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Curse of the Black Pearls

In memoriam:
Amaund, Tiefling Bard – Because revenge isn’t a dish best served cold, it’s best served with crossbow bolts, spells and half-orcs.

This session began with me being a player down after the former Bard couldn’t make the games schedule anymore, but thankfully I had another player lined up from a friend of one of the others who had been coming to watch. I actually helped him make his character last year, but this was the first session back after my extended break and thus the new challenger is Kasswok, Human Paladin. Yes, I finally have a human in 5E and now team Darkvision has been broken! In any event, Kasswok is a Paladin of the silver flame and his main interest is investigating the rumors about demon worshiping pirates operating in the Lhazaar Principalities.

Naturally his ship runs afoul of those pirates and numerous bloated, coral encrusted demons were summoned from the remaining crew and left as a convenient trap. Being unaware of the Paladins resistance to diseases, they crucified him onto the control ring of the elemental galleon and then left him to die after looting the ship.

When the other players came across it having escaped from Talitha’s fleet and Kraken last session, the NPC captain decided to take some pirates and the PCs across to investigate (this is always a terrible idea, but an elemental galleon is a massive prize for any captain to acquire). Most of the PCs, Glorkk, Reebu and Narvarie stayed on the deck of the ship to see about the tied and gagged Paladin (Kasswok). Calliara decided to go down below deck with the disposable pirate cannon fodder – a fateful decision. Naturally the ship wasn’t free of pests and before leaving, the Crimson Legion performed a profane summoning ritual and turned many of the living crew members into demonic abominations. These creatures are tainted with the very blood of Demogorgon, twisting into all kinds of strange and usual shapes. Naturally the pirates with Calliara got picked off one by one, thanks to an especially bad perception check on her part. I decided that the most character appropriate reason for this was the rogues obsession with checking the bodies for gold and precious items (which is an IC actual thing this player does).

Once the twisted demonic crew finally burst forth to slaughter the remaining two pirates, Calliara got the heck out of there and was only feet ahead of them before getting to the top deck – and the others. Meanwhile on the top of the deck, the players had successfully degagged Kasswok and his warning about the demons below and around the ship in the water (I described them in the water as masses of floating coral) was too late – the demons were already setting upon the PCs… and the other ship.

Let’s digress into some mechanics and such for a bit. These monsters are actually an important part of the game and were an integral part of the design even when I was running this campaign as a 4E game. Originally their inspiration came from the Plague Demons from Threats to the Nentir Vale. In this game, these sad individuals are bound with demonic magic and irreversibly twist into demonic monsters, encrusted with thick layers of protective coral upon them. As they are demons they have several traits in common and of course the ability to transfer the Red Coral Plague through their disease dripping bite (which is the attack all of them have in common, I wanted them to feel a bit like zombies in this regard). I started with a random creatures stats that felt vaguely right and then modified everything else from there:

Plague Demon Feeder
Medium fiend (Demon), Chaotic Evil
AC 12 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points 70
Speed: 25ft, Swim 30 Ft
Strength 18 (+4), Dex 10 (+0), Con 16 (+3), Int 7 (-2), Wis 10 (+0), Cha 9 (-1)
Saving Throws: Constitution +6
Senses: Darkvision 60ft, PP 10
Languages: Cannot speak, but can understand Abyssal

Feeding Frenzy. Plague Demon Feeders deal an additional 1d10 damage against damaged enemies they are flanking.
Elemental Resistance. Whenever a Plague Demon Feeder takes damage from a fire, cold, thunder or lightning effect roll a d20. On a roll of 16+ they absorb some of the elemental energy and until the end of the creatures next turn all of it becomes immune to that damage type and its melee attacks deal an additional 1d6 damage of the same elemental type.
Poison Invigoration. Whenever a Plague Demon Feeder takes poison damage, it deals an additional 2d6 poison damage with its bite attacks until the end of the encounter. This ability cannot stack multiple times.

Multiattack. The plague Demon Feeder attacks up to two times with its claw or bite attacks, in any combination.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack (Restrained Targets Only): +7 to hit, reach 5ft, one target. Hit: 2d6+4 bludgeoning damage and the target must make a DC 12 constitution saving throw. On a failure the target contracts Red Coral Plague (see sidebar below).
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5ft, one target. Hit: 1d4+4 slashing damage. If the target is medium sized or smaller, it is grappled (escape DC 12). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained and the Plague Demon Feeder cannot use the restraining limb to make further claw attacks. A Plague Demon Feeder can restrain a maximum of two creatures at a time.

