Boarding Man’s Promise

 Skull & Shackles convened this week for what turned out to be the taking of Man’s Promise. We did a bang-up job of securing the sterncastle, as well as repelling a band of grindylows. Dealing with the goons Plugg sent down into the bilges proved more troublesome, but ultimately soluble.

Our GM Mike did a bang-up job with the miniatures, right? He built both the Wormwood and Man’s Promise and painted most of the figures you see — excepting Usidore the Blue, of course.

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Skull & Shackles: Dire Rats Redux

Four shanghaied adventurers face off against dire rats in the bilges of a sailing ship, as role-playing minis on a map.
Can you pick out Usidore the Blue in this picture? He’s a water wizard, ‘Arry.

After a very, very long run-up, I got to join in a nascent campaign of Skull & Shackles, which readers may recall I have sampled before. Hopefully this time, bot fly fever will be less of a crushing burden.

The Games of 2012

What did I play in 2012? Well, according to my log over at Boardgamegeek/RPGGeek.com, in 2012 I played:

  • Role-Playing Games
    • 36 sessions of Carrion Crown
    • 11 sessions of Skull & Shackles
    • 1 session of Fiasco
    • 2 session of Call of Cthulhu
    • 1 session of Qalidar / True 20
    • GMed 1 session of GURPS Ghostbusters
  • Board Games
    • 9 rounds of Betrayal at House on the Hill
    • 6 rounds of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game
    • 9 rounds of Dominion — with attendant expansions I will not list
    • 4 rounds of Android: Netrunner
    • 4 rounds of Give Me the Brain!
    • 3 rounds of Pandemic
    • 2 rounds of 7 Wonders
    • 2 rounds of Arkham Horror — with attendant expansions I will not list
    • 2 rounds of Carcassonne
    • 2 rounds of Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers
    • 1 round of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
    • 1 round of Castellan
    • 1 round of Chrononauts
    • 1 round of Chupacabra: Survive the Night
    • 1 round of Clue: Harry Potter Edition
    • 1 round of Cthulhu Fluxx
    • 1 round of Dungeon Petz
    • 1 round of Fealty
    • 1 round of Frag
    • 1 round of Guillotine
    • 1 round of IceDice
    • 1 round of Jungle Speed
    • 1 round of King of Tokyo
    • 1 round of Ligretto
    • 1 round of The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game
    • 1 round of Lords of Waterdeep
    • 1 round of Monty Python Fluxx
    • 1 round of Nefarious
    • 1 round of Small World Underground
    • 1 round of Smash Up
    • 1 round of Star Trek Deck Building Game: The Next Generation – The Next Phase
    • 1 round of Tales of the Arabian Nights
    • 1 round of Talisman
    • 1 round of Tobago

[Skull & Shackles] The Story So Far

Skull & Shackles: The Wormwood Mutiny Cover
Raiders of the Fever Sea cover

It’s been a long, long time since the doings of the wayward conscripts aboard the Wormwood.[1] Since the capture of the Ulfen vessel Man’s Promise:

