Steampunk


Clare and her Gyrfalcon

Clare and her Gyrfalcon

Clare de Lune is one of the characters I generated for the Compromise and Conceit one-shot. She is an ex-exotic dancer for the French troop known as the Cirque de Lune, probably kicked out for some kind of crime against the circus’s managers. Her magic uses nature, perception and deception. She has some combat skills, though she is a little fragile, and she also uses a large bird of prey as a familiar/battle ally, to make missile attacks and distract foes in combat.

This character description shows how simple and easy a character is to generate if you strip all the details out of the WFRP 3 system and just use the very basic dice, attribute and fatigue ideas. Note there are no skills – Clare de Lune is trained in four areas, and that is all. Also the spells I just made up – I didn’t aim for any sense of balance or usefulness, just designed spells to suit the character concept. I think this method works quite well, provide players are happy with a character that may have no use in some circumstances.

Character name:      Clare de Lune

Archetype-thingy:    Cirque du Lune bird dancer                        Feat Points: 3

Attributes

Strength 3 Intelligence 4
Toughness 3 Willpower 3
Agility 5 Fellowship 5

Trained in:

  1. Casting spells
  2. Animal handling
  3. Perception
  4. Spotting lies and tricks

Combat stuff

Defense Wounds Max/ Current
Melee 5 Fatigue       3 /
Missile 5 Stress       3 /
Surprised 5 Criticals (max:   )       3  /
Armour (  warm weather stuff ) 1 (4) Wounds       13 /

Weapons

Weapon Damage Critical Notes
Long knives 4+Str=7 2 Fast (+1 Initiative)
Crossbow 5+Ag=10 2  
Bird 3+Fellowship=8 3 Ranged Fellowship attack

Clare de Lune’s bird

Clare’s bird can be used to perform three tricks:

  • Attack (fellowship-based attack against opponents missile defense)
  • Hover over hidden targets (Clare de Lune can make missile attacks even if she can’t see the enemy, at +2 defense)
  • Distract (fellowship-based attack against opponent’s intelligence; success adds difficulty to enemy’s actions)

The bird can take 5 points of fatigue before it flies away; every failed attempt to do any trick causes 1 point of fatigue, as does any successful hit on the bird (defense 6). It recovers fatigue at 1 point per hour.

Clare de Lune’s spells

Name Difficulty Effect
Grace of Ages 4 Swap 1 blue die for green per success. Lasts WP rounds
Scarlet Pimpernel Highest Fellowship Assume a disguise, lasts 1 min/success (+1 hr/comet)
Riverdance 4 Walk on water for 1 rd/success.
Opium dream 4 Take opium, get a chance to do an overview perception check of all land within 1km / success. Boons/comets enhance the check
Soar with the eagles 4 Can see through the eyes of her bird for 1 min/success. Gain +1 training in perception

 

Clare de Lune begins her dance of death

Clare de Lune begins her dance of death

This blog has been quiet for the past few weeks because I have been traveling and working at the same time, and it has been very difficult to make the time to do anything interesting here. However, for the past 10 days I was in London, and during that time I was able to reconvene my old Compromise and Conceit group for a four hour one-shot.

This one-shot used a hyper-stripped down version of the Warhammer 3 rules. I was going to use Shadowrun but I just didn’t have time to prepare something new, so I decided to just muck around with Warhammer 3. We used diceroller apps, had no cards and I made up all actions for all the characters in an hour one morning. We dropped stances, conservative and reckless dice (except for spells that use them), group initiative, and recharge. I used stress as a consequence of spell-casting to limit spell use, and didn’t bother with skills: instead I just gave each player a list of four things they were trained in. Everything else was just a check on the appropriate attribute. This system is really fast and quite fun.

The PCs were:

  • Captain Nostromo, a wizard who specializes in manipulating machinery and infernal objects, probably Polish
  • Clare de Lune, an exotic dancer formerly of the Cirque de Lune, who fights with knives and is accompanied by a gyrfalcon that can also attack (a Large and Vicious Gyrfalcon!), she also has a selection of nature magic
  • The Sicilian, an ageing ex-mercenary who is preventing the decline of his martial prowess with age by an increasing array of infernal enhancements
  • Jack Cloudie (not his real name), an Iroquois Stormcrier who visited Europe on a mission and decided to stay so that he can civilize the savages of this strange and backward country

I will put up character descriptions in subsequent posts, along with some descriptions of how I simplified the WFRP3 rules.

The setting and the adventure

The year was 1830, and the PCs were on a ship bound for Svalbard in the arctic circle in mid-July. They had been employed by a rich industrialist in London to investigate the strange disappearance of a wizard working in Svalbard, one William Sealy Gossett.

Out of place and time

Out of place and time

Svalbard in 1830 was a huge whaling station, and William Gossett had been sent to Svalbard by the PCs employer as part of a project to research ways to imbue whale oil and whale bones with magical essence, and to design new magical tinctures and items. Svalbard was going through a kind of whale-oil-based gold rush, because whale oil fresh from the corpse is an excellent solvent for magical and infernal essences, and whale oil that cannot be enchanted can still be used in industry. William Gossett’s task was to conduct experiments to enable the whale oil to be treated so that it could hold the essence longer after the death of the whale, with the ultimate goal of shipping it back to Europe to be enchanted. Currently only a small amount of whale products were being enchanted, because there were very few wizards willing to live in the harsh confines of Svalbard and work long days enchanting whale fat. The PCs’ employer aimed to revolutionize this industrial process through developing techniques of magical preservation.

