Friday, July 20, 2018

The Rough Pack - Session 1 Recap

Another round of play-by-post games set in my bastardized Forgotten Realms campaign based on the Pool of Radiance games. As always, the party started out on the ship Valkur's Wake, bound for Phlan...

Player Characters:

  • Zyg Ax -- dwarf fighter/thief
  • Shilesque -- half-elf mage/thief
  • Snowbell -- cat-folk lone wolf
  • Sasha -- half-elf bard/psionicist
  • Slade -- elf mage, poisoner
  • Merra -- gnoll druid
  • Rhumur -- human cleric
  • Caerwyn -- drow shadow walker
  • Thiondar -- half-elf fighter/mage, noble

Note: Some adjustments have been made for clarity of who is speaking and to unify timelines, but not for overall grammatical inconsistencies between contributors (i.e. past vs. present tense).

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1 Kythorn, Year of the Helm

Mid-Ship

It has been a few days since you boarded Valkur’s Wake. You are glad that you got on at the last stops, and that the voyage should be short, as the old flat-bottomed, single-decked, single-masted cog was already filled with people when you boarded, and no one disembarked at your stop.

The stern of the eighty foot ship has been fenced off and converted into a stable, carrying a handful of horses, mules, and other livestock, with a small, raised deck above the taffrail where the captain or one of his three assistants man the rudder and sleep. At least the trip is free. The captain, an old, gray-bearded, dwarven merchant named Donal Stormhammer, informed you that as long as you disembark at New Phlan, the council will be paying him ten times his normal passenger fee, so you get a free ride as long as that’s your destination and you give a hand with the lines if a storm blows up.

The thirty-odd other passengers are a motley mix of treasure hunters, monster slayers, a few farmers brave enough to settle in a city known to be plagued by demons and dragons, and those exiles from distant lands with no where else to go. Everyone, at least everyone who’s talking, has their own story of why they are traveling, but they all have one common theme—the promise of free land, fame, and riches in the ancient city of Phlan. During the night, everyone spreads out communally on the well deck, sleeping together cheek-to-jowl. During the day there is a little more space, with people standing most of the time, or else sitting on one of the crates or barrels of stores cluttering the deck or perching on the gunwale.

It is a bright day and the ship makes good speed ahead of a brisk southerly wind. Tomorrow morning, Captain Donal has informed the passagers, you will reach the port of New Phlan. A pod of dolphins splashes alongside the cog.

Chatter on deck today is more lively than usual, with the promise of landfall tomorrow. Near the bow of the Wake, half a dozen people stand about listening to a surprisingly articulate kobold doing a dramatic recitation of some poetry, or perhaps a monologue from a play. Judging from the spectators’ dress, there is a direct correlation between the number and quality of weapons the passengers are carrying and their level of racial tolerance. Near the mast, a woman wearing the stark-white wig of a priestess of Beshaba stands talking to a quintet of teenagers in peasants’ garb, trying to convert them to the worship of the Maid of Misfortune—judging from their wide eyes you suspect that this is their first time away from the farm, though their makeshift-looking weapons set them apart from the actual farmers and settlers who are all huddled in the stern near the animals, playing a game of chance and avoiding looking at the strange creatures riding up front.

Slade walks over to listen to the priestess--gods of misfortune often interest him. Tales and deities are an interesting topic to the Mulman.

The priestess seems to be holding the teenagers' attention more by her shapely figure than her excited sermoning -- though her deliberately disheveled white wig, garrish red robe, and sallow skin detract somewhat from her overall appearance. As you approach you hear her exclaiming: "...and that was only last week! Phlan is a veritable city of calamities. War! Fires! Riots! It's been conquered by the Zhents! Overrun by Ogres! Devoured by BANE HIMSELF! And only fifty years ago, burned to the ground by a whole flight of dragons! They keep rebuilding, but I tell you kids...the place is DOOMED!"

"Interesting tell me about BANE," Slade says, unable to hide his curiosity.

The priestess rounds on you, her eyes wide, "Bane?! Why even BANE HIMSELF fell to the forces of calamity! Divine truth that even the Divine themselves are not free from their share of bad luck. Bane toyed with fate and was cast down and slain. No one, god or mortal is free from misfortune!"

The group of teenagers use the distraction Slade has provided to back away towards their families in the rear of the ship.

Zyg had left town a while back. Things had gotten too "real" and now it was time to see if anything had stabilized in town. He looked to the kobold and witch and thought of his own past misdeeds. _Shudder._ He took the time to reapply some care to his armor and weapons, perhaps for the 13th time this trip. Munching on some sea biscuit in between whetstone strokes, he hoped he could start gathering a motley crew of his own soon so he could exact his revenge.

Shilesque sits atop a barrel back amongst the farmers, blending right in with his thick brown beard and ragged garb. Only the sword hilt sticking out of a cloth-wrapped bundle on his back sets him apart. His attention seems divided—his eyes watching the game, but his fingers snap in time to the kobold's recitation. Every now and again, he seems to loose the beat, snapping two or three times in rapid succession. Each time, a coin silently vanishes from the farmers' pot and a faint plop can be heard in the water behind him.

"Oi! Brown beard!" The strangely dark dwarf bellowed at Shilesque rather kindly despite his features and grim actions. He noticed the strange action with the coin and such. "You practice magics? May I pick at ye knowledge a bit?"

 "Me?" Shilesque gestures at himself with a look of feigned confusion and innocence. He slips from his perch atop the barrel and walks over to the grim-looking dwarf. On his way to the dwarf, Shilesque passes by the elf and the priestess. "Yeah, yeah. Disaster and calamity. Y'can be sure that we've all accepted Beshaba as our personal savior. May she not cut our strings of fate prematurely, blah, blah, blah..." He grabs the elf's elbow and guides him away from the fanatic. "Come on bub, we're gonna go talk about magic with this nice dwarf fellow over here..."

Slade replied, "Sounds good."

Shilesque slides to a seated position beside him. "Pick away blacky. What'd you want to know?"

"A few things really. But first. Name's Zyg." The dwarf stood and looked the man dead in the eye, the way the dwur did in polite greeting. "Zyg Ax the Cursed. Skin wasn't always this tan ye catch me drift? Or me fingernails or me teeth or me tongue for that matter. So first I'll ask ye if you know how ta break an archmage's curse. But there's other shit I need ta know 'bout the arcane as well. Ya savvy?"

Shilesque looks at the dwarf's universally dark features and drops his eyes from the intense gaze. "Shit man. Sorry, but I don't know anything about curses, let alone how to break 'em...my knowledge of magic mostly ends at legerdemain." He produces a coin and rolls it across his knuckles before making it disappear, then shrugs and extends a hand, "You can call me Shill, by the way..."

"Feck. Ya know, I ask everyone just in case, ya know. So that renders mos' my udder questions somewhat obsolete if ya catch me drift. I think I can muster one more though. I'm puttin' together a team, so ta speak. I needs magics and strong friends fer me revenge. Gonna delve some ruins 'round Phlan and try to make some right in town. Ya game? Ya got sometin ta add to da table?"

 "Sure. I've got an interest in the ruins around there as well. An old man back home told me that Phlan used to be part of the Noga Empire, waaaaaaaay back in the day, and that the old ruins are pretty much the only place I might be able to find out more about the specific magic I am interested in. Seems the ancients were trickier than we give 'em credit for. But what's this revenge business about? Just after the mage that made you all dusky-like?"

