Bob's Serpent Skull

Serpent Skull 7

One of the players couldn’t make it, so no ratkin gunslinger.

Unexpected Ally.
Last session the party had just had their asses spanked, hard, twice. They’d just escaped the Ghoul Mother’s birthing caverns. Desperate, filthy, naked and starving. At least 1 character going through the throes of ghoul fever.
They escaped the caves under the lighthouse, swimming through the less turbulent waters of the bay in towards a shore, with the help of the druid’s new animal companion, a snake. Lissa called him Kah, after the snake from jungle book.
They pulled themselves on shore, trudged into the jungle, found some leaves to wear around their waists, and looked for the nearby trail, so they could hurry back north, towards their base camp, where the other castaways were staying, and some weapons and gear. After jogging for an hour they hear a female voice call to them in Common. “Stop, please, I would like to talk with you.” It comes from up ahead, from behind a giant fern. They shrug, and slow down.
“Hell. Someone who doesn’t want to come right out and kill us? Talk all you want.”
A slender 5-foot woman steps out onto the path, she has brown skin, and green ‘hair’ like the broad frilly leaves of a fern. The druid recognizes her as a dryad, though a tropical variation.
“My jungle friends told me about you, and then again later that you’d come swimming out from the underwater caverns in the cliff. You went to the camp of those horrible people. But you fought. And now you run from them. They are your enemies?”
Introductions are made, the PC meet Aycenia, and decide to just come right out and tell her everything that’s happened. She seemed more guarded at first, but loosens up and steps closer as they talk, then invites them back to her grove, where they can rest. It takes them a few hours pushing and trudging through the jungle behind her, and they make sure she’s okay with any report she might’ve heard about them from her jungle animals. Aside from once casting Sleep on a troupe of monkeys and slitting their throats, they haven’t done much obviously unnatural actions, or cruelties on the animals on this island. Defending themselves, hunting and killing to eat, that’s all part of the natural balance, she has had no unnerving reports of their actions from her contacts. They aren’t as bad as the demon monkey they ask about. He kills for fun, wastes meat, taunts and tortures creatures. She can’t give them too many details about it, she hasn’t seen it clearly. But from corpses it leaves behind, it seems to feed by draining blood, rather than eating flesh. “Oh great, demon monkey is also a vampire monkey?”
During their trek back to her grove there is a sudden bang of thunder, almost palpable, and looking back to the east they see a large jagged, uneven bolt of lighting which hangs for a good 5 seconds, from the mostly clear sky down to the red mountain dominating the eastern part of the island. The crack of thunder rolls away, and the lightning disappears, but a low rumbling sound seems to carry on the air for over minute, all around them, and the moisture in the air increases to the point that dew hangs off everything.
The PCs look at each other questioningly. Maybe the dryad know what tha-
“What the HELL was that?!” she exclaims. Nope. She’s never experienced that either.
The party try some knowledge checks. Definitely not natural, the weather and clouds and humidity don’t support a natural lightning strike. Arcana says it wasn’t a lightning spell, too jagged and uneven. Planes says there wasn’t the normal whirlwind howling dark shredding of reality you would expect when disrupting time-space. “Oh good, at least monkey demon probably isn’t summoning more friends.”
They can’t figure it out, and have to just keep going to the grove. Once they arrive they see the dryad approach and lovingly stroke a huge banyan tree, pressing her face to it like a missed friend, and seeming to recharge. The tree is surrounded by other tropical trees and ferns and vines, thick with wildlife, but not as crowded and tangling and outright annoying as the rest of the jungle. The area feels peaceful, and free of hovering gnats and mosquitoes and other insects. The colorful parrots caw and whistle comically in pairs, the monkeys sedately groom each other and mosey about.
