The Djinn of Al-Qadim
Campaign Session Report #2
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
All but Telchak are Genasi of some type, whereas Telchak takes after his father, a lizardfolk. Despite being a fire genasi, Atar has lizard-like features, including scales on her feet. The family patriarch (father/grandfather) is lizardfolk and has ties to the City of Brass (CoB). The family is descendant of him and a genie from the CoB.
A generation ago, there was a djinni uprising that overthrew the Grand Caliph and ruling structure of Zakhara. Four djinn overlords rule in a tenuous alliance, one of each elemental type. Pockets of resistance remain, along with scattered tribes and towns not under djinni rule, but none that have the power to challenge their rule.
The world has become subtly darker in the intervening years, with institutionalized cruelties that would not have been previously permitted.
A genasi/lizardfolk merchant family with lineage tracing back to the City of Brass, and current ties to some resistance efforts via their grandfather/father, who was to be a player in our campaign until he had to drop out just before it started.
The campaign begins in the massive capital city of Huzzuz (which I’ve seen with both one and two ‘z’ letters in the center, so I may switch up the spelling), with the party arrested on technically-true but obviously embellished charges in order to fill a quota for the city’s gladiatorial arena, a barbaric practice introduced by the djinn. The curtain opens on the campaign as they are escorted into a tunnel in the arena’s pens and a gate in front of them opens to the arena itself, a hungry crowd cheering for their victory or demise…
While I’ve borrowed from a number of sources, both historical and from previous D&D editions, Zakhara is significantly different at times from the one presented in previous D&D editions. The broad strokes of the setting, campaign premise, and opening arc were all discussed with the players during Session Zero, and parts of it were shaped collaboratively to match with the party’s history and dynamics.
Escape From the Gladiator Pens
Through a mix of good rolls, bad rolls on my part, clever use of abilities, and serendipitous pathing through the underground gladiator pens, the group managed to escape without much of a fight.
They did encounter a guard who released a giant scorpion, but managed to trap it in its pen area without having to fight it to the death.
The scorpion also acted as the distraction that later allowed them to waltz out of the pens, relatively unharmed.
Along the way, they picked up a goblin dissenter, Shtank, whose daughter (Shtanka) had been abducted at the same time.
Shtank offers them a safe house for the immediate evening, which they accept. Shtank leaves to speak to an associate.
Shtank and the Resistance
Shtank’s backstory is that of a merchant tribe. He refused to play ball with the demands of the djinn minions, and so his goblin group was split into those who wouldn’t and wouldn’t work with the new overlords of the city. Eventually, Shtank and his closest friends were victims of a raid that saw Shtank and his daughter kidnapped.
Shtank’s associate, who returns to the hideout with Shtank shortly thereafter, escaped the raid in which Shtank was captured, and began looking for help in the city.
What he found was the beginnings of a resistance. Originally, it turns out his resistance contact was the party’s grandfather/father, but after his abduction, they have a new contact and a meetup location.
They have no way of knowing if this meetup with a supposed Resistance contact is a trap or not, but have no other leads on help within the city. The party agree to accompany them to this meetup.
Zazzle and the Resistance
Their contact ends up being the Azer from the gladiator pens, who names himself as Zazzle, and who was trying to clue them into the fact that he was a potential ally, albeit too discreetly (the party missed this clue entirely when I gave it to them, as it was probably too subtle). The conversation is tense at first, but eventually he opens up.
Zazzle hails from The City of Brass, where he met and befriended the party’s father/grandfather, Zohar. Zazzle was a slave to an efreet (fire genie) in the city, and eventually escaped. He’s worked in secret to counter the djinn rule in small ways over the past several decades. His position in the gladiatorial arena allowed him to assist people in escaping.
In recent weeks, larger changes have been happening, and Zazzle himself is looking to leave the city to gain more information on what the djinn might be planning. But first, he has several loose ends in Huzzuz he needs to tie up.
He’s seen the party fight in the arenas, and asks if they’ll help, stating that it will be a thorn in the side of the djinn. They agree, but Dalia (mother) wants to keep them away from combat if possible.
They’re given a few different options:
- One, meet with some informants and contacts at the Bazaar, the giant marketplace of Huzzuz.
- Two, follow up on a lead as to the whereabouts of Shtanka, the kidnapped daughter of their new friend Shtank.
- Three, meet with a contact at the city’s university, who claims to have intel on some army movements in the larger world.
They choose the bazaar, after it’s revealed that one informant may have information on where arrested people are being taken (no longer just to the arenas or city prisons). They suspect they might get information on where Zohar (their father/grandfather) was taken if they do this.
Zazzle gives them a Fez of Disguise to help out, and now two members of the party can disguise themselves convincingly. The kids just act like kids, albeit with heavy scarves around their heads to obscure their facial features.
Choni the Bird Merchant
But first, they meet an eccentric NPC, a giant bird creature (Choni) who deals in exotic goods. Zazzle has a dropoff that the party delivers, and Choni rewards them with some coin.
Choni also says that if they’re ever traveling, he’s in need of good couriers for rare items that he has for his diverse clientele. A friend of Zazzle is a friend of his, and if they’re trustworthy, they’ll be rewarded handsomely.
Choni also gives them some scuttlebutt on interesting places in the bazaar. They earmark a few to check out.
At the Trinket Stand
They head to a trinket stand next that Choni recommended, and make some rolls that correspond to unique items. They each come away with an item that has minor magical properties, hoping to parlay them into use later on. The items:
- Nezima: A moonstone that glows within 100 feet of a creature type you attune it to (must use action in presence)
- Dalia: The Talking Fungi – a fungus that when eaten let’s you speak and understand all languages for 1 Hour. When the effect ends you forget how to speak for 1 day.
- Telchak: A leather glove. It is said to come from a pretty famous thief and to have brought his powers with it.
- Atar: A petrified toad. When held in the cusp of one’s palm for a minute, the toad’s body warms up and comes back to life. Whoever did so can command it to go to a location and stay there for up to 12 hours. Afterwards, it attempts to travel back to its user. The user cups the toad again for a minute until it petrifies, and they gain access to the toad’s recent memories.
Thank goodness Dalia’s player has been in enough of my campaigns as DM that she knows how much effort I put into my trinket tables. The party almost skipped the trinket stand, if it weren’t for her insistence!
Not much else to add. Lots of exposition as we establish the world and primary plot hook. There will be a few more sessions like this before it’s truly open-world, but once they get to that point, there will be a lot of freedom in direction.
They skirted all sorts of things I had planned in the arena pens, but they’re clever players, so it was an amusing “welcome back” for me as a DM. I’ll need to be more devious in the future. 🙂
Creatures Used (in combat):
Guard (CR ⅛)
Giant Scorpion (CR3)
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