Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Tekumel - Session 14

At this point in the campaign, I looked at the major events I had planned and decided that I wanted to move the time-frame forward. Kemuel had a lot of training to do that wouldn't be as interesting to play through- likewise with Tsodlan's dock guard duties. I found some rules online (I forget by who, but thanks anyway if you read this) for training skills in T:EPT, and arranged to give the PCs some skill bonuses based on these.


I'm also a big fan of the “Adventures on Tekumel” series, and loved the idea of having downtime events for each character in the game. After brainstorming how to make this work, I hit on the idea of each player coming up with a short list of one-paragraph events that could happen to the other PCs during the downtime. I'd already come up with one for each PC myself, so I read their ideas, selected the best and/or combined them, and then spent a session running a brief vignette for each character. The other PCs gave suggestions and/or took over significant NPCs as this was done.

Tsodlan's was fairly simple. He discovered that his son, Quren, was taking bribes from the Livyani immigrant community (vastly grown due to the Mu'ugalavyani invasion and forming a criminal mafia in true poor immigrant style) to turn a blind eye to them stealing from the docks. This was clearly unacceptable, as Tsodlan was already taking bribes from the merchants to not let them steal, the thefts costing him both money and face- plus there was the minor technicality of it being their job to stop thieves as well. As he tried to ascertain just how bad things had become before taking action, the second proposed event kicked off. A boat in the docks seemed to be running into some sort of difficulties- and the merchant who owned it was present, and becoming angry with Tsodlan over his stolen goods. Clearly as much of his property had to be saved as possible in order to calm him down and restore the status quo.

The problems with the boat were related to the cargo. Many exotic animals had been captured and were being shipped in for various noble menageries- and the captain had made up the rest of the cargo bulk with equally exotic drugs. A mishap entering the docks (it seems the somehow a Chlen-cart had been sunk there and not yet recovered, which the ship's keel had struck) smashed the cages, releasing many of the animals, some of which started eating the powders...

An explosion of brightly-coloured Kheshchal-birds flew out of the boat as Tsodlan was travelling over by skiff. Deciding that he couldn't afford to waste time chasing these, he shouted to the guards remaining on the dock to try and catch at least some of them before proceeding to the unfortunate vessel. The main problem turned out to be the numerous Kuruku which one cage had held and which had been broken- these had been opening other cages and eating the powders. Much cursing and frustration ensued, until the boat was finally brought in to dock with most of it's contents recovered.

As Tsodlan tried to give his best apology to the merchant, Gachaya and Kemuel appeared in a litter. They had seen the Kheshchal-birds flying around the city, and decided that this looked like great sport. Both carried light crossbows and had the Kheshchal they'd managed to hit dangling from the roof of the litter as trophies. The merchant was not amused, consequently neither was Tsodlan, and so the affair closed with him packing Quren back off to the distant rural clanhouse the campaign started in. He'd had it coming, Tsodlan decided, and it wasn't like he could take his anger out on more deserving targets.

Kemuel had since been initiated into the Temple of Dlamelish, and was discovering the joys of being a lowly first circle Acolyte. Having been entertaining visions of being swept into the inner sanctums of the Temple where stunningly beautiful sorcerer-priestesses would give him private tuition in the deepest mysteries of the arcane arts, he found the reality to not quite live up to this fantasy. Strangely, his superiors in the Temple considered having him drilled in the Rituals of Dlamelish (Outermost Mysteries), Etiquette, Theology and the giving of sexual pleasure to be far more important at this stage of his career. Once he could comport himself in a manner where he would not embarrass the Temple in these areas, then they would move him on to magical training. He also spent a great deal of time meditating to learn how to control his Pedhetl instead of being controlled by it- that is, to buy off his various character defects like Impulsive and Distractable. All these were lessons he found less than enjoyable (the giving of sexual pleasure often used less attractive worshippers as the subjects to ensure that the priesthood would do their duty to all).

His one semi-bright spot in this gloom was his fellow new initiates, mostly young, attractive females- in particular, Dijaya hiMranu of the Rising Sun Clan. He quickly fell hopelessly in lust with this young woman, but his attempts to bed her simply resulted in him being considered a friend and “one of the girls” (very bad seduction roll, which as a Priest of Dlamelish he really needs to improve). One of his more notable attempts to impress Dijaya occurred during their Theology lesson. Deciding that he'd try to act like an edgy almost-rebel to improve his standing with her, he began arguing for a borderline heretical interpretation of the subject under discussion. The Priestess teaching the Theology class for the new Acolytes was Lelai hiSankolum, a member of Kemuel's own White Stone, so he felt confident that she wouldn't report him to anyone that would get him into real trouble.

