Solo Skald |||

Adventures in Acid Death Fantasy - Part 3

In the last session, Zamug, an agent for a Freshwater Grub crime lord, found the Starsleigh, which was a crashed golden barge in the form of a zephyr-chariot. It carries up to 4 people but cannot fly north owing to the damage from a crash. He is seeking a way to repair it and get it flying again.

Rumors circulate of a reclusive, four-armed Alqai master craftsman who possesses the knowledge and skills to repair the Starsleigh. Zamug must venture into the Wastes, navigate their dangers, and find this master craftsman.

Scene 1: Shurupak Bazaar

Per the Acid Death Fantasy (ADF) sourcebook I’m using for this game of Troika!, the Alqai, four armed metal-workers, emerge from the Duneholds to sell exquisitely worked goods.” But their Duneholds are hidden, so Zamug heads to a bazaar to find out where they are.

The sun beats down on the vibrant and lively bazaar of Shurupak, casting a golden hue over the colorful canopies that shelter the numerous stalls. The air is filled with a cacophony of voices haggling and bartering, the laughter of children, and the distant hum of exotic music. Aromas from various food vendors mingle with the scent of exotic spices, enticing Zamug as he navigates the bustling marketplace.

Zamug’s eyes scan the stalls, searching for the distinct craftsmanship of Alqai metalwork. He spots a display shimmering in the sunlight, adorned with intricate metallic sculptures, delicate jewelry, and expertly crafted weapons. Approaching the stall, he is met with the warm smile of an Alqai merchant, her four arms deftly showcasing her wares to eager customers.

Ah, welcome, traveler!” the merchant exclaims, her voice melodic and inviting. You have an eye for quality, I see. These are the finest creations of our people. Is there something specific you seek?”

Zamug, trying to appear nonchalant, gestures towards the display. Your work is truly impressive. I’m actually interested in learning more about your people and the Duneholds where these beautiful pieces are crafted. Could you share any information on their locations?”

The Alqai merchant’s eyes narrow, and she leans in closer, her voice dropping to a whisper. Information like that is not so easily shared, my friend. The locations of our Duneholds are closely guarded secrets. However, I might be willing to help you, for the right price.”

Zamug nods, understanding the need for discretion. He fingers a delicate bronze bracelet adorned with intricate patterns, pretending to be interested in the piece. Very well, I’m prepared to pay for your assistance. What would you consider a fair trade?”

I roll to see if Zamug can do this cheaply; on a success, he’ll need to pay 1d6 silver pieces, but on a failure, that will double to 2d6 silver pieces. He fails and will need to pay 2d6 = 9 silver.

The merchant’s eyes gleam as she watches Zamug’s subtle interest in the bracelet. For that piece and the information you seek, I believe a generous sum of silver coins would be suitable.”

Zamug nods in agreement, reaching into his pouch and counting out the gold coins, placing them into the Alqai merchant’s outstretched hand. As the coins exchange hands, she leans in once more, whispering the location of the nearest Dunehold into Zamug’s ear, along with a few words of advice on how to approach it safely.

With a nod of gratitude, Zamug dons the bracelet and disappears into the bustling crowd, now one step closer to his goal.

Scene Complication: an NPC acts suddenly.” None of the existing NPCs in my notes are suitable, nor on the list of NPCs I have generated for this adventure, so I ask the One Page Solo Engine to generate one for me. It suggests an adherent” whose goal is Create / Mystical”. This adherent has an obvious physical trait: Mundane / Mystical”. I interpret this as a tattooed cultist from the group that Zamug took down when he manipulated the Monarch’s Guard into arresting their leaders, Ninsun and Qisht-Ea. I roll a few more times on some of the OPSE oracles, which indicate that the cultist’s attitude is about average” and the topic is Equipment / Mystical”. Do they recognize Zamug (even)? Yes. So the cultist begins to invoke a curse somehow related to the bracelet Zamug is wearing. This requires a roll to Test Luck; if Zamug fails, I’ll figure out what the curse does, but instead he succeeds.

As Zamug weaves through the throngs of people in the bazaar, the bronze bracelet glints on his wrist, drawing the attention of a heavily tattooed cultist standing nearby. The cultist’s eyes narrow in recognition, and his expression turns to one of seething anger. He remembers Zamug’s involvement in the arrest of his cult’s leaders by the Monarch’s Guard.

