Here, once more, is the party lineup:
- Mike: Tarthon, minotaur barbarian – Have Axe, Will Travel
- Steve: Grumhorn, a.k.a. "Grue," dwarf invoker – The Immovable Object. Truly.
- Me: Graaver Stormcry, longtooth shifter druid-fighter – Sees Life as a Series of Punching Bags
- Willie: Sebastin, githzerai ranger – able to nab a Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkin at fifty paces
Manael, tiefling bard– new character to come!
Part 1: The Green Mile (After Mile After Mile...)
Following the party’s vicious betrayal by Manael (vile pigeon-murderer!!) and the attack of the hydra, there are many injuries among the crew (and the adventurers), and Captain Cross orders a quick assessment of the damage to Lasandra’s Wave. Cross is pretty angry – and is understandably not in the mood to trust any of the party after what just happened. Still, Grue earns some points back by volunteering to use a Make Whole ritual to repair the damage to the ship’s mast and hull. Good timing, too, as a squall is approaching, perhaps four hours away. Cross also says that because of the oil used to drive off the hydra, the ship’s remaining supply is low.
The rest of us try to process the day’s events. How long has Manael been planning this? Is the mysterious Xollox connected to the metallic triangle and the hunt for Longshanks’ treasure? Why is Hallowell so concerned about the summer fashions in Punjar? We don’t believe the hydra was part of some master plot – it’s more likely that Manael decided the hydra’s appearance was as good a time as any to make his move.
Stormcry takes out the triangle and concentrates on it. The shifter feels as though he could reach into someone else’s mind... but that’s as far as he gets. So it’s a conduit? Hmm. He tries to concentrate next on Manael the Goat-Fornicating Betrayer ... no luck. Does “contact” require another triangle on the other end (a la the Palantir in Lord of the Rings)? Questions for a later time.
We endure a really rough night. The squall is brutal. The adventurers take the lead in tending to the ship during the first half of the stormy night. Grue and Stormcry don’t fare so well in the rocky seas and are ordered to go below decks by Nathan... but not before several of us spot something large flying overhead. Twice! In any event, we have regained some respect in Cross’ eyes, as it’s apparent to everyone that the ship wouldn’t have survived this far without the repairs from Grue’s ritual.
Oops, maybe spoke too soon... around 4:30 a.m., there’s a big crash. The mast has broken again! The ship is spinning, Grue has no more residuum on hand to perform another Make Whole ritual, and Hallowell insists on singing Dead or Alive’s “Spin Me Round.” Nevertheless, Grue, Tarthon, Stormcry, and five crewmen are able to use sheer brute force to restore the mast. Although the worst of the storm seems to be over, we’re not done yet. Still, Nathan sees that we’re all spent and he orders us back below to rest. We promptly do so and pass out.
Around 7 a.m., we wake up and realize that the ship isn’t rocking. Grue asks, “Are we dead?” We realize that not only is the ship not rocking, it’s not moving. At all. We go on deck to join the others. Through a thick fog, we can make out that the ship is resting on a thick, greenish surface. Vegetation? Skin? Boogers?
We quickly see that it’s matted, rotting seaweed. There are no noises, no movement, no birds. As the mists burn away in the morning sun, we can see in the distance another ship... and another... and another. And the thick, green, Sargasso surface stretches as far as the eye can see. One awestruck, terrified crewman, Curtis, whispers, “Journey’s End.” Another crewman quickly tells him to shut up. The rest of us start getting Ravenloft and Twilight Zone heebie-jeebies. This situation is NOT GOOD. We tell our resident sage, Elbarr, to come up. Captain Cross looks through the spyglass and sees eight to 10 another trapped vessels, and she can barely make out the sight of the ocean, far in the distance. Curtis continues to whisper morale-killing doom and gloom, so we suggest he go on grick-watching duty below decks. Heh.
We suggest to Cross that a few of us walk over to the closest ship. At the very least, we might find oil. So off Stormcry, Tarthon, Grue, and Sebastin go. We poke ahead with the trusty 10-foot pole as we walk along the spongy, stinky, seaweed surface. It’s thick and deep. In fact, it feels completely solid after the first few feet. As we walk around the bow of the closest ship, we can see its name: Mistcutter. By the lacy undergarments of Ildavir, this is Captain Longshanks’ ship!! It’s been missing for about nine years.
We managed to climb up the kelp on the hull and get to the main deck. Grue falls once. Stormcry senses that the ship has been here for several years, at least. We’re probably the first ones to set foot on the Mistcutter in that time. It’s eerily quiet, other than an occasional, unsettling creak. As we go down the stairs, we see that the door has been broken. Our quick examination shows that it was barred – from the inside. EeeeEEEEEeeee.... can we leave now?
