Wednesday, 19 May 2021

[OSR] Real places in RPG [8]: Majlis al-Jinn cave

 Majlis al-Jinn

Staying in the "desert mood", I want to present you the second largest cave on earth, the Majlis al-Jinn.

It means the "gathering place of the Djinns". How could we leave out this place 😊?

This gigantic cave under the plateaus of the Oman desert is a single chamber measuring about 310 metres by 225 metres (over 6 soccer fields of base surface!)

From above

It actually looks like 3 black holes in the ground, nowhere anybody sane would like to get it (unless a loved one was falling down)

The smallest hole is about 2 meters wide, while the biggest (on the middle of the image) could easily swallow 3 cars at the same time...

From the top, it's difficult to make anything out in the cave, 120 m further down


Once inside, it's another matter completely: The sun comes through the 3 holes, in fierce rays of light...

Photo by Yousef Tuqan: DSC_17
Photo by Yousef Tuqan: DSC_17

There the ambient light is in the yellow tones, because of the reflection on the walls and floor.
All sort of animal bones litter the ground under the holes, these having not survived the 120 m drop.
You can see on the photo how small humans are in comparison, one is under the left ray of light.


After a heavy storm, some water can be found in the cave... If the climate outside was more temperate (or at least rainy), this cave could be an extremely big water reservoir or underground lake. No hole leads out, but one might exist, caved in under tons of rubble, allowing excess water to seep through.


In most Arabic legends, free Djinns live in this kind of gigantic caverns.
It is easy to imagine that a magic force has created these caves, because of their majesty, eerie size, and awe-inspiring proportions.

Typically, Djinns grant wishes, but for a price, and often interpret the wish in the worst way possible. Only the craziest and most desperate persons would seek their help.

1D12 reasons to seek a Djinn

Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you want your player characters to meet a Djinn, you need to prepare them for the encounter:

  • have an NPC tell them where to find a Djinn and how dangerous they are
  • Put the characters in a very bad situation (see table)
  • Apply pressure until they have no other choice left ("there are times where all choices are bad choices"). Have their allies arrested, or obligated to lay low. Attack their finances (you don't have  to take their finances away, just make them temporarily worthless, like coins from an enemy kingdom). Have the authorities and the sultan's men track them. Don't let them sleep or heal their wounds. Let them go to daddy-Djinn...

D12Reasons to seek a Djinn
1A character in the group died, and no clergy will or can perform a resurrection
2The love of your life has been kidnapped and no one else can find out their location
3A curse has been bestowed on a party member and its state is worsening by the hour
4A ransom for someone important to the party has been issued, but how should they find that much money?
5An important object was lost in Aether by the destruction of a bag of holding. Who else could locate it?
6A character caught the Sandplague. Their heart will soon start to turn into sand, if not cured...
7A dangerous cult think you are the perfect sacrifice to their dark deity. You need a new identity
8A party member killed the beloved Sultan's son by mistake. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide 
9A caught spy gave your names as its accomplices'. And you thought he was just a resourceful guide
10The captain of the ship that brought to the city is accused of piracy. You arrrrr now hunted as pirates
11Someone paid a big bounty to have the best assassin in the known world chasing your party
12You need passage to the City of Brass, where many Djinns & Efreets live

What could the Djinn want from you

A Djinn will not give you three wishes, only in Disney does that kind of thing happen...
Not only will the Djinn try to corrupt your wish with a technicality, he will want from you something in return. Something you'd prefer never to lose.

D12Compensation for a Djinn's service
1The fiery part of your soul. You can't be resurrected without it
2Your ability to love 
3Your reputation. You will always get defamed ever after
4Your firstborn. Beware of the Djinn's wrath if you made a vow of chastity
5All your good memories of your parents. You keep the bad ones, though
6Kill someone very near to you in the future, when asked for it
7A quest to set free an innocent spirit. But, can an Efreet really be innocent ?
8Kill a minor god of a small pantheon and bring back their divine essence 
9Bring them back the heart of the Emir's young daughter, literally
10Give away some of your life experience (yeah, you'll loose levels)
11Give away 33 years of your life expectancy (or considerably more for longer living races)
12Your ability to read and to ever be able to learn it again (not proposed to barbarians)

What else could the cave be?

If you're not into Djinns & Efreets, the cave could also be:
  1. The mating ground of sandworms / sand dragons
  2. The pit in which all the dead are thrown - a necromancer's wet dream
  3. The entrance to the tomb of Pharao-King Psamtik 66th
  4. The Hall of grievances of the Wraith-King of the desert (only appears when the full moon shines vertically over the main hole)
  5. A refuge for the sand giants, before they disappeared
  6. The antechamber to a circle of teleportation, hidden under the rubble
  7. the brooding ground of a serpentkin race
  8. A ruined stonelift to the underworld
  9. The place of worship nearest to the body of a slumbering non-euclidean chtonian entity
  10. An abandoned Mythril mine. Maybe there's ore left?
  11. The nearly depleted quarry for the bood-stone pyramid
  12. The temple where all the known true names of demons where engraved in the walls


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Real places in RPG post series

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

[OSR] Real places in RPG [7]: Izadkhast Caravanserai

Izadkhast Caravanserai


70 kilometers north of Abadeh next to Izadkhast city, in the Iranian Desert.

