Hyboria! H5E3: Shadows in Tortuga

This double-length session features the DCC module Shadows in Freeport, adapted somewhat for this campaign’s themes. Barring quite a number of anachronisms, and poor interior design, including a lack of logic around a connection between Cresh’s secret level and his old living quarters, I found the module entertaining and handy to use. The main challenge was adapting its end-arc challenges, which involve codes, to the non-literate world of the Hyboria! campaign. In turn, DCC took the Freeport setting from Green Ronin so they should be acknowledged as well.

Where we are: Bardic, Celo, Morath and Vorel are on the trail of child sacrificing evil, and that has led to them to the old Cresh manor in Tortuga. We begin with the four heroes having just assembled inside the east wall of the manor grounds. The interior is thickly overgrown and it’s night in Tortuga.


These are no children

A ripple of ghostly laughter, like the memory of children taunting a helpless one, sounded from the thick bushes and trees that were once an ornamental garden. The neck-hairs rose on the four and Celo lofted his torch uneasily. Then, half-seen, childlike shapes could be glimpsed, just at the edge of the meagre light cast by the torch.

Celo leapt forward, rolling past Bardic and up onto his feet again. As he glimpsed reptilian eyes and a suggestion of scalyness to the skin of the nearest “child” his short blade licked out and plunged deep into the creature’s chest!

He held his sword up so the others could see the ichor dripping off the silver-chased blade.

“These are no children!”

“Didn’t figure on cutting my way through demons just to get to a house!” grunted Morath, springing into the thick undergrowth briefly, stabbing and leaping back.

Even as Vorel dropped his rope bundles and Bardic readied his mighty blade, the creatures faded back into the thickets.



Each lit a torch. Even pooled together, they contributed little in the way of light, as though reluctant to reveal detail. Experimentation with a torch on the other side of the wall proved that the effect was limited to the interior.

The ropes redistributed – Vorel profanely advising the rogues that he had changed his mind about carrying them – the four tried to work out how best to get through the tangle of brush and trees without undue noise and exertion.

Bardic, crouching, found few tracks but did find low-lying, small game trails crisscrossed the brush. Vermin of one kind or another used these, and pushing his way along them would be easier than hacking through. He led with poniard and torch, then Morath, Vorel and Celo, the latter with ears cocked for sounds of ambush and posterior tingling with the fear of rear attack.

Keeping his pace down to Vorel’s – the big Bossonian was having terrible trouble getting his cased bow and arrows through – Bardic crawled yard by yard towards the house, his sense of direction allowing him to follow each twist and turn where a lesser woodsman would have become hopelessly lost.

At length, Bardic paused to rest from the sinew-cracking crawling. As the others began to argue about whether this had been the smart thing to do in the first place, a deeper shadow smote Bardic from above!


My brothers cry ‘Vengeance!’

The spiked glaive whistled down, but already Bardic was cat-shifting on his feet and his superb Kothic chain shirt warded the blade off! In the same motion Bardic rammed his poniard square onto the creature’s mighty breast – and the blade snapped!

“You felled my brothers in the desert! From the abyss they cry out for vengeance!” The eldritch voice sounded only in Bardic’s head.

Morath was about to try to roll past the thing, but a half-memory of being battered by a tail belonging to something about the same shape and size made him take the frontal path and his silver-chased short sword met no such difficulty as had broken Bardic’s blade!

“This is not over! Vengeance shall be mine!” and with that – which again only Bardic could hear – the thing vanished.

“Right let’s concentrate – enough with the what-ifs, let’s get to the house and find a way in!” Bardic growled, nettled that he had not sensed the ambush.


No good options

After much crawling the four reached the burnt-out east wall of the Cresh mansion house. Here, the sour smell of the brush was replaced by the throat-clogging stink of burnt timbers and furnishings. Their theory that it would allow easy ingress proved false. Timbers had fallen somewhat, leaving the upper story sagging, but any mass entry would need to be noisy. Celo, stripped down to a minimum of equipment, did manage to squeeze through a couple of strakes and painstakingly explore as far as he could. Torches had been renewed by the time he returned to report in the negative.

At length, the four worked their way north along the east wall, the rank stench of the burnt-out chambers heavy in their nostrils, and chose a slightly easier place to kick their way in. Timbers rattled, and old lathes and plaster crunched loudly as they waded into a smallish chamber to the west side of it where Celo found a door buried under the fallen ceiling lathes. The wet of seven years had warped and swollen it to the point where Bardic’s battleax was needed to chop through the hinges. The others readied themselves.


Vengeance denied

That chamber was empty. Bas-reliefs, designed to show off Cresh’s wealth, decorated the walls. A thick carven door was set in both the left and right wall. Bardic rolled his shoulders and hoped the next door would not be quite so stubborn.

Celo turned in disgust from the detail of the bas-reliefs and he and Morath poised, torch in one hand sword in the other, as Bardic wrenched on the right-hand or north door. It groaned open, gusting a stench of burnt flesh into their room, and each rogue whipped through to flank the doorway on the other side! As they did, each tossed his torch forward to provide some light for the other two. The floor seemed choked with rubbish, but each slipped into his chosen corner smoothly.

Something huge whipped down at Celo and he rolled clear, his jerkin in shreds. A hulking shape bared its huge teeth over him, glaive and whip poised for another strike!

Morath was swift to react. He danced forward, stabbed, and leaped back to where Bardic and Vorel could cover him. He was disturbed to notice that some sort of red, ichorous slime was bubbling on his sword blade. The thing whipped its whip at him, but he evaded it. Celo cut his way clear of the whip’s radius, over to where the remains of a roasted body lay on a hastily-smothered bonfire. Darkness shrouded him. Then another demonic shape loomed over him!

Bardic sprang into the smoky chamber and, rolling under the whip, dealt a terrible blow to the first demon’s flank. It faded out.

Back in the carven chamber, Vorel was in trouble. Even before he could decide whether to go forward to help Celo, a demon materialized behind him and smashed him an awful blow with its glaive. Battered near senseless, and armor deeply gashed, he reacted on instinct, cutting with his broadsword and rolling clear. Acid slime splashed across the walls. It faded out… only to once again appear behind Vorel!

Morath and Celo, dodging the whip and glaive as best they could, landed several shrewd stabs. Bardic, poised to leap in to help, wheeled about and raced into the carven chamber, hacking the demon’s arm off before it could finish Vorel. Spinning, Vorel stabbed his sword deep into its guts and it bubbled into the floor with a last scream of rage. Then Bardic dashed back to the bonfire, chopping the third demon down. A sharp sensation of frustrated vengeance was the last thing it communicated to Bardic.

The four knew they needed to wipe the acidic goo off their blades, and pragmatically used the roasted body. Vorel saw to his own wounds – splashing fortified wine on them and bandaging them with his ruined shirt – while the others searched. It was a large chamber, the floor choked with all manner of rubbish and bones. At the north end, facing west, an exterior door stood, though so warped that Bardic could not shift it at all. Along the west wall, Celo found a peep-hole. Fishing around in the detritus at his feet, he located a rib-bone and stabbed through the hole: no reaction.

At length, giving up on the idea of securing an outside exit, they returned to the carven chamber and arranged themselves around the southern door.



This time, Celo went left and Morath went right: but Celo’s luck proved the same as chains, seemingly animated by some intelligence, shredded large parts of his exposed skin. Only his superb reflexes allowed him to escape! Morath glimpsed a hulking, manlike form wrapped in chains, then dodged in, stabbed, and leaped away to the other chamber: shaken by what appeared to be his mother’s face! Celo tried the same tactic, missed and ran back into the carven chamber. Bardic roared, feeding his thews with fury, and raced inside! His senses still honed, he realized the demon had lifted itself up on its chains, toward the ceiling. Ignoring the slashing superficial cuts the chains dealt him, he ran, leaped high, and sliced his great-sword savagely into the thing. Chains whipped madly around the room, and Vorel, who had just entered, was bowled off his feet and cut many times! He rolled painfully back out, bleeding profusely. Then Morath ran lightly into the room again, and launched himself off Bardic’s broad back, and with one tremendous leap and stab, sent the demon back to its hell! The chains suspended from the ceiling fell silent. All were barbed, and had various trinkets and body-parts fastened to them.

“Thanks for not taking my head off, by the way,” Morath commented wryly as they checked wounds and wet their throats.


It’s Magic!

Vorel was groaning from wounds. “Time to break out the healing potion,” he grumbled. “This cost me three gold pieces, by Mitra!” He professed to feel much the better after drinking the draft, though the others noted that his wounds did not close.

I reminded Vorel’s player that Destiny (fate points) can produce extra items if framed correctly. It’s about creative thinking not wishful thinking. I billed him 3gp for a bogus potion.

“Huh, there are some valuables among this lot,” Celo announced, picking through the filthy floor and hefting a chain. The demon seemed to have decorated it with grisly trophies, but a few valuable items as well.

A search turned up a good-size white gem on one of the chains, which Morath tucked away. Celo dislodged a curiously-carved wand from the detritus. Its length was covered in runes, though what they signified he could not tell. Lacking anywhere practical to keep it he cast his eye about. Vorel’s bow-case seemed the logical place. “Can you keep this with your arrows?” Celo asked. Obligingly the rangy Bossonian did so, whereupon the wand… changed shape into an arrow.

They exclaimed at this marvel. “Better make sure you can tell the difference!” Celo warned nervously.


An unexpected meeting

The chain-devil’s room contained an interior door, facing west. So it was time for Bardic to heave it open. “What say we team up a little,” he suggested, not relishing another jammed door. Morath unslung his hemp rope and fastened it to the door’s handle. Standing behind Bardic he could thus assist.

But the door proved stubborn. “It’s almost as though someone is holding it closed!” Bardic muttered under his breath, then as the thought was voiced, leaned close and motioned for the others to hush. Sure enough he could catch a mutter in the local Argossean dialect, and a deeper accent that spoke with a Cimmerian burr.

In his native tongue, Bardic announced himself and his clan, only to find that since his particular valley was a couple days journey east of the other’s, he was naturally considered an enemy. He reasonably pointed out that in the wider context of Cimmerians against everyone else this was not tenable, and strange to say the other reluctantly agreed.

Bardic achieved a 15 on Diplomacy. Against fellow Cimmerians his normal -2 does not apply. 

Departing advice

“Don’t go north from here, there’s only a stairwell up, and you don’t ever want to go upstairs – it’s full of ghosts. And if you go west, the great chamber off the lobby has a gibbering evil thing that looks like a collection of heads and arms and legs and will kill you. But, if you want to find that weird priesty fellow that came laughing by, you’ll probably have to.”

Arden, a small-time Barachan thief who had led his band of misfits in to hide out, bargained to make his departure look as dignified as possible. Celo gained a spare jerkin, no longer needed by one of Arden’s men who had disappeared, and Vorel bought healing from the Mitran hedge-priest who acted as Arden’s advisor. No other spare jerkin was available. Lugh the Cimmerian parted on fair terms with Bardic. The other three, all Vanirmen, had little to say except “good bye and thanks for cutting us a path back out.”

Celo led the diplomacy and since he relied on a roll I skipped over the back-story that led Arden’s gang to hide out in the first place. They could have pressed the point and shaken-down the gang for some useful yellow lotus dust. Apart from that, the team played this encounter exactly right.


The deadly cloud

The four advanced across the stone-flagged foyer, and readied themselves at the twin great arches leading to the great chamber – presumably a ballroom or some such in days gone by. Each rogue had a torch ready, Bardic hefted his great-sword, and Vorel readied a handful of silver-tipped arrows for his Hyrkanian bow. He’d had the good sense to pay a Tortugan smith 2 silvers to the silver to tip twenty arrows. All save Vorel had plugged their ears with tallow from Celo’s candle-stubs. Vorel had his ready but felt the need to hear any cry.

I had to jaw-bone Vorel’s player a little to get him to Destiny the silver-tip arrows, and billed him 2 fate points as a result.

At first, only the pressing darkness enclosed them. Veering left a little Celo, on the west or left flank, located a door and a fireplace. Then as they steered half-right, Vorel stuffed the tallow into his ears: gibbering, from some unseen source, threatened to squeeze his brain to mush! Morath could then make out a shape, or suggestion of a shape, and the battle was on!

Very high Will saves all round: a number of fate points burned.

