Red Tide II

At Yellow Toad Well
A village with a dark secret

14th Day of the Third Month – 15th Day of the Third Month

Vladimir and Morgan are hired to find a merchant’s child that has gone missing in the tiny village. They speak to several villagers, but only discover that this sort of thing happens once in a while, as life is dangerous on the frontier.

The village herbalist sometimes makes candy, so Vladimir and Morgan decide to pay him a visit. Vladimir notices what looks like a bit of bloody rope behind a curtain, but the village guards come to roust the adventurers before they can find out more.

Sneaking back in at night, they enter the herbalist’s hut and find a small chest full of children’s trinkets (worth 250GP, apparently). When they try to search the herbalist’s room, he awakens and cries out in the darkness. Vladimir clubs him unconscious while Morgan sets fire to a different hut to create a distraction. Vladimir finds the bloody rope (which looks to have been chewed by human teeth), and then both adventurers flee the village.

Lacking other clues, and suspecting that the people in charge might be in on the conspiracy (how did the guards know to find them, and why were they angry to begin with?) the they have the merchant return to town, with the adventurers hiding beneath the wagon. Unfortunately, the wagon is turned away, as somebody has murdered the herbalist, slitting his throat, which is weird, because the herbalist was alive when Vladimir left him.

Still bereft of clues, the adventurers try interviewing the farming peasants outside of the village walls. They don’t get much information, until Luta Kolbrand, a pregnant peasant, whispers to the adventurers that she’s already lost one child, and won’t lose her new one and tells them of the secret sacrifices to the well. Only the village headman (Sato Akira) and some of the other farmers know about the sacrifices.

Luta sneaks the adventurers into the village and down the well. It’s full of small bones and it feels haunted. The twisting tunnels eventually upon upon a cavern with a large, crudely carved statue of some sort of bloated toad, surrounded by corpses posed in positions of reverence. As the adventurers investigate, one of the “corpses” rises, revealing buggy eyes, clawed fingers, and makeshift priestly garb. It attacks Morgan, so Morgan and Vladimir attack back. Vladimir strikes a lucky blow, but not before the toadspawn slashes Morgan across the face, killing him.

Vladimir, exhuasted and hurt, leaves the cleric and gathers the toadspawn’s corpse, thinking it might be the missing boy. Sneaking back to the merchant outside of the village, dripping slime and carrying a corpse over his shoulder for a mile, Vladimir is quite displeased to find that this wasn’t the child he sought.

Promising (half-heartedly) to return and try again, Vladimir gathers his belongings and goes in search of hardier companions.

NEXT: Trying Again

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Trying Again
Maybe this time nobody they like will die.

16th Day of the Third Month – 5th Day of the Fourth Month

Valdimir rests up in Machida for a week and recruits an adventurous elf, Dashna, and another dwarf, Barrloff. Returning to the village, they trick Luta’s grumpy husband into getting them an audience with her. She willingly helps to sneak them to the well.

Vladimir cleverly avoids a hidden, underwater sinkhole and then follows a set of tracks to the toad-god’s lair. The huge, bloated, man-toad thing greets them, unafraid, and offers them treasure in return for “the girl”, who apparently has the boy they seek. The adventurers ask for the boy instead, and the toad-god agrees.

After the tense encounter, they follow the toad-god’s directions to where “the girl” is supposed to be. They examine the strange, childlike illustrations scratched into the glowing moss on the walls and don’t notice the web-footed, mutant children that are attacking them. A couple of the strange child-things are slain, but the rest flee.

Soon, the party encounters another pool of water that they have to cross. They do so, and are attacked by more mutant children beneath the muddy water. The party does their best to scramble out of the muck before turning around and slaying their attackers.

In the next cavern, they find a crazy pre-teen girl and the little boy that they were sent to find. The boy is happy to be rescued, but the girl insists that everyone else is just a figment of her imagination. Still, she offers to lead them back to the well, which she does. She refuses to be “rescued”, though, so Dashna clubs her over the head so that the girl won’t resist. There’s some discussion and plotting of how to get out of the well with the unconscious girl when the frog-god erupts from the water!

