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Liquor is Quicker
Author: John C. Walborn
System: d20 Dungeons and Dragons
Requirements: 2-4 Characters, Levels 1-3
A purveyor of fine, imported adult beverages has suffered some ill luck. One of his shipments was destroyed by brigands. Worse, his books were stolen, and it would be seriously bad for business if their contents went public.
Tragen Denge is a purveyor of exotic wines and spirits who often sends his agents to travel to Elven, Dwarven, and other distant settlements, buying their favored drinks so he can sell them to taverns along the Astur Coast inclunding those in the Imperial City.
On the return leg of the most recent trip, a few days ago, the wagon convoy was assaulted. By accounts of where the wreckage was found, the attack occured a few miles from the City where the North Road crests a large hill and a series of man-sized statues lines the road. (The party may or may not be familiar with the location, depending on whether or not they are from the area.)
It appears the four hired guards, five cart drivers, and Tragen's envoy were routed by rogues using crossbows and brutal slashing weapons. Some of the victims were nearly split in half. The kegs and barrels were split open and boxes smashed, but most of the goods were accounted for. The only things missing were the belongings of the victims - weapons, armor, some coins, and the Envoy's logs and records in a locked, black box (they left the key on the Envoy's corpse, hidden in his clothing).
Though no one was there to witness it, the assault was staged by a group of seven Half-Orc rogues (Warrior NPC class, Level 1, using crude longswords and light crossbows). They set up the ambush and waited for the next merchant to approach. They made short work of the undertrained, ill-equipped escorts and hacked the civilians for good measure. But when it came to the cargo, they were sorely disappointed. Had they been on a drinking binge, it would be perfect, but they were seeking loot and exotic booze wasn't exactly what they were hoping for. They thrashed the cargo in anger and took what valuable items they could before fleeing.
THE BRIGANDS' CAMP
The Half-Orcs took their spoils, collected the gear they had stashed nearby, and put miles between themselves and the crime scene. As they did every night, they camped cold in a remote location and inspected their gains. They broke the box open with a rock and, once again, they were angered by their findings. Two books and a handful of loose papers. Business logs. They dumped them on the ground and searched for any false bottoms or sides to the box, which they did not find. One of them spat on the papers and another stomped them into the dirt.
The next morning, they packed up their camp and moved on, leaving the two books and loose papers (and the broken box) behind.
The loose papers appear to be receipts from the Elves, Dwarves, and Southrons who manufactured and sold the liquid refreshments. In fact, they are clever forgeries (DC 28) written by the same man. Keep in mind it's quite possible the party will not notice this or have any reason to suspect it.
The books, each with its own small lock (to which the Envoy does NOT have the key), tell the whole tale. These detail the manufacturing costs and contents of each barrel and bottle, all manufactured at a factory in a city called Beresport less than 100 miles away. The books are intended for Tragen's eyes only. They also detail the expenses for the forger, named Rhyv, who apparently charges 20GP per document.
THE QUEST & REWARD
Tragen Denge desperately wants those documents back in his control. He's offering 250GP to anyone who can bring back the black box unharmed and unopened. Ideally, he would also like to know who was behind the theft. He claims the box contains a highly fragile flower that will die with any contact to the air. It's a gift to his wife from the far away Elves, he says.
Of course, the quest cannot be completed as stated. A negotiation process will have to occur after the party returns the documents. If they make it evident they know what the books contain, the merchant will offer up to 2,000GP to buy the books and their silence. But then he'll go straight to the Thieves' Guild and put a contract on them.
If the party decides to track down the Half-Orcs, it will take some doing. They are no doubt 10+ miles from the camp containing the books. If they do happen to find them, the Half-Orcs will force combat, taking as much advantage for themselves as possible. When possible, they fire their crossbows from cover and only close when the battle is basically over so they can smell the fresh blood and hear the sound of their swords parting living flesh.
If defeated, they have a long sword and light crossbow each plus a handful of bolts. They all wear various versions of studded leather. They've sold the weapons and armor from their last heist and have a total of d12+10GP on them.
No hook is needed beyond the fraud that Tragen Denge is apprently perpetrating and the possibility that the party will have prices on their heads by the end. A whole slew of quests could spin off of this one, depending on how it unfolds.