Portals of the Written Word
By Robert Wiese
The town of Kagarr sits on the Nagawater in southern Sespech, and it is not known for anything special. Its people deal with the water naga from the lake from time to time, and its merchants trade with the other cities of the area. The town sits close to the Golden Road, but these things do not draw attention to a place, since many places have similar challenges and benefits.
In this town, there once lived a powerful but lonely wizard named Kiothun. Kiothun was quite ugly and had no social graces to speak of; thus everyone in the town shunned him. Kiothun's devotion to his powerful magic further engendered fear in the hearts of the people who lived near him, and the town rulers decided to request him in the strongest terms to depart the town and not return. Kiothun knew this and did not want to leave, so he struck a bargain. In return for letting him continue to live in the town, Kiothun would build a portal to and from great Waterdeep for the residents to use as they desired.
Kiothun's portal stands in the heart of the town, and the town watch guards it. Anyone can use it -- for a price and under conditions. The conditions are simply that the user has no hostile intent towards Kagarr or Waterdeep, and the price varies depending on the user. Some get through for as little as a couple silver pieces, while others pay far more depending on what the guards think the person can afford. Some pay in service rather than coin. The portal is 3 feet across and 7 feet high, and it is set inside a beautiful stone arch with lacquered woods and precious metals set into the stone. It is a landmark of the town and a source of pride to all who live there.
Kiothun made only one thing unusual about this portal, and that is the key. Next to the portal is a slanted stone surface 3 feet square and set upon a pedestal. It is connected magically to the portal. To activate the portal, the person wishing to pass through must write a four-line snippet about himself or herself. This must include a unique identifier of the person, and each use of the portal requires a different snippet to be written. The unique identifier allows the magic of the portal to make sure that the person does not write the same thing twice. When the snippet is complete, it fades into the stone of the pedestal and the portal glows a pale blue. The portal has a permanent zone of truth effect around it and the pedestal so that the user must write something truthful about himself to activate the portal. The nature of the snippet is up to the writer. While something simple like,
"Me Snuffin Strongbow half-orc
Me kill orcs!"
is sufficient to activate the portal, most people pass beyond that with repeated use and begin to reveal more personal things.
The reason that Kiothun created this unusual key is that he was possessed of a desperate curiosity about the people who lived around him. Since they would not socialize with him, he used this means to find out about people. He knew that a lot of people would want to use the portal, and at night he would go to the pedestal and by magic read the things written there. Since people have a tendency to talk about themselves, he learned quite a lot. Some people even started using the pedestal as a sort of confessional -- a place where they could write secret things they yearned to tell someone but could not. Because the writing disappeared when it was completed, and no one knew that Kiothun read the writings, most of the local users have the illusion of telling their big secret without actually telling anyone.
Kiothun died some years ago and went to his grave unmourned. Though the people of Kagarr were grateful for the portal, they took it for granted and still refused to admit Kiothun into their social circles. The portal has continued to function, and very few, if any, are aware that the pedestal is still collecting information about people as they use the portal.
How to Incorporate Kiothun's Portal Into Your Campaign:
- An unscrupulous person has discovered how to read the writings on the pedestal, and she is starting to use the information against the residents of Kagarr. No one has put together how this person knows these things, but with the plethora of magical divinations available, everyone is now paranoid. Someone from the town asks the PCs to find out who is holding this information over him (or her) and put a stop to it. The pursuit may lead the PCs to the nature of the pedestal.
- Before he died, Kiothun transferred his soul into the pedestal of the portal, and he now absorbs what people say in their snippets. He discovers that some creature or person is planning a horrifically evil act and attempts to communicate with some adventurers who could stop great evils. Since he cannot really travel, he must possess (as the magic jar spell; caster level 10th) people trying to use the portal and use them as mouthpieces.
- Following the clues of a treasure map (or other quest), the PCs come to Kagarr seeking information about some person living there. The person has died, and the PCs search his or her possessions and journals to no avail. Someone suggests that if it was a great secret that the person might have told the portal, and the PCs have to figure out how to read the things people have written on the pedestal stone.