Opelenean Nights III


Session Thirty

With the aid of the cleric Achmed Raisul, the Fated had regained their strength and set out into the Desert of Desolation. Their objective was the Oasis of the White Palm, which they believed held the secret to defeating the Efreeti Pasha they had unwittingly released.

After cutting a swath through a village of bugbears, they reached the oasis on the 23rd of Agitelen. To their horror, it was a blackened, burning wasteland, its waters scoured, its trees cut down. Despair gripped the Fated. “Does nothing go right for us?” Ethlyn shouted to the heavens. There was no answer from Imran.

The next day, the Fated headed south. Their old caravan map indicated there was another oasis further south, and they hoped they might learn what had befallen the Oasis of the White Palm .They made good time by trekking through a smooth wadi that snaked through the landscape. It was only when they saw the purple chitin scraped here and there on the side of the wadi that they realized they were marching along a worm-tread… Not long after, they caught sight of great plumes of sand being thrown up by some massive creature. They fled as far and as fast as they could, and then encamped for the night. During the hours of darkness, Rakh was bit by a black widow spider, but fortunately Senef’s shamanic powers saved his life.

The next day, 25th of Agitelen, the southern oasis came into site – a thousand yard wide vista of lush green grass and high waving palms. Proudest of all was the towering white palm that soared skyward. “Did we get fooled…by a decoy oasis?” asked Shikra. The party advanced forward with glee, soon catching site of a campsite of nomad tents, as well as a large caravanserai.

The Besherab nomads of the Oasis of the White Palm – for this was, indeed, the sacred oasis – were a suspicious lot, but Mahmud and Ethlyn’s charisma, as well as the generous gift of a magical dagger, soon got the Fated brought before the sheikh of the oasis, Kassim Arslan, and his son, Hassan. After the appropriate exchange of food, water, and courtesies, the sheikh shared his problems with the Fated.

“Five days ago, Shadalah, a young noblewoman from our tribe, was betrothed to my first-born son, Hassan. She was the chosen bride because she had upon the palm of her hand the sacred symbol. After their betrothal the three-day feast began. Yet, the place was set and no man knew the time. May Imran guide us! Word came by runner during the feast that my soldiers were needed to defend the Oasis of Akhir from an evil efreeti. My warriors departed at once. On the following night, Princess Shadalah disappeared. The marks in the sand outside her tent told of a struggle. The trail ended just north of our camp. Our warriors have not returned from their struggle to hold the evil one at bay. Their absence has weakened my position here and made my enemies bold. I believe that my enemies here in the camp, whoever they may be, have Hassan’s bride. I ask you to help us recover Shadalah, the beloved bride of my first-born son. If you find her, then the wealth of my tent and the friendship and service of my kingdom shall be yours.”

Mahmud and Ethlyn were deeply moved by this plea, and agreed to help find the missing princess of the Oasis. To indicate that they were in his service, the Sheik gave them a magical amulet graven with ancient symbols. Curious about this amulet, and the mention of the “sacred symbol” on the hand of the missing princess, the party decided to seek out the cleric of the Oasis, hoping he might explain more.

The cleric, one Nadron Ilanis, was happy to share with a paladin of Imran. “The symbol on the palm of Hassan’s bride comes from a tradition that is almost as old as the tribe itself. Only one woman at a time may bear the symbol and only so long as she lives, or until it is passed on to the new bride. The old beliefs say that the first bride has great power over evil because of the mark on her hand. In any event, the symbol has not yet returned to the altar; therefore, the bride must still be alive.” The party began to become suspicious about how the amulet, the bride, and the efreeti might all be related…

They next visited the tent of Korus Arslan, the sheik’s second son. They were surprised to find the sheik’s first son, Hassan, being entertained by a lewd dancing girl in the tent – but then realized things were not as they seemed! Rather, Korus was an identical twin of Hassan, born only a minute afterwards. Ethlyn used her good looks and feisty personality to befriend Korus, who quickly sought to involve them in some sort of plot he had afoot. “Help me find the princess Shadalah. I believe that certain people in the Sandvoyager’s Guild are holding the girl in their warehouse. Bring her straight to me. I will wait for you after dark by the monolith in the oasis.” He then gifted them with a prize trove of magical maces in exchange for their help.

The Fated instantly suspected Korus of guilt. Perhaps it was because he insisted on Shadalah being brought to him; perhaps it was because he seemed to have a motive; because his dancing girl showed signs of having been beaten. Ethlyn was especially troubled by the latter, and purchased the girl, Kerina, and freed her.

Intrigued by Korus’s mention of a “monolith,” the party investigated. They found the monolith in question hidden among a dense copse of palm trees. It was carved with holy symbols – the earliest symbols being archaic glyphs of the Empyrean gods, these largely carved over by Kemeshi hieroglyphs to the Chthonic gods. Ceara, now blessed with the preternatural sight of the elves, noticed that the monolith concealed a secret door, but the party decided not to enter it yet.

Heading over to the caravanserai, the party knocked on the door of the Sandvoyager’s Guild. When no one answered, they broke into the warehouse. This prompted a short fight with the guild members within, but the party refused to draw weapons and just broke heads instead. After breaking enough heads, they convinced the guild to grant them a meeting with the guild leader, Thurnas. Thurnas was quite suspicious and gruff, but became outraged at the suggestion that he had princess Shadalah. He angrily suggested they talk to Korus Arslan, who he alleged to be a deal-breaking, treacherous, Chthonic cultist. “PTAH! I spit on Korus Arslan!”

The party decided they should alert the Sheikh of the treachery of his son. Unfortunately, this did not go well, as the party underestimated the extent to which a Besherab’s family loyalty might outweigh reason. “You come into my tent and insult my family? You claim that the son of my loins is involved in treachery against the family? I am outraged! Be lucky that you have the guest-right or I would have you beheaded in this instant! Out of my tent! PTAH!”

As the sun set, Senef cast a divination. “How can we rescue the Princess Shadalah?” “She must be freed from the crypt of great greed.” Suad quickly surmised that the “crypt of great greed” referred to the Crypt of Badr al-Mosak, the legendary “greediest man who ever lived”. Sadly, the location of this crypt was lost long ago. Balen rolled his eyes. “We can find her with this,” he said, producing his crystal ball. Gazing in, he saw a faint image of a beautiful Besherab maiden…imprisoned in a bottle.

There seemed to be no further avenue of investigation save the monolith, so the Fated headed there. Opening the secret door revealed stairs downward into an underground complex. A symbol graven on the walls marked it as dedicated to Set, a Kemeshi incarnation of Sakkara. After battling through several zombies and dispelling a deadly magical trap, the party came to a temple, with a glowing red sacrificial pit and a huge stone idol of Set himself, his serpentine eyes each a giant ruby. Zoya instantly declared it essential that this evil altar be desecrated by stealing the ruby eyes. This, indeed, seemed like a holy act to all of the Fated.

Zoya’s first attempt to pry out the ruby eyes got her knocked aside as the statue’s arms animated. The group came up with a clever plan; Balen webbed the statue with several layers of magical spidersilk, while Zoya quickly pried off the giant rubies and tossed them to Rakh. Rakh was surprised at how strangely warm the first ruby was, but thought nothing much of it, and placed it in his backpack.

