D&D General Where has the antiquities dealer gone?

I've got an extra week (possibly two) to do prep work for my Dungeon World game, and the party is on the hunt for a certain antiquities dealer, Zahara Benali. She's a relatively well-to-do woman, wealthy enough that the antiquities trade is something she does for the joy of it, but not so wealthy as to have a seat on the Brass Ring--think "lowest tier of upper class" rather than "highest tier of middle class," a distinction simultaneously subtle and of great import in Al-Rakkah. She has a private estate outside the city (relatively common for rich folks), a narrow townhouse-like residence in Al-Rakkah, and a small "gallery" space/trading office in a smaller city, Al-Maralus.

And she's gone missing. Seemingly for a while.

Now, initially I had no idea why she'd gone missing. This arose because one of the players, our Battlemaster, wanted to delve deeper into solving his family history, which involves (for complicated reasons that would take too long to explain) finding the third of three artifacts, a magical mirror. I hadn't planned a single thing about this antiquities dealer until the player asked, "Hey, I know you mentioned Shen had passed me some rumors about mirror-stuff. Who did he hear them from?" Thus Zahara Benali came to the party's attention, but (alas!) a failed Discern Realities revealed the rather unwelcome truth that she wasn't around...and hadn't been for weeks, perhaps months. But that didn't jive with when they'd heard about stuff from Shen, so they dug deeper. They've since figured out that she's almost certainly gone into hiding, but whether her absence is willing or unwilling--or started out willing before taking a sudden turn--remains unknown.

The four things they definitely do know:
  1. She had been doing research into a wave of immigration from the faraway nation of Yuxia about 200-250 years ago. That was around the time the black dragon that is trying to take over Al-Rakkah faked their own death, escaping to the Tarrakhuna, where dragons are rare (and thus no one knows how to fight them.) (This may have been done at Shen's request, as he is hunting this black dragon; the party doesn't know yet, as they intend to meet him next session.)
  2. The black dragon's gang, cells of street toughs and other plausibly deniable assets, were apparently aware of Mrs. Benali's activities, and had been trying (unsuccessfully) to breach her security in order to get what info she'd already collected. They had been doing it relatively quietly, but evidently felt that the party's arrival justified a more dramatic show of force.
  3. She hasn't been in her townhouse for several weeks, but that seems to have been an oversight--things like rotting fruit in her kitchen seem to indicate she meant to return sooner.
  4. She has clearly done some preparations for not being around. Servants haven't been coming by to clean, all the real valuables have been stashed away (no paintings or other particularly valuable curios in the house proper, all stored away in the basement), and with a thief's eye the party could tell she'd made sure her study looked messy and actively used, but that this was a cover to conceal that none of the messy documents are actually important.
They might learn more, as they were able to take in two gang-member prisoners without killing them--including one who actually underwent a (somewhat disturbing) transformation into, apparently, a half-dragon. They already knew the gang was using some kind of alchemical agent to bulk up, basically fantasy steroids, presumed to be provided by the black dragon. This was just a...rather unpleasant physical demonstration. They'll get a chance to interrogate the prisoners, who have been turned over to the custody of the City Watch (under a commander the party implicitly trusts).

But that all leaves open...where IS Mrs. Benali*? What was she doing before things clearly went pear-shaped?

I'm not strictly looking for a single answer. More hoping the, ahem, "cloud" can provide interesting suggestions or concepts to riff off of. I haven't prepared any of the above stuff, it was 100% pure improvisation, I just find it easier to work with "having some vague idea of what's going on" rather than "thank you for flying Seat-Of-Your-Pants Airlines."

*She's married, but she and her husband don't seem to spend much time together, he's a minor functionary in some Jinnistani court. The exact nature of their relationship is unknown, but mortal/genie marriages like this, while not common, are hardly unusual, and frequently loveless but not acrimonious, just exploited for benefits.
 

