The Adventure of Salt and Sand
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By HoratioAtTheBridge

The Adventure of Salt and Sand

Adventure Background

The Circle are a band of pirates on the Inland Sea. Drawn from the various oppressed Imperial Satrapies of the South, they've struck a blow for freedom by raiding Realm treasure galleons. Whether they do this for personal profit or as part of a campaign to oppose the Realm's activities in the South, they've taken on an aura of folk heroes among the Southern city-states. They've also finally become annoying enough that the Houses that have interest in the South, particularly Mnemon and Sessus, have united to destroy them.

Intended for: Circle of 5 Solars at Essence 1.

Pregenerated Circle: The Bride, The Boxer, The Astrologer, The Minstrel, The Desert Noble

Duration: 3 to 4 sessions of 4 hours each.

Attack on the Titan

The adventure begins with a flashback to the player Circle attacking a heavily laden treasure galleon. Note that this is intended to be an action heavy kickoff to the adventure, but the players do not have immediate freedom of action after this scene. If your players are particularly allergic to railroading, it may be advisable to begin the adventure by introducing Yusuf at the docks, then cutting to this flashback to explain why the player Circle is in Chiarascuro at this time. It can be framed as the party explaining to Yusuf what happened.

The Docks of Chiarascuro

The adventure really starts here. The players are introduced to several of the key NPCs of the scenario and get a sense of what the adventure is about. By the end of the scene, it should be clear that they are not entirely safe and that they need to take some action to escape the trap. Several threads are presented for them to pull on which can lead into the following sections. The Storyteller is encouraged to end the scene with the party getting together to exchange observations, then straight up tell them that they can conclude that the Realm is going to try to attack them in Chiarascuro, though the party doesn't now precisely how or when this attack will occur. Note that their ship is damaged and will not be repaired for at least one week, so turning around and sailing away is not an option unless they can secure another ship (which is an adventure in its own right). Then lead into the next action by asking "What do you do about it?"

Yusuf bin-Fouad
The Spy Ring
The Spy Master

These three avenues of investigation form the core of the adventure. Each may be pursued in any order, and each has clues pointing to the others as well as clues pointing to the arrival of the Wyld Hunt. These investigations give the player Circle a chance to dismantle the trap arrayed against them and to explore Chiarascuro. A gazetteer of the city, such as Compass of Terrestrial Directions: South, can be useful for these scenes. The ST is encouraged to throw in side quests and subplots around the city during the week where the party is investigating their circumstances.

The passage of time is important to this adventure. The party has a time limit to perform their investigations, and these investigations take a certain amount of time to perform. Divide each day into four sections: morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Yusuf does his best to fill the morning and evening sections, while the afternoon and night hours are for resting. Each player may take one action in each section. This may be an investigative action, such as interrogating a captured spy or staking out a drop point, or may be a side quest or exploration. Research projects and crafting should also consume these time slots, which gives support characters a chance to ply their skills. Also, enforce fatigue penalties if the player characters consistently go without sleep. It is fine if the party splits up during this period; even Linna, the most dangerous antagonist in this section, can be defeated by a combat focused Solar or two Solars working together. Even if she does get the upper hand, she is not interested in killing the Solars so much as escaping their attention.

The Wyld Hunt

The arrival of the Wyld Hunt is the climax of the adventure. This is a chance for a grand battle with tough opponents. If everything went according to plan, the ambush would likely overwhelm the Solars. Linna and Deled both have powerful alpha-strike attacks which can put the Solars on their back feet, and Cayla transforms the assembled troops into a powerful weapon that will be hard to grind through. However, the investigation should give the player Circle ample opportunity to turn the tables. The three Dragon-Blooded and their troops still represent a formidable obstacle, but a full Circle of Solars should be able to overcome them.

Note also that it is possible for the Circle to be victorious simply by denying battle. Mnemon Cayla is expending significant resources to fund this Hunt, and after one month she will have to call it off to attend to other important matters. Peleps Deled is less likely to let Anathema go, but he will have lost the backing of the major Realm powers in the region. If the Circle manages to avoid the Hunt for this long, call the adventure in their favor and convert Deled into an ongoing menace to lurk in the background of future adventures.

Adventure Advice

The players are warned from the get go that they will be attacked at some point, and they are not likely to meekly sit around and wait for the hammer to fall. The adventure assumes that they will start pulling at the strings of the conspiracy, gradually neutralizing each element, and will confront the Wyld Hunt in the market. Yusuf will spill the beans, putting them in a battle ready mindset on the day of the fight and reducing the penalty they get from being surprised. Linna will be captured, and in the best case scenario may even join the players in opposing her countrymen. Abd Al-Malik will have been confronted and broken, and will flee to the desert. Sara may be overlooked, but even if she is captured she has already directed a member of her extensive network to let the Wyld Hunt in and set up the ambush. Very perceptive players may even follow up that lead, in which case the ambushers may become the ambushed. Move the confrontation to the city walls as the players attack the Wyld Hunt while they attempt to make their entrance.

