Encounter: Vox Unpopuli
January 27, 2019
This encounter can be dropped into any existing campaign. The GM should alter names, places and details to fit the game campaign, blending it with the world the PCs live in.
Everyone’s Entitled to My Opinion
This incident starts, as many do, during a night at the local tavern. On a busy night, when it is getting a little drunk out, an older man no one in the party knows starts getting a bit mouthy about various local officials and prominent citizens, relating a number of rumors and conspiracy theories which are none too flattering. He has a serious grudge going, and he’s talking too much, too loudly.
The innkeeper (who, ideally, is someone the PCs know at least slightly) really does not want things to escalate, but it looks like people are picking sides and punches may get thrown. He has a short conversation with the older man, who quiets down.
If any PCs speak with the innkeeper afterward, he identifies the loudmouth as Waggoner Tong, and says “old Wag” used to be a regular a number of years back until the innkeeper suggested he find another bar. “Wag is harmless enough,” says the innkeeper, “but when he gets going like this – well, let the competition have him for a while.”
A short time later, the PCs may notice a dapper, mustachioed man, perhaps a wizard from his dress and the short staff he carries, sit down with Tong. After some quiet talk, the wizard hands a small package to Tong and departs with a polite bow. If the PCs attempt to approach or follow either, they’ll find both gone within a few moments.
The innkeeper will not witness this exchange; he’s busy at the time. If advised by the PCs he will be momentarily concerned, having the usual healthy respect-at-a-distance that many hold for wizards. But the concern won’t last long. “Wag’s an old guy with a mouth. Not much else.”
The Little Man Who Wasn’t There
The following morning, just before the PCs are ready to come down for the day, they hear someone speak to them, as if standing right behind them. Since they are still in their room or rooms, this may be a bit startling, especially when they turn around and find no one is there.
“All right, you poor, witless sheep! Listen up! It’s time for you to hear the truth about things.”
All the PCs hear the voice as if the speaker was standing right next to them, but no one is visible. It sounds like an older male, speaking the common tongue with a local accent. He proceeds to give a rambling lecture regarding his views on modern society, life in general, individuals and groups he doesn’t like or trust, and – especially – local and regional politics.
Wherever the PCs go, they can hear the Voice quite clearly, but it does not answer them if they speak to it. No matter how they move about, it does not seem to get closer or farther away, nor does it seem to come from a fixed direction.
In the common rooms of the inn and in the street, everyone else can hear it, too. The matter goes from surprising to mysterious to annoying pretty quickly. To converse, folks have to speak over the phantom Voice, as if there is someone present who won’t let anyone get a word in edgewise.
PCs may (3/IQ roll) recognize the Voice as that of Waggoner Tong, he of the free-flowing opinions. The lecture isn’t a nasty harangue. It sounds more like a cranky old uncle who is certain that the world would be a better place if everyone would just wise up and listen to him. One topic flows freely into another, with no end in sight.
The market square is soon full of people listening to, agreeing/disagreeing with, and even trying to argue with the Voice. It seems to be audible only near the square. After a time, people begin searching the area, figuring the source must be nearby.
The Man Behind the Voice
The innkeeper can confirm the Voice is that of Wag Tong. The other merchants, inn patrons, local farmers coming into the market square, etc. are having their daily routine completely disrupted by the Voice, people talking and arguing about the Voice, and the chaos ensuing from people’s attempts to find (or get away from) the Voice.
It is obvious that magic must be involved. If the party has a wizard (or a wizard is consulted), give them a 4/IQ roll to have heard of a minor IQ 11 spell known as Great Voice. A town crier or herald will almost certainly have heard of it, since the purpose of the spell is to allow a person speaking normally to be clearly heard by everyone within bowshot (essentially, anywhere in a radius of about 300 yards). A normal casting lasts only about a minute, but with the Voice droning on and on, it is evident that this is more than a casually cast spell.
As the Voice goes on, talk starts to circulate about calling out the Town Guard to search for the perpetrator. This makes the innkeeper nervous, especially if the PCs tell him that Tong was talking to a wizard just before he left the inn the night before.
The innkeeper confirms Tong told him that since his return to town he has been staying at a travelers’ inn across the square. “If I walk in to the competition’s place, I’ll just draw their attention,” the innkeeper tells the PCs. “Would you go over there and see if you can find Wag and tell him to knock it off? I don’t know what he’s up to, but he’s gone too far.”
If the PCs check, they will find that Waggoner Tong does have a room at the small travelers’ inn on the square, but he’s not in his room at present. If the PCs are not careful in their questioning, the innkeeper where Tong has been staying may recognize his voice and start talking freely with his patrons and any guardsmen who come around with questions. If the PCs have seemed too interested in Tong, this could get them into trouble.
The PCs may begin searching for Tong. The GM should push them a bit, making sure they stay ahead of city guardsmen, angry mobs, and so on. If they make a general search of the area, string them along for awhile, but if any of them decide to get a high view of the square from an upper window, church tower, etc., they will quickly spot a lone figure sitting in an out-of-the-way corner on the roof of the little travelers’ inn itself.
Good Rings Come in Small Packages
The roof venue is accessible by metal rungs leading up from the alley behind the building. Sitting up there, chattering away happily to his captive audience, is Waggoner Tong. On his right hand is a silver ring with a blue stone, to which he seems to be directing his speech. The ring radiates magic if appropriate spells are cast to detect it. It is in fact, a self-powered ring containing the Great Voice spell, making anyone who speaks normally while wearing the ring audible to everyone within a couple hundred yards, just as if the speaker was standing right beside them.
If the PCs speak to Tong, their voices will not be broadcast by the ring, but any replies Tong makes will be heard abroad, unless Tong takes the ring off first. The GM should be very aware of this, even if the PCs don’t think of it, and the proper trouble should be stirred up later depending on what is said on Tong’s end of their conversation.
Confronted by the PCs or the innkeeper, Tong will admit he was approached by a wizard -- a man he didn’t know. He praised Tong for his “insight into the human condition.” He presented Tong with the ring, explained how it worked, and suggested he share his wisdom with his less perceptive fellows the next morning. The wizard recommended the rooftop venue, encouraging Tong to keep his location secret until people had a chance to “benefit from his experience” and learn to appreciate him. Any wizard among the PCs or the innkeeper will get a +1 to reaction rolls to convince Tong it is prudent to give up the ring before he gets into real trouble.
Aftermath: A Slip of the Tong
The mysterious wizard has played on Tong’s ego quite successfully to get him to become a public nuisance – but the reason for the “gift” will become clear once the PCs return to the square. The town guard, first occupied with the search for the Voice, now is discovering that someone used the distraction to mount a host of quiet thefts, ranging from careful pickpocketing in the tumultuous square to bold burglary of buildings entered while people and guardsmen were busy. The ring itself (as the PCs will figure out) was no doubt expensive to make, but has netted many times as much in stolen goods and left a perfect patsy behind to take the blame.
Everyone is beginning to figure out that the Voice was a distraction set up by an organized band of thieves; soon they become very, very angry. If the PCs have done anything that links them to the incident (or Tong himself is overheard in person), this means trouble.
The PCs and the innkeeper will want to keep Tong tucked away somewhere and keep his mouth shut (not easy, given his personality) until they can track down the mysterious wizard and the band of thieves he is working with, with poor Tong as their unwitting accomplice. Spinning this into explorations of underworld connections and back-alley wizardry – just ahead of local law enforcement – is left as a happy exercise for the GM, who should be able to keep the PCs very busy indeed.