The Social Contract

Jem's picture

This adventure hook can be played at two levels, with varying amounts of control afforded the PCs.

  • A low-level group with some individuals associated with mercantile interests, or some lawful or good organization, may be simply hired on or ordered to support the mission. For them this adventure will mostly be responding to events.
  • A mid-to-high-level group of well-reputed planewalkers may be in charge of the mission. In either case, the group should lack chaotic or evil members. The sequence of events will last several months, the bulk of which will pass quickly between a mix of social and combat scenes.
Plague-Mort, gate-town to the Abyss, is a thoroughly corrupt place, and its ruler is under demonic orders to see to it that the town becomes vile and lawless enough to slip across the planar border. Ironically, it may only be his intense efforts keeping it from doing so: his iron-fisted rule is keeping trouble to a minimum. Without a local bastion of morality and law based on community rather than power, the town is in serious danger of slipping across soon.Several groups would rather not see this happen. Merchants who do business in Sigil, on the Outlands, and generally around the Great Ring have investments in the town, both capital -- real estate and goods -- and personal -- governmental and local trade contacts -- and wish to preserve their assets. Servants of Upper-Planar powers and philosophies (season to taste according to campaign) would regret the propaganda defeat and have honest concerns about the citizenry. These groups are joining forces to devote resources to a holding action in the town: it won't last forever, but it may profit a few souls on both sides of the deal.Setting the StageIf the characters are established planewalkers of 10th-level or so, of good reputation and capable of undertaking a mission into unwelcoming territory, the GM may lay the groundwork for this adventure by seeding rumors that Plague-Mort is becoming rowdier and seeing more tanar'ri, about to slip over. If the players express concern, the interests listed above hear of it, know of the characters, and offer them a chance to lead the mission. It's dangerous territory -- even more dangerous than usual recently -- and the groups want someone who be trusted and can handle themselves.At this point, if the players are the kind who enjoy coming up with schemes, let them. The merchants are willing to provide investment capital but expect to turn a profit in the venture, at the very least spending less than the value they gain from preserving their other investments for a while longer -- the least optimistic may merely want breathing space to clear out their property. The churches and factions involved want to spread their philosophies and weaken the hold of the Abyss on the souls of the inhabitants -- the least optimistic may simply expect to make a fast recruiting run and help anyone get out who lacks the opportunity and isn't embracing the Abyss already. Ironically, both of the 'least optimistic' responses increase the tipping rate for the rest of the town by removing its stablest institutions and most decent inhabitants. A decent idea which answers these concerns will find a receptive audience.The PlanIf no ideas are forthcoming, the PCs are to be low-level agents, or if the game may flow better with a pre-established plan, then the alliance has already hatched a notion. The merchants will fund an outpost of a new trading company to establish itself in Plague-Mort, dealing in inexpensive magic items provided at slashed profit margins by the casters of the moral groups. The bulk of their wares will be affordable to less-affluent adventurers and groups: potions of curing, holy water, simple +1 arms and armor, and weapons (especially ammunition, by the piece) with the flaming, icy, holy, and disrupting features. The business is to sell at scrupulously fair prices, and to do business with all comers -- even fiends. Canny bloods will notice that simple flaming and icy weapons are of very little use against either fiends or tanar'ri in the Blood War, holy weapons are but they're nothing the fiends will touch, and disrupting weapons are most effective against undead, regardless of who wields them! The agents are to "comport themselves properly, even under provocation, and respect the local authorities to the extent morally justifiable." Employees are to live in the town, seek souls in need in the region, and render assistance whenever possible, setting as much of an example as they can. The group's contracts will last a few months; if they are well-established at the end of that time, longer-term employees of the alliance will take over the venture.The Stumbling BlockNaturally, this won't go unnoticed for long, and the venture will face serious obstacles. The following events can be sprinkled throughout the group's stay:
  • Setting up shop will initially consist of picking a spot and building a storefront, camping out until simple barracks can be constructed. PCs can role-play interaction with the townsfolk - mostly a poor, thuggish, nasty bunch for materials and labor, trying to win hearts and minds. Particularly effective search will turn over a few locals who haven't sold out to the fiends, desperate for a chance to get out of town.
