Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Sea Ghost - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 4

Marlin climbed down the steps of the companionway. He was in a darkened cabin. A parrot squawked, "Pieces of Eight!" which caused Marlin to momentarily freeze. There was a door in the bulkhead to his right. He went through it and found himself in the cargo hold. He was beneath a set of stairs that led to the large latticed hatch in the deck above. The only light came from the lanterns on deck.

A door opened on the forward side of the cargo hold. He quickly hid under the stairs. Three burly sailors ran through the hold and climbed the stairs. He heard other sailors climbing another set of stairs in the room forward. The first sailor threw open the hatch and the sailor behind him moved past.

Marlin reached out with his short sword and slashed the back of the ankle of the third sailor. He fell to the deck of the cargo hold screaming before Marlin put an end to him.

Meanwhile, the deck above became a maelstrom of violent action.


  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket.
  • Annor Whalerson - Neutral Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh.
  • Marlin Whalerson - Neutral Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Human (?) Shipwright and Cleric.
Special Guest Stars
This week we were joined by a special guest star!
  • "Amnesia" - Human (-ish) Amnesiac Rogue.
  • Aname - Warforged Soldier and Fighter

The Sinister Reinforcements of Saltmarsh
Annor tried to follow his brother down the companionway but he hit his head hard on the top of the door jamb. He fell on the deck with a loud thump. Auric glanced at the unconscious brute and cursed, "Ugh, here we go!"

DM Note
Annor's player was out this week.

The deck hatch was thrown open and a sailor scrambled out onto the port side of the deck. Amnesia was waiting for him and stabbed him with her rapier. Auric moved to support her while Aella stayed back towards the starboard deck rail.

Another door was thrown open towards the bow. It was a companionway that led to quarters beneath the forecastle. Two sailors emerged armed with light crossbows. Behind them stood Punketah the deck wizard, "Boarders! Get them!" He cast a magical witch bolt at Aella. A flash of lightning exploded part of the rail next to her.

A lone sailor ran up a companionway to stern and attacked Auric. Another sailor with a hook for a hand followed him shouting orders to the sailors and hurling curses at the intruders.

Amnesia, having dealt with the sailors coming out of the cargo hatch, moved swiftly to help Auric. She and Auric moved as one as she spun around and slashed at the sailor with her rapier.

The smuggler with the hook, whose name was Foul Frithoff the bosun, gouged his hook into Amnesia. She fell to the deck. Meanwhile, Marlin had made his stealthy way up the same companionway and caught the bosun by surprise. Frithof fell to the deck dead.

Meanwhile, Aella and Punketah, both low on magical energy, exchanged magical rays of frost. Aella was able to dispatch one of the sailors protecting Punketah but the Deck Wizard ultimately bested the sorceress. Aella fell to the deck, her shoulder bruised with frostbit and covered in white hoar frost.

Auric responded quickly with healing miracles, stabilizing Aella and revitalizing Amnesia.

The only foes remaining were Punketah and a single sailor. Realizing the futility of their situation, Punketah surrendered and demanded mercy. In exchange, he would cooperate and answer honestly any questions put to him. The two were captured and tied to the mast.

DM Note
Last week, I had sailors popping out of the door underneath the poop deck. I was in a hurry and didn't realize that those stairs led to 12, the bosun's cabin. In retrospect, I should have had them emerge from the cargo hatch or from the door that leads to 10, the crew cabin. Anyway, because I screwed that up, Marlin went into the door from which they came, which led to the bosun's cabin. Luckily, the player didn't notice but it could have led to odd conclusions and uncomfortable follow-up questions.

The Sinister Search of the Sea Ghost
The party interrogated the deck wizard Punketah. Punketah was haughty and vain and his sense of entitlement rubbed the party the wrong way.  Punketah explained that they had cargo in the hold bound for Port Torvin. He said they always stop here, just east of Saltmarsh, to pick up additional cargo from Sanbalet on shore. They use a signal system to let Sanbalet know they're here. If Sanbalet doesn't answer, as was the case three nights ago, they figure Sanbalet has nothing to pick up and simply sail on.

When asked whether there was anyone else on the ship, Punketah said, "No. Wait, yes. Yes, there are three passengers in that room there," indicating the door under the forecastle, "They prefer their privacy. You may want to leave them alone."

Marlin opened the door. He was met with a strange reptilian stench. Three lizard-folk were variously sitting in chairs or lying on hammocks. One asked in Flan, "What noise all about? Be more quiet! Our sleep is interrupted! Also, bring more fish!" The lizard folk were either unperturbed by the recent battle and bloodshed right outside their door or couldn't tell one human from another.

Marlin apologized for the interruption and closed the door.

The party then conducted a systematic room-by-room search of the ship. Marlin gathered all the valuables and pooled them on the deck. Any item that seemed of value to Punketah was smashed and thrown overboard in front of the haughty wizard.

They found a secret cache of weapons in a hidden compartment behind the first mate's quarters. Auric, having been a shipwright, pointed out the unaccounted space behind the bosun's quarters.

Within they found two prisoners bound and gagged - a sea elf and a mechanical automaton. The Sea Elf was named Oceanus. He was a spy for the Elven tribe known as Manaan who had been assigned to learn to whom the smugglers were selling weapons. He was captured by the smugglers and subsequently learned that the weapons were bound for a tribe of lizard folk on the coast. The automaton was named Aname, a self-described "Warforged", created by a wizard long ago who served as an underwater guardian. The crew planned on selling him as a slave in the markets of the Sea Princes.

Marlin pressed the sea elf, "Wait, did you say your name was 'Oceanus'?"

"Yes?" the sea elf replied.

"Where have I heard that?" Marlin wondered aloud before recalling that his mentor, the wizard Keledek, told him days ago to "Seek Oceanus down below! Now go." Marlin urgently asked Oceanus, "Do you know the wizard Keledek?"

"No, I'm sure I don't."

"Then why did he tell me to find you?"

"I know not. Wizards are strange beings of auguries and visions. Perhaps he simply did not wish for me to starve hidden away in that hold, which I surely would have done had you not found me."

"Hmmm," Marlin was unconvinced.

DM Note
I could see Marlin's player trying to work out what it all meant. I had to reassure him, out of character, that the wizard's directive was only meant as a bit of magical foreshadowing. There was no deeper meaning or mystery - unless he wanted there to be. The player said, "got it" and left it at that.

When Oceanus saw Amnesia he displayed a reaction of mixed fear and revulsion but when he saw Aella, his countenance turned to recognition with a tinge of awe.

The deck was a bloody mess strewn with the bodies of the crew. Cleaning it would be a big job so Marlin asked the surviving sailor if he'd help clean up. The sailor, eager to be untied from the mast, agreed. The party, with the help of the sailor, threw the bodies overboard and did their best to wash the blood and viscera off the deck.

That night, the party rested on the ship. The cooperative sailor was bound but allowed to rest in a hammock. Punketah, however, was gagged and left tied to the mast.

Aname and Amnesia have sailing skills, with help from sailor, return to Saltmarsh

The Sinister Story of Oceanus
That evening, while the party rested, Oceanus recounted how he had become a prisoner on the Sea Ghost.

Oceanus was a scout of the Sea Elf tribe of Manaan, located about twenty miles southeast of Saltmarsh. His tribe took notice of the strange travels of the Sea Ghost and assigned Oceanus to investigate. Oceanus stowed aboard the ship during its last stop outside Saltmarsh three nights hence. In Seaton he observed the ship taking on a small arsenal of weaponry. He was discovered and knocked unconscious. He awoke a prisoner alongside the mechanical man in this small hold.

He knows only that he has received three unpleasant meals and six drinks of brackish water from a brutish fellow with a hood for a hand.

When asked about his reaction to Amnesia, he replied that she was an escaped slave of Elkahraal, the marid. He did his best to try to explain what a Marid was, saying they were evil water elementals who liked to capture mortals, transform them so they could live underwater, and keep them as slaves. Amnesia was one such slave. He meant no offense. He explained that his reaction was the result of concern that Elkahraal might come looking for his property or that she was an agent of the evil marid. He also explained that her lack of memory is a side effect of a curse placed upon all of Elkahraal's slaves to discourage their escape.

