Soanso's Serpent's Skull Campaign

Serpent's Skull: Prologue
prologue

It is the 19th of Erastus, high summer for the Inner Sea region of Golarion. The Jenevire works its way from Senghor towards Eleder, the capital of Sargava. The grueling and monotonous four-month voyage is nearly finished; it is in fact the 100th day at sea.

A pallid and hoarse Captain Kovack has called a feast to celebrate the occasion. Having harpooned a large blue-finned swordfish himself, he assures his passengers Chef Terillo will be serving something other than his usual ‘creations’ this evening. Some are tuning their meager musical instruments while others rearrange gear and papers for their arrival on the mainland. The ship is buzzing with the excitement and activity typical to the last week at sea.

First mate Alton Devers calls for a ship’s muster! This parade of both the finer and essential duties and functions of the crew and the vessel herself is but a bit of formality for the passengers. The Jenevire is scrubbed top to bottom and ready for her arrival in Eleder. At the end of the tour, he smiles and shouts,

“On behalf of myself and Captain Alizandru Kovack, your attendance is requested for a Topside feast, provided by the crew of the Jenevire to celebrate one hundred days at sea. May the wind be at your back, and your forks be in your hands!”

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Session One: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv

The Jenevire is celebrating 100 days at sea; she will dock in Eleder, Sargava, within the week. Captain Kovack has personally speared a swordfish for the occasion, inviting all his passengers and- on this rare occasion two crew members- to a feast.

The passengers include Ayeris Mavato, Gelik Aberwhinge,Ieana, Ishirou, Sasha Nevah, Acemodius, Arendel Whisperson, Max “Little” Hammer, the Varisian barbarian Chumbawumba, and the quiet aasimar T’ar Roddan.

The captain gives a toast to the crew and passengers of the Jenevire. T’ar Roddan notices first that the fish is hot and sandy, and that someone is kicking his shins under the table.

He awakens on a beach, boxes stacked neatly ten feet away, with a horrid lobster-scorpion crossbreed nipping at him! In turn the castaways awaken and make short work of the predators.

They are marooned on a sad stretch of sand… yet they are not alone. Someone has brought them ashore, evidenced by the marks of a longboat in the soft sand. Five other passengers are also on the beach, but the captain, crew- and as observant eyes notice, Ieana- are missing on the beachhead. The wreck of the Jenevire is sighted in the shallows, and the group quickly falls into survival mode.

The ship is explored, and the bodies of first mate Alton Devers and the cook Terillo are found. Devers has died from sea-scorpion poison, but had sustained severe sword wounds. The cook seems to have been killed by a giant snake, also poisoned. The explorers find a cache of potions, brandy, gold, and keys- and the ship’s log. They also manage to secure tools, food, and water. They also recover what would appear to be the manacled cleric’s belongings.

After a short debate, Jask Derindi is set free and returned his gear. He, along with Gelik and Ishirou, fall to setting up a base camp. Ayeris remains aloof, half drunk and verbally abusive, spending most of her time hunched over on a solitary rock in the bay. Sasha seems unable, or unwilling, to grasp the severity of the situation. Her fascinations seem almost manic in their proclivities.

A short exploratory jaunt is compared to maps found in the captain’s desk, and the survivors have a vague idea of where they may be. They craft a plan to travel down the eastern coast of the island, towards what seems to be a small river; all good explorers realize the importance of potable water. Yet all good explorers also realize that the best laid intentions may often fall short…

Having fought only a small amount of aggressive sea-scorpions, the survivors realize that much danger awaits in the fetid jungles of Smuggler’s Shiv.

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Session Two: Soul's for Smuggler's Shiv

The party decides to spend one last night in the shadow of what was once the Jenevire. Gelik tells the tale of the Nightvoice, a Pathfinder Society vessel lost somewhere in Desperation Bay. His tale is interrupted by three hungry eurypterids, which are quickly dispatched.

Sasha harvests mussels and also finds Ace’s mule wandering in the low surf. Ayeris Mavato confesses she struggles with alcoholism, and wishes no ill for her fellow castaways, vowing to help defend the camp as best she can. Ishirou and Jask are reserved but not unfriendly, tending to camp duties.

The group breaks camp the next morning, deciding to move nearer fresh water. After a brief run-in with a pack of feral goats, the group spends the rest of the day striking a new base camp.

The night passes uneventfully, but the castaways all experience strange dreams tied to their last night aboard the Jenevire. Camp is invaded by a troop of cobras, whose damage is minimal.

