Bob's Serpent Skull

Serpent Skull 4

Ghost busters

The party looked at their options. Still a mini-quest open from the Cleric NPC for evidence of his innocence from a shipwreck. Lots of island to the south to explore. They had found an old campsite of their captain and the varisian scholar who were responsible for their current marooned state, with possible trail to follow them. They decided to go back to the old campsite, and try to pick up a trail.

They gear up with supplies and pull on their armor and shine up their weapons and venture once more into the jungle, get lucky with no random encounters, and climb over the hilly spine of the spit they’re on to get back to that old campsite of the other 2 they’d found. It’s been 6 days since they’d been there, and there’s heavy rain for about an hour every day, so some major penalties to finding tracks. Nope, sorry, they find no tracks, no scent, nothing to follow. They shrug and decide to continue exploring south while there’s still daylight, and near the end of the day look down the cliffy area of jungle they’re on, down to the sharp jagged rocky surf and see another ship wreck. Making a cautious decision, they opt to wait until the next day.

Over night, the witchdoctor hear some moaning and yelling noises above the sounds of night birds and hunting cats and dire lemurs. Far below, down the cliff, in the surf. He wakes the others and they look down, the rat-kin makes out a distant humanoid form slowly walking around on the water. Calling, cursing. “Oh, my Asha, where are you my love?! To see your face again! Damn them, damn their mutinous hides! I’ll kill them, kill them all!” And on and so forth. The figure doesn’t glow, or look green, just like some far off person walking around on the water, wandering up north, doesn’t seem rooted to a spot or concentrating around the nearby ship wreck.

“Cripes. No way we’re going down there.” They hesitantly go back to sleep, careful to make sure the noises don’t come closer.

The next morning, they carefully climb down the cliffs to the rocks. In the morning, at low tide, the ship is 50 feet away, the surf isn’t quite as stormy and only a Swim 15 check. The wooden masthead looks like a Raggedy Andy doll snarling and wielding two cutlasses, and they read “Bloody Doll” on the sides. Oh, that’s not the wreck they’re looking for, but may as well search it anyways. The druid has the best swim skill, so they figure they’ll let her swim out, attach a rope to the ship, and let the others come across with the rope.

On the way, the druid, she fails a few swim rolls, not all that great at swimming, flounders a bit, but manages to get to the wreck. She climbs up the rotted hull, spotted with gaint barnacles, and looks around. Boards creaking and groaning, slipping around a little, jumping around to avoid collapses, she pulls off her rope and starts tying it around a side rail. As the others grab the rope to start swimming the door across the deck at the captain’s quarters slams open and skeletons start swarming out. Only a few beat her initiative, and only get beside her up the wet slanted deck without attacking yet. Six skellies against her, the others only able to shoot in. Fight? Hell no. She squeaks, backs off and vaults over the railing into the water, the others start shooting crossbows and guns, which suck against skeletons, as the undead follow her by splashing into the water around her. They absolutely suck at swimming, what with barely any surface area to wave around in the water, but she gets really bad swim rolls too, and sinks down with them around her, some clawing and tearing at her clothes. The party is basically freaking, and the druid fails double swim rolls for movement for 3 or 4 rounds and keeps sinking with the skeletons.

The witchdoctor remembers they have a potion of Water Walking, and downs the potion and runs out over the water with his long spear, poking and probing around. The druid finally gets a couple decent swim rolls and is able to fight against the undercurrent to rise up towards the surface and get some air, and grabs onto the long spear. The skeletons basically keep sinking. The witchdoctor pulls the druid up and piggy-backs her, and they go up the ship and climb up the hull again. The others two stay on the shore on look out. In the dark surging waters, none of the skeletons can realistically see anything, or sense the living creatures that far away and just stay put, randomly wandering. The two search the wreck, but only find a piddly 30 or so GP worth of swanky pirate gear like masterwork peg legs and fine embalmed parrots.

The water-walking potion still has close to 50 minutes worth, by checking the magical gauge that appears on the user’s wrist, so the witchdoctor, with halfling on piggy back, decides to go scouting out south along the water for 25 minutes, since movement is so much quicker than sludging thru the jungle. No real chance of random encounters either. He spots a lagoon further south with another ship wreck in it. And better makes out some of the nearby topography of the jungle with a flat hill top area further south. The little magical indicator on his wrist beeps, halfway through the potion, starts to water-walk back to the others.

