Tale of an Industrious Rogue, Part I
Tale of an Industrious Rogue is the story of how a simple dungeon feature and a party's thirst for gold combine to create a rollercoaster ride of greed, ingenuity, and global economic meltdown.
Context Notes: This all took place during a Pathfinder campaign set in the city-state of Katapesh, part of the game's official setting Golarion. The campaign lasted between 2009 and 2012
The full version of this story was originally posted by DM Kroft on /tg/ in November 2012.
- 1 Meet the Party
- 2 Preamble
- 3 The Story Proper
- 3.1 Chapter I: A Humble Beginning
- 3.2 Chapter II: A Profitably Problematic Business Venture
- 3.3 Chapter III: Everyone's Getting Mad
- 3.4 Chapter IV: Ghosts, Of Course
- 3.5 Chapter V: Well Hello There
- 3.6 Chapter VI: The STC Is Your Friend
- 3.7 Chapter VII: Let's Go Deeper
- 3.8 Chapter VIII: Slimy's Fancy Trip To Far and Beyond
- 3.9 Chapter IX: Nightmare Pots
- 3.10 Chapter X: The Hags' Haggle
- 3.11 Chapter XI: A Dream Made From Dreams
- 3.12 Chapter XII: To Rule a City
- 3.13 Chapter XIII: So, About that Fountain of Gold...
- 3.14 Chapter XIV: A Time for Friends and a Time for Fisticuffs
- 3.15 Chapter XV: Don’t think of the children, think of the rubies!
- 3.16 Chapter XVI: A Pound of Flesh or Two
- 3.17 Chapter XVII: A Proper Bastard Never Dies
- 3.18 Chapter XVIII: Time for More... Experiments
- 3.19 Chapter XIX: It's Mine, Mine, MINE
Meet the Party
As this story starts several sessions into the campaign, here is a quick summary of the characters involved:
Hassan Ibn Jaffar: Human Rogue, though he prefers to be deemed as an Entrepreneuring Explorer and Archaeologist. Chaotic-Neutral. Native of Katapesh.
Valanar of Noravia: Human Priest of Sivanah (Goddess of Secrets), scammed his own father and got his entire family sold as slaves. Lawful-Evil. Native of Cheliax.
Vorgok "The Merciful": Human Barbarian. Got his nickname after forgiving the life of a gladiator, though he has been turning increasingly insane since then. Chaotic-Neutral (started as Chaotic-Good). Native of Irrisen.
Jack Sandweaver: Human Warrior/Bard/Duelist. Former pirate, travels along with a goblin minstrel he somehow conned into comming along with him. The player actually writes down the songs he sings in the game (and they are all about him). Chaotic-Good. Native of Taldor.
Rakhim Apravarnasi: Human Monk/Sorcerer. The voice of reason in the party, but had the really bad idea of getting romantically involved with an NPC (an elf priestess that helped them early in the campaign), as Valanar (who's a manipulative bastard) keeps using it against him.
If you could lend me an eye or two, I would like to tell you a tale, the tale of an industrious rogue...
Early in the campaign, before the events here described had time to happen, the party stumbled on a trapped room inside a dungeon, which contained a rift into the Paraelemental Plane of Salt. The idea was to have the characters face a small Salt Elemental and then get on with the dungeon. After killing it, one of the players -Hassan- asks me about the price of salt, which after an Appraise roll I told him could fetch about 1g per pound. So then he spends a while filling every possible container he had (including his boots) with salt from the elemental rift, and then the session continued as planned through the dungeon. Once back in the city (we're playing in Katapesh), he managed to get a handsome sum of money for the salt.
About half a year of campaign later, when most of the party levels up to 7 (the "Sonk" -Monk/Sorcerer- was stuck at level 6 after missing a couple of sessions), Hassan asks me about taking the Leadership feat and wants to discuss the possibility of gathering some followers (his Charisma score of 20 and other things qualified him for a good amount of followers), so we get on it during the pizza break (he had notes prepared from before). Most of what he asks sounds reasonable (I'm often a harsh DM, but very flexible when the players are being creative), so I let him go along with it, and so he starts his criminal gang. Or at least I thought that was his goal.
Instead, after the pizza break the player announces his character is going to leave Katapesh for a couple of weeks (we were on a between-adventures part of the campaign, so I gave the players the oportunity to conduct some medium-term tasks if they all agreed on moving the time frame a few weeks into the future.
The Story Proper
Chapter I: A Humble Beginning
The idea was to have them craft stuff, meet up with their families, get the chance to set up a proper base of operations in the city, etc. Also, one of the character was getting married to an important NPC who later got kidnapped by denizens of Leng, but that's for a future story.
But before he does, he and his followers go on a pretty odd shopping spree, buying large amounts of wood, iron, smithing material, shovels, carts, weights, et cetera. I began suspecting the kind of thing he was after (I've been playing with these guys for about 15 years, so I know when they are up to something), but I wasn't sure until he had his character visit a local moneylender.
He arrives at the Honest Abdul's House of Wealth Facilitation (the party had conducted some business with Honest Abdul in the past, when they helped him rig a gladiatorial fight and score some big earnings, so he charged them less abusive interests and his stealing margins were lower), and starts working on a deal to secure a warehouse in the port distric and shipping permits (he knew Abdul had some contacts there from a previous mission they were involved with), for which he requests a rather substantial loan, which would be "promplty paid back with an offer for a business joint-venture". Abdul was not quite convinced, so the Rogue had to steal some stuff from a Temple of Desna to serve as collateral (same temple which had served the party as safehouse for most of the initial part of the campaign. He swore he would pay it back with donations, one day).
So he and his followers set up to travel. Keep in mind that while now it seems rather obvious what he had in mind, it had been about 8 months of real time and many sessions between that moment and the time they originally found the elemental rift.
However, when Hassan asks Valanar (who among his many oddities is a cartographer -both in real life and in character-, and kept maps of everything) for "The map of that abandoned Osirian temple we stumbled upon when we were chasing that lamia that sliced off Vorgok's left hand" (Vorgok is the party's Barbarian and resident killing machine. He actually killed that Lamia by taking his sliced hand, putting it inside a spiked glove and shoving it through the Lamia's throat until it died of suffocation. Then cooked the Lamia. He got his hand some sessions later after striking a deal with a necromancer. Valanar and Rakhim got the hand from the local Necropolis, and the necromancer got it "installed". Sometimes it tries to choke him, other times it slaps women in the butt, but as Vorgok says "Hand holds sword. Sword kills people. Vorgok pleased with arrangement"), I recalled his keen interest for salt.
Hassan and his followers take about 4 days to arrive at their destination, and he quickly starts setting up quite an impressive layout of the stuff he wanted done. He clearly had put a lot of thought into it and it was actually quite reasonable, so I allowed it to go through (with a few accidents here and there, of course. I'm a DM, after all).
After making sure the operation in the surface was up and running (set plans for building living quarters for the overseers, started digging a pit where the slaves he would rather get would be locked, sent off a mage initiate with a dowsing rod to find some water, organized a patrol to guard againts the gnoll tribes that inhabit the region, among other things), he went into the dungeon with his strongest followers. While they did encounter some creatures (mostly gnolls who had taken residence in the now-open temple ruins), they made it easily to the room with the rift, where they had to fight yet another Salt Paraelemental. But they finished it and got to work on securing the site, so the workers could come in and start digging out the dungeon.
Let's move forward in time three weeks in-game, when the rest of the party, now done with their own businesses (which among other things resulted in the Priest becoming permanently infertile and bald for manipulating something that could be best described as "solid doom farts". At least that's how the party's Warrior/Minstrel-Ohgodwhydoeshekeepsigning described it when they first found them), made their way to their friend Hassan.
The salt-extracting operation was now in full swing. The first caravan of salt had been sent to Katapesh a week ago and the sacks were quickly sold among the various merchants. Abdul had spoken with Hassan and felt the operation was potentially profitable, and agreed to gather some investors, so money started pouring in.
The next sessions were dedicated mostly to planning it out. Since most of the money the Rogue originally used to buy the materials he started with was borrowed from the party (and because they were the only ones he trusted), he had them join him, and our campaign took a momentary halt from the main story arch (which involved a bunch of doomsday factions fighting each other over how the world had to end and the characters accidentally caught carrying the object central to said dispute and everyone trying to have them working for their cause) to focus on the salt.
During those sessions, the operation grew from the initial prospecting and odd caravan to a much bigger thing, which employs around 100 people (half of which are actually slaves. I had the Rogue suffer an EXP penalty due to letting 25 of them die after orderding them to "Pile up over that loose elemental! Don't let the merchandise escape, you gnats!". He's supposed to be Chaotic-Neutral, but I thought that was borderline evil. Fun, indeed, but evil nonetheless), as well as guards, caravans, traders, a sea ship between Katapesh and Absalom (called The Really Salty Sailor, go figure), hired scribes in each city that handle all the paperwork and port issues, and a host of other minor individuals.
Chapter II: A Profitably Problematic Business Venture
Suddenly, the whole place got caught in a series of earthquakes. Tremours had been common since the operation got big, mostly thanks to the absolutely careless use of an explosive concoction deemed by the group as "Orcus' Toilet During Taco Night" (which they originally got very early in the campaign from a beduin alchemist. The guy was a quack and I never expected the characters to try and replicate his formula, which involved rather worrisome amounts of camel depositions), which has turned what once was a beautiful and very sacred Osirian temple into a gapping hole the size of a stadium in the middle of the desert, with the elemental rift standing at its centre (they had the miners dig underneath the rift, so salt falls out through the portal and accumulated in a massive pile from which it is then loaded onto one of the dozens of leather conveyors powered by slaves inside hamster wheels), but now they were getting particularly powerful.
As Valanar was quick to guess (he's the party's expert on Cosmological stuff), the rift had become dangerous and potentially unstable. His succesful Knowledge [The Planes] rolls allowed him to guess what was going on: The rift had been pouring such massive amounts of material from the Paraelemental Plane of Salt that the native elementals were becoming restless (Elemental Planes in the Planescape conception -which is the one I use, even though we are playing in Golarion- are sort of sentient by themselves, with Elementals being manifestations of said planar awareness).
Long story short, elementals started pouring out of the rift, first a few (1d4 Small Elementals) per day, until growing to chaotic proportions (1d100 Small Elementals, plus random amounts of bigger ones, per day).
Workers, guards, and overseers were now getting killed by the dozens each day, but there was enough people to spare at first, since by then a whole village had started to form in the area surrounding the operation, with all kinds of people settling there either to work in the mines and refinery, to serve somehow in the related services or to make money off the people working there, setting up taverns, brothels (lots and lots of brothels with very, very ugly women. Still, Vorgok managed to institute his own version of the Prima Nocte, and it became mandatory for every new harlot in Saltspit -that's how they named the incipient town- to spend her first night of service with Vorgok. Some of them don't get to survive past that night), shops and the like.
