Session Recap week 13: Red Line Overload

As the Storm Reaver gave chase to the ship that had emerged from the other side of the island they were moored off of, Trucco clambered up into the crow’s nest to see what they were up against.  His keen eyes picked out the three-masted vessel flying the flags of the Direshark Principality…and Breland.  Outfitted like a cargo ship and sitting low in the water to suggest that it was laden with goods, the Majestic Gryphon seemed like quite a prize.  Turning to Conchobar in the rigging beside him, Trucco asked the foppish gnome if he was as good with a sword as he was with a deck of cards, and Conchobar’s eyes gleamed as he rubbed his hands together and declared that the Gryphon was in for a surprise.

While the ship continued to bear down on its prey, Mika Rockface summoned Fishguts to the quarterdeck, and the cook returned to Daina with orders to butcher a pig.  She stared at him with angry disbelief.  She had bigger problems than the captain’s dinner, and Fishguts laughed at that.  The pig wasn’t for eating — it was for baiting sharks to deal with anyone who fell overboard during the attack.  Fisghuts seemed fairly alert and active, a far cry from his inebriated state just a few hours earlier.  Unable to contain herself as her unreliable companion made an easy target for the stress and anxiety over Torlan’s fate that had reached a boiling point, the care and pity she had for Fishguts turned to anger as she snapped at him.  No matter what the pig was for, she still had bigger problems than the Captain’s whims, and more importantly, he hadn’t been there when she needed him, when she’d come to the galley seeking his help in the wake of the slaughter in the bilge only to find his incoherently drunk again.  He shrugged it off.  The promise of taking a prize seemed to have sparked life in him for the first time in their acquaintance, and he seemed undeterred by her harsh words.

The large siege staff mounted in the Storm Reaver’s bow went off as they closed with the Majestic Gryphon, shaking the ship as its shot went wide.  Drawing closer, they fired again, finding a target as its shot ripped into the Gryphon, taking down some of its sails.  From his perch, Trucco could see his fellow crewmates jumping to action as they began to push ballistas into place, and as Daina and Fishguts appeared on deck with buckets of chum, the ship’s gunner Master Crines called her, Trucco, and Rus onto the quarterdeck.  Sneering at Torlan in his cage, Crines informed the prisoner that if he joined the boarding party and survived the fight, the Captain would show him some leniency.  Torlan grinned and replied that this was the easiest deal he’d ever taken, and that he didn’t know Mika Rockface was so soft — she must be sweet on him.  Letting a toothy smile slip in spite of his best efforts, Crines unlocked the cage and Torlan crawled out.  Unable to contain herself, Daina quickly grabbed him to herself in a fierce hug as Crines watched, and the gunner gave his orders: the four of them were to storm the Majestic Gryphon’s pilothouse, take the wheel, and ensure that no one escaped in the longboats.  A grim smile came over Daina’s face as she promised Crines that she would take the wheel and stay there.  Her thoughts began to percolate as she wondered what kind of opportunity had just dropped into her lap.

The cannon continued its volley as the Storm Reaver took down more and more of the Gryphon’s rigging, systematically crippling its escape.  They were closing in fast.  With little time left before the boarding began, Trucco hurried down to his locker to retrieve the jar of Alchemist’s Fire he’d looted from the quartermaster while Torlan joined him to take up his halberd.  Daina wondered if that was another opportunity — what if they used that jar of fire on the Storm Reaver instead of the Majestic Gryphon?  Crines wanted them to take the pilothouse, and if they could prevent the Reaver from following them, that could be their ticket to escape at last, but the sabotage would need to be quite severe in order for that plan to succeed.  Trucco was excited by the prospect, but wondered what would happen to the people they’d befriended if the ship was damaged that badly.  Daina agreed that they should keep an eye out, and their attention turned to the boarding action as the entire crew amassed on deck and the captain announced that there would be an extra share of the prize for the first person to make it across.

The sun was low on the horizon as the Storm Reaver drew up alongside the Majestic Gryphon, and crossbow bolts began flying across the deck in an attempt to repel the boarders as Torlan began to sing.  As his voice rose above the fray, his friends felt their resolve grow, and new strength flowed through them.  All of a sudden, a huge cloud of fog began to billow out from the center of the Gryphon’s deck, and the fight was on.  The horrible but familiar sound of wood wrenching and groaning under stress rose from the hull as the ships collided.  

With a well-placed throw of a grappling hook to secure a line to the Gryphon’s sterncastle, Daina ordered anyone within earshot to pull as a shout came back across the gap to cut the same line.  As two sailors advanced on it, cutlasses drawn, Rus pulled his own weapon from the holster under his coat.  Aiming his wand across the gap and speaking a command word, six prismatic darts flew out towards the sailors as tendrils of electricity began to pop and swirl around his head and shoulders.  The first one he caught square in the chest, and she dropped to the deck, smoke rising from her corpse.  The second sailor caught a couple of darts himself, but managed to stay on his feet as it seemed the bulk of the devastation had been unleashed on his comrade.

More concerned with meeting Prince Mika’s challenge to be the first one across, Trucco easily scrambled into Storm Reaver’s rigging and swung into what was left of the Gryphon’s as his hair and claws began to grow.  Torlan moved up behind Daina and took hold of the rope, urging her to knock out as many of the Gryphon’s crew as she could instead of putting them down and promising that he would do the same as a ball of lightning came flying over his shoulder and smoke and lightning erupted in the middle of the Gyphon’s main deck. As his added strength to the grappling line helped Daina pull them in close enough to the sterncastle to lay down a plank he could run across, Torlan led the charge straight to where Trucco was alone in the thick of things.  Clearing his path with the flat of his blade, he sent the nearest sailor flying over the rail and into a longboat.  The rogue, meanwhile, sent one of his knives straight into the back of the pilot’s skull, killing him instantly.

Still on the Storm Reaver next to Daina, the arcing electricity surrounding his head and shoulders beginning to dissipate, Rus exchanged a nod as she called to him to cross over to the Gryphon — once he was safely over there with Torlan and Trucco, she’d be right behind him.  Holstering his wand, he drew his tago knife from his sheath.  His knife shared some similarities to hers, but was distinctly different for the foot-and-a-half long chain hanging off its pommel.  Clipping the chain to a ring on the wrist of his glove, he took up the knife in a practiced motion and held it at the ready.  As Daina raised her eyebrow at the sight of Rus taking his tago knife into battle, the skyknight ran across the plank Torlan had used and lashed out at the sailor who met him on the other side.  Easily ducking under a wild swing, the man dropped his crossbow and drew his cutlass.  Rus’ attack had left him open, and his opponent raised his sword to bear down on him, grinning as he had Rus dead to rights.

True to her word, Daina was right behind him.

Running across the thin plank to the Majestic Gryphon at full tilt, she made it to Rus’ side just as his opponent began to swing, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to bring her own sword up in time to block the blow.  Throwing her other arm out across Rus’ chest in a protective stance, all of the stress, desperation, and rage that had been building in her these past three weeks and this day in particular boiled to the surface.  She held no ill will towards the crew of the Majestic Gryphon, and she didn’t want to kill this sailor for being as much a victim of Mika Rockface as she was — but she was damned if she was going to let him cut Rus down right in front of her.  Not him, not after all they’d been through in their short time together, the kindness he’s shown her, and everything she now knew they’d been through together in the war, all those years before.  

“Back DOWN!!!”

As Daina screamed in the man’s face, Rus saw the air around her begin to distort and turn blue, dancing like sparks coming off a fire.  As her arm pressed defensively against his chest, he felt the sensation of something wrapping around his own body, not uncomfortable, but secure.  The sailor continued his attack, bringing his sword down to catch Rus square across the chest, and his eyes widened in confusion as his blade glanced off to the side.  Looking down at his own body, Rus could see the blue glow that had come off of Daina now sparking and dancing around himself.

A short distance down the deck, Torlan heard Daina’s scream of rage and he turned to find her in the fray.  Their eyes met, and his widened a little as caught sight of the blue tendrils that now wrapped around her left eye and extended back across her temple.  It was the unmistakable imprint of a dragonmark.

There was no time to think about it.  A break appeared in the fog cloud covering the center of the deck, and Trucco could clearly see Mika Rockface run a sailor through with her sword.  As she turned to follow Master Crines down into the Gryphon’s hold, another one of her foes appeared from the fog, charging with a spear as her back was turned.  After a brief moment of hesitation, Trucco swung out of his perch and across the deck, landing in the rigging behind Prince Mika’s assailant.  Driving his claws into the sail, he rode it down to the deck and threw a knife square into the man’s chest.  Spun around by the force of the blow, the man dropped his spear, sending it tumbling across the deck to land at Mika’s feet.  She looked at the corpse, looked up to see Trucco, made a small gesture with her chin, and continued down into the hold as if nothing had happened.

Rus took no time to think about it either.  Dialed into combat mode, his instincts and training took over, and the only thing on his mind was finishing the fight.  Brushing shoulders with Daina, he sidestepped to wordlessly indicate a position switch as he delivered a swift blow to their opponents kidneys, stunning the man and juggling him towards Daina.  She immediately picked up what Rus was doing and moved into the opening he had created for her, bringing her sword up and bashing its pommel across their opponent’s jaw.  He dropped to the ground, and didn’t get back up.

As one of Torlan’s opponents sliced her blade across the dwarfs arm, Torlan felt his blood rage began to rise but quickly tamped it down as he remembered his declaration and promise to not kill any of the Majestic Gryphon’s crew.  He slammed the blunt end of his halberd into the sailors chest, sending her slumping against the gunwales.  With his immediate problem solved, Rus looked up to see three more sailors emerge from belowdecks and make a break for a longboat.  Remembering Master Crines orders to let no one escape, he leveled his wand and called out words he hadn’t spoken since that day five years ago in Karrnath, when he and his squadron had rescued Daina’s unit from certain death.

“Kídù, Éste, Fôh”

A wall of fire erupted around the longboat, hugging around it and cutting off the escape.  Memories clawed at Daina as the flames appeared, but she pushed them down for another time.  Back in his perch, Trucco watched over the melee happening in full force in the center of the deck, and through the fog he caught sight of his prize — Master Scourge had joined the fray.  The rogue had been chafing against unwelcome and uncharacteristic patience while he plotted his revenge on the Storm Reaver’s sadistic taskmaster, and as he swung in closer, he pulled the flask of Alchemist’s Fire off his belt and threw it down into the fog.  He could hear Scourge yelling below, but it didn’t sound like he’d been hit, and Trucco high-tailed it back up to the mast.

Eager to finish the fight, Torlan shifted his halberd into one hand as another sailor bore down on him, cutlass in hand.  As the man closed in, Torlan was faster, and a swift uppercut claimed yet another victim as he heard Daina call out that she and Rus had taken the pilothouse.  Claiming her place at the wheel, Daina yelled down to the sailors who had been cut off by Rus’ fire.  She declared that it was over,that there was no need for them to die, and she ordered them to stand down.  They obeyed her command.  Moving to where Daina stood at the wheel with Rus still on alert beside her, the sailors threw down their weapons and dropped to their knees, surrendering.  As some sounds of battle continued through the fog, Daina rested one hand on the wheel and brought the other up to rub at her face.  The skin around her eye had been burning ever since she’d joined the fight, and she wondered if she’d been hit without realizing it.  She frowned.  She couldn’t feel a wound, and saw no blood or ash on her fingers, and yet the sensation wasn’t going away.  It was concerning, but like the memories, it would have to wait for later.  For now, Torlan was free, Rus was safe, and she was at the helm of a ship — a ship that could mean freedom for all of them.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: which country was in the greatest wrong during the Last War? You can bet we all had a different answer for this one, but in case you were wondering, the correct answer is Karrnath.
  • Torlan sung us into battle with four raises on his Serenade to bump up the entire party’s Fighting die by two sizes, and spent extra power points to extend that buff to Sandar, Owlbear, and Rosie.  Michael had perhaps his best night ever in terms of good rolls — he didn’t roll lower than a 15 on damage for the entire session.
  •  Kevin is a big believer in slow burns, and waiting for the right moment to present itself.  This session provided the opportunity he’s been waiting thirteen weeks for to unleash Rus’ power at last, and the dice rewarded his patience — he rolled an 11 to hit on his first shot, granting a success with a raise…and followed it up with 29 on the damage roll.  I don’t know the exact stats in play, but most Extras like the ones we encountered here typically enjoy 4-6 Parry and similar toughness.  There’s no kill like overkill!
  • Unfortunately, it may be a while before you see him cast a wall of fire again, because he does not actually have access to that power yet — but he did have the Arcane Spike adventure card, which granted him the one-time use of any available power regardless of rank!  It wasn’t only the luck of the dice that rewarded his patience, but the luck of the cards as well.  He’s been waiting thirteen weeks to go big, and when the time finally came he went big and it was fantastic.
  • Ernesto is a hardcore joker fisher.  He regularly spends a bennie or two on a new card over the course of any given combat, but this one took the cake.  On the fourth round of the encounter, on a nearly fresh deck after Daina and Torlan drew both jokers at the start of round two, he had Scourge in his sights and wanted a joker badly.  He spent all his remaining bennies coming up empty, but he had an adventure card to play as well: Betrayed!  Previously used by Ernesto for amazing narrative impact in Seekers of the Ashen Crown, playing this card causes a trusted ally to turn against the party — but the carrot that comes with the stick is that playing it refreshes your bennies to the starting maximum of three.  This happened at the end of the session, and last time this card was playing it took six weeks for the payoff and reveal, so who knows when this particular chicken will come home to roost, and which knife Phil will decide to twist…and Ernesto still didn’t get his joker.
  • Speaking of waiting for the right moment for your character to shine, my favourite panel at PAX Unplugged this year was the one hosted by Twogether Studios exploring how to make the most of drama in your tabletop games.  The remarks that stuck with me the most from that panel were when B. Dave Walters spoke about how, as much as it is the DMs responsibility to create memorable moments for their players to shine, it’s also the players responsibility to create those moments for each other.  Now, I am fairly certain that Kevin would have found a moment for Rus to unleash his powers in this session no matter what, but the way we both inadvertently created a moment for each other in that regard was extremely satisfying.  Neither of us knew that the immediate result of Daina attaching a line to the Majestic Gryphon would be two sailors moving to cut it — but Rus was next in initiative and had her back, and that was the moment he chose.  And neither of us could have planned the situation in which Kevin spent four bennies trying and failing to attack the enemy that then, as Phil narrated it for my benefit, had Rus dead to rights — and since Trucco was up in the rigging, and Torlan’s luck was overflowing, that was more than likely the only opportunity I’d have had in this session to manifest Daina’s dragonmark, and it made a lot of narrative sense to take it.  Her casting Deflection on Rus then, again unplanned, set him up for another moment he’d been looking for, that being falling into old patterns of fighting side by side with a fellow soldier and bouncing off each other in perfect harmony.  A fantastic roll on Rus’ Fighting test allowed Daina to down the enemy who had caused all this drama in the first place, and it was a wonderful sequence of events to play out.
  • Kevin also took advantage of an often overlooked game mechanic to create another moment for himself! Players can spend bennies to influence the story at the GMs discretion, and Kevin spent one of his to say that there were several sailors making a break for the longboat. The gave him a good narrative opening to use his adventure card to cast a spell which Rus, in terms of backstory, has made much use of in the past, but mechanically is unable to access at our current character rank.
  • If you’ve listened to our most recent Gold Dragon Fireside, you may remember that my original character concept for Daina was to blatantly rip off Singe from Don Bassingthwaite’s Dragon Below trilogy and build an unmarked Deneith spellsword with a blade in one hand and a fireball in the other.  However, something the table voted on during character creation meant that I couldn’t squeeze everything I wanted for such a build into my planned advances in a satisfying way — Savage Worlds maxes out at twenty advances, and that may sound like a big number but it can actually involve a lot of hard decisions.  I didn’t want to play another purely martial character two campaigns in a row, but I didn’t want to play a full caster either, and was struggling to find a build to match the story I had formulated. I can’t remember if it was myself or Phil who first proposed a Fighter with a dragonmark as an alternative, but we spent several weeks in July and August going back and forth over which one I might take, what it would look like mechanically, and how it could best serve the story.  I settled on the Mark of the Sentinel as being the most logical for telling Daina’s story and fulfilling the role I wanted for her in this campaign, and have been waiting for a situation in which it could manifest ever since.  
  • Let’s talk about dragonmarks!  Dragonmarks are an unescapable part of life in Eberron. The twelve Houses comprised of bloodlines in which these magical “tattoos” of sorts naturally occur form the backbone of industry on the continent of Khorvaire by virtue of the powers granted by dragonmarks allowing them to hold a monopoly over things like manufacturing, animal husbandry, healthcare, agriculture, and military subcontracting. Their power lies in not just scope, but consistency — products and services provided by dragonmarked Houses and the indivduals who work for them guarantee a standard of quality that you won’t get from Farvath’s Discount Tinkering down the street for half the cost. In Eberron’s canon lore, dragonmarks manifest under situations of extreme stress.  99% of the time, this happens when Dragonmarked Houses put their adolescent children through what’s called the “Test of Siberys,” and the exact nature of the test varies depending on the mark trying to be forced to appear, but all of them involve deliberately putting the child in a situation that creates stress, fear, desperation, etc. until their mark manifests or they need to be pulled out after it becomes abundantly clear that they have failed the test.  However, dragonmarks have also been known to manifest later in life on individuals who are not part of a House and have not undergone such a test, which is what happened to Daina.  These people are referred to by the Houses as “foundlings,” and while they cannot (legally) be forced into the service of a House, things can get complicated if they capture the House’s attention.  Out here in the Lhazaar Principalities, that might not be too big of a concern for Daina…but on the other hand, she has a dragonmark on her face now. 
  • Let’s talk about Daina’s dragonmark in particular!  There was some discussion behind the scenes about what would provoke hers, and I really liked the opportunity that presented itself in this session.  Her mark manifesting in defense of Torlan would have been too cliched of a narrative choice in my opinion.  But her stress levels and desire to protect her friends being as high as they were because of Torlan’s recent actions made a wonderful set-up for her to let loose.  Phillip was also curious to know beforehand where I wanted Daina’s mark to manifest, because they can appear literally anywhere on the body.  I originally intended for Daina’s to appear on the inside of her left forearm.  She’s a lefty like me and, narratively, I liked the idea that she could casually roll up her sleeves to display the mark during a conversation as needed in order to make a point, and I also liked the idea of the Mark of the Sentinel being on her sword arm, and thus any melee opponents would get a front row view of having picked the wrong fight.  Then, just a few days prior to this session, Phillip mentioned how he’d always wanted to see one of his players have their dragonmark on their face where it couldn’t be hidden, and all the roleplaying opportunities that could provide. And he made a compelling argument, but I’m not a particularly bold player and love being in control of situations as much as possible, and a permanently visible dragonmark would throw all that out the window.  But the bug was in my ear.  I thought about it, and ultimately decided that I would decide in the moment.  The catchphrase we’ve come to associate with Kevin at the table is “let’s be bold”…and hey, it’s a pretty good one as far as catchphrases go.  So now Daina has a dragonmark that both brings a decent amount of personal baggage with it, and is also on her face.  This is going to be fun!
  • This week’s episode title comes courtesy of the Danger Zone. Rus burned hot, Daina went into overdrive, and there’s no putting the lid back on this box!

