A look at the map game “Border Riding” – published by Stout Stoat Press

Border Riding by Jo Reid

published by Stout Stoat Press

This is not a review, it is a “look at”. The reason for this is that this is really designed for a group, and I have only played it on my own.

TL:DR – I enjoyed it

Map/Game cover and a glimpse of the unfolded map

I have never played any map games before. I have drawn plenty for RPGs, and even come up with histories and events, but they tended to be for larger national entities. This game in the form of a traditional folded map is more concerned with a smaller community area, and the closest I got to the feel of this from other
games I have played was playing “King of Dragon Pass”. It is also available in PDF form, reformatted for printing normally.

The concept, which might take it away from a game for some, and move it to the category of “pastime” is to build a narrative and history around roles taken by the players, the geographical and social features of the area, the events of years and those outside to the region.

The inspiring source material is a custom of the Scottish Borders, the “Common Riding”, where citizens of a town would ride the border, defining it. There are variations of the ceremony depending on the rown, and can feature elaborate routines of waving a large standard round at various heights as the standard bearer kneels and stands and displays the standard to all.

I mention the standard in particular, not just because the person leading the game in a round is “The Standard Bearer” but one-time during my 17th Centurey re-enactment career, I was a guard for the regimental standard bearer during the battle and that standard bearer, from the Borders, started doing the moves and, unused to people near him, whacked me in the guts At least, I assume it was an accident.

Starting map, next three turns, and final map

starting map

The map starts with a random, contiunous border. This border can be any, land or water, and onto that each player draws a geographical and social feature, e.g. a river and a windmill. There are also outsiders (Them). I can’t see any suggestion on how many, but I set one each. I imagine that a group could change the number and nature of the outsiders as they interpret the events.

My concept was an island, surrounded by the mainland of a larger mainland, like Arran or Bute. Its outsiders are fishfolk who think land folk should pay them for fish, traders who arrive by ship, mercenaries who seek to recruit and a proslytising religion.

Obviously it is set up for 3 to 6 players, I found it not obvious what the accommodation was for solo players, though it is visible in the cover/map picture above as it is written under the bottom left of the map. The answer is  “assume the role and viewpoint“. Given that, for solo/duo players it might be worthwhile getting a story prompt tool, like story dice, to help out with imagination.

second turn map – year 7

With a group, you are going to want to have people who can work together, it might be awkward with one or more dominant personalities or folk who can’t bounce off each other.

A new Standard Bearer is elected for each turn, not repeating until everyone has had a turn In each turn, an Event is randomly generated, in one of a variety of categories, from innocous to unfortunate, and the group discuss how this affectes things, thoug that turn’s Standard bearer is the arbiter of the debate.

The third turn – year 8

I found the guidance about the  transferring from one turn to the next unclear. The rules say you copy four of the existing geographical or social features over, but I didn’t know how new geographical and social features got generated, so I asked and they got directed to the relevant passage about them being  generated by the events phase.

The Standard Bearer confirms the permanent consequences of this event, and draws the relevant changes onto the current map.

the fourth turn – year 13

This means that the chat about what the event means for the region, the inhabitants and the outsiders is important.However the game says that it can take 1- 2 hours to play, as an average game will have about 18 turns, that means each turn will be between 3 to six and a bit minutes.

I suggest thin paper you can easily see through to make it easier to copy outline and map to the new map.

The last two years of play, Year 106 and Year 606

This means that, as well as a changing story, influenced by events, you
look back at a changing geography (even the border outline, unless you are amazing at copying) and what features the “community” considers important, until you follow through about 5 or 6 generations and you leap forward to look back at it all.

I know you get some folk using things like this for campaign backgrounds, maybe not to the extent of “Traveller”, and I am not sure every play through would be useful for that, but some of them could be used to flesh out small areas for an RPG.

As a story game it was fun, and it’s a pity that I missed out on the cooperative experience and other peoples’ ideas, , because this has been a new and engaging thing to do, and bouncing ideas off each other would make it even better.

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Write up 19th October 2023 – The Tower of Hurat – Part 1

Tonight was one of those sessions where most could not attend. These things happen. However we decided to proceed as we were, I thought two or three could do something with the set-up I had prepared for tonight.

The night wore on, the watches were changed in the partly burned and ransacked farm in which the group were camped, until it was Utana and Juan José’s turn. False dawn was starting to give way to the real one, when a noise was heard. The two looked towards it, and Juan José saw a small figure run away. A child? A Shevam? Something or someone else?

Waking the others up, Utana and Juan José set off following the tracks made by small bare feet, leading north by north-west, soon joining a long disused path y that led up into the hills. After some six or so miles, the duo saw a tower in the distance, one not in the best shape, which became even more apparent as they got closer and saw the remnants of an earthwork that once formed a wall that the stone tower was once part of.

The other notable thing, near the top of the tower, was a weak blue light shining out from Thea window. The two approached the door warily, the placement to the south suggesting that the tower and wall guarded against the north, not the south.

The doorway was dark, but lead to an open space, with the only thing obvious dirt and the rubble of collapses stairs. Utana gave Juan José a boost up, but it took two goes, the first one ending in a slip by Juan José, leaving hum a bit winded and stunned.

On the first floor (second to Americans) Juan Jos#e found the ghost of a soldier. She was dressed in garb of somewhere between 800 and 1000 years ago, and held a sword in her hand, though not in a threatening manner.

There was a ladder up, that Juan José considered removing and using to help Utana up, but she blocked that way, saying

“Halt! I expect the northerners to attack us soon, only those under my command are allowed on the upper level!”

Confused, Juan José saw a rope tied to a beam, and used that to help Utana up. In the conversation, the ghost revealed herself to be Hurat, bound to the tower, and drawn back to wakefulness by the prescience of northern enemies.

Quizzed on this, as surely any enemy would be long dead, she revealed that the children of the devasted farm that the characters were camped at are here, on the second (third to US)
children were hidden, under her protection and command, the farm had been attacked by bandits from north of the ancient wall.

The children were persuaded to come down, dirty and hungry, so Utana fed them with his travel rations and watered wine. Hurat asked for aid, pointing the way to a wood across a small valley where the bandits were camped.

Feeling a duty, as Agents of Haraxa, to bring justice to criminals within the bounds of the realm, Utana and Juan José agreed to help, but they would need the help of the rest of their group, so they would go back and gather them.

And there we left it.

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Write up 5th October 2023 – The deed of Smersh – Part 3

I had a few ideas for scenes that the characters might encounter given the options I thought they would go for, given the situation, but the players managed to shave their characters avoid every, single one. There was only one I managed to help-shoehorn back in. Half. 

Stunned and shocked by violence in the library stacks, at least Arpaesis was able to achieve their goal, they know where they need to go. Utana, mildly affected by the poison of the shambling rag spirit, was suffering from a headache, but at least the toxin had not built up enough to seriously affect him.

They leave the former temple hewn out of the rock, out into the spaces before the buildings proper,  they found themselves intercepted by Imperial Immortals and various court functionaries. It must be the sight of the elite troops of Shara Khrush II in front of them that distracted Utana from realising members of his own household were in the group.

Utana’s servant led the group into a room in the Temple of the Three, where clothing and basins were set aside, explaining that coming to the palace complex fully armed and armoured for war, without express summons, could be adjudged treason

Weapons and armour were gathered up, and the household washed and clad the group, minus the urchin who was loaded with ichor stained robes,explaining that they had been summoned to the Royal presence. Smersh tried, but failed, to secrete a handy weapon someplace best left unimagined, though Farshad succeeded.