It was a strange battle. Only the silver of their blades and arrows could harm it: though Morath did scorch it with flame as well. For its part, its tentacles wounded them not, but seemed to leech their very essence out! And with each, it grew fatter and somehow more real!

In a horror scenario, if you really want to scare your players, start draining stats. d4 Wisdom drain had Bardic in severe danger immediately. The high-Wis pair Morath and Vorel were therefore more willing to tackle the creature. Morath did not get hit at all, Celo and Vorel lost 2 each, and Bardic lost 3.

Celo’s speed of blade proved the difference. Hands a blur, he sliced it faster than it could regenerate, until at last Bardic gave a great leap, clove through it, and Vorel placed a final shot home: it evaporated. Beyond, a door and beyond that, a chanting as of someone summoning a demon!


Venari’s harbinger

Although Vorel promptly signaled to warn the others, lights still had to be assembled and stations taken. As Bardic pushed the door open, a bald-headed figure clad in scholar’s robes uttered a last syllable and a dark, winged, clawed shape appeared in the room with a terrifying shriek. As fast as it appeared, the silver blade of the Zamorian was faster: he ran forward, faked a move left and slammed his blade up under its armpit. As Celo and Vorel finished it off, Bardic pinioned the summoner.

“Finish him, Bardic! No good can come of letting him live!” Celo urged.

“I vote: kidneys,” Morath agreed.

The man had large flame knife tattoos in a V-shape on his head, and snake sigils beside. He giggled, a loose-witted giggle that unnerved Bardic more than any curse could have. “Talk!” the Cimmerian gritted, “what have you found here? Where are the children?”

This disturbed man’s name was Ferrimax, or so he said, and he had clearly made some arrangement that allowed him to live among the denizens. He hinted that Cresh and the children were below, waiting to open a gate. On being asked how many children it took to open a gate, Ferrimax claimed that thirty were needed: Cresh was waiting for one more child. Meanwhile Ferrimax had been searching this ruined library for some information about gates that would aid his master, Venari.

In exchange for his life, Ferrimax agreed to guide the four. But they took precautions: they bound his thumbs and little fingers together behind his back. Morath stripped the silk rope he kept coiled around his midriff, and arranged a noose-leash on the captive.

Ferrimax is the tattooed man that has turned up in any number of adventures ever since Sicas, usually acting as a trusted Flame Knife courier. He also revealed a bit more about the powers behind all this gate and sacrifice business, though not specifically what role Venari is playing.

Ferrimax had had few possessions, apart from a large number of daggers. One was a Mitran brooch, which they left on him, and the other was a pair of keys. One key looked old and rusty and fit to open hefty, archaic doors; the other, smaller one, was unusually crafted and showed no sign of age.


Cut your way through!

“Cresh concealed his secrets behind the cool-store, below.  There are demonlings in the room that leads down to the store. I could negotiate my way through but you may have to cut your way through.”

“Cutting demons apart if they don’t let me through? Works for me,” Bardic growled, gagging the captive.

The four, with their prisoner, assembled outside what might once have been a pantry, judging from its relation between old, ruined kitchen and a dining hall. Negotiations opened but the reaction of the surprised demonlings was to attack!

They moved so fast, the fight took place in the cramped corridor outside the pantry. Several landed small cuts that burned with poison. Significantly, none attacked Ferrimax. But between the four, laying about them with silvern weapons, the demonlings were swiftly dispatched.


Celo the protector

Ferrimax before him down the stairs, and across a decayed pantry, Morath headed towards the far corner. Bardic brought up the rear, Vorel ahead of him. Celo, walking second, noticed something under the staircase.

“What’s up?”

“Just checking something.”

Morath turned, realized Celo was not following, and halted Ferrimax.

“What have you found?”

“A child, a boy. I should bring him back out.”

“Good!” Bardic agreed, “best get him away.”

But Morath had spotted what was really going on. A golden boy was sitting atop Celo’s shoulders, wrapped around him whispering in his ear, and a gorgeous woman – with bat wings – had draped herself next to him!

The Zamorian wasted no time explaining himself. Hurling his dagger he followed up with a blur of sword-work. The succubus departed the mortal realm with a scream! As Celo flung the demon-boy off him, its face contorted hideously and its scream was terrible. Bardic and Vorel could make no move towards it, but Morath stabbed it. Still it lingered: until Celo flung his short-sword to finish it off.

Morath earned a fate point for resisting the glamor, resisting the fear, and finishing a succubus off in one fell swoop.


The hidden ruins

Angry now, Bardic grabbed Ferrimax by his halter. “So where’s this secret panel?” Banging Ferrimax’s head on the indicated area, he opened the panel.

The passage beyond was very different from what they had seen thus far. It was perfectly fashioned although ages upon ages hung upon it. Moreover, it was immensely tall, and it peaked rather than arched. A disturbing sense of disproportion fell upon the explorers.

Nevertheless Bardic pushed Ferrimax on. Then, on second thought, turned to Morath and handed him the leash-rope, explaining, “You can read him better than I. Watch that he does not play us false.”

A smear of old blood showed up on the dark pave they trod. Ferrimax skirted it, and edged past a corrupting corpse lying in the center of a four-way intersection. He ignored both side-passages and the four followed. They became conscious that the passage was gently sloping down.

Ahead of Morath, Ferrimax seemed to find something amusing. He walked past cells on either side, standing open. Here, the passage become filthy, and stank of corruption and fear. Glancing down and to either side Morath could see that the cells had never been cleaned out: small footprints in the mess suggested that children had been kept here recently. Behind Morath, Bardic snorted northern oaths under his breath. Vorel, next in line, fingered his arrows and gripped his bow tightly. The cell locks would match the rusty key of the pair he had charge of. Celo, the rearguard, cast nervous looks back over his shoulder.


The thing in the shrine

Four, six then eight cells were passed before Ferrimax paused at an open archway to a chamber. By the meagre light of his torch Morath could see a pentacle had been carved into the very stone, and inside the pentacle, sinister sigils. Ferrimax seemed reluctant to press on.

“Something bothering you is it? Then lead on!” quoth Morath, booting Ferrimax forward and releasing the leash. The pinioned renegade stumbled forward with a muffled squawk… and something HUGE dropped on him from the unseen ceiling and shredded him into gobbets and sprays of blood!

It had claws, and mandibles, and eyes, and pincers. Morath glared at it, thinking that it reminded him somewhat of the construct he had fought in the desert. But not wasting too much time on theorizing he sprang in and to one side of it, relying on his superb reflexes to carry him past the several limbs. Celo did the same, to the opposite flank. They stabbed hard and deep. Vorel loosed silver-tipped shafts at it. Bardic raged, raced forward and, ducking under a pincer, made a tremendous leap, his great blade lofting on high then crashing down through three legs then back-cutting to lop off its pincer limb. It fell and was swiftly dispatched back to its abyss.

Laughing over Ferrimax’s fate – “I told you it would all work out” as Bardic put it – though slightly regretting the loss of a good rope, Morath Celo and Vorel searched the shrine, while Bardic destroyed the pentacle, though at the end of the process he cast aside his ruined broadax.


Footprints of the lost

It was Vorel, by virtue of having keys on his mind, who spotted a concealed keyhole behind a tapestry opposite the entrance. The intricate key fitted it, and once Celo pronounced the door “Probably safe” he opened it. The hidden panel swung smoothly open, revealing another stretch of smooth, immensely tall passage, gently sloping down away from them.

Within a few paces, the four realized that whatever evil charm was upon Cresh’s manor, it did not extend past the shrine. Their torches were now doing a normal job of illuminating the dark stone. Since they still planned to get out without groping their way in darkness, they promptly rationed lights down to one.

The passage led to a four-way junction. Now, Bardic’s uncanny ability to read a trail came into play. “Ferrimax and children went forward… but then came back and turned right, here,” he made out. “Consecrating them then leading them to sacrifice,” Vorel guessed, judging by what seemed to be a chapel of evil ahead of them. “Right it is then,” Morath decided.

But the right-hand passage led to another four-way intersection, but this one peculiar in that each of the three ways they might take led merely to a grinning demonic face carved into what appeared to be solid stone.

Examining the passage minutely, Bardic could only guess that Ferrimax and children had walked straight ahead, not to either side. There were too few traces left of their footprints to make out more.


The gates are revealed

As Celo and Morath sweated over probing and pressing different parts of the stonework, Vorel touched the magical arrow in his case. “I wish you could help,” he mutted. The thing flexed under his fingers. Drawing it out, he felt it tug and dip gently in his fingertips.

Using it in the manner of a dowsing wand, Vorel guided the others to certain points in and around the demonic carving. And suddenly all four felt a shift in the air and the torch-flame flickered: and they were elsewhere.

They stood in a pentangular chamber with no exits. The flame from the torch in Celo’s hand burned steady, allowing them a clear look at their cell. Each wall was covered in a mosaic. One was defaced, so that it was hard to tell what had been its design. A second was familiar to them: a lone temple-like building, isolated in a broad desert. The third seemed a dark tower, standing in steep hills. The fourth seemed a veritable palace or citadel. And the fifth…

A gaping chasm or hole, which even as they gazed, seemed to shift a little. “Hand me your hatchet, Vorel and by the way, don’t expect it back,” Bardic growled. “If you smash the mosaic, we are stuck here,” cautioned Vorel, handing it over. Bardic paused then extended the hatchet to gingerly probe the black mosaic tiles. It went through, as though through fog. “Ferrimax? came a voice from beyond, Have you brought the last for me?” “In we go then: and all be ready for saving children and killing Cresh,” Bardic commended his fellows, and so saying, leaped through!


The others followed, finding themselves landing on relatively smooth though natural stone, perhaps shaped by some underground river or volcanic action in eons past. It was irregular and a short bow-shot long, and their attention was immediately drawn to a group of around thirty frightened children, standing fixed inside a circle, some twenty feet away. Some thirty feet further on, near the far end of the cyst, stood a weird group of three beings.

At the center of the trio, his features rendered indistinguishable by the eldritch light from a gaping portal behind him, stood a broad, armored man, gesturing towards them. Flanking the man stood two tall, vulture-like demons, armed with war-forks. Their angry screams made the children cry in fright, though none could move.

Bardic decided to go straight for Cresh. Morath opted to charge the right-hand demon, and Celo decided to back him up. Enough light came from the gate that it mattered not if his torch went out. Vorel drew his magic arrow.

“Free the children!” the Bossonian commanded, and shot the arrow full at the circle of imprisoned youngsters. Blue fire could be sensed on the fringe of eyesight, rather than seen directly, as the children were abruptly loosed. “Run for cover!” Vorel cried, and they scattered.

Bardic ran raging and leaped right over the children and plunged, jinking, through to Cresh. His sheer pace and tricky run fooled one of the demons, but the other drove his war-fork deep into the Cimmerian’s flank. Bardic knew he could not stand long, and smashed down at Cresh: but the man’s armor was Kothic plate and withstood even the mighty swing of the Cimmerian. Meanwhile Morath and Celo reached their target with fewer acrobatics. Celo feinted the creature out of position and landed a shrewd stab, but Morath found his attack parried off by the war-fork. Cresh snatched up a heavy mace, reminiscent to Bardic of the mace the evil Templar Martin had near killed him with.


The gate is closed

Things were looking grim, for the second demon had not even begun to assist Cresh, when Vorel raced forward, still clutching his bow. His target was not the combat, but the circle where the magic arrow still quivered. “End Cresh!” he yelled, plucking the arrow up and in one blur of motion loosing it full at Cresh as he loomed over Bardic, mace on high.

The arrow swerved and plunged straight over Cresh’s shoulder, through the gate. Which abruptly collapsed, sucking Cresh back into it. For an instant, Bardic saw him dwindling away: then nothing. Then both demons fell – or sprang – into the gate as well, just as it closed completely.


The Council of Captains

Having congratulated Vorel on an inspired thought and amazing shot, they gathered the children, calmed them as best they could, and investigated ways out. At the original landing point they found a simple stepping-back point, which dropped them all back to the demon-face they had originally been ensorcelled away from. Wherever the origin of the magic, it was still functioning.

Departing the manor was routine: the house no longer reeked of evil: it merely stunk. They gathered coins, goblets, plates and other typical trove of the piratic city from the demonling lair, and guided the children out to the front gate.