  • They were assigned as part of the skeleton crew to bring Man’s Promise into port.
  • In very short order, they led a mutiny against the contemptible Scourge and Plugg, prompted by Viola being set up for the murder of crewmates. Plugg died in the fracas, but Scourge weaseled his way to an arrangement of being dropped at the next port.
  • A storm ran the ship aground on an deserted island teeming with ghouls, grindylows, and flies carrying ghoul fever. The latter claimed far too many lives of good crew as they struggled to repair the ship.
  • Once off the island, Man’s Promise made for Rickety’s Squibs, painfully aware that Captain Harrigan would be on the lookout for his tardy prize. The bulk of their loot paid for disguising the ship, as well as improving its handling.
  • While enjoying a game of ten pins, a hunger-maddened naga assaulted the group, maiming most and dragging Felix the inquisitor off to sate its hunger.
  • They traveled up-river to the kingdom of the nagas, seeking redress for the violation of the arrangement between the nagas and Rickety. The queen turned out to be quite the looker and most hospitable, putting the travelers up in a temple full of talking monkeys and giving them a lead on ruins of note.[2] Investigation yielded scars, bruises and a circlet of persuasion.
  • Felix Cailean, briefly lunch for a naga, was reincarnated by a local druid. This had the unforeseen side-effect of turning him into a half-orc.
  • Taking to sea in a squibbed ship now christened the Irredeemable, boasting the figurehead salvaged from a Cheliaxian galleon, the crew took its first prize, a longship belonging to the Aspis Consortium.
  • Arriving in Blood Cove, the officers of Irredeemable were greeted nearly as soon as they set feet on the ground by an agent who ushered them to a meeting with Aspis agents, eager to reacquire their ship and its cargo.
  • Negotiations for the exchange of crew and cargo for currency led to an arrangement of Irredeemable taking occasional assignments from the consortium, the first of which was to escort the Kirstov and its cargo of weapons to fuel a revolt in the Mwangi expanse.[3] In return for this errand, the consortium paid for the services of a cleric to remove the lingering malaise Felix Cailean suffered since his reincarnation.
  • Cornelius of the Aspis Consortium joined the Irredeemable‘s complement, bringing arcane and divine magics to the mix.[4]
  • One consortium agent took a shine to Lady Viola, offering her a peerage in the Cheliaxian empire in exchange for vassalage. Lady Blood was right on board with that.
  • There was a flurry of debauchery and commerce, as Blood Cove was the first settlement with a sufficient wherewithal of trade for the sailors and adventurers to put their long-idle coin to use.
  • Orson and Cornelius were kept busy crafting wands and brewing portions. Captain Jetsam procured a mithril chain shirt for himself. Lady Viola acquired bling. Morley hit every tavern in town, drumming up infamy and recruits, bringing Irredeemable‘s complement up to 40 odd souls, plus camp followers secured by Sandra Quinn, who maintained she could no longer sustain the whole crew’s morale by herself.

And thus Irredeemable set out from Blood Cove, escorting the Kirstov with its cargo of arms for revolution because war is profitable.


[1] There is no way I could recapture everything that happened since my enthusiasm for writing up these sessions ran dry over the summer. Think of this as a sort of clean break. I plan to carry on recapping from here, but better controlling the amount of time it takes up. The Story So Far takes us through the end of The Wormwood Mutiny and well towards what must be the end of Raiders of the Fever Sea — as the characters close on 6th level, that seems fairly probable.

[2] Morley’s pulse quickened and his fingers twitched.

[3] Where the consortium wishes to help itself to a number of Osirian tombs. Oh, how Morley struggled to maintain a disinterested expression.

[4] And thus we welcomed Paul into the group in this most recent.

[Skull & Shackles] Capturing Man’s Promise

Skull & Shackles: The Wormwood Mutiny CoverThis 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.[1]

“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.[2] 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.”
— Jetsam

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.[4] 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.


[1] 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.

[2] Some nights, you just can’t roll well ever, as we’ll see later in the evening, too.

[3] 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.

[4] See what I meant about bad rolls, back in note [2]? 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.

[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.”
“Again?”
— 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.

[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.

[Skull & Shackles] We’re On a Boat?!

Skull & Shackles: The Wormwood Mutiny CoverTwo Fridays ago, as promised, I joined a new role-playing group to kick off the Skull & Shackles adventure path for Pathfinder.

Eric (Felix Cailean), Joey (Lady Viola Leona Eudonius), John (Jetsam ibn Abbasid ibn Yunus al-Bhar; Jetsam al-Bhar for short), Tyler (Morley Bishop), gathered by GM Luke, expected to end the night on board the Wormwood, but none of their characters did.

