Yeah, what DID we get ourselves into? Well at the start it seemed like it was a good idea at the time.
Who am I kidding? Everyone had misgivings about the job from the start but we let Reuben get us all hired. It seemed kinda easy.
Back it up a bit.
Matt the Knife, short little troubleseeker that he is, sniffed out some local that told him that he needs to visit the "southern marshes" to find some special plant. Supposed to be some cash in recovering this plant. So he spent most of his waking hours down by the docks interviewing sailors and trolling for seamen.
Then Reuben decided that he wanted to hang up a shingle in town. Not like AD&D days where you had to hit "name level" to be able to open your own church. But I don't think that I'd be so generous as to call Reuben's first attempt a "church". More like he rented an arctic entryway from someone who didn't need the side entrance to their shop, giving him a space about the size of your average confessional booth to work his priestcraft. Price was cheap. Since we'd already dropped coin on a month's lodging at the inn we did the same (5 weeks) for Reuben's venture as an "investment". Maybe it'll pay off some day.
Maybe we should have drawn up a contract.
An investment much more likely to pay off: a new better bow for Demilo.
Everything was going smooth until Reuben got a "social call" from the "representative" of the local variant of the Sicilian Mafia. The Don had an offer for us, an offer we couldn't refuse. An offer to take a large cash settlement in exchange for services not yet rendered. Services that would be rendered by sailing to the "southern marsh", seeking out an ancient castle, poking around past some unspoken danger, and recovering a crown.
Well, we didn't get all of that up front. We didn't get most of the information until we said we'd take the job. Then by the time we found out that we're out to recover the Crown of Mastery it was too late to say no. Not without incuring the Wrath of Don.
We figured at this point that we knew just enough about the job to be worth killing, but not enough to be worth sending someone who would do a good job of killing us. Thus earning ourselves a bounty of being hunted "to the pain". We couldn't even reasonably return the cash advance without incuring the Wrath of Don.
So we took the job.
I had a scheme to find some local mercantile house or trader with access to a ship and get in with them. Eventually, of course, I'd like to establish trade between the north and this benighted little deep south suburb. But it turns out that the government style down here is totally fascist and dictatorial. We figured out, through some combination of sociology and scatology, that the local population must have been whittled down to next to maybe a handful of families with only the strongest (not necessarily the largest) and most tightly organized group surviving. So they probably have the genetic diversity of the cheetah, having incurred a sharp bottleneck some 50 generations ago and slowly built up population from there.
Oh, my scheme didn't work.
Reuben did his best impersonation of an ignorant foreigner who wanted to go hunting. He does a good impersonation of a big ignorant foreigner. It bought us a boat ride to the bayou of the deep south. A little Creedence was playing in the background. Or was that banjo music?
At this point were were well stocked up with stuff that I/we (mostly me) thought that we'd need to brave the wilderness again. I bought new clothes, two sets and boots, for everyone. Plus: hard tack rations for a couple weeks each, hammocks to serve double as ponchos and tarps, new packs as needed, a set of 10' poles, rope, climbing gear, a grappling hook, pitons, iron spikes, and a looong list of sundry items. We had our bargeboys drop us off in the deep south, wave goodbye, and we started trekking inland.
The majority of the gear was strung up on a travois and lugged around like a body on a litter. I can only guess that Winterloin must have been helping Reuben do the heavy lifting while Demilo probed ahead on the path as we made our way through the swamp. I'm certain that everyone was wet, cold, buggy, muddy, and had blisters from brand new boots by the time we found a spot of high-and-dry to camp for the night. The next day we set off again and found a decrepit ruined rundown broken castle. Did I mention that it was old? It was so old that the moat had filled with sediment. It was so old that it looked like a big green ivy infestation.
Did I mention that we'd heard some big screaming thing in the night? Yeah, we forgot about it too.
Fast forward, to the "castle". I use the term loosely. Upstairs or downstairs? Downstairs. Hall or down again? Hall. Door? Open it, choke us all on some toxic mold, and thus started a venture into Dave's Tomb of Horrors (Lite). After the toxic mold deathtrap, we discovered the "darkness spell" trigger on a door leading to a 20' spiked pittrap. Swag. Fortunately nobody fell in. All the way. Then there was the room of poisoned dart traps leading to a fake door and a dead end. There was the stairs leading down that turned into a slick ramp leading to another 20' spiked pittrap. No swag. No casualties. Did I miss something along the way? Eventually we came to a room with writing carefully engraved into the wall and then furiously chiselled out. A big puzzle. We worked the puzzle for a while, and then eventually checked gamespot for some clues before solving it. We had the wordsmith part of the puzzle almost solved and I was just about to drag out my laptop and whip up a grep dictionary attack to solve the puzzle when Joe coughed up a solution that fit. We ran with it, and everything else pretty much fell into place after that. With no further casualty or danger, we recovered the Crown of Mastery.
Okay, whats a Crown of Mastery?
I'd love to tell you. Reuben stuffed it in a bag and crammed it in his backpack before I could try to attune it and figure it out.
But if I had to guess, the Crown has something to do with us getting out if this place alive. Thats what would happen in a Robert Jordan novel. We'd have to use the crown to get past the dragon to escape. But if this was in a Lovecraft novel, we'd use the crown and summon a Deep One and we'd all go crazy and die. But then it wouldn't matter what we'd do, because in a Lovecraft novel everyone goes crazy and a Deep One gets summoned and everyone dies. So if we have a hope of survival, it is that Dave reads more Jordan than Lovecraft.
Did I mention a dragon?
Big, flying, screaming, not breathing fire on us. Yet. Nobody has taken the time to count limbs. Maybe its a big wyvern. Or a cockatrice. Or a manticore. Or Reuben's daemon that I "dispelled" when I cancelled that magical darkness.
Yeah, thats why its important for everyone to be there on the 20th.