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Chronicles of the Argent Shroud 1 - Troubled Waters

Art from Pathfinder Lost Omens: Firebrands

Greetings and welcome to the first proper entry in my new campaign diary series where I chronicle the journey of my group, the Order of the Argent Shroud, as they adventure around the Jewel Cities of Talavaar.

If you haven't checked out the series primer, which introduces the characters and some key info you might want to know, you can find that here.

When Last We Left Our Heroes...

...they had struck down a piece of proposed legislation to regulate magic items in the nation of the Vale, and thus freed up the politician Merek Montague to go on his grand expedition to the Unclaimed Lands of Ngawe and find the Labyrinth of the Nameless Fiend.

This session started with them preparing for their journey by buying supplies before being taken to Merek's ship, the Spirit of Saint Sofia to set sail bound for Ngawe.

Here they met their guides for the journey, a kindly Ngawen native named Lwandile Dumisa and his niece, Aphiwe.

The Company Journeys South

The voyage from the Vale to Ngawe would take our heroes 15 days as they sailed around the island of Ore, across the Cut, and finally landed at the city of Iziki, better known as Eastsong in the common tongue.

I gave the players the chance to mingle and get to know their characters a little more during this journey, as well as to ask Merek and Lwandile questions about the upcoming expedition. They didn't have much in the way of information that they wanted to get from the NPCs, being more concerned with trying to fish off the side of the ship and Russell, the trickster cleric was looking for schemes he could play on the people around him.

Sensing that the players weren't particularly interested in the seaborne voyage, I skipped over much of the journey narratively, marking the passage of time using the weather.

Venena, the party fighter, has a fear of the rain, as she believes it brings the mysterious knight that defeated her and cut off her arm, so weather is a tension dial I always have access to.

I used the excellent 4 season weather table by u/KorbohneD from the OSR subreddit to figure out what the weather would be like for each of their days' travel.

It's a really simple method for randomly generating weather by season, and I've been using it to add a little more detail to my world for over a year now.

It's just turned to Autumn in our campaign, which is perfect because it means the rainy season is coming and Venena's fear levels will be heightened, adding more drama to otherwise mundane events.

Over the course of several days I described how the atmosphere became more and more foggy, until the ship's crew were navigating by compass and map alone and the mood on board was miserable. Ven decided a performance would lighten everyone's spirits and just as she finished it began to rain, causing her to flee back below decks.

Pirate Problems

Around two thirds of the way through their journey, the ship was set upon by pirates.

It may be clichéd to have your party encounter danger while travelling by sea - be it pirates or some kind of monster - but I think it's one of those clichés that a lot of players would be disappointed not to encounter. If you're going on an epic sea voyage in an adventure story, you want some kind of drama!

Making Combat Interesting

When I was designing the encounter for the ship battle I knew that this would likely be the only encounter the players would have during this adventuring day, as well as during this journey, so I decided to go for a waves of enemies approach.

Doing this allows the battle to feel like one large encounter, but it actually means that you can build it as multiple separate encounters for XP purposes, which results in the PCs draining a lot more of their resources and having a much fuller experience.

While planning the battle I broke it down into x stages

  1. The initial assault.

  2. Reinforcements arrive; the mast in danger

  3. Don't ignore the wizard: anchors away

The Initial Assault

Part 1 of the battle was two-fold; firstly a large group of pirates would board the ship and start pushing towards the back of the vessel, and secondly, the midship would become difficult terrain to represent the swirling melee of all the NPCs I didn't want to put into initiative fighting against the pirates.

I knew this was going to be a dense encounter, and I didn't want to add a few dozen more extra combatants to the initiative to play out NPC on NPC combat, so instead opted to resolve that narratively, and have the mechanical impact be an area of difficult terrain where the fighting was thickest to represent how hard it would be to work your way through the crowd.

This initial assault was made up of a high number of fairly weak enemies to give the PCs the chance to use some of their cool abilities, burn some of their higher level spell slots, like fireball, and lull them into a false sense of security while chipping away at their HP.

The real goal of the pirates was never simply wiping out the PCs, it was stopping the boat.

Reinforcements arrive; the mast in danger

From turn 3 of the combat, a new wave of pirates arrive from two directions. A wizard and a cohort of protectors boarded near the bow of the ship, and a squad of ogre pirates boarded near the stern. The wizard set on of the masts on fire, and the ogres used a battering ram to start attacking the stern mast.

I placed down two count down timers indicating that the masts would break in 3 turns if the players didn't do anything about it.

So the PCs now had two objectives; stay alive and defeat the pirates, but also protect the masts.

Then on the following turn I added another spike of drama by having two of the ogres break off from the pack and go to attack Merek Montague, their financier.

This introduced a tertiary objective; keep Merek alive, and in the space of a few minutes they had gone from feeling like they were on the verge of a comfortable victory to feeling like all the spinning plates were teetering.

Don't ignore the wizard: anchors away

Turn 5 is where things started to really get away from the PCs. The recently arrived wizard started picking their way through the difficult terrain of the midship melee and moving towards the front of the ship and started attacking the mechanism holding the starboard anchor.

This was a flashpoint for our heroes. George, the party monk, has the ability to move at lightning fast speeds, and could easily have crossed the length of the ship and caught the wizard during this turn, but he chose not to, and the following turn stopped halfway up the ship to engage other enemies instead of chasing the wizard, which gave him time to set loose the starboard anchor and start to slow the ship.

The PCs managed to stop the ogres from destroying the rear mast, but the midship mast is burning with 2 turns left before it collapses, and there's only one anchor left for the enemy wizard to deploy before the ship will come to a stop and be dead in the water, ready for more pirate reinforcements to sweep in.

We ended the session at the top of a round and will be picking up next week with the heroes trying to salvage the situation and keep their ship from being rendered useless in the middle of the sea; leaving it easy prey for the pirates of the Cut.

If the ship is disabled then the heroes will find themselves inside the pirate lord Kosus' lair. . .


Wow what a nice session! Really love your usage of secondary goals in this fight. I always struggle with those and the combat turns to "attack, hit, attack, miss, ...".

Apr 25
Replying to

It's something I really want to focus on more now that we've moved back to 5e. Without the weight of the PF2 rules to consider I'm finding myself with more prep time to think about things like secondary objectives, adding music and weather effects to the combat in our VTT, and just overall elevating the experience of combat. And it seems to be working because several of the players messaged after the session to specifically call out out how much fun they're already having with this new campaign.

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