Maiden Voyage (Penumbra d20 module)


For our past couple of sessions my 4e group has failed to muster quorom, and so we've been running a parallel game.

The system we're using is Burning Wheel, but this post will be as much as possible system-neutral; I want to say a bit about the module I've been using, and see if anyone else has experiences with it that they would like to share.

We had an initial Burning Wheel session a few months ago, also triggered by lack of quorom for 4e (full write-up here). This session kicked things off with the PCs down-and-out in Hardby (a port town in the middle of the Greyhawk map).

At that point we had 3 PCs: a wizard/assassin; a wizard; and an elven fighter:

  • The wizard/assassin found herself in Hardby looking for work/money, to try and get herself back on her feet so she could pursue revenge against her former mentor, who had tried to sacrifice her to a demon.

  • The wizard was also short of cash, but had as his main goal to find the magical ingredients that he will need to enchant an item that he could use to stop his brother, also a wizard (and possibly the same person as the evil mentor) from turning into a demon.

  • The elf, something of a ronin, had left the elven kingdom of Celene after his lord was killed by orcs. Full of grief at his failure to protect his lord, he has come to the human lands to try and prove himself. (And he wears the head of the fatal orc arrow around his neck as a constant reminder of his past.)

The first session ended with the PCs taking passage on a ship sailing south to Elredd. They were following two NPCs on that ship. The first was a peddler, who earlier in the session had sold the wizard an angel feather, reputedly taken from one of the ancient tombs in the Bright Desert, which turned out to be cursed. The peddler had decided to leave Hardby in a hurry and return to his home down south, but not (just) because he was selling cursed trinkets. He had also received news that his wife and daughter (whom he'd left behind at home) had fallen terribly ill.

The other NPC was a wild-eyed-and-bearded character, reputedly a wizard, who (the PCs had learned during the session) had sold the feather to the peddler and had also sold a spellbook to another wizard which was written in the hand of the PC wizard's brother. This NPC wizard had not gone voluntarily onto the ship, but rather had been captured by guards and put on board as an unconscious prisoner.

This set things up for playing the module mentioned in the thread title.

*Maiden Voyage*
I've had this module for many years now but this is the first time I've run it. It has a rather gritty/sword-and-sorcery feel (as do most of the Penumbra modules, in my view at least) and so wasn't suitable for the game I was running when I first bought it (high level, high fantasy Rolemaster) and didn't seem to suit 4e either.

When I started talking to my group about giving Burning Wheel a try, though, it seemed like a good fit and I wrote up some conversion notes. Which have turned out to come in handy.


The basic premise of the module is that the PCs find themselves in the midst of a murder mystery and horror story on the high seas. The captain of the ship (the Albers) is travelling with his fiance on board. The presence of a woman makes many of the superstitious crew unhappy, and so the captain takes on the PCs as extra sword-hands/bodyguards. After a couple of days on board the captain dies mysteriously overnight, and the PCs get caught up in the ensuing crisis.

Complicating factors are (i) various dire portents prior to the captain's death, like a mysterious eclipse; (ii) the presence of a wizard prisoner on board, wanted for murder at the destination port and being carried there for the bounty; (iii) the fact that the captain's death is in fact not caused by anyone on board, but rather by a ghostly possession by the spectral captain of a ghost ship - the Sea Maiden - that is haunting the waters.

We haven't finished the adventure yet, and because my players sometimes read these boards I'll not describe the default ending of the module.

*Session 0 - boarding the Albers*
The PCs going on board the Albers was the last fifteen or so minutes of play in our initial Burning Wheel session described above. The PCs wanted to follow the peddler and the wizard prisoner, looking for more information about the cursed feather, the spellbook the wizard had sold, etc.

The wizard/assassin and the elf pitched themselves as a bodyguard and a sword-hand respectively, and got hired on that basis. (As well as the captain's desire for a bodyguard, the wizard PC emphasised the dangers of orcish pirates on the waters and the benfits of a good elven fighter should any be encountered.) The wizard didn't make any sort of case for his own abilities, however, and so in the end the other two PCs agreed to forego their own pay in order to meet the cost of passage for the wizard.

*Session 1 - setting the scene*
The module depends on quite a cast of NPCs. As well as the ship's captain, his fiance and the wizard prisoner, there is the first mate (Huxley) with whom the PCs initially dealt when they sought passage; a navigator and a cook; and three named sailors - Ox, Old Pete and Dert the cabin boy - as well as 10 unnamed sailors.

