D&D 3E/3.5 Pirates of the Emerald Coast (3.5) continues

Welcome to pirates of the Emerald Coast!

This is my very own 3.5 campaign that has been running for over a year now, in the home brew setting of Kirbawa. Pirates of the Emerald Coast is all about swashbuckling, naval combat, and water.. lots of water. Water is the main theme that ties everything together, and features prominently in every quest and dungeon. It also means the players fight a lot of aquatic monsters, which often see little use in other D&D campaigns.

The campaign features firearms. But since these are not standard D&D weapons, we've made our very own ever expanding list of pirate weapons. Flintlocks, cannons, you name it. The players can raid other ships, and spend their riches on countless ship upgrades, or on building their very own pirate base.

This campaign was previously featured on the WotC forums. If you want to catch up with that, you can read all about that here.

Time line

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Regional map

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Brief summary of the current story

The players currently reside in the harbor city of Vertesaux, which belongs to the country of St Valenz (but it is not the capital). The previous ruler, the Marquis, has recently been assassinated, and this was a heavy loss because the Marquis was a dear friend and valuable ally to the players. His beautiful daughter has joined their crew, and now they are trying to muster a fleet of pirates to counter a threat from the east. The powerful empire of Cyr has sent forth a fleet to rid their trade routes of pirates for good. If they want to protect the region, they must bring all pirate captains together in one big alliance.
The players are also gathering workers to help build their base on the dreaded Isle of Bones; an island infested with cannibals. To gather a lot of cheap labor, they are hosting their very own barbecue in the slums outside Vertesaux.

Meanwhile the threat of a powerful god-like being called Hydra (a water being that has taken over the Eternal Depths, where the souls of dead sailors go) also looms over the region. The players often come in conflict with the servants of Hydra, or with the two lesser deities that have allied with Hydra: Airen (goddess of chaos) and Teehlyian'tara (lady of the flesh, and a vermin goddess).

The Emerald Coast has a long history that still haunts it. Several years ago the dreaded pirate captain Black William was defeated, in a betrayal by several pirate factions. But now he is back as a ghost pirate, thanks to the efforts of the Circle of Azarah; a group of evil wizards that is also aligned with Hydra. So in short, the players have many enemies. Black William also hid a great treasure while he was still alive, and the players are in possession of the map to that treasure. But since the treasure is hidden in the Eternal Depths, acquiring the treasure will be tricky.

The party:

Captain William Roberts - Human bard / Great captain (See the book "Storm Wrack")
Bioran - Elf Abjurant Champion
Ché - Half elf cleric (of The Lady of the Waves, a local deity)
Shifter - Human Druid

Their ships:

"The Lady's Vengeance" (Their new main ship)
"The Jennifer's Grace" (now retired and used as a transport ship)

Npc crew:

Diksnor - Pirate / Right hand of the captain, and completely bald.
Mutabe - Kooghan pirate / Carries a horrible and mysterious scar on one of his hands.
Zuberi - Kooghan pirate / Covered in self inflicted decorative scars and beads.
Jantje - Ship's cook in training / also secretly a 12 year old girl.
Ruldolpho - Ship's mate / 16 year old boy who protects Jantje's secret. They grew up in the same orphanage.
Tabbe "Rummy" Duinkerk - Pirate / Notorious drunk and comic relief of the campaign.
Huang Peng - Pirate / Betel addict and very superstitious.
Fernand Carron - Pirate / "The best swordsman that ever lived", or so he claims.
"One-Eyed" Will Halfwrite - Navigator / Ex-crew member of the notorious Black William.
Amaziah Awiti - Kooghan cleric / A 16 year old girl who was to be the new vessel of the evil deity Teehlyian'tara. The party saved her from the ruins of an ancient coastal city.
Ulvar Leadbottom - Oarsman inventor / Builds diving bells and took a vow of none violence.
Skua Sitaara Ashandra - Speaker of the Dead witch / Is neutral evil, and has a poisonous frog familiar.
Sophie Marceau - Noble / Not to be confused with the actress. She is the daughter of the late Marquis of Vertesaux... or is she?
Mad Captain Rudolph Wiseman - Pirate Captain / Completely mad at times, but he has his lucid moments.
Nishia Moonhair - Kooghan scribe / A young girl and Wiseman's personal scribe
 
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My group will continue their pirate adventures next Sunday. I wonder if they'll ever leave the harbor city of Vertesaux. I've been trying to get them back on a new sea voyage, but things keep popping up, and some plot threads are still unresolved. But as long as they are having fun, I suppose there's no harm in it.

The barbecue
In preparation of the next session, I've worked out a lot of details concerning this huge barbecue that they want to bring to the slums of Vertesaux. A little back story on this. Several sessions ago the party defeated a huge sea monster, but they've been wondering what to do with all that meat. As it happens, their ship's cook is taking lessons from a famous singing chef. And since the party wants to recruit workers to build their private base, they figured that a sea monster barbecue, prepared by the famous chef, would be the best way to recruit all these workers from all the poor people outside Vertesaux.

During this feast a lot of npc's will show up, and I want them all to have something to say. So I've prepared some cool info that they can obtain from every important npc. I've also written a small side quest where they must obtain some rare spices from a crazy colleague/competitor of the singing chef. I'll also reveal more about the party's Druid's backstory, because one of his brothers attends the feast. He's met 2 of his 3 brothers so far, but still knows very little about them, nor about what he himself can do. One of the brothers will share some Druid lore with him, and explain more about his powers.

Unrelated to all this, I've also created a massive list that contains the names of every pirate captain and dragon that the party can recruit for their war, along with also all the villains. I keep track of what the alignment of every captain is. If they are friendly, unfriendly, loyal or perhaps hostile. It was also a lot of fun coming up with all the ship names... especially for the villains. Some of the names on this list are people that the players have not met yet. I suspect the list will keep growing as new npc's are introduced, but it will do for now.

Down below is a list of all the friendly factions, and a brief introduction to the races and cultures of the setting.

Vertesaux
Vertesaux is an important port for the country of St Valenz. The ships in the harbor city of Vertesaux all belong to the king of St Valenz. So far the players have only met Robert Travers, who does not like them very much, and they have met none of the other captains. They have met Baroness Roselyne Camille, but they do not know that her family owns a ship.

CaptainShip
Roselyne CamilleThe Pejorative
Robert TraversThe Cutlass
-Unknown-Avenna’s Glory
-Unknown-Damtomkia
-Unknown-The Hangman
-Unknown-The Ivory Swan

Kooghans

The kooghans are dark of skin, and produce a lot of firearms and siege engines. The Kooghans live on the island of Abyscus, but recently lost one of their most important captains. Urunthu Khan's ship was destroyed by the Cyrian fleet, and now Urunthu Khan wanders the realm of the dead. With the help of the players, he might find his way back to the realm of the living. The players have not yet met any of the other captains, nor have they visited Abyscus yet. I'll probably add more Kooghan captains in the near future.

CaptainShip
Urunthu KhanThe Dreadtusk
Penny DreadfulThe Craven of the Sea
Mwinji the SplendidThe Pale Rhinoceros

Speakers of the Dead

The Speakers of the Dead from the island of Witch Claw are a race of magic wielding pirates. They worship their women, who they believe to be in direct contact with the gods. They have only female captains, and they are all witches and necromancers. They all carry frightful names, and the names of their ships are meant to inspire terror in their enemies. The players saved the life of Skua Skagga Snakeveins, so she is their ally. The other captains are friendly towards the players, but not loyal.

CaptainShip
Skagga SnakeveinsThe Ashen Kiss
Moswen PoisonvoiceThe Grave Singer
Mesi TetherbonesThe Fetid Remorse
Nia the ForgottenThe Bloody Princess
Uadjit CobrafangCoiling Mamba
Kanika DrownedFateThe Drowned Queen

Gongya An

The asian pirates of Gongya An, live on Fu Kong, a city built on a giant sleeping dragon turtle. They fled their homeland due to the oppressive rule of Cyr, and now they share their vast knowledge of sea monster hunting with the region of Kirbawa. The party is befriended with Tsao Feng, and sold him the skeleton of the sea monster, which he gladly added to his collection. In return they got paid in a large pile of stolen Cyrian imperial gold coins.... a mixed blessing. They have not met Uka yet, -a female pirate who currently resides on the island of Salt. Guang Jing is heading there as well, but the party does not get along with him. Recent revelations have placed Guang Jing in a more positive light, and they may have to recruit him eventually. Ling Goda is the devious leader of a thieves guild in Vertesaux, whom they've met. It was hinted at briefly that she owns a ship, but they have not recruited her yet.

CaptainShip
Tsao FengPearl Dawn
Uka Sakai“She”
Guang JingKuro Shio
Ling GodaSpring Maiden

Oarsmen

The Oarsmen are all proud dwarven pirates, who live on the island of Stoneoar, where they dive for treasure. They are all bald, have no beards, and cover themselves from head to toe in tattoos.They also hate being called dwarves. They are specialists in deep sea exploration. The party recently got Horfor out of jail, and after a huge battle at a shipyard, they also got his ship back. For this he is very grateful, and it earned them his loyalty. The players have not met any of the other Oarsmen captains yet, though I may have referred to them in passing. They are planning to travel to Stoneoar eventually, to finish their diving clock, so they can search for ship wrecks. I'll probably add more Oarsmen captains eventually.

CaptainShip
Ankvar the SaltedThe Grim Payara
Horfor DepthbreakerThe Stormhammer
Birus the TravelerThe Barulean Kiss

Misc

Many captains are unaligned to any particular faction. The players have managed to make Scurvy Scarlet unfriendly to them, and they have also placed the mad captain Wiseman in charge of their old ship, the Jennifer's Grace. They have not found Rotbeard yet, because he is somewhere on the dark island of Dunster Hollow. The party has met the captains of a traveling circus: Leopardo Pardini, Madame Ora, and Hugo Falasco. They are friendly towards the party, but not loyal.

CaptainShip
Scurvy ScarletAvenna’s T*ts
Rudolph WisemanThe Jennifer’s Grace
RotbeardOl’ Maggot Eye
Leopardo PardiniAstonishment
Madame OraWonder
Hugo FalascoOddity

Dragons

There are several dragons hidden around the Emerald Coast, and most of them are neutral, which doesn't mean they aren't dangerous. The players may be able to recruit some of them for their war. The players have met Harlathax, who disguises himself in human form, and is friendly to them. They have also met Arturian, who is a dangerous hostile sea serpent that terrorizes a popular strait. They suspect that the island of Fu Kong is actually the sleeping dragon turtle Hǎiguī, but they have not yet attempted to wake him up. They have not yet met the other dragons, but they also know there is one last gold dragon (Jīnsè xīyáng) that fights on the side of their enemy (The empire of Cyr).

NameType
IthticaldronBronze Dragon
CathaltrixxCopper Dragon
ArturianSea Serpent
HarlathaxSilver Dragon
HǎiguīDragon Turtle

More on the villains soon......
 
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This weekend we had an entire session with nothing but talking and hardly any skill checks. No combat, just role playing. It was great, because all of the events in this session were the result of the choices of the players. They decided to have a barbecue for the poor people in Shanty Town, and it was the perfect opportunity to tie lots of plot points together.

Revelations about Laura

One of the players first visited Wiebe Ter Weel (a wealthy merchant), the father of Laura, whom the lovable drunken pirate Rummy is in love with. At the end of our last session, Laura's father had done a complete 180 on his opinion of Rummy. Seeing that Rummy was willing to risk his own life for his daughter, changed how he felt about Rummy. He now welcomed Rummy and Ché to his house, where Rummy received a long hug that lasted a bit too long for comfort. After talking out their earlier disagreements, they also made a business deal with Wiebe. Wiebe will help the players sell some of their exotic goods, and Laura will work for them, to help them with their trading.
After concluding these negotiations (which my players really seem to enjoy), Wiebe shared a secret about Laura that not even she knew about, while Laura was out of the room. Wiebe explained that he was so protective of her, ever since a strange old man had tried to steal her from him twice, when she was just a baby. The party quickly realized that this was very similar to the way their Druid party member had been stolen from his biological parents by the Druids. Apparently this has to be done at a very young age. More on this later....