Even as Zoya held the second ruby aloft, the first exploded. She dropped the second down the sacrificial well, where all 10,000gp of it erupted in flames. Rakh and Balen were the hardest hit, each of them immediately knocked unconscious. Rakh’s face was notably burned and both were unable to continue adventuring without rest. Outraged at the loss of 20,000gp, and its comrade’s skin complexion, the party hastily pushed the statue down the sacrificial pit and fled for the surface.

They decided to encamp for the night by the monolith, thinking they might espy who came in and out. They were entirely unprepared for the arrival of thirteen red-robed cultists at midnight, having kept just two adventurers awake and on guard. Most of the party was able to awaken before the cultists descended upon them, but Dornethan was a heavy sleeper and was stabbed in the knight. A fierce and hateful battle ensued;  one of the cultists was a Chthonic priest, but his evil curses were stopped with steel. A phantasmal fireball, followed by a sleep spell, took care of most of the other red robed thugs. The leader proved a particularly tough foe, but he was knocked down with an arrow in his heel, and then webbed. His robe was pulled back to reveal…Korus Arslan.


Session Thirty-One

The party had just finished tying up the cultists when two guardsmen rushed to the monolith. They had caught sight of the illusory fireball Balen had thrown. The Fated explained that they had captured cultists breaking into a secret doorway in the monolith, and demanded to be brought before Sheikh Arslan.

The sheikh, along with the local cleric Nadron, were roused from slumber and confronted by the cultists, pulling back their hoods one by one to reveal prominent members of the tribe. When the sheikh saw his own son in cultist’s robes, carrying a symbol of Set, he was outraged. To be certain of the situation however he commanded Nadron to detect evil upon his son, while putting him sharply to the question. Korus Arslan could not conceal his animosity towards his father, and his ill intent revealed his treachery.

The torturer was summoned, and he began to extract information from the captives. The squealing cultists soon revealed that their cult had planned to kill the sheikh and his firstborn son and install Korus as the new chief. Their plans had accelerated when  the evil cleric Corga had been contacted by a powerful efreeti pasha, who promised great wealth and power if they delivered the princess Shadalah to it. The cultists had hired the slavers of the Sandvoyager’s Guild to capture Shadalah, but the princess had disappeared without being given to them. All of the cultists insisted that the slavers had the girl! After the interrogation was complete, the headsman was brought forth, and all the cultists save Korus were slain and their bodies burned. Korus remained with his further for further interrogation.

The next day, 26th Agitelen, the Fated delved back into the Temple of Set beneath the monolith. After battling off giant spiders, the party entered a chamber with unholy water and demonic ichor. Shikra gathered a bottle of the demonic ichor, for what unspeakable purpose none could say. Balen, not to be outdone, mixed the demonic ichor with the unholy water, creating what Senef derisively called “diet ichor... now with 50% less evil.”

These shenanigans were interrupted by the arrival of a half-dozen cultists who sought revenge for the killing of their colleagues the prior evening. This time the party was not caught off-guard or asleep, and they handily dealt with the red-robed thugs. Pushing deeper into the temple, they came upon a room with a brazier of violet flame, surrounded by skeletons. Shikra seized control of the skeletons before they could knock the brazier of flame onto the party, and Mahmud dispatched the undead. Afterwards, Shikra’s summoned mujahedeen confirmed that the brazier did, in fact, explode violently if disturbed.

Past the brazier of violet flame, the party found a near-naked warrior manacled to the wall, being tortured with food and water just out of arm’s reach. This proved to be Barus, the chief guard of the slavers. He had been tortured for two days with demands that he reveal where Shadalah was, but of course he knew nothing. Upon being rescued Barus tried to sneak off, but Rakh and Ethlyn put short work to that.

Suad’s divination magic revealed several secret doors that the party began investigating. One of these lead into a terrible trap that sent all of the party sliding down into a deadly pit. Sapphira crushed her hand in the fall, while Suad and Ceara both sustained concussions and lost several teeth. Umar dented his cheek, while Wazir broke his nose and tore up his face badly. The party was in no shape to continue, so it extricated itself from the pit and headed to the surface.

Back in the Oasis, the sheikh briefed them on the result of his interrogation of Korus. When Korus had learned that the slavers did not have the girl, he had immediately began to rant and rage at Corga. “The priest must have given her to the efreeti himself, that treacherous dog! He planned to supplant me as ruler of the tribe!” Sadly the priest, having been brutally slain in the fighting at the monolith, could neither confirm nor deny these charges, but Korus did reveal that the priest used a sinister-looking three-horned skull to communicate with the efreeti. The group had espied this skull in their earlier expedition into the Temple of Set, and decided to return for a further exploration.

The next day, 27th Agitelen, the party (save Sapphira, Suad, and Ceara, who were in no shape to fight), headed back into the Temple and returned to the chamber where they’d spotted the skull. Shikra donned the red robes of a cultist and, after some muttering of various runes marked on the skull, managed to contact the efreeti pasha. Unfortunately the mighty genie was not fooled for even an instant, saying “I already have what I need. You are too late. Soon all that you love will be burned and destroyed!”

This grim news renewed the party’s determination to discover the location of the Crypt of Badr al-Mosak, where they thought either the princess, or the efreeti, or both, might be found. Pressing onward, they battled through a pair of mummies and a nest of giant spiders to finally come to sealed bronze doors of great antiquity. These read “Beware ye the wrath of Set and His minions, for before you lies the Gate to His Kingdom of evil and those who make that journey never return.”

Here, the Fated paused. They considered what had befallen them in the Well of the Prophet, and how they had awoken the Thrassian mummy king. They considered what had befallen them in the Sunken City of Pazar, and how they had awoken the Efreeti Pasha. And they decided not to open the bronze doors to the Kingdom of Evil… though it was a close vote.

Instead, they turned around and headed south, towards  a barred door they’d earlier noted. Bashing this door open, they revealed seven goblins, apparently miners who were digging in the vicinity of the Temple. The miners claimed to be working for the slavers, and offered to take the party to meet their overseers. The goblins lead the party into what seemed like an entirely separate underground complex, of unknown size. The goblins stopped when they came to a post with three bugbears – their overseers. The party was beginning to parley when Balen decided to just dispatch all ten beastmen with a ball of fire…

His spell exploded in the caves, sending smoke and shockwaves everywhere. Shouts and cries began to ring through the hall. A fight was on!


Session Thirty-Two

Balen’s fireball detonated in the caverns, and the fight was on. The party soon found itself engaged with a bugbear jailor, an Opelenean slaver, an aged Opelenean sorcerer from the west, and a pair of Zaharans, a male fighter and a female witch, from the south. Most of the fighting took place in a corridor leading to a barracks and prison underneath the slaver compound on the surface.

The Opelenean sorcerer used invisibility to approach unseen and then unleashed a paralyzing ray from a wand; this ray might have won the battle had it not rebounded from Mahmud’s ring of spell turning and paralyzed the sorcerer instead. Rakh charged down the tunnel and dispatched the sorcerer, slaver, and bugbear.

Meanwhile, The Zaharan sorceress was unaware that Mahmud had a ring of spell turning, and attempted to polymorph the paladin into a spider. Mahmud, unfortunately, was unaware that his ring was out of charges, and resultantly turned into a spider. Ethlyn spent the next several seconds down on hands and knees trying to capture the Arachno-Paladin in a bag before he could disappear down a crack.

