Conversations With Chaab
by Delwyn Ilar (aka Greg Marks)
“Conversations With” is a regular column written by Delwyn Ilar of the Podal Prophet broadsheet, bringing you Out-Of-Character knowledge of important NPCs in the Moonsea region so that you might better portray them and their organizations in your games.
Finding my final interviewee in order to complete my series on the Faction representatives in the Moonsea region proved harder than I expected. Exhausting all my contacts and spreading some gold among the common rumormongers, I eventually learned that the Zhentarim representive wasn’t in Phlan anymore, but had relocated to Mulmaster. Convincing my editor of the importance of this interview, I booked passage across the Moonsea to the City of Danger.
Arriving in Mulmaster, a place that I have never been, I was struck by how large and how different it was from my native Phlan. Nestled in the northernmost edge of the Earthspur Mountains, Mulmaster is a cold, windswept city surrounded by grim walls that rise up before the fury of the Moonsea. Where Phlan is surrounded by farms and greenery, the Mulman walls away from the sea are penned in by mountains. Much is grey with the occasion red highlights and while some parts of the city are in good repair, such as those near the centers of power and wealth, others suffer from neglect. It was in these worst parts of Mulmaster where I found my quarry.
What the locals affectionately refer to as the Zhent Ghettos is a dangerous near-ruin on the southern end of the city populated by those residents of Zhentil Keep who fled here when Zhentil Keep was destroyed by Netheril so long ago. Having lived here for three generations, they are denied citizenship in both Mulmaster and the city of their ancestry. They are heavily taxed and persecuted by the city’s government and its populace and city services in this ward are few and far between. It is rather like the ruined neighborhoods on the edge of Phlan, but with more taxes and less hope of renewal. In this cesspit I found Chaab, standing up for an elderly man surrounded four young toughs. Chaab might not look like much, but there is a menace in his stare and carefully chosen words that left the toughs to tuck tail and run before he helped the old man to his feet and pressed a coin into his palm. Truly not at all what I expected for the representative of the feared Zhentarim.
Delwyn Ilar: Excuse me, are you Chaab, the representitive of the Zhentarim?
Chaab: Who wants to know?
DL: I’m Delwyn Ilar, of the Podal Prophet?
C: Never heard of you. What do you want? I don’t have a lot of time for chin-wagging. I’ve got lots to do before everyone gets here.
DL: Could I walk with you while you continue on to your next appointment and ask a few questions for my readers back in Phlan?
C: You can ask, don’t mean I’ll answer.
DL: Fair enough. Could you introduce yourself?
DL (raising a balled fist): Is this a trick? Cause I will throw you a beatin’ if you keep askin’ for it!
C (shaken): Uh, no… sir. I was just hoping you could tell my readers who you are.
C: You already know my name. You called me by it.
DL: I mean to say, could you tell my readers a little about yourself, your background, who you are and how you got here.
C: Why didn’t you just say that then? Wait, are you a Hawk? You don’t look like Watch; too bright for that. But those Hawks are always sticking their nose in and asking questions of honest business men such as myself.
DL: No sir, I’m a reporter. From Phlan. Definitely not a Hawk or member of the Watch.
C: Alright then, I suppose no harm then. Folks call me Chaab on account that’s my name. I was born in Zhentil Keep, or at least what has been rebuilt of it. Where I grew up there aren’t a lot of options for a boy. If your family is rich, you might learn a trade. My mom wasn’t rich and I never knew my dad. If you are religious or political, you might join the church of the Black Lord. I ain’t never been all that religious. You could become a merc. I thought about that, but I have trouble fighting for somebody else when I don’t care nothing ‘bout their cause. You could always just let others take what you got and not join anything, but I never been no sucker either. So that leaves me one choice. Find an in with the Zhentarim. I done that and turns out, I’m pretty good at it.
DL: Can you tell my readers a bit more about what the Zhentarim believes and how they work?
C: You keep saying I should talk to your readers. There someone here besides you?
DL: Er… not really no, but I mean tell them in spirit. I am transcribing your words and will be using them for my story in the Prophet.
C: You sure talk funny. You bes’ be careful or folks will think you’re an easy mark and that’s trouble you don’t need. Course if you were part of the family you wouldn’t have to worry.
DL: How so?
