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Eternal Lies - The Obelisk of Axum - The Cathedral of Tsion Maryam

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The Obelisk of Axum is the second of the original scenarios that I’ve incorporated into Eternal Lies. Like the Severn Valley, it was developed as an organic response to the choices made by my original players. And there are two distinct roots that underlie its origins:

First, in the original campaign there is an oblique reference to the Obelisk of Axum is used to justify why the archaeologist Bartolo Acuna has returned to Africa thirteen years after the failed expedition he led which the PCs are investigating just in time for the PCs to question him directly. (It’s also one of the key indications that the campaign was not originally designed to be begin in 1937, since by March 1937 the Obelisk was already back in Rome. With the travel times involved, you’d have to start your campaign on January 1st and hope the PCs bee-line for Ethiopia.)

As I’ve discussed previously, part of my work on the remix involved beefing up the mythological references to Gol-Goroth, the God of the Black Stone. The Black Stone itself is frequently described as an obelisk, and I thought it would be effective to have the Obelisk of Axum related to it (and, by extension, to Gol-Goroth). So I beefed up Acuna’s discussion of the Obelisk, using it as an opportunity to begin establishing Gol-Goroth in the minds of the players.

I hadn’t anticipated that the players would hear Acuna’s interest in the Obelisk and conclude that they should also be interested in it, prompting them to mount an expedition to Axum.

The second point of orign for this scenario is the odd route that my players had taken to get to this point: They followed the anticipated trajectory of New York to Savannah to Los Angeles. But then, after turning up enough information to learn of the cult’s expedition to Ethiopia in 1924, they decided that the cult’s drug-running activities in Los Angeles were too dangerous for them to tackle directly. As a result, they booked a flight to Ethiopia and skipped town without procuring any of the other leads.

This was something of a problem because Ethiopia is the only locale in the campaign which is structurally a dead-end. (Which makes sense because the cult was active there 10 years ago, but isn’t now. So there are no fresh leads to follow up.) While it was certainly possible for the PCs to investigate Ethiopia and then, without any further leads, simply return to Los Angeles, I knew that had the potential to be frustrating for them.

However, I’d already decided that Savitree Sirikhan had been mounting a series of expeditions. I decided that I would have her “anti-Investigators” (which I would shortly redub the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities) active in Ethiopia. Once they crossed paths with the PCs, they would drop leads that would point back towards Bangkok, which had already been turned into a secondary hub that would put their investigation back on track (so to speak). I was playing around with the idea of having the Emporium also investigating Ayers’ decade-old expedition, but when the PCs decided to pursue the Obelisk of Axum I realized that it was the Obelisk itself which had brought the Emporium there.

USING THE SCENARIO

Fortunately, if you’re using the remix, you won’t need to have your players follow that precise sequence of events. I’ve incorporated clues pointing to the Obelisk of Axum into both the Ethiopia and Bangkok material. You can also strengthen these ties by increasing the activity of the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities during the Ethiopia locale and having them attract the PCs’ attention. A few options might include:

  • They kidnap or murder Acuna, interrogating him for information about the Obelisk. (If this happens shortly after the PCs question him, they might become suspects.)
  • They decide to investigate the Dallol dig site. (Which they may have learned of from Acuna.)
  • If the PCs are already well-known to the cult and it’s possible for Sirikhan to know they’ve gone to Ethiopia, she might telegram instructions to the Emporium members to put them under surveillance or have them killed.

More detailed notes on how to integrate the Emporium’s active investigations into the campaign can be found in my description of the Severn Valley.

PROP NOTES

The Obelisk of Axum shares the poster map used for Ethiopia. The various photos of the Northern Obelisk Field and so forth are designed so that they can be added to the Ethiopian diorama as the PCs explore Axum.

USING THE OBELISK OF AXUM AS AN INDEPENDENT SCENARIO

Unlike the Severn Valley, it can’t be trivially broken out of the campaign and  run independently. (As designed, it really lacks any sort of conclusion: The PCs come to Axum, poke around, learn some stuff (that’s mostly meaningful in terms of the larger events of the campaign).

If you wanted to run it as an independent scenario, you’d probably want to have a stronger conclusion focused on the Obelisk itself in some way. Did Frumentius remove something from the Obelisk during its destruction? If so, the PCs might need to race the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities to retrieve it.

