To Sail the Southern Seas: Session 5

         Each year as the holiday’s approach in December I try to give an adventure an appropriate feel. This past December, I did so once again, resulting in this session of “To Sail the Southern Seas”. I have a careful approach to these adventures which boils down to being subtle. This adventure also gave me the chance to enact an idea I have had for a while now, the villain of this tale. But I am ahead of myself. So, as our heroes recover from their encounters with Saskrin, the xill, and the phase spider in the Mists of the Edge, and the escape of the elven agent of Tamherang, Elhone, they find further troubles. I hope you enjoy this chapter, and while it may be almost two months late, maybe even take in a bit of the holiday vibe.

 

The blood was nearly scrubbed from the deck and the stench of burning flesh carried off by the winds when the Captain of the Astrologer’s Albatross called the senior members of his crew together. They had faced losses of late. Seven dead, and over ten more injured. The ship’s interior was still in disarray. Then there was the loss of the prisoner, the Tamherang agent known as Elhone. His escape had left those aboard the Gyleaon warship without any prize. While they had saved a great many lives on the small island that had lain at the center of the Mists of the Edge, without the prisoner so desired by the Vosi, Keira and Kylee, that victory was inconsequential. Once again they would return home to face the Vosi’s disappointment, their ineptitude confirmed.

Yet, when the Captain raised the question at this gathering of his advisors, the vote was unanimous. They had to press on. They might have failed to capture Ehone after locating him, but they could not abandon their patrol, not even when lacking over fifteen able bodied crew. Karth put it plainly, it was their duty. So, they set about clearing up the mess caused by the fights with the xill, helped Polrund care for the injured, and made ready to sail northward to Tero Va.

However, only hours into this effort, a cry came down from the crow’s-nest. In the rigging, Morgaine was the first to see the lookout’s cause for alerting the crew. To port a bird, an albatross she realized, was sweeping towards the ship. It dipped low, allowing itself to coast to the deck on its impressive wingspan. As it did so Morgaine spotted the small cylinder strapped to the creature’s back. It was an avian messenger, often used by Company ships when the recipient of the message was not the primary concern. Any responder would do.

As the changeling’s booted feet landed nimbly on the deck, Captain Nerova was already reading the message carried in the albatross’ leather container. After a moment he passed the scroll to the young woman that served as his first mate and Morgaine’s gaze roamed over the words therein.

 

To any ship or military representative loyal to Gyleaon,

 

The wanted Captain, Jalastar of Erryeth, has been sighted. I bear witness to this sighting of The Soul of Erryeth. She was sighted of the coast of the island of Souvar, directly south of the Eastward Ilses, making all haste on a southwesterly course. Changing winds forced our abandonment of the pursuit, and as our assignment requires us elsewhere, we have altered course and sent this message out though all available means. The Vosi crest was used to denote the urgency of this matter, as ordered by the Vosi themselves.

 

For the Grace of Gyleaon and her enterprises.

 

Dictated and issued by Captain Laval Caltrios of the Fierce Reprisal, on the 11th of Frosthaun.

 

            I have talked in one of my articles about using props in an adventure. This letter serves as a simple example of that. I had the letter prepared beforehand, printed on a page in a suitable script-like font and rolled up to simulate a scroll. It was a small touch, but appreciated by the players as they passed it about.

Additionally, this letter forced me to tackle a calendar for this world. Honestly, I am not keen on creating an alternate calendar for a world. Renaming twelve months with fantasy appropriate names can help immerse one in the world, but often it counteracts that effect as well by forcing the players to realize they have no understanding of what this made up name means. They have no point of reference, reminding them the world is made up and not their own world. That then asks you to inform the players, which just draws them out of the immersion more. It is the same reason I use established terms for measuring time in smaller increments and distance. I could replace the word mile with “hartek”, but the new name is nonsense to a player, so will add nothing and take away understanding the term mile would have at least delivered. Still, minutes and miles are not named for greek and roman deities and therefore tied to out mythology and not the invented worlds’ mythology.  Well, enough on that.

 

Morgaine was less than thrilled to read that Jalastar had once again entered their lives. The other heroes felt similarly, with Takk being equally vocal. After the defeat they received after their last encounter with the rogue captain, facing The Soul of Erryeth again, will less crew and in light of recent failures, seemed foolish. Karth was determined to persue their onetime opponent, surprisingly supported by Santiago. Having never faced Jalastar (and more importantly, the other heroes felt, the Hullbane) he was interested in facing this challenge.

The debate was settled by Captain Nerova, whom pointed to their orders. Hours before, they had decided to sail onwards on patrol, despite a weakened state, as it was their duty. They could not claim now that same weaknesses prevented them from answering this call, even if Jalastar had bested them when they last met. However, Nerova was no fool, and would not risk his ship needlessly, even for the capture of the crew of The Soul of Erryeth. He told the heroes that he would first send word to Keira and Kylee about the sighting, before taking the Astrologer’s Albatross to the small island mentioned in the message, Souvar. From there they would scout the area, but remain near the isle until reinforcements arrived and a proper search could be performed. All the same, Takk remained concerned. The message seemed to convenient for his tastes. He feared a trap, and set to work preparing the ship for trouble the moment they were underway.

Souvar was a small isle directly south of the Eastward Isles, and lay four days from the ship’s position. All seemed fine for the journey at first. Santiago amused the crew while Morgaine and Takk kept them busy, both approaches distracting the sailors from thoughts of another encounter with Jalastar and his famed compatriots. Of the crew, only Karth seemed ready to face the foe again. However, soon a new concern arose.

It was evident by midway through the fourth day that the cloudbank that had first been sighted behind the ship on the previous day was not going to be avoided. It was gaining on the Astrologer’s Albatross rapidly, and though his spyglass the Captain could see the occasional flash of lightning. It seemed inevitable that the storm would overtake them, and both Takk’s calculations and Nerova and Morgaine’s experience told them they would not reach Souvar in time to take shelter on the island. The ship and its crew would be forced to weather this fierce storm.

