So, I know from reading the wikis that the Consortium is a sort of evil mirror to the Pathfinder Society. My question is, how reliable are they to do what they're paid to do.
Quick summary (or as quick as I can make it):
I used the version of the Foxglove letter in the Community Created Stuff thread as a handout and the players started obsessing over all the random stuff in it "Why would a ghoul need a diving helmet? Is there something in the water under the manor? Why did he pay all this money to something called the Aspis Consortium?" and start making plans on going to Absalom to find out what Iesha was doing there. After repeatedly telling them the current date and giving them a link to the Golarion calendar, I finally tell them "All this stuff happened before the campaign started. Also, Absalom is thousands of miles away. You'd have to pay someone to teleport you there if you wanted to get there in a reasonable amount of time." to try to get them back on track.
After this, they realize the money to drop at the Saw Mill was likely for nefarious purposes, rather than actual trip, but forget about the fact that according to the ledger, the last drop happened months previously and calculate that according to the previous schedule, the next drop should happen in five days, making plans to stake out the sawmill that night. I just roll with it at that point, because at least they're moving in the right direction.
The next day the party decides to do some investigation. The party, through some knowledge checks, knows The Brotherhood of the Seven to be a somewhat prestigious secret society of nobles within Magnimar, but no one knows who their members are, being secret. They also know the Aspis Consortium is a trade organization that also does some mercenary contracting and funds "treasure-hunting" expeditions to various locales. I likened them to the for-profit rival archaeologists Indiana Jones runs into.
Aleksandr, the human fighter is the disowned son of a Magnimar noble house and has a maxed out Linguistics skill. He decides to forge a letter from Aldern Foxglove stating that the fighter has been placed in charge of Aldern's business ventures while Aldern is away. I roll for him secretly and get a 28. He then takes the wizard and the cleric with him down to the Bronze House to see if they can find out what Aldern was up to.
After a brief moment where the clerk at the Bronze House mistakes the wizard for a nobleman out with his two bodyguards (I've been playing up the paranoia in the city created by the "Star Murders" and that all nobles refuse to go out in public without multiple heavily-armed bodyguards), the fighter introduces himself, explains the other two are in his employ and they're here at the request of his friend Aldern Foxglove and presents his forged letter to the clerk. The clerk examines it, pulls out a pair of obviously well-made/possibly magical spectacles to examine it again (providing a nice moment of tension) before nodding and informing them to wait while he retrieves the necessary documents.
A few minutes later, the clerk returns and addresses all three of them by name and informs them that "Director Sloan" (I can't find a title for the guy anywhere and I couldn't pass up a high-level operative in a shady organization being called Director Sloan) would like to speak to them in his office. Here's what I had happen next:
The clerk leads you down a hall into a lavish office with a large window framing a stunning view of the Irespan stretching out into the bay. Sitting behind the desk is a gaunt man of Taldan descent, his brown hair and neatly-trimmed beard lightly flecked with silver. The spectacles, or ones very much like them, that the clerk was wearing before are perched on his nose and he holds Aleksandr's note in his hand, a slight smile on his face. In the back corner looms a rather large Shoanti man, appearing to look at nothing, yet you get the impression he's very much aware of you as you enter the room. "Gentlemen, please have a seat," he gestures to three comfortable chairs arranged in front of his desk. "My name is Maiveer Sloan, I am the Director of the Bronze House and senior associate of the Consortium here in Magnimar."
Once you all are seated (assuming you do so), the clerk bows to Sloan and closes the door behind him. "I have to say, I wasn't expecting to find the Heroes of Sandpoint on my doorstep, particularly not with a forged note from a dead man," he smiles broadly. "This note is excellent work, by the way. I have a fairly good eye for these things, and I doubt I could have sussed it out unaided." He taps the spectacles. "Peabody is beside himself about it. He was certain you had passed him a legitimate paper, and he's not often wrong. Of course, as far as he knows, Aldern Foxglove still lives, so he had little reason to doubt its contents."
"I have brought you here, rather than summoning the city watch for trying to defraud my organization, to offer you a deal. I know things you undoubtedly wish to know, or else you wouldn't have come here under false pretenses. And you, my friends, know things I wish to know. So I am proposing a simple trade of information, question for question. However, there are some ground rules:"
"One, I am bound by confidentiality agreements with my clients. I am well within my rights to refuse to answer a question under those grounds. However, I will allow you to ask an additional question, should that circumstance arise. However, if that answer is also confidential, you will be forced to forfeit your question. Otherwise we could be here all day."
"Two, each party will be allowed to ask a minimum of five questions. After five questions have been asked, either party may choose to end the exchange."
"Three, I will allow you to refuse to answer one of my questions. However, once that choice is made, it cannot be unmade. For example, if you choose not to answer my second question, you cannot later choose to answer it in favor of refusing my fourth question."
"Four, if I believe you are lying to me at any time, this agreement is over and I will summon the Watch to arrest you. I would warn you that I'm just as good at spotting spoken lies as I am written ones."
"Those are the rules. If you do not agree to those rules, then this conversation is over and I will instead summon the Watch. Do we have an agreement?"
