Atlas Rules Resources Adventures Stories FAQ Search Links
Scourge of the Iron Ringby Steven B. Wilson
Adapted from the “A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords”Screams echo in the night, the charred remnants of a village are mute by day. From the lands of Karameikos, weakened by years of civil war, the Iron Ring has taken advantage of the chaos to strengthen themselves to strike again! Slave raiders scour the wounded countryside, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
Years ago, they were only a vague whisper on the lips of a few barbaric scum, a whisper that grew to an icy chill of dread and despair – the Iron Ring! They are masters of vile cruelty and terror. And they are unnamed and unidentified, hiding behind a veil of secrecy and deception.
The story of Scourge of the Iron Ring is that of justice, and possibly revenge. For years the Iron Ring has carried out their particularly cruel trade on fishing villages and isolated farming communities. Their actions have been without remorse or pity.
The Iron Ring is a cunning and dangerous group. Not only are they powerful in levels and magic, they are also accustomed to working as a team. They have worked together for many years and have become aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Time has allowed them to assemble a highly efficient organization. They make few mistakes, for mistakes are too costly in their business. They possess no pity or mercy. Although they can be extremely subtle, they also appreciate the effect of brute force and overwhelming might. Finally, they are indescribably cruel.
Prologue: Campaign History and Assumptions
This is an adventure that I have wanted to adapt to Karameikos for a very, very long time. Although this could very easily fit into any number of places in the nation’s timeline, I’ve chosen to write this as a logical outcome of my own campaign’s variant events. I fully realize that the following timeline will not fit everyone’s campaigns (or even their view of “true” events in Karemeikan history), and that is okay. I am not going to be emotionally traumatized if others dislike my take on things and adapt it to fit their own preferences. That is what makes role-playing games great! If descriptions of various places or events don’t agree with you, just change them!
What follows is the basic timeline of major events that have happened in my campaign in Karameikos over the past 20 years that will affect the events in this adventure:
AC 1004 – Start of the Wrath of the Immortals AC 1006 – Stefan Karameikos crowned as first king of Karameikos AC 1010 – Wrath of the Immortals ends AC 1020 – Second Beastman War (Red Hand of Doom) Stefan Karameikos dies in the Battle for Kelvin AC 1021 – Karameikan Civil War begins AC 1023 – Justin Karameikos crowned as king AC 1024 – Karameikan Civil War ends Iron Ring activity increases dramatically (start of Scourge of the Iron Ring)
Chapter 1: The Road to Crossbones
Part 1: The Invitation
Due to events in the PCs recent past (DM discretion) and Justin Karameikos’s call to the nobility to rally loyal subjects, the players are presented a heavy, buff colored envelope closed with a large blob of wax pressed with a seal containing the following message written in a spidery hand:
To those Brave and Worthy;
May it never be said that the courageous undertake valor for the hope of reward nor the righteous seek purity, and thus may aspersions of evil never fall upon thy name. But, as ye know to well, the rewards of virtue are painful and cold.
Our advisors, through wisdom and sagacity, have proclaimed thy actions good and virtuous, done for the good of the Nation. Those so noble as yourselves will grace and ornament the presence of any gathering. We beseech you kindly honor us with your presence in Halag for a Feast to celebrate Beast’s Day and present to thee and others the Titles of Court Lordship/Ladyship.
Lord (Lady) ___________________
If requested, the messenger will take the character’s reply, having arrived by flying mount. She is friendly and not secretive, and will answer general questions about anything the DM feels she has knowledge of.
If the characters hesitate, you may wish to point out that many persons of influence usually attend such a feast these days. Characters with possible futures in politics (religious, temporal, or guild) could well profit from such a gathering.
Halag (formerly Fort Doom) itself is a coastal town to the west of the capitol city of Mirros. In the past, it was a haunted and ugly place, crushed under the tyrannical rule of Baron Ludwig von Hendriks. Although the past decade has seen vast improvements, due to von Hendriks being deposed, many of the inhabitants struggle with their past.
The season is early summer (Klarmont) and the weather looks to be fine for traveling. There are good roads between the characters’ starting point and Halag (the assumption is that the party is traveling northwest along the Westron Road, but that isn’t an absolute), but the past decade has seen an increase in the danger of who might be met on those roads.
The Con MenAs you wind along the road, you spot a pair of men slogging along slowly in your direction. They appear to be recent victims of an attack; scratched, bruised, clothing slashed, and one sports a black eye. Glancing up as you approach, the closest feebly raises a hand in greeting, and seems anxious to speak.
The two men have just escaped a group of irate loggers whom they successfully bilked out of a small amount of cash. Armed with cunning, insight, and nerve, these men make a living off unsuspecting passers-by who take them at their word. The two are average humans. If the characters stop and talk, the men keep their distance, ready to escape if necessary. They leave immediately if they observe spellcasting.
The two men attempt to convince the party that they are minor nobility from Mirros who have just been robbed of all their money and valuable possessions. Apparently quite panicked, they hint vaguely at an ambush down the road, mentioning magic and hideous events. They then ask for a small amount of generosity to tide them through the rest of their journey.
To all questions they will lie or tell half-truths: false names, false businesses, and false tales as necessary. They are clever enough to know when to tell the truth. If the PCs give them any money, they accept with overflowing gratitude and many promises to repay the loan at some future date. Then, the spin a fantastic tale of ambush just down the road. Central to their tale is a vivid description of a band of corrupt and evil Traladaran “freedom fighters” who have come out of the forests and are assaulting any Thyatians they come across as if the civil war never ended. They persist in their begging until they are paid or it is obvious they will receive nothing.
Later in the day, just before camp is made for the evening, a group of humans (mixed Traladaran and Thyatian) is sighted by the party; any number between 100 and 300 appear.
The crowd is quite angry and upset, armed with short swords and clubs. The mob at first thinks the party may be protecting or hiding the con men. Coming upon the players, they surround the wagon (or camp). Give the characters an opportunity to panic and do something foolish before having the gnomes act.
After this, if the characters keep their wits, the loggers (for they are from a large logging operation nearby) explain angrily that they are looking for a part of “sharpers and deceits” for the express purpose of “delivering to them the justice they deserve.” With these words the PCs notice several of the mob holding ropes and brushes, evidently for unsavory purposes.
The mob has no interest in the PCs, although if they learn later that the characters deceived them, they will be quite angry.
Raiders!You have traveled for some time without incident, meeting only occasional travelers on the road. Late in the day, the road passes close to the banks of a pond overlooked by a grassy meadow. It seems like a good place to camp.
