Monster Analysis: Avantika and the Squalleater Crew

Thanks to @Janibitz for this art piece!

Much like the Nein’s previous experience with dockside diplomacy, this encounter ended with a conversation, followed swiftly by them setting sail to escape the hand of the present law. The trick this time was surviving long enough to get to the conversation in the first place… And then surviving the trial.

The Crew of the Squalleater

Thanks to @SpookyApostate for this art piece!

Avantika’s crew defended their ship against The Mighty Nein’s onslaught rather admirably, especially considering that they all took heavy fire damage from Caleb’s Wall of Fire at the outset of battle. For the time they were in the fight, they concentrated all attacks on the current greatest threat. All of them were armed with heavy crossbows, which did enough damage to knock out a fleeing Caleb and deal some minor damage to Caduceus and Nott in the first round.

By the time their turn came up again in the second round, the more looming threat was no longer the Nein, but a barlgura from the Abyss. They didn’t get a third round turn because by that point they were nearly all vaporized from Caleb’s Fireball. (Though they were a bit rough from the Wall of Fire at 17 damage each, 31 additional damage might have been a little overkill.)

Ipess, Bouldergut, and Vera

  • Ipess

    • Gnomish Rogue

    • 15 damage taken

  • Bouldergut

    • Ogre

    • Armor Class <24

    • 90 damage taken

  • Vera

    • Human Wizard

    • Armor Class 15 (with Mage Armor)

    • 73 damage taken, 31 knockout blow by Caleb

Described by Matt as the two most-devout followers of Uk’otoa on the Squalleater (and Bouldergut), each had specific talents they brought to the battle. These four were also potentially the only surviving members of the Squalleater when the battle was done, though much worse for wear. (We’ll talk more about that “potentially” in a bit.)

Ipess the rogue joined the crew in attempting to weaken the Nein in the first round and the barlgura the second. He didn’t fare well against Caduceus, dealing a measly 3 points of damage thanks to Cad’s Sentinel at Death’s Door ability to reduce critical damage to regular damage. Ipess fared better against the barlgura, getting a sneak attack in for 14 damage.

Bouldergut may have a hint more charisma than a typical ogre in the wild, but like her brethren, she’s best at smashing her greatclub against those who would cross her or Avantika. She knocked Caleb down to less than a quarter of his health in two strikes, though he got her back later with 31 fire damage of his own. With the new bruiser aboard and the Mighty Nein no longer on the ship, Bouldergut focused her later turns on defending Vera from the Barlgura.

Vera, quietly dedicated to Avantika and Uk’otoa, proved to be the most powerful of the Squalleater. She was either at least an 11th level wizard or one of the NPC types from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the Diviner. Either way, she had a formidable spell list to draw from. We saw her cast Mage Armor (1st), Locate Object (2nd), Scorching Ray (2nd), Ice Storm (4th), and Mass Suggestion (6th). Her Ice Storm kept the majority of the fleeing party contained until she could set up the guards to focus on her cause in the next round. Fjord wisely diverted her attention to the barlgura, forcing her to use her considerable fire power against the demon until Caleb to put her down.

Captain Avantika

  • Elf Fighter/Warlock

  • Armor Class 16

  • 31 Damage Taken

Captain Avantika set up the encounter as much to her advantage as she could have predicted. It wasn’t a far leap to assume that the culprits who ransacked her ship and stole her journal were new to the laws of Darktow, or to the cause of Uk’otoa. By having her crew gather the Mighty Nein early in the morning to the Squalleater, she had the culprits surrounded, unable to act or reach out for help, and fully under her jurisdiction, as recognized by the law of the island. Any actions taken against her would automatically be a crime against the rest of the city, giving her an opportunity to legally bury her own planned treachery before it could get out.

With combat kicked off, Avantika demonstrated a little more of what she could do. Her Parry ability against Fjord stems from the Battle Master Fighter archetype. While it’s possible that she took the Martial Adept feat, we think it’s more likely that her skill is tied to her existing skill in combat, augmented by the multiclass into Warlock when she started following Uk’otoa.

Her strongest attacks came from her melee weapons, her rapier and magical dagger. She fired two Eldritch Blast beams at Nott, but dealt a mere 3 points of damage, indicating she carried different invocations. (Fjord’s blasts are stronger due to the Agonizing Blast Eldritch Invocation, adding his charisma bonus to his damage). She was granted the ability to cast Control Water once a day by Uk’otoa, which she tried to use...

The Mighty Nein

The Mighty Nein went in with a plan, and while not everything went ideally, they stuck to their metaphorical guns and pulled off an epic performance. Their goals were:

  • Get Beau as close as possible to the Plank King as quickly as possible with Avantika’s journal

  • Get to the Plank King and give him the journal

  • Get the Nein off the ship as quickly as possible

  • If possible, do things that implicate Avantika

  • Stay alive.

All in all, it’s safe to say the plan actually went… well, pretty close to plan!

Jester and Caduceus supported the group in their own ways. The whole plan relied on Jester’s ability to Dimension Door; Beau is fast (135 feet/round fast), but she couldn’t have gotten as far as she did on her own. Jester was also able to disguise herself as a random pirate, which afforded the Nein a person-on-the-outside once they were manacled by the guards. Had things gone worse with the Plank King, her ability to sneak around and work on their behalf would have been crucial.

Caduceus escaped the Squalleater, enabling Caleb to later cast that Fireball and not hurt his friends. The firbolg’s invisibility confused a guard for a round, which kept that guard from also trying to grapple Nott or Yasha. His healing to Yasha ensured that, should battle have continued longer, their party tank could have continued to absorb damage.