Tales from the Table: Savage Eberron’s Best of 2021

The best stories are the ones that go where we least expect them, but still come to a satisfying conclusion. With that in mind, I asked my friends to share their favourite campaign moments of the past year…and it turns out that I wasn’t the only one who found my top picks to be the most memorable moments of the year.

Kevin (who plays Ruskel in Mourners of Lhazaar) joined the table in August 2021.  He might be the new kid on the block, but he’s already made his mark on the story, and his favourite moments include the use of the Ace! adventure card (an automatic success with a raise on any trait “roll”) to impersonate a vengeful priest of His Watery Deepness The Devourer, and leading the charge into the sea during a daring rescue that was going perfectly fine…until Rus decided to take matters into his own hands, dive off a spar, and suffer a critical failure all at the same time (and acting on a joker, no less).  That set off a cascading series of events that led to the entire party except Trucco following him into the water, and it was the kind of glorious madness that can only occur when players are willing to build off of each others decisions, roll with them, and support the story they are telling together.  

A little white lie takes on a life of its own as Rus puts the fear of the Devourer into Cutthroat Grok

The GM is as much a part of the story as any of the players, and one of Phillip’s favourite things about running our table is the ways in which we surprise him as much as we surprise ourselves. His most memorable moments from Seekers of the Ashen Crown mirror my own, and they both involve trouble caused by my character, Jak. After the turning point in that story where everything went wrong, Jak found his major hindrance — “Shamed” — come home to roost when his attempt to warn a fellow Dark Lantern about the treachery of one of their own resulted in himself being framed and arrested for the murder and treason his new archnemesis had committed right under the party’s nose. Now, there is a general GM wisdom to never, ever arrest your PCs. It often ends in players either upset at being stripped of their agency, or going on a town guard killing spree, causing collateral damage, and any sort of other really bad situation. However, two things occurred here: first, Phillip firmly believes that major hindrances should make an appearance in the story at some point, and this wound up being the perfect opportunity for Jak’s. Second, Phillip later revealed that he fully expected me to resist arrest, and Aruget was leading the charge on that (literally) until he agreed to Jak’s pleas to stand down and not make matters worse so that…Jak could submit to the arrest peacefully. Initially, Jak was convinced that he would be able to prove his innocence as long as he went quietly, but he was young, and he was frightened. Turning to look up at one of the orc guards towering over him, he met her eyes and in a small, desperate voice pleaded “you believe me…right? Please, you have to believe me!” And then I played my adventure card:

The table exploded with laugher. I’d never provoked a reaction like that from them before, and I haven’t provoked one like it since. But in that moment, in the last minutes of the session, with everything hitting the fan, I thought to myself “well, Jak’s a spy, surely he’s taken advantage of lovers as assets before, and what do I have to lose?” The guard, Korbus, did indeed end up being Jak’s ticket out of jail, but not before every last one of his Hindrances coagulated into a soup of self-loathing and despair that forced Aruget to knock him out cold and drag him to freedom.  Korbus quickly became not just a fan favourite, but a table favourite.  To this day they tease me about “breaking Korbus’ heart” every chance they get. In fact, if I say that they teased me about it just last week, no matter when you read this post that will probably be true.

Phillip’s other most notable moment of that campaign, and my no.1, actually came about as a direct result of Jak’s arrest and subsequent escape. During the session that Jak was in jail, Aruget found himself in desperate need of succeeding on some Perusasion checks — but he was completely out of bennies. Out of character, Ernesto began to hesitate, and polled the table for our opinion. He was sitting on the Betrayed! adventure card, which does exactly what it says on the tin: a trusted ally or friend turns against the party. The carrot offered with that stick? Three new bennies, right there on the spot. I was actually (albeit in a slightly stressed-out way) kind of enjoying running with the extraordinary mess we were in, so I just laughed and said, who is possibly left at this point to betray us besides Korbus? Play the card. Do it. Let’s see where the chips fall. Things can’t get any worse. Well, you don’t go around issuing that kind of challenge to your GM without expecting something juicy in return. Phillip is very happy to let stories burn low and slow until the time is right to boil, and this one simmered in the background for six weeks after that card was played.

The party clandestinely returned to Sharn in the hopes of ending things and clearing their names, and Jak had sent a message ahead asking his best friend and fellow Dark Lantern to meet him privately. He wanted to tell his side of the story, and he wanted Thom’s help. Jak had done Thom wrong in the past, in fact, he’d nearly taken Thom down with him when he was kicked out of the Lanterns. But they’d since reunited, Thom had forgiven him, and they were brothers once more…right? Well, they met at the appointed place and time, Jak spilled his guts, and as Thom repeatedly apologized for not knowing what to believe, the traitor appeared at the door, taunting Jak with his trademark arrogant sneer. Thom had given him up. The real traitor was very well-regarded within the Dark Lanterns, Jak was on the outs and not considered trustworthy even before this new accusation (again playing off his major Shamed hindrance), and while Thom didn’t necessarily want to believe that his friend would commit murder and treason, Jak had lied to Thom for the better part of a year…and if he was willing to do that, and go too far in other ways, well, Thom genuinely didn’t know who to believe. He believed that he was doing the best he could with the information he had. That betrayal not stemming from a cliched place of malice or hatred was an absolute tour de force of storytelling that twisted the knife that much deeper…but an adventure card saved the day again! Kayde, who’d come into the tavern with Jak to keep an eye out, pulled back his hood, jumped up on a table, and forced the traitor to monologue about all his dastardly plans right in front of Thom as the rest of the patrons rose to their feet and attacked us on his command. That fight was the most extraordinary, most fun chaos I’ve ever partaken in as far as TTRPG combat goes. Before it was over, there were twenty-three characters crammed into one very average-sized tavern, not counting the bottleneck of corpses that quickly overtook the front door. It was spectacular. And the story that got us there? That’s one I won’t forget.

There were so many other great moments this year, far too many to recount in detail here. From the time we schemed for about 45 minutes of real time in order to end up throwing every last plan out the window in favour of an impulsive hare-brained scheme Kayde actually managed to pull off to the assassination attempt on an airship immediately dubbed “our most Eberron session ever!” to more recent events involving an unplanned sacrifice to the Devourer, the guys rallying around Daina during a session I wasn’t even able to attend, and a small incident in the bilge, the stories keep flowing and, with them, the memories. It’s always been my opinion that the best stories we can tell are the ones shared with the people we love, and as we keep the story going in 2022 — as the guys have heard me say on more than one occasion — I’m here for it.

Do you have a favourite moment from Seekers of the Ashen Crown or Mourners of Lhazaar this year? Tell us about it in the comments or on Twitter!

An Unexpected Journey: 2021 In Review

The second [dream], it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night. Goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin’. Never said nothin’ goin’ by. He just rode on past… and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. ‘Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there.

And then I woke up.

– Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, No Country for Old Men

Friends, readers, listeners — I don’t think you need me to tell you about all the struggles 2021 brought.  You had them, I had them, and we all know what the score is.

But, like in Ed Bell’s dream, there’s always a fire at the end of the dark, cold road.  And this year, my friends and I lit a fire.

The spark started in early April when Kristian Serrano, who at the time was working for Pinnacle Entertainment Group (aka PEG, the company that makes Savage Worlds), revealed himself to be lurking my posts on the Eberron Discord and approached me about the idea of consolidating my game tales and mechanics talk into a blog.  It would be organized, accessible, able to reach a wider audience, and hopefully help cross-pollinate the Savage Worlds community with the Eberron community and bring together more people to enjoy these two things that Kristian and my table and I love so much.  I was skeptical at first, but eventually agreed that there was no harm in trying, and Tales from Savage Eberron was born.

It surpassed my wildest expectations.  From the beginning, it saw a steady influx of readers — far more than the handful of people I thought to be reading my content on Discord.  Now, not only did I have a platform to indulge in the writing and storytelling I’ve always enjoyed so much, but it seemed to be one that others enjoyed sharing in as well.  And that’s always been my favourite thing about creating — sharing it with others.  We concluded our first campaign together in early August of 2021, and by that point preparations for Mourners of Lhazaar were well underway, but planning a new campaign wasn’t the only thing we had to discuss.  Phillip had floated the idea of turning our adventures into an actual play show months earlier, but there were some logistical issues that prevented it at the time, and the idea was shelved.  As we wrapped up Seekers of the Ashen Crown and moved on to planning Mourners of Lhazaar, he broached the subject again.  We talked about it, we were all interested and willing, and with the exact same attitude I’d brought to the blog, we came to the consensus of “where’s the harm in trying?”  With even more help from Kristian, as well as Rebecca from Eberron: A Chronicle Echoes guiding us through the technical logistics of producing a podcast, the details were hammered out, the site was rebranded to Savage Tales of Eberron, we put two episodes in the can, and we waited to see what would happen.

We didn’t have to wait long.  The show was well-received from the get-go — again, wildly surpassing my expectations.  Michael (who played Ivello in Seekers and now plays Torlan in Mourners) volunteered to lend his expertise at handling all the audio editing and has knocked it out of the park every single week finding appropriate music, trimming dead air, adjusting the levels, and making us sound really good.  I learned how to navigate Twitter (if you see a tweet from @SavageEberron, you can safely assume that I’m the one who wrote it), Phillip decided to dip his toes into writing GM-facing mechanics articles for the site to compliment my player-facing ones, and together, we make an incredible team.  Ernesto’s portrayal of Trucco the cocky rogue has quickly become a fan favourite among our listeners, and Kevin?  He might be the “new guy,” but he came to the table as a known quantity — as a dear friend — and he slid so easily into both the camaraderie and the campaign that it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t been with us from day one.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: being at this table feels like I won the lottery, and the prize was four brothers (five counting Daniel who portrayed Kayde in Seekers of the Ashen Crown and has since moved on, but we continue to be in touch).  The amazing story we have built and continue to build together at the table pales in comparison to the story of…look, I’m just going to come right out and say it.  The real story is the friends we made along the way.

Me and the New Guy at PAX Unplugged 2021

We’ve also made a few friends outside of this little ragtag crew.  Kristian Serrano, mentioned above, isn’t just some guy who badgered me into starting a blog — that proposal kicked off a journey that’s blossomed into a friendship, and he has not just been a mentor and cheerleader but has freely loaned his voice to provide what in my completely unbiased opinion the most epic intro of any AP show on the air.  Through that connection, I began a correspondence with PEG COO Jodi Black. She has also been incredibly supportive of our little project, and it was a delight to be able to speak with her face-to-face at PAX Unplugged in mid-December (and for the record, she gives the best hugs). 

Kevin, Elly, and PEG COO Jodi Black on the convention floor at PAX Unplugged

Through the Eberron Discord, I’ve forged bonds with other content creators like Jarrod Taylor, Joseph Meehan, and the previously mentioned House Sivis Echoers, and Kevin and I (along with Jarrod, Joseph, and the Echoers) have had the pleasure of corresponding, playing with, and even enjoying a slice of pizza with Eberron setting creator Keith Baker — who is not just an amazing worldbuilder and storyteller, but an absolute delight of a person.  And the list of community members who are not “content creators” or “worldbuilders” but just plain old good, dear, amazing people and friends is too long to list here.  We have been welcomed into this community with open arms, and I’m incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support and friendship that’s come with it.

Clockwise from left: Stephen and Rebecca (House Sivis Echoers), Keith Baker, Jarrod Taylor, Joseph Meehan, Kevin, Elly, Sierra, Emma, and Andres enjoying a slice

I also enjoyed a personal tabletop milestone this December. Being invited to run a game of Savage Worlds as part of a corporate event at BioWare Edmonton wound up being the catalyst to finally get off my butt and try my hand at running Savage Worlds like I’d been talking about for the past five months while doing exactly nothing about it. Though I was previously experienced at running D&D 5e, I felt a bit nervous about GMing this system for the very first time as an event guest, but my friends were happy to serve as guinea pigs. What I learned from the experience is that Savage Worlds is an extremely friendly system for new GMs, and by all accounts, my players had a blast. Handing out chocolate loonies and toonies as bennies might have also helped earn their favour. 😉

We set up shop in the bar of the Sheraton, and didn’t leave until well after last call. You wouldn’t either if you were having that much fun.

So to all of you who continue to read, listen, and support, to all our friends old and new — all of us at Savage Tales of Eberron wish you a New Year filled with light, hope, and a wealth of new stories to share with those you hold dear.  See you on the other side.

MoL Podcast S1, Ep. 12: Three Kinds of People

On this episode of Savage Tales of Eberron, Daina formally takes Trucco under her protection — and winds up discovering that Torlan is the one who needs her help instead after a shocking incident forces her hand.  Battle lines are drawn, loyalties are tested, and the party’s fate hangs in the balance on this thrilling episode of Mourners of Lhazaar.

Background question: 01:15
Recap: 11:04
The action starts: 14:30

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Special thanks to Kristian Serrano for the intro narration!

Intro/outro music by Matti Palanen:

Ambiences: Michael Ghelfi


Session Recap Week 12: Three Kinds of People

The way I see it, there’s only three kinds of people in this world. Bad ones, ones you follow, and ones you need to protect.”

Waving Daina over to join him along with Rus and Torlan, Trucco leaned forward in his seat and told them that he had a fantastic story to tell.  He’d had a great idea, a wonderful idea — one he came up with all by himself, he declared, winking at Rus — and it had led him to sneak into the quartermaster’s stores while Grok was away.   It had been an extraordinarily challenging task.  There had been a lock — no, five locks, one of which was a magical lock that had summoned a manticore — and after he chased the beast all around the hold and ended it, it disappeared as the chest it had been guarding opened in a burst of light.  It was there, inside, that he saw a knife — the most beautiful knife that, he believed from what he had heard, belonged to someone here?

Throughout Trucco’s wild tale of fighting a manticore in the quartermaster’s, Daina listened with a bemused expression, not entirely sure where the incorrigible rogue’s epic bullshit was going…and as he drew her tago knife out of his jacket, everything changed.  She froze, her eyes grew wide, and she intoned in a quiet and solemn voice, “that belongs to me.”

Trucco’s grin grew wider as he spoke of how he had heard that Daina and the others had been trying to gather enough money to trade for the knife.  He did not wish to diminish their previous investment, for it must feel awful for someone else who was much better than them to come along and get the job done right under their noses and —

“How much do you want?” Rus interrupted, his voice hard.  Trucco shrugged with a sly smile. “Ehhh, there is something —”  “How much do you want?” Rus repeated, his eyes matching his voice now.  The rogue’s grin grew wider.  “I will give it for free…but there is one condition.”  Daina stared at him, saying nothing.  He continued.  “When there is a moment, when we get around to it, of sweet, sweet revenge…I want to take Scourge.  I want him all to me.”  Daina’s face remained expressionless.  “All you want is first crack at Scourge?”  “Yes,” Trucco replied, his eyes gleaming with anticipation of all the ways he’d been dreaming of taking down the Storm Reaver’s sadistic taskmaster.  “Well,” Daina replied, “have fun.”  With those words, she held out her hand, and Trucco placed the knife in it.

