Steampunk


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?

What shall we do with the drunken sailors?

What shall we do with the drunken sailors?

Yesterday my group began a three month long Iron Kingdoms (IK) campaign. We’re starting off on a small ship called El Pollo Diablo (The Devil Chicken), with piracy and mayhem to follow. We are not yet a fully-functioning party, having only joined together under duress: some of us were captives on a slave ship, saved by some other members of the group, and after much slaughter we found ourselves in charge of the ship. We have arrived in the town of Five Fingers, but we don’t have any money to refit the ship we have stolen, or even really any rightful claim to that ship. Nor do we really know each other. Surely a life of piracy awaits… Here then is the crew roster.

Carlass Doomecho, Trollkin Fell-caller/Warlock

Fell calling for a coffee

Fell calling for a coffee

Carlass and her troll axer Hrif the Younger are the last survivors of their kriel, which was a small maritime kriel based in the Scharde Islands. The slowly expanding blight of Cryx overwhelmed their tribe, which slowly fell to darkness and decay, and eventually Carlass and Hrif the Younger made the wise but sad decision to leave the isle and make a new life away from the influence of death and dragons. Carlass, however, pines for a return to kriel life, and is filled with a deep rage at the loss of her home range and kriel. She aims to return and destroy the forces of Cryx one day. There she will reclaim her ancestral homelands and purify them in service to Dhunia.

Hrif the Younger, expressing happiness

Hrif the Younger, expressing happiness

Carlass is a trollkin fell-caller, meaning that she has a powerful voice that can shatter stone and terrify ordinary mortals. Fell callers are revered amongst trollkin society, being seen as gifted by Dhunia, but Carlass has been further gifted with warlock powers. She can control the minds of pureblood trolls, those savage beasts of the wilderness that, though well loved by trollkin, are figures of myth and terror to all other races. The purebloods fell to the blight slowest, but fall they did, and Hrif would have followed his older brother into the darkness had he not been on a mission with Carlass at the time that the tribe finally sank into decay; returning home they discovered their entire tribe gone, either sunk into the sickness of Cryx’s blight, or dead fighting their corrupted kin. Rather than fight, Carlass and Hrif left, vowing to return and sow vengeance; though she was only an apprentice warlock when she left, the loss of their tribe deepened Carlass and Hrif’s bond so that they are now inseparable in war and peace.

Carlass is just under 2m tall, lean and savage looking, pale of skin and much weaker than most trollkin. Her powers arise from her deep booming voice, and her deep bond with Hrif, a 3m tall behemoth of bronze-coloured skin, warts and axes, a civilized beast of few words and resolute action. Where Carlass wills it, Hrif does it. And what Hrif does, remains done. Both of them are new to the world of humans, though, and have little understanding of or respect for their smallbodied kin. This makes them uncomfortable members of their party, and untrustworthy allies…

Sharajin, Mennite monk

Sharajin is a mysterious ascetic of the Mennite faith, far from home and perhaps lost to her people. She is apparently on a mission, though she will not divulge its divine purpose. She seems to have a husband and children back in Mennoth, though it’s hard to believe from her cold and imperious ways that she would ever soften for any love except that of her unforgiving god. She is a woman of few words and vast purpose, a talented artist in the dance of death, and a priest with no peer when it comes to the complex weavings of Mennite rhetoric. For all her cool ways and hard stares, though, Sharajin is quickly liked and trusted by her fellows, and respected by all.

Sharajin is a lean, dangerous looking woman of slightly above average height and supernatural composure. Her hair is short cropped but stylish, her clothing loose-fitting and designed for combat, her style ascetic but not dirty. She fights with her bare fists, sometimes wreathed with fire, and calls the fire and wrath of her distant and uncaring god to destroy her enemies. When she has to speak, she is sparing with words and clear of purpose; when she has to fight, she is sparing of movement, swift of fist, and devastating in impact. Though noone with any sense trusts the Mennites, everyone soon trusts this coiled demon of religious fury.

Alyvia, noble mechanic

Kaylee of the steampipes

Kaylee of the steampipes

Alyvia is a human arcane mechanic, of noble birth in the now-extinguished nation of Llael, forced to wandering the fringes of the human world trying to find a new place in a world torn apart by war and industry. She is equally at home on the battlefield or in the foundry, building things or breaking them. She fights with pistols, but can handle warjacks and other heavy equipment when the need arises. It was Alyvia who found the slaveship that held the others captive, and through her actions they were able to grasp the chance at freedom. Their newfound camaraderie does not extend so far as to allow her to tell them what happened to her noble family in now-forgotten Llael, or what she aims to do to restore her inheritance. Surely though a woman of her capabilities will bring down the Khadoran empire if that is what it takes to regain her rightful place in society. And maybe she will drag the rest of the crew with her on just such a suicidal mission …

