Monthly Archives: June 2011

Madam Syrah’s Traveling Curiosities

     This brief encounter is written for use with Savage Worlds, however, it could easily be sculpted for any game setting.  I am using it in a fantasy setting, though I imagine that it could fit nicely in just about any low-tech environment.

     On this particular occasion, the party is meeting Madam Syrah along the side of the road.  She travels along quite a bit and could just as easily be encountered in an urban setting or while re-supplying at some small village.

In the distance ahead, you see a ramshackle caravan, along the side of the road.  A short, stout, bearded man cares for a pair of draft horses and seems to pay no attention to your approach.

As you get close enough for a better view, it comes clear that the caravan is garrishly painted in wild colors.  Assorted signs hang from it, claiming anything from “potions for sale” to “lucky charms”.

A half-dozen chickens dart around the wheels of the caravan and a small fire crackles nearby.  A large pot sits over the fire and it’s clear from the smell that something wonderful is cooking within.

     The party has stumbled onto the camp of Madam Syrah.  She’s a vagabond who travels the world, hawking her wares, telling fortunes, and sharing legends.  Her lone companion in her travels is Bog, her mute, Dwarven valet. 

     Depending on your own particular needs, Madam Syrah can range from charlatan to sage.  Whatever the case, it should never be entirely clear to the characters whether she’s a skilled diviner, self-serving grifter, or completely mad.  If you get the sense that players have their mind made up about her at some point, it’s the perfect time to flop something out there, which makes them scratch their heads.

     As the PCs get within 100′ of the camp, Bog will notice their approach and look up.  He calmly walks back toward the fire, never taking his eyes off them.  It is at this point that Madam Syrah will appear out of the back of the caravan, utter a brief command to Bog, and then greet the party.

     Syrah is a human woman, perhaps in her mid-thirties (it’s hard to tell exactly as she clearly wears too much make-up over her pale skin).  She wears a billowy white blouse, which shows an immodest amount of cleavage, and a long, black skirt.  Her wild, raven hair is somewhat held in check by a crimson scarf.  Large hoops of gold ride on her ears and rings, some plain bands and others jeweled, adorn her fingers.  Finally, she is heavily perfumed with the scent of sandalwood.

     She eagerly greets the party, waiving and calling to them in what I’ll describe as a strong, Eastern European accent (think Natasha Fatale here “Velcome, velcome dahlinks”).  Should the party return her greeting, she’ll clap her hands twice and instruct Bog to stoke the fire and prepare dinner for her new “friends”.

     The party is invited to join her and Bog for a bowl of her “charmed” restorative stew.  The concoction, while harmless enough, is not magical at all.  Basically, it’s chicken & dumplings, which Bog makes daily with one of their chickens (which you should describe as constantly being underfoot), some flour, and various root vegetables.  It has no healing powers per se, however, if the party has been living off of travel rations, you may feel free to describe some placebo effects (nothing like a home-cooked meal!).

     Syrah could be described as a “close talker”, she flits about from character to character, admiring their gear and asking about their travels.  A curious type, the fortune-teller gains much of her knowledge through tales passed on by the people she meets in her travels.  She will listen intently to any stories that the party cares to share.  The only time she will interrupt, is to mention that she can sense that the “spirits” look favorably upon them, or to make warding gestures about her person, if they mention any great evil.

     If the topic of the conversation turns to her at any point, she will become very animated.  She delights in talking to strangers about the spirit world and will stand, with a wild look in her eyes.

“Oh, you vish to know about Madam Syrah?  Vell dahlinks, I commune vith the spirits of the dead.  For hundreds of years, my people have done so.  You see, ve are not made of but flesh and blood.  No, no dahlinks…ven the body is dead, the spirit lives on!”

“Perhaps dahlinks, perhaps you wish Madam Syrah to consult the spirits for you.  It is not easy, for the spirits are quick tempered….but for you dahlinks, I vould be willing to try.”

