An Earthdawn adventure by Allen Varney
[Published in the Earthdawn supplement Parlainth Adventures (FASA, 1995). Posted by permission.]
It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it. The beginning of reform is not so much to equalize property as to train the noble sort of natures not to desire more, and to prevent the lower from getting more.
-- Aristotle, Politics II.7
TE 602 (1045 TH)
Omid Cicero Batrachian, wizard of Parlainth, takes part in the project to remove the city from the minds of Barsaive's Name-givers. His research involves magical invocation of the Passions. To this end Omid creates a magical treasure, a small wooden box that shows the bearer the culmination of his fondest wish. The Theran wizard speculates that this will provoke a strong emotion in the viewer and thereby attract the appropriate Passion.
In practice the experiment fails, because viewers feel, above all else, a consuming desire to own the box. Therefore the only Passion that shows interest is Chorrolis, the incarnation of desire. Chorrolis manifests and buys the box for a huge fee from Omid's corrupt aide. However, without a Name-giver's energizing emotion, the box proves useless to Chorrolis. The Passion hides the box deep under Parlainth and forgets about it.
Omid's research never produces a reliable way to invoke a Passion. The wizard and his aide both die in the Scourge, along with the rest of Parlainth.
A party of adventurers discovers the box in the ruins of Parlainth. All but one member of the party soon die in an unrelated encounter with a minor Horror. The sole survivor, 4th Circle Illusionist Needren Lannen Wiswell, carries the box back to Haven, the base settlement for explorers of the ruins. There he passes it to Archiana Smoothskin, ork leader of the Association of Unaffiliated Explorers, in payment of various debts.
The player characters happen to be away from Haven, gone on a days-long expedition into Parlainth or elsewhere. When they return, things have changed.
"Desire Box" is a lighthearted adventure set entirely in Haven. Not an introductory adventure, it assumes the player characters have already become familiar with the town and its residents. The adventure works for any number of characters of Circles 1 to 4.
This mini-adventure works well within a larger plot. The story begins as the player character adepts come back to Haven after an absence of at least a week. They may have made a lengthy expedition into the ruins of Parlainth, or another adventure may have drawn them elsewhere. It helps if the adepts are seeking help or information in Haven, such as a document at Vardeghul's Lore Exchange, but this is not necessary.
Before running "Desire Box," review the section on Haven in the Parlainth boxed set and the rules on Interaction Tests (ED pages 237-40). Also, ask each player to name his or her character's greatest desire. This may become important near the climax of the adventure.
In the first encounter, "Return to Haven," the adepts arrive to find Havenites laying siege to Torgak's Supplies and Goods. These citizens, otherwise normal, have become devoted adherents of Archiana Smoothskin. They seek to haul out Archiana's hated rival, Torgak, and "try him for his crimes." The adepts may take part in, foil, or ignore this effort.
The adepts learn secondhand about Archiana Smoothskin's sudden new popularity, which has brought her within sight of her long held goal, the office of mayor. If the adepts enter Torgak's besieged store, the old mayor tries to hire them to sabotage Archiana's popularity.
For lack of means to transact business otherwise, the adepts attend Archiana's evangelistic tent party in the second encounter, "Revival Meeting." There they see the magical box and its effect on Haven. The adepts hear Needren Lannen Wiswell's request to guard and protect Archiana.
Now the adepts may support Torgak or Archiana, or they may steal the box themselves. This creates a sudden shift in loyalties among Havenites, described in the third encounter, "The Box Changes Hands." An adept who takes the box experiences an intense vision of all desires realized, as outlined in a section called "Passing the Box."
The final encounter, "Enter Chorrolis," brings the Passion onto the scene as the struggles for the box reach their climax. Attracted by the increased desires that the adepts' actions trigger, Chorrolis takes back his box and vanishes, leaving the adepts to sort out loose ends.
Return to Haven
Setting the Stage
(Read text in boldface aloud to the players, or paraphrase it.)
When you leave Haven, you miss it. When you return, you always wonder why. Here you are again, amid the same seedy buildings and narrow streets, under a cloudy sky that threatens a drizzle. Everyone in Haven has a scheme to get rich overnight, a long list of things to buy with the money, and no doubt about eventual success. You can almost smell the greed in the air. At least that's all you smell. Luckily, the crematory isn't busy just now.
Still, even though Haven isn't much to look at, you're glad to be back. Whether you're looking for healing, buying supplies, or seeking information, Haven is the place to get it. If you can't find it at Torgak's Supplies and Goods, you probably don't need it anyway.
As you pass through the narrow streets, you notice many people wearing brass pins molded in the shape of a shortsword. You've never seen these before, but you can't get anyone to stop long enough to tell you about them. Everyone is running toward Torgak's store. A huge crowd is there, and it looks angry. You can see the weapons and hear the shouts: "Haul him out! Bring his ugly head to trial!"