Androcles was caught up in a vicious spear-fight with the Zaharan warrior, who finally managed to plunge his javelin into a weak spot in Androcles’ armor. The javelin was coated with a fast-acting soporific, and Androcles instantly collapsed. The Zaharan stepped forward to finish off Androcles, and was shot dead by a well-placed arrow from Wazir. As the Zaharan warrior fell, Shikra made eye contact with the witch – evil eye contact, which emptied her mind of thought and reason. The befuddled witch soon surrendered.

Senef hastily interrogated her, but unfortunately she was so addled that little information was forthcoming. From her babbles he did piece together that she and her dead brother were representatives of a merchant house in Kemesh with ties to the slave trade.  He also learned that Mahmud had been polymorphed, and used his dispel magic to release him from spider form.

Meanwhile Rakh had found the cells where the slaves were kept. There was only one person resident within, an Auran merchant named Tolnus Granicus. Tolnus had been sent by the Imperial authorities to investigate allegations of illegal slave-mongering in southern Opelenea. Having been captured by Thurnas, head of the White Palm’s slavers, he was being interrogated as to how much he knew.

Thurnas himself had heard the fighting in the caverns below his compound and called down. “What’s going on down there?” Barnabas the bat, a highly adaptable mimic, shouted “We’ve just captured those adventurers!” in a perfect Opelenean accent. Thurnas was fooled utterly, and dropped down from the ceiling on a ladder to see the “victory” for himself.

The Fated quickly slew the surprised Thurnas, then escaladed to the surface. Ten very surprised slavers went fleeing from the compound. The party was, by now, quite exhausted and decided they needed to rest. However, they were concerned that if they left the caves, the slavers would return and steal the loot while they were away. After a brief discussion, Zoya went on watch in the warehouse above the caves, while the rest of the party searched the caves below.

They quickly found a valuable trove, including spellbooks, jewelry, and gold, platinum, and electrum coin. Their haste proved well-founded, as six of the slavers returned to skulk above, unaware that Zoya was cloaked in the shadows not far from them. Warned by Zoya of the threat, the party quickly dispatched these thugs.

Heading to the surface with their treasures, the party made their way to the Sheik’s tent, presenting him with several fine gifts. Tolnus Granicus explained that he was on an Imperial mission against slavery in the region, and that he had been captured by slavers operating in White Palm. Now that the Fated had rescued him, he demanded that the slavers be turned over to him for Imperial judgment. The Sheik refused, however. “These men have brought shame onto my clan and my oasis. I will deal with them in the Opelenean way… the old way. Have them nailed to the tree of woe!”

Not wanting to be anywhere near anything resembling a tree of woe, the party headed back to their camp and rested for the remainder of the day and night. The next day, 28th of Agitelen, Senef cast a divination and asked his totem spirit “Can we learn how to rescue Princess Shadalah by continuing to explore the Oasis of the White Palm?” The response: The place is set, but no man knows the time. From this cryptic clue, the Fated decided they should return to the Temple of Set beneath the monolith.

Down in the Temple, Mahmud destroyed a vile golden cobra idol to Set that the party had so far left untouched.  They then advanced to the end of the Temple, to the sealed bronze doors reading “beware ye the wrath of Set and His minions, for before you lies the Gate to His Kingdom of evil and those who make that journey never return.” Here, the Fated were engulfed in argument – Was this “the place of Set”? Should they open the doors and risk awakening another evil? Or was this merely a trick to doom them?

While the party was fiercely arguing, Zoya began searching for secret doors – and found one, to the east, away from the sealed bronze doors. Exploring a secret corridor seemed far more appealing than opening the dreadful bronze doors, so the Fated immediately headed eastward. The corridor soon led to a lengthy staircase descending almost 90’ down into the earth.

Perhaps it was dark spirits guiding her, perhaps a premonition, perhaps paranoia, but for whatever reason Shikra suddenly interrupted the party’s march and said her summoned berserkers needed to take the lead. The Fated had learned to listen when Shikra got cautious, so they halted and allowed the berserkers to advance. Halfway down the staircase, the stairs themselves swung out from under the berserkers, sending both down to a pit 50’ below. The pit was filled with quicksand, and the quicksand was filled with skeletons, who slaughtered the hapless berserkers.

“And I thought the other traps down here were bad,” said Shikra. “Whatever’s down here must be really valuable,” said Zoya, as she began belaying the party across the pit. On the far side, the party found an ancient library, mostly burned to ashes. Diligently searching through the wreckage, the party found a clear crystal the size of a man’s heart and a sealed scrollcase. Ethlyn indentified the crystal as the fabled and long-lost Star Gem of Khan-Pelar, while Senef announced that the scrollcase was sealed with the portentous words: “Property of the Prophet Azendor” written in Classical Auran. Mahmud and Rakh gave joyful prayers to Imran and Ethlyn offered a libation of holy water.

Returning to the surface, the party got the blessing of Nadron, cleric of Imran, to open Azendor’s scroll. Within was an ancient map showing the route to many fabled locations – the City of the Phoenix, the Sunken City of Pazar, and the Crypt of Badr al-Mosak, where princess Shadalah could be found!

Knowing that Ceara, Dornethan, and Suad would still be incapacitated for a few more days, Senef called on the spirits for more guidance. “Should we head to the Crypt of Badr al-Mosak immediately, or wait until the Fated are all back in health?” You rush to the pasha of death, came the chilling response from his totem snake… 

Really enjoying the writeups. I asked (and was answered) in a PM (to avoid spoilers) about what previously published content was being used. The response got me thinking…the content was published for different versions of the game; how much conversion of the material was done (not simply tinkering to fit the campaign)? For example, some of the stuff was written for AD&D 2nd edition, and there was a significant inflation of monster hit points in that edition. Were AD&D 2nd creature stats used as is? Swapped when available? All converted? What about treasure? As written? Re-rolled from ACKS?

I’ve got a ton of material I’d like to use with ACKS, and I’m wondering what to bother messing with. Obviously D&D Basic stuff is mostly going to be fine, but what about AD&D, AD&D 2nd, etc.

I use ACKS characteristics for creatures where available. Where ACKS creatures didn't exist, I simply used 1st Ed or 2nd Ed characteristics with on-the-fly conversions.

For Magic Resistance I converted from the percentage to the throw system, using a target number of (21-MR%/5). For spells that didn't exist in ACKS, I used the 1st/2nd ed. version, and treated them as unique powers of the creature. If the spell was a modificiation of an ACKS spell (Delayed Blast Fireball, say), it had the Fireball radius of an ACKS Fireball not a 1st/2nd ed one. For 1st/2nd ed, I converted AC as (10-AC), while for BECMI, I converted AC as (9-AC). I used the monster's Hit Dice with the ACKS attack throw and saving throw charts. 

For NPCs, I converted their attributes to ACKS values and used the closest available class. Fighters lost any % Strength, but gained fighter damage bonus. I removed 1hp per level from fighters, thieves, and paladins to reflect the change in HD values. 

I would say it generally took me 10 minutes or less, and often I did it on the fly.

Alex said: I would say it generally took me 10 minutes or less, and often I did it on the fly.

Now that’s what I wanted to hear!

I actually converted a 3.5 supplement without too much problem. A couple of the monsters took a minute, but only because I didn’t understand why I should keep some of the abilities (why is this giant lizard immune to sleep and paralysis?)

