Steampunk


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?

Falconfox often begs tobacco off of strangers...

Falconfox often begs tobacco off of strangers…

When we left our heroes, they had just entered combat with the Cavalcade of Ruin. They were joined almost immediately  by a dwarf of dubious intent, Colonel Cornelius Lodestone XIX of the Glass Hills (15th Assistant to the Grand Artificer) (2nd Class Airship Pilot in His Majesty’s Royal Air Corps, Group 5, Wyvern Squadron, Azure Wing) (Field Agent 85A , Hazardous Delvings Department, Section 6)… Colonel Falconfox to his friends … This short and generally not very useful man appeared at the window of the Healer’s Hospice almost as soon as battle was joined, firing his loud but largely useless black powder pistols into the fray. Fortunately the party had another, much more effective dwarf to aid them, the indomitable Azahi the Trollslayer, and though the battle was tough they ultimately prevailed.

The battle was a raucous affair. Azahi took the Plaguebearer – the great, fat, rotting ogrish figure – front and centre, and while he slugged it out with this ham-fisted and abhorrent creature the elven Scout, Laren, and the wizard attempted to deal with the Chaos sorcerer and his marauders. This didn’t work out so well for the party: Laren found herself inflicted with three diseases, and the wizard suffered two diseases before he was knocked unconscious under a bevy of critical injuries. Laren the elf managed to distract the Chaos sorcerer’s Nurglings from battle through judicious application of a well-cooked kidney pie, freeing her up to concentrate on the sorcerer himself. The initiate attempted to aid Azahi to little avail, but finally Azahi crushed the Plaguebearer and they managed to overcome the sorcerer. The surviving Chaos marauder fled, but was cut down by the newcomer Dwarf; and after a few minutes of chaos and slimy, bloody confusion the party managed to destroy the Nurglings. The poxy cavalcade threatening Separation City had been vanquished!

Though they were largely too sick to stay upright for long, the party searched the bodies of their foes. They discovered nothing of value, but they did discover a large object wrapped in cloth. Upon unwrapping it, they found that the cavalcade had brought with them to the healer’s hospice the body of a mutant. Though they couldn’t be sure, their suspicion was that the cavalcade of Ruin intended to install the mutant in the empty hospice, so as to imply that the Healers had been attempting to cure a mutant. Throughout the Steamlands, mutants are killed on sight, being servants of Chaos; but there are rumours – never confirmed – that some healers are so zealous in their pursuit of Shallya’s mercy that they will even try to heal mutants. By placing the corpse in the Healer’s hospice, the cavalcade of Nurgle would have been able to discredit Separation City’s healers and give strength to an old rumour. This would have guaranteed that the town’s healers were burnt at the stake, and freed up the town for the forces of Nurgle to infest. Fortunately, our heroes had defeated this nefarious plot.

They searched the cavalcade’s caravan and captured their remaining servants, but got nothing useful except more diseases. Finally, exhausted and afflicted, the party returned to their tavern and collapsed in a pox-ridden heap, to await the accolades they deserved – and some healing.

The healers returned after two days, and the party received all the healing they needed; but with the healers came Madam von Jungfreud, who after some perfunctory apologies for her mistakes demanded that the PCs should head off into the wilderness to find the leader of the cult of Nurgle, and destroy it. Our heroes, being in possession of certain letters to the doctor, were fairly sure that the leader of the cult was not located anywhere near Separation City. However, they realized that the plague afflicting the lands around Separation City must have some cause, so they set off the following day to find – and destroy – whatever outpost of Nurgle had afflicted the lands west of Separation City.

On the evening of the first day of walking, the party came to Monkey Mountain. This mountain holds a community of creatures somewhat like primitive humans, who cannot speak any language humans know but are peacable enough to be able to communicate and trade with local farmers. When our heroes reached it they soon found themselves accosted by an enraged Monkey Man, who was clearly also very, very sick. The Initiate calmed the Monkey Man by gestured signals indicating he could help, and the Monkey Man led them to his community on Monkey Mountain.

