“The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” (pt 3)

n.b. Despite the fact that this group of characters would go on to adventure their way through 37 more sessions, this is the last one for which there is a written recap. As I suggest in the first post, it just became too onerous to continue, especially as party action moved further and further away from the adventures as-written. Perhaps, however, if anyone out there who is reading this wants to know more, I can see what I can do to patch together a catalog of events that follow these six recaps. Just let me know in the comments!

‹Recap for Session #7

(played [remotely] 5/23/20)›

Rather than risk trying the damaged door marked with a sign in chalk warning of “Danger” or going up the steps out of the wine cellar (for fear that the bandit who escaped is lying in wait for them with reinforcements), the foursome of adventurers decide to make their way back up the steps they came down and through the secret door into the parlor off the patio. They carefully walk—weapons at the ready—back down the hall to the gallery at the entrance. As they move to search the back part of the ground floor, they hear steps behind them. Hoping to catch whoever it is unawares, the party split into two pairs. Alston and Rollo duck into a small office on the right (avoiding the web-covered fireplace that seems guaranteed to be home to another hostile swarm of spiders). Thron and Nora slip into a dining room with a long, shattered table, making no effort to be quiet in hopes of drawing pursuers towards them, allowing Rollo and Alston to surprise them from the rear.

Unfortunately for the adventurers, whoever is tailing them knows the house better than they do. Thron hears the sound of breaking glass on the other side of the windows in the dining room, but whatever is causing the noise is obscured by the remains of heavy drapes, despite their being ragged in places. Pointing this out to Nora, she turns and notices someone or something pulling at the curtain from the other side of the window, so she lets an arrow fly. A human cry is followed up by the curtain being pulled back out the window and off the rod by the bandit who has been sneaking there. The arrow found its target through the drapes. The man is clutching a crossbow and tries to duck to the side out of sight. Unfortunately for him, Nora is too quick, and another arrow sink into his chest, killing him. They can now see another assailant halfway through climbing out a window in a room perpendicular to the dining room. The bandits have snuck into the office Nora searched earlier to try to flank them.

Alston and Rollo can hear some commotion from the room across the hall, but wait, certain that an ambush awaits out in the entrance hall. The gnomish bard begins to hum a song of encouragement to inspire his barbarian companion.

The crossbowman in the window climbs back into the room he has been coming out of and ducks low, peeking occasionally for a good shot through the dining room windows. Nora and Thron move into corners to avoid being shot. Suddenly, a strange figure comes charging up the central hall towards the dining room, passing where Alston and Rollo lay in wait. Sensing the figure pass, Rollo pulls open the door, allowing Alston to fire his newly acquired crossbow. The figure he sees there is a surprising one. It is a tall woman dressed in chainmail, wearing an open-face helmet, and holding a metal shield. She is clearly not human. Standing over six feet tall, she has an orange ruddy hide, bulbous jowls, sharp incisors, and large dark rheumy eyes. Alston’s quarrel looks like it would strike her right in the face, but she raises her shield and it shatters against it. Fury in her eyes, she curses at the gnome in a language none of them recognize. She points her scimitar at Alston to reinforce her point. Rollo swings out with both arms with his great axe, hoping to avoid being shot from behind by anyone waiting in the entrance hall. Despite the awkward position from which he attacks, the barbarian’s brute strength carries the blow, and the strange warrior stumbles backwards as the heavy axe dents the shield and then slides down to strike her in the chest. She barks in agony, still standing, but clearly grievously injured.

Rollo isn’t sure to what people this intimidating warrior belongs, but something about her puts him in the mind of a goblin, though he has never seen or heard of such a big one.

Despite her obvious prowess, the adventurers’ plan worked. Wavering in the doorway to the dining room, she is an easy target for Nora who plants another arrow into her. In that same moment, Thron dashes across the room to face the threat and but feels a crossbow bolt in the back, as the waiting archer in the other room shoot him through the window. The druid still manages to land a final blow with his quarterstaff (enchanted temporarily by the shillelagh spell). The strange warrior lays bleeding to death. Peeking through the curtain, Nora considers firing an arrow back at the man who lay in wait, but he has either ducked completely out of view or has left.

