Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Wormwood Mutiny pt. 2

(This entry covers our second session of Skull and Shackles. The party consisted of Jamal the halfling gunslinger, Logan the human rogue, Pig the dwarven alchemist, Jack the oracle and Sandra the ranger. The average party level was 2).

(At this time of writing my memory of the exact duties of every day is clouded. It’s therefore not entirely accurate in any way, but doesn’t seem to be entirely important to the story anyway. For the same reason, the blog is more event-based than a day-to-day story).

Master Scourge didn’t take lightly on the turmoil one bit, seeming almost severely displeased with the result. Violently he hauled the culprits to the deck and started assigning tasks for the day. While Pig would go to help out Kroop again, the rest of the party was sent to the riggings to perform in the masts, while Jamal was sent to the brig.  Logan had the task of seeing to maintenance of the ship and tie up some ropes.

Day 2 – Sails are overrated
Jack wasn’t thrilled about being in the sails. He met up with Rosie there, who repeatedly kept asking whether he’d reclaimed her instrument yet, which he had to admit wasn’t the case. In the same time, Kipper and Patch, Master Scourge’s two goons, did their best to bellow and intimidate him from below deck. Sadly it worked all too well, and a critical mistake up in the mast resulted in the ship being thrown severely off course. At the same time, Logan had a really hard time maintaining his duties on the repairs and Scourge flew into a fit; chaining them both to the middle mast, immediately sending Sandra to take over Jack’s work.
When Sandra finally arrived up there, her result was equally bad (some really nasty rolls there, despite the low DC) and angrily she was nearly hauled down from there and chained up as well.

Mr. Kroop was insanely drunk, leaving only the Pig to fend for himself. He decided to do some improvisation and for one made a great roll that day. The supper that night was a spectacular ordeal of sausage-gruel. But as the hours grew late, Jamal spent time in the brig, talking to a chained up stranger. While not keen on spilling his name or any personal information, he swore that if only the heroes would take pity of him and find some way to make him avoid being keelhauled, he would share some very valuable information. Jamal didn’t buy into this at all but returned from a successful day of work.

On his way up, however, he noticed a towering nearly naked man sitting in the middle deck. He guarded a set of stair and looked at the halfling gloomily. While Jamal tried to make contact, all he got back was some grunts and nasty stares. He then realized he had been chained up there and decided to just head for the deck. Later on he learned about his identity as ‘Owlbear’.

That evening everyone gathered on deck and beheld the lashes delivered to the three amateurs. There was much cheering and rejoicing from Scourge and Plugg, including their faithful crew. As Jack, Logan and Sandra were taken down they were soon after attended to by Sandara and Shortstone. As they spoke, they agreed it was time to get things moving, but first they would have to fetch back their gear from the quartermaster.

Evening 2 – Bottom’s up!
Knowing the quartermaster had a soft spot for a good drink the party hatched their sinister plan. Sending in Pig to knock on her door, he invited her to come and join him and Krook in a cozy time of drinking. Krook had just raised from the drunken stupor and was of course more than eager to indulge himself again. Despite the odd appearance of the little dwarf, the quartermaster reluctantly accepted.

As they went to the cabin, the rest of the party snug in, closed the door behind them and started picking some locks. While they didn’t dare bring along too much stuff from here and feared the traps, they decided to merely take their own stuff and return up on deck soon after. The one exception was of course Rosey’s fiddler. The halfling was ecstatic and embraced Jack in a strong hug, before she played a short piece on it. It was a sad tune that yet instilled their hearts with hope for the evening.
As night approached they went to bed.

The quartermaster
Day 3 – Giant Rats slain: 0/10
As the heroes presented on deck the following day, a frightened sailor emerged from the stairs, whispering to Master Scourge while looking pale. As he finished, Scourged smiled and eyed the heroes.
“Seems like something happened down in the bilges,” he mused “doesn’t sound too pleasant either. I suppose we have your task for the day then. Check it out!”

There was some laughter around them, but the heroes saw no other option than to comply. As they lowered themselves into the darkness below, they noticed said strange man whom Jamal had been speaking to before. He was dead and plenty of flesh picked from his bone by really sharp, small teeth. As the heroes wondered about the cause, a pack of dire rats were upon them.