Unfortunately, William Gossett appears to have gone missing. He was supposed to send a letter of safe assurance with each ship that left Svalbard for Europe, but the June and July ships both brought nothing back. Although it was possible he could have missed the first ship, his employer is certain something must be amiss for him to miss two. It could be something simple (such as suicide during the winter darkness) but Svalbard is a lawless place in which whalers often fight physically for control of whale pods. The PCs were sent to Svalbard to find William, and punish anyone who has interfered with him.

Svalbard’s Bay of Blood

The adventure opens as the PCs’ ship enters the Svalbard bay, to a scene of horror sufficient to shock even hardened campaigners such as The Sicilian. The air was suffused with a red mist, and the sea stained red with the blood of a throng of dying whales. The bay was thick with the whales, passing through in huge groups, and in amongst them were multiple whaling ships and many small harpoon boats. Wherever they could, the whalers were laying about themselves with harpoons, and everywhere they looked the PCs could see dying whales floundering in the open seas. The whalers moved amongst the pods stabbing whales with harpoons tipped with leather bladders, so that once a sufficient number had been stuck into the beast it could not submerge. They then began to hack, beat and stab it to death, but usually they would haul it still half-alive back to their ship, where it would be tied alongside other dying members of its pod. Then, men would begin flensing the whales, cutting sacks of fat and meat away even as the dying whale twitched feebly in the water. No indignity was spared these hapless beasts: seabirds flocked to their ragged bodies, pecking at the flesh of the injured beasts as they waited weakly to die; a pod of killer whales moved amongst the gore, picking injured whales and eating them even as they fought to escape the whalers; and here and there a half-flensed whale would be set loose, its body no longer valuable to the whales, to die in a slow spiral of viscera and desperate shrieks, torn at by birds, fish and orcas alike as its unique voice faded.

This scene so horrified The Sicilian that he was forced to act. Declaring that the murder of helpless enemies was beneath a warrior, he ordered the ship’s captain to sail over to a particularly large whale. This whale had been caught and tied to the stern of a whaling ship, but the ship’s crew were in violent dispute with the crew of another ship over possession of the poor giant, and as they fought it simply floundered in the scarlet water, unable to escape because of the ties to the ship and the many harpoons that held it at the surface. As his ship approached The Sicilian leapt onto the whale’s back, slicing the ropes that held the whale to the ship with his soul-bonded infernal sword and running along the whales back, smashing harpoons as he passed them. He noted in horror that, as a final indignity, the harpoons were themselves crafted of whalebone – the majestic giant was being killed with tools made of its own kind. Unfortunately the beast did not understand the purpose of The Sicilian’s mercy mission, and in anger it thrashed its newly-freed tail, flipping The Sicilian high into the air. Moments later he found himself lying on the deck in between the two competing whaling crews, a shattered harpoon in his hand. The crews, realizing what he was doing, joined forces to attack him. The Sicilian was just preparing to sell his life dearly to this gang of reprobates when the whale resurfaced, smashing into the ship from below in a fury of revenge. He found himself flying through the air at the whale’s behest again, and landed close enough to his ship that he could be rescued by his fellows. As they sailed away and the whale made its escape, the sailors on the stricken ship yelled threats and imprecations at him and his team.

The Sicilian was unimpressed. No human threat has scared him since winter, 1812. But something else in the atmosphere of Svalbard unsettled him. He and all the group felt as if some dark and imposing force watched from the deeps of the sea, waiting for … something. As they turned away from the carnage and headed into the Svalbard docks, a shiver ran down The Sicilian’s spine. Though he lacked empathy for human emotion, he was finely attuned to the infernal world, and he felt it pressing close about him now …

The wizard’s lab

This scene of horror did not relent when the ship landed, and the PCs wound their way through a street lined with flensing sites and pots of boiling blubber to the town’s only inn, The Bloody Spout. Here they dumped their meagre possessions and inquired as to the whereabouts of the wizard, William. They were directed to “go outside, turn left” and walk until they came to his lab. This they did.

At the lab they found the door snowed shut, and the lab deserted. It showed no signs of a struggle, and it appeared that the wizard had been on a journey recently. They also found two notes, both addressed to the wizard but unsigned. The first said simply:

William, don’t waste my time with your ludicrous theories and propositions. I’ll have no part of this.

and the second said

William, you’re still crazy but let’s meet. Under the gallows tomorrow.

The PCs knew the gallows – they could see it from their hotel room, at the top of the gravel-and-ice-strewn hill behind their hotel. However, they had no idea who had written the note. In order to find this out, they visited the harbourmaster’s office post-haste. The harbourmaster handled all mail for everyone on the island, so must surely know the hand-writing of every person in the town. Sure enough he knew the writing, and immediately identified it as belonging to the other wizard in the town, who ran a lab at the opposite end of the town.

They visited this wizard immediately, and were received with an air of suspicion and threat. This wizard obviously did not like the thought of people investigating goings-on in the island, and was not inclined to be cooperative. However, eyeing The Sicilian and Jack Cloudie with an air of obvious concern, he was convinced to answer their questions honestly. He told the PCs that William had found evidence that the population of whales was crashing under the pressure of human hunting, and that they would soon disappear altogether, taking this boom town with them. William seemed very agitated about this and claimed to have a plan to save them. He told the PCs that William ran a secret lab (that everyone in town knew about) on the far side of the Island, and suggested that perhaps he had travelled with his apprentices to this lab. The PCs decided to follow this lead.

Journey to the secret lab

The PCs found a whaler who was travelling around the island and who agreed to take them to within an hour’s walk of the “secret” lab, though he would be no further diverted from his whaling mission than this. Since it was unwise to travel overland while the ice was breaking up in early summer, the PCs were forced to accept this journey plan. The next day they found themselves standing on a wind-blasted expanse of fast ice, with instructions to head northwest and “don’t fall in or you’re dead.” Thickly swathed in their winter furs, they began to walk, picking their way carefully over the empty ice. However, their journey was interrupted halfway through when they stumbled upon a pool in the ice, in which lurked a submerged polar bear. This beast emerged soaked and roaring from the pool to attack the group, and another emerged from a similar hiding place behind them. With its first strike the bear nearly tore The Sicilian in half, and the second bear tore deep gashes in Nostromo’s armour, but between them they soon killed one, and drove the other away.

