The Tale of an Industrious Rogue (updated 3-12-2014)

Well met!

Between 2009 and 2012, I ran a Pathfinder campaign set in a slightly-altered version of Golarion for my long-standing group of 5 players. Though for the first few months it was a fun but nothing out of the ordinary game, at a very specific point it took a turn for the unexpected, leading into the campaign I've enjoyed running the most, all thanks to the players going all out and letting their ideas loose.

So if you'd lend me an eye or two, I would like to tell you a tale, the tale of an industrious rogue....

Table of Contents
Meet the Party
Part I: A Humble Beginning
Part II: There Shall be Salt
Part III: A Profitably Problematic Business Venture
Part IV: They Walk!
Part V: Everyone's Getting Mad
Part VI: A Rift No More
Part VII: Ghosts, of Course
Part VIII: Well Hello There
Part IX: The STC Is Your Friend
Part X: Let's Go Deeper
Part XI: Slimy's Fancy Trip to Far and Beyond
Part XII: Nightmare Pots
Part XIII: The Hags' Haggle
Part XIV: A Handful of Dreams
Part XV: I Have a Dream (Or Two)!
Part XVI: To Rule a City
Part XVII: Matters of Civic Disposition
Part XVIII: So, About That Fountain of Gold
Part XIX: A Time for Friends and a Time for Fisticuffs
Part XX-1: Let's Leng Them a Hand, First Half

Meet the Party

First, let's take a quick look at the band of misfits that made this story happen:

Hassan Ibn Jaffar: CN Human-Keleshite Rogue, though he prefers to be deemed as an Entrepreneuring Explorer and Archaeologist. Native of Katapesh.

Valanar of Noravia: LE Human-Chelaxian Priest of Sivanah (Goddess of Secrets), scammed his own father and got his entire family sold as slaves. Native of Cheliax.

Vorgok "The Merciful": CN Human-Ulfen Barbarian. Got his nickname after forgiving the life of an opponent during a Gladiator-like encounter near the beginning of the campaign. Started suffering from mild bout of dementia early on due to regular head concussions and his tendency to eat everything raw. Native of Irrisen.

Jack Sandweaver: CG Human-Taldan Warrior/Bard/Duelist. Former pirate, travels along with a goblin minstrel he somehow conned into coming along with him. The player actually writes down the songs he sings in the game (and they are all about him). Native of Taldor.

Rakhim Apravarnasi: LN Human-Vudrani Sorcerer/Monk (or, as we like to call it, Sonk or Monkerer). The voice of reason in the party, who had the really bad idea of getting romantically involved with an NPC.


This story hour tells the tale of events that transpired some months after the start of the campaign, which takes place in the desert city-state of Katapesh, an exotic metropolis of gleaming onion domes and overcrowded bazaars, a land of merchants willing to sell their mothers for profit (and add a couple of siblings for just a few extra coins), where anything from slaves to flying carpets can be bought and where the concept of law is as flexible as the belly dancers parading on the street.

Early in the campaign, before the events here described had time to happen, the party was exploring an ancient Osirian sun temple, when they stumbled on a trapped room. This room featured a rift into the Quasielemental Plane of Salt. The idea was to have the characters face a small Salt Quasielemental and then get on with the dungeon, as it played no further role in the story.

Thus the party faces the quasielemental and, after killing it, Hassan asks me about the price of salt, which through an Appraise roll I told him could fetch about 1gp per pound. So then he spends a while filling every possible container he had, boots included, with salt from the rift, and then the session continues as planned, with angry lamias, flying swords, and scale models of planets that shoot rays. All nice and good and easy. Once back in the city, he managed to get a handsome sum of money for the salt, which was an added bonus.

Yet what I thought was just a random dungeon feature -the salt rift- would turn out to haunt the campaign to a degree I would have never suspected.
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Nearly half a year of campaign later, when most of the party levels up to 7 (the Sonk was stuck at level 6 after missing a couple of sessions), Hassan talks to me about taking the Leadership feat and wants to discuss the possibility of gathering some followers, so we get on it during the pizza break. He shows me a few pages of notes he had prepared in advance, mostly dealing with question on how to build stuff. Most of what he asks sounds reasonable, so I let him go along with it to organize his own criminal gang and build his den of thieves. Or at least that's what I thought he had in mind.

