February 23, 2014

Magic: Not for the Faint of Heart

D&D Next with Ben Robbins.
Start from the beginning: Slave Galleys Suck
Previous Session: Communication is Hard

The residents of Port Halke were wary, paranoid, angry, distrustful, and at times fearful. None of which made getting the answers about what had happened easy. Apparently, the relationship between Port Halke and the natives had always been rife with tension and an uneasy truce. However, that truce (if it ever existed) was recently broken when a forging group encountered a particularly hostile group of natives that forced them to retreat back into the relative safety of Port Halke's stockade walls. The residents of Port Halke vowed to not be pushed around by the natives so they mounted a counterattack, which turned into a bloodbath. One of the fallen was Rusbach, a knight-captain that had been in charge of the military at the Port. The natives were so enraged that they managed to storm the stockade walls and set fire to a number of the buildings. Some of which were still smoldering when the Osprey landed.

Visage was able to determine that their irrationally hostile behavior towards the crew of the good ship Osprey was because of some magical tinkering that was afoot and that had tainted their minds. Only time would be able to wear down the effects that were affecting the townsfolk. In the meantime, the crew, Kelti, Visage, and Titus settled in at the Shorehouse, while Master Peleus and Korlav stayed with Salazar, an important personage in the Port.

One thing that piqued the trio's attention was mutterings of the especially odd behavior of the resident wizard, Morrow, who had not been seen by anyone for several days after being more erratic than usual, which was a surprise to everyone that it was even possible. The townsfolk were a superstitious and grumpy lot that reacted astoundingly negatively to the trio's offer to investigate Morrow the Wizard's dwelling. The trio decided to go have a look anyway and use the cover of night to hide their intent.

It wasn't difficult to find the wizard's hut, which was well built and had a door that was magically locked. They each tried their hand at getting inside, but to little effect besides a slightly bruised shoulder on Titus' part from trying to break down the door. They had neglected to bring any implements for light so Kelti went back to the Shorehouse to grab a lantern. In the meantime, Titus and Visage decided to wander over to the town square, where a group of men had gathered and were heatedly discussing whether or not to go back out into the woods to seek revenge on the natives. They kept on mentioning that someone named "Wallach" wanted to mount an attack, but several wanted to wait for Gephart, the magistrate, to weigh in with his thoughts before taking action.

Visage, on the off-chance that they would be able to get into the wizard's hut, decided to go back to the Shorehouse to see if any bags could be found to hold any useful things they found. When they all met back up at the hut for their second try, this time armed with useful tools, Kelti decided to put her acrobatic tumbling past to the test and attempt to slither down the chimney, which looked to be their best point of entry. They were hopeful at first that Visage, with some light, would be able to undo the magically locked door, but it was quickly determined that the runes on the door handle would take Visage several days of study to make heads or tails of it. Titus went up on the roof with Kelti, just in case she got stuck. Luckily, the weeks of jungle living had primed Kelti for this particular task and without too much trouble, she made it into the hut, covered in soot, but without any other mishap.

When all three were inside, a quick look around made it obvious that the wizard had gone to great lengths to appear as normal as possible. Titus noticed a well-placed rug (what type of person would decide to bring a rug purely for decorative purposes in a Port hundreds of miles away from proper civilization? Certainly not anyone as practical as a wizard) and upon further investigation, there was conveniently a trap door hidden under the rug.   

Titus went down first and Kelti passed the lantern down towards him. As the lantern reached Titus, it seemed as if the light shone not quite as far as it had above ground, though he shrugged it off as a trick of his imagination. He also thought he saw movement in the room further in, but again, chalked it up to a trick of the light and wisely decided to wait for the others before venturing any further.

Once all three were safely in the small underground alcove, Titus and Kelti started forward into an inner room. Visage hung back, taking a quick look at the odds and ends stored in the shelves built into the walls of the alcove and more wary than his compatriots of the dangers of a wizard's secret lair. As soon as Kelti and Titus set foot in the inner room, they both felt a wave of unbridled fear and unease wash over them, but, foolhardy as they were, they were able to clamp that shit down and continue further into the room, which appeared to be where Morrow did all of his magical study and work.

