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Black Luck

I am an avid gamer from Sweden, who have been roleplaying for 18 years. Being something of a rules perfectionist, I have never been able to leave the rules alone, so in the end, I only play with my own rules. In this scenario I made a special effort to keep to the AD&D second edition rules, though.

This scenario features slavery, and the slavery is not depicted as an absolutely evil thing. If that is to controversial for your campaign, change the cargo to something else.

This is a short naval adventure set in the Crowded Sea of the Al-Qadim campaign setting. It is intended for 3 to 6 characters of levels 2 to 6, but can work with any party of any level, as combat abilities are secondary to clever thinking and role playing. Powerful divination spells and devices may be too great an asset, but how many characters memorize such spells for routine travel? The characters are assumed to be good and/or lawful and interested in bringing punishment to the guilty. An interesting twist is to play this with corrupt characters, who must try to maintain a respectable facade while making maximum profit for themselves.

Player's Introduction

The scenario begins when the PCs are travelling by sea along an established sea lane. The lookout (didban) spots a ship lying dead in the water, her black sails unfurled only enough to keep her bow up against the wind. There are obviously people on board, and they soon start to signal their distress. An NPC captain (rubban) dithers, obviously afraid this might be a pirate or monster trick, and quietly hopes the PCs volunteer to check it out for him. Sensitive PCs might notice his pleading eyes. He gladly offers them to use a ship's boat if they ask for it. If they don't investigate, the other ship sends over a ships boat after some initial fumbling. Either on their own ship or on board the Black Luck, the players will be introduced to Jalal al-Wahsh al-Mudabbir. Read his description for what he has to say and how he will urge the adventurers into action.

Gamemaster's Background

Captain Abdoul Korshed has a secret sweetheart, Zoha al-pahari, a mermaid shapeshifter. He keeps her aboard in the form of a goldfish in a bowl. Yes, she even likes it, and sometimes they climb overboard together and frolic in the sea. But Abdoul has kept this secret from his superstitious officers and men.

His passengers currently include two groups, a missionary from I'tiraf (a powerful, theocratic city) going home on vacation, and Ribhi, a merchant-shipowner from Sikak (a medium trade city) and his cargo of ivory and slaves.

Ribhi the merchant, who also owns the ship, has had a falling-out with the captain. They were arguing about the division of profits, and Ribhi used an old trick of his. He is a dwarf, and can thus consume prodigious amounts of alcohol. He filled the captain up, made friends, and helped him back into his cabin to sober up.

Sadr the missionary came into the captains cabin to minister to him and preach the value of restraint. The captain was asleep when he came, so he took the opportunity to examine the captain's cabin with true seeing. Thus, he saw through Zoha's magical shapeshift, and threw her into the sea, as his dogma disapproves of meddling with the supernatural (jinn). But we have no fate but the fate which we are given. The drunk captain woke up and tried to chastise him for this by pushing him into the sea, where he though Zoha would save him, and thus both earn his gratitude and make a fool out of him. But the missionary won the struggle, and threw the captain into the sea instead.

The captain was saved by Zoha and promptly fell asleep when she kissed him to give him water-breathing. She took care of him, but decided not to return him to the ship, where they were obviously not welcome any more.

Sadr sent an Aerial Servant to fly out over the sea to look for the captain, and the powerful creature crushed a window-sill in so doing. It went underwater to find the captain, dissolved in deep water, an returned to it's home, task unfinished. The damage windowsill wasn't noticed in the confusion.

The merchant heard the splash as the captain hit the water. He quickly dressed and went down to the captain's cabin, only just missing the missionary as he was leaving. Finding the window open and the room in disarray, he concluded the captain must have fallen overboard in his drunken state.

Now both merchant and missionary are deathly afraid and suffer from bad conscience. Neither wants to admit their guilt, but neither will lie or refuse to answer the questions of a duly appointed investigator (qadi).


Midani is the common of the Al-Qadim campaign, a beautiful, vibrant language suitable for poetry and song. Many terms have a Midani translation in parenthesis; such as dagger (jambiya), meaning that in Midani, the dagger is called a jambiya. These translations are only for flavour, and have no game effects. Outside Al-Qadim, replace Midani with common.

The Ship

This information should be fairly obvious to the players as soon as they start to investigate the ship.

Black Luck (Hadd Aswad in Midani) is a somewhat aged small merchantman (sambuk). It gets it's name from her tarred black sails and hull, as well as from the owners practice of trading in slaves. She is in good repair, clean and neat. She carries no ship's weapons, but the ships locker contains scimitars and crossbows for the crew, and belaying pins make excellent clubs in an emergency.

