The Purloined Rapier

O
ur renowned party of seasoned adventurers, known as the Fixers for their reputation of resolving problems of folk all across the Feywood, have decided to do a bit of purposeful shopping in the City of Karnstown. They are seeking out a highly skilled weaponsmith capable of etching their weapons with runes of power. But before the shopkeeper can help them, the party must help the shopkeeper avoid a situation. Otherwise, the shop shut down, the weaponsmith's reputation ruined at best, and his life forfeit at worst!

This one-shot adventure has been written in a system-agnostic fashion. AGame Master can use almost any fantasy RPG rule system, in any setting, and with a party of any experience level. Guidance will be provided in panels like this one with suggestions for applying system specifics to various elements of the adventure.

Going Shopping

You are the Fixers - an experienced party of adventurers whose name is known around the Feywood. You've just finished resolving an issue that the Halflings of Spudbarrow had with troublesome gremlins near their strawberry crops, and you have decided to go to Karnstown to have some magical runes etched onto your weapons. You enter the city, and locate the shop of the most highly skilled weaponsmith in all of the Feywood.
The party can include any number of Player Characters of any level. It can even be run a solo adventue. Characters can be of any specialty or class as well. The adventure will require at least some minimal combat, but it does not require a "classic" party mix of melee, range, buff, debuff roles for PCs.

The Well-Honed Blade

You find yourselves walking into the middle of a heated argument between a well-dressed customer and the worried-looking half-orc shopkeeper. You hear the customer exclaim,

"I'll be back from my trip in two days, and it better be here! If it's not, it'll be your shop... and your skin..."

The customer storms past you, nearly knocking down the smallest, and out the door.

As the door closes, the still-nervous shopkeeper sees you standing there looking at him. He looks you over quickly and blurts out, "Please... you must help me!"

The shopkeeper's name is Ga'ar Thorndell, a half-orc. He is the weaponsmith the party had heard about. If the party asks him to do work for them, Ga'ar shakes his head sadly and explains that if he doesn't resolve this issue with the missing rapier, he won't be around to complete any commission for the party or anyone else.

During the interview with Ga'ar, the party learns the following:
  • The missing item is a rapier that was once owned by Jasric Karn, the founder of Karnstown. It is hundreds of years old, but it has been embellished several times since its first owner wielded it. It was in the shop last evening, but gone this morning. It was the only thing stolen -- Ga'ar has thoroughly searched the place to be sure of this.
  • The rapier is magically enhanced, though the magic is not particularly powerful. Likely of greater interest to the thieves were the four sapphires set into the basket hilt of the weapon, and the huge star sapphire set into the pommel. These, plus the gold thread that wrapped the grip, set the value of the weapon at somewhere between 4000 and 6000 pieces of gold. If the buyer was interested in the sword's reputation as being Jasric Karn's weapon, the price could double.
  • There is a thieves' guild in town, but they never target shopkeepers who make their monthly payments to the Karn. it's possible they were involved, but not likely. It's also possible they would at least have heard who was responsible for the theft.
  • The irate customer was Cedric Karn, a wealthy citizen. More importantly, he is a first cousin of Jadryck Karn -- "The Karn" -- the family boss who controls anything and everything of value within this city.
  • "Crossing" the Karn family is tantamount to a death sentence. If the legal system can be used - likely in this case since Ga'ar would be charged as a thief - so much the better. But even those who cling to the letter of the law have a habit of disappearing if they do things that the Karn doesn't approve of.
  • The only exceptions to the harsh and swift "justice" of the Karn are where Karn Family members are concerned. Much leeway is granted to the Family. There are some unsavory relatives floating around the city that the Karn tries to keep in line, but that enjoy creating turmoil among the rest of the citizenry.
  • The "aloud" text provided mentions seeking out the application of magical runes to place on a blade. The GameMaster can substitute any other weapon enhancement that is appropriate for the game and setting being used.
    The weaponsmith may be able to customize a blaster pistol better than anyone, or knows how to cast the spells that enchant a weapon if runes aren't the normal method of doing so. The point is that the party wants better weapons, and this shop is the only place to get them.

