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Coloured was the Bay, bloody were the streetsby Ville Lähde
This adventure was published originally in the Finnish RPG magazine “Claymore” with the title “Kirjavat olivat vedet, ja punaiset kadut” in 1994. I designed it for OD&D, and the events were supposed to take place in Specularum. As D&D was not used so much in Finland at the time, I wrote the scenario in a generic form. This is a second English version of the scenario, now made explicitly for Mystara and for the “Fantasy Cities: Specularum” fandom project. Some of the stats of the important NPCs can be found in the NPC section of the coming book, others are provided in these scenarios in a schematic form, so the GMs can adjust the power levels to her/his liking.
This scenario opens a series of adventures, which includes the five original scenarios published in “Claymore”, plus two brand new ones – new and extended, combined and reworked versions of the adventure seeds provided in the “Grand Duchy of Karameikos” Gazetteer (namely “Davinos’ Complaint”, “The Sins of Valdo Tisza”, “Prisoners in the Night” and “The Missing Rose”). [Note: I will perhaps include also a short adventure on prince Valen’s Shearing and the Cult of Halav.] This series involves the PCs with most areas of the city, its different social environments from the lowest gutters to the palace of the Duke himself, the various social, economic and political tensions, and it will present dire threats to the city and the very security and integrity of the Grand Duchy. Thus especially the latter parts of this campaign can be fitted with the advanced adventure ideas of the Gazetteer: war with Black Eagle, civil war, religious war, or wars with foreign powers. Seeds of strife are sown throughout the series, and the final scenario will perhaps see them sprout. That is of course down to the exploits of the PCs and the GM.
The overall genre of these scenarios is investigation and intrigue. But fear not, there are ample opportunities for PCs to get into harm’s way or inflict some. As always, such “detective stories” work best if magical levels are pretty low, so divination magic doesn’t eliminate the suspense. If this is not possible, I definitely advice the prospective GM to adapt these scenarios to the circumstances formed by the rule system and the power level he or she prefers. It should be noted, however, that the first part is conceived with beginning adventurers in mind, and ones either new to the city or from the lower rungs of the social order.
This scenario involves the following elements of Specularum most intimately: 1) The guild system and foreign trade; 2) Foreign Quarter and the ethnic gangs; 3) Veiled Society and the street life in general; 4) The City Guard.
Guilds and Trade
The guilds are obviously an important part of the everyday workings of the city, and the events of this scenario involve the Dyers’ Guild and the Tailors’ Guild, and the PCs may even get interested in the Merchants’ Guild during their investigations. [Note: I assume that the Guild system will be described in the coming book, since we have solid work available on it by Giampaolo Agosta?] In short, the craft guilds control and preclude competition within their respective fields and keep the prices at the preferred level. Retail and wholesale are controlled by the Merchants’ Guild. Craftsmen have some limited rights to sell their products, but this is controlled by the Merchants’ Guild (which widens the influence of the Radu faction). Even foreign craftsmen and merchants of the Foreign Quarter need permission to ply their trade there, and getting it is not always easy. This tension is at the heart of this scenario.
Another central feature of the scenario is Specularum’s location, its role as a hub of marine trading. Proximity of the sea however doesn’t only explain the events of the scenario, it flavours the events. After all, the city was named according to the beautiful Mirror Bay, at its best when the rays of the morning and evening sun give it a hue of red. The Bay, the rushing Volaga, the constant salty tang in the air, and the visibility of the sea in the horizon are important in the everyday life of the Specularumians: the noise of the harbour, the presence of foreign travellers and exotic wares, the swirling seagulls everywhere, ever so annoying. The mystic opening of the events of this scenario will be a scary surprise, even a dark omen, to the residents of the city, especially the superstitious Traladara.
The Foreign Quarter
This exotic and cosmopolitan enclosure offers sights, products and services not available elsewhere in the city, except to the wealthy and influential. Foreign drugs, novel forms of entertainment, different foods, even illicit religions… you name it. [The Foreign Quarter, and some of the people and factions that will possibly be involved in this scenario, are described in the City Book.] Even though the guilds technically rule over enterprise also in the Foreign Quarter, the powerful gangs make it much harder to control it.
The Veiled Society and the street life
Events of this scenario also involve a powerful Veiled Society starosta and his local cell from the South End. [Originally I had Kingdom of Thieves in this role, but the Veiled Society works much better.] More generally the PCs will have to work the streets in the poorer regions of the city, tracking important clues. So it is possible that they become involved with other factions such as the Kingdom of Thieves, small gangs et cetera. It should be noted that the Veiled Society is not necessarily an enemy of the PCs in this scenario, even though they get into an awkward situation with the organisation in the beginning. It is very possible that they manage to impress the starosta and get recruited. This might require some reworking of the latter adventures, but they would still work. Any criminal organisation has schisms and factions, so Veiled Society members can well end up investigating their own organisation in the second scenario of the series.
