Today I have a new adventure, the ninth in the series. This one has me particularly excited because it moves into more larger-scale action and reveals some of the major conflicts in the campaign.
The Mermaid's Tale
This scenario is Part 9 of the Come Hell and High Water campaign, an adventure series for the Skull & Bones historical setting, for use with the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game version 3.5. It is intended for a party of sixth-level characters. Although it is intended as part of an ongoing collection of scenarios, it can also be run as a stand-alone adventure.
There's a secret that lies buried in the depths of the Sargasso Sea, one that has lied there for more than three centuries. This is the resting place of the fabled lost Templar Fleet, the ships that disappeared from the harbor of La Rochelle on the eve of Friday, 13 October 1307. They sailed in the depth of the night, in order to avoid arrest, trial and execution as ordered by the Pope and King. Of the half dozen vessels that sailed, only one—L'Etoile—found its way out of the sargasso. The others were sunk in battle with a detachment of Spanish vessels, but the flagship escaped. This reprieve was only a short one, however, as it eventually became trapped in the ice far to the north.
What neither the Spanish, who eventually gave up the hunt for it, nor anyone else could have imagined was that the threat represented by the Templars did not end with their demise. The ghost of one knight, Jean de Montsegur, continued to haunt the frozen ship. This foul spirit was able to return to civilization when the derelict was found by a band of pirates, and now de Montsegur continues his foul plotting. Indeed, since escaping his icy prison he has studied the wicked vodoun of the bokor Mabhena, used the secrets of the Clavicula Salmonis to commune with Mayan demons, and gained access to the legendary dedicated compass. Now he intends to raise his old comrades, reanimating their bodies as hosts for demonic forces, and thereby creating an armada of ghost ships crewed by undead warriors.
To this end, the ghost now inhabits the body of the Maroon buccaneer leader Nneka, and is inhabited by the demon-possessed Englishman Edward Chapman. In this way he has made contact with the cutthroat pirate Captain Horne and the noted shantyman Llewellyn. Together they have managed to abduct a handful of onijegi, the mermaids of the Caribbean. These they hold as hostages in order to force their fellows into helping dive for salvage on the Templar vessels. The onijegi are not content to meekly serve the pirates, however. Instead, one of their number—Arukuma—has sought out other humans for aid. She found a band of divers known to be friendly to the onijegi, and they, in turn, passed word on to their employer. Dona Isabella Santiago is the pearl merchant in question, and she knows just the adventurous but good-hearted band who could help.
If this adventure is being used as a stand-alone scenario, then Dona Isabella might simply come looking for a trustworthy crew to aid in her business. Perhaps she knows of the PC's by reputation, especially if they have shown mercy to others in their past doings.
On the other hand, if this scenario is being used as part of the Come Hell and High Water campaign, then a little more planning is required. For one thing, there is the matter of the dedicated compass that the PC's acquired through their activities during “Into the Shadows.” In order to obtain this, Nneka—possessed by the spirit of Jean de Montsegur—might arrange to craft a fake and use it to replace the real item. Another possibility, is for him to steal it outright. Resolving this issue is likely to require some adjudication on the part of the GM, taking into account any precautions the PC's have taken to protect the item.
Another factor to consider is whether or not the PC's have had any additional adventures between the previous scenario and this one. Given that the compass can be used to seek out any item they desire, there's a good chance that one or more characters would use it to settle some long unfinished business. If that has been the case, it might be necessary to increase the challenge presented by enemies in this adventure to compensate for a more experienced and therefore tougher party.
Event 1—Unwanted Attention
The adventure begins for the PC's at one of their favorite watering holes, when Dona Isabella comes looking for them. Although she has disguised herself as an Englishman, it doesn't take long before someone sees through her ruse. Given the unpleasant nature of the scallywags who frequent such establishments, this is not a pleasant prospect for the Spanish merchant.
Begin by having the PC's make Spot checks; the one with the highest result is first to notice the arrival of the newcomer. At the same time, they should also make checks to recognize her in spite of the disguise. A few moments later, while she is asking around about the PC's, someone recognizes her as a woman and makes a belligerent advance toward her person. During the ensuing scuffle her disguise is revealed, and the situation could become ugly unless the PC's intervene.
