We’ve talked about it for a couple of years, and we finally did it: the Gulf Roleplaying Community‘s great desert gaming session.
Co-ordinating a desert trip for a score of people is a non-trivial exercise. The hero of the trip was Mohammed N. Al Khan, an experienced desert driver, who not only went on recce missions to find a suitable location, both isolated and accessible to novice sand drivers, but provided a lot of the equipment.
Mo and I combined the gaming trip with a camp for family and friends beforehand, so we were in the desert for three days, with Mo making numerous trips between the roadside mosque where those without SUVs could park, and the campsite 7km as the crow flies into the desert near Margham, Dubai. The ground distance was considerably longer, as straight lines and sand dunes aren’t compatible. A more relevant measure is that the camp was about 40 minutes’ drive into the desert.
All the necessary supplies had to be driven in: shelter, food, water, firewood, tables and chairs, even ice for the cool boxes. The journeys did give us a chance to ssee some of the desert wildlife – dhabis (Arabian gazelles) and even a glimpse of a desert hare, an animal so reclusive that even Mo, who’s been camping in the desert since childhood, had never seen one before.
We set up Mo’s bulky canvas marquee for the family camp, and it remained our base throughout the gaming event. The GRC assembled at the mosque in the early afternoon, and I ran family back home while Mo led a small convoy of SUVs to the camp. Only one driver got stuck in the sand and had to be towed out.
We’d underestimated the length of time it would take to get people to the camp and settled in, and it wasn’t until nearly sundown that Mo could get back to the mosque to pick me up. That meant my first PFS game, 1-39 The Citadel of Flame, was run after sunset, rather than during the afternoon as I’d planned. That presented some unexpected challenges – cold temperatures, darkness and, more problematic, heavy evening dewfall, which left character sheets soggy and caused ink on flip-maps and combat pad to run. Still, we managed, and although the players – Mohammed Al Khan, Tarek Fadel, Jerome Devie and Matt Wilson – didn’t gain both possible prestige points, their characters survived the tier 4-5 challenges.
The following morning, after a hearty breakfast, most of the GRC struck camp and headed back to civilisation. But the bitter-enders still had another game to play. Even though I was getting tired and tried to wriggle out of running #3 Murder on the Silken Caravan, my players simply wouldn’t let me – and I’m glad they didn’t, as it proved extremely enjoyable, and highly appropriate for the desert.
But Mo’s duties as guide left him tied up in the morning, when I’d planned to run the game, and it was noon before he made it back to camp. This left us facing a game in the early afternoon sun. In the end, we set the game up outdoors – largely because I desperately wanted the photo of us playing in the lone and level sands, then dropped as much of the marquee walls as we could to clear the stuffy heat and moved inside for the shade.
Even inside the marquee, there were unanticipated problems – the breeze which cooled us also blew pawns off the maps. Fortunately, my portable GM kit contains Blu-Tack.
By the time we finished the scenario (I’m pleased to report the players achieved all objectives on this one, and earned their 2 prestige points), light was fading, and we struck camp as the sun set on an amazing weekend. Playing Pathfinder Society in the desert has to rank as one of the craziest things we’ve done, but also one of the most enjoyable. I hope we’ll do it again soon. Next time I’ll remember to apply sun block.