Having saved the Golden Sheaf Clanhouse from the deserters in the last session, the session opened a week later. Rest and some magical healing had enabled all the PCs to full recover from the battle, and the rains had finally stopped- hopefully for good this time. They were ready to renew their journey. The party was somewhat heavily laded- ten suits of armour and weapons had been scavenged by the PCs from the deserters. Having been informed that dressing in the armour of a Legion they weren't a part of was a bad idea, they elected to carry the armour until they could have it re-laquered.
In this session, I decided it was time to further introduce the PCs to some new aspects of Tekumel, both setting and system. The Respect mechanics from the T:EPT rulebook, the Sakbe road network, and the dangerous nature of much of Tekumel's fauna. To start this, I informed them that their courageous defence of the Clanhouse had earned all PCs one Respect point. I then explained the Respect mechanics (the players were all familiar with Pendragon, so I compared it to the Glory mechanic there) and told them that it would likely have been two or even three points if they Clanhouse they'd defended had belonged to their own Clan. The PCs soon got the idea- actively seeking out chances to perform Noble, Heroic deeds would give actual mechanical benefits to their characters, especially if it was the White Stone Clan that benefitted. Conversely, ignoble behaviour would be penalised.
The PC then departed the Golden Sheaf Clanhouse and ventured onto the Sakbe road. A brief description ("Picture a major Roman highway built along the top of the Great Wall of China" was how I started) led to the most immediate question of import. Which tier of the Sakbe road would the PCs be travelling on?
The PCs come from a High-status Clan, but aren't particularly rich or important members of such. Reading the Sakbe road descriptions, it seemed borderline- the PCs could, from the text, be justified as being on the Lower or the Middle tier. I decided that the Sakbe road guards at the road entrance would be the ones who decided who was entitled to walk on which tier, and for a case where there was doubt the usual depictions of Sakbe-road guards made the choice a simple one. The Guards assigned the PCs to the lowest tier, and then accepted a bribe to let the PCs go on the second instead.
Travelling down the Sakbe road, the PCs saw a great section of Tsolyani life passing on the tier below. Far too large a section, in fact- the experienced travellers soon noted that not only was the traffic unusually high, but there were rather more women and children present than was usually the case. Their suspicions raised, they halted at the next Sakbe-tower and went up to the top to see what was going on (depositing a small bribe with the guards for the privelege).
The view from the tower showed the situation all too well. The rainy season had already been a heavy one, and the extra week of torrential downpour coming on it's heels had been enough to make the Turina river overflow it's banks to the south. Whole swathes of countryside now resembled rice paddies, and this was the cause of the refugees filling the lower tiers of the Sakbe road. There wasn't much in the way of panic in the throngs- this being Tekumel, the inhabitants of the region were well aware that this tended to happen every four or five decades. So when it came, they simply followed the long-established methods of securing what they could in dry areas and carrying the rest to the nearest Clan-house in a dry region whilst they waited for the flood to subside.
One problem with the flooding was that the PCs had to abandon any thoughts of finding hospitality at Clan-houses along the way- they would be over-full or flooded.After a few days of travel, they were running short of food (the armour meant they couldn't carry as many provisions) and having to barter with passing groups of peasants for more. The upper-class characters got to taste the usual peasant fare for several days. Hard Dna-grain bread that they weren't sure if it was a hard trail-bread or justv stale; large amounts of rice with steamed vegetables that were likely past their prime before cooking; weak beer because they didn't want to chance the water with such heavy flooding. Every day there'd be a roll to see if something better could be found, and there was much squabbling made of such treats as over-ripe Dlel-fruits, three haunches of smoked Hmelu, and a pungent blue-ish wheel of Hmelu-cheese riddled with grubs (both the mold and grubs present by design and held as a local delicacy).
Every night, the PCs would camp at the open top level of a Sakbe-road tower, sleeping under the stars now that the rains had stopped and making the best of the oppressive heat and biting insects. On the third such night, the first major challenge of the session struck.
The PCs were asked to make Observation checks. All the PCs could hear the sudden screams coming from some of the lower status travellers camped nearby, but those who made the roll could also hear the strange buzzing noises as well. Kemuel got a critical, and worked out that whatever was making the buzzing noise was flying overhead, and numerous. He immediately screamed and ran for the stairs down to take refuge inside the tower itself. As the player stated- "It's Tekumel! The place is like Australia, only the wildlife has more venomous spines! I'm not waiting to find out what this one is or how it's going to kill us!"
In fairness, a perusal of any Tekumel bestiary does tend to support his reaction. Especially in this case.
Several buzzing, whistling sounds passed all around, and scream sounded out. The PCs still on the tower top saw a couple of the NPCs seemingly hit by arrows or darts, that must have been fired from above. The immediate reaction was to grab shields and then follow after Kemuel. When Sirukel went to pull an "arrow" out of one of the guards, though, he found it full off wriggling legs- and Tsodlan realised that the shield he'd blocked another with had a strange rasping sound coming from it.
