[Skull & Shackles] Bilge Rats and Brawlers

Skull & Shackles: The Wormwood Mutiny CoverLast time in Skull & Shackles, Eric (Felix Cailean), Joey (Lady Viola Leona Eudonius), John (Jetsam ibn Abbasid ibn Yunus al-Bhar; Jetsam al-Bhar for short), Tyler (Morley Bishop), with GM Luke, found themselves at the close of their second night aboard the Wormwood. What would the night and days to come hold for the motley assortment of pressganged souls? Whatever may come, it would play out on a big flip chart showing the multiple levels of Wormwood, painstakingly drawn out by Luke.

On the third day out of Port Peril, everyone works industriously at their assigned tasks: sewing sails, manning the rigging, slaughtering a pig for meals and so on. During a break in his labors, Felix approaches Phipps, the man who confronted him below decks and left a knife wound as a remembrance. Cailean wants to mend bridges by offering to heal the sailor’s own wounds. Phipps prefers to loudly denounce Cailean as a witch, before moving to accusations of mutinous acts. Scourge is brought in at that, but dismisses Phipp’s accusation. The scar forming on Felix’s cheek, signifying his first strike, reminds everyone that the man really should watch his step.

“They don’t smile on education where you’re from, do they?”
— Felix Cailean

Meanwhile, down in the middle hold, Jetsam notes there is little of interest down here — except the hulking giant of a man chained to the foremast. Owlbear Hartshorn, as Jetsam learns he is called, metes out discipline when called upon. Hartshorn’s scarred, meaty hands show the kind of discipline he deals out. Owlbear is rather proud to show off his collection of teeth. Whatever he knocks from a recipient of “discipline,” he is allowed to keep. Hartshorn passes away the rest of his time here in the hold. Jetsam plants the seeds of friendship by bringing Hartshorn some of the raw crabs he so enjoys.

On deck, Viola speaks with Giffer Tibbs, Wormwood‘s lady gnome sailor. Eudonia is somewhat fascinated, having never met a gnome before. In an attempt at a semblance of the normality she misses, Viola invites Tibbs to join her in taking tea. Of course, this requires Viola to find some tea first. Croup the cook can’t offer any tea leaves, herbs or other substances, but he can certainly supply hot water. The conversation, guided by Viola, turns to the Wormwood‘s past cargo. So far as Croup can remember, they have never captured a “fashion ship,” laden with the ultimate — to Viola — prize of shoes and bolts of fine cloth. There’s little Harringan wouldn’t sell, Croup says. And that’s all the cook will offer, unwilling to say a word out loud against the captain.

In ship’s stores, Bishop approaches Cut-throat Grok. He comes at the conversation with the angle of “what does Grok want?” but apparently what Grok wants is to go run an errand and conspicuously leave the stores open. Never one to pass up an opportunity, Bishop paws through the pile of good stuff. He comes away with a bottle of fine Chelaxian brandy, which seems like it may make a useful bargaining chip someday. It’s easy to trade away grog rations, but for the more refined palate, something smoother will be required to grease the wheels.

The night finds Bishop prowling the hold. Wormwood is low on cargo, but has plenty of oil and ballista-related equipment. The ladder to the officer’s quarters is a tempting target, but the evening hours, when the officers are likely in their quarters rather than on deck, don’t seem like the right time. Bishop files that “to do” item for later.

Upon on deck, Viola approaches Mr. Scourge. She proposes designing uniforms for the crew, to foster morale and comradeship. Of course, the only cloth on the ship is canvas. Is it possible that someday they might capture a ship laden with fine cloth? Maybe, Scourge returns, and that day is pay day, when the hold is full and everyone gets their share. The prospect of getting paid strikes Viola as a new, most appealing thought.

Scourge’s violin catches Lady Viola’s eye. She compliments his playing and wonders if there has ever been a Wormwood ensemble. Scourge snorts derisively, but she forges on. If Viola can find a partner, Scourge may find it in himself to take a pass at something approaching a waltz. It is a resigned Jetsam al-Bhar who steps up to be Viola’s dance partner. They acquit themselves gracefully on the deck as Scourge plays something rather more like a waltz than he let on at first.