The preparations were made swiftly, aided by the experience of the crew and their commanders. Morgaine oversaw the furling of the sails, and saw to it that the ship was properly sealed, with no hatch left open. The crew sealed themselves below, and the anchor was dropped. As Santiago took up a song in the mess, with Karth and many of the crew gathered in the space warmed by the cooking fires of the mess. Captain Nerova had Morgaine help lash him to the wheel. Morgaine then tied herself nearby, and braced herself as the winds picked up. Her keen sight could see the looming shape of Souvar now, of the starboard side, but she knew it was far out of reach in their current predicament. Below, Takk looked over his gear, ready to repair any sudden injuries the ship he cared for should sustain.

The winds grew stronger, buffeting the vessel, and then came the rain, sweeping down at a steep angle. Morgaine strained to see though the spray and precipitation, calling out to the Captain when an adjustment needed to me made in their steering. Nerova wrestled with the wheel, trying to keep the ship driving into the wind and waves, and avoiding being capsized should the storm catch the ship on either side. An hour passed, and below Santiago’s mandolin was never silent, and the crew listened, happy for the diversion. On deck, Morgaine swatted soaked strands of hair from her eyes and kept yelling out instructions, straining to bellow over the gale. Nerova remained wrestling with the wheel, tired but stalwart. It was then that the entire ship lurched.

Takk knew the Astrologer’s Albatross well. For over a month now, the gnomish mechanist had spent those of his waking hours not spend designing new inventions working on the vessel. When he felt the ship lurch beneath his feet, it only took him seconds to guess where the trouble lay, and he dashed off to the anchor chain. When he arrived there, he saw the chain straining, and the wheel that wound the anchor chain already developing cracks. The anchor was caught firm he guessed, and despite the Captain’s best efforts, the storm was still shoving the ship about, beyond the length of the chain. Thinking quickly, Takk, dashed up to the deck. The winds were brutal, and the small gnome dared not go on deck, least those zephyrs yank him away. Instead, he commanded Rusty, his mechanical creation, who lay on deck, tied down, to move. The metal monster’s mess kept it rooted to the deck as it rose, and moved to the rail, before plunging over. Takk hopped his idea would work.

By the wheel, the Captain was concerned. They had felt the lurch, and he had seen Morgaine slip and strike her head on the rail. He could see her still moving, struggling to rise, out of the corner of his eye, but it was taking all his strength to master the wheel, and he knew he could not help his first officer. He saw Rusty moving, as did Morgaine, though she was unsure if the moving metal beast was real or a result of the firm blow her slip had dealt her.

Rusty dove beneath the waves, as Takk had planned, and when he neared the sea bed, his mighty jaws clamped upon the anchor chain. The machine yanked sharply and the pulled with all its might. For a moment the anchor remained stuck fast, then  Rusty tugged again, and the great steel hook sprung up. Rusty then swam upwards, carrying the chain him his teeth. Takk was not sailor, but he figured the anchor could no longer be left on the ocean floor, lest the same problem occur. When he saw the chain go slack, he yelled out to the sailors he had gathered in his return to the anchor wheel. The men drew the slack chain in, before fastening the wheel in place, leaving the anchor out, but raised off the ocean floor. The ship would be weighted down, but Takk saw no way now that it would not drift.

As the anchor was lifted, the Astrologer’s Albatross was jolted, and the sudden freedom, let the waves spin it slightly. The rudder was swatted by the water, and as the ship turned the wheel spun, striking Nerova viciously upon the jaw. The Captain collapsed. Cursing, Morgaine acted quickly. She cut herslf free of her bindings and the lithe changeling leaped to the Captain. She caught the wheel and managed to force the rudder to straighten out. The ship now ran with the storm at its back. Using his ropes, she lashed the wheel in place, locking the rudder straight ahead, and dragged the Captain below. An experience sailor, Morgaine knew it was dangerous to leave the ship without a hand at the wheel, but she also knew better than to fight a storm alone. As Polrund saw to the Captain, she sealed the hatch behind her, and told the crew to wait out the storm. Many a prayer was said that night.

 

I had planned for the ship to be blown off course in this storm. I had done some research on sailing in a storm, and had decided they would start by trying to anchor and weight the storm out. When the players set up a good plan in case of trouble, at first I was concerned. How could I overcome these plans and have them blown off course without seeming heavy handed? So I proceeded, trying to add issues like the anchor getting caught and Morgaine being forced to check for the winds and slippery deck. As I proceeded, I realized that the players were responding well. It hit me then, a storm is lierally a force of nature. The players knew at times, you cannot fight that. Therefore being overwhelmed by the storm was not what they wanted, but they could accept that it could beat them. Largest complain leveled at me was that Nerova should have had more men on the wheel, but I suggested that trying to do this dangerous work alone was in the Captain’s character. He would not want to risk lives. The result was a interesting challenge for the party. Sometimes in life, there are situations people cannot overcome, and have to accept, and this can be mirrored by a careful GM.

 

The night was long, and the ship sailed on, buffeted by wave and wind for hours. Many tried to sleep, but many more found that impossible in such grim conditions. So it was, when morning came, those awake knew the shaking and rolling had stopped almost two hours before, but the winds could still be heard whistling over the ship. When Takk rose to hear this, he could not believe no sailor had dared yet go on deck to investigate. After a few disparaging remarks, he headed towards the nearest hatch leading to the middeck. Santiago, Karth, Morgaine, and Natava followed him. Captain Nerova, now awake and bandaged thanks to Polrund’s skill, scrambled from his bed to follow as well.

