“The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” (pt 2)

n.b. Warning! This recap contains spoilers for U1 – The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (and the 5E adaptation in Ghosts of Saltmarsh).

‹Recap for Session #6

(played [remotely] 5/9/20)›

The party moves on from the room that rained swarms of spiders upon them, heading east across the open balcony above the entrance hall to check the other wing, ignoring the hall into the rear of the upper floor of the house for the time being. Moving to the end of the hall, they check the furthest door, which is carved ornately with elegant patterns of waves and curls, though it is also warped and moldy in places.

“This door was worth something once upon a time,” Ned says. “If it were still in good shape, we could make some money from it.” The naked man wraps his arms around himself and shivers as the damp wind whips though the open hall windows. Rollo gives the  former captive a blanket from his pack, which Ned gratefully accepts. As usual, the party begins discussing looking for traps, but this time Ned interrupts, who offers to look. “I am good at that kind of stuff,” he says. “Finding traps. Picking locks. Let me help!”

He gives the door a careful examination as Nora and Thron carefully watch him. He declares the door trap free, but Nora decides to double check his work. “Yep, no traps!” she agrees with confidence. Ned smirks. Beyond is a master bedroom, now moldering. It has several missing floorboards, a musty four-poster bed, a brick fireplace, and a wardrobe built into the wall. In searching the room, Rollo opens the wardrobe and finds a pair of boots on the floor within and a fine cloak, embroidered with twining vines and leaves hanging from a peg in the back. Thinking to offer the cloak to Ned, who is hunkered down in a corner of the room looking around nervously, Rollo grabs the cloak, but as soon as he disturbs it a cloud of yellow spores explodes out from within its folds, filling a great section of the room. Ned and Thron are clear of it, as is Nora who is guarding their backs out in the hall, but Alston who is nearby at the moment looking under the bed is caught in the cloud along with Rollo.

The barbarian and the bard begin to violently cough. Alston runs out of the cloud towards the window and throws open the shutters—sending the ricketier of the two plummeting to the grounds below—while Rollo leaps back towards the head of the bed. Luckily, both of them were able to cover their mouths and void inhaling the worst of it. Thinking quickly, Thron steps in and uses a cantrip to make a puff of wind that blows the remaining spores through the open window.

Ned doesn’t want the cloak and even though the boots looked free of the spores, he didn’t want to risk taking them either. No one blames him.

The weird thing they notice about this room is that even though the bed covers are old and musty, the linens below are relatively fresh, marked only by the impression of someone having slept in it recently.

In the neighboring room they find another bed, this one stripped, but again the mattress is strangely not old or moldy. Before they entered, Ned had searched the door for traps again, but this time Nora trusts him enough not to check it herself. The blanket-wrapped man says he is willing to look for traps from here on out, but while he remains naked and weaponless, he will not be the one to go into the rooms first. This seems reasonable to the others.

They move on to the rear of the house, bypassing two doors to their right to check out the landing in back. Here, a rotting and clearly unsafe stairway leads down to the first floor, and another narrow open stairway that once led up to the attic, is half collapsed. Only a step or two remain hanging from the ceiling above. Rollo hefts Alston up easily and the gnomish bard hauls himself up through the hole. The attic is immense and oppressive at once. It is a lattice of deep darkness and gray beams of light coming through holes in the sloping roof. The floor is unfinished, meaning a reckless step could bring him crashing through plaster to the floor below.

Noticing a couple of sacks stuffed into one corner, Alston begins to careful leap from rafter to rafter and moves along them, arms out to keep his balance. As he approaches the corner, however, a disturbing shrieky tweeting hiss comes out of the darkness. Thinking better of it, the gnome starts hopping back towards the hole. Out of the corner of his eye his darkvision lets him see three bat-like creatures with long proboscises heading in his direction. He turns to face them when reaches the hole as the first dives at him. He flicks outward with Swatter and slices cleanly through the thing’s furry body, tearing its mosquito-like membranous wings.


Alston leaps back down through the hole, hanging from the last step and crying out to his companions for help. Unfortunately, another other of the mosquito bats, sweep down and bites him on the neck, attaching itself and beginning to suck his blood out. Another swoops down into the landing, fluttering around in people’s faces.