Abdul Zafar the Enchanter returns!

While Captain William Roberts is doing some last minute shopping on the market, he spots the mysterious arabian merchant, who had sold him a mysterious carpet earlier in the campaign. Abdul Zafar seems to pop up randomly on markets every now and then, where he sells them strange magical trinkets, and then disappears.
Once again he sold the party two magical items: A rug that behaves like a bag of holding when you roll items into it. And a jar filled with magic fortune cookies. The fortune cookies quickly became quite popular, since they always seemed to provide cryptic but helpful advice whenever you ate them.

One such fortune read: "You will have an unexpected guest"

They started off with 30 cookies, which quickly reduced to 18 in a matter of an hour. They just couldn't resist eating them, to get another weird cryptic message. And every message was true, but open to interpretation of course. Oh, and Abdul disappeared once again, as he always does. Abdul is a type of character that seems to pop up in other people's campaigns too.

Chef Kook Lok

The Great Arietto, the famous singing chef of Vertesaux, tasked the party with a simple side quest. He wanted them to visit his rival, Chef Kook Lok, and ask him for his secret spices. Lok is an expert in exotic dishes, and especially large animals, such as whales. Arietto has little experience with preparing a dish out of a massive mosasaurus (which the players defeated many sessions ago, and now want to serve during the barbecue). So he needs to know what rare spices this chef of the bizarre uses. But he won't share it with him directly, he is too proud for that. Arietto also told the party to not call him Chef Cook Lok, because his name is Kook, and chef is his profession. So to confuse the two, and call him a chef cook, would be insulting to him. He remarked that Lok had a very unfortunate name for a chef.
Shifter the Druid decided to deal with this small task, and he decided to bring Sitaara (the evil Speaker of the Dead crew member) with him. Sitaara would no doubt know a lot about herbs and chemistry, and may be of use in identifying the secret spices. The intimidation factor that comes with any Speaker of the Dead is also useful, with her blackened teeth, her heavy black eye shadow, and her garments covered in bones and animal skulls.
But there was a small catch. Chef Kook Lok could already guess that they were sent by Arietto, and so he insisted that they would first try one of his exotic dishes, or he would not share his secret. What followed was a menu with several ghastly sea recipes. Shifter settled on the fermented basking shark (which smells like a rotting carcass, because it IS a rotting carcass), while Sitaara chose the live octopus dish.
I described the taste and smell of the food in glorious detail. And what it looked like to try and eat tiny little octopuses that are still alive. It was a barrel of laughs, but they eventually were rewarded with Lok's secret recipe. Just in time for the barbecue.

Bioran forges the holy book of St Germain

The barbecue is to be held inside the Chapel Lucia, outside Vertesaux. The players have made a reluctant agreement to hold the barbecue there under the watchful eyes of the zealous paladins of the holy Brotherhood of the Chalice. They are none too happy about this, because these zealots (even though they are lawful good) are spreading their faith like wild fire, and they also mean to burn the holy book of St Germain which they took from another church (The church of St Germain).
The Brotherhood regards St Germain as a heretic, and thus his book of lies must be destroyed. The players want to preserve this book, because it is an important religious artifact, and it may contain details regarding the last voyage of St Germain. The players want to seek out this ship wreck, in search of valuables. So they want to steal the book from the holy order during the barbecue. Their plan is to create a forgery of the holy book, and then use their new magic carpet to quickly make the switch. Of course I made the roll for him in secret, so Bioran has no idea how good his forgery is. As with a lot of characters in my campaign, the Brotherhood are not completely black and white. They are good, but they are also zealous. They are zealous, but they are also kind and generous to the poor. The players hate them, and yet also respect them. Its a love-hate relationship, just the way I intended them.

Ché confesses his love to Amaziah

The half elf Ché has never been great with the ladies, but at long last he was able to admit his love to his cleric student Amaziah, with the aid of the magical fortune cookies. When Amaziah read what the fortune cookie said, she knew that Ché was in love of her... and Ché's cookie simply said "She knows". This is because the fortune cookies always provide helpful advise that concerns the current situation. In this case, it revealed a truth that Ché had long hidden from her. They had a long talk about his feelings for her, but she also explained that she did not want to rush things. After all, many years had been stolen from her. She had been locked inside a magically sealed tomb for many years by Teehlian'tara, the evil goddess of the flesh, frozen in time. It was thanks to Ché that she was liberated from her prison, but now she has so much to catch up on. It is not just love she has to catch up on, but the entire world. Every day is like a whole new world to her. Ché also revealed to her with one of his cantrips that it was he who saved her from that awful place. Amaziah mentions that she worries if now that her body has been taken from this evil deity, if perhaps Teehlian'tara will try to find another vessel....

Foreshadowing!

The great barbecue

The barbecue was the point where a ton of lingering plot lines got resolved. It was all the idea of the players, but this was the perfect opportunity for me as a DM, to throw tons of interesting npc's together. While chef Arietto and his student Jantje were outside underneath two tents to prepare all the food, the inside of Chapel Lucia had been cleared out to make room for three long rows of tables. The place was crowded with the poor and the needy, while the paladins of the holy order kept a vigilant watch on the proceedings.

Captain William Roberts makes a grand entrance

The captain of the party opens the festivities with a rousing speech, to remind everyone why they are here. William is looking for carpenters and other craftsmen, to help him build his new base. The player improvised the speech entirely, but it sounded amazing, and so I rewarded the whole party with bonus experience for it (as I always do for great role playing moments).

Shifter reunites with his brothers

Shifter's two Druid brothers decided to attend the barbecue, but in their human form. Ermilio the dancing circus bear, was now just Ermilio the man. And Patamon the badger, was now just Patamon the old man with a playful look in his eyes. This was the first time that Shifter saw Patamon in his human form. It should be noted that Shifter's brothers are not blood brothers. They were all taken from their original families when they were just a child (just like Laura almost was). Nature became their new family.
During the barbecue they teach Shifter two important things. First they teach him that he was anointed, and brought before the fey as a child. So the fey all know him, and it also allows him to see the fey. They teach him how to see all the dozens of invisible creatures that normal people cannot see.
They also teach him how to "walk the path", which is a mysterious Druidic ability that allows him to walk into any forest, and appear at a forest in a pocket dimension, where all Druids can meet each other.
Both brothers also inform Shifter that neither of them was responsible for trying to steal Laura as a child.... but it could have been their Druid father.

Mamma Zima reveals Uruntu Khan's journey

Ché joins the much respected Kooghan mystic called Mamma Zima at her table. This rather large kindhearted lady is a valuable ally to the players, and is also an expert at scrying and visions. She reveals the current fate of their Kooghan pirate captain, Uruntu Khan. Uruntu Khan is still wandering the icy wasteland of the Eternal Depths. He has now successfully crossed a dangerous area called the Frozen Summit, and reached a dark harbor city that has a striking resemblance to Vertesaux. He is now in a dark place, at the end of his journey, and surrounded by enemies. And he needs guidance.
One of the players comes to a brilliant revelation. Several days ago the party had stumbled upon a portal to the Eternal Depths in an abandoned house in Vertesaux. If Vertesaux is indeed mirrored in the netherworld, and if there's an active portal to that realm in Vertesaux, then they can bring Uruntu Khan back! All they need to do is create some sort of a beacon of light, so he can find his way to the portal!
Ché also asks more information about his amulet, which is part of his character's backstory. Mamma Zima advises that he takes the amulet to the island Salt, where the priestesses of Mor will be much better at helping him.

Father Julien shares a story

The head of Chapel Lucia also gives a short speech. He tells everyone in attendance of a nightmare he had, of a stormy sea, with a giant black tentacle rising up from the water, and grasping for him. The frightful vision was dispersed by morning dawn, but it is a reminder that dark times are coming. He urged everyone to stay strong in their faith, so that it may shine a ray of light in the darkness that approaches.
Later that evening, Sophie Marceau (daughter of the Marquis) asks Julien if he knew the dreaded pirate captain Black William. It might be confusing that both the player character and this villain are called William, but just so you know, they are two separate characters. Julien shares a story of how Black William once came in for confession, during a time of great doubt. Many of the pirate captains had been considering retiring from piracy, because they feared their luck would eventually run out. None of them wanted to end their life at the end of a rope.
Black William felt that now was the time when they needed to stick together, because it was the only way to protect their freedom. He felt they should form an alliance together, or they may lose all that they had built over the years. And so Black William killed another pirate captain in secret, who had spoken out the strongest against him, in the hope of putting an end to the opposition. When Black William came in to confess about this murder, it was not out of shame over the killing, but out of regret and doubt. He feared that he may have made an error in judgement. He also feared the type of man he may need to become to turn the tide.
Black William was referring to his impending attack on Vertesaux, where the other pirates would eventually betray him, and which would claim his life. Julien still wonders if anything he could have said could have changed that decision. But one thing was clear: When he walked out of that church, he became the monster, and left behind the man. Then again, this is also what would eventually lead to the Marquis establishing peace in the region. So perhaps some good came out of it.
Julien reminds Sophie that the Marquis loved her very very much, and that is why the Marquis is her REAL father.... and she should never doubt that. This came as a surprise to the players. Apparently Father Julien knows that Black William is secretly Sophie's biological father.... a secret that she keeps close to her heart. But he promises her that her secret is safe with him.

Magister Aldric Flamant and his assistant

Aldric is the kind owner of the one and only magic shop in Vertesaux, which the players often visit. He always has a talking toad with him, who always provides hilarious apathetic commentary. He also brought his young female assistant with him, Chantal. He explains the players how he's been teaching Chantal some simple harmless cantrips.

Meanwhile his toad provides condescending remarks with a tone of complete disinterest: Toad: "What's even the point of teaching her all that?"

Aldric explains that her family can't afford to send her to an arcane university, so he's teaching her some simple stuff himself. But only harmless spells, he assures the party.

Toad: "-As far as you know..."

Chantal gives a demonstration of some of her cantrips. She casts some dancing lights.

Toad: "Beautiful. Maybe now we all have permanent damage to our eyes, who knows?"

She casts a light spell on her fork.

Toad: "How useful, with all those candles already on the table. Why even bother?"

Meanwhile Sitaara notices that Chantal's ways of spell casting look far more experienced than mere beginner level. She suspects that Chantal may have been secretly looking into some of Aldric's other books, and teaching herself when he isn't looking. And Sitaara shares this information with Captain William Roberts.

An unexpected guest

One fortune remains unresolved. Earlier in the session, one of the cookies predicted that there would be an unexpected guest. The players all guessed wrong who it would be. At some point during the evening, Captain William Roberts is called over by one of the paladins, with news that a woman outside asks for him. When he walks over to check who it is, it is none other than Scurvy Scarlet.

Scurvy Scarlet: "What's the matter dear? Afraid that I wouldn't get the invitation?"
 
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About Scurvy Scarlet

Some quick notes about Scurvy Scarlet. The last time the players met her, Captain William shared a bed with her, while knowing that she earned her nick name due to a stubborn rumor that any man she sleeps with, ends up with an STD. The only reason he did so, is because she had a valuable tattoo on her breasts that many sailors wanted to see, because it offered a clue to Black William's treasure. Scarlet knew that this was just a wild goose chase, since no one ever got his hand on Black Williams's actual treasure map (they all had fakes). But she still abuses her fancy tattoo to bed a lot of men. Whether the STD-thing is actually true is unknown to the players this point, but I can honestly reveal that it is just a foul rumor that one of her enemies spread.

