Port City Urban Covenant -- Story Seeds sought

My players and I have decided to run a saga set on the Baleric Islands. In period, the islands were known as a haven of pirates, that the Navy of Aragon smashes in the late 1220's. Politically they were run by competing trading families (it seems similar to Venice at first glance.)

I've decided to heighten the playability, and make the city of Palma be a "Mos Eisley"-esque place. A "hive of scum and villany," filled with Pirates and all sorts of nasty people that are on the fringes of society. A huge mix of cultures and languages from across the mediterranean.

The players have set up a warehouse on the docks that they rent out as a source of income. They have a very modest magical aura (+2) and own a ship. They have almost no other resources. The main characters are a couple of mages and the companion-captain of the ship.

The initial story arc will involve the characters discovering and bringing down a local mage-pirate who is a fugitive of the order. Once they take him down they will gain his magical resources.

I haven't decided on the grand story arc yet, but I"m leaning toward something to do with the Pillars of Hercules being part of a set of ancient portals that allowed the Greeks (?) or Carthaginians (?) to travel across the Mythic Meditteranean. Perhaps something to do with re-awakening Atlas (who was turned to stone and cracked in half, becoming the 2 pillars) and the danger this would pose to ME. But I'm getting ahead of myself....

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on story seeds (or just nifty little details) for the Mos-Eisley-Esque port city of Palma, as well as ideas for other parts of the islands.

Thanks in advance,

They can be offered resources to transport something across the ocean a ways, giving you the opportunity for buckle and swashing...

If you need to motivate the mages into it, have the thing in question be a Redcap, who offers Vi's for his safe passage.

Thank you.
What I'd love to see are Urban story seeds. I've got the sea covered for awhile...

... and if I'm missing something that's already published in City and Guild or something, let me know....

Okay, I'll throw a few words into the mix.

City Watch
Wealthy Families
Urchins and Beggers

There are probably other factions but they'll do you well for stories set within the city. But if you're a growing city with signs of obvious wealth or influence then your neighbours are going to get a little jealous so you'll have spies, delegates, outright assaults. The magi will get dragged into those.

Most people want to be free from drudgery and are always looking for just a little more wealth, if not power. The old nobility is probably waning while the new land-owning families, merchants, or guilds (the new money, if you will) start to take their places. This means that there's fear and suspicion balanced against arrogance and ambition. That's ripe for corruption.

The underclasses of the city carry on their business practically unwatched. Nobody of any worth notices a few beggars going missing and nobody much cares if a criminal gang is suddenly and inexplicably taken off the streets. But if it's part of a wider phenomenon, either tied to something of the moral realms or the land itself cleansing itself there's no telling where it might end.

The city watch get paid to either prevent crime or to deal with the consequences. They're not a detective force. But if enough fingers point in one direction they'll start looking in that direction. And the magi, wanting to remain unseen, may have to either explain themselves and their activities to a captain of the guard interested in protecting his city, or they pay him off so that he doesn't cause trouble for them.

If your covenant contains magical or mundane craftsmen, then the guilds and merchants get dragged into the saga. Maybe a particular merchant wants to monopolise the warehouse space in your district. Maybe the guild calls the covenant to account, forcing your Verditius to either stop, move, or submit to guild membership and governance. Similarly, if there's a Mercere that acts as a money changer, whose toes does that step on and what can/do they do about it?

I hope there are some ideas there or that get sparked.


Hive of scum and villany, eh?

Perhaps a "mob-war" between two corrupt trading families, each of which has deep hooks into the magi one way or another (controlling one of their resources &/or having deep connections with the covenfolk).

As described that would likely be a very small income. You could improve it by having it offer exceptional security and refrigerated, cooled or preserving storage. Fake ice deliveries to make it look non-magical if they care. Or real ice deliveries from wherever the magi creates them, perhaps on the ship and then bring the blocks into port and the warehouse, potentially also selling ice to others. Use a Moon duration CrAq spell mastered with Diluted Duration option to create ice that will last long enough(hopefully at least hehe).