Whilst Fetnah worried about the correct court etiquette, Smersh again waxed paranoid aboiut why anyone would want to see him, and where was the exit….

Escorted through the Second Paradise, they were brought to an ante-chamber. Once again, the ambassador Claudius , seeing Utana, treats him like a flunky, in this case made even worse by being witnessed by his Rival, Sonya of Rogah-tinosh. As this was going on, Hortensia, the other ambassador took advantage of the distraction to have a quiet word with Juan José after his audience.

The doors opened and the group was ushered in, ahead of Sonya’s party, earning Utana a begrudged nod of respect from Sonya. It had been a topic of concern as to how much grovelling would be required, but they noticed that the throne was shielded by the screen. Shara Khrush II could listen but, officially he was not there, so no obeisance was required.

Instead they saw, again, the Secretary of Agents, Bahramian, conducted the audience. The deeds in the north of the nation were outlined, and the group quizzed about whether or not they saw any connection, as so many strange occurrences seemed to draw themselves to them.

The group pondered this, but could think of no evidence that there was a unified and concerted effort against the Haraxan Kingdom, though it seemed strange that so many spirits manifested to attack them

Smersh and Fetnah were discussed, and the circumstances of how they came through time, and Bahramian mentioned that he had heard the name of Farshad somewhere, and not in a good way, but Farshad passed that off as he was sure it was a misunderstanding.

The last part of the audience was a presentation to all of decorated akinashes, a long dagger or short sword, depending on your point of view, granted like a medal to soldiers. Of course Utana’s was the finest decorated, but all were serviceable and the most gorgeous damascus blades.

The audience concluded, they were shown out, and Sonya’s party entered the room. Claudius the ambassador again came up to Utana, to apologise, again allowing Hortensia to approach Juan José with an offer, in effect to act as an informant and talent-scout for the Faliscan cities, opportunities for trade, news of disruption and opportunity. Juan José agreed, and Hortensia made another offer, to introduce him to Umati,one of the lecturers in battlefield medicine at the military hospital attached to the barracks.

This was one of the bits where I expected Joan José to take advantage of that more directly, but the group headed back to Utana’s family town-house. Joan José did go back, but, with some prodding, with Utana, as the only one of the arty with the clout to get an itinerant mercenary straight to a senior official of the army. Fetnah tagged along.

In the hospital Utana took advantage of the presence of Umati, a tall, human of indeterminate gender, and asked them for treatment for his headache. Umati prescribed a vial of a strange fluid and a demon scaring talisman efficacious against any spirit that would try to invade an ailing skull.

Juan Jose asked for information on a bone knife he had picked up long ago, and found it was designed to pick certain plants at the height of their efficacy, and Umati gave Juan José a tablet that should help him use it, and Fetnah pointers on making her own.in the fullness of time. With him having the support of Utana and Juan José, Umati invited Juan José back to study any time.

The group, aware of the deadline hanging over Jalabu’s head, limited their exploitation of the circumstances of being in a major city, so there were few areas of re supply, Fetnah and Juan José refreshed their material medica, silver arrows were replenished, Farshad bough more upmarket robes and splendid, matching hats for himself and his horse.

Smersh wanted to upgrade his armour but, with the minimal time  to hand, settled for a loan of some pieces from Juan Jose, adjusted to fit.

There was a bit of discussion atropine here about the weapons everyone had, and their efficacy against spirits given the frequency of their appearances.

A short resupply finished, the group rode off, deciding to not go bu sea, the quickest route, but overland, taking a shortcut away from the main overland route as speed was of the essence.

Utana reverted to hardened ranger of the desert and mountains, saving Fetnah and Smersh from chasing after mirages and, as afternoon gave way to evening, they had two choices at a fork in the trail, north-east to a raised area where a wall could be seen, or south east towards a small oasis.

Farshad decided to use his bond with the spirit Aribu, placed into a construct in the shape of a crow. Launching it into the air, Aribu flew over the walled area, finding it a farm of sorts, with plants fed by wells around a domed dwelling set into the ground. Beside the stairs down were two charred human adults.

This appears to have happened three or four weeks ago, after burying the bodies, they searched the dwelling, finding it looted, but still Farshad found an amulet of a Shevam domestic spirit on the wrecked bed, and Fetnah found a smoke blacked pouch with three smooth,  coloured riverstones, one painted red, one green and one white. Despite much puzzling from Smersh, Fetnah and Juan José to try and determine some great meaning to these stones, the most that any could earn through Fetnah’s  magic was that these stones had meaning to three children who once lived here.

Of these children there is no sign.

The group set watches, and there we left it

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Space Marine – Early Science-Fiction war games rules

Space Marine

by A. Mark Ratner

FGU edition Cover by Jeff Dee, interior art by David Sutherland


We know where the image of star-travelling troops aboard naval vessels, clad in armour comes from, the Valerian Marines in the “Lensman” Series and the CAP Drop Troopers of “Starship Troopers”. The Lensman troopers are strong enough not to need power assist, but the series does have examples of powered armour.

Then, in 1978, Games Workshop let gamers in the UK know about a new ser of SF war games rules, called “Space Marine”!. That’s right, for the low, low price of £2.95 including postage,  they were selling A. Mark Ratner’s rules as published by Fantac (later also in 1980 by Fantasy Games Unlimited)!  That is about £16 in Sept 2023 money.

You can tell these are early rules, as well as normal six-sided dice, there are occasions to use a d20 or d20s as percentile dice, but accepts that getting these might be hard, and gives the advice on picking numbered chits from a cup, as we did in those primitive days.

Intended as a game of Squad/Section combat. It offers two ground scales of combat, depending on how much table space you have, but also a skirmish scale, only back them skirmish meant two or three figures a side, the full Squad based battle is envisaged as only being between ten and twenty figures a side.

Fantac edition

There is a background for the universe. In the future of interstellar travel, the warring nations have developed a field that prevents nuclear detonations, rendering nuclear bombardment impossible, so interstellar war once again needs boots on the ground to achieve political objectives.

The Fantac edition was, to my knowledge, was self-published by A. Mark Ratner, who I did briefly communicate with back around 2000, however I only have the FGU edition, not the original Fantac edition, and one big difference that I understand the original has that the later does not is that it has rules for linking the wargame with D&D and Metamorphosis Alpha.

What are the rules like?

The game covers attacks on a planet from Orbital Bombardment, Air combat  to Ground actions, but only really ground combat has extensive rules. Fire from Orbit is treated as indirect fire to the ground, but anti-ship fire from the ground is left up to a referee.

Aircraft can be used for troop transport, recon of ground troops, air superiority or ground attack, but the author realises that the scale of action is too small for proper air to air combat, so air superiority is abstracted.

On the ground, it is assumed that troops will be using the benefit of train cover and stealth technology to not be seen, so recon aircraft, and troops trying to find their opponents, is part of the game.