Keep in mind we are talking about 5 months in-game down the road. Since the campaign had become more focused in long term events, we sped up the time rate.
So this elemental outbreak quickly turns into a big threat, and the Rogue hurries back to Katapesh to get support from his main associate, Prince Osman Bin Hassir, who sends him back with his personal Mage-Vizier and a host of soldiers from the Zephyr Guard (Katapesh's finests soldiers. The Prince was powerful enough to pull those kinds of strings). They manage to battle the elementals, but one thing catches Hassan's attention: The Mage-Vizier had somehow commanded the elementals with a rod (I gave him a Rod of Elemental Compelling, which allowed him to force elemental of lesser power to perform certain actions. The idea was to have him push the elementals back into the borehole so the guards would surround them. Purely for stylish reasons. Foolish me. I should have seen what would come afterward).
Let's move one week into the future. The situation has been controlled and the mines are being repaired. But wait. Elementals keep pouring out at a regular rate! Ah, but Hassan had noticed how the Rod managed to force small elementals into moving in a particular direction, so he figured "So far we have been collecting the salt, processing it here, loading it on camels and sending it to Katapesh. What if the salt went there... by itself?"
And so he managed to convince the Prince to have his Mage-Vizier craft a few more Rods of Elemental Compelling (the components had to be taken from an obscure location in the Mwangi Jungles, which served as the pretext to get these nascent capitalists back into adventuring for a couple of sessions), which were then given to hired Mage Overseers so they would command the salt elementals from the mines to Katapesh.
A special processing facility was built in Katapesh, where the elementals would be lead into a large funnel-like structure linned with metal rings enchanted with Dismissal spells, thus sending them back to their plane and allowing the remaining salt to be refined (the rings weren't too powerful, so it was common for elementals to go through unharmed and cause havoc in the ovens underneath. But they pay was good, so workhands were aplenty). This, combined with the regular caravans that still went back and forth day and night (as a lot of the salt was just regular sand without a CR), skyrocketted profit, to the point that the party could finally start building their much-desired fortress near the mines (which included hiring a Conjuration specialist to make them their own oasis, which led to some other business oportunities. But more on that later).
However, it came with a cost: With the rift churning out elementals day and night at progressively higher rates, alarms began ringing among some leaderheads of Katapesh (how much was envy for the profits and how much was actual concern is another matter altogether), who cited issues like the ludicrous increase of travelers reporting being attacked by rogue salt elementals (which had increased from 0 to Way More Than 0 in less than a year). Prince Osman managed to calm things down a bit by setting a series of permanent guard outposts along the Salt Route to make sure all the elementals that escaped the caravans were slain (which led to an entertaining session where the characters were now the ones hiring adventurers just like them to do the job), but trouble was starting to brew.
No better way to make enemies than success.
Chapter III: Everyone's Getting Mad
The issues with the salt operation and the related incidents managed their way into the Merchant Court of Katapesh, in order to be brought to the ears of the Pactmasters (mysterious masked fellows that have been running the city for the last thousand years or so). Even though Prince Osman is the Grand Vizier of the Merchant Guild, the rest of the katapeshi nobles were pretty upset about the whole thing, especially those whose businesses were somehow being affected. One particular man, Sheik Hossain Ibn Shappur, who owned the largest spice trading company in the city -salt being among his main trade goods-, pulled strings to get this brought to the court.
This part of the campaign was mostly political, with the party negotiating with various groups of interests and individuals (though what negotiating means changes from character to character).
At some point, a sudden release of energy had everyone with itching noses. Moments later, one of the overseers shows up yelling “Accident in the mines! The slaves are escaping!” The Rogue panicked. Then the mines exploded in a fantastic display of special effects. Then everyone panicked. It turns out someone in Katapesh got mad enough to sent a wizardly saboteur to bring down their operations. But after the initial surprise, the party got its shit together and climbed down the hole to deal with the matter.
After beating the wizard, they tried using some rudimentary Divination scrolls they had bought in the past, but the man was powerful enough to resist them. So they decided to cast Vorgok.
The Barbarian starts by chewing off every single one of the wizard's toes, without even removing his shoes first (early in his career, Vorgok took Animal Fury as his first Rage Power, which gives him a bite attack while enraged. Then around level 5, I think, he took off all his teeth with a clamp and went to see a blacksmith in order to have steel teeth installed, which had to be bolted to his jaw. Vorgok passed all the Fortitude tests to avoid extreme blood loss, but he had a critical fail in the one to handle the pain. Remembering how dangerous was Vorgok the last time he felt actual pain -killed a gladiator that cheated a friend, cut of his head, nailed his hand through the throat and used the severed head as a bludgeoing glove to kill the other gladiator. He still keeps the head, called Wilson, and uses it like some kind of very grotesque puppet when he gets "philosophical", as he says [in Vorgok terms, "getting philosophical" is anything from "did I take a dump today?" onward]. Once he attempted to earn money by using Perform in a square to set up a ventriloquist show with Wilson. He didn't have Perform trained, he didn't know how to do ventriloquism, and he was using a SEVERED HEAD TO TELL JOKES. Didn't work out- Valanar gave him copious amounts of Pesh Liquor -a strong narcotic distilled from local cacti- to control him, but trying to drug up a 2,2 metres tall Ulfen is no easy task, so the party had to chain him down before he killed the blacksmith (who was hammering the red-hot teeth into his jaw over an anvil. The Ulfen had Damage Reduction thanks to his National Feat), and force-feed him every bit of Pesh -or any kind of narcotic, for that matter- they could find. After the blacksmith was done, Vorgok enraged and ran out, and they found him the next day, dancing naked on a fountain while singing "I'm a Little Teapot").
So there's Vorgok with the toes (and half the boot), which he then proceeds to ram into the wizard's mouth and prepares to do the same with the rest of his fingers, when his massively bonified Intimidate roll breaks down the man and he explains what's going on: The Sheik cashed in some favours with an old associate, Emir Kassan Bin Fashar, an extremely wealthy man owner of a jewel trading company who had ties to a Dao (genies from the Elemental Plane of Earth. In fact, Bin Fashar's mines never produced a single gem, instead all of them come from his Dao associate). Apparently, he managed to have the Dao send elemental servants to the Paraelemental Plane of Salt (which is coterminous with the Elemental Plane of Water and the Negative Energy Plane, so getting his own elementals there actually required a bit of extradimensional political games with the Marids. That is part of a side-plot that's brewing for further down the campaign, though) and find the other side of the rift, which by then had become a massive cavernous region deep in the plane (to make an estimate, about 1 metric ton of salt pours through the rift every minute, and the operation has been going for about a year almost non-stop. While the rift is much older, now that the salt is consantly removed it doesn't clog, so it keeps pouring. Since the elementals began churning out en masse, the rate practically tripled). The Dao's servants set some kind of magical apparatus that, when combined with a similar artifact placed by the wizard on the other side of the rift, caused it to become unstable and "break in half". As Valanar found out, "breaking in half" is slang for "transitive split", which occurs when a portal has its points of entry severed and both ends instead open to the transitive plane that exists coterminously to both ends (or a random one if the portal connects planes that are not coterminous to the same transitive planes).
In this case, the rift became a portal into the Ethereal Plane. Valanar, who had made his homework and knew a thing or two about this, explained that this could prove rather dangerous.
At first nothing seemed wrong. Sure, the accident had destroyed most of the facility, but as Hassan put it "At least there is still a lot of salt to sell. Get back to work!". Saltspit was mostly unharmed (the village, which by now was basically a middle-eastern version of Deadwood by all accounts. There's even a Mahmud Al'Sherengen NPC who's conducting pretty big business there), so there were people to draw from to get the operation back to work. They hired a band of gnoll mercenaries to hunt down the escaped slaves (or to get them new ones if the original ones couldn't be found) and slowly built the thing back up.
A couple of weeks down the line salt was once again being hauled to Katapesh and beyond, although the elemental processing facility in the city had to be closed and rented to the meat packers (with the rift severed, there were no more elementals to process) to make some margin.
Still, the investors were worried that, even though the rift explosion released a huge amount of salt, the fact remained that no new material was pouring through, and so the operation was now less attractive in the long run.
This hit hard with some of the more fancy projects, such as the group of engineers brought from Alkenstar specifically to work on the design of a cargo zeppelin (they were asked to halt their work and return to Alkenstar until further notice. The ship was barely in the initial stages of construction), the plans to send an enslaver expedition to the Mwangi Jungles to capture a large host of ape-men (intelligent gorillas who live in the jungles there, which would make excellent slaves as they are very strong and can operate tools with all four extremities), and even the grand opening of the Katapeshi Salt Exchange, which Prince Osman proposed as a mean to calm down the competing merchants who were feeling far too threatened by the ever-growing operation in Saltspit.
Needless to say, Hassan was baffled, seeing how his incredibly intricate and thoroughly detailed plans were on the verge of failing.
That's when more shit hit the fan.
Chapter IV: Ghosts, Of Course
Reports started coming up from the Brass Legion (the party had hired a band of soldiers of fortune to institute some kind of order in the town. It was mostly a bunch of abusive bullies, but better to have the bullies on your side), that Saltspiterians -or Saltspitians, or Salspitooners. We haven't managed to agree which one should be. I like Saltspitooners- were being found dead on their beds by the numbers.
Initially this was attributed to disease, which in the festering pit of brothels and alehouses that Salspit had turned into (countil almost 3,000 inhabitants), but at these became more and more regular, Rakhim and Valanar decided to make further investigations.
As it turned out, people found dead didn't appear to show any signs of fatal diseases, murder or anything like that, except for the fact their hair, eyes and skin were white as milk. This, in conjunction with the fact every single person died while screaming horribly, led to the widespread rumours of ghosts and other malign entities haunting Saltspit.
As if things weren't bad already, Imam Salim Al'Salam, caretaker of the local Temple of Sarenrae (as people began flocking into Saltspit, religion came along. Sarenrae, the Sun Orchid, is the main goddess in the region. A few other cults have also set foot here, but only that of Sarenrae has a temple already built), began preaching that these deaths were the cause of the excessive greed and avarice with which the owners of the mine had been chasing material wealth, sacrificing countless lives in the process.
The preaching became more and more incendiary as deaths multiplied, and by the end of the month, the makeshift cemetery outside the town counted over 80 dead bodies from what came to be known as the The White Woes.
Dealing with a progressively more scared workforce (several workers had stopped going to the mines altogether. That's the problem with paid employees), a string of inexplicable deaths, and a very likely outbreak of religious fury, the party decided to take things more seriously.
Using their contacts within the Church of Desna (Hassan still hadn't repaid what he stole from them, by the way), the party hired a couple of exorcists to find out what was going on. As some of the previous coments have indicated, Valanar was suspecting some kind of ghost or spirit that came from the Ethereal Plane. Yet the exorcists found nothing of sorts, even after covering the settlement with all kinds of "ghost-sensitive holy water vials" and other items of dubious effectiveness.
