Campaign Journal: my "just the underwater bits" RoA game

Ruins of Azlant

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The Caveat:
This is a campaign I am running for my children, Hermione (8) and Teensy Valeros (6), and my husband. We started them on Pathfinder two years ago (which was my first foray into GMing as well), and if you’re interested in how little kids learn to game, you can read our adventures through the Beginner Box, some homebrew adventures around Sandpoint, and Book 1 of Legacy of fire, HERE.

This being our gaming group, this is not the same campaign I would run for teens or adults. It all started back in January, when I was at the seafood counter in Central Market with the kids, buying some salmon for our Burns Night dinner. Hermione looked at the tank of live lobsters and asked,
“Mama, can we buy a lobster?”
“No,” I said. “First of all, you can’t buy just one, you need to buy one for every person having dinner, and they’re expensive. Second, you cook them by dropping them into the pot of boiling water while they’re still alive, and while I love to *eat* lobster, I don’t have the stomach to cook them.”
Hermione gave me a horror-stricken look. “NO! I don’t want to cook them and eat them! I just want ONE, to keep in my room in a tank. As a pet.”
To which the answer was still no.
A few months later, we were at the children’s aquarium in Fair Park for a classmate’s birthday party. I found Hermione staring into the lobster tank in the aquarium. She said, “You know what would be awesome? To play a Pathfinder game that was totally underwater, and to have a character that rides on a giant lobster that can fight. “
“A dire lobster?”
“YES! A dire lobster animal companion.”
And since Ruins of Azlant was the most easily adaptable AP, I decided to start in the underwater section of Book 3, The Flooded Cathedral, which meant starting the PCs at ninth level.

The PCs:
Arwen, a Sea Elf Ranger (played by Hermione), whose animal companion is
Fluffy, the Dire Lobster.
(Building these characters with the Hero Labs software required a lot of kluging and a lot of “yeah, we’re just gonna call it that.” Fluffy is actually build on a Shark animal companion, and the “Bite” attack is really the combined force and damage of two massive lobster claws.)
Before I’d started reading the Azlant AP and Cerulean Seas, I’d decided that Arwen would be the potions maker of the group, and as an undersea Ranger, she had studied undersea herbology. The various potions are represented by doses (by size of a rolled preparation) of different types of underwater plants, and the time it takes to craft a potion is represented by the time it takes to locate, harvest, and prepare the plants. Think “gillyweed” from Harry Potter 4.
She had been hearing worrisome rumors of a great evil that had awakened in the sunken temple of Amaznen, and felt it her duty to find this temple and investigate the rumors. Before going, she went to find her good friend…

Bruce, a Selkie whose land form is dwarf, not human, and whose undersea form is elephant seal. His personality is akin to “Badger” from Wind in the Willows.
Bruce is a multiclass Sorcerer 6 / Fighter 3.
Bruce is where we get a little mystical.
Have you read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods?

relevant passage from chapter six…:

He was looking at Mr. Nancy, an old black man with a pencil moustache, in his check sports jacket and his lemon-yellow gloves, riding a carousel lion as it rose and lowered, high in the air; and, at the same time, in the same place, he saw a jeweled spider as high as a horse, its eyes an emerald nebula, strutting, staring down at him; and simultaneously he was looking at an extraordinarily tall man with teak-colored skin and three sets of arms, wearing a flowing ostrich-feather headdress, his face painted with red stripes, riding an irritated golden lion, two of his six hands holding on tightly to the beast's mane; and he was also seeing a young black boy, dressed in rags, his left foot all swollen and crawling with black flies; and last of all, and behind all these things, Shadow was looking at a tiny brown spider, hiding under a withered ochre leaf.

So, yeah. Bruce is an elephant seal swimming along beside you with a head-axe strapped onto his head. And he is also this stocky dwarf swimming along beside you, bubbles in his flowing beard, holding a Greatspear of the Selkie and kicking legs as big around as cabers and speaking to you telepathically in a Scottish accent. Think of transparencies overlaid, or those souvenir books of ruins that show you the contemporary photograph with an artist’s rendering of what it looked like two thousand years ago or more. And then remember we’re running this campaign for kids, not for grown-up and “serious” gamers.
We don’t know much about Bruce’s backstory because he doesn’t tell anyone anything much. Arwen doesn’t know exactly where he is, she just knows kind of generally where to look for him, and he, for reasons that make sense only to him, is fond of her. When Arwen went to visit Bruce to tell him of her plan to find and investigate the temple of Amaznen, he told her, “You’ll nae be goin’ alone, lass, Ranger or no.”

Super Sonic Swimmer Boy (known as S Cubed B), a half-elf (sea) Cleric of Elion. He is played by Teensy Valeros. He was the only land-based PC at the start of our campaign.
As a Cleric of the lost god Elion, he has been sent by his (whatever the higher-ups in the clerical hierarchy of Elion are called) to go to an island called Zanas-Tahn, where colonists have been vanishing. As Elion was the Azlanti god of exploration and discovery, when Azlant fell into the depths of the sea, it was the followers of Elion who were instrumental in aiding the survivors to settle elsewhere. Now, SSSB has been told that the mystery of the missing colonists may be bound up in the past--and present--of the sunken continent. After travelling to Zanas-Tahn, he assisted a party of their bravest adventurers to explore the old watchtower and caverns on the island. He discovered clockwork archers made of wood, a mysterious astronomical laboratory that was haunted by the ghost of the astronomer who foretold Earthfell, clockwork bees, and a ruined temple. Making his way down through the layers of the temple, the party came to a section where only those who could safely travel underwater could go. SSSB’s landbound comrades swore to wait for him until he either returned with the missing colonists, or returned to say that there was no one to save, and they made camp in the ruins of level C. (Having cleared all the levels above, they feel reasonably safe.) He put on a Helm of Underwater Action given to him by his superiors to enable him to breathe and swim freely underwater, and slipped beneath the surface of the water.

