IN THE WASTES OF GIZEN
Barely an hour after dawn they will be starting to rue ever having got embroiled in the theft, as the sun beats mercilessly down on their unprotected heads. Seedob is able to give a ray of hope, however, as he has a chart which he bought in Tamary which purports to show the position of oases along the fringes of the desert. "We follow this wadi north and west for ten leagues and it'll bring us to an oasis," he snaps. Discomfort (and, perhaps, guilt) are fast taking a toll on his temper. "We can refill the pitchers there, then head on north into the Jumbles and rejoin the Ophis at Baristan or someplace like it."
Their primary concern must be that the Ruash family will have sent out a party of habdigar soldiers to track them down. By means of incidents such as false sightings and unexplained sounds at night, you should do your best to let this worry play on the protagonists' minds. The thought of these habdigars bearing down in relentless pursuit becomes a metaphor of the protagonists' guilt and will give the mood of the scenario a special resonance.
Although some of the protagonists might conceivably hail from arid regions of the world, there are no human cultures indigenous to true sand deserts like the Wastes of Gizen. Therefore players cannot legitimately claim full advantage for levels of the Survival skill: all rolls are at -3. If no characters in the group have Survival, they will have to hazard a guess at how best to survive. In fact their optimum course is to eat as little as possible, and to sip water no faster than the rate at which they are losing moisture due to sweating. It takes no special knowledge to see that they must travel by night and rest by day, as any attempt to cross the sands when the sun is up is tantamount to walking in an oven. Talking should be kept to a minimum, but Seedob has plenty to say about their predicament, and about how he intends to spend his share of the loot, and no doubt protagonists will be unable to resist arguing as the situation declines.
Each character will be carrying about two and a half liters of water. Used sparingly, this ought to enable them to last three days. They will be able to cover about fifteen miles a day on the shifting sand. Since the oasis shown on Seedob's chart is no more than twenty five miles distant, the situation seems unpleasant but not catastrophic. However, a person getting this bare minimum of water will soon become weakened, disorientated and irritable. Seedob's already poor disposition becomes almost intolerable. He whines endlessly about how he ought to get a larger share because it was he who stole the gems in the first place. Hodansyr tersely points out that they wouldn't have been in this predicament if not for Seedob's greed - a remark which forces Seedob into a crazed paranoid silence. He begins to prey on the protagonists' personal weaknesses, seeking out those most likely to support him. By the second day he will have started sidling up to various characters whom he imagines to be kindred spirits, offering them larger shares if they support his claims. By that evening, as they resume their journey with the oasis still not in sight, his thoughts will have turned to murder...
RUNNING THE DESERT EPISODE
The purpose of the scenario is to present characters with a moral choice. There will be a distinct contrast between those who completely give themselves in to greed – allowing them to compound their theft with ever worsening acts of villainy – and those who oppose the Rinder brothers from the start and who go along with them only because they have no choice. The players themselves ought to recognize the tone of the scenario (particularly if they have seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and those who feel they must take the "evil" path to remain true to their roles will presumably realize quite early on that they are probably doomed. Feel free to manipulate any strife or attempts at murder to help "virtuous" characters to survive. Their chances should be borderline, though, so that only determination and intelligence will see a character out of the desert alive.
Focus the action on minor details, events that would be too trivial to fully enact in a normal scenario. An argument can be sparked by Hodansyr's insistence on drinking gin even when warned that alcohol is dangerous in such conditions, since Sootan will not take kindly to an employee answering him back. As the situation worsens, Seedob creeps off by his own while the others are sleeping and buries the rubies. He marks the spot with a belt-buckle, but a breeze covers this with sand and it is only later that the others discover that their precious treasure has been lost. By the time they reach the oasis, they should be at the end of their tether: exhausted, virtually delirious with thirst, constantly at one another's throats and with Seedob on the verge of committing murder.
Then things take a turn for the worse.
THE FUTILITY OF GREED
The oasis turns out to be dry. Between dusty bushes of scrub they find only a pool of foul black water that no-one could drink. A weary conference can produce only one course of action. They must try to get back to Sardonyx and throw themselves on Tian's mercy. With only a liter of water left to each of them, the journey back is even worse. Any characters who survive to reach Sardonyx will be almost dead on their feet, with blistered lips and skin burned black by the sun and the hot desert wind.
The irony of the adventure is that Tian did not care that they had stolen the rubies. After a moment of pique he thought no more about the incident, and did not even bother sending out the expected hunting party of habdigars. In a spirit of whimsy he will allow the survivors to leave unharmed in the barge in which they came. They will return to Tamary having learnt a great deal about themselves and about human nature, and they will have proved that in the final analysis they have the “right stuff" to be heroes.
As for those who succumbed to their worst instincts, their bones will by now be buried under the shifting desert sands.