He then told Aella that she and he were distantly related - she was a sea elf!

He told her that many years ago, the chieftain of the Manaan tribe had been captured and sold into slavery. He was eventually given to the king of Ket as a gift. He was kept as a curiosity, a component of the king of Ket's royal menagerie. There he fell in love with a human servant woman. She helped him to escape and he eventually returned to the sea.

Aella must be the daughter of their union. The chieftain is unaware that he has any human children. Oceanus told her she would be welcome as a member of their tribe but to be careful of the chieftain's other elven children who might view her with jealousy or suspicion.

Once he learned that lizardfolk had purchased the weapons, Oceanus looked grim. He needed to investigate this further.

The Sinister Return to Saltmarsh
The party rose the next morning to the sight of the sea around them churning with feeding sharks. Saltmarsh was visible through the morning mist a scant three miles away. Auric and Aname were both accomplished sailors. With their supervision, and the help of the cooperative prisoner, they rigged the Sea Ghost and sailed her into Saltmarsh.

Councilman Eliander and the town guard were summoned at once. Eliander confiscated the ship and its cargo, for which certain members of the party grumbled for offered no resistance or complaint. The three lizardfolk were confused about what happened. They were let go without the weapons they purchased or the electrum ingots they paid for them with. Punketah and the sailor were arrested. As promised, the party requested leniency for the sailor as a reward for his cooperation.

That afternoon, the horn atop the council building blew, signifying a meeting of the town council.

The party was asked to report on their actions on the Sea Ghost and to recount what they learned about the Lizard folk's weapons purchase.

Eda was incensed. She demanded an immediate first strike against the lizard folk. She noted that only last year the lizard folk invaded and claimed a cave only ten miles west of town. She said they had been excavating the cave into a proper defensible lair. This was evidence of their expansion and she worried the lizard folk would attack Saltmarsh next. Eda's foul language betrayed an uncharacteristic vitriol and animus towards the lizard folk. This ugly side of Eda disappointed Aella, who had once held the fisher-woman in high esteem.

Gellan jumped on Eda's bandwagon, demanding immediate action, though his true motives were obvious - he viewed the lizard folk development as a welcome distraction from the recent attention paid to smuggling operations around Saltmarsh.

Anders noted that up until now the lizardfolk had always been content to mind their own business. He felt that lizardfolk expansion was uncharacteristically aggressive.

Eliander feared that the lizardfolk were arming for an attack against Saltmarsh. He sided with Eda and requested a first strike by the town guard.

Manistrad protested the expense of a first strike and noted the lack of actionable information.

Ultimately, the council reached a compromise - a small team would be sent to the lizardfolk lair to learn what was going on. The team would use the delivery of the weapons the lizardfolk had purchased as a pretense for their approach. The party was offered the job and promised a reward of 700 gold pieces upon completion of their mission.

Oceanus requested to accompany the party on their mission and they agreed. 

The Sinister Respite of Saltmarsh
The party accepted the job but requested a week to rest and prepare. Despite Eliander and Eda's desire for immediate action, the council agreed.

Marlin met with his mentor, the wizard Keledek. He gave him Punketah's spell book. Keledek rewarded Marlin with a spellbook of his own. He had accepted Marlin as an apprentice.

Marlin later met with Gellan and told him he'd like to accept his offer to work for his organization. Gellan was pleased and told Marlin to be prepared for two visitors in the middle of the night, and to keep this arrangement a secret. 

Amnesia, Auric, Aname, and Aella went to the office of the Faithful Quartermasters of Iuz. They had heard that the trade ambassador, Captain Xendrik, often had enchanted relics for sale. There they met Captain Xendrik, a tiefling with red skin and devilish horns. The office reeked of incense and sulfur. Despite her infernal appearance, Captain Xendrik was friendly and welcoming, inviting all to join her in praise of the arch-fiend Iuz. She explained that her office was no curio shop. She kept no stock. However, she knew how to procure items and explained how, for a small weekly retainer, one could become her client. She told them that she keeps her clients informed of what items she has available and can obtain items that catch their interest. She also detailed how she might obtain specific items for her clients upon special requests. 

On the night before their mission, there was a knock on the door of Marlin's room. He opened the door to see two strangers in hoods. He knew not how they entered the house. They told Marlin, "It is time," and instructed him to put on the offered hood and to come with them. Marlin quietly donned the hood. 

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Snake in the Grass - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 3

The party had just defeated the hobgoblin warriors in the sea cave. They were tired and needed rest so they decided to walk back to Saltmarsh.

On their way out, as they passed through the house, they heard someone - a male human voice - calling for help. Marlin said he'd check it out. He went upstairs and opened the door to investigate.

The room was bare. The floor looked damaged and week. Next to an old moldy bed, he found a man in his underclothes, his legs and arms bound by rope. He had managed to work his way out of a gag and was calling for help.

Marlin introduced himself and asked the man his name.

"My name is Ned! Are you one of them? Have you come to beat me some more?"

Marlin assured the man that he was here to rescue him. He asked Ned what he was doing here.

Ned replied that he was a merchant traveling from Seaton to Saltmarsh when he was waylaid by ruffians and knocked unconscious. He woke up when he heard the sound of ghostly screams coming from the house below.

As Marlin untied Ned, he explained that the bandits had been dealt with and that it was safe now. Ned remained unconvinced, he began to panic, "How do you know? We have to get out of here immediately! We must leave this place at once! It's not safe here!"

Marlin tried to calm him down, "It's okay. I have friends downstairs. Come on. Let's go."

Ned swooned and asked for help standing up. Marlin gave Ned a hand. As he did so, Ned asked, "So you're alone?" When Marlin nodded, Ned whispered, "Good."

Ned stumbled and grabbed Marlin's arms. Ned tried to swing Marlin around and toss him into the center of the bare bedroom.

Marlin caught himself. He glared at Ned angrily. He then fled out of the  room and down the hall calling for help.

Ned hobbled after Marlin, the now loose ropes still tangled around his ankles. Ned called, "No! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I thought you were one of them!"

Annor and Auric dashed upstairs, encountering Ned in the hallway.

Ned held out his hands, "No no! Wait! It's a misunderstanding!"

Marlin shouted from behind them, "He tried to throw me down a hole!"

Annor turned back to Ned, his eyes raging. He conked Ned on the head with the pommel of his ridiculously long sword. Ned staggered. Auric hit him with his mace and Ned fell to the floor, unconscious.

Annor looked at Auric, "What do we do?"

Auric replied, "We take him back to Saltmarsh, let the constabulary sort him out."

They promptly re-bound him and began carrying him back to Saltmarsh.


  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket.
  • Annor Whalerson - Neutral Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh.
  • Marlin Whalerson - Neutral Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Human (?) Shipwright and Cleric.
Special Guest Stars
This week we were joined by a special guest star!
  • "Amnesia" - Human (-ish) Amnesiac Rogue.
The Sinister Amnesiac of Saltmarsh
The gray sky was darkening on their way back to Saltmarsh. They would probably arrive in town just after nightfall.

Along the way, Marlin noticed a large trunk resting on a small beach under the bluff over which they walked. The trunk appeared to have been deposited by a high tide. Marlin pointed and called, "Dibs!"

Annor and Aella navigated the steep bank down the bluff to the small beach. The trunk was waterlogged and locked shut with a padlock. It moved as if something were alive within. Annor used Aella's staff to pry the entire latch off the rotting wood.

DM Note-
They were so paranoid that they spent thirty agonizing minutes trying to figure out a clever way to open the trunk. The other players became frustrated at them and urged them to just open the damn thing! 

Within was a young woman. She was wearing underclothes and one boot. She, like the interior of the trunk, was wet. Her skin had a greenish hue. She looked up at them, confused.

"Hello," said Annor, "What's your name?"

"I- I don't know," was her hestitant reply.

"Do you know how you got into this trunk?" inquired Aella.

"I'm in a trunk?" the young woman asked, confused.

"Yes," assured Annor, "How did you get here? What happened to you?"

"I have no idea," she said.

DM Note-
Amnesia's player wanted to try the Unknown background, so I said "sure". 

"Look, it's not safe out here. Come with us back to Saltmarsh. We'll help you out," said Annor. He helped her out of the trunk and carried her on his back as he and Aella climbed back up the steep bluff.