When they emerged on deck, it took each of them a few moments to take in the scene before them. The ship was perfectly still, and the wind that played over it carried a sharp chill. A thin player of ice and frost seemed to cover the deck and masts. Snow swirled about, and white expanses of ice stretched from the hull in all directions. To the rear of the ship, water could be seen, after about a hundred yards of ice. As the adventurer’s gazed around at this unexpected environment, each came to focus on the same part of the picture. Straight ahead of the ship lay an arctic island, a mass of white and grey rising up from the frozen waterline. However, before this geographical anomaly, lay a truly unique sight. Five ships settled not far from the shore of this isle, their hulls locked into the ice like that of the Astrologer’s Albatross. However, these vessels were organized. The largest ship lay parallel to the shore. The other four faced the bluff of snow and ice, their hulls towards this shore, set in the ice in two rows, so they formed a large thoroughfare. This space was lined by ships on either side, leading to the largest vessel’s side. From this distance, movement could be seen amongst the ships, yet only as mere dots upon ice. However, as they watched, taking it all in, they witnessed a force break away from the village of vessels, racing toward them over the frozen, snow-covered surface.

By now the crew had emerged onto the deck, and as they discussed their predicament, the Captain and heroes had the gangplank lowered. After some preparations, largely consisting of gathering warm clothing, they stepped out onto the solid ice, and awaited the incoming force. The strangers ten minutes to cross the expanse of ice between their unique town and the Astrologer’s Albatross. They rode in two sleds pulled by wolves and a few tamed dogs. The sleds were flanked by two figures riding upon horses. They were garbed in furs and none was without a weapon. As they drew near and halted, the heroes were unsure of what to expect from these strangers. However, as the inhabitants of the icebound navy left their sleds, they made no hostile moves. Two approached the Captain and those around him.

They withdrew their hoods, to reveal the face of a human and an elf. The elf introduced herself as Merisiel, while the human gave them his name, Beral. Beral looked to be in his late fifties, ancient next to the ageless elven visage of Merisiel. Beral asked the Captain where his ship came from, and upon hearing of Gyleaon, he smilled and took the Captain’s hand in friendship. He told them his ship had come from Gyleaon, while Merisiel’s vessel has sailed from the far of elven land of Cyrael. The Captain and a small contingent was invited to return to the village, known as Solstraad, with Beral, Merisiel, and their people. However, Nerova was more concerned with freeing his ship.

In this spirit, Takk called upon Rusty, still clutching the anchor chain in his jaw, now beneath the ice. Rusty left the chain, and rose, bringing his jaws and forearms to bear on the ice. After a few minutes he burst up through the ice, to the surprise and concern of the inhabitants of the ice flow. Upon examination, Takk reported that the ice was just under a yard thick. It could be dealt with given a few days of work and some additions to Rusty. However, upon hearing this, Beral looked concerned. He told the heroes that the ice was thin hear, and far thicker elsewhere. He suggested that there would be greater difficulties in getting a ship free of the ice, and suggested that if they came to Solstraad, they might be able to sit and hear all of what the people of that ice bound town could tell them. At this, Captain Nerova told Takk to see to freeing the ship as best he could, something the gnome took to enthusiastically. Meanwhile, he ordered Morgaine, Karth, Natava, and Santiago to go with Beral and Merisiel and hear what they had to say. With this settled, a few of the people of Solstraad vacated their places on the sleds, and the four crewmembers climbed on in their place to be whisked away to the village.

The journey gave them some time to take in the sight of the five ships, set in the ice almost perfectly to form a town. As the sleds entered the thoroughfare which the ships lined, however, it became clear that this community was one built around endurance and challenge, not their uniquely impressive improvised architecture. The ships were damaged, chopped up in some placed to form wood piles, while boarded up and covered elsewhere to keep out the chilling winds. The people were all dressed in hides, many were armed, and all, even the children, were moving, engaged in the work required to survive. Fires burned about the village, warming many while food was cooked for the morning meal. As they passed through the thoroughfare, Merisiel identified each ship. There was the Vol Ulkad, a vessel out of the wartorn lands, crewed by a dwarven engineer and his family and assistants. Across from it lay a Tamherang explorer’s ship, the Moscyr. Before the Vol Ulkad lay a Gyleaon merchant vessel, known as the Forth-with Wind. This ship lay across from Merisiel’s ship, a diplomatic vessel known as the Sunrise of Cyrael. Finally, as they arrived at the ship that lay parallel to the shore, unlike the other ships, Beral welcomed then to his home, the Breath of Gylead, a Gyleaon warship in the style of the Astrologer’s Albatross. As the party listened to this, another sound caught their ears. It was a lilting voice singing rhythmically with the strum of a guitar. As they had entered Solstraad he had heard the singer delivering the lyrics of an old Yule carol, but as they stepped from the sleds, the carol ended, and the bard took up a new melody, telling the story of one Yohiem Brunei.

 

First off, yes, given my whole speech before about issues resulting from using the names of months in a game, why am I referencing the Yule holiday, a holiday that is certainly not invented? The short answer is my person belief, everyone’s a hypocrite. A longer explanation is that I needed to set a holiday tone, having planned this as a holiday themed adventure. Now, when I say themed, I mean in a subtle manner. The snow and ice was most of it, but this slight addition, alongside a troubled people huddling by fires in the cold night to drive back the darkness, gave it a clear holiday feel. I mentioned the Yule to be a bit more explicit, so it would not be missed. In addition, a brief bit of research confirmed for me that the Yule holiday surrounded the winter solstice, a holiday that would be seen in this world. So, there you go, either hypocrite or GM out for a touch of holiday spirit. Maybe both.

 

As the party entered the Breath of Gylead, Beral told them how his vessel had been the first to come here some seventeen years ago. As the other ships had arrived over the years, they have been added to Solstraad’s community, which now numbers just 143 individuals. Before the Astrologer’s Albatross, Merisiel will inform them, the Vol Ulkad was the newest arrival. The dwarven vessel was caught in the ice four years ago. That is how every ship came here, Beral explains. They find themselves trapped in the ice after a storm, or they sail in to waters around the iceberg (for that is what the island truly is) and are soon trapped as the ice reaches them. The four heroes had reached a large common space now, and seated themselves about a rectangular table with Beral and Merisiel. Food was brought out, and Morgaine asked Beral why they souls of Solstraad did not break free of the ice and return home. Beral responded by offering to tell them his tale, promising it would explain much.

