Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Beyond the Shore: Session 9

A holiday interlude...

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
'All hands to loose top gallant sails,' I heard the captain call.
'By the Lord, she'll never stand it,' our first mate, Jackson, cried.
'It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,' he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

-- Robert Lewis Stevenson, Christmas at Sea


The crew of the Red Sadness, bolstered in numbers by their recent successes, sailed on towards Rickety's Squibbs. Behind them, towed by mooring cables, drifted the Ginger Belle, manned by a Adriana, Thaduk, and a small handful of its original sailors, working to keep the sails trimmed to match the pace and heading of the Sadness.

As they sailed, Sandara and Henrye approached Captain Caddis. "Given the recent changes in the makeup of the crew and the need for martial readiness," they explained, "the crew would like to formally request that the Captain open up the ship's armory and the lockers of those "no longer with us" to make sure the present crew are properly armed and trained in case another opportunity for plunder presents itself."

"Pretty girl make gooood point," Thaduk said, "Let's bring loot to top deck for all to see. Every man who swear to Besmara to fight for plunder and brothers here on the Red Sadness get weapon."

Caddis agreed, "Also, with regards to the plunder from the captain's hold and the Ginger Belle, and any ship we take after this, every crewman, officers included, shall receive an equal share. Also, we shall always grant quarter and offer terms of surrender to any enemy we face, and all prisoners shall be treated well..."

The crew seemed greatly heartened by these shows of benevolence, and the "veterans" of the Red Sadness quickly ransacked the ship, emptying the armory, the quartermaster's stores, and the lockers of the missing crew men and hauling loads of magic items, weapons, armor, coins, booze, books, and other more mundane items up onto the deck.

"Officers get first choice," Riaris Krine, who had recently been untied and awakened insisted. Then all of the crew set about arming themselves. Caddis had all of the books and "other valuables" moved to the captain's quarters, booze moved to galley, and all general use tools and alchemical items placed in the quarter master's store.

Rounding a tall headland at the northern tip of New Caledonia revealed a hidden cove at the mouth of a wide river, its sluggish brown waters staining the waters of the blue sea like an ugly bruise. A series of docks had been built upon this estuary, with buildings concealed beneath the overhanging limbs of the dried and brown jungle beyond. A wooden watchtower stood upon the promontory of the headland, carefully concealed among the trees to provide a clandestine view of the seas.

A thick early-morning fog rolled off the river, further shrouding the small community. Caddis, standing the Sadness' prow, noticed signal flags flashing between the watchtower and the docks. Then he heard something strange, above the sound of the waves slapping against the Sadness's hull, and the echo-effect of the waves striking the Belle, was the sound of waves crashing against a third ship, in line with their two. He looked around but saw nothing.

Looking up, they saw a small single-masted longboat being run out from the docks with perhaps a half-dozen men aboard, flying the blue flag of parley. The small boat signaled for them to drop anchor, but just as the Sadness began to do so, the men on the small boat began waving their flags in a panic and back-rowing. Looking around, they saw another ship, triple-masted and roughly the size of their own appearing out of thin air of their starboard side. The ship was flying a reindeer-headed Jolly-Rodger and had run out its cannons, a full six of them to a side, and was coming into position for a full broadside.

Leopold told the crew to weigh anchor but stay on the capstan, swinging the ship around to put the Ginger Belle between them and the attacking ship. Rummy ordered the crew to man the catapult and pair of ballista they had found in the hold, while Riaris Krine and Thaduk the Sot swung the long nine into position. Meanwhile, Sandara Quinn shrouded their ship in fog and Caddis summoned a swarm of bilge spiders onto the deck of the enemy ship to distract them.

Their quick reactions worked. The Belle took the brunt of the broadside, crippling it, but allowing them to take out two of the cannons with their return fire. Leopold then ordered the crew to drop anchor, arresting their momentum and allowing the Sadness to swing in behind the enemy vessel. Caddis then set their rigging alight with a fireball cast from the staff of fire they had found in the officer's quarters.

The enemy captain, a white-bearded man in a red suit, spun the wheel and brought the flaming ship careening into the Sadness. The entire enemy crew--some fourty short white-bearded fellows in green and red striped outfits, eight massive caribou (or were they elk?), and the captain--swung over to the Sadness and engaged the crew directly.

On the poop deck, Caddis, Leopold, Rummy, Fishguts, and Riaris Krine found themselves toe-to-toe with the enemy captain and four of his reindeer companions. Leopold tagged the captain with a tanglefoot bag, gluing him in place next to the rail, and the other four rushed in to surround him. The reindeer charged, but Caddis was able to put one to sleep before they hit. One crashed into Leopold, another into Caddis, goring them badly. Rummy sidestepped the fourth, sending in plummeting over the rail. The crew, meanwhile, were busy shoving the burning enemy vessel away with boarding pikes and dealing with the swarm of diminutive, bearded pirates.

Despite the threat of the reindeer, everyone ganged up on the enemy captain, but their blows kept failing to penetrate the thick red suit he wore. Finally Fishguts struck him a ringing blow to the side of the head with his trusty frying pan. In retaliation, the captain gutted Fishguts with his hook hand, disemboweling the poor cook. Rummy and Riaris flanked the captain, swinging at him, mostly ineffectually, then dancing out of reach to avoid his deadly hook. Finally Rummy managed to land a solid stab into the captain's side, followed by a mighty blow from Riaris, her nodachi bursting into flames and setting the captain's suit alight. She took a swipe from the hook for her efforts, but Rummy finished him off with a thrust to his back.

Leopold, hurt from the reindeer attack, fled up into the rigging while Caddis put a second deer to sleep with his evil eye. The last remaining reindeer turned and charged Riaris Krine. Leopold leaped out of the rigging, landing on the reindeer's back and impaling it with Medo Avassaldor. The reindeer thrashed and bucked, but could not knock him off, and instead turned to lashing out at Riaris with its hooves and biting teeth.

Rummy and Riaris moved in and swiped at the reindeer, but, in their eagerness to avoid its hooves, their swings went wild and both struck Leopold, one after the other. The reindeer managed to sink its teeth into Rummy, dealing a grievous wound and causing the flesh around the bite to harden and take on a spiraling white and red pallor. Finally, Caddis nailed the reindeer with his last sleep spell, and Leopold finished it off. "Leave the others alive," Caddis insisted, "they'll keep longer for meat that way..."

Down on the main deck, the crew finally subdued the last of the elves, though not without cost. Sixteen of the Red Sadness's crew lay dead: Fishguts, Crimson Cog, two of the orc slaves from the Ginger Belle, and a dozen of the Belle's sailors they had taken on. Sandara, Caulky, and Rattline Rattsberger lay wounded and unconscious. To counter this, thirty-eight of the enemy sailors had been slain, and the last subdued and taken prisoner (while quarter had been offered, it had certainly not been taken).

The enemy ship was a mess, with the mast fallen in and all of the rigging burned away. They brought the Sadness alongside and the crew proceeded to raid the ship's stores, coming away with a massive pile of goods and treasures of all kinds, as well as ten functioning cannon and accompanying ammunition with which to better arm the Sadness (which made Riaris Krine very very happy). Caddis appointed Rummy as the official quartermaster and the orcish house-slaves, who were very good at book-keeping, as his assistants, and ordered them to make a thorough accounting of everything taken.

Leopold helped Sandara back to her feet and she set about performing funeral rites (and finishing off) the deceased crewmen of both ships, before tossing them into the sea. Rummy stopped her from taking Fishgut's body, claiming that he wanted to perform the rites himself.

