The Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh #132 The Threat to Saltmarsh.

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh

Session #062a: The Goat Started It.

Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7
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

NPCs
Inverna Nightbreeze (played by Goonalan) Female Wood Elf Fighter Lvl 7 (Sidekick)
Garumn Male Mountain Dwarf Paladin of Moradin Lvl 5 RIP*
Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard RETIRED
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.

Servants/Familiars
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar


This is session 62a, we had a week off last week because my brother (Kev playing Ram) and his Mrs went off-grid for a short while, but now we're back.

And we're still Giant Goat racing, or at least some of us are...

If you remember from the previous session last place in the race (by far) is Newt. The tabaxi was formerly riding Belphegoat, however he blasted the beast in the last session (actually Belphegoat was savaged dead by a worg runt). Anyway, Newt isn't happy, it's a default setting (at times). The warlock is at present standing knee deep in a fast running stream (water isn't his element of choice) and is being attacked by an orc warrior accompanied by a pair of worgs.

The tabaxi is taking hits, he's bloodied already.

Oh, but the other runners and riders in the race are-

Inverna rides Big Vern.
Ram rides Spartacus.
Vinnie rides Vin Van Goat, and has a four giant goat entourage.
Daktari rides Horny Pony.

But then Ram, the dare-devil hero (sorta) hears Newt's screams (he had to pass a check to do so), and then manages to slow, stop and turn Spartacus. He dashes back towards the fray. The rogue arrives just in time to sink an arrow into the back of the orc warrior slicing the warlock.

6201.jpg

Ram's here to save the day. Note Newt is, as usual, surrounded by death. Nice.

Then Newt gets blasting, and the orc warrior and one of the worg runts die- and once again all is well with the world.

Newt has some more temporary hit points and the fight is all but over- just one more mangy worg.

Then however yet another orc warrior emerges from the trees and buries both of its handaxes in the tabaxi.

Who is back to swearing and shouting again.

I think I've mentioned this before- Newt rants, or else Bear playing Newt rants. The great thing about Newt's rants are that the volume of the oratory wavers constantly- so he'll start off with something whispered and hissed.

“I will not succumb to your pathetic efforts you loathsome stinking pile of foetid...”

All low register- threats.

Then suddenly he'll start shouting...

But here's the thing- when he goes top-end his microphone can't handle it and it cuts out- it's as if the audio is censoring Newt's ranting shouts.

“I WILL [----] YOU, IN THE NAME OF [----] AND ALL THAT IS [----]! YOU [----]! [----]! AND ON FIRE!”

Most amusing.

But back to the what happened next...

The fight is pretty nasty (if your Newt- the worg takes another bite out of the tabaxi) but the outcome is never in doubt, although when the fracas comes to an end- with all enemies dead, Spartacus (Ram's ride) has also, alas, fled the scene.

Giant goats love to run.

[More orcs and worgs die 500 XP]

The rogue however manages to swiftly coral the beast, and then climb back aboard.

It's at this point that Ram spots the half-burnt and all-blasted remains of Belphegoat, “What happened?” He foolishly enquires of his tabaxi colleague.

“It broke, or... I broke it, we had a disagreement and we fought! I was victorious- as always!” Newt replies with a hiss.

“You killed your own goat? Belphegoat?” Ram's eyes widen, as Newt describes his new low.

But, “Yes! What of it!”, Newt will not be questioned.

“I bet I know who started the fight.” Ram adds as he walks Spartacus through the fast running stream, and then away from Newt.

“It started the fight!”, the tabaxi points accusingly at the shattered remains of Belphegoat, “When it threw me in the river!” Newt makes this very clear, and then adds- “Let me climb aboard, your beast can carry us both to the portal.”

“Nope.” Ram replies, as the rogue and his giant goat dash off back along the track, leaving the cursing and shouting tabaxi very quickly behind.

[Always pleasant chatting with Newt 250 XP]

Ram finishes the race second to last, Newt finishes ten or so minutes after the rogue.

He's not happy.

Surprise, surprise.

But the winner of the giant goat race is...

Well, it goes down to the wire- there are a few more hazards for the three front runners (Vinnie, Daktari & Inverna) to overcome, including a series of rock slides and tumbling boulders set loose from the scree sloped sides of the ravine here.

There's also an old rotten wooden cart parked on the bridge that signifies the end of the race, and yet remarkably- even with Vinnie so far ahead, its Daktari who has it within his grasp to finish first (initiative is the barbarian's friend).

6202.jpg

Vinnie just has to get across the bridge, and he's employing his goat entourage as blockers for the home straight. He really does want to win this- they all do (Did = Newt, and Ram).

[Goat Race hazards 200 XP]

Alas, at the vital moment the Sky Pony barbarian fails to keep control of his mount- Horny Goat, and even after spending an inspiration point to attempt the check again.

Daktari ends his turn only ten feet short of the finish line, and mere seconds later- of course, is swiftly overtaken by Vinnie and his goat train.

6204.jpg

Initiative, it can be a bugger- not controlling Horny Goat costs Daktari the win, ten feet further (off the bridge) and that's the finish line. Note Inverna is in second here, she too will pip Daktari to the post.

The druid, and his entourage, win the race.

[Vinnie FTW 1000 XP]

More remarkably Inverna with a glorious last minute sprint in which she aced every check manages to also pip Daktari to the post, the hired help comes in second- and she had the worst Ride: Giant Goat skill.

There is much rejoicing- and the paying of 10gp from each of the adventurers to Vinnie.

Except for Newt, the tabaxi doesn't pay, and after close questioning the reason is revealed. The sum total of the warlock's wealth is, well... I'll let him do it-

“I have one gold coin, 11 silver pieces and nearly 150 coppers. Don't worry Vincenzo, I'll pay you the full amount, when I have it. I always honour my debts.” The tabaxi hisses- part promise, part threat.

I love this guy- at least one of the other PCs has over a thousand gp salted away, but Newt- well, later on he finishes the condemned gnome- Arty Swell's, dinner (we'll get to this), he barely has money for food.

So, Newt turns up- eventually, and then guided by Sgt Dibbledob and Cpl Fiddlesticks- the gnome guards, remember, the Dark Squad et al head into the depths of the forest, and there discover the secret portal to Squabblepot.

The two gnomes ensure that each member of the Dark Squad first swears never to reveal the location of the portal. Although, none of the PCs know where the location actually is on the Dreadwood map anyway. That was, after all, the purpose of the race...

And then we tele-portal to Squabblepot, leaving the giant goats behind.

Although... the portal, it's an odd looking device- and so, as always, the members of the Dark Squad have questions, and furthermore they desire to make various skill checks.

6205.jpg

The Squabblepot Portal.

Eventually, and it takes a while, Newt recognises the symbol- although he's no idea what the design represents, it looks like an image that was woven into the blanket he slept in when he was a child back in his family home. A blanket that his parents brought with them when they escaped from bondage in Chult.

Most odd.

[The Squabblepot portal 100 XP]

But that's all for now, session 62b and the Dark Squad's investigation is next up, see you there.

The Dark Squad’s to-do list reads a little like this-
  1. Save Arty Swell.
  2. To the Moon Pool.​
  3. Goblins in the Dreadwood.​
  4. Nightshade in the Dreadwood.​
  5. To Blackedge, find the Goblin Stair.​
  6. Return to Fallowstone Holy for answers- the Witch’s Tor & the Pact of the Flame.​

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers the Dark Squad and goonalan.
 

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Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh

Session #062b: 24/48/72* Hours to Save Arty Swell [*Delete as appropriate].

Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7
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

NPCs
Inverna Nightbreeze (played by Goonalan) Female Wood Elf Fighter Lvl 7 (Sidekick)
Garumn Male Mountain Dwarf Paladin of Moradin Lvl 5 RIP*
Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard RETIRED
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.

Servants/Familiars
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar


This is session 62b, keeping up?

It's a cracker, I got the nod from Jim at work the day after the session- “very good, didn't expect that”, which works for me, that's all the encouragement I need.

The Dark Squad and their companions, after a technicolour whirl through the weave, suddenly find themselves standing in a low ceilinged but wide tunnel like chamber, ahead of them are a bunch of important/respectable looking gnomes- the welcoming committee. The place however seems to be a subterranean market, there are also a bunch of gnome stallholders and their customers present, all of whom have stopped to gawp at our heroes.

6206.jpg

Welcome to Squabblepot.

But back to the Squabblepot welcoming committee.

Introductions are made, the welcoming gnomes are-

Habblepop of Garl, a priest (of Garl Glittergold)- he does a lot of the talking.

Note- Vinnie refers to him as 'Monsieur Po-puh!', throughout the chat that follows.

Magistrate Halfberk, who will try Arty's case.

Burrow Warden Fifthstrike, who is mostly meat in the room.

And, Sgt Ecky Thump, a senior member of the Squabblepot Guard.

So, after introductions the story.

In precis- Arty Swell has been accused of murder, his trial will take place- in accordance with burrow law- seventy-two hours after Arty's Speaker (for which read lawyer (for which read- Vinnie)) has been introduced to his client.

Basically, the Dark Squad have seventy two hours to investigate and solve the case, then Vinnie must stand up before the gnome magistrate and tell him how.

When the seventy two hours start Vinnie (primarily) and the Dark Squad will be given full range- to go wherever they must, and to talk with whoever they should. In short to do all that they can to investigate this fateful/fatal incident. When the time's up, of course, the trial will begin- with Vinnie presenting his findings.

Note, Sgt Ecky Thump will facilitate the investigation, she'll be acting as liaison within the burrow.

The Dark Squad, after a little more chatter, are in agreement- they'll take the job, when do we start?

Well... the gnome reception committee are concerned that more than one of the Dark Squad's number- Newt & Daktari, seem to be be pretty beaten up at the moment (they're both bloodied). Habblepop therefore suggests that the Dark Squad put off their investigation for just a short while, they will be allowed to sleep, heal and rest without the burrow- here in the market cavern, and then begin their 72 hours investigation on the morrow. When they meet with Arty and hear his story.

Once again, the Dark Squad are in agreement.

Such a nice DM. Then again, I know what's coming.

Also, what's the deal with the 24/48/72 hours to save Arty Swell?

That's a ruse, or else a bit of fluff. The DM advises the players that the GP-value reward for solving this case and (perhaps) saving Arty Swell (should he prove to be innocent) is based on the time it takes the PCs to get to the bottom of the mystery.

However, the Dark Squad- after their initial interview with Arty must state definitively how long they will take to solve the case.

They have three options-

1) To confidently say that they'll have the whole thing wrapped up in just 24 hours, and if they do so their reward will be 5,000gp of alchemical stuff (potions and the like).

That's a lot of gold pieces, and this DM thought a kind of warning- to do this task in 24 hours, well... it's going to prove to be very difficult.

Note, the reward will be paid in instalments.

Further note, if the Dark Squad chose this option and fail to crack the case in 24 hours then they only receive half of the rewards listed below for options 2) and 3).

Keep in mind the trial starts in 72 hours, that's a fixed point.

Option 2) is to hedge their bets and say that they will solve the case in 48 hours, success and they'll receive 3,000 gp of alchemical products as above.

Note, as above, if they select this option and fail to solve the mystery in 48 hours then they only receive half the listed reward below.

Lastly, option 3) is to dither and say that they will have the truth in 72 hours, success and they will receive just 1,000gp of alchemical products as above.

There is, of course, a fourth option-

Failure.

The rules explained, and keep in mind this is just gamist stuff, the PCs still have 72 hours to solve the mystery in-game. It's only how quick they are which effects the reward money that's up for grabs here.

So, a meal and a good night's rest, note the various members of the Dark Squad purchase fresh food from the stallholders before retiring, all save Newt that is. The tabaxi can't afford to buy food, he therefore consumes the last of his trail rations.

There's a little inter-Dark Squad chatter after the market closes down and the tabaxi fires up his Leomund's Tiny Hut.

The talk is instigated by Newt- “I don't like it Vinnie, stuck down here with all these fiddling little things (he means gnomes). What if they seek to attack us? We should get Ram to open the burrow door, I'll put them all to the flame while they slumber? Imagine the fun we could have. Also, if we kill them all- we will, most likely, have punished the one responsible for this terrible crime, a just outcome.”

It takes a while but eventually Newt is persuaded to leave off the incinerating for a little while longer.

Newt was on fire tonight with his caterwauling disdain/dislike/disgust of all things not him, that and his ever-present effervescent paranoia.

There was a moment earlier in the piece when Newt was complaining, and generally airing his suspicions that the gnomes were out to kill the Dark Squad, maybe- but definitely him, specifically.

Vinnie was trying, of course, to calm the cat-man down- “Why do yew sink zis?”

“Dammit Vinnie, they keep staring at me... us! Me!” Newt yowls.

Leaving Vinnie to patiently explain, as the reception committee did earlier- this is a closed burrow, there hasn't been a non-gnome in Squabblepot for decades, perhaps a century. Likewise, there have been no violent crimes here for at least a generation, folk here are anxious, and uneasy, and particularly now that there are also strangers about.

Also, as Vinnie explains for possibly the 400th time so far in these adventures, a seven foot tall walking cat-man is not an everyday sight even in Waterdeep, the most populous place on the Sword Coast. In precis- everyone, everywhere stares at Newt, all of the time- he's odd, and that's before he opens his mouth and starts spouting his particular brand of home-made terror.

[Rest and chatter 200 XP]

Then, the next morning- early to rise and Sgt Ecky Thump of the Squabblepot Guard is on hand to escort the Dark Squad straight to Arty, who is being held in the only cell that exists in Squabblepot.

The burrow- the Dark Squad are reminded, yet again, is almost crime free, certainly there hasn't been a violent crime here for generations.

This fact however many times it gets said is seemingly incomprehensible to at least one member of the Dark Squad.

Actually, to just one member of the Dark Squad.

Still, Newt.

In fact the tabaxi begins the interview with Arty with a few more words of his homespun wisdom, “don't fret Arty, remember- if at any time there are two people in a room, one will most surely wish to murder the other. It is just a fact of life...” the cat-man nods sagely as he delivers yet another pearl to swine.

6207.jpg

Interview with Arty, Squabblepot is built for big-folk, it's all a little bit cramped.

I think he made Arty cry.

I'm certain I heard Vinnie crying.

[Two people in a room... 200 XP]

Anyway, here's Arty's story in brief-

“Three nights ago I got home from my work at the Farhill Mine. I did a little shopping at the market and said hello to a few folk on the way back into the burrow. I went back to my rooms, then prepared and ate dinner.”

“I think.”

Arty's memory of that evening, as it turns out, is a little hazy.

“The next thing I remember of that evening, and it must have been much later... I was suddenly aware that I was in one of the meeting rooms, there were four other gnomes present. I remember looking down to see my bloodied knife in my bloody hand- and the unmoving body of young Cali Brightsong lying directly before me.”

“Later, the moment before this came back to me- I remember stabbing Cali Brightsong.”

The memory makes Arty cry some more.

He has however no idea why he stabbed Cali Brightsong.