Session One
August 8, 2019
This was a short introductory session, because it took me a while to set up, and go over backstory, and introduce the characters to one another after the fight, and it's a short window between the end of supper and bedtime.

After a day and a half of travelling, Arwen, Bruce, and Fluffy locate the sunken temple of Amaznen at Zanas-Tahn. Swimming around the western side of the temple, they discover a fissure in the wall leading to C14, the Drowned Colonnade. As they enter, the see a humanoid figure descending the steps into the chamber from the halls above the water. As the figure enters the water, he sees them, and shouts, "DROP YOUR WEAPONS!" (which is what happens when a ninth level Cleric is being played by a first grader), which of course (after the GM's facepalm) triggers an ambush by the four Skum who were waiting behind the secret door.
There was some fighting, during which Bruce took a little damage and SSSB took a ton of damage (note to self: when assigning armor to PCs in Hero Labs, be sure to click the box to equip the PC with the armor, or it doesn't actually change their AC and other bonuses on the printed portfolio. But a crit is still a crit.)
SSSB channels twice to heal himself and Bruce. SSSB tells Bruce and Arwen of his adventures in the chambers above and explains he's looking for the missing colonists. They agree to help him. They loot some minor oils and pouches of pears from the dead Skum.
With kids, that's really enough for one session.

Session Two
August 11, 2019
Tonight's session should have been longer, but Bruce's player (being unused to playing a fighter) had been alarmed by the damage SSSB had taken during the first session and decided it was his duty to block the corridor and serve as a damage-dealing meat shield. The result was that it stretched out the fight to nine rounds and bored the kids to tears. To his credit, he later apologized to the kids and promised not to do it that way again.

After Arwen, Bruce, and SSSB agreed to team up, they went through the east archway toward the offering hall. Bruce, ever suspicious, rolled a stellar perception check and was able to sense the presence of more Skum in the Offering Hall beyond. He planted himself in the middle of the corridor and used his telepathic suggestion to instill the idea in the mind of one of the Skum guards that he really ought to investigate those suspicious noises he heard in the corridor. Skum have lousy will saves. Of course, once Skum Stranglers see an enemy, their "favorite tactic is to initiate a grapple and then pin the foe on the following round, all while squeezing the life out of the foe with his strangle ability."

This works great if your enemy is not a burly fighter wielding a polearm with a 10' extended melee range. By the end of round 2, the first Skum was a kebab. The others, meanwhile, were holding their posts inside the room as they were supposed to. (The Uot cast his buffs per the instructions in the AP.) In round 3, Bruce started working telepathically on the next Skum guard, who (like his friend) biffed his already pitiful Will save. He was a kebab by the end of round 4. By the moment in round 5 that Bruce suggested to the third Skum that he really ought to just run away rather than die like his comrades in arms, the kids were sick of saying "I wait" whenever their turn came up. They were about to lose their minds. In round six, after Bruce had moved toward the entrance to the Offering Hall to attack the remaining Skum, the train was off the rails. The kids' PCs charged up behind Bruce, the Skum saw them all advancing and fled toward the opposite door, only to be stopped by SSSB's declared action of casting Spear of Purity if anyone tried to flee. Rounds 8 and 9 finished off the Uot, and SSSB found and disabled the Coral Spine Traps. Arwen rewarded Fluffy (who had contributed to the demise of the Uot with his claw attack) by tossing his weighted purple squeaky squid toy for him to catch. They loot the corpses examine the bodies for clues, which yields the Uot's potion formula book (which Arwen claims) and a Ring of Resistance +1 for SSSB. (This was where I went into Hero Labs to add the Ring to SSSB's sheet and discovered I'd forgotten to check the "equip" box on his armor. Hey, maybe now he won't die!) SSSB heals himself with an oil of Cure Serious.

Session Three
August 15, 2019
This was the first session where the PCs worked together a little bit better, but we started too late and the kids were tired and irritable. I'd hoped to knock out two or three rooms tonight, but we only managed one. Again. So frustrating. We need to find a time to do this earlier in the day.

As the party came around the corner heading north toward C18 and the stairs up to the above-water areas of level C, Bruce turned to SSSB and started asking questions about the "dry" rooms. Sure, he asked them telepathically, but they got answered verbally, and so it wasn't much of a surprise when two of the Skum guards in C18 (one of whom rolled a natural 20) came at Bruce suddenly from around the corner.

Other than the fact that Teensy Valeros finally felt more comfortable using some of SSSB's offensive spells from further back so Arwen, Bruce and Fluffy could handle the melee fight, there's not much to say. It was over pretty quickly, with one of the four Skum fleeing as his compatriot had last time.

SSSB channeled to heal Bruce's injuries, and Bruce also used an oil of Cure Mod. SSSB made his Knowledge: Religion checks and explained the statues of Eyndea and Lissala in the room. The team looks into The Pantheon and The Hall of the Heroine and decides to tackle the Pantheon first.
Next time.

Session Four
August 18, 2019
This was our first session that we played mid-afternoon rather than between dinner and bedtime, and as such, the kids were in much better moods and we got through three entire rooms! As a result, we're only going to play on weekends from now on.

We begin today's session in C19, The Pantheon. SSSB has pumped his Knowledge:Religion and History stats as high as he can, and rolls really well. Because he's six and takes things too personally, the few times he misses, I have him stop in from of one of the ruined columns and say, "Yeah, this one's too broken up for me to identify anything." The kid is a born storyteller (I swear it's genetic and he takes after my dad and uncles even though they all died long before he was born) and his shining moment is having me whisper the myths of Pharasma, Shelyn (and Dou-Bral), Abadar, Amaznen and Acavna to him ("Whisper softer so *I* can tell it to them!") so he can then turn around and retell the stories in his own words.
This task finished, they begin to check for traps, secret doors, and loot. They locate the secret door leading to C13b, the Burial Chamber, which proves problematic: the AP clearly states that it requires three successful checks (either disable device or Strength) to get the door to open, but to my husband's eye, I'm "cheating" by letting them continue to try. I can't explain without giving it away, so I try to narrate around it to make it reasonable. This part is NOT FUN.
The door opens.
When Hermione realizes what kind of room this is, she asks, "Are the dead people going to stay dead, or will magic make them come alive and fight?"
The group has a quick discussion--which, I'm proud to say, they did in character and true to alignments--and decide that treasure or no, they're not going to desecrate the bodies of the dead priests, especially given the chance that they were devotees of a god of magic. SSSB successfully re-locks the secret door mechanism before enough rounds have elapsed to trigger the Azlanti Mummies.

