Friday 12 April 2024

AFF solo - Part XIX: Reversals

The figure barring the companions' passage is covered head-to-toe in dusty but ornately-moulded plate armour, and wears an equally dusty black cloak of fine linen. Black plumes top the fearsome crested helm.

The KNIGHT's booming voice rings hollow under his helm as he brandishes his gleaming greatsword. "Turn back, or face my blade!"

"Who are you?" calls out Fhenteskeer.

The challenge is merely repeated.

"We've no quarrel with you," says Grebdal Themp. "Our business is with Thalman."

[Q: What next? (1d6): 1-2 stands, 3-4 attack, 5-6 summon help:1]

The figure shifts its grip on its greatsword.

"I've had enough," says Ilog, raising his morningstar. "I accept your challenge."

[Q: Stats? (1d6) 1 chaos warrior, 2 normal mercenary, 4 elite mercenary, 4-5 freelance knight, 6 an illusion; d6=5]


[Round 1]
The knight is overconfident. He swings his blade in a contemptuously slow arc, allowing Ilog to dart in under his guard and slam his whirling morningstar into the side of his great helm. It connects with an almighty clang, but the thick iron shews barely a scuff [4-3= 1 damage].
[Round 2]
Ksandajja is suddenly beside Ilog. "He's a necromancer's pawn. An honourable duel is meaningless to such a cur!"

Ilog is glad of the help, for the knight is fighting in earnest now. Neither warrior nor sorceress find a way past his guard. The greatsword crashes down on the boss of Ilog's shield. Though it protect him from the keen blade, the force of the impact wrenches his arm and he can feel his tendons strain. [he's hit for 4-1=3 damage, down to 9 stamina]

[Round 3]
Let not Telak, god of battle, be watching from his heavenly fortress, for the only red in this mêlée comes not from spilt blood but ruddy-cheeked embarrassment. The sorceress gambles on a fancy manoeuvre, and with a whirl of silvery steel she wheels about -- only to expose her back to the knight. Said knight rushes in to profit from her blunder, but swings a full pace shy of his foe, and with nothing to impede the blade, it whips round so he smashes himself in the shoulder with the spiky cross-guard. Ilog's ball-and-chain does at least strike his enemy, but right in the thickest, most unyielding part of his breastplate.

[Ilog hit for 3-3=0 damage. Ksandajja and the knight both fumbled. She exposed her weak spot (+2 to enemy damage roll), whilst the knight hit himself for 3-2=1 damage.]

[Round 4]
Recovering from her error, Ksandajja strikes the knight in the calf, but her blade glances off the heavy plates [3-3=0 damage]. The knight slices into Ilog's chest, leaving a long bloody rent and exposing several ribs [5-0=5 damage, to 4 stamina]. As the warrior cries out in pain and shock, the knight's tabard erupts in flames; Fhenteskeer has called on mighty Filash to intercede [casts Flame on the knight for 1d3=3 damage; the knight is at 7 Stamina].
[Round 5]
The flaming knight cackles like a madman. Grebdal Themp reluctantly joins the fight, and he and Ilog both manage to catch the knight unawares, though as always the heavy armour eats up most of the force of the blows.

[Round 6]
But the raving knight battles on, and his terrible sword cuts Ilog down before he finally succumbs to the flames. [Ilog takes 5-1=4 damage, down to 0 Stamina].

Fhenteskeer rushes to his fallen comrade's side, and finds his soul has not yet departed for the other realm. He prays again to his fiery god, and Filash shews his mercy, re-kindling the spark of life within the gallant warrior's breast. [Casts Heal; Ilog regains 9 Stamina.]

Having all recovered their breath, they advance into the dim opening of the domed manse at the street's end. Grebdal Themp lights his lamp against the oppressive dark.

[Q: Is Thalman hard to find? likely (3+): O2 C3 - no, but...]
They must pass through many rooms full of the relics of bygone days, and come upon more than one dead end, but at last signs of recent habitation are observed.

[Awareness rolls as they get nearer: only Ilog fails.
Q: Something to notice? 50/50 (4+): O1 C2 - yes
Q: What? Dimly / Aromatic]

"What's that smell?" asks Grebdal Themp.

"Incense?" says Ksandajja.

"No, something else."

"Under the incense, you mean?"

"I don't smell anything," says Ilog, "but dust. And that latrine we blundered into. Phaugh!"

They table their discussion and creep forward until they see dim light glowing from round a corner. Ksandajja pauses to throw a counter spell over herself, proof against the malisons of the vile necromancer who they are all certain lurks just ahead [MAG, -2 Stamina].

[Time to roll for the complication (SS&SS): d66=Characters’ Weapons are Useless]

They turn corner to see a shadowy circular atrium with half the roof fallen in. Eight oversized copper braziers still smoulder round the perimeter. A recent, swollen corpse in black robes lies in the dust before an iron-bound tome propped open on a chunk of masonry, surrounded by implements of the Art.

A pithy observation dies on Ilog's lips as the phosphorescent green form of the slain wizard coalesces over his corpse. The terrible SPECTRE shrieks with inarticulate rage as he floats towards the quivering mortals who would steal his prize.

[Notes: The spectre can attack 2 PCs each round. They can't hurt it with normal weapons, but won't know that until they score a hit in combat.]

[Round 1]
It is suddenly before them. Ghostly claws tear at Fhenteskeer and Ilog. Wounds open on the priest's neck and the warriors shoulder, but the pain in their flesh is nothing compared to the cold of the grave piercing their souls.

[It rolled a natural 12, a critical, doing double damage (6 each) and inflicting the loss of 1 Skill. Ilog now has 4 Stamina, Fhenteskeer 1.]

[Round 2]
The startled companions bring their arms to bear, but the enraged phantom flits among them so rapidly that every swing seems to pass through the air just behind it. Fortunately Ilog is able to fend off its assault, but the awful talons rake down Fhenteskeer's back. His life-essence is siphoned off by the caterwauling spirit, and he collapses in an ungainly heap.

[It, Ilog, and Ksandajja all rolled 17s, so no hits. Fhenteskeer's total was a paltry 12, so he got hit. He Tested his LUCK to reduce damage to minimum (in hopes that his armour might absorb it): 2d6=10, fail; 4-1=3 damage to -2 Stamina...]

[Round 3]
The spectre's rage turns to glee. It gloats over the fallen priest, giving warrior and sorceress time to strike. They lunge at it -- Ilog swinging his mace-and-chain right at its head, Ksandajja slashing her sword at its abdomen -- and their weapons swish right through. The spectre's malicious mirth only redoubles.

Behind them, Grebdal Themp only stares dumbly at the corpse of his oldest friend [technically, he fumbled (leaves self open)].

[Round 4]
Ksandajja's resolve breaks. "Run!" she cries, even as she summons the magic of a defensive spell to keep the clutching claws at bay. An invisible barrier springs up before her, and the spectre vents its rage in vain against the mystical bulwark. Her companions back out hastily, not daring to take their eyes off the glowing horror.
[She cast FOF, costing 4 Stamina; she's got 3 left. I&G fought defensively (+2), and neither were hit.]

[Round 5]
It takes a supreme effort of will to keep the barrier up, especially with a leering, jeering phantom clawing at one's face. Ksandajja confines herself to a single, petulant sticking out of the tongue, which only increases the fury of the assault. She backs slowly out of the ritual chamber, concentrating on maintaining the barrier until well after the spectre has ceased to follow.

[Q: Can the spectre leave the chamber? unlikely (5+): O4 C6 - no.]

Back in the sunlit street, Grebdal Themp is still sobbing, a dishevelled Ksandajja appears as one who's not slept in weeks, and Ilog is trebling and feverish.

"We need to find somewhere safe to recuperate," mumbles the sorceress.