Reunited with the others, Annor introduced the mysterious young lady to the others.

Marlin cautiously offered, "Uh, dibs?"

Aella reprimanded him, "Absolutely not! Not even in Ket does one own another human being!"

"Besides," Annor pointed out, "You own the waterlogged trunk, not what's inside it. The trunk is all yours!"

They arrived on the eastern outskirts of Saltmarsh just after nightfall. Winston was just shutting down his store but they persuaded him to reopen long enough for them to purchase the mystery girl some new clothes.

The Sinister After-Action Report of Saltmarsh
The party stopped off at the Solmor Estate to report to Anders what they encountered at the haunted house. The butler, Skerrin, opened the door to a motley bunch, covered in blood and sweat, accompanied by an unknown young woman, and carrying an unconscious man in his underwear.

Skerrin sniffed derisively.

They announced their return from the old manor house and their intention to report to Anders. Skerrin told them that it was too late and that they should return tomorrow to make an appointment. Aella became indignant and confronted Skerrin, angrily informing him that: a) their information was important, b) Anders told them to report as soon as they returned, and c) they would not leave until they reported to Anders.

Anders sighed and told them to wait. He closed the door.

They waited impatiently outside in the cool dark night for fifteen minutes. Skerrin eventually returned and told them that only four could enter. After some deliberation, Auric said he would take the unconscious merchant - whom they had repeatedly bludgeoned every time he roused - to the town gaol.

Aella, Annor, Marlin, and the bewildered amnesiac entered the house and were taken to Anders' office.

They entered to find Anders hastily assuming the pose of pensive leader, thoughtfully staring out his window towards the sea. He made a display of pretending to be interrupted in his reverie by their unexpected arrival and he greeted them warmly.

Annor and Marlin reported their encounter with the smugglers hiding beneath the old manor house. They included their encounter with the captives and their meeting with Ned and the amnesiac girl.

Anders listened with rapt fascination. He thrilled vicariously to their exploits. He expressed some concern about the treatment of the merchant, Ned. He greeted the amnesiac girl warmly, complimenting her fashion choices. Finally, he declared that he would immediately call a meeting of the town council. Now that he had proof that smugglers were using the old house as a base, he would call for action to be taken to eliminate these slavers.

Anders ordered Skerrin to provide the agreed upon payment - 200 gold coins. Skerrin objected, noting that the banks were closed for the evening, but Anders was adamant and demanded Skerrin pay the party from his personal vault.

Meanwhile, Auric carried the groggy merchant Ned to the town gaol. When prompted to explain what crime the man had committed, Auric was at a loss. He said he believed the man was in league with slavers and that Ned had attacked one of their party.

Ned argued that he thought Marlin was a slaver and that he was acting in self-defense, and that he was a simple merchant who had been assaulted by these ruffians. When pressed with the details of the accusation, Auric was forced to concede the salient points.

The gaoler, Kraddok Stonehorn, instructed Auric to leave Ned here and that he would speak with him and sort this all out. Auric, already beginning to doubt their charges, agreed and left, returning to the Whalerson just down the street in Old Town.

The Sinister Whalerson House of Saltmarsh
The Whalerson brothers lived in a modest home in the Old Town on the west bank of the Kingfisher river. It had belonged to their mother and occasionally visited by their father - the famous adventurer known as Whaler. A bent harpoon hovered magically over the mantel.

Annor spread his arms wide, "Welcome to our home!"

"This is your house?" inquired Aella.

Marlin replied, "Yes, it used to belong to our mother. Sadly, she passed three years ago in a tragic accident.  I inherited the family home as Whaler was nowhere to be found and I was the oldest available next of kin.  It is a humble cottage, but we at least have a dry roof over our head and a place to cook our meals.  And a goat.  And two dogs."

"I, as the younger Whalerson, stayed at home and watched over the place while Annor was off fighting in the war as a marine."

Two dogs came bounding into the room. Annor caught them in a big embrace, "These are our dogs. The mastiff is named Ezra and the newfoundland is Jolson.  The goat is around here somewhere. His name is Peter. Mom used to sell goat cheese to make ends meet."

"I'm sorry to hear about your mother. What happened?" asked Aella.

Marlin became melancholy, "Every week, Mom would go out on the pier and look at the ships coming into port, hoping that one day Whaler would be on one of them.  And then one day, one of those Scarlet Brotherhood bastards got a little drunk and started getting belligerent with the merchants just trying to sell their fish and pay their bills.  When the town guard came, the scarlet bastard started a fight and, in the chaos, he stumbled into Mom and pushed her off the pier.  She couldn’t swim, and with her heavy clothing she sank like a stone.

Marlin continued, "I blame the Brotherhood to this day - I will never forgive, and will never forget."

"What happened to this Scarlet Brotherhood person?"

Marlin said, "He was brought before the crown's magistrate. We had one then.  After the guard and witnesses testified, the magistrate ruled that it was an accident and let the sailor off without even having to pay a fine."

After a brief pause, Marlin continued, "That night, at a dockside tavern named the Empty Net, the sailor was discovered dead. Someone had slipped a rope around his neck while he was in the outhouse and he was strangled to death.  The next day the magistrate was also found dead in his offices, his throat was savagely bruised from strangulation that it was black with bruising.  But his hands and nails showed that he had not died without a fight."

Marlin looked away, his voice almost a whisper, "The town hasn't had a magistrate since then and all trials are now conducted by the town council."

Annor said, "When I heard the news about Mom, I went on a week-long bender.  It was Marlin who scraped me up off the floor and set me right." Annor put his arm around his brother's shoulder, "When I finely recovered from my bender, this rapscallion was bringing me stew! To my surprise, my little brother's right eye was covered with a bandage and upon his face were dozens of scratches."

"What happened?" urged Aella.

Annor gave a long knowing look at his brother.

Marlin became grim, "It was from a bar fight." He got up and left the room.

After a long pause, Amnesia asked, "So what's the deal with the harpoon?"

Annor shrugged, "No idea. One day dad came in, put it up there, and said, 'Don't touch this! If a wizard in red robes comes looking for it, give it to him no questions asked, then run like Hell!' It's been there ever since."

DM Note-
This entire section is a combination of actual role-playing and a written backstory provided collaboratively by the both brothers' players.

Also, at this point I started calling the amnesiac character with no name, "Amnesia".

The Sinister Council Meeting of Saltmarsh
Aella and Amnesia slept in the room that once belonged to the Whalerson's mother. Aella woke to Peter the goat licking her face.

It was dawn and someone was knocking on the door. It was a messenger from the town council. The party was being summoned to an emergency Town Council meeting at 10am.

The party dressed and prepared themselves and crossed the Sharkfin bridge on their way to the council hall. Aella paused. She appeared queasy. When Amnesia checked on her, Aella explained that she had felt the same sensation as she crossed the bridge the previous night.

The brothers explained that she must have some fey ancestry. Something about the old Sharkfin bridge, the oldest remaining structure in town, is repulsive to elves and other fey creatures.

They arrived at the large brick council hall just as the horn atop the hall's tower was being blown, calling the town together to attend a meeting of the council.

After a few minutes, the council hall was filled. Sitting at the council table were:

  • Eda Oweland, a middle-aged human woman with short graying hair who looked like she'd lived her entire life on the deck of a fishing boat.
  • Gellan Primewater, a middle-aged human man with a finely trimmed beard and clad in the exquisite garb of a man of wealth and power.
  • Anders Solmor, the young human man and friend of the party.
  • There was an empty chair.
  • Eliander Fireborn, the middle-aged human man, veteran of the wars against the North, leader of the town guard.
  • Manistrad Copperlocks, middle-aged dwarven woman, with red hair worn in long braids, appointed to the town council by royal decree.

Anders banged the gavel, calling the council meeting to order.

Eda interjected, "Nine hells! What's all this fucking about anyway? This better be gods-damned important! I've got three fucking boats in port loaded with gods-damned fish!"

Gellan waved his hand about absently, "I have no idea. Ask young master Solmor. Something about pirates and haunted houses and boogey-men!"

Anders earnestly replied, "If I may, I have important information to bring before the council. I have proof that the old haunted manor house is being used as a secret base by smugglers and slavers!"

