Escape from Skull Island
Escape from Skull Island
5th edition compatible tabletop role playing game adventure for 3-5 Level 3 characters
By Jonathan Hardin
Table of Contents
Playtesting credited to Sarah Martin, Will and Milo Maldonado
Art credited to Heather Waite
Upon the southern Mavi Ocean, the vicious pirate, Thomas Festerwound, Captain of the Stygian Carriage, terrorizes the seas. One night, a sahuagin raiding party attacked his ship, killing his crew. For his life and ship, he promised to bring back live prisoners as tribute to feed Sekolah, the two headed shark demigod of the sahuagin. After agreeing upon this deal, the sahuagin made him swear and set a traveling limit upon his seafaring in order that he would keep his promise. Festerwound has most recently raided the Enchanted Lady and managed to keep you alive for this trade. The sojourners find themselves caught up in this conflict.
The sojourners will find themselves imprisoned upon a pirate ship and be led into their secret cove by the traitorous first mate Aram. In exchange for their freedom, they will receive a quest to retrieve a powerful key to a nearby docked ship. After a jailbreak, they will travel through underground tunnels to the volcanic lair of the firenewts, steal the key and meet up with the treacherous first mate and leave the island.
Upon a secluded volcanic island of your choice inhabited by fire newts, sahuagin and cunning pirates. From the sea, the island rock resembles the face of an orc skull in the moonlight.
This adventure focuses on the heroes beginning as prisoners and requires clever thinking to perform multiple escapes with limited resources. Inform your players they will not necessarily begin with 5th edition starting equipment. Allow for opportunities for players to describe apprehending supplies and resources to aid them upon their journey to escape skull island.
Festerwound should be portrayed as maniacal, constantly making deals with otherworldly patrons and tribes, landing him and his crew from one debt into another. He has a squawking parrot atop his shoulder which acts as his infernal familiar.
In order to escape the island, which presents many threats to survival from sahuagin, firenewts, predators, and lurking pirates, the sojourners will be guided by treacherous first mate Aram towards the Dawnwalker, a celestial air ship docked in a hidden lagoon. Festerwound knows of this ship, but is unable to use it since the key is located deep within a volcano temple guarded by firenewts. Aram seeks to escape Festerwound’s mad circles of deals and offers to share this information with the sojourners so they can make a mutual escape. Although the sojourners could potentially leave Skull Island another way (stealing a pirate ship, making a deal with the sahuagin or firenewts, the adventure should revolve around the challenges of escape rather than the solution presented.
Sojourners Spotlight: The sojourners are a group of prisoners aboard a pirate ship. They come from various backgrounds and share in common the desire to escape with their lives. To enhance the player dynamics, consider using this chart to help the players find relationships between their characters.
The noble is from a merchant town and related to the acolyte. The artisan is from the same side of town as the noble and knows them well. The noble does not know the artisan. The sage was a servant of a deceased passenger. The criminal is a stowaway who saw the death of the sage’s master.
The following chart gives a quick prompt for feeling and connection between the player’s characters.
The DawnWalker is a lawful good ship and will kill any captain who attempts to steer it if they do not share the same alignment. It is best if you have at least one lawful good character. Allow for any of your players to change their alignment as the story progresses in order to gain favor with the ship in case they are able to sail away with it.
Table Master Advice
Regarding storytelling, the table master is responsible to describe the what, who, where, and when of the adventure. Allow the players to describe the how and the why.
In other words, present challenges, not solutions. Make invitations, not acceptances.
The best stories are like good muscles, alternating between tension and release. If you feel the story has too much tension, make the next encounter a release for the players. If there is too much release and the story feels too easy, challenge the players by adding tension.
Connect the Dots. No matter what the players decide, your job is to connect the dots from their decisions to the larger story.
Rule the dice. You make the calls, not the dice. The dice simply inform the direction the story is going and inspires our minds to create in that direction.
Most of this adventure is designed to be pieced together in the way that fits best with your story. Enjoy, and may your story continue!
Placing the Hook
This adventure is set up with the assumption the characters will want to escape. The DawnWalker provides a streamlined way to get off the island. This hook may be placed anywhere you see fit in the adventure.
