It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Six
By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories
[Avast! Spoilers ahead.]
6 Goodmonth, 570
Sometime during Babshapka’s watch, first Tyrius and then Larenthal regained consciousness. Both remained in considerable discomfort, but the elf was relieved to find them lucid. Babshapka spoke to them softly, gave them water, and attended to their needs before encouraging them to rest longer. By morning Larry felt strong enough summon up enough of the Oerth’s power to work spells of healing for his own wounds and also for those of his companion. Tyrius, in his turn, invoked the name of Pelor to lay healing hands upon himself and the dwarf. Through rest and the power of spells and prayers, they recovered their strength, but the effort cost them all their magical potency, and the party was not keen to return to the house with their spellcaster at “empty.” They decided to let Larenthal continue to rest for the morning and then set out in the afternoon. For his part, the dwarf was content to spend the morning communing with sky and land, earth and sea, and the living soul of Oerth rather than returning immediately to the house of giant vermin and blood-sucking stirges.
The rest of the party spent a leisurely morning in the fresh sea air, enjoying a generous lunch. Nadine did not have food to contribute (her supplies having been taken along with her clothes), but she did provide assistance with gathering wood, cooking, and washing up, so the party did not begrudge her the two meals. Thanks to Tyrius’ careful planning, they had purchased a week’s worth of supplies, and they were in no danger of running short soon even with one extra mouth.
In mid-afternoon, the party broke camp and returned through the woods to the house. Arriving there, however, they found it surrounded by townsfolk! Mostly the young and spry, but people of all ages had gathered—many having brought a picnic lunch with them. They were spread out along the road and camped on high spots so as to see over the wall—a few youths were even perched in trees, studying the house. None had dared cross the wall or enter the garden, however, and Aurora noted that they stayed well away from the shadow of the wall.
When the party emerged from the woods, a cheer went up. As they walked toward the road, the smaller children surrounded them. “Why have all these people come?” Aurora asked Tyrius.
“Perhaps the boys from yesterday heard the thunderclap Larry created, and now they have come back for more entertainment,” Tyrius suggested.
The cheers of the crowd disconcerted the adventurers. Aurora scowled. Thokk hefted his axe nervously. Larenthal actually blushed. Babshapka pulled his hood up over head. Barnabas offered an awkward bow as if he had completed a performance. Nadine barely concealed a smirk that had started to creep across her face. Only Tyrius seemed to take it in stride. He smiled and waved and tossed his golden hair. “So nice of the small folk to turn out for us,” he murmured contentedly.
The cheers faded into silence as the party approached the gate, and when Babshapka stepped through first, there was an audible gasp from the spectators. Ignoring the stares as best they could, the rest of the party followed the drive around the house to the sea-side and up to the front entrance.
The entry hall was as they had left it the afternoon before—in a shower of shattered timber, fallen plaster, and the bodies of dead giant ants. They picked their way carefully across the room, then down the hall to the kitchen and opened the door to the scullery. There the abundance of mold once again gave them pause, as did a putrid smell of decay rising from below. Larenthal suggested they tie rags over their faces before proceeding forward, “To protect from spores.” Most followed his advice, but Thokk scoffed at the idea.
As Babshapka set his booted foot lightly on the top step of the stairs down, hideous screams emerged from the basement, as of a soul in terrible torment. The sound gave them all a fright, and even Thokk took a few steps back.
“By the gods!” Barnabas exclaimed, his voice muffled by the rag he had tightly bound around his nose and mouth. “What in the nine hells was that?”
Babashapka shrugged unconcernedly, and Aurora said, “It sounds like a tormented spirit—or at least the way I imagine a tormented spirit would sound.”
“That sounds like a job for a holy knight,” Barnabas said, pushing Tyrius to the front of the party. Tyrius agreed, and he took the lead, descending first.
The steps led into a single open room, obviously a former wine cellar, though now a mess of collapsed shelving and broken bottles. The light carried by Tyrius revealed a human corpse, still in plate mail, lying on the floor, his flesh well-rotted away.
Thokk sniffed at the corpse and declared, “Been dead a long time, several weeks.”
“Not likely the source of the screams we heard,” Larenthal said cautiously.
“Unless it was his soul,” Barnabas added as if in jest, but his voice did not sound as brave as he had hoped.
