Bliss. The newest drug on the streets of Shallamas. No-one know where it came from, but the Provani family want it gone. It’s not just some run of the mill narcotic, but something much more dangerous. When people take bliss, they enter a state of euphoria - not so bad you might say, but that is only beginning. Whilst on bliss, it’s impossible to be unhappy, anything could happen to you and you’d enjoy it, even if it was torture or worse.
That’s not the worst thing about Bliss though, users of Bliss radiate happiness, walking about in their own little bubble of happiness that seems to infect anyone within range with the same kind of euphoria. When the crash comes, it comes for everyone that has had a taste, even if they were only near the person who took the drug. Every feeling that isn’t happiness feels much more intense, and any joy or happiness feels numb and faded without the drug. When the cravings for more can be passed on just by proximity, cutting down the spread of Bliss addiction is a problem.
Eventually, long-term Bliss-abusers become unable to feel anything but happiness and often end up in terrible accidents due to self-harm, or on murderous sprees where their joy at all things has robbed them of their ability to distinguish right from wrong or pleasure from pain.
One or more of the players or the players loved ones or friends may have gotten themselves addicted, either directly or unintentionally by proximity. Now they need to find a cure or find more to satisfy their cravings. The Provani family, the ruling aristocracy of Shallamas, want an end put to this drug and it’s supply in their city and are willing to reward those that can provide information to their enforcers or their Shadowlings that leads to an arrest of the culprits.
The drug is clearly very interesting and unlike anything else, it might have many positive uses if controlled properly, and learning where it comes from, how it’s manufactured and how it works could be very interesting discoveries that the Aeon priesthood and most likely others would be very pleased to learn. With the drug having yet to be seen outside of Shallamas, the players may have heard of it elsewhere and want to investigate, have been asked to retrieve a sample by any number of outside agents or simply have stumbled into the events unfolding in the City of Echoes.
No-one really seems to be sure exactly who the Bliss dealers are or where to find them. For a city that replays events so frequently, they seem to be conspicuous by their absence in any reports or echoes. If the Provanis Shadowlings have infiltrated the group, they aren’t sharing the information, but it seems unlikely given the Bliss operation still seems to be going strong.
However, given the drugs effects, the customers more often than not are those grieving, in pain or downtrodden. Bliss preys on the vulnerable who are seeking an escape from the lot they have been given. Asking questions in the slums and poorer parts of Shallamas begins to turn up a few leads. Some Diruks (Numenera Character Options, pg. 40), large humanoids made of rock, have been hanging around ever since a little while before the drug first hit the streets. Apparently, they work for another diruk, but no-one has ever seen their boss. With a few greased palms, threats, deals and conversations, players can learn that the diruks seem to hang out in a bar in the bad part of town called the Drunken Echo.
The Drunken Echo, or just the Echo to its regulars, is closed during the day and only seems to open during the night, serving those that need to work in the evening such as night-soil men, late arriving merchants from outside of town and other less reputable folk who find the cover of darkness more conducive to their ‘business’ dealings.
During the day, the doors locked and barred from the inside, but some greasy windows provide a dim glimpse inside, revealing stacked wooden chairs and tables and all the other accouterments of a common drinking establishment. Nothing appears particularly out of the ordinary (nor particularly sanitary) from the outside. Picking the locks on the door is a level 2 task, but the doors are still barred on the other side and without some method of moving them forcing the door open is a level 6 task with a minimum spend of 3 might points to attempt.
At night, the Echo is full of patrons, buying drinks and organising fights for sport in a small fighting pit near the back of the tavern. The bets are heavy, the drinks are heavier and it is rowdy and dangerous. Drinks are of poor quality and are likely laced with home-made rotgut that’s half again as likely to turn you blind as drunk. In the fighting pit, one Diruk made of sandstone and flecks of quartz is fighting a lattimor whilst another formed from layers of iron and glass watches silently.
