Since I finished up my arc last session, we were due to start a new DM's adventure (at level 6). One of our players couldn't make it, however, so instead the DM for the level 7 adventure offered to run a one-shot "prologue" for his adventure, which would serve as an introduction to his arc and wouldn't require a full party (plus we didn't want to start the level 6 arc with a player short). So here is a summary from my point of view as a player.
Cast of Characters
Lyra Cinderfield: Human Staff of Defense Wizard (my character)
Berylis Lindelenon: Elf Panther Shaman (my other character)
Meryl "Wiggy" Wiggins: Gnome Chaos Sorcerer
Miyako "Miya" Sotoko: Human Centered Breath Monk
The party from the Red Frogs was hired by Tirel Thygus, a noble from the small port town of Kirkston (southeast of the Nentir Vale). Kirkston looks to have seen better days, and the PCs soon learn that the economy is doing really poorly. Somehow, Tirel has managed to maintain his wealth through the crisis. Though this seems odd, the party doesn't question their new employer about it. He reveals that his daughter Lileth has been captured by a group of pirates known as the Bloody Toads. They've asked an outrageous ransom for her which, despite the fact that he can afford it, he doesn't want to pay out of principle. He notifies the party that the Bloody Toads are based on an island chain a short distance off the mainland, but that their main stronghold is magically hidden. He also asks the party to report on or bring back any powerful sources of magic, which he only says he has a strong interest in. Other than that, he claims to have no other leads for the party, and cannot even offer a ship.
The party splits into two teams to gather information around town; Lyra aids Berylis (who uses Speak with Spirits) but the two find nothing, though Wiggy and Miya have much better luck and learn that the guy they want to seek out is One-Eyed Jack. One-Eyed Jack hangs out at the Sailor's Tavern, just off the docks. The party heads to the tavern, and Berylis spots their quarry right away after again seeking guidance from the spirit world. Turns out the nickname One-Eyed was a bit generous; the man has actually had both eyes removed, and wears a bandana with a single eye painted on it over his face. This bandana seems to give him some amount of perceptive power, despite the fact that he is actually blind. Lyra and Wiggy approach the surly fellow, asking if he could provide them with information. He seems disheartened because nobody ever asks for his skill (as a sailor) anymore, at which point Lyra tries flattering him, assuring him that they actually do need a ship and that they'd be happy to employ him as their captain. He claims to know these waters better than anyone, and admits to being a former Toad himself (it was they who took his eyes out and marooned him on an island). Once he agrees to help the party, Lyra reveals the identity of their employer, who Jack informs them was a former Toad himself! Apparently Tirel Thygus had somehow struck a deal which granted him great power, which he was to use to make Kirkston a safe haven for the Toads. He betrayed them, keeping this mysterious power for himself, and though he doesn't grant them protection in town, he also doesn't attempt to interfere with their raids (which is why the town is currently so impoverished). Clearly Tirel isn't exactly trustworthy, and the PCs will proceed on this mission with caution.
Jack tells the party to meet him at the docks the next day, and they will try to find a ship. During that time Jack managed to put together a 3 man crew: Hagger is a short, broad-shouldered human (and former Toad), Fira is a young woman who was a former pirate hunter, and now seeks revenge on the Toads for some reason, and Victor is an Elf who knows where the party can obtain a schooner. They follow up on Victor's lead and pay the schooner's captain, Brutus Mars, a visit. The schooner is a piece of junk and the party tries to haggle a low price from Brutus, who can see that they clearly need a ship and assures them that they aren't likely to find a cheaper one anywhere. He demands 1/3 of the group's profits (though the party declines to inform him of their mission), and they ask him why he deserves a share of the treasure if he's not coming with them. Apparently he intended to be their captain because Jack is a damn fool that can't see anything, but Lyra sticks up for Jack assuring Brutus that he will do just fine. Brutus soon agrees to a lower price, but requires that the PCs transport some cargo in secret; he says that he doesn't know exactly what it is, but assures them that it's important. Lyra asks to see it, and Brutus pulls out a small, orange book. Lyra detects magic and learns that it's enchanted to hide the words on its pages, and informs Brutus that it's a pretty simple spell. She then bluffs that it's a dangerous item, and the hazard of transporting it should lower the cost of the schooner rental. Brutus grudgingly agrees, asking for 150 gp now and 150 when they got back. He then gives them the coordinates to an isle where a man is being held captive, and this man is who they need to deliver the book to (he claims not to know why, because the book was given to him by someone else). Lyra whispers in Jack's ear via Ghost Sound asking if he knows how to get to the island based on the descriptions, and whether it's out of their way. He simply tells her that that's where they're headed anyways.