Assuming that they are willing to do so, they characters should be in for a good fight. The scallywags are not particularly fervent, instead enjoying some good fisticuffs. For this reason the combat should remain non-lethal, but can provide opportunities for cinematic action.
The Pearl Diver's Story
As long as they can extricate Dona Isabella from her difficulties, she takes them to where her sloop is docked. There she leads them below decks, where an incredible sight awaits them. In a huge water cask, filled with saltwater, is the onijegi. Arukuma rises to the surface, propping herself up on its rim, and then tells what she knows.
*Recently various members of her family have begun disappearing; she fears that they've been kidnapped.
*Not long ago, two of her sisters began visiting the island of Barbados, where they'd met a shantyman who was a skilled singer.
*The shantyman in question is named Llewellyn, a fellow of Welsh descent who was also familiar with numerous tales.
Although this isn't much information with which to work, it should be enough details to steer the PC's in the right direction. A DC 20 Knowledge: local or Gather Information check reveals that Llewellyn is still performing at the Grey Gull Tavern on Barbados. Since he's the only connection to the rest of the plot, the path should be clear.
Event 2—Out of Tune
The voyage to Barbados can be as uneventful or as fraught with difficulties as the GM and players desire. Once they arrive, however, the PC's should have a good idea of how to proceed. Refer to the map of that location to resolve this situation.
1. Main Room
This broad room features more than a score of tables, with seating around the bar for a dozen and a half more people. It is a broad, open room, with a high ceiling due to the balcony overhead. On nights (such as this one) when there is entertainment scheduled, the table in front of the door is removed to make room for a performer.
This room boasts a large hearth for cooking, a cabinet full of implements and a wide table in the center.
The walls of this room are lined with shelves; they are heaped with bottles, jars, boxes and sacks of foodstuffs, with barrels on the floor beneath them. A trapdoor in the middle of the floor leads down via a ladder to the cellar, where perishable goods are kept cool.
4. Private Rooms
These rooms can be reserved for larger groups who wish to dine with a little more privacy.
5. Landing and Hallways
At the top of the stairs is a broad landing with railings. It divides into two passages, each providing access to half of the rooms.
6. Single Rooms
Each of these rooms is available to let and can hold one person, or two if they are comfortable together. The room has one bed, along with a wardrobe and chest for storage.
7. Double Rooms
These rooms each have two beds, in addition to the other features of the single rooms.
A Popular Fellow
The primary difficulty for the PC's here is that Llewellyn has developed considerable popularity among the sailors here; because of this, they are not eager to see him leave before the night is done. If the PC's wish to remove him before then, the sailors object and things could turn violent. At the GM's discretion, they might be able to settle matters by using Diplomacy, buying rounds of drinks or through similar tactics. On the other hand, the situation could explode into a fight. Here again, the matter need not turn deadly. After all, the sailors enjoy a good brawl at least as much as they love Llewellyn's music.
As long as they can gain command of the shantyman, the PC's can pretty easily persuade him to tell what he knows. While he is not familiar with the larger plot, he does know where the other onijegi were taken—the ruined settlement at Bloody Bay on the island of Tobago.
Event 3—Return to Bloody Bay
For characters who participated in the events of the scenario “The Message,” this should be familiar territory. At that time it was a different band of pirates who'd kidnapped Dona Isabella's father and were holed up there. This should let the PC's act quickly when it comes to making their strike. (If they are at all worried, by the way, about sailing into Spanish territory, Isabella suggests flying a Spanish flag and her family's own pennant to ensure safe passage.)
These buildings, even more dilapidated with the passing of time, are clustered in a rough semi-circle around one arm of the bay.
1. Guard Posts
Once again, a pair of pirates is posted in each of these ruined buildings, which provide a good line of sight around the encampment.
This building is filled with hammocks, two in each of the four corners. In the center is a table at which the pirates eat their meals, gamble and the like. At any given time, six pirates are located here.
