Council of Thieves is a fucking mess, and I don't think anyone involved with writing it really had any idea what they were doing. The six adventures which constitute it are barely connected to one another, major plot threads appear and disappear at random, and the finale comes completely out of left field, so what follows is less of a 'condensation' than a rescue mission. Rise, Curse, and Kingmaker are all very highly regarded by the PF community - Rise and Curse got deluxe expanded editions, and Kingmaker is getting adapted into a goddamn video game - but Council is often voted as one of the worst, if not the worst, adventure path which Paizo has ever put out. Despite this, however, Svebor thinks it has potential, and I agree with him. The fact that it basically consists of a heap of random stuff linked together by almost nothing except their shared location makes it a rubbish Pathfinder railroad, but means it has the potential to be a pretty decent urban sandbox!
So with no further ado...
Background: This AP takes place in a decadent and decaying port city called Westcrown, which has recently been mauled by a civil war in which its rulers backed the losing side. Half the city lies in ruins, and the rest is under military occupation by the Hellknights. It has also been afflicted by a strange enchantment, the Shadow Curse, which summons dangerous shadow-creatures to roam its streets after dark.
Back in its glory days, Westcrown was home to a powerful mafia, the Council of Thieves, who grew so rich and influential that their crimelords married into the nobility. As the city waned, the Council became a shadow of its former self, but notional leadership of the Council continued to be passed down the male line of the once-famous Drovenge family. Its current head, the formidable Vassindio Drovenge, is growing old; and when his only son, Sidonai Drovenge, reached middle age with only a daughter to his name, he couldn't bear the thought of the line dying with him. Sidonai sought out a witch, The Mother of Flies, who gave him an enchanted coin, and told him to swallow it next time he lay with his wife. He obeyed, and sure enough his wife conceived and gave birth to a son, Eccardian: but the child's horns and silver eyes betrayed his otherworldly heritage, and Vassindio soon found out about the whole affair. Sidonai was immediately banished from the city, and hasn't been heard from since; his wife died soon after, apparently of fever, but actually of poison administered on the orders of her furious father-in-law.
All through the civil war, and the occupation that followed it, Eccardian and his half-sister Chammady were raised in the home of their distant, domineering grandfather, who detested them as embodying the ruin of his house. They longed for his death, but the old man seemed determined to live forever; so a few years back, they began gathering allies in preparation for a coup. Now that Eccardian has finally reached adulthood, they have decided to take matters into their own hands, and to attempt to seize House Drovenge, the Council of Thieves, and perhaps even Westcrown itself for their own...
Westcrown: This city has seen much better days. Once one of the world's great trading ports, it has been left behind by more recent political and economic developments, and now most of its wharves and canals lie empty. Its people, and especially its aristocracy, still entertain an over-inflated estimate of their place in the world, and have not yet come to terms with the fact that most people now view the city as a backwater whose time has passed. Its rulers live in decaying mansions, mere wrecks of their former grandeur, and lose themselves in dissipation to distract themselves from their city's decline.
Due to an extensive history of diabolism among the city's aristocracy, Westcrown has a significant tiefling population, who are the victims of widespread prejudice. Those born with demonic traits small enough to conceal live in fear of exposure, while those unfortunates whose demonic features cannot be hidden are driven into lives of crime and poverty in the city's slums. Tiefling thugs and street gangs are a persistent menace in the rougher parts of the city.
The Hellknights: These are the army occupying Westcrown. They wear distinctive spiky black platemail armour, partly to make themselves look intimidating, and partly to protect them against missile fire from any opportunistic would-be patriots (such as the Children of Westcrown) who might be lurking in upstairs windows as they march through the streets. The locals hate them and fear them, and whisper that under their armour they are all monsters and demons rather than men.
The Hellknights loathe Westcrown. The city is so rundown and war-ravaged that the taxes raised from it don't even cover the costs of maintaining their occupation, but it's a matter of national and regimental pride, now: their prestige is on the line, and they can't be seen to back down in the face of some ragtag urban insurgency. If someone could credibly promise to ensure order and loyalty in the city, they'd happily leave the place forever: they'd even be willing to offer the city a measure of self-government, if they could be persuaded that it would mean an increase in the tax revenue. If, on the other hand, the situation in Westcrown appears to be spiralling out of control, they will call in more and more reinforcements until all disorder has been crushed by overwhelming force. They are completely willing to destroy the city in order to 'save' it.
