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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:33 am  
    Post 22: Backstory for Shefak Ishu, Bakluni Monk, Level 1

    Post 22: Backstory for Shefak Ishu, Bakluni Monk, level 1

    Shefak Ishu was born to a wandering tribe of horse nomads in the Plains of the Paynims. Although physically weak, she was considered wise beyond her years by the holy women of the tribe. When she was a girl, her tribe’s travels took them near a temple to Xan Yae, “The Lady of Perfection,” the Bakluni goddess of Mental and Physical Mastery. It was there that she was enrolled as an acolyte, with her family hoping that she would become a priestess. After years of training, it was found that she excelled more at physical combat than prayer and spell-casting, so her training became that of a monk.

    Eventually she was told the story of Zuoken, the most perfect disciple of Xan Yae. About sixty years ago, Zuoken was imprisoned, but no one knows where. It is the goal of every follower of Xan Yae to find and release Zuoken.

    When Shefak completed her initial training as a monk, she asked to travel and look for clues as to where Zuoken might be imprisoned. Though she was young and inexperienced, she was also wise and dedicated and her petition was granted.

    Shefak followed the rising sun to the east and the rivers to the south. After months of travel she eventually found herself in the nation of Keoland. There, the people all stared at her as most of them had never seen a Bakluni woman, but that did not bother her or deter her from her quest.

    She has heard of an ancient forest called the Dreadwood, which is supposed to be home to many evil secrets. She thinks that would be an excellent place to start looking for Zuoken, but she knows she is not yet skilled enough to enter it on her own.

    For the past month, she has been in the city of Seaton, trying to find people who would want to explore the Dreadwood with her. She has had several run-ins with the local constables, who do not appreciate her presence. But she has studied the local law and has made sure to never do anything illegal, so they have been unable to arrest or deport her.

    One week ago, a representative of the Viscount of Salinmor (the lord of Seaton) met with her and explained that he knew of a group of adventurers who might wish to go to the Dreadwood with her. First, however, she must accompany them on a mission and prove herself capable. Shefak agreed to this and traveled to the town of Saltmarsh to meet the group. It appears that their mission is to attack a ship of smugglers, and she has been training with them to this end for several days.

    Shefak Ishu
    First Level Monk / Human (Bakluni) (Acolyte)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Insight, Religion, Stealth
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Mon Jul 23, 2018 8:40 pm  
    Post 23: Battle for the Sea Ghost

    Post 23: Battle for the Sea Ghost

    Note: While it should be obvious, this post will include numerous spoilers to the second section of Module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

    DM's Note: Successfully taking the Sea Ghost and discovering the arms-running plot were the story requirements for the characters to level to third, with the exception of Shefak. Since the monk joined the party after the Haunted House, her participation in taking the ship would get her to second level. The player of Willa was allowed to start her at second level due to her pre-existing role and position in the customs officers, and the stats provided for her as an NPC in the module. Thus, she leveled to third along with the others.

    14 August, 570 - The Sea Cave

    Tom had sailed the excise cutter into the sea cave, taking down the mast to enter but not removing it from the ship in his haste. Willa directs its removal, then sees Thokk and Barnabus loaded and launched while she puts the rest of the party to order in the jollyboat.

    Thokk strains against the oars and pulls his craft out into the black, rolling sea. His darkvision is sufficient for him to avoid the rocks around the cave mouth, but for Barnabus it is a terrifying few minutes of blackness and crashing waves, being tossed about the cutter and wet with spray while Thokk heaves and frets. Once they are out beyond the surf zone and into the open sea the waves calm and Thokk concentrates on rowing silently with a steady pace. Every so often the half orc looks over his shoulder, trying to detect a dark ship against the dark sky so that he has somewhere to make for more precise than “away from land”.

    Willa checks everything twice in the jollyboat before shoving off - she is in no hurry, and wants Thokk to have as long a lead as possible. Her hauberk of chain is neatly folded under her aft seat. Her lantern is lit, and she directs the beam through the fog and across the rocks as she calls orders to those at the oars - Tyrius and Babshapka at the outset, though she will spell them out if needed.

    Tom has made his way to the first floor window in the bedroom overlooking the ocean and has his lantern lit but covered. He scans the dark waters, trying to find the ship he saw before. After several minutes he still has not seen it - but he does see a flash of light! It is a long flash, followed by three short flashes. He looks at the parchment given him by the party, and reasons that it is the first line of the code - but how is he to respond? They have not told him! The same signal - a long flash followed by three short ones, is repeated twice more, with a pause between each. Tom decides the safest bet is to repeat the sequence itself, and this he does, uncovering one wall of the lantern and holding it toward the sea. He waits anxiously for a response. He cares little for the strangers, but is acutely aware that his sister, his only living family, is on board the jollyboat with them, even now rowing out to a ship full of cutthroats.

    “Thokk!” hisses Barnabus, seeing flashes over the shoulder of the barbarian. He directs his companion to take their cutter more in the direction of the light, estimating they are perhaps half the distance out to it or more. In the jollyboat behind, Willa sees the signal as well, and she whispers to Babshapka to pull harder so as to turn them. Aurora has been in-and-out communicating with Barnabus through her message, but Thokk is keeping the cutter just at the edge of her range.

    On board the Sea Ghost, Captain Sigurd “Snake Eyes”, Punketah the Mage, and two crewmen stare up at the decrepit mansion. “Ol’ Sanballet’s gone barmy,” mutters Punketah. “That ain’t the response signal, no how. That be our signal.”

    “Nae be ye wrong,” replies Sigurd. “Too much brandy, or wacthin’ t’em coloured lights too long? Wait a fair bit an’ hail ‘im again,” he orders.

    Ten minutes later, Sigurd has the crewman on the lantern flash another signal at the house. In the house, Tom sees the same signal as before, frets silently, and then repeats it again. The smugglers watch from the rail of the Ghost. “T’at’s wrong, alright,” says a crewman, shaking his head.

    “Might be…” says Punketah, drawing his words out, “that Sanballet’s got summit to say to us and is coming out hisself - and one o’ those land lummuxes he uses fer muscle don’t know ther signal from his arse.”

    “‘Tmight be,” says Sigurd, unconvinced. “Or ‘tmight be Sanballet got hisself caught, an’ yon light’s made by no friend o’ ours.”

    “Kingsmen?” spits Punketah. “Nahh, it be past ther bedtime. Kingsmen don’t sail o’ ther night.”

    Nevertheless, Sigurd calls up to the man in the crow’s nest, “Luke! Eye’s up! All directions, laddie!”

    Sigurd waits a few minutes more, just to give whomever is in the house the chance to right the signal, but it does not come. “We be cuttin’ bait,” he decides, then shouts to the man at the fore, “Weigh anchor, lad!”

    The man aloft calls down, “Cap’n, jolly t’ starboard!”

    “Belay t’at!” shouts Sigurd to the man at the capstan. He has the crewman with the lantern shine it low across the water. The approaching jollyboat is dimly illuminated - and it holds fully six figures, though their identities cannot be made out in the misty air. “Bjorn, make ready t’ receive ‘em,” Sigurd calls out to his mate on the lower deck.

    “Do ye want our jolly launched?” Bjorn calls back.

    “Nae jes' yet.”

    “Mayhap ye be right,” Sigurd murmurs to Punketah, “a full boat could mean Sanballet’s comin’ out fer a parlay - or ‘tmight be me in ther right, an’ t’ese nae be friends. When t’ey gets close enou’ t’ see, be ye castin’ yer web t’ keep ‘em in t’ boat, t’en sleep, t’en we be guttin’ any left standin’.”

    “Aye, Cap’n,” agrees Punketah darkly, and his hand opens a belt pouch and draws forth a pinch of cobweb.

    With most eyes on the approaching jollyboat, Thokk and Barnabus slip the cutter in front of the prow of the still-anchored Sea Ghost. Thokk’s oar strokes yield no more noise than the sea lapping gently against the hull of the great ship, and they pass unseen to the seaward port side of the Ghost. Barnabus takes out a grapnel, its hooks muffled by sackcloth, and tosses it neatly up to catch on the rail above.

    Bloody Bjorn and a crewmen stand by at the starboard rail, the crewman with a rope ladder in hand. On the stern deck, the man with the lantern keeps it shining on the approaching jollyboat, and several of the figures aboard can be seen to lean in and whisper to one another.

    When the prow of the jollyboat is some twenty yards from the hull of the Ghost, the mist parts enough to reveal that all those in the boat are strangers, though they are concealed by dark cloaks. The stout dwarf is the first giveaway, but none of those below are familiar to those on deck. Bjorn draws his broadsword, and the man next to him drops the ladder to the deck. “Now!” bellows Sigurd, and Punketah begins the words of an incantation.

    Those in the boat are quicker. Babshapka drops his oar, turns and stands, pulling forth a bow, already strung, from beneath his cloak. He looses an arrow - a single shot that strikes Bjorn square in the chest - but the arrow shaft erupts in a tangle of vines that wrap around the mate and take him to the deck. His companion is hit by a firebolt from Aurora but does not go down.

    Willa lunges across the seats to take up Babshapka’s oar. Together with Tyrius, she steers the jollyboat and then pulls in the oar so that they grind to a stop against the hull of the Sea Ghost, the two ships broadside to one another.

    Larry has been mumbling under his breath for several seconds, perhaps even before Punketah. Suddenly, the whole jollyboat and the main deck besides are covered in a thick fog bank, obscuring all. A second later Punketah completes his web, but now has no targets in sight. The web splashes harmlessly in the water, its fringes adhering the jolly to the larger ship, but catches no beings in its sticky strands. Punketah utters a foul oath. Sigurd yells for the anchor to be raised and draws his own sword.

    Under the shroud of Larry’s fog cloud, those in the jollyboat throw up grapnels and ascend to the main deck of the Ghost, even as Barnabus and Thokk climb aboard on the other side. “Sleep, damn you Punketah!” curses Sigurd, while the mage pulls forth a pinch of sand and mutters that he cannot sleep what he cannot see. The wounded crewman at the main deck rail slashes at a shape in the fog but is then felled by a blow from an unseen opponent as those in the jollyboat clamber aboard.

    The stern crewman’s lantern dances through the fog but reveals nothing. Suddenly from the main deck comes a great cry of rage: “Thokk bathe ship in blood!”

    Blown astern by the east wind, the fog advances across the main deck, and the boarders use it for cover as they move aft. Barnabus ascends the port ladder to the poop deck ahead of the fog but immediately darts into the shadows. With a clatter of heavy booted feet, Thokk, Tyrius, and Willa ascend the starboard ladder to the poop deck and engage the smugglers in melee. Shefak runs across the fog-covered deck but ignores the ladder. Rather, she uses her staff to vault over the railing to the poop deck, rolling as she lands.

    Before the first blow is struck, Punketah completes his sleep spell, centering it on the attackers surging up the ladder. The first to collapse is Shefak, but then the crewmen at the tiller and holding the lantern go down. The lantern clatters to the deck but does not spill oil. Barnabus, sneaking up behind the man on the tiller, also succumbs to the sleep before he can strike. Aurora and Babshapka, still on the main deck but approaching the ladder, feel a brief moment of drowsiness before their fey heritage asserts itself.

    With Thokk, Willa, and Tyrius now confronting Sigurd and Punketah on the poop deck and no one else there conscious, Tyrius calls for Sigurd to drop his sword and surrender his ship. In response, Sigurd roars defiance and slashes at Thokk faster than they can follow. After three devastating cuts the deck is wet with blood and Thokk falls to his knees. He is still struggling to rise when Sigurd runs him through with a final stab. The massive half-orc collapses with a groan.

    [DM’s aside: With Tyrius and Willa arriving behind Thokk on the ladder, I ruled they could move but not attack on the first round. Barnabus, Shefak, and the two crewmen would have been allowed to attack but all were incapacitated by the sleep spell before their initiative came up, so only Sigurd and Thokk remained to go for the first round of this combat. This was the first 5E game I had run, and I converted Sigurd over as a 5th level fighter, champion duelist. In retrospect, a second level party facing a fifth level enemy fighter in 5E is a much steeper contest than the same level difference in the 1e original module. Had the party not been lucky with the previous initiative and gotten Larry’s fog cloud off before Punketah’s web, it would have easily been a TPK. In the case of Sigurd vs. Thokk, Sigurd was at +8 to hit and +7 to damage. He chose action surge in the first round to make four attacks. His first three hits on Thokk with d8+7 each did more than 38 damage total, which could have taken Thokk to -19 and instantly killed him. However, Thokk had his rage up for half weapon damage. He was knocked to zero but used his half-orc relentless endurance to persist at 1 hp until Sigurd’s fourth blow, which took him again to 0 hp.]

    Babshapka ascends the ladder to the poop deck next and just behind him is Aurora. He joins the melee while she slaps Shefak and Barnabus awake. Aurora then takes an arrow from the man in the crow’s nest. With Tyrius busy trading blows with Sigurd and unlikely to notice, Barnabus takes the opportunity to kill, not capture, the two sleeping crewmen. This makes it five of the party against just Sigurd and Punketah in the melee, with Aurora and the man in the crow’s nest still trading arrows for firebolts. Punketah goes down quickly, but even at five-on-one Sigurd holds his own for quite a while and both Tyrius and Willa are seriously wounded by the time he falls.

    The party holds the ship for the moment. The fog has cleared from the main deck, revealing a single dead smuggler by the rail. The formerly entangled mate is gone, as is the man who was at the capstan, and the anchor is still down. Thokk, Punketah, and Sigurd are all found to be alive though unconscious - the latter two are bound. Between Larry and Tyrius, Thokk is revived and some of the worse wounds of Willa and Tyrius are healed.

    As the party crosses the main deck, a cabin door is flung open. Three lizardfolk charge the party, and Thokk is the first to meet them, blocking their javelins with his large hide shield. A small flying creature is with them, and it sinks its tail barb into the half-orc as combat is joined again. Seeing the beast, Aurora begins “Isn’t that a dragonne…” but that is as far as she gets before Thokk slices it in half with his axe. After the lizardfolk are slain as well, and dumped overboard besides, the deck is again clear and calm. Willa retrieves her chainmail hauberk from the jollyboat and dons it.

    The subsequent battle below decks is desperate and hard-fought on both sides. It involves fighting on rope ladders, climbing on and over brandy casks and even attempts to roll them down upon others, thrown daggers in the dark, and the use of all of the party’s remaining spells. In the end, all of the party are wounded, most of them severely. Five common smugglers are dead, three have surrendered, and all of the ship’s officers (the Captain, the Mate, the Bosun, and Punketah) have been knocked unconscious, captured alive, and bound to the mast in the hold.

    Besides the items recovered from officers themselves (jewelry, armor and weapons, and possibly magical gear) and the obviously valuable cargo of silk and brandy, the party’s search of the ship uncovers a cache of odd coins in the cabin of the lizardfolk, strange papers and four (labeled!) potion vials in the captain’s cabin, a spellbook and a wand in Punketah’s cabin, a secret room filled with weapons, and a secret prison cell with a manacled sea elf (who is soon after released).

    The smuggler’s role in supplying Sanballet and Master Murphey with brandy and silk is already obvious. Between the accounts of the surrendered crew, the letter found in the captain’s cabin, the hundred electrum pieces the lizardfolk had, and the store of weapons, the party quickly surmises that the smugglers are also dealing in arms, supplying weapons to lizardfolk. Willa, in particular, is concerned about this for if she is reading the captured map correctly, the lizardfolk lair is at the mouth of the Dun River, which is just a few hours west of Saltmarsh by sail.

    Where these arms are coming from, and for what purpose the lizardfolk are purchasing them, is not as obvious, for the three crewman claim not to know, and Sigurd has already told the others, “I’ll nae be sayin’ naught, an’ ye’ll do ther same, if ye hae any wits aboot ye.” The crewmen do say that the silks and brandy are loaded in the port of Jetsam in the nation of the Sea Princes, but none of them ever saw the arms come aboard.

    The party decides to interrogate each of the four smuggler leaders separately. Aurora clumsily tries to get Tyrius to watch the remaining prisoners so that he will not be present during the questioning, but he quickly sees through that and has Thokk guard those remaining. Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora spend some time alone with each of the prisoners in a below-decks cabin before returning them to the group bound to the mast. The common smugglers have had their hands and feet bound, but are sitting on the deck and not tied to anything for the moment.

    Captain Sigurd “Snake Eyes” is calm, collected, and quiet during his interrogation. He tells them his name, inquires after theirs, and agrees that he is captain of the Sea Ghost. Other than that, he steadfastly refuses to provide them with any information.

    The first mate “Bloody Bjorn” struggles a bit and curses them as they take him away from the others, but settles down once they are alone with him and asks for a deal. Once he learns (from Tyrius) that his freedom is non-negotiable, and that regardless of what he says they will be turning him over to the Saltmarsh Town Council, he goes thoughtfully quiet. Eventually he tells them that Sigurd has a contact in Jetsam for the weapons. He says he could recognize the man and point him out in a crowd, but he does not know his name or the location of his business. The silk and brandy are brought aboard as legal goods in Jetsam, but the weapons are handled only by the officers and without the knowledge of the port’s customs officials or the crew. Bjorn knows that they have been running the arms to the lizardfolk for months, since the spring, but he does not know why. He also says that they captured the sea elf sneaking on board their ship while docked in Jetsam, but that no one has been able to speak with him, and that Sigurd is considering selling him to slavers. In return for this information, Bjorn asks them to not say anything to his shipmates about what he has told them, and he asks Tyrius to tell the Town Council that he has been cooperative, and Tyrius agrees to both of these conditions.

    The bosun “Foul” Frithoff is sullen when they pull him from the mast, but once they have him alone in the cabin he lets fly with a string of invectives the likes of which even Willa has never heard. He curses them and their families, past and future, and goes into lurid detail about what he will be doing to each of them once he is free. His interrogation is effectively over after a minute, but they keep him in the cabin as long as the others so as to sow doubt among them. When they finally drag him out his voice is hoarse and their ears are red.

    Lastly they separate Punketah. Tyrius begins by saying that the Saltmarsh Town Council has required them to turn over the smuggler officers but has empowered them to make their own decisions about the common crew. Punketah replies that he is not an officer and is outside the chain of command of the ship - he is more like an adjunct specialist, who reports only to the captain but does not rank higher than the sailors. He emphasizes that he was not personally involved in the smuggling or in breaking the King’s law - he was just hired by Sigurd as a spellcaster to defend the ship. In that case, Aurora reasons aloud, the party should be free to deal with him as they see fit. When Tyrius does not object, she asks Punketah what he is willing to trade.

    Punketah claims to know even less about the weapons deal than Bjorn did - he says he does not know where they are from or how they get on board. He does confirm that the weapons are ultimately sold to the lizardfolk, and that they have a large lair at the mouth of the Dun. He also agrees that the brandy and silks are purchased legally in Jetsam, and that the sea elf was captured in that port. He says that since the party is free to deal with him as they choose, he would like to offer his magic items in return for his life and freedom. Aurora replies that they already have, by the Council’s affirmation of their right of pillage, his spellbook and wand, so unless he has some magic items they have not found, he still has nothing to bargain with. Punketah replies that he will tell the party the command word for the magic wand, and also describe to them how his magic ring functions (the party had taken his ring, suspecting but not sure of it of being magical), both valuable pieces of information. While they consider that, he also offers the following: the lizardfolk are arming themselves for an attack on Saltmarsh, he says, and the town is in imminent danger. If they allow him to keep his spellbook and magic items, he will join them in defense of the town or their pre-emptive attack on the lair, so long as he can go free with his possessions once the lizardfolk are defeated. Tyrius, Willa, and Aurora say that they will consider his offer, but need to talk amongst themselves.

    Once all four captives are back at the mast, the party leaves Larry and Thokk to guard them and goes above decks to talk. They take the surrendered crew with them, releasing their leg restraints but leaving their hands bound. Out of earshot of the prisoners, Willa, Aurora, and Tyrius convey to Barnabus, Babshapka, and Shefak what Punketah and the officers said, and they talk about what they believe and what they don’t. The involvement of the Sea Princes is worrisome, as both Barnabus and Willa relate that the Princes are ancient rivals of Keoland, and that the nations have fought many naval wars in the past. If the Princes are indeed involved in arming lizardfolk to assault Saltmarsh, it could be part of a larger plan to invade all of Salinmoor!
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:03 am  
    Post 24: An Awkward Homecoming

    DM's note: This post includes numerous spoilers to the second section of Module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

    Post 24 - An Awkward Homecoming

    15 August, 570 - Azure Sea, early morning, after the battle
    The party, at least those inclined to discuss such matters, has spent most of the night talking. All of the gathered loot has been placed in a single pile, and Aurora has made a ritual casting of detect magic on it. The three common sailors have had their hand restraints removed so that they can give sea burials to their dead companions, and after observing them during this act, Tyrius declares that they are to remain unbound, so long as they remain above decks. The three smuggler officers, and Punketah the mage, after their separate interrogations, remain tied to the mast in the hold and under the guard of Thokk and Larry. With the grapnels and hard work the party and sailors together have pulled both the smuggler’s jollyboat and the excise cutter aboard and lashed them to the deck. The sky is getting lighter and lighter as dawn approaches.

    There has not been time to tell Tom back at the House what is happening. Willa hopes by waiting until it is light enough for him to see that they are sailing to Saltmarsh, he will deduce the ship has been successfully taken. As Willa directs the smugglers to raise anchor, she can see the the ship itself, painted on the prow, bears the name The Sea Ghost, an appropriate moniker for a smuggling vessel if ever there was one.

    Willa takes the tiller while the three sailors raise the sail and work the ropes. Aurora asks her whether the crew of four will be enough to get to harbor in Saltmarsh. Willa points off the port side to where storm clouds blacken the southern horizon. “Wit’ ther fair east wind we hae right now, an’ calm seas, aye we be arrivin' soon eno’, though we willnae be settin’ any speed records. I nae be wantin’ t’ be out on ther open sea wit’ only four sailors on deck if summit blows up, tho'. That thar storm out t’ sea durn’t look t’ be gettin’ any closer, but we hae better be safe in harbor if she hits.”

    One of the reasons Willa is at the tiller is so that she (rather than the sailors) can be in control of the ship’s direction, but the other is so that she can stand easily and speak with the rest of the party, who are on the poop deck discussing what happens next.

    Willa and Tyrius are adamant that the captain, first mate, and bosun will be turned over to the Council, and will brook no contrary argument. For the common sailors, and Punketah, however, opinions are divided, as the council explicitly (or implicitly, in the case of Punketah) said that the party could use their discretion.

    Should the mage be turned over to the Council? Should he be held by the party and the Council just told about him? Should they even mention him? By his own claim, the party will need him to safely approach the lizardfolk lair, since he warns of dangerous shoals and lizardfolk traps, but can they trust him? He said he would help them in return for his life and his gear.

    As for the common sailors, they know the ship and could prove a valuable crew, but can they be trusted? Willa has already said they will not be sufficient to crew the ship should the party want to use it to sail to the mouth of the Dun, and more sailors will need to be hired. That being the case, why not just crew the ship entirely with Saltmarsh sailors of more certain loyalty? Then again, will the party be taking the ship to the lizardfolk lair? Even Punketah has said that he can only help them navigate if they approach during the day - but in a day approach the ship will be seen from miles off. Should they instead sail one of the jollyboats or the cutter, or even approach from the land?

    Also, there is the question of the sea elf, who Babshapka has said is named Oceanus. For the moment he seems content to speak with Babshapka, who is filling him in on not only what the party is doing at the moment, but the history of the Haunted House as well. Should he leave the ship before it reaches Saltmarsh? If he stays on it, would he be summoned before the Council or possibly even seized or interrogated by them?

    Finally, there is the question of the disposition of the magical treasure. It is generally agreed on that all the monetary treasure will be equally split, with Willa (but not Tom) receiving a full share. But since the magical loot cannot be divided equally, who will receive it?

    Aurora is of the opinion that the gear should go to “whomever can best use it for the benefit of the party”. Items she has identified as being magical include:

    The captain’s longsword - this is large and could be used one or two-handed - the most obvious choice would be Willa

    The mate’s broadsword - this has a single edge like a large cutlass - it seems most fitting for Thokk but might not do as much damage as his axe. It could also be used by Babshapka, and seems light enough he could still use his shortsword in the other hand. It is similar enough to Bakluni falchions that Shefak would also be able to wield it.

    Punketah’s ring - not yet identified, though he claims it is protective and has offered to explain its use.

    Punketah’s wand - not yet identified, though he claims it is of magic detection, and has offered to provide the party with its command word.

    Punketah’s spellbook - not yet read.

    The four phials from the captain’s quarters - not yet identified, but labeled as healing, healing, cure disease, and neutralize poison.

    Not magical, but possibly important, is an unopened scroll tube that was found with Punketah’s spellbook. Babshapka and Dirty Larry find that two of the officers' three chain shirts fit them well enough to use. They are rusty and missing links in places, to be sure, but still an improvement over their own leathers.

    Tyrius, while arguing his own opinion, makes it clear that he will abide by the decision of the party, but that whatever deal they offer to the mage, Tyrius will make sure both sides hold to the agreement.

    Aurora thinks it'd be best to hand over all the officers to the authorities (including the wizard, despite his offer to "help"). She believes they should be very clear to the Council that the smugglers were involved in an attempt to foment a revolution against the mainland, and so they should use all means at their disposal to wrest information from the prisoners, especially the Captain, Snake-eyes, who was uncooperative when the party questioned him. With luck, that should garner a little information to help the party assault or handle the lizard folk.

    As far as the three sailors, Aurora votes that the party hire them on as deckhands for their new vessel, but she would propose some type of test for them. Perhaps they could anchor the boat off the coast, hide a few members of the party on board (Barnabus and Shefak are obvious choices) and then make a show of "everyone" leaving to go ashore. They could then listen in on conversations and be prepared to kill them and resume control of the ship if they are disloyal. The party could also hire another couple of sailors (if needed) from Saltmarsh to balance them out. Aurora thinks that they should ask Oceanus what he would most like the party to do with him and, assuming he wishes to be released close to his people, perhaps try to enlist his people's help in the fight against the lizard folk.

    Aurora is also most curious about the spellbook and what it may contain. If they are useful spells, she'd like to propose pooling money to pay for their inscription into her spellbook. After that, she'd like to deposit this book in the same bank in Seaton where she put the first one (from the Alchemist).

    Regarding the magical booty, Aurora suggests that Thokk could make good use of the ring of protection, given how often he is in the forefront of attacks, and she is happy to identify the magical weapons to be on the safe side (to be sure they are not cursed), but she would appreciate it if the party could split the cost of the expensive pearl required for each use of the spell. She thinks Thokk could make use of the longsword as well, but if Willa would like to use it she should get priority if Thokk gets the ring.

    Thokk is happy relaying his opinion up to Aurora via her message spell, although he doesn’t get the part about whispering to her and instead speaks plainly in front of the prisoners. He thinks the easiest thing to do would be just to kill the entire crew, including those who surrendered and the fish-elf, but he's fine with letting the officers go to the Council at Saltmarsh if that is the decision of the party. He personally offers to slay any people who need slaying, and to test out the fancy new weapons in the process if anyone would like him to. He loves the look of the ring, and thinks it would complement his scars. While he admires the craftsmanship of the longsword, he has some sentimental connection to his trusty battleaxe, so he may take some convincing to use the sword. He is exceptionally excited by the prospect of killing hordes of lizard folk and begins nagging the party as to when that will happen.

    Shefak is not interested in the broadsword. She says that by relying on magic as a crutch, one will never learn to truly focus the body and mind. She doesn’t mind contributing to the cost of identifying the magic items themselves, because pursuing knowledge is inherently worthwhile. She warns anyone who doesn’t want to contribute that a foolish attachment to money and other material things will surely bar them from spiritual progress. She is willing to accept the decision of the party with regards to the sailors, mage, and officers - they have all chosen their path and must walk it to its conclusion.

    Babshapka is willing to take the broadsword, provided that magical identification shows that it is more potent than the weapons he now wields, and that it is light enough for him to continue using two blades. He does not comment on the disposition of the prisoners beyond saying that he will not allow Thokk to harm Oceanus.

    Willa is very interested in the magic longsword, although she is is also considering purchasing a greatsword with her share of the booty. She agrees with the assessment of Aurora regarding the wizard, the officers and the crew. She likes the idea of hiring more crew in Saltmarsh for the ship. She, of course, will follow the direction/orders of the Council and the Chief Customs Master, Secun, in any matter they decide upon.

    It is eventually decided that Punketah will be turned over to the Council along with the three officers, but with a warning to them that he might be useful to the party later (so a swift execution is not in anyone's interest).

    The three sailors will not be turned over.

    Willa takes the longsword, Babshapka the broadsword, Thokk the ring, and these are practiced with but not identified. Aurora takes the wand, spell book, and scroll tube.

    Babshapka speaks with Oceanus, and the sea elf says that he would like to go with the party to assess whether the lizardfolk are a threat to his people - if so, he would then return to his home and ask that his people help the party in dealing with the threat. He warns Babshapka that just because the lizardfolk want to attack the humans of Saltmarsh, they will not necessarily be seen as threatening to his people.

    15 August - Saltmarsh
    In the early morning, the Sea Ghost docks in Saltmarsh harbor. She has been seen coming in for hours, and the docks are full of customs officials and a dozen guardsmen, while the length of the harbor is lined with small folk.

    Chief Secun approaches once the ship is tied off and a gang plank lowered. He calls to speak with Willa, and when she answers, he asks her permission to come aboard. Those unfamiliar with naval custom are surprised or confused that her superior would ask her permission, but Willa stands a bit taller and pauses before granting him leave. Once he is aboard he asks her to order that no one comes aboard or leaves, and then the two head for the Captain’s cabin to have a private conversation.

    Willa begins by telling him everything that happened the night before, and everything they learned from the prisoners. He remains thoughtful for half a glass of brandy, and then tells her that so long as the common sailors stay on the ship, they are outside the jurisdiction of Saltmarsh, but should they step on shore, they will be arrested for smuggling. He also says that while the party may speak freely about the smugglers to the townsfolk, they are on no account to speak of the lizardfolk, so as to avoid scaring the townspeople. The Council will need to debate the meaning of all this before making a public announcement. It would have been better had Oceanus remained below decks as well, but half of Saltmarsh has seen him now, so that ship has sailed. Secun says that the town constables are waiting to receive the ship’s officers. They will be taken first to the blacksmith, to be fitted for hand-manacles and leg irons, and then walked to the town’s single-cell gaol. Upon reflection, he doesn’t want the mage stored with the others - he believes that the butcher’s ice-cellar will do for Punketah.

    When Willa and Secun emerge, the party decides to take the officers off the boat one at a time. The captain goes quietly, without concern, with hands tied and feet hobbled. He is marched slowly up the harbor road toward the blacksmith’s.

    Foul Frithoff is next. He is halfway down the gangplank when he hops neatly out into the air and plummets straight down into the water. Thokk and Barnabus immediately dive in after him, but by the time they are next to him he already has his hands free, having used the sharp barnacles and mussel shells of a dock piling to cut the ropes that bound them. Oceanus also dives in: by the time Frithoff has been sliced by Barnabus, stabbed and brought to the surface by Oceanus, and shot with an arrow from the crow’s nest by Babshapka, he is dead. His body is laid along the shore for the people to gawk at, and his blood slowly stains the gravel around him.

    After this, Thokk insists on knocking the prisoners unconscious before he hauls them off the boat. The captain and mate Bloody Bjorn share the town’s gaol cell; the wizard Punketah, after being manacled, is kept separately in the butcher’s basement.

    The party are told there will be a late-night Council meeting; Tyrius and Aurora are expected to attend.

    The party turns over most of the items of value found on the Sea Ghost, but they retain the magical items, the armor of the officers, and the weapons (both used and stored) of the unmentioned lizardfolk. Aurora uses their single remaining pearl to identify the wand of magic detection and learns that it holds more than 30 charges. After selling what they can to the merchants of the Council and paying excise taxes on the cargo, an eight-way split is 171gp for each of them (including Willa but not Tom). Party members except for Willa are given an additional 50gp from Council funds as a reward for capturing the smugglers.
    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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    Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:22 am  
    Post 25: Sigurd and the Council

    Post 25: Sigurd and the Council

    15 August, 570 - afternoon - Saltmarsh
    Most of the party remains on the ship, using the galley to fix meals. Aurora copies several spells from Punketah’s book into her own.

    Willa goes ashore and buys a greatsword for herself. She sets aside the entire remainder of her share of the booty for a fishing cottage, boat, and nets for her younger brother Tom, so that he is now provided for with an inheritance and means of supporting a family, should he marry. While she is out, she also cruises the bars and taverns searching for available deckhands. She finds none, but learns that a merchant ship is due in to port which will have several men available.

    In the evening Aurora and Tyrius go to the Council meeting. Babshapka is able to gain admittance as Aurora’s bodyguard, and Willa also attends as an aide to Secun.

    The meeting starts with Secun, the High Constable, and the Militia Captain revealing to the rest of the Council the lizardfolk menace. There is great consternation - fear at the threat itself, and anger that the information was kept from them until now. There is an immediate resolution to ask the party to assess the threat posed, and an offer of a reward. Aurora makes a claim that if the threat is real, the Council ought to be paying the party more than what is offered...but this is not well received, especially considering that they were just granted an entire merchant ship and its cargo as their plunder.

    The Militia Captain says that messengers have been dispatched to Bale Keep and to Seaton. They have not heard back from Seaton yet (not surprising since the city is more than 20 miles away). The commander at Bale Keep has his troops on alert, ready to dispatch to Saltmarsh if necessary. Bale Keep patrols the Hool Marshes, but the patrols penetrate deep into the marshes themselves only during the winter, when the ground is firmer under foot and there are less mosquitoes and poisonous snakes about. During the summer (such as now), they patrol at the edges of the marsh only, and make sure nothing threatening emerges. Thus, they can say with certainty only that if a lizardfolk lair exists at the mouth of the Dun, it was not there last winter.

    When it is the party’s turn to speak, Aurora clarifies the connection between the lizardfolk, smugglers, and the Sea Princes. Most of the Council dismisses her idea at first, as they do not feel that the “flickers” could be part of a sophisticated plan, or that the Princes would be interested in a land war (since the previous animosity between their nations has been confined largely to naval battles). However, Aurora is persistent and persuasive. When she hits on the fact that the electrum coins used by the lizardfolk to pay for the weapons were of Sea Prince mint, several members of the Council do start to look concerned, and some are even alarmed. Willa has to intervene, telling Aurora privately to stop speaking along this line before the Council itself panics. Secun works to steer them back to the business at hand.

    Captain Sigurd is brought in, still in irons. He calmly confesses to his part in the smuggling and arms running, although he offers no oaths. He explains that an assistant to one of the Sea Princes told him of the opportunity to run arms to the lizardfolk after he was already smuggling silks and brandy, and that the two operations are not connected. He does not know, and never asked, from where the lizardfolk got their coins. He names his contact for buying arms in the Sea Princes.

    The Council asks him if he is repentant, and he says no, because he is not guilty. At least, he clarifies, he is not legally culpable, because he intends to demand trial by combat to prove his innocence before the law. Given that it took the entire party, plus magic, to bring him down, he is confident that he will be found innocent when fighting any of them in single combat in a fair fight. He doubts that Saltmarsh has anyone more challenging to offer as an opponent than Thokk, Willa, or Tyrius.

    Aurora is incredulous and asks the Council whether Sigurd can do that. The High Constable explains that if he is a freeborn crown subject with no previous convictions, and the crime in question was not witnessed within the boundaries of Saltmarsh itself, he does indeed have the right to trial by combat. Sigurd nods sagely, apparently having known this all along and counting upon it.

    However, the High Constable adds pointedly, since smuggling is a crime against the King, the Council has the right to petition for the King’s Champion to fight on their behalf, and as skilled as the Captain might be, he would not win such a fight.

    The Captain agrees that he would not win that fight, but says nonchalantly that summoning the King’s Champion would assuredly take a great deal of time, and long before he arrived the town would be under attack by flickers. The Captain says that he is hopeful the Council will grant him clemency in return for his fighting on their behalf, for if they are willing to free him he will gladly defend the town, or accompany the party to scout the flicker lair. The Council members are outraged, but have to admit he makes compelling arguments.

    The party members briefly question the Captain. They trade him some of his personal papers back in return for the command word to Punketah’s wand. He is then led away. Aurora claims that the party has no need of Sigurd's help in scouting the lizardfolk lair, and recommends that they do ask for a Champion to prove his guilt. There is a brief debate among the Council members, and it is agreed that it is better to keep Sigurd on hand in the gaol until the party returns with the results of their mission.

    The Council concludes that it is more urgent than ever for the party to assess what is going on with the lizardfolk. They are prepared to offer a reward of 500gp total to the party to split as they choose, plus the right of pillage to anything they find in the lair. Aurora tries to get them to assign someone “expendable” to scout the lair from the sea under guise of a fishing expedition, but she is told coldly that none of the citizens of Saltmarsh are expendable and that the Council is only willing to pay the party the small fortune of half a thousand gold because they expect that the party is able to handle such dangers without hiding behind the good folk of the town. Tyrius interjects and says that they will set out as soon as they have a full crew for their ship.

    16 August - Saltmarsh
    When Shefak wakes in the morning she finds she is now second level.

    Tom Stoutley joins the crew of the Sea Ghost. The excise cutter is returned to Customs service, but the Ghost still has two jollyboats - one that was on deck, and the other from the sea cave.

    Willa is able to find at the cartographer's shop a nautical chart showing the coastline around the mouth of the Dunwater; the Customs Service buys this “for customs use” and she stows it aboard the Sea Ghost.

    At noon, “Bloody” Bjorn (who, unlike Sigurd, does have prior convictions) is hung from a gallows outside the village gaol, for crimes including imprisonment, extortion, smuggling, manslaughter, and assault upon the King’s representatives. There is a good turnout from the town to witness the execution.

    No merchant ships come into port this day, but Willa is able to convince “Old Lefty,” a retired sailor, to come out of retirement for one last voyage on behalf of the town. He is too arthritic to climb the rigging, but she trusts him at the tiller and declares him First Mate of the Ghost and in charge of the crew when she is not on-board. He will be charging the party 1gp per day, or 24gp if they wish to pay him for a month in advance.

    17 August - Saltmarsh
    In the early morning a merchant ship makes port in Saltmarsh. Two locals have ended their service with the voyage and disembark. They are immediately met at the docks by Willa and Tyrius, who offer them employment at the rate of 1gp per day, provided they are ready to leave before midday. They are reluctant to miss their shore leave, but agree. This brings the crew of the Ghost to eight, with Willa, Tom, three smugglers, two locals, and Old Lefty.

    As the party finishes an early lunch, a private letter arrives for Tyrius.

    High tide is around 1pm; the ship casts off just as the tide turns. Since she was sailed into the harbor prow first, crewmen row the jollyboats while pulling the ship about. Once she is facing out of the harbor, Willa lets the tide pull the ship out into the open sea. When she is well beyond the rocks of shore the jollyboats come aboard, the sails are raised, and they begin their journey to the mouth of the Dunwater.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:34 pm  
    Post 26: The Lizardfolk Threat

    Post 26: The Lizardfolk Threat

    15 August, 570 - evening - Saltmarsh

    Willa remains by Secun's side after the party leaves, as the Council continues to discuss the state of affairs. To her surprise, he asks her to stay on for a private conversation even after most of the Council has left. When they are alone, he asks for her assessment of the situation.

    Saltmarsh is not walled, and it relies on the broad Janustream River as a natural barrier to threats from the Hool Marshes in the east. In time of need, the soldiers of Bale Keep are tasked with the active defense of the town, but both Secun and Willa know full well that a foe like lizardfolk, accustomed to traveling through the marsh, could arrive long before soldiers from the Keep. In the event the town had to defend itself without outside assistance, they figure the following would be available and dependable as combat officers:

    The High Constable and the five town constables, and possibly the gaoler
    The Militia Captain and the five sergeants of the militia
    The five part-time customs officers, including Willa and Tom, but not Secun himself (as he is too old to lead troops in the field)
    The priest of Kord
    A few of the priests of Xerbo
    The priest of Sol

    In terms of troops, all of the heads of household of Saltmarsh are required to train one day a month in the militia (or to support ten militiamen with arms and equipment, which is what most of the wealthy do). Many of the town youths train at their own option as archers. The fishermen are stout folk, and the militia itself would easily number 500 able-bodied men if there was a general muster, assuming there was time for a muster. In an open field, in the day, Willa and Secun are confident that Saltmarsh could stand against any threat unless the lizardfolk numbered in the several hundreds.

    As Willa and Secun discuss scenarios, what they fear most is lizardfolk deployed more strategically, who could attack with coordinated raids all along the seashore, coming up undetected from the water and not making any formal troop engagements. Once the families of the militiamen were under attack, most would not have the discipline to remain under the command of their sergeants; rather “every man for himself” would take his family and evacuate the town by whatever means were at hand. This would be exacerbated if the raids occurred at night, or if they came too swiftly for the militia to be mustered. If companies of militia, drastically reduced by desertions, faced a dedicated lizardfolk host, they would likely fail morale, break and run.

    Secun's original charge for Willa was to assess the true nature of the party - were they actually fledgling adventurers, or was some ulterior motive in play? She can now assure him that they are well-intentioned but very inexperienced. With that in mind, he now assigns her the task of leading this scouting expedition to the lizardfolk lair. The safety of Saltmarsh itself may depend on it.
    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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    Mon Aug 20, 2018 4:03 pm  
    Post 27: A letter for Tyrius

    Post 27: A Letter for Tyrius

    17 August, 570 - Saltmarsh
    As the party is staying aboard the Sea Ghost in Saltmarsh Harbor, a private letter arrives for Tyrius (cf. Post 25). The letter is unopened and bears the official seal of the Viscount of Salinmoor. It was delivered by a functionary of the Town Council.

    Taking the letter back to the cabin he shares with Barnabus, Tyrius breaks the seal and reads:

    Tyrius, paladin of Pelor, nobleman of Sterich,

    Good sir,

    I wish to offer you and your party my sincere congratulations on your capture of the smuggler’s ship and its crew and officers. Ending this scourge on the honest merchants of Saltmarsh and the rightful income of the King is a service to my Viscounty and the Kingdom as a whole, and you have my heartfelt gratitude.

    I wish also to thank you for your return of both the armor and gem belonging to my former knight. I have vouchedsafe their bequeathal to his heirs, who thank you as well.

    Finally, I understand that you have taken possession of the smuggler’s ship, which the Saltmarsh Town Council granted you by right of pillage. No doubt the ship will prove useful and diverting to you so long as you stay in fair Salinmoor. However, if I am not misjudging you, no doubt adventure and noble deeds will eventually call you away from Saltmarsh and Salinmoor, at which time possession of the ship may prove to be more of a burden than a boon. Unless you are prepared to wait for some time in Gradsul (an expensive proposition in and of itself) you are unlikely to receive a fair price for it, and even then you would must needs pay a significant fee to whichever auction house helped you find a purchaser. I, on the other hand, would be eager for the ship to see service in either my merchant fleet or my navy, whichever were more appropriate to the design and status of the ship. While I am not at the moment able to offer you coin for the vessel, I do propose the following trade:

    Should you decide to yield title of the ship to the Viscounty, I would be happy to host you and your party in Seaton, for as long as it takes my personal armorers to prepare for you and your henchmen any armor which they are capable of making, of your request, newly forged to your own measurements. I trust that such will prove more useful to you in your future exploits than the ship.

    Please do not hesitate to call upon me at my court.

    Hewell II
    Viscount of Salinmoor, Lord of Saltmarsh, Vice Admiral of the Azure Sea, Defender of the Southern Realm, etc, etc.

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    Tue Aug 28, 2018 6:56 pm  
    Post 28: Scouting the Lizardfolk Lair

    DM's Note: This post contains significant spoilers for module U2: Danger at Dunwater.

    After the party's bumbling near-TPK in the basement of the Haunted House, and a better-planned but still rather lucky assault on the Sea Ghost, I was interested to see what their scouting run of the lizardfolk lair would entail, and how long it would take them to realize the true nature of the module. They both surprised and impressed me with the careful planning and reasonably skilled execution of their initial scouting raid. Perhaps they were learning! The addition of Willa and Shefak certainly helped to add a more careful, deliberate element to the party.

    Post 28 - Scouting the Lizardfolk Lair

    17 August, 570 - evening - Salinmoor coast, several hours' sail west of Saltmarsh
    The Sea Ghost sails west from Saltmarsh for a few hours, nearing the promontory shown on Willa’s chart, but without any specific idea of where the actual lair might be, having refused Punketah’s help in locating it. There are storms out to sea, but close to the shore it is merely cloudy and overcast. After a brief strategic discussion among the group members, they collectively decide they will divide up and disembark in the two jollyboats to make a show of fishing up and down the coastline, while actually scouting the banks of the mainland and sending Aurora’s spirit owl familiar Hedwig out on flying reconnaissance trips. They converse with the crew of the Ghost, setting up a system of signals: sparks will be sent into the air by Aurora (if things are desperate) or a more subdued lantern code will be used for normal activities. The Sea Ghost is to sail slightly northeast and remove itself from view by the shore, but will revisit the general area every six hours, starting at midnight. The jollies head first to the mouth of the Dunwater, and will then proceed south and west around the point. Oceanus patrols underwater close to the surface, keeping an eye out for submerged threats.

    Close to the river mouth, Hedwig spots a trail of sorts, winding its way along the river bank. She also sees a fork in the trail with one path continuing north along the river and the other turning south and west and heading deeper into the marshland. Sailing up-river would be a suspicious behavior for fishermen, so the party comes about and lazily “fishes” along the coastline as they had planned. Hedwig follows the trail to the southwest, noticing that half way around the bend, the trail diverts up the hill, terminating just short of a small cave entrance.

    As they continue west around the promontory, Larry suddenly notices an opening in the shoreline, a low sea cave not unlike the secluded entrance below the Alchemist’s house. The group notes the location and continues traveling toward the southwest tip of the area on Willa’s map, and then reverses course when they seem to have discovered all they can by jollyboat. They decide to sail back up the coastline (as it is now dusk and growing darker) and opt to make landfall near the path, planning on working their way up the trail toward the small cave entrance under cover of darkness. With nightfall comes a cool sea breeze, which when it hits the warm, humid swamp creates a layer of fog that envelops the low-lying marshlands and reduces visibility on all sides. Swarms of blackflies and mosquitoes increase in the darkness as well. After the party disembarks, Tom waits with one jollyboat at the ready in the water just offshore, while the other boat is pulled up and hidden among the reeds.

    Unfortunately for poor Dirty Larry, he is less familiar with swamplands than mountains. Trying to lead the party overland to the trail Hedwig spotted, he suddenly mis-steps into a soft quag, quickly sinking and gulping in a few mouthfuls of the stinking bog as he cries out and struggles to stay afloat. Thokk chuckles at the hapless druid, and offers his ten foot pole to fish out the soggy dwarf. Sadly, Thokk too is baffled by the swamp and its mysterious ways, and stumbles into the same watery hole while trying to help his companion. Finally, Tyrius and Babshapka are able to pull the bumbling duo to firmer ground successfully, and the ranger dryly offers to help lead the party the remaining distance to the edge of the trail, carefully poking the ground ahead of him with Thokk’s pole as he goes.

    Once on the trail, the party sends Babshapka to the front and Barnabus to the rear, so that they might stealthily approach any hidden dangers. All along the way they can hear the roguish halfling complaining about the enveloping darkness, his lack of darkvision, the party’s reluctance to shed some light on the dim ground, and the clouds of biting flies that surround them. As they make their way up the gentle slope, they notice the ground drying a bit and giving way to grassier surroundings. The fog thins as they gain elevation as well. Quietly and uneventfully, they arrive at the cave mouth in the late evening, peek into the gloomy narrow crevice in the hillside, and then gingerly creep forward toward a door at the back of the cave. The door is of stout wood - an impressive construction for supposedly primitive lizardfolk, and they debate whether they are even in the correct place or have actually found an altogether different lair.

    Dirty Larry hears nothing behind the door and, after a quick inspection, Barnabus assures the party with his typical swagger that they need not fear any traps, so Thokk slowly advances into the lizardfolk lair. The group files into a narrow, rough-dug passageway that extends ahead toward a dimly lit juncture, with another small passageway on their immediate right. Barnabus creeps forward through the party, but stumbles over Aurora’s robes in the oppressively dark corridor. Babshapka and Dirty Larry offer to scout ahead instead - they are not as stealthy as Barnabus, but that may be a worthwhile tradeoff in return for actually being able to see. As they poke their heads around the corner of the passageway immediately at hand, they see five lizardman guards milling about in an adjacent room. With cool aplomb, the ranger and druid back away from the corridor slowly and retreat with the rest of the party outside the lair to discuss an approach.

    Thokk readies his battleaxe and looks positively giddy with the thought of finally putting aside all this sneaking about, but his hopes are dashed when Dirty Larry offers to scout ahead in weasel form. Larry suggests that he advance through the passageways, taking the right hand path whenever possible and thereby giving the party the best chance to find him quickly if things go awry. “If things gae right cocked oop, I’ll juss transform, thunderwave th’ hell oot of all aboot, and then hide meself as a spider on ceiling.” Thokk chuckles and slaps Larry on the back approvingly as the muddy dwarf disappears into his tiny weasel form.

    Larry is quite successful at scouting, it seems, and with his keen weasel sense of smell and hearing is able to chart close to a dozen rooms and numerous passageways. He discovers the kitchen, some living quarters, several other rooms of unknown purpose, and a locked and barred gate closing off a stairway down. At this location he can smell the sea, but he can also detect that there are other scents here besides the common lizardfolk he is quickly becoming accustomed to. After reporting all of this back to the party, the group decides that it would be risky to scout much further, and instead they opt to return to the Sea Ghost and report in, possibly trying out another approach later in the night.

    Babshapka helps the party return to the jollyboats and, after subtly marking the location they used to hide the boat in case they wish to return, they row out to meet the Ghost for the midnight rendezvous. The torchlight inside the lizardfolk lair has suggested to the party that perhaps the reptiles do not have darkvision - if this is the case, they likely have an advantage over the lizardfolk at night, so they return to the jollyboats - this time to explore the sea cave. Oceanus, who has been swimming just under the boats so as to protect against an ambush from below, informs the party that he has not seen any threats in the dark water, but also notes that the cave passage into the hill has a dense carpet of seaweed along the ocean floor that could easily hide guards.

    As the group silently rows into the cave, they send Hedwig to fly about the back side of the large chamber within, but the owl is able to discern little that the party members themselves couldn’t already see. Just as the lead boat approaches the back of the cave and finds a stone staircase leading out of the open chamber and into the hillside, however, the party is spotted by two figures who immediately flee the cavern. One splashes quickly off to the left, retreating into an adjoining cave, while another, clearly a lizardman, leaps from the water and onto the stone steps.

    There is a flurry of hasty activity by the party. A crack bowshot from Babshapka hits the lizardman squarely, though he muscles out of the ranger’s attempt to ensnare him with magic vines. Thokk and Willa strain at the oars to rapidly narrow the distance to the stairs as Larry successfully yanks the warrior back toward them with his thorn whip. Aurora, her better sense apparently overcome by the thrilling events of the evening, leaps from the jollyboat and attempts to charm the lizardman into submission. This fails spectacularly, and the warrior attacks her, though the disorientation of the thorn whip and his lack of darkvision cause both his dagger and bite attacks to miss. Barnabus illuminates the reptile with his lantern and Tyrius nails him with a thrown light hammer, but it is Sheffek who finally subdues the warrior in spectacular fashion. She jumps from the rear boat, flips over the heads of Thokk and Willa to land neatly in their boat without upsetting it, then clears the remaining ten foot distance separating her and the lizardman in a single bound, and finally knocks him unconscious with a single, precise blow of her staff. She then assists Aurora in hauling him down the stairs and into the closest boat. Turning around swiftly, the party rows furiously and noisily to escape the cave before reinforcements arrive, and they make it back to the Sea Ghost without further incident. Oceanus later tells them that two more figures were following them under the water, but they left off pursuit when the boats exited the sea cave into the open water.

    By the time they reach the ship, a light rain has begun, and the wind is picking up. They tell the sailors to gain some distance from the promontory. The crew grumbles about having been on duty since noon and now having to sail after midnight in the rain, but Willa aims some choice invective at them and tells them they are being paid to sail, not complain. Her stern captaining seems to arouse more respect than resentment.

    The party ties the lizardman to the mast, asks Tyrius to heal him just enough to rouse him to consciousness, and then proceeds to interrogate him. They initially try the carrot, rather than the stick, and offer him water and fish while they attempt to calm his panicked reaction. Aurora casts comprehend languages so that she can understand him, if not vice versa, but the party is pleased to find that Shefek seems to have a strange natural affinity for picking up lizardfolk words. Over the next few minutes, they are able to work together and convince the lizardman, who names himself Sssessenek, that they mean him no harm but desperately need some information. Over the course of the next half hour, they are able to convey and are told the following:

    The lizardfolk are buying weapons, but they are unaware of any larger plot involving human nations.

    They are buying weapons solely for the purpose of protecting themselves from the Sea Devils, an evil rampaging aquatic race dedicated to conquest.

    The Sea Devils attacked their home six months ago, forcing them to relocate to their present underground lair (in retrospect, Larry attests that the hillside resembled a simple home rather than any sort of advance war post).

    The party successfully conveys to Sssessenek that the humans of Saltmarsh believe the lizardfolk mean to attack the town, to which the warrior appears genuinely surprised. Nothing could be farther from the truth, he says, as his people have their hands full desperately trying to rebuild a home and preparing to defend themselves.

    Aurora asks how the lizardfolk are paying for these weapons, and hits a sticking point. The lizardman nobly refuses to answer, saying “I have told you the truth and all the information that I am free to provide, in the hopes that you will spare my life. But now you ask about knowledge that may imperil my lair, and I will readily die for my lair.”

    Willa offers him the suggestion that they meet with whomever is responsible for the smugglers bringing the weapons. Sssessenek agrees and reveals that it is their chief that parlayed with Snake-eyes and his crew. He offers to speak with the chief and arrange a meeting at the mouth of the Dunwater at noon the following day.

    After a quick discussion, the group decides that the potential benefit of such a meeting outweighs the risks, so they completely heal the lizardman of his injuries, sail him on a jolly to within a short swimming distance of the sea cave, and release him. The group returns to the Sea Ghost and retreats to a safe distance to rest and discuss the events of the evening.

    DM's Note: The wildly successful conclusion of this scouting run was made possible by their diplomacy with the lizardman. Aurora's comprehend languages allowed them to understand him, but crucial to their success was him understanding them, as well. Shefak has the highest Insight score of any of them, and began play with an undedicated language slot as well. When her player asked me if she could learn the lizardfolk language "as she went", I agreed but said that she would then be locked into having selected lizardfolk as her language of choice, and that the language was unlikely to prove useful later in her adventuring career. She accepted that condition, and her being able to pick up and use a smattering of lizardfolk over the course of that first conversation proved instrumental.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 04, 2018 10:05 am  
    Post 29: Negotiations at Noon

    DM's Note: This post contains significant spoilers for module U2: Danger at Dunwater.

    Post 29 - Negotiations at Noon

    18 August, 570 - midday - mouth of the Dun River, Azure Sea
    At mid-day, the party rows both jollies to the mouth of the river. A number of mangrove-covered sandbars dot the wide mouth, and on the largest a regal and authoritative lizardman waits for them, surrounded by a large retinue of warriors. Tyrius (the party’s diplomat) leads the group ashore and approaches the chief cautiously. Oceanus (underwater) and Babshapka (in the underbrush) remain hidden, but communicate with Aurora via her message spell. They tell her with some concern that the channels underwater and the sand spits neighboring the one on which the meeting is taking place are positively crawling with concealed lizardfolk. Aurora relays this to Tyrius, who tries to exude confidence nonetheless. Tyrius addresses the chief and, after a few initial verbal mis-steps, is able to gather the following information:

    *The chief speaks in an accented but easily understandable form of Common

    *Everything that Sssessenek told them under interrogation is corroborated. Six months ago, the lizardfolk fled their home for this new location and have been arming themselves with what they call “me-tal” ever since, anticipating renewed conflict with the Sea Devils.

    *The chief mentions that he feels the release of his captured warrior by the party means that they are either very courageous or very foolish. He is hoping that it is the former.

    *The chief says that he has entered into an alliance with both the Merfolk and Koalinth. He appears to approve of the party’s ignorance of the latter race, and believes it lends credence to the claim that the group has no larger aims on the lizardfolk other than the mistaken belief they planned to attack Saltmarsh. He says that when selecting allies, the lizardfolk considered approaching the sea elves rather than the Koalinth, but they believed that the Koalinth were stronger and so more valuable. He suggests that the party allows Oceanus to join the conversation, and points to the place in the channel where the sea elf lurks under the water.

    *The chief explains that his tribe has made these allies to stand united against the Sea Devils. It is the Merfolk who have been raiding what he calls underwater “soft-skin log ruins” (shipwrecks?) for the “small bits of me-tal” that the smugglers valued.

    *The chief came to the arrangement with the smugglers by simple chance - after they had sent out numerous lizardfolk groups to attempt contact, the smugglers were the first vessel found whose occupants didn’t immediately attack the reptiles and were then open to a trading arrangement. The chief convincingly denies that there is any attack planned on Saltmarsh. He does not see the “soft skins” (humans) as anywhere near as dangerous a threat as the Sea Devils, and he only moved them this close to their town because he was forced to do so.

    Tyrius asks for a break and consults privately with Oceanus, using Aurora as a translator. Oceanus relates to the party that the Koalinth are a goblinesque underwater race that has warred with the elves for as long as Oceanus can remember (that is, centuries). The lizard chief appears to be speaking truthfully, as Oceanus can attest that the Sea Devils are a tremendous threat. And, yes, it makes absolute sense strategically and militarily for the lizardfolk to join with the Koalinth and the Merfolk against a common foe. The Koalinth and the sea elves do despise each other and would never ally. “No,” Oceanus concludes, “no matter how dire the threat from the Devils, I cannot ever see us joining in any coalition with the Koalinth. The oceans themselves will dry up before that day will ever come.” Oceanus also informs the party that while the Sea Devils are a foe he greatly fears, he himself has never seen one, for they live in the deep, cold, sunless waters far offshore. For them to displace a lizardfolk colony on the very shore itself is a grave threat to the folk of the sea and land both!

    Tyrius, Oceanus, and Aurora rejoin the chief for more discussion and learn that there was a Koalinth ambassador at the lizardfolk lair the night before (likely the source of the strange scent weasel-Larry smelled near the sea port stairway but could not identify). Unfortunately for the health of the original alliance, the Koalinth ambassador believes that the capture and interrogation of a lizardman warrior by a party of “soft skins” is a reflection of weakness among the reptiles. His people were divided as to the benefits of the alliance to begin with, and this embarrassment appears to have pushed them toward abandoning the coalition. As such, the lizardfolk would entertain the notion of a possible alliance with the sea elves and even the humans, but only if they can prove their worth. The chief says that his advisors are convinced that soft skins are worth little more than hissing hatchlings in battle, but their actions during the raid on the sea cave and the respect they have shown him in the meeting today hints to him that there may be more to them than his advisors know.

    The chief proposes a trial, and tasks the party with killing a rampaging giant crocodile interfering with their hunting grounds. Half a company of his own warriors could easily dispose of the threat, but their belief system forbids them from harming other reptiles.

    The party agrees that this is a fair request and enthusiastically begins preparations to locate and slay the beast, which the chief says they have named “Stenchbrute,” and which lives up the “moving water.”

    As the party prepares to launch the jollyboats, Willa offers the chief a seat in one. He stares at her, his tongue flicking in and out, with no trace of a recognizable emotion on his face. “Do not think we are alliesss yet, or that I would be foolisssh enough to go off with the group of you by myssself.” He speaks briefly with a large warrior by his side in their own tongue, then says “My trusssted officccer will obssserve your battle and report back to me.”

    Willa shrugs and makes room for the lizardman officer in the boat.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 11, 2018 1:57 pm  
    Post 30: Stenchbrute

    Note: This post contains spoilers for module U2: Danger at Dunwater.

    While I ran the lixardfolk lair pretty much as written in the original module, for the battle with Stenchbrute and the wyrmling I did rely on Appendix A of the 5e conversion of the module by Jon Weir available at: Most of the treasure suggested therein I kept, but I changed the bracers of archery to a crystal of clear thought. The latter is an item of my own invention. Once identified and attuned to a monk character, it allows the character to gain one ki point beyond the per level maximum if it is contemplated during the character's meditative practice.

    Post 30: Stenchbrute

    18 August, 570 - afternoon - Dun River

    It is not far up one of the narrow channels at the mouth of the Dun before the jollyboats are grounded on a sandbank. After that, they need to be pulled through an area of thick reeds. For the next quarter mile, the party spends more time out of the boats, dragging them through thick grass and shallow water, then in them. It is hot, sweaty, muddy, buggy work. Finally they are past the sediment-clogged delta and out in the open river. Willa had occasionally wondered why the Dun never became a trade route like the other rivers of its size in the region and now she knows - there is no way a craft of any size would be able to get through its mouth to the sea!

    It is hard work rowing against the current upriver, but no one complains. There are many hands for the oars and away from the reeds there are fewer bugs and even a light breeze. For the first time Barnabus navigates one of the boats while Tom and Willa sit together in the other, she filling him on the state of the negotiations, their deal with the Lizardman chief, and other matters spoken of in lower voices.

    As the boats continue upstream, and the novelty of floating on the water rather than swimming in it wears off (for this is surely his first trip in a boat), the lizardman officer grows chatty. Perhaps he wishes to impress them with his Common, or warn them of what lies ahead. For whatever reason, he begins with “Our wissse chief did not tell you all of the ssstory of Ssstenchbrute,” and, when he sees that everyone in the boat is paying attention, he continues.

    “When our colony firssst arrived at our new home, we sssoon discovered that Ssstenchbrute had itsss lair in the marssshesss nearby. Thisss wasss at firssst of no concccearn - crocodilesss are sssacred to our tribe and we thought itsss presssenccce wasss a good omen. True, one thisss large could be dangerousss, but our ssshamen have alwaysss been able to commune with other ssscale-ssskins. A ssshaman can sssimply asssk a crocodile to leave, and it will. But then the crocodile attacked and devoured three membersss of a patrol which had pausssed to ressst near itsss lair, and it would not lisssten to the ssshaman! Sssince then Ssstenchbrute hasss taken by sssurprise many of our patrolsss, eaten many of our warriorsss and once even an officccer. Sssome of the men believe that it is actually hunting usss! We are forbidden by our faith from harming it, asss you know. What is worssse, itsss lair liesss very close to a posssible route of approach of sssahuagin, ssso we cannot jussst avoid it and leave that area unpatrolled. Our lossses have continued to accumulate, and I for one will be much relieved if you are able to drive it off!”

    The party discusses strategy after that, calling out ideas from boat to boat as they row. Babshapka expounds on the ecology of crocodiles, explaining that they are faster in the water than on land, that they have powerful bites, that they can knock people over with their tails, and that they have been known to grab people and drag them underwater. The lizardfolk officer agrees with all of this, and adds that while he personally can outrun a crocodile on land, in the water he would not stand a chance. As for the party, with their funny foot-wraps and metal scales...he can only imagine how slow they will be on marshy ground.

    “No worries,” says Thokk, as he pulls on the oars and the sweat rolls off his glistening biceps. “Thokk finally get to fight! No need for running. Plan is simple. Thokk distracts crocodile, then hits it. Everyone else come in after Thokk, and hits it. Then, Thokk hits it again, and it dies.”

    “Yeah, great, you do that.” says Babshapka. “Arrows from a tree sounds good to me.”

    The lizardman advises them when they are getting close, and the conversation dies down. The boats pass single file through a narrow channel, itself running alongside a large, deep pool but not intermingling due to a sodden strip of land between. The boats are pulled up on the land, and the lizardman points to the pool as being the most reliable place to find the crocodile, although really it could be anywhere. On the far side of the pool the land rises and the marshes give way to trees, but the area between the trees is obscured by mist. Aurora sends out Hedwig to circle the pool, then the general area, but there is no sign of the beast.

    In a hushed conversation, Aurora points out a large willow tree near the edge of the pool. She tells the party to arrange themselves in a line near the tree and hide to the best of their ability. She will create a “silent image” of a lizardman to walk along the banks of the pool in an attempt to draw the beast out.

    As they file quietly away from the beached boats, Tom carefully arranges the oars and gear for a quick departure. He stands near the prow of one of the boats, a loaded crossbow in hand.

    Most of the party has arranged themselves under or near the willow, crouching in the grass, but Aurora notices that Willa is standing, not hiding, about 20 yards back from the tree and alongside the lizardman. Aurora passes by and asks what is going on, and Willa says loudly, “I am guarding our honored observer - if something happens to him, their wise chief will not know how we fared.” She then leans in to Aurora and whispers, “As the chief said, we are not allies yet - this “test” could be an ambush, and if things go south, I want a hostage when we run for the boats. If it is really just a crocodile, there are enough of you to handle it.”

    Aurora is frustrated but continues on, crouching by the willow. In a few seconds, she has created a convincing-looking lizardman, who appears suspiciously like the officer accompanying them but who is completely silent. This image walks up and down the banks of the pool, sometimes leaning tantalizingly over the edge, or dipping a toe or tail tip in.

    WOOOOSH! The pool explodes and a shower of water falls along the banks as the huge bulk of the most massive animal any of them have ever seen emerges. SNAP! Jaws as large as any of their torsos close around the image of the lizardman, which instantly disappears. The croc shudders and looks about, angered at missing its prey. With a rousing cry, Thokk bursts forth from hiding, charging just out of reach of the creature, but next to its head, dancing forward and back, daring it to bite at him. The others run out, taking positions all alongside the enormous flanks of the creature, striking at it with sword, staff, spear, and hammer. SNAP! the brute turns and strikes again, now at Thokk, but he backs up just in time, even as the others continue to slash, pierce and bludgeon it. THWAK! The massive tail of the creature, it alone outweighing her several-fold, crashes into Shefak, knocking her to the ground in an unconscious heap. THOKK! Thokk’s massive axe cuts deep into the neck of the creature, lodging in its spine but not severing it. Then the true thrashing begins, and all standing nearby are covered in blood, mud, and water.

    When the creature ceases its movements, Thokk tilts his head back and issues a deep cry of exultation, furious love of battle. The others around him relax and watch, until they see Babshapka’s eyes go wide and his jaw drop. They follow the pointing of his quivering finger. There, emerging from the mist behind Thokk, is the head of a black dragon, mouth agape.

    Thokk whirls about, but just in time to be struck full-on by a mass of belched acid that burns and sizzles as it eats at his flesh. Barnabus and Tyrius, standing nearby, attempt to dodge away and each take a half-dose of the deadly acid-vomit. When it is over, the creature pauses, as if it cannot understand how Thokk is still standing. Then the half-orc again utters his battle cry, and he, Oceanus, Barnabus, and Tyrius charge the dragon. Of the other croc-fighters, Shefak is still lying unconscious in the marsh, Larry is retreating even as he heals Thokk with magic from a distance, and Babshapka is backing up but firing his bow as he goes.

    Now surrounded and taking damage, the dragon leans forward to bite Thokk, but the arrow in its neck from Babshapka sprouts vines that wrap around its jaws and muzzle it! It rears up and stretches out its wings, trying to fly, but the nearby willow tree reaches forth its branches to entangle it. As it struggles in great bounds, its whole chest is exposed to Thokk, and he opens it to the bone with his great axe. The momentum of its last leap rips it free of the tree, and it sails over the pool to come crashing to earth, dead, just at the feet of Babshapka.

    Now Thokk lets free another exultant cry, and this time he is joined by all the others, except Tom, Willa, and the lizardman officer, who are all competing for who can appear more stunned.

    After several minutes, Thokk rests his axe head on the marshy ground, the rage leaving his body and now painfully aware of the acid burning his flesh off in large open wounds. The others are climbing on and around the bodies of the monsters, marveling at them. Tyrius is kneeling at Shefak’s side, restoring her to consciousness. Thokk looks over his fallen foes: the croc, indeed, is an impressive beast, worthy of a totem spirit, had he not already been chosen by the wolf he slew in Saltmarsh. But the dragon, well, it is actually small. Of course it looked much bigger emerging from the mist and surprising everyone, but now, slain, the bulk of its body is not larger than a man, though its neck and tail are quite long. Honestly, for a dragon, even his first dragon, it is small. Thokk tries to focus on this rather than on his increasingly-painful acid burns. A dragon this small must have a correspondingly small territory - it would stay close to its lair, so as to avoid the attention of other dragons that could easily pilfer its hoard - its hoard must therefore be close-by. Thokk walks off into the mist, attempting to trace the tracks of the dragon back to their source.

    Meanwhile, the lizardman at Willa’s side flicks his tongue pensively. “A wyrmling? That mussst be why the crocodile could not hear our ssshamen. The wyrmling wasss controlling it!”

    Tyrius and Babshapka begin a friendly argument. Babshapka wants to remove the teeth from the dragon’s mouth as souvenirs - Tyrius wants to mount the head, intact, on the prow of “his” ship. When the lizardman hears them, he hurries over. “You are not talking of dessicrating the bodiesss of thessse animalsss, are you?” Tyrius looks momentarily annoyed, then composes himself. “Of course not. Forgive us, most-trusted-officer of the chief. We respect your belief system. What shall we do with these bodies, noble ally?”

    “We musst bring them to our home, ssso that we may honor their ssspirits at the victory feassst tonight.”

    “Of course. Just so.” Tyrius strides off to requisition some rope from Tom.

    Thokk is followed into the mist by Barnabus, and it it is not long before Aurora and Larry are trailing him. Thokk walks up the hillside until he sees a huge stone, flat against the ground, as if a massive boulder outcrop had been eaten away by acid and claws. In a depression in the stone are heaps of coin, but other objects poke out as well. Thokk sticks his axe into the mix, stirring the coins to see what lies beneath. “Fah, no weapons,” he says disgustedly. “Stupid dragon.” He retreats under a tree, leaving the treasure to the others so they won’t see his grimaces of pain from the acid-burns.

    Aurora, Barnabus, and Larry comb through the treasure. Barnabus pulls out a small suit of leather armor and a closed iron box, then starts searching the box for traps. Aurora finds a scroll tube, and helps Larry separate the rest of the pile into coins (copper, gold, platinum), gems, jewelry, and art objects. When she is done, Aurora pulls forth Punketah’s wand and says “Abracaphagic!” The suit of leather armor glows. Aurora can sense protective magic - but something else as well - tiny lights play across the runes etched into the metal plates that reinforce the vulnerable parts of the armor.

    Barnabus opens the box. In it are three flasks of liquid and a perfectly clear, spherical crystal. When Aurora sees them she curses, blushes, then uses another charge from the wand. All four objects glow - she is reading protective magic on one potion, superior healing on the second, and strength-granting on the third. The use of the crystal remains obscured to her. She opens the tube and finds a scroll of “protection from undead”.

    Barnabus examines the armor. The designs on it appear like gears, though they are decorative, not functional. This, plus the size and shape, lead him to believe it is of gnome-make. He might be able to fit in it, though it looks to be too long and narrow for him.

    As he adjusts straps and belts, it actually fits quite well. In fact, the longer he has it on, the better it feels. Supple, responsive - he feels protected, but like he is missing something - the runes on the metal plates hint at another power, if only he knew how to activate it. “I wonder what else it does?” he muses aloud.

    WHAMM! Thokk hits Barnabus squarely in the jaw. The halfling tumbles over backwards into the grass. He does not get up. In fact, he does not move. “Hmmf,” grunts the half-orc. “Armor not good either. This rotten dragon treasure. Thokk going back to boats.”

    While the strong people cooperate in dragging the bodies to the boats, tying them securely, and rolling them into the stream, the fast people make trips back and forth to the hoard-rock, eventually loading all of the treasure into the boats, with the coins loose in the bottom and the potions, scroll, and valuable items tucked away. Eventually they are ready to cast off, though a groggy Barnabus has a huge purple welt on his jaw.

    The trip back to the lizardfolk lair is uneventful. Rowing downriver is easy, even with the bodies floating behind. Portaging through the delta is twice as hard as before until they are spotted. Then the boats are suddenly swarming with dozens of lizardmen, and twice-dozens of hands lift, pull, and drag until they make it to the trail leading to their lair.