Once the pizza had been thoroughly eaten, I told the players they could have a couple of weeks of downtime before the next trip, so everyone started making plans for crafting, information gathering and the like. Hassan announces he's going for a trip into the distant burning desert for the next two weeks, but before that he goes out to hire a rather eclectic bunch of people and then on a shopping spree, buying large amounts of wood, iron, smithing tools, shovels, picks, carts, weights, et cetera. I began suspecting the kind of thing he was after, but I wasn't sure until he decided to visit a local moneylender.

Part I: A Humble Beginning

So Hassan arrives at the Honest Abdul's House of Wealth Facilitation (the party had conducted some business with Honest Abdul in the past, when they helped him rig a gladiatorial fight and score some big earnings, so he charged them less abusive interests and his stealing margins were lower), and starts working on a deal to secure a warehouse in the port district and shipping permits, for which he requests a rather substantial loan, which would be "promptly paid back with an offer for a business joint-venture". Abdul was not quite convinced, so the rogue had to steal some stuff from a Temple of Desna to serve as collateral (same temple which had served the party as safehouse for most of the initial part of the campaign. He swore he would pay it back with donations, one day. Yeah, not gonna happen).

So he and his followers set up to travel. Keep in mind that while now it seems rather obvious what he had in mind, it had been about eight months of real time and many sessions between that moment and the time they originally found the elemental rift, so at first it caught me flatfooted. I honestly figured he wanted to start some sort of "Hassan and the 40 Thieves" kind of gig.

However, the true purpose becomes evident when Hassan asks Valanar (who keeps maps and notes of pretty much everything that happens at the table) for "The map of that abandoned Osirian temple we stumbled upon when we were chasing that lamia that sliced off Vorgok's left hand" (lamia which, in turn, was killed by resident barbarian by picking up his sliced hand, putting it inside a spiked glove and shoving it down the creature's throat until it died of suffocation. Then cooked the lamia, in a surprising turn of events considering his predilection for raw food. He got his hand back some sessions later after striking a deal with a necromancer. Valanar and Rakhim got the hand from the local necropolis, and the necromancer got it "installed". Sometimes it tries to choke him, other times it slaps women in the butt, but as Vorgok says "Hand holds sword. Sword kills people. Vorgok pleased with arrangement"). It was the salt. Because of course it was.

Hassan and his followers take about four days to arrive at their destination, and he quickly starts setting up quite an impressive layout of the stuff he wanted done. He clearly had put a lot of thought into it and it was actually quite reasonable, so I allowed it to go through (with a few accidents here and there, of course. I am but a mere DM, after all).

After making sure the operation in the surface was up and running (set plans for building living quarters for the overseers, started digging a pit where the slaves he planned on getting would be locked eventually, sent off a mage initiate with a dowsing rod to find some water, organized a patrol to guard against the gnoll tribes that inhabit the region, among other things), he goes into the dungeon with his strongest hirelings. While they do encounter some creatures (mostly gnolls who had taken residence in the now-open temple ruins), they make it easily into the room with the rift, where they have to fight yet another Salt Paraelemental. That dealt with, they get to work on securing the site, in order to let the workers come in and start digging out the dungeon.
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Part II: There Shall be Salt

Let's move forward in time three weeks in-game, when the rest of the party, now done with their own businesses, made their way to their friend Hassan.

What they encounter is a salt-extracting operation in full swing: Dozens of work crews dragging tons of material out of the increasingly excavated dungeon, a gaping hole in the dry planes at the feet of the Brazen Peaks, alarmingly rickety scaffolding running around, above and inside the whole thing, wooden cranes creaking under the weight of salt mineral being dug so fast people kept disappearing under the cave-ins without no one even noticing.