He botched his Theology roll- and when I rolled to see how Lelai would take it (low she's outraged, high she's not too bothered) I got the highest roll possible. She was more than OK with this heresy- so I decided that Kemuel had just unwittingly argued a position that came close to what the Sokatis heretics believed, and that Lelai was sympathiser in secret communication with them. Kemuel's vignette ended apparently less dramatically than the others- but the seeds of future scenarios had been sown.

In stark contrast to this, Gachaya's interlude was the most eventful of all- and not without long-term implications of it's own.

Gachaya found himself receiving an invitation to visit the home of one Osure hiChaishyani of the Emerald Girdle Clan, a woman known for her beauty and social connections. Having no idea why such a person would wish to entertain his presence, Gachaya nontheless visited her clanhouse. Various pleasantries passed between them, as Osure proclaimed herself impressed by the heroic deeds rumour apparantly ascribed to Gachaya. For his part, he told Osure at great length about his adventures to date, whilst making very successful seduction rolls.

It was after their lengthy bout of intimate exertions had wound down that the penny finally dropped- which is to say, Gachaya observed Osure adding a greenish powder to the wine she the offered him. Suddenly realising he was in the lair of someone deeply involved in the Zu'ur trade- the nature of her social connections becoming clear now- he leapt to his feet, denounced her loudly and attempted to flee the clanhouse. Alas for Gachaya, the dice- which had been giving excellent if not critical rolls to his attempts to impress Osure in various ways- deserted him. Failures and botches in sequence resulted in him being clubbed over the head by a burly attendant, as Osure moved to plan B for how she intended to deal with one of the men who had interfered with her business.

Gachaya awoke in stinking, salty darkness, with a very worrying rolling feeling underneath and the ominous creaking of wood surrounding him. Quickly taking panicked stock of his situation, he realised that he was tied up in the hold of a ship along with dozens of other miserable men. The captor who presently came to water them took pleasure in taunting them- they were to be given to the Hluss as payment for the next batch of Zu'ur, the player's first encounter with the true origin of the dread drug. Gachaya realised that the situation was dire, and that he had nothing to lose. Spending many experience points on re-rolls, he managed to break free of his bindings and begin surreptitiously freeing nearby captives.

Finally, he had enough men free to make a break for it. The captives grabbed and subdued the next pair of smugglers to venture down and used their knives to cut the rest free, as Gachaya gave a speech to motivate everyone- “we overcome the foe, or we die the worst death imaginable. Better to fall fighting than live in the hands of the Hluss!”- and the captives surged up onto the deck to try and capture the ship.

The smugglers weren't professional slavers, as shown by how sloppily they'd secured the captives. They were also few in number compared to the number of captives, as even amongst the dregs of the Five Empires, men who will trade other humans to the Hluss for Zu'ur can be hard to find. But they were armed and not weakened by days of captivity, and the battle was bloody and stalemated. Finally, Gachaya launched a desperate attack on the Captain, and slew him- at which the crew began to lose cohesion and the tide turned.

With the ship now theirs, Gachaya began to try and organise people to sail the ship back to Jakalla- or at least the Tsolyani shore. Unfortunately, at this point a terrible sight appeared on the horizon- the Hluss nest-ship which this boat had been about to rendezvous with. They quickly set sail as best they could, but the nest-ship began to gain on them steadily, advancing remorselessly with it's alien propulsive powers.

Deciding that all must now be lost, Gachaya turned to divine intervention as his last hope. Quickly covering the rules for such in T:EPT, he prostrated himself before the shrine of Avanthe in her aspect as Kerena the Wind which all Tsolyani ships have upon their decks (often a carved icon on the mast), he prayed for the goddess' intercession. Knowing that he was not a follower of Avanthe, he knew he would need big modifiers to succeed- so he proclaimed that he would, in honour of Avanthe, be the best husband and father he could be if only he was spared to marry and sire children.

With this modifier he succeeded at the Divine Intervention roll, and coincidences began to mount in his favour. The winds picked up, slowing the rate at which the Hluss were closing with them- and then, just as they were getting close enough to make out the individual Hluss on the nest-ship, more sails were spotted on the horizon. A patrol of Tsolyani war galleys had encountered them, and the Hluss decided that the prey was no longer worth the effort. They sailed away against the wind to escape, and Gachaya and the surviving captives were rescued to be returned to Jakalla.