Eliander stood quickly, ready for action, "What's this? Slavers? We have to root this out, immediately! No more obstructions!"

Manistrad, meanwhile, looked bored and unconcerned, "I fail to see why this is a council matter."

DM Comment-
I role-played the initial lines above to serve as introductions for each of the council members, given each of them a unique voice and body posture. I was also careful to explicitly communicate the non-verbal body language to the players.

  • "Eda looks impatient and feels like this meeting is a distraction."
  • "Gellan also looks impatient and somewhat defensive. Those of you from Saltmarsh have always heard rumors that Gellan has his fingers in smuggling, but never slavery as far as you know."
  • "Eda and Gellan represent the so-called 'Traditionalist' faction who see royal involvement in Saltmarsh as unneccesary meddling. They dislike all the changes the dwarven mines have brought and the recent attention the royal court has begun to pay towards things like customs and duties and taxes."
  • "Anders looks eager to communicate his findings and take action."
  • "Eliander is a man of action who appears to be held back by the council."
  • "Mainstrad looks like she'd rather be anywhere else. She was sent by the crown to establish a profitable mine and that's all she's here to do. All this nautical stuff is outside of the scope of her mandate."

After the initial lines of dialog, I simply summarized how the council meeting went and summed up the final result. There's no way I'm roleplaying an interaction between five different NPCs! I was also trying to get the focus as back towards the players as quickly as possible.

Anders once more banged the gavel. "Please! Please! Order! As you know, I previously brought my concerns about smugglers using the manor house as a hideout before. At that time the council decided that no town guard or treasury would be allocated on an investigation. So I decided to hire these agents myself to perform the investigation. Please, agents, testify to the council what you encountered at the manor house."

Annor stepped forward and recounted the tale of the previous day - their discovery of the secret door, their fight with the smugglers and hobgoblin mercenaries, the two rescued slaves, the stolen goods, Ned Snakeshaft, etc.

Gellan listened smugly. When the story was completed, he took the floor. He called elements of the party's story into question. Where were these so-called slaves they rescued? Where were the stolen goods? Instead, he tried to discredit them by reminding the council that Marlin and Annor were the sons of Whaler and were burdened by the, shall we say, "less than reputable" legacy their father had left to them.

As evidence, he introduced Ned Snakeshaft. Ned recounted his version of events. How he was accosted and later freed himself, only to be discovered by Marlin, wearing an eyepatch and a fancy silk-trimmed coat, and subsequently bludgeoned for no reason!

"You tried to throw me in a hole!" shouted Marlin.

Ned dramatically recoiled in horror, "I beg your forgiveness, sir. It was in self-defense and it was a misunderstanding! I feared for my life!"

Anders officially proposed assigning the town guard to the task of eliminating the smuggler ship.

There was much deliberation, with Gellan trying to downplay the threat posed by any so-called "smugglers", if they even existed, and trying to block any allocation of town funds or personnel towards stopping the smuggling. He was backed by Eda who felt that the council should worry more about the fishing fleet and declining catches.

Eliander, however, was ready to pledge the town guard to immediate action to find and remove the smugglers.

Mainstrad was more equivocal. She saw the need to eliminate the smugglers but worried about the cost. Ultimately, she was swayed to Anders' position as long as the costs were minimized.

A compromise solution was reached. No town guard or town resources would be pledged to the effort but Anders convinced the council to hire a team of four to five independent specialists outside of the town guard to find smuggler's ship and eliminate their operation. He nominated the party to be the specialists.

The council agreed to the compromise with Gellan voting against.

After the council meeting, Gellan invited Marlin to the top of the tower for a private meeting. Gellan apologized for casting aspersions against Marlin's father and his family. It was a political ploy and he meant nothing personal by it.

Marlin grimaced and made a noncommittal sound.

Gellan went on to tell Marlin that he thought the young man showed great promise and that Gellan's "organization" could make great use of someone with Marlin's skills and experience. He emphasized the lucrative rewards he could expect to receive working for Gellan.

Marlin politely thanked Gellan for the "compliment" but deferred for now. Gellan accepted the answer but reiterated that the offer was open.

The Sinister Down-Time of Saltmarsh
The book of tide charts that Annor had taken from Sanbalet's room had certain days circled. The last circled date was yesterday. The next circled date was in three days.

The party spent the next three days performing various activities:
Annor took his newly acquired plate armor to the blacksmith to have the dents hammered out. 75 gp for a basic hammering out, 150 gp for a full cleaning, polish, and restoration. He went with the basic option. Later, he took Aella fishing on the dock.

Auric, acolyte of Tristan, the Judge of the Dead, in fact the SOLE acolyte in all of Oerth, went to the temple of Procan to ask their permission to establish a shrine in the graveyard. The temple priest, Wellgar Brinehanded, had obviously never heard of the god but he was amenable. Auric met the town gravedigger, Krag. Krag was interested in this new god and spoke at length with the young shipwright-turned-acolyte. Together, the pair built a modest outdoor shrine out of available bricks and stonework.

Amnesia spent the two nights in the Empty Net, a tavern frequented by scoundrels and ne'er-do-wells. She was hoping to learn why she might have been locked in a chest and abandoned at sea. Although she learned that Gellan was linked to the local smuggling ring, she couldn't learn much about her own history.

Marlin took the gold-tipped ribs to his sometime employer, the wizard Keledek. The door mysteriously opened before he could knock. Keledek was across the room, waiting for him. Without prompting, the mysterious seven-foot tall dark-skinned wizard from Ket, said, "You have brought me a curiosity. The gilded bones of the Mad Alchemist. I will purchase them from you." It was not a question or clarification, it was a statement. Keledek paid Marlin for the bones. Upon concluding their business, the wizard glared at Marlin with wide eyes, held a clawed hand in the air, and said, "Seek Oceanus down below! Now go."

Marlin was confused but departed as he was bidden.

DM Commentary-
I described Keledek as Shaq from the movie Kazaam.

Later, Marlin joined Auric at the cemetary. From the high point overlooking the town, he could see with his one eye Annor and Aella fishing on the dock. Marlin became inexplicably jealous and complained at length to Auric who, honestly, couldn't bring himself to care.

The Sinister Signal of Saltmarsh 
On the third night the party returned to the old manor house on the bluff. They went down into the caverns and waited in the sea cave for some kind of signal. Annor had already sent men to recover the stolen loot and remove the dead bodies of the smugglers. They had left the rowboat in the sea cave for the party's use.

Late that night, after hours of waiting, they finally saw flashing lantern light out at sea. It was one long flash followed by three short flashes.

Marlin was holding the bullseye lantern taken from Sanbalet's quarters. Auric urgently queried Marlin, "That's the signal! Give the reply!" Marlin fumbled with a folded up sheet of paper. Auric became impatient, "Hurry!"

Marlin snapped, "Just a minute! I need to verify the correct reply." Marlin looked at the sheet of paper, confused.

Auric said, "What's the matter?"

Marlin replied, "Hold on! I'm figuring out what this means."

"What do you MEAN what this means? What does it say?"

"It doesn't SAY anything! It's just dashes and exes!" Marlin held up the parchment.

I - X X X
II X - X - 2
III - - -

Marlin had an epiphany, "What, I think I got it!"

Auric pointed over his shoulder, "Those are short and those are long."

Marlin angrily snapped, "I GOT IT!"

Marlin gave one short, one long, one short, and one long.

Auric asked, "What does the 'Two' mean?"

Marlin shrugged.

A few seconds later, the latern out at sea gave three long flashes.

Auric confidently asserted, "That's the correct reply. What do we do now? Do they come to us? Do we go to them?"

Marlin shrugged again.

Annor stepped in, "Let's go to them! Everybody get in the boat."

The party boarded the large rowboat. Annor and Auric manned the oars while everyone else hid under a large sheet of canvas, doing their best to pretend to be bolts of silk and casks of brandy.

The Sinister Rendezvous of Saltmarsh
It was dark with an overcast moonless sky. The lantern on the ship remained lit, providing a beacon for them to row towards. When they were a few dozen yards away, Amnesia climbed out from under the canvas and whispered, "Hold on, I'll be right back."