Then, well- Arty explains he was swiftly captured by the other gnomes in the meeting room (he provides the names of the others present), but by then it was all too late for Cali- she was dead.

"She is dead."

That's pretty much it, save for more tears from Arty.

There follows lots of chatter, names are taken, what route did Arty take, who was where, who is Cali, and a myriad other questions.

Arty also takes the time to replay a little of his life-story- studying in his father's alchemist shop in Waterdeep “Swells to get Well!”, marrying and moving to Triboar, then the death of his wife from itching pox, his wandering ways around the Dessarin Valley, and finally- seven years ago, his being accepted into Squabblepot Burrow.

The chatter goes on some more- the Dark Squad have more questions.

After a good twenty minutes of circling Ram has a great idea, let's go Crimewatch on this mystery- let's do a recreation/walk-through. Let's take Arty back to the start of his journey home on that fateful evening, and from there replay the entire event, investigating and interrogating all available witnesses as we go.

As I say, great work.

[Interview Arty and walk-through idea 600 XP]

Sgt Ecky Thump is all good with this, and so it comes to pass.

Keep in mind that the Dark Squad are moving quickly now.

Why you ask?

Because they've decided to solve this mystery in just 24 hours, no dissenters.

They have big balls this mob, if you'll pardon my French.

And just to make clear, should they fail to prove Arty's innocence of the crime then the punishment for the gnome is most likely- death, best case scenario- banishment (and the shame that this brings). Note the gnome hierarchy/welcoming committee are equally upset at the prospect of this. These are good folk, they abhor violence.

So, back to the market cavern with Arty, and of course Sgt Ecky Thump in tow, folk here don't know quite what to make of the investigative team, however three stallholders are on hand to confirm Arty's timings and his actions on the evening in question.

Then more chatter with one of the guard's (Meera Slowpuddle) on the great door of the burrow, she spoke with Arty on the evening in question; and the same again with accompanying interview with another gnome (Jackson Fishpaste) who saw and briefly spoke with Arty while he was en route to his rooms.

6208.jpg

The crime reconstruction- chatting with Jackson Fishpaste, Meera Slowpuddle's interview having just concluded.

Everything so far checks out, however- in confidence the two gnomes above that spoke with Arty, Meera & Jackson- both friends of the alchemist, eventually let it be known that Arty is a bit of a loner, he doesn't make friends easily. He's also a new burrow, he's not Squabblepot born and bred, an outsider. Also, Arty works in the mines, this too is frowned upon. Both also make clear that Arty's presence within the burrow is a boon- he's a very capable alchemist, his potions- freely given, have saved several members of the burrow.

In summary, Arty's different- odd even, a bit of an outsider, but very useful.

After yet more questioning follows, however the Dark Squad are reassured, Arty has no actual enemies- no-one in Squabblepot has enemies. The very idea is alien to both of the gnomes being questioned.

Newt, of course, simply doesn't understand, or believe, Meera and Jackson's words.

Newt has enemies everywhere, even amongst his friends (at times).

[Interview with Meera & Jackson 250 XP]

Next stop- Arty's rooms, the place has been secured but Sgt Thump has the key. It's a comfortable chamber- built in cupboards, a bed, a stove, a table with cushions. The Dark Squad (very carefully) search everywhere. This after confirming that Arty had for some reason only ate half his dinner on the evening in question. It's three days old- the food, but Newt is hungry and so, “waste not want not”, he snaffles it down.

6209.jpg

Arty's room, note the DM and Arty have been very specifically using the word rooms- with an 'S', the plural, at every instant. Obvs the players didn't pick up on this at the time- hence their surprise/shock.

The search however turns up a mystery, or else- very well hidden beneath a barrel in a cupboard/storage space is a trapdoor set in the floor.

“What's down there?” Ram asks.

“The basement, and my labs.” Arty eventually replies, somewhat sheepishly.

Which, of course, leads to yet more chatter with the gnome, who it now seems is reluctant to say too much more.

Ram is very keen to know why Arty didn't tell the Dark Squad about the trapdoor before they started their search, it would have saved a little time.

Arty carefully explains to his friend Vinnie- “my lab is private, my formulas, my research... well, it's private. Besides, what has my alchemical work got to do with my present predicament?”

Ram is still suspicious (actually very suspicious), and he's not alone.

[Info about Arty's secret lab 250 XP]

Sgt Ecky Thump has seen enough, the Dark Squad can ask a few more questions but then Arty's going back to his cell, if the PCs want to continue their interview it will have to take place there.

The Dark Squad, and in particular, Newt have one more question for the gnome alchemist- or rather not a question, a Suggestion (capital letter because I mean the spell Suggestion).

Newt suggests that Arty “Tell me the story of that fateful evening again- but don't leave anything out this time.”

Arty duly fails his save, and so does just that- he repeats word-for-word the story he told the Dark Squad earlier, with no new info.

And so Sgt Thump takes Arty back to his cell, the Dark Squad will be back for more chat after they have investigated Arty's rooms thoroughly.

[Newt's Suggestion to Arty 200 XP]

Below Arty's room, which by the way contains nothing suspicious, is a storeroom- mostly dry goods, also preserves and the like.

But then the Dark Squad come up with yet another clever plan, hatched by Vinnie this time- “If zer iz a see-kret axe-ess point to iz labz down ear, zen zer will be tracks too zis place. E wud axe-ess iz labs evry day, don't yew sink?”

And so it proves, and it's Inverna that finds an odd but oft-repeated trail through the dust and dirt here- the trail ends at a crate, beneath which is yet another well-hidden trapdoor.

And when Ram gets it open he gets a magic missile or two in the face.

The rogue is really not happy, and he's usually Mr. Calm.

“He should have told us about the trap. If he was a friend. He's hiding summats, mark my words.”

Which just about qualifies as Ram's longest speech, certainly for a while.

6210.jpg

Right, the basement- Inverna finds a well-hidden trapdoor. Left, a storage chamber- Arty's Lab?

The Dark Squad descend- Ram first, as always, into a very well made foyer come storage room, with two doors exiting the place. The barrels and crates stored here contain unused/new alchemical equipment- mostly glassware and the like, but also sacks of some of the more mundane ingredients.

[Into Arty's Lab? 200 XP]

There's also a bunch of paperwork here- a lot of it is written in gnomish, and yet Vinnie has enough background knowledge to recognise that the stuff for what it is- inventories, ingredients orders, receipts etc.

Nothing incriminating.

Ram therefore gets to work on one of the doors, it takes a while but eventually he gets it open- and is seconds later shot by a poisoned dart. A pair of the things spring from the lock as the portal is opened, the rogue manages to dodge the first only to move directly into line with the second poisoned dart, it hurts.

It hurts bad, Ram is bloodied and needs healing.

He's also as close as he has ever been to losing his cool.

“That's it! Your friend Arty”, he growls while staring hard at Vinnie, “will answer for this!”

There's a brief discussion about Arty's lack of forthrightness, but curiosity gets the better of the Dark Squad- ahead is a low-ceilinged library, containing shelves crammed with books. The Dark Squad investigate, cautiously and carefully. They're not taking any of the tomes and notebooks from the shelves, just trying to spot anything odd or out of the ordinary.

But... nothing.

Keep in mind they're moving quickly still.

Vinnie investigates more paperwork at a desk, but struggles to make any sense of it- some of it, possibly all of it, are notes about alchemy. It's all gnomish to the druid.

Ram, meantime, gets to work on yet another door- an exit to the south, and just to say the session should have ended five minutes ago. But... one last door, which also proves very tough to open, the locks are very good quality down here. Eventually, with a little help and Guidance from Vinnie the rogue springs the lock, but with disastrous consequences.

Ain't it always the way.

