Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Corruption Aboard the Black Mariah ~ 10.12.14

James (“Captain Bloodbeard”): Warrior/4
*Bjorn Berber: Dwarf/4
Wilber Wifflelinks: Halfling/3
Krum: Dwarf/1
Amariah: Wizard/1
*Toad: Thief/3
Maladian the Red: Wizard/2
*Growlen: Thief/3
Remus: Cleric/2
Rielle: Halfling/1
Thistle: Elven Forester/0
Terezi: Thief/3

*We begin this episode with some background action…

While Toad was off having all the fun, Maladian the Red set himself to learning the magic shield spell from a scroll that’d been yoinked from the Emerald Enchanter’s citadel.

Bjorn continues drinking the pub - newly named the Devil's Head Tavern, with a logo that's probably drawing flies by now - dry, in an attempt to create demand for Dead Goblin Ale. So he's spending money with the intent of earning it back later. Krum keeps him company...pretty sure the dwarves have to help each other up onto the barstools. Remus keeps an eye on Bjorn, deeply concerned for his friend’s mental state (having lost half his Intelligence while fleeing from eyeballs in the walls).

Toad is intent on looking into the local slave traders, as he escaped the chains before becoming acquainted with his owners. In his covert diggings, he uncovers a reference to House Tormanu, but he’s not sure if they’re the buyers or sellers in the city of Great Bell.

Amariah, finding herself a fledgling wizard with a dim future, has been spending a bit of time dancing in some seedier establishments in order to gain a few extra coins.

Terezi, formerly a ropemaker for the gallows, is all about finding people with bounties on their heads, as they must be brought to justice. She is a bit surprised, therefore, to find a wanted poster tacked up in the thieves’ guild with woodcuts of very young images of some of her companions. A collage of six individuals (Bjorn, James, Garrett, Nalo, Morgren, and Wilber) is squeezed onto one page, and the caption declares the group “Wanted for acts of Piracy.” Instead of a “report to” or “see so-and-so for reward” byline, there is only an image of an eye, and the words “Squalor Court” stamped below.

She brings this page directly to their home base, Paragon, docked in the northern piers of Great Bell. Terezi demands answers of James and the accused halflings, who of course plead innocent (this is especially hilarious given James’s moniker and uniform of red captain’s coat, taken as spoils after killing Savage Quenn eons ago). They see no way of following the lead except to ask for directions to “the Court of Squalor” from a nearby deckhand. Soon they are wading through the tents of a crowded market, finally finding one stitched with weird sigils. The beaded curtain gives them pause, as they push through the tiny skulls of birds and vermin to enter. The crone inside has a third eye tattooed on her forehead and they’re sure they’ve found the right place. She bids them sit and shuffles a stack of cards, placing them in front of Rielle, the halfling gypsy, to reveal each.

First draw: The Moon. “The Matron’s cycle is one of give and take, exhaustion and renewal. She will remember the stillborn with the next waxen turn.”

Second card: The Fool. “Foolish is he who tries to undo the past. Better he is to return to his beginnings, and there rid himself of corruption.”

Next flip: The Beggar. “The home of the Lonely Mermaid has fallen, just as House Tormanu. The greedy one wishes to make the Tower rise once more.”

Last one: Death. “Death laughs at the ploys of forgotten women. Feathers, scales; skyward of skin-bound asea; all gamble the lives of their followers.”

Snarky comments follow each draw from the onlookers, but the old woman ignores them. Each person then selects a card they identify with, in return for a various boon of sorts to assist them in them in their perilous endeavors…although they’re not certain where to turn. The crone suggests they go play chess before deciding, so they immediately head to the Devil’s Head, hoping to join a game while filling in the dwarves on the madness thus far. There are no active chess boards, but as the group is regurgitating all of this to Bjorn and Krum, a deep voice chimes in from an old, dark-skinned man, who informs them that they have made a terrible enemy of Brady. Bjorn has the niggling sensation that he’s seen this man before, and James finally places him as Rook, the old seaman who helped them out back at the Lonely Mermaid, the first tavern they hit after taking over the Dead Goblin Brewery. Maladian puts the name to the clue from the fortune-teller, and the party presses Rook for further information. Brady, the merchant who sent them out to the cursed tower for the Black Pearl (“and then screwed us over,” Bjorn adds), has been after them ever since they so rudely refused to sell Paragon to him. Brady sent other sailors south on the Empyrean Ocean to catch up with them when they left the little shanty town. The Black Mariah (Quenn’s old ship) is currently in town – in the quiet/seedy south docks, away from the commercial traffic.