The party tries to lie to the frog-god. “Well, of course we weren’t lying. Here’s the girl right here for you. Let us just get out and we’ll give her to you.” Unfortunately, they let Barrloff do the talking, and he manages to enrage the bloated monster, who immediately attacks!

Luckily, the frog-god is just out of their reach, and Dashna is able to get off an acorn-themed magic missile, which has a solid impact on the monster. Unfortunately, it’s not enough, and the the thing rampages over the party, nearly slaying Dashna before being brought down by the dwarves. There’s a metaphysical shift, like a bubble popping, as the frog-god dies. Also, its vile blood poisons the well.

The dwarves check on Dashna, and it looks like she’ll live if they can get her somewhere to rest. They don’t yet realize that the injury has lasting consequences.

The party waits tensely for nightfall, when Luta returns to drop down their rope. She does, and with some effort and planning, they manage to get the severely injured and the unconscious out of the well safely.

They leave the girl with Luta, who recognizes her as Fei-Lan, a sacrifice from nearly three years ago. They take the boy to his merchant father, and are rewarded with two valuable gems and his eternal gratitude.

A couple of weeks later, the party returns to have a few words with the child-sacrificing jerks of the small village, but find that bandits have beaten them to it. There is nothing and no one left. Climbing back down the (now tainted) well, they return to the frog-god’s lair to loot it of several hundred coins, some gems, and a bamboo scroll.

While the ruins of the village hold several dead bodies, there’s no sign of Luta or Fei-Lan. Evidence suggests that the bandits came from the north, so the party plans to pay them a visit.

NEXT: Moonhaunt Part 1

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Moonhaunt, Part 1
Dwarven Stealth Snipers

5th Day of the Fourth Month – 10th Day of the Fourth Month

Valdimir, Barrloff and Dashna travel north for about a day, following the general tracks of the bandits that had sacked the village of Yellow Toad Well to a ruined outpost. A dry moat surrounds a partially collapsed wall which itself contains crumbling buildings.

Wanting to get inside, the trio claim to be wealthy travelers interested in purchasing goods from the encampment. The bandit guarding the wall lets them in, and then he and two others attempt to mug the PCs at sword-point. They decline the invitation by killing the three men within sight of several other bandits, who then summon still more bandits, who all come out and chase the PCs into the jungle. Injured and unprepared, the PCs return to Machida to rest and reequip.

(Here, I introduce the players to the encumbrance system that we’ll be using. It proves flexible enough, while still making inventory management count, which is what I was going for.)

Another day’s walk (no horses because cardio) returns the PCs to Moonhaunt at night. It soon becomes evident that dwarves and elves can see in the dark, but humans cannot. Taking advantage of this, the PCs spend the next three days murdering bandits from the cover of darkness and at one point setting fire to the bridge into the structure to both draw the bandits out into range as well as limit their mobility. In all, their reign of nightly terror kills eight bandits.

On the fourth day, there’s no longer any activity in the structure. The PCs investigate, finding a makeshift bridge out of the back. Carefully exploring inside finds ruined buildings, a collapsed tower, an old statue, remnants of moon-themed decor and evidence of recent habitation, but no bandits or slaves. They do find a blocked-off doorway covered in impromptu holy symbols and crude folk-wards and surrounded by an unnatural chill. Assuming undead, they set fire to the barricade and wait another day, hoping that whatever is down there will fight with anything that comes back.

Moonhaunt1.jpg

When the PCs check on the situation, they find that not much is changed, so they carefully open the door with the strange moon-symbol carved on it and enter the subterranean structure. Inside is more moon-themed tile-work, seemingly defaced. A chilly wading-pool offers a few hundred old silver coins which the PCs scoop up with numb fingers.

Investigating a long, dark hallway, they open a door to reveal a room-sized cage, a sort of jail cell, filled with shuffling skeletons. The skeletons lunge for the party, but cannot clear the bars, and are summarily hacked to pieces by the PCs from the safety of the other side.

