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Pirates Campaign: Smugglers in Calpan
A fantasy RPG campaign for Rolemaster and Midgard set in a pirates scenario.

Copyright Robert Wenner ©2001

Edited by Lowell R. Matthews for The Guild Companion

In this scenario, the PC's are to detect some smugglers.  These smugglers sell, with the help of some pirates and merchants, anything valuable, like spices, herbs, drugs, and even living animals from Nahuatlan to Eschar.

The smugglers' home is a small fishing village called Calpan at Nahuatlan's eastern coast.  They work under the cover of their fishermen's disguise as well as under the cover of the night and carry their goods to sailors waiting for them.

Calpan

Calpan is a fishing village.  About 240 people live in some 40 huts.  Most males work as fishermen and spend their nights at sea.  Some women work in small gardens to grow vegetables.  In the morning, Calpan is very quiet, as the men sleep from their work at night.  In the afternoon, some people will repair boats and nets while others take the fish catch to the next city, Achimactan.  The whole day long, children play in the village.  Calpan is exactly the awful hole it appears to be.  Some travelers may come along on their way to or from Achimactan.  The road leads along the coast and it takes about two hours to reach the city.

Smugglers

NPC's

In one of the huts lives the former pirate Sanwan.  After losing his left leg, which is now fitted with a workable prosthesis, he retired from active piracy and now makes his living in Calpan by smuggling and (occasionally) fishing.  Maxtupl, a young man, is Sanwan's helper for almost everything.  As he is not very bright, he has to clean the hut, prepare food, row the boat, etc.  Thus, during daytime, Maxtupl is almost always in the house.  Sanwan's other comrade, Conxatli, has more brains to use.  Sanwan gives more difficult and important tasks to him and has never been disappointed.  Several years of friendship lie behind them.

Daily, but not following any special order, Sanwan himself or Conxatli can be seen going to Achimactan.  They take their route through the bars and inns in the port quarter, looking for customers.  Both are well known in this area and most barkeepers will offer to hand on messages.

How It Works

Small goods like herbs are hidden in the smugglers' hut—this is another reason for Maxtupl to stay at home.  Sanwan likes delivering after he has a customer.  Through his excellent contacts, he can stock his stores very fast (some hours to one or two days, depending on the required goods).  Many merchants order some time before they come to Achimactan to retrieve the wares.  This is done by exchanging messages or by means of other merchants.  It also reduces the time the merchant has to wait for Sanwan to deliver.

All wares come from deep within the country.  Half a day's way is a small village beside the merchant route to Achimactan.  Sanwan meets there with his trusted delivering merchants and buys the required wares.  All wares are delivered to Sanwan at night and are carried straight to the beach some miles south of the village.  When Sanwan and Conxatli (and maybe Maxtupl) go fishing, they will return to the beach after a short period of time to get the stored goods.  Then they are carried to the waiting merchant's sailing ship.

To avoid suspicion, Sanwan often demands the merchant pay some fresh fish in addition to the gold.  This prevents Sanwan from explaining why he didn't catch anything the whole night long.  By this disguise, Sanwan is known as an old, honest fisherman.

A very special problem is the "export" of living animals.  Snakes and birds may be carried in boxes, but some customers have a need for a living jaguar or another great carnivore.  Sanwan solves such problems this way:  To keep the animal quiet it is fed with drugs to calm it down.  It will almost always sleep.  Unconscious, it is placed in a great box which is sealed with wax.  Then the box is carried with two boats (the second boat is hidden in a secret cave at the beach).  The box is often carried beneath the water surface (dragged in a net by the two boats).

Actions

Gossip

Talking to villagers in Calpan, the PC's will hear the latest village gossip (in Achimactan there is only a 10% chance for gossip involving Calpan, as Achimactan is a big city with enough gossip of its own).  If the players are lucky, they may hear the tale of the peaceful jaguar:  "Some days ago, a jaguar came through the village and it didn't harm anybody!  This must be a omen Iquibalam sends us!"  (Iquibalam is the Nahuatlan god of war; his holy animal is the jaguar.)  In fact, it was not a omen from Iquibalam, but a mistake by Maxtupl.  He forgot to lock the cage of the jaguar which was to be shipped this night and thus was fed with drugs to keep it quiet.  This was the only reason it didn't harm anybody.

How To Begin

The direct way doesn't work.  If the PC's tell Sanwan he is a smuggler, he laughs at them.  No one will believe the PC's without good proof.  It's plain for everybody to see that Sanwan is a fisherman; most nights he will sail out and come back with some fish.  The city guard also has better things to do than waste their time on some foreigners without proof.  If Sanwan knows about his potential enemies and thinks they could be dangerous to his business, he will send some friends to beat up the party.

By watching the village and/or Sanwan and Conaxtli, the PC's will see them on their pub tour and may even catch some fragments of what the smuggler and the merchant have to tell.  The GM should keep in mind that Sanwan knows many people in Achimactan and doesn't only meet for business, but also to meet old friends.  Smuggling is only the subject 10% of the time and will be talked of as "saving taxes" or "special wares."  If the PC's ask around in bars for Sanwan, they will be told that Sanwan is a former captain and has retired and lives in Calpan.  But his soul belongs to sailing, and so he almost daily meets with captains he knows from his old days.

If the PC's follow Sanwan at night, he will try to get rid of them by words ("Hey!  Get away!  You scare away all fishes!").  If this doesn't help, he will continue fishing and cancel smuggling for this night.  In such a case, he will neither go to his hidden cave nor meet with a waiting merchant.  If the PC's make him lose a good deal by this, he will send some henchmen to make the PC's stay in bed the next few days.  If the PC's can follow Sanwan without the smugglers being aware of them, they may see how smuggling works.

A faked deal with Sanwan is difficult.  After Sanwan has accepted a deal, he will take a look at his partner's ship to get an advance payment (after all, he has to pay his delivering people).  He won't tell this to the merchant, but asks only for the ship's name and its place in the port, and shows up at the port as a surprise.  But the money is not really important; what he wants to check is whether the order is real.  Maybe some competing smuggler wants to have Sanwan wait with a jaguar that's never been ordered.  If the PC's do really belong to the ship (not as simple sailors, either as merchants or as captain) Sanwan is content and will fulfill his part of the deal.

Getting to those merchants delivering to Sanwan is difficult and useless.  Ownership of most smuggling goods is not illegal in Nahuatlan, and nobody can easily be persuaded to catch a living jaguar.  (After all, it is a dangerous and holy animal and Iquibalam's clerics wield the greatest religious power in the country.)

By talking to Maxtupl, the PC's won't get any information—after all, he isn't that stupid.  Anyway, most details on the next smuggling tours are not known to him.

Solving the Problem

The best solution is to surprise Sanwan while smuggling, as in such a case he won't be able to deny his deeds.  Possible ways to watch a smuggling action are:
  • If the PC's find the hidden boat and guard it.
  • Following the smugglers to their meeting with the merchant (maybe while invisible, by using scrying devices, or by a flying familiar).
  • The PC's may really make a deal with Sanwan and be on the ship taking the smuggled goods.
Depending on the PC's intentions they may be accompanied by some soldiers from the Achimactan city guard (if the PC's want to uncover the smugglers).  Alternatively, they make the deal with Sanwan alone and demand whatever they desire from the smuggler (as in the Pirates Campaign (see below)).  Blackmail by sending letters is also possible if the letters contain enough details so Sanwan has proof that the blackmail is not faked.
Robert Wenner.

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