No problems joining back up, and still have most of the day left, they trek to the south. On the way, after a few hours, they hear some loud thrashing and hissing noises up ahead in the jungle. The paladin gets a really good perception check, it sounds like a giant snake fighting something. They go forward, and find a giant boa constrictor surrounded by six yellowish zombies, biting and clawing at it. Nature and Religion checks identify them as yellow musk zombies, created by naturally occurring plant spores, not magic or negative energy. They hang back for a round or two, and notice the zombies suck at attacking, but are basically immune to the snake’s bites, and it’s begun trying to constrict them with secondary attacks but it’s really slow since it can’t slash. They wade in and join the attack, concentrating on the zombies, and learn that like normal zombies slashing weapons work best, and they only have partial actions, and most keep concentrating on the largest victim, the giant boa. The gunslinger reluctantly pulls a dagger. The paladin has a glaive which is slashing. The witchdoctor has a piercing longspear, so instead uses it to Aid Another to give bonuses to the badger who can do slashing damage with its claws, and the druid gleefully charges in with her tiny scythe. Criticals happen a couple times, with different effects that can affect undead, like “Eat Dirt” where the victim falls and gets blinded with mud.

They start picking off the zombies with strategy and movement, once the gunslinger shoots at the snake but misses. The snake takes a few big hits from zombies, a couple times the zombies break off to attack the newcomers but mostly miss. The druid remembers his wild empathy, and implies to the snake that they are there to help and won’t hurt the snake, the snake accepts this and flickers its tongue in a thank-you serpenty way that the druid kind of understands. A zombie gets a crit bite, and almost chews thru the snake’s skull to its juicy brain, it spasms around but continues trying to crush the one it’s grappled. The crush damage is heavily penalized, but at least it keeps one zombie grappled. With piercing/bludgeoning the primary attack of the bites isn’t great, but the badger’s attack training isn’t sophisticated enough to only specify claws, so it’s only really effective if it gets the full attack option, if nobody else killed it’s nearby target. No 5-foot moves in the heavy jungle, except for the witchdoctor, who took a trait that allows for no hindrance in jungle for the first 10 feet.

They finally manage to kill the last yellow musk zombie, splitting it in half in a cloud of spores. More fort rolls asked of the players. The druid’s player finally feels able to answer his mobile phone which has been going off for the last thirty minutes, and takes a recess to the balcony to talk .

“What about this snake?”

It looks weary and hurt, but not threatening to you.

“Huh. Well, i guess we could try to befriend it.”

“Screw that! Rats and snakes? And with my dire rat hanging around out of combat? We are NOT on friendly terms. I shoot it in the head.”

“Thataboy! I flank and chop.”

Uh. Really?? Combat is over. It’s indicated a friendly willingness to let you go and even thanked the druid. You guys are getting full XP. Snake included. You don’t have to kill to get xp. You sure? Still wanna?

“Screw snakes and parcel-tongues !”

Woah. Fine, okay.

Blam. Chop. The snake slowly uncoils from the trees and slumps to the ground.

The druid’s player returns from his phone discussion. "Hey. What happened to the snake? "

“It… had an acciden—”

“We killed that fucker!”

“God damn it!”

It was a tough and memorable combat. It was the combination of both an alpha predator location and random encounter. The snake’s skin is beautiful, fine shiny sheen of greens and blues, meters long if skinned, appraised at over 500gp. I make sure and let the players know, in meta-gaming terms, they didn’t have to kill the snake, I would’ve provided loot on the zombie bodies if they’d let it live. I DO let the players know that the snake is so big and beautiful that it might even be a locally important animal. They joke that maybe they killed a local chieftain’s pet, and I seriously confirm to them that it’s a distinct possibility, they’d have just slaughtered a fine majestic animal. Not that they’d met any natives or islanders yet, but just reminding that maybe they’ve screwed things up royally by killing that snake the druid was trying to befriend.

They continue exploring south, and find the lagoon that the witchdoctor had earlier spotted while water walking. The ship wreck has a demonic figure head, old greened up brass, it reads Brine Demon. The ship wreck they were looking for!

