Chapter 2: 48 Days on a Dusty Road

The Long Journey to the East

Here I make public my entire outline for the journey you took to Yunshan.  These adventures, played out over our first 3 sessions after the mountain, were our first games with the group minus Shayn and Izzy. One of those sessions was a weekend sleepover so it was epic.  This is where I really got to know your characters in a new way. This takes me back to a different time, long ago…Never did I imagine in my 30s I would have the chance to play this Yunshan campaign.  I had been working on this thing as a hobby for years, partly depressed because I was starting to feel very sure it was never going to go anywhere.  That only made it worse, not only was this thing I really loved never gonna see the light of day, I had spent hundreds of hours on it, which would have to be ruled out as a waste, perhaps one last wasted shot at recapturing some childhood feeling I hoped D&D could invoke.

Let me see if I can explain this.  Sitting down to pay these first 3 sessions effected me in a way that’s hard to explain.  I just felt grateful, and in wonder at the weirdness of life.  Then there was the choice Izzy and Shayn made to sit it out.  This was one of those epic, MVP type choices that end up being game changers.  You guys got to experience many games on a more intimate scale, and got to spread your wings, make choices without a master of tactics and game knowledge looking over your shoulders. It was good for you all, and some kind of selfless, monk-like choice on the part of Izzy and Shayn, the kind of choice that few ever make, much less suggest on their own.  I took it as love, and that made sitting at that table feel almost hollowed.  Here was a game that defied the odds, an idea that was years in the making, finally realized, shared among friends, and Izzy and Shayn not at the table by choice, so that you guys could soak it in for yourselves…that felt really unique, like I said, I came to the table in those days like a priest engaged in some sacred ritual, but a really fun ritual!

Blue text in Italics is stuff I would read or paraphrase to you

Red text contained rules info or reminders of things I needed to do/check as DM

Black text is just general info.

***I’ve also included some notes on what happened or just general commentary.  These are bold and underlined and begin with 3 ***

Day 1 &  2:  Lazy Pines

The players meet Jamba, his brother Saja and his wife Leena, and their two kids Bota and Lilly.  Free style this.


Day 3: Kilarse Outpost

Pilgrims of the Azier

Up ahead on the road a large body of travelers appears.  Several nice looking carriages head up the caravan, followed by 6 covered wagons, and a dozen small carts pulled by miserable looking oxen.  All in all about 200 people you suppose.  The wagons and carts are piled high with trunks, sacks and chests. The majority of these travelers are on foot, many of whom are also laden down with a great deal of baggage.  At the head of this column of humanity is a striking figure in brown silk robes with a bright red turban.  He rides on a cushioned platform carried by 16 shirtless servants and ringed by 8 guards in light armor with curved swords and spears. One of the guards carries a tall standard made of polished copper.  Another carries something like a small flat box in his hands which you can’t make out yet. These guards keep a mistrustful eye upon you as you draw up to about 100 yards away.  You now have a better view of this lot.  They are all dark skinned humans, most clothed in flowing tan robes of a wispy material, with heavy traveling cloaks, many wear veils and turbans.  A good number have daggers, short swords, or random weaponry at their sides, but it’s obvious they are not warriors.  At least half their number are women and children.  The guards hustle a little forward, continuing to eye you all with suspicion, the man in robes seems far more concerned with the others in the wagon train, frequently turning and shouting back something in a foreign tongue. 


This is a caravan of religious pilgrims.  The man in robes at the front is names The Azier, and is their religious leader.  This group has fled Absolon by orders of their leader, who has long overheard rumors of an Orintarg Army approaching the city, and has predicted that the city will indeed fall.  Most in the column do not speak common, and those who can are not really interested in talking anyways, so all of this information will be likely overlooked.

***And indeed it was overlooked

Kilarse Outpost

Your 3rd day’s travels are set to end at a small Kilarse outpost that sits at the edge of the small kingdom.  It lies in the middle of a small valley surrounded by rugged foothills that block any view of the snow capped mountains to the north.  The entire landscape is covered with tall shaggy pine trees, boulders half covered in black moss, and wild ferns.  You don’t even see the outpost until you’re nearly upon it.  The first sight is of a narrow wooden tower about 4 stories high you spot just above the tree tops.  The outpost itself straddles the road so there would be no easy way for a large group of travelers to get around it through the dense woods unseen or unheard.  To the right of the road is a lodge of blackened logs and brown clay.  The Hulking timber building stands nearly 3 stories high, with its roof steeply angled to deal with winter snow.  The building is fortified as well.  There are no windows on the bottom floor.  Those on the 2nd story are covered with heavy wooden shutters, reinforced with Iron hinges.  There are arrow slits as well.  The lodge looks like it could house 30 to 40 people comfortably. The only visible entry is a pair of heavy double doors just off the road itself.  They are swung wide open presently.  Two great stone chimneys belch forth smoke into the chilling air of early evening.  The smell of cooking fires is too pleasant to ignore.  Opposite the lodge, on the other side of the road is a large lot or courtyard of some kind surrounded by an 8 ft high wall of timber logs.  The small fort is connected to this yard by a gate house that straddles the road, as to command control of any passage along the trade route at this point.  The old gate house is chard and blackened, as it has survived more than one fire.

Setting up Camp

Jamba’s wagons are led under the gatehouse and to the left, through another wooden gate and off the road, into the walled campground to the left of the road.  The smell of cooking fires hits you again, this time stronger, a dense black smoke from a smoldering bunch of damp wood in a nearby camp fire drifts thickly across the path, feeling your eyes with tears as the horses snort and shake their heads in upset.  Immediately you notice how your feet sink a bit into the spongy ground.  A generous layer of damp hey and gravel has been strewn about the grounds, otherwise this place would be nothing more than a walled in bog.  Six merchant wagons, all of them covered in bright but weathered paint are arranged haphazardly about the square.  Fat bearded men with heavy accents and their sons stand smoking pipes and swilling ale in the light of the setting sun, as homely and hard looking women clean freshly captured squirrels and finch, and watch over bubbling kettles of stew.

    The sound of horse and shouting men jerks you to your senses.  You look for your weapons by instinct, outside the gate into this yard several horsemen come riding into the gate house with looks of pride and laughter. They take a quick turn into the fortified lodge.  Two deer are slumped over a pair of extra horses that trail behind them.  The merchants look back to their wine skins.

     A moment later the sergeant of the guard emerges from the lodge, crosses the road and enters the merchant camp. He is a stout and ugly man, one eyelid so droopy as to nearly cover the eye beneath it.  His nose is blunted and broken in several places, and his lips are a chapped mess of blisters and scars.

“My boys have brought in a fine kill this eve.  Seeing as how it’s Kilarse tradition to share the first kill of the season, they’ll be venison tonight for all who want it.

