Where, once again, the Rogue has convinced the party to follow a treasure map.
Everyone laughed at how silly it was that nobody questioned the treasure map in the first one, I felt like it would be doubly on-brand to do it again.
An adventure starring Jaxxo the Lizardfolk Monk, Jim Clocks the Half-Aquatic Elf Rogue, Brubax the Goliath Barbarian and Tidus the Triton Cleric. Absent: L’Eau D’ur the Genasi Warlock.
I’m in black and Jon (the DM) is in blue.
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If you have happened to diligently read that prologue post from way back in the past, you will know that each of our characters have, at one point in their backstory, developed a sort of nemesis.
Jon mostly uses these as placeholders for the “villain” of a session, and sometimes ties it all back into the Glacius Rex character who is kind of the (woefully inept) bad guy of the campaign.
Yeah, I had really planned to lean on them more, but in the first season I got so wrapped up figuring out the process and timing for these sessions that I let the nemesis slide. If I ever run another Big Fish style campaign the nemesis will play a larger role. Missed opportunity there.
Anyhow, my (I play Jim Clocks the Rogue) nemesis is a Kenku. With most of the player character’s relationship with their nemesis, it is the nemesis who is the bad guy. It’s kind of a running joke that with Jim, he is most certainly not the good guy and by all accounts the Kenku really did nothing wrong. Jim just thinks Kenku are weird and creepy and just kind of singled out the poor birdman for cruelty.
Back to Basics
Is this basically the second time I have chosen to have my character hunt for a treasure as his adventure? Sure. But let’s be fair here, as a player group we have just come off the back of a multisession boss fight, several sessions of Spelljammer and two sessions of Ravenloft. I think we earned a “let’s do something simple and straightforward” kind of adventure.
Very much so. That was exactly the idea.
So Jim Clocks, being a man with a reputation for bravery that borders on foolishness (especially when there is gold to be had) once again finds himself in possession of a treasure map. This time it was given to him by Ser Kronch, his Pirate Lord patron.
Have we talked about the Pirate Lords yet? I don’t think so.
Our ex-DnD playing friend Scott (from 9ES) heard about this game and its nautical theme and I sort of complained that I didn’t have the time to write up a bunch of pirate lords to be NPCs and he jumped right the hell on that. One or two were a little too out there for me, but most of them were exactly perfect spice for this game. Took him like 2 days and he sent me 8 pages of notes on these guys.
Ser Kronch is a gentleman bugbear Pirate Lord patron of the arts. Yep.
This map leads to a fabled “treasure island” which is almost an open secret on The Sword Coast. The problem being that anyone who has ever even attempted to retrieve said treasure has always wound up dead. Jim, the proud Captain of the Clepsydra is looking to build up his renown and figures he can kill two birds (ha! his nemesis is a bird too!) with one stone. 1) A decent treasure. 2) Being the Captain of the ship that succeeded at looting the deadly island.
It’s simple stuff but it made for a fun session.
What was your thought process designing this session? I think we talked once about how some sessions can be a little more video gamey than others (not that that’s a bad thing) and this one definitely kind of felt that way.
Two parts. One, we needed a simple, by the numbers classic DnD session. Two, I wanted to reference classic DnD shenanigans. Long time DnD aficionados will surely know of the legendary Tucker’s Kobolds, and truly knowledgeable DMs will have heard of (or, gasp, have encountered) Grimtooth’s Traps. I really thought Eric had at least heard of Tucker’s Kobolds, but alas, my cunningly referenced DnD lore was ungotten.
Want Maps, We Got Maps
So we’ve got this map and it’s actually just a set of weird symbols. The actual location of the island is actually more or less common knowledge so the symbols are actually the map to the treasure. We kind of figure that these symbols correlate with a series of landmarks that we’ll have to sort of find and it should lead to the treasure.