Cradling the ornate hilt of her tago knife in one hand and its long, delicate blade in the other, she forced herself to look back up at Trucco and asked him how he’d known to look for it.  Trucco sighed.  He had, he grudgingly admitted, had some help.  Tossing one of the bottles of acid he’d plundered over to Rus, he thanked Daina’s fellow soldier for the information.  Attaching her tago knife to her belt where it belonged, Daina glanced over at Rus.  She was, it went without saying, fairly certain that Trucco had not in fact had to fight a manticore to win this prize.  But if the way in which he had acquired it came back to bite either Rus or the rogue, she wanted to know about it.  Daina had, she observed, been told many times on the Storm Reaver that property was only considered someones so long as they were able to keep it.  And perhaps Grok considered herself protected from that custom, but if she couldn’t keep that knife, it wasn’t Daina’s problem.  Trucco agreed that the quartermaster clearly didn’t take her responsibilities seriously, and insisted that he had done a clean job and left no trace.  Daina replied that she wasn’t implying anything about Trucco’s skills, but merely that she wouldn’t want to see him get in trouble for doing her this service.  Rus wondered if there had been any traps on the locks he’d opened.  No, Trucco replied, not aside from the manticore.  Rus humored him as the rogue continued to expand on his story, speaking of how the manticore had spoken to him and tested him with riddles.  “Well, that was different from the ones I practiced with, with the Ghorad’in” he drawled.  Trucco insisted that the one he’d fought was very chatty, eliciting a laugh from Daina — the two of them had something in common, then.  Rus explained that the reason he’d asked was because he’d noticed that there were many locked and trapped doors on the ship after hours, including the map room beneath the forecastle, which might be worth a look.  “I knew you were a clever guy!” Trucco declared.  “I knew it from the moment I saw you!”

“Yes,” Daina interjected quietly, “it seems he is.”  Turning her full attention to Trucco, she remarked that it seemed to her that the reason he did what he did was because he enjoyed doing it.  She didn’t think he’d had any idea what he’d actually done that night other than have fun going through Grok’s stuff, but that was alright.  He had her most sincere thanks.  Trucco agreed that it had been fun, but had he known how important this knife was to her, perhaps he should have asked for more.  Daina’s face went dark as Khyber at that as her hand dropped to the hilt of her newly returned knife and her fingers began to run across it.  Trucco immediately began to backpedal as he held up his hands and insisted that he had just done his good deed for the day and excused himself from the table.  Daina glanced over her shoulder at Torlan quizzically.  “I think I scared him off.”

Holding out a hand to catch Trucco as he began to leave, Torlan — who had been quietly standing behind Daina’s chair throughout the conversation — commended him on being an excellent storyteller.  Perhaps, as a payment, the old talespinner could assist the young rogue in giving a proper performance?  He also remarked that he had come into some money of his own recently, and if Trucco ever had need of it, he should come to Torlan for help.  Trucco wondered aloud if this is what co-operation was.  He’d done something for Daina, asking little in return, and now Torlan was offering something to him freely as thanks.  This was different, and nice, and unexpected!  “It’s traditionally what happens when someone has a friend” Daina replied with a smile.  She explained that she and Torlan had always looked after their own, and while she reiterated that she didn’t reckon he knew what he’d done aside from have a little fun, he could now consider himself under Daina’s protection.  “With how you treat that knife,” the rogue replied, side-eyeing her hand casually playing over its hilt again “that would be a benefit for me!”  Daina chuckled.  This knife, she replied, wasn’t for fighting.  

Trucco raised an eyebrow at that.  It was a beautiful knife, very well-made and well-designed, seemingly with good balance like the ones he preferred to throw.  No, Daina replied, hers wasn’t balanced for throwing.  This knife wasn’t meant for violence.  Trucco was Cyran — had he never seen a tago knife before?  He pursed his lips.  He hadn’t spent his life in the nicest parts of Metrol, though perhaps he remembered seeing one such knife at a party.  Daina smiled again and told him that she herself hadn’t seen Metrol until she was sixteen.  This knife, she explained, was something that folks used to dance with each other when they wanted to court with each other.  “Or make war” Rus piped up.  “Excuse me?” Daina raised an eyebrow at that.  “Or make war” Rus repeated.  No one talked as much about the moments in the dance where you were supposed to let your knives clash.  It was a fight, and you weren’t supposed to let your hands touch.  But when folks did, Rus mused, well, that was when stories got told.  Daina shrugged.  She hadn’t known that about the tago; she herself had only danced it the one time.  Turning back to Trucco, she told him that this knife of hers was a gift from someone who was long gone and, as she had said, he was under her protection now.  She would prefer if he did not do anything excessively stupid to make that protection harder to give, and she would give it all the same to the best of her ability, but he needed to understand that there was only so much she could do on board the Storm Reaver to guarantee his safety.  But he had her word that she would try.  “Of course!” Trucco replied.  “But when we get more power, there will be opportunities to be even more stupid!”  Shaking her head with a smile as her hand idly began to play with the handle of her knife again, she mused that she was never one to back down for a challenge and clearly neither was he, but…nevermind that.  They’d be together come what may.  

As Trucco excused himself at last to get more grog and mull over this new, unfamiliar, and somewhat uncomfortable circumstance of what appeared to be genuine friendship, Daina looked over at Rus with a small smile.  “Well, Rus of the Northern Cross” she said, “it seems that you have attained your goal too.”  “I can’t possibly know what you mean by that, Miss Daina” he replied.  She shook her head and chuckled.  “It’s just Daina.  Or, if you’re feeling extremely fancy, Sergeant ir’Lizani.  But she’s back in Cyre.”  Torlan gave the two of them a sidelong glance and excused himself to go work on the tale of Trucco’s duel with the manticore, but Rus kept any further thoughts to himself, and he and Daina finished their drinks in silence.

The remainder of the evening came and went as usual, and over the next couple of days the Storm Reaver was noticeably limping as it approached a small, isolated island where the ship’s artificer Hakrili Quarn saw to some more repairs.  Though Master Scourge and Mister Lagraa’s cruelty towards Daina and her friends had ramped up, she had found herself largely insulated from their attention working down in the galley under Fishguts’ command.  Things did not go as well for the others.  Over the following few days, Rus, Torlan, and Trucco found themselves assigned to nothing but the duties they hated the most, something Master Scourge was clearly taking pleasure in.  Trucco was confined to line work, a job which had him working the sails but not allowed to climb into the rigging where he so loved to be.  Rus did nothing but swab the main deck, Torlan found himself down in the bilge on rat catching duty, and the old dwarf couldn’t help but shake the feeling that Scourge was deliberately making an effort to isolate them from each other.  It was becoming obvious to all four of them that firm lines had been drawn within the crew, and that those who cozied up to Scourge and Lagraa and had become more hostile towards the newcomers than they even had before while those who had been agreeable towards them seemed even more at odds with Scourge and Lagraa’s sycophants.  Down in the galley, Daina decided it was time to broach the subject to Fishguts.  Where exactly were these lines being drawn, and which side of them was he on?  

He growled at that.  He’d told her many times that this ship was poison, a cancer for the soul.  And who said he was on anyone’s side?  “Everyone’s on a side, Fishguts” Daina replied.  “What do you think will happen if you try to stay in the middle?”  He snapped back that everyone had to eat.  She frowned, frustrated.  If he was suggesting that he’d be on whichever side wound up on top, she couldn’t help him with that.  But as she’d said before, if he wanted her help, she’d have it, and when she got off the Storm Reaver, she’d take him with her.  He reminded her that Prince Mika owned him, having won his life as a stake in a game of cards, and she repeated the lesson she was now taking to heart that on this ship that something was yours only so long as you could keep it.  The Captain might own Fishguts for now, and Daina didn’t intend to own any man, but she might be able to take from the Captain something that was hers.  Fishguts laughed in her face.  There seemed to be no breaking the hopelessness that held sway over his soul, but as she returned to her work, Daina made a small prayer to any Sovereigns who were listening that one day, she might be able to help the incorrigible dwarf she’d found herself looking on more and more not only with pity, but with fondness.

For his own part, Trucco had been consoling himself after three miserable days of line work by regularly sneaking down to have dinner with Owlbear in the cargo hold.  He found the big, simple, genial man an easy person to unburden himself to.  Owlbear didn’t ask the kinds of uncomfortable questions that Daina and the others did, and seemed to have no expectations of him either beyond the occasional happy interjection that rarely had anything to do with what Trucco was talking about.  It was a pleasant arrangement for both of them as Owlbear enjoyed the company of another person, and Trucco found a way to express the not unpleasant but thoroughly foreign emotions he’d been finding start to take hold in him.

The next morning, Torlan and Daina found themselves increasingly on edge as the tension they could feel in the air continued to simmer just below boiling.  Up on deck, Rus tried to approach Aretta again in hopes of hearing her commit to being on his side, but she had become rather standoffish and cold towards him.  It was the 6th of Olarune, and after putting Trucco on his hated line work once again and informing Rus in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t have trouble finding a reason to beat him that night, Master Scourge ordered Torlan down into the bilge with Sador, Arzak, and Jaundiced Sudak to pump out more water that had found its way in during the last storm.  Torlan recognized Sador as one of the ones who had jumped him and the others on their second day aboard along with Sudak, the mute orc who had clearly taken a special hatred of him ever since.  Ducking into the crew quarters on the way down, he took his harp from his footlocker and consulted its auguries.  As his fingers danced over its strings, the notes came back to him jarring and dissonant.  Glancing over at Tamroth Scrimshaw, who was minding her own business from a distance, he was yelled at to keep moving.  Seeing no other choice, he made his way down to the bilge with the others.

Back on the main deck, it was business as usual.  Rus was scrubbing, Trucco was coiling ropes, and Daina was for once out of the galley and fishing.  As Rus worked, keeping to himself after his failed attempt to win over Aretta, Tamroth Scrimshaw approached him.  Leaning down and lowering her voice, she told Rus that there was a major problem.  Torlan had killed three members of the crew.

“Oh, Khyber” Rus breathed, his eyes widening.  “Okay, where?  We gotta hide the bodies.  Show me.  Take me to him.”  As he began to follow Tamroth back towards the stairs, Master Scourge appeared and barked at him to get back to work, and that he’d be getting three lashes for laziness.  From her spot at the rail where she was fishing, Daina could see and hear Scourge preventing Rus from leaving the deck, and she knew that the former skyknight wasn’t one to tempt fate by shirking his duties.  Loudly announcing to anyone in earshot that she’d better get her catch down to Fishguts before it began to stink as badly as he did, she made her way over to Rus and whispered, “going somewhere?”  He whispered back that he’d better go check on her godfather — Torlan had been sent to catch rats in the blige, and it seemed he’d killed some folk.

“Well to Khyber with you, asshole!” Daina yelled in Rus’ face, putting on a show for Scourge.  “I’m a way better chef than Fishguts will ever be!”  Making her way down into the hold, trying to hurry without looking like it, she tossed her fish aside into a corner and carefully opened the hatch down the ladder to the bilge, steeling herself for what she might find.

Hearing the creaking of the planks above him, Torlan startled as he saw his goddaughter appear.  “Oh, Daina” he gasped, his voice quavering.  “Listen, you don’t want to come down here.  You don’t want to see what’s happened down here.”  Ice clenched at Daina’s guts.  “I think I do,” she replied, her words slow and cautious as she began climbing down the ladder to see him slumped against the hull, covered in blood, tired, hunched, and — for the first time in her life — scared.  She dropped down, water sloshing around her ankles, and knelt down beside him, placing her hands on his shoulders and trying to meet his eyes.  “Uncle…what’s wrong?”

Ten minutes earlier…

Dropping down into the bilge, the clear signs of danger Torlan’s augury had given him were confirmed by his eyes as he took note of the knife tucked into the hobgoblin Arzak’s boot.  The signs had been clear, and even if they hadn’t, Torlan was no fool.  They’d attacked him and the others on their second day aboard, they’d never forgotten how he’d turned the tables on them that day, and now, with the storm that had been brewing for nearly a week as Scourge and Lagraa and their lackeys had ramped up their attention and cruelty towards Torlan, Daina, and their new friends, he could see the writing on the wall.  He’d been forced down into the bilge this day with three cruel, angry pirates who hated him.  He saw no other choice than to act before they did.
As he joined Sador in the work at one of the pumps, going through the motions of working, he waited for the right moment until the large orc’s back was turned…and then everything went red.  With a wordless, guttural cry, he launched himself at the pirate, slitting his throat with the knife that had been hidden in his own boot, killing the man instantly.  Whipping around, Arzak slashed his knife across Torlan’s chest as the old dwarf, now thoroughly in the throes of a blood rage, shrugged off the attack and rushed Jaundiced Sudak — and stumbled on something below the water line, falling backwards.  Windmilling his arms to try to catch his balance, his wild flailing caught Arzak right in the eye as Torlan’s knife drove home, dropping the hobgoblin where he stood.  Falling with him, Torlan lost his grip on the knife now firmly lodged in the dead man’s skull as Arzak’s body rolled away from him.  As Sudak, undeterred, moved in to finish the job with her trademark leering grin, Torlan rolled out of the way of her blade and retrieved his knife from Arzak as he got to his feet.  Backing up towards the ladder, he demanded to know who else was involved, and if he was their only target.  What of his friends?  She responded with nothing but a sneer and continued moving in, but Torlan was faster, and his blade angled up beneath his nemesis’ arm and into her vitals.  It was over.  
He had no time to think before Tamroth Scrimshaw appeared at the opposite hatch.  She’d heard a commotion.  What was going on?  He shouted back that he’d been attacked, and slain them all, but there was no time — he had to get to the others.  
“Oi, lad” Tamroth breathed, “I think you’re in big trouble.”  “I think we’re all in trouble,” Torlan insisted, and he asked her to go find out if the others were in trouble themselves.  Torlan asked her if there were any other witnesses, and she shook her head and replied that he’d be getting keelhauled.  Torlan interrupted. “Will you help me or not?” She agreed to check, and he told her to make haste.
A few minutes later, Tamroth returned.  It was business as usual up on deck.  Daina and the others were fine.  “Ohhh shit,” the old dwarf sighed.  “Well, are you still willing to help me?”  Tamroth just stared at him.  What did he mean?  There were three bodies here in the bilge.  He insisted that he wasn’t asking her to put herself at risk, but Daina, Ruskel, and Trucco needed to know the situation — they’d know what to do.  He was exhausted.  His rage fled his body, and he slumped against one of the gunwales as Tamroth left him again…

“They were going to try and do for me” Torlan insisted, looking up at Daina with frightened desperation.  “I had no choice.”  She closed her eyes.  How many were there?  He told her it had been two orcs and the hobgoblin.  They’d been armed.  And he’d killed them all? “Aye,” Torlan replied.  “Aye, I did.”  Daina steeled herself.  It was time for her to be strong for the one who had been strong for her all these years.  Tightening her grip on his shoulders, she leaned in even closer.

“Torlan, listen to me.  There’s no way we’re sneaking those bodies out of here, so we need to do one of two things.  First thing, this morning Trucco tossed our friend in the blue coat a bottle of acid.  I don’t know how well we can do that with all the water down here, but it might do the trick—” Torlan cut her off.  Had there really been no one making a move against her or the others?  It had been a strange few days… “No!” Daina shouted, fear rising in her throat.  “I’ve been in the kitchen this whole time!  Torlan, we need to get off this ship.  We need to get off this ship right now.”  There were longboats, and they’d have to take their chances.  They couldn’t stay on the Storm Reaver anymore.  “But the signs, Daina!” the old dwarf protested.  “The omens!  They weren’t good! I did what I had to.”  Daina’s eyes grew even wider.  He’d had a sign, and he’d come down here anyways?  “What else was I supposed to do?” he asked.  “Shirk my duties, not come down here, get whipped again?”  “Yes!!!” Daina cried, panic creeping into her voice.  “Yes, that would have been better!  It would have been much, much better!”  Gathering herself, she started thinking out loud.  No one else would be down to the bilge for a while, except for anyone who knew that Torlan and the others had been down there.  Who else knew?  Torlan shook his head.  The assignments had been called out by Master Scourge in front of the entire crew that morning — everyone knew.  Maybe Daina was right; maybe they should steal a longboat and try to get him off the ship.

“Get us off the ship” Daina corrected him. Torlan shook his head again.  “What are you saying?” she demanded.  “Of course I’m coming with you.”  “You can’t, Daina!” he protested.  It had to just be him who took the fall, when they came after him.  “Do you think I’d do any better if I stayed behind?” she retorted.  “No,” she said, quiet and sad, “you’re not leaving me behind.”  Desperately searching for a plan, she noted that it was late morning, and no one was likely to come down to the bilge for some time unless Tamroth had raised an alarm, and she hadn’t last Daina saw.  “No, she’s a good lass” Torlan murmured.  If she hadn’t raised an alarm yet, she wasn’t likely to betray him.  

Daina got down to business.  First, she was going to clean him up, because he was a mess.  Next, they were going to walk out of the bilge like there was nothing to hide.  They would find Rus and Trucco, figure out their next move, and if she and him were going to leave that night, they were going to leave that night.  Cradling the back of Torlan’s head with one hand, she dipped her handkerchief into the water and began wiping the blood from his face.  It was dark, filthy bilge water, but for once, he didn’t protest, and they sat in silence as Daina worked.

Satisfied that she’d washed away the blood as best she could, Daina ordered Torlan to go to the cargo hold where it was quiet.  He was to do nothing, speak with no one, and draw no attention to himself, and she’d be back soon.  “Okay” he replied, his voice quavering again.  “I’ll do what you say.  Be careful.”  “I will” she promised.  Clutching Torlan to herself in a quick, fierce hug, she hurried back to the main deck to seek out Rus.