Into the Night

The merry making in the camp stretches long into the night.  You would think these men have no work for the way they drink and party. The merchant men finish their dinners of squirrel stew and roasted finch, which is really just their first meal, and then lay their wares upon blankets in front of their wagons, lit by smoky torches.  A good half of the garrison is off duty as the night falls.  It is apparent they live here, families and all.  The wives and children of the guardsmen spill into the merchant yard making it a rowdy scene.  You see nothing exotic on the blankets, these are local merchants: men who travel one small stretch of road between the same two cities for most of their lives.  None the less, what they have is of great use, and it’s probably the only way these remote border guards and their families get anything.  The children play with the merchant’s dogs. Most seem to have at least 2, and the wives of the guards scout among the blankets looking for bargains.  Some of the guards smoke pipes and trade rumors with the merchant men. You get the strong feeling that everyone here knows each other very well.  The merchants treat the children of the garrison like nephews and nieces. The soldiers treat the merchants like brothers in law.  As the night continues a fat and sweaty merchant is goaded into telling a story by the others.  This turns into an impromptu story telling session.  Before you know it the families of the guards and many of the guards themselves are seated on blankets and wooden stools listening to the drunk merchants tell their stories of the road, and occasionally recite a poem or joke.  Each tries to one up the others and some of the stories are quite good.  It seems more than one of these merchants has a bit of a flare for story telling. 


     Eventually the children are ushered off to bed by their parents.  The crowd thins and the stories turn dark.  Tells of ghosts that haunt the forest.  Of orc raiders that prowl the back country, and tales of feral ghouls that run wild, hunting any who venture out on the roads without proper prayers and good protection.


    It must be near midnight when two entire sides of venison are hauled out into the yard.  The guardsmen slam them down on a great wooden table which was brought out a moment before.  Two women emerge from the fort after them with the largest platter you’ve ever seen.  It’s piled high with fresh bread, and set next to the meat.  One guardsman calls out “eat!” with a mangled smile.  And that is that.  There are no plates or forks.  The merchant men and their wives saw off great hunks of meat with their daggers, fill their belt pouches with hunks of bread, and return to their firesides to eat.  Finally, sometime after midnight a light but freezing rain begins to fall.  Drunk men run wildly about for about half an hour tending to their animals and camps, and then half soaked, finally the camp goes to bed.

Day 4: Rainy Day

Most of day 4 is spent winding along through a high mountain pass, but the beauty is hard to appreciate.  All day sheets of driving rain and cold blasts of wind sour the journey, and by early afternoon, the players endurance is being put to the test.

Catching Cold.

Have each player roll a DC 13 fort save twice.  Those who fail one roll are fatigued.  Those who fail 2 rolls are exhausted.  Inflicted characters can alleviate this in several ways.   Each day that passes which a sickened character continues to travel and be active, they must make another DC 15 save to see if their condition worsens.  If they succeed, their condition improves a step.  If the fail, it worsens a step.  For each step beyond exhausted, the character takes -10 hp, which cannot be healed by any means other than rest in a real bed with real food.  If a player spends an entire day in the wagon taking rest, with no exceptions, his check for the day decreases to DC10, and he will not get worse, even if he fails it, though he may improve a step.  Once completely cured, the character is out of the woods.

Day 5: The Vannoy Trade post

The last two days have been nothing short of sheer misery.  The skies are ruled by dark clouds that seem to open up at random with driving rains.  Worse yet the road seems to be constantly uphill. 


At this point the horses get stubborn, and some might note Jamba’s apparent lack of knowledge where animals are concerned, even though he’s supposed to be a merchant who has spent years driving wagons…Finally the horses stop, and only Tealia can make a difference with her handle animal skill.  The first time the animals get stubborn requires a DC 10 Handle Animal check.  Unskilled players may assist adding +2 each with a DC 10 wisdom check, but if they fail this they actually take -2 from Tealia’s check!!!

If Tealia fails 1 check go to..

{No one gets in after dark}

If Tealia fails 2 checks go to…

{Stuborn Mounts…An Extra Day of Miserable?}

***Tealia did not fail either of these checks

 As the evening draws down, and the clouds look ready to launch another onslaught of cold rain, you see some kind of walled estate off to the side of the road about a quarter mile away.  It’s painted a bright red, and fire light emits a warm glow from its shuttered windows.  It’s another trade post, surprisingly less Spartan than the last one, though utterly in the middle of nowhere.


The men who run the Vannoy outpost are snobbish and rude.  The guards are disrespectful, and may even start a fight.  The outpost consists of a large main house with 20 rooms, a bar of sorts, and a large common room filled with couches that frequently sleep extra inhabitants.  Outside there is a row of small workshops with homes overhead.  Here lives a wheel write, a blacksmith/weapon smith (Ebon), an apothecary (Alice), a dwarven furrier, and a tall handle barred mustachioed tailor named Luis, who is especially stuck up.  Along the inside walls of the courtyard are two large buildings with wide double doors at either end.  Each is capable of boarding 40 animals downstairs, and sleeping 100 men in the upstairs loft, which is a very cold place to sleep.  Everything in the outpost is overpriced.  Most things cost double what is in the PHB.

A nights lodging in the main house, which allows a DC15 save to improve any sickness, costs 5gp/person

A stay in the Stable lofts, which provides a DC18 save costs 1 gp.

A stay in the yard is 1 sp, otherwise players must sleep outside.  Those who do, see strike in the night…

Monsters (Encounter Level: 3)

Vannoy Rowdies; Human Ade0/Ftr3: CR 3; hp 26.

Extra Day: Stubborn Mounts…An Extra Day of Miserable?

 ***Tealia made all her handle animal checks so this extra day event and the whole horse thief thing did not happen to you guys.

Several times a day one of the horses will get stubborn, at which point you are required to pull the beast until he will decide to walk again.  This usually means fifteen minutes of back breaking struggle that you feel in your muscles for hours.

During the night, a band of thieves attempts to make off with the players horses.  Their tactics are thus.  1 group rains down arrows on the camp fire from far off.  If the players try to close, a 2nd group in another direction does the same thing while the 1st group pulls out.  All the while, 4 very skilled thieves from a 3rd direction sneak up and try to steal horses.

8 rounds into the battle they begin lifting horses.  Each round 1 untethers and hitches 1 mount.  Each round a DC 20 listen check reveals this…

Depending on what’s going on, Amaetheon or Tealia are the most likely to hear this…

No One Gets In After Dark

***Tealia made all her handle animal checks so you got there before dark and got let in, this did not happen to you guys.

 Several times a day one of the horses will get stubborn, at which point you are required to pull the beast until he will decide to walk again.  This usually means fifteen minutes of back breaking struggle that you feel in your muscles for hours.

The players arrive at the Vannoy outpost after dark, thanks to the stubborn horses. They will not under any circumstances let them in, and as a result, no one gets a solid rest that night, which will negatively effect any sick characters chances of improving.

Shopping at the Trade Post

***I don’t think you guys bought anything here, or was this where you pulled resources and bought the ring of protection for Hroth?


 The Apothecary Alice

-Any special items from PHB, double cost

The Weapon smith Ebon

-Any simple weapons from PHB, Martial Weapons at Double cost

The Furrier/ Armor smith Arden

-All Light and medium armor from PHB.

