Farmers near Separation City, before the plague

Farmers near Separation City, before the plague

When last we left our heroes, they had begun investigating the mysterious heresies being perpetrated by the Matriarch of Separation City. In this week’s session were the dwarven trollslayer, the human wizard, a human initiate in service to the war god Myrmidia, and the elven scout. Previously (though unreported here), the party had asked the healers they rescued to visit their onsen for a few days, to give healing to the guests there by way of repayment for having their lives saved. Let us assume that the coachman and roadwarden decided to accompany the healers back to the Onsen, and thus the party composition had changed.

The doctor’s hidden horrors

This session the group’s first task was to investigate the doctor. Given that the wizard, Sangar, was afflicted with a serious case of bog lice, and Aza’hi the dwarf had sustained a hideous injury that even the healers were unable to tend to, the natural way to investigate the doctor’s situation was simply to attend for a consultation. The PCs walked from Iron Ring to the settlement called Turtle River, a 30 minute stroll through rice paddies, orchards and the occasional stand of eucalypts, past the local temple of Sigmar. Passing the temple of Sigmar the PCs noticed it was strangely empty but for a small group of ragged-looking men and women who they subsequently discovered were refugees from farms to the west. They paid it little mind though, and marched straight into the doctor’s surgery for some medical care.

The doctor’s surgery consisted of a waiting room, a private office and the consulting room itself, and with the doctor currently seeing a patient only the receptionist was present. She bade them sit and then excused herself, explaining that she had to help the doctor with his tasks. While she was out of the room the wizard Sangar cast his newly learnt spell Whispering Wind, which he then sent wandering through the doctor’s private office looking for suspicious clues. He soon found that the doctor’s study contained a large table on which lay a partially dissected goblin corpse. The wind also warned him of a crate full of potions, and some kind of mysterious magical flask on a shelf. The group decided that while Aza’hi and the wizard were seeing the doctor, the elf Laren and the (as yet unnamed!) initiate would enter the study and investigate in more detail, guided by the remnants of the wizard’s whispering wind.

As soon as the two of them entered the study, they were struck by the horrors of the goblin’s corpse. In the gloomy half light of the office, with its partially severed head drawn back to stare blank-eyed at the door and its innards strung over a retort stand it was a truly hideous sight, even for those who knew what to expect. And the smell! So intense was the initiate’s shock at the sight of the corpse that he suffered immediate stress and began to shake. The elf, being typically unconcerned with the fate of lesser races, breezed on by and began investigating the corpse for clues. Between them they made short work of the room, and discovered:

  • A crate of metal vials, with a note indicating they had been delivered from Store to the Bloody Shower tavern in Separation City. A second note indicated that they were a cure for the ghoulpox, but advised the doctor not to treat lady von Jungfreud’s husband, and suggested that the potion would combine with her grief at the loss of her husband to make her more susceptible to suggestion. The note also told the doctor to suggest to von Jungfreud that she send the priests of Sigmar out to investigate an area west of Separation City that was suffering from the plague, and told the doctor that a messenger would come soon to give him the instructions for the next stage of the plan. This messenger would come disguised as a troupe of wandering performers, and he was to visit the troupe at midday to meet his contact once it had arrived. The letter was simply signed “F”
  • A single, strange flask, which contained a swirling green gas and was obviously dangerous. Subsequent investigation by the wizard revealed it would release a noxious cloud that could be used as a trap
  • Laren identified that the doctor had been experimenting on using the goblin’s brains as a breeding ground for ghoulpox[1]. Because elves mummify their dead, and all elves are taught the process when they are at school, Laren was an expert at removing brains through noses, and was able to draw the entire goblin brain out through the nose to take away for a sample[2]
  • A book entitled “The Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Justified Experiment and Research Kommission” dated for a 10 year period ending about 10 years ago, that was so rich with evil magic that the initiatie of Myrmidia refused to touch it[3]

Having grabbed this stuff (except the book), elf and human ducked out the back entrance to the study, and everyone met up a little way down the road. From there they returned to Iron Ring, carrying the letter that proved the doctor had allowed von Jungfreud’s husband to die, and that he was in league with a mysterious man called “F.” Judging by the simple of the black crescent moon engraved on the bottom of the bottles, “F” was from the distant Shadowlands, which have a bad reputation for evil magic throughout the Steamlands.