[For being wounded by the Spectre, there was a 5-in-6 chance of losing a point of Skill. Combined with the -1 from the critical hit, Ilog's current Skill is now 5.

Q: Can they find somewhere high-up, safe, and defensible? 50/50 (4+): O6 C 6 - yes
+Event: Introduce a new NPC - Assist / Attention
Q: What are they like? Wildly / Quaint]

Just then a grey, winged GREMLIN flits out of the shadows and hovers right before the enervated explorers. "Hold!" it says in a shrill, nasal voice. "My master wishes to talk with you. Put down your weapons. It is safe."

Grebdal Themp shrugs and sheaths his sword. Ksandajja and Ilog lower their weapons. They follow the curious creature down the street until it stop short, and lets out a tiny screech. With a slow shuffling gait, a stooped vulture-headed humanoid in a drab travelling cloak emerges from a shadowy doorway, leaning on a short staff. The HAMAKEI looks the companions over, then rasps out a pointed question.

"What are you lot doing here? Treasure hunting?" [prejudiced - view - current scene]

"No," says Ksandajja. "Trying to recover stolen property before it can be put to evil use."

"The necromancer?"

"The same."

"A victim of his own experiments -- cursed now to guard that wretched tome for eternity."

"We must destroy that foul guardian," sobs Grebdal Themp, "to avenge our fallen friend!"

"And bring the tome back to one who's wise enough to keep it safe," says Ilog, "and not be tempted by its evil."

"But our weapons pass right through it," says Ksandajja.

"I might know a way you can defeat it," says the hamakei. "In the great temple at the centre of the city, there is a artefact of great power, the enchanted Skull of Ukhuttaz."

"Ukhuttaz!" gasps Ksandajja. "The lich-king!"

"I'd be loathe to touch such a thing," says Ilog.

"Surely, there must be another way to fight this fiend," says Grebdal Themp.

"Forgive my momentary astonishment," says Ksandajja. "I didn't mean to imply that I'm afraid to wield it."

"Wait-- really?" asks Grebdal Themp.

"Yes, really."

"Oh, well, if you're willing, that's fine by me."

"As long as you're absolutely sure you want to do this," says Ilog.

"Why wouldn't I be?! I'm surprised that neither of you wanted it. I was afraid this would sorely test our friendship!"

"It won't be easy to obtain," says the Hamakei. "It was secreted somewhere in the maze of chambers within the city's greatest temple. The maze is full of traps and terrors, designed to test the mettle of the initiates, so only the most worthy could wield the Skull."
"But wouldn't that make it harder to bring the Skull's magic to bear in a time of crisis?" asks Ilog.

"I didn't build the place," says the Hamakei. "I'm just telling you what the old books record."

"How can we get there?" asks Ksandajja. "Will you show us the way?"

"Of course. But you're in no fit state to go there now. Come, share my camp for the night, and brave the temple's dangers on the morrow."

[Q: Quiet night? likely (3+): O5 C6 - yes
+1 LUCK for finding ally (I&G back to initial levels, Ksandajja is still down 1)
+8 STAMINA (meal, sleep, morning meal; K & G to full, I up to 12)
Q: Is it far and/or hard to get there? 50/50 (4+): O3 C8 – no]

next post: temple of the skull

Saturday 6 April 2024

AFF solo - Part XVIII: The Dead City

The broad steps lead up to a trapdoor, formerly concealed by a gold and crimson carpet which now hangs in shreds through the fallen-away wooden slats. Ilog slams what's left of it open, sending clouds of choking dust into the air. The companions must retreat a few steps until it clears.

[Q: Is it open? 50/50 (4+): O6 C4 - yes, but...

The last post ended with the final room in the entrance 'dungeon'. For exploring the city ruins, I switched to the Randomized Location Crafting tables in Mythic Magazine #2.

I'm using the Small Locations column, but Completed results need a roll to track/notice/etc. or will be treated simply as Expected. Also, this is a vast, dead, ruined city, so it isn't swarming with monsters. An Expected result for encounters = none.]

T0 : expected - none - none

When they are at last able to ascend, they emerge into what must have been the triclinium of a fine townhouse. The wooden furniture has since collapsed to nothing and the colourful wall frescoes have faded and flaked past the point of recognition. Only the wrought iron skeletons of the dining couches remain, rusted but intact.

"Nice digs," observes Grebdal Themp.

"I suppose Death cultists have more refined tastes than worshippers of Decay," adds Ksandajja.

"All that black dye for the robes doesn't come cheap," says Ilog.

The adjoining room is choked with rubble and impassible, but a gap in the wall affords access to the next room or house.

T1 : expected - expected - none

They pick their way through to the front room, which lacks its roof entirely. The walls on one side are scarcely waist-high. From there it's an easy clamber out to the street.

T2 : random - none - expected
location: important & unusual

They traverse a ruined portico leading to long narrow area with stone tables and benches arranged in cramped rows.

"What do you suppose this place was?" asks Grebdal Themp.

"A scriptorium," says Ksandajja, "just like where I used to work in Ângu of the Interminable bloody Contracts."

T3 : expected - none - expected

There's open street on the other side, strewn with wood, clay, and stone debris, but passable. Ksandajja hears a skittering of stones, and wheels about to face an unseen assailant. Then she hears another grating sound, and watches as a fragment of plaster, having lost its struggle against the inexorable advance of time, slides down the façade of a crumbling shop front. Her relief at the sight is but of a moment; for there was no assassin, and not even a rat or other vermin. And she'd not seen so much as a single spider or beetle in the dark, cool cellar. Truly nothing can live in this Dead City.
T4 : random - random - none
Location: calm, lavish
Encounter: weak, anxious

A still-standing gate at end leads to public gardens -- now a grid path with empty pools, dead palm trees, and broken statues of nameless gods being choked dessicated, thorny vines.

But as our heroes pick their way through the remnants of a forgotten satrap's largesse, a pair of tiny yellow eyes observe their every movement. Only once they have left the garden does the WINGED GREMLIN emerge from beneath a cracked marble bench and flit off to make report to its master. [They all got Awareness rolls at -4 to notice (-2 size, -2 concealed) to notice the gremlin; unsurprisingly no one succeeded.]

T5: random - expected - expected
Location: dark, confusing

The street on the other side of the garden is blocked on both ends. The only way forward is through a block of large, mostly intact insulae [tenements]. After a few paces inwards, the darkness becomes complete, and they must illumine a lantern to proceed.

"I grew up in a tip like this," says Grebdal Themp. "we'd best mind our step; these places were deathtraps at the best of times."

T6 : known - none - special
Object: This is bad - threatening, mundane

Even with the lamp, wading through the dust, debris, and ancient rubbish in the blackness of the insula is a chore. Several paths turn out to be dead ends, and they must climb rickety steps to the first and then second floor to find way through. Ksandajja, having taken the lead, treads on a rotten timber, and feels it give way beneath her feet. [Testing her LUCK : 2d6=4, success; current Luck drops to 7] She springs back just in time as a whole room's worth of floor collapses.

Grebdal Themp offers to take lead; he's more used to creeping around in dark houses, anyway.

T7 : complete - expected - expected

They spot a dim light ahead. Moving toward it, they round the corner to find a room lit by a window, or perhaps simply a fortuitous hole in the exterior wall. They look down over the city ruins form the height, and espy a plume of thin grey smoke coming from the top of one of the more-intact buildings.

[For the Complete result, the party needed to roll against the best Awareness (9) at -2 to see a clue: 2d6=7, success.]

"Think we can find a way there from here?" asks Fhenteskeer.

"I'm trying to plot a course from up here," says Ksandajja, "but it's hard to say what it will actually be like on the ground."

"As log as we find some sort of landmarks," says Ilog, "it shouldn't be too hard to URKKK---!!!"