 The Tailor Luis

-Clothing from PHB at double cost

The Consortium Shop


Magic Weapon                        50

Hide From Undead                    50

Hide From Animal                    50

Mage Armor                          50

Bears Endurance                    300

Foxes Cunning                      300

Owls Wisdom                       300

Bulls Strength                      300

Misdirection                        300

Eagles Splendor                      300

Resist Energy Type 10               300

Tongues                             750

Remove Disease                      750


Feather Falling                    2,200

Sustenance                         2500

Swimming                            2500

Protection                   2000/8000/18000

Force Shield                       8,500

Wondrous Items

Universal Solvent                   50

Bracers of Armor                   1000

Cloak of Resistance                1000

Broach of Shielding                1500

Quiver of Ehlonna                  1800

Sovereign Glue                     2400

Handy Haversack                    2500

Eyes of the Eagle                  2500

Horseshoes of Speed                3000

Cloak of Charisma                  4000

Bracers of Armor 2                 4000

Keoghtom’s Ointment                4000

Bracers of Archery 1               5000

Day 6: Absolon Refugees

 It’s been six days since you left the last vestiges of civilization as you know it behind you.  Already it feels like you have come a thousand miles, though Jamba laughs at this sentiment, explaining you’ve only come about 100.  You leave the Vannoy trade post behind you, following the road down a long incline through a boulder strewn forest.  You think the awful weather might be breaking, but as you emerge from the forest onto a high mountain plain, the clouds open up without mercy.  Far to the north, for a short time you can see snow capped mountains and forested foothills before them, but in a very short time all is obscured by the torrential rains.  The plain around you becomes a bog.  The road you travel is the only thing solid in a sea of cloudy puddles and mud.  Without it, you would be lost.


Out of the driving rain, a hundred yards ahead on the road a great band of travelers comes into view.  At first, the weather makes them seem like a ghostly army appearing out of nowhere. One minute you’re looking at the ground cursing your fate, and the next you look up and see this great gathering before you, just as miserable as you.  There could easily be hundreds.  Most are soaked to the bone with mud to their knees.  There are women and children among them.  Some of the men are armed, most all of them shake in the cold as they walk.  A dozen wagons pulled by oxen and donkey plod along with this mass, piled high with things.


These are middle class shop owners from Absolon who have decided to move on given the rumors of war.  They were attacked several days ago by bandits, who left 4 of their men very wounded and sick.  They are too prideful to ask for help, but will be grateful if it is given.  Their leader is a blacksmith who looks hard as steel named Jespin. He rides a good horse.

***Caris took the time to heal the injured men in the wagons, but no one bothered to ask these people why they are out here or where they are headed from.  Again, a chance to learn about Absolon is wasted.

Day 7. All of them…Eaten?

More rain and sickness, then the discovery of a gruesome scene!!!  Dead bodies eaten by something powerful and vicious. The first hint that there are trolls about.  A ranger, or a really high sense motive or search check might have made this clear.


Day 8: Ulgark Outpost

 Two more days pass, making this your 8th day of travel.  You find it funny.  Here you are, adventurers, armed to the teeth and ready for whatever comes your way, but so far the only notable foe has been the weather.  There are no bandits, or orc war bands, or ravaging bands of wild ghouls, just rain and mud and more rain.  Yesterday the rain was lighter.  Today, as the 4 o’clock hour comes you find yourselves in a heavy mist.  Through this mist you travel traverse a landscape devoid of trees.  Boulders of every size rise up through the mist.  Their shapes are disconcerting.  Your minds are playing tricks with you.  You keep thinking you see the shape of someone kneeling, or something’s head looking over the rocks, only to realize it’s just another rock.  These boulders only enhance the strange play of sound that the mist creates.  Several times the hooves of your own horses sound like riders coming up from behind you.  You hear your own footfalls and the creek of wagon wheels echoed back to you off the rocks, sounding like something completely different coming from a different direction.  You can’t wait to get out of this place.  Jamba assures you there is an outpost you should hit by sundown, but even he, who has been jovial through all things thus far seems troubled.  You catch him with this concerned look on his face several times.

This is the Ulgark outpost Jamba was talking about.  It sits atop a boulder strewn hill.  It is an ancient keep.  Its outer wall is half collapsed in several places, and the main road leads through the outer gates straight into the courtyard encompassed by these walls.  The keep itself is a hulking 3 story building that looks like a massive brick of stone with battlements ringing its top.  The first story has no windows, the 2nd only arrow slits, and finally only the 3rd story has anything which resembles an entrance for light, not to mention air.  It must be a dark and miserable place to live, but you would definitely feel safe.

Gathering Wood

A band of trolls has been sizing up the Ulgark outpost for several days.  Now they lurk in the brambles waiting and watching.  Those who gather wood that eve will hear some strange sounds and have a distinct feeling that something is out there.

While You Were Sleeping…

Just before sunrise, as the rain is falling hard, a gang of hungry trolls bashes their way into the keep.  They give very little warning, using their combined massive strength to do so in just 1 round.

Monsters (Encounter Level: 10.2)

Troll 1: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 2: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 3: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 4: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 5: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 6: CR 5; hp 63.

They Might Be Giants

Lurking outside are two very hungry Mountain Trolls.  The players will have to find some way to deal with them.  Jamba plans on waiting until they wander a bit away, and then make a break for it with the wagons.  If they do, one of the trolls will get a swing at them, and they will ride through the remaining normal trolls.

Monsters (Encounter Level: 11.5)

Troll 1: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 2: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 3: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 4: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll, Mountain 2: CR 10; hp 217.

***this was an awesome, crazy, pitched battle.  First time Amaetheon almost dies, and in fact is saved by Jamba, who does that same teleport-switch-a-roo trick that Grey does, revealing himself to be a little more than just a merchant.  Also memorable is the first sighting of the Mountain troll in the lightning, quickly followed by the baseball-batting of Hrothgar,  Trolls munching on horses, and a frustrated Grognak learning that having mostly  area of effect spells in a cramped area is a pain in the ass.

The Pass to Ulgark

The players seem to have escaped the mountain trolls, but all the while one of them and 4 normal trolls have been relentlessly tracking them along the road.  They have no chance of catching up, that is, until the players reach the long steep, mud choked pass that leads up to Ulgark.  They’re lucky to make 1mp/hr. at this point, and as they are about to veer around a sheer ridge and into a canyon, they catch sight of the massive troll bounding up the switchbacks below!

The Mountain Troll is 900 ft away when the players spot him. His lesser trolls are 300 feet ahead of him, but they are moving through deep terrain and won’t be spotted at first:  So it goes like this round by round ans far as ranges are concerned:

 1:   840/540   Bows – 16/-10

2:   780/480   Bows – 14/-8

3:   720/420

4:   660/360   Bows -12/-6 PLAYERS SPOT THE SMALLER TROLLS!

5:   600/300

6:   540/240   Bows -10/-4

7:   480/180   Bows  -8/-2

8:   420/120

9:   360/60    Bows -6/ close range!

10:  300/      Trolls Reach the Spot where the wagon was when first spotted

11:  240/

12:  180/

13:  120/

14:  60/

15: Charrge!

The players spot the Trolls just as they are hitting a dense patch of mud that stops the wagons cold.  It will take 6 rounds of DC 10 handle animal checks to get through the mud and away from the sheer drop.  Some players might realize the advantage of facing the trolls in the bottleneck of the canyon, as opposed to the disadvantage of facing a creature really good at bull rushing while next to a cliff!!!

Once out of the mud, for each check made the wagon progresses 30 ft, so keep track of that and add it to the ranges given in the table above.  After 2 checks (60ft), the wagon is around the bend and players can’t target the trolls from there.


***You guys kicked ass at this and actually got away.  I expected a fight, but you got away!

Monsters (Encounter Level: 11.5)

Troll 1: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 2: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 3: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll 4: CR 5; hp 63.

Troll, Mountain 1: CR 10; hp 217.

