For Profit and Headware
Rise of the Priest-Kings
The origins of Vaporius are not known to the Imperium, though it is likely that in a time of expansion millenniums past it was settled by colonists pushing forth the boundaries of mankindfs dominion. Over the centuries, however, isolation, the harsh environment of their world and the nature of man himself has seen their society degenerate into a feudal world of harsh laws and strict obedience to so-called divine rulers. This rigid caste system is based on the distribution and use of the worldfs precious water supplies. On Vaporius a man’s worth is measured in water, and water is distributed only by the will of the Priest-Kings.
The Keepers, ancient adepts of wisdom and law, tell tales of the coming of man to Vaporius and the rise of the Priest-Kings. It is said that in the time before time, man landed in the desert and tried to turn this world green. Even today, they say travellers can see evidence of this folly from the petrified desert forests to the vast trenches where rivers were meant to have flowed. The failure of these first men was not because their technology was flawed or even that they lacked the will to change the red deserts, but that they failed to understand why Vaporius was a desert and where the water had gone. For centuries, the first men toiled and failed, were born and died, their bones parched by the great suns of dawn, noon, and dusk. Over time, their machines broke down, and they were forced to live as nomads wandering from the sun-washed mountains to the poisonous cyan seas.
It was during this age of death that the first Priest-Kings rose to power. Born of the first men, the Priest-Kings looked different to their parents; taller, with distinctive features some would describe as feline and liquid blue eyes. They also had a gift, the gift to find water beneath the desert and call it forth. How this was possible, or why, are not things that are remembered or asked by the inhabitants of Vaporius. It quickly became enough that these sons of the first men could create life where there was none and those that could not flocked to their sides. It also became rapidly apparent that the springs did not maintain themselves, and each required a Priest-King to keep it flowing. Great cities of glass, tile, and copper (one of the few metals on Vaporius) grew up around the places where a Priest-King would call forth water and make his home. These cities were both places to live and monuments to the glory of the Priest-King and his spring.
Today, centuries after the rise of the Priest-Kings, their power and lineage are maintained through careful breeding and the attention of ancient royal families. Conflict between the Priest-Kings is rare, given the distance between the cities and the lack of resources to fight over. Recent events have strengthened the alliances between the cities, namely the coming of missionaries to Vaporius from beyond the sky, preaching the notion of a divine being more powerful even than the Priest-Kings. This is something that could shake the foundations of their world and concerns the Priest-Kings.
Vaporius is one vast desert, broken up by continent-spanning mountain ranges, gigantic parched basins filled with dust and sand, and a handful of dead seas, too salty to support any life. Survival only seems possible near the springs and within the thrall of the Priest-Kings. However, there is more life out in the desert than explorers might expect. Key regions of Vaporius include:
The Cities of Glass: Numbering in the hundreds, the glass cities of the Priest-Kings litter the desert like discarded jewels. Always hundreds of kilometres apart (lest the influence of one King clash with another), they are linked by well- worn tracks and caravan trails across the dust plains. Grand in spectacle and epic in design, the cities are mostly self sufficient, organized around the great divine wells at their centres. Farms are fed by a latticework of aqueducts and canals, while deep pits and cool caves hide the glass foundries and copper forges from the sun. Over time, different cities have begun to create their own goods, promoting trade between the Kings, such as the weave-cloaks of Vyr or the wind-gems of Atar, but for the most part they remain isolated.
The Sky Mountains: Like broad scars across the land, the mountains of Vaporius crisscross the plains and divide the world into vast dust bowls. The mountains are also strangely devoid of settlement, and in all the history of Vaporius, no King has ever created a city in their shadow. Keepers say that this is because the mountains hold no water beneath their rocky roots, and the ground is hard and unforgiving to the hand of man. Others, however, whisper that this is not the case at all, and in fact it is because the mountains are filled with monsters made of rock that crush the strongest men to paste.
The Dead Seas: Brilliant turquoise and cyan seas dot the surface of Vaporius like tiny puddles of rain. From a distance they appear inviting and cool, a welcome respite from the endless leagues of desert. However, they are dead places, their waters toxic to life and their touch caustic to flesh. Travellers deliberately avoid these places, where a sudden wind can bring about a burning and blinding acid rain.