The party and dryad speak some more, as they rest there for the night. She can Commune With Nature, an additional spell-like ability not found in most standard dryads, so she knows quite a bit about the entire island. She tells them that the cannibals have been living near the lighthouse for about 70 years, when they first came they were regular castaways, and seemed decent for some time, but after a while they became more cruel, and started attacking other humans and any new castaways that crashed onto the island (and there were many ships over the years) would be attacked and taken. Maybe eaten. The players guess some were also converted into ghouls. She even remembers further back, when some colonists came to try founding a small town, and the stone lighthouse, but they left, just got on their ships and went away suddenly. She also tells them of a blankness to the north, on a small archipelago, where she can’t sense the normal nature. It is a dead space to her. It started on one of the small islands, and has slowly grown, encroaching towards the island main body over decades. A colorless, bland white nothing that creeps forward. Sometimes creatures come from out of that area into the main jungle, her animal friends only call them bad men or wrong men. This is some kind of curse or blight on nature, and if the players can get rid of it, they could bring their basecamp to her grove, and avail of her spells and abilities. Bing! Another mini-quest from an NPC.
She also tells them that her tree can feel, deep in its roots, a certain wrongness to this island, something like a hungry core, affecting the whole island and waters. It reminds her of a parasitic vine branching off to choke off a tree it didn’t need to attack, it reminds her of the cruel evidence left by the red mountain devil monkey, or other animals that sometimes kill for sport.
“Oh, you said you had magical powers? Like what?”
Okay, sure, she can cure light wounds. She can also do lesser restoration. Zun zun jumps at this, as he’s been wracked by ghoul fever for the last couple days as they tried to recuperate in the Unbirthing Caverns, and he’s pretty freaked out at the possibility of turning into a ghoul. Do we really need to finish her mini-quest? Well, no, you seem so friendly and erudite and entertaining and generally good, that she’ll help you out. Ahhh, Zun zun gets back some drained Con.
Oh, whatdya know, she also has Shape Wood, at will.
"Does this mean she can make me a spear? "
Oh sure, I don’t see why not. Slowly stretches out a branch of old wood into a straight thin sharp spear.
“And javelins?” Yeah, sure.
“And a blow dart tube?” Sure.
“And a wooden buckler?” Yeah, that’s not too hard.
“And a regular shield, and we’ll use vines or sinews for a strap?” Yeah, sure.
“And a small sized sickle, but with a sharp end, no cutting edge. So it’s only piercing.” Yup, sure, okay. You know what? She can also make a wooden replica of swords and polearms when you make diagrams, and help her out with designs. They do bludgeoning or piercing damage only, no slashing. Since you have Craft:Carpentry, and the off-camera-for-personal-reasons ratling has Engineering, and she can shape small pieces of wood anyway she wants indefinitely.
And fine, she can try to replicate your ideas of armor, with wooden slat armor, bending it around your torsos and limbs as you stand there. I’ll say +3 to AC , but -5ft to movement, if you’re proficient with medium armor or better.

Hunt the Hunters.
The party is feeling more confident, with some rough wooden weapon equivalents, and makeshift armor. They decide after a short discussion to take the fight back to the cannibals, by picking off any hunting parties coming after them.
Diplomacing with the Dryad, okay, she will come with them. But she won’t involve in combat, she will use Tree Shape and become a majestic coconut tree at the slightest sign of trouble. She’ll just be available for some post-combat curing, basically. Not bad, since they don’t have a dedicated healer in the party.
The next morning they run back to the trail, and go north a bit to where an original trap was set by the cannibals. Kal had found it a while ago, and bypassed it easily. Now he covers it up with different leaves, and messes up any nearby trees or possible bushes or markers, and creates a dud decoy to look like the original several meters forward, hoping they’ll be fooled into falling into their own trap. Oh. Not making a trap yourself per se, huh? Hoping to use the enemies assumed higher trap skills instead of your own eh? Sneaky use of game rules but fine by me.
They hide themselves in ambush position. Kal asked the dryad to make a bunch of simple javelins, and he’s planted a bunch all along the area, so anyone can grab one up and throw, if they know to look for them. He’s also set up a couple simple tripwires, made of vines across the path. With his Disable Device of 7, it’s not bad, with a base DC of 17 for anyone coming across it.
They wait around 4 hours. By around noon a heavy storm sweeps in, and heavy monsoon type of rains suddenly hit. And then, they notice some figures coming towards them up the trail. Looks like 6 or 7 people. They bunker down and hide, and see 6 cannibals, with their chieftain atthe head, holding a leash for a large lizard that’s sniffing and snuffling down the path getting excited.
