[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Minarets #01

[Note: This series documents our new Fomalhaut campaign in the City of Vultures and beyond, running in parallel with the Dragonsfoot thread. Unlike in Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns (which will run concurrently until we are out of episodes), Referee notes will remain sparser, more cryptic: I would like to avoid spoilers. In the journal, I have made small corrections to the material in the case of typos, misremembered events, or extra detail. And with that -- let's hear it from Premier! -- G.L.]

by Kalman Farago
The House of Khojar Mirza

Someone is coming to. His consciousness returns, accompanied by a pressure in the skull, ringing ears, and a lack of memories. He opens his eyes.

Six men are sitting around a low table, unrecognizant. Five are confused. One is dead, blood seeping from his nose, mouth and ears, two rows of gemstone teeth glinting from his opened mouth. Each of them is holding a strange, three-pronged tuning fork made of some iridescent material.

They quickly introduce themselves while looking around the luxurious room. They’re Muzafar, a sinister-looking man with a long beard and a thick book of spells, Vifranavaz, a young man with golden threads in his beard and an old carpet with the patterns of birds next to him — a master of illusions — Khasim Rabad, a thief, Ambrosius, a stocky and muscular swordsman, and Burzasp Sherfiruz, a good-looking man whose metal armour occasionally slips from under his cloak.

Nobody remembers how they got here, or in fact anything other than their names. In fact, they’re even carrying some items on their persons which they do not recall owning, such as various coloured vials in a lead box, a peculiar hollow dagger made of green glass, a green cloak with the image of a white hand, a turban with some unrecognised writing on it, and a scimitar engraved with the name of someone named Talhuris Khan.

They quickly agree they should get out, but they’re on the second floor of this building and the curtained windows are protected by thick grates. There’s a heavy black wooden door with a spyhole, bolted on their side and a short passageway to two more rooms. While they’re examining the environments and helping themselves to some valuables — wherever they are, it’s trouble, and they’re bound to need some finances –, someone approaches the door from the far side. „Master, it is I, Khusai. Is there anything you need? I have heard a scream from your quarters!” Thinking on his feet, Burzasp fakes a hoary whisper: „No, Khusai, everything is fine. Do not bother us for a while.” Unsuspecting, the servant moves on while the strangers continue to examine their environment. Burzasp doesn’t find any form of identification on the dead man, but pockets his pearl-inlaid ring, while, much to the disgust of everyone else, Khasim pulls out a dagger and starts removing the dead man’s gemstone fake teeth. It’s Zaxtaros’ player from the previous campaign, so no surprise there… “This is what happens when they let the servants loose in the house of a master.” remarks Muzafar darkly.

The House of Khojar Mirza

Vifranavaz recognises he had been carrying a leather scroll case with a map of the general area — the southern regions of Fomalhaut –, and a detailed map of the City of Vultures. Looking out the windows, we make a reasonable — and as it turns out, correct — estimation of where we are, even though none of us remembers being familiar with the city. We spy a dusty square with a few people milling in the afternoon heat, a decorative blue-domed structure, and beyond, rows of run-down buildings: painted adobe, dry wood, balconies and clotheslines. In the distance, like a mountain, the ballustrades, towers and battlements of a fantastic palace rise into the sky, tapering in a massive tower on top of which rest glinting metal girders and things that look like great metal birds. And around the city, the patient circling of other birds — black vultures. The map has two names carved in it, as if with an inkless quill or a stylus: „Khojar Mirza” over the building we’re in, and „Hisam Singh” over another structure in the south of the city. While Khasim does his grisly dental work, the others look around the three-room area. Muzafar and Burzasp find a few interesting items: a large, old brass globe in a room with a bed, a sitar and a luxurious tigerskin rug, a set of old silk banners protected by copper cases, a set of extravagant clothes (one of which Burzasp folds up and takes), and a small transparent crystalline box with tiny, white egg-like things in it. He puts that away, too.

