Friday, February 28, 2020

The Isle of the Abbey - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 26

Bordar stood at the prow of the small boat. He was a dwarf on a quest. The son of the leader of his clan had never returned from his trade mission to Keoland. Bordar had been sent to find the wayward son and bring him home. Since then, Bordar learned that the son had somehow offended the Duke of Seaton and had been imprisoned.

During his investigation, he learned from his sources that the duke sometimes keeps special prisoners in a secret dungeon beneath the abbey on Leper Island. Ostensibly, the abbey was occupied by an order of monks who tended to the health and well-being of lepers. In reality, the priests were corrupt and served as kind of treasury for pirates and raiders - as well as wardens of a secret prison, apparently.

So Bordar hired a small boat and a crew of rowers to take him to Leper Island. It was a clear night and the moon shone brightly overhead. Bordar winced as the boat heaved in the surf and the salty wind lashed his long hair.

The crew refused to come ashore for obvious reasons. They let Bordar off on the southern tip of the island where the sea washed against vast sand dunes.

Bordar noticed another boat drawn  up onto the beach as well as the remains of a wrecked pinnace buried in the sand.

Bordar went ashore and climbed the steep undulating dunes. He could see that a handful of people had climbed these dunes before him. He found evidence of a great battle against a horde of now disassembled skeletons.

Many of those same skeletons now reformed into animated guardians and attacked him!

After dealing with these skeletons, Bordar continued up the hill towards the center of the island.

He neared the site of the abbey. Even in the moonlight he could see that the abbey appeared to be in ruins. A tower had burned and toppled. The refectory and hospital had been razed.

He saw five humans and a halfling standing or sitting in the ruins. They were talking among themselves. Bordar crouched behind some bushes and quietly crept nearer so he could better hear.

The B-Team:
  • Baylore - Neutral Human Pirate and Pugilist (Monk). 
  • Brenna Whalersdottir - Chaotic Good Human Sailor and Divine Soul Sorceress, long-lost daughter of Whaler. 
  • Bordar Graniteshaper - Lawful Good Dwarven Bearer of Grudges (Barbarian), on a quest to rescue the son of the leader of his clan.
Brain Jellies:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Storm Sorceress from Ket. 
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Good Warforged Fighter, ancient sentinel of a wizard's fortress, spent several decades deactivated underwater.
New Allies
Brenna and Baylore were discussing whether or not Lemundo the Lovely should join them as they descended the stairs into the abbey's cellar. 

Lemundo argued, "I can fight! I can handle myself!"

Brenna countered, "You were useless against the skeletons on the dunes!"

Lemundo said, "That's not my fault! The Dungeon Master kept forgetting about me! I'm actually fairly competent! Really!"

Brenna crossed her arms, "Okay then, what do you bring to the table?"

Lemundo puffed out her chest and declared, "I'll have you know I'm considered a Scout! I have an armor class of thirteen! I have sixteen hit points and plus four to hit!"

Brenna inhaled sharply through clenched teeth to signal her disapproval. Baylore said, "Yeah, No offense. You'll be staying up here with the two jelly babies over there."

DM Note-
I try to give the players as much narrative control over their situation as possible. They asked me if Lemundo would be joining them and I turned it around and asked, "Do you WANT Lemundo to join you? That's totally your decision!" After a few assessment questions, they decided it would be safer for her to stay upstairs. 

Suddenly, a squat dwarf emerged from the bushes. He wore a traveling cloak and carried two deadly looking battle axes - one in each hand. His arrival took Brenna, Baylore, and Lemundo completely by surprise! They leaped to the feet, weapons and wands drawn. Lemundo shouted, "Who goes there?"

The dwarf introduced himself as Bordar. He said he had come to this abbey searching for a prisoner whom he believed to be kept in a secret dungeon. 

Lemundo introduced herself as her alias, Lemony Butterscotch, and said that they too were seeking to free a prisoner from the abbey's secret dungeon. Lemundo asked Bordar if he was familiar with the Duke of Seaton. 

Once it became clear that the newcomer had no interest in local politics, Lemundo revealed her true identity as well as her mission to free her father, the true Duke of Seaton, from his betrayal at the hands of his twin brother.

Given that their goals aligned, the dwarf agreed to accompany the B-Team in their exploration of the abbey's cellar.

The Guardians of the Cellar
Baylore and Bordar led the way as they opened the cellar door and descended the stairs underground.