Introduction - Read aloud to your players
Only a little time ago, you boarded the Enchanted Lady for what should have been an uneventful and safe passage to Port Nyanzaru, Chult. As you rounded the northern coast at night, sounds of heavy footfalls broke the midnight silence. Swords clashed and folks screamed. Within moments, those of you who survived the horror were led up to the main deck. There the vile Captain Festerwound stood proudly, his red eyed parrot squawking hellishly in your hearing. Each of the crew of the Enchanted Lady were sliced open and thrown overboard - “an offering to Levistus” for his favor on tonight’s voyage. He then looks to each of you and whispers between spittle and beer breath, “the rest of you will make a fine trade”.
Invite the players to describe their character's appearance and location below deck locked in the cargo hold. After the introductions are made, begin the adventure.
Incident - Kidnapped!
Now aboard the Stygian Carriage, the sojourners are cramped with other prisoners in the cargo hold, guarded by one bandit. Although they could rouse themselves to escape, there are 25 bandits aboard plus Captain Festerwound. Other prisoners discourage outright escape. Between the water rats, sewage and filth, the sojourners must survive the conditions long enough to board Skull Island.
2 rats attempt to eat Thomas Bert.
If the sojourners fail to rescue the NPC, Captain Festerwound laughs and says, “I pity the living before the dead in your case.”
If the sojourners rescue the NPC from the rats, then Aram makes mention of their heroism during the quest presentation.
While spending 1 hour below deck, each character must succeed upon a DC 10 ConSave or take the poisoned condition.
How will the sojourners survive the filthy conditions and save an NPC?
Placing the Hook
If you choose to place the hook here, Aram secretly sends a message one time via a seashell necklace. He explains the quests and looks to the sojourners for acceptance.
Captain Festerwound demands the remaining prisoners be brought up aboard the Stygian Carriage, bound at the wrists and await boarding upon Skull Island.
If he survives due to the party’s actions, Thomas partners with them and provides the help action one time during a critical moment later on in the story.
Tomas Bert , human commoner
Desire: “I was travelling to Chult to visit family.”
Features: Soft hands, fine clothing, speaks loudly.
Secret: was travelling to Chult to claim an inheritance of land worth 10,000 gp.
Weakness: laughs too quickly at ideas
Need: protection from the elements
An imp arrives from Stygia mistaking the sojourners for crew of the Stygian carriage and explains Captain Festerwounds bad dealings. He explains the plight of the prisoners before realizing his blunder. He can also place the hook if needed.
The imp provides no real threat, but presents an opportunity to clarify the situation the sojourners find themselves. Captain Festerwound works for Levistitus, lord of Stygia. He has also made a deal with Sekolah, shark demi god of sahuagin. He has lost one crew before. The prisoners will be offered as food to the sahuagin ceremony releasing Festerwound from their debt.
Incident - Land, Ho!
It is finally daylight. Unsure of how long you have been below deck, the sojourners see before them a crystal sea, a cove harboring 3 sailing vessels. Captain Festerwound laughs “for now, we are home!” The pirates cheer as they arrive into Pirate’s Cove.
While bound at the wrists, narrate simply that the sojourners find themselves within talking distance while the pirates celebrate. While it will be very difficult to escape, it is not entirely impossible. At this point, anyone perceptive enough will notice that first mate Aram is sulking away from the celebration.
Aram may have the opportunity to explain his plight to the sojourners. To insightful characters, give the impression that Aram is hiding something from Festerwound.
Any amount of resistance will place the characters in harm of 25 bandits plus Captain Festerwound Bandit Captain.
Strategic players might overwhelm the ship and gain their freedom. The adventure isn’t over, for the Sahuagin will track Captain Festerwound if his ship leaves the boundary lines. The most charismatic character would be mistaken for Festerwound by the sahuagin and produce conflict.
How will the sojourners plan their escape while waiting to board the island?
Aram, first mate , human bandit
Desire: I want out of this ship.
Features: Sandy hair, lip ring, opportunistic
Secret: will sell out the sojourners to Festerwound in the end.