Scurvy Scarlet met with Sophie, who brought an old map with her, which she believed to be the map to Black William's treasure. Scarlet knew that it was a fake, but offered to help her find out more about Black William (Sophie's biological father) none the less (without telling her the map was a fake). For this purpose she planned to gather a group of pirates who all knew Black William, although she was in no hurry to get this done. But the players had underestimated Scurvy Scarlet...

Due to an error in their thinking, Scurvy Scarlet could logically deduce that the players were in possession of the real map. Because William let it slip that he knew Sophie's map was a fake. So if he knew that her map was a fake, then why did he sleep with Scarlet? Scarlet reasoned that William must be in possession of the real map.

This is why Scarlet and the players now are adversaries of a sort. William knows that Scarlet is a clever and manipulative woman, who only wants to use Sophie for her own ends. And that makes her dangerous. The last time they saw her, was on Witch Claw. But now they are unexpectedly reunited, and Scarlet has some important information for the captain.
 

darkcathedral.jpg

Into the Eternal Depths


The players finish up their big barbecue in Shanty Town. The captain gathers about a hundred people to join him in his new venture on the Isle of Bones. Ché the cleric tries to reason with Father Julien, and tries to persuade the stubborn head of the church to not burn the holy book of St Germain. He hits a sensitive nerve, and Father Julien leaves the table. Julien also orders extra guards at the book, and wants it burned that very same night. Ché realizes that he may have made things worse.

Scurvy Scarlet sits down with the captain, and informs him that a big battle is going on near Port Freedom. She saw smoke coming from the island, and heard the cannons of a Kooghan ship. She also saw a Speaker of the Dead ship nearby. The players reason that perhaps an attack on the island has begun. Later that evening, a scrying reveals that the ships are actually fighting the living Hydra ship that the players had left on the island early on in the campaign. A friendly giant had picked up the living ship, and tossed it onto the island for them. This happened many many sessions ago.

But Scarlet has more disturbing news, which earns her some credit with the party. She noticed a Hydra harbor being build in the south east, with six heavily armed guard towers that form a ring around a part of the sea. The players realize that the maelstrom that they saw in a vision a few sessions ago, would have to be created there. But because the players intervened at the shipyard, Grumwick was unable to deliver the final component to create a portal between their world, and the Eternal Depths. The plans of the bad guys have been delayed. So for now, Hydra cannot use this base to send living ships to the surface again.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Shifter the druid makes a devious gamble. Several sessions ago he had earned one favor from the god of Trickery, in the form of a strange coin. He also knows that the god of Trickery secretly has several guards stationed at the church, who all look identical and are called Hector, who are his pawns (a prank on the part of the Trickster god). Shifter decides to show one of these Hector's his coin, and asks the Trickster god to save the book by switching it out with a fake duplicate. The guard replies that it wouldn't be fun, unless they switched the book with a really funny book. So instead, Shifter agrees to having the book be swapped with a copy of a book written by a terrible pirate called Rotbeard. Rotbeard has written several hilarious but terrible books, such as his book of children's bedtime stories, titled "go the f*ck to sleep!". So the book is swapped just fine, and apparently Father Julien burns the fake book that very same night, without noticing that it is a different book. Could some divine Trickster magic be at play here? You betcha!

The Winter Closet

After safely retrieving the book of St Germain (which details his last fatal voyage), the party decides to tie up another loose plot point; The Winter Closet. This magical closet emits cold air, and is wrapped in magical chains. Heavy clawing and pounding sounds come from within, as the closet and the chains shake violently. Despite all the warnings not to open the closet, their curiosity gets the best of them. They open the closet inside their own ship. The closet actually leads to a tiny winter wonderland in a pocket dimension, in which several angry yetis are trapped. The first huge yeti immediately tries to make its way out of the closet. But with a protective magical sphere they are able to repel the angry creature, and close the closet again. They now have a fun surprise for their enemies, which may come in handy in the future.

Voyage into the Eternal Depths

The Eternal Depths are a realm where the spirits of the drowned go. Normally this realm is ruled by the Lady of the Waves, who brings the dead to the God of Death. But the evil entity known as Hydra, has taken over this realm, and now the Lady of the Waves no longer has power here. The Eternal Depths are a subterranean realm with unearthly cold, no natural light, and a massive cavern ceiling that covers the whole world. It is basically the biggest cave you will ever see, if you can see anything at all that is. Because it is really dark.

The players use a scrying spell to spy into the realm of the dead, where they get a good look at the Forgotten Harbor, which is the dark equivalent of Vertesaux in the Eternal Depths. Their Kooghan friend Urunthu Khan, and his ancient female Kooghan protector Ryp, have to cross the dark city to reach a portal that the players have discovered. Massive Beholder-like towers look in all directions, and all the gates across the canals are heavily guarded by strange creatures.

The players realize that their only chance to save Urunthu Khan, is if they go in themselves, and use the spell Ward against Hydra. This home brew spells kind of works like the spell seen in Harry Potter. It basically displaces a small group of creatures in a different plane, so that Hydra followers cannot see them, hear them, or interact with them. Any attempt to interact with these creatures, breaks the spell.

The players carefully sneak through the pitch black city, while wearing heavy winter clothing and using protection from cold against the unearthly cold weather. Hypothermia is a serious danger, so they need all the protection from cold they can get. The Ward against Hydra keeps them safe as they sneak around. They encounter a large floating jellyfish like creature which glows green from the inside, with eyes on the ends of its tendrils. These creatures are Ocularons... very dangerous large aberations. But because of the Ward that Ché cast, one such Ocularon passes them without noticing them. It even casts a True Seeing, but it cannot find them.

They cross a canal that is filled with the souls of the dead. They are careful to avoid the bridges of the city, which are heavily guarded by Ocularons. They warp the stone around them, to make a bridge of their own, thus avoiding the guards. Down below the hands of the dead reach out from the water, begging to be saved. Ever since the Lady of the Waves was driven from this realm, the souls of the drowned have been piling up. If they grab a hold of you, then you'll join them.

After crossing the canal, they reach a district of the town known as Ghostlight Quarter. It is a tight maze of ruined buildings, where the green lights of Ocularons move in the distance. They reach the central square of the district, where a mystical obelisk stands in the middle. It is clearly made by the Stone Oar (dwarven pirates), and they wonder if this structure has an equivalent in the real world. They also see streams of blue light pouring upwards through cracks in the ground. Their Abjurant Champion Bioran warns them that this is Coldfire, and very dangerous to the touch. They also see countless Bleakborn, a type of frozen zombies that have an aura that consumes heat. They keep their distance from these creatures, who are also unable to see them, because they are servants of Hydra too.

At the end of town is a massive wall of ice that leads to higher ground. They climb it, and as they reach Urunthu Khan one of the players makes a terrible error. Ché kisses his holy symbol of the Lady of the Waves, and the earth suddenly shakes. They see flashes of light in the bay, and they hear the screams of thousands of souls. A massive black trunk comes down from the pitch black ceiling of the Depths, and begins to suck up all the souls of the dead. This is their first glimpse of the entity known as Hydra. It feeds on the souls of the dead!

We'll see what happens next, when the campaign continues next year!
 
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Escape from the Eternal Depths!

Last time the party was stuck in the realm where dead sailors go when they die. They were witness to the horrible entity known as Hydra, who has taken hold of this realm. This was an important moment, because up to this point they had no concept of exactly who or what Hydra was.

Some really important stuff happened during this session, which I'll get to in a second. But it was also a great excuse for a ton of exposition regarding the gods, and the three evil entities that have dominated the session up to this point: Hydra, Airen and Teehlyian'tara (I'm surprised I always manage to spell that one correctly).

The Obelisk

The players decided to revisit the Obelisk on their way back to the portal to the mortal realm. Numerous new foes had just appeared all over the dark city, and so it was important to quickly get their friend Urunthu Khan and his bodyguard Ryp out of there, via the safest route possible. The servants of Hydra seemed unable to get close to some of the buildings infused with magical dwarven runes. The ancient Oarsmen seemed to have some arcane knowledge that allowed them to keep Hydra at bay. So when they revisit the Obelisk, I tell them that it resonates whenever they are near. The players all decide to touch the obelisk, which activates it. The runes light up, and all nearby Hydra creates recoil in terror. This raises an important question. Does this obelisk also exist in their world? More on this question in our next session.


Meeting with Belet Seri

Through a bit of obvious railroading on my part (I do apologize, but it was needed at this point) I had an npc take them safely to visit the Clocktower, to meet with Belet Seri. It was about time they talked to someone that could answer all their big divine questions. Belet Seri is the scribe of the Underworld, and she is the assistant to the god of death. But He no longer rules the Eternal Depths, because he was swamped with work. A long time ago He decided to share his various sub-realms with other lesser deities, such as The Lady of the Waves. This good protector of sailors, was unfortunately not ready for the assault of three evil powers.

Belet Seri explains to them how of the three evils, Teehlyian'tara is different from the other two. She corrupts, festers and rots, deteriorating the defenses that allowed Hydra to conquer the realm in the first place. Teehlyian'tara has no physical body, she is literally split across all her vermin servants. So like a pest, she can never be eradicated for good, but she can also never be a serious threat to the world. But she enables other evils to do great harm, which is perhaps far worse.

How Airen fits into all this is as of yet unclear. The Goddess of Chaos used to be a harvest god, which is a complex story that I'll leave out for now.

But perhaps the most important information was that Hydra is not really a god. To mere mortals it can be hard to tell the difference between one godly being and the next. But none of them are alike, and Hydra is nothing near to a god.... but still quite dangerous. She explains how Avenna, the powerful goddess of the sun once did battle with Airen, which she won but it also weakened her, thus causing 30 years of darkness on the world. Now that these three evils which include Airen have aligned against this one lesser deity (The Lady of the Waves), it is no surprise that Hydra could easily conquer the Eternal Depths.

All this was important to explain that The Lady of the Waves is no push over, but to also explain to the players what they are up against. We are talking a Cthulhu-like being of such frightful power that they have no hope of ever defeating it directly. Belet Seri also explains how the Oarsmen used to be tall powerful men of great wisdom, but due to a curse from Hydra they began to forget, and were cursed with their small stature. Still, the power of the ancient Oarsmen persists to this day, and the players may be able to turn this to their favor.

The players brilliantly consider the idea that perhaps they could use the dwarven runes to manifest a version of their own base of operations within the Eternal Depths. This would give them a perfect point to strike from against Hydra. This is something that even I as a DM had not thought of. But it immediately changes my ideas for the future plot. <- So I just want to point out that this is why I call my campaign a sandbox. It is NOT a railroady adventure in the slightest. The plot is constantly in motion, due to the actions of the players.

Belet Seri also explains how Hydra is able to influence the mortal realm in a limited capacity, because his followers use dark magic to open a rift that allows him to enter. Hydra hides this rift with a dark cloud, which is often called The Harrowing in local beliefs (a sign of the end times). They do this from some unknown base of operations. If the players are able to take down this base of operations (if they can find it first), they can stop Hydra from sending minions to the mortal realm completely.

The condition of Urunthu Khan

Finally Belet Seri also explains that their friend Urunthu Khan cannot be returned to life by her. Only the God of Death can make that call, and until he does, both him and Ryp they are neither living nor dead. Still, despite this fact, he should travel with them , because he clearly has some work left to do. So how will they explain this to their crew, or to the highly superstitious Kooghans when they return him to Abyscus? (island of the Kooghans)

Escape from the Depths

The players make a very close escape through the portal, back to Vertesaux. They take on two deadly Ocularons, which permanently steal the eyes of their victims after a successful grapple. These things are scary, and I purposefully gave them a CR encounter that was overtuned according to their level. I wanted them to feel like they might just die, and it was a close call. Thanks to clever use of a Ring of the Ram, they were able to knock one of the Ocularons through the portal, so the city guard could duke it out with the thing instead. So now they only had one Ocularon to deal with, but this still almost cost them one of their party members. Lets just say they were very VERY lucky!
 
