Evil stirs in a sunken stone chamber. A malevolent ripple courses unseen through the fabric of space and time. “Soon,” echoes a sinister voice in the chamber, “worlds shall bow to me or wither. Magic and fate shall be mine to command.” The chamber begins to hum with energy. “The momentary flash of Life against the vastness of the eternities shall be swallowed by Death, ever infinite.
“My hour is nigh.”
Mountain, jungle, and oceans away, on the open sea off the Sword Coast, glides The Barracuda, a two-masted sailing ship with a ballista mounted on one end and a mangonel on the other. Dark clouds hang overhead, and the waves grow choppy. The sails are secured except a topsail, and the crew battens down the hatches before securing below deck. A storm approaches, though it doesn’t appear terribly dangerous. Not yet.
In the galley are four long tables flanked by benches, where sit the crew and the band of marines hired for the expedition. The ship had left its home port of Waterdeep over a week ago, headed south to the shores of Chult to claim the bounty on several pirate vessels marauding visiting merchant ships. The adventurers hired as marines – the boarding party – had generally made themselves a part of the crew; some, however did not.
A tan, gray-haired elf whose haunted eyes were an unusual red color had kept to himself most of the voyage. Whenever he was not eating, sleeping, or standing watch topside, he was pouring over books and vials in one corner of the marine berthing. His name was Iralan, though he told this to but a few.
Cronan Treebane, on the other hand, was a household name by now. The colorful Half-Orc had spent nearly every night regaling the crew with fantastic tales of ancient heroes who dutifully abstained from consuming any animal-based food, ointments, or other sundries. At this point several of the crew now feel a twinge of guilt as they sit down to eat the cook’s stew each night.
Cronan’s closest companions were Aura, a Chultan Aarakocra scholar, and a slinky Tabaxi they called Tweety. The latter found the occasional seagull just irresistible, quickly scaling the rigging to catch it. Sometimes, Tweety seemed to look at Aura the same way. Cronan would dutifully remind her that birds are friends, not food.
Another odd pair was Ragar Sunforger and Miznar Boltbreaker, a hulking Minotaur and an inventive Goblin of some kind, respectively, though neither of them quite resembled the types familiar to this world. Ragar was adorned in armor emblazoned with a white first on a red shield, and slung over his shoulder was an ornate maul, easily the size of his Goblin companion. Not to be outdone, Miznar wore a pair of metalwork goggles and carried some kind of exotic firearm with a pair of candles – one whose flame burned red when activated, the other blue – fixed near the barrel’s breech instead of a magazine. Whatever it is, the image of the keen-witted Goblin walking around with the contraption was enough to unnerve many of the crew.
Finally, two more shady figures rounded out the boarding party: Wren, a short, Half-Elven woman with striking features, dark raiment, and thick chain armor was accompanied by Eden, a young, wiry Elf-maid clad in a dark cloak, who seemed almost like Wren’s shadow, appearing with her almost exclusively.
That night in the galley, as the storm clouds gathered and rain began to fall, Ragar sat on the galley bench next to the marine sergeant, a Goliath called Barney the Blunderbuss. The two dwarfed anyone else on the ship, and the bench bent beneath their colossal combined weight. “So, you, uh, ever been through the Triangle before?” Barney asked. The Triangle referred to the open sea north of Chult, surrounded on three sides by the Sea of Swords, the Shining Sea, and the Rackless Sea. “They say it’s mighty bad luck to sail in the Triangle. ‘S part of why Chult is still so isolated: sailing there’s a bit of a risk, plenty of ships don’t make it. Taken by the waves…or something worse.” Barney took another bite of stew. “Of course, you can’t believe everything you hear. Shouldn’t get too superstitious.”
After dinner, Miznar carefully scales the forward mast to relieve the watch in the crow’s nest. The wind picks up as the sun’s light fades totally from the sky. The clouds cover the moon and stars, and the patter of rain on the wooden deck combines with the wind to drown out any oth–wait…what was that? Between gusts of wind, Miznar hears a faint, constant tone. A conch? There it is again. Yes, a conch on the wind. Miznar knows only one breed of monster would be out in a storm and signalling on a conch: Sahuagin.
