Two of the girls Rose works with at the tea shop have been wanting to play some D&D, so we thought we’d have them over for drinks and a nice shipwrecking at Zzarchov Kowolski’s Scenic Dunnsmouth.
Now they’d never played an RPG whatsoever, so they got sent this email before the game:
It tastes like a choc-chip mint icecream sundae served by a swamp bear on drugs.
The time period is kind of a nonsense 16th-17th century renaissance/era of enlightenment type deal, with conquistador-style exploration in vogue and science and anatomy starting to be a thing.
Most everyone has a bit of an air of frontier conquest about them but people have been living there for at least a few hundred years without ever having seen a native inhabitant, but historical documents only exist from the last hundred years for some reason.
There aren’t any elves or dwarfs or hobbitses but there are four major ethnicities.
The Moors are steeped in mysticism and have near pure-black skin, like polished ebony, with pupil-less white eyes and rich silk clothing dripping with jewellery.
Urgoths/Saxons are the pale mongrel children of might-as-well-be-Europe.
Francs are like their more effete olive-skinned cousins.
The Morgen are pale to the point of ethereality with epicanthic eyes and bullshit Lovecraftian names, when born they’re anointed to the sect of one of their hundred gods instead of taking a family name.
The animals are weird and awful and you’re probably going to lose bits and catch diseases and maybe die.
There aren’t simple ghosts and demons but there are things that operate on a different level of existence that might drive you insane or turn your flesh against you or both or something worse.
YOU CAN BE ONE OF FOUR THINGS!
Magic-Users aren’t lame old wizards they’re crazy weirdos who risk insanity and mutation and destruction.
Clerics aren’t noble holy men they’re delusional ritualistic heretics who worship things that might not even exist and have to please them to use their power.
Fighters like to hit things with swords.
Specialists have mad skills and depending on what you want to do could be assassins or thieves or trackers or librarians or whatevs.
If you super badly want to be any of those things let me know, otherwise we’ll make it up on the day, that’s what Rose always does.
And then I threw them on a boat bound for Cörpathium and we started things a little bit differently.
Drinks: Lime Rickeys with salt and Four Pillars Gin. Our bottle said it was number 84 of batch 11 from a still called Wilma which is kind of adorable.
Foods: Sandwich mountain.
First everyone rolled their Ability Scores and decided what class they wanted to play, then used the NPC Birthing Sacs to get a name and junk (the results of which kept weirdly matching what they were already saying about their characters).
Emma rolled a high Strength and Intelligence, and a Charisma of 5, and announced that she was an autistic Fighter.
After using the Birthing Sacs: Malatesta du Caddis, Francish male with the motivation “Sociopathy”.
Sophie rolled a high Strength and a Dexterity of 17, and decided she’d rather be a slinky Specialist than a Fighter.
After using the Birthing Sacs: Florian Voldaris, young Francish male with the motivation “Intrigue”.
Rose rolled high Charisma and Wisdom and got really excited about being a drunken Devotee of the Corpulent One.
After using the Birthing Sacs: Damonallit Aspurta, Moorish male with the quirk “Addiction”.
What happened on the boat was this:
Aspurta hung from ropes on the side of the boat trying to tear barnacles from the hull for a snack, and Malatesta found the aging captain looking out over the Hollow Sea and almost threw her overboard because he didn’t like her face.
The crew freaked out when an unexpected and unavoidable fog bank completely enveloped the ship.
They sailed on blind through the blanket of fog for hours, until Malatesta heard screams and shouting coming from the bow, and as sailors ran in and out of the fog sweeping over the deck Malatesta drew his sword and walked in a straight line towards the screaming.
At the bow of the ship there were no bodies, no blood, but he looked around just in time to see the oily, shimmering black tentacle snaking around his ankle. A natural 20 later and his sword had shorn clean through its flesh, spilling multicoloured blood over the deck as the rest of it flailed and dragged back into the water.
Then there were smooth, shimmering black tentacles bursting out of the sea all around them, the spray of water and the sound of splintering wood and everything went dark.
They woke up they don’t know how long later, clinging to debris in the fog along with the captain they all hated for no reason and I had them roll to see what they grabbed in the wreckage on this table:
|1||A ship lantern, 3 flasks of oil, tinderbox and flint, waterskin, d6 Quality 3 axe, red quilted Quality 1 light armour with gilded edging, 19 silver groats.|
|2||Fishing net with 3 fish, d6 Quality 5 fishing spear, waterskin, d4 Quality 2 dagger, Quality 5 leather medium armour, 5 silver groats.|
|3||Silver sextant, small spice chest, silver candlestick, 50ft silk rope, warm blood red ruby, bronze feathered helmet, 40 silver groats.|
|4||Bottle of rum, rusted spyglass, 50ft rope, pipe, no tobacco, d8 Quality 4 axe, Quality 3 leather light armour, 22 silver groats.|
|5||An extra character. Roll again.|
|6||Small glass mirror, intricate waterlogged stringed instrument, d4 Quality 1 iron dagger, d4 Quality 3 bronze dagger, d8 Quality 2 wheellock pistol, 3 powder apostles, 5 silver groats.|
|7||Vial of Baby-Taker spider venom (babies dragged away in nets of webbing, putrefied from within for feeding, the venom causes localised rapid-onset necrosis in adults, limbs dropping in d4 Rounds), Skeleton Key (1 in 6 chance of breaking on each use), d6 Quality 3 light crossbow, 10 bolts, d4 Quality 4 dagger, Quality 1 oiled black leather light armour.|
|8||A well-leafed pamphlet of smutty woodblock illustrations, pouch of scrimshawed knuckle-bones, d4 sling, 6 bullets, bullet extractor, d4 Quality 2 black iron dagger, 10ft barge pole, Quality 5 rusted breastplate medium armour.|
|9||Yellow-Bellied Licking Toad, clay pipe, tobacco, tinderbox and flint, vial of blood, random roll on Belongings, random roll on Curios, waterskin, 2 rations of dried meat, Quality 3 medium steel arm armour, 6 silver groats.|
|10||An extra character. Roll again.|
|11||Lantern, 1 flask of oil, tinderbox and flint, d6 Quality 4 short sword, d4 Quality 3 dagger, fascinating hat, waterskin, 12 silver groats.|
