Having recently described an encounter my Immortal Spartans characters had with She, I dug out the adventure where they first met her. This is not written to be a complete ready-to-run scenario. Some assembly is required. If you plan on running it you’ll need to decide how it's going to work as part of a meta-campaign. Probably it will be the pilot episode, so you're laying the hints of a much bigger mythos here, and as you'll be developing that mythos over adventures spanning centuries you need to give it some thought. Certainly you'll want to change the adventure considerably from the version written for my campaign, especially in the final part, and it’s worth reading H Rider Haggard’s novel before you start. Just don’t expect great literature.
I ran the game as one of our Sunday specials, starting at midday and playing through till the evening. So you could fit it into about eight hours, either in one epic session or two or three regular ones. The characters don't have to start as immortals, but if they play their cards right they could end up that way, thus kicking off a meta-campaign that could run right through from 800 AD onwards. The setting is historical SF. There are some psionics, often regarded by the player-characters as witches, but in fact this is not fantasy and there is no actual magic.
OK, so it was 80 years before the Constantinople campaign, and the characters were living in Baghdad in the reign of Harun al-Rashid. In an ill-starred foray to the ruins of Uruk, three of the Spartans had lost their regenerative ability. Now mortal and aging, they were willing to clutch at any straw when their agents brought them stories of an undying ruler in Africa. Hoping that she had the secret of immortality and (an even longer shot) that she’d be willing to share it, they set out…
IN SEARCH OF THE ETERNAL FLAME
At Sohar , which at this time (800 AD) is a small port, they are warned of bad weather in the southern seas for the next month or so. But time is of the essence. Having established the rumoured location of the kingdom of Kôr (roughly in modern Zambia) they decided the logical beachhead for their expedition would be the islands of Zanzibar, where they should at least find some people who speak Arabic as the local jumbees, or chiefs, occasionally sell slaves to Arab traders. They set sail.
The jumbe (chief) is Uwal. He greets them in a wicker domed hut (tunnel-like entrances low so you have to bow, smoky interior) and recognizes any characters who frequently sail these waters. He asks if the jumbe Haroun of Baghdad got his gifts – “When will he come? I will kill twenty goats and twenty pigs for him, and open forty jars of wine.”
Uwal knows about the Amahagger (“the people of the caves”) who live in the interior of the mainland but has no dealings with them, except for once long ago when his people bought a mummy from the Amahagger for medicinal purposes. “But it was never ground up for medicine. One of our ancestors fell in love with it, so now the mummy has her own hut and speaks to the wise woman Kitar.”
The mummy (known as Hiwah) is perfectly preserved. Around its neck is a crystal pendant in the shape of an eye.
Other townsfolk if names are needed: Bonash, Gurt, Kolo, Febil.
DOWN THE COAST
Three days out from Zanzibar, they catch sight of two vessels that the lookout thinks are suspicious. These are indeed pirate ships, crewed by Africans and escaped Arabian slaves. In my game there were about a score of them, but you'll tailor them to your own player-characters.
THE CLIFF FACE
A massive cliff carved with the face of a man or sphinx. The river leads to an islet that they may (Architecture or Engineer roll) recognize as man-made, albeit very ancient. Beyond stretches a marsh.
They can follow the river for a few miles until it is impossible to get the ship further. They can take a small boat upriver from here, every so often encountering shallow areas where they need to drag it over. The river here leaks out into miles of marshland.
As the temperature and humidity rise, to say nothing of the difficulty of the terrain, overheating becomes a problem:
- 2-pt armour => Fatigue Points at 70% of normal
- 3-pt armour => Fatigue at 60%
- 4-pt amour => Fatigue at 50%
- 5-pt armour => Fatigue at 40%
- 6-pt armour => Fatigue at 30%
This is in addition to the encumbrance penalty of equipment, which is doubled.
CROCS AND HIPPOS AND GNATS, OH MY
The crocodiles and hippos are the biggest threats on the lower reaches of the river. If characters are out hunting, they have a 1 in 6 chance of being ambushed by a croc (Stealth 19) and there is really nothing to do but run.
Mosquitoes become an increasing problem as the river peters out into a network of reed-choked canals that eventually merge with the swamp. Characters have a 1 in 3 chance of contracting fever each day.
The swamps are impassable unless you either know the route or have the eye-shaped crystal pendant from Zanzibar, which will reveal a trail where Hiya has sent her far-visioning effect. The latter doesn’t tell you where firm ground is, of course, but at least it gives a bearing for the direction of Kôr. Also, if somebody is looking through the pendant when Hiya is actually watching them remotely it will give the user a glimpse of her.
