IFAQ: Who Trusts The Trust?

My Patreon supporters are currently voting on the subject of the next long article, but when time permits I like to address shorter, infrequently asked questions. Today’s question comes from Neut:

It is my understanding that the Zil Gnomes are very willing to use assassination as a valid tool for progression (be it professional, or just enforcing secrets being kept). How does this not conflict with the Code of Galifar, which as far as I have understood, still exists within the recognized Thronehold Nations?

There’s vital misunderstanding here. Assassination is NOT a valid tool for progression in Zilargo. Murder, theft, and all other major crimes recognized under the Code of Galifar are crimes in Zilargo. What defines Zilargo isn’t the laws themselves; it’s how they are enforced. This is clearly called out on page 131 of Rising From The Last War:

Zil gnomes live their lives within a web of intrigues. The Trust condones their actions, as long as they break no laws and don’t threaten the state or the status quo. A gnome charlatan can connive to steal a jewel mine from another gnome—as long as the charlatan accomplishes the deed through cunning, negotiation, or deception rather than violence or outright theft, and as long as the mine stays in Zil hands.

So Zil culture encourages intrigue, but only when it DOESN’T involve breaking the law. So… why might someone have this mistaken impression of Zil society as a place where assassination and poisoning are commonplace? It’s not because of what the law allows; it’s about how the laws are enforced. It’s about The Trust. This is an organization of spies and assassins who act to maintain order in Zilargo. Rising suggests that as much of a third of the population of Zilargo serve the Trust in some way, primarily as informants. By combining this massive network with excellent divination techniques, the Trust knows everything that happens in Zilargo—or at least, that’s what they want to think. There is no due process in Zilargo. If you even PLAN to break the law, the Trust can pass sentence and take action. Now: assassination isn’t the automatic punishment for all crimes; that would be ridiculously extreme. The first step is just a warning, a ghost sound whisper of “I wouldn’t do that.” They might just impose a fine, or exile you. The main point is that the gnomes don’t like confrontation and they don’t believe in imprisonment. If they feel that you can’t safely be a part fo society and exile isn’t a logical answer, they will remove you from society permanently, and do so in a quiet way with minimal impact on everyone else.

So: Zil gnomes do NOT see assassination as a valid tool for progression. On the whole, the Zil are MORE law-abiding than the people of the Five Nations. The Zil take pride in the fact that you can walk through the alleys of Trolanport at night without carrying a weapon—because they know the Trust is watching them, and that it will both protect them from any malefactors and kill them if they step out of line. They will push up to the edge of the law with their intrigues, but they won’t cross it.

Just to set the tone of the Trust, consider this quote from the Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 406:

Two years after Zilargo was founded, a pamphlet was distributed across the nation announcing the existence of the Trust and the role it would play in days to come. This tract lauded the shared virtues of the Zil: love of family, ingenuity, curiosity, and the ability to overcome adversity through wit and wisdom. The pamphlet acknowledged that friendly competition between neighbors is the whetstone that keeps wits sharp. Competition would be accepted—crime would not. The precise definition of crime is quite vague, and it ends  “To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours.”

The essential point is this. To most of us, Zilargo sounds like a terrifying nightmare. It’s an absolute surveillance state where at least one in three people is an informer, and where secret police are authorized to preemptively assassinate you when you haven’t even committed a crime yet. You don’t get to see your accuser or offer a defense, and the only force policing the Trust is the Trust itself. But it’s not terrifying to the Zil, because they actually trust the Trust. They truly believe that it only uses its unchecked power for the good of Zilargo, and so far—as hard as this is for most outsiders to conceive of—that seems to be the case. The Zil are willing to sacrifice their privacy and some measure of their freedom for absolute security, and they are proud of the fact that their homeland has the lowest crime rate in Khorvaire—even if that’s because you can potentially be killed for even planning a crime.

So to the original question, this is acceptable under the Code of Galifar because the Code establishes what is considered a crime; but individual nations can decide how to enforce the laws and how they punish crimes. Both Zilargo and Karrnath impose harsh systems of justice on top of the foundation of the Code. Murder is a crime: but in these nations, the forces of the law have a license to kill.

