This piece follows ‘Ants in the Darkness,’ a Beckett adventure of the Northumbria Campaign.
The session began with the PCs in an underground tunnel on Wycliffe Island, located on Blackwater Lake. After stumbling into a nest of giant ants, the party desperately fought its way out. A few caverns away, as they recovered, they had a stroke of luck and found a calcified chest containing many gems. Exhausted and wounded, they returned to the surface and sailed back to the small village of Lakesend. There they planned to rest, heal, and divide their loot.
FROM THE DM:
I found this session, which lacked any real combat, memorable because of the role-playing and the dialogue between players. You know that you have a good group when they can find great amusement and engagement without rolling dice. I just sat back and watched the how, taking notes. In addition, I had recently asked each player to cast his character with some famous person or Hollywood actor. I think this helped each player really visualize his character, and the dialogue seemed to come easy. This session also served one additional purpose for me as DM. The party had been unwittingly abusing the identify spell, forgetting that it requires a pearl each time. The write up helped to make this clear.
Cast of Characters:
Granny Beckett: Witch, eccentric matriarch of the family
Jade Cormallen: Half-elf ranger, distant relative to most
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger, new family head
Sir Raynard Beckett: Cavalier, sarcastic and brave
Acolyte Denston Beckett: Cleric of Pholtus, grumpy and dour
Daniel Beckett: Assassin, passionate and protective
Sir Callum Beckett: Cavalier, burly and jovial
Sir William Beckett: Cavalier, sarcastic and brave
Kieran Beckett: Magic User, cousin to Lord Roger
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, erratic but insightful
Sergeant Blaine: NPC Fighter, porter to the Beckett family
Sven Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Bjorn’s twin
Bjorn Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Sven’s twin
Brother Liam: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, comrade of Brother Lewie
Dagis: NPC (Fighter 0), squire to Sir Callum
Weary and very hungry, the group returned to the shepherd’s cottage that they had appropriated in the northwestern part of the village. Their kinsmen welcomed them back and asked them many questions as they helped them to unload their gear. After a small meal of raisins, nuts, biscuit, honey, and wine, most of the companions went to bed, exhausted. The two Varangians, feeling renewed in spirit, set off to the Welcome Wench for a few tankards of ale.
Before they retired, Roger summoned Kieran and asked him to use his arts to detect any magic in the loot that they obtained from the island. Noting that he would get started right away, the young sage excused himself. For his part, Roger piled the following items on the dusty floor of the small hut: the 235 gems that they recovered from the calcified chest; the heater shield of Sir Ansel; the beeswax candle and silver plate from the crypt of Sir Kay of Estwick; the cloak from the crypt of Master Ellery Hallam; the Varangian-style ‘god sword’, 50 gold suns and a large peridot cabochon in a small leather pouch, which young Dagis had stepped on in the flooded cavern; the hauberk of fine elfin chain from the crypt of Ashton Brock; the crude stone figurine found in the crypt of Ashton Brock; and the dwarven battle axe found in the pit inside the cavern.
In the morning, all awoke and broke their fast. Roger found that Kieran was already up and working. He had dragged a rickety wooden bench into the corner where the treasure lay and was now looking intently at a bowl of ruby-colored liquid, stirring it occasionally with a white feather.
Roger moved beside him and asked, “Have you found anything?” Kieran replied, “I am just about to begin. I have spent much of last night and this morning making preparations.”
Roger nodded and said, “By all means, begin.” The young sage nodded in agreement, mumbled a few words, and waved his hands in a strange manner. Then his eyes went wide. A few family members noticed what was happening and stopped their banter, drawing nearer to get a better look. Roger broke the silence, saying, “Speak, cousin. What do you see?”
Kieran, still wide-eyed, responded with excitement: “My lord, many of these items have a faint golden aura about them. In fact… only the gems, the gold coins, and that silver plate seem to be devoid of enchantment. Indeed, you seem to have captured a hoard of magical treasure!” A wide smile of wonder and excitement crept across his face.
Roger then asked impatiently, “Can you determine the nature of each item?”
After a slight pause, for he was still staring in fascination at the pile, Kieran nodded and said, “I can try to identify the properties of a few items.”
Kieran turned his attention back to the wooden bowl, again stirring it gently with the white feather. As he did so, he turned to Roger and said, “Actually, my lord, I have been meaning to speak with you about this. I assume that you may wish me to do this again in the future. There are certain limitations and obstacles, not to mention my own distaste for the process.”