"Revenge." Zyg seemed to savor the word, let it roll around the tongue a bit before continuing. "A bitch of a witch tricked me into slaying me own wife an kids. Used me tears to fuel a spell ta make her a lich. Never caught even caught the name o' the bitch of a witch that turnt inta a lich if you catch me drift. Den she cursed me fer good measure ye know. From what I've learned, ta become a lich ye need to be a gran' wizzo ta start. I need mighty magics an' allies if I'm gonna ever make tings right again."

Snowbell's ears twitch at the sound of "revenge." She regards the dwarf carefully. He looks like he can handle himself. His motivations are in the right place. Perhaps he could be a keen ally. Discretion might be more of an issue.

Shilesque listens to Zyg's story in amazement. "So you went and got yourself cursed by a Lich-Bitch-Witch?!" He tries not to laugh at the last part. "Bloody Hells, man. I'm happy to tag along and help out along the way, but lemme tell you, if we actually run into the Libiwitch, I'm running the other way...."

Shilesque's voice trails off as the talking fluffy white cat in a dress saunters up. While he's been watching her for the past few days on the boat, an anthropomorphic cat is not something you get used to in a hurry, even on a boatload of misfits like this one. "Speaking of cursed..." he half-whispers to Zyg out of the side of his mouth, "any guess what her story is?" He instinctively takes a step back as she gets closer, then tries to pivot the motion into a clumsy half-bow. "Welcome my...umm...Lady? What can we do for you?"

"Lemme guess." Zyg said to the cat-woman, "Daddy was a gnomish bard and mommy was a tabby? Jus' kiddin'. Name's Zyg. What can we do ya for?"

 "Whispering isn't proper, dear," Snowbell replied. "Your ears must be terribly inept if you think I couldn't hear that. I also couldn't help but overhear this business about revenge. I always like to meet a man with... simple priorities. Always makes the next step rather predictable. So let us skip the pleasantries and get straight to the point. You have a big bad and his pet zombie to kill and I've got a list with nine lives on it. And each one is getting considerably more cowardly and well defended as the last is crossed off. So it's simple, really. I go through a few inconveniences use my particular set of talents to position you for realizing your life's single ambition and you show up to help, say, a half dozen times when my latest victim least expects it?"

"Yeah, well, that's not creepy at all..." Shilesque mumbles.

"Creepy? Look oo yer talkin' to. They tell kids stories 'bout me to scare the boogeymen 'way." Zyg turned to Catwoman. "What's yer profession? I ain't takin' no cobblers or crumpet bakers down inta some darks with me if ya get me meanin."

Snowbell clicks her tongue, "Oh don't worry, they are all evil as can be. Very bad people. Were I to divulge the details I'm sure we'd turn this boat around and kill them all right now." She lets out a high-pitched laugh.

Shileque shrugs, "Alright then. Guess we're off to kill the bad-guys..." he elbows the elf that he rescued from the priestess. "What about you bud? Up for some skulduggery and undead witch hunting?"

"Oh me revenge is a slow burn. It's been 30 or so years since the shit went down. I'mma in fer the long haul. Priorities fer me is gainin' power and influence, perhaps I can even find someone else to kill the hag fer me. I ain't stupid ye see. Magics and connections, Shil. Ya gotta start somewhere." He turns back to the catwoman, "If ye have enemies, must mean yer somebody then?"

"You could say that..." Snowbell pauses. "Unfortunately I'm supposed to be dead somebody and I would like it to stay that way. A girl that looks like me has certain difficulties remaining discreet. So it is imperative to my participation that my involvement in this stays a secret. People talk all the time about things they shouldn't and I would really prefer not to...cover up my trail. Speaking of which, I think I've lingered long enough in your company. Let me know if you're interested in my help."

She saunters off towards the back of the ship, pauses, and returns. "By the way, hun, You dropped your coin purse and your dagger may stick a little bit when you try to draw it. And your shoe is untied."

"Well that's a cute story there, but I don't keep coin ina purse, me boots pull on, an' I don't have no dagger. Jus' me axes, wide blade and bolt thrower. But if ye wants ye can hang out."

Snowbell turns and walks off in a huff.

Shilesque waves as the cat-girl walks off, and remarks, not-at-all quietly, "So our furry friend is a compulsive liar." He waves a hand at the complete lack of lifeboats, leaky or otherwise. "Do you think her hit list is real? Or does she just really need someone to pet her?"

Zyg grins, shrugs and wonders what other strange shit he's gonna see this week. "She'll be back. I had a cat like that once. On da morrow, there'll be a dead rodent at our feet as an offerin' and some purrs expectin' gratitude. I think we'll keep her round if that's the case."

"Oi! That's the first time I've smiled in ages, Cat Woman. Git over here and have a drink." The dwur reached for his wineskin, took a swig and offered it to Shil, Slade, Snowbell. "I don't think we caught yer name, either."

Sasha pulls a lute from his pack, he'd left town with little more than the clothes on his back but wouldn't give that up. He begins playing a tune and humming to pass the time.

"Oi! Bard!" Zyg yells in a gravelly tone. "Know anything more recent of Phlan? I've been gone 5 years or so and could use a catch up on recent 'appenin's."

Sasha sings a tale of woe on how Phlan had fallen on hard times and all the recent tragedies that have been endured...

"I'll toss ya a silver if come over and tell us in plainspeak instead of lissenin' to prose. You can sing it fer the elves later."

Zyg turns back to Shilesque, "Hey, Shill, as crazy as this sounds, ya think tha crazy she preacher over there can heal wounds? We may wanna befriend or hire her if we cannae finda liason of the Gods, eh?"

Shilesque furrows his brow. "As a last resort maybe? All I really know about Beshaban theology is that it's very DOOM DOOM DOOM, and all about bad-things happening because bad things are supposed to happen. Even if she has such powers, I doubt a Beshaban would be the most reliable healer-for-hire..."

"Jus' sayin' the hiring pool may be thin once we get there. Best keep all the options open, eh?"

Sasha starts a little ditty about karma and things going along to fate's plan, and the absurdity of it...

Making sure Cat Girl wasn't within sight, Zyg slipped a gold coin from his pack and palmed it to the bard. "Thank ye."

Aft

As Snowbell walks away from Zyg and Shill, looking for a place to make herself scarce, she suddenly feels someone steps on her trailing tail and lets out a howl of pain. The deckhand who trod on her lets out a similar shout of alarm, and spins around. "Oh! I'm dreadfully sorry miss!"

Snowbell looked at him for a split second with a terrifyingly savage face of a pissed off cat, "HSSSSSS...scuse me. Oh. My goodness! I'm so sorry about spitting on you like that dear." She wipes his face with a handkerchief, and pats down pockets. "How rude of me! I should have been watching where I was going."

The deckhand, on closer inspection, is an oddly handsome hobgoblin―square jawed, aquiline nose, perfectly coiffured hair, only his gray-brown skin and side-ways sticking out ears mark him as goblinoid. He graciously allows you to wipe the spit from his face without comment, then makes a sweeping, genteel bow. "The fault was all mine, miss." He turns back to the rope he dropped and begins tying it off.

Snowbell strolls slowly across the deck, looking for the boy the other day with the shiny silver axe. He looked rather slow and brutish when he weilded it. It might be fun to spar for a few rounds and she could use the exercise. She looks for a mop stored somewhere on deck to break and whittle into a dagger length dulled practice tanto.

