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Chapter Three: River Island (1)

Your party continues its journey to return the necklace to the courier. Trekking through Trebonshire Forest, the setting remains mostly the same. Only now they have to leave the road and make their way straight through the woods, cutting their own path – at least until they find the shore of the Whitestream river.

From there on, they can follow the Whitestream to the bend with the river island in it.

 

Plot Guideline

The party travels along the river without any incident. They reach the river island, engage the bandit leader in battle – with one or two surprises included -, and hopefully vanquish their foe.

After that they ransack the leader’s shack. The necklace is among the loot stored there, and the party can fill their bags and return to Clearspring with victory on their minds.

 

The journey

 Although this part of the journey is no different from the original foray into Trebonshire Forest in Chapter Two, there should not be any more random encounters here. Everything is now geared towards the encounter with the bandit leader, so distractions are unwelcome.

On the other hand, things do happen during the hours it takes the party to cross through the woods. Or, more precisely, once the party reaches the Whitestream. Throw in the following flavor text after a while of trekking along the shores:

 

Flavor text

Despite the tranquility of your surrounding, you’re feeling odd. There’s a tingle in the back of your necks, as if you were being watched. But nobody is in sight, there’s no trace of a hidden observer, no sign at all that you aren’t the only sapient beings in this part of the forest.

It doesn’t do much to quiet your nerves.

 

The party might now decide to travel more cautiously and keep a look out for any such observer. None can be found, no matter how much they search the bushes and trees around them. (If a character wants to use his tracking skill, roll a check. The result is completely irrelevant, but the player doesn’t have to know that.)

If the party hits upon the idea of gazing at the water, use the following:

 

  

Flavor text

Quiet and peaceful, the Whitestream runs its course. Broken off twigs and leaves drift on its watery surface, here and there a fish fleets by. The water is clear enough that you can see deep into it, close to the shore you can see the bottom where small plants grow. It’s invitingly clear, sure to quench any thirst.

In one place or two, the water twirls about, tiny wisps of foam riding on it. It looks like miniature rapids, and some twigs get caught in the twirl, being whisked about merrily. You could stand to watch the spectacle for a while, but there is still a task ahead of you.

 

For your information, the tiny rapids are the answer to the party’s uneasy feeling. They appear rather natural – and amusing -, but in fact they are magical eyes that the bandit leader uses to spy on his surroundings and be warned of any travellers. (How the bandit leader can do so, you will learn a bit later.)

 

GM Tips

Should your party include a cleric, she might notice a magical disturbance in the water. Make your own judgment whether that happens; it should depend on how experienced the cleric is in wielding her blessings and curses.

If she does notice something, do a percentage roll to see whether she can detect the nature of said disturbance and realize that the rapids in the Whitestream are observers. The success rate should be hitting a percentage of above 90. Make it difficult, we’re talking beginning characters here.

 

 

The River Island

Just like the bandit in the “Epilogue” of Chapter Two said, the Whitestream widens to a goodly fifty yards here as its course bends towards the west. A small lake is formed by this bend. The shores roll flat into the water, with very little growth near the water. Willows grow here and there, trailing their long branches into the water, but they aren’t plentiful.

The island is roughly oval, some twenty-five yards wide and sixty long. Its southern end narrows quickly into a sandy tip that is constantly lapped by the rolling waters of the Whitestream. Its northern end is more rounded and rocky, elevated over the water by about two feet. From there the island gently slopes down to the sandy south, with one notable rock piercing up like the fin of a shark in the island’s very middle.

Bushes grow plentifully on the island, crowding down to the very waterline. Willows are arrayed about the northern side, forming a good screen of what is between them – presumably the shack where the bandit leader lives. The shrubbery lessens in density towards the southern end, until it becomes only occasional dots in the sand.

On the western side of the bend, seventeen yards separate the island from the shore at the closest point. (The distance on the eastern side is eight yards, but the party approaches from the opposite direction.) The water is clear enough that the party can see the river is very deep here, far too deep to wade through.