Auric replied, "What?"

Amnesia smiled and slipped overboard, disappearing beneath the water.

Annor started, "Where'd she go?"

Auric replied, "Don't worry about it. Keep going."

A few moments later, Amnesia returned. She had swum around the ship and made note of the crew complement on deck. They were approaching the starboard side of the ship. There were three amid-ship, one fore, and two aft, plus one in the crow's nest.

Annor worried aloud, "How are we going to get close enough without being found out?"

Amnesia smiled, "I've got a plan. I'm going to distract them." She slipped back beneath the water.

A few moments later, they heard a horrible caterwauling from the port side of the ship. It was like the cacaphonous cry of an injured cat.

Someone on the deck of the ship said, "What is THAT?"

Someone else said, "You two, check it out. The rest of you, be alert. Something not right here!"

One of the sailors took the bullseye lantern to scan the port side. He caught Amnesia swimming in the water, attempting to sing like a mermaid.

"Sir! It's a girl in the water!"

The leader replied, "It's probably one of the sea elves looking for the prisoner! Kill her!"

The sailors leveled their light crossbows and loosed several quarrels. Amnesia dived beneath the water to avoid the attacks.

The rowboat came alongside the ship. The person giving orders caught the line thrown to him and secured it to a cleat on the rail. It was completely dark.

Auric began climbing the rope ladder. The voice giving orders amidship said, "What's the passphrase?"

Aella rode a magical column of wind, rising into the air and landing on the deck of the ship. She cast a magical ray of frost at the leader. Auric clambored onto the deck and said, "I don't know!"

The burly sailor called out, "It's a trick! Repel boarders!"

The Sinister Battle on the Smuggler's Ship

The crew abandoned Amnesia and rushed to block any others from climbing up the rope ladder on the starboard side. A mysterious wizard appeard from the stern and began casting attack spells at the boarders but, due to the darkness, none were able to connect with their targets.

Annor, his claymore sheathed on his back, climbed the ladder. At the top, he reached out with one hand and grabbed the leader of the smugglers - the ship's bosun by the name of Bloody Bjorn. He then used all his weight to pull the bosun over the rails and both fell into the rowboat below. Marlin, still hiding under the canvas, reached out and tried unsuccessfully to stab the bosun from his hiding place.

Meanwhile, Aella and Auric were beset by the three crew members on deck and were having difficulty holding their own without support from their warrior. The smuggler stationed in the crows nest was unable to see what was happening below.

Suddenly two of the four doors leading under the poop deck were thrown open. Out of one door emerged a man who appeared to be the ship's captain while two additional sailors poured out of the more central door. The new combatants carried lanterns, providing much needed illumination to the deck.

DM Commentary-
I completely forgot about the bullseye lantern. I said after the fact that the smugglers put it down and forgot to unshutter it. But for a while there, all of the smugglers were fighting in the dark, rolling at disadvantage. Of the player characters, Aella, Amnesia, and Auric had night vision while Annor and Marlin had trouble hitting their target in the dark. Once the smuggler captain emerged on deck, I said they brought lanterns with them, putting them down and jumping into the fight. 

They quickly swarmed Auric and Aella. The wizard on the poop deck formed a magical arrow of acid which struck Aella. Aella was able to cast a counter-spell to help absorb some of the acid damage, but it was too much, Aella fell to the deck unconscious. The arrow continued to pop and fizzle, spewing acid like a miniature geyser. Auric jumped immediately to her aid with timely prayers and miraculous healing.

Now that the deck was illuminated, the sailor in the crows nest was able to see the action on the deck.

Down on the boat, Annor and Marlin were in a pitched battle with the ship's bosun. Though Bloody Bjorn fought valiantly, he was ultimately cut down by Annor's massive blade. Having defeated their foe, Annor and Marlin climbed the ladder and were finally able to join the fray.

Likewise Amnesia was able to climb the anchor chain onto the forecastle. She began sending crossbow bolts at the sailor in the crows nest.

Once on the deck, Annor made short work of one sailor after another, cutting them down in a bloody swath of violent carnage.

Aella cast a witch bolt spell into the captain and he fell dead. The party turned their attention to the wizard, still perched near the rails on the poop deck.

Annor, Marlin, and Amnesia made their way towards the ladder to the poop deck while Aella sent magical rays of frost and Auric prayed for death to come to the sailor in the crows nest. As the sailor died, his skin shriveled and a celestial raven emerged from his chest. The man slumped from view as the raven flew a few feet and disappeared into a shower of black feathers that glowed with a purplish anti-light.

The wizard on the poop deck was all alone and he was cornered. As Annor climbed up the ladder the wizard cast a spell and disappeared into a puff of silvery mist.

"Where'd he go?" asked Auric.

"Check the boat!" replied Annor, but the wizard was not in the boat.

"Wait, I know where he went!" said Auric, looking down the main hatch on the ship's mid-deck - a lattice style hatch that allowed light and air into the ship's hold.

"Got it!" replied Annor, who ran into the open door leading below decks. Marlin followed closely behind.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Curse of the Mad Alchemist - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 2

The door opened to a small room containing the remains of an old copper still as well as a set of stone stairs leading down. The muddy footprints led downstairs.

Marlin carefully advanced down the stairs.

He froze when an glowing apparition appeared at the base of the stairs and flew towards him. The apparition was accompanied by an ear-splitting wail of horror and despair.

They had encountered their first ghost!

Marlin scrambled back up the stairs and stood behind his brother Annor. Marlin, Annor, and Aella stood trembling, uncertain of how to proceed.

Auric asked, "What's the hold up?"

Marlin stammered, "It was a g-g-ghost!"

Auric rolled his eyes, "It was an illusion! It's not a real ghost! Annor, you go first."

Annor gulped, held his sword before him, and descended the stairs into the darkness of the cellar.


  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket.
  • Annor Whalerson - Neutral Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh.
  • Marlin Whalerson - Neutral Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Human (?) Shipwright and Cleric.
Special Guest Stars
This week we were joined by two special guest stars! They are both old players in the group who happened to be available to drop in for one night.
  • Amalthea - Half-Elf Wizard.
  • Aiden - Human Arcane Adept and Fighter. 

The Sinister Rot Grubs of Saltmarsh
Annor descended the old stone stairs into the wine cellar, holding Marlin's lantern aloft. The stairs were on the left wall of the room. There was a cold fireplace in the right corner of the far wall. Wine racks lined both the near and right walls. Several empty barrels lay stacked at the base of the stairs in the left corner. In the center of the floor near the wine racks lay a heap of armor.

Upon closer investigation with the lantern, it became evident that the heap of armor was in fact the withered and rotting corpse of a human! The corpse lay as if it had been dragged to this spot and piled on top of the rest of its belongings. The body was still clad in a suit of heavily beaten plate and mail armor.

Annor carefully approached the corpse. Auric crouched at his side, providing the gestures of prayer and blessing over the slain. Marlin looked around the dark corners of the room, away from the light of the lantern, looking for secret compartments or passages. Aella was still descending the stairs.

Annor poked the body with the tip of his sword, worried that the body might suddenly become animated by undeath. He prodded it and the head rolled and nearly separated from the neck, exposing the body's fleshy interior.

Annor screamed as a swarm of fat mealy maggots, each the size of a grape, wriggled out of the body. The grubs emerged from every wound and orifice, spilling onto the ground and spreading like spilled beans on the floor.

Annor retreated across the room, recoiling in terror at the site of the knuckle-sized maggots.

Auric stood up and looked back at the frightened Annor, "What - the - hell? Are you a warrior or aren't you? They're just rot grubs."

Annor stared wide eyed with confusion and fear.

Auric made a prayer and several of the maggots withered and died.

Annor looked to Aella, she pointed at the mass of wriggling rot grubs and a magical ray of frost enveloped the swarm in a patch of icy hoar frost, freezing many of them solid. Aella looked back at Annor, "What?"

Annor held out his hands towards the mass of rot grubs, "I - uh - I thought you were going to do the wind thing!"

Auric rolled his eyes, "Of course you did! Get back up here and help me destroy these things!

Annor rejoined the cleric and the swarm was soon dispatched.

As Annor removed the armor from the dead body, more rot grubs were emerged but they were soon dealt with.