They head to the south docks immediately (I don’t think they blinked before making that decision), and sure enough, a black caravel with a particularly attractive figurehead is docked alone. Save for the sound of waves lapping at the hull and the occasional shifting of the dock planks, it’s eerily quiet. Wilber wants to burn the ship. James is steadfastly against this. As a result, they are the first two on board, and James leaps up to the quarterdeck, where he is set upon by men in sailing garb with blue skin who seem to…flicker, as if having trouble remaining in existence. While he has no problem connecting with them in combat, they are not easily felled. Wilber encounters the same men on the main deck, including one with a tricorn who is dubbed the “Captain” of this semi-corporeal crew. Wilber, pipe in mouth, stands on the hatch and opens a vial of oil, then blows the lit ash down belowdecks, spending 5 pts of Luck for the action. (He is unable to see below and does not know what happens to it afterward.) Down on the dock, Terezi pines for a way to break into the rear cabins without having to wade through combat, so Amariah lends her a grappling hook and Terezi secures a rope inside the porthole so the two can begin scaling the rope. One of the blue sailors up on the quarterdeck wallops Wilber for his troubles – with a black stream of pain! Rielle and Thistle aren’t sure they can hold their own, and remain on the dock, firing arrows at the swarm of foes trying to overtake Wilber. Maladian sees the magic coming from the quarterdeck and retaliates in kind with his own magic missile. Remus remains on the dock as well, but casts paralysis and successfully pins 3 of the sailors on the main deck, making them easy targets for Krum, who runs up to assist Wilber in providing targets for the captain (the dwarf can’t land a hit to save his life, even against the paralyzed foes). James kills the first of the blue men, and the corpse flickers a couple of times…and fades from this plane. Wilber scores a critical hit on the enemy captain, but is nailed with the same in retaliation, killing the halfling. Terezi makes it into a disappointingly empty cabin, but Amariah falls off the rope into the harbor! Maladian uses force manipulation to create a disc to carry Wilber off the ship and back to the dock, where Rielle nudges Wilber. The crazy halfling makes the Luck check by 1 and comes to, murmuring, “I gotta go, honey, I’ll see you soon,” presumably addressing “his wife”. Many arrows are fired, only to land in the harbor on the other side of the caravel. The blue wizard on the quarterdeck is alerted to another magic-user’s presence by the floating disc, and directs a pair of black missiles to hit Maladian. James kills another couple on the quarterdeck, as a benefit of Mythender’s cleaving ability. Wilber clutches the home-spun doll gifted to him by the Carnifex (aka “his wife”) and pledges his eternal love to her…and feels a little better. Amariah crawls out of the water. Remus heals Wilber before the crazy little guy can run back up the gangplank. Maladian follows up, casting burning hands upon the paralyzed sailors. Krum finally hits, killing the blue captain. Amariah makes it up the rope finally, in the cabin. Terezi leads the way out onto the deck, garrote at the ready, and attempts to strangle one of the paralyzed sailors but she’s weak and he’s still way too healthy! Amariah casts ropework again, this time with the intention of entangling the remaining enemies; instead, the spell misfires, and two ropes appear and immediately begin attacking the nearest targets. James (the red captain) rolls yet another critical hit, this time dealing out 32 pts of damage to the last remaining flickering blue sailor (the caster). He jumps down to join the group in cutting 6 ropes into short wicks, for Amariah has failed to cast ropework yet again, with the same misfire result! Amariah herself is killed by the flailing ropes (later rolled over by Remus). As things are tapering down, the hatch at their feet flies open, and before them stands a short woman in damp, tattered robes, covered head to toe in a mass of crabs that scuttle down her body and beeline toward Wilber. Wilber yells out that he smells oil, and Maladian points his burning hands toward her, lighting her up, while Wilber and Krum stamp out the crab infestation. Rielle is instrumental in finishing the ropey threat, with the mighty scissors she inherited from the duke’s barber.

