Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Tale: Bad Business

Tale: “Bad Business”
The bark Skylark once again lied at anchor; this time it was drawn up alongside a pier in the harbor of the religious settlement known as Sรคis. Horace stood on the main deck, saying farewell to the disembarking passengers—clerics of Gaea, whom the Larks had transported back from their pilgrimage. Max and Urield stood with Horace, sharing gregarious farewells. For his part, Max made a deep bow to the halfling woman who'd drawn his eye.

After all had gone ashore, Horace was about to give orders to set sail; he was interrupted by Lucinda, who emerged from the companionway that led aft to the main cabin. “Captain,” she announced, “our patient has regained consciousness.”

“Belay,” Horace called. “Hold here and wait for further orders!” Then, turning on his heel, he followed her aft. In the main cabin he found Konrad sitting on a chair from the captain's table, which he'd drawn up alongside the narrow bed built against the aft wall. As Horace watched, the dwarf sprinkled water with a ladle from a steaming pot onto the bedclothes in which the lizard-woman was wrapped.

She gave a contented sigh. “Again, I thank you,” she said in sibilant Common.

“It is nothing.” Konrad shook his head. “But, Narraw, can you tell me why you came seeking us?”

Her expression of comfort dissolved into a worried frown. “They... they took our children,” she hissed.

“Your children?” That question came from Lucinda.

“Yes. Our eggs.”

Horace's brow furrowed. “Do you know why?”

“They needed a way to make us work for them, to make us dive in the water and explore a...” She struggled to find the correct word. “A wreck.”

“A wreck?” Each of the adventurers asked that question simultaneously.

“Yes. I did not understand all that they said, but it sounded like it was... important to them.”

Max and Uriel smiled identical wolfish grins; Konrad stroked his beard, and Horace twirled the end of his moustache.

It was Lucinda who spoke. “If we help you recover your eggs, then would you help us recover whatever is in that wreck?”

The lizard-woman nodded. “Yes.”

“It's settled, then,” Horace declared. “All hands to stations; make ready to sail.”

* * *

Because the river provided plenty of propulsion, they set only the topsails to aid in steering the Skylark. While they made a brisk pace downstream, Horace left a veteran hand in charge of the whipstaff so that he and his officers could reconvene with Narraw in the main cabin.

“So,” Horace began, “we encountered Martelli.”

“And gave him and his men a good thrashing,” Uriel added with a grin.

“Indeed,” Horace continued. He turned back to the lizard-woman, and gave her a quick description of the fallen foe. “Is he the one?”

“Yes,” she hissed.

“You said they forced you and your people to dive on a wrecked ship. Did they have a place where they took the things that you recovered from it?”

She nodded.

“Can you lead us there?”


“Very good. Let's go up on deck, then, and see what we can see.”

* * *

An hour later found the Skylark once again trailing behind its longboat. This time, though, it was moving under minimal sails instead of being towed. Konrad was stationed in the bow of the boat, watching and reporting, and Horace stood by the helm. Lucinda, Uriel and Max crewed the longboat, and Narraw accompanied them. They waited while the lizard-woman scanned the passing shoreline, looking for telltale signs of the hideout.

After what seemed like hours, she raised a hand and then pointed at a dense cluster of reeds. Max signaled back to Konrad, who relayed the message to Horace.

“Strike sails,” the human whispered, “and drop anchor.” The crewed moved quietly to execute his orders.

Back in the longboat, Uriel was preparing for action. He stripped off his leather armor and any clothing beyond a loincloth and a belt. Into that item he slipped the halfling-sized shortsword that Max offered him, which in the half-orc's big hand looked more like a longknife. Then he turned to Narraw and gestured toward the water. “After you.”

In one lithe motion she dove into the water, making hardly a splash. Uriel was nearly as graceful following her. For a time they were gone, and then they came back up to the surface.

“This is the place,” Uriel explained. “Max, we need your help.”

The halfling stripped out of his armor, too, and then stepped up onto the boat's gunwhale and dove; he added a backflip to it.

Lucinda, watched that display and then followed their progress toward the shore as best she could; then her eye was caught by a flicker of bright color descending from the sky. The newcomer settle down onto the gunwhale next to her; it was Polly, her familiar.

She looked the bird in the eyes for a moment, and it nodded. Turning back toward her departed comrades, the half-elf considered for a moment and then decided. Taking up the boat's oars, she began rowing back toward the Skylark.