In our first session, a fair bit of time was spent setting up some of the dynamics around these NPCs. The players had already encountered the captain, anxious about his crew's superstitions and wanting a bodyguard, but there were some further interactions in this session, especially involving the wizard/assassin (now bodyguard) getting further direction from her employer and briefing him on the mutterings and disposition of the crew. (In the course of these exchanges, in the captain's (aft) cabin, the PC also noticed a painting hanging askew on the wall, and therefore not quite hiding the strongbox behind it).

And the play of the initial session had established backstory and connections around the wizard prisoner, as well as the peddler passenger (who is not part of the module as written but rather an extra connection that I put into it).

But the PCs still had to learn that Huxley is well-respected by the crew and competent at commanding them, having charge of day-to-day operations while the captain sits in his cabin (with Selene, his fiance). They had to learn about Ox and Old Pete. The latter didn't come into play much in this session, but Ox did a little more. I'd already mentioned him in the initial session, as being sent off to bring extra food and water on board when the PCs were taken on as hands/passengers, and he came to the fore in this first full session when he challenged the elven swordhand to a friendly bare-knuckle boxing match. The elf won pretty handily, but (as per the module description) Ox was a good sport about it, and a bit of money changed hands among those who had placed wagers.

In this first session I also got to introudce Wendt, the cook, as a surly and unpleasant type who doesn't like anyone darkening the door of his galley.

The other introduction that had to take place was of a new PC - in this first session the player of the elf fighter hadn't been able to turn up (so the elf was being run as an NPC), but another player was present and had worked up his own character, an Elven warrior princess (mechanically resembling a 4e warlord) with a young human widow in tow (a henchman/cohort) who is a minor druid (able to commune with nature spirits).

The backstory for this PC is that she has been caught up in factional struggles between the royal court and the soldiery in the elven kingdom of Celene, and was being sent (by sea) to Greyhawk by the Knights of Luna, to serve as an envoy there. This was her first time among humans, and on her way to port she had met the recently widowed young woman who had been immediately taken with the noble elf, and had joined her on the ship.

As a GM, how do you introduce new PCs into an ogoing adventure taking place on a ship? Easy - via shipwreck! So on the first night of the Albers' voyage, not ony was there a mysterious eclipse at sundown (as the module suggests) but also the wreckage of another vessel, with two survivors clinging to it, was spotted floating on the ocean. This compounded the sense of ill omens, which was good, and allowed the new PC and follower to be dropped into the action. The ecliplse also gave the PC wizard the chance to reveal his magical powers to the ship's crew, when he cast a powerful light spell to penetrate the darkness of the eclipse.

There were two other events of note in this first full session.

The wizard prisoner regained consciousness on the second day of the voyage. The druid cohort, who is rather naive in her attitude towards strangers, brought him water, and tried to bring him food but was rebuffed by the cook. The wizard PC engaged him in conversation. With some successful Bluff checks, the NPC was able to persuasively maintain his innocence of the murders of which he was accused, and - after some further social skill resolution - the PC wizard nearly ended up agreeing to ally with him. But the wizard/assassin, who was watching their exchange from the shadows, cut it short when she came unnoticed up to the brig and struck the NPC unconscious with a quick blow to his head through the bars.

On the third morning, the wizard/assassin was woken from her light sleep under the stern-castle stairs next to the door to the captain's cabin by a scream from Selene. She burst into the room and found the captain dead, collapsed face-down on the table with a small amount of blood spilled onto his notes and charts. It wasn't long before Huxley and the other sailors came running, together with the other PCs.

In her initial scan of the scene the wizard/assassin noticed three things - the captain's glass eye was missing; his keys were still on the cord around his neck; and the painting on the wall had been straightened. The elven princess tried, but failed, to calm the hysterical Selene, who ended up being carried below deck by Ox.

Huxley wanted to bury the captain at sea straight away (in accordance with the module's narration). But the wizard/assassin, after handing over the captain's keys, persuaded him to give her an hour to thoroughly (and privately) investigate the scene. This was in fact the time she required to try and summon the captain's dead spirit and get information from him (Speak with Dead in D&D terms). Unfortunatey her attempt misfired, and she summoned a different spirit instead - one called Orlando, who extracted a promise from the PC that she would not interfere with his ship. One of the other players queried how they would know which ship was his, but the player of the wizard/assassin suggested, and I agreed, that they would know the ship when they saw it.

