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

Part IX: The STC Is Your Friend

Let's move about a month forward in time.

The salt operation is still generating cash (though some undersizing had to be done in order to reduce costs, as it was clear salt would be running out soon), and the deal with the Hags has already generated two batches of gems, most of which were sold at the Magnificent Pavilion for handsome amounts of cash. About 20 prisoners are being sent per week from Khandassar to Saltspit, and so far no one seems to be suspecting. There was some digging a while ago by a few merchants with big noses, but they were shut off when the STC agreed to buy their entire supply -they were food merchants-, which in turn was used to open an STC-run restaurant in Katapesh.

During week four, a message from Prince Osman -the party had finally managed to get a couple of Crystal Balls installed for quick communications with the noble- arrives saying that the prison's Overseer is requesting a meeting. Apparently, there were some issues with the last group of prisoners.

The party meets with the Overseer and the Prince at the latter's palace. The issue relates to the fact that six of the prisoners sent last week were actually not convicted for life (they were only sending those who were never going to get out of jail), and their families had somehow managed to convince a magistrate to investigate the case. The Overseer explained that they were running out of jailed-for-life prisoners, and had retorted to sending those they thought no one would miss, but failed to check properly.

Jack accidentally gave them a possible solution while improv-singing "Prisons get empty when booze ain't aplenty".

The tune gave Hassan an idea: "Overseer, how many people got sent to jail during last year's Carnival of the Setting Sun?" (he made the carnival up, but I liked where he was going, so I went along with it), to which the Overseer said "A lot. Why?"

Hassan then planned it out: They would organize a festival and get as many people as drunk as possible in order to have them committing all sorts of disorderly conducts -and, hopefully, crimes-. By using Prince Osman's contacts with the judges, they would push to have as many of those convicted for life (bribing the guards and making up some witnesses would help), sent to Khandassar and ultimately to Saltspit.

They had the means, and so the Festival of Wonders was organized. They hired acrobats from distant Tian Xia, sword eaters from Qadira, taldoran wrestlers, spinning gypsies from Varisia, and exotic animals of all sorts. They rented several alehouses and taverns to give out ludicrous amounts of piss-poor alcohol (very cheap and really strong. Taste doesn't really matter once people get drunk enough). While the operation proved to be quite expensive, at the end of the celebration the courts were overflowing and Khandassar was getting filled up again.

With the Grand Prison hauling fresh loads of prisoners once per week again, things began normalizing in terms of worker/nightmare pot supply. After the Festival of Wonders, the party bought three taverns in bad neighbourhoods of Katapesh in order to keep a regular supply of not-so-good people being turned criminals due to everything from drunken manslaughter to "profoundly insulting public urination", and then laid out the chart for the influx of prisoners. During the first month, Khandassar would send 10 prisoners per week –about 180 people were jailed for life after the Festival. While the bribed judges did their best, truth is that katapeshi law is extremely lax, and it’s hard to get a life sentence on someone. Most cases were a stretch, anyway, so the party kept having to bribe more people to avoid issues-, and then decrease the rate to 5, with the approximate rate of life sentences being nailed on people from the Crime Makers –term used to refer to the taverns they bought. They were really shifty establishments, you know- at 1d4 per week, plus another 1d4 from the standard rate of life sentences being dispensed by regular justice.

That way, they could get a reliable source of materials that should last until the next Festival (the global estimates indicated that with the current supply and rate of imprisonment, they should have enough people for the next five months, so they decided to announce the Festival of Wonders would be happening twice per year. This allowed them to strike some pretty convenient deals with the performers, by asking lower prices in exchange for secure future hiring).

Although the new rate of prisoners was lower than initially expected, they talked it out with the Hags. Their designated negotiator, Twice-Cursed Irisna, explained that they could have a mean to retain the same level of income, if the party managed to improve the quality of each nightmare (they never really explained what exactly they were doing with the nightmares, but at one point the party had reasons to suspect they were being sold to yugoloths who were using them to further their investigations on the true nature of evil. Even this party was weary of having anything to do with yugoloths, but as Hassan pointed out “We are just providing a service, which helps people satisfy needs otherwise hard to come by. If the bad guys also get them, well, it is a worthy price to pay for equal-opportunity access. We really are doing a good service”, to which my response was “Yes, how selfless of you. Move your alignment chart one box to the left. At this point, all you have to do is step on a flower to turn Evil, and it doesn't even have to be a pretty one”, and his answer “Okay. But I still get the money, right?”. Bastard).