Players being players, though, a wide variety of other responses are possible. A few of them are considered below:

The Players Run

The presence of their ship in drydock should keep the player characters locked in place until the ambush, but the players may have no objection to simply stealing/buying another ship or abandoning the ocean and riding out into the desert. It is specifically Yusuf's job to prevent this kind of behavior, and he should exercise all of his powers of persuasion to keep the players in the city. He will laughingly dismiss any concerns they have for their safety. If they persist, he will feign a wounded demeanor and ask why they do not trust their good Uncle Yusuf to ensure their safety. Come, join me in another feast. In the end, however, let the players have their head. Mnemon Cayla has plans for this contingency, and Linna's spy network will help to carry them out. Linna will make every effort to insert a spy among the PC's retinue, having Yusuf offer guards, guides, servants, and porters for whatever journey the PCs plan to make. Failing that, Linna and al-Malik will independently trail the PCs. Both have extensive resources among the Delzhan and other power groups to aid them in their pursuit. Let the players take measures to try to shake these tails, moving the scenes of unraveling the conspiracy to the road or the high seas. Just when they have reached a fevered pitch of paranoia and exhaustion at the extended chase, have Mnemon Cayla's fleet or army show up on the horizon and move to the final battle. If the players are clever enough to avoid even this experienced and determined commander, they have overcome the challenges of the adventure and should enjoy their victory.

The Players Kill Everyone

Being told that their old friend Yusuf has betrayed them and that they are surrounded by enemies may give the players a feeling that they have been issued a blank check to treat everyone in the city as a hostile monster. They may attempt to assassinate Yusuf, attack the Delzhan guards, or start kidnapping and torturing the chamber maids. Such shocking violations of hospitality are sure to rise the ire of the city, and the Tri-Kahn will throw his full support behind the Realm in bringing these dangerous criminals to justice. A size 3 unit of Delzhan Warriors, backed up by two heroes with al-Malik's stats, will attempt to arrest the villains. If this fails, the player characters are subject to a full assault by the Tri-Khan's army and the Wyld Hunt. Put al-Malik at the head of a Size 5 horde of desert nomads supplementing Mnemon Cayla's forces and hound the players mercilessly. Linna will have no compunctions about fighting such lawless knaves, and even Tyrlion will find his courage to confront an overwhelming evil. Use discretion when implementing this option. A careful assassination may be steered back toward investigative measures, particularly if the players take steps to hide their crimes (but have al-Malik start looking into the affair, constantly showing up to dog the party's every step). Unleash the full might of the Delzhan only if the players are particularly blatant in their attacks.

The Players Prepare to Fight Back

Knowing that an attack is coming may be enough for the players, and they might move directly to preparing a counter offensive rather than (or in addition to) determining the nature of the threat they are facing. Lore charms give the players a lot of power to simply declare that they're ready for an ambush, whenever it comes, and have particular countermeasures in mind. Try to emphasize what the characters don't know to steer them toward investigation. Give Linna and the rest of the conspirators plenty of opportunities to interfere with these plans, which should clue the players into the fact that they have local opposition that must be dealt with. If the players are having more fun summoning and binding elementals and winning allies among the Delzhan, however, let them go for it. There are many among the Delzhan that are eager for a confrontation with the Realm and would take the side of such roguish folk-heroes. Give them stats similar to Yusuf and an array of pro- or anti-Realm intimacies. The players may even be able to win an audience with the Tri-Kahn in the desert. He has made his decision, but the god-kings of old are persuasive and may be able to convince him to change his mind (he should have several intimacies that provide him opportunities to spend willpower to resist, but also intimacies that give the players a chance to retry their argument). The pro-Realm faction will surely split off and ride to Cayla's camp, giving her a Size 5 unit of nomads under al-Malik's command. Still, the players have it well within their capability to raise their own army and fight out a full Delzhan civil war, rushing over the flat desert plains toward their enemies with cries of "EXALTED!!!!!"