  • The company will be subjected to demands for bribes to the Hounds, the human/tanar'ri crossbreeds that form the local militia, followed by a more genteel but firmer insistence on kickbacks of a percentage of the profits to the Arch-Lector. The merchants behind the venture have long viewed these as a cost of doing business, but the philosophic backers will both object on principle and point out that such practices speed the town's slide. Still, refusing will bring overt attack the PCs will have to deal with. The GM should design an attack force of challenge rating suitable for the entire company's staff, and let the PCs do their part.
  • The place is going to be the target of multiple, and progressively more challenging, theft attempts by all manner of locals. These will be both covert, sneaking rogues, and overt, screaming gang of humans and fiends hoping to smash and grab, attempts. High-level PCs may enjoy designing defenses on a budget, and then working them against the GM's attacks. Low-level PCs should simply be on the scene when it's time to mix it up.
  • Since the arc lasts several months, additional adventures set in or near Plague-Mort, especially on the Outlands and the Plain of Infinite Portals, can be run around the PCs' "dayjobs" during this time. Fiends roam the town and prey on the locals, making opportunities to intervene -- but the characters should be warned that killing a promoted fiend if they survive the attempt will requite personal vengeance against the insolents... maybe. Intervening in local-vs-local disputes may turn out better for all involved, if the PCs can navigate the local currents of petty and violent strife.
EndingsIf the PCs make good contacts with the locals, refuse to pay bribes to the local authorities, fully avert reprisal attacks and theft attempts, and intervene to the betterment of the lives of the locals, they make a substantial mark and embolden a local who has been doing steady business with the company to hire on fully and run the place. The company is established as a part of the Plague-Mort scene, insulated from further attack (the Arch-Lector won't throw more troops at an egg he can't crack), an institution that's doing perfectly legitimate business. "Legitimate business" with a civic-minded staff is exactly the dose of law and safety the town needed, and Plague-Mort will not cross the planar boundaries for the near future. The PCs should be paid whatever salary and bonuses were previously negotiated with the merchants, according to contract; the philosophical organizations may be inclined to gratitude in the way of boons.If the PCs make good local contacts and have some success in small set-piece scenes, but elect to pay kickbacks or suffer significant loss from reprisal attacks or theft, then good has been served more than law; the merchants, not seeing the profit they desire, decide to pull up roots from the town and stop backing the operation. The PCs may elect to notify the locals that don't deserve to become fixtures in the Abyss to pack up and run; their departure will speed the slide of the town. Alternatively, if they elect to stay, the Arch-Lector will make a final run at the weakened, and now obviously-good-aligned, outpost. If the PCs survive this fight with the trade center intact, he'll back off and retrench, and the philosophic organizations will send in some heavies to settle in for the long haul. Plague-Mort's fate is up to the GM. The PCs won't be up for bonuses from the merchants, but the organizations will probably be appreciative of their efforts to the tune of fair compensation.If the PCs fumble the social interplay but keep the profits intact by either negotiating low bribes or repelling reprisal attacks and most or all of the theft attempts, law is being served better than good. The merchants will hang around, but no locals will stand up to be counted and the PCs will run out the clock on their contract. After they get paid a fair departure package for their time, a professional merchant will take up local residence and see to the trade. He's not too concerned with high ideals, and Plague-Mort's fate is up to the GM.If the GM decides all mission objectives have been completely failed -- the PCs drop the ball setting examples for the locals, and either pay bribes or lose most of the wares to attack or theft -- the chaotic strife is just what the Arch-Lector needed. In the middle of a particularly bad defense action, the red firelight reflecting off the smoke suddenly turns out to be the sun over Pazunia, and Plague-Mort has slipped across the boundary. The PCs now need to escape the Plain of Infinite Portals. The town has landed among the remains of several others near Broken Reach. Kiss any profits from the venture goodbye. The philosophic backers will grieve the loss, and suggest that the town was simply too far gone to save. Red Shroud will establish an outpost around the new Outlands gate until a keep can be built, and a town will form around it.

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