The game can use simultaneous movement, with written orders, but the basic turn sequence is

  1. Roll for first/second move
  2. First side move
  3. Second side move
  4. Both sides cab perform covering fire, that is over watch fire on moving units. Non moving units can attempt to spot enemies.
  5. Units can try to spot units and conduct normal fire
  6. Indirect fire occurs
  7. Melee combat
  8. Back to 1

I have seen “Space Marine” referred to as the “Chainmail” of “Space Opera”, referring to Howe the original D&D was both developed from the “Chainmail” war games rules and still needed the original war games rules to make sense of the combat in the RPG. If you played Space Opera, the combat rules do look like a more constrained version of the Space Opera combat rules.

Hit chances are made using percentile dice (and the intro explains how that is done) with situational modifiers. Once you hit,you consult another tangle to cross-reference weapon vs armour to determine the chance of the hit penetrating defences. This is probably survivable when you have a max of two squads each on the table, but would be atrocious for Company sized actions, and you equate a hit with putting a figure out of action.

There are more detailed wound rules, but these look more designed for the skirmish game, as it would mean a lot of book keeping for the regular game.

There are a lot more to the rules,movement, unit cohesion (the faster you can move, the further apart you are allowed to be), electronic warfare, pinning and suppression, different types of weapons, robots vehicles for the various Star Nations and armour. If you have Space Opera and the Ground and Air Equipment book, a lot of this is going to be very familiar.

Build me an army worthy of the Terran Federation

The points system for armies is a little strange as it is not intended for buying your units in a single battle. In fact the text says that the only reason their is one is because Scott Bizar insisted on one.

Despite the fact that this is set up for small unit action, you buy army regiments and wings of aircraft and all equipment. You need to use the description of the army organisation of what a regiment looks like to see what that buys you, and you will send your troops out in their squads for actual games.

There is no balancing for troop experience and, despite the claims of the purchasing of regiments being for campaigns, there are no campaign rules. The impression I get is that the author wanted rules for more free form, possibly asymmetrical actions, in games created by art and judgement, not mechanically defined ideas of fairness.

E.g. You want to  field a force of a couple of Ranan infantry squads, twenty Ranai, with a Supporting Flame Crawler, trying to use the points cost for all that. Breaking down the over 1000 troops and 100 AFV


The book is a very simple, two column format, the text is a little small for me now, but was fine at the time. The only differentiation in typeface are use of bold for item heads, and headings in a large font that I suspect might be intended to be neon tubes.

The tables are that FGU way of just headings with values in the columns. No lines, banding or aids to help you cross reference column as row.

The art is sparse, but exists only to break up text. There are absolutely no illustrative diagram to help explain the rules.

The rules need editing, reorganising and indexing. There are also areas that could use expanding. Even if there were not firm rules on army composition then at least there should be more info in running campaigns

Background and theme

The nations of this background formed the basis of the background in Ed Simbalist’s Space Opera SF RPG, I believe at the insistence of FGU’s owner Scott Bizar.  I do not believe that this was by the choice of either author.

This background is where the fascist Azuriachs, ursine Blarads and communist Galactic Peoples Republic of Space Opera come from, with varying levels of detail. As memory serves, only the Terran Union, Azuriachs and the Mercantile League get any extensive Star Atlas coverage, with minor mentions for the Raan, Blarads and Mekpurrs. The Korellians who feature in a Star Atlas are not in Space Marine,

Space Opera alluded to the various Star Nations, but did not give much detail. In Space Marine, the basics of each are given, making it handy for any Space Opera GM.

The background details are more concerned with uniform details, symbology tactical organisation and equipment used by the various Star Nations, but gives the basic notion of their governmental character.

Would I play these rules now?

At the time, I can see why people would have liked these. Judging by the standards of the time they were written, compared to other rules of the time I have read, they compare well.

Since then, expectations have changed. In some ways that is worse, popular rules tend to be more rigid and less free-form. I did consider breaking out some SF minis and pit a few squaddies against each other, but after reading decided not to. Too much table cross referencing and page flipping, though i guess I could have made unit cards with just the details for simplicity’s sake.

If I was still running Space Opera, I might splice these rules into it if there was a need for the characters to get involved in small unit combat, much as Traveller could do with Striker.

That is not to say that there are not fun ideas in here. Once you accept that the view of combat is dated. Aircraft fly nap of earth with no fear of RADAR that can reach the crowns, MANPADS or vehicles flinging vapourising volumes of lead into the air. It is an old view of the future, no drones. IEDs or mobile phones with cameras and geo-location, though there are some things that could be charitably considered to be IFVs.

Why the Terran Union has a Continental Siege Unit listed, basically a Bolo or Ogre in a small squad game, i dunno, but it is a sign of a game that could have used a bit more work developing it.

All that being said, if you wanted to use that 60s and 70s view of future warfare, but want to use your own simpler and more consistent system, the ideas here are worth stealing for a universe with a feel of the one of the Dorsai or the poor infantry not cool enough to support Hammers Slammers.

You can still buy the FGU edition rules in PDF form from DriveThruRPG



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Write up 21st September 2023 – The deed of Smersh – Part 2

Waking up after camping a mornings travel from the Haraxan capital of Anakhbitana, Jalabu felt an unease, but not one he could place. His discomfort set everyone else to looking about, but they saw nothing, none save Utana, who saw a face he recognised. Splendidly clad, amongst a smart retinue of travellers was

In tonight’s “Beyond the Brazen Gates” adventure, the noble and splendid Utana was shown up by the even more splendid and noble Sonya of Rogah-tinosh, known as the Crimson for her preference for clothes in that sumptuous and expensive colour. (Utana got a bad fail on a detect roll, it seemed to me this social damage was more fitting than actual damage. I borrowed Robert E. Howard’s aboriginal Red Sonya of Rogatino from his story about the Siege of Vienna, Shadow of the Vulture).

Like many of the Haraxan nobles, including Utana, are wearing clothes with trousers, rather than the traditional long robes, the better for riding. The glint of gold and silver embroidery can be seen in the morning sun.

Sonya was fostered with the same family as was Utana, however Utana was always in her shadow. She was a better rider, archer, poet, leader and administrator. She was had more skill with the blade and the sport of Zhovgan, was better looking and even a finer dancer.

Sonya caught IUtana looking at her, she did not sneer but the disdain was obvious, her entourage of fine warriors, poets and scholars contrasted with the more travel stained agents accompanying Utana.

The groups moved to the city, using the gate reserved for nobles, military and officials using their status as Agents to short-circuit the checks by the guards, and they were directed to report to the Secretary of Agents within 24 hours.

The proceed through the first part of the city, where most of the poor and workers live, and Utana caught an urchin trying to cut Smersh’s purse. Rather than scold the child or turn them into the authorities, after a cursory interrogation the group did what the group does, adopt the urchin presumably to lead them further astray.

Utana is wealthy compared to most of the rest of the group, Jalabu’s family is also well set up, and there are always rumours about the riches accrued by Farshad’s family, but Utana is a small part of an extended family wealthy enough and prominent enough to have a residence in the capital.

The way to that residence goes from the first part of the city, through the First Paradise, a public garden with shade, fountains, artificial streams and meeting places from which music can be heard.

In the family home the group were fed and had a chance to be cleaned up by the family servants, though none were pampered as much as Utana. From the house they climbed the shallow stairs to the citadel that houses the palace complex, build on a plateau that backs onto mountains. These steps were shallow for a reason Utana appreciated, to stop robed nobles tripping on the hems of their garments,

The palace complex is built around the Second Paradise, with Administration and the First Temple to the West, the Barracks and Second Temple to the East and the Palace proper. Heading West, they asked functionaries until directed to the offices of the Secretary of Agents. after waiting a while, Under-Secretary Bahramian and some scribes took messages carried by Utana and noted the details of the group.