As they looted the enemy ship, the longboat from the docks came back, now flying a white flag of surrender alongside the request for parley. A wizened old man came aboard, wide-eyed and terrified looking, and introduced himself as Rickety Hake.

Caddis quickly offered him both the Ginger Belle and the enemy ship, "The Reindeer", in exchange for his services squibbing and rechristening the Sadness (and his discretion should Captain Herrera come asking about them). Rickety agreed, and also agreed to provide some upgrades to the Sadness while he was working on it: extending the keel, adding additional space for more crew quarters and cargo, giving it a broader rudder for better handling, improved sails and rigging for increased speed, gun ports (4 per side and 2 aft) in the middle hold for the new cannons, smuggling compartments built into the bulkheads, and an extended bowsprit and figurehead (carved to your specifications) that would be reinforced to serve as a ram.

Rickety told them it would take him at least a week to retrofit the Sadness. The three ships were towed into drydock, with work scheduled to begin the next morning, and the crew were given shares of the loot and leave to explore the small settlement while they waited. Even the Cameron sisters were released from the bilges and allowed to go ashore (under guard) so that they could send messages and negotiate their ransom.

Late that night, Caddis, Leopold, and Rummy crept back aboard the Sadness. Unwilling to let their friend go, Rummy, after consulting a book titled “Demonologia Sexualis” which had been found in Peppery Longfarthing's laboratory, gathered up Fishgut's disemboweled body. Down in the bottom hold, they hung the corpse upside down, scalped it, and anointed it with gentian and tormentil. Rummy then, while chanting words that should never be heard by the ears of mortal men, cut the body in two, from groin to scalp…

Out of the cleft spilled a transparent cube-shaped mass. The thing was cold to the touch, with Ambrose’s internal organs and purple lotus flowers clearly visible floating within it, and smelled strongly of urine. It was henceforth dubbed, “Fishguts”, in honor of their departed friend.

…it is currently living in the bilges of the Red Sadness, waiting to devour anything or anyone thrown down to it.

The Dread Pirate Santa

Captain Nikolaos of Myra
This elderly Grecian is captain of the "Reindeer". Nikolaos and his crew sail all over the world, appearing seemingly at random. He and his crew of "elves" (as he insists on calling the short, bearded Norwegians who man the Reindeer) prey only on other pirates, usually after they've made a nice haul, and have been so successful that Nikolaus is rumored to be among the wealthiest men on the planet.

Nikolaos is eccentric, to say the least, and just as terrifying as one might expect of such an experienced pirate hunter, dressing all in red, with a thick beard, and a terrifying red-streaked hood for hand. He insists that his crew dress similarly. One pirate who escaped his attacks described him thusly:

"He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly..."

While the crew of the Reindeer prey on the most successful pirates, they have been known to appear and provide assistance to buccaneers just starting out. The Reindeer will appear out of no-where, deliver a full broadside from their cannon, firing packages filled with excess loot or useful equipment rather than cannon balls, then vanish into the mist. If attacked though, the crew of the Reindeer will not hesitate to defend themselves with almost-certainly deadly force.

Captain Nikolaos fights as a Frost Giant, dealing massive damage with his candy-cane hook hand. He is always aided in battle by eight large, magical reindeer (stats as Onyx Deer save that their bite turns targets into solid peppermint). His massive bag of holding may contain any of a wide variety of festive magic items.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Beyond the Shore: Session 8

Marvel at the beauty the great sea provides
Unite against the sick power which ensnares us
Teach the evils that we don’t serve darkness 
Indulge in the sweet luxuries we've been deprived
Night is when we strike, then take flight in the morn
Yawn when it’s all over and set sail on our new life

-- Grant Horst


As the wreckage of the "Promessa de Man" faded into the distance, the remaining crew members of the Red Sadness began to gather on deck, their faces a mixture of shock, confusion, and relief. Thaduk sent his uncle belowdecks to raid the stores of plum wine to celebrate. The Sot soon came up carrying enough cases of wine for everyone on the ship to be double-fisting bottles. Our heroes, meanwhile, began debating which of them would be in charge. Caddis eventually declared himself Captain, naming Rummy as first mate, Thaduk as bosun, and Leopold as sailing master.

As Caddis stepped up to start barking his first orders as Captain, Riaris Krine very politely tapped him on the shoulder and insisted that, as the highest ranking officer aboard, and the most experienced sailor, and the most capable of kicking his ass, if she didn't like him so much, she should probably be captain herself. With some quick tongue-wagging, Caddis convinced Riaris that the Red Sadness should be governed democratically with some nudging from Leopold who quoted the wild theories of Thomas Hobbes and sections of the Magna Carta (at least, those which had not long since been abolished by Emperor Prospero. Caddis said that he would serve as "Interim Captain" to keep the ship running, until such time as arrangements could be made for a fair, closed-ballot election of the new permanent captain and a council of elected representatives for the crew. These promises, however empty, mollified the still charmed Master Gunner--though she made a point of very loudly announcing the promise of elections to the rest of the crew as well.

With that problem out of the way (at least until Caddis' spell wore off and Riaris realized that she had been duped), the new officers crowded around the wheel to discuss where to head next. Henrye butted in asking why, now that they had control of the ship, they would go anywhere but "home". Leopold, expert navigator that he was, pointed out that home was more than five hundred leagues away, and their ship was understaffed. He suggested they head to the nearest major port, the Spanish Port Havannah on the isle of Efate, and hire more crew, though even that was a good 130 leagues away, with the next closest, the penal colony of Brisbane, nearly twice that distance.

Fishguts wandered up, well into his second bottle of plum wine, but not yet completely wasted and gave the new "Captain" a friendly, sweaty hug. "Ah, boy, you done well!" he said, then pointed out that through the portholes by the galley he saw the captain sink into the ocean...which meant that he was definitely coming back, and likely would be very angry with them. Fishguts suggested that they get the Sadness "squibbed"--rechristened and refitted to change its sails and outline and make it harder to recognize. He pointed out that there was a small, hidden port on the island of Nouvelle Calédonie, not twenty leagues distant, where an old friend of his named "Rickety Hake" provided just such services...

The new officers all agreed that Fishgut's plan was the best and Leopold set a course for the hidden cove. Thaduk and Rummy then went down to the captain's cabin to look for loot, figuring that "squibbing" services would not come cheap. Rummy pulled out his picks and went to work on the door, only to report that the lock was "impossible" and there were at least two traps on it. Thaduk shrugged, walked a couple paces to the side, and punched a hole in the wall. A few tugs later and there was a door-sized hole right into the captain's treasure room, where they found several thousand pounds worth of coins, gems, fine plate, and other easily liquidated loot.

Rummy crawled through the hole and took a look at the door that would have lead from the captain's cabin into the storage room. From the inside, he was easily able to disarm the trap that was set on it by removing the five poisoned darts that would have shot at someone opening it, then jimmied the lock open. The cabin was very nicely furnished, but had no weapons nor portable valuables, other than the captain's collection of nautical charts which were spread out on the bed.

Up on the poop deck, Caddis and Leopold discussed what to do with Riaris, since they were running out of time on Caddis' charm spell. Finally Caddis, very politely, asked Riaris to take one of the pairs of manacles from her belt and put them on herself, and that he would do likewise, as a sign to the crew that the officers would not be leading be force and threats. She bought it, passed Caddis a pair of manacles, and cuffed herself, loosely. Caddis did the same. She then took the other two sets down to Thaduk and Rummy. Rummy slipped a pair on Thaduk, again loosely, then managed to get his hands on Riaris' manacles to click them shut. Then...