By the time the rest of the party got there, a first caravan of salt had already been sent to Katapesh, where the sacks had been promptly and voraciously sold among the merchants at a very nice profit margin. Abdul had also contacted Hassan after the initial batch had proven successful, and both agreed to start seeking investors to pump up the operation.

The next session was dedicated mostly to planning it out. Since most of the money the rogue had originally used to buy the materials he started with was borrowed from the party and Honest Abdul, he had them join him in the property of the venture, and our campaign took a momentary halt from the main story arch (which involved a bunch of doomsday factions fighting each other over how the world had to end and the characters accidentally caught carrying the object central to said dispute and everyone trying to have them working for their cause) to focus on the salt.

Soon enough, the operation had grown from the initial prospecting and odd caravan to a full-fledged mining company employing around 100 people, half of which are slaves, bought from the same gnolls that the guards were instructed to fight off -also, the same gnoll tribe that had originally captured the party at the start of the campaign-. Trade connections are established, camel crews fitted, watering and mailing posts along the route back to Katapesh built and staffed. Mercenaries quickly become a necessity as robbers starts preying on the goods, and a half-sunken ship is bought and repaired in the metropolis to help with the business integration by taking care of exporting the salt all the way up to Absalom, aptly baptized as the Really Salty Sailor. Scribes are hired and set in both cities to handle the paperwork, and a host of other functions are dealt with.

A necessity that soon became evident was maintaining a flow of slaves, since the horrible working conditions at the mine meant workers were getting killed by the dozen. The chief of a local band of gnoll marauders was allowed to settle near the operation and dig out his own slave pits, in order to provide a stream of fresh hands. The careless administration of the not-so-voluntary miners soon enough starts denting Hassan's alignment, especially after ordering a group of them to "Pile up over that loose elemental! Don't let the merchandise escape, you gnats!".

Part III: A Profitably Problematic Business Venture

Things go swell for a while, until a series of earthquakes hits the area a few months later. Sure, tremours had become increasingly common as the operation grew, in large part thanks to the absolutely careless use of an explosive concoction colloquially deemed as "Orcus' Toilet After Taco Night" (which they originally got very early in the campaign from a beduin alchemist, involving rather worrisome amounts of camel depositions), turning what once was a pricelessly ancient, beautiful and very, very sacred Osirian temple into a gaping hole the size of a stadium with the elemental rift floating at its centre (the miners had been tasked with digging underneath the floor of the dungeon in order to leave the rift completely exposed and in mid-air, in order for the salt to fall freely through the portal and accumulate in a massive pile, from where it could then be loaded onto one of the dozens of leather conveyors powered by slaves inside hamster wheels), but now they were getting particularly powerful.

Valanar aptly suggests (being the party's expert on matters cosmological) that the rift might have gone dangerous and potentially unstable. His successful Knowledge [The Planes] check allowed him to guess what was going on: The rift had been pouring such massive amounts of material from the Quasielemental Plane of Salt that the natives on the other side were getting restless, and some of them had been running into the tunnels of what still remained of the dungeon, probably causing the wreck that was shaking the ground.

Even though a few elementals had already been spat by the rift leading to the occasional spike in forced contractual termination, along with the quakes an increased rate of sightings is reported, at first just a handful (1d4 Small Quasielementals per day), eventually growing out of proportions (1d100 Small Quasielementals per day, plus the chance for a few big'uns thrown in the mix).

Workers, guards, and overseers are now getting killed by the bucketload. The administration doesn't really care all that much at first, however, since there is enough people available to spare without the quotas dropping too much, and our "heroes" are focused on the day-to-day minutiae of making the most money while caring the least possible for whomever was sent down there to work. After all, by then a whole makeshift village, named Saltspit by the party, had started to form in the area surrounding the site, with all kinds of people settling there either to work in the mines and refinery, to serve in the related services or to make money off the people working there, setting up taverns, brothels (lots and lots of brothels with very, very ugly women. Still, Vorgok managed to institute his own version of the Prima Nocte, and it became mandatory for every new harlot in town to spend her first night of service with the ulfen. Some of them don't get to survive past that night, though), shops and the like.