Asked about the deed carried by Smersh, one of the scribes looked at it, gave Smersh a receipt or three, and hurried off. In fairly short order, the scribe returned with the likely location of the relevant records, in a storage room that makes use of a disused temple to long forgotten gods built into the mountain. The group were escorted into the back of the temple, and left by the scribe.

The language and script of the records may have been of the time of Smersh, but the only writing he has learned is a more modern form, Luckily Arpaesis the scholar appeared, as if by magic, to correlate the older documents with newer ones.

However, after the scribe left, there was a cold feeling, and from both corridors leading to the storeroom came varied creatures, to the south a reanimated corpse, lively like a wolf, backed up by floating semi-corporeal spectres, from the west a shambling shape seemingly comprised of noxious rags, backed up by some large, hideous rodent shape, as big as a human.

I made a mistake in this, No way in helll should I have let the group have full armour in the city, but it slipped past me and I will just have to be more on the ball.

Quick, barked orders from Juan José got the group in good order In the ensuing combat, Jalabu mostly held the south, the enemies facing him seemed less fearsome in some way, as if his passenger, the spirit Oblat, protected him somehow. Smersh flitted from the south to the East. Utana felt the mortality of the shambling rags, whose touch exuded poison, enough contact and Utana would suffer horrendous effects.

Juan José did what he could with silvered arrows, particularly shooting at the rodent creature, which clambered up to the ceiling in order to try to get past the shambling rags,

Fetnah made use of her chant, “Hammer of the Soul”, blasting the spirit out of the animated, ghoulish corpse, another damaged the rodent spirit, but a third found the spirit too strong, and she took great harm.

The shambling rags provoked fear in all, so they lobbed lamps at it, eventually between silver arrows and flaming lamp oil, the body was destroyed. The spectres were handled by Jalabu, aided by Oblat, and Juan José, and, just as the battle was over, Arpaesis declared from his corner “I have it, I know where the estate is! It is now calleD Ahitkaufa!”

He points to a map drawn on vellum and makes a mark

And there we left it.

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Write up 6th Sept 2023 – The deed of Smersh – Part 1

Still issues with video-conferencing, temporary  Google Meet sessions rather than the one that had been working for us. Not helped that for everyone the weather was hot, and the week intense, not sure anyone was totally awake.

The scene opens with the group gathered in the magistrate’s palace in Eshtaband, with Smersh trying to cudgel his mind to see if he knew any of the reference points mentioned in his deed. He did not, and the names meant nothing to anyone else.

Jalabu raised a point of the validity of the deed, how can the rights conferred by it be transferred to Smersh, but his astute legal mind was satisfied as to that, though the idea of the authority to grant, after so many centuries, remained open.

At this point a stranger was ushered into the room. whose clothes, though clean and of quality, were bleached and stained by travel. He introduced himself

I am Hamid bin Khawla al-Malmuntaqim al-Maqqaniyy, I have business with one called Farshad.

Farshad, politely made himself known,and Hamid spoke further

I represent a certain trading family. Long ago you borrowed money from us to invest in an ill-fated venture. We sent one to retrieve it, Jalabu al Dilmuniyy, who has vanished from the face of the land or the swell of the sea. We accuse you, Farshad, of his murder, to conceal your attempt to escape your obligations. How do you answer?

Farshad made his point that any debt was alleged, and an allegation he disputed, a comment he was to make often during the conversation.

Jalabu at the back, questioned Hamid as to whether or not he had ever met Jalabu. Hamid replied that he had, when both were small children, as Hamid was Jalabu’s cousin.

Hamid seemed glad that, in fact, Farshad had not murdered Jalabu, but he then kearned that Farshad had done many noble acts and, as a consequence, Jalabu had forgiven Farshad and taken on his debt

“ALLEGED DEBT!” was heard

Ah, Cousin Jalabu. We have not met in such a long time, Then, I am afraid,  the responsibility is now yours. The debt has been accruing for some time, the date of settlement is long past, and now is enough to outfit two caravans with a range of spices, perfumes and rare woods enough to delight the rulers of old Haxamanis. Such debts transcends family loyalties and love

Jalanu, and some of the others, considered this, and loudly, in front of Hamid, suggested that removing Hamid would remove the problem. Jalabu cast aspersions on Hamid’a ability to handle themselves in a fight, and Hamid responded by throwing a knife, faster than Jalabu could spot, thudding into the chair by Jalabu’s head.

The rension ramped up, but the problem for Jalabu was that he could not deny the debt, merely try to escape payment, or live up to his obligations, or suffer the consequences. Hamid offered Jalabu a day to consider, and he left.

Jalabu did consider borrowing from Utana, and UItana was willing, but whilst wealthy, Utana’s wealth was derived from the family landholdings, and it was doubtful he would have so much cash on hand.

The conversation then turned to Smersh’s inheritance. The deed was taken to the great Temple of the Three in Eshtaband and a priest found a scribe to help. The scribe was able to shed some light on the deed. The nation of Vaykattara stretched from what is noe eastern Haraxa into lands currently occupied by the Zhuezhi. The names specified on the deed, the scribe believes, are in south-eastern Haraxa, but they could not be more precise than that.

He advised either checking with records in the capital of Anakhbitana, or the Temple of the Cold Ones in the city of Pariksharan, which was once a capital of  a dynasty of Vaykattara.

Looking at the map, the group decided  that the capital was the best choice to go to first, it was on the way to the region, and Jalabu saw another advantage, it was far away from Hamid.

However, upon Hamid’s return, another thought occurred to him, their family, great in trade in their native land as they were, still constrained by being in the middle of a long trade. If their family had a station closer to the spice and silk trades, that would be of value, and it is possible that Smersh’s inheritance could be a perfect location.

He never asked Smersh but, luckily Smersh kept schtumm. Hamid thought of the timre taken to travel to the rough location and back, and believed that two months would be sufficient. He then offered Jalabu three months to arrange this, or repay. Three months at the same spot.

Hamid left a box of baklava as a parting gift to his cousin. Once they examined it foir poisons and had the food-tasters test it

The group then left Eshtaband, some riding their own beasts, some with horses borrowed from the household stables. A few days brought them to Utana’s estates, as they rode up, rose petals were strewn in Utana’s path as the household greeted their young master.

The group were offered refreshments as Utana cleaned himself up, and had fresh garments, perfumes and makeupo put on, a decision he was to regret as Jalabu punned about it so heavily (this is why we call him the kohlman) that the gods grew angered and struck Utana with lightning as a form of collective punishment. Utana was taken away, revived and restored to his immaculate self.

Nonetheless, Smersh studied UItana closely. With the notion of being in the landed gentry in his head, no time like the present to learn how to act as if to the manner born.

That night, as often happens when they travel, there were entertainments. Fetnah sang a cheerful song that, though only Smersh understood the words, pleased people.

Farshad also sang, a bit reedily adter the dust of the day’s journey, but acceotably and it found an audience.

Juan José showed off “Nibbles, the amazing surviving hamster”, Jalabu got caught in the strings of his oud, but the laughter lightened the mood.

