Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Three Things

Greetings, all. This post includes three different elements. For one, Wizards of the Coast rereleased the 3.5 D&D rulebooks today; here's hoping that they'll make them available in PDF form, too.

Also, tomorrow (the 19th) is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Here is an early holiday greeting.

Finally, detailed below is a new relic, inspired by the life of Captain Woodes Rogers.


Rogers' (Un)Lucky Shot
Somebody, somewhere, when forced to face a painful experience, said, “Bite the bullet.” That person might have had Captain Woodes Rogers in mind. During a battle while on a cruise in the South Sea, Rogers was shot in the mouth with a musket ball. The ball then became lodged in his jaw, and he carried it with him for the next six months. Only after he'd returned to England did he finally find a surgeon who could remove it for him. Someone must at that point have claimed the well-traveled piece of ammunition, if reports of it being used as a charm are to be believed.

In game terms, Rogers' shot provides the person who carries it with the benefits of the Rugged feat. Alternately, it can be loaded into a firearm and used as a +2 wounding shot.

You are physically tough and vigorous.
Benefit: You get a +1 synergy bonus on all Fortitude saving throws and a +2 synergy bonus on all Survival checks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Coat and Hat of Baron Samedi

Recently I've been reading about Voodoo, and this has inspired a new relic for the game.


Coat and Hat of Baron Samedi
In Voodoo tradition, the loa known as Baron Samedi is depicted as a man of African descent with his face whitened like a skull, and wearing a black top hat and coat. Indeed, those two garments are sometimes placed atop and on the arms of a cross, respectively, as a representation of this powerful entity. Sometimes the articles of clothing used in this way become infused with arcane power. This might be due to the influence of Baron Samedi himself, or perhaps because of the faith and fervor projected upon the items by believers. Whatever the case, none can argue that they don't become imbued with considerable power.

In game terms, this item functions like a mantle of faith, with one difference. Hougans who wear it receive damage reduction 5/evil, while bokor benefit from DR 5/good. This reflects the dual nature of the Baron; for some he is the psychopomp who guides souls to the afterlife, while for others he is a power who spreads debauchery and death.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ongoing "Inspirography"

Some time ago I posted a review of the novel Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton, as part of a list of pirate-related, non-RPG material. This continues now with two  more reviews.


Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
Written by A.C. Crispin; published by Disney Press in 2011

I struggled with this book when I first started, for two reasons. One was the length; checking in at around 650 pages, I knew it would take a while to read. As I'd recently read On Stranger Tides, and reread Captain Blood and Pirate Latitudes--all of which were just over three hundred pages--I was hesitant to commit to a book that would be as long as any two of them kind. Once I did start reading, there was also the matter of extensive use of flashbacks that was rather off-putting. This meant that the book took its time before focussing on the main action of the story.

The book did prove to be worth the effort, though. After a while it became apparent that the use of flashbacks was a good way to tell the story. A.C. Crispin clearly did her research for this book; it is filled with colorful and authentic details about sailing and life aboard a ship. It also blends in well with the canon of the Pirates of the Caribbean world, setting up some history for Captain Jack Sparrow along with other characters. All in all I'd recommend it to anyone who liked the movies and is ready to commit to a book of this length.

Silver: My Own Tale As Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder
Written by Edward Chupack and Published by St. Martin's Press in 2008

Every few years it seems that somebody else writes a novel adding to the story of Treasure Island. Some are sequels, and some are prequels. This book is one of the latter. It purports to tell the history of Long John Silver, with his rise from street urchin to serving boy to sailor. In doing so the author reinterprets many of the characters and incidents in the classic novel, weaving them into a tale that in the end bears only a small resemblance to Robert Louis Stevenson's novel. It contains lots of intrigue and, for me, the engaging use of codes and other puzzles. I was disappointed by the reinterpretation of some of the characters, however. In the end I felt that this story didn't need to be tied to the classic work of pirate fiction, but should have been completely its own work. Of course, then it wouldn't have benefitted from the drawing power of being called a prequel.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fortune & Glory

Here finally is the next adventure in the Come Hell and High Water campaign.


Fortune & Glory
This scenario is Part 13 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 eighth-level characters. Although it is intended as part of an ongoing collection of scenarios, it can also be run as a stand-alone adventure with a bit of modification.

This adventure is meant to take place immediately following the events of the scenario “The Eye of the Storm.” During that time, the PC's discovered a plot by a demon-possessed Edward Chapman to lure the fleets of various Mediterranean powers, along with them, into a pitched battle and the maw of a witch-summoned maelstrom.