Still, during that night, they heard the same horrible screams reported earlier, and rushed to see what was going on. As it turned out, a homeless was the one screaming, and they found him literally trying to gouge out his own eyes, while his hair and skin turned pale. Moments later he was dead. Quickly, they broke out every kind of Divination spell they had at hand, and managed to detect an evil aura lingering in the area, as well as a strong leftover of Conjuration.
Conjuration? That meant some kind of force -or creature- had been brought here from another location. Rakhim quickly pointed out something else: When they found the screaming hobo, he was yelling about worms and bugs, and actually he looked extremely terrified.
Knowledge roll. Something is lingering at the back of his head, but he can't take a hold of it. He announced he needs to take a trip back to Katapesh to consult the libraries there (the player actually has a pretty good idea of what is going on, but he kept the metagame out. Still, when things like these happen, I tend to allow a Knowledge check with a hard DC to allow the character to get a "moment of inspiration", letting the player use a bit of metaknowledge, but only if I notice the party is stuck and the character actually has a chance of having heard something related).
So Rakhim the Sonk takes a leave of absence from Saltspit to visit Katapesh, where he meets up with a fellow vudrani (Rakhim was born in Jalmeray, one of the Impossible Kingdoms of Vudra), who helps him gain entry to the Old Archives of the Grand Lodge of the Golden Peacock, one of the oldest civil organizations in the city, and keeper of quite a vast collection of books and scrolls, most of which were donated by the many members of this tea-and-crumpets (or coffee-and-dates) society of well-off gentlemen with large turbans.
Searching the archives, he finally stumbles on the kind of information he was after. Long story short, Rakhim clears up his suspicions: It isn't ghosts what came through the portal, but Night Hags, denizens of the Deep Ethereal that hunt the souls and dreams of mortals to barter them with nameless entities or engorge them themselves.
He gets back to Saltspit, and as it turns out (he came prepared this time and bought a lamp that emited an effect of Dimensional Anchor in the infamous Dark Stalls of Katapesh), the party stumbles upon a group of Night Hags.
Chapter V: Well Hello There
Battle ensues for a while, until they manage to subdue and capture one of the hags. Zone of Truth in place, they get the old lady talking and she reveals what's going on: The splitting of the rift resulted in an intermittent portal opening between the salt mine and the Deep Ethereal, which quickly drove the attention of the Night Hags wandering there. After "smelling" mortals on the other end (most importantly, mortals that could have dreams), they went through and began hunting the sleepers for their dreams.
But dreams themselves are not as in high demand in the Great Beyond as nightmares are (since the later can be used to brew quite nasty things, while the former will mostly net you unicorns and candy rainbows), and so the Night Hags have been planting motes of fear and horror in the heads of their victims, waiting them to grow into full-fledged nightmares, and later returning to quite literally harvest them.
At first, the party was troubled. Night Hags are not stuff you often play along with, and truth be told there were some concerns on, you know, people having such horrible nightmares that they died in their sleeps. But as I have come to expect from these guys, where there is a problem, there is an opportunity.
And for these guys, opportunities mean business (and also usually shifts toward Evil alignments. I swear these guys are good people in real life).
So there they are, when Hassan looks at Valanar, and I notice both are thinking the same thing. "My good... err, lady. We have a proposition" goes the Rogue with his eyes looking like money signs.
What came out of the resulting conversation (which at first was met with hostility, but after they -rather foolishly, but served the purpose- allowed the Night Hag to read their thoughts and realise they were being honest) was the following:
Saltspit would provide "plenty of fertile ground" for the Hags to plant their nightmares, and harvesting would be then allowed to proceed at certain designated locations to minimize exposure to fear by the general population, for which the Hags would pay monetary compensations.
Hassan took the issue to Prince Osman (he knew the guy was extremely flexible on his morals when it came to money), and while at first he was a bit troubled, when the Rogue began explaining his plan (which basically consisted of "we'll make money, lots of it"), the katapeshi noble was quick to jump in.
The rest of that session was spent working on the operational aspects.
First, the "pots" (term used to refer to the people they'd be renting out to the Hags to plant their nightmares) would be taken from the Prison of Khandassar. The Prince had family connections to one of the most important judges in the city, which in turn had a sway over the prison's overseer. In exchange for payment, prisoners would be regularly hauled from Khandassar to Saltspit, under the pretext that the city was being paid for sending prisoners as slave force to the mines in exchange for funds that would be, of course, spent in stuff like orphanages and metropolitan beautification (if we consider hookers for the overseer as "orphans" and a new palace as "beautification").
Once in Saltspit, the prisoners would be put to work on the salt operation (estimates had it that with the remaining salt, the mine should remain functional for about 4 more months). The Hags would plant the fear motes during the night, when the prisoners are sent to sleep in bunkhouses kept a mile away from the town to avoid anyone noticing anything (the excuse was that the prisoners were dangerous, and the administration was worried about the safety of the Saltspitooners. The people bought it quickly, particularly now that "The White Woes" had stopped and they could get back to their normal lives).
Now, the party requested the Hags to prepare a "control test", which consisted of 5 poor sods that were chained to a rock far away from the town and implanted with fear motes of differing magnitudes (as the Hags explained during one of the meetings, the fear motes were produced from horrible "patchwork memories" they fished off the waters of the River Styx -the river steals away the memories of those that touch it, and these memories linger there for endless years, sometimes mixing up and resulting in thoughts and ideas that would give an oinoloth the chills-, and could potentially make extremely powerful ones. However, for a nightmare to be worth in the far off markets of the planes, they had to be properly cultivated and grow as naturally as possible. Thus, they often used fear motes of lower magnitude on humans, to avoid the risk of sudden death before the nightmare is ripe for harvesting). These tests subjects would help properly appreciate the rates of degeneration, which was important since, as Valanar pointed out, the prisoners should be put to work on the salt operation while the nightmares grew, which in turn would let them cut down the costs on hired labour and slave purchases (the price they agreed to pay for each prisoner was substantially less than the average price for a strong slave in the flesh markets of Katapesh).
However, they also wanted to know how quickly would the subjects begin to show signs of madness that could endanger the operation or blow the cover.
Second, there was the matter of an "extradimensional consultant". Even though the Hags had shown a lot of interest in the deal, they were still Night Hags, and you don't trust Night Hags. Recalling the events that led to this whole thing in the first place (the severing of the rift), the party sought to contact Emir Kassan Bin Fashar (the jewel trader who Sheik Ibn Shappur used as a contact to get the Dao to send his elementals to the other side of the rift).
Their idea was to get the Emir on their side (with money, of course. Works better than any Enchantment spell. Valanar prepared a few of those just in case, though), in order to use his contacts with the Dao and find someone outside that could serve as a middleman with the Hags.
As it turns out, the Emir himself was a Dao, long ago banished from the Elemental Plane of Earth, and after a pretty fun encounter (the Emir is supposed to be extremely quirky and quaint, and the players went along with it to create a scene that would better fit a Terry Gilliam movie) they got him on his side (he never really had an issue with them to begin with, since he had no interests in the salt business. He was just repaying favours to Sheik Ibn Shappur).
The Emir agreed to pull strings within the Great Dismal Delve (the main Dao settlement in the Elemental Plane of Earth, pretty much a continent-sized maze of mines and palaces carved out from rubies as big as mountains), and got working on organizing a formal meeting between the characters, the Hags and his advisors, which took place the following week (the Hag called Irisna became the official representative of the nightmare snatchers).
During the meeting, the party got to set down more concrete rules regarding payment: Since the Hags didn't usually handle actual money (stolen souls and dreams being their coinage instead), they would exchange those for gems through one of the Emir's contacts in the Great Dismal Delve. The gems would be then smuggled into Katapesh through the Emir's mines (which as mentioned before produce absolutely nothing, instead being a coverup for a portal into the Elemental Plane of Earth through which he gets his goods) and traded at the Magnifiscent Pavillon (the most important jewelry shop in the city, owned by the Emir), where they would get converted into hard cash by selling the gems as usual.
That way, everyone got what they wanted: The Hags got the nightmares they traded with dark entities from beyond reality, the Emir got the income resulting from soul trade (which are in great demand by both the Nine Hells and the Abyss in their endless Blood War) and the party got the money from the gem sell. The Prince would in turn earn his participation from the gold income from the gems, and handle the bribes to his cousin the judge. The prison overseer would be getting paid directly by the Saltspit Trading Company (they had to find a proper name for it when they started the coverup for the prisoner-for-cash), disguised as "administrative facilitations", while the money that was being paid to the "city" as part of the deal was used to bribe the various tax collectors, bureaucrats and guards involved in keeping the whole thing quiet.
Chapter VI: The STC Is Your Friend
Let's move about a month forward in time. The salt operation is still generating cash (though the party decided to do some undersizing to reduce costs, as it was clear salt would be running out soon), and the deal with the Hags has already generated two batches of gems, most of which were sold at the Magnifiscent Pavillion for handsome amounts of cash. About 20 prisoners are being sent per week from Khandassar to Saltspit, and so far no one seems to be suspecting. There was some digging a while ago by a few merchants with big noses, but they were shut off when the Saltspit Trading Company (STC from now on) agreed to buy their entire stock supply (they were food merchants).
During week four, a message from Prince Osman (the party had finally managed to get a couple of Crystal Balls installed for quick communications with the noble) arrives saying that the prison's Overseer is requesting a meeting. Apparently, there was some issues with the last group of prisoners.
The party meets with the Overseer and the Prince at the later's palace. The issue relates to the fact that six of the prisoners sent last week were actually not convicted for life (they were only sending those who were never going to get out of jail), and their families had somehow managed to convice a magistrate to investigate the case. The Overseer explained that they were running out of jailed-for-life prisoners, and had to sent those they thought no one would miss, but failed to check properly.
Jack inadvertedly gave them a possible solution while singing "Prisons get empty when booze ain't aplenty" (the actual rhyme was another. We speak Castillian, so had to find the closest English version).
Jack's tune gave Hassan an idea: "Overseer, how many people got sent to jail during last year's Carnival of the Setting Sun?" (he made the carnival up, but I liked where he was going, so I went along with it), to which the Overseer said "A lot. Why?"
Hassan then planned it out: They would organize a festival and get as many people as drunk as possible in order to have them commiting all sorts of disorderly conducts (and hopefully crimes). By using Prince Osman's contacts with the judges, they would push to have as many of those convicted for life (bribing the guards and making up some witnesses would help), sent to Khandassar and ultimately to Saltspit.
They had the means, so the Festival of Wonders was organized. They hired acrobats from far away Tian Xia, sword eaters from Qadira, taldoran wrestlers, spinning gypsies from Varisia and exotic animals. They rented several alehouses and taverns to give out ludicrous amounts of really bad alcohol (cheaper and really strong. Taste doesn't really matter once people get drunk enough). While expensive, at the end of the celebration the courts were overflowing and Khandassar was getting filled up again.
