Monday, 28 January 2013

Tekumel - Session 8

In the end, Sirukel had invested everything he had in the goods the slaves were now carrying, luxury food and drink from the farmlands around Urmish to carry to Jakalla. Realising he'd probably need money along the way, he managed to negotiate a loan from the Clan (with Reputation loss if it wasn't repaid) due to his good standing. One of the first things he did was set aside money to get a better grade of food for the slaves, as the slave-handlers had told them they could likely manage a faster pace if the slaves were well fed and rested on each sixth day.

The quicker pace was needed for two reasons. First, Sirukel had opted for the Risky investment option, which we'd decided would mean it needed to get to Jakalla within a month or lose a large amount of it's value. The reason for this deadline was easy to deduce from a glance at the calendar- in just over a month's time, The Unveiling of Beauty by the Temple of Hrihayal would be followed a week later by The Enhancement of Emerald Radiance by the Temple of Dlamelish. The two most significant feast days of these Goddesses happening so close in a city that worshipped them above all others led to great celebrations in Jakalla. I decided that in my version of Jakalla, in the days between these festivals every Clan, Legion or other organisation was expected to host a significant party, leading to a week of revelry between these two religious festivals. The climax would be The Enhancement of Emerald Radiance, which here was a day-long carnival culminating in feasting and orgies. Naturally, anyone who had reason to travel to Jakalla at this time of year would try to have their visit coincide with this time.

(The scale of things here is something I came up with myself, but given the official dates of the festivals and what I know of Jakalla, it seems to make sense. Plus, I love the idea of something like an XXX-rated New Orleans Mardi Gras being held in the streets of The City Half As Old As The World.)

The group made excellent progress down the Sakbe road. The moons were both full in the sky, so the group pushed ahead at night and made up for the loss of sleep in the heat of midday. They took note of the other travellers on the road, but none heading the same direction at the same pace were of the sort of status that the PCs would interact with. There were some problems with potential loss of goods due to the general shenanigans inherent to Tekumel, but the PCs kept their eyes open and Sirukel had by now grasped how to get the Sakbe-road Guards to do their jobs ("Proclaim my Clan and then hit them with a bag full of money until they get off their lazy behinds").

In fact, the only incident involving a merchant being swindled out of goods that succeeded was the one the PCs initiated- showing that Sirukel's player is already grasping how the mind of a Tsolyani merchant works. The group had stopped to rest for a day at one of the larger Sakbe forts, which had a tent city of various people living off the passing travellers just off the road. Sirukel noticed that there was a group of Mu'ugalarvyani merchants who had a suspiciously large number of guards compared to the size of their caravan. This led him to deduce that the goods they were carrying were very expensive, and he concocted a plan. With the connivance of the Sakbe-guard Captain, he managed to have some of the goods- rare perfumes, oils and spices- stolen and planted in the baggage of a Salarvyani merchant who was also resting nearby. When the theft was discovered, carefully coached witnesses hinted the Salarvyani was to blame, and when the guards searched his goods the planted evidence was found. The PCs set off again, leaving the rest stop to the sound of the Salarvyani merchant being told he might escape impalement and merely be enslaved if he told them where the rest of the goods were hidden...

A little way down the road at the next tower, Sirukel met up with a guard patrol and paid a few hundred kaitars for the missing goods which the guards had "vanished" in the confusion, secure in the knowledge that he'd get as much as ten times that when he sold them in Jakalla.

The weeks went by, and it looked as if the party would reach Jakalla on time and without major incident. The players themselves, of course, knew full well that things wouldn't go that smoothly, and were becoming increasingly paranoid about keeping an eye out for trouble. With the exception of Kemuel's player, who had been spending the weeks availing himself of the spellbooks he'd recovered from the Citadel of Sighs and Dortlavyanu's tomb. With some very good rolls on the skills involved (including his Scholar: Sorcery roll at the default Intelligence-3) he managed to learn a very flawed version of Terrorisation in two weeks, and then after another two weeks a more refined one. Learning from a book with gaps in the knowledge base and no Temple instruction is very, very difficult in the T:EPT rules, but Kemuel has the stats to give it a try, and in this case it paid off. But just wait until the first time he botches a spell-learning roll with no teacher supervising him...

The first thing he did on learning the first version, naturally, was to start testing it on the slaves, and after these frantic runaways were caught (given a token whipping because the slave-master knew they were having Sorcery used on them) the other PCs started lecturing him on why throwing magic at the slaves they needed to carry them and their possessions to Jakalla was a Bad Thing. Though now he had actual magic, he noticed that Gachaya no longer attempted physical beatings as a means of discipline (conducted out of sight to avoid any loss of status even if all present knew fully well what the thumping sounds and cries of pain meant).

Finally, one night when the PCs were camped just off the Sakbe road- the Tower was already taken by persons of High Clan status and they didn't feel like marching all the way to the next one- the trouble the players had been expecting arrived. The slave-handlers had informed the PCs that word was spreading to the new slaves about what had happened before reaching Urmish, and the mutterings were now that Kemuel was intending to practise darker and darker magics on the slaves as time went by. And now, the inevitable seemed to have happened. Two slaves were missing, taking one of the packs loaded with the expensive goods stolen from the Mu'ugalarvyani merchants with them. The PCs found this a little strange- did the slave expect to sell these somehow?- but Sirukel was not going to lose the pack. He set out, with Tsodlan, Mvekku and the six entourage guards to hunt them down- Kemuel refused to go traipsing around in the dark, and Gachaya decided he didn't want to leave Kemuel unsupervised.

Eventually, after two hours, they located the slaves. For some reason, they'd stopped to argue with each other- creeping closer, it seemed the argument was about whose idea this had been and, did they actually need to have the pack. Surrounding the runaways and seizing them, Sirukel questioned the slaves. After much prodding, they admitted that they'd suddenly known, without any doubt, that the only thing they could do was flee from the caravan, and that taking the pack had seemed like such a natural thing to do they hadn't even questioned it until they'd been running for an hour. Immediately guessing that some sort of magic was at work, they hurried back to the camp.