Snowbell finds the young man back with the farmers, having just been dealt in to a game of tarockk. His silver-plated axe sits right behind him, in a loose pile along with his pack, helmet, and a large round shield. A broad, cocky grin is plastered across his face as he stares around the circle, though, over his shoulder she can see that his hand is complete shit...and that he's holding his only trump upside down (a bad omen for any card player).

As she approaches, she does find a pair of mops, hanging from hooks on the inside of the gunwale, that would be appropriate for her needs.

Snowbell walks by the men, carelessly swiping one in the face with her poofy tail as she goes by. She wanders in a circle for a minute before lazily drifting towards the shield and then curls up into a ball and fits-she-sits in the slightly convex bowl and pretends to sleep

The young man reaches behind him and gives Snowbell a half-hearted shove off of his pile of stuff. "What kind of dumb wizard goes and makes a cat-person without giving it the intelligence of a man?" he grumbles to his compatriots.

"Ah, lay off and ante up, Anry. The dumb cat's just taken a likin' to ya," another jibes. "Maybe the pussy will let you give it a good petting later..."

"Fuck off, Kray," Anry replies. "Far as I know you're the only one here who likes 'em fluffy..."

Snowbell absorbs the shove by rolling on her back and stretching out and pushing on the bag trying to get a general idea of its contents besides the axe over the course of an hour or so whenever something big and distracting happens in the game, resuming feigned sleep in a lopsided tummy up position. After Snowball figures out (or doesn't) what is in the bag, she scent marks it and wanders around the boat looking for rat holes to put her baited snaptraps by.

The boat itself is in immaculate condition, despite hauling a mass of unwashed peasants, there is not a rat nor hole to be found.


Fore

Hearing faint clapping from the half-dozen or so people near the prow of the ship, Shilesque figures the demonstration of kobold poetry has ended and that it's safe to approach. While certainly wary of the kobold, and the freakshow around it, he figured they couldn't be any weirder than the fluffy white cat creature. He makes a nonchalant pointing gesture where Zyg and the others can see, as if to say, 'I'll be over there,' then winds his way through the boxes the fourty-feet to the front of the ship.

The front of the Wake is much less crowded, by virtue of more than a third of the passengers being clustered in the back, actively avoiding their more inhuman ship-mates. The kobold himself is dressed in muted green doublet and pantaloons at least a size to large for him, and a floppy green velvet hat. His more devoted listeners include: a fair-skinned man in well-worn chainmail, his head and face shaved perfectly smooth; a surly looking halfing who, despite the drowning risk, has refused to take off his full plate armor all voyage; a hairy, seven-foot tall goblinoid with strange burn-scars and the scent of brimstone hanging about him; and a twitchy woman with a fish-like tail wearing a bikini top and a sarong. Two of the teenagers who had been beset by the priestess—girls, a redhead toting a smith's hammer everywhere, and a brunette in a gingham dress with a pair of daggers prominently displayed on her belt—have moved up behind these four to listen as well.

As Shill approaches, the kobold is making a sweeping, hat-off, bow, with some polite, but unenthusiastic, clapping from the small crowd. "Thank you, thank you," the kobold says in a droning tenor, displaying feigned gratitude with the aplomb of a true professional. "Now if you'll direct your gaze to your left," he gesticulates like a tour guide, "we should be coming within sight of the infamous Thorn Island soon. Once home to a cursed temple, Thorn Island was reclaimed by the forces of the Marquis de Kryptgarten early last year and has been converted into a quarantine and holding facility for refugees coming into Phlan..."

'Wow, the kobold knows his shit,' Shilesque thinks. He finds an unoccupied crate to sit on to watch the misfits and listen to what else the kobold might have to share. Shilesque steps over to the rail and looks in the direction that the kobold indicated, trying to make out the island.

Looking out, Shilesque can just make out the island on the horizon, some miles away. From this distance it looks like a black speck, though you can make out the shape of a tower and a faint intermittent flash—a lighthouse perhaps.

The kobold, meanwhile, continues. "In the year 1209, construction began on the Temple of Tyr on Thorn Island, though, sadly the temple and all who dwelt there were destroyed by a flight of dragons only sixteen years later. The accursed souls of the dead priests plagued the island for decades. Two years ago the Council posted a large bounty for any party or parties that might rid the island of the undead menace. According to official records, at least eight groups attempted to assail the island and died in the process. Finally, in the spring of last year, this very ship was forced to careen itself on the island to wait out a storm..."

Zyg was beginning to wonder at all the evil humanoids that were working the ship. For a fellow dwur. Who plied the seas. If it weren't for land travel being so difficult and wild in the region he would've avoided a boat and open water himself. But a dwarf that had a half orcish first mate? He'd been thinking on it the better half of the journey, hoping he hadn't fallen into a pirate ruse or slaveship. The fact that he didn't need to pay irked him more and more by the hour. He was all for being more acceptin' in these progressive times, 'specially after having his own prejudices take a hand in the deaths of his wife and kids... but it was beginnin' to feel a bit more awkward. He could see a money hungry fellow-dwur selling out some dirty poor humans. Especially the type to buddy with a grimy orc blood. If it was true, he might be able to counter bribe the captain to let him and a few friends off prior to port. But he'd need a few friends with so he didn't get tossed in the brig instead.

Zyg wanders over to Shill with the intent of letting him in on his suspicions.

Shilesque nods along with Zyg's whispered concerns. "Yeah, I've always heard that bugbears," he head-gestures at the tall, shaggy goblinoid, "are pretty notorious for kidnapping and ransom rackets. But I think we might have to get used to them. Back on the mainland I heard that the walled part of Phlan is pretty nice, but very land-strapped, and most of the people have to slum it out in a shanty town that's supposed to crawling with orcs, and goblins, and shit...and all the older sections of the city have supposedly been carved off by one warring gang or tribe or another."

"Actually," Shill remarks, "if we're hiring help, this kobo seems pretty well informed. He was even handing out flyers when I got on board. I wonder if he's tied to the boat, or if he'd maybe be willing to hire on as a guide?"

"Maybe we can convince the Cap'n to drop us off a lil outside of town, eh?" Zyg replied, "I have some cash stashed, and methinks it'd be safer than walkin' into a possible trap. He seems the type that would accept a counter offer, especially if it filled his coffers a bit. Ya game? I ain't against hiring a guide as long as he ain't part of any slaver crap. I value freedom pretty heavy, that's why I left Phlan before."

"Worth a shot, but the Cap'n said he was getting ten times the normal cost of passage per head. That ain't gonna be cheap."

"An' that's what makes it suspect, eh? Ma used to say, ain't no thing as a free brew. Let's talk to yer kobo and then we get like three of us or more tagether an talk to the cap'n."

Sasha wanders over. "I couldn't help but overhear. I just got out of a situation where I was heading to the salt mines and I have no desire to return to that outcome..."

"Stick with us then, this free trip jus' seems a lil too good ta be true," Zyg said.

Shill gestures at the large Gnoll sniffing around the livestock, "Well, if the goal is to intimidate the Captain into letting us off early, how 'bout that one?"

"Sure. As long as it's nah onna tha crew already. Let's go have a talk. Ey bard and elf, come wit us ya hear?"

Mid-Ship:

Merra is looking around sniffing the salty air. Her stomach starts to growl "ooo animals." She looks at one of the farmers, grunts to get attention and signals with her head towards what looks like some form of land forming in the distance. Waits for reply, Getting somewhat anxious to be on land and start what he came here for.

The farmer, who had been watching the gnoll suspiciously as he examined their livestock, suddenly jumps when the thing makes a noise. He watches, with a mix of fear and curiosity as the gnoll makes some sort of bobbing gesture with its head, his hand drifting towards a nearby hoe defensively. He clearly has no idea, what, if anything, you are trying to communicate.

