We continue recapping Rick Maffei’s 4e D&D campaign, set in the world of Áereth (from Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics). As discussed last time, we foiled the expected assassination attempt on the sage Elbarr. He may be the last person alive who can decipher some of the clues we’ve acquired to the location of Captain Longshanks’ treasure – and clearly there are forces that don’t want ANYONE to have that knowledge.
After talking to the grateful Elbarr, we decided to proceed to the mysterious, exotic, dangerous, thief-ridden city of Punjar, and that will require a ship! Here, again and for the first time, is the party lineup:
- Mike: Tarthon, minotaur barbarian – Have Axe, Will Travel
- Steve: Grumhorn, a.k.a. "Grue," dwarf invoker – The Immovable Object. Truly.
- Felix: Manael, tiefling bard – Inventor of the Killing Joke
- Me: Graaver Stormcry, longtooth shifter druid-fighter – Sees Life as a Series of Punching Bags
- Willie: Sebastin, githzerai
shaman-invokerranger (the scout build from Essentials) ... and he’s been a githzerai ranger THE WHOLE TIME. We swear!
We did another Talkerapp.com chat to handle the minor but time-consuming details of acquiring much needed magic potions and finding a ship. Behold... the chat log! (Nothing major, but it’s a fun read, and demonstrates how useful chat rooms can be for this type of mostly verbal, character-driven activity.)
After we settle which of our characters will possess which potions, our party greets Captain Lasandra Cross, and we inquire about voyage to Punjar. With the exception of the sage Elbarron (“Elbarr”), we’re all willing to work for passage. After she looks us over, the captain agrees. She says her ship, Lasandra's Wave, is understaffed right now and could do with the extra hands. She’s not kidding: Besides Cross and her first mate, Nathan, there seem to be only five crewmembers. Yikes. All the crew, including Cross and Nathan, are human.
Cross says the voyage will take about three and a half days, with one very brief stop in Carnalloe to pick up a passenger or two. After telling us that Nathan will assign crew rotations, she gets back to making the ship ready to sail. We meet the cabin boy – an inquisitive lad, Nate (Nathan’s son?). We also learn that Elbarr is not the only non-working passenger; a gnome, Dhennier, is said to be a “procurer of special items,” and his cargo in the hold is locked up and off limits.
And soon, we’re off! To the sea! Where men are men, minotaurs are minotaurs, and captains are women! It’s also freakin’ HOT out. Sweat starts glistening on he-manly muscles. Stormcry and Grue join three crewmen on the main deck for a rollicking version of “YMCA” during the first shift, while Sebastin, Tarthon, and Manael help move and secure cargo below, like
men male humanoids do! Stormcry starts chatting with a couple of crewmen, Curtis (who’s new) and Hallowell (who has sailed with Captain Cross for years), and Manael talks to Ned below. They all seem friendly enough, and Hallowell says the captain plays fair with the crew. When Stormcry asks about the threat of pirates, Hallowell laments, “I wish!!” He says the highest chance of being attacked will come in a couple of days as we go around “the Wreckers” – a part of the peninsula where jagged rocks under the water can, well, wreck a ship unless you proceed cautiously. Sure, you could navigate farther out from the peninsula, but that would add to the sailing time significantly.
Elbarr stays below decks in his cabin, looking through the oddly encoded history book and Hallowell’s collection of men’s underwear catalogs. The sage is trying to figure out what’s different between it and the “normal” version of the book. There must be something different, else why encode it?
We pick up our passengers in Carnalloe: two very young, adventurer-looking types – guy and gal, possibly half-elven and apparently siblings or even fraternal twins. They have longswords and daggers, and they wear leather. They’re immediately popular with the crew. There’s a third new passenger, too: Obewald, an overweight spice merchant. (Is there any other kind?) All three have paid for their passage, so none of them will be on duty.
