Session Recap week 15: Zero Hour

Adolphus Murtry: Someday, I think you and I are going to end up bloody.

Amos Burton: How about now? I’m free right now.

The Storm Reaver was sailing away as the Majestic Gryphon began its slow journey to Port Krez for repairs.  The rigging was still in rough shape from the fight, and Trucco, Rus, and Daina were hard at work.  Master Scourge made sure to punish Trucco and Rus again by ordering them to their most hated duties of line work and pumping the bilges, while Daina was ordered away from the galley to scrub the main deck.  Though the Gryphon was even more short-handed than the Storm Reaver had been, Torlan was assigned no duties.  Mister Lagraa — Captain Lagraa, now — had sized up her new crew and ordered the old dwarf to be chained to the mizzenmast.  If Daina got out of line, the new captain declared with a cruel grin, Torlan would be immediately keelhauled.

Daina grabbed a bucket and got to work, scrubbing her way across the deck until she was side by side with Unnao Moran, the last person she’d expected to find on the Gryphon.  It would be quite a stretch to call him an old friend, but they were both regulars at the Silver Eel in Port Verge where Daina’s good friend Nil tended bar. Continuing to scrub, she turned to look directly at him.  “Do you remember me?”

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, keeping his head and body trained on the work in front of him.  “I dunno, you look kind of familiar.”  His eyes shifted as he scanned the deck beyond her.  “You trying to get me in trouble?”  No, she assured him, she wasn’t trying to get him in trouble.  She was trying to get all of them out of it. “I’m Daina, one of Nil’s friends” she replied, keeping her voice low and steady.  “I’ve seen you around the Eel.  You been crewing on this ship long?”  Unnao replied that he’d been with the Gryphon for the past eighteen months, and Daina nodded.  That was good.  She cut straight to the chase: she and her friends, and many other swabs who had come over from the Storm Reaver, hadn’t been aboard that ship by choice and were no sycophants of Lagraa or Scourge.  If Unnao knew his way around the Gryphon, if he knew what secrets the ship held and what her limits were…she wanted his help taking it.  The time for playing along with the Cloud Reavers and hoping for the best was over.

Continuing to coil the ropes piled in front of him as if he hadn’t heard her, Unnao looked up at the quarterdeck where Scourge was shouting at Trucco once again.  With a sidelong glance back at Daina, he told her to come find him later that night after their shifts were over.  She nodded, but just one last thing: had his captain survived the attack?  “No” he replied, his voice and face both suggesting that had been a stupid question.  Daina nodded again, promised to find him later, and continued working her way down the deck with her bucket.

Down in the bilge, Rus worked alone.  Exhausted in both mind and body, as he stumbled through the muck his coat caught on something.  Fumbling with it beneath the slimy water, his heart sank as he felt it tear.  The extent of the damage combined with the stains wasn’t something he would be able to repair himself, and…it wasn’t just a coat.  It wasn’t just there to keep him warm.  It was the coat he’d earned along with his wings.  It was a coat that belonged to Ruskel Valeri, Queen’s Own skyknight.  And now it hung askew, filthy and torn, just one more good and noble thing destroyed by the Cloud Reavers.

Late in the day, as Daina continued to work on the main deck, she could feel the ship’s course change.  They were still headed south, but now veering off to the west — and Port Krez was to the east.  That wouldn’t do.  Whatever Lagraa and Scourge were up to, Daina was done being a part of it.