So, that, and almost completely replacing/rerolling the treasure, was all it took.

Yeah, Alex mentioned over PM that he had a similar experience converting 3.x material to ACKS. The other way (i.e. ACKS to 3.x), not so much! It’s very encouraging, as I have a LOT of 3.x material (and 2E material, and 1e, and Basic, and PF, and S&W, and LL, etc…what’s wrong with me?).

Nothing! I just wish I had more ACKS product to sell you.



I never used to buy as much material, for a variety of reasons. However, as I’ve gotten older, and other commitments have impinged on my RPGing time, lots and lots of pre-baked content has become a boon…which is what I tell myself so I don’t feel bad about having enough adventure material to last from now until the heat death of the universe.

I've always been an avid consumer of pre-baked content. I tend to view them as campaign "ingredients" which I then spice and mix together to create my jumbo. I handcraft the centerpiece dungeons or encounters, and then customize the pre-baked content to fit with my framework. 

(I've sometimes wondered if it would be worth trying to license the various dungeons I used for the original Auran playtest and releasing my Auran-ACKSified versions.) 

Can you elaborate on “centerpiece” dungeons/encounters? What does that mean? How does the centerpiece fit in with the rest? I guess, generally, what technique do you use to personalize your use of published content?

Also, I wonder how many direct replies this format can take before it breaks? :slight_smile:

In ACKS, under "Creating the Region", I wrote:


"Within that map, the Judge should place around 45 static points of interest. One-third of these should represent the settlements, towns and castles of the humans and demi-humans, while the other two-thirds (30) should be dungeons (including lairs or special areas). Of the 30 dungeons, we recommend 3 large dungeons each designed for about 6-10 sessions of play; 10 dungeons designed for 1-2 sessions of play; and 17 small “lair” dungeons designed for a half-session of play, i.e. 1-3 encounters. Each point of interest in the regional map should initially receive one paragraph of description."

The centerpiece dungeons are the large dungeons designed for 6-10 sessions of play. These are not quite megadungeons, which are designed for an entire campaign's worth of play, but they are larger than the more common "lair" dungeons. Some examples of large or centerpiece dungeons are the Caves of Chaos and the Caverns of Thracia. 

I have a somewhat formulaic approach to setting design that makes it relatively easy to adapt modules into my setting. It works more-or-less like this:

  1. There were at least one and preferably two ancient, evil kingdoms that occupied the area previously ("Evil A and B")
  2. There was at least one good kingdom that occupied the area previously.
  3. There is a known present-day political threat that is distracting the authorities that will develop over a period of years.
  4. There is an unknown but potentially catastrophic threat that will develop a period of years. Maybe more than one.
  5. Often the political threat is from a descendant-heir kingdom of Evil B (the more recent evil) while the catastrophic threat is from Evil A, or an evil so evil that it predates Evil A. 

Within that framework, there's usually a place I can slot in almost any module that satisfies the aesthetics/tropes of the setting (e.g. desert setting for Opelenea, icy northern setting for Jutland). Then it's just a matter of equating the villains with either the past threats Evil A and Evil B (if it's an undead crypt or abandoned ruin, for isntance); with the Political threat (if it's an enemy garrison or camp, say); or Catastrohpic (if it's a wizard's tower).

Within the context of ACKS play, this framework also works nicely to drive the players towards domain-level action. Some players don't like to conquer everything for the sake of power and glory and want to feel like Good Guys. So, in this framework, as they uncover the catastrophic threat, when they discover that the powers-that-be are blinded by the short-term political games they are playing, they feel justified in seizing power for the greater good.





Session Thirty-Three

On the 5th of Innelen, the party was fully recovered and set out to find the Crypt of Badr al-Mosak. Skirting an orc village they spotted in a rocky valley, they reached the purported site of the Crypt around sundown. Their map had led them to ancient stone amphitheatre with a statue of Bel, the Slaughterprince, standing in its center. As the party approached, a palpable sense of dread overwhelmed them, and all but the most hardened fled. It took some time to regroup, at which point the shadows hung long in the west. Rakh declared, “The light of Imran does not shine there.” “We must destroy that baleful statue,” agreed Suad.

Shikra summoned her berserkers, and ordered one of them to attempt to topple the statue. The berserker was surprised to discover that the statue slid easily when pushed – so surprised that he stumbled and fell into the pit the sliding statue revealed, vanishing out of site. The berserker had uncovered a vast channel into the earth!

Zoya quickly belayed herself onto several hundred feet of rope and dove into the pit, relying on her ring of feather fall to allow her to gracefully drift down. The ring saved her life, for 80’ down something cut her rope. Using her spear, she guided herself onto a balcony 90’ down, and noted that the pit continued at least another 60’ further. Clambering up to the pit’s rim, she took advantage of her supernatural buoyancy to bounce back and forth along the pit until she came to the point where her rope had been cut; there she found a cunning scythe-trap, which took her long, tense moments to disable.

Meanwhile, on the surface, Suad surveyed the constellations. “The zodiac signs suggest that Ethlyn will die tonight,” he warned gravely. “No, they don’t!” Ethlyn squeaked. “Can you read the stars, girl?” the mage frowned. Rakh put his clawed hand on Ethlyn reassuringly. “Don’t worry. It is in Imran’s name we are killed. We are counted among His sheep to be slaughtered.” Suad laughed. “Imran’s not around at night.”

Senef had now clambered down to join Zoya on the balcony 90’ below. Just as he was about to land on the balcony, Zoya waved him off. They had spotted scorch marks on the floor. Zoya pointed left and right, north and south; 4 doors, each guarded by statue, each seemingly trapped. This was a place of death. She called for Suad to divine whether there were any secret doors – his magic found one portal to the south, behind a menacing bladed door. Low crawling on her hands and knees with a 10’ pole prodding every inch before her, Zoya reached the door and, after minutes of careful prodding and knocking, succeeded in opening it with her 10’ pole. Beyond was a great hall, dominated by a statue of Badr al-Mosak, coins gleaming like a golden trail.

It was by now almost 8:20pm; it had taken Zoya almost 2 ½ hours to clear the path for her comrades. The joined her in the great hall as she investigated the statue. However, Shikra – having witness the party’s near death from the traps in the Temple of Set – refused to advance and hung back by the balcony. It was thus the warlock that fell prey to the dread spectre which emerged from the darkness of the pit. Shikra’s screamed as her life-force ebbed away. Senef was able to destroy the spectre with his magic, but Shikra was reduced to a shadow of her former might. [Shikra lost two levels of experience, reducing her to 3rd level, from this random encounter.]

The Fated had hardly finished dealing with the spectre when a band of tomb-wights fell upon them. These were dispatched without tragedy, and the party found a pile of booty – possessions from the wight’s living days. These included a bronze-bladed jambiya, a spell scroll, a scroll of protection from genies, and two potions of invisibility. The part resumed its slow and careful exploration of the Crypt. Each step was measured; each flagstone prodded.

By 10:00pm, the party had made its way through two secret doors and reached an octagonal room marked by a large, black obelisk. “Want to check for traps?” asked Mahmud. The obelisk responded: “Extreme caution must be applied.” The obelisk could talk! “What did you just say?” asked Mahmud. “Do not suppose too much!” it responded. “Who are you?” “Despair if you continue thus!” “Why shouldn’t we ask questions? “Another tactic might prove better.” “Are you real?” “Extreme caution must be applied!”