Day 9: Reaching Ulgark

Ulgark is at best an occupied ruin.  According to Jamba, every year it seems ruled by some other group, but it is always there, and always a place where a merchant can stop to water his horses in peace.  Ulgark sits on a group of rocky hills that rise at the center of a small round plain surrounded by rocky highlands.  It is from these heights you view the place from about half a mile away.  The highest part of the hill that Ulgark straddles is a massive chunk of rock upon which sits the citadel.  It’s a squat square tower of ancient design, surrounded by a crumbling wall over a thousand years old.  A 2nd outer wall snakes chaotically across the rocky terrain below, enclosing most of the lower slopes of the hill and ringing the citadel. It is in this step landscape between the walls where the town of Ulgark was built.  Its homes and shops are tall and rickety structures with sharply pointed roofs to deal with the winter snow fall.  They are packed tight together, and seem almost to lean upon each other like a house of cards.  It seems a strong enough breeze could bring down the entire town like so many dominoes perched on a crooked table, but no doubt the walls would still remain.

     The road descends the high country and down to the valley below, some of which has been cultivated into long narrow crop rows.  There are no farm houses.  All the men who till this soil must live behind the walls.  Interestingly, they are not currently about, but the city is defiantly occupied.  As you near the gatehouse several guards peer down from the walls at you, and the smoke of cooking fires is rising from every chimney.


Thanks to Grey, Stern, and company, Captain Gleeb is now King Gleeb. Unfortunately, Ulgark is in a weak, ravaged, and somewhat anarchic state in the aftermath of Big Kings invasion, and the subsequent liberation/take over by Captain Gleeb.

Gate Fees

10gp for every wagon, 1 gp for every horse, 1 gp per melee weapon taken into the city if not turned in at the gate.  The gate guards stress the dangers of the wilderness and are sure to let the players know that to travel on as the sun sets is to invite attack from brigands.

Riding Around Ulgark

One choice may be to simply avoid the city of Ulgark altogether, but it is not without consequence. First, the caravan will run out of food the next day, and the next certain chance to resupply won’t be for about 10 more days when they Reach Absolon.

Rules for Starvation: 3 days no effect, then on 4th day, DC10 +1 for each previous check or take d6 nonlethal.  Those with non-lethal damage are fatigued.  Fatigue and damage cannot be cured by any means except eating.

Second, if any of the players are still sick, they will lose another good opportunity to recover.  Within Ulgark lie a warm bed at the Tower Inn, Whose keeper is also an apothecary who can make a brew similar in all ways to that at the Vannoy trade post. There is also a temple that can cure the condition for a price.  Any character that is still sick by the time they reach Ulgark will have a much tougher time fighting off the sickness from this point on, as the DC increases to 15.

The Chase!

 ***This event did not happen

This event occurs if someone figures out Jamba is not who he says he is and alerts the authorities.  Any of captain Gleebs men will be very interested in apprehending and potentially collecting a reward on anyone who might be a fugitive.

8 veteran warriors on horseback will try and make this arrest, not hesitating to use violent force to make their point.  They are willing to chase a fleeing group beyond the walls for up to a day’s ride if need be.  When pursuing a fleeing party they will aim their bow shots at the horses in an attempt to bring one of the wagons to a halt. They do not wish to fight if they don’t have to, eager to force surrender, but as stated above, will resort to violence.  If 4 of their number are killed they break off the fight unless they can count on back up.

Monsters (Encounter Level: 7.3)

Horse Archer; Human Ftr5: CR 5; hp 38.

Lancer; Human Ftr5: CR 5; hp 49.

Warhorse, Light: CR 1; hp 22.

Staying in Ulgark

The Tower Inn.

An old, circular tower sits in the middle of the south stretch of the city.  Here a wall used to connect the inner wall with the outer, but it was long ago torn down and used to build other things.  The tower still stands however, and for whatever reason has been converted to an inn. The tower in is mostly deserted at present. The Inn Keepers name is Marshall.

An hour after sundown 9 breaded men in studded leather, long brown cloaks and bows burst in at the head of a wild entourage of at least 100 town’s people.  Everyone is pounding on a drum or something to serve as a drum, lots of bowls with wooden spoons.  Old toothless women, black smiths and stable hands with their aprons still on, children, and young women flood into the main room.  They all carry cudgels.  The leader of this merry band is also the leader of the town’s rangers.  He stands 6’6, his face marred by grievous wounds.  He has a yellow smile with missing teeth and a dour, though humorous disposition.  His name is Tarvel.  Tarvel was born in Kilarse, but his father was driven away in a land dispute when he was young, so his entire family moved here.  If Tarvel is approached with class, or by one of the group’s ladies, he will be quite helpful.  Though he is rough in appearance, Travel is actually an honorable man, and a gentleman of sorts.  Of the road ahead, he can tell the players Gleeb rounded up most of the bandits, and since the ogres and giants have all been slain, things should be as safe as they can be.  Of the desert, he cautions not to travel in sand storms.  He can tell the players there are legends of that place being haunted, but cautions getting lost is probably the biggest worry.

He can tell the players all about that dreaded night that Big King, a brutal hill giant and his ogre thugs came to town.

One stormy night, when you couldn’t hear a damn thing over the rain and lightning, that’s when they came.  There’s never very many men up on the walls on those kinds of nights, even the most hard ass captain will let the boys come into the guard towers to play cards and stay warm by fire and whisky.  There’s too much wall to keep an eye on anyways truth be told, and you can’t see or hear shit when it rains like that so it’s not their fault, it’s just what was coming our way..thing been good around here for too long I guess…

 They came right over the walls, covered in mud.  No one realized they were here until they were in the streets dragging people out one by one.  They were just killing any men they came across.  Finally word got to the citadel what was going on. The King and his men went to face them but were slain or scattered.  Gleeb, the captain of the guard, and one of our town heroes, had left town with most of the towns outriders a few days earlier to deal with bandits to the east. So he wasn’t there to help either.  We just got caught with our pant down, and when our king and his boys died we were on our own!

 When the King was killed a band of young nobles took over the citadel.  They were exiles from Absolon that settled here years ago.  Their leader was a snotty kid who was really good with a blade named Ericos.  They broke into the treasury and took over the citadel.  Then they started to recruit common criminals to serve as city guards.  As all this was going on, Big King and his ogres didn’t just raid the town and leave, they moved in! They were living in the Granary and controlled all the food.  But grain wasn’t enough, every week or so, a big patrol would come out and they’d go down the streets pulling people out of their houses and dragging them off to the granary.  We’d hear screams echo through the city.  We never heard from those folks again. We think they were eating them. We all did our best to just keep our heads down and keep from starving, and to keep from becoming food ourselves.  Then Ericos and his men would ride out of the keep and drag others off for different reasons, carnal reasons.  It was like this town was being ruled by two gangs. A gang of monsters who liked to eat men and a gang of spoiled brats and back ally brutes who liked to rape women. One group was too tough to kill; the others were too good with their swords for anyone to stop.  Both groups were at war with the people who live here.  Once in a while we would ambush a lone guard or ogre and take them out.  They learned pretty quick not to travel alone.  Thing is, we were the only ones who could keep people fed, so we couldn’t afford to get ourselves killed, and just didn’t have enough able bodied men to make a good attack.  We were biding our time.

