Thursday, October 8, 2015

Beyond the Shore: Session 1

Being the first session of a new pirate-themed game I started this past week, combining elements of Beyond the Wall and Pathfinder's Skull and Shackles Adventure Path, with a lot of additional inspiration from Naomi Novak's Temeraire series, and license taken to completely butcher 17th-century history. Look for the further adventures of our poor press-ganged colonists in the future...

How do you get from this

And this

To this?

We're about to find out laddies...

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It was the end of plum harvest season in the village of Moonplum. For a month, everyone in the village has been hard at work: picking, sorting, and pressing juice and pulp from the fruits. This was followed by two weeks of relative quiet, as the must was set out to ferment by old Jesse McLaud. Then everyone was back, hard at work, fining and filtering the solids out of the wine, then packing it into barrels for aging.

The last of the packing was finished this morning. As dusk fell, Thaduk, sitting watch, spotted sails on the horizon. An hour later, the ship turns and can be seen to be a large, three masted, square-rigged Dutch Pinnace, flying the blue and white striped sails of an Imperial Merchantman.

Right on time.

The merchants always come this time of year, sailing around from Port Montague to collect the wine to be taken to be sold in London, and bringing goods from around the Empire to trade. Thaduk let out a loud toot from his bugle, signalling that he'd spotted something and all the village came running. A general cheer went up soon after as word of the siting, and the promise of spices, fresh cloth for clothes, lamp oil, perfumes, and other luxuries, and likely letters from friends and family back in England and the other colonies spread through the village.

As darkness fell, lanterns were lit on the ship and Thaduk's keen eyes say it lower anchor, still well out in the bay, unwilling to navigate the shoals in the dark.

Meanwhile, the people of Moonplum went to work. Tables are set up in the village green where the militia typically drills, and the fires in every home are put to work preparing the harvest feast to greet the visitors -- plum puddings, roast pig with plum chutneys, bread with plum jam, potatoes with savory plum gravy...plums in everything really (an excuse to show off your wares and argue for a better price on the trade), with a few of the local fruits and vegetables thrown in for variety.

It was all rather hurried, as the annual ship had arrived much more punctually than ever before. Tomorrow would be a day of feasting and bartering, followed by another day of hard work for everyone, loading the casks of wine into the ship's hold (where they will age on the nearly year-long voyage back to England) and offloading goods.

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Early the next morning, the ship tacked in and dropped anchor less than a hundred yards from shore. Two long-boats are set in the water and seventeen crewmen come ashore, dressed in blue coats and white uniforms of the Imperial Merchant-Navy. As usual, the rest of the crew would stay to man the ship and one of the boats will be sent back later with meals for them.

As they come up, our heroes note that they are an oddly motley group for Navy-men: a couple of Africans, as well as a couple of the short-folk, and WOMEN...which is highly unusual for a sailing ship that is not intended for colonization. In addition, they've apparently seen a fair amount of action, judging from the number visible scars...one even has three fingers missing.

Caddis, eyes the strange crew, then goes over to greet them informing them that a feast has been prepared. At word of the feast, the ship's cook, fat and slovenly in a much-stained jacket, asks Caddis to lead him to where the food is being prepared, showing a crate filled with a bottle of fine brandy and a large collection of spices. Caddis leads the man up to where the village women are boiling puddings and roasting a whole cassowary, and the cook proceeds to heavily douse all the food with what smells like nutmeg -- all the while extolling the virtues of the exotic spice for all manner of dishes.

Not wanting him to ruin all the food, Caddis charms the cook, and convinces him that the brandy might go over better than the nutmeg as a flavoring for the puddings. The cook, who introduces himself as Ambrose Kroop, agrees (with many a hearty, jovial slap on the back for his new best friend) and sloshes the fine liquor all over the roasting cassowary and a couple of the puddings.

The captain is a young man, with a shaved head and only the beginnings of a beard. As soon as he comes ashore, he quickly picks Governor William out of the growing crowd of villagers and greets the Governor with much more warmth and much less formality than is typical. There is a brief, whispered exchange between the two, then everyone is led up away from shore to the village green for the feast.

A tall, red-bearded Scottsman wearing a the mark of a Master Mariner of the Imperial Merchant Navy, keeps close to the captains elbow and speaks not a word, followed by a pair of tough-looking African orcs. Seeing the orcs, Thaduk scampers away from the crowd and warns his uncle, Thaduk. Rather than join in the feasting, they hide in the smithy, spying on the affairs from afar.

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Once all the greetings are made and everyone (except the Thaduk's) are assembled around the great tables that have been set up, Governor William gives a tedious, brief speech, very tragically mirthful, somehow stretching a mere few dozen words out over several minutes with a delivery that brings much snickering from the crewmen and groaning from the villagers (who are sure that such a thing could not possibly improve their bargaining position). When the speeches and prayers to the plum-tree god are done, everyone tucks into the feast.