     Depending on the party’s interest, various options are available here.  If they see her as a charlatan and have no further interest in her “abilities”, she will act a bit hurt but still be pleasant and bid them a safe journey, upon their departure.  If, however, they express an interest, she will clap excitedly and proceed to offer various services to them. 

     Syrah is a businesswoman first so she will charge for any services rendered (exact amounts will be what is appropriate for your campaign).  Having had a while to size up the party, she realizes that they’re no ordinary band of wanderers.  While she truly believes that all of her “abilities” are legitimate, she also knows about skeptics and won’t push any of her “less reliable” skills with a hard-sell.

     Healing:  While she has no actual magical healing abilities, Syrah is a skilled natural healer.  She will gladly use her “powers” to tend for wounded characters.  She does this by creating a foul-smelling poultice and rubbing it on the wound. 

     For recently wounded (within 1 hour) characters, give her a skill check (with the poultice as a trapping) and heal accordingly.  For those with long-term wounds, allow the poultice to grant them a +1 when it’s time for their next 5 day Vigor check to remove wounds (of course this requires keeping the poultice on for the duration).  The horrible smell of the poultice should become a topic of conversation with anyone else the party meets in the meantime.

     Potions:  The fortune-teller claims to have potions available to address any issue under the sun.  Again, it must be understood that she truly believes these all to be legitimate.  The draughts range from mint tea (to “cure” stomach ailments), to love potions (an incredibly strong alcoholic brew).  Have fun with these as you like, there are any number of possible combinations.  Just be sure to describe her digging through varied containers,  painstakingly measuring out “just enough” of each ingredient.

     At your discretion, it’s entirely possible that she either has some actual magical potions (or something mundane which will mimick the effects).

     Tattoos:  With henna, Syrah believes that she can draw mystical wards and symbols of power.  She will gladly do this for any interested party members.  As with most of the potions, these can really yield only a placebo effect, although her work does look quite good.  That said, players who opt for a tattoo because they are role-playing certain elements of their character, might get a small reward. 

     For instance, if player requested a tattoo to ward off spiders (due to a Phobia Hindrance), I might mention after a couple days, “curiously you haven’t seen any spiders since that visit with Madam Syrah”.  I then might reward that player a Benny (I would do this without explanation, leaving the player to wonder whether it was due to the “power” of the tattoo or simply for role-playing).

     Fortune-Telling:  Players requesting this will be invited into her caravan, so that she may conduct a proper reading.  There’s really only room for one other person to be inside the caravan with he at a time.  Besides, any more would disrupt “the spirits”.

Two wooden steps lead up into the rickety, old wagon.  The interior is quite cluttered and the aroma of strong herbs and spices assails your nostrils.  Madam Syrah seats herself behind a small table and bids you to join her, on a pile of pillows.

“Sit, Sit dahlink.  Ve must concentrate if ve vish to contact the spirits.”

Shelves which are clearly too full, line the sides of the space.  Upon these, all manner of curious vials, boxes, and containers can be seen.

A single candle burns on the table, upon which are drawn all manner of arcane symbols.

     From this point forward, a lot depends on how the party has been treating their host.  Madam Syrah is no fool, she will not intentionally dupe an armed band of adventurers.  That said, if they have been rude or disrespectful of the “spirit world” no amount of money will get her to offer her full resources.

     Once the party member is seated, she will produce a handful of old chicken bones from a small, velvet bag.  These, she casts upon the table, muttering some gibberish.  Her eyes widen and she stares intently at the bones, apparently taking note of exactly where they land.  With a nod of her head, she asks the character to tell her what he seeks knowledge of.

     Syrah is well traveled and has spent her life in the pursuit of knowledge.  She also frequently entertains travelers, feeding them but also staying current on recent events.  Having heard the character’s request, her knowledge skills alone are likely to provide some general information which may prove useful.  Closing her eyes, she begins to hum and sway her head from side to side.

