D&D 5E [Let's Read] Historica Arcanum: The City of Crescent



I couldn’t help myself; I had to make one more post. We’re getting near the end of this book/adventure and I’m too antsy to wait until tomorrow.

The PCs hit level 6 at the start of this Act.

The Den of Snakes starts with either the Ghost or Mejid explaining that Shahmeran is a monster known as the Queen of Serpents, and who is chained beneath the Basilica Cistern. The PCs must strike a bargain with Shahmeran to decrypt the journal, but their ally also expects the PCs to ensure she remains imprisoned or dead. As for why, she is too powerful to let roam free.

The Basilica Cistern is effectively a dungeon with 2 large rooms. The ground floor is a cistern home to two groups of monsters, bichuras and merrows, at war. Bichuras are a new monster type, being the spirits of spells given flesh and form. In terms of stats they are small neutral monstrosities who can pick up and throw large objects well beyond their Strength and size limit as thrown attacks; they also have tremorsense and are always considered to be hiding unless detected via divination magic. On this level the PCs can find a journal written by a famous traveler hidden in a box with some potions and a scroll talking about the prison below, back when it was commissioned by the Roman emperor Justinian.

The prison beneath the cistern is guarded by powerful magic. The area within the jail cells have time frozen in them, and a persistent antimagic effect prevents spells from penetrating their area unless the door for that cell is unlocked and open. The prison is guarded by a Naziat, a celestial banished from Heaven yet still tasked with gathering the souls of evil creatures. They wield a magical scythe that can reduce a character’s maximum hit points until magically healed or a long rest is taken, and they have special abilities which detect and deal extra damage to evil-aligned targets so let’s hope all of the PCs are on the straight and narrow! There are a total of 15 cells with a variety of prisoners and remains, from two elven skeletons and a spellbook, the soul of a human trapped in a drawing who offended a Byzantine politician centuries ago and can be restored to bodily life if the drawing is dispelled, a crazy pyromancer who takes the form of a fire elemental, a gnome who doesn’t want to be freed as he’s doing penance for horrific murders committed lifetimes ago, and a former Vizier who is cursed with serpent eyes and has a burning hatred for nonhumans. One of the prisoners is the favored concubine of Suleiman the Magnificent, and can inform the PCs more about the magical origins of the Harem. They earn their powers from a pact with Suleiman, but hates Roxelana, the originator of the pact. The concubine blames her for everything bad that happened and has continued to happen in the Ottoman Empire.

If confronted with the fact that it is now centuries later, she will become suicidal and try to kill herself.

As for Shahmeran, she will be willing to parley with the PCs, offering to decrypt the journal in exchange for her freedom from the four chains binding her. As for her imprisonment, she will claim that she attempted to overthrow Justinian for “the good of the people of Constantinople,” but in reality her motives were selfish and she wanted to become an empress herself. Shameran is a snake in more ways than one, and will attack the PCs even if they honor her deal of freeing her.


In terms of stats Shahmeran is a pretty strong magic-focused monster. She can cast a variety of spells both utility and combat, and up to 3 times* can use a reaction to “steal” a spell cast, counterspelling it and then being able to cast it herself. On top of that, she radiates a short antimagic cone from her eyes like a beholder, and has an AoE attack that can deal psychic damage and stun nearby opponents.

*The book doesn’t say when this feature refreshes.

Once the PCs get the information they need and deliver it to either Mejid or the Ghost, the location of Mira is determined and their mission is as follows:

If the party goes to see Mejid;

“Have you acquired what I asked for? Marvelous. I might have offered you a feast for this accomplishment, but we have a limited amount of time here. The Ghost of March already knows where she is, and you must get to her first.” He pauses for a second and draws a heavy breath. “Though what I will ask from you now, you will not enjoy. I assure you, I will not enjoy uttering these words either. You must kill the girl. Before you protest, I know how distasteful it is to kill a small girl. But she is not a small girl, is she? She is a weapon. I would suggest you keep that in mind. So, go to the location and kill her on sight. Or you might not survive her powers.”

If the party goes to see The Ghost of March;

“You have found the address? Solid achievement. But we are almost out of time. If we know, he knows as well. You have to hurry and save the girl. He will surely murder her. The only way of protecting her will be to bring her to the Undercity, to safety. She might not want to come, but capture her if you must. She might not know what awaits her if she stays. And be careful. She might be a small girl, but she is quite dangerous.”

So I feel that the whole “you must choose who to side with” has come rather early in the adventure. Killing children is a topic that many gaming groups are very uncomfortable with, particularly for parents. And even if it’s a topic they don’t mind, it’s the kind of thing that establishes characters in a story as “a really bad guy.” There’s a very real effect that many gaming groups may decide to go against the Sultan, even if they don’t necessarily side with the Ghost of March. Of course the adventure doesn’t portray the Ghost of March as a saint either, given his minions’ sabotage of the steamboat in the beginning or the turtle-bombs during the Festival of Candles. But it’s another thing entirely to have a faction leader order the PCs to directly harm an innocent person.

Again, this brings up the question of Mira and Bergüzar’s ages and how long it’s been. Mejid went from a teenager to a grown adult since first meeting the latter and the start of the adventure, so for Mira to still be a small girl must mean that Mejid himself is not much older than his adolescent years or Mira was a toddler since Bergüzar left. I get that the timeline of real-world events has been squished a bit for dramatic effect, but in regards to the in-universe timeline of events an explicit statement would be good to have to avoid confusion on this matter.


The House Lying in the Dreams takes place in Bergüzar’s abandoned childhood home near the Trojan dig site. The party’s opposition will differ depending on who they sided with: if they sided with the Ghost they will be encountering Aziz Sefa Bey along with 2 Certain Stalkers and 4 Bostanji,* while siding with Mejid pits the party against Mervhan and Kore along with 4 Sekbans. In both cases the enemies will attempt to ambush the party and open with a barrage of long-range gunfire and/or spells. Mira will have taken notice of the battle outside and be hiding in the house, using her spells to keep away from the PCs. Mira is unwilling to leave the house, viewing her magic as a danger to the world and has taken precautions against such a scenario.

*antimagic rogues and regular warrior types.

PCs who force Mira to leave cause the house to come to life to attack the party and retrieve her. It’s a Gargantuan construct with some damaging grappling melee attacks, a 20 AC, and 144 hit points along with a variety of immunities. However, it has no ranged attacks of note and it cannot depart more than 500 feet from the place where it was built.

