Posts Tagged ‘Beasts & Barbarians’

The Pawns spent some time in surveillance of the Mountaineers’ village before deciding that while sneaking through it to the Monastery was more stylish and less dangerous if it worked, failure would cause potentially fatal problems; so they roped themselves together and climbed up a rockface to the Monastery, despite Ash’s protestations about the damage to his new riding boots. Meandering around inside, they found Karmella, disposed of the guardians, and ran for it; onrushing guards forced them to divert into the chamber of the Black Flame, where a complex three-way combat ensued; Mountaineers vs Black Monks vs the party.

Our heroes inflicted severe casualties on the Black Monks, thanks to U’wahz using his Sage superpower to add a fact to the setting, namely that the Monks’ “Black Flame Rays” could be reflected by mirrors. By that point Korras was down, and an unspoken truce developed between the Mountaineers and the party, who both ran for it as the Black Flame exploded behind them.

Zosimus and the bulk of the party kept on running, on the basis that the Mountaineers would soon realise that imposters now knew the location of their hidden base and would then want to silence them; but the Monk and Max went back into the Monastery looking for loot to carry off, and Dorjee took on board the task of healing Korras; so perforce they rejoined their companions later, and all made good their escape.

The party went a little bit off-piste towards the end; they avoided Ulesir Shah’s unexpectedly heroic march to the Monastery and took Princess Karmella back to Tokarim Shah and Jirro, before heading south with the Amazons to Shan’Ammar. They also told Jirro where to find the Mountaineers’ secret hideout, so no doubt hijinks will ensue off-stage – this because Ash likes causing trouble for the hell of it and Zosimus hates Valk with a passion.

We closed the session with them boarding the Blood Bride and sailing off into the sunset.


This time I agreed with the group that we would use tokens to track progress on the climb, and the mapless dungeon approach of trait rolls and card draws recommended in the core setting book. I was expecting them to push back hard on that, but in fact they didn’t, noting that it was easier for me (as I don’t have to draw maps) and faster for them (no mapping, no time spent investigating boring empty rooms, their time focussed on the battlemats for exciting locations) so I think I can adopt this wholesale now – it is after all the way it’s meant to be played.

The group also readily accepted the idea of staying on board a ship they do not captain, which allows me to move them wherever suits the plot of the next adventure, and all of us to discard inconvenient plot elements every time they leave port, such as bothersome NPCs, over-powerful relics (“I didn’t think you wanted that any more, so I fenced it…”) and pursuing law enforcement. Max is on a mission to collect relics stolen from his clan, and Dorjee is in search of rare Lotus components for the Alchemists of Gis, both Hindrances chosen to give me scenario hooks, and between those and them being aboard a pirate ship I can send them anywhere next.

However, my turn as GM is done for a while, and after a break over the summer I expect we will turn to the Warhammer World again.


The penultimate session for Shadows Over Ekul, and after a lot of fascinating in-character discussion and debate over whether Ash should be replaced by a Valk character, the players decided to follow Jirro, cavalry officer and suspected kidnapper of Princess Karmella, to the old Tenebar Fort where he holed up, in support of Tokarim Shah.

Most of the session was spent on a commando raid on the fort. This captured, they learned from Jirro that he had, in fact, obeyed orders in good faith and to the letter (“Go to the fort and repair it, don’t come back until I send for you,”) and was not the kidnapper they were looking for. At this point a ransom note from the real kidnapper surfaced, offering to exchange Karmella for ‘Ulesir Shah’, actually Max in disguise.

In company with Philosopher Jimpah, King Ekul’s personal monk, they headed south to the hostage exchange point. By this stage they had decided that nobody was who they seemed to be, and began the exchange (correctly) convinced that the supposed ‘Karmella’ brought by the kidnappers was no such person. The leader of the kidnappers turned out to be one of the Black Monks they have developed such an interest in.

The highlight of the session for me was the fight with the kidnappers. Ash had concealed himself underwater near the lakeside exchange point, and due to an extremely positive response by the dice to his question “Are any of Etu’s sacred crocodiles following me?”, was flanked by two such reptiles. The fight began with Dorjee hurling a fear potion onto the kidnappers’ boat, whereupon the bulk of them leapt into the water where they were engaged by the crocodiles. Final score: Crocodiles 7, heroes 3, kidnappers 0.

Interrogating the Karmella imposter and the lone surviving kidnapper (a minion who knew next to nothing but was very helpful in the hopes of not being fed to the crocodiles) led them to a concealed stairway hidden behind a waterfall, at the top of which is a trail leading to a bandit village and (three dramatic chords) the Monastery of Shadows, which not unreasonably they expect to be full of Black Monks – followers of the Path of Obscurement, who have given them the only serious opposition they have faced so far in this adventure.

They slaughtered the sentinels guarding the path in less than one combat round, as Max now has Sweep and the Monk’s character build is focussed on maximising the number of attacks per round he can deliver – in the right circumstances he now gets five, which is very scary.

The session ended with the party dressed as rebels, riding captured yaks, and disappearing cinematically into a snowstorm as the camera pulled back from them.


I continue to be impressed by Umberto Pignatelli’s ability to predict, or guide, what the PCs will do; after the initial debate they followed his most-likely outline almost to the letter.

They’re doing better than the last group; by the time the Shadows of Keron party had got this far, they had killed literally every NPC who knew anything about what was going on, including the slave girl posing as Karmella.

I’ve enjoyed this immensely, and it seems to have won over all but one of the players to Savage Worlds; but the next session will conclude this adventure, and then we’ll revert to WFRP3 and Star Wars EotE for a while. It will be a refreshing change to be a player again for a while.

Moving forward, I’ve calculated that at this rate I have enough scenarios for this group to last us until 2038, so I can afford to start offering them a choice of several via rumours, which I hope will improve satisfaction levels further.

The Pawns of Destiny continue to chew their way through Shadows Over Ekul. A lot of email traffic before the session led to a towering edifice of hypothesis about the political situation in Ekul (entirely plausible but not in the scenario or the setting book) which coloured the party’s approach.

Max succeeded in impersonating Ulesir Shah. Ash and the Monk spent most of the session tracking down three black-robed figures who arrived in Teluk’Ammar the week before the party, and became so invested in it that I gave them a trail to follow, although I had forgotten to bring their stats so they never actually caught what they have taken to calling ‘ninja monks’, though they did find a hideout from which the ninja monks had been watching them and found witnesses whose stories suggested collusion between the Shah’s evil half-brother and the ninja monks. Ash and Zosimus also took great pains to ingratiate themselves with their Amazon guards, Zosimus by engaging the commander in discussions of contracts and such, one merc to another, and Ash by arranging a series of athletic contests to keep the rank and file Amazons occupied during the buildup to the wedding, resulting in him being adopted as a sort of mascot.

Zosimus and Ash worked out from very little information the unrequited love between Ulesir’s bride-to-be and the cavalry officer, who in turn got far too drunk on the stag night and challenged the party to a sword-fight enlivened by venomous snakes.

(When Melee first came out, my games club had a Melee league, and the guy running it had a rule that if anyone developed too much of an advantage, the master of ceremonies would throw in a few poisonous snakes to even the odds. But I digress.)

Anyway, this all led to the officer being thrown out of the city and a certain amount of ribbing about his men having been incapacitated by Ulesir Shah’s food taster, that being what the Monk is posing as.

At the wedding the next day, it quickly became apparent that the princess had swapped places with one of her handmaidens and left the palace by night. Her father is most displeased, and U’wahz has expanded his Valk vocabulary significantly.

“I say we cut and run,” said Ash as the Valk warlord set off in pursuit of his errant daughter and the would-be groom. “I was curious about the ninja monks, but I’ve decided I’m not that curious.”

The spirit of the sandbox is strong in Ash’s player, and he chafes at the perceived limitations both of the scenario and his own character. Interestingly, this happened last time I ran Shadows Over Ekul as well – the Warforged had similar issues, and at about the same time, too; he argued passionately in favour of decamping with the wedding presents while all the Valk were out of town…

As you’ll recall, the Pawns of Destiny players had asked for a meatier plot, and given their current location and character backstories, I selected the fourth Beasts & Barbarians adventure for them, Shadows Over Ekul.

