Here we have the third installment of this tale of the Heroes who sail the Southern Seas. Picking up from where session 2 left off, the Astrologer’s Albatross returns to port, and faces the results of their failure to arrest the crew of The Soul of Erryeth. The players really helped drive this adventure, so they deserve a lot of the credit for what you will read below. As well, this session sees an appearance by a new hero, played by a good friend of the group known for cause interesting occurrences in D&D. Beltran his the character’s name, and he lives up to his amusing lineage. I hope you continue to enjoy.
Morgaine stood behind the wheel and the woman who manned it as the Astrologer’s Albatross passed into the lone harbour on the Isle of Dis. It had been four days since Morgaine had stood in the same place while she faced the famed Captain, Jalastar of Erryeth aboard his ship. It seemed like a long time since she had made the deal with that man that had seen Captain Nerova return to the ship alive while Jalastar was left free. She had received some criticism for her choice, but she stood by it. Now as they pulled into port, she wondered what would come next. Nerova had left her to command the ship on its journey home while he largely kept out of sight, compiling a report for the Gyleaon Desert Trading Company officials on the Isle of Dis. She also suspected he was considering his future. Jalastar had made it clear that unless there was a change of captaincy aboard the Astrologer’s Albatross, the crew would face the threat of death should the ship cross paths with The Soul of Erryeth. For her part, Morgaine sincerely hoped they would never see that ship again, and the Captain would remain in command. But she knew this was not for her to decide.
As the ship docked, Captain Nerova emerged on deck. He strode to the waist deck, near the gangplank, which was in the process of being lowered. The experienced naval officer glanced about, his brow furrowed and a weariness upon his features. He waved over Morgaine and Cultist. Seeing the gesture, Takk and Cultist moved to join the Captain as well. Darvic saw the gesture, but was inclined to continue sipping his brew rather than join the others. (Natava had left the ship briefly to meet with a nearby merfolk outpost. Natava’s player was unable to attend this session.) With the heroes gathered, the Captain spoke.
“I don’t know how this will play out,” he said quietly. “Keep to the ship for now. I shall go ashore alone and make my report at the Company offices. Expect me back before nightfall, but I cannot say with who or under what circumstances I’ll return. Best prepare yourselves for anything.” He paused and looked carefully at each of them. “I could be dismissed for this failure. Or not. Either way I suggest what you want to see happen before I return.” With that said, Captain Nerova nodded and stepped down the gangplank without a look back, his report held under his arm. The heroes and crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross had naught to do but wait.
Three hours passed before the Captain was seen again. The call went up from a crewman on watch as the Captain approached. He followed behind a gentleman wearing a Company fine dress uniform, consisting of tall military boots, breeches, a green frock coat with silver trim and buttons and a dark brown three point hat. The insignia above his right breast marked him as a Commodore. Also following him were two human women. The first was a young woman in her mid to late twenties. She stood nearly six foot one with a thin yet athletic build. Her face was striking, with an angular jaw, sharp cheek bones, thin lips, and fierce bright blue eyes. She wore her brown hair back in a long ponytail held together and back by intricate silver weighted clips, each one in the shape of a striking eagle, the mark of the Vosi. She wore a form fitting black bodysuit made of a strange material that shimmered to a deep blue when the light hit it. Beyond that she appeared to have no belongings. The other woman looked to be in her mid-twenties, standing five foot ten with a slight build. Her skin was pale, her face slim and angular, dominated by her full lips, slim nose and hazel eyes. Her clothing was a simple clerk’s garb; however, it was relatively unnoticeable next to her shoulder length wavy blue hair.
When I create an important NPC character, I like to try and make them come alive for the player. This often means describing how they look and giving them names. Yet, a GM must realize often enough, player may just take away a small part of that. The Captain will not necessarily become Del Nerova to them, he may just be the Captain. Here, the Commodore just ended up as the Commodore. I think repetition may help drill a name into place, and in the past I have found that giving characters single distinctive traits or voices can help this, but at times I must accept Shamus Young’s belief that a GM must “always name your antagonists, because if you don’t, your players will. And you will not like the results.” I like to try and resist that with all my GMing ability, but at times, I hate how right he is.
This party boarded the ship, and the Commodore quickly introduced himself to the heroes as Commodore Hadarim of the Gyleaon Desert Trading Company. He introduced the young woman with the striking sapphire hair as his aide, Naris. The other woman spoke for herself, greeting them as Keira, of the Vosi. Without further ado, the Commodore requested that the crew be summoned for him to address, that the group moved to the forecastle deck for the Commodore to deliver his comments to the crew.
“I am Commodore Hadarim. I am here, first, to deliver to this crew official noticed of a commendation to be placed in their records. The Company acknowledges that while you failed in your attempt to arrest Jalastar Marsyn, also known to be Jalastar of Erryeth, your efforts warrant reward.” At this Keira grunted derisively. Hadarim glanced at the Vosi with annoyance before continuing. “Given the armaments and experience of your crew, it is the Company’s belief that Obran of the Vosi was ill advised to attempt to capture The Soul of Erryeth with a single ship. Given abilities and combat experience of Jalastar’s crew, it is a testament to your abilities as a crew and Captain Nerova’s leadership and training of you that you survived. For this reason, the crew will receive a commendation. It is also the reason that the Company supports Captain Nerova’s continued services as captain of the Astrologer’s Albatross.”
At this Keira, flashes a glare at Nerova. “Would you dare to accept such an offer given your failure and the risks associated with such hubris, Captain?