Clare de Lune was unfazed. No animal had scared her since her childhood in the Siege of Paris. But that thing, that sinister spirit that watched the battle with cold detachment – neither she nor her bird could see it, but she could feel it following and watching them. No animal this, it disturbed her in a way that nothing in the natural world had done since she was very small…

A short walk later they found the secret lab. This building was open to the elements, and showed signs inside of a savage fight, though there was little blood and mostly mess. One wall had once abutted a kind of earthwork rampart extruding from the hills behind the lab; this wall now had a huge hole in it, which opened into a tunnel. This tunnel clearly extended into the earthworks, and thence under the hills behind the lab. Whoever had attacked the secret lab had done so through this tunnel; but the tunnels were old, and the lab relatively newly built – had William known of them when he constructed this laboratory?

The Trolls and the ritual

The PCs soon found the answer to their questions. After 10 minutes’ walk down the darkening tunnels they emerged into a sheltered bay, carved out of a cave that faced the bitterly cold arctic ocean. Between the tunnels and the sea, sheltered under the archway of the rock above them, was a beach of black gravel and stone. The sea was held back from this stony shore by broken icebergs floating in the water inside the cave, but it still boomed inside the cavern and crashed against the ice, scattering spray throughout the cave. The sense of being watched and of foreboding was very strong here in the wilds under the looming rock, and they felt they could almost see something out in the wild ocean, watching them with grim intent.

The wizard William Gossett stood on the shore, and behind him stood a gang of trolls. None of the group had ever seen trolls, of course, and to the enlightened European such beasts are merely figments of the Scandinavian imagination, but what else could these things be? Over 3m tall, beast-like creatures walking on two legs, with huge clawed hands, their skin alabaster smooth and obviously hard like stone. They had narrow, black eyes deep-set in vaguely humanoid, monstrous faces that looked as if they had been carved from flint. Spines lined head and shoulders, and they wore ragged clothes of polar bear and walrus fur. They also looked angry.

Between the group and William and his friendly trolls stood his apprentices. They were roped together and standing motionless on a broad slab of stone, onto which had been carved a complex magical pattern. Some enchantment held them still, and they obviously were intended as sacrifices in some horrid sacrifice, probably to the looming dark thing in the sea.

The PCs approved. They had seen enough slaughter and brutality on this island to know it was no place for human hopes and dreams, and that it should be turned back to the wild. They had also seen no evidence of anyone on the island who deserved to be saved or to have their dreams of wealth rewarded.

They turned and ran, leaving William and his little army of trolls to complete his unspeakable ritual. As they ran they felt that presence again, bearing in towards the shore to do … something.

The Flensed Ones

When they reached their rendezvous point with the whaler, they found it empty. They waited for two days but no whaler came. Finally they realised that they could die out here if they did not move on; they began to carefully pick their way over the broken ice of the shore, and after several days’ walk they returned, exhausted and starved, to the town. Walkign down the hill from the gallows, they immediately noticed that the sea returned to a pale natural blue. The town swarmed with seabirds, and when they entered its outskirts they soon saw why. Every single person in the town was dead, their body reduced to a withered husk. Some vile magic had swept through the town, killing every human there by the simple expedient of sucking out their fat.

The entire town had been magically flensed.

The PCs walked to the shore and stood there, looking out at the cold and desolate sea. The sea stared back at them, that same dark malevolent force now fully in possession of it. A cold wind blew in, and somewhere in that wind they sensed a hint of gratitude.

Whaling at Svalbard was over, and the Kingdom of Trolls had begun. The only witnesses to its creation, and indeed the wardens of its formation, were Captain Nostromo, The Sicilian, Clare de Lune and Jack Cloudie. Turning away from the sea, they looked out at the desolate hills and the bird-tattered corpses of the flensed victims, and shuddered at the horror they had created.

Breaker contemplates the challenges of field medicine

Breaker contemplates the challenges of field medicine

[Note: this adventure report is rather old, but is precursor material for the death of my character, described here].

When we last viewed our heroes’ progress, they had stumbled on hints of a secret, evil collaboration between the Cygnaran navy and the undead rulers of Cryx. However, they had no time to further explore this problem, because they had a mission to complete. Leaving unanswered questions behind them, they took their ship back to the high seas and sailed towards the corrupted Scharde Islands, domain of the Cryx. Their first stop was to be the ancestral home of the trollkin fell-caller, Carlass. She and her warbeast Hrif were the last survivors of her village, which was overrun by the corruption of Cryx while she was on a fishing trip, and it was her desire to return to the island where her kin fell, to reconsecrate it to Dhunia. After this short visit, they would head to the location that their employer, Katrina, believed held the fabled Steam Spire.

Consecration and desecration

They reached Carlass’s home island a few days later, and put into a small and sheltered bay surrounded by marsh and lightly-forested hills. The marsh, Carlass told them, had once been a productive and pleasant locale, but had turned fetid under the influence of the corruption. They passed through it to the trollkin village proper. This had fallen into decay under the encroachment of blight and the tropical environment. Rough stone longhouses dotted the hillside in a small cluster, their roofs falling in and walls already crumbling as thick and poisonous vines twined through them.

