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A thief plotline for Helskir

by Ville Lähde

If someone is interested in a thiefly plotline, here's on I recently drafted for the thief PC in our group. We haven't played it out yet, since after our X10 sub-campaign ended, I have so much stuff to write/decide about the world situation, plus I have to write "solo" plots for all the PCs for the next two years of Mystara-time. This plotline is closely tied to some developments IMC, but it might give someone some inspiration...

Some background: our thief Yuri controls a thief guild that is situated in Wendar city and Freiburg. His guild smuggles drugs from Freiburg to Wendar (where Yuri is a duke of a borderland realm), and engages in burglary & prostitution in Wendar, and widespread racketeering, protection industry and drug traffic in Freiburg.

During the Nomad war Your didn't have time to keep tabs on his guild too much, and most of the activity was left to his henchmen in Wendar and Freiburg. His main henchman is a trader-thief Ethrigan, who controls the merchants' guild in Freiburg and sits at the city free council. After the war ended, Yuri returned home and spied on his guilders for a week (easy stuff with elven boots and ring of invisibility - oh WHY did I let him have them! Idiot that I was then!). Well, to put the story short, Yuri exposed a small operation by two of his thieves who were cutting the cream of their burglary loot and selling it to a new fence. This fence was actually an operative of the Minrothad thieves guild, who was left without an employer after Oran Meditor was assassinated and the Guild had to once more retreat to the shadows. With Yuri being engaged in the war, this master thief tried to wrest control from Ethrigan.

Now Yuri has realised that his guild is still too small to effectively control a city as big as Freiburg, and he is looking for new recruits. He deemed Helskir as the best choice, since the city was conquered by Alphatia a few months ago after a small period of colonial warfare between the Empires.

Well now, there's a small contingent of Alphatian spies in Freiburg. These spies have made a deal with the local prostitutes, who have formed a sort of a trade union (bit like the old city in the Sin City stories), thus having no pimps over their shoulder. The Alphatians have provided the muscle to keep them independent, and the hookers help to hide their activities AND sell them valuable info gained in bedchambers. (Yuri's guild gets some protection money from the prostitute union in exchange for staying out of their territory.) Recently, when Yuri was hiding from his own cronies, he befriended two prostitutes and lived in their flat for a week. During this time the "girls" learned some valuable information about his guild activities, which they promptly sold to the Alphatians. Yuri has no clue of course.

So, now the Alphatians know that Yuri is coming to Helskir, and they have prepared a nifty little trap. They want to use Yuri to get rid of the local thieve's guild, which is engaging in zzonga trade.

1) When Yuri starts to look for contacts, he will be contacted by an Alphatian intelligence operative, posing as a local guilder.
2) The operative promises to organise a meeting with the local thieves who might be interested in forming an alliance.
3) Instead of a meeting, the operative hires mercenaries to ambush Yuri - just enough to make it plausible, but not enough to kill him. The mercenaries are convinced that they are working for the local guild.
4) If things go as planned, Yuri will go on one of his murderous moods and try to exact revenge on the "traitorous" local thieves. (The Alphatians haven't been able to find their hideout, but they know Yuri might be able to do that: after all, he beat the former master thief of Freiburg - Danakhriss from "the Quest for the Heartstone".) The Alphatians send an invisible stalker or a similar monster to keep tabs on Yuri and to get them info on the hideout.
5) Presumably Yuri will storm the hideout and try to kill the leaders, looking of course the intelligence operative. Most likely he will succeed - the guy is very resourceful. Or he might stop and listen to the thieves as they explain their innocence.
6) At this time the Alphatian intelligence troops attack, trying to finish off the rest of the thieves. Depending on the situation, Yuri might try to flee, join them or join the thieves.
7) In any case, the Alphatians will try to capture Yuri alive. They say they will let him go, even supply his guild with cheap drugs (not zzonga of course), but will demand some form of allegiance. If Yuri whines they produce detailed information on his guild (see above).