Themes and Images
Stress a strong contrast between Havenites now and the familiar residents the player characters know from past visits. The adepts know many people in this mob, yet everyone is acting strangely. If the adepts know the League of Unaffiliated Explorers as a second rate laughingstock organization, the sudden prestige of its founder will seem all the more remarkable. Develop an atmosphere of eerie alienation.
Behind the Scenes
Archiana Smoothskin, leader of the League of Unaffiliated Explorers, received the Theran box a few days ago, and it has worked its magic over Haven in her cause. She does not know the nature of the box's magic yet. She only knows that when she holds the box, she gains confidence in her goal of becoming mayor of Haven. That others become her instant supporters does not appear magical to her, merely logical.
About the Crowd
Archiana is not present in this crowd, and the adepts do not see her until the next encounter. The crowd does contain nearly everyone else in Haven, a ragtag mob of explorers, adventurers, and a few dozen adepts of low Circles. Higher Circle adepts have resisted the box's magic and decided to vacate Haven temporarily until the enchantment passes away.
Almost everyone left behind has become a firm supporter of Archiana, and that means they now hate Torgak, Liniarg Blindingshout, and various other powers in Haven. These powers have barricaded themselves in Torgak's well defended store, and the mob wants to drag them out for a kangaroo court and hanging.
The brass pins they wear signify membership in Archiana's Association of Unaffiliated Explorers. One of the ork's earliest followers, converted by the box some days back, created the pins as a means by which Archiana's supporters could recognize one another. He picked the sword symbol to represent Archiana's Swordmaster Discipline.
Crowd members carry quite a few real swords, too, as well as many other weapons. The adepts can plainly detect a lynch mob fervor growing. In this setting they must watch their words carefully, or they may have to escape the mob themselves. Still, careful talk to the crowd can defuse their mood: "Friends, why lynch Torgak now? Let him live a while in terror of justice. A delayed revenge tastes all the sweeter."
Fighting the mob is a bad solution. These are people the adepts know well, and in other circumstances would befriend at the tavern or in Parlainth's ruined passages.
Bruspri Tells All
In the crowd the adepts see one of their familiar sources of information, such as Bruspri (Secret Lore of Parlainth in the Parlainth boxed set). They can pull him away from the mob and find out what has happened in Haven.
Bruspri is a pale young human with blonde hair already thinning on top, a mustache that almost works, and a less successful attempt at a beard. "I'm with Archiana!" he says in his usual breathless fashion. "Never knew she had such a strength to move people, no I didn't, but now she's brought out all her charisma, and we're going to get that lout Torgak out of his castle, which he bought with the money he extorted from the likes of you and me, and we'll distribute his ill-gotten fortune amongst everyone in Haven! Then Archiana will be mayor, and we'll all get rich when she leads the big expedition into the ruins." Say all this as fast as possible.
Bruspri refers curious adepts to the meeting Archiana will hold shortly. If the adepts aren't curious, they should still go to the meeting, for it represents the likeliest opportunity to find a healer, supplier, buyer, or whomever they seek. This meeting takes place in the next encounter, "Revival Meeting."
Inside Torgak's Store
Encourage the adepts to visit the besieged Torgak by placing vital supplies or informants within the store. The gamemaster should not find this hard, given the emporium's vast selection.
However, adepts who try to enter Torgak's emporium face the same opposition that foils the crowd, half a dozen high-Circle henchmen with top quality weapons and the best protective spells Torgak's considerable fortune could buy. The three ground floor entrances and the roof trapdoor are all chained shut from the inside (Physical Armor Rating 12, Damage Rating 45) and enchanted with the Impossible Lock illusionist spell. The locks have a Death Rating of 14. The windows are barred (Physical Armor Rating 14, Damage Rating 35) and so narrow that only one human-sized character can pass through at a time.
If the gamemaster decides that Torgak's emporium has a basement, Torgak's treasure vault there is protected by a Pass Ward (Circle 5 nethermancer spell) that will last four more years. At the gamemaster's discretion, a secret tunnel from the basement leads to a deserted shelter several houses away.
Brute force won't get the adepts inside, but the gamemaster should reward cleverness or smooth talk. If the adepts show neither, then as a last resort Bruspri can take them in through the secret tunnel for a 50 sp bribe.
Before the adepts can persuade Torgak to let them in, the old ork insists they set aside or peace-bond their weapons. If they still attack once inside, Torgak and his henchmen are well prepared to subdue them and tie them up until they learn polite behavior.
Inside the darkened store, where the walls are lined with polearms and crates of candy, caviar, and snuff, the mood is resigned but surprisingly convivial. Torgak sits idly on a cask of horseshoe nails, making imaginary casts with a birchwood fishing rod. His aides, Liniarg Blindingshout, Vardeghul, and whoever else the gamemaster desires are reliving old times, telling whoppers, and taking a few minutes now and then to curse Archiana.
"Upstart young pipsqueak," says Liniarg, while she dabs more kohl over her bulging eyelids. "Mud-ruffle! Goat-udder! She waltzes into Haven and takes over like she owns the place, when everyone knows it's really Torgak who owns the place."