Carlass and Hrif wasted no time. They swiftly moved from house to house, hanging little windchimes in the corners of the buildings and lighting incense in their doorways. Once they had adorned all the houses, the group gathered in the central square of the town to wait while Carlass and Hrif began a prayer to Dhunia. This little ritual took them some time and involved a little blood, but they waited patiently. As always, Carlass showed no embarrassment about conducting her rituals before others, and ignored them completely. When she was done, Alyvia offered to help her take down the wind chimes, but was met by a confused and cold stare – the chimes must remain up until Dhunia took them. Now they must all walk to the runestones just to the north of the town, to pay their respects.

Unfortunately, they didn’t make it to the runestones. As they emerged from the village they saw a force of Cryxian horrors sweeping down the hills towards them. They were led by a team of some kind of part-zombie, part-machine monstrosities, being whipped on by a sorcerer of some kind. This little mob of abominations was accompanied by some kind of demonic sharpshooter – and a machine wraith. Unfortunate this, for Alyvia had brought one of their warjacks with them, but their warcaster was still aboard ship …

Not the kind of remote controller you want by your couch

Not the kind of remote controller you want by your couch

They charged to battle, the warjack laying down a barrage of fire as they approached. The machine wraith blinked out of existence and appeared moments later in the warjack. Now the PCs faced their own warjack as a foe! It’s first act was to dismember the three human marines who had accompanied the group up the hill, and then to attack Captain Breaker, who stood near it. Up the hill, Hrif and Carlass made short work of the zombie-machines while Alyvia tried to pin down the sorcerer. The sharpshooter was nowhere to be seen. They soon smashed the sorcerer and his zombie-machines, but by the time the job was done the warjack had defeated Breaker, preparing to stomp on his head once he was down. The sight of Breaker broken and battered in the dirt at the warjack’s feet was too much for Hrif, who charged down the hill and leapt onto the ‘jack’s carapace. He then furiously but methodically destroyed the machine, reducing it to a pile of scrap in his berzerk attempt to drag out the machine wraith. Now the sharpshooter joined the battle but was soon forced to flee, and their final act was the slaughter of the machine wraith as it emerged from its battered shell.

They rushed to Breaker’s side to help him, and though he was far gone they were able to bring him back. However, they realized that his left arm had been pierced by some kind of Cryxian sword – perhaps the sharpshooter or the wraith had cut him? – and he was already beginning to fall prey to the corruption. There was only one solution – to remove the arm. They looked at each other. No one had the strength to do this quickly enough to spare Breaker pain and corruption. What to do? Carlass grunted, and looked meaningfully at Hrif. He understood. One bite later, and Breaker had lost his arm just above the elbow, but the corruption was gone. The group had triumphed, but at the cost of one of their warjacks and Breaker’s arm. He could no longer wield his cannons, and he could not wear a shield in battle. Sometime soon they would need to find him a metal arm.

It seemed that Carlass’s home ground could only bring her grief, and her companions pain. They briefly visited the runestones to make their homage, and then in a fit of rage Hrif uprooted the whole thing. They returned to the ship, and consigned Carlass’s kriel to memory. She had a new kriel now.

The Cryxian nest

From here they sailed for another few days to the location of the fabled Steam Spire. This unprepossessing island showed no outward signs of being the location of a legendary artifact, but Katrina knew better. She led the group underground, along subterranean tunnels to a wide underground lake. Here they found boats pulled up on the shore, obviously recently used. The boats were large enough to carry the party members and the four marines they had brought with them – but not Hrif. He could swim beside them, but something about the dark and placid lake was strangely forbidding, and the characters didn’t like the idea of Hrif doing that. There was nothing for it but to leave him on the shore. Carlass whispered a few words of reassurance, and perhaps gave him some orders[1], and then they pushed the boats out into the water.

The lake opened into an underground river. They followed this a little way in, but soon realized the wisdom of leaving Hrif behind. Strange shark-like crocodile things leapt from the water as they traveled, dragging one of the marines off the boat to his bloody death; others began to smash at the bottom of the boats. They rowed furiously, but by the time they reached a sandy beach deeper in the underground complex the boats were almost sunk, and they had lost all their marines.

They found themselves beached on a kind of dam that stilled and redirected the flow of the river. The beach was overlooked by stone ramparts of some kind of fortress that completely blocked the tunnel. They entered this fortress with ease, Alyvia climbing the walls to open a gate mechanism; no one was here to stop them. Inside they found a few outhouses that might once have been barracks or armouries, and a central room containing a statue that looked something like a shrine. Carlass entered this room, but the walls behind her sealed shut and the statue came to life, attacking her! By the time the others had managed to blow their way through the wall she had shattered the statue with the power of her fell calling, though, and was safe.

Finding nothing else in this fortress, they left by a gate on the far side from that by which they had entered. They moved on, deeper into the Cryxian nest.

Captured!

Again they entered tunnels, now darker and narrower than before, and they were some distance down them before they realized they had entered a trap. A team of six huge, black-skinned Ogrun appeared before them, carrying crossbows and spears; behind them emerged six more. The lead Ogrun demanded their immediate surrender, and after a moment’s pause they agreed. Breaker and Carlass laid down their weapons; Katrina laid down hers too, including a bandolier of six grenades. Alyvia, seeing her chance, yelled “hit the deck!” and opened fire on the grenades. These exploded, killing four Ogrun instantly, and suddenly battle was joined! Unfortunately, our heroes were all lying prone when battle was joined, and were soon at the mercy of the remaining eight Ogrun. They were now forced to surrender, but this time they were roughed up and bloodied before they were allowed to stand. Alyvia’s desperate attempt at escape had bought them only extra injuries.

And so they were carried away, captive and unconscious, into the Cryxian nest …

fn1: Though I foolishly didn’t clarify what we told him to do – this would prove both a curse and a boon in the following session …

Image credit: the first picture was produced by Breaker’s player, Eddie.

