Sunday, June 29, 2014

Play Report: Blood and Cannonfire, Session 1: "Great Beginnings"

Precis: An alternate history campaign, set in the Caribbean in the year 1588.  Alternate in that this is a version of reality in which magic exists, albeit as a rare and suppressed thing.  The PCs are spies, pirates and ne'er-do-wells hired to spy on and sabotage the Spanish.

Ruleset: Basic Role-Playing

Dramatis Personae:

Aleister Northrop, an English occultist-in-training and distant relative of Edward Kelley, assistant and scryer to Dr. John Dee
Francois de Vallons, a French mariner, carpenter and swordsman
Bear Who Stands in Rivers, a Native American, formerly enslaved by the Spanish, freed by pirates, now dedicated to killing Spaniards wherever he can find them.

January 1st, 1588.  3 am, to judge by the church bells.  The PCs are resting, not sleeping, on the damp, dirty straw of a prison cell in Santo Domingo, the Spanish island of Hispaniola.  They're to be hanged at dawn for their various crimes.

A jangling of keys and the jailer enters the room with a sputtering torch, leading a tall, hatchet-faced man overdressed for the climate, who slips the jailer a small pouch of coins and dismisses him.

Addressing the PCs, the hatchet-faced man introduces himself as Henry Davenport, and offers the PCs their freedom in exchange for meeting with Davenport's unnamed employer and listening to the job offer he has for the PCs.  After some linguistic confusion (Francois speaking little Spanish or English, Aleister speaking little Spanish or French, and Bear speaking his native language, a smattering of Spanish, and oddly, Yiddish), the PCs decide that anything's better then being hanged, and agree to meet with Davenport's employer.

Leaving the prison, the PCs duck into a store-room to avoid a patrol of guards, and find themselves in the midst of a swarm of rats, irritable at having been disturbed.  As Aleister is getting his ankles gnawed by vermin, he becomes aware that much of what is stored in this particular store-room is lamp oil.  Pouring out a barrel across the floor, Aleister motions everyone out of the room and ignites it, setting off a conflagration that sends flaming rats careening across the dockyards, igniting every flammable substance they come in contact with.  The PCs make a run for it, rendezvousing with the boat Davenport had waiting for them.

Rowing in silence, they meet up with a silent ship floating a half-hour out to sea - the Golden Hind, flagship of the late Sir Francis Drake.  Once aboard, they met with Sir Francis Walsingham, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Privy Councillor and Spymaster, in charge of overseeing all espionage, both domestic and international, in the interest of protecting her majesty from plots against her.

Walsingham is blunt: with Drake dead at St. Augustine, his primary eyes and ears in the Spanish Main are gone.  He needs new operatives in the region, particularly as there are three mysteries troubling him.

  1. The amount of gold flowing out of the New World into the King of Spain's treasury has increased by a factor of five in the last ten years.  No source for this gold is known.  
  2. Trios of 4' tall figures, dressed in black cassocks and hooded cloaks, have been seen in the company of prominent political, religious and social figures, including the Viceroy of New Spain, the Grand Inquisitor, and King Philip II.  It's ludicrous to believe there are so many dwarves in the Jesuit order, but how else can these figures be explained? And always three at a time?
  3. Spanish spies have been combing the Caribbean, seeking information on an old pirate legend, that of the "Black Chest."  According to the most common version of the legend, French pirate Le Loup de Gevaudan lifted a dozen enormous diamonds from the possession of a cannibal tribe on the Ivory Coast, hiding them in a chest of black-lacquered wood.  Le Loup was murdered over the chest by his own crew, who then fell among themselves for possession of the diamonds until none were left alive to say where the chest was buried.  
This is what the PCs are wearing,
incidentally.  Furry hats and
scrotum pants.
Accepting letters of marque and reprisal from Walsingham, as well as a decent amount of petty cash, the PCs were given a final tool to aid them in resolving these mysteries - a pair of enchanted spectacles, that would allow them to contact Dr. John Dee, the Queen's personal physician and court sorcerer, in the event of trouble.  Demonstrating the spectacles, Walsingham put them on and said, "Dr. John Dee," causing the image of the magus to appear, flickering and bluish, in front of him [DM's note: much like a Force Ghost from Star Wars].  

Suitably equipped, the PCs are returned to shore just before dawn to begin their investigation.  Discussing the matter among themselves, the PCs decided to follow the gold and find where that was coming from.  Reflecting on the Spanish Treasure Fleet, they recalled that the fleet leaves Seville, then separates into three smaller fleets - one to Veracruz, one to Cartagena de Indies, and one to Cozumel to collect gold, spices, silver, pearls and other treasures.  The fleets then reconnect in Havana and return to Seville.  

Deciding that Cartagena de Indies was closest to their current location, the PCs decided to begin their investigation there.  Seeking passage, they went to the first seedy dockside tavern they could find, a ramshackle inn called the Leaky Harlot Bar & Grille, to look for the kind of captain who doesn't ask too many questions.  They found one in Richard Cartier, captain of the sloop Soiled Dove.  After negotiating prices, the PCs agreed to work their passage around the Caribbean - from Santo Domingo to Santiago de Cuba, to Port Royal Jamaica, to Cartagena de Indies.  

Within a few weeks, the fortified port city of Cartagena de Indies was in sight.  

End Session.

The actual play of this session can be listened to here or here.  

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