Ned shrieks and turns to run, except Thron blocks his progress as the hall is narrow. The druid steps out of the cowardly man’s way and Ned takes off out of sight down the hall, pulling the blanket up over his head protectively. Thron readies his quarterstaff and enters the fray. Alston drops down into Rollo’s arms, who manages to put his friend on the ground and then grab the attached mosquito-bat, and tear it off, squishing it in one ham-sized hand. The creature’s guts spatter against Alston’s face, along with his own blood it had just been imbibing. Nora’s keen arrow shots make the other mosquito-bat explode, but two more swoop down. Again, Alston is bitten, and this time Rollo has one attached to him just below the collar bone as well. It takes some work, but the adventurers manage to kill the last two in hails of fur and blood. Ned pokes his head back around the corner and asks if the coast is clear. It seems like it is so Rollo reluctantly hoists Alston back up through the hole (the barbarian thinks that maybe Nora should accompany his gnome friend for safety, by Alston insists he’ll be fine). The bard once again deftly hops his way over to the musty sacks, this time taking extra caution to be quiet, and grabs them. Whatever is inside seems to break and shatter as he hefts the sacks, but he has no time to worry. Once again, he hears the tell-tale squeals of the mosquito-bats and makes a run for it. He leaps down the hole into Rollo’s waiting arms.

The party backs up the hall and decides to quickly duck into one of the rooms to regroup. Nora hangs back and covers their retreat with her bow. One more mosquito-bat comes screeching out of the darkness and her arrow finds it before it gets anywhere near her.

The first of the two rooms in the upper floor of the back of the house is a storage room with a large ill-made oak chest under another broken window. There are broken chairs, some mildewed sacks, and a pile of clothing thrown on the floor that is not dusty at all and that Ned immediately recognizes as his own. Inside the chest, Thron finds Ned’s leather armor, short sword, and a case of hand crossbow-sized bolts (his crossbow is nowhere to be found however). Ned gives a sigh of relief and starts to gear up. The party also searches the next room, which is another small bedroom, this one covered in damp mold.

Since everyone is hurting, they decide to take a short rest in the storage room. Thron dispenses some healing, folks eat some goodberries, and after an hour, they are ready to continue their search of the house. Alston takes some time to look through the sack he retrieved from the attic and finds the ragged remains and countless shards of porcelain dolls. On one mostly intact doll head, he finds two pieces of cut jade serving as the eyes, so he pops them off while complaining that this is hardly worth the risk and pain of having gone up to the attic.

While they are resting, the sky darkens outside and thunder rolls over the house as torrential rains begin. Soon they can hear streams and drips of water from all over the decrepit house.

After resting, as they file out of the room, Alston asks Ned why, if he had now found his stuff, he is still hanging around. Ned replies, “Revenge! I want to know who beaned me and took my stuff and get them on the business end of my sword!” He also explains that he still has not retrieved all of his stuff, his pack had rations, rope, iron spikes and other adventuring gear he wants back, including his pouch of money. Alston nods his head in understanding and Thron smiles, starting to like their new companion’s gumption.

Now that they had searched all of the upper floor, they decide to move their search to the ground floor. The party walks out across the balcony over the entrance hall and towards the stairs with Nora leading the way and Rollo right behind her. Despite having passed this way before with no problem, however, they are about halfway across when a loud groan erupts beneath them as wooden supports give way. Rollo’s preternatural instincts allow him to jump back in time, but now it is Nora’s turn to look up from a pile of rubble on the floor below, hurting. While the others make their way down (either by leaping over the gap or just doing a hang drop from the balcony), Nora notices that among the splintered wood of the now broken balcony is a long beam of freshly cut wood about the length of the balcony’s width. When the others came down, they agree that this is a sign of sabotage. The beam was designed to support the balcony but could be slid out to allow it to collapse under the weight of their passage.

“Someone is messing with us,” Thron says.

“I bet it was whoever hit me in the head,” says Ned.

