This week in Skull & Shackles, Eric (Felix Cailean), Joey (Lady Viola Leona Eudonius), John (Jetsam ibn Abbasid ibn Yunus al-Bhar), Tyler (Morley Bishop) and GM Luke met up for another rousing session of piracy and mismatched expectations of pressganged sailors.
In the days after the recovery of the magical armor, the atmosphere aboard Wormwood changes for the wayward sailors who brought the prize aboard. Interactions with more members of the crew have a little air of respect to them. Some senior officers allow themselves to seem slightly impressed — others are disconcerted by the success of unruly deckhands. When he claims the armor, Captain Harringan is typically curt and unemotive, but he does speak, which is rather big for the man who’s number one rule is “Don’t talk to me.” The triumphant salvage team even gets to partake of the fresh crab haul, which is the real bonus, all things culinary considered.
After giving some consideration to the state of interpersonal affairs aboard ship, Morley does some digging with Croup and Cutthroat Grok about the officers’ meals and drink. In the course of conversation, Croup munificently bestows his greasy, stained chef’s hat on his favorite cook’s mate, which Morley promises to treasure for as long as he wears it. Maybe it’s not quite the hat Morley was looking for back in Port Peril, but it’s a start.
What it comes down to is Grok goes for a stroll, Morley rustles up that bottle of Chelaxian brandy secured some time back and brings Tilly Bracket in, as she chortles at the opportunity, to perform some “seasoning.” Handily resealed, the bottle goes up on the shelf, prominent among the officers’ stock. Some time later, the bottle disappears from the shelf and so far as anyone knows, was heartily consumed one evening.
“You’ve made it through worse. Chances are you will again.”
“Your bedside manner is atrocious.”
— Felix and Viola
Feeling poorly about tangling with the lacedon, Viola goes to Quarney the sawbones, who expresses something that might be a mild level of concern for the well-being of the crew as he informs her there’s a good chance she contracted ghoul fever from the encounter. He prescribes grog, bunk rest and an overnight watch, lest the fever take her as she sleeps and she rises as a ghoul to prey on the crew. This does nothing to make Viola feel better about her prospects. Sandra Quinn and Felix both drop by to lend a magical hand and take shifts on the night watch by her bunk. By dawn, Viola’s fever has broken and she can be reasonably confident of not devolving into a lacedon.
“Quite a misunderstanding, them having our cargo.”
— Jetsam al-Bhar
The next morning, Lt. Krine cusses and bawls the crew into order. Now that Wormwood has the navigation chart of Man’s Promise, so kindly provided by Vern the rescued Ulfen sailor, “their cargo” is out there, just waiting to be claimed. The crew has to get into shape for boarding actions. Crewmen swim out to the boat alongside the ship, where they cast grapples to the railing and shin up the rope. Adding an element of piscine spice are the buckets of fish heads thrown by overenthusiastic crew lined along the railings. Jetsam especially gets into the spirit of pelting his comrades fish guts while Viola struggles up the rope. Felix takes one fish head straight in the mouth, which may possibly overpower the taste of the midday gruel. One hit knocks Viola completely off the line, driving Krine to apoplexy.
When it’s Jetsam and Bishop’s turn to board the ship, they do a bit better. Viola only briefly toys with the notion of cutting the lines as the pair ascend. Felix deliberately aims his fish heads low to avoid Viola, who grimly remounts her struggle to board the ship. When all is said and done, for all her bluster and insults, Lt. Krine may be one of the most positive, supportive officers on the Wormwood — which is a disquieting thought.
“I’m wearing my good dress.”
“You have a wardrobe now?”
— Viola and Jetsam
The days continue to slip by. The prospects of of conflict and captured booty capture everyone’s attention. From the perspective of the four recruits from Port Peril, the crew seems to continue to polarize into “us versus them.” Viola strikes up a conversation with the most flamboyantly dressed of the crew, the gnome Shortstone, sensing there might be an ally here in her quest to create a better-dressed sort of pirate. Nothing comes of the exchange as Viola realizes that Shortstone may have an ulterior motive to sympathizing with her proposal.
One morning, Mr Plugg greets them on deck with a grin that’s too wide to bode anything good. He assigns the four permanent duties: al-Bhar on the main sail, Cailean hauling rope, Bishop in the galley and Eudonius to maintain the bilges. Permanent assignment to the most onerous tasks to be found on a ship bodes no good indeed. Later, Plugg and Scourge a personal visit to Viola in the bilges, ensuring that everything “is ready.” But ready for what? Will the bilges play that big a role in the combat between Wormwood and Man’s Promise?
When Viola receives a second set of visitors in the bilge, Phipps and Slippery Sill, she can see where this is going — particularly when Phipps and Sill draw the knives concealed about their persons. Phipps may have started the fight, but Viola beats them both to the draw. With nothing but her bare hands and a few stray items floating in the bilgewater, Viola knocks out Phipps, then Sill. She lashes them both to the ladder so as not to drown in the effluent, then goes to find Felix.
“You see, they’re sort of unconscious. They may have banged their heads.”
— Viola Eudonius
Once he confirms no one’s died, Cailean’s chosen coolly distances himself from the affair. He suggests Viola tell Plugg herself what’s happened. It’s an unexpected move from Felix which throws Viola for a loop. Who’s going to cover her ass if not Felix? When she goes to Plugg, Mr. Scourge is sent to investigate. The report comes back that they’re dead by stabbing. Viola is imprisoned in the sweat box, with a promise of keel hauling to come.