 

Crossing to the island

There are several ways how to cross the river and reach the island. The easiest would clearly be swimming (provided all the characters in the group possess that skill), but it’s very impossible to swim with all one’s equipment, especially armor and boots, of course. If the players choose to swim to the island, they’d have to leave some of their equipment and clothes behind – they should be permitted to carry only one weapon to the island.

Well, now, that seems to be a very inefficient way to reach the island. Particularly when you consider that the bandits store their loot on the island, so they must employ a different method in getting there. The obvious answer is a boat. Although there’s only seventeen yards of water to cross, it’s inevitable, and the highwaymen have indeed hidden a boat on the banks of the river to transport the goods across to the island. (The leader has his own way to leave the island.)

Of course an alternative would be a bridge or a ferry run along a rope between island and shore. A bridge would have been prohibitively expensive for the bandits – and a ferry would certainly attract unwanted attention.

So, the best way to get to the island is to use the boat stowed by the bandits. In most cases, they will have to go looking for it.

There are two exceptions: Either the party managed to press the necessary information from the bandit in the conversation at the end of Chapter Two, or they have brought the bandit along and can now force him to reveal the hiding place. (Of course this only applies if one of the bandits had been left alive.)

In order to find the boat, the characters have to go searching the shore. The boat is rather well hidden, so it will take a bit of intelligence. Have each of the players roll a percentage check for each round of the search. Add the intelligence bonus to the result of each roll.

  Percentage Roll Discovery  
  01 - 50 Nothing  
  51 - 75 Clues to where the boat is (e.g. tracks of the boat being shoved into the water, etc.)
Cumulative bonus: +10
 
  76 - 90 Strong clues to the boat's location
Cumulative bonus: +20
 
  91 - 100 Character finds the boat straight away  

Unless the boat is found right away, add up the cumulative bonus the characters rack up. As soon as that bonus reaches 100, the boat has been found.

The ship’s a small affair, not designed to carry more than four persons at a time. Two oars are fastened to the inside with a rope; they have to be untied to be used.

The boat is hidden in a thicket about five feet from the waterline. The characters will have to carry it to the river. Note: It takes two people of average (human) strength to carry the boat.

 

GM Tips

You will have already noticed that the boat carries no more than four people at a time. That means, unless your party consists of four or less persons, that your party will have to make two trips: Four PCs cross over to the island, then one character rows back to shore to pick up the remaining characters.

That means your party is split up during the time of transit. Each trip across the river takes about two minutes, add one minute of unboarding (and, respectively, boarding) – that means, it will take about nine minutes before the entire party has reached the island.

 

When the party (or the first members) reach the shore of the island, they are already welcomed by the bandit leader…

 

The bandit leader

Flavor text

The bow of the boat scrapes onto the sandy ground of the island. You jump out immediately, draw your weapons and look about you. {In case of more than one trip, insert a line that the party sets about pushing the boat back into the water right away.} But before you can focus your eyes on anything, a voice booms over you, “Welcome to my little island. I don’t believe you have come for a nice chat, have you?”

Your eyes spin towards the source of the voice, and you feel a tingle run down your spine. A pale, blue-skinned figure is standing in front of a small wooden shack. Cyan hair cut to a short stubble, pointed ears quivering in the air, the five feet seven tall elf looks challenging at you. There’s no sign of fear in him at all. Considering that he’s facing {insert number of party members} armed men and women, he looks strangely self-composed.

Then he smiles, puts his hand towards his scabbard and draws a wooden blade. It’s old, there are nicks and dents along its edge, but the gleam of the polished wood is unmistakable. An elfwood sword! The sharpest, deadliest weapon ever found on Gushémal!

“That is one,” the elf continues, then brushes with his free hand over his forehead. Where the fingers pass, markings appear, stark black lines that look branded into the blue skin. You frown when you recognize the wave symbols associated with Mannannan, the God of the Sea. These are only ever given to a priest of the god. Can this bandit leader possibly be a cleric as well?!