Remember the Minrothaddan fence whom I mentioned? Well, as I said Yuri managed to expose his plot. He kidnapped one of his double-crossing thieves, and cut of two of his fingers. It so happened that Yuri had a Ring of regeneration (Originally it belonged to Bargle, whom Yuri assassinated during the Nomad war!) and he used it to impress the whimpering thief. Who spilled the beans about his friend of course.

The "friend" was one of Yuri's "capos", Franz the Badger. Yuri organised a meeting of the guild and with a skilful strike (Hit Roll 20!) he cut off Franz's hand from the wrist. Franz, being suitably intimidated, told that the fence "Uncle Fedja" had approached him about selling some loot to him in secret. ("Fedja" of course planned to blackmail Franz later in order to infiltrate the guild.)

Yuri slipped into Fedja's house, expecting to find a simple fence whom he could mug/kill. The house was full of traps and Yuri at last found a secret tunnel to another house, where the fence (under another alias) and his cronies lived. In the ensuing battle the fence, or the Minrothaddan master thief, managed to escape by a teleport scroll. (And survived the trip). So, the only clue Yuri had was the Minrothad Thief Guild tattoo on one of the cronies. He doesn't know what it means though.

So, where did "Uncle Fedja" go? To Oceansend or Landfall - I forget. Anyhow, the Master thief Danakhriss, whom I mentioned in the earlier plot, used to control a huge area by his guild: Wendar city, Wendar-Heldann trade route, Freiburg, Landfall and Oceansend. But a couple of years ago Yuri and his friends defeated Danakhriss at his holdout in Ghyr (north of Wendar, on the western slopes of Mengul). Later on, Yuri repelled Danakhris's numerous attacks on his holdout in the Wendarian borderlands, and finally Yuri confronted one of "Dana's" main groups in Freiburg and won. The conflict between the two guild ended in a truce. Yuri got Wendar and Freiburg, Dana had control over the Norwold scene.

The situation remained unchanged until during the Nomad War Danakhris, who had some minor alliances in Darokin, succeeded beyond all expectations. First of all, Dana's allies profited handsomely during the battles over Akesoli and Akorros. Sensing defeat they stole a large amount of army property and sold it back later on to weapon dealers. Dana gained good revenues from this, since he supplied the key information. But the best was yet to come: during the long siege of Darokin, Dana and his wizard ally cracked the Merchants' Guild Hall's security and got away with a huge fortune in gems, jewellery, clocks, vital documents etc.

After this Dana did the only sensible thing: he retired (for the time being...) He actually contacted Yuri to say goodbye and wish him good luck, since Dana is a goodhearted fellow. Now, Dana's networks in Landfall and Oceansend became vulnerable. The local Minrothaddan thieves/agents seized the opportunity, since after the death of Oran Meditor, they had been left "unemployed". Very quickly, and in total secrecy, they gained control of the two cities. "Fedja" was asked to start a similar operation in Freiburg, since Yuri was engaged in the Nomad war. Too late, as we saw.

The funny thing is, Yuri just decided that he'll go to Oceansend "after I finish my business in Helskir". Good thinking in a way: he thinks he can gain more cronies in Helskir, and with his bolstered power could take on "Danakhris's weakened network".

It will be such fun when he realises what he is up against. I just hope that the Alphatian intelligence manages to gain a hold over him in Helskir. Perhaps the Alphatians offer to help him when things get tough in Norwold? For some additional favours of course.

Complications in Helskir

We finally managed to start playing out the Helskir story. Unfortunately our progress will be slow, since one of the players is directing a play and acting in one other (and also drafting his PhD). But slow is better than nothing. But my initial experiences were enlightening, and once again show how hard it is to write open-ended plotlines. Also I encountered the problem of "railroading" the PCs - I hope I did OK with that.

Yuri set out to Helskir with his pal Ivan Ivanovich, Duke of Estine. Luckily for me, the guys engaged on a drunken binge for a few days before that, during which they missed a lot of wisdom rolls (=talked about their mission while visiting a brothel, and the prostitutes sold the info). So the Alphatian agents in Freiburg were sure to find out about their intentions. Thus I had a perfect cause for the agents in Helskir to be so prepared.

Well, in Helskir Yuri decided to contact the local thieves and try to forge a deal with them. Mainly, he wanted to recruit some troops and gain new drug contacts.

