Portals of Lantan
By Jeff Quick
Aside from a small amount of native iron, Lantan is resource-poor. Yet serious invention requires considerable resource expenditure. The Lantanese regularly trade goods with their Tashalaran and Calimshan neighbors, and they trade sporadically with other places. But Lantan lacks abundant supplies of wood, copper, tin, gems, and a list of other goods a gnome's arm long. Importing all these raw materials is a lot of trouble, and it puts money in other people's hands.
Several Lantanese trading companies recently decided to put an end to such heavy reliance on outside materials, and place more reliance on different sources of outside materials. So they created a consortium to explore and exploit natural resources in less developed parts of the world.
After a few months of scouting a good location, the consortium found a good site in the Samarach jungle near the Chult border. They talked to the locals to find a good site, and they made sure they showed proper respect for local laws. During their talks, they discovered that the locals had a fear of something that they couldn't explain. The consortium decided not to deem it a significant threat to their enterprise, but agreed to help the locals however they could. The gnomes rose to the challenge and settled upon providing illusory defenses. In exchange for advice and local labor, the gnomes have shown the locals how to improve their illusory defenses and have given them the wonders of Lantanese clockwork toys. The relationship is not blatantly exploitive, but it does favor the consortium, which is fine with the gnomes.
Finally, the consortium set up a small compound at the site and made it the base of operations for a logging camp. Once the compound was established, the consortium had a portal erected, a standard 15-foot circle in a simple metal frame, to cart timber home. The gnome overseers and workers usually go home at night and take the day's work with them. The weight limit of what can be taken through a portal (850 pounds) is occasionally a nuisance, but a heavy saw machine on the Samarach end solves the problem with minimal fuss.
The Samarach natives who work with the consortium are superstitious about the jungle, but confident enough in the daytime. They do not like talking about what happens at night though, when they shut their communities up behind tall wooden palisades and barricade their homes.
This set-up is, of course, prime fodder for prankster-happy gnomes. The gnomes are not ignorant to the possibility that something truly dangerous might be lurking in the Samarach wilds, but danger is never a reason to avoid having a little fun. Since the natives never seem to get the joke, the gnomes usually leave them out of tricks. But they often use the eerie feel of the jungle and the tales of the locals as springboards for elaborate pranks on each other. Their favorite targets are newcomers to the camp, especially nongnomes.
The camp had been operating for a few weeks when problems started cropping up.
First, the heavy saw machine, which is ten feet long and weighs several hundred pounds, is occasionally found moved in the morning. It is never broken or inoperable, but it often has been dragged around to a different place in the compound, its legs leaving long, deep ruts in the dirt.
Next, the wood started causing problems. Uncut logs were no problem, but once the wood was cut and used in items, the wood would occasionally hum and vibrate. The humming is quiet and intermittent, but definitely noticeable. Very few of the consortium's customers have traced the problem back to their lumberyard, but more are beginning to notice.
Finally, the portal stops operating sometimes. It starts back up within ten minutes to an hour, and no one has been hurt, but its failure is a disturbing prospect.
Any or all of these occurrences could be some gnome playing a prank. This is what most of the workers assume, and since no one wants to be "got" by someone else's prank, everyone acts normal, as if nothing has been happening. The strangeness could also be a spirit or creature in the Samarach jungle that doesn't like the logging camp. If this is the case, why haven't the occurrences been more destructive? Why have no demands been made? It's also possible that all the problems are completely unrelated. This option is probably the most unsettling one. Regardless, the consortium needs to know more about this before they have to shut down the camp and lose all their investment.
How to Incorporate the Samarach Portal Into Your Champaign
Using the Lantan-Samarach portal is nigh impossible, but the PCs might find themselves in one of these situations:
- One of the Lantan traders might secretly hire respectable adventurers to stay at his camp overnight and watch what happens. He thinks the problems are probably a prank, and he doesn't want to admit that he's checking into things. But he does want to know whether whatever's going on is something to be more concerned about.
- The Lantan traders consortium could hire the PCs to scout a new location for their next camp. They're eager to build a site near a mine for copper, gold, or gems. They would especially like to find a safe underground site to set up camp.