(I'd had several plans in mind for how Gachaya could survive, but in my experience it's always best to let a PC try and get out of things without blatant GM intervention- when it works, it's far more satisfying.)

Tekumel - Session 13: It Returns!

The blog has, sadly, fallen into neglect due to a combination of factors. I had several RL reasons for not having as much free time to write up sessions as I did, and so the updates began to fall behind. The session began not being as regular, and so I started to forget Tekumel-related stuff in between them. I started a new campaign on a different night, which then took up some of my time. And when I finally did look back at writing more session reports, I was so far behind and the blog was so long without an update that it hardly seemed worth bothering.

Well, I've since heard from a few places that people still occasionally read the blog, or miss the updates. And there's been a recent challenge issued on the Tekumel yahoo list that people should “do what they can” to keep Tekumel alive. Taking these two together, I decided that going over my old session notes and writing up what happened in the remaining sessions of the campaign would be a good start for me, to get my mind back into Tekumel mode.

So, here's the first of the belated updates. They may well be not as long or detailed as those before, as the events aren't as fresh in my memory, but they should at least let people who followed the blog know what happened after I stopped updating. The Tekumel game has since ended, but there's the possibility of continuing in some form in the near future, so who knows- there might be more updates by the time I clear the backlog.


(Sirukel's player was periodically absent from the game from this point on due to RL issues, hence the character not being present in this and some future sessions.)

With Sirukel now planning his marriage and integration into the Clan businesses in Jakalla, the rest of the PCs were left to try and find their own way to fit in to the city, since none of them particularly wanted to go back home. Tsodlan found that the Clan had a very suitable position for him- they had several Clan members in influential positions in the Palace of the Realm, overseeing the Musa Jakalla docks. Specifically, a Clan member was running the guards for a section of the docks, ensuring that there was no theft from the ships being unloaded, the cargo being carried about by bearers and Chlen-carts, or the many warehouses in the district. While the city guard in that area wasn't in any way understaffed, it was felt that it was best to try and place suitable Clan-members in the more important roles in the dock guard- if only to make certain that any bribes made their way into the Clan's coffers and not those of the lower-status people who made up the majority of the guard.

Tsodlan accepted the position of Hereksa in the city guard, and took up his new post and duties at the docks finding it easy to settle into his new routine. Truth be told, the Legion of Kurukaa was more like a glorified city militia than a Legion and Tsodlan's experience serving in it had made him better prepared for patrolling the streets and collecting bribes than for waging war. Opportunities for nepotism were quickly uncovered, and within a month both Tsodlan's sons had been made Tirrikamu under him.

(Under the T:EPT rules for employment, I decided that the sort of position that lets people farm inducements like this counted as a professional salary based on the Bribery skill, with the level of income determined by the position itself- some give better opportunities than others.)

The other PCs visited the docks to see if anything that appealed to them could be found there (Gachaya was without any gainful employment or other personal means that might give him an excuse to remain in the city and Kemuel was bored waiting for his initiation into the Priesthood), but nothing came of it. Gachaya found that whilst there was money around the docks, squeezing the various inducements out of people was a full-time job and too much like real work for his tastes. Kemuel found the White Stone bureaucrat who oversaw that section of the docks developed an interest in the boy and started to press his unwholesome attentions onto him, so he mostly found places to watch the docks for a few days.

Becoming bored and having now learned an area-effect version of his party trick, Kemuel decided to throw Terrorisation at a random group with a Chlen-cart (he'd at least learned to make sure any targets of this were Low or Very Low Clans). A panicked group of carters abandoned an equally panicked Chlen, which rampaged through the docks- and it was naturally the job of Tsodlan to try and restore order. Tensions were already high, as it was the height of summer and the slowing of trade meant the spectre of a Food Riot was looming just as it did most years at this time. Tsodlan managed to prove his worth, a combination of prompt commands to his men and good rolls managing to diffuse the riot for now. But when they came to start cleaning the mess up (including the Chlen and Cart which had fallen into a dock), something worrying was found.

Many crates, barrels and baskets had been scattered and broken open in the brief rampage of the Chlen, and from one of these a green dust was spilling out. Whoever this small basket of marsh-rice belonged to had been smuggling Zu'ur into the city. Not wanting the OAL or other higher-ups to start poking their noses around the docks, Tsodlan immediately began trying to ascertain who had been carrying the basket before it was dropped. Gachaya and Kemuel started assisting, though all they discovered was that Tsodlan's younger son, Quren, had already managed to fall in with a bad crowd and was associating with what amounted to the Livyani Mafia based in the Foreigner's Quarter. The investigation had to be put on hold, though, as the summer heat and humidity rose to near-lethal levels and the mood of the city grew worse.