How do the Zil view how OTHER nations establish their laws and punishments? How do they treat people who are not Zil and do not understand the Trust?

The Zil think that other nations are dangerous cesspools of crime and violence, though they understand that the rest of the world just doesn’t get their trust of the Trust. So the Zil think their way of life is superior, which is why they support it so strongly. With that in mind, the job of the Trust is to protect the people of Zilargo, not to coddle outsiders. If you pose a threat you will be dealt with. However, assassination isn’t the first choice. Remember that whole thing about a third of the nation working for the Trust? The first step is to DISSUADE you. Warn you that you’re being watched. Remind you that people don’t do things that way in Zilargo. Potentially, drug you and toss you on the first boat to Sharn, warning you never to return. The important point here is that it shouldn’t be impossible for adventurers to adventure in Zilargo—but they need to understand that they can’t just resort to brute force or do things the same way they would in Sharn; they need to play the game. If I’m running a Zil story, I will make sure the PCs have a local guide who will call out the risks and offer alternatives. “You do that and you’re all going to get killed. But if you want to get that same result, you could do it THIS way.”

How would the Trust handle high-level (15+) PCs coming to Zilargo? What preparations would they make to handle potential violations of laws and norms by people who will be hard to intimidate or control?

The first and simplest step is to send a very clear warning. “We’re pleased your business brings you to Zilargo. We are aware of your destructive activities in [[INSERT PLACE NAME]], and for your benefit and ours we want to inform you that we will not tolerate any violation of our laws. We will not risk our citizens in any kind of open conflict. If we are forced to take action against you it will be decisive and final; we are also prepared to take retaliatory action against [[NPC YOU CARE ABOUT]]. There will be no further warning. Do not put us to the test.”

Now, there’s two critical questions here. The first is COULD the Trust defeat high level player characters, and the answer to that is YES. The second is more important, and it’s does anyone want that to happen? And the answer to that is NO. The Trust will know everything there is to know about the PCs. Their secrets. Their weaknesses. The magic items they rely on and the spells they like to use. The Zil aren’t warriors; they are experts in illusion and divination, and fighting them will be like being the chump in a heist movie. They’ll steal your magic items and replace them with mundane duplicates. They can poison every drink you take, with a poison tailored to kick in… NOW. Heck, this room we’re standing in? It’s designed to drop into a sphere of annihilation, because we are NOT taking chances. But that’s back to the second question. They COULD do this, but none of us wants that. They don’t want to burn that awesome sphere of annihilation trap, and no player wants their character to be destroyed with no save. So set aside the idea of whether they can beat the PCs and instead say “How can they get the PCs out of Zilargo as quickly and safely as possible.” Which means that instead of FIGHTING the PCs, the most likely answer is that the Trust will HELP them to get what they want — either obviously or secretly. They’ll surround the PCs with undercover agents, who will make sure that the PCs get the information they need as quickly as possible. Heck, if the PCs are looking for an object, it could just turn up on their bed with a note saying “You can go now.” Again, the Trust doesn’t LIKE assassinating people; it’s just always looking for the most efficient way to protect the people of Zilargo.

What about the practice of slavery in Darguun? That’s a clear violation of the Code of Galifar.

This is certainly true. The Code strictly outlaws slavery, but there are Marguul and Ghaal’dar clans who practice it. The main issue is that Lhesh Haruuc wants to put an end to it, but currently lacks the support among the Ghaal’dar warlords to do so. So the question is what happens next. Everyone is still recovering from the war and foreign leaders understand Haruuc is in a difficult position; as long as he’s seen to be working toward it, I think most leaders will be satisfied. The most likely scenario is that if he fails to make significant progress in a few years, at least some nations will impose economic and diplomatic sanctions—putting pressure on Haruuc to take more decisive action.