Again, the foursome find themselves in a stand-off. Their attackers know that approaching them in the narrow hall is a mistake, just as Alston, Rollo, Thron and Nora know that going out into the entrance gallery will open them up to attack.

“Hey! This is all been some kind of misunderstanding,” a voice calls from the front of the house. “Come on out and let’s talk about this!”

“Drop your weapons and raise your hands and you have a deal!” Rollo proposes.

The snickers and harsh whispers they hear in response is all the answer they need to confirm it is just a ploy.

Hoping to get a view of what awaits them in the entrance hall, Thron calls upon his power over the natural world to transform into a rat, leaving most of his gear behind. Nora is a little astonished to see this, but she has also seen weirder stuff in her life. Rat-Thron silently crawls down the hallway towards the entrance gallery, clinging closely to the wall in an attempt to keep to the shadows. Peeking his little rat head out, he sees the crossbowman that hit him through the window hovering at the edge of the hall leading to the west wing of the house. A lightly armored man with a shortbow lays in wait just behind the stairs to the upper floor, ducking into the hall to the east wing. The druid notices the crossbowman’s quizzical look, as if trying to figure out why a rat would emerge in daylight and amid a nasty fight among people, so Thron ducks back up the hall and decides to check the other side of it. He can see that where the hall turns to the right it leads to the backdoor. They had seen it through a window above earlier in the day and know that it leads to the area around the well.

In addition, being so low to the ground in his rat form, allows Thron to notice a shadow moving behind the closed door at the top of the hall. Someone or something is waiting back there. He considers sticking his little rat head under the door to get a look, but then imagines the possibility of a boot crushing his head, so he decides against it. Instead, he crawls back down the hall into the office where Alston and Rollo wait and squeaks out what he saw to the gnome. Normally, the druid can not communicate in his animal form, but thankfully Alston can speak the tongue of small animals and thus they can share news. Rat-Thron then scurries back across the hall and transforms back to human, alerting Nora to what is going on.

The foursome come up with a plan. At first they consider using the broken windows to climb outside and go around their assailants as had been done to them, but not being sure how many others there might be out there, they don’t want to risk being caught in the open. Instead, Rollo grabs up the shield from the strange warrior they defeated and holds it up while crouched in front of Nora who is ready with her bow, creating a degree of cover for her. Meanwhile, Alston and Thron will move to the back of the hallway, standing guard against anyone coming through the door where the druid had seen the shadow.

When Rollo and Nora get to the end of the hall, the rain of arrows and quarrels begins. The crossbowman lurking in the west wing hall, ducks back avoiding Nora’s volley, while the bowman to their left, lets his arrows fly as he moves back to get some cover of his own in a doorway. Rollo is seriously wounded by the arrows after leaving himself momentarily open by chucking a hand axe at the bowman to his left. The bandit bowman is injured but keeps up his volley. Thron and Alston expect someone to emerge from the door at the top of hall, but that never happens. They started to doubt there is actually someone there.

As the fight in the entrance hall continues, Alston slips out the back door, and smiles when he sees the injured bowman harrying Rollo through a broken window. He raises his newly acquired crossbow and sends a perfect shot through the window and into the bowman’s eye, killing him instantly.

Unfortunately for Nora, around that same moment, she is surprisdc by the door to the office where Rollo and Alston had hidden before being thrown open and arrows came flying out, catching her in the back and under the armpit. She falls, beginning to bleed out. Thron comes rushing up the hall with his quarterstaff enchanted with a shillelagh spell and whaps the man in the head. The bowman—who Thron recognizes as the man who had fled the fight down in the barracks—falls back into the office, dropping his bow and drawing his shortsword. Alston turns to fire another bolt at this opponent, but it is too late. Thron has called on the spirit of the storm and sends out a thunderwave and the man goes flying back, the sound of his skull cracking open subsumed by the thunderous peal that sends the little furniture in the room flying back in a cloud of dust.

Meanwhile, Rollo scoops up Nora and brings her back to the dining room, pouring a potion of healing down her throat while he does it. When she struggles to her feet, conscious again, she hands Rollo a healing potion of her own, so he can close the serious wounds making him vulnerable. By this time, the crossbowman out in the hall, injured from Nora’s arrows, flees back towards the parlor with the patio.