Felix is preoccupied with Cayden’s nectar, mead, and the brewing thereof. Having lost most of his stores of sacramental beverage, it falls upon the Caileanite to serve his god by brewing the drink dear to him. And if an unexpected supply of mead makes the crew happy, that’s as well. The major challenge is finding enough metal to make a brewing tun. Metal comes at a premium on the open sea. With luck, they may capture or stumble across a source, but there’s not much to be done in the meantime. And for whatever troubles Croup goes to in this endeavor, Felix can make it worth his while in mead.[1]

“I hope everyone enjoys dinner!”
— Morley Bishop is off to kill rats

The next day, Bishop makes a fool of himself casting nets to gather up fish for the galley stores. He casts the net, but completely fails to secure or hold on to it in any way. He watches forlornly as the net is lost in the wake of Wormwood. Shortly thereafter, his forlorn expression switches to resignation as he is sent down into the bilges to kill rats as punishment.

In fact, Felix is assigned to the bilges as well, just moments before scrawny Jack Scrimshaw comes running up to Plugg. There’s something larger than usual in the bilges. It took a huge chunk out of Scrimshaw’s arm. Plugg calls for volunteers to go down with Bishop and Cailean. Anyone who goes will get the rest of the day to themselves, a tempting alternative to laboring in the scorching sun. Jetsam and Viola step forward after only a little thought.

Down in the bilge, the heat is stifling. Felix is uncomfortably reminded of his time in the sweat box. He and Jetsam, the latter clad in his armor, feel the heat most acutely. After only a few moments of acclimating to the heat, cramped quarters and sheer stench, things begin moving in the muck. Six over-sized bilge rats burst to the surface and set upon the group.

The rats snap and bite, sinking their disease-ridden jaws into everyone.[2] In the course of the battle, Viola acquits herself with particular vigor, stomping one rat to pulp. That doesn’t stop her from shrieking with every rat’s lunge and snap, of course. Morley gets the tar chewed out of him by the rat’s razor-sharp teeth.

When the rats are dispatched, further inspection of the bilge for more vermin reveals only the bilge pump, sets of manacles anchored to the hull — as the bilge doubles as the brig — and scatterings of gold and silver pieces, which Morley pockets along with some vials that might be holy water. There’s also a whole suit of armor and a war razor down there. There must be some use for those, right?

Ever the forward-thinker, Felix asks Morley if he might be able to fashion a duplicate key for the brig’s manacles. A quick inspection of the lock’s workings shows it will be a piece of cake for the archaeologist.[3]

Back on deck, Morley flags Sandra Quinn down, who’s busy running from officer to officer with messages. The stench rolling off the four rat-killers practically knocks her back. Just to get them away as quickly as possible, she cures as much of their wounds as she able. After Quinn flees their stench cloud to return to her duties, Jetsam takes advantage of his aromatic condition to taunt Phipps, going so far as to drip muck all over the vengeful sailor.

After cleaning up, Viola’s quest for tea continues. This time she goes to Habley Quarney, the ship’s surgeon. Surely a physician would have a store of herbs for infusions and draughts? As it happens, no. Quarney takes some grim delight in explaining that his three tools — the hammer, saw and pliers — apply to both of his roles aboard Wormwood: ship’s surgeon and carpenter. Viola recognizes the potential usefulness of a surgeon’s mate to Quarney’s work and brings it up — because anything is better than swabbing — but the sawbones doesn’t share her vision.

