(Wait! What happened to Episodes 1-6? Is this some kind of George Lucas thing?)
The party is on the far trader Fortuna, leaving the City for the first time on a mission to the haunted island of Ryzien in order to retrieve a key piece of data for one of their benefactors. On the way there they stop to resupply at Tendyra, a Cuba-sized island just off the Imperial mainland which is fabled for its hot springs and its oracular priestesses. When the Fortuna nears its intended destination- a port city named Namala on Tendyra's westernmost shore- the players learn that Empire is blockading the harbor and searching any incoming vessels. This presents a slight problem for Captain Heijun Kiin, for not only is he carrying normal trade goods in the hold of his ship but some politically-sensitive cargo as well in the form of a shipment of books that he is trying to deliver at his mother's behest. Without getting too spoilery, the books are actually political propaganda bound for the Imperial city of Vrolens, which is currently in the middle of a revolt against the Korumani Empire, so the Imperial authorities have clamped down any books going in and out of the area- especially any books coming from Varo, which has a well funded and politically active Vrolentine exile community.
Unwilling to test the Imperial blockade at Namala without learning more about the situation, Captain Kiin avoids the city and looks for a smaller port up the coast, finding a small fishing village that is nestled amid the ruins of what was clearly once a much larger community. The natives are cautious but hospitable, and the players end up joining the fishermen in a feast on the beach of the inner harbor, where everyone consumes ridiculous quantities of food and drink (most of the food is eaten by the halfling Tillam and then subsequently vomited after he attempts to consume the local rotten shark dish that is the Tendyran form of lutefisk) and the ship's first mate, Mr. Weylu Hu, ends up agreeing to join the menfolk on their tuna hunt at dawn. This irks the Captain, who was planning to take the longboat down to Namala the next morning to try and figure out exactly what's going on. Meanwhile the party can't help but wonder something: where are all of the women in this village? When asked the natives seem evasive. Apparently this community is what the locals call an "orphaned city," which means that long ago it lost its ruling family and never recovered, so girls of a marry-able age are betrothed to men elsewhere, giving the girl's family a chance to leave the village as the adoptive members of a new city. But that still doesn't account for why the elder women are nowhere to be found, and what was that strange ululation coming from somewhere deeper in the ruins? Hrothgar he resident runecaster investigates by turning himself into a bird and finds evidence of some kind of all-woman ritual happening in one of the ancient temples, but withdraws when he hears the sound of human screams.
Hrothgar reports all of this back to the Captain, who is less concerned for the sacrifice on the altar than he is for the safety of his ship and its crew should he leave them here in the harbor while he goes to Namala in the longboat. Will they be OK? He puts the question to Nolio, the archivist on board who seems unusually familiar in Tendyran culture (he even speaks the language and all of its complex honorifics fluently, which is almost unheard of among outsiders), and the chef Segal, a local whom they rescued from a sinking ship in the previous episode. Both of his informants suggest to the Captain that he leave the women up in the city to their own devices, as they serve the community's long-abandoned but still living oracle. Although there are established protocols for propitiating the oracles of Tendyra, these are for cities that customarily receive pilgrims every winter, not orphaned villages. As these priestesses have been left to their own devices for more than 200 years, who knows how they would receive even the most well-intentioned of gifts?
In the end the Captain decides to leave the women alone and trust that his crew will not do anything stupid in his absence (as the crew left on the ship includes two PCs who couldn't make the night's run, that very much remains to be seen) and sets out in his longship just as Mr. Hu goes on his fabulous tuna fishing expedition, the latter sent off with the men of the village by the womenfolk, who have come down from their temple in a torchlit processing, spattered in blood in chanting some Cthonic blessing for the impending hunt. I've decided that the Tendyrans hunt the migrating bands of tuna in the same manner of the ancient Mediterraneans, a method still practiced today in a few Sicilian villages called the mattanza whereby the tuna are corralled in a series of nets that are drawn progressively tighter until the final net- known as the "chamber of death" is raised so that the tuna can be gaffed and landed by the men, who actually wade out atop the net into the bloody carnage. I've created a 2d6 chart for Mr. Hu to roll on every time he walks out into the chamber of death:
2- Monster Tuna
3- 2d6 Large Tuna
4- 1d6 Large Tuna
5- 2d6 Medium Tuna
6- 1d6 Medium Tuna
7- 1 Medium Tuna or 2d6 Small Tuna
8- 1d6 Small Tuna
9- 1 Small Tuna
10- Bunyips and Sharks and Rays (oh, my!)