The doctor’s secret schemes

Given this, the PCs decided to confront the lady von Jungfreud with their knowledge, and convince her to allow the healers to return. This didn’t work out for them, and she had them kicked out before they could convince her, and refused to believe any stories about the doctor. They did discover that she, too, was taking some kind of medicine that the doctor had given her – possibly a medicine that was causing her to be sick. Laren the elf sneaked back into her house after they had gone and stole a bottle of this medicine, but when Sangar the wizard investigated it he determined that it was actually a potion for curing disease[4]. He promptly drank it, to cure his bog lice, and incurred another, mildly painful symptom as a result. Sangar, always a puny half-man, was beginning to become increasingly debilitated under the weight of his disease symptoms.

The PCs were now confident that the doctor was running a very evil plan in the town, which involved driving out all the major religious organizations and then engaging in some kind of final act of heinous viciousness when his messenger in the travelling cavalcade arrived. They were further sure that he was acting in league with a dark power from the Shadowlands. The time had come to act. They took rooms in the Bloody Shower tavern and returned to the doctor’s surgery after it had closed for business. Their plan was to grab him, drag him down to the beach at turtle river, and torture him until he confessed to everything. This proved remarkably easy: he was alone in his office, had left the back door open, and had no defenses of any kind. They grabbed him in one round, knocked him out, dragged him to the beach, and with a completely minimal amount of slapping around he revealed everything.

The doctor, they discovered, had been a member of the Justified Experiment and Research Commission (JERK) in his university days. Mostly an avenue for young firebrand atheists in engineering and the physical sciences to rail against the power of the church, it was occasionally used as a vehicle for more sinister plots by evil tricksters. It was here that the doctor met a “famous phsyician” from the Shadowlands, who he now knows only as “F,” under whose thrall he slowly fell. All of his actions have been part of some plan of F’s, originally presented to the doctor as a plan to increase the influence of physicians in the Steamlands, but now apparently becoming something much more sinister. The first stage of F’s plan was the delivery of the ghoulpox treatments, and the revelation that the ghoulpox was ravaging the area to the west of town. As refugees came into the town they brought the pox with them, but this pox was immune to the efforts of the healers; at this point the doctor began treating them. He allowed von Jungfreud’s husband to die, and then suggested to her that she send the priest of Sigmar and all the dwarves in  the town out to “cleanse the blight.” They never returned, probably ambushed and slaughtered (the doctor doesn’t know). He then, again on F’s advice, convinced von Jungfreud to cast out the healers. Aware that witch hunters would be sent to Separation City if the healers reached Heavenbalm, and not blind to the risks as von Jungfreud was, the doctor undertook to have the healers murdered on the road, and gave the bandits two goblin bodies he had planned to dissect for use as false clues as to the perpetrators. He expects the messenger from F to come any day now, with the final part of F’s plan. Realizing that it will be very nasty, the doctor has begun to realize that he has been used by a dark power, and is in way too deep in a scheme of great evil. He wants to escape it, and was eager to help the PCs if they can find any way to keep him alive.

The PCs offered to help him escape town if he would convince von Jungfreud to recall the healers, and also help them deal with the messenger. He agreed, and they went straight to von Jungfreud’s house. Confronted by the doctor’s confession and still suggestible from his medicines, she agreed to help him flee and to recall the healers. Having achieved this goal, the PCs retired to sleep, and wait for the arrival of the cavalcade.

The circus comes to town

Sure enough, the cavalcade arrived the following morning, with three large caravans rolling out of the hills into the open scrub in front of the main gates to Iron Ring. Four performers capered beside the wagons, leaping and frolicking, while two of the wagons were driven by a large, powerful looking couple whose pale skin and red hair suggested they hailed from the Shadowlands. The four performers approached the gate and asked permission to troop through town that afternoon, advertising their performance. The gate guards agreed, and the cavalcade was set for 1pm. The PCs, meanwhile, decided that the doctor should not visit the camp at midday as ordered, but should speak to the members of the cavalcade and arrange for his contact to visit him in the healers’ hospice that evening – where the PCs could set an ambush.

