[Skull & Shackles] Take Arms Against A Sea of Troubles

Skull & Shackles: The Wormwood Mutiny CoverThis week in Skull & Shackles, Eric (Felix Cailean), Joey (Lady Viola Leona Eudonius) and Tyler (Morley Bishop) reconvened with GM Luke and were joined for the evening by John-2 playing Vern the marooned barbarian.[1] John-1 (Jetsam ibn Abbasid ibn Yunus al-Bhar; Jetsam al-Bhar for short) was away for the evening.

The next few days aboard Wormwood are unpleasant, but uneventful. Filth fever contains to rage among those who contracted it in the bilges. Morley’s finally breaks, then Felix’s the day after. They can begin the road to recovery — which is long and tedious in Morley’s case. Viola works studiously at her appointed tasks; perhaps the lesson by hanging made its mark after all. Jetsam keeps his head down out of sight completely. He’s a sensible sailor, after all.

The follow morning, Mr. Plugg bestows the rare honor of visiting Felix Cailean in his bunk, still feeling the aftereffects of the fever. Ever concerned with the welfare of his crew, Plugg has decided that fresh air is the sovereign cure Cailean needs. Particularly, Felix and his colleagues are to go on a foraging expedition for fresh food. There’s only so much Croup can do to “enhance” the gruel with his secret additives. Fresh stock is needed for the pot.

“Sharks are the tarrasques of the sea!”
— Morley Bishop

So Felix, Morley and Viola find themselves lowered into the sea via net with a healthy supply of crab pots. When one of the crew cautions them to watch out for sharks, Morley advises everyone that sharks are easily recognized by their stinging spines and hard shells.[2] They’re also not crazy about blood in the water. Despite the many dangers of stinging, hard-shelled sharks, the three reasonably accomplished swimmers strike out for an archipelago of submerged volcanic islands some distance from the Wormwood, crab pots in tow.

The first island top they come to is just a few feet below the surface. It teems with marine life, but Bishop can’t find much in the way of crabs here. Felix pushes on to a deeper island where the crabbing is more promising.

“You hear voices.”
— Vern’s been alone for a while

Meanwhile, on the far side of the archipelago, Vern languishes in the sun. Formerly a mate of a Ulfen longship, he berated the chief’s son a little too much and found himself marooned on this volcanic archipelago. That was a week and a half ago. Since then, Vern’s survived on raw crab and drinking his own urine. He’s red and blistered from constant exposure to the sun overhead. And now he hears voices in the distance. Scrambling to the apex of his little island, Vern sees what might be mistaken for three humans and a raft of crab pots bobbing around a few hundred yards away. As hallucinations go, it’s not terribly enticing, but it’s better than baking on a spit of rock all day, so he decides to check it out.

Now the Wormwood sailors spot Vern at practically the same instant and they’re even less certain of what they see. Face shadowed, bedraggled hair, red like a lobster; is this some new form of nautical monstrosity? No, but the reefclaws that Felix, currently harvesting crabs fifteen feet down, spots certainly are.

In the clear blue water, it’s easy to spot death swimming at you from yards off. Viola draws her curiously robust parasol — a central iron rod with wooden spars supporting the pink silk fabric and lace — and waits to see what these reefclaws do. That turns out to be charging directly at her, so Viola cracks the beast across the snout. The second reefclaw turns on Felix, who’s still underwater at this point. It wraps around Cailean and begins constricting. Morley attempts to summon help, but finds performing the correct gestures while treading water problematic. The spell fails.

Viola handily disposes of the reefclaw troubling her — which pushes it in a debilitating death frenzy. Felix, grappled and constricted, hovering on the brink of unconsciousness, learns from Viola’s example that fighting back has its own set of hazards. More concerned with getting his spell right, Morley manages to call a dolphin up out of the magical deeps. It slams into the reefclaw besetting Felix — pushing it straight into death frenzy. Cailean goes unconscious briefly, but recovers in time to surface and join the others.

