Write-up 1st May 2024 – Smersh in the Land of the Dead – Part Two

Having entered the start of the path the souls of adherents of the Cold Ones must follow, they have found many souls too scared to follow the path as a demon, Marshiyu-shamawpti, lurks ahead, devouring those that come clear. They have also been attacked by souls upon whom the demon feeds and discards, even as they are enthralled by it. They had just found one such soul, Lusa, dwindling, unable to proceed as long as the demon is there.

Our cast

  • Utana – Noble of the Rule of Haraxa, Agent and Officer of the nation
  • José Juan – Foreigher from the far west, warrior, healer and agent of the Rule
  • Farshad – Merchant of the Rule of Ishtir, musician and agent of the Rule
  • Fetnah – Shaman from a long time ago, and a forgotten and lost land, and agent of the Rule
  • Smersh – Larcenous Priest from long time ago, and a nation long gone, and agent of the Rule


  • Arpaesis – From the far western land of Ta-Khemet, student of Arcane Lore, and agent of the Rule, currently studying books of Lore
  • Dhran the White – of humble origin in Ishtir, warrior, agent of the Rule, currently studying in the capital and trying to unionise
  • Jalabu – Noble of Dilmun, Merchant-Adventurer and agent of the Rule, currently coming to terms with his inner demon, literally

Our start was delayed, our VTT wasn’t admitting two of our players, thanks to Norman (José Juan) for a bit of lateral thinking to get everyone on as level a footing as we could manage.

Persuading the starveling Lusa to accompany them, swearing that that they would deal with the demon Marshiyu-shamawpti, the group proceed, finding themselves in a cave dominated by a huge plant rising out of a pool fed by the river that the dead follow on their journey to judgement, the water, unlike the picture, a dirty, dark red brown. The huge tendrils of the plant sway as if in an unseen and unfelt breeze.

Cave dominated by huge plant

The cave of Marshiyu-shamawpti

The group were suspicious of this, a suspicion confirmed when the flaunt started dropping off soul husks held in thrall. The things were almost totally drained of their being, but they were still a threat, if ignored they would cause damage, but luckily for the group they no longer had much substance so could be felled easily.

Lusa did what he could to tackle the husks

As expected the tendrils started trying to smash or grab the members of the group. Farshad was the first victim, though he was soon let free in an unfortunate manner, dropped to the ground after Fetnah did something remarkable.

Impossible under normal circumstances without great preparation and sacrifice, unlikely in a cave on the outer fringes of the netherworld, Fetnah invoked the Fires of Heaven, wrath of spiritual fury, the wrath of the gods and great spirits manifested! The demon was set ablaze, as was Farshad, on fire and, in the demon’s pain wracked writhing,  dropped on his head.

Note, somewhere over play I communicated the rules on Shamanic Chants incorrectly, and it sort of stuck. Summoning the Fires of Heaven is the most extreme weather magic, impossibly difficult, no character could summon such a display without taking those steps mentioned previously to boost their chances, but I had made a ruling before and stuck with it, it will go back to RAW hereafter.

Their foe was severely wounded and in such pain that it was unable to direct its thralls, who hung about unmoving. Fetnah herself was felled, slumped to the ground with the effort of her summoning, her connection to spirits tenuous, her grasp on reality weak, she fell unconscious briefly.

Whilst all this was going on, Utana and José Juan had been clearing the husks, with spear and arrow, Smersh had been less successful, his attacks going wide, his defences bypassed. He found that he, and José Juan, were snatched up off their feet by their ankles. This shift in tendrils though allowed Utana to see the core, in which was a twisted, sneering, arrogant, ugly face. This became Utana and Farshad’s target as Utana fired arrows and Farshad daggers, after Farshad had sliced off a tendril. When she came to, Fetnah concentrated on patching up Farshad.

Utana and Farshad were not alone in this. Being swung around, having their heads bashed against walls. Jose Juan tried to strike at the tendril holding him with his sword, but Smersh tried to unlimber his bow and shoot. His stomach muscles must be tremendous.

Utana’s luck was with him that day, two of his three strikes were as on the mark as any he had made during practice, and cause as much damage as the Fetnah’s summoning, and between that and the strikes of José Juan and Farshad, and the embarassment Marshiyu-shamawpti felt on Smersh’s behalf did for the demon.

The plant shrivelled, shrinking in on itself, withering and withdrawing as it was banished from this place, not dead, but this form destroyed. The blood red water cleared and became silver and shining. Lusa straightened up, and held themselves more confidently, soon the path was full of spirits, thanking our heroes for freeing them.

The world starts to fade, causing consternation as everything blew away as in smoke, and they were drawn back to the light, passing through, they found themselves back in the crypt of the the Temple in the grounds of Spionem’s House, now Smersh’s.

The ghost of Smersh’s distant descendant, Smersh IV, closed the portal, it cost much to hold it open for mortals. He would not be passing on, he would retain his purpose in helping others to find the start of the road to the afterlife.  This continued haunting excited Farshad and Smersh with commercial possibilities.

It took Utana, José Juan and Smersh some effort to open the door to the temple, for it was blocked by a press of stinking corpses from on the marsh.

And there we left it



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Write-up 4th April 2024 – Smersh in the Land of the Dead – Part One

To recap, the Shaman Fetnah and her ally Smersh were frozen in time for 1,500 years, victims of a trap of spirits who refused to pass to the Underworld, a pocket realm of undead slaves serving their undead master and his court.

Rescued by a band of Agents of the Magistrate of Eshtaband, a city in the Rule of Haraxa, they join up as Agents as they adjusted to the modern world. Then, stranger than much that has happened, Smersh found himself presented with a deed of inheritance to an estate granted to a son he never knew he had, still in the family after a millenium and a half.

Obviously there was a catch, the estate is not as extensive as it once was, the power of the position is reduced, oh, and the estate is crawling with the  restless dead, and they were rescued by Smersh IV, the disembodied spirit of a descendant. He took them to the estate Temple, still proof against the undead, and explained the problem. Spirits denied rites and offering could not easily find their way to the Afterlife. The dead can still find their way and he, drowned in the marsh, denied rites, has found a way, and hoped to help others, but a malign entity is blocking the way, and he hopes that the group can defeat it, and reopen the way.

Our cast

  • Utana – Noble of the Rule of Haraxa, Agent and Officer of the nation
  • José Juan – Foreigher from the far west, warrior, healer and agent of the Rule
  • Farshad – Merchant of the Rule of Ishtir, musician and agent of the Rule
  • Fetnah – Shaman from a long time ago, and a forgotten and lost land, and agent of the Rule
  • Smersh – Larcenous Priest from long time ago, and a nation long gone, and agent of the Rule
  • Jalabu – Noble of Dilmun, Merchant-Adventurer and agent of the Rule, currently wrestling with his inner demon, literally


  • Arpaesis – From the far western land of Ta-Khemet, student of Arcane Lore, and agent of the Rule, currently studying books of Lore
  • Dhran the White – of humble origin in Ishtir, warrior, agent of the Rule, currently studying in the capital and trying to unionise

The group checked the Portal opened by Smersh. They could see through it to the other side, they tested going through and coming back. Apart from the other side being colder and that vision between both being blurred and sound muffled, they were able to go through and back, but Smersh IV would need to stay behind to hold the portal open.