This place is on a road that has always  fascinated me: The silk road. This was a network of mainly land trade routes going from China to western Europe. It's by no mean only one road, lots of branches have been created during its centuries of existence, with the rise and fall of powers along its tracks and the ever changing taxation on the goods going along that road which have dictated its course...

Recommended music to read this post: Prince Of Persia OST - A Fight Of Light And Darkness

File:Izadkhast Old Caravanserai Iran.jpg

"File:Izadkhast Old Caravanserai Iran.jpg" by Alireza Javaheri is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Why Iran?

I know most of you probably have some prejudices against that country, but its situation on the silk road and relative war-free recent history lead to a country full of historical and cultural treasures, but few tourists at the same time (which is important if you're searching for images).


Etymologically meaning a "palace for caravans", a caravanserai was a roadside inn where travelers and merchants could rest and recover from the day's journey. They supported the flow of commerce, information and people across the network of trade routes covering Asia, North Africa and Southeast Europe, at which point most caravans and merchants continued on with their travel using the sea ways of the Mediterranean sea.

You can compare them to the fortified Inns of medieval Europe, because they served the same purposes:

  • protecting travelers, merchants, and caravans from adverse weather (sand storms, flash-floods, storms)
  • offering a nightly refuge in security from marauding bandits and wild animals
  • serving as a place of exchange for wares, rumors, and information
  • Trading place between local farmers and artisans with the passing merchants

The network of these palaces was tight enough that you would normally not have to sleep in the dangerous wilderness.


File:Neyestanak Caravanserai Inner Courtyard 2007-01-01.jpg
"Neyestanak Caravanserai Inner Courtyard 2007-01-01" by Kaveh Hosseini (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Typically, after stepping through a fortified entrance portal, you would enter into a spacious court, around which niches and roofed accommodations can be rented. These were somewhat spartan, and meant as well as stables for the beasts of burden.
Some richer caravanserai would also offer access to a public bath, and access to a mosque (with a place for ritual ablutions)
Some of these palaces were also situated in towns, but their court would be much smaller, but the buildings much higher, offering lodging for the town population in the higher floors (an independent stream of income in case of bad times for commerce). These are then named Khan, Funduq, or Wikala.

Fantasy Economics

Unless you have a very developed network of cheap teleportation circles, or a very advanced technological level allowing advanced sea travel or railways, you'll need this kind of inn networks along the most commonly used trade routes of your fantasy world.

These inns are an excellent starting point for a new campaign, even though they might not be different enough from a tavern for the most experienced readers.

I recommend reading what you can find on Oleg's trading post, a renown fortified inn with a central role in the start of the "Kingmaker" campaign. But if you're playing in an Arabian Nights setting or Dark Sun, you're gonna want to read more on caravanserais.

It's worth mentioning that import goods, particularly those that come from far away, have to cost a lot in a medieval setting, because transporting them takes a lot of time, is dangerous, and wares often get taxed along their transport. This is why silk was so expensive back in the days where nobody knew how to make it in Europe.
You have to wait for Louis the 14th's economical policies to start royal workshops (the beginning of the industrialization in Europe) and his economical espionage forays, to see silk production in Europe.

Adventure seeds around the caravansarai

I hope these adventure seeds will help you give life to this place and you'll want to include it in your campaign (as a fortified Inn or Caravanserai, both would work)

D12 Adventure seed
1 A group of bandits is ambushing the caravans & needs to be dealt with
2 A group of bandits attacks only the wealthiest of merchants. Who is informing them?
3 A feud between the local lord & the next on the road makes travel unsure. Can you help find an arrangement?
4 When you enter the courtyard, everyone & all animals were slain, & the wares destroyed. Was it the whim of a Djinn?
5 The Caravanserai is quarantined, but the merchants met the day before were not sick. Poison or malediction?
6 A thief posing as a merchant robbed another one blind and disappeared on a secondary road. Can the wares be recovered?
7 A dangerous cult infiltrated a few caravans and prepare a mass sacrifice of merchants to invoke a bloodthirsty Abomination
8 A sandstorm has been raging on the sarai for abnormally long. Can the PCs find the mischievous air-magic-user? 
9 A troop of the Sultan is bringing a dangerous Felon to the capital. Their accomplices will try to free them tonight
10 The Sarai fell under the control of mercenaries that racket the caravaners and use the inn keepers as slaves
11 The Sarai refuses to pay its dues to a local guild. The guild has build a siege around the building.
12 Last night, the religious shrine was desecrated and a minor relic was stolen. It must be retrieved


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Real places in RPG post series

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

[Book review] Timeline by Michael Crichton

by Michael Crichton

Reading is like a second nature to DMs. Our hobby is rooted in the fantasy writings of the big past monsters like Tolkien, Howard, or Leiber...

