They had thought him a crank, an eccentric, not practicing a real form of magic. How wrong they were.
The Tyresian Academy of Thaumurgy did not view Geloscopy as a valid school of magic. One of the reviewers had called it an embarrassment not worthy of their attention. Divination through laughter? Please. Unlike other forms of tried and true divinations - reading entrails, numerology and dozens of other forms, Geloscopy was an obvious crock.
Sure there had been some successes, but not much that could not have been obtained by other talented divinationists using conventional methods, or even skilled charlatans who could do many amazing things without magic. Divination by laughter? Indeed.
When the reviewing council ridiculed his thesis, some had made the mistake of laughing. Even though his mind was raging, he focused on them and drew forth some unfortunate facts from their mirth. His new Art would never be accepted. Key members of the council had been paid by the school of Diviners to kill his new technique. Why, was not clear, but the intent was a clear as day.
Conceding defeat, he bowed and left the council-room. He made his way to one of the seeder parts of town, speaking the simple enchantment which concealed his scholars robes with the worn clothes of a working man, and changed his carefully groomed beard to a scraggly ruff. He reached the tavern he often frequented after disappointments, of which there were many. Unlike many of the higher end taverns, the people here laughed often, loudly, and sincerely. He sometimes would eavesdrop on these outbursts to see what information, however banal, he could gather.
This time, he was surprised as a non-descript labourer sat down beside him and said "There are other opportunities. I know where someone of your talents could find receptive ears."
Looking carefully at the labourer, he saw the faintest inclinations of a carefully crafted illusion. Who was he dealing with?
As if reading his thoughts, the labourer spoke "The place you call the Cold Kingdom is where I’m from." Elziphar noticed that the sounds around him seemed somewhat muffled. "And my liege would pay you well for your talents. I have been following your research, yourself, and your published papers. Your research has useful applications we would like to employ. You would have excellent compensation, a lab with staff, and our gratitude."
Elation and fear filled Elziphar’s mind. With what he knew of the agents of the Cold Kingdom, or Theosia, he didn’t have the liberty to say no. They did pay well, and their lived up to their promises, but they were quite free with dispensing death as well.
Two weeks passed and we find Elziphar, as promised, in a hidden laboratory, in a Sanitarium somewhere in eastern Theosia..
Not all of the inmates at the sanitarium were insane. Some were the rare, unfortunate political prisoners, and others were enemy spies. It was this latter group that has been Elziphar’s focus.
Many of the prisoners had been carefully conditioned to resist torture and were in terrible condition when brought here. Nearly broken by conventional means and barely clinging to their sanity, it was here that they would receive the final push.
No one seemed to know where the Thing had been found or what it was. Some say it was brought to this world by meddling sorcerers, others that it made it’s own way here in a ship of gleaming steel. Others say it was borne from the loins of a demon. In any case, none could say what it was. What they did know was that to glimpse it was to forfeit one’s sanity.
It was carefully sequestered in a specially constructed cage made of mystically combined alloys. Wooden planks shielded the creature from touching the metal, for if it did, it’s very flesh would burn and create clouds of acrid and hideously disgusting smoke. The cage was placed in an equally carefully fortified room known as the Breaking Room. Vast vats of specially blessed water were in place to flood the room should the beast appear close to escape. The entire complex is also rigged to collapse when a set of levers was correctly manipulated, burying both beast and staff.
It was into this chamber that the resistant prisoners were brought. Shorn of their sanity, their maniacal cackling spilled secrets to Elzipar that their intact minds had held so closely. Though strong of mind, Elziphar’s own sanity was gradually degrading, for some of the beast was carried also on the wings of their laughter…
Elzipar carries little special equipment save for a special mask fitted with lenses and prisms. This mask allows Elzipar to enter the Breaking room on occasion and protecting him from the Beast’s visage. In addition, he bears a dagger formed from the same special metal that forms the Beast’s cage.
Elziphar was originally focused only on his new art, but as time goes by, he likes his current situation less and less. The Theosians, however, are not the least bit interested in giving him any freedom - his work is too valuable for them. He will take few risks - he is not a terribly brave man since his initial anger with his homeland has cooled - and is far too much of a coward to kill himself.
PC’s interaction with Elziphar is likely only in fairly extreme situations. Theosia can easily be replaced by any nation with low government morality.
Geloscopy can be implemented either as a spell, or as a magical skill which can be improved over time. It is not an absolute succeed/fail type ability - it is highly variable depending on the situation,luck and the practitioners skill.
It can generally be used to access the current or recent thoughts of the individual, and the longer the period of laughter, the deeper the secret which can be divined. The scope of the secret is the personal knowledge of the subject.
Alternately, one can adhere to the more common definition where the scope of the Divination is firmly on predicting the future via laughter, whereupon it becomes far less useful as a means of pulling info from spies..
Seeking to leave before he succumbs to madness, he contacts the PC’s through a trusted intermediary. Perhaps his home nation might want the PC’s to extract him while leaving their own hands clean.
After suffering from the loss of secrets, one of Theosia’s enemies has learned that the facility exists, but has little inside information. The PC’s are contacted to end the operation, one way or another.
An agent who has very important secrets has been referred to the Facility. The PC’s are to prevent these from being divulged, ideally by retrieving the agent, but by other means if necessary.
Alternately, the PC’s might need to rescue the Thing - perhaps at the behest of a secret cabal of wizards. Rescuing something whose appear is mind-shattering could be a difficult undertaking..
This particular skill would be very useful for court jesters and bards - people who commonly elicit laughter from those with important secrets. Obviously this skill will be rare, a closely guarded secret, or else it would affect society. Imagine not being able to laugh in public or anywhere prying ears could be. Perhaps magical defences to protect one’s laughter would come into being…