And where Morrow still was. Unfortunately he was also dead. He sat sprawled in a large and heavy high-backed chair, an expression of extreme terror distorting his face. Titus and Kelti shouted for Visage to come and take a look, but the moment that Visage stepped foot into the room, he knew beyond a doubt that going further into that room was the last thing in the world that he wanted to do. An overwhelming need to get the hell out of dodge consumed him and he was barely able to let out a strangled yelp before rushing out and up the trap door without a backwards glance.

Kelti and Titus looked at each other for a second before immediately springing into action. Titus patted Morrow down but found nothing of note, while Kelti very carefully picked the largest and most ornate book on the wizard's table. Titus was not as delicate, using one of his large and muscular arms to quickly sweep as much of the wizard's stuff into a blanket that they had fashioned into a crude carrying bag. All manner of books and scrolls and mysterious powders and jars tumbled into the bag.

Visage, the minute he saw his companions' heads appear out of the trap door started towards the door, stammering incoherently about the danger that they were in. Only when they were across the street did he take a deep breath and stand shaking like a leaf with his hand covering his eyes for several moments. Kelti and Titus looked on, dumbstruck by his reaction but deferring to his magical expertise. When he finally looked up, he looked startled and asked them if they had been followed out. He was met with confusion and some amount of pity, neither of them noticed anyone, except for the extremely dead body of Morrow. Visage blinked several times before slowly telling them that he saw someone look out the door of the hut before the door closed of its own volition.

They carried their awkward bundle of loot from Morrow's secret wizard lair back to the Shorehouse, and tried stowing it under the cots, where it was painfully obvious. Luckily, the crew of the Osprey were preoccupied with their discontent at being kept in a ill-fated port and spared them a few weird looks, but kept to themselves. Visage needed somewhere quiet to look unmolested through the loot and make sense of it, so they decided to offer to take the next shift at standing guard on the ship, where they knew they would not be disturbed.

Their plan would have worked without a hitch except for the fact that Titus and Kelti both fell soundly asleep and were only woken when the next group of sailors came to relieve them of their shift. They were unable to warn Visage, who had holed up in Master Peleus' cabin to study the books, scrolls, and journal that they had recovered. Visage, once he realized what had happened, cursed his luck and looked around him. The cabin smelled strongly of chemicals and various strange colored powder covered the table and ground. He tried his best to clean it up, but wizards are not particularly good at being orderly. A glance at the jumble of loot made it obvious that stumbling out of the cabin with his arms full of a misshapen lump would appear highly suspicious so he resorted to hiding the majority of the loot and taking only a few of the most important books.

Before he opened the door of the cabin, he steeled himself to put on a masterful performance and at the same time guide the books using Mage Hand around the ship to the dock. His performance was indeed masterful, successfully convincing the sailors that he had fallen asleep studying, but it ran a little too long, as evidenced by a splash that could be heard from the side of the ship. The sailors turned quizzically and with some amount of fear and trepidation towards the splash, and Visage quickly tried to assuage their concern by attributing the splash to dolphins.

Dolphins? At this time of the night? But the sailors, knowing they were in unfamiliar waters, shrugged and were all too eager to accept Visage's innocuous explanation. Kelti and Titus, after 20 minutes of anxiously watching the ship for signs of Visage, were about to head back to the ship and try to smuggle him out when they saw him walking with a defeated expression down the dock towards them.

When he confessed to what happened, they both looked at him like he was crazy and Kelti said, "You mean, the best magic stuff is in the ocean, and you left the crappy stuff safe in the cabin?" She shook her head in confusion and threw up her hands in disgust. Wizards...they operate on some weird logic.