T8 : expected PP-6 - random - expected
Encounter: creepy, trap

Ilog's companions wheel round to see a pair of bony hands clasping round the warriors throat. Behind his bulk they can just make out the grinning skull in a shabby cloak beaming with diabolic glee: a SKELETAL STRANGLER, doubtlessly sent by the necromancer to destroy any interlopers who would threaten his wicked designs.

Fighting in the cramped quarters of the closet sized bedroom is a challenge, but at least Ilog is able to twist round so that his companions can reach the vile undead thing. Even so, they are hampered by the space. Fhenteskeer calls down the power of Filash to aid him [Smite Undead]. But though the sacred flames play over the blade of his sharp axe, he never finds an opening through which to strike. Fortunately for poor, straining Ilog, Ksandajja and Grebdal Themp make short work of the grasping fiend with their swords.

Ilog slumps to the floor, still straining to breathe. He manages to choke down a few gulps from his waterskin, and follows it up with a bit of hard tack besides to restore a bit of his lost vigour.

[Despite some rubbish die rolls, the fight only took 2 rounds. Ilog was down to 10 Stamina. First Aid won't help, so he ate a PROVISION to regain 2 Stamina.]

T9 : random - random - special
Location: dirty, reassuring
Encounter: crazy, defeated
Object: barely there - expected

Having found their way down to ground level, they emerge into long dusty street, surprisingly clear of detritus. It bisects a larger thoroughfare, and in the middle of the intersection there is a [d6=] man, stripped almost bare and staked out on the ground. The sun blazes down unimpeded on his angry red skin, and he does not seem to notice the group of strangers standing over him, trying to get his attention.

[Q: Is he too far gone? 50/50 (4+): O5 C3 - yes, but...]

"He's got heatstroke, and severe dehydration," says Ksandajja. "I'm surprised he's still alive." [Desert Lore, auto- success.]

Ilog manages to get some water down the man's throat [Healing roll 2d6=3, succeeds] enough for him to be able to speak a few words.

"Please... give me a coin to pay the ferryman..." [inquisitive - request - wealth]

Soft-hearted Ilog gives the man a gold coin as his companions loosen his bonds, and then drag him into some shade to live out his last minutes in relative comfort.

T10 : expected - expected - none
T11 : expected - expected, PP-6 - special
   Object: Multi-element - expected x2
T12 : expected, PP-6 - expected - expected

They proceed through a labyrinth of winding streets and broken buildings, with ever increasing mounds of rubble to climb over or find detours round...

T13 : random - expected - expected
Location: empty, dangerous

...until they find they can proceed in the streets no further, and must instead forge a path through a collapsing, bone-strewn workshop, whose hard wooden floor -- or the part of it still extant -- creaks ominously with every tentative step.
[Awareness rolls are needed to pick a safe path through; all succeed but one.]

They've nearly reached a hole into the next street when Fhenteskeer crashes through a brittle plank, falling up to his waist and tearing up his leg on the jagged edges of the hole [1d6=4 damage]. Ilog helps him out, and binds his bloodied leg once they're all clear [Healing roll succeeds, Fhenteskeer gets 2 back; he's now at 6 Stamina].

T14 : expected - expected - none
T15 : random - expected - none
   Location: harsh, lonely
T16 : known - none - expected, PP-6

The narrow, winding street leads into a sizeable open square. A single stone platform -- for orators or executions -- stands in the centre. Nothing else remains but shredded canvas tents and bits of wooden structure from the ancient market stalls. Ilog climbs atop the platform, but it proves empty.

T17 : known - expected, PP-6 - random
   Object: enormous & ornate
T18 : expected - expected - expected

They leave the square by one of the broader streets. The stone buildings to either side still stand tall, their stout construction more than adequate proof against the press of weighty centuries. The companions are glad of the shade they afford, though doubly aware that an enemy could be hiding in the darkness behind any of the yawning doorways they must pass.

One street is partly blocked by a broken chariot. Bronze fittings, green with verdigris, still cling to the splintered wooden frame. A nearby human skull in a dented casque may once have belonged to the driver, and the skeleton of one horse lies in the dust beneath the broken yoke.
T19 : complete - random - random
Encounter: calm & military
Object: new & weapon

[For the Complete result, I needed to roll Awareness: 9-2=7; 2d6=7, success]

At last they can smell smoke, and there seems a darker cast to the day; their goal is the low domed edifice at the end of the street. But as they advance, a figure steps forth from a shadowy doorway to block their path.

next post: fighting and death

Thursday 28 March 2024

AFF solo - Part XVII: Journey to Anhassuul

Having rested and re-supplied, the companions march out of Drammub's northern gate and wend their way down the steep, narrow, and very twisty path to the bottom of the gorge, and thence out into the open desert. If Ksandajja is pleased that she was able to acquire a few components for certain of her sorcerous spells, Fhenteskeer is even more so, for all his excess wealth has been tithed to the small temple of Filash within Drammub's sacred precinct. He feels the holy fires of his god fill his skull as he follows the sorceress over the sands. She stops abruptly, turns back to look at him critically.

"It is no apostasy to give due reverence to Hydana, priest of Filash."


"Drink some water before you fall over."

[Pointless random city encounters were redacted from the narrative.

The quest was rolled up with the Sharp Swords & Sinister Sorcery adventure generator--
Goal: steal/capture spellbook
Location: Raider-Inhabited Desert
Antagonist: Powerful Undead
Supporting character: Sage
Complication: (roll later)
Reward: Large Sum of Silver and Gold

I'd asked the oracle--
Q: Does the sage have the Find spell? 50/50 (4+): O5 C3 - yes, but... ('but' makes no sense, so simple yes)

everyone bought 8 days preserved food (2 provisions/day), plus--
K - beeswax (RAZ), yellow powder (NIP), small pouch (she fills with 2 handfuls of sand for MUD spell (x2))
G - stamina potion
I - 30m rope & grappling iron
F- stamina potion, tithes 18gp to Fire temple

For the journey, I used a not-too-dissimilar procedure to the caravan journey. Each day I made 1 day and 1 night encounter check (1-2 on d6), + 1 feature roll (Heroes' Companion), + a Desert Lore (Ksandajja) check not to get lost. Per the AFF rulebook, PCs lose 2 Stamina travelling during day from the heat (but Ksandajja's weather protection cantrip and Grebdal Themp's magic tattoo alleviate this).]

Day 1

Ksandajja leads her companions through the scorching wasteland, following the route of the ancient road Uldan-andu had shown her on a worm-eaten map. The explorers trudge forward at a steady pace, scanning the blazing horizon for any signs of their destination, though it be too early to have it in sight.

As they march between dunes, the sand beneath their feet begins to subtly shift and sink, then erupt all round them in violence as the rubbery green tentacles of a SAND SQUID burst from beneath, flailing and catching at its unsuspecting prey.


[It has 4 attacks per round, so compares its attack roll to each of the PCs' rolls and can potentially damage them all. The PCs have -2 Skill as they are hampered by flailing tentacles & shifting sands.]

[Round 1]
Ksandajja ducks under a tentacle with consummate grace as she draws her sword, but swirling dust under the feet leaves her too off-balance to counter the attack. Grebdal Themp manages a lucky riposte, drawing a thin oozing line across one of the thrashing arms. Ilog and Fhenteskeer are caught entierly unawares. The warrior hasn't even time to unlimber his shield from his back, and takes a long bloody tear down the arm where it should hang. The priest fares worse, with a deep gash through his hauberk and midsection. Both feel a sharp sting to the wounds as the squid's toxic secretions sink into their tattered flesh.

[The squid rolled 8(skill)+6=14
Ksandajja rolled 8-2+8=14, neither inflicted damage.
Fhenteskeer 7-2+5=10, he was hit for 6-1=5dmg, dropping him to 5 Stamina.
Grebdal Themp 9-2+9=16, hitting for 2 damage, putting the squid at 7 Stamina.
Ilog 9-2+5=12, he takes 3dmg to 13 Stamina.]