Huxley came back after an hour, and the PC had to tell him that she had not been able to learn anything. She didn't mention what had happened!

Meanwhile, while this was going on, the PC wizard went downstairs to talk to the prisoner. This meant that there earier social exchange reactivated, and the NPC persuaded the PC that, in this time of crisis, it was a mistake for him to remain locked up in the brig.

The session ended with Huxley ringing the ship's bell to call the crew together for the burial of the captain at sea.

*Session 2 - rising action*
We played this session yesterday. While I felt the earlier session had suffered somewhat from too much exposition and scene-setting, I really felt this session hummed along. And the earlier scene-setting paid off. (This doesn't change my mind that I would have liked more action in the first session, but at least it means that the scene-setting wasn't a total waste of time!)

During the burial at sea, Huxley first spoke a few words in remebrance of the dead captain, and then invited others to speak. I spoke Huxley's words, but merely described a couple of the other sailors - Ox and Old Pete - saying their bit. But the PC wizard also decided to speak. Unfortunately the character has no oratory-type skills - so while he was trying to evoke a sense of awe and dread (with him at the centre), all he managed to achieve was alienating the crew who found his remarks rather tasteless. But he did manage to hook up with Tomas, the navigator, and learn a few things. As per the module, Tomas had met the captain the evening before he died, handing over some of his own maps and charts so that the captain could plot a new course. Tomas didn't know why the captain wanted to do this - he thought the existing course was fine - but the captain didn't explain. He asked Tomas to come back in the morning, and Tomas was expecting to learn more than - but, of course, didn't because the captain was dead.

Tomas and the PC spent most of the rest of the day studying the maps and notes in the captain's cabin, and despite the blood and food stains Tomas worked out that the captain was plotting a course that would take the Albers well around its current position. They also found a strange marginal notation on the captain's chart - "Maiden" - but Tomas didn't know what it meant. And Tomas also indicated a clear willingness to ally with both the PC and the NPC (prisoner) wizard, even if that meant crossing Huxley.

The PC wizard then tried to talk to Old Pete to see what he might know about reasons to steer a course around the current waters, but the NPC was already alienated by the earlier remarks at the funeral, and some bad social checks ony resulted in further dislike, with Old Pete walking off muttering that the captain ought never to have taken either wizard on board, the prisoner or the PC - they had both brought bad luck.

The elf princess didn't have much role to play at this stage of the action, but her follower tried againt to befriend the cook - and failed - but did make friends with the cabin boy.

The wizard/assassin, after the funeral, went below deck to where Selene was gradually calming down. She also noticed the peddler speaking to the prisoner, and was able to overhear some of their conversation - the wizard prisoner telling the peddler that, that night, he had been visited in his dreams by a ghostly presence which had scrutinised him closely before moving on. The peddler, already unhappy with the whole situation, only looked more afraid, and when the PC made her presence known - once again stepping suddenly out of the shadows of the hold! - the peddler ran back to the other end of the hold and sat down in scared silence as he had been for most of the voyage so far.

This PC then took the now-calm Selene back up to her cabin to sleep. She spoke a bit to Selene before she fell asleep, however. An initial check was successful, and she got Selene to open up a bit about what had happened - the night before, the captain had taken his dinner in his cabin and had stayed up late working on his charts while she fell asleep. And then, when she awoke the next morning, he was dead. The PC could also tell, however, that she wasn't saying everything she knew, and so she upped the pressure a bit, tellling Selene that without her protection the situation for a woman on board could be pretty precarious, and the captain wasn't there to hold her anymore to her agreement to serve as bodyguard, and basically threatening to throw Selene to the wolves if she didn't say what she knew. But the Intimidate check was not a success, and so Selene didn't reveal what she knew but rather spoke back as an equal. She more-or-less accused Huxley of killing the captain in the night, so he could take over the ship, and alluded to records in the captain's strongbox that would provide evidence in support of this allegation. She also revealed that she knew the prisoner was a ruthless murderer (his nickname down south is "the Butcher") but that in the current, desperate circumstance she was quite happy to ally with him.

The PC surprised Selene by going to the picture with the strongbox behind it without needing to be told where it was, but then failed in an attempt to pick the lock. Selene suggested taking the keys from Huxley, but the PC was non-commital on this. When Selene eventually fell asleep, the PC decided on a course of action - use a Disguise Self-type spell to take on the appearance of the peddler (so as to shift blame if caught) and then to go downstairs and kill the prisoner in the brig, thereby (i) eliminating this dangerous person who seemed to be drawing too many people to his side, and (ii) being able to summon and question his dead spirit.

