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Lord Liaden

Besruhan Intrigues

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Recently I was thinking about the kind of fantasy setting that would be suitable to a campaign stressing politics, diplomacy, and intrigue more than just exploring, slaying, and looting. ;) It struck me that the realm of Besruhan, from Hero Games's The Turakian Age setting source book, has many qualities that suit it exceptionally well as home base to such a campaign. As I began to explore potential plots using Besruhan and its environs, I realized that they could be translated to most mainstream fantasy game worlds with little effort. So I thought I would share some of the ideas I came up with in the hope they would inspire adventures among my gaming colleagues here.

 

Let me start by outlining why I think Besruhan as presented in the TA book works so well for this kind of campaign, and suggest ways to apply these elements to other settings. Then I'll post plot seeds I came up with for those elements. I invite anyone to critique or question what I've written, and particularly to add any suggestions or experiences they may have had with such a campaign, for the Turakian Age or any other setting.

 

Besruhan is a large, wealthy, and powerful realm. Rather than having a single ruler it's governed by an "Imperial Senate" inspired by the senate of ancient Republican Rome, making up an hereditary ruling oligarchy. With a nod to the politics of the Byzantine Empire, the Senate is divided into numerous factions jockeying for influence, each with its own agenda, some more noble than others. Senators are often willing to resort to bribery, blackmail, even assassination of their fellows to advance their goals.

 

PCs could be connected to or patronized by individual Senators or factions within the Senate, or perhaps be recruited as agents of the Senate as a whole due to their renown as adventurers. Nations ruled by other types of oligarchies, or having a noble class with much influence and independence, could feature a similar dynamic.

 

Besruhan has conquered three previously independent realms, Rheshian, Cheldar, and Neldacar, which still cling to their distinct national identities. Their attitudes toward the ruling Besruhani range from resentful resignation in Rheshian, to simmering rebellion in Neldacar that threatens to boil over at any time. PCs could help repress or support rebels within these territories (or those of any other imperial power in the GM's world), depending on their sympathies and/or the goals of their Senate masters.

 

Besruhan is engaged in a type of "cold war" with the kingdom of Tyrandium over control of the smaller Drakine (dragon-man) realm of Seldrion, which lies directly between them. Seldrion is wealthy due to its excellent trading location, and both Besruhan and Tyrandium would like to conquer it while preventing the other from doing so; so they maneuver covertly seeking a decisive strategic advantage. They also have to consider the reaction of the other nearby Drakine Realms to an invasion of Seldrion.

 

Besruhan shares a long border, and a long rivalry, with the powerful and aggressive kingdom of Velkara. The Besruhani and Velkarans have fought two major wars and numerous border skirmishes, particularly over the currently-independent nation of Hrastarin which lies between them. To a large extent each realm blocks the imperial ambitions of the other. PC agents of Besruhan could attempt to sabotage Velkara internally, or try to recruit allies among other kingdoms threatened by Velkaran expansion in preparation for war.

 

Any setting with powerful rival countries, and smaller, weaker neighbors, could generate similar situations.

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On the Senate Floor

 

The following plot seeds involve the PCs in the labyrinthine power plays of the Imperial Senate.

 

Mr. Smith Goes to Arvalis: An NPC associate of the Player Characters, or even one of the PCs, joins a high-stakes game of chance involving a Senator, in which he wins the Senator's seat! (A not-unprecedented event in Besruhani politics.) This would make a particularly effective way to introduce the PCs to Senatorial circles; their friend asks for their advice and protection as the newly-minted Senator is wooed by some factions, while others try to neutralize or eliminate the disruptive "interloper."

 

Holy Empire: The Theocrat faction in the Senate wants to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with the High Church (the dominant organized religion in TA), with the support of the archoth (highest-ranking Church official) of Besruhan. However, the archoth harbors ambitions of making himself the sole true ruler of Besruhan. He's used subtle mind-influencing magic in conjunction with his considerable diplomatic skills to persuade the Senate to pass the Theocrats' motion, as a first step in taking full control.

 

The Player Characters find something that makes them suspicious of the archoth, or are assigned to investigate him by Senators opposed to the Theocrats. But they'll need strong evidence of shady dealings before accusing such a lofty cleric. To make things even more difficult for them, the archoth may secretly be a disciple of the evil Scarlet Gods, and be helped by demons disguised as human members of his staff.