I wrote the details on the local thieves guild. It is led by a mysterious figure called "Sokoban" (and yes, I do play Nethack "Falcon's Eye" a lot). Sokoban is actually a weretiger. He and his three weretiger companions have created a very secretive organisation, a bit like Kaiser Soze. Nobody in the organisation knows about the lycanthropic connection, and nobody ever sees Sokoban. His three "capos" keep contact with the street operatives. But the contact to the street level is also very secretive. In the streets, you have basically "sub-guilds", or small gangs of thieves, whose leaders report to Sokoban's men on an irregular basis. They have no regular meeting places and such. Thus the Alphers have had a difficult time in getting their hands on the guild leadership. Sokoban and his cronies keep up the organisation through fear. Those who betray the code of the organisation simply disappear, and their bodies turn up partially eaten! This is an additional difficulty for the Alphers, since their powers of intimidation don't match this, and they can ween little info by magical means (since there is so little of it).

Yuri tried to contact the guild first by talking to the locals, but noticed that their fear was greater than their greed. The next plan was more innovative: Ivan was sent to the streets to spend a lot of money and "get mugged". Yuri followed him in the shadows. Eventually they managed to run into a couple of thieves, one of them was a prostitute with a cleverly hidden razorblade-ring. There were some tense moments, I can tell you... Ivan wasn't ready to try his luck with the Ring of Regeneration.

Yuri gave a note to the prostitute-thief (after promptly killing her companion) to be sent to "the Man". A good idea in all, but unfortunately the local Alpher agent-master was following them (invisible). Later on he caught the thief, the note - and as the note suggested, came to meet the guys for breakfast at their Inn. He posed as "Janus", "Sokoban's right hand".

The ambush worked like a charm. Janus offered to arrange a meeting between Yuri and Sokoban at a "public place" - that is, an inn that was built a few days ago. The inn was filled with hired goons. Yuri and Ivan bested the goons, interrogated one of them and were convinced that Janus and Sokoban were behind this all. (Also: they picked up a valuable necklace that the Alphers can use for their Locate Object spells!) Yuri still thought that reconciliation would be possible. They left another note, asking for a "sit-down".

The Alphers were puzzled: wasn't this supposed to be the mad and impulsive Yuri Turambar, who bested Danakhriss? So "Janus" sent one of his battlemages to attack the guys in their Inn. Yuri and Ivan fled into the night badly wounded and decided to leave the town. (Remember that "Janus" could follow most of their discussions using Invisibility spell, he also has a good Stealth skill that he so far hasn't missed.) The Alphers weren't ready to let them go, so they decided to cripple the ship Yuri has commissioned, and to make things more certain they killed the captain and left a bloody message on the scene.

And here's where my original calculations proved wrong: Yuri just decided that this wouldn't be worth the effort. OK, I decided, if the guys can find a way to get out of the city, then so be it. Luckily it is wintertime and regular shipping doesn't take place. So the guys would have to commission a ship. Yuri missed his streetwise and bargaining rolls, and a few general luck rolls (which we threw in the open), which gave the Alphers time to plan their next move. Good luck for me - I could try to continue the intended plot, BUT the PCs were given a genuine chance to avoid the whole thing.

Janus hired a group of dockworkers to waylay Yuri. Yuri managed to evade them and followed them to the Inn where they had been hired. Yuri confronted the innkeeper, who Janus had given money to do the job. Yuri and Ivan decided to stay in that Inn and see if Janus would come to collect. Of course that would never happen... Persistent fellow as he is, Yuri continued with his attempts to find a new ship. The Alphers arranged another phoney attack, and this time it seems that the guys are ready to drop the escape plan and start finding their attackers.

- The surprising thing is, they are trying to find the Alpher mage who was sent to "assassinate" them, instead of trying to find out about Sokoban's guild! They happen to have a Locate Object scroll and will try to locate the mage's paralyse wand. Well, best of luck to them, I say. They just might be able to circumvent my plot and attack the Seaborne Alphatian Security (SAS) itself!... And boy, they will be knee-deep in it.

Just goes to show that you can never plan anything with those pesky thieves!

