Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Prisoner Raft - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 16

Annor poled the large log raft through the torpid salt marsh. It was late morning. The rains from the previous night had given way to a damp misty morning. With him on the raft was his brother Marlin, the priest known as Auric, the Warforged Alot Aname, and the lizard-folk prisoner whose manacles were bolted to the raft. They had slowly explored the salt marsh for at least three hours. They were nearing the narrow waterway that connected the marsh to the Janustream River estuary.

Auric glanced back at Annor. Annor had a glassy faraway look. Auric rolled his eyes and sighed.

Marlin asked what was wrong. Auric said, "Your brother has the brain jellies again."

Marlin groaned in frustration.

Alot was looking ahead for any sign of the lizard-folk camp. He signaled the others to come forward. "I think they have captured Aella."

"Why do you say that?" inquired Auric.

Alot pointed out the small scraps of cloth floating in the water creating a trail to follow. The scraps were distinctly feminine and Ketan.

It was near mid-day when Alot spotted another raft about 600 feet away. The raft was crowded with six lizard-folk and four prisoners. Four more lizard-folk were in the water towing the raft.

The A-Team crouched down but it was too late. They were seen. A drummer on the raft began beating a rhythm meant to communicate some kind of message but their prisoner refused to relay the meaning. The four lizard-folk in the water abandoned their tow lines and began swimming towards their raft.

The A-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. 
  • Annor Whalerson - Lawful Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Marlin Whalerson - Chaotic Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Aasimar Shipwright and Cleric of the Raven King.
Special Guest Star:
  • Alot Aname - Warforged Fighter.
A Hasty Ambush
Their lizard-man prisoner began hissing and pulling against his chains. Auric pointed at the creature, "Shut him up! He's going to get us killed!" Marlin bound the lizard-man's mouth shut.

Annor poled the raft to the muddy shore and hid in the tall reeds. Auric said a quick prayer to the Raven Prince and an ethereal mace miraculously appeared int he air nearby. Marlin cast a minor illusion spell to conceal the lizard-folk prisoner within an illusory box and hoped his gag held. He then climbed to the top of a nearby tree on the bank and readied his hand crossbow. Alot Aname activated his mechanical gills and flipper feet and dove into the brackish water of the marsh.

The drumming on the far raft changed to a faster more aggressive beat.

A minute later four lizard-folk climbed out of the water and onto the raft. They each threw their javelins at Auric and Marlin but missed. They paid little notice to the nondescript box sitting on the raft.

DM Note-
Marlin has cast a minor illusion over their prisoner to conceal his location. 

DM Note-
The red die represented Auric's spiritual weapon.

Auric pulled out a small brass ball from his pocket and pushed a button. It magically expanded to become a brass sphere large enough to fit over his head. The brass sphere provided several round glass portholes from which to look out. He twisted a knob on the side of the helmet and a steady stream of air magically appeared from a small metal tank on the back of the helmet and fed the interior of the helmet. He sent the celestial weapon to attack the lizard-folk then jumped into the water and began swimming away.

The celestial weapon dispatched one lizard-folk and the other two dove into the water after Auric who was quickly swimming away from the raft using the magic of the helmet. The lizard-folk soon caught up to Auric and attacked him in the water with their obsidian-tipped clubs. Auric twisted and spun in the water, deftly avoiding their blows as his celestial weapon rained crushing death upon his reptilian attackers.

Meanwhile on the Other Raft
Aella's hands and feet were bound, as were those of her fellow prisoners - husband and wife innkeepers and a minstrel - but she could look around and speak freely. She could understand the draconic speech of the lizard-folk but their speech was primitive and brutish and their accent was terrible. The lizard-man in charge was some kind of shaman. He had just ordered the four scouts towing the raft to swim over to the raft behind them and investigate, leaving only the shaman, the drummer, and four other scouts.

Aella sprang into action! The half-elf sorceress stood up and closed her eyes. The raft became surrounded by a spinning blast of magical air like a tornado. The miniature tornado blew several of the lizard-men off the raft and into the water.

The shaman and a handful of lizard-men maintained their balance and remained on the raft. The shaman shook his staff of totems and charms and summoned forth four crocodiles out of the swamp. The crocodiles climbed aboard the raft and began biting Aella, disrupting her concentration and causing the tornado to disappear.

The shaman assured his scouts that he could deal with this interloper and ordered them to swim over to the far raft and assist their brothers.

Suddenly out of the mire sprang Alot! He leaped out of the water and landed upon the raft next to the shaman! In response, two of the lizard-men who were swimming towards the far raft turned around and returned to aid their leader. The other two continued towards the other raft as ordered.

Alot struck down the shaman and the four crocodiles swam back into the water. Aella tried to break her bonds but the manacles were too strong. Unable to cast any spells without her hands, she dodged and weaved in order to avoid the attacks of the remaining lizard-man scouts while Alot dispatched each of the lizard-men in turn.

One lizard-man saw that the battle was lost so he dived into the water and swam away.

A Victory Hard-Fought
Marlin was hanging from a tree-branch and fighting the lizard-man that had climbed up after him. It was everything he could do to not fall out of the tree. He gave up and leaped down onto the raft. His reptilian opponent followed suit. The lizard man clubbed Marlin over the head with an obsidian-tipped cudgel and Marlin fell onto the deck, unconscious and bleeding.

Auric said a quick prayer of safety to prevent Marlin from dying and continued fighting off his own lizard-men. Auric dodged and weaved in the water as his celestial mace attacked his opponents. He eventually dispatched his enemies and returned to the raft.

He helped Marlin back onto his feet. There were three more lizard-men swimming towards them from the other raft. Marlin retrieved his hand crossbow and loosed several bolts at the oncoming swimmers with little effect.

The three approaching lizard-men climbed onto the raft and engaged Auric and Marlin in hand-to-hand battle. Marlin, still exhausted from his previous injury, took a blow and fell. Auric quickly responded with a prayer and Marlin returned to battle.

