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 Tortage. Galacus groaned, having feared all along that this would be the case. The four adventurers further agreed to sail to Tortage 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.
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.
Vorel, Bossonian ftr10/rgr5/rog2, BAB16, Init+7, 76hp, F12 R10 W9. Significant feats include shot on run and rapid shot, and quick draw.
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.
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 Tortage.
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 Tortage 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!