Nerova makes no response, and the Commodore quickly steps in, heading of anything further. “However, the Company has been made to recognize that this may not prove viable. As long as the Captain commands the Astrologer’s Albatross, Jalastar’s threat places those under Captain Nerova’s command in greater risk. Should this crew find that unacceptable, the Captain’s presence on board will hurt morale and this ship’s ability to act effectively. Therefore the Company will weigh this crews recommendation as to whether Captain Nerova should retain his position onboard this ship most heavily. I will give you all the night to consider this, and at 9:00 Company time I will return to hear your response.” He paused then, looking over the crew, as if considering his next words. “I will say,” he added after a moment, “that my personal view is that this crew’s experience against The Soul of Erryeth is valuable, and as a result I expect your orders will see you face Jalastar’s crew again. At that time, that traitor to Gyleaon will show you no mercy, whether this man,” he said indicating Nerova, “is aboard or not. Better you have a commander with his combat expertise.”
An interesting aspect of GMing is that you are asked to prepare a story for the players to play through, yet they help create the story though their participation. The first instinct to deal with this is to do as many video games that try to offer a player choice do. This entails having the player set on rails, and actions may change the scenery but the overall outcome and series of events to get there are largely unchanged by a player’s choices. I have tried that and it always leaves players feeling annoyed that their choices do not have realistic results, but instead are turned to go in the desired direction the story is going. I now prefer knowing my world well and having a general yet detailed outline of situations. This way the players can act naturally, and I can still respond in a way that seems real. In this case, I had no idea if Captain Nerova would be asked back or tossed overboard, and I think that helps the story. We were all wondering about that as we played.
With his piece said, Hadarim turned away from the crowd to face the heroes. “As you have seniority here, I shall answer any question you have now.”
Considering the decision now before them, several of the heroes approached the Commodore and Vosi. Takk acquired Keira’s attention, offering to compile a report on the abilities, technical specifications, and additional intelligence he had gathered on the crew of The Soul of Erryeth and her crew. The Vosi gave a slight smile at the offer, and promptly informed the machinesmith that she would return to the vessel early the next morning, and would accept any such intelligence then. Meanwhile, Morgaine approached the Commodore and Nerova. She asked for permission to hear the Captain’s opinion, stating that she felt he was still their Captain, giving his opinion on the matter significant weight to her. Nerova gave a slight smile, and at a nod from Hadarim, he told Morgaine that he did not want to give up his captaincy of aship he had served on for twelve years. However, he feared the consequences should he do so. He would not wish to risk the lives of those under his command should he be aboard. He tells her if the crew accepts it, he will captain the Astrologer’s Albatross again, however if they do not, he will abide by that. Satisfied, Morgaine thanked the Captain. He told her then that he would spend the night in the Company offices while the crew decided his fate. As they left, she heard the Commodore begin to tell the Captain how he should return to his post aboard the ship, and not show such deference to his crew. However Morgaine knew, as did the whole crew, that now the decision was up to them.
Surprisingly however, the decision was not a hard one to make. The boson and quarter master reported to Morgaine and Cultist that the crew was supportive of the Captain, yet unsure of the risks. They had decided that given the respect they had for the heroes, they would follow whatever course of action they decided upon. Among the heroes, there was little debate. Morgaine was fully supportive of the Captain returning to command them. Takk voiced a similar opinion, stating that the risk would be no greater should they run into Jalastar again. Asvthat Morgaine suggested she hoped that would not occur. Cultist had little to say, giving marginal support to the Captain when asked. Karth similarly had no strong feelings either way, and Darvic was ambivalent, telling the others that the ship would survive and sail on no matter who was behind the helm. This was all that seemed to concern the alcohol fueled monk. So, before the sun set they were decided; they would accept Captain Nerova’s return to his post. They then left the ship to shop a bit before returning to sleep.
I was pleasantly surprised that the group so unanimously decided in favour of keeping the Captain. When I first conceived of the Captain while writing the first session, Ib planned for him to be killed in the second session. He would die and that would have an impact on how they saw Jalastar. But I realized that they might manage to save him, so I did not think of it as a sure thing. Then Morgaine was saying she wanted him back alive come hell or high water, and I was inspired to have Jalastar propose the deal. Now he was being unanimously kept on by the players. This is where players really shape the story.
The following morning few of the heroes had risen when they received word that the Vosi Keira had arrived onboard and was requesting to speak to them. So the heroes quickly prepared themselves and headed to meet with the agent of Gyleaon in the navigation room. Only Cultist declined the offer, preferring to sleep in. When all were in the room, the Vosi closed and locked the door, and addressed them.
“First, allow me to say the fact that you survived your encounter with Jalastar despite Obran’s utter stupidity is indeed impressive,” she informed them, her voice dripping with malice for her late peer. “That Halfling must have spent long a time trying to kill Jalastar on Erryeth. He was too eager to capture him. Hence the stupidity he led you into. That being said,” she continued with a measured pace, “Captain Nerova’s report makes it clear that he was unwilling to do what was necessary to complete your mission. He overrode Obran’s command to ram The Soul of Erryeth, and then his weak leadership led you to miss a chance to capture Jalastar despite the cost of his life.” He stopped, looking to each of them, her gaze warning them not to challenge her. “A taskforce is being formed, a joint effort by the Company and the Vosi. The Commodore and I see your crew as having valuable experience against Jalastar. You can expect to have a role in that task force, in which case, the Astrologer’s Albatross cannot be led or manned by anyone weak. You should be ready to sacrifice.” She paused, to give a faint smile. “On the part of the Vosi, I thank you for your time. Please keep this in mind while making your decision.” With that the woman turned to leave. Takk quickly caught her attention, handing her the report he had promised. She thanked him, and left the ship without another word.
The concept of a nation’s internal intelligence gathering and security agency and what these arms of a nation’s government say about a nation interest me. I aimed to explore this with the Vosi, and so far, the players reaction to them is one I’m interested to see develop. I do not think anyone is totally clear on how they feel about the Vosi yet.
The crew was unshaken by the Vosi’s words. Their decision stood. So they waited, going about their regular activities. Takk and Darvic had purchased some metal plating they were using to armour the hull against further attacks like those of the Hullbane. Morgaine talked with various crew members, dealing with minor issues, while Cultist joined the crew in their work. Karth retired below decks to finish writing a letter. However, hours passed, and before long it was nearly mid-day, and the Commodore made no appearance. On Takk’s suggestion, a runner was sent to the Company offices to find Commodore Hadarim.
