Table Top Pulp
Today may or may not be a little late, and for that I apologize. We had SNOOOOOOOWmageddon here in the Pacific Northwest, and the (maybe) three inches of snow has more or less ground things to a halt. I pitch a little crap at the area, but the truth is this is a once every few years occurrence, and the infrastructure is too bloody expensive to maintain if you don’t need it for months out of every year. So: snow, schools are closed, kids are home, Dave has two adorable and energetic distractions. On the upside, the house is clean (more or less) and a mess of chores done. But I’ve been having trouble getting to writing. Shockingly. We also have a military buddy staying with us. So things are … a little out of routine.
Okay, I’m going to start this off with a bit of a campaign diary, and then segue into applying gaming principles, and a little bit about the philosophy and nature of table top gaming. The scene is a seaport town in Fantasyland. For unclear reasons, the town itself has remained unravaged by orcish hordes, undead hordes, dragon hoards, or even hordes of adventurers, so it’s fairly good sized. A fearless sea captain periodically visits the town to trade luxuries and items of artifice for raw goods. Specifically, he always picks up several barrels of pickles to trade to the sea elf village offshore for coral gewgaws and such. It’s a lucrative trade, but this trip, his ship wallows into port. As soon as the ship is tied up to the wharf, our intrepid captain escorts a party bearing a litter. Upon that litter rests the form of an injured sea elf. Raw claw wounds strip his limbs, and he’s an even paler shade than he should be. The rough sailors, pale themselves with what they’ve seen, troop up to the town’s temple while the captain eschews the pleasures of the seaside tavern, the Mermaid’s Offer. Instead, he hurries to the Questioning Rat, the landsmen’s public house.
He walks in, ignoring the usual pause on the threshold to be eyed by those drinking their breakfast, and slams a heavy purse on the bar. In a salty voice, he announces he’s hiring adventurers to clear out a sea devil infestation in the sea elf enclave. These sea devils attacked his trading partners, and then his ship, and for livelihood and pride, he wants them done well in. It just happens that a party of ratcatchers (a not uncommon term for adventurers, bravos, roustabouts, and general ne’er-do-wells) has recently formed of those soldiers of fortune looking to strike it rich (or at least lucky) out in the Howling Wilderness. Calling themselves Imminent Domain (TM, subject to change) this hardy crew of callow adventurers (I mean, seriously, first level characters are a big deal in world compared to Ye Olde Industrious Peasant, but hardly a match for more than one goblin) decided to answer the call of adventure. And gold. Mostly gold.
Kitten, the rogue, negotiated successfully for 25% up front, after which, the party and the captain adjourned to the temple to see to the injured elf. The priests had seen to the worst of his wounds, and he’d awoken, so was able to brief the party on just what these sea devils were, and what had actually happened. The monsters are humanoid, looking like an unholy cross between a man, a frog, and a fish. They bear claws and sharp teeth, and hate the light and all land-based life, but they bear a special disdain for the sea elves, and the two have fought for time immemorial. The elf is pleased to hear the adventurers are willing to risk their lives for his people, and signals the captain to pass them a small pouch. In the pouch are a handful of rings. The rings, he explains, will allow them to breathe underwater for three days from the moment they put them on. While the party want to press him for more information, the priests suggest they leave the patient alone, as he is fatigued and in a great deal of pain. Grudgingly, the party complies, and departs behind the captain.
The captain and a group of sailors row them out beyond the breakwater in the ship’s launch, as the the ship itself needs repairs, and those manning the oars are the only ones willing to brave the potential danger. They reach the approximate location, the party slips on the rings, draw their weapons, and slip over the side of the boat. Immediately, they feel a frisson of magic wash over them. Instead of soaking, chill seawater. A bubble of air encases each of their heads, and their feet magically elongate and grow webbing between their newly lengthy toes, allowing them to swim. Almost immediately, they notice a shark swimming a sentry’s path between them and the kelp forest the sea elves cultivate for food and raw materials. The party swims down, and the shark follows, staying between them and forest. They swim up, and it mirrors them. Kitten swiftly draws her bow and fires at the shark, showing that whatever magic keeps them alive and gives them swift movement also allows their weapons to function as above the waves. (Don’t dig too deeply on this one. The game needs to function predictably.)
Markon, their draconic fighter, immediately charges to the attack. The charming bard, one Gilahtren Kethlearmon (knows to his friends as Gil) chants with bardic magic, commenting with cutting wit upon the sharks likely ancestry and habits. While such a spell shouldn’t work on a dumb beast, the shark suddenly experiences a sense of existential doubt, contemplating its choice of companions and prey, allowing Markon to bull his way in and attack with his greataxe and a shout of “Blood for the War God!”
Immediately, a pair of what can only be sea devils surge out of the kelp, followed by another shark. Henrique, the quasi-Cajun paladin of, of- well, we haven’t quite gotten into his creed or deity-of-choice, yet. Anyway, Henrique propels himself headlong at one of the sea devils, and buries his dagger in the bastard’s chest. Their furry companion, Cliff-at-Sunset, a member of the feline Tabaxi species (not the rogue affectionately called Kitten) draws upon the magical forces infusing his body, and struck one of the sea devils with a ray of arcane chill, causing ice to grow thick on the monster’s joints and slow its movements. The party proceeds to take their ambushers apart, leaving a bloody cloud floating in the water. Along with disparate body parts.