After some days of recovery, the council of captains summoned the four, to describe what they had found and how the threat was at last laid to rest. Celo, who had by that time the rudiments of Argossean as spoke in the Barachas, made a fine job of describing how it all came about. They were congratulated and the local dealers gave them a good price on the trove. Moreover, the council suggested the next possibility for child-smuggling: a Shemite city near the border with Argos, a city of ill repute, named Becharadur.

It was great to have the double-session and get through the whole module. At the end of play, two fate points were awarded each, leaving the points standing thus: Celo 5, Vorel and Bardic 4, and Morath 3. They all have three doses of antidotes left save for Morath who has two. Furthermore, they are all Level 18.

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Hyboria! H5E2: A pleasant summer cruise to a picaresque destination

Vorel’s player could not make it to the game, so Vorel takes a bit of a back seat most of the time. He also missed out on any fate points handed out, but on the other hand didn’t squander any. Quite a few non-player decisions and rolls were called for during the game with me taking on some and others being shared around.


Change of plan

“So, Quieto the priest; where’s he supposed to be?” Morath asked of no-one in particular.

“Mmm, Poitain somewhere I guess, maybe northern Poitain?” Celo hazarded.

“Where are we in relation to northern Poitain?” Bardic wanted to know. He was a little distracted; Quietta the bar-distaff was staring at them in a ‘how long are you going to nurse that one beer’ sort of way.

“Let’s see,” grumbled Vorel, tracing lines in beer on the table, “here’s the Thunder, over there somewhere’s the Shirki, we crossed over around here at the Charter Town…”

[Vorel is about the only character with any geographic skills. I handed players a sketch map from season one.]

“Charter Town hmm? Is that where Edric met Quieto?” Morath pursued.

“Ehh, could be, I recall the priest there wasn’t one of the automatically-evil types” Bardic grunted cynically.

“You know, I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Celo murmured. “We set out from this place around this time of year, and I remember by the time we finished all our business around northern Poitain it was wintertime.”

[Celo makes a good Int check to recall how long season one lasted. It was six months.]

“I’m not completely averse to wintering in Poitain again,” Morath mused, using the long words he liked to wordsmith out sometimes, “but if there’s a more direct path to tracking our prey down we should seek it.

“Well, what about your pirate friend?” Morath continued, turning to Bardic. “He’s been here longer than we have: has he found where this is going on?”

Bardic rose, signaled Quietta in a gesture that included his Barachan blood-brother in the one-more-of-the-same signal, and led his three fellows back to Galacus’ bench. Introductions made and old times remembered, they sat in a group and heard Galacus repeat much of what he told Bardic. They all knew enough of the trade lingo to follow him easily though some of his terminology was esoteric.

The upshot of his search was, he had found nothing, and was hoping they would have more success, being fluent in Zingaran and local heroes.

“I’ll mind the gear,” Vorel announced, gesturing towards the huge mound of equipment, mainly his and Bardic’s. “And book a room.”

An evening’s gathering of information from Gildanes the priest and Hal the forester (now Marshall) confirmed Galacus’ findings: no local kidnaping or smuggling. They wandered back to the Ostlery and up into the Inn, where they found Vorel in a very sour temper, having waited his dinner on them. They all assured him they could eat a second time – drawing more anger – and set to.

Over dinner, they agreed that the only real lead was Cresh’s manor house in Tortuga. Galacus groaned, having feared all along that this would be the case. The four adventurers further agreed to sail to Tortuga with Galacus. Apparently this would be easier if they signed articles as his crew, and would mean free passage and fewer problems with the council of captains.

That was it for the return to the border village, apart from a decision about purchasing the attentions of a couple of women of easy virtue. (Morath and Bardic yes, Celo and Vorel no, in case you are wondering.) It’s now time to reintroduce our four comrades in more detail. Readers of season four will have a fair idea of their abilities but here are the salient statistics.

The barbarian
Bardic, Cimmerian bar13/ftr4, BAB17, Init+0, 130hp (non-raged), F14 R6 W8. Significant feats include great cleave, wpn spec and impr crit with great-sword, and spring attack.

The fighter
Vorel, Bossonian ftr10/rgr5/rog2, BAB16, Init+7, 76hp, F12 R10 W9. Significant feats include shot on run and rapid shot, and quick draw.

The rogue
Morath, Zamorian rog16/rgr1, BAB13, Init+8, 75hp, F9 R14 W8. Significant feats include skill mastery, opportunist, spring attack and quick draw.

The other rogue
Celo, Aquilonian rog12/rgr5, BAB13, Init+10, 67hp, F8 R14 W8. Significant feats include skill mastery, weapon finesse, impr 2-wpn attck, expertise and quick draw.

A note about hit points – a variant is used where after level 10, Con does not contribute and hp are gained at a flat rate. Bardic is clearly the party front-line as, while raging, his enormous vitality keeps him in the fight after any two of his comrades would be dead.


Zingaran politics

Galacus had steered his sloop close to the Pictish or western shore to date, to avoid any Zingaran patrols, but a huge storm was blowing and it was time to find anchorage on the Zingaran shore of the Thunder.

Bardic, Celo and Morath half-scrambled, half-swung off the lines as the ship was made fast to the first dock that offered – some minor affair barely big enough to handle the sloop – but Vorel became tangled and things may have gone badly had not a brawny Cimmerian hand grabbed him and dragged him away from the ship’s flank. Boarding nets and many lines made the slop fast and the sailors ventured the first steps into what by any guess – the pelting rain and screaming wind cutting visibility to mere yards – was a small village.

A lightly-armed, lightly-armored figure pushed and staggered its way through the rain to where it could make out what manner of men had landed. Then made to get away!

“Just one moment young feller me lad,” Bardic roared, seizing the luckless guard in a chokehold.

Served up in front of Galacus and his vicious (if draggled) looking crew, the thoroughly scared man readily informed them that the force under arms in the village served the noble General Sovo, and numbered around 100. Besides himself, Sovo’s camp included his nephew lord Vettrax and his beautiful daughter, and three other men of rank.

Later, an offer of parley with Sovo saw Galacus and Bardic slop through ankle-deep mud to the hut that would host the talks and Morath and Celo slog in their wake as quietly as they could.

Sovo proved a typical Zingaran nobleman: Mustachios bristling, narrow nose and brows at the sneer, and armed with a long, fine-balanced longsword built for finesse work. The NCO he had with him seemed fatalistic and obedient. It was not long before the age-old hatred between Barachan and Zingaran came to the fore. Phrases such as “Barachan dog” and “Zingaran swine” made Bardic feel the level-headed diplomatist in the room.

The parley was interrupted by Sovo’s nephew Vettrax. He seemed to have something to tell Sovo; at which point, a truce was agreed and Galacus and Bardic ducked back into the rain and slopped back to the dockside. Vettrax briefed Sovo on a new development.

The hidden spies learned that a royalist force was within a half-march of the village. The two leaders were inclined toward offering a mercenary contract to Galacus, so as to at least neutralize them.

So it proved. After some haggling (at which Bardic was no help at all) Galacus gouged Sovo for five gold a man for active help in the field. As a guarantee of faith, Galacus agreed (putting on a fair show of reluctance) that his “second in command” and some trusted crew would be stationed away from his own force on the flank of Sovo’s battle.

[Bardic used his Military Tactics knowledge to good effect, effecting a show of discipline from the Barachans that went a long way to convincing their erstwhile hosts they were worth contracting with.]


Battle and Wrack

The storm was somewhat abated as the defenders, both Barachan and Zingaran, filtered through the village rampart and ditch defense and formed up. The driving wind, coming roughly from upriver, was a worse problem than the rain. Noticing a man sinking to hip depth in the ditch, the point of not being forced to fall back was not lost on the lads.

The Barachans, under Galacus, formed up downriver of the village: their job was to stop one of the two enemy battles from entering the village and gaining the dock.

The Zingarans, around twice the number of the downriver force, formed up facing inland, their upriver flank guarded by Galacus’ “second in command” Bardic and his three companions. The task for Sovo and Vettrax was to rout the oncoming royalist battle then turn on the downriver attackers.

As the lads slogged through the mire, wind screaming in their left ear and rain hammering metallically on their steel caps, it was obvious that any fancy maneuvering was impossible. Vorel clutched his longbow more in hope than anticipation. None of the other combatants even bothered with missiles.

Both the oncoming royalist forces – one from downriver and one from inland – were smaller than the defenders’ forces. Sovo’s hundred had nearly 3:1 superiority.

Opening round: Both leaders made Leadership checks, modified somewhat by positive or negative factors such as troop quality and things PCs were doing. Vorel’s opening three shots, being beyond point-blank, veered completely off mark and hit his allies, causing a -2 to Sovo. This and the marginally better quality of the royalists more than made up for lack of numbers, and in three small wedges they plowed into Sovo’s battle.

Second round: Walking to point-blank range Vorel sent a couple of better-directed arrows in. It made little difference. The others put their faith in a swift attack. Picking up the pace to a quick stumble, the rain and wind now behind them, they attacked the flank of the nearest wedge. Bardic’s silver-chased greatsword cleaved and swung, spraying gore widely. Meanwhile, though Sovo encouraged his men on adequately, the initial setback continued to affect his battle’s performance, and the few mercenaries present in his ranks began glancing over their shoulders checking for safe exit-lines.

Third round: With Vorel joining the other three, all remaining royalists were slain and the royalist standard fell. Superior numbers had made enough difference for the Sovo force to soak up the damage until their lethal allies did the killing work for them. Even so, the royalists had taken more than one life for each they gave up.


Breathing hard after his rage subsided, Bardic dashed blood out of his eyes and glared downriver. As far as poor visibility allowed, he could see that Galacus’ 40 or so sailors were holding ground. He trudged through the groaning whimpering and screaming men lain in the mud, towards Galacus’ flank. Morath slogged after him.

Celo paused to loot. He felt he could do with a couple more daggers. Vorel stopped to argue with him about how useful a light-clad rogue could be in a battle, and whether “ankle-deep mud” counted as favorable terrain.

By the time Bardic arrived the other royalist force was in orderly retreat. It seemed a bit pointless chasing them, and since Galacus was keen to be off before a royalist galley arrived, they in turn pulled back. The wind was abating further and sailing possible.

Aboard ship the Barachans briefly mourned the four men slain, and received their pay from Galacus. The four adventurers received a double share, ten gold coins apiece. Then it was cast off and away over to the western side of the river again.

[Bardic won a bonus fate point for being “the shining sword in battle.”]

The cursed ruin

With their sea-legs under them the four adventurers were making themselves as useful as they could aboard the sloop. None were in any danger of becoming able seamen, but basic chores could be taken on by all, and Vorel could fashion arrowheads and Celo could fletch.

They had also soaked up the shipboard culture. The crew were in truth not all Barachans, that is, not of the Argossean breed. A couple of Vanirmen could easily be distinguished and other more mongrel breeds were present as well. Galacus’ philosophy seemed to be “once of the brotherhood we are all Barachans.”

The crew, large for a sloop, kept itself as  busy as possible, but there was plenty of time for yarns about the coast, villages or towns, legendary figures and the street life of Tortuga.


The wind was favorable towards the Barachas – somewhere off to the north as far as they could tell – but light and changeable, when the watch cried sail-ho. A longer, larger-sailed vessel to coastward was making way on them. Galacus kept a confident mien and ordered the sloop a few points further westward.

“The weather be turning…” the sailor’s heedless thought was cut off by a cuff from the bosun. But already, the wind was fitfully boxing and no longer in Galacus’ favor.

Though the larger ship, clearly a Zingaran freebooter, gained, Galacus remained calm. Out to sea, a milky sheet of cloud could be seen rolling in.

“The fog’ll beat them, even if we can’t,” Galacus commented, quietly adding to his steersman a command to bear away starb’d after the cloud covered them.

“Isn’t this not far from the ruins…” the same helpful sailor began, and this time was thumped to the deck by the bosun’s cuff.

“And nobody say, ‘it could be worse,’ the bosun added with a glare around in general.

But once again the sailor was right (or had called the misfortune down by naming it). Strange, weathered columns could be glimpsed through the fog, rising directly out of the water. From what colossal distance their aged and seemingly warped stones dated could not be guessed.

