Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Ill Wind Blows--A D20 Pirates Adventure

An Ill Wind Blows
This scenario is Part 1 of Come Hell and High Water, an adventure series for the Skull & Bones historical setting, for use with the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game version 3.5. It is intended to introduce a new party of first-level characters. Although it is intended as part of an ongoing collection of scenarios, it can also be run as a stand-alone adventure.

The New World is a place of tremendous opportunity for those who are willing and able to seize it; sadly, however, this sense of possibility has often given rise to ruthless exploitation and oppression. Mhlongo is an individual who has experienced this firsthand and who because of it has turned down a dark path to gain his revenge. He was once a contented farmer back in Africa, one who was renowned for a mystical connection to the land, but rivalries between his and another clan led to warfare and his capture. Recognizing an opportunity to rid himself of an enemy and to gain wealth at the same time, the rival chief sold Mhlongo into slavery. The unfortunate was packed aboard a cramped vessel with scores of other slaves and shipped off to Havana, where he was then sold to a plantation owner who worked him mercilessly. Despite such grueling labor, the slave still found time to pursue his arcane study, and began delving into dark rituals to gain even greater power. Eventually the chance arrived for him to escape and, after killing his former master, Mhlongo fled in a small boat from Cuba. Eventually he arrived on the island of Hispaniola, where he met a bokor who taught him the ways of vodoun and promised help him take revenge on the rest of the world. Together he and his new teacher, Mabhena, began to devise a plan that would gain him the power to seek revenge on all of his enemies.

Their plot is this. Mabhena has mastered the vodoun ritual used to animate the bodies of the dead as zombies; now he has hired a local grave robber to exhume bodies that he can use for that purpose. These zombies he has concealed in barrels of sugar to be shipped off aboard a parting merchant ship, with Mhlongo posing as a merchant; he intends to call them forth in the dark of night once the ship has sailed. In this way he plans to murder the ship's crew, thereby taking control of it and gaining more bodies to add to his army of undead minions. That is only the beginning, however; with that ship he will be able to attack others and thus build his own armada.

This plan might have come off without a hitch if it weren't for the greed of Seamus O'Brien, the thief that Mhlongo hired to acquire the bodies. O'Brien, having discovered numerous pieces of jewelry among the graves that he's exhumed, has decided to turn a little extra profit by pilfering the valuables. Unfortunately for him, one of the individuals that he approaches recognizes one of the baubles and doesn't take too kindly to the discovery.

Location Note
GM's wanting to expand on Port Royal as the setting of a piratical campaign would do well to check out Issue 3 of Buccaneers & Bokor (available at online sales sites), which features a map of the city and thorough descriptions of the people and places that can be found there.

This adventure begins for the PC's as they are relaxing at a Port Royal tavern and Inn, the Sign of the Boar's Head (see the previous blog post for the layout of and details regarding this establishment). They might be drinking, listening to the performance of a visiting shantyman, playing Bone Ace, enjoying some company or preparing for a fight; whatever the case, they happen to be present when O'Brien's ill-chosen customer, Edward Chapman, recognizes one of the items for sale and cries foul. Before the first event occurs, have the players decide where their characters are located and what they are doing to pass the time.

Event 1—A Thief in the Night
This opening encounter should provide an opportunity for some satisfying fisticuffs. Roll initiative as soon as Chapman gives a shout. O'Brien uses his surprise round to flip the table, sending Chapman sprawling; then, on his initiative, he heads for the door. Although Chapman quickly recovers, one or more of the PC's is probably in a better position from which to intervene.

To create a distraction, O'Brien throws his pouch of silver onto the floor behind him, scattering its contents for all to see, and the surrounding patrons converge to collect them. This forces his pursuers to tumble or bull rush their way through the press. Of course, any violence against the crowd—intentional or otherwise—provokes retaliation, causing the tavern to erupt into a brawl.

Assuming that the PC's can apprehend the thief, Chapman thanks them profusely. At this point Chapman assumes that O'Brien stole the item in question, a signet ring, from his wife Anna; after checking with her, however, he finds that she still possesses hers. Thus he realizes that it could only have come from one other possible source, his parents' grave—a notion that really upsets him. Because the PC's have shown that they can handle themselves in a fight, he ask them to accompany him to the tomb. If they need a little persuading, he pays them each a reward of fifty pieces of eight for helping catch the thief, and then offers another hundred apiece if the PC's help him conclude “this disagreeable business.”

Chapman's Story
Through roleplaying or the use of the Sense Motive skill, the PC's should come to recognize that Edward Chapman comes from an aristocratic background. Although he is loathe to mention details to the PC's at this point--“After all, each of us has his secrets”--he in fact is an agent of the Invisible College from London. This could become important in future adventures.