So they set sail in their newly acquired schooner. The hidden base can only be reached by using a magical compass that only Bloody Toad captains have, so the basic plan was to sail out looking like a tempting target until a Toad ship took the bait. On their way the party passes the island where Jack was marooned, and continue on their way (Lyra keeps a light spell active to make them easier to spot). Soon they come across a ship, but it's an unusually large warship that is probably captained by someone very important within the organization. According to Jack, this wasn't a ship that they wanted to get captured by, as they were very unlikely to win in a confrontation. The schooner turned around and headed back toward the island, where they would have an advantage given that they could get closer to the island with their much shallower keel. And so they waited. The ship sent out 2 rowboats to pursue the schooner into a bay when it could go no farther. Lyra stood up on the edge of the ship, staff held high and the wind whipping her robe in an attempt to look powerful and wizardly. She boomed "you shall not pass!" as loudly as possible with Ghost Sound. Berylis called his spirit companion, Legadema, and sent her as far as possible out over the water. Lyra used Ghost Sound to give her a terrifying roar. The combined magical display was intimidating enough to send 1 of the boats fleeing back to the main ship in terror (the main ship ended up shooting the cowards with a barrage of cannon fire).
When the boat finally came within range, Legadema was in a perfect position to make OAs on 2 of the 4 rowers as they sped past her. Lyra used a readied Arc Lightning to blast them as well. Initiative was rolled as the boat was now in range, with Lyra leading off with Stinking Cloud. Since the boat wasn't fast enough to make it through the cloud in a single move action the rowers could either double move or make their ranged attacks at a severe disadvantage. They consistently elected to row as fast as possible toward the Schooner, with Lyra constantly moving the Cloud to auto-damage them and deter them from using ranged attacks. Berylis simply kept moving Legadema ahead of the cloud and reading a Stalker's Strike (or Twin Panthers once they were in range) for when they emerged from the cloud. She was also able to use Spirit's Fangs whenever the boat rowed past her. Wiggy also readied his ranged attacks for whenever the boat emerged from the cloud, and Miya was unfortunately unable to do much of anything until the boat came close enough for her to jump onto it. When this finally happened 2 of the rowers were already dead, and the remaining 2 were well past bloodied. Crane's Wings finished one of them off, and an Eternal Mountain (via Action Point) nearly finished the last one. He used a free action to surrender to the party, at which point Lyra took his weapons with her Mage Hand while Berylis tied him up and brought him on board. He explained that he'd take his chances being a captive of the Red Frogs, since fleeing back to the Toad's ship would get him just as killed as fighting to the death. At this point the party decided to head for the southern edge of the island to put some distance between them and the warship, besides the fact their prisoner informed him that Bloody Toad ships often docked in the bays of the island's southern coast. It was at this point that the session ended, with the party seeking easier prey on the other side of the island.
It's notable that in the night's only encounter the PCs did not suffer a single attack. The rowers kept using double moves (and at one point both rowers were slowed and one was also dazed), and the party kept pummeling them with a combination of readied ranged (or melee spirit) attacks, Stinking Cloud's auto-damage as Lyra kept moving it over the boat, and Legadema's Spirit Fangs as the rowers moved past. The last rowers were at death's door by the time they reached the schooner. It's also worth noting that this was the first time that I used the playtest version of Stinking Cloud in actual play (I'd been using Visions of Avarice to avoid the nerfed SC). Stinking Cloud may not be the powerhouse blaster power that it once was, but it's still exceptionally useful. It'll still deal reliable auto-damage (at the very least when you use your move action to plop it back on top of enemies) on top of your normal standard action, and you can still keep it between the party and ranged enemies to ruin their day. It certainly trivialized this encounter, even if it was arguably the perfect set up. Had I been DMing the encounter I probably would have had the intimidate delay the second boat by a round instead of causing them to outright flee, and I would have applied some ranged pressure. I also would have considered continually popping the SC instead of constantly making double moves. As it went down, the party was in a position that was way too defensible for the attack to be anything but futile.