This time Marlin was in his element. Hiding in the tree had been a bad choice. Here, on the raft, with Auric helping him, he could score deadly strikes against his opponents and maneuver out of harms way. The three lizard-men were soon dispatched and thrown into the water.

Auric once more interrogated the lizard-man prisoner, showing him the bodies of his slain brethren. Auric demanded to know where the prisoners were being taken.

The prisoner finally admitted that the prisoners were being taken to a temporary camp on an island in the Janustream river. He revealed that three rival tribes had been united under the leadership of Sakatha the immortal Lizard King of the Drowned Swamp. The three tribes were the Dusk-Dusk, of which he was a member, the Muckmarsh tribe, and the Rootwater tribe. The expedition consisted of twenty to thirty scouts and warriors from each tribe. The lizard-folk on the other raft were from the Muckmarsh tribe. The A-Team had already managed to kill half the Dusk-Dusk tribe and half the Muckmarsh tribe. When the raiding parties fail to return, their absence will cause problems at the camp. Unless the surviving members of the Muckmarsh and Dusk-Dusk tribes unite, the Rootwaters will now be the most powerful tribe in the coalition and the Rootwater chief will assert his dominance. Also, since the team had destroyed the raiding parties, the value of the prisoners as hostages is demonstrably zero. They will likely be taken immediately back to Sakatha to serve as sacrifices to Aulicus, the living god.

DM Note-
Imagine Marlin's player frantically scribbling notes and trying to keep up.

Return to Saltmarsh
The A-Team was injured and tired. It was noon and they had already survived three battles. They were not confident they could take on a camp filled with forty to fifty more lizard-men. If they turned back now they could return to Saltmarsh by nightfall. So it was that they rescued the captives from the other raft and poled their way back to town.

It was nearing sunset when they arrived. They took their reptilian prisoner to the town gaol. There they found Eliander Fireborn, captain of the town guard and member of the town council. Eliander greeted everyone with appreciation and welcome - everyone but Marlin for whom he harbored nothing but suspicion and distaste.

Auric informed Eliander about the lizard-man raids and that the lizard-men had taken prisoners back to some kind of staging area in the Janustream river.

During their account, Marlin mentioned that the lizard-man prisoner said they served some king named Sakatha.

Eliander expressed disbelief at this news, "That's impossible. It must be some kind of descendant of Sakatha. Sakatha died over two hundred years ago. In fact, it was the defeat of Sakatha in a great battle that led to the founding of Saltmarsh..."

Marlin interrupted, "Yes. Yes. Got it. Anyway, Sakatha wants to recover his stolen dragon egg. Apparently some humans stole his dragon egg and smuggled it into Saltmarsh. His scouts have been looking for it and they've been kidnapping humans in an effort to find out where it is and to use as hostages until he gets it back. Oh and we think they've got a dragon named Aulicus who they worship as some kind of god."

Eliander shot Marlin a dirty look, "And how did this dragon egg find its way into Saltmarsh?"

Marlin shrugged and deflected, "I don't know. It was probably smuggled in. I hear this town has a problem with smugglers!"

"Do you know where this dragon egg is?" inquired Eliander .

Marlin rubbed the back of his head and struggled for the best answer. Aella just stared at him. Auric cleared his throat and said, "We think we might know. If we knew for sure we'd tell you. In the meantime, the town needs more protection. Can you request additional guards from Seaton?"

"No," Eliander said ruefully, "That requires approval by the town council and they have made it clear that my budget does not allow for additional town guard. However, recent developments may indicate a coming change."

Eliander told the team that their recent mission for Anders Solmor has given the young merchant an opportunity to petition the king. Anders sent a courier to the duke in Seaton and to the king in Niole Dra explaining his position and request. Anders is offering to forgive the loans the Solmor family made to the kingdom in exchange for a patent of nobility.

Eliander explained that Saltmarsh is technically a subject of the duke in Seaton and that currently all the taxes taken in the town go to the duke with a portion going to the crown. The duke then spends the majority on the garrison and shipyards in Seaton with very little going back to Saltmarsh. It was this arrangement that caused such antipathy in Saltmarsh towards taxes and, with Saltmarsh being so remote, led to the rise in smuggling.

The veteran said that if Anders became a baron, he could levy his own taxes on the people of Saltmarsh, with only a portion going to the duke. Anders could then create his own garrison. Soon, Saltmarsh could rival Seaton as a bastion of regimented law and order!

"The courier will take eleven days to reach Niole Dra and eleven days to return. We'll know the king's disposition to Solmor's offer in probably about a month. After that, Solmor will have to travel to Niole Dra for the ceremony. By this time next year we might have a proper garrison in Saltmarsh!"

Auric rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "Well," He ruminated, "In the meantime, what if some independent source of funding were to present itself?"

Eliander was shocked, "Are you offering me a bribe, sir?"

Auric, confused, replied, "No! No! I'm saying, what if we were to independently hire mercenaries from Seaton with our own money and put them under your command? We'll pay for them. The town council can't really complain about that."

Eliander approved, "Yes. Indeed. That might work. What this town needs is a strong presence of law and order! If I had my way, this town would be a lot more like Seaton!"

Auric said, "If I might offer a suggestion. There are elements in town who are opposed to this course of action. When the time comes to send Anders and the promissory notes to Niole Dra, you should send multiple ships, and maybe some overland caravans, and not tell anyone which carries the real Anders."

Eliander nodded, "Noted."

DM Note-
As an aside, I also pointed out to the players that Seaton was a militarized police state with little freedom and not a pleasant place to visit. It was clear that Eliander wanted Saltmarsh to become more like Seaton. 

The players said, "That's too much. Why can't they just find a happy medium?"

To which I replied, "The traditionalists would prefer a lawless free-wheeling pirate haven like Tortuga, so Saltmarsh's status quo IS the happy medium."

