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 gnomes
arm long. Importing all these raw materials is a lot of trouble, and
it puts money in other peoples hands.
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 days 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,
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 consortiums 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 elses prank, everyone acts normal, as if nothing has been
happening. The strangeness could also be a spirit or creature in the
Samarach jungle that doesnt like the logging camp. If this is
the case, why havent the occurrences been more destructive? Why
have no demands been made? Its 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.