Lantern light filled a large room ahead. On the left side of the room three men played a dice game around an old table. The sound of the descending intruders caused them to leap to their feet and grab nearby weapons. Each of the men wore the robes of monks and acolytes of Procan.

One of the men, a big burly bald fellow holding a spear and a shield, took one look at Baylore and Brenna and shouted, "The pirates have returned! You bastards! I'll kill you for what you did!"

Baylore and Brenna looked at their clothes and manner, for both were indeed sailors and pirates by trade and appearance. They shrugged. Baylore said, "Well, you're not wrong about the pirate part, but we're not with those other guys".

Baylore ran up to the priest and acolyte. He was able to easily dispatch them with a single bare-knuckle punch to each. He then moved around the table to the burly priest. Bordar's bloodlust took over. The dwarf charged the burly man with a battleaxe in each hand.

The man shouted, "Liars! Alarm! Alarm!"

There were eight doors along the outer walls of the room. Two each on the left and right walls and four on the wall behind the stairs. At the burly man's alarm the doors began to fly open one by one.

One door opened only for the priest to curse loudly and immediately close it again.

A second door opened and a priest emerged, ready to defend the cellar, along with a bodyguard who appeared to be a mercenary. "What is it, Ormund?" demanded the priest.

The burly man replied, "The raiders have returned, Ozymandias! We are under attack!"

Ozymandias cried out towards another door, "Bayleaf! We need your assistance!" He looked towards the door of the priest who cursed and retreated back into his room, "Odium! I know you're in there! Get out here and help!"

Several additional combatants joined the fray. And well-dressed elf and a mercenary emerged together from a different room. The elf quipped, "I don't think we're paid enough for this."

Ozymandias said, "We'll double your pay, Bayleaf, just defend us!"

The mercenary with Bayleaf took cover behind the stairs and loosed several crossbow bolts towards Bordar. Bayleaf, for his part, stayed away from battle and instead hurled insults at Brenna. Much to Brenna's surprise, she found that his words cut deep. She took them far more personally than she would like and it struck at her morale, affecting her ability to fight.

Ozymandias invoked the name of Procan and created a spiritual trident that hovered in the air behind Bordar. The trident struck at the dwarf and moved where he moved.

An acolyte emerged from another door and summoned a spiritual scimitar that harassed Baylore.

The cowardly priest Odium would occasionally open his door and pray for some miracle but few such attempts were successful.

Ormund fought like a devil against two opponents. He kept trying to knock Baylore over with his shield while thrusting his spear at Bordar. Eventually the pair proved too much for the robust warrior and Ormund fell.

Bordar darted across the room and attacked the mercenary Bayleaf. It didn't take long for Bayleaf to fall to Bordar's twin axes and Brenna's magic spells.

Ozymandias became worried. He said a quick prayer and was instantly surrounded by a rotating vortex of celestial barracudas. Bordar and Brenna were caught within the swirling vortex and became worried. They knew this of this miracle and knew of its defensive capability.

Baylore countered by pointing at the priest. A thin ray of fire struck the priest and caused him to lose his concentration. The swirling vortex disappeared!

Bordar and Baylore descended upon Ozymandias who crumpled under their combined attack.

Another previously unseen mercenary came running out one of the rooms and joined the fray. Odium cowered in his doorway and shouted to the mercenaries, "Earn your keep, you fools! Kill the them!"  The two surviving mercenaries fought valiantly but ultimately fell before Bordar and Baylore.

Brenna directed her attention towards the cowardly Odium. Odium defended himself but sensing his inevitable defeat he surrendered to the intruders.

The Secret Cellar
Baylore tied Odium to a chair. Odium was forthcoming with information. He revealed that the monks of the abbey were secretly in league with the Sea Princes to the southwest. The abbey served as a warehouse of sorts for pirate plunder on its way to the Sea Princes. Odium was an accountant sent to the abbey to audit the operation's ledgers.

He happened to be present during when the pirates turned on the monks and attacked the abbey two weeks ago. He doesn't know why the pirates chose to attack. He thought they had a good working relationship.

The pirates sacked the tower and killed most of the monks. Unable to find any treasure, they burned the tower to the ground. Odium, Ozymandias, Ormund, Bayleaf, and a handful of acolytes managed to survive. When the pirates left, they were stranded. There were no boats with which they might leave.

When asked about a secret prison, Odium said Ozymandias might have known but Odium was just visiting and didn't know anything about that.

Odium then identified each of the doors and listed the original purpose of each room and who had been using it.

A Thorough Search
The B-Team checked each door and room in turn.

