Portals of Lantan
By Jeff Quick
Lantan-Pirate Isles Portal
Pirates can get their hands on things other people can't. Expensive things. Rare things. Combustible things. And they ask for so little in return: gems and exotic weapons -- things gnomes have in plenty.
A "retired" gnome pirate, Gimlet Watersprecht, saw this as an opportunity. Gimlet had returned from the Pirate Isles nearly five years ago to settle down and fish in the waters around Lantan, which is his homeland. Retirement lasted nearly six months before the old pirate got bored. Then he started looking around for ways to get back into the old business. What he saw shocked him.
First, the Lantanese black market appeared mainly to come through the unsavory Nelanther pirates. These foul orcs, lizardfolk, and ogres (or worse) possessed a far more treacherous and bloodthirsty streak than the pirates of Gimlet's experience. Sometimes Lantanese traders didn't come back from meetings with the Nelanther pirates, with no ransom ever offered. Gimlet was distressed that otherwise reasonable gnomes with perfectly good gems dealt with unreliable riffraff when he knew of Pirate Isle riffraff who had predictable and somewhat respectable codes of behavior.
Second, the goods that Nelanther pirates dealt in were nothing an honest black marketeer couldn't get from just sailing to Calimshan, Tethyr, or the Sword Coast in person. They were just smelly, dangerous middlemen who marked the price up. Pirate Isle mateys, on the other hand, had swag from faraway Sembia, Turmish, and Unther.
Third, Nelanther pirates were amateurish and sloppy. They had no style. Further, any decent illusionist could run them into their own islands. It was practically criminal to continue giving them business when clever, respectable pirates were sailing around the Inner Sea looking for safe places to unload booty.
Gimlet practically felt a mandate to work up a real pirate operation, for the good of rogues and unlawful business people all over his homeland. Over the next year and a half, Gimlet assembled a small crew of pirates and had a portal constructed to open a pirate trade route between the Sea of Fallen Stars and the Trackless Sea.
On the Pirate Isles side, the portal activates over the mouth of a shallow cave on one of the smaller, uninhabited isles. The cave is half-submerged, low, but wide. When activated by the key (any spell in the Illusion school will do), a rowboat or narrower keelboat with its mast struck can pass through easily. No sane person would row a keelboat through here when the portal was not activated, as the ship would smash into the back of the cave about 10 feet later. Anyone taller than a halfling or gnome must duck going through the portal.
On the Lantan side, most of the good nooks and crannies were spoken for by someone else's experiment or scheme. So Gimlet made his own. About a day's sail east of Lantan, two blue metal posts jut from the waves in parallel, 4 feet above the water and about 15 feet apart. Both posts are actually long, immovable rods that extend another 4 feet below the water. The activation buttons are on top, above the water, but have been capped with metal hoods and fused into place so that the rods are not accidentally deactivated. The rods delineate the area of the portal.
With his crew and portal set up, Gimlet began a ridiculously lucrative gunrunning operation to the Pirate Isles, raking in treasures of the nations all along the shores of the Sea of Fallen Stars. The Nelanther pirates have noticed the drop-off in their business, and the Nautical Spyglasses (the semi-formal coast guard of Lantan) has recorded a slight increase in piratical activity in Lantan. Of the two organizations, the Nelanther pirates are the ones more likely to take action to put a stop to the trend.
Gimlet knows that success is perhaps more dangerous than failure in the pirate business, so he intentionally constructed the portal to be small. Large ships cannot possibly pass through the portal, and Medium-size or Large humanoids can't get through without effort. The poles on the Lantan side are the same color as the water and are barely visible to those who know about them. As extra insurance, he used his unusual grasp of Aquan to recruit a tojanida as part of his "crew." The adult elemental keeps an eye on things on the Lantan side of the portal. Gimlet himself keeps an eye out for strangers who ask too many questions (especially half-orcs), and he has illusion spells prepared for a moment's use.
Now Gimlet has a better retirement than he ever could have hoped for.
Tojanida: hp 55.
How to Incorporate the Pirate Portal Into Your Champaign
If you want to have the PCs look into Gimlet's business, they either might be hired or sent by Princess Alusair of Cormyr to investigate the frighteningly sudden rise of smokepowder weapons in the hands of pirates along the Inner Sea.