The Steel Bands
An Loose Threads Adventure
The Company is at a Caravansarai, a kind of inn and meeting point for Caravans that crosses the Desert through the commercial routes of Gold and Silk Road, where they hear stories about the dilemma of Faithful Henry (or Iron Henry), but by the his real name, Hassam (in the West he assumed the name Henry when served as steward for some dukes) all around. When (and if) they asks the caravan-men, they will tell the story of how the Sultan Al-Hashid was turned into a frog by a wicked desert wizard and sent to a land far away by a terrible vulture. But recently, Faithful Hassam discovered that his master was released from his curse in a distant land and brought him back, with the foreigner princess who freed him.
Recently, however, Faithful Hassam had grown sully again, and it’s said that this is due the fact that his heart was again put into Steel Bands, which he asked to be placed by one of the Jann of the desert, so his heart would not burst with sorrow and desolation.
Some say this was because he fell in love with the criminal known as The Desert Lady-Thief. She had her head put under a price by the Sultan Vizier, Hamad, as a thief and murderer after several caravans were alleged attacked by her.
If they look for Hassam, he will tell his story and show his chest: everyone can see three stripes at the chest where his heart is: very likely those stripes are the three steel bands that the Jann placed to hold his heart whole. He appears to be cold, but certainly this is due of the steel bands.
“I have always been faithful to my master, but he does not listen to me on this case! I don’t believe she is a murderer as they say! I just didn’t left my station as my Sultan’s steward for the loyalty I have to him… But I had bound my heart again by steel bands to not burst in sorrow! What had I done to the Gods to deserve such unhappiness?” he says
- Problem: Faithful Hassam is torn between happiness and duty, because his other half was branded as a thief and murderer by the Sultan;
- Solution: Discover the truth behind all this and try to convince the Sultan to lift the death penalty, so they two could have their Happy Ending
If they look for the Sultan, Hassam himself will have a time to talk with it, being him from a very important station among the servants of the Sultan as a Steward. The Sultan will talk with the Company and explain that the Vizier Hamad has found that the Lady-Thief wants to overthrow the order in the Kingdom and upraise a revolution among the people to seize his power. The Sultan himself will say that they have no evidence, but the Vizier Hamad is a wise man who was Vizier and Counselor since before his Father.
The Vizier will speak very little, only claim that the Lady-Thief co-opted Hassam by arts of seduction, and that she’s making him go against where his loyalties should really be. One curious thing the Company will see is that the Vizier uses a Ring of Power where a Genie is held captive. In the case, a powerful Ifrit, a Fire Spirit, powerful and dangerous, but restrained and contained by the magical arts and spells laced into the Ring.
On the other hand, if the characters go into talk with the people in Cafes, Inns and Markets, they will see that they love Sultan Al-Hashid as much as Hassam and Fatima, the real name of the Lady-Thief. Everyone believes that the kingdom will be much better if Fatima and Hassam got married and in stations of power, and everyone knows about the self-imposed punishment that Hassam has put up on himself in the two times. Curiously, the Vizier is hated, although people do not speak it clearly because of the spies and guards he had spread all around. They call him Hasad Hamad (Jealous Hamad) , and they know that the Vizier has always tried to seize the power and be the Sultan, although he always get away with this because he did this undercover. During the period when the Janni cursed Hashid (or so people thinks), he was Lord of the Sultanate, and it was when Fatima turned into The Lady-Thief.
The people is not sure that the Janni actually had cursed Hashid: he was raised in the Ancient Wisdom, and had some of the best preceptors and Suffis as teachers, so he was (or would) be educated into the traditions of the Desert People. Even the Tuaregs was respected: they will confirm that it would impossible for Hashid to violate the Laws of Hospitality or acting against Janni or any other thing that would be enough to put him into a so great curse.