The door to this building is stoutly locked (DC 25 to disable; hardness 15 and 30 hit points; DC 25 to force the door). Captain Horne has the key. Ten large water barrels are lined up against the walls of this building; each holds a single onijegi. The pirates take turns draining out the filthier water via spigots set low in the barrels, and bring buckets of clean sea water from the bay. Usually there is one rather bored guard on duty here. As a protection against attacks, this fellow is armed with one grenadoe that he can use to threat his captives if the need arises.
4. Captain Horne’s Quarters
The pirate captain has outfitted this building with a large, comfortable bed, a table for making plans and a chest containing the possessions that he doesn't keep on his person.
This is where the pirates dump their garbage.
6. Empty Buildings
Just as one might expect, these structures are unoccupied.
As long as the PC's can defeat the pirates and free the onijegi held here, they have won a considerable victory. What is more, by questioning Captain Horne, they can learn the full extent of the plot. The scallywag can provide the following details.
*He was approached by two men—one a “proper Englishman,” and the other an African—and asked to assist, along with Llewellyn, in capturing and imprisoning the onijegi.
*Still more of the mermaids have been taken to another location, to participate in “diving on some kind of wreck or another.”
*If pressed, he mentions that his employer was preparing to sail into the Sargasso Sea.
*His employer sailed in a strange vessel, an old-fashioned two-masted ship. It was called L'Etoile.
These details should be enough to convince the PC's of the true threat that they face, even if they don't know just what de Montesegur might be seeking. For her part, Arukuma can confirm that there are still a dozen of her fellows unaccounted fore. She thanks her heroes for their services so far, but is forced to ask for their assistance once again.
Event 4—Into the Sargasso Sea
Armed with Horne's information, the PC's can make preparations to sail for the Sargasso Sea. The onijegi whom they've rescued thus far offer assistance and a reward, in the form of a cask containing pearls worth two thousand pieces of eight. At the GM's discretion, they might provide some other kind of treasure, such as a magical weapon or piece of armor recovered from a long-lost wreck. (This could be a chance to introduce the Interlude “The Wreck” for use in the future, too.) With these valuables and whatever else they've gathered, the PC's can outfit their vessel, purchase supplies and perhaps even hire some more crew members.
Once they're ready to do so, the PC's can set sail. Their voyage takes them out beyond the Windward Islands, into the nearer part of the Atlantic Ocean. At first the seaweed that makes up the Sargasso is barely noticeable, but it grows steadily thicker as the ship moves forward. Those characters who are attuned to such things also begin to feel a growing sense of evil in the surrounding air and water; although they don't know it, they're drawing closer to the place that has been tainted by the sunken Templar fleet.
At the same time, the PC's could have any number of the following encounters. These should help to provide some insight into what is happening, and to help build up the mood before the final encounter.
Boatload of Zombies and One Inquisitor
As they enter the Sargasso, the PC's first run into a sloop that seems derelict. This—the Prudence—is one of the two on which the Inquisitors have been traveling; unfortunately for them, they encountered one of the raised Templar cogs. The Inquisitors put up a brave fight, but the tide turned against them. Now a few of the undead remain, claiming the vessel so that it can be used later.
The zombies wait in hiding while the PC's approach, letting them come close and even board the ship. At that point they come swarming from below decks and attack. As long as the PC's can defeat them, they should be able to learn a thing or two about what is happening. (Use the sloop deck plan from a previous post to represent the Prudence.) In the captain's cabin (area 5) are the personal possessions of a Catholic priest, and most of the clothing in that and the other areas has a Spanish cut to it. These details should hint at the involvement of the Inquisition, but such details become secondary once the survivor appears.
Have the PC's make Listen checks opposed to Genevieve's efforts to Move Silently. She has taken refuge in the bilge, and now dares to emerge. (Characters who participated in the events of “Beyond the Pale” should recognize this alluring but pious woman; if she was killed, the GM could substitute her sister, Gabrielle.)
If any of the PC's is so bold—or foolish—as to enter the water, one of the fiendish sharks that inhabits the sargasso makes its attack. This might happen if they use Arukuma to scout ahead, if one or more characters set out in the rowboat, or if someone is knocked overboard during a battle. Whatever the reason, these creatures swim to the attack. They strike with their bite attack, hoping to find and drag off an easy meal.