Rummy grabbed the guns from her belt...and shot her at point-blank range. Thaduk grabbed her by the manacles and hoisted her off the ground. Adriana jumped in, grabbed the unfasted irons off of Thaduk's wrists and clapped them on her ankles. Then Leopold laid a belaying pin along the back of her head, knocking her out cold. Caddis knelt down and implanted a few thoughts in her head, ensuring that when she woke up she would realize that she could not possibly succeed in challenging his captaincy and that she never really liked Captain Herrera and maybe she'd be better off serving as Master Gunner under Caddis.

They had just starting debating where, or how, or whether to lock her up for the time being when a cry of "Ship Ahoy!", came from Caulky Taroon, who had been sulking in the crows nest. The new officers looked around at their crew. With the master gunner unconscious, the Sot passed out drunk, and Caddis unwilling to order his sister into a battle, that left only nine people on the ship, plus the five of them. The other ship was already close enough that they could see its colors, the flag of a slaver of the Dutch West India company...

Given their recent experience with being press-ganged, and the high percentage of orcs in the group, the new officers of the Red Sadness had some oddly progressive ideas regarding slavery. If they could take the ship, they could free the slaves and likely significantly bolster the size of their crew. Leopold spun the wheel with panache and set them on a pursuit course while Thaduk gave a terrifyingly inspirational speech to the small crew, reminding them that no number of slavers could be as dangerous or frightening as him.

Even with as small of a crew as they had, with Leopold at the helm their ship was the faster and they soon gained on the slaver. The target was a small brig, immaculately clean, sporting a fresh coat of paint, and bearing the name "Ginger Belle" in bright gold lettering (oddly in English, despite flying Dutch colors). As they neared, they could see that the other ship had no cannons (not that they could use their own with Riaris out of commission), but did have a full compliment of crew, easily twice their numbers.

Caddis rummaged through the captain's locker and pulled out his collection of flags. Finding a matching Dutch merchant ensign, he went up on deck and suggested that they hail the other ship and pretend to be buying slaves. They ran up the flag and their hail was returned by the captains of the Ginger Belle, two rather flamboyantly dressed girls.

Rummy and Caddis disappeared into the Captain's Quarters, coming back disguised as women themselves. They slowed and pulled alongside the Ginger Belle and a boarding plank was laid along the rails, holding the two ships together so they could talk. The co-captains of the other ship came off as simultaneously heartless with regards to their cargo, and completely ditzy otherwise, classic Carolina-colony belles. They paraded up their merchandise, five dark-skinned orcs, much cleaner and better looking than any orcs our heroes had ever seen, but with nowhere near the musculature they were used to seeing.

A series of questioned asked of the slaves showed that they were reasonably intelligent, but also all mutes. Caddis asked if there were any more they could look at. "No," the blond captain replied, "We only deal in the finest household slaves, no rough workers. Quality not quantity." It soon became clear that the girls were charging a full hundred guineas a head for their slaves, and could easily make more money on these five than on an entire galley packed with the common variety.

Finally getting fed up with the southern pleasantries and talk of human chattel, Caddis changed his disguise to look like Captain Herrera, while Thaduk picked up a barrel and looked threatening and Adriana run up Herrera's pirate flag. The effect was successful, as the Ginger Belle's crew scattered, wetting themselves. The girls however, seemed more or less non-plussed, almost cheerfully offering themselves up as hostages, promising that their father would pay any ransom, and suggesting that it might be fun to be captured by such an infamous pirate.

Captain Caddis might have taken the easy deal, had not one of the girls clearly-not-too-clever guards audibly pointed out that they had the Red Sadness's crew substantially out-numbered. Rummy casually shot the loud-mouth in the kneecap while Adriana pointed out the fine "health-plan", read as, "not killing you", and shares in the plunder they would offer to any of the crewmen who would come over to their ship. Caddis added that they were taking not only the slaves, but the ship as well, and suggested that the crew should kill their own captains.

Another sailor, well armed and heavily armored, stepped up to the girls and asked with a note of irony "Permission to stab you in the back captains?" At which point, of course, blades were drawn and battle was joined. The armored guard leapt the rail and stabbed Caddis, while the red head cut clean through the barrel of one of the pistols Rummy was holding, destroying it. The blond just started...dancing. Luckily the rest of their crew seemed disinclined to engage in melee with such "notorious" pirates.

Rummy and Adriana pulled swords and ganged up on the red-head while Caddis back-peddled, trying to keep the guard at bay with his claws. Leopold struck up an inspirational tune and shouted for reinforcements. Tilly, Sandara, and Henrye rushed to their aid. Henrye rushed a bit too far and toppled right into the water. Tilly started drunkenly pummeling the blond bimbo whose dancing Leopold could barely take his eyes off of.

Another clever twist of the red-head's dagger sent Adriana's greatsword over the edge into the water. Henrye, flailing and barely keeping himself afloat, at least managed to grab the sword before it disappeared to the bottom of the ocean, though the added weight only made it harder for him to swim. Pulling her gunblade, Adriana and Rummy stabbed and shot the girl repeatedly, taking her down, then helped Sandara and Caddis finish off the guard. Then the blond finally went down to dozens of glancing blows and grazing strikes after the seven of them surrounded her.

Adriana jumped across to the other ship and demanded the crew's surrender, which they readily did, then declared herself "Admiral" of the two understaffed ships. Caddis freed the five slaves and ordered Sandara and a couple others of the crew to take two girls below decks, patch them up enough to ensure they wouldn't die, then chain them up in the bilges.

They fished Henrye out. Then they tied the Ginger Belle off so they could tow it to a port for sale (or possible refitting depending on how serious Adriana was about requesting letters of reprisal from her grandfather and running a small fleet of privateers), and set sail for the coast of New Caledonia and "Rickety's Squibs".

They now had a crew, two ships, and some valuable hostages.

Not a bad first day of piracy at all.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Bit of Inspiration

It's been a while since I posted one of these, because, life, but that in no way means that I stopped interpreting everything I see on the internet through the lens of "can I use this in a game". Given the mostly nautical campaign I am running right now, let's look at some materials that may be directly useful for that, and perhaps some items I am already using...

For starters let us introduce...

1) The Vampire Cephalopod from Hell

Yes, that is the official name of this awesome animal.
Vampyroteuthis infernalis sadly does not feed on blood, is quite small (maxing out at roughly a foot long), and lacks the color-changing abilities of shallower dwelling squid and octopi. These in no way reduce the awesomeness of this beast (and, of course, there is always room for a giant version in D&D).
Living in the deep aphotic zone of the ocean, the vampire-squid has proportionally the largest eyes in the entire animal kingdom. In place of the chromatophores that allow octopi to change colors, the Vampire-squid is covered in modulatable photophores, allowing its entire body to light up or flash with varying patterns and intensity -- providing its own light or dazzling and disorienting enemies. In place of ink it ejects a sticky mass of bio-luminescent mucus from the tips of its tentacles... Tentacles which are joined by webbing to make a kind of cloak, and covered on the inner side with tooth-like spines instead of suckers...with the typical sharp squid-beak in the middle.
To add to the weirdness (or awesomeness), the vampire-squid lives in the OMZ (a layer of the aphotic zone normally thought to have too little oxigen to support aerobic lifeforms), also known as the Shadow Zone (because its home of course needs a sufficiently creepy name). In order to maintain agility and buoyancy while minimizing oxygen use, their body tissues are made up largely of Ammonium (a positively charged compound of nitrogen and hydrogen that is toxic to many other lifeforms -- including almost all plant life).
So, there you have it...toothed tentacles, blinding flashes of light, luminescent mucus clouds, and largely made out of poison. If that is not good monster fodder, I don't know what is.
Because analyzing an obscure
cephalopod is a useful tool for
examining the human condition?
Oh, and if you need to throw in some blood-sucking, there is always this great quote from a 2010 Rolling Stone article comparing Goldman Sachs to: "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money". The real vampire-squid might not have a "blood-funnel", but the monster version totally needs to latch on to human faces and jam one in.
There is also this great book by the Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste. If a "Scientific Institute for Paranatural Research" is not sufficiently gameable, I really don't know what is. And, even better, it includes lines like "The vampyroteuthis cannot fathom Utopias, for the structure of its society is not a cultural product, but rather a biological given. When it engages in politics—it commits a violent act against itself.
So now our Vampire Squid from Hell engages in self-destructive politics? The squid may be from Hell, but I've gone to monster-inspiration heaven here...

