Darkmantle's picture
Recommended Levels: Mid (8-14)
If a berk ain't made, she'd better not get scragged in the lower gate-towns. Paracs ain't got truck with any peel that don't kick him a jink or three, and the Guildsmen of Ribcage are his tax collectors in that regard. Same thing from Torch to the Dwarven Mountain. You gotta pay to play, and if you don't know the secret handshake, don't be too handy. The authorities usually have a working agreement with the local working man, but they'll give the rope to out-of-towners. Now, I've paid my dues, and a Tiefer's gotta eat, after all. So you walk right up to the local post, make nice with the knights with the ettiquite and such, give 'em fifty-fifty (if they don't ask for more), keep from doin' anything stupid like getting scragged, keep an eye on stag-turners, and hope for the best. Well, it WAS like that, anyway. A few cycles ago, chant was that a bunch of rinky-dink organizations in several border-towns had consolidated their operations under a leader calling himself the Kingpin. Shortly thereafter, the same group somehow acquired the Smugglers of Curst, an organization that practically controls all trade into and out of the city of exile. Then it was the Hopeless Vagabonds, then the Thieves of Torch. Pretty soon, half the shivs south of the swamp were giving a cut to the "The Thingpin" (screed was, he/she/it ain't human, not even a wee bit). Even in places where the locals could have given a cranium rat's arse so long as the heat didn't come down on them, freelancers and visitors alike'd have to be extra careful or elsewise get a good dose of ruffian tumble justice. That's why I moved to Sigil last cycle (it sure wasn't for the weather). There must be three dozen major gangs, guilds, brotherhoods, trading houses, and what-have-you, none of 'em looking twice at a freelance working man trying to pay the rent. Of course, the King of the Crosstrade gets a piece of every pie, but She's easy enough to please. Now, I didn't loose touch with with my brothers and sisters back home, mind you. Word got to me that the family's calling a meeting, including sundries such as myself. See, not everybody knuckled under the Thingpin in the first round of acqusitions. Lots of berks said no thanks to payin' that tax. And lots of berks who've been payin awhile already ain't exactly happy either, but the cant says Thingpin's taking charge and clamping down. Anybody who ain't with the program won't be spared the rope, for sure. So for me it's keep on livin' hand to mouth in Sigil, but keep on livin', or don't turn stag on my hometown knights of the post, and go back to the outlands for a world of hurt. Problem is...I hate what passes for weather in Sigil. A lot.

Adventure Outline: Most gate-towns and larger settlements throughout the outlands have their local equivilent of a thieves' guild, especially towards the Lower Gates. Many also have working relationships with bands of brigands or movers of contraband through their territories, but otherwise their reach is rather limited, or at least it was. A few cycles ago, an organization headed by "The Thingpin" began consolidating territories in burgs throughout the Outlands. His organization was highly efficient, and the speed at which its underground empire spread took many groups by surprise, and few had the muscle or organiztion to effectively resist anyway.

The pattern for an acquisition usually went something like this; first, a single representative claiming to speak for the Thingpin would show up in a burg and demand a heafty cut of all illicit dealings in town. If refused, he would just leave, but shortly thereafter an embargo would be levied on the town, cutting off a good portion of trade and ensuring most caravans would be attacked by bandits as they came or went. Then the enforcers would show up. If the local thieves still refused to pony up (and the price usually increased dramaticly from what the lone representative asked for), then they would be writen into the dead-book one by one, and often in very unpleasent ways, untill the rest gave in.

Not every underworld organization gave in so easilly, though. Notable hold-outs have included the street gangs of Plague-Mort, who don't let anyone tell them what to do, and the Guildsmen of Ribcage, a highly efficient organization closely linked to the power structure of that town. Now, the Thingpin must've forseen this problem, and identified likely resistance spots ahead of time, because they have been mostly left alone, up untill now. In fact the Thingpin has been consolidating its current holdings and gathering more (and nastier) enforcers in preperation for a second, more violent, wave of acquisitions.