Event 2—The Tomb

St. Paul's church in Port Royal is a relatively simple affair, particularly when compared to the massive and elaborate cathedrals of the Old World. It is two stories in height with plain, whitewashed walls. There is a foyer in front (Area 1) with a spiral staircase that provides access to the bell tower above and the crypt (Area 6) below, and double doors open into sanctuary (Area 2). Broad steps lead up to the church's large oaken front doors. The sanctuary is a broad, open room lined with benches that face the pulpit, behind which another door opens onto the preparation room (Area 3). The front doors have hardness 5 and 20 hit points, while the interior doors have hardness 5 and 15 hit points. From the preparation room one door opens into a storage room (Area 4) while another opens into the minister's quarters (Area 5) and the other provides a rear exit. When the church is closed to visitors, the front and rear doors are sealed with stout padlocks (DC 25 to open, or hardness 15 and 30 hit points).

Should someone be nosy enough to search the contents of the storage room, it contains a strongbox (DC 25 to open, or hardness 15 and 30 hit points) holding the congregation's offerings, totaling five hundred pieces of eight. Here can also be found a barrel of wine for communion, along with a silver service (valued at 80 pieces of eight), an illuminated Bible and a fine teak box (20 poe) that contains the host.

The Crypt
The crypt is built into the foundation of the church; it is sealed by a door with a padlock similar to those above. Beyond this it is quite dark, and the PC's need to have light sources if they are going to continue exploring. The crypt consists of a long, narrow room, the walls of which are lined with alcoves that hold mouldering remains; here and there a decrepit wooden door provides access to the burial rooms of the wealthier dead. Cobwebs hang from the walls, and a thick lair of dust has settled on the floor. Any PC who attempts to search for footprints on the floor succeeds on a DC 12 check and recognizes that there has been a good deal of traffic through here in the past two weeks; a DC 18 check reveals that many of the graves have been disturbed, although their contents still rest in their niches.

Unless the PC's attempt to be stealthy, the zombies who have been left behind probably hear their arrival. They gather in the positions indicated on the map, waiting for an opportunity to strike. When they do, they charge the nearest target and attempt to incapacitate it before moving on to the next victim. During this combat, play up the discomforting nature of the setting; weapon swings that miss their target might smash open coffins or scatter the remains in the niches, all the while kicking up a cloud of dust and less wholesome debris.

In the aftermath of this first engagement, Chapman can survey the remains of his parents' crypt and confirm that their bodies and their valuables are missing. Characters who are familiar with vodoun can confirm that the foes they fought were zombies on a DC 10 check. If pressed, O'Brien now admits that he was hired to steal corpses for an unknown buyer; he himself was never permitted to deal with that person directly, however, and thus he is not able to identify the person. Through intimidation (DC 20) or diplomacy (DC 25) the PC's can persuade him to reveal that he was being paid simply to load the bodies onto a horse cart that came around once each morning, at which point another team would take them along to the buyer. Only if the PC's think to ask does he reveal that he is expecting the cart to arrive just before sunrise.

Hopefully the PC's can recognize that, if they want to proceed with this investigation, they need to catch the fellow aboard the horse cart. As long as he is not alerted to any danger, he simply drives the cart up in back of the church and waits for O'Brien to begin loading the bodies. Through some bluffing (opposed by his Sense Motive check) or stealth (opposed by his own Spot and Listen checks) the PC's might be able to get the drop on him and maybe even subdue him before he can try to escape. Should he recognize any danger, he spurs on his two horses and tries to flee. This could lead to an exciting chase through the port city's streets. As long as they do capture him, the PC's can learn that his name is Murphy, and his job is to deliver the bodies to the buyer.

Event 3—The Warehouse

Assuming that the PC's can begin to unravel the threads of this plot, they can discover that the bodies are being taken to a warehouse located in Port Royal's fish market. (Mhlongo uses the smell of the fish to help cover up the smell of the bodies that he's using.) It is an unremarkable two-story structure with stone walls and a wooden roof; there are no windows, but a large set of double doors out front and a small single door in back. These are sealed with stout padlocks, although the cart driver has a key for them.

Inside the warehouse is filled with various crates and barrels. Many of these are empty, although some of the barrels are filled with sugar. The three in the northeast corner of the building contain an un-pleasant surprise, however, in the form of the zombies that Mhlongo has hidden in them. They erupt from their hiding places as soon as one of the barrels is disturbed, attacking anyone who is present. Allow the PC's Spot checks; they need to succeed against a DC of 20 to recognize that something is stirring inside the flour.

Once the combat has been concluded, allow the PC's to make DC 25 Listen or DC 28 Spot checks; those who succeed notice either a soft, dull thudding sound or telltale signs in the dirt of the floor indicating a concealed trapdoor. This is not locked, and opens to reveal a small room dug out of the ground below. A crude but solid wooden table fills nearly half of the room, and on it lies a pair of bodies. These have had their mouths sewn shut, just like the zombies in the barrels above them. Moreover, a small chest beneath the table contains some valuable clues to the nature of the plot. These include a pouch of various herbs, a small skull, a crystal pendant and a dried rooster's talon, items that on a DC 10 Knowledge: voodoo rituals check can be identified as ones used in the process of animating zombies.

