Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Road to Seaton - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 30

It was a quiet morning in Saltmarsh.

The fishing boats had returned the previous day with a bountiful catch. There had been a celebration in the street with much rejoicing. Today the streets were quiet. The window shutters were closed. A few of the previous night's revelers still slept outdoors clutching half-empty bottles on benches and in piles of hay.

Baylore and Brenna waited impatiently for the Loyal Quartermasters of Iuz to open. He had been told that Captain Xendros was the person to see regarding the buying and selling of ancient artifacts and relics.

They were soon joined by Alot who had spent the night guarding the temple of Tristan outside the cemetery. With death of the temple priest Auric the worship of Tristan had lost its only priest in the entire land of Flaeness. The temple now belonged to the half-orc gravedigger Krag and the temple's two initiates.

Captain Xendros finally arrived. After a brief and perfunctory denial that she would have any connection to such a trade, she accepted their payment and showed them her current inventory.

The B-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.
  • Baylore - Neutral Human Pirate and Pugilist (Monk). 
  • Brenna - 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.
  • Duke Obertus Feldren - rightful duke of Seaton after having been imprisoned by his duplicitous twin brother Marik. 
  • Lemundo Feldren - daughter of Oberus. She hired the B-Team to rescue her father and to help her restore him to his title.
  • Dorgan Forgetender - spoiled son of the leader of the Graniteshaper clan of dwarves, sent to Seaton to oversee work, became a favorite of Duke Marik Feldren, and subsequently humiliated and imprisoned by his benefactor for refusing to carve lewd sculptures.

The Road to Seaton
After purchasing a potion of healing, a pearl of power, a ring of swimming, and putting in a special order, the group left the amiable Captain Xendros to meet Aella at her house. There they reunited with Aella, Duke Obertus Feldren, his daughter Lemundo, the dwarf Bordar Graniteshaper, and his charge "Prince" Dorgan Forgetender.

The team equipped themselves for an overland journey to the nearby town of Seaton - capital of the duchy. The duke wore the robes of a monk of Procan to conceal his identity. Lemundo wore the hooded cloak over her adventuring attire she donned with pretending to be her commoner alter ego - Lemony Butterscotch. They set out up the coast road - essentially some wagon tracks that followed the coastline. By mid-day they had arrived at the dwarven mine. They stopped there for lunch and left Dorgan Foregetender to wait for their return. Bordar pledged that he would punish Duke Marik for the harsh treatment and indignities inflicted upon the young dwarf.

By mid afternoon they turned inland and followed the Sea River. Across the river they could see Seaton. It had changed in the two years Duke Obertus had been imprisoned. The once bustling port had been remade into a shipyard for the royal navy, its berths occupied not with ships of trade but with warships. The warehouses were replaced with barracks and training grounds. The ducal palace had been transformed into a massive walled citadel. 

Lemundo said that many of those changes had been undone in the last two months. Now all the royal warships sat careened and empty along the river's banks. Docked along the waterfront were pirate ships and smuggler's vessels. No royal soldiers could be seen. The town seemed deserted. There was none of the usual activity - either mercantile or military - for which Seaton had become known. 

They traveled a mile upriver to the old stone bridge that crossed the Sea River. They were asked to pay the standard toll of one silver piece per walking foot. They gladly paid. On the other side, however, they were stopped by a burly guard who demanded a sum of twenty gold pieces to exit the bridge. 

The duke, still disguised as a humble monk, became incensed that one of his guards would be so corrupt as to demand a bribe. The duke almost broke character as he berated the guard.

Brenna, in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, said, "Calm down, Duke."

The guard stopped short, "What did you call him?"

Baylore slapped his forehead. 

Brenna tried to recover, "I, ah, I said calm down dude."

The guard became suspicious, "No, you said duke." He peered at the monk intently, "You, remove your hood."

The duke removed his hood. The guard staggered backward, "D-Duke Marik! I mean, your excellency!"

The duke wrinkled his brow at being mistaken for his twin brother, the usurper, but he proceeded with the impersonation. He glared at the guard, "Guard, you will stand at attention!"

The guard regained his composure, "Pardon me, your excellency! M-might I ask a question?"

"What is it?" barked Duke Obertus.

"W-why are you dressed as a monk?"

"That is none of your business, guard! But if you must know, I sometimes dress as a commoner to travel unnoticed among the people. Remember that the next time you demand a bribe!"

"Y-yes sir! Yes, your excellency!"

With that the group continued across the bridge and turned south to Seaton. 

The Catacombs of the Citadel
As they neared the entrance to the city gates, Baylore pulled Duke Obertus aside, "Hey duke," said the pirate, addressing the duke of Seaton with startling informality, "I'm going to do a trick I learned. Hold still."

Baylore began to physically manipulate the duke's face. The flesh and muscles held its shape as if it were molded clay. Baylore had changed the duke's appearance using a minor magic spell he had picked up when he was younger. The group therefore entered the gates of the city without incident while Baylore glared at Brenna. 

A moment later the duke's appearance returned to normal. The duke said, "Follow me. I know a secret entrance into the palace."

He led them down an alley, through a back door, and into a cellar. There was a concealed door that revealed a dark narrow passage barely three feet wide. Lemundo and Duke Obertus lit torches and the group proceeded down the long winding passage.

After a few hundred feet the passage ended behind the back side of another concealed door. The duke told the others, "Through there one can enter the catacombs beneath the palace. It is lightly guarded. From there we can find the palace bath and a corridor to my chambers. I must ask you, if you encounter any of my guards, try not to kill them. They are simply performing their duties."