Back at the caravan, the Temple of Ksarul was making its move. Having failed to recruit Kemuel by simple persuasion, and the first attempt at casting Mind-Bar upon him having failed, they had now hatched a plot to kidnap him and take as much time as was needed to properly Mind-Bar him into joining the Temple. A group of agents for the Temple, led by a Sorcerer-Priest, had contacted a group of local bandits. Posing as a slightly more competent grade of lowlife scum, they told the bandits that they knew of a very valuable cargo being taken by caravan but lacked the numbers to raid it by themselves- did the bandits want to help them in exchange for a cut of the loot? The Sorcerer-Priest was in civilian disguise and had attached himself to the entourage of an Iron Helm official, arranging for them to stay in the tower and so ensure the PCs were outside any protective walls. The agents joined the bandit raid, and Gachaya was suddenly awoken by the sounds of combat.

Gachaya soon learned the advantages of learning a fighting style which didn't use armour became apparent, being able to simple spring up and grab his weapons before fighting at full effectiveness- the caravan guards had all taken off their light armour to sleep. The tide was very much against the caravan from the start, but Gachaya managed to injure two of the attackers and buy time for a group of guards to rally.

The agents had let the bandits form a distraction whilst they went for the palanquin he was sleeping inside (it had curtains to draw against the various nocturnal insects). Kemuel had woken at the sound of the fighting, and begun throwing his Terrorisation spell- his first use of the less flawed version that only needed a round to cast- at the bandits, failing each time. When he saw the agents coming for him, he leapt out of the palanquin and fled, quick thinking and good Dex rolls keeping him ahead of the pursuit.

Seeing that Kemuel was in danger, Gachaya ran to aid him. A Stealth roll allowed him to circle round in the darkness and make his first attack against an opponent who hadn't seen him. With no defence roll, the blow took the agent out of the fight. This gave Kemuel a chance to try his spell again, and this time one of the agents ran screaming off into the night. Another agent then smashed the hilt of his sword into Kemuel's face, knocking him unconscious (higher than his Shock Value and failed Will roll) as the final agent turned to face Gachaya.

The fight lasted several rounds, and made use of many of the advanced combat rules as well as my own house rules- it seems the PCs are definitely getting the hang of combat, because with some intelligent choices Gachaya was able to injure his opponent badly while taking only two minor injuries himself. Deciding rescuing Kemuel was more important than finishing him, Gachaya left him and pursued.

Carrying the senseless Kemuel over one shoulder, the remaining agent hadn't managed to get enough of a lead to escape. Gachaya ran past him, and another fight began. This time it went worse for Gachaya, as he took a significant wound, but deciding to pin everything on one roll he stacked up as many bonuses from other strategies and manoeuvres as he could before going for an all-out attack. The defensive roll was a poor one, and the final agent fell.

By this time the Sakbe guards had roused, and the remaining bandits fled with whatever loot they could carry. Some were pursued, and dropped loot to run faster. Sirukel arrived back to find the losses to the caravan goods weren't as dire as he'd initially feared- selling what he stole from the Mu'ugalarvyani would mean he still came in at the level of profit he'd been anticipating.

A Priest of Ketengku from a Medium status Clan had been described as being carried on a cheap litter on the lowest level of the Sakbe road during the day, so he was quickly found and persuaded ("donations to the Temple") to use healing magic on Kemuel and Gachaya, along with the injured caravan guards. Sitting down to take stock, the PCs agreed that somebody was clearly targeting Kemuel- the question was, who could it be?


The session went well, and I managed to entertain the PCs without throwing any strangeness beyond what usually happens on Tekumel- I was afraid these might be getting over-used. The fights went extremely well, and I'll have to remember to post my house rules for how combat manoeuvres work soon.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Tekumel - Session 7

The PC were now planning to leave Urmish, but first, were hoping to get hold of some more slaves to allow them to travel faster- only having the bare minimum reduced them to the Leisurely pace to avoid tiring the slaves carrying the litter, and now having two litters would mean even more slaves would be required. They discussed various methods by which they might raise money or get the Clan to supply them, but all these failed to prove worthwhile when considered at length. In the meantime, Tsodlan contented himself with drilling the guards in the hope of getting them properly trained in Formation Fighting and Kemuel amused himself with his new slave girl.

Then, one night, the Clanhouse was awoken by sounds of a commotion.

Fearing the worst, the PCs grabbed weapons and rushed to see what was going on. Slaves and servants were running about in a panic, and after Tsodlan's NCO bellowing restored some sort of order, questioning them revealed that screaming had been heard down in the subterranean storage levels, in the sub-basements below the basements the Slaves and Servants slept in. Gathering their guards, the PCs ventured down, brandishing the Endless Light stones they'd looted from the tower back in the Citadel of Sighs.

The screams in question had ceased by the time the PCs started to investigate, but questioning the servants revealed that for a few days they'd mentioned strange sounds, but been ignored. Looking at the likely source in a sub-basement store-room, Kemuel rolled high enough on an Observation roll to spot that a block of stone was missing in the wall behind a pile of crates. Moving the crates, closer examination showed that someone had been attempting to tunnel into the sub-basement from outside.

Slaves were set to work clearing this entrance, and soon the PCs were looking at a tunnel leading off into the darkness of the Underworld. Looking at the ground, they could see fresh blood there, and an occasional dropped weapon- but no sign of bodies. Deciding that this mystery needed to be solved before they simply re-sealed the tunnel, the PCs gathered some supplies and set off into the darkness with their guards.

As the PCs followed the trail of blood, I explained the extent and origins of the Underworlds that existed beneath many of the ancient cities of Tekumel. After going some distance in (and remembering to have Sirukel mark their passage so they could find their way back), they heard screams once again. Approaching the sound, they found a large chamber where a badly wounded man had crawled into a crevice to escape from an especially large and hungry Dlaqo which had decided that he was close enough to being carrion to count as dinner.