|12||Two random rolls on Belongings, random roll on Curios, 50ft rope, 3 rations of dried meat, bottle of fancy wine, d8 Quality 2 longsword, d4 Quality 4 copper dagger, Quality 3 quilted light armour.|
|13||Three random rolls on Curios, a week's rations, d4 Quality 2 iron dagger.|
|14||Pouch of Red Spice, d8 Quality 2 mace moulded like a screaming infant, pocketbook and charcoal pencil, the spell Black Colossus tattooed on your left arm, Quality 2 stuffed and ruffled black clothing that emits a fine powder when you move violently, light armour.|
|15||An extra character. Roll again.|
|16||Small but vicious dog, random roll on Curios, random roll on Belongings, mallet and 5 steel spikes, d6 Quality 3 short sword, tinderbox and flint, 3 torches, 8 silver groats.|
|17||An angry wet cat, half a bottle of gin, 4 days rations, waterskin, d6 Quality 3 short bow, full quiver of arrows.|
|18||Random roll on Curios, vial of opium, d4 Quality 4 scrimshawed bone knife, 50ft rope and grappling hook, d8 Quality 3 bronze flail, Quality 3 medium plate and quilt armour.|
|19||Random Infection, d4 Quality 3 meat cleaver, 2 days rations, ship lantern, 5 flasks of oil, tinderbox and flint, 50ft rope, dried deathcaps, garrotte, d6 Quality 5 fishing spear, waterskin, bottle of gin, 17 silver groats.|
|20||An extra character. Roll again.|
Emma got an extra character (which I put on the equipment list because I figured they’d need extras), a Maleficar named Thoth-Mora Gnostos, who rolled nothing but spice chests and stolen silver for his equipment and then got an “Ostentatious” aesthetic appearance and a motivation of “Money” when we used the Birthing Sacs. Malatesta got a diseased rat in a lantern cage and a flail and a bunch of other good shit.
Sophie also got an extra character, Thoth-Mora’s rotund Maleficar twin sister Sangr’aal Humgha, who got a random Infection as part of her equipment which meant she’d vomit churning green goo every d6 Turns which we pretty much constantly forgot to track. Florian got a small but vicious dog who Sophie named Sid and a sweet gorget and kludge caltrops and just heaps of stuff.
Rose didn’t get an extra character but she did get a vial of Baby-Taker spider venom and a Skeleton Key and a crossbow and some other things.
While they were floating along we played “getting to know you” and I asked why they were coming to Cörpathium in the first place, and since they weren’t sure they rolled on a little table for a vague short-term goal.
Apparently Malatesta plans to hunt something, Florian wants to be renowned for something, the Maleficar twins are both seeking revenge, and Rose didn’t roll because Aspurta just wants to get rickety-wrecked.
Then some glittering thing beneath the water took the captain and they floated out of the fog, eventually seeing a misty shoreline and the mountains beyond, and the faint light of the lantern at the end of the Dunnsmouth pier.
WELCOME TO SCENIC DUNNSMOUTH
In the boathouse they meet pompous old Reginald Dunlop and his warhounds, and I guess Sid stays there or wanders off into the swamp because Sophie forgot all about him after that.
Reginald laughs at the idea that people are still living in Cörpathium but tells them that to get there they’ll likely need to travel up through the swamp and over the mountains first, and when asked if anyone would be able to help them offers his opinions on the town as follows:
“Those Samsons are too busy fucking their sisters to be much more use than tits on a frog you just can’t catch.
The Duncasters reckon themselves better than most but you can only polish a turd so much before you’re covered in shit.
There’s a foreign priest, Ung-Moroth Ubral, doesn’t seem to realise his time here is done, we’ve no more need for his little god.
You’d be best seeking out my kin for lodging, though Joshua can’t keep his cock out of other people’s wives and young Robert’s too busy lifting the shirt of the last son of the curs-ed van Kaus family to be much use, so pass them by and take yourselves up to old Pearce Dunlop’s house if he’s still living. You can’t miss it, it’s the only house not sinking into the swamp.”
So they agree to hire his shitty boat for a silver groat per day, follow his directions past and around the first two houses, past the lonely black church, and moor themselves at the base of a hill, atop which sat the two-storey brick home of Pearce Dunlop.
The door is answered by an untrusting woman who refuses to allow them entry until Pearce comes to see what the fuss is about. Pearce turns out to be extremely welcoming if a bit absent-minded, and while he’s undeniably old, appears quite a few years younger than Reginald.
In the parlour he sits them down to share some sherry, where he confesses to being surprised that anyone would want to go back to Cörpathium after what happened, then tells them all about the portrait of his horse-faced mother above the fireplace and the sword his father used to deal with some degenerates in the mountains. Being a huge zweihänder with a gold-inlayed grip and a pearl in the hilt, Malatesta becomes immediately, though silently, obsessed with it.
Aspurta isn’t in his right mind after spending so long floating in the sea without any inebriants, and asks Pearce for something else to drink, which Pearce heartily agrees to and sends Agnes to fetch the last bottle of “the good vintage”. Aspurta escorts Agnes to the cellar where he meets Agnes’s husband Abraham Duncaster, who assures him they can manage without his help. Aspurta then looks around for “shadows to hide in” in the well-lit hallway, and when that doesn’t work, walks around the corner and breaks into the first room he finds, where he trips over a table in the dark.
Meanwhile Malatesta is feeding Pearce the remains of everyone’s sherry, while encouraging him to keep telling his increasingly-slurred stories about the nice doilies his mother made and never taking his eyes off that sword.
Back in the dark room Abraham comes to see what has happened and gets convinced to help Aspurta up, then as he reaches down finds his head being grabbed and smashed into the corner of the table, knocking him out cold. Aspurta then runs to the cellar door where he meets Agnes coming up with an unmarked bottle and demands to know if there’s any more, and when Agnes tells him that Pearce had already said this was the last bottle Aspurta wrenches it from her hands, shoves her down the stairs, and locks the cellar door with his Skeleton Key.