Smersh tried to  juggle knives, but fumbled and injured himself, so Juan José also got to show off his first aid skills, staunching Smersh’s bleeding.

The group also discussed how to best protest Jalabu. Jalabu managed to borrow a mailshirt from Utana’s armoury, a valuable gift, but Fetnah had another idea. She communed with the local spirits, but only founbd a hearth spirit, which could not travel the roads looking after Jalabu.

Fetnah asked it if it knew of a spirit that could help. The spirit thought and, hesitantly, named a spirit of the road, “Oblat”, which might be able to help. Fetnah thanked the hearth spirit.

As the group left Utana’s estates, with Fetnah called upon Oblat, who appeared to her as a dust devil held together by fire. She asked Oblat if it would look after Jalabu, and it seemed to agree. In any case Jalabu now has a guest in his body, with a light case of possession.

A few more days on the road and mighty Anakhbitana, capital of Harixa, was in sight, and there we left it….

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Review Mythic Commander from Modiphius Games

Mythic Commander

Modiphius Publishing £16 + P&P

review by Colin D. Speirs

One of the first set of rules I ever owned was from Micro Ancients, from Tabletop Games. This wargame as a cardboard folder bound book of 1976’s state of the art wargames rules, army sheet and rules a cardboard sheet of unit counters to cut out and, with top-down terrain cut from cereal boxes, fight out a battle of Romans vs Carthaginians on the kitchen table. You can get a re-release in PDF if you want to revisit the distant past.

Microancients wargaming without figures 1976 style

Mythic Commander , as you might expect almost 50 years later, is lightyears ahead, presentationally of those earlier rules. In a thin, shrinkwrapped packet, you get the 44 page rulebook, a double sided paper playing mat with terrain features and a 40mm square grid printed on it, sheets of carboard unit counters and other, thinner sheets with command and spell cards and tokens. The rear sheet for the product packaging has an army listing sheet to photocopy.

What this gives you is a set of grid based tabletop wargame rules using units representing troops and creatures from a top-down view. These counters are 40mm by 20mm, How coincidental or not that that is the size of bases in the old Warmaster system I do not know.

The game put away into a wallet and counters and cards in small bags

Buying this direct from Modiphius, the postage stung a bit because the price was over half that of the product but, on the other hand,  I also got a link to download PDFs of all the above. I do not know if you get a “clicks and mortar” style deall to get those PDFs if you buy ir from someone else.

To actually use the ruleset you will need to add some d6s, pencil and paper will help.

Neat as the product is when you first get it, once you hace punched all the counters and cards, you are going to need some kind of box or a file wallet and ziploc or coin bags to put in the cards and counters into.

However, once that is done, you do not need to buy and paint figures, buy token sets or codices, everything you need to play some battles is right there, on the table

How does it work?

The game runs on an evolution of the system used in the “Airfix Battles” wargame. Each of the 40mm x 40mm squares can contain just one unit, plus attached leader and wound counters. Units are issued orders in alternate activation, so no waiting for your opponents to do all the things then you do all your things.

A small set up to learn the game with some of the "spellcraft" card decksPlayers have a hand of command cards based on the leadership abilities of the characters in their army. Unlike Airfix Battles, you do not need to use a cards in activating it, you always have the basic choices for moving. attacking and rallying, you only use the Command Cards, to get special effects in activations, in response to the enemy or to discard for a bonus to gain iniitiative.

In each game turn, players
– refresh their command hand, based on the leaders they currently have (leaderless armies still get a random small amount of cards)
– dice for initiative, burning cards for bonuses
– take their alternating turns of maneuvering units and conducting fights
– deal with the effects of combat, notably morale and retreats

Units have a fairly familiar set of stats for movement, fighting ability, survivability and how long they hang around for. All are tested using d6s, sometimes it is roll under (attack and morale), sometimes roll over (armour save).

The ability of units to always maneuver and attack means that, unlike some command card based systems, you are not stuck with an inability to do things because you do not have units that match anything on the cards.

Unlike some rules, moving into the atack is not restricted to a charge. A charge is a special move where you damage the target before they get to fight back, but you can just stroll up and thump someone, though they fight back simultaneously.

In the clean up phase, units that took a lot of hits, will need to check for morale, and may end up retreating. If they fail to rally, they will eventually retreat off the map.

The squares include terrain features. Like a lot of the game, these have keywords, like “Vulnerable” for bridges, and the keyword explains the effect. In the case of “Vulnerable”, you discard one successful armour save when on the bridge.

Does it work well?

Although confined to a fairly small “low resolution” map, the TLDR version is yes. I have played a few times, both with counters and 10mm figures, and it comes up with a fun. quick game with tactical choices to make.

A hasty activation can come back to bite you e.g in one case, I hit enemy warg riders with , they started to retreat but could not because Eagles were in the square behind them, attacking someone else. Next turn they rallied and now threatened the rear of the Great Eagles!

Having it as alternate activation stops the “first to hit advantage” that IGOUGO wargames can be prone to, and the relative slowness for many units of moving and turning makes you consider your moves as you might find your opponent has now occupied the position you want.

The double sided “Fortune of War” card, here shown spliced together. They are not the same on both sides, obviously.

Combat is swift and simple. In most cases the Unit rolls a d6 for each of its remaining Strength, that also being its hit-points. Each roll equal or over the relevant fighting skill is a Hit, and roll armour saves for each hit. Get too many hits, receive a Morale marker. Get way too many hits, you are destroyed.

The Command cards, allow units to interrupt attacks, to move and support units in unexpected ways, to strengthen defences, even to counter-act other cards and, of course, to declare charges.

Another nice mechanic is the “Fortune of War” card, allowing a re-roll of all dice for one roll, passing from player to player as it is used.

Command and the ability to have a re-roll all add a useful level of “Fog of War” to the players’ view of the battle.

It is a fast game, aside from the usual rules flipping as you learn the rules, but the basics are simple. There are special rules, because  of unit type (light units maneuver differently, for example, than heavier ones),  the faction and any special upgrades you buy.


It’s a Kind of Magic

It’s a long time since I have seen a fantasy wargame of invoking direct Divine or Infernal spirits to play a part on the field. Mostly the magical powers in fantasy wargames are

  • to buff a unit
  • to heal
  • to act as heavy arillery
  • to impede an enemy

Two spells from the Death and Divination decks

Mages choose a type of Magic from one of the six types, and get the deck of Spells. They can cast one spell per round and then the spell is discarded.

Multiple mages can use the samre deck of spells. I *think* each mage gets their own deck, but the rules might be interpreted as them sharing it.

The rules for each spell is on the card, they are not repeated in the rules, and they are themed for the type.

  • Death is about raising the dead, sucking the life from others, causing fear and revenge.
  • Nature focuses on beasts and terrain.
  • Flame mages cause a lot of damage, often to themselves.
  • Storm can use the wind for movement, attack and defend
  • Life is  Healing and improving morale
  • Divination gives you some advantages with Initiative, Command Cards and buffing attacks

I have not had a chance to use much magic in game, but when I did it seemed helpful, but not overwhelming or unbalancing. Flame mages are just chaotic, in a fun way, in retrospect.

Build-an-Army Workshop

There is no set world or set of racially based factions for the game, instead you get seven culture templates to choose from, those can be amended with a customisation, that provide a list of upgrades, for a price. If you know the game SmallWorld, the keyword system looks a bit like that, do you field the Barbaric Skillful Army or the Martial Stalwart Army?