A quick search of the fallen opponents revealed nothing useful, though Ozymandias wore a gold medallion around his neck. The medallion was decorated with complex geometric designs.

They checked Odium's room and found many glazed clay figurines and marble statues, some obviously rescued from the abbey garden. Underneath a loose flagstone they found a scroll case with several scrolls and book of dark rituals to Olhydra - evil prince of the water elementals.

The next room revealed some bookshelves and a scribe's desk. Several books dedicated to the lore of the evil elemental princes lined the bookshelf. No one could open the desk to Bordar hacked it to flinders with his axes. The resulting destruction ruined the spell scrolls hidden within.

The kitchen revealed a scroll case containing several recipies.

Ogmund's quarters was once a wine cellar. The bottles and casks were all empty but they did find a suit of leather armor adorned with leather studs and a fine dagger with a fancy scabbard decorated with scrimshaw.

Bayleaf's quarters were located in the former armory. A pair of boots were placed at the foot of Bayleaf's bedroll. A loose stone revealed a hidden cache of scrolls and a pair of ruby earrings with a note revealing their intent as a gift to Bayleaf's love.

Ozymandias' quarters were in the storeroom. The room was filled with miscellaneous mundane  equipment.

The room that housed the mercenaries contained only the sleeping pallets, a kettle filled with warm coals, and a handful of weapons.

The final room was ostensibly used for meditation and devotion to Olhydra. The room was adorned with blue curtains. A table served as a makeshift altar. A bowl of seawater sat on the table.

In the corner of the room was an acolyte holding a scrubbing brush as a weapon. A bucket of cleaning water sat nearby. The acolyte appeared nervous and was afraid for his life.

Bordar ignored the acolyte and began removing the curtains. The acolyte took great offense and charged the dwarf, attacking him with the brush. Bordar punched the acolyte in the face but failed to knock him unconscious. The acolyte hammered Bordar with the brush again while Baylore watched and laughed, "Did that kid just hit you with a BRUSH? Good for him!"A second punch sent the acolyte to the floor.

Bordar continued to tear down the curtains, revealing a concealed door.

"Well, this must be what we're looking for!" said Bordar.

Brenna said, "We should probably rest first before heading in there."

Baylore nodded, "Good idea. Rest first. Tomorrow- dungeon."

To Be Continued...

DM Notes-
I really like the detail they put into each NPC hiding in the cellar. They're not just faceless bad guys to kill. They each had a story and a perspective and a motivation. I tried to communicate their story by having them shout at each other, give each other commands, and complain about the other during the fight. It made them feel much more real. 

I was hoping the players would pick up on this and try to interact with them more. But no dice. They were corrupt priests so they had to die, no questions asked. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Secret Mission to Leper Island - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 25

Alot Aname looked around. He was underwater.

He was standing in his oyster bed at the bottom of the sea off the coast of Keoland near the fishing village of Saltmarsh. A bag made from a fishing net was draped over his neck and shoulder. The triangular oyster dredge was  harnessed to his shoulders. He had apparently been dragging it behind him to harvest oysters.

He had no idea what day it was. The last thing he remembered was fighting trolls in the Drowned Forest.

He unharnessed himself from the dredge and returned to Saltmarsh.

Alot found his friend, the half-elven sorceress Avastana Kádár, known as "Aella". It was mid-day. The sun was out and a warm breeze blew in from the sea. He asked her what happened.

Aella blinked as if only just now realizing where she was. She was standing outside a market in the Old Town of Saltmarsh where she had just purchased some vegetables. She said the last thing she remembered was defeating Aulicus, the venerable black dragon of the Drowned Forest. She suddenly stopped and looked at Alot.

"Oh Alot. They're all dead! I couldn't save them! Auric, Annor, and Marlin were all killed by the dragon! The last thing I remembered was getting captured by bandits!"

"Where was I?" inquired the warforged sentinel.

"You had the brain jellies. You just sort of stood there on the skiff," she replied.

"Damn brain jellies! How long have we been out?"

The pair checked with a few people in town - the guard at the gate, the messenger boy, some dock people. They discovered that it had been three weeks since they left Saltmarsh on their mission to the Drowned Forest - which means it had been two weeks since the battle with Aulicus. Aella and Alot had returned from their mission, saying only that the others had died. They reported that they had found no bandits and had returned empty-handed.

Alot still possessed all his belongings. His magical short sword hung in its sheath.