Wilber, determined to sink this ship, wastes no time in flinging himself below deck. With just the light from the hatch above, he bypasses the cabins and goes straight for the hatch down to the hold. Terezi, meanwhile, has searched the captain’s cabin as well as the wardroom, and is surprised at how spartan everything has been. Following Wilber, she makes for one of the officer’s cabins below, and finds a letter inside a drawer with only a few words not blotted out by the wetness of the environment: “Meet me at the Lonely Mermaid,” it reads. Remus and James join in the cabin search on the lower deck, hoping to find a crewman they can question. Instead, Remus is puzzled by an intricate carving done in half of a human tooth, and James is worried to have come across a weapon that looks a little too familiar – so much so that he makes sure his gloves are secure and finds a heavy cloth in which to wrap the chaotic scimitar. Maladian chooses a door and finds a ledger with vague notes such as, “Empyrean North: Cargo acquired,” and a debt shown to House Tormanu.

Wilber finally gets the lowest hatch open, and lowers himself and a lantern very carefully – and, miraculously, does not drop the lantern when greeted with the faces of six lampreymen. He hangs there for a few moments, trying to gauge whether or not he’s going to be their lunch, noting that the walls and bottom of the hold have been smeared with a thick, dark substance. The creatures themselves – later dubbed “prison-fish” – do not leap toward the hatch to attack. Their gaping maws working ineffectually in the lantern’s wavering light, they mill in small circles, and Wilber finally realizes they are chained to the mainmast in pairs. He calls to Amariah, who casts comprehend languages like she’s been doing it all her life, and she is able to deduce that the captives have been taken from their home unwillingly. Wilber sets to freeing them, with the help of Thistle’s 10-ft pole (!) and his own cast iron frying pan.

Meanwhile, Krum mills about the tight space, gawking at the prison-fish, and an elf in sodden leather approaches him from the dark corner not yet explored. The elf’s exposed skin is covered in coral, and the sharp edges scrape Krum’s face, inflicting 3 pts of Strength damage as he is poisoned. James rushes over and kills it in one blow, but the damage is done. Krum runs into one of the empty cabins and attempts to purge the poison from his body. Thistle, the ever-helpful elven forester, offers him a pinecone, and many bets are taken as to whether he’d benefit more from eating it than using it in the privy.

Maladian, curious about the one door on the lower deck not opened, is greeted by the cooks’n, who’s been waiting for him. Maladian is knocked to half health and thrown back several feet. Remus was approaching to share notes on their finds, and lands a glancing blow on the rude person who just hit his party member. Unfortunately, he comes into range just in time to be attacked by a huge moray eel that bursts out of the cook’s chest -- and into his. Maladian casts magic shield on himself, to prevent the need for more work for Remus. The cook’s subsequent attacks miss, although the eel keeps doing damage to Remus. Amariah tries to redeem herself and casts ropework again while everyone cringes – but it works this time! Sadly, the cook makes his Reflex save with a Nat 20. Maladian casts animal summoning, gaining a pair of dire wolves that gradually come into being, skeleton first, then muscle and skin and fur. (Legitimate question raised by all: Do wolves get seasick?) James leaps in, ever the hero, and with one mighty swing, he nails the cook to the ceiling of the galley. Rielle gingerly attacks the moray, not wanting to do in the poor cleric, and with group efforts the thing is finally killed and detached.

