The Serpent's Journey

Third Session - The Filler Session

In which long-running mysteries make their debut

The session started with the group hauling their newfound riches aboard the Serpent. Shortly thereafter, the ship started to subtly change: after a few hours, it merely seemed battered and leaky, instead of looking like a complete wreck. (But of course nobody noticed it, because I only noted this information on the ship’s description page, then promptly forgot mentioning it. In my defense, we started our first scene already aboard the Serpent, completely glossing over the breathtakingly exciting logistical issues of hauling a big-ass crate full of gold out from the middle of an underground lake with no convenient exits to the surface.)

(Not like there’s anything wrong with focusing on logistics, mind. In my “campaign ideas I’ll never get to tell” folder I have plans for a group of starting PCs having to deal with the aftermath of a wounded dragon falling onto their home village and burning it halfway down in its death throes, with the PCs possibly getting rich/funding the rebuilding effort from selling the corpse parts to alchemists.)

After securing the loot in the booty room, Fubsy started to rummage through the previous captain’s belongings in order to obtain a fancy hat which would supposedly help him blend in with the Royal Liquor’s clientele. A successful Investigation roll later, he found a worn and salt-encrusted tricorn hat, and a heavily tarnished silver locket. Driven by curiosity, he opened it, but time and the conditions of seafaring travel were not kind to the picture inside: it was largely unrecognizable, with only a hint of lustrous blonde hair rolling off a pale shoulder remaining in one corner. Mildly surprised by the idea that even crazy fishman cultists may have loved ones somewhere, he started to work on getting all that tarnish off the damn thing in the hopes of revealing some information about it. His efforts were rewarded: cleaning the locket revealed deep blue, swirling patterns in the metal itself. Thanks to some unreasonably good rolling, he instantly recognized this as a characteristic of the so-called “deep silver”, mined from the lightless depths of the ocean floor. He also knew that the Principalities of the Trench on the western waters of the Whispering Sea, a unique conglomeration of various undersea races and the humans who live on the islands above them, are home to the unquestionable masters of mining and working with this metal.

(The idea of a special version of a precious metal that can only be obtained from deep underwater has been stolen wholesale from Pathfinder, where it was mainly mined by aboleths and held as sacred by various fish-related humanoid races or something. This is one of the grand total of two usable ideas I’ve managed to find during my cursory reading of the Skull and Shackles adventure path and materials related to it. This experience led me to the conclusion that Pathfinder is a soul-crushingly terrible game.)

Meanwhile, Joxnir’s attention was caught by the locked door on his favorite deck. After failing to find a key for it, he tried to break it down, but the only thing he managed to accomplish was getting everyone down the hold, complaining about the noise. At this point, looking at his companions, a brilliant idea dawned in the wereshark’s mind.

Joxnir: Do I get advantage on my check if I use Igor as a battering ram?
GM: (baffled silence) …Sure.

Ordering Igor to hold still, the barbarian grabbed the servant who was still babbling about how happy it makes him to serve the Masters, took a running start, and smashed him headfirst into the door (roll roll), causing his skull to burst open like an overripe watermelon, raining chunks of bone and brain matter on everyone in the vicinity, but utterly failing to affect said door in any way, shape or form (except by coloring it red).

Fubsy: Wait WHAT?!

At this point, the bard remembered that he wrote “Chaotic Good” on his character sheet even though we don’t use the alignment system, and that this sort of thing probably wouldn’t fly with him around. After winning the initiative roll to see who gets to act first, he zapped Joxnir with a 2nd level Sleep spell, causing him to doze off midway through the charge, hereby saving Igor’s life and inadvertently delaying the party’s exploration of their ship’s capabilities by 6 sessions.

Of course, said Sleep spell normally wouldn’t really have been very effective, thanks to everybody getting max HP for their first three levels, which put the barbarian at a kingly sum of 45, but thanks to his shapeshifting (and therefore damage resistance) being used up by the time of last session’s big fight, and the party forgetting to heal up after being munched on by the sharktopus, he was just in the right range to be plausibly affected by it. Being a ruthless optimizer myself, I have to say, the thought of an NPC’s life being saved by suboptimal play amuses me greatly.

After the crisis has been averted, the PCs realized they were low both on spells and HP, so they decided to go to sleep aboard the creepy ghost ship they just found because that totally sounds like a great idea guys. Strangely enough, nightmares avoided them (for now), but they did have a peculiar shared dream. Sadly, they almost completely forgot about it by the time they woke up – they could only recall an image of looking at the Sun hovering barely above the horizon, its light reflected by the waves in a display of crystalline brilliance, and in the distance, among jagged rocks jutting out of the water, something emerald glinting above sea level.

With his shapeshifting capabilities renewed, Joxnir realized he can hulk out to gain free advantage on his attempts to break down the door. But of course, instead of doing exactly that, he shifted into wereshark form in order to snatch up the cannon on the main deck, carried it down to the hold, and used it as a battering ram, which surely would have granted him advantage if he hadn’t already had it from being in wereshark form.
Of course, by RAW, he would’ve dropped the cannon midway through his journey below as an unfortunate side effect of the rage ending due to not having any enemies nearby. But when one modifies a class ability to grant additional noncombat advantages, like in Joxnir’s case, one makes damn sure said class ability is actually usable out of combat; hence, his shapeshifting lasts for the full minute regardless of circumstances.