As the PC's push further and further into the Sargasso, the plants themselves become more and more steeped in the evil presence. Eventually they even become animated, seeking blood on which to feed. These should be treated like fiendish assassin vines, reaching out across the decking in an effort to grab and pull away victims. Because the vines themselves cannot move, the PC's might want to just sail away from them. This could be a good tactic, unless one of the vines has grappled a victim.
Once they have dealt with these difficulties—and any others the GM might care to add—they reach their destination, the place where Jean de Montsegur has been busy raising his fallen brethren.
Event 5—From the Depths
In the middle of the Sargasso stands L'Etoile, the flagship that has been used to summon up the rest of the fleet. It is here that the remaining onijegi are being held, surrounded by the last of the undead Templars. This group is just finishing business before following the others, who have set out in search of the PC's so that Jean de Montsegur can have his revenge.
Refer to the deck plans for the cog to set up this encounter. At the outset, the onijegi are being kept in barrels on the main deck, while the undead are taking shelter in the fore and aft castles. The Templars rush to the attack as soon as they spot the PC's, something that can be resolved using the normal sighting rules. They might surprise their foes with volleys of cannon shot, making this a true naval engagement. At the same time, they bring their arquebuses to bear and ready for boarding action, assuming that they can run down the PC's, or the PC's bring the fight to them.
This scene should make for a furious battle, but one that the PC's can win if their tactics are sound. Should things be going to easily for them, the enemies can complicate matters in a number of ways. One option is for them to threaten throwing some of the mermaids overboard, exposing them to the aforementioned sharks. If the PC's manage to sink L'Etoile from a distance, the undead can swim over to the other vessel and then climb aboard to attack it. The zombies could also throw grenadoes into the water if one or more of the PC's dive into it. At the GM's discretion, especially for tougher parties, the Templars could include tougher undead such as ghouls, ghasts or even wights. All in all, there should be plenty of swashbuckling action for everybody.
As long as the PC's can defeat the Templars, they have completed their rescue mission. They should also have a much clearer picture now of just what danger Jean de Montsegur presents.
This scenario leaves a number of unanswered questions, all of which could provide for further adventures; some of the possibilities are detailed below.
*As mentioned above, the onijegi could provide the location of a wrecked ship by way of a reward for the PC's. That in itself could contain other dangers and possibilities for adventure.
*The tangles of the Sargasso might contain other secrets left behind by unfortunate victims.
*The fact that the PC's are traveling with an Inquisitor should provide some excellent roleplaying opportunities. Genevieve (or Gabrielle) can tell them that the Spaniards' other vessel, the Providence, is still missing, although the onijegi know that it has headed eastward. In truth, Jean de Montsegur (using Edward Chapman as his host) has taken this and sailed for the Mediterranean, events that will be detailed in the adventure “Treacherous Waters.”
*There is also the matter of the other Templar vessels, with Nneka leading them, something else to which the onijegi can attest. These have sailed westward, a situation that forms the basis of the next adventure, “Dead Reckoning.”
Appendix 1—Dramatis Personae
Arukuma the Wanderer
Female Onijegi Bard 5; CR 5; Size medium; HD 5d6+5; hp 25; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Spd 5 ft., swim 50 ft.; AC 13 (+3 Dex); Atk +4 (1d4+1, dagger) or +6 ranged; SQ low-light vision, bardic music, bardic knowledge, countersong, fascinate, inspire courage +1, inspire competence; AL CG; SV: Fort +2, Ref +7, Will +3; Str 12, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 8, Cha 18.
Skills: Diplomacy +12, Escape Artist +11, Hide +11, Gather Information +12, Move Silently +11, Perform (singing) +15, Tumble +11.
Feats: Dodge, Skill Focus (Perform: singing).
Spells Known: Daze, detect magic, know direction, message, read magic, resistance; charm person, hypnotism, identify, sleep; daze monster, enthrall, suggestion.
Spells per Day: 3/4/2.
