The second session began with resolving what remains of the wreckage and general murder from the opening, with the Crimson Legion led by the captain taking them down a secret and hard to find goat track to an alcove with three longboats. Here they rowed out to Talitha’s (the Captain of the Crimson Legion) ship and fled from Greentarn island. Interestingly, one of the players made a little plot to send a message to Prince Rygar about things and created some very interesting future developments.
Upon reaching the ship, the players and Talitha’s surviving crew (about 20-30 pirates in Total) were hauled up onto the ship, which was clearly a former Cyrean military vessel. They rapidly set sail and got going, with one crew giving the players an unusual message “The pearls are known to be safe” before going back to his duties (indicating that Rygar has a spy on board the ship). In reality, I should have timed this a little better with this knowledge becoming known a little later in the voyage, but it had the same effect either way and doesn’t dramatically alter anything.
Of course a person like Talitha who likes butchering entire crews and cares little if they are military or civilians makes many enemies. As they left Greentarn the galleon was intercepted by another group of pirates and a battle broke out, with the enemy ship clearly out matched and making a near suicidal attack. Either way, the Crimson Legion ship eagerly took up the fight and headed straight for the enemy ship, pelting it with elemental blasts from the newly developed arc cannons (Bound elemental weapons, which fire large balls of iron charged with their energy) and then boarding it for the kill: Which is where the PCs got involved. Interested to see how they would perform, the Crimson Legion stood back and allowed the PCs to handle part of the battle themselves.
This battle was not designed to really be challenging or even remotely difficult. What I wanted to see was how the PCs would handle the situation and to set up a specific conversation with Talitha (and establish a scene later on where one of the crew of the attacking pirate ship recognizes Talitha by name). I used stats for the Knight, with some changes/fudging to roughly convey how strong the captain of this ship was, who was trying to destroy the Legion out of revenge for things they did to him earlier. Neither him or his guards proved to really be up to the task of bothering the PCs much and they were overrun and murdered in due time. Additionally, some of the pirates rolled terribly on their athletics rolls and fell between the ships, ending up in the water and being torn apart by sharks. A pretty brutal end.
Overall, the pirate captain suffered greatly from never being able to roll above a 5 on a d20 (even with advantage) and was soon pulverized into submission with the rest of his crew. This let me set up the real thing I wanted, which was Talitha being recognized and her ability to give some backstory directly to the PCs. One thing I’ve decided about Talitha is she hates being reminded of the woman she once was and one key part of that is her name. She is always referred to as “The Captain” and anyone who tends to call her the “T-word” gets immediately keelhauled (if lucky) or usually thrown overboard with something heavy attached to him (a bit of a thing she has).
Either way, a young man recognized her as they served together during the Last War and called her out by name. Shocked and angered, silence went over the entire crew, who stopped everything they were doing including looting the captured ship, to see what would happen. Naturally Talitha wandered over and questioned him, where after he called her a mindless murderer I got to give a bit of a monologue that explained Talitha’s backstory.
“You call me a murderer, but I have seen death on a scale both obscene and pointless before. I was present at the Day of Mourning, where my entire life was destroyed and taken from me.
I saw the mists you know? People screaming in fear… fleeing through the streets only to be cut down where they stood and their life instantly stolen from them. They went to the docks and tried to flee in the ships, overbearing them… Usually the ships just sunk as they had too many on board.
The other captains with me? They chose to be heroes. They turned their ships around and sailed right into deaths mouth. Picking up everyone that they could and then trying to make open sea again… but there were too many. Even when they started to spear some of the people into the water to lose weight it was too late.
The mist caught up to the over laden boats and consumed them as well, however heroic, I on the other hand? I lived because I was a coward. I told my crew to take the ship into open water as soon as they could and even then, I still saw the mists pursue me. As I thought I was going to die a coward, they suddenly stopped mere feet – only feet – from our ship.
I had been spared, a coward while heroes had died. So you ask me if I am a murderer? No, I’m merely showing mercy in the killings I commit, because I am sparing people like you the terror of what is to come.”
After this I then had Talitha drag him to the side of the ship, cut his wrists and then boot him into the shark infested waters below. The PCs were uncomfortable with this (well some of them anyway), but maintaining their cover was more important than a single man. Of course, it’s worth noting that as a DM you shouldn’t always be defaulting to dramatic monologues and similar like this at the drop of a hat. On the other hand, having the opportunity to give first hand information about an important character from that character is more than useful. As a result, allowing the players to go with Talitha at the start of the game has now paid off, because they are actually developing a meaningful relationship with her as opposed to the usual protagonist/antagonist interactions of “We killed you in this encounter”.
