Chapter 1: A boat full of zombies in shark infested water
Background for Part 1: A Saulkement smuggling galley has turned up a drift off shore. The origin of this galley, its crew and its cargo are known to a few powerful Saulkement Nobles. When the galley departed Saulkement it was crewed by several members of important families. The ship was chartered to several tons of marble from Vartandel. Because trade between Saulkemen and Vartandel is illegal in Vartandel the ships destination and its goals were kept secret to all but the captain and the finaicers. The nobles first sent out pair of fishing boats manned by chattel and the mercenary Arborghast to approach the lose galley. As they approached the drifting galley member of the galley’s crew fell over board. One of the fishing boats pulled the man out of the water they but realized too late that he was a zombie. A fight ensued aboard the small fishing craft and both fishermen were killed.
A mercenary, Arborghast, observed that directly after the fishermen were killed by the Zombie that the fishermen themselves transitioned into zombies. Arborghast managed to harpoon two of the zombies in the fishing boat through the head (he is very good) and cripple the third. Faced now with a ship that could potentially hold scores of similar beasts, Arborghast generated a plan.
Arborghast instructed the local fisherman to chum the water around the ship so that sharks would infest the area and hopefully eat any zombies that fell over board and prevent them from reaching the island (the possibility of zombie sharks talking over the ocean had not occurred to Arborghast, but that eventuality will not be explored in this plot). Arborghast did note that a storm was approaching which could force the ship ashore or at that very least sink the ship and its valuable cargo. In very short order, Arborghast gathered a group of mercenaries and warders (Warders are the local freemen, low ranking members of the nobility entitled to carry weapons) and decided to take his own Galley out to intercept the drifting ship during a storm.
Scene 1: Prolog I suggest not bothering with any meet and greets. Start the party on the Arborghast's ships. If they know each other great, but it isn't necessary. All that matters is that the characters have enough reason to act. Arborghast will explain the situation to the characters as follows
"A trading galley is adrift off the cost of Saulkement, it is carrying valuable cargo, and there is a storm coming up. The crew is aboard as far as we can tell; but they are cursed…useless…they can’t or won’t control the ship. We don’t want to lose the cargo, but we can’t let the ship run ashore and spread its curse to the island. We need a crew that can board the ship at sea, overcome the curse and rescue the cargo. We need this to happen quickly."
I suggest starting the PCs aboard Arborghast’s galley in a storm. The galley is under the command of the mercenary captain Arborghast, and the PCs have been hired/recruited/rounded-up by Arborghast to deal with the above mentioned ship. Depending on the PCs back story Arborghast has either promised a worthwhile amount of money/good or he has been granted authority by the Nobles of Saulkement to conscript them.
As Arborghast’s galley approaches the drifting ship as the storm is getting worst. The sky is dark and the waves are cresting higher and higher. In the distance they can see supernaturally calm weather over the island of Saulkement, but out here on the sea nature still reigns. The PCs are part of a larger group (at least ten mercenaries) that has been recruited to deal with the ship. Unless one of the PCs is a high ranking Noble, all the PCs are on the deck of the galley while Arborghast is balanced on the bow. There could be some time to talk among the PCs and mercenaries.
The mercenaries are all foreigners, but they have also all worked for the Saulkement for a number of years. Here are sample of four of mercenaries that the PCs could talk with and what they might learn from them. I don’t see any problem in skipping to Scene 2, but a conversation with the NPCs may help get your PCs in the mood. You may also toss in couple of balance checks to demonstrate how unstable the deck of the ship is in this storm. People may fall but they can’t go over board.
First you six men (not the PCs, but including the NPC Dosk) will hitch the ship with grapples, you four men (not the PCs) will drop the gangplank. Make sure the tooth of the gangplank is in her deck. Then the rest of you board the ship take control of her and destroy all the cursed beings on board. Once they are aboard drop the plank and loose the rope, I don’t want the cursed beings jumping over to my ship. Once you have cleaned the ship of its curse, bring the ship into calm waters and we will deal with cargo.”
The undead: If the PCs don’t have a priest or other specialist that could effectively deal with the undead threat than Arborghast will have hired one or two NPCs with that ability. The cursed ship is a two and a half deck 40 oar 80 man galley (refers to number of oarsmen), Arborghast’s galley by contrast is 20 oar 40 man galley. The target ship bigger has cabin on the main deck and two main hatches to the lower deck. The undead on the ship fall into two categories: solider zombies and the zombie master. Once the PCs get aboard they will find 99 solider zombies crammed onto that small galley, most of them milling around below deck and the zombie master is in the forward cabin of the lower deck. The solider zombies can be incapicated by standard physical damage ,‘killed’ by beheading, severe cranial trauma or by the invoked power of an almighty. The solider zombies are slow and uncorridinated but strong. They will attack all living creatures with infectious bites and supernaturally strong holds and striking. The idea is that these are only a threat to the PCs cause of their numbers. With regard to challenge rating, I am thinking that in open field toe-to-toe combat one of your PCs should be able to dispatch eight (or ten if you use a hex grid) of these without breaking sweat, but 99 of them on a narrow sea tossed galley in freezing shark infested water should make for a real challenge. The PCs should have at least three NPCs with them. One NPC to die when boarding by falling over board and getting eaten by a shark and one NPC to die when the zombie master first makes her entrance. A third NPC that is knowledge about the ship or the undead and can help guide the PCs the clean up.