By this point, Wilber is ushering the lampreymen up out of the hold, but the creatures continue to mill about, mouths opening and closing uselessly, still looking dejected and defeated. Amariah, on a roll, casts comprehend languages again, this time succeeding well enough to get full words instead of just a general understanding. “They took our young.” James, retrieving Mythender from the galley, looks over to the corner, spotting a large tub, about three feet deep, filled with water and...countless eggs. When revealed, the change that comes over the prison-fish is easily evident to all: They scuff the remaining black goo off their feet, willingly climb the ladder without assistance, and they work amongst themselves to maneuver the tub up to the main deck. Amariah finds out they have been gone for more than one cycle of the moon, and their home is north, not far from the strange tower in the water but apparently not far enough away from land. “Your kind often takes our young, sometimes to eat.” When she asks if they want to go home, the party is weirded out by the expression of hope and uneasy trust that enters the eyes of the monsters. Once off the ship, the creatures take turns submerging and refresh the water in the tub of eggs.

Before the last party member disembarks, plans are made to get Paragon to the south dock straightaway, where the prison-fish can be loaded safely, and the Black Mariah shall be presented to Duke Magnussen as a gift from Oak, the fresh-faced warrior who’s been working on his wooing skills, for he desperately wants the duke’s daughter.

Reference Credits:
Tower of the Black Pearl – Harley Stroh / Goodman Games
Blades Against Death – Harley Stroh / Goodman Games
The Sea Queen Escapes! – Michael Curtis / Goodman Games
Stormwrack: Mastering the Perils of Wind and Wave – Baker, Carriker, Clarke-Wilkes / Wizards of the Coast

Post-adventure math:
Amariah: +15 XP, +3 Luck
Rielle: +15 XP, +1 hp
Thistle: +15 XP
Krum: +15 XP, +7 hp
Remus: +14 XP, +7 hp
Growlen: +1 XP, +2 hp
Wilber: +15 XP
James: +15 XP, +3 Luck
Terezi: +15 XP
Red: +15 XP, +4 hp

Party Treasure:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sandboxing is harrowing...and rewarding!

In the spirit of full disclosure, since I alluded to it in the last episode:

I did it! I stepped outside of my comfort zone and happy self-contained module boundaries and friggin' sandboxed a game. First. Time. Ever.

I've been enjoying creating little tidbits here and there to tie things together. I mean, let's face it; for campaign play, even when strictly running modules, you still have to connect them somehow. Whether it's taking the party straight from Sailors to an ocean-faring adventure, or stringing together a bunch of land-locked escapades, the storyline needs to contain a cohesive part or three that give the players a sense of continuity -- and a desire to build upon it.

But it almost becomes a new game – with new rules for the Judge – when you take away the tried-and-tested module and replace the meat of the session with something that comes from your own brain. Even drawing inspiration from other sources, you’re not using a script or plot that’s been penned by noteworthy authors and fully playtested. There is no telling where the story will go, because you’re also giving the players a chance to fully participate in the “cooperative storytelling” I so love to tout at my table.

I’m not saying any of these things are bad. I’m just illustrating that, as far as my self-confidence went? All bets were off.

It’s no secret that the weeks leading up to this was full of nail-biting and nerves. (C’mon, you can’t tell me none of you got nervous the first time you started your own game, whether you were 12 or 40!) +DougKovacs kindly nudged me toward using an idea I’d come across that really strikes a chord with me: “You can draw from anything, but it should mainly be of interest to you.” Well, of course. I need it to be something I’m passionate about, rather than a blasé, “Sure, you can explore that. Why not?” I’d much rather smile and respond, “I’d love it if you’d check that out.” Not only will it ring true, it’ll unnerve the table – and if you’re not trying to elicit a response from players, why bother Judging? While I won’t reveal the root of my inspiration here or on Spellburn (I don’t want to spoil anything for my current or potential players), I’ve already touched on in the past. Why not make it the official underlying plotline?

I started by making a list of the recurring characters and recalling the histories and goals that they’ve been playing up, then the events they’ve already set into motion and current party issues (e.g., a petrified pseudodragon familiar). I then sat down to come up with some intertwined quests that will solve some of the PC’s current and projected problems, fleshed out some NPCs who will be recurring, cobbled together a combination of critters for encounters, and devised a couple potential adventure directions. The prep time for this game session was comparable with the last, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still working on the path(s) they’ll take. But the Muse is thriving on it.