"Shush!" says one of Torgak's henchmen, the moody ork Ireeka Shagmane. "Talk like that probably got the crowd against us to begin with."
"Nobody got the crowd against us but Archiana," says Torgak mildly. He tells the player characters, "She surely got popular all of a sudden. We're safe for now, but it looks like we'll have a new mayor in Haven soon. I'm willing to guess what her first official act will be, too. You folks interested in a job?"
If they are, Torgak hires the adepts to investigate the source of Archiana's popularity. He adds, "If you happen to uncover something that would make her look bad, don't let me stop you from noising it around." He offers 500 silver pieces per adept and will go as high as 800 each, paying half in advance. None of those inside Torgak's store go with the adepts on their mission, inasmuch as the crowd outside wants to lynch them all.
If the adepts don't help Torgak, he curtly dismisses them, and his henchmen encourage them to leave. Nothing happens to get the old ork out of his store. Things remain at an impasse until the crowd leaves to attend Archiana's speech. Go to the next encounter.
If the adepts help the mob break into the emporium and seize Torgak, Archiana's supporters have him thrown in jail "to await trial and punishment." At the end of the adventure, when Archiana's support has vanished, the contrite crowd releases Torgak.
If the adepts show no interest in investigating the mob's hatred of Torgak, make sure the item or help the adepts seek in Haven is secreted with Torgak in his store. This should lure the adepts inside, where Torgak can hire them to investigate Archiana.
Setting the Stage
Archiana Smoothskin's speech will begin soon. A big canvas tarp stretches across an alleyway between two broken, empty buildings. The tarp probably comes from the crematory, and you hope it hasn't ever been used. A light rain is falling.
People are jammed in the alleyway, staring eagerly down to the far end. There, two big trolls guard a man-sized hole in one corner. You sense anticipation in the crowd, a mood different from the usual Haven cynicism.
You notice a small man in magician's robes, a stranger, standing not far away. He's thin, a bit old and a bit hunched, with a large nose and thin white hair. He's staring at you with bloodshot pale blue eyes. When he sees you look back, he hesitates and then waves delicately.
Themes and Images
In this encounter, emphasize the sense of anticipation, of restrained energy that arises from Havenites' unanimous commitment to a single goal. This is a powerful energy, much like magic, and the adepts should feel themselves start to get caught up in it. Then, with the arrival of Archiana, the stark contrast between the powerful mood and the unimpressive ork who inspires it should make the characters suspect a magical explanation.
Behind the Scenes
The crowd includes most of the major figures in Haven whom the adepts didn't meet in the last scene. Pagmor Gilt-Throat, Omag Bastabus, and various Throalites have become unlikely allies as lieutenants to Archiana. The adepts may meet and banter with these gamemaster characters as appropriate to get across the mood and whatever exposition the adepts missed in the first encounter.
The two troll guards, Dogan Manywarts and Bulg the Smelly, are not adepts. They have strict orders not to let anyone bother "the great Archiana" before she begins the meeting. The adepts would have little trouble getting past the trolls, but the rest of the crowd would notice and take violent offense at this breach of etiquette.
The magician observing the adepts, 4th Circle Illusionist Needren Lannen Wiswell, is a recent arrival in Haven. A would-be adventurer from Bartertown with a good heart but an unfortunate streak of cowardice, Needren made a calamity of his first expedition into Parlainth. Through some cosmic injustice, his blunder resulted in the death of everyone else in his party, yet he escaped with the Theran box. Unfortunately, he had to give the box to Archiana in payment of a 600 sp debt he incurred when he bought provisions from her shortly after his arrival in Haven.
The box worked unnoticed on Needren's own desires, but after Archiana got it, Needren's sense of confidence vanished. What's more, he soon fell under Archiana's influence. Now Needren wants to hire the adepts as guards to prevent an assault on the ork. Although he hasn't heard of a threat against her, he makes a habit of expecting the worst.
Needren passes a message to the adepts magically, making it appear as a wrinkled ball of paper inside one adept's mouth! He does this using the new Circle 2 spell Send Message, described in "Rumors and Research" at the end of this adventure. Read the message's text to the players:
Friend of Archiana wish to hire you to prevent possible upcoming assault see me after meeting
Needren Lannen Wiswell
If this lures the adepts to talk to Wiswell immediately, they must struggle through the crowd first. Wiswell introduces himself and says "I suspect someone will shortly attack our new leader. You must prevent this interference with her glorious goal." Before he can elaborate, Archiana enters.
She is short and thin for an ork, but Archiana Smoothskin has a piercing gaze, polished tusks, and, indeed, a strikingly clear gray complexion. She wears new clothing, better than the adepts have ever seen her wear before. She carries a breadloaf-sized wooden box. See the end of this adventure for a more detailed description of the box.
A reverent silence falls as Archiana stalks forward. People in the audience, hardened adventurers who have faced down crakbeaks and jehuthras, gasp as Archiana's gaze lights briefly on them. Before beginning her speech, she sets the box at her feet. No one pays it any attention.