They wait until the cannibals are within 30 feet, and Kal starts their ambush round. He throws a javelin at the shocked reptile, but totally misses. Lissa the druid starts summoning. Zum Zum throws out a Sleep, and fells 2 of the cannibals at the end of the group .
The druid summons a Stirge. The most annoying monster ever? But what fun to throw it at a bad guy! The stirge latches, and sucks, and lower the chief’s hit points. Kal thrashes forward through jungle and sheets of rain, grabs another nearby javelin planted in the soil and chucks at the chieftain. Zum Zum throws off another Sleep spell, and downs three more cannibals soldiers.
There is the chieftain, his giant komodo dragon lizard, and one cannibal left. The druid had stayed up close at the front of the group, when getting ready for the ambush. Maybe she wanted to stay close to her snake/meatshield, to cast Magic Fang. Either way, the chieftain spots her off the trail and rages and shrieks and lunges up and slashes with his scimitar. It whines through the air in a bright orange streak and smashes apart the rough wooden blocks strapped around her as armor. Splinters fly up, digging into her face and neck, and she’s almost downed in one hit. Her snake tries to defend her, but misses the chieftain, and his komodo jumps up, and grapples the boa, biting and gouging ruthlessly. The chieftain licks the blood of his scimitar, screaming about body fluids and essences in Infernal. The players remember that the chieftain used some bestial rage ability back in the village, that gave him a powerful secondary bite attack, so the druid keeps backing off. With her woodland stride, it’s just 5 foot steps for her, but full movement for the cannibals. They keep moving back but forget to do so along the trail direction, to lure the enemies into the laid tripwires and traps.
The druid’s boa and the chieftain’s komodo are locked in deadly reptilian grapples, and the non-sleeping solidier finally scrapes off the stirge from his boss. The chieftain fails to finish off Lissa, who hops back and heals herself, as Kal comes forward and interposes himself, and yells a loud challenge for beauty and love. The dryad’s woodshape was good enough to copy his designs of a rose with a sword, a holy symbol for Shellyn. He calls a smite upon the chieftain, and for the next few rounds they dance around each other. The chieftain’s scimitar flashing orange whining arcs and chopping up Kal’s wooden greatsword. Eventually, Zun Zun, after failing to hex or evil eye the chieftain moves forward to provide flanking, so Kal can also add in flanking to hit, and the sneak attack damage.
Kah the constrictor dropped once, came back up from a heal from the druid, fell again, but it kept the komodo lizard busy. They managed to concentrate on the chieftain and bring him down first. Kal got a really good attack, and following up from a blocked swing, thrust deep and ripped into the chieftain’s stomach with a stab, even though it was just a wooden greatsword. To the PCs horror the chieftain, in his insane bloodlust rage grabbed his own wound, ripping it open, pulling out his own intestine to chew, shrieking in pidgin Infernal about recycling his own power. When Zum Zum finally finished him off, with his 10feet reach with his hair power, the hair grabbed and ripped out the intestine, the stomach and liver falling out soon after, and then the lungs and heart, and the chieftain’s rage finally ended as he dropped to his knees like an empty meat shell. The magic hair grabbed up a loop of those intestine, holding them up around his head, like a bloody sick halo. He screamed and intimidated at the barely surviving cannibal soldier, who just lost it at that stage. And he flung out the intestine and whipped and strangled that cannibal, among normal damage from the others, but the bolo of guts was a pretty cool kill. The komodo lizard lost focus and resorted to defensively retreating and was killed. No one succumbed to its gross potpourri of bacterial mouth filth, so no worries about further diseases. Then they went among the five or so sleeping cannibal soldiers, “slitting their throats”. With wooden weapons? “We can’t do coup de grace?” Oh no, of course you can, you just aren’t technically slitting anything. “So, what do we roll, pick out critical cards?”
Rolls? Crit cards? No screw that noise. It’s the end of combat. Three people doing a simultaneous coup de grace on each bad guy methodically, those sleepers are dead.