Feeling smart, the PCs continue to explore the hallway and see, at the edge of their darkvision, a pale, bald, gaunt, black-eyed creature. Before it can say, “I mean you no—”, Dashna the elf blasts it in the face with her Magic-Acorn-Missile. It flees, but the party gives chase, offering consoling words and apologies. They catch up to it, and it timidly explains that its name is Ragnbjorn and it was one of the death-cultists within a moon-cult that betrayed its fellows and in the struggle was trapped here, cursed with undeath, and unable to dig its way out. Now, it regrets its behavior, and seeks only the destruction of its insane companion, Nauma, another like himself but that seeks to escape and continue her necromantic ways.

The PCs agree to take care of the situation if Ragnbjorn stays out of their way. Ragnbjorn is quite pleased, because apparently the girl with the infant that came down here won’t help, and insists on just hiding from him. The PCs are surprised and speculate. Is that Luta or Fei-Lan or somebody else? Is that Luta’s baby?

NEXT: Moonhuant Part 2

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Moonhaunt, Part 2
Why are there so many gems?

10th Day of the Fourth Month – 14th Day of the Sixth Month

Vladimir, Barrloff and Dashna leave the defiled shrine through the north door without turning their back on Ragnbjorn the ghoul, eventually closing the door behind them. They travel the dark hallways, passing through two more doors until they find themselves in a large, domed room. The floor reveals destroyed tile-work, mostly hiding what used to be a large crescent-moon design. A “tick-tick” from the ceiling gets their attention and they study the dome to find it lined in thin silver lines, punctuated by gems like stars. They soon realize that these “stars” are slowly moving along the lines. Dashna studies the intricate patterns and the arcane secrets they reveal. Meanwhile, Vladimir and Barloff use their iron spikes to climb the walls and pry out some of the low-hanging gems. Unfortunately, all of the banging of spikes draws the attention of a pair of skeletons. The battle is brief, but Vladimir and Barrloff get roughed up a bit, and the party decides to travel back to town to rest. But first, they pile some stones in front of the dungeon door. Just in case. What about the young girl and the infant? Well, they’ll probably be fine. Right?

Narrowly avoiding an encounter with giant weasels, they return to town to rest (and level) up and re-equip for a couple of days. They overpay for some healing potions, and then make their way back.

Returning to the dungeon, the party enters the first room to find Ragnbjorn the ghoul impaled upon a wooden pole as if to provide a warning. Unfortunate.

samara_morgan___zombie_project_by_eilyn_chan-d3huxqv.jpgDeciding to go north this time, the party follows a few halls and opens a few doors before finding a room with an open pit in the center. Worried that there might be trouble (because), they tie a rope around Vladimir, and he creeps to the edge of the pit to investigate. As he sticks his head over the side, a pale, emaciated figure with long, black hair skitters up the side of the wall like something out of “The Ring” and slashes at Vladimir with her claws and teeth. Luckily, the she-ghoul can’t clear Vladimir’s armor. He backpedals and attacks as Barrloff runs to his aid. Two lucky weapon strikes and a Magic Acorn Missile later, and the big, bad, she-ghoul’s corpse topples into the pit.

Barrloff is lowered into the pit, which turns out to be full of assorted human bones, and digs around, finding the she-ghoul’s stash of black gems painted with skull icons. Meanwhile, giant rats wander into the room and attack, though they quickly panic and flee after the first one dies.

Pulling Barrloff out of the pit, the party continues through the crumbling halls until they find an old chapel. The heads of the statues have been replaced with skulls, and once Vladimir and Barrloff carefully poke them from their perches, the dwarves discover that the eye sockets contain more gems. Score! Up the stairs at the rear of the chapel, they find a sealed, metal sarcophagus before some sort of strange mural. There’s a central circle, bisected by a wide, horizontal line, and then three round depression above the line, and three below. Nobody can make anything of it.

Distracted by the mural, the party doesn’t see the eerily silent crowd of dusty skeletons that has found them. The skeletons attack, and the party fights back, but Vladimir takes a few hits. As they recover after the fight, a skeletal straggler wanders in, and they have to take care of that one as well.