It’s close to the shore, in a lagoon fairly protected from the surf, no problems if they carefully pick over the rocks. No random encounters. No set encounters. They roll for things like balance and climb to avoid smashing thru rotted planks or twisting ankles, or for sneaking around, but they’re fine. In the captain’s quarters they find an old dead skeleton with a hook hand, holding a fine waterproof darkwood case. They fearlessly attack the skeleton and scatter its bones, the heroes!, the paladin takes its skull and hook, they take the coffer, and decide against opening it while on the ship.

Back on shore, on firm sand and in open area they inspect the coffer. They could try an untrained Disable Device, or a strength check the break it open. The paladin is carrying a crowbar.

Really?? A crowbar?

“Yeah! Look, right here, I’ve written it down.” Huh. He has written it down. “Plus: I could use it as a makeshift club if required. I don’t carry around all my various sundries, but I am carrying this one around for some reason.”

Weird…okay, fine. Bonus on the strength check to open the locked coffer.

They snap the fine lock and open the coffer, and find a bunch of papers, some ledgers and logs, a fancy dagger, and a golden locket. The witchdoctor detects magic from the dagger, but can’t tell what it does. The ledgers and papers show pay-offs and illegal bribes and money skimming, basically all the proof that the Cleric NPC of Nethys would need to clear his name of corruption to the authorities. The locket opens to show a very fine painted portrait of a half-elven woman, with the name Ashalaryn written underneath.

“Hey, wait! Didn’t that ghostly form last night keep moaning about an Asha?”

Yes. You are correct. That’s what the distant moaning voice in the stormy night sounded like it was calling.

The paladin looks at his crowbar, and the Rat-kinds engineering skills. “Oi, can we remove that demonic brass figure head?”

What? Uh, sure, you could try.

“Okay, let’s go out there, and pry off that brass masthead. Maybe we can sell it when we get back to civilization, or at least bolster our claims of salvage.”

Sure. The paladin and ratkin engage in some pratfall-filled attempts and finally remove the brass figure head amongst many bruises and three-stooges hijinks, and everyone has a nice laugh. Way later on, back in base camp, the bard and cleric NPCs appraise the figurehead they’ve been lugging around at 1000gp and the paladin pumps his fist a few times in righteous vindication.

They still have half the day left, and decide to go further south to check out the flat hill top. On the way they stumble into some giant webs, everyone but druid and badger caught up. But the spider rolls a 1 on initiative, so everyone frees themselves in time, some of them ready an action. When in pounces down on it’s wriggling prey, with a pathetic 2, it splats flat, and people get readied or AofO attacks. It’s almost dead, and by the next round they play around, making dinky attacks with their worst weapons and kill it, mocking and laughing the whole time.

“Ha ha. What a loser. "

“Take that…uh, the Jar Jar of spiders.”

“Yeah, suck it. No wonder you’re all out here by yourself, cast out by your spider society.”

Searching around, they still find loot for a CR2 creature, in the form of fine pelts and crystallized cocoons, or shiny beetle carcasses in other webs.

“Holy crap, for a useless spider, he sure was rich.”

“Yeah, like a trust fund spider. He just inherited his wealth from his competent parents. He spends most of his time cruising in gaudy cars, wearing questionable fashions and listening to bad european music.”

They climb up the incline as it gets dark to the top of a hill on a small premonitory of the island. The jungle gives way to a large bald area of nothing but high grass. Nice view of the ocean to the east. Jungle noises considerably quieted, only the hypnotic buzzing of ciccadas. Nice place to make camp. Finally get away from those caterwauling dire sloths after all these days. They use the druid’s scythe to clear the high grass in a big circle, move around a slight rise, and light a nice fire for roasted snake meat barbeque.

During the night, the witchdoctor is on watch when the slowly smoldering fire suddenly flares up in a white pillar, and a hazy wavering humanoid form materializes, and starts screaming at him.

“My love, my one and only, you have her, give her, show me, come to me, die you traitorous bastards!” A skeletous form, dripping wet constantly, wearing a captain’s hat and coat, with a hook hand.

Initiatives are rolled. The paladin wins, he wakes with an annoyed start, sees someone over the fire, detects for evil. No evil? Bah, screw this, I need my sleep. He rolls back around to sleep again. Everyone else of course freaks out as they wake up. The spectre hasn’t attacked anyone, nobody attacks yet, the witchdoctor tries pouring sand over the fire, only succeeding in lowering the visible light but not weakening the figure who just steps back looking annoyed. He starts calling for his Asha, and sending out challenges to his crew, the bastards who’ve betrayed him.