She speaks in a nasal monotone, hardly the voice to move a crowd. "I, uh, I want to thank everyone for being here. I mean, it's not much of a place here. I asked for a nice room, but I suppose someone didn't want to see me in a nice room, but, well, never mind. I'm glad you all showed up. Ah, I guess I said that."
Only when she turns to the subject of Torgak does Archiana gain intensity. "At last Haven has seen fit to overthrow the longtime tyrant who has oppressed it! Exploited it! Milked it for every silver he and his thugs could extort! Now, Havenites have seen the need for a new mayor. Havenites, am I that mayor?"
The roar is deafening, the consent unanimous. If the adepts voice dissent or derision, half a dozen angry crowd members of all races at once try to drive them away or lynch them.
After the crowd has acclaimed her their new mayor, Archiana now announces her next goal. She holds up the box.
"This box holds a treasure called, um, what was it, Delento's Sterilizer. A powerful treasure. It, uh, it purifies the pollution of astral space so Horrors can't live there any more. The Sterilizer was lost a long time ago, but now it has returned. So I thought I'd, well, lead everybody into Parlainth, that is, if you want, and we'll drive out the Horrors, and then, well, I suppose we'll find plenty of treasure that will make us, uh, rich!"
The crowd cheers madly, as though they had heard the most stirring speech in their lives. It all seems so plausible.
Adepts vs. Box
"Delento's Sterilizer" does not exist and never has. The box holds nothing, and no one can open it. The box's magic inspires a plausible plan to bring the bearer's fondest desire in reach. Under the magic's influence, the bearer sometimes imagines a fictitious magical treasure, complete with a faked history, Pattern and Key Knowledges, and a detailed description. The Sterilizer is the latest result.
Magic makes the idea convincing, not only to Archiana but to those around her. Make Deception Tests against the adepts' Social Defense. Those who fail the Tests believe in the Sterilizer, seem to recall having heard about it for years, and become convinced that Archiana can really achieve her goal. Have these players roleplay their characters' newfound faith.
Adepts who succeed in the Deception Test resist the box's magic for now. As they notice how Archiana's inept words sway the crowd and, perhaps, their fellow adepts, mention to them that the box Archiana holds has changed color slightly, growing lighter in shade but more intense in hue. If none of the adepts succeed in the Deception Test, give them Perception Tests to notice this anyway.
After the Meeting
Archiana quickly concludes: "Well, good. So everyone show up by the Map Wall tomorrow. Is noon good for everyone? Noon. With provisions for, well, I'd guess several days at least, and weapons. Then, uh, I guess we'll go in."
Another ovation, and Archiana leaves through the hole in the back wall. A horde of well-wishers follows her, crowding around, asking for favors, and the like. The adepts may speak with her after the meeting, after a bit of byplay with the crowd and her overprotective troll guards.
Archiana believes that her sudden popularity results from the Sterilizer's appearance, that the treasure was destined to fall to her, and that in Parlainth she will find a way to open the box and use the Sterilizer. How does she know the box holds the Sterilizer? "The runes on the box say so." That is, she believes they do. With the wealth of Parlainth she hopes to expand her authority over this entire region. However, she is reluctant to admit this last ambition.
In conversation with Archiana, the adepts should notice that despite success and the acclaim of the crowd, she appears more nervous than they ever knew her before, and in her eyes they see a new and unsettling hunger.
The crowd should discourage the adepts from assaulting Archiana or stealing the box. If they do take the box, go to the next encounter.
The adepts find it easier to meet with Needren Lannen Wiswell. The unassuming illusionist tells of his worries that someone, perhaps hirelings of Torgak, will soon attack Archiana, "no doubt out of fear that her just cause will drive crime and duplicity from Haven," he explains. Wiswell asks the adepts to follow and protect Archiana until her venture into Parlainth tomorrow. He offers them 500 sp apiece for the job, and can be bargained up to twice that. However, he can pay only 10 sp apiece in advance. "I swear I shall pay the balance from my share of Parlainth's treasure, come tomorrow evening." He can also teach the Send Message spell in lieu of a payment.
This offer may not tempt the adepts, but Wiswell has use as a source of clues. He recounts, if asked, the tale of his narrow escape from a Horror in Parlainth. "There in the Twists I had this feeling of utter confidence," he says. "We had found a treasure trove in a walled brick recess marked with the sign of a fishhook. The path to success seemed gloriously clear." The fishhook symbol was one of Thera's ancient emblems for Chorrolis. The niche where Wiswell found the box was one of the Passion's many treasure caches.
Wiswell continues, "Then a Horror of unknown type attacked us. I felt as though the Horror's mind magic had no power over me. I escaped easily, even though it took all the rest of my party. When I got back to Haven, I seemed on my way to showing everyone back home that I was a courageous hero. I paid off some debts and made ready to go back to Bartertown, but then Archiana's great vision drew me to her cause."
