If you discovered bureaucrats used the suffering their paperwork generates to fuel evil magical powers, would you be surprised? 🤔
Let me know in the comments below! 😀 As always, keep scrolling for the one-shot adventure written for this Pirate’s Coral Encrusted Ship Graveyard free TTRPG battlemap! ⬇
The Dark Arts of Bureaucracy
There is a missing person’s poster in a city, and if you contact its owner you’ll meet a woman looking for her missing husband. She works in a community garden for one of the churches, and is about 19 years old and pregnant with her first child. Once you introduce yourself, she’ll take you aside and explain that her husband took a sailing trip to a distant town on behalf of the church, but hasn’t returned.
She explains that they both work for the church, helping wherever they can, and one of their missionaries fell sick so her husband offered to journey to the coastal town instead, to bring the people there medicine. She’s very worried something’s gone terribly wrong, though, and to emphasize her point she’ll pull out a leather necklace from under her simple blouse. At the end of it is a small, yellow gem which is glowing faintly.
The woman tells you that when her and her husband were married, a cleric they didn’t know from other lands attended and gifted two of the necklaces to them afterwards. It lets them know if the other is in danger, and to her horror that is the reason why the gem is glowing now.
She needs you to find her husband. She has had visions in her dreams, visions the necklace is giving her, that her husband is somewhere in the ocean, in a cavern filled with the wrecks of sunken sailing ships. She can draw the place in her mind’s eye on a map, if you need it.
If you agree to the job, she’ll pay you half in advance, promising the other half when you return. It’s a small sum from the church who raised the money to help her and her husband. She doesn’t want their child to grow up without a father, the woman will demurely explain. She’ll also give you a description of her husband; a man in his late 20s, hair already beginning to dapple with grey strands.
Should you go to the place in the woman’s visions, you’ll find an overgrown reef that extends above the water. In it you can see abandoned, damaged ships which have been encapsulated by the coral growth. However, a small “bay” has been hollowed out of the razor-sharp reef, almost perfectly, and a pier waits at the end.
There is a short, balding man with spectacles standing at the end of the pier. He is wearing grey robes. Once you dock your vessel, he will greet you flatly, asking you if you have your papers. He’ll explain that if you don’t have your papers, unfortunately he can’t let you in until you fill them out. He’ll then pull out a thick wad of forms from inside a sleeve, and hand them over to you.
If you try to fill out the forms and come back, he’ll tsk tsk that you’ve made a couple of errors “here, and here” (showing you the spots) before telling you to go back and fill them out again. Should you try to get admittance anyway, he’ll shake his head and apologize, saying that everyone needs to fill out the forms correctly and without them he cannot grant you entry.
If you try to get past, he’ll roll up his sleeves and attack. He’ll magically cause a whole flurry of papers to attack you, leaving paper cuts all over, or floating fountain pens will leave stab wounds. Quills might materialize and slice like razors, or he might slow you by causing a sense of hopelessness to fall over you. He could also give you Final Notice, which does something really bad (but no-one knows what as those who receive Final Notice never speak to tell the tale), or magically wrap you up in a spool of red tape; immobilizing you completely.
Should you manage to defeat the gatekeeper, and make your way deeper into the pirate’s den, you’ll be attacked by more bureaucratic scallywags with similar abilities. They’re mostly middle aged, with greying or balding hair. Some are portlier than others, while most of them insist on wearing the grey robes of their order–or in leu of them, other drab, grey clothes.
Once you make it to the first set of cells, you’ll come across a table where some more of the bureaucrats are sitting. They are all going over many sheets of contracts, often tsking or telling the prisoners where they’ve made a mistake and it needs to be filled out again.
Should you kill the bureaucrats and free the prisoners–who have all grown their hair and beards long and unkempt, their cells filled with paper and worn-down stubs of pencils–they will thank you emphatically, saying it’s been hell. If you ask them what happened, they’ll explain that they booked passage with a sailing company, and had to sign a huge pile of paperwork beforehand.
The ship they sailed on then took them and the other passengers here, instead of to their destination, where the bureaucrats said they had to fill out more paperwork before they could go back on their way–but they could never get it right! It was impossible!
However, the woman’s husband is not amongst this group. If you continue deeper into the bureaucrat-pirate lair, you’ll find the oldest and most haggard of the bureaucrats sitting on a throne of skulls, surrounded by several hundreds of pages of forms piled high around him. He is slouching in his chair, wearing a worn grey robe, and is completely bald beneath his hood. Some of his teeth have fallen out, and his hands stick out like claws from beneath his sleeves.
The man is talking to someone in a cell as you enter, saying in a cracking voice that they should embrace the dark arts of bureaucracy–they’ve already dabbled in it, they must simply give in and realize the power that suffering can bring!
A young man’s voice from the cell will stutter back that he only facilitates paperwork occasionally, and when he does it’s only to help the church! The King bureaucrat will chuckle throatily at this, before noticing you.
If you confront the Bureaucratic King about taking prisoners, he’ll say “What?! No, I’m not preventing anyone from leaving. But before they go they need to fill out these forms—in triplicate of course—and then these forms over here,” While he speaks, the King gestures to the different stacks of forms behind him.
Should you say the prisoners thought they were being taken to their destinations, he’ll cackle and say they were being taken to their destinations, but they didn’t read the fine print on the contract they signed first. This is a stop along the way to their destination, where they need to fill out some… additional paperwork. Everything here, the man insists, crossing his arms, is perfectly legal.
However, if you try to free the woman’s husband from his cell, the King will command you to stop–saying that this man is a special case, one he deems worthy to enfold into his esteemed order. This man, the King continues, gesturing to him, is already a bureaucrat–he’s already got the beginnings of his grey hairs, and dead, lifeless eyes!
The man’s face will pale at this, stuttering that he’s only dealt with paperwork sporadically for the church, and that now he knows the dark arts behind it he vows to never dabble in it again! Then he’ll turn to you, begging you to free him.
Should you go to free him without filling out the (impossible) paperwork, the King will stand up on his knobby knees and magically form the large stacks around him into a giant, paper serpent that will attack with an acidic spray of ink. While the paper-serpent fights you, the King will also summon the lesser bureaucratic attacks that the others of his order used, but with greater strength.
If you manage to defeat him and free the woman’s husband, he will weep in relief, saying that he prays he never has to touch another sheaf of paperwork again in his life!
The Dark Arts of Bureaucracy gain their powers from the suffering of those forced to engage in extensive, never-ending, all-eternal paperwork. This powers their sorcery, and is the reason the sailing company made sure to get the travelers locked up here as an extra source of power before continuing (if ever) on their way.
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