Currently she carries a cargo of ivory, spice and slaves from Akota (an Africa-like land to the south) as well as two passengers with their retinues. The cargo hold has been sealed to prevent theft, and only the most dire circumstances (unlikely to come up in this scenario) will make Ribhi al-Nakhuda open it up.

The captain is currently missing, so the crew is led by the ship's mate, Jalal al-Wahsh al-Mudabbir, a big but worried-looking ogre. He heads a crew of seventeen men of very mixed heritage, but all are full of superstitious fear and disorganized.

The first passenger is Ribhi al-Nakhuda, al-Tidjarah al-Abd, a dwarf merchant-shipowner specializing in slaves and exotic goods. He has a party of eight Mamluk eunuchs, big fellows from Akota, who take care of the forty or so slaves who live in tents on deck. While the players are on board, the slaves stay in their tents, afraid of strangers. There is no indication that the guards are cruel or the slaves mistreated.

The second passenger is a pantheist missionary, Da'i Sadr min Tonga, and his seven guards. They are dressed in unadorned white robes (abas) and keep their distance.

  1. Forecastle. The crew lives here in hammocks, and here is the ships kitchen and general storage area. Sail, rope, food, cordage, everything except weapons and valuables is stored here. The sailors have practically covered every part of the area with charms, wards against evil and other superstitious paraphernalia.

  2. These are large, army-style tents raised on deck to protect against the sun. The Akotan slaves live in these; the two in front of the cargo hatch are for girls, the one beside the guard's tent for eunuch boys. Each slave has a bedroll and a canvas bag for personal belongings, and there are communal hygiene, cooking, and sewing kits, as well as some musical instruments (both Zakharan and Akotan) and other toys. The slaves rarely leave their tents (they are afraid of the sea) and the soldiers are forbidden to go near them, but often try. Any intrusion into the tent is likely to raise a ruckus of indignant voices and thrown pillows.

  3. Guard's Tent. Here live the eight eunuch guards. This tent is of military style, well ordered and clean. Each soldier has a madras and a chest for arm our, weapons and personal gear. Inside each chest are some letters (some of these might be valuable reports from the trip) and 2-24 gold pieces.

  4. Cargo Bay. These heavy wooden doors are reinforced with brass bindings, and seal with two locks, who are in turn sealed with wax seals. The wax seals must be destroyed before the locks can be opened, and they are very hard to forge. The locks are complex, and take 1d10 + 10 rounds each to pick. When the doors are opened, a glyph of warding (set by Sadr as a part of his payment for the voyage) must be named, or it sends a lightning bolt through the opener for 22 points of damage, save for half. It also makes a terrible ruckus. Ribhi has the keys on his person, and he and Sadr knows the name of the glyph. Inside are ivory, rare skins, herbs, spices, and antiquities with a total value of 11.000 gold pieces. The hold is not fully loaded, and could carry half again as much cargo with a slight reduction in speed.

  5. Passenger Cabin. A rather large cabin with a sturdy sea-bed, a folding desk/table and room for several hammocks. Sadr lives in this one, and one of his acolytes constantly guard the door. The bed is also a bolted-down chest, which contains Sadr's travelling treasure: 1276 gp (dinars), a writ of authority from the emir of I'tiraf, some sacred vestments and a staff of healing on the way home for recharging (4 charges).

  6. Passenger cabin, similar to #5, but here live the seven missionary acolytes. Despite it being very crowded, they spend much time her in contemplation. The sea-bed is used to store vestments, chalices and other religious paraphernalia with a total value of 341 (dinars).

  7. Captains cabin. Rather large, but the captain is expected to use it for meetings, as well as to navigate and do his accounts. The sea-chest-bed from the other cabins has been replaced with a larger, more comfortable bed, that is unmade but does not appear to have been slept in. The whole cabin is nicely furnished, not what one would expect from a lonely sailor. The walls are covered in tapestries of unusual design. Some of them even incorporate pearls, and are worth 120 dinars to a collector. Someone familiar with weaving can tell the tapestries are made out of seaweed and other underwater materials. The rear window is open, and the windowsill has been crushed. It does not appear to have been struck with a mallet or axe, rather it seems someone has been leaning on it to hard. Only a very strong man could do this kind of damage. (Actually, it was Sadr's aerial servant.) The cabins smells of wine. There is a large glass bowl that used to hang from the ceiling whose contents are spilled near the window, but tasting indicates it was only salt water. There is a weapons locker containing 20 scimitars and ten crossbows and a secret safe in the floor that is unlocked but very hard to detect; a thief can use his Find Traps percentage, but otherwise there is only a 1% chance per round spent searching of finding it. It contains the rutter (daftar) describing the voyage down to Akota, as well as some personal papers, some love-poems by Zoha and 412 dinars.

