Background

The Road To Petra is a tale of discovery. The characters are TV crew members filming a documentary series about unexplained mysteries. As they film their reports the characters are challenged by strange events with no rational explanation. Eventually they discover they are part of a loop in time which spans two millennia and creates impossible paradoxes.

Timeline

The central paradox to the events in The Road To Petra is the explosive destruction of the Tower by the characters in Episode Three. The force of the explosion sends fragments of the Tower across multiple dimensions and time. Some of it enters the Earth's atmosphere as meteors at two key points, in 43CE and in the present day shortly before the adventure begins. The appearance of these meteors sets up a sequence of events which paradoxically leads the characters into the adventure and ultimately to the explosion which destroys the Tower.

The key events relating to the adventure are detailed below in chronological order. As some events occur in an extra-dimensional space where time is largely meaningless, these events are labeled TT (Tower Time).

43CE
Autumn Solstice: Debris from the Tower appears in the Earth's atmosphere, streaking across the sky. Its appearance on the night of a major religious festival causes panic in the city of Ramallah. The hermit Al-Nazeb is transported to the Tower.
TT
Al-Nazeb spends a subjective 2000 years at the Tower where he eventually meets Ibraahiim and the characters (Episode Three).
43CE October
Ahmed Yassin arrives from the future in the village of Zayta with a powerful artifact of the outer dark known as Al-Nazeb's Stone.
43CE November
Al-Nazeb returns to his own time after the characters destroy the Tower.
44CE February
Romans kill two villagers from Zayta provoking Ahmed Yassin to seek vengeance.
44CE March
Ahmed Yassin summons a pestilence using Al-Nazeb's Stone. It is targeted at the Roman garrison in Ramallah but the plague runs through the entire city. Al-Nazeb uses his knowledge of the outer dark learnt at the Tower to seize the stone and cast Ahmed Yassin into the outer dark, where he becomes the Tower. Al-Nazeb takes the stone and is bricked up alive in his cave to prevent the stone being used by anyone else.
1910CE
Al-Nazeb's cave is discovered and opened by the archeologist Sir Percival Moore. The skeletal remains of Al-Nazeb along with his stone end up in the basement of The Ramallah Museum.
1977CE
While helping his father smuggle weapons across the Sinai Desert, twelve year old Ibraahiim is caught in a sandstorm and arrives at the Tower.
TT
Ibraahiim meets Al-Nazeb at the Tower where he spends around 40 years of subjective time before meeting the characters. With the destruction of the Tower, Ibraahiim returns to 1977.
1985CE
Ibraahiim moves to America and uses the knowledge gained at the Tower to build a financial empire. The world knows him as Yousef al-Masri, property developer, media baron and philanthropist who is best known in the west for his Mystery! Science! TV channel.
1994CE
A researcher at the the Ramallah Museum connects Al-Nazeb's cave and its strange stone to historic reports of the plague in 44CE and the hermit who saved the city. Ibraahiim is a patron of the museum and recognizes Al-Nazeb's Stone as part of the Tower. He funds further research and takes efforts to ensure the security of the museum.
1995CE
Ibraahiim founds Mystery! Science! TV as a cover for further investigations having seen the logo on the characters' equipment at the Tower.
1997CE
After funding more historical research and conversations with theoretical physicists Ibraahiim becomes worried about the time paradox. He covertly begins tracking down and then monitoring the characters he met at the Tower (in his past, their future). At times he acts as a secret benefactor, using his influence to smooth the course of their lives.
2010CE
The Custodians of Writing become suspicious of Yousef al-Masri and believe him to be the agent of another society or a lone wolf operator of the outer dark. To monitor Yousef al-Masri's activities in the West Bank they plant Ahmed Yassin in Ramallah. He forms the History Club and recruits Tawfiq Canaan, Bulus Farah and Walid Touqan. Ahmed learns of Al-Nazeb's Stone and its powerful, outer dark nature.
22nd September (Present Day): The night of the autumn equinox, an Israeli air strike accidentally kills seven children and nine others causing outrage in the region. That night a shooting star is seen over the West Bank and most of the eastern Mediterranean. Ahmed Yassin and his History Club followers see the star as a sign and are inspired to take action against the Israelis.
On the night of the shooting star, a man dressed as a Roman legionary was knocked down and killed in the Sinai desert.
Ibraahiim sees the shooting star and recognises the time is right. He begins work on a new TV show, Science In The Danger Zone!, and recruits the characters as presenters and crew.
23rd September
Museum guard Tawfiq Canaan steals Al-Nazeb's stone.
The villagers in Zayta see the ghosts for the first time.
25th September
Ahmed and the History Club make their first attempt to spread plague among the Israeli Defence Force using Bulus Farah as a plague carrier.
29th September
The villagers of Zayta abandon their village.
1st October
The History Club use the stone to empower the symbols in the Culvert as an attack on the Israelis.
3th October
The first Israelis in Camp Nathan fall victim to the virus.
4th October
Heavy rain carries the magic of the outer dark into Ramallah's Old City.
7th October
Ja'afar Touqan, brother of Walid Touqan, becomes the first Palestinian to die of the plague.
10th October
Ahmed Yassin and Tawfiq Canaan go in to hiding at the Roman Ruins as the plague spreads rapidly in the city.
12th October: The Custodians of Writing realise that Ahmed Yassin is out of their control and direct the Harbingers of Revolutionary Jihad to find and kill the History Club.
13th October
Experimenting with Al-Nazeb's stone, Ahmed Yassin turns Tawfiq Canaan into an or-karpi (sand creature). Ahmed flees the ruins and heads towards the village of Zayta.
20th October
Ahmed Yassin reaches the deserted village of Zayta.
22nd October
A TV crew from AraTel spends the night in Zayta after the displaced villagers appeal for help. The TV crew disappear and are never found after Ahmed Yassin turns them in to or-karpi.
24th October
Ahmed Yassin descends into the well at Zayta and travels back to 43CE.
28th November / Prologue
As the characters arrive in Dubai for their briefing, the plague is rampant within the city of Ramallah.
Epsiode One
The characters travel to Ramallah to investigate the plague. They discover the existence of the outer dark and trace the plague back to Ahmed Yassin.
Episode Two
The team moves on to Hebron and investigate the village of Zayta. They discover the fate of the missing TV crew and Ahmed Yassin's passage into the past.
Episode Three
In the Sinai desert, the team is caught in a sand storm and find themselves transported to the Tower. There they meet Ibraahiim and Al-Nazeb. The characters destroy the Tower and return to their own time.
Backstory