Carmichael, warcaster of mystery

Carmichael is the group’s warcaster, and little more can be said of him than that. Thin, bespectacled and pale, he is hardly the classic image of the battlefield warjacker, but competence is measured in more than fancy frock coats, and Carmichael is a good man to have behind you in a pinch – or at least, he is when his Buccaneer warjack is up and steaming. Carmichael is armed with pistols and able to fend for himself when the need takes him; faced with bigger men, he shows no fear or trepidation, and deals with them as a man backed up by several tons of steel warbeast should be expected to. Carmichael’s history is a mystery to the group – they found him washed up on a desert island as they fled the scene of their mutiny, and took him with them more out of pity than calculation. Now that he has “recovered” a Buccaneer, they keep him despite his mysterious past, because it’s better to have a warjack at your back than on your trail …

The freebooter's last vision

The freebooter’s last vision

Captain Breaker, Ogrun bastard

Captain Breaker is the ship’s captain by common consent. A 3m tall Ogrun warrior, Breaker carries a ship’s cannon under one arm as if it were a lady’s purse pistol, and fights with the courage of a man abandoned by civilization … which perhaps he has been. Ogrun are respected and feared in the Iron Kingdoms, so no one dares to hazard a guess as to how he ended up enslaved in a cheap Khadoran galley. Once he was free the carnage he rained down on their captors ensured that no one would ever find out, either. But his ebullient manner, overwhelming physique, and unquestionable bravery qualified him to take captaincy, and so duly it was voted on. When decisions need to be made it is often said that the Ogrun is the first to make them, and the most confident in executing the task; such a personality is the essential bond in a crew as diverse and as cantankerous as this one. So far the group have all united behind Breaker, and they fight for no higher ideal than the preservation of the group. Who better to lead them then, than a slightly mad seaborn Ogrun? And who, in any case, would dare to dissent…?

The Captain thinking, after speaking...

The Captain thinking, after speaking…

That, then, is the crew of El Pollo Diablo. Who knows what benighted shores they sail to, or what evil tides will rush against them over the next few months. But I have a strong feeling their adventures will be exciting and brutal, with little humanity and much humour, so let’s keep a weather eye on the horizon, and see where fickle wind and fate take them …

art note: all line drawings are by Eddie, who plays Captain Breaker. The other two are from Deviant Art; the Buccaneer is from the Privateer Press website.

Brom Barca at the docks

Brom Barca at the docks

There are secrets in Separation City, but our heroes cannot plumb their depths from the confines of that small town – they must at some point follow the clues they have toward Heavenbalm and Store. Though they could stay a little longer to explore Separation City for further clues, our heroes now find themselves in possession of items of deep evil – a fragment of warpstone and a vile book of darkness – that they must take to Heavenbalm soon, before the essences of chaos should corrupt someone anew. They must also find a powerful priest who has some special blessings, that their minds can be put at ease from the horrors they have seen in these past months. With this in mind they decided to temporarily take their leave of Separation City, and head northwest to Heavenbalm. There they would destroy the evil items they had gathered, find ease in Sigmar’s peace, and investigate – probably brutally – the associates of the wizard they just recently vanquished in the crypts of Separation City.

Before they left though, our group of adventurers decided who would stay in Separation City, and who would venture forth. The journey to Heavenbalm is some 7 days in good weather, and knowing our party’s penchant for getting side-tracked in the war against evil, it seemed wise to expect the same band of adventurers would be together for some time. The newly-formed band included two new adventurers, once again introduced to the party by their patron, Baroness von Jungfreud. Four stalwart souls elected to leave the dubious sanctuary of Separation City:

  • Gregor Thornton, the witch-hunter who carried the evil items
  • Azahi, the dwarven troll-slayer, who would set out with the party in a covered wagon, so great was the affliction of his insanity
  • Brom Barca, human pit-fighter, a veritable giant of a man on a quest to find the only pit-fighter who ever beat him (and that through treachery)
  • Leticia, elven sword-master, of mysterious purpose as are all of her kind

Brom and Leticia were introduced to the party by von Jungfreud, and it was at this final meeting that the PCs were able to learn some things about her and her husband’s past that might in future help them to understand the importance of Separation City.

Meeting with Baroness von Jungfreud

With the spring weather becoming finer and warmer after the closing of the wattle-viewing season, Baroness von Jungfreud invited our heroes for a small party on her private yacht, perhaps also to do a little whale watching. With the sun glinting on the still waters of Separation Bay, a gentle breeze blowing through the canopied deck of her pretty little yacht, Baroness von Jungfreud treated our heroes to a fine repast of roasted meats, raw fish eaten fresh-landed and still dancing on the plate, bowls of preserved lilly-pillies, and rice wine in capacious quantities. As they ate and drank she freely answered all their questions, and the PCs learnt many things about her and her dead husband Mattix’s past:

  • Mattix was heir to a farming demesne in the sunlit highlands between Store and Heavenbalm. It was inland, on the slopes of Realmsight Mountain, in an area of rich forests and rice farms, and he stood to live a long, boring and healthy life taxing the local farmers
  • He never gave a clear reason for the move, except that he thought there were better prospects in Separation City – to do with trade between Dwarves, the Palace Cape and also opening up the inland
  • It was Mattix who set about establishing the Dwarven trading post and community. He employed a Dwarven architect, Archaex, to help build the ship spire and the associated underground storage and power source. He may still have the plans to it, and certainly still has the communications with the Dwarf amongst his personal possessions
  • Mattix had contacts in Store and Heavenbalm
  • Occasionally Mattix visited Store, always without the Baroness, and she thinks that he maybe had a lover there.

