Thursday, July 14, 2011

Savage Tide: Chapter 3 - The Sea Wyvern's Wake (Pt. 1)

We recently left the heroes in “The Bulywug Gambit” as they were heading for the basement of the Vanderboren mansion. Here they took the fight to the chieftain of the Bullywugs and managed to free their lovely patron, Lavinia, from the slimy clutches of the frog-people and bring order to chaos.
Lavinia, being severely grateful and rather shocked, rewarded the heroes handsomely, and asked them to take some time off and enjoy themselves. She seemed very happy, they noticed, even when they explained her that Vanthus had once again escaped his proper punishment. Although saddened that her parents’ murderer had once again evaded judgment, there was a mysterious touch of optimism in the blue eyes of the young noble.
“There is a whole festival out there to enjoy,” she said “it would only be proper that you reaped the harvest of your hard efforts and experienced the days of the festival. I have a lot to attend to now, including bringing order to this mess. I urge you to contact me in a few days, because we have much to talk about.”
Thus began the third chapter on the heroes’ travel, which you bring them closer to a grim and dark world at the world’s end. But for now, their initial destination was the festivities taking place just outside the mansion. As the players left and the city guards started the cleaning, Lavinia thanked the Jade Ravens for their efforts as well, before she went to her tiny office and sat down. For several minutes she stared out the window, over the ocean, while gently fiddling with the golden Seeker-ring in her hand. Then finally, she reached down, pulled out a drawer, and fetched a leather-book and a handful of maps. The paper was yellow, worn and carried several passages of scribbling in the margins. In the middle a crude drawing portrayed an oblong island, with several signs of warning on various coasts.
“The Isle of Dread…” she read, in a voice nothing more than a whisper. “Mother… If this was truly your ambition, then this is what I must do.”
GM Comments:
Chapter three is one of those you might either spend ages on, or you’ll breeze right through it, depending on your preferences or players. There are several situations in here that present great opportunities for roleplaying and a chance to become acquainted with various NPC’s.
NPC’s being mentioned, there are a lot of them, and the players are more or less forced to interact with them, since they’ll be marooned on their ship with them for three months. If you’re not that keen on fleshing all of them out, as a GM, it might be beneficial to decide in advance which ones you intend to focus on. In my case, I chose Lavinia, Avner, Urol and captain Amella, with minor emphasis on the rest, including the Jade Ravens. At this point in my campaign, I wasn’t really sure what I’d use them for, so I chose to let it rest on the players and their interaction with them. At the start of the campaign, the Ravens had gone pretty quiet, and kept for themselves in subtle embarrassment of the event in the mansion.
Players who are not very fond of roleplaying will likely find some events in TSWW uninteresting or downright boring, so I suggest getting a feeling for their preferences along the way, and possibly add and remove various parts as you see fit.
Enjoying the festival!
As soon as the players left the mansion they were stopped by one of the village jesters. Guides and informants about the festivities and various activities for those unacquainted with them. After a brief conversation, the heroes decided to go and try out a few things.