That evening, Manael is in the crow’s nest, Grue and Stormcry are back on deck duty, and Tarthon and Sebastin are below, swabbing the lower decks in preparation for the crew’s annual staging of “Mamma Mia.” Tarthon notices that one of the storage doors is ajar, and he can hear animal movement beyond. He says cautiously, “Hallowell, what are you up to...?” but there’s no response. Recalling what they’ve been told about Dhennier’s off-limits “special items,” he decides to not to peek inside. As long as what’s in there STAYS there, that’s fine. Later, we all go to sleep, except Manael who remains in the crow’s nest. Sebastin sleeps on the main deck itself, under the stars.
The following morning, Stormcry and Grue are again on the main deck (sheesh, Nathan, give us a break!) and all is going well ... until Stormcry hears a creaking sound above. He looks up. A mast is falling! The lupine shifter rolls out of the way. Unfortunately, the only roll that Grue knows is the one that’s coated in cinnamon and powdered sugar. The dwarf is pinned by the long shaft. After several crewmen swoon in delight, Stormcry encourages them to free his friend – and Stormcry notices that the mast had been chopped, probably within the past 24 hours. This was no accident. This was sabotage. DUN DUN DUNNNNN!
He quietly informs Nathan, who in turn tells Captain Cross. Naturally, the party members fall under suspicion, with the possible exception of Stormcry. Although we don’t outwardly share the info with the crew or the other passengers, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the ship is missing a mast, and so word and rumor quickly spread. Fortunately, the sabotaged mast was the smallest of the four and can be repaired. In the meantime, it’ll still slow Lasandra’s Wave when we go around the Wreckers, which will happen shortly. We wonder if that was the point. Could someone on the ship be working with the raiders? More precisely, which of them doesn’t want to be raided?
We tighten up the shifts and keep a wary eye on the rest of the crew and the other passengers – just as they’re likely eyeing us, especially under the hot sun. That night, there’s a commotion below decks! Ned charges toward Manael and yells in a frightened voice, “They’re loose! They’re loose!” Two gricks are roaming the lower deck! Within seconds, the rest of the party is alerted. The gnome Dhennier pleads with us, “My cargo! Don’t hurt them! I’ll make it worth your while!” “I’ve heard that promise before,” shrugs Ned, who hides in the forward storage area.
It’s well and good to say “Don’t hurt the gricks,” but gricks don’t exactly make that easy! Still, after plenty of punching (Stormcry), pushing (Grue’s astral wind), sliding (Sebastin’s cool clever shot – and yes, he’s always been a 4e Essentials ranger, dammit!), singing (Manael’s staggering note and a timely majestic word to aid Tarthon), and LOTS of pain-fueled intimidation (Tarthon), the two gricks are forced back into the hold. Manael later tells us that just as he was rolling a barrel in front of the entrance, he noticed that the lock on the gricks’ cage had been opened.
During the bizarre fight, the Wonder Twins watched excitedly and asked if they could help. We didn’t encourage them – not out of meanness, but out of a realization that in the cramped quarters, they really couldn’t help without getting in our way.
After things settle down below, action continues above decks, where Captain Cross is angrily telling the merchant Obewald to calm his ass down. The crew is agitated as well; they blow off steam by organizing a conga line to the tune of Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot.” Clearly, someone onboard is not what he seems. Cross concurs: “I don’t believe in coincidences.” Commence the paranoia! Continue the conga!
In other annoying news, Elbarr tells us that he’s finished his thorough review of the two history books: no differences! Great. And oh yeah, the rest of the trip will take two more days instead of one, and there’s a storm coming. Whee! We ask Nathan if any of the passengers are regulars on the voyage to Punjar. Dhennier has been on once before; the Wonder Twins and Obelard – I mean, Obewald – are first-timers.
The next morning, Stormcry tries to smooth-talk his way into prime suspect Obelwald’s cabin to peek around, but Stormcry clearly needs to ditch his deodorant scent, Eau de Raccoon. Afterward, Hallowell tells Stormcry to forget Obewald and come investigate the animal action in his cabin. Wink wink. Later, on the main deck, Nathan makes a point of taking each crewmember aside for a quick, private conversation. When he gets to Stormcry, he says, “We need to be vigilant. And by Ildavir’s bowels, you smell rancid. We...” WHAMMMM!!!! Something BIG hits the ship!! Most of us keep our feet, but Manael, Tarthon, Scotty, and Uhura go flying across the deck as the ship rocks violently!