Nora, Rollo, Alston and Thron gather together and take some time to search their defeated opponents. There in’t much of value, but they do find a bronze choker necklace with fine filigree and a large bubble-like piece of amber at its center on the foreign warrior. Thron also takes her scimitar, while Rollo strips her of her armor.

Alston is more certain than ever that the house is being used as a staging ground for some kind of invasion of Saltmarsh, if not the Republic of Makrinos as a whole. He wishes they had kept someone alive to question them.

Concerned other foes are nearby, the party does not linger. The room beyond the door at the end of the hall, turns out to be a kitchen, but no one is in there. They do find the bodies of giant centipedes in a cupboard, but it is unclear how they died. The room also contains the damaged steps up to the upper floor they had discovered earlier in the day when they fought the mosquito-bats. A door off the kitchen leads to the scullery and the steps down to the wine cellar.

Very injured, feeling tired, out of healing magic, and not trusting that there is anywhere in the house they can safely rest, the party decides to make their way back to where Lertol and Muffin wait. They consider checking out the well outside on their way out, but the cluster of animal bones around it gives them pause. Out of an abundance of caution, they decide to move on.

It is dark and graying when the foursome arrive where their slave waits with his ox. He is getting ready to travel back to the main road and finish his wait there, feeling unsafe waiting too close to the house once real darkness falls. The party accompanies him, and they make camp about an hour away from the house at a campsite off the main road, where the highest part of the house’s roof is still visible atop the cliff and through the bramble. They settle down for the night, setting watches (though Alston can hardly sleep, so eager to look through the books he’s found until even his sharp gnomish eyes had trouble making out the words in the dark). If anyone snuck down from the house to get a view of them sleeping, no one notices.

The sun is just beginning its climb when the adventurers decide to head back into town. The party feels frustrated by their lack of progress and the resources they have used up in the process. They hope to regroup and resupply and return—if necessary—with more experience under their belts. It is a three-hour march that goes by without event. After a quick stop at The Snapping Line to drop their gear in the rooms Hanna Rist held for them, Thron and Alston travel to the barracks to find the Bailiff Eliander Fireborn and inform him what they have discovered, while Rollo makes his way to the local smithy and armor shop, and Nora continues her search for the contact she had come to Saltmarsh to find.

Bailiff Eliander Fireborn

Eliander is alarmed to hear what Alston has to tell him about what is going on in the so-called “haunted house,” even if ultimately, the gnome can not really say much of what is actually going on. Alston suggests it is the beginning of an invasion, showing a foreign coin (platinum!) they’d found in the fancy coat they’d taken from the quarters in the levels below the house. Eliander suggests it might be smugglers, as the house provides a good view of ships making use of flooded regions to pass between the ocean and the narrow inland sea whose edge the town sat upon. (This makes Alston think of the book on local tides he had taken from the house). The bailiff isn’t dismissing the possibility of invasion, but he cannot think of who or from where invaders might come. Smuggling is much more common and likely.

The bailiff says he’ll be conferring with the town prefect and plans to bring some of the town guard with him to examine the house in the next day or so. He also suggests that the party’s skills might be of use in handling this new threat, so they might be hired to help out at some point. Before Alston and Thron can move on, however, Eliander has some news of his own. After asking if reports were true that they had met with Olias Sandhillow at the Snapping Line a couple of nights earlier, he asks what the man had wanted.

Thron remains quiet, but Alston is cagey, only saying that Sandhillow had sought their help looking into some of his business interests in lumber. Eliander’s eyes narrow, but he does not probe deeper, only saying that Olias had been found dead that morning.

The two adventurers are shocked and Thron finally finds his voice asking where the man had been discovered. “Under the Sharkfin Bridge,” explains the bailiff.

Before they leave, the bailiff tells them that he might have more questions for them and their companions about their conversation with Sandhillow and that the prefect may also want to meet with them regarding the news they brought back. “Best to not leave town,” he says in a tone that is a threat wrapped in a polite suggestion. The druid and the bard are eager to tell their companions about this new turn of events, but decide to continue their errands first, since the others probably won’t be back yet.