A lot of farmers were too scared to leave the city and tend the fields because going in and out, that was when Erico’s guards would shake you down.  We rangers had a way in and out of town unseen, so we were out there hunting all day and sneaking in food at night.  Felt like we were feeding the whole damn city ourselves!

 I was here 16 years ago when riders from Absolon occupied the city.  I was here 12 years ago during the great starvation.  I was on the wall with a spear in my hands if you can believe that, 9 years ago when the mountain clans laid siege to us.  It never was as bad as this winter.  We got through.  Common men don’t have big muscles or magic.  We don’t have the time or the means to get good with weapons.  One thing we do have is endurance.  We can out endure anything, and that’s what we did.  Finally, Captain Gleeb was able to fight his way into the city thanks to some heroes from the west.  There were two elves, one a ranger like us, and the other, who knows what he was, but I took it he was the leader.  Then there was this cleric of Krom, a huge son of a bitch in more armor than I’ve ever seen on one man.  They traveled with a monk of some sorts, maybe he was really a wizard, and they had another warrior who carried far eastern style arms, something was off about him, seemed real unnatural but we were glad to have the help..

They were outside the city and had met Captain Gleeb, who unknown to us was still out there planning a counter attack to save the city.  He met these heroes and somehow convinced them to sneak into the eastern gate and open it one night so Gleeb and his horsemen could ride in.  We got word the attack was coming.  By then we were almost out of arrows!..but we did the best we could.  Got up on some buildings with a clear view of the granary and the eastern gate and boy did it feel good sinking arrows into those big bastards like it was out last chance!  They started to come after us but then they realized those heroes were getting the gate open, and by the gods they did it! It was right on time. The captain and his men were right up to the gate just as it was winching open, and they stormed in with spears and torches held high, it was like something out of some heroic war poem. Big King and his ogres were surrounded and killed, and Ericos and his thugs fled the city, hopefully to starve out in the wilderness.  But it could not have happened if some heroes hadn’t taken the gate.

Supplies are scarce, but one thing in good supply are places to sleep and alcohol, which the players will no doubt be thankful for.  Upon waking however, the group will find it hard to resupply.  Arms and armor have been confiscated by Gleebs men, as has most of the food in the city which is now being rationed.  The players will only be able to find 1 single bag of grain, which can be heated into a poorage on the road.  This will only last them 2 days, and the supply keeper will charge through the nose for this, 20 gold coins!

Day 10: Ulgark Outpost

You race away from Ulgark down the lonely trade road, though tall pines that sway in a fierce breeze.  You crest a ridge after a series of steep switchbacks.  To distant south, a lightning storm ravages a range of peaks.  As thunder rolls across the valley, you can’t help but think of the mountain trolls.  Jamba’s Brother and his family take a rare trip outside the wagon.  They take to the roof of Jamba’s wagon and ride most of the afternoon their, watching the lightning. At first the children are scared, the thunder might be more of the monsters, but Saja tells them a story of how the lightning god loves children, and hunts giants in the mountains with his lighting bolts, especially giants that try to hurt children.

As the sun is setting on your 10th day of travel, through the rocky foothills you see in the distance a small stone stronghold, probably identical to the Ulgark stronghold you passed through 2 days ago.  This time there is no mist however, and you can see the entire thing.  It seems perched on a rocky outcropping at the edge of a cliff line that drops away.  Here the land seems to plummet away for as far as you can see north and south.   The road passes the small outpost and then vanishes over the cliff, probably down some steep winding path that descends the cliffs and stretches off into the distance of what can only be described as arid foothills to the east.  The red rock walls of the small ancient fortress glow in the light of the setting sun.  Someone is lighting torches in the windows.

Days 11 – 18: The Godless Stretch

Day 11 is the first day across the high desert.  Explain how good the sun feels as opposed to memories of rain and mud.  Eagles soar high over the rocky foothills, that are studded with Joshua trees.  The caravan seems to be ever winding down hill and between these foothills.


The Godless Stretch is quite literally cut off from the gods.  As such, no priest spell above 2nd level will function, and any attempt to turn undead, or use an ability which uses up a turn attempt, must be met with a DC 10 wisdom check, otherwise it fails and the turn attempt is lost.  Note, a cleric may continue to retry.

Sand Storms:

Visibility is constantly shifting.  Whenever someone attempts to target someone with a ranged spell or touch attack, first role 2d4 to determine how many squares they can see at that moment.  If the target is outside that range, they have no LOS to it!  If they have a move action they may chose to move towards the target to bring it into sight.  Areas of effect spells are not affected.  It’s assumed that if a blaster spots a target they will still be able to blast it, within reason.

Combat Effects:

The sand is distracting and blinding.  All attacks and skill checks are made at -2.  Note, incorporeal creatures, and creatures that do not depend on vision or sound are unaffected by this.  Also, the winds make ranged combat extremely difficult.  All missile fire is at -4.

Day 12: Hunger Sets In

Make Starvation Checks DC 10

The caravan will run out of food on day 12, and will not be able to get anymore till day 19 when they Reach Absolon.

Rules for Starvation: DC 10 +1 FORT for each previous check or take d6 nonlethal.  Those with non lethal damage are fatigued.  Fatigue and damage cannot be cured by any means except eating.

Remember to check on the morning of each day:


Getting along through the arid desert is tough.  It requires a person with the survival skill A DC 15 check to provide food and water for themselves. You can provide food and water for one additional person for every 2 by which you beat the check.  Anyone joining the hunt may assist and add +2 to the roll with a DC 10 survival check, thus, feeding themselves. Following table gives how many fed depending on check result.

15: 1

17: 2

19: 3

21: 4

23: 5

25: 6

27: 7

29: 8

31: 9

33: 10

35: 11

37: 12

All the while Jamba, his family, and the horses will be slowly starving too.  They are tough but will be making starvation checks along with the group. Here’s a list of all the horses and Npc’s who need to be fed as well as the players.

 Monsters (Encounter Level: 17)

Bota: CR 1; hp 5.

Horse, Heavy  2 coach: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy 1 coach: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy 1 wagon: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy 2 wagon: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy 3 coach: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy 4 coach: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy 5 coach: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy 6 coach: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy spare1: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Heavy spare2: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Light Caris: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Light Grognak: CR 1; hp 19.

Horse, Light Tealia: CR 1; hp 19.

Leena: CR 1; hp 8.

Lilly: CR 1; hp 4.

Saja; Human Ftr1: CR 1; hp 11.

Warhorse, Heavy HROTHGAR: CR 2; hp 30.

Day 13: The First Haadan

Make Starvation Checks DC 11

At the edge of the horizon rises a strange spire, looking like a broad, square, earth toned tower of some kind off in the distance. After an hour’s travel it doesn’t seem any closer and you get the impression it’s either moving with you, which is impossible, or is much larger than you thought…The desert has grown noticeably less rocky and sandier.  The rough hills have been replaced by house sized piles of red windswept rocks that peak out amidst low wind swept dunes.  By mid-day the landscape is awash in harsh yellow sunlight, and the sky seems impossibly clear and blue.  The air is cool, yet the sun light itself seems to have a weight of its own.  Your heads feel heavy, your clothing and armor bake against your skin.  A cool breeze offers moments of brief relief.  You’re all sun burnt in spite of your best efforts, and that’s on top of the hunger which is starting to set in for real for some of you.