At the same time, the PC wizard had decided that he would turn invisible and sneak into Selene's room to take another look at the captain's maps without Tomas around.

Night fell with a blood-red moon and wisps of fog starting to appear in the air. As the PC wizard described this as another harbinger of doom, the druid tried to find some positive omen in the situation. But the Astrology check was a failure, which confirmed the gloomy situation (and gave her a penalty to her next check - mechanically analogous to the old Porten spell in Unearthed Arcana).

Once the crew were asleep, the two PC wizards enacted their plans.

The first time in the night that their paths crossed, the wizard/assassin noticed the wizard casting his invisibity spell but remained undetected herself. She successfully sneaked through the hold, picked the lock on the pick, and killed the sleeping wizard in such a way as to make it look the same as the captain's death. Meanwhile, the wizard sneaked into Selene's room. He didn't learn anything further from the charts, but did take a sample of the captain's (now dried) blood for possible future magic use.

The second time their paths crossed, it was the invisible wizard who noticed the sneaking assassin coming back up to the cabin as he was going back down to the hold. Feeling a little playful (and spooky), he whispered "I see you" just as the wizard/assassin went past him. She immediately drew her sword and struck out, but (luckily for him) missed. He quickly added "It's me!", and she warned him never to do that again. Each then went back to get some rest.

Morning came with the ship becalmed and surrounded by thick fog. There was also another ringing of the ship's bell by Huxely - the prisoner had been discovered dead in the same circumstances as the captain! The wizard/assassin once again persuaded Huxley to give her an hour alone to investigate the situation; and the wizard PC joined her. Obviously neither let on to Huxley that they knew what had really happened. This time the summoning was a success, and from the spirit of The Butcher they heard a little more about the story of the ghostly visit in his dream the night before, and also that he had heard of a ship, the Sea Maiden, that had gone down with all hands in these waters some time ago. The players (and PCs) had already been theorising that a ghost ship was in the offing, and that the captain had been worried about it and trying to plot a course to avoid it, and this confirmed those fears.

(This was a modest departure from the module's set up - the module does give the prisoner his ghostly dream, but does not suggest that he knows about the Sea Maiden. But it seemed a good place to drop in some information to let the players consolidate the various theories they were developing.)

When Huxley came down after an hour, they told him that they believed a ghost was responsible for the deaths - because who else could pass into the captain's room past the PC wizard/assassin's guard, or pass through the bars of the locked brig? They mentioned the word "Maiden" on the captain's notes, and asked if it could be a ghost ship.

The prisoner's body was then taken up onto deck. The PCs got to see the peddler, more shaken than ever, talking with Tomas the navigator and Wendt the cook, while Huxley asked Old Pete if he knew anything about a lost ship called the Maiden. Old Pete confirmed what the players had already heard, but - because they couldn't tell Huxley what they'd learned from the dead spirit that had been summoned - it gave them a chance to "launder" that information in the course of transmitting it to Huxley.

The druid, meanwhile, tried to make contact with friendy spirits in the fog, but only succeeded (with a failed check) in confirming that there were no friendly spirits to be found.

Huxley then spoke spoke some brief words to the assembled hands and passengers - "Whatever wrongs he did in life, we now commit his body to the deeps of the oceans" - and the body was then dropped overboard. Just as the prisoner's body hit the water, the ship jolted forward as it was struck from behind: between the funeral and the fog the sailor in the crow's nest had not noticed a ship coming up behind, which had bumped into the Albers. The wizard/assassin, wanting to clear the decks in the event of an undead assault, called out "It's a ghost ship!", and - with morale already on tenterhooks - the crew went running. The elven princess and Huxley tried to rally them, but failed in respect of all but Ox.

Ox leanded out and took hold of a part of the edge of the strange ship, helping to hold it steady so that the PCs could jump aboard and check it out. The elven fighter - still being played as an NPC due to his player's inability to make it to the session - failed his check and landed in the drink, therefore effectively being out of the scene as he swam clumsily back to the Albers, climbed back aboard and dried out. The elven princess and her companion both made the jump successfully. The wizard failed his check, but transformed into bird-form before hitting the water and flew onto the deck of the Sea Maiden. Meanwhile, the wizard/assassin - knowing Orlando's ship when she saw it - had to keep her promise not to interfere, and so stood watch with Ox at the aft of the Albers.