With Khandassar hauling fresh loads of prisoners once per week again (after the Festival of Wonders, the party bought three taverns in bad neighbourhoods of Katapesh in order to keep a regular supply of not-so-good people being turned criminals through various activities, and then laid out the chart for the influx of prisoners. During the first month, Khandassar would send 10 prisoners per week –about 180 people were jailed for life after the Festival. While the bribed judges did their best, truth is that katapeshi law is extremely lax, and it’s hard to get a life sentence on someone. Most cases were a stretch, anyway, so the party kept having to bribe more people to avoid issues-, and then decrease the rate to 5, with the approximate rate of life sentences being nailed on people from the Crime Makers –term used to refer to the taverns they bought- at 1d4 per week, plus another 1d4 from the standard rate of life sentences being dispensed by regular justice.
That way, they could get a reliable source of materials that should last until the next Festival (the global estimates indicated that with the current supply and rate of imprisonment, they should have enough people for the next 5 months, so they decided to announce the Festival of Wonders would be happening twice per year. This allowed them to strike some pretty convenient deals with the performers, by asking lower prices in exchange for secure future hirings).
Although the new rate of prisoners was lower than initially, they talked it out with the Hags. Their designated negotiator, Twice-Cursed Irina, explained that they could have a mean to retain the same level of income, if the party managed to improve the quality of each nightmare (they never really explained what exactly they were doing with the nightmares, but at one point the party had reasons to suspect they were being sold to yugoloths who were using them to further their investigations on the true nature of evil. Even this party was wary of having anything to do with yugoloths, but as Hassan pointed out “We are just providing a service, which helps people satisfy needs otherwise hard to come by. If the bad guys also get them, well, it is a worthy price to pay!”, to which my response was “Yeah, how selfless of you. Add yourself another experience penalty. At this point, all you have to do is step on a flower to turn Evil”, and his answer “Okay. But I still get the money, right?” Bastard).
Chapter VII: Let's Go Deeper
Valanar picked it up from there. He had some ideas that involved some pretty nasty things, but he wouldn’t say what until they managed to secure a psion. Psionics are not usually featured in my campaigns (I don’t allow it as a playable class), but Golarion has a few of them so I allowed them to try an find one. Upon doing some research, they found two relatively feasible sources of psionics: Jalmeray, where vudrani monks engaged in self-perfection sometimes develop the capacity to control matter with their minds, and the unexplored depths underneath the Third Realm of Orv, the deepest of the known cave networks that compose the Darklands (Golarion’s equivalent of the Underdark. I really dislike the name “Darklands”, which reminds me of Penny Arcade’s “Darkbad”). There, apparently, aboleths and other creatures had minds powerful enough to develop psionic powers.
However, getting a vudrani was out of question, since Rakhim –also a vudrani from Jalmeray, himself having attended the Schools of Perfection where the psions allegedly could be found- overheard him and he would never allow such a thing, so the only option would be to travel into the Third Realm of Orv and see how the hell they would capture an aboleth and manage to get it back to Saltspit.
The next session-and-a-half (we often play on Saturdays from 4 pm to 12 pm, so we get a lot of gaming done) was dedicated to the adventure leading into the Third Realm of Orv, how the party got a mad explorer to show them an entry through a dormant volcano in eastern Mwangi, the chance they had to massacre a bunch of hostile drows (my party is well aware of my dislike for elves in general and drows in particular), getting lost for a while and having Vorgok be snatched by a roof-crawling kind of ooze (we almost lost him that time thanks to a series of horrible rolls. He tried to eat away through the ooze, which almost had him killed later on as the ooze began multiplying inside his stomach. Wasn’t his proudest moment, but he made it all good when he asked me for a Fortitude roll in order to vomit his entire stomach over an enemy in order to have the ooze still there attack it) and a bunch of other Ohmygoditssodarkinherewhythehelldidnoonebuytorchesorpreparealightspell.
Ultimately, they found what they wanted in an extremely remote cave who knows how deep: An aboleth. Specifically, a really pissed off aboleth surrounded by half-turned-into-slime humanoids that made for quite a distasteful (yet entertaining) battle. They beat it and captured Slimy (that’s how they named him. Considering aboleths are supposed to be unspeakable superior intellects, I almost had to roll for a Dignity saving throw).
Now, capturing the aboleth was the easy part; it was getting back to Saltspit what I really wanted to see done. Aboleths are, after all, 25 feet long and weight over 6,000 pounds. It began bad, since Valanar mistakenly thought Rakhim knew teleportation spells, but for some reason he had completely forgotten that he was a Monk 6/Sorcerer 4, in no way capable of teleporting anything. Frustrated, he attempted going back to where they defeated the drows in order to see if there was any kind of wizard, treasure or scroll that could help, but of course there wasn’t. They would be gone for two days (they were really deep underground), so we fast forwarded.
While Valanar left with Vorgok and Rakhim, Hassan and Jack took a while to explore around, when they stumbled upon a gargantuan cave filled with what appeared to be an underground sea, illuminated by incandescent spherical plants that floated high above thanks to gas pockets, volcanic vents making the whole place warm and sustaining a lush jungle. Long story short, Voyage to the Centre of the Earth, dinousaurs included. The idea was to have them attacked by a tyrannosaur or something, but little did I know. Hassan’s player stood there for a moment, thinking. I wasn’t sure if he was going to make a joke about Cadillacs & Dinosaurs or something, but instead turned to me and said “We go back to the aboleth site and wait for the rest to return. I have a plan to get this get Slimy out of here”.
Fast-forward a bit through meetup with the rest of the party, dinosaur fights, exploring, checking of the gas-filled plants, etc. The group had just killed a pair of tyrannosaurs when Hassan turns to Valanar “Priest, do you still have the plans we helped design with the engineers of Alkenstar for the cargo zeppelin?”, to which the man –who as previously mentioned always keeps record of everything, and probably carries more weight in maps, scrolls and documents than anything else, his own weight included- said “Yes, I must have the schematics here somewhere. Why?”. Hassan hurried to climb one of the dinosaurs and extended his arms around “Because Slimy is going to fly”.
His plan (which got assistance from some mean Knowledge and Craft checks) was as follows: They would skin the tyrannosaurs in order to build a large zeppelin balloon, erecting the structure out of wood from the jungle and bone from the creatures (ended using wood since the bones were too heavy). They would then fill the balloon with the gas plants (getting those plants was a challenge all by itself, which they ended up doing by building improvise delta wings and using the volcanic vents to get the push upward), and then tie Slimy to it, using the wind currents in the caves to propel forward, as well as a few extremely long sticks in order to push the zeppelin similarly to a gondola (Vorgok would be in charge of that, since he had the strength to do so).
So they built the thing, saw it worked, went back to Slimy (who was trapped under a pile of rocks they used in lieu for chains) and tied him up. They did have to fight again, but the aboleth desisted when they reduced him to near death. He kept trying to control their minds the whole trip, though, and almost got Hassan jumping off the ship after a failed Will saving throw. Vorgok then poked one of Slimy’s eyes with the gondola stick, and he stopped his mindfucks.
Chapter VIII: Slimy's Fancy Trip To Far and Beyond
The trip to the outside takes a while, which gives them time to talk about a point somehow everyone forgot about: Why on earth did they need the aboleth for? After granting some extra experience to Valanar for getting everyone to visit the bottom of the world and almost die a few times without even having told them why exactly, he explained.
The idea was to use a powerful psionic creature to feed the minds of the prisoners with information and emotions that would make the nightmares much more powerful, thus getting a bigger bang for the buck. Now, remember when several posts ago I explained that in order to craft the Rods of Elemental Compelling they used to control the salt paraelementals the party had to get the components (a special kind of gems) from ruins in the Mwangi Jungles? Well, the ruins they visited had later been identified by Valaran as remnants of the ancient Shori civilization, which built amazing flying cities far in the past. Now, in that place, the party had stumbled upon a faulty device that once long ago was responsible for keeping one of the cities aloft, by using raw energy taken from the very fabric of the cosmos. When they approeached said device, they kept getting thrown back by extremely unsettling feelings that made no sense at all, and Valanar’s Knowledge [The Planes] check gave him a hint that the device was actually a hole in reality that somehow led into the Far Realms, that place beyond the Multiverse itself where reason ceases to exist altogether.
“Having this zeppelin actually makes things much easier” he said, and once they flew out through the dormant volcano, they steered toward the Mwangi Jungles, back into the ruins of the crashed flying city of the Shori.
Slimy wasn’t going to have a good time.
So they get to the ruins, make quick work of a pack of intelligent gorillas, travel down to the device and set Slimy down. Valanar asks me about using a spell in a different way than usual: He wants to use Dimensional Anchor, but instead of it blocking all kinds of planar travel, he wants it to be “hooked and delayed”, in order to have it cast on Slimy, throw him through the hole into the Far Realm, and then pull him back. I said it was a stretch, but he offered me to spend two spell slots one level higher to prepare it, and I agreed as long as he succeeded at a DC 30 Spellcraft check, plus another DC 30 Spellcraft check when using the spell or risk having himself sucked into the portal, Slimy being teleported into the same spatial coordinates as him or some other effect like that selected entirely at my whim, since he would be playing with a spell that is ultimately derived to him by his goddess. He agreed, so we do the rolls, on which he gets a 33 (he still has to wait one day to properly prepare it).
They wake up Slimy, heal him up a bit, Valanar casts the modified Dimensional Anchor and asks Vorgok to push the aboleth through the portal. Slimy gets a sudden panic attack when he understands where said portal ends up, but doesn’t get time to react when he’s falling. The party runs back before going mad by the imagery being spewn by the portal, and after 10 seconds, Valanar pulls the aboleth out. “Will saves, everyone!” Whatever Slimy saw on the other side of that portal, he’s now psionically broadcasting out some of the most horrible, incomprehensible and twisted thoughts they had never imagined, shaking like a fish out of the water and oozing foam from every pore. They succeed at the saves, tie the aboleth up back to the zeppelin, and hurry up to get back (I told them the gas plants would only remain buoyant for 2d6 days, and the result was 9. They had already spent 5 of those days, and they were looking at a similar amount back to Saltspit, so they had no moment to spare).
Chapter IX: Nightmare Pots
The party barely makes it back to Saltspit before running out of gas plants, and in fact travelled the last day so low on it that Slimy kept bumping on rocks. They had to make Will saves twice per day to avoid going mad over Slimy's mental ravages, so they had to use everything at their disposal to get save/wisdom bonuses, except Vorgok, who kept enraging to cancel off the effects (since Vorgok began going mad and having his enrage happen at random, I gave him the benefit of being immune to confusion and maddening effects while enraged). They landed about two miles north-west of Saltspit.