Unfortunately for everyone concerned, a goblin raiding party has also found the meadow and has deemed it a convenient place to wait out the daylight hours. They are sheltered from the party by a low, grassy ridge. If the PCs think to reconnoiter the area, they have no difficulty finding the raiders. They are just breaking camp, preparing to move by night. The PCs can either retreat quietly (avoiding the encounter) or prepare an ambush.
For an ambush, the players must explain the positions and plans of their characters to you. Any balanced combination of caution and boldness should succeed. Stupid rashness and its converse, timidity, will not. Any ambush must do the following to work:
1. Achieve surprise.
2. Make the raiders fear they are being attacked by a powerful force.
3. Hurt the raiders visibly in the fist wave of the attack.
If these goals are achieved, the raiders break and scatter. They have no desire to fight battles for no gain (and perhaps much loss)!
However, if the PCs make foolish mistakes in the ambush, the raiders stand and fight. These mistakes include charging into the middle of the camp, surrounding the camp (thus ending any hope of escape), or generally revealing the weakness of the players’ party.
If the PCs do not bother to check the area, the raiding party discovers the PCs first. The PCs only become aware of them when they hear grunting and shouting from across the pond.
The raider’s camp is to the east of the characters’. As soon as the alarm is raised, the troops begin moving through the woods to outflank the PCs. Fearing their raiding party has been discovered by royal soldiers, the commander (Doog – a hobgoblin) splits his force into five different groups. As the units reach their positions, Doog’s strategy unfolds.
The goblins should reach their position first. As soon as they are in position, they begin firing arrows at the party. They are to pin the enemy down, preventing them from advancing or retreating.
The hobgoblins should be the second to reach their positions. They are ordered to remain hidden until Doog gives a single blast on the war horn.
The ogres should be the last group in position. They are to attack when Doog gives two blasts on the war horn.
Troops in bushes or woods gain partial cover through concealment. The sun is low in the west and the wall of trees around the meadow creates a great deal of shadow.
Once he gives his orders, Doog and his bodyguard move carefully to a position where he can watch and command the battle. He will not risk himself unduly; he has ample troops available to fight for him.
Three rounds after giving his orders, he gives a single blast on his war horn. On the fifth round he gives two blasts, ordering the bugbears into action.
Unfortunately, battles do not always go as planned. Timing and morale are two factors Doog cannot always control. The movements Doog has planned may go wrong. When the first blast is sounded, roll 1d20 for each orc/ogre group. If the die roll is 9 or greater, the group attacks. If not, the group is not yet in position. Roll 1d6 to find the number of rounds that must pass before the group arrives on the battlefield. Repeat the same procedure for the bugbears when they are signaled to attack.
In any event, Doog seeks to keep his force intact and calls for a retreat if things go badly. He prefers to lead from behind unless success is at hand.
Doog, Hobgoblin Commander
1 Hobgoblin Soldier
Attack Group 1:
6 Goblin Warriors
Attack Group 2:
3 Hobgoblin Warriors
Attack Group 3:
3 Hobgoblin Warriors
Attack Group 4:
1 Ogre Thug
6 Goblin Cutters
Attack Group 5:
1 Ogre Thug
6 Goblin Cutters
If the raiders’ camp is taken and searched, a combined total of 1,500 gp in coins of various types can be found, along with a fair amount of food rations, a few maps of Karameikos and environs, a giant sized sun-umbrella, and a small pamphlet on battle tactics written in Thyatian. Doog also has six 50 gp gems (pearls) and 100 gp hidden in his bedroll.
Once past this encounter, all things go smoothly on the road. In but a little time, Halag comes into view.
Chapter 1 - Part 2: Welcome to Halag: Use No Magic Here!So reads a sign on the outskirts of this walled city of 10,000 inhabitants. The watch seems active on the walls and towers surrounding the town, but the gate stands open. A sea breeze freshens the air with a sting of salt. There is a feeling of timid hope about the city, making it seem like the inhabitants have still not fully recovered from their past oppression.Halag is a quiet and subdued city – though it still has its dangerous parts that even the new city guard hesitates to enter. It generally harbors a wide variety of races and alignments, although the frequency of orc and bugbear neighbors are, thankfully, rare these days. When the PCs enter the town, they most likely are on their way to the Beast’s Day Feast. They have little difficulty finding directions as the manor house is on the edge of the city.
As you enter the town, the guardsmen give a cursory inspection and charge you a silver piece to enter (a tax for the guilds of Halag). A tough, bearded old fellow looks you over more carefully than the others. “There be law in this town now – good law made by good people. Remember that, young’uns, and you’ll profit from good advice. Mock my words and you shall see what a cold, wet cell we can fix for you. Aye, these whelps look troublesome to my eyes.” These last words are spoken to the other guardsmen.
Later events may require the PCs to travel around Halag. Their welcome depends on how they act during their first few hours. Some typical reactions to character actions:
Investigate the Raid: If the characters investigate, they can learn little of value from the people of Halag. A few of the old-timers hazard a guess that it sounds like the work of pirates or slavers, but “not to worry, cause they don’t come around here anymore.” If the PCs mention the purple sails, the old-timers instantly know this was the work of the Iron Ring. Naturally, they only speak of this powerful organization with great fear and awe.
Hire a Ship: It is quite likely that the PCs will want to hire a ship in Halag. The city is has become a minor trading port, so this is not too difficult. Unfortunately, most are too slow for the PCs’ purpose, being ungainly scows, barges, or shallow water galleys. There is on other ship available, however: the Ewe, captained by Jurgen Wolffe (a merchant from Thyatis). It is a fast, ocean-going ship that can be chartered for five to ten times the normal rate (whatever that may be in your campaign). The captain demands full payment in advance to cover the expected duration of the voyage. The price includes all lading, provisions, and dock costs.
The Spy of Halag
While the PCs are in Halag, they encounter the Mad One several times. The Iron Ring keeps a careful eye on the towns of the coast, maintaining a network of spies and informers. Halag and the surrounding area is under the careful watch of a renegade elf generally known as “the Mad One.” Although he affects a gibbering madness to move about unmolested, collecting gossip and information, he really is truly mad, though not in ways he pretends. He is an Iron Ring Hound; a former slave whose mind has been twisted by torture and brainwashing, he serves the Iron Ring as a fanatically loyal, fearless warrior. In addition to the brand of the Iron Ring, the Mad One (like all Hounds) bears the marks of the manacles he once wore on his wrists and ankles.
He is maniacal and obsessive, given to hallucinations both audible and visual. He believes himself part of a greater, more cosmic scheme. The populace regards him with feelings of dread and pity. He dresses well, but speaks Thyatian exclusively (and with a comical accent). He intentionally makes his conversations decidedly nonsensical, feeling this is an important part of his cover. When playing him in an encounter, simply say the first thing that comes into your head. He keeps his hair well-groomed and trimmed; he is obsessive about his appearance.