Rhumur quietly walks around the deck, Smile on his face as he basks in the days sun. He walks around the deck, never staying in one place for too long. People watching mostly, but stopping and listening to conversations every once in a while, trying to pretend hes not listening, but is not very good at hiding his obviousness. Sensing a possible situation arising between the Gnoll and the farmer he's passing by, he walks up to the Gnoll, putting his arm around its back. Standing next to it, Rhumur looks up at the Gnoll.

"It seems are hungry my friend, and perhaps I can help you with that. I may have something for you a little more sating than this poor farmer has to offer. Let us speak to the side about what Lathandar has to offer for your belly", patting the Gnoll on it's belly as he says it.

Merra growls and barks at the touch of another, stepping back to size up the one who touched her. She eyes him up a little more carefully giving a little snarl and reluctant nod of the head takes a step closer as to follow the small man on his offer.

As Rhumur guides the gnoll away from the make-shift paddock, he turns to find a motley band approaching from across the deck. "Excuse me," Shilesque, a dark-bearded man in peasant's slops says. "This good dwarf here has a bit of a proposition for your large, hairy friend..."

"We have a suspicion tha this free trip is too good ta be true. Kinda worried slavers may be involved on da mainland. I have some coin an' was thinkin' aboot talkin' to tha Cap'n about leaving us ashore a lil past town, any of ye with me?"

Merra bares her teeth as if to smile at the small man's proposal.

"Hmm...That never quite occurred to me," Rhumur says, bringing his hand up to his chin as he starts to rub it. He stares at the dark bearded man then at the dwarf, as if sizing him up. "Perhaps you are correct, however, how are we to know," gesturing to the Gnoll, "you're not the slavers trying to lure us into an area away from the safety of many, many prying eyes so that you may over power and enslave us?" He pauses for a moment, realizing he may have been a little more brash than he intended. "Not that I'm insinuating you are, of course, just minding our own safety."

Merra tilts her head back and barks out a few laughs for the insulting words "try".

Zyg's few encounters with city dwelling gnolls had been ones from Mulmaster and Hillsfar... not the nicest of places. But since he often lived in the poorer areas of town and frequented the types of bars that would serve a cursed evil-looking dwarf, he'd had a few encounters that didn't end in bloodshed. And since this one hadn't eaten anyone since the trip started, that was probably a good thing. "Oi, ya seem ta have trouble spittin' out the words, but understan' pretty well. So cannae ask yeh if yer game? I don' think ye'd have fun hauling rock fer no hooman's, right?" The dwarf held out a hand and arm to shake if there was agreement. "Or jus' nod yer head up n down if yeh ain't fer da shakin'."

Slade walks over to the gnoll "Oi gnoll guy you from Mulmaster?"

"Oi. And another thing, mates." Zyg adds, "No one eats any o' the food or drinks any of the dranks the boat be handin' out tonight ya hear? We needn't be drugged up and dropped off anyways, 'k? As long as Gnolly agrees, we'll make to find the Cap'n and present an offer to be dropped off prior to the docks."

Merra nods in agreement and thinks to herself "I pretty persuasive" tucking her head and letting out a few laughs.

"So that makes six of us getting off? How much bribe-fodder do you actually have Zyg?" Shilesque asks.

"Might be enough, might not. But we've gots some bodies now, right? There ain't many o' them either. I counts 4 with the Cap'n and Kobo included."

Shilesque looks at the others, "So, do we want to confront El Capitan with our counter-offer now, or wait til morning? I'd vote for sooner rather than later, because it looks like we'll be proper into the harbor if we wait til breakfast..." He gestures at the island, now in full few rather than a speck on the horizon.

"I'd say now, but where'd Slade go?" Zyg replies.

Shilesque points. "It looks like he's fishing..." Slade waves at the people pointing at him.

"You reel 'im in, an' I'll get kitty." Zyg went over to talk to the catwoman.

Shilesque stares at the dwarf a moment, "We're taking the cat?!" He sighs.

"Come on," Shilesque says to Slade, Sasha, the Gnoll, and the priest. "Looks like its time for some good old-fashioned intimidation and bribery..."

Aft:

Zyg finds the cat curled up next to where the would-be settlers are playing cards. "Hey there. We have a feelin' this trip migh' nah be so free after all. Me an' some of da others are gonna talk to the Cap'n aboot droppin' us off slightly outside town if ya catch me drift. Wouldn' think you'd fare well inna labor camp or such. Ya in?" Zyg held out his hand for a hand/paw shake

The card-players actively ignore Zyg, as they have done all voyage to anyone the least-bit out of the ordinary, until they hear him mention "labor camps". "WHAT?!" becomes the general outcry from at least a dozen men, their game suddenly forgotten.

"Who else arranges fer people to be tranperted fer free for gold on the other side, eh? We ain't in Shadowdale, we near Phlan, Mulmaster, an' Hillsfar brothers. Ya do tha math. But, let's nah get crazy. All I wants is ta get dropped off a lil south of town. We pay him fer the trip fairly and no one needs ta get all pissy, jus' in case everythin' is on the up & up. Savvy?"

Sasha says quietly to Shilesque, "Before anyone decides to get violent...I know some... let's say tricks... that can help persuade people...

"Trick away." Shilesque looks at the various monstrous creature on board, "I'm in no hurry to engage in fisticuffs..."

"I've got um some (air quotes) medicine we can use," Slade adds.

"Is it the non-lethal kind?" Shill asks, "I'd rather avoid murder unless absolutely necessary."

Slade winks, "Oh K," and chuckles to himself. He takes a copper dabs it with a vial he pulls out "don't touch this side my friend but make sure your intended does."

Mid-Ship

With the farmers distracted by Zyg, Snowbell casts Invisibility on herself and attempts to swipe the Arny's silver axe. No one notices the cat going invisible. Unfortunately, she reaches down to grab the axe just as it's owner does. Their hands brush, briefly, startling the boy, but that just makes him grab the axe all the tighter -- forcing Snowbell to abandon her larcenous plans.

Wandering off, Snowbell finds the two deckhands -- a bald dwarf and the handsome hobgoblin -- working together to tack the sails. "Boy, I canna wait to get back on land," the dwarf says.

"Indeed," replies the hobgoblin, "this latest haul is unusually unruly." He nods towards where Zyg and company are stirring up the farmers, "Yonder dwarf is causing quite the ruckus."

"Eh, as long as they dunna knock each other overboard, we'll still get paid for delivery. A few more runs and I can afford to pay the cap'n to get off this stinkin' heap."

Thiondar exits from the small tent in which he's hidden himself away since leaving land. You wonder how someone dressed so lavishly has escaped your notice thus far. Every bit of his attire screams opulence. It is not immediately clear if his clothing is lavish or simply gaudy fakes worn by a deranged man. He is quite handsome but his features are marred by a grimace and he is clearly agitated if not outright enraged and is making little effort to hide it. His embroidered robe bears the image of a gauntlet with an eye peering from the center of it, and the only apparent arms is a small shield engraved with a balancing scale.The man is wearing a fancy red cap and it looks like his hair might even be in a bonnet. If not for the pointed ears one might conclude that this tall figure was a slightly built human with very feminine facial features. A thin gold ring with a symbol to small to make out at this distance adorns his left hand.