As the cavalcade passed through the town, the initiate managed to a glimpse of the mark of Nurgle, a pustulent emblem that grows on the bodies of those devoted to the chaos god of disease and corruption, Nurgle. The cavalcade were servants of darkness, indeed, and had to be stopped! Once the cavalcade had trooped through town, while the doctor was talking to the members to arrange the new meeting point, one of them slipped away in the crowd and headed towards the hot spring at the centre of town, carrying what was clearly a bag of pus. Suspecting an intent to spread disease, the characters sent the elf to intervene: she used an act of skullduggery to bump the girl carrying the bag, and replace it with a bag of rotten mangoes in the confusion. This worked, and so they were able to stop the town being given a second disease epidemic. The mangoes were cast into the onsen, and when the elf dragged them out later they proved to be quite delicious from the parboiling they had received. In the evening they would ambush the contact and find out if that was the entirety of F’s plan – they suspected it wasn’t.

The plagubearers

In the evening they laid their trap. The doctor waited in the main room of the healers’ hospice, and the elf Laren hid in a storage closet close enough to hear all that was said. The remainder of the party waited outside, hidden in the darkness. Soon they saw who F had dispatched to meet the doctor:

  • A tall, thin man wearing tattered, broken armour and rotten clothes, carrying a sword. He was obviously riddled with disease, but also obviously reeked of demonic magical power
  • The two Shadowlanders, armed with hammer and sword
  • A great, fat horrifically disfigured humanoid, perhaps 2.5 m in height, dressed in rags and hobbling along on one twisted and ruined leg. His belly was cut with deep slashes from which guts and pus oozed, and his body was covered in sores and pustules. His face was a mess of snot, blood and decay, and behind him trailed a miasma of stench. This was a class, old-fashioned plaguebearer of Nurgle, dragging himself through the night in all his inglorious horror
  • Three cat-sized disease imps, misshapen devil figures commonly referred to as nurglings, that chuckled along behind their sorcerous master

This misshapen crew of festering evil slouched its way into the healers’ hospice, clearly relishing the chance to defile somewhere so pure and simple. Once they had all shuffled, chittered and oozed their way inside, the sorcerer spoke to the doctor. Outside, the party ghosted in towards the door, ready to spring a trap as lethal as they could think of.

In a voice that hissed and sighed with sickness and ruin, the thin man said to the doctor, “You were told to come at midday. You did not. This has inconvenienced us, and it angers me. But no matter, you have arranged to meet me exactly where I wanted you. Now we can enact the last stage of our plan – which begins with killing you.”

The next couple of seconds were filled with the doctor’s gasps, gurgles and final whispered pleadings as the plaguebearer smothered and destroyed him. Fortunately, none of the PCs were there to see it, and by the time they could burst into the room the doctor was already done for. Unfortunately, the dwarf had failed to move quietly enough, and the thin man was ready. He cast a spell as our heroes burst into the room, drawing about himself a swirling cloud of dark and diseased power as a cloak of protection.

Laren fired an arrow from the darkness that penetrated this cloak; the initiate succesfully hit with his mace, and Sangar conjured thorns all through the sorcerer’s body that harmed him viciously. Unfortunately, the sorcerer was protected by the mark of Nurgle, and though the elf could not be seen from her hiding place, nonetheless she was struck with a horrible disease. The dwarf slammed straight into the plaguebearer, dealing a vicious wound with his sword, though not so vicious that the plaguebearer was not able to strike back …

… and at this point the session ended for the night. In six weeks we will rejoin our heroes as they do battle against the servants of Nurgle. Will they come out of the battle alive and free of the pox? Fortunately, the healers will return in a day’s time … if anyone is left alive to benefit from their services …

fn1: she rolled a chaos star on a failed observation check.

fn2: originally I was going to have her just dig around in the skull, thus incurring a disease risk, but she proposed this part of the elf’s past, and for her creative interpretation of her character’s history I decided to let her escape the disease check

fn3: he also rolled a chaos star on a successful observation check specifically targeting the books.

fn4: two chaos stars on an unsuccessful magical sight check