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Prelude: The Oasis Bladedancers

The Setup

Prior to heading to Eight Roads Market, the party may stumble upon a contest between two bladedancers. The contest has an audience of roughly a hundred merchants and spectators, and is hosted at a small desert market called Sweetwater.

If characters choose to watch the scene, use selections from this:

Scene

A faint oasis of music and light slowly comes into view, a star drifting across the blanked deep purple dunes.

It looks to be some kind of concert, although the scene is like no musical performance you’ve seen or heard. Two bands face one another, ringed by an enthusiastic crowd. The two sets of performers are completely at odds -- one features an upright bass, strange horns, and cymbals, and the other a more traditional lute and viol, but flanked by several diverse varieties of drums.

Together, the two bands work in concert to forge disparate but not dissonant harmonies; at intervals, different members of each group rise above the blended sound in energetic solos.

The most interesting feature of the performance, though, is between the two bands. Two figures sway and weave around one another at the center of the spectacle. It’s easy at first to mistake them for dancers, but then the two collide in a shower of spark and steel that somehow matches the cadence of the performance.

One, a white-haired human female, wields two steel fans. The other, a male tiefling, wields a copper-coloured rapier. Every step, every move, every strike follows the music, and the greater whole sways between contest and cooperation. The tiefling is composed, calculating, and graceful -- his motifs are classical, strict, and technical, to match his skill. The white-haired woman’s style could not be more different; her recklessness is only enabled by her matching dexterity. More than once she gives the impression of losing her balance before shooting out an arm or leg to catch herself and twirl back up to a fighting posture. Her music is frenzied, energetic, edging towards pure chaos.

The disparate styles seem to be a match, as copper and silver add a percussive layer to the concert. Every perfectly aimed sting with the rapier is batted casually aside -- every slice with the fans is avoided with the careful footwork of a trained, and talented, fighter. It seems a choreographed ballet, playing out after months of rehearsal.

At least, until one of the horns from the human’s side breaks out into a dizzying solo -- she matches her pace to meet the new cadence and quickens her strikes to accompany the complex rhythms. The tiefling is visibly shaken, barely staying on top of the beat. Blow after blow rains down until finally, as the horn solo reaches its apex, the tiefling makes a bold lunge to counter.

The rapier races towards the human’s slight frame, and the audience gasps. It seems as though his gambit to pierce the cacophony with one true strike has paid off - until, at the last moment, the human viciously swats the rapier downward into the ground, throwing her full body down onto the side of the blade to drive it towards the earth. Unable to stop his momentum, the tiefling stumbles forward, finally losing his connection to the music and barely able to still himself as his neck careens just to the edge of an already-waiting steel fan, held aloft from the dusty ground by an outstretched arm.

The music stops.

The human smiles up. The tiefling, beaten, gives a begrudging grin as well.

“I yield!”, he bellows at the audience, and cheers erupt. White-hair’s band breaks out into a celebratory tune, and the two honor each other with a bow, exchanging words of respect that are quickly drowned out by the crowd’s fervor.

Interactions

The Performers

After the performance, Sweetwater settles into a cozy festive atmosphere. The performers, Agrissa Belal and Weston Red post up by the bar, where fans line up to buy drinks and meet the two, who seem to be local celebrities.

With enough coercing, one of the performers might agree to a match against one of the party... assuming the challenger can come up with an ensemble to accompany them.

The challenger can enlist other party members, or try and recruit audience members to play in the ensemble.

In the latter case, consult the table below for potential band members. An ensembled can consist of 2-4 musicians.

Name Description Instrument Proficiency
Esra Winters Female dwarf, rust-colored hair, cheery disposition Dulcimer +1
"Happy" Jack Soze Male human, late 60s, bit of a belly -- charasmatic, but very drunk. Bagpipes +4 (Drunk), -1 (Sober)
Wade Dunnbarrow Male human, nervous and unsure, kind, confident on stage Shawm +2
Valkan Grimsbane Half-orc female, clumsy but enthusiastic Flute +1
Arranis Cardonel Elf, Prim and proper, but good-natured Lute +3
Gimbal Timbers Gnome male, eccentric and a bit flim-flammy Something he calls the "Arcane Marimba" +6, Disadvantage

Running a Bladedancer Contest

Running a bladedancer contest is similar to running actual combat, with a few additions:

  • At the top of initiative each round, the two sides must roll a Performance contest. Rather than adding their own Performance skill to this roll, use the modifiers from the table above, totalling any modifiers for multiple band members. For example, if the ensemble consists of Wade Dunnbarrow, Arranis Cardonel, and Gimbal Timbers, the total modifier would be +11, but the check must be made with disadvantage due to Gimbal's unpredictable choice of instrument.
  • The winner of this contest gains advantage on Attack Rolls and Saving Throws for the duration of the round.
  • Agrissa and Weston each have a modifier of +15.
  • Spells are strictly forbidden.

Describing Combat

Remeber that bladedancing is as much performance as it is combat -- combatants are encouraged to be as flashy as possible in their descriptions of actions.