Evening fell, and the crew was ordered to take their meal belowdecks except for Torlan, who remained chained to the mizzenmast in the cold, wet winter weather.  By the captain’s orders, there was no singing, no gambling, and no grog, and everyone was to stay below until morning.  As Fishguts doled out dinner, Daina could clearly see that the battle lines drawn among the swabs who were and weren’t loyal to Lagraa and Scourge aboard the Gryphon were even sharper than they had been on the Storm Reaver.  She’d always survived by following her gut, and now her gut was telling her that the vultures were circling in a way she hadn’t felt since that last ambush of the war.  Wolfing down her meal, Daina went looking for Rus and Trucco.  Tapping the shifter on the shoulder and telling him to come with her, they found Rus resting in a corner, and Daina looked him over with some concern.  Was he okay?  “I had an accident in the bilge” Rus replied.  “I’ll just have to get the coat repaired when we get back to land, I guess.”  As Trucco began to lament the indignity done to a very fine coat indeed, Daina sharply cut him off — yes, yes, it was a very fine coat, but was Rus okay?  Had he been injured?  He shook his head wearily.  “I’m fine” he assured her, “just real exhausted.”  Trucco remained focused on his concern for Rus’ coat, scolding his friend for being so careless with such a fine thing, and earning him a tired rebuke from Daina in turn.  “Sorry, sorry” the rogue quickly pivoted, holding out his hands in a conciliatory gesture.  “I’ve been yelled at so much by Scourge, I think I’m turning into him…”  As Daina tried to reassure him that she knew he was having a hard time just as they were, Rus mused that it was probably best to stow his coat for a time anyways.  He’d killed one of the Gryphon’s crew in the boarding action, and the last thing he needed was to be easily recognized by someone looking for revenge if it weren’t already too late for that.  That was the opening Daina needed.  Getting down to business, she revealed that she’d found someone they could talk to about reversing their fortunes and ordered Rus and Trucco to follow her, and to follow her lead.  She didn’t know Unnao well, and didn’t want to spook him.

They found Unnao by his locker, and followed him further down the deck to a dim, quiet corner.  Holding out her hand, Daina introduced herself properly, emphasizing that she was Nil’s friend from back when they’d sailed together on the Traveler’s Folly and that she was as surprised as she was grateful to have stumbled upon a friendly face.  “Unnao Moran” he replied, taking a closer look at her in the lamplight.  “I don’t remember too many House Deneith folk ever coming to drink at the Eel.”  Daina pursed her lips.  The dragonmark was a recent development.  Yes, she had worked for House Deneith as a mercenary in the past, but she didn’t anymore, and nothing about her current situation was official business.  She gestured to the others.  “This is Trucco.  This is Ruskel.  We weren’t crewing on the Storm Reaver by choice.  The old man chained to the mast up there…” Daina’s right eye began to twitch as the dragonmark wrapped around it took on a faint glow.  “I’m afraid he’s Lagraa’s bargaining chip.”  He was important to her, she confided, and Lagraa had expressly told Daina that if she got out of line, Torlan would be killed.  She leaned forward, her face hard and alert.  “That’s where you come in.  She didn’t say nothin’ about you.”  Taking his continued presence as a good sign, she leaned in even closer and got to the heart of the matter.  “Look, you want your ship back, right?  You don’t want to crew under Lagraa…?”

Unnao shook his head.  “I’m not quite sure I take your meaning.  Those are some mean, ugly cusses up there.”  Daina agreed, and told him that she had the stripes to prove just how mean Lagraa was — and that she had no intention of dying at her or Scourge’s hand.  “Unnao, listen to me” she said, though it sounded more like an order than a plea.  “Like I said up top, you know this ship.  You know her secrets.  You know what she can take and what she can’t, you know how far she can be pushed and how far she can’t, and I’d bet a drink that you know more than a few ways to get into places the crew’s not supposed to…” He cut her off.  Torlan was chained up on the poop deck right above the captain’s cabin; there was no way to get to him and— Daina cut him off in turn.  He misunderstood her.  Yes, she needed to get food and water to Torlan at some point, but she wasn’t thinking small anymore. She and the others had been on the Storm Reaver for over a month, looking for a way off.  Now that they were off, they were still stuck under Lagraa and Scourge.  

Unnao’s eyes widened as he began catching her drift.  “Are you talking mutiny?”  “Ohhh, she’s talking mutiny” Rus sighed.  “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying” Daina affirmed.  Unnao knew that her, Rus, Trucco, and Torlan could handle themselves in a fight.  They’d made a few friends on the Storm Reaver who had been sent over to the Majestic Gryphon with them, and those men and women could also handle themselves in a fight.  Unnao and the surviving members of the Gryphon’s crew would bolster those numbers, and now — she pointed at her right eye — they had a few extra tricks up their sleeve.  “I’ve always made it a point to protect the people under my command” she said, “and now I have the ability to protect them a little bit better.”   