Sticking with the same approach they used upstairs, they start in the east wing and check the rooms below those where they’d found Ned and fought the spiders, not finding much of interest, just abandon parlors with a moveable partition that allows them to be made into one larger room. There is a big hole in the ceiling of one room where Rollo had come crashing through earlier. They then move across to the west wing. There they find a hall that ends in double doors and has two doors on opposite walls. After Ned takes some time to search for traps—once again not finding any and now willing to open the doors since he had his armor back, though still not willing to go in first—they discover what had been a small library on one side. Alston excitedly goes in. Even though the bookshelves are all broken and empty, there is pile of 14 books on a writing desk, which the gnome eagerly examines, but does not touch until Thron is done casting his detect magic spell via a ritual. The gnome decides to do the same with his comprehend languages spell while he waits. Meanwhile, as Rollo stands guard in the hall, Nora and Ned check the room across the hall. This is small study. Searching the desk within, Nora finds a bunch of old documents, dated 30 years ago or more. Most are records of household expenses, receipts, and invoices. Among them is documentation of payment to the old alchemist by a local lumber mill owned by the Oweland Family for trees they had cleared off a portion of this land. Nora grabs the documents to give to Alston, who is most interested in this kind of stuff. She also finds a secret compartment in the back of the drawer that holds a box with two vials of what they soon learn are potions of healing.

Finishing his ritual, Thron is able to determine that nothing in the library is magical, and not wanting to waste the duration, he starts scanning the rest of the area. There is no magic in the study (save for the potions Nora found), but there is an aura emanating from within the room behind the double doors. Taking a second to concentrate on it, Thron is able to tell that it is from the school of illusion. It turns out that Alston doesn’t need his spell to read the books. They are written in the Common tongue, and only three of them have clear titles on the spine.

They are the Magical Properties of Gemstones, the Magical Properties of Herbs and Flowers (both by the Archmage Tenser) and the Metaphysics of Mathematics (by the Archmage Nystul). The other books included self-important memoirs by long-dead nobles, a book of romantic poems, a history of the Makrinos Republic, and a catalog of plants from the long-ago overgrown garden. Alston flips through the books and decides to keep the three with titles and the history of the republic. As he is packing them away a damp slip of paper falls out of the mathematic books. It looks like a scrap from some note or letter. Most of the writing is too smeared to be legible, save for two words: “beyond skeletons.”

Anxious to see what is emanating a magical dweomer in the next room, Thron doesn’t wait for Ned to check the double door for traps, and does it himself, backed up by Rollo. They throw open the doors and find yet another empty parlor. To the north large windows and a broken door look out onto a patio overrun with weeds jutting up through cracked flagstones. A pile of refuse in the opposite corner turns out to be mostly animal bones and droppings along with some rags. The smell is horrible. Thron approaches the place where the aura emanates from. It seems to just be on the floor just off the center of the room. As he closes, a large human mouth appears on the floor, and in an unnerving and booming voice it cries, “WELCOME FOOLS! WELCOME TO YOUR DEATHS!” This is followed by maniacal laughter. The two adventurers feel a wave of cold fear run down their spines. Still in the library, Nora and Alston come rushing to see what has happened. Unfortunately, Ned is standing guard in the library doorway and he and Nora get tangled up (Ned apologizing profusely as they do the awkward stepping right and left dance to get by each other). Luckily, the spell is over by the time they have all regrouped and Thron and Rollo have shaken off whatever magical effect the magic mouth is meant to cause.

Outside rain continues to come down in sheets. The mist is so thick, that looking out the back door to the patio, Alston cannot even see the cliff edge beyond even though he knows it is there.

Thron mentions the possibility that the magic mouth is guarding a trapdoor, so Alston and Ned started searching that area of the floor for one. They notice a place where the seams of the warped wooden floor are off just enough to indicate that there is indeed a secret panel in the floor. Ned knocks it hard with a fist, trying to get a sense of how thick it is and what is below. This also dislodges it enough to allow Alston to open it up. Below is a crawl space that leads to narrow stone steps that descend into darkness.

The party knows where to go next.