With time in hand and confident that everyone in the crew is about their business, Bishop turns his attention back to the officer’s quarters. Taking the low road through the middle hold, he ascends into a haze of acrid smoke. It has the distinctive scent of opium, which, it turns out, wafts from the pipe of Peppery Longfarthing, the one officer on the ship who isn’t on deck at the moment. She eyes Bishop. He eyes Longfarthing. Rifling anyone’s belongings is right out with a witness, stoned or not. Morley opts for Plan B: building alliances through physical relations. So that happens.[4]

“A gentlemen never tells. And neither does Morley.”
— Jetsam al-Bhar

Grok finds herself approached by both Felix and Jetsam. Felix wants to swap the armor found in the bilge for his own, nicer set. In the course of the deal, he reclaims most of the belongings he held when taken back at the Formidably Maid. Jetsam gets gold for the war razor. He then goes to Croup to get crabs for Hartshorn. The giant tucks in with gusto, grinning widely as his teeth crush the crabs whole. Jetsam steels himself to partake and holds his retching in check. Hartshorn lets slip that he gets to take someone’s teeth tomorrow. Clearly someone has displeased Mr. Plugg.

Exhausted twice over, Morley hits his berth for the night. Felix tries to rally the crew to his cause of tracking down Jarreth Kay, but the prospect of taking on a dread pirate lord gets a lukewarm reaction from a boneweary crew. Viola goes to Scourge to share a spot on the railing with grog and pipe. When the mate brings up the prospect of sex, the proper lady is utterly appalled at such a crass proposition. Scandalize, she huffs away.

The morning of the fifth day, Viola is assigned message running duties. She gives Scourge the coldest shoulder, then takes exception to being called “girl.” With the inevitability of a glacier, this leads to Eudonia tied to the mast for the day. Sighing, Felix goes to Scourge, but before he can say anything, Viola blusters, digging a deeper hole to Scourge’s amusement. This time, Felix stalks away, stone expression fixed on his face. Viola seems to be losing the support of her tireless champion.

Exploring the galley, Morley finds a truly staggering amount of alcohol secreted around the place. Most of it’s rather nice, but Croup insists on dipping into the standard grog stores for his regular doses of secret sauce. There’s also a cookbook with some interesting recipes[5] and a magical grapple on the wall.

During the day, Felix and Jetsam made inroads with other crew members.[6] Rosie the halfling has some pointed comments on Felix’s recent choices. She accepts his offer of sparring, though, as he’ll learn from the loss. Jetsam works in the rigging with Shivikah, a Mwangi woman who traded slaves, become an effective slave herself. Jetsam doesn’t deny his family’s participation in the flesh trade.

That night, Mr. Plugg gathers the crew for an announcement. He is very pleased to offer a show for their amusement demonstrating the value of discipline. Cautioning Scourge that Cailean is a rising star on the Wormwood, Plugg invites Cailean to the mainmast, where Viola is still lashed. Plugg hands Felix the cat o’ nine tails, inviting him to mete out the punishment that Viola earned with her lip that morning. Felix hefts the weapon in his hand for a moment . . . and throws it overboard.[7] This does not go over well with Plugg. Since flogging, smashing hands, the sweat box and bilge duty seem to have no effect on Cailean’s truculence, Plugg declares everyone else in the crew will be flogged as Felix watches. Dozens of eyes silently shoot daggers at the Caileanite. Not only that, Viola is hanged from the yardarm. Once it’s all over, Scourge whips Felix himself across the belly for good measure. And if any trace of magical healing is detected, that will be the end of it forever — which is a fairly ominous warning to Sandra Quinn, on consideration.

But it’s not over yet. Plugg calls up Hartshorn from the hold. Owlbear and Felix are to brawl. Bishop immediately starts taking side bets. Plugg throws a purse of gold down on the deck for Owlbear to win. There are few wagers that don’t favor Owlbear. One of the stand-outs is Viola, who bets her shoes on Felix.

The two fighters circle the ring at first. Hartshorn howls like a beast, shaking Felix to his core. As the blows begin to come, Felix focuses on blocking, punching Hartshorn’s fists off course, throwing the giant himself. As this happens, Viola slips off to the side, starts fashioning a lasso out of some handy rope.