Unnao frowned.  He was just a swab, he wasn’t someone who could sway anyone else over to their side.  That was fine, Daina assured him.  All he had to do was point her to the right people, and she’d do the talking.  “I’m not sure if any of them are the right people” he replied.  “Right now, they just seem happy to have their lives, and they thank Lagraa for that.”  

Trucco had been listening in uncharacteristic silence, following Daina’s lead, but he could not contain himself at that.  Did they really consider this a life?  Did they really consider this living?  He’d been treated like shit for weeks, and this first day under Lagraa’s command had somehow been even worse.  Daina backed him up.  How long did Unnao think the crew was going to last working double shifts, with no grog rations, and getting whipped with the cat o’ nine tails every time they coughed funny?

Unnao nodded.  “I’m in.” 

Daina asked him again to introduce her to the rest of the Gryphon’s remaining crew, and he replied that he didn’t think that was a good idea.  Moira, Lagraa’s new quartermaster, was appreciating her promotion, and the other three swabs followed her lead.  Trucco pointed out that they had friends of their own, and Unnao asked when they were planning for the mutiny to happen.  “When we have enough folks to have a fighting chance” Daina replied.  “We’ll contact you when the time comes” Rus assured him.  “From the looks of those bastards,” Unnao replied, “I don’t think many of us are going to last too long.”  Then the clock, Daina declared, had just been moved forward.  “And if we do things right,” Trucco interjected with a grin, “they won’t last too long either!”

Daina smiled in spite of herself.  Trucco, she promised Unnao, was telling the truth.  He liked to tell a lot of stories, but he was telling the truth.  She’d taken enough of Unnao’s time for now, and she didn’t want to get him in trouble before it was time for all of them to get in trouble.  But he was right in assuming that she needed to get Torlan some food and water.  And the only way was across the deck?  Unnao nodded.  “Or if you can climb up from the side of the hull” he mused, as both Rus and Daina turned in sync to look at Trucco.  The rogue’s eyes lit up and his ears swiveled forward as Unnao kept talking.  It wasn’t just food and water they had to worry about, he reminded them.  They were still fairly far north, it was winter, and if Torlan was to remain chained to the mast, exposure would kill him before dehydration would. 

Daina’s composure cracked.  “I know!” she cried.  “I know, and I don’t know what to do about that right now!”  She reminded Unnao again that Torlan was Lagraa’s bargaining chip, and would stay there until Lagraa got what she wanted from Daina, which Daina believed was for her to break.  Which meant Torlan would be staying put.  Unnao held out his hands in a gesture that suggested he had meant no offense, and they parted ways for the evening.    

Up on deck, cold, thirsty, sore, and bored, Torlan found himself singing a song of Cyran sailors hunting pirates on the Scion’s Sea.  Even with all the odds against him, the old dwarf couldn’t resist trying to goad his captors.  At the wheel, Salty — the Cloud Reaver dwarf who had served as bosun’s mate aboard the Storm Reaver — yelled at Torlan to shut up, along with a few untoward remarks about his ancestry.  Undeterred, Torlan yelled a snide remark back and continued to sing…until Salty, having heard enough, left the wheel to deliver his bound enemy a stiff blow to the gut.  As Salty turned to leave, Torlan called out to him again.  The ship had turned west, away from Port Krez.  Were they headed for Tidewater Rock, to try to accomplish what Prince Mika had tried and failed twice?  “I told ya to shut yer mouth!”  Salty hollered back.  “Oh come now,” Torlan said with a snide grin, “I thought we were just having a little bit of fun.”  Salty’s eyes took on a dangerous glint as he came striding back.  As Torlan kept goading, Salty began to beat him with a clear intent as Torlan realized that the pilot was trying to cause as much damage as possible while leaving no discernible marks, and though he weathered the beating he did keep the rest of his thoughts to himself. 

Back down below, with Unnao gone, Rus turned to Daina in disbelief.  She wanted to mutiny now?  The Gryphon’s crew hadn’t seen the full extent of Scourge and Lagraa’s cruelty yet, and the ship was short-handed, and they didn’t even have an artificer to help put extra wind in its sails.  “We wouldn’t have one of those anyways” Daina countered.  “And right now, the ship’s split in two for us versus them.”  “Alright, let’s say we win” Rus countered in turn.  “Not everyone who’s on our side is going to make it.  Who’s going to sail the ship?  We still need people pumping the bilges and mending the sails.”  He shook his head.  “Now’s not the time.”