Suddenly, men screamed as terror – and milky-pale tentacles – gripped them! The freezing cold of the outer void was in the deathy grip, and each tentacle seemed ghostly translucent, yet pulled with the subtle strength of a giant reeling in a line!

[All survive terror checks DC15, though two fate points are consumed. If you make the check you are not snagged by ghost-kraken.]

Vorel grabbed out his dagger. He had invested in silver filigree for good reason! Galacus was screaming and being dragged toward the gunwale so that was Vorel’s first move. The silver cut easily, yet Vorel could not seem to be able to apply his enormous strength: the blade sliced through as though the thing was made of gas.

[Vorel makes a good Int check to work out what’s happening]

“Strength is no use! The silver is all that will help!” he warned.

Bardic was slower to retrieve his blade than Morath and Celo: their deftness allowed them to scoot quickly back to the deck, twin silver-chased short-swords glittering in each hand. Then the mighty great-sword was also added to the contest.

[No-one had any prestige moves for this so it was simple combat. 10hp per tentacle, but no Strength added to damage. Cleave could help, and spring attack also allowed combatants to move swiftly between tentacles.]

Soon, the sloop was cut free, for the loss of only two crewmen. Galacus ordered the sloop further west again, leaving the freebooter on the far side of the fog bank.


A few days later the Barachas themselves were the landmarks, and the sloop was intercepted by Barachan ships. But no treachery was intended: Galacus’ presence was of course all that was needed to allow safe passage into Tortuga.



The approach to the manor

“I thought I’d seen horrid harridans in Shadizar but gahh, these are truly the dregs of the coast!” Morath exclaimed, hastening away from yet another foul dive. The Barachas seemed to be very much a man’s world with several pirates per woman and a rough lot of scrubs they were. No doubt there were some better women to be found somewhere but it was time to turn their attention to some fact-checking and planning.

“Just to be clear, I’m a sea-rover, not an explorer of ruins that may or may not be haunted. I’ll make sure your spare gear is safe and hold rooms for you if you need them,” Galacus expostulated. “And again just to be clear, you keep what you find. Barring children.”

“Right, it’s just us then,” Celo concluded. “Let’s run over the basic facts. About eight years ago, Galacus investigated stories of child stealing (that’s where he met Bardic) and traced one end of it back to Cresh, though strange to say another end seemed to lead to a Zingaran captain named Mercanis Gigafalon, whom we all know and love as Seadog Giant-Penis.

“Galacus had no say in the Tortugan council at the time, but did his bit to whip up action. He was on the water at the time, but from what he understands, a bold group of Tortuga gentry (most of them tough ex-pirates) invaded Cresh’s estate and put paid to the monster. But some fled in terror from what they found, and the rest never returned. It’s only assumed Cresh died because no more children went missing… until now.”

“Nicely expositionededed!” The others cried admiringly, and then, “But did you actually find out something we didn’t know already?”

“Uhhmm, oh yeah – not long ago a weird priesty kind of fellow came into port asking about Cresh’s library. He may have headed into the manor house, no-one saw him leave port.”

“Probably connected to those rumors we heard about some evil Mitran and the ‘gates’ thing,” Morath guessed.

“Right, if I see a priest I’m working on the theory he’s evil,” Bardic confirmed cheerfully.

Thus it was, not long after, and at night for reasons best known to themselves, the four adventurers gathered outside Cresh’s manor. The wall looked as though it had begun life as an ornamental work but had been added to as a means of keeping locals out. A heavily overgrown garden could easily be seen over it. From what they could make out, the manor house was a square-built affair with two stories, short wings at both ends; and no fancy architect’s doodads on the roof. There was one gate, and through it an overgrown path could be seen.

“The right hand end over there should be the burnt end. Could be an easy way in if we don’t want to march straight up to the front door,” Celo suggested.

“I don’t want to march straight up to the front door. Through the side sounds like a fair plan,” Bardic agreed. “Coming Morath? Vorel?”

Vorel grunted and shifted his weight so that the heavy load of extra gear the others had loaded him down with was more comfortable. “Coming!”

All our heroes are lightly armored to take advantage of their many fast-maneuver feats. Bardic in a chain shirt is heaviest armored. He also carries a broadax and hefty poniard besides his great-sword. Morath and Celo are equipped with twin short-swords and plenty of spare daggers or knives. Vorel carries various tools, rope, spare torches, and his Hyrkanian bow and cased arrows, besides his broadsword and dagger. All main weapons are silver-chased. All have a flagon of fortified wine and the antidotes have been shared out. Let the exploration commence!

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Hyboria! H5E1: Many trails, do they all lead to one adventure?

The first half of Season five’s first session was cameo type flashbacks as we found out various interesting things experienced by the four PCs on the way to Messantia. 

I jumped around between players as a way of keeping them all entertained. But for the purposes of a clear narrative I will treat the session as a linear story.

In terms of timeline, we begin pretty much exactly where season four ended, in the spring. Ships are sailing on the Red and Khorotas rivers and merchants are negotiating and stockpiling for the fine summer sailing on the western ocean. It’s a full 7½ years since they first met one another in a tiny nameless border village.


Swords [Bardic+others]

“Tch, hmm…”

Bardic’s brows lowered. The way the smith was shaking his head dubiously over the Cimmerian’s fearsome greatsword stirred a prickle of resentful suspicion. Such techniques had been used on the massive-thewed northron before, usually just before separating him from coin.

“Out with it man! What betokens this tutting and hemming?!”

“Alas cap’n, there’s no smith in this realm can put a keen edge back on the blade without ruining the balance! The like of these notches and cracks I’ve seen only after a battle between champions, axe to sword!”

Bardic’s lips thinned. He had known at the time that the cold-dealing greataxes, wielded by the chaos knights on Lil’endrash’s approaches, had nearly shattered his ancient masterwork blade. But permanent damage was something he had not calculated on

“On the bright side cap’n, I do know of a master smith who can fashion just as good a blade, or better!”

“And who might that be?”

“Me. And for a very reasonable price!”


The price the smith named seemed high, after Bardic mentioned that he would like silver filigreed into the blade. But Bardic’s three companions were also seeking silver-filigreed blades to replace their own, and came to an agreement. All four placed a combined order with the same smith, slammed their Ophirean gold coins down – 500 and change – and bargained to receive all of what they wanted in a scant week.


  • Bardic: Masterwork silver-chased greatsword (original pommel, grip and hilts)
  • Celo and Morath: twin masterwork silver-chased short swords each
  • Vorel: masterwork silver-chased broadsword and dagger.


Beneath Ianthe [Morath]

Morath had enjoyed the return to a wealthy city and all its fleshpots but as a devout follower of Bel, still made sure he made the right contacts and was available to pay respects in the right quarters.

This night, he followed his guide deeper and deeper below Ianthe’s streets. The tunnels they paced showed evidence of earlier styles of architecture. And as they dropped further, passing under or beside ancient buried rivers, the stonework suggested a much earlier period of construction, possibly not even Hyborian in conception.

But Morath was no scholar! A red-handed killer, he. Keen earns alert for any treacherous move, and observing his guide’s body language closely, Morath followed the man. Aquilonia still had a price on his head as far as he knew and Ianthe was a fairly short ride from the Tybor crossing to Shamar and Aquilonia’s heartland beyond.

But without challenge or mischance, Morath entered the fane of Bel, where only the fortunate, one Ubessis, and the votive scale were lit. Morath could hear the whispers of many onlookers, out beyond the light. Poor as was his grasp of Ophirean, he gathered that most were spoken in fear and awe of him, which was as it should be.

Having made his votive offering, Morath availed himself of gossip and news from the fortunate, which was indeed the key role of that priestly position. Included in general gossip of the trade was a rumor that a party of capable thieves intended to explore beneath an old Mitran temple, possibly in Argos or even Shem. Who hired them was uncertain. Ubessis also roughly confirmed the rumor that Ophir’s most valuable gem had been stolen.

“Now we have a number of junior thieves and it’s always good to give them a real crack at someone, to get practice in the craft. I note that Celo, who is one of the brothers, has not paid his respects. Is it all right with you if they try to lift some of his goods?”

Morath chuckled, a trifle vindictively. Once again his Aquilonian comrade had blithely taken his ease instead of doing the minimum to get along with the locals.

“By all means! Have at it!”

“Oh, and one other thing. Would you like to undertake a small assassination while you’re here?”

After checking that the assassination was unlikely to have fish-hooks such as creating political turmoil, Morath agreed. It paid handsomely and he was out of funds.

As he nodded farewell to his guide out of the warrens, Morath noted that he had picked up an uninvited follower. His peripheral vision told him he had seen the man before, in a crowd of thugs in Sicas. Impatient at being followed clumsily, Morath eventually let the shadower know he had been spotted and the man made himself scarce.

The assassination was conducted subtly and was taken to be a tragic accident. Morath used most of the gold earned to buy 15 antidote potions, which he shared out among the four without explaining what they cost or where he got the money from.

As a parting bonus during the payoff, Ubessis passed on word that Keth Alkaran was recruiting hardy warriors and priests to defend a temple or holy site.


Ianthe needs horse-archers! [Vorel]

Ianthe certainly seemed the place to be, if you had to wait a week for new weapons. The only trouble was, with only a few coins left, the many entertainments the opulently rich and cultured city offered were out of reach.

Casting about for some means of earning coin, Vorel heard some sort of archery tourney being advertised by touts and news-tellers. He roped in Celo, who spoke the language fluently, to explain the details to him. Apparently the eastern faction had used horsed archers in Ophir’s civil broils last year and the unit had made a strong impression on the west’s leaders. As to whether or not Cala Atenoel had led the horse-archers, accounts differed. In any case as a result, a western force was to be raised and the tourney was part of that process. The top prize was a gold talent – a fistful of gold – so was well worth trying for.

“No problem with the bow. But, no horse,” the Bossonian grumbled.

Celo chatted a little more with the Ophirean he had learned this much from and turned back to his comrade, saying brightly:

“They have two tiers, one for those with trained mounts and one for those who have none, so don’t worry! You’ll soon be in cash again!”

Vorel easily located the best of the “loaners” but failed to jostle his way to actually getting them. His best horse was poor (-2) and his remount or paired mount very poor (-3). In some events these penalties would add and in the most difficult would multiply.

The events were:

  • Ride expertly while using a bow (-4)
  • Speed-shooting with accuracy (-6)
  • Leap to a remount at speed (-5)
  • Straddle two horses and pluck a prize (-15)

Vorel’s incredible ability with Hyrkanian bow, riding and similar stood him in good stead. He came second overall and received five gold coins. Had he his own mounts he would easily have won across all fields. He turned down the offer of ongoing employment and returned to his lodging near the dock. Bardic won five silver coins for betting on Vorel for a place.

[I had a complication lined up which would prevent Vorel joining the cavalry but it did not seem called for and the money was the main prize.]


A trip across the border [Celo]

Celo was nervous; keyed up, if you like. It’s not a comfortable feeling when it may be an executioner’s block waiting for you, not a jail. He’d been approached discreetly back in Ianthe by one of Edric’s god-botherers who had told him that word awaited him over in Poitain where mutual friends could properly brief him.

Given that Celo had the scholarly ability of a typical farm-boy turned poacher, the in-person briefing was reasonable, but it still left him with an uncomfortable prickle of fear. And besides, why should it just be him? And if Edric could send word a thousand miles, why not send it the extra hundred?

He shrugged his shoulders, slipped across the Poitain-Ophir border without challenge or difficulty by the simple expedient of walking past the routine guard station in routine disguise, and paid a couple of silvers for a donkey-cart ride into Culario.

The job of getting back aboard ship had weighed on him until the ship’s quartermaster had assured him that it would dock at each town along the Khorotas, and a boat downstream from Culario would easily catch up.

In Culario Celo contacted the Mitrans and found that this briefing was to take place under the auspices of Trocero, the young heir to Poitain. One Danal, a senior cleric of some kind, passed on Edric’s words.

The message was a warning about Venari, evil master of Locknotch’s temple. He was apparently researching “gates” such as the one in Edric’s basement, and had financed an expedition into Argos or Shem to find one, or maybe find ancient writings about one.