Thron, who is the only other person in the group without darkvision, hands a spare torch to Ned and lights them both with a cantrip, taking a long moment to stare down Ned as if to show him his power. While, like the others, the druid has come to trust the man, he also wants to give him a little pause.

Alston leads the way down, followed by Nora, then Thron, then Ned, with Rollo taking up the rear. It is a longer way down than they expect, but finally the stairs open up into a cellar that has clearly been transformed into a barracks. At first only Nora and Alston have a clear view of the room. It is long and the stairs come in at one end, though part of the room lays behind them. The smell of recently extinguished torches wafts in from the other end of the room which is intentionally dark. A row of ten bunks with footlockers at the base of each sticks out from the right wall, a long dining table surrounded by a dozen low stools diagonally bisects the room. The table is covered in cups, plates, bowls and other cutlery and utensils. A large brick cook stove is set up in an old hearth opposite the bunks, and barrels and casks are gathered up here and there throughout.

Alston and Nora have not yet quite gotten to the bottom of the stairway when two men pop out from behind the table and fire crossbows at them.

The battle that follows is hard fought. Alston leaps off the steps to his right, ducking behind some barrels as the crossbow bolts come flying. At that same moment, a third combatant, this one with a shortbow, steps out from where he is hiding behind the cookstove and sends arrows flying at Nora. Alston responds with a bardic magic, a dissonant whisper that instantly riddles its way into the bowman’s psyche with literal pain and psychological doubt. The man bellows in agony, shaking his head, but his rain of arrows does not stop. Thron hops past Nora, jumps down and casts a spell that causes a patch of stone floor to suddenly spring to life with tangling stems, leaves and vines. The two crossbowmen try to leap out of the area before they are caught, but only one succeeds. The other is bound up, unable to even raise his crossbow again to fire it.

Rollo comes barreling down the steps, but even though Ned presses himself against the wall to let the barbarian by, their feet become entangled. “Ow! You stepped on my foot!” Ned cries, instinctively kicking the barbarian’s foot out of the way. Rollo stumbles, but is able to catch his footing enough to chuck a javelin at the free bandit, who draws his scimitar when saw the raging barbarian approaching.

The bowman who’d been hidden keeps sending arrows at Thron in hopes of disrupting the druid’s concentration on the entangle spell and thus free his compatriot. But Thron is able to grit his teeth through the pain, taking a running leap up on the table, kicking aside dishes and cups, to run down its length and take a swing at the tangled opponent with his own sword. Unfortunately, the man sees the blow coming and stops his desperate thrashing to flatten down just out of reach of the blow.

Nora sends some arrows flying into the room from her perch on the stairs, trying to keep the opposite side’s bowman pinned down, but before she can get a good bead on him, she suddenly hears Ned’s raspy voice in her ear and she sharp pain of a shortsword stabbing her in the lower back. “You naïve trusting fools,” he croaks and tries to shove her down the stairs.

“Ned?! We’ve been betrayed!” Thron calls out, hearing Nora’s cry. Alston reacts immediately, hurrying to the bottom of the steps (but staying low to keep the table between him and the archers), he spits another dissonant whisper, this time suggesting that Ned has lived a loveless life. Their turncoat companion shrieks and turns, running back up the steps as quickly as he can. Nora sends an arrow after him into the darkness, but he still disappears up the stairs. She turns back around and continues to snipe at the opponents that are still present.

Finally, Thron can maintain his spell no longer. An arrow clips his forearm as he raises his weapon to strike at the restrained bandit again, and suddenly the leaves and vines wilt and crumble to dust. The bandit hops to his feet jumping back and shooting his crossbow so desperately he misses despite the close target. He drops the ranged weapon and draws his scimitar. Alston crawls under the table to join the fight, pulling his rapier, forming a wedge with Thron who leaps down from the table. Unfortunately, however, the druid is very hurt and bleeding from multiple wounds, so he leaps behind the other side of the cookstove from the bowman and starts casting a cure wounds spell.

Meanwhile, Rollo has driven the other bandit back with savage blows. Now wielding a scimitar, the man can barely parry the orc-born’s blows, his arm jarring with pain each time. Finally, the axe finds home and cleaves down through the man’s neck into his chest. He crumples like paper doll if paper dolls erupted in blood and viscera when crumpled.