Wiswell hasn't realized the box's significance, and he doesn't think to mention that he used the box to pay off a debt to Archiana. He no longer feels like a great hero.
After Archiana, under the box's influence, developed her fantasy of the "Sterilizer," Wiswell too came to believe implicitly in its existence. He, and everyone under Archiana's influence, can recount supposed legends about the Sterilizer, but the legends don't agree. Wiswell feels honored to have delivered the treasure to the ork who was obviously destined to bear it to greatness. However, like all of Archiana's followers, Wiswell suspects nothing about the box itself.
If the adepts attack Archiana on the spot, her many supporters beat them senseless or drive them out of Haven. If the adepts take the box with them, go to the next encounter. Try not to let them kill Archiana. If necessary, a convenient questor of Garlen can heal her on the spot.
If the adepts meet with Archiana behind the stone wall and talk to her before the meeting, she gives them the same information that they would learn from her speech. Attacks on her draw her troll guards, who sound the alarm and bring the crowd as above.
If all the adepts succumb to the box's enchantment, they become firmly convinced that Archiana can drive out the Horrors from Parlainth. However, they don't necessarily become loyal to her, and they may still suspect the box's magic and report this to Torgak. Then he hires them to steal the box. Note that this goal in no way conflicts with their firm belief in Archiana's great destiny. The contrast makes for interesting roleplaying.
The Box Changes Hands
In pacing the adventure, assume that Archiana Smoothskin benefits from the box's magic long enough to demonstrate the absurdity of her escalating ambition. Then the box passes quickly through various hands and reveals several deep desires in sequence. At every stage the crowd's fickle devotion intensifies. One or more player characters should get a chance to roleplay their own fondest desires before the adventure ends.
The "Setting the Stage" section gives text to read aloud the first time the box changes hands. The "Behind the Scenes" section offers ways to stage the changeover.
Setting the Stage
A cloud seems to lift from your eyes. You look at Archiana Smoothskin as though for the first time. She looks like the same dislikable and rather unnerving ork you used to know. The idea that anyone would follow her into Parlainth would be ludicrous, if everyone hadn't come so close to doing just that.
As for that "Sterilizer" idea, the legends you thought you remembered about it are fading away like a dream. You've never heard of a Sterilizer before.
False leaders, imaginary treasures. Nonsense! It's a good thing Haven has real leaders with authentic greatness, like that one over there. [Describe the box's new bearer.]
Themes and Images
As the box passes from hand to hand, aim for an escalation of ambitions with each new bearer, or with each desire fulfilled. This should lead to comic effects, especially in the revelation of secret desires that, perhaps, even the bearer did not recognize. For instance, imagine a windling who gets the box and suddenly believes she will find a way to become an obsidiman.
For a comic effect of another kind, play up the drawbacks of extreme popularity. When the adepts get the box, newfound fans besiege them, chase them for autographs, beg money, tear their clothing for souvenirs, and never give them a moment's rest. Ridiculously inappropriate suitors attempt seduction. Women claim male adepts fathered their children. Scandalous rumors spread like wildfire. Basically, this box turns you into The Beatles.
Behind the Scenes
Here are some ways to shift bearers. Ideally, the shifts come in response to the adepts' actions. In most cases, aim for a humorous transition. However, save outright slapstick until the players get fully into the comedic mood.
1. Archiana goes to Torgak's store in another attempt to roust out the incumbent mayor. Either the adepts have told Torgak their suspicions about the box, or he has learned about it from other witnesses. Torgak casts his birchwood fishing rod, seen in the first encounter, from an upper window. The silken line, covered with a strong adhesive, snags the box and draws it from Archiana's grasp. Either he gets the box, or the line breaks and it falls to someone else.
2. Adoring crowds sweep up the new bearer and carry her toward the Restless Troll, where they intend to celebrate her glory. They pass under a low archway and accidentally conk the bearer, who drops the box in someone else's hands.
3. A hostile Havenite shouts, "If you're to be Emperor of Barsaive [substitute bearer's fantasy here], I won't live in such a world!" He tries to cut his own throat with his sword, a well-meaning person nearby grabs him to prevent this, and both fall against the box's bearer. All wind up on the ground in a tangle of limbs, and the box goes flying.
Passing the Box
Details of how the box's effects switch bearers are left intentionally vague to let the gamemaster tailor them to the needs of the scenario. In general, the box's magic takes effect on a new bearer the instant that bearer touches it. However, adjust the changeover time according to whatever makes the best adventure. If the adepts gain the box, an immediate effect speeds the action along, whereas a delayed effect gives their opponents a chance to take back the box. Both approaches have merit.
The gamemaster need not aim for consistency in handling the box's magic, because ancient Theran enchantments are powerful, mysterious, and sometimes fickle. The box's effects can vary from scene to scene during the adventure.
Under the box's influence, the bearer feels an intense wave of confidence that she can achieve her most cherished goal in life. A plan rapidly develops in her mind to achieve the goal, and she experiences a vision of the plan fulfilled and the desire consummated. Others around her become aware of this plan, whether or not the bearer voices it.