The leader of the Hellknight force in Westcrown is Paralictor Chard. He is unaware that one of his lieutenants, Signifer Verennie, is secretly in the pay of Chammady and Eccardian Drovenge, who have promised to aid her advancement if she assists them in their coup. Verennie has tired of the severe restrictions of life under Paralictor Chard's austere interpretation of the Hellknight code, and longs for an easier and more enjoyable life in which she calls the shots, instead. Verennie will thus do her best to ensure that the Hellknights look the other way while the Drovenge siblings make their moves.
The Council of Thieves: Back in Westcrown's glory days, the Council of Thieves were a force to be reckoned with. These days they're a shadow of their former selves, so weakened that most people in the city are unaware that they still exist. The head of the Drovenge family still serves as their hereditary leader, and several other members of Westcrown's aristocracy hold (largely ceremonial) roles within its leadership structure. Even in its current diminished state, however, there are still a fair number of criminals in Westcrown to whom loyalty to the Council still means something, and its leaders can call up a small army of thugs and cutthroats if they need to.
The current head of the Council is Vassindio Drovenge, who is well into his eighties, but has no intention of dying any time soon. It is largely due to Vassindio's efforts that the Council still retains any kind of power or operational capability, and most of its members are fiercely loyal to him. If he dies then this role will be inherited by his 'grandson', Eccardian - but the Council's loyalty to him is purely a matter of tradition, and if evidence emerged that he isn't really Vassindio's grandson, or that he was responsible for Vassindio's death, it would turn against him at once. If the Drovenge family dies out, then the Council will probably die with it.
Eccardian's plan has four stages: first use Liebdaga, Ilnerik, Irimeian, the Bastards of Erebus, and his demons to create chaos in the city, then use that chaos as cover for his murder of his grandfather and several of the city's other leaders (including Vuiper Ghivel, Paralictor Chard, and Mayor Arvanxi), then take control of House Drovenge and the Council of Thieves (both of which he should inherit after his grandfather's death), and finally stage a 'glorious rescue' in which he and his men appear to save the city from all its troubles, culminating in a faked battle between himself and an army of his own summoned demons (hopefully led by Liebdaga). After 'saving' the now-leaderless city (from himself), he will then offer his services to the occupying powers as its new Lord Mayor, as he will have proven himself the only person capable of keeping order in its streets, with Signifer Verennie aiding him as the new commander of the Hellknights. Then he'll have shown them. He'll have shown them all!
Unlike Chammady, Eccardian is basically driven by resentment rather than ambition, and he'd rather see Westcrown destroyed than let things continue as they are. If his plans seem to be falling apart, he'll simply unleash all his minions - demonic, undead, and human - upon the city in the hope of doing as much damage as possible, a nihilistic act of pointless destruction which will horrify his more pragmatic sister.
Despite being barely 20 years of age, Eccardian's infernal heritage has made him a natural demonologist, and has secretly summoned a small army of demons to assist him. The most dangerous of these are his Hellish Cavalry: six demonic warriors riding on blazing infernal saber-toothed tigers, whom he has stashed within a summoning circle in a secret room beneath Drovenge Manor, waiting for the time to be right to unleash them.
Chammady Drovenge: A scarily intense woman in her mid 20s, Chammady is a skilled swordswoman and a dangerous opponent, even when she doesn't have Kruthe the Hammer looming behind her like a big, ugly shadow. She's devoted to her brother, Eccardian: in fact you might as well go ahead and make them incestuous lovers, which is hinted at but not outright stated in the original. She's ambitious and ruthless, but the real drive behind their planned coup comes from Eccardian, and she lacks his deep-rooted anger at the world. She doesn't think Westcrown is worth dying for, and will cut her losses if everything seems to be falling apart. If her brother seems determined to drag the whole city down with him, the PCs might even be able to turn her against him.
