We started the third session of Beyond Vinland in media res, which is Latin for "OMG! Dire crayfish!" Our heroes were fording the stream that cuts through the Canyon of Chaos when two claw shrimp pop out of the water and move in to attack with cruel claws a-snapping. The dire crayfish had been drawn to that end of the canyon because they had been feasting daily on the cave full of kobold corpses created last session.
Well, that was the in-game justification of the dire crayfish attack. The secret origin of this encounter was me scoping out the two awesome chuul figures in my box of Large and Huge monsters. I really wanted to use those figures, but at Challenge Rating 7 our heroes weren't ready for a surpise throwdown with two of those critters. I shopped around my meager collection of monster books for a formidable crustacean of large size, but I struck out. So I made my own by starting with the large version of the monstrous scorpion, removing the poisonous stinger, replacing the movement rate with that of a chuul, and swapping in the Swim skill for where the scorpion has climb. Since I was removing the poison and one of the scopion's attacks, I tuned down the CR to 2 instead of 3. Voilá, instant killer crawdad. Or as close to instant as I can get with 3.5.
You ever have one of those nights where the dice are not your friend? Last night was like that for the other folks at the table. Damage rolls were exceedingly low when they could score a hit and many saving throws were blown. Jason once again used my special d30 house rule to overpower a magic missile, but he rolled a 1. The fates were just not with the PCs. That's harsh, but it also means the players really earned all of their victories.
Speaking of Jason, I was able to catch his guy in a dire crayfish claw. That was cool. I even pried open the claw on the mini and wedged in his little plastic dude. I love visual effects like that. Still, my crusty creeps were no matched for the PCs and the crayfish were eventually dispatched. At least once during the fight a PC charged across the ford, splashing through the shallow water. In my mind they were reenacting the "No!" shootout from Tombstone. Only with swords and attack lobsters instead of shotguns and bandits.
After the fight Zoyd (Jason's battle sorcerer) was in pretty sad shape. Being nearly snipped in half by a giant claw will do that to you. The team healers did their best to patch him up. Then Doug and I had an exchange that went a little something like this:
"Hey, Jeff. About what time is it?"
"Well, you started out to the canyon in the morning, and we established previously the distance from the keep to the canyon is about seven and a half miles."
"Close enough that we can call it lunch time. Let's have ourselves a giant shrimp boil!"
So they did. While the crayfish were cooking the beaded curtain obscuring one of the cave entrances parted and out came the witch from Conan the Barbarian. She was carrying a jug and some wooden cups. "If you share your food, I will share my drink," she offered. The PCs accepted, though Erik the Viking refused to drink, saying it would violate the Punisher Code. The PCs are all believers in the Norse pantheon, but the party's patron saint is the Punisher. Don't ask.
The witch identified herself as Druzella, a name I totally came up with on the spot because I totally forgot to name this NPC. She offered to heal Zoyd's claw-wounds for 100gp and explained that she sold potions to the other inhabitants of the canyon. Especially the hobgoblin mercenaries, who seem to be stocking up. She also told the party that the next cave they intended to explore was haunted by restless spirits who sometimes came out at night. Despite Erik's precautions, Druzella's hooch was not poisoned and she left in peace.
Stay tuned for Part 2: the Haunted Tomb