With Khasim still preoccupied and Vitranavaz surveying the streets and the blue-domed structure to the east, Muzafar and Bursasp examine a pair of black metal lionheads adorning a distended bookshelf in the third room, and find that their tongues operate as levers. They also find, the hard way, that pulling the two tongues downwards causes the jaws to snap shut on their hands, and Bursasp cries out in pain while Muzafar holds his will. “Servants! They have no concept of pain… or pleasure!” he says. There are heavy footsteps out in the hallways, and there is a rougher knock on the door, a guard inquiring about the scream, but Burzasp fools him, too, telling him to not disturb him for a while. He complies, but mentions some messenger who might be arriving soon — it would be good to get out of here quickly. The newly opened secret door opens to a spiral staircase winding upwards, leading to a small room with grated windows at the top of a tower, with a basin of water, a complex astrological tool, a set of starmaps, a large brass plate with acid-marred spots on it forming some strange pattern, and a copper idol depicting a large porcupine-pangolin creature. Some in the party bring the dead man whom we (correctly) assume to be Khojar Mirza up to the observatory (we figure the servants won’t find the body here for a while), while Muzafar examines the idol and finds a loose brick that opens another secret door, to a ledge above the house. Using a grappling hook and some rope, we descend one by one onto the rooftops and eventually the street, casting Sleep on two guards by the back entrance, and an Unseen Servant to distract a group of hooded strangers gathered around the corpse of an ancient beggar. To escape undetected, the party splits up with plans to meet again at dusk on a small bridge northeast of the building marked Hisam Singh.

Split in three, the party spends the rest of the afternoon trying to get their bearings and learn the following:
– Khojar Mirza is — well, was — a powerful and much feared nobleman. His son, Rahib Khojar is often away in the wars in the distant south but is expected home soon.
– Khasim’s green robe is the mark of the White Hand, a self-defense association of local merchants and craftsmen. It’s of a particularly fine quality and magical, and might come from an alchemist member of the association called Smender Famag. Relaxing in the port, Ambrosius and Khasim spot a man with a green cloak, but as they approach him, they become the victims of a pickpocket attempt. The culprit is caught, and both the cloaked stranger and the crowd cry for his swift, painful death, but Ambrosius and Khasim only give him a thorough beating. Friendly after seeing this demonstration of righteousness, the stranger introduces himself as Tarsios, and when Khasim tells him he had been gifted with a similar green cloak with a white hand by a member of the society, he seems impressed, inviting them to their gathering place. They are much opposed to the thieves and vagrants of the city, and Ambrosius expects we will find ways to earn some money as mercenaries with them as contacts.
– Mirvander Khan, the omnipotent overlord of the City of Vultures is an avid enemy of the upstart expansionalistic empire/cult of Ishab-Lambar, and so far has protected the city from them, inciting a massacre that had lasted two days and two nights. He also takes a very aggressive stance on crime: thieves caught red-handed are at the mercy of the crowd — and that typically means dead –, and once a month the so-called Hunt sweeps across the city at night: the city guards and their tigers roam the streets killing anyone and everyone they find out in the open. Oh, and it will be two nights from now.
– While we were exploring the city in separate groups, Muzafar has cast a spell to mentally dominate a poor local kid who now believes himself to be his servant. The two explored a bazaar to the south named the Market of Uugen, had delicacies and listened to local talk in an exclusive shopping establishment named the House of Nezhat Quawar, and observed the entrance of a forbidding, heavily guarded structure named the Temple of Jeng. Muzafar dismissed the kid for the night — he had pleaded him to do so, else he might not be able to work and his parents would sell him into slavery — but told him to wait at a certain location the next day.
– We’ve also learned the names of various possible contacts who might be useful — healers, an astrologer, the like –, and something of the local religions: Kartekkeza’s personal palace is two days from here, the giant zombie-god Ozolba also lives nearby, and there are also some local gods.