  8. Owners Cabin. Ribhi lives here, and the room has opulent furnishings, carpets and hardwoods that suit his personal taste. He has a larder with wines and personal delicacies in his sea-chest, hiding the 3.000 gold, his letters and accounts in a secret safe hidden lie the captains, but in the front wall, and locked as well.

  9. Poop Deck. This area is located on the rood of the cabins. It is covered by a light tent for protection against the sun. It was here that Ribhi and the captain soused themselves last night, and the place still smells strongly of wine.


Physical examination of the ship will lead to the discovery of certain clues. Rather than describe every section of the ship, I have decided to note those things that are extraordinary or unusual.


  • A general smell of wine on the poop deck
  • The sailors appear very superstitious, with lots of charms hanging all over
  • The ship is lightly loaded, with locked-up, valuable merchandise (only Ribhi has the key)
  • There is plenty of fine food and wine on board, and the slaves cook very well indeed
  • The slaves are all afraid of the water

The Captains Cabin

  • A broken stern window, with a crushed window-sill. This could only have been done by someone super-humanly strong.
  • A general smell of wine.
  • An overturned bowl, with traces of salt water
  • A bed big enough for two, slept in for but a short while yesterday.
  • The cabin is not only well-ordered, but neat, much more so than could be expected from lone a captain at sea. There are small tapestries of tiny pearls and seaweed on the walls.


If someone uses divination to gain clues, the following leads can be amusing and distracting, while still giving the players new avenues for investigation. Both refer to Zoha al-Pahari.

  • Look to the bottom for advice
  • The wise man seeks a kiss, The fool drowns in a beaker


These are the people on the Black Luck, all suspects. The players need to talk to them and get the stories from each one in order to get the complete picture. All are really honourable and truthful, with a genuine desire to see justice served. They do not see the need to tell the full truth unless asked, but if given a direct question they cannot dodge, they will tell even things that jeopardies their own position.

Abdoul Korshed al-Rubban

(hmF/c/6): AC 7; MV 12; hp 39; #AT 3/2 (scimitar) or 1; Dmg by weapon (scimitar: 1d8+1, dagger 1d4, sling d4+1); Str 14; Dex 17; Con 15; Int 14; Wis 8; Cha 9; SA: Specialized in scimitar; AL: N; THAC0 14 (Scimitar 12, sling 12); scimitar, coral luck charm from Zoha.

Abdoul Korshed the Captain, not currently on-board but sleeping of the wine Ribhi offered him.

A fair man and a good sailor, but not the best at judging and leading men. His most valuable asset is that he is lucky.

Zoha al-Pahari

3 HD Pahari, AC 7; MV 12, Sw 18 or 24; hp 19; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon (dagger 1d4); Str 7; Dex 14; Con 11; Int 16; Wis 13; Cha 15; SA: Spells; SD shapeshift; AL: CG; THAC0 17; Spells (cast at 6:th level): charm person, dancing lights, detect magic, audible glamor, invisibility, phantasmal forces, gust of wind.

Pahari are oriental mermaids. They have the ability to shapeshift into tropical fish or fully human forms, and can bestow water breathing with a kiss. Zoha may claim this needs to be renewed often, but in reality it lasts a full day.

Abdoul has told her of the evil of the surface world, and given her a dagger (jambiya) to use in defending herself. Her natural, friendly attitude prevails over his teachings, but she does carry the jambiya.

She is presently away on a nearby reef, caring for her lover. If the players spend some time in the water, the local fish will tell her, and she will come to investigate. She will not be very friendly (after all, surface dwellers threw her and her lover overboard), but will talk.

Jalal al-Wahsh al-Mudabbir

(hmF/c/4): AC 10; MV 12; hp 34;

AT 3/2 (scimitar) or 1; Dmg by weapon (scimitar: 1d8+5); Str 18/99; Dex 11; Con 17; Int 4; Wis 11; Cha 13; SA: Specialized in scimitar; AL: N; THAC0 14; scimitar.