While the party is in Halag, the Mad One makes a point of accosting a character at random, spouting poetry, limericks, and random nouns. His gibberish includes key words such as “pirate,” “ocean,” “master,” and “fire.” He is looking for some kind of reaction these words might elicit from the character which would result in him marking that character for further spying.
The Mad One is a careful agent, carrying no magic on his person. His main aim is to survive and to investigate; he holds the information he gathers until his contact (a traveling peddler) arrives at the end of each week. Any information gleaned by the Mad One is not acted on for at least two weeks. However, take note of what he learns, since it may aid the actions of the various Iron Ring Masters in future encounters.
In the unlikely event the Mad One is detected, capture, and interrogated, his mind finally breaks (or to be more accurate, re-breaks) for good. Although he reveals what he knows, it is no more comprehensible than his normal conversation. Furthermore, his statements are filled with hyperbolic clues about the importance of his duties, his place in the scheme of things, and the import of future and past events. If allowed, he wanders off gibbering into the wilderness only to die of exhaustion, exposure, and starvation weeks later.
The FeastWhen you arrive at your destination, servants meet you at the entrance to take your horses. In the doorway appears your patron.The Beast’s Day Feast itself will actually be a weeklong event in Halag. Many things could (and may) happen during this time. Key personalities are listed below. After this are given the major events of the feast. Of course, you may alter personalities and events to fit the atmosphere of your campaign.
“Greetings, friends! I apologize for not being able to entertain you in my own hearth and home. Recent events have required a temporary relocation. Most guests will not arrive for another day, but some have come before you. Would you be weary of road and riding, and wish a hot bath? Of course!” With a clap of hands, more servants appear. “You heroes have two rooms among you – it will be crowded here this week – these servants can show you the way. Be well!” He (she) then turns and bustles away, busy with preparations.
For those using the D&D 4th edition rules, you may wish to outline a skill challenge for these events or just use them for pure role-playing.
As the feast progresses, use the activities listed under Daily Events. Allow each character to pursue his particular interest, using the Daily Events as background and scenery. Play out any scenes that develop into interesting situations but avoid going into too much detail unless your group enjoys lengthy role-playing sessions. The purpose of this party is to create ties between characters and guests and hence provide motivation for their future adventures.
The Guests (A Partial List)
Listed here are the principle guests attending the feast for the entire seven days. On the day of the grand ball (where the presentation of new rank of nobility is given), more guests arrive but remain only for the night. These additional guests, like those listed here, are quite famous people – lords and ladies, political figures, religious leaders, and powerful mages. You may wish to include famous or noteworthy figures from your own campaign (perhaps a retired PC or two).
In addition to his name, each guest listing includes a short description. All possess knowledge appropriate to their position, and have at least a polite interest in the PCs.
Bernaldo Bravos: A famous but aged Thyatian paladin and member of the Order of the Griffon.
Hammish of Glantri: A Glantrian sage, specializing in ancient lore, given to pessimistic musings.
“Burly” Katrina: A rough-speaking but nobly born Thyatian fighter of great repute and local importance, all the more unique since she looks like a quite matronly woman.
Yuri the Neat: A thin Traladaran man, evidently a magic-user, prone to the nervous consumption of sweets.
Thaddeus: A Thyatian with a dangerous reputation as a thief, never proven. Invited for his charm and wit.
Dranios of Halag: Patriarch of Halag (Church of Traladara), somewhat parochial and rural in outlook.
Bruthas Badennson: A Darokinian merchant of some repute.
Black Kerr: An alchemist of unknown origin renown for her experiments, but notoriously eccentric. Aside from the fact that she rarely speaks, dresses only in black and red, and continually gathers bizarre ingredients, her habit of conversing with unseen speakers (plainly heard by all around her) is quite unsettling. She has little use for the clergy of either church and can sometimes be found in heated arguments with Dranios or Joseph.
Jack Knob: A hin who specializes in locks and safeboxes for the rich.
Ariandra: A Callarii elf of noble bearing, quite pretty and charming. Invited not only for her own charms, but also because her father is an influential leader of the Callarii elves.
Ko Ironboot: A dwarf of high rank and influence. The more gossipy guests of the feast are abuzz with speculation as to how the PCs’ patron managed this coup, as the dwarves have recently shunned parties and frivolous socializing with the humans.
Joseph of the Light: A self-proclaimed prophet (half-orc or just a regular human if you prefer) who has recently appeared out of the wilds of the Cruth Lowlands. He is earnest in his mission, considering those who mock him to be deluded and trapped by evil powers. He has a reputation as one touched by the Immortals, able to work wonders beyond those of the average clerical cloth. He arrived uninvited, claiming to have been called to this place. The PCs’ patron allowed him to remain out of curiosity, reverence, and fear.
Mitgan: A Traladaran artist of wide repute. The PCs’ patron is also his patron. He has done many works in stone, metal, and wood. The main hall of the manor is decorated with frescoes he painted.
Most of the listed guests have one or more retainers who attend to them and are ready to protect them if need be.
As the week passes, the characters (assuming they wish to enjoy themselves) can meet most of the other guests. Most of these interactions are quite ordinary, even boring. Below are some suggestions for events that may occur during the course of the feast. Note that none of these directly involve violence or battle. Instead, they require players to deal with social situations requiring sensitivity and wit. Again, you can expand and tailor these events to your specific campaign as desired.
Romance: If you use this event, decide which PC and NPC will be involved. At first, the NPC does no more than pay watchful attention to the actions of the PC. As each day goes by the NPC makes greater efforts to be in the company of the PC, perhaps asking to dance or walk together. Other guests notice this affection, commenting on it between themselves. Remember that the NPC involved is a complete character and has a full range of emotions. Thus, he or she may become depressed, angry, jealous, vengeful, etc., if his advances are mocked, slighted, or betrayed. PCs should react to the situation just as they would in real life.
Jealousy: Jealousy sometimes accompanies the bestowing of a title, particularly if the NPC in question has worked hard for the recognition (perhaps too obviously) that the PCs are to receive.
Friendship: Avoiding the extremes of love, characters should find it useful to create simple friendships. Friendships (so often ignored by PCs) can be both pleasant and useful – giving the character contacts, resources, and leads from time to time. Of course, true friends do not use each other callously. The feelings of a friend should always be considered.