Jalabu had been suffering from fever. Fetnah has grafted a Spirit of the Road, Oblat, to him, as protection. Unbeknownst to Fetnah, Oblat was a Spirit of Heat and Dust Devils,  and prolonged exposure was causing Jalabu to burn up. However a crisis point seem to be reached, and Jalabu cooled somewhat, but he does seem somewhat more impulsive.

And so they went through, Jalabu less cautious than was his wont, even discarding his magic buckler, which José Juan snaffled, in case Jalabu wanted it back. The way ahead was along a path of sharp stones under a grey sky of diffuse light, ahead was a forest of dead trees and undergrowth of fallen branches, dead leaves and bones. The group moved on, until Jalabu, seeing winged creatures flying  high up,  not bothering anyone, let fly with an arrow, lightly wounding one (I think the longest range shot in this campaign to date).

The thing dives, a horrific amalgam of bird, bat and mortal forms, it dove onto Jalabu, jinking away from his outthrust sword and bearing him to the ground, trying to rip him apart with its fanged, beak like muzzle. The others tried to wound it without hurting Jalabu, and wounded it enough that it tried to fly off with Jalabu. It did not manage that, but it did escape with its existence. Fetnah did find out something interesting. her connection to the spirit world was stronger here, she found the power came to her easier, but it was also more likely to slip out of her control. Smersh found that, though dropping his mace to draw his knife meant that he could strike more often, of course dropping the mace and drawing his knife was itself time consuming. A conundrum!

Similarly, Farshad found his connection to the crow spirit Aribu, housed in a wooden crow puppet, stronger, that they could communicate clearly.

The group moved on, coming to a fork in the road through the woods, one path going into uphill into denser woods, the other down as the wood thinned. Such tracks as the sharp stones showed indicated the lower path to be the one most travelled, and so they continued down that one, emerging into a canyon, both sides covered in caves in which the lethargic, desiccating forms of spirits. They were slow moving, some could barely raise their heads to  look at the group. An underground river the colour of dark-red dried blood rose from the rocks halfway down the canyon.

One did manage to get to them shaky but standing. Asking for details, the spirit, Eshanna begged for help, explaining that this was as far as many spirits get, those that go on ahead to scout never return, either using the path ahead or the path that goes up the hill to another way ahead. The first news of difficulties was when a party of spirits were following the path, and those behind saw those ahead overcome by horrors.

They do have a name for the entity blocking the way, Marshiyu-shamawpti, “The Final Death”, it consumes spirits and they are gone forever.

The group followed the path by the river as it headed towards a dark cave mouth, the path dipping to the level of the river, the mud slippy but made walkable thanksto embedded bones and shells. Carefully they entered the cave mouth, trying to avoid the lank, stringy, unpleasant moss that fringed it.

The path led into a chamber that stank of the sulphurous emissions from spouts in the walls, that caused some to cough and splutter. The path diverged from the river, which dove under the rock again, and they quickly left by the rising path, taking time to recover their stamina and clear their lungs.

The way ahead was across a rock bridge,  dark, bottomless chasm at either side, Smersh went ahead to scout, and failed to hear in advance of time the crack of a breaking stalagmite above, which bruised him severely and he too had to rest.

Once everyone was rested, they entered the next chamber , which was the bottom of the entrance at the top of the hill, the walls studded by slabs set into it as steps spiralling up. In the middle of the chamber was a desiccated spirit, motionless as any corpse, its body marked as if bound by rope. The group moved on, only for Utana to find that the spirit had got up to grab him from behind. It was unable to drag him back to the chasm, and the spirit found its feet grappled by Jalabu and stretched out like a blanket. When the unlife was beaten out of it, a fibrous, twisted, rope like thing escaped out of the mouth of the spirit, slithering quickly off.

José Juan looked at the body, and wondered if the unquiet dead in the House of Spionem were like this, however he had not examined those creatures closely, and a brief fight in a dimly lit house was not enough to have given him ant detailed view.

The path went through a passage into a chamber covered in more of that sticky, unpleasant moss. Ahead was a chipping sound, not quite bird, not bat, something animal like, but sonmething about the noises hinted at some sort of speech.

Farshad noticed a low sound coming from the wall. Parting the fronds of the moss, and not enjoying it, Farshad saw a lethargic spirit, Lusa, obviously near its last, begging for help. The group sacrificed food and wine feeding it, burning food and spilling a libation. Lusa exam panel on the information on Marshiyu-shamawpti. It captures and enslaves those it does not consume utterly, though even its servants it consumes.

And, on that bombshell, we left it.

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Write-up 23rd March 2024 – The House of Spionem – Part Two

Our cast

  • Utana – Noble of the Rule of Haraxa, Agent and Officer of the nation
  • José Juan – Foreigher from the far west, warrior, healer and agent of the Rule
  • Farshad – Merchant of the Rule of Ishtir, musician and agent of the Rule
  • Fetnah – Shaman from a long time ago, and a forgotten and lost land, and agent of the Rule
  • Smersh – Larcenous Priest from long time ago, and a nation long gone, and agent of the Rule


  • Jalabu – Noble of Dilmun, Merchant-Adventurer and agent of the Rule, currently wrestling with his inner demon, literally
  • Arpaesis – From the far western land of Ta-Khemet, student of Arcane Lore, and agent of the Rule, currently studying books of Lore
  • Dhran the White – of humble origin in Ishtir, warrior, agent of the Rule, currently studying in the capital and trying to unionise

A recap

Smersh, though he had been entombed in suspended animation along with Fetnah 1500 years ago, somehow found himself in possession to the deeds to a valley that had been granted to a son of his, by the name of Spionem. “Smersh Spionem”. Get it?S ketchy on whether or not he had ever had a son, or any other children, Smershdecided to follow this up. Discovering the current name for the place, they recently arrived, established that the total power granted his descendants was l;ong gojne, but there was still an estate, and rents, a decent inheritance

There was one sslight problem, however, the place was haunted after the death of the last heir.

Leaving a sweating and troubled Jalabu in the accommodation in the small town of Spah, the group have made their way to the house, and just entered an entrance hall….


Between sessions, there was some chat around was the reported haunting, was it perhaps the soul of Smersh, detached from hos body with a millenia and a half of stasis. So, we open on a white, brightly lit room, Smersh is constrained on a white altar, Utana supervising his bonds, José Juan administering the anaesthetic, Farshad, scalpel at the ready and Fetnah ready to hunt deep within Smersh to see if he has a soul…..

Back to the session

Looking into a gloomy hall, there was a closed door ahead, but a family shrine to The Cold Ones was by it, and Smersh tried to puzzle out the words above it “Us Gods Watch”? Smersh is new to writing and his skills are not quite instinctive, but Farshad was able to complete the inscription. As Smersh showed his respect for his deities and cleaning the shrine, the others looked around a little, finding an empty store room, perhaps meant for cleaning materials? Smersh was finishing up when a slithering noise was heard, they checked each other to ensure no illicit inter group slithering was going on, but no.

