Week two of our mini-adventure prequel to Apogee. The gang have been hired to go rescue The Dire Badger, a river barge escorting VIPs and important cargo from the fishing village of Flit, up to the metropolis of Apogee. The Dire Badger has been waylaid somewhere in the Bloodfly Swamp/Gorgoda Estuary region.

Last week, the PCs got most of the way to the swamp before being assaulted by pirates, pixie girls and impolite merchants.

Our group

Only one player away this week, but Warryk was away for most of the night.

Gnomish Illusionist
Human Ranger
Björn (previously “Lucien”)
Half-Elf Cleric of Helm
Richard Eliot
Half-elf sailor and warlock
Oskil Northman
Human ruffian fighter

Away this week:

Halfling Rogue

Previously on The Hunt for the Dire Badger

I like to give a quick recap on the previous week, so everyone gets up to speed and I can highlight plot points that might need focus. We did ours, explaining the setting and scenes of last week to the players of Richard and Oskil. It was good —- they had forgotten some details, and so had I.

Unfortunately my proper opening would have been best if Smiley’s player had been there. Last week, he and Warryk had been brutally assaulted by river pirates. Warryk managed to stabilise his wounds, Smiley did not. But he was brought back by the image of a fey girl in a pink dress.

The opening I intended (and fumblingly told the players):

Smiley as your blood drains from your chest, the colours wash out and you lose track of time. You have a dream. You dream of a rumour of a good score. Your colleagues have an easy hit with a big payout. You are a sniper for the ambush. You waited all day for them to walk into your ambush and your pirate team sprung it on them. You got some good shots in, but under fire, slipped on the river bank and fell into the water.

As you righted yourself in the water, you saw a peculiar sight. On the bottom of the riverbed, looking up at you, was a girl. A young girl. Her arms reached out to you. You grabbed them to help her out of the water. But she didn’t move. She was solid against the ground. And her arms… were strong. Too strong. She held fast as you struggled to get a breath. Your head was just inches from the surface and you kicked and thrashed. She did not move. And soon after, neither did you.

Smiley, you burst back into reality, gasping for breath. You’re alive and a bright pink blotch fades from your eyes.

From below deck, Oskil lumbered up the stairs, groaning “What’s all this noise about?” He and Richard surveyed the scene and found themselves lucky. The ship was slightly beat up, entangled in a trap and covered in pirate corpses. Richard cursed everyone and the party got to work cleaning up.

Lestra and Björn jumped onto the pirate ship still hooked onto theirs. They turned the ship over, looking for loot and clues. They found weapons for about eight pirates, rations for about eight pirates for a mere few days, and booze for very many pirates for a week.

The boat was a speedy craft, but not a good craft. Something they could rustle up and down the river quickly, and wouldn’t mind too much if it was destroyed in battle.

They found the captain’s area —- the ship wasn’t even good enough to have a separate room for the captain —- and turned it over. They found maps to the river with ambush points and hideyholes pointed out. There was also a note about rumours that

a specialist crew is delivering something important to Karver.

This caused confusion since they were going to Karver, but they weren’t delivering anything. Curious.

Björn also found a hidden cache with an oiled rag wrapping a folded paper parcel. In the parcel was an electrum piece covered in thick, dried blood. On the paper was written:

At our docks, don’t forget to pay your toll. — Molvo

This was also confusing. When they ran it by one of their (assumed) reprobate team-mates, Richard explained that “Molvo” was Felicio Molvo, head of the Molvo organized crime family who had many wheelings and dealings in Nadir. Molvo sustained his empire through crime and the threat of violence. A blood-soaked coin was Felicio’s way of saying “You have a blood debt.”

Once the ship was cleaned up and ready to sail, there was a quick debate about what to do with the pirate ship. As semi-responsible river people, they moored the ship on the bank upstream and did not scuttle it.

Merchants of Apogee

As they sailed downstream, they noticed a fat-bottomed boat coming upstream.

Keen eyes noticed it was well-to-do, and appropriately well-guarded. A cocky young merchant was standing on the deck, and he had a brisk conversation with the PCs. They had not seen The Dire Badger, and they weren’t particularly interested in discussing their cargo.

Lestra the Ranger noticed a smell of peat and sulfur wafting out from their belowdecks. Presumably merchants bringing goods back up to Apogee. Someone suggested gunpowder components.

Chickens and frogs

Movement downstream was steady but mostly uneventful. Some kept an eye out for sandbanks and debris. Some tried to determine if they could catch any fish, or if the zombie hand had scared them all away. Oskil had decided to take two bottles of rum up to the crow’s nest and relax.

Maybe it was the rum, but he saw amongst the reeds and the swamp fog… surely not… a flock of chickens! Oskil pointed them out and the crew quickly decided that despite the embuggerance of turning around and mooring on the far bank, they had chickens to catch!

Tracking the little cluckers wasn’t too hard. They seemed to be heading to the stone ruins of a town in the swamp.

The PCs spotted the chickens hiding behind a wall, and crept up steathily…

Frogs burst from the swampwater, some frog men (Bullywugs) accompanied by giant frogs. In their surprise round, the Bullywugs spent their advantage of surprise… on yelling… in Bullywug… which none of the players knew.

