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"The War Conceived"by Ville Lähde
This adventure was originally written in Finnish and published in the RPG zine Claymore, issue 2/95. It is the last part in the series of City-adventures, designed as a generic adventures with only bracketed references to Mystara, but the intended location is still Specularum in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. "The War Conceived" is like its predecessors, loosely linked to this context, and can easily be adopted to some other. The events of the adventure have been written quite loosely, so the DM must work a little to make is playable. The details of the NPCs haven't been included. The DM can draw them out to suit the levels of the PCs.
THE OVERALL STORY
"The War Conceived" is a loose framework for a longer story. It's main themes are drifting to war and instigation of war. The adventure describes intrigue between various power groups of Specularum, the intent of which is to instigate a war between Karameikos and some neighbouring country. If the DM likes, she/he can link this story with the adventure "the Might of Rock and the Heavens", which includes possibilities of diplomatic conflict between Karameikos and Ierendi.
One noble family, the Thyatian house of Thrakius, has been gaining power and influence during the last few years. It has bought a large amount of weaponry, recruited mercenaries and made contacts with various other power groups. The leader of the house, Marius Thrakius, despises Stephan Karameikos and his "lenient" government, and sees it as his opportunity to seize power. Marius thinks that Stephan has given the Traladaran population far too much rights, and on the other hand loosened the reigns on the local bourgeois (the emerging city merchants and entrepreneurs, who are beginning to disrupt the old semi-feudal order - for some ideas on the Karameikan political system, look at earlier adventures). The nobles know however, that they can't pull a coup on their own, so their aim is to intentionally increase tension between Karameikos and Ierendi by machinated provocations, and to turn the popular opinion in favour of war.
To achieve the latter the Thrakius house is trying to take advantage of a new religious group, the cult of Ruul the Rapist. A member of the house, Flavius Thrakius, has infiltrated the cult and has gotten close to its leader.
The noble house is however not the only group which is seeking war. A few years ago the Traladaran movement for liberation broke into two factions. The other one is more politically and diplomatically oriented, and it is supported by some of the richer Traladaran houses, like the Torenescus. Their methods are restricted to founding neighbourhood watch militias, political speeches, lobbying etc. The other faction is comprised of a group of militants, who broke away after the pacification of the movement. They see that along the more public and legal action the original goal, liberation, has been forgotten. These militants are actively and violently opposing the Thyatians all over the country. The leader of the movement is convinced that a war against a neighbouring country could divert the attention of the Thyatians and open a window of opportunity for a full-fledged rebellion. The militants have some more influential supporters, especially lady Magda Marilenev.
Thus the militants reel a certain attraction to the cult of Ruul the Rapist, at least as far as the immediate goals are concerned.
The neighbouring state (Ierendi, is the DM doesn't decide otherwise) has of course an embassy in Specularum. The embassy has access to many trained employees and a lot of cash. In addition to that they have some covert contacts to the Foreign Quarter (Tegell's gang from earlier adventures?). Ierendi does not desire war, and the embassy people will do anything to stop it, after they find out of the above mentioned plans. The ambassador of Ierendi has also some allies in the city, most important of those is a local club of some powerful bourgeois (not a part of the official merchants' guild). The Club and the embassy have been engaged in some illegal and profitable trade for many years now, and a war would be devastating. But unknown to the Club, one member has been blackmailed to serve the house of Thrakius. Thus the Thrakius family will learn of the actions of the Club, and also might get to know how much the embassy people know.
In the beginning of the adventure Stephan Karameikos is happily ignorant of this powder keg. The loyal noble houses like the Vorlois support him, but when the trouble starts, most of his powers are tied to keeping up public order, preparations for war, and controlling other power groups like the Veiled Society, Baron von Hendricks etc.