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Closing up the portal

The next session started with various npc's closing off the portal completely. It is not known how to close a portal to another reality in my setting. So people tend to do the next best thing: Stabilize the portal, and then build a large stone building around it. So now it is completely sealed away.

The Obelisk

Fortunately the players remembered that they wanted to check up on the obelisk in the mortal realm. But they weren't ready for the twist that I had in store for them. As it turns out, where once stood a proud statue of some saint, had now arisen an identical obelisk. It had obliterated the statue that once stood there, and the runes also glowed with power. The entire square was crowded with people, but mostly oarsmen. And captain Horfor Depthbreaker (whom they had helped retrieve his ship from that shipyard a while back, where they defeated Grimwick Bristlethorn) was now chanting how this was a sign, and that Captain William really was the lightbringer they all claimed him to be. The mysterious appearance of the obelisk had instantly turned this once humble square into some sort of holy site for Oarsmen. And it seemed that the runes also seemed to trigger some vague recognition of that ancient knowledge that they once knew.

As the players walked up to the Obelisk, it resonated once again. Captain William touched the obelisk again (but this time in Vertesaux), and it erupted with a beam of light. But the light did not go away. In fact, this powerful bright beam of light kept shining up into the sky, and it was highly likely that this now served as a beacon in the Eternal Depths as well. Immediately the players all agreed: "We must find more of these beacons!"

This was one of the most epic moments of the campaign, because in an instant this player had literally become a bringer of light in a way that simply made sense for the plot. It just all fit. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and I described the powerful feeling of religious euphoria that everyone could sense on that square at that moment. Even none-oarsmen citizens were drawn to the sight of all these kneeling dwarves, reveling in the light of the Obelisk. It was a great moment. And in a perfect moment of roleplaying, the player decided to walk up to every dwarf, and touch their shoulders with his hands and satisfy their religious desire to be blessed by the Lightbringer. Regardless whether his character actually believes he is the Lightbringer, this was THE moment where he rallied all these dwarves to his cause. They would now follow him to what ever end.

Setting sail

After all these plot developments I sped things along a bit. I gave the players the opportunity to quickly handle some stuff that would otherwise take up a lot of time. They then all set sail, along with a bunch of new npc's, and a fleet of ships. Currently they have:

The Lady's Vengeance, their flagship. Captained by William Roberts (the players).
The Jennifer's Grace, their old starting ship, now manned by Mad Captain Wiseman.
The Stormhammer, captained by Captain Horfor Depthbreaker (Stoneoar dwarves).
Avenna's T*ts, captained by Scurvy Scarlet. She is not yet allied to the players, but follows them on this journey to pursue her own goals.
Astonishment, Wonder and Oddity, Captained by the traveling circus, Leopardo Pardini, Hugo Falasco and Madame Ora. They kind of talked Leopardo into joining them. He couldn't really say no with such a huge army of pious dwarves behind them.

The Great Whamboozy

On their way to Abyscus, which is home to the Kooghans, they have a random encounter with a wizard called The Great Whamboozy. They had briefly met this bumbling wizard before at Witchclaw, but now they find out where he lives. But his abode is on none of the charts. At first they stumble upon a large stone monkey head, with a threatening voice warning them not to approach. A few fireballs are soon flung their way, but the players decide to approach the stone monkey head from behind. As expected, the head is unable to turn around, and it turns out to be a clear case of Wizard of Oz. They open fire at the large stone statue, until the wizard surrenders. Once the players have a chat with the crazy wizard, they leave him again in peace (after apologizing for shooting at his house, and stealing one of his books).

Arrival at Abyscus

The players finally arrive at their destination, the island of the Kooghans. Abyscus is a massive rocky island, with a large amount of jungle as well. The island is protected by a large steel gate, with two massive steel doors that provide access to a harbor covered by overhanging rock. Large metal bridges are lowered onto the decks of the ships, and the players are greeted by the elder of the Kooghan: Mwinji the Splendid. I'm told that the name Mwinji or Mwinjy refers to royalty of a person of importance in some African language, according to some website, so that fits his important position as elder. I often pay attention to the meaning of names when picking them for my npc's. Most importantly it has to sound like a cool suitable name that is easy to pronounce. But if it also has a cool meaning, that makes it an even better name. Especially many of the Kooghan names tend to have a meaning that fits the npc's personality or role.

Anyway. This is where we'll pick up the story next time.

Initially the players simply intended to visit Abyscus to do some quick shopping. The players want to buy a LOT of stuff here. As usual I provided them with a large list of custom weapons, as I do for all the race in my campaign. But now it seems there might also be some story stuff to do here, so I might just need to prepare a map of this island too, and do a lot of writing. They'll of course want to meet the other Kooghan captains, and I haven't thought of names for them all yet. There may be some plot lines and quests that I want to set up here, and they'll of course have some explaining to do regarding Urunthu Khan and Ryp (who are currently basically undead, because they are neither living nor dead).
 
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Fun with random tables, or how to have a great evening without preparing ANYTHING

I was a bit swamped with work this week, coding a game of my own design, and did not dedicate any time to actually preparing this week's session. Preparation normally takes a ton of work, and I just didn't feel like doing that this time. So I figured I'd wing it, and just improvise. I assumed that I would fill the evening with all the stuff the players wanted to do in downtime, and with my random tables... and that is exactly what I did.

Meeting with Mwinji the Splendid

The players arrived on Abyscus, where they met the elder of the Kooghans, Mwinji the Splendid. We played out their meeting, where they discussed all the end of the world stuff, as well as the plans with uniting the pirate factions, buying a new ship, defeating Hydra, and a Kturgian pirate by the name of Karagoz. Buying a great ship turned out to be a bit of a problem, since it takes months to build one. So instead they discussed the idea that the players would take their small fleet of ships, and defeat Karagoz instead, and take his Great Ship. They would need to find him first of course, but he has been terrorizing the local waters and attacking the other pirates.

Mwinji also told them more about the Circle of Azarah. This group of banished sorcerers and witches now support Hydra, and one of them is a Kooghan. Aram Seen the Unseen was a Kooghan who was banished from Abyscus for being cursed with an evil fate. He is one of the few of the Circle of Azarah who didn't really commit any atrocities to be deserved to be banished. But the Kooghans are highly religious, and his white hair was deemed a bad omen to the dark skinned Kooghans. Aram Seen the Unseen is a master of illusions and teleportation, which may explain why they haven't been able to discover the base of operations of the Circle of Azarah yet. The players also learned that another witch called Lady Yori, whom they killed early in the campaign, is actually a master of deception. So it is a fair bet that this oriental witch is still alive and kicking.

Penny Dreadful

While buying various provisions and new weapons, captain William decides that he should seek out another Kooghan pirate captain: Penny Dreadful. This female pirate captain may know more about the Kturgian pirate Karagoz, since she was one of the few to outrun his ship. However, this woman was known to be rather rough, and into 'wrestling' to meet with new comers. What the players were not ready for however, was that she would start a massive bar fight with their captain almost immediately, to test his strength. The both of them ended up completely trashing the place, much to the entertainment of the players (wielding bar stools as weapons is awesome). By the end of the fight, Penny Dreadful was out cold, the bar had been evacuated, and now looked like a war zone.

"Is this what you call diplomacy?" -Amaziah asked.

Back to Witchclaw

WitchClawMap.jpg


While all this fighting takes place, Shifter and Bioran take one of the ships to make a short trip to the island of Witchclaw, where the Speakers of the Dead live. Sitaara joins them, and she also brings Chantal Delcourt with them, who is the young assistant who joined the wizard Aldric, who also traveled with them to Abyscus. Sitaara knows that Chantal has secretly been practicing higher level magic, while Aldric still thinks his innocent assistant can only cast cantrips. Sitaara obviously has her own dark agenda, and sees an opportunity to influence Chantal. Sitaara's excuse however, is that Chantal was already interested, and she simply obliged in her curiosity.

Shortly after leaving Abyscus, Bioran and Shifter are witness to another crashing meteor barely missing their ship on the way there (a random encounter) and decide to mark the location, so they can dive for it later.

They enter the harbor of Witchclaw, and once again witness the undead trapped in cages in the harbor, as a warning to enemies of the Speakers of the Dead. This is a set up for what would follow later....

Shopping

Bioran and Shifter shop around a bit at the local magic store on Witchclaw. They know the store sells both useful items, and dangerous cursed items. They happen to sell an item called a Memory Orb, which is an orb in which you can permanently store a memory. This allows you to show the memory to others, but if the orb ever breaks, the memory is lost forever. The lady at the store says they sell 3. They used to have 4, but they've only had one customer for them: A lady who came in, bought an orb, immediately used it, and smashed the orb. The players discuss the danger of such an item. It is great for getting rid of unpleasant memories perhaps (as this lady probably did), or for hiding dangerous secrets... but it is a huge risk. They try to ask the lady of the store about the identity of the customer, but they fail their check and are unable to obtain that information from her. It is against store policy to violate the privacy of their clients.

The Crystal

After some shopping and crafting, they set out to have a Lesser True Death Crystal made for them, which would allow them to upgrade a weapon with extra damage to undead, and also make the weapon Ghosttouch. I decided to attach a short expedition to this item (might as well make it an interesting encounter). They are told that they must travel to the Tower of Necrosis, on the unexplored west side of the island. The area outside the main city of Ravenheart is called the Garden of the Dead, and is a wild unexplored forest full of ghosts and undead. The tower is located offshore, but can be accessed by foot as the tides lower.

Journey to the tower of Necrosis

They must first trek a bit across the Garden of the Dead, where they discover an abandoned old magical altar to the God of Death. I made a secret roll to see if it was guarded by ghosts, but it wasn't. They memorized the location of the altar, and continued towards the western coast of the island. The tide was low, only knee high. Surrounding them was a vast graveyard of shipwrecks, all haunted. They silently made their way across to the tower.

The tower is a frightful sight. It is decorated with a crown of large statues near the top, facing in all directions with outstretched arms that hold cages. In the cages are people that have been cursed with unlife; they have deliberately been turned into undead to punish them for all eternity. This is a sight similar to what they saw in the harbor of Ravenheart, but it would seem that the undead are created at this tower. Inside the tower they meet with Skua Fleshweaver, whose ominous name already made my players quiver. They also notice countless copper plates on the walls of the tower with the shapes of people in them. They seem like coffins in which undead are imprisoned.

Bioran is curious regarding anything involving magic, and thus eager to see the process of creating the magic item.... he would soon regret his curiosity. Shifter also has some questions regarding alchemy.... But the Skua can see that he is good at heart, and says: "We'll see if you still feel the same after we make the crystal."

They are taken to the third floor of the tower via a magical winding stairs (which instantly takes them to the top). The Skua asks Bioran if he has any moral preference, or preference of color, to which he answers no. To their horror they then witness how a screaming prisoner is brought in, whose heart is then removed by a gigantic machine, and transformed into the gem before their eyes. They already knew the Speakers of the Dead were evil, but this just confirmed it. The Skua informs Bioran that the person they used only committed a light crime, such as looking at a Skua the wrong way. Their crimes and gender affect the color of the crystal.

Bioran and the Skua discuss the Circle of Azarah briefly, and Sharokina Pitchwater, a Speaker of the Dead who was banished from Witchclaw and robbed of her Skua title. She explains that necromancy is not considered a crime on Witchclaw, unless a Speaker of the Dead uses it against one of her own race, which is what Sharokina did.

Now that they know how these crystals are made, they have to seriously consider the moral consequences, and whether they want to buy more crystals. They agree not to tell the rest of the crew or their captain of what just transpired.

Skua Fleshweaver: "Did you still have alchemy questions?"

Shifter: "I think I'll pass..."