Realising the man might be their best chance to understand what had occurred in the tunnel to the Clanhouse, the PCs moved to attack. Tsodlan led the guards in a co-ordinated assault, but the Dlaqo's chitinous armour proved resistant to their best efforts, the mightiest blows only lightly marking it. Not inclined by nature to confrontation, the Dlaqo attempted to back away, but Tsodlan pressed the attack. In a panic, the Dlaqo lunged for the nearest adversary- Dresu, Tsodlan's eldest son- and delivered a mighty blow (critical hit) that struck him down. Scampering over him, the giant beetle now tried to flee- but Tsodlan would have none of this. Surrounding the beast, the guards finally battered the Dlaqo down and rammed spears into the joints of it's exoskeleton. Examining Dresu's wounds, they were dire indeed- but Kemuel produced one of his cache of scrolls and after casting it found that it did indeed contain the healing spell he's expected. A most potent one at that- Dresu's wounds were completely healed.

Sirukel had Mvekku grab the man (who'd been attempting to crawl away) and proceeded to question him. Intimidation revealed that he was a Nakome bandit, one of a group who lived in the Underworld. Their band would find ways to access the city above and use them to steal from the Clans, and then retreat back to the Underworld. Whilst passing along a corridor one day, one of the band had heard faint noises, and realised an occupied area was nearby- he marked the place, and a plan was formed to tunnel through to whatever was on the other side. Just as they had been on the verge of breaking into the White Stone Clanhouse, though, a large band of Mrur had descended on them, slaying the band without mercy- and then leaving, taking the bodies for whatever strange purposes he knew not.

Whilst the PCs were now completely in the dark as to what this band of Mrur might be about, their captive also revealed that only a third of the band had been slain at the tunnel- the rest were at their refuge in the Underworld. He also revealed that their leader was an Ahoggya renegade, cast out by his own kind for who knew what offence and commanding the outlaw band through sheer intimidation- it would kill and eat any who disobeyed him.

Returning to the Clanhouse, the PCs reported these events to the Clan Elders. The Mrur would remain a mystery, but Gachaya and Kemuel both declared that an assault on the Nakome band was required. This Clanless rabble had attempted to invade the Clanhouse, and their location was know thanks to the prisoner. They should strike now! The Elders agreed, and after making plans the PCs gathered some more equipment and took the prisoner as a guide, watched by Mvekku at all times.

The route to the Nakome lair seemed somewhat circuitous, arousing the PC's suspicion, but their hapless guide insisted that the most direct route led through a section of the underworld where a Ngoro was known to lurk. Fortunately the PC didn't test this advice, though they didn't know enough to question such a dire creature being as close to the surface as this. Finally, the band reached the Nakome lair.

The entrance to the lair was a double door at the end of a corridor. There was a pit trap with spikes of obsidian at the bottom in front of it, which had been triggered at some point in the past and never reset, leaving a ledge less than a foot wide on either side and in front of the doors. The prisoner had told the PCs how the band kept ladders on the other side, which the guards would place across the pit to allow access then remove before closing the doors.

The PCs had brought two ladders of their own (the guards carried them), and the plan was for Tsodlan and Mvekku to lead the charge across once these were in place and then have Mvekku throw the doors open; the guards would then follow two by two. Hopefully, with the element of surprise they would overwhelm the guards near the door and be into the main dwelling chamber before the bulk of the Nakome had roused to give a proper fight. The Ahoggya was of some concern, and the plan was for Kemuel to have one of the scrolls which seemed to have an offensive function out ready to deal with it when it appeared- with this most fearsome combatant eliminated, overcoming the rest of the lightly-armed and poorly trained rabble should be simple enough.

Tsodlan and Mvekku made it to the doors and threw them open as planned, readying their swords as they stepped into the chamber beyond. The plan started to fall apart with the second wave- Dresu and Quren were the next across, and Quren slipped whilst crossing the pit and fell, bringing the ladder down with him. Fortunately he was able to grab the ladder as he slipped, and ended up clinging desperately to it as it wedged diagonally in the pit. The rest of the guards would only be crossing one at a time, and one of those had to stay behind to help Quren.

Luckily there were only three Nakome guarding the door. A few rounds of fighting had one of them down and four guards across the pit, at which point Tsodlan told two of the guards to finish the last Nakome here whilst he led the charge to the main living area- he wanted to give the Nakome no time to rally and form a proper defence. Rushing into the largest chamber, Observation rolls let them identify those men who seemed to be trying to rouse the defenders, and these were singled out for attack. Mvekku claimed one, Tsodlan took another, and the Nakome forces started to fall back.

The Ahoggya burst out of an adjacent room at this point, charging the PCs. Kemuel had his scroll readied, and one successful roll later the Ahoggya clattered to the floor a dried-out husk. Success, though the PCs don't know enough magic to realise just how much overkill using a scroll of Dessication in this case likely was. With their leaders and strongest fighters dead, the remeining Nakome soon surrendered- Sirukel immediately began tallying up just how much they'd be worth as slaves.

With the lair secured, the PCs began to explore it and tally up the loot. The room the Ahoggya had lived in was a foul mess, and some players decided I must have hidden something important inside, knowing they'd not want top look. Several Nakome were forced to sift through the piles of refuse until they began to physically vomit. As this happened, Kemuel had been examining the various carvings and inscriptions on the walls of the lair, attempting to ascertain what this had been before the bandits lived here. With good rolls to read the fragmentary Engsvanyali script, he told the rest of the PCs that this was apparently the tomb of Dortlavyanu, a self-proclaimed "God-King" of the Time Without Kings. He guessed that this petty ruler with delusions of grandeur had been buried here, with the rooms they were in a shrine to worship him after his death. The abandoned state suggested his cult hadn't outlived his reign, but Kemuel suspected that his actual tomb was nearby and undiscovered.

Searching the tomb (and with another round of Nakome being forced to enter the Ahoggya lair), Kemuel located the secret door to Dortlavyanu's tomb (the player has a habit of rolling critical success on Observation rolls). Knowing that there was a significant chance that Dortlavyanu was still present as some form of higher undead, the PCs debated what to do. Tsodlan stated that he was staying by the entrance to the lair with the guards, watching the prisoners- the other PCs could go and be killed by "Whatever name Tekumel gives to a Liche" if they wanted. The opened the secret door and entered.

Dortlavyanu's tomb was filled with bodies- all long dead, and all apaprently having fallen whilst fighting each other. Closer examination suggested that some had been Dortlavyanu's undead guards, and others had been attacking the tomb itself. The attackers all had the colours of the Temple Guard of Qon- clearly, the followers of the Cohort of Belkhanu hadn't appreciated Dortlavyanu's claims to godhood. The last few Temple Guards seemed to have fallen around a strange chest, carved with the bestial, six-limbed form of Qon himself. Within was a strange yellowish powder that smelled of spice and incense.