Status Report
That evening, there was a knock at the Whalerson door. Marlin answered. It was a young girl, one of a handful of couriers who deliver messages throughout town.

"Mister Whalerson, sir. I have a message for you."


The young girl looked up to the left in order to recall the memorized message, "Your sponsor wants to know if you have a schedule for the completion of your assignment."

Marlin thought about the proper answer for a good long time. The young girl started to become restless.

"Tell him- tell him within the next 30 days."

The young girl paused. Marlin took the hint and tipped her a silver piece.

"Thank you, sir!" she replied as she trundled off. 

The Ringcurrent Islands
The next morning the A-Team assembled down by the Kingfisher river. Alot had prepared their small single-masted sailing boat while Auric had retrieved the lizard-man prisoner from the gaol. They boarded the boat and retraced their path through the marsh north of town.

The sailboat was faster than the raft and they reached the confluence of the marsh with the Janustream river well before noon.

Marlin had a good idea about which islands the prisoner was referring and they sailed towards those. The Ringcurrent islands, as they were known, were located where the river was wide, forming a kind of bay on the west bank. There the flow of the river created an eddy. At the center of the eddy were small islands created by the accumulated sand and debris that was caught in the center of the whirlpool. The islands were covered in sand, driftwood, trees and reeds.

The first island they came upon was barely a hundred feet across and was little more than a sand bar in the river. On the island was what looked like the remains of camp. The camp looked like it had been attacked and destroyed the previous night and appeared to be uninhabited. The prisoner revealed that this had been the camp of the Muckmarsh tribe. Auric speculated that one or both of the other tribes must have united against the Muckmarsh and attacked them in the night.

Marlin spied a figure moving through the camp ripping down ritual effigies in the shape of a dragon and stomping them into the ground. The figure appeared to be a lizard-man but was larger than a human. The figure spotted the approaching sailboat and fled into the water.

A second larger island was located a few hundred feet beyond. Among the trees could be seen multiple camps and reed huts. The river's current flowed around the island in a circle. The banks of the island were covered in flotsam and driftwood. Approaching the island would be dangerous.

To Be Continued...

DM Note-
When placed on a male human, they were "manacles".
When placed on a female human, they were "womanacles".
When placed on the lizardman, they were "repticles".

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Drums in the Marsh - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 15

It was a gloomy evening in Saltmarsh. The sun was setting and the sky was overcast and dark. Seagulls bobbed in the dark green waters. Fishermen were bundling up their nets and securing their boats.

There was a small disturbance in the water. A humanoid figure emerged. He resembled a walking suit of ceramic armor with muscles made from the extract of a rubber tree attached to a skeleton of wood and brass. He was a warforged sentinel, a living automaton created for battle during the closing days of the great wars of the 580s.

His name was Alot Aname and he had just walked along the bottom of the sea for the past seven days.

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

A Rude Awakening
Annor returned to his home and checked in with his head cheese-maker. The cheese-maker gave him bad news. One of his shepherds had mysteriously disappeared with four of his goats nearly a week ago. He was the first to disappear. Since the shepherd's disappearance, four other people have gone missing - two married couples - the Renons and the Alvins. On the night of each abduction, the sound of primitive drums reverberated across the marsh north of town. People are afraid to go out at night. The remaining shepherd refuses to take the goats out onto the heath. Annor told the cheese-maker to go home and stay safe. The A-Team would take care of it in the morning.

The next day was gray and raining. Annor was awake and dressed as the sky lightened with dawn. He heard the door to his brother Marlin's room close quietly followed by the surreptitious footsteps of barefoot feet. No doubt one the town harlots discretely showing herself out. One of the many benefits his brother enjoyed from his affiliation with "the Organization", the guild of smugglers that shipped illegal contraband into and out of Saltmarsh.

Annor continued lacing up his boots when he heard a scream from his back door. He grabbed the Fabulous Flamberge of Ser Eckhert Lionheart and ran towards the commotion. He was quickly joined by Auric, priest of the god of death.

They threw open the back door and found a woman with messy hair and loosened corset cowering before the tall armored form of Alot Aname. The armored automaton stood motionless in the rain just outside the back door. The woman had been startled by the lanky warforged.

Annor checked on the well being of the woman and sent her on her way while Auric engaged with Alot.

"Beep boop, where have you been?"

"I fell through the hull of the sinking ship." was his monotone reply, "I walked back to shore. I arrived last night."

"Did you stand outside all night in the rain?"


Annor returned and joined the conversation, "Good. Glad to have you back. We were just going over to talk with the town guard. Care to join us?"


"Great! Let me check on Marlin." Annor went back inside. He returned a moment later, "He said he's going to sleep a few more hours. Let's go."

The trio walked to the town gaol, a distance of less than a hundred feet.

A Meeting with the Constabulary
Eliander Fireborn, captain of the Saltmarsh town guard, was conferring with some of his charge when the trio entered the gaol. His men looked exhausted. Fireborn dismissed his men and sent them home to rest. He then hobbled over to Annor, his wooden leg clunking against the floor of the gaol, and greeted Annor warmly.

Annor had served in the king's navy of Keoland against the Sea Princes and although Eliander served with the march wardens who patrolled the Dreadwood, they shared the bond and mutual respect of the martial brotherhood in the service to the king.

Annor told Eliander about the missing Shepherd. Eliander said he had been told. The Shepherd was the first to disappear a week ago. Since then, four others have gone missing on two separate nights. On each night, drums could be heard beating miles to the north across the marshy bog towards the Janustream River. He's doubled his night watch patrols but his men have seen nothing.

Auric asked who else had been taken. Eliander answered that besides the shepherd boy, the Renons were taken from their house on one night along with some of their livestock, then a few nights later the Alyins were taken along with their livestock.

Auric looked at a map of the town.

  1. The shepherd had been taken on the back side of the moor overlooking the marsh.
  2. The location of the Renon house and barn.
  3. The location of the Alyin house and barn.
Auric pointed at the next house downriver from the Alyin house, "Who lives here?"