Caddis, seated next to his new best friend, notices that Mr. Kroop, while drinking heavily from the new plum wine, is not eating anything. He offers Kroop some of the aged wine, which the fat cook quickly spits out, claiming that he likes his booze fresh and sweet, and manages to convince the man to try a few bites. When the cook finally eats, with nothing obviously untoward happening, Caddis finally helps him self and immediately starts to feel very drowsy. Kroop gives him another friendly pat on the shoulder and says that 'it's only Taggit oil, we'll get you all fixed up once we're on the ship"...

From his hidden vantage, Thaduk notices that none of the other crewmen are eating either--a few pick one or two bites, but mostly they are only playing with their food. Sure that this means trouble, Thaduk grabs his uncle and sneaks out of the smithy. They circle wide around the green, trying to get to the boats on shore without being seen.

Sure enough, only a few minutes into the feast, all of the villagers start nodding off. Governor William stands up to give a toast and pitches forward, face first into his pudding. Henrye Allingham starts to rise, but takes a cosh to the back of the head from one of the nearby sailors. Margaret Samson, one of the village's drowned, grabs her infant grand-daughter and runs for her house, The other sailors rise with truncheons and blackjacks and quickly set about sapping any of the villagers who were not rendered unconscious by the poisoned food.

The sailors are snapped away from their work by the sound of a loud crash from down by the shore. Everyone turns to see Thaduk Jr. lift one of the ten-man longboats over his head and hurl it into the top of a tree. The two Thaduks then leap into the remaining longboat and begin rowing for the largely unmanned ship, hauling on the oars to hard that the little boat leaps several feet out of the water with every stroke.

Seeing one boat destroyed and the other getting away, the crew abandon their clubbings to rush down to the shore. Caddis, still awake, but reeling, gets dragged down to the shore by Mr. Kroop, who insists that they need to get to the ship where Kroop keeps the antidote. On the way down, Caddis manages to incapacitate four of the crewmen who had been tasting the food with a mixture of sleep and lullaby spells. The remaining crew quickly commandeer a trio of small fishing boats, shoving Cad along with them, and prepare to pursue the Thaduks.

Taking advantage of the distraction, the still-conscious Adrianna suddenly grew to gigantic proportions and overturned a table, knocking Thaduk the Sot (who had been sleeping drunkenly under the table since the night before) awake. The captain, still ashore, turns and fires a flare gun into the air. Three of the crew abandon their fishing boat to run back to the feast, while from the ship, a cannon goes off, smashing one of the village houses.

The Thaduks, still rowing hard for the ship, are hit by a sudden headwind from nowhere, which capsizes their longboat roughly ten yards from the ship. The two burly orcs dive, swimming under the boat's keel, and haul themselves up onto the deck using the tackle with which the longboats were originally lowered. On deck were only seven crewmen, four manning the cannon near the opposite rail, one in the crows nest, another at the helm, and another in the forcastle, wearing a tri-corn hat, with her arms raised (presumably controlling the wind which had assaulted their little boat).

Caddis, only-just-barely conscious, and in the stolen fishing boat with Mr. Kroop and three other sailors, whispers a command to a rower on the second fishing boat. The rower hauls hard on his ore, capsizing the small boat, dumping all four sailors into the bay. Then, of course, Caddis passed out from the taggit poison.

On shore, Adrianna, bellowing about wanting to see "the manager", pushes right past the trio of charging crewmen, taking several blows from their clubs, and charges the captain, smacking him hard with her greatsword. The captain, looking terrified at the giant raging woman, drew his sword and backed away. Thaduk the Sot stumbled to his feat and picked up the overturned table, smashing it down on the head of one of the sailors, accompanied by the sickening sound of a spine snapping, but was quickly pummeled into unconsciousness by the other two. Adrianna swung at the captain again, but he easily side-stepped this time. A shower of thrown rocks, plates, cups, and other objects rained down on her from the crewmen by the table, finally knocking her out as well.

On the ship, Thaduk Jr. dunked his head in a nearby barrel of rum, guzzling, then picked the barrel up and tossed it at the gunnery crew, knocking a pair of them over the rail and into the water. Then the woman in the tri-corn hat turned and pointed a finger at the Thaduks, and they both froze in their tracks, paralyzed. The remaining sailors aboard the ship rushed in and quickly beat the helpless orcs unconscious.

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Caddis, Adrianna, and Thaduk awoke much later, with pounding headaches and considerably soreness elsewhere. The floor they lay on was hard and seemed shift and to sway, as if they were severely drunk or hungover (which was certainly the case for Thaduk). They were awakened by the sound of several sets of heavy footsteps, follow by some not-too-gentle kicks and someone shouting at them: “Still abed with the sun over the yardarm? On your feet, ye filthy swabs! Get up on deck and report for duty before Cap’n Harrigan flays your flesh into sausage skins and has Fishguts fry ye up for breakfast!”