So wait, the House doesn’t come to life if the PCs try to kill Mira?

After this event’s conclusion the PCs will hit 7th level.

The Grand Negotiation (Ghost of March Route) happens when the PCs safely escort Mira to the Undercity. At this point the Ghost of March wants to call together a meeting of the various anti-government factions. Depending on how certain Side Quests have been resolved Ahra and the Janissary Remnants will either use the meeting to attack and kill Istanbul’s crime lords, or put it off and come to the negotiating table in good faith. Each faction leader has their own agenda and goals, several of which are mutually exclusive, of topics ranging from treatment of the non-human races, the Ottoman Empire’s foreign policy, and what should be done about the Harem mages and Bergüzar. The PCs must act as a negotiating balance to ensure a compromise. For example, Ahra wants the Janissary Hearth to be reinstated, but the Ghost wants to keep them abolished. It is possible to negotiate to have them in a symbolic role as one possible outcome.

The rest of the adventures in this Act and the following take place once the PCs are 8th level. And given that there aren’t as many story beats involving Mejid and practically every sidequest is below the PC’s capabilities by this point, there’s a dearth of content for 7th level PCs loyal to the crown.

Moreover, if Ahra agrees to be present at the table, she will forgo her plan of taking out all the crime lords to get in the good graces of the Palace. However, for her to agree, the characters must have done the previous quests of The Ghost of the March and brought her the “gifts” from the Sekbans.

Alright, so what happens if the PCs haven’t won over Ahra, and she and the Janissaries decide to crash the negotiations and start shooting? Well, the details of this event happen in the Mejid route offscreen…or is the implication that in the Ghost route she just doesn’t show up out of protest and this particular plot doesn’t develop? The book is rather unclear on this.

To Kidnap a Shahzadah (Ghost of March Route) happens at level 8, and its outcome is dependent on who is chosen to sit on the throne with Mejid’s removal during the faction negotiations. The quest is skipped if the PCs convince the factions to keep Mejid on the throne but with severely limited authority, but otherwise a plot is hatched to take the future Padishah/Sultan-to-be into a secure place before the coup. The most likely contenders to the throne are all Princes living in the Harem, and the PCs are to infiltrate it and replace him with a doppelganger double body known as Asfendaq who owes the Ghost a favor. He doesn’t take life too seriously, which can prove to be a hindrance.

The details for infiltrating the Imperial Harem are detailed in Act 4, which contains the final dungeons of the two routes in Historica Arcanum. Well, the final dungeon for the Ghost route can happen in Act 3 in the Tower of Justice, so a lot of this stuff is rather out of order.

Force the Snakes Out of Their Holes (Mejid’s Route) tasks the PCs with opening negotiations with Ahra and the Janissary Remnants. Mejid isn’t fond of Istanbul’s crime lords and knows that Ahra isn’t either. However, a house divided cannot stand, so he wants Ahra to be convinced that the crown will rightfully restore the Janissaries if they pull their support from the crime lords. Mejid has no intention of honoring this bargain, as like former emperors of old they will most assuredly place limits on his power if reinstated. While the Janissary’s restoration is a goal Ahra wants, she hasn’t forgotten the betrayal, so if she detects some hint of deception or cannot be persuaded she will ally with the Ghosts and Sekbans. But if the PCs win over the Wolf at the Door, she will move on with her plan and slaughter all the crime lords offscreen.

Personally speaking this feels a bit…iffy. The Janissaries hate nonhumans and swore off magic, but the crime lords don’t. I can’t see a guy like Giannis the Cut letting himself get gunned down so easily, and the Council of Ninth Life has eyes and ears everywhere. Maybe Chic Manu or Hano the Widow can die as I can see it being fairer fights (or at least one-sided in Manu’s case), but this is the kind of thing the PCs should be involved in.

Once the Janissaries hobble the crime lords and sever ties with the Sekbans, Mejid’s next plan is to deal with the Ghost’s support network. Aziz Sefa Bey learns that Mervhan is much more revolutionary than the Ghost, who is still progressive but more reformist in regards to policies for nonhuman rights. Mejid’s role in the Tanzimat Reforms has caused some nonhumans to hope that this progress will be extended to them, so the PCs must widen the gaps between the Sekban leaders by convincing Mervhan that Mejid is willing to bring them to the negotiating table. If Mervhan is not brought over, the PCs will be assigned to help the Bostanji take control of the major Undercity routes, blocking off all traffic to starve the inhabitants and make the Sekbans desperate…and therefore careless.


The Third Crescent - The Eye of Suleiman (Ghost of March Route) takes place in the Tower of Justice, a 20 room dungeon for the Ghost’s route that can occur during one of two events. The first is if they convince the Ghost of March to spare Bergüzar during the negotiation with the faction leaders. Otherwise it happens post-game if his coup and revolution succeeded but Bergüzar is dead, at which point he wants to find personal peace. The Tower is connected via a secret tunnel linking it with the Hagia Eirene Church, and tales say that the Padishahs used to climb it to overlook Istanbul from a hidden vantage point to remind people that the Empire is always watching. But its true function is to supernaturally tie the Harem mages’ spirits to the tower to stand vigil. It also mandates that said mages guard the imperial bloodline. In such a case, the Tower assault will take place before storming the Palace to ensure that Bergüzar and the other harem mages will be freed from their magical servitude. If it’s not broken, Bergüzar will be supernaturally compelled to defend Mejid even if she doesn’t want to.

This was done back when Suleiman the Magnificent and Haseki Sultan Hurrem/Roxelena married. Roxelena saw too many female mages persecuted and slaughtered the world over, and wanted to forge a safe haven for her kind. Suleiman was keen to this idea, and saw the value in strengthening the Ottoman Empire with magical might. This established the tradition of the Harem teaching its members the magical arts and a pact to never bring harm upon the Imperial bloodline. Due to the tower’s magic it won’t let in living servants of the state, so Alemdar will join the party once they break the seal.

The dungeon itself is rather linear, containing several rooms with puzzles that let the PCs pass safely if they figure it out, and pit them against supernatural guardians if they fail. There’s also some pretty potent magic items to be found here, such as the Blade of Suleiman* and Yasevi’s Arcane Tome.

