Council of Thieves - Libby
Conspiracy at Vizio's Tavern
Janiven is an attractive woman who downplays her beauty by wearing rough clothing and armor and adopting a generally stern and no-nonsense attitude. Yet when she feels truly at ease with someone she calls a friend, her smile, sense of humor, and quick wit reveal her to be quite a charming and friendly woman.
If a PC tries to find out more about Janiven, a DC 10 Knowledge (local) check or Diplomacy check made to gather information reveals that she’s not unknown in Westcrown. She’s worked for several guilds and mercantile interests, sometimes as a caravan guard but more often as a city guide and bodyguard for visiting merchants and business partners that the guilds want to keep out of trouble with local thugs or the shadow beasts that patrol the streets at night. Janiven has a reputation of being a bit rash (for example, she recently dragged her charge half-dressed out of a whorehouse when he refused to head back to a safer part of town before sundown) but quite trustworthy—everyone the PCs talk to has nothing but praise for the woman.
Janiven is the second-in-command of a swiftly growing group of concerned citizens who want to make Westcrown a safer place to live—a goal that is somewhat at odds with the way the House of Thrune governs the city from afar. The group has only recently formed, and as such doesn’t even have a name yet. Founded by a charismatic half-elf cleric of Iomedae named Arael, the group’s goal is not to cause open rebellion or civil unrest—they are all children of Westcrown, after all, and a street war would only damage that which they hope to protect. Instead, free-thinkers like Arael and Janiven hope to organize a sort of “citizen’s watch” that will take steps to protect the people of Westcrown and, some day, return the city to the splendor and glory it possessed before Aroden’s death and the rise of the House of Thrune.
Yet although the group’s goals are idealistic, they’re also the types of ideas that threaten the current Chelish government. As a result, Arael and Janiven hoped to keep the true nature of their organization a secret from the government while building a strong relationship with the city’s people, so that when the time comes to publicly declare themselves, they’ll have the support of the city’s citizens—something that surely the House of Thrune must respect. Arael has given Janiven the honor of organizing this first meeting while he organizes a few links to sympathetic groups elsewhere in the city, particularly with the Pathfinders (who are operating in Westcrown via a single undercover agent named Ailyn Ghontasavos).
Janiven and Arael have held meetings of this type several times, and have gathered a dozen or so followers already. The PCs are the latest recruits—Janiven has noted the way that the government has wronged them, and more importantly, she’s recognized in each PC the potential to do great things in the future. A shrewd judge of character, Janiven also knows that, especially in Westcrown, it’s unreasonable to expect trust in a stranger. She approaches each PC differently, based on his own particular personality and, more importantly, his particular complaint. She wants the PCs to join her group, and if that means bribing them with money, using flattery, or appealing to a sense of duty will get the job done, she’ll do it. You should know a bit about each PC’s personality by now, and as such should know what these characters want—don’t be afraid to use this “insider knowledge” when roleplaying Janiven’s first encounter with each PC in order to ensure the PCs attend the meeting.
(DM note: I will be setting up google waves with each PC individually, which you will be invited into, that will represent that “Janiven reaching out to PC” pre-game roleplay.)
Once Janiven has the PCs’ attention and secures their interest in the meeting, she informs them that they should meet her at a place called Vizio’s Tavern that same afternoon for an early dinner (customarily about 4 o’clock), at which point she promises further information. Janiven doesn’t mention Arael’s name in these initial interviews.
If the PCs investigate Vizio’s Tavern, a DC 10 Knowledge (local) or Diplomacy check reveals it to be named for the family that once ran the establishment. Vizio’s was a place where merchant guards went to relax, gripe about their employers, and look for more work. Several months ago, however, the Vizio patriarch passed away, and the surviving family moved out of Westcrown to go live with kin in distant Corentyn. The tavern has stood empty since, but a DC 15 Knowledge (local) or Diplomacy check is enough to reveal that the place has new owners reputed to be a half-elf man and a human woman—although they seem to be taking their time getting the tavern off the ground and open for business. If a PC asks Janiven about this, she admits that she and a business partner recently purchased the tavern, and as such it’s a perfect place for her and the PCs to talk.
