Friday, March 16, 2007

Savage Tide Campaign Chronicle

Hi there, fellow roleplayers!

Today I'm starting a new feature, a Campaign Chronicle. These posts will detail the events that have transpired in actual games we're running, as they happen. The first in this series is from a game I'm running for some friends. We're playing Dungeon Magazine's amazing Savage Tide adventure path. Here's the events of the first two sessions as told by me and two of the players.

It should be noted that this post contains spoilers for Savage Tide's first adventure: "There is no Honor". If you don't want to know what players may face in that adventure, don't read on...

Of course, it all started for each of you in that alley in Shadowshore. It was midday and as fate would have it each of you was passing through as you tended to your day's affairs. As is common in Shadowshore a merchant had set hit wares out to display there on the street, only to pack his illicit goods away and appear in another spot should too much scrutiny appear.

Today, in this alley, in the long shadow of the looming black basalt cathedral of Kord, the merchant was Morga "Blacklash" Harlis, slaver. A few shackled humanoids sat in the dirt of the alley at his feet, miserable and bearing the marks of his namesake. On a crate to Morga'sside stood a small cage, a rarer captive languished. At your approach, the slavemaster prodded the creature within and began barking out it's virtues: "a tiny minstrel for your lady's parlor! Sweet melodies to woo your woman! This tiny faery sings so sweet, for only 50 gold," he shouts moistly.

For Pada Bata, your first glimpse of Blacklash makes your blood run cold. You pull your cowl closer about your scared face, remembering the sting of his whip as he brought you here to Sassarine from the inlands. You move to the other side of the alley and hope to pass by without being recognized as one of his that managed to escape. You can't help stealing a glimpse at the other unfortunates he is selling today, hoping and also fearing to see a familiar face.

Morga begins extolling the faery's virtues, and the tiny prodded thing begins to sing, accompanied by it's tiny violin and a strange cricket-like chirping. The song is a mournful one from the first few notes, and your fear turns to pity. A you catch a glimpse of the poor thing and something startling happens: you rush up and, towering over your former master, confront him, demanding he release all these people.

Blacklash responds with threatening motions with his every-handy whip, words become louder, and violence ensues. A cage is broken. A man is relieved of his whip and left unconscious. None of you is too sure why you helped those slaves escape that day, but afterwards, you barely took time to acknowledge each other before you went your separate ways, hoping to slip away before Blacklash's associates arrived.

News of the event made the rounds in the taverns for a few days, but then was mostly forgotten. Until each of you received a letter inviting you to the Vanderboren estate.


About a week after the fight in the market at Shadowshore, a messenger boy approached Dervish Swinton with a letter. The letter was from Mistress Lavinia Vanderboren of the Vanderboren Estate. Curiosity more than anything set Dervish's feet towards the estate. An old serving woman greeted him at the front door and ushered him into the waiting area of the mansion interior. Dervish was slightly surprised to see the scarred face of the would-be hero who attacked the slavemaster in Shadowshore. The tiny faery minstrel was there too. And a shady looking fellow with cunning eyes who had also participated in the brawl at the slave market.

Shortly after making everyone's acquaintance, a group of seasoned adventurers entered the room. One was obviously a warrior of some sort and seemed to be the leader. An attractive woman had the traits of a sorceress or magic-weaver. They introduced themselves as adventurers in the employ of Lavinia Vanderboren and then took leave of the guests. Dervish got the sense that they were on their way to board a vessel, destined for a formidable sea voyage.

The serving woman returned and escorted the guests into a Mistress Vanderboren's office. Lavinia Vanderboren was a young woman. Her face had lines of worry etched on its attractive features. After making introductions, she revealed that her parents had recently died in a tragic fire aboard a new ship of theirs. The ship had been in the middle of the harbor when the fire had broken out. It burned to the waterline before the remains of the vessel had slipped beneath the waves.

Lavinia was now facing several problems in managing the financial affairs of the family. The Vanderboren's only remaining seaworthy vessel was now impounded by the harbormaster. One of the harbormaster's thugs was keeping a close eye on it and would not release the vessel until the fines owed on it were paid. Lavinia had sent the payment but the harbormaster's people claimed to have not received it. To make matters worse, the rest of the family wealth resided into the Vanderboren section of the city vaults. The only way to access them was to use her parents' signet rings. The one her mother had possessed was lost. Her father's ring was kept on the ship that was currently impounded. The harbormaster would not allow Lavinia to board her father's vessel to retrieve the ring.

