Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh
Session #056: Dread Blight Storm.
Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
New Tricks (played by Bear) Male Tabaxi Warlock Lvl 7
Ramshambo (played by Kev) Male Half-Elf Rogue Lvl 7
Vincenzo (played by Haggis) Male Shifter (Wildhunt) Druid Lvl 7
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7
Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar
This is session 56, and it was another cracker, although there was a lot less fighting than in previous two or three sessions, but I got 'em again...
So, the Dark Squad have found out all there is to know, they think, about the Talos worshipping half-orcs that were ensconced in the ancient De La Crane manor out in the Dreadwood. They've also shooed off, or else murdered (mostly murdered) the gnolls that were in the Talos worshippers employ, and latterly they've been below- down Granny Frogwart's Well. Not the ancient alchemist's well, Granny- I mean Ethel, made this very clear last session. Granny's well was home to a clutch of prisoners, the poor fellows beaten and exhausted. After gentle treatment- and healing, and rest, the five now ex-prisoners awake in the forest, away from their former prison, and within the confines of Newt's Leomund's Tiny Hut. The Dark Squad explain (at length) who they are to the newly awoken and disorientated quintet, they make clear that they (the Dark Squad) have just saved them from certain death.
"We're the Dark Squad, you're safe now."
Newt is remarkably polite, most odd, but also very insistent that the ex-prisoners understand that they owe their lives to the Dark Squad. That achieved and so therefore time for a little chat with the ex-prisoners. Although the little chat will be happening during the adventurer's return journey to Weston's Logging Camp. The reason for the retreat- to get the shattered prisoners back to safety, they're all heart the Dark Squad. But it's slow going because the ex-prisoners are still exhausted (Exhaustion 4). It helps that Vinnie conjures a few horses to make the journey easier, but the summoned beasts disappear after an hour.
Therefore it takes the best part of five hours to get the ex-prisoners safely back to the logging camp, however en route, as stated above, there's plenty of chatter- the Dark Squad have questions. The ex-prisoners take it in turns (initially) to tell the adventuers a little about who they are- where they work etc. and how they came to be captured.
Four of the ex-prisoners- Lucy Cockaleekee (a lady of easy virtue employed at The Pink Pussycat), Farley Chipsticks (a very young local farmhand), Stig Horsetosser (an ex-mercenary turned chef & now co-owner of The Burger Lord) & Corporal Frank Diddle (a soldier at the Eerie) are all residents of Burle.
Burle is a large-ish frontier town which the PCs have not visited as of yet. Although the Falcon's Nest is only a few miles from this place, and the PCs have been there- to see the Falcon. The four were all captured however away from the town, in the woods and countryside thereabouts, and from their descriptions of their attackers- they were captured by gnolls.
This in itself is odd, Vinnie lets his colleagues know, because gnolls are driven by 'the hunger', they live to kill, and kill to eat. The gnoll kidnappers however are likely in the employ, Vinnie figures, of the Talos worshippers hereabouts, and keep in mind the Dark Squad have been bumping into gnolls for quite a while now during their adventures. The subsequent chatter amongst the adventurers is about what comes next- the Talos worshippers they know are in the process of summoning Garthok, an avatar of Talos, they're certain. The adventurers therefore want to get the ex-prisoners dropped off quickly, and then get back on the lightning-flinging bastard's trail.
The four from Burle are further quizzed- why were they captured? The answer takes a while to emerge, and only comes after Vinnie has examined a few of the ex-prisoners, which necessitates stopping the journey for a short while. The druid (after a number of checks) is of the opinion that all of the ex-prisoners have been drugged during their stay in Granny's prison. Then after yet more chatter (lots of it this session) it transpires that all of the ex-prisoners have also been interrogated by Granny. Over the course of the next few hours Newt and Vinnie attempt to talk each of the ex-prisoners through their drug-addled memories. So the question is- what did Granny Frogwart want to know? What questions did she ask, and as importantly- how did the ex-prisoners answer?
As it happens (and after more great chatter, and better rolls) the pair (Vinnie & Newt) get the ex-prisoners talking about their experiences, and in precis Granny wanted know all about the Burle. The hag wanted to know about the citizens of Burle- and particularly any Lords & Ladies of the town, or else other authority figures, and in particular about Lord Arlan, the de facto ruler of Burle. The hag also wanted to know about the presence of the military in the frontier town- the number of guards in the Eerie (a keep in Burle), numbers in the militia, the presence of any magic users, or priests. In short Granny wanted a military-style report on Burle for the Talos worshippers. She also asked questions about the Falcon's Nest, but the four ex-prisoners know nothing of this place. They did however have plenty of answers to Granny's questions about Burle, all of the ex-prisoners it seemed were free and easy with their answers.
This new info adds to the Dark Squad's suspicions.