A massive spectral scythe like blade springs out from the portal and cuts into two of the adventurers, remarkably the spectral blade passes through the bookshelves and other bits of furniture, it only cuts flesh.

Ram, at the last moment, falls to his face and lies flat- below the fizzing spectral blade, Vinnie and Newt are less fortunate- the pair are bloodied in an instant.

6211.jpg

Arty's Library, picture taken just after the spectral scythe trap hits- note Vinnie and Newt were much closer, as soon as the saving throw rolls appeared in the chat window the pair simultaneously 'ran away'. Don't worry about Ram, half damage turns out to be zero when you're blessed with evasion.

And now everyone's pissed.

At least for a second or two...

“Oh! Is that...” Ram asks.

“Well, well, well Mr. Swell. Things just got interesting.” Newt notes.

“Merde! Petit connard.” Vinnie summarises.

Silence for a bit.

Until Daktari pipes up.

“Vot is scribblings on floor?”

6212.jpg

Not what the Dark Squad expected to find.

The newly revealed chamber, as made clear moments later by Newt who takes a good look around the place- although from the doorway, is a fully-equipped summoning chamber, complete with summoning circle.

“It's set up to summon devils, or demons- fiends, that sort of thing. It's... very nice.” The tabaxi concludes, a little misty eyed.

[The Summoning Chamber 200 XP]

There's lots more chatter- most of it angry.

That is until Newt makes it clear.

“The place hasn't been used for ages- decades perhaps, I mean- look at it.”

He's right, there are cobwebs here and there, nothing has been moved/touched/used in the chamber for a good long while.

“It's dead- the summoning circle, such a shame. Such a terrible shame. And a waste.” Newt turns back to his friends to deliver this last heartfelt regret.

The tabaxi stares into the ever-widening eyes of the druid...

“Newt, I sink yew are miss-taken. Turn around mes amis.”

The tabaxi complies, and turns to spy- now standing within the centre of the summoning circle is a small hooded figure.

The newly arrived figure gingerly pulls down its hood to reveal- well, an old and wise-looking male gnome.

6213.jpg

“Hello. I'm Humpty Far-Far-Away. Nice to meet you.”

But that's all for now, sometimes the timing just works.

The Dark Squad’s to-do list reads a little like this-

1. Save (the bastard) Arty Swell (maybe).
2. To the Moon Pool.
3. Goblins in the Dreadwood.
4. Nightshade in the Dreadwood.
5. To Blackedge, find the Goblin Stair.
6. Return to Fallowstone Holy for answers- the Witch’s Tor & the Pact of the Flame.

And just a reminder to the players- there's plot to be had in here, you just have to find it.

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers the Dark Squad and goonalan.
 


carborundum

Adventurer
Curiouser and curiouser, I love it!
Sewconded on the Ecky...thump! Can anyone keep a straight face when you drop these names? Have they met Tam O'Shanter yet? ;-)
 


Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Curiouser and curiouser, I love it!
Sewconded on the Ecky...thump! Can anyone keep a straight face when you drop these names? Have they met Tam O'Shanter yet? ;-)
Not yet, keep in mind the other players are all younger than me, Kev (my bro) playing Ram by only a couple of years, but the other two- Jim (Vinnie & Daktari) & Bear (Newt) are youngsters- mid to late 30's, summats like that.

They just think I like making up daft names. Which I do.

Thanks for continuing to read this nonsense.

Toodles.
 


Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh

Session #063: Ian With One 'I'

Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7
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

NPCs
Inverna Nightbreeze (played by Goonalan) Female Wood Elf Fighter Lvl 7 (Sidekick)
Garumn Male Mountain Dwarf Paladin of Moradin Lvl 5 RIP*
Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard RETIRED
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.

Servants/Familiars
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar


This is session 63, it was a cracker.

The Dark Squad are in the process of trying to save Arty Swell, he's a murderer dontchya know, or at least he remembers stabbing Cali Brightsong. Vinnie has signed up to be Arty's Speaker (Lawyer) at the gnome alchemist's trial here in Squabblepot. The trial will take place in 72 hours, although that's down to 70 hours now.

The PCs however have chosen to go for the 5,000 gp reward (see last session) and so they're trying to get this mystery solved in just 24 hours (they have 22 hours left).

At present the guys are exploring Arty's secret lab, and Ram in particular is not happy about things- the doors down here are all locked and trapped, and the rogue- last session, was rolling low. The Dark Squad's mood, and their suspicions (about Arty) have also increased dramatically- at the end of the last session they discovered that there's a summoning chamber down here- but remember, as Newt said, the place hasn't be used for years.

He's certain.

That is until Humpty Far-Far-Away turns up within the pentagram, Humpty is a very polite gnome.

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Master arrives.

But before we get on just a word, this ones a bit all over the shop- mainly because player A was doing this, while player B was doing that- and if that wasn't bad enough, players C & D were also off doing something different. Also many of the chambers down here got repeat visits from the Dark Squad- to attempt to record all of their comings and goings, well... that's not for me. So, I've gathered some stuff up (by location) and kinda mashed the various bits together.

Forgive me.

And so, Humpty Far-Far-Away, here goes.

The chatter starts up, and eventually... eventually (we go around the houses) Humpty Far-Far-Away turns out to be Humphrey Far-Fer-Nar, if you remember this fiendish fellow is (one of) Newt's demonic/devilsh (who knows which) patrons.

So, here's the thing- Newt refers to Humpty as Master, he kow-tows (with the best of them) and is... for want of a better word, nice- like, all of the time (to Humpty). So, shocking is the new considerate and polite Newt that Daktari suspects that something terrible has happened to the normally terrifying tabaxi.

“Why is Newt being so nice to da gnome? Newt say all gnomes should be in-sin-her... I mean, incin-air. He says all gnomes should burn! What is happening? Has Newt got infection?”

Remember to deliver Daktari's lines in a dumb cod-Russian voice, that's what Jim does.

[Newt's Master, the tabaxi is playing nice? 100 XP]

Daktari rambles on, which leads to introductions- Humpty gets to meet the gang, the fiend is very polite during the small talk that follows, but eventually Newt gets his patron to himself.

Humpty/Humphrey has news for his young padawan.

So, while the remainder of the Dark Squad head off to do some more searching, Humpty and Newt chat- basically HR have been on to Humpty, and apparently he was a little rough on Newt during his first visit, it is therefore time for the Master to give something back.

The fiend teaches Newt two new spells, actually two new cantrips- UNKNOWN, and Invisible Tiddles, and after that, well... a bit of a pep-talk for the warlock, a few suggestions with regard to party discipline, vis- kill one of the PCs and the rest will fall in line, that kind of thing, and... that's it. Humpty just wanted to pop by, he'll check in again some time soon, or at least he will if he has anything for the tabaxi to do.

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Newt gets a little alone time with Humpty/Humphrey. The setting seems apposite.

Newt is very happy, very enthusiastic- it has been a much better visit than the last time, and so best of friends- Master Humpty departs.

[Newt meets Humpty/Humphrey again 400 XP]

But while Newt was chatting the rest of the Dark Squad have been busy- another door in the lab complex has been opened, alas during the operation Ram took another hit from a poisoned dart, he's still not happy.

The chamber revealed is a potion lab proper, with six cauldrons bubbling away. There are another two doors leading from this chamber (east and west), the place is given a cursory search- but then, after another break for more chatter, and Newt's return to the fold, the decision is made to start investigating/searching these areas properly.

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Arty's Potion Lab, at last.