The rats were of little consequence for them, however. Besides a few flesh wounds they soon emerged unscathed and happily reported back to Scourge. He warmly thanked them by yelling them back to work. Once again Jack was ushered into the riggings and rolled a beautiful 2 on his check, meaning the ship once again set into a turmoil. Hysterical, Scourge went to order him down, when Rosie emerged from behind the sail.

“It was me,” she coldly said. While Scourge pondered on this for a few seconds, he realized picking out his favored victim despite of claims otherwise would prove too suspicious. He sneered and brought her down from there, unleashing the whip that same night.

As they spoke during supper, there was a certain feeling of dissatisfaction onboard. They agreed their time would eventually come.

Day 4 – Boarding School
The following day didn’t involve any mundane tasks. Instead Mr. Plugg took the heroes aside during the morning and with a snarky remark told them they were to be prepared for the upcoming onslaught. Though he didn’t suspect them to live long, being the filthy worms they were, he did want to make sure they would at least make it to the enemy vessel. He therefore directed them to Riaris Krine, master gunner of the Wormwood.  She sailed them out in a jolly boat along with a bunch of grappling hook and instructed them to throw and attach them to the main ship. There was a special prize to the one making it there first.

The ranged attacks went well, everyone in the group managed on their first attempt, and then the horror started.  With a theme-song that could as well have been “It’s raining men” the heroes attempted climbing their way aboard the Wormwood, failing desperately on every attempt. Often, Jack, Logan and Pig would make it out half way there and fail horrendously and plunge into the ocean. After swimming back to the boat, it would all repeat. Jamal barely made it out of the boat at all, before losing his grip and falling. This left Sandra back, who after some splashes made it all the way and was greeted.

It was a small cheer, however, drowned in a massive laughter from Master Scourge and Mr. Plugg, who both eyed them with sadistic glee and a nefarious choir of faithful sailors behind.
As a ‘special honor’ Sandra was nominated to lead the attack during the upcoming days, when the Wormwood would collapse with ‘The Man’s Promise’. They’d better be prepared…

(At this time, observant readers will notice how I left out the events “The Storm” and “The Keelhauling”. Storm comes later and Keelhauling was redundant since the players had already felt harsh pirate-justice.)

During the evening Master Scourge brought up and presented the towering man Jamal had previously encountered. He groaned and stared blankly ahead while Scourge explained the rules. There was a prize to the one able to defeat his combatant in combat. While unarmed attacks were encouraged, accidents were of course prone to happen…

While there was some initial hesitation, two sailors volunteered. The party observed how Owlbear quickly smashed the skull of the first and broke the other’s leg in a swift melee. Below the cheering and shocks, the heroes agreed Pig should make an attempt.

The dwarf jumped in and went enraged. The two combatants locked in combat and in the first round there was a solid dwarven fist in the man’s stomach, sending him staggering backwards. They exchanged punches for a while, before Owlbear hurled a massive barrel against Pig, knocking him down. Then he picked up a club and moved in. Pig wasn’t about to be defeated, however, and in a lunge smashed into the giant. He knocked him down and as Owlbear lay whimpering on the deck, there was a roar of “Finish him!” “Take him down now!”. But Pig refused and the battle ended. The heroes watched an angered Scourge pay up his gold and go to his quarters. As he was hauled below deck, Owlbear watched his opponent with gratitude.

Day 5 – PvP in the bilges
Scourge this morning picked out Pig and sent him to work in the bilges, alone. This seemed odd for the heroes, since they had been attended to recently and it too conveniently was Pig, so they all went down there when nobody paid attention. As they arrived, they noticed a small gang of pirates, who almost looked like they were waiting. While engaging in casual conversation, the heroes noticed they were on edge and waiting, so they watched Pig enter the bilges but remained in the way for the rest. Then the pirates drew daggers and attacked.