    [DM's Note: Thokk's player had a good time with this session. First he successfully used the "dodge" action to keep the crocodile attacking him but missing while the others piled on the damage. Then, when Barnabus tried on the new armor, he reasoned he could determine the armor class by making a single unarmed attack. Of course, he did not consult with Barnabus' player first about this tactic. As luck would have it, he rolled a critical hit - and the resultant unarmed damage was enough to knock Barnabus unconscious!]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:09 pm  
    Post 31: Hail to the Chief

    Note: This post contains spoilers for module U2: Danger at Dunwater

    Post 31: Hail to the Chief

    18 August, 570 - evening - mouth of the Dun River, Azure Sea
    Once at the trailhead, the crowd of lizardmen moves off, hauling the dragon and the crocodile, and leaves the party momentarily to themselves. Tom, Thokk, Larry, and Tyrius consolidate the coins in one jollyboat and launch it into the sea, heading for the ship. Aurora, Babshapka, Barnabus, Willa, and Shefak pull their jollyboat far onto the land, then follow the trail toward the lizardfolk lair. By the time they get to the “hidden” door, the black dragon has been arranged outside as if on guard, but there is no sign of the crocodile. They wait patiently as if they do not know of the door, and eventually it is thrown open and lizardfolk usher them into the underground lair. From the doorway they pass down the hall and beyond the guardpost, almost directly ahead to a door that weasel-Larry examined but did not enter.

    Inside the door is a large banquet hall, fully fifty feet wide and nearly twice as long. Outside the room the narrow tunnels were of earth, but this room has been carved from stone bedrock and has six stone pillars in two rows supporting the high ceiling. Several wooden tables have been placed together, end-to-end, running down the length of the room between the pillars. Wooden benches flank the table - depending on how closely they are packed in, Willa estimates the table could easily seat 50 of the lizardfolk, perhaps as many as 70 or 80. At the far end is a large wooden chair, flanked by four other chairs and apart from the common benches. The room itself contains knots and clusters of conversing lizardfolk, though none of them are yet seated.

    The five party members are shown to the benches at the far end, nearest the chairs that are presumably reserved for the most important members of the tribe. Lizardfolk are setting the table for a feast, bringing out plates with fish and waterfowl. Some of these are cooked and some are raw, but they have all been prepared in some way - scaled or de-feathered at least. The lizardfolk laying the meal appear different from the others of their kind, those heretofore seen outside - these are taller, but more slender, and their head-crests are much less pronounced. Babshapka offers the opinion that these are actually female lizardfolk, whereas the warriors, officer, and chief were males. The party sits at the benches, talking casually and watching the preparations around them. On the tables are a variety of earthenware pots, jars, plates and mugs, and a number of wooden trenchers. There are woven baskets containing small, dark loaves of bread. There are two tall wooden cupboards in the room, one against each of the long walls.

    As the party relaxes, they are offered drink but not food. The room becomes noisier and warmer as more and more lizardfolk enter, though none of them sit. There are even diminutive lizardfolk (children?) from time to time, trying to snatch food from the table and being chased away or cuffed by the larger ones.

    *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

    With four people rowing, it does not take long for Tom, Thokk, Larry, and Tyrius to reach the Sea Ghost. Once on board, sacks are found to stow the coins, and they are placed in the captain’s cabin (currently occupied by Willa and Tom). Tom and Tyrius talk to Old Lefty - he reports that the crewmen are tired from long shifts but otherwise in good spirits. The crew brings up the bundles of weapons that were the most recent planned delivery for the lizardfolk and loads them into the jollyboat. At that point, everyone is ready to go except Tyrius. He insists on going to his cabin (the mate’s cabin, belowdecks, that he is currently sharing with Larry), washing, and changing clothes. He is, after all, going to a feast. Thokk is baffled. The feast is in honor of slaying the crocodile - so what is more appropriate than wearing the clothes with the crusted gore of the crocodile on them? (Not that Thokk actually has more than one set of clothes, but in principle). Larry agrees with Thokk. Tom didn’t get dirty in the fight but is covered in mud from the portaging in the delta; but then he isn’t going to the feast. Willa is, though: “typical” Tom mumbles.

    When Tyrius finally emerges from his cabin - not as polished as he would be for a noble banquet, but good enough for lizardfolk and certainly better than anyone else in the party - the sun is just starting to set. Tom orders a lantern hung on the ship and three crewmen into the jollyboat - his plan is to drop the three party members off, but return to the Sea Ghost with at least one of the jollyboats. He tells Tyrius that the men have been nervous the whole time the party has used both jollyboats, since they prefer keeping at least one on board as a lifeboat - they have only tolerated both being gone so far because the Ghost has been within sight of land the whole time. The crew rows them back to the shore and they arrive while there is just enough light to make out the other jollyboat. After Thokk, Larry, and Tyrius disembark, they are passed the bundles of weapons and then the jollyboat pulls off into the gathering darkness.

    Since the beached jollyboat was so near the lizardfolk trail, Larry does not lead them into any meres but straight to the lair door (and just around the corpse of the black dragon). “Stupid dragon,” mumbles Thokk as they pass, but with more mirth than invective, as his skin is now less raw and starting to scab over. Immediately after they enter the lair, they are whisked to the nearby banquet hall. The throngs of lizardfolk around them are practically humming in anticipation, and Tyrius gets the feeling that everyone has been waiting for them. He tries to not feel pleased by that, as he is supposed to choose modesty over pride.

    *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

    The party in the feast hall has been waiting quite some time. Sheffek and Babshapka seem impervious to boredom or frustration, but it has been hard on Willa. At first she amused herself by making tactical estimates of the strength of the lizardfolk, but that done, she has had nothing to do but pretend to listen to the vapid comments of Aurora, who hasn’t stopped talking. Barnabus, at least, has found the lizardman officer who observed their battle, and has asked him to recount the scene several times, all the while working out a new ballad.

    It is with great relief that Willa notes the increased conversation among the lizardfolk that is the immediate prelude to Thokk, Larry, and Tyrius entering the room. Almost as soon as the party is united, a hush falls over the hall. A dozen lizardfolk, straining and heaving, haul the body of the crocodile in through a door opposite the one the party entered. The croc is lain near the head of the table, the chairs adjusted slightly to account for its presence. The lizardfolk stare in silent awe. Then, entering through the same door, comes the chief. At once all the lizardfolk present adopt a curious, hunched over position, almost squatting. The party looks to one another, trying to decide whether they too should assume this posture. Tyrius shakes his head at them and whispers that the chief wants strong allies, not subservient minions. So they are the only ones erect when the chief strides up to the table and stands near the great chair. After him come two lizardfolk, presumably females, with their skin dyed in places and both wearing jewelry. These take places at the chairs to either side of the chief. Finally one last pair come in. There is a lizardfolk female bearing a staff, and an ancient male wearing a large gold chain. He is hunched and has scales missing in many places. His teeth look blunted and he even has a pair of brass-rimmed spectacles on his nose!

    The female with the staff pauses by the head of the croc, throws her arms wide, and makes a brief pronouncement in the lizard tongue. Sheffak listens intently, then whispers to the party that she is welcoming the spirit of the croc to the feast. After she stands by a chair, the aged lizardman hisses something barely audible, and gestures at the party before taking his place by a chair. Sheffak says she thinks he was welcoming them. There is a moment of silence, and the chief takes his seat. Finally the assembled lizardfolk stand from their crouched position, and begin to move about again, talking loudly. They gradually squeeze into places along the benches, with much jostling and polite shoving, male and female alike, though no children are present.

    The feast is long and very satisfying, with plenty for everyone’s taste. Some in the party prefer the cooked waterfowl and fish, some the raw - some try the bread, others avoid it. Two huge carcasses on spits are carried in - one looks like an enormous fish, but bigger than Thokk. The other is human-sized and -shaped, but is thoroughly cooked and its exact identity is unrecognizable. Choice parts of these are served first to the chief and his retinue, then the party, and then the carcasses make their way slowly down the table, with the feasters calling for this part or that to be sliced off for them. Neither the chief nor his retinue speak to the party, nor indeed do most of them make eye contact, the exception being the wizened, bespectacled lizardman, who occasionally steals glances at them.

    It must be late in the night indeed when the chief stands and the conversation again dies down, but this time slowly, with those at the far end of the room only gradually becoming silent. With a single gesture to the party to follow him, the chief turns and strides out the door he entered through.

    As the party gets up, a number of lizardmen, presumably an honor guard, interpose themselves between the chief and them. While they are busy collecting the bundles of weapons, the party notices that lethargic, sated lizardfolk are retreating from the table, while others are just now coming in to enjoy the feast. The newcomers are generally smaller than the departing ones, and presumably of lesser status.

    Following the guards, the party leaves the feast hall and enters earthen tunnels like those that preceded them. They turn right and almost immediately left and pass through a set of open wooden double-doors. The room beyond is large and carved from stone, though with the same six support columns as in the feast hall. It is about the same area, though wider and less deep. There are no furnishings save for a low stone dais at the far end with a large wooden throne on it, on which sits the chief. In the light of several oil lamps, gemstones glint and glitter from the throne. The two dyed and jewelried lizardfolk are gone, but the female with the staff and the ancient male flank the chief on his dais. Nearby the dais are several large officers, and there is a row of troops down each wall of the throne room. On the walls are mounted trophy heads; among them are a giant crayfish, a gnoll, a hippopotamus, a bear, a lion, two sharks, and a giant frog. Two other heads are not immediately recognizable. One is humanoid-sized and -shaped, but it has scaled skin and a heavy brow, a finned ridge, and many sharp, pointed teeth. The other head appears like some sort of giant worm or larva, with many large tentacles protruding from its face.

    Once the entire party is in the room, the chief bids them approach his throne. They are perhaps thirty feet away when the female lizardfolk with the staff stiffens and begins to interpose herself between them. At once Tyrius takes a step back and the rest of the party arranges themselves behind him.

    “Tell usss,” commands the chief to one of his officers, “how thessse sssoft-ssskinsss ssslew Ssstenchbrute.”

    The lizardfolk officer begins the tale in Common, and the party quickly realizes that he is the one who accompanied them to the pool. His tale is accurate, even flattering. When he is done, the chief asks the party, “Isss thiss true?”

    Thokk nods proudly as the rest of the party assents. “Tell me now in our own tongue,” says the chief, though his own command of Common leaves no doubt that he understood. The officer begins the tale again, recognizable by all the same gestures, though with different words. This time, however, the guards lining the walls are intent, listening carefully.

    When the officer finishes, the chief speaks again. “It ssseems that you sssoft-ssskinsss are more powerful than my advisssers led me to believe. I will invite you to join our allienccce againssst the sssahuagin.”

    “Thank you, wise chief,” says Tyrius. “Together we shall surely vanquish the evil sea devils.” With a gesture from the paladin, other members of the party lay before them the bundles of weapons and open them, so that the metal gleams in the lamp-light. “As a token of our good faith in the alliance, we wish to present you with the weapons we believe you purchased, weapons which were found on a ship we captured.”

    The chief beckons to an officer, and the lizardman steps forward, raises the shield that is adorned with the symbol of the lizardman with tongue extended, holds it forth and turns for all the room to see.

    “Thossse are indeed the weaponsss of me-tal that we purchasssed,” says the chief. “Our dealingsss with the sssoft-ssskinsss of the floating log were thusss: we would give them the sssmall bitsss of me-tal in exchange for the weaponsss - half the bitsss before the purchassse, the other half after. The part after would be held by our tribesssmen on the log until we had reccceived the weaponsss. Did you, then, find the bitsss on the log asss well?”

    Barnabus makes to interject, but Tyrius beats him to it. “Yes, wise chief, we found many small bits of metal - half in the captain’s cabin, and half in another.” Barnabus scowls.

    “Well then, you are welcome to thossse bitsss. Asss we now have the weaponsss by your handsss, it is jussst that you have their payment. However, I mussst asssk if you alssso sssaw our kinsssmen on the log, or know what became of them?”

    Here even Tyrius gives pause. Willa eyes the distance to the chief, estimating whether she could charge him before the officers could respond. She catches Aurora’s eye and inclines her head at the female with the staff, but Aurora just mouths silently back at her, “What? what?”

    Finally, Tyrius says in a firm voice, “Yes, wise chief. We fought three lizardfolk warriors on the ship. They came upon us, weapons drawn, while we were already in a fight with the humans. We slew them in honorable combat. Knowing what we know now, we regret their deaths, but feel we were acting in our own defense.” Willa’s hand moves slowly, comes to rest casually on the hilt of her sword.

    The chief does not avert his gaze or betray any emotion. “If they fought to defend the weaponsss, then they fought to defend their tribe, and their deathsss were good. But if we are to ally with you, it mussst be asss equalsss. There isss a debt to be paid, a…(here he struggles to find the word, and the aged lizardman bends and hisses at him)...yesss, a wereguild. The tribe mussst be compensssated for their losss. Do you agree?”

    Thokk understands that the slaughter of another orc means that a complainant gains the right to exact revenge in ritualistic combat. Of course, whether or not the wronged party is successful and slays the offender is up to the gods and the strength of his arm. Thinking that this is what the chief intends, he heartily agrees. Indeed, he is practically salivating at the chance to slay their greatest warrior in single combat and so prove that the lizardmen on the ship were killed without consequence.

    Aurora, on the other hand, is very cautious about what the cultural differences between them may be, and would like more information. She interjects, “Chief, there are differences between our peoples. The things we eat, the gods we serve, the interactions of males and females, etc…We have different customs, traditions, and justice systems. In the interest of fairness and our future relationship, would you please explain to us how wereguild works in the lizardfolk culture, so that we may better answer your question?”

    The chief looks carefully over the party - or is he casting sidelong glances at the advisers next to him before he speaks? “The lossss of a lizzzardfolk is a lossss to the tribe - it makesss the tribe weaker, more vulnerable. Sssomeone who deprivesss usss of a member owesss a debt to the tribe. Among ourselvesss, causssing an unjussstified death meansss the killer mussst take on the tribal dutiesss of the killed. The three lizzzardfolk you killed were not proven warriorsss or huntersss, asss they were young. But they had learned Common, and were tasssked with helping provide weaponsss for the tribe. Thusss, the wereguild I would impossse upon you would be to help usss acquire more weapons. I am asking that you pay ten of the little me-tal bitsss for each of us you ssslew - thirty in all, thirty of the yellow bitsss marked with lionsss. I asssk again, do you agree?”

    Tyrius turns and looks to the rest of the party, but there are mostly shrugs and blank stares. Barnabus suggests, in as low a voice as he can register and still be heard by Tyrius, “Much as I resent having to pay to kill these things, rather than get paid, ten gold a head is selling themselves pretty cheap. That’s not even four lions each split between us, and we will be getting more than 60 each in reward when we get back to Saltmarsh, plus what we took from the dragon. Let’s just pay and be done with these dark tunnels!”

    Thokk is not sure why he has to pay four gold to fight their champion, but he nods his agreement. What other use does he have for the coin?

    Tyrius turns around with a broad smile. “As a wise chief you protect and care for your tribe. We will of course contribute so that you may purchase more weapons for their safety. I believe we have this amount on our ship at the moment, but you will have to allow us to return to it and count.”

    The chief again gives no indication of whether he finds Tyrius’ words pleasing, but he does say, “You have proven your bravery and your ssskill in combat. You have proven your willingnessss to treat usss as equalsss and compensssate our lossssesss. I believe we ssshould include you in our allianccce against the sssahuagin. Return to your log now, but in the morning, be prepared to take with you our delegation.”

    Tyrius is nonplussed. “Your what now?”

    “Our delegation. Our diplomatsss. You will transssport them to the sssoft-ssskin lair to negotiate your people’sss participation in the allianccce. And you, sssea elf.” (the chief turns to Oceanus) “The koalinth have formally abandoned the allianccce. I would ask that you carry news of the sssahaugin threat to your people, if they do not already know, and requessst that they join usss asss well.”

    It takes a while for what the chief is asking to sink in, but then there is little the party can do but say their formalities and take their departure. In particular, Thokk is very frustrated that he will not be allowed to challenge anyone. The party are escorted out of the lair and down to their beached jollyboat.

    The row out to the Sea Ghost is uneventful; the way is clear to the lantern on deck. Aurora manages to circle the ship once and check the deck with Hedwig before she falls asleep - it is late, she is full, and she isn’t working an oar. Barnabus stifles yawns the whole way out to the ship.

    18 August - late night - Azure Sea
    While the others retire to their cabins, Barnabus, Tyrius, and Willa go through the sack of coins in the captain’s cabin. First they set aside 30 gold for the lizardfolk. Between the gold, platinum, and copper left, there is enough to pay the seven sailors on board (including Tom, but not Willa) a month’s salary, and still have a few coins left over. The more valuable items will have to be sold to the merchants of Saltmarsh before their worth can be divided among the party.

    With that settled, Willa checks with the sailors on watch to confirm that there is a good watch schedule until the morning, then turns in.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Sep 25, 2018 1:28 pm  
    Post 32: Lord Nehemeyer

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy

    When they awake in the morning on the ship, Thokk, Shefak, Willa, and Aurora are at third level. Attributes which have been added since second level are in bold.

    Sergeant Willhemina Stoutly (Willa)
    Third Level Fighter / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 17 (+3), Int 10, Wis 9 (-1), Dex 15 (+2), Con 12 (+1), Chr 9 (-1)
    Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Martial Archetype: Champion
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting
    Chain armor, greatsword, longsword+1, dagger

    Shefak Ishu
    Third Level Monk / Human (Baklunni) (Acolyte)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Insight, Religion, Stealth
    Monastic Tradition: Way of the Open Hand
    Unarmored defense, staff, dagger, darts
    Crystal of Clear Thought

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Third Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 17 (+3) Dex 14 (+2) Con 15 (+2) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 32
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Primal Path: Totem Warrior (Wolf)
    Unarmored defense, Shield, ring of protection +1, battle axe, hand axes, javelins

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Third level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 9 (-1) Con 12 (+1) Int 17 (+3) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 18
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
    Staff, ring of protection+1, wand of magic detection

    Post 32: Lord Nehemeyer

    19 August, 570 - Azure Sea
    In the morning, the party enjoys a breakfast prepared in the galley, then makes ready to go ashore and pick up the lizardfolk diplomats. The cabin which the other lizardfolk were bunking in before still smells musky and swampy, so is set aside for them, although that means the party is two or three to a room in the private cabins. Willa and Tom are in the Captain’s cabin - they have shared a bed since Tom was born. Aurora, Babshapka, and Oceanus are in Punketah’s cabin - Aurora has sole use of the bed since the elves can trance while sitting. Tyrius and Larry are in the Mate’s cabin; Tyrius has sole use of the bed, since Larry had only ever slept in a bed during his brief stay in the Pelorian temple and is quite comfortable in a pile of sacking on the floor. Thokk and Shefak are in the Bosun’s cabin; they have worked out an arrangement to timeshare the bed. Finally, Barnabus has a hammock in the crew cabin - he is comfortable around the sailors, and his relationships with several party members are...complicated.)

    An away team rows back to shore soon after sunrise. They turn the thirty gold coins over to the chief and take two lizardfolk aboard the jollyboat. One is large and burly, nearly as grand as the chief, with thick, knotted muscles. The other is normal-sized, though appearing diminutive next to the first. If Babshapka is correct that sex can be determined by the type of back-ridge, the smaller is a female. She bears a satchel made from woven reeds; the male carries nothing but weapons affixed to leather straps. By the deferential way the large male is treating the female, she must have some kind of important position or status in the tribe.

    When the away team and dignitaries are back aboard the Sea Ghost, Willa orders the anchor raised and sails unfurled - it should be a short journey back to Saltmarsh, as the weather is fair and wind is with them.

    Once the lizardfolk are settled in their cabin, Oceanus calls the party together. With Babshapka and Aurora translating, Oceanus tells the party that he has a difficult decision to make. The lizardfolk chief has asked him to return to his people and offer them a place in the alliance. Personally, he wishes to stay with the party, as he expects that the Saltmarsh Town Council will be hiring them to strike against the Sea Devils, and he believes that having a fully aquatic party member will be of great benefit to them. He would like to do both of these things, but he is worried that whichever he chooses to do first, he will miss the second. He would like to hear the opinions of the party on whether he should depart at once for his homeland or remain with them a while longer.

    The party agrees that Oceanus should stay with them - if he has to make that choice. But they think there is plenty of time for him to return to his people, alert them to the threat, and still return to Saltmarsh before the Ghost leaves. Oceanus agrees to try. An hour later, when the ship is rounding the cape that is its furthest point south on the voyage, Oceanus says his farewells and dives overboard.

    They have not sailed much further when Babshapka, in the crow’s nest, spots an approaching ship. It is about their size, and flies the colors of Keoland. As it gets closer, they can see that it is likely a warship, and its many sailors are in uniform. Willa orders the Sea Ghost to lower sails and set a course to intercept, and the approaching ship matches. It raises a flag indicating a parlay is requested, and the two ships slowly draw alongside one another. A jollyboat comes over, bearing marines and a man in exquisite red leather armor and a black cloak. The party is initially very suspicious of him, thinking this could be an elaborate ruse by pirates, but eventually comes to accept that he is genuine.

    He introduces himself as Lord Horatio Nehemeyer Rhola, First Officer to the Viscount of Salinmoor. Lord Nehemeyer tells them, with a bit of bluster, that he is here to both deliver the sailors that the party had requested of the Viscount and to assess whether Saltmarsh needs the troops they had requested to defend against the lizardfolk.

    He decided to be personally involved because several members of the Saltmarsh Town Council had been convinced that the lizardfolk were being armed as a plot by the Sea Princes to destabilize the Viscounty as a prelude to an invasion or naval war - and he wanted to both assess this and put an end to the (most likely absurd and dangerous) rumor.

    He meets and speaks with the lizardfolk dignitaries, and surprises the party by demonstrating an ability to speak their language, and much more fluently than Shefak at that. When he learns about the Sea Devils, his manner changes from that of doing a necessary but boring duty to one of a highly competent man executing an urgent mission. He speaks with Willa briefly in private, transfers five sailors to the Sea Ghost, and has Aurora, Babshapka, Tyrius, and the lizardfolk return with him to his ship to sail immediately for Seaton.

    The Sea Ghost later arrives in Saltmarsh without incident. Willa speaks with the Council, and then privately with Secun. In both meetings she advises that now is the time for Sigurd to earn his clemency, but discusses what safeguards need to be in place so that he does not turn cloak and flee.

    Larry and Thokk retreat to the woods outside the town. Shafak meditates. Barnabus retires to the Haunted House and practices skulking and attacking from hiding.

    In Seaton, the lizardfolk are presented to an emergency meeting of the Viscount’s Small Council. Tyrius and Aurora are told to stay close, but Babshapka slips off into the woods. Aurora attempts to speak with the Viscount’s court wizard, but is told that he is busy at the moment but may be free later.

    When Lord Nehemeyer emerges from the council meeting, he briefs Aurora and Tyrius. The Sahuagin at the mouth of the Javan pose a threat to the realm itself - the Javan River carries half the trade of the kingdom, and a sahuagin fortress there would allow them to sink ships or raid cargo indiscriminately. The lizardfolk described their former lair as three levels of underground caves with access to the sea. A conventional siege would be impossible without an underwater blockade, since the devils could continually bring in troops and supplies beneath the waves. Thus the fortress will have to be taken by force. A well-fortified position, defended by sea devils, could require hundreds of troops to take and result in massive losses for the humans. The Viscount is currently raising an army, but the party has been requisitioned to act as a scouting force, and offered 1000 gold lions plus the right of pillage in return for four key pieces of information:

    (1) The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances)

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc.

    (4) How advanced their preparations are - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking?

    Aurora tries to negotiate for a higher reward but eventually accepts the offer. Lord Nehermeyer advises them that the sahuagin are numerous, cunning, organized, and vicious; that they have a blood-frenzy and preference for attacking the wounded, that they can breathe air for hours at a time but less than a day, and that they are often controlled by female priestesses serving the evil shark god Sekolah. He also says that they frequently have trained sharks defending their lairs. The lizardfolk confirm this, and add that the sahuagin prefer to operate in darkness or dim light and are least active in the middle of the day.

    Tyrius leaves to pass the night in vigil at the Temple of Sol and take his final set of vows to become a true Paladin of Pelor at first light. Aurora finally gets to see the court wizard, and he allows her to copy two spells from the Viscount’s arcane library to her spellbook (but not Detect Thoughts, to her chagrin). Aurora also purchases four pearls suitable for identify and the material components for a few other spells.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Oct 02, 2018 10:28 am  
    Post 33: En route to the Devils

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy

    When they awake in the morning, Tyrius (in the Temple of Sol), Babshapka (in the woods outside Seaton), Barnabus (in the basement of the Haunted House), and Larry (in the fields outside of Saltmarsh) are at third level. Attributes which have been added since second level are in bold.

    Tyrius of Sterich
    Third level paladin of Pelor (Sacred Oath of Devotion)/ Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 14 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 11 (0) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Hp. 22
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Chain armor, war hammer
    Spells: Cure Wounds, Heroism, Protection from Evil (oath), Sanctuary (oath), Divine Favor
    Scroll of Protection from Undead, Scroll of Hold Person

    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Third level ranger (Hunter Archetype: Giant Killer)/ Wood elf (Folk Hero)
    Str 12 (+1) Dex 16(+3) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Hp. 29
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands)
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding
    Chain shirt, broadsword+1, shortsword, longbow
    Spells: Alarm, Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark

    Barnabus the Minstrel
    Third Level Rogue (Assassin Archetype/ Halfling (Entertainer)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 17 (+3) Con 11 (0) Int 15 (+2) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
    Hp. 19
    Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled)
    Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
    Leather Armor+1, glamoured, Ring of Protection+1, shortswords, shortbow

    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)
    Third Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (-1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 15 (+2) Int 11 (0) Wis 17 (+3) Cha 4 (-3)
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Chain shirt, shield, scimitar, quarterstaff

    Post 33: En Route to the Devils

    20 August, 570 - dawn. Seaton
    Soon after Tyrius has taken his vows, he, Aurora, Babshapka, and the lizardfolk diplomats are put on a naval cutter, one typically used for scouting or as a command courier. She is small and fast, and arrives in Saltmarsh by late morning. The reunited party is given a copy of a map the lizardfolk produced of their lair. They are told the Viscount has authorized (and is paying for) six marines from Saltmarsh to be part of their reconnaissance group, in addition to the five sailors already on the Sea Ghost.

    20 August, 570 - late morning. Saltmarsh
    When the cutter from Seaton arrives in Saltmarsh, Willa learns that she has been commissioned as a sergeant of the Excise Officers, and Tom has been promoted to corporal. Willa will be in command of the what the Viscount called “six marines from Saltmarsh,” but she and Tom are apparently two of the marines. The other four are all well known to her: Corporal Ebeneezer Smithson (a good blade from the militia), the Fisher brothers (Nathaniel and Dan, Excise Officers and good sailors and navigators), and Jeremiah Brown of the town constabulary (strong as an ox and almost as smart). In the afternoon, she leads Captain Sigurd, still in manacles, to the Sea Ghost and has him quartered in her captain’s cabin, with either herself or Tom with him most of the time. She tells him that “a certain letter exists” granting him clemency in return for his service against the Sea Devils - but that she and Tom will both have to return safely to Saltmarsh for him to receive the letter.

    Aurora uses two of the four pearls to identify Barnabus’ new armor as leather +1, glamoured and the crystal as a crystal of clear thought. She buys herself a lanthorn.

    In the early afternoon, the party boards the Sea Ghost. While they are waiting for the tide, Oceanus arrives. They set sail in the late afternoon and reach the lizardfolk lair by evening. The delegates depart and tell the chief about their mission to ally with the humans. The chief meets with Thokk, and confirms with him that it was his axe that dealt the death blows to both the crocodile and the dragon. The chief grants the “mighty warrior” command of two lizardfolk officers, with each of them in command of six lizardfolk troops, for fourteen lizardfolk in all. These board the ship as well and make camp on the open deck. “Thokk so happy!” the half-orc later beams to Willa. “Thokk have evil advisor and now Thokk have own army!”

    With eleven sailors aboard the Sea Ghost and good moons besides (Luna a few days past full and Celene approaching its first quarter) it is possible to sail the ship on all three watches. Willa tells the crew to prepare for departure after midnight, so that they should arrive at the Devil's lair well after sunrise of the next day.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 09, 2018 6:40 pm  
    Post 34: The Final Enemy, First Blood

    Note: This post contains spoilers to the module U3: The Final Enemy.

    Post 34: The Final Enemy, First Blood

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the tentacles did wriggle,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    21 August, 570 - pre-dawn on the Azure Sea
    The Sea Ghost sails from the lizardfolk lair soon after 1am. On board are the party (numbering nine, including Tom and Willa), eleven sailors (three former smugglers, Old Lefty, two Saltmarsh men, and the five seamen on loan from Lord Nehemeyer), four recently-impressed “marines” from Saltmarsh (Ebenezer Smithson, Nathaniel and Dan Fisher, Jeremiah Brown), and fourteen lizardfolk, for a total of 38 souls. Willa has set watch hours for them to arrive at the sahuagin lair well after sunrise with everyone having had a full night’s rest (her goal: 9am). She takes the first watch, along with Tom, Thokk, and Aurora.

    They are perhaps an hour into the journey when the ship begins slowing - the helmsman shouts to Willa that she is not responding. On deck, gleaming in the moonlight, are many massively thick writhing tentacles. Four of them are fastened securely about the ship’s midsection, while another twelve are probing about the decks. In the fight which ensues, Tom, a sailor, and Aurora are all entwined and crushed before the tentacles on them, and the others, are severed and the hidden giant beast(s) of the deep are driven off. The lookout on the prow, one of the original smugglers, is caught by two tentacles, each pulling him in opposite directions. He dies screaming as his limbs are pulled out of their sockets, though not completely off. By the time Tyrius reaches his side, he is already dead.

    Aurora begins talking about gentle repose, but the already superstitious sailors are none too keen to have a foreign witch casting hexes on the body of one of their own, even a smuggler. Willa calls all hands on deck, and there is a brief funeral service before the sailor’s broken body is committed to its watery grave. Then she sends everyone back to their stations, and the Sea Ghost continues its silent glide through the dark waters.

    The sun has been up for hours by 10am when the Sea Ghost sites the promontory that lies just before the erstwhile lizardfolk lair. Guided by the lizardman officers of “Thokk’s army”, the ship sails behind the cliff, never siting, or hopefully being seen by, the lair itself.

    The jollyboats are launched, each with six members of the away team and two sailors to return to the ship for the next load. Aurora uses her spirit hawk familiar, “Buckbeak,” to scout the landing site next to the stream, while Oceanus scouts beneath the waves. The sea elf reports that game fish are not to be found, that the waters are fished out, and that the sahuagin population must be large and voracious. Load by load the away team assembles on the shore, with the lizardmen fanning out to scout through the marsh. When everyone is finally assembled (c. 11am), one jollyboat returns to the ship with four sailors, while the other is beached and hidden by the lizardfolk. Willa gives orders to the departing sailors for the Sea Ghost to retreat eastward along the coast, but to return to the landing site at least an hour before dusk.

    The path to the lair is narrow and a few missteps could easily plunge one into a bog, so the lizardfolk are interspersed through the long, single-file line of the team. They set off briskly in the humid air of late morning with a cloud of biting insects about them. The lizardfolk are in fine spirits it seems, and Thokk reads them as eager to retake their ancestral home. After several hundred yards (c. 11:15am) the tenuous and narrow coastal path intersects with another trail running inland. Thereafter it doubles in width, becoming apparent even to the humans. Willa advises Thokk to send a squad of lizardmen down the inland route to scout, with two remaining at the intersection as a perimeter guard. There is no way she wants their escape route to the hidden jollyboat cut off. Thokk gives the orders and beams. Not only does he have an army, and an evil human to advise him, just like all the powerful orc chieftains, he gets to lead his army to fight shark people! What a great day! While Thokk is grinning stupidly, Willa whispers to Sigurd, reminding him that if they need to retreat, his eventual receipt of the letter of clemency depends on him getting her and Tom to the jollyboat first, regardless of who else ultimately makes it or not.

    The main host continues along the trail, but slower, as they come into sight of the lizardfolk lair (11:45am). The mood of the lizardfolk has changed - they are crouching, almost cringing, at the sight of their home. Thokk calls for a halt and Willa orders everyone to get down among the reeds. Thokk asks his officers what is happening. They tell him that the promontory of the lair should be much larger and higher, with the causeway reaching its base and a trail leading up its side to the high cave that is the land entrance. Instead, their island has lowered and shrunk, and the causeway now falls short of reaching it. The cave entrance is now just above sea level. While Thokk puzzles on this, Aurora asks out loud, “What kind of magic could sink an entire island? Even an archmage…”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “Fie on archmages. ‘Tis little to a god to sink an island - and less to a god of the sea.”

    “They worship a shark god,” says Willa darkly.

    Shefak looks calm, but speaks gravely. “They have sunken the first two levels - when the last is sunk, their fortress will be complete. Then they will begin their raids.” [And the DM awards Shefak’s player, his 11-year-old daughter who has had no previous experience with this module, an Inspiration Point]

    Aurora sends Buckbeak to do an aerial tour, low over the water and high over the island. She sees no sahuagin, on land or in the water. The island has lichen, moss, a few tufts of grass, but no trees or other cover. There are barnacles and mussels at the waterline, but no other life - not even the nesting seabirds that should favor the rocky crag. It is low tide, and the causeway stands a good five feet above the sea, with a dry, rocky stretch to the island that will likely be beneath the waves when the tide rises. Just beyond the edge of the causeway is a flat ledge, with a recessed back, in which are set two massive stone doors. When Aurora asks about the doors (which can’t be seen from where the party is), the lizardmen do not know what she is talking about. (12pm)

    Crouching, the whole group moves quickly along the trail to the base of the causeway, to the furthest extent of where they can go without losing all cover. After preliminary scouting, two lizardfolk are sent ahead up the coastal trail, and another two back to the intersection behind them, leaving six and two officers still with the party.

    A long, hushed conversation follows about who should advance along the causeway. Finally, Sigurd, Babshapka, Larry, Shefek, and Barnabus step forth (1pm). Before they leave, Aurora casts invisibility and Larry darkvision on Barnabus. The five walk down the long causeway, silent except for the lapping of waves at its base, and then pick their way across the rock ledges and tidal pools and up to the large flat surface before the doors.

    The stone doors are each five feet wide and ten feet high. One has a small rectangular hole which ends on the inside with a metal plate but which shows the doors are at least two feet thick. No hinges are visible - the doors open inward and Barnabus concludes that they are likely either locked or bolted inside, such that nothing they have with them is likely to breach them. Babshapka and Sigurd are sent to fetch the rest of principle party members.

    After much discussion (1:30pm), Larry transforms himself into a small weasel, and Thokk ungently stuffs him into the hole. He pushes at the metal plate but cannot move it, at least not without making noise, and he distinctly smells sea creatures on the other side. He backs out, becomes a dwarf, and the party again confers, then lines up for battle.

    Larry now adopts the form of a tiny springtail. The doors are flush to the ground, but don’t actually touch, and the flat insect slowly makes his way in the crevices underneath them, then climbs up the inside of the stone door until his antennae touch wood, likely a stout bar. With no idea of whether he will be able to reach the bar in time, and no perception of what else is in the room given his insect senses, Larry again resumes his dwarf form.

    The room is dark, but he sees five sahuagin as well as a massive bronze gong. Larry lifts the bar at the doors, then turns and throws it at the closest approaching sahuagin, delaying him just long enough for the doors to crash open and the party to rush in. The initial fight is brief, the sahuagin easily overcome, but then a volley of crossbow bolts from behind a recessed portcullis cause the party to pause and take cover.

    Thokk and Willa move forward, and despite the missile fire are eventually able to lift the portcullis with muscles alone, allowing the party into the room beyond. Thokk charges, leaving Willa straining to hold the heavy bronze gate alone and cursing him with all her breath. She is relieved by the arrival of Sigurd, but just in time for him, Larry, and Aurora to be caught under a heavy net set with metal hooks and the portcullis to come crashing down. The fight beyond the portcullis is more costly for the party than the first, but by its conclusion they slay four more sahuagin and capture a lieutenant of the shark people.

    What follows is a careful, measured exploration of the entire first level of the complex, with Barnabus scouting far ahead. The natural cave system of the lizardfolk has been greatly expanded and turned into finished stonework, square rooms, and straight corridors at every turn. There are even rooms tiled in blue or green and they argue about whether these are for sahuagin officers or air-breathing allies. They find a massive armory with nets, tridents, and crossbows. In the deep recesses of the mountain Barnabus hears the noises of construction, and eventually comes upon a crew of slaves with sahuagin guards and overseers. The workers (half-starved hobgoblins, orcs, and lizardfolk) are finishing a chamber with stairs leading down. Barnabus smells seawater in the stairwell, but does not approach close enough to look directly down. This appears to be the only unfinished room on the level, indicating that the fortress is, perhaps, nearing completion.

    Withdrawing, and hoping that the noise of construction will cover the combat, Barnabus then leads the party in a rapid assault on a guardpost of three sahuagin outside a slave pen. In the pen they find a frail, emaciated, dying human. Tyrius eases his suffering but cannot prevent his death. The old man, Elmo, in confused and rambling phrases, tells them that he is the last survivor of a party of five adventurers, sent to explore the lair by the Prince of Monmurg. They entered through the sea cave below and found that the entire third level was flooded. They were ambushed by the entire lair, led by a massive powerful sahuagin he called “The Baron”. His party overcome, Elmo was enslaved and put to work digging and carving the second level of the complex, which he still believes he is on. He tells of feeling an earthquake soon after switching pens, and the party suspects that he was moved to the upper level just before the island was sunk and the middle level flooded. The party extracts as much information from him as they can before he pleads to feel the sun one last time and collapses. Tyrius carries him outside. Feeling the sun on his skin, he rouses, clutches at Tyrius and whispers “Remember metamorph,” and then dies. (4 pm)

    “Metamorph?” Aurora says, overhearing his final words. “What do you think he means by metamorph?”

    “Hmmmph, we must kill this metamorph, I think,” Thokk grunts, rather pleased with his own logic. He looks to his human evil advisor, Willa, and smiles, searching for her approval.

    “Um, aye, possibly we will Thokk. But we should probably find oot wha' a metamorph be first.”

    “Speaking of finding out things,” Aurora interrupts, “I don’t think we have really discovered much of what Nehemeyer sent us to be discovered. Yes, we seem to have a rough indication of what their plans are in sinking this fortress, but we’ve only fought some common troops and a lieutenant or two on this first level. I doubt we want to approach the underwater entrance like Elmo did and we have no real means of doing so. And, aside from the net trap over the gate, we haven’t encountered any heavily fortified areas. If we want to return to Saltmarsh with more information than we have (not counting some information we may gather from our sea devil prisoner), I think we need to free those slaves working on that last portion of their lair. Not only could they provide us with a wealth of information, but we may very well delay whatever plans they have afoot, buying us time. What do you all think?”

    Shefak frowns. She speaks, but does not look at anyone - instead, she is shading her eyes with her hand and scanning the rocks and sea nearby. “It is obvious, we must attack that last room the halfling found. First, because enslaving sentient beings is an affront to all, and they must be freed. Second, because we don’t even know if the next level down is flooded. Yes, the halfling smelled sea-water - but what if it was simply a pool or reservoir? Or perhaps the entire level is flooded - but just to a depth of one foot. If there is a possibility we can scout more, we can not walk away now.”

    Turning to Aurora and Dirty Larry, Willa asks, “Do ye have any magic up yer sleeves t’at would subdue or stop ther saughin near ther openin’ into ther lower levels from fleeing inta ther water fer reinforcements, while we kill ther guards in ther room?” She adds, “If ye can secure t’at openin’, I’m certain Thokk and ‘is “men” can secure ther room.” Willa wipes her blade clean, and says to the group, “I be assumin’ we will keep ther lizardfolk slaves fer questioning and release the orcs and hobgoblins. Aye?”

    Dirty Larry says, “The only magic what I have to stop people is spike growth, and moon beam. Spike growth grows spikes out of the ground and deals damage to people who run into it, but I can only hold it for a wee few minutes. Moonbeam is a beam of light that does damage to anyone what walks through it, but again I can only hold it for a might bit o’ time. Either o’ those would hurt someone running through them, and could be cast on the entrance, but they wouldnae necessarily stop someone willing to take the damage from getting through. For me, I think that we must finish what we started - wherever that takes us.”

    Aurora glances at the sun and winces. “I have used both of my higher level spells already. The invisibility on Barnabus and crown of madness in our earlier fight. It looks like we have another 3 hours until sunset, that is, until the ship comes back for us. We could rest for an hour and recuperate a bit? I would then be able to cast web around that watery stairway if need be. Larry could heal Thokk and Babshapka of their wounds and then recover both of those spells. He’d also get back his ability to transform another two times if we needed it. That would still give us another two hours to explore whatever we can before dusk, though I admit it may not be a bad idea for us to give ourselves full daylight to get everyone back to the ship, rather than traveling at dusk.”

    She continues, “I think the potential benefits of going further outweigh the dangers. If we’re lucky, we can kill that group and keep our losses to a minimum. If we’re very lucky, we can kill that group without raising an alarm. We’ll free prisoners and perhaps be able to recon the second level a bit. Even if we’re unlucky and things get out of hand, we will still have hours to retreat, and we have the spells needed to make that very likely. If we’re very unlucky and we can’t even get back to the ship, we can likely retreat inland and outrun them. I’m guessing that these ‘sharkies’ are none too keen on overland multi-day journeys.”

    “Here’s what I propose. We rest for an hour and recover some magic and the ability of our druid to transform. Then we attempt to lure the sahuagin force, or part of them, away from that chamber. I can use a silent image of poor Elmo as if he were making some sort of crazed inept attack, and then have him retreat, hoping some or all of them follow him. Given the noise down there, we’d only have to get him around a corner or two and they’ll be out of earshot of the others. With the element of surprise, I suspect we can down the others in a matter of seconds. Thokk’s army can rush in and hold the entrance to that stairway, denying anything easy passage to or fro. We’ll never get another chance at surprise after today. While some of us are resting, I’d also suggest that we reset the net trap over the portcullis but then sabotage it - see if we can find a way to tie the net to the ceiling so that it will not actually fall when tripped. Ooh, or perhaps some way that we can trip the net onto enemies unsuspectingly? And is there any way that we can sabotage the door to make it easier to open the next time around? Perhaps the hinges can be weakened in some imperceptible way?”

    When it appears that Aurora is descending into “what ifs”, Sigurd raises his voice. “I agree we caint go back yet. I sailed fer Nehemeyer, tho’ ‘e wouldn’t recognize me. I were third mate on one o’ the ships in ‘is fleet and ‘e came aboard all o’ three times that I remembers, but I ‘eard plenty o’ talk aboot ‘im from the other officers. ‘e wants things done and done ‘is way, an’ ‘e don’t care what the cost is, so long as it ain't none to ‘imself. We return with only one o’ ‘is “four goals” complete an’ ‘e’s jess going t’ send us back - an’ by then ther whole place will be right up in arms, fer sure. Our best chance be to do as much as we can afore they know we’s ‘ere. I don’t even mind fighting ‘em in small groups as they come out o’ whatever that hole is - they don’t seem so tough on land, so far, and if Thokk ‘ere calls all his flickers in we’ll outnumber them up until it’s time t’ run away, anyway. One thing, tho’ - I think we should ‘it ‘em now, nae wait and rest. Ain’t no tellin’ when their shift will end and they march those slaves back t’ their cell. If they find out ther guards are dead and Elmo’s gone while we be restin’, then we’ll be worse off than if we hadn’t rested t’ begin with. It’d be nice t’ have a web to block off that hole, but we don’t need it. I bet if me and Thokk charge that entrance, we can keep them from getting by us while the rest of you clear the room. Then we can take an hour to rest if ye want.”

    “Hmm”, Willa ponders thoughtfully out loud, “Aye, I agree t’at we attack today afore returnin’ t’ ther ship. What I need t’ consider is if we go now, or wait fer one hour…Tyrius - can ye heal Thokk and Babshapka now?”

    “Aye, by the grace of Pelor I can heal, or I can use my own meager faith to lay on hands.”

    Willa nods, satisfied. “Aurora - can ye cast silent image now or do ye need to wait?”

    “Oh, sure, silent image is a first level spell and I have plenty rearing to go. It’s a wonderful spell that makes an image. . .”

    “Agggh, we go now!” Thokk interrupts.

    “Um, yes, well okay if that is what everyone agrees,” Aurora shyly assents. “How about we heal up Thokk so the devils aren’t getting that frenzied blood lust attack against him [Thokk’s current hp is 21/32]? Babshapka is wounded [Babshapka is at 16/29], but if he’s in the rear with a bow, it’ll only do us favors if sea devils break out of their pack to attack him.”

    “No more talking! Army!! We go kill more devils!” Thokk roars at his troops, forgetting that only the officers speak Common. But the officer present quickly translates and the half-orc seems puzzled at the bizarre hissing sounds that rush out of them all. “Hhmmph, okay.”

    [DM's note: Lord Nehemeyer's Goals for the Party:
    (1) The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses Partially complete - the party has fought warriors and a lieutenant, but does not know other officers or numbers

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances) Partially complete - Elmo confirmed an underwater entrance and the party has mapped the land entrance and most of the first level

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc. Partially complete - the party knows about the barred entrance doors, portcullis, and net trap

    (4) How advanced their preparations are - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking? Partially complete - the party surmises that the raids will begin when the first level is complete
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 16, 2018 12:08 pm  
    Post 35 - The Final Enemy, First Level Secured

    Note: This post contains spoilers to the module U3: The Final Enemy.

    Post 35 - The Final Enemy, First Level Secured

    21 August, 570 - afternoon - the lair of the sea devils

    The party leaves the body of Elmo on the rocks just outside the entrance door. They, Sigurd, and the lizardmen reenter the first guardroom, where the Saltmarsh marines wait with more lizardmen. Tom steps up to Shefak and hands her the rope which she had used to bind the prisoner. The captured sahuagin lieutenant lies dead on the floor, still bleeding out. “Ye killed him?” asks Willa indignantly.

    Tom shrugs. “The lizardmen wanted to kill him. I just didn’t get in their way.” Thokk chuckles. Larry and Tyrius heal Babshapka and Thokk while Willa sketches a map with a stone on the floor, in the light of the open doorway. She draws the chamber with the entry to the second level and the branched hallway outside. Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora derive a plan while Thokk waits impatiently, but trusting in his advisor.

    Aurora will try to draw out the devils with a silent image, while the main force waits in both the storeroom and around the corner to ambush them. After they have eliminated whatever devils they can draw from the room, they will rush the room to attack those remaining and try to block off access to the stairs down. Oceanus will pursue any sahuagin that manage to flee down into the water they presume is there, and any lizardmen present will follow Oceanus. When they all agree to the plan, Willa divides them into three groups for the march there. Barnabus will go first and alone, stealthily. He has already lost Aurora’s invisibility, but still has Larry’s darkvision in effect. Behind him will come a group who are able to see without light. Behind them, after a discreet pause, will be those who cannot see in the dark led by a few who can, but without light sources.

    Willa assigns the marines to secure the gatehouse, leaving one great door closed and one door partially open to observe outside, but with orders to close and bar it should any sahuagin emerge from the water or return along the causeway.

    Just before they head out, Barnabus says “hey presto chango” and his armor changes form. Up close, in the light, it looks like he is wearing a costume shark suit - thin, supple scaled green leather covers his chest, arms, and legs. From a distance he appears to be a miniature sahuagin, except for his head. He pulls up his hood and plays with the shape until it more-or-less resembles that of one of the shark people. Standing next to him, no one would be fooled - but from a distance, in the dark, he might just be mistaken for one of the devils, albeit a small one.

    The party sets out, heading down the long eastern corridor that has a nearly 200’ straight run to the slave-pen guard room. They aren’t halfway there when Barnabus sees two devils emerge from the arched doorway at the end of the hall - and by their posture, they have seen him as well. Immediately he tells Aurora (in the middle group and in message contact with Barnabus and Willa), to back up and hide. As the party behind him ducks into two different side-rooms, one of the sahuagin holds forth her arms and calls to Barnabus in a solicitous tone, as one would address a lost child.

    Barnabus kicks at the floor petulantly, twirls and jumps, and starts making his way leisurely back up the hall. The sahuagin pair follow, with one of them continuing to call to him. He leads them to just past the open archway where Oceanus and Babshapka stand poised to attack. By this point, Barnabus can see the pair clearly - a large male sahuagin, larger than even the lieutenant they captured, and a smaller, thinner one he takes to be a female. The male wears the same gold armband the lieutenant had, but his is inlaid with polished coral. The female has a gold armband, but bears no weapons.

    As the male passes the archway, he freezes, turns, and immediately begins attacking the elves with his spear. The female calls out to Barnabus in increasingly concerned tones. Though no one in the party can understand her speech, if they could it would be something like, “Come here little one! ..why do you have knives?...what is wrong with your face?..ah, the creature is attacking me!

    As Barnabus advances on the female, she points a finger at him and a bolt of black energy shoots forth. He dodges it nimbly, and it strikes the wall, blasting a small hole in the stone. Barnabus leaps through the shower of pebbles and strikes at the female, wounding her gravely. As she turns to run, he stabs her in the back and she collapses. A few seconds later the male falls as well, though he wounds Oceanus first.

    The bodies are dragged into the side room and quickly searched. The female, whom they believe to be a priestess, is carrying a short wand-like object with the grip of a cutlass. It is covered with some sort of insulating material but has an engraved metal rod underneath. Aurora uses a charge from the wand of magic detection and concludes that jamming it into a creature will release an electric shock.

    The party reforms, continues down the hall, and sets up in their planned positions outside the room where the labors of the slaves are still easily heard from outside. Barnabus slips into the room and hides behind a pillar, reporting through message that he can see seven common sahuagin and a gold armband lieutenant, as well as ten slaves of various humanoid races. When he is ready, Aurora sends a silent image of Elmo in, animated and capering wildly. It takes a few minutes for the sahuagin to even notice the silent crazy old man in the noise and darkness, but eventually the lieutenant dispatches two warriors to restrain him.

    The warriors follow the retreating figure, but immediately run into Thokk, who just can’t keep himself from prematurely charging around the corner at them. The ambush sprung, the pair of devils are quickly overcome, the fight and their shouts fortunately covered by the noise of the slaves’ labors.

    Aurora sends "Elmo" back. This time, the lieutenant himself leads two warriors in pursuit, but not before signaling the other guards to be at the ready beside the stairs. When Barnabus relays this, the party charges, and a general melee breaks out in the room. Thokk braves the attacks of many devils to secure the stairs, which has water lapping at the very top steps. Two devils manage to slip by him and start into the water, but Shefak blocks one. The second takes another step and then dives into the water. Oceanus charges, with a pack of lizardfolk following him, but he trips over hidden Barnabus before he can vault the railing surrounding the stairs. Oceanus recovers and enters the water, six lizardmen close behind him. The stairs lead to a large, completely flooded room below with an exit corridor at the far end. Oceanus and the lizardmen are able to surround and kill the escaping devil just before he exits the room below. In the meantime the party finishes off the remaining devils above, but not before many of them are wounded.

    In less than a minute it is over. The slaves, having ceased their labors at the first sign of combat, look on in stunned silence. The party members breathe heavily. Oceanus drags the body of the sahuagin from the water, leaving a plume of blood behind.

    Willa, Sigurd, and Shefak calm the slaves while the others search the bodies of the devils and secure the room. Thokk at first makes a great show of smashing the leg chains of the lizardmen, but quickly loses interest when Shefak converses with them and tells him they do not wish to join his army. They are not from this lair, not of his lizardfolk tribe, and they merely wish to be released. Sigurd converses at length with the single hobgoblin in a goblinoid tongue - there may be more to this smuggler captain than they suspected. Willa talks to each of the slaves in turn, using Shefak, Sigurd, and Thokk as needed for translation. She learns that they all are from nearby tribes and camps, none of them more than a half-day’s travel from the sea coast or river, by which she concludes that the sahuagin either can’t or won’t spend more than a day out of water. None of the slaves have been below this level, and for them the second level has always been flooded - they were all captured recently. When they arrived, Elmo was already a prisoner, as well as a dwarf who was worked to death and then hauled away a few days ago. The slaves say they are are worked in a long shift with the same guards, then taken to their pen for food and rest when the guards change. When the guards change again, they are brought out for more work. Willa takes this as a sign that eventually there will be a guard change up here, so they need to be prepared for the arrival of more foes. The slaves are all humanoid and don’t really fathom the human concept of “hours,” but can say that their next shift change is still a good way off. They have not heard of the “Baron,” and say that mostly they see normal warriors and lieutenants, and only occasionally a chieftain or priestess - though one of each did pass through a short while ago. They are all emaciated and badly whipped and beaten, and would offer little to the party’s force even if they were willing, so Willa is content to let them go, and allows Shefak to lead them to the entrance of the lair so that they can get by the marines without incident. The monk looks carefully at the sky, and when she returns she tells Willa that they have another two and a half hours until sunset, and a half hour of dusk after that before it is night.

    Aurora surveys the room, frustrated at the inability of most of them to enter the water. She asks Larry and Barnabus to search the upper level more thoroughly, convinced that there must be something they missed or some other, dry, way down to the next level.

    The halfling and dwarf leave silently. As they pass the open archway to the storeroom, Larry gestures questioningly at it, but Barnabus shakes his head. “I already searched that before, by myself. All I found was some blue tiles.” The pair head north.

    Aurora paces and talks to herself - “There must be another way down…”

    “So what if thar be atother way down,” scoffs Willa. “What be flooded be flooded, an’ we cain’t enter.”

    “Thar may be atother way…” says Sigurd, almost off-handedly. When he sees that Aurora has stopped her pacing and turned to him, he continues. “I ‘ave an idear. But if I be right, I wants me sword back.” [Sigurd’s magical longsword+1 was taken by the party after his defeat on the Sea Ghost and is currently being carried by Willa, although in the fighting so far she has used her new greatsword.]

    Now everyone remaining is staring at Sigurd (except Oceanus, who with the lizardmen, is taking shifts guarding the stairs, and Shefak, who is sitting cross-legged in a corner, meditating). “What’s your idea?” demands Aurora.

    “Now, now,” Sigurd laughs easily. “If I tells ye, I ‘ave no leverage, do I? An’ ye’ll ‘ave no reason t’ give me me sword. I want t’is sworn in front of yon priest” (he gestures at Tyrius). “I’ll tell ye me idea, an’ if it works, ye swear to give me back me sword.”

    “How do we know you won’t use the sword against us?” says Babshapka, “You did before.”

    “Aye, t’at I did,” responds Sigurd. “Because ye war attacking me ship, an’ me crew! An’ without provocation! Now, ye’ve taken me ship, an’ me sword, and yon lass ain’t even used it! All I wants is t' get back t’ ther profitable life I had afore I crossed wit’ any of ye! Yon lass has a paper granting me clemency, but if I attacks ye, I cain’t ‘ave it. Even if I kills ye all, I’m cursed t' be an outlaw fer the rest o’ me poor days. What possible reason would I ‘ave to attack ye?”

    Tyrius holds his hammer Molly in front of him and leans on her as he speaks. “Let’s hear your idea.”

    Sigurd looks back and forth between the party members, and finally at Tyrius. “Ol’ Elmo came in wit’ five other adventurers, ‘e did. That’d be six souls all entering, he said, t’rough the sea cave, unner ther water, prepared t’ fight unner ther water. They ‘ad to ‘ave magic what let t’em breathe an’ move. And now ther devils ‘ave all t’ose magic items. T’ey’re no use t’ t‘em, but t’ey knows ther items be valuable. So t’ey be keeping t‘em somewhere ‘ereabouts - an’ I t’ink I ken whar.”

    [DM's note: Lord Nehemeyer's Goals for the Party:
    (1) The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses Partially complete - the party has fought warriors, lieutenants, a chieftain, and a priestess, but does not know numbers

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances) Partially complete - Elmo confirmed an underwater entrance and the party has completely mapped the land entrance and entire first level

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc.Partially complete - the party knows about the barred entrance doors, portcullis, and net trap, as well as that the second and third levels are under water

    (4) How advanced their preparations are - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking? Complete - the party surmises that the raids will begin when the first level is complete, and they know that just one final room remains to prepare
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Oct 26, 2018 4:46 pm  
    Post 36: Old Elmo's Hoard

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy

    DM's Note: One of the peculiarities of U3 is that the party cannot complete the module unless they have a means of breathing under water. The module solves this by providing them with a number of magic items belonging to Elmo's former party, but places these items in a secret room. Thus, the only way for most parties to "win", is to find that one secret room, which comes down to them making a singular secret door check in the right place on an entire dungeon level. Barnabus failed that check when he searched the room, which left my novice players up against a time constraint (wanting to be out before dark) and with no means of entering the water. I decided to give Sigurd the ability to speak goblinoid and have him provide a clue to the party in return for them having to return a magic item to him, someone they did not really trust.

    DM's Note: As explained in Post 12, this campaign was a novel experiment for me in that I did away with tracking xp and had all leveling as a function of story awards. Up to this point (leveling to 2 and 3) I had kept the events that would "unlock" leveling secret, and informed the party after the fact. For the current scenario, however, I wanted to emphasize the importance of the party completing the four goals that Lord Nehemeyer had set for them. Since there were eight PCs at this point, I told them that for every goal they completed, two PCs would advance to 4th level; one chosen by me, and one chosen collectively by them. At the end of the last post they had completed goal (4). I do not remember why I chose Shefak to advance, but I do recall their discussion about choosing Larry - it was explicitly so that he could attain wild shapes with a swim speed and thus have access to a number of forms that would allow him to better scout underwater.

    Post 36 - Old Elmo's Hoard

    21 August, 570 - late afternoon - sea devil lair, upper level

    Sigurd pauses a moment for them to grasp his logic.

    “An’ I tell ye w’at. Ye don’t even ‘ave t’ give me me sword back. If we can find Elmo’s gear, I’ll take me first pick o’ w'at’s thar an’ call it even.”

    As soon as Sigurd speaks about how Elmo’s party must have had magic items for underwater travel, Aurora knows he is right - but she still can’t fathom how he could know where the items are. She nods to Tyrius.

    “You have my oath as a Paladin of Pelor - if you help us find the gear of Elmo’s party, we will give you EITHER your sword, OR first pick of the items, at our discretion.”

    Sigurd scowls, but nods. “I be thinkin’ afore t’at ther items be deep in ther lair, an’ we’d ‘ave t’ send ther flickers an’ ther wet elf t’ look in every locker below. But t'en, I be speakin’ t’ ther ho-jebli slave. An’ ‘e said t’at after ther slaves finished ther storeroom, ol’ Elmo an’ ther dwarf spent a long time in t’at particular room wit’ just guards, an’ no tother slaves. Dwarves means fine stonework. T’at’s ther first place I’d look.”

    Aurora nods. “Barnabus said he checked that room - but it can’t hurt to check it again, and using light this time. It’s just outside.”

    Leaving the lizardmen and Oceanus to guard the stairs, Aurora, Thokk, Babshapka, Tyrius, Willa, and Sigurd leave and walk to the storeroom. Shefak stays behind, meditating.

    Tyrius calls forth the holy light of Pelor, and it does not take long for Babshapka to find the vague outline of a secret door in the far wall. Immediately Aurora is on it, looking for a means of opening it. She finds a panel that yields to her touch, and hears a click as she presses it - but also sees a glowing rune appear under her hand.


    Electricity arcs out from the now-glowing rune and courses through the wizard’s body. Aurora is blown across the room, her face and hand blackened with soot. Hair still standing on end, she unsteadily rises to her feet. “I...I think I found it…” she mumbles.

    Peering through the now-open door, the party sees a small room of plain dressed stone. There are several items of interest within - a leather cloak hanging on a peg, a human-sized suit of plate mail and a pile of chain mail of undetermined size, three shields, a spear, a longsword within a fine scabbard, and, at the far end of the room, a large stone coffer.

    Undeterred by her fragile state, Aurora is the first one into the room, and she is immediately drawn to the coffer. She tries to open it with her mage hand, but finds it locked - and a pattern of slits around the keyhole suggests it may be trapped as well. She calls for Barnabus - but then remembers that he is off searching the rooms of this level at her behest.

    “Well,” Aurora starts, still feeling woozy from her unfortunate encounter with the electrical rune, “I think we should probably bring in an expert with chests to handle this lock. And as much as I hate to admit it, that is our favorite halfling. Willa and Sigurd, would you two be willing to go find Barnabus and Larry and bring them back here to help? Thokk and Tyrius could go if you’d prefer, but I think they should rest a bit and bandage their wounds. We’re not safely back on the boat yet.”

    “Ye nae be tryin’ to rheneeg on our deal, are ye, lass? I ‘ave been fair by ye, aye?” Sigurd responds to Aurora.

    “Thus far, you have dealt fairly with us, Sigurd, admittedly,” Tyrius interjects. “You have my word as a light of Pelor that I will honor our agreement. Do you trust me equally?”

    “Aye, ‘tis fair, priest. C’mon lass, ‘tis just ye an' me, eh?”

    “Yes, ahem,” Willa nods, “just ye, me, an' yer sword. Tyrius, might ye be willing t’ hold t’is fer me ‘til our return? I want t’ be sure our new addition . . . behaves.” Tyrius nods and takes Sigurd’s captured sword, glancing disapprovingly at Aurora’s curious gaze.

    “Aw, ye don’ trust me, lass,” Siguard moans, feigning indignation.

    “Trust? Ha!” Willa smirks, “me papi said ye can trust a whole boatload o’ sailors, as long as it’s sunk. Let’s go, smuggler. After you.” Willa stretches her arm forward into the doorway. Sigurd bows and saunters by her, stepping perhaps a bit closer than needed as he passes.

    “Heh,” Thokk chuckles proudly, “my advisor commands even that fine warrior to do her bidding. Thokk chose her well.”

    “Oh, Willa,” Aurora whispers to her quickly before she leaves, “if you return to the entrance looking for Larry and Barnabus, perhaps you could have your marines sabotage the net trap and the doors? If nothing else, perhaps they could just remove the pins on the doors and wreck the hinges? We may appreciate an easier entrance to this level if we return at a later time.”

    After the pair has left, Aurora turns to the others. “Well, gentlemen, I should very much like to sit down. Thokk, Tyrius, Babshapka, shall we rejoin Shefak and tend to our wounds? I suspect we will need your healing potions and spells before this day is through, so let us rest if we may. I propose we carry the items found here back to the other room and collect them with the other things we’ve recovered. Once the chest has been opened we can detect magic among the lot of them.”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “No, if we have to beat back another patrol, I don’t want them to see that we have found these items. We can store them here for now, and it will be quicker to retreat with them if need be. And if Barnabus and Larry, or Sigurd and Willa, come back, I don’t want them to waste time looking for us. I’ll go get the other things we have taken so far and bring them here.”

    Tyrius hasn’t been back but five minutes when Willa and Sigurd, bearing the lantern, return with Barnabus and Larry. Apparently the duo had just finished searching the slave pen when they were found.

    [5pm] “Bugger all, I should have found that the first time around,” Barnabus laments, looking at the secret door. “But what have we here, eh? Yes, this coffer shouldn’t be too much trouble. Thokk, mind if I borrow your shield to put in front of me just in case these slits release something nasty?”

    Thokk tosses his shield to a lizardman officer, who carries it over and holds it as best as he can in front of the halfling. Barnabus then sets to work investigating the lock carefully while asking Larry for a bit of guidance. Barnabus quickly determines that the shield will be unnecessary - the trap is a spring-loaded blade, not anything fired. Of course, in order to open the lock he will have to put his hands at risk, and the shield would just get in the way. “Ah, yes, you little minx, you. I think I’ve got you.” The lock opens with a satisfying click, and without a blade being thrust into Barnabus’ hands.

    Even as the party members come forward to see what is inside, Barnabus waves them back. “Since the Devils obviously didn’t want anyone messing about with this chest, I’m opening this a wee bit carefully. Larry, mind bringing a pole over here?” Barnabus edges his dagger under the lip of the coffer and raises the cover a hair, just enough for Larry to wedge the pole up against the lip where he can then flip open the lid from 10’ away, being sure not to stand in the line of the slits from the front. The lid creaks open and . . .

    Inside are a stoppered bone tube, a stoppered brass jar, a velvet bag, and three small books.

    Resisting the urge to sort through the precious discovery, Aurora begins her short rest and encourages the others to do the same.

    Tyrius, unwounded and full of faith in their find, examines the items so as to save time later. The bone tube has a securely-fastened stopper, but can be opened with firm twists. It contains a slim, six-inch piece of thin ivory, carved with sigils in scrimshaw.

    The brass jar is about half-full of a thick, green, cloudy, briny-smelling liquid.

    The books are interesting in that they are covered front and back with hard leather, but the parchment pages are not sewn in as they would be in a normal book. Rather, they are each bound with four brass rings that penetrate the covers and pages equally. The pages themselves are hard and stiff, and appear to have been treated with a clear shellac or varnish. They are covered in arcane runes he does not understand. One of the books has four loose pages in the back, not fastened with the bronze rings. Taking these out, he finds that he can read two of these - they are prayers in the Common tongue, one of silence and one of continual light. The other two are covered in the same runes as the bound pages of the book.

    The velvet bag has four rings, three with carved runes, one inside, one out, one both. One is plain. None of them are set with gems.

    The leather cloak is full-length and human-sized, with a hood.

    The plate mail is human sized, and would fit him well - or Willa or Sigurd, for that matter. It is of exquisite craftsmanship - he has never seen any more fine in his life. The other armor and weapons are also very good quality, though he finds the chain is both short and wide - apparently sized for a dwarf.

    After 30 minutes, Shefak enters the storeroom - she is rested and ready to go. She relieves Tyrius in watching over the party and he moves to the stair-room, after allowing his light of Pelor to fade out. [It is now 5:30pm]

    [DM’s note: Shefak has leveled to 4th. New features in bold.

    Shefak Ishu
    Fourth Level Monk / Human (Baklunni) (Acolyte)
    Str. 7 (-2), Dex. 18 (+4) Con. 12 (+1) Int. 11 (0) Wis. 15 (+2) Chr. 10 (0)
    Hp. 27
    Skills: Acrobatics, Insight, Religion, Stealth
    Monastic Tradition: Way of the Open Hand
    Unarmored defense, staff, dagger, darts
    Crystal of Clear Thought, Ring of Invisibility]

    After another 30 minutes, everyone in the party has had a short rest.
    [It is now 6pm, with 1 hour of daylight and half an hour of dusk remaining]

    [DM Notes:
    Aurora spent three hit dice and recovered 15 hp, taking her to 17/18 and recovering a 2nd level spell slot.
    Tyrius uses 1 lay on hands point to take her up to full (currently 12 lay on hands remaining)

    Thokk rested and used one hit dice. He is at 32/32.

    Babshapka rested and used one hit dice. He is at 29/29.

    Oceanus rested and used three hit dice to recover 19hp. He is at full 22/22.

    Larry cast cure light wounds on Barnabus and healed him for six. This takes him to 16, and Tyrius lays on hands to improve him to 19/19 (currently nine lay on hands remaining).

    After finishing his short rest, Larry recovers some spells. He also levels to 4th. New features in bold.

    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)
    Fourth Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (-1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 11 (0) Wis 18 (+4) Cha 4 (-3)
    Hp. 38
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Wild shape now includes the ability to become a creature with a swimming speed
    Chain mail +1, shield +1, scimitar, quarterstaff]

    In the last ten minutes of the rest period, Willa decides things need doing. “Everyone, we need t’ be smart ‘ere. It’s near six ev’ntime, and we only ‘ave an hour or so o’ daylight left t’ us. It’ll take twenty minutes fer a round trip to ther Sea Ghost, so if we want t’ get everyone back safely, we gotta get movin'. Each jolly can only take eight, maybe a couple more if our smaller members sit tight, an’ there’s . . . (Willa takes a quick mental note of the party: 8 party members, 14 lizardfolk, four marines, Tom, Sigurd, and Oceanus)...Damn, there’s near thirty of us all together.” She pauses a moment, thinking.

    “We gotta start now.” Willa motions the lizardfolk lieutenants over to her. “Thokk, I’d advise t’at ye ask fer a couple o’ lizardfolk volunteers t’ stay ‘ere with us and ‘elp us scout the second level a bit. T’ey should be safe, but it’ll mean t’ey’ll be swimming back t’ the Sea Ghost in ther dark. The rest of the flickers can ‘ead back now wit’ a message to the marines. Tom, Ebeneezer and the lizard soldiers need to leave fer ther ‘idden jolly immediately - t’ey can pick up ther lizard guards on ther trails on their way out. Ther lizardfolk will swim back t’ the boat, keeping careful watch fer Sahuagin ambushes, while Tom and Ebeneezer go snag ther ship’s jollyboat and t’en return to ther landin’ t’ wait fer us. When we leave, we’ll be our party o’ eight, plus Oceanus, Sigurd, and the two lizardfolk what stayed. That’ll be sixteen, just eno’ fer ther two jollies.”

    One lieutenant nods curtly and hisses to the group of lizard soldiers. They appear nervous, but eager to find out more about their submerged former home, and four of them step forward. The lieutenant quickly chooses two and motions them back to the stair room to gather up the others and take their place guarding the stairs. The lieutenant looks quizzically at the tools in the storeroom, then orders a few of the remaining lizardfolk to gather up pickaxes and pry bars before they leave. In the stair room, the lizardfolk have decided to go underwater, but to stay concealed in the stairwell. They take turns relieving one another as their breath runs out.

    Aurora searches her bag for quill, ink, and parchment and writes out a set of instructions. Willa nods and continues, “Ther three marines can stay an’ finish sabotaging ther front guard room, but not past another ‘alf hour. Fix ther net t’ ther ceiling somehow if they can, but yon doors gotta come down. Take out ther hinge pins and smash ther hinges. Throw ther doors over ther causeway if t’ey can manage.”

    “We’ll join t’em after we scout around a bit more down ‘ere. ‘opefully we won’t have any devils on our tail an’ we can make our way back t’ ther landing just before sundown.” A minute later Aurora folds the parchment and hands it to the lieutenant. The lizardfolk salute Thokk and head out of the chamber toward the entrance, hissing softly but proudly among themselves. Thokk chuckles as he sees a few of them spit on the sahuagin corpses on the way out of the room.

    Aurora closes her eyes and spends five more minutes in meditation, until the symbols rearrange in her mind and she knows she has recovered the ability to cast another spell.

    Standing up, Aurora immediately turns to the pile of items that Tyrius had carefully arranged before her, and uses a charge from her wand of magic detection. The cumulative glow that results lights up the storeroom, easily overwhelming the meager lantern light. Sigurd gives a low whistle. “Thar be eno’ firepower t’ outfit a galleon! What say we forget about t’ese devils, take back me ship, and try our ‘ands as privateers? Equal shares fer all?” He looks around, searching the faces of those gathered, but receives only disapproving glares (and the barest flicker of interest from Barnabus). “Fine, then. ‘ave it yer ways. But I’ll be takin’ me pick now.”

    “Well, as you no doubt recall, Sigurd,” Tyrius interjects, “we agreed that we would decide either to return to you your sword, or to allow you your first pick. Given the presence of some of these items, I suspect we will agree to return to you your sword. You have been fighting along our side and we are not ungrateful, but we also know that you hold toward us no particular loyalty.”

    Seeing nods of approval among the party, Willa steps forward and returns Sigurd his longsword. “It’s a very fine blade ye ‘ave here, Sigurd,” Willa says salaciously.

    “Aye, I’d take ye fer an expert on that score,” he teases in return.

    None of the weapons or jewelry taken from the sea devil officers is glowing, with the exception of the electric-shock wand from the priestess that had already been examined. The spears and daggers are taken away to a corner of the storeroom.

    Aurora calls for silence and examines each of the remaining items in turn, holding the object in one hand and her wand in the other. She announces each item as she struggles to understand them.

    [DM's note. The wand provides, at a minimum, the school of magic. I then allowed Aurora to make an Arcana check, with higher numbers revealing more, such as identity, command words, charges, etc. The Arcana roll for each item is noted]

    Leather Cloak (26) - strong transformation / transmutation magic, tied to elemental plane of water. [No command word - most likely activated when worn while in contact with water.]