C20, the Hall of the Heroine
Crossing back through the Pantheon and the hall of the Shunned One (C18), the team reaches the doorway to C20 just in time to see the two Skum that had fled the previous fights being torn apart by a pack of great white sharks just past the ruined south wall of the cathedral. (They had fled in this direction, one of them was bleeding from losing half his hit points, and the AP clearly stated there were four sharks there, so, hey! sharkbait.
Arwen successfully makes her Wild Empathy check and indicates that the PC's have no interest in bothering the sharks or interrupting their snack.
SSSB successfully identifies the figures in the statue and once again does a stellar job of retelling the story.
Hermione asks, "Hey, why is the sword glowing? Statues aren't supposed to do that! Is it stone or metal?"
Bruce successfully makes his spellcraft checks, but can't manage to make the required Strength check to release the sword from the statue. Fluffy tries as well (his strength is a point higher than Bruce's), but Arwen admonishes him to be careful with his big claws and not damage the statue to get the sword free, so he doesn't use his full strength and the sword stays where it is.
They don't try to investigate the areas outside the broken south wall because the sharks have been feeding there, so right now the party thinks that all that is left of this level is the Sanctuary up the steps from C16.

Session Five
August 25, 2019

Crossing back through the Offering Hall, our adventurers make for the steps to the Sanctuary. There is some meta-game whispering as to who has the best stealth. It turns out to be Fluffy, by a longshot. Fluffy goes up the steps to listen at the door. Bruce asks, telepathically, "Can you hear anything?"
Glorandral, however, has rolled a natural 20 on his perception check, and has been waiting and listening for the party since he heard the sounds of the fight with the Uot and his Skum guards in the Offering Hall a short while ago... but, Glo doesn't make his own stealth check and Fluffy's perception roll is also high, so Fluffy hears him whisper a bit too loudly, "Hide behind the alter... they're coming."
Fluffy lets Arwen and Bruce know.
Bruce casts "Shield of Faith" and Mirror Image (he gets five of them), and S-cubed-B casts Bless and Prayer.
Fluffy goes through the door first with Arwen on her back (Arwen opens the door) and is hit with two bowshots from Glorandral (20 points), who pops up from behind the furthest of the altars. Fluffy finishes her move to hide behind the closest alter to the door. Arwen gets off of Fluffy's back to crouch next to her behind the 4' alter and feed Fluffy a potion nugget of Cure Serious.
Bruce comes in behind Arwen and Fluffy, his own crossbow at the ready, fires off two shots at Glo, and with a crit and a 2nd hit, does 36 points of damage. The three Skum Impalers pop up from behind the other side of Arwen and Fluffy's alter and attempt to poke them with longspears, but all three miss because they can't roll for cr*p.
SSSSB aims a Spear of Purity at Glo, who makes his saving throw for half damage, so only takes 6.
Fluffy claw attacks the closest Skum Impaler (Sk3) for 11.
The two Skum Shooters hidden in niches on either side of the door both try to shoot Bruce, and both miss.
At the top of round two, Glo does six points to Bruce with his first bow shot and eliminates one of the mirror images with the second.
Arwen does 11 points of melee trident damage to Skum 3.
Bruce gets in one good bow shot on Glorandral and double-crits for 54 points.
The useless Skum Impalers can't hit Arwen or Fluffy, who have partial concealment.
SSSB summons a basic shark with his Summon Monster. (I changed the summon list per Cerulean Seas.)
Fluffy tries to claw one of the Skum Impalers but misses. Both of the Skum Shooters miss Bruce.
At the top of round three, Glorandral biffs his roll and misses Bruce, twice. Arwen finishes off Skum 3. Bruce takes 15 more points off Glorandral. The two remaining Skum Impalers fail to harm Fluffy or Arwen, SSSB's summoned shark fails to bite Glorandral, SSSB fails to harpoon a Skum, and the two Skum Shooters fail to hit Bruce. But Fluffy savages another Skum Impaler with his claws (8 points).
At the top of round four, Glorandral again misses Bruce. I narrated it as he's weak from blood loss and a little dizzy, but really, my dice just suck. Arwen further damages Skum 2, and Bruce takes out one of the Skum Shooters in one efficient attack. The two Skum Impalers both miss. What else is new? SSSB's summoned shark successfully bites Glorandral, killing him. My son is very smug. SSSB and Fluffy tag team on Skum 2. The remaining Skum Impaler triple crits Bruce with an additional 3 points of bleed damage.
Yeah, just kidding. He misses. Again.
Round 5: Arwen finishes off Skum 2, Bruce kills the other Skum Shooter in one round, and they tie up the last surviving Skum and intimidate him into telling everything he knows about the laboratory, Ontooth, survivors, etc. They loot Glorandral's body. They locate and examine the mechanism in the central altar, but decide not to activate it, instead returning to SSSB's former adventuring party just up the stairs from C14 and rest for the night. (Fluffy will have to remain in the water on the stairs, but within sight of the NPCs keeping watch.)

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Session Six
September 1, 2019
After today's session, my husband said, "Hey! That actually felt like a real gaming session!" Which stung, because I'm trying, and it's not easy trying to GM for two kids and a guy who thinks he knows everything about gaming. But, yeah, it was a good day. Less "I kill it; it dies."