Sadly, the Monkey Man’s tribe were dead – all but about 10 of them. They had died of some kind of plague. Familiar by now with the machinations of the cult of Nurgle, the party soon found a bag of pus secreted at the source of the Monkey Mountain’s streams, and identified here the cause of the clan’s disease. Noting also a pile of goods obtained from recent trade with the nearby farmers, they guessed that the Monkey Men had been used as the locus of disease throughout the area. Though subsequently the party found other streams with the same contamination, it was obvious that the Monkey Men had been infected en masse as a source of disease for the farmers in the area. The Initiate identified that the disease disseminated here was ghoulpox, and since the party had cures for the ghoulpox, obtained from the doctor in Separation City, they were soon able to cure the few surviving Monkey Men. This cure, unfortunately, renders its victims suggestible; so when they left the Mountain the party had secured themselves a force of 11 loyal Monkey Man followers …

They passed on through the ravaged farmlands west of Separation City. For two days, they found nothing but occasional sources of infection, but in the evening of the second day they stumbled upon something new …

By now they had passed beyond the farmland around Separation City and were passing though typical highland forest: silent stands of eucalyptus forest, eerily silent but for the occasional lone cry of unnamed birds. Near evening, they heard a new and strange sound over the silence of the forest, like a huge swarm of insects; and over the subtle lemonbalm scent of eucalypts came the strong stench of ordure, as if they were nearing a military encampment. Thinking they might have stumbled on the military mission that left Separation City a few weeks earlier, they headed to the source of the smell …

… and found a horrific site. They entered a small clearing, at the centre of which was an onsen of medium warmth. Floating in the middle of the onsen was a strange construction, consisting of two canoes, one upturned over the other and the pair locked together. Trapped within them was the body of a man, and about him thronged a huge horde of stinging, biting and parasitic insects. They had stumbled on a scaphism – someone was being tortured by means of the boats. Drawing the boats into the edge of the onsen, the PCs were assailed by a terrible smell. The wizard used his spell The Howler Wind to disperse the insects, revealing beneath a sight to horrify even a Dwarven graverobber such as Colonel Falconfox: beneath the cowl of insects was Separation City’s priest of Sigmar, reduced to a moaning and suppurating mess, all his skin punctured and ruined by insects. Worms swam in his eyes, and ran down the streaks of vomit that smeared his cheeks; the stench that came off him was horrific to mortal men, and his arms pulsated with larvae and grubs soon to hatch. He had been tortured most foully, and his last delerious days were upon him.

The priest opened his cracked lips to reveal a swollen, insect-infested tongue. He begged the party not to kill him, and told them that every morning at dawn two cultists came to his pool, and these two cultists had a key to the tower. The PCs saw their chance: they set the priest adrift on the water again, and laid a trap for the cultists.

The following morning two cultists came to the water, and were duly caught. Azahi, showing no patience with them, dragged one down to the water. He drew in the boat, smothered the priest to death against his (feeble, human) will, and tore him from the boats. Then he picked up the cultist and told him, “you go in the boats, or you die quickly.”

These cultists were no fools – they knew that when caught, a cultist of Nurgle can choose only the manner, not the fact of their demise. This one quickly sprang to his own defense, and offered to tell the PCs all they needed to know.

The other one went in the boats.

The PCs then headed up the hill in the direction the cultists had come, soon finding themselves facing a small tower. The graverobber approached under stealth but was seen and attacked by a wizard in the tower. The elf and the wizard approached the tower disguised as cultists, and were hailed as friends with the warning “rush to the door, someone waits to ambush you.” This they did, but the wizard’s ice spell failed and their plans to invade the lower room quickly were ruined. Nonetheless, they soon bested the guards at the lower level of the tower. They then spent several minutes faffing around casting various spells while they tried to discern magically whether there was a trapdoor in through the roof; finally, learning there was, the elf and the initiate began climbing the outside of the tower. Once they were well on their way, the remaining residents of the higher regions of the tower charged down to attack the remnants of the party: Azahi the trollslayer, Captain Falconfox and the wizard found themselves fighting three plague-zombies, a shaman and a powerful wizard. This latter was the Plague Captain: a chap in a suit bearing a pipe, who surrounded himself in evil magics and attempted to cripple his enemies with disease and corruption.

After a brief and brutal battle our heroes won the day, and finally the disease cult were eliminated. Searching the tower, they found a map of a part of the catacombs beneath the town of Store, and a key – evidence, perhaps, that they could use to pursue the ultimate leader of this cult of horrors. It was clear that they had not captured the final leader of this branch of Nurgle’s cult, but they had saved Separation City from a host of terrors, and found clues as to the ultimate leadership of this cult.