At some point Leena comes out with bright headdresses and water

The soaked headdresses which Leena provided you with are a great relief indeed.  You feel hungry, but also a warm since of optimism.  Then you notice that monolith in the distance again.  Such a strange sight, yet you just haven’t been paying much attention to it for a while.  It’s as if you were drawn into a dream by the rhythm of horse hooves on the sandy stone road, or lulled into a comfortable trance by the ubiquitous warmth of the perfectly round sun, and by the gentle breeze, and then suddenly awoke from the dream to notice the strangeness of the megalith before you. It has grown quite a bit, as you have indeed grown closer to it. It must be huge! 100 yds. across and 1000 feet high.  It is made of wind worn adobe colored stone, and you can now tell it is surrounded by a high stone wall of the same material.  The top is warn and jagged, almost as if some massive part had broken away in ancient times.  You’ve never seen anything made by men this high, it must have been made by gods!

Day 14: Sand Storms

Make Starvation Checks DC 12

The day dawns clear with a sinister dark cloud upon the horizon to the east, but it is not a cloud in the sky!  A massive sand storm blows in for most of the day.  There can be no hunting or traveling this day!

If the players do decide to travel in spite of the storm…

Go to:

{A Storm Blows In!}

Otherwise, they spend another day and night just waiting for the winds to die down, which they do on the morning of day 15.

Day 15: Yet More Hunger

Make Starvation Checks DC 13

As the sun sets over the sandy desert. Dust devils play across the low dunes, and beyond them to the east, catching the last light of day in bright orange red splendor. You see another huge stone spire, or at least that’s what you think it is.  It looks like just a tiny, narrow rectangle of light on the eastern horizon, contrasting against the skies there, which have already turned a darkening purple.

Day 16: The Second Haadan

Make Starvation Checks DC 14

 The mysterious megalith in the distance is the only thing of interest on this, your 16th day on the road.  It must throw a shadow 10 miles long when the sun is rising behind it each morning.  Not a single bird crosses the sky, not a single insect skitters across the road.  You’re just thankful to not be making this crossing in the dead of summer.  The sand is a strange, ever changing part of the landscape.  The dunes here are not huge.  It’s seems there’s just enough lose sand to menace, but never cover the old trade road. Every hour or so you come across a rogue dune that the winds have seen fit to straddle the road with.  You spend quite a bit of time navigating around these as the day gives you little else to think of besides your own hunger.

 You press on a little longer today, deciding to make a concerted effort to reach the distant spire and camp there tonight.  As you near the walls, weary from sun, saddle soars, hunger, and sand finding its way into every part of your gear, you smell roasted lamb. It couldn’t be…Then you can just barely make out in the dream like, darkening sky wisps of smoke rising from behind the walls which surround the Megalith!

The Desert Herders

Some friendly desert herders are camped here tonight.  They are nervous at the arrival of the armed players, but when it’s obvious they are not bandits, they figure it’s best to get on their friendly side, and besides, sharing is a tradition of the desert herders.  They feed the players their first real meal in days, and the leader entertains them with a tale of the deserts…

 A Tale of Two Generals

 After the fall of the Tein Ming Empire, two rulers were set to fight over Absolon and its surrounding plain.  The wizard king No Dai of the mountain kingdom of Valos to the north, and the Priestess Queen of the great city state of Haroth to the south, Queen Wrathna.  Both armies were camped within a hundred miles of Absolon, one to the north, and the other to the south.  Both were preparing to fight one another, and to besiege Absolon. To this end, it was expected each would send out its spies to the city and to the opposing camp.  Each would gather information and carefully plan, and then no doubt they would attack in the spring.

The sultan of Absolon played a clever trick to lure each of these ambitious rulers into attacking earlier then they planned.  He sent an envoy to each, swearing to all the ancient gods and the founders of Absolon, that he would open his gates, and fully surrender his city to the one who could take and hold the plains of Absolon by the last full moon of March.  Both sides used magic to make sure the sultan was not bluffing, and he was not!  Both sides knew a siege of Absolon would be costly and prolonged.  They took the bait and each army raced towards the plain of Absolon to fight for the prize, the city of Absolon itself.

What neither No Dai nor Wrathna knew, was that in the month of March, a great cold wind blows down from the north and fills the plain of Absolon with fierce sand storms.  The crafty sultan had tricked his two enemies into fighting a massive battle in the midst of this blinding madness.  Furthermore, it is said the Sultan made a deal with a powerful Djinn, a demon of the deserts, to insure the sand storms would be fierce beyond all knowing.

For weeks the two forces clashed in battles of magic and steel.  In the storms, which sometimes lasted for days, entire companies of men became separated from their divisions.  Divisions became separated from their supply trains, and commanders had difficulty knowing where all their forces where, and where they were winning, and where they were being pushed back.  To make matters worse, as supply lines were broken and confusion set in, both massive armies were forced to ever expand and thin out their front lines in order to prevent being out flanked or surrounded.  This only made things worse.  Units would blunder into enemy camps while simply trying to find their place in the battle line.  Isolated pockets of men, not knowing where the fighting was, were forced to abandon the battle in last ditch efforts to hunt or forage food.  For weeks, random battles erupted, always unexpectedly across the front.  Entire Divisions would disappear, and it would take the generals precious days to find out whether they had succumbed to starvation, been wiped out in battle, become lost, or simply given up the madness and deserted.

According to legend, both armies were destroyed, and with them, an entire generation.  The two kingdoms were said to have thus not only been defeated, but to have been permanently crippled and robbed of any future conquests.  As for No Dai and Wrathna, both stubbornly fought to the last, even when the battle reached its most chaotic, hopeless, and confused moments towards the end.  In the end, few who fought in those blasting desert winds survived to tell the tale, and King No Dai and Queen Wrathna were lost as well…The sultan had defeated two great rivals, without ever lifting a single blade.  He had done so with a clever trick, and by risking everything.

Day 17: A Brief Respite


 Another day in the desert, though by midday the ground is decidedly less sandy, and small tufts of grass and stubborn weeds rise up here and there.  The desert seems to slowly be changing into a plain.  The terrain is broken up by thick patches of arid brush with tiny, crispy white flowers that filll the air with a subtle sweet fragrance and crumble when touched.  A small ancient stone bridge crosses a dry riverbed that snakes off to a range of snow covered mountains becoming just visible to the north.  Then, you here a sound you’ve not heard in many, many days, that of running water.  Ahead…another bridge, but this one over running water!

The water here is good and the players can completely restock here.

Day 18: The Absolon Outpost

Make Starvation Checks DC 15:

A small outpost consisting of 4 large red adobe buildings sits off to the south of the road.  The buildings are joined by a low wall of the same stuff.  There’s a well at the center of the complex.  The place looks abandoned.


The men who man this outpost fled with their king.  Everything has been stripped.  There is nothing of value left behind.  It will make an eerie, but defensible camp, though nothing attacks in the night. A search will reveal a rope hidden in the sand that leads to a trap door.

Within an earthen pit lies a barrel with enough horse feed for 1 day!

