The basic assumption of 5e is that the player characters are somebodies rather than nobodies. This works for me, it's hard to find replacement Besharans out here in the Meager Country after all. However, I'd rather have a party of confused foreigners forced upon the shores of a strange land with a vague sense of direction than the usual band of eager scoundrels we are familiar with.
|A very rough map of the Meager Country|
Nobody should want to come to the Meager Country. You least of all. You are a Besharan, the most civilized, most advanced sort of person ever to to walk this earth by God's grace. The people the Meager Country houses are many and barbarous. They live either along the banks of the great river Sargal or upon the empty steppe. They are valuable only so long as they respect the empire and as suppliers of fine furs, strong slaves, and ivory. Besides that, you know very little about this cold and poor land, roll a d20 twice to discover what 2 things you have heard about the Meager Country. If you get the same result twice, you are absolutely sure of what you now, it is confirmed by several reputable sources.
1. All the peoples of the Meager Country are cannibals
2. The peoples of the Meager Country worship the sky in a crude imitation of Besharan relgion
3. The Bronze folk originally hail from the Meager Country
4. Ivory is the only currency of the Meager Country.
5. There is a small monastery of Besharan monks in the Meager Country who speak with God's Voice
6. There is a tribe of people with eyes like a goat's who dress in strange furs
7. The Meager Country is overrun with huge serpents who eat men whole
8. Everybody in the Meager Country lives in a tent
9. When the moon is full, all the rivers of the Meager Country turn to blood
10. A miraculous icon of Faridun was discovered in a well in the Meager Country
11. All the peoples of the Meager Country swear fealty to a race of giants from the east
12. The Meager Country is ruled by horsemen with white hair who can decapitate a man with a single arrow
13. When the moon is full, all the rivers of the Meager Country turn blue
14. The Meager Country is a hotbed of activity for Fire Cultists. Every Besharan you find there is working for them.
15. Nobody in the Meager Country knows how to bathe or make clothing more simple than furs
16. The Meager Country is overrun with pagan ghosts who can't find the afterlife
17. The Sultan and the Merchant caravan both send diplomatic missions to the Meager Country regularly
18. Rule of the Meager Country is split between two great alliances, one bears a blue banner, the other a green one
19. There are tribes of people in the Meager Country who swim like fish and have fur like a cat's
20. People who drink the waters of the Meager Country's rivers are turned into horrible serpent monsters
What has made you undertake this journey to the mouth of the Sargal? What do you expect to find up the river? Roll a d10, either for yourself or for the whole party, and see.
1. The Sultan has called you, seemingly at random, to retrieve a debt owed to her by one of barbarous peoples of the Meager Country. In return, she offers you a single favor.
2. A cell of Fire Cultists has contacted you. They want you to help them carry a special package (roll 1d4. 1. Heart of a Fire God 2. Head of a Fire God 3. Hand of a Fire God 4. Decoy Fire God Organ) through the Meager Country. They have got some bad dirt on you.
3. An Angel of God appeared to you in a dream and instructed you to spread his/her/their word in the Meager Country. You will become a great Saint if you do so.
4. You have been ‘chosen’ to do a geographic survey of the Meager Country by your department at the University of Kard-An. You are most certainly not in the geography department.
5. The caravan wants to extend its reach into the Meager Country to get a better hold of the ivory trade. A relative of yours has already volunteered you for the job, and it will pay handsomely.
6. You have been exiled from every prefecture of the Besharan Empire, you have only one more place to turn to: The Meager Country.
7. You are hunting a fugitive (roll 1d4 1. Wronged You 2. A Former Colleague 3. Your Rival 4. A Relative) who has been exiled from every prefecture of the Behsaran Empire. They have fled to this lawless land with you in hot pursuit.
8. You have undertaken a pilgrimage to the scant holy places of the Meager Country to atone for a great sin (roll 1d4 1. Murder 2. Blasphemy 3. Betrayed a Sacred Vow 4. Profaned a Relic).
9. During your time in the Slave Army, a foreign soldier with eyes like a goat’s gave you a map to a great treasure in the Meager Country. You’ve spent the last of your money on equipment and a ride across the sea of Pearls.
10. Your master has retreated to the Meager Country to indulge in the humble wisdom of this land's savage peoples. He/She/They expect you to follow in order to complete your training in ____ (roll 1d4 1. The Craft of Magic 2. A Monastic Order 3. A Semi-blasphemous Cult 4. An Ancient Musical Instrument)
|Trade in the East Slavic Camp by Sergei Ivanov, 1913|
I have had great success with the Sultan's debt hook thus far and I'll share more of the things I've written for it soon. But generally, it provides a good framework for play in a similar way to an gold = XP system but it allows for side quests and diversions as well. I've also set up the scenario so that the party has 3 Besharan months to return to the Bronze city with their mission complete in order to collect their favor, which turns time into a resource and makes the decision about when to rest in order to recover from wounds more interesting.
This post is dedicated to Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, the original put upon foreigner