Since it can be up to six months between B&B sessions for this group – we meet twice a month but generally play WFRP3 – I follow the precedent set by the WFRP GM and write up a detailed report of each session shortly after play concludes, then circulate it before the next one to jog memories. However, I’m sure you don’t want 5,000 words of that, so I’ll summarise and share the highlights. The adventure was published in 2012, so following my five year rule, I shall make no effort to avoid spoilers.

Travelling to Shan’Ammar in search of Clan O’Well’s purloined sacred items – for this is why Max the Barbarian is travelling among these southern softies – the party are arrested following a bar brawl, and it turns out that Max is the spitting image of Ulesir Shah, the local ruler. Ulesir needs to travel to a nearby city state to marry his betrothed, so that he can borrow an army from his father-in-law to root out bandits led by his half-brother; but he is too cowardly to go in person, and thus hits upon the Cunning Plan of sending Max in his stead. Successfully fending off attacks by evil monk-assassins and mountain bandits, the group reaches Teluk’Ammar and survives an attempt to embarass Max by exposing his lack of riding skill. The session closed on a social cliffhanger as “Ulesir” and entourage met Tokarim Shah, Valk ruler of Teluk’Ammar.


  • During the arm-wrestling contest which precipitated the brawl, Zosimus beat his opponent by a massive margin, in the true heroic style. The first thing that happened after that was the purse of winnings flying past Ash, who had previously prepared a duplicate purse in advance “just in case”; with an amazing Stealth roll he swapped purses by appearing to fumble catching it, then flicked the duplicate purse into the hands of U’wahz the Sage.
  • The party’s Cunning Plan; despairing of teaching Max to impersonate a Shah, they circulated rumours of an assassination attempt which had temporarily rendered the Shah lame and mute, allowing them to splint Max’s leg and cover his face with a mask in the hopes of avoiding him opening his mouth or having to ride or dance at any point.
  • The attack by an evil monk-assassin during the voyage upriver to Teluk’Ammar, foiled when Ash ziplined down the ship’s backstay and kicked the assassin overboard.
  • The attack by mountain bandits, foiled when the Sage “remembered” that the local subspecies of goat goes berserk when frightened and charges the source of the fear en masse – armed with this information, Dorjee Pema the Alchemist lobbed a couple of fear potions into a suitable position, and the bandits were gored and trampled by goats, allowing the party to escape.
  • The party’s avoidance of the drugged horse intended to embarrass Ulesir Shah by walking to the palace slowly and circuitously while feigning interest in the local architecture.

Max’s player has decided that the horse thing is exactly the sort of hazing any Northeim clan would inflict on a potential son-in-law, for who would want their daughter to marry a wimp? “I’m not playing the weakling for these Valk any longer,” he said at the end of the session. “If they want a real man, I’ll show them one.”

No doubt hilarity will ensue. A Happy Easter to you all!

Team Robot: Boris, Silmaria, Ssh’ta, The Fox, X7-09. Glitterhaegen, 02 June 216.

Relaxing in Glitterhaegen’s dockside area, Team Robot debates whether they should stay or go. They’re trying to avoid the attentions of the Duke of Glitterhaegen, who may well bear a grudge for the theft of his prize griffin, Lord Fluffington III; Balthazar Rook gives serious thought to stealing it again, but the others talk him out of it. The group gets to know Balthazar’s new sidekick, Ladra, and he sends her off on an unspecified mission. Meanwhile, they have heard of a mysterious red tower, which in local rumours is linked to disappearances on the night of the full moon and red-robed cultists who eat pebbles.

Thus it is that on the night of the next full moon, Silmaria finds herself near the red tower at night, with only Boris in the shape of a mouse for company, and Balthazar, Ssh’ta and X7-09 concealed in overwatch. Inevitably, a group of four cultists attempt to sneak up on her, only to be shot down by Ssh’ta before being hacked to bits by X7-09, who is curious about their flame-bladed daggers but undamaged by them. Balthazar has the presence of mind to beat the one before him unconscious with the pommel of his rapier, so this time they have a prisoner, and their knowledge of the local area allows them to find a secluded warehouse where they can interrogate their captive after weighting the bodies of the other cultists and throwing them in the harbour.

“Just checking, we are the good guys, right?” asks Balthazar. X7-09 explains that they are adventurers, so they get to define what being the good guys means. That settled, the remaining cultist is put to the question, but knows nothing they haven’t already figured out. Tiring of his dire warnings about the Devourer rising to consume them all, they knock him out again and dress in the cultists’ robes before returning to the tower.

Using a key purloined from one of the dead cultists, they find the concealed door and enter. Within, they are attacked by invisible demons (well, invisible to X7-09 anyway, the rest of the group can see the red eyes, slavering fangs piercing their flesh and so forth well enough); X7-09 calls on the Diabolist to show him his enemy, and receives a vision of a gigantic living dungeon. While he is musing on that, the others snap out of it, discovering that it was an illusion.

They continue to explore the tower, finding little of note except a prisoner, who X7-09 reveals as a demon by cunning questioning. The demon announces himself as By-Tor, Prince of Darkness, Centurion of Evil; Caliban the albino dire wolf growls at him throughout the conversation, and he occasionally insults the canine. Reasoning that eventually he will persuade someone to release him, they agree to let him out on condition that [a] he will not harm the party members, with the exception of Caliban, and [b] he owes X7-09 one favour, to be called in when X7-09 desires at some unspecified point in the future.

That done, the party and the demon go their separate ways, leaving the cultists to their kidnapping, murder and Devourer-worship. After all, there’s a party to attend…


You may recognise the adventure as a modified version of The Windowless Tower from Places of the Dominions, a Beasts & Barbarians supplement; hence the lack of spoilers as it was only published a year or so ago. Since the party ignored most of its wonders and threats, you haven’t missed a lot.

This session was primarily intended to adjust the pacing so that the two teams are back in sync for the next episode, in which they will meet up again at Marblehall.

It was also used to foreshadow some later events; this is most obvious in X7-09’s vision, but By-Tor has a role to play later in one of the character’s personal arc. They also left one of the cultists unconscious but alive, and tied up in a warehouse in Glitterhaegen. Since they took all his stuff, anyone rescuing him will not recognise him as a cultist; but he saw their faces plainly. This creates another potential plot thread.

We agreed to treat By-Tor’s favour owed to X7-09 like an extra icon roll.

While the rest of the party amused themselves ignoring the plotline and fomenting rebellion in Caldeia City, Alihulk Junior was out pounding the streets looking for clues to his father’s whereabouts. By tracing orders of his father’s favourite foods, wines and types of slave among the city’s markets, and talking to the delivery men, he triangulated his father’s position. The party tooled up those of their freedmen who had military experience and set off, posing as merchants bearing gifts as the first step in broadening their trading network. To recap, at this point the group consists of a paladin of Hulian with his Amazon bodyguard, a fat albino pygmy, a half-Nandal, Alihulk Junior, simmering with revenge, a Caldeian estate manager, and five Ivory Savannah spearmen recently freed from slavery and pretending to be slave-soldiers escorting the others.

The story arc was now back on track and I led the party into Hosts, a scenario from Beasts of the Dominions. That was published four years ago, so without giving away the full details I feel comfortable revealing that it is an everyday story of an estate in ruins, giant mutated life-forms, and evil sorcery.

Pausing only to succour the pregnant girl and slaughter the estate-owner’s henchman they met on the way in, they entered the estate and encountered the aforementioned giant mutants. All the NPCs bar two (the estate manager and one spearman) panicked and fled into the nearby cane thickets, where the mutants hunted them down and killed almost all of them – Hippolyta the Amazon was recovered at death’s door after the scenario and saved by Peter’s Healing, which surely can only reinforce her devotion to him.

Undeterred, the party managed to reach safety in the mansion’s tower ahead of their foes and slam the door, after which they noticed screaming upstairs. Marching to the sound of the screams, they found Alihulk Senior engaged in dark sorcery involving a terrified girl and attacked him directly.