The work day was in full swing and the deck was bustling.  With a private conversation out of the question, she decided to keep up her ruse, announcing that Fishguts was flat on his ass drunk again, and she needed Rus’ help carrying a barrel.  He declared that if that was what the galley needed, then he’d certainly help, but as he began to follow her, Scourge appeared behind him again.  “That’s another three lashes for laziness!” the taskmaster yelled.  “Get back on the deck!”  Daina stared Scourge down.  She only needed Rus for a moment .  Fishguts was hammered again, and she couldn’t carry that barrel on her own.  Getting up in Daina’s face, Scourge sneered that neither Fishguts nor her held any authority on the deck — he did.  So she should go take care of her own problems.  “Go,” Rus said quietly, and not seeing any other choice, she returned belowdecks alone.

Making a beeline for the galley, Daina found Fishguts completely incapacitated from his drinking again.  Reaching down, she squeezed his hand.  “I’m sorry” she whispered, and left him behind, expecting that this would be their last meeting in spite of the promise she’d made.

From his hiding place in the cargo hold, Torlan heard footsteps approaching.  He could see Master Scourge’s mate Salty making his way towards the bilge, and the ship’s gunner Master Crines — with a swab named Gragoth in tow — entered the hold and came straight for him.  “You stay right there” Crines ordered, as he and Gragoth moved to box Torlan in.  As Daina came down the ladder to the hold, she heard a call go out.  “We’ve got some bodies down here!  He’s killed them!”

Drawing his sword on Torlan, Master Crines ordered the dwarf to disarm himself.  “They attacked me first” Torlan insisted.  “It was self-defense.”  Master Crines repeated his order,  his voice growing harder, and Torlan threw down his knife.  As she made her way down the stairs, Daina met a swab named Patchy going in the opposite direction.  He looked at her sideways and told her she didn’t want to get involved.  “What happened?” she asked, feigning ignorance.  He informed her that Torlan had killed a few crew members, and had to answer to Prince Mika Rockface for his crimes.  “Bullshit” Daina declared.  “Even if he did kill anyone, do you think they wouldn’t have started it?”  Patchy sneered that killing anyone on the Storm Reaver was a punishable offense, and Daina retorted that if that were the case, why was Lagraa still here?  Patchy had no reply other than to tell Daina to go back to the galley.  Out of the corner of her eye, Daina saw Torlan shaking his head.  Nodding back at him, she began making her way topside as she desperately tried to figure out how to get him out of this mess.

There was no time to do so.  Torlan was immediately brought up before the quarterdeck, where Mister Lagraa and Prince Rockface herself held court as Salty announced that Torlan had killed Sardor, Jaundiced Sudak, and Arzak.  The Prince looked directly at Torlan and demanded to know what he had to say for himself.  “Aye, I killed them” he admitted, “but it was in self-defense.”  He insisted that the three of them had had it out for him ever since jumping him on his second day aboard, and that they must have conspired with Scourge to corner him in the bilge alone — but they had underestimated him.  What, he asked, would she have had him do?  Her response came fast and swift.  She ordered Mister Lagraa to put Torlan in the sweatbox — a small, solid metal box with nothing more than a few holes for air — and she’d keelhaul him tomorrow.

Turning to Rus and Trucco, Daina whispered that she had to get Torlan off the ship.  Trucco asked if Torlan had done what he was accused of — not that they didn’t have it coming — and she replied that he had.  She only saw two possible outcomes for her and her old godfather: one being to fight her way out of the situation, which she couldn’t do alone, and the other being to escape.  Torlan had made a few friends, and so had she, and so had Rus and Trucco, and the latter nodded that they had a few cards up their sleeves.  Meanwhile, some of Scourge’s lackeys were trying to cram Torlan into the sweatbox.  It was so small that even a dwarf had a hard time fitting in it, and his captors were not gentle.  As they shoved at him, the rusty hinges of the door began to creak and pop, and it was clear that they would not be able to confine him in it.  Dragging him over to a slightly larger cage on the poop deck, they tossed out the skeleton that had been occupying it and shoved Torlan inside as the parrot perched on top began to caw.  He was still trapped, but perhaps he wouldn’t suffer as badly.

Returning her attention to Rus and Trucco, Daina whispered that if the keelhauling was going to happen at the usual time, she had twenty-four hours.  Torlan had twenty-four hours.  And she couldn’t save him alone.

All of a sudden, a loud shout went out from the crow’s nest.  “Ships ahoy!”  Looking up, Daina spotted a large, three-masted ship emerging from the far side of the island the Storm Reaver had been skirting as Mister Lagraa ordered the crew into action, Torlan’s crimes forgotten for the moment.  It seemed that the Prince would have her prize at last.  The hunt was on. 

Behind the Scenes

  • The quote at the top of this week’s recap is a line uttered by Amos Burton in The Expanse, and I could think of no more appropriate summary for this week’s adventures.
  • Question of the week: What is your greatest fear, or worst recurring nightmare? It turned out to be a rather spectacular coincidence that Daina’s greatest fear is that she will outlive Torlan. The question wasn’t planned (Phillip rolls on a table at the start of the session to see which question comes up that week), and us players certainly had no idea what kind of events this session would hold, but I absolutely made a sarcastic remark during the bilge scene that this is why you should always lie through your teeth when the spicy questions come up. 😉 (Don’t do that. Seriously, don’t do that.)
  • Trucco’s return of Daina’s tago knife meant that I finally got to bust out the one Hindrance I haven’t been able to play to yet in this campaign: her Quirk.  When she is concentrating, or otherwise lost in thought, her hand idly plays with the hilt of her tago knife — which can, as we saw in this session in which Ernesto had no idea about her Quirk in or out of character — be easily misinterpreted as hostility, or a threat, if someone doesn’t recognize this particular knife’s purpose.  Quirk is one of my favourite Hindrances because it is so personal.  It’s described in the rules as a minor foible that can occasionally cause the hero real trouble, and it’s easy to get a lot of mileage out of — in fact, Daina’s not the first character of mine who’s had a Quirk, but hers is completely unique to her.  It’s an unconscious fidget that I maintain she doesn’t even realize that she does, which is why she was puzzled when Trucco hastily turned tail and tried to run after they were just having a very friendly conversation!
  • So…how about Torlan, eh? 😀  Real talk, Michael was faced with an incredibly difficult situation that he had to solo, and how he chose to play out the bilge encounter was in my opinion a fantastic character and story moment that then set me up for a fantastic moment of my own as we shared our scene of Daina dealing with the aftermath.  But we’re talking about Torlan here, so here are a few notable notes from that fight:
    • In the second round, Torlan — with his Hesitant hindrance that requires him to draw two action cards and take the lower — drew a ten of clubs and still came out at the top of the initiative order…and that was when he critically failed his attack on Sudak.  And you might be wondering why a critical fail resulted in him being able to instantly kill Arzak on his way down, because that kind of boon is not a typical outcome, but what happened was that he was finally able to use the new Edge he took in our first advance, which was…
    • Berserk!  This is an edge with quite a few moving parts, so let’s break it down from the top:
      • Berserk kicks in immediately after the character becomes either Shaken or Wounded, at which point they must make a Smarts roll or enter a blood rage.  They can choose to voluntarily fail this roll.
      • Once berserked, Torlan’s Strength die increases by 1, his Toughness increases by 2, and he can ignore 1 point of wound penalties (which stacks with any other edge that reduced wound penalties) — but all of his melee attacks must be Wild Attacks, which give him a +2 to hit at the cost of making him Vulnerable (giving his enemies +2 on their rolls against him).
      • Which brings us back to, why did Phillip allow Torlan to have a free attack on a critical failure?  That’s weird, right?  The final piece of the Berserk edge is that rolling a critical failure on Fighting attack while berserked results in the hero attacking a randomly determined foe — or friend — within their range.  In this particular encounter, Torlan was only surrounded by enemies, and that’s why despite falling prone and temporarily losing his knife, he was able to take Arzak down with him.
      • Those of you familiar with Savage Pathfinder may have noticed that this is one of the ways in which we’ve deviated from its rules regarding class edges.  In Savage Pathfinder, Berserk is removed from the general Edges pool and restricted to being a class feature of the Barbarian.  We said “no thank you” to that at our table — Torlan actually has a Bardic arcane background — and so Torlan is now a talespinning, harp-playing old dwarf who might occasionally fly into a blood rage when his back is against the wall…which in my opinion is exactly how Savage Worlds should be.
  • As far as highs and lows go for a session, this one was a total rollercoaster.  From finally getting Daina’s tago knife back after eleven weeks and being able to play out her Quirk at last, to having a really good in-character reason to bring Trucco into her circle as the last missing piece of the party members she’s sworn to protect, to the cascading series of events in the bilge that had the whole table alternating between riotous laughter and some pretty intense sobriety culminating with one hell of a multi-faceted cliffhanger as we break for the holidays, “rollercoaster” is perhaps an understatement…but it was also my favourite session of this campaign to date.  I’m not going to say it wasn’t nerve-wracking, but tension isn’t always a bad thing, and I am extremely excited about what comes next.  See you in the new year!

Session Recap Week 11: Allegiance

Morning came, and sails were on the horizon. Out on the open water, the horizon was a long way off, and the crew knew it would take a day or two to catch their prey as Scourge snapped at Rus, Trucco, and Torlan to get to their duties for the day. The old dwarf noted that Mika Rockface herself was on the quarterdeck this morning, an unusual sight to be sure, but he’d heard many rumblings that the prince was frustrated about her run of bad luck and itching to turn around the Storm Reaver‘s fortunes.

As the crew began to disperse to their duties, Trucco took a quick glance around and sidled up to where Rus was beginning to gather up some ropes, inquiring if he was okay following the previous night’s bloody round of arm wrestling. Removing his glove to show Trucco his bandaged hand, the skyknight and the rogue commiserated over Sandara Quinn’s skills and Trucco promptly got down to business – had any good bets been placed on the contest? Had Rus made some good money? Rus revealed that “Miss Daina” was working towards making some money of her own to retrieve something dear to her that the quartermaster was keeping under lock and key, and mused that Daina was having a little more trouble accommodating herself to the workings of a pirate vessel than Trucco had. Trucco nodded and suggested that acquiring Daina’s prize whether Grok was a willing participant or not might be just the ticket, and Rus agreed, but again reiterated that he didn’t think Daina had such an act in her and was more than likely not too skilled at it to boot. He knew she’d been trying to gain some funds in a less underhanded way, and to her credit she’d raised no small amount, but he’d been told that this item of hers was not only of great sentimental value but worth more than a few galifars as well. Trucco announced that he wasn’t the smartest, but he was quick, and Rus was smart, and perhaps together they could come up with a solution that would keep the gold in their pockets and see Daina’s treasure returned to her. Rus frowned a little. There were many things down in Grok’s stores, and he didn’t exactly know himself what the item in question looked like, but if Trucco were to ask Daina about it, she might very well be open to his particular brand of help.

“She might?” Trucco asked, “or she will?” Rus shrugged. He’d only known Miss Daina as long as Trucco had, and the best person to ask about her feelings was the lady herself. Trucco’s eyes began to sparkle. Perhaps, he wondered aloud, it would make for a nice surprise. Daina had been kind to him during their short acquaintance, and the thought of being able to indulge his mischievous habits and do her a favour at the same time sounded incredibly appealing to the irascible rogue. “If you wanted to do her a surprise,” Rus replied, “look for the fanciest knife in the quartermaster’s hold. That’s probably what she’s looking for.” If there were multiple expensive-looking knives down there, and Trucco was able to get to one of them, he’d be able to get to all of them and sort it out later. The shifter grinned and declared that he’d think about it.

Reaching into his belt, Rus produced his own tago knife, showing Trucco its fine narrow blade, ornate hilt, and the silver chain attached to its pommel with a medallion emblazoned with an eagle hanging from it. Trucco took a good look at it, and though Rus cautioned him that Daina’s would not look exactly the same, he felt that he had enough information to go on. Having cased the quartermaster’s stores before, Trucco knew that Grok regularly left her post to drink with Fishguts every afternoon, and he continued working with uncharacteristic patience until the time was right.

While Torlan tackled some repairs down in the cargo hold, Daina made an excuse to leave the galley for a few minutes and approached the old dwarf. She told him about the revelation that her and Rus’ paths had crossed before, that he was the one who had bought her and Maz one more week together, and that she remained unsure as to why he’d helped her at the gambling table in the manner that he had, but she was grateful regardless. As Daina abruptly excused herself to get back to work, and Torlan watched her go, he could tell that his normally steady goddaughter was off her game, and the wheels in his head began to turn.

Keeping an eye on the clock, Trucco found himself unable to pass up another chance to exercise his particular set of skills, especially for a good cause. Making his way down to the stores unseen, he gathered up his lockpicks and tested the handle of the door only to find it unlocked. He took that as a good omen, and made his way inside to the locker that his own gear had once been stowed in. Easily popping the cheap lock, he cast a practiced eye over a few flasks of alchemist’s fire, a battered iron box, and a rather ornate knife that easily resembled the one Rus had shown him. Snatching up the knife and one of the flasks, he replaced the locks and left with his prize.

As Torlan continued his work, Rus joined him in the hold to see to his own task of dealing with the ship’s persistent rat problem, and the old dwarf decided it was time to see what his enigmatic companion was made of. Casually approaching the reserved younger man, Torlan rumbled that Daina had told him what Rus had done for her the previous evening. Being Brelish, he’d never entirely understood the Cyran hang-ups about touching bare hands with a stranger, but he felt compelled to thank Rus on his goddaughter’s behalf all the same. “You don’t have to thank me,” Rus insisted. “She won her money fair and square.” Torlan frowned. Rus was Cyran himself – wasn’t it a little strange for him to be “shaking” her hand, according to their customs? Rus agreed that skin to skin contact was normally reserved for trusted friends and confidants, and he didn’t know Daina very well, but it had looked like she’d needed something that was weighing on her mind. As far as he was concerned, they might as well walk through that indignity together. Besides, he insisted, there wasn’t all that much to it. It was a silly tradition from thousands of miles away, buried beneath whatever in Khyber had happened to their homeland. Torlan mused that it was important to carry on those traditions, and that he supposed it was of some comfort to him after all. He’d been reluctant to trust Rus and Trucco easily, and while he wasn’t sure if Daina did, he suspected that she at least soon would.

Torlan shifted his weight and looked at Rus a little more intently.  “I expect that you’ve known dwarves before,” he said, his voice hardening a little. Rus agreed that he had. “Do you know much about us?” the old talespinner asked. “They trained our air corps,” Rus replied, and everyone knew that some of the best flyers came from the Mror Holds. Torlan nodded. It was good that Rus had a proper baseline for dwarves aside from these Cloud Reavers, and that he should know that most of his people were very careful about the bonds they forged, and even more careful about keeping them – they wouldn’t stab each other in the back over a pouch of sovereigns, unlike their present company. The point, he declared, was that it wasn’t easy for him to trust people, but that he found himself in need of it. Rus observed that such a thing was hard to come by on the Storm Reaver, and he figured that you just had to latch on to what you could get.

“Look,” Torlan sighed, “I’m just going to come out and say it. I want you on our side. I’m going to watch your back, and I expect that you’re going to watch my back. Is that a fair assumption?” “Certainly” the younger man replied.

“That’s good,” Torlan rumbled. “You should know this, though. If I place my trust in you – you’re still as of yet a bit of a stranger to me. I expect – I hope – that that will change in the future, but just don’t ever, ever, turn on me or my family. That means Daina. If you did, if you do, well, you’d better have killed me first, because if you do, it won’t just be me who comes calling on that feud. It will be my remaining son, when he learns of the betrayal, and he’ll carry on that quarrel even if you perish before that debt is settled. And if you have any children, that feud will carry on to them. You see what I’m saying?”

“I do” Rus replied. “I don’t plan on betraying Daina, but if I do, should I know who all I need to kill first?”

“That’s a reasonable question,” Torlan replied.

“I’ll let you think about that one,” Rus said. “That sounds like it may take a bit of time. You don’t have to answer it now, there’s no plans to betray Daina currently at the moment.”

Torlan’s eyes grew even harder. “Don’t try to make a fool of me, boy.” Rus held up a hand. “Oh, I’ve seen you in combat. I’ve already been made a fool of plenty times on this ship.”

“Any one of us could turn on each other, put a word in Mister Lagraa’s ear, and that would be the end of it” Torlan remarked. “Oh, we could,” Rus replied. “But I don’t get the sense you’re about to, and I’m not either.” “It’s not in my best interests” Torlan replied. “It wouldn’t serve any of us,” Rus reminded him, exasperation creeping into his voice.

With that out of the way, Torlan declared, he found himself in need of relieving a burden of his own. He’d noticed the officers paying special attention to himself and his fellow captives, and wondered if it wouldn’t benefit him to have someone else know what he’d done and could help look out for signs of the tides turning on him. That missing dwarf, Narwhal, who had gone missing during the squall? It was he, Torlan, who had thrown Narwhal into the sea.

Rus winced.  “Oh…I wish you hadn’t told me that. But you did.” “I did,” Torlan replied. He was worried that Mister Lagraa now suspected him, and if that were the case, he might need Rus’ help in throwing off her suspicion. Rus sighed. He was no liar, and he wasn’t much good at it. Besides, it wasn’t just Torlan who was catching unwanted attention from Lagraa – in fact, Rus had thought it was just himself. He pointed out that no one had so much as mentioned Narwhal since Torlan’s eulogy, and that Lagraa seemed to just be angry for the sake of being angry. Torlan would keep an eye out for Rus, Rus would keep an eye out for Torlan, and that was that.