Aella went to her house. She had all of her possessions too. If she had been captured by bandits, either they failed to take her belongings or she was able to retrieve them when she escaped. She had apparently recovered nothing from her fallen companions or the dragon's hoard. She did, however, find a sack with 1650 gold coins embossed with the image of Iuz. She had apparently sold something to the Loyal Quartermasters of Iuz.

Alot was looking out the window across the street, "Aella, you better look at this."

"What is it?" Aella drew aside the curtain to see at what Alot was looking.

The Whalerson house and the goat farm had been burned to the ground. Only charred ruins were left.

"Well, shit." She muttered.

There was a knock at Aella's door.

She opened the door and saw a woman wearing a traveler's cloak, her hood drawn despite the sunny skies. The woman withdrew the hood. It was Lemundo, daughter of the Duke of Seaton.


"Sh!" admonished the woman, "I'm incognito. Call me Lemony Butterscotch. I need your help!"


The A-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Storm Sorceress from Ket. 
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Good Warforged Fighter, ancient sentinel of a wizard's fortress, spent several decades deactivated underwater.
Introducing the B-Team:
  • Baylore - Neutral Human Pirate and Pugilist (Monk). 
  • Brenna Whalersdottir - Chaotic Good Human Sailor and Divine Soul Sorceress, long-lost daughter of Whaler. 
Special Guest Star:
  • Bobert the Red - transient Halfling Druid with a drinking problem. 
DM Note-
It was Friday - Valentine's day. I am married and my wife and I feel VD is pretty much corporate BS, so we decided we'd celebrate on Saturday. Likewise Brenna's player (who is formerly Marlin's player) and his wife as well as Baylore's player (who is formerly Auric's player). Annor's player DID go out with his wife. Aella's player is single so she was okay to hang out with us.

But because it was Valentine's Day, we had a special guest player! We were joined by a very good friend who is single and didn't want anything to do with VD. Also, her regular Friday D&D group wasn't playing. So I invited her over to play and she said yes! So welcome Bobert!

The Secret Mission of Lemony Butterscotch
Lemundo, using the alias Lemony Butterscotch, brought Aella and Alot to a local tavern - the Empty Net. She told them that she thinks she located where her father, the true Duke of Seaton, was being held prisoner. She wanted to hire a team to take her to the location and help her free him. She was sad to learn of the fate of the A-Team but was happy that Aella and Alot had survived. In order to assemble a new team, she posted a recruitment offer on the town notice board.

They found three people waiting for them at the Empty Net.

One was a human woman with gold hair and gold eyes and red clothes. With her was a human man in a black loose fitting shirt and black pants with high boots. His face bore a long scar and he was missing an eye. Despite his intimidating countenance he carried no weapons. In a nearby chair dozed a halfling with long matted hair. The halfling wore dirty tattered rags and bits of fur.

Lemundo addressed the group, "Greetings. Thanks for responding to my advertisement. Before we begin we should do a round of introductions. My name is Lemony Butterscotch. This is Aella and this is Alot. And you are?"

The one-eyed man replied, "My name is Baylore. That's all you need to know."

"Oh, well, thank you. And you?"

The golden-haired woman spoke in a strange foreign accent. She seemed full of defiant energy, "My  name is Brenna Whalersdottir and I don't give a flying fuck about your advertisement! I'm looking for man who makes this cheese!" She produced a small wheel of Ten Goats of Cheese and shoved it in Lemundo's face.

Lemundo became flustered, "I- what?"

Aella gave the sad news, "I'm sorry to report that the man you are looking for, Annor Whalerson, recently died. He was torn apart by-"

Brenna interrupted her, "I don't fuckin' care! Just point me towards his house! I came to claim me birthright!"

Alot pointed towards the House of Whalerson, "I'm afraid the house burned down.

Brenna angrily declared, "I don't care about the fuckin' hoose! I want what was IN the hoose! Did anyone search the ashes?"

Aella shrugged.

Brenna slammed the table with her fist, "Just point me to where the house USED t' be then!"

Alot pointed up the hill, "Take this street up the hill, its the fourth house on the right past the old stone bridge. At least it used to be."

Brenna furrowed her brow and sniffed defiantly. She made a small grunting sound and burst out of the pub.

There was a moment of silence before Lemundo continued, "Well, I guess that just leaves our halfling friend. You are, sir?"

The halfling started and woke up. He had bloodshot eyes and looked hung over. "What?"

"Your name?"

"My name is Bobert. Am I in trouble? Do I need to leave already?"