When he returns to the parlour, belly full of the “good vintage” that turned out to be some pretty rough moonshine, he finds Pearce passed out tied to a chair in front of the fireplace with silk rope, and Malatesta taking his new sword down from the mantelpiece.
They leave Sangr’aal in the parlour and everyone else goes upstairs to see what they can steal, but pretty much all they find is more doilies, which Thoth-Mora, wearing a feathered coat and a bronze feathered helmet, seems really happy about.
Downstairs in the parlour, Sangr’aal feels a sack pull over her head and screams with all her chubby might.
Malatesta runs down the stairs holding his oversized sword out in front of him and finds a bloody-faced Abraham holding Sangr’aal while Agnes raises a knife. After winning Initiative and having only asked me what the “Bum Rush” Combat Option was a few minutes before, Emma says “I’M GONNA BUM RUSH ‘ERRRRRR” in a weird high-pitched voice that immediately turned into Malatesta’s battle cry.
So Malatesta charges into the room holding his stolen two-handed sword like a spear, easily hits Agnes, rolls double damage because of the Bum Rush and deals 17 damage to her little 3hp frame, which means he skewers her, launches her body over the dining table, stabs through Pearce’s old blacked-out chest, through the back of the chair, and embeds it all into the mortar of the fireplace like some kind of murder shishkebab.
Abraham drops Sangr’aal, screaming with rage, and steals a knife from Malatesta’s belt but fails to stab him, likely unnerved by his war cry. Abraham then wins Initiative but fumbles, releasing Malatesta’s diseased rat from its cage which springs onto his face with filthy claws of fury, rat balls smacking him in the mouth, and gets his chest caved in by Malatesta’s flail.
Malatesta doesn’t quite know why, but he feels like someone somewhere is really happy with him, that it’s a good thing that he’s done, and permanently gets +1 to everything ever for killing Pearce with his father’s sword.
They then drag the bodies down to the cellar, hack up Agnes and Abraham, and stuff them into an empty wine cask. While discussing what they should do with Pearce’s body Malatesta says “let’s put him behind his dead mum” and Aspurta runs back upstairs to get the painting from above the fireplace. Which is when they find the safe.
Florian fails to open it so Sangr’aal uses Knock to sweet-talk it open (Sophie actually ad-libbed a poem of opening gilded locks for 50xp), and they find 600sp, 250cp, and three rubies. They found some of the best loot in the whole scenario because they wanted to put a helpful murdered old man behind his dead mum.
Then they shove Pearce into the safe, hang the painting back over it, and walk back out into the swamp and get in their boat.
They row back out through the twilit mire to Robert Dunlop and Karl van Kaus’s dilapidated stilt hut, and hear the sounds of enthusiastic grunting and slapping through the window, and send Thoth-Mora to knock on the door.
Robert opens the door, drenched in gay sex and tripping all the balls on mushrooms, and promptly has his mind blown by the fabulous fancy little feathered man at his door.
He and Karl fawn so hard over Thoth-Mora that they give Aspurta the rest of their shrooms, which he gulps down right there, tell them the priest would probably be able to help them, give away their boat, and don’t even mind when Aspurta takes the man-sweat drenched sheets right off their bed.
After dragging their boats up through the muck they come to the black log church, a copper bell swaying gently in the steeple, and bang on the door.
The tall, near-emotionless man inside introduces himself as Ung-Moroth Ubral, priest of the Black Man, the Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep, greatest of all gods. Aspurta staggers around demanding to know what is so great about him, but seems pointedly unimpressed when Ung-Moroth tells him that unlike other gods, the Black Man walks freely between worlds, that he has seen his god, and that his worship stretches across the world without men even knowing it, because myriad are his forms. [Yeah I decided that the cult of Nyarlathotep is the most widespread religion in Malles Vermald, I figured that would be fun].
After hearing their story he suggests they at least gather some supplies for the journey, and leaves with Malatesta and Thoth-Mora in his boat to meet Mordechai Duncaster, a skilled hunter and guide.
As they row along the more open flow of water he points out a sinking fort with an old soldier living on the charity of the Samsons, and a sprawl of interconnected stilt huts belonging to Obediah Duncaster, the local moonshiner.
They find Mordechai living in a log shanty floating on a raft moored to a rotten tree, but he eagerly agrees to help them and says it will take a couple of days to hunt and gather the supplies they’ll need, so they jump back into the priest’s boat to hang out at the church.
Meanwhile at the church, Florian finds a trapdoor behind the altar-like pulpit, and sends Sangr’aal down into the dark to investigate.
Below the floor she finds the tunnels of an unfinished crypt, with sealed caskets and a locked door. Sangr’aal tries to use Knock again but has to roll on Conduit of the Cosmos because she’s already used it, and rolls an Inverse Effect, causing the trap door to seal like it had never existed.
She bangs on the bare boards for help until Aspurta finds an iron grate at the side of the church that connects to the crypt, which gives way fairly easily from the sodden earth and they go back inside to wait casually for the priest and the others.
When the others return they figure it’s probably about time for a sleep even though the odd twilight hasn’t changed in the whole time they’ve been here, and lay down on the cold boards of the church. The priest bends down behind the pulpit and mutters in surprise, paces around for a bit looking confused, and decides to lie down with the rest of them.
When they wake up, not having much else to do, they decide to go meet the old soldier at the fort.
Even though the outer palisades are falling into the mud, when they arrive they find him walking around the well-kept watchtower, inspecting the walls.
He twirls his magnificent moustache and greets them as Magnus Quartermaine, and invites them into the cabin to share a drink, eager to converse with some fellow Francs.
While drinking some more harsh moonshine, Magnus regales them with stories of the time he killed a giant frog beast, earning himself the name “Magnus Quartermaine the Toad-Bane” amongst the boys, and when asked about the fort itself tells them that he and the others were ordered by Emperor Luther Voss Lorrin to establish the outpost and never received further orders, so one by one his friends have passed away, leaving him alone to watch over it.