Financial Interest: A character may find an investment opportunity through a guest. Property, a magical item, a share in a business, etc., may be offered to the character. Remember that the person making the offer is a businessman also. Nothing is gained for free and there is no such thing as a great deal. The NPC will always seek the best terms for himself. This is not greed or venality; this is business. Furthermore, the scheme may be honest or dishonest at your choice.
Information: At an event such as this, gossip and news are two things guaranteed to be topics of conversation. As DM, you can use the feast as an opportunity to introduce information. Perhaps an NPC talks about a grave injustice perpetrated in the land, or rumors of some fabulous terror in his homeland. Storytelling is a popular entertainment and many facts can be gleaned from these stories. Examine events in your campaign and introduce tidbits you think would tweak the interest of your PCs. Chapter 1 - Part 3: The Beast’s Day Feast
Beast’s Day is the traditional date of the last battle between King Halav and the Beast-Men, and is a big, lavish Traladaran holiday all over Karameikos. For many, it is also a time to remember the death of Stefan Karameikos (even though he did not die on this day) during the Second Beastman War. Participants dress up as Beast-Men and wander the streets in parades, and there are mock battles between Beast-Men and Men, dances, and other events commemorating the battle.
Public religious observations will also be held by clerics of the Church of Karameikos – something that hasn’t happened in many communities across the nation in quite a number of years now. (Due to the religious oppression of the recent civil war.) As such, the PCs’ patron has chosen to honor this holiday by holding a elaborate series of banquets and entertainments. In this case, the week of Beast’s Day is less a religious event and more of an excuse for a holiday celebrating a united Karameikos.
The following list give the activities scheduled for the feast:
24 Klarmont 2024
In the morning, Dranios of Halag holds service to invoke the blessings of Halav, Petra, and Zirchev upon the assembly. The service, which is quite solemn, lasts four hours. After this, guests retire for the afternoon to engage in whatever activities they find around Halag. In the evening, there is dancing followed by a grand banquet.
In the morning, Mitgan appears before the court to present his latest commission, a statue of Petra for the Temple of Halag. Before dinner, bards begin the epic poem the Song of Halav (in its full and unedited form) which will last several nights. This is followed by a small banquet. After the meal, a moon-rise party is organized by Ariandros, while Katrina and Jack Knob engage in a boisterous drinking contest.
The PCs’ patron has organized an extravaganza – a mock sea battle in Halag harbor. The guests watch from barges as galleys ram each other and spells flash through the sky. There is much cheering and some betting. A meal of exotic seafood is served on the barges while the guests watch the sunset. Returning to the manor house, bards continue the Song of Halav while the guests drink.
A morning service of prayers is held by Dranios. Bernaldo Bravos spends the morning teaching other guests a foreign entertainment he learned in some distant land long ago. The noontime meal is taken under the shade trees of the garden and a troupe of traveling acrobats provides entertainment. The afternoon is spent in private activities. In the evening, another dance is held, to allow everyone ample practice for the Grand Feast.
Towards the end of the dance, begin the Mission scenario (see below), involving as many PCs as possible. You want the PCs to accept this task so they will be unprepared for later events.
Thaddeus arranges a morning of simple games (hide-and-seek, etc.) in the garden, mostly attended by the younger guests. The event is quite successful, especially for those romantically inclined. The elders sit in the chapel and listen to a stern discourse on the follies of life from Joseph of the Light. That evening just before dinner, he enters the main hall and announces a vision. In thunderous terms he proclaims that righteous wrath shall descend upon the foolish and weak present. For the rest of the week he broods over the assembly, scowling and uttering short declarations of doom. He quite ruins the mood for the evening. Still, after dinner, there is the barest sliver of a moon rising, giving a cover of darkness to romantic encounters.
1 Felmont (Beast’s Day)
There is a bustling, quick breakfast – the cooks are too busy readying the night’s coming feast to putter around with complicated morning dishes. Lunch is much the same, with many guests arriving.
The afternoon is spent in devout services celebrating the height of the feast. Drainos leads the services, dressed in his finest robes. Across from the chapel, Joseph of the Light harangues onlookers to forswear their foolish and wicked ways. He offers them the chance to achieve redemption. He is quite serious and very compelling. Again, a feeling of unease settles about the feasters.
That evening the Grand Feast is served outdoors. Just before the food is served, the PCs (and others) are presented with their new titles. The feast itself is a lavish affair – spitted oxen and boar, pies of stewed eels, squabs baked in clay, roasted pumpkins stuffed with onions and sausage, honey-soaked sweetmeats, stews of fresh and dried fish and fruits. Afterwards a costumed ball lasts well into the night.
The guests now begin to depart. Begin the Disaster, Alas, Disaster! Scenario.
Chapter 1 - Part 4: The MissionLate in the evening of the 27th of Klarmont, after most of the other guests have retired, your patron comes to your table. “May I sit with you?” (s)he wearily asks. Certainly having more manners than to so blatantly offend your host(ess), you assent. Gratefully (s)he sits, obviously drained by the effort of coordinating the household.
After a restful silence, (s)he turns to you. “My friends, perhaps you wonder what prompted me to grant a noble title to you. All that was said in your invitation was true. I do deem it wise and just to reward the valiant and true. I often work these days to take steps that will strengthen our nation.”
“But this time, I am ashamed to admit, I have another motive. I have need of brave souls such as yours. If you would hear me, then come to my chambers just before dawn. Now, you must excuse me, my other guests need attending.”
If the PCs do not meet with their patron, (s)he says no more of the matter. However, perceptive characters will notice that from that point on, their patron views the party with a hidden, resigned sorrow. Treatment is no less cordial, but a gloom slowly setters upon him (her).
If one or more characters accept and keep the appointment, they find their patron awake and dressed, pacing the sitting room of his/her chambers. (S)he heaves a great sigh of relief when the characters arrive, then turns to the holiest or most trustworthy of the group (a priest or a paladin) and demands on him an oath sworn before the Immortals. This is no light matter, for an oath to a person of faith is utterly binding. The oath, demanded of all who are present, is “…that you shall not speak to any soul, write down in any ledger or journal, or in any form communicate to any other creature these things I shall say unto you. This you shall swear before the Immortals.” Unless all present so swear, (s)he will not proceed.
(S)he then tells the characters the story of Valen Karameikos. Two years ago he dropped from sight and was presumed dead by all who knew him. He had always been a wild and adventurous man, given to dark studies, feats of derring-do, and a bit of a political liability for certain members of his family during the Civil War. Thus, he escaped to the Thyatian Hinterlands, while spreading the rumor that he had died of an “unexplained illness.” And, since Valen remained in strict incognito and observed a strict no-contact policy all agreed he had met his death laying on a bed in Karameikos.