The party went back and forth with him, gathering some information on Magnimar, the Star Murders and Xanesha's public face, as well as what Aldern paid them for (I told them he funded a treasure-hunting expedition in the Mwangi Expanse. The sort of high-risk, high-reward ventures that someone on the cusp of losing their fortune might engage in) while Sloan got information by the two Thassilonian ruins they had encountered, some information on the Runewell (but the party used their one refusal to not tell him how to activate it) as well as how he knew Aldern was dead (he received a message from Sandpoint). Sloan also offered them a job should they find the hero thing wasn't lucrative enough.
I tried to play him up as personable, but shady, and very much with his hands in many pies, but I'm not sure I played the shadiness up enough.
The party is now about to venture into The Shadow Clock. They had left Ironbriar and the cultists' bodies in the Sawmill after looting them and then holed up to decipher Ironbriar's journal (which took them 3 days. I rolled really well for them.) They have since heard that a Justice Dormus is investigating Ironbriar's murder, having found no evidence of the Skinsaw Cult or their activities on the scene, but instead all the mill workers dead along with Ironbriar, who had a seven-pointed star carved in his chest. (Xanesha and her stalkers were busy hiding evidence and I figured them making Ironbriar look like another murder victim after the fact would be a nice twist.) The City Watchmen who worked closely with Ironbriar are also eager to bring his killers to "justice". They also know the Council of Ushers is debating whether to use city funds to resurrect Ironbriar, as he was a respected servant of the city and they believe he died in the line of duty.
With one corrupt Justice already exposed, the party doesn't know whether they can trust Dormus or any of the others, so they don't want to just come clean with him and present their evidence. But they also don't want Ironbriar to be resurrected.
So they came up with a plan that's rather convoluted:
1) They will send their translated copy of Ironbriar's journal to Lord Justice Argentine with a letter explaining themselves, and that they have proof to back up their claims.
2) They are then going to stash Ironbriar's original journal and the cipher key they created in Aldern's secret stash in the 3rd floor fireplace. (They moved into the Foxglove Townhouse after they killed the stalkers, using a forged letter from Aldern giving them possession of the house.)
3) They are going to pay the Aspis Consortium to store the lion key until they or their authorized representatives come to reclaim it.
4) They are going to send a letter to Aleksandr's (the disowned noble fighter) one brother who still likes him, telling him that should anything happen to Aleksandr (they're convinced they're going to find a marilith in the Shadow Clock and likely be killed) he should go to the Aspis Consortium for the key, and then to Aldern's townhouse to open the stash and deliver everything within to Lord Justice Argentine.
So, my question relates to action number 3. How likely is Sloan to screw them over?
My gut is he'll stick to what his organization was hired to do, as direct betrayal is bad for business. And from his perspective, all he's receiving is a key with a lion's head on it. It's obviously important, since the party is paying for its safe-keeping, but they're not telling him what it's for or what it's protecting. I would imagine he would at least snoop around into what the key belongs to. And if he somehow catches a hint at something as important as the personal records of a corrupt Justice and leader of a murder cult, I imagine he'd be very anxious to get a hold of it.
I'd say he'd not betray them at this juncture. All he's been given is a key. He doesn't know where it goes. And he's in a position to keep the trust of the Heroes of Sandpoint and possibly gain in whatever future discoveries they make. So why bother snooping at this time?
Well, I imagine he'd try to find out more about it. Doubt he'd learn much, since there's nothing to tie it specifically to Foxglove or his townhouse. But I agree he has no real motive to betray the party over it at this juncture.
That being said, as I consider it more, I could easily see him putting a lot of effort into figuring it out once he learns the heroes are dead. No reason to stay in their good graces.
If he did get a hold of it in a world with dead Heroes of Sandpoint where Ironbriar was resurrected by the city, he could do accomplish quite a bit having that kind of blackmail material on a Justice/Brother of Seven.
I'm pretty sure he'd use divinations to find out where the lock is, but as others have said, there's no good reason for him to betray the party. If, however, a TPX occurs, then the group has managed to set up a contingency for replacement PCs to pick up where the original groupleft off.
Yeah, I shouldn't have been worried about a TPK. The party shredded Xanesha, even with my throwing the old TPK-machine version at them because there's 6 of them and we've been using hero points.
Of course, they also thought they were going to have to face off against a maralith based on the rumors of "a giant snake" and "a demon" living in the tower, so the alchemist burned all his daily slots on buffs, and then they buffed themselves to the gills before climbing the final stair to the roof. (Xanesha was also buffing herself during this time, and they did waste a bit of energy trying to kill the illusionary succubus she created once they stormed the roof, but short of her almost killing the rogue with her first attack coming out of invisibility, no one was really in danger the rest of the fight. The action economy was too far in the party's favor.) She did manage to flee, though. (It's tough to bring down something that's able to fly and turn invisible.)
We closed the session with their victory, as we were already 1.5 hours past our normal end time.
So next session they get to deal with the fallout of their actions and present their evidence to Lord Justice Argentine that they're killing of Ironbriar was fully justified and the Council really shouldn't have him resurrected.
I'm currently toying with the idea of Xanesha stealing Ironbriar's body and getting him raised herself for when she confronts the party again later. (Erylium is also still on the loose, as she escaped them both under Sandpoint and again at Nualia's side in Thistletop. The three of them together might make for an interesting fight in a level or two.)
The funny thing is the player of Aleksandr (the fighter) and the cleric are bored with their characters and want to switch up with the new chapter and are thinking about saying their characters decide to take Sloan up on his job offer.