Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Union of the Snake

In Sarabasca, anyone who sells anything; a good, a service, a slave--no matter what--risks the wrath of whatever applicable guild governs his actions if he doesn't first buy a membership in the guild. This often isn't much money, especially for those who want to sell fruit from a cart, or be available for temp labor, or something like that--a guilder or piece of eight or other local gold coin for a year-long membership, for example--but because the sultan gives these guilds tacit authority to police their industries, anyone who risks dodging guild membership is setting himself up for a severe beating and confiscation of his money and merchandise at best, or a permanent stint as shark food in the harbor at worst.

Some guilds, however, are more than simply shakedown rackets; some of them have a great deal of power, influence and money even beyond Sarabasca's borders. The Union of the Snake is one such guild. Because the sultan has not deigned to outlaw or control any substance in Sarabasca, it has become the poison and drug capital of the world, and because the poison-maker's guild has decided to define drugs as long-term poisons that frequently have pleasant short-term effects but certainly poisonous long-term effects, the same guild monitors both poison and drug manufacturing and sales in Sarabasca. This wasn't always the case, but when almost all of the important guild heads of the drug producer's guild died in a single night, the poison maker's guild had made their point. Since Sarabasca is the capital for such activity throughout the Mezzovian Sea region, that makes the colorfully named Union of the Snake one of the primary movers and shakers of the Sarabascan economy, with a cash flow to make kings weep. Named for the deadly and subtle serpents that the poisonmakers aspired to be compared to, the Union of the Snake has secret agents and assets in every major urban center in the entire Mezzovian area and even beyond.
Union members are much less casual about their affiliation than many other guilds in Sarabasca; most have a small tattoo of a poisonous asp or cobra on their wrists or ankles to identify themselves, they pay much larger dues, but in return get a great deal more support from the guild, especially in terms of contracted security for major shipments or deals. Although closely allied with the assassin's guild in Sarabasca, outside of that city, expatriate Union of the Snake members often are themselves assassins, and can command a premium in many other markets, known for their subtle use of poisons that sicken or kill their victims and make it appear like a completely natural death. Other contract killers, especially those associated with the Cherskii Mafia are more brutal and appropriate when a message wants to be clearly communicated, but the Union of the Snake is infamous for its subtlety. The following is one way in which the Union of the Snake can be brought into a DARK•HERITAGE campaign:
  • A prominant local politician dies unexpectedly of a strange sickness. His family believes that foul play was involved, and puts out subtle feelers that a reward will be offered to anyone who can prove that this was so. The local politician was a strong supporter for harsher controls on the local drug trade--with him out of way the motion to pass stricter controls will fade away quietly, as no one else was interested in seeing it come to fruition. Sufficiant investigation will point towards a foreign (Sarabascan) ship that is reasonably well known in the criminal underworld as a smuggler of large quantities of drugs and poisons. While the captain is not a major player himself, and can be brought to justice (of one kind or another) if the PCs so choose, he is a member of the Union of the Snake, and the fact that he has been subtly investigated is enough to prompt the guild into action to shut the PCs down. If they actually bring proof to the victim's family of his involvement, or worse, bring him to even harsher justice, then the PCs have simply invited even stronger reprisals.

  • Ever the subtle ones, the Union doesn't initially get directly involved, but a bounty has been put on the PCs. At first this means relatively unprofessional thugs start crossing their path, but assuming the PCs either succeed in thwarting these efforts and don't leave town to avoid trouble, the bounty goes up or more direct contracts are placed on them, and before long, professional and skilled assassins are targeting them. Assuming the PCs can survive this attention and piece together the clues that they need to get to the bottom of the attacks, they discover that a crime lord who's a local patsy to the Union is to blame for the bounty; but taking him down means taking on an entire gang of seasoned criminals.

  • By this point, the PCs have significantly disrupted the Unions operation in the city in which they live, and it's time for more direct and decisive action. The Union of the Snake, as it turns out, has more resources than the PCs may have imagined. Much of their success in the inventing, making, and marketing of dangerous substances comes through their alliances with the forces of Hell itself. It's one thing to be targeted by competent earthly assassins, but its another entirely to be targeted by a daemon. Evading this hellish assassin and minimizing collaterial damage is a major undertaking. And even if they do, the Union has more "specialists" who can only bring on more pain and suffering for the PCs back in the Sarabascan home office. How will they eventually either bring down or at least make peace with the Union after allowing the stakes to be raised so high?

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