Savage Tide #2 – The Bullywug Gambit
I’ll admit it. I find dungeon crawls to be somewhat tedious. I realize that it’s part and parcel of the D&D Experience, such as it is, but my tastes in more cinematic games have ruined me for the 5-foot square and dropping into tactical combat for the sake of filling the experience point bar. There are a minimum of two serious dungeons in every single Paizo module, even when the rest of the adventure is based on some other general idea. Even Kingmaker, with its wide open hex-based exploration included enough dungeon crawl action to keep the grognards from howling.
So, for better or worse, I’ve found myself abbreviating certain parts of my adventures when the action reduces itself to room by room explorations and tactical maps. I’m not even remotely possessed of the OSR reclamation of rubbing every surface within a room to discover the hidden compartments, simply because I look around my own house and see how much time would be spent doing that here, only to find a collection of lint balls and the occasional lost dice that the cats had decided to bat under the couch.
In the first module, I accelerated the dungeon in the thieves’ guild. For the purposes of this module, I sped up the action to retake Lavinia’s mansion.
This one was a little frustrating, for reasons other than the dungeon crawl aspect of it all. I mean, I understand that the dictates of the module design require that extraneous space be cut whenever possible, and were it done any other way, the mansion would have ended up being printed twice in the course of two magazines. I also understand that, if Paizo had been given the opportunity, they would have revised the flow of things in a collected version, allowing the map to show up in an appendix and referencing it as needed. Be all of that as it may, it would have been nice to have the chance to wander around Lavinia’s mansion when it was first introduced in the beginning of the first module. Instead, the first real experience of the place comes when it’s been repurposed as a dungeon for the characters to move through, room by room.
That aside, I think it was my perusal of this module that sold me on running the path in the first place.
The first half of the module concerns itself with following up on a lead on finding Vanthus, the estranged brother of the characters’ patron. After failing to lay hands on him at the end of the first module, the characters have a tip that he’s left the city to a hidden pirate base some forty miles down the coast. The characters either charter a boat or hire passage from a local fisherman, and some time later, they arrive ashore outside Kraken’s Cove.
Their first indication that things have gone off the rails comes in the form of vague foreshadowing – hundreds of dead and disfigured animals lie along the beach and the edge of the jungle, their forms twisted with unnatural growths and mutations. In the distance, a plume of smoke rises from the hidden caves in Kraken’s Cove. And as they venture closer, things only get worse.
Half of the pirate base is on fire, many of the personnel are dead from similar chaotic disfigurement, and those that are still alive are almost universally savage and deranged. And the one sane person in the place only has the vaguest of ideas what has gone wrong. It isn’t until the sixth module that any of the causes start to make sense to the player characters, which is the point that the apocalyptic scope of the underlying conspiracy starts to become clear.
The practical upshot is that Vanthus triggered a potent magic item that induced the wave of chaos (called a ‘Savage Tide’ as a name check), thereby cluing him into the larger events that he intends to be involved in. He managed to ride out the wave of chaos and escape, leaving the characters to deal with the aftermath. The pirate base is a fairly interesting dungeon scenario, but with a couple of tweaks, it could become more of a blockbuster action sequence, with toppling rope bridges, drifting pirate ships and daring swings across smoky expanses of water. (Most of this is already present, but it’s sadly de-emphasized.)
The air of mystery and the wreckage of a catastrophic event were what sold me, and the potential for high action is a solid hook. Sadly, like many Paizo adventures, there isn’t much art to portray the setting for players. I would have liked a view of the cove, ships on fire and strange figures capering on the beach, to use as a visual aid before sending my player characters to their eventual doom.
Once inside, the characters find the one surviving pirate, who fills them in on what she knows. In an odd twist to the normal adventure logic, she’s to become something of a persistent ally, but only after the characters deal with the large attack force she mistakenly sent as revenge. She knew Vanthus by reputation, and assuming that he was still living in Sasserine, she sent a group to attack him there. As a strange irony, they end up at Lavinia’s house, taking her hostage even though she’s similarly indisposed towards her brother.
There’s also a bit of a subplot dealing with another faction seeking revenge for the destruction of the thieves’ guild in the first module, but this is a momentary thing, alongside the festival held in the honor of the defeat of Kyuss. (This is a callback to the previous adventure path, Age of Worms.) The players struggle their way through the crowds for the festival, get to the mansion, and fight their way through a throng of bullywugs to their pirate ally’s first mate.
In the mean time, the bullywug tribe (which had been recruited by the first mate) exists mainly as experience fodder, as no one particularly cares if they’re killed off. Even when the characters find the crewmen, they vaguely shrug when a bullywug priest decides to attack in the face of a peaceful resolution.
In the end, the characters clean up the mess made from killing a tribe of subhumans mistakenly sent by someone they’re likely to rely upon later. And the largest dungeon of the module is their patron’s house, thereby losing the proper ability to loot the place. It’s a strange end to the adventure, but there you go.