Finally, they decide to try one more room. A few turns down a twisting hallway finds a magical circle made of loose finger bones. The corners of the room have skulls on the ground, and much to Barrloff’s delight, contain diamonds in the eye sockets! Woot! The fourth skull, however, was buried in the collapsed wall of the southwestern corner, so Barrloff and Vladimir get to work digging it out, and manage to find another diamond.

The party calls it a day, and backtracks toward the exit. Unfortunately, a crowd of giant centipedes is exploring the dead ghoul in the pit, and attacks when the party passes through. They cleverly back into the doorway to create a choke point, and it helps, but Vladimir is bitten and becomes violently ill. It’s slow going back to the stairs, where they find the giant rats that had fled before waiting for them. Barrloff’s attempt to scare the rats off only enrages them, but he and Dashna manage to kill them without much trouble.

The trip home is also slowed by Vladimir’s illness, and on the second day, they run into a pair of traveling halflings. There’s some tough talk from both sides, but in the end the PCs agree to take the long way around while the halflings keep an eye on them.

Returning to Machida, the PCs rest again, and level again (this time including Dashna). Dashna learns “Detect Magic” from the local Wise-Mountain School wizard’s guild, and then spends two months researching and learning “Floating Disc”. (Apparently encumbrance is still an issue).

What about the young girl and the infant still barricaded inside the tunnels below Moonhaunt? Common sense would suggest that they’re dead by now, but we’ll see, as the PCs intend to go back and find any loot that they might have missed.

Ooh, and Vladimir picks up three local noobs (Tang Qiang, Jumana, and Eanraig) as retainers. Somebody has to help carry all of this crap.

(Image from HERE.)

NEXT: Heading West

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Heading West
Screw Moonhaunt!

15th Day of the Sixth Month – 28th Day of the Sixth Month

Vladimir hires on Jumana and Eanraig and Qiang as retainers in Machida, and he, Dashna and Barrloff find a new companion in Bromski, another dwarf. Everybody makes their preparations and then returns to Moonhaunt.

Unfortunately, when they get there, they find that the walls have been reinforced, and magical light suffuses the area between the treeline and the bridge (which is now a raised drawbridge). Despite their gains in experience and the increased size of the party, it is decided that the risk is too high, and they all return home.

Barrloff and Qiang spend the week looking for rumors of treasure or cultists, and both are rewarded. There’s word that cultists have been harassing travelers coming to Machida from the west. Likewise, a delivery of mined silver has gone missing from a village to the south.

The party chooses the cultists to the west, and buys a wagon and a pair of horses and several bolts of silk, planning to act as bait for ambush. They set out, and on the second day are swarmed by large bees on the barely-usable path. Qiang goes into shock almost immediately, but Jumana and Eanraig succumb shortly after. The horses panic, dragging most of those disabled out of the swarm, but when the party checks on the fallen retainers, it’s too late. (Well, it might not have been too late for Jumana, but being stung in the eyes had blinded her, and she would have likely been bedridden for a month to boot. Letting her choke on her swollen tongue seems like a mercy. Right?) There’s some debate about what to do with the bodies of the fallen, but it’s eventually, if begrudgingly, agreed that leaving the retainers’ unblessed souls to the Hell Kings would be bad PR, so the bodies are piled into the cart and the journey continues.

The next day, they party spots figures on the road ahead, but when they approach, the figures are gone. This must be the ambush they are looking for. Masked men with clubs drop a log across the path and charge the wagon with shouts of “RAMAAAT!”, but are killed almost immediately. Hearing the sounds of digging to the south, the party does its best to hide the wagon and moves quietly through the trees to find four men excavating what might be an underground structure. They kill most, but capture one. Despite terrifying the man into talking (by introducing him to the severed heads of the first group), he doesn’t have much useful to say beyond being promised that “Ramat” would end the Red Tide, and that he and the others were trying to unearth a site supposedly holy to Ramat.

The cultist offers to serve Barrloff instead, but Vladimir says that you can buy the loyalty of the greedy, but the zealous just can’t be trusted. The cultist’s cooperation is rewarded with a swift death. Not ready for action after the bees and the cultists, the party decides to press on toward Tongren, the next town.