Having lived her entire life in Westcrown’s oppressive streets, Janiven was often depressed and moody, and tended to avoid making long-term friendships—at least until she met the half-elf Arael, a devotee of Iomedae who came upon Janiven at a low point in her life and offered her a long-term position at his side as a consultant and advisor. Arael has grand plans to bring honor and tradition back to Cheliax, and particularly to Westcrown. As a worshiper of Iomedae, he has long regretted how Cheliax fell from Aroden’s teachings to the infernal, and wants nothing more than to see a reversal of that fate, but with Aroden’s inheritor Iomedae installed as the city’s guardian and patron deity instead. Arael recognized in Janiven the value of having a native Wiscrani on his side—her knowledge of the city’s layout made her an ideal choice for a “second-in command” to aid him in his goal.
She’s known Arael for almost a year now, and has come to think of him as an older brother, and while she respects him greatly and approves of his dream to see Cheliax fall under the guidance of Iomedae, her own faith in Desna has often resulted in lingering arguments about when it is appropriate to toss aside the law of the land in order to ensure the freedom and safety of the citizens.
Dinner with the PCs in Vizio’s Tavern
Janiven spends the afternoon at Vizio’s Tavern, preparing for her meeting with the PCs. If any of the PCs arrives early, they find her going about the business of preparing food and doing some minor repair work; she acknowledges their presence, invites them to be seated, and offers them some ale to pass the time, but politely refuses to answer any questions at that time until all of the PCs have arrived. As the PCs gather, give each player a chance to describe his character to the others. Dinner is satisfactory but not exceptional. Janiven joins them in the meal, during which she engages in idle chat with the PCs or simply watches as they get to know each other. She uses this time to evaluate the PCs again, for she plans to reveal a dangerous secret to them and doesn’t want to risk this information on someone she can’t trust. The PCs can make a DC 15 Sense Motive check to recognize that she’s worried about something, but seems forthright in general, although she glances at the front window every few minutes.
The source of Janiven’s nervousness is that her mentor Arael, who was supposed to aid her in running this meeting, has yet to arrive. Tardiness is unlike him, but she doesn’t want to reveal that he’s late. Instead, if asked about her nervousness and why she keeps looking to the front of the tavern, she looks momentarily agitated, then calms herself, explaining that “shadow beasts” stalk the unlit streets after dark. While everyone in the city has a different theory as to the nature and origin of the mysterious shadow beasts, Janiven subscribes to a little credited conspiracy theory which holds that they were put into place by the House of Thrune to oppress the citizens of Westcrown and consolidate their infernal power. She assures the PCs that the meeting will not keep them at Vizio’s after dark, but should they wish to stay the night here, she promises to make arrangements as necessary.
Once dinner is over, and with still a few hours to go before sundown, Janiven locks the front door and shutters the windows, then takes a deep breath and thanks the PCs for attending the meeting. She again assures them that they’ll be done in less than an hour, with plenty of time left over for everyone to get home before sunset. Her speech is short, but delivered with great passion.
“Again, thank you for agreeing to meet with me here. I have chosen each of you for a singular reason—everyone here, myself included, has suffered, whether we realize it or not. I have lived in Westcrown my whole life, and although I love this city, I must admit, as must you, that despite our peace and prosperity, we continue to suffer. Fear should not be an expected part of life, and yet each night brings fear to our doorsteps. Yes, Westcrown has been safe from war and famine for nearly seventy years, and yes, our businesses has prospered—but this safety and prosperity has been bought in the coinage of fear and prayers to Hell. Other lands live free from tyranny. Other cities do not fear the night. Other governments do not cede the streets to monsters of the infernal shadows. Westcrown was once such a place, and she wants to be such a place again. Westcrown is not only her buildings and canals and docks and history—she is also her people. Westcrown is our friends and neighbors, our mothers and fathers, our siblings and cousins, our sons and daughters! With but a small group of supporters and dedicated brothers and sisters, we can earn the trust and admiration of those people. A Westcrown free of these shadowy beasts that stalk our streets is one step closer to a Westcrown free of the devil that is the Thrice-Damned House of Thrune!”