From the water rises a very large and very scaly creature with four serpentine heads – a hydra! [Cool! In all my years of playing D&D, I don’t recall ever confronting this iconic beastie before!] The hydra grabs Redshirt Crewman Jonas in one of its razor-toothed jaws and then it flings him screaming into the sea! Roll for initiative!
One hydra head bites into Tarthon deeply! Another one darts toward Sebastin and hits – or does it? The githzerai has the power of the iron mind! Is the defensive boost enough to avoid a hit? It is! [Good call, Willie!] Two hydra heads strike at Stormcry. One hits, and one misses – and then Stormcry is hit again – from behind!
By a thunderous arcane attack. By Manael.
The tiefling bard says coldly, “Xollox has decided your usefulness is at an end!” and whomps Stormcry with staggering note.
Ohhhhhhh Hohohohohoho. Ohhhhh.
Stormcry ferociously transforms to his standard, lupine beast form. Infuriated to the point of ignoring the MUCH larger hydra, the shifter growls, “What the hell are you doing?!” and tries to bull rush Manael over the rail. The bard sidesteps! Grue, who didn’t quite catch this act of betrayal, tries to hit the hydra with astral wind, which in turn draws an opportunity attack from Manael! OK, now Grue is clued in!
The crew fires crossbow bolts at the hydra, which takes another sizeable chomp out of Tarthon. Quickly, the minotaur has been bloodied. Yay! Here comes the bloodied ferocity! [Note: Actually, not SO much “yay” this time, since a) Mike wasn’t here, b) his kickass minotaur is now bloodied in close combat with a humongous hydra that could rock the ship to pieces, and c) our tiefling bard has betrayed us. Not good!] One of the hydra’s three other heads hits Grue. Then another one takes a bite out of Obewald. [Yaaaay.] Suddenly, in the middle of all this, Stormcry feels a vile presence in his mind – just as in the alleyways of Southwatch. His senses are assaulted with the stench of the grave. The number “3” and the word “triad” flash through his mind… and then it’s gone. Back to blood, fangs, and searing pain!
Manael uses his shout of triumph against his former allies, blasting Tarthon, Stormcry, and Grue and pushing them toward the hydra … and nearly over the railing! Tarthon, who was the closest to the edge, has to make a saving throw to avoid tumbling into the water! Granted, this nasty intra-party squabbling puzzles the ship’s captain and crew, except for Hallowell, who believes it’s a Klingon mating ritual and wants in. And then Manael does something incredibly evil and clever. “Captain!” he calls out. “They’re the ones who summoned the hydra!” His Bluff check vs. her Insight check: She believes him! Oh yeah, Manael has to die.
[Kudos to Felix during this whole session. We players had NO IDEA that he and Rick had planned for Manael to betray the party. We knew that Felix was planning to bring in a new character soon, but THIS? Wow. Double kudos to Felix for also playing it straight after the Big Reveal. As the bard Manael, he was doing his best to kill members of the party. As the player Felix, who is super-knowledgeable of 4e’s classes and powers, he continued to advise the other players and help folks figure out which attacks would come in handy. Believe me, there are less honorable gamers who would’ve blurred that line. Plus, Felix had earlier aided Willie in “retconning” Sebastin as an Essentials ranger – a development that we soon realized was drenched in Awesome Sauce and which came in quite handy as you’ll see. Bravo, Felix.]
Sebastin, who wisely had been staying well away from the ship’s hydra-facing side, ducks behind a longboat and fires an arrow at Manael, but it goes wide. Stormcry, having heard Manael’s comment to the captain, whirls toward her and yells, “He betrayed us!” He points to his bloody torso. “What do you think THESE are? Love bites?!” He follows that up with a charge at Manael, plus an Action Point-enabled second attack, which both miss! Ay caramba! Tarthon quaffs his potion of healing – and is immediately struck again by the hydra. There’s a lot of blood on the deck, practically all of it ours. Things are not going well.
