Monday, 28 September 2020

BFJB solo - Part 5: The truth which engenders confusion

Stepping outside into the light and warmth of the day, Mannum-kīma-Adad and his companions take a moment to steady themselves, shaking off the last waves of revulsion and horror from their experience in the demon's hut. As their heads clear, however, they discover that all without is not as peaceful as it had been.

Scene 9

Madness (d6)

Setup: d6=4, Interrupt (was: pointed interview with Sumu-tibal)
Interrupt:  Ambiguous event - hope / tears

NPC List: Taqbim the ēntum (=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), utukkum lemnum

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

[Switching to Horror theme from here out]

A wretched throng of tearful slaves has amassed before the hut. Sumu-tibal the overseer is [Deliberately / Horrible] hurling abuse at them, striking the nearest ones with his cudgel, but they are intent on making their plea to the strangers, begging them to help.

Mannum-kīma-Adad wipes the tears from his own eyes, then assumes an air of dignity and strides up behind the overseer, bellowing in his ear, "Everyone stop, this instant!"

[using his Authority talent, he rolls a natural 6, success; Sumu-tibal's Avoid roll (1+2) fails]

Sumu-tibal lowers his cudgel. Mannum-kīma-Adad addresses him in a more conciliatory tone. "Tell them -- gently -- to return to the fields. Then go with us back to the house to discuss this... affair."

Scene 10

Madness (d6)

Setup: pointed interview with Sumu-tibal

NPC List: Taqbim the ēntum (=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), utukkum lemnum

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

Sumu-tibal had anticipated the effect of seeing the utukkum on his guests; when they return to the shade of the main house's courtyard, there is a table with jugs of strong beer waiting for them.

"You had better tell us everything," says Mannum-kīma-Adad almost as soon as they are seated.

[Q: Does he? Certain (2+): O5 C2 - yes, and... dos not dissemble at all

I used the Mythic oracle to fill in the blanks; interpreting PC/NPC results to fit the situation as it unfolds]

"It all started when [NPC negative - behold / design] the master discovered a plot by one of his rivals to [seize / castle] take over one of his other estates by means of [Control / Dispute] underhanded legal manoeuvring -- forged contracts, paid witnesses, and the lot. This rival is a certain Marduk-ṣulūl, a noble (rabûm) who had quietly amassed massive debts [Calmly / Ruined], so I suppose he was desperate enough to try cheating the judges. His ruse failed, however, so he hired a sorcerer to send a demon against the master [Horror - NPC - enter / thing] in revenge.

"I sent for a mašmaššum (exorcist) and he tricked or expelled the demon, casting it into the goat and binding it there. But [PC negative - listen / words] the evil thing spoke to the master, and he fell under its spell -- it didn't need to possess him to turn his mind! I took some slaves to kill the goat, hoping it would run off if its vessel were dead, but the demon destroyed all who came near. So we had to leave it the hut out in the field.

"The master [Horror - NPC - possess / heart] was not himself anymore, swayed by the foul thing's words. In the end we had to [conceal / person] hide him away, too. I've sent for the exorcist again, but [hope / hopes] he does not come. I can only pray he arrives soon. I fear he the message never reached him."

"Why don't you just burn down the hut with the demon inside it?" asks Šerašer.

"I have tried... and somehow it wouldn't let me [believe / strength]. It punishes all who move against it, and its demon servants stalk the countryside, howling and wailing all night. Sometimes they sneak inside and do... all manner of frightening things."

Mannum-kīma-Adad shudders at the memory of the first night, then asks, "Why didn't you just tell us sooner? Why not seek our aid?"

"What could you, a tax collector, actually do? Levy a fine against it? Demand 3 shekels of silver as recompense for the goat?"

"Hm. I see your point, so I will overlook your impertinence." Mannum-kīma-Adad turns to Damiqtum. "You knew about this didn't you?"

"I said I knew there was danger," replies the ecstatic. "Not what kind."

"Is there anything else that you know? Anything useful?"

[Q: Does she? 50/50 (4+): O3 C5 - no.]

"Don't take that tone with me! I knew only that a trivial task would conceal an awful danger, and when I told the ēntum, she told me her dream."

"Perhaps we'd best return to the temple, and see what assistance they can provide."

"No! if the goddess had wished us to lead the priests here, her words would have been stronger. No, I think she intends for us to fight this battle alone."


"Perhaps we should start with the exorcist."

"What about Warad-Amurrum?" says Šerašer.

"You may go to my master if you like, sighs Sumu-tibal, but it isn't going to get you very far."