Thiondar initially thought this group to chaotic to ally himself with but the mention of slavers has his blood boiling. His first instinct is to knock the nearest crew member overboard but remembering his failures when he pursued the priesthood he slightly regains his composure before he reaches the nearest crew member. Instead he pulls up just short and spins sharply to his right. He begins pacing the deck occasionally muttering to himself. Very perceptive observers might notice he seems to mouth the same phrase over and over.

Thiondar had journeyed to Hillsfar in search of a suitable horse. There were none in Phlan that met his exacting standards. Finding that the Red Plumes had commandeered all of the best in the city state of Hillsfar he instead went shopping for the best attire he could find. (I didn’t bother rolling starting gold as the kit granted plenty). The remainder was spent on lavish meals and he spent his last coin without saving for the return trip. Since leaving Hillsfar he has relied on bluffing his way home. It never occurred to him that his luck and quick tongue were not as good as he thought.

Seeing the strange tent open, Shilesque thinks, 'Well, we roped all the farmers into this, guess we might as well get everyone ashore we can.' He walks over to the effeminate, flamboyantly dressed man, who clearly seems a bit confused and/or angered--probably both. "Hey!" he says drawing close, but not too close, "Do you need help with something, er...miss...ter?"

As Shilesque approaches he overhears Thiondar mutter, ‘No, that won’t work either.’ Noticing the approach, Thiondar pauses and gazes intently into the eyes of Shilesque. After a stern initial look, his countenance changes into a warm disarming smile. There are at least six prominent bulges under Thiondar’s robes but he never gives a hint of reaching for one, leaving Shilesque unsure if they are the hilts of weapons or possibly large gems given the rest of the dandies clothing. Thiondar responds, ‘Whatever the plan I’m with you as I can’t seem to think of a good one myself.’

"Ummm...thanks?" Shilesque seems more than a little concerned that the richly dressed man is 'with them'. "My name's Shill," he says, finally extending a hand. "Do you have one? A name that is."

‘I am Thiondar, servant of Tyr.’ Thiondar glances at the offered hand, briefly considers its cleanliness, then remembering that he is wearing gloves, shakes it vigorously. He whispers conspiratorially, ‘Don’t allow appearances to deceive you, I might not like to get dirty but there is a reason I wear red...’ Lowering his voice further, ‘It hides the blood.’

While waiting to see if he will be informed of any plans, Thiondar tries to ascertain who is working on the ship, and if any of the passengers might be silent security (people with rope burns, missing fingers, very tanned or sunburned). After doing so, if the conversation allows, he makes his way back toward his tent where he can retrieve his long spear if a melee appears imminent.

Aft

So as Zyg makes his way back to the group, angry commoners in tow, the odd cat lady pops in out of nowhere and whispers what she heard. It confirmed his fears. He made a beeline for the Captain after motioning for the malcontents he at this moment called friends to follow. "Oi, Cap'n. We have a matter ta discuss. But I'm sure ye mates 'ave already gots yer ear. 'Ow much for the likes of us to get dropped out south o' tha city all quiets like? We have some coin, an' would like to pass gently inta da night if ye catch our drift, eh?"

 The Captain sets a rope to hold the wheel steady and walks down from the small aft-deck to meet you halfway. "Why, certainly, cursed-one. We'd be happy to drop you off anywhere nearby. Of course, if Phlan is not your destination then any of you getting off elsewhere will need to pay the standard passage free of 5 gold a head, and I'll warn you that there are bands of pirates and slavers, and worse things, that tend to roam the shores outside of town." He lowers his voice, "We'd also be happy to drop you off after dark if you are in particular need of not being seen approaching the city -- for a small extra hazard fee, of course. Say, 20 extra gold for a night drop?"

Under his breath, "Give me a flat price fer all of 'em. Night preferable." The dwur gestured to the lot. "An' I'll see if it's do-able."

"All of 'em? You want to take all of my passengers?" The captain's face grows stern, "I don't see any good coming of that, cursed-one. Especially not for these simple folk. But if everyone wants off, I'll not make anyone go somewhere they don't wish..."

"Name tha price. I ain't gonna see any of these blokes get caught on me conscience if I cannae help it."

"Three hundred. Name the place. But I'll want to hear it from each and every person's own lips that they want off, and I don't want to hear that you threatened or coerced any of these good people into following you gods-know-where..."

"300? 325 and it's a good spot and there's no ill blood twixt us. Means no bullshit if we run inta ya at the bar, savvy?"

"So long as I don't hear of harm coming to any of my passengers at your hands, you need fear no ill from me." The captain shakes his head, "325 it is," he spits in his hand and extends it to you.

The dwarven deck-hand suddenly storms up. "THREE-TWENTY-FIVE!" he shouts, enraged. "WHAT THE FUCK, CAP'N! The council promised 50 gold a head for every settler we bring to town! How the fuck are we supposed to get paid if you let them off somewhere else?!"

Zyg spat in his hand and made to seal the deal. Quickly. But his left hand was itchin' if it needed axin'. "Wut's 50 gold? Slave shit? If ye wanna bring da noise, me bard is playin' ye dirge, pissant."

Sasha switches from a simple tune to a charm spell cast on the complaining deck hand...

"Slaves?" The captain and the deckhand both freeze, horrified looks crossing their faces. "Is that what you think this is about?!" The captain retracts his hand, "If you've been slandering my good name and blaspheming the reputation of this temple, I have no qualms tossing you overboard right bloody now..."

"Me Momma jus' used ta say there's no such thing as a free brew. An' fer you getting 50 sovereigns a piece, it looks a lil odd, dern't it? Jus' let us off at land an' we'll get outta yer beard. 325 still stands."

Shilesque overhears the outburst and looks quizzical, "Did he just say 'temple'?" he asks the others gathered around.

The rough shout of a deck hand broke Caerwyn from his trance and he roughly shook awake. He swiftly adjusted his mask, and lifting a heavy cloak peering out from under his dark cowl. A tense scene down the deck greeted him, the captain being confronted by a couple impatient dwarves. "Perfect," he though, "a scrap is the last thing we need on a tub this small."

"I don't see how it's odd at all," the captain continues. "The Council of New Phlan promises all captains 50 gold crowns a head for every new settler brought to the city. The city has something of a reputation for shortening the lifespans of those that choose to take up residence there. The Council pays ten times the standard rate to ensure that all souls brave enough to attempt to settle in their accursed city aren't impeded by the need to pay for their own passage..."

The captain glowers at Zyg, "I'll happily let you and anyone else who wants off, but if I hear from anyone on this boat that you've been spreading false accusations that I would traffic with slavers, it won't be land I'll be letting you off to. The punishment for blaspheming a temple of the Lord of Waves is a quick dip, if you get my drift..."

"I jus' worry a bit, eh? Wouldn't you? 'Ow boot this. I won't rob ye of yer load if its on the up and up. But any one who wants to leave with me can. If less than half decide to leave, 125 gold. if it more than half makin' shore I'll toss ye 325. You make a decent coin, we all feel better. But when I get into the town, I'll make sure the others got out safe too. I find out there's ill shit we'll both go from there, huh?"

Shilesque leans in towards Zyg and whispers, "Shit, Zyg. I think we might need to apologize. I just realized...the ship's name...this really is some sort of floating temple to Valkur. I don't know about you, but, I don't know how to swim."

"But if ye show me proof ye a holy man of Valkur..." Zyg continues, "I'll apologize right now. I think ye can appreciate my love of freedom if ye are."

The deckhand's face has turned a deep red, "Cap'n! You can't be letting people off! You can't!!"

