Monday, October 23, 2017

Politics in Port Nyanzaru

Tomb of Annihilation's first location, Port Nyanzaru, is full of interesting cultural and social practices, history and characters that it could be an adventure location of its own. During their time in the bustling city, characters may bump into one or more of the seven merchant princes. These individuals hold the power in Port Nyanzaru and could prove very useful to the PCs as they navigate their quest to locate and destroy the Soulmonger. While each has a bit of detail given about them, I was wanting to know more about how to involve or use them in the campaign.

Our first two episodes of Tomb of Annihilation on Twitch featured the characters unwitting involvement with the political scene in Port Nyanzaru. Here I have put to paper some of the conceptualizations of the Merchant Princes that I used in my game. I do my best to outline a few bits of their personality, their political interests and relationships with one another.

Each of the merchant princes has economic interests stemming from their particular monopoly. They will nearly always advocate for these interests so that they will see their bank accounts grow. Even though they are unelected, they each have a keen sense of where their support comes from and are eager to support actions that will embolden them with their power base. Many of the princes also come with baggage or secrets that make them susceptible to blackmail or exploitation from others. These aspects of the merchant princes make for endless possibilities of adventure hooks to customize your own Tomb of Annihilation campaign.

Ekene-Afa



The main dealer of arms and travel gear (adventuring supplies, rain catchers, saddles, canoes, etc.) is a local legend by virtue of her days as a gladiatorial competitor. Her sons, local Chultans, work for the city guard, and another son has caught her talent for fame as a dinosaur racer. She has strong ties to the land and is championed by the common folk. Broadly speaking, she isn't a natural politician and often is very earnest and honest when speaking in public. She relies upon her cult of personality to keep her in power. The other merchant princes tend not to act too aggressively with her because of this popularity, making her a useful ally. Her political naiveté makes her easily manipulated and the others tend to capitalize on this.

Interests:
  • Maintaining and preserving her power and prestige (continue to hold her position as a merchant prince)
  • Generally against foreign entanglements 
    • Unfavorable of the practice of hiring Zhentarim mercenaries as guards; would like to see more native Chultans trained
    • Against closer ties with Lord's Alliance and the Flaming Fist
  • Promotes expanded exploration of the jungle
  • Preserving the integrity of and popular appeal of Grand Coliseum
  • Generally opposed to nobility returning to power

Political Relationships:
  • Ifan Talro'a and Jobal are allies in the area of exploration of the jungle, as they all benefit from selling weapons, beasts and hiring out guides to those that would dare venture into its depths. They all differ on what this would look like.
  • Jobal has a mutual interest in resisting foreign entanglements, with Jobal desiring to gain a claim on the monopoly over using Chultan city guards exclusively
  • Kwayothe has a mutual interest in opposing royalty to return to power
  • Wakanga and Zhanthi are the allies she turns to the most; when she doubts what the right decision is (though she harbors some distrust of Zhanthi for her public support of the Zhentarim city guards)

Power Bases
  • Maintains strong public support with faithful of the Church of Waukeen and Gond
  • Has very strong popular support with lower class residents of Old City and the middle class due to her local celebrity
  • The city guard and the private guards of the elite also have high respect for her, making her someone the other merchant princes avoid besmirching in public

Player Hooks
Ekene-afa is present at Wakanga's villa when the PCs meet him. She wishes to revive interest in the Grand Coliseum; interest which has waned in popularity versus Executioner's Run and dinosaur racing.
  • Ekene-afa proposes that the PCs enter the Grand Coliseum for a tournament that she is hosting. This event will eventually pit the PCs against each other as they try to rise through the tournament bracket!
  • Ekene-afa is convinced that Executioner's Run is rife with corruption in how it is administered. She has heard that many of the people who run the gambling lines work with Jessamine's custodians to rig the event. She wants the PCs to investigate and bring this to light; making this public would erode the public's enchantment with the event. 
  • Ekene-afa is concerned about the safety of the dinosaur races throughout the streets. She knows that Ifan Talro'a will never cede any ground on this issue, but she wants the PCs to try to lobby enough votes from the other merchant princes to abolish this form of entertainment.

Rewards
Any of the magic shields and weapons that she sells (see pg. 25) would be great incentives for the PCs to help her with any of her interests.