As Alston finishes off the other bandit, Nora cries out once again. She was so intent on her targets below she did not notice that Ned had slipped quietly back down the steps and this time his blow is a deathly one. Nora falls on the steps, blood gushing from a terrible wound between her shoulder blades. Alston hurries back under the table to the bottom of the steps and flicks a dagger up at Ned. The traitor puts up one hand reflexively and the dagger stabs through it and into his face. He falls, also dying.

While Thron heals himself and Rollo moves to see if he is needed to help deal with Ned, the remaining bowman slips through a secret sliding panel into an adjacent room, closing it behind him.

The party decides not to give chase, but to regroup. Alston runs up the steps and pours a potion of healing down Nora’s throat. She sputters awake a few moments later, moaning softly in pain. She sits up and eats some of the goodberries she had enchanted earlier that same day. Thron also heals himself some more.

Alston grabs one of the crossbows and some bolts. Nora grabs the other and the rest. Rollo smashes open every one of the footlockers and he and Thron root through them. Mostly they hold various personal effects, clothes, and the like, but the adventurers also manage to collect 70 gps and 150 sps among them. They also discover that at the far end of the room is a nook where two doors stand perpendicular to each other. The left-hand door looks like a normal wooden door, but the other door is made of metal and is held closed with a metal bar. Both the door and the bar are bent outward, as if a great force had been applied from the other side. Even the wooden frame has buckled. Chalked on that frame above the door is a single word, “DANGER!”

Feeling ready to continue, however, they decide to slip through the secret panel so they can see what is behind it.

“It could be a little room and that archer is still in there waiting to get the drop on us,” Thron speculates.

But it is not a “little room.” Beyond is a wine cellar, the other side of the sliding panel a full-sized mirror with an ornate frame. The walls here are lined with wine racks, but all the bottles are long gone. All that remains of it is shards of glass, torn cork, and dried vinegary pools of old wine. There is also a set of stone steps going up to the ground floor and couple of empty metal storage bins. Aside from the absence of the bowman, the most notable feature of the room is the corpse lying in the center of it. It is a man in banged up plate mail, lying face up. His hands akimbo. A longsword is just out of reach of one hand, and a shield over his legs.

The adventurers are wary of the corpse. Alston reminds everyone of the scrap of paper he’d found earlier warning of something “beyond skeletons.” But this corpse, while  moldering and foul, is not a skeleton. Apologizing to the spirit of the dead warrior, Rollo moves the sword away from the body with his foot just in case the corpse springs to life. Everyone is careful to remain clear of it.

Before going any further, they decide to check the plain wooden door off the barracks, while Nora waits behind, watching the steps in the wine cellar with her bow ready from the open secret door.

The signaling key found in the quarters off the subterranean barracks.

Behind the other door are well-appointed quarters for the circumstances. There is an intricately woven rug that reaches nearly from wall to wall, a comfortable looking bed with fresh linens, an ornate wardrobe, a padded leather chair, and a writing table with a brass three-pronged candelabra atop it. Above the table is a shelf holding three books.

They set to search the room. Under the table is a bullseye lantern with a working shutter to close off the light with a quick turn of a lever. There is also a box under the table holding some candles, flint and steel, and a piece of parchment they quickly identify as the key to a kind of code for use with the lantern. Alston remembers the scrapes on the windowsill in the room above and thinks they match the lantern. The three books are an illustrated collection of erotic poetry (Rollo is happy because while he cannot read real good, the pictures help), a naval almanac listing tide times for the coast around Saltmarsh (for about 100 miles total), and a treatise concerning the demigod Iuz, his philosophies, and followers. In this last book is also a scrap of paper being used as a bookmark that holds a few common words accompanied by phonetic translations into another language.

Lastly, in the wardrobe they find a floor-length double-breasted oilskin coat, with large epaulets. Nora takes the coat, as it fits her nearly perfectly, and she finds a platinum coin from an unrecognizable nation in the pocket.

‹End of Session ›

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