Daina wasn’t backing down.  She leaned in closer and kept going.  “Here’s the way I see it.  Yeah, we’ll probably lose some people.  Yeah, we’ll be short-handed for a bit.  But when it comes right down to it, we’ll have enough people to—” “No, we won’t!” Rus cut her off.  “We won’t even have an artificer to put wind in the sails!”  She shook her own head.  They didn’t need an artificer to keep the ship sailing, and even if they waited a few more days, or a week, they still wouldn’t have one.  And besides which, she posited, the crew that was faithful to Scourge and Lagraa were largely opportunists serving whoever was strongest.  She was willing to bet that when the choice came to join her or die, they’d choose to live.  Rus remained skeptical.  What if they mutinied in turn before reaching port?  He wasn’t backing down, but neither was Daina, and the stalemate was getting heated…

Until Trucco had an idea.

“What if we cut off the head of the snake?” he blurted out.  They did, after all, have the element of surprise.  What if he were to sneak into Lagraa’s quarters in the middle of the night and — he drew his finger across his throat and made the snikt sound of a knife slicing flesh.  

Daina’s eyes took on a cold, wild smile.  If he was confident that he could pull off such an attack, she would do what she could to help him.  Rus crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back as his voice hardened.  He still didn’t feel good about this.  But Daina knew from her experiences on the Karrnathi front that Trucco was on to something: striking at night would give them a massive advantage.  Her unit had done several nighttime patrols behind enemy lines to wreak as much havoc as possible, and it had been very effective.  Trucco wondered if he would be able to free Torlan before taking any action, and Rus insisted that he take the dwarf food and water as a gauge of how feasible the plan was at all.  If the rogue couldn’t move between decks unseen, Rus didn’t see how a nighttime attack could work, and they needed Torlan in that fight.  They did need him, Daina agreed, and if they didn’t free him before beginning the attack in earnest anyways, he would be the first one killed.  Trucco pointed out that they did have an extra card up their sleeve for that sort of thing: the potion of invisibility that they had been awarded as part of the spoils from taking the Gryphon.  It would only last about half a minute, but that could be all he needed.  

“Like I said” Daina conceded, “this isn’t happening tonight.  We haven’t even told anyone except for Unnao.  But look, we—” she sighed.  “I know the odds aren’t tipped as far as they could be, but I also know that in this weather, Torlan doesn’t have more than a few days.  He’ll be dead of exposure before long.”  The next step, she told them, was to divide and conquer.  Split up, share their plans with their allies among the crew.  She would talk to Fishguts and Conchobar, Trucco would go to Owlbear and try to help him understand what was happening, and he would speak with Crimson Cog as well, and Rus would tell Sandara and Rosie.  It was decided.

Sneaking down to Owlbear, Trucco unlocked the big man’s chains but exhorted him to leave them in place, pretending to be confined until it was time to act.  Easily climbing out a porthole and up the side of the hull, he cast a cautious eye over to where Salty was walking the opposite end of the deck and called out to Torlan in a low whisper.  “Hey.  Hey.  Torlan!”  The dwarf had somehow managed to slip into a sort of sleep even while standing chained to the mast until Trucco threw a bit of the bread he was carrying at Torlan’s face.  “Oh, Trucco, you made it” he murmured, opening one eye groggily.  “Are you okay?” Trucco whispered.  Torlan assured him that he was, and Trucco informed him that Daina had told him to bring some food and — wait, was he going to have to feed Torlan?  The old man reassured Trucco that his pride wouldn’t suffer for it, and after a hurried meal, Torlan asked what was happening belowdecks.  Trucco’s eyes lit up in the moonlight.  “We are planning a mutiny!  And you are going to be a great part of it!”  Sneaking around the mast to inspect the lock holding Torlan’s chains, even Trucco had to admit to himself that picking it would be a challenge.  Not an insurmountable one — not for the great Trucco! — but it would take some time.  Promising to return when the time was right, Trucco disappeared back over the rail and made his way back inside.