As the PCs explored, just as they'd anticipated, Dortlavyanu appeared- now taking the spectral form of a Huru'u. His scream destroyed any thoughts of co-ordinated opposition- Kemuel bolted for the guards, Sirukel was paralysed with terror, and Mvekku took the excuse to drag Sirukel back to safety to cover his own fear.

Strangely, only Gachaya stood resolute against the horror (critical success on Will). Quickly deciding that the yellow powder had to have been brought here for a reason, he thrust his rapier into it and rubbed handfuls into himself before engaging the Huru'u. He'd guessed correctly- blessed by the Temple of Qon, the ritual powder did indeed make his sword more effective against the undead horror than a Chlen-hide weapon should have been. After several rounds of dancing around Dortlavyanu and stabbing at him, he lured the Huru'u back toward the chest and managed to throw a handful of the powder into its face, before stabbing it repeatedly. Tsodlan arrived with reinforcements just in time to see it fall.

The funerary treasures of Dortlavyanu were quickly looted- being of a minor rule of the Time of No Kings, they were less than impressive, but enough to help fund the PCs travels. Tsodlan lucked out (I used the Gardisiyal treasure tables again, because, this was a dungeon bash- you can't not roll on treasure tables) and found a steel shield, at which he started muttering "my precious" and clutching it to himself.

Returning to the surface, the PCs were showered in acclaim by the Clan, and they set about calculating how much they could get for their loot (less Tsodlan's shield, which he was planning to get covered in a layer of Chlen-hide to hide the fact it was steel). The slaves were "traded in" by their slave-handler, the loot sold, and enough slaves to have a change of bearers for both litters was bought. This was immediately negated by Sirukel, who talked his way into handling the "Party Fund" and promptly invested the lot in several thousand kaitars worth of luxuries from the Urmish area to carry to Jakalla. With the spare slaves thus pressed into work carrying these, the speed wouldn't be as great as the PCs had hoped. Sirukel also ended up having to pay for the hire of ten caravan guards from the Turning Wheel Clan, which the White Stone Clan had an agreement with locally to help run their caravans, and another two slave-handlers.

The PCs set off from Urmish in much grander style than they'd arrived, in a small caravan that now straddled two levels of the Sakbe road.


The purpose of this session was obviously to introduce the PCs to the Underworlds of Tekumel with a small old-school Dungeon Bash. I think it managed to get the origin and nature of the Underworlds across, whilst providing fun for all involved.

As always, comments are welcomed.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Tekumel - Session 6

The big event now facing the PCs was the feast that the Governor of Urmish was throwing. The Red Mountain and Standing Stone Clans were currently at odds with each other for influence in Urmish, and the holding of the seat of Governor by on of the Red Mountain Clan- seen as foreign interlopers in Urmish by the Standing Stone- was one of the points of contention. Paying for regular feasts and other public events was one of the ways in which the Governor sought to increase his status in the city.

The White Stone Clan would naturally be turning up, and the PCs had sufficiently improved their standing with the Urmish Clanhouse that they would be accompanying them in proper fashion. Of course, Fashion was an operative word here- the PCs would require clothing appropriate to their social station. The Clanhouse could provide some, but it would be barely adequate.

Examining their resource ratings and reserves of Kaitars, the PCs went clothes shopping. By dint of Tsodlan spending what money he had left and Sirukel using his resource rating, the group was able to pay for clothing at the bare minimum level appropriate for their station. Gachaya, being the only PC with the Style skill, gave the other PCs advice on what to wear and then made a roll to see how well he'd outfitted everyone. Getting a critical success, I decided that this warranted a +1 to the PC's social skill rolls at the party.

(Those who've read the "Coming of Age in Tekumel" solo gamebook will doubtless recognise that the party in the Bey Su section is the big inspiration for the feast here.)

Finally, the evening came and the PCs joined the rest of the Clan in the torchlit procession to the Governor's Villa. The villa was a private holding rather than belonging to either his Clan or the position of Governor and was in the New City, the section of Urmish created by extending the wall to enclose a large section of ground. This area had been landscaped and used to build residences for the well-to-do Clans and individuals of Urmish. Several processions of litter-bearing slaves flanked by torch-bearers could be seen converging on the Villa, amongst the throngs of lower-status Clans who were merely walking there.

In the Tsolyani manner, rather than issue invitations the Governor had simply announced the event and then made preparations to serve everyone who turned up- a significant portion of the city's populace in effect. The villa was surrounded by three rings of revellers, each of higher status as they drew nearer to the villa itself. At the outermost ring, barrels of Dna-grain beer and tables of bread surrounded the fire-pits that had been dug to spit-roast whole Tsi'il in one go, where the lowest status Clans celebrated. Things improved in quality as they approached the villa itself, until just outside it they could see the pavilions erected for the Medium status Clans to feast within on food poor only by comparison to that being served inside the villa.

After entering the dining hall within the villa and making the ritual obeisance to the Seal of the Imperium displayed on the highest dais at the head of the hall, the White Stone Clan were shown to their places and the players were introduced to the subtle etiquette of Tsolyani dinner customs. After roleplaying for some time until they seemed to grasp things, they players began to leave the dining hall to mingle and observe the other entertainments which had been arranged in the adjoining chambers.

When the various entertainments were described, the PCs decided to watch the puppets first. In the nearby hallway the Clan of the Hands Which Are Not Seen was putting on one of it's better performances, the small but exquisitely made puppets striding about the stage in the midst of the dramatic epic. After appreciating the quality of the puppets and the performance (having the differences between a modern and Tsolyani puppet show explained) the PCs began to mingle with the crowd.

Trouble began brewing when observation rolls let the PCs spot Dresu, the eldest of Tsodlan's sons, getting on very well indeed with a girl his own age from the Red Mountain Clan. Out of Dresu's line of sight was a much older man from the same Clan, who was powerfully built for his age and showed all the signs of being a veteran warrior. He seemed less than enthused by Dresu's progress in seducing the girl, and once courtesy allowed him to leave his current conversation he began to make his way over with an unpleasant expression on his face.