Shifter: "Maybe we should buy one of those Memory Orbs now..."

Bioran: "-And smash it. I do not want to remember this."
 
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Afterthoughts

So I didn't prepare anything for this last session, but I have so much material lying around, and so many random tables, that there's plenty to still fill a whole session. The ending with the Tower of Necrosis was the big holy sh*t moment of the evening. I had already written out the idea that people are turned into undead at this tower when I wrote out Witchclaw for their first visit. But the crystal was all their idea, so I simply improvised that the Speakers of the Dead would probably have some awful secret to make such a powerful item. I like attaching some moral questions to it, and turning a simple magic item creation into a full blown excursion to another part of the island.

So the pieces were all there, but the big shocker was totally improvised based on the item that the players were trying to acquire. It feels good pulling out the map of Witchclaw and reusing it, and having them visit new places, and uncover new darker secrets. They liked the Speakers of the Dead before, but now they have a far more darker negative view of them. I love playing around with their perception of various npc's like that.
 

Spotlight on Witchclaw

So I posted the map of Witchclaw earlier. But Today I'd like to give you more background on the island itself and its various locations. This is not an update on the sessions, but just a bit of bonus lore. This will also give you some insight in just how much planning I usually do for the campaign.


Ravenheart
The only city on Witch Claw is Ravenheart. It is a gigantic fortress surrounding a crescent-shaped bay, on top of black rocks. The island is always shrouded in fog, but ghostly blue beacons guide visitors into the bay. These beacons are large female statues holding a round glass pot, filled with a blue chemicals. It glows brightly, and all the statues look like priestesses wrapped in tattered cloaks. In Ravenheart each Speaker of the Dead is named after his/her role. People in important positions are often given a frightening new last name that fits the sounds of their first name.

Below is a list of locations on Witchclaw, and the npc's that the players can meet there. Several of them have not yet been introduced during the campaign, but are there for when I need them.

LocationsCharacters
Bay entranceWatcher of Fortune
Weeping StatuesVarious singers
The tower of ravens (Council)Skua Skagga Snakeveins, Skua Moswen Poisonvoice, Skua Mesi Tetherbones, Skua Nia The Forgotten, Skua Uadjit Cobrafang, Skua Kanika Drownedfate
Gateway to the garden of the deadWatcher of Rest
Lake of Whispers (Divination and fate)Interpreter Keket Drowned Sister
Tower of Transvergence (necromancy)Dactyl Safiya Corpsetender
Tower of Necrosis (necromancy)Skua Shukura Fleshweaver
Tower of the Sun (East) (Alchemy store)Dactyl Arana Vaspurga
Tower of the Moon (West) (Magic store)Skua Ishtara Skrigga
Ship Yard of the Fallen RavenArtisan Unun Kaladun
The Bone House (Prison)Bladedancer Rayne Blightvein
The Black Forge (Weapon smith)Artisan Bakari Shuarri
Leech Market (Spell ingredients, pets, livestock)Various salesmen and women
Temple of Sargesh (Death temple)Watcher of Sorrow
House of the Dispossessed (Curiosity shop)Kissa Snakeshead, Kissa Snakestail
Hall of nightmares (chapel with memories)Watcher of Memories
Tower of the Unblinking Eye (grand library)Interpreter Hegeth Kessereth
Tower of Mor (weather diviners and map maker)Interpreter Khaldun Bonescatterer
Temple of Daiyanna (Love temple)Watcher of Tribute
House of Melinka (Jewelry)Dactyl Aziza Hitthra
House of Nails (Pleasure house for women)Watcher of Flesh
The Thunder Forge (Siege weapons)Artisan Mensah Terrorbringer
The Screeching Crow (Tavern)Hith’carice Arpurgice
Enaia’s Rest (Inn)Bastet Basilisksteeth
Watcher of Fortune
As you enter the bay, there’s a floating pontoon near the centre, where a slender lady in black sounds a spooky chime. She is called the Watcher of Fortune, and she does not speak, only gesture. With a hooked pole she reels ships in, so that they make a donation before entering the bay. A large sacrificial bowl stands in front of the statue, and it is filled with countless different things: Beads, coins, blood, teeth, gems and bones.

Weeping Statues
After making a donation, long rows of female statues fill the bay. They represent former pirate captains that have ruled Witch Claw. Each one has many donations at its base. Flowers, hooded lanterns, coins, locks of hair. A haunting female singing sounds from the coast, a welcome to the new arrivals. Their voices constantly merge on the same tone, causing the air to vibrate around the bay. It is very unnerving. The fortress surrounding the bay, looks like it was cut in two. It looks as if the inside of the bay has newer walls than the walls on the outside.

Lake of Whispers
This haunted body of water shows visitors their fate and magical aptitude. Before anyone can enroll into the magical arts on Witch Claw, they must make a pilgrimage to the lake, drink from its waters, and gaze into their own reflection. The lake will then show them their destiny. All the captains have made this journey. Interpreter Keket Drowned Sister took her sister here, who gazed too deep, and was consumed by the water. Her sister still haunts the lake, and occasionally visits her. It is a warning to anyone who takes this journey, not to stray from the path of life.

Tower of Transvergence
This tower is located on the other side of the island. But to get there, visitors must first traverse the garden of the dead. It is this journey that all Speakers of the Dead must take, if they seek to become a singer for the coven. The process of becoming a singer is a twisted one, which turns the subject into an undead. Here they can either become dedicated to their eternal cause, or they can turn violent, and become hostile zombies that roam the island.

Tower of Necrosis
Here people are taken to be punished. The necromancers of this tower, make their victims suffer eternal damnation by keeping them in a permanent state of undeath. They are placed in cages at the Bone House, as a warning to their enemies.

Tower of the Sun
This is the high academy for alchemy on Witch Claw. Here work the greatest alchemists on the island, and share their knowledge. They provide medicine as well as deadly poisons. But before one is allowed to study here, one must first make a pilgrimage to the Lake of Whispers, to find out one’s magical destiny.

Tower of the Moon
This is where Speakers of the Dead are educated in magic. This academy covers all magic, white and black. One can even study necromancy. But before one is allowed to study here, one must first make a pilgrimage to the Lake of Whispers, to find out one’s magical destiny.

Shipyard of the Fallen Raven
This large shipyard resembled a monstrous wooden skeleton. It is filled with a graveyard of shattered ships, and it is where every Speaker of the Dead captain comes to make repairs. The Shipyard provides many ship upgrades.

Hall of Nightmares
Here the Singers come to rest, and empty their minds. The Hall of Nightmares takes away their painful dreams, and locks them behind crystal mirrors, where they can be examined by diviners. If someone is suffering from terrifying nightmares, they will often come here as well. The Hall allows them to see their own nightmares more closely, and find understanding.

Tower of the Unblinking Eye
This magical library is very large, and is always very crowded. Everyone keeps silent, as is common in any library, but there are always sounds of wind chimes and breathing in the halls of this library. It is clear that the place is haunted, due to the large amount of magical knowledge contained within. The library has magical shelves, that automatically put books back in their correct place. One can often find haunting figures in tattered black robes, gliding through the halls silently. Never batting an eye, never blinking. The library uses magical candles that give off a perfectly white light, and no heat. Many of the female visitors have male assistants following them and carrying books. The library has a large window overseeing the bay. A magical eye above each door, makes sure no books get stolen. The magical eyes can see through clothes.

Tower of Mor
Adjacent to the High Council is the Tower of Mor, the highest tower on the island. It is here that the Speakers of the Dead divine the weather, and create maps for their captains. Visitors can also buy maps here.

Temple of Daiyanna
People visit this temple to honor their women, and bring them gifts. All of the women on Witch Claw have their own shrine, some a small statue, others a large altar. Visitors can deposit gifts in the sacrificial bowls to whichever woman they wish to honor. The Speakers of the Dead attribute special kinds of fortune to each woman, and draw connections between them and various deities.

House of Melinka
Sells jewelry exclusive for women, to keep them happy. This is the perfect place to sell exotic gems and jewelry, because jewelry is an important commodity on Witch Claw. Jewelry can be given as tribute to any Speaker of the Dead lady, or as a gift to a deceased woman.
Tower of Ravens
The high council of Witch Claw. The six grand witches, and captains of Witch Claw make all decisions here, after consulting with the Interpreters of the island. They hold piracy in high regard, as they see the future of their people is to traverse the Eternal Depths and bridge the gap between life and death. They believe fear is their best defense, and that their dominance over the seas in this region, allows them to drive back Hydra and its minions. The tower is the largest tower on the island, and is prominently visible in the harbor. It is elaborately decorated in gothic architecture, and has a large glass dome at the top, encircled by ravens.

Gateway to the garden of the Dead
A large intimidating gate, covered in ghastly figures. It’s guardian is the Watcher of Rest, who guides visitors across the island, to the tower of Transvergence. The garden is full of hostile undead, and is a most dangerous place.

The Bone House
This imposing prison stands high above the water on large thick pillars, many of which have crumbled over time. This makes it seem as if the prison leans on just a few meager pillars. From above many rusty cages hang, greeting visitors as they enter the bay. Several corpses rattle restlessly in their cages, suffering eternal torment as undead. The prison looks like a floating fortress, covered in ghastly spikes and gothic architecture. Ugly statue heads of monsters spit raw sewage down like brown curtains, into the bay below.

The Black Forge
This is where the Speakers of the Dead create all their hand weapons. They create guns, bows and blades. They also forge magical weapons here, with assistance of the greatest alchemists and mages of the nearby towers.

Leech Market
Named after the countless leeches and other insects that are sold here. It is a perfect place to acquire spell and alchemy components, or to buy pets. Other wares are sold here as well, but the market is mostly dominated by creepy items and black magic. The merchants here accept payments of coin, payments of flesh and payments of the soul. A payment of the flesh means either selling a body part, blood, offering one’s body for experimentation, or sexual payment. You can also accept a bodily debt to the merchant. A payment of the soul means selling the ownership of one’s soul to the merchant.

Temple of Sargesh
Where people come to mourn the dead, and light candles in their name. Visitors can hand a name to the Watcher of Sorrow, and the singers there will sing for that person. The temple also takes donations.

House of the Dispossessed
Run by the Kissa sisters. The Kissa sisters buy all sorts of antiques and exotics items. They are open about their culture, and may reveal how they were born as identical twins, but were afraid to visit the Lake of Whispers. Since they are twins, the fate of one would be the fate of the other. So they dared not to go. Instead they settled for a more mundane profession. In their store many strange magical items may be found, including a cursed item section. One sister runs the normal item section, the other runs the cursed item section. The store seems divided in two, with the colors on the walls and floor changing right down the middle.

The Thunderforge
This is where the Speakers of the Dead forge their siege weapons. The Thunderforge builds catapults, ballista’s, cannons and ammunition. They do this in close cooperation with the alchemists and mages of Witch Claw.

The Screeching Crow
A tavern that the Speakers of the Dead build especially for travelers. The Speakers of the Dead are not very social people, and thus this tavern is mostly frequented by traveling sailors from other cultures. It is a custom that every man stands and bows if a woman enters the tavern.

Enaia’s Rest
This inn is named after the goddess of the stars. It is filled with good luck chimes, and tiny shrines for various Gods. The Inn has special high quality rooms for women, and special rooms for captains. The Speakers of the Dead treat the captains of other ships, as they treat their own. Which is why a captain’s room contains a large elevated hanging bed and a luxury bathtub, surrounded by the beds of their crew (who sleep on the ground). The Inn provides male servants to see to any needs of the captains, including standing next to their bed all night, and keeping them cool with fans.

House of Nails
It is here that women's needs are taken care off. This house of pleasure is exclusive to women, although men can offer themselves as willing servants for free. Unlike a simple whore house, the ladies that visit this place do not have to pay anything. The Speakers of the Dead see their women as messengers of the Gods, standing on the threshold of life and death. And thus they must be satisfied, or bad things will happen.
 