 

Return of the Emperor: A new faction of Senators, the "Royalists," presents a young man they claim is a direct descendant of Trecothian, the last Emperor of Besruhan who was deposed by the Senate for his erratic behavior. They propose restoring the Emperor as a figurehead and unifying symbol, while keeping true power in the Senate. Magical testing seems to confirm that the man is of Trecothian's bloodline.

 

The Player Characters try to determine whether this man is legitimate or a clever fraud perpetrated by the Royalists... or if the man is himself using the Royalists in his own grab for power. And even if he is, what will the PCs do if he turns out not only to be the true descendant of Trecothian, but to have the nobility and strength of character to actually be a great ruler?

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State of the Union

 

These plot seeds take the Player Characters on missions to Besruhan's subject territories.

 

Taxation With Representation: The Senatorial faction known as the Populists, who promote the election of Senators by the general public, recruit the Player Characters for a mission to Cheldar. The Populists believe if they can win a strong show of support for their plan from the nobility and people of Cheldar as a way to address their grievances, it will enhance their faction's status in the Senate.

 

While the PCs try to sell the plan to the Chelda, some major crime (theft, murder, sacrilege, etc.) is committed, with evidence implicating them! The PCs must flee from the authorities to clear their name and find the identity of the real culprit: perhaps Chelda extremists opposed to any accomodation with Besruhan; perhaps another Senate faction trying to discredit the Populists. And they have to do it before outrage in Cheldar erupts into open revolt.

 

Rebel Road: The Crymythans (named for the capital of Neldacar) have long argued in the Senate for withdrawing Besruhan's occupying troops from that region, due to their many casualties battling rebels in the Neldacaran hills. Secretly the Crymythans have been smuggling money and supplies to the rebels for years, to keep the price of occupation so high that the Senate will be forced to let Neldacar go.

 

If the PCs are sympathetic to the Crymythans or the rebels, they attempt to slip one of these supply shipments into Neldacar past the many Besruhani soldiers there. If they serve the whole Senate or another faction, they hear rumors of these shipments and try to intercept one for proof of who's behind them.

 

The Messiah: The renowned scholars of the Urdasa Monastery in Rheshian discover what appears to be a lost prophecy by a revered Rheshian prophet of the gods, claiming that a "liberator" will arise to "free Rheshian from the tyranny of foreign devils." They interpret this to mean the Besruhani, and the date of the liberator's appearance is this year!

 

As news of the prophecy spreads, so does unrest in Rheshian. Several would-be "liberators" have proclaimed themselves to take advantage of the situation. The Player Characters are assigned to control the turbulent populace, and to prove the prophecy a forgery. But what if it is in fact real? Could one of these liberators actually be divinely inspired?

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Duel for the Prize

The plots below revolve around Besruhan's aspiration to conquer Seldrion.

The Drakine Who Came In From the Cold: For years a member of Seldrion's royal sahisha (an alliance of families) has been feeding Besruhan intelligence about court activities in Seldrion, in exchange for the promise of rulership of Seldrion under the Senate after Besruhan conquers it. The spy's activities were recently uncovered, however, and he's been forced into hiding to escape arrest.

Even though he's been compromised, the Senate could still use him as a figurehead to help legitimize their eventual rule; so the PCs are assigned to extricate the spy from Seldrion's capital city, with countless Drakine soldiers on the hunt for him.

It Shall Come to Pass: The Akhor Pass pierces the mountains separating Besruhan from the Drakine kingdom of Khorrin; but the hills and forest within the Pass are the refuge of bandits who prey on both lands, making it too dangerous for any but the most strongly-guarded parties to travel through.

Besruhan offers to help Khorrin make the Akhor Pass safe for merchant caravans between their countries, which would greatly enrich Khorrin. In exchange, Khorrin would persuade the other Drakine Realms not to interfere when Besruhan invades Seldrion. The Player Characters are sent to find the bandits' stronghold, and either negotiate a deal to allow merchants free passage through the Pass, or destroy the bandits if they refuse.

A Fist Full of Denarii: To the east of the realm of Tyrandium lies the kingdom of Thalera-Saar, whose king is widely believed to be planning campaigns of conquest against his neighbors. The PCs are dispatched by ship to Thalera-Saar with a hefty bribe to persuade the king to strike first at Tyrandium. With Tyrandium distracted, Besruhan won't have to worry about interference with its invasion of Seldrion.

The PCs must protect their treasure-ship from pirates on the Sea of Mhorec... and perhaps from the Tyrandine navy if their spies discover the real purpose of this voyage. If they make it to Thalera-Saar unscathed the PCs still have to convince the king to attack Tyrandium, while making sure he doesn't just have them discretely killed and keep the treasure for himself.