GM Comment:
All the activities were taken from my guide on festivals at:
I’m aware that my previous blog described the festival as being related to the death of Zelkarune, the black dragon, and not to the events in Age of Worms. This is very deliberate, since I at that time didn’t know much about AOW, and was just about to start the campaign as a player. Therefore I wanted to know as little as possible, and set up the festival in another theme. Besides that, the rest was unchanged.
Most of the time was spent at the bazaar of wonders, in which the heroes had a lot of fun buying various mundane items, such as glass-miniatures. Additionally, Leopold the Bard unloaded vast amounts of gold at Mr. Gimble’s Imp and Sack and won glamorous prices such as an infinite bag of fish, a miniature iron-golem and a giant cork-plug combined with a pile of tombstones without names. Such are the wonders.
On the more conventional front, the players met Zeldarion the elf, who upgraded their armors for a humble sum, and had a fair share of drinks and sold loot.
An expedition into the south
The heroes, who for remembrance consisted of Markus the Warblade, Leopold the Bard, Bridget the cleric and Devron the Sorceror, returned to the Vanderboren-mansion two days later. They were in high spirit and pretty sure that they were to travel into the east as their next assignment, in order to hunt down Vanthus.
This was likely contributing to their surprise once they arrived at the mansion, only to find out that several day workers were busy dragging out the furniture, loading it onto a cart. Meanwhile, the majority of the garden was being dug up, except for the tallest of trees, and placed in pots that were later carried off. There was a lot of talking and mumbling around them, as the heroes entered the house and found it to be in the state of shutdown. What was left of the interior was only waiting to be packed into crates, or carried white sheets as if their owner had no intention of ever using them again.
They found Lavinia in the banquet hall, in which they had dined a couple of times. She was eagerly inspecting the far wall in which several maps and navigational charts were the sole decoration. There were enough of them to cover a small house. Sitting not far from her were the Jade Ravens, who gave the heroes an acknowledging nod, but before anyone got to speak, their patron turned around with a swirl. For the first time in so long time, a genuine smile greeted them.
“Heroes,” she said, with a cheerful voice that echoed through the naked halls. “I am so glad you could make it. Please, have a seat. I’d wish to offer you something, but as you can see, I’m pretty much fresh out!”
“Think none of it,” Devron said and found his seat “I’d rather like to know what’s happening? Are you leaving?”
“I am!” Lavinia said, and marched to the biggest map, her heels clicking loudly “In fact, WE are leaving. With your permission, that is.”
“Excuse me?”
“You remember the papers you helped me find in the castle, right?” Lavinia said, and pointed at a tiny coast. It looked like the coast of Sasserine. Leopold noticed a smug gaze from the Jade Ravens. “Well, it turns out to be just as I expected. These are my mother’s journals and records. It seems like my parents were actually quite the adventuring types, to which I would certainly not object. Truth to be told…” she eyed Markus with a wry smile “…I’ve grown rather fond of it. I might as well admit that I’ve always wanted to do something important with my life. Travel the world. See places. And luckily, a very unique opportunity has just presented itself! Only four years ago, my parents undertook a truly dangerous journey into unknown territory. They loaded The Blue Nixie with colonists and materials and sailed far to the south, into the unknown ocean, to a place they refer to as The Isle of Dread. Now, I am not sure whether you’ve heard of this place, but let me say; it’s aptly named. Mother describes this place as a hell-hole of a jungle, infested with giant lizards, savage natives and perils around every corner. However, the southern peninsula seemed relatively safe, and thus my parents decided to found the colony of Farshore.”
“And they lived safely from harm, I assume?” Bridget said.