It was a quick and decisive fight, in which the party slaughtered the group and had one runner. As they stood there with three corpses, they had to think fast of what to do before something happened…

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Wormwood Mutiny pt. 1

While earth goes round, let rum go round,
Our capstan song we sung:
Half a hundred terrible pirates
When the world was young!
- Alfred Noyes

Avast, ye lubbers!

A hearty welcome to you all and welcome to the beginning of our second epic journey that will this time lead us far into the shiny wide horizon.

This is the official beginning of second official Pathfinder campaign, the first one of course being the very successful adventure of Carrion Crown. And boy, what a journey it's been already. Sadly, I've been gruesomely preoccupied with finishing my first fantasy-novel for publication this year, so the blogs have sort of shifted into the background for a while.

I'm here to remedy this fact and give you a little update on our current progression into the first chapter of the new and almighty campaign: Skull and Shackles.

WTF is Skull and Shackles?
In short, a pirate campaign with an emphasis on naval combat and black hearted pillage and plunder. The players get to take on the roles of lowly crewmembers that eventually fight their way through mutiny and establish themselves in the pirate-community. Much about the campaign seems to involve the players getting into the feel of being a pirate, micromanaging their ship, fighting out sea-battles and administrating their reputation and deeds through a pseudo-sandbox model.

Our setup:
The campaign began in late august, 2012. Our setting is Forgotten Realms, namely in the isles of Zakhara. This is one of the less known areas of Toril and therefore provides you with plenty of freedom. The players were pretty much allowed to use all books under the proviso that no power builds were made. Point buy allowance: 15 and five players. We play once a week for around 4-5 hours.
Chronologically, S&S takes place 10 years after Carrion Crown.

Me hearties!:
The cast this time involves Silverglass as Jamal the halfling Gunslinger. SorenAH as Logan the human rogue. Toby as Sandra the human melee ranger (with a hatred against humans). Roque starring as 'Pig' the dwarven alchemist/barbarian and finally Corlindale as Jack, human oracle of the sea.

The dominating deity in the group is Besmara (whom I simply allowed in because, hey; everything can happen in Zakhara!)

Tha Capn'!:
That's me, Maynard. GM. You might've heard of me.

Prelude: Falling love with tha' sea!
All the players had a solid reason for being in Zakhara, though the reasons varied wildly. The player guide offers some really great traits that pretty much write the backstory's basic elements for you, explaining why the character is where he is as the adventure starts.
With Jamal being the only one without a trait, he simply signed up to join an expedition and suddenly felt a fierce blow to the back of his head.

They all woke up tied up and chained in a foul smelling place; judging from the constant rocking and creaking they were below deck. As Jamal woke up, he looked down and realized he'd been stripped from his equipment and all other possessions. The four people around him; a muscular female, two charismatic and yet beaten males and a... thing, pretty much resembling a naked gorilla in the corner (Dwarf alchemist, Charisma dumbstat: Go!).
Groaning they came to their senses and realized nobody knew exactly where they were, but Jamal seemed to remember signing up for duty onboard the Wormwood, a proud ship that had 'business to conclude' on the high seas. Being from a wealthy family in Faerun, the halfling decided to see the world and kill some boredom. Now it seemed as if his own life was suddenly at stake.

Not long after they heard steps on the stairs. A foul smelling person entered the hold, escorted by two thick followers, staring blankly and stupidly ahead. They were the kind of triangular men one would often see beat up people on the street for fun.

”Still sleeping?” he bellowed and uncoiled his whip, grinning menacingly. ”I suppose we'll have to do away with that soon. Get up before the captain flails you and has you for breakfast!”
They were unlocked from their bonds and ruthlessly pushed up the stairs, heading for the deck.
(I neither write nor speak in the pirate tongue when I GM. Simply because I'm not that well versed in it. In my natural language, Danish, it also sounds rather lame and switching back and forth between English is simply not something I like. So I let my players growl, Aaargh! and Yo-ho! all they want, but the npcs just talk in a scruffy voice).