A wise bit of Kovacs advice: “When your imagination embraces a concept your players will follow and eat up anything you present to them.” Boy, did they – especially the ones who’ve been with me since the early days. The morsels of campaign history that were disseminated (“You find [this item], and it looks oddly familiar”) were pounced upon (“I make sure my gloves are on and wrap up [the item]”). The only constructive criticism I would give my table is this: When given the chance to choose a direction, you gotta tell me which way you want to go. They’ve gotten very used to me having a set game plan, and the offer of something that didn’t involve a railroaded plot stymied them at first.

For the encounters, I pulled a monster out of the core book that I’ve wanted to use for over a year. Based on the sheer number of PCs, I doubled the recommended HD – and then a handful of the PCs declared they were going to try to circumvent the combat altogether, which earned the players dirty looks from the ones involved in the fighting. {Phew, dodged that one.} The combat took over an hour, but the players were still enthusiastic and involved. There were a couple of other one-on-one encounters that others could jump in on, and I’d been on the fence about the third big group of monsters. At the very last minute, I turned them into captives that needed rescued, and it was amazing to watch the expressions around the table – I surprised everyone with that decision, including myself, and it made for some great role-play and solidified the group’s mission for the next game. Interestingly, their new focus takes them completely away from one of the adventures I’d prepped. So be it.

However, there are still a number of choices they could make during the course of the next session, so I will be prepping at least two directions/paths, as I loathe the idea of being caught flat-footed. I’ll improv as multiple NPCs for as long as it takes, but I’m simply not comfortable with the idea of coming up with encounters & stats on the fly. I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with scrawling “maps” either, but the group has been very patient and forgiving.

The Acolyte is taking baby-steps…be gentle.

{…2014 Worlds Tour/Road Crew session #14 report to follow.}

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Debut of a Boon

The Carnifex was released a while back. After the party fought on her behalf, she handed out a couple of small favors. Wilber received a small doll. Using Prayers of the Forgotten as inspiration, I made it an official relic. The boon was used for the first time in today's adventure, and the "heartfelt declaration of devotion" was nothing less than I'd expected to come from the insane halfling who thinks he's married to her now.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Back in session!

The opening of another FLGS in our area has spurred me into action. I've been all kinds of productive for my Road Crew game, which reconvened last Sunday:

  • tallied treasure & XP totals for the regular/returning PCs
  • assembled the campaign's modules & notes into one cohesive binder for reference at the table
  • created magic swords to reflect daggers that were commissioned for production...and a couple others to have on deck
  • crafted info cards/sheets for complex magic items in play
  • statted an artifact the Carnifex gave out at the end of the last game (see here for Muse info)
  • statted a dragon
  • started notes for the next game**

If you haven't already done so, I highly recommend you create a magic sword using the advanced magic rules in the Judge's section of The Tome. I found it to be both eductional and inspiring. (For more advanced magic tidbits, check out Episode #30 of Spellburn! ...Don't tell me you didn't see that coming.)

And no, I'm not burying the lead here. They haven't come across a dragon (yet), but the assembly is a bit time-consuming and it's not something I can just pull together while they wait. That, too, was educational...and a bit scary.

**Possibly the most frightening part of all: I'm considering stepping outside of a module for our next session. That's right:


...It's terrifyingly exciting.

The 13th Skull ~ 09.28.14

Finally getting the band back together after a three-month hiatus... My 13th game on the 2014 Worlds Tour Road Crew, and I couldn’t tell you how many 13’s were rolled/scored today.

Woodrow: Barber/0
Rielle: Halfling Gypsy/0
Oak the Woodcutter: Warrior/1
Toad: Thief/3
Eridan: Wizard/3
Bop Dogwood: Cleric/1
James (“Captain Bloodbeard”): Warrior/4
Krum: Dwarf/1
Bjorn Berber: Dwarf/4

The group has been able to reconvene after being “accidentally” split into two different directions thanks to the drunken Magmar the Lucky. Magmar and Remus (cleric, previously seen in Jewels of the Carnifex) have both had time to heal from the resulting confrontation about being given the wrong map – possibly twice.

