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.
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.
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.
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