Jack and Vorgok ran back to the town in order to get some assistance. They contacted the Hags, and Twice-Cursed Irina herself offered help, using magic to lighten up Slimy, while Valanar created water constantly to rehydrate it (aboleths are water creatures, and although Slimy's high Constitution score and the Priests healing spells had kept him alive so far, he was on the verge of death. The constant seizures and oozing weren't helping, either).
With Irina's help, they got Slimy to the bunkhouses used to keep the prisoners being used as nightmare pots. Some other Hags were working on the 15 prisoners that were currently being used (as the control test subjects showed, prisoners with a planted fear mote would remain functional for about four days, time during which they could work at the salt mines. After that, they kept having nightmares during all times of the day, and that's when they were sent to the bunkhouses, until about a week later they died during their sleeps and the Hags pried the nightmares out just moments before they passed away). They built an improvised pool using some shovels, leftover wood and Valanar's Create Water spells.
Now they could focus on carrying out the second part of Valanar’s plan, which involved erecting a special facility where the prisoners could be exposed to Slimy’s mind-blasting psionic broadcast in order to feed the nighmares planted by the Hags, while at the same time avoiding anyone else from being affected (the Hags were informed of the dangers and would have to provide their own means of protection. Still, two Hags went mad and had to be put down). The price these new, higher quality nightmares would be fetching in the offworld soul markets increased by 3d100 –totalling 212% increase-, more than making up for the smaller amount of prisoners available. The business was now secured, money was pouring in, and life was good.
The party decided to set up monthly Directorate Meetings, which included themselves, Prince Osman, the Emir, Magistrate Belal bin Bassir (Prince Osman’s cousin, the judge that had the justice system working for them), and Twice-Cursed Irina. Here they presented status report on the operations, heard news of potential problems and in general made sure everyone was up to current.
I told the party things would be stable for the next two months, and asked if they had anything particular in mind for that period. Since they didn’t need to do anything that required direct adventuring, we fast forwarded two months.
Chapter X: The Hags' Haggle
So the two months pass by, and in the Directorate Meeting of Erastus (the Golarion equivalent of July), Twice-Cursed Irina arrives with a demand: The Hooked Fathom Covenant is requesting an increase in their profit margin due to the regular difficulties they have to endure for using the unstable rift as means of transportation (they could perfectly teleport by themselves, but hey, business are business). The party said they would consider it.
Hassan and Valanar began discussing on how to avoid having to pay the Hags more; they were worried both about the decrease in their profit and about the fact that the Hags were starting to realize they had enough leverage to start pulling stuff like this (and truth be told, the STC had been getting the bigger part of the deal). Valanar proposed stabilizing the rift and turning it into a permanent portal into the Deep Ethereal, and so they travelled back to Katapesh to find someone capable of such a feat.
A lot of talking and money later, they were back in Saltspit with a team of magicians who assured them foolproof portal security. They closed the salt operations earlier to avoid having people sneaking and began working on the rift (which was now completely exposed as the extraction had depleted about 2/3rds of the remaining salt).
According to the magicians, their “Infallible Interdimensional Sustaining Pylons” would solidify the cosmological nexus of any portal, thus making it permanent so long as the pylons were kept in place and filled with mercury once per year. Apparently, though, the system wasn’t tested on dissected rifts. “The rift starts humming as a thick, heavy fog pours through it, signaling the ethereal discharge to come. Reflex saving throws, everyone!”. Hassan: Success; Valanar: Success; Jack: Success; Rakhim: Success; Vorgok: Epic failure (the player behind Vorgok has a long tradition of critical failures in the worst possible moments. In fact, one of the reasons that had him picking up Animal Fury was the fact that he always had critical fumbles and ended up tossing his weapons into a friend or breaking them up somehow). Vorgok was fully exposed to the blast from the Deep Ethereal, and immediately began hearing voices, but he was already hearing voices prior to this (“Vorgok never pays attention to his head. If he did, he would be insane!” he often says), so he wasn’t really worried. The effects of this exposure would later play a bigger role. But for now, he just felt “lighter”.
As the rift kept discharging ethereal fumes from the depths of the between-worlds, the party began noticing a lot of stuff that previously wasn’t there now was: Ghostly towers half-sunk in the ground, phantasmal creatures frolicking around, semi-transparent vistas… things were turning quite weird.
The event also attracted the interest of two other covenants of Night Hags, which scented the nightmares being brewed and went in a harvesting frenzy, which quickly evolved in an all-out battle between dozens of Hags and their servants literally made out of bad dreams, catching the characters in the middle, who used Slimy as a mean to turn many of them insane and thus were able to keep them at bay while support came from the Hooked Fathom Covenant.
They lost a lot of prisoners and valuable nightmares during this fight, but the treasures retrieved from the invading Hags (mostly souls and dreams, which while useless to them, were traded offworld through the Emir’s contacts in the Dismal Delve later on) made up for some of the expenses. Also, most of the warring took place in the bunkhouses away from the city, which helped keep the whole thing quiet (the party already had hired a band of vudrani illusionists to create diversions whenever trouble happened, so the populace –and, more importantly, the religious leaders that were always trying to find a way to screw with the STC- wouldn't know what was really going on. This time they made it look like a bunch of chimaeras from the Brazen Peaks had attacked).
Chapter XI: A Dream Made From Dreams
Something was bothering Valanar “So when this portal got severed, it became a tunnel into the Deep Ethereal, right? Now, what we got was Night Hags. But if memory serves, there is another very important thing to be found in the Deep Ethereal, which is in fact the main reason Night Hags are there in the first place” Glad as always for my player’s interest in all things cosmological –the traditional D&D cosmology has always been one of my favourite subjects-, and knowing the guy had a big bonus to his Knowledge roll, I let him go through with it “Dreams! According to some sages, somewhere in the farthest fathoms of the Deep Ethereal lies the Region of Dreams, where everything concocted by the minds of those who sleep takes form. All of this… twisting towers, impossible animals, multicoloured forests, I’d say…”
“Hold on, hold on” Says Hassan looking around “If I get where you’re going, and I usually do, are you suggesting all this stuff is made of dreams?”
“Essentially, yes” Answers the Priest
“And where do they come from?” At this point in the story, you know that Hassan never asks something like this merely out of curiosity.
“From anyone dreaming them. The legends tell that when we dream, those things that exist in our heads literally exist in the Plane of Dreams”
“Hey Dungeon Master” goes Hassan “Tell me something: Could a dream, hypothetically, materialize into something real? Very hypothetically, of course”'
“Don’t ask me, ask the Priest!”
“Priest! Same question!”
“No metagaming…” I go.
“… Hassan asks the same question I just asked him, but with a Katapeshi accent” He goes back.
After some rolls, some private talking with the Priest (who often tells me to give him the information through notes, since he loved withholding important pieces of info in order to use it whenever it is more dramatically appropriate) and a lengthy exposition on the cosmological nature of dreams and how could they, potentially, be made of elemental matter instead of ether, the player behind Hassan stands from his seat “Guys, do I really need to say it?”
Who dreams these things and how do we get to them. That was the subject of the rest of the session and good part of the next. Also, there was the question of why did Vorgok experiment such sudden cravings of random food, why did he feel the extreme necessity of swimming in lakes he had never seen, or why on earth did he break into tears from one moment to another when he remembered his long-dead sister, when he didn’t even have a sister to begin with. But as with all things Vorgok, the party has learned to ignore most of the weird stuff unless it has an impact in his capacity to murder things with his bare hands.
After a good while of telling them “Hmm, well, you can try, but –roll- you don’t really get any meaningful information”, Valanar had an idea I was expecting someone would have “I need to contact Irina. These hags must have some kind of method of tracking dreams back to their owners”
They set up a meeting with Twice-Cursed Irina, who constantly and unsuccessfully tries to press the issue of all the troubles the recent incident caused to her covenant and how she needed a bigger cut, but truth is the battle with the other two covenants left the Hooked Fathom weak enough that it was now the STC that was the one with the better leverage, so eventually she assumed the deal they struck a while ago would take some time to materialize. Instead, she ended up telling the party that one of the eldest hags within the covenant, Ever-Scowling Calpurnia, was a master in the art of torturing mortals through their dreams, and if someone knew how to track them back to their owners, she was the one.
So I get to have a chance to send these guys on a normal adventure again, this time to meet Ever-Scowling Calpurnia in a long-forgotten grotto somewhere in a collapsing demiplane in the Deep Ethereal (filled with all manners of dreams gone very wrong; basically tentacles, tentacles everywhere), where they are confronted with a few requests that involve some cosmological hitch-hiking and a challenge inspired by Plato’s Analogy of the Divided Line (Greek Philosophy is great material for symbolic riddles). Long story short, Calpurnia hands them over a bag of Terror’s Dust, which when sprinkled nearby a materializing dream (normally within the Deep Ethereal, but after the incident, part of the Dreamscapes was transmigrated near Saltspit) creates a silvery trail that can lead to the mind from which it sparks (works across planes too, but only those connected by a Transitive Plane, or directly coterminous ones).
“There’s a minotaur with four arms there; sprinkle some dust on him! And over that tree covered with swords! Oh, and on that room filled with gold pieces too!” Essentially, I had to spend one hour making up random dreamscapes as the party decided to go on a dream hunt in the mirage-choked desert trying to find stuff they wanted to make real (a Dreamscape, which is a region of space where dreams take form, when remaining in existance for long enough –meaning the people dreaming its content do so for extended periods of time- can materialize. Since this normally only happens in the Deep Ethereal, the results very rarely have any sort of impact in the Multiverse, besides from some odd abominations made of ether and the like. But if for some reason a Dreamscape formed in a planar locale containing actual elemental matter… well, that’s another thing).
As it can be guessed, their plan was to find the owners of these interesting dreams and manage to keep them dreaming for long enough for these to materialize. The Saltspit Dreamscape was filled with all manners of odd, amazing and terrifying things –as dreams and nightmares often are–, and several of them had started to take a wee bit of physical embodiment in the way of swirling shapes of dust, sand, and salt (which meant the team of vudrani illusionist had to be put to work on double duty to minimize the impact. Still, the good old Imam Salim Al'Salam was managing to stir some trouble in town).
Whenever they saw something that piqued their interest (particularly stuff dealing with oversized gems, monsters they could use to open a battle arena and dreams about well-hidden artifacts and the means to get to them –like I’m going to put one of those there-), they would send Vorgok to sprinkle the dust, which earned him the new nickname of The Pain Fairy (the player behind Vorgok, who was really enjoying playing a deranged barbarian, was overjoyed with the ethereal blast that got him acting even odder, and this led to some pretty amusing situations, including, but not restricted to a reenactment of Don Quixote, where Vorgok would tilt at rocks and attempt to rescue a piece of wood he deemed Dulcinea –along with a sorrowful scene when he accidentally broke it- and a “Smoke, I need to smoke!” that ended up turning Vorgok a cigar aficionado –a practice which he kept even after going back to normal. I can’t think of many things more stylish than a Viking-looking barbarian charging at you with a smoking cigar in his mouth. Since he has to spit them out in order to use his bite attack, he ends up setting fire to a lot of random stuff-); the reason they sent him is because some of the nightmares could prove to be dangerous and mind-twisting, and really, there was no physical or mental blow Vorgok couldn’t stand (the former because of his sheer HP pool, the second because of his lack of room for additional insanity).