The group takes some time to figure out what to do. Most move around and flank him, and ready actions. Somebody finds the skull in the paladin’s pack and throws it at the ghost. It takes three round before anyone goes digging for the locket. By module rules that’s long enough for the ghost to freak out and attack the most responsible member, being the dismissive paladin who’s STILL trying to get some sleep. The ghost gropes about his body, searching pockets and packs and private places, leeching life from him, aging him several years.

“Ah. Fuck!”

“Everyone, attack!”

They go into full fledged attack mode, trying to flank, pulling any possibly magical weapons out, druid casting Magic Fang on their meat-shield badger. Nice idea, badger gets full attacks, and now he can damage. Whenever the badger hits it makes fort saves, but takes aging damage. Other people using small magical daggers have Reflex roll to avoid touching the ghostly form, or risk aging damage. Only the skaven, sorry rat-kin, keeps thinking of the golden locket and roots through the paladin’s pack for it.

“Here! fine, take it, you drippy bastard! " He winds up and throws the locket at the ghost. Nice roll. Right through the head, full force. No damage, no effect, it sails (rolling maximum) 60 feet away, into the darkness away from the dying campfire that’s just been banked with sand. It’s sitting out there, in the dark night, in high grass.

Everyone groans.

“We need that locket?”

Hmm. Maybe…yeah, duh, you do. They all race around, searching in the dark.

Luckily, the ghost focuses on the locket, and leaves them alone as it chases the locket, trying ineffectually to pick it up, it’s incorporeal hand useless as it keeps bending over and swiping around. The badger keeps following its order to attack and charges, the druid hasn’t changed his attack orders, minor hit for damage, but it burbles as its fur all turns white and teeth fall out and joints grind. Others charge, and manage to avoid physical contact while swiping with short daggers. The rat-kin keeps focus on target. “The locket, the locket, open the locket!” I feel I’ve started making it more obvious, the ghost screaming that he has to see her, where is she, where is her beautiful face. A few more rounds, with the ghost mostly ignoring them, he wasn’t attacking them directly, but they keep attacking, some taking corruption damage if they touch him while swiping, and Barry the badger actually DIES, his body finally withers up and bones crackle as he drops after biting too many times at the pure antithesis of nature and life. The ratkin finally moves around and grabs the locket up, and opens it. He displays it out to the ghost. “Here, dumbass! Is this what you want?!”

“Ahhhhh, my love. Finally. There you are. Just as I left you. " The ghost traces the small painted portrait slowly, and beings to fade and sucks into the locket.

“Quick! Close it. Yeah, sucked up, trapped, just like ghostbusters. You’ve been busted, sucka.”

“Never open that locket again.”

“Well, maybe has a prank.”

“Jeez, that’s one hell of an April’s Fool.”

I clarify that the badger is only bleeding out, can be saved and revived. Aging effects are flavour only, rules-wise he only took hit points damage. Sure, we could have the badger gumming away at enemies, and swiping with its walking canes, but no stat changes. Nah. The druid doesn’t want a geezer badger. The paladin, worshiper of Shelyn and all things beautiful agrees that such a decrepit old thing is too ugly to live, and puts it out of its misery/yuckiness.

“Whatever, I can get a new badger in 24 hours. "

But…what?…don’t you want a cool elderly badger smacking down on young whipper-snappers?? Oh fine, whatever.

The next day they decide to go back to base camp. They have the ledgers from the shipwreck of the Brine Demon, which should complete the NPC mini quest from the cleric.

The badger is dead; with their meatshield gone, and unable to heal up very well from damage, they’re feeling vulnerable. They come across and recognize the hunting grounds of another alpha predator, a giant river otter, but do well enough to avoid it, and sneak around it’s lair.

They come across another map Hot Spot. While hacking and slashing through heavy undergrowth, slogging through mud and roots and pushing aside heavy ferns, they suddenly stumble across a clearing in the jungle. About 25 feet in diameter, filled with dying withered plants, with a large yellowish plant waving around in the center, flanked by two figures. Humanoids? Oh shit, yellow, spore exuding zombies. Too late, they’ve spotted us.