As the afternoon grew late, the sky began to darken and the sea began to swell. Noticing Jaundiced Sudak leering at him again with a cruel smile on her face, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the silent orc was plotting something against him, and he was well aware that she was one of Master Scourge’s favoured cronies. Making their way up to the quarterdeck, Torlan and Trucco found both Scourge and Prince Mika herself on edge at the prospect of losing their prey in the storm, a fear which was justified after the other ship turned and sailed immediately into the squall – a path the Storm Reaver’s captain grudgingly chose not to follow. 

In the face of another brewing storm, many of the crew remained on duty, and even Bloody Hour was announced to be postponed until tomorrow — though Rus and Torlan were each called out for laziness and assigned six lashes.  Though they’d tried their best to maintain a semblance of working throughout their conversation earlier that day, the increased scrutiny on them was coming home to roost.  Jaundiced Sudak leered at Torlan again with her cruel, silent grin, and the old dwarf remarked that the severity of the punishments had increased.  Torlan had noticed the other storm brewing on the Storm Reaver, the one in which tensions between the officers were beginning to run high as they continued to find themselves unable to take a prize, and still hampered by the damage the ship had suffered several weeks earlier.

Evening fell, and with the usual entertainment and merriment being postponed, Torlan decided it was time to get some revenge on Jaundiced Sudak — and, just like Trucco’s own venture the previous morning, it would kill two birds with one stone and satisfy his desires while helping his goddaughter. The rogue had kept his retrieval of the tago knife he assumed to be Daina’s to himself, and without that knowledge and with the story of Rus and Daina’s encounter at the gambling table fresh in his mind, the old dwarf knew he must do what he himself could do to help ease her burden. Quietly making his way down into the hold where the crew strung their hammocks, he sought out Sudak’s footlocker and popped the cheap lock without too much trouble. He helped himself to the orc’s gold and silver, took care not to disturb any other items, replaced the lock, and returned to his duties without a word.

Morning came and Rus, Trucco, and Torlan found themselves gathered on deck along with Crimson Cog, Conchobar, and Sandara. Master Scourge that morning was angrier than unusual, while acting a little sheepish towards the other officers…and sporting a black eye.  Striding up to the group, he growled that they’d be working for Master Crines that day.  She announced that they’d be practicing boarding actions, and ordered them out into the dinghies in two groups of three.  Rus quickly approached Sandara and told her to stay near him, while Torlan sized up Conchobar, having recalled Daina’s mentions of the foppish gnome putting on a show of being more comfortable at sea than he actually was.  To their surprise, Master Crines got in the dinghy with them, and began instructing Rus to throw his grappling hook back out to the Storm Reaver.  In the second dinghy, Trucco easily secured his own line and began to shimmy across it back to the ship as several of his fellow swabs appeared on deck and began pelting him with rotten apples, fish heads, and whatever odds and ends they could find to try to knock him off.  Easily dodging the projectiles, the overconfident rogue yelled back that Scourge would have a much harder time at this than he did, what with his bad eye.  As Trucco drew closer, Scourge himself appeared at the rail and threw a knife at him, shouting that he’d just earned himself three more lashes.  Rus easily followed, calling back to his training in the aerial corps, while Crimson Cog fell and had to return to the dinghy and Conchobar continued struggling to secure a line for himself.  

As Trucco gracefully dropped onto the deck in front of Master Scourge, the furious half-orc caught him across the head with his fist and snarled that he’d be joining Rus and Torlan at the mast that night.  Safe on deck and seeing Crimson Cog continue to struggle, he began to shout out advice and encouragement to guide Cog back to the ship as Sandara took a bottle straight to the face, knocking her off the line as blood flew from her nose.  Having been her third failed attempt, Master Crines rewarded Sandara with lashes that evening — but a lighter punishment than ones the others had been doled out.  Seeing Conchobar continue to struggle as well, Trucco yelled out that he’d give the gnome two galifars if he made it back on board before Torlan did.  Yelling back at Crines not to pop a blood vessel, he was almost back on board when a volley of empty bottles sent him into the drink before he managed to clamber up.

Bloody Hour came, and Rus, Torlan, and Trucco each found themselves facing six lashes.  Trucco and Rus bore their beatings well, but Scourge caught Torlan in some of the sore spots he’d suffered earlier.  Down in the galley that night, Trucco sat with the others and wondered aloud if the conflicts starting to brew between the ship’s officers could benefit him and his new friends in any way.  Torlan questioned what else they could do unless they planned to foment a mutiny right then and there, and Trucco changed the subject towards the Storm Reaver having failed to reave yet again.  Torlan questioned the Cloud Reaver’s skill as pirates of legend, and Rus wondered if the ship was hiding something — it seemed odd to him that Mika Rockface’s flagship didn’t have so much as an elemental ring.  As they spoke, Conchobar approached Trucco.  He believed he was owed two galifars.  The rogue tried to weasel his way out of it as Torlan reminded him that a promise was a promise, and Trucco offered to try his luck against Conchobar at the card table instead.  He came away with three galifars to his name, and offered them to the gnome, who gladly accepted. Getting up from the table, he turned to see Daina enter the room, and gathered Rus and Torlan to him before waving Daina over. He had business with the lady, and was never one to turn down an opportunity.

Behind the Scenes

  • I (Daina) was away this week (check out my and Kevin’s PAX Unplugged adventures on Twitter!), and it is safe to say I wasn’t expecting Trucco to conspire to retrieve Daina’s tago knife within the first twenty minutes of the session. This particular quest has been a real thorn in my and Daina’s side in as far as it’s bumped up hard against her hindrances, and I am not upset at all that Ernesto decided to take matters into his own hands while I was gone and resolve the problem in a way that both made sense for Trucco, and greatly helped me out as his fellow player.
  • I highly recommend complimenting this week’s recap with the audio if only to listen to Torlan and Rus play out that conversation in the bilge. It was a fantastic moment and Rus asking Torlan for a list of who he’d have to kill first had the table in stitches and was a very well-deserved bennie.
  • Practicing boarding actions was done as a Dramatic Task, but slightly different then how we’ve been doing them. In this case, each individual character had to accrue six successes over four rounds, as opposed to accumulating successes as a group.

Session Recap Week 10: If I Should Rise

As Master Scourge doled out the day’s assignments, he scowled at Rus with an even grimmer look than usual and snapped at him to run messages for the officers.  Making her way back to the galley after passing out breakfast, Daina found Fishguts eager to keep telling the stories he’d regaled her with the day before.  Handing her mug after mug of grog, he told the tale of a successful raid against a Bloodsail ship that had taken place a few years back.  After a few hours, Grok came down to look for some things in the cook’s stores, and couldn’t resist listening in.  As her and Fishguts started swapping stories, Conchobar came looking for the quartermaster, who waved him off and kept talking and drinking.  Looking up from her own mug with a rueful smile, Daina asked the foppish gnome if there was anything she could help him with.  “Not unless you have the keys to the quartermaster’s stores,” he replied with a wink.

That caught Daina’s attention.  Telling Fishguts that the grog was getting to her and she needed some air, she asked Conchboar to take a walk with her, which the gnome eagerly agreed to.  Asking him what he needed from the stores, he told her that he just needed a few things to do his job for the day — nothing she could help him with.  But to what did he owe the pleasure of a walk with Daina?  She asked him how he was settling in, and he began to bluster about how he’d been aboard longer than she had, and was a veritable Cloud Reaver by now!  Daina frowned at that, and remarked that it would seem they didn’t have as much in common as she’d thought.  Feigning woundedness, Conchobar asked if he was not pirate enough for her, and Daina realized he was putting on a show not only to try to impress her, but to make the best of his situation.  She decided to play along.  Since he was so accustomed to this ship already, how well did he know Grok?  He declared that he made it his job to speak with everyone, for he had no intention of being alone and isolated on board.  Changing tactics, Daina noted that Conchobar had a particular set of skills, and perhaps he could put his skill with cards to work on her behalf.  The gnome countered that she needed to put her own skills to work, and she remarked that her best resource at the moment was a silver tongue.  Perhaps they could work together at the cards table, and both come out on top.  While he steadfastly refused to work together, he did eventually agree to teach her a thing or two about gambling, and she agreed to meet him later that evening.

As Rus ran messages back and forth throughout the ship, he came across Mister Lagraa more frequently than he was accustomed to.  It seemed like she kept showing up in his path, and whenever she did, her scrutiny was more harsh and intense than usual.  Unnerved, Rus filed that information away for later and kept to his duties, managing to avoid any punishment that night.

Following Bloody Hour, Rus sought out Aretta, the fellow swab who had introduced him to the game of Hog Lob.  He complimented her on her resilience following the previous night’s game of Heave, and remarked that he often found himself in fights he’d lost before they even began.  She replied that he seemed to be handling himself well, according to some on board, and Rus leaned in closer — what had people been saying about him?  She grinned.  Everyone was still talking about how he and the others had been jumped on their second day aboard and come out on top, and while Torlan was the crazy one, Rus had given as good as he’d got.  She raised her mug and conveyed her respect for anyone who stood up to bullies, and he muttered that he had a rather large one looking over his shoulder at the moment.  He asked Aretta if she’d heard anything about Mister Lagraa having it in for him, and she shrugged.  Who knew, with Lagraa?  She could just be having a bad day.  Rus sighed and asked Aretta to let him know if she did hear anything, for it seemed that Lagraa’s unwanted attention towards him had become ramped up ever since the squall in which Narhwal had been lost.  She simply chuckled and said that he was one of the crazy ones as much as Torlan was.  Jumping into the rough sea to save a man overboard, and making it back out?  If he wasn’t crazy, Master Scourge was sane.  Rus pondered that.  If he’d have been the one knocked overboard instead of Giffer, would she throw him a line?  She agreed that she would if it were convenient — she certainly wouldn’t jump in after him.

Changing the subject, Rus asked who aboard the Storm Reaver other than the officers had been there the longest, and who knew the Prince best.  Aretta became more guarded at that.  While the mage Grovis Stormbeard and the artificer Hakrili Quarn were part of Mika Rockface’s inner circle, they’d lost several of their number recently, and Aretta suspected that the Prince was still sore about losing her navigator.  Rus asked her what had happened, and she revealed that the captain had unsuccessfully attempted to take Tidewater Rock for the third time shortly before they’d made port at Elysium.  Rus frowned and asked if they were heading that way to try again, and she replied that they were in fact headed to the outskirts of the Sea of Rage to find some Sarlonan vessels to commandeer.  Rus remarked that the Cloud Reavers seemed accustomed to losing battles themselves, and he’d fit right in.  Aretta scowled.  The Prince rarely came away empty-handed, and they’d more than likely return to Port Krez after taking a prize to make their much-needed repairs. 

Meanwhile, Daina was keeping her date with Conchobar at the dice table.  Claiming her seat as the gnome began to deliver a steady stream of advice — some of it more savoury, some of it less — she threw some galifars into the pot and cast a smile across the other players.  It was a cold smile, however, the kind that didn’t reach her eyes.  After an hour, she wound up splitting the pot with Azrath and gathered up her winnings with a slightly different smile, raising her mug of grog to Conchobar with a nod and thanking him for his assistance.  Placing his hand on Daina’s leg with a grin, Conchobar declared that soon she’d be losing money to him as she swiftly and firmly returned his hand to where it belonged.

Excusing herself from the table, leaving her drink behind, Daina pulled a stool up away from the revelry and took a seat leaning back against the hull and watched the crew continue to gamble and bull with each other while Torlan spun another tale.  Fifteen more galifars was a good start, but she was still not quite halfway to what Grok would likely demand in exchange for her tago knife, and as her hand instinctively went to the empty place on her belt where it should have sat she began to follow the rabbit down into her memories again…until Rus sat down beside her and in a low voice said, “If you want to know where the ship is going, underneath the forecastle is probably your best best.”  Daina turned her head; he had her full attention.  He continued to speak, revealing that the ship’s sorcerer and artificer spent a good deal of time in a small room in the forecastle poring over maps and charts.  Daina sighed and remarked that while she wasn’t terrible at getting in and out of places unseen, it wasn’t her strong suit either.  Rus pointed out that that other fellow, Trucco, seemed like he’d have a knack for it, but he’d also be more than likely to steal something on his way out and cause even more problems.  Daina shook her head at that and wondered if such a thing wouldn’t be more trouble than it was worth for all of them, confiding in Rus that Fishguts had warned her about Mister Lagraa holding a grudge against, which prompted a reply that she wasn’t alone in that.  “Why?” Daina asked him intently.  “What happened?”  Mister Lagraa had been especially critical and angry towards her as well over the course of this day, but Daina knew what she had done to earn the first mate’s ire — what had Rus done?  He shrugged; he hadn’t done anything.  He’d kept his head down and gone about his work just like he did every other day — had he done something stupid after last night’s drinking contest that he wasn’t aware of?  Daina smiled and reassured him that unless he had a habit of walking and talking in his sleep, he didn’t need to worry, as she’d made sure he’d got to bed safely.  She sighed again and declared that they’d get it sorted out, and if they didn’t, well, they had each other’s back.  

The next morning at roll call, Master Scourge got up in Rus’ face as he ordered him to get some tools from the quartermaster and see to repairs.  As Rus got to work, he couldn’t help but notice that Scourge had become even meaner than usual with Torlan and Trucco as well.  Down in the galley, Fishguts was impressively sober and handling the bulk of the cooking while Daina assisted him.  As he instructed her to find something off a shelf, she sighed and asked him again if he’d let her tidy up at least one part of the galley.  He insisted that if she did that, he wouldn’t be able to find anything, and she sighed and rebutted that she couldn’t find anything.  Finding the jar she’d been seeking, she shook a handful of spices into a mortar and pestle as Fishguts called out to not use too much.  It was Aundairian nettle-seeds, and they were very hard to get.  Daina had never seen such a thing before.  She spent most of her time after the war in Breland, where Aundairian goods were also hard to come by, and joked that the stew ought to be extra good tonight, though she suspected it would be lost on the crew.  “Oh, this isn’t for the crew” Fishguts rumbled, reaching into the mortar and taking out a pinch of ground nettle seed.  “This is for the officers.” 

Daina saw her opportunity.  Speaking of the officers, she mused, Fishguts himself had warned her the other day about Mister Lagraa’s grudge against her, and she confided in him that she’d now heard rumblings that her friend in the blue coat had wound up on Lagraa’s bad side as well and didn’t know why.  Fishguts would tell her if he’d heard anything, right?  Throwing the last of the crab into one of his pans, the cook shook his head and asked Daina if she took everything personally.  In case she hadn’t noticed, Lagraa was so angry and bitter that she probably didn’t even know why she was angry.  Daina shook her own head.  It wasn’t about taking anything personally, she chided him, it was about being careful.  If Rus told her that Mister Lagraa seemed to have it in for him, she was going to take that seriously, and pressed Fishguts again – wouldn’t he tell her if he’d heard anything?  He cocked an eyebrow and replied that he wouldn’t tell her anything that would cause him trouble with the captain.  Gently but firmly, Daina told the cook that she had no intention of getting him in trouble, just to keep herself out of it, and if they could help each other in that regard, all the better.

He grimaced at her and shook his head again.  “It’s easy to stay out of trouble with Mister Lagraa while we’re down here.  She doesn’t come down here.  Now, as long as the food still keeps coming, she’ll be fine, and if you want to take my advice, don’t stand between her and others who have collected her ire.” He looked up from the pan he was stirring. “That’s how you stay out of trouble.”  Daina gave him a rueful smile and replied that maybe she was a little more stupid than he was.  She couldn’t make him that kind of promise, but in the meantime, she’d keep helping him make his soup.  

As they continued to talk, Daina could feel a certain warmth starting to build between her and Fishguts after all their time spent working in close quarters, but on a day like today when was sober, she couldn’t help but observe that his constant drinking was the sort done by a man who had lost all hope and was merely surviving from one day to the next.  She recalled how he himself was on the Storm Reaver involuntarily after losing a bet to Prince Rockface with his life as the stake, and began to recount a story of a time during the war it had seemed she herself had no hope — and her own  death was imminent.  But help had come from an unexpected source, and she’d lived to tell the tale, and made the most of her second chance.  Maybe there was hope for Fishguts as well.

Bloody Hour came and went with no victims for Master Scourge that evening, and Daina went down to the galley in hopes of winning some more money.  Instead of a dice table, the game for the night was arm wrestling — Storm Reaver-style, with broken glass and nails strewn across the table where the contest was taking place.  Boldly dropping down into one of the chairs, she found herself immediately challenged by Slippery Syl, the brawny dwarven woman who had almost drunk Torlan under the table a couple of nights earlier.  Rolling up her sleeves, Daina pulled a pair of gloves off her belt before offering Syl her hand.  “Whoa, whoa, whoa” Syl said sharply, “gloves off.”  Daina smirked.  “They’re just gloves, Syl.  What are you afraid of?”  Piping up from the back, Rosie Cusswell declared that this was just how things were done on board.  No gloves, no advantage.  Daina laughed.  There was no advantage in her gloves; it was just something they did where she came from.  Was Syl scared to lose to a scrawny human?  Others began to pipe up from around the table: “No gloves.  Take your loss like a good sailor!”  Daina’s hard grin got wider as she loudly remarked that it didn’t seem that she was the one afraid of losing, but she tucked her gloves back into her belt and the contest got underway. 