[Round 2]
The beast's fury does not abate. Neither Ksandajja nor Grebdal Themp can find an opeing that would not leave them also exposed. Ilog swings his mace-and-chain high overhead, but the thing just rakes his shins with another slimy, toxic tentacle. Fhenteskeer fares the worst; he wields his axe in defence, only to have it torn from his grasp and flung several paces out of reach, slick with his own blood spurting from another grievous wound.

[The squid, Grebdal Themp and Ksaandajja all rolled 15. Ilog got a 14, but only suffered 2 damage. Fhenteskeer tried to Defend (+2 skill), but fumbled (natural 2); he took 4-0=4 dmg, leaving him at 1 stamina.]

[Round 3]
Seeing Fhenteskeer nearly disembowled, Ksandajja knows she must act decisively. She summons the old magic from the deep recesses of her soul, channeling it through her extended fingers in a burst of crackling blue electricity. The squid bursts like an overripe melon, and gobbets of stinking green meat rain down over the sands.

[She cast ZAP, costing 4 stamina, and succeeding despite the -2 penalty for being in close combat. 3d6=15 damage, no save.]

"Have... have you always been able to do that?" says an astonished Grebdal Themp.

"I, um, like to save it for special occasions. It's dreadfully exhausting."

Fhenteskeer uses his miraculous orison to heal his injuries, Ilog must resort to more mundane means. The sorceress is meanwhile stuffing her face with some PROVISIONS as Grebdal Themp looks on in amazement. "Whuh?," says the sorceress with her mouth full. "Using magic makes me hungry."

The rest of the day, and fortunately also the night, pass without incident.

[Fortunately neither Ilog nor Fhenteskeer succumbed to the poison (1-in-6 chance, -1 SKILL). Between the food/magic/rest, they are all at full Stamina in the morning.]

Day 2

The next day's travel finds the desert nearly lifeless, just endless stretches of sand and protruding rock. When Glatanka blazes at her highest in the empyrean, Ilog catches sight of an encampment in the distance, dun-coloured tents of animal skins nearly invisible against the shifting dunes. [Feature: nomad encampment - tents]

The companions draw near as they dare. Ilog peers over the top of a stone outcropping to take a closer look. After a few moments of squinting and contemplation, he sinks down in to the shade by the others.

"It's as I feared: a band of nomadic Khaiïtsakai. Their hatred of outsiders is as proverbial as the reasons behind it are forgotten."

"Not to worry," says Ksandajja. "I should be able to find us a way past that won't add considerably to our march."

[Ilog succeeded at a World Lore roll to know about them.

Q: What are the nomads like? Judgementally / Historical
Ksandajja had to make a Desert Lore check at -2 to easily circumvent the camp: 6+1+2(Learned)-2=7; 2d6=6, success. I rolled an additional encounter check to see if they ran across any of the nomads: d6=3, no.]

By late afternoon a small dark blot appears on the horizon. They have nearly reached Anhassuul, the Dead City. They make camp the better part of league away. Nothing disturbs them in the night. Perhaps whatever predators roam the desert at night are wise enough not to come this near to such an ill-famed place.

[I gave each PC an Awareness test at -6 to notice anything interesting in the city's direction -- unsurprisingly they all failed.]

Day 3

As the first rays of dawn are just creeping over the distant mountains, the explorers strike their camp and set off towards the ruins of the ancient polis. Ksandajja leads them over a discoloured dirt track, once a main road, and within an hour they stand before one of Anhassuul's gates, which is choked with fallen rubble and as impassable as the solid, towering walls that yet stand firm against the biting jaws of Time.

"Lucky I thought to buy this grapple and length of rope," says Ilog.

"We'll be glad of it later, I'm certain," says Grebdal Themp. "But I wager there's an easier way inside, if we look."

The warrior nods his assent, and they begin a circuit of the walls -- on the shady side first -- looking for any breach in their fastness.

[Awareness rolls at -1; Ksandajja succeeds by the highest margin.]

"Look, here," says the sorceress. "A gap in the foundations. Help me clear this sand away. A person could squeeze through -- but it's ominously dark down there."

Grebdal Themp lights his lantern, as warrior and sorceress dig in the rocky sand with bare hands. When the hole is ready, they look to him, but he hesitates. "Are we sure this is the best way in?" he asks.

"I'd go first," says Ilog, "but I'm afraid I'd get stuck."

Ksandajja volunteers before Fhenteskeer can come up with his own excuse.

[Q: What's it like inside? Delightfully / Abandoned

1d6=5 rooms to get to street level, using the AFF dungeon generator. 2-in-6 chance of an encounter per room]

Grebdal Themp does his best to shine the light inside as Ksandajja slides down the side of the hole and makes a short drop to land heavily on her feet. She has to stand on tiptoes and strain her arms to take the proferred lantern.

The space is part of the foundations of the wall, possibly the basement of a structure built into them. Squat sqauare columns have been tunneled out of the bedrock to support a low ceiling. The companions stow their travelling gear here before moving further, weapons at the ready.

[Room 2 - natural cavern, trap]
The next space is much like the first, though the rude stone columns are replaced with brick, evidently of later construction. But as softly as they tread on the dusty stone, the vibrations of the companions' movements are enough to disturb the balance of centuries. A crack in one of the arches slips, and a cascade of brick, stone, and ancient hardwood rains down, sending up a choking cloud of dust. Ksandajja and Ilog leap back just in tome to avoid being buried beneath the collapse.

[1d3=2 PCs must Test LUCK or Dodge to avoid 1d6 dmg. K & I both succeed; their current Luck decreases to 8 & 9 respectively.]

They backtrack and find another way forward.

[Room 3 - strange décor]
[Q: What is the strange décor? Cheerfully / Faded]

A long fissure forms a winding, downward-sloping passage. Following it to the end leads them to a wider, more open vault with a faded mosaic floor. Ksandajja studies the imagery for a few moments, [Ancient Lore roll succeeds] brushing aside the bones of the city's former inhabitants to see an archaic representation of Asrel, goddess of love & beauty [Gently / Good]. Fhenteskeer's interest is piqued, and he comes over to briefly discuss the iconography with the learned sorceress as a bemused Ilog and Grebdal Themp look on. Thus it is that no one notices the wispy form of a SHADE coalescing behind [1 f, 2 g, 3 i, 4-6 k] Fhenteskeer until his cry of pain and surprise when it rakes its tiny sharp claws down his back. [He takes 3-1 damage, down to 8 Stamina]


[Round 1]
Despite Ksandajja disturbing the bones, the shadowy fiend still vents its fury on Fhenteskeer. Its claws seem ever to find away through his hauberk [he takes 2-1=1 damage]. And though the companions have superiority of numbers, most of their strokes pass clear through the shadowy creature. Only Ilog's morning star connects with something a bit more material, eliciting a malignant hiss. [The PCs attack at +3 for outnumbering it. Ilog inflicts a mere 2 damage.]

[Round 2]
The shade swirls round Fhenteskeer, slashing his unprotected face [3-0 damage; he's at 4 Stamina]. The others are hesitant to strike lest they hit the priest. [It rolled 11+9=20. No one else came close to hitting.]

[Round 3]
Fhenteskeer gives up on attacking, seeking merely to ward off the tiny claws with his axe. Ksandajja thrusts her sword straight into the place where the shade's heart once sat. It dissolves into nothingness with a final screech.

[Fhenteskeer fought defensively for +2, but no longer counted as outnumbering. Luckily, Ksandajja rolled a Critical, doing double damage.]

Ilog helps Fhenteskeer bind his wounds. The priest also eats a bit of bread, burning half with the torch as an offering to his god. And takes a swig of wine to steady his nerves. [heals 2+2, back to 8 Stamina.]

