As the Licktoad Pirates assessed the damage done to their new home in the latest sahuagin raid, the goatherd approached them with something he found on one of the sahuagin bodies. He presented his masters with an amulet made from coral and a strange metal and what appeared to be a treasure map. While the goblins thought the amulet was interesting, more interesting was the map which led them through the Shackles’ islands and archipelagos to a location known as Mancatcher Cove.
They sailed Sea Spite into the cove and spent the better part of a day exploring the cliffs and caves trying to match something up to the riddle written on the map. They found an area which seemed to fit, but couldn’t quite match things up the way they were comfortable with. It was not until dawn, and the shadows and sun showing the skull face alluded to in the riddle on the cliffs, that they found the answers they sought. They were in the right place, but now knew enough to dig in the soft earth at the base of a crude statue.
Naturally, they were disappointed that the shaft they dug led not to treasure, but to a wooden floor. Clearly, it had no place buried in a cave, so they broke through, revealing a shaft leading to darkness and water below. They dropped down into dark, flooded tunnels. Fortunately, Spack Jarrow prepared them with a water breathing spell, and they had a potion as well. Since goblins could see in the dark, they had little trouble navigating the sun-starved tunnels and quickly found themselves in conflict with sahuagin (along with their pet sharks!). After defeating the first wave of guards, the Licktoad Pirates were able to explore more and found an odd, dry cave with plants (despite no way for sunlight to reach them), bedding, and someone’s possessions. (This was a legacy area dealing with Isabella Locke, Ms. Not-Appearing-In-This-Campaign.) They swam on, back into the flooded tunnels. They made their way through sahuagin guard barracks and found a bloated sahuagin in a nursery quick to defend her charges. They dispatched her and found hatcheries, destroying every developing egg before discovering a captured locathah queen (whom they also killed), finally deducing that she was the source of all the eggs they just killed. Being goblins, they did not ponder why there was a captive locathah supply eggs to sahuagin, but just shrugged and pressed on.
The Licktoads found the area in which the sahuagin kept their pet sharks, but were able to avoid being chum(s) by using a magical ring of animal friendship they found back in the dry cave area. In the shark pen, the amulet Spack Jarrow took from the goatherd drew him toward the western wall. A sediment-filled crevice led to another cave, and with the help of a summoned earth elemental, they were able to remove enough sediment to enter in. In the cave, they found a ship’s anchor, and a shriveled, dessicated human chain to it. The chains no longer bound him to the anchor, however, and the mummy of the Ancient Mariner swam forward to attack Spack Jarrow, bearer of his amulet’s twin. The ensuing battle was the most challenging (thus far) of the Licktoad’s careers, but they were still able to defeat him.
Further exploration allowed the Licktoads to discover a series of caves that led back to the cove. They noted its location and returned to exploring the flooded caves. The Licktoads swam into deeper tunnels, eventually finding a sort of throne room. The king of sahuagin and his concubines attacked, and nearly killed Spack Jarrow with his cruel, coral trident. Each blow caused Spack Jarrow to slow and harden, as though the goblin was turning into coral. The battle raged, for the second time in as many hours, they fought for their lives were victorious at last. (The mummy Ancient Mariner and the sahuagin king were the first truly challenging combats of the campaign for the Licktoad Pirates.) Thorough searching revealed the sahuagin’s treasure, and a mighty haul it was!
With patience and magical assistance, the Licktoads returned to Sea Sprite with a magical chest containing the spoils of their efforts, a kingly haul. They returned to Tidewater Rock to give the stewards their share, then headed for Port Peril so they could properly count their plunder and sell off the items they didn’t need. But what adventure awaited the Licktoad Goblin pirates in the metropolis of Port Peril?