“Oh yes, but the colony is not the only interesting thing here. You have to understand, the Isle of Dread is an untapped treasure in itself. The island is teeming with resources, spices, lumber, animals, mines, ore, gems…even ancient artifacts, perhaps? Had mother and father only the time, they could have turned this into one of the most valuable trade-routes to ever exist! Apparently, this was their sole intention when they returned…before my brother made his move, and left me in this sorry state. And now, I intend to carry through with that plan!”
Silence dominated the room for several seconds. The young noble obviously tried to read her champions.
“Before you start asking,” she quickly said “I have been busy studying mother’s journal. This is not some crazy voyage to wherever the wind will take us. Everything has been quite planned for, and I am certain we can do this, provided we set up a proper expedition. I intend to sail south for three months, carrying a vast cargo of fresh supplies and colonists, and remain at the colony for the rest of the year. I assure you that most of the expedition has already been arranged for. All I need is an additional ship…”
Lavinia turned slowly towards the heroes with an almost exaggerated innocence. “I…do recall you telling me about the ship you found in Kraken Cove. I was wondering whether I could persuade you to join me on the journey. We could really use not only your vessel, but you have proven more than capable for tending to not only yourselves. What say you?”
“This is a lot to ask, Lavinia” Markus said. “I am not saying that we wouldn’t want to offer you our ship, but I’d like to know a bit more about this voyage. Who are we dealing with onboard, exactly what does this journey involve, and what could we possibly expect?”
“I do understand your concern,” Lavinia said. “But let me assure you that the first half of the journey should prove almost trivial. We’re going around the cape of the chultan peninsula, to the west, and make our way past various harbors and rivers to fetch supplies. From thereon, the most perilous part is the journey south. We’re going off the charts, ladies and gentlemen. Mother’s journal isn’t specific on this point, but once we reach the Isle of Dread, we should be able to sail past most of the danger and directly to Farshore. Once there, we will contact Lord Meravanchi  and figure out our next step.”
“She makes it sound so easy” Devron whispered. Bridget smiled.
“I know you might be hesitant,” Lavinia continued “But think of the gains! Think of how much is at stake, and how much of a difference we could make. Not only for the colonists, but also for ourselves, once we start establishing trade-routes to the mainland. We could be rich beyond our wildest dreams! What say you?”
The heroes looked at each other. Markus smiled and eyed Lavinia through the corner of his eye. “Alright,” he said “You’ve got yourself a ship, my lady. When are we leaving?”
GM-Comments:
I chose to give my players an elaborate explanation of the situation in this scene, instead of partially revealing it. They hadn’t thought much about retrieving the Wyvern at this stage, so they had some time to fetch it and bring it back to Sasserine. Of course, it’s also viable to keep the players in the dark about the majority of the journey. Either way, notice that the printed version of this adventure originates in Greyhawk, meaning you’ll likely have to change a bit, if you’re using a different setting. In my case, Sasserine was placed on the northern coast at the chultian peninsula, meaning the players simply sailed west and I transferred the locations accordingly.
An odd crew
A few days later the heroes had successfully commandeered the Sea Wyvern, and brought it to Sasserine harbor. Here Lavinia took over the procedures, and told them about the formalities. They were, all in all, going to spend three months at sea, and Sasserine would be both the first and the
biggest city on their journey. Therefore they were encouraged to stock up on anything they might need in the future, before sitting down to meet their crew.
The preparations were handled swiftly, and mostly consisted of a shipment of Wands of Cure Light Wounds and the bare necessities, such as anti-toxins and potions. Occasionally, the citizens of Sasserine would stop the heroes to wish them a good journey, or tell them that they would be there this night to say goodbye.

The Sasserinian harbor was especially teeming with activity and life, this warm day. The wind was fair and a lot of sailors, old and young, stood at the piers or sat at the inns, looking at the two impressive ships docked in the middle of the harbor. Crewmembers were swarming in between each other as they carried crates, bags, sacks and weapons onboard, or made way for the ambitious colonists. These were all lined up in a long queue in front of both ships, before they were signed on as part of the officially named ‘Vanderboren Expedition’. It was safe to say that everything was one big mess, albeit structured enough to maintain steady progress for both ships. It certainly didn’t improve matters, that a thick carpet of citizens had gathered around to point and mumble about either the madness or bravery of this venture.

 As the heroes approached, they didn’t get to stand around for long before Lavinia greeted them. The young noble was eagerly explaining how well everything was under way, and despite minor setbacks they were well on schedule. They only needed to address a few issues with the sleeping-quarters.
It was then they were abruptly interrupted by the sound of loud hooves, making their way across the cobblestones. When they turned their gaze, a mighty grey stallion was approaching the gangplank. Its rider, a handsome young man with a moustache, smiled at them with his teeth before saying “please move out of the way, rabble. Thank you.”
“What an idiot,” Bridget mumbled. “Must be one of the people from the carnival”.
“Actually,” Lavinia said “his name is Avner. Avner Meravanchi. He’s joining us.”
“You’re serious?”
“Very serious.”
“But the man is an ass? Please tell me he’s not going with—“
“Your ship, yes. It’s the biggest one, and he specifically asked for the biggest one.”
“Tell him no, then!”
“We can’t!” Lavinia hissed “The Meravanchi-family is one of our prime sponsors. Their only request was that we brought him with us. Took him far away, to his uncle in Farshore. You guys are going to take him with you, unless you’re willing to pay the sum instead!”
They heard a loud arguing. Agitated voices were shouting over the crowd and it was obvious that the young nobleman had his first clash out of many. A moment later they arrived to find him before the gangplank, fiercely arguing with a young, beautiful woman with a rough edge. She was eyeing him furiously, and her golden hair teemed with each syllable of her words.