And thus they let this elemental outbreak run wild, which quickly turns into a big threat, forcing Hassan to hurry back to Katapesh in order to get support from his main associate, Prince Osman Bin Hassir -whom they had met early on in the campaign and who was later convinced by Honest Abdul to invest a sizeable amount of capital in the operation-, who sends him back along with his personal Mage-Vizier and a host of soldiers from the Zephyr Guard, the finest in Katapesh.

The Princes' force manages to fight off the elementals, but one thing catches Hassan's attention: The Mage-Vizier had somehow been able to make the creatures move back into the aspiring borehole that was the main pit by wielding a glowing stick. After some inquiries, the rogue finds out it was called a Rod of Elemental Compelling, which gave the spellcaster the power to force lesser elementals to do his bidding.

His eyes cha-chinged so hard we thought it was raining cash registers.
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Part IV: They Walk!

Let's move one week into the future. The situation has been controlled and the mines are being repaired. But wait, elementals keep pouring out at a regular rate! Ah, but Hassan had noticed how the rod managed to force small elementals into moving in a particular direction, so he figured "So far we have been collecting the salt, processing it here, loading it on camels and sending it to Katapesh. What if the salt went there... by itself?"

And so he went on to convince the Prince to have his Mage-Vizier craft a few more Rods of Elemental Compelling (the components had to be taken from an obscure location in the Mwangi Jungles, which served as the pretext to get these nascent capitalists back into actual adventuring for a bit), which were then given to hired mage overseers so they would command the salt elementals from the mines to Katapesh.

A special processing facility was built in the city, where the elementals were be led into a large funnel-like structure lined with metal rings enchanted with Dismissal spells, thus sending them back to their plane and allowing the remaining salt to be refined (the rings weren't too powerful, so it was common for elementals to go through unharmed and cause havoc in the ovens underneath. But they pay was good, so workers were aplenty).

This, combined with the regular caravans that still went back and forth day and night (as a lot of the salt was just regular sand without a CR), caused profit margins to skyrocketted, to the point that the party could finally start building their much-desired fortress near the mines (which included hiring a conjuration specialist to create them their own oasis, which led to some other business opportunities. But more on that later).

However, it came with a cost: With the rift churning out elementals 24/7 at progressively higher rates, alarms began ringing among some leaderheads of Katapesh (how much was envy and how much was actual concern is another matter altogether), who cited issues like the ludicrous increase of travelers reporting being attacked by rogue salt elementals (which had increased from 0 to Way More Than 0 in less than a year). Prince Osman managed to calm things down a bit by setting a series of permanent guard outposts along the newly christened Salt Route to make sure all the elementals that escaped the caravans were slain (which led to an entertaining session where the characters were now the ones hiring adventurers just like them to do the job), but trouble was starting to brew.

After all, there's no better way to make enemies than success.

Part V: Everyone's Getting Mad

The issues with the salt operation and the related incidents managed their way into the Merchant Court of Katapesh, in order to be brought to the ears of the Pactmasters (mysterious masked fellows that have been running the city for the last thousand years or so). Even though Prince Osman was the Grand Vizier of the Merchant Guild, the rest of the katapeshi nobles were pretty upset about the whole thing, especially those whose businesses were somehow being affected. One particular man, Sheik Hossain Ibn Shappur, who owned the largest spice trading company in the city -salt being among his main trade goods-, pulled strings to get this brought to the court.

This part of the campaign was mostly political, with the party negotiating with various groups of interests and individuals (though what negotiating means changes from character to character).

At some point in the middle of all this, when our entrepreneurs were taking some time off at their half-built palace, a sudden release of energy had everyone develop substantially itching noses.

Moments later, one of the overseers shows up yelling “Accident in the mines! The slaves are escaping!”

Hassan panicked.

Following that, the mines exploded in a fantastic display of special effects.

Then everyone panicked.

