Saturday 28 October 2023

Song of Shadows and Dust: Business as usual at Pattayavium

Mark put on a small Song of Shadows and Dust game recently - small by his usual standards anyway. Here’s what you might want to know before we jump into it.

It’s a normal day at one of the markets in Pattayavium.** This market happens to be near one of the red-light districts***. Here are a couple of kite eye **** views of the stage. Looking N (red light district at L) -

** Pattayavium: my imaginary Graeco-Roman trading settlement on the eastern shores of the Gulf of Siam, perhaps some time in the later 1st century AD. 

*** Premises welcoming patrons include: the Dolphin, the Bacchic Revel, the Eros, and the Dryad. Not that you asked.

 **** Kite: probably Haliastur indus. There are a lot of them around here. It’s the fish offal down at the beach.

And E. The thatched roofed buildings at L belong to natives (Tai people) who are settling here is large numbers these days - 

The plots, such as they are, comprising today’s episode concern two groups of players. 

In the next photo, the figures to the L are Kymmes and his henchmen Luke and Solon. They are freelance thief-takers who have staked out this market to make money by collecting the standing rewards for apprehending thieves and known criminals. The team to the R is Sulpicious and three of his pickpocket gang, Thark Balyan and Mahalia. They havn’t worked this area for several months so hopefully the shoppers will have relaxed their watchfulness.

The next photo shows Aulus Spiculus, a wealthy money-lender, who is taking a stroll, with his bodyguard Evander. On the R is Haroun Al-Rashid, a professional assassin. He has a contract to rub out Spiculus, but won’t say who is paying him, or what the motive is for the hit (not that he cares).

There is a third group of players, who are everyone else on stage. Stallholders, shoppers, sideshow artists, brothel spruikers, porters, flaneurs. Tourists, even. A representative sample is in the next photo. They might, depending on circumstances, intervene in the game by (for example) helping or hindering the players, or as terrain pieces who change locations, not always predictably. Or as robbery marks or suspects.

Kymmes and his henchmen decide to split up and patrol the market individually, looking for any signs of nefarious activity. They’re particularly keen to catch pickpockets and cutpurses, not only because of the good rewards on offer but also because they can pocket any loot the thief might have already made before handing him in to the guards.

Sulpicious and his pickpockets likewise work the area individually. Thark (in his usual disguise as a street sweeping slave) and Mahlia will hand-off any loot to Balyan, who in turn will act as a cut-out for Sulpicious. It’s their standard operating procedure.

As the game begins the members of each team are unaware of the identities of members of the other team. But keen observation, not to mention any overt action (eg causing a disturbance) will come into play as time passes.

Aulus Spiculus (and Evander) will take a leisurely stroll around the market before Spiculus goes into the Bacchic Revel for his special therapy. Once inside, Haroun al-Rashid cannot get at him. Al-Rashid is a pro, he’s not on a suicide mission, so he must strike when and where he can maximise his chances to complete the mission and successfully get away.


The next photo shows the position after 1 turn, with the dramatis personae highlighted by coloured markers. Kymmes and his boys have blue. Sulpicious and his crew have yellow. Spiculus & his bodyguard (& nemesis) have red.

One of Kymmes’s henchmen (Luke) is within M of Sulpicious who is on a list of criminal suspects, but he’s too high status to simply arrest, so Luke cannot just grab him. But he can keep an eye on him. Or at least try to, as Sulpicious is a master of fading into a crowd (has “Grey” special ability, as do all his crew members). 

After 3 turns the game is off to only a slow start with no contingent triggers - for example any of the thief-takers activating on a double (2+ dice the same) will betray their identity by mis-identifying a cutpurse and causing a stir in the crowd. The thieves havn’t yet tried any robberies. Haroun Al-Rashid is discreetly shadowing Sulpicious but hasn’t yet made a move.

On turn 4 Solon, the thief-taker henchman, thought he recognised a known cutpurse and moved in to apprehend her. A few nearby civilians intervened (folks who could vouch for the victim) and it seemed argy-bargy would develop. Thark (one of the real thieves) joined in. Solon was forced to relinquish his target and back off in the face of this adamant opposition. And he has blown his cover.

Thark then successfully lifted the purse of one of the civilians, and moved off (faded to grey). 