* * *

Before long Lucinda was back aboard the bark, having been hauled up on the carpenter's swing while a sailor took her place in the boat. After asking Konrad to keep a lookout for the others, she approached Horace.

“Captain,” she announced, “I have good news and bad news.”

“What is it?” he asked.

“The good news is that most or all of the pirates are currently away from their hideout.

Horace considered that information. “What's the bad news?”

She gave a rueful smile. “It seems that they've attacked and overrun a Northern Empire galley, and they did it not far from here.”

“What are the odds that they'll return to their hideout?”

“I think it pretty likely.”

“Then spread the word: double the watch and arm the crew, bows and blades.”

* * *

For a time Narraw swam through the water, her powerful tail propelling her like an oar. Max did his best to keep up with her, while Uriel brought up the rear. Both the half-orc and halfling were force to surface from time to time in order to take a fresh breath, and thus it was that she came swimming back to them, indicating with gestures that they should follow her.

She led them to a pace where a narrow tunnel, concealed by the reeds, led up under the shoreline. Urield and Max both recognized that it would be completely hidden at high tide, but partially expose at low ebb. Kicking back to the surface, the two adventurers took deep breaths before diving again and, with Max in the lead, swimming into it.

The tunnel, narrow and sandy, sloped upward, rising after some fifty feet above the waterline. Max and Uriel pushed themselves into the air pocket, and then the halfling began to crawl further forward. After a time the tunnel opened up into a broader cavern, one with stone walls and a sandy floor. It was nearly empty, except floor a hole in the floor, on the other side of the chamber, that led downward and had a ladder sticking out of it. Max scrutinized it and then started toward the ladder—but not in a straight line; instead he kept one hand against the wall to his left. Reaching the hole, he listened for a moment before jumping downward.

The lower level was dimly lit by a few everburning torches set in crude sconces along the walls. They illuminated a chamber that was furnished with hammocks tied to support posts, along with a rough, broad table surrounded by chairs. Against the wall opposite the ladder rested a number of chests, each bound in iron and secured with a heavy padlock. Most notable, however, were the sharpened stakes that jutted up from the ground, ones that were placed directly beneath a false canvas floor in the middle of the upper level.

While Uriel considered that, Narraw dropped to the sand against one wall and began sniffing at it. Both of the others could see numerous small, circular indentations in that area.

“They were here,” she declared. “The eggs were here.”

Uriel nodded. “But where are they now?”

“Maybe they moved them onto a ship,” Max suggested.

“If they did, then how will we ever find them?” Narraw asked.

“Don't worry.” Uriel tried to sound confident. “We can ask the others. They'll think of something.”

“Do you think so?”

“I do.”

The lizard-woman nodded. With a final glance at the small impressions, she turned and headed for the exit. Before long they were treading water in front of the shoreline, looking for the longboat that wasn't there.

“Wait a minute,” Max cautioned, nodding in the direction of the Skylark. They could see that a galley had pulled alongside it, and sailors were already streaming from it onto the smaller bark.

“That's a vessel of the Northern Empire,” Uriel noted, holding a hand over his eyes. “Finally, a little help when you need it.”

“No,” Max cautioned. “Something's not right.”

* * *

Back aboard the Skylark, Horace was overseeing his crew's preparations to receive visitors. The newcomer, a galley named the Luminous, had been secured with grappling lines, and its crew was now laying boarding planks across the gap between the vessels. He moved to stand nearby them, waiting for the traditional request for permission to come aboard.

Instead he saw musket-bearing soldiers come tramping across, with their weapons held at the ready.

“What is the meaning of this?” Horace demanded.

His answer came from an officer who followed the soldiers. “Order your crew to stand down,” the officer declared. “You and your crew are under arrest.”

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Lost Arkship

Because of their long lifespans, the elves have held a distinct advantage over others in the field of interstellar space exploration. While many of their expeditions have been successful—consider, for example, making contact with the arborlings of Sylvanus and the kasatha and shobhad on their planet of origin—at least one such voyage, to explore a black hole and its stellar companion, went terribly awry. 

The cause of this calamity was an entity known as a colour out of space. It dwells in this location because of the powerful gravitational effect that the black hole exerts upon its companion star, an effect that the colour finds rejuvenating. When the arkship arrived, the colour attacked its crew; the elves were forced to flee in their longboat back through the interstellar portal that they were towing, and then to seal it off from the other side. Since then, the colour has slowly been preying upon the animals aboard the arkship, driving some into a frenzy and draining others until they succumb and acquire the colour-blighted template. 