…and thus ends book 2 of the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path, Raiders of the Fever Sea. I modified it a bit to get things moving again because the sandbox nature of the middle of the book was really dragging. Instead of dragging it out for several more weeks making sure they were able to assemble all the clues from all the events in that section and peel the map off the body of Isabelle Locke (it was an elaborate tattoo), I decided to have them come into possession of the map following the sahuagin raid on Tidewater Rock that occurred while they were at Rickety Squibs paying off their debt. It was faster. The campaign momentum suffered greatly due to weather-related complications around the holidays, so I needed to get things going again because, frankly, at one point, I didn’t really want to play Pathfinder any more. They also completely missed getting the amulet from the sahuagin way back in session 13 (which I ran in December), which was a big part of the enmity between the sahaugin and the PCs. It just goes to show that these adventures that hinge on one event serving as a catalyst can be completely derailed through PC actions. They fled from the encounter that would have given them the amulet, not because they were afraid of the sahuagin, but because they just didn’t want to be bothered by them (which is totally appropriate for their characters, but sequence-breaking, nonetheless). For some reason, it took me a while to understand how crucial it was that they end up with that amulet. That’s part of the problem with the Paizo adventure paths, the only real problem I have with them: there’s a lot of detail. So much detail that is never really passed to the players and is only there for background for the GM, that it’s easy to miss something. They really need an outline at the beginning of each book detail what important plot points must occur for the adventure to proceed the way it’s intended. The way the goblin pirates were proceeding, there was no real plot for them to pursue once they cracked the rock because not only did they not have the amulet that would draw the sahuagin in for revenge, they didn’t have the alliance with Lady Agasta Smythee because they slaughtered everyone at Tidewater Rock (Lady Agasta was the first to die!). Once they claimed Tidewater Rock, they really were masters of their domain and didn’t NEED the plot. They were debt-free, owned a ship and controlled an island fortress. For a couple of weeks, I actually considered letting them find a Spelljamming helm. Then I came to my senses and realized if I was having trouble with sandboxing in the relatively small area of the Shackles, letting them fly throughout all of D&D/Pathfinder Space (i.e. The Prime Material Plane) was not going to make that job any easier (though the idea of goblin pirates in spaaaaace is very amusing to me).
With the end of book 2, I am going to take a break from GMing for a bit. I had planned to do it at the mid-point (i.e. the end of book 3), but I want the break now. After 17 sessions of Pathfinder, the complexity of the rules set is wearing me down. Thank goodness using the adventure path keeps me from having to prep NPCs and monsters! I’ve also found a complex rules set hinders my ability to improvise. I used to wonder why I found improvising games like Paranoia and the West End Games version of Star Wars MUCH easier than improvising a D&D 3.X/Pathfinder game. Some of the players have also mentioned growing weary of the rules-heavy nature of Pathfinder. My wife, in particular, has difficult with the rules because the medication she’s on affects her memory and there is a LOT to remember in a Pathfinder game, especially if a player wants to understand why something is done a certain way.
I don’t know how long my GMing break will last. In two weeks (during the next scheduled game), I will be in Lake Geneva, WI at Gary Con VI. I’ll be GMing Paranoia (2nd edition) and Star Wars (WEG d6, Revised & Expanded) and playing Top Secret (with the creator, Merle Rassmussen!), HackMaster, Savage Worlds, and FATE. Two weeks after that, the group will reconvene and we’re going to play Star Wars: Edge of the Empire again. I will once more take up the mantle of Captain Kelko Gen, the arrogant Rodian pilot. We’re playing a mini-campaign, using Beyond the Rim. Frankly, I can see him dying at some point because I was pretty darn reckless in the last adventure, though I was lucky enough not to get shot, beaten, stabbed, or eviscerated by Gammoreans. Maybe having a ship will cool his jets.
After the Star Wars game, who knows? Will we pick up Pathfinder again? Will we decide to convert the campaign to a different rules system? Will we leave the goblins to continue their pirating lives and play something else entirely? Frankly, even I don’t have the answers to these questions. The answers may not come until after Gen Con, depending on how quickly we progress through the Star Wars game.
Expect a Gary Con summary post in a couple of weeks. I won’t commit to more than one for the weekend, but you never know!