Now Malatesta and Florian, being Francs, know that Luther Voss Lorrin died over 100 years ago.
Emma grips the table and declares that everyone’s old and dead in this place and they are going to get them, but Florian plays it calm and tells Magnus that Luther is well, and their country as strong as ever, and accepts Magnus’s chainmail as a gift, then they leave to go see Obediah, promising to bring Magnus back a few bottles of moonshine.
Obediah had already heard about them and invites them into his shitty kitchen, passing around dirty cups of moonshine. There’s a hide shield and a club with nails in it over his fireplace and he tells them he used them when he was young to deal with some bad sorts, but warns them to drop the subject. His wife Jezebel comes in to see the strangers with a swaddled baby in her arms, and Obediah asks how his little Fred was doing. “He’s still sickly Obediah, been that way since he was born, you know that.” says Jezebel.
Then Obediah and Aspurta have a drinking contest and Obediah very nearly beats the Devotee of the Corpulent One but falls out of his chair, black-out drunk, surrounded by empty bottles.
Jezebel slides her hand around Sangr’aal’s butt and asks if she’d like to come see something, and takes her outside to her bedroom hut.
After carefully putting baby Fred into his cradle, Jezebel starts to get sexy with Sangr’aal, but gets rejected pretty hard. But before she can tell Sangr’aal to leave Malatesta appears in the doorway and says “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUR CHILDREN?” way too loudly. Jezebel snatches Fred from his cradle and screams at them to get out, so Malatesta walks out to the hut where the other two children are sleeping, opens the door and sees that they’re normal scared/surprised-looking little kids, and slams the door on them.
Jezebel is screaming behind him so he turns around and slams her against the wall, one hand around her throat, demanding that she show him her baby. She pretty much has a death grip on the child and Sangr’aal starts grabbing Jezebel’s arse “to distract her so that she let’s go of the baby”, which doesn’t work and they both grab her arms to make her let go. Sangr’aal fails her roll so they tear Jezebel’s hands away but fail to catch the baby, and watch as it falls down to the hard planks of the deck.
But rather than the soft, painful thud they were expecting, they watch the baby hit the boards and roll out of its swaddling, pale, unfurling segmented legs lifting up its pudgy armless torso as it staggers off the walkway and into the foetid waters of the swamp.
Jezebel starts screaming and thrashing and Sangr’aal jumps into the water to catch the baby, where she picks it out of the muck, dips her finger into a vial of opium, and smears it around its gums to calm it down while it toothlessly bites at her.
Jezebel is still screaming so Malatesta tries to knock her out, and ends up punching her in the face about eight times yelling “CALM DOWN” before she loses consciousness, leaving her broken and bloody, but calmed.
They put the doped-up spider baby back into its cradle and tie Jezebel to her bed.
Because she wanted to get sexy with Sangr’aal they decide that she’s some kind of spider queen of this place that was going to infect her and turn her into another one, and debate about who is going to look under her skirt to check until Thoth-Mora summons an Unseen Servant to do it for them.
They all stand around the bed holding their breath while a force from beyond pulls up the skirts of a bloody-faced unconscious tied-up woman, and let out a sigh of relief/disappointment when they see that things are just a bit unkempt down there rather than some kind of curled up dark spider mandible horror.
While they’re discussing what to do next, which includes the quotes “We burn the house, everyone in it.” and “We’re fucked either way, but let’s make sure we know why we’re fucked.”, Obediah lurches into the doorway, slurring respect at Aspurta for his drinking prowess, and staggers over to the cradle to see his little Freddy. His drunken coos quickly turn into horrified sobs and cries of “WHAT IS THIS?”, and falls to his knees on the floor, raging about how they killed them all, that they burnt it out of the mountains, that he’s been betrayed.
Aspurta tells him to come back to the kitchen for a drink but he goes and gets a flaming torch instead and stalks over to the hut where his children are sleeping, screaming “DON’T YOU GET IT? THERE’S NO WAY TO TELL, THEY HAVE TO BURN.”
Aspurta, full of shrooms and moonshine, aims his crossbow and warns him to drop the torch, announces “I’m going to shoot him in the hand”, fires wildly off into the darkness of the swamp, and Obediah puts the torch to the bedroom door.
– – –
And that’s where we ended the first session! With an opium-addled spider baby and a bloodied unconscious woman tied to a bed and a hut full of children engulfed in flames.
Emma commented about how things got a little out of hand and that she just wanted to see the kid, “I thought it was going to be a Benjamin Button baby, even the babies are old”, and I think at one point she also thought the town was trying to infect them using the moonshine, because everyone was drinking it and mentioning Obediah.
Honestly I’ve never DM’ed or even played with such immediate and blatant murderhobos, it was almost fucking impressive.
After the game they got this email regarding their reason for coming to Cörpathium:
The short-term goals I rolled for you are things to give your characters a little bit of direction while you’re running around doing general murderhobo-biz, not necessarily something to head right off and do, but something to keep in mind and investigate and work towards and stuff.
Emma, Malatesta apparently came to hunt something, so you can either make up what that thing is, or choose one of the following:
A golden-eyed beast with a buffalo-sized head crowned with multiple spiralling horns, with drooling pink-flecked holes across its muzzle in place of a mouth. They say it moves faster that it has any right, and attracts harems of smaller creatures that ride upon its back, feeding on its blood. They say it can’t be killed, that its wounds close before your eyes.
Fog Walkers of the Broken Isle
Magnificent striding things on slender multi-jointed limbs, symbiotic creatures hanging from their shaggy pelts with bright eyes and wicked little hands. So tall and strong-limbed they’ve only ever been taken down by whole companies of Landsharpuniere with harpoon and rope.
The Many-Faced or Dividing Leopard Worm
A creeping mass of black-spotted yellow fur, voids gaping within the bunched mess of a head, bristling teeth like oily black quills. 15ft long tails thicker than your thigh drag behind the bulk before splitting away, hair separating, contracting and slithering with a mouth all their own.