Weakness: spine like a jellyfish
Placing the Hook
At this point, the sojourners may learn from Aram that the Dawnwalker, a celestial airship, resides docked in a nearby lagoon. Festerwound has been attempting to locate the key to assume ownership. “The one who holds the key, steers the ship.” Both Festerwound and Aram know the key may be located in the Temple of the Fire Newts, but each expedition has ended in the fire newts enjoying a meal of the pirates. Aram barters with the sojourners that in exchange for support, if they retrieve the key, he will journey with them on the DawnWalker away from this island, and away from Festerwounds poor decisions. Besides escaping the island, each sojourner can decide their own reasons for accepting the quest.
The sojourners are thrown into a 40x40 foot rock cell at the base of the cliffside. The tide slowly rises in the back side of the cell. The only escape is the iron grate in the rock wall guarded by 1 bandit. Nearby in the cave, sits an old man hunched over a pile of dried bones.
Incident - In the Shark’s Cave
Now in a cave, perceptive sojourners will see the tide water rising slowly. Pirates crowd around the iron grate and place bets upon which prisoner the shark will eat. After deliberation, the old man (a druid) wild shapes into a reef shark and attacks.
Before the tide rises, the old man requests food from the sojourners, giving the impression that he is famished. A nearby guard sits quietly with the keys dangling from his belt. Aram may arrive at this moment to relieve the guard to place the hook or revisit the deal previously made in the adventure.
Jakarta Cove is a hideaway used by a group of pirate captains. Currently, many vessels have docked inside and during the day, everyone sleeps in shaded huts, sleep quietly in hammocks, or conducts mild business. At night, the revelry begins with games, contests, drinking and mulling over plunder. hanging between old layers of docks from previous pirate regimes.
Skull Island is a wild, untamed island except for the volcano in it’s center, guarded by fire newts dedicated to ruling the island. They are led by overlord Cassian-Flame. A band of sahuagin dwell below the island and worship Sekolah.
How will the sojourners survive the shark attack?
“Will-y-iam”, human druid
Desire: “I want to taste blood.”
Features: frail, insane, and inappropriate
Secret: wild shapes into a shark to eat.
Weakness: hunger has driven him foolish
Need: mercy, and to remember his name
Challenges presented for escape include that 2 sets of keys are required for prisoner escape, the iron grate is heavy and padlocked, the tide rises quickly, the druid attempts to feast and 25 bandits rush to secure their prisoners. The parrot familiar of Festerwound also keeps watch over the prison cell.
If the sojourners manage to escape, or if Aram aids in their escape, run the Chase Encounter.
Captain Festerwound shouts, “enough playtime, let’s get to work. Bring the prisoners to the sahuagin camp and let’s close this deal. Tonight, we are free!”
Incident - A Chance for Escape!
Before you stand 25 bandits, and beyond the cove lies an entrance into the black mountain leading deep into the volcano. Aram approaches you and says, “Captain is foolish and possibly sick in the head. He keeps making these deals and I want out. I’ll tell you the location of the DawnWalker key if you promise to allow me to board passage. What do you say?
Placing the Hook
By now, Aram has informed the sojourners of the location of the key and wants in on the escape. He offers to help in any way besides giving away his position altogether. He says he fears Festerwound’s retaliation, but in secret may be setting the sojourners up for failure.
By your discretion will Aram make good on his promise or at the final encounter lead Festerwound to the sojourners, the Dawnwalker and the key in Shaded Lagoon.
Aram shows them a secret entrance into the volcanic temple, one that the pirates fear. If offered, Aram says he cannot go with them but will meet them at the Shaded Lagoon. If successfully intimidated, he will reluctantly go, sincerely afraid of the firenewts. He hands them a sending stone to communicate.
Wondrous item, uncommon
Sending stones come in pairs, with each smooth stone carved to match the other so the pairing is easily recognized. While you touch one stone, you can use an action to cast the Sending spell from it. The target is the bearer of the other stone. If no creature bears the other stone, you know that fact as soon as you use the stone and don't cast the spell.
Once Sending is cast through the stones, they can't be used again until the next dawn. If one of the stones in a pair is destroyed, the other one becomes non magical.
After being led from the shark cave, the sojourners must escape through the pirate dock and into the entrance within the side of the black mountain, leading deep and safely into the volcano. The pirates will not follow the sojourners into the mountain, for fear of the cannibalistic fire newts.