By the end of the meal they had come to understand that Mattix von Jungfreud had some plans involving the dwarves, and to know more about his past they would need to find this Dwarven architect Archaex. Baroness von Jungfreud, the dutiful wife and society socialite, gave no indication that she had any knowledge of whatever secrets his plans contained. They would need to investigate his lover, and his contact Archaex, to learn more.

But first, they needed to find solace and redemption at Heavenbalm, so they took their leave of Baroness von Jungfreud and headed into the hills

Bushrangers!

Springing the trap

Springing the trap

Their journey would take them through Steamline Spa – about two days’ journey from Separation City – and then on to Heavenbalm, another three days’ journey beyond that. The roads in spring were easily passable and smooth, so they took with them a wagon, holding their travel supplies and their dwarf, inchoate with crawling terrors after the undead near feasted on him. The first day of their journey was uneventful, but on the second day they came upon a strange and sinister tableaux. At this point the road parted around a small satoyama, with the main road continuing to the northwest but a small, disused trail cutting left from the road to ascend the satoyama in switchbacks. A crumbling and fading shrine gate on this smaller road pointed to a disused shrine in the heart of the satoyama, but the switchbacks were overgrown and obviously unused. To the left of the road and behind them were loose and scrubby eucalypt forest; to their right, open land leading to a small stream, which was surrounded by reeds and thick grasses. In the junction of the road, where the smaller path split from the main road, lay a fallen horse and rider, both clearly dead. The PCs stopped their wagon and horses and approached the bodies to investigate, leaving their dwarf rambling to himself in the wagon. They tried to see where the body had come from, how long it was dead, and what killed it, but none of them had any facility with medicine, and perhaps the bright sun had already begun its hideous work on the corpse. Brom Barca noticed, however, that the horse’s saddlebags seemed full of coin, and all three of our heroes descended with glee upon the corpse.

It was as they began to tear open these saddlebags that the bushrangers sprung their trap. Small squads of archers appeared simultaneously from the streamside, the forest behind the wagon, and the switchbacks on the satoyama. Each squad had three archers and a leader: a wizard on the hillside, some thug with a long rifle in the trees, and a sword-armed maniac in the stream. Caught on all sides in a hail of gunfire, our party had to act fast. Gregor moved to the edge of the path and opened fire upon those attacking from the stream; Brom Barca hauled his huge body up the switchbacks of the satoyama, charging through loose scrub and undergrowth with roaring, frenzied abandon; Leticia moved to engage the archers from the forest as they dropped their crossbows and charged to close combat.

Things did not go well at first, though. Brom Barca was caught in entangling vines by the wizard’s magic; Leticia was forced to cut and run in the face of superior numbers; and Gregor found himself sorely pressed and beaten back by the force of his enemies. As Leticia ran she was cut down with arrows, but the archers left her to deal with Brom Barca, who soon hauled himself from his entanglement and slew the offending wizard, spattering his fellows with gore and causing them to flee. Gregor, it seemed, would be surrounded and cut down like a dog, but the sounds of battle roused Azahi from his insanity and, stumbling from the wagon, he engaged Leticia’s foes before they could reach Gregor. This gave Brom Barca time to return to the fray, and soon the tide turned: all the bushrangers died like pigs at a slaughterhouse, Brom Barca laughing with joy as their blood spattered his apron and smeared his face, and Gregor pale-faced and grim with the dark job of stabbing, smashing and shooting. Then the job was done, Leticia rescued from a bad fate, the dwarf Azahi regaining enough poise to return to future battles, and Brom Barca bloodied, joyous with the thrill of murder done righteously.

They chased the remaining few bandits to the abandoned shrine, where they found them taking cover behind a wagon at the entrance, firing down the path at the party. Brom Barca cared not for the sting of bolts, though, and charged forward, his huge bulk hitting the wagon with such force that it overturned, splintering, and crushed the last three men beneath it. Then it was a simple job of jumping on the wagon, driving its splintered axle and wheel-frames into the pinned and desperate bandits until they writhed no more, and their blood consecrated the entry of the shrine: a bloody and frenzied chozubachi this. Once Brom Barca had spilt the blood on his hands and face, he entered the shrine to see if anyone else dared worship at the altar of death; but none were there. So they looted the bandits temple, and continued on their way to Steamline Spa.