ON THE POWER GROUPS
The Cult of Ruul the Rapist
This is a very young religion, and possibly it doesn't have any foundation in reality. At least it isn't founded on any established pantheon or theological tradition, so the existence of Ruul the Rapist is very questionable - read: up to the DM. The cult was founded by the former herald, scribe and loremaster Selver. While he was still working in his profession, he stumbled upon a scroll upon which an old prophesy was written. Interpreting and explaining the prophesy became an obsession for him, and very soon he began to neglect his previous duties as the personal herald of a Traladaran noble. He couldn't find a working interpretation, even though his position opened doors to the archives of the churches, the palace and even the Magicians' Guild. Finally he had to leave his job - officially he was sick - and one night he disappeared from his home. His remaining friends tried to find him for a few months, until reluctantly they declared him dead. In reality Selver had fled to the Nest, carrying some tomes of lore that he had stolen. The theft of the books was unnoticed, since very few people ever read them.
In the Nest Selver's sanity began to crumble, but in his own mind he thought that he was approaching a solution. It may be that the interpretation was a figment of his imagination, or perhaps he was led by some sinister force. In any case one night he had a revelation: Ruul the Rapist, a sadistic patron of uncontrolled wars, the conceiver of street brawls, riots, fires and mass psychosis appeared for him. Ruul declared that he would adopt Selver as his son on Mystara and the instrument of his will in Karameikos. Whether this was a real thing or not, Selver now interpreted the prophesy. According to it Ruul would manifest himself in Specularum, filling the streets with blood and fire. The exact time could be interpreted from the poem - of course by Selver. Selver renamed himself the Strifespawner and began gathering a group of followers around him. He was a good orator, and his interpretation of the prophesy seemed plausible. He started writing strict commandments for the new religion.
In the commandments Ruul is described as a misty man-like being, towering up to the clouds, smiling a cruel smile that reaches his ears. He has long blond hair and walks naked. No paintings or statues are made, as this is considered blasphemy. However, the imagery employed in the commandments is highly sexual to the borderlines of twisted perversion and beyond. Ruul is described descending on the cities of men, mounting them and ejaculating the seed of insane war and strife into them. His servants are supposed to prepare the ground for this dark intercourse. Their reward shall be a satisfaction beyond measure when the war breaks out. The commandments forbid all sexual relations, even self-satisfaction, from the cultists, as this is seen to denigrate Ruul's power and sanctity. An of course, the work of Ruul's Son (Selver) must be obeyed, even at the risk of death.
As said before, the DM must decide whether Ruul is a real entity. The decision will not affect the actions of the cult, even though a few clerical spells could spice up the opposition the PCs meet. Then again, maybe some other celestial power is feeding the cult... But Selver's interpretation of the prophesy may be right. If the size of the cult reaches "a critical mass" and its actions are successful, Ruul might manifest over the city. This would cause all underlying conflicts to burst into flame. The noise of fighting and the screams of death would be accompanied by his orgastic insane laughter.
In the beginning of the adventure the cult has maybe twenty members. Most of them belong to the lowest class of citizens, but some mercenaries and free-lance thieves have joined too - they aren't so much into the religion, but the mayhem sound nice. And as was mentioned, Flavius Thrakius has infiltrated the cult too. Flavius keeps in contact with his uncle Marius through a courier who lives in the Inn of the Knight of Griffon at the harbour area. Since Flavius is an ex-apprentice at the Guild of Bards, he has managed to gain new members with his silver tongue. This has won over Selver's trust.
The House of Thrakius
Marius Thrakius is the leader of one of the lower noble families of Specularum. That is, lower compared to the Vorloi, Radu, Torenescu and other more powerful families. He is a knight appointed by Stephan Karameikos during the early years of the present reign, and he has been given land on the eastern side of the river. (North of the Barony of Vorloi are some smaller estates that have been allocated to lower nobles.) Marius is an experiences fighter who won his spurs especially in the street fighting during the Marilenev rebellion. His coat-of-arms symbol is a fox, holding an eagle in it's teeth.
Marius has been able to keep his resentment towards Stephan secret, and lately he has been withdrawing from state politics, so he probably won't be the first one who is suspected. In secrecy he has however raised a private army on mercenaries, and many weapon and munitions caches have been hidden inside and outside the city. Marius has also been forging alliances with the nearby river brigands.