2) British Tars...
When I first started planning my Beyond the Shore game, I stumbled upon This Blog which focuses on historical analysis of paintings and images of British sailors from 1740-1790, Now, I knew two things going into this campaign: first, that I wanted to not be too tied down to a particular date, but that I did want to evoke 18th century British imperialism, and, second, that I really wanted the party to be press-ganged aboard a ship fairly early in the campaign. Entirely by coincidence, I stumbled upon "British Tars" while it was running a series titled "Press Gang Week 2015"...
And thus was I blessed with tons of period images of sailors with cudgels forcing people onto boats...who could ask for anything more?
"The Press-Gang in New York," Howard Pyle, 1882.

3) Casabianca
There is a tremendous wealth of poetry surrounding the lives of sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries, and I don't just mean Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner (though that is certainly a good one). There is so much material, both new and period, that I have been trying to start every session of the game with a reading of a poem that evokes the mood and portends some of the encounters for that night's game. Of all of the poems I have dug up and stashed as inspiration for the game, my absolute favorite so far is "Casabianca" by Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1826). It opens with the famous line...
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead. 
Because, really, what better way to start a game about piracy than by talking about children standing on burning, sinking ships strewn with corpses.
The poem relates to an incident of devotion and heroism witnessed during the Battle of the Nile (July 1798), in which an British naval squadron under Lord Nelson caught the French fleet at anchor and unprepared. The French flagship was the L'Orient and it soon found itself flanked by English ships attacking from both sides. A fierce battle was soon raging and the flashes of 2000 guns lit up the ships in the gathering darkness. L'Orient was caught by the English broadsides and was set ablaze. 
There came a burst of thunder sound... 
The boy-oh! where was he? 
Ask of the winds that far around 
With fragments strewed the sea. 
It was then that the English sailors saw an amazing sight. There on that burning deck they saw a boy standing alone. He was Giocante Cassabianca, the 12 year old son of one of the ship's captain. There he stood, alone at his post. He was surrounded by flames and facing the astonished English foe. Soon afterwards the fire reached the powder magazine deep down in the hold. The boy perished when the whole ship erupted in a massive explosion.
The sound of L’Orient blowing up was heard at Rosetta 20 miles away. And the glow of the fireball was seen in Alexandria. The English sailors stood in awe at what they had just witnessed. For some twenty minutes the guns were silent. The English officers and men were absolutely horrified at the carnage that had taken place. The account of that boy who stood on that burning deck was told and retold. Eventually it passed on into legend. 
 With mast, and helm, and pennon fair, 
That well had borne their part; 
But the noblest thing which perished there 
Was that young faithful heart.

The Explosion of the L'Orient, by George Arnald (1763-1841)

4) Another terrifying monster...
This image has been floating around the internet for the last year, largely thanks to this Reddit thread. While the larger image has lots of clear satire (nuns with phallic holy symbols, jester characters, et. al) I prefer this zoomed in focus on the cat...because, seriously, what better way to terrify players than with a monster that makes off with one's reproductive organs and permanently maims rather than kills...
The monster version of this cat is named the Koro (for obvious reasons)... 
The Koro
These strange cat-like predators love the water, living in the ocean, but preying on land-dwelling beasts. At night they steal aboard ships, seeking out men as they sleep, and absconding with their private parts. Some believe they do this because they lack such parts themselves, and must steal the phallus of a man in order to work their own reproduction. The Koro despises the smell of dead fish and can be driven off if confronted with such. 
Obviously since the game is using Pathfinder rules, the thing needs to have Improved Sever as a bonus feat...
Koro recoil from the smell of dead fish. These things don’t harm the koro—they merely keep it at bay. A recoiling koro must stay at least 5 feet away from the fish and cannot touch or make melee attacks against a creature holding a dead fish. Holding a koro at bay takes a standard action. A Koro attacked with a fish while holding a penis, must make a DC 15 Will save or drop its prize. A successful attack roll with a fish will also negate the Koro’s damage reduction for 1 round.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Beyond the Shore: Session 7

The boy stood on the burning deck 
Whence all but he had fled; 
The flame that lit the battle's wreck 
Shone round him o'er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood, 
As born to rule the storm; 
A creature of heroic blood, 
A proud, though childlike form.

The flames roll'd on...he would not go 
Without his father's word; 
That father, faint in death below, 
His voice no longer heard.

He call'd aloud..."Say, father, say 
If yet my task is done!" 
He knew not that the chieftain lay 
Unconscious of his son.

"Speak, father!" once again he cried 
"If I may yet be gone!" 
And but the booming shots replied, 
And fast the flames roll'd on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath, 
And in his waving hair, 
And looked from that lone post of death, 
In still yet brave despair;

And shouted but one more aloud, 
"My father, must I stay?" 
While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud 
The wreathing fires made way,

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild, 
They caught the flag on high, 
And stream'd above the gallant child, 
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound... 
The boy-oh! where was he? 
Ask of the winds that far around 
With fragments strewed the sea.

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair, 
That well had borne their part; 
But the noblest thing which perished there 
Was that young faithful heart.

-- Felicia Dorothea Hemans


"FIRE!" Caddis and Thaduk's simultaneous cries echoed across the deck. "Fire in Quarters!"

Within moments their cries were drowned out by the thump of dozens of feet and numerous other cries from the crew running to the foredeck, buckets of sand and sea-water in hand. The already damaged and blood-streaked door of the officer's quarters was kicked open, and soon everyone was working furiously to put out the fire.

Thaduk rushed to assist, cutting loose and swamping one of the jolly-boats, then hauling it up, filled to the brim with water. Shouldering his way through the crowd of sailors, he barged through the door, "accidentally" sloshing a large quantity of the water over the bloody stains on the door and further damaging the frame in his eagerness to deliver the water-filled boat. Once through, he upended the whole boat over the already depleted fire, dousing the last of it.

Walking out, but leaving the boat, Thaduk saw that the entire crew, officers and fuming captain included, were assembled on deck. He immediately walked over to Mr. Plugg, the first mate, and said, in hushed tones, "It looks like someone left a lantern burning in the officer's quarters."

Mr. Plugg's face went white as he realized that he was the last one to exit the quarters before dinner and the Bloody Hour. In a rare moment of brilliance, Thaduk caught upon the officer's clear distress and offered him a way out. "I saw someone wearing a tricorne hat leaving just before dinner..." Mr. Plugg's face lit up at the realization that someone else could take the fall in what was, without question, a death sentence. At Caddi's mental prodding Thaduk added, "He saw them too...", indicating Caddis should talk before the dumb orc slipped up in his lying.

Mr. Plugg pushed the two Moonplummers towards the captain. "Sir! These two claim they saw something..."

"Well! What was it?!" the captain bellowed.