To the upshot of that is: Thronehold nations are supposed to adhere to and uphold the Code of Galifar. They can go further if they choose, and both Karrnath and Zilargo do. However, it’s not yet clear what will happen if a nation fails to uphold the Code, because the Treaty has only been in force for two years and no one has yet called out a major violation and demanded an international response; the system has yet to be put to the test. But Darguun is currently failing to enforce the Code and it that’s not resolved soon, it could become an issue. This also applies to Valenar’s acts of aggression. These do violate the terms of the Treaty, but so far they haven’t been significant enough to push someone to take action.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going!

25 thoughts on “IFAQ: Who Trusts The Trust?

  1. Could you frame the gnome psychology as an extension of their fey connections? You don’t get to “cheat’ the story – that’s breaking the rules, which is very bad.

    • There’s two aspects here. The first is that the degree to which the Zil have fey origins is in question. The 5E gnome isn’t considered to be a fey creature and doesn’t has the Fey Origin trait. I’ve suggested the presence of gnomes in Pylas pyrial, but largely as immigrants——gnomes going TO Thelanis, not that they came FROM Thelanis.

      BUT…

      Even without embracing the full fey origin, it’s quite reasonable to say that Zilargo has an unusually significant number of Thelanian manifest zones and that the Zil have always had fey INFLUENCE. I agree that it IS a logical way to explain how dramatically different their psychology is in comparison to humans, and that the Trust itself FEELS like a fairy tale—the watchers who know everything, who stop crime, and yet who somehow don’t just collapse into political infighting or become a general force of oppression. So certainly, the idea that Zil psychology and culture reflects a Thelanian influence and the STORY of Zilargo makes a lot of sense.

    • Aside from Thelanis, there’s also Daanvi as a potential influence to consider. Perhaps those pamphlets were printed on paper made from the wood of a species of tree that grows in a particular zone manifest to Daanvi, which makes any lawful proposition written on it subtly more persuasive… nothing that would make a massive difference on the individual level, but is definitely helpful in aggregate.

  2. It’s said that Riedran ambassadors established embassies in the Five Nations during the Last War, and that Riedran communities exist in the larger cities. Would this have included Zilargo, one of the main port regions for Breland besides Sharn? If so, how do the two sides see each other, the Zil and Riedrans, as they both have a strong trust in their social structures and leaders? Would the lack of ambition or industry among common Riedran immigrants be odd to the scheming witty Zil? If embassies exist within Zilargo are the Trust capable of enough infiltration to reliably watch these newcomers? Or are the confined to Breland proper instead and away from the Trust?

  3. How would the Trust handle high-level (15+) PCs comming to Zilargo? What preparations would they make to handle potential violations of laws and norms by people who will be hard to intimidate or control?

    • Within Zilargo the Trust has a MASSIVE network of agents and informants and the full resources of the nation. They are above the law. They have been called out as one of the most effective intelligence agencies operating in Khorvaire, possessing excellent skill and logistical support; one of the deadliest characters in Sharn: City of Towers is the Trust assassin on assignment there. But just because the Trust HAS a deadly assassin in Sharn doesn’t mean they want to use her. They are solely interested in gathering intelligence and protecting the people of Zilargo. Performing assassinations on foreign soil can create diplomatic incidents and draw unwanted attention to their capabilities. COULD they launch covert operations across Khorvaire? Absolutely, and they are brutallly efficient. But they are far less likely to actually cause trouble in Breland than, say, the Royal Eyes because they ARE a neutral nation.

      So, their SIGHT is excellent. They are definitely on par with House Phiarlan and the King’s Citadel. But they focus on gathering information, rarely on actually taking any aggressive action.

  4. Hey Mr Baker. Could you elaborate on this:

    “You do that and you’re all going to get killed. But if you want to get that same result, you could do it THIS way.”

    Like, let’s say retrieving an item or having to put someone down ? Or perhaps how would a zil attempt to steal from the party or even attack them if they aren’t under orders that is.. what’s the intrigue you mentioned to keep the zil within the law of the trust?