Determined to enact his revenge, the tattooed cultist steps forward, blocking Zamug’s path. With a menacing snarl, he raises his arms, fingers splayed, and begins chanting in an arcane language. The air around him crackles with dark energy, and the bracelet on Zamug’s wrist begins to vibrate and emit a faint glow.

Sensing the impending danger, Zamug clenches his fist, steeling himself against the malevolent force that the cultist is attempting to channel. The curse, designed to bind and torment him, seems to struggle against an invisible barrier as Zamug stands his ground.

In an act of defiance, Zamug shouts a challenge at the cultist, his voice strong and unwavering. Your foul magic will not have any hold on me! You underestimate my resilience!”

The cultist’s face contorts with frustration, sweat beading on his forehead as he pours every ounce of his power into the curse. Yet, Zamug remains unaffected, the dark energy dissipating harmlessly around him.

Visibly exhausted and defeated, the cultist ceases his chanting, and the sinister aura that surrounded him dissipates. The bracelet on Zamug’s wrist stops glowing, its vibrations subsiding as the curse is broken.

Into the Wastes

How far away is the Dunehold? More than expected”, so I’ll roll 2d6 for the number of days of travel, which turns out to be 9. He’s got his camping equipment and 33 Provisions left over from the previous adventure, which should be plenty for 9 days of travel. If needed, he could buy more at the Dunehold.

Preparation

My previous approach for desert exploration hinged on two factors: the fact that Zamug was trying to find a fort whose location was unknown, and that I was using an existing scenario with an encounter table specifically for that purpose.

This time, however, Zamug intends to travel to a specific, known location. I will use the Wilderness Adventure process from Scarlet Heroes (SH) instead, although I’ll omit the terrain type step since this is generally desert wasteland. If needed, I could roll a Yes/No or How question to get more details, but it likely will not be.

Just as before, he will need to consume Provisions at least once per day. I decide that he will buy a mount before leaving; while he’s not particularly skilled at it, the base game says everyone is assumed to have basic animal riding Skill though anything more than trotting slowly will require some kind of roll to avoid trouble.” A Sprinting Beast is a good approximation of a horse: One of the few Wasteland creatures rideable by humans, they are employed as couriers and for scouting missions.” So Zamug will purchase a mount for 100 sp, named Puzu”.

Day 1

Starting off, the Event and Feature thresholds are both set to 1. No encounter occurs this day, nor Event, so the Event threshold increases to 2. There’s no Feature, either, so the Feature threshold also increases to 2. Zamug’s Provisions are reduced by 2 (1 for him, 1 for Puzu), down to 31.

Day 2

An Event occurs: Rest 1d4 days or lose a mount.” Zamug has a mount, so he needs to choose whether to rest 1d4 = 1 day or lose Puzu. I’m not sure why this occurs, so I’ll turn to the Oracular Adjectives and Motivations” (SH p. 115): Struggle”. Perhaps there was some minor encounter with a wild animal that Puzu was able to fend off, but it was a close call. Before resolving the Event, I’ll check whether there’s a Feature: no, so the Feature threshold increases to 3 but the Event threshold resets to 1.

Out in the wastes, is there a good place to rest (unlikely)? No. He’ll need to rig something up, but I don’t think this requires a Desert Survival roll. Puzu just needs to rest, so Zamug sets up a tent and a bedroll. Is there at least a large rock or cactus or something else to provide shade (likely)? No, and… the heat is making Puzu worse. Zamug needs to make a roll to Test Luck: on a failure, Puzu dies. He succeeds, so Puzu survives. They’ll consume 2 Provisions (down to 29) and endure the heat. The length of the journey before they reach the Dunehold increases to 10 days total.

Day 3

No Encounter nor Event occurs, so the Event threshold increases to 2. However, they do encounter a Feature, resetting that threshold to 1.

The Feature in this case is some sort of bridge built by lizardfolk. It’s currently choked with cacti and other desert plants, plus corpses of inhabitants”. Since Zamug is not a particularly skilled rider, he doesn’t want to risk pushing through the bridge. They’ll detour which adds 1d3 = 3 days to the journey, meaning they’ll reach the Dunehold on Day 13 now. They’ll consume 2 Provisions (down to 27).

As Zamug continues his journey through the Wastes, he spots a peculiar structure up ahead. Approaching cautiously, he realizes it’s a bridge built by lizardfolk, its design an amalgamation of wooden beams, ropes, and an assortment of other materials. Spanning a deep canyon, the bridge would be a convenient crossing point, potentially cutting days off Zamug’s travel time.