Jalal the ogre ship's mate. A huge ogre, standing seven feet tall and with the typical intimidating physique of his race, he nevertheless cuts a pathetic figure. He is nervous about everything, anxious to please, overly humble and obviously afraid of his captain, for his captain and of his passengers. He is obviously incapable of investigating his passengers, who are his superiors in both rank and wit. Play Jalal as a smart dog, eager and trying to please but afraid of reprimands. He means well, but is not smart enough to execute anything but a direct order. His devotion does have some endearing qualities, however, and he is well liked. tries to get someone to take charge of the situation and accept responsibility as a judge (qadi). His first choice is the captain of the player's ship, who immediately refuses and shifts the burden to the players (if he is an NPC). Honourable, proud or ambitious players should not refuse such an honour, as it is sure to add to their reputation. Custom dictates that only one person should serve as qadi, so one player must accept final responsibility for the investigation. The other players may act as advocates for either side, cross examiners or investigators.

He has sometimes heard strange moans from the captain's cabin at night, and thinks the captain has been abducted by demons. This makes him even more fearful.

Ribhi al-Nakhuda, al-Tidjarah al-Abd

Ribhi the Ship Owner, the Slave Trader. (dmF/a/4): AC 10; MV 6; hp 34; #AT 3/2 (scimitar) or 1; Dmg by weapon (scimitar: 1d8+2); Str 17; Dex 10; Con 17; Int 14; Wis 11; Cha 14; SD: +4 on saves; AL: LN; THAC0 15; scimitar, seven pieces of jewelry worth 100-600 gp each, 152 gold pieces in coins, 3000 gold pieces in a safe in his cabin, keys to the hold and safe.

Play him as an unsympathetic figure, dealing in things just barely tolerated and always ready to bribe his way out of a situation. As soon as the qadi is presented to him, he will take a jewelled ring of his finger and offer it as a gift. In Al-Qadim, this is not inappropriate, but the PC qadi must decide on his own what he thinks of the little merchant. It is worth 300 gp. If some of the players play up to him, he may offer bribes and inducements to prove his innocence, which may very well have the opposite effect.

He thinks that fool Abdoul should have stayed in bed instead of blundering overboard. Sure, he is guilty, but it wasn't really a crime, just an accident!

He stays in bed, pretending hangover, and hopes nobody bothers him. If asked, he admits to having partied with the captain. If hard pressed, he answers any question clearly put to him.

Da'i Sadr min Tonga

Father Sadr of Tonga. Da'i (Midani for missionary) is a title often used by holy slayers, but Sadr is not a holy slayer. He is a stern and uncompromising moralist. (hmP/m/11): AC 10; MV 12; hp 34; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon (staff: 1d6+1); Str 17; Dex 10; Con 17; Int 11; Wis 17; Cha 17; SA spells; AL: LG; THAC0 14; Spells bless, cure light wounds, detect evil, endure heat, light, sanctuary, charm person or mammal x2, enthrall, hold person x2, create food & water, cure disease, prayer, detect lie, protection from evil 10' radius, tongues, insect plague. He usually carries protection from evil, true seeing and aerial servant as well, but cast those yesterday and has not regained them yet.

Currently he feels remorse for having pushed the captain into the sea. It was in self-defence, and the captain was drunk, but he still doesn't want to face the deed.

Even meeting the minister is problematic, as his guards will insist he is not to be disturbed. A player appointed qadi has the right to call him, so if properly summoned, he will come. He will say very little, staring sternly at any interrogator. He will never lie, not even bending the truth, and if asked directly will admit what he's done.

Eunuch Mamluk Guards

Professional bodyguards (hmF/mk/2): AC 6; MV 6; hp 34; #AT 3/2 (scimitar) or 1; Dmg by weapon (scimitar: 1d8+2, Light Crossbow 1d4); Str 17; Dex 12; Con 15; Int 11; Wis 12; Cha 12; AL: N; THAC0 17; Scimitar, Crossbow, Scale Mail Arm our, 20 bolts, manacles.

Ribhi's eight guards, these are eunuchs from Akota, captured as youths by The Wanderers, a mercenary (mamluk) society. They are well paid, well treated and proud of their position, hence loyalty is high. They are loyal to Ribhi, who has bought their services from the mamluks. In addition to guard duty, they train the slaves and write travel essays for their society. They know their master drank with the captain yesterday.

Sailors (Bananiyah)

Zero-level humans: AC 10; MV 12; hp 5;

AT 1; Dmg by weapon (club 1d3, scimitar 1d8, crossbow 1d4); AL: N; THAC0 20; Club, (Scimitar, Crossbow, 20 bolts in emergency only).