Eliander said that the Trallos lived there, a couple with three children. 

Auric rubbed his chin, "I think its the lizardfolk that have been watching the town from the salt marsh. I think they're coming in via the Kingfisher river from the north and that they'll hit that house next." He looked at Annor, "We should check out the other houses to verify my theory and rule out slavers or something else."

Eliander said, "I highly doubt its the lizardfolk. We've made a strong alliance with Princess Orthokent's clan."

"Oh, it's not her clan," Auric assured him, "These lizard folk belong to a rival clan from the drowned forest. They are the enemies of Princess Orthokent's clan."

Annor asked, "Have you thought about asking for help? Getting more town guard?"

Eliander's face became grim, "I asked the town council to send a message to Seaton to ask for some of the king's soldiers garrisoned there. They turned it down. Gellan Primewater and Eda Oweland don't want any interference from the duke or the king in their smuggling operation, so they do everything they can to prevent the crown from taking notice of anything happening here."

Annor bravely declared, "Then we'll make sure the message gets through to Seaton!"

Auric quickly cleared his throat and interrupted, "What Annor MEANS, Captain Fireborn, is that we'll take care of this problem for you. We've got it covered."

"That would be a huge help. Thanks, Annor."

About that time, Marlin came sauntering in, tying the laces of his tunic. Eliander sneered at Marlin's arrival, "Oh, it's you."

"What?" was his defensive reply.

Auric grabbed Marlin and Annor by the arms and drug them both outside. "Don't worry about it, Captain Fireborn. We're on the case!"  Alot, who had remained mostly silent, nodded towards Eliander and left with the others.

Outside, Annor protested, "Why can't we go to Seaton?"

Auric sighed, "Sure, let's go to Seaton and find REAL adventurers! That's heroic!" Auric mimicked a town caller, "Hello! We're looking for some brave souls to solve this problem for us!"

Marlin laughed out loud, "That's right! We're the A-TEAM! We'll take care of it! This is what we do! What are we doing?"

DM Comment-
I had gotten player feedback that absolutely no one wanted to steal the promissory notes from Anders Solmor. They rather like Solmor and increasingly DISLIKE Gellan Primewater and the smuggler faction. So I gave the players multiple options for what they'd like to do instead:
  1. Deal with mysterious disappearances (Drums in the Marsh, as a prelude to Tomb of the Lizard King)
  2. Help Manistrad Copperlocks clear out an old dwarven mine in the hills (Forge of Fury)
  3. Chase down Pirates (Dead Man's Cove)
  4. Deal with a Treant that was preventing people from getting near Winston's Store (from Saltmarsh's Notice Board)
They chose mysterious disappearances.

Also, Annor's player really pledged to go to Seaton to get the message through and the other players really did tease him about "going to Seatopia (their word for Seaton) to get REAL heroes!". That joke stuck around all night for all sorts of things. He won't be living that down for a while.

The A-Team proceeded to the Renon house, site of the first disappearance.

They stood on the bank of the small Kingfisher river and looked north. The river flowed around a low hill on the left and a field and a small forest on the right. Beyond lay the salt marsh that gave the town its name. It was connected to the Janustream River to the northwest. Low hills rose to the northeast. In between was an area of marshy wetlands flooded with salt water from high tides. The marsh was the size of a medium-sized lake two miles wide and six miles long towards the northeast. The marsh drained through town via the Kingfisher river, a pretentious name for a large creek that flowed backwards at high tide.

As they approached the Renon house the team found evidence of a break-in and a struggle. There were clawed reptilian footprints of lizardfolk in the soft earth outside leading from the Kingfisher river to the house as well as footprints, bovine and porcine hoof-prints leading back to the river, and an indication of two heavy items being dragged back to the river. The door had been smashed in from the outside indicating a break-in. a woodcutter's axe stuck in a door jamb and a small amount of blood was on the floor, indicating a fight but no major injury. The animals were missing from their paddock. The Renons were attacked and captured alive and their animals were taken. There was nothing to indicate the lizard-folk claw prints were faked but how would anyone know?

A cursory glance at the Alvin house revealed much the same.

Auric went to the Trallo house and told them what was happening. They believed this house would be next and would like to set a trap for the raiders. Auric paid the family several gold sovereigns to stay at an inn for a few nights.

The Trap
Night fell and the soft rain of the day became a downpour. The Trallos were simple farmers. Their plain house was essentially a 45 foot square. A brick hearth was located at the center of the house. One quarter of the house was walled off to become a kitchen and dining area with a long wooden table. The kitchen had two doors, one to the outside and one to the main living space. The living space was L-shaped. A heavy curtain separated the living area of Mr. and Mrs. Trallo from the foyer by the main entrance. Mr. and Mrs. Trallo slept on a pallet of straw and down. Another curtain separated the elevated loft where the children slept on smaller pallets.  Heavy wooden rafters held aloft a roof made of thatch. The walls were waddle and daub and the floor was packed earth covered in plain rugs made of dried reeds. A barn containing a handful of animals was attached to one side of the house. The fire kept the house warm despite the heavy rains outside. Sometimes water dripped from the thatched roof.

Marlin, Auric, and Annor sat in the main living area, passing the time. Alot Aname sat crouched concealed by a large bush outside in the rain. Every hour, Auric would come out and say a prayer to illuminate Alot's shield. Alot kept a blanket thrown over the shield to conceal its brightness while he waited.

Sometime in the early morning, Alot's best guess was around 3am, the warforged sentinel could the sound of drums beating from across the swamp to the north.  A short time later he heard the squelching approach of footprints in the mud. A group was surreptitiously sneaking around the back of the house away from the river. If it were the lizardfolk, they circled around for the element of surprise.

DM Note-
About this time, I started playing beating drum music over the sound system. 