There are also a pair of short letters; the first of these reads as follows:

“Mr. Delacroix,

I will send along some of my crew to retrieve the cargo, as you specified. Please be to the docks
just before sunrise tomorrow, for we sail with the dawn.

Capt. Carstens”

The second reads:


Strike at midnight, when the spirits will guide you to victory.”


The date in the upper right-hand corner of the first letter is that of the day on which this adventure began for the PC's; there is not date on the second letter. Hopefully this is enough information for the PC's to deduce the nature of Mhlongo's plot, and to recognize that quick action is required in order to foil it. Since the action at the tavern, church and warehouse has likely occupied a few hours' time, the PC's probably don't have long to wait before sunrise. This should create some sense of urgency, even though they might also be feeling the pain of their accumulated injuries.

Should the PC's think to claim them, by the way, the barrels of sugar (six in total) are worth 120 poe each.

Event 4—The Docks

The docks of Port Royal are a sprawling affair, wrapping around three sides of the city. This makes it tough to find one ship quickly, especially when they have only a vague idea of which ship they seek.

PC's with the Knowledge: local skill can on a DC 15 check recognize the name of Ned Carstens, the captain of the ship Venture, and a DC 20 check reveals that his ship is a two-masted sloop. This information provides +2 and +5 circumstance bonus (they do not stack) to the characters' Search checks as they look for the dock and the vessel on which Mhlongo is springing his trap. Have each PC make a check, then use the highest check to determine how long it takes to find them, and thus how much time the PC's have to act before the Venture sets sail.

Search Check Results and Time Taken
10 or less: The crew has cast off mooring lines and pulled in the gang plank; the ship is already thirty feet away from the dock.
11-20: The crew has cast off the mooring lines and pulled in the gang plank, and the ship begins to move at the end of the first round of combat.
21-30: The crew has pulled in the gang plank, but the mooring lines are still in place.
31 or more: Both the gang plank and the mooring lines are still in place.

This determines the situation at the beginning of the confrontation; refer to the appropriate map for a layout of the action. As soon as the PC's make their intentions known, Mhlongo casts a sleep spell on the crewmen on deck, then moves to kick the gang plank into the water if it's still in place. At that point he also directs his zombies to strike, and they erupt out of their barrels to do so. From then onward the bokor uses his remaining spells against the PC's while also trying his best to stay out of harm's way.

In the event that the gang plank is removed, it takes a DC 15 Jump check followed by a DC 10 Climb check to make it aboard the Venture. Once it has begun to sail, the PC's must make DC 10 Swim checks to traverse the water.

As long as the PC's catch up to the ship before it sets sail, they should be able to defeat Mhlongo and foil his plot. Captain Carstens is, of course, quite greatful for their aid, recognizing that he could very well have lost his vessel if not for their intercession. He insists that they keep the bokor's possessions for themselves, and adds to that a reward of one hundred doubloons per character. If Mhlongo is still alive, he swears to have his revenge as a squad of British soldiers leads him away in irons.

Further Adventures
This scenario could provide numerous seeds for further adventures, as detailed below.

In addition to providing the PC's with a monetary reward, Captain Carstens might wish to hire them to accompany him on future voyages—especially ones that might be dangerous, where their special skills would be most useful.

As mentioned in the sidebar above, Edward Chapman is a member of the Invisible College in London; as such, he could be involved in any manner of business on behalf of the Crown, clandestine or otherwise.

Finally, Mhlongo might be as good as his word, and could even become something of a nemesis for the PC's, or his shadowy master Mabhena could come to avenge his slain student. (Remember that Mabhena must be at least a 6th level character, however, so the PC's might need a little time before they can confront him!)

Dramatis Personae

Edward Chapman
Male Rogue 5; CR 5; Size Medium; HD 5d6; hp 20; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 13 (+1 Fencing jacket, +2 Dex); Atk +3 (1d6, rapier) or +5 (2d4, pistols); SQ details; AL LN; SV: Fort +1, Ref +6, Will +1; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 17.
Background: Gentleman-Adventurer.
Skills: Bluff +11, Decipher Script +10, Diplomacy +13, Disable Device +9, Disguise +13, Forgery +13, Hide +12, Knowledge (local) +11, Knowledge (religion) +11, Listen +7, Move Silently +12, Search +11, Sense Motive +9.
Feats: Deceitful, Negotiator, Stealthy.
Fortunes: Cause, Obligation.
Equipment: Gentleman's clothing, dueling jacket, pair of pistols, rapier, stiletto, pouch of 200 poe, various books, vials of ink, quills and paper.