Chammady is currently conducting a secret affair with one of the city's most senior clerics, Vuiper Ghivel, who is also the head of one of its oldest aristocratic families. Vuiper is vain enough to believe that she really loves him, and is doing everything he can to assist her plans, in the deluded belief that she will marry him as soon as she manages to pull of her coup; but in fact she's just using him for his wealth and connections, and plans to feed him to her brother's demons as soon as he's outlived his usefulness.
Kruthe the Hammer: A half-ogre warrior of prodigious size and strength, Kruthe was raised from early childhood within the Drovenge family to serve as an enforcer for the Council of Thieves. Growing up in the same household as Chammady Drovenge, he has nursed a helpless crush on her ever since he reached puberty, and would do anything to win her approval. If Chammady ever needs someone or something utterly wrecked, then Kruthe and his henchmen are the ones she'll send to do it.
The Bastards of Erebus: This gang of thuggish tieflings do Chammady and Eccardian's dirty work. Right now they've been told to cause as much trouble down in the slums as possible, in order to distract the city's authorities from the coming coup. They are currently hiding out in an old abandoned temple, guarded by animated dog skeletons, where their most freakishly deformed member - Dravano the Digger, who has huge mole-like claws - is busy excavating a new base for them in what was once the crypt.
Irimeian: This cannibalistic undead sorceress lurks in Sunset Gate, a gatehouse which once watched over the road into Westcrown's ruined districts. As the road now leads to nothing, she's mostly left undisturbed, preying upon the vulnerable and building undead minions from their remains. Chammady and Eccardian have struck a deal with her, keeping her supplied with corpses and body parts in exchange for her promise to unleash her minions upon the city to cause havoc when they most need her to do so.
The Slave Barge: Rumours are circulating in Westcrown of a mysterious pleasure barge which sails the city's canals at twilight. Four beautiful women entice people aboard, promising a night of pleasure, but those who board it are never seen again. In fact these women are demons summoned by Eccardian, and their victims are taken back to a makeshift prison in the ruined districts, where they are either pressed into service or sold into slavery. (If the PCs are captured by the Council at any point, this prison is probably where they'll end up.) The prison is run by a tiefling named Skarx, who dreams of winning Eccardian's love and ruling the city as his queen. She views Chammady as her rival, and would happily betray her to the PCs if she thought she could do so without harming Eccardian. She is one of the few people who knows about Chammady's relationship with Vuiper Ghivel.
The Shadowcurse: Each night, as darkness falls over Westcrown, its streets fill with supernatural shadows. The baying of unearthly hounds can be heard, and the people hurry to lock themselves indoors. Those who roam the streets after dark will often find themselves pursued by packs of hounds seemingly composed entirely of solid shadow, who will drive them back indoors. Anyone who fails to take the hint will be attacked by shadow hounds, and probably torn apart.
The people of Westcrown blame the curse on their occupiers, and they're not wrong - the Hellknights introduced it as a cost-cutting measure, as it saves them the trouble of patrolling the city's labyrinthine alleyways after dark. It's maintained by a magician named Ilnerik, whom the Hellknights believe to be a simple sorcerer for hire. They are unaware of his true nature and origins, but might not care very much if they found out.
Ilnerik: Ilnerik was once a famous explorer, who operated out of his sprawling home in Westcrown, Delvehaven. His decline began when, in a far-off land, he discovered an ancient relic, the Aohl, sacred to a long-forgotten dualistic religion. Not understanding its nature, he separated its two halves - holy to the lords of day and night, respectively - and left the former in Delvehaven, while carrying the latter half, the Totemrix, with him. Unbalanced, its shadow powers soon consumed him, turning him into a weird creature of living darkness with the ability to summon beasts of shadow from the void. He is totally dependent upon the power of the Totemrix, and if it is taken from him - or if its power is neutralised by combining it with the other half of the Aohl, the Morrowfall - then he will rapidly wither and die.