***You guys found this and as I recall, it helped a lot because the horses were getting pretty bad at this point.

Day 19: Last Stretch of Road to Absolon


By all accounts, you should reach Absolon today.  The arid plain is showing more and more signs of life.  Small bugs and tiny birds dart from patches of brush, or lit across the surface of small streams. It seems at least water is now easier to find.  Though the landscape is shifting from sand to arable land, there are constant reminders you are still at the edge of a desert. Rogue sand dunes dot the flat land, as solitary giants or in small groups.  Vast amounts of sand still blow in from the north and west and pile up here in strange ever shifting piles that roam across the land in slow motion response to the wind.  Lizards lurk upon the bizarre, half buried rock sculptures, catching the sun.  The first trees you catch sight of are trees you may or may not have ever seen…palm trees!

The sun will be down in 2 hours and the wind is whipping up cold and unforgiving.  Dust devils and long veils of escaping sand trail off of the tips of the highest dunes like columns of smoke drifting low in the wind.  Absolon, or what could only be Absolon comes into view and a since of indescribable relief sets over you.  Even the horses seem to recognize hope and manage to plod along a little faster.  Perhaps as your mind begins to race with visions of spiced lamb and pita bread, their heads are filled with horse like dreams of cool shaded stables and buckets of fresh carrots.

Absolon is like a Massive version of Ulgark, an ancient city on a timeless formation of rocky hills, probably built by the same ancient civilization.  Unlike Ulgark it’s surrounded by a truly massive plain that spreads out for days in all directions, Snow covered mountains of dizzying height lie in all directions at the edges of this land.  Absolon is huge.  With 3 walls encircling its heights.  The inner most wall encircles a large but crumbling citadel, and across from it what looks like a fortified temple.  Between this inner most wall and the next wall are larger buildings of newer make, most 3 or 4 stories high and adorned with bright flags and banners.  They look like Inns, apartments, warehouses, brothels and casinos, and boarding houses for entire caravans.  The ring of city sandwiched between the outermost walls is out of view behind their high stony profiles, but you can guess this place is probably a dirty slum that serves as the poor district.  The gate you are approaching seems rather quiet.  As you close you’re surprised to see dozens of walled farm house stretching out from the city in all directions.  A great number of small streams crisscross the plain, flowing from the mountains to the north, and the people here have found a way to cultivate something worth growing.

A Storm Blows In!

 A battle in the Sand Storm…Keep in mind the following:


The Godless Stretch is quite literally cut off from the gods.  As such, no priest spell above 2nd level will function, and any attempt to turn undead, or use an ability which uses up a turn attempt, must be met with a DC 10 wisdom check, otherwise it fails and the turn attempt is lost.  Note, a cleric may continue to retry.

Sand Storms:

Visibility is constantly shifting.  Whenever someone attempts to target someone with a ranged spell or attack, first role 2d4 to determine how many squares they can see at that moment.  If the target is outside that range, they have no LOS to it!  If they have a move action they may choose to move towards the target to bring it into sight.  Area of effect spells are not affected.  It’s assumed that if a blaster spots a target they will still be able to blast it, within reason.

Combat Effects:

The sand is distracting and blinding.  All attacks and skill checks are made at -2.  Note, incorporeal creatures, and creatures who do not depend on vision or sound are unaffected by this.  Also, the winds make ranged combat extremely difficult.  All missile fire is at -4.

Fatigue and Exhaustion:

Some players will be starved out and under the effects of fatigue or exhaustion.

Wagon Horses:

Guiding the horses through the sand storm will require someone with the handle animal skill to make a DC 10 check each round to get the wagons to move that round.  This person will have to be dismounted, and at the head of each wagon, literally calming, cajoling, and pleading with the horses.  For each round one of the undead are within 30 feet of a horse, a DC 10 handle animal check is required to keep the horses from bolting.


Only Hrothgar has a trained warhorse.  The others will have to make a DC ride check as a move action each round to keep their horses under control, failure means they move 2d4 in a random direction.  For each 4 rolled, roll an additional d4! If a player dismounts they will get a +2 to this check.

The Walking Dead!

The spirits of the great war on the plains of Absolon move from left to right in a straight line.  Any time they come within 8 squares of a living creature roll 2d4 and if that creature is in range, they take notice and attack.  The players must make 12 successful moves before the sands briefly clear and they see Absolon in sight.  At this point, they may make a run for it.

The Spirits of Lost Soldiers in the Sand Storm

The Spirits of Lost Soldiers in the Sand Storm

 ***Ok, this really brings me back.  I remember standing around my bar with you all, because that’s where we played this battle out.  Under those dim colored bar lights in the old house…I miss that moment, I really appreciate it I must say.  This battle was the climax of the first part of your trip.  This would be “that part” if it was a movie.  I’m really proud of how I put this battle together, of how it challenged you guys in weird ways, and of how you got through it…man, Caris got dropped, Hroth barely saved her, riding her out on his horse…at one point the wagon lost control and got turned around…and all the while the dead shambled across the field.  I seem to remember at one point Grognak’s horse bolted and rode him towards the ghosts! I still get the visuals, this was a great part of the story for me on all levels!

Day 19: Absolon


Absolon comes into view through the howling sand storm.

Into the city

The guards at the outer gate of the city are polite and snap to like servants.  They ask no questions, demand no pay, and do everything possible to help get your wagons inside.  Once beyond the gate you’re shocked at the road ahead.  One straight path leads directly through the cities lower district to the gates which lead into the upper district.  This well paved path is flanked by 20 ft high stone walls along its entire length, so as to make this road a corridor of sorts.  Thus, you ride through the lower districts without even seeing them.  Periodically there are small gates off to the side that allow access into the lower wards, but they are locked and heavily guarded.  You wonder, perhaps some of you even with a since of shame, just what indignities the people who live in the walled slums beyond must endure.

Once at the next gate the processing is a bit slower.  There is the usual accounting of men, merchandise, and destination.  The usual toll and the usual inspections.  As part of Jamba’s caravan you are required to pay nothing, but by the shaking of his head you can tell he’s had to pay a hefty fee.  He is given a sash of red silk with golden tassel trim which designates him in the city as part of the merchant class.  You are lectured by a portly guard in shining scale mail armor and a pointy helmet, that since you are caravan guards, you are allowed to remain armed, but you can only carry your weapons in public so long as you are within 10 paces of the merchant you guard, and you must never draw them unless attacked.  When you are not so closely beside your merchant you must stow your weapons out of sight, or leave them wherever it is you’re staying.  Punishment is confiscation of all goods, a severe beating, and banishment from the city.

 The first Sights

Once through the gates there is no sign of a raging sand storm.  Could it be some kind of magic keeps the desert sands outside the walls? You slowly progress east down a wide lane that passes through a great square that Jamba says the locals call the spice market.  Everything is lit by softly glowing colored globes of glass hung from soaring Iron archways spanning the streets. Life sized sculptures of rearing horses made of polished bronze emit bright gouts of flame into the night air above from their perfectly carved nostrils, consuming gallons of scented oil to light the city night. Giant vases filled with flowering trees line the thoroughfare. The square ahead is ringed tall buildings with gaudy and gilded facades.  Some look like white columned Greek styles temples, others are made to look like miniature oriental palaces, and still others like the opulent mansions of some sultan.  These are opium dens and haberdasheries, brothels and bath houses where rough looking mercenaries, foreign nobles and dark skinned merchants of the land rub shoulders, nothing in common save the wealth to feast upon the decadence here.  All around the smell of rich tobacco, roasted lamb, baking bread and exotic spices wrestle with the sounds of ethnic drums and chimes and the twanging of the stringed instruments of myriad street players.