The Moon-Fleshed Eel
They say a colossal albino eel slithers through the sewers beneath Cörpathium, that touching its pocked skin absorbs your flesh, melting from your bones and into its body. They say it knows the secrets of the very moon.
Sophie, Florian wants renown for something, so think about what you want that to be. It could be as an assassin, or a thief, or a dancer, or a lover of women, or whatever! If you want to make up some specific thing that he hopes to do to help get that renown, just tell me what it is and I’ll put it on the map.
So like, if he was all “I want to steal the twin blood rubies from the lactating statue of the Wounded Wretch”, there’d suddenly totally be some huge statue of the Wounded Wretch somewhere that has rubies for nipples.
The next time Rose worked with her I think Emma’s exact words were “I want to fight that fucking eel”, but Sophie’s still thinking about what she wants to be famous for.
Drinks: Bad Daddys, our own version of a Rum Daddy, using ginger beer, a wedge of lime, and a freshly infused bottle of Rumbling Roar of the Chaimera. This time we steeped 3 teaspoons of Chai and 3 teaspoons of Spi Chai for 5 hours, then strained it and put in two fresh teaspoons of Spi Chai for an hour and a half and holy shit, like being spanked with a licorice whip.
Foods: Big fat homemade nori rolls.
The hut goes up in flames so fast that there’s nothing they can do to stop it, so they hack off the walkway to keep it from spreading and pull Obediah back with them, and manage to wake up Jezebel to ask her a few questions.
Through split lips and broken teeth she snarls and refuses to tell them anything, “We would have had you”, she said, “we would have had you but now you’re fucking dead.”
Obediah leaves to get his club, and while he’s gone they hear someone shouting his name across the swamp and the sound of an oar splashing through the water, and Florian takes Aspurta’s crossbow and ducks out to see who it is.
Aspurta wanted to knock out Jezebel with the hilt of his dagger and I warned that she’d been hit in the head quite a bit already, which he decided to do anyway and rolled a crit, which meant he put more force behind the blow than he realised and smashed the butt of his dagger straight through her forehead, killing her in shuddering, spitting convulsions.
Outside, Florian and Obediah are talking to Mordechai, his cousin, who had seen the flames across the water. He asks where the children are and Obediah grabs him by the collar, screaming that he had to burn them.
Aspurta and Malatesta come out from the hut holding the baby swaddled in its blankets, tell Obediah there has been an accident, and tell Mordechai to follow them into the kitchen, where they place the baby on the table and unveil its hideous form to his horror.
Obediah can’t tell them any more about what had happened in the mountains all those years ago except that the van Kaus family were dabbling in something unholy and their children came out wrong, and that they had to wipe them out.
They ask him if he had seen his baby born though, and if he hadn’t, who did, and he has the sudden realisation that his aunt Sarah had delivered the baby while he was celebrating.
So he throws Aspurta his hunting bow and like six bottles of moonshine, gives Florian his hide shield, and jumps into Mordechai’s boat with his club while the rest get back into their boat.
As they pass the fort Magnus calls down to them from the watchtower, asking about the fire, and they assure him that everything’s alright, just a small accident with the moonshine, and tell him they’ll be back soon with the bottles he wanted. Then near the church they hear raised voices, so they drop off “the wizards” and keep following Obediah.
As they near the Duncaster house they see an older man fishing from the porch, who Obediah immediately starts screaming at, and douse their lantern to wait as he gets up and shuts himself inside the house.
Back at the church Thoth-Mora and Sangr’aal hear arguing coming from inside, and knock on the door when they can’t find any way to peak inside. The priest opens the door and yells back at Reginald Dunlop inside, “Well here they are, you can ask them yourself.”
Reginald has two of his old warhounds with him and demands the overdue payment for the use of his boat, and although he can’t say precisely how many days it’s been reckons it must be about two payments worth, and would also like to know what happened to Pearce, as he went by the house and nobody was there.
Thoth-Mora says that no one was at the house when they went there, but that there was a note saying that Pearce had left to go to Cörpathium, which Reginald doesn’t believe at all.
He asks where this supposed note was and Thoth-Mora tells him it was in the cellar, which is when Reginald gets angry and the dogs start to growl and they plead to the priest for help, who admits he doesn’t wholly trust them either because strange things have happened since they arrived like trap doors disappearing.
They manage to convince Reginald and the priest to take them back to the house though, where they’ll show them the note and clear all of this up.
Meanwhile at the Duncaster house, Mordechai has moored his boat and Obediah is smashing his club against the front door.
Malatesta, Florian, and Aspurta paddle silently around the house looking for another entrance, and while they only find a back window they also spy a small cabin up a hill a few hundred feet from the house.
Aspurta waits by the window, listening to Obediah break through the front door and start smashing around through the house before he comes to another door, while Malatesta and Florian walk up the hill to investigate the cabin.
About halfway between the house and the cabin, they see the door swing open and two young men start running down the hill with hand axes and a lantern in the direction of the noise coming from the house.
Florian calls out something like “oh hey, we’re lost, what are you guys doing?”, and the two men howl with rage at the sight of people on their land wielding crossbows and two-handed swords while all hell breaks loose in their parent’s house.
The one with the lantern runs straight at Malatesta and fumbles his attack, slipping in the mud, while Malatesta swings the zweihänder as hard as he can and shears through the young man’s waist, his legs coming to rest on the ground like he fell on his arse while his torso tumbles down the hill, smashing the lantern.
His brother and Florian take wild swings at each other until Malatesta turns around and cries “I’M GONNA BUM RUSH ‘IMMMMM” and lunges back down the hill, hitting him so hard that the sword plunges straight through his belly and out his back until the guard hits his spine, leaving Malatesta still gripping the hilt up to his forearms in intestines.
Up the hill they see a huge silhouette in the doorway and finger-y shadows splay out from the sides of its face as it screams “MY BROTHEEERRRS!”, before charging down the hill, a short sword in each hand.
Florian starts loading a bolt on his crossbow and Malatesta announces “I’M GONNA STAB ‘IIIMM” and heaves himself around to face the other way, waiting to roll a Gambit attack, sword sticking out in front of him, corpse still hanging around his hands.
