Monday, 1 June 2020

BFJB solo - Part 3: Welcome guests

21 Simānum (6 June)

It seems they have been following the canal since before the great flood, and could have walked to Dilmun and back by now. The blazing heat of the Šamaš has almost accomplished what the weapons of the marauding Amorites could not, and the buzzing flies and biting insects have driven the travellers half-mad with their predations (perhaps fully mad, in Damiqtum's case). Iqīš-Sîn has collected a bundle of rushes, and does his best to twitch the flies away from his master's person, but Mannum-kīma-Adad tires of being accidentally hit in the face, and bids his slave stop. Iqīš-Sîn apologises "sincerely" for his "clumsiness".

At length they the mud-brick and reed building of a farm compound come into view, and not long afterwards they meet a young boy sitting in the path, throwing stones into the canal. He looks up expectantly at the travellers. "You the taxman from Babylon?" he asks in heavily accented Akkadian.

"This is my master, Man--"

The boy does not wait for Iqīš-Sîn to finish, but leaps to his feet shouting, "I go tell the chief!" and runs off towards the farm.

Scene 5

Average (d10)

Setup: 1d10=3, Interrupt (was: arrival at the estate)
Interrupt: NPC positive - overseer - Starting / Messages

NPC List: Taqbim the emtum (=high priestess) of Ištar, Warad-Amurrum who owes grain, overseer, farmers, Ḫali-malik (whom M may owe a great deal of oil)

Threads: retrieve the missing grain, deal with M's debt

[This scene was just an off-stage Interrupt: someone sent word ahead that a tax collector was coming -- they're ready for the party's arrival. Since this is going to work against the PCs, I raised the Chaos level one step.

This was an especially welcome turn of events, as it changes the whole tenor of the arrival, adding an extra layer to the mystery and some additional challenges that did not exist in the adventure set-up as I had envisioned it.]

Scene 6

Chaos: Out-of-Control (d8)

Setup: arrival at the estate

Sumu-tibal the overseer is an Amorite, though more of the settled variety than the nomads who attacked our heroes in the countryside. He comes to greet his visitors as they arrive, meeting them some distance from the fields. He looks clean, calm and well-dressed [Coolly / Soft] but still carries a stout wooden rod under his arm. A pair of slaves accompany him silently behind.

"You are the tax collector come from the Ekitušgirzal temple, yes?"

"I am indeed," replies Mannum-kīma-Adad.

"How was your journey?"

"We were beset by savages! Fortunately my bodyguard here fought them off."

"How extraordinary! You look no worse for it, let me tell you. But regardless, you must be tired from your journey. I've had refreshments made ready. Come into the house. If you'd care to wash first, I'll have you shown to the room I've made up for you. And I can have someone make up a room for your, ah, lady-friend, should she require it."

"She is a representative of Ekitušgirzal."

"Of course! How foolish of me."

Sumu-tibal leads them towards the cluster of buildings at the edge of the fields. He barks a command in Amorite to the slaves without looking back at them. They immediately scurry on ahead into the house, a two-storey mud-brick building not at all unlike Mannum-kīma-Adad's house in town.

[With my GM hat on, I know that the PCs have a chance to notice something amiss as they arrive, so they each get to make a Mind check. None of them have the Farmer profession, so there is a -3 penalty on their rolls.

D natural 1,4 fail
I 4+4-3, fail
M natural 1,3 fail
Š 4+5-3, fail

No one notices anything.

In a very happy coincidence, a preview of the Taskmaster (waklum) profession in an upcoming supplement was posted on the Šukāmu Press site, so when it comes time to determine stats for Sumu-tibal I don't have to wing it.]

* * *

Sumu-tibal tells his guests he had a lamb slaughtered as soon as they were spotted, as they are his master's honoured gusts. He seats them at the table in courtyard of the big house, and makes polite small talk as the house slaves bring forth the repast. Their meal is a hearty affair: lamb stew, bread, cheese, and plenty of beer. His guests are almost too tired from their journey to talk, but Sumu-tibal does not seem to mind, and plays the attentive host.

Mannum-kīma-Adad begins to grow suspicious, however, and finally asks, "Just where is your master? I find it surprising that he hasn't come to greet us in person."

"He's in the fields, I expect. He's not like most. He's not afraid to put his back into it. Show the slaves and tenant farmers how it's done! You know what he's like."