Satisfied, they returned to Separation City. Would they pursue a crusade against the cult of Nurgle, or return to their onsen to enjoy a quiet life? Only time will tell …

Elves fishing in the lakes of the high mountains

Elves fishing in the lakes of the high mountains

The north of the Steamlands is covered by a sweeping arc of human influence, reaching from the Spear Capes on the west coast to the Palace Cape on the east, where the human presence begins to wane under the influence of the Machine Minds. South of this arc of influence and west of the Palace Cape is a huge swathe of untamed land, referred to generally as the World Forest. This forest sprawls over mountains and plains, hills and rivers, and constitutes fully half of the landmass of the Steamlands. In the north and west it is dry eucalypt forest, merging with pine on the higher slopes; to the far south it turns to temperate rainforest, also primarily eucalypt, and here the Beastmen roam in what is commonly called the Beastlands. In the deep centre of this huge forest complex are the kingdoms of the elves, an ancient and reclusive race with many secrets, their own pagan gods, and a strange and wild magic that is unfamiliar to the humans of the north. Most believe that the elves and beastmen lived in the Steamlands long before the coming of humans, but this history is not clear, because there are no early records of contact between humans and elves, and it may be that the elves arrived later than humans. Although their sailing technology is primitive, it is noteworthy that the elves of the western coast – perhaps the least understood of all the elves – are remarkably adept at sailing, and have a stock of legends of long journeys that, though little studied by humans, suggest knowledge of events and places that are unknown in the Steamlands but can be dated back thousands of years.

If it is true that the elves came from elsewhere, no one knows where that elsewhere might have been, why they came to the Steamlands, or the relationship between their strange nature gods and the civilized gods of humans. Though congress between the races has improved in recent years, little exchange of cultural knowledge occurs, and it appears that the elves like to keep their secrets fast hidden. Thus, to the majority of humans the elves remain a race of barbaric wild folk, little better than Beastmen. Though explorers and adventurers returning from the World Forest report magnificent and strange cities, and marvels of nature lore and magic, most folk dismiss these tales as fanciful rubbish, and imagine elves as loose bands of tribal savages.

The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. Elves are divided loosely into three groups: high elves, who live in the mountains; wood elves, the majority, who populate the deep forests; and low elves, who live on the coast and are expert sailors. The three groups share a language, though they have many dialects, and trade and sometimes make war with each other. The high elves seem to live mostly in small agricultural communities, farming the valleys of the high mountains and fishing on the lakes. The wood elves live in wandering bands that travel around loosely defined territories, living off the land. Low elves have small coastal communities, but spend much of their time living on the open sea, often returning to land only after months at sea. However, both the low elves and the wood elves also maintain metropolises: the cities of the low elves form at sea for brief, defined periods, as the boats of many small communities come together for festivals of marriage, diplomacy and trade[1]. The wood elves maintain permanent cities in the deepest, oldest parts of the forest, carved out of the wilderness and growing as part of it. These cities are often nearly empty, and populated on a seasonal basis as the wandering bands return from their travels. Different bands seem to maintain different, regular patterns of migration and return, but the rules governing these nomadic cycles are unclear to outsiders – whether they are religious, seasonal, or cultural is impossible to say. Because elves live longer than humans, and do not construct their lives around standard seasonal patterns, they seem to maintain longer cycles in their lives – so every 10 or 30 years the cycles of a large number of bands will synchronize, and the cities will become festivals of glorious noise and colour.

At all times elven cities will be occupied by travelers, diplomats, the elderly and the very young, as well as members of other communities at rest or play. They are also home to non-elven forest residents: centaurs, fauns, and a range of fey folk can be found in most elven cities. They also maintain strange colleges of magic and religion, shrines, and their unique agricultural and biological institutes, which fashion new and weird crops and make mysterious creations out of the stuff of life. In the World Forest, what is natural and what is created can be impossible for outsiders to distinguish, and it is not known whether the forest shaped the elves, or the elves the forest.

Elves can be remarkably diverse in appearance, with skin ranging from deep black through the palest white tinted with pale blue, green or copper hues. Their hair is usually black or blond. Universally they are small and slight of build, with delicate bone structures and exaggerated facial features – large, non-human eyes, oversized but delicate ears, and remarkable cheekbones. Their eyes usually show very little white, and can appear strangely non-sentient with their unblinking gaze. Their voices are remarkably powerful, with a wide vocal range and strange ability to project sound beyond the limits of their frame. They also have remarkable hearing, but it is easily confused by the mess of sounds in a human city – they can only employ their senses well when they are in the wilderness. Elves live perhaps three or four times the length of time of humans, and it is not clear if they are mammals. Males and females are indistinguishable, and their is no extant record of childbirth. Some suggest they are a mature (or immature) form of fey life – just an ephemeral stage in the fairy cycle – while others have suggested that they can reproduce asexually or sexually. More extreme theories also exist – that the elves produce children collectively through their will, which is why they have to gather in cities periodically; or that they are a static race incapable of producing new members of their kind. There is no record of the existence of a half elf, and dark rumours amongst those close to the elves that miscegenation of this kind is seen as abominable. The elves are also deeply resistant to the human religions, maintaining their own strange pagan worship against all reasonable evidence that it is worthless under the gaze of Sigmar.

