Mini-campaign: The Dreamer of Lies

I started fleshing out the background of a mini-campaign but found myself thinking about intrigues, merchants and sinister demon worshippers rather than, perhaps, the typical Conan adventure. The question is, does this type of campaign fit well with a broader audience role-playing in the Hyborian world? Can you fit this type of scenario into the fantastic pulp fantasy world of the Conan stories…

A short background to my setting and the plot itself is outlined below as well as some details that so far have come to my mind about the main NPCs. Does this plot fit well with your perception of the Conan RPG? What could be added or left out? Does it have enough Hyborina feel to it? Have my ideas around Corinthia (or the city state of Pergemon) some parts that do not fit the picture painted by Howard? How are the names (which are mainly based on Byzantine nomenclature)?
All comments appreciated. :)


The Dreamer of Lies

The Corinthian city of Pergemon is a thriving state well situated near the river Orsis and the caravan routes between Zamora and Nemedia. Pergemon, like other cities in Corinthia, is characterized by “purple-towered palaces of ivory and marble for the aristocracy”, white-walled buildings with lush gardens that house the wealthy merchants and large city areas filled with the sun bleached houses of craftsmen, day labourers and shopkeepers. In the outskirts of the city, where the streets dwindle in size and the alleys turn dark and sinister, the less well to do live in simple houses of mud and bricks, toiling for the larger land owners or traders but still looking down on the miserable beings housed in the slave pits outside the city walls. The latter, towering structures of sand coloured stone painted in white, green and blue, surround Pergemon and is a might evidence of the city’s wealth and power. Great estates dot the countryside, sprawling plantations overseen by grim slave farmers for most of the year as the aristocratic owners of the land rather spend their time enjoying the luxuries of the city than the sweat filled labouring days at the estates.
Hamyros of house Manarta has ruled over Pergemon for the past six years, and was re-elected by the city council, the Cumitia, two years ago. The council consists of the wealthiest citizenry of Pergemon and through family ties, contracts, alliances and protective oaths it is bound to the other Corinthian city states. With its wealth achieved through trade the merchant families and trading clans have a strong position in the city and anyone aspiring for political influence need to gain the support from these. To avoid the risk of usurpers or any of the different political fractions in the city trying to use military force to reach its goals Pergemon is protected both by a militia under the city commander Marianus da Chomnous as well as mercenary bands, often hired for long periods of time. The multitude of groups jostling for power in the city stems from the Corinthian love of heated debates and philosophical thinking, a trait summarised with accurate wit by the historian Grageros Naseforos when he said that “The Netherworld has no fury like a Corinthian philosopher scorned”. Pergemons nearest neighbouring city states are Achronion and Bithynios and the twin-city of glittering Chimopolis and foul Necropolis.

The plot
One of the wealthier merchants in Pergemon, Dandalos Tamyri has in his pursuit of power allied himself with the followers of a cadaverous demon god and imprisoned an oracle creature to gain knowledge of his opponents doings - half woman, half wolf – in his palace. Through the dark arts he has gained through his demon worship Dandalos has lured several of the merchant clans in the city into his grasp and several of the representatives in the Cumitia are supporting his cause. The patrician himself has fallen under his powers and it is only a question of time before he can openly declare himself ruler of Pergemon. He must first rid himself of some that still oppose any changes in the city as well as the powerful priests of Mitra, which are suspecting that something is amiss but have not been able to find the source of the lurking shadow in Pergememon. Dandalos caution is also due to the reactions of the other Corinthian city states, which he is far from powerful enough to go openly oppose if need be.
The PCs comes to Pergemon and slowly starts realising that all is not well in the city. Occult omens, strange happenings and growing power of sinister cults as well as ruthless mercenaries terrorising the inhabitants become all to evident as the campaign evolves. Through their adventures the PCs get involved with the opponents of Dandalos. Finally the PCs are to find out the truth about the situation in the city and eventually who is the mastermind behind the demonic corruption sweeping Pergemon. Finally, the PCs will thwar Dandalos plans - unless they decide to join him, which is also a possibility for more ruthless characters - and in a raging fury and screaming for revenge he plunges a dagger into his chest, sacrificing himself and unleashing the demon god. A true Howardian battle ensues with, hopefully, the PCs defeating the beast. Pergemon is safe and the PCs its saviours. With much of the city council and leading merchants dead or fleeing in panic there is definitely room for powerful adventurers to grasp the power in the city, but that is another saga…

