Cast of Characters
Charlie as Emerson, the High Elf Rogue: Highborn, Lowdown
Shiloh as Jax, the Half-Orc Barbarian: Will Muscle for Coin
Tim as Carvey the Dwarven Cleric: Swing Hard, Heal Harder
Michael as Fingulfin the Wood Elf Monk: Strike and Sweep in a Blink
Nate as Terrence the Half Elf Druid: Stranger in a Strange Land (of Dinosaurs)
Characters may change over the course of the first several sessions and death is for keeps in Tomb of Annihilation due to the Death Curse. Previously Ons for this campaign will contain spoilers for Tomb of Annihilation. If I deem these substantial, then you will be notified in greater detail.
The Sylvane manor was drawn tight. Glassed windows were covered by wooden shutters and the front entrance had curtains over its entrance windows. Aldrin, Sylvane's servant from the caravan, met them at the door. The manor hall echoed years of use in its eerie darkness and thin layer of dust. Following Aldrin upstairs, the party came to the library. A fireplace burned low, casting the room in long orange shadows. The dim light shone on shelves of books, many of which leaned to their side, and framed maps of the Sword Coast and beyond; a shimmering longsword and mirrored shield stood guard over a set of staff, wand, and cloak.
The matron of the manor, her silver mask sitting on the table next to them, greeted them with a weary, rasping voice. She spoke with a broken confidence, introducing herself as Syndra Sylvane, a retired adventurer turned merchant, and that she had fallen ill with the Death Curse. Two decades prior, a lifetime it felt, she had been raised from death. Now, she was aging prematurely. She knew she had no more than six months and possibly less. In her researches, she had determined that the tropical peninsula of Chult was home to the source of the Death Curse. No magical healing or protective circles seemed to ward her from this sudden, debilitating aging.
Of course, Syndra understood the life of adventurers. Coin would be provided for rations and the like, which would also be needed for a good guide in Port Nyanzaru, the major city and trading hub of Chult. And, assuming success, Syndra had an array of treasures to reward the adventurers upon their return. Chult itself was known for gem mines, ancient ruins, and undead walking around with the gear from their life. However, the adventurers ought to know that they were the third party to be sent, and she feared it was the last she could hope for. Checking their packs, the party agreed, with more reason than any then mentioned, claimed their coin, and followed Syndra below.
The manor's bookshelves and walls had been raided, leaving gaps and silhouettes of anything that might have provided guidance to this Death Curse and the Soulmonger that even now was drawing Syndra's spirit to it. They entered the manor's cellar, with wine bottles on one side, brightly decorated clay pots to another, and storage trunks a third. Syndra handed Terrence a rolled map and explained it was what she had been able to discover with certainty of Chult since her ailment, though much of the land was only vaguely explored and was very dangerous. In the center of the room was a large stone circle, its perimeter etched with arcane runes. As they gathered close, Syndra looked to each with pained gravity, donned her mask, and raised her staff. Purple and white streams of force rose and surrounded them as Syndra spoke in words of power, encircling them in closer and closer rings. Syndra's voice rose to a shout, but it did not echo in the stone and earth room, and in a blink they were away.
The scratch of wood on cobbles, the squeal of rigging ropes, the slapping of ocean waves resounded first. Then the brine of the sea, the heat of the tropical sun overhead, and the olfactory attack of exotic spices. The Harbor Ward was bright and bustling and overwhelming. Syndra took a knee as the wisps of magical energy evaporated while an agent ushered them off the large circular platform which was, apparently commonly used for such purposes.
And the city of Port Nyanzaru was alive around Emerson, Jax, Carvey, Fingulfin, and Terrence. Men, women, and children of dark complexion and black hair bustled around in all the tasks of a busy port: animal wrangling, ship loading and unloading, stalls of fresh fruit and fish and spices of a dozen colors. Buildings were painted in bright green, pink, blue, and orange with draping vines and murals in a geometric style depicting mythic heroes and massive beasts of feather, scale, and horn. Clay urns matching Syndra's own stash lined the doorways with clear, clean water or overflowed with purple, white, and yellow blossoms. Humanoid felines (Tabaxi, they would learn) played pipes and danced for coin in the streets or told stories in their sonorous voices. A dwarf of alarmingly pale complexion walked about in a light kilt with red paint on his arms and legs, hair and beard in high braids. And other foreigners walked off boats and between shops and a dozen dialects came from the open windows of the taverns and open-air cafes while guards overhead and along the walls patrolled with weapons resembling a spear shaft with a wide shortsword's blade affixed in stone or steel.