As the spider-faced man closes within reach they fail Initiative and watch as he makes a Gambit roll of his own, trying to leap over Malatesta’s blade and drive both swords into his flesh. He misses both rolls, fumbles, and launches through the air only to skewer himself on Malatesta’s sword, held in the air like a pike, sliding down the blade until he collides with his brothers corpse, fangs thudding into the back of his skull and spilling venom down his neck.
Back by the window Aspurta fails his surprise roll and feels snare wires loop around his ankles and throat before someone yanks him to the murky ground and starts dragging him. He pulls out his dagger to cut the wire around his throat but loses it in the shallow water, hitting the back of his skull against a boat as he’s pulled into it and a bag is pulled over his head. Someone pins him on his belly and tries to bind his hands but he manages to throw them off, then tries to pull off the bag and spin around to face his attacker, but fumbles the roll. Aspurta gets the bag off his head but pulls the wire tighter around his neck when he spins around, seeing a bushy grey beard and a weathered face that spits on him before he blacks out.
Florian and Malatesta turn around in time to see someone drag him away from the house, but stop to get all the bodies off Malatesta’s sword and are too late to catch them.
Back at Pearce Dunlop’s house Reginald demands that the wizards show him this letter in the cellar that says Pearce left to go to Cörpathium. The priest wanders around the house and the dogs start getting excited and run into the cellar when they get closer.
At the top of the cellar stairs Thoth-Mora steps behind Reginald with the silver candlestick he salvaged from the wreck (nobody ever thought to give him a weapon), but loses Initiative and Reginald jumps out of the way and calls for his dogs. Sangr’aal tries to “boob bounce” him down the stairs but just knocks him against the door frame, then Thoth-Mora swings at him with the candlestick and shoves at the same time, knocking him out but getting his arm tangled in Reginald’s falling body, dragging him down the stairs towards the barking dogs.
The priest runs around the corner and demands to know what’s happening, and Sangr’aal says “um he fell?”
The priest starts muttering and darkness clouds his eyes, then black hands emerge from the floor and grab Sangr’aal by the ankles, dragging her down into the floor.
Thoth-Mora shoves Reginald’s old body off of him and runs back up the stairs, slamming the door shut before the dogs can get their teeth in him.
The priest draws a glass dagger and takes a step back, and demands to know what is going on, but when he sees Sangr’aal sobbing and jiggling tits-deep in the floor saying “I JUST, DON’T, KNO-ho-HOOOW!” he actually calms down a bit.
The wizards tell him that Obediah Duncaster has had a spider baby and burnt his children alive and that he’s gone to confront his aunt and uncle about it and that they think Reginald is in on it too, and the priest’s eyes return to normal, raising Sangr’aal up out of the floor. He agrees to go with them to see Obediah, and finds the key to lock Reginald and his dogs in the cellar in the meantime.
When everyone, aside from Aspurta who has been kidnapped, enters the Duncaster home they find the interior smashed to pieces, Mordechai holding his head in his hands, and a dull wet thud coming from a side room.
When they go to look they find Obediah beating in the last of Noah Duncaster’s head, brain matter dripping from his spiked club, a woman with a caved-in head slumped in the corner. “They wouldn’t tell me anything, but they fucking knew.” he says.
Malatesta and Florian describe what happened to Aspurta and Obediah and Mordechai agree that the only person capable of that is old Uncle Ivanovik, a crazy who lives out beyond the van Kaus mausoleum.
Aspurta wakes up in a filthy room tied to a chair, a bloody doctor’s bag open on the table in front of him, with a dead man tied to a chair on either side of him deprived of their eyes, arms, legs, and tongues, while a bearded man sharpens a knife and growls depravities with his back turned in the corner.
Outside, Malatesta has climbed a tree and is shimmying along a thick vine, sword gripped between his knees, and Obediah is wading towards a rope ladder hanging from the deck of the stilt hut.
Uncle Ivanovik finishes sharpening his knife and turns around to remove some things from Aspurta, who spits in his face and starts muttering the rites of Command at the same moment that Obediah tries to haul himself up the rope ladder, pulling a pile of rocks on top of himself and leaving him a dying 1hp mess in Mordechai’s arms. The noise distracts Ivanovik long enough for Aspurta to finish his ritual and shout “DEFENESTRATE” at Ivanovik, with a 50/50 chance of throwing himself or Aspurta out the window.
Florian watches from below as a man hurls himself through the side window and flops into the water full of shards of glass, and Aspurta calls out to ask if someone can untie him.
Florian notices rustling reeds and a pale shape moving towards him under the water and looses a bolt from his crossbow before dropping it and drawing his short sword, when the shape closes in and Florian and Ivanovik make their contested attack rolls. Florian misses, and Ivanovik rolls a natural 20 on his defence roll, which means he stabs his rusty dagger deep into Florian’s calf, then hits on his own attack and drops Florian to 0hp, wrenching the blade around and all-but-severing the lower half of Florian’s leg from his body.
Halfway across the vine above, Malatesta sees Florian fall back in a cloud of blood and a pale shape in the water where he was standing, and the last thing Florian sees before he loses consciousness is Malatesta making a successful Gambit roll to swing off the vine above him, grab hold of the two-handed sword between his knees, and splash down blade-first into the water.
More blood clouds out into the filthy swamp but Malatesta feels the thing he cut push away from him beneath the water, so he snatches the short sword from Florian’s body and hacks down. Ivanovik bursts up from the water howling with pain and hate, rusted knives in his hands, filthy droplets shaking from his ragged beard, and Malatesta wins Initiative and stabs forward at his throat without a word or expression and drives the sword straight through his neck.
They drag Florian and Obediah to Ivanovik’s boat and Malatesta hoists Sangr’aal up to the hut’s deck to free Aspurta. They sever the tiny piece of flesh keeping Florian’s leg attached and Aspurta pulls some witch-doctor shit over him and casts Cure Light Wounds, completely healing him, albeit without the lower part of his right leg.