The Players Turn Their Enemies Against Each Other

The reader may have noted that the principle antagonists of this adventure have many intimacies that can be leveraged to convince them to turn their efforts elsewhere. Remember that social actions can be performed in combat and even flurried with attack actions. Deled is not likely to accept that his allies are heretics on the word of an Anathema, but he will be swift to turn on allies who seem ready to commit heresy by allying themselves with the Anathema (clever players might attempt to implement the Chinese strategy of "Sowing Discord in the Enemy Camp" by letting the spy network discover evidence of such alliances before the Wyld Hunt arrives…apply a Manipulation + Linguistics social influence attempt against Deled and Cayla's Resolves). Descriptions of how to turn Linna have been hinted at in her write-up. She can easily be convinced to stand aside, but will only ally with the players if they provide a realistic plan to further House Iselsi's survival during the Time of Tumult - a plan to eliminate House Iselsi's rivals without implicating their agents would be adequate. Cayla knows better than to ally with the Anathema, as this would turn the entire Realm against her, but she might be convinced to step back and let the Anathema eliminate Peleps Deled and the Sessus contingent, particularly if the players make some sort of binding oath to leave House Mnemon alone for some time and focus their future efforts on House Sessus (a commitment of one year is the minimum for an acceptable deal). Sessus Tyrlion will run away if the players give him any plausible excuse to do so, and might even be convinced to stab Peleps Deled in the back on the way if his intimacy of "Peleps Deled is a Bully" is strengthened to Defining.

The Players Meekly Sit Around and Wait for the Hammer to Fall

This is a sign that the players missed the fact that they are expected to do something about this whole ambush thing, and likely they expect a declaration of impending ambush to be followed up with "Make a Join Battle Roll." This is an opportunity to ratchet up tensions as Yusuf invites them to a string of feasts, rides, and other diversions, and nothing keeps happening. Describe one or two such scenes, pausing after each to ask the players what they want to do. They may eventually start making up goals, like starting a Craft project, summoning an elemental, or starting a romance with Gazal the flower girl (much to Mahir's consternation). Let this play out for one round of actions or two scenes where the players sit and stare at you, then have Yusuf break down at the player characters so trustingly putting their lives in his hands. He arrives at their room in the dead of night, tearfully confessing his sins. He tells the players about the Tri-Khan's decision, al-Malik's perfidy, his suspicions about the spies, and Linna's visitations. Never fear, though, for their good friend Yusuf will see them through this time of trouble. First, this Dragon-blooded spy must be found and dealt with, as she will be easier to confront now than if she has the backing of her countrymen. At the same time al-Malik must be neutralized, but honorably. Perhaps a duel could be arranged. Once Linna's spy network comes to light, Yusuf suggests that carefully monitoring it may let the players turn the tables. He does not go so far as to suggest ambushing the Wyld Hunt when they arrive (let the players have that thought), but he will ensure that the Wyld Hunt will confront a fully armed and operational Circle of Solars when they spring their ambush in the market.

On Lore Charms

The Lore skill could enable the players to completely bypass much of the footwork of following leads and staking out spy network drop points. A successful Lore roll can provide knowledge of Yusuf's treachery (difficulty 1), the existence of a spy network (difficulty 2), the Tri-Kahn's decision (difficulty 2), al-Malik's role as the Tri-Kahn's enforcer (difficulty 3), the nature of Linna as an Air-Aspect Dragonblooded (difficulty 3), and even the time and place of the ambush (difficulty 5) and the location of Linna's apartment (difficulty 5). Of course, none of this knowledge will actually stop the ambush, but it could be quite disconcerting for Peleps Deled and Mnemon Cayla to confront the player characters in full arms and armor, quite prepared to fight hundreds of Realm troops in Yusuf's feast hall. Ideally the players will follow up this information with action to dismantle the conspiracy.

Storytellers should also keep in mind the ability of Lore to declare facts and the ability of Lore charms to bless or curse actions according to a plan that they have defined. Don't allow players to define away aspects of the conspiracy that have been detailed here, but the players might be able to speak intimacies into existence that help them break spies or win allies. They might also introduce new NPCs or factions that might play into the adventure (perhaps they want to see what Grandmother Bright has to say). This can be a particularly potent ability if they run, as it enables the players to provide themselves with tools to get rid of the pesky spies that are following them (are those spies determined enough to follow the PCs into that shadowland? Linna is confident enough to do so; al-Malik will post guards to see when the PCs re-emerge. presuming they don't just travel to another shadowland to cross back into Creation miles later…but in some ghostly predators to complicate the journey, and give al-Malik's allies a chance to pick up the trail again at the next Delzhan watering hole). Make the players define what advantage they are supposed to achieve with their new facts, and feel free to say "yes, but" to introduce some new complication. Veto anything that simply solves a problem, and try to have each fact lead into some scene of action on the part of the other players. The adventure should not be solved single-handedly by the party's Twilight, but they have been given those tools so that a clever player can take over some of the work of driving the adventure.

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