Central to the adventure's narrative are two non-player characters, Al-Nazeb and Ibraahiim. The players will first meet Ibraahiim in the Prologue but as the business tycoon and media baron Yousef al-Masri. In Episode Three they meet him again as a twelve-year-old boy and once again as the adult Yousef al-Masri at the adventure's conclusion. Al-Nazeb they only encounter in the flesh in the third episode but events in his life feature heavily in Episode One.

Al-Nazeb

Sitting on his favourite rock, Al-Nazeb pulled his cloak tight around him against the growing chill of the evening. The sky was clear and the stars were just emerging. The streets of the city below were thronged with worshippers and revellers celebrating the harvest and giving praise to Ahura Mazda, the creator and bringer of light. A procession of priests worked their way from the temple and around the city with a small crowd trailing in their wake. He had followed those priests as a boy and as a young man had been one of the priests. Even now, all these years later, he could recall the priests' chants, calling out thanks to Ahura Mazda and asking for blessings on the city.

From his vantage point Al-Nazeb was the first to spot the shooting star, a streak of light stretching across the night sky and growing bright as it approached. The distant sounds of the city grew quiet as both the revellers and the devout stopped to stare. Bathed in the meteor's glow which lit up the darkness like a new sun, Al-Nazeb rose to his feet. As the shooting star passed overhead he could feel a wind following in its wake - a gentle breeze rapidly growing to a wind which tore at his smock and pelted his flesh with sand. As the shooting star disappeared behind the hills the first sounds of screams and panic from the streets of Ramallah could be heard.

