We recently finished up our Starfinder campaign and it was time for a new one. I volunteered to run my custom campaign Apogee but have to be away for a little while soon. I’ll run Apogee as a D&D 5th edition game, so I decided to run a very short one-shot pre-adventure.

The characters are distinct from the ones they will play in Apogee, but the quest is somehow related to it. It gives us a chance to learn 5th ed, and for me to remember how to DM.

I’ll recount things from my perspective, which might be spoilery in terms of players’ memory or my explanations on the night. Some mixture of the intent and the execution, basically. But information they clearly missed or misinterpreted will be recounted as-is.

Our group

This adventure should have six players, but two were away.

Gnomish Illusionist
Human (?) Ranger
Halfling Rogue
Half-Elf Cleric of Helm


Richard Eliot
Half-elf sailor and warlock

Not-yet-created character

The brief

I wanted to give a light introduction to the urban realm of Apogee. In short, Apogee is a huge, prosperous city on one side of a lake/river. On the other side is Nadir, a run-down hive of scum and villainy. The players in this adventure come from Nadir.

They are recruited by Zug the Fixer.

As you well know, I’m Zug the Fixer. I fix things. Or, more appropriately, I get people like you to fix things for me. And for that, I pay well.

Zug explained that just this morning they got a raven messenger, claiming to be from Grommet Karver, the captain of the river barge, “The Dire Badger”. Zug took down the details and turned it into a brief for some of his trusted mercs, that is, the PCs.

It reads: [PNG]

Grommet Karver, captain of the Dire Badger, needs strong and able bodies.

Important barge has been waylaid near Bloodfly Swamp or Gorgoda Estuary. Crew are “feckless bastards”

Willing to pay mercs good coin for rescue and “cleanup”.

There was a scribbled note with four names:

  • Harran
  • Manfred
  • Brigita
  • Sander

Basically, they had to find the barge, get it unstuck, and help out however they can.

Character creation

Nadir is a rough-and-tumble place, so almost anything goes. I tried to dissuade from Dragonborn for Apogee campaign reasons.

It was a standard 27-point buy, with no other twists. Oh, except that each player got a character hook for later, out of a list that I wrote. They could build their character around it, or just slap it on the outside.

Leaving Nadir

Before setting out, our crafty adventurers bought up supplies for the inevitable unmiring of the Dire Badger. Block and tackle, planks, tar, you name it.

Richard Eliot, the half-elf sailor and warlock (and PC of the off-with-flu David), prepared a small vessel called The Sunrise Maiden. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

They then watched the twin cities of Apogee and Nadir slide away as they left Scrimshaw Docks, down the mighty Gressia River. Numerous other boats left and arrived at the same time, and it was a peaceful start to the trip, watching towns turn into farmlands at dusk.


As the sun set and they made good progress on travelling downstream, the crew set into a quiet night.

That is, until Lestra — hanging out in the poop deck — noticed rigging from the mast just spooling out and falling to the deck. Downstairs, Warryk was studying and heard rattling and rustling in the hold.

Warryk immediately chased down the source of the noise and illuminated the room with magic light. A goblin squealed and shoulder-checked our gnome as he tried to escape.

Three stowaway goblins were rumbled and then thoroughly beaten. From their meagre possessions of daggers and empty loot bags, the PCs got the vague impression that the goblins had the plan of:

  1. Stow away
  2. Steal stuff
  3. If not, break stuff

With the stowaways dealt with, the PCs went back to resting but remained vigilant.

Hails, fails and fishing

The next day, The Sunrise Maiden began to leave the farmlands of Kithmeril behind and travelled deeper east into The Shifting Woods.

The PCs spent a bunch of the day attempting to hail other vessels, being extremely unlucky in their endeavours

Lestra, the ranger, was doing some fishing and managed some excellent hauls. Including a fetid hand holding a dagger! The dagger was quite ornate (albeit covered in river muck). Inspection didn’t yield many clues, but it was a neat knife.

Warryk asked a nearby sparrow about the latest in bird news. There was news about broken branches, new spots for berries, a raven out-of-towner, and the fish had been acting weird. The PCs had a lot of theories, but were happy for the intel.