C: See lots of folks think of the Zhentarim as the secret agents of Zhentil Keep or the Church of Bane. While we have some connections, that really hasn’t been true for over a century. Other folks think we market the best mercenaries that money can buy. That is true. We are the best, cheapest, fastest, and most secure source of sword arms you gonna find. But that’s not all there is to us. See if you are one of us, you are part of a family and family helps each other. With us you get resources, you get protection, and you get the chance to advance yourself. You can pursue your own interests as long as they don’t come before the Network. If you find a good or service that needs providing, we are happy to help you see that it gets to the buyer as long as you remember to send a taste back to the bosses that help you get it there. See members of the Zhentarim believe that people should have whatever they want, and we don’t believe others: governments, city watch, temples and the like, should be able to tell a man what he can and can’t have. So says a crumb wants a particular herbal remedy for his sick grandmother that some despot says his people can’t have. You wouldn’t deny a sick old lady, would ya? I didn’t think so, so being a stand-up guy, we Zhentarim would help the guy get what he needs. But those kind of favors could cost us a lot in effort and manpower, so it’s only right that we be should get the proper gratitude. And if you were shown that gratitude by the guy wit the sick grandmother, it would only be right that you remember to pass a small gratuity along to your bosses.
DL: Is that what you were doing with the old man when I walked up? Was he one of your bosses?
C: Him? No way. But like I said, we’re a family. We don’t prey on our own. That’s something a lot of these Mulman kids around here have forgotten being as they haven’t had the right kinds of influence. The Zhentarim looks after their own. We protect our family and our family’s families. You respect those that deserve it and you earn coin off those that don’t. That fella has been helpful to me in the past, so he is one of mine. I help him out. I protect his streets. I feed his family when they can’t find enough to eat. Those kids didn’t know that. Now they do. If they make that mistake again it will not go well for them.
DL: They were kids though, shouldn’t you let them off easy if they make a mistake.
C: Theys old enough push a geezer to the ground, theys old enough to take a cobblestone to the head if they don’t listen when theys told. See, that’s another thing you need to know about the Zhentarim. We don’t needs to fight you if you pay attention to our reputation, but if you question our reputation and we don’t respond, well that’s the end of that hard earned reputation and that means a whole lot more fight and blood. Trust me, if you cross us, we will come for you and our response will not be like anything you could imagine. It will be swift, it will be bloody, and it will end any question as to which one of us shoulda listened to the other. You get a reputation by defending your reputation.
DL: Alright, I think I understand the Zhentarim now. Since you are the representative of your faction in Phlan, can you tell my readers, er tell me, what you hope to do in the region? What are your goals?
C: Well see, it’s not too good an idea to just go blabbing all over about you plan to do, but lets say that Phlan is pretty hot right now and I don’t think much of anyone is gonna wanna stay there much longer. I think most folks is moving to Mulmaster for the time being and so I am here making ready. See those from Phlan that don’t got lots of coin, they ain’t gonna be welcome here and they ain’t gonna have no place to stay when they get here. That’s okay see, cause the Zhentarim knew to expect that and we look out for folks. I’m here now getting the place ready: finding beds, arranging food, making it safe so that others know the people coming from Phlan are with me. And if those refugees wanna show the Zhentarim some gratitude? Who am I to refuse? And if they don’t have any coin, well, they can always sign up and become one of us. We always need more folks. We like a big family; real big.
DL: Speaking of a big family, the Zhentarim has agreed to work with the other factions, many of whom have been your enemies in the past. Why?
C: Well, that’s simple. They owe us now, and that makes things profitable. You advance yourself by being an earner. If you earn for the Zhentarim, the Zhentarim looks out for you. So if I got to help some dirty Harper find out some secret about the Cult of the Dragon, now he owes me a favor. He’s gotta help me when I need it. Not only that, but I bet he’s not the only one that wants to know that secret. I bet somebody else is gonna pay for that. Then you got those Order of the Gauntlet guys. Bunch o’stiffs, but they like protecting people. You wanna protect someone. I know a guy who needs some help. Apparently someone’s threatening to burn down his business. You go keep that from happening and he’ll be real grateful to me; one way or the other. The Emerald Enclave, well we don’t cross paths much. But those guys can get a lot of green food. You ever been to the Moonsea? It’s mostly cold, wet rocks. We could sure use that food. Then there’s the Lords Alliance. These guys I can understand. They want the best and they will pay for it, especially if they don’t have to dirty their hands. They don’t care how it gets done as long as it’s done right and nobody splashes any blood on their nice robes. They pay extra if you are fast and quiet. I like extra and I know when to keep my mouth shut. Now a lot of my brothers will complain about working with these factions, but it don’t matter, the Pereghost, that’s our boss, he says we do. So you do. Or you don’t work with anybody no more.
DL: I see.
C: No you don’t, but you will.
DL: Well, thank you anyway. I think my readers are really going to enjoy your explanations once I get back to Phlan.
C: Hey, you need a ride back across the Moonsea? I know a guy who knows a guy. His ship is leaving the docks tonight after dark. See he’s got some paperwork issues so he’s gotta go tonight. If you need a spot, I can get you one. Cheap, if you got coins right now.
DL: I think I should be okay.
C: Suit yourself.