The party had spent the night with SSSB's former adventuring party, who remain camped in C6, the Library, with two men keeping watch on the landing at the top of the submerged staircase, C5. Fluffy remains on the staircase, Arwen sleeps at the top of the staircase with her tail in the water between Fluffy's claws, and Bruce and SSSB actually get to kip on bedrolls in the funky-smelling library. There are hard biscuits and cheese and sausages, which are a novelty to Arwen, but the Dwarven side of Bruce enjoys immensely. The land-bounds enjoy feeding sausages to Fluffy.
The next morning, after SSSB has finished his morning orisons and everyone has rested and breakfasted, Bruce asks for a couple of cold sausages from the night before. As the adventurers go back down the staircase to the Colonnade where they first met (C14), Bruce stops to check on their Skum prisoner who remains tied up in the secret room (C15) and feed him the sausages.
The dead bodies in the Offering Hall and Sanctuary are gone (mostly), but there are tiny bits of armor and gear with visible shark bite marks.
SSSB sets to work studying the central altar in the Sanctuary, and, with an assist from Arwen, is finally able to figure out the mechanism, slots a dusty rose prism ioun stone he found in one of the chambers above the water line into it, and activates the mechanism. Electricity arcs through the water between the two poles over their heads, but (because it's magic) does not fry everything in the water-filled room. You have to touch it directly, and they're staying close to the floor. The staircase to C16 has slid closed, but a door leading down has opened up in the niche where their Skum captive had said it would. Bruce casts Shield and they descend.
Eight mutated colonists are bobbing in the water, staring vacantly ahead. (Instead of the official pawns for these monsters, I just pulled some random matching unpainted metal orc minis from the cabinet and said, "they look like zombie-mermaid-fish-people-things. They're pretty gross."
As the party enters the chamber, Mutants 1, 2, and 4 come forward to engage them.
Bruce attempts telepathic suggestion on them, as he had successfully done with a few of the Skum, and realizes that they are devoid of intelligence. The party has a quick conversation and decide that if these mutant fish people aren't actually evil and are really what remains of some of the colonists they were too late to save, they don't want to harm them or kill them, just incapacitate them, so they're going to attempt nonlethal damage by using the blunt handles of their polearms to do the same type of piercing strike... like a choku tsuki jo strike in aikido.
I rule they have the skill to do it, it's just going to take a little longer, because less damage per strike.

This settled, the adventurers engage the first three mutants.
I'm not going to type out the play-by-play of all seven rounds.
To summarize:
Because the mutants have no intelligence, they have no strategy. They're just kind of floating there until someone comes within a few squares of them. So the party moves along the right-hand wall of the chamber, knocking out mutants 1, 2, 4, 6, and 8 in turn. (At one point, I have Bruce roll a perception check as he is about to strike his opponent and he realizes that one more hit with his weapon, even at half damage, would kill him. Bruce says, "Okay, I tuck my chin down and head-butt him."
Me: "Dude! You have an axe-head affixed to your helmet!"
Him: "Oh, that's right. Uh..."
Me: "Might I suggest an unarmed strike?"
Him: "Oh. Yeah."
Mutant 7 moves to block the party from reaching the cells.
Arwen is next in the initiative order. My daughter rolls and triple-crits.
Me: "You remember that scene in The Princess Bride where Inigo tells Fezzik to job the Albino's memory and Fezzik hits the Albino and says, "I'm sorry, boss, I didn't mean to jog him so hard"? Well, you accidentally whack him in just the right place on his face to kill him." I don't elaborate. One-punch killings are a thing; Australia even has a special law about sentencing for accidental one-punch deaths. Hermione feels bad. She's never the fighter, and she rarely gets a kill; the one time she triple-crits, she was trying not to hurt the guy too badly. Poor kid.
The adventurers finally move towards the three prisoners trapped behind the force fields in their air-filled cells. SSSB rolls a perception of 34 and realizes that Armin, the lady in the right-hand cell, clearly seems afraid of the two in the other cell. Bruce uses his Message spell and learns from her that the Aboleth has been experimenting on the colonists a few at a time, that Celia and Jaram in the cell next to her have been his most recent subjects, and she was to be next. "Don't trust them;" she says, "they are not what they seem to be."
Bruce switches his Message over to Celia and Jaram. They express pity for Armin, poor thing, her brain has become addled with the torture and experimentation, and she is about to transform; they were to be next. They would be happy to show him where to go to free the remaining colonists."
Bruce turns his attention to the party and they begin to discuss who to trust, but it has taken so long to get to this point that Celia and Jaram suddenly begin to cough up black bile and complete their transformations into Abhominals. Armin seems unchanged, just panic-stricken.
The party makes a plan: Arwen will pull the lever weakening the force field on Armin's cell. SSSB will step through and give her a potion of Touch of the Sea. Bruce holds his crossbow at the ready and declares an action to blast her if she starts to transform, and Arwen commands Fluffy to be ready to pull SSSB out bodily if he is in danger. She pulls the lever. SSSB goes through. He gives Armin the potion. She takes the potion. He brings her through. Bruce tells her to hold onto his back. The party swim her back to the camp in the Library (stopping to remove the stone from the altar) and ask the land-bound NPCs to care for her while they go look for others.

It's been a while. September 8th was my birthday, and we went up to the lake for the day, got home late, picked up some fried chicken and watched a movie and had pie. Really good pie, it turns out. Key lime meringue. September 15th, Whingey Wizzard got us cheap tickets to go see the Rangers (our new home team, and his childhood team) play the Oakland Athletics (our all-too-recently home team). The A's won. It was pretty brutal. The only run the Rangers scored was when the runner on third managed to get home on a pitcher error. Kinda embarrassing, really. Then last weekend, we had had WW's big 50th birthday party the day before, and we were all exhausted, I was depressed (not because anything went wrong, but throwing a big party and cooking for that many people triggers all my introvert-claustrophobia-anxiety-misery buttons, so even though it was a success, I felt awful), and we did nothing. So, yeah. Three weeks.