Rested, they squeeze through another narrow, partly collapsed passage, and find a cramped, empty room [Room 4] with low benches carved into the wall. A square doorway decorated with a patttern of human bones pressed into plaster leads to a long rectangular chamber.

[Room 5 - temple]
A broad stairway near the doorway leads upwards, and a smaller one descends. At the far end of the chamber is a rough stone altar, ornamented with antiquated hieroglyphs and encrusted with the blood of innumerable sacrifices. Gutters carved into the black stone lead to a rusted grating in the floor.

Fhenteskeer, embarrassingly, cannot place the iconography, but Ksandajja recognises it immediately. "It's an altar to [d30=]Death," she sighs. The fire priest becomes nervous when she says it, and she must restrain him with an outthrust arm. "No further! It might be dangerous even to walk here."

She peers at it with her witch's sight, but cannot see any magic swirling in the darkness [Second Sight roll failed]. She's sure there must be, however, so tries a little magc of her own to bring it to light [casts SUS for 2 Stamina].

[Q: There's something residually dangerous here, innit? Certain (2+): O5 C4 - yes, but...
LC: Carelessly / Interesting]

"There is magic here! But only on the altar itself. A trap, I think. It would probably go off no matter who touched it, so it's proof against any who would worship in this awful place."

"Best left alone then," says Fhenteskeer with evident relief.

next post: down ancient streets  

Friday 22 March 2024

AFF solo - Part XVI: The sage of Drammub

Day 5

For the rest of the day, and well into the following one, Ksandajja ruminates in silence upon the hag's words. She evinces little interest when the caravan stops to rest in the cool of an oasis, and she is barely cognisant of the train of dwarfish merchants driving their wagons south who stop to trade with Novoldgan.

[major event: PC negative - Grebdal Themp - Transform / Dispute]

That evening as Ilog joins a group of caravaneers in rowdy song and Ksandajja stares fixedly at the heavens, looking for a portent, Grebdal Themp joins a friendly game of knucklebones. Within the hour he has fled to Fhenteskeer for succour.

"What's the matter this time?" sighs the fire-priest, though he knows his friend's reply before the words have even formed on his lips.

"I was playing at dice with some of the warriors, and found myself unexpectedly in Cheelah's good graces. I threw Asrel thrice in a row, and won a considerable sum against the biggest of the lot. Now he's angry at me, and I fear violence at his hand."

"I'll have a word. You should probably return the silver, or let them win it back later. Which is the one you've offended?"

"It's the one known as 'The Zkkanj'."

"Hm. What even is a Zkkanj? Do you know?"

"I've no idea, but having met him, I hope I never meet one!"


[Cheelah is another name for Sindla, the Goddess of LUCK and Fate. Asrel is the goddess of love, and whatever game they're playing uses Titan's version of the Roman convention which names the best throw of the dice 'Venus'.

Fhenteskeer needs to roll against Bargain (covers both negotiation & persuasion) at -3 to diffuse the situation: so 6+0+3-3=6- : 2d6=6 success]

Fhenteskeer goes off to have a quiet word with the soldiers, who cease their sinister mutterings at the fire-priest's appearance. He explains to them that his companion, despite this one small run of luck, is notoriously bad at games of chance, and perhaps they'd prefer to invite him back and recoup their losses. "For he may seem to be Sindla's fool, but I assure you, he's usually just a fool."

Day 6

The route takes the caravan through a series of twisting, narrow defiles -- the perfect spot for an ambush. Novoldgan has Telnah select some of the better riders from amongst the warriors, that they might ride on ahead to scout out signs of danger. Ksandajja is pleased to be counted in their number. Her lessons must be going well.

They ride forth boldly, keeping the caravan just in sight behind them as well as they are able, and spend a long, active day riding back and forth on the dusty road, clambering up any accessible high ground to scan the way ahead, and peering into every small gap and behind every large boulder that could possibly conceal an ambush. But not a single danger do they detect; their way is entirely absent of BANDITS, RAIDERS, and every other dangerous denizen of Titan whose names -- according to the ancient tradition -- must be written in all caps in the first instance. [no encounters]

That evening they reach Tross, a small walled settlement that grew up round an oasis by a crossroads. [feature: village - planned settlement] Novoldgan takes the opportunity for some last-minute trading, but most of the caravaneers (those not assigned to guard the train) filter out into Tross' many alehouses.

[Village encounter (via Cities): 2 barbarians, seeking vengeance on government official

Q: What did the official do? Disrupt / Pleasures
Q: Are they from the same area as Ilog? doubtful (6): O6 C2 - yes, and... same village]

Ilog has nearly reached the place one of the caravan warriors had recommended when he finds a commotion erupting before it. He is momentarily stunned to find the source of the tumult is a pair of Goharsian warriors -- from his very village! He's seen neither Stilki nor her twin brother Stilkad since he left their mountain home in the summer of his twentieth year. The pair are obviously in their cups, and are shouting slurred imprecations at a cowering publican, behind whom two mail-armoured guards are nervously trying to look intimidating. They go even paler as Ilog strides up and addresses the assembly in his booming voice.

"What is the matter here?"

Stilki stumbles towards Ilog, her ale-flushed face brightening with recognition.

"He kicked us out of the tavern! He said we were making too much noise, and breaking too many mugs! And that we couldn't throw axes at the wall! We're going to hafta pound some sense into 'im! You can help us avenge our honour, clan-brother!" [UNE: scheming - means - friends]

"There is no honour in this!" says Ilog. "It is for actions such as these that they style us 'barbarians'." [Leadership roll at -2: 7+1-2=6; 2d6=4!]

"Your words shame us. We shall leave this village lest we dishonour our clan further."

Day 7

The next day's travel passes without event. By late afternoon, the caravan has arrived at the fortified southern wall of Drammub, their destination. The city is perched on the edge of a deep, dried-up river gorge. Beyond the gorge to the north lies the deep and trackless desert, and beyond that the land of horrors known as the Blue Wastes, in whose centre the Queen of Dissolution rules from her nightmare fortress. Ksandajja fancies she can hear the wastes calling to her, mocking her perhaps in her penury, for none can make the journey to that far-off place on foot, and the six-and-fifty golden coins given her by Novoldgan are well shy of the sum needed to procure a stout camel or good horse.

As the sorceress repairs to her room at the inn to obsess over her Quest, Ilog is showing Fhenteskeer and Grebdal Themp the sealed tablets given him by the frightful duenna.

"So all you have to do is deliver these to the residence of Count Varadnis?" asks Grebdal Themp.

"That is the substance of the arrangement."

"Any idea who he is?"

"I asked round the common room. Everyone to whom I spoke says he's a retired merchant, one of the lords of the city, and who has spent a sizeable amount of his fortune in the building of public gardens."

"Still, 20 gold to deliver a letter. It sounds dodgy. If it'd make you feel better, I could probably remove the seal so we can peek inside and then put it back again."

[He doesn't actually have any levels of Sleight of Hand, but it seems like something he's done before...
Skill 7: 2d6=4, ok

Q: What is it about? UNE: inquisitive - interest - family]

Using a candle and his dagger, Grebdal Themp prises the wax seal off the edge of the wooden tablets without causing any obvious damage. He opens it, and the three scan its contents by the light of the same candle. It turns out to be an entirely innocuous private letter recounting the minutiae of daily life and enquiring after the health of someone (hopefully a pet) called Fifi.
The next morning Ilog delivers the re-sealed tablets, and collects the promised 20 gold. He finds his companions-at-arms have already tired of the arid splendours of Drammub, and leads them to the dwelling-place of the sage who oft has work for the hearty warrior.

Ilog stops before the door of an unassuming residence in a narrow side-street. He does not knock, but merely announces himself to the dragon-faced brass door knocker. "It is I, Ilog, come for an audience with Uldan-andu."