The armor, removed from its previous owner, was dented and worn but serviceable. Annor donned the armor. The body had been piled on top of a backpack containing standard adventurers accouterments.

Marlin, meanwhile, never gave up his inspection of the room. He soon found that a brass candle holder on the fireplace could be pulled, opening a door concealed in the far wall.

"After you, brother!" said the thief.

The Sinister Ambush at Saltmarsh
The room beyond was well lit. Annor, clad in his new armor, pushed the door open and entered the room. He was immediately struck with an arrow while several smaller crossbow bolts deflected off the plates of his armor.

The room was wide and resembled a dining hall. They had emerged in the left corner of the hall. Ten beds were arranged along the far wall. A long table with benches sat along the near wall. It was covered in the remains of an abandoned meal - half-eaten hunks of ham and jacks of mead. A salted ham was suspended from the ceiling near the fireplace, the mirror image of the fireplace from the previous room. A wooden staircase ascended along the near wall towards a trap door in the ceiling in the right corner.

In the far right corner were two humans. They were stripped to their knickers and bound by wrist and leg irons.

Three rough looking men, two armed with small crossbows and one with a longbow, had taken positions throughout the room. One of the crossbowmen sought cover behind a corner in an alcove in the left far corner. Another crossbowman stood along the center of the far wall. The archer took cover behind the long table. He drew another arrow from his quiver and prepared it for flight.

Annor sprang into action, jumping onto the table and charging the archer. Annor slipped on a plate and skidded to a stop on top of the table in front of the archer.

Aella entered the room and was struck in the chest by a crossbow quarrel. She fell to the floor dying. Auric immediately came to her and said a prayer of healing, restoring her to vitality. Marlin was nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly the archer at the end of the table withered as he was stabbed from a hidden enemy below the table. Annor regained his footing and quickly dispatched the archer. He looked under the table and saw his brother scrambling around.

The two prisoners in the far corner took advantage of the distraction. With great effort, thee man strained and broke the chains binding his wrists. He then tried to use a magical spell to zap the chains binding the wrists of his female companion. She was less than cooperative, constantly twisting and pulling in an attempt to wriggle out of the chains.

Meanwhile, Aella and Auric disposed of the other two hoodlums with hoary frost magic and prayers of death.

The Sinister Freed Prisoners of Saltmarsh
"So who are you two?" asked Annor of the two escaped prisoners.

"I'm Aiden, this is my wife Amalthea."

Amalthea recoiled in shock, "What? I am not! I don't know him! I am not his wife! I'm Amalthea. I was walking from Seaton to Saltmarsh when I was captured by bandits. I think they meant to sell me into slavery!"

"Me too!" interjected Aiden, "We were walking together, as a couple-"

"-WHAT? I don't know who you are!"

"Dearest wife! Have you lost your  memory? Do you not remember me?"

"I most certainly do NOT!" protested Amalthea, "I swear! I have never met this man before! He's a liar!"

"I am not a liar!" protested Aiden, "I'm a bard!"

"Same thing!" she shouted back.

"Right," said Annor.

Amalthea and Aiden proceeded to tell Annor what they knew about the ruffians. They were kept blindfolded for the most part so they couldn't offer many details. They said there were no more than ten bandits and that their leader, someone named Sanbalet, often spoke to someone in a strange language they didn't know.

Aiden revealed himself to be a bard in the king of Keoland's employ while Amalthea was apprenticed to a wizard. They offered their help in overcoming the bandits.

The party opened all the footlockers and searched every bed, scrounging some coins but nothing useful.

The alcove in the far left corner of the room was fifteen feet wide and deep. There was a door in the left wall of the alcove and another door in the far wall. The door in the far wall was barred shut from the outside, the word "DANGER!" was scrawled upon it.

Marlin opened the door on the left and found a small bedroom - no doubt belonging to the leader of the bandits. A quick search of the room revealed three books, a fine silk-trimmed coat on a hanger with many pockets, and a box on the floor. The box contained a hooded lantern and a piece of parchment with written instructions:

I - X X X
II X - X - 2
III - - -
After searching the room, they debated the merits of opening the barred door. Annor made the debate moot when he brashly removed the barricade, opened the door, and stepped inside.

The Sinister Skeletons of Saltmarsh
The room beyond was dark and bare of furnishings. Marlin entered the room behind Annor and raised his lantern. The light revealed six piles of bones. To their shock and horror, the bones came together and stood up, forming six animated humanoid skeletons armed with various hand weapons.

Marlin turned to his brother and said, "Well, I'm still wounded from the spiders, so- you got this!" He retreated out of the room, taking his lantern with him and leaving his brother in the dark as the skeletal figures advanced.

Annor called back, "You couldn't leave the lantern?"

Marlin replied from outside the room, "No! I believe in you!"

Auric quickly stepped forward to stand by Annor's side as he was quickly surrounded by attacking skeletal guardians.

Aiden moved into the room to help while Amalthea and Aella cast ranged attack spells from the doorway. Once there was room to maneuver, Marlin would dart into the room, briefly illuminating it, attack a skeleton, then deftly retreat, once again casting the room into shadow.

This continued for several moments, darkness, light, darkness, light. Annor couldn't take it anymore, "MARLIN! Knock it off!"

After a pitched battle, there were only three skeletons remaining. Suddenly, a ghostly apparition appeared to move through the wall on the far side of the room. It was another skeleton - real and solid - but wreathed in glowing ectoplasm. The new skeleton wore the tattered robes of a wizard or alchemist. It said something esoteric and produced three glass bulbs which it threw at the party.

The glass bulbs exploded, splashing corrosive acid on those struck!

Marlin and Aiden rushed the skeletal alchemist and quickly struck it down.

Examining the skeleton revealed that it had gold-dipped ribs and that it carried a drawstring pouch that was larger on the inside than it was on the outside. Within the pouch was a smooth river rock inscribed with an arcane sigil.

The Sinister Short Rest of Saltmarsh
The skirmish was taxing so the party decided to catch their breaths. After closing the door and gently affixing the bar so that the door still appeared sealed, they sat down to rest within the hall of the defeated skeletons.

Auric stood guard at the door. After a few minutes he heard the sound of stone scraping on stone and people entering the room beyond. He heard exclamations of alarm at the sight of the three dead ruffians and hastily shouted orders, followed shortly by the abandonment of the room and the scraping of stone. Having avoided detection, they decided to wait a little while longer.

Having rested and recuperated, they carefully returned to the previous room. It was empty. They decided to explore the stairs that led to the trap door in the ceiling. Upon opening the trap door, a ghostly apparition appeared from behind them and darted up and out of the trap door, startling several members of the party. The room beyond was empty save a heap of rubbish and demolished furnirture, so they returned down the stairs.

Marlin re-examined the corner behind the beds and found sandy footprints that led to the wall. He could find no means of exit but luckily Amalthea stepped in and located a means of opening the secret door concealed in the wall.

The Sinister Caverns of Saltmarsh
The secret door opened onto a set of old stone stairs - an ancient escape route carved in the rock beneath the house. The stairs ended at a landing and made a left turn, ended in a landing, and made another left turn. This downward corkscrew continued for over a hundred feet. The stairs eventually opened onto a natural cavern. A lit torch was set into an iron sconce. The floor was rough and sandy. The sound of the nearby ocean echoed through the cave.

The party followed the footprints in the sand, ignoring several branching tunnels.

The passage led to a side cavern lit by more torches. Annor entered the side passage and was struck by an arrow! The room was occupied by several ruffians!

The room contained five bolts of silk stacked against the left wall and nine barrels against the right wall. There were two groups. The group consisting of a strange heavily armored humanoid with red skin - a Hobgoblin! - along with three human ruffians had swords drawn and guarded the entrance. Another group consisting of a bald  human man wearing a green silk tunic and carrying a staff and three more human ruffians, two of which were armed with small crossbows and a third armed with a longbow, were taking cover behind the barrels in the rear of the room.

Annor swung his ridiculously long sword with both hands and charged the hobgoblin, cutting him down in one strike! The bald man in the green tunic cast a spell and launched three fiery orbs at the party. Annor, Aiden, and Auric pushed their way into the room while Aella and Amalthea cast long range spells from the rear.