Part X: Let's Go Deeper

Valanar picked it up from there. He had some ideas that involved some pretty nasty things, but as it is usual with the player behind the character, he wouldn’t say what exactly until, he specified, they managed to secure a psion. Psionics are not usually featured in my campaigns (I don’t allow it as a playable class), but Golarion has a few of them so I allowed them to try and find one. Upon doing some research, they found two relatively feasible sources of psionics: Jalmeray, where Vudrani monks engaged in self-perfection sometimes develop the capacity to control matter with their minds, and the unexplored depths underneath the Third Realm of Orv, the deepest of the known cave networks that compose the the Golarion-specific version of the Underdark, called the Darklands. There, said the sources, aboleths and other creatures had minds powerful enough to develop psionic powers.

However, getting a Vudrani was out of question, since Rakhim –also a Vudrani from Jalmeray, himself having attended the Schools of Perfection where the psions allegedly could be found- overheard him and he wasn't that over the edge of morality yet, so the only option would be to travel into the Third Realm of Orv and see how on earth they would manage to capture an aboleth and then get it back to Saltspit.

The next session-and-a-half progressed something like this:

1.- The party sets sail for adventure (not really sail since it was overland, but "set wagon wheels for adventure" doesn't sound that exiting) into the mythical Third Realm of Orv, which they had no idea how to get to.

2.- They meet a mad explorer who agrees to show them an entry through a dormant volcano in the Eastern Mwangi Jungles. Mad explorer evaporates when hit by a magma blast.

3.- A healthy serving of drow mercenaries gets massacred on the way down. Enslaving some is considered, but ultimately deemed too problematic. Survivors thrown off a cliff. The prisoners they had were given a "staff that would take them back home if they thought really hard about it". It was really just a wooden stick Valanar found in the rubble nearby.

4.- The crew gets lost in a series of fetid tunnels that for some reason they decided were the right path, which led to Vorgok being snatched by a roof-crawling kind of ooze. We almost lost him that time thanks to a series of horrible rolls. He tried to eat away through the ooze to escape, which he did, but eventually that would almost kill him later on as the ooze began multiplying inside his stomach. Not his proudest moment, but he made it all good when he asked me for a Fortitude roll in order to empty his entire stomach over an enemy in order to have the oozelings attack it.

5.- Numerous instances of "Are you really telling me we have not a single torch or light spell? What the heck, guys. We're not destitute level 1s! No one bought or prepared anything? Rope and torches, man, rope and torches! But seriously?". Seriously.

Ultimately, they found what they wanted on an extremely remote cave who knows how deep: An aboleth. Specifically, a really pissed off aboleth surrounded by half-turned-into-slime humanoids that made for quite a distasteful -yet entertaining- battle. They beat it and captured Slimy (that’s how they named him. Considering aboleths are supposed to be unspeakable superior intellects, I almost had to roll for a Dignity save on behalf of the poor fella).

Now, capturing the aboleth was the easy part; it was getting back to Saltspit what I really wanted to see done. Aboleth are, after all, 25 feet long and weight over 6,000 pounds.
And it started bad, since Valanar mistakenly thought Rakhim knew teleportation spells because of his whole "sorcerer" side, but really all the Sonk used that for was Silent Image to make his stunts look cooler (they didn't), in no way capable of teleporting anything. Frustrated, he attempted going back to where they defeated the drow in order to see if there was any kind of wizard, treasure or scroll that could help, but of course there wasn’t. That trip would take them two days (they were really deep underground), so we fast forwarded a bit.

While Valanar left with Vorgok and Rakhim to check on the downed drows, Hassan and Jack took a while to explore around, when they stumbled upon a gargantuan cave filled with what appeared to be an underground sea, illuminated by incandescent spherical plants that floated high above thanks to being filled with gas pockets, volcanic vents making the whole place warm and sustaining a lush jungle. Or in other words, Voyage to the Centre of the Earth, dinosaurs included. The idea was to have them attacked by a tyrannosaur or something, but little did I know. Hassan stood there for a moment, thinking. I wasn’t sure if he was going to make a joke about Cadillacs & Dinosaurs or something, but instead turned to Jack and said “We have to go back to the aboleth site and wait for the rest to return. I have a plan to get this get Slimy out of here”.

