The Merchant Princes of Port Nyanzaru (revamped)

Even in my Chult campaign, exploration-oriented as it is, I want politics and intrigue to play a part. At the very least, even if  my players decide not to care, it will provide some interesting side-quests. The main quest-givers, the  « Merchant Princes », as described in Tomb of Annihilation, are more like simple shopkeepers than powerful merchant rulers.

They all are filthy rich and apparently, in Port Nyanzaru, it’s all it takes. How they managed to obtain so much wealth, despite their city being under Amnian (fantasy spanish) control only nine years ago is superfluous I guess. What we know is that they each have a monopoly on something that is supposed to bring them a really high income.

So let’s see how fares Port Nyanzaru’s economy as decribed in ToA (of course we can homebrew away any of this!):

  • Port Nyanzaru is a small city.
  • There’s a Dragon Turtle demanding a « tax » from passing boats
  • Pirates plague the Seas
  • There’s virtually no one in Chult to trade with
  • And, you know, undead and dinosaurs aplenty

As for the monopolies of the Merchant Princes:

  • Ex-gladiator Ekene-Afa got very rich, we’re to believe, selling spears, leather shields and travelling gears. That’s shopkeeper level, really.
  • Ifan Talro’a deals in dinosaurs and dinosaur training. Okay, why not.
  • Jessamine deals in plants, poison and assassination. And she got rich, somehow.
  • Jobal deals in (lousy) guides and (deathwishing) sellswords. We do know he came out of the jungle alone with treasure, so there’s that (that’s actually interesting, I can work with that).
  • Kwayothé sells fruits, wine, tej, ale, perfume and insect repellent (!). 
  • Wakanga deals in magic and, uh, lore? Yeah… A magic shop, how cute…
  • Zhanti deals in gems, jewelry, clothes and armors. I mean, gems and jewelry, that’s fine. Clothes and armors? Less so.

The whole concept of richest guys in town are ruling doesn’t hold water. Why would the people tolerate the monopolies of the Merchant Princes? It would have to be by strength of arms but they don’t seem to have any. In fact, we know they can’t even chase a few dozens unimpressive Flaming Fist mercenaries that are encroaching in Chultan territory.

Okay, let’s reframe this a little:

Each have a sphere of influence and none, at the moment, can hope to rule without cooperating with some of the others. They exchange favors all the time in order to have the votes of their peers when it counts.

Ekene-Afa

Already popular when she was a gladiator, she became the de facto leader of the rebels when Port Nyanzaru  shook off the Amnians. She would have the support of the people if she made a bid to rule the city by herself, but she doesn’t have that kind of ambition.

Commercial Assets:

  • taxes from Inner City’s merchants, in exchange her labor force clear the rivers’ channels
  • fishing trade

Political Influence:

  • city watch (captain Soshen is her son)
  • beloved by the people

Goals:

  • Prevent Tyranny
  • Extend safety to all parts of Port Nyanzaru, not only Walled City

Ifan Talro’a

Talro’a betrayed his Amnian masters, and profited greatly from it. He now has some kind of alliance with the Flaming Fist mercenaries. A man of great ambition, a populist too, he won’t stop at anything to amass more power.

Commercial Assets:

  • meat market
  • dinosaur herding
  • ivory trade

Political Influence:

  • allied with Flaming Fist
  • Redhooks (butchers turned enforcers)
  • Grand Coliseum games

Goals:

  • Become King of Chult

Jessamine

The least avant-scène of the Princes, Jessamine’s influence is felt more in hushed tones than in clamorous displays. Her extensive spy network goes far beyond Port Nyanzaru.

Commercial Assets:

  • pottery trade, valuable, handmade craft by the gripplis
  • dye trade
  • spice trade
  • kola nuts

Political Influence:

  • The Purple Hand (assassins)
  • Spy Network

Goals:

  • Prevent strong rule from happening in Port Nyanzaru
  • Eliminate underworld rival Jobal

Jobal

Since he got out of the jungle alone, with  considerable treasure in his possession, Jobal proceeded to buy the allegiance of one of Old City’s gang of thugs. He soon ruled over almost all the other gangs of Old City and Malar’s Throat.

Commercial Assets:

  • local extortion
  • moneylending

Influence:

  • The Gauntlet (informal justice)
  • Gangs: Sons of Malar, Bridgerunners, the Dirty Talons

Goals:

  • Advance the agenda of his unknown benefactors

Kwayoté

Kwayothé was barely a teen when she catched the eye of a rich foreigner. She endured many humiliations before she finally freed herself of her master’s yoke. Now a rich merchant herself, she strives so that nobody would gain dominance over her ever again.