Roger, cocking an eyebrow, said simply, “Explain.”
Kieran replied, “Each time I perform this incantation, I can try to identify the properties of just one item. Determining the nature of all these items would take me some time, and I shall be weak as a babe for a few days afterwards, but that is not the primary problem.”
Half of a dozen family members watched quietly and waited on his every word.
Turning to face Roger completely, the young sage continued, saying “I am also rather new to this so my skill at interpreting an item’s powers is limited. I hope to improve with practice, but I cannot guarantee that my determination will be accurate. Still, this is not the primary problem.” The quiet in the room, particularly from the onlookers, had become palpable. They even stopped chewing.
Roger, growing impatient, said, “Come to the chief problem then, cousin.”
Pointing with the crimson-stained feather to the wooden bowl, Kieran continued, “Before we left Yarrvik, I obtained five good-sized pearls of quality. One is required each and every time I perform this incantation so the process is quite costly, not to mention the fact that we are quite distant from the sea and such items seem to be in short supply here. Today, I can attempt to identify the nature of five items, but I cannot repeat the process until I acquire more pearls. Furthermore, the wine in the bowl is an imported Frangian red, obtained yesterday from the Welcome Wench at a cost of four gold suns. I dared not use anything cheaper as it would weaken the incantation. Last night, I placed the pearls in the wine to dissolve them—an agent in the wine facilitates this. I then heated the solution for a few hours this morning to speed up the dissolution process, and it seems just about ready now.”
Kieran continued, “This brings us to my own distaste for this process, which relates to my delicate stomach. I have to ingest this wine solution, which I have been stirring with a dusty owl’s feather, but that is not the most disgusting part.” He then reached down and grabbed a small pail of water, which he then placed on the bench. Inside, Roger saw a few tiny brown fish swimming in circles. With eyebrows raised, Roger looked up at his cousin.
Kieran met his gaze and explained, “Each performance of the incantation calls for me to ingest a live miniature carp. However, miniature carp—carpio orientalis—which hail from the Far East, are not indigenous to Northumbria. Down by the lake this morning, just before sunrise, I located what I think are small common carp. I hope they will have a similar effect, but the results are uncertain. My hope is that the larger size of the pearls will offset the potentially mismatched fish.”
Nodding, Roger stated, “I understand, cousin. We appreciate your sacrifice. Do your best.”
Swallowing nervously, Kieran stirred the wine one last time with the owl’s feather and then turned his attention to the wooden bucket. He cupped his hand and thrust it into the water to grab a tiny fish. All the family members in the cottage were still looking on in silence and anticipation.
Kieran slowly withdrew his closed hand, raised it to his mouth, and sucked down the first tiny fish. Grimacing, he swiftly reached down and repeated this four more times. Gagging and looking green, he hurriedly reached for the wooden bowl and gulped eagerly at the wine. He finally set it down and wiped his hands on his robe.
“I bet one silver moon that he throws up,” quipped Sir William.
“No one will take that wager,” laughed Jade, smiling.
Looking pale, Kieran then muttered a few incomprehensible words under his breath and moved his hands in a strange manner. When he finished, he reached for the heater shield. William handed it to him and slipped it onto his left arm.
His eyes closed, Kieran muttered, “This shield radiates abjuration, and I sense that its designed purpose relates to the absorption of transmutated or interdimensional energy.”
A second passed before Sir Raynard rebuked him sharply, “What are you blathering about? Speak Frangian, cousin!”
Kieran opened his eyes, looked crossly at Raynard, and then spoke softly, “I think this shield somehow protects one against magical energies, be it fire or what have you.”
Raynard smiled, saying, “Much better. It is indeed a fine looking shield. This day is starting off well, no?”
At this, Acolyte Denston spoke up in his typically grim tone, saying, “I would wager that Sir Ansel would want his belongings placed back in his crypt.”
“Sir Ansel is dead. I think he has bigger problems,” said Daniel wryly and with a laugh.
“I doubt that he is missing his shield at the moment,” quipped Jade.
Still scowling, Denston replied, “Laugh and mock, but you shall bring a curse on yourself and on this family if you loot the crypts of innocents. Mark my words.”
Raynard retorted, “Would not Pholtus of the Blinding Light desire his champions to wield weapons of power against the forces of darkness?”
Denston scowled even more, saying, “I am not a foolish child, brother. Treat me like one at your peril. Have you dedicated your life to Pholtus when I was sleeping? Even if you had, it would not be an excuse to despoil a grave. My warning remains.”