Merchants

A number of traveling merchants have gathered at Sweetwater for the evening, intent on peddling their wares to the concert-goers. Inventory could include:

  • Incense
  • Food & Drink of middling quality (street food and ales, mostly)
  • 25 GP Art Objects
  • Minor magical objects - a ring, mask, small figurine, or other bauble with 1-2 Minor Properties and 0-1 Quirks

The Conspiracy Theorist

Posted at the bar is one of Sweetwater's local characters, Mickey Crickets. Equal parts gregarious and eccentric, Crickets is always eager to share his "theories" about "what's really going on" with those willing to listen -- and especially with those picking up the bar tab.

This sharp-eyed, solemn halfling has an answer for everything -- and it's never conventional. The tyrranical religious empire expanding its territories? Controlled by beings from another dimension. The recent rash of sandstorms? The work of giants forging pacts with devils, no doubt. A particularly rough hangover? Ole' Crickets got too close to the truth!

Chief among the recent rumors are strange tales surrounding the Eight Roads Market. The market is one of the few landmarks known to those outside the Desert. A popular tourist spot, it serves host to seasonal merchant festivals. Lately, though, guards hired by the Merchant's Guild have been posted along main roads leading to the market, turning away those attempting to reach it.

The common rumor is that a rash of sandstorms has caused damage to the market, and that it's closed for repairs -- Mickey has his own theory, though. According to Mickey, the first few merchants who set up for this season's merchant gathering just vanished. Unsure of what to do, the Guild has suspended travel to the area indefinitely to avoid a panic.

Ironically, this is the truth. Others present at Sweetwater may mention acquaintances or relatives that went missing in the area. Guild member Kassat Hawkeye, posted in Sweetwater by the guild, will try and quash these rumors as they come up. If confronted and convinced that the PCs are powerful enough to help investigate, he will privately come clean and offer them a reward for traveling to Eight Roads to solve the mystery.

The Merchant's Guild

The Scorching Dunes is a vast desert, containing only a few communities spread across its otherwise harsh and unlivable expanse. Communities live and die by the routes of merchants, and maintaining governance over such an environment is nearly impossible.

As such, the Merchant's Guild has risen to become the foremost institution of authority in the area. Though not a formal body of control -- communities are governed individually -- the Guild itself may negotiate disputes, determine trade routes, and coordinate between communities that otherwise would not be able to communicate quickly. They also keep a retinue of veteran mercenaries, to help enforce agreements and discourage would-be bandits.

Vices

The pungent odors of both smoke and drink settle over the post-performance crowd like a warm, dreamy haze. A number of potent substances could be obtained here, for those with the right questions and proper coin. Procuring such vices could prove dangerous, though, for someone who reeks to heavily of naivety. These encounters could be initiated by the party, or a dealer might approach a party member he or she percieves as less savvy.

For inspiration, see the table below:

Name Description Average Cost Effect
Brickdust Coarse red powder, packed and smoked in a pipe 2 GP / use A cozy, warm-fuzzy high that promotes sleep (+1d6 temporary hit points if used before or during a long rest)
Spike Clear liquid, sold in small glass capsules, downed as a shot 50 GP / use An intense, speedy high that enhances the senses but leaves the user exhausted (one round of Haste)
Etherum Sparkling silver leaves, rolled and smoked 10 GP / use Its users are convinced that they are experiencing a full-body high and brag obnoxiously about it, but the plant has no psychotropic properties
Torus Thick indigo paste, usually slathered on a strap of leather to be chewed 20 GP / use Extremely vivid hallucinations; in addition, a Bearded Devil named Zabbura will appear to the user and convince them that the high will never end, unless the user signs over their soul. This is, of course, not true -- the hallucinations will end in 1d4 hours

Notable Characters

Agrissa Belal

Quick Facts

  • Human Female, 32, unkempt white hair and amber eyes, deep reddish/amber skin
  • Native to the Dunes
  • Garbed in light, baggy linen clothes typical of the Dunes' natives
  • Fights with two bladed fans
  • Her backup music is chaotic and brazen, much like her personality
  • Happy-go-lucky & reckless exterior, but sharp and observant beneath this facade
  • Statblock

Weston Red

Quick Facts

  • Tiefling Male, 55, long black hair usually worn in a neat ponytail
  • Garbed in formal attire reminiscent of Northern aristocrats
  • Originally from the Empire, fled persecution as a Tiefling
  • Accompanied by a formal, classical ensemble that pairs well with is reserved and formal demeaner
  • "Red" is in fact a catchall surname given to Tieflings in the Empire, in place of their family name
  • Fights with the copper-tinted rapier "Devil's Breath"
  • Statblock

Kassat Hawkeye

Quick Facts

  • Human Male, 41, white hair kept at stubble length, amber skin, 6'1 and strongly-built
  • Wears sand-traveler clothing -- linen robes, and a headwrap / shawl, decorated with intricate patterns in deep reds, golds, and purples
  • Native to the Dunes, and has actually never left
  • Middling security officer for the Desert Merchant's Guild, the forepost politica power in the area
  • Carries a heavy crossbow, with which he earned his surname
  • Statblock - Basic Veteran