Monday, 28 December 2015

Saturnalia at Pattayavium - Song of Shadows and Dust

For your festive reading this week, I have been sent another great After Action Report from gaming raconteur Mark in Thailand. This time the game is Song of Shadows and Dust, and the setting is Pattayavium, an apocryphal Greco-Roman trading post in Southeast Asia. 

Mark writes:

BackgroundThe Graeco Roman trading post of Pattayavium celebrates the Saturnalian festival every year, with gladiatorial games. The games are very popular, even with the many non-Roman, indeed non-Mediterranean, ethnic groups that comprise the majority of the people. The Roman and Greek expats go to watch the spectacle and think about home. The Asians place wagers on every aspect of the games. Large numbers of visitors come from upcountry and the neighbouring regions, to enjoy the festival and spend money. Everybody's a winner! Especially the Prefect who collects a skim off the bookies.

I have been constructing buildings and accessories for SSD since April 2015, and this game uses everything I have done so far, plus a few items roped in from my Middle Eastern terrain collection. The square arena for gladiators has been around for several years. I have now added entry steps.

The photos below show views of Pattayavium, early on the morning of the games. The actual sports will not begin for several hours. Plenty of time for an SSD diversion!

This view is from the NW, looking to the SE. At bottom is one of the poorer districts with rough huts built around a swamp. Keep an eye on the hut at R, closest to the tree, it will play a big role in the SSD goings-on. In the Prefect's private arena a pair of gladiators are practicing. Just beyond it is the coach of Servilius Crony, returning from his country estates with a retinue of bearers carrying ivory and other produce.

The next view is from the SW looking to the NE. In the main arena more gladiators are practicing. Notice secutor Cleon who is rehearsing his "taking a dive" move against retiarius Hanno, while his lanista discusses the weather with Pattayavium's main bookie. Other points of interest in this view include the municipal baths (with gold ball on the roof) and the Temple of Buddha Optimus Maximus, behind the obelisk. No one knows how the obelisk got there.

This third view is from the SE looking to the NW. In the bottom corner is the old tannery, now abandoned. In the centre is the market square, with shops, street traders, and customers. There are also townsfolk and slaves going on errands, carrying water and so on.

This last shot is from the NE looking to the SW. To the immediate L of the obelisk is the little Temple of Europa, the first Pattayavium building I completed. The tree-lined via Umbris leads from the Buddha Temple to the obelisk.

The ScenarioThe shopkeepers and traders of Pattayavium do good business from the annual influx of tourists for the Saturnalia, but it would be even better if not for the noxious efforts of pickpockets and snatch-purses, who try to acquire a share in the takings. Every year these miscreants appear, then vanish into thin air with their loot. They are bad for business.

This year the merchants have decided to take preemptive action. They have hired some muscle to patrol the main market areas to deter and if possible apprehend the criminals.

The Market Protection Squad (total 230 points) has five members:
Brasidas: 94 points, Q3 C3 Personality
determined, leader, street fighter

Luke & Solon: 32 points each, Q4 C3
bludgeon, grey

Evander & Alketas: 36 points each, Q4 C3
armed, bellicose

The main gang of pickpockets (total 262 points) is:
Sulpicius: 85 points, Q2 C2 Personality
free disengage, grey, leader, quick

Abdullah, Balyan & Tharg: 35 points each, Q2 C1
free disengage, grey, quick
Tharg is cleverly disguised as a street-sweeper slave, enhancing his chances of avoiding detection.

Malik: (& Presha on same base) (younger children): 38 points, Q3 C1
agile, free disengage, grey, nimble, quick

Mahlia: (older child) 34 points, Q3 C1
free disengage, grey, nimble, quick

Here you can see the cast assembled on their stat cards. I have marked the Protection Squad members with blue pom-poms, and the pickpockets with yellow, so they can be better identified when in the field. The points totals are just how they came out. I was not trying to get a "balance" as such. Balance in games is much over-rated IMO. The gold dice near the pickpockets are to record their successful thefts. They start on zero.