But it's also good to read newer stuff... And timeline belongs to the good stuff category, in my opinion.

Beware, there are some spoilers in this review

About the Author

Michael Crichton is a well known Hollywood name... Quite a lot of his books have made it onto the screen (Jurassic being the most well known), and the reason for that is that his books sold well and were easily portable to the screen.
What he writes are page-turners and Timeline is not an exception


As most of Crichton's best sellers, Timeline was adapted to the silver screen, and as research for this review, I've watched the movie. And I understand why the movie was not a blockbuster (to put it mildly 😄). Hollywood tends not to respect what makes a book great, and a lot of what made the book great was trampled on for marketing reasons. Historical accuracy apparently doesn't sell, and that was one of the book's greatest assets.
Timeline was apparently Crichton's first (and last) venture in adapting one of his books as a computer game. Wikipedia can tell you more on that failure 😇. I'm not a masochist enough to have inflicted the game onto myself for this review, though...


A wealthy genius tech magnate (à la Elon Musk, but more of an arse) discover a way to travel through time. Something goes wrong. A group is sent into the past to rescue the precedent group.

While is does not sound particularly original, the story is always intriguing and compelling. The very short version I wrote does not do justice to the book, but i didn't wanted to spoil it for you...

The characters and their motivations are believable and relatable (at least the present day characters)


It's been a characteristic of Crichton's writing to use scientific facts and extrapolate on them to create science-fiction. In this case, he extrapolates on quantum theories and quantum entanglement to explain time / dimension travel, thus creating a believable theory for time travel, with it's limits and risks.
I really liked that part and think it's much better than most theories you can see in RPGs (when those deem to even try to explain dimension/time travel).

Still, like the rest of the book, the explanations are really well written and easy to understand, without dumbing it down too much...


The majority of the book takes place in the southern France 14th Century, and Crichton did a lot of research to actually keep as much of historical accuracy as possible, using recent sources that depict the middle ages as a harsh time, but certainly not a time of darkness, bigotry, and ignorance as the Renaissance thinkers depicted it, an image that has long tradition in our commonly shared imagination.

The biography at the end of the book is 4 pages long, and there are a lot of good references there too (but I'm not an historian, so some might be bullshit and I couldn't say).

One thing that Crichton got really well in this book is how different people thought back then, and how society was structured. 

My opinion is that the historical accuracy is respected but not invasive. You won't get a lecture on the Three-field system or heraldry, but some of the repercussions on the life of those topics will be shown en passant (the ubiquity of horses is something we have to use in our games).

To me, this historical accuracy is the main appeal of this book, on top of the compelling story.


The book is nearly a page-turner. I say nearly because it has more substance than your typical thriller that you will have forgotten in 6 weeks time.

The style is easy to read, yet not simplistic like a Da Vinci Code. The vocabulary used is also accessible, preferring to use common English than specific medieval terms (if a horse is a Percheron, it will be said once, and then called a draft horse)


The story may not have been very original, still it was well rounded and balanced.
Let's say it was better than most easy fantasy novels on that side, because it never uses the "magic" artifact. The only "magic" is the quantum entanglement time travel.

There are actually 2 stories being told in parallel, one in the past (main story) and one in our modern day (the now of the characters - a side story), and both are interesting and intertwined.

The book has a very good rhythm, hence the "page-turner" denomination earlier on.

What's in it for roleplayers?

Well, the historical accuracy is very important, and can be reused in your fantasy game:

  • people in the past behave with another mindset - the mindset of the middle ages. Getting the mindset and not applying our "modern" way of thinking to people in the middle ages is for me one of the greatest challenges of fantasy roleplaying. Sure, you can describe a far-west-world with bows and arrows instead of guns (yes, i'm looking at you, D&D), but then you don't really need a pseudo feudal society, if the law of the strongest is gonna be your sole societal structure...
  • Horses, horses, horses. In all shapes and forms ! Everybody has a car, nowadays... Well most people needed more than one horse back then (transportation? Horse! Field-work? Workhorse! Battle? Warhorse! Cargo & logistics? Mules & Horses!). Everyone has to have a horse, and all these creatures are important to the survival of a family. They surely have names...
  • The feudal system does not oppress women completely (it's not kind to them, but they have rights... Widows in particular can be very powerful women) and you should not do that in your games either. Even though you might see it as historical, that's just a pretext to be a dick...
  • Danger was everywhere in the middle ages. Stuff like crossing a big river or falling from a horse could mean a life long injury. Life was cheap and short, and people started their "adult" life much earlier

Would I recommend it?

Yes, certainly. The book is MUCH better than the movie. Don't watch the movie, it's a loss of time and doesn't do justice to the book material. And it was better fantasy than most books I read in the past few years (I don't read a lot of fantasy, though)


Did you read the book yourself? Leave a comment, i'd love to know what you thought of it !
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