"No sir. Thank you for answering my advertisement."

Bobert blinked in confusion. "The what now?"

Brenna marched angrily up the street to the former site of the House of Whalerson, now a pile of ash and charred timbers. She sifted through the remains near what was left of the fireplace.

She pulled out a silver harpoon tip. It was a metal rod about two feet long that ended in a sharp barbed tip. The wooden handle had burned away with the house. The silver tip had miraculously survived.

She muttered to herself, "The Hearthspoon. I found it, right where Uncle Gillian said."

The silver harpoon tip glowed magically in her hand. She smiled.

She then looked around at the ashen ruins, "Sorry I didn't get to meet you, brothers. We probably wouldn't have gotten along anyways."

She shoved the harpoon tip into a leather holder and marched back to the Empty Net. She found Lemundo still addressing the others.

"I got what I was looking for. Now, as it happens, I'm low on coin. Are you still hiring?"

Sea Trip to Leper Island
Bobert woke on a sailboat at sea. He had no idea how he got here. He had a terrible hangover and the bobbing of the boat in the waves wasn't helping. The sun was setting in the west.

He got the attention of the woman in the cloak. She seemed to be in charge. "What? Where am I? What day is this? What's happening?"

"Good evening, Bobert. It's the same day. We're on our way to Leper Island!"

"We're WHAT?" the halfling replied incredulously.

"Leper Island! Like I said earlier in the briefing. My father is being held prisoner there!"

Lemundo continued, "You see, I am, in truth, Lemundo Feldren, daughter of Obertus Feldren, the Duke of Seaton. And before you ask - No! Duke Obertus did not die from natural causes as reported by my uncle Marik. My uncle Marik faked my father's death and assumed the title of Duke. I later learned that Captain Horatio Vile, a fiendish pirate, had been secretly transporting my uncle to an unknown location to gloat over my father!"

"I tried to stow away on Captain Vile's boat to find where my uncle had imprisoned my father. But Captain Vile betrayed my uncle! He took my uncle prisoner and handed him to Gellan Primewater, a smuggler from Saltmarsh, so that the wizard Keledek might use some mind control magic on him! In doing so, I was discovered and captured."

"Luckily, Aella and Alot helped save me. They captured Captain Vile and freed my uncle, not knowing what else to do with such a high ranking nobleman. Since then I've been trying to find where my uncle had my father hidden. I eventually determined he was being held by corrupt priests of Procan on Leper Island!"

"Baylore here said that he knew about those corrupt priests. They allowed pirates to use the island and their abbey to smuggle stolen goods to the Sea Princes to the south. He said that after Captain Vile was imprisoned, his remaining crew attacked the island hoping to sack it and raid it of its stored treasures. He said that no one had heard from the pirates since, so he had no idea if they succeeded or not."

"So we're going to Leper Island, which is forbidden for obvious reasons. We're landing after dark to conceal our approach. We're going to find the abbey, enter it, find my father, and rescue him. Any questions?"

Bobert blinked wearily. He groaned, laid back down in the boat, and went to sleep.

A Long Walk on the Beach
The sun had set. It was now dark. A bright full moon rose over the eastern horizon. The island loomed before them. The island was oblong, a mile wide and just over three miles long. The island was a long flat slab perched at an angle. The far side was a cliff almost a hundred feet tall. The near side dipped into the sea and was covered by a sandy beach and hundreds of feet of windswept dunes.

Baylore possessed excellent night vision. He could see in the moonlight the remains of a pinnance smashed and broken and half buried by the sand. "That's the pirate landing craft. They never left the island."

They landed their launch near the remains of the pinnance. A clear path made by dozens of boots led away from the beach. The path was nearly three weeks old. Baylore had the best night vision so he led the way. The sand was loose and difficult to walk on. He followed the tracks through the towering dunes for about six hundred feet. To his surprise, the tracks veered sharply to the right. He shrugged and continued on, leaving the path of the tracks.

As they climbed the dune before them, a cold wind blew from the center of the island. The loose sand blew over the dune. Then more sand began to shift. It soon became apparent that humanoid figures wearing scraps of armor and carrying old rusted short swords and short bows were rising from the sands.

They were surrounded by the animated skeletons of the long dead!

The five of the skeletons charged the party and engaged in hand-to-hand combat while the remaining four loosed arrows from decrepit short bows.