Alihulk Junior drew a two of hearts, and just stood there sputtering while his father exclaimed “Still a disappointment, I see,” and laid into the others. Losing the melee after a few rounds, our dark sorceror teleported away, and while the NPCs cowered on the ground floor, everyone except Abishag piled outside in pursuit, taking a moment to set fire to the tower.

“Hulian’s divine instructions are clear,” Peter explained. “If in doubt, kill it with fire.”

Abishag, of course, started looting the building, but one of the spearmen (established on the journey in as being violently hostile to pygmies) took advantage of the distraction to stab him with a spear. This sideshow continued while Peter, Alihulk and Borg ran after the evil sorceror, to find him surrounded by giant mutant creatures drawn up in serried ranks and waiting for them.

A long and brutal melee ensued, but at length the sorceror felt it appropriate to flee on mutant creature-back. Alihulk Junior chose this moment to consume his potion of Speed, run after them, and leap up to grapple his father, casting aside his customary two longswords.

A truly cinematic fistfight ensued, burning through bennies right and left, until they both fell off the sorceror’s mount. The sorceror then teleported away and ran off, but was detained by a bolt of Hulian’s holy fire from Peter and a stab wound donated by Borg. A frenzied Alihulk then ran up and proceeded to beat his father – his enemy – to death with his fists.


The encounter between Alihulks Senior and Junior was everything I could’ve hoped for; the younger apparently freezing once face to face with the man he has been chasing for the last six years real time, and goodness knows how long in game time. The slippery sorceror escaping again and again, only to be caught by the son he has so often spurned. The fistfight atop a charging mutant. The near-escape, Alihulk’s friends slowing down the villain long enough for Alihulk to catch him, and the final showdown.

Most satisfying.

But what about Alihulk’s Enemy Hindrance? I asked his player. Now that his enemy is dead?

“Back on the Ivory Savannah,” he said, “That old witch told me I have a brother…”

It’s gratifying that the Shadows of Keron campaign refuses to die, but I have to take into account that some of the younger players are moving on with their lives, so if possible, the story arcs involving their PCs need to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion while they are still around.

Thus it was that last weekend the party found themselves on the outskirts of Caldeia City, in pursuit of Alihulk Senior, chaos cultist, evil demon-worshipper, dark sorceror, and Alihulk Junior’s father. (The player took the character’s own father as the focus of his Enemy Hindrance at character creation.)

Alihulk’s player was unable to join us for the Saturday session, so the plan was that the group would move into Caldeia City and pick up the sorceror’s trail, then when the missing player arrived for the Sunday session, we would follow that up with the final dramatic showdown.

I thought that The Windowless Tower from Places of the Dominions would be a nice way to lead up to that, and strewed clues to that location and Alihulk Senior’s whereabouts and current plans in their path.

Naturally, they ignored all these clues completely. Instead, posing as Independent Cities merchants trying to break into the drugs and slave trade, they set up a meeting with a minor Caldeian nobleman. They promptly murdered him, took over his villa, and set up a complex scheme of buying the stroppiest slaves they could find, putting them through cold turkey to remove all traces of drugs from their systems, deprogramming them, and releasing them into the city.

Why, you ask? I certainly did. It turns out Peter Perfect the paladin of Hulian has taken a disliking to the Caldeians since their economy is based on trading slaves and addictive drugs, and has developed a fanatical focus on overthrowing King Caldaios. Since the only character in the party who has Streetwise or any similar skill is run by the player who couldn’t make this session, they decided they couldn’t find the revolutionary underground, so they would have to do something that attracted its attention. Luckily for them the underground found them before the secret police did, and promised to return later for serious negotiations.

Learning that the dead nobleman had visited the Windowless Tower did attract their attention, and they visited it themselves for long enough to ransack it, kill almost everything inside, and burn it to the ground. I tell you, Old School roleplaying is alive and well around here.

Meanwhile, thanks to some astonishing reaction rolls, the amazon bodyguard they picked up at the end of episode 30 has developed a crush on Peter (who is charismatic, noble, honourable, and somewhat dim). The party have renamed her Hippolyta, and one name is as good as another, so I let that stand. The lady of the house, following another set of whacky dice rolls, turns out to be [a] smokin’ hot, [b] a keen poisoner, and [c] convinced that the best chance of survival for her and her children is a romantic dalliance with Peter. So a game of cat and mouse has developed, with the Caldeian noblewoman trying to poison the Amazon, and the Amazon trying to stab the noblewoman while no-one is looking. Peter has the Clueless Hindrance and is thus largely oblivious to this, but Abishag the hobbit poisoner-assassin is well aware of it all and watching with great amusement, meanwhile teaching the children of the house all he knows about killing people. He justifies this by pointing out they are the only people he knows who do not trigger his Quirk of “Hates everyone taller than him.”

The estate manager (Balthazar) they also picked up at the end of episode 30 fancies the Amazon, so is quietly supporting the noblewoman. He is also a closet sorceror on the run from his school of wizardry, but this has not yet come to light.

Borg, meanwhile, originally a half-orc, has never felt more at home, thanks to the Caldeian practice of modifying their slaves using drugs, cross-breeding, and vile sorcery. Aside from Tricarnia this is likely the only place in the Dominions where a party consisting of what appears to be four humans, a half-Nandal, and a fat albino pygmy can pass without attracting undue attention.


Yeah, it’s a lot like that…

When last seen, the Pawns of Destiny were bugging out of their last port of call on the first available ship to avoid inconvenient accusations of murdering a prince, a high priestess of Etu, and sundry other folk of little import.

Somewhere north of Kenaton on the wide Sword River, the lookout calls “Sail ho!” and shortly thereafter “‘Tis the Blood Bride!” The captain pales, and orders the ship put about to head for the nearest riverbank. Alas, the river is several miles wide at this point and they are swiftly overhauled by an Amazon hawk ship. Between them, Ash and U’wahz identify that the Blood Bride is captained by Anaya the Swift, a renegade Amazon-turned-pirate wanted in Syranthia and numerous other places and known for massacring the crews of captured ships. The merchant captain’s preferred option of begging and pleading for mercy is unlikely to succeed, the crew don’t look like trained fighting men, and their vessel is too slow to escape; so the PCs tool up and stand by to repel boarders. Ash further knows that Anaya is not looting at random, she is looking for something specific – an ancient Keronian stone coffer. When he describes it, U’wahz (who is well-versed in legends and lore) identifies it as a heavily-trapped chest, used by Keronian sorcerors to keep their treasures.

Based on this intelligence, the players prepare a Cunning Plan. U’wahz will claim to have found clues to the location of a Keronian treasure map, thus establishing themselves as people too useful to be murdered and thrown overboard. Max and Zosimus are privately of the opinion that they can take any number of pirate Extras, and based on events to date they could well be right. The Monk is strangely distant, explaining that fate will decide who lives and who dies, and conceals himself by hiding behind the main mast. Dorjee (player not present) hides in the cargo hold, that is to say, under the tarpaulin on the rowing deck which keeps the worst of the spray and rain off the cargo.

The hawk ship pulls alongside and prepares to board. U’wahz calls out to them: “Is that the Blood Bride? Captain Anaya the Swift? I’ve been looking for her, could I have a word please?” This intrigues the captain, who comes to the rail and responds, “I am Anaya the Swift; what business have ye with me?”

U’wahz explains that he recently found a library full of ancient Keronian tomes (true, it was hidden in the Great Library of Syranthia) which has since been destroyed (true, Dorjee set fire to it), and that he gathered clues to the location of a great treasure, which he alone now knows! He believes that the clues are inside the very chest which Anaya seeks!

At this point a tattooed giant leans over the rail and calls: “U’wahz? Is that you? It’s me, Kord!” U’wahz admits that it is him, at which Kord explains how U’wahz saved his life by healing an infected wound while he was on shore leave in Syranthia, years ago.

“Alright,” says Anaya, “Parlay it is. I shall come over with my mate Kord and some rowers. No tricks now! And one thing is not negotiable: I must have the chest!”

Meanwhile on the quarterdeck, such as it is, the captain and crew are drawn up, intending to sell their lives dearly, look at each other in total confusion at this turn of events.