Chapman was not so foolish as to carry his treasure cache into battle, however. The valuable he left hidden on Grand Cayman Island before departing for the Mediterranean, as a fail-safe in case of problems. It is buried on the beach there, with a series of cryptic markers indicating its position. What is more, he left behind a group of guardians, savage warriors who wear the skins of crocodiles. They lurk in the jungle of that island, ready to dissuade anyone who comes too close to the treasure.

Indeed, these warriors have are about to have a run-in with some of the pirates who use the island to careen. Two captains are currently careening their vessels there—Annabell “Banshee” O'Bannon and her brother, Michael “Cannon” O'Bannon. The presence of these two pirates, along with their crews, is going to complicate things considerably.

As mentioned above, this adventure is intended to follow naturally from the events of “The Eye of the Storm.” Perhaps the PC's managed to release Edward Chapman from his demonic possession, in which case he has no memory of where he buried the legendary Templar treasure. They might also have been forced to kill him, in which case he is doubly unhelpful. Whatever the case, there is only the one clue to the location of the cache.

On the other hand, the GM may wish to use this scenario as a one-shot adventure. If that is the case, they could come into possession of the clue in any number of different ways.
  • It might be part of another treasure cache, or perhaps on the person of an enemy that they defeat.
  • They might stumble across an unfortunate person who is being robbed, with the clue being the item the thieves are seeking.
  • A patron could seek out the PC's in hopes of revealing the clue's secret meaning.
However it is that the PC's come into contact with the item, they can begin trying to decipher it once they have done so.

Encounter 1—The First Clue
The item in question is a small pouch that Chapman wears around his neck. Inside it is a large pinch of sand, along with a tooth. That is all. If the PC's want some more information about it, they need to do some thinking.

A DC 15 Knowledge: nature or Survival check reveals the source of the tooth. It belonged to a caiman, a reptile akin to crocodiles and alligators, and a big one at that. Hopefully this is enough to make the PC's think of Grand Cayman Island, back in the Caribbean Sea. If that doesn't happen right away, Chapman himself might be able to provide some hints. It seems logical to hide the treasure before going into battle, perhaps even before crossing the Atlantic en route to the Mediterranean. Given that, the players might want tot look at the map of the Caribbean on page 163 of the Skull & Bones rulebook for some inspiration. Failing that, one might even allow a DC 20 Knowledge: navigation or sea lore check to recognize the implication.

As long as that location does come to mind, PC's who make Knowledge: sea lore or Profession: sailor checks can recall some information about the Cayman Islands. For the DC's listed below, the lower number is for the prior skill, while the higher one is for the latter.

DC—Information Gained
5/10—The Cayman Islands are English territory, overseen from Jamaica.
10/15—They are sparsely settled, but a noted place for pirates to careen their ships.
15/20—There are legends of crocodiles on the islands who walk upright and have attacked people who make landfall there.
20/25—In the northeast corner of Grand Cayman is a location known as Sandy Beach (see map).

Refer to page 166 of Skull & Bones for a map of, and more details regarding, these islands.

Homeward Bound
For PC's who've participated in other adventures from this series, a trip back to the Caribbean should be a homecoming of sorts. The Atlantic crossing is not something to be taken too lightly, however, and could all sorts of encounters for the party. A few of the possibilities are detailed here.
  • Foul weather could make for a challenge, such as in the interlude “The Storm.”
  • Chance encounters might occur, such as in “The Shipwreck,” “The Pygmies” or “The Healer.”
  • There might be shenanigans aboard ship, as detailed in “The Stowaway,” “The Menagerie” or “The Competition 2.”
  • Monsters, as seen in “The Sirens,” “The Serpent” or “The Ship-Wrecker,” could make an appearance.
Whether the voyage is relatively uneventful or fraught with peril, once they've completed it, the PC's can go about finding their treasure.

Encounter 2—Conflicting Interests
As they approach the island, have the PC's make Spot or Search checks opposed to those for key members of Banshee and Mad Dog's crews; keep in mind bonuses for such factors as being in the crow's nest or using a spyglass. The character with the highest result is first to notice the other ship(s), something that could have important effects later in the adventure. The other pirates have careened their vessels on Sandy Beach in the northwest corner of the island, the very place that seems to be indicated as the location of Chapman's cache.