Note that those around the bearer may not endorse this plan. They only believe it will happen. Archiana aroused such enthusiasm because her desire to oust Torgak and get rich coincides with most Havenites'. If Torgak gets the box, everyone comes to believe that the mob will lynch Archiana. However, individual members of the crowd do not feel that desire.
Here are fond desires of some Haven characters from the Parlainth boxed set, as well as a few generic desires suitable for any character:
- Torgak: Vast riches, genuine affection and admiration from all Havenites, and Archiana's head on a pole on the roof of Torgak's Supplies and Goods.
- Liniarg Blindingshout: Acclaim for her beauty, a string of broken-hearted suitors, and Archiana's head on a pole in front of the entrance to Torgak's Supplies and Goods.
- Vardeghul: Wants to become the Passion of information.
- Omag Bastabus, Cleotha Splayfoot, the Federationists: Haven under the control of their respective governments, and themselves as territorial governor of Parlainth.
- Hotbolt and the Grim Legion: The mad legionnaires' desires shift by the moment: a huge pile of gold, a moment later a nice cold mug of ale, then a procession of desirable partners, then fame as the slayer of Verjigorm, and so on.
- Pagmor Gilt-Throat: Marrying a beautiful female troll (perhaps a player character?), founding a merchant house, turning Haven into a major trading center, and fathering many descendants who will revere his memory throughout the generations.
- Tylia: The proprietress of the Restless Troll tavern longs for a heroic career slaughtering Horrors in Parlainth, and a staff of several dozen trusted employees to handle all the petty details that obsess her.
- Bruspri: Wants to be a Great Dragon.
Generic desires: Become Emperor of Barsaive; master all magic of the Theran Empire; liberate slaves throughout Barsaive; travel everywhere in the world and to the Moon; become a different Name-giver race; sing and dance splendidly for adoring audiences; eat anything without growing fat.
In describing a player character's vision of fulfillment, shift into a condensed "fast forward" description that casually yet plausibly disposes of obstacles such as enemies, natural afflictions, and psychological inability. Enlist the players' cooperation to play out their characters' small, deferential parts as supporters of the bearer's glorious destiny. After the vision ends, resume regular narration at the point where the bearer received the box.
Every time the box converts a new believer or goes to a new bearer, it gets slightly brighter in color. At the climax of the struggles for the box, the box starts glowing brightly. At that point, go to the next encounter, "Enter Chorrolis."
In line with the comic tone of this adventure, try to keep events from turning bloody. A certain amount of swordplay lends excitement, but try to contrive reasons why a deadly blow fails to land. For instance, other combatants may stumble into the attacker and cause the blow to go wild. One adept who misses an attack roll badly might accidentally throw his weapon far across the battlefield, where it happens to parry another blow. The comedic atmosphere permits many equally unlikely developments.
This encounter draws the adventure to a close. Its timing and setting depend on the adepts' actions and the box's movements. In general, stage this encounter exactly when the struggles over the box reach a climax, perhaps when blood is about to spill. Torgak's henchmen and Archiana's remaining followers may be ready to fight, with the adepts caught in the middle. The adepts may have got the box, and the previous owners are just about to take it back by force. Or the player characters themselves have come to blows over who gets the box.
Alternatively, bring in Chorrolis when the box's various bearers have escalated their ambitions to ludicrous levels: rulership not only of Barsaive but of the world, transforming all Name-givers into windlings, or the like.
For convenience, the following description assumes the adepts are in Torgak's store. They may get here by chasing Torgak after he steals the box in the previous encounter. A mob of adoring fans may chase them here. They may enter in search of a device that they hope will neutralize the box. Wherever the climax occurs, adapt the following text to reflect the conclusion's actual setting.
Setting the Stage
The light is dim in the store, except for the box. It glows brighter and more beautiful as you watch, with a light like fire seen through a diamond. You want the box even more. With the thought, the light begins to pulse. Like a beacon.
Rays of light shoot from the box. They strike along the walls, and waves of golden light ripple across the shelves crammed with merchandise. Wherever the light strikes, everything looks better. The wood of the spice barrels looks clean and new, and the aroma of pine fills the room. The spearheads gleam brightly, and the glassware looks like fine crystal.
Then it all begins to shake, and some things float gently into the air. You smell delicate perfume of a kind you've never known before, and the hair along your forearms stands on end. A swirl of color gathers in the air before you, as though you're staring into a vertical pool of water and something beyond the water is just about to surface.
Themes and Images
Invoke images of the Passion's power and magic. Strange phenomena occur all around Chorrolis: The adepts suddenly remember toys they cherished as children. Rings and jewelry jump between characters at random. The characters' thumbs start to itch. Everyone feels sudden maddening urges for random possessions in the vicinity.
The gamemaster may also wish to emphasize Chorrolis's darker side, including his desperate drive to own things. This drive leaves the Passion eternally unsatisfied and, in a way, suffering.