Up on deck there was a gathering of people, several of them seemed just as new and surprised as the heroes (I'm using the term 'hero' in this journal out of habit; they're far from heroes). On the poop deck (ironically, I feared the amount of poop-deck jokes, but the one with the highest score so far is me...) a brutal house of a man beheld them all, next to a much shorter but viciously looking man in a blue coat. The man with the whip addressed them both.
”Cap'n!” he humbly said. ”Mr. Plugg.”
They both nodded.
”Master Scourge, were these petty rabbles the last in the hold?” Plugg said. Scourge confirmed and spat in the heroes' direction.
”They are indeed, and what a pathetic bunch they are! May Besmara have mercy on their miserable souls, for I will surely not!”
The captain kept his silence for a while before addressing his crew. As they stood there, the heroes realized they were indeed out in the open sea with no knowledge of their whereabouts.
”Welcome aboard the Wormwood, you fine gentlemen and women!” he laughed. ”I am Captain Harrigan, but you will address me as 'Captain'. It is of little concern however, as I have no intentions of ever speaking directly to any of you worthless pieces of filth. You are aboard my ship, and on this ship, you play by our rules. Fail to comply and your life shall be forfeit. Do your part, and wealth and riches await you.”
He turned to Master Scourge and smiled.
”Master Scourge,” he said. ”Please make pirates out of these milkmaids. I want them working in no less than an hour.”
The taskmaster's smile was already about to cut off his ears as he turned towards the newly arrived.

(From hereon the blog follows a day-to-day schedule of events. As written the adventure takes a whole lot more days in which the heroes sail, but I've chosen to include only the highlights.)

Day1: Piracy 101: How not to talk back to Master Scourge

Scourge handed out task blindly and seemingly randomly. First a quick climbing contest sent the heroes up the riggings to see who'd be on top duty, a drill even the first couple of bad rolls managed to foil gruesomely, making Jamal and the Pig hang helplessly just above the deck. This resulted in a lot of sniggering from the rest of the crew, while Mr. Plugg silently watched in cold rage. (I played Scourge as the sadistic version of Captain Haddock and Plugg as the downright psychopath who'd always be the racist, sexist opponent).

Placing Sandra in the riggings, Scourge decided to nominate Pig as the ”Kroop the Cook's” newest apprentice, hurling him towards the kitchen downstairs. The rest of the group was all assigned to manual labour, doing minor repairs, catching rats aboard the ship and tying up robes.

(Every day a player gets a task and has to perform a skill check, usually profession: sailor at DC 10. A failure is noticed and results in punishment. I therefore didn't allow people to Take 10.)

Pig had an interesting meeting with Kroop. The cook was rumored to collapse before his rum cake did, but truth was he usually always slept in a drunken stupor during the day. The kitchen was an enormous mess of stuff and live chickens interestingly eyeing the mute dwarf. Poking the cook sent him into a hungover gratitude for finally having some help, as he desperately needed some turtle meat for tonight's stew. So he sent up the dwarf with some harpoons to do some fishing!

On his way out, the dwarf also noticed the room to the quartermaster in which an already drunk half-orc sat, apparently drowning her sorrows.

Up on deck, Logan was busy tying knots when he met an interested soul sitting down next to him. He presented himself as Crimson, newly arrived on board as well. They exchanged some information, seeing that Crimson too had thought of life on the high seas and that of piracy; he wanted more than anything to murder, butcher and kill. Especially children. He spent a great deal of time talking to Logan about the countless of ways in which a child could be murdered, often asking whether Logan had ever had the pleasure? The rogue made a solid bluff check to convince him; sure, killing children was the best! (In Paizo's defense this character has been grossly exaggerated by me - I believe as written he just likes fighting. I added him in as the chaotic evil component for the heroes to add to their crew later, in case they feel brave.)

With the merry talk of child-murder going on, the poor oracle was on runner-duty, fetching messages between people on the ship. He passed by Jamal who was busy catching rats below deck, but was suddenly stopped by a small, strong arm pressing him up the wall of the ship. He looked down upon a handsome female halfling, eyeing him eloquently.
”You're new here” she stated. He nodded.
”So am I. And I think I need your help, whether you want it or not.”
She presented herself as Rosie, another newly arrived crewmember. While she seemed genuinely suspicious towards him, she confessed her dire problem of losing her fiddler as she was taken aboard, and she was convinced it now rested with the quartermaster. If he could get it back to her, she'd certainly owe him one. He promised to do his best and then hurried onwards.