Ilnerik volunteered his services as a shadow-summoner to the Hellknights, but his true loyalties are to Chammady and Eccardian Drovenge, who have promised him great wealth and power if he assists them with their planned coup. His shadow-beasts will never impede them or their minions (including the Bastards of Erebus) unless this would make his disloyalty obvious to the Hellknights, and when the coup comes he will merrily unleash them upon the general population. He is currently living in a fortified house in Westcrown along with his lover, Silana, who is forbidden to leave the house, and is consequently so bored and frustrated that she'd happily betray him if she thought she could get away with it. Long-term exposure to Ilnerik's shadow-energies mean that Silana is no longer quite human, her skin and hair permanently infused with living shadow, but she's OK with that. The Goth look suits her.
Delvehaven: This was the headquarters from which, in life, Ilnerik planned and organised his various journeys of discovery. His transformation into his current quasi-living state released shadow energies which turned Delvehaven into a magical disaster zone, and it was magically sealed by the city authorities shortly afterwards. The Children of Westcrown strongly suspect that Delvehaven contains clues which might help to end the Shadowcurse, but it's widely known that only Mayor Arvanaxi has the authority (or the means) to open its magical wards. Anyone trying to get in without the key (which is hidden within Abirian's Folly) will have to deal with any number of magical traps along the way.
Inside, shadow-beasts - like those called by the Shadowcurse, but much more powerful - roam the corridors, and the main hall has become the lair of an animated triceratops skeleton, which Ilnerik brought back from one of his voyages and was animated by the shadow-powers he accidentally unleashed. The vaults beneath it contain all manner of trophies and treasures, including the Morrowfall - the other half of the relic which Ilnerik so catastrophically divided. Wielded, it can be used to conjure blazing light to burn undead, destroy shadow-creatures, and blind the living; and if combined with the Totemrix, the powers of both halves are neutralised, ending the Shadowcurse. Anyone who carries the Morrowfall around for more than a year without also carrying the Totemrix will be consumed by its energies and transformed into a being of living radiance, just as Ilnerik became a creature of living shadow.
Mayor Arvanxi: The current Mayor of Westcrown, Arvanxi is a local aristocrat installed by the occupying forces. The Hellknights approve of him because of his willingness to enforce their edicts; the aristocracy tolerates him because at least one of their own is still notionally in charge of Westcrown; and the common people hate him, but no-one cares what they think. He's a fan of the so-called 'Theatre Mortrescci', or 'murderplays', in which actors suffer real pain and violence onstage - his favourite examples are little more than thin excuses for extended scenes of sadism, interspersed with real life-and-death battles with skeleton warriors raised for him by his 'chaplain', Vestus Svaska. (Exactly which god Vestus is a cleric of is a question best not delved into too closely.) Murderplay actors and directors are regular guests at his official residence, Aberian's Folly, where he hosts frequent banquets for the local aristocracy.
Robahl Nonon: Westcrown's leading murderplay director. He owns a theatre which also stages more conventional dramas, but he's always on the lookout for people hardy or desperate enough to agree to various on-stage tortures in exchange for a pile of gold; once he's rounded up enough of these unfortunates to put on a play, he gets in touch with Mayor Arvanxi and organises a performance as soon as possible, with the surviving actors always generously feasted and rewarded by the mayor afterwards. Very few people are willing (or physically capable) of performing more than one murderplay, so PCs looking for an opportunity to meet the mayor, or to infiltrate Aberian's Folly, only need to sign up as 'actors' in Robahl's latest spectacular. You don't mind acid burns, do you? There might be quite a lot of acid burns...
Aberian's Folly: This sprawling mansion is the official residence of the Mayors of Westcrown. It is one of the city's most famous landmarks, renowned for its magical conveniences: ever-burning torches, temperature-controlled rose gardens, hot and cold running water, and so on. What very few people know is that these are powered by a demon, Liebdaga, who has been bound beneath the mansion and used as a power-source. The day-to-day running of the manor is handled by the mayor's majordomo, Crosael. She is secretly a tiefling, but has so far managed to keep this hidden from everyone - until recently.