Marius is not only a warrior, but also skilful in intrigue. He has employed four "diplomats", men with silent footsteps, poison rings and sharp daggers. He plans on using them to disrupt the relations between Karameikos and the neighbouring country (see above). These four men are totally ignorant of the relationship to the Cult of Ruul the Rapist. The infiltrator Flavius contacts Marius always directly.
The Thrakius family has also one ace up their sleeve, although right now they don't understand its real significance. Six months ago they got their hands on some evidence of illegal activities of a prominent merchant, who is a member of the Merchants' Club. Right now Marius doesn't know about the existence of the club or of its relationship to the embassy (see above). But if he finds out about this, he is sure to blackmail the merchant to report on the activities of the club.
The Traladaran Militants
The liberation movement of the Traladarans was originally called "the Spring of the Streets". The name belies its relatively peaceful character. After the Marilenev rebellion the movement has been using mainly peaceful and legal means (with the exception of some burglaries or theft of documents - like the activities of Valdo Tisza). The movement is connected to the Torenescus, and has no direct link with the more militant Marilenev faction, whose leaders were killed in the rebellion. Lady Magda has remained distant to this pacifistic group. In the original movement there were some veterans of the rebellion, but it consisted mainly of ordinary people. Since the last years have been prosperous and peaceful, and the Traladarans have been relatively happy and well-treated, at least in Specularum, the movement hasn't been able to rally substantial support. It is very possible that the PCs have never even heard of it. At the moment the movement has a few hundred members, many of them being lower nobles and city bourgeoisie of the Traladara.
The splitting of the movement began a few years ago, when Stephan Karameikos gave some tax exemptions to Thyatian merchants. This was due to powerful lobby from Thyatian merchants who felt that their position was unfair, as many of them had to pay taxes to their home country too - Stephan profited from substantial bribes. A few veterans of the liberation movement, along with some religious fanatics, separated from the Spring of the Streets and founded their own cell, "the Spring Flood". Their long-term goal is to restore Traladaran rule and to root out the church of Karameikos. Of course this goal is very far right now, but a war with a neighbouring country might open up possibilities. The methods of the militant faction are very brutal. They assault "collaborators", torch fields of Thyatian nobles, and have even assassinated some knights and merchants. These activities have caught Stephan's attention, but until now his city guard hasn't managed to catch any members. Innocent blood has of course been spilled. One should remember however, that Stephan is a skilled politician who isn't provoked to excessive violent reactions. Thus the real results of the Spring Flood have remained small, as reactions of the ruler haven't raised the commoners' anger.
The leader of the faction is Vladimir, a veteran of the original rebellion. From time to time he has been working as an enforcer for the local criminals, but now has higher goals. He originated the separation of the movement, but the leaders of the Spring of the Streets don't know of his criminal businesses. When the movement split, Vladimir was able to draw in most of the old veterans, except one who bears a grudge. The faction has about forty members now. There are very few supporters in the city itself, but they have some safe houses in the countryside and the Nest (there have been some brief conflicts with the Veiled Society, but now they are living in a state of an uneasy truce). Lady Magda Marilenev knows Vladimir from the old days, as he served under her family then. She is secretly supporting the faction.
The Spring Flood has connections with the Cult of Ruul the Rapist, as was mentioned. The two groups came into contact because they both operate in the Nest and fight over territory with the Veiled Society and the smaller mobs. These short conflicts were the original cause of the loose alliance. Vladimir knows Selver very well, and has often talked about war against a neighbouring country. Selver is warming to the idea. The DM should note that Marius will learn of these discussions through Flavius!
During the course of the adventure Vladimir tries to engage the Cult in the insurrectionary activities, although he has no illusions about Selver's character. He simply tires too use the madman. The Spring of the Streets and the nobles that support it now very well the dangers of a war, and if they learn of this they are sure to try to intervene. The best chance that Vladimir has is to turn public opinion against Stephan, and thus break the ranks of the original movement. If the situation get dire enough, the Spring of the Streets might even contact the Embassy or the Club.