Alot gave the signal to those waiting within - a soft knock upon the entrance door. Auric, Annor, and Marlin grabbed their weapons and readied their positions behind the heavy curtain.

Alot waited quietly as the dark shadows of reptilian humanoids crept past his position. Four went to the main entrance, two moved towards the barn entrance, and two more took position near the kitchen entrance. The lizard-men were armed with clubs but they also carried weighted nets and blowguns. They apparently wished to capture their prey alive. He let them quietly enter the main entrance.

The lizard-men paused. They could hear the whispers and movement of the trio behind the curtain.

"You're standing too close, back up."
"No, YOU shh!"
"Get ready, here they come."

He looked at his brethren quizzically. He slowly approached the curtain and drew it aside.

DM Note-
What followed was a confusing mess of a surprise round made more complicated by prepared actions. I had foolishly had everyone roll stealth against everyone else's passive Perception. I should have called for group rolls for both sides. Instead I had a mess trying to figure out who could go this round and who couldn't.

Annor swung the massive Flamberge of Ser Eckhart Lionheart, cleaving the lizard-man in twain. He then charged the other lizard-man by the door and likewise chopped him into two halves. Two more lizard-men entered through the kitchen door. Annor saw them through the open inner door and charged them, cutting them down in short order.

DM Note-
It was carnage! Annor's player rolled three natural 20's in a row! I mean, he does 20+ damage on a regular hit but he was dishing out 40+ damage on these crits! It was brutal! I kept describing the lizard-men as meaty explosions, blood covering the ceiling and walls in a crimson spray.

Alot engaged the two lizard-men outside the house. Marlin exited the house to assist the warfoged fighter but was soon covered by a weighted net. Auric helped Marlin get out of the net while Annor moved back through the kitchen and helped Alot with the lizard-men warriors.

Alot clubbed one of the lizard-men with the butt of his sword, knocking him unconscious. Annor killed one of the lizard-men by the barn. The remaining lizard-man attempted to flee but Alot gave chase and cut him down as he ran.

The Interrogation
Marlin used the lizard-men's own manacles to restrain the surviving lizard-man and brought him inside. He was covered in ritual scars and body paint and the remains of a thick covering of dried mud, most of which had been washed off by the river and the heavy rains. He soon regained consciousness. Auric was the only member of the A-Team that spoke the draconic language of the lizard-men so he oversaw the interrogation.

The team soon learned that the lizard-men served Sakatha, the immortal lizard king of the drowned forest! They had been sent to retrieve the stolen heir of Aulicus, the living god of their tribe. They have been capturing the hoo-mans and taking them prisoner - to find out where they took the heir of Aulicus and to use as hostages for the heir's safe return. Failing that, they would bring the hoo-mans back as offering to Aulicus.

From this information, Auric deduced that Sakatha was the leader of the primitive tribe they encountered in the Hool Marsh during  their hunt for Thousand Teeth. He further deduced that the "heir of Aulicus" was the dragon egg that they smuggled into town for Keledek, meaning Aullicus was a dragon of some kind.

The team committed to finding and rescuing the captives in the morning.

The Raft
The gray sky lightened a few hours later and the rains died down to a light mist. The drums had stopped about an hour before dawn. The A-Team found a raft made of logs and inflated animal bladders pulled ashore near the edge of the swamp. The 25 x 30 foot raft was large enough to transport up to twelve humanoids as well as some captured livestock. Auric and Marlin bolted the manacles of the prisoner to the logs of the raft, preventing his escape. They refloated and boarded the raft and used poles to navigate the slow waters of the salt marsh.

As they slowly made their way across the marsh, the team discussed their options. Maybe they should return the dragon egg to the lizard men? Humans did steal it after all! Perhaps they could make peace with Sakatha by returning the offspring of their god?

Annor manned the pole while Alot scoured the marsh for signs of the lizard-men. Auric continued to question the prisoner about the location of the lizard-man camp. The prisoner was not forthcoming.

Suddenly, a massive crayfish the size of a man thrust itself out the murky water and grabbed onto Alot. It attempted to drag him into the water but was unsuccessful! Marlin was likewise shocked when slithering tentacles emerged from the side of the raft in an attempt to grab him. Annor put down the pole and picked up the fabulous flamberge and rushed to help his brother!

While the team was fending off both the giant crayfish and the octopus, no one noticed that a second octopus has successfully grabbed the lizard-man prisoner and was trying to pull him under water. The shackles were well secured to the raft but the lizard-man began to choke and cry for help.

Auric and Marlin came to his aid while the other two dealt with the other octopus and the crayfish.

After a short battle, the team had dispatched both octopi and the giant crayfish.

DM Note-
Annor's player described the death sounds of each octopus as "a despondent squelch!"

Auric addressed the lizard-man, reminding him that they had saved his life and told him they had planned to return the stolen dragon egg. The lizard-man was grateful and promised to show them their camp.

The team continued to pole the raft through the marsh for several hours. Near midday they could see another raft ahead. The raft was being towed by four swimming lizard-men. There were several other figures on the raft - two prisoners and six additional lizard-folk!

To Be Continued... 

DM Note-
I'm fleshing out fourth level by adding the short adventure Drums in the Marsh by Sterling Hershey, which works perfectly as a lead-in to the upcoming Tomb of the Lizard King I plan on running.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Emperor of the Waves - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 14

An Unexpected Foe!
The Emperor of the Waves was being crushed by the massive tentacles of a giant octopus and was sinking. Annor carried the magical strongbox in a bag of holding flung over his shoulder. He was the first to emerged from the captain's cabin to the mid-deck. Auric and Aella were behind him in the cabin.

The mid-deck was tilted at sixty degrees. The deck below was already flooded. Water was beginning to pour out of the hatch into the captain's cabin. Annor staggered onto the main deck and was startled to find it covered in swarms of spiders forced from the lower decks by the rising water. Among them were three spiders of massive size! One of the giant spiders had a strange translucent quality.