In stillness a silent weight
Pausing as the minutes each evaporate

A desire to leave a scar
To raise a voice from within the dark

Decaying, cascading, existence falls apart
Around me, within me
So I must leave my mark

This is a sacrifice
To prove that I was here
This is a sacrifice
To prove I was at all
And when my voice ceases to be
Will the echo still ring loudly?
And when there’s nothing left of me
Will my memory still go on?

A flicker, transitory state
An echo of an instance that burns a way

A moment, a shard of time
A solitary thread that threatens to unwind

Decaying, cascading, existence falls apart
Around me, within me
So I must leave my mark

(Bragg’s last lament, recorded sometime near the end)

Carlass grunts. The battle has moved and left her, shattered and useless, in its wake. She struggles to raise her head, blinking away tears and fresh blood. The demon that broke her is now facing Captain Breaker, its slender waxen form incongruous against the great dark bulk of the Ogrun. But Breaker is already done, his heavy armour smashed where the demon’s lance tore through it, his arm and chest slicked with thick red blood, now congealing on his hands in amongst the soot that he had used for disguise. The fiend is silent and swift but careful, moving with infernal grace as it prepares to deliver the killing blow, and Breaker has a desperate, hunted look on his face: he knows he is done for, that he cannot run and he cannot win. Just behind this butcher’s tableau the Fire Monk, Shara-jin, stands amongst a pile of murdered Ogrun, her whip dangling uselessly in one hand, looking shocked and confused as if she still has not caught up with the pace of the battle. The anti-magic manacles on her wrist glow with power, and it is clear that she desperately wants to invoke Menoth’s grace, but even Menoth has abandoned them in this dark hole. Shara-jin, too, is covered in blood, listing on one twisted leg and breathing heavily with the pain of her wounds. Near Shara-jin are scattered the remains of their employer, Katrina; her upper body lies on the pile of slaughtered Ogrun, staring slack-jawed at the ceiling, and shreds of the rest of her decorate the charnel pile, some still twitching. Behind them the mysterious Rhulic dwarf, Anya, charges in to attack the demon. A whirling dervish of tightly-contained murder, she runs lightly across the Ogrun bodies, sword in hand, preparing to strike the demon to its flanks as it focuses on Breaker. On the far side of the battle field Alyvia is crouched over her gun, desperately reloading. Her anti-magic manacles also glow, as forgetting their presence she briefly thinks to invoke some deadly charm, only to feel the first sting of their potent restraint. The gun-mage is now just a pistolleer. And no pistolleer will mark this beast. Alyvia’s face is streaked with livid tracks of some vicious whip, one arm moving delicately with pain. She will not last once Breaker is done. None of them will.

Carlass’s face sinks back to the dusty floor, and she swoons briefly. But her anger resurges, and she struggles back to the hellish reality. Her flesh briefly responds to the ever-familiar spark of rage, tries to knit itself together, to regenerate, but it is done. Every one of her kind knows of this moment, when their special regenerative powers hit their limit. Days of starvation, exhaustion, running and hiding, the constant batterings, have worn out even her prodigious powers of regeneration. When first a Trollkin is wounded, the skin heals itself in an instant, eagerly and without asking; push it too soon within a day, and it will respond sluggishly but willing enough; when need calls a third time, the body will drag itself back from any indignity, though the effort is a screaming horror; but after that, well, that is enough for any life. Carlass’s body is done. She tries to raise herself on one arm but finds it shattered – when she does not know, she thought the demon just pierced her chest with one clean strike but now as she feels the knitting fail and tries to take stock she realizes that she has been ravaged: it gutted her from navel to sternum, her arm is smashed on its whole length, and blood is pouring from one leg that cannot move at her will but seems to twitch with a pointless energy all of its own. When did this even happen? It was a moment, a blink, a shard of time, and her whole life was wrenched from her.

Still, wounds that would send a human straight to Urcaen do not carry the same weight for one of her kind. There is yet time. There is always time, is there not, to suffer a little more? It is the curse of her kind. She rolls a little, shifts and grits her teeth against the waves of pain that come rolling in over the broken reefs of arm and ribs. Under here somewhere … yes … there … an arm that still works. She drags it out in tortured shifts and starts that feel as if they take an eternity, and pushes herself upward, blinking back tears of agony, half onto her knee.

Carlass grunts. What had seemed like an eternity was just a few heartbeats. Alyvia has loaded her gun and is about to fire, Breaker is still alive, and Anya the Rhulic dwarf lies sprawled on the pile of Ogrun, blood spreading across her robes from a deep blow in her side, a stunned expression on her face. The demon stands over her for a moment and then flicks back across the battlefield to Breaker, moving with lightning speed and purpose, crossing the space in a blur so fast and otherworldly that it would make a human sick. Breaker is ready, pitiful little scimitar in hand, but he still has that expression – he has seen Anya go down, and he knows his time has come.

It is now or never. Carlass wants to make one last booming call, but her breath is coming weak and in stuttering gasps, drowning in the blood that fills her chest and bubbles from her nose and mouth, and anyway she cannot see clearly enough through the blood and broken bone to make a mark for her voice. Her rebellious mortal flesh will not even respond enough to heal her voice, her most precious of gifts. She cannot call; but a fell-caller is not just a booming voice to shatter stone and bone. A fell-caller is also the keeper of her people, guardian of the secrets of Dhunia. Now is the time to call upon them. She pushes herself up a little more, so that she can be seen above the pile of Ogrun corpses, and coughs a great gout of blood over her chest. Sucking in a pained breath, she raises her voice in a thin, keening wail, and calls forth in her orator’s voice:

You, demon, hoy! Hear me! I, Carlass of the Scharde Kriel, I am your last mark. I curse you. I curse you with the wrath of Dhunia! With this blood and flesh of Dhunia’s I bring down upon you her rage and her vengeance! Know that I was your last mark, and that with my death you invoked the curse of all of earth’s children. You will never see the surface, and you will never know the sun, for you are doomed by Dhunia!