The hobgoblin walks up and cuffs him across the back of the head, "That's not your place to say Nat. If these people want off, they get off. A sailor's place is to take people where they wish to go, not to direct them where they do not wish. You'll get your land-locked bar soon enough." He shoves the dwarf to one side and steps up to Zyg, opening his shirt to show the shield and stormcloud symbol of Valkur tattooed on his chest.

The captain nods at the little speech, "As he said, Nat. One more voyage won't hurt you." He rolls up his sleeves to show matching holy symbols tattooed on each bicep.

"But cap'n!" The dwarf, Nat, is practically crying at this point.

"Oi." Zyg says, "We'll get out at the city. Ye can collect. An' if we can find somewhere off to tha side I'll be sure to leave you an' yer boys a donation. Make sure hobby knows the drinks are on me in town, k?" Zyg drops 50 gold to the Captain off to the side, and apologizes again.

The captain bows, "Valkur thanks ye for the donation." He scoops up the coins and dumps them overboard, as Nat screams out an anguished "Nooooooooooooooo!"

"Serry if I caused any strife, brother. Ye ever need anythin' onna da mainland, I ain't hard ta find... Unless I find somethin' ta break this curse of course, then ya need ta find a red 'aired, green eyed grumpy feck of a dwur instead."

Fore:

With the confrontation with the Captain relatively peacefully ended, Shilesque walks back to the front of the ship. It feels like everyone on the ship, from the youngest farm-boy to the creepy fish-lady are now staring at him and Zyg -- some presumably quite angry over their misunderstanding, others just pleased to have a distraction from the monotony of the voyage. Shill tries not to meet any of their gazes as he makes the walk of shame back up front and plops down by where the kobold was performing and playing tour guide.

"Guess what folks," he says to no one in particular, "the captain of this ship is entirely on the up and up. Who would've guessed that?" He sighs and addresses the kobold, "So, since we're making landfall in Phlan by morning, what can you tell me about the city? Everything so far sounds pretty bleak..."

The kobold nods his agreement, "Bleak is definitely the right word for it. Heck, the last time I spent any significant amount of time ashore in Phlan I died...which is why I look like this." He smiles, though on his canine face it looks more like a snarl, and takes a deep breath.

"I could spin volumes about the city, and, in fact, I'm writing a book about it, but I'll try to be more brief, eh. Phlan can basically be broken up into three big chunks. There's 'Civilized Phlan'", he makes quotes with his fingers as he says this, "which surrounds the harbor. About two years ago the Council, hoping to rebuild on the ruins of the past, made a beach-head at the docks with a big army of Red Plume mercenaries from Hillsfar and erected a palisade around an area about 250 hectares around there. The wall is heavily guarded and most 'unsavory types' -- myself now included -- are kept out. It's relatively peaceful, as long as you stay indoors after dark, and is home to four good-sized temples, the Council Hall, a Council-subsidized Academy for training wizards and swordsmen, and most of the town's 'legitimate' merchants..."

"Next you've got the slums. It's basically a shanty-town that has grown up just outside the walls. After the Council put up their big wall, everyone that craved peace, but couldn't afford the exorbitant prices for limited real estate, ended up there. It's pretty much the only place where you'll find affordable housing, but means you'll be rubbing shoulders with all kinds. Gang wars between goblins, orcs, and other things often break out in the streets, and beggars and pan-handlers of all stripes are everywhere. On the plus side, you can find pretty much anything in the market there, since there aren't really any laws governing what can or cannot be sold. The Council keeps promising the clean the place up and expand the wall, but they've made very little progress on that front..."

"Last you've got the Old Town. That place is basically rubble, but some people are trying to eke out a living there. It's crawling with monsters--not just the kind like me, but the really scary kind: ghouls, trolls, basilisks, and even a demon or two have all been seen in there. The Old Town is huge and there are a lot of old collapsed mansions, towers, and temples from the city's storied past out there. It's the kind of place one goes when they value getting rich more than they value their life..."

"The Council has been paying out huge sums over the last few years to any adventurous types willing to put in the effort to clean up the Slums or purge sections of the Old Town of beasties, and there have been some successes--mostly by the Marquis of Kryptgarten before the Council found out that he was sacrificing people to devils to get the job done and ran him out of town..."

"Well, that definitely explains why the Council's so eager to bring people in." Shilesque replies. "I've also heard that Phlan has something of a reputation for being populated mostly by criminals. Is that true too, or just propaganda from the neighbors?"

The kobolds cackles, "No, that's mostly true. The Council and the Temple of Tyr have refused all extradition treaties and offer universal amnesty to anyone willing to sign on to their service. They offer full political asylum, a promise from the clergy of Tyr to ignore all past misdeeds, and large cash rewards as well, to any individuals willing to take up the cause of beating back the monsters dwelling in the old city. They've recruited quite a few notorious criminals to the defense of the city in this way -- even the son of Teldar, King of the Pirate Isles and Scourge of Cormyr."

"Universal amnesty and no extraditions?" Shill looks equally surprised and impressed, "I assume they expect everyone to behave after receiving this amnesty, yes? Or is working for the council an unlimited get-out-of-jail free card?"

"Oh yeah, you still have to obey all of Phlan's laws...though they're pretty loose overall, only apply within the walled portion and the slums, and are only really enforced inside the walls. And really, ever since Elissa Bivant took a seat on the council, they might as well not have laws at all -- she even made buggery legal..."

"Right, no stealing within the walls without a really good reason," Shill nods. "So how does one get in on these glittery prizes and endless compromises from the Council?"

The kobold suddenly stands up, takes a deep breath, and belts out "ONE LIKES TO BELIEVE IN THE FREEDOM OF MUSIC!"

"Sorry. I mean, just present yourself at the Council chambers after you disembark. Biggest building in town, can't miss it. There's a bit of paperwork you'll have to fill out, and they've implemented a rule where they only extend adventuring charters to groups of 3 or more...though if you appeal directly to a council member they sometimes make exceptions and issue special licenses for individuals outside of the normal process..."

Mid-Ship:

Zyg decides to lay low a bit, finds a barrel to prop has back against and sits quietly watching the rest of the crew and passengers. Zyg had been in kind of a depressed lull lately. But just considering the possibility of enslavement must have lit a fire that he'd thought dead. It wasn't that he was concerned as much for himself. In his own way, he was slave to his curse, his past actions, and specifically the Witch Lich he'd unluckily crossed fates with. No, it was the idea that the free folk, the optimists, the young he was surrounded with could be chained like him. And that pissed him off.

Snowbell uses the mast a scratching post, then climbs it and takes a real nap on top.

Thiondar feeling a little confused and unsure of the truth will watch for an opportunity to speak to Nat alone. If it arises he will cast friends and attempt to ascertain why he is upset. If possible he will steer Nat toward an edge of the boat in case they really are headed to a slave port. If so he will attempt to knock Nat overboard before the effects of the spell wear off and Nat realizes he was influenced. If everything is on the up and up Thiondar will apologize and offer to put in a good word for him with the town clerk if he's ever in need of a different line of work or at the Temple of Tyr should he find himself in need of a priest.

After the Captain tosses Zyg's donation overboard, the dejected Nat heads back to where he was working the lines. In his emotionally disturbed state, the bald, beardless dwarf is easy pray for Thiondar's spell. As he climbs up on the ship's rail to tighten a shroud, he suddenly notices Thiondar. "Oh, hey," he says in a friendly voice, "you mind grabbing that line right there while I tie this off?"

