n.b. When I began the Ghosts of Saltmarsh+ campaign, I tried my hand at writing session recaps for my players. My plan was to write the “bare minimum” and not get carried away writing a full detailed serialization as I did for my “Out of the Frying Pan” campaign back in the early 00s. I posted them on a now defunct campaign blog. Of course, I got carried away, and while the recaps never became as intricated and annotated as “Out of the Frying Pan,” I quickly fell behind and decided I needed to drop the project. Despite not keeping up with them, they are a record of the events of our first five sessions and moved them to HOW I RUN IT for posterity and a bit of a sample of my DM style, or at least as much as a reader can gather from a storified version of a D&D campaign.
n.b. #2: While usually am the type of person who rolls my eyes at spoiler warnings, I do think it is appropriate to give such a warning here, since these recaps reveal details regarding “A Wizard’s Fate” from Dungeon #37 written by Christopher Perkins and U1 – The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh by Dave J. Brown with Don Turnbull which players are not meant to know ahead of time.
n.b. #3: This was the first D&D campaign I decided to run in about 10 years time and the first with the Fifth Edition rules. Furthermore, the players were a group of folks that ranged from totally new to D&D to not having played in a couple of decades. As such, I decided rather than a complex campaign conceit with interwoven character backstories, I’d take an old school approach. The PCs meet in an inn and are looking for adventure. Any other details could be developed later.
‹Recap for Session #1 (played 1/11/20)›
Our campaigns begins on the patio of the Threshold Inn, a large property on the eastern edge of Alasios (judicial capital of the Republic of Makrinos), frequently used as a staging ground for those entering or leaving the city. As the city is overcrowded with pilgrims and most of the harborside inns and taverns are full, the player characters were individually directed here, where they tried to sleep off the harrowing sea journey from their homes, a place collectively referred to as the “Inchoate Empires” and that none of them had a desire to ever see again.
Alston Turin is a gnome bard who never before had left his forest community, only knowing of the world from books. He arrives with an eager desire for adventure and learning things first hand, rather than just reading about them. Gregarious and a chatterbox, he talks to anyone and is fearless in his enthusiasm.
Nora Darhk hides her infernal heritage from the world by means of a headdress and the hood of a billowy cloak that covers her long curving horns and the too pink sheen of her skin. Keeping her tail hidden, however, is another matter. Fleeing her family and its underworld connections, she arrives in Makrinos to make it on her own, and earn the money she needs to send back to the orphanage in which she grew up. She is seeking a contact in Saltmarsh who is supposedly able to send her money back without it being traced to her. She doesn’t talk a lot.
Rollo Snow is all that remains of a mercenary group made of barbarian outcasts hounded out of the northlands for their purported orcish heritage. Used mostly as fodder for the imperial armies of so-called “civilized” nations, he is a deserter who just wants and honest job that lets him use his axe, and that will let him avoid those who may still think of themselves as his employer. Eschewing armor, he sleeps in a bear skin wherever is most convenient to where his nightly carousing comes to an end.
The innkeepers Dosh and Fela confirm that the capital is not the place to find work, plus both Nora and Rollo have reason to want to avoid the more well-trafficked city. Thus, striking up a friendship over the three days they spend at the charming stone inn, they decide to travel together towards the interior together, aiming for Saltmarsh, a moderately sized town on the shore of the Shimmaré (an inland sea). At this time of year, most of the merchants and pilgrims were arriving in Alasios (rather than leaving), so the newly formed band would likely have to travel alone (though they could count on meeting other people along the way).
Befriending the dwarven merchant, Gil-Vorak Stonehands, who had just come through Saltmarsh, the gregarious gnome learns that there are two ways to head that way. The High Road is faster (maybe six days), but there is word of bandits (or something more sinister) in the vicinity of the village of Whitebirch, which is located at the crossroads where one can travel southeast to Saltmarsh or north to the Vineyard Vales (a place Rollo learned might need strong workers). Alston even heard a rumor that the bandits, which locals call “The Seven Deadly Jekks,” may actually be supernatural creatures (but he decided to keep this information to himself).
The Low Road would take half as many days to get them to Saltmarsh, but was purportedly a lot safer. The only problem with this route is that the rainy season had started early and the road could be washed out in places. However, Gil-Vorak assured them that local ferries were already available to get past these flooded areas. Furthermore, while the Low Road skirted by the accursed Black Fens, it should be safe as long as they did not enter the sunken and unhallowed ground where necromancers had once established a dark league before long ago destroying themselves. “Stick to the road you should be fine,” is the advice they all hear from multiple people.
