Saturday, 3 October 2020

BFJB solo - Part 6: That which was fated

When Iqīš-Sîn awakens the sleeping mercenary the next morning, Šerašer is terribly embarrassed, but as they all got good, peaceful sleep, no one else really minds his dereliction of duty. The companions eat the meagre amount of food they'd brought along, all the while waiting for the mašmaššum (exorcist) to return.

Scene 14

Chaos: Madness (d6)

Setup: find 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

Waiting becomes quickly tedious, so they decide to climb up onto the highest heaps of rubble and scout the area.

[They must make Body checks to avoid disaster (d6=6,5,6,3) all succeed handily. Mannum-kīma-Adad even rolls a critical success (6+6), so gets a stat boost (+1 Body, up to 3) for the rest of the day.]

Mannum-kīma-Adad makes an impressively quick ascent. Even the mighty Elamite mercenary praises the tax-collector's physical prowess, which does rather go to Mannum-kīma-Adad's head even as it boosts his confidence[the stat increase].

[Mind checks to scan: 5,6,4,4; again all succeed! (I forgot to roll for the NPC slave boy guide, but I assume he can make his rolls too.)

Q: Do they see movement? unknown, d6=2: O6 C1 - yes, and...]

The desert surrounding the tell is barren and lifeless. They can see several bērū out in all directions, and nothing moving in all that space. Turning their attention to within the tell, they are eventually rewarded by the sight of a pair of human figures moving over the rubble in the distance. They shout to get their attention, but the figures don't seem to hear, so they scramble down and through the collapsed city to catch up with them.

[I wasn't sure how encounter should start, so fell back on old habits: 1d6=2, surprised]

Mannum-kīma-Adad halts a few paces behind the pair. They are digging in the sand at the base of a crumbling mud-brick wall, oblivious to the newcomers. The man is in the prime of life. He is clad in an expensively-made tunic, but is covered in grime from head to toe, and his hair and beard are caked with dirt and clay dust. The young woman with him has somehow managed to remain pristine. Her filmy tunic is still as white and clean as her alabaster skin.

"You are Iddin-Šamaš, the exorcist, I presume," says Mannum-kīma-Adad.

They look up, startled at the sudden appearance of five strangers. The man holds his shovel in a faintly defensive posture, the young woman cowers behind him, peeking out with wide, liquid eyes.

"I am. And you are...?"

"I am Mannum-kīma-Adad, a tax collector from Babylon, and these are my associates: Damiqtum, a priestess of the Ekitušgirzal temple, and my bodyguard Šerašer."

"I fear you've come a long way in vain, my friend; the citizens of this fair town are all long past owing tribute to the king."

"I have come on behalf of the temple to collect from Warad-Amurrum."

"I see. And thus you've come to see me."

"His mind is broken, his estates harassed by demons in the night, his slaves are deserting in droves, and then there's that... that abomination in the darkness. Could you not help?"

"Warad-Amurrum is beyond hope. I tried to fight that goat thing, and it was nearly my undoing. I urge you to forget about it. Go back, load a wagon with whatever of value remains at the farm, and take that back to the temple as consolation. Write the rest off, and look elsewhere for tribute in the future. You'd be fools to attempt anything else." [insane - idiocy - previous scene]

The young woman whispers something in the exorcist's ear.

[Damiqtum gets a Mind roll: success to hear a few words, success at -2 to hear it all: 6+2=8 success (-2 is 6, fail)]

Damiqtum is able to overhear a few words, which in themselves are innocuous enough (you...them...should...invite), but which were rather astonishingly spoken in what appears to be fluent Sumerian.

"Where are my manners?" says the exorcist. "Come, let us go to my home where we may talk like civilised people. You'll have to excuse her; she can be shy with strangers."

Back at the house, Iddin-Šamaš is initially incensed at the damage and Mannum-kīma-Adad's pathetic ruse (the pastoral Amorites are afraid of the ruins), but young woman whispers again in his ear and he decides to let it drop and is once again the happy host.

The young woman tugs at the hem of the exorcist's tunic and points to her mouth. "Yes, my dear, you are right," says Iddin-Šamaš, "refreshments are in order. Why don't the women go into the kitchen and bring us some bread, dates, and beer."

Mannum-kīma-Adad is about to jump in with an excuse before Damiqtum causes a scene, but the muḫḫūtum shocks him to the core of his being by agreeing to the proposal and calmly following the young woman in to the kitchen.