Arukuma has always been fascinated by the world beyond the watery confines in which she was born, a predilection that earned her the moniker of “Wanderer.” She is fond of all kinds of stories, and enjoys sharing her considerable talents with those whom she meets. Her recent experiences have left her the wiser, but she is still friendly with those who earn her trust.
Fiendish Assassin Vines
Plant; CR 4; Size large; HD 4d8+12; hp 30; Init +0; Spd 5 ft.; AC 15 (-1 size, +6 natural); Atk +7 (1d6+7, slam); S/R 10 ft./20 ft.; SQ Constrict 1d6+7, blindsight 30 ft., smite good 1/day, camouflage, immune to electricity, low-light vision, plant traits, damage reduction 5/magic, resistance to cold 10 and fire 10, spell resistance 9; AL NE; SV: Fort +7, Ref +1, Will +2; Str 20, Dex 10, Con 16, Int 3, Wis 13, Cha 9.
This bloodthirsty foliage has developed from the seaweed that grows in the area, but it has been warped and twisted by the presence of the dead templars.
Fiendish Huge Sharks
Animal/Outsider; CR 6; Size huge; HD 10d8+20; hp 65; Init +6 (+2 Dex, +4 Improved Initiative); Spd swim 60 ft.; AC 15 (-2 size, +2 Dex, +5 natural); Atk +10 (2d6+7, bite); SQ blindsense, keen scent, smite good 1/day, damage reduction 5/magic, resistance to cold and fire 10, spell resistance 15; AL N; SV: Fort +11, Ref +9, Will +4; Str 21, Dex 15, Con 15, Int 3, Wis 12, Cha 2.
Skills: Listen +10, Spot +10, Swim +13.
Feats: Alertness, Great Fortitude, Improved Initiative, Iron Will.
Like the assassin vines, above, these creatures have been warped an twisted by the presence of evil energy in this part of the sargasso.
Fiendish Templar Zombies
Undead Humanoid; CR 1/2; Size medium; HD 2d12+3; hp 16; Init +0; Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+4 chain shirt, +2 natural); Atk +4 (1d8+3, longsword); SQ undead traits, smite good 1/day, darkvision 60 ft., resistance to cold and fire 5, spell resistance 6; AL N; SV: Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +3; Str 17, Dex 10, Con --, Int 3, Wis 10, Cha 1.
Equipment: Tattered clothing, rusted armor and longsword.
These animated corpses have a particularly evil glint in their eyes. They wear rusted chain shirts covered with the rotting remains of knightly tabards, and wield similarly tarnished longswords.
Rogue 8; CR 8; Size medium; HD 8d6; hp 30; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 Dex); Atk +8/+2 (2d4, pistol) or +8/+2 (1d6+2, rapier); SQ Sneak Attack +4d6, Trapfinding, Evasion, Trap Sense +2, Uncanny Dodge, Improved Uncanny Dodge; AL LN; SV: Fort +2, Ref +7, Will +3; Str 10, Dex 15, Con 10, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 16.
Skills: Bluff +14, Decipher Script +13, Diplomacy +14, Disable Device +13, Disguise +14, Gather Information +14, Hide +13, Knowledge (local) +5, Knowledge (religion) +13, Move Silently +13, Search +13.
Feats: Investigator, Point Blank Shot, Precise Attack (rapier), Weapon Finesse (rapier).
Equipment: Rapier, dirk, pistol, powder horn, apostles.
While she plays the part of an alluring and seductive woman, Genevieve is in fact a devout agent of the Inquisition. Her tanned complexion and raven hair help her to blend in anywhere in the Caribbean, while her shapely figure and striking looks make her a hit with menfolk. These are all weapons in her arsenal, however, and her mission is to stamp out heresy wherever she finds it. In this her zeal is unmatched and unwavering. Her recent defeat has left her a little humbled, however, and more willing to work with others to achieve a common goal.
Dona Isabella Santiago
Aristocrat 3/Expert 1; CR 3; Size medium; HD 3d8+1d6+4; hp 24; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 Dex); Atk +2 (1d3, unarmed) or +4 (ranged); SQ None; AL LG; SV: Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +4; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 8, Cha 16.
