DGA3.06: Shadows on the long road, part one – the manor in the marsh

The characters for this session, their backgrounds, and level 4 choices

Vir Onden, ranger soldier, choosing Dual Wielder. He has overcome his terror of deadly foes and now has a terror of being abandoned by comrades who cannot deal with that same terror.

Phoenix Pilandaros, barbarian folk hero, choosing Mobile. Carousing is a strength, but he still fights against the demon drink.

Seck Rustrau, rogue soldier, choosing Mobile. He has overcome his prejudice against those who were never in battle, but has developed a morbid veneration of authority.

Cat Weasel, warlock charlatan, choosing Spell Sniper. He has overcome his foolish greed but has developed a heedless optimism.

Players advised other players on feats in a good spirit. It’s fair to say everyone at least considered how the party characters may act together in battle.

The manor at the marsh edge

Downtime in Longsaddle is brief, just enough for resupplying and writing a report back to the Guild. This report is made on the categorical advice of Pais, who writes (in scholarly and beautiful hand) from Stiglehold. There is no need to foot it the extra half-day to buy hardware in Starmetal Market so, as instructed by Aidryan of Minquest, they leave Longsaddle headed west on the Long Road.

The weather turns bad: fog sets in, and the road decays to the point that the pace of their march is physically slowed down. Is that a tang of salt on the clammy air? Why does it remind Phoenix of mangroves?

Then as Cat murmurs uneasily that it may not have been such a good idea to push on, a welcoming light is seen from afar!

They hear someone or something in the fog: a ghoul attacks! It is slain, though not before its claws deliver Vir a nasty gouge.

As they make towards the light, an old wall looms. Then a gate, above which a large oil lantern burns. The gate seems unlocked. Vir peers through, spotting an abandoned gate lodge just to its right.

But a gate like that is obviously a trap! Setting aside Seck’s offer to clamber up and lower a rope, they scout further along then right, following the wall off into increasingly marshy ground.

Another ghoul attack and another wound: they return to a point outside the gate lodge. It’s time for plan Seck: the clambering.

This is perfectly understandable paranoia. I roll for wandering ghouls and the players rolls for very basic not-getting-cut-by-shards as they are assisted over.

At length, and at the cost of many broken roof tiles, they jump down from the lodge roof and turn right, walking along a decayed path through a long-neglected estate. Visibility is around 10′, which is better than out on the marsh.

Party order: Phoenix left and Cat right, then Vir left and Seck right, all about 10′ from one another.

There are undead on the grounds!

A foul odor wraps itself around Phoenix and up heave his guts. Cat manages the stench and calls a warning back, as a ghast and its two ghoul minions attack!(1)(2)

Inits: Cat, Vir, Ghast and ghouls, Seck, Phoenix

Round 1: Cat can see the ghast rushing at Phoenix and slams Repelling Blast, knocking it back and into a ghoul (which he cannot see through the mist). Hearing Cat’s warning Vir moves up on Phoenix’ left flank, bonus actions Hunter’s Mark, and strikes with warhammer and short sword. His [Colossus Slayer] power to unload damages increases, as he finds his foe weakened already. A bone breaks: it is rocked by the damage, and hisses evilly at Vir. He also succeeds in keeping his meal down despite the stench! He avoids claws, but the ghast leaps at him, driving him back. He keeps his feet. On the right flank a second ghoul appears out of the mist: its claw gashes Cat but he shrugs off the poison. Seck (hooded) drifts forward and his magic short sword sinks deep in that same ghoul. Phoenix calls on the power of Mocair the Gallant: a pair of yellow, slit-pupil eyes seem to appear like reflections on the blade: Phoenix shifts over to Cat and Seck and cleaves the ghoul asunder! Then shifts back to slice a deep cut in the ghast.

Round 2: Cat can see Vir and Phoenix, steps that way and again slams the ghast with Repelling Blast, away and out of sight. Cat shifts away behind the lead two. Vir focuses on the ghoul, striking twice. A rib gives way, the ghoul screams and slashes him again! The ghast lopes out of the mist and claws Phoenix. Both resist the poison. Seck can more or less make out where the fighting is, works his way round, and stabs the ghoul. It is looking wobbly. Seck disengages! Phoenix has two weakened opponents, rages, and the ghast reels with a scream of agony as Mocair’s radiant damage bites deep. Phoenix slides slightly, to menace both opponents, should they try to retreat.

Round 3: Cat drops back to line up both undead, but the mist fools his eyes and there is a great gout of gravel where the ghoul ought to have been. Vir steps forward to focus on the ghast, but misses, wasting an Inspiration as well. The two scream and gibber and both attack Vir, the ghast’s claw plowing a furrow in Vir’s armor and the ghoul’s claw sinking deep. They gibber in anticipation of a meal and lick slavering lips. Seck shifts round left and stabs the ghoul, which reels around – but stays standing. “Wanker” comments Seck intelligently, shifting again so Cat’s line of sight is clear. Phoenix finishes the ghoul – its head bowling away into the mist – and swings back against the ghast, delivering another deep cut.