He did not get far. The runner returned within minutes, escorted by a column of twenty armed Company soldiers and several more mismatched yet more threatening mercenary types. An unarmed and well-dressed half-orc led the mercenaries, though the Company men took the lead, securing the dock and gangplank. A sergeant boarded the ship, unrolled a piece of parchment, and accounted loudly that by order of the Gyleaon Desert Trading Company, from this moment forward the crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross were forbidden from leaving the vessel, and the ship itself was not to leave port under any circumstances. He continued by informing them that the ship has returned to company holdings pending the investigation and trial of Captain Del Nerova for the murder of Commodore Loym Hadarim. The shock at this pronouncement amongst the crew left them at a loss for words.
I was thrilled to see this actually left the players in stunned silent before seeing them admit that was a completely unexpected twist for them. That is why I love being a GM.
However, the half-orc in wealthy attire stepped forward to fill the void of silent tension. Wearing a simple pair of boots and brown breeches alongside a white shirt under an impressively tailored vest made from the scaled skin of some beast, the half-orc was an impressive sight. Yet his attire did little to hide his considerable height and muscle. Running a hand through his short, slicked back black hair, he grinned and spoke.
“Alright, alright, let’s not get up in arms just yet. My name is Verok, governor of this little isle, despite,” he said with a smile at the sergeant “what the Company might believe. Your former Captain commented this crime on my island, and so he sits in my jail and will be investigated by my people. Of course the Company will conduct its own affair, but I believe this crew has some rights even under Company law, eh Sargent Laine?”
The Sargent glared disapprovingly at the Governor’s interference, before grunting acknowledgment. “Members of the senior staff have the right to address the Commander of Company activities on the Isle of Dis concerning this matter.”
“And additionally,” Governor Verok stated though his grin, “according to the laws of the Isle of Dis, you have the right to visit and speak with your Captain, and the Company must abide by that.” He chuckled, clearly enjoying needling the Company Sargent. “Now, should any of you wish to go ashore, I will happily provide a guide.”
At this Darvic quickly identified himself to the Governor as an adventurer and previous citizen of the Isle, gaining Verok’s immediate permission to come and go as he pleased. Morgaine took the Governor’s offer to visit with the Captain, while Karth told the Sargent that he would exercise his right to speak with the island’s top Company official. The other heroes remained behind. Karth was then led to the Company Offices, while Darvic told them he would go to the The Eye of the Storm, the largest and most famed inn on the island to see what he could learn. Meanwhile, Morgaine was introduced by the Governor to her guide, a massive muscular half-orc known as Beltran. Her guide, it seemed, was both a fisherman on the isle and a member of the militia. The Governor had selected him personally to help in the investigation of the Commodore’s murder.
I have a few comments to make here. First, I enjoy politics and lean towards the study of political history. This emerges in my storytelling in the form of realistic and therefore often complex political situations, organizations, and motivations cropping up in my work. I have learned the hard way player can be confused by these or just annoyed by them. As a result I have learned to be clear and to keep it simple when making them.
However, with that said, it was another mini-campaign that spawned the idea of the Ilse of Dis, a port for adventurers. I like how I have tried to imagine that here. A self-confident almost obnoxiously so, government and people I think represents that well. Verok likes to show he is in charge. Then again, maybe this shows how I think of players in general, and I should shut up before my group catches on.
So it was that Morgaine followed Beltran through the familiar “Adventurer’s Port.” Formed by individuals such as herself, the crew of almost any ship in the Southern Seas looked forward to arriving at its docks. This time however, Morgaine was quite concerned about the recent turn of events. The prison was a solid stone structure with surprisingly few cells. Beltran explained that with a port full of adventurers, vigilante justice was fairly common, and rarely left prisoners. Beltran then saw that Morgaine was allowed to see the Captain privately.
The onetime commander of the Astrologer’s Albatross looked weary. He still wore his verdant coat of his rank, though the lapels were smeared with blood. His hands still bore remnants of the blood he had not been able to wipe off. He looked to her and without hesitation he told her there was some mistake.
“First, I must warn you, something more is going on here. I didn’t realize it until I was in the offices, not even when I spoke with Obran, but Morgaine, Jalastar’s capture is big. The chase for that man has people coming out of many places seeking the glory that man in chains will bring them. Hadarim, that Vosi, Keira, even some people from Tamherang are competing to get him first. I suspect that somehow, I’ve been caught up in that struggle.”
I will note here that this is the second mystery that I have worked on as a GM. With the first I learned that any clue can be looked at different ways, and that a lack of clues is therefore a weakness. If you expect a single clue to lead the players to the killer, they will inevitable take that clue in a way you never imagined they could, and then arrest a nearby innocent man. This kind of clue only works in scripted mysteries. With something like this, I believe it is best to give several clues that together create an overall picture of what occurred when pieced together. Or at least that’s what I told myself would work here, and you will see it worked well. Impressive, considering you may note that a few clues were complete red herrings that lead the party to real clues.
Morgaine took this in and asked the Captain what he remembered, and his story unfolded. He had been staying at the Company offices, in his own room. However, that evening he had been talking with the Commodore, and Hadarim had told him he should retake command of the Astrologer’s Albatross despite the crew’s opinion. Hadarim wanted a trusted and experienced Company officer on the task force, but Nerova did not want to risk his crew, and he certainly did not desire to head right back out to fight Jalastar despite the criminal Captain’s threat. The argument had gotten heated, and Hadarim had dismissed the Captain. He had decided he needed to relax, and had crossed the street to the The Eye of the Storm inn, purchased a bottle of Gyleaon Desert Whisky, and returned to his room to drink it. Last he remembered he was well into the bottle. Then, he awoke in the arms of two Company soldiers, with blood on his hands. As they dragged him from Hadarim’s office and an officer read him his obligations to the Company in this case, he saw the Commodore’s body lying crumpled before his desk, the tip of Nerova’s personal blade buried in his chest.