If the players watch the fight, they notice the metal diruk glance at them with what passes for its face, but it makes no other actions. In the pit, the sandstone diruk mostly ignores the hits being thrown its way and pummels it opponent, a woman with shocking green hair and enough bulging muscles to make her look like a human raspberry. She puts up a good fight, managing to chip some flecks of material from the diruk, but with a deciding blow, it hits her square in the face, caving in her cheekbone and sending her sprawling in a spreading pool of blood. Shins are exchanged hands and people grumble about rigged matches and bad luck, but no-one challenges either diruk. A couple of men haul the fallen woman up and her face is a broken mess, teeth falling out of her face as she drools blood, some punctured through her cheek. It’s hard to tell, but she seems to be smiling as the others drag her out of the pit and into a back room.
The diruk in the pit climbs out and takes a sponge from a bucket, washing the womans blood from itself. If approached, they aren’t interested in talking, but don’t do anything to make the players go away either. After enough nagging, they will at least provide their names. The sandstone one introduces itself as Karst and its metal companion as Scowle. Scowle says nothing throughout the entire exchange, just staring silently at the players until they leave.
Karst answers a few questions, but its answers are mono-syllabic at best, flat and to the point, usually in the form of “yes” or “no”. If Karst notices any weapons made of metal on the players, it points to one during the conversation and says simply: “Give it to me.”. If the players refuse, it just shrugs, but if they agree, it takes the weapon and throws it to Scowle who, without breaking eye contact with the players, eats it. If the weapon is made from some exotic metal like Azure Steel, the diruk struggles to chew and spits it back out, dropping it into the fighting pit.
The two diruks are not easy to talk to and even harder to read with their inhuman, solid faces. Convincing them to say anything useful at all is a level 5 task and trying to determine if they are lying or have any ulterior motives is a level 6 task.
If the players try to enter the back room, a couple of guards stop them. There is a sign next to it spattered in stray blood upon which is written “Fighters only”. If the players fight in the fighting pit, regardless of whether they win or lose, they are allowed entrance to the room. If not, the guards do not budge and the diruks watch impassively, seeming not to care if the human guards have to get into a fight themselves to enforce the rules.
Nearer to the bar is a the door to the bathrooms. From inside the unisex bathroom, in the rear stall, voices can be heard through a grill in the wall. They are faint and echo-y, but they seem to be talking about Bliss.
How long is this going to last? She doesn't seem to be getting better? Look at her, she's smiling like her bloody brain is gone, and after those knocks, I'm surprised in ain't all other the flippin' floor.
Look, there ain't no cure, right? So we may as well use her predicament. After all, she loves it, it makes her happy.
Everything makes her happy now you sicko! This ain't right, just look at her, she shouldn't be bloody smiling when she's still choking on her own gods-damned teeth! I'm done. I'm not doing this any more. I'm out!
One of the men that dragged the woman into the backroom comes storming out and heads out into the night.
The rest of the night is fairly uneventful, at least as far as any leads on the investigation go, until a little before closing, the two diruks leave, carrying a large sack.
If the players choose to follow the man, he proves to be the kind of person who can spot a tail and runs. Chasing him down and cornering him is quite difficult because of his familiarity with the city and the dark of night, but beating some speed tasks of difficulty 4 allows the players to catch up with him before he can lose them entirely. Even in the event the players don’t catch up, as they lose him they hear a thud and with some brief searching find him laid out unconscious in a nearby alley. Someone has gone through his things because his pockets are all turned out.
If the players catch him, they can question him. He tries to deny everything but it only takes a bit of convincing and guilt-tripping to make him spill the beans. He tells the players that the woman was a fighter he and his partner managed on the underground fighting circuit and, using Bliss, they’d been making a killing because she’d stopped caring about, even started enjoying, being hurt in fights. They’d been ecstatic, the effects of the Bliss on them and those around her during fights allowing them to get away with a lot of things they might not have been were everyone not so happy. However, one day she just didn’t stop being happy, she didn’t crash. She became a danger to herself and others and the only way they could control her was to keep her fighting, and they figured that if they kept her fighting, they may as well keep profiting off it too. It got bad though, too bad, and well, now this, her laying half broken, grinning like an idiot in the Drunken Echo.
