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Omens and Portentsby Ville Lähde
This adventure was originally published in the Finnish RPG magazine “Claymore” in 1994 with the title “Pahoja enteitä”. It is important that the GM prepares the atmosphere for this adventure, so some time should lapse between the previous part and this. In city campaigns a slower pace is usually good anyway, so the yearly cycle of the city can be seen by the PCs. (This adventure is also a good opportunity to prepare for the coming events, especially the troubles of the Torenescus. Christoph Torenescu might “fall ill” during these events and seemingly succumb to the mysterious illness. Obviously Boris takes advantage and poisons his brother. This way the later events around Alexander Torenescu have some background. But this is of course not necessary, the later adventure will work well without it.)
This scenario involves some familiar elements from the previous part of the series, as well as some new ones: 1) Stavros and his cell of Veiled Society; 2) Al-Azred and his gang “the Swords of Kalim” (unless something happened to them, in which case the GM must substitute them with someone else); 3) The ethnic and religious tensions of the city; 4) Church of Traladara; 5) Church of Karameikos and the extremists; 6) Drug use
Stavros’s crew and Veiled Society
The events of this adventure reflect the power play of the Radu clan, the secret movers of the Veiled Society. They have gone in cahoots with a drug dealer, seemingly the gang leader Al-Azred (see later), but they are also trying to use the havoc caused by the drug to their advantage and cause unrest and aggression against their Thyatian overlords. Stavros has been given this operation. The story will also see a split within Stavros’s cell, reflecting the conflictual nature of the organisation. Note that not even Stavros knows the true identity of his masters and the extent of their plans. He is just playing out a list of actions handed to him.
Al-Azred and the Swords of Kalim
The true culprit is using his identity and casting doubts on his gang. Thus Al-Azred is a potential ally of the investigators. Note that the Swords of Kalim detest drug use, which is one of the reasons they hound their “hazar” neighbours.
This adventure builds on the ethnic tensions between Thyatians and Traladarans. As much as ethnic and religious, or even more, the division is based on the imbalance of economic and political power, despite Duke Stefan’s attempts to balance the situation. The Duke will stay impartial, even to the point of passivity, during these events, unless they deteriorate very badly. This is a good way to convey the nature of Stefan’s rule, just but indecisive, to the players, with eye on the future of this campaign.
Church of Traladara
The PCs are introduced with the nature of their church, especially its relative powerlessness due first of all to the subjugated status and secondly due to the fairly casual and informal nature of the church itself. In a time of crisis, the Patriarch has a limited range of options. It is important to remember however, that the greatest resource he has is his friendship with Patriarch Jowett.
Church of Karameikos and the extremists
This scenario also introduces the dual face of the state church. Patriarch Olliver Jowett cares for all the citizens, whereas the Oderbry faction is likely to be provoked by the machinations of the Veiled Society into medieval police brutality and racist actions. The street-level face of Thyatian supremacy, Sir Lucius Thraxus, can be used to convey the latter image in this scenario. After all, despite the motives of Duke Stefan and Patriarch Jowett, in effect the Church is a tool of conquest and cultural colonialism. They believe that this crucible can form a new and unified people, others see it only as a source of burning zeal.
Drugs have an important role in this scenario. As suggested in the previous part of the series, much of the drug trafficking takes place in the Foreign Quarter, although Iron Ring and/or Veiled Society dabble in it too. The Kingdom of Thieves doesn't seem the type. In Specularum laws against drugs are strict, or actually laws against smuggling drugs. There are licensed herbalists and alchemists who can sell narcotics, like boosted absinth, stimulates and hallucinogens. Alcohol, tobacco and mild herbal drugs are allowed. These create revenue that can be taxed. Illicit trade and use is hounded by the Guard Phorsis.
What kind of drugs might be around? From Ochalea via Thyatis opiates, hashish from Ylaruam, (really) magic mushrooms from the Dwarves or the Norsemen etc. In a magical world, just like in a modern world of synthetics, a new drug can wreak havoc quickly, and with ugly results. This is at the heart of this scenario.
The Plague Strikes
The adventure starts in early summer, a few months after the opening of the trading season. A few weeks ago a comet appeared in the skies, a powerful omen and a portent of evil things. The comet’s tail appears as two tails, which due to the direction of the tail has the appearance of horns. This unnerves especially the Traladara, for whom the figure of the Horned One, a manifestation of the Black Prince, has been historically important. Perhaps they connect this with the strange unearthly visions on the Mirror Bay a while back. [This derives from M. Geneva Gray’s “Mystaran Chronicles”.] They fear drought, famine and flood. Most of the Thyatians scoff at this, especially those leaning towards the Oderbry faction.