While exploring the eastern coastline, the party comes across the hollow hull of an elven corsair, the Golden Bow. This old wreck turns out to be the lair of a pack of zombies and their skeleton cousins. Chumba and Max again lead the others into the foray, and the group finds a small cache of loot among the rotting timbers of the once-fine Elven ship.

Following a ridge to a sheltered cove, they come across what seems to be a makeshift camp, recently abandoned. Refuse in the camp as well as a tricorn hat and several brightly colored silk scarves lead the group to surmise they have found evidence that others survived the wreck, likely Captain Kovack and Ieana. There are drag marks from a longboat in the sand, but no sign of the vessel. Footprints lead the group into the jungle where a game trail leads to the beach on the northern edge of the Shiv’s “sheltered” bay.

The trail ends in a clearing partially shaded by banyan trees. A lone figure stands in the center of what seems to be another, albeit older, makeshift camp, with driftwood frames covered in sailcloth. The unresponsive figure is an odd-looking zombie, which Arendel identifies as a yellow musk zombie. After dealing with this floral abomination, the group explores the abandoned camp, finding nothing but old bloodstains, an obvious sign of past conflict.

It is now 10 am, 25 Erastus

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Session 3: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv
new grammatically correct title

“Ocean’s Five”

The castaways of the Jenevire have split into 2 groups, one half staying at base camp, the other half exploring the Shiv. The group finds itself in a dusty clearing. A sickly, yellowed plant sits in the center, surrounded by four humanoids, similar to the one found in the abandoned camp. The group works the zombies out, though the yellow musk creeper manages to strike Chumba with a noxious spray of spores, compelling the Varisian to its clutches. The vile plant is finally destroyed, releasing the barbarian from its gruesome intentions, though she seems a bit daft after the battle.

While tracking the Captain and Ieana, the group follows a game trail; Max falls victim to a crude but effective trap- a tripwire across the path triggered a snare attached to a bent tree, yanking him into the treetops against a bank of sharpened stakes, maiming the stoic fighter. His companions work to lower him down, and Taraz heals him. Another strange incongruity…

The explorers come upon a second abandoned camp, this one seems to have been better constructed, with sturdy huts still standing, with only minor damage to the structures, Fanning out, doors are opened and corners inspected; KS beckons Ace to his side, pointing to a gruesome sight: The national symbol of Cheliax crudely painted upon a shanty wall, a dozen human teeth pounded into the wood at its center. The medium appears to be blood-on-driftwood, suggesting something more sinister than death by disease or nature happened here. There is little else to salvage, though a silver plate with the inscription “Bearded Harpy” on the reverse is found.

Finding and deciding to explore the remnants of the Bearded Harpy- an old Chelish frigate- incurs the wrath of strange, half-simian, half-cod beasts of legend, ningyos. These small, piranha-like terrors are dispatched and a small amount of treasure found.

The explorers spot another sizable shipwreck, the Scallywag. Their presence aboard the ship rankles a trio of small pterosaurs, dimorphodons. A search of the hold reveals a nest from which 3 eggs are taken. Someone’s got Sasha Nevah on the brain…

While striking camp for the night, Arendel and Max notice an odd-shaped bundle high in a tree. Assuming it is the prey of a great cat, Max nonetheless shimmies up the tree to examine the oddity. It is in fact the carcass of a jungle goat, with two large puncture wounds in its neck. The animal’s body is drained of blood. Several theories are bantered about, and a decision is made to return to base camp the following day to regroup and resupply. Perhaps the others have stories to tell, too.

The wreck of the Windwar, a nondescript Sargavan merchant hauler, turns out to be the lair of Giant Crabs. Seth is invoked, and the giant crabs are defeated.

On the way back, a 90-foot long wreck is spotted wedged between some jagged rocks. It is mostly intact, with a green-caked brass figurehead…. From Jask’s descriptions, this could well be the Brine Demon, the ship he claims holds evidence which may clear his name with the Sargavan government.

These fated castaways have now spent a full week stranded on Smuggler’s Shiv, and as the days pass, more things seem to stand out as oddities rather than happenstance: Tazar’s sighting of ghostly figures beckoning him to the sea one night, the uneasy feeling of being scryed, a blood-drained carcass in the trees, a simple but effective snare along the game trail, and the apparent survival of Captain Kovack, and perhaps Ieana, seem to leave “Ocean’s Five” with the feeling that all is not what it seems on this cursed isle.