The next morning Rus, Daina, and Trucco kept their heads down as they saw to their assigned duties, but Scourge found an excuse all the same to beat him with the cat o’ nine tails that night.  As Trucco smirked at him, his mind on what was to come, the Gryphon’s new first mate began to beat him harder, and Trucco quickly learned the difference between the lash — which he had become quite accustomed to aboard the Storm Reaver — and the cat, whose punishment only Daina had previously known.  He was unprepared for the pain, but the bleeding sores left behind only served to fuel the fire within him.

That evening, Daina made her rounds through the galley, and could feel the anticipation in the air.  The crew members she and the others had spoken with the previous night were ready for action.  She circled the tables, telling her allies that they looked tired and should turn in early: that was the signal.  Returning to Rus and the others, she told the former skyknight that if she were one of the ones who didn’t make it, it would be up to him to get everyone safely to port.  

The plan was in place: Trucco would sneak up the hull, take out the pilot and the lookout, and free Torlan.  Daina would keep overwatch, ready to make a distraction or intervene in case Trucco ran into trouble.  Trucco would provide Torlan with a weapon, and the two of them would enter the captain’s quarters directly below where he’d been chained and kill Lagraa.  Rus would lock one of the entrances to the officers quarters and leave Owlbear to guard the other, funneling them through a bottleneck into the bilge and buying his allies time to deal with the swabs before joining the fight as soon as he was able.    

With the plan in place, Daina met Trucco’s eyes.  She knew he was hungry for revenge, and that she had promised him the first crack at Master Scourge once the opportunity presented itself.  But she needed — they all needed — him on the quarterdeck, freeing Torlan and taking out Lagraa.  A lot of things were going to happen at once, and he couldn’t be present for all of them, and she could no longer keep her promise.  She needed him to make a decision.

Trucco shrugged.  Yes, he still wanted his revenge..but for the time being, he would set it aside for the greater good.  Although she was in battle mode, with adrenaline and no small amount of stress holding just below the surface, Daina found herself softening for a moment at the rogue’s generosity.  He hadn’t always been comfortable with the idea of making friends and working together, and here he was, willing to sacrifice the desire that had been at the front of his heart and mind from the first day he’d been thrown into Scourge’s path.

Pushing her chair back from the table and getting to her feet, Daina smiled down at her friends, her eyes cold, hard, and ready.  They looked tired, she remarked.  They should turn in early.

Behind the Scenes

  • I’ve often sung the praises of critical failure in Savage Worlds, and how we use them at our table.  A basic failure on that roll would have given Rus a level of Fatigue, and giving him a second level of Fatigue was absolutely on the table with that crit.  But Phillip has always sought to use critical failures as narrative devices rather than mechanical penalties, so now Rus is temporarily without the coat that means so much to him.  It’s not going to affect his character sheet in any way, but narratively, he got hit where it hurts.    
  • Speaking of the narrative, though it had been narratively emphasized that Torlan is in imminent danger of dying from exposure, Michael’s Vigor rolls in this session made liars out of us.  He rolled at least one raise on every single check (and had to make at least four over the course of the evening) and rolled a 22 on the last one.
  • Phillip called for a group stealth check to meet with Unnao privately.  We rolled 5, 9, and 14 — in other words, a success, a success with a raise, and a success with two raises — and his response was, “you kind of believe that no one else is around, at least not at the current moment.”  And people wonder why players can be so paranoid…
  • Unnao, you may or may not remember, exists because I spent a bennie at the end of Session 14 to alter the story and say that, since we had taken a Diresharks ship and Daina has spent a lot of time in Port Verge (their seat of power), one of the surviving crew of the Gryphon was someone she knew or at least recognized.  Because this was done using a bennie and not an adventure card, I didn’t make an argument one way or another for the nature of their relationship, and Phillip rolled to determine Unnao’s disposition. I did end up having to roleplay and roll well to persuade him to join us.  But that’s half the fun, and I’m looking forward to having a new friend!
  • Daina has a d6 in Battle because she needs it for edge prerequisites down the line, but it’s not something that’s been useful to me until this session when Phillip allowed me to roll Battle in order for some additional tactical insight to reflect Daina’s experience and expertise for planning an attack.
  • The quote at the top of the recap comes from The Expanse S4 E3, “Subduction”

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