*It is a +2 yatagan sword dealing +2d6 psychic damage against all non-djinn, and the wielder can see any djinns even if invisible and makes them immune to possession attempts. Sadly we won’t be fighting any more djinn during this adventure path, so these abilities are rather moot.

The final room contains the magical seal, a gold chain held together by a jade plaque with the Imperial family’s insignia. Once it is broken the Ghost of March will appear, and the party will see the spirit of Mahmoud, the ruler before Mejid, materialize. Mahmoud will give an arrogant speech, putting down Alemdar for seeking vengeance against his son. Alemdar retorts that he serves the Empire and not the throne, will use his Paladin stat block if Bergüzar’s bonds are to be broken, Rogue otherwise.

In terms of stats Mahmoud II is a powerful CR 15 undead with 20 AC, 247 hit points, resistant and immune to quite a number of damage and condition types, can Multiattack with a deadly spectral blade dealing necrotic damage, and can summon two Grim Golems to his aid. The Grim Golems aren’t anything special, being CR 6 bags of hit points that deal melee slam attacks. There’s a sidebar of quick quips and exclamations for Alemdar and Mahmoud to say to each other during the fight.

Thoughts So Far: This Act feels oddly structured. The Ottoman Imperial Harem’s details are one more Act away rather than being in this Act, and there’s clearly a lot more content for the Ghost of March/Sekban route than the Mejid route. I feel that there’s some author favoritism towards the former due to this. The Cistern dungeon crawl is definitely the highlight of this chapter, and I do like the fact that the negotiation meeting in the Ghost route has many angles for PCs to determine the political structure of the Ottoman Empire in the ending.

I’m not fond of the idea of child death being a nigh-mandatory act* for one route, nor am I for the offscreen deaths of Istanbul’s crime lords. This adventure has suffered quite a bit in de-autonomizing the PC actions, and at this point it’s recurring enough that DMs trying to fix it will have to do quite a bit of work.

*Presumably the PCs can thwart Mejid even when siding with him, as the ending details such an occurrence, but doesn’t say what actions the Sultan will take if he finds that the PCs betrayed him nor further details Mira’s characterization of being a living MacGuffin.

As for the fight with Mahmoud II’s spirit, there is one thing that stands out: the PCs are fighting alongside the Ghost of March, who has Legendary Actions and can hold his own in battle pretty well. Mahmoud does not have legendary or lair actions, and even with his golems he’s outnumbered in terms of action economy. This means that the fight may be pretty easy, and given the sidebar of quips the PCs may feel like they are second-stringers to the Ghost of March.

Join us next time as we seal the Ottoman Empire’s fate under a blood-red lunar eclipse in Act IV!

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The final act is the shortest of the book. At this point the PCs will assault the stronghold of their adversary as a dungeon crawl. One dungeon is the Janissary Hideout, the other the Ottoman Imperial Harem. It is possible in the Ghost of March route for the PCs to assault both if the Janissaries haven’t been won over to the Sekban’s side. If the PCs sided with Mejid, the Janissary Hideout will be the final dungeon as the Janissaries and Sekbans banded together for one last stand. In both playthroughs the PCs may have the aid of an NPC ally in assaulting the stronghold: if they sided with Mejid then Aziz Sefa Bey will join the party. If the PCs sided with the Ghost of March then one of three factions will lead an assault on the Palace once their favored Prince is secure: Alemdar, Ahra, or Hano will fight directly alongside the party.

The Janissary Hideout stands out among the two dungeons, as I can’t find the map for it here or elsewhere in the book. There are six major locations, and many of them are riddled with traps: there’s the entrance, the labyrinth which forces skill checks to find the right door and random encounters with Janissaries of various types; an inner chamber where a guard can pull various levels to activate all kinds of traps throughout the hideout from spontaneously combusting stairs to raining arrows; an armory filled with silvered weapons, guns, and a magic +1 trident and shortbow; trapped hallways with locks that fill the corridors with fire, poison gas, and rot bringer monsters; and Ahra’s personal chamber. She will make her last stand alongside two Janissary Conquerors (the strongest type of Janissary), and the room will fill with poison gas that she and her allies are immune to. If the Ghost is allied with her the two will make a Lord of the Rings reference before fighting:

As you enter the room you will see The Wolf and The Ghost are sitting down waiting for you to come through the door, weapons drawn.

“Welcome, children. We were waiting for you,” says Alemdar Pasha. Ahra jumps to the conversation. “How disappointing to see such a promising group to be sided with the enemy. We could have done great work together.’”Alemdar agrees: “No matter our differences, we could have built something special.” Ahra sighs, “Perhaps this is our final moment. I never would have thought to fight side by side with a Sekban.” Alemdar smiles at Ahra, “What about fighting side by side with a friend?” Ahra shakes her head in agreement. “I’d be honored.” They raise their weapons higher to strike.

But in a Mejid route where the Sekbans and Janissaries aren’t aligned, the Ghost of March will show up after the PCs have killed Ahra and fight them.

After Ahra dies you hear a clapping sound coming from behind the door. Alemdar Pasha, The Ghost of March, enters.

“Congratulations! Truly. I am surprised to see how far you have managed to get. Destroying the Janissary, finishing what I started. I did not see that coming. However, the choices you made have sided you with a corrupt tyrant who has no regard for his country. Alas…You have let the blood of the innocent to pour, and because of this, your blood will drain by my hands!”


The Ottoman Imperial Harem by contrast is much more detailed, being a 24 room dungeon crawl complete with a map. The rest of the palace isn’t detailed as the Bostanji have thoroughly barricaded the main entrance, so the PCs make use of a secret passage. There are various means of sneaking in through disguises and contacts the Ghost/Ahra has in the Harem, although during the regicide mission several of these options will be cut off due to heightened security. In addition to noncombat servants and staff members, the hostile encounters include various White Sentinel guardsmen along with some of the women themselves who are accomplished spellcasters in their own right. The three princes have their own rooms, and will come willingly with the PCs based on certain circumstances: one will leave if he thinks the PCs have a chance at killing Mejid b/c he views his older brother as a threat to the Empire, another is a Janissary sympathizer and will join if Ahra and the Ghost joined forces, and another will join no matter what.

Bergüzar’s room is heavily warded and can only be accessed during the regicide mission,* although the book contradicts itself and says that the PCs can meet her in the room during the kidnapping mission. Her room is a mage’s delight, filled with books covering a variety of supernatural topics along with a table full of spell components and furniture covered with scrolls and mechanical contraptions. If the PCs are infiltrating the Harem to kidnap a Prince and do not wish to kill her, she will seek them out and invite them to her chambers to learn their intentions and if they understand the gravity of things.