“If I was meant to wear frog legs, they would come with four inch heels.”
— Lady Viola

In the aftermath, Felix recognizes Viola’s distress as she suffers from the poison of the reefclaw. He offers his swim fins to the lady, but she declines. Vern introduces himself and explains his plight. At this point, he’ll climb on board any ship, regardless of what the press-ganged warn him about the Wormwood and its officers. Once the crab pots are filled, the quartet swim for the Wormwood.

Back aboard ship, Mr. Plugg is indeed delighted to meet Vern and accept his mark on the signing papers. So is Cutthroat Grok when she spots the map tucked in Vern’s belt. She swaps him a greataxe for the map and hurries away, clutching the vellum in her massive paw-like fist.

Later, Scourge calls the crew to assemble on the deck. Captain Harringan makes a rare address. He praises Vern for bringing them the chart of Man’s Promise. Not only does it provide valuable navigational information for the local waters, but it shows the planned route and destination for Man’s Promise. And it’s the duty of every free captain and crew to keep the Shackles free from the predations of foreign vessels. There looks to be a bit of “salvage” in the Wormwood‘s future.

“A little whale blubber will clear that up.”
“I was just beginning to feel better.”
— Vern and Viola

That night, Felix hears Rosie Cusswell’s profanity-laden tale of woe. All she really wants is a violin so she might play again, preferably sized for her halfling hands. Moved, Felix goes to Grok to negotiate for something that might work for Rosie. After a long day of crabbing, Morley indulges completely in his double ration of grog, entertaining the crew with the tale of their bout with the reefclaws. Viola worries about the sunburn she developed out on the water. Vern’s suggested solution is less than appealing.

The next day is uneventful. Those who went crabbing are off-duty. Viola noses around the hold, Morley makes that key to the brig’s manacles for Felix[3] and Cailean himself lounges and eavesdrops, but doesn’t hear anything of interest.

That night, Viola angles to swap for parchment and ink to write a letter home, but comes up dry. Felix earns a friend in Rosie Cusswell and an idle stream of profanity when he presents her with a toy-sized fiddle, saying “It’s a little small, but in your hands . . . ” Morley makes time with Tilly Bracket, who has a tale of caution for the archaeologist. Her husband was an educated man in the Pathfinder Society. When they were forcibly taken aboard Wormwood, he was killed for knowing how to navigate. At sea, knowledge is power. It’s ignorance that keeps the press-ganged and kidnapped at the mercy of the ship’s officers. For a retriever and dealer in artifacts like Morley, this reminds him it would be wise to keep his head down a bit more than he has so far. Anger subsiding, Tilly muses about the joy of “sugaring” the officers’ own hooch supply with a contribution of her own.

The next day, while Viola proves an excellent rat-catcher and Vern generates some conversation wearing a kilt in the rigging, the man in the crow’s nest shouts “Land ho!”[4] Ahead is Fisherman’s Folly, rightly named for the reefs and shoals surrounding the island. Mr. Plugg calls his “favorite” crewmembers into the officer’s quarters, where he and Peppery Longfarthing — who seems confused by Bishop making eyes at her — explain they are to go out in a longboat and mark a safe course through the reefs forWormwood. There are reports of a magical suit of armor lost among the reefs and the captain aims to retrieve it. Longfarthing keeps her peace during the briefing, but the contempt in her expression is obvious. On dismissal from the officers, Morley presses his ear against the door in time to catch Longfarthing calling Plugg out for relying on two swabs, a sun-dazed barbarian and the cook’s mate to chart a safe course through the perils of Fisherman’s Folly.

Even so, that’s who goes out in the longboat, once they’ve had the opportunity to peruse Grok’s wares and replenish any needs. Ample lengths of rope, sunrods, spears and javelins are piled into the boat. Whatever’s lurking in these waters, they won’t be unprepared to deal with it as they were the reefclaws.