Picking up on Thaduk's earlier implication, Caddis whirled, fixed Peppery Longfarthing with his evil-eye, and leveled a finger strait at her. "She left the lantern burning in the officer's quarters!" Rummy, Adriana, and Leopold all chimed in, adding a chorus of "Aye, we saw her!" At a glare from Mr. Plugg, Master Scourge also agreed that she was the culprit. Despite the fact that they were implicating the ship's Sailing Master, and the possibly ridiculousness of a skilled sorceress needing to use a lamp, the captain believed them.

"Grab her!" the captain yelled. Thaduk charged the sorceress, but she flowed away from his attack like water. Panicked, she began chanting the words to a lightning bolt spell, but was disrupted by Rummy hitting her right between the eyes with a thrown mug.

In the blink of an eye, the captain vanished, reappearing directly behind Ms. Longfarthing. His blade lashed out twice in rapid succession, the first running through Tam Tate, possibly by accident, or more likely just in a murderous fury. He withdrew the blade, now wreathed in red-black flames, and plunged it into the sorceress's back. As he withdrew it again for a final, killing blow, she stumbled forward and sprinted for the far rail. Only to be beaten down by Adriana, Rummy, and Caddis, using whatever they could get their hands on, and finished off by a blow from Leopold's terrifying sword.

The captain stalked forward, pulled the already dead Peppery up by her hair, and swiftly decapitated her. "Strip her and throw her over the side..." he said, in a voice that betrayed as much disappointment as anger. He then stormed away and vanished back into his cabin.

With no more specific orders, the party divided up Ms. Longfarthing's gear and chucked her body and severed head overboard. The startled crew, meanwhile retired to their bunks or settled in on the deck, some muttering angrily about the death of the relatively well-liked Sailing Master. A few minutes later, the master gunner, Riaris Krine came out of the captain's quarters carrying a bundle. "Captain said to return the weapons we confiscated from you..." she said, dropping it at their feet.

Caddis withdrew belowdecks to inspect and identify the items taken from Ms. Longfarthing, as well as a few items they'd brought with them from Moonplum Village, including Thaduk's bugle, Adriana's gunblade, and Caddis' rose.


Up on deck, Leopold and Rummy returned to their stations, having volunteered for the night-watch. Leopold sang to pass the time, while hanging out in the rigging, while Rummy stood watch. After another hour, Rummy noticed tiny lights in the distance. He whistled to Leopold, who confirmed that they looked like the lights on another ship.

Rummy ran to the Officer's quarters, where the remaining officers were busy cleaning up and repairing the mess caused to their space by the fire and the efforts to put it out -- not to mention the harpoon going through the door, the (mostly washed-away) blood stains, the tampered-with chests, the discarded jolly-boat, and the burned bedding. He got a few angry and suspicious looks, until he mentioned the lights. The officers rushed on deck and Mr. Plugg confirmed the sighting with a shout of "Ship ahoy!"

Master Scourge whistled for "all hands". Captain Herrera came on deck, ordering the lights doused and a pursuit course set, then looked around with the same look of rage and disappointment at having so recently murdered his Sailing Master and helmsman. Leopold swung down from the rigging and grabbed the wheel, whirling it easily into a pursuit course and earning an appreciated almost-smile from the captain.

Even with Leopold's expertise at the helm, with no sorceress to conjure wind into their sails, the chase was a long one. By morning the distant ship had spotted them and put up full sail. Leopold led the crew in a rousing chorus to keep their spirits up and stave off fatigue.

Finally, nearly thirty hours after Rummy first spotted the ship, they came within firing distance. The Red Sadness's cannon tore into the target ship's sails and splinted its mizzenmast, slowing it to a crawl. "Bring us alongside Mister Burton! Prepare for boarding!" Captain Herrera cried. He then stalked up to Caddis, "Go get Fishguts, tell him I want three hogs slaughtered to chum the waters, we don't want any of them drowning..."

As Caddis ran to deal with the pigs, Riaris Krine came back to where the rest of the party had assembled on the poop deck near the wheel. "Thaduk," she said, calling them over. "The ship’s wheel is on the aft deck, just below the sterncastle. Grapple over, kill the guards on the sterncastle, take the wheel, and guard the ship’s boats. Kill anyone who tries to get away on one of the boats. Don’t move from the wheel until the fighting’s done, or you’ll have to answer to me. Pick any two crewmen to take with you...”

There was some lively debate as to who the party should take with them to take the sterncastle. Sandara Quinn, as a healer they could mostly trust, was the obvious choice. The other was greatly debated, but they finally decided on taking Henrye, figuring that if things went poorly they could 'accidentally' knock him into the shark-infested waters to get rid of the troublesome wanna-be do-gooder.

Leopold held the wheel and ran the Sadness alongside the other ship, close enough that their hauls scraped with the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. Captain Herrera and the rest of the crew were across in moments, laying in to the enemy sailors. When the sterncastles came abreast, Thaduk picked up and hurled the Sadness' second jolly-boat, knocking three of the sailors guarding the sterncastle into the sea.

The remaining defenders returned fire with heavy crossbows, injuring Leopold. Caddis and Rummy fired back with crossbows of their own, then Sandara blanketed the enemy ship's deck with thick fog. Thaduk leaped the rail and impaled one of the sailors with a spear. Then Caddis had an idea...

"Thaduk! Get back aboard, we're taking the ship..." he messaged, to the orc and both of his (conveniently named) uncles. He signaled to Leopold to steer the Sadness away from the other ship, a not-unreasonable thing to do in the circumstances, now that battle was joined on the other deck. Leopold spun the wheel and struck up a song to inspire his comrades...

Sandara blasted one of the last two sailors in the sterncastle away from where they were attacking Thaduk. Thaduk spotted Captain Herrera engaged with two of the enemy officers through a break in the fog and hit the remaining defender with a powerful uppercut, sending him hurtling into the captain's back, before leaping the rail back onto the Sadness.

As the Sadness pulled away from the other ship, the other two Thaduks, as well as a few other crewmen broke off from combat and made running leaps for the ship. The Sot landed on the Sadness, but the Smith fell into the water. Thaduk looked back to see his uncle treading water and beating off sharks with his hammer. He rushed down to the officer's quarters, grabbed the very last jolly-boat (the one he'd been using to haul water) and hurled it to his uncle.

Rummy ran across the deck and cut a line, releasing the main topsail and using the falling spar as a counterweight to carry him up into the rigging where he quickly and masterfully tied the sail off. Leopold spun the wheel and the ship caught a strong easterly wind, speeding it away from the battle.

Meanwhile, on deck, two shots rang out, accompanied by a string of curses. Riaris Krine, who had been manning the fore-cannon, was stalking across the deck, pistols out and firing at Rummy and the other mutineers. Caddis, locked eyes with her and, with a flourish, somehow one of the bullets that had been hurtling toward Rummy appeared harmlessly in his hand, still burning hot from the flight. Focusing his evil eye, he charmed the master gunner.

Riaris quickly rounded up Thaduk and Thaduk the Sot to haul the long nine from the forecastle to the poop deck. Once set up, one carefully aimed shot put a hole in the other vessel, right at the water line. The other ship began to sink...

In a flash Captain Herrera appeared in the jolly boat with Thaduk Smith. The Smith swung his hammer, taking the captain in the kneecap before he was stabbed through the heart himself. Riaris took aim and hit the jolly boat with a second shot from the cannon, blowing it to flinders.

With the other ship crippled and sinking, Captain Herrera lost in the smoke and debris, and a stiff wind in their sails, our heroes made off with their stolen ship...