When asked where he got the Bliss, he said he never bought it in person. The diruks would take their money and tell them of a place to pick it up - a loose brick in a wall somewhere, or tied underneath a drain or hidden under a marked cobble stone. They were always dead-drops, but as long as they went to the diruks and paid them, the product was always where they said it would be.
Wished I'd never dealt with those gods-damned rocks. They don't care about anything, don't think they even care about the money. They just want to watch us all burn out, watch us tear ourselves apart. Gods, what have I done. I'm so sorry Raida, I never meant...
If the players didn’t catch him, they see a similar scene play out in an echo, a shadowy figure with a hand-crossbow drawn, asking questions. When satisfied, the figure goes to shoot and as the man flinches, the figure instead whips out a sap and clubs the man over the head, searching him for anything of interest. When finished, the figure leaves, fading as they reach the edge of the echo. Their face is never revealed, covered in a black cloth mask.
In any event, the man reveals a number of dead-drop locations where he has picked up product before. Staking them out eventually leads to the diruks, who can be followed back to their lair.
Following the diruks is easy. They move slowly and are not particularly quiet or stealthy, being big lumbering bulks of rock and metal. Soon the diruks lead the players down a series of alleyways that end in a small park, sheltered away from the rest of the city by tall buildings. All the windows facing into the park are boarded up and the trees are stunted and withered. The diruks walk into the park, which has a large stone monument in the center, an image of an long-since-past Provani family member stood on a large square plinth.
Scowle pulls away one of the panels to reveal a set of stairs leading downwards and whilst slightly too small for it, Karst squeezes down the steps whilst Scowle waits at the top, guarding the entrance way. The players might choose to wait and observe, try and draw Scowle away, approach peacefully or simply attack Scowle among a list of possibilities.
Approaching Scowle earns the group a simple mono-syllabic warning.
If they do not heed it, Scowle attacks, but mostly to scare them away, rather than fully out to kill them.
If the group manage to get past Scowle and it notices, it can not follow, being too big to fit down the narrow stairwell, unlike the slightly smaller Karst. However, Scowle yells down to Karst.
And moves to block them into the stairwell.
Down the stairwell, is a short corridor that turns a corner into a small chamber which looks like it might have been a secret den in times gone past. Now, it is illuminated by a soft pink light given off by a bundle of crystals stacked on a metal bench. In the chamber are several tools, mortars and pestles, small rock hammers, saws and other equipment. There are several pouches and sacks laying about the room filled with shins and there must be at least 500 shins, if not more, dotted about the room. As well as shins there are pouches filled with a fine, pink powder that sparkles with a faint glow of it’s own.
Karst is talking to the pile of crystals and it becomes clear that it is no pile at all, but another diruk, one made entirely of pink, glowing crystal, but only about 2ft tall.
Need more, boss. Also meat is snooping, getting close.
Don't worry about it Karst. Soon everything will be as it should be. Do you have any more harvests?
Yes. Another fighter. She is ready.
Excellent. I'm hungry.
Karst empties the sack and out tumbles the body of the woman from the fighting pit with the green hair. The small, crystal diruk hops down from the bench and approaches, then begins tearing her apart. Inside her are several pink crystals, growing along her spine and major nerves. He crack open her skull and inside are also a bunch of large crystal growths, intermixed with her brain matter. Scooping out the crystals, the diruk eats them and its glow grows brighter.
The Provanis will soon pay for what they did all those years ago, Karst. The humans may have forgotten their role in their slavery and murder of our kind, but the memory of stone endures. Their city will fall to the curse their very hand inflicted upon me. Karst, I've prepared as much - what do they call it? Bliss? - as I dare. We have enough money to bribe whoever needs bribing. We have their Shadowlings under our thumb. We move tonight, for the wine festival. Karst, our people will finally have the revenge they deserve.
What the players do at this point is up to them, but Karst merely nods to the crystal diruk, grabs several sacks of powder and shins and then heads out. Unless the players react quickly and quietly, a confrontation is inevitable and the diruks will be alerted if Scowle is missing or incapacitated.
Whether the group flee, they defeat the diruks or one or more escape, the group is intercepted by a shadowy figure shrouded in black cloth. She reveals herself as an agent of the Provani, a Shadowling, and if Facet is alive, she uses a cypher to shatter it.