In my last update I told about Yuri's and Ivan's plan to chase the Alpher secret agent mage with Locate Object spell. They had one on a scroll and one in a ring of spell storing. That didn't work well, as they didn't fare well in their "luck rolls" - meaning, they just started in the wrong direction and kept looking in wrong places.) (We use 3d6 as the Luck Roll. I have divides the results by the percentage chances to get a good trajectory with most of the rolls signifying "nothing special" and only a very few rolls signifying very bad/good luck.

This is used in situations where the sills of the PCs and the choices of the players don't directly determine the outcome. Like: does the thief find a certain rare drug on the streets? Obviously a mere successful skill roll doesn't determine this, the luck roll is used to see whether success is possible at all, or to give modifiers to the roll.

We also use the 3d6 result trajectory to determine results of 20/d20 in skill rolls and 1/d20 in battle rolls - "fumbles", that is. Result 9-12 means "nothing special", and the closer you get to 3 or 18 the worse the fumble gets. Thus you don't have a big failure with every 20 result in skills, that would be too big a percentage.

An example: During long riding trips I have each player roll a riding skill - or a "default" roll which is a -4 attribute check for the respective skill, DEX -4 in this case - once per day. A failure means just that the PC rides slower than usual. In the case of result 20, the end result will usually be like a regular skill failure, but there is a small chance of extra trouble.)

Back to Helskir:

The next thing they did was that they decided to find out about the "inn" where the attack on them took place. (The storeroom that the Alphers had prepared for them.) They went to look for ownership information from the officials - a wholly unexpected move. After many surprising turns, they finally understood that "some powerful official faction" was behind the "inn" ambush. So finally they started to realise that 1) Janus wasn't Sokoban's men and 2) Janus might be either a competing mobster or an Alpher agent.

They retreated to a tenement house to plan further. First they tried to find out about the prostitute-thief through whom they had attempted to send the note to Sokoban, and found out that she had disappeared. The extent to which they had been fooled was starting to dawn on them, and after some further developments (involving another dead body) "Janus" contacted them and simply told them that they wouldn't be left alone if they didn't finish off Sokoban. The Alpher Master agent realised that the initial plan to fool Yuri into attacking Sokoban had failed and resorted to more direct means.

Well, in the end finding any information about Sokoban proved very difficult. I had drafted an open-ended adventure and decided to give them no "teasers" - they would have to devise the method themselves. Finally Yuri decided to lure Sokoban to him. He and Ivan simply started threatening the local merchants into giving them protection money and thus attracted Sokoban's attention. It still took a lot of time and effort to find one of the two humans who knew about the hideout of Sokoban the weretiger and his weretiger goons.

Yuri managed to follow this human into his house and witness one of Sokoban's goons try to kill the poor man. The weretiger realised that their hideout was in danger of being revealed - in such a case Sokoban's orders were: "kill all our close contacts and retreat back to HQ, where we will wait for the situation to cool off". Well, Yuri managed to kill the weretiger, but unfortunately the human managed to escape. It was darn close to back to square one, but Ivan thought of searching the human's house thoroughly, and they indeed did find a hidden hatch to a tunnel that led to the weretigers' den. (I had decided this well beforehand.)

Yuri and Ivan followed the tunnel to Sokoban's lair - and the Alphers followed their progress with Locate Object and Wizard Eye. There was a big battle during which the guys didn't fare very well. But the Alpher agents finally stormed the place and apprehended everybody inside.

Conclusion: "Janus" forced Yuri into a sort of semi-employment by the Alphatian Security - meaning that they can ask him to kill or rob someone without due compensation. Janus declared that if Yuri would refuse, they could destroy his organisation in Freiburg. This is actually true, since due some previous events they have copies of the accounts (legal and illegitimate) of Yuri's merchant's guilds (a front for his thieving operation).

Even better: during the battle Ivan was wounded badly (technically he died, but in a high-magic campaign I see a quick Raise dead-rescue like successful CPR). The Alphers saved him but also cast a GEAS on him. Now Ivan must obey the Vestland operative of Alphatian security!

Needless to say, Ivan was a bit peeved with Yuri.