Then they decide he needs a peg leg and Thoth-Mora offers his candlestick, which Sophie wasn’t sold on until Emma said “He only steals good shit it’s a good candlestick!”, and Aspurta played field medic and bound it onto Florian’s stump.
Obediah is coughing blood all over himself and tells Aspurta that he’s ready to see the power of this god of his, and says that if Aspurta can heal him, he’ll follow him anywhere. Aspurta pours a bottle of moonshine down Obediah’s throat and makes a Hand of God roll to cast Cure Light Wounds again, rolls a perfect success, completely heals him, and gains a devoted convert.
They head back to the church, and maybe the more interesting thing at this point would have been to round up everyone in town or go house to house playing “whose kid is a spider?”, but it was nearing midnight and I think we all wanted to bring this place to a conclusion, so Florian and Aspurta go to the fort to bring Magnus Quartermaine his moonshine and tell him everything that has happened, which gets him all excited for some action and he goes to round up some able-bodied Samsons so that they can all go into the mountains.
He meets them later at the church with Jack and Dunc Samson, who drawl something snide about Duncaster heritage when they’re shown the baby but seem otherwise unfazed (I also forgot that the Duncasters were supposed to refuse to deal with the Samsons at all but whatever), so they throw it into a sack and give it to the priest to carry and they pile into their various boats to head towards the mountains.
Aspurta stops in at Obediah’s house to raid his pantry, collect some more bottles of moonshine, and break off some chair legs for wizard weapons, and further out Magnus and the Samsons stop to tie up their boat at a lonely little stilt house with intermittent screams coming from it. Magnus calls out not to worry, it’s just lobsters, and Emma gets ready to fight everyone, but another Samson named Jefro comes out of the hut smoking a pipe and jumps into Magnus’s boat to accompany them.
After rowing on through the swamp for a while Aspurta sees a large ropey vine-like plant covered with bright yellow flowers (from Ben L.’s swamp encounters), and when he starts rowing closer sees an armoured knight backed up against it calling for help while several naked muck-covered beings shamble towards him.
They then essentially stand in their boat yelling questions at him and threatening to shoot him with a crossbow as some kind of test to see if he’s legit or something until Magnus rows past, scolds them for not helping a man in need, and jumps into the water with the Samsons to assist the knight.
Dunc and Jefro fail their saves after breathing in the plant’s pollen and stagger towards it while Jack swears and tries to pull them back, and Magnus suddenly finds himself fighting back both the naked muck men and the bloody knight.
Florian and Aspurta pepper the muck men with arrows while Thoth-Mora summons an Unseen Servant to push Magnus’s boat closer to him. Magnus hacks apart a couple of the muck men and throws himself into the boat with minor wounds, and the Unseen Servant pulls the boat to safety.
Meanwhile Jack has let go of his kin to fight off the other muck men and the knight, and Dunc and Jefro have embraced the plant while tendril-like vines drill through their skulls. Florian puts a crossbow through the knight’s visor and Jack actually puts up a good fight, killing another of the muck men even while bits of him are hanging off, but eventually they drag him down and everyone else leaves.
The swamp waters thin out as they reach the Dunnhills and they make camp on the first dry land they come to, tying up the boats and putting “the wizards” on first watch.
After they figure they’ve rested long enough they follow a well-worn old trail up the mountain from the riverside, which eventually turns into ancient stone steps leading to the crumbling ruins of the van Kaus legacy, broken masonry covered in moss and frost, the remains of enormous rotted wooden doors, and an open stone arch into a mostly-still-standing tower.
They scout around it looking for other entrances then Aspurta and Florian climb up the spiral staircase of the tower until they reach the open platform at the top, where the sky is dark and clear rather than the twilight they’ve become accustomed to, full of stars brighter than they’ve ever seen. On the stone floor they find the faint remains of chalk lines which Aspurta identifies as some kind of magical markings, and sends for Thoth-Mora.
Thoth-Mora prances up the stairs and makes his save vs. Cursed Device, telling the others that this place has some kind of super, really powerful magic, but that he doesn’t know what it is or how to use it. So they head back down.
The rotted doors open onto cold dark steps that lead at least sixty feet below the earth, at the base of which a hallway runs to the left and right.
They head left around the curving hallway full of faint, weak spider webs until they come to a long room like a servant’s quarters, and walk past rows of wooden beds with slashed rotted mattresses holding dead, sleeping bones. At the end of the room Aspurta and Obediah find a locked door and a more recent, desiccated human corpse, which Obediah loots for 7gp and an iron longsword with a closed eye set in the hilt.
The wizards, who were made to walk backwards behind the rest of the party, notice some kind of dark, curled shape in the corner of the ceiling amongst the thicker spider webs as they enter the room, and watch a human shape naked apart from the rotting cowl over its head and shoulders unfurl and slither out through the webs, glaring down at them with a mess of hungry eyes and a slack, drooling mouth dripping green bile onto the floor, which makes Sangr’aal vomit green goo everywhere which keeps churning after it hits the floor.
Thoth-Mora calls out nervously to the others as it drops in front of him, web still stringing out from the twitching silk glands above its arse.
Obediah screams at it and charges with his new sword, fumbles, and trips over a bed, while Malatesta drops his zweihänder on a mattress, pulls out his flail and starts winding it up, then shoves the wizards aside and sweeps the flail up through the spider-thing’s jaw, wrenching the head from its body and flinging bile everywhere.
They head back out and past the stairs to investigate the other hallway, where they can hear growing chittering sounds, like a whisper, and pass under several shafts of pale moonlight driven straight up through the ceiling until they come to the main hall.
Thick white strands criss-cross between and around the four thick pillars and into the vaulted ceiling, completely obscuring the top from sight. Old, broken skeletons litter the floor, and in the centre of the room, on an ornate oaken chair on a raised dais, a yellowed skeleton sits wearing a mottled reddish robe, a bronze axe severed through its neck and embedded into the throne so that the skull rests upon it rather than the body.
The party spreads out along the wall with torches in hand, and Aspurta fires a flaming arrow into the air, burning through web and embedding into the ceiling above. But before he can fire another they hear a gypsy-ish female voice calling to Obediah from the hallway.