“I am NOT telling you again, Avner. You are not getting special treatment for this nag of yours. He can stay at the cargo hold, just like the rest of the animals!”
“My dearest Captain Amella. You have obviously lost touch with this entire situation. Allow me to explain it one more time, I will even do it slowly. I am well aware that people of your status are not frequent to magnificent beings that are not nautical in nature, but this magnificent mount is Thunderstrike, a god among horses. If you would just be so kind as to find him a private place, I will immediately be off to inspect my cabin. That’s a good lass!”
“Heroes!” Amella shouted, as the group advanced. “As the owners of this ship, please knock some sense into this man’s head. I’ve got neither the time nor the patience for dealing with such imbeciles.”
“Rest assured, captain, we will deal with this. Proceed with your duties.” Leopold kindly said and turned to Avner. “I am sure your steed will be most comfortable in the cargo, Mr. Meravanchi. If you would just be so kind and let the crew transport it onboard, we’d be happy if you would just find your hammock in the crew’s quarters below deck.”
“Crew?” Avner frowned. “Young man, a hero of my status is NOT sleeping with such rabble? I was promised my personal cabin? What is this madness?”
Leopold eyed Lavinia. “What matters now, good Sir, is to get our journey started. I am sure that once we’re at sea, everything will work out fi—“ the Bard froze as a tiny man in green clothes, with a huge grey beard, was slowly lifting the tail of the horse, mumbling to himself. Avner followed his gaze.


“YOU!” he shouted. “Gnome! TINY MEN! GET AWAY FROM MY HORSE!”
“I’m sorry!” the gnome squeaked “Forgive me, I didn’t mean neither you nor your masterfully bred horse any damage!”
“Who are you?” Markus interrupted.
“I am Urol! Urol Forol. Pleasure ta’ meet ya! Ambitious scholar and traveler extraordinaire!”
“Let me guess,” Bridget sighed “you’re also coming with us?”
“Why, how perceptive, young woman! We might make a scholar out of you yet! You shouldn’t so happen to be interested in the finer arts of botanic, flora and fauna? We might just have a lot to discuss, you know, it’s always so exciting meeting foreign people around here. Do you know each other? I know I don’t. But I guess we will have plenty of time for that, right? In the mean time you might think about what particular area of the field you’d like to see addressed in the upcoming compendium of life on the Isle of Dread. I assure you there is so much to say yet, and we know so very little about, well, everything. A brilliant example which I am sure will suffice for an introducing chapter is the peculiar mating-habits of the rare Emerald Crab, which only lives in the shallow water close to—“
“Listen,” Leopold gently interrupted. “We’d love to hear more—“
“No we don’t”
“Shut up. We’d love to hear more, Mr. Forol. But for now, we’re kind of in a hurry, so if both you AND Mr. Meravanchi would be so kind as to stroll aboard, we’d get to study said rituals a lot faster, I assure you.”
“Yes, that makes sense. Let’s go Mr. Marvenchia! I am sure this is a brilliant first step towards a bigger hike!”
As both of them vanished into the crowd, one complaining, one rambling, Bridget gentle held her temples, wondering exactly how long the upcoming three months would feel.





GM Comments:
Introducing the entire crew in this way can be some challenge. Therefore, the friar, the traveler and the tomboy were introduced once the players were riding the waves. I always stray a bit from the description either way, but as I knew the players would interact with Amella, Avner and Urol not only in this but also several chapters to come they received a great deal of spotlight.
I’m actually quite happy with how I made Urol work. A true annoyance, but the players quickly realized how much they could gain from him, since he was a vault of knowledge about the Isle of Dread and the Olman Empire. Provided they could sit through his ramblings, that is. I made sure that unless they intimidated him, they’d have to put up with interesting lectures for at least a minute, before he got to the answer to their questions.
Additionally, captain Amella was the second romance-option in the campaign, so I wanted to present her properly as well.
Setting out on the sea
The heroes left port and had several opportunities to mingle with their new crew. Naturally, some received far more attention than the rest, and a few weren’t even talkative. Besides the spoiled Avner (that quickly addressed the heroes with a thorough list of approved food for his horse) and Urol, the heroes had a pleasant talk with Father Feres, a cleric of Lathander and Lirith, a female gladiator from Sasserine.