(Campaign note: If this doesn’t even remotely fit your campaign, you can have the missing person be a brother of the PCs’ patron and everything works out just fine.)
Now the PCs’ patron has received communication from Valen, much to the patron’s joy. This occurred a few months ago, and has painstakingly confirmed his identity through all available resources. There is no doubt it is him, that he is alive and wishes to return home. But, he is ill, gravely so. In a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy, it has been learned Valen has contracted a horrible affliction, not unlike lycanthropy. Slowly and gradually it seizes his mind, stealing his senses away until he changes, becoming dangerous and raving. Each fit is longer and more violent, and eventually he will be totally lost. There is little time left. Advisors (an extremely small and select group) have discovered a formula of great rarity which they believe will cure him. Its compounds are mixed in a delicate magical balance, allowing it to remain potent for only 40 days.
Alas, the speediest methods of delivery cannot be used – the energies of a teleport spell may disrupt the balance. There is only one vial of this formula to be had. In a few days, indeed just at the end of the Beast’s Day feast, the patron’s friend, Black Kerr, will be finished with the distillation.
Carefully, the PCs’ patron sketches out where Valen may be found – the small village of Ravenscarp on the coast of the Southern Continent. If the characters accept this task, (s)he gladly pays them each 5,000 royals upon their return. (S)he possesses no sea vessel capable of such a trip, so the characters will have to hire one. If they bring the contract to their patron upon their return, (s)he will gladly reimburse them their expenses.
Just before the PCs depart on 2nd of Felmont, their patron has a second private meeting with the characters to give them the potion. It is in a small lead bottle, tightly stopped and sealed with wire and wax. It is carefully explained that the formula is very sensitive. The lead bottle should protect it from most magical energies, put power spells (teleport and the like) may leak through the protection, damaging the potion. No one knows the effect of this, but no one wants to take the chance. From this day, the PCs have 40 days to deliver the potion, and not only day more. The time limit of 40 days is absolute.
As DM, you know that the heart of this adventure is not to deliver this potion to Valen Karameikos. However, it adds greatly to the game if the PCs believe this. You want them to feel they are under time pressure, especially that they are running out of time.
Chapter 1 - Part 5: Alas, Disaster, Alas!
While the party is about the town preparing for a long voyage (perhaps at the harbor arraigning for transportation on a ship), a mounted figure is seen on the road to the rear. At a tired gallop approaches one of your patron’s servants, gesturing frantically. Townsfolk scatter quickly to get out of his way. Suddenly the horse falters and falls, pitching the rider to the ground. Scrambling to his feet, he begins sprinting toward the party, gasping out cries for help.“Sirs! Sirs! Disaster, oh alas! Disaster! Me patron, me workmates, all gone, all gone! Taken! Burned! Me beautiful house, pulled down…disaster, sirs, disaster!” Stumbling into your group, he gasps for breath and continues. “Men came…burned houses…stole…disaster, alas oh!”
Across the rooftops, smoke can be seen coming from across the city and the distant sounds of shouting can be heard. A few moments later, a bell starts pealing through the smoky air.
The servant, though sweat-soaked and bruised, is uninjured. Calming him, the characters quickly glean that unknown persons have attacked their patron’s manor house, taking prisoners with them as they departed. The PCs’ patron and many of the guests were among them. The servant managed to escape by taking to a horse immediately, and has been riding at full gallop ever since. His horse has broken its neck when it collapsed and has died.
The characters now face a decision: to return to the manor house and search out the identity of the raiders and rescue their patron, or to continue on their way, carrying out the mission their patron gave them. There is no obvious heroic choice here. Both deeds are valiant and important. Those of lawful good alignment will be sullied if they ignore either task and can only act within their alignment by doing both – returning to investigate and then continuing in their mission. However, do not force players to make this decision. It is a problem for them to solve. Simply note their choice. The following consequences should be assessed for the different choices:
Return to Investigate: No consequence.
Continue With the Mission: Good characters sleep uneasily from this point on. Lawful Good characters are troubled by dreams accusing them of evil. They suffer a –1 penalty to all defenses (Armor Class, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will) and to-hit rolls. This can be removed by doing penance prescribed by the character’s religion.
Return to the ManorThe manor where you so recently stayed is now a blackened ruin. The stone walls stand, though badly cracked by the raging fire. Tendrils of smoke drift upward from still smoldering piles of coals. The roof is collapsed and the building is little more than a hollow shell. You are horrified to see a few bodies scattered about carelessly, as if they were a giant boy’s forgotten toys.
Although the fire is contained, there is a large number of city guard in the area, keeping some townspeople back and retaining others for questioning.
As the PCs were recent guests of the manor, the city guard will want to question them as Persons of Interest. Other than the servant who notified the PCs, there is no one around who witnessed the assault. You may choose to let the PCs off easy or make them sweat out charges of arson and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. However, it is important that the PCs be given a chance to investigate the site (either to clear their own name or after the guards hear the servant’s eyewitness account).
The dead are those few who resisted the onslaught; here and there one grips a blood-stained sword or spear. The PCs may be able to identify some of the guests (you should decide who these are). No bodies of any enemies are found easily. If the burned house is examined, a body can be found pinned beneath a fallen beam. A charred sack of loot is nearby. Thus perished the evil soul, by the cupidity of his own greed. The corpse is that of a common sailor. He bears a tattoo on his left forearm – two manacles linked by a chain. Close to his breast is a small journal. Some of the book as been burned, but a few pages remain. The pages that remain are as follows:A date eight days previous reads: “lv. pt. good wynds”
A date four days previous with an entry reading “water at Hrbrtwn, must stay abd.”
Today’s date with an entry reading “rd. tewday, cpt. say for day tew water, for day tew port. Say few swords.”
The three entries in the journal properly read:
“Leave port, good winds.”
“Water at Harbortown, must stay aboard.”
“Raid today. Captain says four days to water, four days to port. Says there are few swords.”
The PCs must puzzle these meaning out on their own. The journal notes the movement of the sailor’s ship from Crossbones (in the Empire of Thyatis) to Harbortown (in the Minrothad Guilds) to Halag. The last entry describes the return route – back to Minrothad and then Crossbones. If the PCs ask about Hrbrtwn, you can either let them puzzle it out for themselves or have one of the characters remember the name Harbortown as a town in the Minrothad Guilds. It is recommended that you only use the first choice if the PCs have a map of the area they can consult or have previously been to Harbortown. It is unfair to expect them to realize the link to a place they have no knowledge of.
The servant, by this time, is beginning to come out of his shock; if interrogated further, he can reveal that the assailants came from the direction of the harbor. As concerns numbers of men, he is equally vague, “many” and “lots” being his most descriptive terms. Now, with the manor destroyed, all he wants is to go home to his native village but a few miles away.