Seeing no immediate resolution, Roger intervened, saying, ”Let us first determine what we have before us, and then we can argue about what to do with it. Besides, Kieran has limited time.”
“I still say he throws up,” said William, grinning broadly.
Kieran ignored his cousin, set down the shield, and reached for the beeswax candle. Holding it in his hands, he closed his eyes and muttered a few more strange words. He then spoke aloud more clearly, saying, “This taper radiates emanations of righteousness and potency.”
Raynard cleared his throat and shot the sage an impatient look. Kieran rolled his eyes and continued, saying, “The candle gives off a sense of goodness and power. I cannot sense anything more specific.”
Looking on with interest, Brother Liam quipped, “The markings on the plate clearly indicate devotion to Saint Cuthbert. I have read of tapers than enhance the powers of a cleric when casting within its golden glow.”
Brother Lewie nodded in agreement, muttering, “Quite so, quite so. The candles of which I have read were often kept in a sanctuary, but one could be placed in a lantern.”
Kieran had set down the taper and now held the forest-green cloak of Master Ellery Hallam, which he now threw over his shoulders. After repeating the words of the incantation and taking a moment to concentrate, he said only, “This cloak radiates abjuration of a…”
Looking at Raynard, he stopped mid-sentence and then began anew, “It gives off a sense of protection, but that is all I can detect. I do hope the fish did not weaken the incantation.”
Daniel smiled and said, “Have you noticed the fine weave of that cloak, not to mention the fact that the color is a fine Beckett green?”
“You are all damned,” muttered Denston as he walked away to the far side of the room to grab a piece of fruit.
As Kieran passed the beautifully woven cloak to Daniel, Roger looked at the remaining items—the hauberk of elfin chain, the small carved stone figure, the battleaxe, and the Varangian sword. He spoke aloud to no one in particular, “Two more tries and four items… Well, Tal or Jade might be able to learn more about the elfin chain so put that to the side. Granny expressed great interest in the stone figure, and the twins are eager to learn more about the ‘god sword’ so put the battleaxe to the side as well.”
Kieran picked up the stone figure, closed his eyes, waived his hands in a strange way, and muttered the words anew. Opening his eyes, he said calmly, “This carving screams of change, though I am uncertain of what this means. I seem to be able to see the figure more clearly now, for what appeared to be a crude lump of stone just a moment ago now seems distinctly that of a hound lying down, as if asleep. The word ‘Dag’ fills my mind, though I do not know its meaning… That is all I can sense.”
Granny then tapped the Varangian ‘god sword’ with the end of her staff, saying to the young sage, “Do this one.” Admiring the workmanship of the blade, Raynard bent down and handed the sword to his cousin. Kieran’s arm dropped from the weight, and the tip struck the packed dirt of the cottage floor. Saying the words one last time, the sage lifted the blade with two hands, palms upward, studying the tiny Varangian runes etched into the broad triangular blade. He then spoke, saying, “This sword radiates anger, destruction in battle, and great power. Just holding it, I feel as if I can sunder armor and crush bones. This would seem to match the engravings along the fuller, which I read to say, ‘Gods of battle and thunder, see my wrath and grant me strength’. That is all I can sense.”
Kieran handed the blade to Liam, who looked at it suspiciously and shrugged. Roger thanked the sage for his efforts, but the young man immediately bolted for the door, saying only, “I am going to be sick!”
“Called it!” cried William with joy.
Roger, who now had the battleaxe in his hands, turned to Granny and asked, “Can you read the runes on this blade?”
The ageless woman drew closer and peered at the axe in Roger’s sturdy hands. Her eyes narrowed, and she said, “The runes are not Varangian, though they are similar. They are dwarven runes, I think. I cannot understand them completely, but my guess is something along these lines:
‘I throw quickly with power
I throw with the anger of barbarians
I throw and destroy, I cut again and cut in twain
I vanquish a foe with fame’
At this, Jade drew nearer, saying, “My brother is better versed with dwarven runes than I, but I recognize some of these. Like elves, dwarves have two sets of runes. These are the ones reserved for things of great importance, such as enchanted weapons and enchanted scrolls. I think they are called ‘smithing marks’. I cannot be sure of the meaning of these, but Granny’s interpretation sounds about right. As for that chain hauberk, it seems only fitting that an elf wear it, no?”
“It seems only fitting that Ashton Brock wear it, as it was his property,” replied Denston from across the room. The debate began anew.