Fast-forward a bit through meet up with the rest of the party, dinosaur fights, exploring, checking of the gas-filled plants, angry pygmyes, etc. The group had just killed a pair of tyrannosaurs when Hassan turns to Valanar “Priest, do you still have the plans we helped design with the engineers of Alkenstar for the cargo zeppelin?”, to which the man –who as previously mentioned always keeps record of everything, and probably carries more weight in maps, scrolls and documents than anything else, his own weight included- said “Yes, I must have the schematics here somewhere. Why?”. Hassan hurried to climb on top of one of the dinosaur corpses and extended his arms around “Because Slimy is going to fly”.

His plan was as follows: They would skin the tyrannosaurs in order to build a large zeppelin balloon, erecting the inner structure out of wood from the jungle and bone from the creatures (ended using wood since the bones were too heavy). They would then fill the balloon with the gas plants (getting those plants was a challenge all by itself, which they ended up doing by building improvise delta wings and using the volcanic vents to get the push upward), and then tie Slimy to it, using the wind currents in the caves to propel forward, as well as a few extremely long sticks in order to push the zeppelin similarly to a gondola (Vorgok would be in charge of that, since he had the strength to do so).

Cue 80's montage.

So they built the thing, saw it worked, went back to Slimy (who was trapped under a pile of rocks they used in lieu for chains) and tied him up with vine ropes. They did have to fight him again, but the aboleth desisted when they reduced him to near death. He kept trying to control their minds the whole trip, though, and almost got Hassan jumping off the ship after a failed Will saving throw. Vorgok then poked one of Slimy’s eyes with the gondola stick and managed to make him stop his mindgames.

Part XI: Slimy's Fancy Trip to Far and Beyond

The trip to the outside, bumping on stalagmites and fending off a generous buffet of underground monstrosities, would take them a while, giving them time to talk about a point somehow everyone forgot about: Why on earth did they need the aboleth for? After granting some extra experience to Valanar for getting everyone to visit the bottom of the world and almost die a few times without even having told them exactly why, he entertained them to an explanation:

The idea was to use a powerful psionic creature to feed the minds of the prisoners with information and emotions that would make the nightmares much more powerful, thus getting a bigger bang for the buck.

"Now, remember when we took a trip to the green hell that is the Mwangi Jungles and found the crumbled city?"

He was harkening back to when several sessions ago they took a trip to Mwangi in order to creaft the Rods of Elemental Compelling they used to herd salt quasielementals. That journey had taken them into the remains of a long-crashed flying city of the Shori civilization. Within them, the party had stumbled upon a faulty device that, they found out, had once been responsible for keeping the city aloft, by using raw energy taken from the very fabric of the cosmos. When they approached said apparatus, however, they kept getting thrown back by extremely unsettling feelings that made no sense at all, and Valanar’s Knowledge [The Planes] check had given him a hint that suggested the machine was actually a hole in reality that had broken into the Far Realms (which also explained the tentacled macaques that ambushed them at the time), that place beyond the Multiverse where reason ceases to exist altogether.

“Having this zeppelin actually makes things much easier” he said, and once they flew out through the dormant volcano, they steered toward the Mwangi Jungles, back into the ruins of the crashed flying city of the Shori.

Slimy wasn’t going to have a good time.

So after flying above the treetops for a few days they finally arrive to the ruins, make quick work of a pack of intelligent gorillas that had taken residence in the area, travel down to the device and set Slimy down on the ground.

Valanar asked me about using a spell in a different way than usual: He wanted to use Dimensional Anchor, but instead of it blocking all kinds of planar travel, he wants it to be “hooked and delayed”, in order to have it cast on Slimy, throw him through the hole into the Far Realm, and then pull him back; a Dimensional Bungee-Jump, if you'd prefer. I said it was a stretch, but he offered me to spend an action point, two spell slots one level higher to prepare it, and I agreed as long as he succeeded at a DC 30 Spellcraft check, plus another DC 30 Spellcraft check when using the spell or risk having himself sucked into the portal, Slimy being teleported into the same spatial coordinates as him or some other nasty effect like that selected entirely at my whim, since he would be playing with a spell that is ultimately derived to him by his goddess. He agreed, so we did the first roll, which he passes. He then spent the next day preparing the adapted spell.

Once he got that sorted out, they woke up Slimy by pelting him with rocks and healed him up a bit just in case. Valanar cast the modified Dimensional Anchor and asked Vorgok to push the aboleth through the portal. Slimy panicked as he got a glimpse of what might be waiting on the other side (which had to be horrible enough to unsettle an aberration), but didn't get enough time to react before falling through. With haste, the party ran back before going mad by the imagery being spewed by the portal, and after about ten seconds, Valanar pulled the aboleth out.