When asking around at the harbor, the only strange thing reported is that there were two ships (“a big ship and a little ship”) with purple sails. Strangely enough, the guards on duty at the time are nowhere to be seen and nobody can say what cargo, if any, the ships brought in or left with.
After asking around about the raiders and the mysterious ships, the PCs may hire a ship to take them from Halag to Harbortown. If they do, the Mad One slips an agent into the crew of the vessel and communicates the information to his contact. Chapter 1 - Part 6: The Voyage to Harbortown
The Gulf of Halag is known for its pirates who plunder the weak or unwary. Some sea beasts roam the waves, but the coastal waters are relatively shallow, discouraging the most vicious creatures of the cold depths. These hazards generally keep sea voyages exciting.
Summer GaleOn the second day out of Halag, the captain finds you in your cabin. Throughout the day the waves have been growing and the little ship is being tossed. “Now look, lads,” he says. “I know ye signed on as passengers, but me little Ewe ain’t so big as I can forget yer hands come the wind an’ high water. Let me show ye the pumps, just in case I has to use ye, hmm?
The captain shows the characters the “pump,” actually a pile of buckets. Condescendingly to these landlubbers, he demonstrates the technique of bailing, then leaves the characters as the wind begins to build.
Although Wolffe is a cautious fellow, the Ewe is in no danger from this little storm. Wolffe is just exercising his wicked sense of humor, playing a little fun for his passengers. Bringing the Ewe about, he intentionally brings it into rough seas. He rolls the ship a little more than necessary, allows waves to wash over the deck, and shouts fearful commands to his crew, who enjoy the show as much as him…with one exception, the new hand, the Iron Ring’s spy. He doesn’t know about Wolffe’s peculiar sense of humor and becomes quite concerned.
Wolffe checks in from time to time to see how the characters are doing; he orders characters who come above decks without a bucket to return to the bilges, warning that the ship might go down at any moment. If the characters run out of water to bail, Wolffe thoughtfully takes water aboard so they’ll have something to do.
This summer gale can be treated as a non-combat skill challenge:
Complexity: 2 (requires 6 successes before 3 failures) After 3 successes, Wolffe’s humor kicks in and the difficulties increase (use the higher DC values).
Primary Skills: Endurance, Nature, Perception
Endurance (DC 14 / 19): At least two characters in the party must make Endurance checks each turn to resist the debilitating effects of seasickness. A failed check indicates that all members of the party lose one healing surge (to simulate fatigue and a sapping of the characters’ overall vitality) in addition to counting as a failure for the challenge.
Nature (DC 14 / 19): Someone in the party may make a Nature check to help themselves and the others learn to deal with the new environment of the pitching and rolling ship. A failed check indicates that all members of the party lose one healing surge in addition to counting as a failure of the challenge.
Perception (DC 8 / 14): You notice something odd in the way the captain and crew are acting around you. They don’t seem as worried as they might; in fact, they seem a little humored… Using this skill doesn’t count as a success or a failure for the challenge, but instead provides a +2 bonus or –2 penalty to the next Endurance or Nature check.
Success: The PCs survive the storm in good shape and have impressed the crew with their hard work. The captain just may give them a price break if they hire the Ewe again…maybe.
Failure: The PCs prove themselves to be the hopeless landlubbers that they are. There is no consequences other than the eye-rolling and occasional mocking comment from the crew. The PCs have lived up to (or down to as the case may be) to the captain’s expectations.
End of the Road
The end of a long and difficult journey stands before the characters – Harbortown.
The port of Harbortown is a dank and reeking place. Garbage and dead fish float on the surface of the still harbor. A few broken-down cogs lumber at anchor. A battered fleet of fishing smacks are lashed to moorings. Ramshackle buildings lean precipitously over the stone quay.
Captain Wolffe bids the party farewell, dropping a few words of caution about Harbortown. “Tis a wicked place, I tell ye. Aye, a leaking bilge o’ rat-water or me Ewe’s nae the swiftest o’ these islands.”
For all its decay, the port bustles with activity. But as the Ewe maneuvers up next to a dock for unlading, no purple sail can be seen. A crowd of grimy stevedores gathers as the mooring lines are thrown out. Most quickly disperse when the Ewe produces little cargo, so only a few remain. Some of the crew, evidently released for shore leave, scramble onto the dock and move along quickly toward the bars and dens of iniquity nearby. The sailor who hired on just before departure exits as well, but amidst a hail of curses from the first mate, ending with “Yer a son o’ the bottomside o’ a goose-necked barnacle, desertin’ a ship inna first port ye enter!” He chucks a broken block at the departing sailor, who breaks into a run towards shore. The mate stumps away from the rail, muttering “Tha’ runt got passage fer work, and new much good o’ that as well.”
The sailor melts into the crowd. Within minutes, he has made contact with the Iron Ring agent at the Broken Rudder. His new orders are to contact the PCs and lead them to the inn. When the characters leave the ship, the sailor pops up again.“Scuse me mighty gents,” he says with a thick Traladaran accent. “It ‘curs to me that we might have common chattin’ to do. Can I have a minute? I didn’t reckon at first what we might have common between us, great persons, but it ‘curs to me that we here doin’ the same game, the very same? Y’see, I had folks, north o’ Vorloi, but they got nabbed, see? Iron Ring took ‘em, took ‘em away, an’ now I’m here lookin’, same as you I’d bet.”
The sailor pauses. “But I betcha I heard somethin’ you hain’t. Y’see, Vorloi folks know all ‘bout the Harbortown crowd, and they’s in the pockets o’ the Iron Ring, see? So I figured, I figured you’d better know. I gots the name o’ folks who don’t like it, see. The place’s here, writ on this paper, see, this paper here. But I cain’t read it, so’s I figured you bein’ smart folks, that you can read this fer me.”
He shoves a grimy scrap of paper toward you. It looks to have been torn from a holy scroll or writ. “Just gotta go here and find the man, see, find the man, and he’ll tell me a bunch.
He insists the characters tell him the name of the place and contact (“Innkeeper at the Broken Rudder”), and then, thanking them repeatedly, departs. If he is followed, he does not return to his employers – but he does spend more money than a common sailor could be expected to own. If interrogated, he blusters and denies every suspicion. However, a little roughing up (Intimidate skill check – DC 14) makes him promptly break down and tell all he knows – about the Mad One in Halag and the name of a contact in the dock area. Chapter 1 - Part 7: Life in Harbortown
Listed below are some general encounters to use on the PCs as they roam the streets of Harbortown.