Turning into the wind Al-Nazeb peered though the sandstorm towards the town. He could see nothing except a dark shadow stretching from horizon to horizon and growing larger every moment. The wind knocked Al-Nazeb off his feet as the eye of the storm crashed over him and the world went dark.

Al-Nazeb lay in complete darkness wondering if he was dead. Strange thoughts of other worlds and monsters swirled around his head while his fingers tingled. Slowly his eyes began to see again as a pre-dawn light began filling the horizon. Sitting up proved to be difficult, his old body complaining, and as he wiped sand from his face he discovered blood flowing from a wound on his forehead. Looking down at the town he could see the temple was ablaze, and in the fire's dancing light a few bodies could be seen lying in the street.

He walked slowly towards his cave, taking care on the loose rock and sand. The visions he had had in the darkness, of a tower and monsters, had not faded from memory as a dream would. He remembered them as if he had witnessed them only yesterday. As well as the terror he could remember a boy with piercing eyes and symbols carved into a wall. He could read those symbols, no, not read, use. The symbols called forth the very the power of the gods so men could wield it and bend it to their wills.

In the cave he examined the bare, red rock walls of his home. Its texture was rough under his hand and grains of sand came away as he brushed it. The strangers had warned him of the coming of the Tattooed Man and he must be prepared. Picking up a stone he began carving symbols on to the walls.

Ibraahiim

Ibraahiim's father had been arguing with Jamal, the PLO man. In the darkness of night and in the middle of a sandstorm, all they had for navigation through the minefields was an old compass. Father had stopped the beat-up camper van, wanting to wait until the storm passed, but Jamal had insisted they kept going. With 40 mortar shells hidden in the bench seats where Ibraahiim sat, they could not afford to be stopped by an Israeli patrol. The two of them argued. Father refused to move but Jamal pulled out a pistol. After a few moments Ibraahiim's father started the engine and began to slowly move forward.

The wind howled, rocking the van side to side. Father had just turned to Jamal to say something when the explosion lifted the truck. Ibraahiim never knew if it was just his imagination but he felt the wind carry the van up before slamming it back down into the sand on its side. Every window shattered and the front passenger seat, with Jamal in it, was missing. The wind tore through the van instantly coating everything with sand.

His ears were ringing and he felt unsteady but otherwise Ibraahiim was unhurt. A cold sense of detachment fell over him, just as it did when he was throwing stones at the Israelis. Other children would scream and run when the troops started shooting back but he would stand and stare before slowly walking away. He simply ignored the primitive part of his brain warning him of danger. Wrapping his headscarf tightly around his face he crawled out of the broken window, dropping down into what little shelter the van could provide.

It was pitch black outside the van. He could see nothing and only in this absence of light did Ibraahiim realise what his brain was trying to tell him. The van was on fire. He had been able to see because of the flames inside the van with its load of mortar shells. Moving with urgency but not panic he crawled to the front of the vehicle and looked in. His father's head was badly misshapen and he was clearly dead. Ibraahiim had seen that same lax, lifeless expression on his mother's face six years before.

Turning in to the darkness, Ibraahiim began to crawl. The direction did not matter as long as it was away from the van. He made it no more than three feet before the van exploded and he was taken to another world.

The first thing he saw on his return to this world was the face of an Israeli soldier, who appeared surprised to discover the boy wasn't dead. There was shouting and a different Israeli face appeared in his line of sight. A light was shone in his eyes and something was stuck in his arm but it all seemed to be happening a long way away. Ibraahiim just lay there. The explosion seemed a lifetime ago and he had a head full of memories which did not fit. He could smell burning rubber and burning flesh but the grief for his father was a distant ache, as if he had died many, many years ago.