Baylore nodded and instructed the others to wait while he scouted ahead.

He quietly opened the door a crack and looked around. It was completely dark. The pirate's excellent night vision allowed him to see a long tiled corridor with an arched ceiling. He saw a nearby pillar. Leaning against the pillar was a humanoid guard. The guard was just standing there. In complete darkness. He could hear the guard breathing as well as the sound of additional guards farther down the corridor hidden by the gloom.

He sneaked through the door and gently approached the guard from behind. He crept around the pillar and punched the guard. The guard was caught completely by surprise and was knocked unconscious before he knew what hit him.  Baylore gently lowered the guard to the floor and examined him more closely.

The guard was a hobgoblin mercenary!

He gingerly crept farther down the hall and could make out five or more additional hobgoblin guards congregating in the complete darkness at the next pillar.

Baylore returned to the secret passage and reported his findings.

The duke rubbed his chin, "Hobgoblin mercenaries? In my palace? It would appear that my brother has allied himself with foreign influences. This changes everything. Something is afoot. You have my permission to kill every last one of the orange-skinned bastards."

Sneak Attack
The entire party filed into the main passage one at a time as quietly as they could. Baylore went to the far wall. Bordar moved behind a nearby pillar. Alot Aname lumbered into the passage. His heavy armor and weapons shook and clanked as he strode forward. He whispered loudly to the others, "Its pitch black! I can't see anything! What's happening?"

Baylore and Bordar, who had moved with grace and stealth with the ability to see in total darkness, both winced as the heavily armored automaton.

Lemundo and her father Duke Obertus Feldren gently laid their lit torches down in the secret corridor and carefully exited into the gloom of the main passage. They, too, were blind in the darkness.

Down the hall, the hobgoblins turned and looked in Alot's direction. Before they could act, Brenna pointed the barbed harpoon tip known as "Hearthspoon", uttered an arcane word, and sent a fireball to their location.

The group of hobgoblins exploded in a massive burst of flame!

Baylore and Bordar charged the remaining hobgoblins. The scene was momentarily illuminated by the dying fire, allowing Alot and Lemundo to join them. 

Only three hobgoblins remained. Two who appeared to be sergeants and a heavily armored captain. One of the sergeants advanced to engage Bordar and Alot in combat. The other sergeant moved right and attacked Lemundo. Duke Feldren quickly came to his daughter's aid in fighting the hobgoblin sergeant. The captain had taken cover behind a pillar. Aella sent several attack spells arcing around the pillar towards the captain.

Baylore went after the captain, using his special stealth skills to disappear and reappear in the pervasive shadows - attacking the captain from every direction.

The captain turned to escape and report the intrusion. Bordar struck down the hobgoblin sergeant and gave chase but was unable to keep up with the captain. Baylore disappeared and reappeared in front of the captain, blocking his escape. Baylore and Bordar attacked the captain but the hobgoblin feinted and parried their attacks.

Aella made an arcane gesture and uttered a mystic phrase. A bonfire appeared around the hobgoblin captain. The captain howled in pain and ran away, dodging and parrying as he escaped. The light of the fire gave Alot a moment of sight. He closed on the hobgoblin. Bordar and Baylor likewise followed the captain and one again had him surrounded.

The hobgoblin captain was ninety feet from the door at the end of the corridor. He was surrounded by his enemies. He was gravely injured and burned. He grit his teeth and made one final attempt to escape. He ran towards the door but the captain was struck down by a well-placed firebolt spell from Aella's outstretched finger. There was a tiny burst of flame as the hobgoblin captain fell dead only sixty feet from the door.

Alot stood in the darkness and blindly called out, "What is it? What's happening? DID WE WIN?"

Baylor took Alot's mechanical hand and assured him they had won.

The team re-grouped and the duke and his daughter picked up their torches. They moved to the iron door at the end of the passage. They prepared themselves to enter the next room. The duke said that the room contained a heated communal bath.

Alot opened the door.

Within was a vaulted room with a tiled recessed area that was once filled with water. The bath had been drained and the room had been converted into a barracks for hobgoblins. The room was lit by braziers and lanterns. A cage in one corner of the room contained a human prisoner - a middle-aged noble-man. A handful of hobgoblin mercenaries were in the opposite corner of the room sharpening their weapons. They looked up at Alot's unexpected intrusion.

To be Continued...

DM Note
We were unable to meet in person this week so we decided to try Roll20. This was our first ever attempt at using Roll20 and it went fairly well. 

I did some prep, not a lot, and went through the basic operations with the players before the game. I had to reconfigure my main encounter right at the beginning because I set it up wrong. I had set up an entire encounter using human palace guards but I forgot until the encounter started that I originally planned to use hobgoblins. Roll20 allowed me to change most of the NPCs quickly on the fly and I could gloss over the rest.

I like the features a lot. Everything that’s great about Roll20 is great. I love the initiative tracker and hp trackers. I learned from some little and big mistakes that I’ll be ready for next time.

Audio got clunky at times. Lots of little drop offs. Lots of family interruptions. Lots of loud unwanted sound effects. Lots of people disappearing without notice.

Players kept drawing lewd pictures on the map, (rolls eyes) and attention to what was going on was about as poor as ink-person games.

At the end I gave a big cliffhanger ending description, but the player of the only PC in the room said, “sorry, I was AFK. What did I miss?” I kind of rage quit because I was exhausted and annoyed. NOT his fault! By that time I just really needed a snickers.

Other than that my players were REMARKABLY patient with me and with each other. There was a good hour there where we were really humming and had figured our collective shit out.

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