“Will saves, everyone!”

Whatever Slimy saw on the other side of that portal, he was now psionically broadcasting some of the most horrible, incomprehensible and twisted thoughts they had never imagined, shaking like a fish out of the water and oozing foam from every pore. They manage to succeed the saves, tie the aboleth up back to the zeppelin, and hurry up to get back before they ran out of gas*.

*Back when they built the flying machine, I had told them the gas plants would only remain buoyant for 2d6 days, and the result was 9. They had already spent 5 of those days, and they were looking at a similar amount back to Saltspit assuming no ill weather, so they had not a moment to spare.

Part XII: Nightmare Pots

The party barely made it back to Saltspit before running out of gas plants, and in fact travelled the last day so low on it that Slimy was bumping on the rocks below. They had to make Will saves twice per day to avoid going mad over the aboleth's mental ravages, so they had to use everything at their disposal to get save/wisdom bonuses, except Vorgok, who kept enraging to cancel off the effects (since Vorgok began going mad and having his enrage happen at random, I gave him the benefit of being immune to confusion and maddening effects while enraged). They landed/crashed about two miles north-west of Saltspit.

Jack and Vorgok ran back to the town in order to get some assistance. They contacted the Hags, and Twice-Cursed Irina herself offered help, using magic to make Slimy lighter, while Valanar Created Water like it was going out of fashion in order to keep it hydrated it (the constant seizures and wild oozing weren't helping either).

With Irina's help, they got Slimy to the bunkhouses used to keep the prisoners being used as nightmare pots. Some other Hags were working on the 15 prisoners that were currently being used (as the control test subjects showed, prisoners with a planted fear mote would remain functional for about four days, time during which they could work at the salt mines. After that, they kept having nightmares during all times of the day, and that's when they were sent to the bunkhouses, until about a week later they died during their sleeps and the Hags pried the nightmares out just moments before they passed away). They built an improvised pool using some shovels, leftover wood and Valanar's Create Water spells and lay the aberration to rest.

Now they could focus on carrying out the second part of Valanar’s plan, which involved erecting a special facility where the prisoners could be exposed to Slimy’s mind-blasting psionic broadcast in order to feed the nightmares planted by the Hags, while at the same time avoiding anyone else from being affected (the Hags were informed of the dangers and would have to provide their own means of protection. Still, two Hags went mad and had to be put down). The price these new, higher quality nightmares would be fetching in the off-world soul markets increased by 3d100 –totaling 212% increase-, more than making up for the smaller amount of prisoners available. The business was now secured, money was pouring in, and life was good. Well, for some at least.

With the business ventures branching out and the company getting bigger, the party decided to set up monthly Directorate Meetings, which included themselves, Prince Osman, the Emir, Magistrate Belal bin Bassir (Prince Osman’s cousin, the judge that had the justice system working for them), and Twice-Cursed Irina. Here they presented status report on the operations, heard news of potential problems and in general made sure everyone was up to current. A wooden box was set in the back of the room, with a low-level sorcerer chained inside. Pieces of paper where thrown inside containing information, and the slave made sure to cast Silent Image to create a Power-Point stand-in.

I told the party things would be stable for the next two months, and asked if they had anything particular in mind for that period. Since they didn't need to do anything that required direct adventuring, we fast forwarded two months.


I haven't quite caught up with the entire SH yet (I'm currently at the deal with the night hags), but I have to say that you've got a really nasty crew of PCs out there. I wonder how a (originally) CG former pirate (i.e. freedom-lover) could actually put up with the entire slavery thing? And Hassan's and the Ulfen psycho's alignments should also be definitely shifted to evil, with the Ulfen actually even being CE IMHO.

That said, you've got a really entertaining and refreshingly different campaign goin' on there! I love the original idea devised by Hassan's player to open a salt mine (I can just imagine how flabbergasted you were at his plans after yet several sessions had been played following the original investigation of the temple) and I am really amazed at the characters' ability to basically turn crap into a gemstone (as with the whole elemental incursion or the night hag issue, for example).

Really looking forward to reading more of this! :)

Thank you very much, Azkorra. Much appreciated!

I haven't quite caught up with the entire SH yet (I'm currently at the deal with the night hags), but I have to say that you've got a really nasty crew of PCs out there. I wonder how a (originally) CG former pirate (i.e. freedom-lover) could actually put up with the entire slavery thing? And Hassan's and the Ulfen psycho's alignments should also be definitely shifted to evil, with the Ulfen actually even being CE IMHO.