The elves of the Steamlands are a strange, magical race that cannot ever be fully understood or accepted by humans. Nonetheless, their adventurers and traders travel amongst the humans of the Steamlands, cause little harm and, though not widely trusted, are usually accepted with good grace. Though many humans think a time will come when there is a reckoning between the races, and many humans see elves as inferior and barbaric, they are tolerated or accepted in most places. Whether the suspicions of their darker purpose will be proven true is a matter that only time will tell; and the truth of their past and their strange, alien culture is something that can only be discovered by the hardiest and most persistent of adventurers …

fn1: somewhat like the annual democratic meeting of the old Icelanders.

Everyone loves to suck the mango seed...

Everyone loves to suck the mango seed…

Mangoes are a fruit from heaven, much loved by all residents of the Steamlands, but the environment is inimical to their growth. Aside from the lush jungle of the far south, the climate of the Steamlands is harsh: cold, snowy winters and harsh, dry late summer and autumn make it difficult for a fruit as fragrant and delicate as the mango to survive. Mangoes in the Steamlands thus only survive around hot springs, where they are protected from the chill of winter and safe from the harshest excesses of summer. But because all hot springs retain a certain magical property of earth magic, mangoes have developed a kind of affinity for magic, and if the seed of a rotten mango is appropriately treated in a hot spring, it can become a cheap and durable vessel for simple magic. In particular, mango seeds that have been boiled in a hot spring can be enchanted with base magics and a trigger word, such that when thrown and activated they cast a low-grade spell in a small area.

To be enchanted, a rotten  mango must be reduced to just its seed through treatment in a hot spring. Hot spring owners don’t allow rotten fruit in their hot springs, so usually this treatment needs to be done in a wild hot spring or at a friendly location. Unfortunately, wild springs have become increasingly rare as hot spring farming has become more common, and although a few exist around Separation City they are near the graveyards, and rumoured to be haunted. This means that preparation of mango seeds can be dangerous and time consuming. However, once prepared, they can be enchanted.

Preparation is not simple, however, and requires someone with knowledge of plants and hot springs. Typically the task can be completed by a wood elf, farmer, NPC specialist, or way watcher. Preparation takes about an hour, and requires a 2D nature lore check. Failure renders the seeds unusable, but success can affect the enchantment process, as described below.

  • 1 success: the seeds can be enchanted
  • 3 successes: +1 expertise die on the enchantment check
  • 2 boons: reduce enchantment cost by 10 sps per seed
  • 2 banes: +1 misfortune die on the enchantment check
  • Chaos star: one seed is cursed so that it only produces bane and chaos effects

The enchantment process itself costs 30 sps per seed. To enchant the seeds, the wizard gathers the ingredients and conducts a ritual that lasts one night. Mango seeds only hold magic from rank 1 spells, and no more than than three mango seeds can be enchanted at any one time. Only spells that produce a lingering effect can be cast on the seeds, and if the enchantment is successful these seeds will become a kind of grenade that, when thrown, afflicts a small number of enemies in an engagement with the lingering effect. Only magic (not blessings) can be used on the mango seeds, and positive enchantments can also be cast (affecting allies rather than enemies). The enchantment check is a 3D spellcraft check, with effects described below.

  • 1 success: 1 seed enchanted
  • 3 success: 3 seeds enchanted
  • 2 boons: seeds gain the two boons effect
  • 2 banes: seeds gain the chaos star effect
  • Sigma: seeds gain the sigmar +1 wound effect

Throwing the seeds is easy: they simply need to land in an engagement, so the task is a 1D ballistic skill check with no effect of enemy defense. Once the seed lands in the engagement, the targeted enemy or enemies need to resist the effects of the spell embedded in the mango. Because the mango seed requires activation with a special word (chosen by the enchanter) only those who know the command word may use them, and there is a risk of failure due to a poorly timed command word (hence the skill check to deliver the seed). Effects of seeds do not stack, so only one seed can be used in an engagement at any one time. This is reflected on the action card through the recharge value of the card.

An example card is shown at the top of this post. This card is assumed to have been enchanted with the Jade Order entangling spell. Other spells will produce different lingering effects. The condition invoked by the seed lasts as long as there are recharge tokens on the card.