Each culture has the exactly same mix of light and heavier infantry and cavalry,  heroes and Siege Engines, with mostly, but not always, the same point cost for each type across the factions, but the light infantry of one faction might not be the same as the light infantry of another. E.g. Skilful Archers move more slowly than  Fierce Archers, but the Skilful Archers are better with the bow and have better defence.

It is up to players to associate the culture and customisations with the fantasy Army they want to field. The “Undying” faction has a certain expectation around it, but Skillful might be Elves, or they might be the Horseblooded from the Coramonde books, or an army of assassins sent by the Old Man of the Mountain. With customisation the Elves become Skilful Ancients, the Horseblooded become Skilful Attuned and the Assassins stay as they are.

There are individual upgrades available for heroes and units, this is where the Commander of the Assassins might get a bonus for Strategy and his Champions Heroes get envenomed weapons. Finally there are Monsters and Special Units that armies can field, like the Great Eagles

From my battles so far, I think this simple system is effective at providing theme and customisation. The only kinds of armies that I don’t think I could make with this (someone will no doubt prove me wrong) are huge horde armies of utter trash or small armies of super-powerful individual units, but generally it fit most of the armies I thought of, despite me attempting to break it.

The counters

The counters are sturdy, and have enough different colours and illustrations to give variety to the units, but, and this is just personal, I did find distinguishing between them hard, but that is me and my terrible eyesight. Most are oriented across the long edge, with a few facing on the short edge, but, unlike, say, Warmaster, that has no game effect, because of the one unit per square rule.

The counters are double sided, with a different unit type on the reverse to give you more choices, e.g Knights have Warriors on the other side, the other side of that short edge facing chariot is a long edge facing unit of archers.

Scaling up

Moving up to figures on a wargames table should be simple for these rules.

Solutions I have seen for similar games moved to tables have included corner markers for the grid marked with tile spacers, or rocky outcrops on bases, or even tightly strung line denoting the space.

All you need to do is figure out the right size of grid, for a 6 foot by 4 foot table, 120mm would give a similar grid number to the included mat.

Is anything not so good?

  • The game isn’t perfect. There are some unclear rules. E.g. Unit A attacks Unit B, melee ensues, both sides fighting. Is that the activation for Unit B, or do they get to activate in their own right. I have checked, they both get to activate, the game is intentionally deadly, but it should be explicitly stated.
  • The tokens are flimsy and could easily get crushed and lost, They are certainly a bit difficult to pick up off the terrain mat. I think I will be using micro-dice for recording current hits where possible.
  • The PDF sheets for cards and tokens have the Morale/Retreat tokens without the actual words on them
  • There is a player’s aid on the inside back cover, but a double sided one with other information like the more common keywords, for terrain, faction and upgrade would be nice.



For the money, even with postage, this is a good value, solid transportable game. I found it very tactical in play, and flexible in the sort of armies you can field. There are very minor issues, but nothing I cannot deal with. I do hope that someone (not me at the moment, too much going on) produces a fuller play sheet, and I can see talented fans producing new counter tokens that are easier to read, or which suit the look of particular armies.

However, the minor caveats are more than overwhelmed by the fun and carnage of battle, and the joy of being able to produce an entirely new army simply by changing some stats on a sheet, rather than buying and painting tons of figures.

FWIW, I heartily recommend this.

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First Impressions and light review – Deep Space and Supplenents from Farsight Games

Disclaimer. I do not know Jonathan Hicks personally, but we have talked at times on social media, I dedicated my “Essence Core” to him as he helped motivate me to write that version. He provided access to PDFs of the game for free.

Deep Space and its supplements are available from DriveThruRPG for $1.27 each, or PWIW for Starships.

The main rules

Cover, Deep Space

In the 22nd Century, Earth has not formed a unitary government, nation states have taken advantage of relatively cheap interstellar travel to export their policies, rivalries and problems to, err, Deep Space.

Behind the wonderfully “Analog magazine” style covers, what you get in the main rules is a very stripped down RPG of definitely about four pages long, with a system that manages to be unified across characters, vehicles and starships.

Character abilities are defined by skills, a range of values to assign to them, and the player priorities how skilled they are at any skill by choosing what value to give it.

To use the skill, roll equal or under its value. For opposed rolls it is a dice off with skill value as the bonus. Unusually for progression systems, if you want to get better at a skill, you can do so but the effect of that is you are neglecting others. Similarly, if you want a hobby, then you can have one, but if you want to get better, you are neglecting your other skills.

This idea of trade offs applies to designing vehicles too, trading off speed vs sturdiness, and starships, if you want your vessels to be able to withstand damage, the technology makes it trickier to handle.

In addition to character creation, character development, vehicles, starships, skill use and combat, you also have a short universe history, suggestion for adventures, quick NPC design, quick Star System design and optional rules for alien characters.

Obviously such a compact RPG is not going to have a lot of detail so the GM and players will be building their universe and its contents as they go along, e.g. the rules suggest you use  current prices where you are to base in game-prices on, but the RPG system does the job, if the job you want done is playing as a small team having adventures of SF action, surveying, exploring, skirmishes with other corporate and national interests and espionage, or running a tramp ship, trading, getting mixed up in the concerns of big powers, and trying to keep afloat and alive.

The production is as similarly retro, recalling both magazines and some early RPGs in simplicity of presentation. The only issue is that it is light colours on black, which is fine as a PDF on screen, but ruinous in print. Thankfully Farsight Games have produced black on white versions for printing. There are so few pages for the game and supplement, that printing is realistic for this.

This has only been out for a few days, and my experience of it was creating some characters and having a semi-random solo adventures, searching a base that had gone quiet, and discovering the reason why and following up on the cause. I found the game worked, I had fun and honestly, I did not miss not having intricate star system or starship creation systems, things I played with for hours and hours in other SF RPGs and war games. The only drawback in my game was not having an explicit investigation skill, but I found others to use and just got on with things. For such a short turn around on each of these, I did not notice much in the way of typos or any grammatical errors. Well worth the $1,27 I didn’t pay for it.

Impressions of the rest

Obviously enthused by his rules, Jonathan Hicks quickly produces a slew of very short supplements and adventures for this game. The following are not so much reviews, but my first impressions and descriptions of each of these short and sweet additions to the game.

Supplement #1 “A Rough Road leads to the Stars”

This gives you a two page outline of the major events on the corporate and nationalistic human future. If not a total dystopia, it is has been shaped by the failure of humans to work together for a common goal, so bleak in places, maybe some joy somewhere.

It would be an obvious lie to say that I knew that this was going to be a serious historical document because it uses the word history twice, but, although brief, there is enough future history here to provide some factions and conspiracies as the backdrop for for scenarios

Deep Space Starships coverSupplement #2 Starships

Also two pages in length, page one are some extra features for using Starships, giving some more detail on crew and equipment, and special effects for damage in combat. No exploding control consoles, so not a Star Trek universe but, if you’re going to have a setting in which you’re travelling to distant stars you’ll need something to travel in. Here you go.

The second page has some sample starships, with little, I assume clip art, illustrations. The huge cargo vessel looks more like a tug than a hulk, but that is minor, you get five sample vessels to inspire your own.


Supplement #3 Gear

I have been enjoying the pulp magazine style covers of these micro-RPG books. I was hoping there would be one of those silly fake reviews on the cover. I wasn’t disappointed.