“Well,” responded Morgaine, “I’m with you on not going after them again, sir. Going right back up against Jalastar would end just as poorly. Now, did you have the whisky with you went you woke up? And who served it to you?”
Another trick to follow when GMing a mystery is to listen to your players. Their questions let you know what they might expect to find, and what clues they are focused on. When the Whisky became interesting, I ran with that, despite the Whisky having little importance in my initial plan.
Nerova thought for a moment. He reported that he bought the bottle straight from the bartender at the inn, and as far as he could recall, last he had seen of it was when it was in his hand in his room. Morgaine considered this, and thanked the Captain, promising to investigate this.
Upon exiting the prison with Beltran, the half-orc turned to her. “The Governor asked me to offer you the chance to lead the island’s investigation on this murder. He likes to see those most motivated and skilled solve crimes when they can. It tends to produce results, if messy at times” he told her with a shrug. Morgaine did not hesitate in accepting that offer and with the power of the Governor at her back and an investigation before her, she wasted no time in heading back to the ship. Her stop there was brief, just long enough to enlist the aid of Takk and Cultist, as machinesmith and a sorcerer would prove invaluable in the investigation. From there the party headed to meet up with Karth at the Company offices, planning to see the scene of the crime.
The found Karth in a back office on the main floor, locked in a debate with a half elven woman in her late thirties and full Company uniform. She was Commander Eysely, in charge of Company forces on the Isle of Dis and the highest ranking Company official on the island with the Commodore’s death. She was also the woman Karth had spent the better part of the last hour arguing with. Eysely was adamant that the murder was a Company affair she had no reason to discuss with Karth. She refused to divulge a single detail of the case to the gun wielding wizard. Karth had met the same resistance to everything he tried. Cajoling, challenging, reasoning, it had all failed him. But, the wizard was a keen one, and seeing only authority would aid him, he announced to the Commander his wizard’s rank and attachment to the Arcane Academy of Gylead. The stubborn woman was surprised, yet admitted in that case she had to standing to refuse his request. Then Morgaine entered the room with Beltran and the others behind her, and in less than a minute Beltran had made it clear to the Commander that they also had the Governor’s backing. Against such authorities she had no response, save to tell them everything she knew about the untimely death of Commodore Loym Hadarim.
She explained to them how the victim and murderer (in her opinion) had been found by the Commodore’s blue haired aide, Naris, not long after sunrise that morning. Hadarim lay crumpled in front of his desk, stabbed in the heart by the Captain’s sword. Nerova had been found in a drunken stupor only feet away, collapsed on his way to the door it seemed. He smelled of whisky and had blood on his hands and coat. Furthermore, Commander Esyely noted that she had heard the two men arguing loudly in the Commodore’s office the previous evening. The heroes took in this information, and then at Morgaine’s suggestion the proceeded upstairs to investigate the Captain’s room and the Commodore’s office, ignoring Esyely’s disapproving glare.
They set about examining the Captain’s quarters first. It was a simple space, a fine bed, dresser, plain wooden table, a matching chair, and a heavy oak desk. The Captain had left his possessions on the Astrologer’s Albatross, and so little had been added to the room by its occupant’s presence. The bed had not been slept in, and dresser and table were empty and bare, respectively. The desk bore a few pieces of parchment that appeared to be notes of the Captain’s on his report, though they seemed to contain nothing remarkable to the group. However, lying by the chair were the shattered remains of a whisky bottle, the shards scattered with the glass near the neck intact and the lower part smashed. It seemed the bottle had been dropped to the floor. Yet, upon inspection, both Takk and Morgaine noted that there was not puddle, stain, or drop of alcohol amidst the glass shards.
Karth, and Cultist went to work, attempting to perceive any magical influence within the room. However, neither their spells nor their intuition detected any magical element within the space. Even the whisky bottle was untainted by any spell. Morgaine studied the bottle intently, but could find no trace of the bottle’s contents. All she could learn came from the label, confirming it as Gyleaon Desert Whisky, exactly as the Captain had described. Takk applied himself to the door’s lock and the latch on the lone window. The latch proved unremarkable; however after completely disassembling the lock he found scratches on the tumblers consistent with an attempt to pick the lock. It seemed something more was going on.
One more useful trick when GMing a mystery is similar to what I believe is one of the best methods to GM in general. Know your world. If you know the logic and primary details of your world, you can infer smaller details just using logic and following what you have already set out. Therefore, you can easily respond to questions about your world from players you had not previously planned out or considered. In the terms of a mystery, this means simply knowing how the crime occurred. You can then imagine what clues might have been left behind through that process of committing the crime. I had not really expected Takk to disassemble the locks, but I knew the Captain’s door would have had its lock picked. Therefore, it was a simple logical jump to determine whether Takk would find anything by disassembling the lock.
While Takk explained to the caretaker of the offices why the poor man would have to replace the lock he now needed for evidence, the others crossed the call to the office of the late Commodore Hadarim. The body had been removed, but the bloodstained floor boards made it clear where it had been, before the desk at they had been told. Takk again set about examing the locks, while the wizard and sorcerer attempted to divine any source of magic in the room. However, this time all three heroes found their efforts fruitless. Even the papers left upon the Cmmodore’s desk yielded no new information. Disappointed, Morgane suggested they head to the The Eye of the Storm inn to interrogate the innkeeper. Agreed, they headed down stairs and were halfway across the lobby of the offices when a hushed call drew their attention.
Naris, the Commodore’s aide, stood in the entrance to a side corridor, waving the heroes over. Curious, they joined the blue haired young woman, and she launched into a whispered account.