It is rumoured that there are ways to treat mango seeds to make them reusable, but this magic is either lost or known only to the elves. It is also rumoured that the flesh of mangoes makes a useful ingredient for potions, but this may also be a secret known only to the elves…

Farmers near Separation City, before the plague

Farmers near Separation City, before the plague

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

The doctor’s hidden horrors

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

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

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

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

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

The doctor’s secret schemes

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

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

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

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

The circus comes to town

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

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

The plagubearers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fn4: two chaos stars on an unsuccessful magical sight check

He is not impressed by ontological arguments in favour of a higher power

He is not impressed by ontological arguments in favour of a higher power

This session report comes a little late, but continues the Steamlands Campaign that I am running using Warhammer 3. This is a report from a session late last year, when we had a slightly different-sized group of players, two of them completely new to the campaign. This session we had the Wizard of the Jade Order, the dwarven Trollslayer, a human Coachman and a human Roadwarden. Conveniently this group was somewhat better composed for combat.

When last we left our heroes, they were under attack from Beastmen, but the Roadwarden had pulled off a cunning trick that saw the leader of the Beastmen – a 12′ tall wargor – dragged along the road with its head trapped inside the group’s wagon, and the lesser Beastmen – the ungors – all entangled by the Jade wizard. At the start of this session those four ungors had been slaughtered where they stood, and the party had regrouped ready for the return of the wargor. They knew he was returning from the road, because as they gathered themselves in the clearing they could hear his rage echoing through the woods ahead. First the clatter of hooves and thunder of the wagon wheels; then a roar, a crash and a scream; silence broken by wet tearing sounds; and, finally, the approaching roars of an enraged beastman.

After just enough time for the Jade wizard to lay some healing on the Roadwarden, and for the others in the group to catch their breath, the wargor re-emerged in their clearing. Pieces of the wagon were still caught around its horns and neck, and in one huge clawed hand it held the back leg, hip and part of the spine of the donkey that had been hauling their cart. This monstrous piece of loot still steamed in the cool spring air, and the beastman himself appeared to be chewing on a large chunk of something donkey. He also clearly wasn’t happy: entering the clearing, he let loose a great roar and with a contemptuous shrug hurled the portion of donkey through the air at the party. It landed with a wet splattery thud and explosion of gore nowhere near the characters, and in its wake the beastman hurled himself into the fray.

The battle was short, brutal and surprisingly successful. The Jade wizard used entanglement to slow the beast, the Coachman and Roadwarden shot him, and the Trollslayer eventually cleaved him twain. Though they were terrified and some of the party could barely bruise the beast, they prevailed without injury. Having successfully divided the wargor from his underlings, the party could gang up on their single foe and destroy him before he had much chance to strike back. They cut out his tusks as proof for a bounty, and proceeded on their merry way to Separation City.

The healers and the bandits

The following day, when they were just a few hours from Separation City, our heroes stumbled upon an ambush just commencing. On the road before them a heavily-armed bandit was poised to deliver the coup de grace to a wounded soldier; beyond him two seriously wounded healers of the Shallya cult leaned against a driverless wagon. In the undergrowth near the road were three more bandits, armed with crossbows and preparing to fire on the wounded healers. Such a circumstance is almost unheard of in civilized lands – the healers of Shallya are welcomed everywhere they go, and rarely need to travel with a guard because even bandits will receive healing from them when it is needed. The party were suitably incensed, and immediately attacked the bandits, but upon seeing the Trollslayer the entire group turned and fled into the hills. The Jade wizard tried an entanglement spell that failed, but the party weren’t entirely without luck: one bandit tripped over something in their hideout, and the characters captured him before he could get up again.

Once they had helped the healers to recover, the party interrogated the bandit. He had tripped over the body of a goblin, wrapped in canvas, that the bandits had brought with them, and revealed that they had intended to leave the body as evidence that the healers had been slain by goblins. In fact, the bandits had been hired by someone in Separation City to ambush and murder the healers. The bandit didn’t know who had hired them, but told the party that they could find out if they managed to track down the leader of the bandit tribe, a man called Max Fleisher who could be found at the Bloody Shower tavern in Separation City – or in the bandit camp back in the foothills.

The healers had no idea why they had been targeted by the bandits. However, they did tell the PCs that they had been cast out of Separation City by the town’s matriarch, Lady Agnetha von Jungfreud, and were heading to Heavenbalm to complain to the head of the church there and gain redress. This is extremely unusual – casting out Shallyan healers is an act of heresy, and it was likely that were the healers to make it to Heavenbalm the consequences for the matriarch would be severe, up to and possibly including being burnt alive at the stake if an investigator from Heavenbalm could determine that Chaos was the cause of the heresy. And the good prosecutors of Heavenbalm always find the truth …

The healers, of course, being good folk of Shallya, were worried for the Lady von Jungfreud, and asked our heroes to rush to Separation City and give her one last chance to change her mind. They themselves had been denied an audience with her, but were the characters able to get an audience the healers are sure they would be able to convince her to change her mind. Were the characters to act this very day they might be able to send a fast horse to recall the healers, and thus avoid any unpleasantness for the town.