The murderer of the caldera

When they reached Steamline Spa they handed in evidence of the dead bandits, and found accomodation in a fine hotel near the central lake. They were soon approached by an elder of the town, Merschak the steward, who asked them to attend to a delicate matter: a murderer called Otto Mercads, last son of a noble house, had returned to Steamline Spa and begun his horrific killings again. So far no one in the town knew except Merschak and the local lord, and they wanted some out-of-towners with a good reputation to go and find Mercads, and bring him back alive. Once caught, Merschak wanted the PCs to escort Otto to Heavenbalm, where he would again be locked up in a secure place far from harm – being a scion of a wealthy family, he could not be subjected to the rough justice of commoners, but would be locked away from the rest of the world for good. For finding him and taking him to Heavenbalm, the PCs would be paid 5 gold each.

The PCs agreed, and said they would seek out Otto the next morning. His victim had been found on the slopes of Mount Steamline, and it seemed likely he was hiding in the caldera; they must travel up the mountain the next day and find him. So bid, they agreed to the deal, and settled down for a pleasant and restful sleep, free of dreams and worries …

(Picture credit: the image of Brom Barca is by Guilherme Formenti)

Approaching the crypt at dusk

Approaching the crypt at dusk

When last we left our PCs they had cleared out a goblin nest near their onsen, at great personal cost to Azahi the Troll-slayer, and put paid to a potential threat to their new demesne. Upon returning to the onsen they were called back to Separation City by Baroness von Jungfreud and, after a day of rest and healing for poor Azahi, they returned to town. This time they took with them Grunstein, the Jade order mage, who had recovered from his case of hideous Blacklegge disease.

When they returned to Separation City Baroness von Jungfreud arranged to meet them for a picnic, perhaps her last of the spring. As is typical for such a notable’s picnic, she had brought with her several servants, a fire to cook upon, and even a small tent beneath which to retire from the sun. She had also brought with her a scraggly, wild-eyed man in a battered hat and leathers, who traveled under the name Gregor Thorveld and claimed to be one of that rare and feared breed, a witch-hunter. Judging by his nervous manner, continually jittering eyes and uncertain speech he was either constitutionally a coward, or had seen far too many witches.

The Baroness's servants prepare the picnic

The Baroness’s servants prepare the picnic

Baroness von Jungfreud told the characters that there were rumours of disturbance in the graveyard, that one of the graveyard guards had been ambushed with a rusty old arrow and that she wanted them to investigate. The graveyard had been used to bury the victims of the recent plague – about 50 to 100 in all – and she was worried that the PCs had failed to kill off all the plague cultists. Perhaps one had stolen back into the graveyard and was hiding there amidst the corpses of his victims? When asked why the victims had not been burnt, Baroness von Jungfreud somewhat sheepishly confessed that in fact the town Physician had overseen the burial … that same town Physician, of course, who was working for the plague cult. Thus all the groundwork had been laid for even a minor functionary of the cult to dig up some hunk of ghoulpox’d rotten corpse and dump it in the water supply – again.

It was then that she introduced Gregor, who she assured them sternly would help them to make up for any mistakes they had made in eradicating the cult. Through clenched teeth they introduced themselves, and discovered that he had come to Separation City on the strength of rumours of chaos and murder, and had offered to aid Baroness von Jungfreud as part of his role as a witch hunter. The town currently lacking any sturdy fighters, she had agreed to take him on and would send him with the PCs. Although she was dismissive and hypocritical about the responsibility for the plague cult survivor, she did give some implicit indication that she understood her responsibility – she offered them 5 gold coins each to clear the graveyard, a huge amount for such a simple task. Assured of reward, they set off immediately.

Separation City graveyard is separated from the town by some distance, and set on a hillside that backs onto the forested mountains beyond. It is surrounded by the typical wall that surrounds any Steamlands graveyard, about 4 metres high and designed to be hard to scale from the inside. This graveyard had two entrances, one main entrance facing the Iron Ring section of town (distantly visible to the south) and one, higher up along the wall near the end of the cemetery, that was much smaller, much less secure, and opened to a small path that led to a “secret hot spring,” a hot spring that has no real facilities and is used in the open air by anyone who cares to visit. Why this was located in the graveyard was a mystery to everyone, but the PCs immediately recognized the risk – the plague cult seemed to have a thing for causing trouble in hot springs. They had the town guards bar the main gates and set forth for the hot spring. By the time they had arranged all the details it was dusk, but they didn’t let this deter them, and approached the spring.

The spring itself was just a small pool, perhaps thrice as long as it was wide and large enough for four people to bathe together. On one side was a rundown shack; on the other, thick bushes. As they investigated the spring Grunstein noted a disturbance in the Winds of Magic, and was able to warn the rest of the group before a spirit manifested over the pool and drifted forward to the attack.