It is now 26 Erastus.

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Session 4: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv
exploring the Shiv

“Money Pit”

The Brine Demon has been spotted upon the group’s return to base camp. They decide to investigate, remembering that the cleric of Nethys, god of magic and balance, asked them to search it for evidence that may clear his name. It seems that Jask may have spoken the truth, as the castaways discovered a human skeleton grasping a waterproof darkwood coffer.

Along with a magic dagger and a gold locket, several ledgers and journals detail a skimming operation involving Sargavan authorities and several pirates of the Shackles, taking money from the tithes and taxes paid to the Free Captains by Sargava for protection from Chelish aggressions. Chumba suggests opening the gold locket, and inside is the striking miniature portrait of a red-haired half-elf, and is inscribed with the name “Aeshamara.” The return to camp is almost hindered by two large diamond-head boa constrictors, but Max and Chumba literally waste them both in about 6 seconds.

The party returns to camp to re-supply and check in with the other castaways. Jask studies the ledgers, and relates a bit of his past- he had been arrested in Cheliax for crimes against the Sargavan government, likely by the mid-level officials named in the ledgers. He had been hired to conduct clandestine investigations into this sordid affair by an independent council. He also has tended to Ayeris, laid low by withdrawals from alcohol. He knows of a fruit that aids with these symptoms, the luscious viper nettle berry, found clustered at the heart of enormous tangled, thorny vines.

Ishirou has been maintaining the camp’s defense, and pulls Taraz and Arendel aside to ask their advice on a southern palisade that is constantly battered by a wayward wind from the south. He points to a bald plateau, and tells them that he collects treasure maps, and one in particular seems to indicate this rise as a potential site. An especially dastardly pirate named Quellig supposedly buried his treasure here, but died before he could recover it. He nods to Taraz, calling him “a brother of misfortune,” and hopes that anything found, if it is indeed a treasure site, can help him ease the suffering of others.

Sasha is very excited about her “present,” a dimorphodon egg retrieved from a shipwreck. She promises to take very good care of her new, exotic pet.

At taps, both Sasha and Jask offer their companions insightful training as a boon for their hard work so far on the Shiv.

As Ace and Kay’ess keep watch, a ghostly, half-decayed and dripping wet pirate rises from the campfire, pointing a hook at the summoner. “You! You took Aeshamara! Scoundrel! Thief! Betrayer!” The commotion alerts the camp and all are generally fraught with the incorporeal captain’s presence. He focuses his rage on Arendel, while calling out, “Turncoats! Mutineers! I’ll swab the deck with ye!” and other such piratey phrases. Recognizing the name “Aeshamara” and ghost’s general desire to be laid to rest for eternity, Arendel pops the locket open, very afraid-like. The ghost of Kinkarian, captain of the Brine Demon, whose skeleton was found aboard, reaches his remaining hand to the locket, and sighs a ghostly sigh as a rush of wind draws the spirit away. It seems his final attempts to gaze upon his beloved one last time are finally realized.

The next day, Jask teaches the casters a set of mantras to help them keep focused while casting spells in battle, and Sasha teaches the Varisians several spot-and-listen techniques to keep them ready for combat.

A pair of monitor lizards strikes camp during training, and is dispatched. Realizing that Ishirou’s map requires the group to be upon the hill at dawn, and with one day gone for training, the group decides to rest quickly before heading out to the treasure site.

Under a full moon, the castaways leave camp and finally meet another group of humanoids. Unfortunately, these humans are half-naked, wielding weapons and bent on eating their combatants. The battle is tense but the 6 cannibals are defeated. A thorough search reveals sharpened teeth and ritual scarring, including the pentagram-like symbol painted in blood in a deserted shack, eerily reminiscent of the nation of Cheliax. Ace and Kay’ess are somewhat enthralled in combat, as they pick up a few Infernal phrases from their assailants, a few references to “Thrune,” the noble Chelish house that Ace is from. The pair also picks up the phrase “Mother Thrune,” though its importance eludes them. Later, a lone ghoul is spotted and destroyed.

The party arrives on the plateau at daybreak. Following the ciphers of Ishirou’s map, the group digs a hole in the ground only to reveal a wooden platform, or plug, and the skeletal remains of a leather armor-clad dwarf. The beard gives him away. Tossing the dwarf aside, debate rages over the next possible course of action. After digging into the soft stone around the plug and finding it likely to be a 10’ square of well-designed wood, akin to a door, it is decided that smashing a hole into the wood to see what lies below is the best course of action. By casting light on a stone and dropping it down the exposed shat, it appears that a 50-60 ft shaft ends in water. The light stone drifts to the bottom and is obscured. The donkey is roused into service and the platform is removed, revealing a worked shaft braced with timber. The group decides to rest out of the high heat before continuing.