Actually, they did go all the way into evil sooner than later, except for Jack who managed to find a loophole later on. Hassan rapidly went from CN to LE, as he became less about stealing and breaking the law (his original occupation was basically stealing relics from one noble and selling them to another) and more about abusing every single system he found to his advantage; Valanar sat perfectly comfortable in his original LE; Vorgok moved between CN and CE mainly because his character was insane and not always acting out of cruelty. Rakhim took a while to shift, since he kept trying to do good in-between all the evil shenanigans, but ultimately his problem was that, while he questioned the actions of his pals, rarely acted against them. Jack often tried to distance himself from the actual bad stuff, but he still enjoyed the benefits and essentially let it all happen, so he kept tumbling into NE until he discovered the loophole I mentioned.

That said, you've got a really entertaining and refreshingly different campaign goin' on there! I love the original idea devised by Hassan's player to open a salt mine (I can just imagine how flabbergasted you were at his plans after yet several sessions had been played following the original investigation of the temple) and I am really amazed at the characters' ability to basically turn crap into a gemstone (as with the whole elemental incursion or the night hag issue, for example).

Indeed I was! A lot of real-world time had passed between the two events, and I had basically forgotten about the salt rift. But that was the tonic throughout the campaign, and these guys (particularly the players behind Hassan and Valanar) really did a huge amount of planning in secret, bringing up stuff that I had considered completely inconsequential just to give the entire campaign a twist. It made it very entertaining for me to DM, since I was being constantly surprised by stuff I hadn't even thought of; they basically made the story up for me -I kept shaking some things to make it dynamic, but really it was them who made it all happen-, and it was a really fun change of pace.

Part XIII: The Hags' Haggle

So the two months fly by at the speed of fast-forwarding, and in the Directorate Meeting of Erastus -the Golarion equivalent of July-, Twice-Cursed Irina arrives with a demand: Her covenant, the Hooked Fathom, desired an increase in their profit margin due to the regular difficulties they have to endure for using the unstable rift as means of transportation (they could perfectly teleport by themselves, but hey, business are business). The party said they would consider it.

Hassan and Valanar began discussing on how to avoid having to pay the Hags more; they were worried both about the decrease in their profit and about the fact that the Hags were starting to realize they had enough leverage to start pulling stuff like this (and truth be told, the STC had been getting the bigger part of the deal for quite a while now). Valanar proposed stabilizing the rift and turning it into a permanent portal into the Deep Ethereal, and so they travelled back to Katapesh to find someone capable of such a feat. That would serve as both an argument against the Hag's demand and tone down the everyday problems caused by having an unbound wormhole.

A lot of talking and money later, they were back in Saltspit with a team of mages who assured them foolproof portal security. They closed the salt operations earlier to avoid anyone growing suspicious and began working on the rift (which was now completely exposed as the extraction had depleted about 2/3rds of the remaining salt).

According to the magic-users, their “Infallible Interdimensional Sustaining Pylons” would solidify the cosmological nexus of any portal, thus making it permanent so long as the pylons were kept in place and filled with mercury once per year. Apparently, though, the system wasn’t tested on dissected rifts.

“The rift starts humming as a thick, heavy fog pours through it, signaling the ethereal discharge to come. Reflex saving throws, everyone!”

Hassan: Success, check.

Valanar: Success, check.

Jack: Success, check.

Rakhim: Success, check.

Vorgok: Utter failure*. Vorgok was fully exposed to the blast from the Deep Ethereal, and immediately began hearing voices; he already had several voices in his head prior to this (“Vorgok never pays attention to his head. If he did, he would be insane!” he often said), so the incident didn't make him particularly worried. The effects of this exposure would later play a bigger role. But for now, he just felt “lighter”.

As the rift kept discharging ethereal fumes from the depths of the between-worlds, the party began noticing a lot of stuff that previously wasn't there now was: Ghostly towers half-buried in the ground, phantasmal creatures frolicking around, semi-transparent vistas, lush forests that faded in and out between blinks… things were turning quite weird.

The event also attracted the interest of two other covenants of Night Hags, which scented the nightmares being brewed and went into a harvesting frenzy, which quickly evolved in an all-out battle between dozens of Hags and their servants literally made out of bad dreams, catching the characters in the middle, who used Slimy as a mean to turn many of them insane and thus were able to keep them at bay while support came from the Hooked Fathom Covenant.