And the beasts that walked the streets: Dinosaurs. One the size of a fish stall with a horned shield for a face hauled a creaking cart of a dozen shipping crates. Four wooden beamed cages held small caged raptors with brilliant orange feathers against their skin. The word "dinosaur races" were murmured, two days hence, and the word was spoke with sugary anticipation. A creature like a sailboat that sprouted legs but still the size of a large dog waddled past in a wide gait. A costumed clown chased gleefully screaming children with a mask full of curved teeth and a tale swinging behind him. And a bird, no a man, or something that was both descended from the sky in a blaze of white, orange with a long spear hanging from his belt.
The city sang around, not just in a innumerable voices, but in life and color.
As they moved off of the platform, Syndra regaining her posture but obviously winded, a sturdy Chultan woman approached and gave Jax the Half-Orc Barbarian a few amicable jabs with her finger.
"I, K'lahu, have work for you, if you're interested, you tower amongst men," she said. Three coin purses jingled at her sash as it wrapped around her orange dress seemingly made of a single, wrapped cloth.
Emerson the High Elf Rogue noticed a Chultan man standing near a flower stand and gesturing out to sea as if counting the waves or perusing the clouds for weather report. But Emerson recognized the gestures as easy as speech, "Work for the keen and subtle," followed by a decorative, gestural "Z."
Carvey, the Dwarf Cleric of Valkur, spotted the dangling hammer, the holy symbol of Tyr swinging at the belt of an armored Half-Orc descending a gangplank. Her furrowed brow looking out over the dock, obviously seeking something, but what?
Fingulfin's ears perked at the sound of a Chultan man in simple white, and very stained, clothing moved through the harbor's streets begging for aid. Some trouble had befallen him, but it was impossible to tell from here.
And Terrence saw a Half-Elf of blonde hair and skin that seemed to shimmer just so spy them from a tavern stairway. She smiled faintly, obviously curious about the newcomers, as a pseudodragon perched on her shoulder shifted its wings and wavered its tale.
Port Nyanzaru had much to offer our new adventurers.
K'lahu informed Jax that a debtor owed her coin. An old fighter who had earned fame in Executioner's Run just outside the gate to the Old City. The man, a fellow Chultan, was scarred from years of fighting and had taken to wagers. He'd paid the fee before, but was not returning what was owed K'lahu, though she'd seen him win enough to know he ought to have it. Five hundred gold, he owed (though gems were common currency in Port Nyanzaru), and Jax, her "Tower" as she called him, would be good for a tenth of that in gratitude.
Emerson, meanwhile, leaned against the sun-baked pink wall near the flower stand. Neither looking at the other, the two spoke.
"Have you worked for the Zhents before?" he asked. Aw, the Zhentarim, shadowblades and know-it-alls, but always good for coin or secrets.
"A job once or twice before," replied Emerson.
"Well, if you're new in Chult you're seeking to explore? You'll need a charter of exploration to avoid trouble from the Flaming Fists. Provide a distraction at Fort Beleurian to the north and you'll have it. No questions. And favor with the Zhents, besides."
"Perhaps," Emerson replied, "Where can I find you?"
"The flowermonger will know how to reach me if you seek me. Ask for Rokah. Oh, and if you do decide to go, I recommend Flask of Wine and River Mist. They've steered me true before." And he set into Emerson's hand a white flower vine and disappeared into the crowd.
Terrence, having spied the woman spying them a little too long, saw her approach with a confident swagger. While Carvey and Fingulfin tended to Syndra, still woozy, the woman spoke to Terrence.
"More explorers, eh? Planning to see the sights?"
"Yes, that is our plan," responded Terrence.
"Well, I could use company to the same end. My father, Artus Cimber, he's out there somewhere and I'd like to find him. It seems like these guides are as likely to take your coin and leave you as they are to find your way. With just Summerwise," gesturing to the cat-sized dragon on her shoulder, "and myself, I'd rather have backup than their word for it."
"Thank you. At the moment we plan to attend to our friend," he noted, as Fingulfin and Carvey walked with Syndra toward the gate into the Merchants Ward as Syndra led, seemingly somewhat recovered from the exertion. "Where should we find you once we have found a place to rest?"
"Summerwise and I are on the docks much of the day, but you can find us or leave word at the Thundering Lizard where we board. Ask around, it has a bit of a reputation." Xandala added a sidways smile and left Terrence to give chase to Carvey, Fingulfin, and Syndra. The others were quick to follow.
The Merchants Ward was filled with fine villas for the so-called princes of Port Nyanzaru, Syndra explained. They were not true royalty, but the city itself regarded them as such. Each managed a different facet of the economy of Port Nyanzaru and Chult. Syndra had become acquainted with Wakanga O'tamu, to whose home they then arrived. A pair of guards wielding the yklwa ("YICK-ul-wah") and red and yellow oval shields, met them and allowed them to enter upon recognizing Syndra. She was expected.