    Just curious if you have ti eme, I’m running a wetworks/Shadowrun inspired game in Eberron cuz it fits perfectly, and would love to use the Trust on both sides for them.

    • Hey Mr Baker. Could you elaborate on this: “You do that and you’re all going to get killed. But if you want to get that same result, you could do it THIS way.”

      “Charge into the temple through the front door and it’s going to be a fight. But I know a guy who can get you priests robes, and get you in through the back door. If you’re careful, no one will know you don’t belong.”

      Essentially, they will offer suggestions that discourage violence and instead focus on stealth, deception, bribery, and similar non-violent options.

  5. The Zil approach is intriguing. The Trust has access to powerful divination magics, and I presume they use them to preemptively stop crime. What is their attitude to magics that block divination? Do they consider them evidence of unlawful intent? Or merely good business practice that might require stepping up the use of informants and other mundane means of observing the divination blockers? Another question: Does the Trust employ students of the Draconic Prophecy as apart of its intelligence gathering? Or is the Prophecy regarded as too ambiguous to be a reliable source of information? And a thrid and final (for now) question: In many sources, elemental binding is described as a Zil specialty. Does the Trust regard these secrets as a matter of national security?

    • 1. No, I don’t think spells that block divination are unlawful; in a society that vies intrigue as a sport there’s a lot of reasons for people to want to protect themselves from scrying and the like. But it would certainly attract ATTENTION and call for further investigation through other means (which the Trust has plenty of).

      2. No, I don’t think the Trust monitors the Prophecy. What we’ve said is that this is the purview of beings that are tremendously long-lived, and that have great magical power and immense resources: the Undying Court, the Lords of Dust, the Chamber. I don’t think that the Trust is going to devote the amount of time and resources it would take to try and enter this game, given that it is so mysterious. What’s been said is that HOUSE SIVIS is interested in the Prophecy – but what’s also implied is that they HAVEN’T been able to master it. So they may learn a few specific pieces now and then, but they can’t use it as a perfect roadmap for shaping the future.

      3. ABSOLUTELY. The Trust views the Zil monopoly on elemental binding as a crucial national resource. This is discussed here. http://keith-baker.com/bonus-dragonmark-zilargo-vs-house-cannith/

  6. When you mention that the Trust are experts of Divination, what kind of mechanical effect are you thinking of? If, say, a player wanted to somehow be related to the Trust or be an agent of the Trust, what kind of spells would they have? Or would it be Divination in the form of some kind of magic item(s)?

    • All of the above. If there are wizards aligned to the Trust, they are likely to be illusionists or diviners. They have magewrights who perform divination spells. And they have cutting edge magic items tied to divination, like crystal balls. It’s not that they have entirely unique techniques, it’s that they are among the best in Khorvaire at producing and using the tools that already exist.

  7. The topics of the Trust and slavery in Darguun being juxtaposed here reminds me of a detail/plot hook from a story that could become more relevant at some point. In that story, shortly before the Day of Mourning, an escaped kobold slave makes it to Korranberg, and as a consequence the Trust soon learns that a particular Ghaal’dar clan has a clandestine mining / weapon-production operation in the Seawalls (possibly on the Zil side of the border, the kobold isn’t sure; certainly rather close for comfort) using slave labor, and some of those slaves are gnomes. Obviously, I figure that they will definitely be interested in doing something about that (setting aside the slaves, the national security implications may be rather serious), but I haven’t pinned down exactly what. The general themes call for sneaky and efficient, but beyond that a lot probably depends on just what ready resources they can bring to bear that far outside civilization. (Heck, one thought that pops to mind is just manipulating a group of PC adventurers into dealing with the problem for them, though this might not be as viable while the war’s still going on. There’s also the high likelihood that this activity is not at all sanctioned by the Lhesh Haruuc to consider; given that this is happening out in what’s usually the Marguul stomping grounds, he may not have found out about it at all at this point…)

    I’m curious if you have any thoughts on what direction you might take a plot hook like this? Since this isn’t an actual part of a campaign, it wouldn’t necessarily center around an adventuring party (though it certainly could). I have contemplated throwing in some kind of diplomatic element, but given the state of Darguun I wouldn’t expect diplomatic channels to resolve the situation, just potentially create more headaches for the clan in question and/or upset the timetable of their operation.