Whilst the women are preparing the table, Iddin-Šamaš excitedly shows off his collection, and talks of searching ruins for important magical tablets. Mannum-kīma-Adad feigns polite interest, whilst Šerašer and Iqīš-Sîn look on sullenly, envying the slave lad who was allowed to lie down outside in the shade.

Damiqtum soon returns to the treasure room to announce that lunch is served. She grabs Mannum-kīma-Adad on the way out and bids him be patient, for all will presently be explained.

When the meal is ended and the women are clearing the plates, Iddin-Šamaš excuses himself, saying that he must get back to his digging, because, "she has a good feeling that something important is buried there." He kisses the young woman on the cheek almost bashfully as he leaves, shovel over his shoulder and singing a happy workmen's' song, and terribly out of tune.

The young woman's demeanour changes abruptly. "Now we can get down to business. Let me tell you what you must do."

"Just a moment!" says Mannum-kīma-Adad indignantly, "What is going on here? And just who are you? I thought you were his wife -- or concubine at least -- but he hasn't even deigned to introduce you. And you've barely uttered a word since we arrived. Now you presume to inform us of what we must do."

"Are you quite finished?"

"Mannum-kīma-Adad," interjects Damiqtum, "we'd really ought to hear her out."

The tax-collector sits back in silence, and the young woman continues.

"Poor Iddin-Šamaš isn't much use in an exorcism, I'm afraid. He knows all the rites, but he's not especially good at them. I should never have let him go to the farm; the utukkum nearly killed him. But since you are moving against it, I will offer some assistance."

"It wants to leave," interjects Mannum-kīma-Adad, "but is trapped in the body of a goat."

"Is that what it told you? And you believed it? Believe me, that lazy brute is perfectly happy to lie in the dark and direct his minions to cause havoc. Now, do you want my help or not?"

[Q: Does she have the required object? 50/50 (4+): O5 C3 - yes, but... not here
Q: Where is it? d30=tomb
Q: What is it? d30=mirror

for finding an ally, even a questionable one, Chaos improves to Out-of-Control (d8)]

Scene 15

Out-of-Control (d8)

Setup: retrieve the item

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), the young woman, Marduk-ṣulūl the rival noble

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

They have no choice but to accept the mysterious young woman's aid. She leads them to the very outskirts of the tell. "Dig here," she says.

"In this heat?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad.

"Do you want to be out here after nightfall?"

"No. No, of course not. You are right, my lady. Iqīš-Sîn, start digging."

"Give me a bucket," says Šerašer. "It's not right making him do it on his own."

"As you would," replies Mannum-kīma-Adad. "I'll be against this mound of rubble where there's shade."

Damiqtum looks at Šerašer. He waves her away, and she sits in the dust by the tax collector.

Within the hour they've broken through into some sort of cavity. The young woman hands them  a torch, which Damiqtum lights for them whilst they take a rest to catch their breath.

The young woman also provides some rope. "You must go in, but be careful. The guardians will not easily part with their treasure."

Šerašer is the first to descend into the hole, with the other three close behind. They find themselves in what was once the common room of a modest house. [1d3=] Two shrivelled, skeletal corpses clad in dusty rags lie in heaps on the floor, a pick, shovel and clay lamp nearby. In the centre of the space is a shallow rectangular grave containing an ancient skeleton surrounded by rough clay pottery and stone beads. But there is a glint of metal in the grave as well. Šerašer reaches down and takes a copper disk from beneath the skeleton's crumbling finger bones. He and his companions are singularly unsurprised by what happens next.

A naked, grey, diaphanous image of a [d6=3,m] man coalesces round the bones in the grave. The eṭemmum (=spectre, revenant) lets out a terrible shriek. Mannum-kīma-Adad feels it like 600 daggers tearing into his brain. [the eṭemmum used its Maddening Wail talent, making a Mind attack on all PCs: the attack succeeds against all of them (even with the -2 against Mannum-kīma-Adad for his Tough Mind talent). Only M fails his avoid roll. He takes 1 Mind damage (leaving him with Mind 2).]

two thief eṭemmū
Level 3
Body 4   Mind 4   Soul 4
Talents: conscious, diseased bite, horrific visage, persistent

diviner eṭemmum
Level 5
Body 3   Mind 5   Soul 5
Talents: corrupting touch, maddening wail, incorporeality, persistent, perceptive (hearing)