She walks into the room with an older man but before she can say much the priest yells “SWAMP WITCH!” and they begin mumbling incantations at each other. Her man-friend charges forward with a knife, gets side-stepped by Aspurta, and stumbles neck-first into Malatesta’s swinging sword. Aspurta lurches at the witch and slaps her across the face with Delirium Tremens and she fails her save, falling to the floor vomiting blood and shitting herself to death under the full transferred weight of the Devotee’s intoxication.
While Aspurta pulls several bottles of moonshine out of his pack to pour down his throat and Sangr’aal rifles through the witch’s skirts and steals some kind of indented glass eye with a painted iris, Magnus cops a dagger in the neck from the direction of the dais, and they look up to see some kind of spider centaur man with extra atrophied arms and daggers in its hands. Florian fires a crossbow bolt at it which glances off its bristled pale, hard skin, and Malatesta and Obediah charge at it with swords in the air.
Thoth-Mora turns around to find a sickly, pathetic thing dropping from the wall behind him, swaying venom sacks hanging from its throat like goiters. It fails to surprise or win Iniative so he pushes it back with a shriek and stabs the knife Malatesta gave him straight through its face.
Malatesta and Obediah swing at the spider centaur hard, pretty much cleaving off its legs and spilling its guts over the floor before it can do anything else, but then a fucking enormous 6HD spider drops in front of them and narrowly misses biting Malatesta in the face.
Thoth-Mora flings his chair leg at it and almost hits Obediah, and Aspurta screams for everyone to get out before beginning to chant a ritual. Mordechai steps in close and whispers “You will never harm the great spider” into Aspurta’s ear, then drives a dagger into his stomach.
He pulls the knife out but gets shoved away before he can stab again, and while a bleeding Magnus and Sangr’aal beat Mordechai away Aspurta runs at the spider and lays his hands on its side, making a Hand of God roll to use Delirium Tremens again which succeeds but causes him to fall to his knees weeping tears of blood and mucus that curl upwards and fall into the ceiling.
The spider fails its save but it isn’t enough to kill it and it scutters around, legs slipping and staggering beneath it, Obediah takes a wild swing and Malatesta dives at it, missing and landing between its legs, then Florian rolls a Gambit and runs at the dais with his fucking silver candlestick pegleg, launches himself off the arm of the throne, knocking the skeleton away but leaving the skull sitting on the axe, flies through the air in some kind of 300-esque slow motion sequence, and drives his sword through the giant spider’s face in a shower of spider blood and ocular fluid.
They all turn to look at Mordechai, who says “the great spider… all is lost”, and slits his own throat.
– – –
And then we all went to fucking bed because it was laaaaaaaate.
Emma wears a constant “I’m so surprised/stoked” look on her face when we play and Sophie just sent me a photo of her first set of dice saying “Guess who means business now?”, so I guess it’s fairly safe to say that we’re going to be playing a lot more DEE UHN DEE together.
OKAY SO THAT WAS THE GAME BUT HOW ABOUT SOME FINAL IMPRESSIONS ON SCENIC DUNNSMOUTH?
I really like the way Dunnsmouth gets set up, with its random dice rolls and set pieces and characters and levels of infection, but I’d say that its level of re-playability is a bit overstated.
The big turning point is finding out that there’s a spider cult at all, it doesn’t really matter so much who is and who isn’t infected, so presenting the same group of players with the same scenario but a different setup doesn’t really make it another worthwhile adventure, because they already know the big secret, and they just have to go around weeding it out.
So, re-playable for the DM? Definitely, it’s a bit different every time and it’s fun to make. Re-playable for the players? If I was playing I’d be bored.
The idea of presenting it as some kind of in-between stop on the way to the real adventure works brilliantly, the girls lost their minds when they found the spider baby at the end of that first session, up to that point they thought it was just an annoying weird swamp town full of idiots.
However, I think you need a decent reason for them to be getting involved in people’s lives in the first place. The hooks suggested by the adventure are tax collecting, searching for the Time Cube, and investigating some ancient evil in the mountains, and since the evidence of the spider cult only really manifests in the children and everyone’s really protective of them, using those hooks seems to leave discovery of the cult up to a party member being kidnapped unless the infected families suddenly start parading their freak kids around for some reason.
Speaking of the evil in the mountains, I replaced it with an original spider cult infestation because I thought adding yet another thing was a bit too much. Granted, I shipwrecked them so I didn’t actually need a hook to get them there, but the adventure already has a spider cult that they won’t find out about unless they start breaking into people’s crawlspaces or get kidnapped, eternal twilight and a Time Cube that nobody besides Magda seems to know about and she would never tell them about it so they probably won’t find it unless they run into it with their boat, and then you add some ancient evil that everyone talks about but is entirely unrelated that can be awakened in the mountains? Too much mystery and not enough clues.
My main disappointment though was with the NPCs.
Using a page-per-NPC is easy to read and the notes about how they’ll act if infected are a nice touch, but on the whole they’re all fairly same-y and unlikeable. I think there are maybe three characters who are genuinely endearing, which means that even if the players expose the cult, dealing with it then just comes down to “let’s kill some spider freaks” rather than the “WE HAVE TO HELP THESE PEOPLE!” which would actually bring about the morally reprehensible decisions that the adventure promises.
On top of that, apart from a couple mentions of “this family doesn’t like that family”, I felt there was a distinct lack of built-in relationships for a bunch of people living in a swamp with nothing to do where there are only four family groups. Where are the inter-NPC rivalries and feuds? Where is the drama? Where are the things that would actually help get players involved in the terrible lives of these backwoods idiots?
Now sure, this (as well as everything else I’ve said) can all be fixed with some extra work of your own, but the NPC descriptions make up the majority of the damn book.
All in all it was fun to play, has a really great setup method, a few good ideas, a bunch of okay ones, and is probably worth getting even just to flip through, but it wasn’t the transcendent body horror mystery adventure experience I was imagining when I first saw Zzarchov mention it a couple of years ago.
But still, I had fun.