In any event, impressed with the PCs fortitude she invited them for dinner that night and a discussion of a plan she has in mind they could be suited for. You see, as the title of the campaign might suggest, Talitha is searching for several mysterious “Black Pearls”. Artifacts of considerable power, of which the PCs know she has at least one of (from the caravan). Here I gave them a little more detail about the Black Pearls, but Talitha was extremely cagey about what she wanted them for or even what they did in the first place. She directed them to a temple that had been sunk beneath the waves, where one of the pearls was from her readings – except there was a catch. Some kind of dreadful monster guards the area and sinks any ship that comes near.
Talitha scouted and watched – from a distance – the area for a considerable time and discovered that a part of the temples former lighthouse (they used to guide travelers sailing from Lhazaar Principalities to Sarlona) was exposed above the waves for a period of time twice a month – except that there was only a short period between when the top was exposed – 14 hours to be precise*. Talitha was only interested in the Pearl, so any other treasures that they find would be theirs – just complete the objective! Oddly the wizard Reebu asked for no treasure in particular, but he specifically wanted to know more about the Pearls and Talitha (somewhat reluctantly) agreed. Due to the risks in approaching by boat and the aggressive inhabitants, who would see them coming even by longboat (especially after a previous disastrous scouting mission) Talitha had a simple plan: Teleport the PCs straight in. Once they had the pearl, go back up to the top and fire off a magic flare, then teleport them back.
After this the PCs had some discussion with Talitha and the Contessa, with the Tiefling Bard playing his “womanizing” role and hitting on Talitha. I decided to use this to my advantage and had Talitha kick the others out to “experiment” with the Tiefling (whose Khyberian blood interested her). In essence, whenever I do add sex or sex scenes to a game, I tend not to bother being overly descriptive or being silly for silly sake. The real point here was to give the player a chance to have a look around Talitha’s cabin while she was “preoccupied” for a few moments to learn some more information, which he did: Investigating her sea charts to see the general areas she was planning on heading. He also took a copy of the key to the cabin, which may or may not be very important later in the game.
In any event, after a week of sailing the PCs were ready and then were teleported onto the decrepit destroyed Lighthouse tower. Long since covered in barnacles, slime and now occupied by crazed fish people (aka Kuo-Toa) this was not going to be easy. I gave the PCs a target zone they could start in and then rolled a d8 and d4. The d8 determined the direction and the D4 determined the number of squares off the teleportation was. While teleporting in was instant, it was also very disorientating and so while neither man or fish was truly prepared for a fight, I ruled that nobody could really get surprise and combat began normally.
So this encounter has several elements and the most important was the big thick mats of seaweed covering the former windows of the lighthouse. This prevented most light from getting in making the top of the lighthouse extremely dark and comfortable for the Kuo-Toa (who guard the top hoping for ships sunk by the creature to leave living subjects to potentially abduct). The PCs rapidly figured out from the description, which pointed out these constructed seaweed curtains, indicating that these monsters may be averse to light and they immediately set about burning these down. Given the numbers of Kuo-toa initially, the PCs got a nasty surprise from the nets and tenacity, rapidly becoming wounded (the Rogue almost got knocked to zero on the first round!). Turns out being restrained really sucks!
However, once the players burned down two of the seaweed curtains and flooded the top of the lighthouse with bright light, the Kuo-Toa were slowly overwhelmed and then driven off – giving the PCs the field. Interestingly, despite the disadvantage from the light if the Kuo-Toa can hit with the odd pincer attack and their nets, they can actually off-set it. This effect actually made this feel like one of the more tactically interesting encounters I’ve run in 5E, especially combined with the slippery floor (any character moving more than 3 squares needed to make a DC 10 acrobatics check to maintain their footing). Overall the Kuo-Toa whips were slain and their lesser fellows driven off for now, the PCs had to decide what to do and how to go about it as the exploration of the temple awaited them… and worse below.
Just as the session was ending and now out of earshot of anyone in the legion, this was where Calliara let the other players know that Prince Rygar now knew of the plan the PCs were following and was setting an ambush with three ships for Talitha….
*It goes without saying there is a deeper reason for this.