I wasn’t going to make it so easy, but truth be told I was enjoying all these crazy plans, so I gave some chances in the form of 1d100. If the result was under 20%, the dream they sprinkled the Terror’s Dust over would be coming from someone in Golarion (after all, dreams can come from any dreaming mind in the Multiverse); if so, I would then roll 2d1000, and the result would indicate the number of kilometers away from where the dream was being had (1 km = 0.62 miles, by the way). Calpurnia’s bag only had 8 (out of 1d10 rolled upon acquisition) uses, though, so there was a good chance of not finding any dream within reasonable distance, or even within their same plane of existence. However, they got lucky on 2 dreams/nightmares:
-A Horrible and Enormous Shapeless Thing Covered in Teeth That Spat Other Shapeless Things Covered in Teeth (basically, a gibbering mouther the size of a house. Can’t remember the exact distance, but it ended being in the Screaming Jungles in eastern Sargava, which was about 1,500 miles away).
-The Fountain of Liquid Gold (ended up being in Jalmeray, Rakhim’s homeland, which is about 400 miles away).
It shouldn't be too hard to guess which one they wanted to go after first.
Chapter XII: To Rule a City
There was administrative stuff to settle first, though, and the rest of that session was destined to the following:
-The Salt Operation: Whipmaster Konkaf (a cyclops they bought in Katapesh. Very big, very bad at depth perception, and great at workforce motivation) complained that the slaves at the mines were too weak. As it turned out, Khandassar had been shipping sick slaves, and there was now the risk of an epidemic. Konkaf had been breaking some spines to instill morale, but the men were too weak. On the good side, one of the byproducts of the planar accident was the restitution of the original portal conduct, and salt was pouring out once more, as well as salt paraelementals, some of which had been terrorizing the local population like in the good old days.
-The Brass Legion: Hranuf, the ulfen in charge of handling the 60-some mercenaries, demanded better living conditions for his men. Among other things, he wanted an increase in 6 copper pieces per day of work for each of his men, private latrines (the “Salspit Shithouses”, the public latrines set up in the early days of the city, were infamous for being so foul that some people literally died due to the noxious gases while using them), and right to 1 harlot each week for every man, that would be chosen from any of the city’s wenching houses.
The final agreement included a raise of 2 silver pieces a week, plus another 5 for the 10 best-performing mercenaries; this was Jack’s idea: The performance would be determined through a system where all the mercenaries would be divided between the four districts of Saltspit in which they operated (Northern Saltspit, the Bazaar –the area where most of the commercial activity took place-, the Ledge –the side of the town that was next to the mine- and the Pit of Prostitutes –the area of Saltspit where gambling and drinking, but mostly wenching, happened, and the turf of Mahmud Al'Sherengen -), where the local population would vote for those members of the Legion they considered had done a good job (what? He’s the Bard, and a musician/indie movie maker in real life. Sharp thinking about these things is not his forte). This soon spiraled into an epidemic of leg-breaking, house-burning, and assisted suicides, all in the name of sound, healthy democracy, of course.
The rest of the agreement went on about the private latrines (eight would be build, two in each district. The Brass Legion would be in charge of upkeep, though, which essentially meant they would bully the locals for it or drown them in crap) and the wenches. This last part caused some friction, since Vorgok –who as previously mentioned had the right to Prima Nocte for every new wench in Saltspit- had become very attached to the harlot community, and in fact was quite well received by them, and he refused to diminish them so much. In the end, though, Hranuf was inflexible about his men’s necessities, and it was settled that 3 wenches would be sent each night to the Legion’s headquarters in the Bazaar –generously provided by Al’Sherengen’s Pavillion of Pleasure-, but the men would have to share them.
-City Planning: Saltspit had grown. Indeed, nearly 6,000 people lived there and more kept coming, making it the third largest settlement in the region, after Katapesh (around 200,000) and Okeno (around 13,000). It had also grown into a full-fledged trading nexus, with all the wealth produced directly or indirectly by the STC spilling over to hundreds of other business activities (did I mention the excellent state of the wenching industry?), with caravans going in and out non-stop, carrying all sorts of goods, from katheeran silk to thuvian wine, nexian glowstones and black powder from Alkenstar, slaves from Katapesh and even the occasional load of tobacco from the unknown reaches of southern Garund. All this prosperity, however, was starting to cause more than one headache: Magistrate Kemal Al’Kaffesh had recently been dispatched from Katapesh to sort out the urban status of Saltspit: Was it a city? Did it recognize the primacy of the Pactmasters and Pactbrookers? Did it abide to the –highly flexible- katapeshi legal system? Was trade being protected? Who handled crime? Where were the criminals being sent? And a long et cetera.
“You can’t just make a city out of nowhere and expect for things to take care of themselves!” Were the Magistrate's words. Katapesh was demanding proper recognition of authority and Al’Kaffesh had been instructed to assist the local de-facto governing body –the Saltspit Trading Company- in the proper organization of the city. “Districts have to be regulated, main streets named, public buildings designated!”
Far more concerned with a fountain that sprang liquid gold, Hassan basically waved him off saying “Magistrate, you can take as much gold as the strongest man you can find can carry from our vaults, in exchange of taking care of this whole situation”
“Hold on, hold on” Interrupted Rakhim “This is important. Saltspit is our centre of operations; we can’t just handwave its administration. What we need here is a city council”
Eventually, after some talking, the party agreed to Rakhim’s idea: They would form a city council drawn from people they could trust, which would be given the responsibility of managing the day-to-day aspects of Saltspit. In the end, they decided to summon Al’Sherengen –the local kingpin- to be in charge of all things commercial, Nidaros (a priest from the Church of Desna that was a good friend of the party, specially after they saved him from a cult of man-eaters when they were in level 2, although they were the ones who got him kidnapped by accident in the first place) to take care of social dispositions (the man was a gifted public speaker, although the bite marks and bit-off arm he featured forced him to wear robes and a silver mask –think of the King of Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven, but instead of leprosy, add cannibalism-), Abdul Bel’Nabir (one of Prince Osman’s most trusted advisors) to take on the adjudication of law, Iendys Mussburger (the shrewd but quite clever manager of the local branch of the andoran trading company Hudsucker, dedicated to adventuring gear and the main provider of rope-‘n-caltrops for the party since level 1. The party met him during one of their first real jobs –they started off as slaves after being captured by gnolls at the start of the campaign when their vessel shipwrecked-, which consisted in bringing him a blue envelope. Mussburger didn’t like blue envelopes) to oversee urban planning, and Hrulf –the leader of the Brass Legion- to handle leg-breaking.
Chapter XIII: So, About that Fountain of Gold...
With all those things taken care of (well, they didn’t really take care of the epidemic brewing among the slaves, something which would slap them back eventually), they set up to travel to Jalmeray in order to meet the owner of the dream. Although the figment in question had disappeared, Quite-Awful Giselda, a “Dream Consultant” provided by the Night Hags, explained that once a dream has been created by a mind, it can be recalled, so if they managed to find the person who sprang it, she could assist them in reproducing it.
At that point, Jack wondered why couldn’t they just dream cool stuff by themselves, to which Valanar replied “Because we would have to be kept asleep for Sivanah-knows how long. Although thinking it better, you could be a great candidate for that”. There was also the issue that only a specific Dreamscape had been brought over into Golarion, and the chances of their dreams existing in that particular region were next to none.
Since the party was going to visit Jalmeray, they travelled back to Katapesh to hire a ship, and took the chance to visit the Prince, the Emir, and other friends. At this point, Rakhim was informed that his beloved Falballa –the elven priestess he had become close with- was pregnant, so he decided that from now on she would be within sight whenever possible. So she would go with them to Jalmeray, which was also Rakhim’s homeland, and he wanted her to see it.
So they travel to Jalmeray, meet with Rakhim’s parents (who were of course pleased with Falballa and the child, but very displeased at Rakhim for “Making child with no parent consent. Very irresponsible” -they spoke with the same accent as Hadji from Johnny Quest-), left the elf at their house, did some sightseeing, and eventually got to their purpose: To find the mind that about a week ago was dreaming about fountains of liquid gold. The silvery dust trail was still visible, and it led into one of the more populated areas of Padiskar, the second largest city in the island nation.
So they scout around trying to follow the silver dust trail –which didn’t really make it easy either, as it flew all over buildings-, and finally saw it entering through a window. They had waited until very late in the night, in order to hopefully find the person already asleep in case they had to get more convincing (as if “Hey, we need to knock you unconscious for a month so a witch from another dimension can prod your brain in order for your dreams to come true, so that we may steal them afterward” wasn’t a convincing proposition to begin with). Level 9 by then, Hassan had little trouble opening the locks and getting inside without making any noise, and he found the dreaming person: A thin, sick child about 8 years old with a lame leg, sleeping atop a badly crafted box with some hay sprinkled on it to simulate a bed. The poor kid breathed heavily from the fever, and his forehead was covered in sweat.
“Great. This makes it way easier” So Hassan takes the chloroform he bought from a katapeshi merchant and puts it on the kids mouth to make sure he won’t wake up, ties him up inside a blanket and runs out.
Chapter XIV: A Time for Friends and a Time for Fisticuffs
“No, no way I’m going to agree with that” Rakhim wasn’t too pleased to see the adorable thing Hassan had just kidnapped “It’s a kid!”
“So? When did you grow a conscience? Was it when we began incarcerating people for getting a bad haircut so they could work in our salt mines? Or when we sent an aboleth insanity-fishing into the wrong side of reality so we could fill them with nightmares that would make you pee through your ears? Eh?” Went Hassan.
On the back, Valanar was smiling “No, I know what is really going on…” He walked closer “This reminds him of the child his very own elven mistress is carrying as we speak, doesn’t it?” The Priest had been waiting a long time to take advantage of the romance “He cannot stop thinking this could be his… that little brown, pointy eared halfbreed, the son of an incontinent excuse for a monk and a priestess with no control of her loins, a harlot in the guise of a saint, a…”
He is interrupted by Rakhim, who goes all Flurry of Blows on him.
Shock! Conflict! Rakhim decides that he is not taking part of this anymore and goes away. Jack, who had been getting doubts about it himself, eventually follows suit.
“Should we stop him?” Asks Hassan.
All bruised, Valanar stands up “No need to. In fact, this might be exactly what I needed. Everything so far is exactly what I needed” The player asks me if during the short fight he got any blood from Rakhim on him, to which I answer positively (he did fight back a bit, and he always has sharp blades under his scarf that could have cut him a bit. That’s his favoured priest weapon, by the way, a Bladed Scarf. Don’t ask me, ask Paizo). Valanar grinned like he had never grinned before.