Outline of the adventure
I. The PCs arrive at Pergemon and as they make their way around caravan trains and the stalls of merchants outside the city gates they are approached by the crazed prophet Patrus, a bony and loincloth wearing old man wandering the outskirts of the city. Patrus have had a vision; a fleeting image of mighty deeds and the face of one of the PC’s appeared before him. He is now roaming the area around the main gate to the city, in the hope of spotting the person in his dreamy mirage. When the PC’s approaches Patrus screams and prostrates himself before the person, begging him to rid the city of its foulness. Patrus appearance is not one that gives anyone confidence in his powers of divination, giving the impression of a beggar rather than a foreteller of mighty tales that are to cine. The meeting between the PC’s and Patrus will be viewed with laughter and scorn and some of the merchants that occupy stalls in the area will mirthfully tell any awestruck PC’s that he must be number ten this month alone that Patrus has proclaimed as saviours. The truth is that Patrus is half blind and have mistakenly approached several people quite similar to the PC. Whatever steps the PC’s take, Patrus will continue to rant about his vision and that the PC is to save them all. He sprinkles ashes and sand in his hair, wails and crawls around on the dusty ground. He says that he wishes to speak to the PC alone, but if his request is met the PC will only hear a stream of gibberish about the true prophecies. The intention of this episode is not to give the PC’s any ideas of a higher calling, just one incident involving some raving madman. The DM has to walk a tricky path between overemphasizing the event and playing out the role of the ragged Patrus. It is much later that the truth of Patrus vision will become clear.

II. A few minor adventures will follow. Simple tasks that are offered by the patricians office, a local trades guild etc. The encounters and events can be used throughout the PCs time in Pergemon. A couple of them are to be used in the start simply to let them know the city somewhat and slowly start making different contacts in the city as well as establishing a name for themselves. Strange happenings will be seen as well a ominous signs and omens.

III. One of these adventurettes is to act as caravan guards for a trader going to Bithynios. This is an overall uneventful excursion but when the caravan has encamped outside the city walls of Bithynios the PCs see how one of the passengers of the caravan sneaks off, despite warnings of not leaving the camp since a great sickness have befallen the city and all visitors are staying well clear of the infested streets. The person meets with someone when all of a sudden a strange apparition shows itself, speaking in a devilish tongue and taking something from the person the PCs have followed. The person convulses and drops dead. Searching the body the PCs finds that is seems to have been mummified and looks hundreds of years old. No further explanation is found and the PCs has just to return to Pergamon, puzzled by the event.

IV. The caravan leader introduces them to the trade commissioner of the city council, which in turn puts them in contact with the city commander Cicerius and a new mission crops up: to act as bodyguards for the commanders negotiator Balaneus in contact with the mercenary force clled the Blue Hand under the lead of Mitrakos the Mirthful. As there is currently only one mercenary band in hire the Cumitia is concerned about the risk of having only one military force in the city, apart from the militia, and therefore intend to hire a second one as well.

V. Balaneus turns out to be a lazy and ruthless character and a consumer of the black lotus and Nemedian wine in great amounts. As he is in a constant drunken stupor it is obvious that the whole negotiation will fail or be hugely disadvantageous for Pergemon. The scribe Thethmorion that have accompanied Balaneus approaches the PCs and states that he thinks that he can be giving them advice on how to deal with a possible contract if they come forward as representatives of the city. Thethmorion himself, with his lowly background and obvios slave tattoos dares no do it alone. Hopefully the PCs steps in and can arrange the deal. Mitrakos – a giant of a man with a sinister reputation and as ardent a user of the black lotus as Balaneus - accepts the contract at length although the PCs should wonder why the city council is willing to hire this drug consuming thug. It is possible that Mitrakos will befriend the PCs as he is a shrewd schemer and often make a friendly impression, despite – or due to – his vices and brutal manner.