The potion making lab however, after an extensive search, has no secrets to reveal, save for the fact that the cauldrons on the boil contain the makings of the following potions- Climbing, Fire Breath, Greater Healing, Growth, an Elixir of Health & Mind Reading. All of these recipes can be finished off by someone competent in alchemy (like Vinnie) but to do so will, of course, take time (and accompanying skill checks).

[Investigating Arty's potion lab et al 200 XP]

Note, some of the above information is gathered a little later (remember I said we went back and forth here) when Newt realises that he actually has a ritual version of Comprehend Languages written in his Book of Shadows. This he duly performs to enable him to read gnomish. The various notes found in the potion chamber are, of course, all written in the tongue- as are lots of other texts hereabouts.

The door to the west of this chamber is opened, miraculously without triggering the poison dart traps- the chamber beyond is another lab come store room, it too is searched thoroughly and a bunch more alchemical goods discovered, including antitoxins, vials of acid, alchemical fire, and a clutch of healing potions.

Ram necks three of the healing potions straight down, he figures Arty owes him. Newt drinks the remaining two draughts a little while later.

[More searching 200 XP]

The locked door east out of the potion lab also turns out to be trapped (and locked again) Ram, of course, discovers this the hard way- the rogue is momentarily engulfed in a burning poisonous mist which spews from the door's locking mechanism.

Note, Ram's dice- at least when it came to the traps in here were again, pretty much, broken. A little later on Vinnie casts Fox's Cunning on the half-elf rogue, this in an attempt to boost his skill checks, but even with advantage the rogue's dice rolls were really low. At one point he made five checks with advantage in a short space of time, and the highest roll... a '5', just one- the other nine rolls including a double '1' for one of his checks (with advantage) were all below four.

Regardless, and so beyond the northern door is Arty's bedroom- which is a little more untidy than the rest of the complex, but here's the really odd thing- the rough stone walls of the chamber are covered in graffiti- the same short phrase written in gnomish again and again. Although the graffiti only covers the area of the walls a gnome could reach- and it's all in Arty's handwriting.

6303.jpg

I'd like to show you a picture of the labs/storeroom to the west- through the door, but I can't. I'd also like to show you a picture of Arty's bedrooms to the east- but I can't, no pictures exist of either area. I have a couple more of this room however, if you're interested.

Get a few more shots in guys- all of the rooms if you can, and shout me if I'm burbling on, there's always time to take another screenshot.

It's at this point Newt actually discovers he can ritually cast Comprehend Languages, and so does so, the much applied and repeated gnomish phrase on the walls reads-

[Newt learns to read gnomish 100 XP]

Ian with one 'I'.

Most odd.

But now the Dark Squad are having a collective idea, or else their putting together a myriad scrambled thoughts.

Let Vinnie explain-

“I believe Monsieur Swell 'az 'ad his mind bent by sum invading cree-chure, ooz name iz- E-an (Ian). Furthermore, E-an (Ian) 'az but one eye, p'rhaps.”

[Ian with one 'I' 250 XP]

There follows yet more chatter as we briefly revisit the Newt calling Humpty Master conversation, Newt is put on the spot- mostly by Vinnie.

“What iz go-ing on wiz yew an 'umpty?

The warlock patiently explains-

“We have an arrangement, that's all I can say about the matter.”

To which Daktari, listening in, responds-

“But you call him Master!”

Newt's reply-

“Yes, [Sigh] that's the arrangement.”

As it turns out, and as you already know, Humpty/Humphrey is one of Newt's patrons, an uber-fiend of some sort- although he doesn't know which variety, but... here's the clincher, Newt insists- Humpty is a really great guy.

That's all the warlock's telling.

[Humpty is Newt's Master 100 XP]

Arty's bedroom is thoroughly searched- Ram finds a hefty chest under the gnome's bed, and duly unleashes another pair of poisoned darts as he fails (yet) again to spot and/or neutralise the trap. Remarkably both darts miss their intended targets (Ram & Newt) which was a shame for this DM as the poison on these beauties would have rendered either (both) of the PCs unconscious if they had hit.

Damn shame.

Just to say, Ram never stops trying- he's triggering traps left right and centre, but always he keeps coming back for more.

Within the chest- lots of money and gems (over 3,000gp in a variety of denominations) and a bunch of very old love letters to Arty from his long dead wife- Shalli.

[Ram finds Arty's fortune 100 XP]

The money?

The chest is locked back shut- virgo intacta.

At some point during the above investigations, Newt- for a giggle, summons his Invisible Tiddles. Basically the cantrip sorta replicates Unseen Servant, save the summoned helper is a petulant (sometimes bored) cat. Newt convinces Tiddles to 'playfully' attack Vinnie, the druid bugs out for only a little while trying to work out what's occurring. Newt however explains his latest cantrip, and then promises the druid that Tiddles will prove her/his worth.

[Invisible Tiddles 100 XP]

We move on, eventually.

Next stop is a thorough search of Arty's library, the Dark Squad spend the best part of an hour trying to find any more clues to the present mystery- they don't. They do however find three hidden things, number one- Vinnie locates a spellbook (Arty's) the druid recognises this for what it is, and so hides it away back on the bookshelves in an effort to prevent Newt from stealing it.

Number two- Daktari finds a box of very old woodcut printed gnome pornography, nobody wants to see that. And lastly, Ram- locates half-a-dozen recipes and formulas for a selection of potions, which obviously could be of benefit to Vinnie, who is learning to be an alchemist, remember- Arty's supposed to be teaching him.

The druid, magnanimous to the last, requests that Ram hide the recipes again, he's so noble.

We move on, this time for a thorough search of the summoning chamber, although this doesn't take too long as the place, as stated previously, hasn't been used (or kept clean) for decades. The contents of the chamber are therefore either rotten, broken, of just plain junk. Newt, of course, snaffles about a dozen 'esoteric' object d'art, you know the sort of thing- a painted 'demon' skull (actually a hedgehog), a jar of orc testicles, a jar of assorted eyes, similar except ears, and half-a-dozen coasters bearing the legend “Asmodeus is my Homeboy” written in infernal. That sort of thing.

Then... the last door, which- deep breath- miraculously Ram gets open without poisoning himself (or anyone else) and beyond is a garden, or else a subterranean garden, for which read a damp and grotty cave full of fungi.

Cue the maestro- Vinnie got this.

And then some.

So, the druid takes charge, and keep in mind some of the fungus down here has a little bioluminescence going on, and is likewise not adverse to randomly exuding dense clouds of spores- it's all a bit... grubby (possibly hazardous).

But Vinnie, remember him, well this morning he chose to take the spell Speak with Plants.

Note, Vinnie is a clever one- or else Jim who plays Vinnie is, anytime we go somewhere different- the forest, the underdark, the... wherever- well, he's always tinkering with his spells, taking a punt on something that might prove to be useful.

Top work Jim.

So, Speak with Plants- thirty seconds later and a whole host of fungi, including Felix, Frederick, Fanny, Fiona, Forsyth and Finton are all clamouring to talk with the druid. A series of questions follow, all of which alas are answered in the negative by the fungi chorus- no new information, that is until the following gets asked-

6305.jpg

The Fun-guy's strain to point their bodies towards the 'magic curtain', for which read illusionary terrain.

“'Ave any cree-chures ozzer zan uz been in zis chambre recently, in zer last 24 hourz?”
“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSS, ViNNNNNie!!”

[Vinnie asks the right question 100 XP]

Continued questioning, Vinnie's on a roll, and the druid learns that the one-eyed creepy crawly- the fungi-folk's name for the particular creature that visited this chamber not so very long ago.

It's just about at this point that Newt, and then Daktari, start getting whispered message which just seem to pop (or rather, are heard) into their brains.

The messages are not complimentary, they're threats...