However, as he gets closer, Zamug observes that the bridge is far from safe. Cacti and other desert plants have overgrown the wooden planks, their sharp needles and thorny branches making the path treacherous. The sight of lizardfolk corpses strewn across the bridge, their lifeless bodies caught in the tangled vegetation, only adds to the sense of danger and foreboding.

The wind picks up, carrying with it the faint, unsettling scent of decay, and the bridge creaks ominously as it sways in the gusts. Standing at the edge of the canyon, Zamug weighs his options, his eyes flicking between the perilous bridge and the sheer walls of the chasm.

Ultimately, he decides that the risks of crossing the bridge are too great. Though detouring around the canyon will delay him several days, it is the safer option. With a resigned sigh, Zamug turns his back on the bridge, setting off along the canyon’s rim.

As he walks, the sun beats down relentlessly, and the ever-present wind continues to carve intricate patterns into the sand.

Day 4

No Encounter, Event, or Feature. The Event threshold increases to 3 and the Feature threshold to 2. Consume 2 Provisions (down to 25).

Day 5

No Encounter, Event, or Feature. The Event threshold increases to 4 and the Feature threshold to 3. Consume 2 Provisions (down to 23).

Day 6

No Encounter, but an Event occurs and a Feature is found. The Event is Out of water; forage or suffer thirst”, while the Feature is a dungeon! This dungeon is an abandoned army camp”, which turns out to be fairly large at 20 locations. This is a likely location to find water, but also carries some risk. Zamug will test his Desert Survival skill first to forage and fall back to exploring this camp if he fails: which he does, rolling a 9 over the 7 or less he needed. Procedurally, I intend to use the Dungeon Crawler generator in OPSE. Any time he encounters an Object of type 4-6 (“useful tool”, something valuable”, or rare or special item”), I’ll check with the Yes/No oracle to see if there’s water there, and if so, how much.

A bottle in the Kyzylkum Desert Photo by Jonathan Greenaway on Unsplash

Abandoned Army Camp

First, I want to know more about the locale. We’re in an area where the Alqai have an ages-old war with the Dune Riders”. Since the Alqai generally reside underground, I’ll ask the oracle whether this is a Dune Rider camp (likely): No, so it’s Alqai, which I’ll keep in mind as he explores and finds things.

Since this is an abandoned army camp, Alqai won’t be found here. I’ll write a very simple encounter table for the hostile enemies” possibility. On a d6:

  1. Glass Spirits
  2. False-Dune Snake
  3. Dune Ghouls
  4. Rogue Warflock
  5. Hyenamen
  6. Sandmantis

Location 1

  • Area with a special feature
  • Encounter with hostile enemies
  • Rare or special item

The first area always has three exits.

These results create as many questions as they do answers! The special feature is something Dignified / Technical” that does something to Oppose / Physical”, which I’ll interpret as a tactical planning area. The hostile enemies are Hyenamen, 2d6 = 7 of them, currently Comparing Trash”. The special item here is something Mundane / Technical” that does something Assist / Technical”. I’ll interpret this as a well-drawn, detailed map of the area. (Oops, forgot to check if it would be water… I’ll remember in the next location.)

So the Hyenamen are comparing the bits of trash they’ve found here, perhaps notating it on a map of the camp. They likely do not want competition in their scavenging, so Zamug will attempt to sneak past them to area 2: 8 under 9, which is a success.

Location 2

  • Area with a special feature
  • An obstacle blocks the way
  • Nothing, or mundane objects
  • 2 additional exits

This special feature is Specialized / Mystical” that does something Create / Mystical”, so it’s a religious shrine of some sort. That isn’t interesting or useful for Zamug’s purpose. What’s the obstacle in the way? Dignified / Social” used to Command / Mystical”, so perhaps an altar of some sort. He’ll need to move it and will use a crowbar (giving him +1) to do so: 6 under 7, success.

Location 3

  • Area with a special feature
  • No encounter
  • A useful tool, key, or device
  • 1 additional exit

The special feature is described as something Dignified / Physical” used to Assist / Physical”, so I think it’s a device used for grooming. Does the useful tool” have water (even)? No, but… there’s a container here that he can use to transport water when he finds it, sort of like a barrel with wheels. He’ll take it with him.

Location 4

  • Working or utility area
  • Unique NPC or adversary
  • Nothing, or mundane objects
  • 2 additional exits

What kind of a unique NPC is it? A Duneshark:

A soft hissing and the single, terrible dun fin slicing through the sands - a sure sign of young Worms or a starved duneshark. As such, they are cautiously followed by some groups, wandering on their stilts to avoid alerting the beasts of their presence.

