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Monday, 29 August 2011

In the sky with diamonds

Okay, okay - I admit it, Russ Nicholson I'm not. The picture is my finger-paint attempt to illustrate this scenario for the Fabled Lands RPG. It's pretty freeform and would fit into an Over the Blood-Dark Sea kind of quest as a peripheral standalone adventure.

Now, if you're planning to play in this scenario I suggest you read no further!

To the referee, umpire or (if you must) game-master: choose carefully which player-character you use to initiate the adventure, as the payoff hinges on him buying into the romantic ideal so that the ending will have a suitably tragic flavor. You will probably want to adjust the stats to fit the characters' rank; the Angels should be a tough fight, especially because of their cunning, while the apparitions should be a real struggle for survival.

A Fabled Lands RPG seafaring scenario that would fit in with a Sinbad/Odysseus type of campaign.

The bait

A young woman appears to one of the characters in his sleep. She wears a lacquered mask which she sets aside to reveal a face of startling beauty. She pleads with him to come to her rescue, but appears distracted. "I am trapped within a tower," she says, "and can appear to you only in your dreams. But if you can free me, you will have my gratitude and my love."

If any of the other characters are on watch and look into the cabin, they will see the dreaming character moaning and tossing in his sleep.

Surprise at sunrise

Shortly before dawn, a shadow appears on the horizon. Wary in case it is an uncharted island, the captain trims the sails. The rising sun, however, reveals an astonishing sight: a circular citadel with a central silver tower gradually takes shape out of the twilight, floating hundreds of feet up in the air.

While the characters watch, a tiny figure plunges from the citadel and hits the water. He does not surface - unsurprisingly, as nobody could survive such a fall. (In fact it is one of the "Angels", see later; it swims to the ship and waits underwater until it can slip aboard unnoticed, and may cause trouble in subsequent adventures.)

Obviously, if the characters have no means of levitating up to the citadel, this encounter is merely another eerie episode on the Violet Ocean and they must sail on. No need to force it. The dreams could recur over months or years of the character's life and that will only make the eventual resolution more effective.

The floating citadel

Consists of five circular terraces connected by steps passing through ornate archways. Trees and flowers grow in marble beds ranged along the terraces. A tower rises from the middle of the citadel.

Inhabitants of the citadel

Five hundred and fifty-five people live here. They are tall and slender with dark skin, narrow faces, gentle in disposition. Whenever a 556th baby is born, the oldest inhabitant leaps down a well shaft (located on the third terrace) into the sea. These people call themselves the Exalted and subsist on fruit, plus occasional fish that may be thrown up from the sea during very violent storms. For fresh water, they rely on the rain.

When picking fruit, they process around the terraces at regular intervals; a date might thus be described as "the time of the Third Orchard of the Second Terrace".

The Exalted never ascend beyond the third terrace - the second and first are off-limits, inhabited by "Angels". The Angels serve and guard the Goddess, who lives in the central tower. The legend states that the Goddess originally dwelt here long long ago (ie, in prehistoric times) and departed, but was brought back only a generation ago by warriors bearing a green banner. These warriors tried to slay the Exalted, who hid from them. They bore the Goddess on a silver catafalque, levitated from ships far below, and carried her up beyond the third terrace. From that day, all who glimpsed her could speak only of her sad beauty. After plundering the place, the green warriors flew back down to their ships. But they left the Goddess in the tower. The Goddess's servant, a green bird, sometimes descends to take offerings from her shrine on the first terrace.

The true story

The "Goddess" who dwells in the tower now has no connection to the legendary deity of ancient times. She is actually a sorceress called Virinasi, left here 40 years ago by soldiers from Chrysoprais ordered to conduct her into exile. If she was beautiful then, the long years of solitude have stolen that from her. Now she is wrinkled and barely sane. The green bird is her familiar, which brings her morsels of fish.

The "Angels" are pale, mute, homuncular creatures created by alchemy, sexless and undying. They were set here as the original guardians of the armoury. They retreated in the face of superior force when the Chrysoprais soldiers arrived, and would now like to trace and retrieve the plundered weapons. To this end, one of the Angels will hurl itself down into the sea and try to get aboard the characters’ ship.

There are twenty Angels here. (Despite the name, they have no wings; envisage white-skinned, naked, androgynous figures with pupils as large as their eyes.) They will attack only if somebody tries to plunder items from the armoury, and will fight intelligently:

Combat 5; Intelligence 10; Magic 5; Muscle 7; Scouting 5; Thievery 5
Defence 9; Stamina 11
Special attack: Pacify – if the Angel succeeds in a Magic roll of difficulty 11, the target will stand passively for one minute unless attacked.

The Angels ignore Virinasi. She sent her dream self, which still appears as a 20-year-old, to lure a rescuer here.