The final ex-prisoner is, of course, Big Al Kalhoon- who served for many years as the head of the Saltmarsh Watch, and as it turns out, well... the questions asked of the big man are very similar, but obviously in regard to Saltmarsh. Big Al was, he makes clear, captured in the gnoll attack on his farmstead- Butterskull Ranch, which the adventurers have, of course, visited. Big Al is also very upset to learn that his various farmhands/co-workers were killed and eaten by the gnolls, and further upset by the fact that he is certain that he told Granny everything that he knows about Saltmarsh.
There follows lots more chatter- and the PCs are now pretty certain- war, or else, an invasion- covert or else overt is coming (to Burle and/or Saltmarsh), or something very similar. There's more to the Talos mission than just the summoning of an avatar, the Dark Squad are going to be on the look out for further clues to this plot.
[Chatter with the ex-prisoners, new info 500 XP]
At which point, and without incident, the Dark Squad make it all the way back to Weston's Logging Camp, and all is well with the world here.
Farewells at Weston's Logging Camp.
[Get the ex-prisoners safely back to the logging camp 350 XP]
So, back at the camp- and the chatter doesn't stop, and particularly because Tarbin Tul is calling an end to his adventuring career. Fighting blight creatures, hags, evil fey, gnolls and terrifying Talos worshippers in the Dreadwood is not the bard's wheelhouse, he's very much out of his depth. The Dark Squad however are remarkably complimentary, and are keen for Tarbin to reconsider, or at least to take a little longer to reconsider his decision. But Tarbin is certain, and so after lots more chatter the Dark Squad charge the bard to undertake a few more tasks for them-
- Wait here at the logging camp until the five ex-prisoners are better rested- three more days.
- Take the ex-prisoners if possible on the next logging train, for safety, back to Burle.
- Contact the authorities in Burle and pass on all the information that the Dark Squad (including Tarbin Tul) have uncovered, and very specifically all of the questions that Granny had been asking.
- Travel to Saltmarsh and meet with Eliander Fireborn, head of the Saltmarsh Watch, pass on the Dark Squad's regards and then tell him all that we have discovered.
[Goodbye to Tarbin Tul, and the Bard's list of jobs 400 XP]
Then, farewells, because the Dark Squad are not slowing down, the adventurers dive back into the Dreadwood and travelling quickly make it all the way back to the wreck of the ancient woodland manse, in just three hours.
A brief scout about- the place is as they left it, and then another Leomund's Tiny Hut in the woods, in as out of sight and out of the way place as they can find. Then rest... although with a watch rota.
[Get back to the woodland manse 200 XP]
The only incident worth reporting occurs on Vinnie's watch, the druid- spying the heavens, watches open mouthed as a large cluster of meteors streak noiselessly across the black night sky. There are in total twelve streaks of light in the array, the spectacle leaves Vincenzo less than happy- “it iz a sign! Merde, no gud will come ov ziss!” the druid mutters and shakes his head.
Later he shares this event with his companions, the trio are much less pessimistic, “...it may predict some future good, a boon- perhaps?”, Ram offers- cheerily, but Vinnie's really not convinced.
DM Interlude- the above event came courtesy of a roll on a Raging Swan random event table, that's not to say that I'm not going to make use of it. Love these little add-on tables available for Fantasy Grounds et al.
Then, rise and shine, and the Dark Squad are following the boar pack's route deeper into the Dreadwood, and a few miles down the trail and... CRACK, suddenly a hefty limb of a tree over-reaching the track, splinters- falls and shatters on the path only six feet ahead of Vinnie and Daktari, the trackers leading the way.
The shattered tree limb is burned black.
Further investigations, but cautiously done, reveal that the lower reaches of the tree from which the branch fell is also blackened, blasted and burned.
Alas the Dark Squad's close investigations have effect- the burnt-through and therefore much weakened lower section of the great oak tree shatters, the tree falls. Daktari and Newt manage to dodge away just in time, Vinnie alas cannot out-run the falling timber. The druid is knocked prone and hurt badly, but then swiftly rescued by a straining Daktari lifting up the tree while Ram drags Vinnie free.
But here's the thing- this was a trap, and possibly left for the Dark Squad- or else anyone following the boar pack. The adventurers determine that the base of the tree was deliberately weakened by repeated Lightning Bolt strikes.
[The blasted tree falls 300 XP]
Then, after a little healing for Vinnie, the Dark Squad move on- but the weather's getting bad, it was overcast this morning but suddenly the rain is coming down- at first only a light shower. The Dark Squad keep on the trail, keep following the boar pack- deeper into the Dreadwood.
Eventually to a very odd-looking clearing, the place is over a hundred feet across, but with a seventy foot across and twenty foot deep depression at its centre, a steep sided quarry. Although, at the bottom of the depression is... bloody hell, another nasty-looking tree.
The strawmen figures are much nastier to look at, but pictures always help to get the story told.
The nasty looking tree is very quickly identified as (very probably) another Gulthias Tree, swinging from the plant's black-blasted spiny-snarling branches are a clutch (six) of large dark and twisted strawmen.