Inside there are some actual money rules, in which we learn that the entire human race, despairing if trying to get the United Kingdom to join a shared currency, apparently all adopted the Pound Sterling, possibly to spite Westminster.

This has tools, weapons, armour and analysis equipment, their costs and effects. Useful for potential rewards for characters for a job well done by their corporate overlords, or as things to loot.

Adventure #1 – Golf Alpha Tango

Although the rules and supplements are short, I was impressed with the volume of them in such a short time. Even so, I was amazed to find that this was the first adventure. Because that is what it is, or rather it is an adventure framework. The team are doing a follow up survey on the only liveable planet in a system.

Like the supplements, this is only two pages long, and the features and creatures of the planet serve as a sandbox for the GM to run the adventure they want, rather than a detailed adventure.

Adventure #2 – The Death of the Elliot Jones

Given the subhead of “A Dead Ship, as quiet as the grave, or is it?“, I was expecting only deckplans for the GM to use, so when I printed the PDF, the first thing that jumped  out at me when I opened the book was that there were words in there.

Instead the team are sent to investigate a recently discovered derelict ship, believed to be the yacht of a wealthy businessman, missing for a year, perhaps related to accusations of  tax fraud. The situation can work out in different ways, depending how the players approach it, and the text does allow for follow-ups for the GM.

Adventure #3 – Behold the Spaceman

In this  mission for the team, a supposedly supernatural figure is affecting the exploitation of an valuable font of an essential mineral on the planet Garamond IV.

What kind of supernatural figure? The title has the word spaceman in it, which is good as as there is one in the game, and it is the spaceman that is causing concern.

Like the other adventures, this two page investigation can lead to subsequent adventures, on or off Garamond IV.

There is a fourth adventure, The wolf that burned for a similar low price

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Write up 27th July 2023 – Journey from Babilim – Part 10

The night was sandwiched by video-conferencing, neither of our usual options were working for us all, so we ended back at Google Meet

This ended with us playing with filters. In between, we died a little roleplaying.

The messenger handed the packet to Smersh, who opened it. There was some information about a prophecy that he would be here, at this time, on this day, in sold script, perhaps a century old. The main thing was much older, a tablet of bronze, inscribed with an early form of the older Ebbarisi script.

Arpaesis and the scribes puzzled out this ancient form

Deed to the domain of Galye-agam

I am Kar-push-tarim, I am the monarch of the lands of Vaykattara, this will be the realm of my house for ever and anon.

Be it known that the bearer of this tablet is my well loved servant.

Be it known that the original recipient Spionem is trusted by me and receives this reward for their service and that this reward is for perpetuity, for Spionem and their heirs, till the world goes cold and the stars die.

By my word, know that the domain of Galye-agam is to be understood as the lands between the village of Speyah to the west, the highest point of Galye-agam ridge to the East, to the north the point of the hill of Min, to the south a line drawn precicely between the peaks of the hills of Sur-el and Eshur.

I am Kar-push-tarim, I am the monarch of the lands of Vaykattara, this is my word, that for this domain Spionem and their heirs owe to me and my heirs the following service. When I call for war, the domain of Galye-agam will provide twenty-four fit and able people in arms, whether of the people of Galye-agam or paid by its ruler. Those twenty-four will be armed with spear, bow and either mace or axe. They will have a shield appropriate to their function and bring provisions for one week of service when they arrive at the muster named in the call.

This service shall be for no greater than two moons, less longer is arranged by payment from the monarch.

I am Kar-push-tarim. I have commanded this.

It would be safe to say that Smersh was shocked, to be named as the heir of an estate, though the possibilities of riches and status, though at the lowest rung of nobility. He started eyeing Utana to see how he conducted himself.

Of Spionem, Smersh was only vaguely aware though the bounds of the realm of Vaykattara And the name of Kar-push-tarim, who was a monarch before Smersh and Fetnah were imprisoned.

A few days passed as the trial of Rumekebu was arranged, and the group composed themselves. They cleaned their gear, Smersh practiced his command of the modern written script of Shamek, Fetnah communed with the spirits, Juan José rested, Utana studied.

The day of the trial came, a preened and primped Utana was announced and escorted to the Steward’s chair. The Magistrate Niralha watched from behind a screen, officially, she was not there, and only Utana could see her.

The court filled up and Rumekebu was brought in, still attired as an Ambassador if not one in fact. The charge of conspiracy to murder Ambassador Mirnusz of Ishtir was made, in league with the missing culprit Simut and unknown others. Rumekebu denied it.

Witnesses were brought, the guard and servant who attested that Rumekebu’s story of the murderer Simut being forced on the Ambassadorial party, that it was Rumekebu who brought him. The entertainer who saw Rumekebu help someone onto the roof, the night of the murder, the route of the murder. Fetnah and Smersh, who testified to the finding of the drug Gadanish and a similar weapon as the murder weapon in the Ambassador’s quarters, and the same in the quarters of Simut.

Juan José brought up the cloth, a red cloth found in Merem, scraps of which were found on the murder scene.

Despite the attempts by Utana to break Rumekebu by force of will, an increasingly nervous ambassador tried bravado, denigrating the court, accusing the Haraxans of bad faith and illegal acts, demanding tat he himself was beyond judgement in this place, intended to be neutral. Utana cast that back at Rumekebu, pointing out that he violated that by murdering Mirnusz. Rumekebu, by that point, was not bothering to deny the charge, but his nerves were only truly broken when firstly Moch-Hada, his assistant and the currently accepted ambassador, denied him any status or support, and the suggestion was made that he be handed to the Ishtiri.

Utana thought about this, the idea tickled him, He looked to Niralha, and she mouthed the word “Ishtir” to him.

Utana raised himself up and pronounced judgement, that Rumekebu be handed to Ishtir for trial. At that pint the former ambassador fainted. Moch-hada stripped him of the badges of office before Rumekebu was hauled away to the Ishtiri ship, to be held pending trial.

The Ishtiri Prince arranged with all there to take statements and descriptions of all the evidence before departure.

The court adjourned, and the group rested. The next day, Niralha, her husband and advisor Kharrish and Harvan,  the master of agents, thanked the group, for all they had done. Rewards are deserved, but Niralha had to consider what would be appropriate. She did offer Utana the chance to remain as Steward of Nashua, as they had decided to renew the Palace, given the discovery of the undead and the Faithful Keteaorum,but Utana declined.

The conference continues, but after it concludes, the group have a new goal, to find the valley of Galye-agam, and Smersh’s inheritance.

And there we left it…

I had hopes for the sessions around this conference, the difficulties and the murder, I don’t think they came off. These things happen, people have different wishes, desires and plans for a game. Often it works, sometimes not so much. I think I will return to simpler situations for a while.

edhogg DOT equus /AT\ GMAIL DOT COM    <*>



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Write up 13th July 2023 – Journey from Babilim – Part 9

Illustration of two Haxamanis guardsThe morning for murdered Ambassador Mirnusz proceeds, pointless as it seems to some of the mourners, who know his spirit is banished, cursed to wander the world as a hungry ghost.

The evidence points to Ambassador Rumekebu of Merem as the one who orchestrated it, though his motivations seem opaque to the group, even the more experienced Agents in their number.