Amalthea sent a scorching magical ray against one of the barrels behind which the bald wizard was hiding. She had hoped it would explode. Instead the barrel burst, spilling its contents.

DM Note-
Amalthea's player, at the urging of Aiden's player, was hoping to make the barrel explode. I said, I'ts not high pressure jet fuel! It's a cask of brandy! At best some of the brandy might catch fire. Both were disappointed but acknowledged the logic of the call.

The bald man cast another spell, hurling three flaming orbs at the party. Aiden was caught by two of the orbs and fell down, dying. The party continued to press and Marlin and Annor were able to charge the rear. They crossbowmen and archer had been dispatched by the spell casters so Marlin and Annor easily disposed of the unprotected wizard!

The party once again decided to take a short rest to recover. Aiden was dead. Auric was too busy healing the others, he was unable to get to the bard in time. The party evaluated the contents of the room: several bolts of silk and eight remaining barrels of brandy.

 Towards the end of the rest, a lone human thug came wandering up from deeper down the passage, calling ahead to those in the room, inquiring what was taking them so long.

The party quickly prepared an ambush for him. He took one look at the scene of death and turned to flee but was quickly dispatched before he could escape.

The Sinister Hobgoblins of Saltmarsh
Rested, the party continued down the path from whence the thug had come. After several hundred feet of serpentine descending passage towards the beach and the sea, the tunnel widened to reveal a kind of staging area. Here more bolts of silk and casks of brand were stacked as if recently deposited. Dim grey daylight from the late afternoon reflected off the wall of the far end of the cave. The sound of the waves and surf boomed just outside the cave.

A shadow of someone standing guard moved against the light of the far wall. Marlin held up his hands to stay the others. He nodded towards his brother and indicated that he would sneak ahead.

Marlin crept forward. He saw a hobgoblin warrior standing guard, facing the exit, while another hobgoblin prepared a large rowboat for launch. To his shock and horror, the hobgoblin guard  turned and saw him! Marlin called out for help. The other hobgoblin drew his scimitar and joined his companion. The two warriors fought in unison, displaying deadly martial prowess. They fought as one. Together they cut Marlin down where he stood.

Annor gripped his sword in two hands and charged down the cavern. The hobgoblins were loading Marlin's unconscious body into the rowboat.

Annor engaged the two hobgoblins in hand to hand battle. Annor was shocked by the military ability displayed by the orange-skinned armored humanoids. The hobgoblins were a whirlwind of steel and motion. Annor had difficulty fighting against their advanced tactics and footwork.

Annor was supported by Amalthea and Aella while Auric rushed to save Marlin. It was a taxing battle but the hobgoblins were eventually defeated. Annor was panting, exhausted from the battle. The grey sky was getting darker. It would be night soon.

With Annor guarding their retreat, the party withdrew from the sea cave to find rest. It was an hour's walk home. If they wanted to beat the night, they'd have to leave soon.


DM Note-
Level up! The party is now level two! 

I decided to add an additional hobgoblin to make it a tough boss fight. It was quite a fight! The players said they had fun and that they felt challenged by the extra hobgoblin. Annor got a lucky critical on the first hobgoblin in the fight against Sanbalet, so he was surprised at how difficult it was to hit the hobgoblins' high AC and how hard they fought side by side. 

In other news, it was discovered after the session that Annor's player was completely unaware of several abilities and special attacks he could perform as a battlemaster fighter. This lack of capability made up for the fact that Marlin's player was accidentally cheating by disengaging from combatants which a rogue can't do until second level.  

Also, we're pretty sure Aiden had two feats, which is impossible at first level. But he was a special one-night-only guest star, so whatever. Also he got burnt to a crisp.

Finally, I found out Auric's name was actually Avril, but I misread the player's handwriting. I told him I thought it was Auric and that I spelled it that way on the blog. He said he actually liked Auric better, so he's officially changing his name from Avril to Auric. 

In case you hadn't noticed, there's an unofficial "A" theme going on with the names. Marlin's player didn't get the memo, apparently. At one point they also thought about naming all characters after pop singers starting with "A". Avril Lavigne, Avicii, Amy Grant, Aimee Winehouse, etc. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Sinister Secret - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 1

Avastana Kádár stood on the dock looking out at the endless expanse of sea to the south. As a young girl growing up among the  nomads that wandered the grasslands of Ket far to the north, she had seen no body of water larger than a lake. She was an outcast among her people - a child of mysterious origin with no father. In addition, she was tall and slight with light hair while those of her clan were stocky with dark hair. She was never accepted by her clan and she never felt at home in Ket. She had always felt a vague urge to leave but lacked the means and the impetus to do so.

Last year, without warning, she was overcome with a sudden urge to travel south. She left her clan in Ket with what she could carry and never looked back. She passed through the gap near the city of Thornward, traveled south through Bissel, crossed Keoland and the Dreadwood, and had finally arrived in the small fishing town of Saltmarsh - and she still had no idea why.

Saltmarsh was bigger than a village but smaller than a city. It was a town of 3500 inhabitants, mostly fishermen, shipwrights, and transient sailors. It was mid-day. The town reeked of fish. The sky was gray and the the constant sea breeze was damp and salty.

Some deep instinct in her soul drew her here, drew her towards the sea.

"Hallo," said a friendly voice, "Can I help you find something?" He was a burly man with a shaved head and a magnificently waxed mustache.  He couldn't have been more than twenty. He was loitering on the dock with another younger man of slight build with a jagged scar that ran from his forehead to his right cheek and a patch over his right eye. The younger man wore a fine embroidered vest that stood in sharp contrast to the more plain working clothes he wore.

"I- I'm not sure," she answered, hesitantly.

"Well, if you're looking for companionship, you've come to the right place!" said the other man lasciviously.

She wrinkled her nose in disgust and turned away.

The burly man swatted the smaller man, "Brother! That is no way to speak to a visitor! Can you not see from Baklunish pants  that she's a foreign guest here? Where are you from, if I may ask?"

"Ket," she replied.

"I have NO IDEA where that is!" He declared, proudly, "No matter! Welcome to Saltmarsh! You say you don't know what you're looking for. Well, might you be looking for employment perhaps?"

Her stomach growled and she reached into her empty pocket. "Um, sure?"

"Perfect! We've been looking for one other person to join us on an important job. If you're available, we'll take you to our employer! By the way, my name is Annor Whalerson."

"And I'm Marlin Whalerson, his brother," said the smaller one, "You know, like the fish!"

"The what?" she stammered.

"Marlin! Like the fish, you know!" he tried to explain.

"I'm sorry. I'm not familiar-"

"That's okay," interrupted Annor, "What's your name?"

"Avastana Kádár, but you may call me 'Aella'," She said.

"Good! Because there's no way I'm pronouncing the other one. Pleased to meet you Aella!"


  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket.
  • Annor Whalerson - Neutral Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh.
  • Marlin Whalerson - Neutral Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Human (?) Shipwright and Cleric.
This is a Job for Four People!
The trio marched off the docks and towards the center of town. Along the way Annor called out to another young man. He seemed to be unsuccessfully attempting to recruit some sailors for some kind of job.

"Hey Auric! Forget about them, we have a fourth!"

Auric acknowledged Annor, bid farewell to the sailors, and ran over towards the trio.

"Auric, meet Aella. She's our fourth. Aella, meet Auric."

Auric was a young man wearing the rough clothing of a shipwright. He had a pallid, almost ashen, complexion and a strange otherworldly appearance. He wore about his neck the symbol of the judge of the dead. He smiled, "Pleased to meet you. She the fourth?"

"Yes," replied Annor as they made their way to a large mansion, "Did Anders say why he needed four?"

"I have no idea."

Solmor house was a large mansion near the center of town. It was flanked by several smaller servants' quarters. The Solmor family owned most of Saltmarsh and maintained fleets of trading ships and fishing boats. Anders Solmor, a friendly but peculiar man in his late twenties, had recently inherited the Solmor empire after the untimely passing of his mother.

Annor rang the bell at the entrance. Skerrin, the butler, opened the door. Skerrin had a bald pate and a fringe of long stringy hair. He looked down at the four young hirelings with disdain.

Annor spoke up, "Mister Solmor told us to call on him about a job."