Thiondar nods and picks up the line, "Do you think the last sacrifice necessary seeing as we are so close to land? I will say, the weather has been good thus far so the skipper seems to know his stuff. Even so, I can't wait to reach Phlan where I can enjoy a sumptuous meal with friends."

Nat groans, "Necessary?! He's always doing that. Nearly half of everything we earn for these trips either gets chucked in the sea or handed to other ships. 'For repairs to keep other seamen safe' he says...like we never need money repairs around here. If it weren't for Cap'n Donals religious proclivities I'd've been back on land running me own bar ages ago..." He spits off the side of the boat, "I'd rather be rich and take me chances with The Bitch Queen, than scraping by on half wages on a calm sea."

‘Have you considered another line of work? Sure transporting people for the council pays fairly well but a storm at sea is every bit as dangerous as group of orcs. Not to mention pirates’

"Aye, I've thought about it more'n once. Killin' orcs for the council pays about as well as shipping people for 'em does." He finishes tying off the line and hops down from the rail. "Maybe now'd be a good time for 'at. I'm right sick of Cap'n Donal's shit." He nods to himself, "Yeah, when we put in to shore tomorrow I'm tellin' the cap'n that I quit...and I'll go find me some people to bash orcs wit..."

From what I've overheard on this journey so far you might be able to find some fellow orc bashers right on this boat. I initially questioned some of their morals but seeing how they stuck up for others when they jumped to the wrong conclusion about this being a slave ship I might go on a few forays into the slums along side them myself. Assuming that's where they end up headed. Having grown up around here, I've heard many rumors not to mention the occasional slip of the tongue from Sasha on groups who have disappeared. There's some areas I am flat out not venturing into just yet.

Nat's face brightens. "Y'mean I can come wit' you?"

Thiondar enthusiastically responds, 'Absolutely I'd love the company, I am just not sure where I am going just yet.' Dropping his head somewhat he continues in a somber tone, ' I am going to tell you a story I have not shared with anyone, so I'd appreciate you keeping it secret for now, at least until I've proven myself to whoever we join up with. Although my mother was an elf I have little in common with them as she died in child birth. I'll never know what possessed her to hook up with a human cleric of Tyr. I never felt comfortable asking my father growing up and now it is too late. Dad was never comfortable with strangers and he considered all adventures to be of ill repute. When we landed on Thorn Island we easily made way into the keep as the skeletons and zombies fled before the mighty power of Tyr channeled through his holy symbol. The orcs came out of nowhere and we were careless not expecting any living creature. He told me to run and he covered my escape smashing into the line of orc bowman. I dared a few glances back, the first couple times it looked like he was getting the best of them, smashing skulls to either side with his hammer. The last time I looked though dashed any hope for his survival. The orcs had gotten around behind him and once they did it was only a brief moment before they found a weak spot in his armor and cut him down. Shortly after I fled the island was cleared and Father Tim's body was retrieved. It was already rotting so we made haste to bury him in Valhingen Graveyard. That experience, my cowardice in not going back to the island , and the issues within the Church of Tyr led to a breakdown. I am not even sure how many months I've been away as I spent the time in riotous living. I hope that my father's friends on the council have preserved his estate but since I left immediately after the burial and told no one where I was going or if I was coming back, it quite possibly has been auctioned off. Regardless, I am out of money and cannot pay the taxes so despite my noble appearance, I am anything but at the moment.' Becoming upbeat once again, 'Opportunities are plentiful in New Phlan and I will restore my honor or embrace the sweet relief of death.'

Nat listens to Thiondar's confessions with the patience of a true friend (or someone well and truly charmed, as the case may be), then walks over and pats the half-elf on the shoulder. "Sorry t' hear 'bout your da. Glad they got 'is body out o' there. I actually hauled a couple crews over to the island meself, includin' the ones that finally dealt with them orcs, though I dinna have a hand in the fightin'."

'I think dad only brought me along to chronicle his deeds and carry supplies. I don't think I could have bested him with my spear even if he only used his open palm. A hell of a warrior priest he was. A bloody knight to boot and I use the bloody not just for effect but quite literally as well.' (Does Thiondar think the spell has worn off yet? He's waiting to see the reaction before he approaches any other passengers. If Nat seems to still be with him, he will leave Nat to his work letting him know he is going to inquire as to us joining up, and introduce himself to some other passengers and inquire as to their plans once they reach Phlan.

"Nat, I’m going to go see if we can find a group that wants to kill some orcs. Let me know if you need help with anything." Thiondar will look for Shilesque and inquire as to their plans.

Fore:

Shilesque stands and thanks the kobold when he sees Thiondar coming over, then moves to meet the overly dressed man (who he still thinks must be a little on the crazy side). "Heya," he says, giving a weird half-salute, as if tipping a non-existent hat. "What can I do ya for?"

'The hairless dwarf over there," Thiondar says, pointing to Nat, "and I were wondering what your plans were when you reach Phlan? I am familiar with the area and have some contacts in the town. As I am sure you have noticed, I have expensive tastes. Recently it seems I may have overspent but beyond that I have a disdain for Orcs. If you plan to kill any, we'd like to tag along, expecting of course our share of the loot and any bounty paid by the council. I might even be able to negotiate some extra pay here and there on the parties behalf."

Shill shrugs, "Well, I for one would love to have a tour guide. I'm not really keen on killing things just because of what they look like, but if some orcs make a nuisance of themselves, we'll have to see what happens. As to once we're dockside, I'd be happy to have you two along. The more the merrier, eh? Especially in such a dangerous place."

He turns and gestures towards Zyg, "The hyper-melanized dwarf over there is apparently looking for the witch that cursed him to be dark--wants some revenge, you see. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and is quick to stick up for folks, so I've agreed to follow along and help him out."

He then waves a hand at the fluffy, white cat-person perched on the mast, "Kitty up there also has a bit of a hit list. She's pretty cagey about it, but I also suspect revenge as a driving motive. She seems a bit loose, but the dwarf seems to want her along."

He scans the rest of the crowd, pointing others out. "The gnoll and the robed guy seem to be together. They agreed to help us if the captain turned out rotten, but I don't know that we've discussed what they'll be doing when we reach Phlan."

"I think the bard over there agreed to help Zyg with his revenge business, but he's been oddly taciturn for a bard, more providing background music than actually saying anything, so I'm not actually sure."

"Zyg and I tried to recruit that elf, but he seems to have some attention problems, which I guess is pretty normal for a full-blood, so I'm not really sure what he's up to at all. He might be with us if we asked again though."

"So that'd make nine of us, with you and the dwarf, and I suspect we could probably recruit at least one or two more if we need them. Personally I have an interest in exploring the ruins, either in the city or in the area north of there--the older the better. Beyond that I'm just looking for some fun, so I'm happy to help with whatever, and the contracts the council hands out sound pretty lucrative, in more ways than one."

"Don't get the wrong idea," Thiondar says. "I am not a genocidal maniac, not yet anyway, but the orcs in old Phlan, like the other creatures, are a different breed. They are much more organized and often better equipped. We do best to proceed with caution. If civilization is to return to the area we must drive these vermin out. I'll let Nat know that we are going with you.' Thiondar turns around abruptly and walks back over to Nat. "Nat, good news, they'll take us on, equal share of the loot. Do you think we will be on the water another night? If not, I better pack up my tent."

Slade is trying to be patient but stuck on a boat this long with out anyone trying to murder him or him trying to murder anyone is uncharted territory for this gray elf.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Game of Skills?