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Update of the custom weapons for Pirates of the Emerald Coast

My campaign setting uses custom equipment lists and weapon rules, with firearms and cannons that aren't part of the standard 3rd edition rules. The weapons in these lists are all based on the rules described in an issue of Dragon Magazine, and include plenty of equipment from Arms & Equipment, Stronghold Builders Guidebook, Stormwrack and Frostburn. But they also include plenty of custom historical weapons. If you are running a 3.0, 3.5 or Pathfinder campaign, then feel free to make use of these lists. The weapons are grouped into categories for each of the important pirate factions of my campaign setting, with the default weapons and gunpowder rules at the top.

In this weapon list you'll find:

Default flintlock pistols, rifles and cannons.
Gunpowder rules and a misfire table.
Vertesaux weapons, improved firearms and cannons, ship upgrades and adventure items
Alcohol list, along with a custom table for random alcohol effects
Settlement and stronghold construction costs.
Gongya An weapons. Classic historical Asian weaponry, harpoons and ship upgrades against sea monsters.
Kooghan weapons. Improved firearms, cannons, exotic siege weapons, ship upgrades and figure heads.
Oarsman weapons. Diving bells, Bathyspheres, diving suits, naval mines and underwater equipment.
Speaker of the Dead weapons. Necromancy, catapults, special potions, and magical tattoos.
Magical wand crafting, and property lists for various kinds of wood and magical ingredients.
 

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Escape from the Temple of the Three Serpents

This session was the point where we finished up all the downtime activities, and got back to the action. It was time for some more battles and skill checks. So as a DM I used the downtime stuff as an opportunity to foreshadow some stuff that would become important later.

Finishing up at Witchclaw

After their expedition into the Garden of the Dead, Bioran (Elf/Abjurant Champion) and Shifter (Human/Druid) returned to the main capital of Ravenheart. Shifter paid a visit to the grand library called the Tower of the Unblinking Eye. This tall structure is a spooky library, full of magical eyes that prevent stuff from being stolen, and magical candles held by animated metal hands to provide the bare minimum of spooky illumination. Among this maze of bookcases, Shifter could see all manner of spooky characters gliding by, looking for books, and the enchanted bookcases automatically return any misplaced books to their correct location.

One of the cool things about the Witchclaw setting, is that as a DM you really can come up with a lot of cool spooky and magical stuff to bring this world to life.

Shifter went looking for more information regarding the dragons, but quickly got himself completely lost in the maze of bookcases. He was far too weirded out by the creepy library and its creepy visitors, to dare ask anyone for directions. But while wandering through the library, he did run into a witch in white, who was clearly not a Speaker of the Dead (who all dress in black). Some of the other players realized that this witch was probably part of a coven that was not all that different from a group of Druids. Shifter did not pick up on this hint however, and decided not to approach the creepy woman.

Later that evening, Shifter and Bioran returned to a strange magical altar that they had discovered in the woods during our last session. Here they were witness to a group of two of these white witches, resurrecting one of their own at the very altar that they intended to use. They watched as the witches successfully returned their fellow witch back to life. After the witches had departed, they started using the altar to craft their magical items.

As a DM I always reward very few magical items in my campaign. I like to keep the magical loot a bit rare, because this makes crafting feel more valuable. This session, just like the previous one, would skip over a few days so that they could finally get some of their crafting done. This also involved melting the pieces of meteor that they had found into ingots, and then crafting weapons out of this meteorite steel. However, this doesn't mean the downtime stuff suspends the story. I always make sure that stuff is still happening, even while they are crafting. In the case of the altar, there were of course the witches. But later on it also turned out that a bunch of ghostly knights protected the altar at night. Thus allowing anyone using the altar to do their work undisturbed.

Return to Abyscus

The party rejoined at the island of Abyscus, home to the Kooghan pirates. Here the players were introduced to a new Kooghan pirate who had just arrived in the harbor. A captain by the name of Hamadi of the Golden Horn. Hamadi had just returned from a very long voyage, and had brought a lot of treasure. He seemed eager to show off the large quantity of his spoils, and intended to share some of it with his people (by handing out coins and gems) and some of it with the local temple (for good fortune). But oddly it seemed that Hamadi had returned with a different crew than the one he set out with. When the Kooghan elder, Mwinji the Splendid, asked why this was the case, he simply answered: "There was trouble", and left it at that. There was reason for suspicion here, but my players didn't catch on yet.

The players later learned that there was a majestic temple on the island called the Temple of the Three Serpents. This temple was dedicated to three giant legendary serpents, a crystal serpent (who sees into the future), a golden serpent (who represents wealth and prosperity) and a fire serpent (who judges those who would call themselves captain). It is unclear if these great serpents are still alive, but it is presumed they lived long ago. The Kooghans worship many animals deities, but the three serpents are considered the wisest of all. Serpents are symbolic for protecting things, and for great wisdom and cunning.

Many Kooghan captains have to first survive a deadly trial when they reach the age of 18, called the Trial of the Fire Serpent. If they survive the trial of the fire serpent, and take a dive off the cliff of Abyscus and survive, then they are considered chosen by Mor, the God of Storms, and may call themselves captain.

The island has a collective treasury, hidden inside a huge vault inside the temple, and supposedly guarded by the Golden Serpent. This is also where the Kooghans channel the heat of the mountain up to heat their forges. Yes, the Kooghans live on top of an active volcano, and they use the heat of the lava to power their factories.

Lastly, there are the priestesses who use the intoxicating vapors of the volcano to bring themselves into a trance, and see into the future. They claim to follow the example of the great Crystal Serpent, who could also see the future. Many Kooghan captains visit the temple to either bring tribute (by sacrificing treasure to the volcano) or receive a reading from the priestesses. This is about to become very important! Mwinji, the elder, explains that if Captain William Roberts wishes to get the support of his people, he should first get the blessing of the clergy.

Curse your inevitable betrayal!

Captain Hamadi is there when the players visit the temple. Via a fireproof cage they descend down into the heart of the mountain. Captain William Roberts says that he'll gladly take the trial to prove himself a captain, but Mwinji tells him that there is NO REASON for someone who is not a Kooghan of 18 to take the test. He is after all already a captain of age, and has proven himself many times over. And he is of course not a Kooghan.

But little does he know that he may still get his wish. In fact, everyone may need to survive the trial, if they wish to escape the temple.

Hamadi delivers his chest of plunder to the temple. He leaves some chests at the vault, and takes one with him into the heart of the mountain. Captain William Roberts first receives a reading from the priestess, who warns him that he will be betrayed, and that a great voyage awaits him.

Afterwards, Hamadi sacrifices the chest of plunder to the mountain, but lo and behold, it is filled with gunpowder instead! Hamadi reveals himself to be Aram Seen the Unseen, in disguise. He is an exiled Kooghan wizard, and a member of the Circle of Azarah. He vanishes before the players can lay a finger on him, but not before stabbing the head priestess. The explosion triggers an eruption from the volcano. The cage that the players used to descend into the mountain comes crashing down, and parts of the spiral staircase are destroyed also. Thankfully, the players manage to prevent themselves or their crew from falling into the lava. They quickly heal the head priestess, thus saving her life. Four other priests already flee ahead of the players, but part of the staircase collapses under their weight, and one of them falls into the lava.

Escape!

ThreeSerpentTempleFloorA.jpg

The players climb up of what little remains of the spiral staircase. The cage lift is clearly out of commission, so they'll need to make haste, and work their way upwards through the layers of the temple, to reach the surface again before the lava kills them all. They bring the head priestess and Mwinji (the elder) with them.

(On the above map, the lever allows the players to lift the heavy door, although they could also attempt to open it with pure strength. The lever however causes a counterweight to lower, which in turn allows lava to flow in from the ceiling. So it is a bit of a trap. The lava that starts pouring in moves 10 feet (2 tiles) each turn, and slowly engulfs the whole room. Next to the heavy door is also a very thin crack in the wall. Players can move through this at half speed, but they cannot wield any two-handed weapons while moving through this tight space.)

They have a big fight with some Azarah wizards in the foundry, while a flow of lava is quickly closing in on them. Some of the spells that their enemies use have unintended side effects when combined with the lava. For example, when an Ice Storm lands on some of the cracks in the ground, it causes jets of hot steam to shoot upward. One of the Azarah wizards surrenders, and her hands are secured with rope, and her mouth is covered. The others are quickly killed. They make use of a bucket lift that is usually used to transport ore, to reach the next level of the temple.

What's next

Now that they've escaped the bottom level of the temple, the real action begins. The next session I have a lot of stuff in store for them. I've printed out large maps of 6 sheets of paper, taped together. The tiles on these are big enough to fit miniatures, so it allows us to really play out these action packed encounters in great detail. These initial battles were just to soften them up a bit. Up ahead are far more perilous platforming and climbing challenges, along with battles amidst a swirling river of lava, while bridges will be collapsing all around them. I'll be throwing more powerful pirates and wizards at them. And maybe also some fire elementals.

Eventually they'll reach the top floor, where the entrance is obviously blocked. They will now be forced to escape through the captain's trial, and take a leap off the cliff of Abyscus, to escape! The trial will be a devious platforming/puzzle challenge, where they must leap across flaming pillars above a lake of lava. It is going to be awesome!
 
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Glad to see this is still going on.

Thanks. I'm happy to hear that the thread is still being followed. We had a brief hiatus with the pirate campaign, thanks to one of our dear players discovering a strange thing he likes to call "girlfriend", and the rest of us just being kind of busy. Life just gets in the way of D&D every now and then. But we're continuing our adventures again, and I'll keep this thread up to date.
 


Escape from the Temple of the Three Serpents - part 2

After many sessions of mostly role playing, I now got to serve my players several sessions full of combat and lots of action. And my players seemed to love it! Last time our players were stuck down in the Kooghan temple as it was flooding with hot molten lava. The players used a simple bucket lift to ascend to a higher floor. Here they met with a friendly Kooghan wizard who had been battling the minions of Aram Seen the Unseen* for hours.

(* Aram Seen the Unseen is a powerful member of the Circle of Azarah, and also a dangerous master of illusions.)



The wizard informed the party that he was all out of spells, but he saved one last teleport spell, so he could take three people out of the temple. Mwinji the Splendid, the Kooghan Elder, refused to abandon the players and recommended taking some of the weaker characters out of the temple. The players decided that the wizard should take the wounded priestess, the hostage they had taken, and Chantal (one of their low level crew members). Mwinji removed his robe, to reveal two crossed bandoliers full of flintlock pistols, grenades a Dha-blade and two pepperbox pistols. The elder was armed to the teeth, and I gave one of the players control of him throughout this session.

(The teleport was a simple solution from me as a DM to reduce the amount of characters that were crammed onto the map, and to make the combat a bit more manageable. Its not fun to micro manage too many npc's, and a lot of these characters were simply useless and in the way. For the purpose of the combat that was about to follow, I had now worked out the statistics for Mwinji, so he could help the players. He was a level 12 warrior, one level higher than the players, but not overpowered.)

lava.jpg


Among the crumbling platforms, and above a stream of flowing lava, the players did battle with the illusionists and a bunch of ogre cannoneers. I had some fun with illusion spells here, by having the wizards create the illusion that one of the bridges had collapsed. I used dungeon tiles to fill in some of the bridges, so I could also easily remove them if needed.

The platform in the middle was high above a huge flow of lava. A drawbridge would have to be lowered to reach the other side, by operating the mechanism in the middle. It would take at least two people, or one really strong person.

The two ogre cannoneers were both wielding a light cannon, with a grenade rifle as backup. While they could quickly deal a lot of damage to the ogres, the damage from the light cannon was not something they could easily ignore. Fortunately Bioran was able to charm one of the ogres, and hypnotize one of the wizards with a Hypnotic Pattern spell. Shifter was able to lock one of the ogres and two of the wizards in place, with an Entangle spell.