While resting, they knot the 150’ rope they brought, dividing them into two 75’ sections. Securing the ropes to a log used to pull the plug, KS is first to descend. As Chumba follows, her human-stank attracts 2 lacedons, aquatic ghouls. They feverishly attack, but once the majority of treasure hunters lands in the waist-deep water, these ghouls have no chance. KS then explores the submerged tunnel from which the lacedons entered.

After swimming a short tunnel, he surfaces again and is faced with an enormous treasure chest, Quellig’s treasure. It is summarily dragged out and unsuccessfully opened. Max decides to simply break it open, wrecking the lock but nonetheless spilling coins, jewels, foul-smelling clothes, a scroll tube, a darkwood buckler, and a cold iron shortsword on the ground.

The sun begins to set upon the intrepid treasure hunters, their 9th day stranded on Smuggler’s Shiv.

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Session 5: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv
Bird is the Word

After resting at the site of Quellig’s treasure pit, the explorers are again beset by cannibals, bearing similar ritual markings as the last band. Three are slain, but one manages to escape into the jungle, and is not pursued by the defenders. Each barbarian is wearing a crude necklace bearing a blood-red pearl. Ace decides to wear one, still intrigued by the mention of ‘Thrune’ in the last band’s pidgin Infernal rantings. What Ace hopes to discover is between him and his unsettling companion, Kay’ess.

Returning to camp, the explorers warn the others of the presence of cannibals. Ishirou is offered a full share of Quellig’s treasure, but he keeps only the cold iron short sword. His usually placid facade seems momentarily broken by the explorers’ kind gesture of a just and fair reward; he relates a brief and hasty history behind his treasure map fetish.

Gelik has been writing in his journal, and seems positive but antsy, ready to move on to a potential rescue. He wishes the explorers well in their travels, and returns to his writing.

Sasha trains the casters for one day in the art of surprise, but only after Chumba promises to watch over her dimorphodon egg.

The explorers then decide to take the western shore route, walking past the camp where the yellow musk zombie was encountered. They pass by a trail blazed into the jungle, likely a game trail, defeat some giant crabs, and happen upon a huge crab smack in the middle of a sandy beach. Giant claws flailing, coupled with an unearthly wailing not unlike the koan of a ghost or a dying man, the explorers cautiously approach the monstrous crab. Through further, tense observation, the crab appears to be in all likelihood the marionette of some deranged puppeteer.

“I already got one!” they hear echoing from the carapace. “I told him we already got one!”

Arendel cautiously approaches the monstrosity and identifies the group. A small door opens and a ravenesque tengu appears from the crab’s body. His name is Pezock, and he has been marooned on Smuggler’s Shiv for five years. He invites the group in for tea, and though somewhat maddened by his isolated predicament, offers the group several pointers regarding the Shiv. He mentions the Girl in the Tree, the Quiet Island, and that the cannibals take no heed of him. He also mentions that he’s seen a man and woman wandering the isle, independent of the group.

His farewell includes the warning to ‘watch out for bodies, falling from the sky.’ When pressed, he mentions it is likely the Dragon Child, but he has no need or want to further investigate the phenomenon.

The explorers decide to explore the ‘Quiet Island’, and along the way Chumba expertly collects viper nettle berries, which are nutritious and effective at treating withdrawal symptoms.

Encamped within a stone’s throw of what Pezock described as the Quiet Island, the 5 see that the half-mad birdman was correct- nothing grows on the island, but it is covered in a gray, fungal vegetation. There are no birds in the sky, and other than the crashing surf, the island is eerily silent.

Hitching the donkey to a tree at the viper nettle site, the explorers traverse the slippery rocks and arrive on the muted island. The gray fungal growths seem to wriggle and ripple even when there is no breeze present, and the whole place smells of foul decay. Further examination is interrupted by a squad of small, silent humanoids seemingly made of the same gray fungus which coats the island. They prove to be pesky adversaries, but the vegepygmies are dispatched. The 5 now must decide to either press on or rest and strategize how to approach this wierd island and its silent denizens.

It is mid-morning, day 13 stranded on Smuggler’s Shiv.