Scene 11

Madness (d6)

Setup: d6=Interrupt (was: go see Warad-Amurrum)
Interrupt:   NPC negative - mašmaššum - love / power (noted)

Scene 12

Madness (d6)

go see Warad-Amurrum

NPC List:
Taqbim the ēntum (=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), utukkum lemnum, mašmaššum (=exorcist), Marduk-ṣulūl the rival noble

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

Warad-Amurrum's other estate is but one bērum ("double-hour", 10.8km) distant. Sumu-tibal sends a slave on ahead to alert the overseer there that important visitors will be arriving to try to help the master.

"Try to help?" scoffs Mannum-kīma-Adad. "We will help him."

"You haven't seen him yet. He may be beyond saving."

"And if he dies?"

"Then his sons will divide his two estates according to his will."

"Hasn't Warad-Amurrum three sons?"

"The division shall not be easy. So please, don't let him die, I beg of you."

Q: Any problems on the road? Doubtful (6): O2 C5 - no.

Sumu-tibal provides a young lad to lead Mannum-kīma-Adad and his companions to the other Estate. They arrive to find it nearly identical to the one they'd just left (it isn't, but all farms look -- and moreover, smell -- the same to them). The overseer, a scowling Akkadian by the name of Šamaš-ḫāzir, marches out to greet them, whip under his arm [Personality: Self-Directed, Domineering].

"So, you're city-dwellers here to extract tribute from the master? You'll be lucky if you can even extract a few words of sense. I can't see how you'll do any better than that exorcist, and he didn't exactly have a glorious success." [prejudiced - assessment - superiors]

"Spare us your opinions and take us to see Warad-Amurrum," says Mannum-kīma-Adad.

Šamaš-ḫāzir bellows something inarticulate, and a slave comes running before him, head bowed. "Well?" he says, and the slave scurries a few paces forward, beckoning for the visitors to follow.

When they are out of earshot, Šerašer mutters, "He makes Sumu-tibal seem like a decent person." But his companions feel too much trepidation to laugh at the Elamite mercenary's jest.

The slave leads them to smaller (but still 2-storey) house. He points the way up the stairs, mumbling that a nurse is with the master at all times. Mannum-kīma-Adad leads the way up the narrow steps.

The whole upper floor smells like a sickroom.

[PCs need to make Body checks or suffer -1 to all actions until back outside for 15 minutes:

Mannum-kīma-Adad: Body 2 + 1d6=4: 6, fail
Iqīš-Sîn: 4+3=7, success
Damiqtum: 3+3=6, fail
Šerašer: 5+3=8, success]

Mannum-kīma-Adad reels at the smell of the foul air, and needs his slave to support him. Damiqtum becomes light-headed, and Šerašer offers a muscled arm in support.

Warad-Amurrum is tied to a bed with stout ropes, and gagged with a length of cloth. His hair and beard are wild and filthy, and the light tunic he wears now little more than rags. The nurse sits beside him half-asleep. A bronze incense burner sits on a low table before her, but the costly scents do little to mask the odour of foulness and disease.

Warad-Amurrum begins to thrash about as he senses others approach, and the old nurse sits bolt upright at the commotion.

"Leave us," says Mannum-kīma-Adad. She bows her head and slips out of the chamber.

There is scarcely enough room for Mannum-kīma-Adad and his companions to stand in the room beside the bed. Indeed, Iqīš-Sîn is forced to wait outside, but for once the slave does not bemoan his lot.

"I can't believe the state they are keeping him in," says Mannum-kīma-Adad. "Šerašer, remove his gag."

[Q: Anything unusual happen when he does? 50/50 (4+): O3 C5 - no.]

Warad-Amurrum begins screaming and raving, twisting and straining against the ropes holding him. The bed frame creaks and raps against the wall, but his bindings hold firm. Mannum-kīma-Adad puts a firm hand on his shoulder, and tries to speak calmly. Warad-Amurrum goes limp, then begins babbling about shipments of ivory.

"Ivory?" says Mannum-kīma-Adad. "No, we were sent after the grain by the ēntum. But that's--"

"Ask the ēntum if I left anything in her account," says Warad-Amurrum, staring fixedly into the tax-collector's eyes. "Today I want a change from this duty of which I don't even know the name... the first dog you find in the street will tell you... send me to Aphinnarum..."

"You're not making any sense," says Mannum-kīma-Adad. "Just listen to me for a moment..."

[Mannum-kīma-Adad is trying to calm him down, which requires a successful Soul check at -3 (-4 with his nausea penalty); 4(current)-4+d6=4, failure]

Despite Mannum-kīma-Adad's efforts to speak rationally to him, he just keeps on with his disjointed monologue. The tax-collector loses his patience, and ends up screaming at Warad-Amurrum to shut up and listen. The two then begin screaming and shouting back at each other, until neither is making any sense at all.
Šerašer replaces the gag.

*  *  *

Sumu-tibal is waiting for them when they return. "Satisfied?" he says.

