Last session, the adventure capitalists of the good sloop Magnificent visited the Isle of Dread. It went about as well as the name suggests. The survivors are:
Captain Margarita Duerte, Tarraconese blacksmith and practitioner of the dark arts. Newly elected captain.
Thorfina von Dusseldorf, banker and adventurer from the Ranstead League. Elected quartermaster for her financial literacy.
Celeste, princess from the Isle of Dread, stowaway, and diplomat.
The Crew. Yes, the Crew are a PC. Some are seasoned pirates, some are Chultan villagers.
With a hold full of rubies and assorted other treasures, the Magnificent sailed east, trying to catch the equatorial winds back to Chult. With hurricane season beginning, their journey was risky, but Thorfina seemed to have almost supernatural command of the winds and weather. She explained it as "accurate charts", yet never seemed to be entirely sure which way was north.
One week out from the Isle of Dread, the crew spotted a sail on the horizon. Tacking rapidly, the pirate sloop drew up, fired a few warning shots, and rapidly boarded the merchant vessel. It was a Ranstead League ship full of building supplies and glass trade goods. While the crew picked through the cargo holds, Captain Margarita interrogated the Venture's officers. It turned out they'd been sent to set up a trading post on the Isle of Dread,
"We were just there," Margarita said. "You don't want to go."
"Why not?" their Captain, Oris Ghant, asked peevishly."It's called the Isle of Dread! Not the 'Isle of Vast Profits, Women, And Palm Wine!' "
Margarita proceeded to spin a tale of woe, assisted by the crew (and their jars of captured spiders). Giant venemous snakes. Crocodiles the size of frigates. Lizards the size of castles. Volcanoes, floods, hail. Belligerent men and astonishingly ugly women (Celeste was kept out of sight). They'd been lucky to escape with only half the crew dead, Margarita lied, and no profit whatsoever.
They'd let the Venture and her crew go free, of course, but they'd be going to an early grave. Why not take up piracy instead? The Venture wouldn't need to fight, just haul supplies and assist with deceptions. The crew would receive full shares, plus a bonus once they reached Port Nyanzaru.
The Ranstead league sailors debated for several hours, watched by a few pirate guards but otherwise free to associate and plan. On the advice of their captain, they decided to turn pirate.
A month later, the grey line of the Mistcliff appeared on the horizon. With supplies still high, the Captain decided to follow the cliffs north, as much as the wind allowed, and sail straight for Port Nyanzaru.
One cold night, when the fog was lighter than usual, the lookouts spotted lights in the fog. The charts revealed no settlement on the coast; the whole Mistcliff was one long line of ship-wrecking cliffs and false bays as far as cartographers were concerned. After taking accurate star-charts, the Magnificent moved closer to the cliffs.
They sailed, unopposed, into a broad bay. The stump of an ancient castle or lighthouse, built from cyclopean stone blocks, loomed over a small city.
"A secret Tarraconese fortress?" Thorfina asked, staring through the spyglass.
"Could be a slaver port, but look at those docks. Small, even for our ships," Margarita replied. "No cannons on the fort. I think this is a Chultan city. Tell the crew to wash. We'll anchor in the bay and land at first light."
That night, the crew rested uneasily, their cannons pointed at the Isle of Barzon.
Isle of Barzon Mini-ReviewThe adventure/location is very short, just 2.5 pages. The language is evocative. There's no need to get up to speed with the backstory of the world. "So it was on the Isle of Barzon, a small island ruled by an empire not much larger..." The writing is slightly disjointed, but I supposed it has to be to describe an entire city in a few lines of text.
I'm not sure why, but this location feels so much more alive than The God Unmoving. It could be the rivalries implied (never stated) by the text: the citizens against their overlords, the ruler against the powerful merchant, ruler against the elites. It feels like it's set up to explode; almost everyone the PCs talk to has a use for some cunning rogues. It could be the little hints for adventurers: weird insects, strange drugs, powerful magic items.