Even against brawny sailors, Daina’s sword arm didn’t go down easily, and her challenge to Syl timed out and was declared a draw as she leaned back in her chair and asked if there were any other takers…and narrowed her eyes as Rus dropped into the chair Syl had vacated and began to remove his own gloves.  Putting her hand over her pile of coins in the pot, Daina told her fellow soldier, her fellow Cyran, that she didn’t intend to put him in harm’s way for money.  Rus shrugged.  “That’s the rules of the ship, Miss Daina.”  “We’re not from the ship, are we?” Daina countered.  “We’re here now” he replied, and her expression turned neutral as she slid her galifars back into the pot and he matched her bet with five of his own.  

Their hands met.  She looked him in the eye, her own eyes hard but sad, and said in a low voice “I’m sorry.  I have to get it back” as she pushed his hand down into the glass — not hard, but just enough to draw the blood needed to satisfy the crowd.  Looking away, she collected her winnings as Sandara Quinn came over to check on Rus.  “That lady was being awful nice to you,” Sandara observed quietly.  “I’ve seen — and I know you have too — I’ve seen much worse in these contests.  You got off pretty light.”  “Her heart weren’t in it” Rus replied.  “She needed the money more than I did.”  

As Sandara finished cleaning and wrapping Rus’ hand and excused herself, the skyknight heard Daina’s voice behind him, perhaps tinged with a bit of shame.  Had Miss Quinn been able to patch him up?  He replied that Sandara was very good at her craft, and as Daina’s hand idly went down to her sword belt and her fingers began to play with something that wasn’t there, she asked Rus why he’d wanted to sit down with her at the arm wrestling table.  Why not one of the Cloud Reavers?  She’d told him that she hadn’t wanted to take his money, and she’d meant it — but she did need it.   “I don’t think ‘want’ ever had anything to do with it,” he murmured.  “Sometimes you see a need, and you just gotta answer to it.”  Daina frowned a little.  “So what did you need?” she asked.  “Oh,” he replied, “I didn’t need anything.  I weren’t lookin’ in a mirror.  ‘Sides, I could tell you were havin’ trouble doing the bare-hand wrestling, so I figure if it’s gonna be a problem, it might as well be one we suffer together.  These people don’t know where we come from, they don’t know what our customs are, and if they did, I doubt they’d care anyways.” 

“Well,” Daina replied ruefully, “I think you’ve got that just about right.  Might as well tell you what all the fuss was about.  I took your money; it’s only fair.”  Rus cut her off sharply.  “It’s not my money no more.  It’s not my money no more.  It’s your money, ‘cause you earned it, fair and square.  Everyone will see that you out-muscled me, that happened.”  Daina’s expression turned from shame to confusion.  He’d just said he gave that money to her.  Which one was it?  “It’s not the same as givin’ it away” he insisted. She smiled.  “Well then I’ll take it in the spirit it was intended.  Take a walk with me.”  With that, she turned to leave the galley, making her way down an empty corridor.  Rus followed.

As they walked, she began to muse about Fishguts being a funny one.  Working together all the time in close quarters, she and him had plenty of time to talk, and she told Rus about how Fishguts had lost all hope and resigned himself to dying on the Storm Reaver.  She didn’t intend to let that happen.  She’d been in more of a few close scrapes herself and she was still standing, but that was beside the point.  The point, she revealed, was that she needed that money to get her tago knife back.  Even with that and the previous night’s purse, she still didn’t have enough.  It was a real nice knife, a gift from someone who had been well-off, and she needed it back.  Anger and disgust crept into her voice as she gave Rus her opinion on the quartermaster, Grok, who liked to crow about being a businesswoman but in Daina’s eyes was no more than a common thief who took what she had no right to have.  Daina’s anger and disgust grew as she spoke of how she’d had her fill of people who hid behind the excuse of just following orders, but she softened a little as she spoke of how the few extra galifars she’d won thanks to Rus would help her get back what was hers and hers alone. “That’s good,” Rus replied.  “I hope you get it back.”  “I hope so too,” Daina said quietly, as her face took on a faraway look.  “It was a gift from someone I served with.”  

Rus’ eyebrows raised at that.  “A tago knife, from someone you served with?”  “Yup” Daina drawled, the anger in her voice quickly replaced by discomfort at this revelation.  “I shouldn’t chuckle,” Rus reassured her.  “Same story for me.”  Daina squinted at him.  He was kidding, right?  “Not at all,” he replied.  “My commanding officer — well, I guess you could call her that — she and I dueled on top of one of the vermishards…”  Daina let out a small, barking laugh.  It seemed they had yet another thing in common, and this hadn’t been the first time a skyknight had done her a favour either…

2 Nymm, 993 YK.  The Cyran side of the Karrnathi border, about halfway between Metrol and Dollen-on-the-River.

The morning was hot and overcast, and the House Deneith 85th mercenary company had been camped along the border for the better part of two weeks without seeing any action.  That wasn’t unusual for the Cyran regulars, but the Deneith 85th was accustomed to being sent where they were immediately needed — and no one seemed to know what they were needed for.  Boredom was a familiar companion to soldiers, but a new tension was starting to set in for the mercenaries as well.

Sergeant Daina ir’Lizani woke up alone.  Throwing on her clothes and sword belt, she emerged from her tent and joined her unit at their fire, claiming a seat and holding out her mug for some tal.  Across from her, Vala looked up from oiling a leather pauldron.  “Hey Daina, do you know what’s going down today?”

Daina sipped her tal and shook her head. “Haven’t heard anything yet, why would I?”  Vala smirked.  “Cause you’ve got connections.”  Looking over her shoulder at Captain Halloran’s tent, Daina pursed her lips.  “He woke up before me.  Five galifars says he’s in there now.  You know he’ll tell us when he’s got something, he always does.  You don’t have to come through me.”

Vala sniffed loudly and declared that she smelled a fight in the air.  Daina chuckled a little and then turned serious again.  It was clear that something was happening today.  He’d left so early and so quietly that even she hadn’t been woken up by his movements, and that was saying something. She agreed that Vala was right to be worried, but they’d get through it; they always did.  The lieutenant took good care of them.  Vala scowled.  There was only so much he could take care of them against those damned undead coming out of Fort Zombie.  Daina grimaced at that and then let out a cold laugh.  She couldn’t imagine raising a dead person to fight in ones place — it was bad enough what they tried to do in Cyre with the ‘forged.  “His parents tried to buy him one, you know” she told Vala.  “He wouldn’t hear of it.  Anyways, when he knows, we’ll know.”

Wrapping up their breakfast, Daina and Vala and the others began to see to their gear, cleaning and oiling and sharpening as needed, and after about another hour and a half a tall, slender Khorovar man emerged from the captain’s tent and came over to the fire.  Giving Daina a long look, he slowly pulled his eyes away to look over the rest of her unit and announced that they had their orders.

All eyes were on the lieutenant; you could have heard a pin drop.  He gave them the news.  Their objective was to reach a spot in the forest about five kilometers to the east that Captain Halloran had marked on his map, and post up there.  Vala scowled.  “Go there and post up for what, L.T.?”  He shook his head.  “I don’t know. This one’s straight from Captain Halloran, so we’re going to go do it.”  A chorus of groans and grumbles began to rise from the gathered mercenaries, and one of them began to mouth off about what a lazy, worthless bastard the captain was as the lieutenant shut that talk down immediately.  They knew he was in it with them, whatever it was, and they knew he’d make sure they all got home.  He couldn’t fix what went on between Halloran and his house, but they’d get the job done.  “Now get yourselves sorted. We leave in fifteen minutes.”

As everyone got to gathering up their kit and making final preparations, the lieutenant walked over to Daina, who looked at him incredulously.  “You serious, Maz?  We don’t know?  We’re just gonna go into the forest and sit there?”  He scowled.  “Something’s supposed to be coming through.  That’s all I know.  The Captain’s not telling me anything; I don’t like it.”  Daina sighed.  “What a surprise.  Well, guess I’ll get my stuff then.”  Mazello’s face softened a little.  “We need to get moving.  It’s quite a trek out there.”  Daina allowed herself a small smile.  “I know, I know.  I’ll get everyone taken care of.”

The eight of them began their trek into the forest.  Some of them chatted as they went, though Daina and Maz walked beside each other in silence.  They were professionals, and they both knew what did and didn’t need to be said between them in order for it to be true.  Finding the spot marked on the map, the Deneith 85th followed their orders.  They waited.

Darkness began to fall, and it sat there, cloudy and quiet, until an unnatural sound began to emanate from the trees.  Drawing their weapons, the mercenaries took up a defensive position, preparing themselves for the onslaught of undead that Karrnath was known for.

That was when the forest to the north, and the south, and the west of them, started to explode in flames, and that was when the undead began to appear from the border — from the only place that wasn’t burning.

The mercenaries sprang into action and started doing what they did best.  They cut down some undead, and managed to hold back some others, but it wasn’t looking good.  The monsters kept coming, and there was nowhere to run.  Back to back with Vala, with her longsword drawn and Vala expertly wielding her spear, Daina saw a bone knight commander charge at the lieutenant as their swords clashed.  Maz was tall, but the bone knight loomed over him, and ice clenched at Daina’s guts.  Finishing off the zombie in front of her, she glanced back over her shoulder at Vala and promised that she’d be right back.  Running over to flank the bone knight, Daina and Mazello fought in tandem, each predicting the others actions and picking up on their cues. In spite of that, the creature was ruthless in its single-mindedness and brutality, and the fight dragged on as the rest of their unit began to falter in the face of the seemingly endless onslaught.

Daina and Maz heard a shout, and spared a split-second glance to see young Kerrick pointing up at the sky.  The next thing they saw was a bolt of lightning come flying down to catch the bone knight square across its shoulders, staggering it, and a hippogriff landed not ten feet in front of Daina as its rider turned and yelled at her to get on.

Daina hesitated.  “GO!” Maz yelled.  “Get on!”  Turning back to the skyknight, Daina shook her head and called back that she wasn’t coming unless there was a mount for everyone.  The woman’s face grew dark with impatience and exasperation as she repeated her order to get on and Maz put his weight into shoving Daina away from the fight and towards the hippogriff.  Stumbling forward and clambering up across the animals hindquarters, Daina sheathed her sword and wrapped her arms around the riders waist, and as they began to climb into the air she could see more hippogriffs circling.  As she looked back down, however, she could see that by dropping his guard to force her to safety, Maz had left himself vulnerable to the bone knight’s attack.  Things weren’t looking good, but there was nothing she could do to help him now…

Daina smiled sadly at Rus.  “We all made it home that night, but we wouldn’t have without those folks in the blue coats.”  Rus stood there, considering everything he’d just heard, and took a long look at his companion.  “The lieutenant — the one who was dueling the bone knight — I remember that.  ‘Cause the way that that lieutenant got out of the fight, well…”  Daina looked at him intently.  “You remember that?”  “I should,” Rus replied.  “I was there.”

Sparing a look to watch Daina rise to safety, Mazello clenched his teeth and staggered back as he managed to bring his sword back up just in time to avoid a mortal blow.  The bone knight knew it had him, and brought its sword down again, knocking the lieutenant down to the ground.  With a hideous, fleshless grin, it raised its sword to finish him off.

Down on the ground, looking up, Maz’s eyes went wide as he saw a skyknight bring his hippogriff into a barrel roll.  As the animal turned upside down, her rider dropped off and landed directly on top of the bone knight, finishing it off.  Signalling to his mount to circle around before landing, Rus cast his own wall of fire on the gap in the trees where the undead were coming from.  With the onslaught halted and the bone knight dead, the remaining riders began to land, and as Rus’ hippogriff returned to him, he extended his hand to Maz to pull him up to safety and they left the burning forest behind them.

Daina stared at Rus in disbelief.  “You’re the rider who got Maz home?”  Rus cleared his throat.  “Guess so.”  She continued to stare at him sadly.  “He would have done the same for you.  You gave us one more week, anyways, so…thank you.”  Rus’ face remained unreadable.  We were in a war, he reminded her.  It was the right thing to do.  Daina let out a sharp, humourless laugh and replied that he could tell that to Captain Halloran.  She shook her head as silence built between them and let out another sharp laugh.  She’d already racked up a few debts with Rus, but she didn’t reckon this was one she could ever square.  “I don’t think you need to,” he replied.  “Besides, it was a war.  Weren’t something I was doing for favours, and I never play for keeps.”  Daina smiled sadly.  “So you keep saying.  Well, you bought us one more week, and now I need to get his knife back, and you’ve helped me with that too, so.  Thank you.”  Rus raised an eyebrow.  “It’s his knife?”  “Yeah,” Daina replied, looking away.  “It is.”  Rus gave her a silent nod and excused himself.  He had plans of his own that night, and needed to prepare.

Waiting for the crew to settle down for the night, Rus snuck his way up to the main deck halfway through the first watch.  He took note of Crimson Cog patrolling atop the forecastle, and the gunner’s mate, a large orc named Gragoth, manning the helm.  Carefully making his way to the door of the map room, he noticed that its handle was set differently than it had been when he ran messages during the day.  The latch seemed out of place and strangely cocked, and he pressed his ear against the door, but heard nothing other than the creaking of the ship and the movements of the sea.  As Rus reached down to turn the handle, he felt it catch on something and he froze in place.  The door wasn’t just locked — it was trapped.  Deciding it was time for a tactical retreat, he snuck back to his bunk.

The next morning, the crew was woken up early with a long-anticipated call: sails were on the horizon.  It seemed that the Storm Reaver had found a prize to take at last…

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: What are you the most insecure about? I will tell you right now that Phillip rolls on a table to determine the week’s background question from the list he’s built up. I will also tell you that he rolled more than once this session to make that question happen. XD
  • Michael (Torlan) and Trucco (Ernesto) were away this week, but Kevin (Rus) proposed that Rus and Daina take the opportunity for a flashback episode and Phillip agreed. The war story was played out as an interlude in which we both participated, and 99% of it was ad-libbed.
  • There might be a few things in this session that left you scratching your heads as to their significance: Daina wanting to wear a glove to arm-wrestle, what a tago knife is, and why Daina needs hers back so badly.
    • Wearing gloves as a barrier between personal contact is a facet of Cyran culture. One of the only public scenarios in which the gloves come off is when dancing the tago, the ritual courting dance of Cyre. During the tago, each dancer holds a knife in one hand, and as they circle and come to different points in the music, they extend their hands to each other – without knowing if their partner is going to hold out their empty hand, or their knife. That leaves three possible outcomes: the partners clash knives, the partners take each others hands, or one partner extends their hand and the other extends their knife, which results in a bit of bloodshed. The tago knife Daina carries was a gift from Mazello – who she was married to for three years before his death – and is ornately carved, and cost me fifty of the two hundred and fifty galifars I was given for starting gear at character creation. So it is rather important to both Daina and from a meta perspective that I am able to retrieve it! 🙂

Session Recap Week 9: The Crabs in the Bucket

After failing to appeal to Grok’s better nature, Daina returned to the galley where Fishguts was eager to continue drinking and telling stories when the quartermaster arrived for her own daily bull session with the cook.  A short while later, Tamroth Scrimshaw — an orc swab known and nicknamed for the little animals she carved out of bone — walked into the galley, looking for Grok, who promptly dismissed her and returned to her drinking.  Daina seized on the opportunity to get to know Tamroth a little better, expressing admiration for her carving and telling the pirate that there was a common saying where she was from: “what our dreams imagine, our hands create.”  Tamroth perked up at that, asking where Daina called home, and revealed she felt it was wrong to reave and steal from Cyrans who had lost so much already.  Daina turned the same question to Scrimshaw — where did she call home?  The orc hailed from Crag, the main island claimed by the Cloud Reavers.  Glancing over to where Fishguts was still chatting with Grok, Daina announced that she needed to stretch her legs and asked Scrimshaw to join her.  

Casually leaning up against a porthole, Daina tried to push the conversation further.  Scrimshaw had been with the Cloud Reavers a long time.  She admired them, she was one of them, and they had no problem reaving from those who were weaker then they were — so how did Scrimshaw’s claim to spare Cyrans fit into that?  Scrimshaw dissembled a little, insisting that all she’d said was that Cyrans had been dealt a bad hand, and that she had no problem reaving from whoever they came across.  Changing tactics, Daina asked if the pirate would be willing to teach her how to carve.  Offering Daina a small handful of bones from her own pouch, Scrimshaw began to explain her craft, saying that it was a simple practice that just required a good knife.  Well, Daina lamented, that was the problem.  She had a good knife, but it had been taken from her when she was brought aboard.  Grok had it locked up, and Daina had nothing to trade.  Scrimshaw informed her that on a pirate ship, something was hers as only long as she could keep it.  There were ways on a pirate ship to acquire things to trade to Grok, and she warned Daina to not get caught as she returned to her duties with a wink.

Up on the main deck, Conchobar the gnome was visibly struggling with his work on the rigging, and Trucco could tell that the ostentatious man was not accustomed to such work.  As he offered some advice, Trucco boasted of his own skill and asked Conchobar if he was a sailor himself.  The gnome declared that he was married to the sea, and they had worked in concert for many years.  Changing gears, Trucco inquired if Conchobar was also good at playing cards.  “If I’m married to the sea,” the gnome boasted, “the cards are my mistress.”  Trucco begged Conchobar to help him learn how to play, saying that he was terrible at it, and the other man agreed with a twinkle in his eye.