One regular visitor to Aberian's Folly is Chammady Drovenge; and when she brought Eccardian as well, for once, his unearthly senses soon allowed him to detect both Crosael's true nature, and the presence of the demon bound beneath the house. Chammady subsequently blackmailed Crosael into letting her brother into the mansion's basements, where he communed with Liebdaga, offering to free him in exchange for his assistance in their coup. They then forced Crosael to 'hire' an agent of theirs, a tiefling named Sian, as a maidservant. Sian has been surreptitiously weakening the bindings restraining Liebdaga ever since, causing erratic failures in the house's magical systems which annoy Mayor Arvanxi hugely. (He finds it especially embarrassing when they fail in front of guests.) He's tasked Crosael with finding the source of the problem, but even though she strongly suspects Sian is behind it, she can't move against her without risking exposure. Crosael deeply resents being blackmailed by a fellow tiefling, and would double-cross them in an instant if she thought that she could get away with it.
The key to opening Delvehaven is in a chest hidden in the mansion's attic, guarded by demons who step out of enchanted mirrors hung on the wall to slay anyone who attempts to take it. (These mirrors, like everything else in the house, are powered by Liebdaga, and will become increasingly unreliable as his bindings weaken.) The chest also contains a stack of corpse candles (which, if placed on a corpse and lit, allows communication with the spirit whose corpse it is, whose face appears in the flame), and the severed head of a demon, which mostly just screams and swears at people.
Liebdaga: This powerful demon is trapped under Aberian's Folly, where its supernatural energies are tapped to power the mansion's various amenities. If Sian is allowed to continue her sabotages for long enough, then the binding will start to malfunction in increasingly spectacular ways: less minor glitches in the temperature control systems, and more obliterating blasts of random hellfire. At this point Mayor Arvanxi will abandon his home and beg for help from anyone he can find, even if it means confessing to random adventurers that he's had a demon locked away under his house all along.
Liebdaga is imprisoned within a network of magical machines, collectively called the Nessian Spiral. These machines are tended to by a work gang of Tiefling slaves, the Tunnel Rats, who are never permitted to leave. If the bindings start to break down, the Tunnel Rats will make a desperate attempt to escape before they all get incinerated with hellfire. Repairing the machines without their assistance - willing or otherwise - will be extremely difficult. If the machines break down entirely and Liebdaga escapes, he'll initially be very weak and vulnerable after being subjected to so many years of energy siphoning, and PCs who track him down quickly enough should be able to defeat him. If he survives long enough to regain his strength, however, he'll return to Westcrown, ready to fulfill his side of the bargain by obliterating anyone standing in the way of Eccardian's rise to power.
The Children of Westcrown: This rather amateurish resistance movement is trying to fight back against the occupation of Westcrown. They're mostly composed of young idealists who dream of restoring their city to its former glory. In a straight fight the Hellknights would crush them like insects, but the Children specialise in hit-and-run ambushes in the mazelike alleyways of the old city. Their leaders, Janiven and Arael, are strong on good looks and charisma but weak on practical long-term strategy. They've had a run of good luck recently, but their organisation is rudimentary, and if one of their leaders were to be captured then the Hellknights could probably roll the whole conspiracy up within a week.
|Janiven, trying to look cool. Again.|
The Devildrome: This ruinous amphitheatre in the ruined districts of Westcrown has now been taken over by Rance Lucca, a member of a minor and impoverished noble house. He uses it to run exotic bloodsports, in which demons summoned by his hired conjurer, Mantrithor Thrax, fight either against human gladiators or each other, while the audience pays for admission and bets on the outcomes. There aren't a lot of people willing to fight demons for money, so he'll be eager to hear from any PCs who want to take part. PCs who manage to win big will earn the attention of Chammady Drovenge, who is a regular visitor to the Devildrome. Robahl Nonon also frequents the place, as the kind of people who are willing to fight demons for money are often also the kind of people who can be persuaded to consider trying their hands as 'actors' in a murderplay...