2nd Terrace: The armoury

At the back of the plundered armoury (describe gaps on wall where once were swords, spears, shields) is a huge metal door. There are tiny scratches on the surface of the door. Inscription in huge letters hangs over the door, in unknown language.

The damage to the door was caused by the pickaxes of the soldiers who brought Virinasi here. They looted the armoury itself and wanted to get into this inner vault but the door resisted every effort.

The inscription on the door is in an ancient language that can be read by means of an Intelligence check at Difficulty 15. (Language skill applies.) Reading the inscription aloud causes the door to open. Beyond lies the Lightning Armour Hall.

Inside the Lightning Armour Hall

Dim blue lighting flickers on. There are two daises set into the floor, one silver and one black. Each dais contains two oval indentations as though for feet. Directly above each dais is a silver disk suspended from the ceiling.

If you step into the indentations on the silver dais, the dais slowly rises and the disk lowers. Electricity crackles around you. Then you are returned to the floor.

This provides one user with the Lightning Armour. The Armour functions only when you have discarded any crystalline objects on you (including metal, and jewels). If you wear such items, you only notice minor side-effects: acrid taste on tongue, ozone smell, people get a mild shock when they touch you, bits of paper stick to your fingers, etc.

When you're down to very little crystal adornment, you might even notice sparks crackling around you in the dark. When no crystal at all is worn, then the Lightning Armour becomes active: a scintillant white aura that gives Defence +6 and full resistance to any electrical-based attack. You can wear leather armour with it (for an additional +1 Defence) but no form of metal armour. The glow of the Lightning Armour illuminates a circle of 10m radius around the wearer, causing -2 to any Thievery rolls involving stealth.

The black dais functions similarly but equips the user with the Thunder Spear.
This can be thrown (like a javelin) or used in melee. It always appears in the user's hands when a weapon is required. This means that it is never out of your hands for more than half a round (even if dropped) but also that you can't use any other weapon. No armour counts for better than 4 Defence against the Spear. It cannot be broken.

If the user of either the Lightning Armour or the Thunder Spear is killed, the item returns to the dais and can be claimed by somebody else.

The damsel in distress

Virinasi shows herself as the characters leave the Lightning Hall or if they fail read the inscription. They see a slight female figure in white robes, her face covered by a lacquered mask. She beckons to the character whose dreams she visited, calling him her champion and thanking him for coming to rescue her. But as he approaches her, the characters will become aware of creatures emerging from the shadows all around them. Virinasi screams, terrified, and seeks the protection of her champion.

Forty years of solitude with only the silent Angels for company have left Virinasi unhinged. Though her conscious reaction to her rescuers is one of gratitude, her troubled psyche unleashes monsters from the id that will attack. These are in fact just apparitions – but apparitions that can kill:

Combat 9
Defence 11
Stamina 14

Each round, 1-6 more apparitions appear on the scene until there are ten in all:
  • Worm-thing
  • Oozing slime that mutters
  • Swarm of skulls
  • Robed spectre
  • Bloody corpse with teeth for hands
  • Fiery spider
  • Carrion bat
  • Clanking warrior
  • Jellyfish with heads inside
  • Shrieking fungus man
The apparitions are not real, but will cause real damage to anybody who fails a Magic test at Difficulty 15. A character who succeeds in the roll will take no damage when hit, and can then try to convince others they are just illusions. This takes one round and everyone in earshot can then attempt the roll again, this time at Difficulty 12.

If anyone specifically states they are looking at Virinasi during the battle, they will notice on making an Intelligence test at difficulty 9 that she seems to be subvocalizing a spell. If she is struck unconscious, the apparitions immediately drop by 3 in both Combat and Defence.

If the apparitions are defeated, Virinasi gives a cry and drops to the floor. The psychic backlash has slain her. If they remove her lacquered mask, the characters will see that she is no longer the beautiful woman who appeared in the dream.


  1. I like this scenario, I'm going to use it. I also think that the little ship looks a bit like a submarine.

  2. Nice story!
    the City and the angels reminds me of UFOs

  3. Thanks, guys. Wanderer, I think the little ship looks a bit like a stick insect - but like I say, I'm no Russ Nicholson :-)

  4. At first I read "Virinasi" as Varanasi and thought this was a Hinduism-inspired scenario.

  5. It was originally a Tekumel scenario, Hamza, and I guess Prof M A R Barker was a little bit influenced by his time in India. (More in the religions and culture than the languages, I'd say.)

  6. Hi Dave

    May I suggest a short scenario that explores a bit more in depth the "harbour" that you find when you climb all the way up to the top of the northernmost mountains when the fancy takes you?

  7. That too was probably inspired by one of my Tekumel scenarios, Alberto. I'll see if I can dig it out.