Or the EBA might already have it, in which case the scenario becomes about them triggering something horrible with the Obelisk itself. Maybe one of them enters the Obelisk and is horribly transformed by it. (You could pull some of the lore books form the Los Angeles cult concerning Gol-Goroth and his obelisks to help establish some of this conceptually.)

Of course, you’ll also need to figure out some sort of independent hook for getting the PCs involved. Maybe they’ve been hired by the Italian government to prep the Obelisk for looting and, when they arrive onsite, they find the EBA already ensconced?

Eternal Lies - Obelisk of Axum

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5 Responses to “Eternal Lies – The Obelisk of Axum”

  1. colin roald says:

    A question I can’t quite figure out about your notes format: sometimes bullet point on your Revelations lists are italicized, and I’m not sure why. What does it mean?

  2. Justin Alexander says:

    I use italics to indicate clues that I haven’t actually included yet. And then there are several places where I apparently failed to remove the italics once I’d actually included it. So, short version: Ignore it. Functionally speaking, it’s just sloppy formatting at this point.

    Basically, my revelation lists go through two phases of utility: They serve as an initial planning document (these are what I need clues for; these are what the clues will be). Then I use them during play to keep track of the clues the players have gained. (It also serves as a convenient table of contents for my notes.) Between those two phases, there’s the messiness of actually creating the scenario, during which the revelation list will be multiply revised and updated to include new clues, remove clues that no longer make sense, etc. I found that I would make mistakes or sometimes forget to include clues that were part of the design. (Doh!) I found that by italicizing stuff I had a plan for but which had not yet been actually executed, I cut down on my error rate.

  3. Richard says:

    I started reading (and using) your remix when my group was heading to L.A.
    Now, they’re still there (they have to do all the UCLA and know Trammel only by name), and I’m reading all your stuff about the next chapters, specially the new locations…

    The Big problem is…for the prologue and Savannah i followed the book, so my campaign started in 1937, in March. Now they’re in the first week of April.
    How can I do with the Obelisk of Axum? And with the Ethiopia chapter?

  4. Justin Alexander says:

    The easiest solution would be to just fudge the history and pretend that (a) the war is still happening and (b) the Obelisk of Axum is still in Ethiopia. That’s what the published campaign does and it doesn’t seem like most people are having any meaningful problem with that.

    Option #2: Fudge the Obelisk, but don’t fudge the war. There’s still plenty of guerilla fighting happening in 1937 even though Ethiopia’s capital has already fallen to the Italians. If your players are familiar with this time period, this is probably the way to go: They’re far more likely to realize that the dates for the Abyssinia Crisis are wrong than they are to know the precise date that the Obelisk of Axum arrived in Rome.

    Option #3: Historical accuracy or death! In this scenario the Obelisk is gone and the Abyssinia crisis is in abeyance (guerilla actions aside). Move Acuna to Axum (he finished packing up the Obelisk and now he’s waiting for new orders to come in while getting exceedingly drunk because his theories about the Obelisk having something to do with the Prisoner of Glaaki didn’t pan out). The EBA are there, too, frustrated to have arrived and discovered the Obelisk to be gone but still trying to learn whatever they can.

    If you’re willing to put in the extra work, the next step could be fun: The EBA learn whatever they can in Axum and then go to Rome to see if they can get access to the Obelisk itself. If the PCs pursue them there, the freshly-reconstructed Obelisk has quietly activated. Maybe a Spawn of Gol-Goroth has been attracted to it. Maybe there’s a local Gol-Goroth cult. (Maybe the cult is highly placed in Mussolini’s government and that’s why the Obelisk was moved in the first place.)

    I’m hoping to write-up my collated notes on the Gol-Goroth Mythos in the near future, which would probably help you generate some Gol-Goroth material for Rome.

  5. Richard says:

    Thanks!

    The last one is a great idea…requires a lot of work but it can be done.
    I forgot one important thing before: I’m italian and my group are italians (sorry for my english).
    I’m not sure they all know exactly what happened in Ethiopia, surely I doubt they know about the obelisk.
    So, if after L.A. they want to head to Africa I’ll go with the option 2…otherwise I’ll wait for your Gol-Goroth material and I’ll see if I have time to create something.

    About this last point, my group (specially the professor and the archeologist) is searching about Gol-Goroth everywhere, but I haven’t let them to find anything by now.
    My choice is justified by the fact they don’t even know how Gol-goroth is written, they only know the pronunciation…but I’m thinking about let them find something…maybe a reference from a book they’ll find in Trammel’s library?

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