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Sind's Red Curse

by Wuddy

In the year AC 1013, a new band of adventurers, created under the new 5E rules, are getting their bearings in the land of Sind. The players are veterans of my previous Wrath of the Immortals campaign, and that one turned out to be so popular that we've gone back to Mystara for 5E. Over the last five years it's cemented a place as one of my favorite settings, and I now find it difficult to decide what not to showcase about Mystara.

But we've been playing for about a month now, and as the players are getting a feel for their characters, I'm also sketching out my long term plan.So far the important themes are Sind, Red Steel, Ancient Nithia, Master of the Desert Nomads, and post-WotI factions.

Sind is the home of most of the PCs and currently standing in the way of the Master's march eastward. The rajadhiraja has called to arms all the noble-born himayas to stand against the unified threat of the desert nomads. With the best and the bravest out on the front lines, it falls on the lower castes- long believed inferior- to protect towns such as Palkat from the lesser threats of goblins, mercenary thugs, and angry spirits. We'll be exploring gender roles in Sind, overcoming the circumstances of birth, and social mobility, and that will foreshadow later developments when the PCs have to take command of an army and eventually pursue immortality.

Red Steel encompasses the neighboring Savage Coast, which has been having simultaneous developments as the Red Curse threatens to cross the Gulf of Hule. As the curse expands, so too does the search for cinnabryl to counter it, and this crisis- part plague, part gold rush- is creating a lot of the shockwaves rippling out into Sind.
What canon says: The Week Without Magic dissolved the aranea intelligence network and brought down the wards which shielded them from the Red Curse.
What I'm changing: The Week Without Magic also revealed the existence of the aranea race, and enabled the Red Curse to spread across all fronts... not just into Herath.

Ancient Nithia has been forgotten by mortals, but has still influenced Sind and the Savage Coast. Artifacts of its reign lay buried under the sand, kept secret by divine intervention. Now that the rush for cinnabryl is crossing the gulf, it may be too much to keep those old secrets buried.
What canon says: Nithians were destroyed for annoying the Immortals. Before their fall, they set loose magic to siphon their pharaoh's power for Legacies and seeded the earth with magic cinnabryl to reap its benefits.
What I'm changing: Nithians actually posed a threat to the Immortals. Rather than their pharaoh, the power they siphoned was Immortal in nature, and cinnabryl enabled them to hold that power without devastation to their mortal bodies.

The Master of the Desert Nomads poses an implacable threat to the civilized people of Sind, leading savage tribes on a warpath for distant Darokin. As many have suggested, I'm going to be running the metaplot chain as X10-X4-X5 so that the PCs can first push back the Master's forces, and then pursue to Hule for a telling blow, instead of the X4-X5-X10 version where the Master simply returns to trouble Sind again.
What canon says: The Master is motivated to invade Sind because making war helps him politically, or he bears an irrational hatred for the East.
What I'm changing: Hule has already felt the spread of the Red Curse, and the Master's horde has very good reason for claiming the lands to the east.

The post-WotI factions are split among three lines: the traditional Ring of Fire, the iconoclastic Fellowship of the Star, and the scheming Brotherhood of Shadow. Grudges can last for an eternity among the Immortals, and these disagreements are still fresh even as the conflict of WotI starts to fade from mortal memory. Representing each of these factions is one Immortal important to the new party: Valerias for RoF, Asterius for FotS, and Hel (as Kala) for BoS. The PCs, caught between these three worlds, may be in a position to mend those differences, or simply to capitalize on them.
What canon says: The vermeil of the Red Curse is Immortal blood voluntarily shed by the Great One to afflict the aranea.
What I'm changing: The Great One did not shed blood voluntarily, but was instead gravely wounded by Nithian weapons. As mortals rediscover these old techniques, the rivalries between the Immortals will boil over again.

All of this comes together for a setting where the PCs must push back the physical tide of the Master and the magical tide of the Red Curse, and ultimately stand judgement on old feuds between Immortal and mortal, and between the Immortal factions. In the process they will decide not only the fate of Sind, but the relationship between mortals and their oft misbehaved Immortals.

The next stage of this campaign, after the PCs have cut their teeth in Palkat, is to involve the PCs in the invasion with the start of X10 (but substituting Palkat for Akesoli). The majority of X10, and the exciting part if you ask me, is a vignette adventure across many Known World locations called "Diplomatic Missions," where the PCs are raising support to push back the invading forces. I think this is awesome. But I also want to avoid overlap with vignettes we already explored in the previous game, and a lot of the vignettes themselves I think could stand to be improved.

I could use some help with this!