The Sisterhood of Eiseth: This all-female order of devil-worshippers have existed covertly in the city for years, although their numbers have declined along with its waning fortunes, and they are now little more than a street gang with a fancy gimmick. They fight with bladed scarves, and operate out of a crematorium in the poorer part of town, which they use to dispose of the bodies of their victims. The ossuary under the crematorium contains hundreds of urns in which are deposited the ashes of all those they've killed over the years, meticulously labelled and dated in Infernal script. Before their decline, the Sisters were Westcrown's premier assassins, and their ash-library contains the remains of many notable figures from the city's past, including individuals involved with the foundation of the Council of Thieves, the binding of Liebdaga under Aberian's Folly, and even the expeditions of Ilnerik and the sealing of Delvehaven. PCs who obtain the corpse candles from Aberian's Folly can use these to commune with their ghosts, gaining information about any or all of these events
The Hagwood: This forest stands a short way outside Westcrown, and is the home of the Mother of Flies, the witch responsible for Eccardian's conception. She lives in the Maggot Tree at its very heart, served by murderous redcaps and giant insects and vermin of many different kinds. Because she is the only person other than Vassindio Drovenge who knows about Eccardian's true parentage (and thus that he has no real right to either the Drovenge name or the hereditary leadership of the Council of Thieves), Eccardian has dispatched a force of cutthroats into the Hagwood to find and kill her - but they're city boys, and the forest is huge and hard to navigate. If and when they locate the Maggot Tree, they'll lay siege to it as best they can.
PCs could potentially learn from any number of sources that a whole bunch of Westcrown ruffians have been coming and going from the Hagwood recently, even though everyone knows there's nothing of value out there. If the PCs assist the Mother of Flies in getting rid of them, she'll happily tell them the truth about Eccardian's birth, and even suggest (correctly) that the original demonic contract she made his father sign is probably still stashed away somewhere in Drovenge Manor. Publicising this document would be enough to get Eccardian disowned by his family (although not by Chammady), and possibly murdered by the Council of Thieves.
Probable Course of Events:
- As soon as the PCs arrive in Westcrown, they will hear about the Hellknight occupation and the Shadowcurse.
- Investigating the city will soon alert them to rumours about the Devildrome, the Slave Barge, tiefling thugs raising hell in the slums (i.e. the Bastards of Erebus), resistance fighters struggling against the Hellknights (i.e. the Children of Westcrown), and undead monsters stalking the ruins (i.e. Irimeian).
- PCs who dig deeper may also hear about bands of cutthroats roaming the Hagwood, the mysterious sealed building in town (Delvehaven), the recent malfunctions in the mayor's magical mansion (Aberian's Folly), and an all-female gang out in the slums who used to be hardcore assassins back in the day (the Sisterhood of Eiseth).
- PCs who start to make a name for themselves are likely to be approached by Janiven and Arael (who will try to recruit them for the Children of Westcrown), Paralictor Chard (who offers to hire them to assist the Hellknights in dealing with the city's many problems), Rance Lucca (who will want them for the Devildrome), and/or Robahl Nonon (who will want them to 'act' in one of his stupid murderplays).
- After a few weeks, if Sian hasn't been stopped, the malfunctions at Aberian's Folly will become so dangerous that Mayor Arvanxi will flee his home and beg for help from anyone, including the PCs. If the infernal machines beneath the mansion aren't promptly repaired, then the Tunnel Rats will mine their way out and flee for their lives, and shortly afterwards Liebdaga will burst from the flaming ruins and flee into the wilderness.
- If Liebdaga is still alive a week after his escape, he returns to Westcrown at the head of an army of Eccardian's demons and starts wrecking everything, aided by Ilnerik's shadow-beasts, Irimeian's undead, and the Bastards of Erebus (assuming they're all still active). Eccardian will seize the opportunity to have his various minions murder Vassindio Drovenge, Vuiper Ghivel, Paralictor Chard, and Mayor Arvanxi, seize control of the Council of Thieves, and attempt to stage his 'rescue' of the city.
- If Liebdaga doesn't escape, or escapes but is killed before regaining his strength, Eccardian will try the same plan with whatever assets he still has.
- If Eccardian's position is so weakened that his plan is obviously doomed to failure, he'll just unleash everything he has on Westcrown in the hope of doing as much damage as possible, probably alienating Chammady in the process.
- After all the craziness dies down, a massive force of Hellknights marches into Westcrown. If anyone - even some random outsider like one of the PCs - seems to be in control and doing a decent job of maintaining order, then they'll appoint them Lord Mayor on the spot and then leave. If all they find is chaos, then they'll simply start smashing things until either the problem is solved or the city no longer exists. Either one works for them.