The reason for this meeting was now clear. Lavinia needed the group's help in getting her father's ring back. She also wanted the group to find and reclaim the money she had sent as payment for the fines on the ship. After some haggling, Dervish negotiated a price that he thought was adequate for the job and agreed to sign on. The others accepted too.

Taking leave of Lavinia, Dervish and the others followed the serving woman to the mansion's kitchen to plan out their next move.


*narration from my character Mo*

I wasn't sure what to do with the letter. What could a wealthy noble want with a waif like me? Does she have a share in the slave trade? Is this a vengeance-motivated trap? Or could good deeds actually bear rewards? As one not too familiar with good deeds, either receiving or committing them, I had no real basis on which to rely. But I didn't have much to lose other than my "life"--if that's what you could call my existence-- so I decided to take a chance. You can't win anything if you don't roll the dice. I showed up at the estate on scheduled next day, surprised to see familiar faces from the fiasco the day before.

Upon receiving our mission, and also being offered more gold than I've seen in my entire life, I decided that perhaps good deeds do pay off. I may consider that when future opportunities arise.

We decided to start first by snooping around the docks. The faerie-bug (whom I later found out was called a "grig") hid on the rooftops while Dervish and I asked around. Dervish, the more personable one, did most of the talking while I kept my eyes on the ship, which lay only about fifty feet into the harbor. We saw armed guards milling about, but they didn't seem to have any purpose. Dervish set us up as potential deck hands, and we were told to talk to the harbormaster's main man, who could be found on the impounded ship. We stuffed the grig into my backpack and caught a gondola to the ship. The plan was to provide a distraction long enough for the grig to slip out and look around.

We came to the side of the ship and hailed the guards. We told them (quite truthfully I might add) that we had been advised that this was the place to come to look for jobs. Noticing the arms and armor of the deck hands, we improvised and posed as potential security. An ugly brute of a man, their leader and the harbormaster's head of security, invited us aboard, albeit suspiciously, and questioned us further. He must have gone too long without bashing any heads in, because he proposed an interview for the position of guard. A physical interview. Now I'm not small, but I could tell this brute had at least fifty pounds on me. His thick arm reached for his rapier, probably unconsciously, but he then declared a fist fight. The guards gathered around, leering excitedly, eager for a little excitement on the sun-beat decks. Dervish and I looked at each other (and also noticed the grig slip out of the bag that I had conveniently put down outside of the circle of guards), and I stepped forward. I didn't like this fatty looking down on me, and I wanted to take him down a notch.

I tossed aside my sword (though I still kept my hidden daggers... can never be too safe) and put up my fists. This man could easily overpower me, and he looked like he knew it. He walked towards me confident in his size, strength, and fighting experience. He had every reason to be smiling viciously... but he didn't know that I grew up in Shadowshore. I learned to fight before I learned to talk. Though I favor blades, I've done whatever it takes to survive thus far. Bricks, planks, and fists have had to suffice more often than not. I began my fighting dance, staying on my toes, watching my opponent's moves. The brute came forward lunging, as expected, and I easily side-stepped. He was quicker than he looked, but still not quick enough. After feeling him out, I warned him that I fight dirty. I had to remember that I wasn't fighting for my life, that knocking him senseless and slitting his throat would not further our goals (well it might, but I'd also end up on the gallows). The cocky bastard ignored my warning and came at me quick. I feigned an opening, and when he came in as anticipated, I jabbed him in his unprotected side, right in the kidney. Though he'd probably pee blood for a few days, he recovered from the shock and kept his mind about him. After dancing a few more circles though, his pride got the better of him (he must have remembered that his crew was watching) and he came in strong again, attempting to knock me off my feet. I side-stepped again, and this time I clipped him on his throat.

Not being able to breathe has a way of taking the fight out of people, and this time was no exception. He ended the fight, both to my relief and distress. Playing off his defeat in a predictable manner, he said that we had some skill and that if we wanted work we should go to the harbormaster's estate. Inwardly nervous, I noticed that the grig had still not returned. I coughed loudly to signal her, saying that the fight took more out of me than I thought. Dervish and I stalled for time by asking questions about the ship, about specific work opportunities, etc. It could only last for so long before the brute expected something though, so finally we shrugged resignedly and climbed down the rope ladder to the waiting gondola. Fortunately (I mean purposely... yes, purposely) I forgot my bag on the ship. The not serendipitous and completely pre-meditated act bought enough time for the faerie to return, and as I grabbed my bag and set out down the ladder again, she came running along the side of the boat and slipped into my bag unnoticed. Returning to the dock, we sat in the corner of a less-seedy-than-I'm-used-to tavern and listened to what the faerie learned.