The City Guard
Guard Phorsis has offices and barracks around the city, and quarters and smaller areas are allotted to captains and lesser officers. The Nest and the Foreign Quarter are no-go or limited areas for the guards, which is an important part of the setting. The corruption and injustice (in modern terms) of the guards is also an important part of the events. Guard officials can be bribed, and career is often more important to them than justice/order/rule of law. Also they are not always too keen on finding the actual criminals, and convenient scapegoats suffice for the smaller offences. This doesn't necessarily mean arbitrary arrests, but they are not very interested in examining the evidence. Circumstantial evidence, even the word of an official, can often lead to a conviction. Any beginning PC should be pretty much aware of this.
The events take place in early spring, at the beginning of a new trading season. Karameikan ships will leave for foreign shores, and first foreign ships will arrive with the trade winds – mainly Thyatian, Minrothaddan, Ierendian and Darokinian, with the occasional Ylari, Sindian or Northern Reaches vessel, even though the latter are rare exceptions. Trade in foreign goods is lively, causing fierce competition and fluctuations in prices. Fortunes are made and lost, as in an environment like this it is never certain which shipments arrive and which are lost. Merchants have only partial information on the incoming shipments anyway. Investing in certain goods may be disastrous, if the market is suddenly flooded by another shipment arriving suddenly.
Downright smuggling and profiteering around the Foreign Quarter is also common, which causes tensions within the Foreign Quarter and between local residents and foreigners. Guildmasters complain about illegal trade and unfair competition, foreign traders try to work around the tough restrictions, exotic drugs cause havoc, and sudden influx of funds after the winter make local gangs more aggressive. Street fights between “ethnic” and local gangs are common. This causes a lot of grief for the already overworked Guard Phoris. Most of its troops are tied up in protecting warehouses and markets, but the fights and crimes divert them elsewhere, which causes vulnerabilities.
The crooked merchant Tegell, an Ierendian expatriate, has recently moved into the easternmost parts of the Foreign Quarter, the Ierendian area. He is quite wealthy, but not filthy rich, and he is one of the richest men in this relatively poor area. He has trading contacts in Ierendi, and before coming to Specularum last autumn he had just invested most of his fortune in a valuable shipment of exotic dyes. These particular dyes are produced from certain excretions of captured monsters, and they are used mainly in shimmering and glittering cloths used in festival costumed and banquet dresses. Nothing of the sort is produced in Karameikos.
Tegell plans to deceive the dyers and tailors of the city and to make a killing on his shipment. His plan is built on an elaborate deception: Disguised as a red-haired man he has ordered an expensive banquet costume from every tailor of the city, meant for the coming Masked Ball in the Darokin Embassy. The down payments he has given for them are peanuts when compared to the expected profit of his venture. Of course the red-haired buyer will never come to collect these costumes, and due to the elaborate designs the tailors cannot sell them to anyone else (there is hardly any market for costume ball dresses) or even scrounge them for materials (Darokinian fashion favours strips, bundles and knots of expensive cloth).
After this Tegell has made a contract with the Ierendian gang “the Breakwater”, led by Zila the Pirate. He has hired some goons to break into the stores of the Dyers’ Guild and steal all of the exotic dyes that he is importing. The thieves are supposed to bury the dyes somewhere. Unfortunately the thieves are not totally reliable, as we will soon see. Tegell has also hired the gang to keep the area clean of nosy outsiders, just in case. Tegell has used the identity of Amsumal to deal with Zila, but she and her closer aids have a general idea about his real personality and where he lives.
Tegell knows that the Dyers’ Guild house is located in the area of the South End guarded by the unit led by Captain Porius and protected by the Veiled Society cell led by the feared starosta Stavros. So he assumes the identity of “Amsumal” and hires some freelance thieves to break into the house the Davidos couple, a local veterinarian and a healer/herbalist. In order to foster conflict he leaks information about the coming robbery to the Guard and the Veiled Society.
Unfortunately Tegell makes some small mistakes along the way, leaving clues that may lead to him. But no matter what happens, the fate has still one cruel card left.