The people will also say that Hamad is a powerful magician, and acquainted into the mystical traditions of the Suffi, so he is sire of many powers. Although he does not know the magic needed to transfigurate a person’s form (or so they thinks), he knows lots of magic, and every time the Tuaregs attempted something against the Sultanate, they had gone under big defeats under his hands. The only person who apparently can fight against the Vizier is The Lady-Thief.
It is also a known fact that the Vizier has cached lots of political power, especially around the Bedouins of the Oasis: many of their most influential leaders owe favors to the Vizier, who has helped them with certain charms and sortilegies against the worst animals of the Desert and some of the most dangerous Janni. This may be a great problem, as this put the people of the Sultanate on a dangerous collision route against the Desert Janni, and the Janni hates to be put under submission, even more into their own territory.
Most likely they will ask where The Lady-thief hides herself, and everyone will say that she can be found somewhere in the Desert. The Company probably will need to haggle for supplies to survive in the fierce Desert, specially the precious water. Always remember them that the place is warm by day and cold at night: proper clothes and water are almost as precious as gold in the Desert, if not more.
The Company can get into the In-Between easily as it basically surrounds the kingdom and go as far as the horizon, here and there punctuated with the life-saving Oasis, places of abundance in the middle of the desolation of the desert, that the caravaners uses as route for Gold and Silk road, where caravans goes with trading goods from the East to the West and vice versa, resting into the Oasis and the Caravansarai, large walled inns that provides caravans safety against the dangers of the desert and all kinds facilities, both of physical, like water wells and supplies’ vendors, and of spiritual level.
Here they will look for the Lady-Thief’s Gang and see how much of the Vizier story is truth (and the truth behind what is not). Snakes, Scorpions and other animals can be seen occasionally, as can be the eagles and vultures that prey on them, and other animals such as hedgehogs and desert rats that feed on the few flowers and trees that can be seen in the desert. Snags will appear to provide players with challenges and clues about the whole thing.
Poisonous snakes and scorpions can be found all around: they are insidious creatures with powerful venoms that they use very well. They receive +2 to attack with their fangs or stings. If a PC is hit, treat this also as a Challenge between the Poison’s Power (from Fair (+2) to Great (+4), GM’s discretion) against the PC’s Physique, albeit the damage normally provoked, the PC suffering a Poisoned Aspect.
Eagles and Vultures usually attack from the air, with +2 when attacking flying, while Hyenas attacks as a pack with +2, but at -2 when attacking alone
Leopards attack during the day, catching surprised characters. They hide in small brushes of parched trees, receiving +2 to hide and attack surprised targets. Because they are impulsive, they receive -2 by defending themselves after attacking quickly.
Small rodents and predators, such as meerkats, skunks and rats are dangerous at night, at least when provoked. When attacking, they attack in packs, with +2 when attacking in pack. On the other hand, they are usually weak when solitary, receiving -2 when defending themselves when attacked individually.
Finally, hedgehogs and porcupines are normally peaceful, only attacking with the large prickles they have when provoked. Normally, they get +2 for the prickles, and -2 when they attempt to attack intentionally.
The Sand Storms are really dangerous: treat as a Challenge between the Athletics of the PC against a Good (+3) Risk, for each PC: if at least one of the characters wins the Challenge, they will be able to resist the Sandstorm, but those who was defeated should absorb a 3-stress Attack, or temporarily goes Blind (an Aspect that can be treated as a Mild Consequence). A Resource check against the Consequence level will be enough for the PCs to remove the Blindness (as this was provoked by the sand in their eyes), but a Fail can cause them to lose some of the precious water they still have. Lore can also be useful into some of those checks, but a Failure turned into a Success with a Cost can cause a Moderate Consequence Spoilt Provisions
The Extreme Climate in the desert are also a problem: a character who fails in Lore Checks may not prepare himself properly (use this as a Secret Aspect to be Compelled against the PCs). The weather is very hot during the day but during the nights are almost as dangerous as into the day due to the inclement cold. A Failure in Knowledge may also indicate that they have not purchased adequate supplies, which may either spoil or sour, and may render them sick if they consume those Spoilt Provisions.
