Savage Tide #5 – Tides of Dread
The end of the last module had the characters narrated through the remaining twenty odd miles worth of jungle to the gateway to the civilized lands at Tanaroa. From there, they were conducted directly toward the colonial village of their patron at Farshore, their arrival coinciding directly with an attack by pirates.
Or at least, this is what will happen if you proceed directly from the end of the last module into Tides of Dread. My group managed a sidetrip for the sake of both flavor and experience.
Back in Dungeon Magazine #114, Paizo had decided to set an adventure on the Isle of Dread, using the setting for a one-off adventure with heavy weather, benevolent zombie masters and the requisite dinosaur encounter. Torrents of Dread had the crew of a expedition ship arrive outside the village of Mora where a sinister plot threatened to lay waste to the surrounding civilized villages.
What’s interesting about this module is that it was published almost exactly two years before Paizo started into the Savage Tide Adventure Path, and the accompanying article outlines most of the relevant plot of the path, as far as the events that take place on the Isle of Dread are concerned. Most of the Demogorgon subplot is downplayed, other than the brief mention of the Demon Lord as the patron of the foul and degenerate Kopru. Much like the original Expert Module that it was based from, the adventurers are largely assumed to have arrived on the island before the plot of the module starts.
The actual adventure for Torrents of Dread is centered on a dungeon crawl beneath the village of Mora, wherein the characters have their first encounter with the Kopru, the oddly non-Abomination creatures responsible for much of the strife surrounding the Isle of Dread. In the context of this module, they’re something of an end boss, lying at the end of the dungeon complex as they attempt to summon what seems to be a manifestation of a Lovecraftian Elder God to destroy the island. All in all, the adventure is a short one, but it’s pretty evocative, incorporating both the natives of the Isle and its dread masters. Once this threat was eliminated, my player characters found their way to the colony of Farshore, where a pirate attack was already underway.
As module openers go, this was pretty good. The pirates are rampaging through the village, and the characters are on a timetable, needing to put down the attack as quickly as they can before the place burns down around them. As it happened, the group separated, with each character charging after a particular objective. A couple of characters went to deal with rescuing villagers and dousing fires, while the more martial characters converged on the actual pirates, putting them down as quickly as possible to repel the attack. In the end, the pirates limp away, and Lavinia emerges to welcome the characters to the long-sought colony that her parents had founded.
There’s a momentary subplot where the characters take to interrogating one of the only surviving pirates, with the option of turning him from the path of evil. The upshot is that they learn of the longer term goals of the pirate fleet, who intends to return in two months to destroy the place. And just like that, the clock is ticking again.
The meat of this particular adventure lies with the preparations for war that Farshore has to undertake before the fleet returns. Much of this is dealt with inside the village, as they organize work crews and short expeditions to shore up the defenses, but there’s plenty to do on the main island itself. These divide neatly into four separate plots that need to be taken care of over the span of the following eight weeks.
In no particular order, these plots involve the characters salvaging the Sea Wyvern, gaining access to the island’s tar pits, reclaiming the lost artifacts of a dead civilization, and appeasing an aspect of the local volcano god.
Salvaging the Sea Wyvern is a fairly straightforward venture, even though the wreck has been inhabited in the mean time by a Kopru Druid. He puts up a token amount of resistance before the logistics of overhauling a wrecked ship and returning it to a seaworthy state have to be dealt with.
Gaining access to the island’s tar pits, in comparison, is a much gnarlier affair, as the characters have to deal with a named Tyrannosaur whose hide is scarred with decades of combat. Temauhti-Tecuani, the dinosaur in question, is a CR 11 encounter whose templates bump it up into solid challenge. When the characters are finished with this ancient and legendary foe, they’re welcomed by the local tribe of Phanatons, the small monkey-like sentient species that appeared in the first iteration of this adventure. In gratitude for the characters’ assistance, the Phanaton shepherd them back to their village, holding a celebration in their honor. And when the characters inquired about the lost civilization of the Rakasta, the Phanaton offer to guide the characters to the last temple.