No large sums of loot were brought back from either expedition, but there is a bit of buying & selling to be had, and Eridan and Toad are able to pick up the daggers they’d commissioned from the local apothecary and his brother (made of Odontotyrannus teeth and an obscene amount of emerald shards). Terezi (thief) promptly takes the Avenger of Candara from Eridan - the alignment was all wrong for the chaotic wizard. Toad was pleased with the Seer of Coryx, as its driving goal of freeing prisoners hit close to home (himself being a former slave). Wilber (insane halfling) was happy to loan Bop a bit of gold to armor the first new cleric of the Carnifex. (Tied to Her as Wilber believes he is, She would be upset if something happened Her shiny new cleric and he’d not done anything to help prevent it).

True to stereotypes, the dwarves are holding down the bar at the usual pub (creating supply and demand, and all that) while everyone took care of their errands. The noises from the street outside swell, gaining their attention for just a moment before Bjorn and Krum go back to drinking. Those outside see the makeshift scaffolding that’s been erected in the square, and Duke Magnussen watching from his balcony. The peasant awaiting execution has had a burlap sack tied over his head. The axe swings. Instead of dropping into the basket, the head rolls off the scaffold into the crowd, the burlap falling off to reveal the duke’s face! The crowd gasps as one, and the executioner rips off his hood to reveal a skull where his head should be – a brilliant silver skull! Before the duke’s men-at-arms can ready an arrow, the sun is blotted out by a giant flying creature that swoops down and clutches the duke’s daughter with one claw, and grabs the silver skull in the other. In a fit of fury and fear, Duke Magnussen cries that he will grant “a fortune” to whomever returns his daughter safely. The townsfolk erupt into chatter, tidbits of local legend reaching different ears.

The lure of money is all this group needs, and Woodrow skips them ahead of everyone else in line for a private audience with the duke with his position as the royal barber. Confirming very little, the duke does concede to have his men lead the group to the Magnussen family crypt, housed beneath his keep. Woodrow’s desire for job security confirms this will be the party’s immediate concern.

Reaching a very dark hallway, the guards leave them to their own devices. Adventuring gear is brought out and they proceed as if this is all “old hat” to them. Toad “unlocks” the door into the crypt, and doesn’t tell anyone else about the vision he is given (so nobody is aware of the penalty borne by all who enter without being in possession of the Magnussen family crest in some fashion). Woodrow saunters in first, unknowingly sealing his own fate.

The crypt stretches out before them, with 13 coffins along one side and uncovered skeletal remains jumbled into shelves on the opposite wall. Eridan and Bop immediately start out for the furthest coffin, while Toad wastes no time using a prybar on the stone lid of coffin #1. The remains of the body of Duke Magnussen I are held within a rotted royal robe and are intact save for a missing skull. Toad scoops out anything that glints in Oak’s torchlight, failing to hide his actions from the other four watching him. “Just in case this is the body the silver skull came from,” Bjorn leans in and pummels the skeleton into dust so he can’t rise again. About this time, Rielle and James notice some of the shadows within the crypt behaving oddly: It’s normal for there to be multiple shadows for each person, given multiple light sources, but shouldn’t the shadows follow the forms that cause them? The unnatural beings are immediately set upon but don’t seem to be affected by half of the party’s weaponry. Bop attempts to turn them, but fails (for the first of many times today). Meanwhile, Toad sets to the task of uncovering the second coffin (failing time and time again), and it takes him being sapped of a point of Strength to turn his attention to the shadows. Lanterns are trained on them and they flee, and James dispells 3 of the 4 with Mythender., but not before half the part takes stat damage. Eridan and Bop decide to rejoin the group, and they go about systematically searching (and sacking) each coffin. The skulls of the prior 12 dukes are missing, as well as different body parts: a leg here, a spine there, a pelvis missing from that one, and – most disturbing to Bjorn – the upper and lower halves of a rib cage have been removed, from separate coffins. Rielle predicts the results early on, and fairly bounces with glee when the 13th coffin proves not only to be empty, but to contain a hidden set of steps into a passage below. She and Oak lead the way…

Toad hangs back to investigate the large stone door at this far end of the crypt. He can’t discern a trap, so he pushes – and just barely makes his Reflex save to avoid being crushed by the granite slab that falls onto the threshold from overhead. He sees a pair of crossed halberds in front of another large stone door, with shields on either side. He’s unable to find evidence of another trap; perplexed by this, he moves to catch up with the rest of the party.