A couple realised that the sound seem ed to be coming from above, but Utana zeroed in on what was there,

on the ceiling,

clinging to the ceiling,

a corpse,

a strangely flattened and almost pickled looking corpse, as if it had been buried in the marsh for centuries. It slithered off, and the group, heedless of where they were going, powered along a corridor, past door after door, until coming to a more open part of the hallway opposite where they had come in, in front of them was a set of open doors to the outside.

and some stairs

And a lage number of wet, stinking, decaying corpses, with a mix of broken weapons, shuffling forward to engage the group. The group fought, the corpses were, mostly, unarmoured, the weapons of the group had properties against spirits so the blows went home, and two or three hits were enough to down the dead, but some hits were coming in too, despite deft footwork from utana and stoic “come and have a go” attitude from Smersh. The words received were merely scratches so far, but more dead were coming. Fetnah helped even the odds somewhat, using a prayer that discomfited any enemies that chose to stay, but still the odd got worse and worse, with three downed there were still four to one odds against the group, and more were coming, all dripping with marsh water.

Then all heard, in their heads, the line

Come with me if you want to live

Looking back down along the hall, the way they had come was a ghost of a man of late midddle years, slightly green in aspect, and he beckoned to them.

The group took to their heels, the dead too slow to do much against the disengaging foe, but they shuffled off after the fleeing mortals and their ghostly guide.

The ghost led them out the door they had come in, and then back around the building, past stinking wet puddles and footprints, and to the rear, where the invading undead had come from, but this time into the family temple. The frescoes where were fading and cracked, but visible and showed scenes of life as it once was in the valley, aided by the Cold Ones. Smersh started examining the statues and the group looked enquiringly at the ghost.

“I am Smersh IV, and I need your help!”

His plight was this. In the religion of the Cold Ones spirits follow paths to great halls to wait for the time when all will be judged, but to send them on those paths they need the aid of loved ones. Those that die without the rites can get lost and wander and never find their way to await judgement.

He has sought a way to help guide other lost souls to the afterlife, to await their fate, but there are always those seek to prevent others from improving their lot, who wish to drag them down to feed off their misery and desperation, and in this case there is a prescence on the paths of the dead that is controlling these possessed corpses to try and prevent spirits moving on.

With a spectral “Follow me“. Smersh IV took the group down to the crypt, to see plaques with portaits of his line along the walls, grouped by generations. The floor a mosaic map of the area, and on one wall is a glowing green portal, a partal that Smersh IV, a student of the arcane and faithful servant of the Gods has opened with the aid of other lost souls. This is the path that he wishes the group to take, to aid him.

There was some discussion about the desirability of the property These are mere “snagging” details. Any house has a bit of settling, as the dead writhe under them, unless there is a more that just a few undead, that is how you get subsidence

Thje group, naturally concerned about coming back are reassured, or maybe they aren’t, by Smersh IV’s assertion that some come back. At least in stories and songs some do. The group rest, and though Smersh cleans the altar before he does so, Fetnah meditates and tries to recover her spiritual balance, the rest try to ignore the scratching sounds at the door to the temple.

And there we left it

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Write-up 7th March 2024 – The House of Spionem – Part One

The group had travelled many miles from their base in Eshtaband, as one of their number, a man frozen in time for 1500 years called Smersh, was given a tablet granting rulership of a small estate granted to a child he did not know he had had, and the line descending from there. Once they established the current names of the places named, and where they were, they set off.

Standing in the Council Chamber of Spah, as the Council deliberate over the news that Smersh has in his possession a bronze tablet that, on the face of it,  confers ownership of the area to Smersh. The Council took the word of Utana, as a noble of the realm, as to the genuine as of the claim of Smersh to be the heir of the last two of the line, Payam and Shaya. (at least until word could be received back from a messenger sent to the capital), though they were confused as to the relationship between Smersh and the last of the line of Spionem, first lord of the lands around what is now the town of Spah.

As the Council consider the issues, with legal advice to the priest, and talk to each other in hushed tones, the group recall a couple of incidents as the ship left to carry them south.,

Firstly the news that the shapechanging Pale Folk had escaped captivity. The group did not press the matter, no doubt stunned by this revelation.

Secondly, as their ship was making way, a group of burly individuals ran to the dog, shouting and gesticulating wildly. Fetnah sent no spirits, Farshad kept Aribu close, at her than sending the crow sinulacrum forth, so they were reliant on the words that Utana’s sharp ears could catch.

Jalabu, you something,something renegade, come something,Hamid demands an accounting, and wants signs something you will repay him. Come back you get of a something goat, BEG for something mercy!”.

There is more to revisit, but the player was absent, so next time, next time.

The Council finish their deliberations, and the leader, Debra, address the group. Stripped of polite circumlocutions and excess verbiage, the substantial points amounted to this

  • The realm of Bakhdin that granted these lands, Bakhdin, no longer exists.
    • First it fell to civil war, then invasion by the Mada (Utana’s folk) and then the Parsuma. Utana speculated audibly that perhaps this means that the estate should be his.
  •  Over the centuries the family divested itself of land and responsibilities, trading and selling them
    • The last two members of the family, Payam and his daughter Shaya, last of the line, were noted alchemists, but reclusive and not much involved in the affairs of the town
    • There are still properties owned, and a factor who takes responsibility for the estate, and a new mine from which you will earn some royalties when it starts running.

There was, one other issue. There is an estate, but no one goes there any more as it is haunted, to which Smersh exclaimed “Of course it is”.

Some enquiries  about any knowledge of the place fell short. The group were stunned that the house of the estate was not the frequent haunt of mischievous children, despite it being a few miles outside town through a marsh, though there was a recollection that Parmuz the Hermit had gone there a few years ago, and come back frightened, and the oldest Council member, Aruch the Hunter recalled a messenger who had spoken of the house being a storehouse of tablets, scrolls, books and other, expensive signs of learning..

No one else goes there, but there was a memory that a hermit, by the name of Parmuz, had been there a few years ago, and had seemed frightened. The oldest member of the council, Aruch remembered that, in his childhood, a messenger had come, and reported that the house seemed full of tablets, scrolls and books of papyri, evidence either of money, or an ancient family.

The group decided to talk to Parmuz, to see if he could provide any information, but first to the factor, so that Smersh could get an accounting. The offices were well situated, in the centre of the town, and the group found the factor and two scribes hard at work with an exchequer board.

Smersh introduced himself top the factor, Afhaq, and produced the tablet. Shocked, she went into an inner office to produce a copy, the foundation document of the estate. Smersh appointed Farshad as his auditor, as the only one with the skills, and a set of books were promised by the end of the week. This prompted some questions by Afhaq, who had heard of a Shevam swindler by the name of Farshad, who has cornered the market in the output of a fishing fleet and sold its catch, only for it to turn out that the fleet, and therefore the fish, were purely imaginary.

Reassured that this Farshad was not the same one,  Smersh’s requests for some “walking around money” though, as the person responsible for accounting estate spending, she also took Smersh’s mark as authorisation.

From there to Parmuz, who lived the life of a solitary fisherman in the marshes of the north. Utana’s experience of deserts and mountains, and Fetnah’s of long vanished forests, was not helpful in avoiding some of the pitfalls of travelling in marshlands, but eventually they found his hut. The hermit’s  information was limited, even after his tongue was loosened by some drink, and some silver for more. Seeking any signs of wine or spirits to survive the years in the wine cellar, he made his way in through the rear garden entrance, he was only a little way in before  he was terrified by the screams and howling of the restless dead, and eerie lights, somehow sickly and unsettling.