Crew who made it back aboard the Red Sadness:
Caddis Duncaster
Adrianna Harlowe
Leopold Burton
Riaris Krine
Fishguts Kroop
Thaduk the Sot
Sandara Quinn
Henrye Allingham
Jessica Duncaster
Caulky Taroon
Tilly Bracket
Fipps Chumlett
Crimson Cog
Ratline Rattsberger
Badger Medlar

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Justification for Your Paranoia

So [again, So seems to be my favorite word for starting posts], it's been a long while since I've posted one of has been complicated, I might get into details in a future unrelated post. Even when not posting these, I am constantly reading and constantly setting aside potential material for these updates. Rather than bog you down with ALL of the security nonsense from the last few months, I've thrown out a pile and jumped to the last couple of weeks section. Here is a pile of recent weird stuff from the world of information security... Enjoy!

1) VTech
Several years ago, my wife and I both worked in the "Edutainment" industry, making supposedly educational computer software. As people who used to get paid to do research into the efficacy of such things, we made a strong commitment to never expose our children to such scams (and really, almost all educational software is a scam). Discussions of efficacy aside, during Thanksgiving week of this year, the world learned another big reason not to put their trust in educational software and gadgets: they have just as little security as everything else out there...
While not on the scale of many previous breaches (not that 6 million users is small, but relative to hundreds of millions, it certainly is), the breach of educational toy maker VTech made headline news for a much different reason: the breached users were children and families. Also, the information obtained was not just usernames and passwords. The hacker who pulled this one got the names, addresses, and photographs of children, along with logs of chats between parents and children, and even audio samples and recordings of the kids voices.  
Analysis of the VTech breach done by various groups has turned up the typical issues: SQL Errors, lack of data retention boundaries, bad or missing encryption, passwords stored as a simple MD5 hash (i.e. not encrypted at all), etc. etc. etc.  Troy Hunt's analysis on Arstechnica goes into a lot of useful detail about how horrendous VTech's security really was. If these problems were isolated, you might be fine, but these are problems industry wide. And I don't mean just edutainment. All tech companies (including the ones I work for) have these problems. Also, kids are not just getting their hands on kid-specific products like VTech (how many of you have handed your kid an iPad to distract them for a bit). 
Since the hack, every site and news source from ABCNews, to NPR, to Sophos (the antivirus vendor) have made recommendations about how parents should respond or 'how to keep your kids safe' or the like. Let me make it very simple for you as someone with expertise in both educational gadgets and security, who is also a parent...
Just Don't.
Don't buy them. Don't use them.
Give your kids a book. You can't hack a book. And they'll learn so much more...
The one redeeming grace in this story is that the hacker was a relatively ethical one. In an interview with Motherboard (who originally broke the story), said hacker revealed the existence of forums broadly dedicated to hacking the VTech Innotab tablet ("for the lulz"). So far as is known, the hacker has not sold or otherwise profited from the data dumps and claims that,"I just want issues made aware of and fixed."

2) Fun Android Games...
No, not the kind where you click and launch birds, the kind where you easily spoof your email name and address and Google doesn't do anything about it. Thanks to the very slow turnaround and release cycle of fixing Android bugs (and the nature response to the researchers bug report), this is something you can try from home very easily and probably will be able to do for a fairly long time.

If you are using GMail and want to mess with your friends who have Android devices, just click on the gear icon in the top right of gmail. Select "Settings" then "Accounts and Import". Scroll down to "Send Mail As" and click "edit info" on the far right. Input the name you want displayed followed by a quotation mark, then the email address you want to display in quotes (Security Guy """). Note the double quotes between the name and the address, that's the part that triggers the bug.
The next time you send an email to an Android users, they will see only the Name and email address you entered and your actual information will be completely obscured (even if the user clicks 'show details').
Have fun phishing!
Note: If they open the email on anything other than an Android device, they will be able to see your actual sender information. Until this is fixed, you probably want to check your gmail using a browser rather than your phone. 

3) Keep your phone in the other room when watching TV...
High-frequency sounds are being used to track people's behavior across multiple devices (TVs, tablets, phones, and computers). The ultrasonic pitches are embedded into TV commercials or internet ads. While the sound can't be heard by the human ear, nearby tablets and smartphones can detect it. When they do, browser cookies can now pair a single user to multiple devices and keep track of what TV commercials the person sees, how long the person watches the ads, and whether the person acts on the ads by doing a Web search or buying a product. 
A letter to the FTC from the Center for Democracy and Technology detailed that this ultrasonic cross-device tracking is already being used by more than a dozen marketing companies. The use of ultrasonics also has some similarity to "badBIOS", a piece of theoretical malware that uses ultrasonic transmissions to jump between airgapped (non-networked) computers.
On the plus side, it looks like the FTC is working on the issue. On Nev 16th, they hosted a Cross-Device Tracking Workshop to discuss both the benefits and the privacy and security concerns associated with this technology. Of course, it could be years before any regulations or software or hardware mitigations are made to curb this activity.

For now, just remember to stash your phone in a sound-proof drawer when you want to watch something in private...

4) Yahoo! wants its money...
...and will hold your emails ransom to get it.
If you are like me (which I never really presume, but you're reading this so we must have something in common) you probably have several free email addresses (for whatever reason). Between the various big-name options (Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.), Yahoo mail has long been popular with many privacy-minded folks who don't want all of their info being shared with Google (who are pretty open about using the content of your emails to drive targeted advertisements). Of course, Yahoo! also gets its money from adds (if slightly less targeted). Well, now Yahoo! is trying to make sure they recoup that revenue one way or another, and they'll stop you from reading your mail to get it.
Yahoo has acknowledged that it is testing a "product experience" that prevents some users from viewing their email messages. The problem can be fixed if those users turn off their ad blockers. Some users reported receiving pop-up messages asking them to disable their ad blockers before being permitted to view the contents of their inbox. If you are using Yahoo e-mail and you didn't pay for it, you are the product... if you want privacy, or if you don't like ads, you need to pay for it (or so say the folks at Yahoo). 
Of course, in many cases ad blockers are being used to prevent malicious adverts infecting the user's computer. In 2014, Yahoo admitted that adverts on its homepage had been infected with and serving malware for several days before they addressed the issue.
In the real world the cost of a retailer to attract customers to their store is to ensure the customers will be safe in that store and not robbed or molested by criminals. Likewise website owners and advertising network companies need to review how they can guarantee the privacy and security of their customers to their websites. It's high time that sites that depend on ad revenue realize that ad-blocking isn't just an "experience" issue for consumers - it's a security issue.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Beyond the Shore: Session 6

This is not my home. How did I get so far from water? 
It must be over that way somewhere. 

I am the color of wine, of tinta. The inside of my powerful 
right claw is saffron-yellow. See, I see it now; I wave it like a 
flag. I am dapper and elegant; I move with great precision, 
cleverly managing all my smaller yellow claws. I believe in the 
oblique, the indirect approach, and I keep my feelings to myself. 
But on this strange, smooth surface I am making too much 
noise. I wasn't meant for this. If I maneuver a bit and keep a 
sharp lookout, I shall find my pool again. Watch out for my right 
claw, all passersby! This place is too hard. The rain has stopped, 
and it is damp, but still not wet enough to please me. 

My eyes are good, though small; my shell is tough and tight. 
In my own pool are many small gray fish. I see right through 
them. Only their large eyes are opaque, and twitch at me. They 
are hard to catch but I, I catch them quickly in my arms and 
eat them up. 

What is that big soft monster, like a yellow cloud, stifling 
and warm? What is it doing? It pats my back. Out, claw. There, 
I have frightened it away. It's sitting down, pretending nothing's 
happened. I'll skirt it. It's still pretending not to see me. Out of 
my way, O monster. I own a pool, all the little fish that swim in it, 
and all the skittering waterbugs that smell like rotten apples. 
Cheer up, O grievous snail. I tap your shell, encouragingly, 
not that you will ever know about it. 