The Fake Caravan is something that provides the characters a way to unveil part of the plot: a group of Corrupted Bedouins is under the Vizier’s pockets. The characters will discover that they are actually pretending they are being stolen, the goods “lost” going to the Vizier’s personal caches located in the Desert and guarded by a series of terrible Ali Baba-liked Challenges.
A really serious problem for those who don’t understand how things works in the Desert are the Laws of Hospitality. Abusing or neglecting the surrounding communities is something in the Desert as lethal as Naja’s poison. If, at any time, the characters go against the Laws of Hospitality, they will receive an appropriate Appearance that they cannot Invoke. They’ll need a really serious Test of Kindness for the PCs worthy of consideration under the Laws. Unworthy characters will not normally be received well in the Oasis and will not even have access to its resources, including the always precious water. Furthermore, any Bedouin who is unscrupulous enough to deal with Unworthy people will actually extort the characters. While under an Unworthy Aspect, the difficulty of all Resources checks for trading in the Desert increases by +2.
Finally, there’s groups of Tuaregs that usually attack unsuspecting characters (Fair (+2) Notice checks). They are ferocious and quick to attack, but they are cowards: if the characters defeat at least half of them, they will flee desperately, using sand powder to avoid being persecuted … But if the characters want to chase them, give them the chance of finding some treasures and goods into their lairs in the Desert into the best Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves style.
The Desert is the path of huge caravans of Traders and Bedouins, crossing the Gold and Silk Road that passes off the Sultanate through the Desert, and sometimes inhabits the Oasis, and also is home to the famous mystical sages Suffis, that hide in caves and lairs around the desert, where they can practice their mystical arts in peace and solitude. Also this is home of the powerful and dangerous Janni who live among the elements of the desert, as well of the Tuaregs, dangerous robbers and bandits of the desert, looking for the largest dunes and some clusters of rocks where they can hide.
The Desert Janni have been hunted by evil Magician and Suffis by long for their powers. Those who are captured are under the will of their holder. The Magic to imprison a Jann is complex, but many Suffis knows how to do this. One reason the Vizier is doing everything to kill the Lady-thief is to make Hassam’s heart to explode into sorrow and unhappiness, literally: he believes that by doing this, he will get the alchemical materials to alchemical transmute a powerful amulet to contain the King of the Desert Janni
The Lady-Thief Fatima Hakim Samara bint Mudiya ibn Rashid (Fatima Samara, the Wise Daughter of the Enlightened One, son of the Just One), was raised as a princess by his Father, one of the oldest Suffis sages of the Desert. Nicknamed Tarik Amina (Princess of the Dates, for her beauty), she was raised up to be a Princess, until she was 12-year-old. However, when the Vizier cursed Prince Hashid and turned him into become a frog, she took her weapons and raised her Suffi court against the Vizier.
When the prince returned with a foreign princess, she felt some jealousy, but as Henry (or Hassam, as she knew him) became part of the court, she fell in love with him, and he with her. At the same time she accepted the fact that she could be a counselor and still follow her destiny to provide Hashid good counsels.
But it was when the Vizier interfered and said that she was a thief that stole from the caravans that came from both the West and the East. The truth is that she knows that the Vizier is Corrupted and is in secret the Desert Tuaregs leader.
The Vizier put Fatima’s head under a prize and then she had to hide herself in the desert, using her knowledge as Suffi to survive. As she was charged with a crime (although she was innocent), she can’t get into the Oasis, since the Laws of Hospitality doesn’t apply against criminals.
The Company can help Fatima by cleanse her name in front of the Sultan. This can cost them a Curse (having the Vizier as an enemy), or giving up the Heart Desire (killing the Vizier will free the Ifrit that is imprisoned by the same that can be grateful to the Company for this). Another way can be an Impossible Task imposed by Vizier, or characters may have to work together with Suffi or Janni. Going against them can cost them a Curse or a Promise.