Skerrin sniffed derisively. "Yes, this way, please. And do clean your boots before you enter."

The four were led to the personal office of Anders Solmor. The ornately carved wood desk and furniture was covered by disordered piles of charts, logs, and ledgers. Anders stood staring wistfully out an open window overlooking the sea, one leg raised on cushioned bench . A brass looking glass was mounted on a nearby tripod. He pretended to just now notice the entrance of the four newcomers - as if his carefully prepared pose of thoughtful contemplation wasn't for their benefit.

"Welcome, Welcome! Come in, please. Would any of you like some tea? Skerrin, fetch some tea!"

Skerrin sighed and left the room.

Anders shook Annor's hand, "Were you successful? Did you gather four for the job?"

Annor introduced his companions. Anders was friendly and greeted each of them enthusiastically. A wide and gracious smile never left his face.

"I'm glad you got four. It was very important that four of you took this job! Mission, really. Let's call it a mission!"

"Right. So what is this mission?"

"Well, you see, do you remember the old haunted house about a league east of town?"

"Of course, everyone from Saltmarsh knows about it. Its been abandoned for twenty years. It belonged to an old alchemist or something. Some kids died there a few years ago."

Anders nodded, "Right, well, I believe the house is being used as a base of operations by smugglers working for the Sea Princes! I petitioned the council to send guards up there to clear it out but they declined! So I've decided to take matters into my own hands. I'd like to hire you to go take care of it. If you find smugglers, I'd like you to disrupt their operation! If you succeed, I'll pay a reward of 200 gold pieces!"

"Excuse me, why did you need four?" inquired Aella.

"Good question! I like her! She's got a great accent! Well, its because I have a feeling a job like this would be too dangerous for three people. Four is the minimum. Five maybe. But Six would be too much. Besides," He paused. "You can't split 200 gold three ways!"

DM Note-
I really played up the need for four. The players were genuinely curious about why he needed four. The explanation for needing to split the gold evenly was a great punchline and everyone laughed. It played perfectly into the friendly but idiosyncratic way I was portraying Anders. I was trying to go for Rob Lowe's character Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation.

The Old Path
The party hiked up the old path east out of town. The path followed the rocky cliff-face over the ocean below. The sky was overcast and a strong constant breeze blew in from the ocean. They kept wiping the light mist from their eyes and faces. The only sound was the constant roar of the ocean waves crashing against the rocky shore. The path was flanked by tall coastal grasses that danced in the breeze. They would occasionally pass through a clump of small gnarled cedars and junipers.

They reached a wooded area filled with overgrown cypresses. Long tendrils of moss dangled from the branches. Hidden among the trees was a walled compound - the old haunted house. To their surprise, they found a recently cut path through the trees and brush that led to a wrought iron gate. The gate was unchained and unlocked, swinging freely in the breeze with an eerie rusty creak before banging shut and bouncing open again. 

The interior of the compound contained what was once a garden maze, now overgrown into brambles and thorns. A recently cut path showing a set of footprints in the wet earth led to the steps at the entrance of the house.

The house was an old manor style made of stone blocks with tall leaded windows, many of which were broken. Decorative crenelations ran along the top of the house. The roof was peaked and clad in copper.

The structure was shaped like an uppercase "T" with an east wing, a west wing, and a south wing on the far side. The entrance was in the center of the north face of the house.

DM Comments-
With the exception of Annor's player, we've all played the first half of this module before. They had a good idea of what to expect, what they could find in the house, where the smugglers were hiding, etc. Instead of making a lot of changes or trying to force my players to pretend like they didn't memorize the house interior, I just told them that their characters knew everything they knew - let's just say they explored the house a lot as kids and had a good hunch where the smugglers might be hiding.

The first time Marlin and Auric's players were in the house, they went in the front door and cleared the house room by room before finally going into the back and down the stairs where they encountered the smugglers. But they never followed up on the second half of the module.

The last time Aella's player was in this house, her group explored the outside of the house first and entered the back entrance. They cast detect magic and detected the spell cast on the stairs in the rear. One player assumed the important stuff was down the stairs but the other players insisted they explore the house first. They met their end with a TPK in the attic.

I was certain, with them knowing what they knew, that the group would repeat the circumnavigation of the outside of the house, go in the back, and head straight down. To my surprise, they went in the front door.

The Haunted House
Marlin carefully checked to door. Once he was sure it wasn't booby trapped, the party entered the front entrance of the house into the main entrance hall. The room was bare of furniture or decoration, having been ransacked decades ago,

There was a hallway in the center of the left wall and a hallway in the far corner of the right wall. Stairs on the right wall led to a balcony with additional hallways to the left and right. A third hallway in the center of the far wall lead to the back of the house. The room was dimly lit by the overcast sky that filtered through the bare windows to the left and right of the entrance.

Multiple sets of muddy footprints crossed the room. Some went to the left. Others went to the hall on the far wall.

Marlin crossed the room and inspected the far hall. It was too dark to see so he paused to light his lantern. Brick sections to the left and right indicated the back walls of fireplace hearths. He inspected the door on his right and carefully entered the room.

The room was small, ten feet by twenty feet with two tall windows. As expected, there was a fireplace in the corner to the right. The rotted remains of two once comfortable chairs and an old desk indicated that this room was once a drawing room. The others stayed in the entrance room while Marlin searched the study, checking the chairs and desk but finding nothing.

He eventually looked in the fireplace. The flue was dark and covered in spider webs. A small pile of rat bones lay at the bottom of the fireplace. He noticed a loose brick. As he pulled on the brick he was beset by a collapse in the flue, covering him in ancient soot. He staggered backwards coughing, then shrieked in fear as pain as he realized he was covered in dozens of large spiders. The frightened spiders crawled over his sooty body and began biting.

Marlin, covered in soot and spiders, stumbled into the hallway begging his companions for help.

Aella told the others, "Stay back!" She lifted her hand and a gust of wind erupted. The blast of wind blew Marlin, still covered in spiders, back down the hall. Seeing that her plan had faild, Aella apologized, "Oh no! I thought I'd blow the spiders off of him!"

"It's okay!" Annor assured her, "I've got this!" He hefted his double-handed sword and charged Marlin.

Marlin's eyes grew wide at the site of the burly warrior running towards him with sword aloft. He clutched his head to prepare for the strike but, to his surprise, Annor planted his feet in front of Marlina and used his sword to carefully scrape the spiders off his brother.

DM Comment-
Annor attacked with disadvantage to attack the spiders with no change of hurting Marlin. Marlin took a lot of damage from the spider bites and was near dying. One more spider bite and he'd be dead. Luckily the next spider attack missed. The swarm of spiders, by this point, was likewise low on hit points.

Marlin felt the poison course through his veins, but he was finally able to use his dagger to brush off the remaining spiders.

Marlin caught his breath. He felt the welts of the spider bites on his arms and neck and face. He looked at Auric, "I almost died back there! Could you  maybe say a prayer for me?"

Auric replied coolly, "I'm saving my prayers for when we really need them. Besides, you're fine. Isn't this an old alchemist house? I'm sure we'll find healing potions or something!"

Marlin grumbled, got up, and continued his exploration of the hearth. Behind the loose brick he found a silk pouch containing three small phials of alchemy agent.

The party checked the room on the other side of the hall. They found a former dining hall filled with broken furniture. They continued down the hall.

The hall turned right and ended in a door leading outside. There was an interior door near the corner. The door opened to reveal a kitchen, much of it in disrepair. The muddy footprints led to a door on the right wall.

The door opened to a small room containing the remains of an old copper still as well as a set of stone stairs leading down. The muddy footprints led downstairs.

Marlin carefully advanced down the stairs.

He froze when an glowing apparition appeared at the base of the stairs and flew towards him. The apparition was accompanied by an ear-splitting wail of horror and despair.

They had encountered their first ghost!


DM Comment-
Me- "Describe what Aella looks like, what is she wearing?"

Aella's player (shrugging)- "I don't know.. pants?"

Me- "You all see a nondescript woman. She is wearing nothing but pants."

Next week: Taking on pirates and smugglers!

PS: If you'd like to read through the FIRST time we played this adventure, it starts in March 2014 on this very blog!