*Truly unbreakable doors. Sounds like a case of video game logic.

But if the PCs have intentions of killing her, she’d have found this out via divination and her chambers will contain Certain Community agents hiding in hopes of ambushing the PCs. Bergüzar will instead be found in the Garden of the Purest with Mejid to fight the party and their ally.

The Garden of the Purest is the “boss arena” for the Ghost of March route during the regicide mission, where the Padishah will be waiting for the PCs here in this otherwise scenic area. However, he has a few tricks up his sleeve. First are four Ottoman cannons in the four corners loaded to fire once each time. Additionally there are four flower patches whose plants are magical and have various hazards: one patch generates an antimagic field by absorbing spells cast and explode in force damage if they absorb too much; another patch grapples hostile targets, a third are sunflowers which shine and deal radiant damage, and a fourth are flowers that emit misty darkness. Last but not least there is a gate where two Bostanji guards will enter every five rounds, but if locked the door will be broken down in 5 minutes via a battering ram.

There are several examples of boxed text for Mejid to perform a Villainous Speech, with context depending on which NPCs are allied with the PCs and whether or not Bergüzar is there to aid him. Here’s one example:

As the sounds of bloodshed fill the corridors before them, Berguzar slowly holds Mejid’s hand.

“After all this time, here we are fighting side by side. Aren’t you thrilled to see what I’m capable of, my dear?” whispers Bergüzar to Mejid.

Mejid cracks a small smile. “I’ve always known exactly what you are capable of, beloved. But stand back this time; protect our son. He needs you more than I do. And know, before we start this, that I have always loved you ever since I laid my eyes upon your face all these years ago. I vowed to protect you until my very last breath, today I might actually get to do that. But I forbid you to die.’

The footsteps boom as the characters approach, the guards aim their guns to the door. Bergüzar falls behind one of the pavilions. With a loud crack, the door falls to the ground.

Alemdar Pasha walks in and snaps his whip. ‘It is an honor to be in your presence again, your Grace. I wish we could meet under better circumstances. Alas…lay down your weapons and you may remain on the throne.’”

Mejid laughs. “I knew it. All along. I had this inkling that you couldn’t have died. Not that easy. But what an exit that was! Now you have come to betray me, I see…perhaps I thought better of you than you deserved.”

Alemdar starts to get angry. “My promise is to the throne. You have spoiled what you had, and it is my duty to clean up your mess.”

Alemdar then turns to the characters. “Don’t spill his blood. There will not be disrespect towards the royal bloodline on my watch. Let me end this.”

You know, the PCs are supposed to be the stars of the show. I get that Alemdar has a legitimate personal grudge against Mejid, but he ain’t one of the PCs.

If Bergüzar was spared and is freed from the Pact of Suleiman, she will ask the PCs if Mira is safe. She will realize that in order to avert the doomed vision she must leave the palace and take on a new life. With one heartfelt speech the Queen will depart the palace with the PCs.


And now we cover the possible endings. There are a lot of ways the City of Crescent adventure path can resolve, and the book gives broad outlines based on the fate of several characters and decisions made by the PCs. Some interesting options include:

  1. If Bergüzar is still bound by the Pact and Mejid’s opposition is cut down, then he will use his wife’s abilities to learn the deepest secrets of the world powers to turn them against each other. As Europe and Russia grow weak the Padishah will set in motion plans for a New World Order and Eternal Empire. Reality-breaking arcane powers cause the lands of the Ottoman Empire to slowly come undone, and his son is born with magical talents unheard of in world history. Bergüzar is devastated, knowing her prophecy of the world ending will come to pass.
  2. If Mejid is still on the throne but the PCs sabotaged his plans in some way (such as ensuring Mira lives or freeing Bergüzar from her Pact) then his master plan comes undone and will leave him in a deep depression. His rule will be strict and stern, without mercy as he knows he is ruling over an Empire destined to die.
  3. If the PCs take something akin to the Yes Man route in Fallout New Vegas and end up killing Mejid along with both the resistance leaders and/or not getting a new Prince securely on the throne, the Ottoman Empire’s decline will be greatly hastened in comparison to the real world. The specifics are vague, but the book alludes to the domino effect of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination that eventually led to World War 1 as a potentially chaotic consequence.


Confined to a chapter all their own, these are short adventures the PCs can take during the sandbox segments of Acts I, II, and possibly III although they’ll be pretty overleveled for most of them by then. The Side Quests are split up based on faction, and have Tags detailing the adventure style, relevant Professions, and Recommended Level. There are 21 Side Quests split between six factions: 4 for level 2 PCs, 10 for level 3 PCs, 5 for level 4 PCs, and 2 for level 5 PCs. Each quest has material rewards, almost always gold pieces and sometimes a magic item on top of that.

Ahra has three side quests for the party. The first one is a mystery looking into a sickness afflicting the Janissaries, where a doctor they’ve been visiting is a warlock and pro-magic zealot who’s been using magical poisons made under the guidance of a djinn. The next quest involves looking into an underground auction of magic items that the aforementioned doctor was planning to attend, and during the auction a magic mirror believed to belong to Roxelana is suddenly stolen by an Egyptian spy working for Kavalan. The PCs can gain favor with other factions depending on what they do in regards to how they resolve the auction and the heist. The final quest involves visiting the safe house the spy was using, where the PCs can search for clues to find out that the spy network is researching a powerful memory alteration spell to take control of Aziz Sefa Bey’s mind and thus the Certain Community. This final quest can also earn the favor of said Community despite being an Ahra-involved quest.

Giannis the Cut has four missions for the PCs. The first is a museum heist where the PCs are to break into a museum and take a painting of Dionysus and Hermes out of the vault. The painting is actually magical, and is enchanted to be incredibly heavy in the hands of sober people. There’s a Greek text on a nearby slab as a clue, and the gods will start talking to characters who are drunk as they abscond with the painting. The second quest has the PCs depart for a Byzantine excavation site to steal a valuable magical crystal. In addition to arcanists part of the archeology team, there’s a group of bandits plotting to raid the camp. The crystal is actually a Pearl of Power, and PCs who keep it for themselves will earn Giannis’ disapproval. The third mission is socially intensive, where Giannis is in need of hiring specialists to infiltrate a rival smuggling operation, but Giannis needs blackmail material as leverage to encourage their cooperation if financial offers fail. The PCs must learn the secrets of said candidates, with more rewards for more secrets; if the PCs find all three secrets a magical fortune teller working for the rival syndicate will attempt to ambush the party.

