“The Laughing Crow”

n.b. In our second session of the Ghosts of Saltmarsh+ campaign, one of the players who was unable to make it to the first session at the last minute due to sickness was able to join us. This meant having to come up with a quick and easy way for his character to arrive. Since Thron’s player expressed interest in becoming a Circle of Land: Swamp Druid, it made sense he could make it to the the exploded tower on his own and meet up with the others, having left just the village to catch up with them at Loren Ramne’s request.

‹Recap for Session #2 (played 2/22/20)›

Before leaving the former site of the necromancer’s tower for the night, the adventurers take one last look at what is left of its foundation: stone spiral steps that descend into the darkness of its lower levels. Turning to join Lertol at their camp on the other side of a nearby ridge, they notice the crows Alston had talked to before dispersing, but one particularly large crow stays behind and is soon trying to convince the gnome that the party should look around more before heading to camp. It knows where a lot of “shinies” are and could help the party find them. It also insists it is a “smart crow” and the rest are “dumb birds.” He’s “special.” Alston is immediately suspicious of this crow. Earlier it had not taken part in the conversation, but when he and the others realize it is no longer speaking the language of small animals (which most gnomes learn in order to communicate with them) and instead is speaking common, his suspicion grows.

Meanwhile, Thron Greenman arrives at the camp Lertol had made for the group. The human druid had made similar arrangements with sage Loren to investigate the explosion at the tower and the missing girl. The druid missed meeting everyone else and leaving with them from Sarruh’s Rest because he had taken extra time communing with nature before being ready to head off. Newly arrived in Makrinos, like the others, Thron is seeking his estranged husband (last heard from in Saltmarsh), having decided to put as much distance between himself and their former shady life as barristers aiding criminal enterprises. After checking in with the group’s guide and ersatz henchman, he walks among the ruins, curious about this talking crow he spotted the group chatting with. “Crows are tricksters” he warns.

The crow (no one bothered to ask if it had a name, despite wondering if it might be the necromancer’s familiar) insists he knew how to lead the group to “treasures and items of power” that are strewn around the grounds by the exploding towers. And the group decides to follow it part way down the hill to a place where the remains of gargoyles that were once part of the tower’s upper walls and parapet (along with other large stones) creates a shadowy circle. The party is wary, but the crow alights atop of one of the larger stones and points into the darkness with its beak, insisting good “shinies” are in there to be found. Nora climbs one of the larger stones and peers into the darkness, seeing nothing. Thron throws a torch into the circle of stones and while the light does not illuminate anything of note, Nora hears the distinct chittering of many legs on the stones. The crow continues to insist it is safe and to prove it, hops down into the shadows, disappearing. When the party follows, they soon discover a nest of giant centipedes—the size of large dachshunds—that spring to the attack. Rollo is poisoned and suffers a nearly deadly wound, but the party rallies and dispatch the vermin.

Searching the area yields no “shinies” or treasure of any sort, just the desiccated corpses of birds and other small animals the centipedes had eaten. The crow reappears to apologize. “Nobody’s perfect,” it explains, adding “I thought there was good stuff there.” It promises to lead them to more treasures, but the group is even more suspicious now. Thron considers trying to catch or even kill the bird, convinced it is not a natural beast, but Alston says he is a friend to small animals and even if it is duplicitous. “For all we know the crow just wanted to use us to kill the centipedes that endangers it and other birds.” Before a final decision could be made the bird flew off into the night.

They return to camp to get a good long rest while they can, recovering from their wounds and sleeping off the last effects of the centipede poison.

The next day they wake up to another cloudy day threatening rain and immediately spot the crow in a nearby tree watching them. Soon it is hopping nearby and eagerly suggesting the party go down into the former tower’s dungeon levels, where it could show them more treasures and items of power.

When questioned about how it knew all this, the crow once again claims to be “special,” but also begins to act confused. It contradicts itself saying it is just a normal crow, but also suggesting that Elzid Natholin had hurt it and done bad things to it. “I hate Elzid!” it said. Alston begins to think that the crow is under arcane influence or had once been a person or other sentient creature and had been transformed into the crow by the evil wizard. Since the only answers to all their questions lay beneath the tower’s foundation, the party make their way toward the steps after preparing spells and the like. The crow flies ahead and is nowhere to be seen when they arrive at the entrance.

Creeping down the stairs and leading the way into the dark, Nora feels the weight of the bird land on her shoulder. It whispers temptations to her. “Don’t trust the others in your party,” it says. “They will betray you as soon as they figure out what you are, but luckily there are items of power you can gain access to below to defend yourself, if you know how to look.” Nora isn’t buying it. She turns to look at the bird  and it pops out of sight. She hears it flap deeper into the dungeons before she can grab it or ask any questions.

At the bottom, Alston lit his lantern to reveal what darkvision kept dim (and to help Thron). They see that the stairs open into a ten-foot wide hallway decorated with a mosaic of peculiar runes and designs that Alston and Nora recognize as the sigils of various demons and devils as to honor them and their infernal hierarchies. After a brief argument about looking for traps that Rollo loses, the party moves forward into an antechamber, triggering a stone block that slowly slides into place behind them blocking their exit. It moves slowly enough that could have easily decided to slip back out and return to the surface, but they instinctively jumped forward having faith there’d be some other way out.

The halls and antechamber are strewn with dust and rubble. The ceiling of the 30’ square room is a mess of beams, large stones, rubble and dirt. It looks stable for now, but the mess of earth and rock rises to different shadowy heights. There is no way to tell how long it’d ultimately hold. Four doors stand in each corner of the room leading in different directions. Across the room from the hallway, inset in an alcove, is a large painted stone statue of a diabolical warrior woman with thick horns emerging from either side of her head. She holds a curvy dagger and is pointing directly at the hallway egress. There are also two human corpses on the floor that have been mostly stripped of all their belongings.