Down on the main crew level, we see that the next set of stairs – leading to the lower decks and the hold – continues down into muck. Our knowledge of ship design is pretty lame, but we know that there may be another one or two levels below – and they’ve been sucked into the Sargasso. In the crew quarters, we see no signs of life, just more muck and broken bunks and chairs. Was there a fight? If so, where are the bodies? One bit of good news: stuff! We spot two casks full of oil and several chests. Stormcry uses his crowbar to open the chests. In total, we find: a pouch with assorted gems; two silver armguards inscribed with draconic skulls; an old gray cloak; a wooden, twisted, rune-covered staff with a silver cap; 68 silver bars (worth 200 gp each), plus 260 gp and 402 sp. As we’re opening the chests, Sebastin runs back up to give Lasandra’s Wave the “We’re still alive for another few minutes” sign.
On this deck we find the captain’s quarters. Its broken door had also been barred from the inside. In the center of the room is a table, on the edge of which a book is teetering – over a hole in the floor leading to the muck-filled levels below. The ship’s occasional creaking becomes a groan. The ship moves slightly – and the book falls into the hole. Stormcry jumps in after it! Suddenly, several vine-like tendrils burst out of the muck to grab him! With arrow and avenging light, respectively, Sebastin and Grue destroy two of the tendrils, and Stormcry nabs the book and is quickly pulled out by Tarthon. It’s probably a good idea to get out of here. Because walking back across the seaweed surface with several chests full of silver bars sounds both risky and impractical, we decide to drop one of the chests over the side to see if the surface is really like a skin. Sebastin and Stormcry, the two members of the party perhaps best in tune with nature, indeed notice – and feel – a reaction as the heavy box hits the surface. We decide to keep the jewelry and silver armguards hidden from Captain Cross and the rest of the crew, but we’ll share the gold and silver coins. The chests of silver bars will have to stay where they are, until or unless we figure a way out of this.
We return to Lasandra’s Wave and note with concern that the ship has already sunk several inches deeper into the muck. We share the full details with Cross, Hallowell, Nathan, and Elbarr. We also examine the book, which is truly the log – and last words – of Captain Longshanks himself. His account is a terrifying one and has already been optioned by Hammer Films. Longshanks mentioned that there are four triangles and that he had acquired two. Once he found the other two, he would return to the Star. However, the Mistcutter became trapped in this muck just as we did. Members of his crew disappeared only to return as the walking dead – their bodies taken over and animated by the evil, plant-like intelligence that resides at the center of this decaying land. In his final entry, Longshanks says, “I know now that these were but the children of what dwells at this land’s heart. I must seek the mother at this heart, for to destroy the mother is to destroy the brood. If only this had been done to the Kardashian family... I can hear voices whispering all over us. They draw near.”
Ack. So then... guess we’ll have to attack the “Black Heart.” Happy happy joy joy – NOT! Cross isn’t thrilled at the party’s plan to depart at first light for the center of the Sargasso, but our options are few. The ship can’t move, and the same “muck zombies” that came for Longshanks will presumably come for us. As “Plan B,” another group will begin the arduous task of physically carrying one of the ship’s longboats to the edge of the region. If we fail, at least there’s a tiny chance of some folks making it out of here. As our ship is the most recent arrival, and since the land seems to grow from the center out as the “mother” absorbs more lives, Team Longboat might encounter fewer hazards. And monkeys might fly out of my butt. The adventurers agree to sleep on deck tonight and take watch. We expect the worst.
And we’re not disappointed! Creepy whispers of “Outsiders... outsiders... Warriors… come out to plaAAAY…” begin in the darkness outside the ship. Seconds later, six kelp-covered and tattered “muck zombies” clamber over the railing and attack! Their first, off-balance, "Thriller" moves miss Grue and Tarthon. Sebastin hits with rapid shot. Tarthon hacks into one with brutal slam and knocks it over the side! Grue successfully hits with astral wind. Stormcry hits one with grappling strike, yet the zombie escapes the grab. Grue is struck, and two zombies pile on Tarthon, who tries to retaliate with escalating violence. Grue again hits with astral wind. Stormcry summons two spectral lions, which miss their targets. Two more zombies begin to climb up! One of the first zombies misses Grue, but another gets a good shot on Tarthon. Sebastin lets fly with two arrows via rapid shot – and knocks both of the new arrivals back over the edge! Tarthon finishes off his opponent with pressing strike. Grue blasts another with avenging light.
One muck zombie clobbers Sebastin, while another creature’s blow glances off Tarthon’s armor. Sebastin steps back, lets fly with clever shot, and sends his foe over the side. Stormcry knocks one to the deck and stamps on its neck with crushing foot. Nat 20! Tarthon gets into position with pressing strike against the zombie that Stormcry pinned and – finally – gets to use the Headman’s Chop feat to deal bonus damage. 21 points! Suddenly, though, the hatch on which Tarthon is standing creaks under the minotaur’s massive weight and – CRASH!! Tarthon plummets to the deck below! Eventually, however, we’re able to clear the deck, thanks mostly to Sebastin’s clever shot and Grue’s astral wind at the end.
Now what? We can’t deal with this for much longer. One way or another, this must be over by tomorrow night. Sebastin fires a flaming arrow into the darkness toward the Mistcutter. We see three more muck zombies approaching from way off, and we realize with horror that they’re coming in waves from the different ships. And there are a LOT of ships.
( Continue to Part 2: Journey to the Center of the MuckCollapse )