Disappointed that the obelisk was merely a charlatan’s oracle, the party advanced deeper into the dungeon, coming upon another vast pit. This one stretched as far as they could see both up and down. As they watched, a still-animate mummy hurtled down the pit in front of them. Then a still-animate mummy hurtled down the pit in front of them. Then a still-animate mummy hurtled down the pit in front of them… On a hunch, Dornethan fired a marked crossbow quarrel into the pit. It plummeted out of sight…and a second later reappeared at the top of their line of sight, plummeting downward. And a second later reappeared at the top of their line of sight. “It’s an endless loop!” shouted Suad. Unwilling to explore such a potentially dreadful trap, the party turned back inward to the complex.

They entered a square room with a metallic cube, 10’ on a side, laying in its center. Senef climbed up on Rakh’s back to get a peek into the cube, and immediately fell into a hypnotic trance, slumping off Rakh’s back. After being roused, the shaman tried again to glimpse into the cube, and again, fell mesmerized.  “Easy way to deal with that,” said Balen, as he hurled a fireball.

After the detonation, the party was able to gaze into the cube safely. They saw the charred bones of our human-headed skeletons; these must have had hypnotic powers, they surmised. They also saw the scorched ruin of what had once been a grimoire or holy book. “It can’t have been a very powerful grimoire if it got burned from a little fireball,” said Balen. The party quickly convinced themselves that the loss of the millennium-old book was certainly irrelevant to their quest and not worth dwelling on.

With further investigation of the Crypt the part found a second metallic cube, unfortunately empty. The Fated also discovered two more endless looping pits. One of these pits was filled with falling items and treasure, which seemed to have been equipment of a party of adventures that had clambered into the endless pit and gotten trapped. Still unwilling to risk exploring the endless pit, the Fated decided they did want to extract its treasure. Senef did this by taking control of the very wind itself and using it to blow all of the items onto the safety of the ledge, a powerful demonstration of shamanic magic.

The items recovered proved most marvelous, most of them seeming to date to the classical era of the Auran Empire. Suad claimed a crystal ball with clairaudience, gazing vindictively at Balen’s now-inferior crystal ball. He also took a cursed helm of alignment change, although he didn’t don it. Senef found a scroll case that was tightly sealed and showed signs of having been battered and crushed, as if a desperate adventurer had tried to get it open in a time of need, and failed. Within was a scroll of miracle! “Poor bastard,” the shaman said, gazing at the skeleton drifting through the endless pit.

The party returned to exploring the Crypt. They now discovered a temple courtyard featuring an altar to Sakkara. Zoya crept towards the altar to search it, and was shocked to discover all of her magical items began to vibrate. A voice whispered in her ear: “Sacrifice to me and thou shalt receive my boon.” Zoya wanted no part of such a pact – but Shikra did. The nearly-lifeless warlock offered up her claw of Ymmu M’Kursa and the shroud as well, irreplaceable artifacts of the lost Zaharan Kingdom. The items vanished and Shikra felt her life-energies renewed…

Whilst this was going on, Zoya had searched the last unopened exit in the Crypt and deemed it safe to open. It revealed a long, narrow stone bridge, set some 60’ above a series of dozens of tombs. All of them were open, and horrible deathly moans emitted from them. By crystal ball the party saw that the tombs were filled with mummies, spectres, wights, and shadows. Senef called on the spirits to divine what would happen if the party attacked. “The Malatath below will bring you terrible woe!”

“The Malatath!” exclaimed Suad. “The Malatath was the army of undead that the Efreeti Pasha used to fight Al-Sindor during the Empyrean War… but it was destroyed.” “I guess he mustered a new one,” said Mahmud, drawing his sword for battle.


Session Thirty-Four

The party was on the verge of attacking the Malatath. Suad suggested before they plunge into battle that they explore the crypt one last time, whilst his divination magic was active to detect secret doors. For twenty minutes the party marched to and fro within the crypt, exploring every crevice and corridor, to no avail.

They might have reverted to their foolhardy attack on the massed undead had Shikra not asked Barnabas for ideas. The bat-like familiar had a different spatial sense of the crypt because of its aerial echolocation. “Have you looked up the endless tunnels?” it squeaked. With his spell soon to expire, Suad raced from pit to pit, in each one spotting a secret door above. “There’s an entire level above us!” he cried. Getting to one of those secret doors would be no easy task, though, for the wind whipping through the tunnels was prone to hurl debris onto climbers at high velocity. After brief deliberation, they decided to try for the secret door at the top of the southern pit, which seemed to have the least dangerous debris. Zoya led the expedition, scaling upwards with a rope belayed behind her. The rest of the party followed successfully, though few escaped damage from debris and falling objects.

At the top, they confronted a room filled with the scintillating glimmer of a million beams of light. Visibility was merely a foot, as the beams were so bright as to burn the eyes of those who gazed at them for too long. Wary of traps, Shikra summoned her berserkers to lead the way forward. Each berserker took a different route. The first of these was burned alive. The second was disintegrated. The third was frozen. The fourth was teleported behind them, down the endless pit. The party realized that some, but not all, of the beams of light were deadly – and so began a terrible process of trial and error, with every error sending a summoned soul back to the darkness. Eventually the party concluded that the way ahead would demand low-crawling fifteen feet forward and right; standing up and advancing to where the walls angled inward; jumping to clear a beam 1’ high; then laying back down and low-crawling forward another 20’ to ancient stone steps that ascended from t he chamber.

Zoya was the first person to make it through alive. Dripping with sweat, she crawled up the steps – and stopped in horror. The Efreeti Pasha waited beyond, his gigantic figure looming down as if waiting to see if any foolish adventurers would survive his terrible trap. In his hand he clutched a stoppered bottle – the very bottle that their crystal ball had shown holding Shadalah!  She fell back to warn her friends. Knowing that the efreeti pasha could hurl devastating area-of-effect spells at will, they decided they had to split the party. The first wave would be led by Mahmud, who was immune to the efreeti’s powers because of Cyclone of the Four Quarters. His attack would be supported by Suad and Zoya, both invisible. Ethlyn, Rakh, Sapphira, Senef, and Androcles would be in the second wave, while Umar, Ceara, Dornethan, Shikra, and Balen would be in the third wave.

Complications immediately ensued. When Mahmud reached the top of the steps, the Efreeti Pasha had vanished, and a dozen wraiths and spectres loomed there instead. Mahmud’s charge came to a screeching halt – where was his foe? Cyclone of the Four Quarters continued to roar in Mahmud’s hand, and he decided to press on! A moment later Suad’s magic dispelled the illusion that hung over the room, causing the undead to vanish and the evil genie to be revealed. Seeing only a pair of foes, the genie raised its hand and brought down a ball of flame into the scintillating room where the second wave was waiting. Ethlyn, Rakh, Sapphira, Senef, and Androcles went down.