    Implicit in that notion is that I gather that there’s some kind of official national Zil bureacracy — if one that is perhaps looser than typical of most nations — that takes official actions on the authority of the Triumvirate, in the open and in cooperation with — but without an explicit tie to — the Trust. This kind of thing doesn’t come up much directly in what I’ve read (the Trust is the obvious interesting thing setting Zilargo apart, after all), but can be situationally important (after all, governance is about far more than law enforcement).

    On a separate thought, I also have found myself imagining that there may be a specific group/faction within the Trust focused on ruthlessly policing any signs of corrupt ambition within the Trust itself, on the grounds that the minimalism with which it operates (“never do more than that which is necessary”) is a sacred duty and vital resource, and such individuals threaten the very acceptance which the Trust has cultivated and depends on.

  8. I note that fraud is pretty broadly defined in SCoT and encompasses any deceit from which injury occurs. And from the examples “injury” is also broadly defined to include economic injury. I think SCoT implies that this is part of the Code of Galifar, so how is this reconciled in Zil society? Or has your view on this shifted over time?

    • I think this is a case where cultural values come into play. The point of Zil society is that intrigue is embraced and encouraged as a valid skill. A Zil merchant who’s outwitted by another Zil DOESN’T consider it a crime and isn’t going to try to take it to a court. Someone from Breland might say “He cheated you!” to which the merchant would shrug and say “True enough, and he did a damn fine job of it.”

      It’s also the case that because of this, Zil are going to be much HARDER to cheat than people in the Five Nations, because they live in a culture where it IS on you to watch for such things. Essentially, they’re taught the basic forms of long cons as children. They KNOW what to look for. This also means that Zil in the Five Nations aren’t as likely to report such crimes if they occur within their communities.

      • So if someone was to con someone powerful from another Thronehold nation, say a Thranish Cardinal, is that something the Trust would get involved in (because the international implications are serious), or let slide (because the silly priest should know better).

        If the latter, is this one of the few points of friction that the Zil have with other Thronehold nations, that they decline to prosecute various frauds?

  9. Hi Keith! I always loved Zilargo and I am happy to read more about it.
    – can you tell us a little bit more about the history of the Trust? I guess it takes time to build such an efficient organisation
    – is the Trust aware of the true nature of Riedra and the Dreaming Dark? If they know, why they don’t speak?
    – long time ago, I “challenged” you how to build a long term campaign in Q’Barra. That question created a very cool serie of posts. So, if and when you’ll have time… is it possible to build a long term campaign in Zilargo? How? It looks even more difficult, considering how combat driven d&d is
    – last but not least: can you update us a bit on your Q’Barra campaign? Are you still running it?

    • 1. The history of the Trust is covered in the Eye on Eberron article on the Trust in Dragon #406.

      2. No, I don’t see why they would be aware of the Dreaming Dark. This comes back to the general principle of the game; what’s the fun in having the greatest threats dealt with off-camera by NPCs? If someone’s going to expose the Dreaming Dark, it should be the player characters. At that point, the Trust may investigate more deeply and take further action, but it should be the player characters who are the catalyst, not a random nameless spy.

      3. Sure, I can think of three Zilargo campaigns off the top of my head. A) You’re reporters for the Korranberg Chronicle on the “Weird Stuff” beat. You’re investigating strange occurrences, supernatural threats, conspiracies theories; maybe you’ll uncover a Dreaming Dark scheme! (Newspaper group patron) B) You’re a strike team for the Trust, called in to handle the trickiest situations. (Espionage Agency group patron). Another option would be to emulate the plot of “Leverage” — an ongoing series of heroic heists.

      4. I’m still running it, but it’s been on hold for a year because I’ve been so busy writing. So no news at the moment.

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