The pickpockets must attempt to steal small items of value from civilians at a cost of one action. Success or failure is determined by a dice roll. If successful, another roll determines if the crime has been spotted. If it has, further rolls for other civilians within M distance determines who joins a hue and cry. The logic is for a thief to make an attempt as his/her first action, so as to begin an escape before any reaction starts.

The Market Protection Squad members are known to the pickpockets, but the pickpockets are not known to the Squad. Squad members have an enhanced ability to spot a crime within S distance, and they always have the option to give chase. This should give them a deterrent effect.

At the end of every pair of moves (i.e. after both sides have moved) I will try to remember to move the positions of civilians (maybe except for thieves marks) a bit to imitate folk going about their business and forcing the protagonists to plan and react accordingly.

If a fleeing thief can move out of line-of-sight of all pursuers, or invoke Grey after putting at least L distance between themselves and the nearest pursuer, they can roll to see if they have evaded pursuit. The pursuers can ask any bystanders for information about where the thief went (the responses could be misleading).

The pickpockets can pass stolen property to each other if they are not being pursued. They cannot stash it except at the safe house. There is no limit to the value of stolen goods one pickpocket can carry.

The value of each successful theft is determined by a dice roll, but obviously wealthy civilians (wearing togas etc) are more likely to give a better yield. Values are expressed as 1, 2, or 3 gold.

The thieves win if (a) they can steal at least 10 gold and (b) get it to their "safe house" (the hut near the swamp, see Part 1), (c) without the safe house being discovered (by a thief being pursued there for example). They lose if their leader Sulpicious is captured or killed, or if they have failed to steal and stash enough gold by the time I get bored and decide to move on to the gladiators.

The Market Protection Squad win if they can deny a win to the thieves, or if they capture/kill Sulpicious.

Sulpicious takes a stroll.
Brasidas deployed his Market Protection Squad police men to cover the main market areas. Solon patrolled the Old Blue Gate market, Alketas the cattle and slave market, and Brasidas himself, with Luke and Evander, covered the main market square. Of necessity, his plan was to make it as risky as possible for the pickpockets and wait to pounce when one of them got impatient and made a rash move.

Sulpicious similarly divided his team of pickpockets between these targets. Abdullah checked out the Blue Gate market, Tharg the cattle and slave market, and Balyan, with Malik/Presha looked for opportunities in the main market square. Mahlia loitered outside the municipal baths to see what might turn up. His plan was to avoid any actual theft attempts himself, and act as a cut-out to get stolen gold back to the safe house without being traced.

Both plans only partially survived initial contact with reality ...

First to pounce was Tharg, who snatched 2 gold from a wealthy woman ogling the male slaves on sale (see the photo below). The victim is marked with a red pompon. The only bystander who successfully rolled to give chase has a green pom-pom. The blue pompon indicates Alketas who was close enough to automatically pursue, hence he has a green pom-pom too. At L, Sulpicious strolls along innocently, his yellow thieves pompon invisible except to us. Tharg is making his escape, at bottom of the picture, by ducking around the back of the private arena. He was able to shake off the pursuers, although Alketas, making three activations in his turn, just missed collaring him by a hair's breadth. Lucky for Tharg he had enhanced evasive ability, otherwise he would have been caught.

Note the group of pigs at the side of the toilet block. Several small herds of these comprise Pattayavium's public sanitation crews, and are so useful for this the townsfolk leave them alone. They are tricky terrain.

While this was going on Mahlia pulled off the most audacious theft of the morning, stealing 2 gold from Servilius Crony in his coach while it was stuck in traffic, and getting clean away. No doubt the lack of pursuit was because no locals, and certainly not his retinue of slaves, would feel inclined to come to the help of this toady and lickspittle. She then linked up with Sulpicious, doing his flâneur impression around town, and offloaded her loot to him.

Meanwhile in the main market square, the heavy police presence is having an effect. You can see Malik&Presha at bottom R of the photo, sizing up a mark but reluctant to try until the cops move further away and their activation dice are good enough to help them to make a clean getaway.