Oni.jpgThe next day, the party sacrifices some of their rations to distract a curious black bear. But the day after that, they are stopped by a wandering farmer. Paranoid like only successful adventurers can be, the party speeds past the farmer, offering only insincere apologies. And it’s just as well, as the farmer erupts into the form of an “isle ogre”. The single horn on its head is dwarfed only by the immense “horn” beneath its loincloth, and its intentions are obvious as it charges the wagon. Luck is briefly on the party’s side, as they are able to out-run the monster long enough to fill it with arrows. Unfortunately, two more ogres come stomping out of the tree line. Thankfully, one is distracted by its desire to defile its comrade’s corpse, but the other chases the cart for the rest of the day and the night until the horses are finally exhausted, and the party must make a stand.

It’s close, and the new guy nearly ends up as ogre food, but the party narrowly prevails. The contents of the ogre’s stomach suggest that the party would have ended up as its next meal had things gone differently.

Worn-down, tired and injured as the sun rises, the party is elated to see the town on the hill before them. Only… something is wrong. The place looks run-down, and possibly deserted, and more of a village than a town. Too far from home to turn back, and not sure where to go next, they decide to approach the village and investigate.

(Image re-purposed from HERE)

NEXT: ???

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White Jade Hill
Calm, zoned-out people are always trouble

28th Day of the Sixth Month – 30th Day of the Sixth Month

The party approaches the apparently abandoned town with their bolts of silk and the last of their dead retainers in the back of the wagon. If there was a wall surrounding it, it has long since fallen. They move through the empty main street in the early morning light, and kick open a door.

A not-quite-startled old lady is inside, sweeping. She seems very calm and dreamy and distracted and doesn’t give much in the way of information. The party suspects vampires, but the sun is already rising without ill effect.

The party continues to the general store, but there’s not much to be had, and the interior is run-down and ruined. Inside, a friendly, dazed shopkeeper mans the nearly empty shop, apologizing for the lack of inventory. The party notes the man’s smooth, pale skin, and moves on to the tavern.

Inside, the barkeep mindlessly wipes down a warped and splintered bar, and a drunk snores at a table beside his empty mug. The bartender is also friendly, but also dazed and pale and smooth-skinned in a way that is beginning to freak the party out. That’s when somebody comes down from upstairs.

It’s a Gadaal man, dark skinned with white freckles. He’s surprised to see the party, and introduces himself as Domnal. He advises the party to leave before Kitano, the self-proclaimed high-priest of “the Jade God” comes for them. Domnal avoids questions about the weird townsfolk, and finally leaves the tavern on his own business.

The party decides to approach the weathered mansion at the top of the hill. A pale, dazed servant leads them to Kitano’s chambers. Despite the party’s suggestion that they are totally on-board with the Jade God, Kitano doesn’t trust them and so tasks them with finding out which of his traitorous followers have stolen his staff of office. He also promises them several thousand gold koku for their effort. He even agrees to heal them the next day, once he has communed with his god for the proper spell. The party readily accepts.

They spend the rest of the day and into the early evening hiding in their room at the inn. When they emerge, they again encounter Domnal, and they get the feeling that he’s hiding something about the staff. Threats (and actual) violence convinces Domnal to admit that he has stolen and hidden the staff to protect the world from Kitano, who, while crazy and dangerous, is also Domnal’s long-time friend. He refuses to reveal the location, lest Kitano find the staff. The party promises to take the staff and leave with it, and that, in conjunction with their generally threatening demeanor, convinces Domnal to take them to the staff. The party, ever wary, keeps the man tied up. That’s when Qiang, Vladimir‘s dead henchman, shows up. He’s pale and smooth and kind of out of it. The party starts to get the big picture.

When they get to the mine, it’s pitch black inside. Not wanting to give up the advantage of the darkness, Vladimir carries Domnal part of the way, but the going is slow, and Domnal can’t really see where to lead them. All of this slows their exploration greatly, and they are attacked several times by stirges in the caves, but eventually find the staff and make their way out alive, only to find somebody waiting for them.