Very soon is seems that the omens were true. A strange plague afflicts the people of Specularum. The afflicted persons become pale, they suffer from amnesia and fits of madness. After a period of these symptoms many regress to just sitting on the streets and coughing up black goo. Slowly people begin to die. The GM should build up the tension created by the comet, the prophesies and the emerging plague slowly, perhaps against the background of some other events.
Priests from the Church of Traladara walk the streets, trying to help the sick and setting up temporary aid stations, but new cases are revealed each day, and their prayers seem ineffective. Even the more powerful prayers just ease the symptoms for a while, until they return with a vengeance. Patriarch tries to pray to the Immortals, seeking the roots of this malady, but to no avail. Meanwhile the Church of Karameikos is fairly passive, which causes some underlying bitterness. Order of Griffon, especially the Oderbry faction, keeps an eye out for trouble (perhaps itching for some themselves).
At the beginning of the scenario, the officials are baffled. Meanwhile the atmosphere of the city is tense, and ethnic grudges manifest in street brawls and drunken fights. Prophets of doom and demagogues hit the streets. People mad with the illness hint to some dark and sinister force at work. For added spice the GM can have Cult of Halav start praying on Duke’s Palace for deliverance, and other parties preying on them. Emilio’s entourage may stage a play on their exploits.
The Truth behind the Plague
It is no wonder that even esoteric research has not shed light on the plague, since everyone is looking in the wrong place. The comet attracts attention on celestial matters, plagues and dark forces. Yet the root of the malady is mundane: drugs. Very early this spring a new Ylari drub called “atabe” hit the streets. Its normal effects are mild hallucinations, euphoria and laziness. It is taken orally as a black paste covered in leaves (boiled cabbage, wine leaves etc., so it is usually disguised as food). It is almost instantly addictive, both physically and psychologically, and the users quickly develop constant black miasma in their mouth. This and the strong urges make the users hard to open up about their problem. Long-term use results in heavy physical and psychological addiction, paleness of the skin and emotional irritation. All in all, this is a very lucrative product for criminals.
But unexpectedly the effects of the drug on the Traladara are much more severe: amnesia and memory distortion, and recurring violent madness. Eventually the victims become catatonic, their whole mouth blackens and their lungs begin to excrete black goo until they suffocate in a horrible way. How very un-60’s of them.
Thyatians don't suffer from these extreme adverse effects, they only get the normal symptoms and the fast addiction, whereas mixed people get easier versions of the symptoms. There is a historical reason to this, linked to Nithia, which is why the drug has long ago caused similar troubles in Minrothad, where similar genetic traits can be found in the population. They call the drug “the Black Devourer”, and it has been banned. The dealers of the drug did not know about this effect (or alternatively, their master might have known, if the GM wants to add some mystical spice – see later).
The Drug Dealers
The leader of the drug dealers and their supplier is a dangerous and powerful doppelganger who has magical abilities. He arrived to the city right before the winter. He had been travelling in a Ylari caravan and disappeared before they arrived in Specularum. He quickly assumed the identity of Karol, a rich man living in the noble quarters of the city, close to the city walls. Then he had his supply of drugs, a delivery under a false name, transported by the Ylari caravan, delivered to the house of Karol. So now he is living the life of Karol, a family man, and whilst enjoying these luxuries he is involved in drug trade and perhaps some dark practices. (Perhaps the comet was right, and the doppelganger is a cultist of the Horned One? He may have come to do his master’s bidding with the unholy drug, devouring the hapless victims of the sickness while he is at it?)
The doppelganger has made a deal with the Veiled Society in order to get the drug distributed. He has assumed the identity of the gang leader Al-Azred in order to draw suspicion to a wrong target. The deal stipulates that the Veiled Society gets a handsome cut for distributing atabe. Stavros’s cell has been ordered to do the job, and he has given a dozen of his lesser goons to Al-Azred. It is important to realise that 1) the Veiled Society does not know that atabe targets Traladara, and is sure to pull the plug if this is proved to them; 2) “Al-Azred” has quickly bought the loyalties of his dealers with extra money, so they are ready to defect if they are ordered to stop their activities. With the money they are getting, they can retire comfortably away from their masters. (If the GM wants, the doppelganger may also be using esoteric means to influence them.)