The 99th zombie is the zombie master. The master zombie is located in the forward cabin on the lower deck (see ship). She is 1.8 meters tall with long black hair and except for her whited eyes and bluish skin tone looks normal. She is the source of the infection and is not a true zombie. She should be stronger and faster than the other zombies and perhaps be imbued with other supernatural attacks or defenses. She can also be dispatched by a server cranial damage or decapitation, but it should be harder to achieve that. A close inspection of her body reveals not bites or mortal wounds present before the arrival of the PCs.
Possible Outcomes and Resolution:
The basic idea is that PCs board the boat, win a hard fought battle against the undead and take the ship inland. However, things may go badly, if this is the case Arborghast will bring his ship back over and join the battle himself. He should be an effective enough fighter that he can turn the tide. Alternatively, the PCs may come up with the some clever way to defeat the zombie without boarding the ship. I say let them do it. Arborghast will listen to their suggestions as long it doesn’t risk either the cargo or the island. The important things is that -PCs get an accurate body count of 100 zombies on that ship at the time of boarding (counting that one Arborghast saw fall into the water).
-The PCs are aware of the zombie master and realizes that she is physically tougher and more dangerous than the other zombies.
-PCs get to look at the zombie master and could accurately describe her to others
-The PCs get a chance to search the ship after wards.
Scene Three: Detective Work
After the ship has been moved into calmer waters, Arborghast will pull his ship along side and board (if he is not aboard already) with a team of chattel (the serfs that work his oars).
“You (chattel) take the Cargo back to our ship, and you (the mercenaries/PCs) get me a body count and figure out what happened here. I need to examine each body myself, so bring up to the deck and lay em out.”
The Ship (Cargo and Crew): Here the PCs will learn about the ship and gather some items. The PC could have acquired some this information before taking the ship (through interviews, research or divination). After taking the ship there a number of areas the PCs can look for clues as to what happened on board. The PCs can look through all the red hearings you want but four things will reveal information useful to the story.
- Main Cabin at the rear of the ship on the main deck, really like a small house on the main deck.
- The Forward Cabin, below deck were the zombie master was hiding.
-The Bodies, Arborghast will want to examine the bodies, the PCs can accompany him.
The main cabin: This serves as the bedroom for the captain and storage are for the rations. They will find the Captain’s Ledger, the Ship’s Ledger (Saulkement traders don’t keep narrative log books), two suits of Armor, one set of weapons and a flag. A novice trader would know that a Ship’s Ledger keeps track of the crew and cargo and may be passed around to any sailor that can read and needs to up date it. The Captain’s ledger contains similar and overlapping information but is only handled by the Captain.
The ship is named Comeaga III. The ship was owned and outfitted by the Shefuel house, the 80 oars’ men were all Shefuel chattel and the sailors were all foreign mercenaries hired by the Shefuel house. On this particular journey it was captained by an Oathman named Dalow from the house Boolung. It is unusual for a ship outfitted by one house to be Captained by a member of another house, but it is not unheard of (Somebody with a moderate knowledge of Saulkement culture might think this very odd, while an expert on Saulkement culture might would find indicative of some minor power struggle between houses that resulted in a comprimise. The ship’s ledger lists 80 oar’s men and 21 hired sailors. The Captain’s ledger also includes a Shan from the Shefuel house named Guyen and eight Shefuel Warders. A close examination of the Captain ledger will reveal that the last two entries were entered by different hand. The ledger of hired and chattel crew was most likely accurate to the man, but a character experienced in the culture of Vartanadel seamen or traders would know that often noble passengers are not recorded and neither record mentions a woman resembeling the zombie master. Thus according to the Ledgers there were at least 130 people on board. This should be confusing.
These Saulkements were fastitous and a more acuarte description of the A close and creative examination of the ledgers can a get a clearer idea of the crew by looking at how rations were distributed. It appears that the crew had 131 (one more than mentioned in the ledgers) souls until day 12 of the journey. At day 12 it went up to 132 and then at day 14 it went down to 127 and stayed there until that last journal entry on day 22. Day 14 was the day the hand writing in the Captain’s journal changed.
The ledger include a cargo manifest, it left the Saulkements with 16 casks of wine and 16 casks of whale oil. The ship was returning with 1 ton of expertly cut high quality marble tiles (It is still on board). An expert in marble or luxury goods would know this marble came from Vartanadel. There is no record of exchange, no bill of sale and no cargo of opportunity on the ship. The lack of an exchange record or bill of sale is not unusual, but an experienced trader would realize that with cargo as valuable as this marble there is usually some record. This ship also has no Cargo of Opportunity. Cargo of opportunity is material that a trader did not plan to buy but took on board when they came into port. It is very unusual for a trading ship not to have cargo of opportunity unless that ship was manned by smugglers who would not enter a regular port.
This is where the PCs may have encountered the master zombie. In this room they will find that the door locks from the outside. There is chamber pot in the room that has been used and not been cleaned, a soft bed and collection of leather straps. In corner of the room there is pile of woman’s clothing, a native or an experienced traveler would recognize that the clothes were from Hypoten. The clothes are dirty and had been cut away. The room also contains seamless polished wooden box about 1ft cubed. Judging by weight it feels hollow when picked up, and if shaken one can hear and feel lose object moving around in the cube. But there are no openings to the box, and it gives off a magical aura. A experienced mage or sage would recognize this is a double-false-box (or whatever you want to call it). These box are always made in pairs, and only one can be opened at a time. When one box is opened the other box is rendered a solid seamless piece of wood. Thus somewhere else in the world there is a chest containing items that are the same items that the PC can hear rustling around in this box. If somebody was standing by the other box at the moment the PCs shock the box than that person would she the items rustling.
If the right password is spoken the box the PCs have will turn into and accessable chest and the other box will turn into sealed cube. With the password the PCs could access the material in the box, which right now actually exists in another location.