Besides, another traveler had joined the Sea Wyvern; a brooding person named Skald, who preferred to be left alone and stare across the ocean.
Lavinias’ ship sailed alongside the heroes, carrying mostly supplies and various materials, also featuring the Jade Ravens as body guards. Not that body guards would likely be needed, as she said, but she felt best knowing that armed men were at her side.
The first week of travel offered nothing spectacular, except some impressive sights to the south, as they passed the lush, green jungles and saw the grey harbor of Sasserine shrink, until it was nothing more than a dot on the horizon.
The wind was merciful and the weather great. As the days passed there wasn’t many challenges ahead. Bridget spent a lot of time working with the captain, learning the ropes of sailing. During the evening, the heroes would often gather up to either eat with the crew and colonists, occasionally join captain Amella in her cabin. In both cases Leopold would tell stories from near and far, especially about their deeds in Sasseine, and everyone was listening with great attention.
Every day, the two ships would exchange news and updates on their situation, but on the evening of the eight day, Lavinia invited the heroes to come dine with her. They gladly accepted, and even though the Jade Ravens were also present and sending hostile gazes, the evening turned out wonderfully. Lavinia, usually one for the regally blue colors, wore a deep red dress and orange flower in her hair. It was a feast unlike anything else the heroes had for a long time, sausages, quail, salted pork, buttered vegetables and soft bread. Their favorite wines and beverages were lined up on a nearby table, and the lightening provided a cozy, golden haze in the cabin.
As they spoke about the coming events, Markus noticed how his eyes met those of the young Vandeboren. Just for a short moment, before she embarrassedly looked down. He couldn’t tell whether she was blushing, but he had a feeling.