On board the Sea Maiden the PCs could see its slimy deck - almost as if it had risen from the depths! - and the rusted chains holding shut the hatch to the lower deck. The princess drew her elven sword and easily shattered the chains; when the hatch was lifted they could see water in the hold below, and smell the putrid stench of death. At that point the princess thought it must have been a slave ship - perhaps an orcish one - with the slaves trapped below in the hold.

They then proceeded to the aft cabin - hypothesising that, as on the Albers, it would be the captain's cabin - and opened the door. A failed Perception check meant that they didn't notice that the door was bulging as if a weight were leaning on it, and so did not anticpate the catapult stones that had been piled against the door and now came rolling out. The princess and her follower leapt aside, but despite his mage's armour the wizard suffered a minor injury to his leg.

Inside the cabin was a skeleton sitting at a table on which sat his water-logged journal. There was also a map on the wall, which (with a successful Perception check this time) the princess noted was heaving gently back and forth as if in a breeze. Behind it was a strongbox in a niche (the back of which was half-rotted, allowing the sea air through), which the princess took out and opened. A failed Peception check meant she also failed to notice the poison needle, which jabbed her with a mildly debilitating poison (its lethality having reduced with the passage of time). In the box were only coins, which did not interest the (rather wealthy) princess, but which - with her permission - the PC wizard took custody of so as to distribute among the more impecunious party members in due course.

The princess tried to read the journal but failed in her attempt to use language comprehension magic - and cannot read Common without magical aid - and so gave it to the wizard. Most of it was illegible due to water damage, but some choice passages remained legible. In the module, these are about three pages of "read aloud" text (admittedly in a large font). I'm not normally a big fan of read-aloud, and especially not so much of it, but decided to give it a go. With my best attempt at dramatic (even lurid) delivery, and some spontaneous editing and cutting to make it a bit punchier, I read out the journal's tale of how the ship was becalmed, and ran out of food, and the captain in the end chained up the hold with his crew below deck so that they could not mutiny. He then went mad as he heard them clawing at the wood, and eventually go silent - after committing diabolical acts in their hunger that he could only imagine! - while all the time a black-sailed ship circled around the Sea Maiden, its sails full despite the still air.

The player of the wizard/assassin enjoyed this the most - especially at the revelations of cannibilism, which hadn't been anticpated - and the other two players at least tolerated it. Back in character, and now understanding just why the hold stank of decaying flesh, the princess decided that she had to try and put the dead to rest in some fashion. The session ended with her standing at the hold about to go below and sing an elven Lament for the Fallen.

This is definitely one of the better modules I've run in 30-odd years of GMing, with a good cast of NPCs whose motivations intersect in ways that are likely to bring them into fairly over connection with, and (at least in some cases) conflict with, the PCs. The mix of murder-mystery and horror is also a good combination - it gives a focus both for roguish/investigator-type PCs and for magical/mystical-type PCs. (A pure warrior would have the least to do, I think.)

The system we were using definitely helped drive the action - Burning Wheel has quite a few bells and whistles that help the players establish a focus and stick to it, which means you tend not to get lulls or "what do we do now" moments - but I think the module could play prety similary in its original system (3E/d20) provided the table is willing to treat social mechanics with the same degree of seriousness as combat and exploration mechanics, and provided that the GM doesn't try and railroad the players down any single pathway but rather rolls with their choices. These two things are related: if the GM doesn't let social mechanics bind the NPCs (and, ideally, the players as well) then the players can't make effective alliances with NPCs (or vice versa) which lock in outcomes; and if the GM tries to rairoad down a pre-determined path then the players have no real reason to engage with the NPCs in a meaningful way.

The biggest instance of this in our case was the PC wizard/assassin's decision to kill the NPC prisoner. The module's default assumption is that he will remain alive through the climax, although - to it's author's credit - it doesn't in any way try to enforce this outcome. A GM who tried to block the players trying this sort of thing (whether directly, or by setting impossible DCs) could really spoil this module.

But for a GM and players happy to approach this module with a willingness to engage the situation and see what happens, I would highly recommend it to anyone who has or can get a copy. And, as always, I am very interested to hear what sorts of experiences others might have had with it.

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Yesterday we played another session of this module.