Seventeen years ago, while on a military patrol, Beral steered the Breath of Gylead into the icebergs, hoping to assure his superiors that to enemy used the icebergs. However, one night the crew awoke to find their hull encased in ice emerging from a nearby iceberg. When Beral’s ship found itself in the ice, they tried for seven days to break free, but found each night, the ice refroze. It seemed to refreeze thicker and farther out into the water, and all fires were extinguished each night by something. On the eight day, Breath of Gylead came under attack by a young white dragon. While only the size of a man, the beast was swift and vicious. It attacked and slew all who were working ahead of the ship, thirty men. It turned the ice itself on the men, making it move and entrap men, while freezing others with its breath and slaying still more with claw and fang. The dragon was supported by a mighty frost giant, who attacked the ship from afar with a great bow. He pinned down those aboard the ship with Beral, preventing them from lending aid to those on the ice. Afterwards, the giant left those remaining alive, telling them this iceberg was Dragirvost, his iceberg, his lands, and his kingdom. He was Jarl Yohiem Brunei, lord of the land, and the crew of the Breath of Gylead were to be his vassals. Over the next  seventeen years, the Jarl told each ship that arrived the same, and slew any who opposed him. Three ships that fought were sunk. Those that survived now live in Solstraad, as Brunei named the village. They hunt, work, and live, offering minor tribute to Brunei, but he asks for little. Brunei’s pet dragon claimed victims if it could, but Brunei limited this. The greatest demand Brunei placed upon them came on the Yuletide, or Winter Solstice, when he would demand three adult sacrifices to him.

While this adventure was meant to be a holiday themed one, It was also a chance for me to put forth an idea I have had bouncing around my cranium for over a year at least. Yohiem Brunei, the might warrior of a frozen realm, is an idea inspired largely by an excess of playing Skyrim. I identified early on after plating that game that the Nordic frost giants of Pathinder held true to the feel of the Nordic culture that inspires much of Skyrim. I had this image of a bard singing the tale of Yohiem Brunei. I even had much of the song itself laid out. When I becan crafting a winter holiday campaign, it seemed a find chance to use a frost giant, which would also be a challenging fight for the party. The result was Jarl Yohiem Brunei, the adventures villain. The bard singing of him was how I added in the idea of the songs of Brunei. I was tempted to try actually singing the song I had in the adventure to really help set the mood. But, in a conversation with one of my players, it was pointed out to me that rather than creating a tense and exciting atmosphere through the sober delivery of a mythic song, I would likely just cause several of the group to be taken out of the scene with the surprise of me singing. While I know my friends would not mean anything by it, I do suspect a few could not help but giggle, which would kill the mood I was trying to set instantly and bury it in a deep grave. So, that idea was abandoned, but Brunei got his chance to live outside my head.

 

With his story told, Beral delivered a warning to them. Almost every ship desired to escape when they arrived. They wanted to fight, to resist the trap, and Beral understood that for warriors, it was even harder to resist these urges once caught in the ice. But the Breath of Gylead had seen seven other ships join it in the ice before the Astrologer’s Albatross. Brunei and his beast had bent each to his will, sinking three vessels in the process. Brunei was clever and mighty. Warriors, diplomats, merchants, and ingenious explorers and engineers had all faced him and tried to free themselves. All had failed and been subdued. All 143 souls that lived in Solstraad knew there was no besting Jarl Yohiem Brunei. With the Yule approaching, Brunei would soon demand sacrifices, and to assure himself of the newest vessels compliance, Beral suspected some of the three sacrifices would be demanded from the Astrologer’s Albatross alone. Merisiel joined Beral in impressing the point of his little speech. Save yourselves the lives and losses. Do not resist Brunei, they told the heroes. Beral added that should the crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross choose to fight despite these warnings, Solstraad would not join their rebellion. They suggested it would be better to join Solstraad. In time, the dragon would move the ice to bring the Astrologer’s Albatross to sit in Solstraad, and they could live their new lives. They would only loose three lives, rather than dozens.

The heroes heard Beral’s warning, and after thanking him and Merisiel for their hospitality, they returned to their ship. The walk was long across the ice, with the wind cutting into them. By the time they arrived at the ship, they were sure remaining in the frozen wastreland was not preferable to the fight ahead. After hearing their report, Captain Nerova was on a similar mind. Takk was outright unbelieving at the passivity of the people of Solstraad. In this Karth joined him. The wizard could not believe sailors of a Gyleaon warship could advocate surrender to one such as Brunei, and Takk was utterly unwilling to give in without a fight. They agreed that resistance was preferable to a life away from their homes. The gnome mechanist had tested the ice and reviewed their armaments. He was confident they could defend the ship against all comers while breaking free of the ice. He proposed moving the ballistae on to the deck to deal with an aerial attack from the dragon. He also suggested using Rusty, now augmented with drill attachments to his forearms, to strategically weaken the ice around the ship. Should the giant approach, the ice would not support him. Rusty could then drag the Jarl down into the freezing depths, a certain end for the frost giant. All this Nerova approved. Morgaine contributed as well, expending her stockpile of blue whinnis poison to coat the tip of each ballista bolt in the sedative. With their defenses prepared for the night, they settled in to sleep.

The night passed uneventfully. However, as the sun rose, a voice boomed out over the field of ice.

“The Yule is upon us. At midday, the three sacrifices will walk alone onto Dragirvost. Two must march from the new vessel, and the third will walk from Solstraad. Do this, and before the longest night falls, you will know you need not fear the darkness.” The voice, undoubtedly that of  Dragirvost ‘s Jarl, continued, bellowing in the giant tongue “Remember the Hunt of Yule!”

Having already agreed to send forth no sacrifices, the crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross ignored the damn that they send two of their own forth for the Jarl’s sport. However, after only half an hour, Beral arrived at the ship with Merisiel at his side. The leader of Solstraad requested again that the Captain not be foolish and send forth the Astrologer’s Albatross’ requested sacrifices. When the Captain made it clear that they had decided to do no such thing, Beral nodded sadly, and informed the crew that instead, Solstraad would send forth all three sacrifices. They were adamant that Brunei be appeased, lest they suffer another punitive attack from the frost giant and his draconic pet. Beral suggested that if rebellion was their course, they prepare for the inevitable attack by Brunei. Merisiel merely shook her head in sadness as the two moved to leave.