The battle was over quickly. The spirit attacked Azahi but could not harm him, and the four of them soon dispatched it, though its ethereal form made it hard for their weapons to hit it. Finally Grunstein’s magic dart destroyed it, and it drifted away in a cloud of sparkling motes. The place from hence it had come was now revealed to be an opening in the woods, with a narrow and overgrown path leading further up the hill. This path had obviously been hidden by some kind of illusion that the spirit’s presence maintained; with the spirit gone they were able to see the path. The path itself had obviously not been used for a long time, and was covered in vines and brush. Somewhere down that path in the gloom, Laren thought she saw movement. After a pause to gather their thoughts, they plunged into the path.

After about 30 metres the path veered left and out of sight beyond thick brush. As they approached the corner two skeleton archers emerged from the shadows of the trees ahead. One fired two arrows at Azahi in rapid succession, hitting him in chest and shoulder; the other did the same at Gregor, hitting him once. Laren returned fire and they charged into battle, again rapidly destroying their enemy. These enemies carried arrows that appeared similar to those described by the graveyard guards. Obviously they were getting closer.

Moving further along the path after only the briefest of pauses, the characters saw a rundown and overgrown crypt ahead of them. Laren approached stealthily, finding the door open. From within came the smell of roasting flesh and incense, accompanied by a querulous voice chanting rhythmically and beating some form of small drum. As the others cautiously approached she moved to the doorway and looked in upon a horrifying sight.

The inside of the crypt contained a large sarcophagus at one end, and several smaller sarcophagi upright around the walls. Hanging from one of these on a portable umbrella hook was a coat and hat. On the main sarcophagus was a collection of magical paraphernalia: burning incense, a silver dagger, some gems, candles, a shrivelled newt. Facing them but some distance away stood a tall, angular man in a perfect threepiece suit, fob-watch in pocket, monocle in one eye. In front of him was a strange device, a kind of travelling lectern such as some preachers or musicians sometimes use, made of polished brass and obviously quite expensive, robust enough to hold a large book from which the man was reading. Between this scene of scholarly fastidiousness and the somewhat chaotic collection of magic items on the sarcophagus a magic circle had been painted on the floor in blood. Inside the circle a small child roasted on a spit over a small fire, still vaguely alive and burbling and gasping its last horrified breaths. A small skeletal familiar turned the spit rhythmically.

Laren gasped in horror and opened fire on the wizard. As he turned to face her, hideous beasts materialized from the gloom. Two crypt ghouls came prowling out from behind the sarcophagus and shambled forward to the attack; a darker, more terrifying spirit form coalesced near Laren and drifted forward to strike at her. Battle was joined. Gregor moved forward to take a shot at the ghouls but was so horrified by what he saw that he turned and fled. Azahi charged forward to attack the ghouls but was also shaken by the horror of the scene, and so terrified of the undead and enraged that he opted instead to strike at the wizard. As he did so a ghoul leapt on his back and began gnawing at him, digging closer and closer to his jugular with its teeth. Overwhelmed by the terror and burdened by the weight of magic and beast, he fought poorly and increasingly desperately. Grunstein helped as he could, his powers bolstered by drawing on a shard of wyrdstone that lay on the sarcophagus, but he had to leave to support Laren as she withdrew across the overgrown path. She and Grunstein prepared to sell their lives dearly in the gloom of the path, facing up against the Cairn Wraith and one ghoul. Grunstein was close to death when Gregor, regretting his flight, returned to the fray and helped to dispatch their enemies. Inside, Azahi managed to slay the wizard, shake off the ghoul and destroy it; but so desperate and exhausted was he that he simply sunk to the ground, hand gripped around his falchion blade so tight that it bled. The others flocked to him and helped him back to himself, but he would never be the same again.

They destroyed the magic items and looted the bodies. On closer inspection the wyrdstone Grunstein had been using was discovered to be that most foul substance, Warpstone, obviously being used by the necromancer to fuel his foul rites. Grunstein investigated the book from which these rites were read and found it was a speak with dead spell; the necromancer had been planning to raise the ghost of a resident of this crypt. Such a terrible book and such an evil substance would need to be destroyed, and not just in the local Sigmar temple – a journey to Heavenbalm would be necessary soon to destroy such abominations.

Notes on the necromancer’s body suggested he was looking for a member of the Family Azeem, who were buried here. This family ruled Separation City until the von Jungfreuds arrived 12 years earlier, and the necromancer’s notes suggested that the person he was attempting to bring back from beyond had been murdered by the von Jungfreuds. He had traveled here from Heavenbalm to find out something about the past in Separation City, and he was not alone; he was a member of a clique based in Heavenbalm, who met at a tavern there called the Seventh Banner.

Now the PCs began to wonder – was there something special about Separation City? Why was it that all these people had an interest in this town? Twelve years ago the von Jungfreuds had come here, and had been willing to do murder to take control of the town. How had they been able to arrange their possession of this town and why? How come this tomb was so forgotten and hidden? Then, was it a coincidence that a powerful disease cultist based in Store – the mysterious “F” – had sent a strong disease cult to overwhelm the town, coincidentally using von Jungfreud as the centre of the plot and killing her husband? And why was this necromancer here trying to turn up secrets from 12 years ago?