Mahmud began striking at the Efreeti, but its huge size and magical protection made it hard to hurt. The Efreeti forcibly fought back with its great fists. As the genie struck each blow, the sheik’s amulet around the paladin’s neck began to glow and deal damage back to the monster. As the creature winced in pain, Suad knocked the bottle in its hand open, freeing princess Shadalah! She crawled towards the exit in terror. The enraged Efreeti incinerated Suad with a pillar of fire. Then the genie slammed Mahmud again. This time his amulet could not protect him. He went flying backwards, on the verge of death (1hp). Balen rushed forward, surrounded by the protection of a ward against genies, and gave Mahmud a chance to get back on his feet and lay on hands. While Mahmud was recuperating, Zoya stabbed the creature from behind, sprayings its hot ichor everywhere. Before she could escape it pounded her into the ground, then sent a ball of flame onto Umar and Ceara.

Mahmud steeled himself for one final charge. “Even if you could strike me down, I shall only be sent back to my home plane,” taunted the Efreeti Prophet. “Even your Prophet could not destroy me!”  

“The Prophet didn’t have Cyclone of the Four Quarters!” shouted Mahmud. He charged, leaping upward and bringing the magical blade in a 360-spinning arc. Wind, fire, earth, and sea combined to cleave into the genie. The Pasha howled and vanished in smoke and sulfur. Victory was theirs! But at such terrible cost! Rakh died of his wounds, praying to Imran next to his friend Mahmud. Umar and Ceara had taken grievous injuries and died in agony. Zoya, too, bled out from agonizing wounds. Androcles was dead before the party got to him; only a torso even remained, his legs having burned off. Of Sapphira, there was merely mangled bones and burned flesh; of Ethlyn, a red stain and bone shards. Senef might have been able to use the miracle scroll to save everyone, but his eyes had been burned out by the fireball, and he could not see to read it. He died with no one able to heal him.

There was no way to get the bodies of the fallen through the beams of light and down the endless pit, so the party left the bodies of their friends behind to take Princess Shadalah to the Oasis of the White Palm. Their upward passage stirred the interest of some terrible creatures in the well beneath the amphitheater. Shikra calmly reached into her bag of fantastic creatures and dropped a sea serpent into the well. This solved the problem. “We don’t have time for this right now,” she muttered.

During the trek, they noted a curious fact: By placing Mahmud’s amulet on Shadalah’s palm-glyph, a curious message became visible: “city of the phoenix over the house of set where sleeps salvation there speak atmopryeetno”. Suad recognized the former as the city that Al-Sindor had founded in Opelenea, and the latter as the name of his djinni vizier.

A day later, overwhelmed with mixed emotions, the Fated reached the Oasis and presented the Princess to the Sheik and his son, Hassan. The betrothed were tearfully reunited and the grateful Sheik poured out gold and silver and silks in reward. His most treasured gift, however, was ordering his cleric, Nadron, to read from the miracle scroll: “I beseech you, Imran, to return the Fated to us here in the White Palm, spiritually and physically whole.” Imran’s purposes were well-served by this, and the fallen of the Fated appeared, there in the shade of the White Palm which Al-Sindor himself had planted.

Alas, greed ever grips the heart of men, and the Fated could not help but recall that Badr al-Mosak was said to have been the greediest man who ever lived. Where was his fabled treasure? Clearly it must lay beyond the Efreeti’s chambers! The Fated set out to the Crypt again, arriving on the evening of the 7th of Innelen. By 6:30pm they had gotten back to the chamber of scintillating beams. Here, Balen and Androcles proved the value of Imperial siege craft, cunningly rigging a set of pullies with enough strength to carry a sack of gold on rope across the room of beams. The ceiling, it turned out, was not guarded by any deathly lights!

Advancing past the Efreeti’s chambers, the Fated came upon what they had sought: the fabulous treasures of Badr al-Mosak. Hundreds of pounds of silver, gold, and platinum. Ornamental masks, magical weapons of crystal and armor of golden chain, gems, and jewels… And the Star Gem of Shah-Pelar on a pedestal in the center. The way in was heavily trapped – much of the floor was an illusion that gave way to a pit of acid. Careful prodding finally led a pair of berserkers to the pedestal. They lifted the fabled Star Gem from its pedestal – the pedestal rose an inch as the weight of the gem was lifted – and beams of power filled the room. Instantly the berserkers within were petrified. The Fated nearly fainted with shock; had any of them been in the room… Wazir, the most accurate member of the party, quickly made a bundle of coins about the same weight as a star gem and tossed it into the room. His aim was perfect; it landed on the pedestal and pushed it back down, turning off the deadly beams.

That was the last of the traps that the Fated encountered in the Crypt of Badr al-Mosak. Soon they were buried in their body weights in coin, showering in silver, playing in platinum. They were rich! Moreover, some of what Badr al-Mosak had entombed were fabulous items from legend. Suad unrolled a beautifully woven Opelenean carpet and, speaking the word “soar” in Old Opelenean, began to glide about the room. It was a flying carpet! He also claimed a marvelous wand capable of detecting traps. Shikra found an obsidian wand tipped with a skull, a wand of ear, and a brass ring stamped with the symbol of elemental air – a fabled ring of djinni summoning!

Laden with treasures from the ages, the party made the trek back to the Oasis of the White Palm. 

Fantastic! I was re-reading this adventure not too long ago in preparation for my own campaign. It’s great to see it played out.


Session Thirty-Five

Flush with cash from their success at the Crypt of Badr al-Mosak, the party relaxed in the Oasis for the next week. During the week, Senef’s spiritual communion confirmed that the Temple of Set below the Oasis was connected to the nether planes; the party had the entrance sealed up, as their experiences in opening such gates had so far been quite dismal.

On the 13th of Innelen, Hassan and Princess Shadalah were to be married, and the Fated, as heroes of the hour, were invited. The party presented the bride and groom with a marvelous gift – a 6,000gp diamond placed atop 60,000 silver pieces. Zoya wept tearfully at the wedding, largely over the size of these gifts; but the generosity was well-calculated, having been exiled from the Imperial lands to the north, having a secure relationship with the Sheik seemed vital. The Sheik, patriarch of a gift-based culture, had to reciprocate and so he awarded the party with ownership of the Sandvoyager’s warehouse and compound.

At the wedding, the Sheik’s aunt, Najma, visited them. “It is not fitting that so many promising young men be left unwed to cause trouble! The Sheik has sent me to find a first wife for each of you.” Ethlyn immediately spoke up. “What about me? Do I get a first husband?” The eagle eyes of the predatory matriarch gazed at her. “I didn’t realize you were ready to give up your decadent lifestyle and settle down for child-rearing. I’ll let the Sheik know to get you a good man…” Ethlyn demurred. Mahmud, however, being Opelenean by birth, found the idea of marrying into the Sheik’s tribe appealing, and asked for a suitable companion be found, “intelligent, curvy, with nice hips, and knows how to use a sword!” With love in the air, Dornethan blustered and bothered Rakh until he convinced the Thrassian to give him the philter of love they’d found in the Crypt. Meanwhile, Rakh had found a strange attraction growing with the slave-girl Kerina, whom he was teaching to sword-fight.

On the 14th of Innelen, the party departed the Oasis to seek out the City of the Phoenix. They had traveled only a day-and-night from the White Palm when they were ambushed by a sorcerous sphinx. The great beast unleashed a scouring wind upon them that slew a half-dozen of their camels, and badly wounded several party members. A camel fell on Wazir’s head, cracking his skill and addling his brain, and Balen had several torn tendons and ligaments. Seeing the the party was still in fighting shape after its ambush, the sphinx took wing to escape. Rakh was having none of it – he leaped onto Suad’s flying carpet and soared into the air, where he tore the sphinx to pieces.