The Splash and Grab: A character is doused in a bucket of sewage from above. Unfortunately for the affected, it is less than accidental; a local thief (lvl 6) makes a quick attempt to clean the pockets of one of the characters (DC 7 + half the target’s level). The PC only notices if the thief misses the roll by 5 or more. The thief is a human male, about 30 years old. The upstairs accomplice is an apprentice thief.
Family Reunion: A large, muscular, drunken fighter accosts a party member, thinking him or her to be a long-lost sibling.
The Event: A well-dressed gentleman offers to sell the party tokens (tickets) for an illegal gladiatorial blood match, explaining that he has been called to court. He gives a location in the dock area after the tokens are sold. If the party goes there, they find an empty warehouse. The event is, of course, a fraud.
If the PCs ask around about the Iron Ring, they get a very chilly reception. Although Harbortown regularly trades with the Iron Ring, its citizens are not keen on discussing the relationship. Thus, direct questions about the Iron Ring are met with hostility and silence.
However, the characters can gain information through more discreet approaches. If the locals are asked about “a ship with purple sails” or “recent ships from the mainland,” for example, the locals are more helpful. It is sufficient if the PCs can avoid mentioning the Iron Ring or their trade when asking questions. In response, the locals tell the characters that no ship of that description has landed here in the past few days. If the characters are astute enough to ask about favored haunts of the crews of these ships, they are directed to the Broken Rudder.
The Broken Rudder
The Broken Rudder is located in one of the worst waterfront districts of Harbortown. Owned secretly by the Iron Ring, it is run by a former adventurer named Carn. Carn is also the former owner; he had a few bad gambling debts that, unfortunately, came into the hands of the Iron Ring. When these were finally called in, it cost him ownership of the Broken Rudder. The new owners, not having an interest in tavern management, agreed to keep Carn on as proprietor. He has come to actually enjoy this arrangement, for they treat him well and now he is finally on the winning side of the crooked games run in the back room. In return, he overlooks the several Iron Ring agents based in the inn and their activities.
The clientele attracted to the Broken Rudder is generally lower class laborers with a sprinkling of bad-luck adventurers; most of them are ignorant of the inn’s true character. Guild Corser (the rulers of Harbortown) is aware that some pro-slavery individuals appear in the inn on a regular basis, but is not aware that the inn itself is essentially in Iron Ring hands. An agent of Guild Corser intermittently spends his evenings at the Broken Rudder, gathering information and generally keeping an ear to the ground. It is trying to find the best way to use the Iron Ring against Oran Meditor (ruler of the Minrothad Guilds) and/or Guild Elsan.
The following NPCs are in the employ of the Iron Ring and can be found at the inn:
Carn is an elderly fighter who has seen one too many adventures. Now all he desires is a comfortable, exciting, but not physically dangerous life. Carn is aware of the operations going on in the inn but is well paid to remain in the background. If questioned, he refrains from talking, but may be swayed by arrangements that include him regaining ownership of the Broken Rudder without incurring the wrath of the Iron Ring.
Ragnar, a Minrothadian warlord, is the ringleader of the Iron Ring’s network in Harbortown. He is also the paymaster for the Master Magic Dealer of Guild Corser. His duties have given him the rank of Master among the Iron Ring. Pavel has a wicked sense of battle tactics and a muscular frame – and an ample amount of brilliance and cunning. He is intelligent, adaptable, and well-read. Thus, he is an extremely dangerous enemy.
He makes liberal use of tricks, deceptions, and traps, preferring to strike only when all the odds are in his favor. He almost always has a plan of operations and usually has several in case the first one goes awry. He will flee without shame. His only qualm about abandoning others is the loss of useful resources this may entail. As such, he is perfectly suited to the fraternity of the Iron Ring and has been quickly rising in their ranks.
Hazzard is a male human wizard nearing late middle age. As a Iron Ring Reaver, his role within the organization is as Ragnar’s right hand man. He examines all reports for details otherwise missed and checks the truth of all statements. He is well known by the patrons as a spellcaster (he tends to go underground when any member of the Tutorial Guild shows up in town). At times he drinks too much; when drunk, he is given to showing off with minor spells.
When sober, he is an efficient if not overly brave combatant. He quite sensibly avoids combat and has a particular dislike of those using missile weapons. In an emergency, Hazzard will dimension door to his room for his spell books before setting up a linked portal to Crossbones to safety.
Knocker is a small-time thief, now a renegade from the official thieves’ guild. Although not particularly good or virtuous, his sense of propriety has been disturbed by the activities of the Iron Ring which he believes has the support of the Minrothad Thieves’ Guild. Removing himself from their association, he now makes a poor living practicing his skills in the area of the Broken Rudder. So far, the guild hasn’t bothered to push the issue other than paying the occasional visit to question him and rough him up a bit.
Fortunately, early in his career he gained a little local notoriety and popularity for stealing the brass knocker from the door of the city’s Council Hall, completing the audacious act by selling the knocker back to the council for a pretty penny. He avoided the “Death to Thieves” decree by having many non-guild contacts willing to give him shelter and assistance.
Knocker is aware of the Iron Ring operations at the inn, but knows any interference by him would be fatal. He has no love of the Iron Ring, considering them the most likely threat to his ambitions, and will secretly aid any well-reasoned effort to hurt them. As such, he may secretly pass on damaging information to the PCs (if they broadcast their goals) concerning the activities of Ragnar and Hazzard. He may also arrange for a safe house for the characters, through a third party. In the extreme case that the PCs get involved in a fight in the Broken Rudder, Knocker may join their side – but only if the characters stand a good chance of winning and he can act without discovery. Thus, he may throw a dagger from the shadows, trip up an attempted ambush, or even protect the rear of the PCs (without their seeing it). He will not fight under the orders of the characters and will not take prisoners.
In addition to these major characters at the Broken Rudder, there are assorted customers who come and go. Most of these, however, do not become involved in any events at the inn. As the center of the local Iron Ring network, there are always 1-4 reavers present.
Life at the Broken Rudder
There are two main events that can occur at the Broken Rudder, depending on how well informed the Iron Ring agents are about the PCs:
Ambush! This encounter should be used if the Iron Ring agents know the identities and intentions of the PCs, either through the Mad One or the seaman aboard the Ewe.
When the PCs arrive at the Broken Rudder, Carn spots them and passes a signal to Hazzard who is sitting at a table near the rear exit. He, in turn, passes a secret signal to Ragnar, standing in the shadowy entrance to the kitchen. This series of signals (Perception DC 20 to detect) sets the plan in motion.