(Depending on which country the DM wishes to use, there might be ready-made characters to fill this spot. But in any case here are some ideas.) The ambassador himself is an old mercenary, whose travels led him to the service of the king of the neighbouring state. In skirmisher against pirates he gained fame and fortune, and in the end he became a noble. The local nobility however resented this upstart, and the king sent him to safety in the embassy. His name might be Rufien Windbreaker. The second name derives from his pointy nose, although he himself claims that it was given to him because he always stood at the bow of the ship in the beginning of an attack, using his longbow. He is indeed a skilful archer, and has become famous in Stephan's hunting expeditions.
The financial resources of the embassy are substantial, equalling those of the largest noble families of Karameikos. There are many skilled fighters as guards, a herald, many clerks, many diplomats and two "diplomats" (see above). Two personal secretaries travel the country (see the "Monolith adventure" for an example of one of them).
Rufien has contacts in the foreign quarter, which might tie this adventure to the old friends from the earlier Specularum-adventures. From there he is able to hire muscle to do his dirty work, and he can also buy information, since many upper-class citizens visit the brothels of the quarter. However, not all nationals of the neighbouring country in the Foreign Quarter are in good terms with Rufien, since some of them have fled for political or legal reasons. Some of them might become allies of the other interest groups during the adventure.
Rufien will remain loyal to his country till the bitter end, but it is very hard for him to gain tangible support from his own country. His old enemies will lobby the king and block most of the help. Also, the relationship between Karameikos and the neighbouring country has been so friendly lately that it is hard for Rufien to convince his king of the danger.
The Merchants' Club
The Club was founded by ten prominent merchants of Specularum, whose trade is linked to spices and herbs. The speaker of the Club is called Vergilius, and he is the supplier of most of the spices and herbs for the alchemists and mages of the city. Thus he has contacts in those circles and may employ them during the course of the adventure. The members of the club have a monopoly over import and export of spices and herbs - only the local herb production is controlled by the herbalists of Specularum. Using its influence the Club has managed to bankrupt many herbalists during the last years. So they have enemies, although not very influential ones (for example the veterinarian and herbalist in the first Specularum adventure). Vergilius is an old acquaintance of Rufien. They met during the pirate skirmishes, when Rufien's marines saved Vergilius and his spice cargo - Vergilius happened to be onboard, as he was on his way to sign important trade agreements. During the last years Rufien has become involved in the activities of the club.
The members of the club are coordinating their activities like a cartel in order to gain maximum profits. Thus they are breaking the strict guild laws, and many other laws too. With the help of Rufien they are forging trade documents - shipments that leave the neighbouring country are written down as smaller ones in order to evade tax payments etc. From time to time the club also smuggles in small amounts of illegal narcotics (they lost a lot of time during the adventure "Bad Omens"). The City guard and the Merchants' Guild would be very interested, if these illegal activities would be revealed. So would be many merchants in the neighbouring country, as they are losing money too.
The merchant who is to be blackmailed by Marius Thrakius is called Lucien. Marius found out that Lucien used to sell Ylari hashish in his spice shop. Marius threatened to give Lucien in to the city guard, or even the Ylari community, who is usually controlling the hashish trade. He didn't want money, just the option to blackmail Lucien into giving some "services" in the future. Lucien hasn't told anyone else of his dilemma. If the blackmailing begins, he is in real trouble, and it is possible that he'll break down completely.
He is 56 years old, a thin man of average height. He has brown, tangled and dirty hair, a sharp jaw and blue (usually bloodshot) eyes. He blinks at an unnaturally slow pace, and when he smiles his purely white teeth are showing. The teeth have been filed needle-sharp. He dresses in grey wool trousers and shirt, with a leather belt that is combined with two leather belts that cross his chest. He carries two daggers and a bag in which he has "sacred writings", parchment and writing instruments. He has a pendant, sort of a holy symbol of Ruul: a burning house, with flames resembling an ongoing brutal rape.