It turns out someone in Katapesh got mad enough to sent a wizardly saboteur to bring down their operations. But after the initial surprise, the party got it together and climbed down the hole to deal with the matter.
After beating the wizard (who proved to be a master of stylish one-liners but not so much when it came to actually causing harms to the characters), they tried using some rudimentary divination scrolls to find out what he knew, but the man was powerful enough to resist them. So they decided to cast Vorgok.

The barbarian starts by chewing off every single one of the wizard's toes, without even removing his shoes first (early in his career, Vorgok took Animal Fury as his first rage power, which gave him a bite attack while enraged. Then around level 5, I think, he took off all his teeth with a clamp and went to see a blacksmith in order to have steel teeth installed, which had to be bolted to his jaw. Vorgok passed all the Fortitude tests required to avoid extreme blood loss, but he had a critical fail in the one to handle the pain. Remembering how dangerous Vorgok was the last time he felt actual pain*, Valanar gave him copious amounts of pesh cactus liquor to control him, but trying to drug up a 2,2 metre-tall Ulfen is no easy task, so the party had to chain him down before he killed the blacksmith (who was hammering the red-hot teeth into his jaw over an anvil), and force-fed him every bit of pesh -or any kind of narcotic, for that matter- they could find. After the blacksmith was done, Vorgok enraged and ran out, and they found him the next day, dancing naked on a fountain while singing "I'm a Little Teapot").

So there's Vorgok with the toes -and half the boot-, which he then proceeds to ram into the wizard's mouth -a move that, as you can see, is part of the man's repertoire- and prepares to do the same with the rest of his fingers, when his substantially enhanced Intimidate check breaks down the saboteur, who finally explains what he knows.

*He killed a gladiator that cheated a friend, cut of his head, nailed his hand through the throat and used the severed head as a bludgeoing glove to kill the other gladiator. He still keeps the head, called Wilson, and uses it like some kind of grotesque puppet when he gets "philosophical", as he says (in Vorgok terms, "getting philosophical" is anything from "did I take a dump today?" and onward). Once he attempted to earn money by using Perform in a square to set up a ventriloquist show with Wilson. He didn't have Perform trained, he didn't know how to do ventriloquism, and he was using a slightly-rotten human head to tell jokes -and bad ones at that-. Didn't work out.

(apologies for the Christmas hiatus. Merry Christmas, by the way!)

Part VI: A Rift No More

The wizard reveals that the Sheik had cashed in some favours with an old associate, one Emir Kassan Bin Fashar, an extremely wealthy man owner of a jewel trading company who had ties to the Dao -which in turn provided him with precious stones. In fact, Bin Fashar's mines had never produced a single actual gem-. Apparently, he convinced his associate to send a detachment of elemental servants into the Quasielemental Plane of Salt, in order to sabotage the operation from its very source, which after almost a year of continuous digging had become an enormous funnel-like cavernous region in the heart of the plane, constantly collapsing into the rift -and dragging the helpless locals along the way-.

While the poor spellcaster didn't know exactly how it happened, he knew that the dao's servants set some kind of magical apparatus that, when combined with a similar artifact placed by him on the other side of the rift, caused it to become unstable and, in his words, "break in half". As Valanar found out, "breaking in half" is slang for "transitive split", which occurs when a portal has its points of entry severed and both ends instead open to the transitive plane that exists coterminously to both ends (or a random one if the portal connects planes that are not coterminous to the same transitive planes).

In this case, the rift became a portal into the Ethereal Plane. Valanar, who had made his homework and knew a thing or two about this, explained that this could prove rather problematic.

However, at first nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Sure, the accident had destroyed most of the facility, but as Hassan put it "At least there is still a lot of salt left to sell. Get back to work!". Saltspit -which by then was basically a middle-eastern version of Deadwood by all accounts. There was even a Mahmud Al'Sherengen NPC conducting pretty big business there- itself came out mostly unharmed, so there was enough people available to draw from to get the operation back in order. They hired a band of gnoll mercenaries to hunt down the escaped slaves -or to get them new ones if the original ones couldn't be found- and slowly built the thing back up.

A couple of weeks down the line and salt was once again being hauled to Katapesh and beyond, although the elemental processing facility in the city had to be closed and rented to the Butcher's Guild (with the rift severed, there were no more elementals to herd).