Back in the galley, Daina was still chatting with Fishguts when Mister Lagraa — the Storm Reaver’s sadistic first mate whose bad side Daina had already come onto — entered the room.  Looking around with a scowl, her eyes landed on Daina.  “You,” she barked.  “Come here.”  Cautious but not prepared to stir up trouble unnecessarily, Daina silently complied, following the huge orc up onto the main deck where Torlan and the others were waiting.  Lagraa ordered Rosie Cusswell over as well, and gestured to a pile of crab pots at her feet.  Pointing out into the water, she announced that there was a reef about two hundred yards off the starboard side, and the captain wanted a crab dinner.  The five of them were to swim out to the reef, fill the pots, and return.  Waving everyone around, Daina ensured that everyone knew how to swim while Torlan and Rus wondered why they couldn’t use the ship’s dinghy.  Overhearing them, Mister Lagraa sarcastically asked if she’d mentioned anything about a dinghy, and told them to make do.  Setting her hat and boots aside, Daina began to strip down to her underclothes for the cold swim ahead, encouraging the others to do the same, though she did strap her sword belt back on and tied a crab pot to it.  

With their gear stowed belowdecks, Torlan urged Daina to lead the way.  As the initial shock of hitting the cold water subsided, she swam out a few meters and turned to ensure everyone else made it in safely before continuing out to the reef.

The reef was largely submerged, and the group was left to tread water and swim as they began to scout their prey.  Rosie wasted no time finding a good spot, and as Daina commended her and handed over a pot to fill, Rus followed Rosie’s lead and came up with a crab in hand.  Eagerly following their lead, Trucco felt something brush against his legs while he was underwater and turned to see a small shark swim past.  Nervously swimming away from it, he still spotted a couple of crabs on his way back to the surface, and then it was Torlan’s turn to show the others how it was done.  Diving down to the place Rosie had pointed out, the old dwarf emerged with one crab in hand, and a second in his beard.  As Trucco regrouped and caught the crabs he’d spotted during his brush with the shark, Torlan could see that these hunting grounds were running dry, and found another one that Rosie, Rus, and Daina swam down to.

As a group of crabs scuttled away from her under a rock, Daina resurfaced to catch her breath.  As she did, Torlan saw a large creature emerge from the water behind her.  It had the armoured body and claws of a lobster, but the tail of an eel, and it seemed to be following Daina.  Torlan knew all about reefclaws; they were aggressive creatures, but he’d also seen them on more than one menu.  A second reefclaw joined the first and they began to circle the hunters.  Drawing her rapier and holding it in a guard position, Daina called out to the others to keep working while she stood guard.  Trusting in his goddaughters confidence and skills, Torlan threw himself into their task with a renewed sense of urgency and filled an entire pot with one dive.  Himself well aware that reefclaws made good eating, Trucco elected to break the stalemate.  Swimming out to the closest one, he plunged his dagger into its head joint and twisted, ripping the creature apart as the water around him filled with blood.  

Nodding to Daina on overwatch, Rus decided he’d try to finish the task and dove back into the water while she kept guard.  He felt a claw grab his leg from behind, and though he was able to pull himself away, he felt a searing hot pain shoot through him, and Daina watched him resurface as he gasped and called out that he’d been poisoned.  Springing into action, Daina put herself between Rus and the creature.  Struggling to deal a good blow in the water, the same reefclaw that had snapped at Rus caught her across the belly.   

Hearing Daina call out again, Rosie cussed loudly as she swam over, axe in hand, and buried her weapon into the reefclaw’s head.  Daina and Trucco called out to Torlan to finish filling the pots.  Not intending to wait for the old dwarf, Rus took matters into his own hands and caught the final crab they needed to satisfy Mister Lagraa as the shark that had been investigating Trucco became intrigued by the blood now in the water.  Filled with bloodlust, Torlan gave the shark a swift punch, and it swam off.  

As Daina led the others back to the Storm Reaver, a stray wave caught her square in the face, overwhelming her with a mouthful of sea water.  Already struggling due to the reefclaw’s poison, she began to flounder — but Torlan, as always, was at her side.  Locking an arm around her, he swam for both of them and everyone made it safely back on board.  As they climbed up, they found Prince Mika herself waiting on the quarterdeck.  Casting an eye over their haul of reefclaws, and Torlan’s beard full of crabs, she pointed at the old dwarf and called out to the quartermaster to return his gear to him for a job well done.  As Trucco began to protest that he’d helped too, Daina reached out from where she was bent over coughing to smack him across the chest in a vain attempt to silence the cocky rogue as he heard smug voice of Master Scourge behind him say, “that’s three lashes for talking to the Prince.” 

That night in the galley, Rus was in a gambling mood once again.  He found a group engaged in a game of Heave, their “last man standing” drinking contest.  Each round, contestants had to down half a pint of rum in one swig, and as Rus staked himself into the game, Torlan sidled up next to him.  “Well, son” the old dwarf rumbled, “we’re gonna see what you’re made of here.  Let’s see if Daina’s right to trust in ya — at least if you can hold down your liquor, that’s as much a measure of your worth as anything else.”  Patting Rus on the shoulder, Daina grinned and declared that it was no shame to lose to Torlan, and she tossed a galifar into the pot.  Indignant that he was only worth a single galifar, Torlan made his feelings known as Daina reminded him that she only had two galifars to her name.  “Well then put them both in the pot!” Torlan insisted.  He was, he revealed, trying to win enough money to get her tago knife back.  Trucco inquired if Daina didn’t have more to bet then that, and she again repeated that she didn’t, and Trucco added three more galifars to her stake.   

As she watched along with Trucco and Conchobar, the first round saw one of the swabs knocked out, and another in the second.  With the revelation that Torlan had joined the contest for her sake, Daina’s demeanour turned from enjoying the spectacle to watching intently with an unreadable expression on her face as Rus bowed out before he could pass out.  With only Torlan, Rosie, Tilly, and a rigger named Slippery Syl remaining, the dwarf and the halfling traded barbs and before long, only Torlan, Tilly, and Syl remained.  As they all drank at once, they all collapsed at once.  The contest was declared a three-way tie, and the pot distributed evenly among them — fifteen galifars each.  Slumping her shoulders a little, Daina raised a hand to scratch at her collarbone, and went over to where Rus was quite drunk but still standing.  Taking five galifars from her purse, she handed them to Rus, insisting that he take his stake back.  He drunkenly slurred that he hadn’t won, and Daina replied that Torlan hadn’t either.  Meanwhile, Trucco made the rounds of the unconscious contestants, discreetly rifling through their pockets for whatever he could steal.

Returning to Torlan, Daina put an arm around the very drunk dwarf and held out her other hand to steady Rus as she led them back to their hammocks to sleep it off.  Getting them both settled, Daina pulled up a barrel to keep watch beside Torlan and leaned back against the hull, casting a look around the hold to see if anyone else was awake.  Pulling a small gold locket from the collar of her shirt, she cupped it in her hand and popped it open.  Leaning back against the hull, she sat staring into it, deep in memories as the night slipped past.       

The next morning, Fishguts handed Daina a harpoon and shooed her out of the galley with instructions to catch some turtles.  Trucco was ordered to work the mainsail, Torlan was set below to catch rats again, and Rus swabbed the deck.

Unhappy about being stuck working down on the deck again, Trucco slunk off to pay Grok a visit.  Laying on the flattery a little too thick, he was unable to impress the surly quartermaster until he offered her one of the items he’d pickpocketed the night before: a small, dark purple stone, swirled with veins of residuuum.  She declared that she’d happily trade his gear for the Thunderstone, and he eagerly asked if she had anything else to trade – something fancy, perhaps?  Something elegant and colourful?  He pointed to the most secure locker behind her and asked to see inside.  She told him that it held some potions, a magnifying glass, and a spyglass.  Trucco confidently declared that he wanted the spyglass, and was informed that it would cost him four hundred galifars.  Shocked at the cost, he jingled the coins in his pocket and insisted that he could afford it, but was no longer interested in such a thing.  Changing gears, he asked if Lagraa and Scourge ever came to see Grok.  Of course they did, she growled.  They were officers.  He asked how well she knew Scourge, and she simply replied that she’d been sailing with the Storm Reaver for a few years and of the officers, Fishguts was her “favourite cup of grog.”  Trucco asked if Grok and the others were subservient to Lagraa in any ways, and she declared that it wasn’t Mister Lagraa’s store — and it wasn’t Mister Lagraa’s ship, either.  The only punishment an officer would receive for defying someone would be if they challenged the Prince directly.  Trucco considered this information, gathered up his things, and went back to work.

Bloody Hour came and went.  With none of them strapped to the mast for the first time in several days, Trucco, Torlan, Daina, and Rus watched Rosie take her punishment and made their way belowdecks to see what the remainder of their evening would hold.

Behind the Scenes

  • The crab hunt was run as a Dramatic Task.  I’ve already broken down an epic DT in detail, but this one was a little bit different.  Aside from the usual shenanigans (two jokers were drawn during the encounter, one by Daina and one by Rosie, and Trucco and Torlan both kept clubs when drawn because they enjoy complications), this DT took a new turn when the reefclaws showed up and we had to choose between going on the defense (or in Trucco’s case, the attack) and finishing filling the crab pots to avoid Mister Lagraa’s ire for coming back with a job half-done.  Ultimately we decided to split the difference, and were able to finish the job and then some.
  • The only critical failure of the night was Daina’s Athletics roll to return to the Storm Reaver.  Thankfully, Torlan’s 16 on his own roll provided both a helping hand and a very appropriate narrative moment.
  • Kevin later revealed that Rus had been leaning towards backing out of the drinking contest when he realized how stiff his competition was…but Torlan’s direct challenge was something that Rus could let slide.  Torlan went into the contest with a whopping seven bennies, but with increasing negative penalties each round and an extraordinary dice explosion from Slippery Syl at the very end — she rolled a 27 with a -4 penalty and no wild die — declaring a three-way tie was the best possible outcome.
  • I (Daina) rolled terribly all evening, having to bennie many of my rolls if I just wanted a basic success of 4.  My one good roll was a success with a raise…on a Notice check in the galley that yielded a fancy lock that wasn’t attached to anything, and two pounds of soap.  I’m not entirely sure how this will come in handy in the future but hey, two pounds of soap is two pounds of soap.

I Love It When A Plan Falls Apart: Critical Failure in Savage Worlds

Let’s just get this out of the way: everyone likes to win.  Whether you’re on the soccer pitch, knee-deep in a Halo multiplayer match, or rolling the dice in a tabletop session, we all play to win, and we all want to come out on top.

But that doesn’t always happen, does it?  We don’t win every soccer game.  There’s always someone in Halo with a better K/D.  And sometimes — perhaps more often than you’d anticipate — the dice don’t work in your favour.  That’s life, and that’s also Savage Worlds.  Savage Worlds Adventure Edition (SWADE) has two failure conditions: what I’ll call “soft” failure (missing the Target Number), and critical failure: rolling a 1 on both your trait die and Wild Die at the same time.  The use of critical failure is often a huge and thorny point of contention in tabletop communities, but it’s something that’s baked into SWADE…and as a player, I’ve learned to stop fearing it.  It can even be, dare I say it, fun.

First, let’s take a look at failure in Savage Worlds in general.  Due to edges that provide free rerolls on specific traits, and the existence of bennies (which I explain the function and economy of in more detail here), soft failure is not something you have to live with unless you either a) are out of bennies or b) choose to let the failure stand.  The standard Target Number for trait checks is a 4, and while rolling a 3 and keeping it due to choice or circumstance won’t get you quite the result you were hoping for, it won’t cause you any serious trouble either.  However, if you come up snake eyes —  with a 1 on both your trait die and Wild Die — that is called a critical failure, and according to the rules of Savage Worlds, you are stuck with it.  Critical failures cannot be rerolled, which also adds an extra layer of risk and reward to taking advantage of rerolls or fishing for a raise.  A critical failure incurred while chasing a raise has happened at our table on more than one occasion.  So with soft failure being largely avoidable, it makes perfect sense to me that there should be one failure condition you can’t roll your way out of.  

But even in that case, failure isn’t the end.  Or at least, it shouldn’t be.  At our table, Phillip treats critical failures as just another storytelling device.  They never bring the story screeching to a halt; rather, they are used to move it forward in ways none of us including him expect. In a recent episode of Mourners of Lhazaar, a critical failure — on a roll Kevin had a Joker for, no less — changed a Dramatic Task that was going very well and basically resolved to one in which 3/4 of the party wound up in the sea during a nasty winter squall as Michael and I made decisions on how our characters would respond to the outcome of that failure. There were also more than a few memorable critical failures in our last campaign, Seekers of the Ashen Crown.  There was the time that two PCs simultaneously critically failed their stealth rolls to sneak out of a city in which they were wanted for a crime they didn’t commit, resulting in an encounter with the guards that tested the players ingenuity as one of them used a bennie to help him create an environmental hazard that ultimately won the day in a non-lethal fashion.  A few sessions before that, an enemy critically failed a roll that resulted in them failing to steal a piece of the Ashen Crown from us, which wound up shaping the endgame significantly as we played cat and mouse keeping that final artifact out of the archvillain’s hands and found ourselves in a very different position than we would have been had we lost that item.

One of the main arguments I have seen against using critical failure rules in tabletop gaming is the loss of player agency, and that the players wind up feeling like incompetent fools.  My response to that is, it is largely the GMs responsibility to prevent that from happening.  As I wrote above, Phillip uses our bad dice rolls to present us with new problems to solve, and solving those problems is an incredible use of agency as well a great feeling.  Looking back again at Seekers of the Ashen Crown, there was a turning point in which the party was ambushed and betrayed in the middle of a crowded marketplace.  As we tried to make heads or tails of the aftermath, with the guards beginning to close in and seeing that it was time to run, Aruget (played by Ernesto) badly wanted to put out a fire that we’d accidentally started in one of the tents during the fray.  Phillip called for an Athletics roll, and the result was double 1s.  He then narrated that in the process of attempting to put the fire out, Aruget accidentally fanned sparks and hot ash to the tent beside it, spreading the flames and making things worse.  But, like I said, critical failures should be as much about moving the story forward as successes are, and another player seized this as an opportunity to spend a bennie to alter the scene.  With Phillip’s blessing, he declared that the second tent held a crate of fireworks…and the ensuing chaos made for an interesting getaway.

Continuing on the subject of critical failure and player agency, Phillip also regularly encourages and invites us to narrate our own critical failures.  He will often ask us what we think those failures look like, and as long as it doesn’t completely fly in the face of the rules, established in-game canon, or general reason, the outcome we provide is the outcome that stands.  It’s a fantastic way of helping us own and embrace failure just as much as success, and understanding it as an important storytelling device rather than viewing it as an annoyance or a punishment.

That is another thing I often see pop up in discussions of using critical failure in tabletop games: far too many GMs seem to use it as something very punishing.  If you’ve spent much time in online TTRPG spaces, you’ve probably heard and possibly even personally experienced stories of critical failure resulting in scenarios such as a fighter randomly throwing his sword across the room, stabbing himself in the foot, or even worse, seriously injuring or killing an ally.  I’m going to be very blunt here: that is lazy GMing.  A dice roll being extreme doesn’t mean that the outcome of that roll has to be extreme, and there is no good reason for failure to not be just as creative, interesting, and engaging as success.  One of the best things for me as a player is having a new problem for the party to solve together.  In my above example of Aruget and the fire, had Phillip narrated his critical failure as “you trip and fall into the fire, roll too see how much damage you take” that would have brought things to a screeching halt.  It would have in no way advanced the story or contributed to the scene, and it would also have been a real slap in the face to Ernesto to declare that his character who was built both mechanically and flavour-wise around being incredibly athletic, sure-footed, and graceful suddenly — and for no good reason — tripped and fell into a fire.

The other elephant in the room when talking about critical failure in TTRPGs is probability.  This is something that comes up a lot with regards to D&D, being a d20 system, and the standard example tossed around of why not to use critical failures at the D&D table is that of the high-level fighter who gets multiple attacks per turn and whose chances of critical failure drastically increase while the character is supposed to be growing more powerful.  And that’s a valid concern, and I agree that no particular character should be unfairly subjected to critical failures, but I will also say this: critical failures in Savage Worlds are more common than you might think, because every character can (and at our table, regularly does) make multiple rolls on a single action due to situational edges and the use of bennies.  In 45 sessions of Seekers of the Ashen Crown, we had exactly three weeks in which no one rolled snake eyes.  That’s right: 98% of all sessions played of Seekers of the Ashen Crown contained at least one critical failure.  My point is this: I have about as much use for the odds as Han Solo does.  What matters to me isn’t statistics, but outcomes.  Give your players interesting outcomes for critical failures, and I’ll wager that your table will start viewing them in a better light.

Failure as a storytelling device that provokes characters into meaningful action is a concept much older than Savage Worlds, and regularly used in popular media to great effect.  Indiana Jones failing to properly guess the weight of the golden idol at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark gave us one of the most memorable film sequences of all time,  Ghostbusters just wouldn’t be the same had Ray been able to resist thinking about the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and to paraphrase Michael Caine’s famous line from Batman Begins, the reason we fall is so that we can learn to pick ourselves up.  So players, take that failure, own it, and solve it.  GMs, give your players problems that they can solve, and let them flex their creative muscles to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation and maybe even come out better for it on the other side.  Failure, even critical failure, isn’t the end.  It’s just another step of the journey, and one I’ve learned to embrace.