Session Seven
September 29, 2019
For frustrating parenting reasons, our session started late and was short.

We recapped. We retconned a bit so the PC's could ask Armin everything they had forgotten to ask her at the end of our last session.
The party dealt with the Mutation Mechanism in D2 a little too quickly (Bruce rolled high on his Perception check, SSSB rolled high on his Disable Device check, that was basically it, which was good, because they did it while studiously ignoring Arwen, who was making a lengthy speech about how the computer could probably help them and was unlikely to be evil, and how they should give it true, detailed answers to everything it asked them.)

Then WW and the kids had a lengthy, metagame discussion on their plan of attack for how to confront the Big Bad. They finally settled on their spells and their plan of attack, swam down the hall, and lined up. And that was it.

Session Eight
October 3, 2019
Most disappointing Boss Fight EVER.

As we sat down to start playing, Teensy Valeros finished off the list of buffs everyone intended to cast by saying, "Okay, so I've got my special Cleric ability that lets me see through doors, so I want to do that first."

I'd totally forgotten that his Exploration domain gave him Door Sight. The problem was, what was on the other side of the door was an Illusion spell. The description for Door Sight pointed me at Clairvoyance, which pointed me at Scrying, which didn't really answer my questions about what he would actually see, so I called Nobody's Home, my DM-ing guru. He explained that, essentially, what SSSB would see with the special ability would be the same as what he would see with his own eyeballs. Check. He sees the illusion. [but, he gets to use his various Detection spells, and rolled a natural 20 on his Detect Magic check. This was the first in a series of natural 20's for the party as a whole that was one of the contributing factors to this going down in the Pathfinder Hall of Shame as a ridiculously anticlimactic end to the module.

Because the Mutation Mechanism had been successfully disabled, the Oculus Gate opened without a hitch. The party attempted to disbelieve what they now had a fairly strong hunch was an illusion (I gave SSSB as little information as I technically could to answer his Detect Magic, but there were things I couldn't get away without telling, and the party made some very good educated guesses.) and they all nailed their will saves by wide margins. Therefore, when they saw the two cameroceri in the side chambers, they correctly guessed that those were illusions as well, made their will saves to disbelieve those, and then Bruce correctly guessed where the real monster was hiding. Again, successful will saves against disbelief.
In the first round of actual combat, SSSB summoned a shark using the Cerulean Seas variant of Summon Monster I, Bruce attacked Onthooth with his special crossbow, and everybody moved into position, forming a wall of PCs in front of the niche where Onthooth had been hiding behind the illusory wall.
Round two: The shark missed. (It was just like a fight from an episode of "Jabberjaw"... it rushed at the monster with mouth gaping, the monster flicked his tail idly and dodged, the shark smashed his head against the stonework.) Onthooth idly sent Magic Missiles at each of them. Bruce and Arwen both made successful attacks (bow for Bruce and trident for Arwen).
Round three: The shark and SSSB both made successful attacks. Onthooth tossed another round of Magic Missiles at everyone. (I could not believe the instructions for Onthooth's combat in the book. That's what it said to do. The only thing I could think of to say when WW said, "Seriously?!? Again?!?" was, "Yeah, he doesn't believe you're a real threat. He's toying with you.") Bruce switches to his greatspear and crits. Arwen and Fluffy both make small but successful attacks. Onthooth is now down to 74 hit points.
Round four:The shark misses. SSSB misses. Onthooth sends another round of Magic Missiles. (I freely admit this was a DM mistake; I should have had him heal himself, but the book said "uses a swift action either to heal itself with its live on ability", and as repeated Google searches turned up NOTHING, I MM'd just to keep the flow going. I honestly thought I'd have more time to find it. But then...) Arwen made a confirmed critical for 27 points with her trident.
Round five: The shark vanished. SSSB missed. I still couldn't find what I was looking for on the weird healing ability, so Onthooth sent its entire round of Magic Missles at Arwen for 20 points, thinking that would cause her to retreat and open up a path for it. Then Bruce rolled a confirmed critical with his greatspear, did 38 points of damage, and killed it dead.

Session Nine
October 6, 2019 and October 10, 2019
Wrapping up Book 3 and the start of Book 4

After the defeat of Onthooth, the PCs searched the Vault of the Eye and found a Rod of the Aboleth, a Wand of Make Whole, a Lesser Maximize Metamagic Rod, and (after Bruce had decapitated the aboleth), Onthooth's Headband of Twisted Intellect.

They found the prisoners. SSSB channeled positive energy a couple of times to heal all the prisoners. Since Arwen's aquatic Ranger's particular talent is in studying and using various flora and fauna of the sea and making edible nugget "potions" out of them (my way of getting around the "drinking a potion underwater" problem), Bruce sat and talked with Nieran Codali, and offered meal rations from all the PCs packs to all the prisoners, while Arwen and SSSB collected a sufficient quantity of aboleth mucus and she spent the requisite amount of time making potion nuggets to get the prisoners from the air-filled cells to the land-bound adventurers in level C who will take the prisoners home.

Bruce gives Nieran Codali Glorandral's Crossbow of the Crab, since it's basically a duplicate of the one he already had. Nieran Codali gives Bruce his dolphin brooch and all the information the PCs need to set off for Talasantri. Arwen finishes making potions and makes a successful Diplomacy check to convince the prisoners to trust her and take them. The PCs take the prisoners to the NPCs on level C who will take them home. Bruce tells them, "with a little time, I believe I can use the mutation engine in the lab to restore all but three of the mutated colonists and return them to you. Can ye come back this evening? By then I will either have succeeded, or I will know that it is not possible, and I will put them out of their torment." They agree.