Commercial Assets:

  • gems mining
  • metalcasting

Political Influence:

  • Temple of the Everburning

Goals:

  • Topple Chultan aristocracy
  • Drive away or kill the Flaming Fist mercenaries
  • Chase off the greedy Dwarves of the Pick&Axe co

Wakanga O’tamu

A moderate in all things, except maybe in his passion for women, Wakanga helped the rebellion only because  Amn persecuted magic-users such as him. A powerful wizard, he comes from a long tradition that teaches that magic must be restricted to a few who pledged to use it with strict rules.

Commercial Assets:

  • cloth manufacturing (the bright clothes of Port Nyanzaru are renowned worldwide)

Political Influence:

  • He’s a wise and powerful wizard and many seek his counsel

Goals:

  • Prevent Tyranny.
  • Stop strangers from stirring dark forces in the jungle

Zhanti

A rich merchant with royal blood, Zhanti is the consummate diplomat. Her long-term plans are ambitious but she knows she’s not getting any younger.

Commercial Assets:

  • salt making
  • leatherworking

Political Influence:

  • Harbor
  • Prestigious family
  • foreign interests

Goals:

  • Civilize a large chunk of Chult
  • Put her son Shago as ruler of Port Nyanzaru
  • Help bring back the Chultan diaspora
  • Transform the city into true regional power

Session 2- Gambling & Fighting in P-N

The ToA’s sidequests are all pretty much pointless and boring so I had to invent  my own (except chasing pirates, that’s perfectly fine to me). Not only that but if you’re actually following the main plot of ToA (unlike me), doing the sidequests is actually detrimental to accomplishing the main quest! Talk about bad design… I did run the dinosaur race (but that was already an idea in the Jungles of Chult supplement (1993)). 

Characters:

  • Shin, Tabaxi Fighter, Outlander; Big-game hunter
  • Lucky, Half-Elf Cleric of Tymora, Street Urchin; the lowly will be exalted
  • Pocor, Human Druid, Outlander; Traveller of chultan descent
  • Phileas, Half-Elf Bard, Archeologist; “it’s not tomb-robbing if you do it respectfully”
  • Corpos, Forest Gnome Wizard, Archeologist; antiquary, strange fixation on the undead

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Tomb of Annihilation, WoTC, really nice art!

And now what’s the plan?

The PCs disembarked in Port Nyanzaru at dusk and their first move was, unsurprisingly, to find shelter for the night. They opted for Kaya’s House of Repose, a cozy inn located inside the walls feeling confident that their meagre funds would soon be replenished. Puzzled by the lack of other customers they asked around and learned that everybody (except the staff) went to see an unusual sight: a Halruaan airship had landed in town! Joining the crowd in the plaza, the soon-to-be explorers could only marvel at this efficient way of locomotion. Young Lucky, accustomed to city life, quickly became aware that wily pickpockets were taking full advantage of the diversion. Fortunately, targeted Pocor was vigilant enough to evade theft.

With so much people around, the PCs  heard some interesting rumors they could benefit from.

Let’s talk money

In their first couple of days in Chult, the PCs have found out of a few ways to earn some gps before leaving Port Nyanzaru for their dangerous jungle expeditions:

  • Arena Fun: The Mercenaries vs the Velociraptors
  • Arena Fun: The Mercenaries vs the Skeletal Horde!
  • Middleman Mboka have a job: Cleaning a Mine from critters (coast, two days away)
  • Captain Shago have a job: find a certain M’panzu thought to be in league with the pirates  and bring him to the captain.

Arena Fun

Shin, Corpos and Phileas happily enlisted, whilst Pocor and Lucky had some mischievous plans of their own.

Mercenaries VS Velociraptors!

From his spectator seat, Pocor cast an entangle spell at one of the two porticullis where were kept the raptors, effectively blocking it.  Two raptors entered the arena from the other side and advanced rapidly to the center of the arena, where Phileas and Corpos were ready for action. As for the Tabaxi, he climbed with celerity on one of the spike jutting from the encircling wall, intent on using his bow on the beasts.

Corpos’ mage hand threw sand in the eyes of one raptor and Phileas attempted to skewer the other with a fancy move of his rapier but only lightly wounded it. The savage bite and claw attack against him nearly put an end to his barely-started adventuring career, but for the help of Pocor’s healing powers.