Colour out of Space: Refer to pages 38-9 of Bestiary 4 for stats.

Additionally, there can be all manner of colour-blighted animals aboard the arkship, along with others that have become aggressive because of hunger. Indeed, the rectangular compartments that have been installed on the arkship's main deck each house different types of creatures, ones that are normally kept separate from each other but that are now running wild because of the crew's absence. There could even be more fantastic types, especially a unicorn or a pack of blink dogs. It's also possible that some crew members were left behind; base stats for them can be found in a previous article.

Using the Derelict Arkship in an Aetherial Adventures Campaign
This lost ship can work into numerous space fantasy adventures, including the following possibilities.
  • It's always possible that the PCs, while pursuing other business, simply discover the arkship adrift in space and decide to explore it.
  • The cargo hold in the vessel's lower deck contains valuable supplies and equipment, enough that it could tempt profit-seeking characters to do so. This could include an elemental obelisk and other materials for establishing a colony, or a captain's log that holds valuable, but secret, information.
  • A relative of a crew member left behind on the vessel might seek to recover that elf's remains, possibly needing to circumvent Navy hierarchy to do so. In that case, a band of adventurers would be likely candidates.
  • Because the colour-blighted animals are not evil by nature, dealing with them could present a particular challenge to characters who won't just kill them outright.
  • Deranged individuals, especially the Cult of the Void, might seek to visit this location, regarding it as the embodiment of entropy, and even to communicate with the colour out of space.
  • If that entity gained control of a crew member who could pilot the arkship, then it could have that individual steer it through space toward a particular destination.
  • Should the magic that seals the interstellar portal—likely a wall of force spell—ever fail, then the colour out of space could pass through it to wreck havoc in a more civilized region of aetherspace.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Gnome Pepperbox

Inspired by the story "Act of Faith," here are game rules for a gnomish pepperbox pistol.


New Weapon: Gnome Pepperbox
The gnomish variation on the pepperbox has eight barrels and incorporates a more complicated mechanism. The benefit of this is that each shot causes the mechanism to turn the barrel, bringing a fresh round into place for firing. Because of that, it can be fired once per attack that a character has, including an extra attack granted by feats such as Rapid Shot. On the other hand, it is more prone to misfiring; it should be treated as an “early firearm” insofar as the chance of explosion is concerned, and inflicts damage equivalent to a critical hit in a ten-foot square, determined by rolling scatter as per a grenade-like weapon. 

Gnome Pepperbox

The gnomish variation on the pepperbox has eight barrels and incorporates a more complicated mechanism. The benefit of this is that each shot causes the mechanism to turn the barrel, bringing a fresh round into place for firing. Because of that, it can be fired once per attack that a character has, including an extra attack granted by feats such as Rapid Shot. On the other hand, it is more prone to misfiring; it should be treated as an “early firearm” insofar as the chance of explosion is concerned, and inflicts damage equivalent to a critical hit in a ten-foot square, determined by rolling scatter as per a grenade-like weapon.

Dmg (S)
Dmg (M)
Gnome pepperbox
2000 gp
20 ft.
1-4 (10 ft.)
6 lbs.
B and P

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Sol System Planetary Tracker

This post provides a means of determining planets' relative locations, and thus knowing the travel time between worlds.


Using the Planetary Tracker
For players and GMs who want more precision, however, refer to the accompanying diagram. At the start of a campaign, each planet is placed in a position of its orbit, at the GM's discretion. Then, as time passes, the planets move through their orbits at the following speeds.
  • Wodan moves one step every five and a half days.
  • Freya moves one step every fifteen days.
  • Homeworld moves one step every twenty-four days.
  • Tyr moves one step every forty-six days.
  • The Asteroid Belt is spread around its orbit, but bodies such as Crossroads move one step every eighty-six days.
  • Thunar moves one step every 270 days.
  • Kronos moves one step every 662 days.
GMs are free, of course, to make this system even more precise by breaking down those periods into smaller increments; for example, Homeworld could move half a step every twelve days. 

To determine the amount of time for an interplanetary voyage, then, just use a straightedge to connect the planet of origin and destination. Every space through which that line passes represents five days of travel time. While this might seem a little skewed as one moves further away from the sun, it reflects the fact that aetherships gain speed as they move away from the gravitational influence of Sol. 

For example, if Thunar and Kronos stood on opposite sides of the sun, then a line between them would pass through twelve spaces; the duration of that voyage would be 120 (12 x 10) days.