However, Takk was far from satisfied. He desired even stronger defences, and was still disbelieving of the unwillingness of the people of Solstraad to help in their resistance. He requested the Captain’s leave to travel to Solstraad, and Nerova gave his leave, asking Karth to accompany the mechanist. The two asked Beral to join them on their return journey, and the old captain agreed reluctantly. So, they set out for the village post haste.

Takk’s first visit upon arriving was to the dwarven ship, the Vol Ulkad, while Karth chose to speak with Beral. Takk sought any weapons the dwarven engineers might offer. However, like Beral and Merisiel, the dwarves were unwilling to lend their support to any resistance to Brunei. They told Takk how they had resisted upon their arrival, using their newly invented cannon to try and fight off the dragon, whom they said Brunei named Iceral. They explained that in the ensuing fight, the reptiles frozen breath had struck the cannon’s barrel, cooling the metal immensely. The next shot the dwarves fired blasted the barrel apart, killing a dozen of them. Since then, they had neither had the means nor the will to resist Brunei. Takk made some attempts to chance the dwarves minds, but their fear for their families wellbeing rendered Takk’s arguments inert. Karth attempted a similar argument with Beral, but the old sailor was quick to point out Bunei’s numerous successes, and the limited fighting capability of his aging sailors. He would no aid them.

Frustrated, Takk left to rejoin Karth and Beral. He put several suggestions to Solstraad’s leader. Schemes involving letting the heroes pose as sacrifices to strike at Brunei and the like, but Beral remained determined not to back and resistance, particularly ones that seemed increasingly unlikely to succeed in his mind. Seeing this, Takk pushed past the urge to simple shoot things in frustration and changed his tactic. Rather than asking for direct aid, he requested information. He requested anything they knew of where Brunei lived, and his strategies. Beral told them none knew where Brunei dwelled, for those that saw the place were either sacrifices or Iceral’s prey. However, years of hunting had led Beral’s people to know Dragirvost well. He suspected one cave of being an entrance to Brunei’s lair. For this Takk thanked him, and the two heroes left.

It was as they left that Takk heard the lyrics of the tale of Yohiem Brunei being sung. The singer was an human male, disheveled in appearance, dressed in ashen furs and strumming a weathered guitar. However, Takk was curious, and approached the bard, asking him how he knew so much of Brunei. The bard’s response was simple. The strange musician claimed he had asked Brunei. Takk wasted no time in inviting the bard back to the Astrologer’s Albatross.

As they left, Solstraad was a sober yet active town, as the two hero’s and the strange bard left as the town emerged to see those who would be sacrificed off. Their grim solstice tradition fuelled Takk’s determination to defeat Brunei, though by this point, both Karth and he felt little pity for the sacrifices or Solstraad. As far as they were concerned these people had chosen, and maybe even deserved their fates. They were not alone. Of the heroes, Natava accepted the fear created by over a decade of brutal attacks and failed resistance in Solstraad. Morgaine could see this as well, and felt sorry for the people, but her fighting spirit could not accept their submissive path. Santiago was, well, not particularly interested in Solstraad honestly. His attentions were focused on the potential for adventure and reward to be found in Yohiem Brunei and his reptilian ally.

In these regards, Santiago was interested when Takk and Karth returned with the bard of Solstraad. The bard was never pressed for a name, and showed no particular interest in giving it. Instead, both the adventurers and the minstrel preferred to focus on Yohiem Brunei. The frost giant was of immense interest to the tale weaver, and he began discussing the jarl of Dragirvost with almost no prompting. He told a story of a young Brunei, out to complete a rite of passage. Alone, Brunei crossed ice flows and survived the arctic wilds, all to come to a mighty iceberg near the edge of the ice. The mountain of ice and snow was the dwelling of a great white wyrm, Vissorx, a beast which Brunei challenged. The young giant faced the frigid dragon, and cast the monster from the iceberg’s peak. He had slain his target and fulfilled his task. The dragon’s treasure was his, and he even trapped the beast’s child, Iceral. He was posed to return home a mighty champion, an inevitable jarl, had the dragon’s fall not weakened the ice surrounding Dragirvost. The iceberg was set adrift, and Brunei was left trapped on the mass of floating ice, where he could rage at fate’s injustice until he could establish himself as a lord despite fate’s cruelty.

 

In response to hearing this, the party agreed that this presented a possible diplomatic solution to dealing with Brunei. They could offer to take Brunei home aboard the Astrologer’s Albatross, though it might take some diplomatic skill to persuade the giant. This idea was considered for about four silent seconds before they laughed this craziness off and began checking their poisons, spells, and one large mechanical monstrosity.

 

The bard’s tale had passed the time quickly, and the long night of the Yule fell upon them. However, the crew was prepared. Takk’s proposed defenses were in place, and Captain Nerova had every man and woman on deck, ready to fend off any assault Brunei might launch against them for their defiance. The bard joined them on deck as the final preparations were made. Karth’s pistol and spellbook were brought forth, Morgaine took to the rigging, Santiago practiced a few chords, and Takk checked to see that the ballistae had been properly transplanted to the upper deck. A half-moon gave the ship a soft light, but Nerova ordered torches lit. Every soul aboard the warship of Gyleaon waited, watching for the attack everyone assumed would come.

When Iceral came, the dragon shot forth across the ice, flying low and swift. The wyrm was silent save for the beat of its wings, and it was upon them even as Santiago and Morgaine spotted the reptilian enforcer of Brunei’s will. The adolescent white dragon swept up over the prow, exhaling a frozen blast upon the ballista mounted there. The war-machine and its crew were engulfed instantly, left covered in frost and suffering the burns of the frigid temperature. Hovering above his victims, Iceral roared, crying forth in his draconic tongue “Yohiem Brunei welcomes you to his realm, vassals.”

The crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross did not hesitate to respond. Morgaine fired off a shot from her hand crossbow, to little effect, however her bolt was not alone. The Captain bellowed out the command, and Takk yelled out in agreement, and seven ballistae loosed their mighty bolts, their razor sharp tips coated in Morgaine’s tranquilizing poison. Five of the bolts struck the dragon, its size now minute compared to the projectiles it faced. Scale and flash were torn, and poison mixed with blood. A burst of frost and a sharp howl escaped the monster as it fell, smashing into the frozen ballista, shattering the heavy wooden spars as the dragon’s bulk bounced way over the edge of the ship’s bow. The heard the dragon stike the ice below with a dull thud, and cheers went up. The heroes were quick to dash down the gangplank, to find the beast alive, yet unconscious, though whether from its wounds or the poison was unclear. Chains were brought forth, and before half an hour had passed Santiago was telling all who neared the beast that it was his, to be trained as his pet. Morgaine, who was tightening the chains with aid from the crew, could only shake her head in annoyance at the enthusiastic mandolin player’s fantasy.

 

So… I knew the defences they had prepared were good, but… I mean damn, they captured a bloody dragon! I mean, it was an adolescent yes, and they had siege weapons, which did hurt it, but honestly, what I really did not account for was the blue whinnis. That poison must overcome the foe’s fortitude to subdue it, something I figured was unlikely with a dragon, even a relatively weak one. What I should have seen was that it is all about numbers. All it takes is failing one fortitude check to be rendered unconscious by the poison, and there were a lot of poisoned attacks hitting Iceral. I had to let the dragon go down, even though he only failed one of the five checks forced upon him. And then I had to figure out how I got around the immediate suggestion by Santiago that they tame it. Yea, I may have had to take a moment just to hold my head after this one.

 

None noticed that Santiago was the only bard about until the screams were heard, echoing over the ice. It was Captain Nerova, spyglass to his eye, who yelled out that Solstraad was under attack. Soon Takk joined him, and together captain and mechanist watched. Firelight, from cooking fires as well as spreading fires left uncontrolled, lit the scene in Solstraad. The people ran, some to shelter, while those capable sprinted towards something out of sight, hidden behind the ships that made up the village. At first Takk could not tell what the vassals of Brunei faced. The mystery faded as a great arrow, easily a match for the bolts from their ballistae, sprung forth to skewer two of Beral’s warriors. Then another arrow smashed though the railing of the Breath of Gylead, sending splinters and sailors flying to fall upon the ice. Brunei, Beral had said when hen he told them of the Jarl of Dragirvost, hunted and fought with a mighty bow. Takk realized he has underestimated Brunei. The giant Jarl would not risk attacking them head on, especially after witnessing their might in facing Iceral. Unable to punish the defiant crew, he delivered his brutal justice upon his vassals. The gnome knew he had no choice, and when he lowered his spyglass, he found that his crewmates were in agreement with him without a word being spoken. Nerova nodded, and the heroes sprinted from their vessel to defend Solstraad against the storm they had drawn upon the villagers.

 

I conceived Brunei as more than some brute. Admittedly, as a giant, he was no genius, but he was a hunter and warrior, who had lived his whole live surviving and seeking power. He had a cunning nature to him. When Takk began setting up the defenses, he did a great job. I did not want to send Brunei in to those defenses, as it would not even be a fight (see Iceral). Where was the fun in that, particularly a second time. There was no challenge. But, I realized thankfully that with how events played out, Brunei’s character would not charge heedlessly into those defenses anyways. Yohiem Brunei was a cunning one, a hunter and a ruler. He would lure his foes out and prey upon their morality. This worked well I think, as it made Brunei a greater threat to the party, and motivated them to stop him. Funny how important simple character outlines for your NPCs can be. Never send out a major NPC without a bit of an understanding of his or her character I suggest. You can see, it adds to the story and can even justify you not having to sacrifice them to a ship full of poisoned ballistae in a field of weakened ice.

 

Crossing the ice, with little light save the moon above and the fires before them, it took the party almost twenty minutes to jog to Solstraad. When they arrived, weapons were drawn, and they were ready to meet the giant. They advanced slowing down the main thoroughfare, but immediately sensed they were too late. The people of the icebound village no long ran or cried out. Instead they moved about slowly, putting out fires and moving bodies. Many a tear streaked face was seen, amidst just as many set jaws. As they came to the Breath of Gylead, they saw Beral directing his people as they gathered the bodies and cleared debris. Three men were pulling a great arrow from the ship’s hull. Others prepared the pyre. When Beral saw them, he whispered to one man and then moved to meet the approaching warriors.

Their discussion with the leader of Solstraad was brief. Beral was weary now, and despite his best efforts, had seen Solstraad run afoul of its despot. He was impressed at the newcomers had subdued Iceral, and had already suffered from Brunei that day. For the first time in decades, the old sea captain had a sliver of hope and was reminded of his hatred of the town’s lord. He did not see what more could fall upon his head, and so when the heroes asked if he would aid then now, Beral agreed. He had work to do still, helping his people recover, but he happily ordered Merisiel to lead the champions of the Astrologer’s Albatross to what the villagers suspected was an entrance to Brunei’s home deep within the iceberg. The hunt was on.

Merisiel led the five warriors out over the ice, and onto the snowy shore of Dragirvost. It took unto mid-morning to reach the entrance. The journey allowed them to see a few of the dear and polar bears that shared Brunei’s frigid isle. Normal a party out of Solstraad would hunt these creatures, but this group sought the apex predator instead, a choice Merisiel was still reluctant to support, despite Beral’s blessing. When they came to the aperture in the ice that Merisiel told them was surely an entrance into Brunei’s lair, the elven woman was unwilling to accompany them further. So, she returned to her home. With Rusty in the lead and Karth taking up the rear, the heroes pressed in to the tunnels.