As Corpos, Phileas and Shin finished the two raptors, yet another magical intervention from Pocor triggered an angry reaction from two young hooligans seated nearby. If he was so intent on helping the « mercenaries » they told him, he might as well join them in the arena below! A short scuffle ensued and Pocor got the upper hand (but not without losing his concentration on his entangle spell).

Below the two remaining raptors were finally free and Phileas, quite the crowd-pleaser, made a loud cracking noise with his whip that sent a magical Thunderwave, killing one raptor and wounding the other. A flame bolt from Corpos finished the poor beast.

(Shin’s player wasn’t too lucky with his dice throughout the combat. I think he hit once with an arrow?)

Meanwhile, Lucky tried to gain money another way. Feigning intoxication, he attempted to pickpocket a richly attired Chultan but got his greedy hand stung and was poisoned. He felt ill for an hour or so for his troubles. The locals aren’t the easiest of targets it seems.

Dinosaur Racing!

dinoracing

A dinosaur race was announced for the evening. Two contenders: the ill-tempered allosaurus Bonecruncher was a 2:1 betting favorite against the young ankylosaurus Grung Stomper!

Of course it occurred almost immediately to Phileas to mess with the race and try to win against the odds! Corpos and Lucky were both convinced by the bard’s greedy enthusiasm and put a sum on Grung Stomper.

Phileas’ plan was to wait somewhere further on the circuit and play tricks on the allosaurus’ mind with a well placed Dissonant Whisper spell. And oh my! How it worked! The ill-tempered Bonecruncher failed spectacularly  (rolled a 1! botches do count in my game) to resist the mind intrusion and went berzerk, losing precious time before his handler managed to steer him back on track. The race was still close but it was enough so Grung Stomper won!

DM notes:

  • With Pocor’s player agreement, I’ve decided that his character’s ancestors were from Chult.
  • I did some foreshadowing for the Halruaan airship before it become, huh, a jungle location?
  • This session was rather short with 3 hours of play. I had thought that a lot more would be accomplished but it’s ok, the players have learned a lot of stuff about the setting and had some ideas how to tackle it.
  • Last campaign finished with lvl 20 characters, beginning anew at lvl 1 is so different!
  • Phileas’ player loves when his PC shines and has fame! That’s certainly a good way to keep his interest in the campaign.
  • Both in the Arena and dinosaurs race, the players cheated their way to victory. That was a lot of fun. But hey, they are not the only crooks in town! I have to keep this in mind…

Session 1- Set Sail!

Here’s the start of the new campaign set in Chult that I’m calling « Ruins of Chult ». It’s homebrew, open hexcrawl exploration-focused and without time constraint. I’m using a little of the Tomb of Annihilation module; the Merchant Princes for sure and a few good locations. Certainly not the plot, it doesn’t make any sense IMO.

Edit: Anyway, this first session was lacking in many ways, I admit readily, it would be much better if we re-runned it but that’s almost always how it goes doesn’t it? I find my groove around the third or fourth session I think.

Characters:

  • Shin, Tabaxi Fighter, Outlander; Big-game hunter
  • Lucky, Half-Elf Cleric of Tymora, Street Urchin; the lowly will be exalted
  • Procor, Human Druid, Outlander; comes from a far away place
  • Pheleas, Half-Elf Bard, Archeologist; « it’s not tomb-robbing if you do it respectfully »
  • Corpos, Forest Gnome Wizard, Archeologist; antiquary, somewhat sinister for a gnome.

Fun fact: Both players with archeologists characters were, some years ago, real-life archeologists themselves! (Now one is an accountant and the other a government bureaucrat, so much for an exciting life, ugh!)

The crew of the Amnian Fop

En route

Lured by the promises of riches the PCs are leaving the city of Baldur’s Gate aboard the Amnian Fop, a fast schooner headed for the Chultan Peninsula. Amongst the would-be adventurers, Procor looks likes he’s already an experimented seaman and have some successful fishing along the way. Pheleas didn’t fare so well in his aquatic journey and will be a few pounds lighter at arrival.

The Pink Reef

The ship’s captain had planned a quick stop about halfway to their destination. He had some business to conduct at the Pink Reef, a place where merfolks traders gather. Young Lucky accepts an offer to invest his meager funds, buying a pearl and making some profit later on. Captain Shago left on a rowboat with two  sailors to meet the merfolks. Meanwhile First Mate Blimponia scanned the horizon with her spyglass looking for pirates, vulnerable as they were anchored at the atoll.