With Morley at the oars, the boat makes leisurely progress through the waters around Fisherman’s Folly. Vern and Felix chart the depths with sounding lines, leaving air-filled bladders as marker buoys. Viola leans back under her parasol to enjoy the ride. Schools of tropical fish swim by in formation. The quiet water is occasionally broken by the splash of a leaping tuna.

With water so clean and clear, it’s no trouble to see to the seafloor. Below they spot a Chelaxian wreck on its side, the hull stove in at some spots. Armed with ample amounts of pig iron for ballast, there’s no reason not to check out the wreck for themselves. Felix, Morley and Vern each grab a chunk and speedily sink to the seafloor. Viola remains surface-side with her parasol to enjoy the sea breeze.

Down below, the ship’s name plaque is encrusted with barnacles. They probe into the ship proper through a hole by the prow end of the keel. Almost immediately, they disturb a trio of squid on the inner side of the hull. Bishop is mauled by one while Felix and Vern make short work of the beasts. Up on the surface, Viola is appalled by Felix’s suggestion she tend to the squid to save as provisions for the ship and throws them into the water after he leaves.[5]

Sifting through the wreckage, they find a logbook, which Morley tucks away for later. Pressing towards the aft, the explorers are beset by lacedons from the shadows of the wreck, a form of underwater ghoul Morley recognizes. At the same time above, a lacedon approaches the longboat from underneath while Viola idly dabbles her toes in the water.

They prove to be tough customers. Vern is paralyzed by their touch almost immediately. Felix and Morley struggle for their lives, aware with every motion that the demands of combat underwater places greater demands on the air they have remaining in their lungs. When they finally put paid to the three lacedons below,[6] they each grab one of Vern’s arms, dragging the northman out of the ship and back toward the surface.

Above, Viola fares no better against one lacedon. It paralyzes Eudonia and she falls into the water. As she sinks, this seems like it might be a preferable outcome to the lacedon’s tender mercies. The three sailors rising up engage the lacedon just as it runs its rotten tongue along Viola’s neck. As they struggle to save the lady from the lacedon, it flips the boat completely, sending all their equipment to the seabed.

Once the ghoul is put down and everyone has the chance to refill their lungs with salty sea air, they descend once more to the wreck. In the back of the hold, they find the armor, still worn by its former owner, now a fleshless skeleton in the dim gloom of the sea. The armor is salvaged and its occupant laid to rest at sea.

During the trip back, Morley examines the logbook. Forgotten Dreams set forth from Cheliax looking for not this fabled armor of water breathing and freedom of movement, but the Lost Messenger, a silver toucan crafted by a Taldane jeweler held aboard the ship Deprived. The toucan was last seen flying into Mgang Cove off the Slithering Coast, south of Port Peril. Forgotten Dreams was sent to find the silver whistle which can call up the Lost Messenger. It’s an amusing story to tell while someone else rows the longboat back to Wormwood.

It also begs the question: what is Harringan truly looking for? Magical armor, or this mysterious silver toucan? Or something else entirely? And why entrust a gaggle of poorly trained deckhands with this mission?[7]

[1] One of the helpful conventions of shipboard life is that if a player can’t make a session, their character can easily be assigned to other duties or happen to be off in a longboat for some reason.

[2] Having rolled a 1 on his Knowledge (Nature) check.

[3] You know, the key that won’t work because Morley can’t tell a tumbler from a hole in the hull.

[4] And after two and a half sessions trapped aboard the Wormwood, I felt a palpable sense of relief at the prospect of exploring somewhere new.

[5] Which surely will only keep away those hard-shelled, stinging sharks that loathe the scent of blood in the water.

[6] Only because one “got distracted” and wandered off. Those things are tough and nasty. If Luke had pressed their advantage, I don’t think they would have been able to save Vern and only themselves by fleeing.

[7] Apropos of nothing, we dinged second level at the end of the session! Hello there, Clever Explorer.

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