The water around the ship was a boiling mass of writhing tentacles. Many flailed into the sky like massive rubbery tree trunks before crashing into the ship and splintering the wooden deck!

The small boat the team had used to row over from the other ship had been smashed to tiny pieces by the crushing tentacles. They'd have to swim to the Spirit of Winter!

Two of the giant spiders made their way to the sterncastle to escape the rising water. The third charged Annor and attacked!

A figure emerged from the smashed door to the navigator's cabin. It was a half-orc wearing tattered robes made of sheets of spider web. He carried a staff topped with a carved spider. He was accompanied by two demonic creatures. The torso of each of the creatures was split down the middle to form a massive fanged mouth!

The half-orc shouted at order at the translucent spider, "Goil! Destroy the infidels!"

The A-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. 
  • Annor Whalerson - Lawful Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Marlin Whalerson - Chaotic Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Aasimar Shipwright and Cleric of the Raven King.
Fight on Deck
A massive spider crossed the deck and attacked Annor. Annor dropped the bag of holding containing the vault onto the deck and took a massive swing with the fabled flamberge of Ser Eckhert Lionheart. The magical blade cut the spider in twain. The spider exploded, its arachnoid insides raining onto the listing deck. Swarms of normal-sized spiders began to crawl up Annor's legs and over his body.

Aella moved out onto the deck and picked up the bag of holding. 

The half-orc, clad in tattered robes of spider web, clapped his hands together and summoned forth a magical sphere of flame, which he placed just inside the doorway. The fiery sphere prevented anyone inside from escaping and was too hot to stand near.

Aella then cast a witch-bolt spell at the half-orc enemy. The half-orc staggered but maintained his magical concentration.

With another deft stroke Annor defeated a second giant spider. The translucent spider Goil disappeared and magically reappeared to attack the warrior. Annor plunged his massive flamberge into the translucent spider, killing it with a single strike!

The continuous electrical arc of the witch-bolt eventually caused the half-orc Krell to falter. He stumbled backwards and a massive flailing octopus tentacle knocked him overboard into the sea!

DM Note-
My players love villains who survive and become recurring opponents!

Marlin had finally made his way up the stairs and into the captain's quarters. There was no sign of the warforged guardian Alot Aname. Auric shouted to Marlin, "Where's beep-boop-beep?"

Marlin loosed a crossbow bolt through the door at a demon, "He fell through a hole in the deck. I assume he'll either swim back to the ship or sink to the bottom and walk home!"

With the defeat of Krell the fiery ball blocking their exit disappeared. Marlin and Auric were able to join the fight on the mid-deck.

The two demonic creatures - essentially mouths with arms and legs - were soon dispatched by the reunited A-Team. Auric said a prayer and the remaining spiders clinging to Annor fell dead. Tiny spectral flies spun away before dissipating into the aether.

The ship slowly sank as the A-Team waited for help from the dwarven boat five hundred feet away. Captain Windrune himself led a small crew of dwarven volunteers who rowed the remaining ship's boat over to the sinking Emperor of the Waves.

Marlin tried to throw a grapple and line towards the approaching rowboat but was not strong enough to cover the distance. Aella threw the line and made it without difficulty.

The A-Team boarded the rowboat and quickly rowed to safety as the Emperor of the Waves began to roll over and capsize before disappearing beneath the waves - crushed and dragged down by the massive tentacles of the titanic octopus.

The Return to Saltmarsh
The return to Saltmarsh took longer than the outgoing trip due to the loss of much of the dwarven crew, though the journey was uneventful. The A-Team took a liking to the dwarven crew and spent many hours with them drinking ale and listening to stories of their fallen comrades.

It was mid-afternoon when they arrived in Saltmarsh. The sky was overcast with a cool north wind. It felt later than it was.

Upon their arrival at Saltmarsh, Auric and Annor each provided the captain with a gift of 100 gold coins while Marlin gave him a book on currents and winds of the Azure Sea as well as a book of maritime legal codes. Aella, meanwhile, hid her cursed luckstone in the captain's cabin.

Confrontation on the Dock
The A-Team disembarked from the Spirit of Winter but were almost immediately confronted by a gang of surly longshoremen. The leader of the group told Marlin, in as polite a way as he could while still implying a sense of threat, that Marlin and his friends needed to meet Mister Primewater at the Primewater estate immediately, before they meet Mister Solmor and before they deliver their package.

Marlin told the ruffian that he was going to take a bath and would meet Mister Primewater afterwards. The others made it clear they had no intention of meeting Mister Primewater. The longshoreman said "Very well. Your funeral." and ordered his men to disperse.

Ambush in the Alley
After checking in with the king's reeve to assess any taxes or duties owed from their voyage, the remainder of the A-Team, minus Marlin, proceeded down an alley towards the Solmor estate.

They were soon met by five ruffians blocking the way before them and three blocking the way behind them. Each of the ruffians wore makeshift hoods made from burlap sacks cut with eyeholes.  The ruffians, obviously the longshoremen from the dock because they were otherwise wearing the same clothes, were wielding belaying pins and cudgels as weapons.

"Just hand over the strongbox you are delivering to Mister Solmor and walk away. We don't want any trouble."

Aella asked Annor and Auric, "What's the plan. How are we handling this?"

Auric said, "They're just thugs with belaying pins. Let's keep this non-lethal."

Annor added, "Yeah, I probably even know these guys."

The thugs charged the A-Team and a brawl ensued in the alley. Annor wielded his flamberge pommel out like a club and punched thugs with his other hand. Auric prayed for the suffering of their souls.

Aella was carrying the bag of holding containing the Solmor family strongbox. One of the thugs was able to grab it away from her. She responded by quickly producing the book of scrolls and casting a magic spell to create a sphere of magical flame. The thief screamed and quickly passed the bag on to a companion. The companion passed it to another. The third was about to make his getaway down the alley when he was knocked out by Annor.