A party of Amahagger come upon them, led by Bilali, a white-bearded elder. Speaking in Ancient Arabic, he says that “the Goddess” has sent him to escort them to her.
The Amahagger are tall, saffron-brown skinned people with handsome but sullen faces. The womenfolk seem to have considerable freedom and even authority compared to life in Muslim lands.
At the home of this “household” of Amahagger, who live in tombs left by the ancients (there are ten households in all), they encounter a woman called Ustane. (See She for how you might use her in the game.)
Bilali says he must travel to see the Goddess, Hiya, to ask her instructions with regard to the strangers. He will be back in five days.
HUNTING AND HOTPOTTING
The other Amahagger are far less friendly to them than Bilali. Their expressions suggest a sort of aloof contempt. Possibly somebody will suggest going hunting to prove themselves.
There are also rhinos, but no sense in even giving stats for those.
If they offend the household, there will be a hot-potting ritual. A firepit is prepared, and jars of corn liquor handed around. Each man has his spear beside him.
One guy: "Where is the flesh that we shall eat?"
All stretch out their right arms towards the fire and reply: "The flesh will come."
First guy: "Is it a goat?"
All: "It is a goat without horns, and more than a goat, and we shall slay it."
Turning half round they one and all grasp the handles of their spears with the right hand, and then simultaneously let them go.
First guy: "Is it an ox?"
All: "It is an ox without horns, and more than an ox, and we shall slay it.”
Again the spears are grasped, and again let go. Then they will start to caress and speak endearments to the one they mean to sacrifice.
First guy: "Is the meat ready to be cooked?"
All: "It is ready; it is ready."
First guy: "Is the pot hot to cook it?"
All: "It is hot; it is hot."
First they entangle the victim in a net (GURPS page 441). Then, taking iron pincers, they remove a heated pot from the fire and clamp it over the victim’s head. There are a couple of dozen Amahagger warriors here:
Hopefully Bilali will return before anybody is actually killed.
OFF TO SEE THE GODDESS
Bilali says he will take them to Hiya, but they must leave all their belongings and weapons here.
If they refuse, he says he will not take them. If they threaten him, he warns them that Hiya can see all and will slay them before they have gone half the distance. “And she would kill me, her servant, if I were to capitulate to thy demands. Thus I advise thee to accept the invitation of the Goddess and do as she commands, for thus far thou hast earned only her curiosity and not her wrath.”
They are made to strip and are reclothed in yellow linen robes, and given wooden staves, then put into litters and carried towards a region of miasmic swamp.
BILALI TAKES A TUMBLE
Crossing the swamp, a snake bites one of the bearers of Bilali’s litter and he goes into the water. If not rescued, he is sucked down into the mud and drowned.
THE CITY OF KÔR
Built inside a high-sided crater, which the characters might assume is volcanic. The walls of the crater were excavated long ago, making a tunnel right through the side.
Inside, the Amahagger of the main “house” live in the tombs left by the ancient civilization of Kôr.
Far off in the centre of the crater (about three miles away) lie the ruins of Kôr. This is where Hiya lives with her deaf-&-dumb servants, guarded by the Fanewatch (her elite Amahagger bodyguard, numbering about fifty).
The walls of Kôr itself are toppled now, but once must have been mightier than any city built since. At the gates (a collapsed arch) stands the Vaal.
THE GODDESS APPEARS
Hiya will use her projection device to appear floating in the air surrounded by a white tesla-coil type aura.
Hiya (= “She”) is ruler of the lost civilization of Kôr in the heart of Africa. She was born Aisha bint Harb, 900 years ago in Arabia, a child prodigy who was raised with the best education possible, and on her parents’ death outfitted her own expedition to Kôr where she came across a crashed alien starship, was bathed in the radiation of its autodoc, and became immortal. Around the crater she found other artefacts of ancient alien technology and has been busy learning about them ever since. (Of course, her understanding of these artefacts is not that they are of extraterrestrial origin, but simply that they are left over from a very ancient civilization.)
Her goal is to sweep away religions and kingdoms to create a new world order in which women have equal status to men. This is not so much for moral reasons, though she certainly remembers and resents how neighbours in Arabia treated her as a young girl with an education. Her aim, having seen what technology is capable of achieving, is to build a society in which learning is paramount so that those ancient marvels can be replicated and surpassed.
She has a Chamber of the Far-Travelling Carpet with a pattern of tiles on the floor that create a dimensional “carpet” which allows her to travel across great distances. The effect is like teleportation, and the portal remains hanging in the air until she returns to it. Using this, she has been disrupting the Silk Road trade from a hidden mountain fortress above Samarkand.