    Plate Mail (27) - strong abjuration magic [human-sized plate mail +2, base AC 20, counts as light armor, attunes to wearer, no additional powers]

    Chain Mail (14) - abjuration magic - dwarven-sized full chain armor [counts as light armor, AC and powers not known until worn in combat or identify spell used]

    Shield (17) - abjuration magic [AC and powers not known until worn in combat or identify spell used]

    Shield (22) - abjuration magic [shield +1, provides +3 to AC, no additional powers]

    Shield (17) - strong abjuration magic [AC and powers not known until worn in combat or identify spell used but likely better than the other two shields]

    Spear (21) - strong evocation magic, tied to positive elemental plane [spear +2, damage d6+2 / d8+2, no additional powers]

    Longsword (16) - evocation and abjuration magic [the blade is obviously made for fighting but hints that it may have other powers - the hilt and blade seem mismatched, as if it is a replacement hilt - the blade is covered in Suelese runes that call it “The Sunsword, Vanquisher of Darkness” The initial properties are as the module, but the Suelese runes and mismatched hilt are foreshadowing of this being important in the future]

    Ivory wand (14) - strong transformation magic [spell-casting wand, command word unknown, number of charges remaining unknown]

    Ring (10) - runes inside and out - abjuration magic [protects ring-wearer automatically, will need to be worn in the situation it would protect from to determine its power, or be identified]

    Ring (8) - runes outside - transmutation magic [grants wielder power or ability in certain situation, must be worn in the situation to determine power or be identified]

    Ring (28) - no runes - enchantment magic [ring of invisibility - requires attunement - you may use an action to become invisible - you will become visible when you attack, cast a spell, or use a bonus action to become visible]

    Ring (20) - runes inside - strong enchantment magic [ring of delusion - wearer will believe the ring is whatever sort of magic ring the wearer most desires, and will create self-delusions to maintain this belief as long as possible, counts as a cursed item]

    Brass Jar (22) - transmutation magic, tied to elemental plane of water [potion of waterbreathing, four doses]

    The three books are obviously spell books, though the contents are not discernible without time to decipher them. The two scrolls, however, are meant to be read (out loud), and use the “standard runic notation” that anyone versed in arcane lore can read. One is “Knock,” one “Ice Storm.”

    The lizardfolk have reached the front gatehouse and delivered Willa's commands to the marines.

    "Right," says Tom. "'ow we goin’ t’ sabotage a bronze gate an’ stone doors when alls we 'ave is swords?"

    The lizardfolk lieutenant steps forward and motions his men to hand over the picks and pry bars.

    "Well I'll be danged," says Ebeneezer. "Never thought I'd see a flicker with more smarts then you, Tom." The older man chuckles and Tom reddens.

    "That's Corporal Tom to you, Ben," he huffs, and then starts ordering his men about.

    Willa's letter tells Tom to leave at once, but he doesn't trust the sabotage operation to the Fisher brothers and Jeremiah acting alone. He tells the lizardfolk officers to gather their people off of the trails and then wait at the head of the causeway. He directs his men to raise the portcullis as high as they can, then has Jeremiah use a pry bar to open the portcullis frame until the heavy gate it is swinging free by its chains. It is then lowered to the ground so that it lies flat on the floor. The bronze suspension chain is too heavy to break easily, but Tom has the wooden wheel of the winch smashed so the portcullis cannot be raised again. While all this is going on, the Fisher brothers are cutting the net with their daggers until it lies in a dozen pieces on the floor.

    "Damn shame, wasting a fine net like that," says Daniel.

    "Ayep," says Nathaniel.

    “Well,” Aurora says, “that potion is a good find but will work for only four of us. We know there were six in Elmo’s party, so some of the other items may still help us breathe or act underwater. I think we may have a bit more experimenting to do. We have a transmutation ring of some sort, but we don’t know what it does exactly. The same issue applies to this cloak, here. It is possible that the transmutation magic embedded in these may reveal itself in the presence of a certain stimuli, hopefully the need to swim or breathe underwater. This ivory rod may do something as well. Any volunteers to test out some of these things? We can sample them or put them on and go swimming a bit -- see what happens? We can decide who should have what when we figure out what things do.”

    The party members, even as Aurora is speaking, begin to gather up the items and move into the room with the stairs. Oceanus takes the spear as if it were already decided and heads down into the water to relieve the two lizardmen who are still on watch below.

    “Wait!” calls Aurora after him. “We haven’t decided who will get that!” but the sea elf ignores her. She turns to Tyrius, hoping for support. “We are trying to divide up the items, but we still don’t know what many of them do…”

    “How many permanent items are there?” Tyrius says in a voice used to command.

    “Uhh...thirteen, I think,”

    “And there are nine of us, with Oceanus. So long as we each get one and no one gets more than two, it is fair. Let us do this, wizard - the favor of my god is waning with the sun and I wish to be out of this den of iniquity before dark.”

    Babshapka likes the look of the cloak as, if nothing else, it is likely to serve him well in the wilds. He coolly picks it up from the floor next to the wizard and throws it on over his chain shirt.

    Working together, the five marines have closed one of the huge stone doors but left the other one cracked for light. With careful blows of the pick-axes they have freed the huge bronze hinge pins from the hinges, then separated the door hinges from the frame hinges. Still the massive stone door stands upright, balanced on its casters. All of the marines charge the door at once, slam into it, and it topples out onto the landing with a resounding crash, several tons of stone falling against stone.

    “Wha’ wuz dat?” asks Larry, looking around.

    “What?” say the others.

    “Big thump - the floor jumped.”

    No one else had felt anything, and several say so. “Well, of course not,” Larry scoffs. “Yer all wearin’ shoes. How ya gonna feel anything?” He strides over and picks up the set of dwarf-sized magic chain armor, then tears his own chain shirt off and throws it away in a heap. Lowering the mail onto his shoulders, he sighs contentedly. “Now that’s better. Nice and light and it fits just right!”

    The marines warp and crush the hinges on the wall by the fallen door, then repeat the process of felling the other door. That one falls so that it partially overlaps the first, creating a huge stone barricade in the entrance way. The stones are too big to move, so the gatehouse entrance still has a fair degree of cover, but it is no longer a secure entrance by any means. That done, the marines quickly cross the causeway and meet up with the lizardfolk on the other side. The sun is low on the horizon and the wind is beginning to shift from a seaborne breeze to an onshore air.

    Willa eyes the suit of plate armor appreciatively. “I doubt t’is will help me breathe unnerwater, but t'will be easier t’ transport out of 'ere wearing it, t’an it will be t’ pack it.” She asks Sigurd to come help her don the heavy plate.

    “Of course, m’lady,” he says playfully, “jess let me ‘elp you doff your old chain aforehand.”

    As the smuggler helps Willa adjust the straps and buckles of the plate armor, she gasps. It feels like the armor itself is changing, shifting, conforming to her shape. By the time it is all in place it looks as if it were forged for her and perfectly measured at that. There is now no way it would fit anyone else in the party - only a person of exactly her figure. Sigurd whistles in appreciation - of the armor, or her figure, he doesn’t say.

    Barnabus nonchalantly picks up the abjuration ring and looks it over appreciatively. Holding it up to the light off to the side of Aurora’s gaze, he wonders aloud, “Aurora, you weren’t able to decipher these runes completely were you? What’s your best guess?”

    “Oh,” she smiles and starts explaining in greater detail, “these runes are likely from the third Suelese dynasty. You can tell from the nature of the boar rune along the side there. When we get back to the boat I can’t wait to cast my comprehend languages spell and gather some more information about it. I suspect . .”

    With Aurora easily distracted, Barnabus quickly places his left hand on the ground beside him, pocketing the ring of transmutation unnoticed. He has a hunch what this ring may do, and cannot resist the temptation to sneak up behind some unaware Sahuagin.

    “Yes, that’s fascinating, Aurora. You keep at it girl.” He flips the ring of abjuration into the air toward her. Aurora attempts to catch it from the air but fumbles the attempt. It hits the floor and rolls back toward her robes. The half-elf blushes and fishes for it from underneath her in a rather undignified manner.

    Shefak walks forward next and offers to take the ring of invisibility, “Masters of my order can move unseen without the need for magic, just through the power of their perfectly focused minds. I am still a novice, but I know the value of hidden movement. With this, I will be able to eliminate the greatest threats to the group before they know I am there.”

    “Well, the rest of this seems fairly straightforward,” Aurora says. “There’s a shield here for each of our shield wearers. Thokk is a bit less armored than Tyrius and Larry, so perhaps he should have this one,” and she points at the one whose magic detected as strongest. “Larry and Tyrius can swap out their standard shields for these instead?”

    Thokk looks down at the frail half-elf as if she has wounded him. His lip curls in a sneer. “Thokk not take this because he needs more armor. Thokk takes this shield because it is the biggest. And Thokk is the biggest!” He scoops up the shield she had indicated for him anyway. Larry and Tyrius don the other two, testing their balance.

    Aurora continues hesitantly. “And this sword and cursed ring probably deserve some further investigation. Where did that ring of transmutation go?”

    As Aurora pats the ground frantically around her, Barnabus snickers gleefully to himself. The rest of the group quickly surmises what must have happened and glares at him. “Oh, relax,” he offers while deftly flipping the ring across his fingers, “I suspect we’ll all want me having another little trick up my sleeve. You can’t blame me for having a little fun with her while I’m at it.” Tyrius sighs audibly and rubs his temples with his thumb and forefinger.

    Aurora picks up the abjuration ring, hesitates, then slips it on. She packs up the remaining ring, the sword, the wand, and the books and scrolls. Already Babshapka and Barnabus are headed for the flooded staircase. The elf wades down into the water, pulling the hood over his head after he is fully submerged. The leather cloak changes color from dull brown to a steely blue - it flows out behind him like wings - through the cloudy water he appears not so much like an elf in a cloak as a huge manta ray. He takes a trial swim through the underwater room at the bottom of the stairs - he is swimming fast, and is quite able to breathe underwater.

    Meanwhile, Barnabus is gingerly easing himself down, step by step. “Well, I’m still wet,” he says. “And still cold.” He shivers. The cave has been much cooler than the tropical air outside, but this water is colder still. After a few more steps, he says “Curious.” Two more, and he goes under, then comes up a second later, sputtering and coughing. “Well, it sure doesn’t let me breathe,” he says, “but I feel fast - like the water has no resistance. I mean, I can feel that it is there, but it is not holding me back or slowing me down.”

    The others gather together on the stairs, but none of the armor or other items seems to change properties in the water.

    “Okay,” announces Aurora. “We have Oceanus and Babshapka who can breathe underwater. The two lizardmen can hold their breaths for a while. And we have enough potion for four of us. So who is scouting, and who is staying here?”

    “I’m not going underwater,” says Willa, for what seems like the hundredth time.

    “I will scout,” says Larry. “and I won’t be needin’ no foul potion, neither. “What should I be? If we are just scoutin’, I’ll make myself a fish - but if you think we’re gonna mix it up down there, I can be a crocodile. If it’s a little bit of both I’ll be a giant frog.”

    Although it seems a simple question, the resulting discussion of who will be going in the water takes another half an hour to resolve.

    [It is now 7pm. Outside, the sun is setting]
    During the discussion, the two lizardfolk are sent out with instructions to return all of the lizardfolk to the stair room, and three of the marines to gate room. Tom and Ebeneezer are still to be waiting at the launch, with the two jollies ready for the retreating party. Also during this time, Aurora uses a pearl and a first level spell to further identify the sword found. It is a sword+1, with the further ability to improve saves by 1. More powers are possible if it can be reunited with its original hilt.

    By the time the entire complement of lizardfolk return (including the ones that had been assigned to guard the trail heads), they report that Jeremiah and the Fisher brothers are in the guardroom, and that both the gate and the stone doors are down. Tom and Ebeneezer have indeed readied the boats (with lizardfolk assistance in finding the hidden one in the growing dusk), and now have them hiding in the reeds (not as well hidden as it was initially, but still hidden and much readier for a rapid departure).
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Oct 31, 2018 4:30 pm  
    Post 37: Going too far?

    Note: This post contains spoilers for module U3: The Final Enemy. Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed map locations.

    DM's note: I estimate Saltmarsh and the Sea Devil Lair to be at about 25N latitude, 5W longitude. This is approximately the latitude of Miami, FLA. On August 21st, there are approximately 13 hours of daylight, from 6:00am to 7:00pm.

    Post 37 - Going too far?

    21 August, 570 - evening - Sea Devil Lair, upper level

    It is finally decided that two of the lizardfolk will remain at the stairs, while the rest go into the water with Barnabus (potion), Babshapka (cloak), Thokk (potion), Tyrius (potion) and Oceanus. Willa, Sigurd, and Aurora will remain on the first level and attempt to parallel the scouting party directly below them, staying in contact with them mentally through Aurora’s message while Sigurd lights their way with a lantern. Larry (as a fish) and Shefak (potion) will return to the gatehouse, enter the open water outside, and scout the outside of the sea cave entrance. Before the party splits, Larry casts darkvision on Shefak and Tyrius, leaving him with one second-level spell slot he is holding in reserve for a spike growth to cover their retreat. Barnabus, Thokk, Tyrius, and Shefak each drink from the potion of water breathing, finishing it and starting a metaphorical hour clock for the scouting mission.

    Both water-scouting teams enter the water; one inside, one out. Once inside the water, Larry changes his form to that of a small saltwater predatory fish. [stats as Quipper but for saltwater] He immediately notices that Shefak, though invisible beside him, is easily discernible as she is leaving a human-sized “space bubble” where water should be but isn't. She decides to float on the surface, with her head in the water looking down, and follow Larry-fish from above so as to displace the least water and be the least visible. They travel around the outside of the mountain-island in the gathering darkness to the far side facing the open sea. With Shefak watching from above, Larry dives below and finds the entrance to the sea cave. It is protected by a huge bronze portcullis, perhaps twice the size of the one on the first level. The openings between the bars are easily large enough to allow fish access, so Larry darts in and out, scouting the cave beyond.

    The cave is huge, and goes back farther than Larry’s darkvision can see. Most of the cave is filled with a massive seaweed bed, but he sees rock formations at the limits of his vision. Just inside the cave entrance is a large winch with a bronze chain. The size and depth of the seaweed could obscure dozens of devils, so Larry does not dare enter. Larry and Shefak decide to scout the outer surface of the mountain for other entrances. They do not find any, but they do find, hidden by a rock outcrop, a second winch with a chain leading into a small hole cut in the rock. It is possible the winch could be worked by one creature, slowly, as there is a ratchet mechanism.

    Goals (1) and (2) - sea entrance, sea cave (60), both winches

    Meanwhile the main scouting force inside descends into the water-filled staircase. Their first impression is that the water is cold, dreadfully cold - at least the seawater outside the lair has been warmed by the tropical sun all day, but this water feels as cold as the larder room where they found the remains of Elmo’s party.

    [DM’s note: Warm-blooded creatures in the cold water of the sahuagin lair will need to make a CON save (DC10) after 20 minutes of immersion. Oceanus is immune to this effect. The lizardfolk are cold-blooded.]

    They proceed into the large chambered room (20) scouted before. The group tracking them from above is faced with a wall to the north, so Willa, Sigurd, and Aurora have to jog out and around through the halls to try to stay in contact. Thokk posts six lizardfolk as guards, two at each entrance to the room, and the main group takes the left (west) arched entrance. Some of the party (Barnabus) are light enough to swim, others (Tyrius) are wearing enough heavy armor that they have sunk to the bottom and are walking. For some of them, it is slow going.

    [DM’s note: Water counts as “difficult terrain” (double movement cost) for any creature without an inherent swim move. Oceanus and the lizardfolk have a swim move; Babshapka is granted one by the cloak, Barnabus’ unidentified ring of free action means he isn’t slowed by difficult terrain. Thokk and Tyrius are moving at half their normal land speed while in the water.]

    The corridors bend and turn, but always at precise, clinical right angles. Barnabus scouts ahead, swimming with his “child sahuagin” suit, and checking at corners with his mirror before advancing. He leads the party into two rooms that look like the tiled officers quarters above, but flooded (22, 23). They have stone tables and benches, closed and locked stone coffers, and colored tiling, with only the colors of the tiles distinguishing one from another. Each also has a seaweed bed; a thick growth of stalks and leaves that obscures vision and runs from floor to near the ceiling. Oceanus believes that the sahuagin rest in these, using the stalks to keep themselves from drifting while they sleep. Thokk attacks the one in the first room furiously, but methodically and carefully stabs through the one in the second to make sure nothing is hiding within. Barnabus lingers over the coffer, but Aurora chides everyone to keep moving, reminding them that their potions of breathing are flowing away like sand in an hourglass. The lizardfolk with them peel off, return to the upper level to breathe, and come back at intervals.

    Goals (1) and (2): officer’s quarters (22, 23)

    By the time the scout force gets to the third arched entrance in the hall, Aurora and company have run all the way to the far southern corridor of the upper level. Barnabus sees a huge room, farther across than his darkvision can scan (24). It has an open center with tables and benches, but the walls are lined with seaweed beds everywhere but the entrance itself. Dozens of females and young swim, drift, sit, or play. The young come in all sizes, from nearly that of the adult females to smaller than he is. After a minute of watching, Barnabus turns the group around and they return to the stairs level.

    [DM’s note - 7:20pm Babshapka, Barnabus, Thokk, and Tyrius make their CON saves.]

    This time the scouting party takes the east entrance. They pass and inspect a single, empty, officer’s quarters (21). After that, the corridor bends round and comes into a large chamber with seaweed, females, and young (24). The room is large enough that Barnabus suspects he has found a second entrance to where he was before.

    Goals(1) and (2): officer’s quarters (21)

    They again return to the room with the stairs and the lizardfolk have a chance to gather air. They set out down the northern corridor, which quickly branches east and west. They go east, and then east again when the corridor branches again. At the far corner is an arched doorway. Barnabus peers through it and finds a room with at least a dozen sahuagin, and several officer types (27). Some are lounging, but some are swimming in formation - drilling? This is definitely a barracks. and not a place the scouting party wants to be. Barnabus watches from the doorway, and ushers the others past him when he thinks it is safe.

    Goals (1) and (2): Barracks (27)

    The corridor returns to its northward direction after this. At the next branch one hallway clearly runs northward to stairs going down. The other goes west, passed an arched doorway, and ends in another arch. Barnabus investigates the doorway, and finds a guardroom (39) with two soldiers entertaining two female sahuagin. With just four devils and only one entrance, the party feels confident about being able to take this group out - more confident than their chances of slipping past unseen, anyway. And if this is a guardpost, what is it guarding?

    Goal (2): Guardroom (39)

    Led by Barnabus, the party bursts into the room. Between the halfling, Babshapka, Oceanus, and the lizardfolk, the two warriors are killed before they can respond. The females, however, before they are laid low, savage Barnabus. Tyrius and Thokk, hampered by the water, do not even have the chance to attack before the fight is over. Tyrius staunches Barnabus’ wounds with a single laying-on of hands, but the four sahuagin bodies are slowly filling the room with blood. The party recovers coins and jewelry from the bodies. The males have electrum arm bands - seemingly ranking them above unadorned common warriors, but not as high as the lieutenants with gold bands. Oceanus hides the bodies in the seaweed bed, twisting the plants around them them so that they can’t drift away. The party concludes that these are elite guards, and are even more eager to discover what they are guarding. But first, Barnabus needs more healing. The lizardfolk are sent back to the stairs to breathe, but are instructed to pick up the three potions of healing from Willa.

    Goal (1): fighting capability of elite guards

    [DM’s note: When fighting in water, characters with slashing or bludgeoning weapons have disadvantage on to-hit rolls. Piercing weapons and “natural” attacks (including unarmed strikes) are not affected.]

    [DM’s note: When fighting in water, creatures without a swim move are slowed. They may attack only every other round, and even when they attack they automatically lose initiative to any creature with a swim move. Barnabus’ ring prevents this, so only Thokk and Tyrius are affected.]

    [DM’s note: The female sahuagin were unarmed, but proved surprisingly vicious as they had five attacks each - underwater, sahuagin attack with bite, two clawing strikes with their hands, and two raking strikes with their feet.]

    It is now 7:30pm, and truly dark outside. Floating on the surface of the water, Shefak hears the metallic clanking of the sea gate being raised. A group of ten sahuagin with an officer swim out, going straight out into the depths of the sea. Five minutes later, another similar group emerges, and moves to parallel the coastline to the east. They do not spot Shefak or Larry-fish, but their current course will lead them to intercept the Sea Ghost if they simply follow the shore. Five minutes later, another group of ten plus officer emerge and move west along the shore. The sea gate is then closed.

    Goal (3): Sahuagin patrols emerge shortly after nightfall, and go east, west, and south.

    Looking carefully about, Shefak swims to the shore, trying to find a landing where she can climb up on the rocks without being battered by the waves. She opens her wineskin in the shallows and lets go of it, so that it becomes visible. Larry-fish immediately darts inside, and she closes it. When she picks it up again, it disappears, and now on land, she is leaving no telltale “hole” in the water. It is a cloudy night, and dark, but not windy or stormy. It is slow work picking her way along the rocks and around the outside of the mountain lair, but she is aided greatly by her darkvision.

    Inside the guardroom of the lair, the party waits nervously for the return of the lizardfolk. Thokk, on guard at the corner, spots them first. Barnabus downs a potion of superior healing, the one taken from the wyrmling dragon hoard, and is restored to full health. Oceanus tells the others that he can still taste blood in the water, even in the hallway outside the guard room, and that they need to get moving.

    The party passes through the archway into a large, long feast hall (41). Eight columns support the high ceiling, and in the center but above the floor level there is a niche with a stone statue jutting out. Massive stone tables line the center of the room. There is an arched doorway exactly opposite them, and another in the center of the north wall, but the latter is decorated with black and gold wave-shaped designs. It obviously leads somewhere important, and Barnabus heads through it while the others quickly search the room. The lizardmen are incensed to find that the statue of their god, formerly ensconced in the niche, has been torn down, and only the defaced head remains.

    Barnabus passes down a short hallway and hears conversation coming from the room beyond. There is no archway to hide in at the other end, so Barnabus hugs the wall and trusts to his luck. The room opens into a large chamber (42). At the north end there is a massive, ornately carved throne on a blue dais. On the throne sits a huge, four-armed sahuagin. His upper two arms hold a net and trident, while his lower two grip the arms of the throne. To his right on the dais stands a female sahuagin holding a short wooden stick, to his left is a normal-sized male with a spear and dagger.

    In front of the throne, at the foot of the dais, stand three sahuagin, armed with trident and net. Their backs are to Baranabus and their body postures are rigid. There may be some other figures between them and the dais, but the halfling cannot see from his vantage point.

    Goal (1) - Identifying the Baron. The female with a staff next to him is possibly a high priestess.

    Barnabus is looking for other exits, and it seems that along the far wall there are recesses into shadows on the right and left. Suddenly, from the west one, a figure emerges. A male sahuagin, and he is swimming straight at Barnabus! It will take him some time to cross the length of the room, so Barnabus swims leisurely and in what he imagines is a playful, child-sahuaginlike manner, retreating back down the hall. At the same time he is frantically trying to reach Aurora mentally, telling her to clear the feast hall.

    By the time Barnabus appears in the feast hall, Tyrius is ushering everyone out, down the hall to the guard post. Barnabus swims behind the column closest to the exit, then hides. Several seconds later the sahuagin appears in the room, calling in an oddly pulsating voice. Halfway across the room he stops calling. Barnabus sees him from behind just as he enters the archway to the corridor. He is tense and moving carefully, as if to enter the corridor without being seen.

    From the second the sahuagin is in the hallway, Babshapka and Oceanus are on him, and he is slain before he can call out or turn around. His body is hidden in the seaweed bed of the guardpost.

    Aurora has been in mental contact with everyone except Shefak and Larry-fish. She does not need to speak out loud to communicate with them, merely in a whisper, but she has found it expedient to speak in a normal voice so that Willa, standing next to her, is kept informed. The burly Saltmarsher woman has been growing more agitated the longer the scouting has continued, and now responds, “Aurora - get our people out of there NOW!”

    “But, Willa,” she vacillates, “we don’t know anything about the third level - and most of the second. They still don’t know we are there...just a bit longer…”

    “By the time they know we are there, it will be too late!” shouts Willa. “Thokk and Tyrius can’t outrun a sea slug, let alone a sahuagin! They need to leave, and we ALL need to get back to the ship. It is well after dark.”

    “Okay, okay…” but still the half elf hesitates. “Babshapka is fast - faster than the devils with that magic cloak. What if just he was to keep exploring - say just a peek down the stairs at the third level, while the rest start back…?”

    Willa groans, torn between risk and duty. “Fine, ask him if he is willing. But start the rest back NOW.”

    Aurora tells Tyrius and Thokk to get the others back to the stairs, but she asks Babshapka if he would be willing to scout more - just scout, not engage. “Let’s do this,” she hears back from the wood elf. A second later, as he darts down the stairs to the third level, he is lost to contact with her.

    Just as well, as she is busy working her way down the long hall, trying to keep pace with Thokk and Tyrius as they lead the lizardfolk up to the barracks. Barnabus is scouting ahead and reaches the open archway of the barracks first. With his mirror he watches the room. Most of the sahuagin inside are swimming about in formation, doing some sort of drill as before. Barnabus uses hand motions to usher people forward or to halt them, having them pass the archway in groups of two and three when they are least likely to be seen.

    [By the time they are all on the other side of the barracks it is 7:40pm - they have been in the cold water 40 minutes and take another Con check now at DC11. Thokk, Babshapka, and Tyrius are now all affected by the cold (Level 1 exhaustion) and will be at disadvantage on any skill check, including stealth.]

    As they make their way back to the stairs, Thokk and Tyrius begin to shake violently in an involuntary effort to stay warm. The water has stopped feeling cold to them and now feels as if it is burning them. Thokk has been in enough cold mountain winters to know that he will need to get out soon or he might lose control of his functioning and be unable to walk - already his hands and feet feel numb. Several of the lizardfolk look lethargic and listless as well. Barnabus is shivering, but hiding it well - does his shark-armor protect him? “Hey Tyrius, let’s get going! I know you’re a blue-blooded aristocrat, but come on!” the halfling goads. Of any of them, Tyrius has the naturally fairest skin - but his whole face is tinged blue now, and his lips are purple. He is steadying himself against the stone walls as he walks methodically down the corridor.

    In another five minutes the entire group (less Babshapka) stand at the base of the stairs leading to the first level.

    [7:45pm. One of the patrol groups that left the sea cave has spotted the Sea Ghost. Half of them return immediately to the lair, while the other half stay to observe.]

    Meanwhile, Mantabshapka has floated silently down the hallway toward the stairs, sticking close to the ceiling. It is a long way down, perhaps forty feet of vertical descent and more forward. At the bottom of the stairs, an arched doorway opens to the left.

    From above the doorway, Mantabshapka silently, gingerly lowers his head down past the upper lip. There is a large, plain stone room beyond (48). He can feel the pulsing motions of several creatures in the water, but from his vantage point can see only one - a sahuagin, and from his metal arm-band, some kind of officer. He is giving verbal orders, directed at others in the room out of sight. The flow of water, particularly the cold water along the floor, indicates that there is an open exit to the room very close by - likely just around the corner from where Mantabshapka is spying. Suddenly the devil stiffens, and turns his attention to the doorway.

    With a flash of steely blue, Mantabshapka whirls and glides back up the stairs. At the top he pauses for a moment, listening for sounds of pursuit, but does not hear any. He does not recall being informed of what way the party planned on taking in their retreat to the stairs, and he does not see or hear them either. Reasoning that new scouting reports will be more useful than covering the same ground, he glides along the ceiling of the feast hall and out the arched doorway on the other side.

    The corridor beyond is a mirror image of the one he came from. If nothing else, these devils do seem to have an inordinate fondness for symmetry. Mantabshapka cautiously enters the archway corresponding to the guardpost (40) on the other side and indeed finds it a duplicate of the one he fought a battle in a score of minutes ago - the two-toned green tiling, tables, benches, four closed stone coffers, and thick bed of seaweed. Only the guards are missing, although they could easily be concealed in the weeds. After a quick tour around the room, Mantabshapka emerges and takes the hallway to the left at the intersection. The right one, as before, looks to lead to stairs down.

    Goal (2) - guard post (40)

    At this point, Mantabshapka begins to tremble. His cloak allows him to breathe but it is not protecting him from the cold of the water and he appears to be at his limit. He decides to take the closer of the two passageways, which he reasons will take him to the stairs. In fact it does so, and he is soon gliding up the steps and emerging into the air to leave the oppressive cold of the water behind him. As soon as he is completely out of the water his manta form falls away and it is just a sodden and shivering elf in a leather cloak that stands at the top of the stairs. A minute later and Willa, Aurora, and Sigurd enter the room through the door, the last bearing a lantern. In a minute more the first of the lizardfolk are emerging from the water until eventually the entire scouting party is there.

    Willa does a quick head count and declares everyone present. She asks Aurora whether she is going to web the stairwell or if they can withdraw immediately. Aurora nods affirmatively and quickly mutters a few arcane words. She smiles as gooey webs fill the sea entrance. Using the two finished railings and the floor on the open sides as anchor points, she soon has the entire stairwell filled with five feet thick of webs. “Alright, that’s should buy us a little time - let’s move!”

    The party travels rapidly down the twisting halls towards the front gatehouse, arriving five minutes later. [7:50pm] The brisk walk has returned the blood to the extremities of Thokk and Babshapka - Tyrius, still soaked and covered by layers of cloth, gambeson, and armor, is still trembling,

    [Warming up; DC11. Thokk and Babshapka succeed, Tyrius fails and is still exhausted.]

    They pause to appreciate the smashed winch and downed portcullis, then find Jeremiah and the Fisher brothers just outside the gatehouse, crouched behind the massive fallen stone doors. Outside, standing vigil over the body of Elmo with a full waterskin in hand, is a visible Shefak. “Quiet?” asks Willa.

    “Too quiet,” agrees Nathaniel. “Are we going?”

    “‘ells yes! Time to cut bait afore the storm.”

    [7:55pm. The sahuagin patrol returns to the sea gate and informs the lair of the presence of the Sea Ghost. A larger patrol body begins to muster. As the message begins to be relayed throughout the lair, the Baron’s elite guards are found slain. Eventually the web is found over the entrance to the first level. Waves of alert run through the lair. Messages and commands are relayed.]

    The party - seven humans, a wood elf, sea elf, half-elf, halfling, fourteen lizardfolk, and a dwarf-fish-in-a-bag, arrange themselves to cross the narrow causeway, with those who can see in the dark in the front and rear. The moons have not yet risen and it is well and dark - the shore of the land cannot be seen. The place stinks of fish and death - the previously slain sahuagin from the gatehouse have been lying out since the early afternoon, all except the one taken by the escaping slaves as food for their journey. Tyrius says he will be carrying the body of Elmo with them. Thokk snorts derisively at his sentimentality, but the paladin insists that as they are all wearing the largess of his former party, it is the least they can do to carry out his body.

    “Fine, whatever,” says Willa to move them along. “It can’t make sir-clanks-a-lot any slower than he already is.”

    They move out along the causeway, tense and not speaking. It is a cloudy, muggy night but with no hint of a storm. They can tell they are getting close to the land when they hit the cloud of biting insects. Slapping and cursing and hushing one another, they proceed along the trail, with the lizardfolk keeping them on the trail itself and not stepping off into the marsh.

    The moons are now up (with Luna full and Celene in a waxing crescent) but unseen behind the clouds when they round the promontory and thread their way between the river and the rock face. They can see the lights on the Sea Ghost a mile out to sea before the lizardfolk tell them that they are approaching the shore. They reach Tom and Ebeneezer guarding the jollies and ready the boats with whispers. Babshapka, thinking of the frigidity of the water within the fortress, tests the temperature along the shoreline while being careful not to wet his cloak. The water is colder than the warm swamp air, but not nearly as chill as that in the sunless caves of the sahuagin lair. They should be able to make the swim out to the ship without difficulty. The effort of moving along the trail with the body of Elmo across his shoulders has finally warmed Tyrius.

    [Warming up; DC10. Tyrius succeeds, no longer exhausted]

    [8:10pm. A large response force leaves the sahuagin lair and heads for the Sea Ghost. The water breathing potion has ceased to function.]

    [DM's note: Lord Nehemeyer's Goals for the Party:
    (1) The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses Partially complete - the party has fought warriors, elite guards, lieutenants, a chieftain, and a priestess, but does not know numbers. They have seen the Baron and possibly identified a high priestess. They have found officer quarters (21),(22), (23), barracks (27)

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances) Partially complete - Party has scouted the underwater entrance and completely mapped the land entrance and entire first level. Has found officer quarters (21), (22), (23), barracks (27), guardrooms (39), (40)

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc. Partially complete - the party knows about the barred entrance doors, portcullis, and net trap, that the second and third levels are under water, and that the underwater entrance has a portcullis with both inside and hidden outside winches. Sea patrols leave shortly after dark and go east, west, and south.

    (4) How advanced their preparations are - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking? Complete - the party surmises that the raids will begin when the first level is complete, and they know that just one final room remains to prepare
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Wed Oct 31, 2018 4:31 pm  
    Post 38: Race to the Ship

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3:The Final Enemy

    DM's note: The players' continual delay at leaving the lair and the discovery of the Sea Ghost by the sahuagin patrol meant that the resultant play session would be a race back to the ship. If the sahuagin were able to overtake the jollies, they would first decimate the lizardfolk surrounding them (both outnumbering them and at five attacks to the lizardfolk's two) and then try to flip the jollies and put the remaining party into the water. On the other hand, should the party reach the Sea Ghost first, they would have the the high draft of the ship plus the railings as defenses, and I planned to give them a number of combat advantages over the attempted boarders. Thus, arrival time would be essential in how this would play out.

    I had already determined that the sahuagin would arrive at the Ghost at 8:20pm - I knew this even before the party had decided to leave the lair, but they did not know the time constraint. The party launched the jollies at 8:10pm. Before I went over their strength scores or who would be in which boat, I had decided that their time to the Sea Ghost would be ten minutes assuming a total strength score of 20 pulling at the oars and two people on board. I would then reduce time based on the strength of those pulling, and increase it based on the number on board]

    Post 38: Race to the Ship

    21 August, 570 - 8:10pm, Azure Sea

    Sigurd insists that both Tom and Willa go into the same jolly as he does, as the only way he has a chance of getting them both to safety and earning his letter of clemency. Their strengths are each (17). Also in their jolly are Aurora (13), Jeremiah (19), and Barnabus (15). [Total strength 98 for 5.5 people; will reach Sea Ghost in six minutes]

    In the other boat are Ebeneezer (16), Thokk (17), Tyrius (14), Shefak (7), and the Fisher brothers (14 / 14). [Total strength 82 for six people; will reach Sea Ghost in eight minutes]

    The initial swimmers are Mantabshapka, Oceanus, and the entire troop of the lizardfolk. Soon after they set out, Aurora asks Larry-fish via message if, assuming the sahuagin are looking for humanoids or a manta ray, he would be willing to swim a bit below the rest of the group to extend the range of their vision. She doubts that the devils would reveal themselves just to attack a little fish, but if he could give the group advance warning to avoid surprise it could be enormously important. She reminds him that there are 16 swimming people at the ready to grab him if he is hit and transformed into his lovable dwarf self. When she gets the mental answer back that he is ready, Shefak empties her waterskin over the side of the boat.

    The two jollies then have a ring of lizardfolk around them at the surface and Larry-fish and Mantabshapka underneath. Oceanus swims ahead to scout the water between them and the Sea Ghost. Soon after they launch, it becomes obvious that Tyrius’ boat is lagging behind Willa’s. Willa, facing backwards as she rows, yells to the other boat that they need to “Man up and keep up!”

    [DM's Note: At this point, the players asked me what they could do to row faster. I told them that they could attempt a DC10 Athletics check. If they made it, I would temporarily add to their strength for calculating the speed of their boat. If they failed, their effective strength would stay the same. A critical failure would mean they were no longer able to row. Before they made the check, Thokk enraged himself so that he would have advantage on the check.]

    Thokk, his masculinity challenged by Willa, grips his oar fiercely and bellows into the darkness. The others on his jolly try to match his furious pace.

    [DM's Note: Strengths for those on Tyrius’ boat: Ebeneezer (now 18), Thokk (now 19), Tyrius (fail - still 14), Shefak (fail - still 7), Nathaniel (now 17), Daniel (now 17). Total strength 92 for six people; will reach Sea Ghost in six and a half minutes.]

    Thokk and the marines dig deep and start pulling in faster, harder strokes. Shefak and Tyrius, fortunately matched across from one another, can’t keep up. Shefak concentrates on not interfering with the other oars while Tyrius pulls hard but also steers, keeping sight of Willa’s jolly. They slowly fall behind, but it is almost imperceptible and Tyrius judges that they will arrive at the Sea Ghost within a minute of each other.

    Willa restricts herself to checking over her shoulder every thirty strokes to get a bearing on the Sea Ghost, or at least the single lantern light she hopes is the Ghost and not a decoy. After she checks their orientation, she calls for a few port- or starboard-side-only strokes to adjust. Tom, Sigurd, and even Jeremiah follow her commands automatically; Barnabus picks it up quickly. Aurora...just keeps rowing, to the same time and pace she has since they left the shore, whether it is her side called on to row or not. Willa generously assumes that she is communicating with the scouts underwater and not actively listening.

    8:13pm. The jollies are about three minutes out and halfway to what they take to be the Sea Ghost when Oceanus emerges from the water, doing a quick breech and dive near Aurora in a bid to get her attention. When she contacts his mind he reports that he has spotted at least five sahuagin on the seafloor, perhaps a hundred feet down, almost directly under the Ghost. They appear to be attempting to hide among the rocks and weed beds, so there may be more. He also says that he has not seen on-deck, but he takes the ship to be the Ghost as it is the correct size and shape. It is currently at anchor. [Note: these sahuagin are left over from the patrol that discovered the ship, but did not return to the lair]

    When Aurora reports this to Willa, she tells the half-elf to have the lizardfolk on the surface go a bit deeper - to form a shield under the jollies, but not be provocative or engage. Sahuagin hiding on the bottom are welcome to stay on the bottom - her immediate goal is to get anyone who can’t swim onto the deck of the Ghost. As she continues to row, Willa looks over her crew - they are all reasonable swimmers, Aurora perhaps the worst, but at least she has no armor. “When we board...huhn...I want ye up ther ladder first...huhn…” Willa says to Aurora, as she pulls on the oar. “T'en Tom...huhn...get out your bow...huhn...and cover ther boats…” Willa looks instinctively at the other jolly, but can’t make out forms in the darkness. She tells Aurora to tell Tyrius that she wants him and his armor out of the jolly first, and then Ebeneezer.

    The boats continue to glide through the darkness, growing closer to the Ghost but widening the gap between them, now at more than 50 feet. When Willa sees over her shoulder that her jolly is within hailing distance, she tells Aurora (next to her on the bench) to lay off her oar. Willa stands, and turns facing forward. “Jollies comin' aboard!” she yells through cupped hands. “Weigh anchor! Lower ther mainsail! Prepare t' be off!”

    Willa guides the four rowers of her jolly on their last strokes to bring the boat parallel to the ship on its starboard, then has those on the ship’s side stow their oars. Freed from her rowing duties, Aurora summons Buckbeak, her spirit hawk, to cruise the deck. The bird’s night vision is poor, but it can tell the difference between a human and a sahuagin at closes range and all it sees on deck are normal sailors.

    8:17pm. Boarding starts for the first jolly as the second one is just coming into range. Aurora, Tom, Jeremiah, Sigurd, and finally Willa climb up the rope ladder. Barnabus actually climbs up the ladder while Jeremiah is on it - up and over the man, who does not seem to notice.

    8:18pm. Situation: All of the party from the first jolly are boarded, and the second jolly is against the port side of the Ghost with a rope ladder lowered and Tyrius ready to board. Larry-fish, Mantabshapka, Oceanus, and the lizardfolk are all in the water, around and under the ship. On the Ghost, sailors 1 and 2 are at the capstan, raising the anchor (which will take 2-3 minutes). Sailors 3 and 4 are lowering the mainsail. Sailors 5 and 6 are preparing a block-and-tackle to lift the first jolly on-deck. Sailor 7 is steadying the rope ladder into the second jolly. Sailor 8 is on the fo'castle and has a lantern, and is currently directing it over the main deck so that the other sailors have light to work. Sailor 9 (Old Lefty) is alone on the poopdeck manning the tiller. Tom has his crossbow out and is covering the side of the incoming jolly. Barnabus is skulking the deck, ready to hide. Jeremiah has his sword out and is guarding the two sailors raising the empty jolly. Aurora is standing in the center of the main deck, communicating mentally with the troops underwater. Sigurd and Willa are standing next to her, with Sigurd suggesting orders for the sailors, as he knows the ship better, and Willa calling them out, as she is in command.

    Action: Boarding starts for the second jolly. Tyrius climbs up the rope ladder. Once Tyrius is up, Willa calls to him to throw down a rope for others to board. There are plenty of coiled ropes on deck. Tyrius throws down one which is caught by Thokk. Ebeneezer is exhausted from the hard rowing and has several slips and mis-steps, taking half a minute to climb the ladder. Thokk easily scales the rope and drops onto the main deck as Ebeneezer struggles with the ladder. Shefak moves to the very tip of prow of the jolly, signalling to the Fisher brothers to balance her by moving to the stern. As Ebeneezer struggles up the ladder, Shefak and the Fishers take turns rocking the boat fore and aft in a see-saw fashion. As both Fishers come down on the last rock, Shefak leaps straight up, catapults over the ship’s rail, somersaults in the air, and lands lightly on the main deck. The Fisher brothers climb the rope ladder after Ebeneezer, arriving just at the end of the minute. Willa calls to Jeremiah to get the rope ladder out of the way of the jollyboat being lifted, so that others can use it. Surprisingly, he understands and works to haul in the ladder without interfering with the sailors.

    8:19pm. “Marines!” shouts Willa. I want ye fore, aft, port and starboard! Let’s bring those flickers on deck!”

    Jeremiah, already handling the rope ladder on the starboard side, moves several feet away from the sailors hauling up the jolly and settles the ladder into place, hovering protectively over it. Ebeneezer steadies himself on the port side rail. Daniel and Nathaniel clap each other on the shoulder - one moves back to the poop deck and stands next to Old Lefty on the tiller, and then is joined by Tom, still using his crossbow to cover the deck. The other moves to the fo’castle and guards the sailors raising the anchor.

    Thokk turns back to the port railing he just climbed over and stabs his four javelins into the deck at easy reach. He then loops a free rope around his arm and lowers the end down to the waterline, prepared to yank up members of his army.

    Tyrius moves to the base of the main mast and calls for the light of Pelor. The main deck is awash in a golden glow.

    Aurora contacts the swimmers each in turn - Larry-fish, Mantabshapka, Oceanus, and the two lizardfolk officers, and tells them to board. She then pulls a scroll out of a scroll tube and moves to the aft hatches, just behind the mainsail.

    The two sailors (1/2) at the capstan continue to bring in the anchor, although it is by now well off the bottom and the Ghost is starting to drift landward. The two sailors (3/4) who were lowering the mainsail have it lowered, but they are standing by to trim it under Lefty’s orders. The two sailors (5/6) who were raising the first jolly have maneuvered it on to the deck by the end of the minute. One sailor (7) continues to steady the rope ladder on the port side, preparing for lizardfolk. The sailor (8) that had been holding a lantern moves to the port railing, sets the lantern down on the deck, and tosses a rope down into the water.

    By 8:20pm (arrival of the sahuagin) there are 9 lizardfolk on deck, one on the starboard ladder, and four still in the water. Larry-fish, Mantabshapka, and Oceanus are still in the water.

    What follows is a furious, pitched battle.

    [DM's Ruling: races that have claws (lizardfolk, sahaugin, thieves with tools) must make a DC 12 strength check (proficiency for athletics or acrobatics applies) to climb the side of the ship in one round. Those without claws need at least a rope to be allowed the check; a rope ladder gives advantage.]

    [DM's Ruling: If there is an opponent within range when someone climbs over the rail itself, the opponent may make one attack of opportunity. A successful hit requires the climber to make a concentration check or fall back into the water.]

    The sahuagin attempt to scale the sides of the Sea Ghost in groups of eight at a time, trying first the port side where the jollyboat is still in the water, then the aft, then the starboard side. With the large numbers of lizardmen on hand on deck and the advantage of height, the party is generally able to hold the sahuagin to the rails. Few devils actually make it onto deck until a chieftain and three warriors take the fo’castle. Once on deck they prove more dangerous, as they forgo attacking and simply knock people overboard (push attack).

    Dan Fisher is thrown into the sea, and immediately set upon by three devils still in the water - he is dead in seconds, torn to shreds.

    The chieftain knocks Sigurd into the water, but the old smuggler swims just ahead of the devils [Athletics check], and then hauls himself up a rope thrown him by a sailor [Athletics check]. Arriving back on deck, he cuts down the chieftain and his guard with two massive blows of his sword. “Not on me own ship, ye don’t!” he spits, then [Action Surge] leaps over the fo’castle rail and knocks one of the few remaining devils on board into the drink.

    A sailor is lost, and four lizardmen are struck down, before the devils are finally driven off. Besides the six dead on the party’s side, another nine are wounded. Larry’s moonbeam saves the party from a wave of devils, and Aurora uses the gust of wind scroll to fill the sails and pull away much faster than they would have been able to without it. Everyone did their part, with Shefak sometimes felling multiple devils at a time. Ebeneezer collapsed under an onslaught of devils, and was nearly dead before multiple sailors came to his aid.

    After the three sahuagin remaining in the jollyboat turn and dive into the water, the Sea Ghost slowly comes about until it is pointing east-by-southeast. With the foresail furled and the mainsail at full mast, she gradually gathers speed. Nathaniel Fisher moves away from his position guarding Old Lefty at the tiller, and simply stares over the aft rail, looking off into the sea where, somewhere in the darkness, is the savaged body of his brother.

    The crew goes about their business, there being much to do and much more to be attentive to in a night sail. The wind is not directly behind them, so they are constantly angling back and forth across its path. They mutter when they pass one another in their duties. About half of them seem to think that the party heroically arrived just in time to save them, the other half think the party let them be at anchor, like sitting ducks, a full hour after dark, guaranteeing an attack by the devils.

    Barnabus methodically strips the armbands and pouches of the fallen sahuagin before getting Jeremiah to pitch the corpses over the rail. The slain lizardfolk are arranged on deck and the officers say a few hissing, rasping words before they too are committed to the arms of the deep.

    Even when the sailors call that they are at full sail, Willa does not feel like they are going very fast, certainly not as fast as they came in. When she asks Sigurd, he confirms it. "Oh, 'ells no. We've a rum poor wind behind us, 'tis certain." When Willa asks if the devils could catch them at their current speed, he nods grimly. "Aye, I reckon' they could. 'Course, they'd need ta swim back t' thar stronghold, gather a larger force, an' then come after us. We'd be at least an 'our out afore that, but unless this wind picks up, they could catch us indeed. I suggest ye set watches, with casters restin' first. An', by yer leave m’lady, I won't be puttin' me manacles back on any time soon."

    Willa doesn’t answer, her face somewhere between a scowl and a grin. Truth to tell, she saw Sigurd pull himself back on deck after getting knocked into the water, and slay the sahuagin chieftain who knocked him in besides. She has no intention of fettering him for the time being. She turns to look over the crew and party. “I want all hands on deck fer ther first ‘our, as t’at is when we be most like t’ be hit ag’in,” she commands. “An’ if ye ‘ave any pull with ther gods, now would be a good time fer ‘ealin’ yerself or others.”

    8:30pm: Healing: Larry casts cure light wounds on Oceanus [7/22], healing him for 6. He then casts it again, healing him for 8 (Now 21/22). Tyrius uses 1 point of lay on hands on Oceanus to bring him to full, and then heals Ebeneezer for 1 point to return him to consciousness and allow him to later spend his hit dice on a short rest.

    Current status: (spent hit dice are from the rest in the sahuagin lair)
    Larry: 38/38 hp, 4 hit dice remaining, no level 1 spells, no level 2 spells remaining
    Aurora: 18/18 hp, 0 hit dice remaining, no level 1 spell, no level 2 spells remaining
    Thokk: 24/32 hp, 2 hit dice remaining, no rages left
    Barnabus: 19/19 hp, 3 hit dice remaining
    Babshapka: 28/28 hp, 2 hit dice remaining, 3 level 1 spells remaining
    Shefak: 21/27 hp, 4 hit dice remaining, 3 Ki points left
    Tyrius: 14/22 hp, 3 hit dice remaining, 2 level 1 spells left, 7 lay on hands points remaining
    Oceanus: 22/22 hp, 0 hit dice remaining
    Sigurd: 29/41 hp, 5 hit dice remaining
    Lizardfolk 6/22 hp, 3 hit dice remaining
    Lizardfolk 9/22 hp, 3 hit dice remaining
    Lizardfolk Officer 2/22 hp, 3 hit dice remaining
    Ebenezer 1/13 hp, 2 hit dice remaining]

    With Oceanus healed, Larry examines him critically for any open wounds that might trail blood in the water and allow the ship to be traced. With none found, Oceanus dives overboard, hopefully to provide warning should another cloud of devils approach below the surface. Two ropes, one port and one starboard, are set to trail in the water should he need to catch hold, and sailors are set to each to pull them out if need be. Aurora takes position on deck, sitting with her back against the sterncastle and continually checking the minds of Oceanus and the party with her message. She would like to check in with the sailors as well, but she knows that they are already deeply suspicious of her and her comrades and would not take well to her being "inside their heads".

    As suspected, Oceanus is easily able to keep up with the ship at their current speed. He could perhaps not swim thusly all day and night without resting, but for a few hours at least he does not have to overexert himself to keep pace.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 13, 2018 3:25 pm  
    Post 39 - A Clean Getaway

    Note: No obvious spoilers follow, but there are some contingent results of all three modules in the U series.

    DM's Note: Looking at the list of scouting goals met (cf. post 37), the party had completed most of each of the first three goals, but not all of any one of them. They were unlikely to complete any one of them without completing all of them, either.

    However, there was considerable debate within the party over whether the risk of returning to the sahuagin lair was worth the reward. A number of the players felt that they should just abandon the adventure at this point and refuse to help Lord Nehemeyer further. With six of them not yet level four, they had a strong incentive to just walk away and try their luck elsewhere. I thus decided to allow four more of them to level. This both encouraged them that with more power they would be able to face a now-warned lair, and served as a guilt-inducing incentive to complete the goals for the leveling of the final two members of their party, who would otherwise be "left behind".

    Thus, I allowed Barnabus and Babshapka to level after a short rest, Thokk after a long rest, and Tyrius after he had been shriven and blessed by a priest of Sol. I didn't tell the party about my plans for when they would level beforehand, I just let them know that they would in response to unspecified future events as each event happened. As I had predicted, the tenor of the continuing discussion on whether or not they should return to the lair changed after each character leveled.

    Post 39: A Clean Getaway

    21 August, 570 - 9:30pm - Azure Sea
    After an hour of sailing without incident, everyone except the sailors has had a short rest.

    [Babshapka and Barnabus have leveled. Attributes which have been added since third level are in bold.

    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Fourth level ranger (Hunter Archetype: Giant Killer)/ Wood elf (Folk Hero)
    Str 12 (+1) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Hp. 34
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands)
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding
    Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, shortsword, longbow
    Spells: Alarm, Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark

    Barnabus the Minstrel
    Fourth Level Rogue (Assassin Archetype / Halfling (Entertainer)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 15 (+2) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
    Hp. 29
    Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled)
    Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
    Leather Armor+1, glamoured, Ring of Protection+1, Ring of Free Action, Staff of Shock, shortswords, shortbow

    Thokk and Sigurd spend 1 hit die each and are now at 32/32 and 41/41 respectively. Shefak, Tyrius, and Ebeneezer spend two dice each and are now at 27/27, 22/22, and 5/13 respectively. The three wounded Lizardfolk spend three dice each and are now at full except for the officer who is at 21/27. Tyrius lays on hands for six to the Lizardfolk officer to take him to full (one lay on hands left), then uses a cure wounds on Ebeneezer to get him to full as well.]

    With no one remaining wounded and now a full hour away from the sahuagin lair, Willa dismisses most of the party belowdecks and tells them to get some rest, especially the casters. She keeps herself, Sigurd, and Old Lefty on deck for the first four-hour watch.

    [First watch (Willa in command): 9:30pm-1:30am]
    Oceanus and two lizardfolk “swimmers” take turns in the water scouting ahead and behind, relieving one another and resting on deck. At least one is always in the water, but no one is ever so long at one stretch that they get tired or lag behind.

    Aurora, before turning in, asks Barnabus, Sigurd, and some lizardfolk to help her in the hold. Using empty cargo nets and the abundant spare rope, they funnel off the narrow ladders leading down into the hold from the main deck, both fore and aft. Now anyone coming down from above cannot leap off the sides of the stairs (as they themselves did when they took the Ghost from the smugglers), but must proceed one-at-a-time to the bottom. When it is finished, she shows the results to Willa, explaining that they should try to fight the sahuagin on the rails of the ship, but if there is not time to call everyone on deck, or if they are overcome, they should retreat and defend the hold rather than being knocked into the sea.

    Willa looks closely at Aurora and sees a landlubber. "So ye want t’ abandon ther ship t’ ther sea devils an' be trapped in ther hold? An' if t’ey can sail a ship, an' take us back t' thar lair, wha’ t’en? An' if t’ey can't sail an' we run aground? Do ye 'ave a magic way out o’ ther hold if ther sea devils don't follow ye in?"

    Aurora reddens, turns, and strides off to her cabin.

    Sigurd chuckles. “Aww, don’ be too ‘ard on ‘er, lass. She’s jess tryin’ t’ ‘elp. Nae much chance o’ bein’ trapped in ther ‘old - thar be four easy ways out and portholes besides. I prefer makin’ me stand on ther deck, too - but it might nae be a bad idea ta send at least the sailors below if we get attacked ag’in. Now, as far as yon wizard...if ‘twar me, I’d be sendin’ 'er ta ther crow’s nest a’ ther first sign o’ devils - she can firebolt ther whole deck from oop thar an’ be reasonable safe asides…”

    Willa and Sigurd walk the decks of the ship through the night. Sometime after midnight, Sigurd takes a lantern from a sailor and casts the beam on the mainsail, then on some pennants flying on the mast, then back to the sail. “Come aboot, bless ye, come aboot now…” he mutters and stares. By the time Willa calls for the end of the first watch, he is looking in fine spirits. The mainsail is full and the Sea Ghost is heading due east with a fair wind behind her. Sigurd keeps a crew of four sailors on deck but tells the other three that they can go below to rest, even as he will be.

    22 August - The Azure Sea
    Willa calls for Tyrius and Babshapka to come up on deck, sends Oceanus below, and switches out the two swimming lizardfolk for a new one and an officer.

    [Note: Babshapka has tranced for four hours, has completed a long rest, and is at full HD, hp, and spells]

    [Second watch (Tyrius in command): 1:30am-5:30am]
    The sky is lightening and the wind has flagged again when Tyrius and Babshapka go to wake Tom, Thokk, and Aurora. When Tyrius enters the captain’s cabin he wakes not only Tom, but Willa and Sigurd as well. Sigurd, once awake, goes on deck, checks the wind, curses, and sends the sailors on duty to rouse the others as they will need to begin tacking again. Tom changes the lizardfolk on duty for two fresh ones.

    [Aurora has had a long rest, has her full HD, hp, and spells]

    [Third watch (Tom in command): 5:30am-9:30am]
    By midway through Tom’s watch, many of the party are up and about though not officially on duty - the smell of frying sausages in the galley has called them from their beds or hammocks. It is a fine, clear summer day, and the Ghost moves slowly closer to shore and then farther out again as it tacks its way eastward. At mid-morning, Tom finds Nathaniel Fisher in his cabin. The Saltmarsher is grim but responsive, and agrees to take command. He goes about ordering the crew on his watch. The lizardfolk are changed and their second officer has a turn; Barnabus is roused and Larry brought out from the galley.

    From 8am to 10am, Aurora is deciphering the spells in the waterproof spellbooks recovered from Elmo's party
    Book 1: Charm Person (first level, enchantment), Friends (cantrip, enchantment), Shield (first level, abjuration), Unseen Servant (first level, conjuration - ritual), Light (first level, evocation)
    Book 2: Arcane Lock (second level, abjuration)
    Book 3: Fireball (Third level, evocation), Water Breathing (third level, transmutation - ritual)

    [Larry has had a long rest, has his full HD, hp, and spells].

    [Fourth watch (Nathaniel Fisher in command): 9:30am-1:30pm]
    The wind picks shifts to the west again on Nathaniel’s watch, and soon the Sea Ghost is running at full mast rather than tacking. She makes good progress, and by early afternoon, as Nathaniel is preparing to hand off command, the mouth of the Dun River and the lizardfolks’ temporary home come in to view. The schedule Willa made for command before retiring calls for Jeremiah to take the helm, but Sigurd scoffs at ceding control of the Ghost to the simpleton, and comes back on deck himself. Soon after the changeover, however, the wind shifts to the south and Sigurd and the full crew have to work hard to keep the Ghost out to sea and not running aground.

    [From 10am to noon, Aurora is studying the Arcane Lock spell to understand it better in an attempt to determine whether it is worth copying into her own spell book.]

    Thokk rouses himself in the morning. He is filled with pride at the vast numbers of sahuagin slain, and rage over the loss of four of his trusted lizard army. He feels even more powerful and capable and argues (unsuccessfully) that they should turn around now and finish the devils off. Only Aurora and Willa together insisting that he should let Lord Nehemeyer pay tribute to his new prowess first convinces him to wait.

    [Thokk is now level 4. New abilities are indicated in bold:

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Fourth Level Barbarian (Totem Warrior - Wolf) / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 18 (+4) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 46
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Unarmored defense, Shield+2, ring of protection +1, battle axe, hand axes, javelins]

    [Fifth watch (Sigurd in command (nominally Jeremiah): 1:30pm-5:30pm]
    As the sun moves into the west, the offshore wind finally shifts and the Ghost again begins making progress. Sigurd estimates that they will make Saltmarsh by nightfall.

    [Sixth watch (Willa in command): 5:30pm - sundown in port]
    After dining in the galley, Willa joins Sigurd on deck. Many of the party are gathering as word goes 'round that they are nearing port. From about six pm on they see numerous other vessels ahead, spread out from one another, all small craft - cutters with step-down masts. Getting close to a few they find them each manned by two sailors wearing the uniform of the Keoish navy, with one always bearing a spyglass. A set of complicated banners flies from the masts, and the ships appear to be positioned in a rough half-circle a few miles out from Saltmarsh. In one of these cutters a sea elf is spotted. The first such vessel they pass hails them and has a brief conversation with Willa. As they pull away, the craft raises yet another banner, and like a ripple on a pond this banner is taken up in series by the vessels nearby.

    By six-thirty the Sea Ghost is less than two miles from Saltmarsh Harbor. A pod of merman ride their bow wave for some time before saluting and disappearing. The lizardmen doing subsurface scouting report that there is just as much activity under the waves as above, with small groups of mermen, sea elves, and fishmen moving about.

    The red-golden light of the setting sun illuminates the fields around Saltmarsh, which are now crowded with scores of tents. Babshapka claims he can see the reflection of the light on the window panes of the alchemist’s house on the hill outside of town. In the inner harbor there are docked three large war vessels, troop galleys by Willa’s estimation. Three more ships are at anchor in the outer harbor just outside the breakwalls, two bristling with ballistae and the last flying the personal colors of the Viscount of Salinmoor.

    The sun has just dipped below the horizon and there is perhaps half an hour of twilight by which to navigate safely as the Ghost approaches the warships guarding the entrance to the harbor and comes into ballista range. “Should we be droppin’ anchor out ‘ere or go in?” Willa asks Sigurd, “thar seems t’ be room at ther docks, yon galleys notwithstanding.”

    “I’ll take ther Ghost anywhere t’at gets ‘er closer t’ t’at letter yer holdin’ fer me, m’lady.”

    On Willa’s command, Old Lefty steers the Sea Ghost through the gap between the two warships and the sailors work the sails for maximum control at low speed. Lantern lights from both warships are run along the decks of the Ghost; ballistae are loaded, wound, and aimed, but they are allowed to pass into the inner harbor and dock.

    Troops move up and down the dock area. There is a surge of locals coming to see the Ghost, but the soldiers shout at and then disperse the crowd - a squad of men guards the end of their dock. A sergeant calls for Willa and explains that she, and only she, is to disembark - she has a private meeting with Lord Nehemeyer. Nathaniel Fisher catches Willa’s eye. He mumbles, “Beggin’ yer leave ta go ashore, sergeant Stoutley...I need...I need ta see me brodder’s widder.”

    Willa argues with the officer on the docks to allow Nathaniel ashore but in the end it is only she who leaves the Ghost.

    “Tell him, advisor!” shouts Thokk from the ship behind her. “Tell the perfumed lord how many devils Thokk and his army slew! Tell him how the decks ran with their blood! Tell him!” The soldiers on guard duty shift uncomfortably under his bellows.

    Willa is gone several hours - it is late at night and most everyone has turned in by the time she returns to the ship.
    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.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Fri Nov 16, 2018 5:31 am  

    This is awesome stuff, Kirt! I love the background detail you provide for your players. Keep these posts coming and I will keep reading. Smile

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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Fri Nov 16, 2018 9:55 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is awesome stuff, Kirt! I love the background detail you provide for your players. Keep these posts coming and I will keep reading.

    Thanks, and will do!
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Nov 23, 2018 9:06 pm  
    Post 40: Megotiations with Nehemeyer

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy

    Post 40: Negotiations with Nehemeyer

    23 August, 570 - Saltmarsh Harbor
    In the morning, the party wakes to what they think is the smell of cooking from the galley, but it is actually coming from the dock area. Laborers have two large iron cauldrons, fires going underneath, heating up thick, rendered fat. Willa calls for a party meeting.

    “Ther good news be: Lord Nehemeyer be pleased wit’ all ther information we collected. Ther bad news be: he be demandin’ we go back,” she begins, and then fills them in on her meeting the previous night.

    The salient points are that upon learning from Willa that two-thirds of the sahuagin fortress is submerged, the Lord realized that the large human host he has assembled in Saltmarsh will be practically useless in a direct assault, and a land blockade would accomplish nothing if the devils can re-supply or even re-garrison through the sea cave. The aquatic members of the alliance (sea elves, fish-men, mermen, and even lizardfolk) are capable of fighting underwater, but they simply do not have the numbers to take on the entire fortress of devils without sustaining massive losses. After speaking with a representative of the elves, Lord Nehemeyer has made the following plan: assuming the first level is still dry when his force arrives, he will capture it with his human infantry. Once held, he will bring in gnomish-made mining pumps. When these are in place, a combined force of fish-men, merfolk, and sea elves will rapidly assault the outside of the fortress. Striking quickly, the elven mages will seal off the access to the sea, making the complex water-tight. The human forces will then begin draining water, eventually being able to assault the second level and then the third as they are drained dry This will take quite some time, but Nehemeyer is practiced in siege warfare. It may be that the devils can be starved out before their lair is fully drained, but Babshapka’s scouting suggested that they have a high-level priestess. If she can create food they may be able to last a siege indefinitely, so ultimately the Lord is prepared to take the place by force.

    This plan requires additional intelligence, however. Nehemeyer needs information on how many sahuagin are in the sea cave, and how close are any barracks to the exits. It is essential for him to know how rapidly they can respond to the appearance of the elven host - if the devils can overwhelm the elven mages before they manage to seal off the sea entrances, the plan will not work. Likewise, the map the lizardfolk provided shows a second entrance to the lowest level. The lizardfolk called it “the backdoor,” and claimed that it went to the water’s edge, on the shore. Surely it is now sunk as well, which means that it would also need to be sealed off, but the party didn’t report any intelligence on its location or current use. Finally, while the party found one barracks on the second level, there is a likely second one if the complex is a “mirror image” as Willa has suggested. It is vital that Nehemeyer knows how rapidly the devils can respond to an assault on the first level. He is confident that if he has time to set up his men defensively in the unfinished hall, his troops can handle any devils as they emerge from the water, since the stairs will act as a choke point and restrict their numbers. But if the devils can leave from the barracks, set up first, and defend the first level at multiple points in the corridors, Nehemeyer might not be able to take the stair room and install the pumps.

    Thus, the entire alliance assault plan depends on three vital pieces of information - (1) the sea cave and any nearby barracks, (2) the “backdoor”, and (3) the putative “mirror barracks” on the second level. Once the party has reconnoitered these, Lord Nehemeyer will happily reward them for their valiant service, but until he has this information it would be pointless to launch the assault.

    Aurora is incensed, and demands that Willa arrange a meeting with Nehemeyer. The Saltmarsher woman leaves to request it. As the morning wears on, the laborers from the docks come aboard, and begin “painting” the sides of the Ghost with the hot, liquid fat, applied with tarring brushes from railing to waterline. Sigurd nods approvingly and guides their work.

    Nehemeyer arrives in the early afternoon and is escorted to the mate’s cabin, where he is met by Aurora and Willa. Tyrius is otherwise occupied - a priest of Sol has come aboard and is performing a dedication ceremony for the Paladin.

    “Look, Nehemeyer,” begins Aurora, after pleasantries.

    Milord Nehemeyer,” corrects Willa. Aurora continues unphased.

    “We got all the information you sent us for, and we nearly got killed. We lost six men. We want our reward and then we are done. We are not going back.”

    “Your efforts are most sincerely appreciated. But you did not, in fact, collect all of the information I sent you for. Rather, you discovered approximately three-quarters. As I am sure Sergeant Stoutly explained, the success of our assault requires just three more pieces of information. Only then will you have completed your agreed-upon service.”

    “You haven’t given us anything - and even the reward you promised, a mere thousand lions, is paltry. We need gold to identify things, and by the time that is paid, there will be little left to split between us.”

    “I am sorry the Viscount cannot offer more. In case it had escaped your notice, I have an army encamped outside Saltmarsh, as well as a flotilla of six vessels. That is not cheap in and of itself. And now I learn that I am in for a siege, and may have to maintain these troops in the field, away from any town that could supply them, for a month or more? I fully agree that your valor and service merits a higher reward, but I simply am not in any position to pay it.”

    “That’s your problem, not ours. There is no way we are going back without more compensation. Open your purse or we are done here. None of us but Willa are crown subjects, and you have no authority to compel our service. I am ready to leave today.”

    Lord Nehemeyer cooly regards the brash young woman for several moments in silence, then begins on a separate tack. “I understand that identifying magic is expensive, but that doing so will likely be useful in your continued mission. I have taken the liberty of procuring several pearls, as I thought they might be useful.” He produces a small velvet pouch and slides it across the table to Aurora. “I would be happy to advance them to you for now, counting them against your final reward when you receive it.”

    Aurora smiles thinly. “Keep talking.”

    “However, the fact that you already have in your possession magical items which you have not yet identified implies that they were looted from the fortress. One of the rewards of your contract was the right, duty free, to any items you recovered while in the process of gathering information. If you feel that your future reward is too small, you are free to go. But I will be retaining any and all items you have recovered so far in the name of the Viscount.” Aurora’s eyes narrow. “And I am sure that Sergeant Stoutly can give me an accurate accounting of all the items in question.” Willa nods curtly and Aurora reddens.

    “Even if we wanted to go back, how can we explore the underwater parts of the lair? We don’t breathe underwater. If you want information on the second level, you need to supply us with potions of water breathing.”

    “I have seen the maps you made - you have already begun to explore the underwater parts. You have a sea elf, you have lizardfolk - a dozen or more of your force can function underwater, if not breathe. However, I do have a few officers in my fleet equipped with potions of water breathing. I would be willing to loan them to you - the potions, not the officers - but I would expect that the value of any that were not returned would also be counted against your reward.”

    “I need to learn the spell gust of wind. It will be essential for a fast getaway.”

    “I will check among the few battlemages we have with our force whether any have that spell.”

    “We lost troops last time, and we had surprise. We will not catch them unaware this time. We need more men, and more firepower. Send one of your warships with us, and a complement of marines with missile weapons.”

    “Now, that is something I could do, but I do not find it advisable. As far as the fish-man scouts tell me, the devils are not yet aware of the force I am mustering. I do not want to tip my hand, and warn them into a more defensive position, or, worse yet, encourage them to summon aid from whatever deepwater realm they were sent from. No; they must be led to believe that when you return it is the same ship, with the same few adventurers on it, not the vanguard of an assault force. My own force will leave the day after yours, and trust that you will have the information we need when we arrive for the assault. I can replace your current sailors with a fresh crew - royal navy men trained to both sail and fight, and see that they have crossbows, but your scouting force itself must remain the same.”

    “We will need spears and crossbows for our own troops as well, the lizardfolk and Saltmarsh marines. What are left of them.”

    Nehemeyer nods impatiently.

    “And we need some sort of defensive barricades on the railings of the ship.”

    “Sergeant Stoutly spoke of that to me already. My men are greasing the sides of your ship even as we speak - the barricades will be delivered as soon as they are completed. If there is nothing more?” The lord rises from his seat.

    “I still didn’t agree that we will do it,” says Aurora petulantly to his back as the lord leaves. Willa rolls her eyes.

    Shortly after Nehemeyer has left the Ghost, Sigurd enters the cabin with a “Beggin’ yer pardons, miladies.”

    “Wha’ be ye wantin’, Sigurd?”

    “Now that it be day an’ all, I war wondrin’ iffen ye hae me letter?”

    Willa drops her gaze, looks at the cabin floor. “I asked ‘is lordship fer it. ‘e twarnt willin’ ta give it ta ye until after we come back from our next mission, as it twer.”

    Sigurd frowns, but controls his obvious anger. “Now, haint I done efferthing ye’s asked o’ me? Haint I been fair and square on me end o’ the deal?”

    “Ye 'ave, Sigurd,” says Willa. “But ‘e’s nae givin’ it back, yet, nonetherless.”

    “Well, then, why should I be goin’ back?” He stares hard at them both.

    “What do you mean?” asks Aurora.

    “The wind blows both ways, lassie. I hard ye talkin’ ta Nehemeyer in ‘ere. Ye said yerself ye twarnt goin’ back fer nothin’. Now by me reckonnin’, ye’s getting a reward o’ a thousand lions, an’ a hold full o’ magic, assides. More than one item fer each o’ye. What hae I got? Me own sard an’ me own chain shirt back an’ nothin’ more fer sheddin’ me blood against the devils two times?”

    “What do ye want?” says Willa calmly.

    “I want me ship back!” he roars suddenly.

    Willa nods. “Tha’ be fair - when our need o’ it be done, ‘tis yers.”

    “No way!” protests Aurora. “He’s welcome to leave! We don’t need him, and we’re not giving him the ship.”

    “We do need ‘im. Ye know ‘e’s the best sword we got - better’n me or Thokk.”

    “Tyrius will never agree to this, and neither will the others.”

    “‘Tis already done,” says Willa, and leaves, ignoring Aurora’s protests and Sigurd’s grin.

    Later, a red-robed mage appears at the docks. After insulting Aurora’s training, background, and abilities in the most polite and courtly language, he begins negotiating with her. The end result is the exchange of one page from Elmo’s spellbook containing Unseen Servant for one page from his own “traveling” spellbook containing Gust of Wind.

    Aurora uses one of the pearls from Nehemeyer to identify the lesser staff of shock recovered from the sahuagin priestess, and another to identify Elmo’s wand of polymorphing, and learn its command word, “metamorph”. “Oh, that’s metamorph,” she says wryly.

    Finally, the new crew arrives, nine sailors and two excise men (Bill and Bob) and with them two log barricades, of the hastily-built type used to protect field camps, with long, sharpened stakes fixed all around them. The barricades are arranged on the decks at midship. Aurora and Barnabus direct the crew in nailing chains to the railing. The sailors leave the ship under guard - just to keep the crowds away and ensure they don’t reveal any sensitive information until after the fleet sails on the morrow. Willa bids farewell to the old sailors, and especially Nathaniel.

