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It started in Saltmarsh...

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Adept Greytalker

Joined: Jan 05, 2002
Posts: 468
Location: Central Utah

PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 2:56 pm    Post subject: It started in Saltmarsh... Reply with quote

This thread will be a campaign journal for a game I started with co-workers. It is set in the southwestern Flanaess in 570 - the party started in Saltmarsh but are ranging farther afield with each adventure.

I will use this first post as a Table of Contents

1. Backstory for "Dirty Larry", Mountain Dwarf Druid, level 1.
2. Backstory for Tyrius of Sterich, Human (Oerid) Paladin of Pelor, level 1.
3. Backstory for Thokk, Half-orc Barbarian, level 1.
4. Arrival in Saltmarsh.
5. Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee, Half-elf Wizard, level 1.
6. Backstory for Babshapka, Wood Elf Ranger, level 1.
7. Backstory for Barnabus, Halfling Rogue, level 1.
8. Arrival in Saltmarsh (reprise)
9. The call to adventure
10. The Haunted House, upper levels
My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

Last edited by Kirt on Mon Apr 16, 2018 9:37 am; edited 12 times in total
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Adept Greytalker

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Posts: 468
Location: Central Utah

PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 2:59 pm    Post subject: Post 1: Backstory for Dirty Larry Reply with quote

Larrenthal was born to a clan of Crystalmist Dwarves. His clan was wealthy, prosperous, and in the process of expanding its holdings and starting daughter colonies to explore new mines. His parents were among those chosen to pioneer a new colony, and they set out with him still in his mother’s arms. At three years old he was developing like any dwarven infant - he could crawl and babble but not walk or talk.

What was supposed to be a short caravan journey in the late fall to an already-secure base instead turned into a nightmare when his parents and all their clanmates were ambushed by a combined force of ogres, bugbears, and goblins. The battle was long, bloody, and desperate. His mother was the last dwarf to die, just after she hid him under some bundles in a mule cart. The goblins were already leading the live mules away while the ogres feasted on the dead ones, when a huge bear came upon the scene. It must have been a cave bear, for it towered over even the ogres. After a few dozen goblins had been crushed by its paws, the rest retreated - for the moment.

Then, the bear was gone and an elderly man was probing in the cart with his staff, seeking the source of the baby’s cry he had somehow heard through the din of the battle. The man took the dwarven babe and retreated to his cave before the humanoids could regroup. All through that winter the old man cared for the babe and by the spring, Larry was walking and talking – but he spoke in Flan, not Dwarven.

The werebear druid had thought to return the babe to the first group of dwarves he found in the spring. Little did he know that the caravan massacre had prompted the dwarves of the area into a series of wars and genocidal campaigns against the humanoids that lasted for years. Dwarves aboveground had been rare before – now they were simply not to be found except in military hosts, none of which passed near the alpine valley that was the druid’s home.

The first dwarven explorers to arrive after the war were seeking pasturelands for their goats. They came when the boy was ten. Of course they knew the story of the massacre, of course they knew to which clan Larry belonged, of course they offered to return him. But when Larry was taken back to the cold stone halls of his father’s clan, he found all of his near kinsmen had been killed in the wars. True, he had distant cousins who took him in. But what were they to make of the boy who cried at the dark, who begged to see the sun and feel the wind, and who couldn’t even speak Dwarven? The boy who preferred mud to woolens and trees to forges? After two weeks, “Dirty Larry” begged to be returned “home” to the old man – and his kinsmen did not take much to convince, did not even consider Larry a “real dwarf”, but a strange, wild “bear boy”.

Over the next years the kindly old bear-man taught Larry the ways of the Old Faith, the Great Circle of the Flan, the names of all the gods and spirits of the woods and hills and mountains. Larry grew and learned and prospered, until his foster father initiated him into the First Mystery and told him that to learn more he would have to apprentice to another druid. No, he could not apprentice with the old man – they were too close and the druid's code prohibited apprenticeships within family. Besides, the man claimed to be too old.

It was only a few months ago that the man determined to send Larry to the Great Druidess. He had heard tell that the current head of the Druidic Orders held moot in the Dreadwood, far to the south. A longer journey than the old man cared to make, and through lands far too civilized.

The old man knew of a remote temple to the Old Faith, though. It was considered part of the
country of Sterich, but they did not have to cross many farms or fields to get there. Just a few valleys over, really, though the journey took them weeks, scaling the mountainsides.

The old man approached the temple warily, for in truth he seldom spoke to men, but the Head Priest knew the Old Ways well and welcomed them in the temple garden. He agreed to take Larry in and find a guide for him to the Great Druidess. Larry cried that afternoon, for the first time in many years, and would have had the old man stay if he could have moved him, but the man said his final lesson was that loss, too, was part of the cycle of life.

Larry had not been at the temple a se’nnight when he was introduced to Tyrius, a bright young paladin of Pelor, shining like a newly-minted coin. The pair were a perfect contrast – the tall, handsome, worldly, noble-born youth and the short, stout, grubby dwarf who went everywhere barefoot. Tyrius escorted Larry down the valley into Sterich proper. Every hamlet they passed seemed a city to Larry, but the hamlets grew into thorps, the thorps to villages. Finally, in a bustling river-village, Tyrius booked passage on a boat headed downriver. It carried refined ores from the mountain mines and the dense cargo meant there was plenty of deck space for passengers.

They navigated by day and pulled up at night, for the swift mountain river had many rapids that could only be safely run in the light. They had been on the water just a few days when came a misty morning. The captain advanced the boat slowly, but then ordered his men to make camp when they spied the first set of rapids. He would pilot it later in the day, when the sun had burned off the mists. Little did he know that this was a favored ambush spot of a band of hobgoblins who preyed upon the river traffic. They fell upon the camp in the mist and a half-dozen guards were slain in the space of a few minutes. The remaining guards rallied and carried the day and the hobgoblins were driven back.

But as the mists cleared, there was a curious sight – a towering, misshapen man stood among the slain. He seemed just as surprised to see them as they him, and he drew a huge axe and began to chant. The boat guards surrounded him and prepared for another fight, but then the strangest thing happened. Tyrius stepped forward.

Moving slowly, the paladin approached the misshapen man with hands open. Tyrius led him to the river’s edge. He showed him the corpse of a hobgoblin, and the man said he had not been with the hobgoblins, no, he had not attacked the guards; he was just looking for a meal. After that Tyrius began arguing with a riverboat captain. Tyrius told the captain that he needed more guards to replace his losses, and pressed him to accept the misshapen man into his service. The captain did not trust the stranger further than he could spit, but eventually his greed overcame his common sense. He gave the man a berth in the ship and meals and let him act as a guard without pay. Larry came to learn later that the man was not misshapen. In fact, he was a half-orc named Thokk, a wild raider from the mountains who was fleeing his home, much like Larry.

The guards grumbled and cursed the stranger all the way downriver, past the confluence with the Javan and then the Hool, until the ship entered the trackless Hool Marshes. Then, after fights with lizardfolk, marsh orcs, and bullywugs, where Thokk and his great axe slew more than any of them, their grumbling ceased.

Thus it came to everyone’s great surprise that when the ship emerged from the swamplands and docked in the port of Saltmarsh, the captain insisted that Thokk go ashore. The captain had just been made to pay for the King’s Protection on the remaining journey to Gradsul, he said, and he’d be damned if he was taking a free-loading orc bastard to the city when they’d left the combats behind. Tyrius argued with him past his patience, which resulted in the paladin being told to go ashore as well, along with Larry. In truth, it all seemed no great loss to Larry, for the town was a scant few leagues overland from Larry’s goal - the Dreadwood, but Tyrius did seem rather put out.

Now Thokk, Tyrius, and Larry stand on the docks of Saltmarsh, watching the ship cast off.
My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

Last edited by Kirt on Wed Mar 07, 2018 2:20 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Adept Greytalker

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Location: Central Utah

PostPosted: Mon Feb 26, 2018 11:30 am    Post subject: Post 2: Backstory for Tyrius Reply with quote

Tyrius was born to an old and important Sterich noble family, themselves related to the Earl of Sterich (the nation’s ruler). Tyrius was the third son of a distant cousin of the head of his family. He was raised to be cultured, sophisticated, and elite – but the older he grew, the more tenuous he realized his position was. His father held lands that were smaller than his title was due. His eldest brother stood to inherit those lands, barely enough to maintain the family’s privilege. His eldest brother was the heir, his older brother was the spare, and Tyrius, as a third son, was just an inconvenience.

He was barely twelve when they sent him away to take holy orders. He went to a large and respected pantheonic temple in Istivin, the capital city. He didn’t appreciate how much his family was paying, he only knew that he was not willing to trade his life of privilege for scrubbing floors as a novice. He complained constantly, he got into fights with the other novices, and he had no patrons among the clergy-teachers who were willing to advance his position.

After several miserable months he was moved to a dedicated temple of Hieroneous. He was somewhat happier there, as at least the drudgery was supplemented with martial training, which he both enjoyed and excelled at. But the clergy there demanded strict obedience and deference, and Tyrius never missed an opportunity to remind the low-born war priests that regardless of his rank within the church, he was still their social better. After he had insulted his trainers one too many times, he was sent to a remote shrine to Pelor, something both he and his trainers considered more of a punishment than anything else. Pelor was a Flan deity for godssake – a god with no noble patrons and no presence at court, a lingering, embarrassing reminder of the conquered aboriginal people and their backward “Old Faith”. When she learned of this latest humiliation, his mother sent Tyrius a final letter – his family had had enough of his foolishness, they were ending his allowance, and they did not want to hear any more from him until he had been made a priest of some faith, any faith.

The shrine to Pelor, the sun god, was small, with him the only novice among a handful of priests. There was even more manual labor than before – cutting wood, milking goats, dipping candles – but now the brother-priests worked alongside him rather than lording it over him. And as much as he railed at them and cursed his misfortune, they just smiled back. All the other, previous, priests had risen to his challenges, been insulted by his abuse – but these priests of Pelor were so selfless, so effacing. They honestly cared about him and ignored his tirades. Eventually he was intrigued and had to know their secret.