Elsewhere, Mahlia also lifted a purse. But her usual sense of timing, and luck, momentarily deserted her as she was spotted by Kymmes, and a hue and cry was taken up by another civilian who was quick on the uptake. But she recovered well, fading into the crowd and handing off the purse to Balyan who was posing as an innocent bystander not too far away. 

A couple of turns later, Aulus Spiculus stopped at the carpet shop to admire the wares and place an order for a conspicuously expensive rug for his villa (contingent event). His bodyguard Evander remained a short distance away but was showing signs of boredom and inattention (contingent event).

This was what al-Rashid had been waiting for. Not only was the target stationary and distracted, but there was a good getaway route available. As a lone wolf assassin he is Q2 (highly motivated and excellent situational awareness). He activated with a triple success, and made his move. 1. Move skulkily yet innocently into contact, as if he is just another customer. 2. Plunge his long dagger into Spiculus’s lower back. Using an ambush bonus he succeeds, though Spiculus was a harder target than expected, maybe wearing some king of armour under his clothes (al-Rashid made the success score but only just). 3. Run for it. The escape distance (off the table edge into the Shambles) is less than 1L. Evander totally failed his chance to spot the imminent danger and intervene, only giving chase when it was far too late.

The rug shop owner is wringing his hands at the lost sale. But naturally the commotion attracted a large crowd, as news that Spiculus had been murdered in broad daylight spread quickly. 

At this point I telescoped a few turns to speed up the action. Most of the folks in the market have converged on the scene of the crime. Either from morbid interest or to rejoice at the death of the hated money-lender.

Naturally the thieves and thief-takers are among the gathering crowd. Kymmes was quite close by, but he realises what an opportunity this could be to spot thievery, and hangs back on the fringe of the crowd, in surveillance mode. His henchmen (Luke and Solon) were at the far end of the market but are coming up as fast as they can. Balyan is also on the fringe of the crowd, but Suspicious hangs back. Tharg and Mahlia both spring into action: Tharg robs the Indian Rope Trick collection box, Mahlia picks a pocket quite close to Kymmes and gets away without being spotted. 

Whistles blowing in the distance indicate a Guard patrol is on the way. The crowd begins to disperse. No-one wants to be nearby when the guards arrive, for risk of being arrested for “looking suspicious” or whatever. 

So far Kymmes and his henchmen havn’t identified, let alone caught, any thieves. It’s looking like a waste of a morning’s work. But then, right under his nose, Mahlia picks another pocket, and he spots her doing it. He gives chase, as does the mark. Mahlia runs for cover, but the men are too close behind and nab her.


At this point the morning’s business comes to an end. Kymmes’s henchmen will be along soon and Mahlia will be marched off to the basilica for (presumably) interrogation and summary judgement. It doesn’t look good for her. Only 1 reward for the morning, but it’s better than nothing, and there is the loot from her two earlier successes, which she hadn’t yet handed off, as a bonus.

Sulpicious and the other crew members will make their way back to their safe house, pick up their stuff, and relocate before Mahlia is forced to talk. Later they can count their earnings for the morning, which also aren’t much as some was still on Mahlia when she was caught. 

There is general rejoicing at the fate of Aulus Spiculus. Those of the hoi polloi who owe him money will be hoping the debts are forgotten, which seems possible as he has no obvious heir. Those who pass as high society in Pattayavium won’t miss his boorish presence at the baths and symposia. Evander the bodyguard wasn’t seen again, unsurprisingly.

Cheers from Pattayavium!


  1. Hello, thinking about using SSD for small game in outremer for testing purposes. How would you handle armoured models. Usings SOBAH or ASOBAH Rules Thanks Dalibor

    1. Yes, I would use the rule from SoBaH (the same as used in Song of Arthur and Merlin too) - armour turns a loss by 1 into a draw result. The points systems should be fully compatible, so that would make sense.



  2. Thanks, I think I will use:
    Assassin (P)
    Heavy Armour
    Abbot (P)
    Danger Sense
    Desert Walk
    + Religion, which will correspond with hatred and civilians activation. E.g. Nizari Dai (demagogue) would have harder to motivate christian or sunni but better chance to work with shia. Hope this will work. Somehow :-)

    Thanks and Happy New Year 2024