“I didn’t want to tell them,” she began, “It’s just, I don’t know what they’d do. They might take it the wrong way, use it for themselves.” Seeing the questioning gazes of the heroes, Naris took a breath and continued. “After I found the Commodore and your Captain, I saw Nerova’s report on your mission was not on the Commodore’s desk. I know he planned to be reading it last night. That was why he dismissed me early and stayed in his office so late. But the report was missing this morning. I looked around for it, but it was not in the office. I fear it was stolen by the killer. But, if I told Commander Esyely she might try to hide it or worse report it. Either way, your Captain would still be seen as guilty, and I don’t think it was him. Why would he steal his own report? And if she reported it missing, Keira would find out about this, and she shouldn’t. The Commodore told me she was always pushing for the Vosi to have complete control of the taskforce, and with the murder and theft, she could easily make the Company look weak and do just that. She would not investigate the real thief, and I think I know who that is.” She glanced around before continuing, “I think it was Tiyr, the Tamherang Ambassador. He has been pushing the Commodore to let Tamherang have a role in the taskforce for months, but The Commodore never let him in. He didn’t trust him. He was even by last night demanding to see the Captain’s report, but Keira wouldn’t even let him see the Commodore. So,” she said with another deep breath, “I’m telling you. You can investigate this, right? And not tell Keira?”
The party shared several glances, and Morgaine thanked the late Commodore’s aide. Karth paused to consider the young woman for a moment as the others headed out of the building, and then turned away to join them, his suspicions roused. He kept these thoughts to himself however, as he joined his shipmates and Beltran as they entered the The Eye of the Storm.
Darvic had been busy while the others investigated. In the hours since he had departed the ship, he had spoken with a number of acquaintances and friends in the inn, sharing ale with each. The brew barely fazed the dwarf, whose devotion to spirits in following of his monk’s path had granted him a significant tolerance to the effects of alcohol. As the other heroes arrived in the taproom, Darvic was sharing an idle conversation with the bartender. Spotting him he waved them over and told them what information he had managed to gather. It seemed the murder was of interest to some, though speculating on Company affairs was only as interesting as long as it influenced future employment opportunities. That being said, it was common to hear surprise, even doubt, at the Captain being accused of the crime. Few were mourning Hadarim, for it seemed the zeal with which he had been preparing the taskforce to hunt down Jalastar had made him several foes. However, Darvec reported that the pools running favoured a Tamherang agent as the killer, or a Vosi plot, as both these parties had been eager to gain control of the task force. Yet, it seemed few thought Keira, or her rarely seen partner, a woman known as Kylee, would just kill the Captain. Most though if they wanted Hadarim gone, he would have just disappeared.
All this seemed to confirm what Naris had just told them, but Morgaine wanted to talk with the bartender before they considered investigating the Tamherang Ambassador. She waved the barkeep over, and directed a flurry of questions at the older balding man.
“Do you remember Captain Nerova coming in last night,” she asked as Takk described the Captain. He replied that he had, in the early evening, and that Nerova had purchased one bottle of Gyleaon Desert Whisky and then left.
“Did anyone talk to him while he was in here,” Morgaine followed up. The bartender responded that he had not seen him speak with anyone save himself.
“Was there anything strange about last night? Did anyone suspicious come into the bar last night?” Morgaine asked, increasing her rate of fire with the questions. He told her that the previous night had been quite ordinary, with no unusual characters. Takk, curious, asked if the man knows the Ambassador to Tamherang. With a chuckle the barkeep responds that the Ambassador is in for a stiff drink regularly, usually after the Commodore or Keira turfed him out of the company offices. He was there last night, following an attempt to gain entry to the Company offices, but, the bartender told them, he did not arrive until after Nerova had left. Morgaine asked where the Gyleaon Desert whisky the inn sold came from, and if anyone had shown an unusual interest in it last night. To this the bartender tells her that it is shipped from Gyleaon, with a shipment arriving once a month. He says he can recall two other patrons purchasing whisky the previous night, besides the Captain, but as it is a popular drink, he hardly finds that odd. Morgaine thanked the balding bartender and Darvic paid for his drinks with a generous stipend added in thanks. A brief discussion amongst the heroes left them with one lead to explore now, the Tamherang Ambassador who had rapidly become their top suspect.
The Tamherang “Embassy” was a large manor in the western rim of the port. Beltran explained that the Governor refused to accept the official status of the embassy, and that despite this Tiyr, the Ambassador, had been persistent, operating and acting as a representative of his nation. Despite the disrespect the Governor paid him by refusing to recognize his right to do this on the Isle of Dis, Tiyr had yet to really challenge Governor Verok, and Beltran suggested the human was to cowardly to test the cunning half-orc ruler of the isle. As a result, he suggested a direct approach. Takk agreed, however he asked Morgaine to sneak away from the group once inside to learn what she could, and Morgaine agreed.
At this point Karth spoke up. The wizard was a nationalist, and he said he would not sully himself by entering a Tamherang residence. He suggested that he excuse himself from this effort, as he would only cross that threshold if Gyleaon declared war. The others saw the wizard’s wisdom, and Karth left them to return to the ship. The rest gathered on the porch of the manor, and Beltran knocked on the solid iron door three times with a clenched fist.
When the door swung open, a well-dressed elf stood before them, his gaze as disapproving of them as his suit was well pressed. “May I ask your names and business at the Embassy of the Dominion of Tamherang, Gentlemen and lady?” he intoned. Beltran grinned.
“By order of the Governor, we are her to question the Ambassador about a recent murder. You wouldn’t want to obstruct out investigation, would you Butler?”
The elf sighed, and turned, speaking over his shoulder. “I have a name,” he muttered, and then said clearly, “This way please, the Ambassador will receive you in his office. Please close the door behind you. The heroes followed the elven butler up the grand staircase, and without attracting any attention, Morgaine slipped away from the group and blended into the shadows, setting off to explore.
The others were soon standing in a large room, the office of Tiyr, Ambassador to Tamherang. Portraits of the first Duma members decorated the walls on either side of them, while a great red rug covered the hardwood floor. The Ambassador sat behind a sizable desk of polished wood, his throne-like chair a similar design. A great banner of Tamherang hung behind him.
“How may I assist representatives of the Governor and the Gyleaon Desert Trading Company?” the human Ambassador asked.