The healers could not explain the reasons for their exile, except that the town had been struck by ghoulpox in the past year, and for some reason this particular pox had been proof against their ministrations – “perhaps Shallya’s grace left us for a time” – so that only the town physician, Dr. Wilhelm Verfullen, had been able to have any success against the pox. The healers had failed to save von Jungfreud’s own husband, and only the physician’s swift intervention had saved her son and her, though von Jungfreud was now hideously scarred by the pox. In rage at the healers’ failings, she cast them all out and gave their hospice over to the physician.

It seemed likely, then, that whatever heresy was afoot in Separation City must have some relationship to whoever hired the bandits. The PCs pursued the bandits into the hills, following a narrow path leading away from the ambush site. Even though they approached cautiously they were too late to stop the bandit leader escaping, managing only to kill two of his cronies. There was nothing for it, then, but to proceed to Separation City and act quickly to try and convince von Jungfreud to recall the healers.

Separation City: von Jungfreud’s declaration

At the gates of the city the party were stopped by some slovenly guards, and read the following declaration:

By order of Lady Angetha von Jungfreud, the Dowager Lady of the Manor of Hugeldal.

Within the town of Hugeldal and its immediate environs the performance of Shallyan miracles is proscribed on pain of a fine of up to 10 gold crowns, the threat of the gentler tortures, and banishment.

Should you require medical attention whilst in Hugeldal, please visit the former Shallyan temple hospice in the Iron Ring, where members of the most worshipful Guild of Physicks will minister to any and all afflictions for a competitive fee and to high professional standards.

Not only had von Jungfreud cast out the Shallyans, but she had put her own personal seal to a written declaration to that effect! This was undoubtedly heresy, and apparently a heresy that benefited the physicians of the town most. The characters decided to take rooms at the Bloody Shower tavern, and to investigate further the mysteries of the town and its heresies.

It is here that we leave the PCs, preparing for a visit to the good doctor himself to find out what he knows and to try and seek healing for their wounds. They then intend to visit the Dowager Lady herself, and to hunt down the bandit leader, before bringing the strange heresies of Separation City to a close … if stranger things do not lurk beneath the surface of this heresy …

Separation City is a town in the north eastern bays of the Steamlands, that rose to prominence during the period of religious diversification that swept the whole northern half of the island early in its recorded history. As part of the changes that took place at that time, one sect of worshippers of Sigmar split from the main body of the faith, and through manipulation of political disputes were able to establish themselves in a position of relative power and security during the turbulent times of religious reformation. However, this sect proved to be on the wrong side of history, and the area they lay claim to spiritual guidance of has slowly declined in wealth and power as it fell behind the more religiously diverse northern and western regions. Separation city remains an important trade route with the Four Kingdoms, however, and also the last major town on the road heading into the deeper mountains of the steamlands – making it also potentially the last bulwark against beastmen emerging from the inmost parts of the island.