The PCs realized that there was a mystery about the town, and that it could be answered only through investigations in Separation City, Heavenbalm and Store. Since they had an evil book and warpstone to destroy, there next course of action was obvious – they would travel to Heavenbalm to the temple of Eight Banners, to destroy the book and the stone; and while there they would hunt down this necromantic clique, and find what it aimed to achieve. They would regret the day one of their number crossed paths with Azahi, Laren, Grunstein and Gregor …

A few mechanical notes: upon sight of the ritual all the PCs had to do corruption checks and several failed. Somehow Grunstein managed to use the warpstone four times and only incurred one point of corruption. By way of contrast, Azahi gained the frightened condition and once the ghoul attacked him he started incurring serious fatigue and stress, ultimately accruing four temporary insanities – one of which was permanent. This battle was a very close-fought thing indeed.

What party happened under these wattles?

What party happened under these wattles?

At the end of the last session, our heroes had successfully destroyed a disease cult near Separation City, though at a high cost in disease and wounds, and without capturing its ultimate leader. They now knew, however, that this leader could be found somewhere in the distant town of Store, and had a better idea of his plans for Separation City.

In this session, we find our PCs at loose ends for the first time since they arrived in Separation City. Greeted as heroes by the residents of the town and having restored the healers to their rightful place, the PCs were able to relax and receive some much-needed healing, as well as take part in a great Steamlands tradition: the wattle-viewing party. All around Separation City the wattle trees had come into bloom, and the city had turned golden in the reflected light of their heavy blossoms. Parties were held under stands of these trees, and the PCs were invited to every party they passed on account of their heroic deeds. In between visits to the healers, the whole party was able to remain constantly drunk and fed.

Unfortunately, most members of the party were too sick to travel, and so after three days of convalescence it fell to only two of the group – the elven scout, Laren and the dwarven troll-slayer Azahi – to leave town on their next mission, while the other party members rested to recover from the ghoulpox they had been inflicted with in the previous adventure.

The next mission began easily enough: as part of their reward for freeing the town of its disease cult, the party had been offered the services of a single healer, to live permanently at their onsen. Laren and Azahi took on the responsibility of escorting the healer to the onsen, and also checking their onsen was still functioning well. They took with them the 10 monkey-men who they saved from pustulent death, for these monkey-men had now bound themselves to the party and would not leave them.

Laren and Azahi and their charges reached the onsen with no trouble after a short journey, and soon had the healer resting in the onsen. The monkey-men they dispatched to the steam valley to the rear of their spa, with the intention of establishing a new village there. The monkey-men would grow mangoes and keep watch over the narrow valley.

The next morning the pair learnt that the onsen’s remaining guards had seen evidence of goblin patrols in the hills nearby. They set out immediately to find these goblins and destroy them. Azahi’s grudge against greenskins is so furious that he refused to wait for the convalescing party members, but insisted that just the two of them go to war, taking with them three monkey-men as support.

They soon found goblin trails, and Laren was easily able to track them to their lair, a small cave system in the hills a few hours’ march from the onsen. Even though these goblins appeared to have been resident for at least a year without causing trouble, Azahi refused to leave them be, and so they attacked. The plan was simple: Azahi moved as stealthily as he could to the cave mouth and attacked the two goblins on guard there, with Laren providing covering fire. The battle opened with the immediate death of the first goblin, but the second raised a ruckus and refused to back down, and as Azahi engaged him a giant spider descended from the cliff face above the cave mouth and attacked him from behind. Unfortunately, Laren’s first shot missed spider and goblin and skewered Azahi perfectly in the back, and before she could find her aim she had already badly wounded her own ally.

Fangs the size of milk bottles...

Fangs the size of milk bottles…

The battle lasted a couple of rounds, and though Azahi was in no danger of losing while Laren supported him, from deeper in the cave network they could hear more goblins preparing for battle. Azahi had only just dispensed with the spider and the remaining goblin when a mob of four more goblins came charging into the cave from a narrow tunnel at its darkest recess. These met their immediate doom on his falchion, and though he could hear more sounds from below, none charged up the stairs. He called in Laren, and they braced themselves for more battle.

A tunnel led from the rear of the cave deeper into the complex, heading down in a spiral to a lower cave in which they could hear eight goblins preparing for battle. Thinking it wise to act first, Laren used her elven trick shot, firing an arrow that curved perfectly down the spiraling tunnel to meet its mark somewhere in the deeper darkness. They heard a scream, a goblin yelling “no, don’t do that…” followed by a gurgle, smashing glass and a sudden explosion of flames. After some more screams and the sound of barrels of water being splashed around, the goblins came charging up the tunnel. Only six emerged into the top cave, and one of them obviously badly burnt; Laren and Azahi slaughtered them at the tunnel mouth, though not before Azahi took some more damage. Though they were winning, Azahi was taking wounds and refusing to back down, his expression grimmer than Laren had ever seen and his resolve firm. They would die here, or conquer.