They were curious what was behind the door to the north west. But after feeling just how warm the door was, they figured that opening it was probably not a good idea. Thus they were able to cleverly avoid accidentally releasing the lava flow behind it.There were also three levers, each which opened and closed the hatch behind it. This was an optional way to deal with the lava, in case they opened the door. But they ended up not using it.

Captain William Roberts
used his ring of the ram to knock one of the wizards straight into the lava, much to the amusement of everyone at the table. Unfortunately the magical possessions of the wizard caused a violent reaction in the lava, and angered one of the protectors of the mountain; A huge fire elemental. But the players were clever enough to use their diplomacy and religious knowledge to convince the elemental that they were not a threat.

(The players remarked that this was a relatively easy battle for them. Little did they know that this was simply a small fight to soften them up, and the real battle was about to follow. I wanted them to be familiar with what illusionists could do. I wanted them to be ready for improved invisibility spells, and devious use of Persistent Image. This is btw one of the first dungeons in the campaign that does not revolve around water.)

entrance.jpg


The players climbed the stairs and now found themselves back on the first floor of the temple. They could go forth towards the main hall and entrance, but they noticed that the vault had been breached, which is where the Kooghans kept all their riches. Curiosity got the better of them, so they went into the vault. Boss battle!

treasureroom.jpg

So in this battle we had:


Player - Captain William Roberts, human leader of the party
Player - Bioran, elf abjurant champion
Player - Ché, half-elf cleric
Player - Shifter, human druid
Npc - Sophie, fighter and crew member (controlled by Shifter)
Npc - Amaziah, cleric and crew member (controlled by Ché)
Npc - Diksnor, gunslinger and cohort (controlled by William Roberts with his leadership feat)
Npc - Mwinji the Splendid, Kooghan Elder and story character (controlled by Bioran)

Summoned animal - Dire Wolf

Against:

Aram Seen the Unseen, powerful CR14 illusionist
Simulacrum, created by Aram Seen the Unseen
2 x Ogre Cannoneers, CR7, wielding light cannons and grenade rifles
4 x Unseen Wizards, CR10, specialized in illusions and mind affecting spells
1 Golden Serpent, CR10, animal with construct traits, who attacks both parties


They found themselves inside a massive treasure room. Piles of gold were all over the place, along with countless treasure chests. Aram Seen the Unseen, two ogres and a bunch of wizards, were in the middle of a fight with a huge Golden Serpent. The players were surprised to find that the Golden Serpent that was mentioned before, actually existed. Mwinji quickly warned the players not to touch any of the gold, or they would anger the guardian. The Golden Serpent had been angered, and thus would not be able to tell friend from foe. They quickly found out just how true this was. Even stepping on the gold coins was enough to draw the attention from the Golden Serpent. The Golden Serpent was an animal with construct traits. It could deliver a shocking bite attack, and then automatically grapple and crush its victim. The amount of damage this thing could do in one round could easily kill, (-and almost did kill) several of the players, if it weren't for Bioran's Freedom of Movement spells throughout the battle, to escape the grapple.

The players decided to use stealth and surprise, and so Bioran cast a mass invisibility and haste on the party.

Best moment of the session:

Aram Seen the Unseen was looking for a special item inside the vault: The Conch Staff, which is actually a pearl-colored wand with a large pink conch on the top. I rolled randomly in what chest the staff would be, and out of 20 chests he instantly found it on his first try. "Yes, I found it!", he yelled out as he raised the item out of the chest. Bioran rolled for his move silent (he was still invisible) and for his sleight of hand, and quickly snatched the item right out of the hands of the evil wizard. Everyone around the table erupted in laughter. Aram Seen the Unseen, the master of illusions, had just been bested by someone he did not see. This evening was totally Bioran's night. While everyone did his part, everyone admitted that he carried them through this fight.

The rest of the battle

Captain William Roberts used his harpoon with a rope to strike Aram Seen the Unseen, and pull him down into the coins below. Thus providing a tasty distraction for the Golden Serpent. But I figured that such a clever villain would quickly realize when a cause is lost. And so I had him teleport to safety, as any villain with a sense of self preservation would. My players agreed that this made sense, and they were secretly kind of happy that he lived to fight them some other day.

Meanwhile the other Unseen Wizards were having fun with Dominate, Confusion and Persistent Image spells. They created the illusion of a Huge Fire Elemental to scare the hell out of anyone that failed their disbelieve check, and many did. But perhaps the cruelest thing that I did, was have a wizard create the illusion of golden necklaces around William Roberts' neck, and his pockets all stuffed with coins and gems. This immediately angered the Golden Serpent, and he attacked the poor captain, grappled him, and reduced him to 4 hit points instantly. Talk about a clever use of illusion spells! Yes, I am an evil DM.

Another well placed confusion spell turned their cohort Diksnor against them. And this npc could do a lot of damage! I also had the wizards cast improved invisibility, and Mirror Image, to confuse the players. Fortunately Bioran was able to use Glitter Dust to reveal all of the invisible wizards, and blind some of them. I have rarely seen so much good use of Glitter Dust.

In the end the players were victorious, but quite wounded, and almost all out of spells. They decided not to kill the Golden Serpent, but make a run for it.

(I think when a battle is exciting, and the players are victorious, yet several are severely wounded, that the battle was well balanced. Initially I was a bit worried about the difficulty, since the first battle went really well for them. But if you throw a powerful foe such as the Golden Serpent in the mix, it can quickly turn things around. Plus if more of the Dominate spells had succeeded, the wizards could have easily decimated the party. It is hard to balance a high level battle when lots of spells are involved.)

Escaping the vault

The players fled the vault, after killing all the other foes. The Golden Serpent did not follow them outside the vault. They then proceeded to the entrance of the temple, which had been collapsed. It would take a lot of spells to get rid of all the debris, and they were pretty exhausted. The only way out now, would be to do the trial of the fire serpent!

The trial of the fire serpent is a test that all young aspiring Kooghan captains must overcome. Mwinji himself had done it once as a young man. Once you make your way through the entire test, all you need to do is take a leap off the cliff of the island, and survive. Right now the test is their only way out. So Captain William Roberts got his wish after all.

As they arrived at the test, they found themselves in a large underground chamber. The bottom of the chamber was filled with lava, and several pillars would have to be jumped on, to hop over to various pressure plates, which would then open a portcullis to the next room of the test. Obviously the lava wasn't always there, so the test was now a lot harder. They would need to work together, and get a person on each pressure plate, to open the gate.

(I may need to add a couple of extra factors to this test, to prevent them from trivializing it entirely with spider climb and shape shifting. An anti-magic field is an obvious choice to prevent spell use. And maybe hot air currents can limit how far the Druid is able to fly in his animal form. I don't want to take away his ability for this, because otherwise what would be the point? But I don't want him to carry all the players over one by one on his back. So I'll need to come up with something that seems fair, and yet retains some of the challenge.)

We ended on this cliffhanger, and I gave them their experience rewards. I gave them full exp for overcoming the fire elemental and golden serpent, even if they did not kill these foes. We spend the rest of the evening leveling their characters, and talking about the campaign. They are now level 12, and get to choose from lots of interesting feats and prestige classes. I'm a bit cautious what I allow in my campaign, but my players always ask me for permission first. They are aware that some stuff in 3rd edition is blatantly overpowered, so we try to keep things fair and fun for everyone.

(Quick side note, my players are huge fans of these huge printed maps that I make. They are great for placing miniatures.)
 
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Our pirate campaign finally continues, and is steering towards an epic naval battle!

Checking up on the circus

After hearing that their allies of the Traveling Circus may be in trouble, Shifter the Druid decides to perform a scrying spell to find out. He heads out into the jungle to find some privacy away from curious eyes, although he does bring two Kooghan crew members with him for protection. He digs a hole outside Port Freedom, somewhere out in the jungle. He then uses his create water spell to fill it with water, and thus create a suitable reflective surface to perform the scrying.

He gazes at his brother, who is also a shape-shifting druid, who performs as a dancing bear at the circus. He can see that the Traveling Circus is docked at a secret hide out; a cave on the south side of the dreaded island Dunster Hollow. But only two of the three ships are there. It seems the third has been captured by the fearsome Kturgian pirate captain Karagoz. His fleet of pirate ships managed to destroy the mast of the ship, and he has taken the crew hostage. He threatens to kill a member of the crew on the hour, unless Leopardo Pardini (owner of the circus) surrenders. The cave is currently their best defense, since the coast of Dunster Hollow is treacherous, and Karagoz would not risk his ships near it. And they know the reputation of Karagoz, and have no delusions of their chances should they surrender. He'll probably kill them all anyway.

Unbeknownst to the players, Karagoz is actually hoping to draw the players out. His interest never was with the circus. It is a trap.

Shifter realizes he is all out of spells, so how can he communicate with his brother? But a helpful fairy of the jungle provides help. As it turns out, Shifter is quite known with all the fey folk (this is part of his background option that he chose). The fairy helps him to tell his brother to meet him at The Path. This is a secret inter-dimensional spot in the forest that only Druids and fey know. And here he can meet with his brother, as long as both have access to the forest. The two meet and share information. Shifter's brother tells him all he knows about the Kturgian vessels, their numbers, their ship types, their recent strategy, and where exactly on the island they are.

Shifter then returns to Port Freedom and shares all this information with his crew.

The Living Ship

Che and Bioran make a plan to destroy the dead Hydra ship on the market square of Port Freedom, because there are rumors that people have been plundering the corpse of the foul thing for souvenirs. This former living ship was one that the party was chased by very early on in the campaign, but then a giant whom they befriended on the spot, was so kind to pick up the thing, and throw it away. But it landed somewhere on Chattering Gull Island... this island. And a few days ago the thing managed to crawl into Port Freedom, where a massive off screen battle followed. The creature laid waste to many houses, before the local weapon smith was able to kill it by firing every weapon he had at it. But even dead, the thing could still be a threat. It is a creation of Hydra, and it might spread corruption. So they must destroy it.

Crazy Loup

Che and Bioran are overheard by a crazy thief locked up in a gibbet in the harbor. The man calls himself Loup, and speaks mostly in third person. He claims there is a beautiful princess locked up inside the remains of the glorious creature. They give him some water and food, and Loup promises to take them to the princess. At this point, neither player has any clue who this princess is. But they make a plan to free him at night, although they do not trust him.

Princess Eleanor

Loup is freed, and he points at the chest of the dead Hydra Ship. Shifter uses a creepy spell to detach his hand, and turn it into a spider, which then proceeds to crawl into the carcass through its mouth. Shifter can see though the eyes of this spider-hand, and is able to verify that there is some kind of black shell inside the carcass. With axes and crowbars they are able to access the shell and break it open. Inside, much to their shock, is the daughter of the King of St Valenz.... and she is not entirely human anymore. Princess Eleanor was believed to have been kidnapped by the dreaded pirate Karagoz almost 30 years ago, and was one of the reasons for the current war between St Valenz and Kturgia. But apparently Karagoz lied.

Princess Eleanor is beautiful to behold, and entirely nude. But certain disturbing changes have been made to her while she was asleep in the Hydra shell. Her left arm has been replaced with two black tentacles, and she has gills in her cheeks. Her long brown hair also shows slight hints of green streaks. When she awakes, she is quite confused. She has no memory of her capture, and no idea where she is. She does not even notice her tentacles, and only after it is pointed out to her, does she realize that it is not normal. Oddly enough, her body seems completely used to the use of her new appendages, and at first she accepts it as her own normal hands. It doesn't even strike her as odd that she has two black tentacles where her left arm should be.

Sitaara, their Speaker of the Dead crew member, is distrustful of the princess. Amaziah, their Kooghan priestess on the other hand, expresses sympathy. After all, the party once rescued her from a tomb where another evil deity (Teehlyian'tara) was preparing her as a new vessel. So this situation mirrors her own.