Behind the Scenes
Chorrolis appears as a name-giver of the same type as the majority of characters in the scene, probably either human, ork, or troll. The Passion looks about 40 and seemingly weighs about half again as much as he should for his short height. He wears a black satin tunic brocaded with gold threads in patterns that never look the same twice, as well as maroon leggings lined with gold piping, black sash, and black boots. His ears, neck, wrists, and fingers bear rich gold jewelry set with moonstones. At his waist is a small moleskin pouch dyed maroon.
Chorrolis laughs briefly, bitterly, as he sees the box.
"I forgot this bauble," he says. Each character hears the voice as though that character were speaking. "The nosy dabblers of Parlainth brought this forth some while back, to lure my kin. Mayhap they felt chagrin that it lured only me. I never did make the trinket work, yet I assure you I own it legally, in fee simple." Chorrolis roots around in his pouch and pulls out an ancient Theran parchment, a lawful receipt showing a purchase price of 20,000 silver pieces. He takes the box, and at his touch, the box stops glowing and returns to its old color.
The adepts can talk with Chorrolis briefly, but having revealed his true aspect, he will not bargain with them right now. However, some time after this adventure, a disguised questor of Chorrolis visits the adepts to purchase whatever item of theirs that the Passion noticed and desired. Chorrolis will not sell the box. Once he buys something like this, Chorrolis never parts with it, even though its magic does not work on him.
In conversing with Chorrolis, the adepts notice his driven nature, incessant greed, and deep unhappiness. His endless quest for possessions makes him bitter and shortsighted. However, he speaks politely and with consideration.
"I thank you," Chorrolis tells the adepts in conclusion. "Had you not played your part in increasing Name-givers' desires for this box, their blood would never have run so hot as to draw my notice. Therefore, though I have announced no reward, I will not let you go away empty-handed. Here, have a copper piece."
He hands each adept one copper piece, a Throalic coin of recent date, but his expression shows pain as he parts with the money.
Even if the Passion spots a desirable item, Chorrolis does not stay around to negotiate personally with the adepts or others. With an ingratiating wave of his fingers, he vanishes in a swirl of color. The effect that made the merchandise appear so desirable vanishes with him.
Once the Passion arrives, the gamemaster can easily keep the adventure's resolution on track. Attacks on the Passion obviously fail, as do attempts to extort rewards by taking hostages or in other illegal ways. With a wave of his pudgy hand, Chorrolis either paralyzes such headstrong adepts or removes from them all desire to behave in such ways.
The information in this section allows the gamemaster to resolve the adventure's situations.
The box's enchantments vanish with Chorrolis. In their wake, Havenites react in several ways. A third of them deny they ever believed in Archiana or the box's other bearers: "I was just playing along. Didn't want to say anything, but I knew everyone was stone crazy." These citizens resume their old ways and their previous allegiance to Torgak and the Loyal Order of Delvers.
Another third, reacting to the magical hoodwinking, turn angrily against the ideas they so recently espoused. "Haven don't need no mayor but Torgak! He's doin' a good job, mark me, an' in my right mind I'll say it to my dyin' day." They turn en masse to the Loyal Order, even a few who had once supported Archiana.
The remaining third of Havenites cling to the ideas that the box induced them to embrace. Some of these supported Archiana even before the box arrived, and they view the "wild time," as they call it, merely as a giddy, exciting episode. Others feel that even if the box induced support for Archiana, well, that doesn't mean supporting her is wrong.
Similarly, if anyone followed a player character adept, however briefly, the follower might become a loyal anonymous supporter, even helping the adepts solve some future problem.
In the end, the memberships of the Delvers and the Unaffiliated Explorers wind up at the same relative levels they had before. Life continues unchanged in Haven, except that the player characters may have a few new friends and enemies.
Cast of Characters
Needren Lannen Wiswell
Human 4th-Circle Illusionist adept
A native of Bartertown, Wiswell studied illusion in the caverns of Throal. He is 48 years old, would stand just under average height if his shoulders didn't hunch slightly, and weighs about 140 lbs. He has a large nose, blue eyes, and thin white hair. Wiswell's manner is diffident and perhaps excessively courteous, his robes meticulously clean and well kept.
After a youthful adventuring career, Wiswell's studies of magic drew him into deepening quandaries on the nature of truth and reality, an occupational danger among illusionists. This led to a crisis of conscience and then of courage, and he retired from adventuring. Now Wiswell has come to Haven to prove his courage. However, he is hampered by a growing commitment to tell the truth. After "Desire Box," he may attach himself to the adepts' party or become a perpetual onlooker from the side tables of the Restless Troll.