They descended the tunnel and emerged into a scene of chaos. The cave at the tunnel bottom was a guard room, largely empty but for some weapon racks and a table. Lying on one side of the room were the badly burnt corpses of two goblins, surrounded by smashed lanterns and soaked in water. It was clear what had happened here: Laren’s trick shot had mortally wounded one, who had staggered into another. The arrow protruding from the first had penetrated deep into the second, and in his agonized flailings he had knocked over the lanterns that stood on a rack next to him, accidentally torching both of them and spilling some flaming oil onto a third. The remaining goblins had upended all their barrels of drinking water to douse the flames, and then in their rage they had all charged unthinking up the tunnel to their doom. The cave stank abominably of burning oil and roasted goblin, a stench that Laren had never experienced and Azahi remembered only from the time his family, starving, had been forced to grill a plague-ridden fox one winter. Both of them, gagging, fled the cave and headed deeper into the complex.

At the bottom of the tunnel they found a supply cave, common in many goblin complexes: an underground stream ran through the middle of it, and next to the stream was a pile of mouldering giant mushrooms, giving off a dim phosphorescent light. Crates of old loot and a few goat carcasses littered the room, but there was nothing of interest. However, Azahi remembered an old tale amongst dwarves, that with the right preparation the gobins’ mushroom lights could be rendered explosive; and Laren, using her nature lore, was able to come up with a rough concoction of urine, salt and blackpowder that would do the job. They prepared a single bottle of exploding goblin-mushroom, and followed the tunnels out of the storeroom into the deeper darkness.

Here they found their target: the goblin chieftain with the last eight warriors of his tribe. Azahi waited some way up the tunnel, and Laren threw her exploding mushroom bottle from the shadows. This landed right amongst the chieftain and his crew, exploding with a ferocious light and stench. Laren fled up the tunnel to take a position behind Azahi; moments later the eight goblins came charging up the tunnel, their chieftain behind them. Four of these goblins were badly burnt, but the chieftain was taking no chances. He sent them ahead urging them on at sword point. He was a huge beast of a goblin, fully half again the size of a normal man, decorated in a bizarre mix of stolen armour, heavily scarred and almost black with years and grime. His beady eyes shone with rage in a grizzled face twisted in a rictus of hate; his left shoulder-guard was covered with the dried skin of a dwarven face badly removed from its hapless owner. Smoke drifted from various parts of his burnt clothes and hair, and he screamed in rage as he ascended the tunnel.

The eight goblins met Azahi with a thunderous crash, and in moments he had dispensed with four of them in a frenzy of short, savage chops of his falchion. Laren skewered several of them, but the chieftain charged into the gap Azahi had made, beating his own allies aside as he entered the fray. Unfortunately Azahi’s wounds were too great for him; before he could deliver the killing blow the chieftain felled him with a massive chop across the back of the head, leaving only Laren to finish the battle. As he stood baying his victory over the slumped troll-slayer, she shot him in the face. Even this didn’t kill him, but it did draw him back to his rage, so that instead of severing the head of his defeated foe he charged for the elf. She ran daintily up the tunnel, leading him back to the monkey-men where they stood guard; they surged past her to join combat, and she turned and fired back into the fray.

The chieftain was brave and brutal, but he was already badly wounded and no match for three enraged monkey-men. One he slew with a cruel and vicious slash to the shoulder, but then the other two were onto him, ripping and tearing and hooting and smashing, and they did not stop until nothing remained of him but a bloody smear. Laren stepped over the remains and ran to Azahi’s aid, relieved to find him still alive though bloodied. His injured state saved her from witnessing the grimmest part of a troll-slayer’s duty: had he been well at the end of battle he would have proceeded into the breeding caves at the rear of the complex and slaughtered all the women and children too, but he could only sit slumped in exhaustion against the wall and watch in helpless anger as those innocents fled up the tunnel to take their chances in the wilderness.

Laren and Azahi had prevailed, but at great cost: Azahi nearly dead and one monkey-man lost. They gathered up the goblins’ pitiful treasure and left the cave to return to the onsen, where their newly-installed healer would be able to repair Azahi. Laren was uninjured but for this, and for her first hasty shot into battle, there was bad blood between them, the old enmity of elves and dwarves briefly rekindled. Nonetheless, they had proven themselves a good team.

Back at the onsen they were greeted by a messenger from Separation City, who told them bad news: rumour was abroad of a stranger in the graveyards, and the lady von Jungfreud suspected a survivor of the disease cult still lurked about town. She wanted Azahi and Laren to return to town to investigate and capture this last survivor.

Truly there is no rest for the righteous; nor, indeed, for our heroes…

Photo credit: the image is by Andrew Babington.