And of course, the "secrets" of this warehouse would quickly become very coveted among those trading families if the magic of it isnt covered up.

Can also make such a magic item for the ship, to allow it to either trade much fresher wares or give it far enhanced reach. Give it a Rego item to allow it movement whenever wherever, this makes it an exceptional pirate vessel, or an almost piratesafe trader.

Phoenicians! :wink:
They´re one of the "ancient" peoples that in reality may have gone across the Atlantic ( and certainly seems to have been just about everywhere else possible in the vicinity, from the north sea to far south along the west coast of Africa, only question is how much was intentional hehe ).

Sounds like an excellent idea for a setting. Just remember not to overdo it, even a "hive of scum and villany" will have "law and order" in some form, you could read about 17th century Tortuga to get hints, as its much easier to find knowledge about.

If they are seen as serious potential competition with the large trading families, then political scheming and powerplays with the covenant either as pawns, allies or enemies is one option.

If they have few guards or what seems to be poor security then thiefs are likely to come calling.
Maybe an incinerated thief has some really VIP relatives in the town?

Want to revolutionise ship building? A Muto spell or magic item that makes wood temporarily soft, or even semi-liquid could allow far stronger, larger and more streamlined hulls than ever before.
Rent such a device to the nearest shipyard... Ooops who stole it? :mrgreen: And by letting it be stolen(or used by others), did the magi break the order rules about magic items in any way? (probably not, but an overzealous quaesitor might see what he wants to see)

A town like this will be rowdy, what happens if the magi gets drawn into a serious brawl?
Or even just mistakenly attacked as someones enemy?

If they´re known as magi, then they will be highly sought after, and just about any kind of character could come calling, openly, covertly or forcefully to get something.

What if the city is attacked by pirate chasers, or pirates from elsewhere? Will the magi defend the city or themselves?

The refrigeration is a great idea. Rather than present it raw to the characters, I'll turn it into a story: Trader comes looking at the warehouse, complaining of his goods spoiling, and the players can come up with the idea on their own. Perhaps a trader is looking to haul ice from a cave and hires the ship, and the players get the idea.

I like the idea of the thief attempting to rob the covenant too. That could be really goofy fun.

Thanks for the idea of reading up on Tortuga. I will.

Mark L, thanks for basic background info on city watches. Are they "paid" per se? or do they just receive room and board in return for keeping watch?

Some more background: The covenant has one ally: The harbormaster. He allows the characters ship to occasionally slip past without paying some of the levies on goods. It's going to be one of the first stories. The lone source of vis that the covenant has so far is a healing well (a font on the ancient roman walls). The harbormaster has been bringing his daughter there, who has epilepsy or somesuch. The head of the covenant is a healer. In exchange for curing the daughter, the harbormaster will start looking the other way.

If you have any further story ideas for the harbormaster, please send 'em my way.

Majorca particularly is quite large and has some quite high mountains, particularly at the north end. Something could come out of those mountains or there could be a lost Verditius site perhaps, causing mages from elsewhere visiting to seek it.

There may be Muslim mages in the area also, possibly rivals for Vis.

story hooks.. hmm

Magus renounced for endangering the order.. via being an active pirate and ransoming captives who have retained enough memory to cast suspicion upon the order (a magus thereof) being a party to the piracy plague of the area. suddenly the local sailors can attribute their failings against pirates on evil wizards.

Make it interesting though... have the magus focused on aquam and auram to reflect his/her proficiency at sea.. then place his/her lab and treasures at the bottom of the ocean accessible by specialized magicks.


Rumors abound of a terrible cyclops much like the one of the legendary Odyssey of Homer... such a creature, spawned of an ancient greek deity would be of huge interest to hermetics on many levels.


characters with Premonitions/visions begin having prophetic visions of a volcanic eruption devastating the island(s) .. what is the answer to surviving or escaping the catastrophe,
Is there profit to be made, vengence to be had, or is it simply time to get out while you can

Good thoughts, thank you!