Alston checks around with detect magic but neither the statue, nor any of the doors, or even the corpses are magical. The silver pendants they had taken from the skeletons earlier that day, however, did bear faint aura of necromantic magic. Several attempts to experiment with them (mostly at Thron’s behest) by putting them on the corpses yields no arcane results. Later they’d try putting a pendant on the statue, but again nothing happened.

Before that however, just after Alston is done detecting for magic, Nora feels a tingle and looks up to see the statue come to life. It, too, tempts her, saying “I can sense your infernal heritage! Very soon there will come a time when you will have to choose between your allies and your people. An opportunity will soon arise to sacrifice these mortals and gain the power to accomplish your every desire and whim!” The devil’s voice is like breaking glass. Nora realizes that no one else can see or hear this happening. “I have already made my choice. I will never be evil!” She replies. The tiefling ranger closes her eyes and shakes her head and when she opens them again, the statue is back to its inert self. The others watch her warily. So, she decides that bound together by the brotherhood of battle she’ll explain what happened and trust them not to hold her infernal heritage against her. The others accept this without a second’s hesitation. They can not decide if the statue itself is enchanted or if this is another trick of the crow’s. All there is left to do is continue searching this lower level.

Two closer doors out of the antechamber are ajar, one falling halfway off its hinges. Beyond are half-collapsed storerooms holding barrels of wine and crates of musty linen. Rollo also finds the corpses of a halfling and a pouch of some coins under the rubble. Certainly, this fellow was part of the same doomed party they’d discovered in the antechamber and being devoured by the carrion birds above.

Making for the door on the far right, Rollo once again insists the party look for traps, but no one else is that interested. Doing it himself, he comes to realize that despite having the wisdom to know to look for traps, he does not have patience to be very good at looking for them. Pulling the door open sets loose a net that drops from the mess of a ceiling. The net has countless small heavy objects tied to it, like helmets, bucklers, scraps of armor, and even a carpenter’s hammer! Alston and Thron are able to leap out of the way (Nora is wisely hanging back), but Rollo takes the brunt of it. He is knocked to the ground and clumsily tries to get our from under the net while seeing stars. As the rest of the party cut him loose, they hear mocking laughter. Clearly this trap had been jury-rigged relatively recently and was not part of the original architecture of the wizard’s lair.

After healing Rollo, Thron joins Alston in the room beyond the trap to search the half-collapsed wall opposite the door, among its rubble several the shiny things are visible. When they walk into the room, however, the door slams shut behind them, separating them from Nora and Rollo. Distracted and startled by the slamming door, Nora doesn’t notice the spider, body as wide and round as a dinner platter, cackling with the crow’s voice, and leaping off the infernal statue to sink its fangs into her neck. The bite is vicious, but even worse, Nora feels its poison burning through her system and collapses. She is slowly dying. Before the spider can finish her off, however, Rollo runs over and strikes a mighty blow against the it with his great axe. It is the kind of blow he is certain should easily squish even a spider as big as this one. But while it spurt black ichor in all directions, it is clearly still alive. Thron manages to pull the door open and runs in swinging his scimitar. Again, the blow against the spider seems like one that should have killed it, instead it sent it skittering across the floor on its side and then it disappears with a shriek. They have shooed it off, but it clearly still lives. Thron is able to heal Nora with some goodberries, though she still feels the burning in her limbs and chest from the poison’s aftereffects.

The party is now certain that the spider and the crow are the same creature, but still do not agree if it is purposefully nefarious or being compelled by another force (with Alston being most concerned about the latter possibility).

After finding some treasure stashed in the half-collapsed room (including a couple of brass keys, some jewelry and coins, and a tapered ebony stick they assume is a wand of some kind), the party explores the final door out of the antechamber which leads to a series of hallways featuring several more doors. Among these is a strange and ornate trapezoidal door carved with a gargoyle face fresco whose mouth is a large keyhole (it seems too large a hole for the keys they have found). Ignoring it for now, they continue exploring, finding a former library that had been completely burned. Etched violently into one wall is a message: “Ǝlzid Wuz Ǝvil!” All that is left in the ruin are singed leather covers, ash, and scraps of paper, none of which contains much that is legible. However, the burned bookshelves help to reveal the clues for a secret door out of the room. Rollo pushes at the stone wedge behind a collapsed shelf and beyond is a corridor leading to another room with a corner full of thick spider’s webs and from which emerge four large spiders, only slightly smaller than the one that attacked Nora in the antechamber.

A map of the lower levels of Elzid’s tower as the party has explored it to this point.

Despite being worried these spiders would be as tough as the one that attacked earlier (or that the tougher spider/crow is hidden among them), the party makes quick work of these foes. Thron feels the poison bite of one of them, but is able to shake it off. However, during the fight, Nora hears something behind her in the corridor and turns to see the crow perched on the wedge of stone that acts as a secret door. It turns its head to look at her with one eye and she feels a tingle pass through her. When she looks again the crow is gone, if something has happened to her, she is not sure what (yet).

Searching the room reveals a large chest that Rollo manages to smash open and another collapsed and partially burned bookcase. Among these is a dagger of fine gnomish craftsmanship, a bone scroll tube, a large brass key, and a long, tapered piece of bone with black lightning bolts etched on it, which they assume is a second wand.

As they finish searching the room, Alston suggests that maybe the crow/spider thing is actually Zotzpotz (the demon pet name they found on the bowl), but that raises more questions than it answers.

‹End of Session ›

Next: Nora temporarily turns against the party and guardians emerge from a magical tapestry!

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