“What do you know of the murder of Commodore Loym Hadarim?” asked Beltran bluntly.
“I know you have arrested the man responsible,” he responded dispassionately. “A Company Captain I believe. Why have you come here?”
Beltran looked to the others. “They wanted to ask you some questions, but it sounds like it might be easier just to search your home. What do you think?” he asked the heroes. Takk, looked to the Ambassador, “We will be searching your home.”
Tiyr leapt to his feet, a look of fury on his face. “This is an embassy, you have no right!” There was silence in the room. After a moment, the Ambassador straightened himself, brushed off his impressive black dress robe with red trim, the colours of Tamherang. “Suppose, like the two previous times, you plan to ignore that fact and search my embassy anyways, correct, Beltran?” he said with a edge of exasperation.
“Yup,” the half-orc warrior replied.
“As you will then,” he said. He reached down and gathered up several papers off the desk. “Do as you will. But do be quick. Also, should you try to read any of the papers I am holding, I assume you, I will consider it an act of war upon Tamherang by your island and Gyleaon. You do not want that. Do not push me. You will not like the immediate results either.”
At times it can be fun for you and your players to explore some strange and at times funny concepts. You could argue that doing so can hurt the suspension of disbelief, but after all, everyone plays to have fun. Additionally, if you ground an idea in reality, it can still seem reasonable. This is absolutely the case with the Ambassador trying to run an Embassy on an island of adventurers who are slightly obnoxious bullies and refuse to recognize his diplomatic status. As you can see, it provided for some good times and a few laughs.
For a moment, no one spoke. Then with a nod from Takk the search began, and it was very thorough. After half an hour, they had turned up a good bit. There was a stash of liquors from under a loose floorboard beneath the butler’s bed; a stash which included a bottle of Gyleaon Desert Whisky. However, Cultist found nothing wrong or odd with the Whisky. Beltran found several envelopes bearing the seal of the Duma in the garbage. Takk found three hidden passages in the walls. The first led to a shed behind the house. The second down to a underground river beneath the manor, though there was no dock or boat. The third, however led somewhere interesting.
Morgaine had already found where that tunnel led. She had come to it a different way, though a locked door not far from the kitchen. After finding the key hidden over the doorframe, she slipped down the stairs behind the door to a small stone walled room lit by torches alone. The room’s contents were a simple desk with paper spread over it and three secure chests. Morgaine glanced over the papers on the desk, finding them to be reports on the Astrologer’s Albatross, her capabilities, sightings, and her crew. There were reports on Nerova, Cultist, Darvic, Natava, herself, and even Takk, and Karth. After seeing this, Morgaine slipped away, out to the street. Takk entered the same room ten minutes later, slipping through a hidden door in one of the stone walls.
Takk proved to both more persistent and curious than Morgaine. After scanning the reports on the crew on the desk, he proceeded to open the chests. The locks barely slowed him down. The magic wards on the chests took him a little longer, but he managed to bypass them to. Within the chests he found numerous records, organized chronologically. There were missives from Tamherang, reports on activity in the Southern Seas, encoded ledgers, and in the most recent chest, letters from the Duma that made any effort to capture the The Soul of Erryeth a top priority, with a bounty on the head of Azohn the Assassin. There was even a letter signed by Tiyr, detailing the visit the Astrologer’s Albatross two weeks before, when Takk and Karth joined the crew. The one thing Takk did not find, to his frustration, was the missing report of the Captain’s that Naris had told them of. Everything he found was not unusual for a foreign embassy, and as much as he disliked seeing the proof of Tamherang’s intelligence gathering against Gyleaon, none of it incriminated the Ambassador for the Commodore’s death. That was when Takk heard the cries for help from upstairs.
It had begun several minutes before. Beltran had asked the butler about the liquor the heroes had found in the elf’s room, only to receive a haughty rebuff. Seconds later Beltran was asking again, this time a deliberately threatening tone in his voice emphasized by the fact that his hands were about the elf’s throat, pinning him against the wall with his feet two feet off the floor.
The butler screamed, and gasping, he explained how the liquor merely helped him deal with the stress of his job. The Ambassador, drawn by the elf’s initial wails, joined them in the main hall then, and told Beltran to stand down. Instead, the muscular half-orc threatened him, and suggested they should examine the papers that he still had clutched to his chest. The Ambassador stared at Beltran, smiled, and stated clearly, “I have had enough. Duma of our Dominion, send your representative to defend your embassy!”
I was so happy to see the party trigger this. To quote my plan for this session “If they go to the office of the Ambassador, they will meet with a pale skinned human ambassador. If diplomatic, they talk. Otherwise the wards on the building summon a Bearded Devil to attack.” I love it when they bring this on themselves
The floor in the center of the hall exploded into flame, and Cultist felt a surge of magic surging from the fire. The spell was off his lips in seconds, and the sorcerer send a jet of water into the flame, spraying the flames out of existence. When the resulting steam cleared, Cultist faced a seven foot tall red monstrosity, a devil with horns, a beard of tendrils, great clawed hands that held a vicious looking glaive, and all of the hellish beast was soaked from Cultist’s spell. That had its terrifying visage gritted in fury.
Cultist gulped and darted behind Beltran, summoning magic too amour him. The bearded devil was not easily deterred however. It growled, and disappeared into a cloud of smoke, only to reappear behind Beltran, facing Cultist. It lashed out at the Dagon worshipper, rending his flesh with its claws and lashing his face with the tendrils that composed its beard. Cultist gasped, coughing at the grimy beard. He could practically feel his body fighting the illness held in that disgusting beard. He stumbled back, bleeding heavily, and with a roar Beltran stepped between the retreating sorcerer and the leering monstrosity. He swung his great sword up into the beast’s side with both hands, striking a solid blow, but the devil seemed undeterred. Darvic took a gulp from one of his many flasks. He sensed he was going to need it. The devil chuckled, its laughter akin to a grinding stone pulverizing flesh. The glaive was raised, and moments later the blade found Beltran’s flesh.