Vinnie's earlier description of events is really starting to sound like a goer... so, all the Dark Squad need to do, they believe, is to chase down Ian with one 'I', or at least get the body of the beast back to the surface, the rest is story.

Keep in mind the Dark Squad (& Vinnie) know that they are going to be subject to truth telling spells as part of Arty's trial.

So, Vinnie presses on with his information gathering, he gets a physical description of the one-eyed creepy crawler from his fungi-friends.

Ian, with one 'I', as it turns out (because it must be him) is described as being about Vinnie's height and size, although the hunched creature has but one massive eye in its head. The ocular enemy also exhibits a fang-filled mouth, and savagely clawed hands and feet.

It's at this point the Vinnie/Jim declares he knows what the monster is, only... he can't remember what it's called...

Shame.

Conversation with the Fun-guys continues for a while, the plant-folk even (very slowly) shape their bodies to indicate where the 'magic curtain' is. The 'magic curtain' is of course the illusion that covers another exit from this chamber, the route the Ian with one 'I' took...

Now the Dark Squad are really getting places, and they're after Ian (with one 'I').

Although, “PLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLEEEEESE DON'T LEAVE USSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!”

Vinnie is in demand.

Frederick fungus screams- “TAAAAAAKE ME WITH YOU VINNNNNNNNIE!”

“NOOOOOOO! TAKE MEEEEEEEEE!” Squeals Fiona fungus.

And so the set up is complete for another of Vinnie's speeches, in this one he declares himself brother/sister to all fungi, the finale a rousing- Viva La Fungi!

[The Fun-guys 400 XP]

The druid is cheered and exulted as he leaves the room... Although, as always, it's Ram that's sent into the illusion-covered passage first, and therefore it's Ram who follows the stairs down and into yet another cellar chamber, this one full of rotten crates and barrels and a constantly moving carpet of rats.

There are also lights down here... although, after a little stealthy creeping, Ram discovers that the torches here are magical- continual lights. The rest of the place... an ancient ruin.

6306.jpg

Another cellar/basement?

Although, let's try the tracking trick again, and so Vinnie, Inverna and Daktari get to work- strating at the bottom of the stairs trying to figure if anyone has been this way recently... they have, as indicated by the muddy clawed footprints. It seems the creature was sometimes moving as a biped, other times as a quadruped. But that's not the real revelation, the real revelation is the footsteps lead directly to a blank wall, which mere seconds later Ram has revealed as a secret door- by levering the portal open.

[Beyond the secret door 250 XP]

Ram to the fore, trackers following after, the Dark Squad ready themselves for a moment, and then head on in- the place is flagged floors and worked stone, but subject to seismic activity- the stone passages twisted and broken in places, and always- swarms of rats, which flee from the adventurers approach.

The trail goes on, eventually leading into a series of ten foot wide corridors- there are multiple ways to go, although... there are sounds of activity, a sudden THUMP to the far east. Ram leads his companions on, down a flight of broken stairs and into a high(-ish) ceilinged storeroom.

6307.jpg

It's a ruin down here- following Ian's tracks into the dark.

There are lots of rats here.

Lots and lots... the place is searched, although... the rats are not happy about that- they swarm, but that doesn't last long as the Dark Squad unleash just a flicker of their power, but then- once the swarm has dispersed, the adventurers retreat quickly out of the chamber.

6308.jpg

Rats!

[Disperse the rats 100 XP]

The THUMP heard earlier was the sound of the far side of the ancient storeroom collapsing a little more, the place is unsafe.

And so, if a tricks worth doing- the Dark Squad retrace their steps to the exit into this area and set the trackers, once more, to their task.

Ian (with one 'I') went down the eastern passage, but then turned south and exited through a pair of wedged only-just-open badly rusted iron doors.

[Lots of excellent tracking 350 XP]

The area beyond the doors sticks stinks of sulphur, and the flagged and worked stone is gone- this is a cave, and the passage descends rapidly, over thirty feet down in less than half that distance along, a series of wonky ledges and scree.

The going gets tough, but the Dark Squad are equal to it, and passage leads on- always cantered at a steep angle, heading down to a small boiling pool of sulphurous liquid that smokes and roils, and boy- is it hot down here.

[The sulphurous cavern 200 XP]

6309.jpg

Sulphurous boiling pool ahead, just to say I've added an effect so that the water wobbles and waves- cool beanz on FGU, not so hot on a still.

Again, Ian's tracks are located and then followed- the new oddity being Ian, it seems can climb walls- the tracks (after a couple of great checks) evidence that Ian spider climbed around and over the stinking pool. The Dark Squad, of course, realise that they are going to have to repeat this feet.

But here's the thing, it's at this point that Jim/Vinnie has his lightbulb moment-

“Nothic, Ian iz a nothic- a clawed aberrant, it can read zer memories of itz victimz! Sacre-bleu, we muzt cap-chure zis beast, or kill it and bring itz corpse to zer tri-al!”

[Ian with one 'I' is a Nothic 400 XP]

So, here's something else to think about, the terrain ahead looks to be difficult- and there's every indication that it is going to continue to be difficult ahead. Therefore there's another decision that needs to be made by the Dark Squad.

And if you've not worked it out this is your friendly DM letting you know.

If you want to go back to Squabblepot, to finish off your re-creation of Arty's last journey, or else to interview any of the other gnomes that witnessed the events of that evening, or if you have some supplementary questions for the accused, then... this is your opportunity.

The terrain ahead will make your swift return to the surface difficult, be smart- if you have things to do back in Squabblepot, well- now is the time, I promise.

But that's all for this week.

Oh, nineteen hours to go to claim the big reward.

The Dark Squad’s to-do list reads a little like this-
  1. Find Ian with one 'I'
  2. Save (the bastard) Arty Swell (maybe).​
  3. To the Moon Pool.​
  4. Goblins in the Dreadwood.​
  5. Nightshade in the Dreadwood.​
  6. To Blackedge, find the Goblin Stair.​
  7. Return to Fallowstone Holy for answers- the Witch’s Tor & the Pact of the Flame.​

And just a reminder to the players- there's plot to be had in here, you just have to find it.

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers the Dark Squad and goonalan.
 
Last edited:


Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh

Session #064: The Oldest Gnome in the Burrow.

Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7
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

NPCs
Inverna Nightbreeze (played by Goonalan) Female Wood Elf Fighter Lvl 7 (Sidekick)
Garumn Male Mountain Dwarf Paladin of Moradin Lvl 5 RIP*
Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard RETIRED
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.

Servants/Familiars
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar


This is session 64, yet another cracker.

The Dark Squad are in the process of trying to save Arty Swell, he's a murderer dontchya know, or at least he remembers stabbing Kali Brightsong. Vinnie has signed up to be Arty's Speaker (Lawyer) at the gnome alchemist's trial here in Squabblepot. The trial will take place in 72 hours, although that's down to 68 hours now.

The PCs however have chosen to go for the 5,000 gp reward (see session 62b) and so they're trying to get this mystery solved in just 24 hours (they have 20 hours left).

Last we left the Dark Squad they were in a sulphurous passage deep beneath Arty's labs, ahead a pool of steaming liquid which Ian with one 'I' - a nothic the adventurers think, and the cause of all of this misery, has somehow climbed across/around.

The Dark Squad are of the opinion that Ian with one 'I' has infected (or else dominated) the mind of Arty Swell, controlling the gnome during the slaying of Kali Brightsong. They just need to be able to prove this... for which they figure they need to get hold of the nothic, dead or alive.

However, they are also aware that once they get beyond the sulphurous pool ahead, well... the way back up to Squabblepot will get much longer, and much tougher. The DM pointed this out to the players in the write up at the end of the last session.