The passageway was circular, the walls made of  rough ice. As they pressed on, they were forced to bypass a cunning razor-wire trap spotted by Morgaine’s keen eyes. After this, progress slowed, and Morgaine reluctantly slipped in from of Takk’s mechanical beast. She was please to find to further traps however. Instead, she was the first to exit the tunnel into a massive hall, formed of solid, smooth, ice. They managed to keep their footing as they pressed on, passing on to a grand staircase. The stairs descended into a sight beyond what they heroes had expected. Mounds of coins, both gold and silver rose up from the lower ice floor, Beyond the stairs and the coins that covered over them, the hall expanded into a great room with only a single door at the far end of the expansive chamber.

Only the slight clinking of coins disused by the party’s passing disrupted the silence of the hall. None of the others noticed as Santiago stopped, eyes furtively glancing about. Only the bard held back, however. It was clear to all that Brunei’s coffer had been found, filled with the coin earned from the hoard of the former draconian ruler of the ice flow. With this discovery made, it seemed that the frigid tyrant could not be far. Weapons were readied, and it seemed inevitable that the impact of the giant’s footfalls would echo through the hall.

The whisper of feathers through the till air and the clack of claw on stone were utterly unexpected by comparison. Yet, these subtle sounds emerged within the hall. They reached Karth first, of all people. Morgaine heard it too, but even so it only Karth’s pistol was raised as a figure spun from the shadows that edged the anteroom.

The blue-black feathers sprouted forth from beneath the patchwork hooded garment. Above the ebony beak, serene silver eyes gazed up at the startled intruders. whatever they had expected in the hall of Yohiem Brunei, it had not been the tengu witch, Kaudi Vraa.

“Peace, Karth,” the avian soothsayer said calmly, “Ol’ Kaudi be meanin’ you no harm this day.” She paused one feathered arm raised, claws outstretched before Karth’s impending bullet. The wizard knew of her abilities though. A spell shot at the witch might be dispelled, or worse, reflected. So while the wizard kept his weapon upon the tengu, he made no effort to fire. his companions followed his lead.

“Why are you here?” Takk snapped.

Kaudi’s response was delivered in her accented speech without a hint of tension or haste in her tone. She remained still, giving no threatening sign. She revealed to the adventurers that she had been waiting, not for them, but for a Gyleaon vessel. The letter that had led them so close to the coast of Souvar had been a fine forgery. Jalastar was hunted across the Southern Seas, and it had been decided trap must be set to distract and dissuade pursuers. The Astrologer’s Albatross she surmised had fallen into this one, one she had not thought wise. Brunei was a dangerous tool. Kaudi though leaving him in power to be unwise, but she admitted Jalastar could not be stopped yet. He had much farther to go she thought. As did the crew of the  Astrologer’s Albatross. She told them having made it this far, she suspected Brunei’s fate was sealed. Had he eliminated foes of Jalastar, it would have been worthwhile, but she would mark the Jarl’s passing with a smile. The witch would not interfere. In fact, she wished them luck, not that a soul of them trusted the witch’s platitudes. Their weapons remained ready, and Karth and Takk at least would have shown her no mercy if the opportunity arose. The witch gave no chance though. She left as swiftly as she had come, launching herself towards the ceiling as flying across the hall towards the entrance they had come through. Santiago saw her pass him in a black blur.

“Should have shot her,” Takk said with a shake of his head. Karth gave him a rye glace, and Takk sighed. “For the best. Brunei will be enough to deal with.”

A heavy footfall punctuated Takk’s words, and drowned out his curse at hearing them. There came a deep baritone, calling out, “Where are you witch?” just before the giant Jarl’s form filled the doorway. The heroes held every weapon at the ready. Brunei started and stared in shock at the armed intruders deep within his home. His blue tinged skin rippled as his massive muscles flexed, and as he opened his mouth to roar his blonde beard and long locks shook.

“YOHIEM BRUNEI!!!” the ten foot tall warrior king’s battle cry reverberated through the icy anteroom, and in a fluid motion he drew a mighty great sword from over his shoulder and sprung forward with surprising vigor. Takk’s hands tossed his musket aside as he scrambled for some device on his belt. Karth fired, striking the Jarl in the center of his chest, but not slowing him for a second. Morgaine darted forward managing to escape Brunei’s notice in the chaos. She slashed with her poisoned blade, missing the frost giant by a hair. Natava readied a spell and crawled forward. Across the room, the soft song of Santiago’s far off mandolin could be heard.

 

I had no idea who this fight would go. Brunei was supposed to be a match for the party, but often when I think that these guys prove how clever they are, and defeat my monsters with surprisingly little effort. I felt more confident as Santiago was staying way back out of the fight, motivated by a significant survival instinct. When the party splits up, they usually end up in more trouble. But, as we saw last session, that can work out for them as well. So, I sent Brunei in looking for a kill, and hoped this would be a challenging fight.

 

Takk flung a orb from his belt. It arced towards Brunei and upon striking him it exploded into a web of sticky threads, instantly stopping the Jarl of Dragirvost in his tracks, but also catching Morgaine. Takk whispered to Rusty, and a crossbow emerged from the metal beast’s shoulder, firing a bolt into the giant almost instantly to little effect.

Meanwhile, Morgaine looked about at her situation. She was just behind Brunei, but with the webbing holding her in place near the giant, she dared not provoke his wrath. Her mind raced, and within seconds she took a breath, and made a desperate bid to survive this. She moved swiftly, wriggling free of the strands, leaping into the air and tearing free from the webbing altogether. Her whip cracked, lashing out to wrap about Brunei’s blade. She twisted in the air, held onto the whip, and swung down, grazing the webbing on the icy floor before arcing up. As her weight pulled the whip from the frigid Jarl’s great sword, she reached the peak of her swing and flew onwards. She landed with a roll alongside Karth. The wizard nodded to her and fired another shot, hoping to cover her retreat. Natava moved in front of the wizard, and odd move for a pacifist, but she seemed ready to defend him and Morgaine should the furious lord of the iceberg break free of Takk’s web.