    The Sea Ghost sails from Saltmarsh at about four in the afternoon. It is accompanied by a dozen fish-men cavalry (mounted on giant eels), who provide the underwater scouting.

    The sun is setting when they pass the mouth of the Dun River. Willa has the Ghost brought close to shore, and sends a lizardfolk officer to update the tribe. He returns with two volunteers to replace their losses, and the news that most of the warriors in the lair have already left, as they are moving overland to assume forward positions near the sahuagin base.

    Once he is shriven by the Priest of Sol, Tyrius gains a level. New features and abilities are in bold.

    Tyrius of Sterich
    Fourth level paladin of Pelor (Sacred Oath of Devotion)/ Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Chain armor, shield +1, war hammer
    Spells: Cure Wounds, Heroism, Protection from Evil (oath), Sanctuary (oath), Divine Favor
    Scroll of Protection from Undead, Scroll of Hold Person
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Posts: 784
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    Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:16 am  
    Post 41: The Final, Final Enemy

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module U3: The Final Enemy.

    In Post 38, I recounted my house rules for ship boarding by the sahuagin. Since then, the party's efforts to grease the sides of the ship meant that the devils would climb the sides at disadvantage, and, once on deck, the addition of the barricade would require an additional Athletics (or Acrobatics) check to pass, with failure indicating the devils were stuck behind it for the round.

    Cover became very important, with the crew of the Ghost using the railings as half cover (or three quarters, when crouching), and the wounded below using the port holes as three-quarters cover.

    I liked the party's thought of nailing a heavy iron chain to the railing and using it to transmit the staff of shock, so I allowed a luck role to see how many devils could be targeted at once when passing over it.

    I didn't think the Baron or the High Priestess would emerge for what seemed like an assault by one ship. It turned out that a sortie of fifty devils with javelin volleys, supported by a few lesser priestesses and decoys, was just the right amount of force. The party was seriously challenged, almost all of them (PC and NPC) were wounded, and they were concerned enough about the arrival of another sortie to flee rather than face it, but only after their scouts had reported in, which added to the tension. This was a long combat to run, but very exciting all around.

    Post 41: The Final, Final Enemy

    24 August, 570 - Azure Sea, near the mouth of the Javan River

    In the morning the Ghost is close to rounding the point that will bring them within view of the lair. The wind is from the west, and Sigurd doubts it will be changing all day. Willa has them continue to the southwest, moving offshore rather than following the curve of the coastline, for several miles out into the open sea. At this point their cavalry escort drops away, leaving to scout for the arrival of Nehemeyer’s fleet on the morrow. The Sea Ghost sails past the lair from afar, finally coming about and moving north when up against the swampy delta of the mouth of the Javan. As it approaches noon they are west of the lair, near the coast, and moving east with full sails and a strong wind behind them. While they may be spotted, they are moving fast enough that any scouts will be hard-pressed to report them before their arrival.

    Once the twin promontories are seen it is all hands on deck. The plan is to sail directly for the western-most point of the lair, and just before turning to the south-east dispatching three scouts: Oceanus (headed for the back door), Mantabshapka (going for the land entrance and thence to the second level), and Larry-fish (whose goal is the sea-cave). Once the Ghost is near the sea cave entrance, half the lizardfolk will mount a sortie to attract attention, which will ideally pull troops out of the lair and act as a diversion so that the arrival of the scouts will not be noticed. Once the devils are in pursuit, the lizardfolk will return to the ship, which will tack as close to south as the wind allows, pulling any devils away from the lair before making a grand turn in the open ocean and approaching for a second pass from the west. By the time the ship passes the lair again, the scouts will, if all goes well, be ready to board.

    All three scouts are dispatched into the water, with Babshapka having been rendered invisible by Aurora. He and Oceanus travel together to the foot of the causeway, but Oceanus is spotted by a handful of sahuagin. The devils appear to have missed Mantabshapka, so Oceanus turns and attempts to lead them back to the ship. Meanwhile Larry-fish is not halfway to the mouth of the sea entrance when he spots a force of fifty sahuagin or more coming straight at him. He retreats to the ship and is able to raise Aurora by mental contact, alerting them to the coming wave. Then he descends to deeper waters, as does Oceanus - neither of them appear to have been followed.

    The first sign of the sahuagin force is a group of about ten, off the port side, keeping pace with the ship (which has its sails at half-mast now), with just their heads out of the water. They are well off from the ship, just at the edge of crossbow range, and appear to be only watching. Suddenly, a group of fifteen devils break the surface just off the port side. They explode from the water in synchrony, coming completely out as they turn, face the ship, and hurl spears over the rails before arching their backs and entering the water head first. “Take cover!” shouts Willa and the lizardfolk and sailors crouch behind the railings. Only Thokk remains standing, shaking his fist at the rippled wakes of the devils.

    Perhaps half a minute later, they emerge again (the same group, or another?), this time off the starboard bow, and throw their spears at the relatively few figures there. A sailor goes down and is hustled to the main deck for Tyrius to help. The sudden volleys continue sporadically, and then ten sahuagin appear at the waterline on the starboard side. A few are climbing to the rail, but it appears most are unable to ascend the still-greasy sides. The sailors shoot crossbows and the lizardfolk rain down javelins. In the end, only three of the ten devils make it onto the deck, and two of these are (literally) shocked when Barnabus applies the staff to the railing chain as they clamber over. Aurora is in the crow’s nest, hurling firebolts and attempting to polymorph the devils into snails with Elmo’s wand. Suddenly the port railing of the crow’s nest explodes in a shower of splinters. Several of the distant figures, visible only as heads, are hurling their spells at her - seemingly the same black explosive bolts that the priestess shot at Barnabus previously. Aurora crouches, but the next volley includes one bolt that hits her squarely and knocks her unconscious. Shefak, invisible from her ring, climbs the rope ladder to the crow’s nest, hoists Aurora across her back, and slides down to the main deck before another volley can be sent. Tyrius revives the wizard with a cure spell. When the last starboard boarder is killed the bobbing heads that are watching them from the water submerge, and the Ghost sails on for several minutes without seeing any devils. They are about halfway to the entrance of the sea cave. Two sailors, wounded but conscious, go below and open port-holes so as to continue firing crossbows from relative safety, one each port and starboard.

    The next wave begins with a full thirty sahuagin emerging alongside the Ghost on the port side and throwing spears. Although the spears are ineffectual against the crew and party crouching behind the railings on deck, it does allow nine sahuagin to begin to climb the port side. They seem to have an easier time of it, and Tyrius detects an aura about them, as if they have been blessed. Half the thirty sahuagin launch another volley, while the other half swims under the Ghost and begins to scale the starboard side. Shefak stands boldly on the port side, attracting spears which she deflects with rapid blocks and kicks. At this point three sahuagin priestesses emerge, casting spiritual weapon to create three glowing, floating tridents on deck to attack the defenders. Each priestess is flanked by two “decoy” sahuagin, imitating the motions of their casting so that the defenders cannot target the spellcasters. The fighting is furious for several moments - a lizardfolk is lost, and many more are wounded. Wounded sailors and marines go below and use the cover of portholes to shoot until the sahuagin begin entering the hold through the openings. Then Thokk takes some of his lizardmen into the hold. Shefak continues to clear the decks of sahuagin until a misplaced flip lands her on the barricade, and a devil follows up by knocking her out. Barnabus, hidden behind the railing, continues to slay unsuspecting devils from behind. Aurora and the sahuagin priestesses trade spells through the portholes. The last knot of sahuagin boarders is overcome by Tyrius, Thokk, Sigurd, and Willa working together, and the remaining devils sink beneath the waves. At this point the ship is turned due south, sailing directly away from the lair.

    After five minutes and near a half-mile, the Ghost turns to the southwest, sailing as close into the west wind as it can. They are sailing thus, unopposed, when a quipper-like fish leaps into one of the side-borne jollies and transforms into Larry. Hauled aboard, he gives his report on the sea cave, three nearby barracks, and the underwater arena. He also tells the party that the devils are mustering an even larger force for a third attack wave, giving them all serious pause for thought.

    After a few minutes the Ghost is turned northwest, again as close to the wind as it can sail, for nearly twenty minutes. Along this trajectory Oceanus arrives. He explains that the “back door” entrance took him some time to find, as it is hidden among piles of rocks on the seafloor. Inside is an unfinished guardroom, in what looks like the original lizardfolk lair. Beyond that a narrow, twisting tunnel dead-ended; sealed off by a large block of finished stone. Oceanus could feel current and smell the water beyond, so it was not watertight. Nowhere along its length did he find any guards, meaning an elven assault force should be able to easily take this portion.

    When the Ghost is due west of the fortress, Sigurd orders her brought about and all sails raised. He is not keen on making another pass by the fortress, but Babshapka has not returned. The wounded are sent below, with crossbows in the open portholes, and just those sailors needed remain on deck. The crew and party braces for another assault. They are half a mile from the sea cave when Babshapka finally appears, and Willa immediately orders them to turn south and away from the lair. Babshapka has been wounded, and recounts his narrow escape from the lair, and the location of another barracks on the second level. With all Nehemeyer’s mission completed, the party with great relief sails further and further out to sea, several miles out, before they finally turn east.

    All throughout the afternoon the Sea Ghost gradually returns closer to shore as it works its way east. When the sun is low in the sky, a fleet of six ships is spotted, obviously that of Lord Nehemeyer. Willa brings the Ghost closer for a rendezvous. In a brief meeting aboard the flagship, she reports to him, and this time he is satisfied. He quickly pens letters to the Viscount and the Saltmarsh Town Council, confirming that Willa and her party has faithfully and honorably fulfilled their mission and may receive their reward - including the pardon for Sigurd. He also tells her that the Viscount would like to entertain them at his palace in Seaton until the victory celebration - in fact, the Viscount “insists”. His tone indicates that this is both a reward and “insurance” that the scouting information they have given him is accurate and will lead to the successful conclusion of the campaign.

    While Willa is meeting with Nehemeyer, the sailors are busy abovedecks. The extra spears and javelins are collected, the borrowed potions of water breathing returned, and the unwounded sailors are transferred over to Nehemeyer’s fleet - the Vice Admiral seems to think they will need every last man. The Sea Ghost is allowed to retain her wounded sailors to make it as far as Saltmarsh, and the Saltmarsh marines stay aboard as well, in recognition of their service - all of the other militia and excise men from the town have been levied and are already onboard the fleet. Willa learns later that even Nathaniel Fisher was impressed into service, over Secun’s strong objections, but that he was able to find her brother Tom a place in a fleet message-cutter sailing for Seaton, an assignment which should keep him out of at least the first week of fighting. The fleet is being continually circled by fish-men on giant eels, and the water is calm, so while Willa is reporting the lizardmen feel confident swimming across the open water to greet their nestmates on the other ships. They report that most of the lizardfolk force left several days ago - they are traveling as a grand host overland to the sahuagin fortress, with just a few troops being assigned on each of Nehemeyer’s ships. The warren has been left with virtually no warriors, so when the lizardfolk get back to the Ghost they are anxious to return to their temporary home and protect the young and females who remain.

    When Willa is back on board the Sea Ghost, the crew and party bid good luck and farewell to the fleet with fanfare and salutes. Thokk is sulking in his cabin - frustrated that he did not get to face the Baron and that he will soon be losing his army.

    With just a few sailors aboard, all tired and wounded, and the fleet between them and the sahuagin, Sigurd has the Ghost pull in to shore and anchor for the night, while Willa sets a night watch rotation, heavily favoring the lizardfolk.

    Final Goal Log:
    The strength of the sahuagin force - approximately how many warriors, lieutenants, and if there exist higher officers and priestesses GOAL COMPLETE
    The party has killed 48 troops (no band, bronze buckles) and five lieutenants (gold band, electrum buckles), giving a troop-to-officer ratio of about 10:1.

    They have killed 3 elite guards (electrum bands, bronze buckles) and two normal females (no bands but non-standard jewelry, bronze buckles).

    They have also killed two chieftains (gold band with coral beads, gold buckles) and a priestess (gold band, no buckles).

    The fortress is commanded by “The Baron”, a huge four-armed sahuagin. To his right was a female they took to be a high-level priestess and to his left a powerful warrior.

    On the upper level there was an armory with weapons for many warriors.

    They have seen a barracks of one or two dozen sahuagin, have seen thirty leave on a night patrol, and have faced off against a sortie of fifty.

    (2) The location of important areas within the fortress - barracks, officer quarters, temples, etc. as well as the layout of both access points (land and sea entrances) GOAL COMPLETE
    For the land entrance, see goal 3 below.
    On the upper level there are numerous decorated chambers, for officers or dignitaries.
    On the upper level there is an armory with weapons for many warriors.
    On the second level there is a barracks room (27) and three officer’s quarters (21, 22, 23)
    The sea entrance opens into a huge sea cave (60) with dense seaweed beds

    (3) Any significant defensive measures - traps, heavily fortified areas, etc. GOAL COMPLETE
    The land entrance has bolted stone doors that would require a battering ram to open (but these have been dismantled). Inside there is a bronze portcullis with a winch and a suspended net protecting access to the upper level. The portcullis can be guarded by missile troops. Both the net and the portcullis have been sabotaged.

    The sea entrance is guarded by a huge bronze portcullis, with a winch inside and a hidden winch outside.

    Patrol groups leave the sea cave at nightfall.

    On the second level there is a barracks room (27) and three officer’s quarters (21, 22, 23)

    (4) How advanced are their preparations - is there indication of when they might be finished fortifying the area and begin striking? GOAL COMPLETE
    The lower two levels have been completely flooded. The upper level is nearly “finished” and will likely be complete within a week. If it is flooded then, the sahuagin will have a completely underwater base, which will be nearly impossible for humans to assault. It is likely that they will begin raids and declare their presence at this time.

    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Dec 10, 2018 4:17 pm  
    Post 42: A Few DM Notes

    Post 42: A Few DM Notes

    Both during the initial race to the Ghost, and the subsequent diversion with the Ghost while three scouts infiltrated the lair, I realized that I needed to come up with some guidelines for seafaring movement, acceleration, and directional change. In particular, it was relevant how quickly the ship could go from "zero to full speed", both while under full sail with a good wind, and under the less optimal conditions of tacking.

    Individual characters and monsters might come to approximately full speed within their six second turn, but it would break the suspension of disbelief to have a huge ship do so.

    The website proved to be a great resource in this regard.

    I began with the base assumption that the top speed of the Ghost was 7mph under full sail with a good wind directly behind her, and converted this to 10.3 feet per second, or c. 60 feet in a combat round to scale with the sahuagin pursuers.

    Using the website above, I figured the acceleration of the Ghost to be:
    ⅓ speed in 250 sec, ½ speed in 500 sec, full speed in 5000 seconds

    Under poor wind conditions (such as when tacking or during the first escape of the Ghost), I took the speed to be 4 mph = 5.9 ft/sec = c. 35 feet in a round
    Half speed: 18 feet per round
    Third speed: 12 feet per round

    Note that sahuagin can swim at 40 feet per round, without taking a dash - so with poor or indirect wind conditions, the Ghost would not be able to outrun pursuers. Furthermore, the sahaugin would be able to make a full move as well as launch a missile attack while staying even with the ship, which they did during the "diversion".

    While the ship was at full speed with a good wind, however, sahuagin would be able to keep pace while pursuing it, but only by continually taking the Dash action, which would not allow them to attack.

    A second area for which I had to create some guidelines was for Nehemeyer's plan to drain the lair of water.

    The map of the second level is 31 x 41 blocks, each of 10 feet, or 127,100 square feet.
    About half of this is solid rock, the other half open water: 63550 square feet
    Most of it is about 15-20 feet high, so around 1,112,125 cubic feet = 8,319,273 gallons

    I don't want my campaign to have working, advanced steam engines, but I was willing to consider special "gnome-made" devices to pump water from mines, the equivalent of a Newcomen Engine.

    However, the 8.3 million gallons of water would take a typical Newcomen engine some 33 days to pump out, which was longer than I wanted the party to wait in Seaton for the siege to be resolved.

    Before the Newcomen engine, teams of horses were used to work mechanical pumps, with four teams of horses equivalent to one engine. I calculated that if Nehemeyer could use ten teams of horses, he could drain the entire second level in 12 days or so, which worked for my planned timeline.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Dec 19, 2018 7:27 pm  
    Post 43: Sitting in Seaton

    Note: With the successful completion of all their adventuring goals (cf. Post 41, above), the last two members of the party attained fourth level. New abilities in bold.

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Fourth level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 10 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 18 (+4) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 28
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
    Staff, ring of protection+1 x2, wand of magic detection, wand of polymorph

    Sergeant Willhemina Stoutly (Willa)
    Fourth Level Fighter (Martial Archetype: Champion) / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 18 (+4), Dex 17 (+3), Con 14 (+2), Int 10 (0), Wis 9 (-1), Chr 9 (-1)
    Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting
    Plate armor +2, greatsword, dagger - magic longsword returned to Sigurd
    Potions of neutralize poison, healing x2, cure disease

    Post 43: Sitting in Seaton

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the slaves all dropped their chisels,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    25 August 570, Azure Sea
    In the morning, Willa and Aurora feel exceptionally refreshed and powerful. The lizardfolk lair is reached by late afternoon. The farewell is short - the lizardfolk invite the party to the lair for a feast, but Sigurd wants to make Saltmarsh by nightfall, and most of the party agree.

    The Sea Ghost arrives in Saltmarsh harbor just before nightfall. The docks appear almost deserted, as many of the able-bodied men have been levied and have sailed with the assault fleet. The remaining citizens appear anxious and fearful, and the few wounded sailors and relieved marines returning on the Ghost are greeted warmly, although they soon are given town watch assignments.

    26 August, Saltmarsh
    In the morning Sigurd triumphantly presents his letter of clemency to the Saltmarsh Town Council, who formally release him of all charges. He spends the rest of the day scouring the fishing docks and taverns for seamen. By nightfall he has assembled a motley crew of those too young, too old, or too lame to have been levied. “I’d nae take ta the open sea w’ ‘em,” he tells the party, “but they’ll do ta limp along the coast ta Seaton, an’ then Gradsul. Gradsul’s a big enow port I can be findin’ a real crew.” He offers the party passage to Seaton and they accept, although many grumble about the loss of the Ghost.

    Aurora appears before the Council and collects the party’s reward (less what Nehemeyer advanced in pearls, which they were apparently explicitly informed of), then apportions it out to the party (including Willa, but not Oceanus). Willa is ready to say her farewells to the party and await the return of Tom in Saltmarsh, but Secun explains to her that the Viscount’s “invitation” to his court included her as well.

    Oceanus wishes the party well - he intends to return to his home, and then perhaps rejoin the fight, if it is still going on.

    27 August, Saltmarsh to Seaton
    It is a short journey to Seaton, where Sigurd hustles them off the Ghost and sails again within the hour. True to his word, the Viscount has them quartered in his palace (though in a far wing, removed from the main court). Without the Ghost to trade in, they have no armor commissioned, but their own armor is taken for much-needed repair and maintenance by the palace smiths, free of charge. They are all also measured and fitted for clothes, as none of them own clothes that would be presentable at the Viscount’s table (Tyrius’ clothes once were, but are now travel-worn and adventure-stained).

    28 - 30 August, Seaton
    The next several days sees the party largely resting and relaxing. Some of them eagerly follow the dispatches arriving from the battle, which has turned into a siege.

    Willa spends her first day free trying to locate Tom, only to find, eventually, that his message-cutter has already sailed back to the main fleet. Whether he will be kept on fleet dispatch duty or might have to join in the fighting is not clear. After this she tries to remain in their rooms in the palace, but feels anxious and stifled by the atmosphere and servants. She soon decides to practice with the palace guard when they do their weapons drills. When she is not at weapons practice, she spends the rest of the time along Seaton’s docks and wharves, talking with sailors and stevedores and trying to find out anything she can about the ongoing battle.

    Babshapka and Larry spend as little time in the palace as possible. Larry feels uncomfortable in Seaton itself, the largest city he has ever seen, and more so in the palace, where servants click their tongues at him, and follow after him cleaning whatever he touches. Fortunately the palace has a large garden and he spends his time there, even when it is raining. Babshapka is not bothered by the servants, for he is clean and well-mannered, but nevertheless he seems to chafe at the sheer number of people about. After their first miserable full day in the palace, the two discover a group of men leaving the city to hunt in the Viscount’s Forest for game for the palace tables, and convince them to take the pair along. Once they reach the woods outside of the town they take their leave of the group, which warns them that even their status as heroes will not allow them to poach game. They spend the next two days camping and roving, and finally return in the evening of the last day on a wood-cutter’s cart.

    Shefak knows Seaton better than any of them, for she spent a month here before meeting the party. She has little interest in exploring the town. Mostly she passes her time in the palace meditating and practicing her armed and unarmed combat techniques, though she prefers to do this alone rather than with the palace guard. Occasionally she wears the “cursed” ring recovered from among Elmo’s effects and can be heard giving orders to imaginary servants in her native Baklunish.

    Barnabus adapts well to palace life, using his magical armor to copy the styles of court dress he sees and turning up in many intimate places uninvited. He charms the noble ladies and serving women alike. He also slips off into the town, and while the party does see him from time to time, his bed in their quarters remains unused. Unbeknownst to the party, he uses his time on the town to look for a contact who might teach him disguise or poison brewing, but finds the criminal element in Seaton disorganized and unprofessional. He will have to find another location to train in these assassin skills, and he sets his sights on Gradsul.

    Thokk enjoys himself the first day, bellowing at servants and demanding things, but he soon becomes bored and restless. He is frustrated at the loss of his army and the fact that the fighting is going on somewhere else, without him. His efforts to provoke fights with nobles in the palace meet with sharp disapproval from the party and the palace natives alike. His growing violence over the course of the first day threatens to have him, or perhaps all of them, confined to their quarters or worse for the duration of their time in the palace. Aurora suggests that Barnabus, Willa, or Tyrius take him on tours of the town's taverns and brothels to keep him occupied. Barnabus laughs and says that he has his own things to do. Willa seems to think that having Thokk pass the time in a cell in the Viscount’s dungeon would be better for everyone involved. Only Tyrius seems ready to assume responsibility for the barbarian, though he has several particularly cutting remarks to Aurora about her casual suggestion of brothels. Instead, he introduces Thokk to the cooks and cellar-men of the palace, and engages him with copious food and drink. Fortunately, Thokk has not had much experience with alcohol before, and is content to spend the next three days drinking, drunk, passed out, or hung over.

    Aurora and Tyrius are the most comfortable in the palace. Although Aurora is not nobility, she is used to talking to servants and being served. They are distracted by trying to keep the rest of the party out of trouble, but take advantage of the situation nonetheless. After the first day they plan and execute a market day, in which they sell off the small amounts of loot, mainly armbands, that they recovered from the sahuagin. After this they have their own pursuits. Aurora is copying and practicing spells, including new spells she has gained access to through the Viscount’s court wizard. He still claims he does not have a copy of Detect Thoughts, to her disappointment. She peruses the many volumes in the Viscount’s library to maintain her image of being a traveling scholar, and she visits the banks of the town where she has sequestered the various tomes they have recovered in their adventures.

    Tyrius, for his part, besides keeping Thokk drunk and manageable, is found much at the Temple of Sol, praying. At other times he explores the armorers and horse markets, guided by suggestions from the palace staff. Without the Ghost in trade, he does not have enough money to commission a full set of plate armor for himself - but a fitted suit of splint armor is within his price range and nearly as good. Then again, perhaps he should be saving for a warhorse.

    On the 30th, the palace is abuzz with excitement and activity, as a grand dinner party is being planned for the morrow.

    31 August
    In the morning, the party finds new clothes delivered - from smallclothes to dinner jackets (for the men) and evening gowns (for the ladies), all of fine quality and well-fitting. Not coincidentally, they are invited to dine with the Viscount in the evening. Tyrius and Aurora spend the day coaching the party on manners (though the lessons are largely lost on Larry and Thokk) and palace servants help them all to dress.

    To Aurora’s disappointment and Tyrius’ relief, they are not seated at the high table with the Viscount himself, but at one of the lower tables, surrounded by knights and a few lesser noblemen, with their ladies seated at a safe distance from Thokk and Larry. Thokk is seated next to Tyrius, with two particularly burly knights on his other side. The dinner progresses smoothly, with those about them making amiable small talk, interrupted by occasional toasts from those seated at the high table.

    Near the end of the evening, when they are enjoying custards and after-dinner liqueurs, the Viscountess calls upon Tyrius to tell those assembled something of his native land of Sterich. The paladin, seemingly without surprise or pause, stands and gives an account of the harsh weather of his homeland - the deep winter snows, the terrible mountain winds, the raging alpine streams. Several of the more well-traveled among those present smile and nod knowingly at their less peripatetic dining companions. When Tyrius concludes with how pleasant he finds the climate in Salinmoor in contrast, and how “the warmth of the land is almost matched by the warmth of the Viscount’s court and the warmth of the Viscountess’ smile,” there are polite murmurs of “hear, hear” and “good show”, and the Viscountess herself leads a round of applause. With a wink to his companions, Tyrius takes his seat.

    After those present have had ample time to discuss the paladin’s remarks, the Viscount himself rises and calls on “Sergeant Stoutley” to give an account of the party’s exploits. Willa feels herself go pallid, and then blush hotly. Fortunately this is lost to all but those at her table, given her dark complexion. “Uh..I ain’t much fer speakin’, milord…” she says, and titters at her lowborn accent fill the room.

    “Nevertheless,” his lordship replies simply.

    To give herself time to think, Willa begins all the way back at the Haunted House, giving a modified version of the speech she gave to the Saltmarsh Town Council. She makes certain to leave out any references to magic or spellcasting by the party, and plays up the battle scenes, hoping they will be appreciated by the knights at least. She stumbles a bit when it comes to the assault on the Sea Ghost, for in her narrative she has already painted Sigurd as a villain and smuggler before she remembers that she needs to end with him as a hero on their side, but then decides she will later emphasize his sincere repentance due to the grace of the Viscount. Despite the snickers at her speech patterns, the audience does seem interested - and by the time she gets to the battle with the giant crocodile and the black dragon, she can see them leaning forward eagerly. Though she has never really enjoyed speaking herself, Willa has heard enough tavern tales to have picked up the rudiments of pacing and embellishment. She remembers to be circumspect in her description of Lord Nehemeyer and his demands, for he is obviously in the Viscount’s favor and undoubtedly has allies at court to boot. By the time she arrives at the viciousness of the sahuagin, she even remembers to say a few words about the wisdom of the Viscount in forming the alliance of sea nations and mustering his fleet, trying to keep her tone sincere and her concern for Tom and Nathaniel Fisher from her voice. When at last she concludes, there is scattered applause before the Viscount says simply, “Entertaining and most informative.”

    Willa has barely taken her seat before Barnabus is standing on his. “May it please your lordships...” he begins and the hall is immediately silent, everyone aghast at his impertinence in addressing the Viscount without having been spoken to. “Now that you know the basic narrative of our adventures, perhaps the gentlefolk assembled would care to hear a few ballads I have composed on the subject?”

    The halfling smiles winningly, but the Viscount says icily, “Certainly, you may play your tavern music for any who wish to remain. I myself have a war to run and regret that I must retire early.” About half the nobles assembled disperse for the night but those remaining seem quite willing to hear the halfling play. The party, of course, has heard the ballad innumerable times while on ship, and in ones and twos they take their leave. As Willa makes her way to the party’s quarters, one of the palace guards sidles up to her. “My lord the Viscount would speak with you in his drawing room,” he says simply, before continuing on.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Dec 27, 2018 7:53 am  
    Post 44: Willa's Choice

    DM's Note:The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa, and not any of the other players.

    Post 44: Willa's Choice

    31 August, 570. Seaton - The Palace of the Viscount of Salinmoor

    As Willa makes her way to the party’s quarters, one of the palace guard sidles up to her. “My lord the Viscount would speak with you in his drawing room,” he says simply, before continuing on.

    Willa lets the rest of the party return to their rooms while she pauses. Once they are out of sight, she returns to the great hall, where Barnabus is still playing his lute, and asks a guard for an escort to the Viscount. The guard does not seem surprised at her request.

    She is shown to a parlor room, with the Viscount at a desk cluttered with maps and communiques. Two guards were outside the door, but there are none inside the room. The Viscount motions her in, offers her a seat and a glass of brandy to match his own, already on the desk.

    Willa knows enough to let him do the talking. She sits stiffly in her chair as he continues to go over his maps. Finally he looks up. “Sergeant Stoutley.”

    “Yes, milordship?”

    He chuckles at her pronunciation of his title. “I must say it is refreshing to have one such as you at court. I enjoyed the tale of your group’s exploits.”

    “Thank ye, milordship, but beggin’ yer pardon, them ain’t me group, if ye please.”

    The Viscount smiles slightly, and raises his snifter. “No, I suppose they are not. And yet you were awfully careful in how you described their adventures, very circumspect regarding their use of magic and so forth.”

    Willa looks nervous and the Viscount chuckles again. “Don’t worry - I have read in detail all of the reports Secun has sent me regarding them - reports in which you were the principal informant. I know you have been a faithful servant to both the crown and Salinmoor.”

    Willa exhales, relieved. “Aboot th’ story, I jes’ thought it be more…(she searches for the right word)..politic not t' mention some t'ings in public an’ all.”

    “Indeed,” the Viscount agrees. “In addition to your skills as a warrior, you have a knack for discretion. Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t been made Captain of the Customs Officers yet.”

    Now Willa is stymied. Secun had always told her he wanted her to be Captain, but that the Viscount would never approve it. “Thank you, milord,” she offers uncertainly.

    The Viscount seems to change tack and gestures at his maps. “Suppose we are victorious, gods willing,” he offers. “What is next, then, for Sergeant Stoutley?”

    “Well, milordship, Secun charged me w’ watchin’ yon foreigners whilst they be in Saltmarsh, an’ then I jes’ kinda got caught up in everythin’, as t’were. If me work w’ them be done, I suppose I’ll go back t’ bein’ a Customs Officer. Keepin’ Saltmarsh safe an’ solvent an’ trying’ t' keep me baby brother out o' trouble.” She pauses, then adds, in what she hopes is the correct and deferential tone, “T'ough I wouldnae mind tryin’ me 'and at a Captaincy, if one be offered, sometime.”

    The Viscount has been staring into his snifter, but listening to her. Now he looks straight at her. “Stoutley, what’s your honest assessment of this group? Politic aside, are they a threat to Salinmoor?”

    Willa swallows. Was this what this whole meeting was about, absent pretense? “Well, milordship, I did t’ink so afirst. I couldnae believe t'ey be as foolish as t'ey seemed. I even t'ought t'ey might be makin’ up the whole ‘smugglers’ story. But now as I know ’em better, yes, t’ey be that foolish. Betwixt ther lot of them, nae be enough sense t’ fill a shite bucket...erm, a chamber pot, milord. Tyrius be a good man, an’ he tries t' keep a rein on ‘em, but t’ey’re too many an’ too wild. Ther halfling be too smart fer ‘is own good and be as larcenous as the day is long, besides. Ther orc’s a simpleton but ‘as a keen bloodlust. An’ ther wizard, well, she thinks ther party exists t' fuel ‘er own power an’ not much else. As long as t’ere be atother threat like smugglers o' sea devils, t'ey be a useful tool fer yer lordship. But I wouldnae wan' 'em around too long withoot somethin’ t’ occupy ‘em - t’at’s jes’ askin’ fer trouble.”

    The Viscount nods. “Indeed, that was my very assessment. But of all of them, it is the wizard who troubles me the most. When they arrived in Saltmarsh, they were hard-pressed to defend themselves against giant ants, as I understand it. But now they are fighting off a whole colony of sea devils. Every time they visit Seaton, that wizard is asking my court mage for more spells, and more powerful spells. They have gone from an amusing distraction to a very real, though still potential, threat.”

    The Viscount pauses, scanning Willa’s face for a reaction, and finds her nodding in agreement.

    “This Aurora has twice now asked my mage to learn the spell detect thoughts, and he has twice put her off, though of course he has it. Stoutley, I have a foreign wizard of unknown loyalties in my land, trying to learn magic that will allow her to read people’s minds, and in loose command of a well-equipped band of skilled killers. I hope you can appreciate my concern.”

    “Of course, milord.”

    “When my steward first reported that the wizard was asking for access to my map room, I was thrilled, hoping that they would be soon departing. But the maps she has looked at have all been of the Dreadwood.”

    “Beggin’ yer pardon, milord?” Willa stares at the Viscount blankly. Up until now, she had shared his concerns. Her reports mentioned that Tyrius wanted to take Larry to the Great Druid in the Dreadwood. If Aurora wanted to come with, so what?

    “The Dreadwood,” he says. “A wizard in the Dreadwood!” Seeing that his meaning is lost on Willa, he falls silent. From the shadows in the corner of the room, a figure emerges. Willa starts, her hand reaching for where her sword should be, were she allowed to wear her weapon in the palace. The Viscount waves at her to stand down.

    The figure approaches, entering the light of the oil lamp on the Viscount’s desk. He is of medium height, but broad-shouldered. A scar runs across his pale face, from his hairline, down the side of his face, and ends at the corner of his mouth, giving him a perpetual smirk. His beard is thick but neatly trimmed, jet black with highlights of gray. His robes are black, but have the red lion rampant of Keoland - or at least half of one, on his right breast. The left breast is plain, as if the other half of the lion were missing.

    He begins without introducing himself. “You know the Dreadwood only as a wild place of fell monsters, and perhaps as the court of the Great Druid,” he says. Willa nods warily. “But there is more to it than that. The forest also holds many secrets - among them, dark magic. It is not a place the King would have foreign wizards visit, particularly those who, as you say, are interested in growing their own power.” Willa nods again, beginning to see where this is going. “And yet, were the King to simply forbid entry to the wood, particularly to wizards, then it would become common knowledge that it holds more than monsters.” He looks at Willa expectantly.

    “Ye don’t want Aurora t’ gae t’ere, but ye don’t want ‘er - or others - t’ know that ye don’t want her t’ gae t’ere.”

    “Just so,” the man says simply. The Viscount pours a third glass of brandy, but the unnamed man ignores it and he leaves it untouched on his desk.

    The unnamed man continues, “If, however, we were to have someone accompany the wizard, someone we could trust, someone who could tell us where the wizard went in the wood and why, and what she found there, then we could decide whether our concerns were well-founded, and what the most appropriate, and unobtrusive, action to take would be.”

    “You have a choice, Stoutley,” the Viscount says. “And you have earned the right to make it freely. Your service to Salinmoor is duly noted. Retire to Saltmarsh and enjoy your Captaincy. Become an envoy to the lizardfolk, and the sea elves and the merfolk and even the fish-men, however they call themselves. Take care of your town and your brother. I will write your commission tonight.”

    “Or,” says the unnamed man, “leave the service of your Viscount and enter the service of your King. Become Special Agent Stoutley and help us keep track of this wizard.”

    Willa looks closely at the stranger - an agent of the King? To buy time to think, she sips slowly at her brandy, the finest she has ever tasted.

    "'most all me life, I 'ave served milordship an' Saltmarsh. I always t’ought I would be content t’ continue in t’at service, an' a Captaincy sweetens ther deal. Me brother, Tom, be set up fer his life in Saltmarsh now, an' I find meself chafing a’ ther yoke o’ keeping 'im out o’ trouble. Ther current campaign agin’ ther devils should see Tom inta manhood an' responsibility."

    Willa takes another sip, "Yon group o’ adventurers 'ave caught me up in a merry chase. I 'ave seen interestin' t’ings an' terrifyin' creatures an' sailed in new waters. I also dinnae trust ther wizard an' wouldnae wish t’ see 'er become a threat t’ me countrymen. So, I accept yer offer t’ enter ther service of ther King."

    "An’, beggin' yer pardon, but jes’ who might ye be?" asks Willa boldly as she regards the stranger.

    “You do not need to know my real name, and you’ll be needing to pretend we have never met, should you see me in public. But you can call me “Runnel” as a code name. I am a knight of the Malagari as we call ourselves, or in Keoish, the Dark Watch.”

    Willa knows just a handful of Suel words, but she does know that “mal” means dark, or bad. She has never heard of the Dark Watch, or seen the man’s half-lion heraldry. The “Knights of the Watch” are well-known though; they guard the northern borders of the Kingdom. Perhaps the Dark Watch are a secret organization within that Watch, dedicated to protecting, well, dark secrets?
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    Fri Jan 04, 2019 10:29 am  
    Post 45: The Siege, and Farewell to Salinmoor

    Note: This post contains spoilers to module U3: The Final Enemy

    Post 45: The Siege, and Farewell to Salinmoor

    1 September, 570 - Seaton
    The next day Tyrius is again invited to dine with the Viscount, though no one else in the party is. Willa’s informants among the navy messengers tell her that the campaign against the sahuagin is going well, but it is a slow siege with no early resolution in sight. Sensing that they will be the Viscount’s “guests,” (that is, social hostages) for quite some time, Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora meet. Tyrius says that he cannot keep Thokk drunk forever, and sooner or later an unfortunate incident is bound to occur. For some reason Willa seems more inclined than before to help. It is decided that they will ask permission for Thokk, accompanied by Larry and Babshapka, to retire to the woods to “commune with his wolf spirits,” while the rest of them remain at the palace.

    It may be that the Viscount doesn’t deem the orc / dwarf / elf trio “responsible” (or valuable enough to hold until the conclusion of the sahuagin campaign) - they certainly are not the party leaders. Or it may be that he himself is concerned for what might happen should Thokk remain at the palace. For whatever reason, permission is granted, and before the day is out Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka are on their way to the southern Dreadwood, with admonishment that large game are for the Viscount’s table, only. Although Willa has grown up on tales of the Dreadwood being full of hostile monsters, Tyrius has spoken to enough knights to convince him that, at least within the Salin River valley, the forest is regularly patrolled and reasonably safe. Beyond the valley, however, they are just as likely to find goblin tribes, bugbears, or even ogres, as well as fell monsters.

    2 - 4 September
    The next three days, with just Tyrius, Willa, Aurora, and Shefak in the palace, are much quieter and pass peacefully. Barnabus is out on the town more than he is in (and see Post 47: Barnabus' choice).

    5 September
    Willa is taking a mid-day meal at a harbor-front tavern when a bustle from the dock area attracts her attention. A ship has been spotted coming into port, with the flags of a naval message cutter. Two or three of these a day have arrived since she has been in Seaton, so she finishes her meal before going out to the docks to meet it.

    As it comes in, she can see that there are two men working sail and rudder, and another bearing an official messenger’s pouch but with his arm in a sling. Then she recognizes the messenger as Tom. As the sailors throw lines to the men on the dock she shouts “Tom!” and then, thinking better of it, “Corporal Stoutley!” He grins and waves at her.

    Tom is initially close-mouthed with her, but apparently more than the other two on his cutter, and before they reach the end of the docks and can find a cart to the palace, the waterfront is ringing with cries of “Victory!” Tom, full of his official duty, will say nothing to her during the cart ride other than that his wound is not serious. He is whisked away to a private meeting with the Viscount upon his arrival in the palace, and Willa does not see him again for several hours.

    Later, after dinner, Tom is happy to spin the whole long yarn to the five party members still at the palace.

    Lord Nehemeyer’s fleet approached the sea devil lair from the east, with the three troop galleys they saw in Saltmarsh landing at the protected river mouth while the two warships and the flagship headed for the lair itself. Immediately the three ships in the lead were set upon by sahuagin. Within moments it was clear that their intent was to take the flagship - about four times as many devils were involved as in any of the waves the party had faced, at least two hundred devils in all. A hundred surrounded and assaulted the flagship with javelins, and another fifty each the two warships as distracting forces, to keep them from coming to the flagship’s aid. Once the decks of the flagship were crowded with human defenders, a great wave arose from the sea and washed many of them overboard. Riding the crest of the wave was the first sahuagin boarding force. In addition to the three priestesses the party had faced before, at least another two were involved in this fight, with the head priestess capable of casting control water, which she then used to clear the lower decks of the other two ships with more massive waves. While the sailors and marines washed overboard were quickly torn apart in the sea, there was a desperate fight on the deck of the flagship. The lesser priestesses concentrated on incapacitating the ballista crews of the other two ships, as these were on the fore- and aft-castles, and too high for the priestess’ waves to reach. The priestesses seemed to have a limitless supply of paralyzation spells. The entire crew and marine contingent of the flagship was slain, and it was down to just a handful of Nehemeyer’s personal guard against numerous sahuagin warriors, lieutenants, and chieftains. Nehemeyer himself was already lightly wounded, and would likely have have been slain or captured had the fish-men giant eel cavalry not arrived - Nehemeyer had held them back as a reserve force. When the fish-men's charge temporarily relieved the two other warships, they could move to assist the flagship and the sahuagin on board were forced to retreat. Their main assault broken, all the remaining sahuagin present fell back to the sea cave.

    Nehemeyer pressed the advantage by having the sea elf wizard teams move in immediately to seal off both the sea cave entrance and the back door with magically-created rock. Guarded by fish-men, the sea elves were able to seal both entrances before the retreating sahuagin could respond.

    By the end of the first hour of combat a total of about half the marines and crew of the three warships combined had been lost, but the allies controlled the waters around the lair and the two sea entrances were sealed, so that only the land entrance remained.

    Once the sea was secure, the troops that had landed on the coast were met by the lizardfolk force that had moved in overland. The lizardfolk guided the humans in staying on the trail and not falling into the marsh until they reached the causeway. Nehemeyer sent his heroes and veteran heavy infantry in first, as the vanguard crossing the causeway. They met light resistance once they were inside the sahuagin lair, but their heavy armor gave them the advantage fighting on land and it appeared that most of the sahuagin force had been involved in the sea battle and were still recovering from wounds or exhaustion.

    Once the heavy infantry had taken the first level stairway room, Nehemeyer moved in his light infantry levies, marine crossbowmen, and shortbowmen levies. All through the first night the sahuagin tried sorties to break the allied hold of the staircase room, but the prevalence of allied missile fire always beat them back, with losses on both sides.

    When the room was still held at the start of the second day Nehemeyer moved in his pumps. Twenty horses working ten mining pumps set up positions in the various rooms and chambers of the first level. Tubes snaked everywhere throughout the first level, taking water from the staircase room and emptying it along the causeway and even into the latrines of the slave pen, which apparently drained outside.

    During the second day, the sahuagin and their priestesses attempted to breach the rock barrier of the sea cave. The elven wizards were able to keep pace with them however, creating rock as fast as they could destroy it, and keeping a watertight seal. Merfolk now helped to guard the sea elf wizards.

    The lizardfolk were now dispersed into the marsh, going far inland outside the range that the sahuagin had been foraging, with their need to stay close to the sea. They hunted game and supplied much of the fresh meat for the allied army to supplement the grain that had been brought aboard the galleys. The fish-men fanned out under the sea, scouting to make sure that the allied force could not be surprised by a relief force of sahuagin from the depths.

    By the end of the second day the water level had dropped by two feet. Men assigned to the staircase room gave a cheer every four hours as a new stair emerged from the water.

    By the third day the sahuagin had given up trying to breach the water barriers and had turned their priestesses to supporting the sorties on the staircase room. Their attacks grew more desperate, but also more strategic - targeting specific individuals to cause a few deaths rather than many wounded that might recover with rest or healing. The wounded sahuagin, meanwhile, grew more apt to retreat as they cycled through their forces. Nehemeyer likewise adopted a rotation schedule to make sure he always had fresh troops in the room for the next assault.

    All the next week was largely a repetition of the third day, as the water slowly drained from the sahuagin lair. The Baron began making appearances, a huge sahuagin with four arms who would engulf the missile troops in a magic net and dispatch the infantry with an enormous trident. Each time, though, he and his forces were driven back to the water, and as the water dropped the lead time for the remaining allied missile troops increased, leading to higher sahuagin casualties.

    By the tenth day of the siege the entire second level of the complex was in water just two feet deep. Nehemeyer sent his remaining army down the stairs in a single massive charge. It was during this action, Tom mentions, that he was wounded, in capturing the second level, fighting the devils while sloshing through knee-deep water thick with blood and floating bodies. When the sahuagin broke before this combined assault and began retreating to the third level, which was still completely submerged, the sea elves opened narrow breaches in both the sea cave and back door. While the fish-men went in the back door, the entire lizardfolk force, which had been recalled slowly over the previous days, entered the sea cave, supported by the elven casters and the merfolk. There the sahuagin made their final stand, with the forces of just the aquatic races remaining to finish them off after the lizardfolk had to retreat to the second level to breathe. Tom heard that Oceanus was among the elves and merfolk who slew the Baron and the high priestess, but he has not seen him since to know whether he survived or not. With all the sahuagin slain and the fortress taken, the pumps were removed, water was allowed to refill the second level, and the whole place was turned over to lizardfolk. The sea elves have stayed on for now to help the lizardfolk until their females and young can be moved back in, while the fish-men are even now escorting the human fleet back to Saltmarsh and Seaton. Tom was sent ahead on this first message-cutter to personally bring news of the victory to the Viscount.

    6 September
    Some of the Viscount’s Own Foresters, rangers of renown, are dispatched to the Dreadwood to summon Thokk, Larry and Babshapka back to court. Meanwhile, the Viscount takes advantage of their absence to hold a victory celebration, with the rest of the party as his guests of honor, seated at the high table with the Viscount himself. That evening, in front of the entire court, the Viscount commends the party and makes it known their key role in the allied victory. During the dinner, he speaks with each of them personally, thanking them and inviting them to stay on as his guests through the celebrations that will greet Lord Nehemeyer upon his triumphant return to Seaton. “After that,” he chuckles, “I can’t imagine that adventurous types such as yourselves would be interested in staying much longer in as peaceful a place as Seaton…”

    7 September
    Knowing they will be leaving soon, Aurora withdraws her gold and the cached spellbooks she had in Seaton’s mercantile bank. Willa and Tyrius distribute the Viscount’s reward money to the party. In the morning, Tyrius visits the landless noble family who was given the plate armor he found in the cellar of the haunted house. After much exchanging of pleasantries, the impoverished nobles he meets with intimate that they have already sold the armor.

    In the afternoon, Tyrius leads an expedition to Seaton’s marketplace. He spends nearly all of his savings on a suit of splint mail, while Shefak buys a tent and a few other supplies that may be useful on their planned overland trek to the Dreadwood. The other members of the party pick up a few odds and ends, but store most of their gold in the Seaton bank.

    In the evening, Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka arrive in Seaton and return to the palace.
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    Fri Jan 11, 2019 8:11 pm  
    Post 46: On to Gradsul

    Note that Willa's Background gives Ship's Passage.

    Post 46: On to Gradsul

    8 September, 570 - Seaton
    Willa visits the docks early in the morning, looking to find a vessel bound for Gradsul. There is a large whaling vessel in port. The ship has a full hold of whale fat, which will be rendered into oil upon arrival in Gradsul. She is taking on fresh water for the journey, but plans to depart as soon as she is re-supplied. After talking to the captain, Willa secures passage for the party, then hires a carriage back to the palace and has it wait for them. Fortunately they are mostly packed, mostly awake, and have little in the way of gear. They make it back to the docks just in time.

    The quarters aboard the ship are cramped and stink of rancid fat and sweaty sailors, but the ship itself is fast and their passage is free. The whaler travels all day and all night with a fair wind behind her.

    9 September - Azure Sea
    By mid-morning the tallest buildings of Gradsul can be seen and the whole party gathers on deck. Barnabus has been in all the ports of the Azure Sea, and Aurora and Babshapka passed through Gradsul on their way to Saltmarsh, but the rest of the party is increasingly amazed as more and more of the city comes into view. Gradsul is a thousand years old and is rumored to have more than fifty thousand inhabitants - it is the largest city that any of them have ever seen, and approaching from the sea they have a great vantage of it, from the slums along the waterfront to the terraced garden estates of the nobles on the hills, from the great stone walls and numerous keeps and barracks, to the isolated towers jutting up all over the city. Tyrius has been in all the cities of his homeland of Sterich, but even the capital of Istivin is as nothing compared to this. Aurora recalls that her master once told her that Gradsul was home to the largest number of free mages anywhere in the Sheldomar Valley. Larry mentions that the human swarms in the streets and plazas look “worse than fleas in a winter cave.” Thokk seems uncharacteristically subdued. He grew up on tales of famous orc warlands uniting the tribes and burning down the human cities - but he does not understand how even a hundred orc tribes could assault such a place as this.

    As they lower sails, keeping just those required to maneuver, and glide into the dock area, they can see that several of the recently-arrived ships are being met by the city watch and customs officers, checking new arrivals and collecting taxes. With a word to the second mate, Barnabus manages to get them off the whaler on a jolly before the ship itself docks. He directs them to a busy commercial part of the wharf where the watch do not notice their arrival. “If anyone asks you for a sword tax,” he says looking them over, the party all bristling with weapons, “tell them you already paid.”

    “I will do no such thing,” huffs Tyrius indignantly as he carefully climbs from the boat.

    Once they have left the docks and are making their way up a busy street crowded with shops and foot traffic, Barnabus tells the party that he has business to attend to and he will meet back up with them in several days. Before anyone can react, he melts into the crowd and disappears (see Post 47: Barnabus’ choice). “But, he doesn’t even know where we are staying…” says Aurora. “Uh, where are we staying?”

    Willa smirks and tells them to follow her. She goes one block inland, takes a right at the next cross-street, and works her way parallel to the shore. Eventually she finds an acceptable inn - of the kind frequented by sailors between tours. It is cheap and serves food, but is none too clean and there are several beds to a room and common beds in some. At the moment it is unoccupied, all patrons having set sail that morning, and for a few silvers more the owner assures Willa they will remain the only guests for the duration of their time there.

    In the afternoon, Willa takes Thokk back to the docks area, making sure he can find his way from the inn to the docks and back. Cities are unfamiliar terrain for him, but he is a quick study. She makes him promise to leave his axes at the inn and bring only a boot knife with him. She spends some time with him going from dockside tavern to tavern until she finds several that look like the kind of places in which he can easily get into bar brawls, but not be knifed and rolled if he is knocked unconscious. She makes him memorize the painted signs outside her choices and repeat them to her until she is sure he remembers and recognizes them. She tells him he is welcome to spend his days here drinking and fighting and she will know where to come find him when it is time to leave the city.

    Thokk sighs wistfully. “Thokk lose his army...but he still has best evil advisor ever. Life of Thokk is great.”
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    Sat Jan 12, 2019 10:07 pm  

    This is great, Kirt! Thanks for posting. Happy

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    Master Greytalker

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    Sun Jan 13, 2019 9:47 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is great, Kirt! Thanks for posting. Happy


    As great as the life of Thokk?
    Next up: what is Barnabus doing? It's just business, not personal...
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    Sat Jan 19, 2019 8:50 am  
    Post 47: Barnabus' Choice

    Note: This side post connects back to the main narrative line in multiple places. Like Willa's Choice, it was known only to the player in question, not the group.

    Post 47: Barnabus' Choice

    In Seaton: 27 August - 7 September
    Playing for noble ladies in court is profitable in many senses, but Barnabus is bored and frustrated during his time at the Viscount’s palace, and is more often to be found in the numerous taverns of the town. He chafes at the wasted time - if it were up to him, he would be in Gradsul by now, learning disguise and poison techniques from the Thieves’ Guild he knows is there. But Aurora collected their latest reward from the Saltmarsh Town Council and hasn’t distributed it yet, and that is a fair bit of gold. Of course, he could just take his share when she wasn’t around (and a bit more for his trouble), but he plans on spending some time in Gradsul. If the Viscount wanted him back and sent people to look for him, that would make his planned Gradsul stay rather more inconvenient.

    So he bides his time, waits, and ponders his decision. Tyrius has made no secret of the fact that as soon as they are free to leave Seaton, he intends to resume his original quest to transport Larry to the Great Druid of the Dreadwood. That means traveling inland, upriver at first and then into the forest. What is in this for Barnabus? Not much. Or is there? These bumbling adventurers seem to stumble over monsters and treasure hoards like cobbles in a stone road. Barnabus has made more in his month with them than in several years previous combined - both in coin and in material for songs. True, it has come at a greater risk, but there is no reward without risk. But does he really want to leave the sea, leave his freedom? Is being stuck under the self-righteous eye of the paladin worth the gold? Barnabus can’t believe he left his last ship for a chance at a tumble with Aurora. The ditsy wizard is a half-elf, true, and Barnabus is greatly swayed by the power of novelty - after all, he is an epicurean, with an eye to sampling all the world provides. But now a month with her and even the promise of novelty has worn off - and a half-dozen maids have given him more satisfaction in his time in Seaton than the silly enchantress ever will.

    So here he is at the crossroads. When the Viscount gives them leave to go, Barnabus can take his gold, bid them farewell, and resume his free life on the sea, having profited greatly from the association. Or, he can demand that they go to Gradsul first, test the loyalty of his so-called comrades in arms, and see whether they are as willing to wait for him as he has been to live under the pious dictates of the paladin. Or, he can accompany them to the Dreadwood - meekly and with his eyes always open for the profit these fools seem to attract like flies to honey.

    In Gradsul: 9 September
    It is not difficult for Barnabus to track down an actual member of the Thieves’ Guild - a little coin here, the right words there - but he takes the better part of the day chasing the trail. A guy knows a guy who knows a guy...Halfway through he is aware he is being followed, and that most of this is for show - they are sizing him up, trying to see if he is working with anyone else, etc.

    By the evening, he is finally introduced to someone who claims to be a member of the guild, and Barnabus states his intentions of purchasing a disguise kit and of learning how to brew and handle poisons. He is given the name of an inn to sleep at and told that he will be given an appointment in the morning.

    In Gradsul: 10-13 September
    After Barnabus has a horrid breakfast of gruel (he almost sends it back before reflecting that the innkeeper is likely affiliated with the guild in some way) a street urchin pops her head in the door and calls that Barnabus has fifteen minutes to get to another inn halfway across town. The girl is gone before Barnabus is out the door and it is all he can do to make it to the location, only a few minutes late.

    He is taken to a back room upstairs, and finally introduced to “Jimmy Diamond”, a capo of the Guild. There is muscle in the room and on the stairs and, if Barnabus is any judge, in several adjoining rooms besides. Barnabus again pleads his case and Jimmy listens. His biggest concern is where Barnabus will be plying the skills he wants to learn, and whether he will be competing with guild killers. When Barnabus is able to convince him that he is a traveling adventurer, that all his kills will be done far away, but that he would likely be spending the money he gains from them upon his return to Gradsul, Jimmy grows much more friendly.

    Jimmy offers Barnabus a disguise kit, a poisoner’s kit, and a short course in how to use the latter for 200 gold lions. Barnabus asks if Jimmy is a betting man, and proposes they play for it. Jimmy smiles broadly, and says that if he wins, it will be 300gp, and if Barnabus wins, it will be 100gp.

    Over the next hour of cards, Jimmy catches Barnabus palming a card to use later and Barnabus nails Jimmy for pulling a card from his sleeve. They both laugh it off and get on excellent terms with one another. The game they play, Farango, is common among sailors, well-known among the port cities of the Azure, and requires betting on hands over a specified number of rounds. At the end of the hour, their respective piles of chips look about equal. “Another 15 hands?” asks Barnabus carefully.

    “Sorry, amicino mio, but I have other obligations. Two card draw, high card wins,” Jimmy says, and offers the deck to Barnabus.

    Barnabus pulls forth the four of cups - Jimmy, the seven of wands. When Barnabus sighs and reaches for his purse, Jimmy laughs and claps him on his back. “Look at dis guy!” he orders his mooks, “I like dis guy!”

    After a midday meal, much better than his breakfast was, Barnabus is shown to an apothecary shop where he will be ‘prenticing. Over the next four days he learns about the making and use of poisons. The master complains about his “nimble fingers and slow wits” but he manages to concoct mixtures that kill a number of stray cats and dogs without managing to poison either himself or his teacher.

    On the night of the 13th his teacher announces him graduated, and Barnabus takes his leave.
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    Sat Jan 26, 2019 5:21 pm  
    Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul

    Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul

    10 September, 570 - Gradsul
    In the morning Thokk is up early, eager to begin a day of brawling. Tyrius says that he and Larry will remain at the inn and watch over the party’s possessions. Aurora says that she will be taking Babshapka and attempting to do historical research in the city (see Post 49; The Riddle of the Malhel). Willa says that she will be working the docks area, looking for signs of Sigurd and the Sea Ghost. (see Post 50: Willa’s Choice II). Shefak says that she will be exploring the Foreign Quarter of the city, attempting to find and talk to Baklunish people like herself.

    Shefak returns to the inn in the evening, and finds everyone else there. It was not a long walk to the foreign quarter, as it is in the “lower city” near the docks. The Baklunish people there are not well off - mostly poor and crowded into tenements, at best. She was assaulted several times and had to use her monk abilities to defend herself until word got around that this strange frail-looking woman traveling alone was not to be trifled with. Eventually she was able to speak with some community leaders and got the locations of a few temples which she plans on visiting on the next day.

    11 September
    In the morning Thokk and Shefak again leave while Tyrius and Larry stay. Willa returns to the docks, while Aurora announces that her research is taking her to some country estates north of the city. She will be renting a carriage for the day but will be back by nightfall.

    Willa finds that Sigurd and the Ghost were indeed in Gradsul, but only just long enough for him to recruit a full crew of seasoned sailors. He departed for ports unknown.

    Aurora and Babshapka return in time to share the evening meal with the party. Aurora says that they have been invited to a dinner party at the estate of Lord Farquarr on the morrow - provided Tyrius will relate to them the tale of their campaign against the sahuagin, which is apparently en vogue among the nobility at present. Tyrius is dubious at first, but Aurora convinces him that no dishonesty is involved and he eventually agrees.

    Shefak says that her second day among the Baklunish was more productive but ultimately unsuccessful. Her people could not provide her with the locations of any monasteries, saying that all of them are far away in the mountains of the northern Sheldomar. The Keoish folk she asked don’t understand the true meaning of “monks” and “monasteries”, believing them to to be the vain palaces where fat men and women pray and light candles all day. Such places abound in this decadent city, but are not the ones Shefak is looking for.

    Thokk arrives, covered in welts and bruises, after the meal has been cleared away. He proudly displays a block and tackle he has purchased, saying that it will make him “four times as powerful” and then begins bellowing at the innkeeper to prepare his meal.

    12 September
    Since Tyrius and Larry are leaving with Aurora and Babshapka, Shefak agrees to spend the day at the inn. Willa plans on going to the dinner party as well, while Thokk returns to the docks.

    At the estate of Lord Farquarr, the party are celebrated guests. They are glad they still have the clothes made for them in Seaton by the Viscount’s tailors, and only worn once. After an amazing dinner that surpasses even the Viscount’s table, Tyrius tells a tale of their adventures that has the nobles applauding loudly and Farquarr beaming. At the prompting of Aurora, he tells a bit of history at the end, of a campaign against the sea devils from another age, in which a distant relative of the Lord figured prominently.

    Larry has spent the day outside, talking to the gardeners and groundskeepers of the estate. During the dinner, he stands on a veranda in a light rain, silently munching raw carrots and picking his nose as he watches the brightly-costumed people in the dining hall inside, his friends among them. Those of the party at the estate are given guest rooms for the night; Larry finds a warm, straw-filled stall in the stables.

    13 September
    Those who were at Lord Farrquarr’s estate have returned to the inn by mid-day. They spend the rest of the day planning the trip from Gradsul to Silglen. Willa was able to look at some maps in a cartographer’s shop, although she did not have the coin to purchase them, and declares that the distance is about 225 miles, the entire journey over roads or tracks, passing through several towns and innumerable hamlets, small farming communities along the edge of the Dreadwood. Supplies are discussed, as is the potential purchase of a cart and pony, but Willa voices against any further use of “party” treasure for the time being. The party turns in with plans made. Sometime during the night Barnabus appears, though no one notices when - he is just found to be in one of the beds in the morning.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:07 pm  
    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Note: All of the information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora. While Babshapka was involved in her investigations to some extent in Gradsul, she was not honest with him about her objectives.

    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Excerpt from Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee
    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...

    ...he asked her to recite the names of the principle Suel Houses.

    “[House Neheli] founded Niole Dra and are today the most important noble house in the north of the Kingdom. [House Rhola] founded Gradsul and are today the most important noble house in the south of the Kingdom. House Malhel was wicked and fought against the good Houses. After many battles they were banished from the Kingdom.”

    “[W]here did they go?”

    “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. Suppose they did not die out. Not at first anyway. Conjecture!”

    “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.”

    “[W]hy 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.”

    [W]ho would have the power to make sure that this history was not known…and what else could someone with that power do?

    “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 Malhel 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...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.”

    Additions to Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul
    10 September - Aurora goes to the Royal University of Gradsul, and charms a lowly library clerk into telling her which nobles nearby have important volumes in the early history of Keoland, dealing with the settlement by the refugee Suel houses. She gets a number of contacts from him, and leaves her name as “Scholar Wilhelmina of Saltmarsh.”

    Aurora goes to the townhouse of Lord Baldin in Gradsul City. As the Lord is not home, she bribes a major domo with gold to have a quick look at the library. After a quick reconnoiter of the volumes therein, she she speaks with the major domo while messaging Babshapka. At her command, he uses stealth to cut four pages out of a volume of history without a chambermaid seeing him. She later tells Babshapka that the volume is of family history, and concerns her efforts to discover the identity of her elven father.

    Back in the boarding house, she reviews the pages which mention that the Malhel, once defeated in war, fled south and west through the Dreadwood forest, and eventually settled in the land now known as the Yeomanry. This is the first textural account she has seen both linking the Malhel to the Dreadwood and the Yeomanry.

    11 and 12 September - Aurora goes to the country estate of Lord Farquarr. With two days’ access to his library, she finds four different volumes stating that the Malhel, once defeated in the war, were driven from the Sheldomar Valley. What is odd is while that the volumes she finds have decades between them and more than two centuries from the most recent to the oldest, and while they all have different authors, the passages concerning the Malhel are virtually identical. The rest of the historical accounts are similar, accepted history, but display nothing of the nearly-identical voice and phrasing that the passages about the Malhel do. In some cases, the script appears to have been elongated or compressed to make it fit in the appropriate space. She detects magic on the books but finds nothing.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Sat Feb 09, 2019 1:54 pm  
    Post 50: Willa's Choice II

    DM's Note: The secret quest of Aurora to understand what happened to the Malhel, and who doesn't want her to know, and the secret investigation of Willa into what Aurora is attempting to do, had by now become important subplots in the campaign. The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa.

    For Willa's Choice I, see post 44:

    For Aurora's perspective on what is happening, see the previous post (49).

    For what is public knowledge about this day in the party, see two posts ago (48).

    Post 50 - Willa's Choice II
    10 September, 570 - Gradsul

    Aurora and Babshapka leave the inn in the morning. Willa announces she is headed for the docks, but she doubles back after a block and catches up to them. She is concerned about Babshapka noticing her trailing them, as she has seen him in the woods. There he hears twigs snap that none of the rest of them even notice. But in the city, it seems he is in sensory overload, confused by all of the noise, motion, and color. It is all he can do to keep Aurora from stepping in front of carriages, let alone survey the crowd behind him. She follows them at half a block behind and is confident she is not noticed.

    They go to the Royal University of Gradsul, spread over several blocks of the Old Town, and ask directions until they find the library. Willa’s simple sailor’s clothes are already attracting attention among the scholars of the place and she dares not follow them into the library itself. She feigns a nap under a tree, hoping they leave by the same entrance they came.

    She is surprised when they emerge soon after - not even an hour has gone by. She follows them higher and higher in the city, up into the hills that house the estates and townhouses of the wealthy merchants and minor nobles. Willa nearly bumps into Babshapka when she turns one corner - Aurora has stopped to examine the statuary of a fountain. Amazingly, the elf does not see Willa although she is just five feet from him before she turns about and retreats. They continue, then are stopped by a city watch patrol, and then escorted to an impressive - looking townhouse. After a brief exchange at the door the pair pass inside.

    Willa looks about - there is certainly nowhere to loiter unnoticed in the clean and meticulously groomed neighborhood. Already the watch patrol is eyeing her suspiciously. She heads for a cafe diagonal across the street from the townhouse and takes a seat inside from where she can see the street-level door of the townhouse through an open doorway onto the al fresco tables of the cafe.

    Again they emerge after less than an hour, but when the door closes behind them Babshapka is immediately in Aurora’s face, speaking angrily and waving a few sheets of paper in his hand. Aurora speaks soothingly to him and takes the papers. They leave back down the street they came in.

    Willa has had to nurse her simple pastry and glass of white wine for an hour, to the growing indignation of the cafe staff. When they tell her her bill is one gold lion, her stomach twists, but she produces the single coin, to their apparent surprise. Perhaps she should talk to Runnel about an expense account - assuming she ever sees him again.

    Willa catches up to them and follows them long enough to be reasonably confident that they are headed back to the inn, then she doubles back and returns to the university library. It is early evening and many of the students are leaving lectures and heading out to public houses, but the library is still lit so she enters. She tries to gain information about what Aurora was doing there and who she spoke to, but the staff are uniformly rude to her and, when she tries to press the issue, threaten her with calling the city watch. She makes it back to the inn halfway through dinner and tells the party what she learned about Sigurd and the Sea Ghost, claiming to have spent the whole day at the docks.
    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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    Sat Feb 16, 2019 1:05 pm  
    Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald

    DM's Note: The party was now embarking on the first "overland adventure" of the campaign. As a DM, this meant I needed to add three things; (1) travel rates, (2) weather, and (3) large scale maps.

    Travel rates were simple at first (although I would add more detail later in the campaign). I initially decided to use the World of Greyhawk Glossography (p.3) rate of 30 miles per day for movement afoot, unencumbered. At the time, I mostly handwaved encumbrance so long as loads were reasonable. I assumed a typical day's march was 10 hours, from 7am to noon, and 1pm to 6pm.

    Weather was basically according to the tables of randomly generated weather in the World of Greyhawk Glossography (pp.18-25). That system has temperature tied to season (date), adjusted for latitude and elevation. I estimated the latitude of Gradsul from p. 18 as about 26.4 N. In the absence of official data on elevation, I used the following estimation: Any 30-mile (Darlene) hex with a hill symbol that touched a non-hill symbol was 2000 feet elevation, whereas any hill hex completely surrounded by hills was 4000 feet. Any 30-mile (Darlene) hex with a mountain symbol that touched a non-mountain symbol was 5000 feet elevation, whereas any mountain hex completely surrounded by mountains was 10000 feet. Further increments of 5000 feet were possible along increasingly surrounded isoclines.

    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel in Keoland, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. Note that that map specifically is no longer a valid link, but will redirect to more recent versions of her work. I would highly encourage any Greyhawk DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the sweat it ran like drizzle,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    14 September, 570 - Gradsul
    The party spends the day in the markets purchasing a week’s worth of fresh food.

    15 September
    The party sets out from the inn at first light, shortly after 6 am - it is already in the mid-80’s and muggy. Carrying all their gear, on foot, they have not even left the city walls by the time they are sweating profusely. As the sun continues to climb, the day gets hotter. They are able to put in a good half-day’s march in the morning, staying together despite the crowded traffic along the forest road. The road is ascending as it travels away from the coast, but after the first few miles’ hard climb out of the Sheldomar River Valley the slope is hardly notable. The road is excellent, paved and well-maintained, and they make good progress despite the heat. By 11 am it is over 100 degrees. They fill their waterskins in a public fountain in one of the many townships that lie beyond the city walls and rest in the shade, swatting at mosquitoes.

    It is three in the afternoon before it is cool enough to continue, and so they have only a short afternoon march before dark. As the settlements become smaller and farther between, they can actually see the fields to either side of the road. The sweet corn fields have all been harvested, but melon patches and orange groves are still in production. Barnabus soothes their journey with music from his lute, until Thokk begins to chase him with melons and he is forced to hide from the sun-crazed half-orc. At day’s end they camp in a cow pasture between towns, some 21 miles outside of Gradsul going by the last stone mile marker they passed. In the dark of night, enormous Gradsul is still visible below them on the coast, innumerable lights in the city itself, and then a trail of lights along the road toward them, gradually spaced farther and farther apart.

    16 September - Forest Road (21 miles from Gradsul, just under the “o” in the Forest Road)
    Having put some distance between themselves and the coast, and gained a bit in elevation, the day dawns a few degrees cooler, and the mid-day high barely breaks 100 degrees. They are still soaked in sweat, but after lunching at a tavern in the large town of Tanglewoods, they are able to get a full afternoon’s march in. (The tavern proprietor, after seeing how much ale Thokk was disposed to drink, relented and allowed them to eat their own food indoors in the shade of his establishment rather than requiring them to buy his tavern fare). All morning the clusters of houses along the roadside have grown fewer and smaller, and Tanglewoods has no true settlements for five miles on either side of it - just the crowded bunkhouse clusters of plantation communities. As they have left the coastal lowlands behind them, the fields of corn, melon, and cotton have given way to more and larger citrus groves - orange, tangerine, lemon, and grapefruit. They have yet to see any freeholder fields, but work crews numbering in the dozens are common - gangs of landless serfs toiling on the noble estates, nearly all of them dark-skinned Flan. Slavery is outlawed in Keoland, unlike in the lands of the Sea Princes to the south, and that is a point of pride for the nation. However, looking at the plantation serfs through the eyes of a free sailor, Willa wonders whether there really is that great a difference between a serf and a slave.

    By day’s end they have marched 30 miles, and are now 51 miles from Gradsul.

    17 September - Forest Road (between the twin “T’s” of The Forest Road and Tanglewoods)
    With night dipping into the seventies, the party is uniformly glad to be away from the worst of the coastal heat. In the morning, they make rapid progress along the Forest Road, although the day reaches the 90’s. They have just passed the stone marker indicating that they are 59 miles from Gradsul when the road splits. To the north, the wide, paved Forest Road continues, and a sign in Keoish indicates that “Oakheart” lies that way. To the south, the road becomes a hard-beaten dirt trail, and a sign says that way leads to Daerwald.

    Tyrius recalls that Silglen, their final destination, is reached through Daerwald, and suggests they take the trail. Willa responds that a road from Oakheart also leads to Daerwald, and while that route may be longer, they will likely travel much faster along the better roads.

    Aurora turns to Thokk. “Thokk, dear, you are our skilled wilderness guide. Which road do you think we should take?”

    Thokk shields his eyes from the sun and stares down both paths. “Stone road is flat - dirt road climbs into hills. Thokk want high ground and cool air - Thokk is sweating like roasting pig - sweat makes Thokk’s manly parts itch. Also, stone road passes boring lands where not-men poke in ground for food. Dirt road gets close to forest - maybe something to fight.”

    “Well,” says Aurora, “I’m not looking for something to fight, but I think we could all use someplace cooler. I liked being on ship in the sea breeze better than marching, that’s for sure.”

    Willa shrugs and starts off up the trail. “As long as it doesn’t rain. This dirt trail will turn into a mud pit faster than Thokk can scratch his manly parts.”

    The party heads up the narrow dirt trail. Sure enough, it is not long before they are laboring up a steep incline on a hill slope of tall grass and low scrub trees. There is no way a laden cart or wagon could ascend the steep slope, which is more than likely the reason the paved Forest Road does not run directly to Daerwald. After an hour of hard climbing, the trail levels out and they break for lunch in the shade of a stand of trees, the most extensive wild growth they have seen since leaving the city.

    After lunch they continue along the trail. To their left is a light, wild forest that rises above them. To their right the ground rapidly slopes away down, allowing them to see the distant farms and pastureland and villages that cling to the Forest Road. Having left the mile markers behind them with the paved road, they have no way of knowing how far they have come, but their progress along the trail is certainly harder-fought than it was on the road. As they make their camp at nightfall, a few huge spiders even venture out of the woods. Thokk cheerfully dispatches them, then sets about collecting firewood for dinner.

    18 September - Trail to Daerwald (by the “s” of Thestos)
    After another warm, buggy night in the 70’s, the party prepares for a day’s march in the 90’s along the dirt track. Soon after they start, the track heads downslope, until they have lost nearly all the elevation they gained the day before. As they descend, the wild woods are left behind, and they are again in farm country, much to Thokk’s disappointment. Here the farms are different, though - small fields of subsistence crops meant to feed a village, not the large plantations of cash crops bound for the markets of Gradsul. They pass through two such villages before, near midday, they come to a small river running north and crossing their track.