After defeating the sphinx, the party decided to search for its lair. Even with Suad’s crystal ball and flying carpet, this still took the better part of several hours. The lair turned out to be a crumbled Zaharan ruin with broken statues and shattered columns, barely visible under centuries of sand. Within the party found silver and gold coin, rolls of silk, engraved tiger teeth, emerald stones, several potions and scrolls, a spellbook, and two treasure maps to the Howling Emptiness. The first led to “The shrine of the Zeolites / Where burn the fires bright”; the second led to “The pool of azure hue, whose waters renew.”

With Balen and Wazir temporarily incapacitated, the party headed back to the Oasis. Rakh Sphinx-Bane was not above boasting, and Kerina was quite impressed by his bravery. “Do you still have the philter of love?” she asked. “We should drink it to seal our love forever.” Rakh immediately went hunting for Dornethan to get the potion back, but Dornethan was hunting Ceara to get her to drink it. Balen, a professional military man, tried to stay above the shenanigans, but when Suad suggested this was because the fire-mage was so…flaming… things degenerated.

The bickering was still going on when the party departed again the next day, again intent on finding the City of the Phoenix. Their south-easterly trek was interrupted after a few leagues by a panicked Barnabas. “Most wicked and voluptuous mistress of darkness,” he squawked. “I have espied a large village of orcs a league from here.” “How large?” “It as bounteous with orcs as your chest is bounteous with... bounty.. 300 or more orcs.” Zoya volunteered to scout ahead to see what had the bat so flustered.

Shrouded by an invisibility spell, an elven cloak and boots, and her own innate stealthiness, Zoya crept towards the site of the village. It was, if anything, larger than Barnabas had reported – at least 300 orc warriors, plus an equal number of orc-wives and twice the number of brood. There were ogres, and a troll, too. The village’s “buildings” were just camel-hide tents, but they were surrounded by a rampart of sandstone and rock, and the vile banners of nine warbands fluttered. The village wall looked newly constructed – some incursion from the Waste to the south.

The Fated toyed with the idea of attacking the village by themselves, but they decided on a more strategic approach. Returning to the Oasis, they recruited three score camel archers from the tribe and brought them forward near dawn. Suad and Balen took to the heavens in their marvelous magical carpet, taking a place well outside of bowshot above the orc village. And then Senef begin a great and terrible spell – the calling of a dragon. As his chant ended, Marduthiamak, a dragon of the earth, erupted from the sands. I will serve you, for a time, the copper-hued dragon announced. “Go to the orc village to the south-east of here. Slay every beastmen there,”  commanded Senef.

The Fated had timed their attack perfectly – just after dawn, as the nocturnal orcs were settling down exhausted. Dozens of orcs died still asleep, scorched by the dragon’s breath. Dozens more died to its claws as it cleaved and rended through them. When the shaman emerged from his yurt, Balen fireballed him from above. Orcs that tried to flee the fortress found squads of camel archers everywhere, peppering them with arrows. It was a slaughter. 275 orcs were killed in the fort or trying to escape; another 275 were captured. Only about 110 orcs escaped the abattoir…

And now it was time to loot! 


Session Thirty-Six

Looting the orc village took the rest of the day.  The party gathered some 12,000gp in trade goods including dozens of gazelle horns, jars of rock oil, bags of coffee, bottles of Opelenean wine, barrels of Kemeshi beer, and bundles of camel pelts. They also gathered about 8,00gp in coin, gems, and trinkets, and a few magical items including a Zaharan axe. The Fated gave the camel archers much of the coin.

Back at the Oasis, the Fated turned over their orc captives to the Sheik. The Sheik, in turn, left it to Mahmud to decide their fate. Just as the path of the sun is fixed and unchanging as it moves across the heavens, so to was Mahmud’s inexorable sense of justice. The more morally flexible tribesmen were outraged – “Mahmud is too rigid,” “Mahmud does not know when to bend” – but the paladin did not yield: The orcs were slaughtered and their placed on stakes in a radius around the Oasis by Mahmud Orc-bane

After distributing the trade goods to the tribesmen in a great feast, the Fated set out for their third trek to the City of the Phoenix. This time, they reached it. Zoya scouted ahead. Much of the city was in ruins, its once-proud buildings reduced to collapsed mud brick strewn below dunes of sand. Some structures were still intact, though – much of the great walls, a citadel, and a mosque near the center. The former palace was also visible, though mostly buried beneath a tell of sand. Invisible and inaudible, Zoya dodged giant scorpions near the mosque, and bypassed a sinister old graveyard, eventually exiting by climbing over the tell.

While Zoya navigated through ancient ruins, some other shenanigans were afoot back at camp. Barnabas used a prestidigitation to steal the philter of love from Dornethan, and delivered it to Shikra. Shikra, meanwhile had used her alchemical skills to disguise Suad’s potion of telepathy as a philter of love. (Sadly, the alchemical disguising process was not perfect, but what were a few side effects among friends? Even if the friends didn’t know what those side effects were going to be?) Barnabas carried the disguised potion of telepathy back to Dornethan and attempted to place it back in his pack. But this prestidigitation was not successful, and Dornethan felt the bat’s fumble. Assuming that the bat was stealing his potion, Dornethan went into a rage and charged at Shikra, attempting to grapple her. Somehow, the slow, weak warlock managed to fight off the assassin, leading to chortles from the other party members that he had been “bitch-slapped”. Only Zoya’s return ended the brawl as she restrained her henchman.

The next day, 19th Innelen, the party headed into the City of the Phoenix. As they crossed the city walls, they were confronted by a genie, who demanded they state their purpose. “We are here to call forth that which Al-Sindor placed here!” said Senef. This was, unfortunately, the wrong thing to say. Four other genies appeared, armed with composite bows. A fierce fight ensued. Balen dealt deadly damage with a fireball, but succumbed to arrows a moment later. Rakh, in a berserk frenzy, began hurling his Zaharan axe at the sky born genies. Strangely, each time he threw the axe, it slowly dragged itself across the sands and returned to his hand – was it an axe of very slow returning? Actually, Barnabas the bat was invisible and using prestidigitation to drag it back each time.

Advancing forward, the party came upon the feet of a once-great statue. “I am Al-Sindor. Witness my great works!” a carving at the feet said. Here, Mahmud spoke “atmopryeetno”, the magic word that would summon Al-Sindor’s promised weapon of law. But nothing happened. The Fated decided to try speak the word again at the mosque.

Before the party could advance again, a score of genies arrived. Flying invisibly overhead, they launched a rain of arrows.  Mahmud’s amulet of detection didn’t provide nearly enough warning to avoid the ambush. Withering bow fire from the magical monsters left Shikra bleeding on the ground. It was clear retreat was the only option. Balen managed to throw a phantasmal force to screen the retreat, and the Fated fled… and kept fleeing for a league.

The Fated had destroyed an Efreeti Pasha. They were not going to let a few dozen lesser genies stop them. On the 20th of Innelen, the party decided to strike back. Senef summoned up a gale-force wind that swirled about him. The wind’s force was enough to turn back arrows and ground flying creatures. Better still, it raised up a great cloud of dust that limited visibility to only 20’, and helped reveal any creatures attempting to lurk invisible creatures within. Packed tightly within the dust cloud, the party advanced into the ruined City of the Phoenix.