Oslo the weapon smith

Oslo is the biggest hero in Port Freedom at the moment, but he does not feel the hero. Although he stood his ground and killed the Hydra ship, it destroyed his workshop. His heroism earns him many free drinks, but he has no taste for them, so Rummy eagerly helps him out. Captain William Roberts joins the man, and makes him an amazing offer. He offers to pay for rebuilding the smithy, on the condition that he and his crew get a discount from now on. He also spends a large chunk of their current wealth on having a small fortress constructed next to Port Freedom. Because he realizes that Port Freedom is currently without any defenses, and it might be a strategic point.

Scurvy Scarlet's devious plan - Also, nudity!

As a DM I had to think really hard regarding Scurvy Scarlet's plan. She should always be a character with her own agenda. I never want the party to trust her completely. And she should always be a source for friction (and not just the bumping uglies kind).

Scarlet decides to confront Shifter with what she knows about the treasure map (she knows they have the real map), and convinces him to tell Sophie. She preys on his sincere feelings for Sophie, and makes him feel guilty for not being honest with her. She also shares some new information with Shifter. She exposes herself (something she does quite often to seduce men), and shows the tattoos that Black William once made on her chest. Many men have wanted to sleep with her just to gain these clues about the fabled treasure, but she points out two butterfly symbols. The butterflies resemble the necklace that Sophie wears. Scarlet explains that there must be two of these objects, and they might be some kind of key to the treasure. And maybe the necklace can reveal something on the map as well, such as the location of the other butterfly-jewel. She also tells him that the captain may object, so maybe he does not need to know.

Shifter ignores this last advise, and tells Captain William Roberts everything. But Scarlet still achieves her goal, because the seed for conflict is sowed. The Captain wants the treasure for himself, and Shifter wants to be honest with Sophie. This means that Sophie will find out about the map, or else Scarlet will tell her herself. This was an amazing role playing scene between both players, and it was a delight to behold, and to listen to the two of them argue. I was not sure if I was going to pull this off. But this is exactly what I hoped to achieve.

When Bioran later asks Scarlet why she acted so heroic in the first place (referring to her daring chase of the Azarah ship), she lies that the Circle of Azarah is their best link to Black William. If they can bring him back from the dead, they can also put him back into his grave. The real reason is, she wants some leverage. In the end Scarlet wants only two things: The treasure, and revenge on Guan Jing (a Gongya An pirate captain that she hates).

Battle preparations

The players have a meeting with the three pirate captains: Scurvy Scarlet, Urunthu Khan and Penny Dreadful. They discuss battle formations, and the dangers of the island. Many hours are also spent by the players as they have OC discussions of the best plan for attack. The island is surrounded by fog, with many razor sharp rocks and shores that are littered with the remains of less fortunate ships.

They decide that a direct and quick assault is probably best. They will focus their attack on the flag ship, the Crimson Abyss (a heavy Dromond ship), which is right outside the cave. Meanwhile some of their other vessels will try to take out the lighter ships, who's purpose is only to break masts. Scurvy Scarlet will drop naval mines in between their ships, and the lighter vessels, to isolate the Crimson Abyss.

Unfortunately they do not know how many other vessels they are facing. They know there's at least another caravel involved that is really fast. But they don't know where any of the other ships will be. They might be lurking in the fog.

The night before the battle

Shifter makes a trip to the other side of the island, to warn their old friend Harland Wilson that there will be a big battle at Dunster Hollow soon. Shifter is one of the few who knows that Harland is secretly a dragon, who loves watching naval battles. This earns him some extra favor with the old dragon.

Shifter returns late, and spends the night with Sophie. Although both are too tired for any intimacy. Che and Amaziah on the other hand share a bed for the first time, as a relief to the fear of the impending battle with one of the most dreaded pirate captains in the Emerald Coast.

-And then there was some very romantic sex between the two characters, followed by a hilarious OC discussion about pirate-era birth control.

Bioran checks on the princess, who shows some interest in the handsome elf. But Bioran can almost hear the voice of Sitaara screaming in his mind not to trust her, and he declines her seductions.

Bioran returns to the crows nest to trance. But unbeknownst to all of them princess Eleanore lies awake with her eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling... brooding... planning... awaiting her chance...
 
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Battle with Karagoz - Part 1

War preparations

Last session the players learned that the dreaded Kturgian pirate captain Karagoz had captured one of their allies: Hugo Falasco, and his ship, Oddity. The rest of their traveling circus friends are docked at a cave, and Karagoz threatens to kill a member of Hugo's crew on the hour, unless they all surrender.

For several hours the party debated their strategy. As a DM I gave them all the time they needed, because this lead to a ton of awesome role playing. I was very entertained by just how much thought they were putting into all this. The party eventually agreed on two things:

They would perform a powerful scrying ritual to spy on Hugo, and on his ship.

And they would send their npc wizard Aldric on a mission to teleport members of the circus who are currently at the cave, on board Oddity, while magically disguised as Kturgian pirates. They would try and attempt to recapture Oddity, to provide some extra fire power against the Crimson Abyss (the flagship of Karagoz and his fleet).

shipstartbattle.JPG

These are the actual ship positions. Not illustrated are the other two Circus vessels: Astonishment and Wonder, both docked inside the cave. The two enemy vessels at the top of the picture were unknown to the players, and not visible at first, because they were hidden inside the mist.

The players first performed a scrying on Hugo's Vessel, after using a Message spell to ask the leader of the circus what the name of the ship was again. They forgot to write it down (and they write down A LOT).

Upon viewing the ship, it looked completely empty. There was no one on the top deck of the ship. But alas, they could not scry inside the vessel.

Secondly, the players performed a scrying on Hugo himself. What they saw was the Crimson Abyss, with Hugo tied to its mast. Looking out over the waters from one of the ship's firing castles was Karagoz, flanked by two wizards. One of the wizards made his check, and noticed the scrying. He whispered in the ears of the captain to let him know they were being watched. Apparently Karagoz was expecting the players to do this, so he looked up and smiled. He then walked over to Hugo, planted a knife into the mast, right above his head, and looked back up at the players. He made a gesture across his throat, threatening to kill Hugo.

This scrying provided valuable information about the ship, it's armaments, and it's defenses. The Crimson Abyss was a well armed Dromond-class ship, with 4 light cannons and 2 carronades. Captain William Roberts and Karagoz exchanged some intimidating words through a Message spell. And the players noticed how Karagoz had disemboweled several of Hugo's crew, and strung them to the bow of his ship as decoration. Sitaara, their Speaker of the Dead npc witch, noticed that the ship was also equipped with a Spellcatcher. This handy custom magical item can absorb up till a limited number of spells that are directly aimed at the ship.

A Dromond is a ship that has both sails and oars. But with a ship this size, it is very likely that the rowing-crew are in fact slaves. Because it would need a very large crew for rowing. And if the ship has slaves, then maybe they should try and rescue them, and turn them against Karagoz?

Now the party had all the information they needed to form a plan. But there was still one detail they had to deal with: Princess Eleanore. A ritual performed by Che had revealed an answer from the Lady of the Waves. Princess Eleanore was both a victim and a spy for Hydra! But what did this mean exactly? The party agreed not to take any chances, and had Aldric the wizard turn the princess into a statue with a Flesh to Stone spell. Better safe than sorry.

Approaching Dunster Hollow

As the party approached the dark island of Dunster Hollow, they could see many temple ruins on the island, overshadowed by a permanent thunderstorm. The temple ruins were constantly being struck by lightning bolts. The coast was also littered with ship wrecks. With his bardic knowledge, Captain William Roberts knew that long ago the island had people living on it, who lived peacefully with local mermaids. But then they turned to a different, darker faith, and the worshiping of dark gods... the mermaids turned away from them, and the god of storms was so angered by this that he destroyed the magnificent buildings on the island. Even today the temples are constantly being struck by lightning, for the fury of the god of storms is long lasting.

shipconga.JPG

Using flags the party instructed their fleet to assume a line formation. Meanwhile Bioran the elf scouted the horizon for hazards and hostile ships. They approached two tall rock islands, covered in trees. They kept a close eye on the islands, suspecting a surprise artillery. They used an illusion spell to cover their approach, but they knew that at close range this illusion would no longer hide them.

They were now close enough for Aldric to teleport to the cave. Aldric would then gather as many circus-pirates as he could, and Dimension Door on board Oddity. If they could capture the ship without Karagoz noticing, this would help them a lot.

Suddenly loud alarm bells sounded from the two islands. Indeed Karagoz had placed lookouts on the island, who would signal the rest of his fleet the moment the players approached from the east, and passed the islands. Technically the party could also have approached from the west, so there also were lookouts on the other side, and other vessels.
shipmist.JPG

From the fog the party noticed three sail runners appearing behind them. They were closing in fast on their fleet, and trying to box in the ships, to hit them from both sides simultaneously with their cannons, to destroy their masts.

Immediately Captain William Roberts turned his ship, the Lady's Vengeance, around to protect the back of his fleet. He commanded the rest to continue straight for the Crimson Abyss.

Scurvy's Scarlet's ship, called Avenna's T*ts, was way in the back. But it had a secret weapon that the players would now put to good use. It would deploy primitive naval mines, made from paper, into the water between the two islands. These mines were an invention by the Gongya An. They were very expensive, but incredibly effective.

As one of the Kturgian ship's, Murder at Sea, tried to pass through the two islands, it hit the mines, which exploded and set a large portion of the ship on fire! The players remarked that maybe it should rename itself to "Murdered at Sea". But it was not defeated yet. However, its crew would spend the rest of the battle frantically trying to extinguish all the fires on their ship. Plus the mines had dealt considerable damage to the front sections of the ship.

shipintwo.JPG

The other two Kturgian ships, Crow's Banquette and Dead Reverence, tried to box the Lady's Vengeance in. But with a stunning maneuver Captain William Roberts claimed the advantage, and rapidly closed in on Dead Reverence. He moved his ship so close to the Kturgian ship, that the Vengeance was now just out of range of Crow's Banquette. Dead Reverence fired its cannons, dealing massive damage to the mast of the Lady's Vengeance. But with Crow's Banquette now being just out of range, it lacked the punch to destroy the mast.

The party unleashed the full power of their cannons on the longship, and quickly reduced Dead Reverence to cinder. As the now burning Murder at Sea was coming about to assist, Crow's Banquette tried to pass in front of the Lady's Vengeance. This would put it out of shot of the main guns of the Vengeance, and in range of its own cannons. But it had not counted on the large forward cannon that had not been fired yet. The cannon did not enough damage to Crow's Banquette to sink it. But the damage was significant. In a daring move, Captain William Roberts decided to simply ram Crow's Banquette, and split it right down the middle!

CRASH!

The Lady's Vengeance cut through Crow's Banquette like a hot knife through butter. Meanwhile Che was hard at work repairing the damage that was done to their mast and bow. Meanwhile Bioran and Sophie sniped at the Kturgian pirate captains from the crow's nest. While they were not able to kill the captains, the sharks would probably finish the job soon.

shipfinalbattle.JPG

They made haste to rejoin the rest of their fleet. But Golden Savanah and Craven of the Sea were now completely boxed in, and at the mercy of the Crimson Abyss, Airen's Gaze, and Wailing of the Wenches. Avenna T*ts was only a small vessel, so it cleverly used Oddity as cover as it circled around.

But this session would not be complete without a plot twist or cliff hanger....

With a deafening sound the Oddity exploded, and was instantly reduced to splinters! It seemed Karagoz had trapped the ship, which explains why there was no one on board. But what of Aldric? What of Leopardo? What of Shifter's brother? Were they on board the Oddity when it exploded?

I guess we'll have to find out next time when we continue this massive battle...
 
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