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jgsugden

Legend
If Mrs. Benali is a spellcaster, or is good friends with a spellcaster: She went nowhere and far away at the same time. She has been hiding in Mordenkainen's Magnificant Mansion. The entrance to it is someplace out of the way, likely unconnected to her activities but available (a warehouse, beneath a dock, in a privy at a bar, etc...

When the PCs are hunting for someone of her description, someone can get them to the right area, and there will be some kid/drunk/rogue that saw the glimmering door accessed by someone. (The door is invisible when the portal is closed).

What she has been doing: Waiting. The path to the mirror in question is lost. She believes it is described in a Tome in the possession of an Efreeti in the City of Brass. She has been trying to negotiate a meeting with the Efreeti, but the Efreeti is unwilling and she has concerns about being in the City of Brass for too long due to past bad business there. When the PCs find her, she offers to go with them to the City of Brass in person so long as they protect her until the meeting can be secured. In exchange, all she asks is that they then recover the mirror, give her a month to study the mirror once it is recovered, and that they keep her safe.

The described location could be ancient or relatively new - and the reason that path is described in it could be that she knows it was brought to a place thought well hidden centuries ago, or one created fairly recently by a powerful being. My suggestion: Pick a place in your world that had a disaster and then put the Mirror in a Ravenloft Domain in the Shadowfell that is reliving that disaster daily. From the moment the PCs arrive they have 24 hours to find the Mirror and escape with it or else be caught up in that disaster (and either need to figure out how to survive it and repeat the day again, or perhaps become a permanent part of the Ravenloft repeat cycle).

Adventure Hooks:
Securing travel to the City of Brass.
Dealing with the 'prior bad business' can be a threat in the City of Brass.
The negotiations themselves - do they go good or bad? Do the PCs instead steal the Tome?
Traveling to the described destination.
Delving in the described location.
Keeping an eye on her, and the mirror, for that month ... when perhaps it corrupts her (or something else does) and puts the Mirror back in jeopardy.
The path above could be run in 2 four hour sessions or stretch on for twenty.
 



Stormonu

Legend
One of Benali's semi-regular patrons is a gold dragon, whose been keeping an eye on the Black Dragon. He tipped off Benali that the Dragon's thieves were about to strike, and that it would be a good idea for her not to be in the villa. The theives are looking for some old maps that lead to an item the Black Dragon wants, and that the Gold Dragon would rather they not get their hands on it. The Gold Dragon helped Benali magically transport valuable items to a nearby city for safekeeping, but she hasn't had time to get word safely back to her husband just yet. Beyond the help the Gold Dragon has given (posing as a Sorceror), it is reluctant to involve itself further, as that may draw the Black Dragon, instead of just its minions, into affairs.

Eventually, Benali can get word to her husband (and the PC's), but there is a risk the Black Dragon bandits might intercept the message if Benali is incautious about the courier or method she entrusts to deliver the message.
 

This is DW, right? What are the PC Bonds, Alignments, and other such considerations that you might build from to answer your questions? That's where I would start.
We've recently switched to the "Chronicles" mechanic rather than Bonds, so that's still up in the air at present. Most of the bonds were between party members though.

As for the party's alignments, we've tweaked things a little, but they are as follows...
Bard: Reveal corruption or oppose oppression.
Battlemaster: Outwit a formidable opponent or discover a crafty strategy.
Fighter: Defeat a worthy opponent, or share my take of the spoils. (Player just NPC-retired his former character, so this could change.)
Spellslinger: Bring a criminal to justice, or advance my art.