During the next half-hour, 10 Human Lackeys, reavers of the Iron Ring, enter the Broken Rudder and lounge around. They do all the things normal patrons would do, ignoring the PCs. They form groups of twos and threes, spread well apart from each other. They are stationed on all sides of the PCs.
After all have arrived, Carn slips a few drops of ground thassil root, a poisonous plant, in their drinks. This does not kill but acts as a muscle relaxant, slowing their reactions and physical control. It makes its first attack (+8 vs. Fortitude) 2d6 minutes after its victim consumes it.
Ten minutes after the drinks are served, the ambush is sprung. Hazzard slips into the shadowed doorway with Ragnar and gives the signal to attack. The Lackeys close calmly on the characters and then one group attacks. While the characters are fighting this group, the others try to strike from behind. If all succeeds, Ragnar and Hazzard won’t have to intervene. However, if things do not go well, Hazzard uses his spells from the darkness – starting with his most powerful spell that won’t burn down the inn, Spectral Ram. Only in extreme cases does Ragnar become involved. Although the goal is the destroy the PCs, the villains will not refuse the opportunity to take a prisoner should it present itself.
Character Assault! If the characters become suspicious of the Broken Rudder, they may decide upon a blatant frontal assault. In this case, Ragnar, Carn, and Hazzard are present along with 1-4 reavers (Human Lackeys). The reavers are unprepared, but fight back as best they can. Unless specifically identified by the PCs, however, Ragnar will not take part in the battle. He pretends to be an innocent bystander and flees the inn (like all the other innocent bystanders) at the first possible chance.
The Rewards of the Broken Rudder
Within the chambers of Ragnar and Hazzard are papers and documents recording the activities of the Iron Ring in the area. If either is able to reach his room, he gathers these documents, destroying some in the fireplace and taking the rest along as he escapes.
If they do not reach their rooms (for whatever reason) the documents remain hidden in secret places – under a floorboard, behind a sliding panel, in a false drawer, or wherever you decide.
Following is a list of the documents that can be found in each room and the information contained on each. If the NPC escaped, only those documents marked with an asterisk will be found, and these are in the fireplace and only partially intact.
Account Ledgers: This is a sheaf of yellowing parchment (about 100 pages) bound with red ribbon. Each page is covered with columns of crabbed writing. The first column lists the item, the second the receiver of the payment, the third amounts paid out, and the fourth amounts paid in. Unfortunately, Ragnar used a system of simple shorthand and abbreviations, written in Mirothadian, for most entries.
Most deal with routine matters, but examining the ledgers carefully (several days of work) reveals that payments in exceed the combined total of payments out and the coins in the pay chest. Hidden elsewhere in Harbortown is a secret fund set up by Ragnar. If the characters decide to pursue this, decide the location of the cache. There are many members of the different guilds that would be interested in learning about the embezzled moneys. It is up to the DM to decide how to handle this as it is outside the scope of this adventure. (Although it may be a good seed for a future adventure.)
Message from the Slave Ship*: This small, curled slip of paper state, “Received ms. Raiding good on gulf. Sailing direct to port – Capt. Joinville.” If partially burned, it states, “-rectly to port – Capt.”
Transcript of a Magical Communication*: Scrawled across several sheets of paper is the following: “Ms. From Bloodwort – Capt. Joinville. Rding in Hlg area. Voy. Good, profit expected. Losses light. Cargo inv. Human, 40, of station and breeding, quite ransomable; 3 boys, fit to stand on block; husband and wife, trained servants, suitable for special needs; 4 males, mid-20, no visible trade, suitable only for block; trained artisan, giving good treatment, suggest arranging patron; scholar and alchemist, special auctions required.”
If burned, it reads: “…Bloodwort…Hlg area…Cargo inv…fit to stand…and wife…trained artisan…alchemist, special auction…”
Secret Communique*: This message is written on white linen paper, edged with red gold: “Ragnar of Guild Corser, Greetings to Your Illustrious Self; Much warmed is my heart to harken to they recent successes. So much do the virtues of your spirt shine, my heart years to call thee to my side. Thou art the souce of my courage and the headwater of my desire to pursue the course which lies ahead of us. Patience is the counsel I give to thee. Our stars must be arranged before we can act. Alas, that the token I send can only dimly reflect the love that I feel.”
“I write to advise thee caution, my love! Send the aid that you must for us to succeed by the most circumspect route, for old Klim grows nervous. I must watch him carefully. For thyself, remember the traps of the others on the Coucil are many and convoluted. If thou art discovered now, then they life is lost! Edralve”
If burned, it reads: “…my heart to harken…shine, my heart…which lies ahead of us…Send the…old Klim…others…life is lost…”
Orders from Ragnar*: A scrap of paper has orders to Hazzard from Ragnar. “Ship not stopping, continuing east instead. Cancel unloading plans. Let out that the masters are displeased with support here and considering diverting traffic. May require friendlier attitude from the locals to keep our trade. Make them nervous. Crossbones may become port of choice.”
If the burned scrap is found, all that remains is “Ship not stopping, continuing east…”
Hazzard’s Journal: The second item found in Hazzard’s room is this daily journal, a collection of vellum scrolls. They are filled with careful handwriting, illustrations, and illuminations. It is clear he has spent much work and effort on these. Studying the scrolls carefully takes 2-4 days and must be done by someone trained in Arcana, since there are many references only understood by those in that trade.
The writings cover many mundane details, all of no interest to the characters. Many references are made to activities of the Iron Ring’s network in the area, but most are those of an insider. Thus crucial facts are left unexplained and people not identified.
However, characters can learn that Ragnar’s brother (unnamed) and his associates are part of the network. There are several references to “our hound in Halag.” It is also clear that Hazzard is an agent of one of the major masters, having direct (but secret) communications with this master, known only as the Servant of Orcus. Hazzard was hoping to advance himself though this arrangement, while the Servant of Orcus used Hazzard to watch Ragnar, whom he does not trust. The reason for this distrust are not explained, but several times Hazzard notes that he was exhorted to secrecy, not just from Ragnar but all those associated with the Iron Ring.
If the characters survive the Broken Rudder encounter but totally miss any possible clues or allies there (either through bad luck, inattentiveness, or stupidity), they can still get a lead. Sometime after leaving the inn, a merchant offers to sell them some goods they obviously do not want. Once rejected, he offers them slaves, or at least information about where they can pick some up. He reveals nothing if threatened, and if not, he demands the most exorbitant price the PCs looks to be able to afford. He accepts both money and goods in trade although he is not too keen on magical items as the buying and selling of such items are highly regulated in Minrothad. Since you are giving the PCs such an obvious clue, you should make them pay dearly for their previous failures.