Most of the drug is sold in the Old Quarter, South End and the areas of Nest not controlled by the Kingdom of Thieves. The dealers of course stay out of the Foreign Quarter. By the beginning of the scenario, however, new cases of “illness” are popping up in the Merchant Quarter too. Most of the users are thus Traladara, but there is also a Thyatian market, which is important for the PC investigation (see later).
Plans of the Veiled Society
The Radus want to use the troubles created by the new drug to foster suspicion of the Church of Karameikos and the Magicians’ Guild, for their “ignorance of the plight of the people” or “failure to help”. People riled with prophesies of doom are easy to turn on arbitrary targets, not to mention ones with a history of colonisation and oppression. Initially the Radus stick with the plan, despite the radically worsening situation. But in any case, they will cut ties with “Al-Azrad” eventually, but by that time it is far too late, and it won’t stop the drug trade completely anyway. So the PCs better succeed in their task (see later).
The PCs can be involved in many ways, but the default assumption is that they are enrolled by the secretary of Patriarch Nikelnyevich, Rodoz Marianov to investigate the nature of the plague. As Rodoz is likely to believe any rumours hinting at the Horned One, his initial briefing is bound to set the PCs on a wrong track of mind. His aide Svetlana, who is the liaison of the PCs in the coming investigation, is fortunately more down to earth, and can help them to gain the attention of the Patriarch, if they manage to learn anything vital (see later). The investigators are given letters which confirm that they are on official church business – it would of course be ideal if one of them is a priest of the church, but a member of the Church of Karameikos can easily have been sent by Magdel to help her colleague, for example.
The investigators are asked to learn more about the disease by questioning the patients and the healers, and in any other way they can come up with. The letter can carry some weight when it comes to the residents of the city, the guilds or even Guard Phorsis, but they of course have no extra rights or powers, so the do have to tread lightly. Rodoz Marianov also instructs them to help keep the peace, as Patriarch Nikelnyevich is worried about extremists on both sides.
There are a number of clues that the PCs can unearth during their investigations:
1) The Demographics: The supposed disease seems to be spread only to Traladaran and mixed population. Also the symptoms vary between these two groups.
2) Hallucinations: As the memories of the users have been distorted, it is very hard or even impossible to gain knowledge of the drug from these victims. Instead they ramble on about “the Dark Prince” who offers happiness eternal – a drug-addled memory of the hooded dealers, of course.
3) The areas where the disease was originally strong were the Old Quarter, the northern parts of the Nest. Then it spread to South End (but keeping away from the areas controlled by Stavros – you do not foul your own nest, and he wants to be a good neighbour). Recently there have been cases in the Merchant Quarter. This may direct the PCs to look for recent cases.
4) Early and Thyatian users: Black miasma is a common factor, if the PCs can find any Thyatian users (more likely in the Merchant Quarter). The Thyatian users can provide them with knowledge about the drug, as their memories are not distorted. But the social stigma associated with the drug use is strong. On the other hand, they can use that to their advantage.
5) Captured drug dealers are unlikely to provide any important clues, aside from noting that disturbing the Society is very dangerous. That is unless the PCs get cruel – granted, they often do. At this stage the dealers however only know the identity of “Al-Azred”, and they get their product from Stavros.
- Note that if the PCs capture drug dealers, the Veiled Society will begin to watch out for them or even hunt them down, depending on their actions.
6) By studying the drug itself the PCs can learn that the plant used in the packaging is definitely Ylari, and a master in drug and herbal lore can identify it through the Minrothaddan legends (see above).
7) If the PCs inquire about recent arrivals from Ylari, they have a chance to learn about the caravan, the disappearance of one traveller and the mysterious delivery. However, the trail will run cold as “Karol” employed hired porters, whom are extremely hard to find.
As the PCs engage in their investigations the plans of the Veiled Society progress and unrest spreads. If they stay true to their commission from the Patriarch, they will get involved, as they are supposed to keep the peace. So: Stavros’s crew is causing disturbances in the city by using demagogues to anger the population. In the beginning a couple of Thyatian shops are robbed (as a bonus the Radus are interfering with their rivals in the Merchants’ Guild).