This was a pretty big win for them. They killed the blood frenzy crazy chieftain, his bad ass lizard, and a bunch of his hunter/soldiers. They check to make sure, and yeah, looks like the sleeping cannibals were all just regular warriors or hunters, no apparent spell-casters or witches with them. They’re still quite drained of hit points, even with the dryad coming out of coconut tree form to heal them, so they go back to her grove to rest another night, and plan. A big ass red pearl from the chief, smaller red pearls from the warriors. An amulet of Natural Armor +1 that useful for anybody. And experiment with that fancy scimitar from the chieftain. It’s magical. After spending a few hours experimenting with it, especially it’s strange tendency to suddenly flare orange with a small streaking tail and whine, they figure out it’s a +1 Comet-tail Scimitar. “Comet-tail, huh, haven’t heard of that. Cool. What’s that mean?” Oh, well, it means when you swing and attack, it whines or zings or whirrs and glows orange, and makes one of those bright arcs of light that bothers everyone’s vision. “Cool! Any extra damage?” Nope. “Does it light up if I swing it around my head?” Kinda. Not enough to generate light, just look like a raver with a glowstick.

Mother of a rematch.
The next day they decide to scout around the cannibal village. They approach, take their time and are careful. While still out by a distance they hear the Ghoul Mother’s voice, yelling angrily for a couple minutes. Okay, seems she’s no longer in the caverns underground. They scout in slowly, and get a good idea of the situation. The witch’s hut was all burned down, from their previous attempt to set a fire as a diversion. The skeletons are out of their pen, now 2 guard a door to a small shack, and 2 guard a door into the stone lighthouse. The villagers are mostly women, and a few injured or simpleton men. Kids? Nope, there’s no kids. The women at the main campfire glance fearfully over their shoulders at the lighthouse sometimes, or the skeletons. Kal risks sneaking in closer to try to listen, since he understands Infernal. He hears some kid-sounding moaning and pitiful mewling coming from the shack. He hears the women worrying about their men who never came back from yesterday, and their unfair punishment from the Mother. HER blaming THEM for losing the prisoners, and precious ghouls dying. A door opens and the elderly witch hobbles up, and seems to be consoling the women, and also casting dark glances at the lighthouse.
Kal goes back to the others with this information. The players discuss. Attack? Sneak? Shock and Awe, or peace offering? Take hostages? Smash open the shack; or spend another day to summon a new badger to dig under to look inside it? Finally, they decide to write a rough note in Infernal, on a small flag, wrapped around a javelin, and hurl it into the camp from the farthest range increment they can and run away. Their message basically asked to meet up the next morning at the mouth of the river. So they go to wait out the rest of the day and night back at the dryad’s grove.
The next morning they hide out around the mouth to the river. And they wait. And wait. For a few hours, nobody comes.
“Do they understand ‘Morning’, or does Infernal, as a lower planes language even count suns and terrestrial life cycles?”
“Well, we’d use some kind of time term. At it’s broadest to include from sun-up to midday.”
“Yeah, well guys, they’re not coming.”
They decide to go back to the cannibal camp, sneaking even more careful, wary of a set up. No smoke. Approaching from the south, they find what first looks like a blood-stained flag, but actually has crude polyglot symbols. “See Message Town Enter.”
“Why is this in Polyglot?”
“What’s the Town Enter? A door? The main trail?”
They guess the main trail, go around to where the main trail enters the camp. At this point they can easily tell nobody’s in the camp. No voices, only a tiny tendril of smoke from the main campfire which is banked. And the skeletons are still there, two guarding the shack, two guarding the lighthouse. A larger flag set up by the main trail also written in Polyglot. “We go now everyday at noon to get food. Everyone go away.”
And it just happens to be around noon now. The dryad is still with them, keeping back. They ask her to Commune, and after some time she figures there’s a group of humans to the east. And, maybe, some inside that shack.
The party sneak up single file, around the back of the shack, and the snake over the shack’s roof, to spring a surprise on the two skeletons guarding the front. Kal remembers their slashing resistance, and pulls out his wooden greatsword.