Depending on how the sojourners escape, they will face a few challenges to arrive safely within the volcanic entrance.
The sojourners will have 3 turns to move through the docks. They must each succeed on ability checks, with the difficulty increasing each turn. DC 10, 15, and then 20. If the sojourner succeeds, they move closer to the entrance. If they fail, they move closer, but you roll upon the setback table and enhance the challenge. Based on the following paths, challenge each player to choose their path and describe how they maneuver through the obstacle.
By now, it is quite possible the sojourners have been able to gather their supplies or collected resources from the pirates. This is a good place to invite the players to describe their intelligent feats of resource management.
Use this challenge to create moments for the players to describe their sojourners enacting swashbuckling feats of wonder. If they choose to enter into combat with any of the bandits, allow for combat, but give the bandits only 1 HP each. Clever players might use spells to boost their chances of success, make sure to include those plans in the outcomes of the challenge.
Captain Festerwound calls off the chase once the sojourners are at the mouth of the volcano and the pirates back away slowly. Aram is nowhere to be found. Festerwound chuckles and says, “these ones only think they’ve gotten away.” As the sojourners descend into the safety of the mountain describe the following features.
For now, the sojourners find a small cave that appears either abandoned or never used, but provides cover and a good line of sight on both sides of the tunnel.
Incident- Journey through the Mountain!
The tunnels lead for hours deep within the volcanic rock. As you travel on, the heat increases and sweat begins to build upon your skin. Every rock and corner seems to promise the entrance into the fire newt city. Dread echoes within the darkness. However, the promise of the key to a celestial ship hangs like a dangling treat before you as you march onward.
Will the sojourners find the Temple of Fire before running out of resources?
The sojourners encounter the heat, the smell and the feel of the unforgiving terrain. They must bolster themselves as you call for Constitution saves DC 13 or they take upon a level of exhaustion or the poisoned condition.
The sojourners weather the tunnels and arrive into caverns and plains within the volcano featured by a large flowing river of lava.
When the sojourners survive the hazards of the wild volcanic mountain describe the following.
A large bridge stretches over the flowing river of lava and leads into a sweltering and bright city of fire newts. Two guards stand idly at the gate and above the gate, a large watchful orb supervises the entrance. Surrounding the city entrance is a layer of black rocky crags upon which you are well hidden.
Call upon each of the players to have them describe the environment and the sojourner’s sense by assigning positive or negative experiences (sight, sound, smell, taste or touch) to each of them. This helps build the setting and invites everyone at the table to participate in worldbuilding.
Example: In this tunnel, Ted, your character senses a positive smell, what is it?
Jenn, while resting, your character senses a negative touch, what is it?
Incident - The FireNewt City
Deep within the volcano, a proud entrance welcomes travelers into the City of Indus, of the firenewt kingdom. Guarding the front entrance are two newts brandishing bold spears and above the archway, a golden globe supervises the comings and goings of this city entrance into the city of Indus.
How will the sojourners enter the temple and obtain the key?
30 foot bridge spans across the river, connecting the city entrance to the wilds of the underdark.
The two newts casually guard but become wary with any intrusion, sounding an alarm within 3 rounds of combat.
The orb scans and monitors activity in the area as an agent of Fire, god of fire.
The spears are not magical, but increasingly well made, they are +2 spears.
If the scene erupts in combat, the soldiers will sound the alarm in 3 rounds. They will not attempt to defend, but rather to notify the greater authorities.
There is a 50% chance that a traveling caravan arrives while the sojourners are present.
The ever watchful orb keeps a lookout for activity. Otherwise, the sojourners can attempt to bypass its supervision with a DC 22 stealth check.
Once inside the atrium of the city, the sojourners either wait for the council to arrive. If the alarm is raised, the council arrives in 3 rounds. If the alarm was not raised, the council responds by seeing through the orb and arrives in 10 minutes.
Consisting of the Queen, 3 priests and 4 guards, the council arrives and greets the sojourners as guests. The firenewt speak broken common, fluent draconian and fluent primordial. They venerate evil gods and live carnivorous lifestyles, and sometimes even eating their own in times of crisis. They are cold hearted towards those who fall in battle, and will make an attempt to bring in the sojourners peacefully. They will wait until the sojourners are at ease and then lead them to their temple where slaughtering and dinner preparations will be made.