“We may have to do this mutiny real quick.”
— Felix

Hartshorn’s next uppercut sends Felix sprawling. Everyone assumes it’s all over a matter of time now. Viola moves to the next part of her plan: securing one of the lasso to a water barrel. Patchsalt, a ship’s officer, throws a dagger into Viola’s side when he spots her intending to interfere with the brawl. Cailean seems like he’s almost about to come back, but falls all the same. Hartshorn collects his payment in teeth from those scattered on the deck when Jetsam intercedes to stop too many teeth from coming fresh from Felix’s jaw. He’s almost crushed by Hartshorn in a hug for his trouble. Once Felix picks himself up off the deck and removes any further teeth ready to come loose, Scourge administers the second cut on his opposite cheek. The next strike must be death.

“I told you about the daba’s poison tail and claws. You insist on grabbing one, the other or both.”
— Jetsam to Felix

The dawn of the sixth day finds Morley wracked by fever. He keeps his head down and attends to his tasks. Jetsam goes to the gunner’s mate, Kipper, to offer his services as a trained siege engineer. The mate doesn’t seem enthused about the prospect of competition for his job.

That night, Sandra Quinn calls all four of them together. She calls them out on their crap for alienating the Wormwood crew. Not only flaunting the ship’s discipline but endangering everyone else with stiff-necked chivalry. She chides Viola for not adapting to the situation. Eudonia, who’s feigned muteness since her hanging, listens quietly with an expression of growing resolve.

The best way off Wormwood, Quinn continues, is when they capture a prize ship. That ship will require a crew from the ranks of the Wormwood. Harringan has never left Wormwood, so it will be a chance to get away from him and most of his officers. Now is the time to be forming friendships and alliances so that this new ship, whatever it may be, will be a more hospitable place to everyone aboard.

“Ma — wom — gnome overboard!”
— Jetsam

The seventh day is a sick day, as Morley’s fever rages unchecked and Viola and Felix both begin to feel its effects. On the eighth day, a storm hits. Everyone is called up into the rigging, fever or not. There is no rest. Handfuls of hard tack and water are gulped at posts. Tibbs is washed overboard by a wave, but Jetsam and Felix work together to haul her back in. By the time the storm abates, everyone is too tired to do anything but fall gratefully into their bunks.[8]


[1] For a Caileanite, Felix sure gives away a lot more booze than he manages to drink.

[2] Felix, Viola and Morley all contracted filth fever, which led to explanation, clarification and reclarification of when that disease would set in and take its toll.

[3] Morley critically failed his Disable Device check, so that will be a fun surprise for Felix at some point — assuming he isn’t outright executed.

[4] I had no idea that would happen in a million years. But it was an opportunity that presented itself in the moment and if there’s one thing I’ve decided about Morley, it’s that he takes opportunities when they come. It started out as a silly comment on my part about pizza delivery and the plumber arriving, but Luke took the intent as seducing the character. I figured “what the hell?” and we drew a curtain across the scene once dice were rolled about attractiveness, etc.

[5] To give Morley a much-needed bonus to any future Profession (Cook) checks.

[6] There are times I feel like every NPC on the ship is a button to mash. “Have I spammed Rosie the halfling enough? Does she like me yet?”

[7] And that was one of those moments where everyone at the table who wasn’t Eric, who alleged he knew what he was doing, simultaneously cringed.

[8] At this point, Luke revealed that the first twenty-one days of the Wormwood’s journey are mapped out in this day-night cycle. We came to the agreement we’d start to play through those days via email, as well as compressing time in future sessions.

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9 thoughts on “[Skull & Shackles] Bilge Rats and Brawlers

  1. This is a great campaign that I am also currently playing. Lots of opportunities for behind-the-curtain fun. 😉 I found a pair of my fellow PCs in my hammock completing their “business transaction”. Basically the Magus let the Sea Witch teach her monkey his spells in exchange for a little lovin’ and now it’s his goal to bang every female on the ship. 21 days later and he’s nowhere close. LOL

  2. Pingback: [Skull & Shackles] Take Arms Against A Sea of Troubles | Held Action

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