The narrow stairs wind down into an immense cavern, where an underground river rushes out of the cliff face to the north. There is a massive pillar in the middle of this river, leaning precariously, but their first concern is the circular arrangement of skulls with a full set of mismatched remains in the center. Of the 13 concave places for skulls, only 12 are filled, the silver skull nowhere to be seen. Bjorn warns the party away, enters the circle, and slams Thunderblade against the ground. All but 3 skulls are turned into piles of dust.

Rielle and Oak explore closer to the exiting waterfall, trying to get a better view of the cavern wall on the other side of the river. A doorway of sorts on the other side sets them to finding a way across the river. Oak figures it’s about five feet deep, give or take, and he and Bjorn devise a method of tying an iron spike to the end of a rope and looping it around the giant pillar in the middle, then tying another rope to the first person to cross (only 5-6 feet of the pass would be unassisted). The current is strong, but Rielle hops up on top of the secured line, walking it like a tightrope, and leaps across to the other side with downright flair (nat 20). The dwarves have a bit of a rough time – with the water being over their heads – but their reflexes and James’s prowess got them all the way over.

Once on the other side, James starts investigating this point in the river before the pillar, where a five-foot-wide “hole” seems to defy the gravity of the water. A little yellow steam emits from it, and he looses an arrow into the hole, prompting the expulsion of three worm-slug-like things with hands for feet, heading right for them. Bjorn’s battle cry of, “I’ve never killed one of these before!” precedes one’s death. James deals with another swiftly. Oak and Woodrow do their best, but their weapons seem oddly ineffectual – then Eridan, of all people, rushes in with his wizard staff and cleans up the mess, earning a whole new respect from the dwarves.

The pile of corpses nearby is poked at, but the smell makes Eridan recoil and the group turns as one toward the entrance to a shiny room, walls being made from hammered brass. Inside stands a pedestal with a book made of metal plates, seemingly guarded by two statues of armored men. Eridan discerns that this is a Book of Planes. The image currently displayed shows the room they are standing in. Much deliberation and arguing ensues, and Bjorn finally reaches over and flips forward in the book by two heavy pages. Suddenly they find themselves standing on a sandy beach. The book, pedestal, and one guard remain with them – but the guard now seems to be made of solid water. The nightmarish creatures shown on the page do not have time to materialize, before Rielle decisively turns back one of the plates.

The hellish scene takes them by surprise, and none have time to react before the spindly coal-made demon shoots out a shower of barbs – killing the girl tied helpless inside the pentagram. Rielle, ever the lucky one, dodges…but Woodrow was not so lucky. Toad rushes for the bound girl, as she is clearly worth more money than his fallen comrade. Eridan uses the Wand of Force to create a shield for him. James activates the flaming blade on Mythender (burning 3pts of Luck) and wallops the demon. Bjorn jumps in to try for another creature he hasn’t killed yet, aiming to disarm the wicked-looking athame (burning 2pts of Luck). Everything happens so fast; before they can draw a breath of relief, everyone starts feeling the oppressive and sweltering atmosphere and takes damage from heat exhaustion.

James sweeps up the dropped dagger, Toad scoops up the duke’s daughter, and they waste no time in turning the Book of Planes back to the hammered bronze room’s page. Realizing this mission is worth nothing unless the girl is alive, Bop appeals to his goddess, the Carnifex, pleading that this is not the death she deserves, and rolls a Nat 20 for Divine Aid. (This brings his disapproval range to 13.) Allendre sputters and comes to, weakly, and James offers her one of his last healing potions. She is (blissfully) oblivious to anything that has transpired, and knows nothing of the silver skull or family curse. The group guides her protectively back across the river, using the previously-rigged rope, and up the secret stairway and through the crypt – “Oh no! My lady, someone must’ve robbed your family’s remains!” – and back to the guards standing by the connecting tunnel to the keep.