“But it’s my chest,” mutters the merchant captain. Ash suggests to him that he might be better off not arguing about whose chest it is.

Zosimus calls softly down to the lower deck. “Dorjee? Have you got a stone chest down there?”

“Yes,” comes the reply. “I’m hiding behind it.”

At this point the party realises that the chest is actually aboard their ship. Oops. So much for persuading Anaya they can lead her to it.

An extended negotiation ensues between Anaya the Swift and the party, leading to the following agreement.

First, that the PCs, the merchant captain and his crew will join the pirates. This is in everyone’s best interests; the merchant captain and crew don’t get killed, which they consider the most important benefit, and will now have access to luxury goods at a much lower price (namely free, because they have been looted from the pirates’ victims). It’s in Anaya’s interest to have a ship no-one knows is hers; it can sell her looted goods at a better rate than she will get from a fence, and can acquire supplies without inconvenient questions being asked. Plus, as Ash points out, she is now a proper Pirate Queen because she has more than one ship.

Second, U’wahz and his friends will assist Anaya in locating and acquiring the lost treasure, in exchange for the usual shares.

The pirates are disappointed because they can’t slaughter everyone, and arguments break out over whether this is a correct interpretation of the Pirates’ Code, which as everyone knows is not so much rules, more guidelines. The Monk points out that in principle this deal is no different from volunteers joining the Blood Bride‘s crew in port. Anaya silences dissent by pointing out that she is the captain, and she therefore decides how the code is applied. She reminds them of the most important rule: Obey the captain, or fight her fairly for the job. There is a total lack of interest in the second option.

The next step, they decided, would be to take the chest ashore before opening it, so that when it inevitably blew up, they had some chance of survival. Zosimus also mentioned to the others that it would make it easier to run away if they had to.

They run both craft aground for the night (as is common in Bronze Age cultures), and Anaya produces a pirate called Nimblefingers who she proudly announces is the best lockpick in the crew. He advances on the chest once it is unloaded, studying it and flexing his fingers. Ash gives him completely misleading advice and the Monk begins to chant a distinctly off-putting prayer, both with the express intention of making him fail. As he also rolls a 1 on his skill die, he is struck by a poisoned blade part-way through opening the lock and expires swiftly and messily.

On the basis that Ash was giving advice, Anaya promotes him to senior ship’s lockpick. He accepts gladly, supremely confident in his own abilities, but says he needs time to study it, as it is obviously unusually tricky. While he is doing this, Max and Zosimus walk the perimeter looking for the best escape route should it be necessary, and the pirates decide they may as well pitch their tents and cook supper.

Ash asks Anaya what she hopes is inside, since anything he could learn may improve his chances. She explains that there is a stone tablet inside, which interpreted correctly will lead them to the lost temple of Son Rah, wherein squats an idol whose eyes are rubies the size of a man’s fist. On learning of this, Zosimus suggests that he stands by while Ash deliberately triggers the trap again and again, and chops off the poisoned blades as they emerge – it must run out of them eventually. But Ash’s pride will not stand for cheating; he must open it himself, and he must do so fairly, with all the pirates watching.

At length, Ash consults with U’wahz, who explains his theory that the lock – a curious mechanism of interlocking plates – represents planetary and stellar movements, and to open it requires knowledge of the movements of the spheres. The plates must be moved not only in the right directions but in the right tempo as well.

“Ah!” exclaims Ash. “It’s musical, then. Movements of the spheres, harmonies in celestial music!” U’wahz tries to clarify, they don’t need a musician, they need an astrologer.

“Nonsense!” says Ash. “This looks to me like the Ballad of Dirty Nell – I’m sure you Sages have different words, perhaps with fewer obscenities, but this is the version I know…” and he sets to work on the lock, singing Dirty Nell to himself.

Ash succeeds handily, and the lid opens to reveal a stone tablet marked with some sort of map. He takes pains to contrive a device which allows him to lift out the tablet without putting his hands into the chest, and is rewarded when poisoned blades artfully slash where his wrist arteries would have been had he reached in himself. He then holds the slab in rags, muttering about contact poison, while he checks it for poisoned needles and such. Eventually, he proclaims it clean.

Anaya, Kord and U’wahz stroll off into the night, as Anaya is somewhat sensitive about who knows how to interpret the map. She looks up into the night sky, down at the torch-lit tablet, and shuffles around, clearly aligning it with a direction.

“Bah!” she exclaims. “Useless! This is nothing like the coast I know!”

U’wahz theorises that the map shows the coastline as it was in Keronian times, when everyone knows the lay of the land was different. Anaya is so close to the treasure now she can taste it, so is ready to clutch at any straw.

To cut a long story short, U’wahz and a few others run into Kenaton, he uses his position as a Sage of the Great Library to gain access to the city’s library, and they compare the tablet to the oldest maps they can find. By this means they are able to discover the location of the island where the temple of Son Rah lies, and they set forth on a three-week journey to it.

During this voyage the PCs all, in their various ways, work out that the crew is on the point of mutiny. Kord’s faction holds that a woman’s place is not on the quarterdeck of a pirate ship, and he would be a better captain; Anaya’s faction holds that a woman’s place is wherever the hell she wants, especially if she can use a sword like that, and she is the better captain. Kord manages to get a private word with U’wahz and says he will need help to take control of the ship, after which the position of first mate and navigator will be open, and U’wahz would be his preferred candidate for it. Max and Zosimus watch Anaya at her martial exercises, and Kord keeping discipline among the crew, and decide that either of them can probably take Kord if he doesn’t get into grappling range, but neither of them fancies taking Anaya on in a fair fight. Obviously, therefore, they will side with Kord, use him to take Anaya down, and then take over themselves.

Zosimus predicts that the island will be covered in jungle and infested by winged bat-human hybrids, and will later be proved correct on both points. (Zosimus’ player has read enough Conan stories to see this stuff coming.)

Nosing in through the reefs, the Blood Bride runs ashore on the single large beach, and the captain sends reconnaissance parties left and right along the beach. The PCs go left, and discover the wreckage of a Caldeian slave ship and a number of crude huts where the presumed survivors eked out a pitiful existence for an unknown period. One of the shacks has an amulet of bones, hair and mud dangling over the entrance, which the Monk appropriates for later study, divining that it is some sort of protective religious artefact. There are no signs of survivors, although Max (who is a pretty good tracker by now) detects what he thinks are the tracks of giant bats.

“Told you so,” says Zosimus.

Returning to the beach, the party finds that two pirates from different factions among the crew got into a fight and one was killed. The murderer makes no attempt to deny the charge, and although he attempts to justify his behaviour, faces summary execution under the Pirates’ Code. After this, the party reports on finding the wreck, but doesn’t mention the supposed giant bats, concerned that they will be thought mad.

Convinced that the temple lies somewhere in the jungle, the party sets out again, seeking the road to it they believe exists. After thrashing around for a while, they find a selection of cobblestones whose arrangement seems too regular to be accidental, and decide they have found it. By the time they get back to camp it’s almost dark. They decide to sleep on the ship in case of giant bats, but don’t warn the others. Anaya has seen them in action and knows that none of them have a clue how to operate a ship, so takes no action to make them sleep ashore with the rest of the pirates. Nobody gets much sleep that night, with each pirate faction fearing a sneak attack by the other, and the PCs concerned about giant bats.

Come the morning, inevitably a pirate is missing; only some scraps of clothing are to be found. Equally inevitably, each pirate faction blames the other, and it is late morning by the time Anaya manages to reimpose discipline and set off into the jungle, leaving a skeleton crew of relatively neutral pirates aboard ship. By mid-afternoon, following the overgrown trail has led the party and the pirates to the ruins of an ancient city, with the tall, slender towers characteristic of Keronian architecture and partially collapsed walls and gates. The pirates immediately scatter into the ruins in search of loot, but the PCs are more cautious and look carefully for traps, monsters, and the temple itself. There is much debate on how best to do this; Max is by far the best huntsman and tracker in the party, but is not good at finding things in urban environments. Ash is much better in cities, but much less use in the jungle.