The trio quickly put out the flames that were quickly consuming nearby crates and lumber and retrieved the bag of holding. It was singed but otherwise intact. They continued to the Solmor manor.

Solmor Manor
The butler Skerrin opened the door and sniffed derisively. Aella, Annor, and Auric had been at sea for over ten days and reeked from their voyage. Skerrin led the team to the study of Anders Solmor but Annor suggested instead they present their delivery in a more utilitarian location. Skerrin took them to the kitchen .

Anders soon joined them and thanked them profusely for their work. He asked if they encountered any trouble.

Aella said they had been waylaid by ruffians on the way to the manor but that it was taken care of.

Skerrin suddenly and uncharacteristically expressed concern bordering on panic. "Did they take the strongox? The strongbox is large and heavy! None of you are carrying the strongbox!"

Annor smiled and held up a finger to indicate "just a moment". He produced the magical bag of holding and asked for Skerrin's assistance. Skerrin helped hold the mouth of the bag while Annor lifted the bottom. Gallons of fetid bilge water poured from bag as the heavy strongbox slid out and fell onto the floor with a thud. Skerrin was doused from the waist down and covered in small crabs and wriggling hagfish.

Annor, Auric, and Aella smiled at their petty revenge for Skerrin sabotaging the cheese tasting. Skerrin replied wryly, "Yes. Hilarious."

Anders Solmor clapped his hands together and grinned. "Okay, excellent! Now I have to ask you all a favor. I need you to put your fingers in your ears and say 'la la la' out loud over and over for the next five seconds. Got it? Good."

DM Note-
I waited for all the players to actually do it out loud.

"Auric, you too."

Once Auric joined Aella and Annor, Anders Solmor knelt down and whispered a secret word onto the magical seal that protected the strongbox. The box opened revealing a watertight dry interior filled with papers in leather folios.

"Excellent! Okay, you can all stop now! This is fantastic! Better than I hoped! Your team really came through! These promissory notes from the king of Keoland are going to be my ticket to the royal court! Expect big changes to this town! You all have really deserved your payment. There's only one problem. I can't pay you yet."

Annor looked worried, "Why's that?"

"I hired five of you! There are only three of you! I can't split ten thousand gold coins three ways!"

Annor rolled his eyes and sighed, "We'll split it five ways and share it with the other two who aren't here!"

The Scarlet Brotherhood
Marlin went home, washed himself, and put on clean clothes. There was a small knock at his door. It was one of the local urchins who act as messengers. The urchin told Marlin that his presence was required immediately at the home of Mister Gellan Primewater. Marlin was to accompany the urchin without delay. Marlin went with the boy.

At Gellan Primewater's home near the docks, Marlin was led into the merchant's study. There he saw Gellan Primewater and the wizard Keledek. Both were drinking goblets of wine. Marlin refused when offered.

Gellan told Marlin that he was in a lot of trouble for failing to appear when summoned earlier. He told Marlin that it was imperative that Anders not acquire those promissory notes. Gellan explained to Marlin that Anders would use those notes to gain the favor of the king. Anders could cancel the king's debt in exchange for a patent of nobility granting the Solmor family with a noble title and fiefdom over the lands including and surrounding Saltmarsh.

This would have two side effects. The first being the increased attention paid by the crown to the region. This would put a damper on the work of "the Organization".

Secondly, the Organization suspects that the Solmor family is in league with the Scarlet Brotherhood.

The Scarlet Brotherhood is a secret society that believes that only descendants of the ancient Suel empire should rule the Flanaess. Their ultimate goal is to topple the ruling houses of the Flanaess by sowing dissent and causing war and one day return power to the Emperor of Suel. They are evil and ruthless and must be stopped.

It is likely that Anders Solmor may not even know he is being manipulated by the Scarlet Brotherhood. Whatever the situation, the Brotherhood must not be allowed to gain a voice of influence at the royal court of Keoland.

Marlin explained that his team-mates have already delivered the strongbox to Anders and have probably been paid.

"Then we have only one course of action," said Keledek, "You must infiltrate the Solmor estate and steal the promissory notes before they are delivered to the king."

To be Continued...

Friday, November 8, 2019

Salvage Operation - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 13

It was midday when the Spirit of Winter came into view of their target - the derelict ship Emperor of the Waves. The sky boiled with dark gray-green clouds, threatening a coming storm. The wind was up and the sea was choppy.

Captain Windrune, the dwarven captain of the Spirit of Winter, was hesitant to take his ship closer than 500 feet to the Emperor of the Waves. He had lost half his crew to a vicious sahuagin ambush two nights ago and was nervous about putting the remainder of the crew or his ship in further jeopardy.

He put out a ship's boat and the A-Team rowed their way to the drifting hulk.

The Emperor of the Waves bobbed half-submerged and listing to port. Its masts were broken and tatters of sails draped over parts of the rotting sideboards. Its figurehead had been ripped off leaving broken splinters. The deck and rails were covered in dried palm fronds, seaweed, and long stringy moss. Long drapes of spiderwebs fluttered like gossamer pennants.

Auric grimaced and warned the others. "Look out for spiders."

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

The A-Team rowed their boat alongside, set a grapple, and climbed the rope onto the mid-deck. The ship was listing badly to port. The deck tilted at a disorienting angle. Marlin climbed the forecastle and looked around. There were signs of battle and dried blood no more than 5 days old.

Auric took a deep breath and cleared his mind. He could sense the nearby presence of the undead. There weren't many but they were near, beneath them in the bowels of the ship.

The Navigator's Cabin
Auric, with his background as a shipwright, told the others that on this type of ship the fore cabin would belong to the ship's navigator.

Annor tried the door into the fore cabin. It was held tight by some elastic force. Marlin checked the door for traps or mechanisms but found naught. People took up readied positions around the door with prepared spells, aimed crossbows, etc.  Annor took out an axe and chopped the door down.