    If "half-orc" is not appropriate in your world, substitute any race. His heritage doesn't matter - only his crafting skill does.
    The rapier could be replaced by another weapon or artifact, but a decorative, ceremonial sword should be usable in pretty much any setting. Final decision is up to the GM of course.
    The city could be any city, but it should be run by some sort of dictatorial (even if benevolent) ruler. The Karn family in Cartyrion is part Corleone, part Renaissance Medici. Any similar "beyond the law" arrangement would work.
    The irate customer needs to be somebody that the dictatorial ruler of the city would not want publicly dealt with by the party. Whether it's "family", or some other special relationship whereby exposing the customer as the ultimate bad-guy would be embarrassing, it's important to create a "bring him back alive" requirement in the story!

    It should be made quite clear that killing the true bad guy is a FAILURE condition, not a success!

    The Search

    It's very important for everyone (party and GM) to remember that the party is "on the clock" during this adventure. Cedric Karn will return to the shop in two days time. If the rapier isn't there, he will leave and return a few minutes later with the city guard to haul Ga'ar off into oblivion. One way to slow the clock would be to hinder Cedric Karn's return, but unless the party has good cause for such detainment, it won't succeed for more than a day at most. They need to find the rapier and the person responsible.

    The thieves' guild is small, and, as Ga'ar insinuated, sanctioned by the Karn - but limited in their allowable targets. A halfling rogue named "Lightfingers" Tombert Brandyhouse heads the organization. Normally, they prey upon out-of-town merchants that the Karn Family suspects of cheating on the payment of import duties, export duties, and other merchants' fees. This is fairly common knowledge, and asking questions the right way in any of the seedier taverns in the city will produce this information. Keeping a close eye on comings and goings may even result in seeing a thief entering or leaving the underground tunnel base of the guild.

    If the party goes to the Almost Home Tavern, they will eventually overhear a conversation about "Lightfingers Tom" and "Tom's Room downstairs". If any of the party is from Karnstown, they will know of Tom's Room. Getting into the room, however, may be a challenge!

    Purloined Rapier City Map
    This is a two-layer map. The surface layer depicts the streets of Karnstown and identifies all of the major points of interest pertinent to the adventure. The underground layer depicts the thieves' guild tunnel network beneath the city.

    The Tunnels Beneath the City

    The thieves guild has two principal headquarter locations: the store-room in the Almost Home tavern, and a subterranean warren of rooms under the city in a tunnel system. There are four access points to the tunnels: a trapdoor in the store-room of the Almost Home tavern, a secret door in the wall behind a keg in the keg storage room of the Dockside Tavern, a dumbwaiter shaft connecting to the kitchen in the Tankard and Plate, and an opening halfway down the well-shaft of West Market Well - the community well in the West Market square.
    Tom should be a thief/rogue NPC two levels higher than the party. He should find it easy to evade capture if he ever gets involved in combat, and he should be difficult if not impossible to kill. It isn't necessary - when finally cornered and confronted, or if his companions are falling in a fight, he will surrender.

    Almost Home

    If the party stakes out the Almost Home Tavern - particularly the lower floor darts area - they may be rewarded after several hours of patient watching. They will should have a good (easy) chance to notice the proprietor, Arabella Whitfoot, delivering a tray full of ales to what is supposed to be just a store-room in the basement.
    As you are sitting at a table watching the dart players while sipping your ale, you happen to notice the proprietor who greeted you when you first entered the tavern come down the stairs carrying a tray of full tankards. She deftly balances it on one hand as she unlocks the store-room door with the other and enters. Less than a minute later, she exits with an empty tray, making sure the door is locked behind her. She then heads back upstairs.
    Tom is in the office! If the party breaks in on him quickly, they will see him duck down beneath his desk, and when they go to extract him, they will discover the trapdoor to the secret tunnel. The two lieutenants also in the room will be on the wrong side of the desk to escape immediately, but that will be their objective during any combat that ensues. If one or both are captured, they can be interrogated, of course.
    If there are no Halflings in your world, you can replace the Almost Home with a tavern designed especially for "out of towners". Make it a fun place -- a place that visitors would want to check out. It should be crowded, with boisterous, but friendly regulars who will, unthinkingly mention "Tom's Room downstairs". This is likely the most obvious clue leading to the tunnels that the party could get.