The dwarf Grue strikes Manael successfully (finally, he’s hit!) with spear of the inquisitor. Manael’s betraying blood boils, and the tiefling retaliates with infernal wrath. The hydra then bites Grue. The invoker invokes nothing but unconsciousness as his bloody form falls to the deck. Manael, now acting on his regular turn, hits Stormcry with an encore of staggering note and quaffs a potion of healing for good measure. Sebastin’s next arrow at Manael goes wide.
Stormcry drinks his own healing potion and calls forth the spirit pack. The spectral wolves miss Manael spectacularly, yet they strike the swimming hydra and knock it “prone.” [Rick ruled that the hydra was pushed back ten feet. “You just saved yourself two bites.” Yay!] Tarthon uses his second wind and moves out of the hydra’s lengthy reach and toward Captain Cross, who responds warningly, “No closer.” Still unsure of whom to believe, she points her sword at the minotaur for emphasis.
Elbarr attempts to join the fighting, as do the Wonder Twins. [Hey, we’re desperate, so damn straight we called on the NPCs!] Now a legitimate target, Elbarr is rewarded for his courage with two bites from the hydra’s heads. Ouchie!
Manael tires of being Sebastin’s practice target, so he climbs onto the longboat and tries to hit the githzerai with war song strike. Sebastin again fires a clever shot at the treacherous tiefling – and hits with a natural 20! And since the longboat is hanging adjacent to the ship’s railing, the ranger attempts to use the scout attack to slide Manael over the side! Manael makes his saving throw, so he doesn’t tumble over, but he still goes prone.
And here comes the turning point, kicked off by an Action Point: Sebastin tries the same attack again – and gets a to-hit total of 19. Manael’s AC is 20. ARGH! But wait! Sebastin had previously assumed the stance of the dancing serpent, which provides a +1 bonus to attack and damage. Make that 19 a 20. Hit! Manael rolls another save – and fails. The ranger’s clever shot spins the tiefling around and sends him tumbling over the rail! Phew! So that takes care of... wait, what’s that? Oh, that’s right! When we divvied up potions at the start of the session, Manael took a potion of water breathing. Crap! [Damn your cleverness, Felix!]
Elbarr makes a successful Heal check on Grue, pulls the dwarf out of the hydra’s reach, and pours a potion of healing down his throat. Well done, NPC! Now that Manael and his lying tongue are gone, Tarthon negotiates with Captain Cross and gets her people to focus on the real threat – which is busy striking Stormcry with two vicious attacks, one of which is a crit! Stormcry goes deeply into negative numbers. [If he hadn’t used that healing potion earlier, I’d be rolling up a new character – or, more accurately, choosing one of the many I’ve created. “My name is Ken, and I’m a Character Builder addict.” Everyone: “Hi, Ken.”] Tarthon runs down and drags his dying bash brother out of further danger.
Grue, conscious again, invokes a brilliant beacon of radiant energy. It’s a zone of divine light that, as long as he sustains it, will impose a -2 penalty on the attacks, defenses, and saving throws of anything in its range. [Did this end up being HUGE? You betcha.] Although the beacon’s manifestation doesn’t hurt the hydra greatly, it slices off one of the hydra’s four heads – and two more grow in its place! AHHH!!! [Awesome.]
By now, most people have realized that engaging in melee combat with the hydra is an easy way to get dead, so the crew releases a volley of crossbow bolts. Since the hydra can’t reach anybody at the moment, it decides to start demolishing the ship! Oh, that’s not good. At this point, Captain Cross is done with doubting us! She yells at Tarthon, “Do whatever you can!” Hey, look, it’s the Wonder Twins – and they’re foolishly attacking in melee with their cute longswords. Woo hoo, one of them hits it! The hydra’s teeth open a gash along the woman’s side. Stormcry fails his first dying save; Tarthon grabs his newly purchased potion of cure light wounds, pours it down Stormcry’s throat, and then turns and attacks the hydra with his swift panther rage, but the mighty swing of his greataxe merely grazes the monster’s scales.