They explained Pelorian dogma to him: “Justice and freedom are the fruits of charity, modesty, and perseverance. The truly strong don't need to prove their power. Perform so many good acts that evil has no room in which to exist. Pelor’s strength is the power of will and hope, the need to confront evil in the face of insurmountable odds. Be wrathful against the forces of evil, corruption, and darkness, and especially the undead. But remember that excessive attention to things of evil can blind one to more important things: personal compassion and goodness.”

Tyrius had insulted their race and their low birth; they knew that social place does not bring goodness or happiness. Tyrius had insulted their lack of wisdom and education; they accepted his challenge to their vanity and had compassion for his anger. In the end, they won him over. Their honest desire for goodness in the world, for helping people, seemed more fulfilling to him then the anxious social scrambling of his own noble family. He still had a temper and had many relapses – but every time they forgave him, his faith grew stronger. He studied the dogma and mysteries, learned the healing arts and the arts of righteous warfare, dedicated his time to improving himself and helping others.

By sixteen he was a man grown and was anointed a paladin of Pelor. He had been in a purifying vigil for a week and had not known of the recent arrival of a curious visitor to the shrine. The pair were a perfect contrast – Tyrius was by now tall and handsome, and had always been worldly and noble-born. The visitor was a stout, grubby dwarf who went everywhere barefoot, had atrocious table manners and who could barely speak Common. When the dwarf introduced himself as “Larrenthal, but you can call me Dirty Larry,” Tyrius was simultaneously appalled and delighted at the chance to put his faith to the test. The Head Priest told Tyrius that the dwarf was to be escorted to the moot of the Great Druidess, deep in the Dreadwood – and that Tyrius himself would be the escort as his first official duty as a paladin.

His brothers in Pelor had given him just enough food for their journey overland to the headwaters of the Davish river, and just enough coin to book passage for them both in a merchant ship bound for Gradsul. In that great city the brothers of the shrine of Pelor would provide aid for the last leg of the journey.

Tyrius escorted Larry down the valley into Sterich proper. Every hamlet they passed seemed a city to Larry, and Tyrius came to believe the dwarf truly had been raised in the wild. Finally, in a bustling river-village, Tyrius booked passage on a boat headed downstream. It carried refined ores from the mountain mines and the dense cargo meant there was plenty of deck space for passengers. The captain was a foul and grasping sort, and Tyrius took this as another great test of his faith.

They had been on the river for just a few days, navigating by day and pulling up at night, for the swift mountain river had many rapids that could only be run in the light, when came a misty morning. The captain advanced the boat slowly in the open river, but then ordered his men to make camp when they spied the first set of rapids. He would pilot it later in the day, he said, when the sun had burned off the mists. Little did he know that this was a favored ambush spot of a band of hobgoblins. They fell upon the camp in the mist and a half-dozen guards were slain in the space of a few minutes. The remaining guards rallied (with help from Tyrius and Larry) and carried the day and the hobgoblins were driven back into the fog.

But as the mists cleared, there was a curious sight – a towering, barbaric half-orc stood among the slain. He seemed just as surprised to see them as they him, and he drew a huge axe and began to chant. The boat guards surrounded him and readied themselves for another fight. At first, Tyrius prepared to defend his comrades, the ship’s guards, and protect his charge the dwarf. But then the strangest thing happened. Through the grace of Pelor, Tyrius looked upon the half-orc and simply knew that he was not one of the attackers. His mind kept returning to the lessons he had learned about St. Jalnir the Gentle, a half-orc Peloran priest of legend. Tyrius stepped forward. Moving slowly, he approached the man with hands open. Tyrius led him to the river’s edge. He showed him the corpse of a hobgoblin, and the man said he had not been with the hobgoblins, no, he had not attacked the guards; he had arrived after the battle and was just looking for a meal. Tyrius knew that the divine will of Pelor was in this meeting. He explained to the riverboat captain that he was low on guards and should take the man on. The captain claimed the half-orc would slit their throats at the first opportunity. Tyrius vouched for him and pressed the captain on his weak spot – coin. How much would it cost him to replace these guards, simple sellswords who had never been in a battle before today, when he could have this seasoned warrior for free? Eventually the man’s greed won out. He gave the half-orc, Thokk, a berth on the ship and meals and let him act as a guard without pay. The other guards grumbled and cursed the stranger all the way downriver, past the confluence with the Javan and then the Hool, until the ship entered the trackless Hool Marshes. Then, after fights with lizardfolk, marsh orcs, and bullywugs, where Thokk and his great axe slew more than any of them, their grumbling ceased.

Perhaps Tyrius had still not learned the humility of a true Peloran. Perhaps he had failed to thank or praise the captain enough for simply doing an adequate job. When the ship emerged from the swamps and docked in the port of Saltmarsh, the captain insisted that Thokk go ashore. In Saltmarsh the captain would have to pay the tax for the King’s Protection on the remaining journey to Gradsul, and said he’d be damned if he was taking a free-loading orc bastard to the city when they’d left all the combats behind. Tyrius tried to reason with him, but old habits die hard and their discussion became an argument, the first time Tyrius had raised his voice in years. This resulted in both he and the dwarf being kicked off the boat as well.

True, they were now only a few leagues from the Dreadwood, but on the wrong side of that vast forest. Tyrius had paid for passage to Gradsul, from where he could take the King’s Road to the northern side of the forest, and there beg an elven guide to the moot of the Great Druidess within. Entering here, on the south side, would mean crossing leagues of dangerous forest infested by humanoids, with no idea of where they were going or how to get there. Tyrius had some coin left in his purse, but he doubted it was enough to book passage for himself on another ship to Gradsul, let alone the three of them. And what was he supposed to do with the half-orc now? He had naively assumed that the captain would have been so pleased with Thokk’s performance in the marshes that he would have taken him on as a paid guard upon reaching Gradsul. But now, he could hardly leave the savage warrior with no means of employment in a peaceful port town - that was surely asking for trouble.

Tyrius, Larry, and Thokk now stand on the docks of Saltmarsh, watching their former ship cast off.
My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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Adept Greytalker

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Location: Central Utah

PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 11:04 am    Post subject: Post 3: Backstory for Thokk Reply with quote

Thokk was born in a powerful orc tribe in the Crystalmist Mountains, although he was not himself an orc. His mother was a human woman, captured by an upstart orc chieftain on the first raid of his rule from among the rare human mountain holds. Most human captives were quickly worked to death, or tortured for entertainment and then eaten, but for some reason the chieftain instead made Thokk’s mother part of his official harem. He was young and brash and claimed that keeping a human enslaved was a sign of his power and prestige, and he was strong enough that no one in his tribe could argue, though the shamans muttered against him. No one expected the woman to live long, but she was of stout mountain folk and survived the petty cruelties of his other concubines without complaint. Much to everyone’s surprise she even bore the chieftain a son before the next winter and it was likely this that ensured her survival. Thokk never knew whether or not the chieftain had any actual feelings for his mother, but he did defend her against his tribe and that is about as tender-hearted as one could expect an orc to be.

Though far stronger and more precocious than any human child, Thokk lagged behind his orc peers and was considered a runt and a weakling by everyone but his mother. He has no memories before his fifth summer, and looking back now he cannot imagine how she was able to keep him alive. His earliest memory is of his mother presenting him with a simple carven flute, and his next is of being allowed to play for the chieftain. After that he was much at the chieftain’s side, entertaining him and his personal guard as they lounged drowsily after feasts and ruts. Being in his father’s “court” often meant that Thokk had occasion to listen to visiting dignitaries, for his tribe was important, indeed. Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, even human priests and bandits, all passed through his father’s halls, and Thokk soon found he had a skill with language. By his seventh winter his mother was dead but he had secured a position as his father’s official interpreter.

Though his growth was slow, he did keep growing, and by ten had even achieved the adult size and strength his peers had reached years ago. He asked to be made one of the tribe, underwent the ritual scarring, and killed a fellow applicant four years his junior with his bare hands as part of the initiation ceremony. The shaman named him “Thokk” after the sound his fists made bashing in the face of his opponent.

Once he was actually a tribe member, his life became, if not easy, at least relatively free. Sometimes he volunteered for raids, and even won human-crafted weapons as blood booty. More often, though, he preferred solitary hunting, providing game for the chieftain’s household. He was not afraid of the fighting during battles, but he knew he faced as much danger from the tribemates at his back as he did from the enemies at his front - killing him in the confusion of battle would be an easy way to eliminate him. Twice his father sent him as interpreter on diplomatic missions afield – once to a bugbear king, once to human hold. It was on the latter that he was given a hunting trap in the vain hope he would convince his tribe to cease hostilities. Iron, gnome-crafted with a spring mechanism, the trap was finer than anything in the tribe and he concealed it from the others as the most valuable thing he owned. He never used it within less than a day’s journey from the lair.

Then the day came that he had long dreaded. After a particularly fine feast, a member of the chieftain’s guard slew his aged father and assumed control of the tribe. Along with all the others, Thokk pledged his loyalty to the new chieftain, his own half-brother. He begged leave to go hunting and return with meat as a show of fealty to the new ruler. His request was granted.

As he packed his few possessions (axes and javelins, a staff and a waterskin) he could already hear members of the chieftain’s guard wagering on how long he would live after his return. With his father dead, all his half-siblings were in danger - but Thokk especially so.

For the next three days he did not sleep. He first traveled into the mountains to recover his trap, but then pushed east toward the human lands down in the valley. Nowhere was safe for him now within the territory of his erstwhile tribe, but outside its territory, nowhere was safe for a solitary orc. Thokk had fought against enough of his tribe’s respected neighbors to know he did not stand a chance against any of them alone, but his tribe had always derided the humans as soft and weak, so he thought his best chance for solitary survival lay in human lands.