Round 4: Closing up to be sure of his target, Cat again misses, and shifts back to stay well out of claw range. Far away the Repelling Blast rattles something that does not sound like marsh. Vir shifts back by Cat, reaching out a potion. The ghast finds itself alone with Phoenix and its disgusting long tongue slavers out in anticipation: but Mocair’s blades bat its attack aside. Then Seck finishes the ghast with a muttered “sorry for stealing your thunder” to Phoenix: and the four stand victorious.

“Take its head off” Cat advises and Mocair makes short work of that.

“I need to rest,” Phoenix says, “But that lodge thing ain’t gonna work.”

“So all that’s left is the center of the web,” Cat pronounces ominously, his usual jesting manner set to one side for the time being.

First impressions

Following what passes for a path they reach a flagged area, still moss-grown, and through the mist a manor house looms. Not enormous – good solid stonework, giving the impression of a second story. The grey brickwork is similar to the outer wall, and shutters sag here and there. Perhaps a Repelling Blast struck them? But they can smell the robust smell of woodsmoke tinged by charcoal, and ahead, the scrape of a bar lifting then light, and one of the big double doors opens inwards. A very short figure beckons:

“Come! Come!”

[Vir makes a good WIS: Perception check and sees no danger behind or around them; that the gnome or halfling is dressed in an old-fashioned style; and is holding something up, out of sight behind the door]

“Come! I can’t hold this great bar forever!”

Crossing the holystoned doorstep, the four comrades get their first impression of a great hall, high-vaulted, well-appointed, lit by candelabra. The gnome is pulling down on a rope attached to a counterweight on the door bar. Cat, who enters first, assists him and the doors are barred.

“Welcome to Saltmarsh manor! Grundy’s my name, steward to lord Gideon Saltmarsh.”

Vir wants to know: “You know there’s a bit of a ghoul problem out there?” Grundy chuckles pleasantly. “They do get a bit bold sometimes.” “How often do they get over the wall?” Cat counters. “More often than I’d like – I keep this door well bolted at night, you may be sure. And the day, to be honest.”

Grundy, a gnome and unashamed of it – “my lord has no truck with this fiddle-faddle of suspicion and disguise” – tells them they are in time for a fine dinner. The best place to get comfortable is the dining room, adjoining.

Vir chats to Grundy [Persuasion] to hold his attention while Cat and Phoenix look about curiously [Perception]. A full suit of armour stands to either side of the doors, each with a businesslike halberd propped in its gauntlets, ready for a servant to take up in home defense. The great hall walls are plastered and not tapestry-hung. Large-framed pictures hang in a few places. Judging from entering from the south, the only two visible doors are north-east and east.

Suspicious minds wonder if Grundy is the only servant. “Hardly,” the gnome steward chuckles amiably, “a hall such as this thrives on good servants.”

“How do you get supplies in and out with all the zombies or whatnot?” Phoenix asks. “They’re not here night and day, my good fellow,” laughs Grundy. “Stout parties go out for supplies; I myself ride out to Starmetal Market when I need to.” Cat unrolls his parchment and edits a note on it.

Suspicious minds wonder what a lord has to do in such an isolated spot. Grundy assures them lord Gideon enjoys the retired life, spending much time in his library and never too far from his dinner table.

[WIS: Insight checks are universally low during these exchanges]

Dinner with lord Gideon

In the dining room, a goodly fire welcomes, and as they clean up by it, Grundy fondly recalls his lord, as a youth, having his muddy riding boots pulled off, by the fire. A couple of servants are putting the last touches to the repast. Packs and weapons are stacked and the four salivate at the sight of a fine table set with meats and delicacies. One of the servants rings a gong, and a door not far from the fireplace, in the wall opposite the great hall, opens.

Lord Gideon Saltmarsh, tall, spindly, old, dressed in a long housecoat, welcomes them with a toast to his late wife and seats at head of table. Her picture hangs on the west wall, not far from the fireplace and in easy view of the table-head. Grundy bows respectfully at it. The other servant currently in the room pays no attention. The woman in the painting is young. Cat attempts to judge, from her attire, how long ago the picture was painted. But the weft and weave of changing fashions are not his strength, and he has to settle for “long ago.”

While lord Gideon converses as any polite host must, they are served by a couple of table-servants. Later, Cat has the impression of at least one human, and a halfling. The lord’s attention to their exploits seems nominal. He pays more attention when asked about his own doings.

[Phoenix gets to 19 on a WIS: Insight, and with a nat 20 Cat gets to 24 on an INT: Arcana]

Phoenix carries a lot of the conversation, drawing out from Gideon that his wife died in childbirth and the babe, that would have been their firstborn, died as well. Since then he has simply lived on here. He agrees that he enjoys his library – and that Cat may inspect it, on the morrow. Cat recollects that gnomes live a long time and that might put “young Gideon” several decades ago, and also that some spellcasters can prolong their own lives. In Cat’s mind, it puts Gideon’s youth in the same era as Jahia’s floreat – before the One True Faith wrapped the south firmly in its protective embrace.