“I must say,” Tyrius remarked as he stooped over the corpse. “I’m not for stripping the dead, but this man’s plate armor is of excellent quality, and its protective value surpasses that of my own chain shirt!”
“Looks to be about your size, too,” Barnabas added. “I’d take it myself, but it would be big on me.”
“We are adventurers,” Aurora said, trying resolutely to keep her lunch down. “Treasure hunters and all that, and this is the first thing of value we have found.” She didn’t think it worth mentioning the magic ring she had taken for herself with the party’s assent, and Barnabus certainly didn’t volunteer information on his, which was still unknown to the party.
When Tyrius examined the corpse and its armor, however, a number of large, maggot-like creatures emerged from the body and sprang on to his gauntleted hands. As the grubs rooted around seeking some way to his flesh, Tyrius panicked. Aurora summoned a ready spell and produced a bolt of fire to burn the creatures away.
“You have spellcraft?” Tyrius exclaimed, stripping the rag away from his face.
Aurora realized that everyone was staring at her. She dismissed their looks of shock and concern, as if she had not done anything special, and said, “I’m a scholar. I know a few tricks.”
“I always took you for a witch,” Barnabas grumbled under his breath, but not so softly that Aurora did not hear the remark.
They exercised considerably more care as they further examined the rest of the body and its possessions, and Aurora burned a half-dozen more of the maggots before the armor had been stripped from the corpse and laid aside, along with the sword and shield. They poured out a flask of oil over the remaining possessions and the body itself, dragged it over to the open hearth, and then set it afire.
“I may smell like a dead man,” Tyrius said as he examined his new set of armor. “But I would rather smell like one than be one.”
Aurora wrinkled her nose in disgust.
The party searched the wine cellar, but found nothing more (completely missing a concealed door). Tyrius commented, “As large as this cellar is, it underlies only the north wing of the house, and there may be some other access to a separate cellar we have not yet found.”
“I don’t believe we have yet gotten to the bottom of the mysteries of this house,” Aurora said.
“Be that as it may,” Nadine objected, “I should hope we will be returning to Saltmarsh sooner rather than later. I am eager to find myself honest work, not grave-robbing.”
Meanwhile, behind the secret door, a single guard listened attentively to the noise of the adventurers, trying to estimate their total number. These intruders were nothing if not persistent. The frightening shrieks of Sanballet’s dweomer had failed to dissuade them, and rather than being warded off by the macabre presence of the dead knight, from the sound of it, they were looting the body. Convinced that they were about to find the secret door, he hurried off to warn his companions.
“So, they returnt then,” Sanballet said as he dressed himself. “A pox upon ‘em!” He quickly organized an ambush in the cave complex such that, if the party should discover the concealed entrance, they would be suddenly set upon from two sides at once, trapped by his full force of smugglers and gnolls.
The adventurers had no suspicion of the trap being readied for them, but they remained wary. As they left the cellar, something caught Babshapka’s eye. He signaled for a halt, knelt down in the hall, and examined the dust. None of them had been down the east hallway since their return to the house that day, and yet there was a set of footprints in the new layer of plaster and dust from the collapsed attic. The prints led down the center of the hallway to the door at the end.
Unbeknownst to the elven ranger and his companions, the prints had been left by a careless smuggler the night before, assigned by Sanballet to check on the damage to the house from the party after hearing the explosion and collapse. Sanballet was principally concerned with whether it was still possible to get to the bedroom from which he signaled the ship.
“We did not leave these tracks,” Babshapka said, more to himself than to the others. He followed the tracks into the living room, but once past the closed door the trail was lost—the new layer of dust and plaster that made the tracks obvious did not pass the door.
“I say this room merits a more thorough search than we gave it yesterday,” Aurora declared. Babshapka agreed with a quick nod, but Aurora noticed a spark of enthusiasm. “You are enjoying this adventure, aren’t you? Just a bit?”
The ranger ignored her as he set to searching the room. About halfway between the hearth and the door to the patio, approximately under the spot from which the spooky voice emerged the previous day, he found a disguised trap door in the floor. Opening the door revealed a wooden staircase descending into the earth. The whole party gathered around to peer down the staircase, but the space below was no dark basement – it was actually well-lit!