I don't know. But it worked very well, especially since I needed to adapt it to a low-magic setting on the fly. Go check out the Knockspell zines.
Adventures in Barzon or The Great Wasp Caper
1. With the Venture's dozen cannons aimed at the city, the Majestic moored to one of the docks. Her crew was met by an enormous crowd: soldiers, artisans, curious onlookers, nobles under woven umbrellas.
2. In her best outfit, augmented by a few rubies and gold chains, Margarita stepped onto the dock. A Chultan crewmember acted as translator (badly; the languages shared a few words but very little else). The Captain explained that they were "peaceful traders" from "across the sea."
3. The Barzonites explained that any visitors to the city would need a military escort, and that the strangers could not carry weapons. The Captain agreed, hoping the isolated Barzonites would not recognize flintlock pistols. Though they seemed unfamiliar with gunpowder, they seemed to know what a pistol was. The crew had to content themselves with dozens of smuggled daggers, grenades, strangling wire, poison spiders, and incendiaries.
4. While official gifts were sent to the city's mysterious ruler (a certain Svanth Dorl, who remained hidden in his fortress-palace) and Margarita did her best to distract the bulk of the soldiers, a small delegation was invited to the home of the richest merchant in town.
5. Ullkmaran the Polyarch provided wine, strange mind-dulling drugs, and samples of the local tapestries and "God-Fragments". The "Gods" were giant wasps who descended on "the unworthy." Subtly, Ullkmaran hinted that the wasps might not be divinely guided, and that somehow Trademaster Dorl's enemies always ended up as wasp-food.
6. Thorfina negotiated a trade deal: glass and iron goods from the Venture for tapestries, insect parts, and a whole lot of drugs. The crew explored the city, trying not to get into any fights or steal anything. They discovered that trade with the "world beyond" was very rare, and sailing ships completely unknown. Barzon was a coastal outpost of a large and fractured empire.
7. The next day, the party was invited to dine with the Trademaster. Wary of a trap, they ensured all cannons were loaded and discreetly aimed at the castle. Margarita, Thorfina, Celeste, and two Chultan translators dressed in their finest stolen clothes and, with a few more small gifts, proceeded in grand style to their appointed meeting.
8. The half-collapsed palace of the Trademaster was, it seemed, also the home of the wasps. The Trademaster, a dumpy fur-clad Chultan and his vacant-eyed wives, greeted the traders with ceremony and reciprocal gifts. At dinner, roast meat and strange vegetables were served between courses of mind-numbing drugs. To avoid rudeness, the pirates inhaled thick grey clouds of the drug, and their ambitious plans became fuzzy and distorted.
9. With an amorous look in his eyes, Svanth Dorl invited the crew to share the "cool air" of his balcony. On soft couches, with servants bringing in plates of candied fruit and fresh drugs, the pirates attempted to put their plan into action. They fed the Trademaster rum (distilled liquor being unknown on the island), while pretending to imbibe more drugs and extra rum. Once the Trademaster was in a near catatonic state, Margarita stumbled off "to use the little lady-captain's room". She immediately started searching rooms.
10. The Captain found the Trademaster's bedroom, but was spotted by a servant. With amorous designs of his own he advanced towards the Captain. To allay suspicion, she flopped onto the bed, clearly inviting the very excited servant closer. Then she brained him with a candlestick.
11. Searching the room, stepping over the groaning and very confused servant, she found a cabinet containing some local currency, a few bottles of drugs, and a mysterious grey cube. As one familiar with strangeness and the hidden ways of the world, she immediately identified it as valuable loot, and probably the item used to control the giant wasps.
12. Hastily making their apologies, the pirates fled. They anchored the Magnificent a few hundred feet off the docks and waited for dawn.
13. The next day, every soldier in the city menaced the pirates from the docks. The Trademaster was apoplectic, demanding their immediate surrender. Margarita retaliated, saying that the gods would punish the erring Trademaster.