Still, the investors were worried that, even though the rift explosion released a huge amount of extra salt, the fact remained that no new material was pouring through, and so the operation was now less attractive in the long run.

This hit hard with some of the more fancy projects, such as the group of engineers brought from Alkenstar specifically to work on the design of a cargo zeppelin (they were asked to halt their work and return to Alkenstar until further notice. The ship was barely in the initial stages of construction), the plans to send an enslaver expedition to the Mwangi Jungles to capture a large host of ape-men (intelligent gorillas who live in the jungles there, which would make excellent slaves as they are very strong and can operate tools with all four extremities), and even the grand opening of the Katapeshi Salt Exchange, which Prince Osman proposed as a mean to calm down the competing merchants who were feeling far too threatened by the ever-growing operation in Saltspit.

Needless to say, Hassan was baffled, seeing how his incredibly intricate and thoroughly detailed plans were on the verge of failing.

Part VII: Ghosts, of Course

Things were about to get more complicated than that, however.

Reports started coming up from the Brass Legion (the band of soldiers of fortue hired by party to institute some kind of order in the town. It was mostly a bunch of abusive bullies, but better to have the bullies on your side), that Saltspiterians -or Saltspitians, or Salspitooners. A proper noun was never truly decided upon- were being found dead on their beds by the numbers.

Initially this was attributed to disease, which in the festering pit of brothels and alehouses that Salspit and it's more than 3,000 souls had turned into was something waiting to happen, but as the incidents became more and more regular, Rakhim and Valanar decided to investigate things personally.

As it turned out, people found dead didn't appear to show any signs of fatal diseases, murder or anything like that, except for the fact their hair, eyes and skin were white as milk. This, in conjunction with the fact every single people died while screaming horribly, led to the widespread rumours of ghosts and other malign entities haunting Saltspit.

As if things weren't bad already, Imam Salim Al'Salam, caretaker of the local Temple of Sarenrae (the Sun Goddess and dominant deity in the region. As people began flocking into Saltspit, religion followed suit. A few other cults have also set foot in town, but only that of Sarenrae had a proper temple built), began preaching that these deaths were the cause of the excessive greed and avarice with which the owners of the mine had been chasing material wealth, sacrificing countless lives in the process.

The preaching became more and more incendiary as deaths multiplied, and by the end of the month, the makeshift cemetery outside the town counted over 80 dead bodies from what came to be known as The White Woes.

Dealing with a progressively more scared workforce (several workers had stopped going to the mines altogether. That's the problem with paid employees), a string of inexplicable deaths, and a looming outbreak of religious zeal, the party decided to take things more seriously.

Using their contacts within the Church of Desna -Hassan still hadn't repaid what he stole from them, by the way-, they hired a couple of exorcists to find out what was going on. Valanar was suspecting some kind of ghost or spirit that came from the Ethereal Plane, yet the exorcists found nothing of sorts, even after covering the settlement with all kinds of "ghost-sensitive holy water vials" and other such items of dubious effectiveness and considerable cost.

Still, during that night, they heard the same horrible screams reported earlier, and rushed to see what was going on: a homeless was bellowing his lungs into the street, and they found him literally trying to gouge out his own eyes, while his hair and skin turned pale in a matter of seconds; he was dead before anyone could do anything. Quickly, they broke out every kind of divination spell they had at hand, and managed to detect an evil aura lingering in the area, as well as a strong leftover of conjuration magic.

Conjuration? That meant some kind of force -or creature- had been brought here from another location. Rakhim quickly pointed out something else: When they found the screaming hobo, he was yelling about worms and bugs, and rather than contorting in pain, he looked like he was downright horrified.

Knowledge check; something is shouting in the back of his head, but he can't take a hold of it. He announced he needs to take a trip back to Katapesh to consult the libraries. He has a strong suspicion of what might be going on.