They lost a lot of prisoners and valuable nightmares during this fight, but the treasures retrieved from the invading Hags (mostly souls and dreams, which while useless to them, were eventually traded off-world through the Emir’s contacts in the Dismal Delve) made up for some of the expenses. Also, most of the warring took place in the bunkhouses away from the city, which helped keep the whole thing quiet (the party already had hired a band of vudrani illusionists to create diversions whenever trouble happened, so the populace –and, more importantly, the religious leaders that were always trying to find a way to screw with the STC- wouldn't know what was really going on. This time they made it look like a bunch of chimaeras from the Brazen Peaks had attacked).

*: The player behind Vorgok has a long tradition of critical failures in the worst possible moments. In fact, one of the reasons he gave during character creation for him picking up the feat Animal Fury -which grants a natural bite attack- was the fact that he always had critical fumbles and ended up tossing his weapons into a friend or breaking them up somehow, and he had started to wonder if his roleplaying career was doomed to rely on bare hands.

Part XIV: A Handful of Dreams

Things calmed down eventually. Yet something was bothering Valanar:

“So when this portal got severed, it became a tunnel into the Deep Ethereal, right? Now, what we got was Night Hags. But if memory serves, there is another very important thing to be found in the Deep Ethereal, which is in fact the chief reason Night Hags are there to begin with”

Glad as always for my player’s interest in all things cosmological and knowing the guy had a big bonus to his Knowledge roll, I let him go through with his dissertation:

“Dreams! According to some sages, somewhere in the farthest fathoms of the Deep Ethereal lies the Region of Dreams, where everything concocted by the minds of those who sleep takes form. All of this… flying castles, impossible animals, multicoloured forests, I’d say…”

“Hold on to your trousers” Said Hassan while looking around at the misty shapes that had flooded into the desert after the incident with the portal with sudden interest “If I get where you’re going, and I usually do, are you suggesting all this stuff is made from... dreams?”

“Essentially, yes” Answered the cleric.

“And where do they come from?” At this point in the story, you know that Hassan never asks something like this merely out of curiosity.

“From anyone dreaming them. The legends tell that when we dream, those things that exist in our heads literally exist in the Plane of Dreams, which really is a subset of the Ethereal”

“Hey Dungeon Master” went Hassan “Tell me something: Could a dream, hypothetically, materialize into something real? Very hypothetically, of course”'

“Don’t ask me, ask the cleric!”

“Cleric! Same question!”

“No metagaming…”

“… Hassan asks the same question I just asked him, but with a Katapeshi accent”

After a few rolls, some private talking with Valanar (who often tells me to give him the information through notes, since he enjoys withholding important pieces of info in order to use it whenever it is more dramatically appropriate) and a lengthy exposition on the cosmological nature of dreams and how could they, potentially, be made of elemental matter instead of ether, the player behind Hassan stands from his seat:

“Guys, do I really need to say it?”

Who dreams these things and how do we get to them. That was the subject of the rest of the session and good part of the next. Also, there was the passing question of why did Vorgok experience such sudden cravings of random food, why did he feel the extreme necessity of swimming in lakes he had never seen, or why on earth did he break into tears from one moment to the next when he remembered his long-dead sister, something particularly intriguing considering he didn't have a sister in the first place. But as with all things Vorgok, the party had learned to ignore most of the weird stuff unless it had an impact in his capacity to murder things with his bare hands, so it was quickly left to simmer in doubt.

After a good while of telling them “Hmm, well, you can try, but –roll- you don’t really get any meaningful information”, Valanar had an idea:

“I need to contact Irina. These hags must have some kind of method of tracking dreams back to their owners”

Part XV: I Have a Dream (Or Two)!

So this crew of misfits managed to set up a meeting with Twice-Cursed Irina, who constantly and unsuccessfully tried to press the issue of all the troubles the recent incident caused to her covenant and how she needed a bigger cut, but truth is the battle with the other two covenants left the Hooked Fathom weak enough that it was now the STC the one with the better leverage, so eventually she assumed the deal they struck a while ago would take some time to materialize. Instead, she ended up telling the party that one of the eldest hags within the covenant, Ever-Scowling Calpurnia, was a master in the art of torturing mortals through their dreams, and if someone knew how to track them back to their owners, she was the one.

Once more and for a brief spell, I got the chance to send these guys on a normal adventure, this time to meet Ever-Scowling Calpurnia in a long-forgotten grotto somewhere in a collapsing demiplane in the Deep Ethereal (filled with all manners of dreams gone very wrong; basically tentacles, tentacles everywhere).