The second option sounds appealing to Alston. Not because of the ability to avoid the Black Fen, but because he wants to learn more about it and the history of the necromancers. It does not take much for him to convince the other two to go that way. Nora figures that if she got involved with bandits she’d call undue attention to herself. Rollo shrugged and didn’t care.
They leave early the next day, making good time on foot when Alston would ride on Rollo’s back to make up for his short legs. After camping out in the wilderness one night they arrivedat dusk as Sarruh’s Rest, a roadside inn where people can arrange for ferries over the now flooded zones so they could continue on their way to Saltmarsh.
The next day, waiting for word about a ferry, Alston’s dramatic re-telling of battles of the necromantic wars in the inn common room, draws a crowd that oohs and ahhs at every twist and reveal. It also draws the attention of the local sage – a bent old man named Loren Samne – who asks if the gnome and his “bodyguards” are willing to investigate something for him in the Black Fens. Alston is so excited he agrees to it before consulting his companions or even discussing what’d he get in return! Regardless, in the end they agree to split the 60 gold pieces offered and the sage would provide a guide.
Loren tells the group of Elzid Natholin, a charismatic and handsome young man who quickly gained a reputation as a scoundrel who besmirched the reputation of more than one local maiden and it was later revealed, was a necromancer, having rebuilt one of the half-sunken towers in the fen to make his own lair. While it has been sometime since he has seduced anyone, locals now report that his tower has exploded! The sound was heard miles away and Loren wants the party to investigate the cause and find out if Elzid still lives. At the same, time a local girl named Erilyn Windfellow has gone missing and her best friend has admitted that she was secretly seeing Elzid, even going to his tower regularly. Was she at the tower when it exploded? Hearing about the girl, Nora has no issue with the gnome volunteering them, as the plight of these exploited young women angers her.†
The the next morning while it was still dark, they are led by a local guide named Lertol and his ox, Muffin. Alston rides the ox, as it soon becomes apparent that while the tower was not that far as the crow flies, the marshy terrain makes the approach an arduous one, especially for a little guy. The leave as early as they did to guarantee arriving while still daylight.
Along the way in an area pocked with sinkholes, however, they spot the ruins of wagon turned upside-down in the muck. Lertol points out that a great battle had once been fought here and explains that you can still sometimes scavenge valuables from corpses and wagons that would occasionally rise to the muck’s surface. Eager to investigate and find something that could teach him more about this area’s history, Alston leads the charge to check it out, even though once again Rollo has to carry him part of the way. Meanwhile, Nora stays with Lertol and Muffin.
Skeletal warriors rise from the muck, swinging weapons with strength and moving with a warrior’s spring, despite only having – at best – the desiccated shreds of actual muscles clinging to their bleached bones. The adventurers fight them off, mostly due to Rollo’s axe, but he is gravely injured and Alston had to sing his word of healing twice to close the barbarian’s wounds. Among the scraps of armor and rusted weapons of their fallen foes, Nora finds that each skeleton wore a silver pendant on a chain, upon which is emblazoned a rune resembling an “E” and and “N” that they assume is Elzid Natholin’s. They keep the necklaces.
They take a short rest to regain their wind and a few hours’ march later arrive on the outskirts of what had been Natholin’s property. The ruins of the tower (little of the ground floor’s wall remain) sits atop a small hill situated in a great crater. The crater is partially flooded and is dotted with copses of trees and overgrown gardens. Streams and eddies divvy the area, and crude paths lead up the tower. Nora notices crows up near the crest of the hill, so Alston goes ahead to talk to them. Being a gnome, talking to small animals is not an uncommon occurrence for him, though he understands the potential frustrations of an animal’s point of view of things.
It turned out the crows are feasting on the corpses of three adventurers (two men and a woman) and their mounts. According to the crows, these adventurers had been killed by the wizard’s pet, but not until after “the big sound” that destroyed the tower. They had not seen the wizard in some time, nor did they seem to know about the missing girl.
Among the corpses they find a bronze milk dish with the name “ZotsPotz” stamped on it. Both Alston and Nora recognize the name as a kind of cutsie diminutive play on an Infernal name. It is the equivalent of a pet name for a demon.
It is growing dark, so rather than explore the ruins now, they decide to head back to the other side of the ridge where Lertol is setting up camp. They will return at first light. As they turn to leave, Nora thinks she heard something like a whisper coming from the tower ruins. But, no it is just the wind. The bard and the barbarian agreed. It is just the wind.
‹End of Session ›
Next Time: Another PC joins the band and together they descend into the bowels of the necromancer’s ruined tower.