Outside, there was a panic in the streets. The firelight was easily seen from the street, Morgaine could attest to that. From where she had been waiting she also heard the cries of battle, the clash of weapons, and Darvic, crying for aid. Most of the people in the streets were fleeing the combat. Cursing, Morgaine slipped closer, pushed the door open an inch and looked in. She saw the devil’s glaive strike Beltran for the second time. As it ripped free blood began to pour from the wound in an unnatural manner, as if the wounds were squeezing the red liquid of life from the half-orc. Cultist had cast a spell upon himself, and now was standing in the hall glancing from the fight to the exits, as if struggling to decide why he should stay. Takk had just entered the room from a corridor on the left, and looked as confused as Morgaine felt. She loaded her crossbow and took aim at the beast.
Darvic was a blur of motion. He sped across the room to slam into the Ambassador, pinning him to the wall. “Call it off,” he commanded.
“Tell your people to lower their weapons and leave my embassy!” replied Tiyr sharply. “I warn you, that is your only choice. Kill me, and that devil roams free in this world.”
Darvic looked into the man’s eyes, and cried out to his allies, telling them to stop fighting and retreat. Beltran lowered his sword and Cultist bolted for the door. Darvic and Takk inched towards the door, the devil following them, its glaive held out so as to imitate shoving them with the haft. At the door, Morgaine hurriedly stowed her hand crossbow and darted back, relief washing over her.
The now recognized Embassy of Tamherang slammed its doors behind the party of investigators. There was a moment of silence, before Takk spoke up.
“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!?!!!?” (I just loved that.)
Beltran managed a weak response about thinking the Ambassador was a coward, but the fact that his blood was still exiting his body at a surprising rate stifled his ability to converse. Cultist too was lightheaded from the pain and blood loss, though his wounds lacked the near magic bleeding properties of Beltran’s. Takk, furious, yanked out some bandages and a small device and applied both to their wounds. His healing helped Cultist moderately, but it did little for Beltran. Telling Darvic to help get Beltran to the ship, the machinesmith pulled on a cord attached to his boots and wheels deployed from the soles. Nodding to Cultist, whose last spell had greatly enhanced his speed, the two shot off to warn the ship of the incoming injured. Morgaine raced off on her own, heading for the jail. Darvic grabbed a passing boy and sent him to get the Governor.
Beltran never reached the ship. He collapsed, unconscious, after only three minutes. Darvic was forced to yell for help until two local healer came to his aid. Together it took them nearly five minutes, three spells, and rolls of linen to finally stop the bleeding and begin to replenish the half-orc’s reserves of strength. Darvic was thanking the healers when the Governor arrived. Upon looking at Beltran, Governor thanked the healers, paid them well, and helped Darvic carry Beltran back to the Astrologer’s Albatross and its waiting physician. Once his half-orc friend was being tended to, the Governor listened to their account of their search of the Ambassador’s manor. They concluded that the man was gathering intelligence but that, as an ambassador, this was to be expected, and due to the lack of the missing report in amongst his possessions, tiyr was likely innocent of the murder. Governor Verok listened, and grunted as they finished.
“Well,” he said thoughtfully, “I guess we’ll have to grant him diplomatic status now.”
Meanwhile, Morgaine stood in the prison, alone before the Captain’s cell. She slowly went over all the investigation had yielded so far, and asked his opinion. Nerova stroked his white beard, and admitted he was surprised at how much and how little they had found.
“I’ll admit,” he confessed, “I though any evidence would lead to Keira. The Vosi is gaining the most here. She has all she needs to take over the taskforce to capture Jalastar now, and she thinks I’m too weak to command the Albatross. Glad it wasn’t anyone from Tamherang. That could start a war. It would be stupid too. Company won’t let them in on the taskforce. We want Jalastar for ourselves.” He paused then and took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. “I’m still to be keel hauled for this aren’t I?”
“I believe you did not do this Captain,” she told him. I promise you, I will find a way to prove it.”
Nerova looked up at her, and slowly he smiled. “You really will won’t you? Good woman. Well, best get to it then. I have no idea how you plan to do that.”
Morgaine left knowing one thing. She did not know either.
The next morning Morgaine gathered the heroes together in the navigation room. Beltran was back on his feet, mostly healed, and Cultist was nearly mended thanks to several healing spells. They uickly agreed that Tamherang did not order the murder. But that left them without any lead. It was Karth who finally voiced his suspicion. Since Naris had told them of the missing report, he had wondered about her. She had found the bodies, and pointed them at the Ambassador. That lead had ended horribly. He guessed that she had been putting them off the trail of the real culprit. He suggested they go see the blue haired attaché again. “Assuming she wasn’t smart and took the chance to flee,” Morgaine said as they headed out to the Company offices.
Even when you do your best to get a mystery to work, at times you are reduced to relying on your players and hoping that they get your thinking. In this case, I was thrilled that Karth figured out the right direction. But, one also needs to recognize that without Karth making that suggestion, the entire think would have fallen apart. At times, GMing is just setting everything up and praying that it works.
Naris’ room was on the third floor, and the heroes gathered about it, knocked, and waited quietly. Takk pressed an ear to the door, listening for any out of place sound. He decided the click of the window latch, a sound he knew from examining the latches the day before, was such a sound. Yelling to the other that the young woman was trying to flee, Takk sprung down the steps, wheels once again emerging from his boots to enhance his speed as he raced to get around behind the building and prevent any escape. Cultist cast a familiar spell. However, rather than blasting aside the door as he hoped, when the stream of slammed into the door, it did not budge. Instead, the sorcerer was hurled back, rolling head over heels down the stairs to come to rest on the first landing. Beltran was more successful with the door, kicking it open with a single try.