Flush with our success in recovering the Vanderboren signet ring and Lady Lavinia's platinum, we set out the next day to the city vaults. After recognizing Lavinia as the authorized executor of the Vanderboren estate, we were led to a round chamber underground with 12 passages spoking outwards. Down one of these spokes we came to a sealed door. Lavinia placed the signet ring against it and it opened for her. Inside was a dark room. Several pillars supported the main dome of this room. To each side were smaller open chambers with lower ceilings than the domed area.

The place was definitely trapped. Erring on the side of caution, we wedged one of Mo's daggers under the open door to prevent it from shutting behind us and trapping us inside. Then we entered the room. In hindsight, the multitudinous snakes carved into the pillars should have been our first clue to the nature of the trap.

I was standing next to one of these pillars, shining my lantern around one of the smaller chambers when a metal snake creature slithered close to my leg and gave it a sharp bite. The pain was bad, but the burning sensation from its venom was worse. I could feel the strength leave my leg. I turned about and struck at it, but my rapier merely glanced off the creature's metal hide with a loud clang. Mo joined in the attack but his weapon proved equally futile in penetrating the creature's metallic hide. I retreated to just out of the creature's striking range as my entire body began to burn and weaken from the spreading venom.

In a bold move, Flit moved right up to the creature's face and attempted to fascinate it with her otherworldly music. Unfortunately, this serpent was not swayed by the strains of her song and instead bit her savagely. I could see the venom affect Flit as she dropped a couple of feet in altitude. Desperate, I yelled to Lady Lavinia, "See if your ring can stop this creature." Mo added, "Try to command it!" Lady Lavinia, pointing the signet ring at the creature, firmly commanded the creature to desist.

Success! The creature ceased its attack. Lavinia then ordered the creature to return to its hole and guard against unauthorized entry. The metal snake slithered away.

We then spent several minutes searching this area for chests, lockers, or another door since there was no obvious sign of the family's money. After some searching, Mo discovered a carving of another serpent with an extended tongue that was a sort of lever. Moving the lever triggered a column of intertwined snake carvings to part and form an arch, revealing a hidden portal to another room.

The next room was octagonal. Each face had a carving of a monster. We quickly realized that starting with the wall immediately to the left of the entrance, and proceeding in a clockwise fashion, each monster had successively one more eye. One eye, two eye, three eye, four, and then some more. In the center of the room was a wide pillar that descended from the ceiling to just a few inches above the floor. The ceiling had a symbol of a black 8-pointed star with one arm a crimson color. Rotating the central pillar moved the red arm of the star around the room. A cryptic note that had been found in the cabin of the Vanderboren ship gave us the clue we needed to solve this particular puzzle.

This chamber was a giant combination lock. We merely had to rotate the pointer to the correct number of eyes according to the note and we would open the safe. We did so and the back wall of the chamber opened to reveal several chests.

Unfortunately most of the chests had already been plundered! Lavinia was shocked. She quickly searched the vault and discovered that only a fraction of her wealth was unplundered. One piece of luck in our favor was that the accounting ledgers were still there. Lavinia collected those and prepared to leave. I searched behind some of the chests and found a partially sodden bag. Several broken vials lay inside it, their liquid contents had drenched the bag and given it a particularly floral scent. One vial remained unmolested.

Upon leaving the family vault, Lavinia questioned one of the employees of the city vault. She discovered to her astonishment that her estranged brother had been in the vaults some weeks ago with a signet ring that could only have belonged to their mother. It appeared that he had emptied the family coffers and then departed.

Once we returned to Lavinia's manor, she entreated us to find her brother and tell him that she wishes to meet with him. After further questioning, it appeared that her brother was the black sheep of the family. As children, he and Lavinia had been very close. But after a prank they pulled had gotten them in deep trouble, they were separated by their parents. Lavinia was sent to a private school in another city and her brother was sent to a plantation on the outskirts of Sasserine. From there he had grown to be a despondent, angry youth who began running with some bad crowds. Lavinia had seen him last shortly after their parents death. By then she realized that a deep gap separated them from the bond they once had as children.

We searched her brother's room in the manor and discovered only a mug that came from a favorite tavern near the plantation where her brother spent his early adolescence. We also discovered that he was frequently seen in one of the "red-light" districts of Sasserine. Our search would have to continue there.


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