The hag sends them for some cosmological hitch-hiking and presents them with a challenge inspired by Plato’s Analogy of the Divided Line. Long story short, Calpurnia handed them over a bag of Terror Dust. As she explained, if sprinkled in the whereabouts of a materializing dream (normally within the Deep Ethereal, but after the incident, some dreamscapes were transmigrated into Golarion), the dust would create a silvery trail leading back into to the mind from which it sparked.

So with the tool to find the origin in hand, the party quickly runs into the dream-choked desert and start checking around like kids on a candy store.

“There’s a minotaur with four arms there; sprinkle some dust on him! And over that tree covered with swords! Oh, and on that room filled with gold pieces too!”

Basically, I had to spend an hour making up random dreams with a generator I found online while they browsed for stuff that enthralled them. They planned on making them real. The theory they were basing their plan on was something like this: a dreamscape, which is a region of space where dreams take form, when remaining in existence for long enough –meaning the people dreaming its do so for extended periods of time- can materialize. Since this normally only happens in the Deep Ethereal, the results very rarely have any sort of impact in the Multiverse, asides from some odd abominations made of ether and the like. But if for some reason a dreamscape were to form in a planar location containing actual matter, there was a possibility that it took real, solid form. The prospect was both tremendously interesting and terrifying.

As it can be guessed, their plan was to find the owners of some of these dreams and find a way to keep them dreaming for long enough for these to materialize within the katapeshi desert. Then they would find a way to monetize it into oblivion.

The Saltspit Dreamscape was filled with all manners of odd, amazing and horrifying things –as dreams and nightmares often are-, and several of them had started to take a wee bit of physical substance in the way of swirling shapes of dust, sand, and salt (which meant the team of vudrani illusionist had to be put to work on double duty to minimize the impact. Still, the good old Imam Salim Al'Salam was managing to stir some trouble back in town, as rumours of wispy demons and walking houses among the sands spread from one tavern to the next).

Whenever they saw something that piqued their interest (particularly stuff dealing with oversized gems, monster they could use to open a battle arena and dreams about well-hidden artifacts and the means to get to them –like I was going to put one of those there-), they would send Vorgok to sprinkle the dust, which earned him the new nickname of "The Pain Fairy"; the reason they sent him is because some of the nightmares could prove to be dangerous and mind-twisting, and really, there was no physical or mental blow Vorgok couldn’t stand (the former because of his sheer HP pool, the second because of his lack of room for additional insanity*).

I wasn’t going to make it so easy, but truth be told I was enjoying all these crazy plans, so I gave some chances in the form of 1d100. If the result was under 20%, the dream they sprinkled the Terror’s Dust over would be coming from someone in Golarion (after all, dreams can come from any dreaming mind in the Multiverse); if so, I would then roll 2d1000, and the result would indicate the number of kilometers away from where the dream was being had (1 km = 0.6 miles, by the way). Calpurnia’s bag only had 8 (out of 1d10 rolled upon acquisition) uses, though, so there was a good chance of not finding any dream within reasonable distance, or even within their same plane of existence. However, they got lucky on 2 dreams/nightmares:

-A Horribly Enormous Shapeless Thing Covered in Teeth That Spat Other Shapeless Things Covered in Teeth. Basically, a gibbering mouther the size of a house. Can’t remember the exact distance, but it ended being in the Screaming Jungles in eastern Sargava, which was about 1,500 miles to the south-west of Katapesh.

-The Fountain of Liquid Gold, which ended up being in Jalmeray, Rakhim’s homeland, an island nation which was about 400 miles to the east of Katapesh

It shouldn't be too hard to guess which one they wanted to go after first.

*: The player behind Vorgok, who was really enjoying playing a mentally-deranged barbarian, was overjoyed with the ethereal blast that got him acting even odder -a result of being exposed to raw dreamstuff-, and this led to some pretty amusing situations, including, but not restricted to a reenactment of Don Quixote, where Vorgok would tilt at rocks and attempt to rescue a piece of wood he deemed Dulcinea –along with the sorrowful scene when he accidentally broke it- and a “Smoke, I need to smoke!” that ended up turning Vorgok a cigar aficionado –practice which he kept even after going back to normal. I can’t think of many things more stylish than a Viking-looking barbarian charging at you with a smoking cigar in his mouth. Since he had to spit them out in order to use his bite attack, he ended up setting fire to a lot of random stuff.