[Round 1]
Šerašer slashes at the thing in the grave with his sword, but it jerks out of the way with surprising alacrity [attack succeeded, but so did its Avoid roll]. One of the dead thieves has come to life, and is scuttling across the floor towards Damiqtum. She recites a charm against it [Stun], but the magic does not slow its advance. Bony fingers close about her ankle and the thing bites her [1 damage reduces her to 2 Body]. The other dead thief reaches out to catch Šerašer's calf, but the canny soldier dances out of its reach, even as his sword fends off the bony claw of the eṭemmum rising in the grave. Iqīš-Sîn goes to cave in the skull of the skeletal thief that attacked Damiqtum, but is too afraid of hitting her instead, and the shovel resounds neatly against the dusty floor. Mannum-kīma-Adad quickly overcomes his initial frightened paralysis -- and runs to the rope.

[Round 2]
Šerašer turns his sword against the thing snapping at his ankles. As it lunges for him, he meets it full on with a mighty thrust of the blade. Its skull shatters and backbones are scattered over the floor from the force of the blow [he hit for 3 damage, it rolled a critical failure on its Avoid (1 more damage): hors de combat]. Damiqtum speaks her charm again. This time the magic causes the thief to pull back from her. Iqīš-Sîn still cannot hit it with the shovel. The eṭemmum now standing in the grave shrieks again [all PCs successfully avoid!] but the stalwart travellers are undaunted. Mannum-kīma-Adad climbs swiftly up the rope to the surface [Body check succeeds].

[Round 3]
The mercenary squares off against the standing eṭemmum, but neither sword nor claw land a blow. Damiqtum scurries up the rope and out into the sunlight. Iqīš-Sîn once again slams the shove against the floor right beside the crawling corpse as it skitters out of reach.

[Round 4]
Šerašer gets a lucky blow in, decapitating the eṭemmum. It falls in a heap back into its grave. Iqīš-Sîn climbs the rope.

[Round 5]
Still cowed by Damiqtum's magic, the remaining eṭemmum cannot attack Šerašer. He sheathes his sword and climbs out of the pit, leaving it scuttling madly about.

On the surface, the young woman is nowhere to be seen. A hastily written lump of still wet clay sits upon an overturned bucket. Mannum-kīma-Adad is pleased to see the missive is written in Akkadian, in small but legible signs. He reads it aloud.

"The mirror will save you from the utukkum's magic. You have less than a week to destroy the utukkum and then the mirror, or the eṭemmum will hunt you down. Do not return to this place unless you have done both."

They examine mirror in daylight. It is a copper disk as big as Šerašer's palm, with a tang on the bottom where it was affixed to a wooden handle, but this has long since crumbed to dust. On the back an inscription has been scratched in archaic Sumerian characters. [Damiqtum's Mind roll at -2 succeeds: 6-2+3, success]

"Ea banishes evil," she reads. "Truly, this is a weapon against demons."

"Dare we set off back to the farm now?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad.

"Dare we remain here a minute longer?" replies Damiqtum.

Scene 16

Chaos: Out-of-Control (d8)

Setup: back to the farm

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), the young woman, Marduk-ṣulūl the rival noble

Threads: retrieve the missing grain, deal with M's debt, deal with the utukkum
[Q: Anything happen on their journey? 50/50 (4+): O2 C7 - no.
Q: Anything untoward happen that night? 50/50 (4+): O5 C1 - yes, and...
Q: What? request / attention]

They hurry along on their way, barely pausing for rest. By nightfall they have reached the farm. Frightened slaves open the compound gate to let them enter. Sumu-tibal is surprised to see them back so soon. He orders refreshment brought immediately, and sits down with his honoured guests to hear their tale. The overseer waits as patiently as he is able whilst the weary travellers scarf down the meal.

Mannum-kīma-Adad does not wish to discuss the encounter with the three eṭemmū beneath the ruins, but he does feel somewhat obliged to repeat the bad prognosis which the mašmaššum had for Warad-Amurrum's recovery. The tax-collector tells a rather desultory tale of the whole experience, trying as best as he is able to ignore the rising chorus of shrieks and gibbering and howls sounding outside the barred compound gate, which rise to such crescendos that his interlocutor must continually ask him to repeat himself.

