The Undeath Prophecy

On the Kaltic Sea- Session Recount

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.

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Background

For starters, this campaign was initially very, very homebrewed. Like, 90% homebrewed. We weren’t even using dice to start with (because I didn’t have any). It has gradually come to conform better to 5e rules, although I still houserule a number of things because they make more sense to me that way. I also homebrewed a few powers for the Fighter (because his player felt like he was lacking pizazz, but it’s really hard to make a Fighter more interesting) and the Rogue (which are borderline ridiculous, but hey, he’s played by a seven-year-old. What are you going to do?) but that’s the biggest difference, I think. I should also mention that I’ve created my own setting for my campaigns, Omnysia. Also, I’m using the Greek Pantheon as well as the Skyrim theology as what is known as the “Common Pantheon” in my setting. Some nations do have unique theologies.
Anyway, the party, the Silver Oaks, is based in Klindor, which is also where Jace met his girlfriend, Kerri McDowell. One of the first things they did was beat up the dragon who was enslaving Josh (again, homebrew mistakes. Now I just assume it was a really young and weak dragon). They had to go back later for a scale from the creature, as well as collect a death hound claw and a basilisk fang. (Yeah, I know- too much for a level 2 party. Don’t judge my rookie mistakes, okay? I didn’t have anyone to teach me.) They did a number of small and mostly insignificant quests for a while, until about level 5. This was when it was revealed that Josh was the Chosen One and all that. Then Jace joined the Fighters’ Guild. There he met two people, Dave and Markus, who managed to get him talking about his past. In one of the first big surprises I ever saw as a DM, the three ended up deciding to take down the slaving ring Jace was a part of when he was younger. They sold Sai, Josh and Ever on it, and the three Fighters were sold into slavery in Malbis, Gaternia. Jace went back to the arena (his biggest fear- how brave of him!) while Dave and Markus were destined for the Oentian spice farms and the Typegian mines, respectively. This led to Surprise #2: Jace showed mercy on his opponent in the arena, got himself locked up and punished for it BUT beat up the torturing thug WITH HIS LEGS, used his toes to pick up the shackle key from the man’s body, and then proceeded to nat 20 on his Dexterity check to open the shackles… with his toes. This led to an earthshaking gladiator revolt, the relocation of eighty gladiators and a few dozen other slaves, and the decision to find the Temple of Meridia so Josh can receive his Paladin training.
Which led to the journey to the coast of Nachostia (the northeastern-most country on the Western continent) so they could get on a boat to Noddany (the location of the temple, the northern-most country on the Eastern continent- basically Siberia, right down to the nomadic reindeer herders). While in the port town of Shallowdeep, the party heard rumors of strange humanoid creatures sneaking around the gates at dark, and in particular going to and from Cathanien Manor. The Cathaniens are recluse, but they are also wealthy and powerful- more than enough cause for alarm. The party investigated and discovered that the patron of the house, Lord Gregory Cathanien, was doing business with someone called “the Necromancer Queen.” The party returned that night and defeated a bunch of body snatching ghouls (one of whom was actually a ghast) a bit more quickly than I expected, and then had to fight Lord Gregory and his eldest son Donovan, both of whom wanted the power gained from the alliance with the Queen. But when Jace threatened Donovan’s life and saw no concern in Lord Gregory’s eyes, Donovan changed his tune- all he had ever really wanted was his father’s approval. Jace threw the boy to the ground, where he lay in shock, and went after Gregory. After learning nothing, Jace killed him. I was a little bothered by this, but honestly, the man was evil, and leaving him alive would have meant a powerful ally for the Queen (who is, by the way, the main villain of the campaign) so I couldn’t really question it too much- Jace’s player is a very grounded and gentle kid who happens to have a strong sense of justice.
Anyway, after securing a bunch of warm cloaks, blankets and extra supplies, the party will be leaving for Noddany in our next session in search of the Temple of Meridia. The journey shouldn’t take more than five or six months… if all goes well. Let’s just say that even in Kythorn (June), the Kaltic sea is a bit rough.
We usually play on Saturdays, but we’ll do it on Sundays if we can’t do it at the normal time.

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