The heavy rains and strong North-Easterly wind following them had resulted in a swarm of Shivrai being blown much further North than their usual habitat, and they were descending on anyone illuminated by the various campfires.
People retreated quickly down below, and after one Shivrai flew through an arrowslit window to strike Mvekku, the PCs quickly managed to barricade the windows and wait the swarm out. Kemuel proved uncharacteristically useful in the situation- his initial response of "purge them with fire!" and putting a torch to the exposed Shivrai eating their way into people was an effective way of removing them. And with no PC having any medical skills, his high Intelligence gave him a default high enough to make a reasonable job of treating the wounds.
The next day, the PCs took stock of their situation. Several guards and slaves had been injured, and while none were too injured for travel, they would all require lighter loads until they healed. This meant that the armour the PCs had been lugging around would very likely have to be abandoned. Noticing that the prive of a bearer-slave and a full suit of medium armour with weapons wasn't too different in the price lists, Sirukel's player hit on a plan. They would keep six suits for their own guards, and sell the rest in exchange for slaves to help carry things. The situation not particularly favouring the PCs, they managed to get two slaves for the four sets of arms- which would allow them to press on, but likely slowed even further.
Kemuel, meanwhile, had aquired a flask of poor-quality Penom-made Tsuhoridu, which he was drinking to alleviate the boredom of the journey. He was considerably under it's effects when a far more impressive-looking litter and entourage from a member of the Red Sun Clan overtook them on the road. Observing the occupant of the litter as it moved past them- and more specifically his attractive slave-girl- Kemuel managed to give offence to this Red Sun scion.
Gachaya attempted to defuse the situation with some fast talking, but decided he didn't much care for the tone of the Red Sun member (Zagar hiMaraku) in how he was addressed. Things began to escalate, and the "Matters of Honour" rules mechanics were invoked.
I explained these to the PCs. Essentially, two Tsolyani of righly equal status in this sort of confrontation wager points of respect. The one who backs down or is proved wrong loses a point, the one who doesn't gains one. Hearing this, Gachaya's player decided that not only would his character not apologise and lose face (reputation point), he'd provoke Zagar to the point where it was actuall TWO points the characters had on the line. He felt he'd seen the fast track to gaining respect- and since behaviour like this was likely why his character was exiled in disgrace to a rural Clanhouse, I decided to go with it.
Zagar and Gachaya were at the point of arranging a date at the Hirilakte arena, when the second major encounter of the session occurred.
Screams were heard from the flooded side of the road, and the PCs quickly moved to see what was happening. A large group of peasants- roughly a Clan-house worth- were standing on the waterlogged road. Between them and the entrance to the Sakbe-road was a Feshengu, in the process of devouring two peasants it'd already killed. The road, altough muddy, was raised up from the fields to either side- these were fully flooded. This meant the peasants had little hope of escaping the Feshengu as things stood.
The question was immediately raised- would killing the Feshengu and saving the peasants be considered a Noble Action, thus gaining respect? Given the danger involved, I decided that if they could pull it off it was worth a point of Respect for all involved. Gachaya immediately changed the terms of his confrontation with Zagar- whoever managed to slay the Feshengu was clearly the more worthy of the two of them. Various interaction rolls made, Zagar agreed, and their respective entourages made ready for the confrontation.
Zagar began donning his armour from his baggage train. Gachaya declared a true man wouldn't need armour to fight the beast (he'd actually worked out that armour wouldn't be much use against it), and claimed first attempt on it because he was ready NOW. Quickly forming a plan (and setting up the Teamwork pools, rolling for Command and Analysis) the PCs set to work.
Noting the size of the beast and the relative number of limbs, Kemuel had queried just how agile it was on dry land as opposed to water and mud. Deciding this was a reasonable point, I told them it was likely not agile at all outside water. The plan was made for Gachaya to stand and taunt the Feshengu until it charged him, whereupon he would lead it to the entrance to the Sakbe road. The beast would ascend the stairs, poke it's head through the gateway of the tower, and then the PCs and their guards would set upon it with spears.
The plan had so many ways it could've gone wrong- but fortunately, the PCs made good use of the teamwork pool and Gachaya managed to reach the tower safely. Stabbing with spears occurred, and the Feshengu was quickly dispatched with no loss of human life- much to the PCs (and my) surprise.
Having lost out on the challenge, Zagar lost face (Respect) to Gachaya and departed in very poor humour. Since his destination was Urmish, the PCs will be encountering him and his Clan again when they reach there. I'd been planning for them to be the PCs opponents in the Urmish-based adventure, and this sets things up nicely.