Friday, January 28, 2022

The Many Deaths of Aíthfo hiZnáyu

Aíthfo as drawn by Zhu Bajiee
Regular readers will recall that, two weeks ago, one of the longstanding characters in my House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaign, Aíthfo hiZnáyu, died as a result of EPT's instant death rule. Shocking though this was, this wasn't the first time Aíthfo had died. He had died once before, also as a result of a bad dice roll – this time a saving throw versus spells – and the consequences of his death and unusual resurrection played a huge role in the progress of the campaign.

Several years ago, long before the first session I discussed on this blog, the player characters were exploring a weird temple in the jungles of the Achgé Peninsula of the Southern Continent. The temple had numerous guardians, both human and monstrous, who attempted to stop the characters' explorations. During one particularly fraught combat, Aíthfo decided to undertake a very risky maneuver. Aíthfo, you see, is an adventurer, an optional EPT character class created by Glenn Rahman (designer of Divine Right, among other things) that appeared in issue #31 of Dragon. The adventurer is a jack-of-all-trades class that mixes fighting and sorcery. Though Aíthfo is one of the group's front-line warriors, he frequently supplements his battle tactics with the handful of spells he knows.

On Tékumel, magic can be "short circuited" by the proximity of any sort of metal. This isn't generally a problem, since most of its major cultures don't use metal for weapons or armor, relying instead on the fiberglass-like hide of the Chlén-beast. However, metal arms and armor do exist and are highly valued for their strength. Aíthfo at this time possessed both a steel sword and steel armor. His usual practice was to divest himself of these before casting a spell, but he felt he had no time to do so in this instance and decided to take a chance that there might be no ill effects from doing so. Unfortunately for him, things did not go as planned and the resulting spell failure slew him instantly (the aforementioned saving throw having failed).

The other characters took possession of Aíthfo's body and resolved to find some way to restore him to life, though they had no idea what that might be. At the moment, they were deep in the jungles of the peninsula, far from their home base of Linyaró, The nearest outpost of civilization was the Naqsái city-state of Mánmikel, of which they'd heard but never before visited. At best, it was several days away; at worst, it was several weeks. Since they intended to go there eventually anyway, the group headed into the general direction of Mánmikel. Znayáshu made use of his embalming skills to preserve Aíthfo's body against the heat and humidity of the region, though even his skills had their limits.

Eventually, the group did make it to Mánmikel, where they sought out anyone locally who might have the power to raise Aíthfo from the dead. This led them to the leader of the city-state, a priest who acted as regent for his god, Eyenál (many Naqsái city-states are supposedly ruled by deities, who act through high priests who govern in their names). The regent agreed to do return Aíthfo to life, on the condition that an alliance be struck between Mánmikel and Linyaró, an alliance that would ultimately result in a war against a second Naqsái city-state. The characters agreed, as they had no other option. Aíthfo was the governor of Linyaró and his death would destabilize an already unstable situation.

What the characters didn't understand at the time was that the "resurrection" the regent offered was, in fact, a ritual that called on Eyenál to take Aíthfo's mortal remains as his vessel. Aíthfo awoke alive, but he also gained the ability to speak and understand Naqsái tongues, as well as to see the presence of magical energy. The priests of Eyenál told him that, in time, the incarnation of Eyenál would grow stronger, as more of the god's power manifested in him. At the end, Aíthfo as he was would be no more, replaced by the living god Eyenál.

The campaign at that point focused on the complications of the alliance between Mánmikel and Linyaró, as well as the consequences of Aíthfo's sharing his body with a strange, foreign deity. None of this was planned out in advance by me. I largely made up the details on the fly, once it became clear the other players wished to find a way to resurrect Aíthfo. Initially, I was prepared to let Aíthfo stay dead and that would be the end of it, but an idea started to form in my mind during the sessions while the PCs were traveling to Mánmikel and decided to run with it. In the end, this led to many wild and wonderful places, culminating with the divine energy housed in Aíthfo's body being emptied out to seal a vast interplanar nexus point that served as prison for several malign entities. 

Since then, Aíthfo resumed his life as a merely mortal being – his mortality proven definitively with his death a couple of sessions ago. But an idea from long ago, one that first sprang into existence during his original death percolated in my brain and I thought it might be worth running with it. That the characters once again thought they might try to restore their clan mate and boon companion to life again only made it easier to do so. So it was that, last week, the characters discovered that something strange was happening to the body of Aíthfo. His body was not only stitching itself back together but it radiated potent energies of Stability, one of the two foundational elements of the Tsolyáni worldview. Soon, he was alive again, with no memory of the intervening time or how he had managed to return to life.

Many old school referees are opposed to the idea of spells like raise dead and believe quite strongly that dead characters should stay dead. I'm sympathetic to this perspective. At the same time, I believe that a character's death is an opportunity that can be seized upon to explore the game world and its cosmology. This is especially true in a weird and wonderful setting like Tékumel, which is filled with unanswered questions and unexplained elements. That's why Aíthfo hiZnáyu is once more among the living. Why and what this means for the campaign are things the players will discover in the weeks and months to come.


  1. Good heavens, he was a host for a god in days past? After that I wouldn't trust him to stay dead if you fed him through a wood chipper and used the resulting mess as fishing bait. :)

    Eyenal a Stability-aligned deity, by any chance?

    1. Eyenál is a deity of the Naqsái, whose worldview lumps Stability and Change into a single concept, so there's no direct comparison. That said, the characters have come to think of Eyenál as a local version of Chegárra, who is of course a god of Stability. Whether they're right or not remains a mystery.

    2. I mean, dude's got 33 aspects!

  2. Through Aíthfo (is the diacritic new?), I have had the distinct pleasure of several classic fantasy RPG moments: death by casting in metal (”Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!”), divine intervention (which didn’t work at the cost of the offending metallic and magical armor and sword), resurrection, and becoming a god—all in one brief interval, followed up by an instant death critical hit (because double damage is for pussies) and now some new thing, previously unimaginable and likely to distract Aíthfo from the pursuit of cash and prizes, which fulfills his every desire in an alternate time line.

    1. The diacritic has always been there; it's just hard to see on the letter "i."

  3. Very hip. This is good fantasy adventure gaming.
    : )