Seeing this, Gachaya made a quick inquiry- finding that the man was a senior officer in the Legion of Lord Kurukaa who'd been transferred from the Legion of the Lord of Red Devastation in Tumissa on his Clan's orders, as part of their efforts to transform the local Legion into a serious military force. The girl Dresu was trying to seduce was his youngest wife, and he'd shown very little understanding toward such things in the past, preferring the Hirilakte arena as his way to seek satisfaction.

Deciding to try and head things off before any challenges could be issued, Gachaya took advantage of the fact that the offended husband was speaking to his Legion Commander to walk up to Dresu and the wife (Tsodlan lacks the social skills to get involved in such a thing without causing offence). His attempts to subtly draw Dresu away failed, however- he didn't see the husband, and was a teenage male getting on well with an attractive female. Seeing that the husband was soon to join them, Gachaya resorted to Plan B in desperation, Using his own skills at Charm and two levels in Attractive (exquisite), he started seducing the wife himself. The idea was that the wife's interest would focus on Gachaya, who had a better chance of talking his way out of trouble with the husband than Dresu did.

As it happened, the husband didn't even have a chance to say anything. Dresu himself took offence at being interrupted when he was "about to score", and started making a scene with Gachaya. He did so to the extent that there was going to be a loss of a Respect point if Gachaya took the insult sitting down- so he decided to throw subtle insult back and let Dresu live with the loss of Respect. Dresu, his blood now well and truly up, responded by challenging Gachaya to a duel in front of the growing crowd of High Clan witnesses.

Sighing, Gachaya accepted and let Dresu stalk off from the room to sulk before finding his Father to inform him of what had transpired (he'd failed the Observation roll). Feeling somewhat concerned, Tsodlan took Sirukel with him to start asking around after where his sons had gone. There were no clues about Dresu after he'd stormed out, but they heard that Quren had already left the party- in the litter of a Priestess of Hrihayal twice his age. Muttering a prayer to Avanthe to watch over foolish young men being led into trouble by their erections (and wondering as a player if Avanthe and/or Dlamelish has an Aspect devoted to such), they returned to the festivities.

In the meantime, Kemuel had found himself talking with a matronly woman from the High Pinnacle Clan, and making a far better impression than he normally does (critical Charm roll). Deciding that he was "Such a nice, well-mannered young man", she introduced him to several other members of her Clan- including her Daughter, who was a Priestess of Sarku. Noticing that she was rather attractive under the Ritual face-paint, Kemuel immediately started trying to impress her.

At first prepared to listen to his bragging and attempts at seduction indulgently before politely brushing him off, the priestess picked up on one of the many things he was mentioning as he tried to impress on her his mystical potential. She heard about his attempts to harness his mystical energies and how they seemed to have swapped the minds of two slaves around. She knew full well that such a claim was unlikely- but she was also privy to some of her Temple's secrets, one being about a cache of artefacts which had gone missing along the road between Tumissa and Urmish. And one of these artefacts was The Jade Bowl of the God-King of Purdanim, a powerful artefact with the power to exchange the minds of two people. The wheels started turning in her mind- could the PCs group have unknowingly stumbled onto at least part of the cache? (As anyone who read Sirukel's character background will know, this is indeed the case.)

The priestess of Sarku suddenly started returning Kemuel's interest, seeing seduction as the perfect excuse to speak with him at length in private. At this point things became complicated, however, as another attractive Priestess- this time in the robes of the Temple of Ksarul- approached Kemuel and began vying for his attentions. The Temple of Ksarul had decided to start trying to recruit Kemuel whilst he wasn't pledged to any Temple and therefore fair game, and had guessed (rightly) that this was the best way to get his attention.

Having only just finished being challenged to a duel by Dresu, Gachaya had gone looking for Kemuel to ensure that he didn't get into any trouble as well. Seeing the situation and quickly grasping that the women were both acting as honey traps for some reason, he decided to go with seducing them himself again (the player just worked out this session what sort of bonuses two levels of Attractive: Exquisite gives against women and was making the most of it). He didn't roll well enough to make either Priestess ignore their duty to the Temple for him, but since Kemuel wasn't going to roll well enough to get the threesome he wanted Gachaya was probably going to end up with the one Kemuel didn't pick. As it transpired, he went for the Sarku Priestess, leaving Gachaya to enjoy the favours of Ksarul's Priestess for a night.

Sirukel and Tsodlan visited the rest of the entertainments, and spent a considerable amount of time observing the gambling room. Deciding that neither actually dared risk money (Tsodlan was poor, and Sirukel had a Miserly disadvantage) they still got a good idea of how gambling works in Tekumel, both the games played IC and the mechanics OOC. Realising that the Gambling skill in T:EPT was based on the average of Intelligence and Psyche, the players all glanced over at Kemuel's sheet, worked out just how good a gambler he'd make, and immediately made plans to teach him the Gambling skill.

Whilst enjoying the company of their respective ladies, Kemuel and Gachaya were both subtly questioned. Gachaya was skilled enough at intrigue to not give anything away and skilled enough in Sexuality that the Priestess soon forgot to ask anyway. Kemuel told everything, but didn't have anything to add beyond what he'd told the Sarku-Priestess at the party.

The next day, those who'd spent the night elsewhere returned one by one to the Clanhouse. Tsodlan found his sons, Dresu and Quren, returning in the afternoon. Quren had a slightly shell-shocked look about him from his night with the Hrihayal Priestess, and Dresu was accompanied by a servant who presented the Clanhouse with a bill- thwarted in his plans to bed the officer's wife, he'd struck up with another attractive female and not really registered that she was a very expensive Courtesan until the morning after. Needless to say, Tsodlan spent the afternoon disciplining Dresu extensively (made to do weapons drill in full armour in direct sunlight for hours whilst still slightly hung-over).

