We kicked off with Ever buying Jace a book to read on the boat (he’s still learning but he absolutely loves it). A skill challenge followed, with the PCs failing to assist the boat’s rough passage. In fact, they actually ended up making it worse. This led to a detour to an uninhabited island to find food. The party and a small landing crew, all led by the ship’s bosun Swaine Hastings, went ashore to find food. That, of course, was the easy part. When the group returned to the beach with their sacks of food, three scrags crawled up out of the water. Jace attempted to reason with the creatures, but ran into the language barrier (they speak Giant, which we thought none of the PCs spoke until after the encounter, when Ever’s player realized she did) so initiative was rolled.
Before I detail this harrowing encounter, I would like to go on record and say that I did not realize how incredibly difficult this combat was going to be. I threw three scrags at the part and planned for another to enter in round 3 if things were too easy. It was nearly a TPK as it was. It was a serious error in judgment that my players almost suffered for.
Ever went first, and cast Magic Missile. Each missile hit one scrag, for a measly 4 damage (against the 63 of the scrags…). Josh and Sai followed with attacks on Scrag 3- Josh missed with his shortsword, while Sai sneak attacked with his bow. Then Scrag 2 shredded Ever, nearly sending her right to Hades. It seemed a bad omen.
Scrags 1 missed his attack on Sai, but Scrag 3 got a solid hit on Josh. Then it was Hastings’ turn. Of the Gull Maiden’s crew, Hastings was the only one in the fight. Little did the PCs know that he used to be a pirate! He attacked Scrag 2 for a little bit of damage.
Jace was standing next to Ever when she fell. He swung at Scrag 2, critting. He followed this attack with a swing at Scrag 3, keeping its attention off of little Josh.
Ever succeeded on her first death save. Josh then rushed over and rummaged through her pack for the healing potion the PCs had found the week before in Cathanien Manor (boy, was everyone glad for that!) and administered it. Not only did it bring her back from death’s door, it brought her back in the fight with 3 hp. She then took her turn, pulling Josh with her away from the fight, where she cast Cure Wounds on him, bringing him within a few points of full health.
Sai was now engaged in melee against Scrag 1. He struck with his rapier and hit. Scrag 2 then missed his attack against Hastings, while Scrag 3 failed to connect with Jace.
Hastings missed against Scrag 2, but Jace hacked away at Scrag 3, hitting both times. The beast was now down to 33 hp.
Ever moved over a bit so she had Scrags 2 and 3 lined up and used an at-will power, Penetrating Shard. It hit Scrag 2 for 10 damage and Scrag 3 for 3. Josh moved up to help Jace with Scrag 3, while Sai hit Scrag 1 again.
Scrag 2 hit Hastings for 10 damage, bringing him to 30 hp (yay for slightly tougher allies!). Scrag 1 hit Sai for minimum damage. Scrag 3 failed to hit Jace’s AC. Hastings hit Scrag 2, and Jace finally tore up Scrag 3 with one attack before thumping Scrag 2 with another.
Ever missed an attack against Scrag 2, Josh moved over and attacked the same one while Sai yelled for help and hit Scrag 1 again. Scrag 1, unfortunately, still had 44 hp left.
Scrags 2 and 1 both missed their attacks horribly, and Jace and Hastings finished off 2. Jace then moved over and hit Scrag 1 with his second attack, hitting.
All fire was now focused on Scrag 1. Ever used Shadowstep Strike, dealing about 14 or 15 damage. Then between Josh, Sai and Jace, the creature finally drew its last breath.
On searching the scrags, the party found four brilliant stones that look like they may be gemstones. The party will search for a jeweler later to get an appraisal. Unfortunately, there aren’t any in Noddany.
Hastings praises the heroes in front of Captain Altham (whom he refers to as “Albatross”). The Captain almost praises the PCs himself, before remembering that there would have been no need to fight the scrags if the PCs hadn’t screwed up in the first place. He dismissed them curtly, but it was nonetheless clear, over the remaining two months of the voyage, that he and Hastings had developed a great deal of respect for the party.
Ever launches an investigation, asking everyone on the boat about the Necromancer Queen. Nobody had an answer, until she met the creepy guy in the cargo hold. He said his name was Mather Vile, as he took a sip of rum. He told her that the Queen wore black robes with red designs on it. She always had the hood up, but people say she was fair-skinned, and may even have freckles. He also said that the Queen had connections on every continent.
Ever was about to leave when she remembered something strange.
“Mr. Vile, why does Mr. Hastings refer to Captain Altham as ‘Albatross?’”
Vile grunted and sidestepped the question, taking another swig of rum. But Ever pulled out some of her pretty young-elf charm, and he sighed. He revealed that before it was a cargo ship, the Gull Maiden was a pirate ship called The Reaping Gull. He was known as “the Carver,” Vile said, while Hastings was “Brass” for all of his buckles and buttons, and the captain was “Albatross.” He explained that for sailors, an albatross is a bad omen. It was pretty clear to Ever that the crew of the Reaping Gull, and Captain Altham in particular, had been fearsome pirates.
But their luck ran out, Vile said, and one day they were captured by the authorities. By the gods’ grace, one of their captors was a childhood friend of the captain’s, who agreed to pardon anyone who swore to a life of law-abiding citizenship. The friend pulled a few strings, told a few falsehoods, and Altham, Hastings and Vile found themselves the first crew of a remodeled pirate ship, now called Gull Maiden.
Ever bid him farewell and went on her way. She told the rest of the party about her knew knowledge of the Necromancer Queen, and made them promise not to tell anyone that three of the Gull’s crew were former pirates.
Soon, they all arrived safely on the frigid shores of Noddany.
I learned a valuable lesson today as a DM. In previous encounters, my party walked all over combat encounters without breaking a sweat. But today, the PCs faced the very real threat of a TPK. A bunch of good rolls for Team Heroes and chilly dice for the scrags, as well as a little damage reduction on my account, thankfully saw the party through. I didn’t like having to fudge rolls as much as I did, but felt it was necessary given the story. Even one character death would have ruined all the fun for the players, and it wouldn’t even have been relevant to the storyline. If someone has to die, it’s going to be dramatic and significant to the plot and the world as a whole. I now have a better sense of what constitutes balance in a combat encounter.