Giannis’ final mystery is rather interesting. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is visiting Pera Palace on a book tour, promoting his latest work that takes place in Istanbul. Agatha Christie is also there along with a bunch of socialites. Giannis wants the PCs to steal a valuable piece of jewelry from Erline Read, Doyle’s muse who inspired his latest novel. However, Erline is stabbed to death during the events, kicking off a murder mystery! The PCs must somehow solve the mystery and take the jewelry without raising suspicion on themselves.

The actual murder is Agatha Christie, who was jealous of Erline in being Doyle’s primary inspiration. She killed Erline via a hidden kitchen access with a stolen dagger from another attendee, and then planted evidence in his room to try and implicate him.

The Lies We Told: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie didn’t visit Istanbul until the early 1900s, and Pera Palace was built in 1895. Additionally, Doyle was born in 1859 and Christie 1890.

The book also mentions that this Side Quest isn’t really a side quest, for the reward is “continuation of the main questline” as the PCs succeeding cause Aziz Sefa Bey to learn about their talents and thus later approach them to take them to the Palace. Uhhh, I feel this is the kind of thing that should be noted in Act II, given that it’s not referenced anywhere earlier in the book. Or better yet, just substitute completing it with a real reward and more esteem from Aziz and thus Mejid.

Hano the Widow focuses on hunting dangerous monsters and people. The first quest involves hunting an Albasti, or Devourer of Dreams, that is feeding on the city’s homeless population. The second quest involves looking into evil spirits haunting a graveyard which are actually tiny fey known as scavengers. The party can get them to leave the graveyard by competing in a variety of silly little games, and PCs who humor them have the scavengers lead the party to a real monster, a bichura, haunting a tree. The third quest involves looking into an apparent murder at a house. The actual perpetrator is a djinn who possessed the body of a helpless woman.

The woman was trafficked into sex work and ran away from her pimp when she discovered she was pregnant. Several months after the baby was born the pimp and his minions located her. When they broke into her house they tried to kill her and killed the baby, but the woman survived when a djinn possessed her and killed the slavers.

The djinn obviously doesn’t care for the welfare of the possessed woman, and if the PCs fail to exorcize him then Hano will kill the woman and the djinn, prioritizing the death of a monster over the safety of an innocent.

The final quest Hano has involves looking into some missing bounty hunters who were looking for a monster seen around Sulanahmet Square. The bounty hunters were frozen to death by a karbuga, who has taken the form of a young girl and claims that she was only fighting to defend herself. The text does not say one way or another if she’s telling the truth or lying; Hano has been tailing the PCs, and once again if they stay their hand out of mercy she will do what the PCs cannot.

It may just be me, but harm to children is a recurring theme with Hano. It also feels at odds with her backstory in her being so ruthless against the possessed woman and child-monster. I do understand that in the real world trauma doesn’t necessarily make one a better or more empathic person (in fact it can often do the opposite) but it goes against her earlier characterization of not wanting others to suffer like she did.

For the new monsters, the Albasti is a CR 4 fiend who can take on alternate forms, specializes in melee attacks, and has a ranged “dream devourer” attack that deals psychic damage against a sleeping target and afflicts them with a disease that puts them in a nightmare-filled coma. Karbugas are monsters that were originally people who were affected by too many ice spells over time. They automatically lower surrounding temperature and put out small flames, and have a damaging melee attack that deals cold damage and a rechargeable AoE breath weapon that shoots out a flurry of icicles. Scavengers aren’t very dangerous, being CR ¼, and they have features akin to low-level Rogues such as a 1d6 Sneak Attack and Cunning Action albeit given reflavored names.

The Council of Ninth Life don’t really have any linked themes. The first quest involves tracking down a djinn that has been poisoning the city’s cat population. It’s a rot bringer djinni that can impart diseases with but a touch. The second quest is hardly a quest at all, and just involves looking for a ghost in the Undercity’s chariot race tracks who knows the location of a powerful magic item. He can only answer with a cryptic saying that he longs for the “death of Justinian.” The third quest leads on from the second, where Sheraf realizes based on the ghost that the item is in the Maiden’s Tower, which in earlier times was used to quarantine people when plagues spread through the city.




It’s still quarantined, and the PCs have to find a way past the Bostanji guards in order to enter. The Tower is a 16 room dungeon crawl whose first half appears like a typical building with no monsters or hostile creatures, but it does have some traps. But the true dungeon is a hidden magical art gallery that was built by Yutba, a dragon of Turkish mythology, and who also managed to capture the ghost of a woman by the name of Helena whose father was the Roman emperor Constantine that Yutba held a grudge against. Located behind a magical doorway, the true dungeon has eight rooms portraying living scenes throughout history, and each one has its own creatures, traps, and in some cases treasures. For example, the Karakorum Timescape appears as the war tent of nomads, and undead warriors will offer to test the characters with various competitions such as an archery contest, drinking contest, or a magical duel. Solving the various puzzles of the timescapes will weaken Yutba’s stats and abilities. The dragon is located in the final room and has stats as an adult black dragon, who even if substantially weakened is pretty deadly for PCs given this side quest has a recommended level of 5 and they likely expended quite a bit of resources earlier on. The final treasure of the dungeon is the Crown of Sargon. This adventure doesn’t mention what rewards the Council gives for the PCs if they return the Crown to Sheraf, which is a bit of an oversight.

Chique Manu’s quests tend to be more light-hearted save for one horror-focused one. The first quest has him hire the PCs as bodyguards while attending a high-stakes poker game. One of the people Manu wins against is a sore loser and attempts to kidnap the man via carriage, possibly setting off a chase scene. The second adventure has the PCs meet with Manu during the Festival of Candles when a shadowactor performer’s spell rebounds, causing several shadows to come to life. One of them steals Chique Manu’s ring, a family heirloom that belonged to his grandfather. The PCs must track down and defeat the shadows to win the quest.