The Ocean of Dust: Beyond the Sky Mountains, the glass cities, and the sandy plains stretches the Ocean of Dust, a seemingly endless valley hemmed in on all sides by towering cliffs. As the Keepers tell it, the Ocean of Dust was once a true ocean, much like the dead seas, and the first men even fashioned boats to sail across it. What they found and why the sea vanished remains a mystery, as travellers do not venture into the ocean, for there is nothing there but death and thirst.T
he Temple of the First Men: Legends speaks of the ships the first men used to sail to Vaporius and of the first great temple they built to honour their gods. Even the Priest-Kings send out expeditions from time to time, chasing rumours of this place, tempted by stories of ancient technology and off-world wealth. For travellers to Vaporius the temple could prove quite a prize, if even half the stories of its wonders are true.
The Vaporius Nexus
Taking a reading at the Vaporius Nexus necessitates a journey into the Sky-Mountains, where the Nexus is to be found atop a high, windswept peak.
If arriving by lander, the Explorers have to find a suitable landing place, either high on a plateau or deep within one of the windswept valleys. If they decide to seek out a plateau, the Explorers need to pass a Hard (-20) Awareness Test to locate one, but its narrowness and precarious position necessitates a Difficult (-10) Pilot (Flyers) Test to land successfully. Failing the test potentially damages the shuttle, at the discretion of the GM. Landing in a valley is far easier, but means the Explorers have a longer trek to the reach the nexus, adding at least an additional day to the amount of time it takes to locate the Vaporius nexus. Taking longer to reach the nexus runs the risk of attracting the strange creatures that dwell in the mountains, as described later on.
Should the Explorers land on a plateau, they are able to land within five kilometres of the Nexus. Should they land in the valley, they end up within 10 kilometres instead. In either case, the GM can turn finding the Nexus into an Exploration Challenge (Rogue Trader, page 263). The five-kilometre trek is a Simple Challenge, while the 10-kilometre trek is Taxing (and requires some scrabbling up some very steep rock faces). During their trek, the Explorers should see some of the native wildlife (see The Dwellers in the Heights, below). Success on their Exploration Challenge means they are able to avoid them should they choose, while failure means they draw their attention. This becomes important later.
The nexus itself is an arch-shaped structure, perched on a flat-topped ridge only a few metres across. The arch frames a stunning view of the surrounding region and through it, glittering in the sunlight, can be seen one of the glass cities of Vaporius. The Navigator must then perform the rite of reading the Nexus (page 50). If however the Explorers have attracted attention to themselves in any way, they are likely to draw an attack by one or more of the creatures that dwell in the Sky-Mountains.
Dwellers in the Heights
The creatures that live amongst the peaks of the Sky-Mountains represent a highly unusual type of life form. They are rarely encountered, and the humans of Vaporius fear them greatly and give the mountains a wide berth lest they invite attack. The creatures appear to be made of animate rock, suggesting perhaps that their bodies are silicate, rather than carbon-based in nature.
A Challenging (+0) Scholastic Lore (Beasts) Test or Arduous (-40) Intelligence Test will reveal that such a life form is highly unlikely to have evolved in the environment of Vaporius, suggesting either that the world has undergone a dramatic change, or that the creatures were introduced, or even created artificially, in some distant and long forgotten time.The Dwellers in the Heights are terrifying to look upon, for they appear to defy all of the laws of nature. They exhibit a wide range of physical types, ranging in size from one to ten metres, with three being the norm in most cases. The creaturesf bodies appear to be made of the same stuff of the mountains in which they dwell, allowing them to lie in ambush for intruders into their realm, bursting into sudden motion to attack without warning. In form, the creaturesf bodies are ever shifting, and they appear capable of instantly egrowingf whatever appendages are needed at any given moment. Thus, if facing several enemies they will sprout a dozen or more rocky tentacles, or form their bodies into massive, slab-like piledrivers if faced by a single, larger foe.
It is not known what the creatures rely upon for sustenance, and they certainly do not attack other life forms in order to prey upon them. Rather, they appear to be intent upon keeping intruders out of the Sky-Mountains, almost as if they are obeying some deep-seated imperative seeded in their primitive, animalistic, and entirely alien minds. For the profile for the Dwellers in the Heights, see page 126 at the end of this adventure.
A Chance for Profit
For Explorers, there are seldom situations with no opportunity for profit, and the Dwellers in the Heights are no different. A successful Forbidden Lore (Xenos), or Common Lore (Adeptus Mechanicus) Test will reveal that the Adeptus Mechanicus Biologis would pay well for a specimen of such a strange creature. Alternatively, the Explorers might find some profit in selling these creatures to the Carnivoras and fighting pits of the Expanse or the nearby Calixis Sector. Criminal organisations such as the Beast House would pay dearly for such a creature.