This situation should present the PC's with an interesting challenge. How can they go about looking for the treasure, without making it obvious that they're seeking valuables? After all, the two other pirate crews have set up a rough camp in the middle of the sandy beach, with many of their number relaxing while others work (in no kind of hurry) at scraping down the hulls of their ships. Unless the PC's are content to wait out the situation for a long time, they need to devise a means of continuing the hunt in a subtle manner. Here the GM needs to be flexible in adjudicating matters, and hopefully the PD's find inventive ways to use their skills and other resources in accomplishing this task.

For one thing, allow Cannon, Banshee and their crew members to make Sense Motive checks opposed by the Player Characters' Bluff efforts at times when they're trying to seem nonchalant. While failure on the part of the PC's doesn't necessarily reveal what they're really doing, it does indicate that they're up to something. That in turn could lead to difficult questions, prompting some good roleplaying opportunities.

In that same vein, this situation provides ample possibilities for other entertaining interactions. Good-natured rivalry between the crews could lead to wrestling matches, shooting contests, drinking bouts and tale-swapping—events that some of the PC's could use as a distraction while others are busy participating. Refer to the appendix to find stat blocks for Cannon, Banshee and the other members of their crews.

There's also the presence of Llewellyn on the island. PC's who participated in the scenario “The Mermaid's Tale” should remember him, and might not think too fondly of the shantyman. If the PC's treated him decently during those events, he might be content to let bygones be bygones. On the other hand, if he has any reason to hate the PC's, Llewellyn could go out of his way to seek revenge.

Encounter 3—The Second Clue
As long as the PC's do manage to look around the island a bit, they could find their next clues. A DC 20 Search check reveals that various trees surrounding the beach have had slashes cut into their bark, including the following patterns:


Hopefully it doesn't take a Knowledge check to identify them as Roman numerals. Even so, careful observation should reveal that they are the numbers from seven to thirteen, and that thirteen appears twice.

The key to solving the puzzle is to remember that Sir Edward had recovered the treasure of the lost Templar Fleet, which set sail from La Rochelle after that organization was suppressed by Pope Clement IV and King Philip V of France. These two men gave the infamous order calling for the arrest of all Templars in their territory on Friday, 13 October 1307. The trick here is to visualize lines connecting the first XIII to the X (for October 13th), and then from VII to the second XIII (for 1307). As long as these lines are straight, the point where they cross reveals the location of the cache. At the GM's discretion, the PC's could make a DC 15 Knowledge: history check to recall the date in question, and perhaps a DC 20 Knowledge: navigation check to recognize the importance of plotting the positions.

As mentioned above, however, the PC's need to be careful how they go about this search. After all, the Captains O'Bannon have been sitting right on top of the treasure, and thus could claim to have found it first. (Never mind the fact that they didn't actually know it was there in the first place.) Settling any disputes that might arise can be handled with use of the Diplomacy skill, DC 25, with modifiers for good roleplaying and any negotiation that might occur. One option for the PC's is to recruit the O'Bannons as part of their pirate fleet, since by now they should have established their reputations throughout the region.

The treasure includes three chests filled with various old coins, worth a total of 10,000 doubloons; a set of ancient scrolls containing the divine spells (written in Hebrew) greater dispel magic and hallow; a set of masterwork navigational tools, including a beautifully crafted compass and square; the original Jolly Roger, along with a wooden case (reliquary) containing a skull and two femurs; the item holding Nneka's gros bon ange; and a golden idol depicting the head of a demon (Baphomet). The latter item is worth at least 1,000 doubloons to a collector, but possibly more.

Encounter 4—Death Comes in the Night
To complicate matters even further, there is also the matter of the savages that Chapman left behind to guard his treasure. They can strike at any time, especially once the PC's come close to claiming their prize, but they especially prefer to attack under the cover of darkness and with the element of surprise. For that reason, it is probably best to have them emerge from the shadows of the night in the aftermath of some grand celebration, when many of the pirates are drunk, fatigued and possibly injured, as well. (Refer to the article “Of Rum and Drunkenness” in the Buccaneers & Bokor e-zine, issue 5, for more information about the debilitating effects of alcohol.)

When they do strike, the Cayman warriors prefer hand-to-hand combat, where their ability to grapple gives them a distinct advantage. Note that they possess the Improved Unarmed Combat feat, so they don't provoke attacks of opportunity when closing to melee.

Conclusion and Epilogue
Once they've defeated the Cayman warriors and recovered Chapman's treasure, the PC's have completed a major story arc in the Come Hell and High Water campaign. Given that they should be around level 8 or 9, they have established themselves as major players in the Caribbean and beyond. Because of this, they could use a little downtime to spend their new wealth. This might include celebrating victories, outfitting ships and the like. In the terms of a campaign, the players can take some time to decide what their characters are doing next, in order to set the scene for further adventures.