This one is basking in the sun”, so perhaps it’s already fed here. Again, Zamug will attempt to sneak very carefully, not wishing to tangle with such a powerful creature: 9 equals 9, success (but only just). Perhaps it stirs a bit as he passes, but it doesn’t otherwise react.

Location 5

  • Typical area
  • No encounter
  • Nothing, or mundane objects
  • Dead end

Likely just an area where Alqai soldiers rested. But this dead end means he needs to backtrack to location 4 and go the other way. Can he pass the duneshark quietly again? 4 under 9, easy success.

Location 6

  • Area with a special feature
  • No encounter
  • Something valuable
  • Dead end

These special features come up far more often than expected, statistically speaking. This one is something Specialized / Technical” used to Take / Technical”. Is the something valuable” here water (likely)? Yes, and the feature itself is a well, perhaps a portable one. Zamug will fill his container with water here. Can he take it with him? Maybe, but he’d have to lug it past the duneshark, which seems really risky. He’ll leave it here.

But with this barrel full of water, he still needs to sneak past it (albeit not with the penalty I’d give him if he were also transporting a portable well). 7 under 9, success.

Back at Location 1

Are the Hyenamen still here (even)? Yes, and now they’re digging through trash. They almost certainly will not want him trundling off with a barrel of water, so he’ll need to sneak past them again. 10 over 9, failure. They notice him and pause.

I think his Desert Survival skill can apply, as he explains he’s not taking anything else but what he and his mount need to survive. If they don’t go for it, this will probably be a fight: 7 equals 7, they let him go but don’t want to see his ugly human face around here again.

Final Layout

3 -- 2 -- 1 --
|    +-+  |
4 +  | |
| |
5 6

Puzu and Zamug have enough water for now. They still consume 2 Provisions, down to 21.

Back in the Wastes

I don’t think he got much of anything else useful from that camp; a shame the hyenamen were already scavenging there. Slow as they might be, there were enough of them to present a real threat.

Day 7

The Event and Feature thresholds previously reset to 1, so today is an Encounter but no Event or Feature (both thresholds increase to 2). The Encounter itself is a Dune Beetle:

Gigantic armored behemoths. An unusual choice for Life-Riders as they are at-odds with their nomadic lifestyle. When when ridden they are festooned with saddlebags and used as mobile fortresses.

This one is Conserving Energy”. Does it have a Life-Rider (even)? Yes, but… What is the Life-Rider doing? Create / Physical”, so I think he’s just preparing food. What’s his demeanor towards us (using the How” oracle)? Less than expected”, so he’s somewhat hostile. Zamug’s not interested in a fight, so he’ll test Skill to see if he can get away without trouble: 9 over 6, nope. The Life-Rider is trying to mount his Dune Beetle. Zamug has 2 shots in his laser pistol today. Time to enter initiative order. There aren’t stats for Life-Riders in the book, so I’ll assume Skill 7, Stamina 9, and Initiative 2 (which will only apply if he dismounts for some reason).

Mechanically, the Dune Beetle (and its rider) only go at the end of the round, which means that Zamug should ordinarily go once or twice for every time they go. But in this first round, I pull the End of Round marker first, meaning the Life-Rider gets a chance and will try to trample Zamug as they Roll Versus each other. Zamug will Dodge, and he wins the roll-off, so he’s safe for now. He shouts at Puzu to run in the meantime.

Zamug starts off the next round and fires a shot from his Laser Pistol at the Life-Rider; he’s not interested in killing the Dune Beetle (which has a lot of armor and stamina anyway). He hits, and will test Luck to improve damage: 3 under 11, so +2 on the Damage roll and he hits the Life-Rider for 6 damage total (dropping him to 3 Stamina). End of round, so the Life-Rider comes back around for another trample attack. Zamug will Dodge again, successfully.

Before Zamug can figure out whether to shoot or try something else, the Life-Rider is bearing down on him once more, but Zamug rolls out of the way again. He fires at the back of the Life-Rider with his final pistol shot, hitting him! This time his Luck test doesn’t work, so he just has to take the damage roll as it comes, leaving the Life-Rider at 1 Stamina. Zamug will try to Run to the Dune Beetle to put himself in a position to fight the Life-Rider if he dismounts, but he fails the roll. At the end of this round, the Life-Rider does dismount and they’ll fight hand-to-hand.