These exploits are outside the arc of this adventure, but the GM should feel free to expand on them, and even turn them into their own Endeavours. Alternatively, this could provide another way to earn additional Achievement Points when completing the overarching Endeavour (as the Explorers work out a smaller money-making deal on the side).
Objective 1: An Audience with a Priest-King
The world of Vaporius offers a wealth of opportunity to the Explorers should they seek profit during their visit. If they perform a survey from orbit, they discover the presence of the cities mentioned in the Gazetteer, or may decide to investigate the glittering city visible from the Vaporius Nexus. The Endeavour presented offers the Explorers a chance to learn of the properties of the Vaporius water, and trade this to the far reaches of the Expanse – for a price.
If the Explorers decide to investigate one or more of the glass cities of Vaporius, they land outside an exotic-looking city of shining copper and glass. This is the city of Lahfndan, whose Priest-King is Ansai (see page 71). On entering the city, they do not spark much interest from the inhabitants, and are soon approached by the servants of the Priest-Kings, who seek to bring these strangers before their master. The Explorers soon discover that nothing happens in or near the cities without the blessing of its Priest-King, and that should they wish to establish any sort of trade it will have to be through the agencies of one of the planet’s rulers.
Upon being brought before the court of a Priest-King, the Explorers are offered refreshments, in the form of an ornate glass vessel containing what appears to be nothing more than water. The Explorers should have no reason to doubt that the liquid is anything more than water, but the playersf suspicions will no doubt be piqued by the situation. The Explorers are expected to join the court in a ritual drinking of the liquid, and it quickly becomes apparent that great offence will be taken if the Explorers do not join in.
The Explorers may decide at this point that the liquid is some form of poison, in which case the court erupts in outrage. The Priest-Kingfs chief counsellor gives the Explorers one last chance to partake of the benefaction of their host, and if they still insist in their barbaric behaviour they are forcibly ejected from the court and the city. If the Explorers do take a sip of the liquid, read aloud or paraphrase the following:
The instant the clear liquid passes your lips, you are overwhelmed with a feeling of purity and clarity, as if they water itself were somehow blessed, its qualities passing into your own form. You feel revitalised and energised, as if darkness of the galaxy and the perils it enforces upon you at every turn are somehow diminished, allowing you to think clearly for the first time in what seems like an age.
At this point, the players may make a Challenging (+0) Evaluate Test. A success reveals that this liquid might find a ready market amongst certain sections of the Imperium. Pilgrims wishing to purify themselves before approaching the object of their devotions perhaps, or any of a dozen other such markets that spring instantly to mind.
If the Explorers wish to trade in this seemingly wondrous commodity, they need to enter negotiations with the Priest-King whose city they have come to. The subsequent negotiations should prove entertaining, and the GM should allow the Explorers to offer whatever they believe the Priest-King might desire. Whatever they offer however, the ruler will merely smile politely, awaiting the next offer. When finally the Explorers have exhausted their options, the Priest-King will name his price. Read aloud or paraphrase the following:
I have listened, travellers, to your generous offers, and I thank you for them. But what need have I of treasures from beyond the stars? Look around you?do you not see that I have all I could possibly desire right before me? No, travellers, I have no need of riches. I do, however, have needs of another nature.
At this point, the Priest-King gestures to an aide, and the crowd of courtiers parts. Two burly guards appear, between them restrained what can only be a missionary of the Missionarius Galaxia. The man is thrown roughly to the floor between you and the Priest-King, where he assumes a kneeling position, raises his head, closes his eyes and makes the sign of the aquila.
This, travellers, is my price. This man and his fellows seek to turn my people against me. They preach that there exists some ruler higher than the Priest-Kings! They tell the people to acknowledge this man, this eEmperorf above me! Oh, he says I can still rule my people, but only if the Priest-Kings acknowledge this so-called God-Emperor. I am no priest of some distant god, and I will not do so. Rid me of these turbulent priests, and I will provide you with all the liquid you desire.h
- 50 Achievement Points if the Explorers meet with the Priest-King and establish some form of deal.
- -25 Achievement Points if the Explorers actions turn the Priest-King actively against them.