Wakanga welcomed them to enter the large central courtyard of his villa. A promenade surrounded the courtyard with more tall clay pots, many of which were closed, but others acting as planters as in the harbor. Food and a sweet yellow drink smelling of honey had been set out. "Tej," Wakanga called it, "a local specialty." Syndra drank of the tej and of the water set out - collected rainwater, Wakanga explained - before taking her rest in one of the attached rooms where a chaise awaited her.
Wakanga spoke to his guests, adding what knowledge he could to Syndra's guidance. Over a century ago, Chultans had lived throughout the land. Then, a holy warrior, Ras Nsi (or Duke, in native Chultan) had fallen into avarice and desire; he raised an army of undead to conquer the land. Now, Chult lay under fear of these horrors, as well as the ferocious dinosaurs that can fend them off. With the royalty sundered, the city of Amn had claimed our people, enslaving them. But the merchant princes, well, they were able not too many years ago to broker freedom with the Amnish. Now, the Death Curse had flooded the harbor with adventurers - and their coin - but it was taking a toll on Syndra and the others. Whatever aid the adventurers could provide, especially to save friend Syndra, would be welcome.
Emerson asked about the guides, which are mostly unknown to Wakanga. However, Eku was always able to provide herbs and other oddments for his alchemists and herbalists. Wakanga explained, "I manage the magical goods of Chult and regularly sell potions and scrolls to the adventurers. I may have other aid for you in my collection if I can find it," Wakanga added, hinting at hesitation about these new arrivals to his city and his land.
Having rested and dined, while Syndra slept, the party sought out K'lahu and, perhaps the debtor.
Two massive stair-step pyramids stood outside of the city's walls in the Old City. These protective buildings were the Beggars' Palaces and offered protection if dinosaurs or undead attacked. But the main attraction was Executioner's Run: a fifteen foot deep, two hundred foot long dry, flat-bottomed canal, its stones visibly stained with blood. Dinosaurs and other beasts line the walls alongside the Run.
K'luha was there taking bets on an upcoming bout but ran to her "Tower" as they approached.
"That one, with the scar on his forehead that glistens, that is Taban. Owes me 500 gold, 50 of which is yours for a little muscle, My Tower."
They scanned around and infiltrated the bustling street. A lesser market took place here, mostly cuts of slaughtered meats and perhaps some background dealings to boot. The brighttly feathered velociraptors in cages caught the eye of Fingulfin and later Emerson, which yipped for food. Jax, with his fan club of K'luha approached Taban, who still wore his shield of jagged yellow over a blue background with his yklwa bladed staff on his back.
Jax, a rather intimidating fellow, approached and offered an easy route of reclaiming the owed coin for K'luha, but Taban took the opportunity to charge and attempted to push Jax into the Run! Jax held his ground and swung his greataxe, landing a bleeding blow and giving Taban a smile. Emerson, eager to support his friend, raised the crowd in a cheer for Jax the Tower. Obviously Taban was not the most amicable of faces in the crowd.
Fingulfin took the opportunity to inspect the cages in a little more detail. The locks were simple knots of cord and wire, so that the raptors could not easily nibble through them. Carvey leapt into the fray with Jax and Taban, who was now a vortex of spinning yklwa blade and shield. Terrence, though, had another idea to aid his companions.
Bright green vines erupted from the hard packed earth around Executioner's Run, reaching up at Taban, they then erupted into brilliant white and yellow flowers coaxing the onlookers to shout in excitement! Jax struck hard with his greataxe and Carvey landed a blow. Emerson, took the opportunity to attempt to liberate the raptors, but a local Chultan wearing a fist-shaped charm around his neck discouraged him.
"Plenty to see at the moment, my friend." This was not Emerson's moment.
However, it was Terrence's. Redoubling his focus the vines wrapped the spinning form of Taban who was then knocked to the ground by Carvey! The vines tightened and Jax was there, blade close to Taban's neck.
"The coin owed," Jax said simply.
"My friend, in my purse," Taban gestured, seeing himself beaten. Carvey claimed it and estimated the value of the ten gemstones inside. Seemed about right. K'lahu approached and thanked them, leaving behind a pair of gems worth the fee.
"My Tower, you and your friends can come to me for more work if you please. I will always have need for My Tower," K'lahu added with a smile and a wink to Jax. "He is a good customer most of the time. I hope that he stays that way," gesturing to Taban as she walked away.
"And I could be of aid to you, Tower!" Taban added. "I know the guides and am good in a fight if you need me. As long as your friends don't wrap me up in these vines! Let me prove my worth, no charge."
And with that, Jax returned his axe to its loop on his back.
To be continued next week!