Ifan Talro'a



Ifan is a very resourceful man with a highly developed spy network throughout the city. He deals in beasts and animal training. He has a strong business relationship with the Zhentarim and is one of the strongest voices for renewing their ongoing relationship with the city. Beyond being a dealer in creatures, he treasures information. The other merchant princes find Ifan somewhat intolerable, but all are wary of crossing him for fear of what secrets about them he may possess. He tends to speak ambiguously and with a hint of threat on his every breath.

Interests:
  • Maintaining and preserving his power and prestige (continue to hold her position as a merchant prince)
  • Advocates for continuing relationship with Zhentarim
    • Against closer ties with Lord's Alliance and the Flaming Fist
  • Promotes expanded exploration of the jungle
  • Espionage to obtain secrets on political rivals
  • Desires to see dinosaur racing become the premiere form of entertainment in Port Nyanzaru

Political Relationships:
  • Ekene-afa and Jobal are allies in the area of exploration of the jungle, as they all benefit from selling weapons, beasts and hiring out guides to those that would dare venture into its depths. They all differ on what this would look like.
  • Jobal is an adversary in the area of resisting foreign entanglements, with Jobal desiring to replace the Zhentarim guards with locals that are hired exclusively through him
  • Kwayothe is a secret adversary for her ties to the Flaming Fist
  • Wakanga is an adversary; Ifan Talro'a has been trying to out him as a Harper sympathizer for years to sell this information to the Zhentarim but he has been unsuccessful so far.
  • Zhanthi is an ally due to their mutual interest in maintaining the Zhentarim as city guards

Power Bases
  • The residents and merchants in Tiryki Anchorage and the Harbor Ward have a favorable view of Ifan Talro'a for the assistance his beasts provide in transportation of goods 
  • The Zhentarim, though not a local power base, provide Ifan with valuable information about things happening in the city

Player Hooks
PCs may be interested in striking a deal with Ifan to gain access to some of his beasts and dinosaurs that they do not yet have coin for. If the PCs can assist him in gaining some dirt on some of his rivals, he could be convinced to part with one of his more valuable beasts (in our game, Klaus decided he wanted a pterodactyl).
  • Ifan has heard that Jessamine is afflicted with a disease. Jessamine typically acts as a neutral party in matters of governance, but if he could find a vulnerability he could exploit he could get her support on many of his interests.
  • Ifan wants evidence of Wakanga's relationship with the Harpers. He suspects that Wakanga may have something in his possession with the mark of the Harpers or a book/diary that provides details about his connection to the secret network. Ifan will reward the heroes if they can sneak into Wakanga's residence and obtain this evidence (he speculates that it is likely in his library or bedroom).

Rewards
Any of the beasts his dealers she sell (see pg. 26) would be great incentives for the PCs to help Ifan with any of his interests.

Jessamine



Jessamine is a self-made woman who worked tirelessly as an assassin for many years abroad. Now she is home in Chult and has positioned herself as the "swing vote" in affairs with the council of Merchant Princes. She has influenced the development of a justice system in Port Nyanzaru based off of cultural norms legitimized by the lesson of Ubtao's decree that Chultans manage their own affairs. She tends to stay out of the public eye and intentionally cultivates an image of being synonymous with justice and neutrality. As such, Chultans tend to speak highly of her partially out of respect and always out of fear. The other Merchant Princes know better than to lobby her privately, but many of their more public deliberations at Goldenthrone are crafted specifically to persuade her in hopes that she might cast a decisive vote in their favor.

Interests:
  • Maintaining and preserving his power and prestige (continue to hold her position as a merchant prince)
  • Neutral on relationships with foreign entities
  • Favorable to expanded exploration of the jungle, but maintains neutrality regarding specific expansion plans
  • Maintain public support of current government's capabilities to prevent crime and injustice
  • Infiltrate and breakup the Ytepka Society
  • Bring to justice the pirates of Jahaka Anchorage
Political Relationships:
  • Ekene-afa, Ifan Talro'a, and Jobal all desire increased exploration of the jungle to promote economic interests; Jessamine sees this as a benefit as well but abstains from shaping specific plans to maintain image of being neutral
  • Occasional friction surfaces between Jobal, as both employ human resources and occasionally overstep their mandates
  • Jessamine does not know that Zhanthi is a member of the Ytepka Society, but she has an interest in suppressing the secret organization as she sees it as operating outside of the criminal justice system that she is the head of
  • Jessamine keeps a close eye on Zhanthi and Ifan Talro'a for their ties to the Zhentarim; she is mindful that the Black Network are prone to undermining law and order within Port Nyanzaru