I heard everything. I don't know how many people I can trust, but you found them, so I know you're smart. I need your help.
If the players sided with Facet, she judges them harshly, but explains that the situation isn’t so clear cut, she entreats the group for help.
You think the diruks are so merciful? Their Bliss is contagious, if we don't stop it, stop every addict, it'll spread. And a whole load of addicts are headed right now to the biggest festival of the month. The diruk had sent the Shadowlings it had captured and addicted to ensure their plan was a success, but they'll also spread their addiction to everyone there. Shadowlings are smart, resourceful, they'll be dangerous and difficult to catch if they spread out of Shallamas. The world doesn't need dozens of trained assassins gone insane on their own happiness unleashed upon it. We need to stop them. They'll come here, here for the promise of more Bliss and they'll be happy to sit and drool happiness when we seal them all in here like a tomb.
As she mentions the promise of more Bliss, she indicates the smashed diruk.
If Karst escaped with the powder, she adds:
They must plan to spike the wine at the festival, infect everyone with Bliss. We've got to stop it before it's too late and Shallamas becomes the happiest graveyard in all the Steadfast!
If the group agrees, she guides them to the festival, if not, she leaves alone, and tells the group to leave Shallamas, because she’ll kill them if she sees them again.
Heading towards the festival, she explains her plan.
We've got ruin the festival, drain the wine so there is nothing to poison. It will have a double effect of making everyone angry and disappointed, which will make spotting the happy people among them all the more easier. Taking out the Shadowlings will be the hardest part. Up close, you'll be affected by their addiction and if they aren't coming down, you'll be too happy to think straight, and if they are in withdrawal, they'll be extra vulnerable, but so will you up close. The best thing to do is take them out from afar, but it will be hard to know which is the right one and who isn't just some bystander within range of the Bliss' effect. We. Can. Not. Let. It. Spread. Collateral damage isn't ideal, but it's acceptable given the alternative. You might get lucky up close and not need to fight at all - if we can serve them up a big free supply of Bliss, they'll likely bite - they've been too addled, too controlled for too long to think straight about it, they'll walk right into a trap if we set it up right.
At the festival, ten huge tuns, gigantic casks of various wines, have been brought out into the central market square of Shallamas. The casks are being prepped, ready for the tastings and drinking to begin and people are crowded in the streets, dancing to music from local bands and generally having a good time. The Provanis are in attendance, ready to official commence the festivities and there many guards roaming about, for the peoples protection.
The casks are surrounded and getting to them isn’t easy due to the bustling crowd. Once near the casks, breaking them is much harder. The casks are very strong and very big and to break them sufficiently that all the wine is lost at once requires 15 damage. In total there are 10 casks. The supports holding the casks are equally strong, but if only one is weakened, the whole load becomes less stable.
Of course, whilst trying to take out the casks, there are several plain-clothed Shadowling agents, controlled by their addiction into following the diruks orders. They are trying to protect the wine and see it flow (not least so they can have some themselves to quench their growing cravings for more Bliss) but some may have gotten desperate enough to attempt to take out the Provanis themselves, hoping for a reward of even more Bliss.
Spotting an agent in all the festivities is very difficult, a level 6 task. However, clever players can deliberately try and spread upset and discord and look for the tell-tale signs. Using these tactics grants them two levels of assets for spotting agents, but also puts them at risk of GM intrusions, such as annoying the wrong person and causing a fight.
Spilling the wine and dispatching the Shadowlings (or capturing them in the monument with the help of the unaffected Shadowling) does not go down well at first, but when the events are explained, the players are thanked for their roles in the outcome. Naturally, some Shadowlings affected escaped, and some innocents were killed or infected by the wine (through sneaking sips or other means) and need to be dealt with. However, the worst is over.
The Provanis want to take the remains of the crystal diruk and all the powder into custody. What they do with it if they do is unknown. However the Bliss and the crystal remains seem to shrink and evaporate away over time, so unless the Provanis do something as heinous as Facet was in order to keep a supply of crystals flowing, all traces of it will fade away.