He skulked among the human holds of the land they called “Sterich” for the next week, moving at night and hiding in the day. He stole chickens and sucked eggs, found a rope and a tinderbox in a barn, and made it as far as the great river his people called the “Dagar” and the humans the “Davish”. He thought it wise to avoid the river as being too well-traveled, but on a cold and misty morning he heard the sounds of battle. Battle meant corpses, which meant he could scavenge gear or a meal or both. After the sounds had died down, he crept forward in the mists. He had just found his first fallen, a human soldier, but had not yet eaten of the corpse when the mists suddenly cleared and he realized he was surrounded by a whole squad of human soldiers. Though they were winded and bloodied, there were still six of them and only one of him. He pulled out his axe and began his death-chant.

Even as the men began to surround him, the strangest thing happened. A young human man in a white robe, obviously not one of the soldiers, stepped forward. Moving slowly, he approached Thokk with his hands open and empty. Thokk was ready to split his head with the axe and then start on the soldiers, but something about the man’s eyes bewitched him. They looked on him not with the fear and loathing of the soldiers, not with the contempt of his tribemates, but with a concern and compassion he had only ever seen before in the eyes of his mother. Was it his hunger, or his weariness? Thokk did not kill the man, but allowed him to lead him to the river’s edge. The man showed him the corpse of a hobgoblin, and he surprised the man by speaking Common and answering his questions. No, he had not been with the hobgoblins, no, he had not attacked the soldiers; he was just looking for a meal. After that things became surreal as the man began arguing with a riverboat captain. Thokk did not catch much of their shouted, heavily-accented argument, but pieced it together over the next few days. The riverboat was transporting refined metals from a mine in the mountains to a market downriver. The boat had begun with a full complement of guards, but nearly half had been slain by the hobgoblin attack.

The man, a priest named Tyrius, told the captain that he needed more men to properly defend the barge, and pressed him to accept Thokk into his service. The captain did not trust Thokk further than he could spit, but eventually his greed overcame his common sense. He gave Thokk a berth in the ship and meals and let him act as a guard without pay. The other soldiers grumbled and cursed him all the way downriver, past the confluence with the Javan and then the Hool, until the ship entered the trackless Hool Marshes. Then, after fights with lizardfolk, marsh orcs, and bullywugs, where Thokk and his great axe slew more foes than any of them, their grumbling ceased.

Thus it came to everyone’s great surprise that when the ship emerged from the swamp and docked in the port of Saltmarsh, the captain insisted that Thokk go ashore. He had just had to pay for the King’s Protection on the remaining journey to Gradsul, he said, and he’d be damned if he was taking a free-loading orc bastard to the city when they’d left the combats behind for good. Tyrius argued with the captain past his patience, which resulted in the priest being told to go ashore as well, along with his odd dwarven ward. Once their argument began, Thokk was able to nick, unseen, a bedroll, backpack, and mess kit from one of the guards, and pass it to a dock worker for “unloading” as if it were his own.

Now Thokk, the priest, and the hairy dwarf stand on the docks of Saltmarsh, watching the ship cast off.
My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 2:11 pm    Post subject: Post 4: Arrival in Saltmarsh. Reply with quote

27 July, 570 (afternoon) - Saltmarsh

[DM's note 1: Since my players were new to pen & paper RPG, and none of them had experience in Greyhawk, I decided to go with a real world calendar so that they could have a better sense of what time of the year it was without constant cross-referencing.]

[DM's note 2: For the town of Saltmarsh, I adapted the map made by Yabusama, available at
Within Saltmarsh, the bolded location numbers reference this map.]

After the stevedores had unloaded their gear (for which Tyrius slipped them a copper each) and they watched their former ship set sail, the trio contemplated what to do next. Or rather, Tyrius contemplated, while Larry and Thokk returned the open stares of the passers-by. The dockworkers seemed rough-and-tumble men, and if they were taken aback by the newcomers in town, they did not let on. The inner harbor, however, was lined with a dirt road that ran all along the shore. Judging by the number of commonfolk stopping and gawking, the town did not see much in the way of half-orcs, grubby dwarves, or noble paladins. It was anyone's guess which of them made the bigger spectacle. Keoish manners seemed to prevail, however, and fortunately all the bystanders did was stop and stare, whisper, and occasionally cuff the bolder children who would have spoken to them had they been permitted.

With the decision-making left to Tyrius, it seemed meet that they should first thank the gods for their safe arrival. Enough of the commoners sported the dusky hue of the Flan that Tyrius dared ask about a temple to Pelor, but the look he received spoke louder than the answer itself. Overhearing, an old man who sat mending nets nearby said that anyone who had any sense would thank Osprem for a safe arrival after a voyage at sea. He jerked a hand at the back of the harbor, where what was obviously a temple stood overlooking the water (4).

The temple was of limestone without, decorated here and there with bits of coral. Inside were simple wooden benches without backs for pews, and a stone altar in front of what looked like a marble-lined wading pool that smelled of salt water. No clergy were present, even novices, so Tyrius offered what he hoped was an appropriate prayer. He looked up just in time to stop Thokk from entering the pool. The half-orc was convinced that they should collect the coins and pearls from the pool and use them for drinking money; Tyrius tried to explain to him several times that the valuables there were offerings, not for taking. He finally succeeded in convincing the barbarian not to take anything when he suggested that the treasures belonged to a sea goddess who would be mad when she found them missing, a line of argument that Thokk found reasonable.

By the time they emerged from the temple, there was a gaggle of town watchmen waiting for them. They were escorted to the Customs House (17) which seemed, to Tyrius' surprise, to be a center for civil governance in the town. A junior customs officer questioned Tyrius at length, establishing that they were not merchants, had nothing of value that they needed to declare (or pay taxes on), and were not mercenaries. Having determined that they were not there on business, the functionary made it plain to them that Saltmarsh had laws against vagrancy - they would need to establish a residence by sundown, and gainful employment within a week. Tyrius replied that he doubted they would be staying that long, and the officer helpfully gave him the names of the three inns in town, as well as a tavern that had a common room. Finally, the officer clarified that as Larry and Thokk were neither humans nor crown subjects, they were legally considered as Tyrius' chattel - meaning that he was responsible for all their actions within the town, and any consequences thereof. Furthermore, the man said that while there was no law against freemen carrying weapons, he had already received several complaints about Thokk and his axes - he advised Tyrius to make sure that the half-orc never drew or brandished his weapons, or they would all face charges of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, at the very least. Tyrius agreed, but thought to himself that this was not going to be a leisurely sail through the Hool Marshes.

With so many ways to run afoul of the local law, after they left the customs house Tyrius decided the best thing to do would be to find a room at an inn and placate Thokk with food and drink while he thought about their next move. The Inn of the Merry Mermaid (7) was close at hand, the owner Madam Ruth friendly even after seeing Thokk, the room adequate, the common bed cramped for the three of them but acceptable. Tyrius washed before preparing for supper - the others saw no reason to do so - and then counted the coins remaining in his purse. Not enough for a week's food and lodging, to be sure.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 11:04 pm    Post subject: Post 5: Backstory for Aurora Reply with quote

Aurora was born in Tringlee, the capital of the Duchy of Ulek. Her mother was the daughter of a wealthy human merchant, her father an elf. She never knew her father. Her mother spoke fondly enough of him, when her own father was not around. As Aurora had grown from babbling child to discreet young maiden, her mother explained that her father was a soldier, a guard to an elven noble in a delegation to the Duke, on a diplomatic mission that lasted all of one glorious summer. They met, they fell in love, he returned home before either knew she was with child, they never saw each other again.

When you are older, her mother would say, when you are a young woman, you will understand such affairs of the heart. Why did her mother not go after him? Why did she not write? Why could she not find him? Aurora would ask. Her mother never answered directly, but always with a tale or lesson – about how some parts of the Duchy were forbidden to humans, about how her grandfather was a good man but was still subject to all the prejudices of men, about how she had known more than one person undone by the deaths of their children, and it was a sad truth that Aurora would surely die before her father…always the lesson was different, until Aurora did not know whether the true reason was one of these or some or all or none.

Aurora grew into a highly intelligent child, and quickly surpassed any tutor that her grandfather could find. She could still remember the day, a month shy of her twelfth birthday, she first saw the mendicant illusionist doing cheap street theatrics in the market square. She had dragged her maid home early from shopping, politely slipped into a business meeting with her grandfather, and announced her intention to be a wizard. His face grew beet red, easy enough with his pale Seul coloring, but then he sighed. “Ah well”, he said simply. “Blood will out.”

Aurora was apprenticed to a local Master of History and Magic, an ancient human sage with a lifetime appointment to the Duke’s Court, though one without much power or prestige (which was, he told Aurora, just how he preferred it). Like all his apprentices, it seemed she studied just as much history as she did magic, and did more text-copying, book-searching, and scroll filing than anything else. But still, over the years, she had mastered one spell after another, and delighted in practicing them.

Like all students of history, she knew about the Twin Cataclysms (the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire), which had, a millennium ago, destroyed the two greatest nations the world had ever known, The Suel Imperium and the Baklunish Empire. She could recite several different authoritative texts (and note their contradictions and discrepancies) explaining how the Suel refugees passed over (or under!) the Hellfurnaces and brought human civilization to the east, eventually founding the Kingdom of Keoland. She could add, and in the presence of her master she would always add, how the people’s reaction to the destruction of their homeland by mages of power had led to a great distrust of magic among the populace, and that for the first five or six hundred years of its existence, the practice of magic was in fact forbidden in the Kingdom. And she would add, again at the insistence of her master, how lucky they were to live in an age and in a nation (for the Duchy was once part of the Kingdom, but was now independent) that were both more tolerant of the craft than the Keoland of old.

One fine day, just a few weeks ago, her master had dismissed the other apprentices and asked Aurora to remain behind. Making sure the doors and windows were closed, he even used a few charms and wards to make absolutely sure they were alone. Given the strange beginning to their conversation, she was at first disappointed when he asked her to recite the texts concerning the migrations of the Seul houses and the founding of Keoland, even more disappointed when he asked her to recite the names of the principle Seul Houses, but she did as he bid.