The City of Vultures

We’ve decided that our next steps should be to investigate Hisam Singh while gathering more information on the mysterious items we found in our possessions. However, we did not pursue this lead, absorbed too long in our discussion until night had fallen. We only came to our senses in the evening crowd of the market when we heard a voice by us:
“Cats? Buy some cats, esteemed lords?” The merchant was a short man, showing a wicker basket with a plump cat in it. “Two gold. Very nice kitty, noble breed.”
“That might be worth maybe four silver” responded Ambrosius, and the two haggled a while, until eventually, the seller relented, and the magnificient creature, Emerza was his.

It was time to find shelter, and return to the Sea Foam Serai in the harbour, which we surmised was safest for outlanders. However, the streets west were blocked at a gate, and we had to proceed through the market again, where, a bit after the House of Nezhat Quawar, the way was again blocked, with teamsters carrying sealed crates into a small warehouse under the watch of a fat supervisor. There was a growing crowd and Ambrosius, from the safety of the mass, shouted: “And what is keeping you! We have a right to know what you are packing to halt us for so long! You miserable bastards!”
“Who said that?!” bellowed the supervisor from between two oily-looking toughs as the crowd melted from around Ambrosius.
“Me. What are you going to do about it?”
“What?! Boys, get —”
the man, now apopleptic, swung his whip, but in a moment, he was clutching his heart, apparently in the middle of a stroke (he rolled a critical fumble).
In the confusion, we slipped through, Ambrosius giving a porter still awaiting his master’s commands a shove to drop his crate — it broke, revealing a silver bowl that rolled back into the crowd, and we decided it was best to beat it while we could. We headed towards a guesthouse in the ports through deserted streets, where we hoped to blend in with the foreigners.

As we were going upslope in a dark and narrow alley, we’ve heard the creaking sound of a cart and something else as well… something soft and wet. Vifranavaz has already gone ahead and thus wasn’t with us; Khasim and Burzasp melted away into the shadows while Ambrosius stayed in the middle of the alley with Muzafar, who was too engrossed in his spellbook to notice what was transpiring. Down the alley came a hideous old woman pulling a cart and followed by… giant frogs. Ambrosius greeted the hag and engaged her in conversation about the frogs. In a tone of nonchalance they discussed the raising of such creatures on human flesh — children and nicely muscular individuals such as Ambrosius being the fodder of preference. In a similarly pleasant register they’ve gone on to establish her desire to kill him right away, and battle was joined in a spirit of cordial understanding. No, really. I’m actually not embellishing this at all. The hag fell from Ambrosius’ first strike and Khasim’s expert crossbow shot from the dark, but the frogs gave us more trouble. Muzafar ran away, and Ambrosius and Burzasp suffered some heavy wounds, but we triumphed. We took the hag’s sturdy, gnarled walking stick on the extremely off chance it’s magical, and three of the jars she was carting around, seemingly filled with some tallow-like material. On the way to the port we woke up a local healer called Omran Omid and traded some of the silver cups we took from Khojar’s palace for a healing salve; then went to the agreed-on rendezvouz point at the Sea Foam Serai.

Originally posted on Dragonsfoot.

Referee’s Notes: It is interesting to see how different parties tackle a similar situation. I first attempted to run this campaign in Summer 2009 (it fell apart after four-odd sessions), and there, the session went almost the opposite of here: getting out of the comfortable deathtrap of the House of Khojar Mirza was accomplished through social engineering (and the characters never found the secret door), while play in the city involved paranoid stealth with guards searching for the group, now fugitives. Small traces of that session has seeped into ours: reusing the player map of the city, I took care to erase the written notes on the paper… but didn’t realise the pencil had left indelible marks in the material. Oops. So, who is Hisam Singh? And what else do the city and the party’s new leads conceal? Only one way to find out…

One Response to “[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Minarets #01”

  1. Ynas Midgard:

    It is a really good and intriguing campaign kick-off; I have been toying with the idea of characters cursed with amnesia myself, as another means of introducing players to the utterly alien setting of Carcosa, besides playing outlanders. Reading this journal and thinking about the benefits of this set-up, this might be even better.
    Anyway, I am curiously looking forward to #02.


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