In the scope of Savage Tide, the Rakasta have been eliminated by the Kopru over the centuries, leaving only their temple and its store of artifacts. The temple is, naturally, a dungeon crawl. In fact, it’s really the only one in this module, which is noteworthy in and of itself. As dungeon crawls go, it’s pretty thin, consisting of about four rooms in all. It makes up for it with an interesting NPC ally, in the form of a couatl guardian that essentially tests the motives of the characters before offering them his future assistance (components for a Planar Ally spell) and the stock of old weaponry left behind by the lost and lamented Rakasta. This includes three fairly decent magic weapons, none of which were terribly remarkable.
Finally, the characters were tasked with appeasing a god. Which, for what it was worth, was easier than it might appear on the surface.
In their travels to the civilized native villages on the island, they happened upon a ritual to Zotzilaha, the fire bat aspected god of the island’s volcanoes. Once the ritual is completed, the aspect of Zozilaha appears and pronounces doom upon those assembled unless he is appeased for the wrong that has been done against him. It seems that one of the idols of Zotzilaha has been stolen, and unless it is returned, there will be righteous anger.
This is one of those points where the puppet master behind some of the events of the module series shows up. Back in module #3, the characters had ventured into the ruins of Tamoachan, exploring the ruins therein and finding what seemed to be an oddly out-of-place golden idol that had recently been placed there. This was the machination of one of the unknown allies of the party, who had caused the idol to be stolen in the first place in order to direct where the characters ventured next. Being player characters, it was assumed that they brought the statue with them, as it was specifically made of gold. This is the wrong that was done against Zotzilaha, the golden idol stolen from his shrine. And once the characters figure this out, they have to return it.
This offers another opportunity for the characters to gain a little experience and some magic items, as the aspect of the volcano god is pleased by their efforts and allows them to plunder his stockpile of sacrifices. (And again, the hand of the hidden puppet master is revealed when an extra magic item shows up in the stockpile. It’s sort of funny, in that the reaction of this fearsome god of fire and doom is that of confusion. Since he has no idea why the item is with the other relics, he just gives it to the characters with a deific shrug.)
Once all of this has been dealt with, the characters return to Farshore to take on the pirate fleet.
I wish I could say that this was a tense and epic battle. It really wasn’t, from where I was sitting. Each of the various sub-adventures and colonial improvements to Farshore netted a certain amount of Victory Points, the tally of which would determine the basic outcome of the battle, as it happened around the characters. If they sat on the beach and drank a succession of daiquiris for the intervening two months, the battle would generally wreck Farshore. If they did as expected and busted their collective asses to accomplish as many things on the checklist as possible, they’d be able to save Farshore with fairly low casualties.
As it was, my players managed to hit most of the requisite things on the checklist, and when the pirate fleet showed up, they dropped the local equivalent of an artillery blast on the fleet as it sailed into sight. (This was actually pretty noteworthy, in that they picked one ship in particular to lay waste to, and it happened to derail a significant amount of the plotted events for the invasion. I shrugged and moved onto the next event. It made things rather easy.)
The final battle ended up being a pitched combat on the deck of the flagship, where the characters once again came face to face with Vanthus Vanderboren, the villainous brother to their beloved patron, Lavinia. Having warped his form to that of a half-fiend and trained up in the mean time, he’s a rather deadly encounter, offering the proper sort of villainy to challenge the plots of the player characters. And should he think he’s about to lose, he attempts to trigger another Savage Tide, similar in scope to the one that pretty much destroyed Kraken Cove.
What was interesting about this battle was that the players had been itching for this fight since the early parts of the first module, when Vanthus trapped them beneath Parrot Island in Sasserine. They’d found the remains of Penkus, the other man that had been trapped there by Vanthus and vowed to exact their revenge on this odious blackguard. True to their nature, they brought Vanthus low and recited the relevant parts of Penkus’ vow. They finally had the chance to destroy their most hated nemesis, and everything else was just icing for them.