Other considerations...
  • The Bard's girlfriend is a relatively high-ranking officer in the Day Watch. (After the old Sultan went mad and was eventually killed by an insurrection, the "city guard" stuff was split off from the Army, into the Day Watch, Night Watch, and Palace Guard.) Bard's girlfriend is more or less 3rd in command of the Day Watch, in part because the party called on aid from the Day Watch and it proved essential for protecting citizen welfare. She was the one who formally deputized the party to perform a welfare check on Mrs. Benali's residence, since they'd found some evidence of minor burglary while checking out the house the first time.
  • The Battlemaster is, formally speaking, still part of the Sultana's Army, but she has personally assigned him to work with the party to deal with various issues, in part because she thinks he is a good fit for the mission, and in part because this allows her a great deal of flexibility in diplomatic terms. (Since he's formally in the Army, but "assigned" to freelance adventurer duties, when he succeeds it's a diplomatic coup for Al-Rakkah, and when he screws up, it's his fault. She genuinely believes he'll succeed, but he's aware of the responsibility he has.)
  • The Fighter has literally just joined the party in the last two sessions, after the Druid (soft) retired to go study how to be a Safiqi priest. New Fighter is not much of a "big picture" guy, though that may change under the party's influence. Ex-military, retired after the insurrection (roughly a decade ago), got his pension and took his extended family out to a settlement on a semi-nearby tropical island. Now they're comfortable and cared for, he's been drawn into opposing a semi-Lovecraftian cult the party has fought (which is what drew him to them.)
  • The Spellslinger is sort of semi-retired from her former job as a kind of wandering sheriff-type bringing criminals to justice, a little on the older side (late 40s/early 50s) and mostly focused on discovering what secrets this new land has to offer to her style of mixed gunsmith-spellcraft arts. There's a bit of combat engineer in there as well.
  • Shen does not actually know who the black dragon is in the city. If he did, he'd prepare for an immediate assault, try to catch the black dragon by surprise, and kill them as soon as possible (as was the sentence for their crimes in the past). Likewise, Shen is keeping his identity as a gold dragon secret, because the black dragon would either flee or attempt the same thing (try to kill Shen in a surprise attack). So Mrs. Benali, as far as the party is aware, only knows that Shen is a powerful and well-respected priest from a foreign land, present in the city for unspecified religious duties (read: the priests in Al'Rakkah found out they have a dragon problem and called in a foreign expert*, who ended up being a dragon himself.)
*Normally, the Safiqi are loath to call on anyone outside the Tarrakhuna, or even outside their own, but to their great relief, they've discovered that the religion of Yuxia also reveres a singular monotheistic creator deity. The translated Yuxian name for this deity is the August Jade Emperor, which the Safiqi interpret as just being a facet of the One that isn't widely known in the Tarrakhuna at this time. For his part, Shen certainly seems to believe that his deity and the One are the same being, his faith just has a more expansive idea of what beings are part of that deity's servants/retinue.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
The usual tropes:
1. She dug up something that was much more powerful/important than she realized and someone wants it (using the gang as muscle).
2. As above, but she accidentally activated it and now is stuck somewhere
A bit anticlimatic:
3. She is busy with a new dig which takes way longer than expected and she really could use the help of some adventurers that happen to come by to clear out some especially dangerous part of a dungeon (still allows for 1 or 2).
The red herring:
She had an affair with some of the gangs higher up and both decided to do a spontaneous wedding/honeymoon and the only reason the gang tries to breach her defenses is because they want to know where their boss is and only know she had some connection with him.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I just had an idea.

So Benali knows someone is "after" her (the black dragon's men), but doesn't really know the details. So she lays a "trap" - her place is discretely stripped of belongings/valuables and she goes into hiding (perhaps her husband is helping her with some of this?). The idea is to entice whomever is after her to go visit/spy/rob her place while she is gone. When this happens, a number of things could occur:

1: Summoned creature show up to beat up/capture the intruders
2: A very stealthy creature (would have be be something able to wait patiently a long time) observes the intruders and then tracks/follows them back to their lair and spies on them, and then reports to Benali
3: ?

For whatever reason though, the black dragon's men do not go investigate at her place. Maybe they have a minor diviner with them who can sense that "now is a bad time"? So instead the PCs investigate and... fun follows :)
 

NotAYakk

Legend
I'd start with nodes and connections.

We have Shen, Black Dragon, Benali, each of the PCs, Gang, Day Watch, Sultana's Army, Sultana, Lovecraftians, Sherriff's Criminals.

npcweb.png

Now add the PCs to that.