Fearing that a Food Riot was immanent, several of the richer merchants of the city began scattering inducements amongst the city guard to ensure that their property would be safe. The guard couldn't possibly protect everything, but by concentrating their efforts in a few places, select parts of the city could be saved. Which these parts were was determined by the bidding war of bribes now taking place. This was how, one steamy, oppressive night in Jakalla the PCs found themselves standing guard over several warehouses as the sounds of rioting spread from the poorer areas of the city toward the docks. With the river having dried enough to temporarily cut into river traffic, the amount of food entering the city was less than what was consumed during summer, and if this period lasted long enough, food grew short, and the famous Jakallan Food Riots could occur.

Tsodlan had formed up several of the city guard, and being in full armour with shields and having a narrow street to guard- with prepared barricades- things seemed hopeful. There were unguarded warehouses nearby, and the rioters would surely pick those over a serious attempt to force their way past armed guards- the biggest dangers looked to be heat exhaustion if they had to fight for long in their armour in Jakalla's summer. In the event of a serious rush by large mobs, Kemuel was stationed on the roof with Gachaya, so he could throw his Terrorisation spell into the crowds. But unknown to the PCs, something more serious was approaching.

In the marshes of the river delta was a small rural clanhouse of the Green Reed Clan which had recently fallen on hard times. Somewhat isolated from the most prosperous of the other Clanhouses, they had been forced to consider more extreme ways to see them through these difficulties- but they had reached the limit of how many of their Clan could be sold into debt-slavery before their holdings became unworkable. In desperation, with their Clanhouse by a small river leading to the sea, they began making deals with the Zu'ur traders, giving them a place to land their goods from which the drug could then be shipped to Jakalla. Large ocean-going ships were more likely to be searched than local skiffs loaded with marsh rice, after all- and so things continued, with the Green Reed Clan making enough money to even start buying back some of their members from slavery.

Until a basket of Zu'ur was broken in public and the new Hereksa of the city guard started asking questions instead of shrugging, filing a report and then forgetting about it. Then, the Green Reed Clan, having their first serious scare concerning the chance of discovery, began to panic. A desperate plot was hatched- everyone knew that a Food Riot seemed inevitable this year, and the guards would be protecting those warehouses they were bribed to as usual. Every able-bodied clansman was brought into the city, with what weapons they could muster, with the object of killing Tsodlan once the riots broke out and then hoping this was written off as being due to the riots.

The initial plan was to take the guards from behind by surprise whilst they were busy with rioters, and this would have succeeded had Gachaya not been on the roof. As it was, whilst the guard were defending one barricade from rioters throwing stones whilst Kemuel Terrorised them, he stated he was watching the other end of the roof. He saw a dozen men with spears and shields pushing down the barricade and passing over, running toward the guards around the corner. Shouting a warning, Kemuel was able to take several with his spell, which delayed things enough for the guard to turn and face the new attackers. They were quickly dispersed, but this was not the end of things. The spell wore off and a second attack was made, this time trying to goad the guards into chasing them. It succeeded, and only Tsodlan's quick thinking and good Command rolls saved them from disaster when they were attacked out of formation by unarmoured infantry that managed to make them run long enough to become fatigued. Forming a circle, they held off the Green Reed Clan long enough for Kemuel to resume his spell-throwing. There was a brief moment of panic when three of the Green Reed climbed onto the roof to try and take Kemuel out, but he was rescued by Gachaya's panicked heroics (“If he dies, I have no excuse to hang around Jakalla- and I'm not going back to that farm!”).

Two unfortunate members of the Green Reed Clan were taken alive during the fight, and “interrogating” them the next day revealed who they were and why they had attacked. The details were passed on to the OAL as pertinent to the Zu'ur trade.


In many ways I felt unhappy with this session- to me, the Zu'ur trade seemed almost a cliché to use in a Tekumel adventure, given what I'd read of the background. But I needed to establish Tsodlan in his new role and create an adventure at the docks, and smuggling seemed the ideal answer. And my players, of course, didn't know about Zu'ur before this and so didn't care if it was used as a plot device by previous GMs.

Hope people enjoyed this, and post a comment if you want me to keep going with the write-ups!