The first big event is a demonstration organised at the Statue of Ban Bogdan Ivanovich. It is either organised by Stavros’s crew, or if the GM wishes to introduce people and elements from the later parts or the series, the resistance leader Vladimir and his “Spring Flood” might be laying ground for their plans. In any case, several demagogues of the Veiled Society are present, and they will try to incite a riot and send the crowd surging towards the Church Quarter “to demand help from the oppressors”. If this happens, Sir Lucius’s crew will be very aggressive in the coming days, and Guard Phorsis (aided with the Knights of Griffon) will use violence to stop the mob.
Sir Lucius will in any case patrol the streets with his followers in order to protect the Thyatians from the attacks done or instigated by the Veiled Society. The PCs have it thus that much harder, as Sir Lucius is unlikely to welcome nosy goons of the native church. There may be blood.
If the PCs don’t manage to stop the downward spiral, things will get out of control. Later on the Veiled Society will try to organise a riot outside the Guild of Magicians. During times of evil omens and bad portents, the mages are often blamed. If the PCs do not intervene, there will be more bloodshed, and serious this time, as some of the mages panic. On the other hand, the PCs have a chance to gain important allies and resources by saving the day. But by this point the Duke will finally get active, martial law is declared, and any unofficial action becomes very different. Thus atabe gets to do its dirty work, and deaths mount, even though the possibility of drug trade will also dwindle. (If the GM wants the doppelganger to be an evil cultist, and not just a greedy lecher and perhaps a connoisseur for the succulent human flesh, he may decide to poison a central well with the rest of his stash. This would be a true disaster.)
HOW TO STOP THE DRUG TRAFFIC?
As mentioned earlier, eventually the Veiled Society will pull out anyway, but by that time it will be too late (see above). The best way for the PCs is appeal to Stavros by pointing out that the drug is hurting only Traladara. They can also influence the situation slightly by public announcements of the dangers of atabe. This will not help the already addicted, but new users will be harder to find. On the other hand, this will definitely lure an ambush by the Veiled Society, unless they use official channels to make the announcement.
If the true and inherently race-biased effects of atabe are proven to Stavros, he will get permission to withdraw from the drug traffic. However, the Veiled Society will make trouble as long as it can (see above). In any case some of the dealers defect and contact “Al-Azrad” in order to continue the drug traffic. The investigators can at this stage learn the name, but at first this is likely to divert them to the Foreign Quarter.
Still, if things are settled with Al-Azred and Stavros, the PCs are able to focus on finding the dealers and their master, and they can gain help from the various parties. hunting down individual dealers is the obvious way. At this stage they know “Karol” by description, but the PCs still must tract down his identity and residence.
Anyway, the doppelganger must be killed. This will be interesting, as the PCs will most likely think that they are raiding the house of a crooked noble and not a magically savvy changeling with a taste of human flesh. Karol’ wife, children and servants are also living in the house. In a secret cellar room the PCs can find lots of atabe, proceeds of the drug traffic, and perhaps even a shrine of the Horned One with hundreds of gnawed human bones.
Even if the doppelganger is killed, things remain grim for a whole. Many people have died or will died, and hundreds are suffering from serious withdrawal. Depending on the actions of the PCs, there may be additional tensions within the Foreign Quarter and with the rest of the city. Depending on whether the Veiled Society succeeded in their plans, the tensions in the city are very high, and they are bound to take advantage of them, as are the extremists of all churches.
Over all this the comet is slowly fading, but it is as if an evil grin is spreading on the face of the Horned One, as he watches over poor Specularum…
- Rodoz Marianov (see NPC section)
- Svetlana (C2, lawful): Rodoz’s aide. She is a healer and a more down-to-earth person than her master. She is likely to believe more clinical explanations than the curse of the Horned One. Svetlana also knows Magdel of the Church of Karameikos quite well, but not as well as she would like, as she harbours a secret (and in this context a very dangerous) love of her colleague.
- Al-Azrad (see NPC section)
- Stavros (see NPC section)
- Doppelganger: Powerful even for a doppelganger and a wicca/shaman. The GM can create the stats according to the desired power level.
- Sir Lucius (see NPC section)
- Malachai, Herb Lore Master (M8): He works in the Magicians’ Guild and is the best authority to consult about atabe and drugs in general. He is an old man with a white beard and a constant smell of herbs and chemical on his robes, tattered and pockmarked. Due to several cases of poisoning, he is also somewhat absent-minded.