So Rakhim the Sonk takes a leave of absence from Saltspit to visit Katapesh, where he meets up with a fellow vudrani, who helps him gain entry to the Old Archives of the Grand Lodge of the Golden Peacock, one of the oldest civil organizations in the city, and keeper of quite a vast collection of books and scrolls, most of which were donated by the many members of this tea-and-crumpets -or coffee-and-dates- society of well-off gentlemen with large turbans.

After searching the archives for hours, he finally stumbled on the kind of information he was after. Long story short, Rakhim cleared up his suspicions: It wasn't ghosts what came through the portal, but night hags, denizens of the Deep Ethereal that hunt the souls and dreams of mortals to barter them with nameless entities or engorge them themselves.

He buys a magic lamp emitting a constant effect of Dimensional Anchor from the infamous Dark Stalls of Katapesh and rushed back to Saltspit to get himself some hags, which oblige him and the party in one of the many fetid alleys of the town.

Part VIII: Well Hello There

Battle ensues for a while, until they manage to subdue and capture one of the hags. Zone of Truth in place, they get the old lady talking and she reveals what's going on: The splitting of the rift resulted in an intermittent portal opening between the salt mine and the Deep Ethereal, which quickly drove the attention of the Night Hags wandering there. After "smelling" mortals on the other end, they went through and began hunting the sleepers for their dreams.

But dreams themselves are not as in high demand in the Great Beyond as nightmares are, apparently. It seems that, while the latter can be used to brew quite nasty things, the former will mostly net you unicorns and candy rainbows (and smaller trading margins with the all-consuming entities from other dimensions), and so the Night Hags had resorted to planting motes of fear and in the heads of their victims, waiting them to grow into full-fledged nightmares, and later returning to, quite literally, harvest them. Turns out the whole dying thing was just a side-effect.

At first, the party was troubled. Night Hags are not stuff you often play along with, and truth be told there were some concerns on, you know, people having such horrible nightmares that they kicked the bucket in their sleep. But as it was becoming standard modus operandi for these guys, where there is a problem, there is an opportunity of pecuniary persuasion (and also usually shifts toward Evil alignments. I swear these guys are good people in real life).

So there they are, pondering, when Hassan looks at Valanar, and I notice both are thinking the same thing:
"My good... err, lady. We have a proposition" goes the Rogue with his eyes looking like money signs.
What came out of the resulting conversation (which at first was met with hostility, but after the rogue -rather foolishly, but served the purpose- allowed the Night Hag to read his thoughts and realize he was being honest) was the following:

Saltspit would provide "plenty of fertile ground" for the hags to plant their nightmares, and harvesting would be then allowed to proceed at certain designated locations to minimize exposure to fear by the general population. In exchange, the hags would pay the party a monetary compensation.

Hassan took the issue to Prince Osman (he knew the guy was extremely flexible on his morals when it came to money), and while at first he was a bit troubled, when the rogue began explaining his plan (which basically consisted of "we'll make money, lots of it"), the katapeshi noble was quick to jump in.

The rest of that session was spent working on the operational aspects.

First, the "pots" (code word used to refer to the people they'd be renting out to the Hags to plant their nightmares) would be taken from the Grand Prison of Khandassar, the monumental jail hanging from the cliffs south of Katapesh, where so many people are incarcerated that the wardens lost count long ago. The Prince had family connections to one of the most important judges in the city, which in turn had a sway over the prison's overseer. In exchange for payment, prisoners would be regularly hauled from Khandassar to Saltspit, under the pretext that the city was being paid for sending prisoners as slave force to the mines in exchange for funds that would be, of course, spent in stuff like orphanages and metropolitan beautification (if we consider wenches for the overseer as "orphans" and a new palace as "beautification").

Once in Saltspit, the prisoners would be put to work in the salt operation (estimates had it that with the remaining salt, the mine should remain functional for about four more months). The Hags would plant the fear motes during the night, when the prisoners are sent to sleep in bunkhouses kept a mile away from the town to avoid anyone noticing anything (the excuse was that the prisoners were dangerous, and the administration was worried about the safety of the Saltspitooners. The people bought it quickly, particularly now that "The White Woes" had stopped and they could get back to their normal lives).