Brunei watched Morgaine’s acrobatics. He glared, and with a bellow, he launched himself after the young woman. Webbing tore, and the sheer strength of the mighty man sent Brunei flying. He slammed down just in front of Natava, blade raised high. Takk released another invention, a hovering spinning blade, which dived towards the giant, slashing the Jarl with each pass. The gnomish mechanist fell back, and Rusty fired another bolt. Morgaine stabbed, Karth fired, and a faint insult was heard amidst the music from far behind them.

Then the blade of Yohiem Brunei fell. The frost covered steel swept low, slashing though Morgaine’s leather garment and rending her chest open with a single slice. The changeling gasped, spitting up blood, and dropped her sword to grasp at the gorge carved in her flesh. Another barrage of bolts, bullets, and spinning blades (for Takk had thrown a second into the fray) struck the giant. He bled from dozens of minute wounds, and with his name on his lips he pressed on. But Natava had been ready for Brunei. Even as he roared forth his battle cry a second time, the tendrils of the druid’s magic touched Morgaine’s wound. Blood drained back into her body, and the canyon of flesh sealed itself. A tear remained in her armour, but the first mate of the Astrologer’s Albatross never cared much for fashion. She kicked out, sliding herself out of range of a lethal strike while drawing and firing her hand crossbow.

Brunei’s blade fell again, this time driven to eliminate the merfolk druid who had foiled his vengeance. But Natava was ready. The blade bit into her armour, crushing scales and even biting into her flesh. But she could handle it. Natava grit her teeth and whispered the words, calling forth another burst of healing upon herself. Brunei howled, and twice more his blade fell. With each stroke, Natava bent more before his fury, but she gave no ground. She kept casting, knowing that the storm around Brunei had not abated.

The Jarl of Dragirvost had dueled an adult dragon and cast that beast from the heights of the iceberg. He had tamed Iceral, the dragon’s child. He had become Jarl by his own will, tamed foes to make vassals, and suck ships who defied him. Yet he could not kill this merfolk, and he could not withstand the hail of bolts, spells, bullets, and insults (though to be honest, Santiago was finding the latter to be less than effective). One of the mechanist’s spinning blades swept by, striking the giant once more in the neck. This time, the sinew beneath the skin was cut, and an artery burst. Yohiem Brunei staggered back, and fell heavily on his back, his arms spread eagle, great sword in his right hand. The Jarl gurgled, and death took him.

 

So, it was a chose thing. Ok, not in the sense that Brunei could have one. The boor guy didn’t stand a chance against those tactics. But he had them scared at one point, which was my goal really. When he broke free of the web, he was already below half health. I thought he would go down without landing a blow. But then he landed a blow and was 5 points away from killing Morgaine outright. By then he was taking steady damage, but each hit was doing 10 – 20 damage. He had a few turns left, and then Natava proved why combining a healer and a tank works so well. Even then, another hit from Brunei would have knocked her down as well. All in all, I think this fight went well. Now I have to hope I can reproduce it. Recently, fights have not been my strong area.

 

The heroes paused, catching their breath and staring and the suddenly still form. Brunei had been a foe more challenging than most they had faced. Certainly had been more determined than most to see them dead. But to their surprise, even when everything they threw at him barely injured Brunei, and they needed time, Natava held the frost giant off, while saving a friend in the process. Morgaine thanked the druid, and the others gathered about her, smiles growing on their lips.

It took three days to break the Astrologer’s Albatross free of the ice. It might have gone faster, but for much of the time Rusty was busy, helping the heroes ferry as much coin as the ship could hold down from Brunei’s hoard. The people of Solstraad helped them, but let the giant slayers take their prize before they laid hands on a single coin. The efforts to free Solstraad from the ice were well underway when the Astrologer’s Albatross was ready to set sail again. Nerova had spent some hours with Beral, Merisiel, and the other captains of the village. Nerova agreed to bring word of their plight to Gyleaon, and send messages to their respective nations. Help would come to carve a path out of the ice and see them all safely home. With this assured, the Astrologer’s Albatross caught a northward wind in its sail, and headed off to spend their coin and deliver their captive dragon to the Company.

 

In D&D, you can only ever really tell a tale from the character’s perspectives. Other mediums allow you to show other perspectives, usually to build dramatic tension. There is a desire I fight to do this when GMing, but often it just will not work. As the players control the characters, showing the former plot material often inevitable means they make their characters avoid the pitfalls they can see coming, even if their characters would not. Even if they know the difference between player and character knowledge, that desire to meta game and help your character survive is there. Players are protective of their characters. So, showing any scene to the players that the characters themselves do not witness is a BAD idea. But, heck, it was Christmas and I have always wanted to, ok?!

 

Deep in the caves of Dragirvost, not far from where Brunei’s body had been burned, the strange bard sat, lightly strumming his guitar. He was silent, staring into the ashes of the Jarl. Slowly, he stopped his song, and reached a hand into the ash. He stood peering at his ash covered hand, and rubbed the ash against his tunic. He strode away from the remnants of the pyre, to a far wall. The reached out the hand, and let the ash mark the wall as he drew upon it. At first, he wrote a simple phrase.

“I was here.”

He paused then, and whipped the ash away with his clean hand. He tried again.

“Yohiem Brunei was here.”

Again he frowned, and erased his work. He stared hard at the stone. Then he smiled.

“Yohiem Brunei is here.”

The bard laughed, and began to sing the tale of Yohiem Brunei.

 

Thus ends another session. I hope you enjoyed it. It may not have truly captured much of a holiday vibe, but we found it fun all the same. I really liked getting to bring Brunei to life, and surprisingly, that bard became a new favourite as well. I think I may have plans for him. The journey will continue next session, where the players get to shop, try to lock up a dragon, and deal with mother issues. It’s really quite entertaining. As always, if you have something to say on this session, please post in the comments below! Let those dice keep rolling!

One comment

  1. YOHIEM……… BRUNEEEEEIIIIIIIIII!
    I’m still somewhat disappointed that he didn’t try to attack our ship (bastion? makeshift citadel?) directly, though I’ll admit his cleverness did make for a better fight overall. I just really wanted to see a grappled frost giant try to make swim checks in arctic waters while being peppered with poisoned ballistae ^^

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