I worked some on the background of the Pirate/Outlaw/Mage last night. An underwater "lair" is a good idea. Thanks for that.

I'm trying to decide how the story arc should work. He's operating on one of the smaller islands. I think the way I want to run it is that he detects the characters, starts spying on them, etc., then strives to make their venture a failure and drive them away. Eventually, his meddling will reveal some sort of supernatural source, and the characters go a-snooping to figure out what's going wrong. This leads to a final confrontation.

One thing I think might be really fun is if the Pirate/Mage actually visits the covenant on a "diplomatic" mission, as if he's on a mission from the Order. He befriends the players while spying on their covenant. Eventually he'll betray them in some way.

Mark L -- If memory serves, you used to run a saga set in Venice, no? Do you have any good research sources for how competing merchant families operate? Do they each divy up a city into their own quadrants? Do they compete with each other, or work in tandem, each operating different parts of the economy? Is there a rival relationship, or do they run their city-state as if it's us against the world (or both?)

I want to set up these puppet-master families in Palma (four of them, historically -- Arab muslim dynastic families), but I'm not sure how to actually run the politics. I'm not a naturally devious person, so this stuff doesn't come naturally....

Again, any thoughts are welcome!

Some more ideas:

  1. A child known the covenant has been doing small errands for one of the magi or perhaps the administrator. Lately, some of the things that he has delivered have arrived stained with an unusually persistant stain and metal objects show a little corrosion and the skin color on his hands has changed color. It is not all the time or on everyting. If investigated, it is found that some of the refuse dumped into the harbor where he and a couple other friends of his play leaves this mark. Is this a new Perdo source? Is the lad himself causing the issue? Is the refuse the result of some other corrupting process? What is the strength (and type) of aura near the docks?

  2. An old sailor is unusally accurate in predicting the weather and then he suddenly disappears after stating something to the effect of "That family's ships should not have been able to get through that kind of weather if they really sailed from _____ when they said they did."

  3. A very capable scrounge who finds stuff for the covenant (but is an independent operator) has started to occasionally find and offer vials of potions that have a very limited healing effects or unusualy pure liquids. How did HE get a hold of theriac? is there a new alchemist in town? How does he know that the magi would be interested? Why do the covenfolk who have had some of this seemed more biddable to requested tasks? Why has he refused to work for the covenant directly?

  4. People start reporting ghosts of old fisherman appearing in teh night time fog that rolls in. Has this alwways happened on a full moon? Has anyone disappeared on those nights? Are there any other connections? And why now?

Just a few thoughts...


A couple more.

  1. A person with a reputation for being just a bit crazy is overheard talking about "goblins". A few quick Intelligo spells later it is clear that no one but him/her can see these beings and magic will not reveal the goblins either. If the characters bother to get to know the person, they find out that he always seems to point out places with a high incidnece of accidents or vice. What is the crzy person seeing, really? Can this be turned to the covenant's advantage? Why is this person unusually healthy for their social standing?

  2. A musician comes to town playing a flute...

  3. The seagulls seem to be inordintately interested in the covenant warehouse and a local dockworker notices taht the birds hate to be around the two magi whenever they visit. He starts sharing his suspicions with all who will listen.

  4. The city wall near te covnenant always seems to require a lot of visits from masons and carpenters. More than any other. Are the repairs truly necessary? If so, what or who is causing the problem? If not, who is sending the spies?


Dunno if I ended up sendiong you the links you asked me about, but here they come. Sorry there are not more, but I have been on a working frenzy as of late. I think I already sent you the links about Barcelona, but I might be wrong.

The roman theater in Palma and other theaters around, and their influence in the city plan.

The (obvious) wiki entry on Palma that you have already checked for sure

Andrew Gronosky (spelling?) had a saga set in Venice where you can get inspiration. You can find it through Project:Redcap easily. For urban adventures it was good inspiration for us. As far as I know one of the players in my troupe ran a pair of adventures in Barcelona taking inspiration from there. :slight_smile:

I like verticius' suggestions there!!! THe crumbling wall might even develop into a faerie source of Perdo vis if people start thinking that there is something supernatural about that constant crumbling :slight_smile:


I can offer an idea that has worked well in my Saga.