The Shifting Woods

The next day, the canopy of The Shifting Woods began to knit closer, so the river became darker. As they rounded a bend they could hear constant screaming.

A well-to-do merchant vessel was approaching them, and on-board: an elf family of three. Their daughter was sitting on the deck, screaming her lungs out while the parents tried to calm her down. The PCs tried to hail and help them, again slightly clumsy in approach. The parents refused help, telling them to “Mind your own business”. Eventually the boats passed each other and the PCs were quiet again.

Unsettled, the PCs took watch for anything weird up ahead. The gnome and halfling took up watch on the prow, but ended up mostly talking to each other about the benefits of being alert.

Lucian (vigilant follower of Helm) noticed something that the others didn’t. Through the thick, rough undergrowth something skittered through, disappearing in the trees. It seemed like… a girl? In a bright pink dress? Glowing even?

Surely a trick of the light. He pointed it out to Smiley, but he could only see the occasional shafts of light peeking through the canopy.

Lucian saw her stick her head out around a tree. Then disappear.

Inside his head he heard, “Hey kid, how are ya? Wanna play?”

But his resolve was strong. Surely these were fey-touched woods and Lucian had no time for trickery or distraction. They had a job to do.


Soon the dark forest thinned out into woodlands again. Up ahead, the party noticed the river branching around a long, thin island. They could go either left or right. With great cunning, they decided to go right.

As they turned down the right branch, Lestra noticed a raven fly overhead, travelling diagonally across the island and their path ahead. Was it Grommet Karver’s raven? Was it a different one? The party were uneasy, expecting a trap. Expecting — but not altogether prepared for — an ambush.

Suddenly the river ahead erupted with a splash as a tangle of ropes, rooks and debris rose from the water and formed an entangling wall in front of them. Ambush!

Snipers took shots from the banks as everyone dodged the oncoming wall of debris. From behind there was a cry as a river pirate ship sped towards them. Warryk and Smiley were caught in the debris, Smiley actually entangled in it.

Warryk immediately summoned the silent illusion of guards. Not great on close inspection, but potentially handy in the hubbub of combat.

Snipers and PCs traded shots, mostly ineffectually. The river pirate ship crashed in behind and the pirates boarded with the requisite yell of “YARR!”

The pirate captain standing astride the top deck ordered his men to open fire. One took a perfect shot through the guardsmen. Others concentrated fire on the PCs.

In a lucky barrage, Warryk and Smiley each were mortally wounded. Meanwhile ranger Lestra took up a superior sniping position on the crow’s nest. Two of the pirates took a heroic leap at the guards… and fell straight through the illusion.

With half the team bleeding out, Lestra and Lucian took calculated risks against the pirates. Lestra took some heavy shots but managed to snipe the captain stone cold. Lucian hit the pirates with Burning Hands and then hacked through the remainders.

The captain’s cutlass was passed to one of the pirates who faceplanted on the bottom deck. In a spectacular fashion, he attacked Lucian upstairs, missed, slipped, hit his friend with the new cutlass, and was stomped into the ladder by Lucian. His wounded friend attempted to escape but was clobbered midway.

Meanwhile one of the snipers had slipped on the banks and fell into the water. Strangely his embarrassed splashings crew louder and more frantic, and then stopped. When combat was over, his drowned corpse floated downstream.

The other sniper left under a rain of arrows from Lestra.

Encouraged by his party’s heroism, Warryk managed to stabilise himself and not bleed out. Smiley however…

Your vision swims as your life trickles out. Everything goes dark yellow to black and you think this is it. Lucian stands above you, crying, “Stay with me!”

But the blackness returns to full colour. Bright pink, in fact. Instead of Lucian, a little girl stands over you. She says “Let’s play!”

And with a start, Smiley had returned to the land of the living.

Next week

Maybe we’ll have Richard Eliot back after all the damage done to the ship he rented. And one of the other crew might rouse from a long slumber.

Then onwards to Gimbagmash swamp to find the river barge!