Nott, like Caduceus, made sure to follow the plan of getting off the Squalleater. Although her initial attempts at damage fell short, her Phantasmal Force on Avantika provided Avantika unjustified relief regarding the safety of her journal. The captain wouldn’t feel the impact of this until the trial itself, after she had already asserted that there was no such journal but she knew it was already in the Plank King’s possession. Nott also provided adequate distraction for both Avantika and the guards, giving Beau ample time while everyone focused on the squirming goblin.

Fjord may only have two spell slots, but he put them to full use in this battle. First, he got Caleb out the way of the Squalleater with his Thunderstep. Though that didn’t save Caleb from going unconscious from a heavy crossbow bolt, it did put Fjord close enough by that he could get to Caleb to give him a health potion. Fjord used his second slot to metaphorically pull a rabbit from the hat, firmly solidifying that the Squalleater’s attention was on something other than the unconscious wizard.

Yasha and Fjord’s summoned barlgura functioned as the party tanks, absorbing damage and attention to help the party pull off its plan. Yasha got off of the Squalleater so she could try to get away, and then kept the attention of Avantika when total escape wasn’t possible.

Barlgura

  • First Appearance: 2-43 In Hot Water

  • Armor Class 15

  • Speed 40 feet, climb 40 feet

  • Blindsight 30 ft, Darkvision 120 ft, Passive 15

  • Resistant to cold, fire, and lightning damage

  • Immune to poison damage and poisoned

  • Suggested Average, Max HP: 68, 104

  • 79+ Damage Taken, Killing Blow by Caleb (No save rolled, 3 HP remaining)

We can’t say we blame the crew of the Squalleater from immediately turning their attention to the sudden appearance of a large, gorilla-like demon. In all, the barlgura took 46% of the total damage dealt to The Mighty Nein. The barlgura kept their attention just long enough for Caleb to be revived and retaliate.

Caleb

Caleb’s spellcasting shaped the battle for the Nein. First, and most obviously, his Wall of Fire kicked off the fray, alerting nearby guards that something was amiss and drew them to the scene. It stands to reason that, had there not been that big of a ruckus, the Darktow guards would have been less likely to believe Beau that she needed the Plank King right now. Further, once the King was retrieved, he had a situation he physically saw occur that he needed to get to the bottom of, rather than just immediately punishing Beau for treason.

Eager to put her new boon from Uk’otoa to use, Avantika attempted to use her mastery over water to squelch Caleb’s opening defenses. This set up Caleb to reveal his other new spell in epic fashion, Counterspell. Although Bouldergut’s assault extinguished the flames shortly after Avantika’s attempt, those crucial few seconds that the opaque Wall of Fire stuck around were just enough to grant Jester and Beau a complete getaway from the boat, leaving the crew of the Squalleater with no idea of the journal’s location.

Though Caleb was unconscious for more than a round by a lucky crossbow bolt, once he was revived, he made his next turn count. With the Squalleater distracted by the new greater threat of the barlgura, he cast Fireball, killing the majority of the crew, as well as the demonic tank. This unfortunately brought the guards’s former apprehension to outright hostility, but still served as both an adequate distraction and a most convenient cleanup.

The fireball also hit Ipess with it (who did not go unconscious) and Vera (who was described afterward as, “almost dead, burned, incinerated on the ground, not moving”). While the damage was great, it was apparently less than Vera’s total HP and not enough to explicitly and outright kill her. The last we heard of either, Ipess ran to check on her charred body, but it was never explained if he found a body or a corpse, or what action he took. Whether Vera lived long enough to be led away in chains or to threaten the Mighty Nein again remains a mystery.

The Trial

Thanks to @der__klappstuhl for this art piece!

While the rest of the party were involved with the combat side of the encounter, Beau was on the most crucial part of the mission: setting up their side of the trial with the Plank King by getting the journal to the him, convincing him to read it, and put Avantika’s crimes in a worse light than their treason. Outside of her initial Step of the Wind, she had to rely on the conversational skills and restraint she and Fjord practiced rather than her myriad of other expertises to get her point across. By cooling her heels with the guards and being savvy and respectful (enough) to the Plank King, she presented Caleb’s work and the Nein’s side of the trial before it began on the docks of Darktow.

As an interesting side note, Jamedi Cosko appeared as a surprise character witness. We have no way of knowing if he always worked as an informant for the Plank King (though his cover would certainly be blown now) or if this was Jamedi taking an opportunity to get some extra gold. It is telling that he went to the Plank King immediately upon stepping foot on Darktow and purposefully avoided eye contact with Avantika and the Nein on his way down from the Throne Roost so he wouldn’t be seen. Jamedi was able to relay to the Plank King that the Nein were distinctly not experienced sailors, which potentially made the King think even less of them and their motives. However, considering his declaration of no longer wishing to work in Avantika’s employ, it’s possible (though unconfirmed) that he had just as much dirt to provide on her as well as the Nein.

During the trial, Beau and Fjord worked together to convince the Plank King that they, the outsiders, had disrupted his island for a very relevant purpose. Although she was not actually sent to investigate Avantika, Beau’s admission as an Expositor with the Cobalt Soul granted a surprising air of legitimacy with the Plank King, who revealed that he had previous maintained a working relationship with their organization. Fjord’s honeyed words against Avantika’s otherwise more trusted lies granted Beau the opportunity to flex her Extort Truth ability. Avantika’s usually high wisdom failed her right when she needed it most; unable to lie, Avantika chose to go to her death in relative silence.

The Plank King held up his end of the bargain with Beau and gave her and the rest of the Nein the Squalleater and relatively safe passage out of Darktow, with the threat of death upon their return to the island. Although this may have been a death sentence for anyone else, the Nein’s clerics and their skilled (and terrified) crew ensured that the full encounter with the pirates of Darktow ended as successfully as they could have ever hoped.