A yellow musk creeper tree, and two of its progeny, and combat starts. The zombies lurch forward. With only half-actions for the zombies, and 5 ft movement for the tree, I expected the party to maneuver around better. But no, the zombies, with partial movements only, and +0 to hit, actually manage to injury the party badly, and smack down the paladin unconscious. The more dangerous foe, the tree, gets really bad rolls multiple times when shooting spores at them while creeping forward, and they kinda discount the tree. It takes 5 rounds for the tree to get close enough, but finally reaches out tendrils to the helpless form of the paladin, and tiny creepers bore into his skull. And start draining intelligence damage.

“Ah! He’s trying to zombify our paladin!”

Well, yeah, that’s what he does.

They finally started freaking out enough to step up their game, and take down one zombie then the other. The witchdoctor uses a potion of CMW to wake the paladin and let him rip his head free of the brain tendrils. The paladin waded in with two swords, even with crappy to-hit rolls with untrained two weapons, zombies are not hard to hit, you just need to cut off body parts and do lots of slashing damage, so even with crappy rolls, and risking AofOs he moves around doing some decent damage, and helps down the two zombies. The others flank the tree and start attacking. The tree looks green and squichy and pulpy, no bark, no hardness, just wet slopping tendrils, the gunslinger bangs in, doing full damage with a shot, and finally everyone else piles on and finish it off.

Geeez. That seemed a little harder than it shoulda been. Well, sorry, but no loot. Nothing. Too bad. Sometimes survival is it’s own reward.

They continue on their way back to base camp. They come across the beach, jungle giving way to sand. They see some broken down simple shelters, a small makeshift camp at some time, now abandoned. Also, a lone yellow zombie woman, standing at the shore’s edge, staring out to the waters wistfully.

“Fuck yellow zombies!” They charge forward, slaughtering it fairly quickly.

Searching around afterwards, they find nothing but sagging or collapsed simple shelters made of driftwood or plant material. And old blood, splashes, pools, drag marks. Looks like several people at least used to live here, all slaughtered or dragged off. Huh. They’d make a minor note and move on.

They keep moving up the shore towards their base camp. Nature/perception checks note the signs of another nearby alpha predator, probably giant crabs. They make good rolls, and decide to fling off old rotting meat into the surf, and then sneak off around in the jungle.

They get back to base camp. They show the ledgers and governmental books and such to the NPC cleric. This is precisely the evidence he needs, to clear his name, how fortunate. He offers his quest reward. Wait…+2 to concentrate checks. What?! That’s not even a skill in Pathfinder anymore. Screw that. They’ve been through enough, and fought off a 3rd level ghost without any loot. He will instruct them in any of the skills he has, several knowledges or spellcraft or survival and they can get a +2 bonus. It should be something they actually want, dammit. How many non-spellcasters want concentrate or spellcraft, geez.

They also identified some other potions they’d found, some Lessor Restorations. And they identified the magic dagger as a plain +1. And, what the hell, the NPC’s will trade weapons. The paladin trades his crossbow for a MW rapier from the chick missing her fingers from the pterodactyls. Hey, at least she can sorta use this weapon while guarding base camp. Someone else trades for a kukri, and another takes a MW compound bow. Ah, yes. Very good. They’re learning. Some of their weapons suck, but overall, by encountering skeletons, then zombies, they realized they need different types of weapons, or at the very least a secondary weapon or ranged weapon. Good, that’s true player experience right there. I won’t cater explicitly, but will allow some flexibility with the NPCs, since they don’t have access to weapon stores or crafting.

The NPCs are all super happy with the party and their progress. The Xian vagrant gives his mini quest; he’d had a bunch of old treasure maps he wanted to follow on the jungle continent, but one of them is on an island, maybe by the shape this very island? You have to wait until sunrise, stand a spot where the sun/shadow shines blah blah blah, it’s on a high hill bald of all jungle and only high grasses. “Goddammit! Weren’t we just there!”

The gnome bard NPC made some mistakes and is on “probation” from the pathfinder society which he wants to join. Within his vast archives of history he remembers a certain ancient pathfinder ship was lost around this area, maybe crashed on this island. Any info into a crashed pathfinder ship or crew would probably get him back to active duty with the triumvirate.

Oh, and they level up to 2nd level. Everyone continues on their class path, except the paladin, who multi-classes into a rogue after many hours of discussion with the Xian rogue, and gains mega skills. The witchdoctor considers crafting some simple alchemical weapons, the gunslinger considers crafting some special ammo, and the paladin/rogue starts construction of some really comfy beds and fancy bug nets with his new Craft:carpentry.



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