    The river is spanned by a large stone bridge - seemingly overbuilt for the size of the river at present, but Willa suspects they are not so far inland that storms coming of the Azure Sea can’t reach here, and a long summer storm could easily swell and flood the small river to a torrent. A little wooden shack on the near side of the bridge provides shade for a toll-collector, a grizzled old man with one leg and a crude wooden crutch. At first he gruffly demands a copper each from them to cross the bridge, but after they have paid and Aurora invites him to share their midday-meal, he warms to them enough for her to ply him with questions.

    The bridge is called “The Duke’s Bridge”, he tells them, and the river marks the boundary between the Duchy of Gradsul, which they are leaving, and the Barony of Raya, which they will enter on the other side. Daerwald is the baronial seat of Raya, and lies another 35 miles along this track, which should take them another day and a half or so, “unless it rains” (and Willa nods knowingly). The toll collector is a veteran - he was a soldier in the Duke’s army, until he lost his leg to bandits. He has manned this toll booth ever since. The Daerwald market will be an excellent place for them to stock up on supplies of food, and by Aurora’s calculation they should be just about out by the time they hit town.

    They thank the man and set out in the afternoon. After the bridge, the road climbs gently, and they soon are on a ridge like that of the day before, with wild forest to their right, and a small river valley downslope to their left. They pass two more villages, but the trail does not go through them. Rather, horse paths lead down from the trail to the villages, which are built along the river. In addition to the peasant huts, each of the villages has a large, wooden building next to a millpond, so Willa takes the structures to be saw mills. They camp on the ridge overlooking the second village, and during the night sounds of music and cheer drift up to them.

    19 September - the trail to Daerwald (under the “p” of Crypt)
    The elevation and the shade from the mature forest help cool the late summer air, and after a night in the seventies, the party is able to march all day in the eighties - the most comfortable they have been since they left Gradsul. The trail continues to climb slowly, but once they are beyond the river valley in which the two villages lie, the ground to their left rises up sharply until a high ridge towers over them. Now they are marching over a long pass, with a steep forested ridge to their left and a less steep forested slope to their right, the track completely under the trees and with little visibility. The perfect spot for an ambush, and Thokk hums eagerly thinking of the possibilities. The rest of them are more preoccupied with the mosquitoes, which come out in full force under the shade of the trees, large and in thick clouds. The party eats a quick, cold lunch, not wanting to tarry while being savaged by the insects. Babshapka rummages through the supply bags and removes their entire store of garlic, then shows them how to crush and rub it on their skin, which helps somewhat, although their sweat makes for diminishing returns.

    After lunch they continue on the narrow trail through the woods. The forest is alive with bird calls and apart from the mosquitoes is quite pleasant. The ridge to their south blocks the sun and they break march for an early camp while there is still light. After getting a good fire going, Thokk scouts about for wet, green leaves to top it off. The thick clouds of smoke he generates help to cut down on the insects, and most of them move their bedrolls downwind of the fire. Shefak’s tent is the envy of the party that night.

    20 September - trail to Dearwald (under the “r” of Daerwald)
    KRACKOOOM! A peal of thunder shakes the forest around midnight and rain begins to fall. Lightning flashes along the southern ridge as one, then another, tree is hit. The mosquitoes disperse and rain pelts the campsite. For the next three hours the thunderstorm passes overhead, lightning constantly touching down on the southern ridge and setting more than one tree ablaze. Fortunately the party is camped much lower and none of the strikes are near them. They all have thick bedrolls (and Shefak has her tent), so they are reasonably dry, but in the morning the campsite is a morass of red mud. The sloping land to either side has funneled the storm’s water on top of them, and there are standing pools and puddles all about.

    The first half of the day’s march is downhill, descending the pass into the valley beyond, but it is slow going. The mud pulls and tugs at their boots, and they slip and - more than once - collapse in the steep parts and slide down the trail. By mid-day, after five hours of grueling effort, they have not gone even five miles.

    After mid-day they are able to pick up the pace. Now they are down in the valley bottom, overlooking a vast, wide valley mostly filled with a huge lake. The town of Daerwald sits at the near end of the water’s edge. Down here on the flat-land the rain did not pool up as much, and all the morning’s sun has baked the sodden ground dry. The dirt track is soft and exhausting, but passable.

    While there are plenty of outlying farms and pastures, there are no true village centers before they come upon Daerwald itself, so there is little of interest to look at as they march along with difficulty. Willa finds herself staring out across the lake, amazed that a body of water so large could be so calm, wondering at the many sailing vessels she sees traversing it, wondering if it is fresh like a giant bathtub.

    In the glorious golden late-afternoon light they finally come upon the cobblestone streets of the town itself and are able to scrape off the last of the mud clinging to their boots. The streets are thronged with people, giving the appearance of a place much larger than it actually is, for in reality Daerwald is likely smaller than Seaton. People stop and stare at the mud-covered travelers, and children laugh, for everyone seems in a festive mood. A fat friar bows at them and says “Merry Brewfest!” in a booming voice.

    Brewfest! Of course. Willa claps her hand to her forehead. Brewfest is a week-long harvest celebration, marking the transition from summer to fall. In Saltmarsh, dominated by fishing families, Brewfest has only a token following, but she imagines it is a much bigger deal here in farm country. Imagines? No, she can see it is a much bigger deal. For his part, Tyrius has seen plenty of Brewfest celebrations before - he just didn’t know that is where they were in the calendar, since cold, mountainous Sterich has a much earlier fall. There, Brewfest is a week’s relief from feudal labor obligations, and there is much public celebration and drinking. As he looks about him, he expects it is the same here.

    It is after dark by the time the party finds an inn that has two nights’ lodging for the eight of them. The common room downstairs is crowded with drinkers and revelers, but the private upstairs bedrooms are mostly available. Exhausted from their long day fighting the muddy road, the party barely has time to wash and eat before collapsing into bed. Larry doesn’t even wash. Thokk skips both washing and bed, but stays downstairs drinking and in the morning can be found collapsed in a chair in the common room.
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    Wed Feb 20, 2019 12:42 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    (by the 's' of Thestos)

    Sounds like an oath:
    "By the S of Thestos, you shall be avenged!" Razz

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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Feb 20, 2019 2:53 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt wrote:
    (by the 's' of Thestos)

    Sounds like an oath:
    "By the S of Thestos, you shall be avenged!" Razz


    Perhaps Barnabus will have to work that into his ballad.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Feb 26, 2019 8:48 am  
    Post 52: Daerwald

    Post 52 - Daerwald

    21 September, 570 - Daerwald
    The party eats their last day of trail food while they use the inn as their base to shop for more. The markets are crowded with Brewfest revelers and it is slow going. Willa goes lakeside to check out the fish markets, selecting some fresh for the morrow but mostly smoked for the coming week. Aurora and Babshapka work the central market for vegetables, flour, and dry noodles, while Barnabus roams the butchers’ stalls in search of fresh and cured meats. Shefak is given a pass from purchasing, as the vendors tend to sell higher to the Baklunni woman. She is in charge of drying out their bedrolls in front of the fire in the inn’s common room so that they don’t mold. Tyrius and Larry clean and polish Tyrius’ armor, and then the paladin instructs the dwarf in the art of laundering clothes. Thokk snores loudly in the common room, bellowing at anyone who wakes him.

    By the evening Thokk has recovered and is able to eat dinner with them. When he talks of how he has another night of Brewfest drinking planned, his evil advisor reminds him that they are marching out in the morning, and he will need to be ambulatory. He grumbles that marching in the day is stupid, and that the humans in the party should learn how to march and see at night.

    22 September
    Sometime after midnight the party is awakened to the sound of wind and rain. All over the town, shutters are banging, awnings are ripping, and carts are being turned over. Willa and Barnabus are no strangers to the sound - it is an autumn gale blowing in off of the Azure Sea. There is less rain than in a summer tropical storm, or even the occasional hurricane, but the autumn gales have an abundance of wind. Willa doesn’t know whether to curse their luck that they may be several more days paying for staying at the inn, or thank their stars that they were not on the trail when it hit. Wind gusts of over 40 miles an hour would slow traveling to a crawl, and put them in real danger of being killed by flying debris or uprooted trees. She worries about Tom in Saltmarsh, and tries to remind herself that in his new house he is safer than they ever were in their parents’ shack, so long as he was not out to sea when this hit.

    Barnabus spends his time turning the moods of the inn’s patrons from bitter over the loss of the remainder of Brewfest, to grudging mirth at his songs and stories.

    23 September
    With little to do, Aurora wonders if she can perhaps continue her genealogy research. She learns a bit about the Baron’s court from their innkeeper, easily convinces Barnabus to play for the nobles, and asks Tyrius if he couldn’t see about getting her an introduction. Tyrius replies that he will, so long as it results in good for people. Aurora responds that learning about the party’s adventures will surely inspire the nobility, and perhaps even get them to regard his god with more respect.

    The trio goes across town, oilskin cloaks braced against the wind and rain, and show up on the Baron’s proverbial doorstep. They plead their case to a servant, who sniffs that His Lordship the Baron is trying to salvage Brewfest, protect the town and harbor from damage in the storm, and entertain his noble guests, and thus has better things to do than admit uninvited foreigners of dubious merit. Aurora responds brightly that with all of his lordship’s concerns, why not let them assist, as they can surely provide entertainment for the noble guests for the evening. The servant allows them to enter as far as a dry cloakroom before he tells them to wait.

    Some twenty minutes later, the major domo arrives to tell them that Aurora is permitted to use the Baron's library, provided Tyrius and Barnabus entertain the guests for the rest of the evening. His Lordship regrets that he will not be able to meet them in person, as he will be using his time in pursuit of the protection and defense of Daerwald, rather than at the evening's festivities. “You see, Tyrius?” says Aurora before they separate, “Already you have allowed a leader to dedicate more of his time to his people - how can that not be good?”

    [Note: For Aurora’s work in the library, see Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II]

    It is well after midnight when the nobles' thirst for Tyrius’ stories and Barnabus’ songs is finally sated, and Aurora has long since joined them in a music hall. She takes a moment to ask whether any of the assembled nobles would like to donate to the cause of a band of good adventurers, protecting the lands of the King...and receives hearty well-wishes and little more.

    For her part, Willa is bored stuck back at the inn. In the evening, she announces that she is going out. “Where?” asks Larry, somewhat miffed that Tyrius would leave him behind.

    “Public 'ouses. Drinkin',” Willa shrugs.

    “Bu' there be drinkin' 'ere!” Larry protests.

    “Look, I be tired o’ baby-sittin' Thokk, an’ ther bar be full o’ cheap, fat merchants and gilded ladies. I be goin’ t’ ther docks. Mayhaps I can meet a sailor or some ot'er real man.” Willa storms out.

    [Note: For Willa’s luck, see Post 54: Willa’s Choice III].

    24 September
    With everyone stuck back at the inn, this day is a tedious affair of listening to the wind and rain assault the inn.

    25 September
    The day dawns clear and bright, and the party again goes shopping to acquire a week’s worth of rations. They could have set out in the morning, but Willa advises them to give the trails at least a full day of sunshine to dry out.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Mar 05, 2019 4:38 pm  
    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II

    Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee

    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II
    Concurrent with Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald
    15 - 17 September: Aurora travels from Gradsul on the Forest Road, and passes through Tanglewoods on her way to Daerwald. The names (“forest” road, “tanglewoods”) amuse her, as there are no woods or forests to be seen - just farm fields and open orchards. She reflects on her knowledge of history and reasons that hundreds of years ago, the boundaries of the Dreadwood must have extended much farther into the plains - perhaps the “Forest Road” really did traverse a forest, then. Most likely the farms and pastures of Keoland have been steadily eating into the edge of the Dreadwood for centuries.

    Early on the 17th, the party faces the choice of taking a longer but better road, or a shorter but worse road, to Daerwald. Aurora slyly maneuvers Thokk into opting for the shorter road, as it takes them deeper into the true forest. If, as her master believes, the Malhel did retreat into the Dreadwood, but that fact has been hidden, it seems that she is more likely to discover evidence of their occupation the deeper into the forest they go.

    Concurrent with Post 52: Daerwald
    23 September: In the private library of the Baron of Daerwald, Aurora finds three volumes about the early history of Keoland, and one about the Yeomanry.

    Although Suel migrants and interaction with Keoland figure prominently in the volume on the Yeomanry, nowhere are the Malhel mentioned. This seems curious considering Lord Baldin’s book claiming that is specifically where the Malhel went, but that was the only reference she has seen about the Yeomanry so far.

    In the three volumes on Keoland, she finds the same curious passage, of exactly the same wording, describing how the Malhel were driven from Keoland, despite the three different books being of different ages and authors. In the first volume, the passage seems perfectly at place. But in the second, it looks as if it has had to be compressed to fit into the space allotted, and in the third, it is as if the line spacing has been temporarily increased to fit a short phrase in a large space. Each of the books is handwritten, and in each case the passage about the Malhel is in the same hand as that of the book - but something is definitely off. Aurora spends some time examining the pages, but cannot find anything of note. She even casts detect magic over the volumes - and then surreptitiously uses it to see whether any of the Baron’s books or scrolls are magical. She is left concluding that she needs to investigate whether a spell exists that could alter words on a page without leaving a magical trace, and whether there is a spell that could nonetheless detect the effects of such a spell.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:15 pm  
    Post 54: Willa's Choice III

    Note: The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa

    Post 44: Willa's Choice:

    Post 50: Willa's Choice II:

    New material:
    Post 54: Willa's Choice III
    Concurrently with Post 52: Daerwald
    Willa waits at least half an hour after the departure of Tyrius, Aurora, and Barnabus from the inn before following them to the Baron’s palace, as anyone out in this weather will attract attention. She slips a silver coin to a liveried servant at the palace and inquires after the trio. He is incensed that she would bribe him to spy on guests of the Baron, and has a mind to call for the palace guards. Willa hastily assures him that she is an agent of the Viscount of Salinmore (which helps quiet his objection to her accent) working in service to the King, keeping tabs on some suspicious characters (and here he agrees with her as well - Aurora certainly is suspicious). For a few more coins he agrees to send someone later to a pub she names.

    Two hours later, another servant, just off-duty, arrives at the pub to tell her that Aurora spent much time in the library, and according to the second-story maid, read and examined in a most peculiar way books about the early history and founding of Keoland, and also about the Yeomanry. All told, Willa is out a lion and half for the evening, but she does make it back to the inn before the trio.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Mar 19, 2019 2:10 pm  
    Post 55: Daerwald to Silglen

    Note:By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel in Keoland, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 55: Daerwald to Silglen

    26 September, 570 - Daerwald
    On a bright, clear day the party finally takes their leave of Daerwald. The first half of the day is spent traveling the track to the north, passing through the farmlands that skirt the western edge of the lake. By mid-day, when the temperature has climbed into the low 90’s, the track turns west to follow the edge of the forest. In late afternoon the party passes through a village built around a bridge, a saw mill, and several grist mills along a river that will eventually feed into the great lake of Daerwald. Aurora, missing her comfortable bed at the inn already, asks whether they should stop for the night, but Willa shakes her head. “Thar still be an hour o’ light left an’ plenty o’ track left t' march. We’ll hae time t' rest when ther next rain comes t'rough - I ain’t marchin’ in mud agin.” Secretly, Willa wonders whether they should have just stayed on the paved Forest Road all the way to Woodsage, a more northern route, and then cut south through Grayhill to Silglen. A sailor through and through, she hadn’t figured on foul weather slowing their travels to such an extent.

    27 September - track to Silglen (under the second “a” in Raya)
    The party marks a good pace in the cloudy, muggy morning, but the clouds darken as they continue. By the time they are finishing their mid-day meal, heat lightning is playing in the sky all around them. Willa calls an end to the day’s march, and they prepare for an extended camp. There is a spotting of rain over the next four hours, but mostly lightning and wind. The sky clears for a glorious sunset over the verdant farmlands.

    28 September - track to Silglen (where the track bends to the north)
    With highs in the almost-comfortable 80’s, the party makes good progress tramping along the dirt track through farming country.

    29 September - track to Silglen (under the “f” in "of")
    Clear skies all day and in the low 90’s, but the party marches on. All throughout the morning the farms grow smaller and farther apart, until by mid-day the party rests just outside the edge of what appears to be a thick and wild woods. They spend the afternoon on the dirt track passing through the forest. There are signs of recent travel along the track, but the occasional uncleared deadfall as well. They are obviously entering a more remote part of the Barony.

    30 September - track to Silglen (about halfway through the easternmost forested section of the track)
    By late morning the party has emerged from the woods into a few miles of open clearing. There are settlements here, but these are rugged outposts, where people practice a mix of farming, logging, hunting, and trapping. Seeing a skinned and trussed deer roasting over a crude spit in a cluster of huts, they doubt the poaching laws carry much weight here - they have finally come to the edge of civilization. They camp for the night at the far side of the clearing, just before the track again enters the woods.

    1 October - track to Silglen (after the track turns north at the edge of the woods)
    After a short morning’s passage through a narrow stretch of woodlands, the party emerges into open country again. Now they are in foothills overlooking a broad valley below. There, a large round lake is surrounded by dense farmland, every bit as developed and bucolic as that around Daerwald. Up here in the highlands, though, the track skirts the edge of the Dreadwood and passes through tiny logging hamlets where the only agriculture is half-hearted subsistence plots and vegetable gardens. With one day of supplies left, there are no farmsteads about to purchase from, at least not without descending off the track and into the lowlands. If they have to forage they will be unlikely to run into agents of the Baron, which is consoling. At the turn of the month, the party gives thanks for a week’s good traveling weather.

    2 October - trail to Silgen
    The party continues to work their way through the highlands overlooking the lake. The track goes up and down following the slopes of the hills, but they have a sense that each hill is slightly higher than the last. They stop for their mid-day meal in a logging camp, and the burly lumberjack residents claim that this is the last settlement they will find on the trail before they arrive in Silglen. In late afternoon they enter the Dreadwood proper, and from that point on the woods just get deeper and darker as they march. They build the campfire high that night, and celebrate by eating the last of their food stores. They will need to forage on the morrow, but Tyrius is unconcerned, knowing that they are so close to Silglen. Once they have set their camp for the evening, Thokk goes off the track into the woods and finds a deer-run, then sets his hunting trap there.

    3 October - Dreadwood, trail from Daerwald to Silglen
    The camp wakes early but does not breakfast, as they are without food. Willa starts a fire and collects mint to make tea; Thokk, Tyrius, Larry, and Babshapka head into the woods to hunt.

    Willa, Aurora, Barnabus, and Shefak are sitting around the fire, glad of the smoke to keep away bugs, when Barnabus whispers, “Act natural,” but loosens his blades in their sheathes. Even Aurora manages to not look startled a few moments later when five men emerge from the woods onto the track.

    Aurora stands up to greet them - all five have good-looking leather armor and heavy cloaks - they are obviously ranger-types, used to traveling in the wilderness.

    “It is we who should welcome you,” says the one in the lead, in Common. “Welcome to the Barony of Greyhill. Have you paid the entrance fee?”

    Willa assesses the men - hungry eyes, lean frames, dirty faces - these are no servants of a baron. [Willa's insight roll was considerably better than Aurora's, who was willing to take them at their word].

    Willa stands up, one hand on the hilt of her sword. “Aye, we hae,” she says coldly. “‘twar at ther bridge aways back,” and she hooks her thumb down the track behind them. All eyes follow her gesture - and when they return to the camp, Barnabus is not to be seen.

    “I’m afraid I don’t know the bridge you speak of,” says the lead man. “This track leads through the lumber camps of the highlands - there aren’t any bridges there. If you have paid, please show us your voucher.”

    “O’ course,” says Willa. “Once ye show us yer badges, or marks o’ service t’ ther Baron, o' whatever else ye be usin’”.

    The lead man looks at his men, and they spread out in a looser formation, as if each is setting up to target someone in the party, but casually. “Our Captain has those,” he responds. “A few hundred yards up the way there is a stone cairn what marks the boundary between the Baronies of Raya and Grayhill. The Captain is there with the rest of our company - we are just scouts.”

    Aurora reaches up to her face, tries to use a hair toss and head scratch to cover the somatic gestures she needs to message any of the hunters from their party, if they are near enough, but her motion and mumbled words are instantly recognized. One of the men whispers to his companion, and at a glare from the leader, says out loud in Keoish, “Ya see that! She cast a spell, she did! She’s a witch! I ain’t fighting a sorceress!”

    Things happen fast - Willa draws her sword - the five men turn and run - Shefak takes off after them in pursuit, but is forced to pull up short when a mass of sticky strands flies over her head and explodes at the edge of the woods. Aurora’s web does not hit any of the men, but neither does it ensnare Shefak. The men get clean away. Barnabus, when he reappears, says all the tracks he found were just of the five, but he wouldn’t discount them having a larger camp nearby.

    Half an hour later, Thokk bursts from the woods, humming contentedly, an immature boar carcass slung over his shoulder. Tyrius trails him. The barbarian stops when he sees the webs, looks about at the fresh tracks in the dirt road, then throws the boar down to the ground. “Thokk miss fight?” he yells with frustration. “Thokk sooo maaaad!”

    An hour later, stomachs satisfied, the group prepares to march. Between the sackful of roots, berries, and nuts found by Babshapka, and the half a boar remaining from Thokk, the party has enough food for all this day and two meals the next. They set off down the track. Sure enough, after a quarter mile, there is a pile of stones by the side of the road - but no sign of any “Captain,” or his men.

    With fair weather the party makes good progress, and by the end of the day they have come upon Silglen.

    The town is like no other they have ever seen. There is no clearing, there are no roads - it is as if dozens of houses have been set in the woods in no particular order, without disturbing a tree or bush. Many of the houses are rough log cabins, while others are dug into the sides of hillslopes, with rammed-earth walls and sod roofs. A few even hang from tree branches - great chambers made of woven fibres, like man-sized oropendola nests reached by rope ladders. Most of the folk about are elves, of all ages. There is a minority of humans, and these are practically all adults, men and women clad in the simple robes of druids, with only a few youths and no children. Every now and then they spot a forest gnome, nearly always outside some sort of workshop or trade store worked into the roots of a giant tree.

    Having no idea where to go, Aurora starts asking the elven children for directions, and soon finds Hyacinth, a local “girl guide,” fiercely proud of the red ribbon that marks her as an official aide to strangers in the city. Aurora offers her perfume for her services, but the elfling wrinkles her nose and says that for a haunch of Thokk’s boar she will take them to both the Welcome Temple, where Larry can meet representatives of the druid hierarchy, and to the Stranger’s Bungalows, where visitors to the city are required to stay.

    Along the way Hyacinth tells them all about Silglen and the druids, in response to questions from Aurora. No, they don’t have any libraries, although the druids keep many books privately. Yes, they have many temples to forest gods and earth gods, elf gods and human gods. No, they don’t really have anywhere of “interest”, no public places beyond the Welcome Temple; large gatherings of people are discouraged since that would result in the formation of trails, erosion, and waste disposal problems. They have many shops, but there is no shopping district, they have many craftspeople, but there are no guilds.

    Nominally the town is in the Barony of Grayhill, but for all practical purposes it is independent, and there are few men of the Baron present. It was founded by the Great Druidess Reynard Yargrove, twenty-three years ago when she ascended to control of the druid hierarchy, as a place for her to host the apparatus of her governance and to entertain representatives of the various powers with whom she deals. Although the druids are nearly all human, or rarely half-elven, most of the townsfolk are elven. This is because few humans who are not druids can abide to live by the low-impact ecological principles of the community. The harvesting of food, disposing of waste, and collecting of resources for work, are all closely regulated by the druids and few humans are far-sighted enough to see the importance of doing these things in a sustainable manner. As Hyacinth speaks, her tone is a curious mix of childlike innocence and an already well-developed prejudice for elves as superior to all other races.

    While there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of druids in the world, all of them are under the control of one of the Nine Druids. Each of the Nine is responsible for a different part of the world, a different Biome - such as deserts or forests. Each of the Nine is under one of the Three Archdruids, and all of them serve the Great Druid. Or, in this case, the Great Druidess. The physical and administrative center of the druid hierarchy is chosen by each Great Druid in turn upon their ascension, and when Yargrove became Great Druidess two decades ago she created Silglen.

    The Barony of Grayhill is both small and not very populated by Keoish standards, and most of the humans live in the highland city of Grayhill. Economically, it serves mostly as a source of lumber and mineral wealth for the neighboring and more-important Barony of Sayre. However, Grayhill became suddenly more important politically about six years ago when the new King of Keoland was elected from the Skotti house, an Oeridian noble family based in Grayhill.

    When Aurora asks Hyacinth about dangerous places, she furrows her brow. No, nowhere nearby is particularly dangerous, not if you have any woodcraft or common sense. There are plenty of monsters and such to the south - and if that is what the party is looking for, they need only take the Dreadwood Road south from Silglen and they will find more of that the farther they go. Here, the large number of elves means that the woods are safe for good folk.

    Hyacinth leaves the party at the “stranger bungalows”, a collection of squat huts made with woven leaves and branches. Each hut can sleep two or three people on a dirt floor. There is a well nearby, a fire pit, and a long-drop in another hut, but little else in the way of amenities. The elf lass promises to look in on the party in the morning and take them to the Welcome Temple.
    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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    Tue Mar 26, 2019 1:06 pm  
    Post 56: Silglen

    Note: What would a community designed to be the administrative center of the druid hierarchy be like? My approach was certainly anachronistic in terms of ecological principles, but it got home to the players that this is a very different community than they are used to, and that the thinking of the druids is alien to their own pseudo-feudal mindset.

    I suppose this post could just have well have been called "Larry's Choice", for much like Barnabus in Gradsul, Larry's player here faced the decision of whether to continue playing the character with the party or allow him to become an NPC, with plot repercussions for either choice.

    Post 56: Silglen

    4 October, 570 - Silglen
    This deep in the forest it is comfortably cool - with nights in the high sixties, and days in the high seventies. Plagued by mosquitoes since they left Gradsul, the party finds them blessedly scarce in Silglen. Hyacinth, arriving soon after the first of them are up in the morning, explains that many of the plants and flowers of the town have been chosen to ward off biting insects, and there may be druidic magic involved, as well. Perhaps that is what Larry will be learning as an Aspirant?

    After they have breakfasted, Hyacinth leads them across town to the Welcome Temple. There, a large natural grotto has been reshaped into an amphitheater for public announcements (the most severe alteration of the landscape they have yet seen in the town), and an adjoining rough timber building houses both new aspirants and official visitors to the town.

    In a formal ceremony, Tyrius introduces Larry to the druid warden of the temple, and turns over a letter of introduction from his own temple (see Posts 1 and 2, backstories of Larry and Tyrius). Larry is blessed with earth, air, fire, and water, and accepted as an Aspirant. The warden regrets that he does not have a traditional robe in Larry’s size (short and broad) on hand, but says that one of Larry’s first duties as an aspirant will be to learn weaving so that he can make his own robes. The party hears him ask “Boot when doo I larn ta tarn intoo a bar?” as he is being led away.

    After that, Hyacinth returns them to the bungalows. Aurora, who was hoping to learn her way about town, notices that they take a completely different route, and asks her about it. Hyacinth replies that low-impact principles encourage them to choose a different route any time they travel anywhere in the city, and that knowing many different ways to arrive anywhere is one of the qualifications for being a girl guide. The party invites Hyacinth to lunch with them as they discuss plans.

    With his duty officially discharged, Tyrius is now free to return to his homeland of Sterich, far to the north. But he seems in no particular hurry - in fact, he has plans to stay on at least a few days. “That dwarf is a queer sort,” he says, “and I don’t think the druids are even used to run-of-the-mill dwarves. This town has a lot of rules, and if those come from the druids I bet their training program has even more. Rules aren’t really Larry’s strong suit. I’d like to be here long enough to see whether he is going to make it or not. If he is happy, I will feel better about leaving, and if he is not, I can help him get to wherever he is going next.”

    Aurora, too, says that she would enjoy staying on - there seems to be much lore she could learn here - and she reminds Hyacinth to tell her about any book collections or old historians she can find out about.

    Ever practical, Willa says that if they are staying here, they need to be resupplying themselves, as they will not have enough food for dinner. She asks Hyacinth to take them to some food markets. The elfling maiden replies that she can show them where to buy food, but that first they will need ‘purchase vouchers’, and they can get purchase vouchers only after they have applied to the Harvesting Office. The Harvesting Office evaluates all visitors to the town and decides how much food they are allowed to buy and how much they will have to provide for themselves. If the visitors have not brought enough food with them, they are assigned certain hunt days in designated locations outside of the town to find food. The girl explains that this is to ensure that too many “tourists” don’t arrive in the city and buy locally-produced food with foreign gold to the extent that the local resources are over-harvested and the ecology is unbalanced, at the same time that food prices become inflated and thus impoverish the native residents. This seems needlessly complicated to Aurora, but Willa shrugs it off. “If it’s wha' we hae t’ do t’ get by ‘ere, so be it. As an excise officer, I’ve ‘ad to enforce stranger laws wit’ less reason. Thokk an’ Babshapka can hunt fer ther rest o’ us. ”

    At the mention of his name, Thokk, who has been ignoring the conversation and concentrating on perfectly roasting his boar, starts. “What?” he says. “What Thokk need to do to get more food?” Willa explains to him that strangers to the town have to hunt in certain places, and Thokk takes it as some kind of challenge or contest. “Ha! Ha ha! Thokk will show puny elves how to hunt! Thokk will kill so many deer that elves will cry from hunger while Thokk feasts!” Hyacinth looks aghast.

    Barnabus chuckles. He thinks to himself, Wherever laws are made, opportunities are made in breaking the law. If people in this town are only allowed to buy a certain amount of food - there must a black market to provide food for those who want, and can pay, more. That will give him a project for the days they remain here - he will locate some black market dealers, and make a profit from selling the excesses of Thokk’s hunting to them…

    After lunch, Hyacinth takes Willa and Aurora to the Harvesting Office, and then the Voucher Distributor, and finally to some of the food markets. They arrive back at the bungalows just in time to actually begin the preparation for dinner.

    5 October
    The day is spent uneventfully in Silglen. The party was assessed at being allowed to buy half of their food, and expected to supply the other half. Thokk and Babshapka are given hunting permits, and Babshapka leads them out of town, to the area he was told to go to. They return with a fine brace of rabbits and a sackful of wild apricots (11.5 pounds, with 8 left after the day’s eating).

    6 October
    Before sunrise a predawn chill drops the forest to the mid-fifties. Several of the party rise early in the cold, stoke the embers from the night before, and warm themselves as the sky turns from black to gray. They are cleaning up from breakfast and the air is still brisk when Aurora notices a young elf walking by with an odd burden - an ancient elf on his back. The old elf is mumbling softly, in elven, “Fall is coming, yes indeed, fall is coming again…” while the young elf staggers forward and looks about. Eventually he locates a nearby patch of sunlight, where the morning rays penetrate a hole in the leafy canopy and fall full and direct on the forest floor. He gingerly sets the ancient one down in the warm sunlight, then hurries off as if he still has his morning chores to attend to.

    Aurora and Shefak come to the side of the withered elf. His skin sags, he seems as thin as a reed, and his open eyes are thickly clouded over. “Who’s there?” he demands, for apparently he cannot see.

    “A traveler. A stranger to Silglen. Grandfather, can I make you more comfortable?” asks Aurora in her best Elven.

    “So cold this morning. Do you have anything warm to drink?”

    Aurora leaves Shefak by his side while she makes tea over the still-hot breakfast fire. Thokk and Babshapka are preparing to depart for a day of hunting; Barnabus has left already for parts unknown; Willa is tidying up the cookware.

    When Aurora returns to the elf’s side, they have a brief conversation in elven, and then Shefak returns to the fire as well. Aurora continues to speak for quite some time with the ancient one, before his caretaker returns and carries him off again. (for the contents of the conversation, see Post 57: The Riddle of the Malhel III)

    Thokk and Babshapka return in the afternoon, bearing with them more game, but not as much as the day before. (Additional 5.5 pounds, total 13.5 on hand, down to 10 by day’s end).

    In the evening, Larry blusters into camp, growling. “Stoopid drooid’s sarcle! Mak me an aaspirant when I kin kick the arse oof anyoone in the claass! Mak me larn ‘ow too weave when I already hae clothes! Woon’t even shoe me ‘ow too tarn into a bar. I bet thaat “maaster” dinnae even ken ‘ow. Kenning all thoose plaants an' barries an' roots be bonny and aall, bu' when doo I larn fighting? When doo I larn spells? Bet I cood tak oot the whoole claass with oone thundarwafe. Woon’t even promise me I’ll get choosen by the Drooid oof the Mountain! What if I get choosen by the Drooid of the Desart! What woold I doo then? Stoopid drooid’s sarcle!” Without even a word to his companions, he huffs into the bungalow that was his on the first night and slams the woven-twig door behind him.

    “Sooo…” ventures Tyrius. “We leave on the morrow?”
    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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    Wed Mar 27, 2019 7:10 pm  

    Lol! Laughing

    I hoped Larry would choose to stay with the party. Happy

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    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Mar 28, 2019 9:44 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I hoped Larry would choose to stay with the party.

    Yeah, given his personality I didn't expect him to stay with the druid hierarchy long. Why follow rules when you can adventure?
    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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    Tue Apr 02, 2019 10:21 am  
    Post 57: The Riddle of the Malhel III

    Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee:
    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel:
    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II:

    Post 57 - The Riddle of the Malhel III
    Concurrent with Post 56: Silglen
    The old elf is very informative. Aurora tells him that she is an elf searching for her heritage, but asks him all manner of questions. He lowers his voice and speaks in an archaic form of elven that she struggles to understand, because, he says, he talks of things that “the humans are not supposed to know”.

    He claims to be 1327 years old, and to be able to remember personally when the first Suel arrived in the Sheldomar Valley. At this time there was no “Dreadwood”, just a continual band of forest all across the valley (where there are now the Dreadwood, Axewood, and Silverwood, but all points between as well). This was before the Invoked Devastation that destroyed the Suel Imperium, so the Suel that were already in the valley were raiders and outlaws, vile and untrustworthy. After the Suel and Baklunish destroyed one another with magic so powerful it left “rifts in the weave that remain to this day”, there was a massive wave of immigrants - humans and humanoids. Some of the Suel were good and some were not. A few respected the elves, and met with them “under the moon and stars on the Gray Hill” from which the local barony gets its name.

    The old elf claims that the Suel houses that arrived were the Neheli, the Rhola, the Secunforth, the Lizhal, the Malhel, and many others he has since forgotten. The Neheli went north and fought against the empire of the Whispered One. The Malhel dominated the plains north of the forest. The Rhola went south to the coast. When the Neheli were forced to retreat, they contested with the Malhel for control of the plains and eventually won by enlisting the aid of the other houses. The Malhel were few in number but had powerful wizards and sorcerers among them. When they were driven off, they took refuge in the deep Dreadwood and vowed revenge. That, however, is a secret - something that the elves promised not to tell the humans. The Malhel made dark experiments and summoned powerful fiends, attempting to bind them to their service and use them to attack the Neheli. Eventually they summoned something too powerful for them to control and destroyed themselves. The ruins of their cities still can be found in many places in the Dreadwood, but these are all protected.

    When Aurora asks him why humans are not allowed to know this, the elf says he is not sure - he thinks he knew once, but has since forgotten. At some point the elves made a promise to the rulers of the human nation (he stumbles at remembering the name “Keoland”, but agrees when Aurora suggests it to him) to not talk about such things. Humans are a superstitious lot and he thinks their rulers may have been trying to keep their people from being afraid. Elves don’t like to talk about the Malhel either, but not because they are afraid - rather, it is a tragic tale, and elves are sensitive sorts and can sicken when they dwell too long on sorrowful things.

    When Aurora asks if there are Malhel ruins about, the old elf says “of course”, and then whispers the name to her “Valadis”. Valadis apparently was a Malhel city near Silglen. The elves agreed to seal it off and keep humans from approaching it. The old elf suspects that when the human druid woman made Silglen here, it was also to watch and protect the place. Aurora asks where it is - so that she can avoid stumbling across the ruins by accident. The old man says it is so carefully warded, that there is no danger of that, so long as she does not accidentally travel up the Owl River.

    Aurora asks him for the name of the local elven houses and clans, but does not recognize any that might be her father’s. She also asks him about Zuoken. He says that Zuoken was a mortal Bakluni man who was so dedicated to Xan Yae, the “Mistress of Perfection”, and who so mastered the unity of his mind and body, that he ascended to godhood. He remembers Zouken walking in the Dreadwood - but does not remember if that was decades ago or centuries, when he was a man or when he was a god. He thinks there may be temples to Zuoken, or Xan Yae, or both, in the southern Dreadwood, but then he thinks one can find just about anything in the southern Dreadwood - the part most overrun by all the humanoids that arrived when the Suel and Bakluni fought.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Apr 09, 2019 1:15 pm  
    Post 58: Silglen to the Owl Stream

    DM's Note: By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used her map of Keoland the party's travel, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 58: Silgen to the Owl Stream

    7 October, 570 - Silglen
    In the morning most of the party pack up camp while Tyrius goes to visit the Master of the Welcome Temple. The master explains that while Larry has great power and promise, he is entirely impatient with the rules and procedures of the druid hierarchy. They will not be able to train him until he is willing to submit to their authority.

    There certainly are druids in the world who are outside the hierarchy - many individuals have been gifted by the gods and spirits of nature with druidic powers - from the shamanic leaders of wild tribes to the fey folk to one such as the bear-man who was Larry’s mentor and foster father. It is entirely possible that Larry will continue to advance in power and understanding without the guidance of the hierarchy. However (and here the master looks Tyrius directly in the eyes), there can be only nine Druids, that is, true Druids, such as The Druid of the Mountains. If Larry ever makes it to that level of ability, he will have to challenge one of the nine Druids of the hierarchy, and attempt to take his or her place. Until then, the hierarchy is content to let Larry go about his business, since for the moment he seems to be doing little harm to the balance of things and some help besides.

    Back at the camp there is some discussion of where the party should travel next. Tyrius had, the night before, offered to show them his home country of Sterich, but that lies hundreds of miles to the north and west and none but he were eager to make that journey. Shefak was adamant that they need to explore the southern Dreadwood and seek temples to her gods, and none of them were terribly opposed to the idea. Thokk welcomed battle and Tyrius the chance to smite evil. Today, in the light of morning, they discuss how they might be making that journey. “The Dreadwood Road” leads south out of Silglen, and many people besides Hyacinth have assured them that by simply following that route they will reach the southern Dreadwood, with the forest becoming ever wilder as they go. However, none of them are too keen on another long overland journey should a quicker way present itself. Aurora suggested that they take another route out of Silglen, the one leading to the Javan River valley. From there, they would be able to find passage on a boat, much as Tyrius, Thokk, and Larry had done months ago. Going downriver on the Javan, they would quickly arrive back in the Viscounty of Salinmoor, at which point they could enter the southernmost, wildest portion of the Dreadwood directly. When Tyrius returns from the temple they speak to him, and he agrees to go along.

    By the time they use their remaining purchase vouchers to buy a half-day’s worth of food, it is a late start to the day. The forest cover keeps their journey cool, and it is afternoon before the temperatures approach the 80’s. Much sooner than that, however, they lose whatever protection the vicinity of Silglen has given them against insects, and the mosquitoes and other biting flies are out in force. They see no other travelers during the entire day. Night is approaching when they reach an obvious intersection in the road. It is unmarked, but Willa and Aurora both agree that the northern branch will take them to Greyhill, while the western one will lead to a mountain pass and then down to the Javan river. There are a number of deserted buildings at the intersection, and the forest growth is different, as if there was a failed attempt to clear fields and make a community here that was abandoned decades ago. They make camp in the most sturdy-looking of the structures (and are obviously not the first to do so), but not before all the buildings are searched and Thokk and Babshapka scout a short distance in each direction. It is a strange feeling to be in this ghost-town, and several of them do not sleep well.

    [The party’s purchase of four pounds of food brings their supply total to 14 pounds, which is down to 6 pounds by the end of the day - they will have to forage on the morrow.]

    8 October - Track from Silgen to Javan River - at the intersection of the Greyhill, Silglen, and Javan trails
    Babshapka’s time for trance has long since passed and he stands a silent vigil in the pre-dawn. The rest of the party is sleeping silently - the woods are transitioning between the night creatures and the creatures of the day. Babshapka reaches out with his primeval awareness - he lets the wind tell the leaves, the leaves tell the trees, and the trees speak to him. His senses extend out for six miles in each direction, and he finds no trace of unnatural things. Everything is as it should be. Here and there fey linger at the edge of his consciousness, but they are mischievous, not malicious. He cannot detect evil - for all he knows there is an orc warband up the trail - but he is confident that there are no abominations nearby. Satisfied, he climbs a tree and scouts the lands ahead, planning where he will hunt. They are short on provisions, and he and Thokk will be walking off-trail for most of the day. Even searching thusly, they will be easily able to keep up with Barnabus and Larry. But it will mean that Babshapka is leaving Aurora's side for hours at a time. Knowing that any enemy they face will at least be natural, he feels confident leaving her with the main body of the party.

    After breakfast Babshapka and Thokk pack a lunch for themselves, in case they do not reunite with the party until the night camp, and set out into the woods. The remaining six members of the party pack their gear and head up the Javan trail. “Up” is the right word, for the trail is definitely ascending, and when they pause in clearings, they can see that the land before them is ever higher, rising up into low, forested mountains. Still, the weather is pleasant and the company good and they manage a fair day’s march. When Thokk and Babshapka find them later in the day there is fresh meat and greens for dinner.

    [Six pounds plus 9.5 gained foraging, less 8 eaten is 7.5 pounds remaining].

    9 October - track from Silglen to Javan River - where the “h” in the "Barony of Greyhill" intersects the Javan trail
    Babshapka’s primeval awareness again convinces him that it is safe to forage away from the main group.

    They continue up the trail. It is just as steep as the day before, but now they can see high peaks to either side of them as well as in front. The trail is taking the most gentle ascent up a wide valley.

    Around three in the afternoon a light rain begins to fall and Willa calls a halt to the march. The rain does not obscure their vision or slow their movement much at the moment, but several hours of it on a steeply-sloped dirt trail could easily turn into a mud-pit, and she would just as soon have a clean campsite and dry night for those with tents.

    When Thokk and Babshapka find them later, after a bit of back-tracking, they carry with them the bounty of the forest.

    [7.5 pounds plus 11 gained foraging, less 8 eaten is 10.5 pounds remaining.]

    10 October - track from Silglen to Javan River
    On this morning, Babshapka’s primeval awareness detects the presence of something, just at the edge of its range. It is strange, like nothing he has felt before. He believes it is extraplanar in origin, and of uncertain intent. It is disquieting enough that he decides to spend the day on the trail by Aurora’s side. Since they have enough supplies for the whole day, he convinces Thokk to march with the party as well. Whatever the creature or being is, he wants everyone together if it decides to menace them. He did not understand what he sensed, but he knew that it was powerful.

    They continue up the trail. Babshapka is immediately convinced that they are being watched, but none of the rest of the party are aware of anything and put it off to a “bad trance” the night before. He has half a mind to dash off into the underbrush and flush out the person or creature that is watching, and following, them, but he restrains himself thinking that that is perhaps what the thing wants, to separate them.

    While Aurora ignores Babshapka’s presentiments, she does seem awfully interested in the trail on which they are marching, specifically whether they could have missed any side trails. She badgers Willa to take out her map, but Willa refuses, citing the rain they had the day before and the delicate nature of the map. When questioned about her behavior, Aurora replies that the elderly elf she spoke to in Siglin told her that there was another trail, a shortcut to the Javan River, that ran southeast and that would have to be along this stretch somewhere. She even sends her spirit hawk Buckbeak high into the sky all morning, soaring in circles and searching (and causing Aurora to trip clumsily up the trail as she cannot see what is in front of her when viewing through his eyes), but she never locates the side branch she claims exists. Even Babshapka sees no evidence for any branches off of the trail they are on, and he is incessantly monitoring the woods around them.

    As morning turns into afternoon Babshapka relaxes somewhat, and Aurora gives up on locating the missing side-branch. After their mid-day meal the trail becomes truly steep, requiring all their effort and attention to climb as it ascends to a rugged saddle between two peaks. For some time the soil is so thin and the ground so rocky that they even leave the forest and hike through alpine meadows.

    In the late afternoon they finally begin their descent down into the Javan River valley. Here the forests are even more lush and dense than those they have been walking through since leaving Silglen. It is not long before they pass a large stone cairn that marks the boundary between the Barony of Greyhill and the Dreadwood Protectorate. At least at this border crossing there are no self-proclaimed tax collectors. The Protectorate is not a traditional fiefdom run by some human noble. Rather, it is the name for all of the Dreadwood that is really too wild to be ruled, too savage to collect any regular revenue from. Here in the north, the land is claimed and patrolled by elven tribes nominally loyal to the Crown and the party is in little danger, but the more southern regions of the Protectorate, their ultimate goal, is truly a lawless wilderness.

    They work their way downslope along the base of a great cliff-face. Fortunately the cliff is to their north, giving them enough light from the south to march until well in the afternoon. Finally, as the sky is turning deeper shades of blue, Willa calls a halt for the day. It is cool, already in the sixties, and though they are hot from marching she thinks they will be cold in the night, here on the mountainside. As they make camp she sends out some of them to gather enough wood for a large fire. Thokk goes off a way to set his trap. They have just enough supplies for a full dinner tonight and a good breakfast in the morning, and then they will be completely out of food.

    [10.5 pounds and no foraging, less 8 eaten is 2.5 pounds remaining.]

    October 11 - track from Silglen to Javan River, in the Dreadwood Protectorate
    It does indeed get cold at night - down into the forties, perhaps, and the party is slow to rouse in the morning. Willa, Aurora, and Tyrius have a discussion over breakfast - they will soon be upon the river, with perhaps no towns of note before then. It would be better to have a full stock of supplies if they will be negotiating for their passage on whatever barge floats by. They have been keeping themselves fed, but barely, as they travel with just the casual foraging of Thokk and Babshapka supplying them. If they take a day of rest here and concentrate on provisioning themselves, they may be able to start the next day with full packs. In particular, Thokk and Babshapka have been eager to bring down a deer, but Tyrius had previously restricted them to small game, not wanting to be accused of poaching from the Baron. But here in the Protectorate, there is no local law to speak of - or at least the elves who allow hunting do not reserve large game for the tables of their nobles. This camp affords them the best opportunity to stock up before they arrive at the river. It is decided that they will keep their camp for one day while Thokk, Babshapka, and Larry dedicate the day to hunting and gathering.

    Thokk first checks his trap set the night before. It has been sprung, and snapped off a giant beetle leg! Estimating from the size of the leg, Thokk imagines the beetle stands higher than he is, and he is sorry he missed it. Giant beetle carapace makes good improvised armor, and the wing and mandible muscles are huge and edible, if tough.

    While the others spend a quiet day at camp, resting and mending gear, Thokk and Babshapka bring back a young buck and Larry returns with armloads of mushrooms, greens, acorns, and fruit. He also has a small cache of grubs and worms just for himself. The total bounty is nearly a week’s worth of food.

    [2.5 pounds with 43 pounds from foraging, less 8 pounds is 37.5 pounds remaining.]

    12 October - track from Silglen to Javan River, in the Dreadwood Protectorate - near the crossing of the Owl Stream
    In the morning the party breaks their two-day camp and sets out back down the Javan trail. It descends steeply and there is more than one section of switchbacks. A few hours into the march the trail crosses a sizable stream at a broad ford; larger than the alpine brooks they have previously walked or waded through. It is not yet mid-day. Here Aurora calls a halt and confers with Willa on whether she thinks this is the “Owl Stream.” When Willa checks her map and agrees that it is, Aurora says that they should move upstream and try the fishing. When everyone stares at her blankly, she explains that the elderly elf from Silglen told her of the excellent fishing in the upper reaches of the Owl Stream.

    “Why fishing?” asks Tyrius. “We have plenty of food now.”

    “Food for ourselves, yes,” agrees Aurora, “but with a few baskets of fish besides we could trade for passage on the river and would not have to offer gold to the captains.”

    The party remains unconvinced, but Aurora is stubbornly insistent that they need to go fishing. Willa is curiously silent on the matter after a few questions to Aurora.

    There seeming no way around it, the party reluctantly agrees rather than split. Leaving the trail, they begin to follow the Owl Stream upriver. At first they walk along its banks, but before long the stream itself lies in the bottom of a narrow glen and they follow it from the forest floor above. Less than an hour after they have left the trail, Babshapka, scouting the lead, finds a curious barrier. The entire hillside is closed off by a thick thorn hedge, as far as they can see in either direction, except for the narrow glen ravine, which at this point is more than fifty feet below them. Buckbeak confirms that the thorn hedge goes both directions, blocking access for miles at least, but that on just the other side of the barrier the forest is unremarkable. Even with hand-axes, it would take them hours to hack their way through, and walking around would take more than a day.

    Instead, they fell trees, strip limbs, and Thokk quickly ties the trunks together with rope from three different kits to make an improvised raft. The raft is lowered to the bottom of the glen with his block-and-tackle, and the party either climbs down or is lowered. Strapping their gear to the raft as best they can, they set off up the stream.

    Where the thorn barrier is overhead corresponds to the narrowest part of the glen between high rock walls, and the stream’s course is deep and strong. Thokk had been wading on the stream bottom, pushing the raft ahead of him, but in the narrows the water is already over his chest and likely to get deeper. Now he mounts the raft, and tries to use a grappling hook to pull the raft through the ravine. They are about halfway through when his hands slip on wet rope and the raft lurches back, gathers speed, and smashes into the ravine wall. The next few seconds are a chaos of flailing arms, bucking logs, and desperate grabbing.

    When everyone is safely on shore downstream, they take stock. Many have lost a small personal item - much of the rope is gone. Thokk has lost his mechanical game trap, and Willa had her vial of “cure disease”, captured from the Sea Ghost, smashed.

    Thokk ponders awhile, then declares that the raft was too complicated an idea. He takes the largest remaining log and into it axes leg-holds, like a giant flume. The party repacks all their gear. As they mount up in the water, Thokk tells them to hold on with their legs and thighs, because they will likely roll more than once, which helps no-one’s confidence.

    Barnabus stands behind Thokk. They use two grappling hooks and lines. Barnabus throws one, and when it is set, transfers it to Thokk, who advances them with the block-and tackle while Barnabus looks for their next hold.

    While the log rocks and bucks and pulls in the current, it does not roll, and some twenty minutes later they have emerged from the narrows into a large, placid pool. They hand-paddle to a bank and mount the shore. Before them is a great expanse of woods, like that they left behind, but older, thicker, and darker.

    Buckbeak is sent aloft, and reports a mountain with a village at its foot several miles ahead as well as a divot in the canopy that reflects an old, but usable, road beneath. The party spreads out their clothes to dry in the mid-day sun while they take their lunch on the banks of the pool. Here and there on the hillslopes behind them they can see bits of the thorn wall. Aurora says that they can likely reach the village by nightfall, and no one seems surprised that she hasn’t mentioned fishing lately.

    Their clothes are reasonably dry and their stomachs full by the time dark afternoon clouds roll in. They set off into the woods and soon find the road. It is ancient indeed, still recognizable although saplings of all sizes grow up through it. They proceed in the direction of the mountain while the sky grows darker all the time; around two in the afternoon a brief thunderstorm breaks, soaking them again. Although it quickly passes, in its wake the cool air and standing water have made a light fog. Black pools of water stand like dark mirrors about the muddy roadway. Thick, cold mists spread a pallor over the land. Giant tree trunks stand on both sides of the road, their branches clawing into the mists. In every direction the mists grow thicker and the forest grows more oppressive.

    The party continues along the road for at least five hours. The sun is long-lost to view but its last rays illuminate the top of the mountain above them when they come to a strange gate. Jutting from the impenetrable woods on both sides of the road, high stone buttresses loom up gray in the fog. Huge iron gates hang upon the stonework. Dew clings with cold tenacity to the rusted bars. Two statues of armed guardians silently flank the gate. Their heads, missing from their shoulders, now lie among the weeds at their feet. They greet the party only with silence.

    By now the entire party is spooked. Larry approaches the gates cautiously, tossing a handful of dirt between them. When nothing happens, the party walks through. However, when the last of them has entered, the gates swing closed of their own accord, groaning against their rusting hinges. As they clang shut, the mists seem to spring up thicker than ever. Deep in the mists, an unseen and unidentified beast growls.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:47 am  
    Post 59: A willage in the mists

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft. Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    While the party was in the woods, I used the ambient sound mix at There was a wonderful unscripted moment when they finally walked through the gate - I described it closing behind the last player, and there then occurred the first one of the random howls. They were very freaked out!

    Post 59: A Willage in the Mists

    Just inside the gates (B), the party carefully scans the mists for signs of the beast, but slowly realize the sound was distant. They proceed cautiously down the road through the dark woods.

    After a half-mile, the woods fall away from the road and they enter an area of pasture and fallow fields. Tall shapes loom out of the dense fog that surrounds everything. The muddy ground underfoot gives way to slick, wet cobblestones. The tall shapes become recognizable as the dwellings of a village. The windows of each house stare out from pools of black nothingness. No sound cuts the silence except for a single mournful sobbing that echoes through the streets from a distance.

    The party proceeds toward the village, their boot steps sounding unnaturally loud against the cobblestones in the silence of the night. As they approach, they notice that the village is surprisingly dark - it is only an hour after nightfall, and even poor folk without candles should still be knitting or mending by the light of a hearth fire. There seems to be light only in the village square - all of the other buildings are dark.

    The first two outbuildings of the village appear abandoned. On the main street, other buildings, shops and houses, are also empty - some looted, with smashed doors and fallen shutters, others perhaps still occupied but bolted up tight against the night. Everywhere the walls, especially on the door frames and window sills, are covered in scratches. Aurora examines them and believes them to be the work of zombies, but perhaps the eerie nature of the place is coloring her judgement.

    Thokk throws his shoulder against the door of a house, but it is barred from inside. The resulting crash echoes up and down the dark streets. Frustrated, he growls and takes out his battle axe. “No!” says Willa sharply. “We’ve already made enough noise. We are going toward the lights in the square.”

    Three blocks later they stand in the village square, which is actually a circle. The haunting sound of sobbing and wailing is louder now, and seems to be coming from the street to the south. While the square itself is not lit, two buildings, one to their left and one to their right, have lights on inside, and the light spills out into the darkened streets. They move to the left first - the light comes from behind heavy, drawn curtains. There is a sign hanging outside the shop, creaking on hinges over the door, but the lettering is unfamiliar to most of them. “It’s in Suel,” announces Aurora, “not ancient Suel, but a rather archaic form of modern Suel. I believe it says “Bildrath’s Mercantile.”

    (E1) They knock on the door, and the curtains are drawn back, but the face that looks at them is in shadows. A second later a stout bar is removed and the door is opened. “Come in, come in,” says a man in a heavily-accented Suel that only Aurora understands. “But be quick! The streets of Barowia are not safe at night.”

    Bildrath, if indeed that is his name, is a middle-aged man, but it appears the years have not been kind to him. His hair is sparse and gray, and he has heavy bags under his eyes. His hands seem to move of their own accord, nervously, fretfully. After the last of the party is through the door he closes it, hurriedly puts the bar back in place, and moves behind the counter.

    The shop is lit by oil lamps mounted on the walls, with polished tin plates behind them to reflect more light, but it somehow still seems dim. Dusty, half-empty shelves are everywhere, but even so there are a number of various and sundry goods about, and it appears as any general store they have been in - though perhaps this one has seen better days. The more valuable items are on the shelves behind the counter, inaccessible to the party. Most of the party give a cursory inspection of the items on the shelves. Larry helps himself to a few pickles floating in an open pickle barrel - they are crunchy and briny and quite good. Aurora wanders about the store, nonchalantly picking trinkets of small value off of the shelves and placing them on the counter, as she converses with the man in Suel.

    “You said the streets are not safe...what makes them so?”

    “Volves, and vorse…”

    “Do you have anything that might help us against such creatures? Silver weapons or wolfsbane or somesuch?”

    “No, no. I’m afraid in Barowia the demand for such items far outstrips my meager supply.”

    “We are travelers - do you have many of those?”

    “Trawelers in Barowia are rrare, but not unknown. Eet has been more than a year since I haf seen any, certainly.”

    “Why are so many of the houses in the village empty?”

    “Thees land ees under a currse.”

    “Indeed! What is the nature of the curse?”

    “The currse ees the devil - the devil Strrahd!” as Bildrath says this last part, he whispers, and then makes a gesture to ward off evil.

    “What is the devil Strahd?”

    Bildrath winces at Aurora’s loud, offhand repetition of the name. “Thees things are not to be discussed at night.” He looks at the items she is putting on the counter. “Perhaps eef you rreturned in the day, ve might talk. Eef you rreturn.”

    “Hmm. We are looking for a place to stay for the night…”

    “No! Not een my store!” Bildrath exclaims. “Try the tavern across the street. They may haf rrooms to let above.”

    Aurora pays for her purchases, and finds the bill is about ten times what she would pay in a town like Daerwald or Seaton. Larry is pulling pickles out of the barrel with his bare hands and trying to stack them in his arms like kindling. Bildrath glowers at him, then hands over a pair of tongs and a large earthenware jar with a lid.

    The party leaves the shop and walks across the street. A single shaft of light thrusts into the main square, its brightness like a solid pillar in the heavy fog. Above the gaping doorway, a sign hangs precariously askew proclaiming this (in Suel) the "Blood on the Vine Tavern."

    (E2) They make their way into the building. The once finely appointed tavern has grown shoddy over the years. A blazing fire in the hearth gives scant warmth to the few huddled souls within. The silence here is broken only by the occasional sip of wine. The barkeep is behind the bar, cleaning glasses. He looks up as the party enters, but returns immediately to his work. Three men with dark skin and in brightly colored clothes are at a table on the left. A solitary man, much paler, sits mysteriously in the shadows to the right.

    Larry approaches the man in the shadows, attempting to discern whether he is some kind of undead. “You look like a stranger to Barowia,” the man says, in a heavily-accented Common. “Are you trawelers?”

    “We’re adventurers!” booms Larry brightly. Shefak notices the three men on the other side of the room bend their heads together and whisper.

    “Adwentures? Then you are used to helping people in dangerous situations?”

    “Of course.”

    “Come, let us go to my house.”

    By now, Aurora and Tyrius are standing next to Larry. “Why don’t you tell us what you need first.”

    “Not here,” the man demurs. He leans in and says softly, “There are too many ears here.”

    The man leads them out of the tavern and down the street to the south. A moaning sob floats through the still, gray streets, coloring their thoughts with sadness. The sounds flow from a dark, two-story townhouse they pass (E3). The party asks the man what the sound is.

    “Ah, that...that is Mad Mary,” he sighs, and makes a warding gesture.

    (E4) At the very end of the street a weary-looking mansion squats behind a rusting iron fence. The iron gates are twisted and torn. The right gate lies cast aside while the left swings crazily in the wind. The stuttering squeal and clang of the gate repeats with mindless precision.

    Weeds choke the grounds and press with menace upon the house itself. Yet, against the walls, the growth has been trodden under to form a path all about the domain. Heavy claw markings have stripped the once-beautiful finish of the walls. Great black blottings tell of the fires that have assailed the walls. Not a pane nor shard of glass stands in any window. All the windows are barred with heavy planking, each plank marked with stains of evil omen.

    The man thrusts aside the gate impatiently and strides up to the front door. He pounds on the door, calling, in Common, “Sister! Sister, open. It is Ismark!” By the time the door is opened, the party is clustered around the man at the threshold. Immediately light spills from the mansion, and a second later, the strong stench of death overwhelms them. Their hands go to weapons, but in the doorway is only a young woman of surpassing beauty.
    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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    Tue Apr 23, 2019 1:40 pm  
    Post 60: The House of the Burgomaster

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft. Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Post 60: The House of the Burgomaster

    12 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia
    The young women in the doorway stares dumbfounded at the party, and then at the face of her brother. He nods at her and she ushers them inside, immediately barring the door behind her while he drags a small table with a holy symbol on it in front of the door.

    The interior of the house is well furnished, although the fixtures show sign of considerable wear. Obvious oddities are the boarded - up windows and the overuse of holy symbols in every room. An older man is in a side parlor to the left, dead. He is lying on a settee in a room that is dark, despite the candles burning in his honor. The stench in the house is horrible.

    “Sister,” says Ismark, sounding greatly relieved, and he kisses the young woman on both cheeks. He turns to the party. “To thee of might and walor, I present my sister Ireena Kolyana.”

    Tyrius bows deeply and a few of the others hastily imitate him.

    “And who are these strrangers, Ismark?” she asks, following his lead and speaking in Common.

    “Adwenturers,” he says, “I think they can help us.”

    “We may be able t’ help ye,” says Willa cautiously, “but firs' we need t’ know what be going on 'ere.”

    Ismark and Ireena lead the party into a dining room across the hall from the parlor with the dead man. Between them, they tell a long tale. They explain that the man was the Burgomaster, the village leader of Barovia, and that they are his children. The village of Barovia is a sad place now. Most of the shops have been forced to close. The night, and its creatures, belong to the devil Count Strahd von Zarovich, Lord of Barovia. When the sun sets, the people of Barovia barricade their homes, trembling in fear. Each night the attacks get worse. Recently, the Burgomaster's mansion has been the center of most attacks - although it was not like that when the siblings were children. Each night now, wolves and other, terrible creatures attack the house. The Burgomaster's heart could not stand the constant assault and he died a natural death. Strangely, just since his death, the wolves have not attacked the house. The Burgomaster has been dead for nearly ten days, but no one from the town has been brave enough to help Ismark take him out for burial. During the same attack in which the Burgomaster died, his mansion's greatest holy symbol was stolen, and Ireena and Ismark are now without protection.

    The poor villagers of Barovia have been terrorized for generations by "the devil" Strahd. No villager has left Barovia for centuries. Those who tried never returned, dying from the vile snapping teeth of the Barovian wolves and the choking deadly fog. The dark Svalich woods surround the village and cliffs. There is a deathly stillness in the dark woods, yet they are patrolled constantly by the wolves and serving beasts of Count Strahd. Strangers occasionally arrive in the village, like the party, but they never leave. This is because of the trapping mists that exist everywhere in Barovia. Once they are breathed, they infuse themselves around a person's vital organs like poison. When they leave Barovia, the poison becomes active, killing them - if the wolves do not find them first.

    The men the party saw in the tavern were Rhenee boatmen. They are spies for the devil, and it is rumored that they can pass in and out of Barovia as he wills. When the party asks whether they should return to the tavern and kill the men before they can report to Strahd, Ismark looks shocked, and Ireena aghast. No, they say, the Rhenee are spies, but they do not hurt the people of Barovia. And even if they could be silenced, the devil has many spies, and most assuredly Strahd already knows that the party is here.

    On the outskirts of the village sits a church. Only the constant prayers of the priest keep it safe at night. In the morning, with the party’s help, Ismark will take his father’s body there for burial. The party wonders why he could not do this by himself, or surely the two of them together - their father was a large man, but not so large he couldn’t be moved in a hand cart. Ismark simply repeats that it is “too dangerous”.

    Far above the village sits Castle Ravenloft, Strahd's home and fortress. Certainly, Barovia will never be safe until the evil in his castle is destroyed. No one knows what hides within the castle. Ancient tales tell of dungeons and catacombs deep under the castle. Other stories recall the great halls, treasures, and glory of Ravenloft centuries ago. Sometimes Strahd “calls” to certain people in the village, and they must come to his castle - usually young women. Such was likely the fate of Gertruda, Mad Mary’s daughter. The old woman kept her daughter confined in her house, never allowed to leave, and even the other villagers had never seen her. But last week she broke out and has not been seen since. Mary has been disconsolate, and her moans and sobs continue unabated.

    The party eats dinner from their own supplies, but heated in the kitchen of the mansion. They then arrange a watch schedule. Those resting are shown to the Burgomaster’s bedroom on the second floor, after Ismark extracts a pledge from all the men that they will not disturb Ireena, and a promise from Tyrius that he will enforce their pledges. Those on watch are shown the stairs to the garret, and a corkscrew from the kitchen is used to drill peepholes into the boards in the four windows of the tower.

    Thick clouds obscure the moon, but Aurora estimates it is around midnight when a dozen wolves take up a howling, right at the base of the mansion’s walls. The building shudders, and frantic messages arrive to Aurora, telling her that the wolves are throwing themselves against the doors and windows. Aurora looks desperately from peephole to peephole, but cannot see the source of the attacks.

    With a fantastic crash, the back door breaks in two against the restraint of the bar. The lower half falls into the hall as wolves and bats enter the mansion. Babshapka, Larry, and Barnabus hold off the intruders. Finally, out on the front path, Aurora spots a single man, cloaked in a dark cape and with dark hair, almost invisible against the night. Around his feet slink wolves, heads cowed. Peering through the peephole, Aurora prepares and targets her magic missile spell, sending the missiles exploding into the figure’s shoulder and chest. His cape sizzles and burns, but his body does not move. He cranes his neck toward the garret, and Aurora can feel his hateful red eyes upon her, with her as exposed as if she was standing naked in front of him in broad daylight, rather than behind boarded-up windows at night. With a flourish of his cape the figure turns on his heels and strides away, laughing cruelly, followed by a host of wolves and a cloud of bats.

    The battle over, Thokk slays one of the unconscious wolves and drags the other one into the pantry, laying a leg of meat beside it and shutting the pantry door. Hours later but before dawn he can hear it whining and scratching at the door. He begins a ritual, calling his wolf totem to himself so that he can see through its eyes and speak with its voice. When Thokk is ready, Larry opens the door for him and Thokk faces the wolf.

    Using his totem to speak to the spirit of the wolf, Thokk learns that the wolves of Barovia call Strahd the “Master of the Pack,” and must obey him because he is “The Master”. Sometimes he calls them to his stone house, but they do not like to go there because there are many dead things there. Rather, they live in dens all over the woods and hunt the creatures of the forest when he is not commanding them. Thokk gathers as much information as he can before he mercifully kills the wounded wolf, and none-too-soon for Ireena, who is both upset about the attack on their house and incensed that Thokk would keep one of the beasts that attacked them, alive inside the house.

    Watch and sleep schedules are re-adjusted, so that those wounded in the fight, or who used spells, can still get a full rest. The party had planned to debark at daybreak, but now they tell the Kolyana siblings that they will not be leaving the house until mid-morning. Privately, Ireena voices her concerns to Ismark that these adwenturers may not be the help they had hoped for.

    Those in the garret swear they see shapes in the woods around the mansion at various points in the night, but there are no further attacks.

    13 October, 9am
    Well after dawn the entire party, as well as Ismark and Ireena, depart the house, the siblings with their father wrapped in a sheet and carried between Thokk and Tyrius. Ismark and Ireena have, between them, one sword - a family heirloom, though both also carry long daggers. They pass up the cobblestone streets to a hill on the north end of the town. Here and there villagefolk can be seen moving about in the daylight, but they turn the other way when they see the party, or dart into doorways, so that none of them can be seen clearly or for long.

    (E6) Atop a slight rise, against the very roots of the castle's pillarstone, stands a gray, sagging edifice of stone and wood. This church has weathered the assaults of evil for centuries on end and is worn and weary. The bell tower hangs to one side, its sweet tone long silenced. The rafters strain feebly against their load. The party pauses at the unlocked front doors.
    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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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 1:17 pm  
    Post 61: The Kirk of Father Donovich

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    I decided to make the generic "gypsies" of the module into Rhenee to tie them more specifically to the Greyhawk setting. I kept one wagon but added some barges.

    For the camp itself, I used the audio file at:

    Post 61: The Kirk of Father Donovitch

    13 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia
    Passing through the doors, the party finds the church interior a shambles, with overturned and broken benches littering the dusty floor. A body is slumped over a claw-scarred altar toward the far end. Babshapka approaches it silently - until his foot kicks a bronze offering plate that clangs across the floor. With a sharp intake of breath the slumped figure jerks upright, hands clutching at the holy symbol around his neck. When he comes to his senses, he asks in a voice hoarse from all-night chanting, “Who is there...Ireena Kolyana, is that you?” His blood-shot eyes strain to see them.

    “Yes, Father, and Ismark with me.”

    “And who are these strangers?”

    “Trawelers, Father, here to help us bury…” her voice breaks off.

    “Who is that in the sheet then, is that…?”

    “Our father, the Burgomaster,” says Ismark, as his sister cannot bring herself to answer.

    “It is as I had feared,” the priest hangs his head resignedly. “Still, ve can give him a decent rresting place. Let us go outside.”

    Behind the church is a small cemetery (E7). Some of the graves have stone markers, some even statuary. Most have simple flat wooden plaques with carved sunburst designs, and many are unmarked. The grass is a bit greener here than the rest of the village, and it seems a quiet and peaceful place in the morning light. Not far beyond it, however, towers a vertical cliff face that rises more than a thousand feet. At the very top can be made out the towers and walls of Castle Ravenloft, looming over the village.

    Father Donovitch brings picks and shovels from a shed and Ismark, Thokk, Tyrius, and Larry quickly dig a grave. Just as the grave is finished and they are preparing to lower the Burgomaster into it, a howl splits the morning air and a huge wolf-like creature dashes from the edge of the woods straight at them.

    Everything happens so fast, it is difficult to say whom the beast is targeting - the Burgomaster’s body, the Kolyanas, the priest? As it races past Shefak, she lands a swift punch to its flank, making it list to one side. She follows up with a swipe from her staff, completely knocking it off its feet, and a party member finishes it off with a sword. Standing over the body, Babshapka declares, “That’s no wolf; that’s a worg.”

    Ismark looks around at everyone who questioned why he did not bury his father before. “As I said, it was too dangerous.”

    The worg is carried out of the cemetery and the Burgomaster laid to rest. Father Donovitch gives a eulogy in Suel, and Tyrius says a few words in Common as well. The Barovian priest listens carefully to the paladin, and stares intently at his holy symbol of a blazing sun, then draws him aside for a private conversation. Ireena, with the party, turns to discussing the Rhenee. Father Donovitch at some point in the eulogy mentioned Madam Eva, and the party is curious. Ireena explains that Madam Eva is the leader of the Rhenee, and heads their camp at the base of the waterfall. The party decides that they need more information about her. Ireena will lead them to the camp while Ismark returns to the mansion to attempt to fix the broken back door. Ismark gives Ireena their sword, and Father Donovitch kisses her forehead and blesses her.

    (c.10:00am) Ireena and the party take the road south out of the village and come upon the ancient stone bridge that spans the River Ivlis. The river is as clear as a blue winter sky, and in no way reflects the dismal gray clouds overhead, as if it was the last uncorrupted thing in the valley. For the next half-mile, the road passes in and out of the forbidding Svalich Woods, near to, and then far from, the Ivlis River. Then the party suddenly comes to a fork.

    (F) The northern path climbs slightly uphill while the southern route goes down and around a spur of the mountain. Dense fog obscures vision, but Ireena says the northern route will take them to the Rhenee, while the southern road leads to the castle of the devil. A cold autumn wind whistles down the northern lane, cutting icily through their clothing. Dead brown leaves rush about. There is no sound other than the wind and leaves, and their own breathing.

    The party takes the northern route up and over a hill. As they come down the other side, the woods close in quickly until they overshadow the road itself. The sound of the river is faint but grows louder. The canopy of mist and branches overhead suddenly gives way to black clouds boiling far above. There is a clearing here at the edge of a large, placid pool. Dry, brittle grass rustles in the biting wind. On the far side of the clearing is a covered wagon, and moored at the edge of the pool are several colorfully painted covered river barges. The mournful strains of an accordion mix meekly with the moaning of the wind. Several brightly clad figures surround a large, roaring fire. The road seems to pass close by this camp, but its cobblestones have given way to a dirt track.

    Before emerging from the trees into the clearing, Shefak puts on her ring of invisibility and Barnabus disappears into the foliage. The somewhat smaller party then approaches the fire.

    One of the men stands and nods as they approach. “It vas fated that you vould wisit this humble camp. Madam Eva foretold your coming. She awaits you." The man leads the party to a barge, the other men at the fire seeming not to notice them. The party steps aboard the barge, pausing at a narrow doorway to the covered portion.
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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 5:30 pm  

    I am so excited to read your party's adventures in Barovia! This is an exciting, though unexpected, turn of events. :)

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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 6:52 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is an exciting, though unexpected, turn of events. :)

    Who knew Barovia was in the Dreadwood, right?
    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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    Tue May 07, 2019 6:00 am  
    Post 62: The Barge of Madam Eva

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.