And I want nothing to do with you, either, sulking toad. 
Imagine, at least four times my size and yet so vulnerable... I 
could open your belly with my claw. You glare and bulge, a 
watchdog near my pool; you make a loud and hollow noise. I 
do not care for such stupidity. I admire compression, lightness, 
and agility, all rare in this loose world. 

-- Elizabeth Bishop

The Red Sadness sails through the relatively calm waters of the Coral Sea. While the storm of the past two days had left the ship well off Captain Herrera's originally intended course, back to the busier shipping lanes near the Solomans and some potential bounty. In the meantime, all of the new recruits from Moonplum had been excused from their regular work.

Before dawn they were awakened by a stream of foul-mouthed invectives from the ship's master-gunner, Riaris Krine, pulled out of their hammocks, and marched up topside. As the sun began glimmering on the horizon, they found themselves floating in a pair of jolly boats, taking turns rowing to keep up with the big ship (though luckily with a trio of Thaduk's around, most of them were spared the workout).

Riaris stood balanced in the prow of the one boat, her mate Kipper in the other. By their command the two small boats rowed up to flank the Sadness, one on either side. Several ropes with grappling hooks attached are piled near them. "Alright you mong-loving dipstick assjackers! You and you!" she said, pointing to Caddis and Leopold as Rummy and Thaduk took turns with the oars. "Grab the ropes you pribbling pottle-deep tars, be quick!"

She took one of the grapples and demonstrates throwing it to latch onto the rail of the ship, then tied it off to a peg on the side of the jolly-boat. "Catch! Tie! Climb! Simple enough even you filthy motherloving landlubbers should be able to do it! If you fall off, you try again or your big friend will beat you senseless before supper!"

Caddis quickly grabbed a grapnel and easily tossed it up to catch on the ship's rail, then tied it off. "Now climb motherfucker!" came the cry from Riaris. Caddis scampered up the rope. About halfway up he was beaned by an empty rum-bottle, just part of a rain of garbage tossed at him by a couple of sailors in the aftcastle. Caddis held on despite the barrage and was soon back aboard the Sadness.

Leopold did not fair so well. It took him three tries, and much jeering from Master Krine, to catch the rail. Then, when he began to climb, a well-placed coconut from the deck knocked him clean off the rope and into the drink. Eventually, though, he managed to scramble back into the jolly-boat and up the rope to the deck.

Rummy went next, with little trouble, easily dodging the barrage of trash. Leaving only Riaris and Thaduk in the boat.

"Ship oars!" the gunner yelled. Thaduk took up the last grapnel and easily hooked the rail. Before he could start climbing, Riaris tied off the other ropes to his belt, "Haul us up!", she cried. And, sure enough, arm over arm, Thaduk hauled himself up to the deck of the Sadness, pulling the entire weight of the jolly boat up with him, with Riaris perched, balanced on the small boat as well.

The Moonplummers in the other little boat did not fair nearly so well. Henrye, Mace, and the other two Thaduks splashed about, often in the water, with many a missed throw of the grapples and many a face-full of trash. Helpful as ever, Leopold stepped up to the rail and sang out some encouragement for his fellow villagers.

As the party stood shouting encouragement to their compatriots, Fishguts made a rare appearance on deck, looking unusually sober, and tapped Caddis on the shoulder. "Cad, Cap'n wants crabs for his dinner tonight."

"Do we have any crab?"

"Course not, that'd be too easy!" FIshguts pointed to a shadow in the crystal-clear water, some hundred yards north of the ship. "You already got the boats out. Take your friends and row out to the reef over there, should be plenty of crabs to catch..."

"It's not that hard to catch crabs," Leopold pointed out, though it was clear he meant the other kind.

Rummy and Thaduk immediately lowered the jolly boat back into the water, and the four friends climbed down. Fishguts tossed them four large baskets and asked them to fill them up. Suddenly, Caddis thought to call back up, whining that they needed spears or harpoons in case the crabs were turtle-sized or otherwise put up a fight. Riaris, smiling, disappeared from the rail, returning moments later to toss three cutlasses down to them. At some additional prodding from Thaduk, Fishguts retrieved the collection of makeshift spears that Thaduk had made.

They began rowing out. Or, rather, Thaduk rowed, Rummy and Caddis stared over the side of the boat into the deep, clear water, pointing out sunken ships and other interesting features, and Leopold stood perched in the prow doing his best George Washington impression. A swift kick from Rummy sent Leopold toppling over the side into the water again. With Thaduk rowing, the jolly boat was well past before he came up, treading water and screaming the orcish word for whipped cream (the most vile-sounding curse word he knew).

The others picked him up and were soon floating over a beautiful coral reef, no more than five feet below the surface in some places. Through the clear water, they could easily spot several crabs skittering over the coral. "Let's make it a game and see who can get crabs the fastest," Caddis suggested.

"I already won that one," relied Leopold. Caddis, Thaduk, and Rummy dove in and started collecting crabs, with Rummy taking a quick lead in the competition. Leopold lounged in the boat, taking off his shirt to let it dry out, and keeping watch for anything bigger than a crab. Sure enough, he soon spotted a pair of creatures, looking like five-foot-long lobsters with their tails of eels, swimming towards them from deeper water. He quickly grabbed one of Thaduk's wooden spears and tossed it at the lobstrosities. While the spears buoyancy kept it from reaching the creatures, it did get their attention and they veered towards the boat.

Thaduk breached the water with a shirt full of crabs just as the two lobstrosities reached the boat. One of the creatures leaped into the boat, grabbing Leopold with both claws. The other latched onto Thaduk's leg. Paddling with his arms and kicking with his one free leg, Thaduk dragged the lobstrosity over to where he could grab the floating spear and dispatched the monster with a single blow. Even in death though, the creature remained fixed to his leg, its death throws only serving to dig the claw in deeper.

Rummy came up and pulled himself into the boat, grabbing a cutlass and swinging wildly at the one on Leopold. Much deeper than the others, Caddis looked up and, seeing the struggle in the boat, fixed the remaining lobstrosity with his evil eye, putting it to sleep. The creature slumped to the side, releasing its grip on Leopold. Caddis pulled himself into the boat and dispatched the beast with his claws, but, in its dying spasms, it again tore into Leopold, knocking him unconscious.

Rummy, ignore the shirt draped on the side of the boat to dry, pulled off Leopold's pants and tried to tie a tourniquet to stop the bleeding with them, but only managed to hurt his friend more. Thaduk swam over and grabbed one of the swords and used it to pry the other creature off of his leg, then dumped its body in the boat with Leopold, giving the bleeding bard even more scratches. Finally Rummy was able to stop the bleeding.

They quickly filled the remaining crab baskets and started to row back with their load of crabs and lobstrisities, which Caddis assured them were a delicacy. On their way back to the ship, Caddis spotted the wreck of an old ship, just past the drop-off of the reef, maybe a hundred feet deep. Curiosity getting the better of him, he left the others behind and swam down to check it out.

The deck was littered with bones and rusted weapons, the remains of the poor sots who died on deck before the ship could sink. There was one cannon that might have been salvageable, if he could find a way to haul it up, but little else of value, so he headed into what he assumed to be the Captain's cabin. Inside he found an old, rotting sea chest. The lock was rusted enough that he could easily break it open. Within were three fine bottles of very old French wine, a pair of finely carved chopsticks, apparently made from animal horn, and three wax-sealed ceramic ewers.