The fight ended up being a cavalcade of clumsy. The Bullywugs had positional and numerical advantage. But were cut in two with attacks of opportunity as they _sproing!_ed in. Oskil chased down the chickens, got in a one-on-one with a Bullywug and they both fumble their rolls.

A few PCs got a spear stab or a frog bite, but it wasn’t too bad. A relatively easy fight despite the initial outlook. One bullywug and one frog escaped, chased by eldritch bolts and arrows.

But more importantly: They had chickens! They even decided to treat them nicely, hanging them from spears by their feet, rather than just stuffing them all in a sack.

Southern Hospitality

With the random chicken success under their belt, they continued downstream. They found a hut on the side of the river. It was an elevated hut with strong poles driven deep into the banks. On the porch, a scruffy looking guy was whittling, watching the world (and PCs) go by with a suspicious eye.

The PCs hailed him and asked about The Dire Badger, which he was reluctant to respond to. He was a man with a lot of time on his hands. As they drew near, the PCs noticed the hut had a large attached pen… for a crocodile lying next to the porch. In the mud was a scattering of feathers. The pen was open to the waterway, which worried our PCs.

The man (later named as Krum) would trade information on The Dire Badger if they had anything of value to him. As it so happened, they had live chickens and some rum, so that started negotiations off nicely.

Krum had some chores he wanted doing, but negotiations had gone so well

that he gave them all the information they needed to navigate the swamps to where The Dire Badger was waylaid. As a loose exchange of trust and thanks, the PCs promised to chase down his chores:

  1. Some fellers are holed up over yonder, camping on my property. Beseech them to leave.”
  2. I ain’t heard from Lars and his youngun Mae-lou for quite some time.”

The PCs figured they’d do one on the way in, and one on the way back. They chose the second.

Lars and Mae-Lou

Lars and his “kin” Mae-lou had a small farm on a dry part of the swamp.

There was an obvious mooring and path to the homestead. They could see a gentle plume of smoke rising up. They passed sickly fields carved out of the swamp, watched over by rotten scarecrows. It was quiet and approaching dusk. Something didn’t feel right.

Up ahead they could see the homestead. There were two small buildings surrounded by rickety farm fences. They could hear the chopping of wood from behind the hut with a smoking chimney, but could not see the source. There was a debate about whether to walk through the boundary made by the fence. That seemed too spooky, so they decided to split up and go around either side of the homestead.

They could also hear crying. A young girl, crouched over herself emerged from one door and walked around the side, out of sight.

They called out. The wood-chopping stopped.

Lestra and Warryk went south-side. Oskil and Richard went north-side. Björn faltered and stayed in the middle.

Warryk and Richard were both arcanists, and realized something just a little too late. In the trees about ten feet out from the fenceline were hidden totems and caches. An outer perimeter. They thought they were on the outside, but they were within… something.

Roll initiative!

Lestra and Warryk investigated the little girl who approached them, but with a weird look about her.

Before they could properly react, the blue-eyed young girl turned into a cataract-eyed old hag! She reached forward to Lestra and then stabbed her upside the ribs, screaming in her face. Lestra was very badly wounded and stunned.

Meanwhile, something like The Mountain walked around the side of the hut and flung a huge axe at Oskil and Richard. Luckily it whooshed by, but now combat was definitely on.

And the cherry on top… the totems were erupting in tiny insects, building into a swarm.

Warryk was attacked by one swarm and got lucky on the attack. 4d4 damage… And they rolled all 3s and 4s. Warryk, who had just gotten into the game, was killed round 1. Just like last week. Thanks dice.

Lestra, recovering from her heavy wounds, took up position against the hag behind a fence. And missed her shot. The hag held out a clawed hand, which spun with will-o-wisps and sparked with energy. A bolt of electricity arced into Lestra’s body. She fell, and the arc followed her… but grounded on the fence as Lestra dropped.

Oskil danced with the huge man (undead and built like a bear), neither giving nor receiving blows. Richard meanwhile left the totem line and blasted the man with eldritch bolts. Each took out half his chest, leaving Oskil to eventually snap the loose spine in the middle.

Björn came to the rescue of Warryk whilst pursued by insects, blasting them with magic and whacking them with a warhammer. Warryk advanced on the hag, as did Oskil, spraying her with vibrant colour not seen in the swamp, and blinded her. In her rage, she sent back her own Colour Spray, this time strobing blacks and whites… But it was aimed poorly and hit Oskil.

Soon the PCs converged on her, with Björn getting the kill steal from 60ft away with Radiant Blast. The ghastly visage of the witch was blasted onto the fence, Hiroshima-style, and the swamp grew quiet.

After some investigation, it seemed like the witch had tricked Lars and Mae-lou into taking her in. She posed as Mae-lou and turned Lars into a horrifying undead brute.

But then the question: If the hag was here, and Lars was dead, where was Mae-lou?

One of the huts had a plume of smoke coming from the chimney. Inside was a cooking pot. A bubbling, pungent pot. With a small hand in it.

After this brutal combat, we called it a night.

Next week

Magic loot, level 3 characters and The Dire Badger!