The sight that greeted them was of Naris, perched on the window sill, the window open. As the door burst inwards, she cried out, and in her surprise she slipped. It was only Morgaine’s quick reflexes that saved the former attaché. The changeling’s whip lashed out, curling about Naris’ wrist and holding it fast. Naris screamed and fell, but below Takk saw the whip around her wrist stop her seconds later. She hung like that for a moment before Beltran was at the window to retrieve her.
Beltran lifted the young woman back into the room, but he was careful when releasing her, ready to stop her if she attempted to escape. Morgaine made no move to remove her whip from around Naris’ wrist for the same reason. Naris looked around at the stern faced heroes, and blurted out in a panic, “I didn’t know what they were doing! They just wanted me to let them into the offices after hours. I didn’t know that they’d do this!”
“Who had you do this, and for what?” snapped Morgaine.
“I don’t know who they were,” the blue haired attaché admitted. “I only ever met one of them, and I couldn’t see beneath his cowl. But they said they just wanted me to open a door for them after nightfall. They offered me four hundred gold pieces for just that little thing. It was so much, I could have gone home, left this job. I thought they might just steal some valuables.” Her voice was calmer now, though a strain of panic still remained. She glanced nervously from face to face of her captors.
“Was the gold worth a man’s life?” asked Morgaine coldly.
“I didn’t know they would do that,” Naris said quietly, lowering her head. “I had no idea they would murder the Commodore and blame your captain.”
“But they did,” Morgaine reminded the young woman, “and now you have a chance to help us save at least Captain Nerova’s life. Tell us everything.”
Naris looked up at the changeling, and nodded. She did not have much more to say. She admitted to letting four individuals into the Company offices on the night in question. They had paid her, and she had begun making plans for a better future. But then she had walked into the Commodore’s office the next morning, planning to tell him of her leaving, and instead she found him dead. She admitted to stealing the Captain’s report, hoping she could make it look like the Tamherang Ambassador was behind it. Hearing enough, Darvic left the room, telling the others he would fetch the Governor.
As he left, he passed Keira on the stairs. The Vosi was unsurprisingly attracted by the commotion. She passed Cultist, still lying on the first landing, soaked. He made a brief attempt to convince the agent of Gyleaon that there was nothing going on, but received only a roll of Keira’s bright blue eyes in response. The Vosi reached the third floor, stepped past the remnant of the door, and asked Morgaine what she and her allies were doing. Morgaine response was clear and obviously ready to take up any challenge the Vosi offered.
“We have a witness in our investigation. Her testimony will prove this was an assassination, and prove that Captain Nerova is not guilty.”
“Really? Excellent,” responded the imposing woman, to Morgaine’s surprise. “I am interested to hear what she has to say. I will take custody of her.”
Morgaine clutched the handle of her whip, which was still wrapped about Naris’ wrist. “She will remain with us until the Governor arrives. Technically she is his prisoner.”
Keira met Morgaine’s gaze with a calf yet cold stare. “As you wish. I will wait for Governor Verok. However, I will be taking this prisoner. She is a member of the Gyleaon Desert Trading Company and a citizen of Gyleaon. The Governor will not argue my claim to her.” Morgaine gritted her teeth, but said nothing. They waited.
Takk returned to the room, helping Cultist pick himself up and climb back up the stairs, despite the mild head injury the sorcerer appeared to have incurred. A brief search by Takk revealed both the gold and the missing report in Naris’ dresser. It was soon after that Darvic returned with the Governor. Morgaine had Naris tell the well-dressed half-orc her confession, and when she was done, the Governor smiled.
“Well then, I will release Captain Nerova immediately. Keira,” he addressed the Vosi, “I assume you will wish to take custody of this girl and investigate her well-paying assassins?”
Keira nodded. “Well,” responded Verok, “That’s that then.”
“Wait,” interjected Morgaine, “How do we know you will not just kill her?”
Keira stepped past Morgaine to remove her whip from around the blue haired woman’s wrist. “She is a witness, Morgaine,” Keira stated, her voice dispassionate. “I will be interrogating her thoroughly, and for that reason you can be sure she will remain alive for some time.” With that, she escorted her prisoner out of the Company offices.
The heroes went straight to the prison from the offices, and there the Governor released Captain Nerova. The Captain thanked each of them for the efforts in securing his release, and together they returned to the Astrologer’s Albatross. Beltran bid them farewell, and with his work done he headed home for some much needed recover time.
It was a few hours later that the crew received two visitors, Keira, and a woman of about the same age. This woman stood about five foot eight, her build slight. Her hair was short and blond, with pale skin save for her rosy cheeks. Her face was slim and angular, with her full lips, and grey doe eyes drawing any onlooker’s attention. Keira introduced this woman as Kylee, her partner. The new Vosi woman happily shook their hands and congratulated them on their investigation. She assured them that Keira had already begun to interrogate Naris, and she was confident they would track down the Commodore’s killers.
“In the meantime, however,” Keira added, “we will be taking over the taskforce assigned to bring Jalastar Marsyn to justice. We see a place for your ship, Captain Nerova, in that effort. We have some work related to your last mission, and the Tamherang agent known to follow Obran Vosi that you would be well suited for. We will tell you more soon.” The two Vosi left, and the crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross celebrated the reinstatement of their Captain, and the promotion of Morgaine to be the First Mate. Nerova thought it only a fitting choice, given her loyalty to him through their recent struggles. It was also at this point that Cultist announced that he would be taking his leave of the ship. He felt he needed to in order to truly follow Dagon. This saddened some on the crew, but most admitted that without the Dagon worshiper onboard, they would sleep easier. However, they all knew that this was far from the end of their adventures.
This concludes our third session! We say goodbye to our guest character Beltran and Cultist. Cultist’s player was sorry to find that after years of playing sorcerers, playing another one was just not entertaining for him. Next session will introduce his replacement for Cultist, and believe me, this new character should create numerous interesting scenarios. This write-up also marks the longest so far, and hopefully it is not too long. Oddly enough, it was a shorter than normal session to play. I hope you enjoyed it, and as always please comment below if you have anything to say. Let the dice keep rolling!