    The Dockside Tavern

    Keeping an eye on the Dockside Tavern, the party will see all sorts of questionable characters coming and going all the time. If they stake out the outside of the place at sundown or sunup, they have an average chance to spot somebody exiting the keg cellar that hadn't entered in the first place.
    You notice the door to the keg cellar open, and a shadowy figure darts through the door. Closing the door, they dart off, disappearing into the shadowy alleys of the dockside neighborhood.
    If the party explores the keg cellar, they have a slightly challenging chance to find the secret door hidden behind a keg in the corner. This short door offers a crawlway into the tunnel system.
    The Dockside Tavern can be whatever the GM desires - provided that it's seedy, unfriendly to out-of-towners, and a literal "den of thieves".

    The Tankard and Plate

    It should not be possible for the party to set up a practical stakeout that will uncover the dumbwaiter access to the tunnels. This passage exists as a hook for future adventures -- it provides a way for Tom of the thieves' guild to have clandestine meetings with the Karn. This is the Karn's favorite restaurant, and the room across the back hall from the kitchen is his "private dining room".
    The dumbwaiter entrance is mainly present as a hook for other adventures - it provides a way for Tom to meet with the Karn (this is his favorite restaurant) without the public knowing about it. But perhaps it could be used by the party to escape the tunnels if things go terribly wrong!

    The Well Entrance

    If the party stakes out the West Market Well, or happens to look down the well with sufficient lighting, they will notice the opening halfway down to the water. This is another crawlway that leads to the tunnel system. The well is also the "failsafe" to keep the adventure on track. if the party is flailing while trying to find the tunnels or the guild in general, let them see somebody using the well entrance to sneak into the tunnels.
    In a scifi world, this could be an airshaft, or a garbage chute. A manhole cover in a post-industrial/punk/apocalyptic world would also serve the same purpose.

    The Tunnels and Side Rooms

    The tunnels themselves are all dimly lit by oil lanterns or other appropriate means - but enough so all party members can at least see somewhat. There are numerous side rooms off the tunnels - these will have unlit lanterns (visible from the passageways). Some will be storage rooms containing dried/preserved foods and other miscellaneous "worthless" stuff. Some may be "hideout rooms" where individuals can find a place to sleep if appearing in the city above is inadviseable. If the party finds the tunnels quickly, and there's time, an encounter or two with occupants of these rooms could be added. (These should be easy combat or possibly social encounters.) If the GM desires, a minor item (dagger, ammo clip, etc.) might be found under the pillow or mattress of one of the "bedrooms".

    The Thieves' Guild Headquarters

    Once the party discovers that the guild operates via a tunnel system beneath the city, a raid on their underground headquarters will result in the first combat of the adventure. The thieves will fight, of course - but not to the death.

    Lightfingers Tom, two of his lieutenants, and two grunts will be present. (If the two lieutenants were captured in the Almost Home store-room, only one lieutenant will be in the lair headquarters.) They will fight until Tom is reduced to half his hit-points, or until one of the lieutenants is dropped. Either will cause the rest of the thieves (including Tom) to surrender. At this point, Tom will volunteer some information. They did acquire the rapier, but they no longer have it. They had been contracted to steal it by "somebody important".

    More intense questioning (or use of extraordinary measures) will result in Tom revealing the name of the one who contracted them: Cedric Karn. If the party got the customer's name from the shopkeeper, they will realize it's the same person.

    Once the party discovers that it was Cedric Karn that contracted the theft, a little bit more questioning will reveal that Cedric was planning to sell the sword to a merchant he was meeting in nearby Spudbarrow. (It would have been too risky for the exchange to take place within Karnstown. He had confessed to Tom that he had "lost everything" in the casino, and needed to raise money somehow. His plan was to steal the sword and sell it on the sly, then shake down the shopkeeper for a significant sum in exchange for not shutting down his shop and having him tried for theft.
    The combat with the thieves' guild should appear at first to be an extremely challenging/dangerous one. We've already established Tom as being a few levels higher than the party. The lieutenants should be equal to the party level, and the other minions ranged at difficulties below that.