Edward Chapman is, on the surface, a proper young English gentleman, albeit one who is not particularly striking. He has dark hair and dark eyes, and is of medium height and build. Normally he dresses the part of a young aristocrat, although his natural charisma makes him equally home among the lower classes when he deems it necessary.
Chapman is highly educated, having studied at Oxford and abroad, and has recently even been accepted as a member of the Invisible College in London. In fact he serves as an agent of the Majesty's government, although the exact nature of his business is a closely guarded secret.

Mhlongo the Bokor
Male Bokor 3; CR 3; Size; HD 3d6+3; hp 16; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 11/15 (+1 Dex/+4 mage armor); Atk +2 (1d6+1, buccaneer knife) or +3 (2d4, pistol); SQ details; AL NE; SV: Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +4; Str 12, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 14.
Background: Slave.
Skills: Bluff +8, Concentration +7, Craft (alchemy) +7, Escape Artist +5, Knowledge (local) +7, Sense Motive +7, Voodoo rituals +8.
Feats: Combat Casting, Quicksilver Eyes, Spell Focus (necromancy).
Fortunes: Doll's Eyes.
Equipment: Clothing, staff, dagger, various spell components, pouch of 300 poe.

Ordinarily, Mhlongo's is a face that would strike fear into the hearts of ordinary people. His head is shaved bald, and his dark skin is furrowed by various ritualistic scars. There is not even a glint of compassion in his eyes. At the time that the PC's meet him, however, he wears a cloak and cowl and conceals the trappings that would reveal him as a bokor.
Mhlongo's only love in life is arcane power and the influence that this gives him over other people. He holds no loyalty, and would even betray his master, Mabhena, if it suited his purpose.

Mabhena's Zombies
Medium Undead; CR 1; HD 2d12+3; hp 16; Init +0; Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 natural); Atk +4 (1d6+3, bite) or -1 (1d4+3, claws x2); SQ details; AL TN; SV: Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +3; Str 17, Dex 10, Con --, Int 2, Wis 10, Cha 1.
Background: None.
Skills: None.
Feats: Toughness.
Fortunes: None.
Equipment: None.

Captain Ned Carstens
Expert 5; CR 4; Size medium; HD 5d6+5; hp 25; Init -1 (-1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 9 (-1 Dex); Atk +3 (1d6, cutlass) or +2 (2d6, pistol); SQ details; AL LN; SV: Fort +2, Ref +0, Will +7; Str 10, Dex 8, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 16, Cha 14.
Background: Seaman.
Skills: Appraise +9, Climb +4, Diplomacy +10, Knowledge (navigation) +9, Knowledge (sea lore) +9, Listen +13, Profession (sailor) +14, Sense Motive +11, Spot +13, Survival +11.
Feats: Alertness, Seagoing, Skill Focus (Profession: sailor).
Fortunes: Been-Round, True Thomas.
Equipment: Sailor's clothing, cutlass, pair of pistols, logbook, pouch with 100 poe, pipe and tobacco.

Ned Carstens would be the picture of an old sea salt, if the life of a modestly successful mergant hadn't softened him some. His captain's hat conceals dark that has started to go grey, and easier living has left him a little thick around the middle. On the deck of a ship at sea his true nautical nature emerges, however, and he is as confident as any captain in the Caribbean.

Carstens' Crew
Warrior 1; CR 1/2; Size medium; HD 1d8+2; hp 10; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 11 (+1 Dex); Atk +3 (1d6+2, belaying pin or gaff hook) or +2 (ranged); SQ details; AL LN; SV: Fort +4, Ref +1, Will +1; Str 15, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 8, Wis 12, Cha 10.
Background: Seaman.
Skills: Climb +6, Knowledge (sea lore) +3, Profession (sailor) +5.
Feats: Power Attack, Seagoing.
Fortunes: Superstitious.
Equipment: Sailor's clothing, gaff hook or belaying pin, miscellaneous possessions.

Shamus O'Brien
Rogue 3; CR 3; Size medium; HD 3d6+3; hp 16; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 14 (+1 fencing jacket, +3 Dex); Atk +5 (2d6, pistol) or +3 (1d6+1, cutlass); SQ details; AL CN; SV: Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +0; Str 13, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 8, Cha 8.
Background: Scum.
Skills: Appraise +6, Climb +7, Disable Device +11, Escape Artist +9, Hide +11, Knowledge (local) +8, Move Silently +11, Open Lock +11, Search +8, Sleight of Hand +9, Tumble +9, Use Rope +9.
Feats: Combat Expertise, Nimble Fingers, Stealthy.
Fortunes: Hangin' Look.
Equipment: Ordinary clothing, cutlass, pair of pistols, dueling jacket, pouch with 200 poe, signet ring.

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