As he was picked up and carried on a stretcher he could feel consciousness slipping away again but he was not worried. As his eyes closed, memories of faces, names and symbols came flooding back and Ibraahiim knew what he had to do with his life.

Reality Check

This adventure does not attempt to be realistic or 100% accurate in its depiction of the people and cultures of the Middle East. Nor does it slavishly follow the facts regarding diseases, carbon dating and other areas of scientific expertise. The game features extra-dimensional creatures and a time paradox so Game Leaders and players should expect a certain amount of difference between the game world depicted in the adventure and the real world. The Game Leader may find the following notes useful in establishing the game world for the players.

The West Bank

Episodes one and two take place in an area known as the West Bank. It is a predominantly Muslim region to the west of the River Jordan. It was captured by the Israelis during the Six Day War in 1968. Since then the West Bank has been afflicted by serious unrest and war several times leaving deep political and emotional scars on everyone in the area. It is currently (2014) governed by the Palestinian Authority though they only control a small amount of the region. The rest is either under joint Israeli / Palestinian control or exclusively Israeli control.

Access into and between different areas of the West Bank is very tightly controlled by the Israeli security forces. Large parts of the West Bank are surrounded by the Peace Wall, a massive concrete wall built to protect Israelis from suicide bombers and other threats originating from the area. During times of peace the checkpoints and wall are relatively minor inconveniences but when tensions are high the checkpoints turn into choke points making travel between some areas difficult.

Diseases

The epidemic affecting the city of Ramallah consists of three different diseases: the plague, syphilis and shigellosis (dysentery). These are real, unpleasant and deadly infections.

The plague, commonly called the black death, is cause by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. In humans it causes pneumonic plague, bubonic plague and septicaemic plague which are the same disease but differ where in the body the infection occurs. Bubonic plague targets the lymph nodes, pneumonic plague is a lung infection and septicaemic plague is an infection of the blood. There are also differences in how the diseases are transmitted and their virulence but all can be ultimately traced back to bites from infected fleas and if left untreated will kill about 60% of victims.

Syphilis is caused by a bacterium which is usually sexually transmitted and infection has three distinct stages. The primary stage appears within days of sexual contact and manifests itself as skin lesions around the infected area, e.g. genitals. The lesions will disappear after three to six weeks. The secondary stage occurs a few weeks later with pus-filled lesions breaking out elsewhere on the body, plus the patient may experience other symptoms such as a fever, sore throat, malaise, weight loss, hair loss, and headaches. Again these symptoms disappear after three to six weeks. The tertiary stage can take anywhere between one and forty years to appear. It attacks the patient's nervous system and can lead to a range of unpleasant symptoms such as necrotic infections, seizures and dementia.

Shigellosis is a form of dysentery caused by bacteria and generally spread by faecal matter contaminating drinking water or food. It is very common, with possibly 100 million cases each year around the world. It kills about 100,000 people a year, mostly young children and the elderly in poor and developing nations.

The epidemic featured in Episode One is magical in nature with diseases spreading and manifesting themselves in impossible ways. This is a key clue for the characters and highlights that something strange is going on.

Islam

The adventure largely avoids dealing with Islamic beliefs, but being set in the West Bank and Sinai it is not possible to totally ignore religion. The author recommends Game Leaders spend a few minutes reading the Wikipedia page or other sources on Islam so they have some basic knowledge. This will help the Game Leader to bring the adventure and its setting to life.

One aspect of Islam which is pertinent to the adventure is the concept of haram which translates roughly as sinful. Haram governs what is acceptable behaviour in Islamic society, which includes avoiding alcohol and being sexually provocative. It also bans changes to the body such as permanent tattoos. Consequently tattoo artists and people with permanent tattoos are rare in the West Bank compared to cities in Europe and America. Temporary tattoos using henna are not haram and are more popular though not common. This may become relevant during Episode One.

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open/oneshots/petra/background.txt · Last modified: 2014/08/05 14:05 by darth_tigger
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