The elven princess and her human retainer went into the hold of the Sea Maiden to try and lay the dead to rest. The princess sang an Elven Lament for the Fallen, but these human souls could not be laid to rest. (The module specifies that the curse on the Sea Maiden prevents blessings from working. In describing the outcome to my player, I also mentioned "the gift of the One to men".)

She decided that at least they might be buried with dignity, and so she and her retainer started taking bodies out of the hold. They successfully got two bodies out, but then (as per the module) the Sea Maiden started to shake and submerge.

The wizard, up on the deck, tried to jump back onto the Albers but failed his check - he turned into a falcon to avoid falling into the water, but was out of the scene for the rest of it.

Meanwhile Ox, the Albers' crewman who had roped the two ships together, was worried that the Albers would be dragged down, and so started to cut the rope tying the two ships together. The wizard/assassin tried to get him to stop, but failed to intimidate him. The princess and her retainer tried to jump back across the now-widening gap, but both also failed, and so landed in the sea. The wizard/assassin dove into try and rescue them, but only did well enough to rescue the (unarmoured) retainer. Ox threw a rope down to the (armoured) princess to stop her drowning, but not before she had taken in enough water to suffer a light wound (a mild debuff that affected her in the action that followed).

With all the PCs back on the Albers, the next crisis (again, taken straight from the module) unfolded - the dead Captain Fenn's glass eye had been found in the footlocker of Huxley, the first mate. Selene, and the cook Wendt and navigator Tomas, as well as Ox, were arguing that this implicated Huxley as Fenn's murderer - his motivation being to avoid debts that he owed to the captain. Huxley, reasonably enough, was arguing that if he'd killed Fenn, he could have just thrown the glass eye overboard rather than keep it, and that it was a plant (which, of course, it was).

The PC wizard took Huxley's side, but failed in his attempts to persuade the NPCs. As per the module, the only NPC taking Huxley's side was Old Pete, and the PC wizard taking Huxley's side did reduce Old Pete's hostility to him.

The princess's retainer, who has minor abilities with nature spirits, called on the spirits of darkness to tell her who had put the glass eye in Huxley's footlocker. In response, the candle that Selene was carrying blew out (nature spirits communicate in a manner appropriate to their nature), and so the naïve young woman pointed at Selene and said "You put it there." This cause more furore. Selene denied it, and her check for her lie beat the wizard/assassin's check for lie perception, which meant that she at least believed Selene (and so continued with her resolve to act as Selene's bodyguard).

Huxley then got taken up onto the deck, and was going to be strung up. At which point he said to the wizard/assassin PC, "Tell them what you told me - a ghost killed the captain." The wizard/assassin confirmed this, and then cut the rope that was going to be used to hang Huxley, saying that in the circumstances, with so much confusion about what exactly had happened, he should simply be put in the brig. This show of force and reason worked (and was aided by the princess's retainer summoning some fog spirits to help with it), and so Huxley was put in the brig.

The morale of the crew being even lower than what it had been, the princess decided to try and buck up their morale by having the PC wizard read from the log-book of the Sea Maiden, while she explained that the same division in that crew that was happening on the Albers was what had led to their dooms. Unfortunately this check also failed, and so the crew only became more scared by the reading from the book, and more-or-less abandoned their posts.

This meant that only Old Pete was on duty, in the crow's nest, when the Sea Maiden, it black sails now full of wind, crashed into the side of the Albers at night and discharged its crew of undead sailors. (The module has two attacks by the Sea Maiden, an initial skirmish and then a final assault, but I decided that it would be better to combine these into one.) All the NPCs froze or ran in fear, so only the wizard/assassin was initially on deck to try and repel the boarders. After the first round, the PC wizard and princess came up from below deck to join in.

This took a fair bit of time to resolve in the session, as it required the group to become familiar with the full Burning Wheel melee mechanics. The upshot was that the wizard/assassin defeated one group of 5 zombies, then another group of 4 zombies which the wizard failed to lightning bolt (very unlucky spell-casting roll) and then climbed around into the galley at the prow of the ship through a porthole to help the princess, who was fighting 5 zombies who had gone into the galley to munch on the cook and navigator.

The session ended with the zombies all dead or sufficiently cut to pieces as to pose no threat to anyone giving them a wide berth, and with the wizard having gone back below deck, chasing an imp who - during the melee - had leaped from the Sea Maiden to the Albers and then run below deck. (The imp is my own addition to the module.)