Further Adventures
A few of the possibilities for continuing the story are detailed below.
  • Given their newfound influence, the PC's could set sail in search of more lucrative prizes.
  • If they managed to offend either of the O'Bannons (or anyone else, for that matter), that person might try to take revenge against them.
  • Considering the importance of some of the items in the treasure haul, the PC's could run into other people interested in them.
  • If any of the PC's had other unresolved business, as part of their background stories or otherwise, this could be a good chance to deal with those issues.

Appendix 1—Dramatis Personae

Annabell “Banshee” O'Bannon
Sea Dog 4/Sea Officer 3; CR 7; Size medium; HD 7d10; hp 43; Init +7 (+3 Dex, +4 Improved Initiative); Spd 30 ft.; AC 14 (+3 Dex, +1 dueling jacket); Atk +10 (2d4, pistol) or +6 (1d6, buccaneer knife); SQ Superstitious, Close Quarters +1, Dodge, 1st Favored Ship, Mobility, Skill Expert +2, Command (Morale Bonus); AL N; SV: Fort +5, Ref +8, Will +3; Str 10, Dex 16, Con 10, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 16.
Background: Sea Devil (Profession: sailor and Survival).
Skills: Diplomacy +13, Hide +10, Knowledge: navigation +9, Move Silently +10, Profession: sailor +9, Survival +4, Use Rope +10.
Feats: Improved Initiative, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Quick Draw.
Fortunes: Superstitious.
Equipment: Dueling jacket, buccaneer knife, six pistols.

Annabell O'Bannon has the fiery temper and proud Irish heritage that her nickname implies. Indeed, she sees herself as a spiritual successor to the great Grace O'Malley, a pirate queen who dealt on equal terms with Queen Elizabeth herself. The Banshee can be quick to anger, but she is also fiercely loyal to those who earn her respect. She craves the thrill of adventure more than the spoils that it can bring, and thus is drawn to those who share her love of danger and challenges. Annabell has red hair pulled back in a ponytail, and cold blue eyes. She dresses in men's clothing, including a dueling jacket and an impressive number of pistols.

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.
Background: Gentleman-Adventurer.
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.

Michael “Cannon” O'Bannon
Buccaneer 4/ Sea Officer 3; CR 7; Size medium ; HD 4d8+3d10+14; hp 53; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 13 (+1 Dex, +2 buff coat); Atk +9 (1d6+3, cutlass) or +7 (2d6, short musket); SQ Bonus Feat, Expert Pilot +2, Survivor, Resilient, Skill Expert +2, Command (Morale Bonus); AL N; SV: Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +4; Str 16, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 10.
Background: Sea Devil (Profession: sailor and Survival).
Skills: Appraise +3, Climb +13, Heal +2, Hide +8, Intimidate +10, Jump +10, Move Silently +8, Profession: sailor +10; Survival +9, Swim +10.
Feats: Cleave, Power Attack, Self-Sufficient, Versatile, Weapon Focus (cutlass).
Fortunes: Details.
Equipment: Masterwork cutlass, buff coat, two short muskets, buccaneer knife.

Where his sister is prone to strong and occasionally destructive emotions, Michael O'Bannon is a laid-back, fun-loving person. It's true that he enjoys nothing more than a good fight, but for him it's never personal. Indeed, he's been known to sit down over a mug of ale with old foes, regardless of the history between them. The Cannon has curly black hair and brown eyes.

Typical Crew Member
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.

Cayman Warriors
Fighter 6; CR 6; Size medium; HD 6d10+12; hp 45; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 15 (+1 Dex, +4 hide armor); Atk +10/+5 (1d3+3, unarmed) or +7 (ranged); AL CN; SV: Fort +7, Ref +3, Will +3; Str 16, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8.
Background: Native (Heal, Move Silently).
Skills: Climb +10, Heal +5, Hide +5, Jump +10, Move Silently +10.
Feats: Cleave, Dodge, Improved Grapple, Improved Unarmed Strike, Power Attack, Self-Sufficient, Weapon Focus (unarmed), Weapon Specialization (unarmed).
Fortunes: Doll's Eyes.
Equipment: Hide armor made from the skins of caymans.

These grim combatants have been corrupted by demonic influences. They wear the skins of caymans crafted into hide armor, and live only to shed the blood of those who invade their island.