Before they turned in for the night, Visage recounted what he had found in Morrow's journal. It turned out the wizard was an alchemy scholar and made very neat detailed notes about all of the various metals and elements that he had found on the island, all of which was dry as shit, but near the end of the journal, right around the time that the townsfolk mentioned his weird behavior, was an entry that was scrawled in unfamiliar cursive handwriting. A chill fell over them as they listened to Visage recite the journal entry from memory even though the tropical night air was pleasantly warm.
"Voices in the jungle
Black beacon burns
I close the shutters, but the dark comes in
I pressed rags in the cracks but the dark comes in
No candles. No candles or they will see the light"
The next morning, Kelti decides to comb the beach to see if she can find the books, convinced that they float, even though Visage told her that they were pretty heavy and had metal capped edges. Titus, agreeing with Visage, decided to swim around the boat and try to find the books on the ocean floor.

For once, Kelti was right and she proudly brought Visage the tattered and waterlogged remains of the precious magic books. Visage pales when he catches sight of the ruined books, but doesn't have time to properly despair at their condition because a crowd of townsfolk ran by them at that moment and someone tells them that they found someone who died mysteriously overnight, a look of abject terror etched on their face.

Visage, Kelti, and Titus looked at each other, each asking the unspoken question - did they unleash something that was now literally terrorizing the Port?

Next Session: Death Becomes You

February 6, 2014

Communication is Hard

D&D Next with Ben Robbins.
Start from the beginning: Slave Galleys Suck
Next Session: Magic: Not for the Faint of Heart

Titus, Visage, and Kelti spend the next three weeks with the tribe, who they eventually learn are called Bari (BAR-ee). Communication is incredibly difficult, so much so that they only have about a dozen words that they've learned and can only speak in two word sentences.

From the GM:
The natives are on average a few inches shorter than humans, lean and wiry, with dark eyes, short flat noses and thin lips. Their skin is brick red. And of course they have four arms. They number about three dozen.
Language is a serious impediment (see below). They refer to themselves as "Bari" (BAR-ee) but it's hard to tell if that's a race or a tribe. The Bari are friendly and seem quite comfortable with the newcomers, even though they're strange outsiders who are missing two arms. It doesn't seem to phase them at all.
The tribe does not sit still. They only spend a few days in one place before the whole tribe picks up and moves a mile or two before setting up a new camp. So, everyone does lots and lots of walking. Lots of gathering and foraging and hunting small game.
Their camp is screened by woven mats strung between trees, creating walls that give the camp a modicum of protection against things wandering out of the brush. The mats are light and tough and roll up into surprising small bundles. The "walls" provide a huge psychological benefit -- you feel like you're indoors and protected. You don't feel like you have to keep looking over your shoulder and watching the bushes. Could something jump down on you from above? Sure.
The tribe seems to stick to the long strand of jungle between the mountains and the sea on the north-eastern shore. They show no interest in approaching or crossing over the mountains (aka the direction you came from). They seem to view the mountains with an air of prudent caution, like "why would anyone smart want to go over there?"
The Bari seem to think that Kelti is in charge of your group. It's unclear why. They totally get that Visage has magic. They watch him constantly and are always waiting for something new and interesting to happen. There's some social structure within the tribe that's hard to put your finger on.
When you first encountered the Bari, half the tribe was out in a party (which you met) while the other half was back at the camp. That seems to be unusual because you never see it happen again. The whole group migrates together, but only small groups hunt (5 at most). Why that big group then? Who knows.
There is some running joke about you guys picking things up. It takes a while to realize it and you're not sure if you're being pranked or what, but the Bari seem unusually fascinated with watching you pick things up. They will set up situations just to get you to pick something up and then slyly watch you do it, then break into a big discussion about what just happened. It is very interesting to them.

The twelve words that we know:
  • Food, Water
  • Hello, Thanks
  • Yes, No
  • Help, Danger
  • Show, Look
  • Sorry, ! (curse word)
One of the leader-ish Bari (Wet Blanket Bari), who Kelti interacted with during the shadow cat incident, is grumpy towards them ever since that kerfuffle with the shadow cat meat. Kelti, with her traveling troupe background, eagerly soaks in their songs and dances and spends most nights entertaining and being entertained by the Bari.

Titus catches the eye of a young shapely Bari and the two of them strike up a shy, tentative romance, full of glances and quiet, meaningless conversations (in this case, literally). She's obviously crushing hard but Titus takes it slow, it's nice just having someone to talk to, even if they don't understand a word you're saying.