VI. The PCs are getting increasingly well connected in Pergemon. At a dinner reception when they return they meet the merchant Pagras of Chamoní as well as another mercenary captain in the service of the city, Masino da Palsa. Masino gives less positive impression, especially if the PCs have become friends of Mitrakos. He will accuse them of sorcery and other fouls deeds of which the PCs know nothing during the banquet. Masion has found out some about the evil that is spreading in Pergemon but is yet uncertain who is behind it and is grasping at straws. Despite his rough ways and evil reputation he is an honourable man. The PCs are to get a unfavourable impression of him for now, although he will turn out to be an important ally later.

VII. In secret Pagras brings the PCs costly gifts, asking them to protect him from hellish demons haunting him. The PCs will see how he one night fights invisible demons. A black man, a kushite, is seen fleeing the palace grounds during one of the attacks. He has managed to give Pagras poisoned wine but as the PCs catches up with him he swallows his own tongue or something similar. Pagras lives but it is obvious that it is no demon haunting him but some unknown enemy behind it.

VIII. Pagras takes them into his confidence after this and asks the PCs to meet with the head priest of Mitra in Pergemon. The priest, a long bearded and aged man by the name of Sirogenos of Arsamosata, tells the PCs what they should have started to suspect by now – that there is evil spreading in the city. Sirogenos tells them of some of the things he has seen; two-headed babies born, miscarriages, sky omens and other. He tells them of the ancient evils that can be found. Sirogenos is not meeting much support from the Mitra sects in the neighbouring city states and is uncertain who might be behind this, but he has his suspicions regarding a couple of the noble families in the Cumitia. He urges the PCs to take part in the matter and that they are to investigate the persons that he thinks might be involved.

IX. The PCs can snoop around town a bit but will eventually see two of the nobles sneaking off to a strange meeting with for them unknown persons, but obviously people of wealth and influence. They all disappear into a library owned by a sect devoted to scholarly studies and as far as the PCs know only renowned for meekness and search for knowledge in all matters possible. Not much more can be gained for now and at this time the PCs can roam around the library’s dusty rooms and corridors filled with scrolls and books to no avail. They will run the risk of being found but in the end will have few chances of searching the whole building thoroughly enough to know where to go.

X. Pagras is found dead the next day and the PCs are one night later attacked by a band of murderous slaves, all taking their lives if the attack fails and they survive. A strange demon like beast accompanies them. Sirogenes fears for his life and the people of Pergemon. The PCs have obviously come to the attention of their mysterious foes and Sirogenes offers them the opportunity to hide.

XI. In this dark hour, with few leads of what to do next, Patrus seeks out the PCs. He offers them a small parchment with some odd combinations of numbers. He scribbled the numbers down during one of his prophetic seizures and came to with the conviction that he had to hand it over to the PCs. The numbers will tell them where to search in the library. If they do so the PCs will find the entrance to an underground temple. Mitrakos mercenaries have started to openly harass the population. Foul death cultist and demon worshippers are openly showing their dark beliefs and the militia and Mitrakos have driven the mercenaries of Masino out of the city. The citizens are scared but nobody dares oppose as the city council to all appearance is supporting what is happening.

XII. The PCs can find the temple. If they do so at a time when they see the participants meet they will find a strange figure leading the hellish chanting – the merchant Dandalos - and among the ecstatic crowd they can find many of the city councillors as well as the patrician Hamyros. Their foe is thus revealed but the number of people, as well as armed cultists, should make it very evident that the PCs will be unable to oppose them right now. If they try and enter the palace of Dandalos they might find the oracle creature Lisissa that he holds captive and learn that he is trying to wake the cadaver god Ossogoth, a hyena like demon worshipped by the ancestors of Dandalos. Evidence that he has duped and snared many of the merchant clans in the city can be found.

XIII. Sirogenes advices the PCs, unless they try and do something themselves, to collect all the evidence possible, to rally the support of other city states. Meanwhile the PCs can meet with Masino and try to get his help and there is also a group of warlike Mitra worshippers that can be contacted. The idea is that the PCs will lead the fight against Dandalos as no one other than them know as much about the situation and Sirogenes, who might otherwise be a candidate, is to old and far from a warrior. However the PCs can arrange it an attack against the temple and Dandalos forces, with Mitrakos and his mercenaries at the front, will come. Dandalos have taken residence by now in the patricians palace and this will be the last bastion of defence. From here Dandalos will manage to escape to the underground temple, and in murderous rage plunge a dagger into his chest, awakening the demon god to avenge him. An epic fight for the PCs follows.