The vignettes in X10 are...
Glantri: We've already done this one extensively during WotI. It might be nice to return there and see how it's getting along post-war, but then I don't want to make my players feel bad about the victory of their previous PCs.
Atruaghin: The PCs went here in the previous campaign, but it was only a vision quest and a launching point into the Hollow World. A return visit would be fine as long as it's different.
Karameikos: Runs the risk of feeling too generic. It's also quite distant. I'd like to replace it entirely with a vignette for the Undersea Kingdoms.
Ierendi: The suggested vignette has potential, as an encounter with a roc could bring the PCs into contact with the small community of Nithians who still exist on one of the islands (White Island, IIRC). This could be used to foreshadow revelations about Nithia, and to bring parts of the plot together.
Minrothad: No ideas yet.
Thyatis: The same problem of being too generic and remote. This one I'd like to replace with a vignette of the Savage Coast. The adventure Divided We Fall provides a very tantalizing macguffin in the form of a mask which can protect a city against invaders with a wall of fear. This would be something the PCs have good reason to want.
Ylaruam: The most remote ally of all really offers little flavor that Sind/India and Hule/Iran do not already have; including this vignette would merely dilute that. Nothing to replace Ylaruam with, however.
Northern Reaches: No ideas yet.
Ethengar: Since most of the PCs are women, a Mulan homage where the characters impersonate men in order to prove themselves to the tribes might be fun? Complete with the shocking reveal heard round the plains.
Rockhome: I'd like to use the 4E product Hammerfast to showcase a dwarven city co-habitated by ghosts, as spirits are both pertinent to some of our Sindhi characters and a good source of ancient information the PCs may need to progress. Hammerfast is also just a cool product and I have yet to use it.
Alfheim: After the events of WotI this region is inhabited by shadow elves, and I have yet to really decide what that means, or what they could possibly contribute to a war fought under the desert sun.

Sitara and Gareth, wow! It's been a while. I had never put together that Gareth might be Benekander... I think at the time I was reading the PWAs cover to cover, I didn't have access to WotI. Benekander was a close ally of the WotI PCs in the previous campaign, though they didn't always trust him. That would be a terrific link between the two campaigns. Time to dig out my PWAs and follow Sitara's adventure!

If Mark of Amber has the PCs interacting with Etienne himself, that poses a problem, since he was destroyed at the end of WotI. But, I thought I remembered Mark of Amber taking place with the conceit that Etienne is mysteriously missing, as a nod to WotI. It sounds like I should give the adventure another look. If it's as good as you say, it should be worth salvaging even if it means changing how the adventure affects Etienne.

The Heldannic Territories are a great suggestion for a location. In the previous campaign, the 4E goddess Ioun was made an incarnation of Vanya, concerned with both the conquering of new places and new secrets. Vanya as a result inherited Ioun's ties to the Far Realm. In the scope of WotI we never really went into the Heldannic Knights, but now it's been a while since their conquest and they've had a combination of isolation and absolute power to dabble in those darker interests. I think it would complement the menace of the Heldannic Knights.

That's a very good point that Sind might seek aid from the west. I made a conscious decision to avoid them, due to there not being much information on those regions. Yavdlom I remember being pretty well developed, but the name, while a cool tribute, risks hurting immersion.

Right now we're doing bits and pieces of the 5E intro adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver, merged with the intro to Master of the Desert Nomads. The PCs are rejects from the mercenary companies joining the himaya caste to fight the desert nomads: three are women, one is a gnome, two are Darokinian, and all are either low castes or disowned by their families.

I found the backgrounds in 5E very good for determining what caste the PCs belong to, or are categorized into as outsiders. I got a little mean and sprang it on them after they'd chosen. "Surprise! That choice you made only to get stealth training means you're an untouchable." "D'oh." In part I think this makes the spread of castes more organic, but I also wanted to reflect the ideas of fate and predestination that seem to exist in Sind. The players didn't decide to be kuliya- someone else told them that they are.

The adventure, Lost Mine, has the characters rescuing a "kidnapped" wizard who has in fact fallen in with the baddies. They're working with a dark agent to find the titular lost mine which contains a Forgotten Realms thing called the forge of spells. With some redacting, the kidnapped person is actually a House Toney merchant from Darokin, and the baddies he's working with are advance agents of the Master. The lost mine, only rumored to exist, is one rich in cinnabryl.

It's uncertain even in my own mind whether such a mine really does exist, but the villains are convinced that it does. The PCs have already encountered a scout from Slagovich, who discovered an old red steel sword (belonging to a retired Sindhi adventurer who once flew with the Princess Ark) and wanted to bring it back to Slagovich as evidence. One of the Master's legions, meanwhile, are en route to Palkat and expecting results. This means that while the PCs are thwarting the villains of the Lost Mine adventure, Palkat will fall, and the PCs will be forced to flee to Sayr Ulan. (It takes us a while to do dungeons, though, so this may not all happen before Christmas)

Here I wanted to introduce the Joshuan Almanac character of Ursula Bremen. Ursula has been living in Palkat under the guise of a Shehid mystic, doing investigation for the Almanac, and also spying for the Darokin Diplomatic Corp. As they flee Palkat, she'll join up with the PCs and enlist them as Sindhi representatives to stand before the DDC and tell the tale of Palkat's fall. This will set off the whole X10 vignette series as the PCs travel from place to place in search of allies.