The crew is rocked by the news — particularly because it makes so little sense. Jack Scrimshaw quietly confirms that he saw both Phipps and Sill down in the bilge, alive and uncut, where Viola left them lashed. Tilly and Quinn both corroborate other parts of Viola’s story. Morley brings the question of who stands to gain from Viola’s death? She’s “just” a deckhand. But there is also the reverse question: who would want Viola to take the fall for two murders? Phipps and Sill may have been sent as lambs to the slaughter, as much as to do away with Viola.
All the questions have to be put to the side for the moment, as the lookout spies a mast on the horizon. The call is made to beat to stations. Everyone grabs their gear and stands ready. Even Viola is released from the sweat box, because all able hands are needed. Pigs are slaughtered and made ready for deployment to put blood in the water. It’s a lengthy chase as the Ulfen ship puts oars in the water, but Wormwood steadily gains on Man’s Promise. With an arcane eye, Bishop recognizes there’s powerful sea-going magic about the Wormwood, particularly in the sails.
As Wormwood pulls abreast, Lt. Krine calls Felix, Jetsam, Viola and Bishop together. Their task is to board, hold the ship’s wheel and not allow any crew to escape in the boats. Man’s Promise starts launching missiles, but a cloud of fog rolls in from nowhere, enveloping the ships completely. As it does, they glimpse for just a moment Peppery Longfarthing on the bridge, making the arcane gestures that called up the impossible fog. It’s still in the fog. Noise doesn’t travel. One can only see a few feet away, not knowing what might be right there.
Once the boarding planks drop, everyone rushes to the fore. Felix leads the way across the plank. Viola leaps the gap. Morley gets cold feet and needs several run-ups before he actually clamber across using Croup’s magic grapnel. Jetsam . . . oh, Jetsam. That hardy sailor, that master of the rigging, he misses a step and falls toward the drink. He grabs the trailing grapnel line, at least, and starts climbing back up as he’s dragged through the chummy waters. Then the fins break the surface of the water. The sharks have found the chum.
Ulfen sailors swarm out of the fog, besetting Felix and Viola. Once he’s finally across, Morley joins the fray. Down in the water, Jetsam seethes about all the things he might have been instead of a sailor as he struggles to ascend the trailing line. He falls further back. Fortunately there’s more trailing line to grab.
Despite the fog limiting vision, limiting its use at range, Morley readies his under-utilized whip and trips an unwary sailor. Bishop and Cailean fall into a pattern of flanking enemies, astonishing them with displays of martial prowess and wearing them down. Cailean always chooses nonlethal tactics, often throwing his rapier from hand to hand to free up a fist to the jaw.
Running back from having found Quinn in the fracas — who’s rather taken away with the whole affair and swings off into the rigging — Viola falls between the ships. She catches hold of a line, dangling precariously over the sharks as they close on Jetsam below. Sandra Quinn joins the battle for the wheel, knocking one enemy clear over the railing. She lands in the water and a shark neatly snaps her in half mere feet from Viola, who starts shrieking at the spray of gore. Motivated by this object lesson in food chains, Jetsam keeps struggling forward.
The battle fares rather better on deck. Sailors start yielding in the face of Felix’s grim determination to punch the living daylights out of anyone who comes close. Quinn keeps the deck locked down with a pack of summoned dogs. Another fallen sailor clambers right over Viola, eager to get away from the water. Will she have the presence of mind to cut the rope as she regains her feet?
“I’m not going to fight a fucking shark.”
There’s plenty of action at sea level, mind you. Jetsam finds himself awash in red sea foam. Then a stray foot alerts him to what’s happening up ahead, below the aft of Man’s Promise. Resigning himself to the notion, Jetsam slashes at the shark. He hollers for someone to pull him, but the plaintive cry is lost in the din. Three sharks swarm below now. Viola adds her voice to the cry for help.
At last, the battle is won. Viola and Jetsam get a hand up from their predicament. The prisoners are lined up and receive the traditional introduction to Captain Harringan. Rewards are passed out for those who fought bravely, including a casket of goods to the salvagers of the armor of freedom of movement. Plugg glowers resentfully, as though he expected things to go rather differently.
“Lemme tell you ’bout my day.”
— Viola is very drunk
That night, Jetsam and Viola in particular drink heavily, dispirited by missing out on the boarding action. Quinn and Felix tangle over theology; the follower of Besmara runs rings around Cailean. Viola broods, preoccupied by the sight of the sailor bitten in half before her eyes. Jetsam goes bartering for more booze, he’s so despondent.
The next day is one of day. The following brings change. The captain announces that a skeleton crew will bring Man’s Promise into Port Peril. Those Ulfen who weren’t worth a ransom will crew Wormwood under the watchful eyes of the senior officers, while Mr. Plugg leads Man’s Promise into harbor with much of the “regular” crew. Indeed, when the assignments shake out, it’s almost as if everyone the four from Port Peril came to know in the last three weeks are assigned to the Ulfen ship with them. Having already labored under Mr. Plugg’s supervision, no one has any illusions about this being a pleasure cruise.
 In spite of having a much better Disable Device check at level 2, Morley was outdone by someone with keener eyes. But it wasn’t traced back to the perpetrator, and that’s the main point: getting away with things.
 Some nights, you just can’t roll well ever, as we’ll see later in the evening, too.
 It worked! Morley’s got a long whip-wielding, tripping future planned out and I was concerned it would go tits-up first thing. The fog limiting vision was an unfortunate complication, meaning he had to fall back to his rapier or deal with attacks of opportunity every time he tripped someone adjacent to him.
 See what I meant about bad rolls, back in note ? Joey and John spent all or most of the damn combat flubbing climb checks to get back up on deck. It sucked, particularly since there was no way Felix or Morley could possibly have heard or seen their predicament, but the players kept good humor about it.