Caddis gathered up the loot and started swimming back to the boat, messaging Rummy and Thaduk with what he had found. Rummy immediately messaged back that he could see another lobstrisity swimming up behind Caddis from beyond the ship. Caddis swam as fast as he could, but the beast easily closed the distance. Caddis turned and gave it the evil eye, but it shrugged this off and swam on, catching Caddis in both its claws and tearing into his flesh.

Caddis desperately held on to his loot, glaring at the thing again, again with no result. Thaduk dove in, swimming down as fast as he could, ignoring the building pressure in his ears, and hurled one of his spears at the thing, putting all the power he could behind the throw to drive the weapon through the water. The spear struck home with tremendous force, splitting the lobstrosity from its mouth to its tail. They hauled the loot and the remains of the third lobstrosity up to the boat, then returned to the ship.

Seeing them return with a pile of succulent claws, most of the crew temporarily abandoned their work to rush to the rail and help the party haul their catch aboard. Somewhere in the chaos, Sandara Quinn managed to heal their wounds and Leopold disappeared, presumably absconded to his bunk with Tilly Bracket (willingly or no).

Caddis slipped down to the galley, carrying the things he took from the sunken ship before they could be confiscated by the ship's officers. He immediately opened one of the wine bottles, pouring a mug for himself and Fishguts. Fishguts used up the rest of the bottle cooking the lobstrosities. He secreted the chopsticks in a pocket, then started examining the ewers. Each showed signs of bas-relief markings, mostly worn away. He grabbed a cooled coal from the stove and some parchment paper from the baking supplied and took rubbings, revealing three names: "Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy", "Captain Sir Frederick Lewis Maitland", and "Commander Frederick Marryat". Presuming them to thus be funerary in nature (and thus not something he wanted to mess with further at the moment), Caddis stashed the urns in his locker.

Thaduk, meanwhile cornered Mr. Plugg, the First Mate, inquiring about his life on the ship, his plans, and other things. Caught in an unusually good mood thanks to the promise of lobster for dinner, Mr. Plugg explained about the battle with an imperial warship in which they lost much of the crew prior to the raid on Moonplum--a battle the pirates won, killing all of the sailors and sending the ship down to Davy Jone's Locker. He talked about life as a pirate and the fact that there really was no such thing as retirement--he couldn't go back to polite society for fear of being hanged, he might one day retire to "The Republic", but the only way he'd save enough money for that would be to become captain of his own ship (a thing he often dreamed of). He hoped that in one of their raids the Sadness might take a nice prize and that Captain Herrera might decide he'd like to be "Admiral Herrera" and let Mr. Plugg captain the new ship. When asked about "The Republic", Mr. Plugg told Thaduk about the Republic of the Bahamas, Though Thaduk had heard about the Empires unofficial war with the pirates of the Republic, he seemed surprised that it was so far away. "Aye, a five month voyage at the least...some of us have not seen a home other than this ship in a long time..."

After the chat, Thaduk and Rummy wandered down below decks where Caddis opened the second bottle of wine. Thaduk pointed out that the crew looked especially lax today, and that he'd probably have to punish quite a few people. So, they began plotting how they might use the unusual dinner as a distraction to help Thaduk once again give the appearance of doing his duty without having to actually beat anyone.

When the bell for Bloody Hour rang, they stopped by the galley to pick up the food. Fishguts passed them a giant platter of crabs, explaining that the logstrosities were destined for the officers, "but I can let you have a taste before the girls come to haul it off". They took the crabs and the evening's rum ration topside where the crew had gathered. Mr. Plugg and Master Scourge pulled nearly a dozen people out of the crowd to stand against the mast for a whipped, including all the four Moonplummers who had been less-than-successful in the morning's boarding exercise.

Unable to fake so many, Thaduk went ahead and whipped all the experienced pirates. Even holding back he shredded their clothes and left large welts over their already scarred backs. When he came to the Moonplummers, Caddis conjured up the sound of one of the crewmen saying "There aren't enough crabs for all of us, I'm eating now!" starting a minor riot near the food.

The distraction lasted only long enough for Thaduk to fake-beat his two uncles, before the officers delivered some ad-hoc beatings and pulled three more sailors up to the mast. Thaduk delivered some (light) lashes to these three, then returned to Mace and Henrye. Caddis this time tried a repeat performance of his Saint Elmo's Fire trick from the other day, which was enough to spare Mace any real discomfort, but not lasting.

Finally, with the officers paying a bit too much attention, Thaduk snapped the whip near Henrye and shouted some orcish curses (something about the proper way to eat crab claws), but did not hit him. At the snap, Henrye instinctively turned his head to glare at Thaduk. Caddis stepped in, "No, hit him right here..." he said, touching Henrye on the back and laying an illusion over him. Caddis stepped back, silently messaging Henrye that he should scream when the whip snapped. Henrye refused to play along, glaring defiantly at the two boys, until Thaduk was finally forced to whip him for real.

After the beatings, the officers, mouths watering, quickly retreated to the captain's quarters for dinner, the crew attacked the pile of crabs, and Caddis, Thaduk, and Rummy slipped off to cause some mayhem. Figuring the unusual meal would be a good and lasting distraction, the three of them headed for the officer's quarters. Caddis and Thaduk took up positions standing watch over the stairs leading up and down, respectively, while Rummy went to work on the lock using an old nail as a pick. Surprisingly it worked...

Pushing the door open a crack, he heard a loud sound, like a spring uncoiling, and suddenly found his arm pinned to the door by a harpoon which had piercing clean through his forearm. He gritted his teeth and stifled a scream. The door was now wide open and he was well and thoroughly stuck, and bleeding profusely. Caddis rushed down to check, the  messaged for Thaduk, who came and broke off the shaft of the harpoon forcing it the rest of the way out of Rummy's arm (to more barely suppressed screaming).

They wrapped up Rummy's arm to staunch the bleeding and discussed how they could cover up the evidence of the forced entry. Of course, there was the bloody harpoon head embedded in the door and the massive pool of blood to deal with. They debated for a bit, then Rummy convinced them to let him look around before they tried to destroy the evidence, since the door was open anyways. Thaduk and Caddis went back to watch as Rummy cased the room.

The officer's quarters were cramped. There were a couple of windows in the rear, a couple of unlit lanterns hanging from the rafters, and two narrow doors, one leading off to either side. Six hammocks were strung up, each with a foot-locker, the same issued to the crewmen, though with better locks. Insufficient locks it seemed.

Rummy easily opened the first chest, easily identifiable as Mr. Pluggs by the presence of the old naval captain's uniform that he had worn during the raid on Moonplum. Inside were heavy-duty manacles, a crossbow, several bolts with heads carved into the shape of screaming human faces rather than typical points, other sundry items, and...a bag...that jingled...a lot. Rummy pocketed the bag of coins and closed the lid.

He then made his way around to the other footlockers. The second took slightly more time to pick, but included a very nice set of lockpicks which made the rest mindlessly easy for him to open. He was surprisingly reserved in his looting, passing over Riaris Krine's fine weapons, the carpenter's excellent tools, various flasks of potions, poisons, and alchemical items that the officers had collected, and even other coinage. In the end all he took was the lockpicks, Mr. Plugg's cash, some bandages from the ship's surgeon's stores, and one very large ruby from the gunner's mate's chest.

While poking around in the carpenter's chest, he found a secret compartment in the lid. Prying this open he found only a plain-looking brown woolen blanket, albeit a very tick, well-woven, and extra-warm looking one. Thinking gods-know-what, he took the blanket and spread it out overtop of the chests and bunks. Then, he lit one of the lanterns and smashed it down onto the blanket, dousing the heavy woolen thing with oil and lighting the whole on fire.

Then Rummy ran out the door and up the stairs...