Bruce spends eight hours and takes 20 to study the mutation mechanism and restore all the mutated colonists except for the two undead abhominals and the one that Arwen accidentally killed. Arwen and SSSB spend the day reconsecrating the cathedral (as a cleric of a similarly-aligned Azlanti deity, SSSB considers it his duty) and trying one last time to get the sword from the statue in the Hall of the Heroine. (At this they fail, but decide it is meant to stay there and make peace with their failed attempts.)

They return the last seven colonists. They camp in the reconsecrated cathedral overnight. The next morning, they set off for Talasantri. The day-and-a-half journey there over the seabed is largely uneventful. At one point, they notice some odd patches of sargassum that seem to be morphing into humanoid shape and make the decision to swim at full speed along the bottom to avoid conflict with them.

Approaching the city, they notice a pack of Sahuagin poking their tridents at something hiding in a crevice in the coral. Bruce, who hates Sahuagin with a passion, used telepathy and his Intimidate skill to tell them that, unless they stopped what they were doing and made themselves scarce, he would kill them. He rolled high, they biffed their will saves. Drecissa, the young merfolk druid saved by this action, is both impressed and grateful. After they introduce themselves to her and explain their business in Talasantri, she insists she personally conduct them through the city gates and to the home of Anemora, her mother, an influential person in the city. They agree.

Approaching the gates of Talasantri, the PCs are challenged by Argnos, but since they have Drecissa with them and they are only aquatic foreigners and not surface-dwellers (SSSB is a problem, because he's only half sea-elf and uses a helmet to breathe underwater, but Arwen makes a brilliant Diplomacy speech and rolls well.) They enter the city and go to the home of Anemora.

Bruce almost spoils everything with Anemora by being, well, himself: a crass a graceless Selkie-Dwarf (he tries to return the gift she gives them by implying it will hurt her financially if she gives them something so nice). Arwen and SSSB save the day, however, arrangements are settled, and the PCs retire to their rooms in Anemora's house for the evening to prepare for the day of exploration to come...

Session Ten
October 13, 2019
Our adventurers begin to explore Talasantri. This was another short session; we started late in the day when the kids were already pooped from a day out at the Arboretum.

Before they retire for the evening, servants come to Bruce, Arwen and SSSB's rooms to ask them about their wishes for breakfast and to ask SSSB if he would like his early, before he performs his orisons. The ranger and cleric are polite and a bit embarrassed by the fuss, but Bruce relishes the chance to try his hands at Talasantrian fare and asks for "wha'e'er ye hae, and plenty of it." Accordingly, two servants come to his room the next morning carrying a small trough between them, loaded with fish eggs, kelp bacon, black pudding of unknown origin, and assorted other morsels. He makes a show of tucking in, then as soon as they are gone (a natural 20 on his perception check catches a sotto voce "We put the wrong guest in the stables last night" as the servants are going back down the hall, and he nickers like a seahorse at them), he wraps most of it in oilcloth, ties it up, and tucks the packet into his bag of holding... making it look like he ate everything in one sitting.

Arwen, meanwhile, goes to visit Fluffy in the stables. She meets Drecissa there, who asks her questions about her adventures and her life as a ranger... poor sheltered little rich girl. She asks if she can show them the sights and shops of the city this morning, since the meeting Anemora has arranged with Rillkimatai isn't until the afternoon. They collect Bruce and SSSB and set off.

Arwen, feeling guilty about leaving Fluffy in the stables, asks to go to the Talasantrian equivalent of a feed store to buy some lobster treats. She sees a cute chibi pink shark toy and buys it. Then she notices some beautiful seahorse saddles, and asks if the saddlemaker who made them could do a dire lobster saddle as well (hers is rather plain). Since this is the Seamount district, it turns out the saddles are made by Hrothgar (whatEVER, I was stuck for a name, and it was the first thing that came to me, the finest bespoke saddlemaker in this part of the ocean. She tells him what she wants, pays him the full amount in advance even though it is customary to only pay half upfront (she tells him that, based on what she's seen of his work, she trusts him completely), and he asks if it would be convenient to call on Fluffy at Anemora's stables to take measurements and promises to have the saddle finished in a week.

The group continues on their tour of the city, with Drecissa prattling on about architects, history, and gossip, and none of them paying much attention. As their attention wanders, Drecissa suddenly stops short and says, "Well that's funny. That jellyfish floating with those other luminescent jellyfish doesn't look right. It doesn't light up, and its tentacles look different." (Yes, the NPC is the only one who didn't biff her perception check.) Arwen makes her Knowledge: Nature check and realizes that it's a dangerous Death's Head Jellyfish, the stings of which are often fatal, and which is normally found in an entirely different part of the ocean, not here at all. Worse, it seems to be heading straight for a merfolk couple who are chatting in the square. Bruce bellows at them to take note of it and charges, interposing his bulk between the jellyfish and the citizens, firing a burst of Magic Missiles at it. Drecissa, meanwhile, calls for the city guards, who swim up and deftly wrap the offending creature in a special bag they keep for any small nasty (you can't exactly use handcuffs on many types of sea creature). They ask questions, take notes, and thank Bruce for his swift action. The merfolk are grateful and effusive.

The party begins to head back toward Anemora's house for lunch. On the way there, they are approached by a young cecaelian girl with red hair and green tentacles who introduces herself as Oona. She offers to take them somewhere they can buy all sorts of goods, implies they can also fence any dodgy magical items they might have acquired, introduce them to "influential parties" in the city. They thank her but decline. Bruce asks her how they might get in touch with her later. "Oh, don't worry," she says. "We know where to find you."

Session Eleven
October 20, 2019
An exposition-heavy session with no combat. My husband enjoyed it, but the kids got a little bored. The best part for me as a GM, however, was when the PC's "logical" choice in handling an issue was not an option forseen in the AP... although it's written flexibly enough that I could make it work.

Anemora has asked her servants to prepare lunch a little early today; the party's meeting with Rillkimatai isn't until mid-afternoon, but she wants to escort them herself and spend some time in the center of town, showing them around so she can make introductions and be seen with them. Accordingly, everyone leaves Anemora's house for the town square almost an hour before the meeting.