[IMAGE OF MAP LOST BECAUSE MY PHONE CRASHED MUCH SADNESS]
The first symbol, as you can see, is clearly a boat. And as we sail around the perimeter of the island, what do we find? The wreckage of a boat!
This game is easy!
It’s an old ruined galleon and it’s very spooky and creepy. We just had a pretty bad run in with a cursed ghost ship so we don’t really investigate too much. What we do try is sailing clockwise around the island as per the second symbol and the map and sure enough we a rushing white water river feeding out into the ocean.
I mean, that kind of seems like the third and fourth symbol, right? Probably. Maybe.
Once again, we all have swim speeds so we just bundle up about 2 weeks of supplies and dive on in to swim up the river. Basically we decide to, as per the map, just keep left until we walk into the sun. Until we see the sun? Until we are on the sun?
We are good at maps.
This was expertly played. The ghost ship was a distraction, and the one thing you missed you would have gotten by flying over the volcano, but that’s ok, it was high level optional content, ultimately it also would have been a distraction.
So. Many. Goblins.
Where the session becomes all about goblins.
It also kind of becomes about Baldur himself.
As the heroes make their way up the river they begin to come across ancient looking totem poles made up of the skulls of assorted races. Tidus the Cleric casts Speak With Dead and, in a raspy, terrified voice one of the skulls proclaims:
“So… Many… Goblins…”
We also find out that Baldur died inland. The Baldur. Ok, cool, so this island is where the legendary sea captain and founder of Baldur’s Gate died.
So I looked this up and apparently Balduran sailed back to Anchorome a second time in the pursuit of more riches and then he messed up and his entire crew became werewolves. The resulting battle shipwrecked his boat on an island and then his crew and the native inhabitants all became werewolves and became locked in a never ending werewolf war. A werewar. Though the fate of Baldur himself remained a mystery. So, shouldn’t this island have been full of werewolves?
Yes. Those of us who have played the 1998 classic Baldur’s Gate (actually, the 1999 expansion Tales of the Sword Coast) will no doubt remember being shipwrecked on that very island and murdering the hell out of a lot of Werewolves, and get this, Wolfweres. But in my world, he got the hell away from there and ended up on Treasure Island. Dude was a legend and werewolves are not that scary.
Nope, it was full of goblins. Possibly because Jon has more goblin figurines than werewolves.
Also I have way more goblin figurines than werewolves.
So, at a certain point in the painfully hot, humid, bug infested journey up a river, our heroes become aware that they are being stalked. The talking skull told us there were a bunch of goblins, so we make the (correct) assumption we are being tailed by goblins.
Being kind of exposed out in the river, and the brush being too thick to really traverse with any kind of efficiency, our heroes basically opt to willfully spring an ambush and at least try to position themselves in a way to not fully give up tactical advantage. Again, most of our heroes are very adept at being in the water so staying close to the river actually provides a bit of an advantage even at the cost of being exposed.
We’ve got Goblin Archers firing off poison tipped arrows up in the trees. We’ve got Goblin Skirmisher types zipping around beneath the brush so they don’t have a speed penalty from Difficult Terrain stabbing us in the ankles. Because a 3.5 foot Goblin can run around easily but a 5.5 foot half-elf cannot. I mean, I guess. There’s also Magical Goblins that can cast Heat Metal to really mess with the guys in plate. I don’t remember which Goblins had a gross rotting meat attack but that was in there too.
Basically, in no time at all the encounter map is filled with Gobbos.
The Cleric floods a giant chunk of the board and our very swimmy party levels the playing field somewhat in terms of maneuverability.
I may have imagined it, but I kind of got the sense that something was “off” with this fight and I’m really hoping that Jon can walk through some of his thought process on how this all played out because I’ve got questions. The main crux of these questions are about time management of a session. Especially in a game like this one where each session is kind of up against a clock. These are more from myself as a novice GM to you a veteran:
How long was this encounter supposed to last? Because it ate a lot of game time.