[Q: Has Mannum-kīma-Adad ever met Warad-Amurrum? unlikely (5+): O4 C5 - no]

"No, in fact. I've never met him in person. I've only ever received his letters -- statements of account, with just the usual pleasantries, really."

Another slave slips in, and whispers something in the overseer's ear. Sumu-tibal excuses himself, and hurries out of the house towards the fields. He doesn't return until the empty plates are being cleared away.

"I am very sorry to have to tell you this," says Sumu-tibal, "but it seems my master must be off at his other estate. Please accept my most humble apologies on his behalf. Such bad timing! I am sure he'll return very soon."

[I'd used UNE as usual to get his initial conversation topic as they set down to table. The result was scheming—agenda—allies, which seemed better interpreted as his general demeanour and actions than his actual words. The slave who called him away was a plant.]

Scene 7

Chaos: Out-of-Control (d8)

Setup: night

NPC List: Taqbim the emtum (=high priestess) of Ištar, Warad-Amurrum who owes grain, Sumu-tibal the overseer, farmers, Ḫali-malik (whom M may owe a great deal of oil)

Threads: retrieve the missing grain, deal with M's debt

As evening falls, the slaves and tenant farmers begin to close up the compound. A new, reinforced gate pulled across opening in the compound wall, and a bonfire is kindled. Slave with torches, cudgels, and spears take up a position by the gate. From the roof of he big house, Mannum-kīma-Adad espies wisps of smoke in the fields by the farm's outbuildings. He looks quizzically at Sumu-tibal.

"Wild animals," says the overseer. "They've been trampling the crops and wreaking havoc on the livestock. We're having to keep guards posted against them."

The party are shown to their rooms. Mannum-kīma-Adad and Damiqtum are given small private chambers, whilst Iqīš-Sîn and Šerašer must share.

The night becomes very dark. Sîn shows the barest sliver of himself in the heavens [the new moon will be the next day according to]. All is quiet as the weary travellers drop off into dreamless, exhausted sleep.

But it is not to last. An unearthly howl shatters the nocturnal stillness. A chorus of shrieks and screeches rises in answer. Shadows gather at the edges of the bonfires' light, then slink away. The barley rustles with movement. Something wet and heavy thumps against the compound gate. The howling ceases, then moments later rises again, always in a different place.

The travellers are awakened by the terrible din. Mannum-kīma-Adad pulls his blanket over his head, despite the heat of his chamber. Iqīš-Sîn lies stock still, lest the creaking of his bed attract the notice of prowling night demons. Šerašer reaches for the comforting solidity of the bronze sword beneath his pillow. Damiqtum whispers a prayer to her goddess, who, naked and alone, braved the horrors of the nether realm.

[The howling counts as Soul attack against all hearers. They must each make an Avoid check or take 1 Soul damage.

Mannum-kīma-Adad rolls a natural 1, failure (but not critical failure): his current Soul drops to 5.
Iqīš-Sîn rolls  3+3, failure; his Soul drops to 2.
Šerašer also rolls 3+3; his Soul is also now 2
Damiqtum rolls 6, success (but no crit), taking no damage

Q: Does anything slip past the guards? unlikely (5+): O6 C7 - yes
Q: What does it do? Abuse / Peace
Q: Which room does it pester? 1d3=Mannum-kīma-Adad's

The effect will be a Malediction spell cast against him. It's another Soul attack. It succeeds (natural 6, no crit), but he is allowed to avoid; Current Soul 5 +1d6=9, he avoids the effect.

UNE: insane - idiocy - campaign]

Mannum-kīma-Adad has just about managed to shut out the tumult outside when a much nearer sound catches his attention. At first he thinks he's just imagining it, and strains to hear; there is nothing. He holds his breath and lies very still, and the sound comes again, just barely reaching his ears: a slow, soft scraping, as of a single nail being drawn along the wooden bedroom door. It stops, then comes again, louder now, as if more pressure were exerted. Again it stops, then comes back louder still, and faster. Some small animal is scratching to get in.

He throws a sandal against he door, hoping to frighten off the pest. The scratching ceases, and he lies back down, trying to make himself comfortable again. Then a chittering laughter meets his ears, and a grating voice whispers at him from underneath the door.

"Why did you come, Mannum-kīma-Adad? Why did you come? It was foolish to leave Babylon! Flee back to the city! Here shall you find only death."

next post: the heart of the mystery!

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