In the town near my players' Covenant there is a group of young lads who are known as 'lantern boys'. Each is armed with a lantern on a stick with which, for a penny, they guide people around the town at night. This is a very useful service for visitors, for those who need assistance getting home after a beer or ten, and for those who wish to avoid puddles, dung and footpads.

Obviously the boys hear a lot of gossip (people tend towards the garrulous when they are 'in their cups', and groups will talk to each other while disregarding the small boy in front), and they have a lot of knowledge about who goes where at night. This provides a ready-made, unobtrusive, overlooked, mundane information network; which is available to anyone who sets themself up as the boys' boss. There is also the possibility that the lantern boys could be useful to assassins - after all, people can be lead down a dark alley just as easily as to the whorehouse.

There are several ways (I'm sure that you can think of more than me) that this could provide story hooks:

  • the boys have no leader at the moment - will the PCs recognise the potential?

  • a Grog or Companion is in charge of the boys, but has not told the Magi

  • there is a struggle for leadership within the ranks of the lantern boys

  • an enemy of the Covenant has taken control

  • two separate interests within the town are vying for influence over the boys

etc etc.

I work this by simply having a list of nicknames for the boys, and a brief description of something special they can do ('knife fighter, 'good at finding stuff'). I have found that, in my Saga, this provides some excellent Grog-level, low-fantasy stories. It also provides some moments of more light-hearted play (recently one of the boys was found to be placing piles of manure around the town, just to ensure that people will see the benefit of having someone walk in front of them with a lantern).

Having just read "Pillars of the Earth" I am suddenly interested in the politics of building. For example, if there is no quarry on the island, where do the covenant and major families get the stone to build with? Who controls the shipping to bring the stone to the island? If there are few masons in the area, there could be conflicts around who gets to hire them. Keeping talented builders in your employ gets expensive, and once they finish your building, they get hired by someone else. With the right enticement, they might even remember building that one room that did not have any apparent doors... And of course, no mason worth the title would build in structural flaws or a secret back entrance, even if offered grand payment by a rival, would he?

I read that this summer, and really enjoyed it (although it was a bit overlong...), and I too had a sudden interest in building, etc. I was dismayed that Ken Follett mentioned the people eating a "corn mash" at one point, (since this was a good 2-300 years before corn was introduced to Europe), which then threw a shadow of doubt onto the historical accuracy of the entire book.....

I hear you though. Good ideas, all.

By the way, I open up my querie to Mark Lawford (and others) again, above, regarding venetian merchant families. I'd love a place to start researching....

I haven't read the book, and I'm nothing at all of an historian, but could this possibly be a transatlantic thing? I don't know whether you are American, but perhaps you mean something else by 'corn'. In British English we use the term for our dominant cereal crop, which is wheat (or oats in Scotland). Perhaps that's what Follett meant.

I haven't read the book, and I'm nothing at all of an historian, but could this possibly be a transatlantic thing? I don't know whether you are American, but perhaps you mean something else by 'corn'. In British English we use the term for our dominant cereal crop, which is wheat (or oats in Scotland). Perhaps that's what Follett meant.
Really? You use "corn" for the dominant cereal crop, be it wheat or oats? Huh, curious.

Yes, I"m American (United Stationer, to be exact). I guess "maize" would be the traditional name for the vegetable. But it's generally referred to as "corn."

Questionable. If it happens twice they will be under suspicion, even if its just once someone leaves with one of them and is either found dead or disappears, even that might be enough to draw caution.

An excellent idea indeed. Even though i knew of the existance of these in history, i´d totally failed to pick up on the story potential... :blush:

Indeed. I will have a child guide in the next visit to Dublin :slight_smile: I have to think about some story for those lads....