“And what became of House Neheli?” he asked.

She answered by rote. “They founded Niole Dra and are today the most important noble house in the north of the Kingdom.”

“And House Rhola?”

“They founded Gradsul and are today the most important noble house in the south of the Kingdom.” She respected him too much to let her boredom enter her tone, but seriously? A private lesson for subject matter known to apprentices before their first week was done?

“And House Malhel?” And here she paused. She had read this, of course, but had never been asked before.

“Master, those of House Malhel were wicked and fought against the good Houses. After many battles they were banished from the Kingdom.”

“Correct. And where did they go?”

There was a long pause while Aurora searched her memory. “I imagine they dispersed, or died out…I have not read any record of them.”

“Indeed. A House powerful enough to war upon the Neheli, and they just faded away?”

“That does not seem likely, but…”

“But that is what the texts would have us believe. Most of them.”

Now Aurora had a creeping sensation under her skin and was beginning to think the wards had perhaps been a good idea.

“Suppose,” continued her master, “they did not die out. Not at first anyway. Conjecture,” he demanded.

“Well, they had the hubris to war upon the Neheli, thus they must have been both proud and powerful. Such people are unlikely to give up after a setback. While they could have fled, migrated out of the Sheldomar, it seems unlikely. More likely they would have withdrawn, regrouped, and planned revenge.”

“Precisely,” her master said, pleased. “Logic is one of your most important tools, don’t forget that. So why do you suppose you have not seen any records of this?”

“Because they didn’t regroup? Something else ended them before they could?”

“Perhaps, or perhaps they did persist…and any record of their defiance has been destroyed, eliminated, or altered.”

Now Aurora did not know what to say. Her master had instilled in her a reverence for history so profound that at first all she could feel was aghast at the crime against truth. But then, slowly, it dawned on her…who would have the power to make sure that this history was not known…and what else could someone with that power do? She thought of her master’s wards and shivered.

The old sage lowered his voice to a whisper. “I believe I have uncovered an unedited text, describing how House Malhel retreated to the Dreadwood Forest, and from there planned their revenge. I have another text, very rare but likely authentic, claiming that the Mahlhel were powerful spellcasters, even while the Neheli and Rhola sought to ban magic. I will not tell you the names or locations of these texts, for your protection, and mine, and theirs. If I were a younger man, I would investigate this myself. You are my best student at the moment. I am charging you with learning more.”

Aurora looked at the old man, shocked. “Master, you want me to…”

“Travel to the Dreadwood, and see what you can find. Ruins, stories, texts, tales, anything. Most likely you will find nothing. But if I am correct, someone will find you. Someone will appear and, in the most delicate way, attempt to ascertain what you are doing and steer you away from any discoveries. And that is what we are after. I don’t expect you to find proof that the Malhel were in the Dreadwood. But if you can find proof that someone does not want us to know, then we will be sure that I am on the right track.”

“Master, you honor me with your trust, but this sounds dangerous, and I am just an apprentice.”

“No, Aurora, you are no longer an apprentice. Consider yourself a journeywoman, as of today. You have earned it. As to the danger, well, certainly there is plenty of physical danger in the Dreadwood. You will need to be ready for that. I suggest you get as close as you can safely, and then recruit a group of sellswords who fancy themselves heroes – what is it they call themselves? Ah yes; ‘adventures’. With your wit and charm I am sure you can convince them to go looking for treasure in the forest. But the true danger lies not in mindless monsters, but in whoever is protecting this information. And there you are safer than I, I suspect, or I would never send you. Should I, a Master of History, go poking about the forest, I am sure it would be immediately noted and defenses would be put into place. But you are a young, inexperienced wizard, seeing the world, seeking adventure…what do you know of possible hunting grounds for ancient, forbidden magic referenced only in the most esoteric texts accessible to a handful of academics?”

“But Master, you have warned me many times against appearing as a wizard in Keoland.”

“True enough, the common folk still harbor many superstitions about our craft. To the commoners you should appear as merely a scholar. But the more astute and discerning must not know you are interested in history, must instead perceive that you are a simple freemage looking for fortune, not a threat to their secret histories. Only you and I must be aware of your actual mission.”

“So I must be an historian pretending to be a wizard pretending to be a scholar?”

The old man smiled deeply. “As I said, Aurora, you are my best student.”

Over the next several days they made their plans. Her master gave her advice on what to buy, what to bring, and what prices to pay. He told her not to take just any adventuring group, but to test them first. Would they be strong enough? Would they be easily manipulated into doing her will, all the while thinking it was theirs?

He cautioned her against having another arcane caster, or anyone with too high an intelligence, in the group. He told her not to head straight for the Dreadwood, but to have a few preliminary adventures first, both to gain experience herself and to avoid suspicion. When she felt confident with a group she trusted, she could steer them to the forest, all the while making it seem like she was merely agreeing with their idea of what to do next. He told her that the northern Dreadwood was under elven control, and that the elves were surely in the pocket of the Kingdom and would
report any investigations and block any discoveries. Far better she try the dangerous and unexplored south if she was to have any chance of either a real find or of drawing out those who did not wish to see her find anything.

On the day before her departure, as she was cleaning out her desk area in the master’s tower, he burst upon her excitedly with a letter in his hand. “It is done!” he exclaimed, and then proceeded to explain that he had petitioned a friend of a friend to provide her a dedicated guard, someone she could trust beyond a mere adventuring oath. He was an elf of the Silverwood, and would join her when her ship made port in Kewlbanks.

The next day she bid goodbye to her mother, her grandfather, and his staff, and boarded the ship on the Kewl. It was a passenger vessel, and while she did not have a private cabin, she did share a bunking room with other young ladies, mostly those going to court in Gradsul. It took a bit more than a day to get to Kewlbanks, and as promised, the guard was waiting for her there.

He was not at all as she expected. Aurora had known many elves in Tringlee, and all were bright, curious, open beings – free and polite in speech, forward in questioning, and firm in friendship. This one, Babshapka by name, was the polar opposite. After confirming that she was indeed his charge, he had practically ignored her as he boarded the boat and stowed his gear. He asked her no questions and responded to hers with the bare minimum of answers. True, he did look capable enough, with his massive unstrung longbow, and twin shortsword sheaths crossed across his back.

His traveling cloak was heavy and his boots worn. She was sure he would be both skilled in woodcraft and at guarding her person, but he acted as if conversation was a more serious threat. Even when she addressed him in her best Elven he seemed offended.

All the next day they sailed downriver, with the green-grey Silverwood on their right and the farms and fields of the County of Ulek on their left. Babshapka leaned against the rail, watching the forest roll past as if in a trance. The next day they reached Junre early and spent the rest of the day in port – her guard remained sullen and distant. The day after they set sail again, soon reaching the confluence of the Kewl with the mighty Sheldomar. At last he seemed more personable, and even willing to exchange a few words with her on the two-day journey to Gradsul.

Gradsul was the final destination of their passenger vessel, and it was from this point on that Aurora was fully in charge of the expedition (all previous arrangements having been made by her master). Of course, passenger ships did not exist on the Azure Sea (at least not commercial ones – the pleasure yachts of nobles being the exception, but those were not for hire). Her first order of business was finding a merchant vessel that would take passengers. She had thought the matter simply one of coin, but soon found two impediments.

First, ships sailed with only a limited number of berths, and these were always filled. Out on the seas, after the death of a sailor, there were often free spaces – but ships left Gradsul fully manned. Second, most of the captains she talked with actually spoke, in serious tones, about the bad luck involved in having a woman aboard ship! “Best not to offend the Lady of the Waves,” they would say, or “Osprem is a jealous goddess, love.” After a full day at the docks she had not managed to find a passage anywhere, and was forced to use much of the meager allowance her master had given her on a second night at the inn.

She sought to rouse her guard early the next day, but found him already in the common room downstairs. Determined to find passage, she arrived at the docks before any of the ships had left and immediately began harassing captains from one end of the quay to the other, with no different results than the previous day. Having been turned down yet again, she thought her patience was at an end, when a voice from beside the latest captain said, “Hold now, Cap’n, surely we can make things right for such a charming lass?”

What followed was a rather spirited discussion in sea slang between the human captain of the vessel and a most curious hobniz sailor. She did not follow most of it, but as an end result the captain acceded to taking her and her guard on board, for nearly the entire sum she had remaining to her name.

In the week that followed, she learned many things about the ship, its crew, and the hobniz Barnabus. Almost too much about him, in particular, as he claimed to be enraptured by her beauty. To her surprise he was not a sailor after all, but an entertainer – or, he preferred to say, “a good luck token”. He did no real work on the ship, but sang often, played the hornpipe, and if the weather was fair, his lute. It seemed the sailors were a superstitious lot and believed, almost to a man, that Barnabus brought them luck. Certainly he seemed lucky enough, for he won coin nearly every night in the games of dice or cards that took place below decks. Aurora was not permitted to see these but Babshapka reported, tersely, to her. Aurora herself got to stay in a cabin, small and cramped, but private. It turned out that Barnabus had won a week’s stay in the cabin from a foolish first mate and had been waiting for just such an opportunity to cash in his debt. Many of his songs were simple sea shanties to help the sailors work, but he also played her love ballads and, whenever the captain came round, he sang to the sea itself, or as he claimed, to the goddess Osprem, placating her jealousy over having Aurora on board.

The ship was bound for Torvin with a cargo of hoes, plows, sickles, machinery, spirits, medicine, cloth, clothes, boots, and various and sundry other goods in demand on the plantations of the Sea Princes. Few ships sailed west, for it went against current and often against wind, so they had been lucky in that regard. When Aurora had made plans with her master, they had considered the two ports south of the Dreadwood – Anglar and Seaton, and had decided upon Seaton. Though father from the forest it was larger and would give her more chance to assemble the team she needed without drawing immediate suspicion. Thus she had told the captain that they would disembark when the ship took on fresh water in Seaton. But when, a week into their voyage, they rounded Cape Salinmoor the captain told them that the wind was not right and that he would be making port in Saltmarsh instead, a small fishing village rather than the county seat. She did not have near enough coin to make him change his mind and by this point Barnabus, tired of her rebuffs to his advances, did not seem interested in interceding on her behalf. Curiously, he did bid farewell to his shipmates and told them that he would be going ashore for a bit to spend their wages.