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Session 6: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv
Sands in the Hourglass

“It’s been damned near 2 weeks we’ve been stranded on this wretched island, though I must say I cannot complain too loudly as to the accommodations. The others have set to keeping us sheltered and fed, while I have done my best to keep spirits up around here. Tough crowd, though. I guess the comedic tropes of the gnomes don’t translate well to human ears. I really thought that shady Tian was going to run me through; luckily the crooked cleric intervened. Lesson learned- don’t insult a swordsman with no appreciation of highbrow humour. I’ve since clipped my tongue, waiting for the Saviors of the Shiv to return; I only hope that my memory was correct and they aren’t off on a wild kobold chase for the Nightvoice. Ames was a hell of a chap, and a great captain, to boot. If it was here he was lost, I hope to at least bring his name- and his fellow Pathfinders’- to light, so they can be inscribed on the Wall. He was one of the few that stood by me when I was under scrutiny; a deed I can only hope to repay.” – G. Aberwhinge, 29 Erastus 4711

After a brief skirmish with a band of fungal monstrosities, the explorers decide to rest and strategize. The morning brings a new-found strength and determination, and the adventurers set off to explore the wreck on the eastern part of the island. While the ship appears to be intact, it is in fact covered in the same gray, almost colorless fungus that permeates the silent island. What appear to be fungal ropes stretch from the ship’s deck to the mainland; finding these fibers surprisingly strong, the group passes onto the top deck. Max, distrustful of all things moldy, picks his way across the kelp-choked rocks to the ship’s bow, where he wipes away the mold to discover that it is the Nightvoice, the lost Pathfinder ship Gelik had mentioned.

Below deck, the explorers find a tribe of mold-men, more vegepygmies like those encountered the day before. They and their leader are dispatched, and a thorough search of the ship turns up the captain’s log, a brown moldy mess in what is assumed to have been his quarters, and the horrific- and rarely encountered- vegepygmy ancestor worship site. Nineteen piles of neatly stacked bones, each ringed with bits of metal, coins, teeth, and other bits of ephemera occupy the hold. A wand, bracers, potion, and coinage are summarily packed away by the adventurers.

Circling the small atoll, a cave mouth is spotted atop a spire of rocks to the west. Another set of fungal ropes create a crude bridge to the site. The cave entrance is lined with bits of glass, shells, and other trinkets, as if these small baubles are offerings to a god. A low, eerie and inhuman moan can be heard echoing in the cavern. With a sickening wet peeling sound, a vaguely humanoid figure covered in a purplish fungus rises from its torpor to feed upon its latest sacrifices. Max takes a brutal hit to his physical well-being, but the slow, almost humanoid atrocity is killed before it can do further damage. The adventurers return to the island where they left the donkey to recuperate. In the morning, they can see visible signs that the fungus blight is already receding.

Returning to the main island, another shipwreck is spotted and explored. A small pack of zombies is given eternal freedom, and a search of the area uncovers a silver holy symbol of the god Achaekek (pronounced uh-CHAY-kek), patron god of the Red Mantis, with whom Sasha is suspected to have ties. Pezock is again encountered, and reassures the party that the Lady in the Tree is for real a dryad, and suggests they check out his old encampment. They do, finding a lot of broken weapons littering the ground, nest-like structures built into the branches of trees, and Max finds a fine dagger with the symbol of the Red Mantis on the blade. It is nonmagical, but very sharp and pointy.

Finally returning to base camp, the group helps Gelik overcome his fear of spores to cull information from the logbook. It is indeed Havner Ames’ log, and is full of information about the fate of his crew, and possibly himself. The Cocopalm seed they thought to have found on a brief stopover was in fact a deadly fungal pod that inflicted the crew with russet mold and then re-closed, pulsing with foul life. The captain crashed the ship, and then climbed to the top of the rock spire to deposit the foul seed, to keep it from humanity forever; the same location where the violet horror was met. Jask hastily received the nettle berries, eager to treat his patient. It is now just past dusk, 16 days stranded on Smuggler’s Shiv. Gelik stokes the fire; Ishirou and Sasha keep watch, the adventurers rest their bones and enjoy monkey stew, courtesy of Sasha (and perhaps a liberal sprinkling of prestidigitation by Gelik.)