One night in Port Peril, of all the unlikely souls wandering those streets, four in particular find themselves inside or just adjacent to the Formidably Maid, a raucous dive of a tavern: one of Cayden Cailean’s foundlings, Felix, on the trail of the dread pirate Jarreth Kay; scion of a noble house, Viola, abandoned by her erstwhile entourage; the unregarded second son of a merchant, Jetsam, now a practical, hard-nosed professional sailor; and dealer in illicit items, Morley Bishop, languishing in the stocks just outside the tavern.[1]

“Leak proof! Rat free!
Wormwood is a floating Hilton

Into the tavern strides a figure magnificent in his long red coat. Bandoliers brimming with daggers cross his chest. He addresses the whole tavern, extolling the virtues of the Wormwood, apparently the fastest, cleanest, most rugged ship in all the Shackles, with the most stalwart crew to be found on the sea. All it needs before shipping out is a few more sturdy hands to round out the crew complement. Despite the earnestness of his pitch, no one in the Maid bites. The man in red tosses a purse to the barkeep with the instruction to keep the drink flowing tonight. Though not interested in the pitch, the tavern denizens are more than happy to accept free drink. They get to business.

Out in the street, the man in red pauses by the stocks. One fruit-smeared penitent is on display, answering to the name of Bishop. Wrongfully imprisoned for time untold, the prospect of signing on to a ship leaving with the morning tide grabs Bishop’s attention immediately. He can’t grab for the quill to make his mark fast enough — possibly because of the aforementioned stocks. After a brief word with a nearby constable, the man in red secures Bishop’s release into his custody and shuttles him straight to the Wormwood and into the custody of his new shipmates, who are rather taken aback by the sight of someone walking up the gangplank fully conscious.

“You obviously don’t know who you’re talking to.”
“I don’t think she does, either.”
— Viola and Bishop

Meanwhile, everyone back at the Formidably Maid makes merry. One by one, the drink has its way and puts each of them down into deep, dreamless sleep. The next thing to penetrate anyone’s fuzzy mind is the gentle rocking motion, almost as though they were cradled in their mother’s arms. It’s the creak of timber and whipping of the wind that gives it all away, though. The unlucky folk have been pressganged — or wandered aboard of their own accord, if sufficiently foolish.

While the unwilling recover, Bishop is approached by another pressganged crew member, Sandra Quinn. As a follower of Besmara, she’s no stranger to the rough side of the seafaring life. She mentions he should see the quartermaster, Cutthroat Grok, about recovering any personal belongings he might have had before coming on board Wormwood.

“‘E talks like a poof.”
“Maybe that’s not all I do.”
— Master Scourge and Felix Cailean

The bosun, Master Scourge, arrives to lay out the facts. Lady Viola, the refined woman of high society, stands up to him. She shrilly demands to see the captain, being well above the ignominy of kidnapping and forced labor. The Eudonia family simply will not stand for this kind of uncouth behavior. When Scourge strikes Viola to the deck, it’s Felix who leaps to her rescue. Scourge’s band of brutes bring the chivalrous follower of Cayden Cailean to his knees none too kindly.

Eventually, everyone is brought up on deck for inspection by Mr Plugg, a bald man carrying a set of cat o’ nine tails which he wields with unnerving intimacy. On the poop deck is the grim figure of Captain Harringan, master of the Wormwood. He stays aloof from the proceedings below as Mr Plugg puts the new crew in their places. Viola’s protests are quickly muffled. Both she and Felix are lashed for their insolence — and a convenient lesson to the new crew about the severity of the discipline Mr Plugg enforces.

“Swabbing the deck means cleaning?!”
— Viola

Display of force made, Plugg doles out duties to the crew. Bishop is sent down to the galley as mate to the cook, Ambrose “Fishguts” Croup. Fishguts is mostly interested in drinking and “seasoning” the crew’s meals with various bodily fluids. Despite being an archaeologist and not a swineherd, Bishop manages to slaughter a pig for the evening meal without too much difficulty.