The third quest is horror-related, as a painting in Manu’s possession once portrayed a burning monastery with children standing outside. The children vanished from the painting, and Manu wants the PCs to find either the original painter or the monastery portrayed. Not of any concern for its creepy nature, but the fact that a magical painting will fetch a princely sum among collectors. The PCs visit a village that holds the monastery’s ruins, or find the painter who lives by himself in a house on an island. The reality of the situation is that a Naziat, an angel banished from heaven and tasked by God to collect souls, is the responsible party. In a twisted interpretation of its mission, the Naziat manipulated an orphan at the monastery to burn it down so that it could collect the souls of the dead. The Naziat still haunts the survivor who lives in the village, and will attack the PCs if they snoop around too much.

The final quest has Chique Manu asking the PCs to rig one of the spectral chariot races so he can win a lot of money while betting. As they are incorporeal, this requires some out of body thinking: clever use of spells or abilities that can affect undead in some way are possible, as are rigging the physical chariots with a Woodcarver’s Tools check.

The Ghost of March has three related Side Quests outside of the tasks he wants the PCs to do for him initially in Act II. The first involves looking into the murder of a Sekban who a Speak with Dead spell reveals was killed by someone with “the eyes of an eagle.” There’s a village of people whose forms have been mutated by magic in a network of caves the PCs can investigate, where a tiefling known as Byzas offers to meet with them by a lake. But Byzas is ambushed by a group of ghouls and an Obur, and is beyond magical saving. His last words will mention that someone known as Eve is dangerous and hates humanity.

Obur is a new monster type; they are the twisted forms of knights of the First Crusade, turning to arcane magic to gain power. Obur are vampire-like cannibals who have an everlasting hunger, can attack with a poisonous grappling tongue, and can swallow Medium and smaller targets.

Tying into the second quest, the PCs can learn that a woman known as Eve was raised by an elven druid and pacifist known as Greenhat who doesn’t want to take sides in the upcoming revolution. Eve was rescued from a life of slavery by Greenhat, and the two of them can be met at his home, a cabin in the Undercity. Eve doesn’t like the Ghost, feeling that his goals of liberation will simply “bring the world above into the Undercity.”

If the characters somehow offend her, or reveal that they are working for the Sekbans, she will assault them. The druid will not join the fight, but he will heal Eve when she drops to a low HP.

Before she drops to 0 hit points and provided that Greenhat is not murdered, she will run away while threatening the characters. “Don’t follow me, or you will be dead.” If the characters follow, they will be stopped by a wall of stone spell.

They will hear the druid say with tears in his eyes, “She’s gone to the garden, to eat the fruit in chains.” He will not explain what it meant, if the characters force him, he would only yield to mind altering and affecting magic.

If they return to Ghost of March, he will know where the garden is. Any Arcana or History checks will not reveal the exact location.

And even in these Side Quests we get some rail-roaded results! What if the PCs are diplomatic and pretend to agree with her? What if they somehow manage to prevent her from running away?

The third quest of the Ghost of March involves the PCs returning to the Ghost, who mentions that the garden is a mythical location among the denizens of the Undercity, where it’s said that it has a tree that grows one fruit that will bestow whoever eats it with unimaginable power. But Constantine IV told the Undercity inhabitants to never eat the fruit upon pain of having their society sealed off from above and thus condemn them to a slow death. The Ghost knows where the garden is and will bring the PCs there, where Eve has gathered supporters to preach her hopes and dreams. She wishes for freedom for non-humans by destroying human domination of the world and bringing about a new order where non-human spellcasters are in control. The followers will flee upon sighting the Ghost, but Eve will attempt to grab the fruit only to have it wilt away in her hands. She will then fight the PCs with summoned undead, although the Ghost of March will stand back and watch the battle play out and only interfere if the PCs “are in dire straits.”

Once the PCs defeat Eve, a spirit will come from the ground, and the Ghost of March will speak with him:

“What is the power of the apple?”

“I desired to understand the reason why the Prophet pointed his finger at this city. Yes, it is indeed true that this city is the capital of the old world, the shining jewel that connects all the peoples of the world. But there had to be something else that would justify bloody conquest.`` He takes one step further. “I thought it must have been this, the fruit below. But it seems I was mistaken. Now I shall depart.”

“Be at God’s peace, Abu Ayyub. May your name be praised.”

The ghost looks back to The Ghost: “Before I go, promise me.”

“What is it?”

“Don’t let the city fall.”

Thoughts So Far: For the Ghost of March route, the City of Crescent spares little expense in setting up a suitably climactic finale. The garden in which the PCs fight Mejid is full of secondary hazards to keep them on their toes, and I like the varying tactics offered for PCs to infiltrate the Harem along with the motivations of the Princes. I also like the outlines for the various endings and fates of major characters.

But for Mejid’s route, the assault on the Janissary headquarters pales in comparison. This Act feels unfinished given the lack of a map, and the fight with Ahra (and possibly the Ghost) only has poison gas and some improvised weapons to take advantage of as the major environmental hazards. Doesn’t really stack up against magical plants, cannons, and summoned guards.

Additionally, there’s the fact that the narrative is assigning Alemdar Pasha/the Ghost of March a bit of main character status. In the final battle he wishes to be the one that delivers the final blow to Mejid; in the Tower of Justice he and Mahmoud II deliver barbs against each other while fighting; and at the end of his Side Quests he has a conversation with a spirit who asks him to not let the city fall. That last part would’ve been more impactful if delivered to the PCs instead.

I do get that prepublished adventures can’t take into account the myriad backstories thought up by custom-made PCs, and the campaign’s politicking and factions have it so that most major characters have a lot of history with each other. But these little touches steal the spotlight away from the PCs at times.

As for the Side Quests, I overall like them and the concept. They’re pretty short and when it comes to combat rather easy as only one of them is an actual dungeon crawl with several battles. But I do have my criticisms which I outlined above; additionally there are no Side Quests associated with parties working for Mejid/Certain Community besides some incidental outcomes in Ahra’s.

Join us next time as we finish this book in detailing the bestiary and Alternate History Toolbox!



This is our bestiary section, containing 36 humanoid/NPCs, 19 bestial monsters, and 8 djinn who are a new creature type of their own. The descriptive text for this section is written in an in-character format from the perspective of Osman, talking about his research into the world’s people and monstrous folklore.