A couple of blocks from the center of town, the PC's notice a huddled locathah floating in an alcove between two buildings, muttering to herself and fretting.
As SSSB and Arwen attempt to calm her and talk to her, Anemora tells them disdainfully that some people aren't worth their time and are beyond help, and insists petulantly that they leave the creature alone and go on to the central plaza. Bruce tells her not to worry, that they will be there soon, and to go on without them to go visit her friends. Anemora is miffed, but departs.

The locathah explains that Anemora's antipathy toward her comes from the fact that she borrowed money from Jurix, queen of the Undertow, to finance a salvage expedition. Anemora had promised to purchase the salvage to guarantee the debt. Unfortunately, the expedition was a failure: the ship the locathah had hoped to find was broken into bits, its cargo scattered to the currents, and she was left with a massive debt to repay Jurix. By hard work and privation, she managed to save the entire sum, including interest, and was on her way to pay Jurix back when a cutpurse snatched her bag and swam off. She had tried to follow it, but wasn't fast enough. She indicates the direction he had gone, and Bruce uses the locathah's scent to track the bag to the base of a pillar on the next block. The money is still inside.
The locathah is befuddled that the bag should have been discarded with all the money inside, but is glad to have it back, and Bruce insists that the PC's will escort her to Jurix to return it. They go to the Undertow and are led to Jurix's office.

After the locathah has paid Jurix, Jurix dismisses her and asks the PCs to remain. She tells them that she has a little job she needs done, and they are in the perfect position to help her. Anemora is having a dinner party the next night to introduce the PCs to the who's who of Talasantri, and Jurix wants Anemora humiliated. She produces a vial and says that the potion inside it, if introduced to the canape filling, will cause immediate and intense stomach distress to any who taste even a little of it. She also gives them a scrap of silk which she says she obtained from the lady Kormallis's dressmaker. She wants them to plant it, with the empty vial, by the kitchen door. She offers them 2000 gold each, plus one hard-to-find "item" they might care to name, in exchange for their services. They tell her, as diplomatically as they can, that they will need time to think about it. She says she will be in touch. They depart without incident.

The party arrives at the central plaza with just ten minutes to spare before the meeting. Anemora is irritated, but manages to handle herself with airy grace as she introduces them to a few people before they head in to city hall. Rillkimatai receives them graciously, and listens to their story with interest. He begins to tell them of recent troubles in the city, but the sounds of a commotion outside can be heard, and a guard rushes in to say that the Doomcriers are in the plaza and stirring people up. Rillkimatai asks the PCs to go with him. As they come down the steps of the hall, they see a group of Doomcriers at the base of the steps with a crowd around them. Their leader is Vallik, who is warning the people of Ruinquake.

Rillkimatai and Arwen manage to settle the crowd and Rillkimatai invites Vallik and the other two Doomcriers to go back with him to his office to discuss the threat they warn of, telling the PCs he will send a messenger to invite them back at a later time. The crowd begins to disperse and things look as if they are about to return to normal when a ribbon of crimson water snakes into the plaza. Suddenly people are fleeing and shouting again, and cries of "It's a crimson current!" can be heard. As waves of the current move through the plaza, there is bedlam. SSSB sees three citizens who had been in the path of the current and are sickened. He swims to them and heals them. Bruce sees a frantic merfolk man searching for a lost child, looks around, notices the boy hiding behind a pillar, and escorts the child to his father. Arwen sees six citizens in the path of the current, swims to them, and guides them on a safer path away from it.

Arwen is surprised by the presence of the crimson current; although it is known to her, usually the poisonous algae travels slowly, and scouts should have noticed an approaching cloud. For a small cloud of the algae to arrive in the city center with no warning is decidedly strange.

Notes the players reminded me should be included:

* Before Debebedi the locathah leaves town, Bruce gives her 200 gold to "invest" in her next adventure and promises to aid her if he can, in exchange for 10% of the profit in her next success.

* Jurix interpreted "we need time to think about it" as a flat no and was slightly menacing in not so much "we'll be in touch" as "I'll be watching you".

* Bruce tells Anemora of Jurix's plot. She reads them the riot act, but is gleeful about having this new information.

* As Rillkimatai tells the PC's of the random thefts, disappearances, and attacks, he gives them a piece of parchment with his seal to mark them as his agents in looking into this business, which he believes may be related to their business.

* The leader of the Doomcriers is not Vallik. That's the problem with double-columned print in the AP books. Vallik? Who's Vallik? I didn't mention that name. No idea who that is.

Session Twelve
November 3, 2019
A nine-round battle with the King Ragworm, the CR13 first big bad of this book.

What's there to say, really? It was a big smackdown. From a GM standpoint, the coolest part was hearing my kids talk through figuring out what they could or could not do.
"Can I use my Spear of Purity?"
"I don't know; is it evil?"
"Oh, yeah, right; it can't be good or evil because it doesn't have any intelligence, so none of my spells will work except Gozreh's Trident!"
(Since they're six and eight, I'm pretty happy that they're able to do this.)

With the big worm dead, the crowd of locals began to reassemble, and the agent in the crowd picked SSSB to try to plant the bomb debris on, since he looked young and clueless. He didn't notice a thing until the pieces fell out of his belt pouch.
Fortunately, the PCs were able to successfully protest the logic of their innocence to the crowd and to the guards who arrived on the scene to investigate, and while they are not *totally* free of suspicion, they're looked on more favorably than not at this point.

Smart kids you got there.

Session Thirteen
November 10, 2019
A little combat and a lot of plot.

After defeating the King Ragworm, Bruce attempts to drag the entire thing to Anemora's house to offer it to her cook as a delicacy for tomorrow night's dinner party. They return to the house to find all the servants in a tizzy, as Anemora has decided to move the party up to this evening to confound Jurix's plans.
She tells them that she would like them, in addition to mingling with the guests, to occasionally patrol the kitchen to make sure everything is safe. The guests, in addition to her own houshold (her husband Torrun, her son Cassiux, and Drecissa) will be the lady Kormallis and her son Argnos; a merfolk poet named Merysyd; an aquatic elf ranger named Osarte; and an aquatic elf bard named Tolajo.