And then she collapses. She does not know if the demon even heard her, though she thought she saw it twitch a sideways glance at her. The Fire Monk heard her, she knows, she saw the dawning horror in her eyes. As death’s dark tendrils reach up to her, Carlass whispers

Avenge me, Fire Monk

and then her voice, too, is beyond use. All her flesh has given in. Now she wishes Hrif were here, but he is far gone and lost. She cannot call on their special bond, because these manacles bind her magic from use. Even if she could call him, he is far from helping her now. She is alone. She has failed her new Kriel just as she failed her last Kriel; and just as she was not there to see how her last Kriel ended, so too she will not know how it is for this strange patch-work Kriel she had so recently made her own. She has failed again. Nothing is left of her tribe or her flesh … will even her wrath endure?

Poem note: Bragg’s last lament is actually the song Document by Assemblage 23, with one tiny change

I have two session reports to write, which will give the context to this little story.

The galley's new grease-monkey ...

The galley’s new grease-monkey …

When we last left our heroes, they had just captured a large galley, killed its captain in cold blood and won a Letter of Marque from the government of Five Fingers. Now authorized to conduct piracy against the ships of other nations, our group of characters were able to set in motion plans for a life of officially-sanctioned larceny and violent crime.

Nonetheless, our PCs were not happy about how events had turned out in capturing the Urcaen’s Call. Carmichael the Warcaster’s decision to kill the captain in cold blood – slitting his throat in front of his entire captive crew – left the PCs in a significant bind. Captain Mayhorn’s family and patrons were almost certain to seek vengeance for his death, and practically the best way to protect themselves from such reprisals would be to kill all the crew and dump them at sea, or maroon them and leave them to cannibalism and death; but none of the group wished to stoop to such barbarity. Carmichael’s arbitrary action also encouraged an atmosphere of lawlessness amongst the surviving crew of El Pollo Diablo, and would make them much more difficult to control in battle. Since they could not bring themselves to commit slaughter and rule by tyranny, the group decided to make an example of Carmichael through a public whipping and a speech by the Captain, and then dropped their captives at a town far from Five Fingers, drunk and with enough money to keep them drunk for months. They hoped through this tactic that the crew’s information would take a long time to reach Five Fingers, would come accompanied by stories of their drunken excesses, would likely not be believed or accurate in its descriptions of the group, and would probably also be distorted by passing second hand through many tellers.

Nonetheless, Carmichael’s actions had put them at risk, and they decided it might be wise to get out of town for a while. After recruiting new crew – including mechanics and other specialists for their new galley – the PCs took a job for the rich young daughter of a local crime boss, one Katrina Craslovini. She was mounting an archaeological expedition to the Scharde Islands in search of some kind of mythical building (or its ruins) and needed a ship and bodyguards to go with her. This presenting a perfect opportunity to get out of town, the PCs jumped at the chance (and the excellent remuneration on offer), and agreed to go with her. After a short but thankfully non-violent conversation with her father, who tried to dissuade them from travelling, they set off for the Scharde Islands.

They managed to convince Katrina to allow them a few personal stops of their own on the journey to the Scharde Islands, one of which was to be a visit to Carlass’s extinct tribe, therein to worship at the runestones of her tribe. The first stop, however, was to be at a small and irrelevant town south of Five Fingers, where Sharajin wished to investigate the trail of a man she was pursuing. Sharajin is a monk of the Menoth church, likely some kind of Inquisitor, and probably an extremely nasty person when left in a darkened room well-stocked with sharpened pieces of metal and overly open-minded fellow citizens. So it is likely that the group put into this small bay in search of a man who had perhaps simply had the temerity to claim the sun was hotter than the fires of Menoth, or some such foolishness. Nonetheless, Sharajin was one of us, and so as a team we went to that small and sun-baked town in quest of a free-thinker, that we might hand him over to Sharajin’s tender ministrations.

Or so we thought …

Carlass stood at the helm with Hrif the Younger, enjoying the sea breeze, as they put into the small bay where the town lay, lazy and quiet in the sun-drenched morning. Carlass, proud chronicler of a hunter-gathering culture, grunted in disgust at the patchwork of fields that stretched out into the hills beyond the town like a haphazard chessboard of yellows and greens. Smoke rose from town chimneys, occasional farmers and townsfolk stopped in their labours to stare at the unfurled sails of El Pollo Diablo, and somewhere on the road near the town an ancient labour-jack glinted in the sunlight as it clacked along the furrows of a new-ploughed field.

Once the ship had put into the port, the PCs disembarked. They had decided to take a day’s shore leave, so the crew were soon scampering off to restaurants and brothels on the seafront. They left their crew behind and visited the local notables – that is, the local Priest and Nobleman – and inquired as to the man Sharajin sought. Had they seen a scientist fleeing heresy, a unionist covertly escaping torture for wanting to better the lot of salt miners, some foolish woman who had thought to protest her husband’s beatings?

No, they hadn’t, but a man had been seen heading out of town, and it was possible that he was in the ruins beyond the town. As the sun rose to its zenith and the local farmers broke off their harrowing and scrannetting to rest in the shade of their hedgerows, our little group of heroes set off up the road into the hills beyond town, to find Sharajin’s target. They had been told he was meeting with an old woman of ill repute who was perhaps connected with some religious cult laired in the ruins. Perfect! Sharajin’s eyes lit up with that cold Mennite malice at the thought of a whole religious cult to extinguish, and everyone (except Hrif the Younger and Captain Breaker) had to speed their step to keep up with her.