Parmuz was able to at least start the group on a dry way back to town, and at the factor’s Smersh ask the factor if they could help supply water for washing and a change of clothes, food and accommodation.  More authorisation and bafflement from Smersh, and it has to be said Utana, who kind of thought the wealthy just got stuff. The notion that even if belonging to their own household, stuff had to be paid for had to be paid for somehow, mystified the pair.  The hour now being late, the group retired for the night.

The group bustled about in the morning, and a groggy Smersh awoke to find his thumbprint being pressed into more tablets as supplies were brought in, and their worth tallied by a diligent scribe, no doubt to be part of the audit soon to be undertaken by Farshad. (look forward to a no hold’s barred adventure based around double entry book keeping, account reconciliation and, of course, the Sederunt! – Perhaps Farshad will put it to song).

Refreshed, fed and dressed, the group set off to the estate, a few miles south of town, along a little used road through the marshes. Initially followed by the mischievous and inquisitive children that the group had expected earlier, when the wall of the estate could be seen over the reeds, the children looked scared, and backed off, and then ran home.

With comments about the group needing a Great Dane and something about “meddling kids”, the group proceeded on, up the hill and to inspect the dilapidated wall. The gates were locked and they never thought to  try picking it, or climbing it, at least not seriously, instead they wandered around the walls until they found a part where the wall had collapsed enough to make entry easy.

The house behind the wall seemed particularly dilapidated, plaster peeling, stone work. Utana, with his educated eye, spotted a variety of architectural styles in the house,noted the use of more expensive stone rather than brick, though perhaps the damper climate accounted for that, but this house had grown and been rebuilt over the centuries.

This brought them to a patch of garden, long run wild to the point that it might have been mistaken for weeds. but Fetnah and José Juan became excited when they not only identified medicinal herbs, but also some hybrids previously unknown to them. Quelling their excitement, they proceeded with the rest of group to investigate a covered well. That proved to be well made, the stones free of slime and the water still clear, and the light above seemed to show some sparkling items at the bottom. Smersh volunteered to go down but Utana, ever the traditionalist, insisted than any unknown, dark and forbidding depths should be investigated by dangling Farshad on the end of a rope.

The dark mouth of a wellBorrowing the absent Jalabu’s magic shield as a light source, Farshad went down and saw that the water was fresh and clear, the bottom of the well seemed to be fed by a stream passing through it. The shiny objects were ancient silver coins, the designs unfamiliar, and Farshad gathered as many as he could (37) before he had to be pulled up, as he had attracted the attention of a water-snake.

With a sopping Farshad in tow, him tucking the coins into one if his many pouches, they made their way to the door, which, although locked, made way under the combined force of Farshad and Smersh. That will be another debit on Smersh’s accounts.

The found themselves in a typical waiting room, though the frescoes were peeling and some of the benches and one of the low tables were broken. Fetnah and Utana spotted two sets of tracks, made it looked by a mortal, one set going straight ahead, the other heading left.

And there we left it (mostly because I had drawn the map on another computer and not uploaded it to the VTT).

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Write-up 22nd Feb 2024 – Resupply and retrenchment

Most of the session was basically paperwork, with characters deciding how to spend XP to improve their characters. Farshad learned magic, the better to communicate with Aribu, the possessed wooden bird inhabited by a crow spirit.

Smersh decided to learn how to notice things. He had to do something with the brief moments of lucidity after the three days of crashing after his alchemical boost of energy.

José Juan’s callisthenic paid off, with rippling muscles to get close to rivalling Smersh’s.

Fetnah, possibly meditating whilst watching over a shivering and sleeping Smersh, trained her Will, no doubt of great use to a Shaman, wrestling with her Spirit Ally Ilbalkia.

Utana and Jalabu honed their skills, Utana no doubt making use of Jalabu’s convncing ways of persuasion as the tailors visited to show their stock of clothes to Utana, trying to convince him that these garments made to a general fit could be modified to fit by the time the group’s ship left for the port town of Spah.

Farshad, for reasons that were necessary at the time, adopted an alias, Jabalu (or sometimes Jalabu) had met Nika, a woman who found like minded souls and arranged trading ventures, and Ridha, a dealer in silks and other goods from the East, from close to Jalabu’s home, who was the one who alerted Farshad to the false Farshad, whose frauds on the merchants of southern Ishtir had so blackened Farshad’s name. He got a description and some news of the last direction of travel.

From Nika, charmed by Farshad, he got the name of  a Zhuezhi silk trader, Haoran. As a Zhuezhi in the Haraxan Kingdom, Haoran’s reach is limited, but Nika suggested that Farshad could buy from him, or perhaps act as a front for Haoran’s ventures, splitting the increased profits.

Jalabu’s contacts from the party Jehia the caravan master, Irusya the dealer in the small and valuable and Zhaleh the horse trader. Jehia and Zhakeh were of not much immediate use to Jalabu, but he bought some perfume from Irusya, recognising in them a value and quality that she had missed.

Smersh, as a priest of the Cold Ones was invited to preach. After his first sermon, which had ancient doctrines not currently held, led to his other invitations being withdrawn due to dangerous heresy.  This might be why he asked the Magistrate’s armoury for better armour, just in case, torsion armour of lacquered plates, a light helm and leg armour,

José Juan, as well as showing off his biceps, obtained arrows and, from the Temple infirmary, replenishing his medical supplies.

Utana also restored his weapons, but also his perfumes and make up. He also took out a loan from the Temple bank, to be repaid with interest from his funds lodged with the Temple in Eshtaband, which he immediately spent on two new suits of the costliest silks and embroidered cloth and leather, not made specifically for him, but well worth the cost as these clothes would allow him to peacock in style.

Fetnah restored her supplies of shamanistic paraphernalia, then sold her failed wooden crow, as a primitive art duck and, with Farshad’s help, got more than a fair price, some woffcuts of Fiume woods to be crafted into amulets or trinkets, and a couple of dan, coins worth a couple of days of decent eating.

Then they took ship (and I forgot some stuff here, need to try and rewind next time) and sailed to the town of Spah, They were met by custom officials, who were disappointed that the ship, having set out from an Haraxan port, was not due any port taxes above docking fees. Utana impressed them, especially when giving the port-master an unnecessary bribe, and, when said they were here for an inheritance had them taken to the council chambers

It ook the arrival of a more literate priest to decipher Smersh’s documents, and, upon his stuttering words that these stated that Smersh was the appointed lord of the area, by an ancient gift.

And with that bombshell, there we left it

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Write up 8th February 2024 – A lost soul in Khanedarya part 5

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

Note, the term priest is used for celebrants of any gender. The English word “priestess” is of relatively new creation, and priest would have been used before then, so I use that. Priests mostly follow other trades, and only serve part of their time in temples and shrines. 

Ou heroes, realising that they have taken so long, consider what to do next. They know that there is a party the false priest Farnskundeh is going to be the honoured guest at, as she played the part of the female aspect of the goddess Mawet, the patron god of the city, at the culmination of the recent festival.