     During this little “show”, make any applicable knowledge skill rolls for Madam Syrah.  She is thinking about the character’s request, deciding what she may know that might be useful.  Once she has formulated what she will divulge, she will whisper a bit, as if speaking to a spirit.  Finally, she will open her eyes, state that the spirits have spoken to her,  and share what she can.

     If her visitor seems content with this information, she will go no further.  However, if the party has made a favorable impression on her, she has one more trick up her sleeve.  Syrah keeps a small amount of Grave Dust (Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion p72), in a small pouch around her neck.  She has spent years, collecting mementos from the dead in all the regions that she has visited.  For the right person, she’ll use the dust on the appropriate memento to help divine proper information for the player.

     For this, she will request absolute concentration from the character.  She will lay the memento on a small circle, in the center of the table and begin chanting loudly.  It should be noted that Bog, upon hearing this will go and “adjust” one of the wheels of the caravan.  The party outside will simply see the dwarf going about his chores but the character with Madam Syrah will feel the caravan start to shake slightly.

     After chanting for a few moments, Syrah will reach between her breasts and retrieve a pinch of the Grave Dust.  This she will sprinkle over the item on the table.  She will then attempt to contact a spirit and divine information.

     The Grave Dust is a precious commodity to Madam Syrah.  She will only use this ability once with the party.  Completing the player’s reading, she will claim exhaustion.  Once outside, she will offer to let the party camp by her fire for the night, but excuse herself back into the caravan so that she may sleep.  Bog will silently offer up any remaining stew to the party, before he washes the pot and settles down for sleep himself  (on the riding deck of the caravan).

     In the morning, Bog tidies up the camp and hitches up the caravan.  Madam Syrah will wish the party luck on their travels and the pair will ride off into the morning.

     The purpose of this encounter is to have fun and throw a bit of mystery into things.  I have used Madam Syrah in various campaigns for over 30 years now.  Use her as you will.  It could be a one-time meeting or she could be a recurring character, only popping up when the characters need a gentle “push” in a certain direction.

     Given the balance of magic to the mundane within your campaign, her exact abilites and usefullness may vary greatly.  All too often, players are familiar with every possible spell or ability within the game.  Madam Syrah is intended to defeat all of this and leave your players guessing.  Ideally, if your players go home after a session debating whether she’s legit or a total quack, you’ve had a success.

Madam Syrah

Human Female

Attributes:  Agility d6, Smarts d10, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6

     Pace 6, Parry 2, Charisma 2, Toughness 5

Skills:  Healing d10+2, Investigation d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Knowledge (arcane) d10, Knowledge (Supernatural) d8+2, Knowledge (Ancient History) d8+2, Knowledge (Recent History) d8, Streetwise d8

Hindrances:  Delusional (major) believes she has spiritual abilites, Pacifist (minor), Phobia (minor) fear of upsetting the spirit world.

Edges:  Charaismatic, Scholar (Ancient History,  Supernatural), Healer

     Madam Syrah has spent years, traveling the far reaches of the world.  She is a businesswoman but also a seeker of knowledge.  Truly believing that she is “touched” by the spirit world, there is no rhyme or reason to her travels or where she may be headed next.

     While never desiring to be involved directly in any conflict, Syrah believes in justice.  As such, she is often sympathetic to those who mean to do good in the world.  After all, that would be pleasing to the spirits.

Bog

Dwarven Male

Attributes:  Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirtit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d8

     Pace 5, Parry 6, Charisma 0, Toughness 6

Skills:  Knowledge (Cooking) d8, Fighting d6, Riding d6, Driving d8, Notice d6, Repair d6

Hindrances:  Mute (major), Doubting Thomas (minor), Loyal (to Madam Syrah)

Edges:  Low light vision, Alertness, Luck

     Bog is the mute, dwarven companion of Madam Syrah.  Little is known of his origins though folks recall him being in her service from their earliest memories.

