a fuzz on his sleeve.

"Now, truth be told, I don’t want to sell the egg at this point and time.  But if it ever does come up for sale, you’ll be one of the very first people I contact.  I believe that would be fair enough."

Marlin turned back towards her.  "All I really want are the Sungoggles of Cory the Hart or The Eyeglass of Lord Otto VonBloodtruth, Conquistador of Torm who believed himself hunted by the Invisible Stalkers after he massacred the entire Katoti plains people."

"So?  Can we come to some kind of working accord?  We don’t have to be friends, but we don’t have to be enemies."  He offered her a handshake.

She smiled again, "Yes. I have heard of your so-called reputation as a treasure hunter, though you and your friends have yet to offer me a single treasure for sale." She pouts, sullenly and theatrically. She held that look for a beat then abruptly switched to a big toothy grin.

"I may have need of your services soon. Perhaps in a few months. In the meantime, given current circumstances, I am unable to provide you with the items you request. I will give you a month to change your mind regarding my offer. I look forward to doing further business with you. "

Marlin smiled politely through his disappointment. He performed a short bow and took his leave.

Recruited for the Town Council
On the fifth week, Annor was summoned to a meeting of the town council. Gellan Primewater had been missing for over a month. He had not been seen since his house burned down. His seat on the town council was declared vacant. Eliander Fireborn nominated Annor to the council. Annor was selected on a vote of three to one.

A Meeting with the Merchant's Guild
On the very next day after his election to the city council, Annor was asked to attend a special meeting with the Brotherhood of Merchants - a small guild that represented the overland merchant caravans that brought goods to Saltmarsh from inland.

Annor, Auric, and Aella accompanied Anders Solmor to the meeting. Ander's servant Skerrin was also in attendance.

The Brotherhood of Merchants consisted of eight representatives. They were standing around a table within the Mariner's Guild Hall. Two young acolytes from the Temple of Procan stood in the corner reciting prayers - a typical sight in the Mariner's Guild Hall.  Anders and Annor were introduced.

The representatives of the Brotherhood were agitated. They explained for the past several weeks no trade caravans have arrived from Burle. They had all been hit by bandits crossing the Janustream river from the area of the Drowned forest.

Occasional banditry had been a minor problem in the past. Everyone knew bandits had hideouts in the Hool marsh. But they were small and disorganized. More often than not the caravans could simply pay these brigands either in coin or with a portion of the shipment.

These bandits, however, were organized. They fought like demons! They attacked and took everything! They gave no quarter and accepted no parley! Also, these bandits seemed to emerge from the region of the Drowned Forest, not the Hool Marsh.

After the first attacks, the merchants hired mercenaries, but these guards were ineffective! Most were easily defeated by the bandits or fled in fear! When the guards fled, the brigands chased them down and captured them! Only a few have managed to escape!

More strange, survivors report that each attack was preceded preceded by the appearance of a harmless-looking tittle old man who stops the head of the merchants' columns to ask for directions.

Annor noted that the attacks all took place northwest of Burle and asked if they had sought the aid of Burle. The merchants said they appealed to Burle, and Kiara Shadowbreaker, castellan of the fort, sent a force of 30 soldiers into the Drowned Forest. That was a month ago and none of them have returned!

With Eliander and most of the town guard away in the Dreadwood, the merchants asked the Town Council what they might be able to do!

Annor reassured the merchants that the A-Team would investigate and take care of this problem.

Auric thought he heard one of the hooded acolytes whisper the phrase, "Oh great power of evil, destroy now thine enemies..." Auric turned to approach the acolyte. Suddenly, a giant pillar of black flame erupted through the ceiling centered on Anders! The pillar exploded with both dark energy and unholy power, setting the room on fire and searing the souls of anyone near.

Annor was thrown backwards. Both acolytes in the back of the room ran towards the exit. Auric pointed at one of them, "Stop him!" Annor quickly ran and grabbed the acolyte by the arm.

The acolyte tried to break free but he was unable to slip from Annor's grasp.

Aella immediately cast a witch bolt spell at the acolyte. The acolyte screamed in pain. He produced an iron mace from within his long sleeve. The head of the mace resembled the head of a black dragon. The acolyte cried, "I give my soul to Aulicus! Sakatha will rise again and destroy you all!" He swung the mace at Annor ineffectually.

Auric, meanwhile, tended to Anders and the merchants who had all fallen underneath the pillar of black fire!

Having brought no armor or weapons to this meeting with the merchants, Annor began punching the acolyte in the face with his bare fists. Between the punches and the witch bolt, the acolyte was soon incapacitated.

Annor bound the prisoner while the others helped put out the fire and protect the survivors of the attack. Thanks to Auric's quick thinking Anders had survived the assassination attempt.

Later, the prisoner was taken to the temple of Procan. The prisoner was a male human. Wellgar Brinehanded, the priest of the temple, did not know the man. Though he was wearing the robes of an acolyte of Procan, Brinehanded noted that the robes were accessible and could have been easily stolen.

The prisoner was taken to the gaol and placed in the special magic-resistant cell. He was interrogated once he regained consciousness but offered no useful information, saying only that "the Descendants Four Founders of Saltmarsh will perish in flames! Their cities will be razed! Their people enslaved! They will know the vengeance of the Risen!". Soon after making this pronouncement, the prisoner began to emit a noxious froth from his mouth and fell dead.

Annor told the others, "Tomorrow, we head to Burle."

To Be Continued...

DM Note-
The four founders of Saltmarsh were:
  • The Great Great Grandfather of Anders Solmor
  • The Great Great Grandmother of Annor and Marlin Whalerson
  • The Great Grandfather of the Duke of Seaton
  • The Great Great Grandfather of Gellan Primewater