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.
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