Amazingly, thanks to a crit, this time he managed to hit TN 25 and actually break into the room, wherein he found a serpent-headed staff that later came to be known as The Filthy Staff. Asking Igor about it yielded the information that earlier captains could coax lightning blasts out of it, but the hunchback did not know its command word, and nobody had Identify, so the item was given to him for safekeeping until the party figures out how to use it. Igor was obviously overjoyed at being given such a treasured belonging of the Masters, and scurried away happily to deposit it in his cabin.

By this point, I was pretty sure that the one minute duration of the shapeshifting had expired, making Joxnir eminently unlikely to be able to lift the cannon again in order to carry it back to its place. On the other hand, stranding the party with their only cannon in the cargo hold just to force them to burn more resources in order to carry it back, is a bit too… “colorfully antagonistic” for my taste. Would it have been justified? Certainly. Would it have produced interesting gameplay? Nah.

After this issue had been resolved, the group decided to head to the Knowing Hut and get some answers.

Incidentally, this was the session when I’ve finally found an appropriate theme for Escondite, at the recommendation of Joxnir’s player. Enjoy!

Inside, they found a wizened old man in the process of brewing overly spicy tea in a giant cauldron. He introduced himself as Grandpa Turtle, and turned out to be a somewhat senile old sage who tried to steer every discussion towards the logistical issues of acquiring ginger on Escondite. In a lengthy discussion with him, they’ve learned that their ship previously visited the island a few decades back, captained by a certain Severian the Serpent, an adventurer who was said to have journeyed to Hell by sailing the Oversea at the edge of the world, and plundered its depths for sorcerous secrets, making allies with daemons and swearing fealty to the fel masters of that unclean realm. However, when he set foot on the island, the authorities of Escondite caught and imprisoned him, binding the pirate with a chain wrought from moonlight. Word among the prisoners is that his infernal allies turned on him as soon as they realized he can’t escape the bindings and is no longer useful to them, tearing him apart limb from limb.

Further questioning revealed that information from the prison gets outside through Abbess Rosalia, who, along with a few of her fellow nuns, regularly visits those suffering from the dread disease of medusa pox among them, and pray for their condition to improve (which occasionally even happens). Moreover, they found out that the abbess and her entourage belong to the Church of the Devourer’s Sorrow, a small local cult worshipping the healing properties of a gem they claim was a tear shredded by “The Great Devourer”, a creature that annihilates planes of existence whose time has come, always mourning their passing by crying a single tear that holds miraculous powers. Smelling bullshit, Vycarion rolled Religion to see how plausible this whole idea is, and arrived on the conclusion that there’s no scripture in his crazy religion that conflicts with their views, although none that support it either.

In the original module, the Tear belonged to Melora, the Sea Mother, a NG deity of sailors or something. Having already cut out a major subquest, I didn’t want to further disincentivize the characters from trying to accomplish their objective by making the church capital-G Good, hence its transformation into a slightly weird, but essentially harmless apocalyptic cult.

Having learned everything they came here to know, the group departed, but not before dropping the journal full of weird scribbling into the old man’s lap for translation.

Which he promptly failed to do, thereby saving him from horrible-death-by-jamming-a-nearby-sharp-item-into-his-own-eyesockets, something my players immediately predicted would happen if he ever managed to succeed. (They were not entirely wrong.)

After the overly long infodump by somebody who only made actual sense instead of taking a stroll down memory lane for some utterly inconsequential bit of information about half the time, Joxnir decided he needed a drink. Hopefully with dead mammals in it. He also realized the Treasure Trove has been abandoned until arrangements for its reparation could be made, thus he ventured there to steal all their supplies of the terrible stuff. Action followed thought, and he managed to acquire about 20 bottles of it before somebody came to investigate the noises. Expertly avoiding the would-be detectives, the barbarian snuck back aboard the Serpent with his prize, and headed towards Igor’s cabin to order the hunchback to find a place worthy of holding such treasures in the cargo hold. What he did not expect, however, was just how enthusiastic Igor was about his cabin being the new place to house the staff. Opening the door prompted him to roll on the Unspeakable Acts of Worship table to see what’s happening inside, and hit a result so foul it’s been stricken from the annals of actual play. Of this incident, we shall speak no more, only note that it earned the group’s newly acquired magic item “The Filthy Staff” name, and ensured that nobody but Igor ever touched it during the course of the game.

In the meantime, Fubsy decided to visit the local zoo because the promise of fire drakes positively set his imagination ablaze. Scanning the crowd for familiar faces, he noticed Rick the Rough sitting on one of the benches, chilling.

Who actually had a great reason to be here. I have no idea how I could fail to nudge the conversation towards revealing it. Okay, I actually do: it was way past midnight. But still.

They made polite small talk for a while, wherein Rick subtly questioned how reliable Fubsy’s crew is, to which the halfling responded by incendiary comments about the pirate’s mom in the name of getting Inspiration. Rick obviously did not take this well, but failed utterly in smacking him, because NPCs apparently can’t hit an AC of 14, so in the end, they departed semi-amicably. Also, Rick promised to get Fubsy flintlock pistol schematics.

Next up on The Serpent’s Journey:

- Our heroes go to church!
- A duel of fates ensues!
- The group acquires groupies!
- Fubsy effortlessly bypasses a major subquest through the power of Fridge Logic!

Post-session discussion:
Fubsy: Suddenly an idea: I can get a pet drake and ride it into battle!
GM: Indeed you can. Although I’m not sure how you plan on housing it aboard the Serpent, which is made of WOOD.
Fubsy: You’re forgetting one more pillar of Fubsy’s thinking: “What could possibly go wrong?”
Vycarion: FYI if that drake harms the ship, I’m tossing it overboard.
Fubsy: Either both lizards stay… or neither >:-(

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