THE STRUCTURE OF EVENTS
The PCs are hired by Amsumal to break into the house of the Davidos couple. They get caught in the middle of Captain Porius and Stavros’s Veiled Brothers. As the diversion is revealed when news of the Dyers’ Guild robbery arrive, both big players are in a difficult situation, so they need the PCs to sort things out… or else they can serve as handy culprits. So whilst keeping in relatively good terms with both, the PCs need to find the mysterious “Amsumal” and the people who raided the Dyers’ Guild.
Meanwhile a mistake by the thieves causes alarm in the city, and Tegell’s plan causes uproar in the guilds. The PCs have very little time to find Tegell and bring him to justice (and satisfy the Veiled Society, as it needs to make an example of someone). Fortunately Tegell has been careless, as have the thieves, and there are some clues that can lead the PCs into the Foreign Quarter. But in there they will have to deal with the difficult tensions between the gangs in order to get to Tegell.
The GM can also arrange the first events in a way that the PCs meet. They could for example be: a Veiled Society recruit, a Guard rookie, a freelance thief, even an apprentice of one of the Davidos’s. The most important thing is for the GM and the players to discover a solid motivation for the PCs to engage in the investigation together. Threat of prison and/or mutilation is always a good one, especially if the PCs are poor. In this kind of context leaving the city for the wilderness without ample supplies and good skills is a recipe for disaster. They have to deal with it.
TIMELINE AND DETAILS
Things are set in motion in the first day of Spring, as the trading season opens. The citizens are eagerly awaiting for the arrival of the first ships after the winter. On the other hand, spouses and children of sailors weep on the piers, and drunken sailors are stumbling into pubs and bars for the final binge before setting sail. The first foreign ship arrives at noon from the Five Shires, carrying tobacco and beer. Many inns and taverns offer a free sound and a complimentary pipe for their customers.
Meanwhile in the Foreign Quarter tensions rise, as the Breakwater gang members, emboldened by their good deal, act more self-assuredly and aggressively. They are buying more drugs and weapons, and tensions are on the rise with their neighbours, “the Swords of Kalim”, the Ylari gang (which is already involved in scuffles with “The Myrrh of Night” and the dwarven moonshine gang). The raid on the Dyers’ Guild is supposed to take place the following night.
“Amsumal” hires the freelance thieves to break into the house of Davidov. They are supposed to strike at midnight “when the owners have been alerted to tend to a sick horse of a noble, a wild goose chase of course”. They are sent to steal a fictional valuable cache of magical medicinal herbs. If the PCs are curious, they can learn that Amsumal speaks with a foreign accent. Tegell tries to hide it, but someone with the needed skills can recognise Ierendian traits.
At the same time Tegell hires a street kid to leak information of the heist to Captain Porius and Stavros’s Veiled Society cell. This causes Porius to take part in the patrol himself and to change his route, which would have included the Dyers’ Guild normally. He wants to impress his superiors. Veiled Society sends some muscle to hide around the Davidov house, with orders to teach the thieves a lesson.
As the thieves approach the Davidov house, they are accosted by the Veiled Brothers, who are hiring in the herb bushes. [I placed the house in the fields west of South End.] Depending on the thieves, a battle may ensue, or else they are captured. In any case Porius and his men arrive in a very “what’s all this then” way. As Porius and Stavros have an accord, this is a difficult moment, and the PCs look like excellent sacrificial lambs. Fortunately a runner will bring Porius news about the Dyers’ Guild robbery. Porius is in trouble, as he was supposed to protect that area (being greedy, he did not tell anyone of the warning – he wanted to surprise his superiors). The Veiled Brothers are furious, as nobody screws around in their turf. Both parties want this dealt with, and the PCs are handily available. Either they find the culprit, or Porius and Stavros divide them amongst themselves in order to satisfy their superiors. Somebody has to pay, after all. Whether the PCs get anything else than their charges dropped (they did try to break and enter, after all) and the Veiled Society off their back is up to them, but they are not especially well set up for bargaining. (In our campaign the PCs had to run a debt to get funds for this investigation, which solidified their interests later on. But this depends on the chemistry and habits of the players.)
It might be a good idea to set a deadline. Porius can keep things under the wraps for two days (or something) at most, then he is forced to act.
If the PCs act quickly, they can learn right now that the information was leaked to both parties by the same source, the street kid. This is Tegell’s first mistake, as the kid has distinctive features. He has a constant tick on the right side of his mouth and a lazy, even deformed, left eye. (If the GM wants to make a subtle link to the second part of the series, the kid can also be an atabe user, in which case it is good to establish now that he is of Thyatian stock. A clever PC could use this later on – my players missed it, and man were they annoyed! This is often fun too.) But if they miss this, it is of course possible to learn these things later, albeit a bit more troublesome.