Kemuel returned to the Clanhouse to find that an invitation to speak with the High Priest of the Temple of Ksarul had been delivered to him. The Temple was clearly stepping up it's campaign to woo him over to Ksarul, and this was the next stage. An invitation from a High Priest was both flattering to Kemuel's ego and not something he could refuse without giving insult, so he sent reply that he'd attend the Temple tomorrow as requested. None of the PCs knew enough of Ksarul to grasp that this wasn't as big a thing as it would be from other Temples- the High Priest of Ksarul is likely just some stooge whose job is to attend social functions and meet whoever he's told to with the real power likely being one of his functionaries.

Another day dawned, with everyone finally recovered from the revelry. People rose early to visit the Hirilakte arena- this was the day that Dresu was to fight Gachaya, and nobody in the Clanhouse wanted to miss it. Dresu wore his new Medium armour with longsword and shield, whereas Gachaya fought in his preferred fashion- no armour, with a rapier and dagger. Fortunately for Gachaya, his player finally took note of what all his Fight Manoeuvres actually meant and made good use of them. It was a good example of how skill ratings alone don't win fights in T:EPT- Dresu was just as good numerically, but Gachaya had Fight Manoeuvres and Weapon Specialisations, so despite being injured was able to strike two significant blows and force Dresu to yield.

Kemuel visited the Temple of Ksarul after the duel. He was made very welcome, and treated as an honoured guest whilst the full "Sales Pitch" was made (Ksarul is a far better patron of Sorcerers, and he would do far better to live up to his full magical potential in His Temple). Kemuel considered this, but with his general lechery he decided that Dlamelish was still the deity for him. The High Priest told him that the door was always open if he should change his mind. An attempt was then made by a Sorcerer-Priest of Ksarul watching from a secret room nearby to Mind-Bar Kemuel and gain his allegiance that way. Fortunately for Kemuel, his incredibly high natural Magic Resistance let him throw the spell off, without even realising exactly what it was. He left the Temple as soon as he was able to without being rude.

The day after this, a gift was sent to Kemuel from the Temple of Ksarul. A very comfortable and finely decorated litter (far better than the one the PCs have now) was sent to the Clanhouse, with a team of slaves to carry it and a beautiful Livyani Slave-girl (the tattoos make her look so exotic!) within. The documents presented showed that all of these were now Kemuel's property.

Naturally, the PCs were highly suspicious of this (though Kemuel was lecherous enough to not care), but examination of the situation suggested that they couldn't really turn the gift down or leave it here (failing to do so could be taken as insult by the Temple of Ksarul). They settled for trading the bearer-slaves with the Clan to ensure that whoever carried the litter wasn't under some secret orders, and very thoroughly checking the litter to make sure that no sorcerous charms were somehow concealed upon it.

All of these were very sensible precautions, but the players had in fact completely missed where the trap they were looking for was. Anlasha the slave-girl had been subjected to a ritual by the Priests of Ksarul that would allow them to see through her eyes and listen through her ears whenever they wished, so long as the talisman she was linked too was held. A variation of the Dominate spell would also allow the one holding the talisman to take control of her briefly. A Mind-Bar placed upon her made Anlasha herself completely unaware of any of this, and indeed she was going to fall in love and become utterly devoted to her new master. The Mind-Bar and linking ritual were both protected from detection by the seals placed upon Anlasha herself- these take the form of mystical tattoos when used on a human, hence the use of a Livyani girl. Their habitual use of tattoos means that the seals will go unremarked- unless she's shown to someone familiar enough with Livyanu to realise that half of Anlasha's tattoos are in fact nothing to do with Livyani script.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Thoughts on running an Empire of the Petal Throne Campaign

I thought I'd share a couple of things I've found useful when handling the complex and Byzantine society of Tsolyanu in my campaign.

The first of these is the Ettiquette skill. These skills would, on the face of things, be some of the most valuable in the ritualised world of Tekumel- as vital as Horse Riding to a Mongol. But really, how often would these be rolled? You buy the skill, assume it's there, and then actual social interactions are made with social skills liek Charm or through roleplaying. So in many campaigns these skills will just sit there and never be used. So what to do with them?

I found the answer to this in mid-game, when one of my PCs said something that was very insulting and grounds for a duel or Shamtla to an NPC of equal status. Clearly this was a problem- either I explain where he went wrong, give a "take back", and do it again; or, the session takes a detour as it suddenly becomes about how this PC has just caused a Matter of Honour.

So I said- "Roll Ettiquette. If you succeed, then you said basically the same thing but phrased it in such a way that the NPC can't take offense."

And just like that, the Ettiquette skill became the "Saving throw vs. Insult". Whenver my players, who are Tekumel newbies, do something that would cause offence, an Ettiquette roll lets them do it without giving a legitimate cause for grievance. Provided it can be spun that way, of course- physically assaulting someone is going to be impossible to justify by any roll. But it keeps things moving in a fun way, and teaches the players about Tsolyani society without making them afraid to act for fear of giving offence.


The second thing I've found to work is a way to cover up the mistakes that I myself make. Tekumel is a very complex setting, and this is my first time running it. So inevitably, there's things that slip through the cracks. I decide on something, then several weeks later- when it's established canon in the player's minds- I realised, this should never have happened that way.

Take the size of the PCs escort, for instance. It seemed perfectly reasonable when I started planning the campaign, but as the importance of Kemuel increased (see my Magic notes earlier on this blog) it occurred to me that he should have an escort from the Temple of Dlamelish or the White Stone Clan sent for him. So why wasn't this happening? Obviously it should have happened. But it hadn't- and now I had to retcon a reason why.

It was clearly some sort of conspiracy.

Tsolyanu is rife with scheming and intrigue at all levels, but it's far too much hard work for a GM to cosntantly plot out all these factions and agendas. However, a GM is going to make mistakes, or forget things- so when this happens, between sessions he works out whose doing that is. Work out what should have happened, compare it to what did happen, and then invent a conspiracy that explains the disparity.

In the case of my campaign, the High Priestess of Urmish was another loose end. She was the one who'd identified Kemuel's potential, but I didn't want such a powerful ally for the PCs in Urmish. So she had to go. No escort, no High Priestess- there's a war of assassins going on!