Separation City was originally a small fishing town, ruled by petty nobles who dabbled equally in trade and piracy. Like most of the human-inhabited parts of the Steamlands, its citizens were originally exclusively worshipers of the warrior god Sigmar, though they only had a poor and weak shrine, and paid lip-service to their faith. However, some hundreds of years ago new religions began to filter into the Steamlands – Verana worship entered through the elves, and Ulric gained popularity as traders from the Shadowlands began to gain a greater influence in distant Store and Twinluck. There was much debate within the church of Sigmar about whether to accept foreign religions or to attempt to quell them, and this debate slowly solidified into two forces: the larger, more prosperous Eight Banners Sect, which was linked with the Emperor of Infinite Ways in Twinluck, and the smaller but more ferocious Peaceful Mind sect. As more religions entered the Steamlands, debate intensified between these sects. There were rumours that one or both sects were using ancient assassin guilds to settle scores and resolve differences, and more than once the Emperor of Infinite Ways had to intervene to resolve petty land disputes over shrines or other possessions. The dispute came to a head, however, when Shallya’s envoys sailed into the chief port of the Spear Bays in a fleet of white ships, and with their healing powers eliminated in a week a stubborn and ferocious outbreak of ghoulpox that had threatened to destroy the kingdom. The Emperor of Infinite Ways saw an opportunity to profit, and granted the Shallya faith leave to preach and practice anywhere in the Steamlands. The men of the Peaceful Mind sect rebelled against his teachings, and demanded that he cast all other religions forth from the land. The Emperor, finding the voice of the Peaceful Mind unopposed after the sudden disappearance of the High Priest of the Eight Banners, agreed to their demands reluctantly, hoping to end further religious strife. Unfortunately, the Shallyans disapproved of the scenes of persecution that followed, and refused to offer further healing services until religious tolerance was extended to all. In the chaos of the following days a group of fanatics of the Peaceful Mind sect executed healers who were attending to an urgent ghoulpox outbreak in Store, and the resulting outburst of public anger forced the Emperor to have the fanatics executed. In protest, the men of the Peaceful Mind sect then announced their withdrawal from the Church of Sigmar, and marched enmasse from its central shrine at Heavenbalm toward the sea. They established a new church in Separation City, forced out the nascent churches of the new religions, and invited nobles who agreed with them to join them there. Though few did, a powerful noble family from Store saw an opportunity to escape troubles in their own city, and moved to Separation City. Thus ennobled, the priests of the Peaceful Mind sect set about establishing a new, purer religious presence in Separation City. The Emperor of Infinite Ways prepared for war, and the noble family of Separation City used their newfound position of importance to negotiate a deal that would favour their allies in Store: the Peaceful Mind sect would rejoin the church of Sigmar and accept religious tolerance if the Emperor would abdicate, free all the city states of the Steamlands to pursue their own path, and dissolve the Empire. In the interests of peace and harmony the Emperor so agreed, and the modern political landscape was formed. Of course, in the aftermath of the Emperor’s abdication, the first family to grab power in Store was a close ally of that family that had moved to Separation City, and many old scores were settled; but most agree the resolution of the conflict was for the best, since it allowed the healers freedom to settle in every major town in the Steamlands, as well as opening the path for other minor religions, and subsequently for the entrance of wizards from the North and West.

Others, of course, maintain that it was in this period of religious tolerance that Chaos was able to gain a foothold in the steamlands, and revile the Eight Banners Sect and the last Emperor of Infinite Ways as the initial agents of Chaos. Certainly, it is an unhappy coincidence that the healers of Shallya should have arrived at the Spear Capes just at the same time as the first ever outbreak of ghoulpox was observed, and that ghoulpox should have afflicted so many other communities in the years that followed. No evidence has been found of a guiding hand behind the spread of that vile disease, but the whispers cannot be stilled …

To this day, Separation City remains a haven of religious intolerance. It is the spiritual home of the minority Peaceful Mind sect, whose fanatics wander the land preaching the equivalence of Chaos and all the other non-Sigmar gods. Besides an unusually small Shallyan presence and a decrepit shrine to Verana, it has no significant outside religious presence, and though itinerant religious folk are tolerated, they are not welcome. This makes the land East of Separation City also spiritually poor, since Greathalf though larger is poorer and weaker, and holds no appeal for the major churches. Some in the centre of the Steamlands worry that this makes Separation City a hotbed of Chaos activity, especially since it is the closest major city to the Beastlands.

Separation City holds a trading outposts with the dwarves of the Four Kingdoms, and also has significant steam wealth – there are many hot springs and various steam-powered luxuries in the town, as well as a small industry based around the healing and recuperating powers of the spas – many nobles from the wilder west coast, and even from lands over the sea, come to Separation City to “take the airs.” Separation City also boasts eight huge pits of boiling water called the Eight Hells, each of which has been named after one of the eight flags of the Eight Banners sect, and which are rumoured to hold magical properties that can be harnessed by properly trained wizards. Wizards are not welcome in Separation City, however, and rarely given much chance to conduct research at the hells.

Separation City is divided into four main areas, each surrounded by its own low walls and separated by short stretches of hills and rice paddies. There is a port area at the beach, with some small hot spring hotels; inland to the northwest and built across a small plateau is Iron Ring, the centre of the town. To its west is the cemetery area, which also holds some open air hot springs and one of the Hells. Finally, northeast of the Iron Ring, and north of the port, is Turtle River, where the main church of Sigmar is built and many of the services supporting the priests can be found. Each area is linked to each other by roads, and a kind of steam-powered rail system links the port to the Iron Ring, so that goods and people can be dragged up from the bay. Between the cemetery area and the Iron Ring is a small dwarven outpost, neat and well-built and situated in its own walled area, from the middle of which rises a large docking spike for the dwarves’ famous airships. The dwarves are liked in the town and contribute to its well-built and well-maintained engineering, especially the defensive walls around the separate sections of the town. One of the Hells is also located just outside the dwarven outpost, and is rumoured to be the easiest hell to research.