The sojourners can see the truth of the plan with a DC 15 Insight check.
Place - City of Imysis
With a population of 2500, the firenewt city is no easy place to hide. Most of the inhabitants are law abiding citizens working hard so as not to end up at the bottom of the food chain. For that reason, they are very welcoming of visitors and have quite a few shops for commerce as well as local attractions for visitors. The Temple of Fire is located toward the back of the city.
Various NPCs for exploration of the city
Various Places for exploration of the city
As quickly as politely possible, the fire newts will lead the sojourners to the Temple of Fire, appealing to various reasons.
If the sojourners ask about the key, the Queen will state that it is indeed (and truthfully) located on display in the temple.
As soon as possible, the sojourners are escorted into the temple where 30 newts, 4 guards, 3 priests and the Queen prepare for worship.
Incident! The Queen’s Speech
The Queen speaks in Primordial reminding everyone that recognizing Fire as supreme is of great benefit to each person and states that today, Fire has provided for their appetites today. The priests motion to the 4 guards and they apprehend the sojourners, binding them hand and foot, gagging them and placing them above the fire.
Will the sojourners escape the temple with the key or be on the menu?
The temple holds seats for 30, a small stage upfront, priests quarters for preparation and study in the back and an exit out the city in the back of the temple. There are 4 corners that hold 4 various magic items upon display, including the key to the Dawnwalker. The
magic items are easily removable. There is a patched hole near the stage that leads into an underdark river. Use your own imagination to determine the other three magical items, and consider making them something a particular character has been searching for.
If the sojourners manage to escape, they will have to contend with 3 priests, the queen and 4 guards. The 30 commoners will avoid combat, but moving through them proves difficult terrain.
Escaping through the city would require a skill challenge to leave through the front entrance. There is a secret entrance leading into the Underdark river and then there is the secret entrance through the Gray Dwarf’s home where he smuggles fugitives out of the city.
Whether the sojourners leave the city through the front entrance, the secret passageway into the underdark river, or through the gray dwarf’s back door, transition the story into a travel montage where the sojourners flee the volcanic underground and arrive at the lagoon where the Dawnwalker is harbored. There is no dramatic question or conflict during this scene, but you can ask each of the players to help paint a picture of the wilds of the underdark. Ask each player to describe their senese using the basic five of sight, sound, smell, taste or touch. This allows for collaborative worldbuilding.
After a harrowing encounter with the firenewts, the sojourners spend some time resting before arriving in the lagoon.
Incident - The River Mouth Lagoon!
A small river runs out of the rock and into the lagoon. A pea gravel beach, enclosed by thick boughs of trees, nestles up behind the back of the volcano. . The Dawnwalker, a celestial airship, floats idly upon the water. And nearby upon the beach is Captain Festerwound.
To Betray or Not to Betray?
Aram, Captain Festerwound and 1 pirate per sojourner is present upon the lagoon in waiting. Depending on your play style, you can choose to have Aram betray the party’s location on purpose, or be forced upon pain of death to lead the pirates to the lagoon in wait for the sojourners. The captain wishes to unlock the Dawnwalker, believing that this will free him of his obligation to the sahuagin. If he takes the ship as captain, the Dawnwalker incinerates him for his sins of murder. The Dawnwalker is a lawful good construct and can not operate under a captain of different alignment.
Will the sojourners sail away with the ship, finally escaping skull island?
Dawn Walker , lawful good flying vessel, able to travel the astral plane
Desire: to serve the captain of the DawnWalker with information delivery and command execution
Features: golden glitter, Keelboat stats from Ghost of SaltMarsh, pleasant female voice
Secret: former captain was captured by a devil and imprisoned in Stygia
Weakness: follows orders without question
Need: to arrive upon Celestia in order to upgrade
While boarding the Dawnwalker, the sojourner who possesses the key with a lawful good alignment will be able to activate the ship, to which it greets the sojourners and asks for a command. The sojourners are able to escape as the ship begins to gently lift off the edge of the water. To where this new adventure leads, is up to you and your players!
And so for now, our story concludes.
Acknowledgements and Credits