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Grand Masters

 

Besruhan's rivalry with Velkara is the focus of these plot seeds.

 

Freedom of Religion: The kingdom of Hrastarin, bordering both Besruhan and Velkara, officially converted to the Hargeshite religion centuries ago. Many Hrastarinin still follow the High Church, but are forced to worship in secret. The Imperial Senate gets wind of a conspiracy among High Church followers to overthrow the current ruling elite of Hrastarin and restore the dominance of the High Church. They send the Player Characters to try to make contact with the conspirators, and offer them Besruhan's help if they align themselves with Besruhan after they take power. (Even if the conspirators fail, they may cause enough chaos for Besruhan to easily take over.)

 

However, once the PCs make contact with the Hrastarinin High Church members, they discover that representatives of Velkara have also come on the same mission for their country. Now the two groups have to compete to win the favor of the conspirators, while sabotaging each other's efforts.

 

Witch Way: Slipping into Velkara, the PCs travel to the Baragon Forest on a mission to recruit the feared witches' coven that abides there, to use their magic to damage Velkara from within. But the Baragon Coven is secretive and elusive, and just finding them will require penetrating the magic tricks and traps with which they protect their privacy. And if the witches will listen, what will they demand in exchange for striking at Velkara?

 

Of Ships and Sharks: The Imperial Senate decides to prepare for all-out war with Velkara, to destroy their hated rival once and for all. They send the Player Characters to the Elven kingdom of the Elrune Islands, which is tributary to Besruhan, to have them build a secret war fleet which Besruhan will use to attack the Velkaran capital and principal port.

 

Although the Elvenking has sworn oaths of fealty to the Senate, he's reluctant to involve his kingdom directly in a war with Velkara. However, he'll agree provided the PCs find out why the dreaded Sharthak (shark-men) have raided the Elrune Islands in recent years, and put a stop to it.

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A Rock and a Hard Place

To the south of Velkara lies the kingdom of Temirec, which Velkara claims as its own and has repeatedly invaded over the centuries, with at best brief success. The Temirese are always wary of another invasion, and the Senate decides to try to ally with Temirec so they can attack Velkara on two fronts at once. The Player Characters make up the delegation sent to Temirec to negotiate an alliance. But Temirese internal politics is as convoluted and cutthroat as that of Besruhan.

Low Noon: The PCs run afoul of the complex code of honor among Temirese nobility, and one PC is challenged to a duel by a noble who happens to be a vocal opponent of alliance with Besruhan. During the duel the noble is killed, whether or not the PC intended to. Examination of his body discovers traces of debilitating magic, and suspicion immediately falls on his killer.

The PCs have to find whoever is responsible for enspelling the late nobleman, but in Temirec there's no shortage of candidates: a personal enemy of the nobleman taking advantage of the situation; advocates of the alliance hoping to remove an impediment, or opponents of it willing to sacrifice their fellow to discredit Besruhan; even spies from Velkara out to scuttle the negotiations.

The Lady Vanishes: Temirec has a pact of mutual defence with the Elves dwelling in the nearby Nevarro Jungle. The daughter of their Elvenking mysteriously disappears, and her handmaid claims she was going to a tryst with the king of Temirec, Ilario. Suspicion that Ilario has done her harm threatens to break the pact, and since that suspicion prevents the king from investigating her disappearance himself he asks the PCs, as neutrals, to look for her.

A Marriage of Convenience: The small kingdom of Nurenthia borders both Temirec and Velkara, and has in the past been conquered by Velkara. The current queen of Nurenthia, Hasintha, is a widow with no heir, while King Ilario of Temirec has not yet taken a wife. Both monarchs are being pressured by their respective nobles to marry. Ilario decides to propose a political marriage of himself with Hasintha, to strengthen both of their positions on the throne, and to cement a mutual alliance against Velkara.

Since they represent a third party, King Ilario asks the PCs to accompany his delegation to Nurenthia and help mediate the marriage negotiations. They'll have more than Velkaran agents to watch out for; many nobles of both countries are hoping for a royal marriage with their own houses, and have plenty of motivation to sabotage the delegation.

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Re: Besruhan Intrigues

 

I do wonder about a pass so infested with bandits that it is entirely impassible. When a business model is too successful.....
Or do they have something to hide?