But who do they know that knows what Farnskundeh looks like? The Librarian had gone, who do they know in the city who could tell them? Who? Utana and Jalabu, those wise nobles were stumped. A chorus of a cough from Fetnah, José Juan and Smersh had those stern visages out of their deep thoughts as the chorus continued “Someone at the party is bound to know who she is!”.

With that as a thought, and as the light starts to dim, the group is carried over to the great ha;; where the party is being held. The group made their way in. Immediately Utana, Jalabu and Jo?e Juan took stock of the venue as a matter of attack or defence, Fetnah tried to take stock of the people and Smersh flitted about like a hummingbird, under the effects of the medicine José Juan had procured for him.

The groups did not mingle and ask anyone to point out the priest Farnskundeh, believed to be the person whose face was stolen by the assassin.

This lack of social drifting led the major doom of the hall to be suspicious. He challenged Utana and Jalabu, but was convinced of their bona fides, Jalabu also introducing his companion, his fool Farshad. Jalabu’s companion in his body, the spirit Oblat, attempted to exert control, to stop Jalabu being honest and revealing himself, but Jalabu resisted and was his own person.

The party hall

Things are coming to a head

Fetnah was a bit more successful at blending in, but was all too aware of the drain on her spiritual resources meant that she was unlikely to be able to exercise her powers.

The hyperactive Smersh became so noticeable that two soldierly guests lifted him bodily, but gently, away from the party and to a corner where soothing tea was poured down his throat until he was seemingly calm.

Eventually, at least, the target Ushwamarra, targeted for the assassination by a Zhuezhi general in order to weaken the defences of the eastern Haraxan border, was identified. Fetnah spoke to him, but found his conversation dry and uninteresting (at this point the GM pretends that was the characterisation he was giving the character). The others in the group took positions ready to intercept any threat.

Jalabu did find time to make some contacts with local merchants, flashing the promise of access to the wealth of Dilmun, and possibly mindful of the threat of death (as delivered by Jalabu’s cousin Hamid bin Khawla al-Malmuntaqim al-Maqqaniyy) for the debts he assumed from Farshad’s debts (alleged debts – Farshad) to his family.

Farshad found himself cut off from these contacts as Jalabu interjected, again, that Farshad was his personal jester, so amusing, even pretended to make business deals,

In the end, the merchants exchanged contacts and Jalabu can follow these leads up before leaving the city.

Not long after, the major-domo banged his staff against the ground, announcing the priest Farnskundeh, the prime singer of tonight’s show. Other singers and dancers followed her, but they filtered around and mingled, letting the attention coalesce around the star.

Whilst the warriors and Smersh were concentrating on being ready for a physical intervention, though Smersh’s looming over Farnskundeh in an unsettling manner wasn’t subtle, and the priest moved away, a lot. Fetnah tried a different tack. Knowing that the priest was false, a renegade Pale Folk, thrown out of their lands because of the face stealing power, Fetnah introduced herself, showed her the fetish she carried, one made 1500 years ago with assistance from the Pale Folk. The false Farnskundeh could not keep recognition from her eyes.

Fetnah softly challenged the assassin. “I know what you are, and why you are here. You must stop.”

The false priest balked, tried to talk her way out of it, saw it was going nowhere and moved away, Smersh, seeing this, chased after her, crying “Assassin!“.

The priest seized her chance, pointed at Smersh and cried “There he is, the Assassin is so bold he declares himself!“, trying to take advantage of the confusion. The party guests, many of them soldiers and merchants used to handling themselves RS in dangerous situations. This of course, included General Ushwamarra, the target, not getting closer to the assassin.

Smersh and Jalabu tried to physically restrain Farnskundeh, but she slipped their grasp, though her own spells used in response failed to take hold,.

Eventually both the false Farnskundeh, and the group were separated and the accusations heard. Without proof, the accusation sounded a  bit hollow but the group were able to convince the assembled guests and guards that there was a faceless body in the Temple (I had decided that a couple of guests would have heard that so would be primed to accept if it was mentioned) . Unable to take a boat to the Great Temple, a strange and resplendent crocodile made their way to see the victim, who otherwise would soon perish.

At the end, in the more crowded Great Temple, the false priest again tried to slip away, but she was easily caught, and forced to face the victim. The group laid out what happen, and the plan by a Zhuezhi leader named Zi Huijan to have Ushwamarra killed by someone wearing the face of Farnskundeh.

Dejected, the false priest revealed themselves, sloughing off their appearance and returning Farnskundeh’s face to her. The real priest started gasping, getting air properly into their lungs, able to taste and smell for the first time in a couple of days.

Revealed was one of the Pale Folk, a light green mortal, with features unlike any of the other mortal kind, whose speech was unintelligible to those there. She was taken away by guards, to a secure place Ushwamarra and the others thanked the group. They could not make a great fuss about this situation, because it might cause panic, but they would help the characters resupply and help arrange transport when it came time to leave.

There was one last warning from the group, about how criminal elements among the Zhuezhi settlers in the city had aided this plot. (Not sure if they were trying to encourage a pogrom or not!). Those would be investigated, they were promised.

The next planned encounter will be when the group arrive at the place of Smersh’s inheritance, and the map as it exists now was shown to the players but, before then, there will be deals to be made, resupply and Smersh crashing after alchemical amphetemines.

That is for next time, for this, there we left it.

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Write up 25th January 2024 – A lost soul in Khanedarya pt 4

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

A rough map of the city of Khanedarya, covering several small islandsThe session started with the group split in two. Fetnah and José Juan looking after an injured Smersh in a watchhouse. Utana, Jalabu and Farshad had found the boatman who had abandoned them on the Isle of Old Griefs, leaving them vulnerable to the ambush by criminals, a Khanedarya gang known as the Yellow Turbans.

Utana used threats to the health of the boatman to force him to take them to the base of the Yellow Turbans, a hostel on an island in the lake that forms the north of the city, past houseboats, a floating market and floating underworld, on the so called “Snakebird Island”, as the only way to get there is by air or water.

José Juan decided to find an alchemist or doctor who could provide a more immediate cure for Smersh than rest and time, Fetnah instead sought Divine help. He might not be the best of priests, but Smersh is a priest of the gods called The Cold Ones, and in this city, the Cold Ones are the majority religion, rare in this far East in lands ruled by the Araya speaking nobility of the great empires.

As the boatman poled the boat along the channel, he chanted in rhythm to his actions, just as did the other gondoliers. The trio did not pay any attention to the words of the chant, which was in the local Bakhdin language, the language of the people who once considered themselves this land’s rulers. It is related to Araya but as the trio did not pay attention, they missed the words of the chant, a plea for aid against the criminals who had kidnapped him.

Our heroes being punted down a channel have it blocked by other boats seeking to rescue their comrade

They were surprised then when, in a narrow and out of the way channel, their way was blocked, and behind them came another boat, with armed gondoliers ready to rescu their comrade.

Utana seemed bellicose, but Farshad was more conciliatory. Accepting that any worker is worthy of the hire and that’s perhaps it could have been expressed better, and trying to discourage their boat being set on fire, Farshad offered a payment, plus some extra for the misunderstanding.

That proved to be a tidy sum, one even Utana would notice, which seemed fair as it was his purse the money came from, Utana handing it to Farshad so that his hands would not be sullied by handing money to someone Utana seemingly viewed as an extortionist, unaware, in his noble manner, of the irony of that situation.

