The Djinn of Al-Qadim
Campaign Session Report #7
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.
We pick up our session with the party preparing to leave from Villa Qadira.
I dangle a middle-aged “thirst trap” (one of my players’ phrases; not mine) at them, in the form of their guide into the desert. He’s the spitting image of Aladdin’s dad (from the Aladdin sequel movies, apparently?). Cassim. Former soldier. Bit of a scoundrel, and flirty.
So of course, he’s instantly rebuffed and mistrusted. Hilarious. So it goes.
They head out into the desert, first along known trade routes, then into more nebulous territory. Nothing too deep into the desert, so there’s no particular environmental hazards, though they have to travel at times of the day that avoid the worst of the heat. They camp out at high-sun and on at least one occasion hear a tale from Cassim about why dragons don’t exist in Zakhara.
The tale is an apocryphal one, told through generations, about a dragon being duped by genies and scared off to tell his brethren never to visit these lands again. The children are mildly impressed. The adults are not.
They’re on their way to a trade route that goes through a less treacherous portion of the desert, to a couple waypoints where they may be able to gather information about what’s going on in the deeper regions. First stop, a desert arena and casino run by a group of gnome artificers, who create mechanical creatures to race or fight in the structure’s arena.
Cassim seeks out some contacts, and the group goes wandering, eventually bumping into a distinctive gnome whom Dalia recognizes from her past. An associate of her father’s (who is also a tinker), Fingerguns McGillibuns eventually recognizes Dalia and Nezima and catches up with them. He informs her that her father escaped captivity on his way into the desert, and was either headed back to try to rescue his son-in-law (Dalia’s husband) in the desert or to Huzuz to rescue his family.
Regardless, Fingerguns (so named for a gauntlet he wears with small pistols built into it) is as helpful as he can be, learning the approximate location of a traveling desert caravan for them as a potential next stop and giving them a spyglass he crafted recently. While he is away gathering this info, Atar and Nezima bet on a bot-race, with Nezima betting on a mechanical rabbit that Fingerguns created, and Atar betting on a mechanical sand walrus (among a few others). Dice are rolled and the rabbit wins in dramatic fashion! By a hare, you might say (har!)
Dalia laments her poor relationship with her father in the meantime, blaming him for a host of things, most recently running off madly and failing to escape with her husband when he fled his captivity. She ends up drinking at a bar, where Cassim finds her. He’s gathered a bit of info, saying something is being built deep in the desert, and that the harsh desert climate makes the perfect wall-less prison, since no one can try to escape into the desert when they’re that far from civilization.
They rest here for the night before setting out toward the caravan, which harbors all manner of travelers, thieves, members of desert tribes on trade or diplomatic missions, and other characters.
Fire Giants and Fart Gods
Making their way toward the desert caravan, Dalia spies a body in the sand. Investigating, they find it’s a fire giant corpse. They loot the body, finding some money and a circlet. The circlet isn’t magical, but has a symbol on it that Nezima identifies as signifying the City of Brass, a fiery city on the elemental plane of fire with occasional ties to Zakhara.
Next, a meteor strike not far from them. They investigate at a distance with their spyglass and see a humanoid figure standing in the impact crater. They approach him. He’s disoriented, but ultimately not hostile.
His name’s Lonnie, he talks a bit like a member of the Beatles, and he was just thrown out of Mt. Celestia, the plane of several deities. He had ascended to godhood from his mortal form and was warmly welcomed, then asked what he wanted to be the god of. Lonnie made many suggestions, but everything good was already accounted for. So he ended up as the God of Farts, and was eventually kicked out for failing to drum up followers.
Telchak asks if he has fart powers. His powers are weak, but yes, he says. Telchak asks for farts that smell like Atar’s feet. Done, Lonnie says. Atar asks for pumpkin spice farts, completing her transition to obnoxious teen. The two excitedly suggest that Lonnie should focus on children to gain followers, an idea he’d not thought of.
Dalia is also impressed that Lonnie got her children to care about religion. As a broad believer that everything has the spark of the divine in it, she actually believes his claim of godhood.
Before leaving, Lonnie asks them to tell people about him, and if they are looking for someone to worship, maybe ol’ Lonnie would do the trick.
At the Caravan
Large wagons with specialized, eight-foot-tall wheels, allowing for travel in this climate, circle around a large area. A makeshift fence encircles the encampment, which they learn is semi-permanent, staying in the same place for days or weeks at a time.
They’re greeted by Fatima al-Fihri, the caravan’s leader. She’s interested in information, trade, and books, as she’s trying to start a traveling library for those without access to education.
A variety of characters, and Dalia befriends a warrior woman (Rifqa) who she learns is concerned about her partner, Farrah, who hasn’t returned from a water-gathering trip some time ago. The party investigates, and find Farrah hiding in a small rock formation near a watering hole. Farrah spots them and yells in warning, alerting them to the many cacti in the area, which begin slowly shuffling toward them.
A fight ensues, with fireballs from Atar taking out most. But upon death, the cactids violently shed their needles, which means it’s risky to get close to them. Rifqa is nearly killed and others take damage, but the party rids the area of sentient cactus and tends to Farrah…
Cassim was presented partially as an in-joke, and partially as a potential love interest for Nezima, whose player made the “thirst trap” comment a couple weeks ago. But Nezima rebuffed him almost immediately. I’m not sure if this was playing hard to get or not. But if it was, it was too subtle for me to pick up on. He’ll fade into the background as a result. I enjoy playing NPCs that have a bit of an adversarial relationship with the party, but also won’t force an NPC on the campaign that doesn’t land with some narrative force.
Alas, I’m batting 0-for-2 on generating sparks between NPCs these last two sessions. Jarallah was a possible love interest for Atar, and it went nowhere. Only the comparatively tame infatuation of Telchak with Shtanka earlier in the campaign lived up to my expectations for it. Alas.
I don’t run campaigns without some nonsense, and Lonnie was probably the most nonsensical of anything in my random tables. That whole scene went spectacularly.
Fingerguns became a gnome on the spot (in my notes he was a goblin) for…some reason? His past with their grandfather/father was also improvised. And I had the Cactid encounter in my notes, but built the particulars of it on the fly. Dalia had too little to do as a melee fighter, but I trust that will change in upcoming encounters.
The extemporaneous improv-style session building is becoming something of a habit, though as long as I have the skeleton of what is happening in these areas, I feel as though I’m doing alright. This session was a little bit on rails, since there weren’t other viable options for major desert stops, but the encounter variance helps spice things up.
Lastly, there’s a bit of real-world history behind the name Fatima al-Fihri. She’s credited by many as founding the world’s first library, as well as an institution that would eventually become a university. As I was researching for this campaign, I thought it was an interesting historical note. Her being interested in books was my small nod to this, and her underlying motivation is both as a scholarly wizard and to bring education to parts of Zakhara that don’t already have educational institutions.
Cactid (stats modified)