"...NO! I said, all his TREASURES were MERELY CLAY--"

The demonic howling has abruptly ceased, and Mannum-kīma-Adad feels suddenly ridiculous for leaning over the table and shouting at the top of his lungs. He sits back, and the silence round him is almost palpable; not a cricket is heard in the night, nor even the murmuring of the slaves, nothing but the crackle of the bonfires lit against the nocturnal fiends.

A rapping sounds against the gate, and then a frightened slave rushes over to the overseer. "Th-- they've requested Mannum-kīma-Adad f-f-for an audience in the hut. They p-p-promise safe passage."

[M needs a Soul check to be brave enough to accept: current soul (5) + 1d6 = 10, success]

Mannum-kīma-Adad stands and regards the others gravely. "Let us end this, then."

[Soul checks for the rest of the party: d6=5,5,5; they all succeed.]

His companions rise wordlessly. Šerašer draws his sword.

"A torch," says Mannum-kīma-Adad. Moments later a slave has handed him one. He walks out to the gate, and the frightened and bewildered slaves hastily lift the sturdy bar and let the brave -- or foolhardy -- band outside. They shut the gate so quickly behind them that Damiqtum's tattered hem is nearly caught in the doors.

Mannum-kīma-Adad leads the procession by the light of his torch through the fields towards the reed hut. Hundreds of eyes glitter greedily just outside the circle of light, and whispering, tittering things cavort in the shadows on all sides of them, parting before them like waves beneath the prow of a ship.

Reaching the hut, Šerašer throws open the door forcefully and holds the curtain back for his friends to enter. The smell inside is even worse than they remembered, and the sight of the gangrenous, five-legged goat with the leonine face protruding from its now-hairless flank still oppresses their hearts.

[as before, the horrid stench imposes a -2 penalty on all checks.

The PCs must each make a Soul check to avoid taking a point of soul damage from fright per the demon's Horrific Visage power. They all fail, dropping to M4, I2, D5, Š1]

The utukkum blinks its eyes against the bright torchlight, and addresses its visitors in an urbane (if grating) tone as they steady their nerves. "Oh, you're back so soon. Couldn't find a new exorcist? I'm disappointed." [inquisitive - request - flaws]

"W-we've heard that you don't really want one," says Mannum-kīma-Adad. "That you would rather stay here in your little hut and cause mischief through your agents."

"Who have you been talking to?"

"She... we never got her name."

"I see! Oh, how rich. I'm surprised she didn't eat you."

"Eat us?!"

"She's an ardat lilî [-demon]. Didn't you realise?"

"We-- I-- that is..."

"And how is her dear little Iddin-Šamaš? Recovering well, I trust? What she sees in him I just can't fathom. I suppose he's no great threat to her, at any rate."

"Why did you summon us here?"

"To see what progress you'd made."

"Why do you want an exorcist brought here?"

"Truthfully? I want one to use against her, against the ardat lilî."

"Whatever for?"

"It is an old enmity, and not the concern of mortal creatures."

"She has made it our concern; she sent us to destroy you."

[Q: How does it react to this news? Fiercely / Magnificent]

"You are a fool, Mannum-kīma-Adad! And you shall pay for your foolishness!"

[It is using its Malediction talent to make a Soul attack against M. Soul 6+5=success, M's avoid roll is  4 (current Soul) -2(stench) +4 =6, fail. He takes 2 Soul damage, leaving him with 2.]

The utukkum's words rip into Mannum-kīma-Adad's psyche, and he feels the will to fight lessening. But not so Šerašer, who advances on the demon with bared blade.

[Round 1]
The Elamite lunges at the weaving lion-head, but it darts out of reach [5(Body) -2(stench) -2(armour) +4 =5, miss.] The utukkum jerks about in the dirt, but with purpose. One festering hoof scrapes against Šerašer's leg and his heart is seized with fear. He drops his sword and stumbles back, senseless.

[Its Body attack succeeds, his Avoid roll fails. He is subject to its Corrupting Touch, taking 3 Soul damage. This reduces him to 0, so he is out of the fight and must roll on the Soul injury table. He rolls Ghastly Appearance; over the next 1d6+4=7 weeks his shocking countenance gives him a -1 to social interactions, and his Soul is reduced by 1 for the duration as well.]

Iqīš-Sîn stands by his master, ready to flee if he does (and he hopes he does).