The Life-Rider jabs with his spear while Zamug tries to fend him off with a sword, and the spear’s reach wins this time, dealing 8 damage to Zamug. At the end of the round, I test Zamug’s Luck to see if the Dune Beetle runs off from the melee: 8 under 9, so yes, it’s just the two of them now.

(At this point, I realize that the Life-Riders have 6 arms and no legs, so this was a poor tactical choice on my his part.)

The desperate fight continues, for reasons Zamug does not understand. The Life-Rider is clearly in the worse situation, and Zamug strikes a Mighty Blow (rolling 12 on the dice), killing his opponent.

I don’t think he’s interested in taking the Dune Beetle, but he’ll test Luck to see if there’s anything useful here: yes, in fact. What is it? Something Old / Technical” used to Protect / Mystical”, so perhaps it’s a magical shield. He’ll take that and it will provide a bit of damage reduction, although he’s not trained in using it offensively.

After the fight, Zamug will test Desert Survival to try to recover Puzu: 7 equals 7, yes. They consume 2 Provisions, down to 19. Zamug recovers all of his luck but only 6 of the 8 Stamina he lost in the fight. He’ll consume 1 more to get back to full Stamina, so he’s at 18 Provisions.

Day 8

No Encounter, Event, or Feature. Event and Feature thresholds increase to 2 each. After the previous day, that’s a welcome respite from worries as Zamug and Puzu continue on their way towards the Dunehold. Consuming 2 Provisions, they’re down to 16.

Day 9

No Encounter, Event, or Feature. Event and Feature thresholds increase to 3 each. Zamug and Puzu consume 2 Provisions, down to 14. It occurs to me at this point that further delays could endanger their supplies.

Day 10

No Encounter, Event, or Feature. Event and Feature thresholds increase to 4 each. Zamug and Puzu consume 2 Provisions, down to 12. As long as nothing particularly bad happens, they should be able to make it to the Dunehold on Day 13.

Day 11

No Encounter, Event, or Feature. Event and Feature thresholds increase to 5 each. Zamug and Puzu consume 2 Provisions, down to 10. They’re getting close to the Dunehold, but they’re still not there yet.

Day 12

No Encounter, but both an Event and a Feature are found (thresholds reset to 1). The dice indicate a Terrain Event, which is Piece of non-magic gear ruined by sand”. They find a settlement of ruin dwellers (so likely there’s some small ruin here). While those oracle results come from SH, there’s some good synergy with ADF which has Ruin Degenerates”:

The ruins of the city of the gods teem with degenerate survivors, pathetic, snivelling, scavenging hunchbacks riddled with mutations and growths.

In this case, Zamug encounters over a dozen of them, lurking in the ruins. As usual, first I test Luck to see if they notice him: no, not at all. But is he even interested in the ruins (unlikely)? No, he’s expecting to reach the Dunehold the next day.

What equipment is ruined? It can’t be the shield, which is technically magical, so I’ll let the dice decide: it’s the wheeled barrel he found in the camp. Perhaps the seal on it was worn away by sand or small insects and is now useless. He leaves it in the wastes.

Zamug and Puzu consume 2 Provisions, down to 8. He’s not worried about supplies at this point - as long as the information he paid for turns out to be correct.

Day 13

The day dawns, bright and hot. He’s hopeful but a bit anxious. What if the merchant lied to him for some reason, or his navigation was incorrect? First, though, I’ll run through the daily dice rolls: no Encounter, Event, or (other) Feature. The thresholds increase to 2, though that won’t matter unless…

Well, the time has come. First, is the Dunehold here (likely)? Yes, and they welcome him in without difficulties. He and his mount pass down into the blessed shade under the desert, ready to rest and recover from the journey. Plus he’ll have some investigation to do in order to learn about the ancient artisan who can help him repair the Starsleigh.

Wrap-up

This journey seems worthy of reflection and possible skill increases: Dodge and Sneak remain where they are, but (quite reasonably) Zamug will increase his Desert Survival skill to 2.

The solo gaming setup worked really well for me. The increasing thresholds for wilderness exploration from SH keep things happening often enough without becoming a drag, and the ChatGPT text gave me just enough to add some flavor and details beyond what was already in my mind.

For the next session, he’ll try to find the location of the Broken Dunehold where the ancient artisan lives. That may require some additional tasks here, depending on what the Alqai want for this information, and I’ll do a bit of randomization to figure out the truth” of where that Broken Dunehold is and what it will take to reach it, even when he has his information.

Up next Adventures in Acid Death Fantasy - Part 2 Adventures in Acid Death Fantasy - Part 4
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