Once again in the duke’s audience, a brief account is given. Duke Magnussen is told of the hole [pit] in the river below, and even of the shiny room. He is also apprised, somewhat tangentally, of the Carnifex’s return to the people of Great Bell. As Bop’s luck would have it (Nat 1) the duke recalls the legends of yore, and he is willing to assist in reinstating Her name and position among the people. Excavation shall begin on the collapsed ruins immediately.

Now, the duke is ever so grateful for the return of his daughter, but he expresses concern about the silver skull. Learning that it has not been destroyed does not make for a happy duke, and he declares the mission as yet incomplete – for how can Allendre be safe with that thing still out there? He agrees to put them up for the night but orders that all exterior walls are off-limits to everyone, especially his little girl, in case that flying thing comes back. The evening is uneventful…a welcome change for everyone, since there was a bit of RL drama at the FLGS right about then.

…Once more into the breach – but this time with a level-1 halfling!

Everything looks pretty much undisturbed since yesterday’s visit, if a mess from their own deeds. They beeline for the chamber beyond the granite slab trap that Toad discovered, and stare indecisively at the crossed halberds guarding the next door. Finally, Oak reaches for the handle on the door, and as expected, the halberds jump to life. Unexpectedly, the shields leap from their mounts on either side and act to block the party’s attacks. Eridan casts flaming hands and damages one of the halberds – and immediately takes nearly the same damage from its retaliatory swing. Oak and Bjorn converge on that animated weapon. Rielle decides she’s squishy, and hides behind a stone chair behind the action, cheering everyone on. Bop, Krum, and James leap into the fray, dispatching one of the animated weapons. In response, the other halberd leaps at him with a blow hard enough to knock out five of his teeth. Oak roars and swings hard enough to turn the remaining halberd’s handle into sawdust (crit answered with crit).

As the silence settles, Bjorn sets to examining the huge stone door, and realizes it’s been mortared shut. He channels his dead brother, Borg (the blacksmith), and chips away at the edges until a good kick can nudge it open. Good thing he didn’t push, or put his back into it, for there is a fifteen-foot gap between the mourner’s chamber and the top of a round pillar…it seems to be listing a bit to one side, much like the one they ignored in the cavern yesterday…and yep, all the way down there is that river they just dealt with. Most importantly, there’s the silver skull. It sits motionless in the center of a white circle. A couple flickers of light emit from its sockets, but this is nothing like the lights that Wilber’s best skull, Vinnie, gives off. The idea of knocking the skull off the pillar and into the river (or the pit) doesn’t even occur to the party. Instead, James grabs the trusty rope and ties it to a crossbow bolt. He nails the shot, impaling the skull, and is lucky enough to not disturb the white circle surrounding it. As the strong menfolk pull to retrieve the skull, it flickers twice more, and Bop, Oak, and Bjorn are caught in a chain of lightning for a whole new sort of pain. (James manages to dodge, with the aid of Rielle’s good luck.) Bop is lucky enough to send a “hop” through the rope to the skull to get it over the white line without breaking the circle, and they haul it to their feet. In a mighty sundering action, James smashes the skull for far more damage than it can handle, and they gingerly pick up the few remaining identifiable pieces so they can bring the proof to Duke Magnussen.

Negotiations don’t go so well after the fact. They managed to cajole a proper burial for Woodrow, but a “fortune,” to the duke’s mind, was what a normal bearer of each profession can retire on. Luckily, the duke doesn’t do his own shopping, so he isn’t likely to notice his family’s heirloom gems recirculating on the market…

The 13th Skull - Joseph Goodman / Goodman Games

Post-adventure math: Rielle: +15 XP, +1 Luck
Bjorn: +16XP
Eridan: +15 XP
Toad: +16 XP, +1 Luck
James: +15 XP, +1 Luck
Bop Dogwood: +20 XP
Oak: +15 XP
Krum: +15 XP

PARTY LOOT:  75 GP/ea from crypt jewels + coinage as per starting treasure