The door creeks open and the warrior steps into the cramped vestibule, and walks into the gloom of an unlit corridor. Ksandajja follows eagerly, for, to her sorceress' sight, the air is pregnant with the swirls and eddies of the hoary magics which protect the sage's demesne. Fhenteskeer and Grebdal Themp follow with rather more trepidation.

Uldan-andu sits at the table in his study, poring over a weighty vellum codex by the light of but a single candle. Bookshelves, bowed under the weight of the tomes crammed therein, line every wall, and there is no flat surface but that it be stacked nigh to the ceiling with other volumes. Balanced precariously amongst these are scrolls of papyrus and parchment, tablets of clay, and the occasional box containing lamina of bamboo, gold, or lead. Ksandajja's eyes dart from one work to the next, straining to read their indices in the weak yellow light. Thus it is that she does not notice the great, uncomfortable pause as the sage lifts a finger for silence whilst he finishes reading the page.
At length he peers up from his tome. "Ilog, you unlettered barbarian! Come to beg for more handouts?"

"No, vile necromancer! I've come that you may taste my steel!"

Both men fall to hearty laughter as Ilog strides forth to clasp the sage's hand in friendship.

"À propos of vile necromancy," says the sage, his mien suddenly darkening, "I do have a task I would put to you. There's a sack of gold waiting if you succeed. I wish you to apprehend a thief. He--"

"I accept, of course."

"Wait until you've heard the rest of it -- you may wish to reconsider. This is no ordinary thief, but a wizard. He gave the name of Thalman, though that was most certainly a lie. He pretended to consult me on weather magic, and when I left the room to procure a treatise from upstairs, he made off with a tome of unspeakable wickedness, a necromantic grimoire known as The Erudition of Revenants... I take it from the lady's sudden look of horror that she knows of this most infamous volume...?"

"The elder sorcerers of my order would give half a dozen stripes to any novice who so much as asked about such a work."

"And with good reason. I fear the designs of this 'Thalman'. For he must have no small amount of skill to have overcome the enchantments with which I'd bound it. Now, I don't much care what happens to him, but as I doubt he'll let go his prize without a fight... all I care for is that the book be returned."

"But why?" asks Fhenteskeer. "We should destroy such a pernicious tome."

"Would that it were so simple! Some books do not burn, not even by your god's holy fire. Better to have it concealed here, and with double the abjurations I'd put over it in the past."

"I see," says Fhenteskeer, blanching with the realisation. "Do you know where this 'Thalman' has taken it?"

"To Anhassuul."

"The Dead City!" gasps Ilog.

"I'd said you'd might wish to reconsider..."
next post: to Anhassuul

Saturday 16 March 2024

AFF solo - Part XV: Secrets and confessions

Day 3

Another day on the march under the relentless sun. Ksandajja resorts to her weather charm to keep her skin from turning bright red.

It seems that nothing lives along this stretch of the route, for they encounter not a single creature as they plod on. They pass another rocky cliff pierced by a multitude of caves; perhaps the dwellers within have frightened off all other life.

That evening they walk on until the sun has almost vanished, for Novoldgan does not wish to camp too close to the black caverns.

That evening round the campfires...

Fhenteskeer has noted the contempt in which the caravaneers hold his friend, Grebdal Themp, and has taken it upon himself to do something about it. He sits before the crackling fire, regaling a group of road-weary traders with the tale of his little band's exploits at the frozen temple in the heart of the sweltering jungle. As he nears the climax, he invites Grebdal Themp over to tell of slaying the many-limbed mutant reptile, pretending not to notice the sudden ill humour of the others. Grebdal Themp's narrative is a first halting, but as he remembers the battle his excitement grows, and soon the traders are hanging on his every word, so much so they they assail him with questions at the tales end, and plead for him to share his side of the story of the evil cult that menaced coffer-filling Ângu.

[Etiquette at -2: 6 MAG +1 spec. skill +3 Silver Tongue -2 = 8- to succeed
2d6=2, critical success = 'we were so wrong about him. he's ace'.

Q: What does the duenna do after keeping an eye on Ilog since they left? make / letter
Q: How well has she been keeping watch? d6=6, extremely closely

I gave the other PCs Awareness at -2 to have suspicions, but atrocious rolls confirm their obliviousness...]

Elsewhere in the camp...

"You! Sellsword! How would you like to earn a bit of gold?"

Ilog wheels round to find the steely-eyed duenna looking at him with only half her usual scowl.

"That is highly dependent on what you propose that I do."

"It is a simple task, really, but worth [2d6x5=] twenty golden coins if it be carried out. When we reach Drammub, I will give you a letter to take to a certain [Majestically / Cold] noble personage residing there. I must stay with my charge and so shan't have the time to attend to this matter myself. But this personage -- that is, their servant -- will pay you the gold for this trifling errand."

"And why me? For I am warrior -- not a messenger."

"I've watched you, and several others hired for protection along this route; you seem the most trustworthy of the lot."

"Very well, I accept."

"Good. I shall provide you with the letter and the details of where to take it once we have arrived in Drammub."

[Onto Ksandajja's jealousy complication...
Q: What is the jealous party like? Innocently / Horrible; d6=m
Q: What is the substance of the problem? Enormously / Simple]

Still elsewhere...

Ksandajja is feeding the camels when the padding of velvet slippers on the hard-packed sand alerts her to company. She looks up to see Balsugan, the caravan master's only son, glaring at her with what he must take for a fearsome expression.

"You -- strumpet! When I tell my father about this, he'll abandon you to the trackless wastes to be murdered by bandits, or devoured by XLAIA, or -- or worse! -- unless you stop this instant! This instant, do you hear?"

"Stop what? What is it I'm supposed to have done?"

"You're trying to steal my girl!"

"I assure you, I'm not."

"Oh, sure! And the last few pretty mercenaries through here weren't after her either!" [knowing - history - knowledge]

"I'm just learning to fight without falling out of the saddle -- nothing more."

"Your lessons are over! Stay away from her or I'll give you a fight!" [hostile - combat - future action]

"Don't be ridiculous. I could reduce you to cinders with a word and a gesture."

"You wouldn't dare!"

"I wouldn't want it to be necessary. How can I prove to you that I'm no threat? To your relationship, I mean."

"Stay well away! None of the others did..." [knowing - telling - last scene]

"Oh, by Asrel's blessèd knickers, this is too much! Come with me now and let's we three settle this once and for all."

[Q: Does he resist? Unlikely (5+): O1 C8 - no]

Ksandajja leads Balsugan by the hand like a wayward child over to where Telnah is repairing a broken saddle.

"Your little paramour thinks we've been having it off," says the sorceress. "Tell him."

"My little KRELL, there's nothing going on between us!"

"And he thinks I'm not the first."

"You wound me! I'd never be so faithless."

"So you've not had affairs with any of the pretty mercenaries who pass through the caravan?"


"No you have, or no you haven't?"

"No. I have not."

"I want to believe you..."

"Then why don't you?"

"You swear you haven't?"

"Not a one."

Ksandajja decides a little bit of magic is the only way to keep this exchange from lasting until dawn. She mumbles the words of a subtle charm.

[She casts Honesty cantrip: 2d6=7, success (only fails on a fumble) : Telnah must Test her LUCK/SKILL or reveal a recent lie: SKILL 8 (as mercenary cavalry: 2d6=9, failure.

Q: Was she lying? unknown 1d6=4: O4 C4 - no, but...]

"Really and truly?" says Balsugan as the charm takes hold of unsuspecting Telnah.

"Alright, just the once: with that MAN-ORC from Khul. Sometimes a girl likes a bit of rough.... why did I just say that?"

"Truth magic," says Ksandajja.

"Well, what about him then?"

"Sure. Tell us, have you ever had an illicit liaison?"