After a few weeks of constantly being on the move, in a random migration, one morning, half of the Bari ready themselves to go on a long trek towards the mountains. There is a heated discussion on whether or not to allow a teenage Bari to go with the group for the first time. Eventually, it's decided that he's allowed to go, but when Titus, Kelti, and Visage attempt to go with them, they are emphatically against it. So much so that when Kelti tries to follow them, they all stop, turn around and are as clear as they could be about the fact that she's not allowed to come.

Later, when she decides to go for a walk in the forest, a teenage Bari is tasked with tailing her. She very easily gives him the slip and watches with great amusement as he freaks out, two hands holding his head and the other two flailing around wildly as he panics and cringes at the thought of having to go back having failed at his task. As he turns dejectedly to run back to let everyone know, she puts him out of his misery by stepping out and shouting. He turns around with the most relieved and happily surprised look on his face, which lasts but a moment before the realization dawns on him that Kelti must have known the whole time that he was following her. They walk back to the tribe in silence, Kelti inwardly laughing and the teenage Bari sullenly walking beside her.

When the group returns, they look like they've been marching long distances, but no one appears to be harmed. Surprisingly, they also come back empty-handed. A large meal has been prepared in anticipation of their return, and the atmosphere is one of a job well done, solemn, and momentous.

The days and nights are starting to blend together. The trio recovered physically from being half starved and the nightmares of crazy, sharp-toothed monkeys were starting to come less frequently. While communication with the Bari was still a struggle, bordering on futile, they were finally getting the hang of the life that the Bari had created. Titus brings up the topic that they've all been avoiding once they noticed that they've settled into this new life.

"This isn't the life that I had in mind for the rest of my days."

Visage nodded in agreement. Kelti, on the other hand, having tasted what being part of a welcoming and accepting community was like, was of a different mind. They eventually came to a compromise. They'll visit the ocean, which the Bari avoided camping next to, and get a better feel for if they were truly on an island or not.

The next day they set out with lunch and several teenage Bari who decided to tag along, as well as Titus' love interest. They spend the day running along the sand, playing in the water, and in Titus' case, making out with the Bari on a lovely log a little bit in the forest from the beach, within earshot, but not within sight of the others. Kelti collects several seashells scattered along the beach and when they get back to the tribe, she tries to give some to the Wet Blanket Bari, who stares her down and points to her and says "Danger". He then gives the teenage Bari who went with them a very serious talking to.

From then on, the young Bari don't hang around them as much. It's obvious that Wet Blanket Bari has issues with them and no one feels this more keenly than Kelti, who now knows she will always be seen as an outsider and distrusted by a contingent in the tribe.

The next day, the tribe is in an uproar because the teenage Bari who went on the mountain trek was attacked by a shadow cat and is in grievous condition. They carry him into camp and when Visage runs forward, they part and all look at him expectantly. The Bari is still bleeding out from his fresh wounds and no one in the trio has any formal knowledge of first aid or healing. They use their limited words to shout "Sorry" "Help" and point, which, after a bit, the crowd realizes means that any sort of magical healing was not forthcoming, and they step in to bandage him up.

Shaken by the event, they realize that their position in the tribe was more unnecessary and useless than they had previously let themselves believe. Embarrassed by how little they were able to help the injured Bari, they decide to spend some time away from the tribe and take a longer trip to explore the coast.

Gathering up gourds for water and some food, they try in vain to let the Bari know that they'll only be gone for a few days, as shown by the amount of supplies they're taking. Titus' love interest tries to come with them but he tells her, "No, Sorry." She's heartbroken. They turn to leave.

The second day out, they see dark, foreboding cumulonimbus clouds off in the distance. Titus manages to find the perfect spot to wait out the storm, which rages on for a whole day, complete with deluges. When it finally stops, in the middle of the night, it is eerily quiet except for the constant dripping. In the morning, the forest and beach look like someone broke in and overturned everything in search of valuables. But beyond the mess of fallen branches and seaweed, the air was so clean and crisp that it was like biting into a snowball.