    Keep in mind that Tom will try to avoid fighting, so his "strength" in the end shouldn't matter.

    If the fight is going slowly, or poorly for the party due to bad dice rolls, it is suggested to look for any event in the combat that could be used as an excuse for the thieves to surrender. Tom's ultimate goal is to keep his guild intact. He has no vested interest in the sword, or in Cedric Karn, for that matter.

    The True Villain

    Their true villain has a day's head start, but the merchant he was to meet had trouble on the road. So if the party hurries, they will be able to catch the culprit red-handed with the weapon. If they encounter the Karn with the weapon, he will start to fight, but, like Tom, will surrender after losing half his hit points. (He is a formidable duellist, though!).

    If the party misses this opportunity, they will still encounter the villain Cedric Karn as he is returning to Karnstown. They will be able to capture him pretty much without a fight in this case, but they'll also have to chase down the merchant.

    They will catch up at the Bugbear's Head Inn, where the merchant won't put up any more resistance than a good argument. The Bugbear's Head staff will have heard of the party, and will take their word on things over that of the merchant, who they do not know at all.

    Success / Victory Conditions

    Once Cedric Karn is in the party's custody, the clock stops, but for the shopkeeper to be truly safe, both villain and sword will have to be returned to Karnstown. If the party returns to Karnstown with the villain but not the sword, they'll find out that the villain is released due to his family ties - and he'll be free to harass the shopkeeper.

    If the sword is returned as well, though, things will be different! The shopkeeper will offer a minor enhancement of one bladed weapon of each player's choice at no cost at all. Additional work would be done at normal rates. The party will also receive a package from the Karn - the city leader. This will contain 100gp per party member and a note that simply says, "Cedric won't be bothering you in the future. He is sleeping with the fishes."

    Comments

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    19 Apr, 2022 23:44

    AMazing as always, bob!

    Here is my River Challenge Darkwater River! Come vist my world Pangorio for exciting tales, world lore, and RPG adventures ! Hypnosium is my new world I will be trying to fill for Summer Camp ... perhaps even sooner if the muse sttrikes.
    20 Apr, 2022 01:10

    Thanks! Yours wasn't bad either!

    Teams of turtles pulling barges... villages that appear and disappear overnight... check out the: Redflow River
    29 Apr, 2022 19:29

    The writing was very clear and easy to follow, and no small feat considering this is an adventure that allows different approaches to find the guild. I'd be interested to see the thieve's guild play a larger role, or have a few NPCs which can be interrogated or cajoled to reveal the location. I enjoyed that you took a lot of care to ensure the story can work with different worlds and systems! Very nice adventure, or more like an adventure archetype to run in any world, I like it.

    If you have some time, I would much appreciate your feedback on my entry for Adventure April: Carbon Copy Paradise
    30 Apr, 2022 19:53

    The thieves guild was downplayed because they're really not that active or important in the city. This city is essentially run by what amounts to an organized crime family, but since they make the rules, it's not "crime"! Enforcement of all of the immigration taxes, and trade tariffs (read as "bribes") and the mandatory rents from every resident and shopkeeper (read as "protection money") is handled first by the city guard. They collect the vigs. If somebody balks, or tries to cheat on a payment, the thieves' guild handles collections, or repossessions, or whatever you want to call it. They will rarely - really rarely - take any independent action against someone, unless it's ordered by a Karn family member (as in this adventure.)

    Teams of turtles pulling barges... villages that appear and disappear overnight... check out the: Redflow River
    30 Apr, 2022 21:14

    I hope the fishes won't get indigestion.

    2 May, 2022 12:31

    Lol. Thanks as always for taking the time to read and comment!

    Teams of turtles pulling barges... villages that appear and disappear overnight... check out the: Redflow River
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