A sailor by trade and remaining fairly equanimous to the situation, Jetsam is sent to work up in the rigging, where he connects with Tulach Shortstone, a gnomish sailor. His first day of mostly uneventful, though dropping block and tackle to the deck mars his quiet, efficient labor.

“It’s like needlepoint! They ever train you in that?”
— Felix to Viola

When Viola and Felix recover from their lashings, the highborn lady is sent to sew sails and swab the deck. Almost supernaturally, when Viola accidentally sews two sails together, Mr Plugg is there with his “discipline.” Eudonia rails against the “vile, horrid man,” but he is unswayed, clearly relishing every opportunity to beat obedience into his thralls. Felix bravely steps in again, offering to take Lady Viola’s lashings on himself. Scourge ups the stakes, hanging Felix from the yardarm, dropping him hard to the deck.

“I was right. He does like the deck.”
“I’m rigging. Swabbies are mostly tied to the mast.”
— Jetsam observes the plight of Felix and Viola

Later, as night falls, Scourge makes an example out of crew man Jakes, who was caught stealing. Lashed at and suspended from his wrists and ankles, Jakes is pushed over the prow of the ship. The ropes run along the sides of Wormwood. Eventually, at the aft end, Jakes is dragged up, bruised and splintered from his ordeal along the keel of the ship. Just as Jakes begins to recover, Scourge abruptly pushes him over the railing again. Blood in the water brings sharks in short order and that is the end of Jakes. Eyes glinting with far too much pleasure at such discipline, Scourge reminds everyone that to steal on board the Wormwood is to steal from everyone.

Quinn emerges from the crowd again, gathering the new recruits around her. With a prayer to Besmara, she heals Felix’s crushed throat. His first words are to promise repayment once he is master of Wormwood. This brings up the whole topic of overthrowing the current regime aboard the ship. The new kids have to stick together to survive on a ship like Wormwood.

“Wise man grabs tail of snake again and again.”
“It’s gotta get tired eventually.”
— Jetsam and Felix

During the evening hours, Felix and Viola approach the quartermaster about their belongings. Viola wants her parasol and shoes back, while Felix is concerned about the disposition of the cask of Caiden Cailean’s sacramental ale. It turns out to have found its way into the mugs of Scourge and Cutthroat Grok, which is sort of where Felix wanted it to land. Felix changes tactics, angling for his holy tankard.[2] Companionship is off the table for Felix, but he entices Cutthroat with the prospect of brewing mead in the galley — plus his remaining grog ration.

While Quinn and Bishop engage in some friendly yet crooked dicing, Viola continues her networking with the female portion of the crew. Rosie the halfling offers some advice about sleeping arrangements. Finally the night activities draw to a close and the crew retreat to their hammocks.

The next morning, day two of the new recruits’ maritime adventure, they find their way abovedecks blocked by a gang of surly sailors. Jetsam doesn’t take any guff, first staring them down, then being the first to draw blood with his stashed rigging knife. Al-Bhar coolly continues on his way above. No one steps up to stop him.

Now Felix on the other hand, Felix locks horns with another of the ruffians and neither is willing to back down. Bishop tries to defuse the situation, but no one’s listening. Felix goes so far as to offer the sailor a free punch right on the chin. Viola swings a length of block and tackle to keep the others at bay.

Abruptly the gang withdraws, dashing up to the main deck. The ship’s bell rings. They successfully delayed the recruits in reporting for duty. Scourge is rather delighted at the prospect of doling out discipline. Bishop and Eudonia take lashes for their tardiness. When Felix tries to take all the blame on himself, Scourge decides to break out a new technique: the mallet. Mashed against the railing, Felix’s hand begins to swell and turn black almost immediately. To cement the lesson, Scourge consigns the Caileanite to the sweat box for the remainder of the day.