Matters settled, they were allowed to continue.

Meanwhile, José Juan looked in the market. Starting near the perfumiers they had visited before, he hunted for signs of herbs and medical equipment. He did not decide to ask anyone, trusting to his own knowledge, and soon he found a herbalist to talk to, and exchange talk. After that, he circled out, looking for the medics, and picked one when he found them, Avagauri, a deft woman of middle years, mixing potions.

When the situation was explained, the apothecary first offered curse amulets to destroy those who had beaten up Smersh, but José Juan brought the topic back to healing. Avagauri selected ingredients, and ground and mixed and dissolved and dried out and eventually made a pill that they swore would speed the healing process tremendously, it was inexpensive for the sworn effects, and Jose Juan took it away.

Fetnah made her way, not to a local shrine of temple, but it the great Temple of the city, where she had been before. She saw a minor priest who the group had seen before , and dumped a heavy responsibility on. He saw her, and fled, outrunning Fetnah. Fetnah still needed top find someone she had dealt with before, and made her way to where the faceless victim, believed to be the priestess Farnkhsundeh,  was being cared for. There a priest was tending to the victim, Susheelya, a librarian that Fetnah had met before and who knew the mission the group was on. Fetnah explained the situation, and the librarian pulled in thr harassed priest who had fled to take care of the victim whilst the Librarian went with Fetnah.

Island hostel, our heroes surrounded by ne'er do wellsOnce into the lake, the boatman ceased poling and started sculling the boat along, past the houseboats, past the market, and past the boats where pleasures, both respectable and illicit take place.

Eventually they came to Snakebird Island. The boatman deposited the group then settled back off shore a little way, so as not to get in the grips of the Yellow Turbans again.

The group approached a group of toughs, gathered outside the gate, who seemed mystified and indeed nonplussed by Utana’s imperious orders to be taken to their leader.

The yellow turbans pointed to within the confines of the hostel compound and there they found Lao Zhe (not that Utana, as confident as no man who has literally walked into a den of thieves has any right to be, actually asked him) and other yellow turbans surrounding him, listening to their orders for the night.

Utana demanded information on who had paid to have them ambushed and this conversation, like that with the gondoliers, threatened to explode in violence, with the trio severely outnumbered. Farshad seem unconvinced by the unarmoured Utana’s chances of taking so many of them at once, or that trio’s deaths would be avenged by a great army, and instead tried to find something that the criminals would accept as a good price for information and a peaceful resolution to the encounter.

In that conversation, Farshad, identifying himself as “Jalabu the Fop” (as opposed to the real Jalabu the Fox, and explaining Farshad’s fabulous hat) seemed to offer Lao Zhe access to corrupt officials and a number of etes turned away from illicit activities.

The offer was accepted, with around of drinks, which Utana refrained from with the most haughty suspicion he could muster. But matters concluded, the group was givem information. They were ambushed because anyone investigating the deal with the assassin was to be at least encouraged to leave the city or if required, disappeared.

This was at the behest of Zi Huijan, a chieftain of the Zhuezhi who seeks to weaken the Eastward defences of the nation by obtaining the death  of Ushwamarra, the chief military engineer for the district, and a most competent archutect and general they are.  Upon their death, the role would doubtless fall to their brother, a venal and dissolute incompetent, to the benefit of the Zhuezhi.

Lao also informs them that the assassination is to take place at a party of notables to be held after the festival concludes. As they part, Lao Zhe reminded the company of their deal, and Jalabu the Fox remained strangely silent on the misuse of his name.

José Juan and Fetnah, with Susheelya, arrived back at the same time. It was agreed to let Susheelya effect a cure first. Careless worshipper of the Cold Ones that he was, Smersh’s devotion to them was sufficient to join to the priest’s prayers. Smersh was healed, but left still marked with fading bruises and lines of wounds, no doubt a chastisement from his neglected and sarcastic deities.

This left José Juan and his mysterious phomboid pill of ble. Should Smersh take it now, or leave to a time of need but if he did so, and it proved poisonous, it would finish him off. What to do? After some deliberation, Smersh took it, and lept to his feet, wide eyed and energised, hyperactively rigidly upright.

At this point, the rest atrived and told their tale. All the time going to the island and finding cures had brought them to near the end of the festival. There was nothing to do now but hurry to the party and try to forestall the assassination.

And that is for the next time.

Will they stop the assassination?

Will they kill or capture the assassin?

Will they restore the face to the faceless?

We will find out…..

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Write up 11th January 2024 – A lost soul in Khanedarya pt 3

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

We join our group having decided to leave the Isle of Old Grief to follow up on the leads of the hired killer they had learned about, only to find their boats gone and to be surrounded by a  number of yellow turbaned individuals armed with a selection of knives and clubs, with, thankfully, no bows, armour and only one armed with a sword. Most of the newcomers were obviously Zhuezhi, from further east even than the Mada who came and founded the Kingdom of Haraxa, and the other two look more Vaykattaran, the people who lived here before the Mada, Utana’s people, arrived.

The knife welders drew closer, as Jalabu the Fox considered negotiation or intimidating them, when, like a dervish, Farshad (occasionally known as Jalabu) waded into the fray, with sword and knife.

The Fox’s hopes of a peaceful resolution gone, the rest went in, mindful that, although their opponents were unarmoured, so were most of the group. `Fetnah flitted about, throwing knives, with Juan José acting as a meat shield, and skewering one assailant neatly. Smersh took his mace and strode forward, possibly regretting it as he found himself with two foes.

Although unarmoured, at least Utana, Juan José and Jalabu the Fox had shields, and could mitigate incoming blows, but Smersh was not so well protected, and he was soon severely injured by a vicious wound, and he was in a parlours state. Luckily the others did somewhat better and felled three of the assailants. With the slight wounds to the other assailants, the rest fled, despite the attempts of the group to tackle them. The Fox’s attempt leading to him slamming against a statue. The bodies were searched for clues as to what caused this, but apart from a superficial uniformity of dress that implied belonging to an organised group of some kind, there was not much obvious, they had a superfluity of cheap brass and glass jewellery, few weapons (Fetnah stocking upon daggers ) but, more interestingly, more money on their person than might be expected, the amount the three fallen had could pay the group’s expenses for almost a month!

In the aftermath, Juan José tended to Smersh’s wounds, but natural healing would take days of complete rest to restore him to good health, even with Juan Jo?s medical expertise. Fetnah spent time purifying herself, and made an offer to the spirit of one of the fallen assailants, a Vaykatarran, to ensure that they were delivered to their family for proper rites, if only they would speak to her. Although she felt the spirit almost give in to her offer, it split away, and would not talk to her.

Farshad scouted the Isle for any other signs left by their attackers and found signs that they had waited a while, finding wooden food boxes that had the symbol of a snake entwined around a bird branded onto it.

Thus the group left the bodies where they had fallen, and sought a way off the Isle of Old Griefs. They found a reed boat left by their attackers, and used that to head to the nearest inhabited island of Khanedarya. As they approached, they saw the two gondoliers they’d had hired earlier see them and pole away quickly.