He steps around the corner and whirls the old beast around and smashes the skeleton to pieces. Kah the snake drops down on the other, and starts grappling. Lissa runs up with a pre-cast CLW and turns the skeleton into white dust. Across at the other end of the village, the other 2 skeletons just continue standing where they are in front of the lighthouse.
“Huh. That seemed a little too easy.”
They warily move closer to the lighthouse, round by round. Preparing for approach from the skeletons, who only hold up their weapons. Zun Zun goes into the small wooden building attached to the side of the lighthouse to approach from a different direction. He opens a door to a small anteroom to the lighthouse from the side, and sees a ghoul. And quickly pops back. The ghoul gets up in surprise. Was that a villager? Or someone else? He gets up and goes out the door to look, get smacked by Zun Zun’s readied action, and falls back to retreat into the lighthouse. The others at the front jump in to attack the skeletons and take them out with smashes and constricting snake. The ghoul ran up some stairs to the 2nd floor of the lighthouse. Lissa sends her snake after him when they enter through the front, and they bust through a few doors on the ground floor, only to find some beds and a type of shrine room, to a large old rotted ship masthead of Asmodeus. They figure the Ghoul Mother will probably be at the very top, so Lissa runs up to the second floor, to a large room. She sees the ghoul dead, chased down and killed by her snake. And she’s surprised to see the Ghoul Mother, who’s just finishing a buffing spell. The others rush up too, and begin a major rematch against her.
The fight was long, and pretty tough. She made full attacks where appropriate, hoping to paralyze, or spells if she had some room. They used the snake to grapple her after she turned off the lights with Darkness, to try to keep her to one square. She used Cause Fear on Zun zun, but since was blocking his exit from the room, forgot that the Frightened condition allowed him to fight back if couldn’t escape. Kal was hit down for a full 5 rounds of paralysis, which is forever in a fight like this. Lissa summoned a couple dire rats, who had dark vision and could attack without impedance, and provide flanking when Kal finally woke up. The Ghoul Mother use negative energy bursts a couple times to damage, and once to heal herself. It was getting pretty hairy, but they got decent rolls and tactics, and lucky on their miss chance percentage rolls in the darkness. By the end everyone was only around 5 hit points or less from falling, and so scared I’d use another negative energy burst, but she didn’t know how bad they were hurting. She just tried to cure up for the last couple rounds, after depleting most spells, hoping they’d lose heart at her proud boasts and cackling intimidations and start retreating, but they managed to finally end her with a comet-tail strike in the head.
“Wait, did we actually see the comet-tail in the Darkness.”
You know what, yeah, sure, you did. The magical nature of the weapon, some of it’s swing was visible in the magical darkness.

They go out and get the dryad and patch themselves up. Search around the lighthouse. Some minor treasures. No good treasure on the ghoul mother though. On closer inspection, the dead ghoul, that ran up here to warn her, looks kind of like the captain of their original sea ship. So that’s what happened to him. On the top floor of the lighthouse is just the light and reflector itself. It could take days, or weeks to repair. Unless, the modules says, the party actually had something like Engineering, or Carpentry skills…oh wait! They go through the rest of the camp, and bust open the shack. They find all their gear! They also find 6 children and teenagers, barely alive, tied up and attached to ground spikes. Burning up with fevers, mumbling and twitching, bleeding from their eyes. A few obviously human arms and legs nearby on the ground. They have several distinct, spaced out bite marks on their arms. Zun zun feels a nauseous tug in the guts, from the familiar symptoms he’d just finished fighting through as he finally got over ghoul fever. He goes out and searches the camp to feed them some normal food and water, while Lissa debates with Kal what to do. Did they detect as evil? Uh, maybe very faintly from the oldest teenager. Were they doomed to become ghouls, even if they got regular food and recovered? Should they take a few as hostages? Shouldn’t we just kill them now and end the suffering? Kal pulls his scimitar and declares he won’t let anyone harm the children. “What? Oh, right. Mr sneaky pants here is also a paladin. But aren’t they evil?” They debate a bit, aren’t really sure what to do, what exactly is evil, who deserves mercy, etc. And so decide to just leave the kids there, with water and normal food, and a note for the cannibals to try to find Viper berries for them. And end the session there.

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