It’s a snarky-looking fellow that Domnal identifies as Wang. They don’t seem to get along well, and when the party unties Domnal, the two get into an argument. Realizing the party’s inclinations, Wang suggests joining the party to take down Kitano. He offers his own meager reward, plus whatever Kitano has, in return for control of the town. Domnal is incensed, and while Wang and the party work out the details, Domnal disappears.

When the party sees that Domnal has fled, they make the decision to act immediately, racing to the mansion on the hill. Several guards block the way, but a Charm Person spell and several serious injuries remove them from the path. Rushing through the house, they encounter more of the pale, calm people, only now armed with swords. The townspeople attack, but are made short work of, but when the blades crack their bodies open, they reveal themselves to be skeletons encased in jade. Dashna realizes something important. “These townspeople will be back!”

Suddenly, Barrloff asks where Wang was this whole time.

“Right here,” Wang says with a smirk from the back of the party, safely out of the reach of combat. “I’ve got your backs!”

DwarfStab.jpgWith barely a word between them, Barloff and Vladimir murder Wang for being a likely-traitorous douche. Bromski is somewhat taken aback, but makes note of what is apparently proper procedure. “Boy,” he says with awe, “do I have a lot to learn.”

The party kicks in the door to Kitano’s office and charge! Domnal’s Charm Person spell fails to overcome Barrloff’s dwarven fury, but Kitano’s touch sends a wave of green fear through Vladimir’s black heart, and the dwarf runs from the room like the Mother-Below herself was on his heels. But it’s not enough, and Dashna, Barrloff and Bromski cut the priest down, whereupon Domnal collapses in grief for his fallen, crazy friend.

While considering their next move, the party’s newly charmed guard (“Steve”) points out that it’s really too bad that Kitano is dead, since Steve was a serious convert to the Jade God and all. This is troubling, because Steve is just charmed, and will snap out of it soon. So Bromski murders him without warning, apparently being a fast learner.

The party loots Kitano’s room, finding a lot less cash than Kitano promised (that liar), but a fair amount of jewelry and precious jade statuary. Kitano’s shield also appears to be enchanted, as does Wang’s blade. Also, the tome containing Kitano’s long, rambling treatise on the nature of jade and geomancy offers Dashna a relative wealth of valuable research material, though a quick check in town of Wang’s belongings comes up with little worth mentioning. Some “merchant” he was.

Surprisingly, they leave Domnal alive. He’s probably pissed, but his heart was always in the right place, I guess. So, with Chang the former (and formerly dead) retainer waving them off, they pack up and leave town with the plan of getting out of the forest and making their way to Tongren.

Image from HERE.

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Tongren Vacation
(Still can't sell that staff)

30th Day of the Sixth Month – 30th Day of the 12th Month

Still intent on making their way to Tongren, the party does its best to wander through the forest toward where they think Tongren is. They encounter an armed and mounted patrol of elves, probably from the six, ominous towers in the distance. The elves are jerks, but they seem to be more “anti-human” than anything else, and since the party is all dwarf and elf, the patrol points them in the direction of Tongren.

Approaching Tongren, the party is accosted by bandits, led by a bold Skandr woman, but the party doesn’t have time for a fight, and after killing a few, they drive hard for town with bandits clinging to their cart.

ElfStudy.jpgUnable to find a buyer for their purloined staff, the adventurers sell off their silk and look into other trade goods while the elf studies her craft, researching new spells and the like for several months.

They also hire on a pair of henchmen, as well as a hunter and a navigator to help them find their way back to Machida.

On the way back, they find that the excavated temple ruin that they had passed months before now seemed to be inhabited. They decide to investigate, lose their new thief to a spiked trap on the stairs, and end up fighting off several waves of goblins. They even kill a worg-rider that looks to be the chief. Unfortunately, while Bromski is up on a ladder, prying the jeweled eyes out of an idol, the party is attacked once more, and the poor dwarf suffers a career-ending injury, dying a day later to internal bleeding.

The party rests up as best they can in the wilderness outside of the temple ruin, though they are attacked at least once by goblins and also by a giant black widow spider which Vladimir insists will taste like weird lobster if they cook it. (They do, and it does.)

(Image from HERE.)

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