11- Bunyups and Sharks and Rays (oh, my!)
12- Sea Monster- probably a rogue pleisosaur
No sooner does he get out into the fray than Mr. Hu rolls an 11, and I randomly determine that he is beset by a manta ray- an 8 HD monster that he is only able to dispatch with the assistance of one of the village elders (who brandishes a badass spear). Immediately going back into the chamber of death he then proceeds to roll a 10, so this time I throw a bunyip at him. Bunyips are giant seal-like creatures with a fear-inducing roar and the ability to sever a limb on a natural 20 attack roll. Originally from the Fiend Folio, I was always somewhat terrified of these creatures, and was delighted to torment my player with one of them during this session. It started with a roar, which sent Mr. Hu scrambling back to the safety of his boat. The player returned in the company of six other fishermen, who were immediately engaged by sharks (another '11' on the roll!), as well as the bunyip, which carried one of the villagers to a watery doom.
Chalking this up as an acceptable loss, the fishing continued, and after the sharks were dispatched the player settled into a nice little tuna-hunting streak, catching various medium and small sized tuna before deciding he'll make one more sally into the killing zone... where the bunyip of course is lying in wait. Spotting a massive tuna, Mr. Hu gives chase only to be attacked by the giant seal, and an epic battle ensues, with the other fishermen standing along the length of the netting and watching the two. The player started off by trying to score a called shot to the bunyip's face, a tactic which worked when fighting the sharks but one that is failing him consistently here, and before he knows it he's down to 2 hit points while the bunyip still has 13. And still the old fishermen stand and watch. I so wanted the player to win this one, but alas, the bunyip lands one last nip for exactly two hit points and Mr. Hu goes down, only to awake back in the village and hailed as a hero for standing his ground and not running away (not to mention keeping the bunyip occupied while they landed the monster tuna). For his bravery Mr. Hu is given the elder's badass spear and a killer tattoo of him riding a bunyip on his back.
Meanwhile the rest of the team is headed down to Namala by longship. Finding a small stony beach just around a promontory from the city, they scramble up some rocks in search of the road into town and find a grassy knoll with some sea caves... out of which charge several wild boars! The lead character is actually overrun by one of the beasts, which scores a critical hit on its attack, and when another PC follows suit I'm starting to worry that this random encounter might result in a TPK. Fortunately the Captain is thinking on his feet and tosses Tillam his matches so that the halfling can rig an incendiary device, which he uses to scatter half of the wild pigs and send them screaming for the ocean as they fill the salty air with the scent of burning bacon. The party tries to pull itself back together, rests up, then finds the track, where they run into a group of farmers headed to Namala to sell their produce. The farmers agree to let the players accompany them into town, and they slip past the city guards without incident.
Namala is like any shore town a month before the high season begins- everything is open but nobody is there yet, which means the players have no trouble finding a guesthouse (complete with its own healing hot spring, no less!) and renting it for the next few days. Captain Kiin tries to locate the bookseller his mother had instructed him to find, but his shop is closed and the door is barred. What's worse, when Nolio and Tillam venture out to get some information about the blockade they discover that agents of the Inquisition are in the city! A chase ensues, and the players are only barely able to lose the Imperials and return to the guesthouse. Why is the Inquisition here in the city? Although Tendyra is situated just off the Imperial Main, it is an independent island, and in the past the Tendyrans has never tolerated their neighbors meddling in their internal affairs. The session ends for the night with the Imperial Inquisition pounding on the door of the guesthouse, demanding that they be allowed in.
This was a good run. Even though the party was effectively split for the evening between Mr. Hu and the rest of the crew, there was enough going on for both narratives that everyone seemed entertained even when it wasn't their turn. The players loved the tuna hunt mechanic, and I almost killed the party with several tons of pork bellies. Now the Captain has a big decision to make- honor his mother's business deal and potentially jeopardize the mission to Ryzien, or dump the offending books and hightail it out of Tendyra before losing any additional blood and treasure towards fomenting someone else's revolution? Should be an interesting time when we assemble again in two weeks!