Epilogue. As stated in the plot summary Pergemon is now safe and the PCs its saviours. With much of the city council and leading merchants dead or fleeing in panic there is definitely room for powerful adventurers to grasp the power in the city…

Alternative. The option for the PCs to get involved with Dandalos is possible and the DM can also use a player in the role of Dandalos, so that there are two opposing teams in the campaign.

NPC Gallery
More to come...

Patrus, crazy prophet
Patrus is to all appearances nothing but a ragged beggar, half starved and crazy. His constant ramblings about mystic visions are seldom worth listening to and he is known as a harmless and witless soul. Patrus is, however, a medium of great power. His lack of focus has led to a cacophony of visions and images appearing before him and he has much problem in separating possible happenings and occurrences from those that are likely to happen to people that he meets with. The chaotic and destructive images that he has seen as of late fills him with great fear and has led him to search for the saviour of his hometown, a person that he has a vivid image of and is now trying to find. The first encounter of the PC’s with Patrus is to look like a chance meeting of limited importance but slowly the truth of his mumblings will be evident and as he later on in the adventure adds useful information the PC’s are likely to listen closely to his words of doom.
Appearance: -
Personality: Raving mad but with moments of lucid clarity

Masino da Palsa, mercenary captain of the Amertos Hounds
Masino was born of house da Palsa, an aristocratic family of good standing in the city state of Amerto in northern Corinthia.
Appearance: -
Personality: -

Mitrakos the Mirthful, leader of the Blue Hand mercenaries
Mitrakos is the son a fruit farmer in the village of Lasimosi, a small hamlet that was raided and burned to the ground when Mitrakos was only five. Witnessing the slaughter of family and friends, Mitrakos swore never to be among the weak of the earth and has striven since then to be master of both men and beasts. Not caring for much but himself, life in his view offers nothing but pleasures, which he pursues with great vigour. Mitrakos uses the black lotus regularly and is said to know every brothel and fighting pit around Corinthia.
The mercenary leader of the Blue Hand is a jovial bear of a man. However, openly friendly and glad he is, behind the smiling façade Mitrakos is a ruthless warrior without sympathy for weaker souls. He will try and take advantage of any situation that he is in and exploit any opportunities for personal gains. Mitrakos will try and make as good an impression on the PC’s as possible but no matter how close they might get, he will not hesitate to plunge a dagger into their back if it suits his purposes.
Appearance: Mitrakos has a torso as muscular as it is rotund. On top of the wide shoulders rest a face that seems content with all everything. The eyelids droop somewhat, giving him an almost placid appearance. Mitrakos paints his forehead bright orange with a combination of fat from the Hashimi goat and crushed seeds from the lotus flower, giving him a musky odour that women find attractive.
Personality: Easygoing and friendly but easily turns into a sadistic brute

Dandalos Tamyri
Appearance: A typical Corinthian with scented curls and oiled moustache.
Personality: Ruthless and sadistic – the true villain

A strange beastlike creature – half human, half wolf, that is being held captive by Dandalos. Lisissa is the result of a since long dead sorcerers nefarious experiments that the gods took pity on and gave strange powers of divination. Dandalos is using her powers to find out what his opponents are doing and to best take advantage of opportunities that arise. Once he has the power over Pergemon he has sworn his demon god that he is to offer the heart of Lisissa to the demon for its services.
Appearance: Lisissa has the face of a beautiful woman, but her eyes have the yellow colour and shape of a wolf’s and the body is covered in dense grey fur, growing longer and almost hair like over hear head.
Personality: Mysterious and dreamlike
Mutated Mongoose said:
I started fleshing out the background of a mini-campaign but found myself thinking about intrigues, merchants and sinister demon worshippers rather than, perhaps, the typical Conan adventure. The question is, does this type of campaign fit well with a broader audience role-playing in the Hyborian world? Can you fit this type of scenario into the fantastic pulp fantasy world of the Conan stories…

Nice plot outline! Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Robert E. Howard often included political intrigue in his Conan stories, as well as merchants and demon worshippers.