Of the non-djinni monsters, we have 2 aberrations, 4 beasts (all sentient Ninth Life cats), 2 celestials, 1 construct, 2 dragons, 2 fey, 1 fiend, 2 monstrosities, and 3 undead. In regards to Challenge Rating two-thirds of the NPCs range from fractional to 3, with those of 5 or higher representing highly trained individuals and the best of the best within their particular occupations and societies. The monsters are similarly low in CR, fitting comfortably within the bounds of this adventure path, with the Abra dragon as a clear exception in being CR 17.


The Ottoman Empire has no shortage of skilled warriors and sages to call upon. Armsmasters are veteran soldiers who specialize in firearms, earning their kingdom’s name as the Gunpowder Empire. Bostanji are palace guards who fight with rifled bayonets and wear unique armor that function as breastplates but with a better maximum DEX bonus to AC, and the White Sentinels are guardian eunuchs* of the Harem who have advantage on initiative and can add a d6 to various sensory-related skill checks a limited number of times per short or long rest. The Mansur are the military replacement of the Janissaries that also double as civilian law enforcement, and include pseudo-fighters akin to the Bostanji as well as less powerful Informers with more Roguelike abilities in their role as detectives. Agents of a Certain Society are similarly Roguelike, although their elite Stalker units are specialized in fighting mages, knowing up to 2nd level spells and can attack spellcasters in melee as a reaction when they cast a spell. Avianists are soldiers who train birds for the purposes of scouting and war, and have the supernatural ability to see and hear through the senses of their birds.

*One thing to bring up is that the book mentions that Abd-ul Mejid banned the practice of slavery and castrating when he took control. While said eunuchs could be holdovers from the prior ruler and Mejid did ease in more freed people into the Harem, from what I can tell the banning of slavery IRL came more gradually.

And the Imperial court has no shortage of covert spellcasters either. The Lalas who tutor the nobility are highly trained wizards whose teachings are supernaturally enhanced, such as better range on the Guidance cantrip and granting advantage on ability checks to an ally for 10 minutes. The women of the Harem count some powerful mages among their ranks. Even the least among them can cast spells as a 4th level caster, their Oracles can reroll die rolls as they can see the fate of others (also doesn’t mention their caster level but can learn up to 2nd level spells), and their Elite Blades have mixed spellcraft and swordplay to be respectable battle-mages.


And what of the forces arrayed against them? The Janissary Remnants have their own diversity of talent. Chelebi are the newest recruits, homeless urchins who recently reached adulthood. The more veteran units have a variety of fighting styles via unique special attacks, such as the Thunderbolts who can use Cunning Action and Sneak Attack like Rogues, the Grimms whose strikes can impose the Frightened condition, or the Magnificent and Conquerers whose special attacks can deal double damage or extra d6s respectively against foes already injured. The Humbaraci are in a category of their own, the artillerists and sappers who can lob special AoE grenades.

For the Ghost of March’s forces, the Sekban-ı Cedit include a mixture of Fighter and Rogue types, with Musketeers and Blademasters serving as ranged and melee units and the Spies are armed with unique Silent Repeating Handguns. And in being in the Undercity, they have the aid of nonhumans, such as Elven Arcanists who specialize in blasty magic, and Tiefling Dealmakers who are warlocks with a more varied assortment of spells.

The remaining NPC stat blocks are a general mix of archetypes. Arcane Researchers are the magewright equivalent of Historica Arcanum, the most minor of magicians who are basically commoners with some appropriate divinations for detecting and identifying magical items, and Devotees are the divine equivalent who learned some beginner-level spells from their faiths. Ephes are violent revolutionary types of various stripes who are basically heavily-armored gunfighters, Kabadayi are honorable gangsters who are NPC Urban Vagabond Barbarians, and Levents are sailors who have a fast climb and swim speed on top of Cunning Action, and can avoid opportunity attacks if they hit a creature in melee. Muneccim (Turkish for “astrologer”) are mages who specialize in deriving magic from the stars and can make use of Zodiac signs much like the Stargazer subclass.


For the monsters not covered in the City of Crescent adventure proper, we have the Nashitat, the good-aligned equivalent to the Naziat who search for the purest of souls to take to the afterlife. They have resistance to all damage and immunity to a variety of conditions. They are primarily spellcasters, having Cleric-like magic up to 5th level.

Our two dragon types don’t appear in the adventure at all. The Abra live among the clouds and feed from spell rebounds to repair the tears in reality, and as CR 17 creatures they are basically what you expect from high CR dragons: powerful melee attacks, a frightful aura, a breath weapon that deals fire and radiant damage, the ability to detect and cancel Terrestrial Repercussions from Spell Rebounds, and legendary actions. The Bukre are reflavored pseudodragons, with similar (but not identical) stats and are fond of learning about different cultures and riddles, with many living in the Undercity.

The Council of the Ninth Life is a guild of intelligent cats. They share among them typical cat-like physical features, Fortunate Soul which lets them reroll a natural 1 as a reaction, and Nine Lives which drops them to 1 hit point instead of 0 if they’d otherwise be knocked out or killed, but each subsequent time it’s used requires an escalating Constitution save to activate. Cat Burglars are basically weak Rogues, Saberpaws can shapechange into larger humanoid-cat hybrids, Cat Spooks have some trickery-related magic, and Cat Officers are more powerful Rogues.

The Munqur are evil constructs made by sorceresses of long ago, tasked with finding and stealing the faces of the most beautiful people. Their missions still live on long after their creators’ deaths, and they stitch the faces of their prey in crude robelike cloths. They are melee attackers with a variety of fear-based debuffs, and can restore damage and gain temporary hit points when they wound frightened targets.


Aychura are undead created when one uses a spell rebound effect on the corpse of a pure soul. Also known as Tall Spirits, they are thin faceless entities with multiple whiplike tendrils they use to strangle people to death.

Between the description and image, I’m getting some Slenderman vibes here.

Ya’is round out our non-djinni monsters, undead spawned from the trauma when a loved one dies. They don’t have much specific to their purpose beyond hating anything that lives, but they are afraid of cats. In terms of stats they are incorporaeal undead with a lot of resistance and immunity to various damage types, can deliver a damaging scream that gives a straight -1 penalty on attacks, ability checks, and saves, and their touch can deal necrotic damage and grant them temporary hit points.