He's a nice guy that way- the DM.

The question therefore is- do the Dark Squad retreat to Squabblepot now and play out the rest of the investigation there, keep in mind that they have not yet examined the murder scene, and they've not spoken to any of the witnesses, also- they have a few follow-up questions to put to Arty.

Particularly Ram who particularly suffered from the traps in the lab.

Vinnie is all for zis (the retreat), I mean... this.

Newt, however...

“Back up there, to those lying little grublings, with their perfectly wholesome society... NEVER! NEVER! Let's get on Vinnie- we have a Nothic to BURN!”

Is pretty much in precis the tabaxi's views on the matter, a little later Newt concedes that burning the nothic would not be the best outcome, but... he wants to get on.

The difference of opinion continues for a good ten minutes until, a miracle...

Ram has an opinion.

Just to note, Ram isn't one for small talk, or indeed talk. Quite often when a decision needs to be taken the Dark Squad stop for a disassemble and it plays out thusly-

Vinnie offers his opinion, it usually takes the form of a (long) speech.

Newt replies in his whispering death hush, everything he says- no matter how innocent the language, sounds like a threat.

The pair verbally spar for a while until one of them remembers Ram is present, at which point that individual calls upon the rogue to offer an opinion.

Ram's reply?

So, if Vinnie and Newt have already played out everything that Ram thinks or knows about the subject up for discussion then, his reply is often a simple, “yeah...”, leaving neither of the arguers sure who he has agreed with.

On the other hand, if Ram just doesn't care, well... then he's much less wordy.

So, for Ram to have an opinion, that doesn't happen often, and to volunteer it... Newt and Vinnie listen, and the rogue's opinion is this- “let's get the rest of the interviews done- quickly, have a word with Arty, and then get back down here and hunt this bastard down.”

[Upwards or onwards 100 XP]

And so it comes to pass, it only takes fifteen minutes from where the PCs stand in the caverns and the stink to get all the way back to the cool calm corridors of Squabblepot.

Oh, but back up a moment- Newt, before he departed the ruins below Arty's labs has left Gerald his pet/companion bat, hidden outside of the metal doors through which are the sulphurous passages.

Gerald's job- watch and wait, Newt will be back.

So, Squabblepot again.

First up, the murder scene is investigated- thoroughly, but there's little to find, the area has been sealed after the violence, and from the look of the blood splatters and footprints the action played out exactly as Arty told Vinnie.

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Interviewing Andrea Palmpilot.

So, time to interview the witnesses to the crime, the three other gnomes present at the murder were- Wayne Fortunecookie, Herbert Balmstick & Andrea Palmpilot. The trio are interviewed separately, they pretty much all tell the same story, but the PCs are honing in on the moment it all happened. In conclusion they piece together the following-

Arty was drifting, he looked asleep, Kali- on her way out walked behind where he sat, heading for the exit. Arty suddenly blinked his eyes open, he looked terrified- a second later he was on his feet and his knife was in Kali's back.

At which point Wayne and Herbert leapt into action. The pair both make mention of the fact that Arty was hyperventilating by the time they had dragged him down to the ground, and then... he feinted, which caused a little confusion at the time as initially they thought Arty was dead too.

Very strange.

Note, the interviews are beautiful to behold- Vinnie, obviously, holds court- several of his questions are at least five yards too long with addenda, subclauses, and a little space left for some speechifying and grandstanding. Quite often the interviewee has to listen intently for a minute in order to answer with a simple 'yes' or 'no'.

“Zo, on ze evenin' in kwestion, yew- and yure com-pat-ree-ots whur in zis rheum! Zir rheum wiz itz tell tale zigns of zer murder of ze beautiful yung gnome- Kali Brightsong. Tell me monsieur Balmstick, iz zis not ze case?” Vinnie eventually asks.

“Er... Yes, I was here.” Herbert Balmstick answers with a shrug.

Newt on the other hand is playing the bad cop (but you probably guessed this), and again (and as commented upon at the time by Ram) everything he says has sharp edges. There's a lot of threat-

“You're a young gnome Balmstick, full of a young gnome's urges, tell me about your relationship with Kali Brightsong? Did you harbour feelings for her? Did Arty? Do you get jealous Herbert? Do you have 'a bit of a temper'?”

The above sentence starts real slow, and then just gets faster and faster (and louder), eventually racing to the end, leaving Herbert Balmstick fumbling...

“I... that is. NO! I... What are you implying?”

That kind of thing.

Great work.

[Interviewing the eye-witnesses 500 XP]

Next up, after the interviews, a break in proceedings for the adventurers to summarise where they are at, and for a collective effort by the PCs to remember as much as they can about nothics- cue monster knowledge checks. Newt (of course) rolls a '19' plus bonuses- he knows plenty. He shares everything he remembers about the one-eyed, clawed, mind-reading/controlling aberrants with his friends. Including the fact that the terrible beasts are the end result of failed arcanists that dug too deep into the dark and perilous world of magic.

Keep this last nugget in mind for a little bit.

So, by the end of the discussion the Dark Squad are convinced- Ian with one 'I', a nothic, has been infecting Arty's head- possibly for a while now. Eventually learning how to control the gnome, to either plant suggestions, or else to dominate Arty, in order to commit violence.

The solution is far too simple for Newt, that is until Vinnie points out that if it wasn't for the Dark Squad then none of the above would likely have been discovered by the gnomes of Squabblepot. Furthermore, the druid makes clear, if they don't get the nothic then the creature would be free to infect another gnome minds, possibly leading to more murders.

The Dark Squad have their story prepared, as previous- now they just to find the proof.

[A discussion about nothics 150 XP]

But then things take a turn for the strange...

“Are you the ones?” Lisl Blackthorn, the oldest gnome in the burrow- this fact she makes clear, repeatedly. Lisl is 372 years young, another fact she shares freely.

6402.jpg

The oldest gnome in the burrow- Lisl Blackthorn.

The Dark Squad, as it turns out, are the ones- the ones investigating the murder of Kali Brightsong, well- sit back, because Lisl has a story to tell.

In summary- Lisl's husband Randall, a quiet and gentle-gnome, was accused of murdering a young gnome of the burrow 185 years ago, he was sentenced to be hanged, although that didn't happen. Randall somehow escaped the burrow before the sentence was carried out.

So far so similar, here's the first kicker- Randall & Lisl lived in the rooms now occupied by Arty.

The Dark Squad get to digging and picking at this new nugget of information.

Vinnie with his speechifying is polite and caring, Newt is as pleasant as he can be, but still more than a little spiky.

As it turns out there's more to Lisl's story.

The first crack in the ancient female gnome's narrative occurs when Lisl lets slip that Randall wasn't always such a gentle-gnome.

Newt patiently (and repeatedly) explains that there is nothing that Lisl can tell him that would offend his sensibilities, there is no amount of depravity, or violence, or... basically- let it all out. All delivered, of course, with more than a hint of menace and threat.

The 372 year old Lisl therefore cries throughout the following confession-

“Randall could be... despicable, he lead another life- he would grow angry, moody, constantly on edge- when he was here. He was away often... adventuring, with his odd companions.”

The 'despicable', translated from the sentence above, turns out to refer to the fact that Randall was (and as revealed in hushed tones) a warlock, or else he summoned terrors and monsters to serve his purpose.

“Can you believe that? A Warlock!” Lisl implores Newt, seeking comfort from the gaze of the cute cat-like tabaxi.

“Despicable...” Newt purrs back.

Although, after further questioning, much of this information Lisl only discovered after Randall had escaped the burrow, and his fate. When she ventured down into his rooms (now Arty's labs).