Dexterity (12): 5/D8
Strength (11): 5/D8
Toughness (13): 6/D10
Perception (18): 7/D12
Willpower (15): 6/D10
Charisma (11): 5/D8
Artisan/Embroidery (4): 11/D10 + D8
Knowledge/Magical Lore (4): 11/D10 + D8
Knowledge/Throalic Poetry (1): 8/2D6
Research (2): 9/D8 + D6
- Adventurer's kit
- Embroidered robe
- Embroidery kit
- Leather armor
- Throwing dagger
- 60 silver pieces
- Disguise Self (4): 11/D10 + D8
- Durability (4): 4/D6
- Illusion [Thread Weaving] (4): 11/D10 + D8
- Karma Ritual (4): 4/D6
- Read and Write Language (4): 11/D10 + D8
- Read and Write Magic (4): 11/D10 + D8
- Speak Language (4): 11/D10 + D8
- Spellcasting (4): 11/D10 + D8
- Spell Matrix (4): 4/D6
- Physical Defense: 7
- Spell Defense: 10
- Social Defense: 7
- Armor: 3
- Mystic Armor: 2
- Death Rating: 35
- Wound Threshold: 9
- Unconsciousness Rating: 27
- Recovery Tests/Day: 2
- Recovery Dice: D10
- Circle of Well Being
- Disguise Metal
- Ephemeral Bolt
- Impossible Lock
- Innocent Activity
- Rope Guide
- Send Message (see next section)
- True Ephemeral Bolt
- Unseen Voices
- Weather Cloak
Rumors and Research
Circle 2 illusionist spell
Weaving Difficulty: 6/14
Duration: Rank rounds
Effect: Passes a paper message to a chosen target
Casting Difficulty: 2
Needren Lannen Wiswell uses this spell to send the adepts a message in the "Revival Meeting" encounter. The spell conjures an illusory paper message in the target's hand, pocket, pouch, or somewhere on the target's body. The illusionist must be able to see the target, and must make tiny, rapid gestures in the air that represent writing the note's text. The note contains no more than a few short sentences, with a maximum number of words equal to ten times the illusionist's rank in Spellcasting. If the target disbelieves the illusion, it vanishes instantly.
About the box
This Theran treasure is a new-looking brown hardwood box about the size of a loaf of bread. It weighs four pounds. The rectangular box has no lid or other opening. Tiny Theran runes line both sides of each edge, and on one face are carved ancient Theran words: THIS BOX IS EMPTY. This is true.
The adepts cannot damage or destroy the box. They cannot attach threads to it. However, they can learn its Pattern, Key, and Research knowledges as they would any magical treasure's.
The box automatically links with its bearer's mind and uncovers his or her deepest desire. Then it gradually inspires the bearer and others with a conviction that the bearer can achieve this desire. The bearer need not be magically adept. To rationalize their conviction, targets of the enchantment usually develop strategies of greater or lesser plausibility.
The box has a non-magical side effect based in Name-giver psychology. As a person comes to believe in the imminent fulfillment of his or her desire, a new desire inevitably arises to replace it. For example, one who believes she will shortly become owner of a powerful merchant house may soon start thinking of political office, marriage into a noble family, or expeditions to foreign lands. The box does not provoke these desires, but it makes them as convincing as their predecessors.
How the box works
The box increases the bearer's Charisma step for the purpose of making Interaction Tests (ED, pages 237-240). When a previously unaffected target sees the box or its bearer, make a Charisma Test of the Deceit type, as though the bearer were trying a Fabrication. To make the Test, use Step 18 or the bearer's Charisma Step plus 6, whichever is higher.
A successful Test means the target believes implicitly that the bearer can accomplish his or her most grandiose desire. Note that the target does not automatically become better disposed toward the bearer. Indeed, a hostile target may decide to attack the bearer. However, the box's magic also convinces the target that no obstacle or assassination attempt can possibly interrupt the bearer's inevitable path to success.
A failed Deceit Test does not affect the target. The target is not aware of the Test or the box's magic. Every 24 hours thereafter, make another Test against the target, but reduce the target's Spell Defense by 1 for purposes of the Deceit Test. These reductions are cumulative, and so a target in the box's presence for any length of time will inevitably fall under its spell. If the target leaves the area for a day or more, stop making Deceit Tests. Upon the target's return, resume the Tests using the Spell Defense number of the most recent Deceit Test against that target.
The box's effect does not wear off with time or distance from the bearer, but only when the bearer dies or the box passes to a new bearer. Then the effect disappears from all targets, who thereupon can guess they were magically influenced.
Is anyone immune?
At the gamemaster's discretion, certain spiritually advanced characters may prove immune to the box's effects. Such characters would be detached from selfish desire, free from the endless cycle of want, satisfaction, and new want. Perhaps they are questors of high Circle, perhaps wise sages. Freedom from desire does not require magic. Indeed, long after the time of Earthdawn, when magic has passed from the Earth for this cycle of time, history will still tell of heroes who passed beyond desire.
"Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the origin of suffering. Verily, it is that thirst or craving [...] the craving for gratification of the passions, or the craving for a future life, or the craving for success in this present life. [...] Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of suffering. Verily, it is the destruction, in which no passion remains, of this very thirst...."
-- The first sermon of the Buddha, Varanasi (Benares), India, c. 520 BC