Djinn are synonymous with the unseen as well as the fear of darkness and the unknown. In Christian communities they are known as demons. Some believe that they were once mortal archmages who were corrupted by gazing upon Al-Ghaib’s secrets, while others claim that they are born from unstable magic. The djinn cannot be trusted when asked themselves, so their origins may as well be a mystery. Even those djinn who aren’t evil tend to act in chaotic and disruptive ways, meaning only the most desperate, power-hungry, and self-assured deign to even call upon them. Before going into their stats we have entries talking about exorcizing djinn, which in addition to the spell there are various ways the exorcism can be made easier or harder. Examples include the use of holy water, protective magic items, and folkloric stuff such as “the promise of a friend” or “blood of an enemy.” Others besides the spellcaster can participate in the ritual with appropriate skill checks, such as praying with Religion or a poem with Performance that can lower the DC for exorcizing the djinn.

Additionally, djinn are protective of their true names, and souls who learn them gain power over that particular djinn. Uttering their real name along with an appropriate command can force the djinn to obey on a failed Charisma save, while just saying their name in isolation compels the djinn to listen to the speaker.


We’ve got eight types of djinn, half of which are CR 1 and the others ranging from 3 to 6. Most of them share some commonalities among stats: they are incorporeal and invisible in dim light and darkness when not possessing someone, can possess someone if the target fails a Charisma save, can impose the Djinnstruck condition on those who contact them in any way, have a touch attack that typically deals non-physical damage types, and can inflict various debuff special attacks. Chor are the offspring of djinn and humans whose burning touch can damage and exhaust, and most religious people learned in arcane matters view their existence as a sin in and of itself. Soul Whisperers are minor djinn who masquerade as voices in people’s heads to subtly influence them; they have minor spellcasting capabilities and once per day can use maddening whispers to djinnstruck and even change a target’s alignment. Shivekar, or Silver Tongues, often take the forms of beautiful women to charm men and get them to do what they want, including a Charming Glance that inflicts…well, the charmed condition, but only on men.* Wicked Shades enjoy spreading fear, which stands in contrast to them often taking the forms of handsome figures and are the kind of djinn the PCs fought on the steamboat at the beginning of the adventure. Horrorists are similar in that they also enjoy spreading fear, but prefer to do it via retelling terrible stories as a special attack which acts like the Enthrall spell but with an open-ended duration of until the story ends. Shamhuresh, or rot bringers, can spread disease with a touch and are one of the more powerful of their kind, specializing in dealing necrotic damage and infection-related debuffs. Nar-As Samum, or the Blazing Rage, are djinni who are powered by fire and anger, whose flaming touch can ignite others. Finally, the Zawbaw’ah are attuned to air, being very fast and can wield lightning.

*I do feel a better wording would be “anyone who would be attracted to the djinn,” for a less heteronormative outlook.


The final chapter of Historica Arcanum doesn’t concern the campaign specifically but is a more general set of guidelines for DMs wishing to make historical fantasy settings of their own with 5th Edition D&D. Covering things broadly and thinly, it illustrates seven steps and common questions to ask, ranging from worldbuilding exercises (how did people deal with war, plague, and famine?), the creation of prominent political factions to center in the campaign, how does magic work and how common/known about are nonhumans, what are the points where the alternate history drifts away from real world history, stuff like that. We also get a new list of more advanced firearms for early 20th Century and beyond here:


Wow, these pistols have some mad ranges!

Finally the toolbox gives us notes for ten sample time periods, ranging from prehistory to the First World War.

If I seem rather brief on this chapter, it’s some pretty generic common-sense advice and things we’ve already heard about in other sourcebooks of that type.

Our book ends with a Cookbook of various real-world Turkish food recipes, an Appendix containing The Lies We Told mentioned earlier, and a Bibliography for further historical reading which I’ll repeat here:

This section is for those who are into the history of Istanbul and want to play a local in the City of Crescent. Checking out sections of these works could inspire the players and the GMs.
• Secret Istanbul, Emre Öktem, Jonglez Publishing
• Istanbul: The Imperial City, John Freely, Penguin Books
• Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City, Hillary Sumner Boyd & John Freely, Tauris Parke Paperbacks
• The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher: Voices from the Ottoman Harem, Douglas Scott Brooks, University of Texas Press.
• The Remaking of Istanbul: Portrait of an Ottoman City in the Nineteenth Century, Zeynep Çelik, University of California Press
• A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul, Ebru Boyar & Kate Fleet, Cambridge University Press
• Istanbul: A History, David Jacobs, New Word City
• Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire, Suraiya Faroqhi, I.B. Tauris

Thoughts So Far: I like how the bestiary has an in-character format while still being informative, as it lends itself well to telling PCs what they’d know about the monsters and characters with proper checks. A lot of the enemies are on the lower end of the CR bend, although that’s to be expected in 5e in general. There is a pretty significant lack of boss-level monsters given the lack of Legendary and Lair Actions, but that’s my only real complaint.

Final Thoughts: Historica Arcanum is an ambitious project that had a lot of love put into it. Metis Media has taken great care to weave together reality and fantasy into an intriguing setting that feels deeper than a thin Hollywood pastiche. This is evident throughout the work: the use of an original soundtrack, bibliography of referenced works, and little cultural shoutouts such as the movie inspiration of Aziz Sefa Bey or Osman talking about his latest painting that was his most famous work in real life being several examples. The adventure has a strong cast of characters, and the interspersing of Side Quest rewards, Profession Downtime, and shops selling unique items encourages characters to do more than the bare minimum of going from one major plot point to the next.

And yet, the City of Crescent has many flaws that stand in contrast to the beauty of its work, be it the predetermined railroady sections, the bias for the Ghost of March route, or sections that could’ve been organized better or more clearly. The lack of balance and unclear mechanics in quite a few PC options are another mark against it.

There's enough material in it that a dedicated DM who puts in the work will have a unique campaign unlike anything on the 5th Edition market. But it is a lot of work that has to be done in regards to the adventure, and when weighed against the many other campaigns competing against it, it sadly falls short. As far as I can tell this is Metis’ Media’s first tabletop product, and in regards to this it shows: the campaign is very ambitious, but it feels like they bit off more than they can chew when it comes to adventure-writing.

Even with that said, I am hoping that they improve. For what I did like in Historica Arcanum I liked a lot, and am looking forward to what they do for Empires of the Silk Road.


It's tracked as its own value. You gain PEX when doing things in line with your occupation. Historica Arcanum uses the milestone system, so typical experience points aren't tracked.

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