Now that question raises some interesting possibilities in itself. :eg:

My thinking behind this plot is neither so sinister nor so subtle, though. The Akhor Pass is shown on the Turakian Age map piercing the long, massive chain of mountains separating the southern Westerlands from Mhorecia. Khorrin and Besruhan are directly on the western and eastern sides of it, respectively, but the Pass isn't mentioned anywhere in the TA source book, which further specifies that Khorrin sends most of its trade north. Logically there had to be a reason why neither kingdom takes advantage of this route. Granted, the map shows over a hundred miles of forest on the western side of the Akhor Pass, but it would be possible to clear a passable route through that... unless something else in the jungle and mountains made such extended work too dangerous, or at least not cost-effective.

I chose to make that "something else" bandits because it would be theoretically easier to bargain with them than with headhunters, carnivorous plants, demons, or the like. I suppose a dragon would serve the purpose, too, but when it comes to them PC heroes often slay first, talk later. :rolleyes:

BTW I never said "entirely impassable." But the cost of enough protection to assure safety through the Pass would make most merchants hesitate to use it.

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Re: Besruhan Intrigues

 

I'd just like to underline that several of these plot seeds would be simple to adjust so that PCs would be reacting more to meddling by hostile foreign states. This would create more of a "Great Game" emphasis to the campaign, the sense of great powers maneuvering on the chessboard of the world.

 

For example, some of the plot seeds dealing with Besruhan's internal affairs, on the "On the Senate Floor" and "State of the Union" posts, could have been instigated by agents of Velkara and/or Tyrandium. Or Velkara could attempt the same sort of alliance with Tyrandium, or even Seldrion, as Besruhan essays with Temirec and Thalera-Saar, which the PCs uncover or try to prevent.

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Re: Besruhan Intrigues

 

I do wonder about a pass so infested with bandits that it is entirely impassible. When a business model is too successful.....

Or do they have something to hide?

 

Although I gave a response to this comment earlier, I have been giving it more thought and exploring further possibilities.

 

In the Turakian Age setting, the Drakine Realms are a group of four proximate kingdoms (Seldrion, Khorrin, Vendrigal, and Basidrun) of Drakine "dragon-men" amidst many other nations of Men. Although they squabble among themselves, they normally unite against any aggression by their human neighbors. Khorrin, bordering the aforementioned Akhor Pass, is the smallest and weakest of the Drakine Realms. Seldrion and Basidrun sit at either end of a river valley that's a vital international trade route, and their position lets them dominate much of the trade that passes through it. Besruhan lies just south of Seldrion, close enough to benefit from the trade flow but not to control it.

 

If one would want a more subtle or sinister connection with the bandits I suggested could haunt the Akhor Pass, I can think of several possibilities. Powerful merchants in Besruhan, with interests in the trade route via Seldrion, could be supporting the bandits to prevent the creation of an alternate route which would affect their profits. The Drakine countries of Basidrun and/or Seldrion could do the same for much the same reasons, although since they're not close to the Akhor Pass their support would have to be more indirect (although in a magic-rich setting like TA, far from impracticable).

 

For PCs who'd prefer less self-interested motives for getting involved, the current ruling family of Khorrin usurped that position by murdering all of the previous ruler's kin eighty years before the default TA campaign start date (and have suffered the dislike of the populace of Khorrin ever since). It could be that a member of the previous dynasty secretly escaped the slaughter, and his descendants and their followers sought refuge in the jungles near the Akhor Pass, playing the role of bandits ever since while still hoping to one day regain power. The PCs could find that the price of securing the Pass for free trade is helping to foster revolt in Khorrin and restoring the original ruling line.

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Re: Besruhan Intrigues

 

Cool.

 

I was also thinking about old standards like the Lovecraftian temple of an evil and forgotten god, protected by its degenerate cultists. ("Why do the degenerate cultists have Boston Irish accents, H.P.? On second thought, never mind.")

And since Marion Zimmer Bradley came up somewhere around here recently, how about the hold of a noble house that experimented with Powers No Human Can Control? The bandits are actually the followers of rival sorcerors, trying to find their way inside the stasis-frozen keep to discover and manipulate this power. Strangers coming through the pass are eliminated lest they learn too much.

Or how about the Castle of the Assassins? The old guard castle has been taken over by the Old Man of the Mountains, who runs his worldwide conspiracy from its walls. Or perhaps it is the headquarters of the Red Talon Guild from Knights, Nobles and Necromancers?

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As it happens, one of my players is playing a Drakine from Khorrin who wants to overthrow "The Usurper" and the idea of the lost heirs still being around somewhere is one I could use....

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary says the Drakine never lost their hairs, they never had any - oh wait, nevermind

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