In the meantime, I need to come up with something to occupy ~3rd level adventurers in Sayr Ulan. I know that I want them to encounter Sitara, and Anand Brishnapur. That's easy enough, as Ursula and Anand are connected through the Shehid mystics. The two of them recognize each other and maybe know a bit about one another.

In the PWAs, Sitara and Anand get into some small scale trouble proselytizing, so perhaps that's what happens. How to do this in a way that's both exciting, and doesn't leave the PCs disliking the leaders of Sind, though?

The Darokin Diplomatic Corp spy, Ursula Bremen, was unfortunately taken prisoner by the nomads while scouting the captured town of Palkat. This put me in a difficult position of no longer having a way to connect the PCs to the DDC. It seems Palkat left a strong impression, though, as the PCs have been talking about taking it back, despite being only 3rd level. I hadn't considered it, but what an awesome moment it would be for them!

So as they travel to Sayr Ulan, it isn't just escorting refugees from the fallen town; they're garnering support to push back the desert nomads from Palkat.

~ ~

Sayr Ulan is, by my reckoning, a fertile and crowded place, a wealthy place which has to deal with an unwanted transient population of foreign traders and visitors.

On the day of the PCs' arrival, Sayr Ulan was celebrating the Day of Irresponsibility, a holiday described in the almanacs. I see the holiday as a break from the rigid structure of Sindhi life, a day of mischief. For this I'm drawing on the real world Songkran Festival, where the new year is celebrated with a three day water fight to beat the heat and cleanse the old year. In Sayr Ulan we had a similar thing going with citizens in masks, playing pranks and giving in to their passions. I took something that I remembered from actual Hindu practice too, where old idols are discarded and new ones are installed. To make way for the new year's gods, Sayr Ulan had public bonfires where the old idols could be burned and their spirits returned.

The PCs and their refugees were first directed to the district of Kishkindha, a camp where Sayr Ulan's unsavory transient population are welcome. The cultivated jungle of Kishkindha and its many caves have become the permanent camp of Sindhi kin of the phanaton, inspired by the vanara of Indian myth. Kishkindha exists as a commune where those who can work but have no money are welcomed into the phanaton culture.

~ ~

Within this jungle, the PCs first encountered Sitara Rohini and Anand Brishnapur giving sermon within the free temple open to the masses.

Gareth's identity as Benekander has some interesting possibilities. In WotI, Benekander came into contact with one of the Old Ones which exist beyond the Immortals. Since Gareth is held by Sitara as beyond the pettiness of the gods, I think Benekander has become the lucky one in a million to ascend to Old One. The name Sitara uses for him is not Gareth, since I don't like that. Instead she calls him He From Beyond. Tying this into Sindhi belief, Benekander has attained perfect enlightenment and broken free of the suffering of the wheel of reincarnation, becoming one with the energy of the universe. In this way, as He From Beyond, he looks back from a level of existence beyond even the Immortals. He is not, however, beyond mortal concerns. It was only a decade ago that he was freed, and his actions still leave lasting scars on Mystara.

Benekander's Old One status allows Sitara to glimpse the threads that tie a person to the wheel of reincarnation. She can use this to read a person's dharma, the correct actions they must take in life to ease their spiritual burden. There's a bit on the dharmic duties of D&D characters in the old 2E product Legends & Lore. The dharma of our paladin of Asterius, for instance, is 1) allow no evil to fester, 2) help the weak and poor, being the fattest coin in the alms bowl, and 3) see that all fair bargains are upheld, on your honor. I'm using dharma and dharmic duties for 5E's Inspiration system. Whenever a character goes out of her way to do her dharmic duty, she gains Inspiration.

One of the players plans to multiclass into warlock, and surprised me by asking about taking He From Beyond as a warlock patron. I think that sounds pretty cool, and gives Sitara a reason to be close to the party.

Patrick, I followed your advice with a respectful trial for Sitara, and it worked out perfectly. The PCs aren't quite sure what to think about the rishaya who had her taken into custody, but I played up his compassion and he is otherwise in the PCs' corner. One of the PCs (our only himaya) then vouched for Sitara, which means the case is dismissed, but Sitara has been asked to leave the city. This gives her a good reason to accompany the PCs as they leave Sayr Ulan.

Our next move is going to be meeting with the rajadhiraja to convince the authorities that Hule is indeed behind these attacks, and ask them to redirect forces from the war effort to retake Palkat. An emissary from Hule is already present in the rajadhiraja's court and has been painting the Master as an ally against the desert nomads. To handle the ensuing debate, I'm going to be using a system from another old edition gem, Dynasties & Demagogues, updated for 5E. Conversion is seriously a breeze.

~ ~

One of the things I'm still struggling with is a suitable flavor for Hule. Hule is huge, it's menacing, it's an engine for elevating a powerful evil to Immortality, but the scant descriptions that exist make it seem kind of plain... lacking a very strong flavor. How would you add character to Hule to further develop it?