He alerts the helmsman, who pulls a rope that strikes a bell below decks: the alarm. All hands move to their battle stations, the adventurers to the deck. Lanterns are lit and hung on each of the masts. Cronan climbs into the aft crow’s nest, Miznar remains in the other, and the rest of the adventurers fan out across the deck. After a moment, dark, scaly hands grasp the edge of the deck and begin to pull monstrous forms up onto the deck. In the darkness and rain, all that is apparent is arms, legs, a tail, and what looks like spines coming out of the forearms and head. Lightning flashes in the distance, illuminating their flat, fish-like faces with jet black orbs for eyes and rows of teeth inside their fin-flanked mouths.
Just as the party raises their weapons to strike, something slams into the ship, sending them reeling. The adventurers quickly recover and go on the offensive: Cronan launches into a menacing Orcish war dance, which frightens one of the Sahuagin still clutching the side of the ship. Wren gives a shout and bone-like demon wings appear on her back, as the air around her ripples with a dark energy. Another Sahuagin frightened. Miznar lets loose a Chaos Bolt which erupts into flaming energy as it slams into one of the Sahuagin who barely manages to roll up onto the deck. Iralan imbues his double-ended Elvish scimitar with the dark magic that courses through his veins and downs an elixir of some kind before slicing clean through one of the still-climbing Sahuagin’s forearms, sending him plummeting back into the water.
The Sahuagin leap onto the deck and bring the fight to the adventurers, but to little avail. Soon Ragar charges and gores one with a horn, while Tweety plays whack-a-mole with the Sahuagin frightened by Cronan. Another Chaos Bolt rains down from the forward crow’s nest, melting a Sahuagin’s face off. Iralan deftly spins his double-ended scimitar, slicing through the Sahuagin flocking to him as the scent of his blood sends them into a frenzy.
Three more Sahuagin emerge from the aft of the ship: one stands taller and lither than her companions, clad in a robe, necklace, and brass bracelets. She raises her arm towards Iralan and begins muttering in a harsh tongue. Iralan focuses on her, blood running from his nose, creating a connection to her blood, and forces her arm down, ending whatever she was about to cast. The two Sahuagin beside her charge in towards him.
Cronan swings down from the crow’s nest back to the deck and joins Tweety in finishing off the Sahuagin on the ship’s port side. Ragar finishes off the gored Sahuagin and begins to clear out the others near Wren, who has taken some blows. All that remains is the caster and the clump surrounding Iralan. Iralan parries away their blows with accelerated speed, but he can’t keep it up for long. The caster raises her other arm and once again mutters the words of a spell; the wounds of the Sahuagin Iralan already cut begin to magically heal before his eyes. SLAM! The ship is rocked by another impact. The heroes remain steady, but Iralan, having spent his own life force to power his attacks, fears the worst as he is now surrounded by three Sahuagin at full strength.
Wren and Ragar crash into the Sahuagin behind him, cutting them to ribbons. Cronan magically transmits the most disturbing image of the effect of an animal-based diet into the mind of the Sahuagin caster, causing her great pain and to lose her grip on reality and flee back into the waves momentarily. She shakes it off and returns, only to find Iralan standing over her remaining guard’s lifeless form. A cloud of magical daggers appears and begins cutting her from various angles. Before she can escape, a final Chaos Bolt slams into her mind, and as her consciousness begins to melt she rips out her own eyes. As black blood begins to pool around her limp figure on the deck, the power of the blast continues on into the ocean, causing the ten-foot tall fin of a gigantic shark creature to emerge and spasm. After a moment, the fin speeds away from The Barracuda.
As the rush of battle gives way, the rest of the crew appears topside. The First Mate, a broad-shouldered Human male in a double-breasted coat, tricorn hat, and trim blond hair pulled in a ponytail congratulates the new marines. “The fight is ours, men! Your skills are formidable. If you do that well against the pirates in a few more days, we’ll all be rich! Huzzah!”
And so ended the first session of a Tomb of Annihilation campaign. I’m trying a new intro to the main quest thread, hope it works. So far, so good. The characters are certainly awesome.