It looks like the investigation has come to the stage where an accusation must soon be made, and Magistrate Niralha wants no part of it, as someone in her position making such an accusation has severe political implications, instead she refuses to relieve Utana of his position as Steward of Nashwa, the responsibility of administration of the palace, and justice for crimes committed here, remains with Utana Uxarra.

Fetnah wonders if the curses can be broken, if Mirnusz’s spirit can be recalled, but first Smersh seeks to expel the spirit of disease that has been weakening him. To bring him back from the dead, if at all possible, would only be possible with a quest worthy of several epic poems, tales of advice from wise hermits, wrestling with demons, asking favours of the gods and journeys to the heart of the Underworld. Possible, but a bit tricky.

It cannot be said that Smersh is an observant and devoted priest of the Cold Ones, but he is a priest nonetheless, and used to exorcising spirits, though usually on Fetnah if she encounters a spirit too strong for her. This time his patient was himself, and luckily he was able to expel it.

Next came Fetnah’s endeavours. With the greatest preparations she could make she sought the shadow world of spirits for one with the knowledge of how she might banish the curse so that Mirnush would find his way back to the vicinity of his body.

The ritual proved successful, an answer came. Strike the inscription from the blade that embodied the curse, banish the sprit that inhabits the blade, and the curse is lifted, but the tool that does this must be blessed.

The group headed to the area of artisans, and were met by a craftsman who welcomed them with open arms, Karzahdar, the chief artificer, at a banquet had offered to create a new body for the crow spirit that Farshad imaginatively calls Aaribu, as well as an earring for Utana. The news was that the body was ready and, his design for this marvellously articulated body even incorporated some of the naive, as he called them, designs of Fetnah. Wish a sigh and a heavy heart, Fetnah helped Aaribu transfer bodies, and the bird flew around and settled back on Farshad.

Karzahdar was also able to provide chisels for the group for their task, and the smiths from the work area sharpened them. Also a hammer, an old hammer that had served him well and lasted many decades of service, only needing the head replaced twice and the haft three times. It was time to get them blessed. At the temple, the most senior priest was receptive, although Mirnusz was a follower of the Three, as a person in position of power, she knew the truth of the curse.

She led them to an area of the temple with two of the other priests, but insisted that, as one close to Fetnah and the dread weapon, that Smersh was the right person to , conduct the blessing, aided by the other three priests. With their help, Smersh succeeded, and the way was clear to perform the deed.

However, the senior priest did not want this done in the Temple, given the profane nature of the weapon, Instead she recommended a shrine built into the wall of the southern watchtower as a suitable place and, with sacrifices ready, Fetnah, marshalling all her experience as a bone carver, and hoping it transferred, struck the first blow, and itt wa true, striking all the script in one fluid movement. The evil spirit within was so surprised that it did not get a chance to attack Fetnah, and it fled the vicinity, howling in frustration.

Fetnah was able to reach out to Mirnusz, briefly, before that spirit attended his own funeral. Mirnusz, killed in a drugged stupor, knew little of the actual murder. When asked about the possible motive for his killing, he did offer a hypothesis. With Ishtir, Kutin and Idym in turmoil, with suspicions and accusations flying, the rebellion in western Idym that Merem is supporting would grow stronger, and Merem could take the territory.

In the discussion, Fetnah and Smersh recalled the area, how once it was part of a growing power, apparently it was once part of a greater empire, till it fell and was supplanted. It appears that some in Merem dreamed of achieving that power again. With Ishtir over-stretched militarily, they might see possibilities.


Pausing only to inform Mirnusz’s cousin Ctesiphon that the soul was free and that the rituals of mourning now had meaning, it was back to achieving justice!

However, the evidence so far was circumstantial. A lie about a sick aide and having the murderer foisted on him could be explained away as embarrassment, or distancing himself. Helping someone to the roof, could the witness be sure it was Rumekebu? More proof was needed.

And so a banquets was organised, a small, intimate one, only the Ambassadors, their aides and the Agents of Haraxa. Whilst all were there, then Farshad could sneak into the Meremite ambassador’s quarters. I was surprised that it  wasn’t Smersh doing this, I out that down to Scott having left the room and still catching up.

In the banquets, to one side of Ambassador Rumekebu, Fetnah was being engaging and charming, and Juan José was being silent and imposing, as fully armoured as diplomacy would allow, the guards on station were those he trusted.

Elsewhere, Farshad wandered over to the Ishtiri ambassadorial building, where he was known, and proceeded to the roof. There he found a pole and deftly vaulted to the Metemite embassy. Clambering down to the balcony of the ambassador’s quarters, he found the door and curtain shielded the inside. He slipped in to find a rather simply furnished room, frame bed, two chests, third chest upended like a portmanteau or dresser, a small, plain table and stool, and a smaller table with a drawer by the bed. Luckily lit by lamps, so he need not find his own light

Searching revealed mostly the expected. Clothes, makeup, some jewellery and accessories, writing materials, some personal items. More interestingly in the bedside table was a small fancy flask with a curious smell, but, more importantly, in a secret compartment in one chest, was a rack with three phials of liquid, and space for two more.

This was Gadanishz, the same sleeping poison used to drug Ambassador Mirnusz. This was evidence. Farshad left that as he found it, but he pocketed the flask. After a cursory check that outside the room was as he expected it, Farshad left the way he came, and to the banquet.

Entering the banquet, Farshad caught the eye of Juan José and Fetnah, and nodded. Wish every fibre of his being, Farshad resisted a Belgian accent and twirling his waxed moustache. Rumekebu maintained his composure as he was accused of orchestrating the murder of Mirnusz. The other ambassadors quickly regained themselves after the initial shock and, as Rumekebu poured scorn on the notion, the other Ambassadors heard the story and agreed to be witnesses to the proof, and Rumekebu was persuaded to go along by the prescience of Juan José and two of his less sympathetic guards.

Rumekebu’s room was crowded as Farshad revealed the poison. Inspired, Farshad checked the same spot on the other chest, and found another dagger, this one with Haraxan design motifs. The case seemed made.

Rumekebu had been sidling over to his bedside table, he pulled it open as a triumphant grin stole to his lips, but that soon fell to despair as the flask he expected to be there was gone. Desperate, he made a break for the balcony.  But Smersh blocked his way and the vice-like grip of Juan José landed on his shoulder.

The only thing missing was Juan José saying “You are blooming nicked, my old beauty!”

Ambassador Rumekebu was put under guarded arrest. Tomorrow there would be a trial.

The group prepared to rest the night when a messenger, dressed in plain brown tunic, kilt and with an brown, close fitting skull cap appeared, shouting for Smersh. Reluctantly Smersh identified himself, somewhat surprised as to who would be wanting him, as he and Fetnah had been gone for 1500 years.

Messenger: Mr. Smersh?

Smersh: Huh?

Messenger: Is your name Smersh?

Marsh: Yeah.

Messenger: I’ve got somethin’ for you [pulls an sealed box from his bag]: It’s a message.

Smersh: A message for me? That’s impossible! Who in all the hells are you?

Messenger: Union of Messengers. Actually a bunch of us at the local were hoping that you could shed a little light on the subject. You see, we’ve had this envelope in our possession for centuries. It was given to us with explicit instructions that it be delivered to a man of your description answering to the name of Smersh at this exact location, at this rough time, give or take. We had a little bet to see if this “Smersh” would actually be here. Looks like I lost.

And there we left it.

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