Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Zeugma Campaign: Gaming in Pseudo-earth

I'm going to try something new - instead of posting a play report of a session, I'm going to post a play report of a *campaign*.  This game happened in 2008-2009, used the 2e Warhammer frpg system (modified), was set on a pseudo earth in 1150, and was centered around the city of Zeugma.  Zeugma was a city in Modern-day Turkey that bridges the Euphrates, and is at the point where the East and West meet.

I have tons of material on Zeugma but... does anyone care?  Well, let's first see what occurred in the campaign (I think some of these can be mined for adenture ideas, given that they were all adventures we ran ha.)  After that, I'll give a few comments on what I learned running this.

(Party members:  Orzad, the dwarven pit-fighter, Amandyl the elven "bounty hunter" (a runaway noble), Peklar the Armenian ex-bandit and Mahmud, the Turkish right-hand man of Jaffar the Merchant.)

1: The campaign begins. Party hired by Jaffar, an ambitious merchant, to guard a rented warehouse where some his goods are stored. It turns out the owner of the warehouse hasn't been paying protection money to the local thieves' guild.

2: Fake brigandry. The party becomes retainers of Jaffar. He asks the party to perform a delicate task - to create the illusion of a heavy brigand presence upon a certain trade route. They aren't to actually kill anyone, just scare travelers.  However, the party is forced to intervene to save pilgrims from Turkish raiders. The party encounters Hassan, a mysterious Turkish bowman, who intervenes in their favor. The party also encounters Stephanos of Trebizon and his group.

3: Lost and Found: The party hears rumors of a lost magical item within the city and starts looking for it. It turns out that this is a training exercise by the local mage guild. However, the party also learns of another, much more powerful item being smuggled in the city - a wand infused with the deadly ice magic, Omptose Phellac. The party makes the acquaintance of Valmaxian, a reclusive elven sorcerer; Agda the witch; Alcanter the Blue; Thrain Silvertouched (the Spirit Satrap) and of Feanaro Culnamo, an "elven” “shop" “owner".

4: Grave Hunt: The scribe Ophelos has found an old parchment indicating the true location of the tomb of Selecus I Nicator, founder of Zeugma (one of Alexander's generals). The city approaches the party to go on an expedition in exchange for a share of the treasure. After a few days of travel, the tomb is found inside a barrow which the locals swear is haunted. After defeating the goblins inside (who were tricking the peasants into making offerings) and the undead guardians, the tomb is secured, will with many historical artefacts and quite a lot of treasure, including the griffin's claw, an enchanted sword made of Damascus steel.

5: Liberation of Carablos: Rumors of war, as Joscelin II is captured by Nur Ad Din as they were ambushed while looking for Turkish raiders. Jaffar has report that the town of Carablos, a critical supply point on the way to Baghdad, is extorting travelers under the order of a new governor. Party investigates and is joined by a mysterious vagrant, Assad the lepper. The governor turns out to be consorting with necromancers and worse, and Assad to be a Turk not to cross. Violent confrontation ensues.

6: The Zeugma Hastildude: Party members take part in traditional martial games, demonstrating archery, riding and swordsmanship. A jousting demonstration is done and is deemed to be a silly western practice. The party does well - Orzad reaches the semi final and loses vs Christophoros, the reigning champion of the melee (Christophoros is then defeated by a newcomer, Du Hamel, a templar). Peklar wins the horse-race, and Amandil reaches the archery finals.  Mahmud is trained by Assad.

7: Property fraud: a complex scheme is unleashed upon Zeugma, where the conman sells tiny parcels of lands to commoners to give them the right to vote. As the next election will be for the Spirit Satrap, religious tensions flare. The party attempts to investigate *and* profit. The conman escapes!

8: A trip to Antep: The party pursues the conman to the nearby city of Antep, as a large bounty is on his head. On the way, meet NubZeb the goblin. Antep situation made complicated by the conman hiring local thief guild as protection, by members of the Zeugma thief guild also being after the bounty, by actual assassins being after the conman *and* by Antep being besieged by the Sultanate of Rum! Nubzeb is instrumental in gaining acess as he knows of a secret tunnel. The conman is killed, his money seized by Antep authorities, and some dwarves escape Antep and migrate to Zeugma with the party.

9: A trip to Abu Kabal: Jaffar realizes that with the disruption from the conman, the success of a Zeugma caravan on its way back from Baghdad is suddenly of grave import. The party goes south to rejoin the caravan and help escort it north back to safety. After traveling 150 leagues, the caravan is found. On the way back to Zeugma, the caravan is beset by a habboob - a sandstorm. 3 desert ogres - far more cunning than ordinary ogres and wielding magic, use the cover of the storm to attack.

10: Anti-Banditry: Antep pays tribute to the Turks of the Sultanate of Rum, who abandon their siege - for now. While the party was away, Jaffar organized a small caravan going east, which was attacked by bandits. Jaffar wants revenge, his goods back but most importantly two things:  a magical ring that "can see ahead" *and* a very valuable slave. The party dispenses justice, retrieves the ring and travels to Edessa, the fallen crusaser city, which has become a camp for slave traders and where the slave has been sent. On the way, the party meets Cengis the mule skinner, and Crius, a large mysterious being guarding a hidden door. The slave turns out to be a Circassian beauty that is highly educated in the codes of law - a bride for the Paper Satrap.

11: A trip to Aleppo: Valmaxian examines Jaffar's new ring and declares it to be not a divination tool but the ring of many parts, which can be used to retrieve an ancient magical item hidden beneath the Citadel of Aleppo - the staff of storms! The party agrees to help. What follows is *extremely* eventful, with earthquakes, the staff retrieved, Joscellin II, count of Edessa, found and rescued and the woman Le-ka, resurrected but put inside a golden automaton, who now claims to be the Avatar of Ishtar, Goddess of love and war.