Theories abound as to who or what the Thingpin really is, all of them pure screed and speculation. Most folks consider it to be part of the Yugoloth conspiricy, a Baatizu plot, or the work of any number of medling Powers, but there are holes in all those theories. The phenomenon actually started in the gate-town of Bedlam. There was nothing more in the barmy burg than a gentleman's agreement (of sorts) between the local kleptomaniacs. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there arose a well organized thieves' guild that quickly began snapping up territories throughout the Outlands. If it were the Baatezu, one would expect Ribcage to be a more prominant target (maybe), if it were a Power, one would expect a few cultural clues to that effect (maybe), and if it were a Yugoloth conspiricy . . . well, who can say what one could expect then? Truth is, the enforcers, the smugglers, the brigands, down to the pickpocket in the street, are just intimidated into working for the organization, and speculation on the Thingpin's identity takes a back seat to more immediate and practical concerns.

The PCs could get involved in a number of ways. If they tend to walk on the shady side of things anyway, a fence, snitch, or other such acquaintance relates the story above, and asks if, for a respectable bit of jink, they might travel to the Outlands a day or two ahead of him to help keep daggers out of his spine. If they are a bit more on the rightous side, they might be hired by the pragmatic mayor of a burg on the fringes of the Thingpin's influence that is starting to feel the pressure. The lower gate-towns were the first to fall, because evil folk are more in tune to the idea of control through fear, but underworld organizations exist in the upper gate-towns as well, and the Thingpin is nothing if not ambitious. Given enough time, Its organization could pose a serious threat to Sigil as well. Finally, there might be an item that can be only gotten from the Guildsmen of Ribcage, or the Thingpin might have squashed a person (or people) dear to the PCs in a brutal (and unforgivable) manner.

Act I -The Guildsmen. This portion of the adventure takes place in the gate-town of Ribcage. The PCs travel there either at the request of their employer or for another reason outlined above. Soon after they arrive in town, they are approached in a public place by someone who is obviously a local, and one well known and well treated by the constables and innkeepers alike. He buys the PCs a round of drinks, which are poisoned of course. If the PCs fall for something that simple they aren't any use to the Guild anyway. The poison will act slowly, and any affected PCs will begin to become drowsy and eventually fall into a deep sleep (DM should tailor the timing depending on when the PCs reach their next destination, where falling asleep could present a problem).

The friendly, charming (Charisma of 16 at least) stranger tells the PCs that their reputations as "Expert Treasure Hunters" or "Problem Solvers" proceed them, and she should genuinely know about a few of the PCs' exploits, especially ones which would generally not be common knowledge but might make the rounds in the rumor mill. It seems the PCs have come to town at quite a lucrative time, as the Guild is looking to hire skilled sword-hands and spell-slingers for top jinx. The Guildmaster, being the hands-on type (and therefore well tenured as Guildmaster), wants to go over new prospects himself. Ask a few questions, eye 'em over to see if they measure up, you know. The Guildmaster wants to meet at the hot springs on the edge of town, and will send a subsequent messenger as to the time.

Needless to say, if any PC falls for the poisoned drinks, they should be falling asleep sometime after they arrive at the springs. Indeed, a warm, soothing mineral bath might appear a relaxing diversion, and it is! Any affected PC who enters one of the pools will be fast asleep in a few minutes, and remain completely comatose for several hours, long enough even for water-breathers to be suffocatingly covered in mineral salts, and over-long for others to have drowned. Of course, when the Guildmaster arrives (seemingly alone, but . . . c'mon he's not stupid) he will proceed to disrobe and invite the PCs to bathe as well while they parlay.

The Guildmaster's appearance might even take the PCs by surprise at first. Fleece Devon is an Aasimar (Male Pl/Godsman/Sor14/LE) who made the philosophical leap that to do the most good he would take control of one of the worst organizations he could find and work within the system to bring a small bit of justice where none would otherwise have existed. Intelligent, determined, and more than a little barmy, he was successful and has managed to stay on top longer than almost any Guildmaster before him. Of course, the reality of his quest has driven Devon's alignment straight to Lawful Evil, but deep down he still has a small piece in his secret heart of hearts that remains unfrozen. If the PCs are lawful or do-gooder types, he might even be honest enough to tell the PCs a little of his story, but he is more likely to be suspicious and into asking questions of them instead. Any opposition to the Lord Paracs' regime in Ribcage in the PCs' past would normally mark them for death on the spot, but the Guild really can't spare the manpower right now. Of course, anybody who's ever peeled a fiend (yea right) will have Devon's respect, and anybody who's run afoul of fiends in the past will recieve a bit of sympathy masked behind the inevitable scorn due such berks.