Magnus’ wrasslin’ gimmick is silence

“You seem a fine strapping young man,” Gideon pipes to Phoenix, who has been explaining his Coaster background, “and I have a manservant who is something of a wrestler. Is it the custom of your coastal folk, to wrestle? How about risking a fall or two?” He nods to the expensive rug by the fire.

As a folk hero, Phoenix is willing to try, gaining an Inspiration. As he readies himself down to loincloth, a tall, hideously scarred man comes in through the servant door. Phoenix begins planning when to rage. “Fear not, these are not wrestling scars… a childhood accident,” Gideon reassures him.

Another INT: Arcana check from Cat, this time with advantage because he already has a sneaking feeling… I write “some type of construct?” and pass the note over.

We use grappling rules from the PHB, slightly tweaked to imitate moves and counter-moves. Some moves require a specific check to counter, for example.

Finally [with a CHA check of 3] Phoenix sells going one way, and [with a CHA check of 0] (exactly like a scripted move) Magnus buys it. Phoenix [DEX: Acrobatics] whips round behind Magnus: they lock up evenly matched: then [nat 20 from Phoenix] Magnus is taken down!

“Excellent! Excellent! Wonderful to see the sport of my youth! That will be all, thank you Magnus. You may go.” Still silent, the hulk gathers up his clothes and leaves. Gideon asks the servant to ring for Grundy, gestures a last courtly goodnight, and leaves through the same door he came in.

Aware of the servant, Cat quietly murmurs his thoughts to the others. Seck reluctantly (but importantly for his struggle with his flaw) concludes that just trusting the lord here may not be the right thing to do. Vir and Phoenix are both looking forward to a good sleep and volunteer not to stand watch if that’s the plan.

Bunking up for the night

Grundy is within, by this time, and assures the party that rooms have been airing, two in particular, two beds per room. They accept with thanks. Cat takes the chance to ask how long he has served Gideon, and also to repeat almost exactly the same questions Vir asked earlier. As he lights them out a north door, through a combined stair-storage room and upstairs, Grundy courteously overlooks the interrogation and merely observes that he has served about a human lifetime and that Cat is lucky to be given the chance to inspect such a fine library.

Turning right onto a long landing then left along a passage with three doors on its left and shutters on its right, Grundy shows off the first room. As promised, it is cosy with a good fire, has two beds, and a wash-table where a basin, cloths, and pitcher of hot water is ready. He mentions the commode under each bed and bids them good-night. As they choose adjoining rooms, Cat observes that these are fully interior – no window.

One of the big issues with this adventure is the lack of interiors drawn in each room, and I do a ham-fisted job on an adhoc room layout. I realize that my game prep should have included full plans of these rooms. However, I manage to convey the basics.

Seck (sharing with Vir) inspects his chosen quarters closely. The floor is polished wood plank, the walls are wood panelling. No detectable spy-holes. The door opens inwards and will be simple to jam shut. The beds are fairly solid; and there is no remarkably heavy iron chandelier poised above either bed. The chimney is solid, the fireplace has a stone back – though obviously back-to-back with the adjoining bedroom. In terms of solidity, these upstairs walls are relatively thin: a glass cupped behind any wall would probably allow a servant to overhear.

Seck feels paranoid, almost as though some ghost were clutching at his shoulder in warning. He makes up a man-shape in the bed using pack and bedroll, and lies under the bed. It is uncomfortable, but he has chosen to lie on watch anyway. Vir’s breathing soon changes to that of the sleeping.

Long Rest

Intruders!

Hours pass. Seck is ready to shake Vir awake for his watch, when he hears, or feels, footsteps along a passage. By this time, the fire’s embers provide the merest glow. Peering out into the dark, Seck sees a dark panel open in the wall above Vir – he has an impression of more figures dim-lit beyond – and a bulky man-size shape leaps atop the sleeping ranger!

“Wake up!”

In he and Phoenix’ room Cat has his attention fixed on the door. The same trick with the panelling is played behind him, and it is not until Seck yells that he leaps into action!

Inits: Phoenix, Seck, thugs, Cat, Vir

Seck rolls out, rises, and is close enough to the intruder to stab him! The man lets out a bellow of pain as the sword sinks deep. Vir rolls out from under his attacker and adjacent to Seck.

In the other chamber, in his dreams, Phoenix is still grappling Magnus: the big scarred wrestler has him pinned! Phoenix attempts to break it – waking himself up – but cannot get clear. Cat uses Prestidigitation to quench the last embers and scans the room: but a dim glow from behind the open panel spoils his eldritch sight. He gets clear of the bed and ready for action.

A second thug leaps into in each room, heavy iron-bound club in hand, and the session ends.

GM Notes

  1. The original features a hell hound, but fails to explain how it normally feeds or where it normally stays. As though players need to be made more paranoid than “light seen in thick fog” makes them! So I changed this to something that fits the ghoul-haunted marsh and can be explained as a smart ghast organizing undead to clamber over the wall.
  2. I can’t be bothered with the minutiae of which poison does what and mostly just use exhaustion levels. Phoenix missed by 1 so takes one exhaustion level. Failing badly would mean two levels.

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