Power Bases
  • The population of Port Nyanzaru at large has reverence for Jessamine and her position in society
  • Jessamine frequently presides over Executioner's Run and gives her blessing before each gauntlet; the denizens of the Old City and the "beggar princes" owe allegiance to her for the peace and security they have

Player Hooks
Jessamine may reach out to the PCs directly if she learns they are working to undo the death curse (she is currently afflicted, but keeps this private). She is motivated to help them, and while she is not looking to give them ultimatums for her assistance, she may be able to convince them that they may benefit from helping her with some of her business.
  • Jessamine will reward the PCs for any information about members of the Ytepka Society
  • Jessamine will encourage the PCs to assist the harbormaste Zindar with hunting pirates

Rewards
Any provision of information to Jessamine may be rewarded with permission for one sanctioned assassination.

Jobal



Jobal is very Machiavellian in his approach to governance in Port Nyanzaru. He caters favor with all and measures everyone for how they might benefit him. His years of previous experience as a guide have taught him how to appeal to a wide variety of personalities, and he is very capable of being a social chameleon to appeal to the values of whomever he is speaking with. He is the most capable politician among the Merchant Princes and very skilled at managing his political relationships.

Interests:
  • Maintaining and preserving his power and prestige (continue to hold her position as a merchant prince)
  • Advocates for elimination of relationship with Zhentarim
    • Wants locals hired for Port Nyanzaru's security (with himself managing staffing and recruitment)
  • Promotes expanded exploration of the jungle
    • Wants charts and maps of Chult to be his domain
  • Elimination of competing guides
  • Favors popularizing cultural ideas about Chultan destinies to explore and retake old cities
    • Would not be opposed to royalty coming back to prominence to help capitalize on nostalgia

Political Relationships:
  • Ekene-afa and Ifan Talro'a are allies in the area of exploration of the jungle, as they all benefit from selling weapons, beasts and hiring out guides to those that would dare venture into its depths. They all differ on what this would look like.
  • Ifan Talro'a and Zhanthi are adversaries in the area of resisting foreign entanglements, with Jobal desiring to replace the Zhentarim guards with locals that are hired exclusively through him
    • Furthermore, Jessamine does not agree with Jobal's assessment that city guards should be his domain. From her perspective, any alterations to the current system would fall under her jurisdiction 
  • Kwayothe is a secret adversary for her ties to the Flaming Fist
  • Friction exists with Zhanthi because of Shago, her grandson, who is operating independently as a guide at Fort Beluarian. Jobal feels she should be doing more to reign him in. 
  • Wakanga is an adversary because he believes any charts or maps of Chult should be public property and not a monopolized commodity

Power Bases
  • The exporters of Port Nyanzaru are all supportive of Jobal because his guides are indispensable in providing safety for excursions into the jungle for supply runs
  • Jobal maintains a very close relationship with Mother Sibonseni and the church of Waukeen. He goes out of his way to very publicly donate money and be at charitable events sponsored by the Hall of Gold, which helps him to gain prominence with the middle class due to this association

Player Hooks

If you structure your campaign with Jobal forbidding guides from going into the jungle like I did, PCs will need to deal with Jobal directly to get a guide. As such, he can easily motivate them to take action to advance his agenda in Port Nyanzaru.
  • Jobal wants the PCs to lobby Wakanga O'Tamu to change his position on maps and charts of Chult being public domain
  • Jobal proposes the PCs venture to Fort Beluarian and intimidate Shago into paying his dues for operating as a guide

Rewards
Jobal will reward PCs who help him with his interests by setting up a private audience with all of the guides in his employ for a day of interviews.