As evening falls, Aurora, Babshapka, and Barnabus stand on the docks of Saltmarsh.
My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 18, 2018 11:41 am    Post subject: Post 6: Backstory for Babshapka Reply with quote

A thousand years ago, in the time of Babshapka’s great-grandparents, the Elven Kingdom of Celene ruled nearly a quarter of the subcontinent of the Flanaess. A huge forest filled the entire Sheldomar Valley, and extended unbroken from the mountains in the west to the sea in the east. There were a few foul monsters lurking in the darkest corners of the forest, but the realm of the Elven King was peaceful and prosperous. The elves had as much time for feasts as they did for hunting, spent as much time in song as they did in scouting. They learned from nature and celebrated life. The elven gods walked on the Oerth and took communion with their followers. There were humans in the open plains of the Flanaess, the primitive but kindly Flan. They avoided the elves, avoided the forests, and were of little concern.

Then, over the mountains to the west, two huge and powerful human states began to war. Amid a cycle of escalating bloodiness, their greatest spellcasters called down ever more powerful curses upon one another, until finally both nations were destroyed and their lands turned into ash in the Twin Cataclysms. Hundreds of thousands perished, but tens of thousands crossed the mountains and entered the Flanaess as refugees. In mercy for what they had suffered, the Elven King allowed the humans to enter his kingdom.

Almost immediately, the humans began to multiply. They cut down the forests to make their farms, they bred like locusts, and they continued to war amongst themselves. They enslaved the native Flan people and declared themselves Kings, ignoring the rightful claim of the Elven King. Humanoids, chiefly orcs and goblins, had been used by the humans as mercenaries, and they too fled the destruction of the western lands and came to the realm of the elves.

By 750 years ago, the time of Babshapka’s grandparents, the “Kingdom of Keoland” was established and had driven a wedge between the forests of the west and the forests of the east, right along the Sheldomar River. No longer could the elves roam freely in their hunts. Every year humans ate away at the edges of the forest in their insatiable appetite for land. With the forces of the Elven King hindered in their movements, the old humanoids of the mountains and fens joined with the newcomers and grew quickly in number.

By 500 years ago, in the time of Babshapka’s parents, the humans of the Kingdom of Keoland had established or conquered all of the nearby states, and the great Elven Kingdom was no more. An elven queen now held rule in Celene, but all throughout the Sheldomar Valley were isolated forests, with communities cut off from her lands. Keoland took to the sea and began exploring, conquering, and pillaging all along the coasts. The humanoids had swollen still further in numbers, and combined into nations and tribes of their own, growing bold and aggressive.

Babshapka was born a scant 250 years ago, and is still quite young. He was born at the time of the greatest power and largest extent of Keoland. Within his lifetime he has seen the outer dependencies of the Kingdom struggle for, and eventually win, their sovereignty. Thousands of humanoids emerged from the mountains in a series of campaigns called “The Hateful Wars”. Most importantly, the King of Keoland was forced to recognize the nation of Celene and the right of the Elven Queen to rule. Fearing her power, Keoland created the Ulek States; the Duchy, County, and Principality on its eastern border. When Babshapka was born in the Silverwood Forest, Keoland claimed his home as part of its nation. Today, the land is considered part of the Duchy of Ulek, and is ruled by elven nobles who are independent, but still favor Keoland.

And that is the problem. Too many elves have compromised with the Kingdom of Keoland. Rather than fight for Celene, they have accepted their new state. Rather than push the humans out, they have collaborated with them.

Babshapka comes from deep in the Silverwood, in the part where humans are still not allowed, and that suits him fine. He had an idyllic life – chief huntsman for his village, respected by his peers, staunch warrior against humanoids on occasion but mostly free to live, sing, feast, dance, and hunt.

And then, less than a small moon ago, all of that changed. His village is beholden to an elven noble, and that noble called for a ranger. Someone to serve as a guide, guard, and protector to a half-elven child of the Duchy. Babshapka did not volunteer. And yet he was selected. It was an unwanted honor.

Babshapka gathered all his possessions and bid farewell to his villagemates. He traveled to the town of Kewlbanks and there met the riverboat with the half-elf on it. She was fair of face, but innocent and raised by humans. She spoke at length of history but never mentioned how the humans had destroyed the great Elven Kingdom. She talked incessantly at him, even over the next two days, as he was silently singing his song of farewell to the Silverwood, his only home. He will serve her faithfully, protect her as required by honor, but he does not have to like her.

Things were easier after they passed Junre and he had the excitement of seeing new lands instead of mourning the loss of his home. The next day they reached the confluence of the Kewl with the mighty Sheldomar.

Gradsul was the final destination of their passenger vessel. There, the woman spent two days wandering up and down the docks before she finally found them passage on a merchant vessel. They spent a week on the ship. A strange Halfling, too interested in the woman for his own good, gave her his cabin; Babshapka slept in a hammock among the reeking sailors.

The woman had told the ship’s captain to let them off in the town of Seaton, but he chose to have them depart in Saltmarsh instead. As evening falls, Babshapka, the woman, and the halfling stand on the docks of Saltmarsh.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 24, 2018 4:41 pm    Post subject: Post 7: Backstory for Barnabus Reply with quote

Barnabus was born to a solid farming family of halflings on a pipeweed plantation in the Hold of the Sea Princes. As a child, he didn’t question their labors much, but he was not far into adolescence when he decided it wasn’t for him. The halfling community as a whole had a fair agreement with the noble human landowner – protection in return for a share of the crop sold at market. And they weren’t treated poorly – certainly not as poorly as the human slaves on other plantations nearby. It wasn’t even that the work was long and hard (although it was). Really, it was that it was boring. Monotonous, even. Barnabus’ parents, like all good halflings, valued security and comfort over most anything else, but he had always felt that excitement and freedom were worth a little discomfort and danger. This attitude brought him into conflict with his parents and the larger halfling community with greater and greater frequency as he grew.

Finally, he decided to run away to “the city” – in his youthful naivety, Mantan being the only city he knew. It didn’t take him long to run out of coin, and he soon found himself hiding on a ship to escape an angry innkeeper. When the ship sailed with him on it, he became a cabin boy. Humans always seemed unsure of the age of a halfling, due to their small size, and a halfling with any cleverness could quickly convince a human that he was a child or a man grown as he desired.

Barnabus liked just about everything about the seafaring life. He liked the colorful language, the interesting men, their stories and songs, the fascinating destinations, each different than the last. He didn’t like the buggery. All the other duties of being a cabin boy were easy, but he drew the line when he learned about that and immediately explained that he was a man grown after all. That put him in a difficult position, halfway through his first voyage. If he were a man, why then he was expected to do a man’s work on the ship – and though he was as strong as any of the human men, he did not have the size to go into the rigging, the weight to haul lines, and so forth. And if he couldn’t do a sailing man’s work by day, and he wouldn’t do the night work of a cabin boy, then what good was he? Well, he could play, he thought, for he had always been considered a good player, both for work songs and in worship on the plantation. With borrowed hornpipes he performed the pieces he knew, and set about learning those of the sailors. His efforts mollified the sailors themselves, but the officers told him he would have to pay for his passage. He had always been a bit of a card sharp, and he found the sailors such easy marks that by the end of the voyage he had enough coin to pay his passage and had a number of sailors praising his luck.

Over the next few years he perfected this craft, and saved enough to buy a quality lute. He has performed at port towns all over the Azure Sea, and finds it easy to earn coin enough for meals and lodging wherever he goes. Sometimes on a bad night or with a sullen crowd he doesn’t get much, but a quick dip in the pockets of the drunkenmost patrons usually does the trick. When he has “played out” a port (or has received a visit from the local Thieves’ Guild demanding a membership fee and a cut of his take), he finds passage on a ship to somewhere new. He hasn’t paid for passage in quite some time; he now convinces the sailors that his songs to Osprem, the Lady of the Waves, can bring good luck and good weather and is offered his berth for free and meals as well more often than not. If there are those aboard who don’t believe in his luck, a few games of cards or dice can soon convince them.

Barnabus’ life has thus unfolded quite pleasantly and he has few complaints about his lot. A week ago things looked even more pleasant. He was on a merchant ship in the docks of Gradsul when he discovered a breathtakingly gorgeous half-elven woman attempting to book passage on his ship! The Captain was denying her for obvious reasons – the bad luck of having a woman on board, and the practical consideration of not having a private berth for her. Barnabus convinced the Captain that he could solve both difficulties. He had previously won a week’s stay in the cabin of a foolish first mate and had been waiting for just such an opportunity to cash in his mark, and he eagerly offered that to the woman, one Aurora by name. As to the other, Barnabus promised to sing twice as much to Osprem on this leg of the voyage as he had previously, and to gamble only half as much, so as to not use up his luck. When the Captain accepted the woman on board, Barnabus’ heart lifted.

The wind changed when he realized that the woman brought with her a wood elf bodyguard. Though there seemed to be nothing between them (in fact he seldom spoke to her), his constant vigilant presence put Barnabus off his game. And though he worked the entire next week on her, using all his best ballads, she refused to yield so much as a kiss or even a sigh! After several days, some of the sailors were even starting to doubt his luck. “Lucky at cards, unlucky in love…” they said helpfully, but he was unnerved and once they almost caught him cheating! Him! He never got caught!