    Post 62: The Barge of Madam Eva

    13 October, 570 - A Rhenee camp at the base of Tser Falls, Barovia

    The party steps aboard the barge, then duck their heads to enter the covered portion of the vessel through a narrow doorway.

    Within, all is dimly illuminated in pools of red light. A small, low table stands across from the doorway, covered in a black velvet cloth. Glints of light seem to flash from a crystal ball on the table as a hunched figure peers into its depths. She speaks. Her voice crackles like dry weeds. Her tone soars and falls like the wind outside. "At last you have arrived!" Her sudden cackling laughter bursts like mad lightning from her withered lips.

    “Come in, come in, velcome, one and all,” she intones, speaking rapidly to each of them as they enter and squeeze in to make room for the others. “Thokk of the Mountains, mind your head on the cabin roof, dear. Tyrius, paladin of light, you are about to be sorely tested in this land of darkness, no? Aurora, close you are to vhat you seek, yes? So close! And your guard, Babshapka of the Silwervood, yes, will you find out vhy you must guard this voman? I think you vill, some day, but not here, no. Villa of Saltmarsh, you...vell, I had better not say in public, eh? Ireena, my condolences on your loss, child, yes, he vas a good man. Larry, ah yes, little Larry - ooh, vipe your feet before you come in, there’s a dear...but vhat is this? There are two missing, no? I cannot tell your fortunes vithout the whole group present! I cannot! Please, please to call them in, yes?”

    Aurora, awed at the crone’s knowledge of their group, messages Shefak and Barnabus (who remained hidden outside), and soon they too squeeze into the cabin. “Now ve are all here, yes? Take hands, please, eweryone take hands - your fortunes are all joined, this is wery clear…” When everyone in the party, plus Ireena, has linked hands, Madam Eva produces a deck of cards, thin, painted wooden plaques, wrapped in a bright piece of silk. She bids them each in turn mix the cards, but refuses to touch them herself once they are out of the wrapping.

    Once everyone has handled the cards, she motions for them to spread the cards out, face down, on the table with the crystal ball. Turning to Tyrius, she tells him that he must select the first card, and that the card “is a symbol of great power. It tells of a powerful force for good and protection against the forces of darkness. You vill need this if you are to triumph.”

    Tyrius flips a card over, to reveal “Eldred, the Wizard of Warriors.

    Madam Eva gasps. “This is a wery bad sign. This is in the wery heart of darkness: his home, his source. It is his center and his life. It is the one place to which he must rreturn. Seek the symbol there, but bevare! The Varriors are a dark shadow of evil cast over that place. If you fight there, they will conspire against you!”

    Next, Eva indicates that Aurora is to choose a card. When she has selected it, Eva says, “This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand a foe.” When Aurora turns the card, she reveals “Morgan, the Baron of Druids.”

    “Aha!” says Madam Eva. “The Baron is a crafty one, no? You should seek for a carefully hidden place of great vorldly vealth. I see a blazing fire protecting the place. The Druids sustain your strength here, but hold you from your wictory, taking more time than it otherwise vould. This is a good place to rest - but not to fight. Take care you are not caught there.”

    Third, Eva calls upon Willa to choose a card. To guide her hand, Eva says “This is the object of your search! Ah! I see darkness and evil behind this card! It is a powerful man whose enemy is light and whose powers are beyond mortality!”

    Suddenly Willa feels drawn to one particular card. She turns it over, showing “Basil, the King of DragonLords.”

    Madam Eva nods knowingly. “Yes, always brooding on his power is that one. You vill find him on a king’s throne. The DragonLords are a very good influence there. If you fight him there, the powers of good will aid you.”

    Fourth, Madam Eva encourages Thokk to choose a card. Before she can even say anything, he flips over “Gaff, the Fool of Warriors”.

    Eva smiles. “This card is good for you, barbarian. It is a card of power and strength, the wictor’s card. It tells of a veapon of light, a veapon with a wengeance. It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful. It is in a place of visdom, varmth...and despair. Great secrets are there. The Varriors cast their shadow over that place as well, for he is often there. Do not fight there if you can help it, but carry the veapon forth to engage him elsevhere.”

    Finally, Eva looks upon Ireena pityingly. “Yes, child. You must choose this one.” Ireena hesitatingly puts her hand forth, hovering over the table. The light from the crystal ball fades and flares, and then she puts her hand down. Eva says in a low tone, almost whispering, “And here is the root card. Out of darkness and chaos, this card finds the reason and foundation for darkness and chaos. This card shows the purpose of all things. It is the key to life and death and else beyond.” Her hand trembling, Ireena flips the card over. It is “Aurelia, Princess of DragonLords.”

    “Yes, yes,” says Madam Eva, almost to herself. “Of course, the Princess - the young voman not yet married, but surely betrothed, no?” Then, to Ireena and all the party, with a tone of insistence, “The darkness loves a light and desires it. Great subtle plans are in motion about you; plans that the dead may find varmth from the living!”

    Madam Eva collapses back as if exhausted, and rests for several moments before speaking again. “There, now you have the fortunes of all of you, combined. That I provide for you, as I must - as the fates decree. Howewer, should you vish to know your personal fortune, that I can prowide to you indiwidually, for just five gold a person, no? Now you all leave my cabin a moment - but if you vish me to pierce the weil of your future, please rreturn one at a time.”

    One by one the party exits the cabin on the boat, heads abuzz with strange new information. Many of them wish to know their fortunes, and even convince those who, at first, do not. One by one Madam Eva entertains them in her cabin, always starting the conversation with “Place the coins on the table, please. Ah, Lions I see! Good, good. Difficult to see is the future, alvays in motion - and yet, Madam Eva has the Gift - the Gift of Sight. Our fates are full of light and dark, all of us. Some folk - be they pure of intent or simply awaricious, look only at vhat they may gain. Others, those who are cautious or afeared, think only on awoiding loss. I can tell you one thing, just one thing my child, for in focusing on the one, the other slips avay - but you must choose, light or dark.”

    When Aurora has had her fortune told, she lingers in the cabin, attempting several times to get Eva to reveal more information about Strahd. The woman steadfastly refuses. “No, no, Strahd is the Master of this Realm, and ve are all his guests. Vhat I told you before vas only vhat the fates decreed that I must, I had no choice there. But I vill not tell you anything about Strahd. Vhile I vish you success in your endeawor, your fate is already sealed. And should you fail, my people vill still be here, and Strahd vill still be here, and I must protect my people. I vill not abuse the trust he has shown me, nor allow my people to be punished for my ill manners.”

    It has been at least an hour that the party has tarried in the camp of the Rhenee, and now they return up the road through the woods toward the fork. (c. 11am) As they walk, they speak of their private fortunes - some openly, some cryptically, some not at all.

    “So, Aurora, tell us a’gin what fishin’ experdtion brought us ‘ere?” says Willa, with just a hint of menace.

    “You know, fishing, the old elf told me…”

    Willa interrupts sharply. “Aurora, in case ye hain’t noticed, we all be trapped in some nightmare world. We be fightin’ a devil an’ even if we run, the mists’ll kill us. I fer one would apperciate knowin’ just why we be ‘ere in ther firs' place - an' it ain’t fer fishin’!”

    Aurora petulantly starts into her tale of fishing again, but by now Tyrius has become involved. He waves his hand for the party to stop walking - they are now nearly at the crest of the hill, on the road from the river back to the fork. He has the enchantress face him as he speaks.

    “Aurora - you are being untruthful. You have led us here to a realm of great peril. We deserve to know why.”

    “Ok, ok, I haven’t been entirely truthful with you, but it is a highly personal matter. The truth is, I am looking for my family history. Babshapka will attest to this,” she says as she gestures at the wood elf, who is even now scanning the trees on each side of them and ignoring the conversation. “I never knew my father…” Aurora pauses to let this phrase elicit sympathy for her, but the faces around her are unmoved. “Yes, well, I never knew my father, aside from the fact that he was an elf of some nobility. I have been researching elven noble families and family lines. I did this around Gradsul, and I was attempting to do it here. The old elf told me that there was a ruined city near here called Valadis, and that I might find information there that would help me. I told the story about fishing because I wanted to find Valadis and learn about my father. That is the truth.”

    Tyrius stares at her, looking deep into her eyes for near half a minute after she is done talking. Then he says dryly, “I don’t believe you. You are still lying.”

    “I don’t see why it matters,” says Aurora, loud and exasperated. She turns away.

    Tyrius turns red and stretches forth his gauntleted hand to grab her and force her to look at him, but stops short before he touches her. His nobleman’s pride struggles with his vows of humility and selflessness. He takes a deep breath and walks around in front of her.

    “It matters because we need the light of Pelor. Aurora, we are fighting a creature of darkness. He commands wolves and bats and, according to Thokk, he commands the dead. The only way any of us make it out of this place alive is by the grace of Pelor. I am not the most powerful fighter in this group, nor the most canny spellcaster. But the powers that Pelor grants me, to heal, to detect and repel evil, to bring light in the darkness, are our only chance of salvation.” Tyrius pauses to let his words sink in.

    “Aurora, your power comes from your knowledge, but mine comes from my faith. If I break faith with my vows, if I forswear myself, the power of Pelor will desert me, and then we are all of us doomed. Pelor is a god of truth, and a god of justice. If I tolerate your lies for the sake of convenience, if I feign ignorance of your duplicity, I am not fulfilling my oaths as a paladin.”

    [DM’s note: Tyrius’ Oath of Devotion requires him to enforce, in himself and to a lesser extent in others, the values of Honesty, Courage, Compassion, Honor, and Duty]

    Cornered, Aurora sees no way out. “Fine,” she hisses. “I’m looking for information about the Malhel.”

    “The who now?” says Willa, both trying and failing to keep the triumph out of her voice.

    “The Malhel. They were one of the early houses of the Suel that fled the Invoked Devastation a millennium ago. The settled the Sheldomar Valley along with the Rhola and Neheli, founding Keoland. Unlike the other houses, they were evil. So the other houses drove them out. Supposedly they were defeated and exiled, never to be seen again. But I have found some information that maybe they settled here in the Dreadwood. For some reason some powerful people want this information to be secret, so it has been hard to learn what I need to know. I was hoping to find Valadis and learn more.”

    Tyrius considers this. “So you tricked us into coming here to research an ancient, evil, Suel house?”

    “Yes! But not because I want to take on their evil power or study their evil magic or something like that from the fables. It is just historical interest, but it appears to be a closely guarded secret, for reasons I don’t know. Yet. And,” she adds as an afterthought, “I had no idea this Barovia place existed and I had never heard of Strahd or the von Zaroviches before we came here. I am just as lost as any of us.”

    Tyrius again regards her closely, this time for a full minute after she has finished speaking. “Fine,” he says at last. “I am satisfied.” He begins striding up the hill.

    “Now hold on!” cries Aurora behind him. “As long as we are being so honest, as long as your god doesn’t allow secrets, what about you? You refused to tell us your fortune! Don’t you find that just a bit hypocritical? Well?” she demands.

    Tyrius responds calmly. “My personal fortune concerns only myself - it cannot harm you. Neither have I demanded to know your fortune, as I presume it does not affect us. But suspecting that you deceived us all into coming to a realm of peril, for unknown reasons? That is not a private secret, that is a secret that affected us all, and that threatened us all. Your motivation in bringing us here was something that concerned us all. I assure you, I keep no such secrets, myself.”

    Frustrated, Aurora is not about to give up. “What about Willa, then? What is she keeping from the party? Could it harm us? Not only won’t she tell us her fortune, but she has some kind of hidden agenda! I think she is a spy or something! Probably for the Viscount!”

    Tyrius turns to Willa, arching one eyebrow. The dark woman shrugs broadly. “Fair’s fair. I’m an agent for the Crown, I admit. I’ve bin tryin’ ta figger out what Aurora’s bin up ta, is all.”

    Tyrius nods, but gives no indication he is interested in hearing more.

    Aurora is incensed. “Talk about your outside agenda! Keeping secrets! How can we trust her in the party! What are you going to do about her, Tyrius?”



    “You heard her. She’s an agent of the Crown. If she works for the King of Keoland, she has a right to keep tabs on folk like you, what with your looking for secret knowledge in dark places. We should be glad the King has such agents and move on.”

    “Aaaaagghhh!” Aurora roars in frustration, and stomps rapidly up the hill, faster than Tyrius can follow in his armor, forcing Babshapka to jog to catch up to her.

    Willa chuckles.

    If Willa manages to find out what it is that Aurora seeks in the Dreadwood, she will gain a level.
    [DM’s note; For fulfilling her “positive” fortune, Willa is now level 5]

    It is many minutes later when the party stands again at the crossroads (F), with one road leading down to the village of Barovia and the other up into the mountains and thence to the castle of the devil. Here they pause and converse. Aurora is sullen, and does not speak.

    They debate whether, knowing what Madam Eva has told them, they should march immediately upon the castle or retire to the village to wait out the day and night. It is late morning - the sun is nearing its highest point, though obscured by the thick, gray clouds. Some put forth that they should move against Strahd now, before he has a chance to learn that they have been aided by Madam Eva. Others argue that they may need all of a day in the castle - should they face Strahd at night, they are surely lost, and the hours between sunrise and noon may be what determines their fate. They say the party should hole up in the village one more night and leave at the morrow’s dawn. The first group contends that this is playing into Strahd’s hands, as once he knows where they are, he will surely attack again in the night. The debate goes back and forth for quite some time, with more daylight being wasted, until finally those who favor immediate attack concede.

    The party then turns east along the road. They ask Ireena repeatedly for where they can fortify for the night. Is there not some stone basement, some safe room walled by stout timber? She stubbornly insists that the Burgomaster’s house is the most defensible site in the village, but that should the devil wish to assault them, nowhere in Barovia is safe - only the great holy symbol was able to protect her family, and now that is gone.

    After a few hundred yards of walking, the party approaches a depression, where the woods grow closest to the road but then give way to the banks of the Ivlis River. Ahead of them, in the center of the road, are three huge wolves. The largest is on his haunches, while the others lie on the muddy stones. The party immediately halts, and the wolves don’t move, though they do stare intently at the group.

    Barnabus and Babshapka retreat from the party, and then fade into the woods on either side of the road - the halfling to the north, the elf to the south. Thokk motions those who remain to fall back behind him, while he squats and begins chanting in orcish.

    While they wait, the party discusses the meaning of this blockade.

    “It is obvious he wants to drive us to his castle, and prevent us from returning to the village,” says Tyrius.

    “Wha’ever he wants us to do, we should do the opp’site,” insists Larry.

    “Unless he actually wants us to go to the village, but he knows that we will oppose whatever it looks like he wants, so he put the wolves there to make it seem like he didn’t want that…” suggests Shefak philosophically.

    After ten minutes, Thokk strides toward the wolves, ready to talk to them through his totem. He can see the dark shade of Strahd hanging over them, and they grow more restless at his approach. Hackles raise, fur stands on end. Before he can speak, a hidden wolf breaks from the woods to the north, running full-speed at Ireena, and then the others rise and attack.

    Ireena defends herself with her family’s sword, but the wolf savages her off-hand before it is slain. The party makes short work of the other three, and then bandages Ireena’s wound. They return to the village. Ireena wants to go directly to her home, but some in the party insist on stopping first at the house of Mad Mary, to Ireena and Willa’s chagrin.

    They try the front door, but it is locked and barred from the inside. Barnabus easily scales the framing timbers of the house to the second story, though the incessant sound of weeping and wailing from within is disquieting.

    DM's Note on the Fortunes of Ravenloft
    I wanted to use the Fortunes of Ravenloft method given in the module to place the "quest items", with the draws of the players determining their locations. However, I felt that using a normal deck of cards would weaken the suspension of disbelief. Fortunately, I had on hand a set of cards from the Dragonmaster Game. These cards, beautifully illustrated by Bob Pepper, come in four suits (DragonLords, Druids, Warriors, Nomads) and eight ranks (King, Queen, Prince / Princess, Wizard, Duke, Count, Baron, Fool), and so could perfectly replace the cards needed for the Fortunes draws.

    The Dragonmaster game is briefly described at and links at the bottom of that page show the cards themselves.

    I decided that the most appropriate four of the party members should draw for the first four fortunes, as follows:

    Tyrius, the Paladin, would draw for the location of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind

    Aurora, the historian, would draw for the location of Strahd's Diary. I had decided to place with the diary a copy of The Chronicle of Secret Times in order to further her secret subplot.

    Willa, the party leader, would draw for the location of Strahd himself.

    Thokk, the party warrior, would draw for the location of the hilt of the sunsword. Thokk already had the blade of the sunsword, which he had obtained from me planting it as part of Elmo's party's hoard (and see Post 36, Old Elmo's Hoard).

    I had already decided the root card, Strahd's motivation, which was to win the love of Ireena. I had known this since our new player agreed to join the game as Ireena. I had planned to let her draw a card and then to read the description for the pre-chosen fortune regardless of the card's identity - but when she turned over the Princess, I got goosebumps. It was just too perfect.

    As Madam Eva said above, that was the party's group fortune. I then let those who wished to return privately pay for their individual fortune. Observant readers will recall that in this game I am not tracking xp, but rather allowing the PC's to progress at "plot appropriate points," (and see Post 12, A DM's Aside) when they complete story goals. The last story goal was the successful completion of U3, which saw them all to fourth level. For those who wished to have their individual fortunes told, I explained that I had individual story goals for each of them, and that meeting their story goal before the end of the module would gain them a level. However, I also had negative story goals for each of them, and that if they completed their negative story goal in the module, they would lose a level. The menace of them doing the wrong thing and then losing a level definitely added to the "horror" flavor of the setting (especially considering that even undead monsters in 5e typically cannot cause permanent level loss). Finally, I explained that when Madam Eva said she could look to the light or dark, but that they would have to choose, it meant that I would reveal one story goal to them, but not both. I would, through Madam Eva, either tell them what they needed to do to gain a level, or lose a level, and they had to choose which one they wanted me to reveal. This provoked a great amount of hand-wringing as they tried to figure out which they wanted to know more, and then, once they knew their fortune, whether or not they wanted to reveal it to the other party members. Eventually, those that had their fortune told convinced those that had decided not to, to have it done, although not everyone has revealed their individual fortune to the party.

    Private fortunes (Light) - (Willa, Aurora, Tyrius, Babshapka, Shefak)
    Willa: It seems Willa is now a Knight of the Black Watch - or at least in their service. If she manages to find out what it is that Aurora seeks in the Dreadwood, she will gain a level.

    Aurora: If Strahd is hundreds of years old - why not a thousand? If anyone knows about the Malhel, it would be he. There must be something in his castle that will tell her what she wants to know. If Aurora can discover clear information about the Malhel, she will gain a level.

    Tyrius: When the demon Strahd is vanquished, Tyrius will know that he is truly a champion of the Light. If Strahd is forever destroyed, Tyrius will gain a level.

    Babshapka: Nowhere is Babshapka’s service more likely to be put to the test than here. If Aurora makes it safely out of Barovia, whether Strahd is vanquished or not, Babshapka will gain a level.

    Shefak: Strahd is hundreds of years old, and a powerful ruler. He must know something of Zuoken, and that information is likely to be in his castle. If Shefak can discover a clue about Zuoken’s location before leaving Barovia, she will gain a level.

    Private fortunes (Dark): - (Larry, Barnabus, Thokk)
    Larry: Larry does not fear Death, for it is a natural part of the cycle of Life. But to be trapped in Undeath is the worst perversion there is. If any of the party become undead, Larry will lose a level.

    Barnabus: No treasure or story is worth dying for! If Barnabus dies while in Barovia, he will lose a level, even if he is later raised from the dead.

    Thokk: The demon Strahd commands the spirits in Barovia - he even dares to command Thokk’s totem spirit! If Thokk loses a combat with wolves (he is knocked unconscious or flees), he will lose a level.

    For the player of Ireena, I did not offer a light or dark fortune. Rather, I had Madam Eva tell her, in private, that there was no point in telling her fortune, for she had done it dozens of times before. When Ireena objected that she had never been to Madam Eva, Eva said perhaps not in this body, but still. Nevertheless, she said, things might be different this time - these adventurers had been brought to Barovia by fate, and perhaps they could finally change Ireena's fortune. Finally, I had her tell Ireena's player that the initial backstory I had told her - of her being the Burgomaster's daughter, was false - that the Burgomaster had actually found her in the woods, at the base of the pillar rock of the castle, when she had been a young girl, and adopted her.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
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    Tue May 14, 2019 3:30 pm  
    Post 63: The Townhouse of Mad Mary

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    For the carriage ride through the Svalich Woods, I used

    Post 63: The Townhouse of Mad Mary

    13 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia

    From his perch atop the second-story window ledge, Barnabus pries a few boards loose from the boarded-up window and drops lightly to a hallway within the house. A narrow staircase leads down; two doors lead off the hall, with the weeping coming quite obviously from one. He pries a few more boards free, then lowers a rope and other party members start ascending while Willa stays at the bottom and frets. “Really? We be doing t'is?”

    Once inside, Tyrius calls forth the holy light of Pelor and leads the way into a bedroom. A woman lies collapsed on the floor, hugging an empty dress to her chest. She is pale and disheveled, but very much alive, and not a groaning spirit as some had suggested. At first her grey hair and sagging skin make her appear ancient, but as the party tries to rouse her they see that she is actually middle-aged but hard-worn with grief. Nothing they can do seems to make her respond - she only sobs and shakes and barely notes their presence. While the party is occupied with the woman, Barnabus is casing the room. It appears that this is not her bedroom - what few simple dresses there are, are styled for a young woman and cut for a fuller figure than hers. There are meager possessions - a set of combs and brushes, a child’s rag doll. Barnabus finds a board on the floor that has been removed from the bedroom window. Below, in a flower bed (though the flowers are all dry and dead), are footprints and a rope made from bed-sheets.

    Finally Ireena comes into the room. “Mary,” she soothes, laying her hand on the woman’s head and mumbling a prayer. The woman pauses in her sobs and looks up, her eyes swimming in tears but briefly lucid. “Ireena? But oh, my Gertruda! The devil has Gertruda…” she gasps. Ireena leads her by the hand to her own bedroom and helps her to drink water. She collapses into a catatonic slumber in her own bed. The house is eerily quiet now that her sobbing has finally ceased. Tyrius collects food from the kitchen and places it beside her bed for when she wakes, praying for Pelor’s mercy on this poor woman. The party leaves, returning to the Burgomaster’s house.

    Ismark has been busy, repairing the shattered back door, cleaning the bloodstains from the floors and the death-stains from the settee. The party sets a watch schedule designed to have everyone rested and ready by dawn.

    14 October
    Shortly after midnight there is another wolf attack, this one even more frantic than the first. Numerous swarms of bats accompany the wolves and there is much desperate fighting within the house, although none of the animals attack Larry. Larry is guarding the back door, and through it he can see the dark figure from the night before.

    DM's Note:The following colored section was at the time known only to the player of Larry.
    Although the figure speaks in whispers, Larry can hear his voice clearly. The man says he is glad Larry has come - there is a curse on the land, and he needs the help of a powerful druid to remove the curse. Larry immediately agrees to help, and the man is pleased, and Larry finds that he is happy that the man is pleased. The man says not to mention this meeting to the party. Sometime soon, he says, he will ask Larry to do something, to perform an action, that will help remove the curse from the land, but the magic is such that he cannot tell Larry until the precise moment. Larry says he understands, but that the party may want to fight with the man. The man says Larry should not be afraid, that the party cannot hurt him - Larry should play along, can even try to attack the man. Everything will be fine as long as Larry does what he says when it matters, to break the curse and free the land. The man fades back into the darkness.

    Larry’s moonbeam proves highly effective against the attackers - Aurora’s web, not so much, perhaps inconveniencing the defenders more. Many of the party are wounded in the fight, and most have lost their rest. It is not until 9:30 the next morning, with the sun well up, that the party sets forth from the Burgomaster's house.

    In the morning, there is a brief debate about whether the Kolyanas should accompany the party to the castle. Ireena is insistent that she go, but Aurora is suspicious. Tyrius proclaims that he cannot protect her unless she accompanies them. Ismark decides that he must stay in the village to lead the townsfolk and besides, they have only the one sword between them. The siblings embrace before the party leaves.

    Babshapka searches around the house for tracks from the night before. He follows the wolves' prints to where they crossed the Ivlis River at the bridge outside of town. When Aurora remarks it odd that wolves would need to cross the narrow river at a bridge, Ireena shakes her head. “They trawel vith the devil. They can cross running vater, but he may not.”

    After crossing the bridge themselves, the party walks for an hour along the dirt road. They pass unmolested by the site of the previous day’s battle with wolves, though the bodies no longer remain. If some of the party feel that there are eyes in the woods, the others reassure them that nothing is there. Indeed, after leaving the sounds of the village behind them, it is silent except for wind and the occasional bird call.

    After the crossroads where one road leads to the Rhenee camp, the other road curves around a spur of the mountains and then up into the mountains themselves. The woods creep closer to the sides of the road until the tree branches overhang the road itself. In many places there is almost no visibility, while at other times the road hugs the edge of a slope too steep for trees and the vista opens to breathtaking views of the River Ivlis or the valley of Barovia below. The clouds above seem to darken the higher they climb.

    After many twists and turns and steady climbs the road seems to be headed to a place suspended in air, where the mountains fall away on either side. Arriving, the party finds themselves on a ledge a thousand feet above the river. To their left, the Tser Falls plunge nearly the entire distance down into the valley below. Great plumes obscure the base of the falls and what must be a deafening roar below reaches them as a quiet murmur. The space across the gorge over the river is spanned by a massive, narrow, stone bridge, ancient in age and worn smooth with time.

    The party pauses at the edge of the bridge, and Larry goes so far as to throw a handful of dirt on it before crossing, wondering if it is real. Willa snorts and strides past him, ignoring the giddiness they all feel as the wind buffets them and the ground spins beneath them as they cross.

    Once over the bridge, the wind dies down and a thick fog emerges from the woods. As they continue up the fog-shrouded dirt road, dead leaves crackle along their track. The road eventually splits in two (I). One path continues to the northwest. The other, wider, branch leads east into the heart of the dense forest. Patches of cobblestone show up through the east road, telling that it was once great.

    Ireena says she has not been here before, but that she believes the left-hand road leads to the western gates of Barovia (B) while the right-hand road continues on to the castle. Her explanation dies in her throat though, as she spots something at the crossroads, and a second later the entire party is silent.

    (10:30am) To the right side of the fork stands a large carriage with two horses. Both horses are black as pitch. The horses snort violent puffs of steamy breath into the chill air. The carriage door swings open silently.

    What follows is an intense debate among the party about whether to mount the carriage or not. Ireena insists that the devil knows they are coming - he is inviting them in, and there is nothing they can do now to surprise him. Willa stubbornly insists that she is not riding in that “death trap”. People approach the horses, then back away. Babshapka searches the carriage carefully, then mounts the driver’s bench and invites Aurora inside. Eventually the entire party climbs aboard, even Willa. The black wood of the coach is polished to a fine shine; the leather seats inside bespeak comfort and luxury.

    As Willa pulls the carriage door closed behind her, the horses immediately strain at their harnesses and move forward down the road, their hooves clopping on the increasingly frequent cobblestones. Soon they are moving at a brisk pace. The woods flash by, difficult to see through the growing gloom. Though it is only mid-morning, it is hard not to feel as though night is coming as the sky blackens and occasional flashes of lightning pierce the darkness.

    After passing through the craggy peaks of the Balinok Mountains, the road takes a sudden turn to the east and the startling awesome presence of Castle Ravenloft itself towers before them.

    Having gone a scant half-mile along the road, the carriage comes to a stop just in front of twin guardhouses of turreted stone, broken from years of use and exposure. Beyond these, a 50-foot-wide precipice gapes between the Balinok cliffs and the walls of Ravenloft, a chasm of dizzying depth that disappears into the fog-shrouded distance far below.

    The lowered drawbridge of old shorn-up wooden beams hangs precariously before the arched entrance to the courtyard. The chains of the drawbridge creak in the wind, their rust-eaten iron straining with the weight. From atop the high strong walls, stone gargoyles seem to stare down from their hollow sockets and grin hideously. A rotting wooden portcullis, green with growth, hangs in the entry tunnel. Beyond this, the main doors of Ravenloft stand open. A rich warm light spills from them into the courtyard. Torches flutter sadly in sconces on both sides of the open doors.

    With the horses now still and unmoving, the party descends from the carriage as a light, dismal rain begins to fall. They cross the drawbridge one at a time. Under Tyrius’ weight, a wooden crossbeam breaks, and a dinner plate-sized chunk of the bridge is freed. The wood spirals into the depths below, disappearing into the fog. Tyrius hurries to cross the remainder of the bridge.

    (10:45am) After the harrowing drawbridge, the party passes under the portcullis and out into the front courtyard (K1) of the castle, which is surrounded by tall stone walls. Thick, cold fog swirls around in the darkened space. Sporadic flashes of lightning lance the angry clouds overhead. Thunder pounds. Ahead, torch flames flutter in the wind on each side of the keep's open main doors. Warm light spills from those open doors into the courtyard. Doors in the gate towers on each side of the tunnel entrance are shut against the rain. A howling wind rushes through the courtyard. The dark towers of the keep loom above in the mists. Flickering lights shine from a short round tower on the southeast side of the keep.

    Ireena stands transfixed for a moment, a strange look upon her face.

    “What is it?” asks Tyrius, and her face clears.

    “Oh, nothink. A strrange feelink, an old memory, nothink more.”

    “I thought you said you have never been here,” asks Aurora suspiciously.

    “Vell, I hawen’t, of course.”

    The ornate massive doors of the keep hang open. Fluttering torches cast dim yellow flickers of light from the entry way. As the first in the party approach, a second set of doors suddenly swings open effortlessly and the sounds of organ music flow out. Overhead, in the entryway, four statues of dragons glare down, their eyes flickering in the torchlight.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue May 21, 2019 9:47 am  
    Post 64: Castle Ravenloft

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    For the music playing upon the party's entrance to the castle, I used Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor at

    Once the organ ceased, further exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 64: Castle Ravenloft

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, at the entrance to Castle Ravenloft

    The party passes quickly through the 20’ by 20’ entryway (K7), pausing only to make sure that the dragons are, indeed, statues. They continue into the room beyond, with the sound of the organ growing louder.

    Cobwebs hang from dust-covered columns of the great hall beyond (K8), illuminated by torches fluttering in iron sconces. The dust and webs cast strange, moving shadows across the faces of stone gargoyles squatting motionlessly on the rim of the domed ceiling. Cracked and faded ceiling frescoes are covered by centuries of decay. Two doors of bronze stand closed to the east. To the north, a wide staircase climbs into darkness. All the while, sad and majestic organ tones float about them from a lit hallway to the south. The room itself is about forty feet across, and octagonal.

    The party passes into the lit southern hallway (K9). Torchlight flutters against the walls of this vaulted hall. To the east, a dark and forbidding smaller hallway runs into darkness. Beside that opening, a suit of armor, oiled and glistening, stands at attention in a shallow alcove. To the west, large double doors hang slightly open, a steady bright light escaping through the opening. Swells of organ music come from behind the doors, spilling their melody of power and defeat into the hall.

    At this point Barnabus, already hanging near the back of the party, retreats back to the north. Retrieving a torch from a wall sconce, he crosses the octagonal room and ascends the great staircase. The main party cautiously pushes open the doors ahead and enters a dining hall (K10).

    (10:55am) The magnificent 40-foot-square room is brilliantly lit by three massive crystal chandeliers. Pillars of stone stand against dull white marble walls, supporting the ceiling. In the center of the room, a long, heavy table stands covered with a fine white satin cloth. The table is laden with delectable foods of every type: roasted beast basted in a savory sauce, roots and herbs of every taste, and sweet fruits and vegetables. Exactly nine places are set - apparently one for each party member, plus Ireena - with fine delicate china and silver. At each place there is a crystal goblet filled with an amber liquid whose delicate fragrance tantalizes the senses. At the center of the far west wall, between floor-to-ceiling length mirrors, stands a massive organ. Its pipes blare out a thunderous melody that offers in its tone greatness and despair. Seated before the keys, his back toward them, a single caped figure pounds the keys in raptured ecstasy. The figure suddenly stops and a deep silence falls over the dining hall. The figure slowly turns around.

    All hands go to weapons, but the man makes no aggressive move, does not even stand. “I am the Count Strahd von Zarovich,” he says, “Velcome to Castle Ravenloft. Please, please be my guests and refresh yourselves.” He gestures to the laden table before them.

    Thokk and Larry shrug and approach the table but do not sit. Larry grabs small potatoes with his hands, sniffs them, and begins eating. Thokk rips off a piece of the beast and savors the flesh, nodding appreciatively.

    Aurora attempts to engage the count in conversation. “Von Zarovich..what an interesting family name! Suel, I’d wager. Is it the Malhel house?”

    The count shakes his head ruefully. “No, the Malhel had destroyed themselves long before I conquered this valley and began my rule here.”

    “And the city of Valadis?”

    “Vas already in ruins when I arrived. Still, it is protected by the elves, and I do not mind that my land is in its shadow - it keeps things peaceful here, as they should be.”

    The count looks again at the party. “Vill none of the rest of you accept my hospitality?” No one moves to sit at the table. “So be it!”

    The count disappears with a mocking laugh. Instantly, a fierce, bone-chilling wind rises up and roars through the hall, putting out all the lights - from the chandeliers to the candles on the table to the torches in the hallway beyond. The party can hear the screech of ancient hinges and the solid thud of many heavy doors slamming shut, one after another, into the distance, from deep within the castle. They also hear the portcullis clang shut, and the tired groan of the aged drawbridge pulling up.

    Meanwhile, Barnabus has ascended thirty feet and attained a landing 20 feet wide by 40 feet long at the top of the massive staircase (K19). Stone arches support a ceiling covered with frescoes, 20 feet overhead. The frescoes’ faded lines depict armored forces on horseback taking by force the stone mountain atop which Ravenloft stands. The faces of the characters in the fresco are scratched beyond recognition. Dust floats in the air here, making it difficult for him to see details. There is a staircase on each side of the 20-foot-wide south wall. There are two alcoves between the staircases. Light filtering through the dust shows two suits of armor covered with dark stains, one standing in each alcove. Each suit of armor holds a mace designed like a curved dragon head. Engraved words on the arches above the alcoves are scratched out. As Barnabus approaches the armor, he feels a draft and hears a great gust of wind from the castle below. A second later come the cries of the party for help, and for him. He turns and rushes down the stairs into the now-dark entry hall. It appears that all of the torches have been blown out, with only the one he carried to the landing above spared.

    In the dining hall below the party stands in darkness. Wind whistles through the confines of the room. Crystal sings in the darkness as the great chandeliers rustle in the wind. The fragrance of food wafts its way to them. By the time Barnabus has reached them, Tyrius has called forth the holy light of Pelor. The count is nowhere to be seen.

    Barnabus’ torch is used to re-light the candles on the table, and then Aurora mage hands a candle up to light the ones in the chandelier. As soon as the room is brightly lit, they begin to search it for any sign of the count or his exit point.

    As Babshapka is looking under the organ bench, he sees an odd-looking panel at the base of the organ. It pries off easily, revealing a crawl space running under the organ and through the wall into a neighboring room that appears to be lit as well. Barnabus is dispatched through the tunnel.

    (11:05am) Barnabus emerges in a 20 foot square chamber, but passages extend left and right. Standing up, he sees a dark shape looming above him, so he instinctively crouches and rolls, coming up again with weapons drawn. The shape has not moved, so he stands and examines it - it is actually a mannequin of a tall, dark figure in a flowing cape, suspended from the ceiling by a number of black cords. There are several mirrors in this room. Old archers' slits in the north and west walls are bricked up. There are no light sources in the room, but through the arched corridor to the south comes abundant torchlight.

    As Barnabus stands, the rest of the party in the dining hall sees him appear back with them. He looks completely realistic - but they can pass their hands through him. Barnabus goes over to the wall, where a series of pulleys connect to the cords that suspend the figure. He lowers it, and suddenly in the dining hall there appears the “count”, floating in mid-air.

    One by one the party crawls through to join Barnabus, and one-by one those remaining in the dining hall see their insubstantial images appear. When those that have passed through speak, a trick of acoustics makes it sound like the voices are coming from the area of the organ.

    (11:15am) Some of the party explore the passageway to the south. It opens into a thirty-foot circle, the base of one of the corner towers of the castle (K12). A high domed ceiling caps the room. Frescoes, faded with age, adorn the ceiling, but are impossible to make out. Tall, thin arrow slits look out over the courtyard, and these are not bricked up. Torches blaze in wall sconces, and appear to be the source of the lights seen in this tower when the party entered the courtyard. The sound of rain is strong, and looking through the arrow slits they can see that the storm has worsened and the downpour outside makes it look nearly as black as night, although it should be approaching mid-day.

    Around the corner lies a passageway deeper into the castle - a long, narrow corridor running east and west (K13). Cobwebs fill the hall and obstruct sight beyond a few feet. The party pauses to converse. They deduce that the real Strahd was running the mannequin, and speaking with them, but are not sure why whatever magical or visual trick that projects images into the dining hall did not work on him. Furthermore, if he was actually in the mirror room the whole time, they have found no means for him to leave besides this corridor - but from the look of the cobwebs, no one has passed this way recently. They spend some time searching both the tower and the mirror room for secret doors but do not find any, and finally decide to continue along the corridor. Their passage is immediately obvious, as they disturb the webs and leave new footprints on the dusty floor.

    At the end of the hall is a spiral staircase of gray, dusty stones. Its steps provide access both up and down (K64).

    The party ascends the corkscrew turns for several revolutions until it comes out onto the landing in a darkened hall similar to the one they left. The stairwell continues up, however, and they keep going, the noise of wind and rain growing continually louder. Finally they stand out upon the battlements of the castle itself, having passed through an archway but no door.

    The air is filled with rain and lit by flashes of lightning. A wide walkway passes around most of the keep. To the right it flanks the walls of the main keep itself, while directly ahead it passes along the top of a curtain wall (K46).

    Far below these parapets are the shining wet cobblestones of the courtyard. A few of them scout out along the parapet, passing three dark, leaded glass windows before reaching the tower at the front of the courtyard. Seeing no movement and nothing of interest on the battlements or in the courtyard below, they quickly return to the party and descend back down the stair.

    They pass out into the hallway of the second floor. It is dark, dusty, and filled with cobwebs, just as the one below had been. They move cautiously along the hallway, still using Barnabus’ torch. They have passed along about half the length of the corridor when Babshapka spots odd stonework on the interior wall. After a few pokes and prods, he succeeds in opening a secret door, but hesitates before going in.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 28, 2019 11:11 am  
    Post 65: The Court of the Count

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 65: The Court of the Count

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    (11:30am) Impatiently, Thokk thrusts Babshapka aside and enters the secret door. Immediately he feels the presence of a creature, even before he sees the dark man brooding on the throne. Tendrils of power clutch at his mind, dull his senses, urge him to comply. “GET OUT OF MY HEAD, DEMON!” roars the half-orc, and draws his sword as he charges the throne. [Thokk successfully saves vs. charm, and in response, rages]

    Thokk is blind with rage, and only dimly notes how similar the figure is to that of the “count” in the dining hall below. The half-orc bounds up the dais and plunges his sword deep into the man’s chest - above the heart, but below the shoulder. The blade pierces flesh and embeds itself into the wooden back of the throne, impaling the man so that he cannot move.

    Outside in the hall is chaos. Ireena is backing away from the opening, while most of the party mills about, each trying to give way to the others, none willing to enter. Finally Tyrius pushes his way to the front and shouts “By the Light of Pelor!” as he moves into the room. Divine radiance bursts forth from his holy symbol and fills the room. The man on the throne, who seemed to barely notice being pierced by the sword, winces as if in pain and with his free hand draws his cloak up over his face. His form wavers for a second, then collapses as he turns to a black vapor. The cloud passes swiftly through the room and retreats down a flight of stairs in the back.

    With the man (Strahd?) fled, the rest of the party enters (K25). A large window fills the west wall. The immense room stands in chilly, brooding darkness. Hundreds of dust-thick cobwebs drape the room, hiding the ceiling from view. Directly across from the window are double doors in the east wall. Ornate door carvings are obscured by a thick layer of dust. Further south, a single door also opens along the east wall. At the far southern end of the hall, where the party clusters, a huge throne stands atop a raised platform. The back of the throne is turned to the room. Staircases at both ends of the north wall lead down - one of them being the exit taken by the cloud.

    Still standing on the dais, Thokk puts a muddy booted foot on the rich upholstery of the throne to steady himself as he yanks his sword free. Holding it above his head he shouts to the party, “I killed Strahd! THOKK KILLED THE DEVIL!”

    [DM's note: Thokk's player chose to have Madam Eva reveal his "negative fortune". He was unaware of his "positive fortune" until he completed it:

    "Now here is a worthy opponent! If Thokk crushes Strahd, who will dare to stand against his rage? Thokk will gain a level if he is the one to land the blow that destroys Strahd."

    Of course, Strahd was not destroyed here - when his attempt to charm Thokk failed, he chose to use his mistform and retreat. But because Thokk believed that he had killed Strahd, I decided to treat it as a fulfilled fortune and award him the level. Thokk is now level 5.]

    Willa is silent, transfixed by the features of the room. Her eyes move between the throne and the faded wall frescoes, depicting lords and ladies from long ago. Finally, she mumbles the words spoken the day before by Madam Eva:

    This is the object of your search. I see darkness and evil.
    It is a powerful man whose enemy is light and whose powers are beyond mortality.
    Always brooding on his power is that one. You vill find him on a king’s throne.
    The Dragonlords are a very good influence there.
    If you fight him there, the powers of good will aid you.

    [DM’s Note: For finding the throne room, the place indicated in her group fortune, Willa has gained an Inspiration Point. She uses it to re-roll her recently-gained level 5 hit points]

    Tyrius surveys the room. “Something is wrong here.”

    “What’s that?” asks Aurora.

    “This is obviously an audience chamber - I imagine petitioners enter from the floor below via the staircases. The dais is set to survey the room - but the throne is backwards. It should be facing the whole room, not be turned away from it, facing the wall we came through.”

    “Unless,” says Ireena, and she moves around the dais to see the back of the throne. “Unless the light from that vindow falls into the room, and the devil on his throne vants to remain in darkness.”

    “We must give thanks for surviving this encounter,” says Tyrius. “We must pray.” He strides over to the window. His divine light now gone, the room is dim. Wan daylight does penetrate the storm clouds and come in jagged shafts through the broken glass and iron frames of the window in the west wall. Tyrius kneels on the floor in the center of the patch of dim light and holds out his holy symbol. Ireena moves to his side, kneels and prays with him - her hand going to the symbol clasped around her neck.

    “Yeah, well, don’t take too long,” says Willa. “We’ll be nearby. An’ Tyrius, while yer thankin’ the Sun God, ye might want t’ say a word o’ two t’ the Dragonlords, as well.” She runs her hand along one of the dusty wall frescoes on her way back to the secret door.

    A few of the party stay in the room to watch over Tyrius and Ireena while their eyes are closed in prayer; the rest follow Willa back out into the hallway.

    The hallway ends in a guard tower (K12) with a layout identical to the one directly beneath it. They poke around in the dust, then proceed to the next chamber, itself a replica of the mirror room below, but without the mirrors and mannequin. With an excellent field of view, it is obviously where archers used to defend the keep (K22). The castle courtyard is visible through narrow archers' slits that line the walls. After a brief search for secret doors, they return to the throne room.

    (11:40am) Seeing that Tyrius is standing, Willa calls to him, “Any news from th’ Sun God?”

    “As a matter of fact, there is,” he replies smugly, then thinks better of it and tries to adopt a modest countenance. “Merciful Pelor saw fit to tell me that the devil we face can be harmed by sunlight - actual, real sunlight - not the poor imitation I can call on at will. Producing such an effect is beyond my modest ability, but I have been given to understand that by acting in concert with Larry, if we both call upon Pelor together, we will have sufficient strength between us to produce true sunlight. That may be key to our defeat of the devil.”

    Thokk snorts. “Pray all you want, sun-man. Thokk already defeated demon. All that remains is killing his servants and taking his women.” Ireena flushes and Tyrius moves between her and the half-orc.

    (11:50am) After some more idle banter, the party arranges themselves outside of the single ornate wooden door. They carefully peer in (K30). Dusty scrolls and tomes line the walls of this room and are scattered across the floor. In the center of all this clutter stands a huge desk. A figure crouches atop a tall stool, scratching a seemingly endless scroll of paper with a dry quill pen. A rope hangs next to the creature from a hole in the ceiling. The party moves in rapidly to prevent the creature from pulling the rope, but after that they are friendly with him. He introduces himself as Lief Lipsage, accountant to the Count. He appears human, but incredibly withered and ancient. At one point they realize that his leg is chained to the desk, and he whispers that he displeased the count, once, and has been chained here since. The scrolls all around him are records of the count’s treasures, taxes, and tithes, money owed and accounts paid. The books are all on accounting procedure and valuing nonmonetary goods. Aurora makes sure there is no other kind of book or scroll among them. In doing so, she finds piles of coins under the scrolls, but no histories or spell books.

    The party relies on Ireena to check his story, and she converses with him about how many eggs Barovia has to send to the castle and so forth, what the other nearby villages send, and such matters - she says that he seems honest and legitimate. He has no sense of how long he has been here, saying “many years” but the party thinks it must be decades at least. They ask if they should free him, but he grows worried about what the count will do and demurs. They show him some kindness, helping to tidy his desk, reaching things in the far corners of the room that his chain makes difficult for him to retrieve, etc. He repays them by offering them directions, at their request, to the study of the count - which he says is just through a hall and up a flight of stairs nearby. He even sketches them a map.

    The party takes their leave of the accountant and tries the doors he suggested - the massive double-doors in the audience room.

    (12 pm) The doors open into a quiet 10-foot-wide section of dark corridor from the east and west (K26). From both sides of the corridor, deep alcoves of darkness face each other with deathlike silence. Almost beyond sight, seeming to float within the alcoves' blackness, human figures can be made out.

    Upon inspection, the figures are found to be human skeletons, but dead, not undead. They wear the rotten and faded liveries of army units or palace guards, but the colors and designs are none that Aurora recognizes. The uniforms produce an unsettling effect on Ireena, though, and she urges the party to keep moving. Lief’s sketch map shows a corridor continuing beyond the guard to the left, while in actuality it appears to dead-end in the alcove. As Thokk plays idly with the spear that impales the man upright, he activates a portal that opens into a hallway beyond, and Ireena is through the secret door immediately.

    Many in the party are not done with the hallway, however. Thokk investigates the other skeleton, while others open the double-doors facing the way they entered. The 20-foot-wide hall beyond (K27) has a dark, vaulted ceiling, on which shadows seem to dance. A low moan rises and falls the length of the corridor, intoning sadness and despair. That seems enough to convince them to move on.

    The short corridor beyond the secret door ends in a stone wall, but at the far end a staircase ascends to the left, and a door lies along the left-hand wall about halfway down. The party has a hushed conversation as they make their way to the stairs - some believe that the castle is traveling in time, or trapped in time, or has a strange temporal effect on its inhabitants. They are seeking some way to explain the ancient accountant, and the uniformed guards from another age.

    Before they can mount the stairs, however, Barnabus decides to investigate the door. Inside (K32) is lit by candles, and stained, yellowed lace hangs neatly from eight canopied beds. The single lithe figure of a woman moves about the room, dusting the furniture. Her maid’s uniform is of an ancient style, but is tight-fitting and immodestly revealing. As the party enters the room they are immediately suspicious. The woman addresses them as her saviors, and begs to be rescued from forced servitude to the wicked Strahd. She says she is a daughter of Barovia, and even recognizes Ireena, while calling herself Helga.

    The party plays along, agreeing to help her while all the while surrounding her. When Tyrius holds forth his holy symbol, she cringes in pain and reveals fangs in the place of teeth.

    The party attacks her as one and soon dispatches her. Just to be sure, Tyrius has her body wrapped in lace from the beds and set afire. Her corpse burns far more hotly than that of a person would, and in the end only ash remains - no bones. Ireena says that a youth named Helga did disappear from Barovia - but that was twenty years or more ago, before Ireena was born, and she only knew of it from her father’s tales.

    The party quickly searches the room. Although there is a woman’s toilette with wash basins, rouge, brushes, and so forth, Aurora finds it curious that nowhere in the chamber is a mirror, even a small hand-held one. They proceed up the stairs, with Willa berating them for the heavy smell of smoke that lingers in the hall and warning them against any more diversions.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 04, 2019 11:49 am  
    Post 66: Strahd the Devil and Appropriate Level

    Post 66: Strahd the Devil and Appropriate Level

    Both the original module and the 5e conversion that I used make it clear that Strahd should easily win any prolonged confrontation with the party. This is his land, and he should overpower them. If his goal was to kill them, that would be eventually accomplished, with little they could do about it.

    The 5e conversion states that it was designed for a party of six characters of 5th level. My PC's were eight characters of 4th level, at the start of the module. Strahd has a CR of 13, meaning that four characters of 13th level should be able to beat him in a single combat without a significant chance of character death. At the level of the PC's, an encounter with Strahd is classed as "Deadly" - very likely that they would lose, and that many of them would die.

    With this setup, the challenge for the DM is to have Strahd play with the PC's while he tries to get what he wants. The "Fortunes of Ravenloft" goals offer several possibilities. If Strahd wanted to simply kill the characters, he would - but instead, he wants something from them, and it is from this that the complicated plot of the module derrives. Ideally, the players should initially feel terrified of the possibility of fighting Strahd, eventually realize that he is not trying to kill them but to obtain something from them, and by the time they figure out what he is playing at, have assembled enough of the "Fortunes" that they actually stand a chance of surviving his machinations.

    Of the several possibilities, the goal that I chose for Strahd was winning the love of Ireena. My initial plan for him involved him charming the party, having them attack Ireena, and then him coming to her defense, saving her from them, and thus winning her love.

    One thing that I had not realized until after the module was underway was that this goal is decidely harder to accomplish in 5e than it would have been in 1e, given that a vampire's charm explicitly lasts only 24 hours even against a failed save. Strahd would have to charm enough of the party members in one day to execute his plan.

    My particular party is numerous, reasonably combat-heavy, and can thus lay on a fair bit of damage against a single target. It was possible they might even be able to beat Strahd in the first stand up fight - be able to do enough damage to him to force his withdrawal before he eliminated any of them. The key to Strahd's superiority then was his ability to go to mist form at 0hp and his powerful regenerative capabilities. Even against parties that Strahd doesn't have a clear physical advantage over, he should be able to easily win any war of attrition by picking off party members one at a time, withdrawing and healing, and returning. In terms of Strahd's goal of beating the PC's when they attacked Ireena, I quickly realized that he was unlikely to be able to either charm them all in a single day or beat them all in a single fight. Thus his plan became one of charming enough of the right PC's so that "his side" could win a fight within the party, and then his being able to beat the weakened, winning side. That is, he intended to charm about half the party, have them attack Ireena and end up fighting the other half of the party who would defend her, have the charmed side barely win, have them resume their attack on Ireena, and only then would he come in to beat them and save her.

    That was Strahd's goal. For the PC's to win against Strahd in the final combat, then, they would have to neutralize Strahd's two greatest advantages, his mist form and his regeneration. They already had the ability to do the first - Larry's moonbeam spell would force Strahd out of his mist form to his natural form - if Larry realized or remembered that was a feature of the spell, since he had never used it in that capacity before. For the second, I used a bit of DM fiat. The designed level of the module conversion was 5th, and the PC's were 4th. The two big power jumps in 5e that happen from 4th to 5th are that primary combat classes gain a second attack (not a big factor since the party was numerous) and that primary caster classes gain access to third level spells. In the case of Larry, this would mean access to the spell Daylight which, even if the party did not recover the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, would allow them to counter Strahd's regeneration. I honestly didn't think that they had a chance without this, so after their "defeat" of Strahd in the throne room, I allowed Pelor to grant the following ability to Tyrius - if he and Larry cooperated, they could together cast Daylight, at a cost of a second level spell slot from Larry and a first level slot from Tyrius for a total of three levels.

    At this point in the module, Willa and Thokk had both met their individual "positive fortunes", so here are their Level 5 stats:
    New abilities in bold.

    Special Agent Willhemina Stoutley (Willa)
    Fifth Level Fighter (Martial Archetype: Champion) / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 18 (+4), Dex 16 (+3), Con 12 (+1), Int 10 (0), Wis 9 (-1), Chr 9 (-1)
    Hp. 46
    Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting, Improved Critical, Extra Attack
    Plate armor +2, greatsword, dagger
    Potions of neutralize poison, healing x2, cure disease

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Fifth Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 18 (+4) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 56
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Primal Path: Totem Warrior (Wolf)
    Unarmored defense, Shield+2, ring of protection +1, battle axe, hand axes, javelins
    Extra Attack, Fast Movement
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jun 11, 2019 9:19 am  
    Post 67: The Rooms of Weeping

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 67: The Rooms of Weeping

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    (12:10pm) The stairway is long and high, taking them at least forty or fifty feet up before turning and emerging in a stone hallway (K45). Long, low moans drift down from alcoves that line both walls of this long hall. The ceiling has fallen here, leaving rubble strewn across the floor. Overhead, the beams of the castle's roof are exposed, and the open sky can be seen above. Sporadic lightning from the clouds flashes into this hall, and the passage smells of damp wood. A graven statue stands within each of the ten alcoves. Shafts of light cross the statues' faces at obscure angles. Another sudden flash and crack of lightning reveals their faces formed in the shapes of terrified men and women. The passageway is free and clear, but Aurora insists there is some secret to be found here. She examines the statues, the alcoves, and even spends ten minutes casting a ritual detect magic, but learns little besides the fact that the clothes depicted on the statues are court fashions from hundreds of years ago. Finally she gives the party leave to continue on.

    (12:30pm) After the alcoved hallway, the corridor turns and ends in a door. An archway, however, leads beyond into a big open space. Thokk investigates, and it turns out the space is the hollow interior of a huge tower. Before he can see any more than this, a squishing sound pierces the silence and he is thrown back against the tower wall, pinioned by a mass of sticky strands. The party rushes in to defend him, and eventually kills three giant spiders.

    The monsters slain, they can examine the tower better (K20). A mosaic floor stretches about them into the darkness. A vast, empty tower shaft rises above. They cannot see clearly more than a few yards up, yet they feel the tower's cold expanse pressing down. A spiral staircase rises slowly into the darkness circling the open shaft. Another set of stairs leads down. Given the vast diameter of the tower and their guess as to their location, they believe it to be the northern tower - neither the greatest nor the tallest of the towers they saw from outside the keep, but large by any means. The sound of rain alerts them to the presence of an open doorway leading out to the castle battlements (K46). Thokk throws a spider over the edge of the hollow tower shaft and counts the seconds until he hears a sickening crunch, then tells the party it is a good hundred feet down.

    (12:40pm) They leave the tower, retreat to the door, and listen. Beyond is the cracking sound of a fire.

    Entering, they find a blazing hearth filling the room with rolling waves of red and amber light (K37). The walls are lined with ancient books and tomes, their leather covers well oiled and preserved through careful use - Aurora’s eyes go wide and even taciturn Shefak becomes animated. All is in order here. The stone floor is hidden beneath a luxurious rug of a deep-patterned weave. A large, low table sits in the center of the room, waxed and polished to a mirrored finish. Even the poker next to the blazing fireplace is polished. Large, overstuffed divans and couches stand in order about the room. Two luxurious chairs face the hearth. A huge painting hangs over the mantelpiece in a heavy, gilded frame. The rolling light of the fire illuminates the carefully rendered painting, which draws gasps from the party each in turn as they enter. It is an exact likeness of the Burgomaster's daughter, Ireena Kolyana. Though the painting is obviously centuries old, the likeness is unmistakable.

    It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful.
    It is in a place of visdom, varmth...and despair.
    Great secrets are there.
    The Varriors cast their shadow over that place as well, for he is often there.

    Looking about for the “veapon” Madam Eva foretold, several in the party note a sword hilt on the mantel of the fireplace, enclosed in a glass case. Thokk feels a tugging at his belt, and looks down, expecting to see Barnabus or Larry - but no one is there. He feels the tug again, urging him toward the fireplace. The others appear engrossed in the painting, though he doesn’t understand why.

    Thokk walks carefully toward the fireplace, and now feels that it is his sword itself pulling on his belt. He unsheathes it, and it is all he can do to to hold it, straining as it is toward the hilt on the mantel. Thokk grabs the glass case and opens it, taking out the platinum hilt then tossing the case casually on the floor. It lands on the thick rug and does not break. The hilt of his own sword feels loose - and then actually falls off the blade, so that Thokk has to neatly catch the blade by the tang before it, too, drops. With a force he cannot resist, the new hilt flies to the blade and affixes itself as if newly-forged. A flash of light blinds everyone in the room.

    When people can see again, deep golden runes are now clearly etched on the blade of Thokk’s sword where there were none before. Aurora reads them in Suelese - “Ik Soldancar”; “the sunsword.”

    [DM’s note: Thokk gains an inspiration point for finding the sword, his Fortune of Ravenloft, which he will use for his level 5 hp rolls. The sunsword is a sword +1, +3 vs. undead. It glows in the presence of undead, and has additional, as yet unknown, powers against vampires.]

    Aurora first examines the portrait - it is real, not a forgery to the best of her ability to tell. The faded paint, cracks in the gilt frame, and other features all indicate that it is centuries old - and yet the likeness to Ireena is unmistakable. The Barovian woman claims to have never seen it before, but she does appear unsettled. Tyrius uses his knowledge of the nobility to examine it - the clothes of the woman in the painting - they match the historical period of the statues they passed on the way here. And her jewelry, the arrangement of her hands, her look of expectancy - this is a bridal portrait, he says, commissioned by the groom or sometimes the bride’s family, a tradition among high nobles.

    Ireena, upon seeing Thokk’s new sword, begins to weep openly, and stretches forth her hands to it, asking, then begging Thokk to be allowed to touch it. He is reluctant at first, but finds it hard to refuse the woman in front of the party. Eventually he agrees, and even though nothing seems to happen when she does so, he is still a bit spooked.

    Aurora joins Shefak, who is already browsing texts as fast as she can. There are many dozens, perhaps a few hundred, volumes, all old and historically valuable. But none are what she is looking for - none are a history of early Keoland.

    Willa tries to rush Aurora, reminding them all that both Madam Eva and Lief said that Strahd comes here often, but Aurora brushes her concerns away. Ireena says that even if the devil himself does not find them here, the fire is well-tended, and surely a servant will be along soon.

    (12:50pm) Babshapka checks the doors while Barnabus searches the room for what might have been missed. One door leads to a stone stairway down (K83), another to a bedchamber, a third to a dining hall.

    Barnabus is in front of the fire when he says “Aha!” and lifts the poker from the set of tools (shovel, tongs, etc.). With a whoosh from the flames and the sound of stone against stone, the back of the fireplace slides away, revealing quite a large space beyond. It is difficult to see through the flames, but there looks to be a chest along the far wall and perhaps a body slumped in the corner.

    It seems clear that the only access to the revealed secret chamber is through the flames, which could easily damage anyone crossing, and the party briefly discusses putting them out. Ever helpful, Thokk turns toward the fire and starts lifting his loincloth, but Willa quickly swats it back down.

    “Put yer bucket brigade away, ye daft orc,” she chides. “They’ll notice ther fire’s out as soon as they be walkin’ in ther door. An’ pick up affer yerself!” she hands him back the glass case he dropped on the floor and motions him to replace it on the mantel.

    “Yes, evil advisor…” he mumbles.

    Tyrius offers his shield as protection against the flames and half the party get ready to jump, which is not as hard as it sounds given the size of the fireplace and passageway beyond. Once inside (K38), they can see glinting through the smoke that wafts into the chamber, gold, silver, and copper coins lying scattered around a closed chest. The fittings on the chest tell of great workmanship. Attached to the east wall are two torch sconces. The southernmost sconce holds a torch with an intricate metal base. The other is empty. A skeleton of a man lies against the wall in broken plate armor. His right hand is on his throat while his left hand holds the matching torch from the empty sconce. What follows is an intense debate, conducted both within the chamber and through the flames, about whether the chest should be opened.

    Aurora uses a charge from her wand of magic detection, but is not able to discern anything in the room save what the party already carries. She investigates the empty torch sconce and finds a curious socket at its base - an exact match for the end of the torch held in the skeleton’s hand. She ushers everyone back through the flames and into the study, then uses her mage hand to carefully take the torch from the skeleton’s grasp, move it through the air, and set it down in the empty sconce. With a sound of stone grating against stone, a second secret panel opens in the back of the secret treasure chamber. Thokk is the first one through, and peers down the new, dark passage (K39).

    The ancient hall is choked with spider webs. Their dusty forms hide the very walls and ceiling. The webs are broken by a single cleared path down the center of the room.

    The party is clearly desirous of proceeding down the hall, but also concerned that all of the secret accesses be left open behind them and they be discovered. On the other hand - what if the doors are closed, but then they find themselves trapped inside? After much discussion, it is decided that Shefak will remain in the study, protected by her invisibility ring, while the rest of the party proceeds through and then closes the doors behind them.

    (1pm) Thokk leads the way down the hall, using the open path through the cobwebs. Tyrius calls for light in the area, and Babshapka looks for tracks, but by this point anything previously present has already been obscured by Thokk’s heavy tread. At the far end of the hall are a pair of bronze doors of highly ornate design.

    Once the party is completely through, less Shefak, the monk tries replacing the poker in its stand and the back of the fireplace again closes. Aurora then uses her mage hand to lift the torch from its sconce and let it fall to the floor. That inner doorway closes as well. Aurora messages Shefak to reset the torch, and the monk takes out the poker, jumps the flames, and relocates the torch, opening the panel up again, then returns to the study.

    Barnabus is at the far end of the hallway, has checked the bronze doors for traps and declared them clear - but is puzzled by a curious, faint, mechanical clicking sound coming from the other side. Tyrius is casting his light about the hallway, examining the walls and ceiling carefully. He notes the faint outlines of an access panel on the right wall, near where they came in.

    (1:10pm) Aurora hangs near the back of the party, Babshapka and Larry with her. As the party studies the hall, she uses her mage hand to open the chest. Immediately great clouds of luminous green gas billow forth from the chest. Aurora immediately hurls the torch from the sconce, but as the stone panel slowly slides into place, the gas begins expanding into the hallway. Aurora feels incredibly drowsy, and it is all she can do to maintain consciousness. Next to her, Babshapka collapses. A second later, Willa does as well.

    Tyrius collects the unconscious bodies while Barnabus and Larry check them - they have a pulse and are breathing, but they are not roused by shaking and slapping. Barnabus is guessing that they are both drugged into a comatose state, perhaps magically, but his knowledge of poisons is limited and not something he cares to discuss with the party. “They are fine for now, but will likely have to sleep this off. I don’t know how long,” he says.

    Tyrius points Thokk at the doorway he has found, and the half-orc cuts quickly through the webs and opens the panel. There is a narrow landing (K31b), and then a large rectangular shaft (K31a).

    Aurora examines her sleeping bodyguard, unimpressed with the party’s efforts to rouse him. Reasoning that a higher level of pain may spur him to awake, she removes her dagger from its sheath and makes a shallow incision in his forearm. Unfortunately she appears to have crossed an artery, and soon great spurts of blood are pulsing forth. She rummages in her bags for rags to staunch the flow.

    Tyrius and Barnabus join Thokk on the ledge in front of the shaft. They notice great wooden screw mechanisms on the two short walls. The shaft smells of well-oiled wood. “This is some sort of service elevator,” reasons Tyrius. “We have a way out - we can’t be trapped in here - call for Shefak.”

    [Note: Tyrius is awarded an inspiration point. He saves it for later use]

    “Yes, well,” hesitates Aurora, fumbling with the rags for bleeding Babshapka. “Just let me check something first.”

    At the opposite end of the hall, Ireena has been plunged into darkness since Tyrius and his light have gone through the secret portal. She is left guarding the unconscious Willa, but is feeling increasingly uneasy. She searches in Willa’s pack, drawing forth several vials before finding her lantern. With her own flint and steel she lights the wick, and the hallway fills with light. Ireena then hoods the lantern and examines the vials she drew forth. One has, in a delicate handwritten note, the words “neutralize poison” in Common. Ireena says a quick prayer and pours a quarter of it down Willa’s throat. The dark woman groans but does not stir. Ireena continues to administer the draught until Willa’s eyelids flutter and she sits up. “Thank the gods,” Ireena sighs.

    Aurora is feeling around on the other side of the wall, not seeing, but using her mage hand to grope along the floor until she finds the torch. Setting it into the sconce, the wall panel again opens up. She still feels drowsy, but it appears that most of the glowing gas in the room has been drawn up the chimney. Certainly Shefak did not see any gas appear in the study.

    (1:20pm) Aurora moves into the chamber with the skeleton and examines the open chest. At the bottom are three vials, their stoppers all removed but connected to a complicated mechanism for pulling out the stoppers when the chest lid was opened. It is otherwise empty. Aurora calls to Shefak to join them.

    The monk returns the poker, then immediately leaps through the flames and the closing stone panel to join Aurora. Aurora moves into the hall, giving Shefak the space to replace the torch in the skeleton’s hand and, just in time, to squeeze through the second closing stone panel.

    Willa and Ireena together rouse Babshapka with a third draught of the vial, leaving just one. The entire party again active, they leave the shaft for the moment and proceed to the bronze doors, open them and move beyond (K40).

    Dusty cobwebs fill the area, their musty smell assaulting the senses and obscuring sight. Deep pools of darkness lie all about as the party attempts in vain to penetrate the spidery veils. A single path leads to the center of the room where a rope dangles from high above.

    Once inside the room, the metallic clicking heard through the door becomes more recognizable as the creak and pop of moving exoskeleton. Almost certainly there are giant spiders in the dark webs above. Aurora tries the rope, but gently - pulling just hard enough to feel it yield, then pull back, as if counter-weighted by a bell. This whole chamber, the ceiling so remote as to be unseen, is likely a bell tower. Although just the center of the room is clear of webs, Thokk works his way along the walls, clearing the way for Barnabus to search. The halfling soon finds a secret door in the north wall.

    (1:30pm) Through the door is a large octagonal chamber (K41). A large, well-polished wooden desk is in the center of the room, two leather-bound books upon it. Many chests line the walls of the room. Barnabus sets to work checking the chests while Aurora looks at the books. Both are written in Suel. One is titled “The Chronicle of Secret Times” by Uhas, the second simply titled “I, Strahd.” The pages of the second are yellowed, the writing faded from centuries - but it appears to be a personal diary of the Count! Curiously, Aurora appears more interested in the former volume.

    (1:40pm) Once Barnabus has opened the chests (and checked for any other secret doors), the party realizes that the plundered riches of Strahd's secret horde lie before them. There is a chest each filled to brimming with copper, silver, gold, and platinum coins, a chest of gems and jewels, and a long case with a staff, sword, hammer, and mace.

    This card tells of history.
    Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand a foe.
    You should seek for a carefully hidden place of great vorldly vealth.
    I see a blazing fire protecting the place.
    The Druids sustain your strength here, but hold you from your wictory,
    taking more time than it otherwise vould.
    This is a good place to rest - but not to fight.
    Take care you are not caught there.

    [DM’s Note: For finding the secret treasure room, the location of her Fortune of Ravenloft, Aurora has gained an Inspiration Point. She saves it for later use]

    Aurora uses a charge from her wand of magic detection. The staff, sword, hammer, and mace all glow! Willa checks to make sure none of the gems or jewels do. Shefak takes the staff - a heavy, black ironwood thing that hums when she swings it. Ireena tests the balance of the sword, then buckles it to her belt. Tyrius hefts the hammer, gives it a few swings, and resolves to take it with him. Aurora packs the two books away carefully.

    They shut the door and retreat back to the elevator shaft.

    [DM's Note: I altered some of the treasures to account both for my party and the differences between 1e and 5e. I reduced the number of magic items, reduced their potency, changed one of the maces to a staff for Shefak and another to a hammer for Tyrius.]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
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    Tue Jun 18, 2019 3:09 am  
    Post 68: Going Down?

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 68: Going Down?

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    Aurora is lowered down the elevator shaft on a rope. Some 40 feet down there is a landing, but the shaft itself continues farther than she can see. By rocking and swinging her body, she is able to move into the landing, which is full of intricate machinery. There are small passages between the gears and pulleys. The aroma of grease and well-oiled wood fills the chamber (K31).

    (1:50pm) After taking quite some time to study the machinery, tracing all the gears and pulleys, Aurora believes that she can operate it. It is not as simple as “pull a lever to go up”. Rather, some independent, unseen power source is spinning a number of flywheels in the heart of the machinery. By carefully lowering matching gearing systems onto the flywheels, Aurora can set those gears spinning, and then transfer that motion through belts and crankshafts out to the wooden screws that line the shaft. But there are a number of gears, and Aurora is guessing that whatever elevator beneath is being lifted is heavy - so that she will need to start its motion in low gear, and shift to higher gears once it starts moving. Furthermore, she will need to keep the two screws spinning at equal speeds to avoid tipping the elevator, which may not be evenly balanced in terms of load and resistance on each screw. Finally, there is a whole different set of gears to move into place to have the screws spin in reverse and go down. All together it is the most complicated piece of machinery she has ever seen. Furthermore, she is an historian, not a gnome tinkerer. Still, after several minutes of study she feels reasonably confident, and begins to lower gears into place on the flywheels. To her delight, the wooden screws start turning - and in the correct direction.

    The appearance of the elevator car behind her is sudden and surprisingly silent. By the time she has lifted the gears from the flywheels to stop it, the floor of the car is a foot above the level of her landing, and its ceiling has neatly sheared off the rope that connected her to the party above. The car is like a huge rectangular stone box with the two side walls missing. The end walls are mounted through the screws, and the floor and ceiling appear solid. Confident that it will hold her weight, she steps aboard, and finds a trapdoor in the ceiling, though she cannot reach it from inside the car.

    She retreats to the control bank and starts the car moving again, all the way up the shaft to her companions. Their calls tell her to stop the car, but it is a few seconds before she can. Fortunately, the screws end early, meaning that the car cannot be pushed into the ceiling - it just rises, slips off-track, and falls to rise again, making the car jolt but not damaging anything. Those above note that anyone riding on the roof of the car would have certainly been crushed against the top of the shaft by tons of pressure, however.

    Once everyone is aboard the car, Aurora brings it down to her level, again missing a flush landing by a few feet but accomplishing her goal. She gives lessons in operating the machinery to several of the party while Barnabus wanders the machinery aisles, eventually finding a secret door at the back of the landing. He peeks through, and the familiar hall beyond (K27) leads him to believe that they are back on the level of the throne room, and Lief the accountant.

    Aurora sends the party down below in the car, keeping track of them with her message - until they have gone beyond her range without her realizing it! She brings them up again, and they work out a communication system, shining flashes of light through the now-open trap door in the roof. They are lowered again…

    (2pm) After descending some hundred feet or so, the passengers signal her to stop the car. It stops about five feet above the floor at the bottom of the shaft. One car side opens upon a door, another upon a short hallway leading to a stone spiral staircase going both up and down.

    As soon as the car comes to a halt, those within are set upon by three giant spiders, but make quick work of them. Aurora ties a rope securely to the railing of the machinery, and lowers herself down to the level of the party. The rope just reaches the roof of the car, and they help her through the trap door.

    Thokk peers through the door into a hallway beyond (K62) while the party forms up. The hall stands in deadly silence. The low ceiling sags from heavy beams. A fog clings to the floor in thick patches, obscuring everything less than three feet above the floor. Thokk snorts in disgust and closes the door. Seeing the party waiting for him at the head of the stairs, he asks “Stairs up or stairs down?”

    “Down,” replies Tyrius confidently. “We have the sword and the tome - we must recover the symbol before sundown, and if it is where Strahd rests as Madam Eva foretold, we should look as far below the castle as we can.”