Alot Aname slashed and stabbed at the skeletons with his short sword. Meanwhile Baylore waded into a throng of skeletons with nothing more than his bare fists. To everyone's surprise, Baylore would punch a skeleton in the skull and it would explode. He'd punch the next in the rib-cage and it would explode. He moved swiftly through skeleton after skeleton while Alot struggled.

The skeletons were soon destroyed. Brenna approached Alot and offered him a belaying pin, "Take this. They'll do more damage against yon skeletal beasties."

Alot sheathed his short sword, took the wooden implement, and thanked the sorceress.

The team pressed on. Baylore soon found the trail of footprints. It led from the right and made a turn directly ahead. They followed the path for three hundred feet before the path turned sharply to the left. Baylore once again shrugged and pushed on.

Once again they were beset by nine animated skeletons that rose from the sands! Once again they made relatively short work of the clattering fiends. Bobert was injured from some of the arrows but his wounds were tended by Brenna.

The Juggernaut of Bone
As they continued straight ahead the air became completely still and all was silent but the crashing waves of the Azure Sea. They were near the center of the dunes. The silence gave way to the sound of sliding sand all around them. Bones were rising from the dunes in all directions. They were surrounded by a clattering army of skeletons marching towards them. Before them rose a great pile of bones. The pile was twenty feet tall and took on an amorphous roughly humanoid form as it heaved towards them.

They were surrounded and squeezed together from all sides. Aella cast a witch-bolt spell at the juggernaut of bone and rose on a gust of wind that blew her backwards away from the crushing mass of skeleton warriors.

Alot shouted, "Stay away from the juggernaut! If it crashes down on you its bad news!"

Bobert managed to call upon the spirits of nature for help and a mass of weeds and vines sprang from the sand beneath the skeletons and the heaving juggernaut. The skeletons moved through the vines with east but the juggernaut became impeded. Bobert ducked low and scurried to safety away from the scrum of skeletons. Likewise did Brenna, Baylore, and Alot manage to maneuver away from the juggernaut while crushing skeletons.

DM Note- 
All the player characters managed to stay or be more than ten feet away from the juggernaut. The range of its tidal wave of bone is ten feet. Alas, its primary attack was neutered!

The juggernaut of bone was ensnared by the net of vines and weeds that had overgrown it. The sustained lightning bolt from Aella's witch-bolt continued to burn away the juggernaut and bones began to slough away from the mass. Soon the juggernaut lost all cohesion  and fell apart into a mass of bones. The bones soon reformed into separate humanoid skeletons.

Once the juggernaut was defeated the party made relatively short work of the remaining skeletons.

A few members of the party had taken a beating so they decided to rest for an hour before continuing.

The Ruins of the Abbey
The party continued their march towards the center of the island. They emerged from the dunes onto a grassy field. The moon shone high overhead and the wind blew through the tall grass in undulating waves. Small clumps of short trees were visible here and there.

They arrived at the site of the old Abbey. It was in ruins - burned to the ground. A pile of rubble, debris, and charred timbers were all that was left of what was once a tower. The ceiling of the attached refectory and leper hospital had collapsed and burned.  The pirate raiders had sacked the abbey and left nothing standing.

However, the ruins appeared to have been moved. Stones were piled up. Areas had been cleared. There were several small piles of items that had been salvaged from the rubble - utensils and tools mostly. Someone had survived and someone had been trying to clean up the remains.

More importantly, the rubble had been cleared around what was once a trap door in the floor of the refectory.

Baylore looked at Lemundo. Lemundo nodded. Baylore said, "Right, let's go in, shall we?"

Bobert backed away, "I'll- I'll just wait out here." The scruffy halfling sat down on a block and uncorked a bottle. "Have fun though!"

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Wrath of Aulicus - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 24

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The party stood silently. No one dared speak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of Marlin
As Auric fell the celestial ravens vanished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Versus a dragon.

It was all or nothing.

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

Aella had won!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A male human poked his head up and looked around.

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

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

"We should inform Mordrin and Gormundel immediately."

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

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

"What happened here?" demanded the guard.

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

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

The guard's companion joined him on the platform.

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

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

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

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

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

Next week - Introducing the B-Team!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Into the Drowned Forest - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 23

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

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

"What's going on?" asked Auric.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen DeManis

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Aren't you Stephen?"

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

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

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

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

"How about we take this boat?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annor shouted, "Look out! Moss Goblins!"

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

Marlin said, "They're clearly trolls!"

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

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

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

With that, the deadly melee recommenced!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They can do that??" exclaimed Annor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auric wrinkled his nose, "Okay..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued...