Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – Episode 3

The group continues to try and recover the white jade statuette of Ahera and Ba intertwined, known as the Seal of the Faithful,  that serves as a symbol of the bond between the long ago Priests of Nashwa, and the Ketaorum (aquatic serpent folk) who guard it, stolen by unfriendly Ketaorum, known as the Bond of Isthimil, trying to take over the area. With time, the Bond can use the Seal to control the Faithful.

The chamber they were in was dominated by a seated statue of Tevamurtyu, an ancieny kingdom’s goddess of the Underworld at one end, around the chamber were pillars carved into the shape of attendants, some flanking larger corridors, some concealing narrow ones. The goddess is taller than the others, and in her right hand is a palm leaf, held like a fan, in her left is a heart. The attendants, are carved to lookless distinct, to be the shades of the dead.

Fetnah found where one part of the floor had collapsed into a river, even with the magic armlets it was tricky to cross as a current pulled down, the silt of the sea being drawn here, making the area murky.

Smersh and the others looked around for secrets, hidden compartments in the friezes, secret drawers in the statues and the like, but the only thing of note was one part of the carved wall, an archway whose borders showed a waxing, full and waning moon, the central part within the border decorated with planets and stars.

Fetnah found that one of the moon decorations moved in a little, and, with experimentation and memories of decorations showing the passage of the soul, the sequence of waning, full and waxing opened a gate under the arch, to an ante-chamber used by the Priests .

This had a font with a statue of the goddess built on one side,  on the opposite wall from the door were cupboards containing rotted clothing and objects. Within that were found somethings in good condition.

The statue of the goddess here also head a palm fan and a heart, but they were removeable. The fan was a bronze waraxe, the heart was hollow silver.

José took the axe, the heart was a more complex matter. The feeling Smersh had holding it seemed uncomfortably soul searching. He passed it to Fetnah, and in the following conversation, Fetnah got some insight into when Smersh was skirting falsehood. Arpaesis arrived,

A reminder that the heart, to this goddess, is a symbol of the inner state of the soul, and this silver heart allowed her priests to see past the surface of worshippers’ thoughts, and uncover deceit

Disturbed by this, Smersh prayed to the Goddess but was actually surprised to get an answer. The Goddess would lend her aid to the group but all the artefacts of her temple must be placed in the care of the temple in Nashwa when they an done.

Somewhat flabbergasted, Smersh tidied up this chamber, as best as he could in its flooded state, showing respect to Tevamurtyu. Whether that was from fear or honour no-one, save maybe the Cold Ones, Tevamurtyu and Smersh (and perhaps Fetnah holding the silver heart)  knows for sure.

From the antechamber, they headed back into the main temple then south into a large corridor. To the east were three Ketaorum with swords, to the west were two robed Ketaorum, each brandishing a short wand.

The robed priests do something with the wands, and rods of red light extend, the heat from them boiling the water around them.

[NOTE this game was being played on May 4th, as written they would have been summoning a demon ]

Utana and José take on the serpent folk with swords, Smersh and Farshad the priests with the blazing wands of light.

A fight ensues. Farshad utilises the magic of his sword, which coats it in shadow. Some jokes about ruling Mandatory. Arpaesis uses “Bar the Way” to hold back a swordserpent in a very Forceful way. These made me happy given the day.

Generally though, the fight was with the group. Only Farshad received a grievous wound, but Fetnah risked possession to cast a healing spell, but the group handed out grievous injuries.

Again, I will have to look at the armour again, to rebalance heavy armour from being TOO impervious,  especially with a shield, either that and/or look at ganging up and increasing damage.

Utana especially seemed invulnerable

After the fight, it was late, it was time to go for the night, but I didn’t think that there was enough to pick up and keep going in the temple, so I wrapped up with the information that they discovered three Faliscan captives, ambassadors heading to Nashwa and captured by the Keteaorum, and collars put on them.

They return to Nashwa, to find all others arrived, including Niralha the magistrate, the conference is finally begun.

And there we left it

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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – Episode 2

The group took stock after the fight in the first courtyard of the drowned temple. Annoyed by the court demands up in the palace, Utana found the note, grabbed the armlet and darts and got a fisherman to take him to the island. There, he and Jalabu went to join the others, though Farshad and Arpaesis went back up to help Dhran guard their boat.

There they caught up with events, seemingly unfazed by being able to speak underwater or a temple carved into rock, made to imitate architecture. The group got a good look around the first courtyard and spotted that it was lit from above by a hole in the “roof” of the cave. Smersh scrambled up and out, saw that there was a cairn around the hole and the only creature he could see was a rabbit, munching heartily on the toe shaped leaves of a plant.

Returning to the group, they headed on southward, travelling a short corridor that came to an East-West T-junction. The way ahead was darker, even with the enhancement to vision from the magical armlets, so the group relied on the light from Jalabu’s magical buckler.

They chose to head Eastward as that was shorter and they could see a room ahead. Smersh leading the way, to find a room with three stone biers end on to the doorway  and on the opposite wall, an altar. The floor and flat surfaces were covered in bones, rotting cloth and leather and gobbets of deliquescing  flesh. Smersh looked through seeking valuables, Fetnah used Ibalka’s senses, seeking for spirits, and Jalabu was giving the stone biers and altar a once over.

Fetnah did see a spirit, however too late for Smersh, whose sorting through the detritus of the room disturbed a disease spirit which he failed to fight off. Fetnah quizzed the spirit, hoping to persuade it to leave, but the spirit told her that it was comfy and warm where it was, thank you very much. It was decided that, as the spirit wouldn’t kill Smersh immediately, they could get rid of it later. If Smersh should die, however, getting rid off the spirit should be a lot easier, so that’s fine.

However Smersh did find some valuables in there, an untarnished silver ring, and a cracked ivory box. The box had a bronze roller seal in it. As Smersh tried on the ring, hoping to be suddenly infused with superpowers, Juan José spotted that the insignia on it, a wolf’s head, was of Faliscan design, his homeland. There was no special significance he placed on it regarding its origin or ownership, instead he explained that the wolf s a good luck token, signifying loyalty, bravery and resolve.

The altar was decorated, showing what seemed to be the purpose of this room, a preparation room for the dead, where they were cleaned and reclothed ready for the next stage of their journey.

Smersh and Fetnah are the only ones who might have known, but Fetnah is from the far East, so it is only Smersh’s memory that is jogged. He recognises that the symbology and rites  is that of the Goddess of the Underworld Tevamurtyu of the pantheon worshipped by those that existed here then.

Satisfied that they understood this room, the group proceeded now to the West, the corridor ahead was undecorated, until it reached a bordered doorway  that marked more storytelling. The corridor led to an alcove capping a route south. The story told here, Smersh recounted as of images of the long walk through the Forest of Twilight, towards the plains of reflection. Poking through the trees of the forest and in the grass of the plains are peacocks. (not that anyone noticed, but the ‘eyes’ of the tail feathers were the hands and heart symbol of Tevamurtyu.)

They noticed that, away from the light of the first chamber, the water was getting murkier, and the pathway south from the alcove also sloped down, and the water became darker yet, reducing their magically enhanced vision. Even Jalabu’s lamp-shield was reduced in effectiveness.

Following the corridor south to another crossroads, they decided to go East again, towards another doorway. However this passage had short narrow offshoots, though it was impossible to see past them as some kind of vertical surface was in the way. As the group continued East, Smersh decided to see what was down there.

The surface was the plain side of a carved pillar, the decorated side facing into a larger chamber. Smersh’s time to view the room was interrupted by two darts thrown by Keteaorum. Utana squeezed through to help, but from the western corridor came more, engaging Juan José and Jalabu.

Utana slew his foe with contemptuous ease, as did Smersh. (The critical Hit system is deadly.) and decent armour saved Juan José as he and Jalabu provided Fetnah with a meatshield as she recited a prayer that reduced the effectiveness of their foes.

Blood diffused through the water, but the group were victorious, and only lightly blooded, though remonstrative with Smersh for pulling them into an ambush.

And there we left it, until next time

(I need to check the armour protection vs damage, ensure that invincibility is not a thing)

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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – Episode 1

The afternoon wore on, and the whole atmosphere changed. Trumpets and drums drift across the water and along the road as the advance parties of the dignitaries arrive to prepare matters of accommodation, protocol, precedence and dietary requirements.

As soon as word got to the Palace of Nashwa, Utana was rushed off, bathed, perfumed, oiled, dressed and bejewelled until, instead of the hard travelled agent, was a noble of Kashara Haraxa, resplendent with all the air and majesty they could muster.

The crowds entered, parasols over notables, rose petals strewn where they walked, the drums lowering as voices shouted the names of those entering the palace precincts. The rest of the group found themselves pushed away from Utana, porters started to be directed to stow luggage from the caravan and from the galley that had arrived at the dock.

The acting commander of the garrison, Juan José, arranged his troops into an impromptu honour guard. Their drill was a little ragged, but nothing disgraceful, and he quietly gave orders for more practice before the main dignitaries arrived.

Fetnah and Juan José grabbed petals from baskets for offerings, Fetnah for her spirit ally, Juan José for the undead inhabitants of the tomb.

Fetnah also had to see the wooden crow get upset at her latest creation, the duck like form not pleasing to the spirit.Will she try it again? Only the future will let us know.

Eventually they prepared for their meeting with the Keteaorum, Farshad and Smersh scavenged pastries, sweetmeats and wine to present to the Keteaorum as gifts. A pair of dazzling charmers, they did well and got sweet treats destined for the most rarified tables.

The secret meeting room, Keteaorum and land dwelling mortalsWith gifts in hand, they proceeded to the secret room. Three Keteaorum were already there, unarmed though one had a crystal topped staff. Whatever words the creature uttered were rendered into the native tongue of the hearer, Idarit of an ancient kind for Smersh and Fetnah, Faliscan for Juan José, the Ta-Khameti dialect of Idarit for Arpaesis and the modern Idarit for Farshad, the words emanating from the crystal.

The Ketaorum had also brought gifts of food, and each group politely sampled what was on offer, the sea urchins got lightly prodded about by the land dwellers, the sea dwellers however seemed intrigued by the honeyed flatbreads went down well with the Keteaorum.

The sea dwellers also a had request for aid.

“Greetings those who occupy this place. We are the faithful. We are the descendants of the first of our kid summoned to this world by priests of the Cold Ones two thousand years ago. Other Keteaorum around the world have deserted their bound contracts, but we are the faithful.

Our bond is to protect this place until a sixth Royal Person is buried in the tomb. It has been centuries since the fifth Royal Person was entombed, we wait, and remain faithful, but we need your help.

“The symbol of our bond is a statuette, of the dual deity Ahera-Ba, in white jade with our contract carved upon it, it has been stolen by other Keteaorum, ones who long ago broke their faith. If they can unravel the spells, they can command us, they can break our bond!

We need your help. We cannot leave this place, please bring us back the Seal!”

The group had questions, about how far the Seal was from the peninsula, about how far the faithful could go (about two miles from the shore), surely the thieves would be underwater and how could they fetch. It.

They were offered arm rings, bronze with enamelled detail, that the Keteaorum called “The armlets of Segin-ah. These would let the land dwellers breathe underwater and operate almost as well as if they were on land. That concerned the group, who were aware that Keteaorun enslaved land dwellers, fixing collars with similar powers to them.

The priest of the faithful reassured them that these were a more limited magic, that would only last until the next full moon. The group conferred, and struck a bargain, they would fetch the Seal, but could the faithful guard the waters around the peninsula for the duration of the conference. To that the Keteaorum agreed.

It was obvious that bows, the preferred weapon of many of the group, would be of little use. Asked if they could provide anything, one of the Keteaorum went back into the water and returned eventually with quivers of darts, each containing six darts. These will glide through the water as well as if they were on land. (For any readers [Ha! Readers!] in the UK, there were references to Bullseye and the phrase ‘Magic Darts‘ was uttered). They were bound to the armlets, so the spare quivers and darts left behind for Utana and Jalabu were sets.

Transport was offered, a kind of frame that could propel them through the water, but the group preferred to find a boat and sail to the island. Leaving behind a note, arm ring and darts for Utana, they found a fisherman delivering his catch to the burgeoning population of the Palace of Nashwa, the boat dwarfed by the galley delivering the delegation from Ishtir.

Juan José tried to find a crossbow, but this weapon, whilst known in the west where Juan José is from, and in the east in the Empire of Zhau, is rare in the Haraxan Kingdom, especially in an ancient palace at the start of a diplomatic conference. In any case, would the crossbow work underwater any better than a bow? The string would be just as slack!

The sail was not long, the arm rings guiding then towards an island under which the Seal was located, and the group were dropped off, before the fisherman, guarded by Dhran and Jalabu, took the boat round to a cove to keep it safe from counter-attack.

The movement was odd, half walking, half swimming, a layer of air keeping them dry, moving disown a rock face, the base of a cliff, into which was carved an opening, great rhomboidal columns of stone and a lintel onto which two hands, above and below, cradled a disturbingly realistic looking carved heart.

A secret meeting room, mortals and serpent folkThis triggered memories for Smersh. Of stories he was told of a people who lived in the area, but were drowned by a flood. This might be a mountain temple of those people.

The group swam into the temple, their eyes adjusting to the dark by the magic of the arm ring, and saw a courtyard, the floor covered in aquatic plants, but no signs of fish.

In the centre of the courtyard was a Square cut font, set in a carved, sloped depression in the ground.

The group moved in, taking in the flora and the font, and it was only at the last minute that   Fetnah spotted a threat from above, two Keteaorum with readied darts. A short fight ensued. Arpaesis improved his vision with magic, in case of further ambush, as the others flung darts then closed.

Outnumbered, the Keteaorum would have been hard pushed in any event, One had lightly wounded Juan José, but he later smashed it in the face with his shield during an excellent defence, that it was stunned. The Keteaorum had also not reckoned with Farshad. Possibly in a cold rage from all his times being dunked in wells or unused as bait to aquatic menaces, with sword and dagger he sliced one in two in just one attack, and brought the other, wounded one so close to death that a flung dart finished  it off.

Blood diffused through the water as the group took stock. Only Juan José had been injured, a mere scratch he could easily take care of. Fetnah had already discovered that picking up a Ketaorum dart was not a simple matter. The ownership had to be overpowered, something Smersh failed to do but Fetnah and Farshad were able to accomplish, adding to their quivers.

The aftermath found Fetnah and Juan José examining the plants for any with useful properties, as the rest examined the stone font in the centre of the chamber. Arpaesis spotted a compartment in the bases, allowing Smersh and Farshad to recover three bronze phials, capped with wax.

The symbols around here also triggered more of Smersh’s memories. Of the deities of the forgotten inhabitants of this mountain, and a goddess who welcomed the worthy dead. The bodies would be anointed with oil before proceeding into the inner precincts.

That next precinct awaits and, with that ahead, we left it.

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Write up 9th March 2023 – Journey from Babilim – Part 5

It is a week since the journey down the well ended with Jalabu both embarrassed and injured by his possessed underwear, and the palace is being tidied and prepared for the incoming conference.

However rest is not forthcoming, Jalabu is somewhat traumatised by his experience and the rest of the group have their sleep disturbed by his screams. Smersh has his own problems, he has visitations of a religious nature. His gods are reaching out to him, but he cannot hear their words.

It is early morning, Fetnah is doing her morning rituals as Smersh, accompanied by Arpaesis, goes to the Temple. It is in a better state than it was when the group first arrived, when Smersh did a little cleaning, but Smersh had not attended the Temple since, or really shown much devotion.

There they found strange wet footprints, which, under investigation, proved to be a large group that had come up the cliffs from the sea, gathered in the Temple, then split into three groups, two returning to the sea, and a small group heading to the the older central palace building. There they followed the footprints, part of the group clambering over the compound wall as did the intruders, others, like Utana, being more dignified and using the gates.

Each well in the Palace complex had, on Smersh’s advice, been covered with a cover to stop anything coming up the well.

Jalabu could hardly wait to drop his clothes, tie a rope around himself and head down the well, accompanied by Fetnah and Farshad, with spells of seeing cast by Arpaesis, well, mostly cast, for some reason something went awry with Jalabu. Arpaesis also provided inflated goatskins to be used to provide flotation or emergency air as required.

Down the well, again a sloping passage going under water, and again a chamber with strange tables. Fetnah’s dive did not go well, but Jalabu managed it, finding a set of plaques. Meanwhile Farshad rested in an air pocket, lying on a collection of the inflated goatskins, gods alone know where the cocktail came from, or the little umbrellas, or indeed the concept of either.

Jalabu, emboldened by his success so far, decides to explore on, a passage leaving this chamber towards the one he had been in previously, he swam on but only just reached the air pocket in that chamber, breath heaving and gasping, at the limit of his ability. There he looked around, it was unchanged, but the rope was at its limit and going on would be a risk. It never came to that, something dark and mysterious swam towards him, Jalabu experienced the strange effects of Arpaesis’s botched spell, instead of the reality of what was in the water, he saw a fearsome sight, a jagged toothed, razor horned sheep, angling towards

Him, panicked, Jalabu tugged the rope, and he was hauled out, gathering Fetnah and Farshad with him.

Settling down afterwards, the aftereffects of a submarine Nantucket sleigh ride making underwater adventures a sore trial for Jalabu twice in a week, Farshad and Arpaesis examined the tablets.

Written language

Writing of the North and  East
Shamek The most common current writing system. it is alphabet based.

Ebbarisi A cuneiform system used before Shamek, still used as a scholarly form. 

Habbarisrri A more pictographic ancestor of Ebbarisi. 

Writing of the South and  West
Shehkhami The most developed glyph based system of Ta-Khamet, Menasveh, Bedewah and Damat

Shehhemnet The ancestor of Shehkami, the glyphs are closer to pictures

Writing of the Haozi
Haozi The writing system of the Zhau, where each character representing an idea. 

Other writing
Adshir musical notation also used in ciphers

The script on the metal plaques was Shamek, but the way of expressing ideas seemed to indicate someone more used to Ebbarisi than the modern alphabet. It read

“We are the Keteaorum, we dwell here for centuries, why do you visit us?”

Between the group, they pooled what they knew of the Keteaorum, an aquatic folk, with strong magic that allows them to work metal underwater and to exist on land. In times past, they were brought by priests from some other realm, and bound as temple guardians. They spread under the waters, in both fresh waters and salt, and from time to time they raid the land and take captives.

The group checked out the Temple again, there they found more of these message plaques, at the pantheon statue, at the crypt and the room of offerings.

The day was further complicated by new arrivals. Soldiers to garrison the palace, put under José’s command, hunters reporting back that a unicorn had been found, and was being herded to a more convenient location for an organised hunt, and news came of entertainers descending in droves tomorrow to be selected.

Smersh then went around the complex looking for vulnerabilities. Particular attention was paid to the main palace buildings, as both would be used for meetings, especially those when some of the parties probably would be unable to stand to be in the same building as each other

In the cellar of the older building Smersh found a door disguised behind a false wall, leading down to a meeting room. This was a strange room, a table like those underwater, chairs for both mortals and the strange physiology of the Keteaorum. Leading away from the room on the other side was another passage leading underwater.

A reply was written, and placed where the Keteaorum might find it. They would meet with them in the secret room under the palace.

Fetnah carved a new crow body for the crow spirit, but it was not her best work, and the crow rejected it, as the crow seemed more like a duck. Next time maybe

The next morning, Smersh held a service, aided by Farshad as cantor. The other workers and guards who attended the service were satisfied, but Smersh could not feel his connection with his gods as clearly as he once did, but he did feel his bond grow closer.

The peace of prayer was soon lost, as entertainers descended on the palace. Birds of Prey were brought to each of the group as they settled down to audition the acts. Each act was judged and, if found wanting, the judges hit the buzzard to signal rejection.

The evening grows near, the meeting draws near, and there we left it

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Write up 23rd February 2023 – Journey from Babilim – Part 4

Morning began for Fetnah as it often did, with her finding a quiet spot to clear herself of the influences of the spirits she had been dealing with and ready herself for a new day. She had found a likely spot by a pool in the trees, near the rock tomb, She was aware of the spirits below, but they kept their influences to themselves.

However, her plans are unterupted by the sight and sounds of a large crowd come through the gates of the walls of the Palace of Nashwa, pack animals and bearers amongst them. Rousing the rest of the group, Smersh making sure a dagger is in his hand, if not held high, at least visible.

People got out of his way, forming a semi-circle with, at its centre, a better dressed individual, a Kurrim. He introduced himself as Jumab, who was recognised by the group  as an official from the household of the Magistrate of Eshtaband. He had been sent here by Tingis, deputy to the major-domo of the Palace, to take on the role of steward to the Palace of Nashwa, at least until the conference begins. The people with him were cleaners and workers here to repair the Palace.

Behind them another group with pack beasts made themselves known. At the head of this caravan was a man wearing a camel-hair robe with sheepskin trim, open at the chest revealing gold amulets. He announced himself as Abmetep, his accent and name betraying him as Ta-Khameti, a dealer in furnishings and household goods to the gentlefolk, known as the “Geezer from Giza”.

“You knows the gentle-folks. They don’t want to use a bowl or a goblet that has even been looked at by another. So you are gonna need new bowls, new cups, new utensils, new rugs. I am the one to supply them. Urns from the Anaxoi, animal shape cups from the Sardic Empire, all sorts of wares from the Zhau and more besides. What sez you we make a deal?”

Farshad took on negotiations, and barely scraped a useful price in the haggling, Abmetep’s notion that the goods could be sold on the souvenir hunters apparently falling on deaf ears. However he did take Abmetep aside when the latter suggested a “consultancy fee” that the two could divide. A little extra profit for Abmetep, a little bit of cash for Farshad. A deal was struck, and the goods started to be unloaded into some of the empty buildings.

The entertainments were discussed, in particular, and Utana’s area of expertise, the great Unicorn hunt. Styles of hunt were the first descision. Previously the thought had been to capture one, and bring it to be placed in a park fotr the gentry to hunt, the realisation was that, for the honour that such a hunt represented, it had to be real, not staged. They sought and found two hunt guides, Osen and Feffa (*), to form a party and try to find a unicorn and, if successful, try to force its range closer to the Palace.

There was a bad joke here. The Scots term for a hunt guide is ghillie, from the Gaelic “gille”, boy and that ids the term some of us used as it is what we are familiar with.

So, ghillie ghillie Osen Feffa……..

The next concern is basic physical security. The bays in the shoreline that a boat could get close to and use were identified, the vantage points to observe them noted and the wall inspected for climbable spots, which cost Fetnah a winding, luckily Smersh caught her to break her fall.

The next places that were inspected were wells. Fit youngsters were lowered on ropes down each, still immaculately lined with clay but going deep before the clean water was reached. Not wanting to take chances, the group arranged to securable covers to be made to each well.

All were unbroken save one to the east, in which a side passage went off. Farshad was lowered for an initial scout, but the side passage sloped down to the water line to the North-East, and then continued. Farshad returned to report. The fear of the creature that tried to seize Farshad in the watery tunnel under the ruined tower returned, it must be investigated.

Farshad and Jalabu then prepared themselves, Jalabu stripping to his small clothes and carrying only his magic buckler that gave off light, went down the water passage, Farshand hanging back in support. The water soon gave way to a large chamber, with, fortunate for Jalabu, a very small breathable pocket of air at the top.

Diving down, Jalabu found stone tables of an unusual type, there being two tiers, there being a gap between the two. The chamber went on, but he could not determin the end or an exit, and so he returned, his air in short supply, the rope tying him growing heavy and waterlogged.

Back up top, the group considered how to properly explore the chamber, goat skins filled with air were proposed and then Fetnah hit on the idea of seeing if a spirit inhabited the chamber, one that might be able to help.

The issue was how to make contact, it would require water from the chamber. How to get some? It was thought that Jalabu’s small clothes, sodden with the water of the chamber, might provide enough to use. A bowl was found and a measure of water carefully extracted by cautious wringing.

Fetnah set to work. This would be difficult, but, cleansed as she was, surely she could summon a water spirit from the chamber, if one was there?

She could! However, her rapport with it was incomplete, the spirit was angry, and violent, it inhabited the water remaining in Jalabu’s loincloth, twisting and contracting, raising welts of bruised flesh and even nblood as Jalabu howled in agony, and then in Terror as Smersh and Farshad lunged at him, knives drawn.

They were able to slice off the garment, leaving a bleeding Jalabu writhing in the dust, clutching himself and swearing off nether garments for life as the underclothes leapt at Fetnah like a soggy and malodorous face-hugger, only to be caught on the point of Smersh’s knife, and pinned to the ground, where the water drained out into the dust.

Jalabu’s composure returned enough for him to cover his shame with the shout “it was very cold in that water” as Fetnah laid on healing hands and José applied soothing unguents, returning his body somewhat

And there we left it

The organisation is not the main focus of the adventure. The group are management, and they are involved, but the conference will be arriving soon, and protocol and intrigue will be the daily concern


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Write up 9th February 2023 – Journey from Babilim – Part 3

The group left some of their number to get accommodation in the palace complex sorted (ie folk who could not make it) the others approach the gates carved into the large rock in the middle of an unkempt area of trees and woody shrubs to the east of the penninsula.

In front of the gates are two braziers, like the gates and much in the complex, is down at heels, but maintained enough not to be falling apart. The braziers have ash and unturned wood, left there long enough for some of the ash to have turned to paste with rain and dew, but the remnants still giving off aromatic scents.

Under Utana’s knowing scrutiny, Farshad checks the gates, wooden with strong, complexly embossed hinges. He determines that they are both unlocked and well enough maintained that there are traces of lubrication on the hinges, all of which Utana established with a critical but perceptive glance.

The group remembered what the local spirit told them about the spirits under the earth demanding respect, and so gathered such dry fuel from the woody shrubs as they can and, sprinkle herbs and spices donated by Fetnah so that, when set alight, they gave off a pleasing scent. This they hoped would be appreciated by the dwellers underground. (Note. It was. It made the attitude of the dwellers below a notch friendlier)

With the offering being made, they opened the doors, revealing a short hallway coated with the clay they had spotted lining the wells before steps descended. The stairs were a square cut spiral down that went down 6 flights, a little over 3 metres per flight. At the base of the every second flight, two of the walls held three alcoves, five of which were occupied by painted, life sized statues of warriors.

The first set of statues  encountered were examined closely, though not destructively. The statues were clad similarly, but with slight differences of decoration, making each individual. The fabric of the statue proved to be plaster. There was no sign of the empty alcove that it had ever had a statue. These findings were repeated on the next two sets of alcoves.

The base of the stairs led to a short corridor, thoroughly decorated with complex designs. Close examination revealed to Farshad that what appeared to be a complex and confusing story, was actually five stories of different monarchs with spaces in the interlinked narrative for a sixth.

This carried onto the next room, a wide chamber with a grand exit ahead, but three doors either side, three on the left decorated, two on the left decorated, one plain. Each decorated door had a pair of guardian statues flanking the door. The symbology they had seen on the statues was put into more context here, a progression could be seen from the first door on the left, along the left them over to the right, suggesting some sort of inheritance or transfer of power,

From the grand entrance came music and voices, though indistinct. Stealing forward, Farshad saw a shrine, of an ancient style, but clearly dedicated to The Cold Ones as it looked similar to other shrines he had seen in Bardij and other places. With that in mind he recognised that the music was drums, some indifferently played flutes and some slightly off singing. The flutes and singing suffered no doubt because the musicians were actually desiccated corpses, dried out husks of mummies.

Upon Farshad’s return to the group, they examined the first door on the left. It was painted as a door, but actually seemed to be functional. Utana’s gentle but insistence shove did nothing to open it, but it did indicate that the door could open. Further prodding and scrutiny looking for secret switches or locks revealed that decorative beading down the side concealed a simple bronze knocker, disguised by the paint that fitted it to the rest.

Using it led to the door being opened by another desiccated corpse, a very well spoken door warden, though their diction was affected by their lack of lips and whatever state the rest of their mouth was in. Over a very civilised conversation the group learned that the mistress of that household was Yuwannah, once Sharatum. From that house were those of her nephew the Sharrum Shisuthrus (that name especially mangled)  his cousin the Sharatum Harekah then to the other side, Harekah’s son the Sharrum Navaah and then his daughter the Sharatum Uchani, the last door is for the one to come.

Questioned about the connection, it was confirmed that these were monarchs of the local kingdom. Though the warden did not volunteer its name. These monarchs were bound by family bonds, though that did not stop them removing other family members who threatened their reigns.

Although the group could see past the warden to see, at the end of a hallway, other household members, as dedicated and decayed as the warden, peer back curiously at the group, the warden makes no move to let them in, but instead points towards and past the chamber with the musicians, indicating that there the monarchs held Council.

The group took their leave, and moved on. The music had changed from religious to more maudlin, homely music, but it was not much improved. Beyond the shrine, the chamber proved to be an incredibly decorated audience chamber in which well dressed mummies stood in knots of conversation in front of a dais upon which were 6 stools. As before, five were decorated, 1 plain.

An entranceway stood at either side of the dais, three guards at one, two at the other. The whispering, croaky conversations died down and all, err, places where eyes might have been once, turned to face the strangers.

Juan José addressed one, and explained that the land above would soon be busy and possibly disturbing, and they would like to discuss this with those that ruled these halls. The one they spoke to beetled off through a doorway, leaving the group to make extraordinarily awkward small talk as they waited.

In not too long a time, the messenger returned and beckoned them into the Council Chamber, a well lit by magic that shone through coloured glass lamps and panels in the ceiling giving an illusion of a sunlit chamber.

Juan José opened negotiations, explaining what was to occu above, to apologise for the disturbance. He asked what might the dwellers here desire and if they would care tp send observers. The Council deliberated and responded. They thanked the group for the invite, though foresaw problems that might arise should they attend, so they thanked them, but declined.

As to what they could do, offerings from each feast, each celebration held during the conference, a portion should be delivered to the gates to the tomb, some burned as offerings, some left intact.

The group agreed, and received cups from the court as a gift, before they left. They climbed the stairs, and two realisations for Utana. Once, that the statues they had seen were not just statues, they were the right size for a mummified warrior coated in plaster, remaining in place perhaps for centuries. The other was that the complex extended from the rock towards the palace, his sense of direction made that clear.

The group ascended the steps out of the tomb, towards the accommodation prepared for them, and there we left it.

I wasn’t sure how this would go. I wasn’t sure what the players would do, it might have gone all dungeony, but it was all very social, explore and discussion. I enjoyed it, I hope the players did.

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First impressions of “Swords of the Serpentine” RPG

First Impressions of “Swords of the Serpentine” RPG

by Emily Dresner and Kevin Kulp with Matthew Breen

On Monday 6th and Tuesday 7th Feb 2023, I played in a game of “Swords of the Bosphorous”, Martin Cookson’s (@mcookie123 on Twitter) “Swords of the Serpentine” game set in Byzantium in 1450, still the last remnant of the Roman Empire, a shadow of its former self, only three years before its fall in a great siege, but the characters don’t know that of course.

The characters were a random assortment of city folk, an Orthodox Priest, a wine merchant’s daughter, a captain of the city watch and the character I played, a city engineer. I am not going to discuss the scenario, because *spoilers* but what I thought of the game, I have wanted to try the game’s “Gumshoe” system since “Trail of Cthulhu” but i found that book physically hard to read, my eyes just counted cope, so firstly, “Swords of the Serpentine” is definitely easier on the eyes.


I still think it Swords of the Serpentine could do a better job of explaining itself, but that might be a feature of the simple, but separated system that is different to most others. I think, if it was me, I would have a truncated character with a couple of each of the features with explanations as a sample

At the heart, it has a skill system, but two kinds of skills, Investigative and General Abilities.

  • Investigative Abilities. You have one of these, and you will, then you can just use them as part of your interactions with the world, eg, you know City’s Secrets, so you can find your way about the city and know some of the things strangers don’t. Need to get information by criminal means like blackmail or spying? Your Skulduggery skill will help you there. However they do do more for you, more on that later.
  • General Abilities, your “normal” skills. Eg hitting people or sneaking about. You have a skill, you roll a d6, get 4 or over, you succeed. Sometimes it might be difficult, and you need A 5 or 6, but it is all a single d6 die roll.

However, straightforward as this seems, you can modify things. You have levels in both your Investigative Skills and Abilities, but these are expendable resources, like Power in RuneQuest, things you spend but can get back.

General Abilities

For a General Ability, e.g you want to increase your chance of Jumping from roof top to roof top, well, you have 6 points in Athletics, spend 2 of them, and you can add 2 points to the roll, and have 4 more points for later use.

The more points you start with a skill, the better you are at it.  If you are an Expert in a General Ability, ie you start off with 8 or more, then you get a Talent, which gives a special advantage. E.g. If you have 8 or more points with Athletics, you can try to Dodge attacks that otherwise would have damaged you.

In attack Ability use, though GMs might use the idea for other abilities, can have “critical effects” if you do really well.

Investigative Abilities

With Investigative Abilities, your options are broader. These are not just “I do this” but also “How do I do that” and you can use them to

  • add to your success chance for your General Abilities
  • increase the damage you deal
  • reduce the damage you take or increase the amount you take
  • influence others
  • substitute for a skill you don’t have

Your character should, however. have a narrative reason how this works. In the jumping attempt above, a character might use their knowledge of City’s Secrets, to give a bonus to crossing the rooftops as the character knows of a gargoyle sticking out that they can use as a ramp, making the jump effectively shorter. Or, if they did not have the Athletics skill, then they could use that Secret to give it to them.

Allegiances and What is best in Life

There are also Allegiances, organisations characters owe fealty to, or enemies that might counteract them, that you can use with Investigative moves to gain information or things with that influence, and “What is Best in Life”, three things your character values that not only help you figure out who your character is but, once per adventure, you can use to gain a bonus for an Ability use.


To boost chances or use special features of Investigative Abilities, you need to spend points that the Abilities have, the same for the one per adventure use of Allies or What is Best in Life. Normally these only refresh per adventure, not per session, though a GM might allow that for a long multi-session adventure. However, succeeding at goals and defeating enemies can gain the characters refreshes, as can rest and carousing. Refreshes come from a communal refresh pool, so there might be negotiation (arguments) between the players about who needs it more, perhaps the merchant/thief who has only picked the one lock today needs it less than that Sorceror who saw off three angry mobs by themselves.

Taking damage

The last thing about the mechanics, instead of “Hit Points”, your character has “Health” but also “Morale” meaning that attacks are not just against the physical fabric of a target, but also their willingness to even be there, which can be hit by social abilities or foul sorcery. (All sorcery is foul in this world, even of used for good, it stems from Corruption).

Playing in the streets

So, how does it play? It is is light game that encourages players to narrate their actions, not just “I hit them with my hammer” but, when boosting with an Investigative Ability, to describe what is going on “I taunt them as I attack them ‘Last time I saw something like you it was rotting unloved at the bottom of a fish barrel’ and spend one of the points you have in the Taunt Investigative Ability.

In a chase sequence, my character boosted their chances with City’s Secrets and other Investigative Abilities, coming up with reasons why they applied help not only give some history to the character but also help shape the world. This idea that spending points with Investigative Abilities can have the player add details to the world, physically, culturally, legally, helps, I think, the player buy into the world, as it becomes part of the creation, rather than something that only exists to the extent that the GM describes it to them.

Having said that, we played in Byzantium, “Swords of the Serpentine” has its own, reasonably described, city, Eversink. The feel of that, from my totally casual read, is a combination of Renaissance Venice, Camorr from “Lies of Lock Lamora” and Dunwall or Karnaca from “Dishonoured”. There are many factions, someone in one world might have no contact with anyone in another but, then again, perhaps that priest has a secret vice that gives them contacts with disreputable merchants, so there is definitely scope for politics and intrigue in the noble courts, as well as those of monarchs of thieves or of the church, as well as thievery and violence. The set up looks like it supports a decent range of campaigns and adventures.

Swords and Sorcery

One of the goals of the authors was to be able to do “Sword and Sorcery” games. That it should, s well as the more social heist style of game emulating, say, “Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser”, that it could cope with “Conan” and his imitators. The world of Conan gets cited in a few examples, as does the definitely not Sword and Sorcery “The Hobbit”.

As far as Conan goes, there is more to Conan than the film version, fun though Arnie was. In the books he is intelligent, educated (the first film nodded to that), speaks many languages and is more athletic than powerlifter.

Obviously the “What is Best in Life?” rule is inspired by the quote from the film “Conan the Barbarian” though John Milius lifted that from a 1927 book about Genghis Khan, with the Great Khan asking that of an officer. The author, Harold Lamb, wrote for the pulps and Robert E. Howard enjoyed his stories, so it is all good, but, despite that nod, and examples to bring Conan in, I suspect you have to pick your Conan. Conan in the stewpots of Shadizar or the back alleys of Tarantia sure, running across on a quest such as in the film “Conan the Destroyer” or pirate raids wih Belît, not so much. However characters will probably find themselves facing seemingly impossible odds against foes without end to cut a bloody swath through, as the game is set up with glass cannon mooks to fill out the numbers.

Sociability and Sorcery

Hitting folks with big bits of something is not the only way to combat someone. There is a “Morale” score that can be affected by “Sway” attacks or by the use of Abilities that might cause opponents to think twice about attacking you, whether through fear or you grabbing their interest.

Sorcery I didn’t use, but saw a few uses. It seems to attack either Health or Morale meaning the the Sorcerer can choose what their vile manifestations get up to. Either their summon plague of ants nibbles you to death or they crawl all over your body giving you the heebie-jeebies.

I really liked that opposition was social as well as physical, meaning a fast talking but feeble thief might, by use of their voice, daunt as big a crowd as a more violent type might do with their blood dripping battle axe.

Eis ten polin!

While there is some scope to leave the city, my impression, based on far too little reading of the book or play, is that it is really intended for urban play in a sprawling metropolis, but a GM could introduce new Abilities and organisations to cope with those icky outdoors if required, though, given the way the rest of the game seems to work, involving the players into establishing their ties to the world beyond the walls might be fun.

That the city is seen as the main focus of the game is covered by a conceit of the description of Eversink, that those who are there think it is the best place in the world, despite its mysterious descents to the depths that means that a new storey is required each generation. This seems magical in nature as people lose that feeling when they leave, but regain it if they return.

However, this sinking city with his drowned and buried levels just shows you why you never need to leave, dungeon levels, like the buried parts of Edinburgh, Paris or the layers under the cities of Tekumel, are right in the city, no uncomfortable trips into the cold and wet wilderness when it is all on site.

GM’s section

The advice to GMs is concise, but seems useful and covers how to run the elements of investigation, adversaries,  combat against superior numbers, customising it as to world and  and how to tweak it to your preferred style. Want more experienced heroes in a work where vulgar fisticuffs doesn’t take place? Here is how…

There is a gazeteer for the world, nothing too in depth, and a sample adventure as well as earlier chapters about wealth, magic items and how to build your adversary.


I played this as a one off, so my experience is limited, but it was fun. There are simple, and seemingly appropriate rules for character growth, but obviously I have not experienced them, or how a campaign plays out. (Hint: I would love to play in a campaign of this) but it looks workable.

Although it took me a while for me to get my head around the system, once in it is very easy, though how to balance spending your points in play is probably a matter of experience, it was easier for us at the end of a set one off adventure to blow points to achieve things than a player who does not know how long this might go on for. Players and GMs will get there no doubt.

Despite what I said about finding it slight more tricky to find the nuts and bolts at the start, the book is chock full of advice, most of it brief but to the point, and I found the font much, much more readable than “Trail of Cthulhu”.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable smooth game (or at least the one game I was in was, obviously GM and players make a difference, but my experience was great) and it worked with a comparatively few number of characters, and the book even has advice for one GM and one player play.

The system is coherent and mostly unified, with little in the way of extra subsystems, so once you learn the basics, you learn the whole game. Which is very attractive for the point of one-shots or fitting in players, so that they can concentrate on the world rather than flipping through the pages looking for mechanics.

If urban fantasy with intrigue, factions and a variety of social settings where sorcerers are just tampering with evil forces and your off-work preferences can influence your success in adventuring in surprising ways is your thing, “Swords of the Serpentine” is a damn fine choice!

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Write up 26th January 2023 – Journey from Babilim – Part 2

The day in the Palace of the Magistrate of Eshtaband opens as it usually does, with servants seeing to the needs of the officials and priests in the Palace. Rooms and food are prepared, passages swept and, in the quarters of the agents, Fetnah makes her peace with the spirit world, to clear her connection and enhance her powers.

The first order of business for the group comes from Shararah, the duty liason between the group and Harvan, once a position occupied by Utana before he became their, in Harvan’s eyes, leader or, to put it bluntly, the one to blame if things go wrong. Shararah takes them to the Palace armoury, there weapons and armour are made available to them, though José prefers to buy his own, which has been fabricated since he ordered it. The archers also had more silvered arrows made,

The group improve their protection, though, of course, wearing armour normally is frowned upon, on penalty of arrest as a possible bandit or rebel, and decide to get recruitment of the army of servants that they will need for the conference, started. Shararah points them at Tingis, the deputy to the Palace major-domo.

As this is very much in Tingis’s normal day to day work, he is more than happy to help though, of course, as he is doing the group’s work,  they should pay him a consultant’s or finder’s fee. Fetnah and Utana persuaded him that instead, his fee would be expenses of the conference. Tingis drafted a requisition on a wax tablet, and got Utana’s mark authorising it.

That being done, they saddled up to ride the hour to the Palace of Nashwa, this ancient Hassaryu palace was once the home of Governors and before that, local monarchs. Within the walled pennisula, roughly six square miles, are a complex of buildings and, to the east some older ruins. In a small wood of trees, a large rock, the entrance to the tombs of the monarchs, south of that, a Temple to the cold ones, old, in need of repair, but sopunder than it looks, and to the east of that, a ruined tower.

The gates through the walls were closed, but opened to some pushing from Utana, after Jalabu’s attempts to open it with his head had failed. Inside the comple, they noticed the lack of upkeep, it was not fallimg down and it was untidy and, finding the head caretaker, Armon, an elderly human whose assistants, he said, were not much younger. The Palace gets maintenance once a year, but that is not, from what can be seen,  enough to do all that is needful, the supplies are only enough for the current staff, and the bedding and accoutrements of a working palace are inadequate.

As they go, they check the wells, being surprised at how deep and sweet the water was, The lines were ling, the wells lined with smooth stone and lay

Confirming what they should have known about the state of the place, they decide to check out the ruins. Summoning a reluctant and surly spirit of the area, Fetnah learns that the area above ground is home to that one, underground in the tombs were the unquiet spirits of the dead monarchs, 5 of them and their servants, who resent their descendants no longer ruling. The local spirit offered two notions, the unquiet monarchs would have to be destroyed or placated with offerings, to show respect. The local guide did ask that, to persuade it to do what it could during the conference, offerings of incense and flowers be, made at the Temple.

Next, to the Temple of the Cold Ones. In better repair than it looked, the local spirit told of crypts underneath. These were after a store of religious regalia and tools. The crypt was in good order, niches of urns surrounded by model grave goods. Smersh’s connection with the Cold Ones let him know that they were still connected to the temple, and he felt that the local spirit’s desire for daily sacrifices would be easy to achieve with the normal worship.

Next to the Tower, a ruin, the upper floors fallen, but the group found that fallen wreckage was, in fact, a door, opening on a sloped passage leading down and east towards the salt lake. Jalabu led the way, his magic shield lighting as they went, until Utana and Smersh almost slipped on wet moss, into water as the passage continued down.

For some reason, Farshad admitted to being able to swim, so they sent him down into the water at the end of the rope. Farshad did not far well but, more worryingly, a serpentine figure with arms and hands came for him and he was yanked bodily out of the water, narriowly avoiding smashing his head on the ceiling.

The serpentine figure with its snaky face did not follow and so they left, intending next time to go to the tombs under the rock. Not sure why, but that is for next time, and there we left it.



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Write up 12th January 2023 – Journey from Babilim – Part 1

The camp of the forces of the province of Eshtaband is split, like the governance of the nation, the larger part is the army,  furiously bustling, reinfoced patrols are coming back leading lines of captured bandits, equipment is being repair and messengers bustle about the military leadership.

In the civilian leadership area of the camp, the group is sitting in the tent of Harvan, being fed, watered and briefed. The new companions, Smersh and Fetnah have been given an advance on their earnings as newly minted agents of the magistrate Niralha.

For his first priority, Farshad took the wooden crow Fetnah had carved and into which he had stuffed the crow spirit that had formerly resided in a man Farshad found. Feeling out with his senses he surprised himself by making contact with the creature, which at least was bright enough to talk, and a short conversation was held.

Fetnah aided Arpaesis in determining the purpose of his jade tablet, which turned out to be a puzzle box containing a ring that, for a sacrifice of life force, aids the wearer in spying out hidden things. After the exertions  helping Arpaesis, Fetnah  made sacrifices or food and drink to placate her ally Ilbakia, and returned to the group. Once they are all settled, Harvan lays out the latest task he has for the group.

“I had intended to send you to the ‘Isle of Limitless Pleasures’ for some well deserved rest after uncovering the plot here as well as, so you tell me, stopping the end of the world, again. However, a delicate situation has come up. It requires tact, state diplomacy and finesse, but yet I am assigning you.

“I can tell from your aghast reaction that this puzzles you, however the situation also needs cunning, adaptability and the ability to deal with sudden violence and, more importantly, it is sort of your fault.

“There are several diplomatic missions arriving in two months to the city of Eshtaband. They are here to discuss the final disposition of the city of Bardij, so recently persuaded to our nation by your efforts, to the dismay of its ruler Idym and some concern to our shared neighbour Ishtir.

The diplomats and their entourage will be housed in the Palace of Nash-wa, a once glorious complex that juts into the Sea of Verkana just outside Eshtaband itself.

“With such distinguished guests, we need the palace brought back to functioning, we need it guarded against thieves, interlopers assassins, we need entertainments, we need the diplomats happy as they negotiate.

“That will deviousness and for that you are well suited. I do not expect you to do the actual getting on your knees, scrubbing the floors, walking the walls, serving the food, for this, you are management. In Eshtaband, find the ones you need.

“The conference will need banquets with dancers and musicians, there should be a waterborne party, hunting trips, the actual conference, and the incessant demands of noble diplomats.

“As to diplomats, for ourselves Bahareh, elder sister of our Shara Khrush of our Rule of Haraxa and a wise councillor.

“For the Rule of Ishtir, they have sent Mirnusz, magistrate of B?bilim, said to be a confident of the Saraniya, and a famous hunter. We have heard that he seeks to hunt a unicorn, the Ekasasi, in the mountains whilst he is here.

“For the theocrats of Idym, Ba-nereru. We do not think they have real hopes of regaining Idym, but they will be looking for allies.

“The Meremites, suspected by the Idymites of fomenting revolution in their nation, have sent Rumekebu, we do not know anything of them.

“The last diplomat that we know anything of is Arramah, a warlord of the Kurim people of Kutin beyond Merem. Much beyond that I cannot tell you, save that we assume that she, like most of her people, are distrustful of those of us of the nations of the fallen nation of Haxamanis, Haraxa, Ishtir and Sardes.

“Other diplomats are due from Sardes, Iramanshan, Qâde, Damat, Bedewah and Saba but they, *should* be minor players in this.”

The group *were* aghast at the task laid upon them, but more importantly, were trying to figure out their finances, between money never really having been in issue in the game and the transfer from DragonQuest, there was a bit of flipping back and forward on the manuscript, but spending in the army camp ensued.

Utana, being tired of not  looking magnificent enough since sacrificing his golden armour to save the world, decides to see what the armourers in the camp could do for him. It cost him 80% of the fortune he had with him, but he is having made a set of scale armour and a full face helmet, so shaped as to replicate his own features, from his strong nose to his carefully curled hair and beard. It will not be as decorated as it would be if the armourers  had more time, but he is paying for speed, not tiny details.

He also assisted Fetnah who was looking for some light armour, and trying to persuade the leather worker to supply some at a low cost, given her  role, but the leather worker seemed disinclined to help her until Utana wandered over and he, seeing Utana’s magnificence, reconsidered Fetnah’s request and hoew they might benefit each other. If Utana would commend the leather worker to the armourer, then the leather worker felt sure that from offcuts he felt sure ge could accomodate Fetnah at no charge.

José also found some extra armour, some light leg armour and a face revealing helm, not as vain, or as rich, as Utana he has to make do with showing off his own face.

Jalabu, also desirous of new armour, wondered about the value of the blue-white with green flecks gem all were given,  but his handling revealed it to be a Tear of Luck, a useful talisman that can change the outcome of an act but not, Jalabu felt, of sufficient value as to be worth good armour.

The journey to Eshtaband would take three weeks, and Smersh and Fetnah suffered as Harvan had assigned tutors to help them learn the more modern version of the Idarit language, much to Fetnah’s scorn.

Reestablished in the magistrate’s palace in Eshtaband, the group ponders their options. Utana knows that to even put on a hunt for the Ekasasi Unicorn is a sign of respect and honour, but to actually find one would be tremendous

The Ekasasi is a massive beast, looking like a thick and massive horse with thick hairy skin, it is nimble and alert and its horn is like a swordblade.

  • should they try and find and capture one and release it for the hunt
  • Could they pass off a Rhino as an Ekasasi? The problem with that even the closest Rhinos are only found a few hundred miles to the East.
  • Could they disguise Farshad’s horse as an Ekasasi? It is already used to being disguised as a camel
  • Or, lunatic idea, they could organise a proper hunt

As far as food goes, Eshtaband is known as the home of the Haraxan cooking competition “Bronze Chef”, and the winner (Shiribu of Eshtaband) and runner-up (Birmin of Gham) in the last competion,  are resident there. The latter is renowned for his hot beverage made from smoked fish, Birmin of Gham’s “kipper tea”

Other divisions of roles were discussed

  • Utana for organising the hunt
  • Smersh to use a practiced eye to check for ways that ne’er do wells could enter the palace
  • Fetnah and Arpaesis can check the abandoned palace for supernatural influences
  • Farshad can find entertainers
  • José could vet guards and look to the security with a soldier’s eye
  • Jalabu could check the food for poisons, aided by his pearl

and there, until next time, we left it

Second place winner = Birmin of Gham
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Write up 15th December 2022 – Aftermath of the Comet – Part 2

Our group found themselves back in Bukrish, a village with mixed emotions, glad that the bandits that had come there hunting the group had been defeated, but concerned that if the group stayed there, more would come. The group, mostly, decided to resupply and figure out what to do, well, mostly.

Farshad moped a bit, despondent that the crow man had been cured, the former crow man was himself talking to the villagers, trying to find out where he was, and could anyone use a scholar who had lost his way, tablets and purpose.

Fetnah decided to cheer Farshad up. She spent time preparing, to clear her own spirit and enhance her powers, and she sent her spirit forth to seek the crow spirit. She found it as it, lost, it was circling around, itself unsure of what had happened to it. She seized the spirit and placed it into a crow that she had carved, not well, recognisably a bird, but uneven of wing and bent of beak. The bird hopped around, settling on Farshad’s shoulders, pecking lightly on his ear.

Whilst this was going on, the Utana, Jose and Smersh looked around the village to see what they could find to help them in such a run down mining village, long past  its best. Utana gave Smersh some funds as a loan, and they obtained some food, some arrows for Utana and Smersh, Smersh also picking up a light bow and a buckler. After her spirit conjurations, Fetnah also traded some ingots for good quality ingredients and spices.

That being done, the group decided to chase down one of the groups of scouts they had seen, and considered that the Eastern group, on the higher hills would be easier to track than the ones through the boggy heathland. Utana led the way, and after w while the smoke of a fire was spotted. Smersh went ahead, muddy and as camouflaged as if he deliberately meant to be, seeing two scouts by a fire, preparing to move off, but he was not as quiet as he might be. One cautiously headed in the direction Smersh was, spear out, as he hunted for the source of the noise. Smersh’s arrow was keen and severely injuring. As Fetnah hid, Utana and José loosed arrows.

Lightly armoured though they were, the scouts were no match for the group, the scout closest to Smersh refused his offer of surrender, and so was downed, the other fled, but was bravely and heroically shot down, in the back.

The scout was patched up enough so that their life was not in any immediate danger, but they were put to the question, though luckily none of Utana’s more exotic techniques were required. Smersh,  Fetnah and José were able to establish that many scouts were hunting for the group, and bands totalling 120  bandits were positioned ready to come to them when the group was found.

The group seemed unconcerned, 120 was not many to cover all the territory, and the bandits were keeping most of their forces in their usual places, cowing peasants and securing the strongholds they had infiltrated and taken over.

The scouts were stripped of gear, José taking vambraces and greaves from the fallen scout, Smersh taking the heavy leather jerkin, vambraces, greaves, shoes and cooking gear from the one he had injured. Other supplies, such as their horses, some food (of poor quality, but better than nothing) , arrows and others were taken, notably some herbs that Fetnha took. The injured scout, now bereft of weapons and supplies, they left to fend for themselves.

José turned his tactical mind to the situation. He felt that the bandits, getting desperate to stop word getting out, would commit more of their forces, and their chances might be less. The way home was south west, but that was where they knew the majority of the bandits forces hunting them were.

The group decided to consult the oracular bowl that Utana possessed, Fetnah singing to it, and got this reply

South West is the way you do not want to go
South West is the way you do want to go

The group decided to achieve this apparent paradox by heading south, then cutting west, on the road back to Eshtaband and their employer. Utana took them south by an abandoned road that once served now exhausted mines. Fetnah, riding with Smersh. was looking for the forests of her youth, but here the trees, whilst there, were in groups of no more than a copse, but, as they travelled west, the road went through an actual wood. The group enjoyed the cover, though heedless of potential ambush, they were lucky and reached the edge unmolested.

Peering out, they saw two massive clouds of dust, converging, one from the south, the other from the north that would cut off this road. What to do? Go north or south and try to go around, go forward slowly and quietly and hope that the groups pass and move on, letting them go forward, or race hell for leather and get ahead of them.

They decided to do the latter, swapping riders to give them all the best chance. Fetnah riding with Utana, Farshad with Smersh, and they galloped on, with only minor injuries to Smersh when he fell off that one time. On and on they went, looking over their shoulders as the bandit cavalry approached closer and closer. They crested a rise, and into an armed camp, a line of spearmen facing them, cavalry assembling behind, José spotted the banners of Niralha and raised his agent’s symbol high shouting “Agents of Niralha, Agents of Niralha!”

They were allowed to pass, and intercepted by an officer who took them to the council area of the camp and Harvan. He thanked them for the work they had done, over and above expectation, saving the world again, alerting the magistrate’s officers to the grave situation here. The forces are here to put the region to rights, to restore good order and governance.

Fetnah and Smersh were surprised, when they found Harvan spoke Idarit in a form they understood without gestures and  circumlocutions. Finding out where, or rather, when they had come, HArvan was excited, and invited them into Niralha’s service, as agents like the others. They would be paid, as the others are, well, except Utana, whose servant deals with that.

Meanwhile, he has another task ahead for them, a diplomatic conference is to take place in Eshtaband. A meeting between the powers of Haraxa, Ishtir, Idym and others to discuss the fate of Bardij, so recently stolen by the group away from Idym and the group, the group is to organise it!

And there, for this year, we left it

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