(Opposite in my campaign)
Lavinia went into details with the upcoming stops and ports, telling the heroes that they would eventually reach Fort Blackwell. “It is a tiny coastal, town” she said “we will make a stop for some supplies and a few days for people to stretch their legs. There likely won’t be much of interest for people like you… but it’s very scenic, and I think we all deserve a break after the first 14 days.” She then described how they would push south, making a brief stop at the mouth of the Havekihu River for fresh water. At this time she stopped for a second, as if carefully choosing her next words.
“And then,” she slowly began “later on, I have…sort of, made a promise on your part. Before you react, let me quickly add, this is likely no bother at all. But the gnome, Urol, on your ship made quite an unusual request. I am not sure whether any of you have ever heard of the Olman-empire?”
Devron’s fork halted midair. “The Olmans?” he said. “The ancient tribal civilization?”
“Those are the one” Lavinia exclaimed with an eager smile
“What about them? That old empire has been lost and gone for thousands of years? It’s a common fact that their only remains are a bunch of crumbled ruins, scattered among the southern coasts.”
“Ah!” the young noblewoman said “you’re already well versed in this matter I see. According to Mr. Urol, the Olman Empire might hold important information about our destination. I couldn’t exactly
figure out how, but he insisted to be allowed access to explore some old Olman-ruins on our way. Tamoachan, I think the name was.”
“Tamoachan can barely be called remnants,” Devron pondered. “It used to be some kind of minor temple-outpost, according to legend. Whatever would he want there?”
Lavinia shrugged. “I honestly don’t know,” she answered with a hint of a smile “But if he’s right, whatever he hopes to find could be of benefit to us. After all, he’s the only one here that’s been to the Isle of Dread before. I’d trust his word. Besides; I am only asking you lot to babysit him because that  old gnome would stay there for weeks, if nobody drags him out. I hope this is not asking too much?”
Leopold nodded. “Been there before, eh? I am sure we could manage that.”
“Excellent! Let’s have a toast. For a safe journey!”
An hour later, the heroes retired from the party and headed back to the Wyvern. A rope had been hung between the ships for them to climb, and as Marcus began traversing it, it suddenly snapped. He hit the dark waves with a loud splash, and while Bridget and Devron started shouting and tossing out rope, Leopold noticed a dark shade at the front of the Wyvern casting a spell. “Stop that man!” he screamed at the crew, resulting in immediate chaos. “STOP HIM! DON’T LET HIM GET AWA—What in the hells is that?”
Leopold looked horrified at the massive shape, heading directly for Marcus. He cried out for him, but soon after the War Blade was dragged below water by a huge, fiendish-looking shark.
“We’ve got to do something, I’m going after him!” Leopold said and leaped overboard. As he approached the dark waves, he noticed how a green mephit was screamingly heading for his two remaining companions.
The mephit was pickled.
“We’re being attacked!” Devron sneered and hurled a magic missile at the mephit. “We should’ve known it wouldn’t be this easy!”
“But who?” Bridget asked as she invoked the divine power of her deity. The silvery light gentle spread on the sorcerer’s robe, closing the bleeding wounds as the mephit started raking him. “And why?”
“Well, we haven’t exactly been diplomatic, have we?” Devron shouted. His gaze was fixed on the mephit , and yet distant, lost in thought. He shrugged off the bewilderment, trying to catch any sound of Leopold or Marcus. He straightened up, and focused all effort on gathering arcane energy, that seconds later turned into a blast of scorching light. It roared through the gloom and hit the mephit straight on, sending a screaming ball of fire to the depths. They both ran for the railing and stared at the waves.  They were stared back in silence, only interrupted by distant shouts, ringing bells and Lavinia’s hasty footsteps.
“What happened? Are we being attacked?” she asked “Where is Marcus?”
“We’re…not entirely sure” Bridget admitted. “It looks like a shark took him”
“What? That can’t be! You’ve got to help him! Get in there!”
“Well, the bard tried that”
“Yes, and it’d be better for someone to assess the situation, I am sure” Devron added “After all, none of us are exactly great swimmers”
In a roaring blast, Marcus burst through the surface, heavily wounded with his glaive in one hand and an unconscious bard in the next. He tied the rope to Leopold and slowly they were both brought up to the deck. Lavinia instantly threw herself around his neck, adding to his already befuddled look.
“What happened down there?” Devron asked. “That shark would’ve torn any normal man apart!”
“And it almost did,” Marcus admitted “but I am no normal person, am I?”
The War Blade gently removed himself from Lavinia and wearily sat down. Leopold had obviously been chewed on recklessly, which had left several bleeding fang-marks all over his body.  “That shark; it almost ate the bard… And the peculiar thing is, once I killed it, it just…disappeared?”
“A summoned shark, then” Devron said. “And the sudden appearance of a mephit. It seems like we’ve become a thorn in the side of a spell-caster.”
As Leopold got around, the heroes had a brief meeting with Lavinia, in privacy. Although there certainly was a wide range of possible identities, it was certain that someone onboard one of the ships sought the heroes’ death. They agreed that Lavinia with the Ravens and the heroes with captain Amella were responsible for searching and investigating their respective vessels. The crew and passengers were likely getting quite nervous about the recent event, so it was imperative to maintain control.
It was around midnight, and a confrontation with Avner Meravanchi about the safety aboard, that the heroes returned to their cabins. On their way, Leopold noticed Skald staring at them from the poop deck.

“It was a nasty event” he said. “You guys ought to be more careful.”
“Yes,” Leopold answered. “Next time, we will make sure to strike first.”
Skald smiled, slyly.
“In that case,” the foreigner said “I hope you know who to strike. Gentlemen.”


GM Comments:
The adventure recommends some other assassination-attempt, which I decided to include later on. The investigation-plot took a lot more time than I’ve described here. Well over two hours of talking, considering suspects and pondering as to who could possibly have an interest to see them dead. Besides obvious guesses, such as Vanthus (who was frankly a prime candidate for some time) it was also plausible to suspect the Obsidian (scarlet) Brotherhood. The heroes had originally promised the Brotherhood their cooperation in catching Vanthus, but in the end they terminated the alliance, which was never taken lightly. Additionally, Marcus’ father never approved of his son’s departure, and even less of his adventurous new friends. Finally, the Jade Ravens weren’t off the hook, as they could have a lot to gain by making the heroes appear incompetent. Or even better; dead.
I liked this part of the adventure, because it did what it was supposed to. The heroes became paranoid and strived to tighten control of the situation. It worked even better, once the passengers started worrying, questioning and even blaming the heroes for not catching the murderer. But sadly, there were plenty of trials to come, on what originally seemed to be an easy, uneventful journey.

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