“Now we are getting someplace!” Aurora said quietly. They arranged themselves carefully, and then started down the stairs with trepidation. They did not find the eerie crypt of an undead warden that they might have expected, but what they did find unnerved them nonetheless. The lit and reasonably clean quarters below were obviously maintained, well-tended and lived in—there was no mold, no water damage, no cobwebs. There were cots for ten men, personal trunks, a long wooden trestle table, and various kitchen supplies. For some reason, after the disorder and decay of the abandoned house itself, the party felt spooked by the thought of a large number of men living beneath them the whole time. The sausages hanging from hooks along the wall seemed especially creepy in the flickering light. What’s more, although the space itself was obviously recently in use, there was no one currently about—heightening their sense of dread. They all wondered when these men would be returning.
They searched the foot lockers and the wooden bins, but found only personal effects and food supplies. Their sense of anxiety over when, and how, the occupants would return, only grew. At the east end of the room were two doors—one normal and wooden, the other similar but barred with a stout wooden bar set into metal brackets on the wall. The door had the word “DANGER” scrawled across it in chalk, in the Common Tongue. Barnabas put his ear to the first door, and then to the other, but he shook his head to indicate he had heard nothing.
“Well, let’s try the first door,” Aurora said. The unbarred door opened into a large bedroom. The furnishings were comfortable and obviously of better quality than the common room. The party crowded into the room and closed the door behind them and set to searching for clues about the occupant. They found a lantern, oil, a scroll with curious marks, a naval almanac with the times of the tides for the surrounding coastline, and a number of other mundane items.
“Ten beds out there and one in here makes eleven beds!” Larenthal pointed out, his voice hushed and anxious. “Eleven beds makes eleven men. If they all return at once, we will be more than outnumbered.”
“We don’t even know who we are dealing with,” Aurora whispered.
“But we’ll have the jump on them,” Thokk said too loudly and with bared teeth. “We just hold up in here until they return, then take them unprepared.”
“Shshshsh!” Barnabas scolded him. “We won’t surprise anyone if they hear you first.”
After perhaps an hour or so of waiting in the caverns, it became apparent to Sanballet that the intruders had not found their secret entrance. He sent a scout ahead, who reported that there was no one to be seen in the cellar, either. Returning to the quarters in which his men slept, he found obvious signs that the room had been searched, though.
“Hush!” one of the smugglers said, pointing toward the door to Sanballet’s room. Sure enough, he could hear a muffled conversation coming from his personal quarters. Well, if yon intruders be not comin’ to me ambush, I’ll be bringing me ambush ta them! As quietly as possible, he motioned his men to clear all the stools out of the way and pile them in front of the secret door to the wine cellar to block that exit. The heavy table was turned on its side, rotated, and used to barricade off the western end of the cellar. He put his men behind the table to shield them from missiles or spells. He stationed the gnolls next to him to guard against anyone who made it over the table. When all was prepared, he called out across the room, “Ye can come out ter talk—we ken yer in there!”
Startled by the strange voice, the party held a quick discussion, arguing about whether they should burst out the door ready for a fight, or send someone out to “talk” but really to scout.
“Let me take a look,” Barnabas said. “I’m always lucky.” Remaining hidden in the gloom of the eastern end of the cellar, he crept out and peered around the corner. The men were ready for a fight. They had piled up some type of defensive fortification of overturned tables, barrels, and chairs. Barnabas counted not only eleven men (and one of those in robes), but two great hairy humanoid monsters as well. Luck or no luck, he did not like those odds, and said as much when he returned to the party.
“Perhaps they will listen to reason, or at least negotiate,” Tyrius said hopefully. “I will speak with them and explain that we thought the house abandoned.”
“I will go with you,” Babshapka said.
“As will I,” Thokk said with a snarl and fierce look in his eye.
“Probably best if we let them handle the negotiations,” Aurora said, holding Thokk back.
“It’s only going to be talking,” Tyrius agreed. “No fighting.”
As the ranger and the paladin went out to face the danger, Barnabas used them as cover to slip out and disappear into the shadows along the south wall without being seen.
“Parlay!” called Tyrius, as he strode across the room, “let us parlay.”
When Tyrius and Babshapka were about halfway across the room, Sanballet called out, “T’at’s far enou’. Here be the conditions o’ yer surrender: lay down yer weapons and ye can walk outta ‘ere an’ nae be returnin.’” Of course, Sanballet had no intention of keeping his word, but if he could get the party to lay down their arms the coming fight would be that much the shorter and go far better for his side.