As to Randall being an adventurer, after further enquiry and questioning Lisl remembers-

“Randall's companions, I never met them you understand, but he spoke about a crazy elf, a fearsome dwarf, a clever druid and a mischievous rogue. They called themselves...

“The Eyes in the Night?” Vinnie finishes.

“Oh, then you have heard of them...” Lisl nods.

There's not much else to tell, or else that's all Lisl knows.

But, of course, the new information is bundled into the old- is the nothic, Ian with one 'I', actually Randall- the warlock. Certainly the summoning chamber downstairs is Randall's, also in the lowest cellar Ram managed to find a trio of 'dodgy' ancient books (duly passed to Newt for examination). Books about dark magic written in the infernal tongue, as it turns out after further investigation the initials RB are discovered on each of these old tomes.

[Lisl & Randall Blackthorn 400 XP]

Next up, and with a spring in their step, the Dark Squad head over to Arty's cell- they chat with Sgt. Ecky Thump a while, and then reconvene with the accused for interview number two.

Which goes pretty much as you'd expect- Arty has been keeping secrets from the Dark Squad- the summoning chamber in his lab below, he insists that he has never made use of it, which the PCs have already worked out.

And... Arty has been having problems sleeping, someone (or some thing) called Ian with one 'I' has been infecting his dreams, manipulating his memories of Shalli his long dead wife to, well... to scare him.

For a while Arty thought he was going mad.

The Dark Squad press the subject, Newt leans hard on Arty but it seems that is really all the gnome alchemist knows. Therefore the adventurers take a moment to catch Arty (and Sgt. Ecky Thump) up with what they have discovered, the telling of the tale brings tears and hope to Arty.

The gnome is incredibly sorry for his various traps and the harm they caused to Ram, and also glad to be able to tell the truth at last- and not thought to be mad.

Sgt. Ecky is both impressed and concerned. Impressed with all the Dark Squad have discovered, but as concerned about the fact that there is some sort of aberrant on the loose- infecting people's minds.

The interview concludes with another Vinnie speech, in precis-

“You shud be 'ope-full yung Arty. We will find zis beast- Ian, wiz zer one eye, and we will bring zis ter-ree-ble cree-chure to Squabblepot to ann-sur fur 'iz crimes!”

There's an excellent moment during the above conversation, at the beginning when Arty is in denial- he remembers killing Kali, he can't believe that another creature was controlling him, had corrupted his mind.

It's at this point that Newt patiently explains that he used magic, in this case a Suggestion spell earlier on Newt in order to get the gnome to tell his story again. As the tabaxi points out, mind control is not only possible, it is very probable, or as Newt puts it-

“I could have persuaded you to murder all of your fiddling companions here in Squiggleport, and then have you dance on their bloody remains... if I had wanted to.”

Reassuring.

[Interview with Arty Swell number two 500 XP]

Then... back into the dark, although the first stop is to grab Sgt. Ecky Thump and take her below- into Arty's rooms- to see the million times scribbled Ian with one 'I' on Arty's bedroom walls, the summoning chamber of Randall Blackthorn (untouched) and the illusion-screened passage that leads into the deep below.

Sgt. Ecky is pretty much convinced, she will go and get Magistrate Halfberk et al and show them the evidence gathered here.

[Building a case 200 XP]

So, back down and through the ruined passages and to the metal doors, the sulphurous way ahead- to Gerald, and- as it turns out, Gerald spotted a creature at the doors. The bat describes a clawed biped/quadruped, with one great eye... in short, a nothic.

The creature, Ian with one 'I', looked directly at Gerald hidden on the ceiling, hung around for a minute or two, and then retreated back into the sulphurous passages. The creatures' tracks, now much easier to see- muddy footprints, head back to the sulphurous pool and then up the wall and across.

The nothic it seems is capable of spider climbing, or else is very athletic.

[Gerald and the nothic 100 XP]

And so we're all the way back to the beginning, back to the edge of the sulphurous pool.

There follows an extended discussion entitled 'how do we get across the pool?' A dozen or more options are discussed- involving spider climbing scrolls (Newt has two), climbing potions (several PCs have these) and Vinnie's slippers of spider climbing.

The DM at this point lets the players know that before fitting out this adventure he had a good look at their PC's spell lists and inventories.

The resolution to the pool problem finally latched onto is by far the simplest- Newt casts Spider Climb on Daktari, the strongest member of the Dark Squad, the barbarian- after getting used to being able to walk on the ceiling-

“How does my hair look from down there?”

Ferries his companions across the steaming pool, Ram first- the rogue goes straight into hiding, watching the stepped exit to the pool cavern.

6403.jpg

Ferrying the Dark Squad across a pool of sulphuric acid.

Vinnie, of course, spider climbs himself across.

[Get across the sulphur pool 300 XP]

Then onwards, and keep in mind the ground here is all angled broken sulphurous rock, and it gets worse- a little ahead the passage drops quickly between cantered twisted crumbling yellow ledges to screes of broken rock, it's a climb.

The Dark Squad, lead by Ram- as usual, descend into the smoke, loose stone and stink.

About halfway down the scree/stair slope there's a rumble and the ground beneath the adventurer's feet shifts and shakes.

Inverna, very briefly- as if in slow motion, slips and slides a little way down the slope, Daktari grabs her before she slides too far down the gradient.

Then it gets worse, a clutch of incredibly well camouflaged stirges detach themselves from the stone ceilings and get into the Dark Squad.

6404.jpg

Sulphur stirges...

We've not had a combat for a while...

Perhaps that's why the Dark Squad's collective dice are broken, there are ten stirges- they're a little tougher then the usual version, and do a little more damage (they inject sulphuric acid into their victims).

Ram misses repeatedly, although he eventually takes a pair of stirges down, Vinnie with his Birdcall Staff (Shillelagh enhanced) connects only once with a quartet of attacks. Daktari manages to miss with advantage (rolling '1' and '4'- nice), but then starts connecting. While Inverna is also mostly off-target, only Newt is getting the hits in.

6405.jpg

The stirges hang around...

This last fact however is curtailed when a stirge skewers (and crits) the tabaxi. I roll 4d4 (a mix of piercing and acid damage) and all four die come up '4'. The warlock further suffers when the second shudder rocks the cavern, he skitters the last twenty feet down the slope on his backside.

Eventually the Dark Squad kill the stirges and get themselves down and off the trembling slope...

Safe.

6406.jpg

To the bottom of the stair.

[Down the sulphur stair with stirges 500 XP]

They enter a larger cavern with a high ceiling, and with a stepped passage climbing up and out of the chamber just a little ahead.

Just in time... the rumbling sound and associated tremor comes again, although... it seems much more localised this time.

A great yellow insect-like creature, a locust/mantis mix, suddenly rears up bursting through the tumbling rubble of the cavern floor- an ankheg (of sorts). The beast strikes with lightning speed (and advantage) and yet fails to impale Newt with its mandibles (my turn to roll a '1' and a '4').

6407.jpg

It doesn't get any easier...

But that's all for this week, it was a short session, we didn't get going until 20:30 because of real world considerations.

Just a head's up- no game next week, Kev (Ram) is again off-grid in the wilds.

The Dark Squad are seven-and-a-half hours into their journey to save Arty Swell.

The Dark Squad’s to-do list reads a little like this-
  1. Find Ian with one 'I'
  2. Save Arty Swell.​
  3. To the Moon Pool.​
  4. Goblins in the Dreadwood.​
  5. Nightshade in the Dreadwood.​
  6. To Blackedge, find the Goblin Stair.​
  7. Return to Fallowstone Holy for answers- the Witch’s Tor & the Pact of the Flame.​

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers the Dark Squad and goonalan.
 
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