Janiven’s words are, of course, treason—everyone in Westcrown knows a friend of a friend of a friend who was taken away by a Hellknight or executed after a swift trial for speaking less treasonous words than what Janiven has just uttered. Give the PCs the chance to react to her speech—they’ll likely have plenty of questions and maybe even a few choice words to say. Janiven is patient and answers the questions as best she can, although Arael’s continued absence increasingly disturbs her. She truly believes that she and a small group of like-minded friends can improve the lives of the people of Westcrown, but they must take care not to appear as rebels or rioters. They must form their own band of protectors, and must work to win the admiration and support of the citizens by doing good works and providing what aid they can. Key to this tactic is the fact that Westcrown is largely ignored by the rulers of Cheliax as a home-in-exile for the old nobility. As long as they work to win the hearts of Westcrown’s citizens by good deeds and avoid as many direct entanglements with the government as they can, the House of Thrune will continue to ignore what they’ll interpret as “petty squabbling” in the old capital.
Flight from Vizio’s Tavern
At some point not long after Janiven’s speech, likely before the PCs have had a chance to really start to absorb the implications of what she’s set before them, a sudden excited pounding at the front door disrupts the meeting. Immediately adopting a defensive posture, Janiven peers through a window at whoever’s knocking, then swiftly moves to the door, unlocks it, and opens it. In stumbles an out-of-breath and frightened-looking teenager named Morosino (N male human child commoner 1, played by me). “They’ve got Arael!” he calls out, then immediately doubles over in a fit of coughing brought on by his long run. Janiven’s face grows grim as she comforts Morosino and asks him to explain himself; in a moment the lad recovers enough to spurt out, “The dottari nabbed Arael, and the Hellknights of the Rack are trying to get custody of him! There’s a bunch of Hellknights on their way here now! I only just made it in here; they’ve already surrounded us!”
At that point, the sound of clanking armor advancing on the tavern becomes apparent. Anyone who glances out the window sees a large group of heavily armed and armored Hellknights advancing down the street, yet Janiven remains calm. She apologizes for involving the PCs in this matter, and as the Hellknights start hammering on the locked doors of the place and demanding in booming voices for those within to come out and give themselves up, she tells the PCs to follow her. She and Morosino swiftly move behind the tavern’s decrepit bar, where they lift up a heavy trap door in the floor. As the pounding on the door increases, she breathlessly says that this shaft drops down into the Westcrown sewers. By fleeing along this route, they should be able to lose the Hellknights quickly.
There are six Hellknights and a dozen armigers (new inductees in the organization that serve the Hellknights as squires and porters) in the streets surrounding Vizio’s Tavern. They are numerous and heavily armed, and further bolstered by a reputation for ruthlessness and strict adherence to their own charter to strike down all suspected rebels. The Hellknights are intent on capturing everyone present in order to interrogate them, and if the PCs seem to be making noises like they want to try to explain things to the Hellknights (or worse, stay and fight), Janiven’s eyes widen and she practically begs the PCs to accompany her into the sewers, warning them that the Hellknights are stubborn and single-minded, and have obviously already formed their opinion about the party’s guilt. As the Hellknights start bashing through doors and opening windows, she makes one last attempt to convince the PCs, but if they insist on staying, she flees into the sewers with Morosino and leaves them to their fate.
If the PCs decide to avoid allying with Janiven, and if they aren’t simply killed by the overwhelming number of Hellknights, they’ll be captured and taken away for interrogation at the Hellknights’ fortress, Citadel Rivad. This interrogation should be intimidating and scary, but unless the PCs are deliberately antagonistic or confess to crimes they didn’t really commit, the Hellknights find (after 2d4 hours of questioning) that the PCs had little to do with the suspected rebel movement, and are released with a warning. Allow the PCs to return to their daily lives, but since Janiven is still “at large” you can have her contact the PCs again a few days later. In this case, she’ll ask them once again to join her, this time to aid in rescuing Arael (see Part Four). If the PCs still resist joining the movement, you can still run Council of Thieves, but you’ll need to make adjustments periodically along the way to account for whatever group ends up being the PCs’ patron. The Hellknight Order of the Scourge is an excellent choice; this order often butts heads with the Order of the Rack, and they might see in the PCs a great group to shape and mold into an anti-organized-crime band. The Pathfinders themselves could be another excellent choice for patrons, as they want to recover much of the information hidden in their lost lodge, and doing so will naturally put them in conflict with the Council of Thieves as well.
If the PCs follow Janiven, they find her opening a small secret door in the back of a floor-level cupboard. Janiven directs Morosino and the first PC to crawl through the door and down the tunnel into the sewers, telling them that Morosino knows the way; she then tries to delay the Hellknights by closing the kitchen door, pulling down shelves to create obstacles, and using a tanglefoot bag to further complicate things, following the last PC through the secret tunnel.