The Dark Squad take a moment, Newt and Ram spot (and then report back to their colleagues) that the straw effigies are pulsing, causing thm to swing on their branches like hanged-men. The Dark Squad last encountered one of these devices back at Weston's Logging Camp, the strawmen there had a beating boar's heart within it. More importantly the device, Vinnie and Newt think, drew the ankheg's to the logging camp.
The weather's getting worse, the rain is starting to really come down, and it's getting darker- there's a storm coming.
Newt loses patience and with a Belphegor blast destroys one of the hanging strawmen, the twisted twigs and viscera flies, but then in the blink of an eye later four snaring tree roots burst from the ground and attempt to grab, and then crush, at the various members of the Dark Squad.
Gulthias Strangling Vines- very few hit points but amazingly difficult to kill.
Newt is caught, restrained, and crushed by a snaking root.
At which point a surge of scurrying twig blights come rushing out of the woods hereabouts, and begin clawing at the adventurers, but- again, they're only twig blights. However, fast forward about an hour (real world time) later and the twig blights and friends are kicking (a bit) the adventurer's backsides.
Well, how did that come about? The first thing to say is that this Gulthias Tree has pretty tough roots, they have only a few hit points each but they're immune (that's right- immune) to every form of damage the members of the Dark Squad try except for slashing damage. I have eight tree roots in play, and they're all very grabby, and they also inflict ongoing bludgeoning damage to those restrained.
The initial rush, note the Dark Squad are surrounded- mission accomplished.
Then there's a semi-horde of blights, mostly twiggies, but also half-a-dozen or more needle blights who step out of the woods and just open fire on the adventurers. I also have a couple of vine blights, and both of these fellows manage to ambush the casters. At one point both Vinnie & Newt are being grappled and restrained, this towards the end of the fight after the pair have escaped the questing roots and then retreated away from the blights.
So, it's also tactically difficult for the Dark Squad, the twig blights just choke the melee, Vinnie eventually only escapes the onslaught by climbing down into the depression with the tree. Vinnie is in Cave Bear (wild-shaped) form when this happens.
Fullscreen, I'm loving this view- great work Bear. You'll note Vincen C Bear has retreated into the quarry, Newt is repeatedly trying to get away, while Ram and Daktari are holding the line- the former is taking a beating. Note the weather is really bad here.
Also, as the fight progresses the weather is getting worse- much worse, a storm is coming on, more remarkably Vinnie and Newt figure out (inadvertently, maybe) what I am up to- I'm one turn in the combat away from unleashing my Lightning Storm (with its associated 4d10 lightning strikes) when the pair- who have been making various monster knowledge checks all the while put paid to the storm's threat. Vinnie at this point is directing his Lightning Storm to blast the five remaining strawmen hanging from the tree, then Newt fires up his Wall of Fire and they're all destroyed in an instant.
The overhead conditions, which have been getting darker, and the rain- which is now coming down in stair rods, are in seconds much lessened- returned to normal. The storm dissipates even before it truly gets started. The clever duo (Vinnie and Newt) even discern that this entire attack/event was a direct favour of Talos, the Storm Lord is in the mix.
The strawmen have been destroyed by Newt's Wall of Fire, and the storm... well, it's gone. Damn them- my 4d10 lightning damage strikes were just about to start.
But, back to the fracas- Ram, played by my brother Kev, at the end of the fight was somewhat grumpy- not overly or unduly, you understand. With good reason, I've been through the chat window and in the course of the action the rogue received six incoming critical hits, keep in mind I made a lot of attack rolls against Ram, because he and Daktari were mostly surrounded, and with their backs to the depression/quarry, for the entire fracas.
Ram, looking healthy.
So, somehow I managed to inflict a regular beating on the guys, all of them bloodied or worse- Ram is almost out of keoghtom's ointment (one dose left), but he needed it again to stay conscious. Vinnie has to roll through two wild-shape forms- Vincen C Bear (as stated above) and Vincen G Squeezy Snake, during the course of the melee. Newt, likewise, gets very bloodied, even Daktari is feeling it, the raging barbarian has fewer hit points at the end of this fight than he was in the giant fracas in the manse/well.
It was tough for a while.
But, of course, the Dark Squad win through, but that's all the action for this evening- we finished on time, it seemed a good place to call it.
[Blight storm 1625 XP]
Although, a last few words from (probably) the session's MVP (certainly for the fighting), Daktari-
Daktari: I am Daktari! I am Uthgardt! I am SKY PONY!
Daktari: I am Daktari! Look at my beautiful hair!
The barbarian, played by Jim/Haggis, kept up a cod-Russian commentary throughout the fracas, on his turn- every turn, narrating the action- and chivvying his comrades on, he loved the fight.
The Dark Squad’s to-do list reads a little like this-
- Track the other half-orcs/boars.
- DESTROY (Garthok)!
- Back to the Falcon?
- Goblins in the Dreadwood.
- Nightshade in the Dreadwood.
- To Blackedge, find the Goblin Stair.
- Return to Fallowstone Holy for answers- the Witch’s Tor & the Pact of the Flame.
- Locate/check-in with Tarbin Tul.
Cheers the Dark Squad and goonalan.