As they reached the city’s mid-point, the genies attacked. Their onslaught came from every direction at once. But Suad had a surprise waiting for them: A 10-headed hydra, summoned with a scroll. Between the hydra, Mahmud’s genie-slaying prowess, and Rakh’s hasted frenzy, two waves of genies were slaughtered.

Dust still swirling about them from gale-force winds, the party made it to the mosque. There they were confronted by another half-dozen genies, with a genie champion and genie sorcerer in command. As the fighting began, Mahmud spoke the word of power: atmopryeetno. The ground trembled, and everyone fell to their knees. Everyone save Mahmud and the hydra, who wreaked havoc on the fallen genies. Then thunder struck from the heavens. The roof of the mosque shattered open.  And the Vizier of Djinnis appeared, summoned by the ancient magic of Al-Sindor…

Session Thirty-Seven

The Great Djinni Vizier gazed down at the mortals who had summoned him. He paused. “Lo! What mystery is this? Where be the Evil One whom I have awaited? Has you circumvented what was Fated?” “We slew him, your Eminence,” responded Senef.

“A thousand years ready to confront and now I am denied the hunt? He is banished to the Sphere of Fire, and your circumstance is hardly dire. The link to his Summoner is alleved. By what means hast thou accomplished this deed?” “Well, I stabbed him with my sword. It’s called Cyclone of the Four Quarters. It was made after Al-Sindor’s time to kill genies. It was, you know, the back-up plan,” explained Mahmud, somewhat worriedly.

“The blade thou carry is an abomination – a hole in the Logos, a tear in the elements of creation. Remove it from my sight, lest I cast thee into the blight.”  “Sorry,” said Mahmud, who retreat. Senef coughed. “There are several other threats to the land that we could use your help with,” said the shaman.

The Great Djinni shook his head. “With the Evil One banished, my long servitude is fulfilled, to return never hence. But for thy deed, I must recompense. Ask of me one wish for thee.”

A wish! Mightiest of mortal magic! An opportunity to change the world for good or for ill. But how? “Excuse us, your Eminence, we will need a moment to discuss,” said Senef. The Djinni gave them until sundown. It ultimately did not take long. Wishing for direct attack against their foes seemed too risky. Wishing for forgiveness by the Empire seemed too indirect.

“I wish that the most valuable treasure hoard in Opelenea be brought to us!” said Mahmud. “As you wish!” said the Djinni. And, behold, it was before them – platinum and gold, gems and jewelry, and magic items abounding. When the party examined these items, Suad and Ethlyn recognized them. “These are the weapons and armor of Eranth Bellos, the great hero who fought with Al-Sindor. He vanished in an attack on the undying wyrm Utuk Xul, who slumbers in the bottomless pit of the Howling Emptiness.”* [*A pit the party had visited in Session 28]  

Balen and Mahmud soon discovered that Eranth’s blade, Drakoneus, was sentient, and it recounted the tale.

“Eranth Bellos came to Opelenea during Al-Sindor’s great crusade. Here he met his friend and companion, the wonderworker Ishmerai ibn Bakr. Together they fought alongside the Prophet to Opelenea against the Efreeti Pasha that the desperate Zaharans unleashed on the land. In time they were victorious. When Pazar sunk and Moradask was sacked, many ancient books of Zaharan lore came into their possession. Ishmerai became enthralled with a tale he read in Zaharan myth, supposedly told to Uragasi by the ancient dragon Krios. It spoke of an undying wyrm called Utuk Xul, who slumbered in a bottomless pit in the Howling Emptiness, with treasures and wonders from an age undreamt of.  Pride and greed inflamed, Eranth and Ishmerai departed for the Howling Emptiness and sought out the Endless Shaft thinking they could destroy Utuk Xul. I was forged for the destruction of dragons, and a dozen of these beasts had Eranth and I slain together. But no such dragon as this had we ever faced. My powers were not enough. Eranth died to the dragon’s terrible bite and Ishmerai to its fetid breath. For a thousand years since have I cursed my name and wept bronze tears for shame that I failed my purpose and my master. But now I shall have revenge! For Utuk Xul has the power of an archmage, and surely he shall scry the location of his treasure and come for it! Then we shall slay him!”

The Fated knew that a loose pile of treasure in the City of the Phoenix was no place to fight a dragon. They decided to transport it to their underground lair in the Oasis of the White Palm. But how? Shikra had the way – bringing forth her ring of djinni summoning, she brought forth a lesser genie and commanded him to carry the treasure to the Oasis and hide it in the vault below, concealed with illusion. Such was the djinni’s power that this deed was done in an hour and a half – before the party had even returned to the Oasis!

The Sheik was in awe. “A djinni has brought great treasure to this Oasis! How can this be?” The Fated hurriedly explained it was their reward for defeating the Efreeti Pasha, and silenced his protestations with huge sums of gold. They then set about working on a defense for the Oasis – Repeating Ballistas. Balen, an expert in siegecraft, found that the Djinni could create wooden objects on command, and so within a few minutes, four of the Empire’s elite artillery weapons were at hand.

At nightfall, working from a telepathic image from Drakoneus’ metallic mind, Suad used his crystal ball to scry on Utuk Xul. The great dragon was already at the City of the Phoenix! His mighty wings cast a terrible shadow over the palace. His rotting hide was a purplish-black, his flesh pitted with open wounds unhealed. In places, bone was visible. His was a terrible visage.

When dawn broke, the party was summoned to the Sheik’s tent. A strange being was in audience with the Sheik – an androgynous man in voluminous robes concealing his entire body. Suad instantly recognized it as a Child of Nasga, like they had fought in the Howling Emptiness. “Great Utuk Xul seeks only the return of his treasure hoard. If it is returned promptly, he will spare your Oasis from annihilation,” the creature hissed. The Sheik was already under its charmed controlled, and Suad soon fell under it. “My friends will do this, of course,” said the Sheik. “Yes, we’ll have it to you in two days,” said Suad.

The creature slithered away, leaving the stunned group to decide what to do next. Senef’s first step was to dispel the charm. He then began to divine some options. What happens if we return the wyrm’s treasure to him?” The direction the wind will blow may change with the breath of diplomacy.” What happens if we fight the dragon? Ammonar welcomes his martyrs home. What happens if we kill Utuk Xul? From the canopic jar, vengeance comes from afar.

“He’s…a dragon lich!” sputtered Shikra! “We will all die! I have said this before, but now I really, really mean it!” said Suad.

So it was that on the 22nd of Innelen the party humbly presented itself to Utuk Xul’s vizier, returning their wished-for treasure as well as offering up a valuable scepter and silver necklace as tribute. The Child of Nasga, accepting the tribute, gazed at them with its sinister snake-like eyes. “Is this all you offer Mighty Utuk Xul for your crimes against him?”

Shikra stepped forward and produced The Skull of Garath, the evil artifact they had found in the Temple of Set. “I offer this prized relic.” This evil offering saved the Fated, and perhaps the Oasis. “It is accepted. Go now and tell your Sheik that this City is now claimed by Utuk Xul. Let none intrude upon his domain, save to bring tribute each month.”

“Overall, I think that went well,” said Suad. 

Nice. That seems like the kind of trouble my players would get in to. Did the Fated get any XP for taking Utuk Xul’s hoard back to civilization, however briefly? I know I would have to face that argument in a similar situation.