When the woman and her guard put ashore in Saltmarsh, he decided he would have to go with her. If the sailors saw her leave unconquered, they would doubt his abilities for the rest of the voyage. If he left with her, he could (and did) tell them that she was insisting they take to the privacy of the land to seal the deal. As far as his own affections, well – he would give her one more chance before denouncing her as a stone-hearted ingrate. Perhaps it was the close quarters and watchful eyes of the ship that was fueling her resistance, and he would find his fortune on land. If he could just get her away from that damnable wood elf!

As evening falls, Aurora, Babshapka, and Barnabus stand on the docks of Saltmarsh.
My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 10:18 am    Post subject: Post 8: Arrival in Saltmarsh (reprise) Reply with quote

27 July, 570 (evening) - Saltmarsh

In the gathering dusk, the setting sun reflecting off the Azure Sea, a cool salt breeze blowing over the docks, the town of Saltmarsh seems picturesque to Aurora, and she resolves to be unperturbed that it is not Seaton as she had planned. Her Master sent her because he trusted her to resolve just such difficulties, after all.

By the time the three of them have gathered their gear and walked the gangplank to the dock, the Captain and Mate are engaged in conversation with a local customs officer, assuring him that they will not be unloading any goods and will only be taking on water, as soon in the morning as he can arrange, and paying with crowns of the realm. The officer is briefly distracted by the appearance of the trio, but after a word or two from the Captain, assuring him that they are passengers only, he waves them on distractedly and resumes his conversation. Most of the ship’s crew is lined up along the sheer strake, waiting to see whether they will be granted shore leave. When Aurora’s back is to them, Barnabus catches the crew’s attention and makes a lewd gesture, suggesting that he will indeed have her soon enough, and there is a laughing cheer in response.

The streets are deserted; apparently the good folk of Saltmarsh have gone to their homes to take their evening meals and only stray dogs and cats prowl the docks, sniffing out the offal from the day’s gutted fish. In the town, lights fill the windows one by one as candles and lanterns are lit, and the sea air mixes with the scents of dozens of hearths. At the end of the dock a single human figure, a man dressed in brown robes, stands, as if awaiting them.

As they draw closer, the man welcomes them to Saltmarsh, and says that he is “Flern, priest of Fharlanghn.”

“A priest, excellent!” responds Aurora, and immediately begins a barrage of questions. “Do you have a temple in town? Can we stay there? Can we use it as a base of operations? Can you sell us healing potions…”

The man holds up his hand and laughs good naturedly, more amused at her impertinence than offended. “No, no,” he says, “I have no kirk in town, neither temple nor chapel nor shrine, and nothing to sell you. My order exists to help travelers.”

Barnabus suspiciously eyes the simple wooden bowl the man carries on his hip. “It looks like your order exists to beg.”

The man smiles again, though this one is a little more forced. “I am a mendicant priest, yes, as there is not a local endowment for my order. Nevertheless, I help travelers such as yourselves. What do you wish to know about Saltmarsh, where do you wish to go?”

“Know?” ponders Aurora. “What great deeds need to be done? What wrongs need to be righted? Who is in danger here that we can…”

The man laughs again. “At sundown in sleepy Saltmarsh? The only ones in danger here are you, in danger of being arrested for vagrancy if you do not find a place to stay for the night. Let me right that wrong and I will take you to an inn.”

Flern leads the trio along the shore of the inner harbor. He does not have to work to avoid most of Aurora’s questions, since she keeps asking another before he can answer the first. They turn right at a crossroads and come to a solid, two-story building with a hanging sign showing a mermaid (7). “The Merry Mermaid,” says Flern. “Best inn in Saltmarsh.”

Inside is a cramped common room, most of the first floor space apparently being taken up by the kitchen, and a steep stairway to the guest rooms above. At a rough wooden table a strange trio sits supping; a golden-haired man whose fine robes bespeak noble birth, a dirty dwarf in course traveling clothes, and a huge half-orc who might be naked, for he is bare from head to below the table he sits at. As Babshapka enters the room, the half-orc stands and his hand goes to a huge axe strapped to his bare back. Now that he is standing, they can see that he is indeed clothed, in a dirty loincloth that covers little more than his privates. The nobleman speaks soothingly to him, lays his hand on the brute’s shoulder, and eventually he releases his hold on the axe and resumes eating.

A door to the kitchen bursts open, and a matron enters with a platter and three mugs of ale. She smiles broadly at the trio of potential customers and nods at Flern.

Barnabus looks at those at the table, then at the ample-figured, middle-aged hostess. “Yes, well, I’m for the tavern,” he says, and turns for the door, pushing past Flern. He pauses, turns back, and stares suggestively at Aurora. “You really should come and catch my full repertoire,” he says, “It is much more refined than anything I play on ship.” He then leaves.

Aurora speaks with the matron (Ruth) and arranges the let of a room with a single bed for herself and a chair for Babshapka to trance in. She orders dinner for herself and the wood elf, thanks Flern, and sits down at the table to meet the others, who look as much as anything like candidates for her new adventuring group.

In the meantime, Barnabus has no trouble finding the the tavern (12). Although it is three blocks to the west, the noise of a boisterous crowd is unmistakable in the quiet streets of the town. It has been quite some time since he has been in a town as small as Saltmarsh, and the tavernkeep is dubious when he offers to sing in return for supper, drinks, and tips. “I’m Barnabus the minstrel,” he says reassuringly, “known in every port of the Azure Sea, and this is my standard deal.”

“Well, I don’ know ye,” responds the tavernkeep sourly. Barnabus finally convinces him when the crew of his former ship begin to arrive and greet him by name. Soon even the locals are joining the seamen in calling for the halfling to sing, and the tavernkeep relents. By evening’s end, as the last drunken sailor is staggering from the tavern, supported by an equally-drunk shipmate, Barnabus is working on a plate of cold mutton. The singing was a success, of course, such a small town rarely hears an entertainer of his quality, and he has a pouchful of copper sparrows more than he came in with. But the vexing half-elf woman never came. Damned if he is going back to the “Merry Mermaid” without her invitation, and fie on her! Besides, he saw the look exchanged between the “priest” Flern and Matron Ruth when he arrived. Obviously the “priest” is hustling customers for the woman. “Finest inn in Saltmarsh”, my hairy halfling ****, he thinks. There was some highlands they passed at the harbor entrance with merchant warehouses and fine craftsmen’s shops - Barnabus would wager more than his bag of coppers that there is a better inn there. He bids goodnight to the tavernkeep and gives a salacious look at his daughter, a serving wench (why did he waste the night waiting for Aurora, instead of working his charms on her?), and steps out into the cool night air. His head is heavy with ale, but he manages to find the inn alright - “The Full Moon,” (19) it is called. He has to knock hard to rouse the innkeep, but he gets a private room with a bath, better than anything the fools at the Mermaid will have tonight.
My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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Adept Greytalker

Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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Location: Central Utah

PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2018 1:13 pm    Post subject: Post 9 - The call to adventure Reply with quote

[DM's note: For the town of Saltmarsh, I adapted the map made by Yabusama, available at Within Saltmarsh, the bolded location numbers reference this map.]

28 July, 570 (morning) - Saltmarsh

Tyrius, Thokk, Larry, and Aurora are awoken by the smell of fresh bread and batter-fried fish. Babshapka has been awake for hours, having tranced early in the night. He has spent the time since seated near the open window of his and Aurora’s bedroom, staring out over the town.

At breakfast, Aurora continues the discussion begun the night before, sharing stories and inching closer to a formal resolution that they will indeed form an adventuring company. Tyrius is reluctant to commit to anything long-term, as his goal is still to get Larry to the Moot of the Great Druid, but he recognizes that he will need coin to do that - and if these two others want to help him get that coin by doing good deeds, so much the better. They are still talking when visitors arrive - Lieutenant Dan of the town watch, and several of the watchmen that Tyrius encountered the previous day. Dan is meeting all of them for the first time, as well as verifying that they have found honest lodgings, are paying Ruth with good coin, understand that they now have six days to find employment or a patron, and understand that violence of any kind, including drawing weapons or threatening the townsfolk, will not be tolerated. Tyrius is serious but charming, and reassures Dan on every point.

Aurora introduces herself as a scholar from Ulek, and invites Dan to tell them something of the local history of Saltmarsh. She says she is especially interested in current and perennial threats to the town, and how the brave men of the watch have dealt with them. Dan says that there really are no current threats to the town itself, and the efforts of the watch (under his leadership), mean that the townsfolk are quite safe. Historically, of course, there have been incursions of marsh orcs, there have been curses from the occasional bog witch, there have been goblin raids from the Dreadwood. Even at present, pirates on the Azure Sea are always a concern, but they do not menace the town itself. As a scholar, he says, Aurora has no doubt heard of the Long Summer, some 15 years ago, when the flickers came out of the marshes in the north and burnt and pillaged all up and down the Javan.

“Of course, of course,” says Aurora, “but are there not any more contemporary concerns for you brave men?”

No, says Dan. Under his watchful eye, Saltmarsh is peaceful and prosperous. And, he adds with just a bit too much emphasis, he intends to keep it that way, so if this group is composed of would-be-heroes, they will find nothing to interest them hereabouts, and really should clear off sooner rather than later.

After Dan’s departure, Aurora puts the same questions to Ruth, hoping that the Lieutenant is hiding something, but her answers are nearly identical to his - except for the part about clearing off. Ruth is more than happy to accept their coin and they are welcome to stay at the Merry Mermaid as long as they would like.

After breakfast, the group of five leaves the Mermaid and sets out to explore the town. They quickly find the Lord’s Marketplace (25), an open-air collection of stalls with people of all sorts buying and bartering for the dozens of different supplies and luxuries available in a town of this size. Aurora seizes upon the opportunity to talk to more than a score of stallkeepers and customers, asking each of them in turn the same questions about threats to the town, while she pretends to be interested in the wares on display. Babshapka trails her silently, his sharp eyes on the people around her and how they are reacting rather than the conversants themselves. The conversations are similar - though some sellers emphasize the orcs more (especially when Thokk lumbers by), and others the bog witches, and others the goblins, flickers, or pirates; the litany of villians is the same, without anyone naming a clear and present threat to the town.