Selver is a maniac, but a convincing one. His servants, with the exception of Flavius, will remain loyal to him until death. He is seldom seen in public, but then again his old acquaintances wouldn't recognise him anymore. Selver likes Flavius, and respects Vladimir due to his experience in street combat.
Skills: storytelling, folklore, heraldic, calligraphy, indoctrination, oratory, several languages.
He is 30 years old, a tall muscular man. Flavius has shaven his head bald and usually wears a hood that covers his face, unless it would seem suspicious. Covered by his cape he has a leather armour. He wields a mace and uses throwing knives, and has a poisoned dagger hidden in his booth.
Officially Flavius was cast out of the Thrakius family due to the same problems that drove him out of the bard school. Behind the scenes he is Marius's closest friend, and has been promised a prominent post in the future government. He knows the streets of Specularum like his own pockets, and he retained a dual identity as a non-guilded bard who sings for a few kopecs on the marketplace. He is very skilful in hiding his true motives and befriending people. He doesn't believe at all in Selver's doctrine, but acts like a fanatic member. If the DM decides that Ruul the Rapist is real, Flavius may yet pay a terrible price.
Skills: disguise, singing, gambling, acting, mace, knife (wielding and throwing), street fighting, stealth (city environment)
He is 42 years old, but has remained a vigorous man, more stout that muscular. His face is scarred, and his nose has been broken many times. In public he dons his knightly armour, but otherwise he prefers a chain mail and leather leggings. He smells of sweat, wine, rusty metal and leather. His left hand is missing one finger.
Marius is an exceptionally good archer, lancer and rider, and demands high standards from his mercenaries. During secret training sessions he holds endless lectures about the use of fire-arrows in city warfare. If the conflict breaks out, his troops will be the best equipped for street combat (is magically equipped troops are discounted). He is a truly impressive and fearsome individual, and will not lower his gaze in front of anyone, even his possible future executioners. A dangerous man indeed, he feels no sympathy for his victims, and sees the Traladarans basically as sub-humans.
Skills: archer, swordsmanship, lance, riding, strategy & tactics (city warfare), logistics, intimidation, intrigue, diplomacy
He is a tired, 50 years old man with haunted eyes. His face is wrinkled with the weight of both years and old deeds, and his hair has turned grey. He limps with his right leg, but not so badly that it would affect his melee abilities adversely - his experience offsets this disadvantage. In battle he wields a heavy axe. As one might guess, he is seldom seen in public.
Vladimir's long life has been filled with battle, death, betrayal, hiding and fear. His entire family was massacred during the rebellion, and he will never be able to forget or forgive that. Everyone of Thyatian descent is guilty, and any Thyatian who "collaborates" with them is a traitor. He has seen nightmares so many years that he wouldn't recognise normal dream. Thus the members of the Cult of Ruul don't seem that insane to him (the other members of the Spring Flood wouldn't agree, perhaps with the exception of the most extreme fanatics). Then again Vladimir doesn't understand their celibacy. Life is too short to waste on self-restraint. He drinks huge amounts of wine, vodka and beer, and is able to hold it in. He doesn't trust Flavius, but purely on the grounds of personal chemistry, not his motives.
Skills: street fighting, axe, battleaxe, arson, trapping, stealth (city environment), burglary, indoctrination, heavy drinking, torture
He is a warrior, but unlike Vladimir and Marius, his 35 years have left him relatively unscathed. He still looks young, and you wouldn't find a single scar - evidence of his luck or skill. He keeps his blond hair tied to a ponytail and his moustache waxed. Everyone who has any experience of the seas can see his past from the way he walks. Sea legs kind of stuck with him. As an ambassador Rufien is never short of cast, and he likes to wear glamorous clothes. He has valuable pearl jewellery. The only thing that breaks the flashy outlook is his habit of chewing tobacco and spitting the black goo everywhere, to the frustration of the embassy staff. He wields a rapier and shields himself with a small shield.
