The Djinn of Al-Qadim
Campaign Session Report #10
By MARK WILSON
Setting: Al-Qadim (aka the continent of Zakhara)
System: D&D 5e
Levels: 3-?? (probably 12)
Dalia, the Mother – Rune Knight Fighter
Nezima, the Aunt – Hexblade Warlock
Atareeza (Atar), the Daughter – Divine Soul Sorcerer
Telchak, the Son – Soulknife Rogue
For full setting, campaign and character notes, please start from the beginning of the session report series.
When we left off, the party had just driven off some wyvern riders, making passage safer for the desert’s traveling caravan. Now, the wizard caravan leader, Fatima, has promised to help them to their destination deep in the heart of the desert, atop The Genie’s Anvil plateau.
Into the Desert
Fatima takes them on her magic carpet into the desert after some purchases of items they think they might need. None of them have a ton of gold still, so it’s mostly general supplies that might come in handy.
The going is fairly swift, but the desert is vast, so several days pass without incident as they fly generally westward and occasionally to the south. They travel mainly at night and navigate by the stars, where the day’s heat radiates off of the sand that absorbed it, making it pleasant but not unbearably hot. Dalia’s magical ability to produce gallons of water per day makes the journey less dangerous by orders of magnitude, though they still find themselves parched at times, or with dry, cracked skin, as the air seems to suck the moisture out of them.
The Cactus Maze Complication
A maze-like cactus field appears on the horizon, and it doesn’t look particularly natural. The party decides to investigate to break up the monotony, at Dalia’s urging (she doesn’t like the flight). Given their earlier encounter with sentient cacti, they are cautious, but these seem to be inert upon inspection.
The family races to the center of the maze in pairs, with Telchak and Dalia winning. At the center, a small hole leading down to a small cavern. Telchak is curious, so Dalia ties a rope around him and lowers him in. The others follow along shortly, with Dalia at the top of the hole.
Inside, something resembling an ancient stone dwelling, and two skeletons, partially covered in rubble.
Investigations commence, and the dwelling’s floor gives out, sloping down to a lower area. And from this area, eldritch moans that come toward the party.
Above, the minor cave-in seems to create a rumble that slowly grows, and Dalia begins to see sand displaced from the area as it begins to shake.
Two mummies appear and a brief battle follows. Dalia knows of “mummy rot” and warns the party of it. They try to kill the mummies quickly, and do so, but now the rumbling is louder and rocks are beginning to fall around them.
They do some quick searches, unearthing an obsidian greataxe and some ancient gold pieces with strange symbols on them, and hastily climb up the rope, which Dalia had tied to a nearby cactus. Each makes it as the ground around them rises, and Fatima picks them up on the magic carpet as a gargantuan sand turtle appears from the sand, a yawning roar escaping its lips. The party flies on…
Structures in the Desert
Arriving at the plateau – The Genie’s Anvil – they begin to see signs of travel, including corpses along a roughly-hewn route through the cracked mud and sand. Following this, they see structures in the distance.
Fatima flies them so that they are between the structures and the sun, so that no one will look directly toward them. With their spyglass, they survey the area.
One completed pyramid, the top 20 feet or so of which is glowing faintly with obviously magical energy. Another semi-constructed pyramid sits a couple hundred feet away. And around it in makeshift camps, between 200-300 people of various races, obviously being put to work on the pyramids’ construction. Duos of humanoid guards and elemental salamanders patrol between the camps. No fences exist, nor rigid guarding patterns. Fatima muses that the guards are likely there to keep the workers alive, not to keep them from escaping. If anyone was to attempt an escape, they’d die quickly in the desert’s heat. So the surrounding environment acts as an effective prison cell.
The guards bear symbols that the party has seen before in Huzuz, and they recognize them as The Brotherhood of the True Flame, a sect devoted to the chaotic fire elemental god, Kossuth.
Then Dalia searches and spots a green-skinned lizardfolk that she knows to be her husband. Telchak spies him and attempts to telepathically speak with his father (Zarin). Zarin believes himself to be going insane, and openly laments his plight, wondering why the voice of his son is torturing him here in the desert wastes. Zarin breaks down, crying, and Telchak starts crying, seeing his father crying from hundreds of feet away.
Dalia puts an end to the communication, and the party hatches a plan to rescue Zarin, involving Telchak invisibly entering the camp and stealing his father away in the magical puzzle box they got last session (did I mention that? Well I have now) that can hold a creature in suspended animation.
It goes smoothly, though the shock and bewilderment of Zarin is profound as the family unpacks their experiences thus far, and what they’re doing all the way out here. Eventually things settle down, though, and they get a bit of time with their dad.
This doesn’t solve the problem of the pyramids and prisoners, though, and the party begins to work toward a plan of gathering information to see what can be done about these larger issues…
I didn’t expect them to explore the cactus maze, but once they did, I merged a few items on my “sights to see” list for the desert into a single encounter. Dalia got herself a nice axe, so that’s cool.
The party’s magical abilities somewhat trivialized the danger that the desert could have posed. I’m also not too excited about running survival-horror campaigns where the elements are potentially deadly. So I did what I could to emphasize the heat, but without making it a huge mechanical consideration.
But since the desert is a mortal hazard for the 200-300 people at the pyramids that they may seek to rescue, they’ll still have to deal with the environmental considerations of such an extreme environment.
I can’t fully describe the hilarity of the telepathic conversation between Telchak and his dad, and the bewildering conversation with the whole family some time later. It was delightful roleplaying. Everyone was in stitches, and it was all I could do to keep a straight face during it.
Lastly, I contracted COVID shortly after this session, so it was a while before we met again. If the pandemic is still a thing as you read this, stay safe out there!
Creatures Used (in Combat):