Part XVI: To Rule a City

Chasing dreams and all that was very nice, but eventually the party realised they had been putting more down-to-earth stuff on the backburner for a while. Specifically, there was a bunch of administrative and managerial shenanigans regarding the burgeoning town Saltspit was turning into to take care of:

The Salt Operation
Whipmaster Konkaf (a Cyclops they bought in Katapesh to take care of in-situ slave labour administration. Very big, very bad at depth perception, and great at workforce motivation) complained that the slaves at the mines were too weak. As it turned out, Khandassar had been shipping sick slaves, and there was now the risk of an epidemic. Konkaf had been breaking some spines to instill morale and see if it cured something, but surprisingly the illness was not reacting to other's people sudden promotion into a paraplegic status. On the bright side, further experimentation had managed to restitute the original portal conduct, and salt was pouring out once more -a second portal had to be built into the Deep Ethereal in order to allow easy access for the Hags-, which meant the operation could go back into full operation (and rogue quasielementals were chasing down people like in the good old days). A deal was struck with the Festerfang gnoll tribe, which was able to secure some extra slaves from the deserts of Osirion to the north, and in general the plague thing was played down so much even the sick guys were starting to forget about it (not really, but that was the official version announced by the recently created Saltspit Barber-Surgeon General office).

The Brass Legion
Hranuf, the ulfen in charge of handling the 60-some mercenaries that made up the Brass Legion -the guys in charge of "security"-, demanded better living conditions for his men. Among other things, he wanted an increase of 6 copper pieces per day of work for each man, private latrines (the “Salspit Shithouses”, the vast hive of rotting public latrines set up in the early days of the city, were infamous for being so foul that some people literally died while using them due to the noxious gases and extremely unsafe scaffolding. The thing was enormous, big enough that it was unofficially considered to be a quarter of the city all by itself, also serving as a part-time cemetery and exotic zoo), and the right to one harlot each week for every man, which would be chosen from any of the city’s wenching houses.

The final agreement included a raise of 2 silver pieces a week, plus another 5 for the 10 best-performing mercenaries; this was Jack’s idea: The performance would be determined by a system where all the mercenaries would be divided between the four districts of Saltspit in which they operated (Northern Saltspit -the... well, northern part of town-, the Bazaar –the area where most of the commercial activity took place-, the Ledge –the side of the town that was next to the mine and existed in a perpetual state of crumbling down- and the Pit of Prostitutes –the area of Saltspit where gambling and drinking, but mostly wenching, happened, and the turf of Mahmud Al'Sherengen -). Then, the local population would vote for those members of the Legion they considered had done a good job . As it can be expected, this soon spiralled into an epidemic of leg-breaking, house-burning, and fist-assisted suicides, all in the name of sound, healthy democracy, of course.

The rest of the agreement went on about the private latrines (eight would be build, two in each district. The Brass Legion would be in charge of upkeep, though, which essentially meant they would bully the locals for it or drown them in crap) and the wenches. This last part caused some friction, since Vorgok –who as previously mentioned had the right to Prima Nocte for every new lady of ill-repute in Saltspit- had become very attached to the harlot community, and in fact was quite well received by them, and he refused to diminish them so much. In the end, though, Hranuf was inflexible about his men’s necessities, and it was settled that 3 wenches would be sent each night to the Legion’s headquarters in the Bazaar –generously provided by Al’Sherengen’s Pavillion of Pleasure-, but the men would have to share.

Urban Planning
Saltspit had grown beyond all expectations. Indeed, nearly 6,000 people lived there and more kept coming, making it the third largest settlement in the region, after Katapesh (around 200,000) and Okeno (around 13,000). It had also developed into a full-fledged trading nexus, with all the wealth produced directly or indirectly by the STC spilling over to hundreds of other business activities (did I mention the excellent state of the wenching industry?), with caravans going in and out non-stop, carrying all sorts of goods, from katheeran silk to thuvian wine, nexian glowstones and black powder from Alkenstar, slaves from Katapesh and even the occasional load of tobacco from the unknown reaches of southern Garund, of which Vorgok quickly became a well-known connoisseur, holding weekly "Let's Smoke This Thing and Chat" sessions in the House of Smelly Fountains that eventually gathered dozens of cigar enthusiasts. All this prosperity, however, was starting to cause a few problems beyond the sands: Magistrate Kemal Al’Kaffesh had recently been dispatched from Katapesh to sort out the urban status of Saltspit: Was it a city? Did it recognize the primacy of the Pactmasters and Pactbrookers? Did it abide to the –highly flexible- katapeshi legal system? Was trade being protected? Who handled crime? Where were the criminals being sent? And a long et cetera that required urgent looking-into.

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