Arwen goes to check on Fluffy. Bruce and SSSB go to the Whalefall district to an arcana shop owned by an aquatic elf wizard named Vhenarryn. Bruce buys some waterproof spell-writing paper from her, while SSSB roams around, picking up things and playing with them. He picks up an old wand carved with intricate scrollwork. It's a bit beat-up already, and as he plays with it, flipping it around, he knocks it into the coral wall and chips off a bit of the carving on the side. He gets out his Wand of Make Whole and uses a charge to repair this wand, and shows Vhenarryn, but she laughs at him, saying the wand is a useless curiosity she keeps because she can't sell it, and he can keep it if he likes. It makes people fly. Over land. Have you ever heard of anything so silly? Anyway, it only has a few charges left. As I said, worthless. SSSB, who has lived on land and knows the uses of a good Overland Flight spell, accepts this "useless" gift with mock gravity.

Meanwhile, Drecissa comes to Arwen's room, and seeing as how she wouldn't expect a Ranger, even a pretty female elf one, to pack an evening gown while adventuring, and since they're almost exactly the same size, offers her a dress and jewelry to borrow for the evening. They try things on. Arwen finds a shiny red and gold one made of tiny shimmering fish scales that change color depending on which way they are turned. Oh, look! Drecissa has even had a matching evening bag made for the gown that is secretly a bag of holding. Not every bag of holding has to look like a Fjallraven backpack. Or whatever.

When evening comes, Arwen discovers that Drecissa is wearing an outfit identical to her own, down to the jewelry and bag, but with scales of a different color. Hero worship is a scary thing.

At the party, Bruce suggests to Arwen and SSSB that they do most of the mingling while he does most of the patrolling. The only problem with this is that his dice don't appear to like him much this evening. Particularly on Perception checks. When he checks the kitchen the first time, he completely fails to notice the sounds of a struggle coming from the pantry. Must have water in his ears or something. The next time he comes, he still doesn't notice anything, but the cook is still not there. He asks Arwen to come in and help. The scent of blood coming from the next room almost knocks her over and she wonders if he is feeling quite well. They find the body of the dead cook in the large storage pantry, ask SSSB to come (Bruce's telepathy works wonders!), and SSSB right away notices the assassin hiding behind some barrels in the corner, but pretends he doesn't. They investigate the body, and Arwen goes out to let Argnos and Anemora know what is going on. She leads the guests from the dining room back into the main salon so Merysyd can recite some of her verse while Argnos fetches some of his men he had asked to be on hand nearby because of the plot to frame his mother. Argnos and three guards come in to the kitchen just as Yutpan realizes he is trapped and decides to try to make a break for it.

The fight, round one:
SSSB casts Prayer. Yutpan attempts to make a break for it, vaulting up over the barrels and taking a whack at Bruce with his blade. Bruce casts Mirror Image. Arwen casts Wilderness Soldiers on some potted kelp the cook had growing in this room to use in food preparation, which attempts to entangle Yutpan. His CMD is too high. The guards all shoot Yutpan with their crossbows.
Round two:
Yutpan attempts to slash at Bruce, but takes out a mirror image instead. Bruce does some spear damage to Yutpan, and the guards continue to make good crossbow shots.
Round three:
SSSB does some melee harpoon damage to Yutpan with a lunge (staying out of range), Yutpan continues to whack at Bruce's mirror images, and Bruce and the guards continue to hammer away at Yutpan's hit points until he is down to so few that another round will finish him. Arwen entangles Yutpan with a net, the guards move in with manacles, and Bruce successfully intimidates him into talking about the mysterious deep merfolk, Naqualia (hereafter to be known as Nyquilia) who hired him to do the deed and attempt to pin it on the PCs.

The party accompanies Argnos and the guards as they take Yutpan to the city hoosegow. As they are leaving, Drecissa expresses her wonder--and dismay--that Arwen made it through the entire combat without the borrowed dress being torn, smudged, or otherwise damaged. She was hoping for a story she could tell every time she wore it.

At the jail, Bruce questions Argnos and the guards about the physical and magical defenses, which they assure him are adequate to the challenge of protecting prisoners, and asks Yutpan how Nyquilia will kill him. "A knife in the dark," he answers.

As the PC's leave the jail with Argnos, a member of Rillkimatai's staff they recognize from their meeting that morning approaches with a message asking them to meet with Rillkimatai at the eighth hour the next morning. Argnos asks the PC's to accompany him briefly to his mother's house, where Kormallis thanks them profusely for the service they have done to both her and her son, and offers them any help she might provide.

They return to Anemora's house, where they find the guests gone, the staff cleaning up, and the entire household grieving and in shock. Anemora and her family ask the PC's to remain in Talasantri and find Nyquilia and either bring her to justice or kill her (with an emphasis on the latter).

The next morning, in Rillkimatai's office, the old seer tells them of his meeting with the Doomcriers and their warnings of the plankta called Ruinquake. He tells them of Talasantri's history, how the last time Ruinquake appeared, a century ago, the city was saved by Wavewalker, a man from the surface world, who fought back Ruinquake single-handed, armed only with a spear, but was killed in the attempt. Rillkimatai listens gravely as the PC's warn him that Yutpan claimed the doomcriers were acting in the service of Nyquilia. He says he has forseen Ruinquake's return and the danger the plankta poses to the city. He asks the PC's to undertake a journey to Blood Lily Cay, the island where Wavewalker's tomb lies, to take possession of Wavewalker's spear and return to Talasantri with it in order to save the city. They agree to leave the next morning after finishing their preparations.

Hey, kids! It's time to level up! This one goes up to ELEVEN!

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