Kwayothe



Kwayothe is known for her patience and calm. In her role as Merchant Prince, she consistently raises questions to slow down the decision making process. In between meetings at Goldenthrone, Kwayothe subtly schemes to create obstacles to prevent the Merchant Princes from making progress. She delights in gridlock because she hopes to see public opinion over time turn against the institution of the Merchant Princes. Her motivations are firmly grounded in her formative years as one of Port Nyanzaru's poor. She came to be a faithful of Kossuth and made some unseemly allies in the form of her two consorts. Of priority for her is to see society transform into a hierarchy in which the poor and destitute wield power. She is disdainful of the other Merchant Princes and in particular Zhanthi, who represents the past order of unearned privilege. 

Interests:
  • Undermine Goldenthrone and the status of the Merchant Princes (wants to see a new popular movement replace it; with her as its leader)
  • Replace current security regime in Port Nyanzaru with Flaming Fist mercenaries
    • Has confidence she can control Liara Portyr with assistance of the succubus Ixis and incubus Indar
  • Supportive of exploration of the jungle, but quietly supports Flaming Fist's sale of charters of exploration
  • Supportive of expanded role of beggar princes in governance
  • Extremely opposed to nobility returning to power

Political Relationships:
  • Kwayothe maintains pleasant relationships with all of the Merchant Princes (including Zhanthi whom she spends the most time foiling)

Power Bases
  • Maintains strong public support with the lower class citizens that live outside the wall for her advocacy of keeping the bathhouses open to all and for keeping the Red Bazaar accessible to the carts and wheelbarrows of the poorer merchants
  • In public she worships at the Temple of Sune and is seen as their voice 

Player Hooks
Kwayothe seemed the most likely to play an adversarial role in the campaign, and the least likely that the PCs would be interested in assisting (her monopoly over fruit, wine, ale, etc. is not quite as rich an incentive as the boons to be gained from the others). In our campaign, she was secretly working with Liara Portyr of the Flaming Fists to arrange a proposal to bring her mercenaries into Port Nyanzaru. The PCs were tasked by a few of the other Merchant Princes to bring this conspiracy to light.

Whatever nefarious plots are afoul in Port Nyanzaru in your campaign, Kwayothe can be positioned to be the one pulling the strings. This can be particularly effective if you develop her as someone whom the lower class supports as a champion of their plight. Her obstruction will spell a political scandal that may see her removed from power (and possibly replaced with someone else...maybe a wealthy PC should they survive the rest of the campaign).

Wakanga O'Tamu



The magnanimous Wakanga is known for his hospitality and love of hosting foreigners. His charm is never in short supply and he seemingly always knows what to say. He is the most concerned with his public image and has difficulty taking hard stands on any issues plaguing the city before carefully delving into what is the most politically fortuitous position. The exception to this is his belief that knowledge, in particular maps and information related to Chult, should be freely shared and available to all. He is deeply committed to his friend Syndra Silvane and takes the news of the death curse very seriously.

Interests:
  • Maintaining and preserving power and prestige (continue to hold position as a merchant prince)
  • Generally in favor of closer foreign ties
  • Promotes expanded exploration of the jungle
  • Wants to see the construction of a public library and museum in Port Nyanzaru to hold findings of Chult's lost history

Political Relationships:
  • Wakanga is the least ambitious in terms of advancing a particular agenda. As such, he maintains generally warm relationships with the other Merchant Princes. The exception to this would be Jobal, who he does not see eye-to-eye with in regards to fair use of charts and maps of Chult

Power Bases
  • Wakanga has favorable to mixed public opinion within most spheres of Port Nyanzaru society. His tendency to flip-flop on issues has earned him a reputation for being politically expedient and without true convictions.
  • Wakanga is supported by the Temple of Savras and has a strong relationship with Grandfather Zitembe

Player Hooks
Wakanga is likely the first Merchant Prince the PCs will meet due to his relationship with Syndra Silvane. He is predisposed to help them arrange meetings with the others Merchant Princes.

  • PCs may ask him to provide them magic items; something he may offer in return for charting accurate maps of Chult and the locations of ancient ruins. Furthermore, he would gladly exchange his goods for relics of historical significance. Clever and opportunistic PCs who discover Jobal's competing interests may be able to leverage a better deal from the rival Merchant Prince.  


Rewards
Any of the magic items he sells (see pg. 27) would be great incentives for the PCs to help Wakanga secure Chult's geography and history.