Rufien isn't greedy, but he just likes a comfortable lifestyle. For a long time he has been courting some noble ladies of the city, planning a marriage. Unfortunately he has a hard time deciding - luckily he never fancied the pretty daughter of Marius! Despite his bravado he is constantly observing people around him, acutely sensing the tensions under the surface. This habit derives from his past. Rufien spends most of his free time in the inns of the harbour, and has many friends among harbour guards, marines, sailors and harbour workers.
Skills: rigging combat, navigation, swordsmanship, small shield, crossbow, intrigue, bribery, accounting, savoir-faire
He is 50 years old, a short but stocky man. He has short black hair, which is always combed with olive oil. His face has a reddish tinge, and his brown eyes seem to be laughing all the time. All in all, his face is the incarnation of the essence of smile. He dresses in fashionable clothes, decorated with a jewelled belt. The tends to keep his hands on his waist, thumbs pushed under the belt. His breath smells of exotic spices. Personally Vergilius doesn't believe in using weapons, but always keeps to bodyguards with him.
Vergilius is also calmness incarnate. Nothing can dispel his good spirits, perhaps not even the executioner's axe or severe flogging. If one gains his friendship, that will last. He regards his enemies more like a nuisance, a rash. Some are irritated by his disposition, but the other members of the club like him very much. Vergilius will never touch narcotics of any kind, and likes to eat healthy food. He has seven children an is very proud of them.
Skills: bargaining, spice and herb lore, accounting, forgery, knowledge of the market, several languages
He is a 40 years old man who is always hunched a little. His eyes seem never to stop shooting to and fro, and his gaze is very tired. He drinks enormous amounts of coffee and chews stimulant herbs, and thus suffers from chronic heartburn. His clothes are much more ordinary than those of his club members, and he uses very little jewellery.
Lucien is afraid all the time. Before Marius caught him he was already nervous, now he is hanging on the edge. In order to keep the other members of the club ignorant of his troubles, he chews calming herbs before meetings. This does his nerves no good. When confronted by Marius, he usually bursts into tears, which causes Marius to despise him even more. Lucien might even commit suicide if pushed too far.
Skills: bargaining, smuggling, forgery, knowledge of narcotics
No detailed timeline is provided in this adventure scheme. As proposed in the introduction, this material can be used as a basis for a few adventures, but also for a longer intrigue campaign, possibly ending in a war in Karameikos. It will depend much on the PCs which side will win.
Three separate interest groups are trying to start a war with the neighbouring country, but they all have different and conflicting motives. One group, the Cult of Ruul the Rapist, has contacts in two others, the Thrakius family and the Spring Flood. The two latter are enemies despite the common goal, so the birth of "an unholy alliance" is not likely. The DM should note that the Thrakius family and the Spring Flood have no knowledge of each other's plans in the beginning - Slever will be the link here.
In general, the groups that wish war have an advantage, since they have been planning things for a long time without raising suspicions. But still their position isn't too strong, if one remembers Stephan's popular support, and the stable situation in the city. So the popular opinion will matter a great deal, especially regarding how much support Selver and Vladimir get.
But the Thrakius family and the Spring Flood will try to cause trouble and put blame on the neighbouring country: initially on the foreign merchants and residents of the Foreign Quarter, later on the country itself. The Spring Flood will of course try to elevate the tensions between the Traladarans and Thyatians too. Selver's goons will originally just cause general confusion, but much depends on whether they will more actively help the actions of the other instigators of war.
When the war draws close, many other power groups may get involved, according to the wishes of the DM. If the Veiled Society is still active, it is very likely to take advantage of the situation. Same goes with the Iron Ring, the church opposition of Oderbry, the Cult of Halav etc. If the war breaks out, there are also points of escalation: Black Eagle Barony, the giants around Castellan keep, the goblinoids of Dymrak etc.
The PCs can be involved in many ways. "The War Conceived" takes them into difficult situations where they can gain many friends and enemies. The ethnic and religious differences within the group may also be a source of problems. During the course of events they may wish to change sides, as alliances grow sour.