Both the High Priestess in Urmish and the Priestess sent from Sokatis to escort Kemuel have been done away with by the warring factions within Dlamelish's Temple. The Heretics had an agent passing through Urmish who uncovered the truth about Tsodlan and sabotaged the High Priestess' youth-restoring magics. Suddenly aged and senile, she was ritually slain by the Priestesses and a replacement- who hadn't been told of Kemuel- appointed. The agent of the Heretics went back to Sokatis to report, then was returning to escort Kemuel when agents of the Temple in Jakalla captured her. She didn't reveal the existence of Kemuel before the Temple finished with questioning her and used her as a demon sacrifice.

So, my mistake has suddenly turned into a dangerous game of intrigue and espionage which the PCs are walking blindly into. This, I feel, is good advice for any Tekumel GM- if you realise you've made a mistake, then invent a plot that's responsible. It doesn't have to be a far-reaching as this- it could be just a few low-level officials or guards extorting a handful of Kaitars. But when a mistake is made, try to put it aside until the end of the session, and then work out why this really happened!

Tekumel - Session 5

At the end of the last session, the PCs had finally reached the first waypoint on their journey- the gates of the City of Urmish. The Sakbe road afforded them a magnificent view of the walls as they approached the Gate of the Green Staff. Passing through the massive stone arch, they crossed the Bridge of the Twelfth Emperor and entered the city.

All the characters had visited Urmish at least once before. Tsodlan had served for decades in the Legion of Lord Kurakaa, one of the three Legions based in Urmish (and just as lacking in prestige and experience as the other two). Sirukel had stayed at the White Stone Clan-house here several times in his journeys with the Clan-owned merchant caravans, and Gachaya had stayed at the city for a night on his way to his rural exile. Even Kemuel had made the journey once, as his Clan-house was in the habit of sending it's youngsters to the Temples of Avanthe or Dlamelish when they turned thirteen to take part in the ritual deflorations- it was on this occasion that Kemuel's powerful magical energies had been sensed by the High Priestess of Dlamelish in Urmish. The basics of the city were thus explained to them- it was a sizeable city (if not so much as Bey Su or Jakalla) and primarily a centre of trade for the surrounding agricultural breadbasket regions. It was also mostly peaceful and prosperous due to it's location, completely lacking the glorious histories of cities such as Tumissa or Fasiltum.

Heading down the great avenue, the PCs had their first (roleplayed) introduction to some of the non-human races of Tekumel amidst the throngs of Urmish's citizenry- Pe Choi adopted by Tsolyani Clans and so allowed to travel beyond the Foreigner's Quarter, and armour-clad Shen of the Legion of the City of Chri, the toy Legion of a Red Mountain Clan nobleman. I produced a map of Urmish (a copy of the Swords & Glory one) and indicated the various regions of the city as they travelled.

Since the White Stone Clan are a High Clan and Urmish is a city, there was naturally a Clanhouse there. It was large and prosperous, even though the White Stone Clan was not a major power in Urmish. The welcome for the PCs was less than what some of them hoped for, but what the more worldly-wise expected. Seen as essentially no more than poor bumpkin cousins from the hinterland, they were given a perfunctory greeting by the Clanhouse Master and whichever of the Clan were curious enough to come and look at them whilst they were being officially received, before being assigned some rooms. Polite enquiries as to how long they intended to stay were made by the majordomo as they settled in.

A few hours were spent becoming familiar with the Clanhouse and some of the inhabitants, and Gachaya decided to make some inquiries about some of the resentment he was sure he'd sensed from the Clanhous Master (the player decided it was time to flex the under-used social skills on his sheet). After all, if Kemuel was important enough to be sent all the way to Sokatis at the request of powerful Clan members there, surely they could expect more help than they were getting. For that matter, why had the Sokatis Clanhouse not sent a better escort, or even someone to accompany them? But for now, he could only answer questions about the Clanhouse here.

It transpired that the residents of the Clanhouse knew nothing of Kemuel's potential; and that the former High Priestess of the Urmish Temple of Dlamelish, who had discovered it, had died recently. The magics used to preserve her youth had apparently failed, and so she had undergone a ritual death via Concupiscense. Her replacement was not of the White Stone Clan- and probably didn't know about Kemuel. The Clanhouse Master thought that he was simply some brat who showed a trace of magic, and who someone had pulled strings for by inflating the stories of his talent.

The next day, the PCs went about their various errands in town. Several items of potential value were taken from the Tower in the Citadel of Sighs, and they went to see who could assess these. Deciding to stay with the Faith, they tried the Temple of Dlamelish first, and were introduced to the Tsolyani Temples as they walked through the Temple district and reached Dlamelish's Temple. They were shown how thing would work here- an offering appropriate to their Clan status was made (sacrifices of a base value equal to the base resources for that Clan level) and the PC making the offering was then allowed to either participate in the outer rites of the Temple, or make a roll with a Social skill to make some other request. Doing exceptionally well on the roll to question the priesthood about the items (from the time of the Fisherman Kings even if not magical), the two minor amulets were identified and the rest of the items valued (as if jewellery from the Gardisiyal treasure tables). Finding themselves after several rolls to be thousands of Kaitars richer, the PCs in question (Tsodlan and Sirukel) decided to simply use it to improve their status with the Urmish Clanhouse and donated the bulk of the money to the Clanhouse treasury (they cashed it in for a Respect point each, having worked out that this was likely much more valuable in the long run) after using some to get better weapons and armour for their escort (see below).

Kemuel had looted a number of scrolls written in Bednalljan Salarvyani, a tongue he had some familiarity with (I decided to let him get a taste of magic that way, given how long it'd be in play before he got spells) which he was struggling to identify. Gachaya had grabbed an important looking book from the shelves, in the same language, which turned out to be a spellbook describing the Invisibility spell (or "The Myriad Incantations of Striding Forth Unseen" as the book was titled IC). He'd given this to Kemuel before he found out just how much it was likely to be worth.

In addition to the other-dimensional loot, the PCs had burdened their slaves down with several sets of weapons and armour from the deserters in the second session. Reasoning that simply re-laquering and refitting these would be cheaper than buying armour outright, the PCs looked into doing this. The problem was that the armour was in the colours of a Tsolyani Legion, and so many might assume it was stolen and want no part in handling it. How were the PCs to go about dealing with this?