Celo poked and pried a little around this message, but there was very little else to go on, except that Danal was aware that the Mitran friar Keth Alkaran was seeking help from any scattered remnants of the burel brothers. One such was Jamila, a black friar, who would guide Celo back to the river. Exchanging contacts – Quieto was a Mitran priest who had recruited Edric into investigating slave-taking in the border town and useful for passing information directly to Mitrans – Danal was useful for passing information to Trocero – Ailonia was a merchant trusted to pass on information via the Mitran network – Celo left with the Kushite Jamila and rejoined his comrades on ship as they headed towards Messantia.

[Celo’s player was making some pretty poor rolls on this cameo and I’m pleased to report he burned three Fate Points overall.]


Pit fighter! [Bardic]

Messantia was an open, cosmopolitan, brawling city and even before he got there Bardic had heard rumors of a kind of fighting where men duelled only with fists, in a pit or arena. As his winnings from Vorel’s tourney had depleted swiftly, he sniffed around for some way of joining this. A fatherly (or faginly) dockside trader (or fence) soon took the mighty Cimmerian under his wing and assured him he had a great future in the sport. Then spent some time explaining it was knuckle and skull stuff, no weapons, oh except cesti.

Not long before he was scheduled to debut, Bardic discovered that each bout was normally a death bout, and what the local pit-fighting variant of a cestus looked like.

In the event the fight was easy, his opponent vastly outmatched by the Cimmerian’s raw strength and pantherish swiftness. Bardic chose to spare the man’s life and was paid off meagrely by Kerim. Still, it was 15 silvers more than he had before he started.

There was a good outcome, or side-effect, however, which came to pass the next day. As he drowsed, his wolflike vitality seeing to his many bruises and cuts, Bardic was roused by word that a young man accompanied by a man-at-arms wanted to see him in the tap-room.

The broad-shouldered, fire-eyed, darkly handsome young man was the lad Bardic had known as Noct, when they rescued him from the border town and returned him to his mother. He now went by the name Notornis. His mother was still in good health and he held himself a true friend to Poitain.

Notornis alerted Bardic to the re-emergence of child kidnaping. Where this was going on he was unsure, but the general direction of the original border village on the Thunder River seemed indicated.

[This was the “light” payoff. I had a “dark” payoff to go to, if Bardic had killed his opponent.]


The double cross

While the four companions wondered how to keep from starving while saving the world from yet more demon-summoning child sacrifice, they received a job offer from a merchant they had last seen four years ago in Zamora.

Negaces’ quarters were much more upscale and airy than were their own and they enjoyed the peace, light and good food and drink of his private quarters in a fine inn. And this put them in a good frame of mind to listen to what might otherwise have sounded insulting.

“I remember you well and I know that regardless of reputation you are men that will stay true to a hire. Besides, you have the reputation as merciless killers that I need for what I have in mind. And the fact that you are known here as faithless double-dealers will serve well.

“I have come from the east to exploit the much larger margins to be made in shipping the kind of high-end goods I sell. The trouble is, with so many houses and generals at odds, no ship is safe unless they have an agreement with a truly powerful faction.

“I’ve had the opportunity to begin negotiations with Da Kova, which suits me well. One of their senior nobles, one Zapayo da Kova, is exiled here and is some sort of naval captain. His kinfolk are Zingaran. With one deal, I can make my shipping safe from both sides.

“The trouble is, I can expect treachery. Those in a position of weakness are prey as far as the da Kovas are concerned. So I plan to bring people like you to the negotiations – ruthless and invincible killers that only a madman would go against.

“I expect da Kova to approach you at some point and ask you to betray me. Should you agree, we’ll set up a situation where it looks as though you would be willing to do this. Then, you tell me what their plan is, so I can evade it while still keeping them as trade partners.”

The four comrades all wanted to get going on the trail of slavers but the offer of short-term work for real money was too good to pass up. So, the agreement made for 500 silver at the end of the deal, they went through a charade-deal in public where each was paid a measly amount, and the following day marched behind Negaces out to the Da Kova manor.

[To their credit, the players were really keen on stamping out demon-summoning creeps. Nothing about “what’s in it for me.” Negaces had to assure them the job was four days tops.]

The manor was well-defended by da Kovan retinues and the like, mostly armed with crossbows and useful cutlass-size side-arms. Inside, the senior figures from both sides of the border greeted Negaces and the da Kovan hard men welcomed the four “bodyguards” after the initial ceremony. Girls and wine were on offer and they settled back to await events. Celo held himself back a little, choosing to be the ears and eyes; and Vorel went very lightly on the drinking. Morath however threw himself back into his “happy, cheery” persona. It creeped the others out, which amused him.

As the evening went on, Celo noticed that a couple of the girls snuggling up to Morath and Bardic had been “subbed out” for more professional temptresses, who were learning more than they should have. But with the best of intentions, he got very little response from muttering warnings to the pair. By the small hours of the morning, the men had paired off with girls and were enjoying their hospitality.

The second day, the offer was made. The da Kova plan was simple and brutal. Let them know when and where Negaces had warehoused his shipment, then make sure the merchant was no longer in the picture by the time the da Kovas were ready to load it. A thousand each, but only on delivery.

Later, they revealed this to their employer. Negaces was surprised by the lack of subtlety but agreed it had the merit of simplicity. He seemed happy enough to be forewarned. The four escorted him back to Messantia, took their reward, and took passage to the Thunder River.


Old times

Disembarking at the border village on a bright late summer afternoon, many changes were obvious. The docks themselves were larger and boasted decent if simple warehousing. The village walls were dressed stone, with timber hoardings. Gone were the simple flammable huts of eight years ago and in their place were proper wattle-and-daub thatched cottages. The big house had a stone frontage but otherwise seemed the same, and the Mitran shrine beside it was little changed. As for the great ostlery-inn, it seemed unchanged.

Waving away the half-hearted attempt at documenting their arrival by the customs agent, the four swaggered over to the inn. Making their way up the ramp to the first floor common room, they could see the same layout as ever. Even mine host Abinetes was the same – a little balder perhaps but still there and still calmly in control of his inn. He nodded to them as though it had been a week and not as many years since he had last set eyes on them.

Thoughts on the rest of the staff faded out of Bardic’s brain, at least, as his gaze settled on a broad figure girt in a mixture of bright silks and rough shipboard cloth. There, seated at the exact same bench he had been at eight years ago, was the Barachan that Bardic had sworn blood-brotherhood with after the Pict fight!


The Tale of Galacus, the Barachan

It was over eight years ago, and I was a young man, still on my way up from foredeck to captain’s rank. In Tortuga, the only real port in the Barachas, a man named Cresh built himself a fine manor house, and later some recalled the place he built over was said to have much older ruins under it. The Barachas where I come from are rugged islands with little to show of softness or civilization but some say they are the mountain-tops of a lost empire, Atlantis perhaps. But I never minded that.

Children began going missing in Tortuga, and though I had no say on the council at the time, I pushed enough blame onto Cresh that a bold group of Tortuga killing-gents invaded Cresh’s estate and put paid to the monster. But some fled in terror from what they found, and the rest never returned, and they made a poor fist of burning it too as I later found. I was away on the seas at the time, trying to find out where else child-taking was going on and why.

I’d heard enough here and there to know it wasn’t just a local thing, though Cresh was one end of it for sure. But as I mentioned at the time to you, there’s no money in long-term, long-range child shipping. Nothing I heard spoke of a big child market in the places you might expect, such as Shem or Stygia. I did hear rumor of children being shipped into Shem but not to anywhere in particular.

So when I met you, I was looking for the wake of a Zingaran captain named Mercanis Gigafalon, or Seadog Giant-Penis in the coastal lingo. I’d found enough to know he was shipping children out from this river, though whether he took them to Shem or to some other port I never found out. The Pict fight seemed to stop things here. When I got back to report, the Cresh business was over, and no more children were going missing. Problem solved, thought the Tortuga council and so thought I, greenhorn that I was.

But now, children are going missing again. So I’m back to see what’s what at this end, mainly because the council, where I’m now a captain in good standing, decided it was my fault.


Bardic passed nearly the whole of this on to the other three and they decided to discuss their next move over a couple more flagons. Their hostess was another familiar face, though much more mature than the picture their memories held: Quietta, the little bar-wench they rescued from the Picts. She was now Mrs Abinetes!

After an uneasy glance around in case Dollabella was also still working shifts, the lads settled down to chew the fat. There seemed to be trails leading to the Barachas, and to somewhere around the Argos-Shem border. Captain Giant-Penis was certainly mixed up in it. Since Zapayo da Kova had been the instigator behind Giant-Penis originally, perhaps he was also involved somewhere. It only remained to pull on one end or other of the tapestry to see where the unravelling led them.

[They have decided to head back to Poitain to link up with the Mitran network through Quieto.]

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Hyboria! Season Five Introduction

Hyboria! Season Five

Season Four introduced some elements your characters will need to bear in mind for season five, the final season.

  • Poison really hurts and is expensive and antidotes are well worth carrying
  • The real powers of the world are powerful magicians, operating in loose alliances
  • Demons can be fought with fire or silver, but otherwise tend to resist normal weapons
  • Constructs can’t be fought with fire or silver but may have a weak spot

After re-equipping in Ophir, your characters: Bardic, Celo, Morath and Vorel, take ship for Argos. Their re-equipment is based on even shares of the loot, mostly in gold ornaments, and mostly taken off the remains of Prince Houmekri after his Living Ka possessor had been extinguished. By and large, they are handsomely equipped but no longer extravagantly so. Some trades have been necessary where money was insufficient to cover vital equipment.

Our season five tale begins in Messantia, capital and chief port of Argos, though we will begin with “cameos” of back-dates for each character, from Ianthe and on downriver. They are all in need of some ready money and some assured income stream would be welcome.

General setting information

It is still a turbulent time, at least locally. There are ugly rumors about deals made between the western powers; but whatever the truth of those rumors, the peace between Aquilonia, Ophir and Argos still holds – for now! Aquilonia is most likely finding the Picts a hard nut to chew, and is glad to avoid war on its southern border. Argos has its own worries. In the aftermath of the death, seven or so years ago, of King Bardo V of Argos, the generals of the army dominated royal councils. Now, it is said, King Bardo VI is learning to be more resolute.  A coup staged by one or other of the generals seems possible. Messantia is a simmering broth of armed factions of this or that general, somewhat in the style of Zingara.

Bardo, should he manage to retain his crown, will be mainly concerned with trade rivalry with Zingara and depredations of the Barachan and Zingaran pirates on his merchants. Those are not the only pirates on the sea – Stygian and even Black Kingdoms ships also prey on honest merchants! Some say that Barachan buccaneers may be offered a deal of some kind to raid Zingaran shipping and leave Argos alone.

Your characters’ own reputation

Your characters’ reputations have suffered. Taking a purely surface view, you double-crossed up to four employers over the past year. To sum up your most recent adventure: Princes Almuric and Houmekri raised an expedition to rescue Houmekri’s half-sister Queen Hotep. You alone appeared, in Ophir, without the Queen, and sold off Prince Houmekri’s personal belongings.

Rumors of other people of note

Keth Alkaran is said to have re-founded his monastery. Prince Almuric has quietly put aside his thoughts of revolt – at least for now. King Luchistheyrn is dead. Ioplathes of Brythunia is supposedly sponsoring a claimant, but so is Nemedia’s King Nimed: so war is quite likely. Cala Atenoel is said to have turned up in Kuthchemes, eastern Shem, in company with someone that sounds a lot like Kayan Haduk; and is said to have clashed with a rebel prince of Stygia. She is also said to have “traded” a strange sorcerer for weapons of Akbitana. Trocero (or “Rough-houser” as you knew him) has been knighted a Chevalier of Poitain now he is of age.

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DDN 2.12: I [♥] Dread Finale: Return of the Newly-introduced Arch-enemy!

Apologies for what is necessarily going to be an inaccurate record. I didn’t take any real notes during the session as I had run out of notebook space. 

Reminder: Having achieved all we wanted to on the island, we decided to finish it off with a brief trip north out of Tanaroa to see if there was something to be seen.

But the DM had other plans!

½-Jack’s player has provided me with ½-Jack’s explanation for all this. How much of this was back-story and how much was DM invention I would be intrigued to know. But the in-character explanation is near the foot of this entry.

So, it went like this…

Emergency! Imperiled Loot!

A day’s travel out of Tanaroa, we head north away from the tar-pits where the zombies are collecting tar. We’re already a little frazzled from fighting a large armored lizard (which we agree is not a dragon, but next best thing to one) and then four croc-size lizards. Once we reach the hills we find a sheltered dell and camp.