Tyrius had lost track of Barnabus. He hoped that the halfling “minstrel” was moving into a strategic position for the fight and not abandoning them. Tyrius was prepared to negotiate in good faith, but when he saw the sour and hard-bitten faces of the men, noted that their leader was unarmored and likely some sort of spell-caster, and saw that, above all, he commanded those monstrous humanoids, his optimism vanished. The righteousness of Pelor flooded his soul, and he knew what he must do. Tyrius responded to the leader of the smugglers, “Actually, those were the conditions I was about to offer you. Lay down your arms, and your men are free to go. Only you and the two brutes will face the King’s Justice.”
Those words incited a raucous outburst of incredulous laughter from the smugglers. The gnolls joined in with strange, barking calls, though they probably did not understand a single word of the exchange. As the sound of laughter faded away, Tyrius waited for Sanballet to reply. As soon as the mage began to speak, Tyrius interrupted him and shouted, “Charge!”
Brandishing his warhammer, “Molly,” Tyrius charged the table, swinging overhead at the men behind it. Babshapka fell back to the corner and, in a single smooth motion, nocked arrows to his bow and began loosing them. Thokk barreled out from the room, delighted at the turn of events, swinging his axe as he ran at the table. Larry, Aurora, and finally Nadine emerged from the room as well, though the latter, unarmored and armed with only a dagger, hung back from the fray.
Sanballet was still in the middle of shouting orders to his men when he suddenly screamed out in pain. A shortsword stuck in his side, the other end attached to a halfling with an elegant moustache. He cursed, pointed at the halfling, and said a word in gnoll. One of the humanoid brutes forced the halfling back with wild swings of its axe. Sanballet sent the other gnoll halfway up the cellar stairs to guard his escape route just in case he had misjudged the strength of the party.
Aurora completed her sleep spell, and several of the smugglers fell inert to the floor. Thokk ran up to a now-unguarded section of the table and vaulted over it. He landed on the other side and started toward Sanballet, but the gnoll guard left the halfling and intervened. Barnabus took the opportunity to disappear into the shadows again. Tyrius moved to the table and tried to either haul himself over, or pull the heavy table down in the attempt.
For a moment, it appeared as if the party would make short work of the smugglers. Then Sanballet completed a spell of his own. A spray of colored lights leapt from his hands, and several of the party were blinded by the flash, Tyrius among them. The gnoll was having the better end of the fight with Thokk, and the half-orc was seriously wounded. The heavy table proved to be very effective cover, and the smugglers took little damage from the arrows of Babshapka or the cantrips of Aurora and Larry. By the time the smugglers had roused their slumbering comrades, several were wounded, but only two had fallen. Even after his vision returned, Tyrius was still unable to clear the table or pull it down. Worse yet, Sanballet had vanished into thin air, though he still shouted orders in a disembodied voice.
“Fall back!” cried Tyrius, “back to the room!”
He stayed at the table only long enough to cover Thokk as the barbarian climbed back over, then retreated himself, walking backwards with his shield held high in front of him as the smugglers jeered and hurled insults. Everyone in the party fell back to Sanballet’s room except the missing Barnabus. Even with two of the smugglers slain, the party was still outnumbered, and Tyrius hoped they could at least even the odds by defending the doorway.
With the cellar clear, the smugglers fell to squabbling over the coins and jewelry of the two dead men. Sanballet let them bicker for a while, then ordered them to inch the table forward, closing half the distance to his own quarters. He had each man take up a stool to use as an improvised first volley missile weapon should the party charge again. When no response came from the party, he ordered the table moved, halving the distance again and abutting the end against the nearer east wall to completely block off the narrower portion of the cellar.
Inside the bedroom, the party dissolved into panic. Thokk clutched at his wound and muttered darkly. Tyrius tried to take command to organize a to-the-last-man defense of the doorway, but the others, even Babshapka, urged flight. Barnabus was nowhere to be seen—presumably dead, but for all they knew he might have already slipped past the gnoll on the stairs and even now be making his escape.
“Even if we fled, and even if we were fortunate enough to make it to the stairs, we would have to fight our way past that dog-faced menace!” Tyrius reminded them.