The answer was for Tsodlan and Sirukel to spend a day walking back and forth between the Palace of War and the barracks of the Legion of Lord Kurukaa, Tsodlan's old comrades in arms. After several social rolls and some judicious use of bribery, they were given paperwork to state it was legitimate spoils of war (the Legion in question had been on the losing side of the Civil War) and that Tsodlan was it's legitimate owner. Not as cheap as they had wanted, but still less than the book price.

The donations by Tsodlan and Sirukel had improved things for the PCs back at the Clanhouse, and the Clan Elders were now willing (more RP and social rolls) to consider seeking Shamtla for the events on the Sakbe road when Lumetl had kidnapped Kemuel. Since the Golden Bough Clansman had simply been there to look to his Clan-cousin's well being and he was under guard by the Temple of Ksarul, the Clan felt the Temple was a better prospect. There was little hope the case would produce significant money, but after some brief negotiations an "out of court settlement" of a token amount to restore face to the White Stone Clan was proposed by the Temple of Ksarul. Rather than a petty sum of Kaitars, the Temple then offered to give him some basic instruction in controlling his energies to prevent a repeat occurrence. This was accepted as fair by all, and Kemuel began receiving instruction in the Energy Management skill.

The PC had been saving his advancement points up. Knowing that this campaign is unlikely to last for years, I'd been assigning bonus points to the PCs so they can see their characters advance before it ends. This meant Kemuel's player had points and to spare for buying the first level of Energy Management. Normally I'd require that enough IC time pass to realistically allow for the purchase, but as the player pointed out- Kemuel was supposed to be some sort of prodigy. In fact, could he also buy Familiarity with Psychic and Ritual magic just by observing the Priests of Ksarul and learning some basic principles?

I'd been about to say No, but then I thought- yes, he's supposed to be a sorcerous genius in the making. And more importantly, I had a sudden inspiration for what this could lead to.

So I allowed these skills to be purchased based on ten days of instruction- and the Priest of Ksarul instructing him noticed this. The Temple is now aware of Kemuel's potential power. He's not aligned himself with any Temple yet, so their initial thought will be to try and recruit him (I decided Kemuel's monstrous innate magic resistance is the only reason they haven't just tried to Mind-Bar him on the spot), but if that fails- why let someone joining another Temple grow to reach his full power? Better to finish it now...

The session was a brief one that merely served to wrap up some loose ends and set the scene for the next plot hooks, but the PCs seemed to have fun- and things will definitely get interesting next session.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Magic Levels and Tekumel

One of the fundamental questions facing a GM running a Tekumel game, I've been discovering, is just how much Magic is a part of the setting. For a world as well-developed as Tekumel this would, I had initially thought, be settled in canon long since. It seems, though, that the High Magic/Middle Way/Low Magic options in the Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne rulebook are there for a reason. No two players seem to agree on just how prevalent magic should be in the setting.

That magic exists and functions in unquestionable. However, from the older versions of the game- made to give a similar experience to D&D- there is a much greater proliferation of magic spells and items than I'd have expected from just reading the source material. I found myself being torn in two directions as to how to take this- I could appreciate that a Low-magic game would force players to focus on the society and setting more. But the spells and items I read about- especially the higher-level Temple spells I had to search earlier versions of the game for- were just so atmospheric, and I didn't want to exclude them from the game. So which level of magic should I choose?

The answer I finally settled on was- I'd use all of them. I decided that magic level would not be a single set thing for the whole game world. Instead, the magic level would be determined by the innate power of the magician, with the more powerful magicians being correspondingly rarer.

In T:EPT terms, someone needs a minimum Pedhetl of 6 (two levels of High Pedhetl) in order to use magic. I considered basing magical potential purely off this, but other factors do apply. Therefore, the average of Pedhetl and Psyche would be used.

If the average of Pedhetl and Psyche (not rounded) was less than 6, a character can't use magic.

If the average is 6 or more, they can use the Low Magic rules.

If the average is 8 or more, they can use the Middle Way rules.

If the average is 10- meaning they have the human maximum in both attributes- the character used the High Magic rules.

This will mean that the majority of sorcerers are lowly people using the Low Magic rules, having only a handful of spells to their names. This will preserve keep magic relatively rare in the setting. However, each Temple in a major city will have a few Middle Way sorcerers, and these wield magic far more potent than that of most magicians. These are the people who learn the potent Temple Magics, meaning that spells like Revification and Demonology can be used by the Temples, but making them rare because of the few who can cast them.

And then, there are the even rarer High Magic sorcerers, of which there are only a handful in each generation. The number of such in each empire at one time can likely be counted on a man's fingers, and having the allegiance of such a mage will be a great source of power and status for the Temple the sorcerer belongs to.

I also decided that the Skein of Destiny for such an individual will have sorcery woven into it on every level. This means that magical events and encounters will be far more common for such a person, and those travelling with them. Tekumel as a whole might thus become more mundane, but a group including a High Magic sorcerer will have many encounters such as those in the solo gamebooks, where ancient magic and legendary magicians seem to lurk around every corner.

Having decided that this was to be the case in my version of Tekumel, I then had to consider what it meant for my campaign as a whole. The party has been assembled specifically to escort Kemuel, the budding archmage, to Sokatis. Given the background I'd just thought up, someone like Kemuel would likely be incredibly valuable- why would he be travelling with just a handful of poorly-trained Clan-cousins as his escort?

The answer was obvious when I pondered it for a moment. He'd been given such an escort because whoever found out how powerful he was hadn't told people about this. The background of the campaign is based on a conflict between two factions in the Temple of Dlamelish, and the heretics in Sokatis wanted Kemuel for themselves. If it became publicly known just how powerful Kemuel could be, then it would be impossible to stop the Temple in Jakalla from grabbing him. Therefore, the Heretics decided to try and keep things quiet, arrange for him to be sent to Sokatis, and hope that he'd reach them before anyone was any the wiser.

This plan is likely to falter due to Kemuel's habit of bragging to everyone he meets about what a powerful sorcerer he's going to be, and the bizarre arcane happenings that he's going to attract. Once word gets out, powerful factions will start to move- such a powerful mage-to-be being found in the background I envisage will be like a major oil find in the modern world. Everyone will want to have him- or to stop their rivals from having him.

Events in the latest session (write-up to come) are very likely to start the ball rolling.