    Whistling merrily to himself, Thokk leads the way down the spiral staircase. He enjoyed the elly-vator ride, and doesn’t even bother to correct Tyrius about the fact that Strahd is dead, not resting.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jun 25, 2019 7:28 pm  
    Post 69: The Dungeons

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 69: The Dungeons

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    (2:10pm) The stairway down (K21) is lit by fluttering torches in iron sconces. A chilly wind rushes down the circling stairway, seeming to kill the very heat of the torches. The air grows colder and damper on every revolution of the stairs. They are deep beneath the surface, far from the light of the sun. The walls seem to close in on them and several in the party struggle for breath. Finally Thokk emerges into a long hallway, submerged under a layer of oily black water (K73).

    The stairs descend into the black, still water that fills the arched hallway. The water's surface is like dark mirrored glass, disturbed only occasionally by the "thwick" of a drop falling from the ceiling. Twenty feet down the hallway, arched doorways lead downward 2 feet from each side of the hallway. In each arched doorway, an iron door stands closed and partially submerged. All is still except for a weak cry for help coming through the south door.

    Thokk strides confidently down the hall, Shefak behind him. Suddenly there is an explosion of water, with foam and liquid spraying everywhere. In a second it clears - and Thokk is gone! Immediately Babshapka raises the hood on his cloak of the manta ray and dives into the water. It is just three feet deep and he easily skims along the floor of the hall, noting several places with vague outlines of trap doors. With Shefak's help, he pushes on the one nearest to where Thokk disappeared, and then he, too, is gone in a gout of watery spray, and then a slowly dissipating swirl of water.

    Thokk has the sensation of falling, then comes to in a small stone cell (K75f). The fungus-laden ceiling hangs 3 feet above still, black water. The water is 5 feet deep, so that just Thokk’s head and shoulders protrude. Three walls are stone, the fourth is open but blocked by iron bars. Liquid drips from the hanging growth on the ceiling. Thokk peers out into the corridor and sees with his darkvision a number of other similar cells. He tries the bars, but they seem stout. Then, in the cell next to him (K75g), he hears a great splash and Babshapka calling for help, “I’m in a cell!”

    Thokk is enraged - having killed the master of this castle, who dares keep him in a tiny cell? Stupid iron bars! Shouting a primordial cry, his immense muscles ripple as he strains at the iron bars, finally snapping one that is more rusted than solid. Using the freed bar as a lever, he pries open the bars on his cell, emerges, and opens Babshapka’s cell as well.

    In the hall, those remaining in the party hear Thokk’s cries of wrath drowning out the weak calls from before. Larry casts spider climb on Barnabus, and the halfling moves along the walls to the southern door, quickly checks it for traps, then opens it. Thokk and Mantabshapka are at the end of the hall within, outside the last cell (K75a), staring at the prisoner inside.

    All they can see of the man is his face and a mat of dark, greasy hair floating on the water. The man is just over five feet tall, and it is only by leaning back and straining his neck that can he keep his mouth out of the water. Every few minutes he manages a hoarse cry for help.

    Thokk shrugs and uses his bar to pry open the bars of this cell as well. Mantabshapka helps the man out and up the stairs to the waiting party. While they crowd around him, Mantabshapka and Barnabus scout out the remaining traps in the floor of the corridor.

    (2:20pm) The erstwhile prisoner’s clothing is rags, soaked and rotten, and his feet are bare. His hair and nails are long and unkempt, his frame emaciated.

    He gives his name as Alexandru Petrinoff. He says he was a Barovian villager, a woodsman. Ireena recognizes the name and occupation, but not the face - though he looks much the worse for wear and could be Petrinoff if he was cleaned up and fed. Petrinoff disappeared from the village over a year ago, she says. He recognizes her as the daughter of the Burgomaster and says that he fears for her safety here in the castle of the devil.

    He says that a year ago he was felling timber in the woods near the village. Near the end of the day his axe slipped - he lept out of the way and did not strike his foot, but he twisted his ankle. He was not hurt badly, but he could not limp back to the village before dark. As soon as the sun went down the wolves found him and treed him. At midnight Strahd came and claimed him. Strahd took him back to his castle and healed his ankle through dark arts, and then said that in return Petrinoff would have to serve as his coachman. He served Strahd for most of a year but was never allowed to return to the village or send word to his family. One night a short time ago the horses got spooked by a pack of wolves and the carriage was damaged. Strahd blamed him, struck him, and he was knocked out. He awoke in the cell the party found him in. He has been in the wet and dark since then - from a few weeks to as long as a month, but he has lost any sense of time. A hunchback man would come in from time to time with a lantern and bring him moldy bread and questionable meat and fresh water.

    In his time serving Strahd, he came to know the carriage house and all the outbuildings of the castle. He was permitted on the main floor of the keep and knows that well, but he was not allowed beyond the main floor, up or down stairs.

    He eagerly accepts the food and water the party gives him.

    (2:30pm) Barnabus, using his spider climb, has begun edging into the larger room beyond the end of the hallway. Now Mantabshapka glides through the water into the room (K76) as well.

    Dark, low shapes thrust up out of the still, brackish water that fills this room. The room is 50 feet square. The ceiling is 17 feet above the water, which is 3 feet deep. To the north, a large balcony (K77) stands 7 feet above the level of the water in the room. As Barnabus and Mantabshapka move in, they realize that the dark shapes in the room are racks, iron maidens, stocks, and other torture apparati. The skeletons of their last victims seem frozen in silent screams. The lower portions of them are underwater.

    Bored of the conversation with Petrinoff, Thokk strides ahead down the corridor, sloshing through the water and just barely remembering where the other two said the floor traps were. As he enters the large torture chamber, he notes that his sword is now glowing blue.

    A corpse rises up to face him slowly, its slime-gray arms clawing upward through the water. Mantabshapka sees many bodies drifting aimlessly on the surface or under the water, but as he watches, those nearest him animate, stand, and start to surround him. Barnabus calls for back-up and begins making his way to the balcony by the light from Thokk’s sword.

    Now alerted, the party dashes through the watery hallway and into the torture chamber. When Tyrius sees the corpses, their hungry, active eyes, their long claws and fangs, he shouts a warning, “Ghouls! Ghouls in the dungeon! They can paralyze you!” More and more forms are rising through the murky water - Babshapka is now completely surrounded.

    Ireena tosses Petrinoff her dagger and tells him to watch the staircase so that the party is not surprised from the rear, then she, too, draws her sword and charges down the hall.

    Fully twelve ghouls now face the party, already clawing and biting at Thokk, Tyrius, and Babshapka. The elf casts a hunter’s mark, then dives into the water, flipping and rolling in an attempt to make it back to the ranks of his allies.

    Tyrius calls upon the divine power of Pelor to drive away these unholy abominations. A great wave of light rolls forth from him. Half the ghouls cower and cringe, then turn and begin fleeing. Three of those remaining launch themselves at Tyrius, clawing desperately at his face.

    Now that the party actually outnumbers the ghouls, the fight is brief. Several of the heroes are wounded, but no one is paralyzed, fortunately. By the end, the ghouls that fled from Tyrius are lined up against the far wall, clawing listlessly at the stone, and Barnabus and Larry have checked the ornate chairs on the balcony, looked behind a rotting curtain and located a door, and tied a rope to the railing to facilitate the party’s access.

    Thokk strides over to where the ghouls are still trying unsuccessfully to flee, intent on destroying them. Tyrius warns that if they are damaged, they will no longer be driven away. Thokk shrugs unconcernedly, and Willa organizes the others to provide support - she doesn’t want the creatures left active behind them anyway. One at a time they are hacked to pieces, though the last one bears Willa under the water and she is pulled out by Tyrius.

    The party climbs Barnabus’ rope to the balcony. The door behind the curtain is solid, though covered in mildew. The party are all tired and many are wounded. “We be unlikely t’ find a more defensible spot t’an t’is,” suggests Willa, “wit' a stout door on one side an’ water on t’other.”

    Tyrius is hesitant, arguing that they need to push on and find Strahd’s resting place before dark.

    Ireena says, “If ve do rest, I vould like to read the diary,” and that is all it takes to convince Tyrius. Torches are set in the empty sconces around the balcony and a temporary camp is made.

    The party rests for an hour (2:40 to 3:40pm). Wounds are cleaned and bound, spells regained, prayers said. Aurora finds her history book fascinating, differing substantially from any other account she has read of the early Sheldomar - she believes that this volume may be a suppressed version that the rulers of Keoland do not want known [see post 70 - The Riddle of the Malhel IV].

    Ireena spends the hour attempting to read “I, Strahd”. It is very slow going for her. The Suel used is archaic, and she is unsure of the meaning of many words. The letters themselves are barely legible in the torchlight. At the end of the hour her eyes are swimming, her head ringing, and her hands cold. She translates the first and last entries to the party:

    I am The Ancient, I am The Land. My beginnings are lost in the darkness of the past. I was the warrior, I was good and just. I thundered across the land like the wrath of a just god, but the war years and the killing years wore down my soul as the wind wears stone into sand.

    I now reside far below Ravenloft. I live among the dead and sleep beneath the very stones of this hollow castle of despair. I shall seal shut the walls of the stairs that none may disturb me.

    Their hour of rest finished, the party extinguishes all the torches but one and packs up their camp. Thokk pulls open the door to the next room (K78) and light spills out, accompanied by the crackling sound of fire. The room is 30 feet square, rising to a 20-foot-tall flat ceiling. Gargoyle carvings smile, revealing their teeth, from high upon the walls, well lit by a brazier that burns fiercely in the center of the room. From their alcoves in the center of the east and west walls, two iron statues stand saluting with their weapons bared. Each statue has four arms, one with a shield, one with a sword, and the remaining two with their palms toward the ceiling over their heads. Their eyes seem to watch the party. High overhead, an hourglass with writing on its base hangs suspended above the brazier. All of its sand is in the upper portion, somehow refusing to run down into the bottom. In the center of the room next to the brazier is a golden chest. The room is scrupulously clean. A single door stands in the south wall (the one the party has opened) while three doors line the north wall. Thokk is about to stride into the room when Willa grabs his shoulder. “Wait!” she hisses. “Too much magic!”

    Barnabus takes out his spyglass and the party examines the room by the light of the brazier. Aurora notes that for a fire that large, there is no smoke in the room, no ashes on the bare stone floor - it is almost certainly magical, and ever-burning. The statues are too large to be cast as single pieces of iron, but she doesn’t see any welds or joins - they are most likely magical constructs. The thought that they might animate is intimidating - huge and four arms each? The writing on the suspended hourglass is in Suel - she can make out:

    In the palm of my hand...

    on the side nearest them before it wraps around the edge out of sight. She ties a rope around her waist and ventures into the room, walking carefully around and trying not to touch anything. When she approaches the golden chest, Willa calls to her “Don’t open it! Don’t!”

    Now able to see the full base of the hourglass, Aurora translates:

    In the palm of my hand
    Is the time left to thee
    When it's consumed
    Will the flame set you free!

    “Palm o' me hand?” asks Larry. “What es in th' hands o' th' statues?” The statues tower over the party, and none of them can tell what they might have in their hands - but Aurora sends Buckbeak up for a quick tour of the room. There are small objects in each of the upheld palms! He perches on the head of a statue for a closer look; the west statue has a small red stone in its right hand and a blue stone in the left, while the east statue has a black stone in the right hand and an opaline one in the left.

    At this point, the entire party ventures into the room. They find that the door is spring-loaded and would close shut with no one holding it, so they prop it open with one of the rotting wooden chairs from the balcony. Barnabus is interested in the chest, and takes out his magnifying lens (“Don’t touch it!” repeats Willa) and detects that there is an opening in the back, as well as the obvious one on the top.

    (3:50pm) They decide to try the stones in the fire. Everyone but Buckbeak retreats from the room. Thokk, Aurora, and Willa are in the doorway. Aurora mage hands the black stone over the brazier, then drops it in. Immediately there is a flash as it is consumed, then the door in front of them begins to close with incredible force. The chair shatters into rotten splinters, knocking Willa to the ground. Thokk is holding the door but cannot resist its force. He grabs Aurora and yanks her roughly out of the path of the door, which then slams into its frame.

    Inside the room, Buckbeak watches as the center door on the north wall opens briefly, revealing the base of a steep stairway, then closes again. The sand in the hourglass begins to run down, but slowly. Aurora climbs to her feet and has Buckbeak check the statues - the stones are still there, all of them, including the black stone.

    One at a time they try the stones in the fire, until all their properties are known:

    Black - north door in the center, steep stairs up
    Opaline - north door in the east, spiral stairs up (K83)
    Blue - north door in the west, steep stairs up
    Red - south door

    Each time all of the doors are closed, the hourglass starts - but the sands reset when the next stone is dropped, so they never have a chance to run fully to the bottom.

    The party again enters the room. Tyrius is visibly upset, as all the options offered lead only up, but the party decides to try the spiral stairs. The opaline stone is again dropped. Barnabus is the first in the doorway, checking quickly to see if perhaps there is a secret door leading down, but he finds nothing and the others pass through. It takes several turns 'round to make room for them all. Aurora lingers, leaving Buckbeak in the room to see what happens at the end of the time. For five minutes the sand runs down until the top of the glass is empty. Then the statues come to life! They begin to stride about the room. Aurora doesn’t need to see through Buckbeak to know this - she can feel the floor shake under the weight of the massive, moving iron statues. At first they just circle the floor of the room aimlessly. Then one notes the presence of Buckbeak on the head of the other. Its huge sword slices through the air. In an explosion of feathers, Buckbeak is destroyed.

    Having lost her familiar, Aurora makes a case to the party that they need to wait for ten minutes while she summons another - she has just enough supplies, and her portable brazier, to do so. Tyrius shakes his head. “We’re literally burning daylight. We must find this symbol before sunset.”

    “It’s just ten minutes - and there are so many traps in this place, we need a scout,” says Aurora.

    “I could read more,” adds Ireena.

    Tyrius sighs and prays for patience.

    The group camps on the stairs, just inside the door from the statue room. Aurora lights the coals in her brazier and begins a summoning ritual, while Ireena reads in the torchlight. Willa and Thokk go ahead, a few revolutions up, to act as a first line of defense.

    Ireena finds passages that read:

    The death she saw in me turned her from me. And so I came to hate death, my death. My hate is very strong; I would not be called "death" so soon.

    I made a pact with death, a pact of blood. On the day of the wedding, I killed Sergei, my brother. My pact was sealed with his blood.

    I found Tatyana weeping in the garden east of the Chapel. She fled from me. She would not let me explain, and a great anger swelled within me. She had to understand the pact I made for her.

    I pursued her. Finally, in despair, she flung herself from the walls of Ravenloft and I watched everything I ever wanted fall from my grasp forever. It was a thousand feet through the mists. No trace of her was ever found. Not even I know her final fate.

    Arrows from the castle guards pierced me to my soul, but I did not die. Nor did I live. I became undead, forever.

    (4pm) Thokk and Willa hear the tread of feet on the stairs and the low murmur of conversation - people are approaching, and are making no effort to be quiet. And then - the noises are silenced. From behind them come the sounds of Aurora’s chanting - they must have been heard.

    “We have to keep them from interrupting Aurora - just buy her time to finish her spell,” whispers Willa to Thokk. He nods sagely, and the two of them creep further up the stairs.

    With his darkvision, Thokk sees a form come cautiously around the bend in the staircase shaft. He nudges Willa, who opens the hood of her lantern, flooding the darkness with light. Two swarthy men stand before them on the stairs, both dressed in colorful garb like the Rhennee from Madam Eva’s camp. Both have drawn short swords in hand, and one has a hard loaf of bread as well, the other a flask of liquid. The two men are blinded by the light, and Thokk easily shoves his way between them, turns around, grabs both by their collars, and lifts them off the steps so that they are dangling in the air.

    “Drop yer swords!” commands Willa. “Ye can keep ther bread,” she chuckles.

    One man’s sword clatters to the stone steps, the other carefully sheathes his. “Ve are serwents of the Master - you dare not harm us,” he says slowly.

    Willa interrogates the men. Thokk shakes them whenever they hesitate in answering.

    (4:10pm) The men say that they are from Madam Eva’s camp, and loyal to her. She has a “special arrangement” with the Count, which means that they sometimes have to visit the castle and run errands. Today, they have been asked to feed a prisoner in the dungeon, because Igor, his normal caretaker, is busy preparing dinner. The Master has many guests in the castle at the moment, and it will be a large meal.

    Satisfied, Willa motions to Thokk to let the men down. He still walks behind them, one hand on each collar, as they go down the stairs to join the rest of the party. When the men see Ireena, they bow their heads in respect. One of them offers his condolences on “her recent loss”.

    Aurora, finished with her spell, cleans up her brazier and proudly shows the party her new spider, “Charlotte”. She warns them not to squish it.

    Ireena translates what she found in the tome to the party. At the mention of “Tatyana”, Shefak catches the two Rhennee men exchanging a nervous glance with one another. When questioned, they explain that the portrait in the study is of a Mistress Tatyana. They learned this when they were present and a clumsy maid knocked the portrait askew while dusting. Igor told the maid that if the Master found the portrait like that, she would pay dearly.

    The party holds a hurried discussion - what are they to do with these men, and with Petrinoff? When asked whether they will return to their camp without telling Strahd anything, one of the men says, “Our instructions were to feed the prisoner. Ve cannot fail in our duty.” He hands Petrinoff the bread and the flask, then turns to the other man. “Ve have fed the prisoner.”

    “Da. Let us leave the castle; our duty is done.”

    “Would you be willing to take this man with you, to hide and protect him in your camp?” asks Aurora.

    The Rhenee stare at Aurora as if she were a madwoman. “Harbor an escaped prisoner of the Count?” they ask. “No, that vould inwite the destruction of us all. You freed him, he is your responsibility now.”

    “Where does this stair go - how will you leave?” asks Tyrius. The men tell him that the stair climbs all the way to the study (it is, in fact, the spiral stair which Willa saw the top of, when they were in the study). Tyrius scowls.

    “One last thing before you go,” says Aurora. “You know how to pass the statues, yes?” The men nod. “Well, then, how do you open this door?”

    With a look of even greater incredulity, one of the Rhenee walks up to the door, lifts the handle, and pulls. The door opens easily, then pulls itself closed when he lets go. Shaking their heads and muttering, the two men ascend the stairs from whence they came.

    (4:30pm) The party passes easily into the statue room, then use the stone to take the middle door on the north wall. Now inside, they can see it leads up a steep but short flight of stairs between rough masonry walls, turns at a landing (K80), and continues down a dark corridor. The hall is relatively free of obstruction and there is little dust on the steps. A cool dampness seems to flow from within as a thick fog slowly swirls. The staircase is obscured in the mists. The wind within howls mournfully.

    Aurora sends the party ahead to scout the landing while she and Babshapka hang back behind the door. With Babshapka holding the door open for her, Aurora mage hands the chest, opening the back compartment. Immediately a thick green gas billows forth. Caught in the updraft from the flaming brazier, it spreads quickly throughout the room. Babshapka closes the door before either one of them are overcome.

    On the 10-foot-square landing, Barnabus searches for secret doors. The masonry walls abruptly end when the passage turns east and opens into a roughly hewn tunnel (K81). Its rough damp walls are barely discernible through thick fog. The tunnel passes through the rock-pillar of Ravenloft itself.

    (4:40pm) Aurora uses her mage hand blind, fumbling about in the hallway to her west until she finds the door handle of the westernmost door on the north wall. She opens it into the room, feels the resistance of the spring-loaded hinges, tells Babshapka to count to 600 while she “airs the room out”. Above them, the party is growing restless on the landing. Aurora tells them to go ahead, but to go slowly. Barnabus moves cautiously down the hall, searching for traps.

    (4:50pm) Aurora has Babshapka open the door to the statue room, expecting to find it clear - but it is still completely full of the green gas. From the looks of it, the gas is heavier than the air, and simply opening the door to the steep staircase up has done little to disperse it. Already the gas is expanding onto the stairwell with the duo and they are beginning to cough. Babshapka lets the door close, grabs the slumping Aurora, and hauls her up the stairs forcibly.

    Now on the landing, Aurora rouses and tries to think through the problem. If she could open the far door, the one to the balcony on the south wall, perhaps she could disperse the gas since that leads to a lower space. But the room was at least thirty feet across, and from her side of the door to the outside of the south door beyond is outside the range of her mage hand.

    “Are ye done yet?” demands Willa, interrupting Aurora’s thoughts, but doesn’t wait for her to answer. “While yer playin’ wit’ ther chest I told ye not t’ open, we be burnin’ DAYLIGHT.” Tyrius, too, harrumphs but says nothing. The party arranges itself in marching order, led by Willa and Thokk walking abreast, and starts down the corridor.

    (5pm) About fifty feet east of the landing, Willa’s lantern shows that the corridor ends another fifty feet ahead. Although it is swirling with mists, she thinks she can make out a stone door on the far wall. She takes a few steps forward and squints, and Thokk steps up next to her. Suddenly the entire floor of the corridor slants sharply down and to the right under their feet. Willa and Thokk go tumbling, then sliding, down a chute. They try to brace themselves, but the walls of the chute are of polished black marble and provide no purchase whatsoever. Above them, Shefak has shoved one end of a rope into the hands of a dumbfounded Tyrius, grabbed the other end herself, and lept out on to the counter-weighted floor section to keep it from closing. Tyrius has just enough faculties to hold the rope and keep Shefak from sliding in; the monk apparently has just enough weight by herself to keep the trap door open.

    At the end of the long chute, Thokk and Willa hit a wall that instantly gives way before them, then fall about ten feet into five feet of fetid water. Willa’s lantern goes out when it hits the water, but Thokk can see that they are in an iron-barred cell in a hallway of such cells, most likely the northern side of the dungeon he saw before but which they did not enter.

    Thokk is incensed - he resolves to destroy as many of the bars as he can, starting with the cell they are in now. Willa hangs back, treading water in the dark, grateful that her magic plate armor is virtually weightless, while the barbarian goes on a rampage with broken iron bars flying, chips of stone skittering across the water, sweat and spittle coursing from him. Meanwhile, in the corridor above, Aurora at first tries to contact Willa with her message but fails, then convinces Tyrius to cause her spider Charlotte to glow, just in time for Larry to bind a rope about himself and tumble (not slide) down the chute. Larry lands in Willa’s cell and causes a wave that nearly sweeps her under, but his rope is not severed, merely compressed, when the trap door at the bottom of the chute closes behind him.

    (5:10pm) With as many bars ripped out as Thokk could defeat in his rage, he and Willa now swim to the south door, and exit up the stairs into the hallway. Her lantern wick is soaked and will need drying out before she can re-light it, so she lights a torch. Willa steers Thokk clear of the floor traps, and together they enter the torture chamber, which now has twelve floating ghoul corpses moving in slow eddies about the room. They climb the balcony and open the door to the statue room, using the remaining chair to quickly prop it, then turn, run, and leap off the balcony into the water below as the green gas pours out behind them. They make it to the hallway exit ahead of the gas, where they pause and turn. The gas is indeed pouring over the balcony into the torture room, but dispersing in the much larger space until the air is just the faintest tinge of green. Satisfied, they return to the dungeon. Larry is using the rope to hold himself above the surface of the water, which is quite over his head.

    (5:20pm) Willa, standing on Thokk’s shoulders, is able to feel the outline of the trap door in the wall, but has no means to open it. Shefak, however, has let herself down the chute using the rope, and is able to force the door open. All four of them then climb the rope up and out, first Willa, then Shefak, Thokk, and finally Larry. By the time they reach the top of the chute, the rest of the party have maneuvered themselves across the trap door in the floor to the other side of the hallway. With three of them dripping and shivering in the cold mist, they resume their march down the hallway, pausing only at the end for Barnabus to search the cold stone door for traps.

    [DM's Note: Aurora's positive personal fortune: if she can discover clear information about the Malhel, she will gain a level.
    Aurora is now 5th level. She uses her previously saved inspiration point on her hit point roll.

    New abilities in bold.

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Fifth level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 10 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 18 (+4) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 33
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
    Staff, ring of protection+1 x2, scroll of protection from undead, wand of magic detection, wand of polymorph
    Ability: Hypnotic Gaze
    Cantrips: Prestidigitation, Fire Bolt, Mage Hand, Friends
    First: Detect Magic, Mage Armor, Find Familiar, Magic Missile, Sleep, Comprehend Languages, Silent Image, Unseen Servant, Shield, Identify
    Second: Magic Mouth, Invisibility, Web, Knock, Blur
    Third: Fireball
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 02, 2019 8:09 am  
    Post 70: The Riddle of the Malhel IV

    Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee:

    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel:

    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II:

    Post 57 - The Riddle of the Malhel III:

    Post 70: The Riddle of the Malhel IV
    Concurrent with Post 69: The Dungeons
    The party rests for an hour (2:40 to 3:40pm). Wounds are cleaned and bound, spells regained, prayers said. Aurora finds her history book, The Chronicle of Secret Times by Uhas, fascinating, differing substantially from any other account she has read of the early Sheldomar - she believes that this volume may be a suppressed version that the rulers of Keoland do not want known.

    Compared to the official history long studied by Aurora, the parts in blue are missing from this version, while parts in red are unique to this version.

    c. SD 5096 (CY ‐420)
    Arrival of the Suel Houses of Rhola and Neheli in the Sheldomar Valley

    At the end of the 51st century of the Suel Dominion came migrations of Suel peoples different from their predecessors. These noble families had reluctantly quit their land after its destruction by the Rain of Colorless Fire. Led by the last Mage of Power, Slerotin, the famous Twelve Suel Tribes made their way across and beneath the Crystalmists and down into the basin beyond. Though few in number, they steadfastly aided one another under the direction of the mage and so survived the depredations of humanoids and the earlier, unanimously wicked, Suel migrants. The most important families were the Neheli and Rhola, but other Suel families came as well; the Zelrad, Malhel, Lizhal, Linth, and Secunforth. Upon the death of Slerotin, the tribes began feuding and soon scattered. After some time on the northern plains, the House of Rhola turned south. Some Rholan families settled along the Kewl and Sheldomar Rivers where they border the Silverwood, while others continued south until they reached the coast of the Azure Sea. Lesser families, such as the Zelrad and Malhel, continued a nomadic existence in the vast plains west of the Sheldomar River. The most powerful house, Neheli, traveled north across the prairie until it found the lands of civilized Flan and the former Suel migrants who had settled among them. The minor House of Linth settled in the Sheldomar Valley between the Rholan lands.

    The first Suel migrants to the Sheldomar, those that arrived before the Twin Cataclysms, were corrupt, wily, and deferential. The Cruel Lord accepted them into the empire, allowing them to pass through the Flan lands and even to settle. The Suel founded cities in the Empire, such as Greyhawk City, the lost Suloise City of the Suss, Naer’s Well (Narwell) and Hard-by-the-Sea (Hardby). The Cruel Lord thought to use the firstcomer Suel and their seers as dupes in his growing plans to overthrow his absent Emperor, the Whispered One. The Suel, for their part, feigned loyalty to the Cruel Lord for a generation until they had become well established in the lands of the empire. Many then simply ignored his edicts, entering a state of passive rebellion.

    As the post-Cataclysm Suel refugees arrived, In the land around the Rushmoors the Neheli came upon the southern margins of the Ykrathian Empire. This dreaded despotry dominated many Flan and Suel groups, but at that time some were in a state of open rebellion. The powerful Neheli quickly united the rebellious Suel, and with themselves as leaders then fought for independence from the “Cruel Lord,” who ruled the Empire as seneschal in the name of the Whispered One.

    Since The Whispered One had not been seen for a generation, the Neheli assumed that the tales of the powerful sorcerous Emperor were merely Flan superstition. The Neheli quickly assumed leadership of the rebellious Suel and busily set about conquering the local Flan to establish a homeland for themselves. The Neheli massacres of Whispering priests quickly attracted the attention of the Whispered One, and he returned from his extra-planar journeys. As his power began to manifest in the Flanaess, the initially easy conquests of the Neheli turned into a bitter fight for survival. Fiends and abominations, hordes of Flan undead, and priests of increasingly powerful ability beset them. After several years of struggle the Neheli abandoned their stillborn northern homeland and retreated south to join their Rholan kinsmen in the lower Sheldomar, After several years of struggle, the Neheli were forced to abandon their erstwhile subjects and withdraw to the south. They rejoined their Rholan kinsmen in the now‐settled river valleys, or sheltered themselves along the border of the southern forest where the Sheldomar River cut through the plains. Ironically, the Ykrathian Empire would eventually fall by the hand of the Cruel Lord himself, when he would turn against his master.

    After the victory over the Neheli, the Cruel Lord consolidated his hold on the Empire and brought the remaining Suel firmly under his control. He then dared to challenge his erstwhile master when the Whispered One was fully manifest in this world and thus vulnerable. As a result of this challenge, both perished, and the world was made brighter thereby.

    The Flan of the Sheldomar Valley were of course initially hostile to the new invaders, but they soon learned that some of these Suel were not interested in conquest or pillage. It was not long before the exchange of goods and information was common. As trust grew, mutual defense alliances were struck, uniting these new Suel with the indigenous Flan, against the raiding bands of humanoids and the older, marauding Suel. These alliances became increasingly necessary as the warlike Oerid began to move south into the Sheldomar after the collapse of the Ykrathian Empire. Although friendly with the Flan, the Neheli and Rhola considered themselves a noble, civilized people, and viewed the dark‐skinned natives as primitives. At least in terms of technology and arcane magic, they were for the most part correct, and the Flan were much impressed with the strength and knowledge of these newcomers. Furthermore, while separate Flan bands were traditionally independent of one another, they all admired these powerful and friendly Suel. By virtue of their technological superiority, political cohesion, and horse‐borne mobility, the Neheli and Rhola quickly assumed the dominant role in local alliances with the Flan. Over the years, the Suel nobles evolved into the ruling overlords of many petty states with Flan and Suel subjects. The Flan, lacking any leaders of their own with intertribal political authority, were content to let the just and capable Suel assume this position of leadership. They were at the very least safer from the raids that had heretofore plagued them, and in many cases were genuinely better off under Suel administration.

    In contrast to the Neheli and Rhola, the Zelrad, Malhel, and other Suel groups sought no alliances with the “inferior Flan savages.” Instead, they survived by continually raiding the Flan, the Oerid, and each other. The Nehelian and Rholan nobles soon came into contact with demi‐humans who were, like the Flan, initially surprised by the behavior of these Suel.

    The Neheli and Rhola now tell the tale thusly: “The new rulers treated them not with the superstition of the Flan, the treachery of other Suel, nor the brutish demands of the Oerid, but with honesty, fairness, and respect. In most cases, trade and alliances of mutual assistance against humanoids came soon after contact. The many petty states created by the various Rhola and Neheli nobles in general did not fight among one another, but proved vigorous in the defense of their subjects against humanoids and the roving Suel and Oerid. Defeated opponents were driven off, and eventually the Zelrad and others were forced to depart the Sheldomar entirely. The Malhel, however, proved too powerful to displace. They continued their violent existence, but shifted their tactics. They would stage devastating raids on settlements near the Sheldomar River, and then retreat rapidly across the vast plains, out of range of reprisal”. They were the last of the wicked Suel to be driven from the Sheldomar Valley, and their final defeat marked the triumph of the good Suel states.

    The real nobility of these events is questionable. The various Suel tribes fought amongst each other for dominance almost immediately upon entering the Flanaess. Many of the lesser tribes such as the Zelrad were driven out of the valley entirely, to settle elsewhere. The Rhola and Neheli went their separate ways, settling different stretches of the Sheldomar River. The Malhel, a small though powerfully sorcerous noble house, refused to give quarter to the other Suel houses or to depart the Sheldomar Valley as did the other lesser houses who disagreed with the Neheli and Rhola. After losing in the struggle against the larger Neheli, they were forced to withdraw to dread forest lands, there to plot their revenge. From their capital at Valadis, they summoned forth demons and sent them against the Silent Sorcerers of the Neheli. The Silent Ones responded in kind, with invisible stalkers, bound devils, and such. A sorcerous war of attrition went on for years, generally unseen by the common folk. Eventually the Malhel had wheedled from their bound demons the name of a Demon Lord so powerful that by summoning him they could insure the destruction of the Neheli. It is not known whether this was a ruse all along on the demons’ part, or whether the Malhel wizards simply lost control of such a powerful being. In any event, as soon as he was summoned he turned on them, slaughtering first his summoners, and then any other being he could find in the city of Valadis, and finally destroying much of the city before returning to the Abyss. The Silent Ones wasted no time in descending on the city and completing the extermination of the fleeing Malhel.

    Since then, of course, collusion between the Silent Ones and the rulers of the Neheli have expunged all reference to this less than flattering episode in the official histories.

    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 09, 2019 6:25 am  
    Post 71: The Catacombs

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Now that the party was entering the catacombs, I switched the ambient sound file to

    Note that the four-times-a-day random chance of encountering spies of Strahd was about to bring the Count himself to the party at 6pm!

    Post 71: The Catacombs

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, under Castle Ravenloft

    (5:30pm) Cautiously opening the door, the party proceeds into a much larger space. Buried deep beneath the keep of Ravenloft, the arched ceiling sags over squat crypts, forming catacombs. A thick fog clings to the floor at knee height. Cobwebs hang limp in the musty air. Thick dust has settled over everything, filling the crypts' engravings, making it difficult to make out the names of those buried here. The black ceiling is moving.

    “Now this is what we are looking for,” says Tyrius in grim satisfaction. His words echo deep into the recesses of the catacombs, and the bats overhead squeak and chirp in response.

    Willa leads the way to the north wall, moving along the outer edge of the cavern, pausing at each crypt for Aurora to make out the Suel carvings with the names of the interred.

    [Crypt 2] "Artista DeSlop — Court Ceiling Painter"

    [Crypt 3] "The Lady Isolde Yunk (Isolde the Incredible). Purveyor of Antiques and Imports."

    [Crypt 4] "Prince Aerial Du Plumette (Aerial the Heavy)"

    [Crypt 5] "Artank Swilovich: Here interred and with great mourning courtesy of the Barovian Wine Distillers Brotherhood."

    [Crypt 6] The name and epitaph on this crypt have been clawed off as if by some mad tormented beast.

    While most of the party is looking at crypts, Ireena stands transfixed at a gap in the north wall protected by a portcullis. Willa is ready to move on, but the Barovian woman insists that they investigate. Barnabus checks the bars, finds no traps but no obvious means of raising it either, aside from simply lifting. They take time to grease the upper bars which will slide into dark recesses to minimize the noise, then Thokk pulls at it. It sticks and resists, but from centuries of disuse rather than any locking mechanism, and eventually they are able to lift it enough to pass under.

    (5:40pm) They proceed down the stairs and into the crypt (K85). A peaceful stillness, a calm amid the storm, is felt here - this is the safest they have felt since entering the castle, and many of them sigh audibly. In the center of the tomb, a large white marble slab supports a fine coffin. The quiet room is 50 feet long north to south and 30 feet across. To the north, behind the intricately inlaid coffin, there are three alcoves. Beautifully carved statues of weeping angels stand in each alcove, as clean and lustrous as the day they were placed there.

    The writing on the coffin indicates that it holds “Sergei Von Zarovich”.

    His brother,” whispers Ireena.

    “The brother he killed,” adds Aurora. Willa takes some time to carefully dry and then light her lantern, and the group examines the room. It appears empty besides the coffin and statues.

    (5:50pm) Barnabus says that the coffin lid is somehow stuck or closed fast, and Willa asks why he would even try to open it, but Ireena ignores them both and easily lifts the lid.

    Inside are the skeletal remains of a man in armor, a faded tabard covering his form and an empty scabbard along his side, the leather sword belt having long since rotted away. Ireena places a hand gently on the breastplate of the armor, then collapses next to the marble slab and begins weeping uncontrollably. Tyrius motions everyone away from the coffin while he examines the contents more closely.

    The armor appears as bright as the day it was forged. Tyrius whispers a prayer to Pelor, then lifts an arm cautiously. The mail clinks lightly, but there is no sign of resistance or rust. Surely this is magical - perhaps even holy.

    “My lady?” queries Tyrius, and Ireena sniffs back tears. “I do not think it would be an offense to this fine man were you to use his armor. We need to do everything we can to protect you from the devil.”

    Ireena rises and wipes her eyes. “It’s alright,” she says resolutely, “he vould vant me to haf it.” Carefully, respectfully, the pair of them begin to strip the armor off of the skeleton. Once it is all off, they put it onto Ireena. The quilted padding worn under the armor lies in rotting pieces over the skeleton, but Ireena’s thick cotton clothing will serve to protect her from the metal catching her skin. They can’t help but notice, as they adjust straps and buckles, that although the armor was sized for a large man, by the time it is fitted to Ireena it seems smaller, as if specifically forged for her. In the time it takes them to don the plate mail, Aurora has ritually cast detect magic and looked about the room.

    (6pm) “I’m only reading the armor,” says the wizardess. “It is definitely magical - but how magical is it?” She swings her staff, hard, at Ireena’s torso. The Barovian woman gasps but draws her family sword, parries the staff blow, then holds the naked blade to Aurora’s throat.

    “You vill not be doing that again,” she says, the menace clear in her voice.

    “Alrighty t’en…” interjects Willa. “Time t’ get movin’.”

    Almost as an afterthought, Ireena takes the scabbard from the coffin and hands it to Thokk. The colors and pattern of the embroidery work on it match perfectly the subdued gems on the hilt of his sword. He grins and tosses his old scabbard aside on the tomb floor.

    The party moves up the stairs and into the catacombs, immediately feeling the dread chill. They explore a second row of crypts, then move south along the east wall.

    [Crypt 8] "Duchess Dorfniya Dilisnya"

    [Crypt 9] "Pidlwik (Fool of Dorfniya)"

    [Crypt 10] "Sir Leanne Triksky (Sir Lee the Crusher). What sword did not, time's passage did."

    [Crypt 11] "Tasha Petrovna, Healer of Kings. Light unto the West. Servant. Companion."

    [Crypt 13] "King Intree Katsky (Katsky the Bright. King, Ruler, and Inventor)."

    [Crypt 14] "Stahbal Indi-Bhak: Advisor to Endorvich from eastern lands. A truer friend no ruler ever had. Here lies his family in honor."

    [Crypt 15] "KHAZAN: His word was power."

    [Crypt 16] "Elsa Fallona"

    [Crypt 17] "Sir Sedrik Spinwitovich (Admiral Spinwitovich). Confused though he was, he built the greatest naval force ever assembled in a land-locked country."

    [Crypt 19] "Animus (Builder of the Keep). Thou standeth amidst the monument to his life."

    [Crypt 20] "Sasha Ivliskova: Wife."

    [Crypt 22] "Sir Erik Vonderbucks"

    [Crypt 23] The opening stone is unmarked.

    (6:10pm) In between the “Vonderbucks” and unmarked crypts, a staircase leads down. Below, there is an ethereal glow. Approaching, they see wide steps descending to a landing (K87) flanked by two alcoves. Within each alcove, standing the full 30-foot height of the ceiling, is a bronze statue holding a spear. A soft blue curtain of light flows between the two alcoves. Dimly visible on the other side of the light curtain are more descending stairs.

    Aurora sends her spider familiar to investigate the curtain while the party cautiously descends the steps. Willa remains at the top of the stairs, shining her lantern light back into the catacombs behind them, listening intently. Is it her imagination, or are the bats becoming more active, their squeaks and chirps louder?

    Aurora uses her mage hand to pull back the curtain. The tomb below rests in hushed silence. Great stained windows filling the eastern walls filter the dim evening light into this room. The room holds large wings on each side, out of the view of the staircase.

    Willa thinks she sees shapes moving in the darkness. Then the shapes resolve - it is Strahd! He reaches out to her with his hand, but connects with her mind.

    [Note: Conversations in color were known only to the players in question. Italics indicate Strahd's mental voice.

    Willa, he asks, what is your loyalty to this motley group?

    “Me loyalty is to meself,” she answers, “an’ t’ me king. T’is ther biggest group o’ fools t'at I hae ever shipped wit'.”

    Willa, you know that Aurora is a threat to your king - and the book she took from my personal treasury is dangerous, too?

    “I figur’d as much.”

    Indeed. I can help you protect your king. You don’t have to change your plans - keep plotting my destruction, it makes no difference. But when I tell you something needs to be done, understand that it is to help you protect your king against the dangers that Aurora is unearthing.

    “I unnerstand.”

    Good - now bring me someone you trust.

    “Shefak!” Willa hisses, for the monk is on the stairs just behind her. The monk approaches, then she, too, sees Strahd.

    A Bakluni monk. Intriguing. It has been a long time indeed since I have seen one of your people.

    “Did you know Zuoken?” asks Shefak directly.

    Indeed I did. I will tell you all about him, in exchange for a favor when the time comes.

    “I will not break my monastic vows, but otherwise I will do anything for information about him.”

    Of course you will. For now, bring me the halfling.

    Shefak goes back down the stairs.

    “Barnabus,” she whispers. “Come and see if you can make this out.”

    “ thanks,” says the halfling, and he disappears into the shadows behind Tyrius.

    “What is going on up there?” asks the paladin.

    “There is something moving in the dark,” says Willa, her voice level but with an intonation of concern.

    Tyrius calls upon his faith, closes his eyes, then extends his senses out into the darkness around them, seeking meaning in this mire of chaos and evil. His face contorts. He says quietly, so that just those nearby him can hear, “Petrinoff is unrepentantly evil, and a werewolf. And there is a vampire nearby. Very nearby.”

    From the darkness beyond Willa’s lantern light a shape emerges - the forbidding presence of Strahd. He hails the party, and then says to Tyrius, “Most perceptive, paladin. Indeed Petrinoff is a verevolf, and an evil one at that. I’m afraid his penchant for evil outmatched my stewardship of him.”

    At the appearance of the count, the rescued prisoner Petrinoff has fallen to all fours and is groveling on the steps, mumbling, “Master...forgive me, Master…”

    “Petrinoff - tell my guests vhy you were locked in that cell.”

    “For my disobedience, Master.”

    “Indeed, you disobeyed me vonce, and for that you were imprisoned. And yet, you are here, valking free. How can that be?”

    “I disobeyed you again, Master. I got these people to free me.”

    “I see. And vhat is the punishment for a second disobeyal?”

    “Death, Master.”

    “Yes, yes it is.” Strahd turns from addressing Petrinoff back to Tyrius. “Paladin, your oaths commit you to upholding the law of the land, do they not?”

    Sensing a trap, Tyrius answers carefully. “Within reason. If they are just laws, yes.”

    “Vell now, I call upon you all to know that this man, Alexandru Petrinoff, did twice disobey me, Count Strahd von Zarovich, his lawful ruler and the master of Barovia. By his own admittance, the punishment for this is death. To you, paladin, I give the honor of executing the law of this land.”

    Before Tyrius can respond, Petrinoff turns from groveling before Strahd and stands menacingly on the stairs facing Tyrius. His body is covered in course, disheveled fur. His teeth lengthen into fangs and his nails into claws, but he remains upright in a nightmare man-wolf form.

    With a strangled cry, he leaps at Tyrius. The paladin brings his shield up in front of him and the creature’s claws and fangs fall upon the metal. In an instant he is surrounded by the party, who rain blows upon him as he struggles to get at Tyrius. Finally Larry, from behind Tyrius, shoots forth his thorn whip, wraps it around the creature’s neck, and jerks it down the stairs past Tyrius. As the creature passes him, Tyrius pivots and smashes his new hammer into the side of its head, staving in its skull. In a second, it lies on the steps in front of Larry, now slowly turning back into a dead man.

    [DM’s note: By using his new hammer (from Strahd’s hoard) in combat, Tyrius realizes that it is a war hammer +2.]

    “Vell done, paladin.” says the count. “Justice is served. And now, I must remind you, my guests, that you barely touched your lunch, you have been vandering the castle for hours, and dinner is avaiting you. Igor has been vorking all day to prepare your feast. Come, let us return to the banquet hall.”

    Aurora comes up the steps, next to Willa, who is cleaning the werewolf blood from her sword and eyeing the count cautiously.

    [Note: Aurora saw how Willa was looking into the darkness at the rear of the party, and now Strahd has appeared. Aurora suspects that Willa is charmed, and decides to try to charm her, herself, with her hypnotic gaze, to break Strahd's charm.

    “Hey Willa,” Aurora says, but when the warrior looks at her, her eyes appear as swirling points of light.

    “Aye, Aurora?” Willa responds, in a strangely husky voice. “Ye know, I’ve never noticed 'ow t'at dress brings out ther color in yer eyes.”

    Barnabus is still nowhere to be seen. At the appearance of Strahd, Ireena has retreated down the stairs and past the curtain. Babshapka and Larry go with her, but upon crossing the threshold of the curtain they disappear - only to reappear a second later at the top of the stairs, even closer to the count.

    “Uh, that dinner is an intriguing offer,” says Aurora, turning back to the count. “Could you ask us again? Actually, could you ask my friend Willa directly? She’s a bit reluctant to go.”

    The count arches an eyebrow. Willa whispers, “Ye mean yer special friend, Aurora.”

    Strahd looks directly at Willa, although she only has eyes for Aurora. “Of course, you are all inwited to dinner, but I vould be especially honored if you vould attend, Villa.”

    Willa shakes her head, her eyes clearing. “Nay, I’ll not be dinin’ wit ther likes o’ ye, ye fanged freak!” she shouts at Strahd. Then she turns and clouts Aurora on the arm, “An’ what in the ‘ells be ye doing, ye spell-slinging hussy! Get out o’ me ‘ead!”

    [I ruled that the dual charms acting on Willa did not conflict until they directly contradicted one another. Then, Willa was allowed new saves against both. She saved against Aurora’s but failed again and remained charmed by Strahd.]

    Babshapka, seeing the light coming through the windows into the tomb below, shouts “Aha!” and pulls back the curtain. Wan daylight falls about halfway up the stairs, but is still far from the count’s feet.

    The count stares for a moment at everyone in front of him. “You are all wery amusing peoples,” he says dryly. “But come, you may entertain me at dinner.”

    Thokk was pleased with the killing of the werewolf, but he has rapidly grown tired of all the talking he does not understand. “Thokk kill you once already,” says the frustrated half-orc to Strahd. “But now you are un-killed. Maybe that why evil advisor says you are un-dead. Thokk make sure you are real dead this time.” Screaming in rage, he runs up the stairs. When he draws forth his sword it is glowing a brilliant blue - but when he strikes at Strahd, the entire blade erupts in flames.

    [Note: in addition to its +3 against undead, Thokk now learns that the sunsword does an extra 10 points of damage per hit to vampires]

    The count recoils at the sight of the sword. “That veapon...I thought I had destroyed it!” he cries, as Thokk lands blow upon blow on him. The fire has spread to his elegant black cape.

    By now Willa is at Thokk’s side. “Nay Thokk, not now!” she yells in his ear. “I advise you t'at t'is not be ther time fer attack.”

    Strahd whispers to Thokk: Thokk, warrior brother, you defeated me once by surprise, but now we meet in my crypts, where I have the advantage - how will we know who is stronger if I win here? Do not worry, soon I will tell you when to attack, when we meet on equal ground, and the victor then will KNOW he is truly great. Until then, listen to your advisor, it is not time for attack.

    Thokk is already heaving and panting as he strikes at Strahd, but now he pauses and turns to Willa. “No?” he says almost mournfully, “not time for attack?” and his sword droops. Strahd makes no move to retaliate once Thokk’s guard is down.

    “Nay, not now,” Willa repeats. She pulls Thokk gently away from the count.

    “Excellent, excellent,” says the count, and he smiles broadly and clasps his hands together. “Now, can ve all come to dinner, please!”

    Tyrius has been waiting for the others on the stairs to get behind him. Now the only ones between him and Strahd are Willa and Thokk. He holds forth his holy symbol and brandishes it. “By the Divine Light of Pelor, I banish you, devil! Get thee hence!” he shouts. Light streams forth. Strahd cowers, pulling the burned tatters of his cape up and in front of his face. Then he whirls, and disappears into the darkness of the catacombs.

    (6:15pm) Tyrius arranges the party defensively on the stairs, then he goes down and passes through the curtain, to join Ireena in the tomb below. Babshapka had previously tried to go behind one of the statues to achieve the same effect. He was easily able to squeeze between the statue and the alcove wall, but when he crossed the plane of the curtain, he found himself again at the top of the stairs, despite not having touched the curtain itself.

    A closed coffin stands on each side of the roughly 40-foot-square room. Tyrius reads the inscriptions out loud - one says “King Barov” and the other “Queen Ravenovia.”

    “His parents,” mutters Ireena distractedly, while she looks out the windows at the dying light. There is perhaps half an hour left before sundown.

    “His parents?” muses Tyrius. “Barov and Ravenovia...Barovia...perhaps he named this land after his parents when he conquered it.”

    Tyrius utters a small prayer and carefully opens the coffins. Each holds a skeleton in once-rich robes, now rotted away. Both wear crowns - Barov has a jeweled sword (now rusted) while Ravenovia has an abundance of medallions and rings. Tyrius replaces the lids of the coffins, then looks about as best he can for any secret doors. Finally, Tyrius and Ireena return up the stairs to the party.

    (6:25pm) “Ther brother on ther north wall, and ther parents in ther east,” says Willa. “My money says Strahd’s crypt be on ther south wall, across from ther tother one.”

    The party makes their way cautiously through the dark catacombs. They move south, but along the east wall, reading the tomb inscriptions as they go.

    [Crypt 27] There is no inscription on this crypt, and the door-stone is slightly ajar. From inside comes a clicking and scuttering noise, but whatever it is retreats from the light of Willa’s lantern into the dark recesses of the crypt.

    [Crypt 28] "Ardent Pallette, Chef Delux"

    [Crypt 29] "Ivan Ivanovich, Beloved of Anna Petrovna."

    [Crypt 33] The stone door is blank. This crypt looks like it has never been used.

    [Crypt 34] "King Dostron"

    “King?” wonders Tyrius aloud. “This is not the first king this castle has buried under it, but Strahd is only a Count?”

    Aurora suggests, “It may be that most of the people interred here, including the kings, were the natives of this valley before Strahd conquered it. He may have assumed the title of count after defeating the old king, if he did not take over the entire kingdom, but just a small part for himself.”

    Willa hushes them both. “We ain’t 'ere fer a histry lesson! Ears sharp!”

    They reach the southeast corner of the crypts and turn west along the south wall.

    [Crypt 40] "Tatsaul Eris: Last of the line"

    [Crypt 39] "Bucephalus, The Wonder Horse. May the flowers grow ever greener where he treads." This crypt has a larger door than all the rest.

    [Crypt 38] "Americo Standardski (Inventor)"

    Tyrius still has his divine sense running, and is reaching out into the chaos around him. He senses the presence of an Abyssal being in the crypt of Bucephalus, and three Infernal beings in that of Americo, and he warns his companions not to open these crypts. Tyrius does not feel any undead close by. In front of the party, to their left on the south wall, is a portcullis and a staircase down, much like the one to Sergei’s tomb. Tyrius feels that the staircase leads down to unholy ground. “We are getting close,” he whispers.

    Willa and Thokk are in the lead as the party creeps forward, Willa’s lantern light casting a huge, crazy shadow of Thokk across the surfaces of the catacombs since she is several paces behind and backlighting him.

    When Thokk sees the portcullis, he knows what to do - they will be wanting him to lift it, like the last one. He strides forward confidently, passes between the rock wall and the Infernal crypt, and suddenly stops in his tracks.

    Slowly he turns back around to face the party. His face is ashen white - and human-like, bearing no trace of his orcish parentage. He seems smaller, shorter - as if his muscles have withered with death. His sword, gripped tightly in his hand, is glowing a brilliant blue.

    Larry gasps - “Is Thokk undead?”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “That thing’s undead, but it’s not Thokk - it’s a barrow wight...wearing all of Thokk’s gear.”

    Not wanting to approach the wight, in case there was some sort of proximity trap, the party unloads on the creature from a distance. Babshapka shoots an arrow, then entangles it, while Aurora shoots firebolts. By the time Larry drags it to them with his thorn whip, the corpse collapses to the floor and Tyrius announces that the evil spirit inhabiting its body has fled. They recover all of Thokk’s gear, but still don’t know where he is.

    Aurora and Barnabus examine the floor by the light of Willa’s lantern. They find runes engraved in the stone - barely visible, filled with centuries of dust. Working their way around possible entrances to what they presume to be Strahd’s crypt, they find them in two other locations. All possible accesses are magically protected.

    [Crypt 37] "Gralmore Nimblenobs"

    While the party ponders their next move, deep in the recesses of the catacombs, they hear Thokk’s distant voice booming, “Willa? Evil Advisor, where are you?”

    Then comes the sound of footsteps - not just Thokk’s, though - he is being pursued. The party prepares an ambush, and quickly dispatches a second wight behind Thokk. Thokk is dressed in rotten rags that leave nothing to the imagination, and Willa is careful where she points the lantern.

    Thokk tells them that he found himself lying down in a stone box. He lifted the lid off, and was in a room with more than two hands worth of stone boxes. He opened one, but there was a dead thing inside it, and he didn’t have his weapons. He opened the door of the room, but the dead thing followed him all the back here.

    Willa shows him the runes, and warns him not to step on them while the party puzzles what to do next.

    (6:35pm) Eventually they decide to test whether the runes are activated if they are not stepped on. Willa and Tyrius crouch, and Thokk vaults off their backs and through the air. He easily clears the runes on the floor, but when he lands on the stone beyond, he is no longer Thokk, but another wight - this one as naked as Thokk had been when he launched himself through. By the time the real Thokk has again returned to them, the party has killed this wight as well. Thokk, however, in throwing the stone lid off his tomb, has this time made enough noise to wake another two wights that followed him back to the party. By the time they are felled, the party has dispatched five of the creatures in all.

    (6:45pm) Trying a different line of reasoning, the party decides that Tyrius was able to open Sergei’s coffin, and pass through the curtain to Barov and Ravenovia’s tombs, because of his holiness. Perhaps he will be able to bypass this trap as well. Tyrius strips off his armor and weapons, so as not to give any possible wight their benefits, until he is clad in his small clothes and bears only his holy symbol. He says a prayer to Pelor and steps over the runes.

    The wight that then faces them carries the paladin’s symbol, but it does not appear to affect him. When Tyrius returns, not followed, he reports that the chamber he found himself in was larger on the inside than the outside, and that there were fully fifteen sarcophagi inside. Besides the one he opened, another five had their lids off. He was careful to be quiet and was not followed back.

    (6:55pm) Again the party ponders - it is clear that the runes are moving the party to the wight’s tombs, and the wights here, but is there an inexhaustible supply of them? Dare they open the tombs at their source? Should they try to send a dead body over the runes? While they debate, Ireena is growing increasingly agitated. Finally she strides up to the runes herself. Tyrius lays his hand on her shoulder. “Do not risk yourself my lady - the time it would take for you to put your armor back on in itself is not worth it.” She shrugs off his hand and steps through - and now they face a wight clad in Sergei’s armor, while Ireena is trapped in a stone sarcophagus. Tyrius leaves the wight to the party while he returns to the source tomb to defend Ireena. She has been warned not to make noise - so which sarcophagus is she in? There are fifteen - Tyrius can sense that there are nine wights still in the sarcophagi, another are five empty - and a living being in the last. He eases the lid off the one with Ireena.

    (7:05pm) As they make their way back to the party, Tyrius and Ireena note that the bats that crowd the ceiling are on the move. In ones and twos they are taking to wing. Most seem to be headed to the west. By the time they reach the party the catacombs are that much quieter.

    Aurora, Tyrius, and Larry carefully ponder the runes on the floor while Willa helps Ireena back into her armor. Aurora now believes that the runes are transportational, but require an exchange to function. Any non-living thing, such as armor or weapons, passes through them unaffected. But any living thing is exchanged for an undead thing. With that in mind, and having heard from Tyrius that six of the sarcophagi were empty, corresponding to the six wights slain, Aurora is hopeful that if they kill all the wights, they can render the exchange property of the runes non-functional.

    “So t'en we can walk t'rough ther runes an’ nay be affected?” asks Willa.

    “Yes,” says Aurora confidently. “That, or slip out of existence,” she adds in a lowered voice.

    “It be night by now and ‘is powers agrowin’,” says Willa dubiously. “‘ow long is it gonna take t' kill those blighters one at a time?”

    “Or, we could face them all at once,” replies Aurora. “I still have my fireball.”

    “And I have my moonbeam,” adds Larry.

    Willa nods. “We do it careful and quiet, one at a time. But if they all start comin’ out, ye two can use the big spells.”

    The party retreats from Strahd’s tomb to the the crypt of the wights (14).

    Carefully they open each tomb one at a time, with one person on each end of the stone lid, and the other six of them falling upon the wight inside all at once. Things go well for the first five tombs, with the wights not even managing to stand up before they are dispatched. But on the sixth tomb, Thokk gets over-excited, and jerks up so hard that the stone lid upends and comes down on top of Larry. The noise made raises the other wights from their tombs so that the party is facing four at once. There are some tense moments as the wights claw at the party members, but they soon regain control, destroy the last of them, and pull the heavy stone lid off of Larry.

    What no one has noticed is that Strahd himself is hiding in the tomb, watching them carefully. During the last fight, when they were all involved, Strahd locked eyes with Barnabus so that only the halfling knew that he was there. Strahd raised a finger to his lips, and Barnabus nodded before returning to the battle.

    (7:20 pm) All the sarcophagi now opened and wights defeated, the party makes their way back through the crypts to the south. Barnabus, as his his want, follows just far enough to use the party’s light, but not so close he can be seen. Strahd silently moves up next to him.

    You look like one who knows how the world works, my friend. I have a business proposition for you.

    “I’m listening”.

    This whole expedition was Aurora’s idea - and now she has the book she came for. What about you? What are you getting out of this?

    “So far, nothing.”

    Exactly. Here is my offer - I will signal you when the time is right. Offer to trade me for the Barovian girl. I will refuse. Threaten to kill her - distract the paladin. You do not actually have to kill her, just make a convincing diversion. In return, I will let you leave these lands, and take as much treasure as you can carry with you.

    “Sounds good to me.”

    The party returns to the portcullised stairway entrance.

    Before anyone can stop him, Thokk strides across the runes, reaches the portcullis, and lifts it up. The scream of rusty metal echoes through the catacombs.
    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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    Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:32 pm  

    Lol, Kirt! You are a devious DM! :P

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    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:36 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Lol, Kirt! You are a devious DM! :P

    If you go back to Post 66, I outline my devious DM plan for charming half the party and then having the two sides fight over Ireena.

    Strahd was able to charm Larry at midnight the day previous, and at this point he had just 6 hours of charm left. When Thokk resisted Strahd's charm in the throne room, I thought to myself, "There's no way Strahd's going to be able to charm half the party in 24 hours." The party typically keeps a tight formation, so I didn't anticipate a lot of chances to isolate one character at a time and charm them.

    And then the party entered the catacombs just as a random roll brought Strahd there, and he was able to charm four of them in the span of an hour or so. It was a thing of beauty for a DM.

    We played all of the Ravenloft sessions in the classroom of one of the players (a social studies teacher) after hours and on weekends. Any time Strahd had a chance to charm someone, I would say to the player, "Let's you and me go into the hall for a minute - and bring your dice." My players are used to having private conversations with the DM in the hall, but anytime I add "and bring your dice" they know it's not going to be good. Over the course of this session I got to take SO MANY of them into the hall and have them make charm saves. It was wonderful.

    They were also very good sports and no one had any meta/table talk when they returned to the group - so they all knew if they had been charmed or not but didn't reveal the result to the others. Since Strahd had told those who were charmed to go ahead with their plans to destroy him, by the end of the session everyone was looking around the table trying to figure out who had been charmed and who had resisted. Wonderfully tense, wonderful Ravenloft flavor.
    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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    Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:37 am  
    Post 72: Strahd 5 - Party 3

    Post 72: Strahd 5 - Party 3

    Things are not looking good for our heroes.

    Strahd has now charmed Larry, Willa, Shefak, Thokk, and Barnabus.

    Tyrius and Aurora remain uncharmed, with Ireena.

    Strahd is now just waiting for the right moment to unleash his plan - Barnabus will attack Ireena, an interparty conflict will develop, her defenders (Tyrius and Aurora) will lose, the depleted winners will attack her again, and Strahd will save her and win her love.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:26 am  
    Post 73: The Heart of Darkness

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Within the catacombs, I switched the ambient sound file to

    Once they returned to the castle above, I used

    The party started this session at a great disadvantage, with five of them charmed and Strahd just waiting for the right moment to enact his plan of Barnabus attacking Ireena, and then most of the party being incapacitated in the ensuing intra-party conflict.

    However, in this session they returned to their Scooby-Dooesque roots, with a comical chase scene and some amazingly lucky events. They are not out of the woods yet, but they certainly improved the odds for themselves.

    Their first stroke of luck would happen in Strahd's tomb, where Willa would roll an incredible non-proficient Sleight of Hand check to spirit away the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind without Strahd noticing.

    Their second lucky roll needs a bit of explanation. When the party found Strahd's diary, I used my hardback copy of I, Strahd ( as a physical prop. Into that book I had placed a few dozen little slips of paper like bookmarks. Every time the party had an hour in-game to read the Diary, I let them (Ireena or Aurora, the only ones who could read Suel) make a History check. A high enough roll let them pull out one (or more, if high enough) of the papers and read it, essentially at random since they did not know what was on each paper when they made the choice of which one to pull out.

    Some of the papers were the actual lines from Strahd's diary given in the module. One was a line I planted about Strahd meeting Zuoken. The remainders were bits and pieces of the description of a greater vampire found in the 5e Monster Manual. Since none of the players actually knew any of the 5e stats and abilities of vampires, the information proved very illuminating. When they learned, for example, that vampires can regenerate 20 hp per round they realized they were in for a difficult fight.

    As luck would have it, one of the papers they pulled out this session was the description of the vampire's charm ability. When the party members who were already charmed read that, I allowed the knowledge that Strahd might be charming them to grant them a one time chance to save again. They all failed, again, except Larry - who with his Wisdom bonus and proficiency in Wisdom saves had the best chance of any of them, 55%. Of any of them who could have broken free of the charm, Larry would be key - since by cooperating with Tyrius he could cast a sunlight spell.

    Thus, they started the session with five charmed, three not, the sword, and the diary...but hey ended the session with four charmed, four not, the sword, the diary, the holy symbol, and the ability to create sunlight.

    I'd say they went from a rather likely victory by Strahd to a toss-up, with no clear way to tell who would win - thanks to two lucky rolls and one lucky paper draw.

    Post 73: The Heart of Darkness

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, under Castle Ravenloft

    Before anyone can stop him, Thokk strides across the runes, reaches the portcullis, and lifts it up. The scream of rusty metal echoes through the catacombs. They make their way down the stairs into Strahd’s tomb (K86).

    A darkness clouds the room and the essence of evil permeates the very air, obvious to everyone. The smell of freshly turned earth is here. This room appears to be 50 feet long from east to west and 30 feet across. There are three empty alcoves in the south wall. Settled into the dirt on the floor lies a shining black coffin of finely waxed wood. The coffin's fittings are of brilliant brass. The lid is closed. In front of the coffin stands Strahd, welcoming them.

    [This is a wery bad sign. This is in the wery heart of darkness: his home, his source. It is his center and his life. It is the one place to which he must rreturn. Seek the symbol there, but bevare! The Varriors are a dark shadow of evil cast over that place. If you fight there, they will conspire against you!

    Strahd looks upon them with the countenance of one who is struggling to remain polite. “You are beginning to try my patience,” he says. “Come, it is time for dinner.”

    Some of those in the front of the party have noticed a shiny object lying in the dirt of the floor, in a dark corner. Willa walks casually over to it without looking at it, bends down to tie her boot, and unseen by anyone in the room, palms what turns out to be a platinum medallion on a neck chain. Tyrius joins her, then kneels in the dirt to pray.

    “Yes! Dinner!” booms Thokk. He seems now not to mind so much that Strahd has refused to stay dead, so long as he is offering them food.

    “Good, good,” smiles the count. “Please to be goink back to the banquet hall now, the one vhere ve first met, yes?”

    “Yes,” says Ireena. “I think it is dinner time.” She turns and whispers something to Shefak, who walks over to the others, then turns and shrugs.

    Slowly the party retreats up the stairs, Willa and Tyrius the last to exit. When they are finally on the stairs, Strahd bids them halt. His face, pleased at their departure, now clouds. “Just vun moment - I believe vun of you may have taken somethink that is not belongink to you.”

    The party members look at one another inquiringly, but no one says anything and they continue up the stairs.

    Strahd, barely controlling his anger, booms “Who has the amulet?!”

    Willa pulls the jeweled medallion from her boot. “This amulet?” she says, facing Strahd.

    From behind her, Aurora grabs the medallion and attempts to jerk it from Willa’s grasp, taking her by surprise, but the warrior’s fingers tighten around it reflexively. Aurora trips on the stairs and collapses, desperately holding on to the surprisingly solid chain. As the full weight of the enchantress is added to the medallion, Willa drops it in surprise. Aurora scrambles to her feet, dashing up the stairs and squealing “Ruuuuun!”

    Most of the party members flee up the stairs into the darkness of the catacombs. Willa and Tyrius, at the bottom, are the only ones with light sources. They lock shoulders and block off the stairway. Strahd draws his cloak up about him and moves past them easily, as if he was insubstantial, no more solid than an icy wind. He rounds the corner just behind the party, solidifies, and demands, “Give me the amulet!”

    In the darkness, Barnabus “bumps” into Aurora. He comes away with the medallion in his hand, and Aurora holding the neck chain from his cloak but none the wiser. Strahd moves forward and grabs Aurora’s forearm in an irresistible grip, and she stops running. She messages “Thokk, let’s have a running contest.”

    Willa and Tyrius dash up the stairs behind Strahd. When the light of Willa’s lantern falls upon Aurora, the cloak-chain in her hand is revealed. It is not clear whether it is Willa, Strahd, or Aurora who is the more surprised. “The amulet is not yours,” Strahd hisses menacingly without removing his vice-like grip. “Who is havink it?”

    “Thokk, take the amulet and run to Sergei’s tomb!” calls Aurora, but the words are not even out of her mouth before Strahd disbelieves her. He releases his grip and she drops to the catacomb floor. Strahd turns, just in time to see Tyrius bowing so that Barnabus can drape the medallion around the paladin’s neck, so that it hangs on his chest next to his sunburst holy symbol. When Tyrius straightens, the light from his shield is reflected off of a large crystal in the medallion, and the reflections play across Strahd’s face, contorted with rage.

    With a disgusted look, the count moves past Tyrius, returning to the stairway of his tomb. Tyrius and Barnabus exchange a triumphant glance with one another, then when Aurora stands up, the three of them join the rest of the party in running through the catacombs toward Sergei’s tomb.

    [DM’s note: for recovering the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Tyrius gains an Inspiration Point. He now has two saved.]

    Thokk has put Larry on piggyback, and is pulling night-blind Shefak along with him through the dark catacombs, but still reaches the portcullis ahead of the rest. He guffaws happily and taunts them as they arrive, panting. “Haw, haw, slowpokes. No match for Thokk in running contest! Next time you all get head start.” Then, when all are assembled, he raises the portcullis for them and they file down the stairs into Sergei’s tomb, relieved at the calm it generates.

    “'ey paly-din - ye still 'ave yer divine sense runnin'?” asks Willa.

    “Yes,” says Tyrius, trying to catch his breath, “though my other holy powers are exhausted. Are we resting here?”

    “Be we safe 'ere?”

    Tyrius concentrates and expands his senses. “This is consecrated ground...but it will not stop Strahd. Maybe he would not be able to touch Sergei’s coffin, but he can still enter here. There is no way he could get into his parents’ tomb through the curtain of light - that would be the safest place to rest - except that many of you can’t enter there, either. Perhaps if you accepted The Way of Light…”

    Willa snorts. “Ne’er mind t'at. Help me move t'at coffin in front of ther door.”

    “What?” asks Tyrius.

    “If’n Strahd can’t tech ther coffin, t'at be what we use t' block ther door.”

    Ireena looks aghast. Tyrius says, quietly but firmly, “No.”

    “Aright, aright, t'en - jus' ther lid - we can angle it t' cover most o' ther openin'…”

    “NO!” Willa is silenced by both Tyrius and Ireena shouting in unison.

    “Fine,” she huffs, “'tis only all our lives at stake, agin' ther honor o' some guy who’s been dead fer five hunnerd years. Thokk! Ye n’ me be gardin’ ther door.”

    Thokk strides cheerfully back up the stairs to watch at the portcullis. “Advisor,” he whispers, not wanting to sound like he hasn’t been following along, “when we go to dinner?”

    Aurora is examining the holy symbol now worn around the neck of Tyrius. It is an ancient platinum medallion. It is shaped like the sun, with a large crystal embedded in its center. Around the crystal are many holy symbols of light and truth. “Is that your family’s icon?” she asks Ireena.

    “Yes, that is what kept us safe - that is what was stolen the night my father died.” As she says the word “stolen”, Ireena looks carefully at Tyrius.

    “My lady, Pelor has already seen fit to tell me how to use this device,” answers Tyrius, unbidden. “I believe it will be the key to defeating the devil, but it must be used at precisely the right moment. With your permission, I will retain it until he is defeated, and then return it to you.”

    Ireena nods. “Be it so.”

    Tyrius retreats to the middle alcove, at the base of the statue of the weeping angel. He kneels in prayer, attempting to reclaim the divine power that could help him drive Strahd off again. Ireena, Larry, and Aurora move to a far corner of the room, with Ireena and Aurora reading Strahd’s journal by the light of Willa’s lantern. Babshapka, Shefak, and Barnabus rest at the bottom of the stairs, ready to support Thokk and Willa if necessary.

    (7:30pm) They have not been resting even five minutes when Willa hears the scurrying patter of innumerable tiny feet. Then Thokk, with his darkvision, spots the rats - hundreds of rats - a living carpet of rats - moving like a great wave along the floor of the catacombs, straight at the portcullis. The wave crests and breaks, the rats entering the room through every gap in the bars. Willa gets her sword tangled in the bars of the portcullis, but Thokk, Babshapka, and Shefak dispatch the creatures right and left. Barnabus’ shortswords are a blur, killing dozens of rats faster than the eye can follow.

    The swarm parts in the middle, and the two columns pass on either side of the marble slab with Sergei’s coffin. They merge again, uniting and then filling the cell wherein Tyrius kneels. His chanting grows louder, but he makes no move against them other than to lower his visor as he is covered in a layer of rats, each searching his scale armor frantically for some means of access. The party comes to his aid, one by one removing and killing the rats until none are left. In the entire encounter, the rats made no attempt to bite anyone other than Tyrius.

    “Bet we coulda slowed ‘em down with a coffin lid” harrumphs Willa. She gathers torches and oil from several in the party, then builds a pyre just outside the portcullis. The oil-soaked wood is just waiting for a spark or touch of the torch she now keeps lit.

    Larry casts some of his remaining healing spells in preparation for their short rest.

    (8:40pm) The party rests for an hour, without further interruption. Aurora, Larry, and Tyrius have all recovered a few spells. Perhaps as importantly, with the aid of Larry and Ireena, Aurora has found two key passages in Strahd’s journal. The first forms part of the narrative, and includes a mention of both his parents and Sergei:

    I called for my family, long unseated from their ancient thrones, and brought them here to settle in the castle Ravenloft. They came with a younger brother of mine, Sergei. He was handsome and youthful. I hated him for both.

    The second passage includes a description of how Strahd learned to use the power of enchantment to control the minds of others. There is a description of what factors aid in control, and what might allow the victim to break free. Interestingly, it says that Strahd’s power lasts but a day before it needs to be renewed. It also, says Aurora, indicates that physical damage may help break the charm, and she recommends that anyone who the party suspects of being under Strahd’s influence be roughed up. Ireena looks concerned, remembering how Aurora attempted to wake Babshapka from his drugged sleep by knifing him. “Actually, vhat I believe it says is that if Strahd or those the wictim perceives to be his serwants cause the wictim harm, then he may break free - but there is no effect of damage in general.” Aurora re-reads the passage, and is forced to admit that Ireena is correct.