“There’s another way,” Aurora said. “The second door. We can flee through the barred door.” Turning to Babshapka, she said, “Slip out and see if you can raise the bar.” Babshapka nodded, and slipped out the door as stealthily as a burglar. The wooden bar was heavy and swollen, and Babshapka struggled trying to lift it without being heard by the smugglers. “I’ve got you, mate,” whispered Barnabus, his hands already on the other end of the bar. Together they lifted it, then set it down silently on the floor and opened the door a crack without the smugglers even being aware.
Pulling the door outward halfway, they peered in. Light from the cellar behind them spilled through, but the room beyond was dark. “What do you see?” Barnabus asked in a whisper, for while Babshapka had elvish darkvision, he did not.
“No exits,” says Babshapka bitterly, “just some dead bodies. Skeletons, really. Uh…”
“I think they are moving…”
Just so, the three skeletons in sight were slowly swiveling their skulls and staring at Babshapka with eyeless sockets. Another three out of view of the door staggered to their feet from where they had been slumped against the wall.
“Ther fools be openin’ ther door!” the smugglers shouted in alarm. More than one called to Sanballet.
“Attack ‘em! An’ close it, fast!” he yelled back, but the warning came too late. By the time the smugglers got the table down so they could move forward, Babshapka and Barnabus were back in the bedroom with the door closed. The first skeleton was already through the door and the others were close behind.
“T’ey be comin’!” Sanballet announced, his voice betraying fear and panic.
Inside the bedroom, the elf took charge of the situation. “Brace the door,” Babshapka ordered. “Use the furniture.” He did not need to say it twice. Larry and Tyrius pushed the bed up against the door.
A second later the party heard shouts outside and the ringing of steel, then cries of pain and a howl from one of the gnolls.
“They’re fighting!” Larry exclaimed. “Three cheers for the skeletons!”
The battle was brief. The smugglers had the advantage in numbers, but their table was down by their own hands, many of them were already wounded, and their broadswords had little effect on the fleshless undead. As the cries of the living grew fewer, the party removed the furniture from the door and formed up for a charge. They spilled from the room just in time to see the last smuggler fall from a blow of the last skeleton standing. Tyrius did not hesitate. He charged and shattered the skeleton’s skull with his hammer. It dis-animated and dropped to the floor in a pile of disarticulated bones.
Tyrius shouted orders to secure the room as he and Larry checked the fallen men. They found two still alive, though unconscious. Tyrius mercifully bound the survivors’ wounds while Thokk bound their hands and feet. In the case of the fallen gnoll, Thokk slit its throat without checking whether it was alive or dead. All told, they counted one gnoll, ten men, and six skeletons among the fallen. The other gnoll, and the leader of the men who they assumed was some sort of mage, were nowhere to be seen. Nadine looked around the cellar, dumbfounded.
“Hey, you alright down there?” called out a deep voice from the top of the stairs. Three faces peered through the trapdoor. The local youths sported bare wisps of beard, but they had the muscles of stevedores or plowmen. The party had quite forgotten that the house above was surrounded by townsfolk. Tyrius laid healing hands on each of the two prisoners to restore them to consciousness, then left his companions to tidy up while he ascended the stairs. He assured the three youths, “Everything is fine, we are all alive. We have just now overcome a band of brigands or outlaws of some kind.”
Leaving the house through the back patio, he addressed those still gathered outside. He called out “The show is over, and you can return to your homes. There will be more news on the morrow, after we have had the chance to consult with the local authorities.”
While Tyrius was out, Nadine busied herself picking through the fallen men’s weapons until she found a broadsword sized for her, and then stripped one of the smaller men’s leather armor and began to don it. She took a dead man’s dagger and returned the one the party loaned her.
By the time Tyrius returned, he found the two prisoners conscious but sullen. Thokk suggested various methods of torture while Aurora listened and nodded sagely.
“We’ll have no such thing,” Tyrius said in a voice that brooked no argument, then turned to address the prisoners. “We need answers,” he said in a friendly tone, “who are you, what illicit activities were you pursuing in this place; tell us all, admit your guilt, and we shall show you the mercy of Pelor.”
“I ain’t tellin’ ye nothin, godsman,” said one of the prisoners.
Tyrius fixed him a stern look. “Your silence only condemns yourself,” he said. “If you will not speak to us, you force me to declare you outlaw, and execute the King’s Justice upon you.”
“Do yer worse,” said the man, and spat at Tyrius’ face, though the spittle fell short. “Kill me in cold blood an’ answer ter yer jus’ an’ good god fer it.”