This encounter was based on Tucker’s Kobolds. Their jam is being as annoying as they possibly can be, fighting as dirty as they possibly can, and using everything they possibly can to squeak another hit out of their enemies. You’re not meant to be stopped by Tucker’s Kobolds, you’re meant to hate dealing with them.
Were we supposed to win? Because, despite how long the fight was taking our characters were never in that much danger. We couldn’t kill high enough volumes of Goblins per round to make a clean victory, but they couldn’t do enough damage to put us in enough danger to consider retreat. It was strange. Maybe if the Warlock was around there would be more area damage and it would be a different story.
Yeah, I may not have gotten the feeling of it right. Tucker’s Kobolds were in a warren where the PCs had to get from side A to side B, and the limitations of the tunnels let them get a lot dirtier than my sneak-under-brush goblins. I think mine had better spell support.
This is the second time that Tidus has cast Flood and, instead of just sort of ruling that it turns the tide (ha ha!), the battle dragged on for a few more rounds. I get that you don’t want to allow something like that to be a get out of jail free card, but I’m wondering about the thought process and the balance of “ok, the players basically have this one in the bag” vs “let’s have a few more rounds of combat”. How do you make that call?
I really wish that spell had a 10 minute cast time or something. I can’t let a level 3 spell automatically drown everyone, but you guys do get a huge advantage out of it. The problem is that people get confused about how it works, and it’s complicated, and it never does quite what people think. I run it as strict by the book as I can and it always plays stupid. I think there’s a version of that spell that doesn’t persist but gives some kind of debuff to the enemies and just plays better.
Anyways, after a long time and after killing a LOT of Goblins, the heroes finally gain the upper hand and send the Goblins running to the hills. One of them is captured, interrogated and after roughing him up a little is set free to tell the tale of how 4 guys killed a whole bunch of Goblins.
The captive Goblin revealed that someone who “sounded like” Jim Clocks had come before and Jim starts to put it together that his old enemy might be up to no good.
You got this way faster than I thought you would, A+ on interrogating the goblin. Clink-Clink almost hadn’t appeared ever and you put it together just based on his mimicry.
It’s kind of a weird thing to play, Jim has a high Wisdom and a low Intelligence and it’s sometimes hard to figure out if he would figure out things or not. I like to play this off as Jim is pretty clever. Particularly when trying to figure out what’s going on. He might not really get why things are happening (low Intuition and all that), but he’s good at the “what”.
The Ne’er Do Well Cads are not messed with by Goblins again for the duration of this adventure.
We Will, We Will (Pile of) Rock You
As the heroes journey further and further up river, they come across a little pile of rocks that looks a lot like the pile of rocks on the “map”. It is blue. They carry on.
Further down the river they find another pile of rocks, this time red. It seems that every few hundred feet there is another pile of rocks, either red or blue.
The heroes get a little turned around and decide to backtrack and rest their position. They keep left as per the map and start ignoring little piles of rocks and sure enough, they eventually come across a yellow pile of rocks.
Sun colored rocks? Sure, close enough. The sun sets in the West so they head West, looking for a little cave.
At this point, there have been more than a few indications that this Kenku might be at the root of all of this. They’ve found large black feathers, heard about voice changing, hell, even the map has a feather on it.
Jim decides to regale the crew with the terrible tale of a stupid bird.
Turns out it’s not that terrible. From what Jim can remember this bird was a bit of a jerk and may actually be a demon or something. For the life of him, Jim can’t really remember exactly when he last saw this big dumb bird.
Note: The Kenku has a name which I believe is: “the sound of coins jingling”. Jim Clocks, on the other hand, can’t really wrap his head around the fact that a Kenku might be named a sound. So to Jim the Kenku is just “that dumb, creepy bird”.
Indiana Jim and The Temple of the Stupid Bird
The adventurers found the mouth of the cave and as they enter they find a tunnel marked with crude stonework and shelves lined with urns. Perhaps the remains of Balduran’s crew? Thought nobody, because we are bad at putting all this together.