Sailors, seventeen in number, loyal to the captain but easily swayed by Da'i Sadr or another charismatic leader. An unusually superstitious lot, who fears the captain for his good luck and nearly jump overboard if shown any magic.

The sailors sleep in the forecastle, far from the cabins, and so see and hear nothing.


Pantheist Clergy (hmC/m/3): AC 6; MV 12; hp 14; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon (staff 1d6); AL: LN; THAC0 20; staff; Spells command, cure light wounds, sanctuary, charm person or mammal, enthrall (includes wisdom bonus). These disciplined acolytes all have the same spells.

Seven followers of Da'i Sadr min Tonga, they all consider him a saint and will gladly die for him. In fact, they consider any slight, any suggestion that he has done wrong, to be a deadly insult.

The missionaries share a cabin next to Da'i Sadr. One always guards the minister's door. They have spiritual duties to attend to, and though some of them noticed the Da'i's absence, it is not their task to report on him. As noted for Sadr, an appointment must first be made with his assistants before he can be interrogated.

Slaves (Abd-Aswad)

Zero-level humans: AC 10; MV 12; hp 3; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon (none initially); AL: N; THAC0 20.

Human slaves from Akota. All are chosen for their youth and beauty. About two-thirds are women, and the rest are eunuchs. Sold from their tribes or captured in inter-tribal raids, they are as afraid of going back as of going to al-Qadim, and will not try to escape. If offered a better life, PCs can persuade them to come along.

They spend their time in their tents, learning Midani from the guards and cooking, sewing and other skills suitable for house servants from one another. They are valuable and receive good food and fine clothes.

Ribhi al-Tidjarah al-Abd has told them a story about a terrible marid that eats little girls who come close to the gunwales. They think that is what happened to the captain, and are deathly afraid of the sea.

Concluding the Adventure

Don't let the suspects tell the players all in the first session unless they manage to ask some really clever questions. Don't be to stingy with information either, or the players will be stymied. The trick to a detective story is to unravel the mystery bit by bit.

After some investigation, the players should find out what happened. If the players fail to find a solution by nightfall, Abdoul will eventually wake from his stupor and have Zoha return him to the ship.

A qadi should not only determine guilt, he should also pass sentence. Both the captain, Da'i Sadr min Tonga and Ribhi al-Nakhuda deserve some censure for their thoughtlessness, but no major punishment. Unusual, humorous or "poetic justice" judgements should be encouraged; a play test qadi judged that the captain must marry Zoha and that Sadr must conduct the ceremony. It would not be out of the question to punish Ribhi for his slave trading practices; the Laws of the Loregiver are sufficiently unclear that a player could demand that he free the slaves and give them small dowries. A qadi that first accepted bribes and then made such a judgement would make an enemy of Rabhi. Sadr can also become an enemy if treated disrespectfully or judged chaotically, and with his powerful pantheist friends, this could be a very bad thing.

There is no immediate reward, except the satisfaction for a job well done. Unscrupulous characters could collect some bribes from Ribhi or play for boons from Sadr. Wise and just characters will find their reputation much enhanced, and perhaps more requests for judgements, potentially a very lucrative and honourable career. Both Zoha and captain Abdoul can be valuable allies later on, naturally with Jalal tagging along.

Black Luck outside Al-Qadim

This scenario can be transplanted to another sea lane with ease. With some effort, it need not even take place at sea. It must be set in an isolated location in a civilized culture were a PC could be appointed judge on the spot and have his judgements respected even by his social superiors. A renowned priest, knight or paladin has this respect in most fantasy worlds.

Even outside Al-Qadim, the ship could still be oriental. Both The World of Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms have Arabic cultures. It would then be even more exceptional for the players to be fair judges, and the foreign contacts could prove both valuable and embarrassing to the heroes. Sadr would have a hard time respecting the judgements of an unenlightened barbarian, so the adventure becomes more challenging.

If the ship Black Luck isn't from Al-Qadim, you have to change most of the names. Jalal should be a big and stupid human rather than an ogre and Zoha al-Pahari could be a mermaid magic user capable of casting water breathing and polymorph self rather than a pahari. If slavery is illegal and considered evil in the campaign, Ribhi should be trading in some other controversial but legal cargo, such as weapons or liquor. Sadr is a priest of some lawful state religion, such as Helm in the Forgotten Realms, while the mamluks are simple mercenaries, belonging to a honourable guild of bodyguards. If eunuchs don't fit the campaign, they could be women instead.

Copyright © 1998 and onwards, Carl Cramér. Page downloaded times. Last update Wed, Dec 20, 2000.