Tyrius bowed his head in prayer, then retrieved one of the trestles from the table. He maneuvered the man into laying his neck over the wooden crossbeam, and held him from behind. He called for Thokk to bring his axe.
“We can make him talk!” Aurora objected urgently. “We need this information.”
Tyrius shook his head solemnly. “We do not torture,” he said firmly. “He has chosen his fate.” He nodded to Thokk, and the half-orc cheerfully severed the man’s head from his neck. Blood washed the floor. Aurora nearly swooned, and Larenthal emptied the contents of his stomach. Tyrius used some rags to wipe away the spattered blood from his face and chest, then turned to the remaining prisoner. “Please accept the mercy of Pelor,” he said, “and tell us all you know.”
The man eyed Tyrius suspiciously. “What mercy be this? A quick death, like ye gave yon Paxton?”
Tyrius shook his head. “No; tell us all, and tell us true, and you leave from here a free man—free to mend your life, gods be willing. Although I would suggest you wait until the townsfolk outside have dispersed.”
Only Babshapka observed the relief on Nadine’s face when Thokk killed the prisoner, and he also observed her expression of concern when Tyrius seemed on the point of convincing the remaining man to talk. The sole remaining prisoner stared defiantly into Tyrius’ pale blue eyes for a moment without flinching, but his eyes strayed to the gory mess that was his companion. He sighed and began his tale. “Aye, we be outlaws, right enough—though smugglers not brigands and I ain’t never ‘armed a soul, honest. True, some of me companions killed the knight what found ‘is way into the basement some three weeks ago, but I weren’t here for that. Most of me time ‘as been spent unloading ships and loading wagons and nothing worse than that. The boss’ name be Sanballet and he a wizard and all, with some magic way to control those two ‘ulking gnolls he got godsknowwhere. Sanballet ‘as a deal with some merchant guy in town name o’ Murph o’ somesuch—I ain’t never seen ‘im in person. A ship with another lot of smugglers brings in goods—mostly silk and brandy—from other ports in the Azure Sea, and lands them ‘ere. We pass the goods off to the merchant at night, and ‘e uses fancy book-keeping so it looks like he paid the crown tax to the customs house to import luxuries when ‘e ain’t neither—at least that be what the other smugglers say, but I don’t claim to know the truth of that. This Murph fellow then sells the goods in larger markets like Seaton and further afield.”
“Why here? Why use this place?” Aurora asked.
“The ‘ouse be lookin’ right out to sea, ma’am. Sanballet signals with the ship somehow at night—there be a lantern and signal codes involved, but I don’t know about that.”
“When is the next shipment due to arrive?” she pressed.
“I don’t know when the ship be coming—every few weeks they come. Sanballet goes upstairs in the house above each night, and then one night or another tells us it is time. We take the boat out of the sea cave below, row out to the ship, and bring in the smuggled goods. Usually it takes several trips, and we work most the night. Sanballet then sends a message to town. I don’t know ‘ow that works. Next night a wagon shows up for us to load. That merchant fellow be fat enough, but I ain’t never seen the good gentleman’s face in the light.”
Tyrius asked him to repeat parts of the story he found unclear, and kept him talking until he was satisfied about everything except the “sea cave below.” With Thokk hoisting the bound man, they walked over to a section of the south wall until the man indicated where to find a secret door. Sure enough, the concealed entrance opened into a series of chambers, several filled with bolts of silk and casks of brandy, sloping down to a cave that mets the sea and had a small jollyboat drawn up inside besides.
“You’ve been honest and kept your end of the arrangement,” Tyrius told the prisoner. “We will release you at dusk.”
With the prisoner safely tied, the party feasted on the best of the smuggler’s fare throughout the afternoon. As evening approached, they made sure there were no townsfolk about the house. True to his word, Tyrius then released the man and told him to “go forth and do evil no more.” The man started off down the coast road to Seaton with the clothes on his back and a dagger Tyrius returned to him only once they were outside the house.
Taking one bolt of silk, the head of the gnoll, and the painted shield of the fallen knight as their proofs and trophies, the party, including Nadine, set off back to Saltmarsh, arriving just after dark. They resumed their lodging in the Merry Mermaid, and asked Lieutenant Dan to set up an emergency meeting of the Town Council at their earliest convenience. Nadine thanked the party for their rescue and begged their leave. “I will find less expensive lodging in the common room of the tavern,” she said. Then she disappeared into the night. As soon as she was sure she was not being followed, she returned to the townhouse of Master Merchant Murphey.