“This disgusting tome! Ach, even its stench is enough to drive one mad! It is indeed Havner’s handwriting, and listening to the explorers tell of the island where they found the wreck assures me that Ames was not a treasonous legionnaire, but a good man who did what was best for us all. But the wizard’s description of the vile abomination in the cave, it sounds like the feared violet fungus, but touched by some deeper evil… There is something amiss on this island, too much chaos, too much sorrow in the bones of the soil itself.” – G. Aberwhinge, 5 Arodus 4711.

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Session 7: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv
(say that 5 times fast!)

The explorers head back into the jungle in search of the “girl in the tree,” suspected to be a dryad. Meeting little resistance, they arrive at the base of a large banyan tree, surrounded by others as if the smaller trees were supplicants of the large one. Aycenia, a dryad, approaches the party and thanks them for ending the blight of the Silent Isle. Her reward is the offer of healing and knowledge whenever the party needs it.

They learn from her that there is a ruined lighthouse to the south, inhabited by the cannibal tribe they have already encountered. They also learn that the cannibals have been on the island for nearly three-quarters of a century. She also knows of the Red Mountain Devil to the east, a bloodthirsty winged hunter on the Shiv. She also tells them that there is a sense of pervasive evil in the very soil of Smuggler’s Shiv. The party rests in her grove, deciding to approach the cannibal camp the next day.

Embarking at dawn, the explorers decide to search the wreck in the harbor, from which only a mast protrudes. Quaffing a potion of water breathing, the group finds a ship stripped to the tacks under the ocean, but identify it as the Thrune’s Fang, one of the lost ships from the Chelish armada that tried to retake Sargava nearly 75 years ago. Deciding to recon the lighthouse base from across the bay, it is difficult to see any activity through the foliage, and the group decides to cautiously approach the camp.


“Klorak, there is one to see you now.”
“Who be him?”
“Tatum, returned from the hunt.”
“Show him in.” Sheyla drew the curtain aside, and the strong warrior bowed low before his chieftain. The regent waved his hand, dismissing his consorts from the room.
“It is as Darusk predicted, Klorak. Ten survivors have moved to the old assassin camp, and half make their way here.”
Klorak swirled the potable in his goblet. “You have seen them?”
“Yes, Klorak, and they bear weapons, and a strange beast. They can breathe like fish, as they explored the Tomb. Perhaps they are a gift from the Mother.”
“If they are the ones that killed Darusk’s hunters, they are not a gift but a curse. Prepare the camp, and send me the hag.”
“Yes, Chief.” Tatum bowed low, loathe to summon the tired old woman, but he knew his place. For now.
He trotted past the campfire towards the old woman’s warren. As he approached the gate, the eerie skeletons rattled their broken scimitars against the wood in warning. Tatum bellowed into the air, “His Mightiness Klorak the Red seeks the counsel of Malikadna, Dame of the Mother and Keeper of our Salvation!” A few moments passed before the old woman appeared. Her vile, chattering companion sat upon her shoulder, munching on berries, the blood-red juice staining his white maw. The monkey grinned wickedly at Tatum, baring his crimson-stained teeth.
“What does that inbred fool need now?” she asked.
“His Mightiness seeks your counsel, Dame. The slayers of Darusk’s hunters approach.”
The old woman raised a crusty eyebrow, and smiled a wicked, broken smile. “Mother will have her dinner tonight then, won’t she?”

*

Max sneaks down the path into the camp, followed by Kay’es, who inadvertently snaps a twig, farts, and sneezes at the same time. Alerted to the intruders, a hectic melee ensues. The camp is sprawling and well-defended. Javelins hurtle down from the treetops as the explorers scramble for positions; blood-smeared warriors erupt from every door and path. Max, Arendel, and Taraz find themselves besieged by a few cannibals at the skeleton cage, which is opened by a foul old woman who tries to spook Max, who barely escaped the powerful gaze of her evil eye. He goes toe-to-toe with the crone, but she makes quick work of him with a draining wand. Arendel’s timely use of scorching ray and the oracle’s powerful healing keep the burly Varisian on his feet. The witch is knocked down and kept down by the wizard and oracle.

Meanwhile, Chumba, Kay’es and Ace wade neck-deep in crazed cannibals, as more seem to pour from every building. Ace uses the grease spell to keep the crazed natives confined, and Chumba makes quick work of them. The chief emerges from a door near the lighthouse, and his consorts enter the fray. Klorak announces himself, and declares the intruders sacrifices to the Mother. By now, Max has made his way towards this portion of the fracas, and Ace’s grease spells literally bottleneck the cannibals, who fall quickly to the Varisian and the Shoanti.