14. The witch-captain used the wasp control cube to draw a huge swarm from the fortress and directly onto the Trademaster. His remains were scattered into the sea.
15. The city panicked. Citizens remained indoors unless promised safe passage by a pirate. The Magnificent and the Venture docked, loaded up the last of the trade goods, and explored the city in full safety. The crew, terrified of the Captain's unnatural powers, kept their hands to themselves. They found Ullkmaran the Polyarch and his servants were already looting the fortress. A hastily negotiated trade deal saw the pirates sail away with chests full of silver and an ancient mummy in a casket, while Ullkmaran the Polyarch discreetly received the wasp-controlling cube... and a long list of gunpowder-based threats should he ever turn the wasps on the pirates.
Newly enriched, the pirates sailed north. The great Tarraconese city of Port Nyanzaru beckoned. The three terror-folk captured, hatched, and reared by the former captain were now as large and as intelligent as parrots. Many crewmembers sported scars or stump-fingers from their razor-sharp bites.
Rounding the top of the Mistcliff, the party sailed into Port Nyanzaru as fully legitimate traders. After all, Captain Margarita spoke fluent Tarraconese, and with a bit of forged paperwork the Venture could pass for one as well. Customs officers were heavily bribed.
At last, the pirates had returned to a "proper" civilization. While the crew spent money unwisely and freely, Thorfina sold their tapestries and insect parts for a tidy profit, buying ivory, gold, and indigo to trade in the Merabaha Islands.
In an elaborate scheme, the pirates sold the ancient mummy to a rich Tarraconese collector. The mummy came with an ominous black wax candle. The Captain spread a rumour that the candle, once lit, would lead the bearer to great wealth. Either the collector or one of his servants lit the candle one evening. Pirate spies reported screams and thumping from inside the mansion.
The Captain and officers raced to the scene, broke in through the kitchen, and (to universal horror) discovered the mummy had come to life! Its dried remains proved night-impervious to shot and sword. Thinking quickly, the Captain grabbed the still-lit black candle and used an ancient spell to trap the mummy's soul inside. The corpse collapsed; the Captain snuffed out the candle flame.
Note: When I wrote the Weather Witch class, I didn't have a definitive canonical use for draw out soul. The player pointed out that the target must be "dying or extremely recently dead". Since the mummy was indisputably extremely recently dead (why, it was dead as a doornail only a few hours ago), the spell should work on it.The crew set the mansion on fire and, assisted by a few servants, hastily "rescued" all the valuables. A few days later, the Captain locked the candle in an iron chest and threw it into the sea.
After a botched ransom scheme, the Captain tested her soul-drawing powers again. This time, she bound the soul of a dead Tarraconese merchant into a "a small item that belonged to them"; the merchant's heart. The merchant sat upright, moved, and viciously attacked the crew like a rabid animal. Chopping it to fragments helped, but the individual parts kept moving. Convinced and terrified by the Captain's unnatural powers, the crew locked the fragments in a chest and stored it in the hold.
While waiting for hurricane season to end, the pirates looked for costal work. A merchant hired them to investigate a settlement on Chult's northwest coast. According to passing merchants, Port Castigliar had taken a direct hit from a hurricane. The "merchant sailors" of the Majestic and the Venture were to make a full report, recover any of the merchant's property, and return.
Before departing, the pirates picked up a very unusual passenger. Charles Derwent, Wexlish naturalist, had arrived in Port Nyanzaru while Tarracon and Wexland were at peace. Now they were at war, and the slightly distractable naturalist had languished under a mild form of house arrest. The pirates offered him a job aboard the Majestic. He was fascinated by the leather-winged terror-folk and agreed without even haggling for payment.
And so, holds lightened but purses full, the Majestic and the Venture set sail once more. What would the find on the far coast of Chult? Would the Captain's blatant witchery catch up with her?
Find out next time.