Zhanthi



The "elder stateswoman" of the Seven Merchant Princes is wise and resourceful. She champions the philosophy of "keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer." She is kindly and grandmotherly, a facade that betrays the truth of her shrewdness and leads others to underestimate her. As an active member of the secret Ytepka Society, Zhanthi is committed to keeping Port Nyanzaru free of exploitation from foreign powers and internal corruption. Zhanthi's main priorities currently are ridding the city of the pirate threat from Jahaka Anchorage and eroding the influence that the Lord's Alliance has been trying to put on the peninsula through the proxy of the Flaming Fists.

Interests:
  • Maintaining and preserving her power and prestige (continue to hold her position as a merchant prince)
  • Public supporter of Zhentarim; privately works against foreign interference 
    • Against closer ties with Lord's Alliance and the Flaming Fist
  • Promotes expanded exploration of the jungle
  • Monitoring and foiling corruption
  • Believes Chult would benefit from seeing the royal bloodline regain prominence

Political Relationships:
  • Acts as a mentor to Ekene-Afa and has committed to her that she will oppose expanding foreign influence in Port Nyanzaru if she will honor their arrangement with the Zhentarim
  • Ifan Talro'a is an ally of convenience based on their mutual interests with the Zhentarim. Ifan trusts her enough that he occasionally passes information to her from his spies.
  • Jobal has several competing interests with Zhanthi, but they both put up a united front when it comes to keeping the stories of Chult's royal families and legends alive with the public
  • Kwayothe is an enemy and while both keep their cool in public, both are actively working to unseat the other
  • Wakanga and Zhanthi are friendly, though Zhanthi sees him as politically unreliable and does her best to distance herself from him in public

Power Bases

  • Zhanthi has support from older members of the public who have reverence for the royal bloodlines
  • Zhanthi also holds relatively strong support from the merchant class and the sailors for putting up reward money for eliminating the pirate threat. 


Player Hooks
Zhanthi may wish to send a message directly to Kwayothe by way of the PCs. She may secretly ask the PCs to deliver an iron token with the Ytepka seal to send a message that her actions are known. The PCs are unlikely to recognize the significance of this sign and may take on the task which would seem to yield little consequence. When confronted with this sign, Kwayothe may attempt to detain the PCs and force them to reveal who sent the token.

In our campaign, Zhanthi actually asked the players to send to another Merchant Prince. Zhanthi then pointed to Kwayothe as the originator of the token in order to gain the confidence of the receiving Merchant Prince and build opposition to her.

Rewards
Zhanthi's incentives are likely to be in the form of gems and jewelry. Adventurers tend to be motivated by valuables.

Concluding Thoughts

Each of the princes has a monopoly on something that the players may want or need, so the leverage to get the PCs motivated to work with them is not difficult. In the scenario from our game, the PC's wanted to meet Jobal to arrange for a guide to take them into the jungle. They also wanted to gain a pterodactyl from Ifan. Both of these work as long as you ensure that the players must negotiate through one of the merchant princes rather than one of their underlings. For example, as written in the book the players do not need to speak with Jobal directly to secure a guide. However, in my game Jobal has put a moratorium on guides going out into the jungle because the undead threat had become too grave to put his people at risk. The PCs needed his express permission to get a guide.

I think the Merchant Princes are sorely underutilized in the Tomb of Annihilation book as they are written. Have you had success bringing them into your game? Do you plan to use them as prominent plot devices as your players get familiar with Chult? Share your stories or ideas in the comments!

5 comments:

  1. Excellent write up, great work.
    I never thought to "force" the Merchants into the players game... I will definitely be doing so for my game. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment! I was pretty glad to have this to reference for myself on Friday because a couple of my characters wanted to meet Jessamine and it quickly became apparent how little these was in the book about her. Come back and share how you use the Merchant Princes in your game!

      Delete
  2. Excellent write up. A good resource!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading! Hope that your adventures and encounters with the Merchant Princes are memorable and meaningful for your Tomb of Annihilation game; please share any tales of how you use them in your adventure!

      Delete
  3. However, the American political system stands different. Nelson, author of Why Americans hate Politics and Politicians, acknowledged that politics and politicians are imperfect; Americans are growing weary and taking actions. opinion

    ReplyDelete

Season Finale - Tomb of Annihilation

It is hard to believe that seven months ago we streamed our first live D&D 5e session of Tomb of Annihilation. In many ways, the story o...