But after an uneventful night there, a runner from Tanaroa arrives and warns us that our ship is in peril!

The Return to the Rum

Some of us choose to lighten their load and some figure that they’ll need their armor at the end of the journey. We make best speed back south, Red jogging ahead for the first hour and ½-Jack with him thanks to Carrick’s Longstrider spell. Maybe Red throws in another one later, but whatever the case, after 14 hours forced march, we all straggle together at the gates, and are let through.

From the vantage of the village’s position we can see a red-painted ship off the eastern shore. The two ships of our company, the Rum and the Yolande, are anchored in the western bay where we left them, but smoke is drifting off the Yolande.

Since our treasure is still on the Rum (Ryhab only had enough crew left to decently man one ship) this is not the disaster it could have been. But we pile into an outrigger and make best speed for the Rum. Of our company, only Br Gaunt and ½-Jack are not feeling the effects of the forced march [Fatigue causes disadvantage on all attacks and checks for the others.]

Cunning Plan

Ryhab explains that attackers have boarded the Yolande, forcing most of the skeleton crew off. Only his first mate remains aboard, and that massive Dragon-kin is still fighting as far as he can make out.

We assay our resources. We have out armor and weapons and spare crossbows if needed.

“I’ve got a nifty sword that will let me cross under the sea” – ½-Jack

“And if someone were to run across using the ring of water-walking, and climb aboard, that would create enough of a diversion for you to sneak up the other side” – Martel

Since Martel fatigued is still a better climber than Gaunt, the paladin will have to be the diversion. The other three will paddle across and board in support. (Well, it sounded reasonable at the time!) Tyr’s blessing is called for and ½-Jack dives overboard, grasping Pontus, his magical sword. Martel leaps overboard and runs across the intervening sea to Yolande’s portside.

The Battle for Yolande

Fighting can be heard and the mate’s broad shoulders glimpsed. Martel deftly snags the gunwale with his grapnel and knotted line and swarms aboard [making an adequate climb check of 11.]

On the Yolande’s main deck, men stamp, curse and fall to writhe in gore. The mate protects himself as best he can with a heavy shield, and wields a massive longsword as though it were a willow switch. He’s already taken a few shrewd cuts from the swords his opponents, four or five armored interlopers armed with longsword and shield, are wielding. For their part, most are looking battered despite their scale armor.

[Each interloper has light armor and shield for AC17, and a longsword with which they can attack twice with no penalty. Hope the xp reflects the danger!]


  • Martel
  • Carrick
  • ½-Jack
  • Red
  • Interlopers
  • Mate
  • Gaunt

Round 1: They see Martel but cannot immediately get clear of the mate’s whirling blade. Martel calls for Tyr’s Divine Favor and readies his shield and mace. In the outrigger, Carrick urges the others to let him get up first. Gaunt agrees since he will probably need Red’s help to get up the rope, but Red thinks they could climb together. Under the Yolande, ½-Jack can see the anchor chain.

The mate puts another pirate down and takes another savage cut.

Rounds 2-3: Martel holds close to the gunwale and rams his way into the fight on the mate’s left flank. He’s not able to actually land a blow but does take some of the pressure off the mate, and he’s still hard to hit.

Round 4: Carrick and Red arrive on deck as ½-Jack finally gets his head up to the hawse of the anchor-chain he has climbed. Martel finally lands a blow, dropping his pirate. Then the mate falls as a druidess* emerges from the hold behind the pirates and blankets he, Martel, Red and Carrick with a Sleep spell. [Being lowest on hp the mate drops.]

Round 5: ½-Jack rolls through the hawse, onto the foredeck, and flings a dagger. One of the pirates cries in pain: the Halfling’s been noticed! Red leans athletically over the gunwales and attempts to help Gaunt. Gaunt hauls manfully on the Elf’s lean arm. The pair tumble oikily back into the outrigger. Meanwhile Martel has taken a few knocks despite his evasiveness and armor. Carrick lines up the druidess and the pirate ½-Jack wounded and rams them back towards the foredeck with a powerful Thunderwave. [Each take 11 damage.]

Round 6: Carrick repeats the maneuver, not quite as successfully though still dishing damage out. Because of the fighting mid-deck, he can’t maneuver right round and ram them overboard.

½-Jack’s focus on the fight is broken when a sinister Halfling appears beside him and rasps:

“You thought you could get away with map and treasure did you cousin? I warrnned ye!”

“Cousin Grippin! The blackest sheep of the Sackfull-Bigginses!” – ½-Jack

Round 7: While ½-Jack is getting painfully reacquainted with his cousin, who drops him [assassination specialty] the comedy duo in the outrigger begins returning to the fray and Martel succeeds in toeing the mate awake while dazing a pirate [the mace's reserve power]. Carrick sends a tremendous blast of Thunderwave up the deck and flattens two pirates, while further battering the druidess. She returns the compliment, but in weaker fashion. The Dragon-born mate leaps back to his feet and cuts another pirate down! Gaunt is nearly back up on deck: he calls “I have Healing Word ready!”

Round 8: Pirate numbers are beginning to thin. Martel is still holding their attention and taking shots. Red rushes into the fight and cuts the dazed pirate down and suddenly there is only the druidess and Grippin left to deal with! Gaunt finishes scrambling over the gunwale and healing flows into Carrick and Martel, and 1/2-Jack, who has been at death’s door, [makes death check] also revives.

Round 9: Red launches himself up the deck and cuts the druidess down.

“Thanks Red, couldn’t have done without you” – Carrick, sarcastically

“I’ll have my revenge yet!” – Grippin, leaping over the bow

“Do you want the Halfling alive, ½-Jack?” – Martel

“O… yes, I suppose so, otherwise Auntie would go on so” – ½-Jack

Martel leaps lightly down from the midships gunwale and chases towards the shore, while ½-Jack swims quickly underwater. But before they can bring the interloper to justice – and ask him where he got the funds to hire so much talent – the red ship in the eastern bay intervenes!

Suffice to say [for I do not wish to bore my audience] that Martel and ½-Jack choose to help Tanaroa rather than search for Grippin, who escapes.

The loot from the fighting is satisfactory. Armor and swords aplenty, a druid’s staff and bracers of defense. Carrick and ½-Jack appear to be rivals for the latter. Meanwhile, having seen off the red ship (with Grippin aboard it, we presume) we relax ashore and 1/2-Jack gets to tell us all about it.

1/2-Jack’s explanatory exculpation, or exculpatory explanation

After the battle for the Yolanda, once the red ship has set course firmly away from Tanaroa, and once they have checked the treasures of the Isle of Dread have not been lost to Grippin Sackfull-Biggin, the party return to the native settlement.  In celebration of the party’s last night on the island, the native community produces a generous meal.  So it is a happy band of adventures perched around the warm fire under the stars which eventually begins to question Halfjack more closely about his cousin.

“Well, it all started sometime back…” began Halfjack in the winding way of Halflings, as he helpfully poured the party another round of rum with their meal to celebrate the recent victory.

“Firstly, I’m not a Tarfoot.  No, that’s a name that I made up for the tall folk, because it avoids a certain annoying question.  I’m actually a Biggin, like my uncle, Rotjack.”

The Halfling drew on his pipe, and nursed his cup of rum to in his face lit by the warm light of the fire.   “Now Rotjack was an explorer true… but most about the way paid little attention to his many tales.  They did paid attention to his wealth, some of which claimed to have found in the South Seas.”

“What is the annoying question?” asked Martel, looking up from the large dinner he was determinedly demolishing as if it was a meal he had not paid for.

“It’s of no consequence to the story of my cousin, good friend Martel,”  assured Halfjack, then momentarily changing the topic… “Should we not wait for Red to return to the fire, before I continue?”

“He will be back soon enough.”  Brother Gaunt sternly declared.  The party could hear Red, stumbling in the dark, lost in a small copse of trees some yards away.  Red had been away for the last five minutes. Sooner, or much, much later, the party knew the ranger would notice the fire’s blaze and navigate his way back by its light.

“Of course,” agreed Halfjack, and returned to his tale. “Uncle Rotjack was dearly loved by all his nephews.  And when he was sober, which was far more often than his detractors claimed, he was a great storyteller of his journeys beyond the Shire.  When I heard he had passed on, I was greatly saddened because he was always one of my favorite uncles.  So I rushed to the shire to pay my respects.”

Halfjack drew again on his pipe.  A look of distaste came to his face as he thought of the sorry tale to come. “Now, it was no surprise to me, once I returned to Uncle Rotjack’s once happy hole, that I discovered my cousin Grippin had already got his great, hairy feet under my uncle’s old table.

“Grippin is a Sackfull-Biggin, and that whole side of the family are full of apples that fell far from the Biggin tree. Bigginses are well respected for their consideration of others, and our opened-handed friendship far and wide in the Shire: but short on hospitality are the Sackfull-Biggins, and long on greed.  Oh, they are a disgracefully, grasping lot; and care not what eye gets elbowed as they grapple for the last bent ha’penny.”

Carrick began to ask the question ‘Just how much more interested in money than Halfjack could a Halfling be?’, but he thought better of it, allowing Halfjack to continue.

“I quickly saw that Grippin had not only claimed Uncle Rotjack’s hole, but was turning it over in search of anything of the smallest value – writing an inventory as he went.  He assured me he was merely settling the estate, but clearly he was looking to maximise his return, and was clearly planning not to leave before that was done.  While I was there, I saw Grippin ‘lending’ Uncle Rotjack’s property to other family members, his friends, or those who simply past-by so long as they all greased Grippin’s palm.  He would then note this exchange on his inventory.

“Unable to find a reason to deny me a bed for the night, Grippin was quick to inform me that I had missed luncheon, he then went on to provide me with little for afternoon tea.  He barely scratched together a dinner, and supper was naught but hard cheese, dry bread and what was very poor, near-foxed ale.  Truly he was intent on driving me away!

“However, out of familial loyalty, I did my best to rise above such oafish behavior, and when Grippin went to the shed with the half-moon windowed door, out in the back garden, I couldn’t help but notice that the inventory he had left lying out did not correctly list Uncle Rotjack’s old sea chest.  Obviously, Uncle Rotjack had always wanted me to have that chest, as I had taken to life aboard boats as he once had.  It was obvious that steps had to be taken to honor my Uncle’s memory!

“Eventually Grippin, exhausted by his near endless searching of the hole for every last dwarvish groat and gnomish pfennig, fell asleep with loud, droning snores in my Uncle’s old armchair.  Quietly, I went to the sea chest.  In a short time it was open and I quickly saw retained among its secrets my Uncle’s telescope, as well as his South Sea’s journal and old chart.  And of course there remained the possibility of other things as well.  Well pleased, I hurried the chest outside to the garden shed, bringing back another chest I had fortunately come across by-the-by.

“Once I had replaced the old chest with the new, I replaced the telescope with a length of pipe I had previously painted brown, the journal with ‘Hagatha’s 247 recipes for Scrumpy’, and the chart with a parchment illustrating some welcoming freely-dressed native women that my Uncle must have collected for esoteric reasons, and had kept hidden behind his bedstead.  Finally, I added some random bits and bobs from here and there.

‘Freely-dressed?’ wondered Martel to himself, as Halfjack pressed on.

“Then, before I retired myself, I crept to the inventory, and confused the issue of the sea chest by marking it as being lent to my cousin Halfkeg, a large Halfling and noted pugilist there-abouts.  He and Grippin had suffered some misunderstandings in the past.

“In the morning I sprang to the kitchen to prepare my cousin and myself a first breakfast of kippers.  And although this meal was greeted with all too evident poor humor by Grippin, once he had eventually staggered through to the kitchen, he still managed to eat more than his share between off-color jibes.

“Then it was time to end my stay.  Even before second breakfast, I bid farewell to my dear Uncle’s hole, and my cousin, who was quick to wave me off. I took the opportunity to set off into the bright morning to stretch my legs down memory lane, visiting the treasured places of my happy boyhood.  After I had finished my second breakfast while enjoying the glorious sun in the garden of the ‘Pleasing Maiden’, and while Grippin was trying to retrieve his rowboat which had somehow come adrift in the mill pond, I returned to Uncle Rotjack’s by way of the back gate. I retrieved the sea chest, and made full speed by donkey cart back to you all, my friends, trusting that the confusion between Halfkeg and Grippin would delay any misguided attempt of the later to locate the sea chest anytime soon, and in the certain knowledge that Uncle Rotjack’s chart and journal would guide us all to adventure and treasure.