After a rest in the concealment of the kelp forest, the party advances upon the sea elf village. The party performs a stealthy circuit of the enclave. The settlement is built onto a mound on the sea floor. Stacks stones form the huts of the sea-going fey, sloping up to a clear space at the summit of the undersea hill. Crowning this space is a small temple. The landward side is covered in blue stones, while the seaward one is covered in green ones. Two motionless figures stand guard outside the door in the seaward wall, but they are the only signs of life the party sees. Our heroes advance.
The party is unusually quiet in their approach, watchful for another ambush as they move through the abandoned streets. Kitten, unfamiliar with movement underwater, curses as she dislodges several lose stones from one of the huts, bringing momentary levity to the otherwise deadly serious endeavor. Fortunately for our heroes, Kitten’s pause allows her to catch sight of three figures lurking in a nearby hut, and identify them as waiting sea devils. She motions to the rest of the party, who take up positions to ambush the ambusher, then she moves to where she can see in the open door, and fires an arrow at one, initiating combat.
The first sea devil surges out the hut’s window, but Gil casts an illusion of Kitten crouched atop a nearby hut, causing the monster momentary confusion. The other two sea devils burst out of the door, into the waiting axe of the draconic Markon. Henrique carves open the chest of one with his wickedly sharp dagger. Looks like all those years gutting fish paid off. The third sea devil flees, but Cliff-at-Sunset takes the high ground- er, water, and gives it pause with a well-aimed ray of frost. The rest of the party chases it down and Henrique swims in close, drubbing it over the head with his dagger hilt. They quickly bind the sea devil and drag it into a nearby hut for interrogation. The creature doesn’t give up much once they waken it, but it does mention a priestess, and a sacrifice, and “once the ritual is complete, we shall feast on elf-flesh.” Typical braggadocio, but a new sense of urgency galvanizes our heroes. Putting thought to deed, Markon splits the monster’s skull with his axe, pointing out that no enemy be left alive behind them. Considering the creature’s teeth and claws, the party agrees, though with some reservations.
Our heroes turn to the waiting temple, dappled with sunlight through the surging waves above. They quickly formulate a plan. Gil will use his bardic illusions to give the impression a massive elven host are attacking, led by the most famous elf anybody can think of. Markon and Henrique will kick in the door unguarded by sentinels, and Kitten and Cliff will sneak in one of the side entrances to take the distracted ritualists in the flank.
Their cunning plan lasts until Gil swims over the roof of the temple and realizes it’s transparent. He quickly takes in the disclosed details, but has to dodge quickly out of sight, as one of the sea devils inside looks up as the bard’s shadow passes over it. Armed with new intelligence, he reports back to the company, giving them more details. Everyone agrees that the plan is still on, but the bard should be more careful about not giving everything away. Gil, somewhat crestfallen, earnestly agrees.
The Plan starts without a hitch. Gil amplifies and throws his voice, shouting in elvish for the attack to commence from the seaward entrance. The sea devils guarding the ritual immediately swim for the south entrance. Markon and Henrique kick the north doors in. Kitten opens the side entrance, and things start to fall apart. A klaxon sounds, and a cloud of black ink immediately stains the water. Cliff-at-Sunset reacts in time, and casts a spell that pulls the ink out of the small temple antechamber past them, leaving the rogue a clear shot down the hallway. The sea devil guards are chagrined, and swim to the north entrance while the priestess at the altar hisses and raises her dagger over the form of a bound and gagged elf. The party is shocked to find out that the priestess looks just like a sea elf, but for sharp teeth and slightly scaly skin.
Cliff-at-Sunset casts his spell again, pushing open the door from the hallway into the temple proper, and Kitten fires an arrow at the priestess, who is struck and shrieks in a corrupted form of elvish. One sea devil guard moves to block the doorway, while two more move to block Markon and Henrique. The fight devolves into a general melee as Gil swims down from the rooftop to lend his sword and spell. Our heroes defeat the guards, to include a pair of small, vicious, and distracting fish that they had at first discounted. The priestess attempts to complete the sacrifice, but Henrique dives headlong toward her, providing a needed interruption in the nick of time. She starts shrieking in a language none can understand, words that twist the mind, and a wave of magic surges at the paladin, but he calls upon his god, and the dark sorcery falters. In the face of the implacable adventurers, the dark priestess flees the altar. Before she can reach the door, Henrique snags her with the net he thoughtfully purchased before the adventure commenced. Not to be outdone, and not trusting sorcerous priestesses, Cliff-at-Sunset hurls a bolt of chaotic, raw magic, which strikes the priestess full in the face. She screams, and her eyes turn opaque and roll back in her head while her back arches in agony.
Come to find out, the priestess was a plant. Every once in a long while, a sea devil births a spawn who looks almost exactly like a sea elf, raising any number of uncomfortable questions. The elf bound upon the altar is found to be an ambassador from the local elven forest, and advance emissary for the very elf Gil used to deceive the sea devils. The heroes are feted, and feasted, and sent home. Kitten claims the dagger the now-dead sea devil priestess left behind, as none of the sea elves are happy to have it remain near them. Our heroes return home tired, replete, and wealthier than when they left.
Okay, this is dragging on, for which I apologize. I’m going to write up my analysis and conclusions, and I’ll be posting that next week. From the road, where Clan Dave will be as we head to LTUE in a week and a half. I hope you enjoyed this, part the first.