The cabin was dark and filled, floor to ceiling, with thick sheets of gossamer webs. Annor retreated from the door to avoid any attackers.

Auric said, "See? Spiders!"

Alot Aname cautiously entered the room. He had difficulty seeing through the curtains of webbing that limited his vision. He made his way to the front of the ship.

Suddenly he was covered in thick webbing! Luckily, the webbing didn't catch and he was still able to move. Almost immediately after, a strange humanoid spider-thing rushed out of the gloom and attacked! Alot dodged the blow and counter-attacked. Just then the hulking form of a massive spider the size of a cow heaved into view! He was surrounded!

Annor charged into the room to support his mechanical companion. Marlin took a position in the corner of the cabin and fired his crossbow at the arachnoid monsters.

Suddenly a hundreds of small spiders swarmed out of an open hatch in the floor behind the giant spider, climbing over Annor.

Annor, Marlin, and Alot made short work of the giant spider and humanoid spider-thing. Annor then used his massive flamberge like a spear to stab the smaller spiders to the floor. With Alot's help the small spiders were likewise soon destroyed.

The Captain's Cabin
Small spiders continued to pour out of the hatch so the team backed out of the fore cabin and turned their attention to the aft cabin, which Auric identified as the belonging to the captain.

The cabin was likewise obscured by thick cobwebs. Once again Alot moved inside. At the back of the cabin he found a makeshift altar to some dark arachnoid goddess. Human skulls were piled around the shrine and the entire display was crawling with spiders.

Alot was once again attacked by webbing as before. He cleaved the giant spider in one attack as Annor rushed in to aid. Alot and Annor made short work of the spiders humanoid-spider hybrid companion.

Alot searched the room and found pages ripped from the captain's log.

DM Note-
I gave Alot's player the handout that came with the DM's Resources for Ghosts of Saltmarsh Chapter 4: Salvage Operation, available on Dungeon Masters Guild

The pages told how the ship encountered a terrible storm which separated it from its escort. The ship became lost and eventually came into sight of an uncharted island. The ship's crew was attacked by the island's monstrous inhabitants. They were saved by a half-orc druid named Krell who sought passage off the island.

They took Krell with him but soon ran into another problem. The ship came under attack by a titanic octopus! Krell kept the octopus at bay and tended to those injured in the attack. The captain suspected that the foul broth Krell served the survivors was not what it appeared!

The team descended the stairs from the captain's cabin to the deck below. There they found what used to be the ship's galley. The door leading forward was spiked closed and the galley had been ransacked. There was evidence of a battle but the room was otherwise empty.

The Flooded Deck
The team found a hatch and descended the ladder into the dark belly of the ship's lowest deck. The deck was half-submerged under water. Trash and debris bobbed on the surface. The water was fetid and reeked of rotting flesh and sewage.

Annor and Alot moved forward along the port side of the ship where the water was only waist deep. Disturbances in the surface of the thick brown water gave indication that something moved beneath the surface.

Suddenly four foul creatures burst from the water and attacked! The creatures were formerly crew-members who had died by drowning and reanimated through dark magic! They were waterlogged and showed signs of decomposition. Their flesh was covered in small bite marks from crabs. When they opened their mouths to attack, sea water laden with wriggling hagfish poured out.

While the team battled these undead atrocities, a powerful force rocked the ship. Something had slammed the ship from without, causing the ship to further list to port.

The Giant Octopus Attacks!
The four animated corpses were soon defeated.

Annor scanned the debris for anything that might be Ander's magic chest. Marlin cast a spell to detect the presence of magic and soon identified the correct crate. Marlin carefully opened the crate, revealing the blue metal chest within emblazoned with the seal of the house of Solmor.

At that moment, the ship was slammed by another massive attack. Timbers splintered and water began pouring in. Massive tentacles snaked their way through breaches in the hull. The ship's hull creaked and groaned as it was enveloped by the crushing embrace of a a monstrous octopus!

The water level of the flooded deck began to rise precipitously. Thrashing tentacles, having pierced the hull, flailed blindly and knocked the adventurers into the side of the hull and into each other.

Marlin tried to move the chest but it was too heavy. He enlisted the help of Alot. The two together could carry it with difficulty. Annor waded over to them and asked them to step aside, "Don't worry. I've got this."

He produced his magical bag of holding. The crate fit neatly within, along with several gallons of water. He closed the bag which now weighed only fifteen pounds.

"Lets go!"

A Difficult Escape!
Each of the members of the A-Team made their way through the rising water to the hatch. The ship careened to port and lurched violently as it was manipulated and crushed by its titanic attacker! Moving through the rising water and climbing the ladders and stairs while the ship bucked and heaved proved difficult and the team became separated.

Annor was the first to make it back to the captain's cabin with Aella and Auric were the first to make it to the main deck while Alot and Marlin followed closely behind.

An Unexpected Foe!
The deck was tilted at sixty degrees and the second deck was already flooded. Water was beginning to pour out of the hatch into the captain's cabin. Annor staggered onto the main deck and was startled to find the deck covered in swarms of spiders forced from the lower decks by the rising water. Among them were three spiders of massive size! One of the giant spiders had a strange translucent quality.

The water around the ship was a boiling mass of writhing tentacles. Many flailed into the sky like massive rubbery tree trunks before crashing into the ship and splintering the wooden deck!

The small boat the team had used to row over from the other ship had been smashed to tiny pieces by the crushing tentacles. They'd have to swim to the Spirit of Winter!

Two of the giant spiders made their way to the sterncastle to escape the rising water. The third charged Annor and attacked!

A figure emerged from the smashed door to the navigator's cabin. It was a half-orc wearing tattered robes made of sheets of spider web. He carried a staff topped with a carved spider. He was accompanied by two demonic creatures. The torso of each of the creatures was split down the middle to form a massive fanged mouth!

The half-orc shouted at order at the translucent spider, "Goil! Destroy the infidels!"

To Be Continued...