The party came upon a section of the adventure that I had written in as a lark but is not needed for the adventure itself. It's got a bit more powerful enemies and issues with it, plus there is the possibility for some world changing effects if they follow it to the end.
My favorite part though are the enchanted boats - one's a barge, the other a sloop. Both obviously royal in line and design, well maintained and fancifully carved, the type of ship you could picture any well heeled noble to own.
And they both can kick ass. Right now they are still learning about them but if they can figure out how best to drive them, they have some wonderful things at their fingertips and under their boots.
Write up follows:
With the snowfall continuing we were unwilling to risk leaving now or soon and went over our food stores, which were pitiful. Two days, tops? There was talk about clearing out the former garden bed along the courtyard and planting the potatoes while Flimflam performed a plant growth spell on them. This would triple the potato portion of our rations after a couple of spells and should give us another two days at the end of all things.
But where do we go? Back to Varohlem and face the Baron? Lie to him about what we found or just bow to the agreement we made and give him half? What about if he tried to take it all? Could we risk taking the river all the way and not running into problems? None of us were boatmen and we’d have to either steal one or pay off someone else to take us, and the rivermen were all pretty tight and connected to the Baron.
What about skipping Varohelm and going overland? That would mean we’d have to risk the giant cats and the Reisenvald that wander the woods. There were also according to the locals the former orc enclave to the north near Stormbringer Peak and the other wizard’s former base. Do we go there? How does the Skychariot fit in? We’d need horses to run it properly but we didn’t have any and the people of Varohelm had ponies, oxen, and donkeys. Not going to help us much.
We mulled these over for almost an hour while the snow fell and then split up the party a bit with a number of the people slogging to the courtyard and clear off the snow to start tearing the old planting beds apart. Steiner, Geld, Tranis, Flimflam, Avidius, and Erd were going to head river to what we could see at the limit of visibility was some sort of lake and seemed to a small falls that fed the river here. Marcs was left in charge and the rest of the group was working hard to bring the gardens out in the open.
We trudged out of Castle Sterling, the bar dropping in place as we walked away. We stayed near the river but not too close where we might fall in or slip, the snow billowing against our faces, a trail forming in the foot deep plus drifts. It took us almost 25 minutes to walk to 1/3 of a mile across the snow covered swampy ground, the land sloping up as we went further uphill and towards the lake. We could see the river was blocked by an ancient dam of fitted stones. It was wide, 70’ or so, and the top had water running over the 8’+ width of the stones there. We could not tell how tall the dam was but we assumed it was over 30’ based upon the depth of the river here.
The space beyond the dam was blocked up, forming a lake roughly a quarter mile wide by a half mile long. Abutting the dam on the far shore was a squat house of formed stone, maybe 25’ square, and a couple of small windows looking out. We could risk getting there by crossing the top of the dam but the rushing water and freezing temperature made everyone uncomfortable with that idea.
On our side of the lake, another 2-300’ beyond the dam was a leaning boathouse. From here we could see the doors were still closed and the roof although sagging, still seemed sound. With little conversation, we headed to the boathouse to check it out. There were two doors to enter but were currently closed and choked with snow. So we used our shovels and then crowbars to pry the door open and finally peer inside.
The boathouse was roughly 100’ wide and 50’ deep, with most of it constructed so it was actually built over the lake. Over the years it had settled slightly and leaned into the lake. There were three docks inside and 2 boats tied up to them. One was a single masted sloop that would seat 6 or 7, and the other was a 3 ton travel barge, rear ruddered and looked like 8 rowers from below decks to power it. The group decided the check out the barge first. Getting on it was difficult since the pier was in poor shape and the landing ramp was down the end of the pier. Flimflam dared it and Avidius used Darkblade to port himself onto the deck of the barge. Together the two friends then dragged the landing ramp onboard and then thrust it over the back of the barge to the back of the boathouse.
Everyone now on board we looked around. The deck was gritty and dirty, but the ropes, anchors, and poles and gaffs were put away properly. There was a set of steps going down to the cargo hold and the center of the deck did lift away to drop cargo below this way. We went below, the ceiling was only 6’ and most of us had to duck. A set of hammocks and a simple galley was near the bow, and towards the back was the captain’s quarters. We looked in and noted it was pretty empty and sodden from over a decade of poor weather.
The mattress was a mess and the papers had all turned to pulp. There was a flop-desk near the aft but the blotter that once sat on it was now gone. Scratched into the wood were the numbers “4763” which we noted. There was a foot locker that was still sealed and inside was the barge captain formal dress: shirt, pants, hat, and boots. The bottom of the footlocker was not level with the ground and some digging and prying had us lift it and reveal a handful of gold and silver coins as well as a number of fancy stones. Nice.
As for the captain’s belongings, Steiner and Avidius got into a good natured back and forth on who owns it with the priest claiming the medallioned tri-corner hat as his own and refused to take it off. All that was left was to check out the bilge and for that we made our way to the front of the cargo deck and lifted the bilge hatch. It was dark down there, and the odor wasn’t that bad. A quick light was used and we saw the bilge area was about 18” tall above water and minimal decking which was a single length of wood that ran the length of the keel into the darkness of the ship. The water was dark and we guessed perhaps a foot or so deep. No one wanted to touch it.