U’wahz proposes to resolve this by mounting a tree on a wheeled platform, having Max climb it, and then rolling him into the city. In this way, he will still be in the jungle (admittedly a very small part of it), and can apply his wilderness skills. This is discussed at length but ultimately discarded as impractical, and the group settle for having Max climb a tree to look, and Ash climb one of the nearer towers, while U’wahz applies his knowledge of Keronian city layout to determine where the temple ought to be. Between them, this gives a good idea of the temple’s approximate location, and they set off for the city centre. Ash notes that someone, or something, has demolished the towers’ staircases, which Zosimus takes as supporting evidence for his giant bat theory – bats would want to nest up high, he argues, pointing out suitably large openings in the towers, but would not want people such as themselves climbing up and stabbing them. U’wahz points out that the Tricarnians, Keronia’s descendants, are rumoured to have giant riding bats, and suggests that the city is inhabited by their feral descendants.

The group finds a roughly temple-shaped building covered in green vines, and move to investigate. This proves to be a warehouse guarded by poisonous plants, but the only casualty is a nasty rash on U’wahz’s arm. Before moving on, they take pains to fabricate clues suggesting that this is the temple, in the hopes of poisoning at least some pirates, reducing the odds for the inevitable battle later.

Further on, U’wahz stumbles upon a large bas-relief depicting humanoid bats being offered human sacrifices. A fair amount of time is lost as he sketches the artworks. Yet later, they discover a broad and relatively undamaged thoroughfare leading out of the city to the east. Since they landed, Max and Zosimus have been mentally marking potential escape routes, and add this to their list.

At length, and as expected, the party finds the temple as dusk falls, thanks to the rays of the setting sun glinting off an idol’s ruby eyes in a small chamber atop a tall ziggurat. Kord and Anaya both arrive with a handful of pirates as the PCs are checking out the portcullis protecting the chamber. While Ash and U’wahz consider increasingly elaborate and cautious ways of raising the portcullis without triggering the obligatory traps, the Monk finds a gap in the stones where the ruined walls have collapsed, and wriggles through. Ash passes him a crowbar and he uses this to work the mechanism which opens the portcullis from the inside. Watching each other cautiously, everyone enters, and U’wahz moves a large rock under the portcullis in case it falls, trapping them. The idol is that of a demon, sitting cross-legged with a large bowl on its lap. It’s the work of moments for a couple of pirates to swarm up the idol and crowbar its eyes out, but then they notice the bloodless corpse of the missing pirate in the bowl. U’wahz examines it and announces that it has been sacrificed as per the ritual depicted on the bas-relief they found earlier.

At this point, a trapdoor behind the idol opens and batlike albino humanoids begin to crawl out; the first one manages to grab the nearest pirate and bite his throat out, but then a savage melee erupts. Zosimus notices that he is standing behind Anaya with a javelin in his atlatl, decides it’s the best chance he’s going to get, and hurls it at her with all his might. It skitters off her armour and disappears into the darkness at the rear of the temple. As the pirates see the indescribably horrible bat-things in the flickering light of their torches, they panic; the majority flee into the night (where they will later be picked off by more bat-things as they try to get back to the ship), one of them decides to play dead, and the bravest makes a grab for the rubies. Kord, as a wild card, rolls on the Fear Table and expires from a heart attack on the spot.

Anaya steps forward and engages the ruby-grabber in a swordfight, while her most loyal minion engages Zosimus to cover her back. Zosimus cuts him down pitilessly. Ash, meanwhile, is standing behind the trapdoor, braining bat-things as they emerge; he loses the element of surprise when one falls back down the hole rather than off to one side.

Meanwhile, Max and U’wahz note large numbers of additional giant bats approaching from the jungle and drop the portcullis to protect those still inside the chamber, forgetting that there is a rock set to prop it open.

Anaya kills her opponent and pauses to grab the rubies. The Monk, Zosimus and Max engage the seemingly limitless numbers of giant bats emerging from the trapdoor, supported by Ash. Within seconds, only the PCs and Anaya are left alive; they cannot escape through the trapdoor, or the portcullis, due to the numbers of bats.

It is at this point that U’wahz remembers a useful snippet of information from his study of Keronian history. “There’s a way out,” he calls. “I remember reading this, the book said ‘Fondle the bollock to escape’.”

With no further ado, he crawls under the idol’s bowl and strokes its genitals, causing a panel to slide aside and reveal a chute leading down into darkness. He throws a torch down it, and it skitters away for some distance before being lost to sight. One after another, the group disengages and dives into the chute, sliding haphazardly down a twisting, turning tunnel which eventually spits them out into a river some distance from the temple.

Spitting out brackish green water and checking she still has the rubies, Anaya says: “We can argue about who’s captain once we’re well away from this cursed island, agreed?”

This seems the most practical course, and the survivors flee back to the beach, where they find the skeleton crew has already started pushing the ship off the beach, as they don’t like the look of all those giant bats circling the centre of the island, especially since they seem to be carrying struggling and screaming figures. Our heroes splash through the surf as night falls, clamber aboard in some haste, and make off into the darkness.


Last weekend I managed to run two games, Hearts of Stone on Saturday and Pawns of Destiny on Sunday; so you get two writeups this week, and this is the second.

Like most of Umberto Pignatelli’s adventures, this one is relatively linear, but I was again struck by how naturally the PCs follow his plotlines without seeming to notice they are on rails. I wonder how he does that?

The group avoided the initial battle with the Blood Bride‘s crew by some pretty inspired roleplaying and a number of ridiculously lucky die rolls; it worked so well and flowed so naturally that I let them get away with that. They deserved more bennies than I gave them; this is a recurring theme, I must watch out for it in future.

Ash really came to the fore in this session, which was good because he has taken a back seat in many of the sessions so far.

I didn’t expect the cornered-rat situation at the end to kill the party – I’ve played with this crew for nearly 40 years now, and they are steeped in guile – but I was surprised by how they got away. U’wahz the Sage had been reserving his ability to declare one new thing in the setting true, and used it to ensure their escape by declaring that every Keronian demon idol has a secret escape passage nearby, which can be revealed by fondling the idol’s genitals.

Kord dying of a heart attack seemed too hilarious to overturn with a GM benny, and with their preferred candidate for captain dead, the group agreed they are quite content to serve under Anaya the Swift. And besides, none of them can steer the ship. So, through no plan of mine, I now find them in what I consider the perfect setup for ongoing picaresque adventures; the PCs as the crew of a ship, with an NPC captain calling the shots. However, we closed with a request from the group for something with more story arc rather than a continuing series of one-off adventures. They shall go to the ball, Cinderella; it’s just a question of which of the larger scenarios to throw at them next…

Another adventure from Beasts of the Dominions – “The Whispered”.

Quickly growing bored with hunting spiders of decreasing size in Vadokara, the party takes its leave of their new friend, governor Temar Nhir, who gives them a letter of recommendation explaining to whom it may concern that they are competent and trustworthy.

They hike north through the jungle to the Sword River, intending to head for Kenaton and the bright city lights, and seek a likely berthing place where river traffic will come ashore for the night (as is the common practice), concealing themselves at the edge of the forest out of habit more than anything. Shortly, they notice a small but luxurious vessel pulling ashore, and seeing the occupants are a sage, a young nobleman, a couple of bodyguards, a few serving girls and what appears to be a merchant crew, they step forward and announce themselves, noting the crew erecting a whipping frame without much enthusiasm.

U’whaz introduces himself to the sage, one Pema the Elder, and they discover they are both alumni of the Great Library in Syranthia. Having established their bona fides, Pema feels able to confide that he and his pupil Salathar (the young noble) are travelling to the nearby city of Chalat to pay their respects to the governor, a relative on Salathar’s mother’s side.

Meanwhile Salathar is marching about demanding a whipping, and the two bodyguards drag forward a pretty slave girl, with expressions denoting that they have to do this, but they don’t much like it. Ash, who has a weakness for a well-turned ankle, decides this is inappropriate and steps in, volunteering to take on the task of whipping the girl. This is a ruse, as he explains to her under the guise of checking the knots; he contrives to use red riverside dust and skillful handling of the whip to make it seem he is lashing her within an inch of her life, while actually doing very little damage, after which he takes her away to bandage her up using his alleged healing skills. (He will later claim to have used his last healing potion on her to explain the lack of deep, bleeding gashes in her back.)