“Tell me, Hassan. How much are rubies worth these days?”
Chapter XV: Don’t think of the children, think of the rubies!
What’s going on? To understand Valanar’s reference, I need to momentarily take you guys back to the early stages of the campaign, when the party was around level 2-3 (the beginning of this story –when they went back to the Osirian temple with the salt rift- was at level 7), because it has a bit of a complicated origin (it is customary for my players to work with me in private when they want to get involved in conspiracies, odd plans and the like. This particular sub-plot had been devised in conjunction with Valanar’s player, and eventually with Rakhim’s player too –we don’t screw over other characters’ story without express approval-. The best part of these things are the expressions in the other player’s faces when it is all revealed, usually leading to a series of revelations of all the hidden stuff people had going on. This whole story is one great example of all that –Hassan’s player keeps me constantly posted with ideas and long-term plans which are not always revealed promptly to the rest of the party-). I did reveal to you guys one tiny bit many posts ago, however, regarding the fate of Falballa.
Around those days, the party was involved in the investigation of a series of ugly murders, in which the victims were all boiled down and stripped of their flesh. Initially, it all seemed to be tied to a bunch of crazy cannibals that worshipped Urgathoa –Golarion’s goddess of undeath, gluttony and disease- living beneath the sewers of Katapesh (the same guys who had kidnapped Nidaros -the half-eaten fellow mentioned before that was now part of the Saltspit City Council-). At the climax of that particular plot, the party managed to escape the cultists (which was, of course, chock-full of Temple of Doom references) through an underground river, but Valanar got left behind, because he was checking some relics in the inner quarters of the cultist’s High Priest.
Long story short: Valanar was almost eaten alive, but through some very clever ideas and roleplaying (this player has quite the knack of solving almost every possible scenario through diplomacy, blackmailing, and not healing his party; I honestly can’t remember the last time he picked up a weapon in a D&D/Pathfinder campaign) managed to talk out the High Priest, who eventually offered him a deal: His life –and, more importantly, immortal soul- in exchange of a host.
Now, the explanation the High Priest gave to Valanar was very cryptic and confusing, but it gave him just enough information to be able to do additional research on his own. As it turned out, none of that had anything to do with Urgathoa; the cult was merely a tool for a more obscure and convoluted plan involving none other than the Denizens of Leng, creatures hailing from a mysterious and terrifying realm that in the scant volumes that mention it seems to be suggested as the last remnant of a long-collapsed reality, prior even to the current multiverse.
The Denizens of Leng do have a presence in Golarion, and several of them exist hidden among the courts of the mighty, influencing the course of history with goals no one understands. They are also not strangers to Katapesh, where they dabble in selective slave trading; for some reason, they seem highly interested in specific kinds of people, which they trade for absurdly valuable rubies (or at least what everyone thinks are rubies). Personally, they kind of remind me of the Yugoloths and their endless quest to experiment and discover the true nature of evil, the kind of villains that are not really bad guys, just uncaring entities for which mortals are just yet another tool in their repertoire.
Anyway. In secret and without the knowledge of the rest of the party, Valanar started meeting with envoys from the High Priest, random individuals whose minds had been blanked out and honestly seemed more like puppets made of flesh and bone. And slowly he began understanding what was going on: The High Priest wasn’t working for anyone in particular, but for himself. As it happens, the Denizens of Leng are beings whose bodies are made of a malleable fleshy substance they can control at will –which is one of the reasons they are really ugly when “relaxed”-, but existing too long away from Leng –or regions of the multiverse that are somehow connected to Leng- has detrimental effects on said bodies. So the High Priest, trapped in Golarion since time immemorial, had been working on means to fix that shortcoming; so far, stealing the flesh of certain individuals he had previously identified as useful had helped as a patch measure, but he was getting close to a point where this could simply no longer sustain his physical form. So he needed a host.
To this end, the High Priest had been dabbling in the creation of a perfect host capable of sustaining the twisted essence of a Denizen of Leng, one that would be able to sustain itself in Golarion without decomposing into sticky black jelly, something no other Denizen had been able to manage so far (and, as Valanar found out during his investigations, there were many other Denizens interested in such a solution, but they were all too fragmented to work together). For this host to work out, however, it would have to be conceived through a natural process. The High Priest had been trying to implant the host into pregnant women kidnapped from the city above, but it all ended up in horrible miscarriages. But now, there was Valanar...
What he had to do was to get the host (which was nothing more than a thick reddish liquid) into a man, who would have to then impregnate not just any woman, but an elf – something which was hard to find in Katapesh, as the High Priest figured out that the slower aging rate of elves and their natural immortality would be able to make up for the quick degeneration the host suffered during gestation. Valanar smiled, knowing exactly who to use.
Now, the romance between Rakhim and Falballa would seem awfully convenient, if not for the fact that it didn’t exist at the point, nor was meant to happen. Falballa was a priestess, and a chaste one at that. The party did know her and Valanar knew Rakhim had shown –restrained- interest (he was a monk from Jalmeray, with all the stuff about body perfection and purity), but everything was on a strict “friend zone” level. But Valanar knew some alchemists, and the player knew that the Saving Throws of both should be rather low at that point in the campaign. So he spent almost all his money in getting a Love Potion made, making sure that the alchemist “accidentally” poured more of certain components than what was advised. And that is how, during a trip to a desert settlement (the one they visited prior to their first trip to the Osirian temple), Rakhim and Falballa (who had been sent with them to help them escape the city, after the party had been framed in a political murder) kept mysteriously disappearing at nights, and seemed awfully relaxed the next day.
With the two “bastions of purity” now shaking it like there was no tomorrow, getting the host into Rakhim was child’s play: Just add some raspberry and bam, you have the iconic healing potion, if a bit thicker than one would expect. Then Valanar, with the enormous patience that characterizes the player behind him, waited for things to take onto their natural course. He knew it would take quite awhile; adventures, journeys and levels would come and go before getting any result, but if everything went according to plan –which, as I hope you would have presumed by now, wasn’t exactly in the same line as the High Priest’s-, it would be well worth the wait.
Let’s go back to where we left off. Valanar had been quite glad when they got the news about Falballa being pregnant; even though elven pregnancies are supposed to last about two years, this wasn’t problematic. The High Priest had informed him that the host would develop at an incredibly rapid rate, and in truth Falballa was quite swollen only six months into pregnancy, and had been abnormally exhausted, which was also to be expected. In fact, the host should only require 3-4 months of gestation, after which it would remain there, living off the mother’s vital energies until she could go on no longer (which is why elves were such a good idea).
At this point in the story, he trusted Hassan’s unending thirst for money enough that he felt comfortable with sharing his plan: He needed Falballa’s offspring in order to use it as a bargaining chip with other Denizens of Leng he had tracked throughout all this time (he knew of at least 6 in Katapesh, and many more that occasionally visited the city. There was in fact an entire slave trading company controlled by 3 of them); he had no intention of handing it over to the High Priest (whose agents had long become just a footnote, now that he was considerably more powerful and resourceful than he was in level 3). That is why the trip to Jalmeray had been such a boon (and why Valanar had been so mindful of reminding Rakhim that he would do whatever he could as a priest to keep her comfortable and safe), as it would allow him to carry on with the “extraction” without the risk the High Priest meddling.
Hassan pondered. It was an ugly business. Sure, they had been using people as nightmare farms, forced good katapeshi citizens into a life of slavery at the salt mines, and now they even kidnapped a kid because they needed the dreams he had. But now they were talking about Rakhim’s and Falballa’s kid, the former a companion of adventures and the latter being the priestess that helped them survive and escape the authorities. Maybe it was too much…
“The Denizens of Leng carry with them otherworldly rubies that go beyond any kind of gem you can imagine. Not even the Emir and his elemental associates could produce something like them” Valanar was, of course, leaving out the part about the enormous influence said Denizens had over many nations of Golarion. He wasn’t after more money; he wanted real power “Don’t think of the children, think of the rubies!”
But Hassan was still thinking. What Valanar didn’t know is that Hassan was now not really thinking about the moral consequences (he had him at “otherworldly rubies”); he was wondering if they weren’t going to waste a unique opportunity.
“No, we are not going to give it out that easily. There is an opportunity here” Said Hassan, coming out of his thought.
Valanar was rather confused “What? Of course there is: We get the baby out, we hide it well, we contact some Denizens, and we offer them the deal, giving it to the one who offers the most”
“My friend, what have we learned so far? That Hassan knows how to make money out of everything” He tapped his nose “And when Hassan finds a source of money, he makes sure that more will come after. Let me explain”
So there, in the warm, starry night of Jalmeray, in a beautiful garden in which plants grew in impossible manners and a small waterfall ran upward, he told him what he was thinking about: Mass production of hosts. If what Valanar had explained about Falballa being the proper way to get these hosts working was correct, then they were going to replicate the process. Why auction one baby among several Denizens who could probably kill them and take it, when they could be making one for each of them? That’s a lot more rubies, plus avoiding enemies from a dimension severed from a dead universe within the fathoms of time could be well seen as a positive externality of the transaction.
Valanar was both confused and amazed by Hassan’s plan; he saw the logic and he liked it, just that he had never thought of taking it to the next level. Things would get interesting now, indeed they would...
Chapter XVI: A Pound of Flesh or Two
So Valanar and Hassan had decided what to do: They would kidnap Falballa in order to steal her child and hopefully find a way to replicate the process. Vorgok was there too, but it was hard to tell if he was even aware of what was going on, as he kept talking to imaginary friends and staring in awe at a magnificent wooly mammoth that wasn’t even there.
I’m not sure if I mentioned it in this thread (perhaps it was in the previous one, where we had a lot of Q&A about the campaign), but back when the party was going along with the original plot, they had to deal with a band of ritual assassins that kept trying to dispose of them or frame them with murders (the assassins had been hired by one of the many crazy doomsday cults that were fighting over a very important artifact the players had, and attempted to sway the party into their side by argument, force, or highly volatile narcotics. They were the original cause of the party leaving Katapesh early on). Thing is, the way they took them out of the equation was striking a deal with their leader, a mind-flayer by the name of Essak; it was essentially a “Whatever they pay you, we can double it” solution. Valanar had been in charge of said deal (he has the best Diplomacy and Bluff in the party, plus various “argument-effective” spells such as Read Thoughts and Zone of Truth), and throughout the campaign kept contact with him in secret, just in case they ever needed the services of a centuries-old order of green-wearing assassins and kidnappers.
Which was precisely what they needed now.
The idea was to have the Order of the Green Veil (name of the assassins led by Essak) kidnap Falballa while Valanar and Hassan did their best to keep Rakhim away from her; the Sonk just knew far too much delicate information about all their operations (aside from being legally entitled to a big part of it through his share of the STC), and they could not risk him knowing that they were behind the whole thing.