The situation is serious, and the Guild really is looking to hire on some more sharp blades. The Thingpin is sending a new representative in a few days (the first rep, two and a half cycles ago, was sent back to Bedlam in twelve easy installments, each one with a very politely-worded 'no thank you' note). Devon is still not sure what to do about this one, but he's going to try to be ready for anything. Unfortunately for Devon, the response of Lord Paracs and other notable nobles in town is for the Guild to "take care of the problem", so they can only rely on the local Militias for the most minimal of aid. The upshot is, if it can be trusted that they aren't agents of the Thingpin themselves, the PCs' shivs would be most welcome and well-rewarded, or so Devon says. The PCs might even be able to negotiate items such as (faked) travel passes to Baator, hard-to-get information, that special item only a well connected Thieves' Guild can acquire, one free hit on a target of choice, or other such things for their services. Chances are about fifty-fifty that Devon will turn stag on the PCs after their usefulness is over, but reward requires risk after all.

Act II - The Rep.

The representative from Bedlam is also an enforcer squad his own right. "Big Hat" will arrive a day or two behind the PCs, and most folks will get nervous real quick. Big Hat is a standard beholder of the largest size. Coming from Bedlam, one might expect Hat to be a little off, which is most certainly the case. Unlike most beholders, who hold themselves far superior to puny humanoids, Big Hat seems to think he's humanoid himself! He even goes so far as to telekineticly carry around a smart set of clothes to better blend in with folks who have torsos. Barmy or not, few berks want to mess with a beholder, and for mighty good reason. Big Hat is the Thingpin's special hit-man, and dispite all initial appearances, he didn't come alone. A sizable band of cut-throats and bushwackers have set up camp not far from the mouth of the Vale of the Spine, awaiting further orders.

Big Hat is nearly as swaggering, bullying, and intelligent (dispite his madness), as any other beholder. He's got no problem at all with disintgrating anybody at any time for any reason. He's here to see the Guildmaster, but Fleece Devon is a sly old coyote. He recieves Hat graciously (you can occupy a beholder for quite some time by repeatedly offering it ridiculous amounts of food). He doesn't want to anger the beast, but neither does he want to risk a face-to face meeting for fear of assassination. A pitched battle within the town would not be in the Guild's best interest, and would probably result in Devon's removal assuming he survived it. This is a good time to have any PCs of Aasimar lineage be asked to stand in for the Guildmaster at the feast.

See, Big Hat is notoriously bad at telling one individual humanoid from another, though he can tell a Dwarf from a Tiefling easily enough. If an Aasimar PC is with the group, then sure enough, Big Hat tries to kill the "Guildmaster" and any "Executives" that may have accompanied him. If no such PC is with the group, then Devon agrees to all the Thingpin's demands, then has Big Hat followed back to the ruffians' camp, and organizes a strike force to put down the threat the band poses. Either way, the PCs are likely to have to take on Big Hat, who really isn't addle-coved enough to stick around to die should the encounter go against him. If the PCs help assault the camp, they might even pick up a few clues about the Thingpin from any prisoners.

Act III - Conclusion.

It is quite likely that Big Hat, or one of the leaders of the bandits, will escape and bring word back to the Thingpin of their defeat (Big Hat would survive issuing such a report, but other berks' failures will not be so well tolerated). The PCs might even want to eventually bring the fight to the Thingpin themselves, or they might just take their payment and run back to Sigil. Either way, the Thingpin's response to this setback will be highly unpleasent, and is likely to take the form of several dismembered loved ones for everone who took part, unless the counterstrike is swift. It is up to the DM to determine just who or what the Thingpin really is (in my campaign it turned out to be an ambitious cabal of Illithid), and what kind of reach it has in Sigil.

A campaign to undermine the Thingpin's authority might also bear fruit. Heavy-handed tactics and demands for ever-larger pieces of the action have a lot of local cutpurses disgruntled. News of a major defeat might make a few start daring to grumble out loud. Also, there are bound to be other burgs where the locals were too proud or too well organized to give a cut to the Thingpin, and therefore likely to be on the hit list too.

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