Damiqtum produces the copper mirror, and brandishes it before the utukkum.

[Q: What does it do, exactly? (1d6) 1 exorcism, 2 binding, 3 weakness, 4 blinding, 5 light ray, 6 disrupt powers: d6=6. User of the Mirror may make a Soul check to disrupt any power use, before the target's Avoid roll.]

[Round 2]
The utukkum lets out a yelp of fear at the sight of the mirror, and pronounces an awful curse against the muḫḫūtum bearing it, [Its Soul check to attack succeeds, her Soul check at -2(stench) fails to disrupt it, but her Avoid is 5-2+5, success] but Damiqtum merely laughs at its words.

"Don't just stand there," shouts Mannum-kīma-Adad to his slave. "Pick up the sword!" Iqīš-Sîn reluctantly obeys.

[Round 3]
The utukkum kicks out at the approaching Iqīš-Sîn, catching him in the gut. He bends double from the pain [2 damage drops him to 2 Body], and his clumsy swing of the sword goes nowhere near his foe [he needs a natural 6 to hit].

[Round 4]
Feeling the unskilled slave to be little danger, it once again curses Damiqtum. She laughs even harder as the mirror shines and glimmers with each awful syllable the utukkum pronounces [disrupted]. Iqīš-Sîn is chastened by the pain in his stomach, and his swings are too defensive (and clumsy) to land a hit.

[Round 5]
The mirror glows even brighter, and Damiqtum's laughter grows even louder as the utukkum's baleful magic is turned aside again. This gives Iqīš-Sîn the distraction he needs to slip in under the demon's guard. The bronze blade flashes in the light of the mirror, and bisects the utukkum's spindly neck. The lion head bursts into a cloud of black vapour, and the horrible goat breathes its last. [a lucky 6, a failed Avoid, and 3 damage felled the demon]

Outside the hut, a chorus of screeches sounds, and rapidly fades into the night.

- - -


On the morning of the third day after his return to Babylon, Mannum-kīma-Adad is sitting in the courtyard of his house, barely eating the food his slaves have prepared for him, for today he must to the temple for his reckoning. As he rises from the table, Iqīš-Sîn rushes to his side. "Shall we be leaving now?"

"No. I have elected to go alone. You stay here and mind the house. And see if you can get poor Šerašer to eat something. Attend to it personally, do you understand? You're the only slave who's not afraid to go near him."

Mannum-kīma-Adad walks out of his front door and into the winding streets, heading north into the new town district. At the entrance to the Ekitušgirzal temple, he announces himself to a loitering slave. The slave tells him he is expected, and leads him into the temple garden overlooking the canal to await his audience with the ēntum.

She arrives, and he greets her esteemed personage with all the usual obsequies, which she returns with casual amiability.

"Good Lady," he says after an awkward pause, "I must apologise once again for my failure. And I wish to stress that the blame for the unsuccessful venture lies with me, and me alone. Please, do not punish Damiqtum; she represented the temple's interests admirably."

"Oh, Mannum-kīma-Adad, but you are such a fool! I had no illusions that you'd bring me back my grain."

"You didn't? But why...?"

"My dream! Did not Damiqtum tell you of it?"

"She did, but I didn't understand."

"I dreamt that you were sitting in a barren field, eating handfuls of soil."

"I'm afraid that doesn't mean anything to me."

"Of course not. 'If he eats loose earth: he will be in confusion and suffer hunger' [Sm 2073+, right column]."

"It certainly was a confusing experience, but we never went hungry."

"But you did not get the grain for our bread. The goddess spake through Damiqtum just as I was about to write to the chief tax collector for aid. You were part of a much grander design. Go home now, Mannum-kīma-Adad. But I am certain I shall have use of you again."

~~~ fin. ~~~


  1. Exciting ending to a great campaign. though I must say, it ended a bit sooner than I expected. I really like this group and wouldn't mind seeing them again in the future. Truth be told, I can say the same about many of your other parties. Nice work. Look forward to reading your new campaign.

    1. I fear time constraints kept me from going into their second adventure right away -- these posts take a lot of work to write. Plus I wanted to do my modern horror game for October. But Mannum-kīma-Adad & friends will certainly be coming back for more.

    2. Oh, you don't need to convince me about the time it takes to prepare a top-quality post...complete with graphics.