Objective 2: Pay the Priest King’s Price
Keywords: Criminal, Creed, or Military
How the Explorers react to the Priest-Kingfs offer is entirely up to them, but he will not be swayed to accept any other price, regardless of any efforts the Explorers might make to negotiate further. He will go on to explain that the Missionarius have established a mission out in the desert, from which they are seeking to convert his people to the worship of someone they call the gGod-Emperor of Mankind,h and to turn them against his rule. If the Explorers will convince these missionaries to leave, or force them to do so, then the water in his domains is theirs for the taking.
Whatever the Explorersf reaction, they will also be faced with the question of what to do about the missionary Ansai holds prisoner. They may be callous and simply leave him to the Priest-Kingfs mercy, or they might seek to have him released as part of the negotiations. In this case, Ansai will agree to release the missionary only when he is rid of the mission, in which case the Explorers are welcome to take him with them.
If the Explorers refuse to pay Ansaifs price, he will accept this, and dismiss them from his presence. If this happens, the Explorers will be unable to set up legitimate trade with Ansai, or any other Priest-king on Vaporius.
The Explorers are left with limited options. They could try to convince the mission to depart, but it need not be said that the missionaries will never agree to leave until every benighted soul on Vaporius is led to the light of the Emperor. They could try to deceive the mission in some way. This should be left up to the Explorersf imaginations, and the GM should allow any creative or audacious plan a chance to succeed. Any plan will likely require opposed Deceive Tests, and Common Lore (Ecclesiarchy and Imperial Creed) and Scholastic Lore (Imperial Creed) should be vital Skills to be tested during the scheme.
If the profile for a Missionary is required, use the profile of an Entertainer found on page 370 of Rogue Trader , but increase Perception by 10 and give them Scrutiny and Common Lore Ecclesiarchy, and Imperial Creed as trained Skills.
The Explorers might actually consider doing what the Priest-King asks, as beyond the borders of the Imperium the only laws are strength and profit, after all. The mission itself is little more than a crude compound built of stone by the hands of the missionaries and the small group of Vaporians they have turned to the light. If the players are callous enough to accept the task of wiping out the missionaries then they are no doubt the sort to order a lance strike from orbit to reduce the mission to ashes.
This succeeds?in fact, the GM should overplay how easy it was to wipe out the mission, so that the players get suspicious, paranoid, and maybe even a little guilty. And so they should, because if they take this course of action, then those missionaries who were not present at the mission soon learn their identities, and in time, the Ministorum will hear of the matter?and the Explorers may find they have made themselves a powerful enemy. At some point in the future, long after the adventures in this book are played out, why not have the Priest-Kingfs captive make an appearance and condemn the Explorers for their vile deed?
The last and most devious option the Explorers could accomplish is some sort of deceit. There are multiple choices here: the Explorers could transport the Missionaries to a different part of Vaporius and tell the Priest-King they have been removed; communication between the various cities of Vaporius is fragmented, and it is likely the Explorers could complete several trade-runs before Ansai realises he has been deceived. Alternatively, they could attempt to smuggle the water out from under the Priest-Kingfs nose. Though the Priest-King has absolute control over his subjects, the Explorers could secretly deceive one of his citizens into siphoning off some of the waters and delivering them to the Explorers. This only works if the citizen does not realise he is betraying his king with his actions. However, the Explorers might be able to enlist aid from the Missionariesf flock of converted Vaporians.
- 150 Achievement Points for meeting the Priest-Kingfs demands.
- 150 Achievement Points for fooling the Priest-King into thinking they have met his demands.
- -100 Achievement Points if they slay the Missionaries and make lasting enemies of the Ecclisiarchy.
- -25 Achievement Points if they slay the missionaries and their general crew learns of the deed.
- -50 Achievement Points if they attempt to fool the Priest-King and he discovers their duplicity.
Objective 3: Establish the Trade in the Waters of Vaporius
Keywords: Trade or Criminal
However Objective 2 is resolved, the Explorers need to establish the details of the actual deal. This entails a second audience with the Priest-King, and a second ritual of imbibing the waters. It is only now that the true nature of the waters will become apparent. A Difficult (?10) Psyniscience Test, taken at the second audience as the water is drunk, reveals that the liquid has some form of inherent psychic effect, and that this is the root course of the feeling of transcendent purity that comes over the drinker. Whether or not the Explorers still wish to establish a trade in the waters is up to them, but certainly if they do a substantial amount of profit is to be made. The Priest-King delivers the first shipment of the waters to the Explorers’ landers. The shipment consists of one hundred large, sealed copper urns.