Blue: Loyal/friendly
Orange: Rival
Red: Enmity (at least one way)

The stuff on the right isn't currently attached to Benali; I'd somehow hook at least one of the things up to Benali and make it part of why Benali is missing.
 

I just had an idea.

So Benali knows someone is "after" her (the black dragon's men), but doesn't really know the details. So she lays a "trap" - her place is discretely stripped of belongings/valuables and she goes into hiding (perhaps her husband is helping her with some of this?). The idea is to entice whomever is after her to go visit/spy/rob her place while she is gone. When this happens, a number of things could occur:

1: Summoned creature show up to beat up/capture the intruders
2: A very stealthy creature (would have be be something able to wait patiently a long time) observes the intruders and then tracks/follows them back to their lair and spies on them, and then reports to Benali
3: ?

For whatever reason though, the black dragon's men do not go investigate at her place. Maybe they have a minor diviner with them who can sense that "now is a bad time"? So instead the PCs investigate and... fun follows :)
This is actually in line with something I had set up and totally spaced on mentioning. Our party Bard has picked up some Thief multiclass moves, allowing him to pick locks and find traps. (Story-wise, before his family made it big with their tailoring business, he ran some dubiously-legal jobs as a preteen kid, and although his skills hadn't been put to use in a while...you never completely forget. The group he ran with is part of the "good guy" thieves' group though, the Silver Thread.) They got into Mrs. Benali's basement and saw that, clearly, the foot traffic that had been going through there was ignoring all the heavy boxed-up paintings and such and targeting one specific chest on the far wall. Bard smelled a trap and did some careful investigation--turns out, it had a sending spell attached to it, so even if someone opened it successfully, some kind of message would get sent. Unfortunately, the party wasn't able to figure out where the message would be sent nor what it would say, just that it would be (and, based on the Spellslinger's analysis, the sending trap was almost certainly placed by Mrs. Benali herself.) They suppressed the spell to find out what was inside (that's how they learned for sure that she'd been looking into immigration records.)

Next session, they'll be meeting up with both Shen and another..."ally" is a strong word, but "friendly business associate" feels a little weak. His name is Wadji al-Nassif. He is THE information broker of Al-Rakkah.* If he doesn't know about it, either nobody does, or he's in the process of finding out. He doesn't play favorites in terms of clientele, he'll buy and sell info with almost anyone, but he's not an idiot. He knows certain kinds of information are not to be shared if they have a good chance of hurting his business (e.g., resulting in serious trouble for the city at large.)* So the party will be turning to him to see if they can buy any information off him. Seeing as how the party are both some of his best customers (both as buyers and as sellers) and they've earned him a pretty penny because two different rich people are putting up a "don't sell info about the PCs, please" funds, so he rather appreciates their business.

*In my mind, he's kind of a hybrid of Mass Effect's "Shadow Broker" and this one gossip-monger character from the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, specifically the Mystery of the Three Gables. I have burned into my memory the scene of Langdale Pike (played by Peter Wyngarde) and his jolly, almost singsong way of acting. Wadji is not, particularly, a nice person, in that (as I said) he will sell information to almost any client, even if it might hurt individual people, so long as it isn't likely to hurt his business or the city at large. But he's a very affable person, and he isn't a blackmailer. Blackmail gets you a very, very nasty reputation very quickly. He prides himself on being a trusted source, and does not charge exorbitant fees, neither to share nor to suppress info.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
So looking at the graph:
Benali is using some of the Sherriff's old criminals to help in some task.
That task involves the Lovecraftians, possibly tangentally. Like, what she is after is also what the Lovecraftians are after?
This might involve the patronage of someone who is a rival to the Sultana.
That someone might be the black dragon in disguise.
This task has the dual purpose of both distracting Benali from her current information gathering, and advancing the Black Dragon's interests.
Either the Lovecraftians, or agents of the Sultana, was used to spook Benali into fleeing her villa by the Black Dragon. Whichever wasn't used the spook Benali is also looking into Benali, but the BD doesn't know it.