So let’s break down this for anyone curious, because I do a few things differently: Firstly these are the “basic” Red Coral Plague Demon and are basically mindless footsoldiers. They’re designed to swarm targets, grab them and then tear them apart piece by piece with their bite attacks. The claw attack does such poor damage compared to the bite because it’s literally an advantage generator to make the bite attack more accurate – however roleplaying wise I nearly always used the bite attack first before the claw (as they crave devouring flesh above all else). The traits reflect this, with this monster dealing extra damage on flanking (in 5e terms this would be having an ally within 5′, but the damage should be reduced without the specific flanking requirement) and of course the demonic trait “Elemental Resistance”. This trait functions to basically make demons scarier against elemental magic, without making the player feel useless or that they don’t have options to get around it. It also isn’t a guaranteed chance of success either, but when it does happen it makes demons notably more dangerous. The poison invigoration is a Plague Demon specific trait, which makes them very dangerous to hit with poisoned attacks as they immediately use it for their own benefit with no roll (Resistance = Roll, Invigoration = Automatic).

Again, I like making things a tactical option: Resistances and immunities frequently too harshly penalize these things and are very binary “You suck, you’re just going to take a feat to avoid it anyway” mechanics. Giving players interesting interactions deepens the tactics of the game and reduces the viability of pure “Take this option to avoid sucking feats”. It also means these things cannot be got around, so these monsters challenge is much more consistent based on whatever the composition of the party is as opposed to “Did this party optimize? This monster is a push over. Did they not? Welp, time for everyone to die!”.

The other creatures I used aren’t presented here, but follow the same logic and basic set of traits. I just varied the HP and AC. The fight didn’t take forever (which is good), they felt a very appropriate challenge for 5th level PCs and they weren’t overwhelming but certainly felt like a major threat. Anyway, let’s continue on!

So the rogue gets back up onto the top of the ship, with plague demons smashing their way through the walls of the ship to explode forth onto the deck. Combat naturally starts and true as day, most of the demons manage to roll high initiative, with all PCs bar Narvarie managing to roll above a 10. So pretty much a monster turn, then Narvarie, then the rest of the demons and then the players. Sometimes I wonder why we roll for initiative….

In any event, the rogue got a good licking from the harrier and several of the feeders, before running to the back of the ship. The wizard Reebu remembered his Staff of Fire (which you might remember the PCs acquired in the Sunken Temple from Ezrakiel) and used the 4 charges to summon a wall of fire. This spell let him cut off the demons nicely from the rest of the ship and inflicted heavy initial damage… but due to the elemental resistance several of the demons made their roll and were able to wreathe themselves in elemental flame. This resulted in the harrier – closest to a lurker type in 4E in role – critically hitting the barbarian with its attack. You can see the amount of dice it produced here:

Demon Assault 1

Thankfully the Barbarian was raging so much of it was reduced, but otherwise it would have really hurt (there are three different damage types here, acid, physical and the bonus fire damage). This pushed the players back to defending the raised middle section of the map (noting that I used this map before, but elemental galleons have a reasonably standardized design so to save myself time on drawing maps I reused this one). When I described the elementally charged demons simply marching through the wall of fire (the wall of Arkham Horror sanity markers, if you’re wondering) it was a great moment and easily made how the mechanic worked clear without an overlong explanation. The extra fire damage did them quite a lot of good as well and made them suitably dangerous.

Demon Assault 2

Eventually the Paladin got into the mix and then got an epic critical hit, being able to increase smite damage, branding smite (+2d6 radiant on a single target until you hit it IIRC) and the normal damage for something like 55 points in one go. I will never insult the Paladins ability to deal damage ever again after that performance. The rest of the demons were run off and killed, but this didn’t help the situation with the other ship and the captain, Flynn demanded the PCs come with him on a suicide mission to save his ship (which was being overrun with the main force of the demons). Naturally my players weren’t in the mood for a suicide mission and refused, prompting Flynn to fly off the handle and declare “Mutiny!”. Intimidation, persuasion and even spells failed to stop Flynn jumping back into the longship and rowing out to his death to try to save his ship. You know what they say about a captain and going down with the ship etc….

The players then took their ship and headed for Regalport, where they explained themselves to a curious but patient Lord Rygar. After giving them a reward for their information and efforts, Rygar then informed them that a Privateers Court was being held there and he wanted them to stay as esteemed guests to explain the nature of the situation to the council. Next session will be filled with all the machinations of Pirate Politics…..