Approached by the watch, concerned about the blood soaked Smersh, Utana flashed his agent’s symbol and got immediate cooperation. The officers promised to send a clean-up crew to the island and took the group to the watch-house. Juan José was determined to place Smersh in a cell, but the watch officers took pity on Smersh and put him on a bed in their accommodatio, where Juan José and Fetnah looked after him.

Farshad sought out some of the unionised urchins of the city, and, paying them with some of the attackers’ silver, sent them to look for the gondoliers. It took an hour, but soon they were summoned to a dock, where another urchin was distracting one of the gondoliers.

Utana laid a firm hand on the gondolier, and started a gentle, but threatening interrogation, learning that the yellow turbans offered that they left there and then, or be killed/ Utana made a similar offer, help them or suffer for it.

Thet learned that the yellow turbans are members of an organised criminal gang who control the illicit activities in part of the Zhuezhi quarter. Utana offered the gondolier continued good health if he took the three of them there, and the gondolier saw the wisdom of that offer, given the strong grip on his arm and unfriendly expression in the three.

And there we left it.

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Write up 30th November 2023 – A lost soul in Khanedarya pt 2

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

Having placed the faceless woman with the Temple of the Cold Ones, the group, now joined by merchant prince and assassin, Jalabu the Fox, returned from various side trips along the way.

The group then headed to the Palace of Agents in the administration centre for the city, like most situated near the magistrate’s house and court, the main barracks and the lesser temple and stores.

The route skirted the edge of one of the markets, a bustling, cosmopolitan place where travellers met to do deals, build contacts and learn secrets. Then a shout “Jalabu! Friend Jalabu!” And two men strode towards the group.

Beaming, Jalabu the Fox, unable to place these two, but he had met so many in his travels, smiled and started to speak “We;; hello…” only to be cut off as yhey ignored them and started speaking to Farshad.

Farshad and the two had a social conversation of small talk and good wishes, and promises of deals to come, with frequent mentions of the name “Jalabu” directed at Farshad. Attempts by the `Fox to speak where hushed with and a word and a a wave from a smooth and confident Farshad, leaving Jalabu stunned and confused as he found his name being bandied around in connection with potential deals that would make his name known across the civilised world. As that name was attached to Farshad, that added to the Fox’s concerns by the time the merchants took their leave.

In reality this was true of the player also. Andy had been unable to make the last few sessions and wasn’t sure he’d make this one, so hadn’t read the last write-up. He had no idea what was going on and was speechless, and the whole situation did bring some hilarity to the players.

At the Palace, a rather grand name for some utilitarian buildings and accommodation, the group found themselves amidst a bustle of agents and scribes, but they were soon taken in to see the officer of the watch, who gave them some refreshments and heard their story from meeting the children, to the discovery of the faceless woman. The officer of the watch, Lutf, had a scribe take notes but, rather than assuming responsibility, asked the group to keep with it, for at least a couple of days, as the agents under their command were busy not only with security for the Epic at the Grand Theatre, normal criminal activity but also rumours of Zhuezhi activity at the border.

The group agreed. They were taken by accommodation by one of the scribes, who seemed to have been assigned as a guide, and they took an hour or two to freshen up. With regrets the group left armour behind, the city is not at war. Everything settled, they asked the scribe about perfumers, where might expensive and custom scents be found, They were taken back to the market, past less exclusive sellers of perfumes and scented resin and wood, to a more up-market area, an enclosed street guarded to keep out thieves and riff-raff.

However Utana’s dress sense, bearing and voice overawed the guards, and the group were ushered into the so called “Street of Scents”. Some more high handed dealings with merchants got them to The Red Bottle”, owned by Zuanada, the perfumer who made up the scent and, thanks to his own training with scents, though mostly in the field of detecting positions, Jalabu was able to home in on just the right scent. It was part of a group of scents made for an old family of the city, one from the previous rulers of these lands, before the coming of the Mada.

This exact scent was, however, created for Fernskundeh, a Priest of the Cold Ones who is famed for her beauty but. More importantly, her singing. It is she who plays the part of the god Mawet in the epic tonight celebrating the city. Hers is the role of the god Mawet, revered here as a feminine figure, and as patron of the city.

With this knowledge, they head back to the Temple. Finding the junior priest they had collared before, despite the nervous priests attempts to be unnoticed, give the horrific situation they landed the Temple with last time.  The group was able to seek another audience with the Librarian, They passed on the information regarding Fernskundeh, but were told that she would be at the Theatre. The Temple will send people down there to investigate, but please, the Agents should continue.

Fetnah was intrigued by the vision communicated to her by the spirit of Tanima

I saw a vision of the Place of Old Grief, a group of islands where memorial stones are placed. It is the largest of the islands, there is a plinth with nothing on it, the plinth are surrounded by statues in a ring, the statues all face the plinth, it is very distinctive. I do not know why it is significant.

And that was the next place visited by the group. Taking boats to the quiet area, a mix of neglected and tended, depending on the family devotion to their ancestors. This island, thought large, is sheltered by others, and the water sluggish and in places brackish.

It took a while, but a place matching the description was found though, instead of a bare plinth, a statue of a dog headed individual clad in painted robes was on it. The group were mystified by it, and threw rocks and stones in its general direction, even tried prodding it, until, despite all these inexpert interactions failing to make contact, the individual revealed itself as Eblan, a Rishalkibu, a reclusive type of mortal, often nomadic, some are of studious mind and settle as hermits, tending the spirits and often in a relationship of both servant and student,

Eblan has a tale to tell in answer to questioning by the group

This city has many secrets, and there are killers that will dispose of your enemies for money. One was here two nights ago, meeting a client. Both were hooded and cloaked, but he heard mention of the Epic of The Gods, and of Mawet, patron of Khanedarya, being held. The assassin seemed supremely confident.

With this information imparted, and no other specific details having been overheard, Eblan seemed disinclined to hang around those who had been throwing rocks at him, and so he went off. The group noticed that the island seemed quieter, empty, though they found close by the family memorials of Fernkunsdeh’s family, surely not a coincidence that this was close to the meetings place.

It wasn’t just other mourners who had quit the island, the boatmen had gone how were the group to get off the island>

That point may however be moot, as from the surround come some armed Zhuezhi, knives out, looking very unsympathically at the group.

And there we left it/

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Write up 16th November 2023 – A lost soul in Khanedarya

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

Juan José, Utana, Fetnah and Smersh return to the farm with two nervous children, distraught to see their burned out home, though at least their parents were buried, so they were spared that. They picked up Jalabu and Farshad, the latter of whom had been spending time working with the crow-spirit Aribu, getting to know each other.

The group intended to fulfil their promise to the ghost Hurat, to take these children to their only living relatives. All the children know is that the cousin of their mother, Darshana and her wife Surrayo live in the jeweller’s quarter. The describe Darshana as tall, Surrayo as short, but not much more could they remember.

They saddled up the horses, Jalabu and Juan José setting the children in front of them and setting off, rejoining the road and finding themselves safer amongst other groups, merchants, patrols, hunters and the like, until after a couple of days, Khanedarya was in sight.

Farshad spurred his horse over to a group of merchants only to hear one tell an extraordinary story, of having been taken in by a confidence trickster, who after a small but profitable deal them suckered him into a fake investment and stole the money. Another merchant told a similar tale, of a fake cargo of iron ingots. The identity of this thieve? A Shevam called Farshad.

The genuine Farshad commiserated with the merchants, who stressed that they did not condemn all Shevam because of this one, but they hoped to meet him again sometime and enact their vengeance. The merchants exchanged details of where they could be contacted with Farshad who, however, called himself “Jalabu” , in order to avoid conversational unpleasantness. as he rode away, Farshad thought to himself that for once, just once, it would be nice to be blamed for something he had actually done!

However, Farshad did find out what he wanted, which was to get an approximate idea of where the jewellers quarter was in the city. The group was able to get further directions at the city gates from the guards, who thankfully did not have to tell the group not divest themselves of war-gear as they had felt safe enough to wear travelling clothes.

Khanedarya, lying on the Sharqshud river, is built on several islands in the middle of branches of the river, enhanced with canals and artificial islands, the city is cosmopolitan, with travellers from many lands, though the largest minority of visitors are from the lands of the Zhuezhi, right across the border.

For some reason, I decided the inhabitants of this area spoke with a Welsh accent, and i occasionally delivered on that. Almost.

Following directions through the city, past islands with markets, industries and housing, fending off members of the artfully dishevelled Urchin’s Guild. Well organised under their bemittemed leader, Bernni of the Sands , until reaching the walled Jeweller’s Quarter (though not only Jewellers are here, there are places that serve the jewellers, such as the famous public eatery noted by the sign of a bear holding a fork) until reaching the riverside yellow door that they had been directed to.

The door was knocked, the introductions made and, after being invited in, the full, sad story was related, amongst many tears and hugs. The children were assured of a new home, and love and care, when Darshana’s and Surrayo’s daughter came in with news, a body has been found in a boat outside!

Reed boatsThe group rushed outside, a reed boat of a type they had see in the waterways here, poled by someone with passengers or cargo in the front, though some are wood, but built in the same style. A blanket was heaped in the boat, but with a foot and leg visible. Uncovering the form revealed a woman, dressed in overlarge clothing, though the most remarkable thing was her lack of face, where it should be,  seemed totally smooth and featureless, though Utana spotted two thin slits where the nostrils should be, and examination from Fetnah and Juan José revealed that the woman was still breathing, in fact they had good, strong lungs as far as they could tell, and that the bones under the face were mostly still there.

The group decided that this was a matter for the city authorities and went to fetch a guard (unknown to the players, the guards of the quarter are not city soldiers, but are paid for by the residents of the quarter) and Juan José went to fetch them. The group did further examination, recollecting that the garments the figure was wearing, unusual in Haraxa, seemed to be the standard clothing of the boat polers in the city. It was noticed that the hands and skin of the figure were not those of someone who worked for a living, that there were marks of missing jewellery.

Juan José brought back the guard who took only look at the figure, and bolted in fear, the extreme reaction caused others some pause, including Utana so retreated from reality momentarily. Left holding the bag, they took the body into the house of Darshana and Surrayo, while they tried to find out more. Fetnah established that the body was devoid of spirit, though it still was living. There was no sign of violent assault, her colouration, state of her nails, her scent, all suggests a Vaykattaran origin, and a noble one one at that. Utana took a sample of some scented ointment from the woman’s skin.

The idea of a figure without a face rang vague bells for Smersh, this has happened before. The group did a little more checking at the boat, finding some badly knotted rope, no boatman tied these, and Fetnah tried to summon a spirit that might have seen what happened. As she did so, the others looked for anyone else who might have seen what happened. Both attempts took them to look at the same place, a balcony at the corner of the waterside end of the street.

Up on the balcony could be seen a face of an old woman, and Fetnah’s search of the spirit realm drew her there also. They went up the steps to the first floor (second to Americans) to meet Vanni, a Shevam woman, old and a bit infirm. They asked her if she had seen what was going on. Her answer wavered off the point intro digressions, but she did give a description of what she saw,

“There was a boat. The boat was being steered by a pretty woman, and she was with someone who maybe was her sister, hard to see her slumped as she was.

“One odd thing, the lady was in a boat poler’s clothes, but changed into her sister’s blue dress, a lovely dress, with shiny threads, the pretty woman was in a hurry.

“I was going to call down at her to close the door, but a jar fell, when I got back, the girl was gone.”

At this point another prescience made itself known to Fetnah, though not to others, another Shevam, but the spirit of one, Tanima, Vanni’s spouse. They told Fetnah that they had seen the pretty woman, but recognised her as something to not be the human she appeared to , nor Paira, Dugan nor Kotharim.  Knocked the jar over, to save Vanni from being killed by the thing. Tanima did, however, gain a vision from the mind of the thing.

I saw a vision of the Place of Old Grief, a group of islands where memorial stones are placed. It is the largest of the islands, there is a plinth with nothing on it, the plinth are surrounded by statues in a ring, the statues all face the plinth, it is very distinctive. I do not know why it is significant.

Fetnah established that there had been a delay in the funeral rites, and thus Tanima had ended as a wandering ghost. Though Tanima loved being able to watch over Vanni, they knew Vanni’s time would soon come, and so accepted Fetnah’s offer to consult the priests of the Temple of the Cold Ones to see if anything could be done, over a simple exorcism.

There were two main places the group wanted to visit, the Temple, to take the faceless woman, to learn more and to find help for Tanima but also the Palace of Agents to report in, and possibly to pass on this strange set of circumstances to them.

The reports of the strange person with the monstrous spirit and the faceless body leads all to conclude that maybe the face of the pretty lady had been stolen from the hapless victim, though the too big clothes were odd, and this was not like any shapechanger that they had encountered in the past. It was troubling.

To the Temple first, Smersh carrying the afflicted woman, and with Farshad collaring some urchins, and telling them to be on the lookout for the pretty lady, with her blue dress and shiny wires, and a lot of jewellery, and not to worry, Utana would pay.

The Temple was in an uproar, busy, a hive of activity, as this was the time of the city’s annual festival in favour of the gods, and in particular Mawet who, although a god of Darkness and death, also rules a sea kingdom, or rather one under the sea, and so he is their patron. Though they depict Mawet as a woman, not a man, and also give this Mawet some of the characteristics of his mother Ahera,

A priest was collared, and after they were apprised of the situation, they nervously took the group to the quarters of a priest (priests of the Temple being mostly members of the community with other jobs, who serve a time in Temple now and then, with few full time there). The priests hustled away and brought back two other priests, a short man, a physician, and a tall woman, a librarian and chief scribe.

The physician did what they could, which was not much, but the Librarian was able to dig up some lore. That there had been instances like this, of stolen faces, of people doing terrible things and then, when questioned later, having no memory. This seems to be connected with some of the Pale Folk, the strange green people of the Great Forest, who have this ability, a curse, and are cast from their people because of it.

With that stunning information, all were quiet for a time, then Fetnah pled the case of Tanima, and the librarian assured her that she would organise the needful to give Tanima her chance to move to Mawet’s lands.

Next, the group would go to the Palace of Agents, but there we left it

When adapting this, I wrote up notes on the city festival, only I got the wrong religion, writing it for the Temple of the Three rather than the Cold Ones, oops, but I wanted this to be a hold-out centre of pre-Mada culture, so a bit of live backpedalling and rewriting.

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