"Perhaps Warad-Amurrum's sons should start partitioning their inheritance," grumbles Mannum-kīma-Adad.

"But they'd still not be able to raise the grain to pay off the temple."

"Tomorrow we shall seek the exorcist," says Damiqtum.

Scene 13

Madness (d6)

Setup: go see the exorcist

NPC List: Taqbim the ēntum (=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), utukkum lemnum, mašmaššum (=exorcist), Marduk-ṣulūl the rival noble

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

[Q: Were any of them able to sleep through the night? Unlikely (5+): O2 C3 - no, but... no further Soul damage, but no recovery either]

The demons howl and shriek again in the night, but one by one the exhausted travellers finally drop off into sleep. In the morning they eat a meagre breakfast (having little stomach for it) then set off towards the exorcist's residence with a the young slave lad again as their guide.

[Q: Is it an eventful journey? 50/50 (4+): O1 C6 - no.]

They travel for a day into the wilderness. They see no people, and even animal sightings are very sparse on the latter half of the journey. The fields give way to scrub, which soon becomes desert.

By late evening they reach a nameless tell (Akk.: tillum), the ruins of a forgotten city. The exorcist lives in a crumbling old house on the edge of the tell. No lights shine within. The travellers call out, but there is no reply.

[Mind check to find a lamp: D rolls natural 6 (but no crit.)]

Damiqtum tires of yelling at an empty building, and walks in the front door before any can protest. She rummages about for a minute to find a lamp, which she gets lit using the last embers from the cooking fire.

[Q: What's it like inside? Fearfully / Historical

Mind rolls -2 for bad light to Spot Hidden (only -1 for D as she holds the lamp)

M nat 1,4 fail
I 4-2+3=5 fail
Š nat 1,1 crit. failure: stat damage
D 6-1+4=success]

The rest follow her in once the light begins to shine. The rooms are mostly empty or filled with rubble. One room answers to a bedchamber, and jars of grain and other supplies fill another. Here and there are boxes and caskets containing a variety of domestic items and tools in no particular order. Neither Mannum-kīma-Adad nor Iqīš-Sîn find anything of note.

Šerašer opens a wicker casket and comes face to face with a horrible visage. He yelps and backpedals a few cubits, scrambling to draw his sword. His companions rush to his aid, but nothing rises from the box to attack them. They peer carefully into it with the aid of Damiqtum's lamp and find a crude effigy in clay. Bits of the face have fallen off and reveal a bleached white human skull beneath. Šerašer smashes the thing to pieces with a single stroke from his sword before anyone has time to object. He's more embarrassed by the incident than unnerved, but it's made him rather too distracted to search effectively further. [1 Mind damage from the critical failure (down to 3)]

Damiqtum finds a door in one of the most solid walls that looks to be of recent make. It doesn't open, but the solid hinges gleam in the lamplight.

"There must be a secret catch," she says, [Mind check at -3 fails] but cannot find one.

"Let me," says Šerašer, and puts his back into it. [Body check at -2; 5-2+5=8, success] He throws his whole weight against it twice, and on the third go is rewarded with a loud crack  as the bolt is shattered. He pushes it open the rest of the way to reveal the exorcist's treasure room. Makeshift shelves line the walls, full of ancient tablets and assorted items of copper and bronze.

Mannum-kīma-Adad and Damiqtum glance over the tablets, most of which are extremely fragmentary.

"What are they?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad "I can't get any sense from them."

"They're Sumerian," replies Damiqtum. "And very old."

"I can't even make out the signs."

"I can."

"What do they say? What are they about?"

"We found them sealed in an exorcist's treasure store. Why don't you hazard a guess as to their content?"

"But where is he?"

"And should we really be ransacking his house?" mutters Iqīš-Sîn.

[Q: Does Damiqtum immediately find any tablets of interest? Unlikely (5+): O2 C5 - no.]

"Let us go back to the room just off the courtyard, says Mannum-kīma-Adad, and set up our camp for the night. If the exorcist does return, we can tell him we chased off some pastoral Amorites trying to steal his treasures."

"And if he doesn't return?" asks Iqīš-Sîn.

"We'll determine that in the morning."

[Q: Quiet night? unknown, d6=4; O5 C5 - yes
+Event:  PC negative - Šerašer - hasten / sleep]

It is a very quiet night in the ruined house. So quiet, in fact, that Šerašer drifts off to sleep whilst he's on watch.

[But, everyone recovers 1d6 stat damage for the good night's rest:

M 1d6=1; Soul up to 5 (of 6)
I 1d6=1; Soul up to 2 (of 3)
D 1d6=5; had only taken 1 Soul damage, so back to full strength
Š 1d6=2; Mind back to 4, Soul up to 2 (of 3)

Bad rolls, but a tell in the desert is a spooky place]

next post: the mašmaššum