Aside: I’ve refurbished NPC Shago from ToA as a free-willed captain, rather than a Flaming Fist flunky…

depositphotos_11266998-stock-photo-tropical-reef-atoll

Unexpectedly, the attack came from below. A sudden, unnatural wave brought creatures aboard! Five Sea Spawns crashed clamsily (get it? GET IT? err) on the ship’ s deck. The sailors and PCs immediately tried to fend off the invaders.  Two sailors were grievously wounded in the ensuing battle and Procor was grabbed by a tentacle at some point, but the superior number of the defenders proved to be more than enough. Procor and Pheleas used magic to heal two grievously injured sailors (Bayiz and Kid Shago) earning even more gratitude. Searching the dead creatures, Shin found a wristband made of seashells and shark teeth.

Unwanted escort

tenor

Leaving the Pink Reef behind, the crew observed with some unease that they were pursued by sharks. LOTS of sharks. A day later the swarm did not relent in the least. The following windless night, the sharks circled the ship hungrily and something else could be seen swimming amongst them: a sahuagin! The sahuagin talked to the crew in aquaan (the captain translated), said it wanted an object: the Sea spawn’s wristband, or else…The sahuagin was in fact hunting the Sea spawns before they got killed! The PCs decided, after a quick discussion, to give up the wristband rather than risk a fight and the satisfied sahuagin simply left.

Target practice

A few uneventful days later, not so far from Chult’s coast, they spotted something in the sky. A look through the spyglass revealed an unusual sight: a harpy harassed by some pteranodons, desperately fleeing. Wounded by many cruel bites, the harpy was flying toward the boat. And was shot dead. An arrow from Shin’s longbow and a seashell shot from Lucky’ sling put a brutal end to her flight.

The curious pteranodons approached the ship but paid dearly as they were met with a volley of projectiles, killing three in no time. The dead-eye Tabaxi shot the last fleeing pteranodon more than 200′ away.

Land ho!

Before the landing, the Captain, aware of his passengers’ foolish desire to explore Chult, gave them a high quality (if partial) map, as a reward for their help in defending his ship.

DM’s notes:

Well, to be honest, I can’t say that my campaign’s prelude was that exciting. Sea travel isn’t easy to convey, for sure. We were all a bit rusty roleplay-wise. But one big mistake I made as the DM is leaving the PCs aboard the ship at the Pink Reef by default, more meaningful interactions would have been welcomed for sure. Doing this again, I would put some things going on on the atoll for the players to mess with.

A boat to Chult: the Amnian Fop

 

Another advantage of throwing away the dumb main plot of ToA is letting go of the time constraint (with the death curse and all).  This allows me a proper introduction to the campaign, which was totally lacking.

Also, NPC Shago has another role entirely. He’s no longer a Flaming Fist flunky.

Getting to Chult

Teleporting? Nope.

The PCs are going to Chult the long way: by boat.

Welcome aboard The Amnian Fop

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It’s a popular saying among  the Chultans now (after their uprising) that nothing runs faster, no deinonychus, no antelope, than a rich Amnian fleeing for his life. This boat is fast, hence the name.

The crew of the Amnian Fop will be the first characters the PCs will be able to interact with. Here they are:

Shago

Captain Shago, Human (Chultan): the adventurous son of prince-merchant Zhanti is the proud captain of this schooner. His mother would like him to act as ambassador of Port Nyangaru but politics doesn’t interest him much. He does share one goal with her though: get rid of all these pesky pirates that plagues chultan waters.

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First Mate « Blimp » Blimponia Stargazer, rock gnome: she’s got a badass harpoon-launcher. She made it. With luv. She calls her captain « Prince Shago »  sometimes. It annoys the shit out of him.

Sailor « Mute » Walix, sun elf: He’s not mute but few could say.  He’s got a useful little trick that mends the ship’s wear and tear.

Sailor Olgata, Human (Chultan): Mute’s girlfriend. She speaks to the Sea. Or more precisely, to the Seas’ moody mistress, the Goddess Umberlee. It seems to help, a bit.

Sailor Bayiz , fire genasi (Calimshite): Who said that a fire genasi could not become a sailor? Yeah… There’s something fishy about that.

Sailor « Handsome » Hasan, Human (Chultan): Half his face is just scar tissue. A dinosaur did this. Don’t mess with dinosaurs.

Sailor Kid Shago, Human (Chultan): A street urchin a year back, he would have turned bad if not of a chance encounter with Older Shago. Joyfully mops the deck of the ship.

Sailor Nondescript, not at all a replacement for a possible PC casualty.