For a while now, my thoughts have been drifting in the direction of a rather severe hack of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. A long while ago, I posted the outlines of a classless system while musing about Vancian magic. And last week I mused about converting weapon proficiencies into skills.

The more I think about both of these ideas, the more I like them. The former gets rid of classes, gives (a little) magic to the masses, and helps further eliminate the idea of dump-stats (without taking the 5e route of giving some classes Charisma-based attack rolls). The latter, in addition to making weapon choices more interesting, gets rid of the Base Attack Bonus...

This last bit personally interests me. BAB is a static value. It is a statistic that does not involve any level of choice -- or rather, it is rolled up in your choice of class(es). By getting rid of it and effectively making attack rolls into skill checks, we have one less random number from which we have to derive other values, AND one less remnant of the class-based system.

So, there is one other static value or class-based value that the game fundamentally dependent on that might be reasonable to convert into a trained skill...

Saving throws

Pathfinder (and D&D 3.x and the d20-system in general) uses three saving throw values: Fortitude, Reflex, and Willpower. These correspond to three of the six ability scores, and, arguably, give greater weight of importance to those three stats. They also, like BAB, advance only based on your choice of class(es).

The extant editions of D&D that have followed 3.x both tried to mitigate / get rid of the effects of these values in different ways. 5th edition made them ability checks, for all six ability scores, as a way to a spread out the value of the various stats (thus reducing the sense of "useless" ability scores). 4th edition made them truly static, much like a character's Armor Class, as a way of reducing the number of rolls made in combat. But nobody liked that. The saving throw roll is too intrinsic to D&D's sense of risk.

But what if we used the exact same approach to Saves that we do to Weapons? What if, instead of a saving throw that advanced statically by class, saves were a skill that you had to choose to improve, or not.

The big pluses with this are that: (a) You eliminate the class-bound static values, and (b) You add yet another element of variability between characters and choice for the players.

The obvious con is that you have to spend skill points on them. If they come from your main pool of skills, then the saving throws water down the potential skill levels of the character, by increasing the number of things he must spend points on. With weapons, we created a second pool, because there are so many. We could do that with saves, and have a pool of "Saving Throw Skill Points", but even with a 5th-edition approach of one save per stat we have only six skills to choose from -- which would quickly make the characters relatively uniform.

So what if we make Saving Throws into actual skill checks? Some might be obvious: Perception check to see through an illusion? Acrobatics check to leap out of the way of a fireball?


Of course, this would require either on-the-fly DM interpretation (or player arguments) of what skills are or are not appropriate for resisting a specific spell. Or highly complicated replacements of the "saving throw" field in every spell description to detail which skill check(s) to make. With the THOUSANDS of spells available for Pathfinder, either of these would be a nightmare.

So, we need a clear 1-to-1 relationship of Skill to Save category, but we don't want those skills to only cover the saves, since that overly waters down what a character can learn to do.

So, 3 skills...

Reflex:

The "Reflex save" is fairly easy to replicate with a skill. The aforementioned Acrobatics skill just makes sense here. It is already a fairly broad skill, having been expanded in Pathfinder to encompass in totality three different skills from D&D 3.x (BalancingJumping, and Tumbling), which together encompass roughly 99% of how players and DMs describe Reflex saves occurring. It just makes sense to replace Reflex saves with Acrobatics skill checks.

Of course, this puts A LOT of value on the Acrobatics skill, since it already encompasses so much that an adventurer might want to do.

Willpower:

"Willpower saves" are harder. There is no single, broadly encompassing skill that would cover all the ways you might fight through a mental attack -- Perception for Illusions, Sense Motive for Divination, any of a number of Knowledge skills, Spellcraft?

However, if you look just slightly outside the core Pathfinder skill set, there is one skill that fits the bill pretty well. The Autohypnosis skill (from Psionics Unleashed by Dreamscarred Press) is traditionally reserved for Psionic campaigns (and, indeed, existed in the D&D 3.x psionics rules as well), but covers such things as Resisting Fear, Memorizing long strings of text, and clinging to life while bleeding out. Using Autohyposis in place of Willpower saves makes sense, and attaches a number of useful (if slightly esoteric) functions to our "Willpower skill".

Perhaps not nearly as universally useful as Acrobatics, but sufficiently useful outside of avoiding spells to make it a worthwhile skill purchase.

Fortitude:

This is the real toughie. For starters, "Fortitude saves" are traditionally based on Constitution and Pathfinder has no Constitution-based skills. Likewise, the only Strength-based skills are Climbing and Swimming, which are highly specific. Autohypnosis encompasses some Fortitude-like functions (resisting poison), but has already been claimed for Willpower....

So what do we do?!

Well, it turns out that there are a lot of things in Pathfinder that call for random Constitution checks -- running, forced marches, holding one's breath, resisting starvation or thirst, etc. Pathfinder's solution to allow some characters to get better at these kind of things is a feat: Endurance, which gives a bonus on checks of this kind.

Now, all of these checks have always bothered me as a DM -- mostly because its a lot of random things to remember. Fort save vs. exposure (but Endurance applies), Swim check to resist exhaustion (but Endurance applies), Con checks here and there (but not centrally documented, other than in the Endurance feat. They are a pain to remember and even the best DMs tend to forget to call for them.

Well, it turns out that all of this was solved in the edition-that-shall-not-be-named (4e D&D).
Look at that! An Endurance SKILL...

Poof! Not only do we have a skill that covers all that random shit from 3.x/Pathfinder, but we also have the perfect stand-in for a Fortitude save skill, with universally broad usefulness for adventuring types.








Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Weapon Proficiencies for Pathfinder

One of the things that has bugged me about D&D post 2nd-edition is how generalized weapon training is, or rather, how inconsistently generalized it is. Characters in 2nd-edition had a limited number of slots or points they could use to gain skill with weapons. These could be spent one-for-one to gain proficiency in individual weapons, or to improve the character's skill in a specific chosen weapon, or spent in twos and threes to gain skill in broad categories of closely related weapons (all one-handed swords, or all bows, or axes).

3rd edition, Pathfinder, and 5th edition all break weapons down into three categories: Simple, Martial, and Exotic. The various classes in Pathfinder each grant a flat list of weapons selected from wide swaths of these categories (i.e. All Simple weapons and All Martial weapons) or a very specific subset which may be drawn from one or more of these three categories. These are one-and-done, you are proficient or you are not. A character can expand the weapons they are proficient with by spending a feat, but doing so is inconsistent -- one feat gives you all Simple weapons, but one feat gives you only a single Martial weapon.

Further, these categories don't really represent similarity of use, but rather a vague notion of "game balance". Simply put, Martial weapons do more damage than Simple weapons, and Exotic weapons do more damage than Martial. Even if the weapons are nearly identical -- the martial "rapier" and the exotic "dueling sword" are identical weapons except for stats, and the simple "Long Spear" and martial "Pike" are likewise, the same weapon -- a character whose class has trained with weapon A has zero knowledge of weapon B.

Then, of course, a character with a given base-attack bonus has that same bonus with ALL weapons that he is proficient with. A fighter, even if he spent his entire 20-level career only using a favorite heirloom longsword, would have the same level of skill (as represented by his numerical attack bonus) with a flail that he would with the sword he'd spent his entire life swinging.  Granted, he could take feats to get a +1-3 point bonus on attacks with the sword, or other tricks, but how does he have such vast generalized skill with other weapons without ever using them?

And don't even get me started about Slings...

Of course, you can argue all day about "abstraction". Blah-blah-blah. But I'm not hear to listen to that, I'm here to propose an alternative...