For his part, when the tide of battle had turned against his men, Sanballet retreated with the unwounded gnoll to the stairs. He had lingered just long enough to see Tyrius smash the last skeleton, and then fled upstairs. Invisible, he left through the front of the house and then worked his way along the cliff face until well away from the house and townsfolk. He crossed the road and returned through the woods to wait nearby. He let his gnoll sniff out the party’s campsite from the night before, and he waited there in case a chance for revenge presented itself. He and the gnoll watched from the cover of the trees as the entire party left the house in the evening, and then they crept back inside the house to see what had become of the men and all their goods. The party had not found his spellbook nor his treasure chest, so he recovered both of these, gathered some food, cast a final magic mouth spell in his room, and left, walking the coast road to Seaton through the night.
Used with permission. Adapted for Greyhawkstories.com from the original article posted to Canonfire!2/23/2018;
Don’t miss chapter seven of It Started in Saltmarsh: The Escape of Master Murphey. Follow greyhawkstories.com.
2 thoughts on “Sanballat’s Trap”
Note from the Dungeon Master: At the start of the campaign we had three players, two of my colleagues from work and the son of one of them. Each was running two PC’s, thus:
Player 1: Thokk and Aurora
Player 2: Barnabus and Tyrius
Player 3: Larry and Babshapka
All three of them had extensive computer RPG experience but none had actually played a pencil and paper RPG before, so it was fun watching them explore and learn. The upper level of the Haunted House is particularly forgiving for first level PC’s and novice players. Although I must say it was hilarious when the druid chose to thunderwave in the attic after a dozen room descriptions emphasizing the decrepit state of the house. The collapsing floors were resolved with luck rolls and it was even more hilarious when the party found that both of their healers had been knocked unconscious in the fall. As they say, “Ain’t no party like a D&D party, ’cause a D&D party don’t stop – until the healer is unconscious and all the potions are used”.
A fourth player wanted to join the game, but at the point she talked to me we had already done character creation, backstory, and had played the first session. I had her come in as the NPC Nadine Shakeshaft, with the pledge that we would find a more permanent character for her later. I explained to her that she worked for the merchant in the town who was receiving the smuggled goods, and that her goals were to keep the party from discovering the smugglers and, failing that, to provide the merchant with ample warning of the party’s activities. Assassination was on the table, but I told her she wasn’t going to sacrifice herself for her employer – that is, killing a party member in a way that led to her own discovery and death was not an option. If you recall the party’s ascent to the attic, she deliberately forced the dexterity check that led to Tyrius falling from the attic stairs all the way down into the kitchen – almost taking him out, but not quite. I’m not sure why she wanted the house surrounded by townsfolk the next day – perhaps she thought the audience would discourage the party from searching further.
The party was indeed very spooked upon encountering the lived-in basement – to this day, their fear of “sausages” is a running joke in the campaign. When they decided to hole up in Sanballet’s room (and thereby let the smugglers ambush them), I honestly thought that they were in for a TPK. Their opening the door to the skeletons and then shutting the door to their own room was something I had not predicted – a sort of desperate blunder that directly led to their survival. I actually rolled out the fight between the smugglers and the skeletons, and luck was heavily on the skeleton’s side. I think that one scene really set the tone for the whole campaign – inexperienced players with bumbling characters who survive more often through luck than skill. A similar combat would later play out on the Sea Ghost. The Haunted House added a whole Scooby Doo-esque feel that was quite appropriate.
For the campaign as a whole I decided to dispense with xp, and just award levels at an appropriate point in the story, typically after a specific PC had faced a particularly challenging and class-appropriate event. Thokk (as a barbarian, who had charged into numerous combats in the House) and Barnabus (as a rogue, who had both recovered a ring of protection without the party noticing and had won a share of all the smuggled goods) were the first up. The morning after their return to Saltmarsh, I told them they had leveled and they had access to all their new class features immediately. The other characters had leveled, I decided, but would not be aware of it until they did something story appropriate to “unlock” their new powers – Tyrius, for example, would need to pray in a faith-appropriate temple in Seaton before I told his player he was level 2.