Beautiful courtesans lounge on hammocks and the pillow covered eves of flower covered porches, feeding one another grapes and giggling. Great drunken shouts come up from the crowd as they pour wine directly into each others mouths from gold and crystal decanters that flash in the night. With playful purpose they spill and spit wine down their white gossamer gowns. Some sway in dance with bells on their fingers and flower garlands hung from their necks. Wine soaked gowns cling to seductive bodies, revealing all to the tempted masses, red like the blood of spilt innocence, and fueling a tangible carnal appetite that flows like waves of heat through the crowd.

Yet more ladies of the night hang lazily from the highest balconies of Absolon’s most famous pleasure palaces on swings hung with sweet smelling flowers. They swing gently in the firelight through the warm scented air draped in golden silks, but mostly naked, and men of unimaginable wealth gather below to outbid each other for the right to spend a night with one of the cities legendary harlots.  You have indeed stepped into a strange new world. 

The square itself is filled with rows of merchant’s stalls.  Each shaded by colorful awnings of canvas, each fronted by a table draped in rich cloths and covered in bowls of Exotic wood and copper, where piles of vibrant colored spices lie.  Men and women in rich dress move from table to table, eying and tasting the spices with expert prejudice.  Intense arguments over pigment and bouquet seem to constantly erupt as noble haggles with merchant in an intensity you can scarcely understand, all in stark contrast to the utter pursuit of leisure taking place at the squares edges.

 At the center of the spice market lies a collection of large pavilions lit by long chains of colored paper lanterns. Here lies an outdoor restaurant.  Beneath the tasseled awnings are strewn plush rugs.  Silk couches and velvet chairs with gilded ottomans arranged in groups around low tables of dark glossy wood, piled high with fresh fruits and shanks of steaming meat on silver platters, surrounded by richly dressed persons, engaged in hi strung conversations, or passed out in awkward positions.  In one such eatery a clay oven, nearly two stories high and in the shape of a gigantic hookah serves as a kitchen. It’s surrounded by sandy pits of hot coals where whole chickens roast, prep tables where sides of lamb are carved up and blood is spilt on the dirt floors as readily as wine is spilt on the carpets beyond.  An army of shirtless, white turbaned servants turn out an avalanche of food to satisfy a river of wealthy patrons, all under the glare of stern looking owners, who can go from a belly laugh to a glaring rage and back again in the blink of an eye.  Amidst the scene, dozens of brightly colored performers feel the air with music and chatter.  You’ve heard such troupes make their living as much from grifting their audiences as from entertaining them.  They stay clear of the local men, plying their trade on the overpaid caravan guards that wonder about in opium and ale induced stupors, overcome by the lure of this place.  Everyone here is too intense or too relaxed, too loud, too talkative, eerily silent, intensely focused on some small thing, or not focused at all on anything.  This is Absolon.

Absolon at night

Absolon at night

Days 25-47: The Northern Reach.

 You leave behind the last of the small kingdoms that stretch north of Absolon.  The land seems to have stayed the same for a week, and goes on staying the same.  High mountains to the east, plains and a river to the west.  Rolling grasslands, fair weather with very cold, windy nights.

 All the rain seems to fall against the mountains and flood down across the plains running east to west and joining with the huge river that runs south back towards Absolon.  It’s very quiet and peaceful out here, though it’s hard to appreciate.  You fins it’s hard not to be either paranoid or bored.  All that slogging around, getting the wagons up the hills and through the mud was miserable, but it did pass the time.  None of that here, the hills are gentle, the weather fine.  Once or twice you have to fjord a river where a bridge had washed out, but other than that, there’s not much to speak of.

Sometimes you wonder if the Armies of Absolon are on your heels, speeding north, not necessarily after you, just on the move.  They could be just a day behind, and that though does give some purpose.  In reality they are probably more than a hundred miles south by now.  Jamba tells you to be weary of bandits, but none come. One day you spot horsemen on a distant ridge who ride away.  For days you are on alert, could they be following you, waiting for a chance to attack?  They never do.

 Days 48: The Kingdom of Shin

 You have at last reached civilization, if you can call it that.  A small fortified outpost called Shuku, on the western edge of a kingdom called Shinto.  Shinto is said to be a wild place ruled by a bandit king.  A place where dozens of small tribes barely manage to get a long and etch out a living in the harsh land scape.  For centuries, many of these peoples have lived well only by launching raids against one another and the merchant caravans that pass through during the spring and summer.  Once this place was considered the most dangerous part of the trade route, but something has changed in the past 5 or 6 years.  This so called bandit king seems to have gained some real power over the various tribes, and a new way has come into being.  Merchants who are willing to work with the bandit king, by using his trade route and paying certain dues are not only left alone, they are actually protected by the clans which only a decade before would mercilessly attack them.

 As for the land, Shinto is where the mountains in the east, which seem to divide the land and sky in two for thousands of miles, meet with cool, dry plains to the west.  As such it is a land of small valleys and rugged foot hills where sage, manzinita and other hardy shrubs grow in dense quantities.  The land is shot through with streams that come off the mountains, and along their banks grow oak and pine.

 This is a place where two peoples come together.  On the western edge of Shinto where the plains cut deep into the foothills, the fierce horsemen known as the Notari. To the east, deeper in the hills the Shinto people, who are said to have once ruled over Yunshan, have settled in to their fortified villages and terraced farms.  The two might have been engaged in a perpetual struggle against one another, and this place just a savage forgotten land if not for one thing.  It sits on an ancient trade route that passes right through it, and right through one of the only known passes in the mountains to the east, right into Yunshan.  As such, men of power have always longed to tame this land, to possess it.  So far, only this mysterious king has been able to make peace between the Notari, the Shinto, and the merchant guilds that use this road.  From what you hear though, it is still far from being a tamed land.

The players will stay the night at this outposts small inn, but several thugs, claiming to have the authority of The Bandit King, will try and shake the place down during the night.

***A quick but crazy battle takes place in the common room of the inn, where the players snuff out 5 thugs who are trying to beat up the innkeeper and an official of the king.  The thugs do in fact have ties to the king, and you all realized you are potentially fugitives now.  A very long and painful discussion ensued, in which it was determined the safest thing to do would be to separate from Jamba.  He could pretend he had nothing to do with you, and have the best chance to start a new life in the City of Otto further north.  You all on the other hand, might find yourselves hunted if you head to Otto, especially if these thugs were important.  You decided to strike out cross country, leaving the roads behind.  If you keep heading north east you will eventually hit the road that heads up the Shinen Li pass and on to Yunshan.  So Jamba and his family set out north, and you all headed out northeast.

Day 48: I am Ninja

Ishumura has been tracking the players, and has decided to bring them before the King to be judged.  He saw them go into their rope trick, and will be waiting for them in the morning when they come down!

***I wish I could recount the details of this battle round for round, as you fought for your lives against this one opponent.  Poisoned ninja stars, invisibility, and a wooden ninja to were his weapons.  He seemed to be skirting the battle, taking pot shots at you all as Grognak launched explosions and Tealia dropped lightning bolts, all in an attempt to get a luck hit on the invisible ninja.  In the end there was a moment when the tables turned, and Ishumura was the one fighting for his life.  He got away, and you pushed east ever faster, worried more agents of the Bandit King might be on your tail.  I seem to remember most of the party on the ground in a bloody dogile towards the end.