The sun begins to fade on day 18, 8 Arodus 4711 AE, stranded on Smuggler’s Shiv. Even the canopy is silent as the bruised warriors gather together, bracing themselves in the quiet of the cannibal camp.

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Session 8: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv
"corrected spelling" version

Taking a brief moment to recuperate from the battle, the explorers notice the camp is eerily quiet. Fanning out to investigate reveals some clues as to the cannibals’ origins and daily lives. Jask the cleric is sent posthaste to round up the other survivors. A large but ultimately worthless pile of goods found in the lighthouse indicates that this was indeed the last refuge of the Thrune’s Fang crew, and their subsequent offspring. bits of pottery, rotten books, broken furniture, tarnished and battered candelabra, ruined clothing, and the large figurehead carved in the likeness of Asmodeus are all distinctly Chelish in origin and craft. A small hut belonging to the fell witch was explored and several potions and alchemical items found.

Exploring the top of the lighthouse reveals an incomplete light reflector; though the party surmised most of what would be needed to fix it could be scavenged. Arendel uncovered a hole at the base of the lighthouse, with wooden stakes fastening ropes of vine, hemp, and other fibrous materials coiled neatly beside. The remaining survivors arrived shortly after dusk, taking up defensive positions and exploring the ruined lighthouse themselves.

The morning brought the intrigue of the shaft, which the group quickly descended. The entrance opened to the cave’s bone-littered floor. Following the winding cave tunnel brings the party to a large cavern with an uneven ceiling, and six pod-like alcoves in the northwestern wall. They are set upon by foul undead, a rare but hazardous pair of festrogs, known to be covered with foul pustules that burst upon bladed sword or sharpened claw. These feral, humanoid near-ghouls are brought down. The alcoves are explored, but only moldering mats of straw and sailcloth are found, and a bowl of brackish water at each pod.

The explorers head through the passageway south, where they end up in a cistern-like room with a shallow pool of water at the center. Perched on the narrow, winding ledges is a pair of lacedons, who move quickly to engage their newest meal. The ghouls cause little harm, and the group chooses the first of two passages along the eastern ledge.

The short passageway opens into what looks like an ancient, dark temple with a serpentine motif. Wall carvings depict snakes walking upright, snakes coiled around and eating human women and children, and other strange scenes. Large columns support the ceiling, and are also carved in the shapes of coiled serpents. Dominating the southern portion of the temple is an eight-foot high pile of bones, flesh, and partially decayed bodies in the shape of a coiled snake. Two more ghouls emerge from behind the horrific statue, and are dispatched.

Arendel finds a scrap of leather armor. Written in blood he finds what appears to be Captain Kovack’s confession. Claiming he was dominated by the scholar Ieana, who was a ‘serpentine demon in a Varisian’s skin,’ he purposely wrecked the Jenevire, followed her to this island, and was subsequently abandoned here to succumb to ghoul fever and die. He implores anyone finding this to destroy what he has become and also to seek her out at Red Mountain, her seeming destination.

The door in the north wall opens, and a wall of darkness beseeches the group to join it in everlasting life. Not one to immediately rebuff dark offers, KS rushes what he can see that the humans do not; a ghoul with minions. Undead minions. She wears an amulet, and directs her “children” to attack. KS takes the brunt of the first assault, becoming paralyzed by the ghoul’s bite attack. Taraz dispels the magical darkness and Arendel hits her with a scorching ray. Chumba and Max wade into the fracas, while Ace removes KS and summons an octopus to grapple the ghoul. Max is paralyzed by the ghoul’s bite, and Chumba takes several hits before the foul undead family fans out to attack the non-smashy-wielding party members. Max’s paralysis wears off and he able to defeat the ghoul “mother” and Chumba paints the cathedral columns with ghoul parts. Having expended a tremendous amount of resources in the difficult battle, the group heads back to rest, and returns in the morning to continue exploring the foul temple.

Max finds the northern door caked in ash, and several empty vials on the ground. The door is unlocked, and he opens it to reveal a low stone altar, also carved in a serpentine motif. The walls contain more ancient, unsettling carvings depicting more images of the anthropomorphic serpents using pointed stone megaliths to work incredible feats of magic- turning human armies into zombies, calling down flaming lightning bolts from the sky, and parting the waters to dash human ships upon the exposed sea floor.