As they proceed inwards, Jim’s Rogue Sense (high Passive Perception) tips him off that something is not quite right and upon cautious inspection finds out that if a pressure plate is triggered in this tunnel a giant stone ball will roll down and crush all of them like fools Temple of Doom style.
He disables the plate and our heroes press onwards.
What follows is a series of traps that consist of pillars over magma that are slippery and covered in grease, false glass walls that cause one particular Lizard Monk to fall into said magma for 66 HP of Magma Damage and trick passageways that could spin and presumably dump the heroes into more magma.
Magma: it’s what all the cool DMs are doing.
Behold! The insane absurdity of Grimtooth’s Traps. These were books published back in the 80s that were just dozens of pages of completely bananas lethal traps that were system neutral. The idea was just to inspire DMs and obliterate players. Each of the traps I used was an original Grimtooth, and for the record I selected some of the least lethal traps in the bunch. Go Bing those books they’re all online now and as hilarious as they were back then.
Finally, as they approach the pedestal that surely holds the treasure, Jim’s own voice begins to speak from a disembodied beak has been mounted by the pedestal:
“Ha ha, look at this stupid bird. Man, he creeps me out, let’s get rid of him. Just leave the bird on this island. Stupid creepy bird. He doesn’t even have a name! Stupid bird.”
Right. So that’s what happened to the bird. It’s all coming back to the devil-may-care Rogue.
Jim carefully opens the box that must contain the treasure and finds that, to nobody’s surprise except maybe his own, the treasure is gone! And in its place: a single black feather!
Come Sail Away With(out) Me!
I guess it’s time to get back to the ship.
In one of our previous adventures we managed to steal away the Nightmare Carriage from our enemy Glacius Rex. It’s a spectral, flying, horse drawn carriage that can be summoned with the crack of a whip. It is kind of our Guenhwyvar except it’s a carriage and a lot of the times we forget we have it.
The jungle of the island was too thick to be able to fly around and find the cave on the way in, but why not just fly this sucker out and meet back up with the ship?
The Cleric casts Clairvoyance to find The Clepsydra and discovers that the ship is sailing away from the island! Stranger still, right there on the deck is Jim Clocks barking orders at the crew.
Damn that stupid bird!
The Cads catch up to the ship with the flying carriage and draw swords on the false Captain Jim, who is clutching a golden idol. The Kenku’s impersonation of Jim is not the best, but pirates are not that smart, so it evens out. All the same, knowing that the jig is up, the Kenku drops his illusion of Jim and the idol and vanishes.
Maybe he jumped overboard or something but nobody seems to care enough to chase him.
From now on, Jim decides that this Kenku does have a name. And that name is: Jingle Jangle.
I mean, it’s close enough, right? Game respects game.
This whole thing actually got me (as Jim) thinking. Maybe he was wrong about Jingle Jangle and the bird actually might be useful down the road.
If his crew was dumb enough to think that Jingle Jangle was Jim, the ruse might fool others as well. Jim’s ultimate ambition is to become one of the Pirate Lords of Abeir-Toril and is fully aware of the fact that doing so would paint a very large target on his back.
We’re getting close to everyone’s epic destinies, aren’t we!
But, what if there were two Jim Clocks’? One in a great big, imposing galleon, armed with 40 canons and outwardly badass as all hell and the other, in a much smaller, but significantly faster, deadlier and flying ship.
Sounds like a great way to be a legendary Pirate Lord.
Oh, and that idol was worth 10,000 GP.
Tune in next time when we stumble upon The House of Strahd!
Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.
By velinov: https://www.deviantart.com/velinov (Magic 2015 Core Set ©2014 Wizards of the Coast LLC)
By HidetheInsanity: https://www.deviantart.com/hidetheinsanity
Grimtooth’s Traps photos from, where else? A copy of Grimooth’s Traps.