There was some trouble on the way out of town as the townsfolk made the mistake of thinking that Hrif the Younger had come to kill them all, but he managed to smooth out their concerns.

They found what they sought soon enough – an old burial mound, door newly-affixed, that was guarded by two local men who looked a little like militia. Alyvia approached to try and talk to them, but they opened fire with their rifles immediately, and so the party were forced to kill them. They then entered the burial mound, and soon found what they sought. An inner room had been converted into some kind of workshop, and a group of mechanics were working rapidly on a war-jack, under the watchful eye of a middle-aged woman of ferocious demeanour. The war-jack was obviously built to fit a Mennoth design, and the woman was exhorting her labourers to build it faster. In the corner of the room was a vat of some kind of filthy liquid that was being poured slowly and steadily into a fast-running stream. That liquid was clearly not intended to do good, and the stream obviously ran out of this burial chamber to somewhere downhill…

Captain Breaker takes the fore

Captain Breaker takes the fore

The PCs leapt into the attack, but discovered themselves suddenly facing off with a group of zombies that the woman managed to conjure forth. She was a necromancer, most vile of heretics! A short and nasty battle followed, in which the woman’s magic nearly felled Captain Breaker, but in the end neither nor her zombies were much of a match for the group. As the battle unfolded, Carlass stopped the poison flowing into the stream, and was able to identify it – swampfoot fever, the same disease whose cure had been stolen from the Golden Crucible and carried north on Captain Mayhorn’s ship just a few weeks earlier.

What a remarkable coincidence …

In the room the PCs found a set of plans for Mennoth war-jacks, and now they learnt who it was that Sharajin was chasing: a spy who had stolen plans for Mennoth war-jacks, and aimed to sell them to the highest bidder. He was gone, and had obviously made his profit, but now Sharajin had possession of the plans. The necromancer of course had to die, and told them nothing useful except that the poison was for the town water supply – she would not say why or who she was working for, but no doubt she was a member of one of the standard cults that venerate the sick and the dead. They killed her.

The PCs then returned to town, bringing with them the parts and plans for the warjacks, and the warjack itself they reconfigured as a labour-jack and donated to the townsfolk. They then returned to their boat … and encountered a strange epilogue.

This nameless little town was officially in the territory of the kingdom of Cygnar, and as they returned to the bay the PCs saw a sloop of the Cygnar navy at rest in the bay. On the beach, Katrina and the crew they had left on the ship were being held at gunpoint by Cygnaran Marines. Why? Captain Breaker approached, leaving the PCs and their war-jack at a suitably menacing distance, and negotiated with the Marines. It appeared that they simply suspect the group of being pirates, and once they had seen Breaker’s Letter of Marque and confirmed his mission was to the Scharde Islands they let Katrina and the other crew free. However, as the captain prepared to return to his sloop he stopped and asked the Captain,

Have you by any chance seen or heard anything of a ship by the name of Urcaen’s Call?

Feigning innocence and appearing as concerned as one mariner should for the fate of another, Breaker declared he had not, nor had he heard of such a vessel, but why were the navy interested? Should he be concerned about pirates?

The captain’s response sent a chill down everyone’s spine:

It’s nothing. We were due to rendezvous near here just a week since, and have heard nothing of her. Thanks for your concern.

And off the captain went, returning to his ship.

The PCs had ambushed the Urcaen’s Call as it headed towards these waters from Khador, and it had been carrying a large quantity of treatment for the very disease they had just seen being poured into the town’s drinking water supply. Could it be that the Cygnaran navy captain had intended to appear as a hero to this town, arriving just in time to cure them of their disease? If so, then he must have a connection with the necromancer they had just killed, or to her employers. And if so, then Captain Mayhorn had surely been deeply involved in whatever plot this was, and perhaps his death had not been so ill-omened. Furthermore, was it just this one Cygnaran captain, or was the Cygnaran rulership involved in poisoning its own people … and why?

It appeared that in ambushing the Urcaen’s Call the PCs had interfered with a devious plot connected with both the Cygnaran navy, a Mennite traitor and some powerful necromantic group. Which must also mean that the stevedore’s union that hired them was opposed to this sinister scheme for its own reasons. By taking one simple job, the PCs may have embroiled themselves in evil designs connecting sinister organizations and the governments of at least two countries…

Perhaps, after all, the safest bet would be an extended tour of the Scharde Islands …

Picture credit: again, these pictures are by Captain Breaker’s player.

What shall we do with the drunken prisoner, what shall we do ...

What shall we do with the drunken prisoner, what shall we do …

My current role-playing group hold minor adventures away from gaming sessions using Facebook. After our first Iron Kingdoms session ended with the war-caster killing captain Mayhorn in cold blood, one of the players opened a whole new chat session in Facebook to discuss the implications. This led to a long debate, mostly in character, about the implications of slaughtering this upstanding man and what to do about it. After much debate, we finally decided that the PC in question would be whipped 40 times – 10 times by each other member of the group – in front of all our crew, to ensure that everyone knew that we only kill people in battle, and only the people the captain decides to kill.

One of the great things about these (often impromptu) Facebook sessions is that they give all the players a chance to craft what their PCs say, rather than just blurting it out. It turns out that Captain Breaker’s player is excellent at writing a pirate, and did a great job throughout the downtime of producing piratical theatre. Here, then, is his final speech in front of the gathered crew:

Men and women of the seas!! Stamp yer feet and cry to the skies for today you have all proven yourselves as deserving sea wolves!! It is because of your bravery and strength that we have triumphed against an enemy twice our size and might.