The party infers that Salathar has either done something embarrassing, or is under threat of assassination, or possibly both. When pressed, Pema the Elder admits that Salathar is travelling to Chalat “for health reasons”.

Our heroes parlay their letter of recommendation into free passage with Pema and Salathar, Pema agreeing that the group forms an excellent educational opportunity for the young gentleman. The party splits up to gather intelligence at this point, with U’wahz, Dorjee Pema and Zosimus joining the captain, Pema, Salathar, and the bodyguards for a genteel supper, while the others choose to sit with the crew for a less refined, but more filling, meal.

From their own knowledge and skilful questioning of their new companions, the party discover the following.

  • Chalat is a busy port along the Gold Route, near the jungle but surrounded by well-tended fields. It is known as the City of Snakes, and its emblem is a snake.
  • Snakes are a common feature of architecture and diet in Chalat, and some species are considered sacred.
  • Salathar is arrogant, cruel and easily bored. When bored, he likes to be amused by watching someone else in pain.
  • The bodyguards (who take a great liking to Zosimus) are expecting an assassination attempt orchestrated by Master Merchant Ramith, an enemy of Salathar’s family who has agents up and down the Sword River.
  • Chalat will soon celebrate the Days of the Open Doors, during which any man can enter the Temple of Etu to “commune” with one of the priestesses. The rowers agree that it is worth putting in a bit of extra effort to ensure they arrive on time, as for most of them it’s the only chance they’re going to get this year at a spot of tea, crumpets and polite conversation with gorgeous priestesses.

The night passes uneventfully, and the following afternoon the ship reaches Chalat, which is very crowded. While the group is disembarking, a crate swinging overhead on a crane drops, threatening to crush Salathar. The only person in a position to save him is the stark naked Monk, who decides instead to let fate choose whether the aristocrat lives or dies, and so steps aside to let the crate fall on him. There is a thump, a scream and several cracking noises, at least one of which will later turn out to be Salathar’s leg. It is at this point that the heroes realise the jars were full of live, poisonous snakes, and leap to the conclusion that this is the expected assassination attempt, then react by looking for the backup team – clearly the whole snakes in a crate thing is merely Plan A, although it does seem to be going rather well so far.

Zosimus darts in to grab the boy, who has been perforated by several serpents, while the bodyguards kick over a huge jar of wine to wash away the snakes, which stratagem more or less succeeds. Max uses his dagger to dispose of the one snake which has managed to stay attached to the boy. Dorjee Pema attempts to ingratiate himself with Salathar’s family by using potions and healing skills to save the boy, who is by now convulsing and foaming at the mouth, and appears to succeed. Ash runs to the winch controls to interrogate the operators, but curiously they have disappeared. The party decides this means nothing, as even if they were innocent, they would have fled.

The Monk, meanwhile, is sitting cross-legged on a bollard, just out of snake reach, watching to see what fate decides.

Totally ignoring Dorjee’s contribution, the crowd heaves Salathar onto their shoulders, yelling about him being blessed because he has survived the snake bites; they bear him off towards the palace, with the rest of the group following in their wake. Salathar laps it up, as any arrogant 16-year-old would. It merely reaffirms his view of his own importance.

At the palace, the governor apologises profusely to his kinsman (although it isn’t entirely clear why), and orders a feast in honour of the Chosen One (although given how fat he is, that’s probably a nightly occurrence). The excitement around the now-blessed Salathar is such that nobody is checking invitations, and the party sweeps into the palace, taken for part of Salathar’s entourage – free food is all the incentive they need to follow along, even if most of it does turn out to be snakes.

At the end of the dinner, High Priestess Yantara arrives by palanquin from the Temple of Etu, keen to meet the Blessed Salathar. She brings entertainment: A dusky young priestess called Marah, who dances for Salathar to his immense interest. The dance concluded, Salathar leads Marah away to his quarters, while Yantara departs with a smile, having given Marah leave to spend the night away from the temple. Ash offers to escort Yanatara home, but she declines graciously, saying that her own years of service in the Days of the Open Doors are long past. Ash infers that one of the benefits of being a high priestess is the ability to be a bit more picky about what you do on those days – and who you do it with.

Salathar, meanwhile, has been followed to his room by the two bodyguards and Zosimus, whom he instructs not to enter the room under any circumstances, whatever they might hear. The three warriors concur that this must be the first step in another assassination attempt, but the little snot has it coming, and they can always say they were obeying orders. Privately, Zosimus doesn’t think this will help them much. However, the only noises coming out of the boudoir are what one might expect from a young, healthy couple neither of whom is encumbered by inhibitions.

The Monk stays back to find out what happens to the leftovers; it turns out that the servants eat as much of those as they can, then sell the rest to passersby at the door. The Monk is disappointed that the remaining food is not given away to the needy – after all, that’s what he did with his loincloth – and tries to persuade the servants to do that. Unable to decide whether he is a holy fool or just a fool, they settle for throwing him out without beating him up first.

While Max falls asleep on one of the couches, Dorjee and U’wahz settle in for an evening of intellectual conversation with Pema the Elder. Around one AM, that group breaks up to go to bed, but Pema decides to look in on Salathar first. The guards note that while they are forbidden to enter, no orders were given about Pema, so they let him in.

Pema calls them in and points out that both Salathar and Marah are missing. The rest of the heroes are awakened and summoned to the bedroom. Using the immense powers of observation and deduction Hulian grants to sages such as he, U’wahz points out that there is no sign of a struggle, that the secret passage he found clearly hasn’t been used in years, and in his opinion the pair eloped using the improvised bedsheet rope hanging over the balcony and left the palace through the garden gate he can see open on the other side of the lawn.

Pema asks the party for help, reasoning that he doesn’t know the background or motives of anyone in Chalat, but the heroes had a better opportunity to kill Salathar earlier if they wanted to, so are probably not involved. Besides, this is clearly a subtle plot, and it’s also clear that this particular group of adventurers isn’t optimised for subtlety.

Pausing only to acquire a tracker dog from the governor’s kennels and give it Salathar’s scent, the group races across the lawn and through the gate, finding a short alley leading to a shack where a drunken beggar lies asleep. Having picked him up to check for trapdoors beneath him, they rouse him, and for the price of a few coins learn that a palanquin fitting the description of Yantara’s picked up the young couple a short while ago, and headed off towards the Temple of Etu. This is also the direction their bloodhound wants to go as it strains at the leash, so the party follow it to the temple, where they can see the palanquin parked in the yard and a steady stream of men flowing in and out of the temple.

Shunning the main entrance, the heroes make their way round to the back, avoid the not-terribly-alert guard dozing as he makes his rounds, and sneak into the inner sanctum of the temple, which is laid out much like the last one they desecrated. Inside is a statue of Etu, in the form of a pregnant woman carrying a snake. Is it a trick of the light, or is the statue eyeing Ash up suspiciously?

After some experimentation the heroes are pleased to note that the statue is hollow and can be rolled aside in the traditional manner to reveal a staircase leading down to an ornate door. Ash easily discerns the trap and how to disarm it, and the party breezes through into a short corridor flanked by rows of open cells, from which the sounds of people moaning in drugged pleasure can be heard. Shrugging and moving on, the group next comes to a room where a priestess is administering drugs to the faithful; their blandishments are somewhat less than efficacious, and a brief but fierce melee erupts, at the end of which five cultists are dead or incapacitated, and the priestess is heavily drugged with whatever she was dispensing, while our heroes are unscathed. They pause to strip the cultists and put on the fashionable red robes.

Next in line is an obvious treasure room, full of loot – but the group leave it alone because Ash tells them it is trapped. Pressing on, they come to a flight of steps leading down into the main altar room where the bulk of the cult is being led in prayer to an idol of a three-eyed cobra by none other than Yantara. U’wahz recognises the language as a Valk dialect and therefore probably demon-related, and thanks to his knowledge of legends and lore, recognises the idol as the demon Ulasha, the Snake That Devours The World. Marah and Salathar enter, and Yantara gives a little speech about welcoming the boy to his true heritage, then transforms into a snake-woman hybrid. Who, the party notices, is pretty damned hot for a snake.