Captain Cross, who probably thinks we’re all idiots, throws a cask at the hydra, which is now soaked in oil. Ohhhh, we get it! So does the hydra. Its heads strike Tarthon, Wonder Girl, and Wonder Boy – twice!
Sebastin lets fly with another clever shot, this time against the hydra, and the impact amazingly pushes the massive beast away from the ship. Then he activates the unique ability of his enchanted targeting longbow, allowing all of his allies to roll twice on their next attacks and use the better of the two rolls.
Stormcry, back in action, hits the hydra with a shot from his sling, and Tarthon hurls his flask of alchemist’s fire at the oil-drenched monster. Flame on! The hydra roars in agony! Then another head falls and two more grow in its place. Now there are six heads! Hey, that’s a good thing, right? It means we’re hurting it, right? Right? … Right? … Bueller?
Grue’s avenging light attack should have missed – but due to the hydra’s weakened defenses (thanks to the invoker’s continuance of brilliant beacon), it hits! That’s followed by two more crossbow bolts from the crew and even a hit from Wonder Girl. The hydra goes into a frenzy and savagely attacks the boat again. More structural damage…! Another clever shot from Sebastin briefly pushes it away.
Elbarr, who had been creating a few flaming arrows, takes aim and hits the hydra! Tarthon and Captain Cross prepare to throw more casks of oil, and Grue – who has been on a roll the last few rounds – dares to utter something known to only a few living creatures and the lich Rupert Murdoch: the Word of Ruin! The hydra is dazed and stunned by the power of the ancient word, and even Grue himself reels from its use. Now the hydra has seven heads!
Sebastin hits again with clever shot, and Stormcry (sling bullets) also strikes true. The hydra loses another head – yet this time no head grows back! We’re weakening it … well, aside from the fact that it can still attack with six heads….
Tarthon and Cross hurl their casks. Tarthon misses, and Cross would have missed – if not for the still-active brilliant beacon, which dulls the hydra’s reactions just enough so that the cask breaks open on the hydra’s scaly hide. Grue, even dazed, is able to muster enough concentration to keep the brilliant beacon alight. Now the hydra is down to five heads. Elbarr lets loose another flaming arrow --- WHOOSH! The arrow reignites a scorching wave of flame across the monster’s skin. Three heads fall off, and the moaning, screeching hydra sinks below the rail… and then two massive, clawed hands reach up and clutch the railing, and the beast begins to pull itself up! Lasandra’s Wave and everyone on her teeter dangerously… and the hydra falls back into the ocean. Dead. [Rick told us afterward that the hydra would indeed have climbed onto the deck had it lived!]
Phew! Well, then… that was fun! We got to face an iconic D&D monster (granted, one whittled down a bit from the 4e Monster Manual hydra – thank Odin!), and we may have a new, recurring (?) foe in the traitorous tiefling bard, Manael. But why did Manael betray us? [Felix isn’t telling!]
Who the blazes is this “Xollox” he mentioned? A crime lord? A psionic mastermind? A new kitchen cleaner? And what is the creepy, malign presence that Stormcry has sensed on two occasions? Could THAT be Xollox, and if so, was he/she/it trying to control Stormcry’s mind … as perhaps it did Manael’s? And will any of the players retcon their characters again? These questions and others may be addressed when we meet again later this month, but first – we’ve all reached 5th level, baby! LEVEL UP!
P.S. Just now, while formatting the log of the several-days-prior chat, I re-read this comment from creepy, prognosticating potion maker Mother Kalthess: “Ah, but you, Manael, are running so very fast, so very sure. Be confident in your future then. Regardless, your friends will remember you.”
Ohhhhhhh Hohohohohoho. Ohhhhh. Sneaky bastids.