    Larry, upon hearing this, seems agitated. He distances himself from the party and paces. When he returns to them, he says he has something important to tell them. He explains his meeting with Strahd the night before - how he thought he was helping to end a curse on the land, but was compelled to keep it secret. Upon now hearing how Strahd has the power of charm, he realized how strange it was that he was helping him, an undead creature. He believes that Strahd had him under a charm, but that he has just now broken free. This is unsettling news, and Aurora wonders out loud how many others in the party might be affected. Everyone else denies being under Strahd’s influence.

    Tyrius says that they now have the tome, the sword, and the icon - everything that Madam Eva told them they needed to defeat the devil. Tyrius believes that they should return to the throne room, and place Ireena on the throne as the rightful ruler of Barovia. He believes that this will draw Strahd for the inevitable final confrontation. Aurora agrees, but says that they are not ready for this. While they are in reasonably good health, Thokk needs to rest before he can rage again, and all of them are short on spells. She proposes a long rest, a chance for them to even sleep or trance, so that they are in peak form when they face the count.

    As calming as is the influence of Sergei’s tomb, none of them feel they can rest here long term. Strahd knows exactly where they are, and if he sent the rats, he can continue sending other things at them. They need a more secure place, and Madam Eva told them that Strahd’s secret treasury was a good place to rest. They agree to head there.

    Willa spreads her cloak on the catacomb floor, and gathers up all her splintered, oil-soaked torches - she is taking her pyre with her.

    Although some suggest exploring the western wall of the catacombs, they leave the way they came in. They notice for the first time that on this side, the door is disguised as the entrance to a crypt, and even bears an inscription:

    [Crypt 1] "Spectre Ab-Centeer. She now walks that path of pain and torment. A gift to all who look upon her still.”

    They travel quickly but carefully down the tunnel, crossing the trap in the floor without incident, and entering the statue room. A green haze is still in the air, but they do not seem affected by it. Thokk removes the moldy throne from where it held the southern door open and sets it back on the balcony, and Aurora mage hands the stone down that will let them open the door to the spiral staircase.

    “You know,” says Aurora, “with the gas dispersed, it is now safe to open the chest…” Willa grabs her by the arm and drags her to the door.

    (8:50 pm) The party ascends the spiral staircase, going up further than before. Larry estimates that they have gone up about 70 vertical feet and are perhaps at the level of the bottom of the elevator when the spiral stair turns into a short straight hallway (K83a), and then another spiral stair. All the stones in the walls and stairways are rough-hewn. Aurora insists that they stop on the landing here and look for secret doors. Willa begrudgingly allows them ten minutes, but nothing is found.

    (9pm) The second stair leads up more than a hundred vertical feet, according to Larry, and ends in a door. From the other side comes the crackling sound of a fire - they are indeed back at the study. Knowing their way, they pass quickly through the fire, the secret treasure chamber, and into the dark hall. Here, the spider webs are in disarray, the dust on the flood is greatly disturbed, and there is even familiar fresh blood on the floor and a discarded pile of rags.

    They pass through into the belfry - their tracks to the secret door are obvious. They pass into Strahd’s secret treasure room, which appears as it was before. Larry is the last one through, and takes pains to obscure their tracks in the dust and even pull some cobwebs from higher up down across the opening to the door.

    Thokk, under Aurora’s direction, pounds some pitons into the stone floor on their side of the secret door so that it cannot be opened. His mighty blows echo through the chamber and presumably out into the hall. Willa and Tyrius move the heavy desk into place, further barricading the door, and then the party settles in to rest.

    They cannot have been in the room five minutes when several of them note that Thokk’s sword is glowing. They draw weapons and prepare, just as three insubstantial forms pass through the stone walls of the room. They appear to be the ghostly outlines of palace guards. Ireena realizes with a sickening feeling that they are dressed in the same tabards as the skeletal guards impaled in the walls below.

    As the party moves to engage them, one of the spirits drops back, and lifts his tabard to show a grisly chest wound. All of the party are repulsed, but Aurora and Willa are rooted to the spot, unable to act due to a supernatural fear. The blows of the party members pass right through the creatures, but do seem to blur them as they pass, disrupting their forms as though they were made of some sort of ethereal mist. Magic weapons, in particular, seem to perturb them more. One of the spirits sinks his transparent spear deep into the guts of Tyrius. The paladin takes no wound, but feels a chill and lethargy take over him and his face goes ashen. He staggers back to Ireena’s side. The others manage to avoid being hit and their attacks eventually dissipate two of the creatures. At this, Willa and Aurora rally and are able to engage the last one, disrupting it as well.

    (9:10pm) The party hadn’t considered that creatures would be able to pass through walls to get at them, and their “secure resting space” now seems much less safe. Ireena explains that silver can be used to ward against evil. She scoops handfuls of silver coins out of one of the treasure chests, and the party joins her in putting them end to end, all around the base of the walls. Then, in the center of the room, she arranges more silver coins into a holy symbol of a sun, and Tyrius blesses it. Babshapka casts his alarm spell on the door, specifying that he will receive a mental alarm if anything as large as a rat comes within 20 feet of the door. Larry heals Tyrius from the ghosts. The party returns to their rest, including a meal; although Aurora and Ireena are intently working through Strahd’s diary.

    (9:20pm-10:20pm) Over the course of the hour, Aurora and Ireena become increasingly excited as they decipher Strahd’s narrative.

    With words she called me "brother," but when I looked into her eyes they reflected another name — "death." It was the death of the aged that she saw in me. She loved her youth and enjoyed it. But I had squandered mine.

    I have often hunted for Tatyana. I have even felt her within my grasp, but she escapes. She taunts me! She taunts me! What will it take to bend her love to me?

    They also scour the text for any signs of his weakness - and discover his extreme vulnerability to sunlight, and inability to cross running water. Aurora discusses spell strategy with Larry and Tyrius, and the latter two practice the combined prayer that will summon forth actual daylight.

    Finally, Aurora shows Shefak this tantalizing journal entry:

    The Bakluni called “Zuoken” passed through my realm when he was still mortal. He was able to fight off all of my servants, and his mind proved impenetrable to my charms - the only man ever to truly defeat me. Eventually he left, passing through the dark woods to the south.”

    [DM's Note: Shefak's positive individual fortune: If Shefak can discover a clue about Zuoken’s location before leaving Barovia, she will gain a level. . Shefak is now at level 5]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 23, 2019 8:25 am  
    Post 74: The Fall of the House of von Zarovich

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    I used as background sound.

    As I described in the last post, this encounter started with Strahd having a clear advantage, but also having to fulfill a complicated series of events. In the end, it mostly turned on one roll - Aurora using hypnotic gaze to give Thokk another save against Strahd's charm, and Thokk actually making that save.

    The sunlight meant that Strahd could not regenerate, and the moonbeam meant that he could not use his mistform to escape, both of which were key in his defeat. But had the melee pit Thokk and Willa against Tyrius (as opposed to Willa vs. Tyrius, and Thokk vs. Strahd), I believe Strahd would have prevailed.

    Post 74: The Fall of the House of von Zarovich

    Barovia, under Castle Ravenloft

    14 October, 570 - 10:20pm to midnight
    15 October - midnight on

    More than an hour passes uneventfully. The room is silent, aside from gentle page turnings of Aurora and the fitful snores of Thokk. Although the party has no way of tracking time in the windowless room, at precisely midnight a mist squeezes through the cracks in the secret door and Thokk’s sword begins to glow. The mist reforms next to the desk in the form of Strahd.

    The party is up and in defensive positions in an instant. Weapons are drawn. “Strahd, what in the hells do you want!” shouts Barnabus, from the back of the room.

    The Count von Zarovich laughs, almost self-mockingly. “Her,” he says, pointing at Ireena, “she is the only von I vant. She is the only von I have ever vanted.”

    “Well, you can’t have her,” says Tyrius with steely resolve.

    “Now, let’s not be so quick to decide that,” says Barnabus softly, to the party. “We want out of this nightmare world, and we are in a room full of treasure. What’s one girl to us, anyway? What if Aurora had never tricked us into coming here? The girl is already his, by all your feudal rules and vows anyway, paladin - he is the Master of Barovia, after all.”

    Barnabus raises his voice, projecting it to Strahd, now. “So, you want the girl. Well, we brought her here. So how about we trade? We take one chest, you open the mists for us, the girl stays here, and no one has to get hurt.”

    Tyrius clenches his jaw to keep from swearing. Ireena looks at Barnabus, her face filled with betrayal. Willa nods reflectively and mumbles, “Not a bad deal, that.”

    Strahd replies sneeringly. “No! She is perfection! She is a flawless gem! I vill not buy her as you vould chattel. She must come to me villingly. She vill come to me villingly, once she realizes how much I love her.”

    Ireena silently mouths “never” as her eyes well with tears.

    Barnabus takes a few steps closer to Ireena, his blade steady in his hand. “Well, if you won’t trade for her, how much will you give us to not harm her?”

    All heads turn to look at Barnabus in shock.

    “You vouldn’t dare…” says Strahd icily, even as he mentally encourages Barnabus to proceed.

    “You wanna bet? I want out of this crazy castle, and your cursed land! What do I care about one girl? You give us the treasure, and open the mists, or the bitch dies!” Barnabus places his blade at the back of Ireena’s knee, at the joint where the plate mail does not cover, and there is just a thin layer of chain.

    Shefak says, in a smooth, even voice, “Alright now, far too much anger here. Let us clear our minds, set our weapons down, and talk through this.”

    Tyrius has one hand on his war hammer, the other on the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind on the chain about his neck. He begins backing up, but is still focused on Strahd. Over his shoulder, he says, “Barnabus, lower your blade or face my just wrath.” The halfling snorts derisively.

    “Paladin, either you stop that halfling, or I vill…” says Strahd with obvious menace. In their minds, Willa, Shefak and Thokk all hear Strahd whisper, “defend the halfling”.

    Barnabus thrusts his blade forward, piercing the chain. Ireena screams and turns, her back to Strahd for the first time, blood running down her leg. She aims a blow of her own sword at Barnabus, but he nimbly steps aside. Shefak dashes in between them, moving among their blades with seemingly no regard for her own safety. “Put the weapons down!” she says again.

    Tyrius finally turns from Strahd as well, swinging his hammer to prepare for an assault on Barnabus. He comes up short when Thokk steps in front of him, a wild look in his eyes. “At last!” the barbarian bellows. “Free battle for all! No rules, no teams, and we see who is the last one standing!”

    Before Thokk can attack Tyrius, Aurora grabs his shoulder. When he spins to face her, she gives him a full blast of her hypnotic gaze, and his body slumps. Tyrius turns to look at Ireena - she is bleeding from a second wound from Barnabus, but still has her sword out in front of her, the two of them circling one another with Shefak in between. Can she hold on? She will have to, Tyrius decides. “Larry?” he calls.

    “Aye, ready!” comes the answer, from across the room.

    The paladin and the druid run toward one another, coming together near the center of the room. They join hands, then tilt their arms so the circle formed looks like the disk of the sun. They chant, Tyrius in stilted Oeridian, Larry in growly Bear. Daylight, actual, brilliant daylight, floods the room.

    “Aaaagh!” screams Strahd, cowering. His fair skin has a haze, then a smoke, rising from it. His face contorts in pain. Everyone, even Barnabus, turns and looks at him. “Ireena!” he calls desperately, “Do you see how I suffer for your love, Ireena!” He still hasn’t moved or taken any aggressive actions toward any of the party.

    Thokk’s eyes clear. He seems to see for the first time where he is. “Demon!” he bellows. “You will pay for bewitching Thokk’s mind!” The half-orc plows his way across the room. His sword, still glowing bright blue, erupts in flame, and he brings it down across Strahd. The flame spreads to his cape as he shudders from the blow. In a second, Babshapka is at his side, slashing and stabbing at the count, and attempting to entangle him.

    Strahd lands powerful blows on Thokk with his bare hands, but the sunsword is slashing him far worse than he is returning. He pulls away, glides silently to the other side of the room, but Thokk runs behind him. Tyrius drops Larry’s hand and raises the holy symbol of ravenkind. Fire erupts forth, engulfing Strahd’s form. He is held rigid, apparently unable to move. His whole body bursts into flame, his skin turning to ash. Strahd cries out in the minds of Shefak, Willa, and Barnabus - HELP ME!

    Now active for the first time, Willa turns on Tyrius. She brings her sword down hard on his mailed forearm, and he grimaces in pain. She strikes again, and the chain of the medallion snaps, the icon goes tumbling to the floor, the flame goes out. Strahd seethes, finally able to move again. His once-fine clothes hang in charred tatters, his once-handsome face burned beyond recognition - all hair and skin gone, just a mass of exposed muscle and bone. He flies across the room, pauses at the door as he struggles to move the desk. Willa turns and strikes at Thokk.

    Aurora prepares a spell, completing it just as Shefak throws herself in the way. But magic missiles strike unerringly, and they flash from Aurora’s fingertips, curve around Shefak, streak across the room, and slam into the remains of the count, one after another. When the last one impacts him, his form shudders and dissolves into a cloud.

    “Ah no yer don’t!” says Larry, and casts a moonbeam, radiant energy penetrating and disrupting the fine mist until Strahd ceases to exist. Silence spreads over the room as all those present slowly lower their weapons. The entire fight has been less than a minute - many of them are bloodied, but no one is even winded.

    If Strahd is forever destroyed, Tyrius will gain a level. [Tyrius is now level 5]
    If Strahd is forever destroyed, Larry will gain a level. [Larry is now level 5]

    Shefak: (unknown negative fortune): The mind controls the body. The sanctity and purity of her mind is all-important. If Shefak is controlled by Strahd, she will lose a level. [When Shefak realizes that she has been charmed, she is now level 4].

    The heat of battle has dissipated like Strahd’s mist - slowly Willa, Shefak, and Barnabus recover from the effects of Strahd’s charm. “OH. MY. GODS,” squeals Aurora. “Is there anyone here who wasn’t charmed by Strahd?”

    Barnabus snorts. “Well, I for one wasn’t,” he says snidely. Ireena, holding her wounded side, flashes eyes like daggers on him, any hope of understanding or forgiveness forever gone. “Oh, get over yourself,” he responds. “You always say you are going to kill the hostage, that’s just how it’s done. Once we got him to open the mists we would have turned on him and rescued you - that’s just how it works, girl.”

    Tyrius, disgusted, leads Ireena gently away. The paladin gives her back the holy symbol of ravenkind, apologizing about the broken chain. To Barnabus, he says curtly, “Go back to hiding in your chest, halfling.”

    “What, aren’t we leaving now?” rejoins Barnabus.

    Willa shakes her head, trying to clear it. “Actually, Barnabus, yer unwounded. We be needing ye on watch fer our long rest, not inna chest.” She quickly explains to the others that even with Strahd dead, the castle is likely still a deadly place. They need to hole up here until daylight, when they can see what the effects of the Master’s demise are on his realm. Tyrius looks to Ireena, and she nods agreement.

    (12:10am to 1am)
    The first watch has not been on duty long when a ghostly form passes through the wall. It is recognizable as Alexandru Petrinoff, though no trace of his wolfen nature is apparent - he appears as a Barovian woodsman, though transparent, dressed in simple homespun clothes in good condition and carrying an axe. With four of the party on guard, he is quickly dispatched without loss.

    (1:10am to 5am)
    The first watch is approximately four hours, though no one knows how long they have been in here for certain. Near the end, Willa believes that she can hear distant screams and cries in the castle, but declines to investigate, instead calling to be relieved.

    Babshapka, now fully tranced, is among those who take second watch. About an hour into his duties, he says that he can hear the flapping of myriad leathery wings outside - he believes the bats are returning, and takes it as a sign that they are close to daybreak.

    Some time later, four insubstantial figures pass through the wall. They appear much as the ghosts did, but they are dressed in finery of ancient style. Despite the elegance of their clothing, their faces are twisted in malice and cruelty. One surges forward and drains the life from Barnabus until he is near collapse. The halfling retreats and hides. The three remaining guards call for support, and Tyrius awakens. He strides quickly over to where Ireena was fitfully dozing, and uses her holy symbol to turn back two of the wraiths. The other two immediately assault him, but the party manages to disrupt them, and the remaining two when they return, with no further losses.

    “Uh, I feel sick,” says Barnabus, shivering.

    “Serves you right,” whispers Ireena.

    Not everyone has had a full rest, but many of the party have. They decide it is time to leave the castle. But first, Barnabus suggests, they need to pack the treasure. Willa suggests they take the platinum coins only, as being the most valuable and most easy to transport. Barnabus suggests the gems and jewels as more valuable and easier to transport than coins - though, he admits, harder to exchange if they are not in a large city.

    “ACTUALLY,” says Tyrius loudly, gathering their attention. “With the death of Strahd, I believe Ireena, as the Burgomaster’s daughter, presently has claim to the rule of Barovia. This treasure is hers, and she will be deciding what we take, if anything.”

    Aurora begins to object, but Willa quickly shuts her down. Barnabus just spits and says, “figures.”

    “I vill need to confer vith my brother Ismark,” says Ireena, a new sense of resolve in her voice. “Of course, ve are wery grateful to you all. For the moment, please to be taking a few handfuls of coins - vhat you can easily fit in your pockets - but leave the rest.”

    Tyrius appoints Shefak, as an ascetic but (unlike Larry) a numerate one, to apportion the coins. The monk takes a handful of gold coins for herself, then counts out twelve platinum coins to each of the other party members.

    They move the desk back to the center of the room, and spend some time prying the pitons out of the stone floor, then finally open the secret door. They are greeted by daylight - but a wan, diffuse daylight filtered through myriad layers of cobwebs and appearing more gray than gold. High above them sunlight is streaming into the windows of the belfry tower, but precious little of it is reaching the floor. There is, at the least, no sound of rain or thunder.

    New abilities in Bold
    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)
    Fifth Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (-1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 11 (0) Wis 18 (+4) Cha 4 (-3)
    Hp. 47
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Wild shape includes the ability to become a creature with a swimming speed
    Chain mail +1, shield +1, scimitar, quarterstaff
    Spells known: 4 / 3 / 2
    (Cantrips): Thorn Whip, Poison Spray, Guidance
    (First): Cure Wounds, Healing Word, Thunderwave, Fog Cloud, Entangle
    (Second): Spider Climb, Spike Growth, Darkvision, Moonbeam, Enhance Ability
    (Third): None known yet

    Tyrius of Sterich
    Fifth level paladin of Pelor (Sacred Oath of Devotion)/ Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Hp. 42
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Chain armor, shield +1, "Molly" (war hammer+2)
    Spells: Divine Smite, Cure Wounds, Detect Good and Evil, Heroism, Protection from Evil (oath), Sanctuary (oath), Divine Favor, Find Steed, Lesser Restoration, Zone of Truth
    Scroll of Protection from Undead, Scroll of Hold Person
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 784
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:41 am  
    Post 75: Gertruda, Tatyana, and Ismark

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    Note that while the original module describes K4 as a carriage house, only, it does not have any listing for where the horses are kept (or any description of their groom, for that matter). I decided that K4 was also the castle's stable. Further, although there is a stated chance that the drawbridge will break under the weight of a party member, this begs the question of how the far heavier carriage passes over it, or passes through the closed portcullis to the inner keep absent anyone to raise it. I made the assumption that Strahd's magic both kept the drawbridge intact and had the portcullis rise at the approach of the carriage, and that it further animated the guardian statues at the main entrance. Since his death, all of these enchantments are "fading", and thus only in effect as much as was convenient for me.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Post 75: Gertruda, Tatyana, and Ismark

    15 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    As the party enters the belfry and makes for the bronze doors, heavy brown forms begin dropping from the webs above, thudding to the floor. In bare seconds, they are surrounded by more than a dozen giant spiders. Many of them are bit; Babshapka is poisoned and falls to the floor, unconscious and rigid. “Fall back!” shouts Willa, “Back t’ ther treasure room!” Larry and Thokk are the last to retreat, and Larry is waving at the half-orc to go. When the druid is the only one left, surrounded by spiders and bare steps from the doorway, he issues a great thunderwave that knocks the creatures back. None are slain, but they are all dazed, and further distracted by the sound of the great bell now tolling above them in response to the shockwave.

    Larry dashes through the doorway now guarded by Thokk. Aurora steps forward, gleefully shooting her arm under Thokk and shouting “Incendio!” Her first fireball ever shoots out and explodes at ground level, roasting the spiders. Enough blow back exists to scorch Thokk and Larry and singe even her. The fire has shot up the tower, climbing rapidly on the webs and rope, and even now burns steadily at the top on the roof and the great wooden cross-beam from which the bell hangs. “Ahh….” sighs Aurora contentedly. “You never forget the first time.”

    Willa hustles the party from the treasure room and into the belfry, looking up concernedly to judge when the massive bell might fall. The bronze doors of the hall are still hot to the touch, but fortunately their latches haven’t melted or hinges fused. Fully sixteen spiders lie about, blackened and smoldering. Another two crawl wretchedly away at the approach of the party.

    Down the length of the hallway the party debates how they should exit the castle - the elevator or the secret stair. Larry mumbles about how he longs for sunlight and open air. “Of course, ve have von more thing to do before ve can leave,” says Ireena. Everyone, even Tyrius, stops in their tracks. All eyes are on Ireena.

    “Ve must find Gertruda, of course,” she insists.

    “Ger-who-tha?” asks Willa.

    “Gertruda,” replies Ireena. “The daughter of poor, Mad Mary. She has only been here a few days. Eet is possible she lives yet, ant vith the devil destroyed and eet beink daylight, eet can’t be that hard to find herrr.”

    Hard looks are exchanged between party members, and this time, even Tyrius is not leaping to Ireena’s defense.

    “Sure, we’ll find her,” mutters Barnabus, “and she’ll be in a maid’s uniform…”

    Aurora fumbles blind with her mage hand for the torch that opens the first secret door, then again to lift the poker and open the second. The fire in the fireplace is out; the ashes cold; the study dark. One at a time the party exits the fireplace, tracking cinders onto the deep carpet. Willa steps to avoid a half-burned log but catches her foot on the heavy iron grate, then spread-eagles across the hearth, kicking up a cloud of ashes that blankets half the study.

    From across the study one of the double-doors opens, and dim light comes in. Silhouetted in the door frame is a slim human figure. She calls in a timid voice, “Hello? Strahd? Ees that you? The fire is out and they haven’t brrrought breakfast yet. Vhat is happenink?”

    The party continues to move through the fireplace, with more than one of them glancing at Thokk’s sword - although it is not currently glowing. The young woman in the doorway is wearing a nightgown and slippers, apparently oblivious to the fact that one shoulder of her gown has slipped down immodestly and is poised to reveal her feminine endowments. She asks who they are and again asks for Strahd in innocent confusion. “Oh, my poor child,” says Tyrius and he pats her head consolingly while surreptitiously checking her neck for bite marks.

    “Gertruda?” whispers Willa to Ireena.

    She shrugs and whispers back, “Who knows - I newer saw her - no von ewer saw her - Mary kept her locked up!” Then she addresses the girl out loud. “Gertruda?”

    “Yes, I am Gertruda,” she replies. “Who are you?”

    Ignoring the girl’s questions, the party moves into the bedroom behind her (K42). The sweet smell of rosewood fills the room. Windows on the west wall are covered by heavy red draperies, hanging stiffly from the high ceiling 20 feet overhead. Their tassels of golden fiber glint in the light that creeps around their edges. Three candelabras sitting atop small tables about the room, but their white candles have burned down to extinguished stubs. A large bed, canopied by silken curtains, sits with its headboard against the north wall. Carved into the headboard with great skill and care is a large "Z." Apart from the ones the party entered, double doors lead from this room to the south.

    Tyrius drags a heavy upholstered chair over to the window and guides the girl to sit. “Now let’s have a proper look at you, shall we?” he says. The girl looks up at him quizzically, and then squints as he pulls back one of the heavy red curtains and sunlight falls full on her. Her skin is the fairest alabaster any of them have ever seen.

    “Oh that is bright!” she says, and giggles.

    Ireena seems transfixed by the sunlight and stands motionless in front of the window. Something about the look on her face impels Tyrius to draw back the other curtain, and then tie them both open. It is a beautiful sunlit morning, with a blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. Below is the gray of the courtyard, but beyond is the deep green of the mountain forests.

    There is a peacefulness all about outside. Rest has come to the valley for the first time anyone can remember. There is sleep without fear. A light flashes brilliantly behind the party, at the entrance to the study. Wheeling around, they see a shining stately man in white armor and a cape. His rugged features show great strength of will, yet the forcefulness of his presence is tempered by his calm, sad eyes. His features are those of Strahd, yet subtly different. His voice is calm and peaceful. "My name is Sergei von Zarovich." He turns to Ireena, "Tatyana, the time is at hand to rest. Come, my love and vife." He stretches forth his hand. Ireena Kolyana's questioning eyes suddenly open with recognition and knowledge. Forgotten memories rush upon her.

    "Sergei!" she cries, laying aside her holy symbol and springing to him with empty hands and the grace of a doe. They embrace deeply. Eventually Ireena turns to the party. "I am Ireena Kolyana, but in my past I was Sergei's beloved Tatyana. Through these many centuries we have played out the tragedy of our lives. Many times have I been born here, been pursued by Strahd, and died before he could possess me. Now, with our deepest gratitude to you, that tragedy is over. It is time for joy to begin again." Shimmering light surrounds Ireena and Sergei. The heavy-paned windows open of their own accord and a fresh breeze, smelling of pines after a rain, enters the room. Hand in hand, they walk through the windows, Ireena pausing only to lay her sword belt onto a chair. They walk out onto the battlements, and then over the courtyard. Their feet do not touch the ground, for they tread a path beyond this mortal world.

    “Who are those people?” frets Gertruda. “How can they walk in the air?”

    Seeming to remember something, Tatyana turns back briefly. “Give my love to Ismark,” she says, “and for you Shefak, I have a boon of gratitude…” - a simple ray of light flies from her hand and settles about the countenance of the monk. [DM's note: Shefak is the beneficiary of a restoration spell, and is returned to 5th level]

    Their invisible road takes them beyond and above the western precipice, their glow illuminating the forests and mountain peaks below. In the valley, the strange fog dissolves, losing its power. Barovia is free once more.

    The party is silent for a long time, ignoring the plaintive questions of Gertruda. Finally, Willa can stand it no longer. “Ye ken what?” she says, “Strahd be waitin’ fer ye down in ther village.”

    “My Strahd is in the willage?” the girl says, leaping to her feet. “Vell, let us go now!”

    (8:30am) The party moves back through the study, then retraces their way out past the tower, through the statues, and down the long stair. They find a way to open the secret door from the hallway side, pass through the throne room and out the secret door, down the hallway and spiral stairs, along the corridor and through the mirror room, under the organ and out into the banquet hall. The table is still set for last night’s dinner, and a dozen rats leap off the table and scatter at their approach. Thokk grabs a huge ham on his way past the table. Now on the ground floor, they quickly find their way out into the courtyard. The eyes of the gargoyle statues and dragon statues in the entryway halls no longer seem to follow them.

    The portcullis is down, and the drawbridge up. In investigating the portcullis, they find a green slime clinging to the roof of the tunnel. Aurora is able to shoot fire bolts at it from a safe distance until it drops to the floor in burnt pieces.

    The doors flanking the gatehouse are unlocked; in one, the party finds a winch mechanism for raising the portcullis, in the other, a similar means to lower the drawbridge. They should be able to just walk out of the the castle now, although Tyrius reminds them about how his weight, plus that of his armor, broke a support beam on the ancient drawbridge. The front courtyard (K1) has no other doors or buildings besides those of the gatehouse and the main castle. However, a curtain wall divides the front courtyard from a rear courtyard to both the north and south. Each of these massive walls here joins the outer walls of the castle to the keep. Each has a single gate, 20 feet wide, leading through the joining wall. Both gates are blocked by a rusting portcullis, with no obvious means of raising them.

    Looking through the portculli in the daylight, the southern rear courtyard appears empty as well, but the northern one has an outbuilding that could easily be a carriage house or a stable. Willa notes that the interior portcullis is large enough for the carriage they arrived in to pass through.

    (8:40am) Gathering outside the gate (K2), Thokk braces himself and lifts. Despite the rust covering the bars of the portcullis, he lifts it easily overhead and holds it until the party passes. It does not resist, and appears to be well-used. There is no obvious mechanism to hold it in place, so after he moves to the other side and sets it down, it remains closed behind them.

    The northern courtyard appears much as the front (western) courtyard did, stone flagged and surrounded by the high battlemented walls on two sides, the curtain wall on a third, and the bulk of the castle on the remaining side.

    The nearest part of the castle is a square stone keep. Farther back, a lower domed structure is surrounded by stained glass windows - almost certainly the castle’s chapel. Most of the base of this lies beyond a low stone wall, but the northern nave protrudes into the courtyard itself. The wall is pierced by an open gate, which appears to lead into a garden. Tucked behind the keep is a small wooden door that seems to access the castle itself - the only entrance they have seen besides the grand entrance from the front courtyard. Tyrius surmises that this is a servant’s entrance to the castle proper. Some twenty or thirty feet above the dome of the chapel is a belfry tower. It appears that the roof of this has collapsed, the stone around the open windows is blackened by soot, and thin blue smoke rises up against the morning sky from inside. In the northeast corner of the courtyard is the low wooden outbuilding (K4). It has no windows, but there are a large wooden set of double-doors, as well as a loft hatch above the doors. Approaching the building, the party smells wood polish and horse manure.

    Aurora muses out loud, "You know, there were places in the castle we didn't explore? What are the chances of finding a spell book somewhere?"

    "Bah," Thokk grunts, "Find horses and the nearest brothel."

    “Once we have a chance to talk to Ismark,” intones Tyrius, “then we can decide whether we are coming back.”

    Opening the doors of the outbuilding, the party is immediately greeted with the sight of the sleek black carriage they rode here in, the dark polished wood gleaming in the indirect sunlight. Three walls of the building are lined with box stalls, all but two of which are empty. Two midnight-black horses nicker as the party enters.

    A closed interior door leads to a large tack room. Tyrius has not hitched a carriage before, but he knows tack and horses; Willa is no drover, but she has driven the excise wagon on several occasions. Between them they manage to get the carriage hooked up in what they believe is the correct manner. The party loads into the carriage as before, but the horses just paw the ground. Willa and Tyrius exit and mount the coachman's seat. With a flick of the reins the horses start forward and Willa is careful to keep them at a walk. They skip and shy across the courtyard and Tyrius wonders whether they have ever seen their own shadows before, and whether there were blinkers in the tack room.

    As they approach the portcullis gate in the curtain wall, Willa slows and then stops the team. Thokk is tall, but she does not think he can raise the portcullis far enough over his head for the carriage to pass under. Just as she is about to advise him to get out, however, the portcullis raises by itself. Despite the warm sunlight on her she shivers, then drives the team to the front courtyard and out to the tunnel before the drawbridge.

    Taking a breath and crossing her fingers, she urges the team straight ahead. The wooden drawbridge groans and sags at the weight but they cross to the road on the other side rather than plummeting into the chasm.

    (9am) The party rides the two miles to the village mostly in silence, amazed at the transformation of the landscape. All the same features are there, but the colors are vibrant, the birdsong uplifting, the breeze sweet and refreshing. Willa has the most to do, keeping the horses reined in, especially on the steep downhill stretches. It seems a short time before they emerge from the woods and cross the long bridge over the Ivlis river beneath the village.

    (9:30am) As they ride up the gentle slope toward the village, they can hear a buzz of conversation, dozens of voices. They pass three derelict houses and turn toward the town square, only to see it thronging with people - more than they have seen there before, and clustered together openly rather than moving furtively from building to building. But at the sight of the black coach, more than one scream fills the air, and the people scatter from the square, so that by the time the coach arrives and turns again, the streets are deserted. More than one face peers out from behind curtains as they clop down the cobblestones toward the Burgomaster’s mansion.

    Gertruda, still in her nightshirt, was asleep from almost the moment the carriage started, her head lolled on Thokk’s muscled upper arm. Now, as Willa pulls the horses to a stop, she lifts her head sleepily and looks about. “Vhere are ve?” she asks. “Ees Strahd here?”

    The party dismounts, and almost immediately Ismark is on them; he must have been waiting at the gate to the house. Thick bags under his eyes make it appear that he has not slept all night. He scans them eagerly as they step from the carriage, one at a time, but when the last one of them has emerged and Ireena is not in sight he falls to his knees on the ground, head bowed.

    Tyrius pulls him gently to his feet and Willa calls from above, “Ireena be alright, Ismark, but we be needin’ t’ talk.”

    Willa looks about before climbing down - the Burgomaster’s mansion has neither coach house nor stable and they are not 200 yards from the woods and its wolves and dire beasts. Already the horses are bent and cropping the grass at their feet. She applies the carriage break fully and then advises Thokk that they have lots of talkytalk to do in the big house, but that if he will guard the horses she will send him out breakfast. Larry says that he will be remaining outside as well.

    Six members of the party, plus Ismark and Gertruda, walk up to the house. “That’s not Strahd,” she says petulantly, pointing at Ismark. “Vhere ees my Strahd?”

    Once inside, Willa shows Gertruda the kitchen and tells her, suppressing a grin, that she will get to see Strahd after she makes breakfast for everyone. Then she helps herself to a pin cask of ale and carries it out to the table.

    In the long conversation that follows, Willa, Aurora, and Tyrius take turns relating to Ismark everything that has happened since they left the day before. “I could tell it better than any of you,” says Barnabus at one point, “but I don’t work for free.” Ismark looks pointedly at the large plate of eggs, toast, and sausage Gertruda has set in front of the halfling but says nothing.

    When they reach the part about Ireena transforming into Tatyana, and walking away across the sky with Sergei, Ismark is transfixed. His eyes express sorrow, wonder, and joy all at once - but not a trace of doubt.

    They give him some time to digest the news, and then turn to practical matters. Is he now the ruler of Barovia, and if he is, what of the treasure that remains in the castle? And, adds Tyrius, what of the items they have already removed? Much to Aurora’s frustration, he gives a complete accounting of everything they have found and now carry.

    Ismark says that the title of Burgomaster is not necessarily hereditary, that he will need to be appointed by the town elders, but that he has no doubt he has the support of Father Donovitch and with Ireena gone and Strahd destroyed his appointment is assured. He questions them at length about the Barony of Grayhill and the Baron, for if the mists are gone with the Count, that is anyone’s best guess for who is now the feudal lord of Barovia. Unfortunately they can tell him little about the man, but Tyrius assures him that the King of Keoland will protect the people of Barovia and Willa concurs.

    Ismark is silent, thinking, for a good while. Finally he announces, in a decisive tone that bodes well for his future leadership, that:

    The weapons they have - the hammer, the staff, and the mace all recovered from Strahd’s secret treasury, are unlikely to have been Barovian. He thinks it more likely they belonged to the unfortunate adventurers who have died at Strahd’s hands over the centuries. Ismark grants these to the party as spoils of war.

    The sunsword that Thokk bears even now, is obviously Sergei’s, and Ismark’s first thought is that it should be returned to his tomb. However, upon consideration, he reflects that Sergei himself had the chance to speak to them about it and chose not to, so perhaps he is beyond such concerns now. Ismark decides to let the party retain the sword, under the condition that they continue to use it to destroy evil wherever they find it.

    The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind that Tyrius bears belongs to Ismark’s house and family, and this Tyrius hands over at once.

    Strahd’s Diary, as much as Ismark abhors the thought of it, is of great importance to the history of Barovia, and Ismark insists that Aurora leave it with him.

    The Chronicle of Secret Times, however, seems to him to be just another book from Strahd’s library, and Aurora certainly does not speak up about what she considers its significance to be. Thus, while the book is certainly the property of Barovia, Ismark decides to make a gift of it to the party.

    As far as Strahd’s great wealth, Ismark personally wants no part of what he calls the “blood money,” and he thinks the castle itself and its terrible history would be better razed to the ground. However, as the master of Barovia now, Ismark has a responsibility to its people, and the coins and gems they saw in the secret treasury, and anything that remains in the castle, all belong to the people of Barovia. They are a poor people and they may need it to pay taxes to Grayhill. Likewise the castle may someday be needed for the defense of the village. Based on the party’s account, the castle may still be filled with dangerous undead creatures and he does not want these leaving and roaming the countryside. Ismark visibly turns the matter around in his head a few times, and then announces that the party is under no obligation to return to the castle and they may keep the coins they have already recovered as that was Ireena’s wish. However, should they decide to return to the castle, Ismark would like them to (1) slay any evil creatures they find, and anything that might prove a menace to the villagers, such as the giant spiders. They are further to (2) rescue any other innocents like Gertruda or Lief that they find. Finally, (3) when they leave for the last time, they are to raise the drawbridge behind them if possible, or destroy it if not, so that nothing from the castle can easily wander out and the curious from the village cannot go in. In return for all this, Ismark is prepared to grant them half of any treasure that they recover of purely monetary value. He suggests that Lief may be of help with this. Things that are of obvious cultural or historical significance to Barovia will not be shared with them. As a last thought, he makes a personal request to them to recover the portrait of Tatyana for himself as a remembrance of his sister.

    “Well then,” says Tyrius, “it appears we will need to decide whether to return to the castle. Yes, Aurora, we know you want to go back. We should call Thokk and Larry in. Uhh...Shefak?”

    “Yes?” the monk looks up. At the end of breakfast, she had already unpacked her bag and spread all of her possessions out on the floor. At the news that she could keep her staff, she immediately began to repack everything carefully, and even now appears ready to leave.

    “Where are you going?”

    “South,” she replies simply. Then, seeing all eyes on her, “Our union was surely arranged by Fate, but now I must be going.”


    “Yes. I have the information I need to find my god, or at least a better lead than I have ever had. The mists are gone. There is no longer any reason for me to remain here. Killing things and recovering treasure? Those are distractions from the Way. Pursue them at your own peril.” She nods curtly at them, turns, and steps out the front door. Once outside, she does set down her bag and tells Thokk and Larry she will watch the horses for the moment, as they are needed inside.

    Morning turns into afternoon. Ismark offers to return Gertruda to Mad Mary and the party gratefully accepts. The remaining party members all agree that they should return to the castle - but as a fresh start in the morning, not today. Willa and Tyrius unhook the horses and Ismark finds a stable for them in the village. With Ismark’s explanation going before them, the villagers no longer hide from the party, but neither do they greet them enthusiastically. They are obviously much relieved to be free of the devil, but prefer to celebrate among people they know, and not in front of strangers, even strangers supposedly responsible for their liberation.
    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.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Tue Jul 30, 2019 11:18 am  

    Great job all around - players and DM!

    Kirt, your justification for not having Strahd wipe out such a low-level party as soon as he encountered them was brilliant. Giving each player secret goals seemed to provide each of them with extra inspiration for role-playing. I do wonder what will happen to the players of Ireena and Shefak. Shefak leaving the party is unexpected.

    Looking forward to a continuation of the saga. Smile

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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 30, 2019 11:57 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt, your justification for not having Strahd wipe out such a low-level party as soon as he encountered them was brilliant. Giving each player secret goals seemed to provide each of them with extra inspiration for role-playing.

    To be fair, the original module provides four different justifications for Strahd not immediately laying waste to the party ("Strahd's Goals" in the Fortunes of Ravenloft), so I can't accept praise for that. I did choose the justification that best matched the inclusion of the friend I had asked to play Ireena as an NPC, so I can accept lesser praise for the execution of that justification.

    SirXaris wrote:
    I do wonder what will happen to the players of Ireena and Shefak. Shefak leaving the party is unexpected.

    Ireena's player was part of another group I DM'd at the time using BECMI. She enjoyed taking part in this group as well, so we began preparations for her to come in as a permanent character.

    Shefak was actually played by my IRL daughter, who was at this point in time preparing for a year abroad in Costa Rica. Since she would be leaving the table soon Cry this seemed like the most logical place for Shefak to depart.

    SirXaris wrote:

    Looking forward to a continuation of the saga. Smile

    Great, thanks for reading! More next week!
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:09 am  
    Post 76: The Spoils of Victory

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Within the castle, I used but now that it was day and Strahd was defeated I turned off the rain and thunder effects, so it was only wind and occasional footsteps and such. Abient mixer is a great DM resource in that you can control each of the sound effect tracks independently.

    On a personal note, my daughter, the player of Shefak, was at this point preparing to spend a year abroad in Costa Rica. It was time for Shefak to depart the party and continue her search for Zuoken.

    Post 76: The Spoils of Victory

    16 October, 570 - Barovia
    Shortly after dawn Willa and Tyrius retrieve the horses from the village and hook up the coach. The party arrives at the gates of the castle by 8:30am. Their primary goals are to recover the treasure from Strahd’s treasury, and to free Lief and recover the coins in his office - but they are open to some free exploration as well.

    The drawbridge sags and groans as the coach rolls over it, but still it holds. The portcullis of the curtain wall rises before them - but perhaps a bit slower than the last time? Willa leaves the carriage in front of the carriage house with the doors open, rather than inside the house, but she puts the horses into their stalls and adds a few flakes of hay for them from the loft above.

    No one in the party is keen to enter the front door, and several of them insist that any opponents left in the castle may be massed there in a defensive ambush. They are all reflecting on something Tyrius told them last night - if Strahd was a vampire lord, he likely had “vampire spawn” in forced servitude to him, creatures such as the maid they destroyed. With his death, these spawn would now have become free-willed vampires. If he was ordering them to not menace the party before, as part of his complicated romantic plot for Ireena, the party will receive no such protections now. Of course, these spawn may have already left the castle - but surely any that remain will pose a danger to them. With this on their minds, there is unanimous agreement to enter the castle through the servants' door in the back.

    (8:45am) The door is stuck, but not locked, and they are able to force it open, albeit with a fair bit of noise. Inside is a small chamber (K23). Dim light filters in, through dust-caked windows in the east wall. A large, heavy table sits in the center of the room coated with dust. A thick book lies open on the desk top with an inkwell and quill next to it. There is a broken door in the north wall. A staircase drops into total darkness in the south wall. On each side of the staircase, a skeleton in bright armor stands at attention, though sagging, each holding a rusty halberd.

    Aurora asks for ten minutes to cast detect magic as a ritual, but finds nothing that the party is not already carrying - the skeletons are normal, dead, humans hanging on pegs, and the book is normal as well. The book is ancient, weathered and brittle, but the ink in the well is fresh. At the top of each page is scribed, in Suel, "Please register for your own convenience and that of your next of kin." The book is more than half-filled with names. The party quickly notes that at least on the most recent pages, none of the names “signed in” have ever signed out. They look for but do not find Gertrudis, but in doing so they do see “Alexandru Petrinoff”.

    They agree that going down is likely to result in more monsters, but little treasure and few villagers to rescue, so they avoid the stairs and enter the door to the north.

    (8:55am) Broken furniture and torn cloth are strewn about the 20-by-40- foot room (K24). Dim illumination comes from the dirt-caked windows in both the east and north walls - they are clearly in the “corner” of the castle. A rickety staircase climbs up to a second level. With no other obvious means of egress, the party climbs the staircase, though they do take care to space themselves apart so as not to overwhelm it with their weight.

    (9am) The floor sags in the middle of the room above (K34). Dirt-caked windows allow little light through from outside. Broken bed frames litter the floor. There is no obvious means of accessing the rest of the castle, which leaves them scratching their heads. Tyrius maintains that all of these are servants’ quarters, well away from their betters in the rest of the castle, and that the servants likely had to enter the castle proper by going through the kitchens, below - hence the stairs down. Others in the party are not convinced. Barnabus and Babshapka carefully search along the walls for secret doors. Neither wants to step foot in the middle of the room, both remembering their experience in the haunted house in Saltmarsh. Babshapka believes that he has found a door, and Aurora locates a depressible stone in the wall that serves as a trigger to open it.

    Behind the door is a space little larger than a closet, but the roof is far overhead. An ancient iron ladder on the far wall ascends into the darkness. Aurora uses glowing sparks from her prestidigitation and Barnabus mounts the ladder. At the top he finds another secret door, this one opening onto the shaft of a grand tower.

    “What ther 'ells kinda servants’ quarters be t'ese?” asks Willa. “Why do they be needin’ secret passages?” The others shrug, but make their way up the ladder one by one and out onto a landing.

    (9:30am) They are inside a great, empty stone tower (K20). They stand on a flat landing, but to their left is a rising stair along the curved wall, and across a great open gulf is another stair going down. The whole of the shaft is illuminated by light streaming in an open archway to the outside, at the level of the castle battlements, but that very light makes it so they cannot see more than a few yards into the darkness above and below. Nonetheless, they feel the tower's cold expanse pressing down on them. Willa believes this is the same tower in which they fought spiders before, but they are at a different level now than the study.

    Wondering how far up the tower goes, Tyrius casts the light of Pelor on an arrow shaft, and Babshapka draws back his bow and fires straight up into the center of the empty tower. By the illumination of the arrow as it passes, the party can see flashes of multiple landings like the one they are on, and then the arrow strikes into a roof, more than a hundred feet overhead.

    A second after the arrow strikes the roof, a reddish light flares to life high overhead, then settles into a dull, pulsing red glow. They now see the full immensity of the tower. The spiral staircase circles up the tower's full height, base to top, of 240 feet. At the domed pinnacle of the hollow tower, a huge pulsing red heart beats with light, seemingly suspended in the air. The 10-foot-wide stairs that circle up the tower end at a door far overhead, just beyond the heart. The hollow tower is about 60 feet in diameter at its base, narrowing toward the top. Fallen boulders and arrows are strewn across the floor far below.

    Willa urges her comrades forwards and out to the battlements, and Barnabus joins her. The rest of the party tarries, and suddenly a halberd flies down from above, striking at Babshapka. Thokk slices at the pole arm, and while his blow connects solidly, it does no damage. He then strikes at where the halberd would be held, as if it were wielded by something invisible - but that blow simply goes through empty air.

    The animated weapon is soon joined by a pair more, and then a trio. By the time the rest of the party retreats to the battlements, fully six of the weapons are striking, Aurora has taken a massive blow, and several others in the party are wounded as well. Fortunately, the flying weapons seem unwilling or unable to leave the tower, and cease their attacks as soon as the last party member is through the open archway to the outside.

    The battlements outside the tower run the length of the castle wall and enter into another tower at the front of the keep, but that is beyond where the party wants to go. Barnabus has looked for another entrance but not found one; Aurora, near collapse, leans against the wall of the castle and feels it give slightly. With a few minutes of searching she finds a secret entrance, that just so happens to lead to a hallway the party recognizes.

    (9:40 am) They quickly realize they are on the level of the throne room and accountant’s office, and resolve to see Lief. They pass down the hallway, through the secret door on which the skeletal guard is hung, and into the throne room. Light comes in the grand window over the courtyard. The frescoes of the Dragonlords are still in place, but their gazes seem different - as if they are looking at the party with approval or satisfaction. The party briefly examines (and some of them even sit in!) the throne, but don’t find anything.

    Passing through into the accountant’s office (K30), the party finds Lief still hunched over his desk. They greet him, but he does not stir. Examining him, they find that he is dead - but his corpse is not decayed. Rather, it is withered and dried, as if desiccated for years in a desert. There is not even a trace of smell, but his skin flakes off at their touch.

    The party begins to gather all the loose papers (bills, invoices, lists, and so forth) into piles to reveal the coins beneath, but it is not long before Tyrius catches Barnabus surreptitiously pocketing a handful of money. Willa orders everyone out of the room except for herself, Tyrius, and Babshapka. Fortunately there is little furniture, and with just the three of them they still can tidy up and collect all the coins in a reasonable amount of time. Willa looks about for containers, and decides to remove the three drawers from the desk. Dumping out their contents (ink, quills, blank parchment, counting sticks, etc.), she sets them on the ground and the trio quickly fill them with coins, separating them into copper (of which there are thousands), gold (a hundred or so), and platinum (fifty, more or less) with one type of coin per drawer.

    They carry the drawers out to the throne room and Tyrius keeps an eye on them while Willa consults her map. “Y’know, we ain’t been down yon hall,” she announces, pointing at the space east of the throne room.

    Aurora looks at it. “But it’s on the map.”

    “Aye, t’is, b’cause we looked in it - but we ain't been down it no further t’an midway. I believe t’is the hall ‘twere back o’ the machinery room.”

    They pass through the antechamber and into the long hall (K27) with a dark vaulted ceiling. Now away from the light of the throne room window, Tyrius casts light from his holy symbol. Shadows seem to dance across the high, distant ceiling. A low moan rises and falls the length of the corridor, intoning sadness and despair. They are not but halfway down when Thokk’s sword begins to glow. Tyrius uses his detect evil and reaches out. He tells the party that beyond the doors there are two evil undead creatures.

    Cautiously approaching the doors, the party cracks them open silently and peers into the great space beyond (K28). To their surprise, it is wanly lit.

    A long balcony overlooks a vast rubble-strewn room below. Two large, ornate thrones stand in the middle of the balcony that is covered with dust. The thrones face away from the brass-banded double doors that the party holds open. The thrones could easily shield someone sitting in them from anyone behind them - and in fact, Tyrius says the undead are located in precisely that spot. The light is filtering in through broken and boarded up stained glass windows, located all around the high walls of the vast chamber. The center of the ceiling is high and domed, while the sides are lower naves the party cannot see into as well.

    Approaching the thrones, the party strikes as a team. The seats are occupied by a pair of insubstantial forms of sorrowful-looking women, each with long, white hair. After several hits, one is disrupted when Willa brings down a great mace strike that splinters the upper part of the throne itself. The other keens sharply, a horrible sound of unrelenting despair. Tyrius and Aurora collapse unconscious. When the ghostly figure tries to flee by flying out over the balcony, Thokk strikes her from behind and destroys her as well.

    The party pauses to collect themselves, first stabilizing Aurora and Tyrius. Barnabus seems to have disappeared, although this is not uncommon. Larry heals Tyrius, and once the paladin is conscious he lays hands on Aurora to revive her. Tyrius uses his light to reveal more of the space below. It is the ancient chapel of Ravenloft! Pews and benches lie about the floor in jumbled disarray, coated with centuries of dust. Beyond this debris, lit by a single, piercing shaft of light, an altar stands upon the platform. The light falls directly on a small object. A figure is draped over the altar, much as they found Father Donovich in the village below. The chapel seems as though nothing has disturbed it in centuries, and nothing ever could.

    Aurora begins working on a complicated plan to lower themselves over the balcony. “Or,” says Willa, “we could be taking yon stairs.”

    The party descends the stairs (K29) - a staircase of old wood hanging shakily down a stonework shaft. With each step upon it, the wood strains underfoot, creaking and groaning. They pass into an alcove (K16) off of the chapel floor. Within the dark confines of the alcove lurk 8-foot-tall shadowy figures. Their stone forms show mighty muscled arms and legs. A black shadow falls across the features of their faces. The party examines them, but they appear to be unmoving stone.

    (10:15am) On the chapel floor all is in disarray. Tyrius considers prying the boards off of the windows to let in more light, but some climbing would be involved - even the windows that start at ground level end far overhead. He carefully approaches the altar. The figure is dead - and long-decayed, not dessicated like Lief. His robes are embroidered with symbols - Tyrius recognizes them as honoring Nerull, god of death, but they fall into tatters as he touches them and stray bones clatter to the floor.

    Meanwhile, Aurora completes another detect magic ritual, but picks up nothing - not from the statues, nor the altar, nor anywhere in the chapel.

    Tyrius examines the figurine on the altar - it is a sunburst design on a small stand, perhaps six inches across and a foot high, carved from purest silver. At his touch, it glows briefly, and imparts him knowledge - it is the Icon of Ravenloft, and a holy artifact of tremendous power! It promises to aid his attempts to turn the unholy, as well as heal him or a companion once per day.

    The party briefly inspects the other alcove (K17), and finds a pair of flanking stone statues, the equals of the previous ones. Beyond the alcove is not a wooden stairwell, however, but a stone tower, with stairs going both up and down the curved walls.

    Judging that they are now on the ground level, the party exits the chapel through the main doors, passing through a long, dusty hall (K14) leading westward into the dark heart of the castle. Statues line the hallway on both sides, their eyes seeming to follow the party as they pass. Aurora examines them, and pronounces that they are constructs that could be activated - though hopefully that magic is fading with Strad’s demise.

    Passing through the doors as the end of the hall, the party finds themselves in the great entry (K8). Willa questions Barnabus, and he says that although he did not go all the way up, he believes that the grand staircase to the north ascends to the throne room, so up it they go, arriving at a landing between the floors (K19), 20 feet wide by 40 feet long.

    Stone arches support a ceiling covered with frescoes, 20 feet overhead. The frescoes’ faded lines depict the stone mountain atop which Ravenloft stands, being taken by armored forces on horseback. The faces of the characters in the fresco are scratched beyond recognition. Dust floats in the air here, making it difficult to see details. There is a staircase on each side of the 20-foot-wide south wall. There are two alcoves between the staircases. Light filtering through the dust shows two suits of armor covered with dark stains, one standing in each alcove. Each suit of armor holds a mace designed like a curved dragon head. Engraved words on the arches above the alcoves are scratched out. Aurora examines the armor, and at her weight a floor tile is depressed. Immediately one of the suits springs forward, flailing its arms and mace. She dives out of the way and it retracts back into its alcove - now that the floor dust has been disturbed, a grooved track can be seen along which the armor can run.

    The party ascends the stairs, again regaining the throne room. Willa directs them in carrying the drawers full of coins they left from before down to the great entry, and then it is back to the study: ascending again to the throne room, passing into the hall, through the secret door, up the steep stairs, through the long statued hallway (K45), and into the study itself (K37).

    They open the doors to the bedroom to let in natural light, then go to the fireplace. The fire is out, the ashes cold, but lifting the poker still opens the sliding wall in back.

    They pass through the false treasure chamber (K38), down the hall (K39), and into the belfry (K40). A massive bronze bell, dented and cracked, now lies among the scorched spider bodies, and far above them is open sky, the roof having been burnt away by the fire started from Aurora’s fireball. The true treasure room (K41) is as they left it, and they pause at the scene of Strahd’s demise.

    (10:50am) Two to a chest, they haul out four chests, containing thousands of coins of copper, silver, and gold, and the last combining scores of platinum coins with gems and jewels as well. These are taken into the bedroom (K42), the curtains are pulled back, and the chests left near the window. Willa directs the removal of the portrait of Tatyana from the wall of the study, and sees it carefully wrapped in blankets from the bed - using the under layers, as Larry has already soiled the topmost layer while reclining on the large four-poster.

    With the chests all stored in direct sunlight, Tyrius moves to open the doors south of the bedroom, but when he approaches them there is a sustained wail, such as was heard from the creatures above the chapel. The party is immediately on guard, but no one seems damaged. Tyrius throws open the doors to reveal a bath room (K43).

    In the center of the room stands a large, ornate iron tub - racks to either side hold cloths, soaps, and oils. Larry climbs into the tub, mimicking relaxing in a bath, and the others laugh and tell him that he is safe since there is no water. Willa, still concerned about the wailing that was heard, tells them that they are being foolish. She pulls back the heavy curtains that divide this room from the next.

    The room beyond (K44) has pegs for hanging more than a score of capes and an assortment of black formal wear. Two windows in the south wall are covered with heavy curtains. A quick search reveals nothing of interest.

    (11:20am) They return to the bath room, and then pass through the unopened door into a dining hall (K36).

    Dust fills their lungs. The musty smell of death and decay swirls around. Before them, a long table of polished oak lies beneath a blanket of dust. The rotting table cloth lies tattered beneath dusty china plates and stained silverware. In the center of the table, a large, tiered cake leans heavily to one side. The once-white frosting has turned green with age. Cobwebs drape like dusty lace down every side. A single doll figure of a well-dressed woman adorns the crest of the cake under thick layers of dust. A window in the south wall is draped with heavy curtains. Thokk’s sword is glowing. They look cautiously about the room, finding only a small figurine of a man, equal in size to that of the woman, lying in a corner, as if seized and thrown from the cake in anger or despair. With no threats found, Thokk throws open the remaining door, revealing a pair of alcoves (K35) and a short passageway beyond ending in a door.

    The door is of delicately engraved steel. Intricate details still stand out clearly on the door's surface. The door seems to almost shine with a light of its own, untouched by time. The alcoves, in contrast, are filled with a darkness that shames the night. A figure stands like a shadow within each alcove, still as the cliffs of Balinok.

    Thokk takes one step inside the room, and the figures begin to stir. On the command of Willa, he moves back and closes the door, but already the ghostly hands of the more northerly figure are emerging from the stone wall next to Aurora. Tyrius calls forth the holiness of Pelor, channeling it through the Icon of Ravenloft, to dismiss the creatures. Immediately loud noises can be heard in the study, as if several people were tripping over one another and the furniture. The door is thrown open by an advancing undead, this one clearly corporal and composed of rotting flesh, and another seven similar figures retreating. They are all dressed in peasant clothing and a number of them wield unlit torches or ancient pitchforks.

    The party retreats further, into the center of the room, and makes short work of both the single corpse not fleeing and one of the incorporeal undead. Larry casts spike growth on the floor under the fleeing corpses, catching them just as they are at the door exiting the study. Suddenly the floor of the study is full of razor-sharp rocks that pierce the heavy carpet, and the bodies turn about to attack Larry. Ignoring the spiked floor, they impale their legs, wrench themselves free, and cut themselves to pieces trying to reach the dwarf. First their legs are ripped to shreds, then, clawing their way towards him with their hands, these too are sliced apart. None of them even reach the door to the dining hall, and the once regal carpet of the study is now filled with sliced, rotting flesh. Larry dismisses the spikes but the body parts remain. A full minute later the second wraithlike figure, no longer driven forth by the power of Pelor, returns and is destroyed in combat.

    Checking the steel door beyond the alcoves, Willa finds a narrow tower stair, one that she cannot place for sure on her map.

    The victory over the undead, and the tower stairs before them, turns the talk in the party back to the curious heart-tower. Most of the party insist that the heart must be defeated, despite Willa’s admonitions that fighting a tower is folly. She does little to sway them, however, and finally relents, insisting that they first return to Strahd’s bedroom, reinforce the covered painting with broken furniture lashed together, and help her carry the chests of coins down to the small entry. She opens the doors to the courtyard to leave the chests in direct sunlight there, then follows the party deeper in the castle, back to the chapel. None of them want to fight the impervious flying halberds all the way from the base of the heart tower to its summit, so their talk has turned to finding a higher access point, and Willa acknowledges that at least they are trying to be sensible. In the chapel they return to the great open tower they found before, reasoning that there may be some vantage point to move from it to the heart tower. Indeed, some of them recall seeing a bridge to the heart tower at a great height, though they are not sure from which other tower it originated.

    (11:45am) The large gray flagstones of the spiraling staircase lead up and down around a 20-foot-wide stone core. With walls on both sides (not an open central shaft), cobwebs fill the staircase, making it difficult to see even the ceiling. Heavy beams sag overhead from centuries of weight. Aurora calls forth Charlotte and sends her up the stairs, but after many minutes of climbing she is at the range limit of Aurora’s senses, and still has not found the top of the tower, nor any landings or means of egress. Aurora instructs Thokk to carry her so she can focus on Charlotte while the follow her up.

    Around and around they climb, until even Barnabus has lost count of the steps and Larry has no idea of how high they are. When Charlotte says she has reached the summit, they slow their pace. Finally they emerge at a 5-foot-wide walkway that circles an open shaft (K59). In the center of the tower's highest floor, a 15-foot-diameter hole (K18a) drops into the cold heart of Ravenloft itself. Cold air rushes up from the shaft sending a chill through their every bone, swaying the cobwebs that fill the shaft. Archers' slits line the walls. Aging beams support a steep roof. One cross beam and part of the roof have fallen away, leaving a gaping hole to the sky.

    Looking out the arrow slits, they see that they are in the tallest tower of Ravenloft. Though the field of view is narrow, the vista is spectacular. On this clear sunny day, they can see for miles and miles - to the west, the forested peaks of the Balinoks, to the east, the valley of the Ivlis and the village of Barovia far, far below. To the north, they see close by the battlemented top of what they take to be the heart tower. Indeed, it might be possible to fulfil their plan of dropping down on the tower from above, were they to climb through the hole in the roof of their tower. The jump, however, would be a good sixty foot drop over a twenty foot span, onto a stone floor. Willa is grateful that none of them are fools enough to try, or even to suggest repelling.

    As they pause to enjoy the view, Thokk hears the leathery flutter of dozens, if not hundreds, of wings from the open shaft beneath them. They quickly return to the stairs, carefully backing down. Larry prepares his moonbeam spell, casting it just as the top of the tower explodes in a swarm of bats. The moonbeam makes the bats’ skin burn and sizzle, but they throw themselves at the party regardless, clawing and biting. Fighting engulfs the front ranks, but none of the bats makes it to the rear of the party. In the end, the stairs and tower landing are littered with the bodies of dozens of bats.

    As they descend back down the stairs, they reason that the bridge must span the two lower towers of the castle. They demand that Willa look through her maps to find access to the third, lowest tower. The bridge should place them most of the way up the side of the heart tower, if not at the top.

    On the floor of the chapel, Willa takes a few moments to study her sketches, and says that she believes the low tower to be accessed by the stairs they found on the main level, near the dining hall into which the Count first welcomed them, so they return down the hall to the main entry and check on the treasure chests.

    (12:20pm) Willa peeks into the dining hall. The table is still laden with the food that was their offered lunch days ago, but it is now swarming with rats. Some of these squeak and drop to the floor at her entry, others simply turn and bristle. Disgusted, Willa retreats. She leads the party into the passage beyond the gleaming suit of armor that guards access to the stairs. The stairs go both up and down, but she takes them up.

    After several turns around the center, there is a landing of flagstone 10 feet wide by 20 feet long and a door, though the stairs themselves continue up. Opening the door reveals the back of the accountant’s chamber. They continue to ascend until there is another door, this one of steel. That opens on the now-empty alcoves and just beyond the dining hall with the ancient wedding cake.

    They continue up, higher and higher, until arriving at a landing of flagstone 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, unwarded by a door (K47).

    The chill draft of wind whistles mournfully through the room, rushing down from the circular stairs on the north end of the east wall. Pausing only for a single round through the landing, the wind continues down the stairs on the south, up which the party ascended. A single doorway with a heavy plank and metal-banded door opens to the west. Beside this door, an ancient portrait stands watch over the area, its still eyes staring defiantly back at theirs.

    When Aurora moves forward to examine the portrait, the air before it is filled with a glowing pattern of lights. Several in the party stare silently at the lights, suddenly oblivious to the situation. Tyrius is picked up by some unseen force and thrown bodily down the stairs. Those still in control of their faculties assault the painting. When, with a mighty blow, Thokk slashes the painting from frame to frame, the figure within fades into darkness, and the hypnotic lights disappear. Those still insensate are shaken and slapped back to consciousness.

    Between the door and the stairs, the party chooses to pass through the door into the room beyond (K49). A low ceiling, supported by heavy beams, seems to press down on this room. The west wall curves with the tower and is fitted with three windows of leaded glass in steel latticework. The windows look out over the rooftops of the castle. Plush overstuffed chairs and couches are placed about the room. Their fabric has faded with age until the prints are nearly gone. A bookcase lines the east wall between two doors. Although the room’s contents are obviously old, they are not dirty. Instead, it appears to be well-kept and recently cleaned.

    Aurora examines the books in the bookcase, some in Suel, most in Common, finding titles such as "Embalming, The Lost Art," "Life Among the Undead: Learning to Cope," "Identifying Blood Types: A Beginners' Handbook," and "Masonry and Woodworking." She pulls out the book about undead and places it within her pack.

    (1pm) There is another door in the room, and this opens onto a bedroom (K50). A huge bed sits in the center of this room, its four corner posts rising to a black canopy trimmed with gold tassels. Several comfortable divans are placed about the room. The party entered through a banded door in the west wall, but there is a smaller unbanded door in the east wall. This room is obviously cared for as well.

    While some in the party examine the bed, others open the door, revealing a large, empty closet (K51). The 10-foot-square room is lined with pegs to hang cloaks and clothes on.

    Searching the closet, the party detects faint outlines in the wooden ceiling. Babshapka, boosted on Thokk’s shoulders, finds a trapdoor, which he opens into a large oppressive room with a low ceiling of heavy beams (K55). This room is lit by the sun, through two leaded glass windows in the south wall. Steel lattice work covers both windows. Several tables stand throughout the room, their legs seeming to barely support the numerous glass jars and bottles that sit atop them.

    Babshapka is lifted through the trapdoor by Thokk, climbing silently into the room. There are two doors in the room, and from the nearer one comes the sounds of several voices united in chant. He calls softly down the trapdoor about the bottles and jars, and Aurora insists on being the next one through, though her ascent is not nearly as silent as his was.

    Many of the jars have labels, and she can read in Suel things like “Eye of Newt," "Hair of Bat," "Snail hearts," and "Maresweat." She sends Charlotte under the near door, and the spider reports a small chamber with a cauldron in the center, and several human figures chanting around it and stirring. Aurora tries to send her under the far door, but the frame is too well fitted and the spider cannot squeeze through.

    Aurora whispers a plan to Babshapka. They empty their packs of oil flasks, and stand with two in each hand. Babshapka is to kick open the door and toss in his flasks, and then Aurora will throw hers in followed by a fireball.

    Babshapka strides forward and kicks boldly at the door - but it opens out, not in, and his blow lands with a resounding thud. He looks over at Aurora, halfway through her spell and even now surrounded by a red, glowing light that is building in intensity. Babhapka turns and jumps down through the trapdoor.

    Aurora rushes forward, turns the handle, and pulls open the door. Through the darkness of the room (K56) she can just barely see green-glowing wisps bubbling up from a huge black kettle. Electric sounds of cackling suddenly strike, sending a shudder through her as she retreats back into the potion room. Fully seven crones dressed in black robes turn to face her as she lets fly with her fireball, aiming for the far wall of their chamber.

    A shining red spark flies from Aurora, impacting the wall. A half-second later there is a powerful explosion, filling the small room with fire. The robes of the women are instantly ablaze, the kettle knocked over by the concussive force. A shock wave followed by gouts of flames shoots out into the potions room, engulfing Aurora in fire. The tables collapse, and the windows explode out in a shower of glass shards that falls to the courtyard below. Aurora is bowled over, but fortunately lands on top of the oil flasks in her hands and they do not ignite. The party later reports that flames even shot halfway down into the closet through the trapdoor.

    Several moments later, Aurora is the first to her feet, before any of the crones. All about her is broken glassware and mingling liquids pooling on the floor. The labels have been singed or completely burnt away. In the chamber beyond, seven bodies lie on the floor, none moving. Their upper halves smolder, while their lower halves are soaking in whatever liquid was in the kettle. Beyond where the kettle stood is a low stone pedestal, and on that sits open a thick leather-bound book. Even now flames are slowly consuming its parchment pages. “No!” shouts Aurora, and she hobbles into the room, slams it shut to extinguish the flames. When she opens it again half the pages, reduced to ash, fall out.

    Aurora is still standing, looking dejectedly at the book, as the rest of the party ascends to the room. When she finally regains her composure, she tells them to wait while she casts a detect magic ritual. The intermingling liquids on the floor are magic - or were, though they are rapidly losing potency, and the book she holds is obviously a spellbook, but she finds no other foreign sources of arcane power in the room, not even the wicked-looking curved daggers that Babshapka is liberating from the bodies of the crones.

    They pass into the far door. Torn and broken couches lie in heaps, haphazardly strewn about the 20-foot-square room (K54). The low ceiling seems to press down. Deep claw marks cover the hardwood furniture. Claw marks have also sliced the once lush upholstery to shreds. Short, black hairs cover the furniture. A door leads to a landing, and the continuation of the stone stairs the party did not take from the level below.

    (1:30pm) Continuing up the stairs, after several more rounds the party emerges into broad daylight and fresh air, on the open battlemented top of the tower (K57). The 60-foot-diameter tower roof is rimmed with broken parapets that drop to the rooftops or, to the south, all the way to the courtyard below. A slender stone bridge (K58) spans the gap between this tower and the tower to the north, some 20 feet away. To the east, the high tower of Ravenloft thrusts skyward with no apparent opening at this point.
    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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    Tue Aug 13, 2019 7:36 am  
    Post 77: The Heart of the Matter

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    This encounter turned out to be as challenging as the fight with Strahd was, and the survival of several party members turned on several lucky Dex and Str saves, as well as a few good luck rolls.

    Post 77: The Heart of the Matter

    16 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft
    Having finally found their access to the heart tower, the party cheers, all except Willa, who tells them that they are daft. They begin planning their assault, a complicated scheme involving spell and missile attacks on the heart while they are roped securely to the tower. Willa shakes her head. “An’ wha' 'appens when ye kill yon ‘eart, hmm? Wha' if ye bring t'is ‘ole castle tumbin’ t’ ther ground?”

    “Well, Willa,” says Aurora, still singed and without eyebrows from her most recent fireball, “that is a risk we are willing to take.”

    Willa snorts and says she will have no part of it, and will be in the courtyard loading the carriage. She descends the stairs, leaving the rest of them on the battlements. Barnabus ties a rope about his waist and gives the other end to Tyrius, then steps out to the bridge.

    The slender stone and masonry bridge hangs in the air, the stones wet and slippery despite the afternoon sun. The old iron hand railings have rusted away years ago, leaving the bridge without hand holds. Barnabus lies prone and crawls across the bridge, feeling the winds pulling at him. Looking over the edge, he can see the courtyard some two hundred feet below.

    As he inches forward, Barnabus can see that there is a large landing inside the tower before him, and that the tower is still pulsing with red light in the rhythm of a heartbeat. He pauses just at the entryway to the tower, then calls over his shoulder for another rope. Thokk throws him a second rope, which he secures to the bridge by means of a piton.

    Meanwhile, on the other tower, Aurora is pondering Willa’s words of warning. She has Babshapka tie a rope to the western battlements, and descend to the level of the roof. The sagging rooftop of the keep slopes precipitously toward the courtyard some 100 feet below. The ancient roof tiles slide easily underfoot, gladly giving up their burden and dropping to the courtyard, the slate tiles shattering on impact. Each falling tile resounds with a hollow click as it hits the flagstones of the courtyard. Babshapka swears the gargoyles guarding each gable look round at him, but their bodies do not move. He eases his way over to the edge of the roof, then drops lightly to the battlements some ten feet below. There, he ties off another rope descending to the courtyard. At least the party should have a quick rappelling exit, should the castle indeed begin to crumble.

    It is difficult work, but he manages to climb back up the wall from the battlements to the roof level, and from there back up the rope to the tower with the others. By the time he arrives, they can all see the black coach and horses have arrived below in the courtyard, and Willa is pulling out chests from the castle to load into the coach.

    When all is ready, Barnabus puts an arrow to his bow, and inches further forward. He can make out the huge pulsing heart through the tower archway some twenty feet overhead.

    Barnabus takes careful aim while still prone, and lets fly. The arrow pierces the glass heart. Instantly the entire tower begins to pitch and shake. The bridge bucks and shimmies, and even the other tower, on which the party stands, sways slightly.

    Barnaubs is thrown off the bridge like a child throws a rag doll. Caught by surprise, the rope flies from Tyrius’ gauntleted hands, and follows Barnabus over the edge of the bridge. The second rope goes taught - Barnabus is now dangling by both hands between the towers from the rope that is pitoned to the bridge on one end and tied to the railing on the other, his feet kicking at thin air as the rope jerks and shakes violently from the movement of the bridge.

    Barbabus pulls a dagger free, now hanging from just one hand, and slices the rope overhead. He falls in a long arc, impacting the side of the party's tower and absorbing the shock with his legs. “It’s not a chandelier,” he thinks to himself, “but it will do.” Thokk and Tyrius haul him up the rope on to the roof of the tower.

    Far below, Willa has finished loading chests, and now stands on the driver’s bench of the coach, one hand shading her eyes, watching as the heart tower pitches and shakes. Above, Larry is fastening a rope about his waist. Thokk and Tyrius tie the end off to the railing, and Tyrius holds it besides. While Thokk enrages himself at the thought of the stupid tower that just tried to kill his funny little halfling friend, Larry casts cat’s grace on himself, and then they both cross the bucking bridge.

    As Thokk grabs the short end of the cut but still-pitoned rope and wraps it around his muscular forearm, Larry looks up at the heart. His view is obscured, as the landing beyond the bridge is now filled with a dozen flying halberds, all moving, spinning, and swinging, trying to block his sight. None of the animated weapons are venturing out past the arched entryway, though.

    Larry i