Zosimus isn’t standing for this, and hurls a javelin at her with all the strength his mighty thews and an atlatl can lend it, inflicting what must surely be a fatal wound; but the abomination pulls the javelin from its body and turns to stare at him. Deciding that locking eyes with the serpent is a bad move, Zosimus ducks back around the corner, trying to shake the eerie, repulsive beauty of the creature from his mind.

Now, everyone is dressed in cultists’ robes, so Yantara can’t tell who is with her and who is not; she makes an error, and decides that Zosimus is acting alone. “You on the stairs,” she calls, “Stop that man and bring him to me! I must know how much he knows!” Unfortunately, this is a second error, as she has picked Max. Max gleefully darts after Zosimus, and soon the noise of a struggle is heard from the treasure room as they fake brutal combat. The rest of the party, so far unrecognised, move closer to the idol and the priestess – except for U’wahz, who has a good vantage point at the head of the stairs and is taking copious notes and verbatim records of the dialogue.

“Now then, where was I? Oh yes,” Yantara continues, praising Marah for her contribution and biting her, injecting a venom which reduces the young priestess to a writhing ball of pleasurable sensations. At this point, Max re-emerges leading an apparently beaten and sullen Zosimus towards the priestess, which the pair of them have agreed is perfect as they are both close-combat specialists. Yantara now bites Salathar, who begins to transform into a giant snake, and the heroes decide enough is enough. Dorjee Pema throws the Yellow Lotus of the Nightmarish Visions into the group by the idol and succeeds in scaring off the temple guards and Marah, all of whom flee to corners of the room, sobbing in panic – unfortunately he can’t cover off the bulk of the cultists and the High Priestess and Salathar appear unaffected.

To provide cover and protection for the party members now closing to engage the priestess, Dorjee hurls his Lotus reserve, the ever-popular Red Lotus of the Phoenix Fire, which forms a flaming barrier surrounding and obscuring the principal actors in this little drama: Zosimus, the Monk, Salathar, and Yantara. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite cover enough ground to obscure the left flank, so Max moves to hold that and buy some time.

While Ash sneaks round the right flank and closes to attack, Zosimus stabs the snake priestess hard – but his blade slides off her scales. Max, meanwhile, has been attacked by a group of half-a-dozen cultists, but kills one and wades through the rest like a bull through terriers. The Monk, who has been moving forward as if to get a better view, is on the wrong side of the flame barrier. Yantara turns to Zosimus and explains that there is no need for them to be at odds, surely they can come to some arrangement? Consider the benefits of being the snake-priestess’ consort and right-hand man. Zosimus does, and considering that for a snake she’s pretty damned hot, decides to change sides. However, he reasons, this makes Salathar his rival for Yantara’s affections, and consequently a legitimate target; so he stabs Salathar, who falls, seriously injured and unconscious. Ash approaches Yantara from the other side to stab her, and she turns her gaze on him, asking him to consider what he desires. Intense pleasure? Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice? She offers him these things if he will join her. Ash ruminates that he has seen evidence of both the intense pleasure and the enormous wealth, and also changes sides. Zosimus sends him a hostile look, and Ash says “No no! You can have her! I want Marah!” – so that’s settled.

Just as it begins to look as if the party will have to change its name to Pawns of the Serpent Priestess, the unimaginative Max steps around the end of the flame barrier and incapacitates Yantara with a mighty blow of his axe.

The heroes stand, breathing heavily, realising they still have a couple of dozen armed and fanatical cultists to deal with; but as the flame barrier dies down, revealing the scene of death and carnage, the surviving cultists take in the scene, and then with a mass wail of sorrow and panic, kill themselves with their own daggers (except Marah, who is still incapacitated by a curious state composed in equal measure of blind panic and orgiastic pleasure). The heroes are confused, but decide they will accept this twist of fate. The one thing they cannot accept, however, is witnesses, so they spend a little while making sure there are none left alive – not even Marah, cute though she is – and coming up with a plan.

They decide that the governor must be in on this, and there are probably more snake priestesses where this one came from; so they need to get out of town while they still can. Once dead, Salathar and Yantara reverted to human form, so the best the group can hope for if they stay is a short and not very fair trial for murder, followed by execution. They agree that they will all grab whatever they can carry from the treasure room on the way out, brief the two bodyguards and Pema the Elder on the situation, and then leave the city on the first available ship, regardless of destination. The Monk carries out his share, but only so he can give it to those they have warned, thus funding their escape if that’s their choice. Is it a trick of the light, or does the statue of Etu smile and nod at Ash as he passes it on his way out?

As the hue and cry rises in the city behind them, the heroes agree it’s the perfect end to a perfect night, and settle down to assess their loot on the deck of a ship bound who knows where.


This was another highly enjoyable little adventure from Umberto Pignatelli, which flowed so naturally that the players seemed to follow the railway tracks without ever noticing they were there.

As usual, I left out a number of encounters to fit the scenario into the time available. A pattern is developing which works well for these players; a largely narrative adventure with almost no skill rolls for about 75% of the session, and then a big, tactical combat to round off the evening before we close.

My principle mistake was using the same statblocks for both male and female snake people; in reality, the male is a much, much stronger opponent, but I can rationalise that by saying that the only male present was being a snake man for the first time, and thus not really used to it and operating below par.

The serpent people’s charm abilities are extremely dangerous, and I was one good soak roll away from dominating enough of them to make them Yantara’s henchmen. That would be an entirely different, but thoroughly entertaining, campaign – I’m tempted to give the snake people another chance at that.

This adventure is “A Matter of Love” from Beasts of the Dominions, published in 2012. The party consisted of Ash, Kyrosian rogue; Dorjee Pema, alchemist of Gis; Max, savage northlander brute; the Monk, wandering Lhobanese martial artist; U’wahz, Syranthian sage; and Zosimus, cairnlander gladiator.

The party is contacted by Temar Nhir, an aide to the Kyrosian ambassador to Syranthia, who has just been given new orders: He is to take over the governorship of Vadokara, about which the Kyrosian Autarch has heard disturbing rumours – a “darkness hanging over the city” or some such rot. The city is a crumbling mass of ruins with a desperate population, and the previous two governors, sent to rebuild it, have disappeared without trace; the Autarch needs someone trustworthy to resolve those problems, if not the darkness thing. The Great Library has suggested the party would be a valuable addition to his entourage, and Nhir likes the idea of having someone not appointed by the Autarch’s court – openly, he merely says different viewpoints can be valuable, but it’s clear he has considered the possibility that he is being quietly disposed of. Much as the Great Library is quietly disposing of the party, in fact.

Vadokara is some way off, and the party has several weeks in the company of Nhir, his daughter Melandra, and the dozen or so soldiers making up his official guard as they make their way eastwards. The last week or so is through thick jungle, and troubled by rain, snakes and fever. Taking advantage of their travels to suss out their companions, the party determines that:

  • Temar Nhir is a competent bureaucrat, and while he knows nothing about the military, he does know enough to listen to people who do, and thus has an equally competent group of guards.
  • Vadokara is a bit of a dump, and the guards are of the opinion that Nhir is being sent there as a punishment and they were unlucky enough to be picked to accompany him.
  • Vadokara is also a hundred leagues from any enemies of Kyros, so while boredom is a threat, being perforated by spears probably isn’t. The guards think that a fair trade.
  • Nhir’s daughter Melandra is young and naive, so Ash’s player decides that she reminds him of his younger sister and has triggered protective rather than lustful emotions in the rogue.

Arriving at the city, the group observes a couple of ragged-looking sentinels on derelict battlements, who disappear inside as soon as they notice the new governor approaching. The city gates are open, and the one on the left has a broken top hinge. Ash decides the governor should ride with some pomp into the city, rather than weaving around broken gates, and beckons Max and Zosimus to help push them open; the rest of the group enters with as much dignity as it can manage.