I didn't move the civilians after every pair of turns as originally intended, too tedious. But I did move them from time to time. Ditto the police, I tended to move then 1 x S to represent their surveillance mode, rolling for the direction they moved.

In the photo above, the police are actually moving towards the green pom-poms, representing civilians who are chasing the thief Balyan, who has snatched a purse of 2 gold and bolted down the alley between the Temple of Europa and the carpet shop.

The kids took advantage of the distraction unintentionally provided by Balyan, and took 1 gold off their mark. They then used their agile and nimble abilities to scoot over the tricky terrain (baskets of market produce) and shin up a convenient ladder around the corner to lie low on the rooftop, shaking off a pursuit that was fortunately weak (no cops in range, most civilians failed their hue and cry rolls).

When things calmed down, the kids leaped across to the adjacent building (heart stopping moment when they almost fell) and thence back to ground level and away.

A short distance away Balyan was not so lucky. An unfortunate turnover, plus failing his "evade pursuit" roll, saw Brasidas and his sidekicks chase him around the temple and collar him next to the obelisk. This is shown in the next photo. Note the nearby presence of Abdullah, who has pulled off a 2 gold heist at the Blue Gate, evaded pursuit, slunk into town across the cloaca footbridge, handed off his loot to Sulpicious, and is now looking for another target.

Balyan was taken in charge by Market Protection Squad member Luke, who frogmarched him into the nearby Gardens of Mus and locked him in a secure cellar, then returned to his patrol in the main market square. 

Meanwhile, Sulpicious walked back to the safe house, stashed the 4 gold he was carrying, and headed back into town. So far his team had lifted 9 gold in total, but lost 2 when Balyan was arrested, so nett score 7.

This total rose to 8 when young Mahlia, audacious again, picked on a civilian who had no others nearby to assist, and took 1 gold off him, and faded to Grey. This girl has a great criminal future I think.

The pickpockets then finished their successful crime spree on a high as shown in the next and final photo. Tharg, having dropped off his original earnings at the safe house, returned to the scene of the crime and lifted 3 gold from the rice merchant Pompus Giganticus. Pompus was too fat to chase after Tharg, and his three friends, all in range to give chase, declined to get invoked (failed their hue and cry rolls). Alketas, seen in the distance, was too far away to intervene.

This haul took the thieves' gang to a net total of 11 gold, either stashed at the safe house or carried by pickpocket team members not being pursued and free to move innocently back to base with their loot. They can't waste any time though, they'll have be out of town asap in case Balyan peaches to try and save his skin. Fortunately a ship for Kandy is sailing on this afternoon's tide. 

Presumably the merchants and market stall traders who hired Brasidas are not totally happy with his success rate. Whether they will continue to hire protection in the future is not currently known. Brasidas doesn't care, he has already been paid for the ten men he was contracted to hire, so that's five dead pays to the good as far as he is concerned. Perhaps if he can somehow make contact with the thieves leader and cut a deal before the next Games ...?

Only unlucky Balyan does not share in the general happiness. Locked in a cellar, he will go before the Prefect later today, and doubtless has a cameo appearance with a hungry tiger as part of tomorrow's final day of the Saturnalian Games.


That's all folks! I hope you enjoyed the report. Lots left out to keep the length under control, including the "distract" features (a snake charmer at the Blue Market, and Indian Rope Trick at the main market). The thieves should have had "determined" (= ignore distract) but never mind, it all worked out, although Abdullah had a close shave when he was distracted by the snake charmer! And, I believe I'll add a "thief taker" (professional freelance detective) to my character roster, for use in future games to make it that little bit riskier for the thieves.

PS: I have been instructed by the Prefect to assure you that, should you hazard the journey to Pattayavium for a holiday, or on business, a warm welcome awaits you and your money. This message has been sponsored by the Collegia of Merchants, Seamstresses, Barkeepers and Thieves.


  1. Excellent, this has sold me on the rules, a big thank you.

  2. Great report.
    That give me more idea for future Scenarios.
    thank You.

  3. Nice report and splendid table!

  4. Damn, I missed another exciting game night. What a grand game and report. Thanks for sharing. I do envy you all.