Her own primary skills are Stealth, Acrobatics and Aikido-style martial arts. She only loses -2 per successive Dodge.
Her main ability is Altered Time Rate, allowing her to act two times faster than normal. Usually she’ll all-out defend (+2), use extra effort (+2), and retreat (+3) while looking to get away – which she can do fast.
If forced to attack, she’ll use a baton in each hand (ambidextrous, trained in off-hand use) allowing her four strikes per round (extra -2 to hit location when aiming to use Pressure Points).
As well as the Fanewatch, Hiya has three automata* she has salvaged from the alien ship:
Hiya's special items**
Her ancient devices (weapons of a people she calls the Strangers) are:
- A belt of shield
- A ring of force
- A blaster gun
- A teleportation ring (to a preset location within 5 km)
Each has twenty charges and can be recharged in the “Eternal Flame”, ie the alien ship’s power source.
A heavy item that must be held along one arm. The beam will blast open any door, push down walls of mortar or stone, or smash a 3m tunnel through solid rock. It is aimed, striking a single target at a range of up to 15m. Damage is 20d up to 3m, then 2d less per extra metre.
To activate this “on the fly” requires a critical IQ roll to “remember” its operation, otherwise practice with it and reroll every week.
This creates an invisible barrier at a distance of 1 metre from the user that reduces the momentum of any rapidly incoming (not outgoing) object or attack. Projectiles are automatically stopped, but slow-moving attacks such as lava or poison gas are not impeded. Enemies must spend six rounds pushing through this force field before they can attack the user. Lasts ten minutes per charge.
Ring of Force
It flings the target away (the intensity is optional, from a strong wind to a Ben Grimm sized clobber) but doesn’t necessarily damage them.
She also has:
- Far-vision screen Can send out an invisible “camera” – but has to be sent laboriously to a location at a maximum speed of 100 mph because the calibration doesn’t work.
- “Magic carpet” A device that creates a circular pattern of whirling coloured lights that she can step to anywhere in the world, but always must return to the device here in Kôr.***
THE THRONE ROOM
This is a chamber that runs central to the warren of burial chambers and embalming rooms (now used by the Amahagger as apartments). It may once have been a kind of temple, as there is a dais at the far end where Hiya has her throne. She will only come here in person if people are to be tried for crimes.
On the dais is an inscription in a pictographic language that they may recognize as that of “the ancients”. Hiya will translate:
"In the year four thousand two hundred and fifty-nine from the founding of the City of imperial Kôr was this cave (or burial place) completed by Tisno, King of Kôr, the people thereof and their slaves having laboured thereat for three generations, to be a tomb for their citizens of rank who shall come after. May the blessings of the heaven above the heaven rest upon their work, and make the sleep of Tisno, the mighty monarch, the likeness of whose features is graven above, a sound and happy sleep till the day of awakening, and also the sleep of his servants, and of those of his race who, rising up after him, shall yet lay their heads as low."
And if the characters are interested in that, she crosses to the left-hand side of the cave (looking towards the entrance) and signs to the mutes to hold up the lamps. On the wall is something painted with a red pigment in similar characters to those hewn beneath the sculpture of Tisno, King of Kôr. She translates it thus:
"I, Junis, a priest of the Great Temple of Kôr, write this upon the rock of the burying-place in the year four thousand eight hundred and three from the founding of Kôr. Kôr is fallen! No more shall the mighty feast in her halls, no more shall she rule the world, and her navies go out to commerce with the world. Kôr is fallen! and her mighty works and all the cities of Kôr, and all the harbours that she built and the canals that she made, are for the wolf and the owl and the wild swan, and the barbarian who comes after. Twenty and five moons ago did a cloud settle upon Kôr, and the hundred cities of Kôr, and out of the cloud came a pestilence that slew her people, old and young, one with another, and spared not. One with another they turned black and died--the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the man and the woman, the prince and the slave. The pestilence slew and slew, and ceased not by day or by night, and those who escaped from the pestilence were slain of the famine. No longer could the bodies of the children of Kôr be preserved according to the ancient rites, because of the number of the dead, therefore were they hurled into the great pit beneath the cave, through the hole in the floor of the cave. Then, at last, a remnant of this the great people, the light of the whole world, went down to the coast and took ship and sailed northwards; and now am I, the Priest Junis, who write this, the last man left alive of this great city of men, but whether there be any yet left in the other cities I know not. This do I write in misery of heart before I die, because Kôr the Imperial is no more, and because there are none to worship in her temple, and all her palaces are empty, and her princes and her captains and her traders and her fair women have passed off the face of the earth."