Now, the party requested the Hags to prepare a "control test", which consisted of five poor sods that were chained to a rock far away into the desert and implanted with fear motes of differing magnitudes*. These tests subjects would help properly appreciate the rates of degeneration, which was important since, as Valanar pointed out, the prisoners should be put to work on the salt operation while the nightmares grew, which in turn would let them cut down the costs on hired labour and slave purchases (the price they agreed to pay for each prisoner was substantially less than the average price for a strong slave in the flesh markets of Katapesh).
However, they also wanted to know how quickly would the subjects begin to show signs of madness that could endanger the operation or blow the cover.

Second, there was the matter of an "extradimensional consultant". Even though the Hags had shown keen interest in the deal, they were still Nigh Hags, and you just don't trust Night Hags. Recalling the events that led to this whole thing in the first place -the severing of the rift-, the party sought to contact Emir Kassan Bin Fashar (the jewel trader who Sheik Ibn Shappur used as a contact to get the Dao to send his elementals to the other side of the rift). If the man had been capable enough to sabotage their salt-spewing portal, he must certainly be capable enough to help them trade nightmares in another world.

Their idea was to get the Emir on their side (with money, of course. Works better than any Enchantment spell. Valanar prepared a few of those just in case, though), in order to use his contacts with the Dao and find someone outside that could serve as a middleman with the Hags.

As it turns out, the Emir himself was a Dao, long ago banished from the Elemental Plane of Earth, and after an encounter that included copious amounts of pesh liquor and dates, they got him on his side (the Emir himself never really held any kind of animosity towards them to begin with, as the salt business was of no interest to him. He was just repaying favours to Sheik Ibn Shappur).

In exchange for a cut of the deal, the Emir agreed to pull strings within the Great Dismal Delve, and soon after managed to set up a formal meeting between the party, the Hags, and his own advisors, which took place the following week (a hag by the name of Twice-Cursed Irisna became the official representative of the nightmare snatchers).

During the meeting, (during which the party was presented as the Saltspit Trading Company, or STC. The name stuck) the party got to set down more concrete rules regarding payment: Since the Hags didn't usually handle actual money (stolen souls and dreams being their coinage instead), they would exchange those for gems through one of the Emir's contacts in the Great Dismal Delve. The gems would be then smuggled into Katapesh through the Emir's mines (which, as previously mentioned, produce absolutely nothing, instead being a cover-up for a portal into the Elemental Plane of Earth through which he gets his goods) and traded at the Magnificent Pavilion -the most important jewelry exchange in the city, owned by the Emir-, where they would get converted into hard, Prime Material cash by selling the gems to the local traders.

Everyone seemed happy with the agreement: The Hags got the nightmares they traded with dark entities from beyond reality, the Emir got the income resulting from soul trade with the Lower Planes, and the party got the money from the jewelry exchange. The Prince would in turn earn his participation from the gold income provided by the gems, and in turn handle the bribes to his cousin the judge. The prison overseer would be getting paid directly by the Saltspit Trading Company, disguised as "administrative facilitations", while the money that was being paid to the "city" as part of the deal was used to bribe the various tax collectors, bureaucrats and guards involved in keeping the whole thing quiet.

All in all, they managed to set up quite an impressive network, and the new deal promised a good way to offset the loss of the rift business. Jack and Rakhim kept voicing their concerns regarding the completely amoral nature of the whole thing, but between Valanar's convoluted rationalization and Hassan's pep-talk, they ended folding into the plan.

*: As the Hags explained during one of the meetings, the fear motes were produced from horrible "patchwork memories" they fished off the waters of the River Styx -the river steals away the memories of those that touch it, and these memories linger there for endless years, sometimes mixing up and resulting in thoughts and ideas that would give an oinoloth the chills-, and could potentially make extremely powerful ones. However, for a nightmare to be truly appreciated in the otherworldly markets of the planes, they had to be properly cultivated and grown as naturally as possible. Thus, they often used fear motes of lower magnitude on humans, to avoid the risk of sudden death before the nightmare was ripe for harvesting

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