“And so it has!” finishes Halfjack, with an honest smile.

“Some of you could have come looking for me!” accused Red – as he finally returns with a number of twigs in his hair, to the warmth of the fire, the rum and the laughter of his comrades.


Off home

And so with 1/2-Jack’s role as instigator convincingly explained, it’s yo ho and off to home port me hearties, where we shall squander our loot and upgrade to better equipment ready for our next foray!

List of significant loot from the voyage (values are approximate):

The Yolande

3000gp black pearl

2050gp in gems

1500gp gold-inlay bowls

500gp gold coins

450 gold instrinsic value of ex-statuette

300gp obsidian bowls

3 metal potion flasks

Gourd containing healing potion, several doses

The weapons and ring as previously noted

Plus the druidess’s* bracers and staff, and armor and weapons of the interlopers

*[Druidess is my term because it's how her equipment depicts her; in fact she was a mage with the Druidic initiate feat.]

GM’s end of season notes

1. XP – the head-count XP was disappointing. The 6 toughs were out of the book and seem low for multiple attacks. Anyway, I added them all up to 382 each (including the random encounters). Also added in is 1500XP season/adventure bonus. This should put everyone on 5801 XP except Red, who is 290XP behind. (next level is 9500XP)

2. Level 5 gains. The simple stuff is your hit dice. No-one get a proficiency increase yet, but:

Rogue: Evasion (reaction to 1/2 damage) and Sneak Attack improves to 2D6.

Ranger: Extra attack, Natural Explorer (would make him less-useless) and spell slots (4/2)

Paladin: Extra Attack, Oath spells (lesser restoration & zone of truth) and spell slots (4/2)

Cleric: Domain spells (holy vigor & prayer) and spell slots (4/3/2)

Mage: 2 spells into book, school spell (Disappearing Trick) and spell slots (4/3/2)

3. The wrap up.

  • Grippin gets away in the twilight and shadows ashore. He is helped to his ship which departs in the fading light.
  • The party survives with all their loot. The Yolanda is damaged a little by fire and some vandalism but Rhyhab says that it is easily repairable. After checking things out it is quite dark, so Rhyhab decides to leave later the next day, after the return cargo is loaded. A good chance for the wounded to heal up and everyone to be spelled up for the start of the return trip.
  • Fortunately, the trip back to civilization is uneventful. Once away from the island swell, Rum tows Yolanda with enough crew on the latter to look after one reefed sail and keep it under control. The rest look after Rum. Everyone does keep a nervous eye out for sails and there is no regular traffic until closer to the mainland. No sign of Grippin.
  • Once back in port you do have to decide what to do with Yolanda. Cash it in or something else? Instead of a cash share, you could see if you can pay Rhyhab with a piece of the Yolanda and let him run her as part of his fleet. Have a think about it.
  • Note that Rhyhab’s original agreement was 3 shares of the loot, two of which are to be divided up for the crew. The crew may not be so interested in anything other than gold.
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DDN 2.11: I [♥] Dread: Puddles and Portcullises

The grate of separation

Reminder: Brother Abram Gaunt, ½-Jack the Halfling, Banjo Carrick the Elf, Martel Guerra and Red the Elf are pinned up against a portcullis by a powerful flood of filthy water sluicing down the stairs that lie beyond the portcullis. They are drowning and taking a beating from the pressure (2 points damage in the surprise round last session).


  • Gaunt
  • Red/Martel/Carrick
  • ½-Jack

Round 1: [2 points damage all round.] Gaunt strains his muscles and heaves his way out [natural 20] of the tangle of adventurers and pressure of water, up the portcullis to get his head out into air. Carrick – surprisingly as not only has he muscles like bean sprouts but is still wearing his mage robe – breaks the boiling surface next to him. The others don’t. Below, ½-Jack tries to double over and squeeze through one of the small gaps [very high Dex check] but fails.

Round 2: [1 point damage to those submerged.] Gaunt grabs at ½-Jack but fails to get a handgrip in the rogue’s greasy hair. Martel makes it up! Red doesn’t. Carrick spots a lever, masked by mossy growth on the wall until now, and heaves on it: the portcullis begins rising. ½-Jack latches on and rides it up to get clear. The raft sweeps majestically under the portcullis and away down into the gurgling darkness, carrying the tools and spare weapons.

Round 3: [1 point damage to Red.] Gaunt tries to help him up, without success. Martel calls for a light, grabs at Red and also fails. Carrick who does have a light, succeeds and between he and the Halfling the waterlogged ranger is pulled up. Red still has a grip on his spear, which also has a light on it.

Round 4: possibly owing to the weight of the ranger and the difficulty in keeping hold of gear, we are swept away down a stair, taking a pounding from the walls and steps as we go! [13 damage all round]

Pools and paths

We stagger to our feet on a broad silicate terrace, and the heat of this inner, cystic, caldera strikes us. Fumaroles and bubbling pools stretch out below our terrace away into misty opacity. A largish pool of water steams gently immediately below the final foot of the terrace. And in it bob a few palm logs, all that remains of our faithful raft.

Gaunt holds his hands aloft and recites a seldom-used incantation, and healing flows into all of us. It’s like we have a real cleric with us! [12 pts apiece]

“Quick! Before the water can super-heat! Let’s see if our gear can be retrieved!” – Martel

We retrieve our scattered gear with the aid of magic light. As we fish back out the last potion bottle (Carrick’s scroll was already burnt and is now completely gone) a tremor shakes the caldera and we stagger a little.

“I think I saw something, far through the steam!” – Red the seldom-perceptive

Carrick backs Red up (though it may be just Elven solidarity) so Martel (first healing himself and Carrick) leads off along a solid silica path that winds alongside the pool. Our best guess, based on half-glimpses, is that there’s a large grotto opposite.

It takes along time as the pathways around pools are maze-like. At one point the doughty paladin stops [Wis check] and quavers that we ought to go back – but urged on by Gaunt (who can’t reach him) Red smacks the paladin with his spear-butt and that seems to do the trick. We resume. But Carrick is fairly sure that the pools to either side may hold something much more unpleasant than hot water.

Just after ½-Jack has gasped his way through a gas bubble [and made a Will check] Carrick is swiped at by a tentacle: but his magical Shield blocks it. Lacking any effective way to get at the pool we press on.

At last, we do make it to the stepped terraces leading up to the grotto, clamber up the slippery ledges [Dex checks] and take a rest.

Short rest: all characters not at full take at least one HD and recover. Carrick re-ups a couple of spells.

Dancing lights accompany us as we scale the final terrace and see a stalactite-covered throne, in which is enthroned and encased the withered husk of a once-mighty monarch!

Naturally, we chip away the silicates to ransack the corpse, pilfering its ring and short sword.

Each seems quite unique: the ring is engraved with a lightning motif that to Carrick suggests that it may be the work of the magister-artisan Magar Stormfighter; the short sword is a translucent blue crystalline. Carrick calls dibs on the former and ½-Jack takes the latter to replace the one Red has ruined being all ranger-y.

We retreat (as expeditiously as possible) surviving a nasty tentacular attack on Red. ½-Jack’s short sword has pleased him by lopping the tip off the tentacle: but it doesn’t make us want to jump into the pool with the monster, whatever it is. (Gaunt, who cares one way or another, thinks it’s probably the real-size version of the tentacle idol he crushed.) Back at our “home” terrace Gaunt heals Red a little, and we return upstairs to check an arch we got swept past near the portcullis.

Portcullis and Peril

Its arch leads to a well-chamber connecting to another tunnel. The well is a straight chute down to the caldera. The further passage is long, and broad. We set our order afresh and explore, coming at length to an arch leading into a 30’ square chamber with no exit. Around the wall stand statues, mostly finely featured but some hideous to behold. Looking up (we are suspicious if not paranoid) we observe that there is a wooden trapdoor in the ceiling, in poor shape.

As ½-Jack steps in to investigate the dust that has sifted down below the trapdoor, he triggers a portcullis, which seals him off from our help: and one of the hideous statues stalks down off its pedestal!


  • Carrick
  • ½-Jack
  • Gargoyle
  • Martel
  • Gaunt/Red

Surprise Round: ½-Jack tumbles past the creature and stabs his short sword deep into its stony hide [crit, 14]. The gargoyle wheels on him and though its bite misses, its claws tear into him [6 and 4].

Round 1: Carrick throws his full spell power [MML2] at the gargoyle which is dead on its feet as the searing blue bolts strike! ½-Jack misses and disengages, trying to stay near the center of the chamber. As the first gargoyle crumbles, a second one comes to life! Its strike misses. Martel encourages Red to search for a pressure plate or lever, and does so himself. Gaunt calls Tempus’ spirit sword to attack but misses.

Round 2: Carrick blasts the next gargoyle [15 damage] and ½-Jack jabs it hard with dagger and sword [12 damage] then dodges back out again. The thing scrapes after him but misses again. Martel [search 19] finds the pressure plate and the portcullis begins lifting. Gaunt strikes with spirit sword [3] and throws healing into ½-Jack [3]. Red readies his spear.

Round 3: Carrick misses with Ray of Frost. ½-Jack slams his short-sword deep [crit, 15] and the second gargoyle falls. Martel advances, but there are no more attacks.

We find an amethyst at the feet of one statue, and ½-Jack stows it away in the traditional way for adventurers with no bags or pouches left.

As we are very curious (and paranoid) about what lies above, Gaunt uses his spirit sword to chop the trapdoor away. During this time, Red finds a hidden exit beyond the statues. It leads back out onto the line of cells.

The dungeon’s last gasp

We recover a rope from “upstairs” – up through our hole of entry – and Martel grapnels the edge of the trap. After musing ourselves watching ½-Jack trying to climb we give Martel a chance to look less like a plonker. He fails in this simple task, but does eventually struggle up, pitons in, and we all clamber up into a fair-size chamber with broad steps leading up to a platform.

Upstairs we find a couple of well-spaced holes and it takes no time at all to work out that they are eye-holes in the great carven face glaring out across the naos. There’s a lever that works a bellows  between them, and with a cry of “ah, what harm could it do?” 1/2-Jack reaches up to tippy-toes and pumps it. The resulting blow-back of fire from the fireball created in the naos burns Gaunt, Red and Carrick, but especially Gaunt. Good thing Tempus doesn’t allow his priests to bear grudges!

Searching the chamber downstairs again, we find a secret exit to the mezzanine of the naos.

A draft of wine, pearl and feather

Identifying the items we have is high priority. We enjoy a feast with the gentle villagers of Mantru, and Fano and Loomat bid us farewell. After treatments of palm oil and massage, our waterlogged and decaying skins resume their normal texture and we re-don our armor. We’re all keen to find out exactly what the magical weapons we’ve looted do, and a brief burst of trading with the villagers provides Carrick with two of the ingredients to cast Identify spells. But for now, the actual spells will have to wait, as the third part, wine, is not to be had here.

It’s back to the coast in an uneventful slog, our equipment lighter and our loot heavier. Ryhab picks us up – the crew are still taking on water for resupply in Port Tarfoot – and Carrick concocts his Identify brew.

In the next few days sailing the good ship Rum conducts a brief trade with the villages such as Tanaroa . In between lazing aboard and explaining how marvelous Elves are, Carrick identifies the properties of the weapons. These are now listed by their agreed owners:

  • ½-Jack’s Short Sword: Pontus. +1 effect, breathe underwater at any depth, d8 extra damage to aquatics.
  • Carrick’s Ring: Coil of Magar. MU attunement: two extra slots that are storm related.
  • Br Gaunt’s Longsword: Fimbruk. +1 effect, finds precious ore by screeching, Featherfall effect 3/day.
  • Martel’s Mace: Mace of Genuflection. +1 effect, damage of at least 10 forces target to fall prone, no save. Daze once/day.
  • Red’s Spear: Bleeding spear. +1 effect, damage causes extra d4 per turn of bleeding damage, cumulative to 3d4/turn, until any healing is made.