The people of the Steamlands view faith in a practical light, preferring mostly to avoid the attention of the greater powers in the hope of a peaceful life. That there are Gods and magic imbuing the entire land is a fact unquestioned; the utility of loyal service to them is noted; but the ultimate benefits of fealty are weak, and questionable. This is because the gods of the Steamlands divide into two bitterly opposed factions: the uncaring, capricious and probably not-even-sentient gods of the main churches, whose beneficence is limited to their closest servants; and the malicious gods of Chaos, who offer greater but uncertain rewards to those sick enough to join with them, in exchange for a life of secrecy and pain.

The gods of the main churches are universally accepted as real, but to show faith gains nothing. Even to their closest followers they offer no eternal salvation or redemption. Their teachings offer no hope for a better future, no life beyond death, no reward for goodness and no benefits to casual faith. Those who attend church regularly to offer their prayers to these gods are given no promise that the gods will attend to their needs. The ordinary citizens of the Steamlands are simply told that ruin follows from a neglect of fealty, and expected to believe in all the main gods, and accord them respect, for no better reason than the fear of floods and earthquakes that are visited upon unbelievers. Only those who dedicate their lives to service of a single church gain any benefit from their faith: for these select few, temporal power can be gained through the power to cast benedictions and to have prayers answered. For the rest, faith and worship are reflexive acts, practised to avoid the wrath of unfeeling and unsentimental elder powers rather than out of love for or hope of a greater good on this world or any other. All followers of the main gods of the churches will live out their short, nasty lives in pain and suffering, eased only by the occasional ministrations of the Shallyans, and when they have served out their allotted mortal term will be coiled up into the earth, to return to the worms and the darkness. The best hope for ordinary mortals in the Steamlands is to live their lives unnoticed by church, god or secular powers, to avoid major mishaps (or to be tended by the Shallyans when they occur) and to die with dignity, hopefully not in too much pain, and hopefully surrounded by loved ones. Thus do the gods promise that all humans are equal.

The Chaos gods whisper in the ears of some arrogant or cruel folk that they can rise above this tawdry cycle, and offer commensurate benefits. There is no ever-lasting life in Chaos, but the Chaos gods do promise a longer life, possibly much longer than any human can hope for naturally, great temporal power to aid their followers in pursuing whatever corrupt material goals they desire, and freedom from disease and pain not through the humble ministrations of healers, but through the domination and ultimate subjugation of the human condition: in short, long life and the ability to ignore or control disease, pain and terror. Those who serve the gods of Chaos well do not go to some dark and horrific hell, as is often threatened by the preachers of Sigmar: they die peacefully and return to the earth as do all mortals, all their cruel deeds and corruption unpunished forever. However, very few of the followers of the Chaos gods live long enough to gain this reward, because the Chaos churches function on hatred, cruelty and treachery. Those who first enter the church are pawns for their more powerful brethren, used horribly and treated cruelly so that only the strongest and bravest survive. Those who fail to rise to the early challenges of entry into these creeds of darkness die soon, and horribly, or are cast out to suffer the flames of the established churches. Those few who succeed in rising above the level of initiate are then able to inflict the same cruelty they experienced on others, and to use their followers as they see fit. But for those who reach these higher echelons of the Chaos church, a more dangerous fate awaits. For though the Chaos gods reward their longest-lived and most faithful followers with peace after a long life, they punish those who fail them terribly. Leaders of chaos cults or disease sects who fail to achieve the tasks they are given, who are revealed and captured by the churches, or who betray their cult, are given the worst punishment of all: their souls are thrown into hell, and tortured until the Chaos gods tire of them. Some scholars contend that it is only through this punishment that the Chaos gods are able to generate the supernatural power they need to reward their followers, since they have been cut off from whatever godhead underlies the powers of the gods of the main churches. Others contend that so long as there is pain, suffering and treachery in the world of ordinary mortals, the Chaos gods will always have supernatural power to bestow on those they seduce away from the path of righteousness. Whatever the truth of it, the reality of the Chaos cults is always the same: the new entrants are abused and used as their elders see fit, but those same elders must always succeed, lest they be fed into the great and terrible cauldron of punishment that the gods of Chaos reserve for their own kind. Should they avoid an early death and conduct themselves well in the service of their gods, however, servants of Chaos can hope to live long lives blessed with temporal power and fanatical followers who will do their every bidding.

This is the choice that faces ordinary mortals in the Steamlands: thankless piety to uncaring, capricious gods who offer them no sanctuary from the bitterness of ordinary life; or a brutal struggle to gain the favour of dark gods through fell deeds, in the small hope of extending their mortality beyond that of their kin, and slaking their lusts on the weak and the innocent. The preachers of the main churches contend that humanity is weak and morally frail, and this is why the majority of ordinary people show a cynical view of the churches and offer only the weakest semblance of piety. But the truth is that neither the gods of the main churches or the Gods of chaos offer any reason for mortals to respect them, and none to love them. For the majority of the residents of the Steamlands the presence of immortal powers is a curse, the churches a bane, their promises empty and their threats vexing. It is in this spirit that the people greet their preachers – is it any wonder, then, that the Chaos cults always seem to spring up anew, no matter how hard good folk try to destroy them?

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