For the others, the day passes somewhat more uneventfully. Bishop builds a rapport with Croup, learning more about the ship’s crew. Croup confides that he gambled away his life to the captain — and that he breeds chickens. Everyone needs a hobby, right? The chickens and “seasoning” the ship’s food[3] occupy Croup’s time. Viola begins to find her place among the swabbies, building relationships rather than focusing on her tasks. Jetsam has more of a mixed response in the rigging; there are friends and foes alike up in the air.

At the end of the day, Felix is dragged from the sweat box. His mangled hand is black, puffy from swelling and oozing liquids better kept on the inside. Sandra Quinn emerges from the crowd and lays her hand over Felix’s, healing the injury — and making him ready for the day’s work to come.

This night, it’s Jetsam who approaches Grok the quartermaster, seeking only his scimitar. After some rifling through the stores, the drink-befuddled half-orc finds the one in question after a few false tries that don’t come close to al-Bhar’s treasured blade. The after hours activities go on until the grog rations run out, then most people retreat below to sleep or await their turn on the night’s watch.


[1] I blinked a bit when my idea of a black market antiquities deal gone wrong translated to my character starting off in the stocks, which effectively took him out of initial interaction with the other player characters. But in the end, it paid off, partly for the fun of the scene of him worming his way out, but also the distinction of being the only volunteer.

[2] The more I learn about the worship of Cayden Cailean, the more intrigued I am. And by “intrigued,” I mean “thirsty.”

[3] Playing along with Croup, Morley contributed a snot rocket or two the day’s meal. And in miming, I managed to launch a real one to everyone’s amusement. Ah, verisimilitude.

Skull & Shackles, Me Hearties

Demonstrating the adage that you wait ages for a bus, then three come along at once,[1] I get to climb on board a shiny new Skull & Shackle Pathfinder campaign tomorrow evening.

I’m feeling a little more hip to character creation this time. Partly because of the on-going learning experience with Alexandros the inquisitor in Carrion Crown,[2] but also because, well, it’s another game. The mystique and onerousness of character creation is fading.

I actually have two compelling character ideas, the second thanks to Neil, who gave a little character consultation the other night. H suggested a sea-oriented warden who skulks along the coastline and into hidden coves to deliver smuggling cargo. And I would totally play that — and have it in my hip pocket as a back-up — but he also rendered the opinion that the archaeologist as a knavish dealer in lost antiquities and contraband could totally work, so I gotta go with that, because that was kind of my idea to begin with.

See, it comes from misreading the campaign primer. I somehow conflated the trait of coming to the Shackles to explore lost civilizations with the section where it recommends particular character classes and archetypes as well-suited to the campaign. And that got the idea of the archaeologist archetype in my head.

From there, it spun out into this fellow being the disreputable sort of tomb robber.[3] He grabs the shiny stuff, books it and delivers said goods to someone with a sufficiently large purse. And since he’s kicking around the Shackles, he has to supplement with transporting more menial contraband and black market goods.

So he’s going to be a high social character, what with his abilities running off Charisma and all the Intelligence-related Knowledge skills. That’s going to be a first for me. I have to be vigilant about jumping to the fore with Sense Motive and Bluff-related conversation. Plus he looks to be the only arcane spellcaster, which is a nice niche to have covered.

Tomorrow is character creation and maybe introductory play. I hope to get most of my heavy lifting done tonight. All things considered, this is turning out to be a pretty awesome period of role-playing in my life.

And yes, I will blog the sessions as I have done for Carrion Crown. Given that we’re playing Fridays, they won’t be part of Actual Play Fridays. It may be necessary to annex Mondays to the cause.


[1] But only in the places where it’s possible more than one bus may traverse a particular road. Not a common sight where I live, at least.

[2] As in, “Crap, I didn’t take that?!” and “I’m not eligible for any good choices this level. I get something, but it’s not very good. Why didn’t I plan better?”

[3]Like this one.