My aim for the next session is to start with the wizard confronting the mischievous imp!


Session 4
On the weekend we finished this adventure.

The wizard confronted the imp below the deck of the Albers. As he came down the ship's ladder he noticed that a cask of water had sprung a leak, and that the lock holding Huxley in the brig had come open (both as a result of the unnatural, "lawbreaking" aura of the imp).

It was rifling through his stuff, and had the mysterious spellbook in one hand and the bag of coins from the Sea Maiden in the other.

The wizard tried to stop the imp with a lightning bolt, but was interrupted by being pushed over by the imp. The spell interruption also caused the wizard to fall unconscious from spell failure. The imp put down the spellbook to start rifling through the wizard's pockets, but the princess's retainer - who was still in her cabin below deck - came out and drove the imp off before it could take anything.

So the imp ran up the ladder and onto the deck.

Meanwhile, the PCs upstairs had noticed that the rigging was alight - a result of Old Pete, the sailor in the crow's nest, having dropped his lantern when he swooned at the sight of the undead boarding the ship. They also saw the imp coming up the ladder from below. The wizard/assassin used her Stealth to duck behind the hatch as the imp came up, and so tackled the imp to the ground as it stepped onto the deck, and then stabbed it to death.

She then tried to climb the rigging to rescue Old Pete, but failed - but she was able to knock down a burning spar on top of one of the group of zombies that were writhing around at the top of the hatch, preventing Huxley from coming up onto the deck. At about this time Selene came out of her cabin onto the deck, and saw her (deceased) fiancé among the writhing zombies and tried to run to him. She was dragged down by more of the writhing zombies outside her cabin door. The wizard/assassin, directly above this in the rigging, blasted the zombies with her "Emperor's Hand" (force lightning) spell - this successfully disabled the zombies, but the exhaustion of casting the spell left her unconscious, and she took a small bump as she fell from the mast onto the zombies and Selene.

Meanwhile, a vortex had opened up in the water, and the Sea Maiden was starting to descend it, taking the Albers with it - as the rigging of the two ships had become tangled where the ghost ship had rammed the Albers. The elven princess ran from the galley to this tangle, trying to cut the Albers lose. Selene, completely crazed by this time, tried to stop her, but the princess was easily able to knock her away. The princess then tried to ralley the remaining sailors to put out the fire, but they were too dazed and paralysed by the undead and then the vortex to respond.

The princess's retainer, meanwhile, was trying to find a way onto the deck that would not require going through undead and a burning spar, so she climbed out a porthole to try and go up the outside of the ship; but as it lurched (due to being entangled with the Sea Maiden) she fell into the water. Once the princess realised that there was no saving the ship, she dived into the water to save her retainer, and the two floated in the water holding onto bits of jetsam that had broken off the Albers.

The unconscious wizard regained consciousness about 10 minutes later, and was able to escape the burning/sinking boat. He made sure to take the spellbook with him, but had to let the coins go. He did rescue the peddler, however. As he swam away from the ship, he could see (with his Second Sight and Aura Reading) that the vortex went not to the bottom of the ocean, but rather to Hell.

Huxley, meanwhile, made it onto the deck, where he was able to rescue the wizard/assassin (repaying the favour she had done him the previous session). Random dice rolls indicated that as well as Huxley and the PCs, 3 other sailors made it off the ship alive: Ox, Dert the cabin boy, and one of the generic sailors.

Thus ended the Maiden Voyage. Not an unmitigated success from the PC's point of view. The module notes that things can go wrong quickly if the PCs don't succeed in rallying the crew and preventing divisions emerging, and that turned out to be true!

(The second half of the session began with the princess's player making a Circles check - this is the Burning Wheel mechanic for meeting NPCs. She has good bonuses for Circles, and got a good roll, and so the characters were saved from the ocean by a sea-going elf lord who had heard that the princess has not yet arrived at her intended destination. As a result of various events on board the elven ship, the PCs now find themselves set ashore on the coast of the Bright Desert, which is where our next Burning Wheel session will start from.)

bill swidal

First Post
I used this adventure as a gateway into the 50 Fathoms campaign from Savage Worlds, after which they and the ship get sucked into the world of Caribdus. The wizard prisoner became their Doctor Smith.
Recommendation: Kill off or get rid of Huxley, as much as this might pain you (think Treasure Island). The PCs don't need the conflict of authority when they "take command" of the ship.

Epic Threats

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