     He’s a sturdy but grizzled looking old fellow, wearing brown breeches and a black tunic.  Close examination would suggest that he had seen his share of combat, back in the day, as various scars adorn his person.

     Bog is a suspicious sort and fiercely protective of Madam Syrah.  During the initial meeting with the party, his eyes will scarcely leave them.  Once it’s clear that she feels comfortable, he will go back to his chores and only occasionally give them a once over.

     The dwarf has no belief whatsoever in the supernatural.  He fully believes that his mistress is either an actress or completely out of her mind.  It’s no matter to him though, she’s kind to him and he always goes to bed with a full belly.

     Despite being suspicious, Bog is quite friendly and fun-loving at heart.  If the characters approach him with kindness, he’ll warm up to them rather quickly.  Should this be the case, he might even produce a few apples for their horses or engage them with a game of mumbly-peg.

****

     Well, that’s all for Madam Syrah’s Traveling Curiosities.  Thank you for reading.  Feel free to use any or all of this to suit your purposes.  I would love any feedback that you folks may have.

 

This post references the Savage Worlds game system, available from Pinnacle Entertainment Group at www.peginc.com. Savage Worlds and all associated logos and trademarks are copyrights of Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Used with permission. Pinnacle makes no representation or warranty as to the quality, viability, or suitability for purpose of this product.

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Origins Game Fair 2011

     On Saturday, my girlfriend and I ran up to the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH.  I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t be playing in any events.  The plan was simply to see what there was to see, and try to make it a positive experience for her (an aim which I hope she reciprocates, the next time she wants to go shoe shopping).

     Arriving in downtown Columbus, the first thing that I noticed was that there was a lot going on.  In the short distance from the parking lot to the convention center, we encountered street vendors, musicians, some type of festival, a fellow dressed up like Superman, and a woman who was bare naked, aside from tassels on her nipples and a pair of “granny panties”.  All of these, with the possible exception of Superman, had absolutely nothing to do with Origins.  I guess Columbus is pretty lively on the weekends.

     Entering the convention center, I was met with a familiar sight.  Gamers of every shape and size were everywhere.  From the door to the registration desk, you could hear debates, laughter, cheers, and even a Monty Python quote.  There was no doubt that we were in the right place.  I must have done a good job in explaining what to expect, because my girlfriend didn’t even bat an eye when a buxom young lady in a chain mail bikini sauntered past us.

     We stopped for a moment to dig through our “swag bags”.  For the non convention-going folks out there, these are simply little shopping bags, filled with assorted advertisements from various manufacturers.  Among the many flyers and pamphlets we also found 3 micro d20s from GameScience, an Origins d6 from Crystal Caste, bottle opener/key chain from Mayfair Games, and a random package of temporary tattoos.

     From there we made our way into the Exhibtor Hall.  Fairly self-explanatory,  this massive room is simply row after row of dealers, all set up and selling their wares.  The room was filled and every bit as large as those which I experienced at Origins and Gen Con, back in the 80s and 90s.  However, there were some differences which really stood out to me.

     There seemed to be a relatively small RPG presence among the exhibitors.  As I recallOrigins always had more of a wargame & board game slant to it, but I would have expected (based on my experiences 20 years ago) to see WotC & Paizo represented.  For that matter, I didn’t see many smaller publishers of RPGs in attendance either.  I’m guessing that this may have something to do with the fact that everything is available in PDF form these days.   Perhaps it’s too risky for small publishers to do a convention-season print-run. 

     As I’ve newly discovered Savage Worlds, I was glad to see that Studio 2 Publishing  did have a small booth.  The Savage Worlds Deluxe PDF was available but unfortunately, the hardcover won’t be available until later this summer.  They also had a number of the hardcover “settings’ books on sale for $15 each.  I imagine I’ll be kicking myself for not grabbing a few of them.