Up in the riggings, Sandra was having a really hard time. None of this made any sense whatsoever! The Wormwood was an odd ship, she concluded. As she did her best to make ends meet, she was suddenly greeted from behind a sail. A short person showed up, wearing fancy purple clothes, a feathery hat and elegantly leapt through the air. He smiled and bit her welcome, introducing himself as Mr. Shortstone.
”And just who may you, be handsome?” he asked with a charming smile.
(Shortstone I ended up playing pretty much like that horny skunk from those old cartoons. It worked surprisingly well, perhaps because the entire thing was so over the top with his 'Ah Madam! I zell ju; truly ju arr a jywul of the see, oui?').
Sadly, they didn't get far in ther romantic tete-a-tete before a roaring scourge noticed the ship had started misbehaving badly, due to bad work in the riggings. He pointed out Sandra, ordering her to get her acts together immediately!
To this she turned her head at him and yelled ”Shut your hole!”

Then silence erupted on the ship. Even Pig who'd been enjoying his turtle fishing so far stopped and watched the taskmaster gesturing for the woman to come down at once. She reluctantly did so, regretting her words already. She was tied to the mast and remained there for the rest of the day, till they gathered for eating in evening. There she received her rightful punishment with the lash, leaving her battered and in pain for her disobedience.

The heroes had the chance to gather up and meat as the sun set on the horizon, while they introduced each other. Meanwhile, a handsome young woman joined in on their company and presented herself as Sandara . As a devout follower of Besmara, she healed Sandra's wounds and told the heroes a bit about the Wormwood and the people on it. Most of them they had met, but there were plenty of stories of the vile people that were the captain, Scourge and Plugg. People that were not to be trifled with in any way!
She also told them of the quartermaster and the likely position of the heroes' gear. The quartermaster was very suspicious and Sandara had luck gaining various pieces of equipment from her stocks with a well spun tale. She encouraged the heroes to try the same, or use the fact that she usually forgot to lock the door.
She presented Jamal's firearm which she'd gotten her hands on earlier that day, giving it back as the halfling pointed his ownership out. (Usually she'd fetch something far less smaller, but it was the only thing that seemed vital enough for the players to notice her good intentions.)

Sandara Quinn
They had a great time and various forms of entertainment began around deck, including an arm-wrestling contest. Most of the heroes went to bed, but Jamal and Sandra stayed on deck to observe. A sinister looking man named 'Badger' challenged Sandra to a match, promising to go easy on her since she was a feeble woman. The contest involved simple arm-wrestling; whoever lost had his or her hand slammed down into a small patch of broken glass.
Accepting, the two opponents sat down, and with a very lucky roll, Sandra slammed Badger's hand violently into the shrapnel, sending the seafarer howling and bleeding below deck.

They then decided to go to bed and rejoice surviving their first day on ship.

Day 2: Badger, badger, badger, badg-- Oh FUCK, it HURTS!
The majority of the crew got up in good time and headed for the deck, but as the heroes made their way towards the stairs, a gang of pirates suddenly blocked their way along with the remaining bunch. Those were wise enough to know that this struggle was none of their business.
They recognized yesterday's arm-wrestling loser, with a bandage around his hand. He eyed Sandra.
”Think you'll get away that easy?” he hissed. ”Why don't we let the fists fight for real this time?”
Then they attacked.

In unarmed combat, the heroes did surprisingly well. Pig ran in, howling, tackling and beating up the pirates with his solid dwarven fists. Logan feinted another and served a direct punch to his solar plexus, sending him to the floor. Meanwhile, the ranged supporters picked up whatever stuff they could find to throw at the pirates for additional damage, mostly empty flasks and old buckets. In the end, the entire gang was violently taken down, and Badger was uppercut backwards till he smashed into the stairs and fainted. As the dust and noise settled, the spectators broke into cheering. A cheering short-lived, however, as an angry Master Scourge soon stood on the top of the stairs, obviously displeased.

And that was the end of the first session.