Caddis was quick to comply and was ushered up on deck. The shouting man, a thick-bearded fellow in a long black overcoat, snapped a whip and gave Thaduk a slightly harder kick in the gut, which was sufficient to get him moving. Adrianna had to be dragged to her feat by a pair of toughs and hauled on deck.

The three of them were led up onto the main deck of what was clearly the same large, three-master ship, though the blue stripe had been peeled from the sails and the assembled crew wore no uniforms. The deck was crowded, everyone staring up at the aft-castle where the man who was clearly the real captain of the ship, a broad, muscular Spaniard with a long beard bound with gold rings and an eye patch, stood, flanked by the young man who had worn the captains colors the day before and Thaduk's new tricorne-hat wearing nemesis.

“Glad you could join us at last!" the captain bellowed. "Welcome to the Red Sadness! My thanks for ‘volunteering’ to join my crew. I’m Barnabas Herrera. That’s Captain Herrera to you, not that you’ll ever need to address me. I have only one rule—don’t speak to me. I like talk, but I don’t like your talk. Follow that rule and we’ll all get along fine. Oh, and one more thing. Even with you new recruits, we’re still short-handed, and I aim to keep what crew I have. There’ll be a keelhaulin’ for anyone caught killin’ anyone. Mr. Plugg! If you’d be so kind as to make pirates out of these landlubbers, it’ll save me having to put them in the sweatbox for a year and a day before I make pies out of ’em.”

With his little speech finished, the Captain vanished into his cabin beneath the aft deck. The false-captain, Mr. Plugg presumably, descended toward the 'new recruits' with a look on his face halfway between terror and uncontrollable rage. It took him some time to gain enough composure even to speak, then finally he pointed a cat-o-nine-tails at them and threatened, "First one up to the crows nest doesn't get beaten!"

Mr. Kroop stepped up and placed a friendly hand on Caddis' shoulder, "This one's mine," he said. Mr. Plugg grunted acquiescence and Caddis was quickly hustled down to the galley as the new Cook's Mate and shown around the kitchens. Caddis asked what he'd be doing as cook's mate and was told he'd be catching, cooking, and serving the crew's meals, "but today we drink!" Kroop handed him a bottle of rum and started spouting about how much he hated the other ship's officers, "It’s poison, this ship, but don’t let anyone hear you say it aloud. The hull listens, see, and the cap’n hears it all. Poison the Sadness is, though, rotten to the core. You’ll not meet a more nasty, sour piece of work than Cap’n Herrera in all your days at sea, and his crew’s the same, ’specially the first mate, Mr. Plugg. Vicious little sod, he is. He’d take his own mother’s liver to the butcher to make pies with, he would. But they leave us alone, mostly. They know I can’t ’arm ’em.”

On deck, Adriana raged out and beat Thaduk in the race to crow's nest at the top of the main-mast. From below, Mr. Plugg yelled, "You're my new rigger girl! You [to Thaduk], join the swabs!"

When they had climbed down, Adriana vanished while Thaduk calmly took his beating, three lashes with the whip, managing to lock a frighteningly stoic stare at one of the other swabs while it was happening. After the beatings were done, the man in the long black coat passed Thaduk a handful of papers, "You'll be my runner today boy! Take these up to the navigator!"

Thaduk ran up to the aft-castle (urged by a whip snapping at his heels) and handed the papers to his tricorn-wearing nemesis. At close range, he could now see that she was breathtakingly beautiful, tall, with just the right amount of curves, and long auburn hair. The navigator and sailing master snatched the papers, otherwise ignoring him, then bit her finger and made a smudge of blood on one of the papers before handing them back, "To the captain!" she said.

The rest of Thaduk's day was spent running back and forth along the length of the ship, bearing messages between the ship's many officers. Any time he slowed, a whip licked at his heels, and he got the distinct impression that they were deliberately trying to wear him out (they couldn't possibly need to send so many written messages on a ship that was only a hundred feet long).

Adrianna, invisible, slipped belowdecks and started poking about, trying to find her gear which had presumably been confiscated. She eventually found her way to the quartermaster's storeroom, tucked in behind the kitchens. A quick shoulder, with a little bit of rage, popped open the heavy, locked wooden door. Inside she found a couple tuns of rum and several stacked, foot-lockers. She jimmied a nearly-broken lock off of one locker, and opened it to be greeted by an arrow to the gut from a trap set on it. Inside she found climbing gear, a disguise kit, several vials of alchemical reagents, and other sundries, but not the weapons she was looking for. She quickly tested the weight of the other chests, and it was clear that several could hold her greatsword, but then the quartermaster stormed into the kitchen.

The quartermaster, a reedy half-orc with a massive scar across her neck and one long tusk, railed at Caddis (the only person she could see). A charming smile earned him a relatively easy escape, though not without some glaring and growling at his back. Adriana, still invisible, then slipped out of the storeroom while the quartermaster gathered up her tools to repair the door...