For his part, Tyrius is organizing the purchase of various supplies the group will need if they are to leave town together. Does everyone have a waterskin? A bedroll? Is there enough cheese and hardtack for a week at least? His purchases are careful, but also occur slowly as he spends as much time keeping Thokk and Larry out of trouble as he does negotiating trades.

Eventually they come upon Barnabus, himself wandering the stalls. By way of greeting, the halfling mentions offhand that after a rousing performance in the tavern, he retired to a fine inn with a bath and a feather pillow. He hopes, of course, that their accommodations in the Mermaid were as comfortable as his. Aurora tells him that she has joined forces with Tyrius, Thokk, and Larry, and that there is room for him on their adventuring team if he desires.

“Team with you?” he begins loudly. “I wouldn’t…” he pauses, his previously planned speech for denouncing her for all the marketplace to hear as a shrill and fickle harpy stalling on his tongue. Everyone knows about adventuring groups, of course. They merely set foot outside town and fissures in the earth open for them, leading to caves with monsters and treasures. If these fools want to tackle the monsters, he doesn’t mind a share of the treasures. It is said that adventurers even have magic items thrown at them by the denizens of the darkness. For some useful magic items, he can swallow his pride and suffer this annoying temptress. Barnabus’ pride is strong, but his greed is stronger. “I wouldn’t want to refuse such a potentially lucrative venture. At least not until the next ship comes to town.”

Aurora tries a few more stalls, but gets nowhere. All along, she has also been asking about who sells magical supplies, such as potions of healing, as well as quality incense (that she might use in her find familiar spell, although she does not mention that last part). Most of the townsfolk stiffen at the mention of magic, and a few even make signs to ward off evil. Some of the more trusting sorts take her “potions of healing” to mean herbal remedies, and point her in the direction of the town’s herbalist, which lies across the commons from the marketplace.

When Tyrius has conferred with Barnabus and declared that their party is fully equipped for travel, and Aurora has not gotten a single lead for a potential adventure or magic component for sale, they leave the marketplace and start heading across the commons. The grass is a lush green but close-cropped, for knots of sheet and goats graze here and there. Curiously, as they begin to walk across the grass, Aurora notices a throng of children leaving the marketplace and following them at a distance. When she comments on it, Babshapka sighs. Speaking for the first time that day, he says, “They have been following us ever since we entered the market. We have attracted every guttersnipe in the town.”

The herbalist’s shop stands on the other side of the road from a much larger building of strange construction. It is all of wood, with a lower story and a roofless upper level. Both levels are without walls, with large timber support columns and beams so that the whole structure is open to the elements except that the floor of the upper level forms the ceiling of the lower. A railingless spiral stair is made by narrow planks set into a vertical post in the center of the lower level and ascending to a trapdoor.

Behind the building and perpendicular to it are a series of bound straw bales covered in lime - apparently archery targets for the town watch or whomever else practices with a bow hereabouts. There is a single crude, scarecrow-like manikin as well, dented and scratched. A small shed behind the building is roofed and has three walls, but one open side reveals several cut yew boughs curing.

As they get still closer, they can spy wooden frames set with cressets on both the lower and upper stories of the open building, and Tyrius is the first to take them for altars, and the whole building a temple of some kind. Since all the walls are open, there does not appear to be an “entrance” per se, but he leads them around to the side nearest the road for formality’s sake. Just then a man emerges from a small dwelling next to the temple, a house they later learn is the temple’s rectory. The man is dressed oddly, in loose breeches but no shirt. He does, however, wear a light linen cape. Undoubtedly his odd style is comfortable on this hot midsummer’s day, but it seems awfully immodest for local mores - other than Thokk, they have seen no-one bare-chested in town but babes. The man’s pale skin is covered in freckles, particularly his broad shoulders and face.

The man introduces himself as Aeravis, priest of Phaulkon. He confirms that the building is the Temple of Phaulkon (21), or as he calls it, the Aerie. In response to Aurora’s questioning, he explains that while he is a priest, he does not have potions of healing for sale. If someone was wounded, he would be able to administer a cure in exchange for a suitable donation. When asked about incense, he says that he does have some, but it is for use during services - he does not have extra for sale, and it is hard to come by in the small town. The next time a merchant ship makes port with some on board, if Aurora is still in town, he will let her know. When she mentions Flern, he chuckles. “That ne'er-do-well? Let’s just say that some of us worship the wind, and some of us are blown by the wind from town to town. I wouldn’t get accustomed to seeing him around, if I were you.” Aurora asks him about threats to the town, and he replies with the same litany as the others, but adds one more. “The greatest threat here is complacency, of course. It has been peaceful so long that it is hard to get these staid townsfolk to prepare for danger. Look at yon gaggle of followers you have attracted,” he says and points to the children, most now sitting in the shade of the bow shack or the practice targets, but still watching the party. “Why, there’s at least two of of those strapping lads strong enough to string a bow, but do they come to practice of a week? No, the lazy urchins. Why don’t you ask them what threats they face? Most like their father’s belt is the only thing they ever were afeared of.”

Aurora laughs derisively, but Tyrius looks inspired. He takes out his brightest copper coin, then begins tossing and catching it so that it glints in the sun. Once he has attracted the attention of the youths he ambles slowly over to them. “We don’t need to be chasing boggarts,” Aurora calls after him, but Tyrius ignores her. Aurora crosses the street but finds the door to the herbalist’s shop (22) closed.

“Out gathering herbs,” calls Aeravis and shrugs.

Tyrius greets the children with a toss of his long golden hair, and one of them, apparently a girl beneath the street dust and scabbed knees, blushes. “So, I have a game for you,” he says in perfect Keoish, but his northern accent sounding exotic to their ears.

“A game?” they respond in chorus, some eagerly and some with suspicion.

“The game is this - I ask you a question, and if you answer truthfully, you get a copper sparrow.” The youngest of the children begin jumping, begging to be chosen, but the largest boy turns on them, brandishes his fist, and they sit down sullenly. He turns back around to Tyrius.

“Ain’t nothin’ fer free,” he says. “What’s ther catch?”

“The catch is this,” smiles Tyrius. “I am a servant of the sun god,” and he points up at the disk of the sun, now almost directly overhead. “If you take my coin and lie to me, you’ll have Him to reckon with.” The boy snorts - but he doesn’t offer to play. Sensing the restlessness of his band, though, he waves another boy foreward, smaller than him, but still one of the largest present.

“I’ll play,” says the youth.

“Allright,” says Tyrius, and holds forth, but does not release, the coin. “Here is my question - What is it you fear the most?”

“Me Pa, when he’s been in the cups!” the boy says without hesitation. A roar of laughter goes up from the children. Tyrius smiles and hands the boy the coin. He is instantly mobbed by children all trying to see if it is real. He bites it and grins.

Tyrius fixes his gaze upon the girl, and draws forth another copper from his pouch. “And you, young miss, what is it you fear?”

“I ain’t afeared o’ nothin’,” she says definitely, and then, when a nearby boy sniggers, she shoves him so hard he falls to the ground.

Tyrius closes his hand about the coin and frowns. “The coin is only for those who tell the truth,” he says, “those are my rules, and the rules of Holy Pelor.”

The girl stares at her feet. “Malenxa, the bog witch,” she whispers, and a few of the children shudder. Tyrius tosses the copper at where her gaze is fixed on the ground. She snatches the coin up, then takes off at a run across the commons.

“I bet she be goin’ ter buy sweets!” says one of the smaller boys jealously.

“Nah,” says another. “She be buyin’ milk fer her baby sister. Her ma’s done gone dry an’ don’t her sister holler all night!” That gets laughter as well.

Tyrius points at another youth, one of the smaller lads. He pulls a third coin from his purse. The boy starts to answer, then stops, then starts again, and stops. “Petey’s afeared o’ so much, he don’t even know what he be afeared of ther most!” cracks the largest boy, and everyone laughs while the boy flushes.

“The alky-mist ghost!” the small boy blurts out, and the unruly crowd goes coldly silent. Tyrius notes that a few of them make the ward against evil.

“Aurora,” he calls over his shoulder. “You might want to hear this.”

The full tale takes thrice as long to tell as necessary, with half of the children interrupting each other and trying to tell it at the same time. Just outside of town, along the coast road, on a lonely cliff overlooking the sea, is the abandoned house of a long-dead alchemist-magician. Even while alive he was an evil sort, but death has made him worse, as his ghost haunts the house and kills, in quite terrible ways that seem to vary with each child doing the telling, any who enter. That would not be so bad, were his spirit confined to the house. But there is one way (no, two! NO, three!) that he can actually leave the house. For anyone who walks the coast road (for business, travel, or even a spot of poaching in the wood) and passes the house, if they are incautious and allow the shadow of the house to fall on any part of their body, then the ghost can leave the house, come to them at night, and strangle them in their bed. Furthermore, if one is so foolish as to travel the coast road by night, it is more than likely that one will see eerie lights, or hear screams, coming from the house. In that case, the ghost can also come to you. The only escape in any of these cases is to spend the next night in a temple, and any of the five temples in town will do. The ghost can’t chase you on holy ground, and so will give up, return to his house, and you are safe.

When the tale is largely done, and the urchins are just arguing over details, and who really knows someone who was killed by the ghost, no really, the party members look at one another. Tyrius and Aurora find this as likely an adventuring idea as any they have heard so far. Larry says the undead are abominations and need to be destroyed. Babshapka rolls his eyes and says his duty lies in protecting Aurora. Barnabus asks a few clarifying questions of the children - yes, the alchemist could turn lead into gold, and yes, there is a mysterious treasure still hidden in the house that was never recovered after he died - and then declares that he is “in.” Only Thokk objects. “Fah - ghost made of wind! Thokk’s mighty axe cleave ghost in one stroke. Fight over too quick to enjoy.” He reaches for his axe to pull it out and demonstrate, and Tyrius has to physically restrain him. “Yes,” says Tyrius as he struggles with Thokk, “an adventure outside of the town limits would be perfect.”