Meanwhile, Nora Darkh spent most of the day wandering Saltmarsh in hopes of some sign of where to find her old family contact. She figures that her one clue—“where the staff meets the rod” —could be a reference to a sign for a business, and finally, on a back street on the northside of town she sees it: a wooden sign marked with a carving of a crossed fishing rod and shepherd’s crook. She steps inside, letting the door close behind her. The place is dim and smells of beer and brine. A little brown and white dog comes hustling around the bar barking at her but keeping its distance. She kneels before it and lets it sniff her hand. It growls but calms. A voice calls from the backroom. “Who’s out there, Pablo?”

A tall husky black man with a day’s worth of salt and pepper stubble over a pockmarked face comes up to the bar. His eyes were a faded gray beneath a film of milky white. He is blind, though he seems to have no trouble moving around the bar. He gives a snort and then greets Nora. “You must be Nora Darkh,” he says.

“How do you know who I am?” she asks, taken aback.

“Knowing things is my business. I heard you were in town. I know that name and I know that if you’re here it is to get away from where you came from.”

Nora is silent for a moment and then asks, “Are you Butchie?”

The man nods. “And I assume you sought me out because you need my services? I was a friend of the better parts of your family. Not that there were many of them. I know what you’re about.”

Nora goes on to explain that she is looking to fence some goods the party had acquired on their adventures so far and needed a way to send money back across the Azure Sea to Saint Leela’s Orphanarium. To this end she gives him the jeweled broach that the Sage Loren claimed had belonged to the Lich’s Bride. Butchie carefully feels it with his hands and then nods. Saying he thinks he can get an even better price for it than the initial appraisal. He also explains that sending money is handled by a series of promises and loans that make it difficult, if not impossible, to trace back. Nora is relieved to hear this. He will get back to her with a price for her to approve in a few days.

Butchie goes on to explain that this is a private social club called “Hook & Crook” and attended by a hand selected group of fisherman, shepherds and woodsmen who operated outside of the law, but also look out for what he calls “normal folks.” He offers his aid for anything from getting past paying taxes to fencing goods to finding jobs to “making sure that for the right price a person who needs killing gets kilt.” He adds the caveat, however, that there are two things he will not get involved with: chattel slavery or dealing with actual infernal beings. “I’m no snitch, but I don’t even want to know about it if you are into that stuff,” he says.

Nora agreed, explaining she has similar lines she will not cross.

“If you come back soon, I may have a job for you and your buddies,” Butchie tells her as she leaves.

Thron and Alston visit the Sea-Grove of Tethys. There they meet Ferrin Kastilar, a halfling druid who serves as the grove’s guardian and caretaker. Thron enjoys taking some time to talk shop with another of his order and spends time meditating on the wonders of nature beneath the shade of an enormous willow and praying at the shrine of Tethys, an alabaster statue of the river goddess overlooking a natural spring. Alston is amused by the place, as it reminds him of his forest home across the sea. He whiles away his time talking with Lorys, Ferrin’s bullfrog companion, who seems to have a hankering for beer. Among the information about the wilderness surrounding Saltmarsh they gather from the halfling druid is some concern he has about the sightings of so-called “turkey-lizards” around town. Ferrin does not know what they are but is certain they are some kind of aberration that need to be wiped out, especially if they endanger the local fauna. In addition, while only a few pets have gone missing in town, he figures it is only a matter of time before a child is among the mysterious animals’ victims. Rumor has it that the creatures are nesting in the Brackwater Road caves, but warns the pair that if they explore those caves to avoid the passage near the back that lead up to a different network of caverns called the Roarwater Caves. Thron vows to do something about the mysterious infestation.

The pair split up as they go back into the heart of town. Alston stops by Solmor Manor, hoping to see the prefect a day early, but is told by the footman at the door that this would be impossible. “The prefect is a very busy man. You have to make an appointment!” The gnome explains that he has an appointment the next day and would come back then.

That evening the foursome gather back up at the Snapping Line, share information, and begin to discuss their next moves, knowing their experiences are allowing them to further develop their skills and gain new abilities, they are eager to get a chance to try them out.

‹End of Session ›

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