Of course, if the Explorers have come up with different arrangements to obtain the water, this may play out differently. If they are smuggling water out of the city, for example, they may be forced to wait for a couple weeks while the water is brought to them flask by flask and urn by urn.
The Explorers must then decide where they will distribute this water, which (whether or not they realise it) is also highly addictive. Most of the worlds of the Expanse are relatively backwards or unregulated, at least in regard to the Expanses human colonies, and it could be fairly easy to set up a trade route between one of these worlds. However, the most profitable market is likely to be found amongst the rich and decadent nobility of the Imperium.
Not only will this mean establishing a trade route back into the Calixis Sector (not an easy proposition), but the suspect nature of this water may very well attract unwanted attention from official sources. The agents of the Holy Inquisition, for example, have both the resources to determine the waterfs true properties, and a marked interest in eliminating the trade.
Over the long term, the Explorers also have to provide Ansai with something in return for his water (though their actions with the Missionaries suffices for the first shipment). Luxury goods and other items to satisfy a Priest-Kingfs hedonistic desires should suffice for this. Some more maliciously-minded Explorers may also consider importing slaves to help fill the Priest-Kingfs enthralled workforce.
- 250 Achievement Points for successfully establishing a trade route into the Koronus Expanse.
- 350 Achievement Points for successfully establishing a trade route to both the Expanse and the Calixis Sector (or simply the Calixis Sector).
- -150 The Inquisition discovers any Calixis trade and learns of the Explorersf involvement.
- -50 The Priest?Kings eventually learn of a duplicity or betrayal on the Explorerfs part that curtails the trade
The immediate outcome of this Endeavour is that the Explorers should have established a profitable interest in transporting regular shipments of the Waters of Vaporius to one or more of the worlds in the Koronus Expanse or the Calixis Sector. The details of who they sell this valuable commodity to can be left to their house agents to worry about, or could even form the basis of a future adventure. Whether or not the authorities back in Calixis take umbrage against the effects of the water could also make an interesting thread worth picking up in the future, as is any ongoing effect the waters might have on those Explorers who imbibed the liquid during their audiences with the Priest-King.
Also worth keeping track of is how the Explorersf actions affect their dynastyfs relations with the Adeptus Ministorum. This depends on how the Explorers comported themselves in Objective 2, and may well have serious consequences worth exploring further in future adventures.
Don’t Drink The Water
The waters of Vaporius have a power over all who drink them, and the more you drink the greater its hold becomes.
The First Drink: A feeling of euphoria sweeps through the drinker and his mind is calmed. Fear and shock effects are ignored for 1d5 hours and Talents such as Frenzy or those that require a heightened emotional state cannot be used.
The Second Drink: Fear and doubt are completely replaced by contentment and a feeling of safety even in the face of obvious danger. As above, Talents such as Frenzy or those that require a heightened emotional state cannot be used. Finally the drinker gains the Fearless Talent for 2d10 hours as well as immunity to Insanity Point gain.
The Third Drink: Nothing matters but this feeling. In addition to all the effects of the second drink, which now persist for 1d5 days, the drinker must make a Hard (-20) Willpower Test to resist continuing to drink the water of Vaporius.
Those who continue to drink the water for more than a week finally succumb to their full effects and fall into the thrall of the Priest-Kings, becoming tranquil and suggestive to any commands given by one of the royal line. In addition they will work tirelessly and without complaint, completely content in their lot and happy to help those around them, even should it mean working their fingers to bloody stumps and toiling until their hearts finally fail. Sadly this is the state of most that dwell on Vaporius, under the protection of the Priest-Kings.
Ansai: Priest-King of the Glass City of Lah’ndan
Ansai is the Priest-King of the city nearest to the Vaporius nexus?Lahfndan? and therefore the ruler the Explorers are most likely to encounter. In appearance, the Priest-King Ansai is quite striking, his face lean and his deep blue eyes wide-set and penetrating. His head is bald, and covered with intricately painted, swirling patterns of red and purple. Ansai holds court from a throne of luxurious cushions, on which he and his attendants sprawl languidly while courtiers and sycophants cluster all around to pander to his every need. His demeanour is at all times polite and languid, and he does not raise his voice or allow himself to become agitated.
This languorous persona is a facade however. Ansai has a keen intellect, and harbours, as do all Priest-Kings, a powerful psychic talent, albeit one which the Explorers may not recognise as such. He is also the absolute ruler of his city, and possesses supreme self-confidence. All his responses are coloured accordingly?he expects deference, is unimpressed by threats, and is disinterested in bargaining.