...

I think that makes the web as insane as possible. And ties into every single PCs motivations/backstory and the current/past plots in implausible ways.
npcweb2.png

green is "going after".

I added a rivalry between the "Sultana Army" and "Royal Proxy" -- it is a secret police/state dept/etc and army has contempt for it.
 
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So looking at the graph:
Benali is using some of the Sherriff's old criminals to help in some task.
That task involves the Lovecraftians, possibly tangentally. Like, what she is after is also what the Lovecraftians are after?
This might involve the patronage of someone who is a rival to the Sultana.
That someone might be the black dragon in disguise.
This task has the dual purpose of both distracting Benali from her current information gathering, and advancing the Black Dragon's interests.
Either the Lovecraftians, or agents of the Sultana, was used to spook Benali into fleeing her villa by the Black Dragon. Whichever wasn't used the spook Benali is also looking into Benali, but the BD doesn't know it.

...

I think that makes the web as insane as possible. And ties into every single PCs motivations/backstory and the current/past plots in implausible ways. <image snop>
green is "going after".
Plausible option for the Royal Proxy: Zaid al-Ansari. He's a notoriously slimy (he would prefer shrewd) businessman, but has a reputation for loyalty to the city itself (similar to Wadji but somewhat more patriotic--e.g. "I do what's best for Al-Rakkah because that will, in the end, also be what's best for business.") He served as regent between the death of Sultan Iskandar (the one who went crazy in his old age) and Sultana Thuriya becoming a legal adult, roundabout 5 years served, and then became her Court Vizier after she assumed the throne formally (which was roughly 5 years ago.) Zaid is known to have some suspicious dealings, but the party has also learned people are trying to enhance the suspicion targeted at him, and they don't know why.

I've tried to avoid the usual tropes of the "wicked vizier" with him, so if he is up to something nefarious, he's either good at hiding it, or it's more "he thinks it's what's good for the city/the Sultana" when that might not be the case.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Plausible option for the Royal Proxy: Zaid al-Ansari. He's a notoriously slimy (he would prefer shrewd) businessman, but has a reputation for loyalty to the city itself (similar to Wadji but somewhat more patriotic--e.g. "I do what's best for Al-Rakkah because that will, in the end, also be what's best for business.") He served as regent between the death of Sultan Iskandar (the one who went crazy in his old age) and Sultana Thuriya becoming a legal adult, roundabout 5 years served, and then became her Court Vizier after she assumed the throne formally (which was roughly 5 years ago.) Zaid is known to have some suspicious dealings, but the party has also learned people are trying to enhance the suspicion targeted at him, and they don't know why.

I've tried to avoid the usual tropes of the "wicked vizier" with him, so if he is up to something nefarious, he's either good at hiding it, or it's more "he thinks it's what's good for the city/the Sultana" when that might not be the case.
He could also be completely loyal, but appears disloyal in order to allow the Sultana to deny involvement in what he does, and allow ... shady ... people to be willing to approach him.

Like, maybe he's really the Sultana's father, and both of them know it. But nobody else does.

But, again, that is making the plot way too soap opera silly.
 

He could also be completely loyal, but appears disloyal in order to allow the Sultana to deny involvement in what he does, and allow ... shady ... people to be willing to approach him.

Like, maybe he's really the Sultana's father, and both of them know it. But nobody else does.

But, again, that is making the plot way too soap opera silly.
She's definitely Sultan Iskandar's daughter. (Long story short, she was his youngest child, and although he drove away or...well, executed all of his other children, he genuinely couldn't believe she was conniving against him, probably one of his last shreds of sanity near the end. When his insanity finally went too far for even some members of the military and aristocracy/plutocracy, they staged a successful insurrection/coup and assassinated him. Zaid was already a prominent member of the royal court and possibly the richest man in the city, so he was a natural choice for Regent.)

But it's definitely worth considering whether he has any skeletons in his closet he's trying to keep hidden.
 

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