Sea Dogs and scum we might all be, but no man here can deny that we have left our bite in the arse of those that believe themselves better than us! Remember the dead me hearties! They reach to us from Urcaen, their eyes demand that we continue to amass riches enough to slake their thirst, so that on the day of our judgement we shall have hands of gold to share with them in the afterlife.

Aye, but there is reason to mourn on this day as well, for our victory is not without stain. Mourn?! you say, aye says your captain, for today an act of vile thuggery has robbed us of both further glory and respect as sailors. I speak of the murder in cold blood of former Captain Mayhorn. Officer Carmichael!!! STEP FORWARD!

I accuse you of murdering Captain Mayhorn right after he had given up arms and begged for quarter. An act that not only is dishonorable, but more importantly robs this company of possible ransom money. Know man, that the actions of one man could brand your captain and this crew as pirates if it is not duly punished!! This act of impiety breaks the rules of conduct of the sea and carries the penalty of death by hanging. Carmichael! Do you deny these charges?!! Explain yourself in front of all and God!

There followed an extended section where we all indicated how our characters responded, and how Carmichael bore it all. I think most of us would have been too shy to work through all this stuff in so much detail and dramatic style in person, so it was a really refreshing and interesting way to run group interaction.

This was also the first time I’ve been a member of a group that actually took a cold-blooded execution seriously. We were generally concerned about both the fact that it was done at all, and its implications for our future as Privateers. And without the GM having to enforce any penalties in-game for the act!

This isn’t the only good thing about running downtimes by Facebook – I’ll try and say more about that in the new year!—

picture credit: Captain Breaker’s player was responsible for the picture of Breaker (Left) and Hrif the Younger (right) discussing what to do with a prisoner.

El Pollo Diablo heading to battle

El Pollo Diablo heading to battle

The crew roster having been established, let us cast off. The officers of El Pollo Diablo found themselves in Five Fingers with a ship in need of repairs and not even enough money to pay the docking fees. Fortunately they soon made contact with a local gangster – ostensibly head of the local stevedore’s union – who needed a ship to return “stolen” goods. These goods were, apparently, “stolen” from the Golden Crucible, the monopoly producers of black powder and other alchemical wonders in Caen. Furthermore, these goods were of such crucial importance that the union organizer in question was willing to pay to refit our heroes’ boat, give them a sizable cash reward, and arrange a Letter of Marque that would offer them warranty as privateers (and thus indemnify them against claims for the goods they hijacked). All they had to do was ambush a ship called Urcean’s Call, captained by a popular and famous man called Captain Mayhorn, and steal its cargo.

The PCs, naturally being solidly pro-union, and not seeing any reason to be distrustful of a powerful man who works on the docks at Five Fingers, naturally agreed. Also they needed the money.

Alyvia and Carmichael

Alyvia and Carmichael

El Pollo Diablo was soon ready for the tide, and while they waited for the ship to be prepared our heroes investigated the Urcean’s Call‘s itinerary. It appeared this ship would be making a long journey along the ports of Khador, then heading out to the deep ocean to pass around Cryx and far south towards Mennoth. If they could get its course they could easily ambush it on the high seas, northwest of Cryx, by pretending to be a ship in distress. No one would ever be any the wiser …

They sent Carmichael the warcaster north on a fast train. He met the ship on its passage north and arranged to join it as a warcaster, most important of crew. By the time it reached the northern town of Ohk the PCs were waiting, and Carmichael had stolen its shipping plans. He had also managed to gain control of one of its two warjacks. Carmichael stayed onboard the Urcean’s Call when it put out from Ohk, knowing full well that his friends would ambush it on its long journey southward …

Battle was joined on the high seas a week’s voyage out of Ohk. El Pollo Diablo wallowed in the swell, sending off smoke signals of distress, until noticed and approached by Urcaen. When she was pulling alongside the crew of the devil chicken unleashed a broadside, and battle was joined. Carlass and Hrif the Younger leapt over the railings to the deck, while Sharajin called upon Menoth’s wrath to lay fire on her enemies, and Alyvia fired from the deck. Hrif they Younger laid about with his huge axe, slaying crewmen five at a time. As Carlass, Alyvia, Sharajin and Hrif kept the crew beaten down Captain Breaker charged into the cabin of Captain Mayhorn. He unleashed a volley from one of the ship’s cannons – which he carried under one giant arm – but somehow it hit a pillar and rebounded, smashing Breaker to the deck. A strange battle followed as Carmichael tried to join the fight with his warjack, but the four of them could not fit into the captain’s cabin. The battle ended, however, when Hrif and Carlass emerged from belowdecks dragging the last of the ship’s crew. Carlass ordered the captain to stand down or Hrif would begin eating his crew; he refused; Hrif cheerfully began munching on a gunner.

Captain Mayhorn surrendered when he heard the gunner’s screams and saw Hrif cracking the still-living man’s legs and sucking out the warm marrow. The remaining 15 crew members, though shying away from the horrific sounds and sight of Hrif’s hunger, were not so foolish as to not see what happened next: Carmichael, showing neither joy nor sorrow, coolly cut Mayhorn’s throat before anyone with conscience could intervene, and the once-loved captain expired in a pool of ignominy on the deck of his own ship.

A hush descended over the decks. This act would, no doubt, have far-reaching consequences. The captive crew’s anger was guaranteed, as was the wrath of Mayhorn’s family and allies. But the characters had the ship…

In the aftermath of the raid they checked the cargo they had been sent to steal, and found it to be many vials of treatment against a vial disease often spread by the undead of Cryx. They took enough of the cargo to supply their own needs, and then arranged to sell it to the teamster. Their mission had been a success, they now had a galleon and a lot of money, but something sat ill with them … a feeling that they had done wrong, that they had stolen the wrong cargo and killed the wrong man. What, exactly, had they started?

« Previous PageNext Page »