[His reply (1d6): 1-2 yes, 3-4 no, 5-6 equivocation: 1
casting roll succeeds; B's SKILL 5: 2d6=6, fail
Q: Truth? certain (2+): O3 C8 - yes]

"Ummmmm.... also just the once?"

"Oh," says Ksandajja, "is that my friend, Fhenteskeer? It must be time for our prayers. Sorry, must dash!"

Day 4

Ksandajja meekly asks Telnah if they can continue her lessons.

[Bargain (SKILL 6 +2 for Learned), 2d6=8, just
Q: How did she and Balsugan leave things? Enormously / Lonely - broke up]

Telnah says that she has plenty of spare time, now that she's single again. And it just might help take her mind off things.

[travel rolls: no encounter or event.
feature = cottage

Q: Who lives there? Nicely / Horrible - a hag
Q: Does the caravan leader have any knowledge of her? 50/50 (4+): O4 C2 - yes, and...
Q: What's she like? Nicely / Mighty]

Not long after midday, Novoldgan calls the caravan to a halt for a rest in the narrow strip of shade along a stony escarpment. Halfway up the cliff face Ksandajja can make out a rude structure of mud-brick clinging precipitously to the rock.

"What's that?" she asks the caravan master.

"That is the dwelling of a terrible, old HAG. She won't come out into the daylight, but fear of her keeps the bandits away, so I always rest the caravan here."

"I want to meet her," says Ksandajja. "Is it permitted?"

"Be my guest. But we leave when the sands of my hourglass have run down, so don't tarry."

The climb up the rock face is mush easier than anticipated, almost as if the hag intended it for visitors -- or unsuspecting prey. Ksandajja has left her sword with Novoldgan; she hopes coming unarmed will shew her to be absent of ill intentions. But she calls a bold halloo into the dark hut, for she must not display any weakness or fear.

[Etiquette roll to avoid a faux pas with the Hag: 2d6=4, success]

An impossibly shrill, grating voice answers in kind, and bids her enter. The only light inside the dusty enclosure is the hag's cooking fire made from old bones, above which something greasy bubbles in a cauldron of beaten bronze. Ksandajja's nose wrinkles at the reek of carrion, but the rheumy-eyed hag is too blind to notice. She toddles over, squinting at the new arrival, then grabs her by the wrist in a grip like iron manacles. She pulls Ksandajja close, sniffing noisily at her skin and hair.

"Come not so lately from the jungle, have ye? And oh! the old magic ye tasted there. Very dark. Very old." [UNE: mysterious - obscurity - previous scene]

"That will lie hidden. I shan't go back to disturb it."

"Wise ye are, then. Now, what brings ye to the cottage of old Hlugkhas?"

"I come seeking your counsel. The road I travel is long and dangerous, and the nearer I come to its end, the less sure I am of how I am to proceed."

"There's none can tell ye that, child, save your own heart."

"But the foe I must face seems indomitable."

"And what foe be that?"

"Ymiasma, the so-called Demon Queen."

"Oh, she's a right horrid one. Wicked and hurtful, and a vicious tyrant. 'twere good her domain be so remote, lest she raise armies with a conqueror's fist. So great she is and awful -- even hiding in her fortress, she poisons the land. The Blue Wastes spread year on year, and the dying land surrounding them becomes lifeless desert. Ye're far from the first hero I've seen going off to meet her. If it be truly my counsel ye seek, then heed: turn back now, and forget this doomed errand. Greater than ye have sought fortune and fame in the wastes, and found only death." [prejudiced - dislike - power]

"I seek not gold, and have no use for glory. Yet must I see her evil vanquished."

[Q: Can the hag offer advice? unknown d6=1, 100%: O5 C6 - yes
(1d6) 1 item, 2 weakness, 3 ally, 4 defence, 5 secret, 6 riddle: 4
Q: What defence? Carelessly / Lonely]

"Then I'll tell ye what I told the others, though none ever seemed to hear it. Old Hlugkhas has heard her mournful sighs carried on the night winds. The Queen sits friendless and alone in her tower. She'll not harm ye if she wants to keep ye round for companionship."

next post: a new undertaking

Monday 11 March 2024

AFF solo - Part XIV: Caravan guards!

Yagk is a walled town built on an escarpment looking down onto the river [feature: fortified settlement]. The guards at the dockside gate are [reaction=7] decidedly uninterested, but let the travellers pass. The mood in the streets is subdued, as priests meander about blessing the fortifications in the name of Usrel, goddess of Peace [Cities encounter].

[Event (from last post): Introduce a new NPC - Recruit / Exterior factors
the NPC approaches (d10) 1 f, 3-4 g, 5-7 i, 8-0 k; 1d10=g

NPC Relationship: friendly
Conversation Mood: sociable]

That night, Grebdal Themp is still drinking in the inn's common room long after his friends have retired. The only other patron present (excepting the tradesman passed out in the corner) is a middle-aged man in simple yet costly travelling clothes. They fall to talking in the disinterested way that travellers do, but Grebdal Themp gets the impression that he's being sized up.

L to R : Ksandajja the sorceress, Ilog the warrior, Fhenteskeer the fire-priest, Grebdal Themp the "stealth specialist"

He tells of meeting Ksandajja the sorceress in coin-clipping Ângu, and how she led them beneath the city streets to root out the cult of Decay. He speaks of meeting Ilog in Ulq, and following the huge warrior through the steamy, cannibal-infested jungle to the ruined temple of a forgotten demoness, where they put an end to to the evil scheme of a mad wizard. He tells how Fenteskeer, priest of Filash, called down his god's lambent flames to eradicate the undead menaces therein, how mighty Ilog bested the wizard's sorcerous creation with his whirling mace-and-chain, and how the sorceress at last defeated the wizard with spell and steel. And so too does he tell of his own occasional valour, as when he himself felled the wizard's mutated reptile-creature with his own swift blade.

"Those sound like quite the adventures! Though whether I should credit them or not... no matter. You say you're headed to Drammub next. My caravan departs for Drammub in a few days. We could use some extra guards on this trip; the desert raiders have been exceptionally bold of late, and they've been seen further west than Tross -- to say nothing of the other hazards of the wilderness! If you and your friends are looking for some work, come see me before we leave. It's safer with the caravan, and certainly more lucrative than paying us for passage."

"I shall put it to them on the morrow. But whom should I ask for at the caravanserai?"

"When I said it was my caravan, I did not speak lightly. I am Novoldgan, scion of the Venerable Trading House of Drund. I hope we shall meet again soon."

* * *

Grebdal Themp puts Novoldgan's offer before his companions, and they unanimously agree that travelling with the caravan is the simplest course of action. They go to see him straightaway, and after he interviews each of them in turn about their skills and abilities, decides to hire them all.

The next two days in the small town pass without incident. The briefest flutter of excitement occurs when Ksandajja finally finds a buyer for the hideous sacrificial dagger she took from the defeated Decay cult magician, and buys her friends a round of drinks to celebrate.

[I abstracted the interviews down to a single skill test for each PC (at +1, as they are the right sort for the job), based on what they are bringing to the table.

K: "I'm a sorceress." MAGIC 5 + Sorcery 2 +1 =8; 2d6=7, ok
I: "Check out these thews. They are mighty, no?" SKILL 7 + Strength 2 +1 =10: 2d6=9, ok
F: "My god will ensure the success of your mission." MAGIC 6 + Priestly mag. 3 +1 =10; 2d6=3, ok
G: "I'm surprisingly good in a fight." SKILL 7 + Swords 2 +1 =10; 2d6=8, ok ("No hard feelings, said Novoldgan, but I needed to be sure I had the right measure of you when I'm not in my cups."

They leave in 1d6=2 days

Pay is 8gp/day, per Heroes' Companion, mercenary soldier -- he's only paying for guard duty, not spellcasters/thieves/etc., even though he hired them based on what they bring to the table. Plus they get free PROVISIONS.