Note: at first we intended to sell the mace but ½-Jack pointed out that Martel has a better than 50% chance of scoring at least 10 when using Divine Favor. This changed the dynamic from “cash out your chosen item” to “share one per adventurer” which makes splitting the remaining loot simpler.

There’s one more session in the current season. A tip of the hat to our current GM for carrying the load! We’ve all enjoyed it, and would definitely play DDN again.

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DDN 2.10: I [♥] Dread: Rotten Wet

We’re below the naos of a ruined, rock-cut temple which lies on a volcanic islet in the middle of a crater lake, in the middle of a hitherto lost island. The tunnels and chambers below the top layer seem more extensive than we guessed, and are flooded to around 5′. We located undead in one direction, but while trying to secure our backs before venturing that way, have fallen foul of a much deeper chamber. Brother Abram Gaunt the cleric of Tempus, who insisted on wearing h is armor, sank to the bottom; and Red the Elf ranger, wearing reinforced hide armor, is rapidly sinking after him while trying to pass our ring of water walking to him. We others – 1/2-Jack the Halfling rogue, Banjo Carrick the Elf mage, and Martel Guerra the paladin of Tyr – are grouped around the doorway, using our makeshift raft for support. And now, Giant Crabs have attacked!

Battle Layout: A swollen door at the end of an arched tunnel has been levered open. It lets into a very large, squarish chamber, which appears to be flooded at the same 5’ level. But as Gaunt moves in, he discovers that he has descended steps and in his surprise, falls into deep water. As he is fully armored he sinks to the bottom. Red, taking the rink of water walking that Martel hands him, plunges after Gaunt but he too sinks! As this occurs, giant crabs attack!

This creates a surprise round, where Gaunt and Red cannot act but all other participants can.


  • Crabs
  • Red
  • Carrick
  • ½-Jack/Martel
  • Gaunt

Surprise round: Crabs swim to attack Gaunt as he hits the silty bottom of the flooded chamber and grapple him with mighty claws [10 dropping to 6 as he has armor] while more crabs grapple Red fiercely [13 including a crit]. Carrick, who is perched on the top step so has his arms and head free of the water, throws a RoF on one of Red’s crabs, but misses. ½-Jack dives agilely off the raft, into dagger-thrust of the nearest crab (one of Red’s attackers) and slams the dagger home! The crab loosens its pincer-hold, stone dead! ½-Jack [cunning action] nips up out of the water and onto the crab’s carapace. Martel, the thinking man’s paladin, realizes that Gaunt and Red can’t see in the murk and he too dives in, calling on Tyr to empower his sword [Sacred Blade] – it glows with a fierce light that penetrates about 10’ around.

Gaunt and Red hold their remaining breath [Gaunt is in worse trouble than Red as he was completely surprised by the drop, whereas Red specifically tried to help him.]

Round 1: Gaunt’s chainmail armor is enough to ward off the crab claws but he is still held. A crab grabs ½-Jack [2 damage] while the last one squeezes Red [8] then as the ranger breaks free [Str:Str test] rips the hide off him [crit]. Red does manage to see Gaunt in the glow of Martel’s blade and passes the ring to him.

Carrick, who is now somewhat exposed to the crabs as he leans over the combat, throws another RoF and this time does manage to chill ½-Jack’s crab a little. The Halfling wriggles free, and leaps to the next crab’s shell, evading the claws as he does so. Martel, swimming as defensively as he can, lays healing hands on Red [5 back] and guides him back up. Gaunt, donning the ring, rises swiftly towards the surface even with crabs latched on like crustaceous anchors! The cleric uses his considerable strength to burst free [advantage from the ring] and his head breaks surface and he gasps for much-needed air!

Round 2: Only one crab is dead and three attack Red and Martel, missing. The other two – one still with ½-Jack riding it – grab Gaunt, inflicting a little more damage [3]. Red swims in retreat up the steps and his head also clears the surface. Carrick RoF’s one of Gaunt’s tormentors and this time the icy ray hurts severely [8]. ½-Jack plunges his dagger deep into the chinks in his cab’s carapace. Martel swims out of harm’s way, doing a defensive side-stroke while trying to protect Red. Gaunt Sacred Flames the Frosted crab but it fails to turn into a barbecue snack!

Round 3: Although two crabs are severely hurt, there are still five kicking and nipping. Gaunt’s crab crushes him further [8-2 AmrMstr = 6 damage] but the other on Red misses. Two crabs swim after the tasty naked paladin but miss; but the general retreat has exposed Carrick whose tender lower regions are snacked on painfully [13 damage incl crit, and grappled]. But his agony is short-lived: Red is now able to use his spear properly and runs it straight through the crab [15 damage] killing it outright. Carrick once again RoF’s Gaunt’s crab but achieves little [min damage]. ½-Jack at last kills his second crab and vaults over to Gaunt’s much-damaged crab. Gaunt fails to deal with it while behind him, Martel finishes withdrawing to a point where he can bob up and down. He drops his defensive stance.

Round 4: Suddenly adventurers outnumber crabs by 5:3. The crabs all continue attacking successfully: Gaunt’s continues to crush him [4] while Martel is grabbed [8] and Carrick once again yodels in pain [a mere 3]. Red repeats his kebab-thrust and once again skewers Carrick’s crab [crit max=19 with spear held 2-handed]. Carrick now gets the message loud and clear and pulls back, hurling a parting RoF at Martel’s crab. ½-Jack slams his dagger through his new platform – Gaunt’s old crush – and it is a death strike [crit 13]! The Halfling dives off, and clambers clumsily onto the last one: and falls off! Martel, unable to wield his sword effectively, misses. Gaunt, finally free of crabs, turns and smites [guided strike] the last crab [6] then [war-priest] again and it is dead!

Real treasure at last!

Much searching later, ½-Jack finds steps up out of the deep chamber to a side-tunnel. Just mid-way up those steps, where a tall adventurer might set foot, a giant clam stands, and inside it, the Halfling’s greedy eyes glimpse a large pearl!

We pry the shell open and ½-Jack whips the pearl out. As big as his fat little fist, it is a black pearl – easily the most valuable thing we have found so far!

Before we retreat we ascertain that the side-tunnel is on the same level as the entrance tunnel. We swim the raft across and tow it along the side-tunnel, finding that it turns right, and to a door. But it’s time to retreat to the great hall and its side-dorms, to get a fire lit, and rest up.

Long rest.

Carrick and Gaunt re-shuffle spells to cope with undead; and Gaunt (and Red) have peeled off their sodden armor: agreeing that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

It’s now time to make that anticipated foray into the stench of undead!

The tunnel where Martel sensed undead is interrupted by a steep flight of steps up then down. We port the raft up; Martel calls Tyr’s Blessing, and Carrick armors himself with Mage Armor. Martel also elects to lead off so takes the ring of water walking. He and Gaunt push forward into the rank, throat-closing stench of the water below the steps, and are immediately attacked!


  • Undead
  • Gaunt
  • Martel
  • Carrick
  • ½-Jack
  • Red

Round 1: Not hindered by their sloppy, rotten-muscled state, undead rise and attack with claw and tooth! Martel is bitten and clawed but shrugs off the poison of the bite [SV DC12 OK]. Gaunt avoids the claws, raises his shield (on which Tempus’ symbol is painted) and thunders “BEGONE!!” Two are dissolved by this rebuke [cleric L4 Turn destroys anything below 20hp]. Martel cleaves his sword down through his attacker [smite, 18] and steps forward some paces, eager for the hunt. Carrick casts dancing lights down the passage: a couple of swirling movements can be seen closing in on Martel. Red pushes the raft (and ½-Jack as passenger) down into the water.

Round 2: Two more ghoulish remnants attack Martel: his shield stops some of their attacks but his hide is scored again [SV OK twice]. Gaunt hurls Sacred Flame but misses. Martel smites again but this time the ghoul is not slain outright. Carrick finishes it off with a Ray of Frost. ½-Jack fires his crossbow at the other ghoul, [sneak attack works, 11 damage] severely injuring the thing. Red seizes his spear and thrusts it past Gaunt, but misses.

Round 3: The ghoul misses completely, and Gaunt finishes it off [war-priest].

Coral and corruption

The door at the end of the tunnel proves too solidly-stuck for our heroes to budge, but after a rest back on the raft they try again and Martel pries it open. Water rushes from the tunnel into the chamber beyond, carrying Red with it! But he surfaces spluttering and coughing and as the water settles to its new level we find that we are now in only 4’ of water. Stinking, foul water with bits of ghoul in it. Don’t worry Red: I heard somewhere that Elves are immune to disease.

The modest-size chamber we have found may once have been a shrine. A small bare stone altar is set opposite. The only other things of note are a bone-handled mace hanging from a peg in one wall, near the altar; and stone benches set near the altar.

Testing [i.e. trying to smash] the mace, Martel decides it is probably magical, so with due caution it is wrapped and stored on the raft. We search the altar, finding nothing at first, until Carrick’s long, stick-like arms reach down near floor level and find a secret compartment.

Inside are many gold coins, and two coral versions of the coral and gold statuette we smashed earlier. They are duly smashed, but only after Martel puts it to a group vote: ½-Jack is reluctant to let go anything of value.

[Martel's player asks the GM for a persuasion test, because 1/2-Jack's player has previous used a Deceit test on Martel. What goes around comes around, and it's important for a GM to be consistent about PVP tactics. Gaunt's player throws in a Help move and they win convincingly.]

We shift all this loot back up top, and take the chance to dry off a little on the furs there. A short rest ensues. [Martel takes 2d10 HD back.]

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel? Or eyes?

It’s now time to search the flooded tunnel beyond the “crab pool” as we term the deep chamber. We maneuver the raft down, with Carrick leading. His dancing lights illuminate the tunnel enough to show that the “door” at the end is an open archway: but as well, rough holes along each wall are revealed, each large enough for a man to squeeze through. Martel calls a halt to think about what that might mean. He’s for pulling back, but we others are for pressing on. So as a compromise he calls for the furs to be lugged down from upstairs, so as to block any traps or critters. But Carrick, who is right next to the holes, investigates by sending a Light spell up one: and giant rats sploosh out of the tunnels and to the attack!


  • Carrick
  • Martel
  • Gaunt
  • ½-Jack
  • Red
  • Rats

Round 1: Carrick uses Thunderwave on a tunnel but only one rat dies: they are large and tough! Martel misses his thrust with sword, but Gaunt does not: he kills a second. ½-Jack paddles back to the raft and readies the crossbow. Red delays ready with spear, then as rats surge out near Carrick, he kebabs one, to accompanying rat-on-a-stick jokes from the four who ventured through the Underdark. Three down! Then the rats surge around us and Gaunt is bitten badly [crit, 8] and even Carrick’s magical shields are penetrated.

Round 2: Carrick, maddened by losing on the 1:200 chance the rats had of getting him, sprays arcane bolts around [MML2] killing three. Martel manages to kill the rat he is left facing. Gaunt forces his way through the water next to Carrick and kills the remaining rat on that flank, while ½-Jack shoots the last one dead.

The rat tunnels, being so large, are easily checked by ½-Jack. They pong, but not as badly as the ghoul area. They unite in a rough and odiferous chamber where the Halfling’s search turns up three potion bottles and a part-gnawed scroll.

The light at the end of the tunnel is you, burning to death

We move on, to the archway. The flooded chamber beyond is again of reasonable size, and a door is set opposite. Red probes forward with the spear, and finds a trap by the simple expedient of setting it off.

As fine-misted flammable oil sprays the room, we duck below the water, or try to!

[DX SV: DC10 for ½ and DC15 for nil: ½-Jack OK, Martel OK, Red ½, Carrick ½, Gaunt full]

Trapped below water, the flames licking above, at first we are in danger of becoming disoriented and being trapped there! But the paladin’s sword glows, and we are guided back out to safety.

Martel lays hands on Gaunt to cure the worst of his burns [5 back]. Once the flames have died, we push the raft – its flammable load all consumed or ruined – across to the door.

This place leaks like a sieve

It is stubborn, but Martel levers it open with the pry bar. We are all swept through it and jammed up against a portcullis! The water is rushing down, through the portcullis and down a flight of steps! And there’s a lot of water: everything from the steps blocking the ghoul area, back around to where we are, appears to be intent on draining to normal floor level.

It remains to be seen if the steps leading down will be too flooded for us to explore. Assuming we get off the portcullis and get it open!

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