THE DANCE OF TIME
This is performed one evening by the Amahagger in the space outside the caves. The characters are led to chairs, facing out into the twilight. They watch groups of dancers waiting far off as the sky grows dark.
Then there are eruptions of sparks. Men dance nearer, waving their spears, and as they come they set fire to corpses that were staked out for the purpose (the embalmed bodies burning easily). Behind them, the fires mark out the stars of the constellation Mulgirtab (as it was known to the Babylonians) or Scorpio or al-‘Aqrab as they know it today. (This is the direction of the galactic core.)
Coming near to a dais where women pour water and pick fruit, the warriors are seen to be covered with scale-like symbols painted in white. They circle the dais and leave three of their number, apparently to guard the women. Then another group (painted in whorls and wave-symbols) rush in from all directions to attack the first, and the fighting is carried off into the darkness. The three left guarding the dais stare off into the dark, spears raised defensively at each cry in the distance, and sparks fly up but no fire catches.
Then they hear others approaching – but it is their enemies. They fight them off, but are mortally wounded. One of the women comes to tend to the last of the scale warriors, who presents her with his torch.
THE ETERNAL FLAME
However the characters interpret the dance, they can find out from Hiya about the starship (she calls it “the metal egg”) lodged in caverns in the far wall of the crater. This is where she acquired immortality.
The starship was the cause of the crater. Millennia ago it impacted the ground inside its collapsing energy shield, which liquified the rock but left the ship itself relatively unharmed. It then skidded into the wall of congealing lava at the crater rim and, as the shields finally went down, the ship’s reactor core vented through the lava forming a dendritic network of tunnels – which was how the intrepid Aisha (as she was then) was able to reach it.
The immortality treatment that she received inadvertently was inspired, not to say stolen, from Larry Niven’s novel A World Out Of Time. The journey through the caverns I swiped wholesale from HRider Haggard, adding only a protean creature called the Nammu for the sake of giving them a thrilling battle before they could enter the ship. Tekumel players will recognize that the Nammu is based on the nshe. The rationale for it being here is that it was an artificial sentinel created to protect the ship, dormant at the time of the crash, and something Hiya did on her previous visit here reactivated it.
Tentacles ATTACK 16 damage: 3d+3 [and acid slime]
Armour 5 (maximum of 1 HP from any missile)
HIT POINTS 60
It will extrude 1-4 tentacles each round, generally using these to strike at different targets (but see below).
- Each tentacle is coated in an acidic jelly and will continue to burn through a character's armour after he is touched. The jelly does 2d in the first round, then 1d. If it has not burned its way through the armour by then, the character will take no damage. Each time armour is burnt through, it permanently loses 1 Armour Point.
- Nammu can apply this power in any round in which it extrudes three or more tentacles. The chance it will choose to do so is 45%. The chance of the target evading the tentacles is as a -5 Dodge for three tentacles, -10 for four tentacles. Nammu does not need to make any roll to hit.
- The target is lifted aloft if he has not dodged, and Nammu attempts to sunder him limb from limb. Each round, the seized character can attempt to resist by making a -5 HT check. If he fails he takes 4d damage, but if he succeeds he only takes 2d. Armour doesn't count, of course.
- While disjecting a character, Nammu cannot extrude further appendages to strike at his companions. Nammu will not normally drop a character it is disjecting until it has reduced the character to zero HP. However, a single hit for more than 10 HP will cause it to do so; also, the character can try to break free by making a -10 ST check each round.
- Rather than attacking with its tentacles, Nammu may choose to apply its power to Engulf a character. This is checked for at the start of each round (unless it is already in the process of disjecting someone); the chance is 30%.
- Engulfment affects a 3m area (roughly 1-6 people). A target who fails to dodge is caught in a cohesive blob of water in which he may drown. He makes a HT check each round: first with no modifier, then at -3, then -6, etc. A failed roll means 2d damage (no armour) and the victim is also drowning (see below).
- Drowning: roll Swimming every 5 seconds or inhale water, losing 1 FP. When FP = 0 you black out and will soon drown.
- To break free of Engulfment, critical Swimming. You can also fight back to injure Nammu from within, but this counts as Close Combat and half damage.
Footnotes* Tekumel players may recognize the assassin android as the Alluring Maiden of Nga, but in fact Prof Barker was inspired by the Silver Maid in Alexander Korda's 1940 movie The Thief of Bagdad. The Vaal was originally inspired by ru'un.
** Most of these will be familiar to Tekumel players as equivalent to some of the "Eyes".
*** My conceit here was to have a device that could be described as a magic carpet, as a nod to the Arabian Nights, without actually having it be a piece of flying cloth.