      I was a bit surprised at how popular card games continue to be.  I’ve mentioned that I was bowing out of the hobby, at about the time that Magic:  The Gathering hit the scene.  However, that was nearly 20 years ago and I didn’t realize how many different games were still out there.  Hell, it seemed that even most of the board games that I saw being demoed, were using cards as a mechanic.

     Finally, it seemed that there were a higher percentage of small companies represented than in the “olden days”.  This didn’t bother me at all and I found it rather encouraging.  Costumes, weapons & weapon replicas, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and gaming tables were all readily available.  These were sprinkled in with a few retailers who had come to do their thing.  I was especially pleased to see Crazy Egor.  He’s a long-time retailer and mail-order wizard from Western New York (and just happened to graduate from the same high school I did).

     I believe we spent about 2 hours in the Exhibitor Hall.  My girlfriend was hanging tough, but I didn’t want to press my luck .  We decided to wander our way to the other end of the convention center and then head off to grab dinner.  Along our walk, we discovered some other things that Origins had to offer this year.  Yoga, nutrition, and craft classes were offered, as well as wine-tasting and even church services.  While I don’t imagine that these would appeal to every gamer, we found it to be a very nice touch and possibly a way to occupy other family members.

     All in all, not a very exciting day but that was my fault.  I look forward to next year when I can spend longer and engage in more.  More than anything, it’s nice to know that there still are big game conventions.  Despite subtle differences, they’re clearly still very fun.

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Origins Game Fair

As luck would have it, my return to gaming has found me living in the vicinity of one of the larger gaming conventions in the US.  The Origins Game Fair is already taking place and will run through Sunday, in Columbus, Ohio.

I fondly remember attending my first Origins back in 1985.  Held in Baltimore, Maryland, it was one of my first big conventions.  As with Gen Con, the year before, I was amazed at the sheer number of gamers in one place.  Being a 15 year-old lad at the time, I had saved every bit of allowance and “spare” lunch money, to buy as much as possible in the dealer’s room.

As I recall, Isle of the Ape was the adventure for the AD&D Open Tournament and it was very exciting.  I had always been a huge fan of the World of Greyhawk setting.  To be playing in an adventure where the names of “famous” characters were bantered about, was a thrill.  It also seemed certain that the adventure would be published and I loved getting a sneak peek.  Sadly, this was one of the last World of Greyhawk modules that Gary Gygax wrote, prior to departing TSR in 1986.

My other big memory of Origins ’85 was the release of Battledroids by FASA. This miniatures game of mecha combat was unlike anything I’d seen at the time.  FASA had a large demo table set up in the dealer room, which must have sat 20 willing participants.

The playing surface was decorated with all sorts of terrain and instead of lead miniatures, plastics models were used to represent the Mechs.  It was incredibly entertaining and I promptly purchased the game and as many of the models as I could afford.

Just my luck, within a month after returning home from the convention, I learned that due to some legal issues with George Lucas (over the word “droids”), FASA had been forced to change the name of the game to Battletech.  As a result, the game was reprinted, which not only changed the game but ended up being a much better product.  Hmmm, I reckon if I still had that original it might be worth something.  Oh well…

At any rate, this weekend I’ll be dragging the girlfriend up to Columbus to catch Origins for a day.  We’re not planning anything fancy and won’t be playing in any events.  I just want her to see what all the fuss is about.  We’ll scour the dealer’s room and maybe take in a demo or two.  With luck, my evil plan of getting her hooked on gaming, will slowly take effect.  Regardless, it will be fun for me to see, as next year I fully intend on spending the week up there, playing my heart out.

Actually, my main reason for this post was to give a shout out to you folks.  I’ll be snapping up a lot of pictures while we’re there.  If you are curious about anything but not able to attend, I’d be happy to be your eyes and ears.  Just drop me a line if you’d like me to check out any products for you or get a photo of anything in particular.  I’d be glad to help out.

 

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Filed under My Background, Random Stuff