Skills: Bluff +9, Diplomacy +12, Gather Information +12, Knowledge: local +7, Knowledge: nobility +7, Knowledge: sea lore +5, Profession: merchant +3, Profession: sailor +3, Read & Write Carib, English, French, Spanish, Speak Carib, English, French, Spanish.
Feats: Skill Focus (Diplomacy, Gather Information).
Equipment: Clothing, pistol, dagger.
Isabella, though she is part of the upper crust of the Spanish colonists in the New World, also has something of an adventurous streak. Recently she has begun leading the expeditions of one of her father's pearl diving ships.
Shantyman 6; CR 6; Size medium; HD 6d8; hp 30; Init +6 (+2 Dex, +4 Improved Initiative); Spd 30 ft.; AC 13 (+2 Dex, +1 dueling jacket); Atk +6 (1d6, rapier) or +6 (1d4, stiletto); SQ Bardic music, bardic knowledge, vaporing, fame tale; AL CN; SV: Fort +2, Ref +7, Will +5; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 14, Wis 10, Cha 17.
Skills: Appraise +11, Bluff +12, Diplomacy +7, Disguise +12, Gather Information +12, Knowledge (local) +11, Knowledge (sea lore) +11, Perform (fiddle) +12.
Feats: Improved Initiative, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Weapon Finesse (rapier).
Fortunes: Booty, Wastrel.
Equipment: Rapier, stiletto, dueling jacket, fiddle, pouch containing 100 doubloons.
Llewellyn is a consummate performer who loves the attention of a crowd. He is inspired by tales of thrilling heroics, but he himself is something of a coward. For that reason he likes to surround himself with adoring fans, something he accomplishes through adequate performance and the easy spending of his money.
Sea Dog 2; CR 2; HD 2d10+4; hp 19; Medium-sized; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+1 Dex, +1 dueling jacket); Atk +4 (1d6+2, club) or +3 (ranged); SQ Favored Ship (English ships); AL CN; SV: Fort +5, Ref +4, Will +1; Str 15, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8.
Background: Sea Devil.
Skills: Balance +6, Climb +7, Jump +7, Profession (sailor) +6, Survival +6, Use Rope +6.
Feats: Cleave, Dodge, Power Attack.
Equipment: Dueling jacket, buccaneer knife, various improvised weapons.
Sea Dog 1; CR 1; Medium-sized; HD 1d10+2; hp 12; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+1 Dex, +1 dueling jacket); Atk +3 (1d6+2, club) or +2 (ranged); AL CN; SV: Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +1; Str 15, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8.
Background: Sea Devil.
Skills: Balance +5, Climb +6, Jump +6, Profession (sailor) +5, Survival +5, Use Rope +5.
Feats: Cleave, Dodge, Power Attack.
Equipment: Dueling jacket, buccaneer knife, various improvised weapons.
Sea Dog 4/Sea Officer 3; CR 7; Medium-sized; HD 7d10; hp 43; Init +0; Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 buff coat); Atk +6/+1 (2d6, pistol) or +6/+1 (1d6, buccaneer knife); SQ Close Quarters +1, Command (morale bonus), Preferred Ship (English ships), Skill Expert +2; AL TN; SV: Fort +7, Ref +5, Will +8; Str 10, Dex 10, Con 10, Int 14, Wis 15, Cha 16.
Background: Sea Devil.
Skills: Appraise +12, Knowledge: local +12, Knowledge: navigation +12, Knowledge: sea lore +12, Listen +15, Profession: sailor +13, Spot +15, Survival +8.
Feats: Alertness, Dodge, Endurance, Great Fortitude, Iron Will, Mobility.
Equipment: Two pistols, buccaneer knife, buff coat, scroll with ship’s articles.
Captain Horne is every bit the sea dog. He has lost his right hand, replacing it with a hook, and has the weathered features of one long exposed to the wind and waves. His clothing is fancy but functional, and he wears his dark brown hair and beard long. Difficult times have left him a desperate man, to the point that he has now allied himself with true cutthroats in order to make his fortune.