So they set up a situation involving an escaped genie from one of the local training schools in order to keep the party stuck in Jalmeray for about a week, enough to have the Green Veil’s agents kidnap Falballa from Rakhim’s parent’s house (they also had them take the kid. In order to pacify the Sonk, Hassan simulated having felt second thoughts and leaving the kid behind. When Rakhim went there to check, they had to steal another kid from another house with similar characteristics, put it to sleep with magic and use Disguise to make it seem like he was the same. Since Rakhim had seen him for just a few moments, it worked).
As you can imagine, there was much ruckus when Rakhim found out the Green Veil struck back and this time they stole the elf carrying Rakhim Jr. As he was never fully aware of how the assassins had been dealt with in the past (in fact no one knew, except for Hassan, to whom Valanar revealed the truth when they concocted the plan a week ago), he took it as a personal vendetta (shaking an angry fist at the sunset sky and all that), and pressed to quickly abandon everything they were doing and head back to Katapesh (where the Green Veil’s base of operations was).
Once there, he stormed every single place they had previously discovered to be somehow tied to the organization (trashing several stores and smoking houses). The rest of the party followed suit, but Hassan and Valanar knew they wouldn’t find her, as they had given specific orders to Essak for Falballa and the kid to be sent to Saltspit and hidden until they arrived.
However, things quickly got complicated. In few words:
1.-Rakhim found out where she was by using the same means they had previously used to track down Essak (crystal spheres through which the assassins communicated. Yes, yes, they also made lots of Sauron jokes the first time they found it. The fact that the assassin lord from which they took the first one was a cyclops didn’t help either).
2.-Got to Saltspit, trashed Al’Sherengen’s safehouse (which had been used by the assassin’s to hide the hostages)
3.-Tortured everything that could be tortured to know what happened (earning some points toward an alignment shift, but not quite there yet, since it was balanced out by the ultimate goal).
4.-Eventually found out what was going on.
5.-Choked Hassan to death (as in quite dead, not just below 0) and demolished his face with his bare hands before getting knocked unconscious by Vorgok (who had a very hazy general picture of what was going on. He was also becoming less and less solid as time progressed, unsure of what was real and what wasn’t).
Chapter XVII: A Proper Bastard Never Dies
Through sheer expenditure of money and cashing-in favours with big shots in Katapesh, the party had Hassan revived (resurrection is a very, very hard and complicated thing to do in my campaigns. But they were very, very rich as well, so it was within reach). One of Hassan’s eyes was destroyed during the fight, however, so he had to replace it with another one made out of pure gold. As for Rakhim… well, that would come. For now, their long time adventure companion would remain jailed deep beneath the STC headquarters, pumped with all manners of alchemical concoctions to keep him weak and in a semi-concious state.
Since they were in Katapesh for Hassan’s resurrection, they might as well get some business going. Rather than breaking into madness fits, Hassan sent an envoy to Saltspit to get Rakhim’s signature, which he used to forge a will in which Rakhim (who allegedly died from a “slow, painful death caused by a severe case of choleric fever he caught in Jalmeray”) designated his shares of the STC as preferential for society withholders, which essentially meant the current living owners of the STC (Valanar, Hassan, Vorgok, Jack, the Prince, Honest Abdul, and a host of other minor shareholders who had been joining the ranks of the Company as time went through) had the right to buy them, and if none wished they would be sent to an auction house to be sold to the highest bidder. By offering money to the rest of the owners, Hassan bought Rakhim’s shares for himself and became the leading stockholder; Jack wanted to protest, but he had been threatened by the Rogue after he tried to defend Rakhim, and he knew they could dispose of him at any moment; Valanar had no quibbles, since being the leading stockholder meant that he would have to dedicate more time to directing the company and he had other things to worry about; and for Vorgok, all these earthly things meant little (instead, he recited bad poetry to the stockholder assembly).
“I saw no light at the end of the tunnel, Valanar” Had said Hassan after he was revived “But I didn’t see fire either. I take that as simply not being my moment. Let’s get back to business”
While Valanar took care of contacting Denizens of Leng from different parts of Garund, Hassan went to work on the technical aspects of the new business venture.
So first there was the thing with the golden fountain. Quite-Awful Giselda had been tasked with setting up all that was necessary to send the kid into a perpetual dreaming state, in a small tower they had built north of Saltspit for that purpose. She warned him that once the kid was sent into such a deep sleep, waking him up later on would most likely result in his death. “Just get me that golden fountain, witch” was all Hassan replied before going out.
Chapter XVIII: Time for More... Experiments
Falballa’s case was a bit trickier. Valanar had explained him all he knew about the process developed by the flesh-eater’s High Priest, and together they made a list of things they saw as essential. These were:
-The substance used to infuse the host: Valanar had wisely kept some of it, although it had already decayed. To replicate it, they hired a contingent of Katapesh’s finest alchemists, necromancers, and apothecaries, who worked day and night until they managed to create a copy. There were lots of ugly accidents, of course, and even more to come once they established production, and to that end they had a huge pit built near Saltspit to dispose of these “flesh spawns”. So basically my players were setting down the first stones for a future dungeon! I love these bastards.
-Elven Women: As mentioned before, the life energy that runs through elves and makes them immortal is perfect for the severe drain that the accelerated development of the host causes on the mother, so they would need to somehow get more of those. Getting people against their will wasn’t really much of a challenge, but the fact that elves were so scarce this far south made things tricky. Through the Brass Legion, Hassan made contact with a band of mercenaries known as Bannor’s Bastards, which operated in southern Avistan (the northern continent, which would be the equivalent of Europe in Golarion terms –remember Katapesh in in eastern Garund, which is Golarion’s Africa. Now that I think of it, Katapesh seems awfully similar to Zanzibar-). They would be tasked with the capturing of elves from Kyonin -an elven kingdom far to the north-, as well as any other elf they could find. Women would be worth 1,000 gold pieces each, men 200 (Hassan thought that using elves on both sides of the “process” would maybe increase the life energy available. They were going to capture the pointy-eared things anyway. Might as well use them for something). I still clearly remember the discussion he had with one of Bannor’s envoys who came with the first load of elves “No, no, these ones are clearly male! Look, you added fake breasts! And... uhm, you, check between their legs. What? Nothing? Let me see... the hell! These won’t do! First, I’m not paying for male elves made to look like female elves; and second, I don’t need dickless eunuchs either! Take these back and tell Bannor that I’m not going to get scammed this easily!”
-Nursery: Beyond the fact that these were pretty ugly babies (the Denizens of Leng are creatures whose bodies are made out of malleable flesh which they can control with their minds, are unusually tall, with elongated extremities and… mouths that look like anemones. Now mix that with a human and an elf. Aye, not pretty at all), they still had to be kept alive. Falballa’s offspring showed that development occurred very fast (in the span of two months, it had grown from a “What the hell is that thing?” to a “What the hell is THAT thing?”), and their dietary needs quickly went from what one would expect from a human or elf baby into not needing food at all. However, since the High Priest had designed these as “blank hosts”, they also became rather unsettling, since they had no mind of their own, being essentially large vegetables which had spontaneous bursts of reactive behavior to basic needs. So a nursery was built to accommodate these, with female slaves brought from Khandassar to take care of the feeding and caring (and those who went nuts with the situation were shipped to the nightmare bunkhouses. Everything was functioning like clockwork).
Chapter XIX: It's Mine, Mine, MINE
In the meanwhile (in total it took about 5 months of in-game time, even though it spanned one and a half session), Quite-Awful Giselda had successfully managed to materialize the vudrani kid’s dreams, and an impressive dreamscape in the outskirts of Saltspit now displayed a fountain from which liquid gold "lava" sprang. It was extremely hot, and involved a series of other issues, since when dreams become material, they also try to conform to the laws of nature as much as possible (or maybe it was just me being an ass and recalling Terry Pratchett. Who knows), but the fact was that the STC now controlled the only liquid gold fountain in the world. Salt, nightmares, malformed extra-dimensional babies… boy, liquid gold! Hassan barely could with his own happiness.
We discussed it for a while and ultimately came to the agreement that the fountain poured gold at a rate equal to that of the fountain that used to be in our school (which we had to measure back in the 90's as part of a physics asignment): 4 cubic metres per hour, or 66 litres per minute, and at a temperature of 1,000 C° (about 1,900 F°). At a liquid density of 17gr per cm3, and taking into consideration that 1lb of gold is worth 50gp in Pathfinder, that resulted in their wallets engrossing by 33.660gp per hour, which is approximately the equivalent Wealth Per Level of an 8th level character, or a bit less than that of a 20th level character per day.
At this point I distinctly remember Jack's reaction "Isn't that too much money?", only to be slapped by Hassan "NO, IT IS NOT".
As you can imagine, realizing how ridiculously wealthy they were getting by the fountain alone kind of relegated the other venues to a secondary spot, because even all their other businesses combined could not produce the fabulous amount of money that the fountain spewed like it was going out of style. That is not to say they were abandoned (Valanar certainly had more important things in mind than just hard cash), but instead made the protection, sustenance, and monetization of the fountain all the more important. Plans were abounding and the numbers started to get ludicrous:
First, there was the monetization issue. Sure, it was a fountain of bloody gold, but it wasn't precisely a matter of just reaching in and paying out. Word was spread across Saltspit that the STC was hiring construction workers to erect a new smelting facility, as gold had supposedly been found while digging a new tunnel. They got some architects and engineers from Katapesh to come and design the thing, and a site was selected north of the city.The plan was to build the facility right on top of the fountain, but the issue of other dreams materializing in the area made it impossible. Instead, a permanent portal was created to carry the liquid gold from the fountain and into the minting plant (about 5 miles away), all kept to a very tight circle to avoid news of the fountains (and the dreamscape themselves, although this was getting increasingly harder) spreading out. Of course, a few weeks later everyone and their mothers had received word of the findings, and Saltspit began experiencing a gold rush that spiked both population growth and barfight rates; hooker intakes alone were so high that Vorgok himself was unable to keep up the Prima Nocte at a 100%. Soon, every ravine, crack in the ground, water puddle and tiny creek was crawling with gold diggers from Varisia to Sargava, which stretched Saltspit's resources and capacity to the breaking point. On the good side, however, it served as a smoke screen for what was actually going on, and the increased influx of inhabitants (combined with a less than delicate policy of enforcement by the Brass Legion) gave some extra benefits in terms of slaves for the nightmare bunkhouses.
I told the party the facility would take about 3 months to get built to a point of proper operation, and we agreed to have their earnings slowly escalate as it became functional, starting from 0 and reaching full capacity (about 800,000gp/day) in 90 days.
An army of 50 iron golems was commissioned to the great tinkerers of Alkenstar. Valanar was keenly aware that secrecy and prudence had been thrown out of the window when they decided to let dreams come true near their HQ, and he wanted to be prepared for what could happen once the real dealings of the STC came into public light. Besides, he had wanted to get his own iron golem ever since the game started.
End Part I click on the links below to navigate further into this story