This last pictogram and Aklo inscription seems to have been recently cleaned and the inscriptions traced with either ink or blood. It reads:

“To Command the Very Tides to Rise Up and Eschew What Lies Below: Empower the Four Sentinel Runes with the Blood of a Thinking Creature Tempered by the Kiss of a Serpent’s Tongue. Anoint the Tide Stone with Waters Brought from the Sea in a Vessel of Purest Metal. Invoke the Lord’s Sacred Name to Wrap His Coils around the Sea Itself that He Might Lay Bare What Lies Below and Cast Down Your Enemies on the Waves above.”

Arendel recognizes the carvings depict Smuggler’s Shiv, and a smaller carving depicting the ceremony described in the writings bears resemblance to Red Mountain.

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Session 9: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv
Forgotten secrets turn in the surf

Returning to the caves below the lighthouse, the company continues exploration. A few more ghouls are destroyed, and it is discovered that the god behind the rituals depicted in the forgotten temple’s inner sanctum is Ydersius, a serpentfolk god long lost to history. Pictograms in the foul nest of what could only have been “Mother Thrune” depict a headless, enormous serpentfolk figure. Returning to the surface, Arendel is able to help the other castaways find the necessary items to complete the lighthouse. All signs point to Red Mountain, and the explorers depart without delay.

Camping about halfway between the lighthouse and the mountain, two axiomatic events occur- first, the beating of leathery wings is accompanied by a blood-drained cannibal carcass being dropped into the campfire. Hours later, lightning flashes and thunder erupts in the otherwise clear sky. The explorers knew that Red Mountain had to be the source of calamity.

Approaching the shore via a game trail, another body is dumped at the feet of the explorers, and the bearer is ready to fight. The winged, bloodthirsty terror swoops in and upon the group, whose meager range attacks did little more than annoy it. Toying with a set of summoned eagles, the Red Mountain Devil focuses its attacks on the meatiest prey, dodging deadly magic and the troublesome tanglefoot bags tossed its way. It is eventually taken down, though, after one too many trips to the well. The group found the abomination’s home, and within, a fair bounty for the fight.

They then turned their attention to the set of megaliths surrounding a low stone pyramid, as was depicted on the temple wall two days ago. After rehearsing the ritual as written, Taraz used his own blood to begin the ritual, while Ace summoned the required serpents, and Arendel poured salt water from his metal flask.

The sea fled from the bay as if called by terrible magic most unholy. The sky crackled and burned with electricity, and the waters of the lagoon laid bare a set of heavy stone doors, a slick rock bridge, and a ruined ship.

Approaching the shipwreck, Chumba and Max were greeted by a water mephit calling himself “Captain Ekubus”. He told them of a strange serpentine humanoid who’d passed through recently, and wore a jaunty pirate’s hat. The explorers thanked him and went towards the seaweed-clad doors.

Scraping away the seaweed, Arendel and Taraz were able to identify the carvings as Azlanti in origin- the ancient precursors to modern-day humanity. Further inspection revealed that the horrific scenes depicted were likely in honor of the ancient demigoddess of cannibals and vampires, Zura. The gates creaked open slowly, and the explorers proceeded.

Though slightly damp, the air inside the vault was surprisingly fresh. Four alcoves in the foyer were quickly searched; Kay’ess found a poorly covered trap door in one. The massive stone bridge ahead was guarded by three serpentine humanoid skeletons, who immediately began hurling javelins at the intruders. One even stepped off the bridge and fell forty feet, only to be taken out. Max tied together two 50’ sections of rope and managed to toss it over the bridge, where Chumba grabbed the other end. Taking his cues from Jack the donkey at Quellig’s Treasure Pit, he steadily hauled Chumba up the forty feet to the bridge, as the other combatants made several other strategic moves.

While Chumba battled the serpentfolk, Arendel and Taraz examined the odd bronze doors, which seemed to be weeping blood. While Max labored, Ace offered up spellcasting support to Chumba. Opening the doors revealed two sets of stairs, and both were explored. Arendel fell victim to a pit trap, while the others were able access the bridge and help the barbarian mop the floor.

While Max “helped” Arendel in the pit trap, a few two-foot wide passages were discovered in the pit’s walls. Finally scaling the pit walls, Arendel and Max went to meet up with their mates, but Ace and KS had triggered another pit trap, where they also noted 2-foot wide holes leading into darkness. With Taraz trapped on the other side, Max tossed him the rope and physically flung the oracle across the 30’ chasm to safety.

Once summoner and eidolon were safely out, the group was intrigued by a question from the wizard- “So, do we know for how long these waters recede?”

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