Flimflam volunteered to crawl the length of the bilge and make sure nothing was down there so he made his way within, and on hands and knees, crawled along the boards towards the back of the ship. It was while he was almost there that he noted a box on the decking against the back of the barge by the rudder shield. It was a foot and a half by a foot by 8 inches, had no obvious lid or seams, and was held in place by 4 silver chains that connected each corner to the hull of the barge. WTF?
Avidius? Can you come down here and check this out? The thief good naturedly grumbled his way into the smelly barge and crawled to the druid. Swapping places they took a look at it and he was sure it wasn’t trapped but didn’t see how to open it. When he said “Open up” though, the top of the box lifted away with a faint hum and we looked inside. There was an elongated dried heart that the chains of the box ran through and were buried in the flesh – pulling it taut. Flimflam asked to see any magic and the box/heart glowed, along with the chains, and faintly the base of the barge. Crap – the barge was magical. Flimflam was convinced the heart was from some sort of giant avian, a Roc maybe?
The two of them ran from the bilge and we followed them as they went to the top deck and back to the rudder where they looked through the fanciful carvings on everything and there it was, right in the middle of the rudder handle, a spread winged bird taking up a lot of the surface. We wanted to try the barge out.
So two of us went down the cargo deck where they each grabbed an oar and prepared themselves. Steiner, still wearing the captain’s hat, took his place at the helm. Tranis worked the pulleys overhead until the ropes went taut and the boathouse doors leading the lake slowly opened. The last two brought the landing ramp aboard and then used the guide poles to push us off the pier and out into the water.
The barge was difficult to maneuver, plus we only had 1/4th of the oars manned, and the rudder did turn but it was slow and with almost no forward momentum, Steiner couldn’t get much out of it. We then looked for levers, switches – none. So that left Steiner calling out and willing and trying things. It was “up” that triggered something. The barge shuddered under our feet and then majestically rose out of the water until only the keel and the rudder were left on the lake. The oars still were able to function and the entire 3 ton travel barge was hovering 2’ out of the water.
Now when we maneuvered the barge it went much better, the massive vessel skipping along as very little of it was actually in the water! We were able to get it up to a fast walking speed and the turns were sharp and easy as the barge listed over. We also were able to coast a bit but when Steiner took his hands off the rudder the barge crumped back down to the lake surface. Testing a bit more he was able to get us to come down smoother if he said “down”.
So now we wanted to test out the single masted sloop, so we drove the barge back to the boathouse, turned it around, and back paddled it into place. Once there we tied it back up and pulley shut the doors. Steiner left the captain’s hat back in the captain’s quarters and we made our way off the barge and onto the sloop.
It was smaller, still very well made, and in decent condition. We climbed aboard and looked around. The sail was wrapped against the boom and tied in place; the rudder was at the back of the boat and had a single seat there. There was seating for 6 others and the bilge hatch was near the rudder but was smaller, perhaps 2’ square tops.
We looked around and found a space under the helmsman’s seat that had another box with 6 silver chains and a chunk of lumpy grey metal banded to the transom. We looked in the box and found the chains went through it until they were lodged in an elongated and stretched heart – this one some sort of feline (according to our druid).
So we went to pole the sloop out of the dock after opening the bay doors and realized that with the slow sinking of the boat house over the years, the mast did not clear the lintel anymore. We thought of different ways to drop the sloop 4-6 inches to get it to clear but it was Steiner, hand on the tiller who said “down” and the front of the boat literally dove down and water started to flow over the gunwales. “Up! Up! Up!” and the boat righted itself. We heard water racing into the bilge and the deck eventually cleared with water.
Ok, trying it again, Steiner held the rudder tight and willed the sloop “down” again until the mast cleared the lintel, then we poled ourselves out of the house and he relaxed it and though up and we returned to normal. It took us almost 15 minutes to learn to raise and lower the single sail but once we did, it became a breeze.
We then put the boat through its paces and tried out a bunch of scenarios. It was fast, like a horse cantering sort of fast. Also, it could jump; 7’ up and with a full sail, 60’ across. The jumps and drops played havoc on the passengers and we were jostled a bunch. The situation got more interesting when Steiner mused back on the down thing, wondering why it would do that? So tentatively said down…and the sloop nosed over and dived.
Water washed in front of us, up and up and up until we were below the water in a bubble of air. The deck around the mast was now glowing in a white circle that as we watched, a sliver appeared along the 12 o clock position and then slowly, slowly crawled to the right. We could stick our hands out the side of the boat and touch the water with no negative impacts. And we kept up the decent speed under the water.
We sailed about a bit before resurfacing and then feeling confident, decided that we were going to dock it over on the opposite shore near the dam house. So we got closer and closer and then the sail was dropped but the sloop nosed up and actually rode up on the land at least 7’! What the hell? We raised sail again and Steiner was able to drive the sloop on the land until it nosed back into the water. The boat goes on land. Very nice.
We drove it back around, pulled up to the dock and once more docked it partially on land. From there we disembarked and tied the boat up at a cypress tree that was close to the water and then turned as one to enter the dam house.