Day 2 and beyond:
The morning starts with ominous news. A huge crowd has gathered into the harbour, gawking at the Mirror Bay. Its waters used to sparkle in the morning sun (the Volaga keeps is surprisingly clean – if you don’t check the bodies and trash at the bottom, of course), but now it is tainted with a strangely swirling chaos of colours. The prayers of the priests do not work, and the mages are baffled. The truth is of course the goons of “the Breakwater” were lazy and dumped their loot into the Bay. Perhaps Tegell should have been a tad more explicit about the importance of burying the loot, even to the point of paying extra for it. Tegell is understandably furious and nervous, but Zila promises that nothing can lead to the gang members and to him. If only she knew… the careless thief who lost his emblem would be disembowelled.
The ingredients of the different magical dyes have reacted and created a concoction that will remain on the surface for days. It is as if the waters are alive. This is seen by many as an evil omen. (The GM can create another link to the second part of the series by referring to the same legends that are used in connection with the comet.) In any case the PCs can learn from the Dyers’ Guild that the stolen dyes were of semi-magical origin, and with additional consulting from mages or alchemists they can work out the origin of the colours – or most likely they just guess it. From the Dyers’ Guild they can also learn that nothing else was stolen and only the specifically labelled jars were taken (Keeper of the stores, Malev, knows the place very well). The thieves have also left a clue as to their origin – a gang emblem of sorts, but this needs some searching. It will also be hard for the PCs to learn of its nature, since few in the inner city know about the details of the Foreign Quarter, and it is unlikely that the PCs at first understand to look there.
During the day the word hits the streets that the tailors of the city are angry: nobody has collected the elaborate costumes, and all of the exotic dyed cloth has been used. The Darokinian Embassy ball is in a few weeks, and orders for new glittering costumes will start coming in soon, and there's no dye left to make new cloth. The masters of the Tailors' Guild argue about improving communication between the craftsmen and raising the level of advance payments. If the PCs investigate, they can learn that all the orders were made by a red-haired stranger with an accent. If they investigate further (and if they paid attention in the first place), they can learn that the stranger had the same accent as “Amsumal”.
The street kid, happy with his reward, has disappeared into the Nest and the home turf of the Kingdom of Thieves, so the Veiled Society will not get to him. It may be possible for the PCs to get to him, though, as they are freelance. Any contacts in the Nest will serve them well. If they find the kid, he can tell them that he was hired by a red-haired man with a strange accent. Tegell should have switched disguises more often.
The PCs can also learn about the logic of shipping, surprise shipments and fast profits if they inquire in the harbour or the Merchants’ Guild. Nobody knows about the coming shipment, of course.
Meanwhile, fights between the eastern gangs of the Foreign Quarter intensify, as “the Breakwater” gets on the offensive against the Swords of Kalim.
Eventually everything points to the Foreign Quarter, the Ierendi area and “the Breakwater”. The investigators can take advantage of the gang conflict in many ways, and they can end up either helping or opposing Zila’s crew, for example. Zila is not above breaking the treaty with “Amsumal”, if a good incentive is shown (like the fact the Guard Phorsis and the Veiled Society would like nothing more than a reason to crack down on them).
Most likely the gutters run with crimson for the nights to come. The result of all this is uncertain. Tegell might yet come out on top, or he might forge a deal with the other parties – he has some cash left. However the PCs would need something to appease Porius and Stavros with.
However, the Fate shows a dark sense of humour. The shipment of dye that shook Specularum never arrives. The ship sinks, taking lives beneath the waves, as the first spring storm surprises it. The few saved sailors ramble on about waves swirling with unearthly colours... The residents of Specularum, who know nothing about all this, wait nervously what these omens foretell. And Fate will provide, as we see in the next part of the series “Omens and Portents”.
- Tegell (see NPC section)
- Stavros (see NPC section)
- Porius (see NPC section)
- Zila and the Breakwater gang (see NPC section)
- Findilius, master of Tailors [if you do not wish to include him, I will detail him here]
- Kantianos, master of Dyers [as above]
- Malev, storemaster [as above]
- The Davidov Couple:
* Julius Davidov (NM, lawful) is a sweet old man with a balding head. He has a habit of munching on cooking herbs, so it is sometimes hard to make out what he is saying. He charges very little for his services.
* Svetlana Davidov (NM, lawful) is an old woman with a dry and commanding voice and a stern disposition. She keeps her hair tied to a tight bun and wears straight and nondescript clothes. She is an expert in healing, herbalism and related arts. Her customers are mostly people who cannot afford priestly healing (there are a lot of them) or who prefer traditional medicine for their ailments.