They stretched their legs and enjoyed a moment of awe at being alive through all of their trials and tribulations, before they suddenly noticed, almost at the same time, the miraculous sight of a ship off in the distance from where they had come. They all break into a run and run for several hours straight. Titus notices that Kelti is having the hardest time with the running. Whether it was because her body was trained for short bursts of acrobatics, or that some piece of her heart was still yearning for the Bari life, he couldn't tell, but he takes her spear and gourd wordlessly.

By the time they arrive where the ship appeared to be headed, sweat was pouring from their bodies and their chests heaved with exertion. And they were met with disappointment. The ocean was clear and no sight of the ship could be seen. Defeated, they rest for a moment before walking further into the forest, hoping against hope that the ship might have sailed further in.

As they peer through the forest to the next stretch of beach, their hearts leap into their throats. There in the cove is the ship they spied from afar. It looks like a modestly small ship, slightly battered from the storm and it looked like they arrived right in time as they see a longboat being rowed into shore. They decide to play it safe and hide in the forest until they can better discern the sailors' intentions.

The sailors look uncomfortable with their cutlasses and are lead by two men, one who is unarmed and another that appears to be the shipmaster. Before they get too close to the forest line, the trio reveal themselves, three weathered shipwrecked souls, clad in grass skirts, with gourds and spears. Needless to say, they were met with suspicion but the shipmaster, named Master Peleus, upon hearing that they were shipwrecked by krakens, shakes his head as if to ward off such misfortune and says gruffly, "No sailor worth his salt would leave a shipwrecked person behind, we have at least that much humanity in us. Welcome aboard the Osprey."

The unarmed man, Korlav, has an eye patch that has golden threads sewn through it. His white hair was tied up in a pony-tail and he had a charming, profiting air about him, due in no small part to his threads, which were a sizable step above what the rest of the sailors wore. Titus, Kelti, and Visage, by an unspoken pact tried to leave any mention of the Bari out of their discussion with Korlav, but it was obvious from the glint in the old man's eye that he saw much more than they said.

That night they dined with him on the Osprey. Before the meal, the trio discussed what should be said about the Bari and Kelti wanted to give as little away as possible. Titus and Visage agreed, but their methods turned out to be at odds. Their meal was nothing special, but salted meat and wine were things that came from more civilized worlds and it reminded them that there was much more out there than this small slice of island that they had been stuck on for a month. Perhaps it was the wine, but Visage disclosed more about their time on the island (known to be called Aucanthus) including the ruins of the city that they had passed. Korlav in turn off-handedly let them know that some of the sailors jokingly referred to him as a "slaver". He was quick to explain that he thought of himself as more of a collector of oddities and rare treasures from far away locales and that he had undertaken this long journey because he had heard rumors of natives that had four arms. Kelti had heard enough and promptly left.

Later, when they had a chance to discuss matters alone, Visage revealed that he wanted Korlav to make his intentions plain and thought there was little harm in mentioning the ruins, which seemed to have no bearing on the Bari. Kelti thought that no information was the best strategy, but the two of them reached common ground on wanting to protect the Bari from the greedy and unsavory nature of Korlav.

In the morning, after repairs had been made, they set out for Aulothus island, which held Port Halke. Titus, always eager for new experiences and for the heights, offered to take a shift at manning the crows nest and had the good fortune of sighting land first. However, as they drew closer to the port, it appeared that the port had been recently attacked and a large crowd of silent and armed citizens lined the dock.

The Osprey slowly but surely came closer to the dock and the ominous crowd. Before getting too close, they stopped and Master Peleus shouted, "Is this Port Halke?"

The answer back was hard but not riotous, "Aye. And who are you?"

"The Osprey. We are looking to dock at your port."

At the mention of docking, it seemed to rouse them from whatever stupor they had been under and they shrugged and moved slightly away from the edge of the dock. From within the stockade, several fires could be seen that were still smoldering, but none of the several dozen people gathered there made any move to put them out. Titus, Kelti, and Visage looked at each other and their eyes asked the question that was surely on all of their minds, "What happened here? And were perhaps the Bari somehow involved?"