In the main square, the new arrivals are met by a shabby, smelly person in a stained red tunic, who names himself Shendul, says the city belongs to him and Etu is a false goddess, and what do they think they can do about it? Any better than the last lot? The inhabitants of the city watch expressionlessly. U’wahz notices a large gold ring on Shendul’s hand, the sigil the Autarch presents to city governors, and Ash (a native of Kyros) explains that the stained red tunic is the mark of wandering priests of Etu, although normally they are cleaner than that. Shendul is arrested, but seems unconcerned as he is led away. Ash has already decided offending Shendul would be a bad idea and goes to some lengths not to insult him or knock him around.

The palace has no servants, and clearly has not been used in months. The governor sets the troops to clearing the place up and making it habitable, but the PCs have enough sense to make themselves scarce; U’wahz and Zosimus return to the dungeon to interrogate Shendul, while Ash goes out to the nearest tavern intending  to hire a cook and possibly some other servants. The Monk, who has now discarded even his loincloth in his flight from material possessions, sits outside the palace begging. Every so often someone gives him a loincloth, then he goes to find a beggar even worse off and gives it to them. He learns that the unusually strong doors and window shutters in town date from the arrival of Shendul the priest a couple of years ago, since when no new governor has lasted more than a few days, their entourages disappearing in ones and twos overnight.

In the dungeon, U’wahz is struck by the fact that all the spiders have formed a circle around Shendul and are watching him expectantly. Under questioning, Shendul reveals that he lost his faith after he met… someone… in the jungle, after which he came here and took over the town. He continues to be completely unconcerned about being chained to the wall in the dungeon, and the party deduce that he doesn’t expect to be there long, and that the total absence of skeletons or other evidence of the previous governor bodes ill; clearly, they feel, Shendul controls something awful which will emerge that night and kill them all. Not liking this idea, they decide to thwart this plan by killing Shendul before he can execute it.

As a contingency, U’wahz prepares a large stack of things for the new governor to sign, and slips a death warrant into it, far enough down that the governor will be signing things on autopilot by the time he reaches it. Meanwhile, Max and Zosimus descend once more, and commence strangling Shendul with his own chains, planning to claim later that he got tangled up in them while drunk and accidentally killed himself. The spiders don’t like this, and as waves of steadily larger and more brightly-coloured spiders invade the cell, they decide on a change of plan; Zosimus holds the spiders off while Max shanks the priest repeatedly with his dagger. At this point the spiders go berserk, and the two barbarians flee the palace, eventually winding up in the river, watching a crowd of agitated spiders on the bank, some of them as large as wolves.

Inside the palace, U’wahz, Dorjee, and company notice a sudden increase in the number and ferocity of the spider population and are soon forced to make a run for it, heading towards the temple where they decide to take refuge in the inner sanctum, a bunker-like building inside the main temple which has the advantage of thick walls, heavy doors, and no windows. Eight of the twelve soldiers are brought down by spiders and consumed, and the remainder hold the doors closed by main strength while the heroes prepare a trap – they use the offerings of grain and oil to improvise a flame fougasse, which Dorjee triggers with a flaming barrier potion as the soldiers fall back and the spiders charge in. The first wave of spiders is easily incinerated or speared while shaken from the flames.

Meanwhile, outside, Ash has heard the commotion, left the tavern, and (being a second-story man by trade) climbs to the roof of a tenement near the temple, rightly deducing that something nasty is about to happen, and determined to rescue the young girl. He observes the others chased into the temple by the spiders, and camouflages himself in rags taken from nearby washing lines as he notices something unpleasant approaching from the direction of the city’s main water cistern: A horse-sized half-woman half-spider covered in smaller spiders.

This abomination pauses outside the temple building and calls: “I need a mate. Send out the cutest one. As for the rest of you, well, my children must feed.”

The Monk asks what duties being the spider queen’s mate entails, and learns that in addition to the normal reproductive matters, he will also be expected to provide their children with fresh human meat and plenty of it. The Monk emerges with the intention of buying the rest of the party some time; his previous incarnations have experienced much, leaving him with an interest in those few and rare genuinely new sensations, and carnal knowledge of a spider-centaur certainly qualifies.

“Aha! I see you are already naked!” roars the spider queen, not realising that the Monk is trying to purge himself of any attachment to material possessions, including loincloths. “Excellent, let’s get on with it then!”

“Not in the street,” the Monk says. “Surely we need some privacy?” He is beginning to suspect the reason for the recently-deceased priest’s alcoholism.

“Well, I suppose, if you insist,” demurs the spider queen. “Now, tell me I’m pretty.” The pair stroll off, arm in arm, towards the main water cistern where the queen has taken up residence, with the Monk paying her compliments and engaging her in small talk to distract her, such as seeking an explanation of how two lovers of such different size and shape can consummate their relationship (which the queen is happy to provide). The rest of the spiders surge forward towards the temple, and the heroes work with the soldiers to hold the inner sanctum’s doors closed while Ash rigs a zipline from the tenement to the temple roof, where he makes his way inside, discovering a trapdoor in the inner sanctum’s ceiling. He attracts the party’s attention and they find a ladder, which the priests use for accessing the roof to conduct repairs, and keep it inside so that it doesn’t get stolen. Led by the governor’s daughter, those inside begin preparing to evacuate, looking around the while for something to block the door with so the soldiers can also escape. Their eyes light on the 12 foot tall statue of Etu, holding a baby crocodile in one hand and caressing its head with the other. Is that an expression of suspicion on its face? Is the Great Mother not angry, but terribly, terribly hurt? Obviously, it falls to Ash to swarm up the wall and kick the (hollow) statue over, then the rest drag it forward to block the doors and make good their escape through the temple roof, before making for the city wall at a dead run.

The spiders at the riverbank have decided to join in the feast at the temple and scuttle back to town, cautiously followed by Max and Zosimus. The spiders see Ash, Dorjee, and U’wahz leading the governor, his daughter and the soldiers to safety and turn to pursue them. Max and Zosimus see the spider queen leading the Monk off to who knows what fate, and decide to sneak up behind the couple and hack the spider queen to death, which they promptly do. While they are doing this, the Monk turns on his new girlfriend and with a stunning return to form inflicts a phenomenal amount of damage to the spider queen’s most delicate areas. She drops as if poleaxed, making a very peculiar noise – the Monk explains that he wished to pleasure the spider queen while killing her.

The rest of the spiders have nearly caught up with the other part of the group, and Ash heroically distracts them by bounding up external stairs of one building and throwing rocks at the biggest and stripiest spider, which is clearly the leader. It is stunned by the rock, and at that precise moment the spider queen dies and so loses mental control of the others. Bereft of orders, the pursuing spiders split up, some pursuing in a desultory manner and the rest taking refuge in nearby shadows. Ash claims to have scared them off.

Back at the spider queen’s corpse, Max briefly considers replacing the bull’s head he is currently wearing as a hat with the head of the spider queen, but is persuaded that wearing what will look like the decapitated head of a dead woman will not be popular. Instead they cut it off for addition to Zosimus’ collection of shrunken heads.

By now, it’s all over bar the shouting. The governor moves back into the palace and declares undying friendship to our heroes, who spend the next few days hunting down and disposing of the remaining Spiders Of Unusual Size, before moving on to their next adventure.


The spider queen wasn’t as tough as I expected, and once the party came to blows with her they finished her off in a couple of melee rounds.
I didn’t give Ash as much air time as the others, which the player took in good heart, but I need to focus more on making things fair – this will become more challenging once all six players are back, currently two are away and their characters (Dorjee and Max) are being run as allies by the remaining players.
I’m struggling to come to grips with the chase rules, and am wondering whether to bother with them going forward.
This particular group continues to have problems with the abstract mapless approach favoured by Beasts & Barbarians for “dungeons” such as the temple – this time I overcame that by describing the Parthenon, which I saw about ten years ago.
This session marked my first significant use of David Okum’s 2D card miniatures, which went very well – the Pawns of Destiny meet in U’wahz’s player’s house and it was very convenient to have such lightweight tokens.