Session Recap Week 8: The Highs and the Lows

After working throughout the night due to the storm, the crew was dismayed to be put to work immediately the next morning with no respite — but Torlan, having managed without falling asleep, was not only in good shape but found that the wound he had taken down in the bilge had finally healed.  Fishguts, for his part, was even more drunk than usual, and Daina had to take over the job of handing out the hardtack that morning as well before the cook passed out too many biscuits over the side.  Scourge ordered Trucco into the mainsail with Giffer, yelling for Narwhal to get into the rigging with him, and ordering Rosie to go find the missing swab.  Rus was ordered to inspect and fix the ropes, and Torlan ran messages for the officers again.

In-between messages, Torlan sought out Badger and found the surly Cloud Reaver dwarf working the weapons deck.  Badger expressed surprise that Torlan had the stones to go in the water during the storm — was he brave, or just daft?  Torlan replied that he was a little of each, and Badger nodded in agreement.  Changing the subject, Torlan lowered his voice and wondered if nearly losing Giffer during the storm, and Narwhal having gone missing as well, wasn’t a sign that the Prince had started to lose the Devourer’s favour.  Badger made the sign of the dark god, looking around to make sure no one was listening, and cautioned Torlan not to let any officers hear him.  The old talespinner pointed out that the Storm Reaver had been sailing aimlessly, and then they’d been caught in a storm.  Badger declared that the Prince knew what she was doing, and he trusted her, but his demeanour suggested to Torlan that even a die-hard Cloud Reaver such as he was beginning to have doubts.  

As he worked, Trucco decided he’d try to see what chatter he could overhear from the quarterdeck.  Easily remaining unnoticed in the rigging above the officers, the continued rain kept too much of his focus on keeping his footing and muffled the conversation to boot.  As he watched the ship’s artificer Hakrilli Quarne, pondering how he might steal something from the bandoliers full of vials and other items she was draped with, she disappeared into the map room and he overheard that the ship had indeed been blown off course and the officers were debating whether or not to continue sailing north.  

That afternoon, Grok made her daily pilgrimage to the galley to drink with Fishguts in spite of the dwarf already being three sheets to the wind.  As he finally passed out, Daina seized on the opportunity to get to know the genial but mysterious quartermaster, asking when she and Fishguts had begun this little ritual of theirs. Grok replied that they’d been doing it as long as they’d been on board together.  Fishguts knew his stuff, and he was able to give her something that wasn’t rum, which she was tired of.  Daina remarked that Grok wasn’t like the other officers on the Storm Reaver, prompting Grok to demand if that was supposed to be an insult.  “Well, no” Daina replied.  “Not to you, anyways.”  She observed that Grok seemed to care about the crew in a way that the others didn’t.  Grok treated the crew like people, rather than like tools to be used up and discarded in order to make the captain rich.  Leaning back in her chair, Grok thanked Daina for her opinion and said she was just trying to do her job.  She served the Captain — Mika had been good for her.  Daina asked if Mika had been good to Fishguts as well, prompting a shrug.  Grok thought that the cook was still on board because of his skills, but she was worried that he might be wearing his welcome thin due to his frequent incapacitation.  Daina sighed and shared in Grok’s worry, promising to look after Fishguts, and expressing hope that Grok would look after them both in return.  Ever the mercantile mercenary, the quartermaster replied that she’d look after anyone who had a good deal to be made.  If Daina found anything that wasn’t rum, she’d appreciate it.  Daina chuckled and questioned if she could do anything about that before they made land, and Grok suggested that there might be something hidden away in the galley’s chaos.  Daina told Grok that she’d remember her if she found anything, and hoped they could make a good deal soon. 

Bloody Hour found Rus, Trucco, and Daina all given six lashes for falling asleep during the night’s travails.  Trucco held his words in the face of Scourge calling him a “pussycat” once again, and took his beating in stride.  Rus managed the punishment as well, but already doubly exhausted and still injured from her fight with Owlbear, Daina passed out, slumping against the mast as the whip fell.  Trucco helped Torlan get her to bed and the old dwarf sat beside her that night, keeping a protective watch while Trucco and Rus both went straight to sleep.

The next morning, the sea had quieted, but it was back to work as usual.  Scourge narrowed his eyes at Trucco and ordered him to work the lines, hoisting and lowering the sails all day, while Rus was back to hauling and stowing the ropes on deck and Torlan was told to grab a bucket and scrub.  As they began to disperse for their duties, Mister Lagraa strode to the edge of the quarterdeck and shouted at everyone to listen up.  Narwhal had gone missing — had anyone seen him go overboard during the storm?  Conchobar piped up that he hadn’t seen anything, and Lagraa took a particularly long, stern look at Rus, Trucco, Torlan, and Daina as she announced that anyone found to be involved with Narwhal’s disappearance would be keelhauled.

At the mainsail, a rope wound around Trucco’s leg and hoisted him up into the air upside-down.  As Scourge and some of the other swabs gathered around and laughed heartily while the hapless rogue dangled above them, Trucco managed to cut the rope and dropped down hard on the deck to even more laughter with little more wounded than his pride.

As he worked, Rus struck up a conversation with a fellow swab named Aretta Tarravan, a half-orc he’d known to be fairly foul-tempered.  He’d seen her enjoy the assorted fights and contests that had taken place over the past week, and casually asked if she’d be down for some arm wrestling later.  She perked up at that, and Rus admitted that he found himself in a bit of a foul mood, and wanted to blow off some steam.  Aretta lamented that she was getting bored after everyone having gone to bed early the previous night, and Rus observed that she’d worked well throughout the storm.  She replied that the storm was just the Devourer talking — they were in his domain, were they not?  Rus agreed, keeping up his ruse as a vassal of the dark god, and Aretta looked him up and down and remarked that he seemed a bit scrawny to arm wrestle with.  He shrugged off her dismissal and told her he’d been a soldier, asking her how she’d spent the war.  Aretta had been with the Cloud Reavers for years, relieving other ships of their goods, and that was enough for her.  Rus asked if they were reaving for Prince Rockface, or the Devourer, and Aretta leaned in for a story.  Prince Rockface, it was said, was born of the sea and favoured by the Devourer.  Aretta claimed to have seen a halberd bounce straight off the Prince — if that wasn’t proof of the blessing of the Devourer, what was?  Rus listened with interest and then told Aretta that he looked forward to their match later, and she proposed a game of Hog Lob instead.  Rus agreed, and she followed up a friendly punch on his arm with the declaration that she liked him.

Shockingly, Fishguts was sober that morning, and though he kept Daina busy helping him, she had other things on her mind now that she wasn’t tied to the stove all day.  Gathering up the small cask of Karrnathi wine she’d found the previous day while trying to make heads or tails of the galley once again, she told Fishguts that she was off to visit Grok.  At the other end of the hall, Grok was taking inventory, and they made a little small talk about Fishguts soberness until Daina informed the quartermaster that she was looking for some things that belonged to her, and it was time to return them.  Grok insisted that she ran a business and didn’t hand out free stuff.  Daina pointed out that Grok had gotten it for free, to which the quartermaster replied that it was now Prince Mika’s property, and Daina replied that the Prince hadn’t paid for it either — but she’d cut Grok a deal.  Placing the cask on the counter, she announced that it wasn’t the best vintage she’d ever had, but it wasn’t rum either.  Pouring a small cup, Grok declared that she’d drunk better piss-water at a brothel in Cliffscrape, and definitely wasn’t giving Daina all her stuff for it — but she could be convinced to part with some.  Daina offered the cask in exchange for two items: her rapier, and her sextant and compass.  She suggested that, since the Storm Reaver was without a navigator, those tools would allow her to help the ship get where it was going faster and more reliably.  

Grok laughed in Daina’s face.  Did she really think the captain would listen to her?  Daina affably replied that she didn’t, but that was why she’d tell Grok what she found instead.  Grok informed the other woman that she found it hard to believe she was anything other than daft, but she’d humour her this time.  And what, she asked, was the other thing Daina was after?  Appealing to Grok’s sense of how rough life was on board — especially for a woman —  and the fact that everyone else on board was armed, she declared that it was high time she got her rapier back.  Grok crossed her arms and told her that if Daina tossed in a couple of galifars alongside the keg, she’d call it even.  Grateful for the bet Trucco had placed on her fight with Owlbear that had put those galifars in her pocket, Daina slid the coins across the counter.  Placing her compass and sextant into her belt pouch and strapping on the comforting, familiar weight of her sword, she nodded to Grok that she’d see her at six bells as usual and returned to the galley.

After the evening meal, Aretta began to call out for the game of Hog Lob to begin, and the crew began to trickle up on deck while Torlan snuck away to his berth to consult his magical augury on the wisdom of giving a eulogy for Narwhal, the man he had thrown overboard during the squall.  As his fingers began to dance over his harp, the notes came forth in equal parts discord and harmony.  Musing to himself that the Traveler brought sorrow as well as revelation and change, he spoke to the air that he would see which one was brought to him tonight.  Turning to see Daina behind him, he let her in on his plans.  He revealed that he planned to use the eulogy to try to subtly sow seeds of discord among the crew, prompting Daina to question when he was ever subtle, but also tell him as much to reassure herself that they’d be fine together.  

Up on the top deck, Aretta laid out the rules of Hog Lob.  Hefting a misshapen lump of lead in her hands, sewn into pigskin and coated in lard, she announced that the rules were simple: throw it across the deck, and the one who threw it the furthest over three rounds would come out the winner.  Removing his jacket and scarf, Rus stepped forward while Trucco cast an eye over the swabs who had laughed at him during his mishap in the rigging and placed his bet on his new friend.

The game began.  Rus’ first toss came up short, but he easily took the second round as Trucco cheered him on and upped the ante.  His faith was rewarded as Rus emerged victorious, prompting Badger to demand how he’d pulled it off.  He’d used some kind of magic, hadn’t he?  The skyknight raised an eyebrow and insisted that he had no magic with him, while the surly dwarf insisted that there was no way Rus could have bested him.  As Rus reached for a mug of grog and replied with a smirk that he obviously just had, Aretta quickly moved to defuse the situation, declaring Rus the fair winner and sending Badger on his way.   

With the festivities over, some of the crew returned to the galley to drink, and Torlan stepped forward to give his nightly performance — with a twist.  Strumming his harp as he appeared in the doorway, he hopped up onto a table to get everyone’s attention, and began the evening’s tale.

“Blown off course, our destination is far ahead, and possibly in the opposite direction.  Storms wracking at our sails, deckhands lost at sea…we’re aimless.  I didn’t know this Narwhal fellow.  Well, he was probably a right sorry bastard, just like the rest of us.  But he was hearty enough to go blow-for-blow with me a few times in fisticuffs, and I think that deserves a little bit of homage.   And I haven’t heard any of you — even you sorry fellows over the yonder — even you sorry fellows he hung around with, I haven’t seen you pay him any respects.  So I mean to give him a send-off.

I think we all have been thinking the same thing: the Devourer sought us out yesterday, and perhaps we have Narwhal to thank for us all not sinking to the bottom of the sea.  For it was after he went and disappeared some time that night in the storm, that the storm disappeared as well.”

As Torlan began to play a dirge, he told a mythical tale of a narwhal fighting a kraken, and it seemed that his steady week of performances had ingratiated him to at least some of the crew.  Grok and Cog listened intently, hanging on his words, and many of the other sailors gathered took his words to heart.  Raising their drinks in the air, many toasted to Narwhal, and began to reminisce about him in their own morbid way.

Having had a bit too much to drink himself, Trucco began to applaud wildly and stumbled up to where Torlan was standing.  He drunkenly announced that he had a few things to say about Narwhal as well.  He’d been kind of ugly, and he’d tried to beat Trucco up on his second day aboard the ship, but…no, that was all he had to say.  Staggering over to the sailors who had mocked him earlier, he challenged them to another arm wrestling contest.  They easily took his money, and Trucco made it five rounds before falling off his stool, too drunk to keep going but convinced even as he began to pass out that he’d won the day.

Relieved that Torlan’s eulogy had won the crowd over, Daina found a table and relaxed with a mug of grog as the reminiscing continued around her.  Not particularly wanting to honour Narwhal, she nonetheless for Torlan’s sake decided to contribute a song — a Cyran song of lament.  As she began to sing, Rus added his own voice to the familiar tune, and he joined with her in harmony and the Lhazaar crew began to pick up the refrain as they learned it.

Holding out her mug to Rus, she thanked him for joining in, noting that she didn’t normally sing with others.  He chuckled a little and pointed out that she was on a ship, and should probably get used to it.  She thanked him again, musing that it was good to enjoy a memory of what once had been, and he remarked that it had turned out to be a good night.  She asked if he’d made himself a few coins for winning the hoglop game, and he quickly replied that he hadn’t bet anything.  He hadn’t done it for money.  That caught Daina’s attention.  What then had he done it for?  Uncharacteristically letting his guard down, Rus admitted that when he’d jumped off the spar in the storm to save Giffer, it had reminded him of his training in the aerial corps.  It had made him feel alive in a way that he hadn’t felt in a long time.  “And the contest?” Daina asked gently.  Rus shrugged and replied that he supposed that had just been him riding that high.  Things had been real frustrating as of late, and he needed that conflict in his life.  “The highs and the lows?” his fellow veteran asked with a sad smile.  “The highs and the lows” Rus replied, and Daina raised her mug again as they drank together.     

Picking Trucco up off the ground where he lay snoring, Torlan helped the drunk rogue back to his hammock as the young man woke with a groggy start.  “Did I win?” he mumbled.  “You should see the other guy” Torlan assured him, as he ensured Trucco was comfortably situated for the night.  

The next morning, Scourge continued to shout slurs at Trucco as he ordered him into the rigging again.  Rus was sent to do some repairs under the watchful eye of the ship’s artificer, while Torlan was ordered to the bilge to help pump out the remaining storm water.  Making her way down to the galley as usual, Daina found Fishguts sitting and drinking, and he insisted that she take a seat and join him.  Passing her his mug, he grabbed another one for himself, and urged her to drink up as he began to tell a story about an uppity Thuranni heir he’d served during his time as the chef at the Armoured Lobster.  He continued to tell stories and pass Daina drinks, and they spent the next couple of hours shooting the breeze with no mention of the day’s menu or work.  

Excusing herself, Daina went on deck to try to take a positional reading with her compass and sextant back in hand…and determined that the ship had turned around. They were now headed south.  Even more determined to get a handle on things, Daina returned to Grok to let her know the ship had turned around.  Didn’t it strike her as odd that they’d spent that long headed north, done nothing, and then turned around?  Grok insisted that it wasn’t her problem, and she didn’t care anyways.  Daina asked if the quartermaster had a chart, and Grok replied that she was welcome to buy it.  Daina scoffed at that.  Did Grok really expect her to buy a chart sight unseen?  As Grok sarcastically produced a chart and held it at arm’s length, Daina squinted and as best she could determine, it showed little more than a few local landmasses.  “Fifty galifars” the ornery quartermaster declared.  Daina chuckled incredulously.  She’d been press-ganged and all her things had been stolen from her.  Where did Grok think she’d find fifty galifars, when they hadn’t even taken another ship or made landfall yet?  Grok insisted that it wasn’t her problem, and Daina mused that it would become the quartermaster’s problem soon enough if the ship didn’t make more money and people ran out of things to trade.  Grok insisted again that it had never been a problem on the Storm Reaver, and that Daina needed to be more resourceful before coming to her in the future.  Unphased and unimpressed, Daina reminded Grok that she was known to be good for her word, and that she was a good person to have in one’s corner.  Grok declared that she didn’t take Cloud Reavers at their word, which got under Daina’s skin as she bristled that she was no Cloud Reaver.  As the quartermaster stubbornly refused to tell Daina what she might be interested in trading for, the mercenary ended the conversation by telling Grok that she now saw how the quartermaster liked to do business — and she’d keep it in mind.   

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: Describe a situation in which you witnessed or experienced corruption or intrigue firsthand.  What reaction did you have to these events?
  • This week marked the Mourners of Lhazaar’s first advance!  Advancement in Savage Worlds is a little different from “leveling” in other systems (very different if you’re used to 5e), and Phillip’s Table Talk article about advancement explains how it works.  Here’s what we all chose:
    • Rus: power points increase, bringing his base pool from ten to fifteen
    • Torlan: Edge – Berserk (SWADE core rules p.38)
    • Trucco: Edge – Deadshot (SWADE core rules p. 41)
    • Daina: Smarts increased from d6 to d8 in preparation for her next advance
  • Ernesto narrated Trucco’s drunken arm wrestling contest as this week’s way of expressing his Poverty hindrance, which requires him to regularly reduce his funds by half.
  • It was established during a previous week’s background question that while Daina loves to sing, and that while singing is important to her, she’s not very good at it.  The evening of Narwhal’s wake, she also still had a point of Fatigue (she was unable to recover properly due to failing her roll at Bloody Hour) and zero bennies left.  Rus also had zero bennies — but he had an Adventure Card, and played Teamwork to double the bonus from his support roll.  He passed his roll, the card brought the modifier up to +2, and after rolling Untrained (d4-2) for Performance with an additional -1 from Fatigue, that support gave me a success with a raise.  The ways in which mechanics can help tell and support the story is probably my favourite thing about Savage Worlds, and it made for a great moment since Rus has been very quiet and keeping to himself.
  • After the second or third time this session that Master Scourge made yet another racist slur towards Trucco just because he could, there was a declaration from Michael as we spectated the scene to the effect that he hopes someone has mercy on Scourge’s soul, because we sure won’t.  It should be quite the reckoning.