Noise issues from behind you, from the water. It’s soft at first, sounds like water poured into a glass. “And there are the others,” the elf says gently and points to the river.

Instinctively your eyes whirl about, just in time to see the same twirls of water that you noticed on the journey north. Only this time each vortex is considerably larger, and the water is bulging upward – rising, growing from the river, like a human being getting up from the ground. But it is no human, it is pure water, the crisp, white water of the Whitestream, forming into a creature!

{Note on the number of water creatures: Take the number of characters in your party, and add two more water creatures.}

The liquid creatures pool together, drawing the water of the stream. A fish gets trapped in the vortex, is whisked into the chest of the creature – where it swims about in terror, until it finally rushes the creature’s skin. To your amazement, you see the fish fly from the creature’s chest, on a liberal spurt of water. For a moment, the liquid creature falters, water gushing from its chest – then the gap closes, more water flows back.

“Now then,” the elf smiles and takes a fighting stance, “let us begin.”

 

Okay, we have a number of points to examine after this piece of flavor text.

First of all, the elf in the text above is, of course, the bandit leader himself. One of the reasons he likes to keep himself separate from his band of highwaymen is his very race. Some of the bandits might not respond too well to the commands of an elf (not all of them knew just what their “boss” is). More importantly, though, the presence of an elf in command of the lawless would surely make them seem more dangerous to the authorities. They would surely have intensified their hunt for the bandits, attracting more support all around to eliminate the evil elf. (The hatred of elves is alive and strong in this area of Gushémal, perhaps more so because few real elves have ever been encountered here.)

The leader owns an elfwood sword, but it has seen better days. Now elfwood is the hardest substance on Gushémal, and no (unmagical) steel or diamond can cut its surface. What damaged this sword? Well, it’s ancient, perhaps dating back to the Eternal Forest – three thousand years ago -, and in the time since it’s been in uncounted battles. Sometimes it has been used against magical swords, often against other elfwood blades – both of those are enough to put some dents into the sword.

What it works out as is that it isn’t up to the stats listed in the Player’s Handbook, but it’s still very dangerous:

This elfwood sword has an attack value of 3d10+3 (down from 4d10+3 for a regular elfwood sword), its weight is 2 lbs. Otherwise use the stats for a long sword, as provided in the Player’s Handbook.

Furthermore, the leader isn’t the best fighter in the world. He has solid experience with his weapon, but he certainly lacks a fighter’s experience and expertise. His stats for direct combat are:

Attack Penalty

-20 (leather armor + agility bonus)

Number of Attacks

1

Attack Value

55

Elfwood sword: 3d10+8 
(+5 strength bonus)

Table

H1

Hit Points

H

20

RA

20

LA

20

T

80

RL

30

LL

30

Experience Points

500

 

The reason for his lack in fighting expertise is that he is also a cleric of Mannannan, the ancient God of the Sea. Having taken the service of the watery god, the leader spent long years in the temple studying, without any time for fighting practice. The leader was a good student, learned much of the magical craft of his order, and ever since being ordained as full priest has done much to improve. He has pleased his god by his work to craft and form water; a way to impress the might and power of Mannannan onto potential new followers. (Mannannan enjoys shows of force, and even though the leader may not be doing much to spread his god’s word right now, that should change at some point in the future. The display of his god-given powers alone should do much to remind people of just who Mannannan is, and that it would be good to keep this god satisfied and pacified.)

He has been given the power to create water-based bodyguards (more detailed description below), so that he has no need of human guards. As shown in the flavor text, they form in the water, then they step out onto the ground – maintaining their shape – and attack the leader’s enemies.

You may have noted that the elf gives the party ample time to realize what they are up against. Let’s just say that the bandit leader revels in his own power, and he likes to see his victims squirm before the superior onslaught of his forces destroys them. (It’s also a splendid opportunity to introduce all the elements.)

 

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