The fancy sacrificial dagger was worth 2d6=7gp; Ksandajja tried to sell it for twice that (she'd no clue of its value). The merchant's Skill/Bargain: 1d6+3=8; Ksandajja's 2d6+8-3=12 merch 2d6+8=11! An unlikely success enriches our heroine.

Each PC manages to spend 10gp in town.

Also, I gave everyone 50xp each for the jungle adventure, and they spent some to improve skills:

G spends 30 to increase Sneaking to level 3
I spends 20 for Bows 2
F spends 30 for Armour 3 (allows him to wear a leather hauberk, which he buys for 30gp, some of which he had to borrow -- he now owes Ksandajja 4gp, though she doesn't care enough to ever ask for it back)
K spends 20 for Second Sight 2]

At dawn on the day of departure, Grebdal Themp and his associates bid their goodbyes to the comforts of the inn, and walk through the sleepy streets to the caravanserai. They find Novoldgan already directing his subordinates as the final preparations are made.

The caravan comprises [2d6x2=] 18 camels laden with goods: exotic spices from the Baubauan jungle, grains from Ornut, rice from Ulisc, local sweetmeats, steel implements of dwarven make, bronze cookpots from Girnas, iron ones from Hmal. At least the caravaneers should eat well. There are nine more camels to bear the necessaries for the journey, use as spares, and for Novoldgan himself to ride.

There are [5d6=] 14 caravaneers in total, of which [1d6=] two are huge, taciturn warriors from the desert.

[Q: Any additional travellers? 50/50 (4+): O5 C4 - yes, but... just one
Q: Who? Helplessly / Beautiful]

There is but one 'passenger' travelling with them, a beautiful young [d6=m] bridegroom, off to marry a powerful [d6=f] merchant princess in Drammub. He is accompanied at all times by his bodyguard/duenna, a woman so sour-faced that she is rumoured to be merely a diminutive OGRE. [Should it come up, I'll use ogre for her stats, per Out of the Pit.]


Novoldgan expects everyone to pitch in where they can, including the four new mercenaries he's just hired. Likewise, everyone is expected to defend the caravan as well as they are able. About half of the caravaneers are decent fighters, and even the young bridegroom wears a pretty little rapier on his belt.

The caravan master makes curt introductions, then sends his new employees to help with various tasks as a way to meet the rest fully. Fhenteskeer and Ilog are met with cautious acceptance; the next day's travel will prove their merit to the caravaneers. Grebdal Themp is regarded with suspicion and barely-concealed hatred. He can't think of any misstep he's committed, and reasons that perhaps they are jealous of his new and easy friendship with the boss. But when Ksandajja steps forward, they are all entranced. It is as if she'd ensorceled them with a Jewell of Gold, for they all instantly desire the friendship of the alluring sorceress.

[I'd rolled general 2d6 reaction rolls for each PC to see what the caravan folk think of them--
F: neutral
G: hostile
I: neutral
K: natural 12!

Q: Will the bridegroom take any interest in the PCs? 50/50 (4+): O1 C3 - no, but... the duenna will on day 1d6=1
Q: How many PCs? 1d4=1 PC; 1d4=Ilog
Q: Can Ksandajja find an instructor to learn the Mounted Combat special skill? 50/50 (4+): O5 C2 - yes and...

Travel Procedure: For each day of travel, there will be one daytime and one nighttime encounter check (1-2 on d6) + one event roll (1d6: 1 major, 2-3 minor, 4-6 none) + one feature roll (per the Heroes' Companion). For the sake of readability, I won't report the actual die rolls, or mention when they come up as Nothing. There'll be plenty of other game mechanics on this trip.]

Day 1

The caravan sets out into the hills east of Yagk. As they leave the river behind, the air becomes drier and the terrain less verdant. The heat is no where near as sweltering as in the jungle, but Grebdal Themp is still glad of his weather protection tattoo. He knows he'll be doubly glad when they reach the desert proper. The caravan moves at a steady pace, Novoldgan leading the way on his camel, flanked always by his foreign bodyguard, a grim and violent mound of muscle know only as 'The Zkkanj'.

The rolling hills give way to stony escarpments and gravel-strewn valleys, and the trees disappear almost entirely. Scraggly weeds cling to the rocks and sprout low in the sandy soil.

A line of cave mouths yawn on a cliff face. Several of the caravaneers invoke the names of their gods and protective genii at the sight. Perhaps their prayers are heard, for no horrors issue forth from the blackness.

Ksandajja makes the rounds of the caravan, getting to know everyone, though she does have her own purpose in mind. She's decided she needs to learn the art of mounted combat if her quest is to succeed, and the caravan seems the best place to find a teacher. And it indeed transpires that one of her admirers is happy to instruct her, just to spend time with the new favourite. Telnah is one of the camel handlers [Boldly / Rough], but [d6=] she was once a soldier stationed in Drammub's garrison.

[Ksandajja will spend 20xp to learn the special skill at level 1 by the end of the journey.

Q: Will anyone else get jealous of / unhappy with the attention? 50/50 (4+): O4 C8 - yes. After 1d8=2 days]

Telnah and the sorceress soon become inseparable, but jealous eyes are cast in their direction. And Ksandajja is not the only one whose every move is observed, and every word scrutinised, for the duenna has taken a particular interest in mighty Ilog. She watches him with cool detachment, silently planning her next move.

[Q: How does the duenna's interest in Ilog manifest? perceive / distance - spying on him

Awareness rolls at -1 to detect observation
Ilog: 7+1-1=7; 2d6=8, fail
Ksandajja: 6+2-1=7; 2d6=11, fail

Q: How long before the duenna makes a move? 1d4=2 days]

Neither barbarian nor sorceress have the barest suspicion that they are being watched.

Day 2

There is commotion in the camp as dawn breaks. Some time in the night, three spears were thrust into the earth before Novoldgan's tent, the author of this deed having eluded the sentries. The newer caravaneers are perplexed and frightened, but when Novoldgan emerges from his tent he greets the sight with a thoughtful smile, for he knows its import. He follows the line described by the row of spears off into the distance, and can just make out a forest-green tent on a far away hillock; a band of MOUNTAIN ELVES have come down from their craggy home to trade.

[Random encounter: 1d3=3 mountain elves
Q: Come to trade? likely (3+): O6 C7 - yes
Q: Can PCs pick up rumours from elves? 50/50 (4+): O2 C1 - no, and...]

Novoldgan and his lieutenant are the only ones allowed to approach the shy elves. They ride off on camels to do business as the rest are told to strike camp.

Grebdal Themp's curiosity gets the better of him. He tries to slink away from the camp and eavesdrop using a bit of minor magic he's picked up. If he can just see Novoldgan and the elves talking, his cantrip will whisk their words to him on the wind. But [Sneak roll fails] the only words he hears belong to a peevish merchant behind him.

"You there! Just where do you think you're going!"

"Er, um, just stretching my legs. I'm unused to sleeping out in the open." [Bargain (7+0) to stay out of trouble: 2d6=4, ok]

"Just you mind to stay where you're told to next time."

Novoldgan concludes his business with the elves, then the caravan sets off. The day passes without incident. A PTERODACTYL is spotted soaring overhead, but it has learnt not to fly too close to humans and their stinging arrows.

The day's only real danger befalls Ksandajja. In the course of her evening lesson, she makes a regrettable error of judgement and is knocked from her saddle. Her shoulder is sore and bruised from the impact of the blunted lance, as too her backside is bruised and sore from the impact of the hard-packed, sandy dirt. But she laughs and laughs at her own misfortune, and her admirers in the camp cannot but laugh with her. Yet there is one who feels no mirth, only burning hatred as the robust Telnah extends a hand to help the sorceress to her feet.

next post: danger in the desert