12: Upward Mobility: Jaffar tries to become a council member on the merchant guild. Someone tries to assassinate "him" - but his servant is the true target. Templars are involved, and the assassin's guild is not happy someone is poaching on their turf. An arrangement is made with the templars - but Agda the witch foresees blood - BLOOOOOOODD!!! Hassan informs party that Jaffar is still in danger. While traveling on protection detail, the party is attacked by would be assassins - but the party proves to be the anvil upon which the local assassins hammer the would be interlopers. Many dead. Jaffar wins election. Amandil dreams of bloody pyramid.

13: Delaying action: Nur Ad Din is enraged by Joscelin II's escape and decides to strike Turbesell (Joscelin's forteress) before Joscelin is ready. Zeugma decides to help covertly - the party, some assassins (Hassans, Assad and *the black dwarf of zeugma!!!*), an Amber mage and other sell-swords (including Stephanos's group) are recruited to start guerrilla campaign. Party convinces goblins to help. Enemy scouts are ambushed, bridges are torched, horses are spooked, siege engines are burned down and enemy mages are furiously murdered. Eventually, Armenian relief force shows up, and Nur Ad Din withdraws.

14: Jailbreak: The Egyptian (elven) Ambassador has learned that Valmaxian has left and is a follower of Set, the imprisoned dark elf/god.  The Staff of storm is a key to release him.  The Blue guild foresees a key "fork" event and are troubled. Agda the witch flees the city. Party has doubt, as Set's imprisonment could be considered unjust. They return to the hidden valley where they previously met Crius (who is no longer present). They do not manage to stop Valmaxian in time, and Set is released at night. Set rises his hand and  blots the moon.  He and declares that there are not four elements, there are five. Once the darkness disperses and the moon returns to normal, Set and his servants are gone.

And that was it!   The campaign had a 2nd arc, where the consequences of Set's release were explored, in 2014, but that would be best kept for another post.  This text was originally a recap for the players starting the 2nd arc.

Lessons learned from this campaign:

1: The Warhammer system works well to simulate a lowish fantasy setting, such as a pseudo earth, and it doesn't have to be used exclusively for the Warhammer setting.  It takes a lot less work to run a game than in 3.X, pathfinder or even 5e, leaving the GM more time to think about more important things (who are the NPCs, what do they want etc).  One of the reason for it is that the great majority of careers ("classes" in Warhammer) are not magic users.

2:  However it is not perfect.  There is a lot of "whiffing" (fights were combatants are all missing each other) at first, some of the rules are a bit peculiar, and the career system *really* isn't for everyone.  One of my players (who later departed, not listed above) had a huge problem with not being able to design his character exactly how he wanted, and instead having to rely on a random roll to tell him what his lot in life would be.

2b:  Adding bits of Dragon Warriors to a game is always a good idea.  Although almost all the adventures were original content, A Grave Hunt heavily borrowed on a Dragon Warriors module.  Goblins and trolls were based on Dragon Warriors description, and I adapted the Dragon Warriors magical systems to Warhammer.

3:  I had a lot of fun running a city campaign, although half the action was outside the city walls.   It requires a good understanding of how the city works, what are the factions, what do they want.  Looking back, I think I should have injected a little bit more chaos in there - I think that once you have an entire city in  your mind, you can become reluctant to shake the boat too much, and that can be detrimental

4:  As I am older, I have reservations now that I did not have back then.  To weave a "pseudo-earth" and the fantasy races, I had the elves being Egyptians (and originally refugees from Atlantis), dwarves were analogous to the Jews, and the Turks were hobgoblins.  I put in a lot of effort to be realistic and not mono-dimensional.  However, I am sure that no matter how well I did it, some would find the very concept profoundly offensive.  I *really* thought Zeugma was interesting (I started taking notes on Zeugma in 2004, I let things percolate in my mind for a long time sometimes), but I'm hesitant to publish the setting.

4b:  While pseudo-earth is "easy" because there is tons of material out there (see - I was able to turn the citadel in this crazy multi level dungeon that was historically plausible!) - there are also... links to real life situation.  Aleppo suffered terribly during the Syrian civil war, is it "cool" now to have a game there today?  :/   The second art of this campaign occurred, in part, in the Tarim basin, aka Xinjiang, where the Uighurs are currently undergoing  terrible persecutions.  When I ran the 2nd arc of campaign things were nowhere as bad, now it feels... bad... to use it as a gaming setting.

4c:  This also applies to events of *back then* that still reverberates today - things like the crusades, tensions between faiths (or between the various sects of the same faith)… I think it makes for good gaming material, but it's perilous to publish.

5:  Different groups prefer different style of play and freedom.  I don't like railroading, but on the other hand my group likes to be "pointed towards the plot".  Having a patron saying "I have a problem, take care of it please" and then letting the PCs loose really works well for my gaming group.  I knew what the problem was, who the people involved were and what they wanted, but how it played out depended on my PCs.  Sometimes they really surprised me.


  1. Lot of inspiration! Love how you built the atmosphere!!

    1. I managed to let some "plot threads" throughout the campaign, some that went no where and others that grew into something bigger. I didn't have a big plan in advance, just a few broad outlines, and it grew into something bigger :)

    2. Yes, I'm doing the same!! But all the details and the politics stuff you put in there give a lot of life in the campaign!!

    3. Thank you - I find that for a city campaign, it's almost required. Who's in charge? Why are they in charge? What do they want? What do other people want... you ask enough questions and a "network" of power, actors/factions and influence emerges. Not all players are into that though, so moderation is key.