The party makes plans to return to the Mermaid and collect their gear (including Tyrius’ chain hauberk), have lunch, and pass by the Full Moon on their way out of town. They retrace their steps across the commons with the gaggle of urchins surrounding them, though several of the children are pulled away by angry parents upon their return to the market. Those that remain are chased off by Ruth and her broom when they arrive at the Mermaid.

Unnoticed by the party, one of the youths is not taken by parents or chased off by Ruth. Rather, he darts behind a stall as soon as they reach the marketplace, and then dashes off by himself down a side street. Ultimately, he arrives breathless at the shop of Master Merchant Murphy.[/b]
My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
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Adept Greytalker

Joined: Jan 05, 2002
Posts: 468
Location: Central Utah

PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2018 9:43 am    Post subject: Post 10: The Haunted House, upper levels Reply with quote

[DM's note: While it should be obvious, this post will include numerous spoilers to the first section of Module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. Bold numbers in the text refer to keyed building locations.]

28 July, 570 (afternoon and evening) - Saltmarsh to Haunted House

After Ruth has served them luncheon as part of their bill of fare (with some extra coin for Barnabus), they question her about the alchemist’s house, hoping to get a less sensationalist view than that of the children. Ruth admits that the place is as like as not haunted, but hardly a threat to the town.

Through their conversation with her, they learn that the Haunted House is some four miles east of Saltmarsh - it is doubtful any of the ragamuffins they spoke with has ever actually seen it. It is indeed just off the old coast road and looking out to the sea. Until some twenty years ago, when she was in the flower of her youth, it had been the residence of an aged alchemist and magician, and he did indeed have a sinister reputation - as anyone who practices magic deserves, really. The townsfolk mostly shunned the house because of the occupation of the owner. He disappeared under unexplained circumstances - his body was never found. He simply stopped receiving the weekly lot of food he purchased from the sundries store in Saltmarsh. After several missed pick-ups and payments, the Town Council ordered the house searched. Nothing was found - though over the next few years, everyone in the search party, to a man, suffered ill luck and untimely ends.

The house is now long-abandoned and dilapidated, and in recent years there have indeed been reports of ghastly shrieks and eerie lights emanating from within it. Not even the bravest of the townsfolk dare enter it now. Were it restored, the house would make a wonderful country estate for some wealthy merchant or noble from Seaton, and the fact that the Town Council (who assumed title to the land and house after no heirs to the alchemist appeared) has been unable to sell it for even a paltry fee attests to its unsavory reputation.

After lunch, the party organizes and packs all of their gear and settles accounts with Ruth, who is sorry to see them go. As they pass through the streets to the Full Moon, the urchins gather, so that they eventually have an even larger crowd than before. By the time they leave Saltmarsh proper, a full score of youths are in tow. However, the youngest of these do not last long once the town is no longer in sight. By the time the four miles have gone by, and the vague outline of the house appears, only the oldest and boldest remain.

The Haunted House stands on the cliff top some seventy feet above the sea and eighty feet from the edge. A six foot high stone wall, topped with rusty ironwork, surrounds the property, looking a bit out of place since there are no neighboring buildings. An ornate iron gate pierces the wall, and a weed-choked stone and earth drive leads to the well-traveled coastal road.

The handful of youths remaining take one step forward for every two steps the party takes once the house is in view. They can clearly see the party pass through the open gate, at which point two of them bolt and run, and three remain, hesitantly.

Beyond the gate, the party sees an overgrown garden and the back of the house. The drive actually curves around the side and disappears from view, for the front of the house, and presumably the main entrance, faces the sea. Moving cautiously through the garden, the party finds a stone well. No bucket is in sight but there does appear to be water in the bottom. From the garden, the party can see a dozen windows and two doors on the back of the house, on the ground floor. A second bank of windows indicates a first floor above, and the steep roof hints at a large but unlit attic. The windows have glass panes, a sure sign of wealth. The panes are largely intact but so caked with dust inside and out that little can be seen through them. Each door has a window next to it, but only one of them opens on to the same room that the door does, and that off of a back patio.

Babshapka finds the door to the patio unlocked, and slips silently into what appears to be a ground floor living room (4). The room is bare save for a pile of refuse in the corner, but has a stone hearth and a door to the main house. Cobwebs and rat droppings are everywhere. After a second for his eyes to adjust, Babshapka continues - at which point a booming voice calls out, “Welcome fools - welcome to your deaths!” Babshapka’s blood runs cold and he freezes, but no further sound is forthcoming. The voice came from the ceiling, and the force of it shook loose some plaster that now has fallen to the floor.

Once he finds the hearth cold and nothing reacts to him prodding the refuse pile, Babshapka calls the others into the room. They carefully and methodically search all the rooms on the ground floor (1-3, 5-10). The wood is rotten and there are several loose floorboards. Mold and water damage is abundant. There is no sign of undead, or of life beyond vermin. Aurora collects a few books from the library (2). They kill a large spider in a drawing room (8) - while the party is occupied with this, Barnabus finds a magic ring hidden in a chimney. As he secrets it on his person, he shakes his head. The tales are true, he says to himself. Magic items throw themselves at adventurers. Giant centipedes are killed in the kitchen (9). In the scullery (10), a narrow stair descends to (presumably) a basement, but the room is so covered in mold, the party avoids it.

The ground floor thoroughly searched, the party ascends to the first floor. The grand staircase in the main entrance hall seems untrustworthy, so they use the steeper but sounder kitchen stairs.

At the top of the stairs is a landing (18), with access to the rest of the house and a collapsed stairway to the attic. They explore the first floor; empty bedrooms and storage rooms (16, 17) in the northern wing (though Tyrius does find a scroll of hold person), and empty bedrooms in the west wing (11, 12). In one of these is a wardrobe, and while Thokk is investigating it, he is covered in mold spores from what Larry says is a potentially deadly yellow mold. Larry claims that the key to eliminating fungal growth is to stay dry - he rips plaster off the walls, grinds it up into a powder, and covers Thokk head-to-foot so that the half-orc appears a ghost himself.

The passage between the west and east wings has a section of dangerous flooring; Larry devises a safety rope and pitons, but all present safely jump across the sagging section of rotten wood. The three bedrooms of the east wing have more interesting contents - in the first (13) are two large spiders to kill. The second (14) has odd scratches, obviously recent, on the window sill. The door to the third is (15) locked, but the key is nearby on a sill. Inside, gagged and bound and with a lump on her head, is a woman in her smallclothes!

Of course Tyrius is the first in the room and works quickly to free the woman, and then gives her his cloak to cover her modesty. The floor in the room is unsafe, so they retreat to the bedroom with the slain spiders to talk. The woman says that her name is Nadine Shakeshaft and she hales from Seaton. She is a mercenary and has worked mostly as a guard - for warehouses, ships, and caravans (her current state of undress shows that she has both the build and hands for such work). She had been traveling from Seaton to Saltmarsh the previous evening, looking for work, but due to delays on the road could not reach Saltmarsh by dusk. She took refuge in the house at sunset, but had only entered through the door to the scullery and gone into the kitchen when she was attacked from behind and knocked unconscious. She awoke, bound and gagged, sometime this morning. Her boiled leather armor, metal helm, and sword are missing along with her clothes. The party loans her a dagger and says that they are happy to escort her to Saltmarsh, but not until they are done searching the house. She agrees to help them by standing watch and such.

With the first floor clear, but now even more suspicious of a malign presence in the house, the party decides to head for the attic. Most of them manage to jump the gap in the collapsed stairs and attain the floor of the attic (19), but when Nadine is helping to boost Tyrius up, he slips and falls, tumbling not only to the floor of the landing, but all the way down the stairs into the kitchen, suffering a number of bruises along the way.

Eventually everyone is able to ascend into the attic, which is one open space underneath the sloping roof of the entire house. As they explore it, they come upon a stirge nest and begin a desperate battle in cramped quarters. They have just managed to slay the last of fully a dozen stirges, with several of them wounded but Aurora having recovered a magic ring, when a swarm of giant ants begins flooding up from below. Surrounded, Larry calls upon his thunderwave spell. This succeeds in killing the ants, but also collapses much of the floor of the attic under him. He is left dangling by his hands from some sagging crossbeams while the rest of the party stares helplessly. Tyrius attempts to rescue him, but the weight of the northern paladin plus his armor finishes the collapse of the floor, plummeting both of them to the first floor in a shower of splintered wood and a cloud of dust and plaster. No sooner have they hit the first floor landing when that, too, gives way, and they fall to the stone floor of the entryway. Their limp bodies are half covered in debris. Sensing the urgency of the situation, Babshapka leaps through the open hole in the attic floor, tucks and rolls and safely lands on the first floor, then does the same thing to attain the ground floor. He clears the debris and checks his companions - after some first aid on his part, he has them stable but unconscious.

The Saltmarsh youths had in the meantime crept to the stone wall, and listened eagerly at the faint sounds of combat emerging occasionally from the house. At the peal of thunder and crash of timbers, however, all three of them turn and run back to town.

The party assembles in the entry hall. With both of their healers unconscious, they are in no state to continue. Larry and Tyrius are coincidentally the two heaviest members of the party, and there is no way they will be able to transport them both to Saltmarsh, even with the help of Nadine, but Aurora is adamant that they will not spend the night in the house. They withdraw across the road and a hundred yards or so into the forest. There they take their evening meal and set watch while they wait for their companions to regain consciousness.

Thokk and Nadine share the first watch, and then Barnabus and Aurora, and finally Babshapka on his own - Aurora having carefully selected someone with darkvision to be on each shift. What Barnabus and Aurora do not notice is that Nadine actually slips off into the forest on their watch, leaving Tyrius’ bundled cloak in her place. Much like the urchin before, she too pays a visit to Merchant Murphey in Saltmarsh, before returning by the light of the moon and taking her place back in camp with none the wiser.
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