West of the city, on the road that leads into the interior of the island, is a small mountain called Monkey Mountain, that is rumoured to be home to a race of intelligent monkeys. These monkeys do not usually bother the folk of the city, though they occasionally raid caravans passing on the west road, or on the coast road to Greathalf. These monkeys worship an ancient and twisted monkey god, and travellers passing the mountain typically leave offerings at one of its dilapidated shrine, as a form of tribute to guarantee safe passage. Though humans have little contact with these monkeys, no one has ever suspected that they might be related to the beastmen – they are not pernicious, merely mischievous and simple.

Prosperous, inward-looking, and peaceful, Separation City has been largely forgotten by the rest of the Steamlands, being remembered only when there is an upsurge of beastman violence, and the emissaries of the Separated head north and west to raise armies of vengeance. It is to Separation City that our adventuring group came to sign the deed to their hot spring hotel, and it is here that their adventures started …

 

On the eastern coast of the Steamlands is a long stretch of open coastline called the Palace Cape. Bordered on the south and west by the wilds of the Beastlands, the Palace Cape is a land of forested hills and open grassland, all sweeping down to a rugged and wild coastline famed for its beauty. The landscape is largely untouched by human settlement, but its emptiness is belied by the sense of order and regularity in the terrain. Though it appears unoccupied by humans, it is not virgin territory.

In fact, the Palace Cape is the home of a mysterious race of mechanical entities, generally referred to simply as the Machines. This race confounds efforts by its flesh-bodied neighbours to categorize it, because the Machines have a range of forms as diverse as the animal kingdom, and its members are as alien and inscrutable as the fish of the sea or the great diving lizards that bask on the rocks of its southern beaches. Though few Machines are ever seen by humans, they are reported to have been seen in forms as diverse and various as gleaming steal humanoids, fragile porcelain dolls, spider-like monstrosities, humming discs floating in the air, mysterious immobile constructions of crystal, and even a flittering cloud of mechanical insects. Some scholars dispute that the various entities of the Machine kingdom are even separate minds, claiming that they are all animated agents of a single mighty intellect referred to as the Slip Mind. Whatever the truth of it, the Machines of the Cape have little in common with the warm-blooded folk to their north and west.

Nonetheless, the Machines do maintain a society that in some ways resembles that of humans. They take shelter from the elements as do any living creatures, and it is from these majestic shelters that the land gains its name. The Machines – or perhaps some older race before them – have built mighty and fantastic towers that stand lonely and magnificent against the backdrop of the distant mountains, or emerge from the waves of the near shore like behemoths of rock and steel. The towers appear unoccupied, the land around them being untilled and devoid of farms or settlements – just a single spire of steel and glass emerging from the wilds of the surrounding land. But if an interested observer waits outside long enough, they might be lucky enough to see a procession of machine workers emerge from some secret door, marching off into the wilderness to attend to some task, or setting about pruning the trees and tending the lands immediately about the tower. Very occasionally one might see a human resident emerge, or stumble on a small hamlet whose residents have lived in the shadow of the tower for millenia. These residents will have little to tell the traveller about the Machines among whom they live, however, except that they are peaceful and trustworthy and the life is good.

Scholars from other realms have been unable to comprehend the truth of the Machines, and the Machines themselves defying all forms of investigation, the scholars of the living have been forced to come to wild and unsupported views about the provenance, views and lives of the Machines. However, some things are known fairly well, and all theories must account for the quirks of Machine life that have been observed. It is not known whether the Machines eat or sleep, but it is generally believed that they gain some form of power from the Palace Cape, for they cannot leave it. Indeed, were one to be foolish enough as to abduct a Machine and take it beyond the ill-mapped borders of its realm, it would fall quiescent and incapable of movement or thought. Some argue that the Machines’ power is a magical device buried in the centre of the Palace Cape; others, pointing to the Cape’s name, suggest that the power source lies in the Palaces themselves, and that were they to fall the Machines would be extinct. Yet others believe the land itself is the source of the Machines power. It has been noted that on the boundaries of the Palace Cape, there live a breed of feral and degenerate Machines, which the Machines themselves disown. These beast-machines prey on passing humans, or hide from them, acting for all the world like animals; but some of them have a rudimentary cunning, or form groups of bandits, who attack passing caravans. It has been noted that while the Machines of the Cape can repair themselves by some mysterious means, these beasts on the border cannot, and will usually be seen carrying damage, rust and decay that they seem unaware or uncaring of. Thus, many scholars have argued that the power source has some centre, and wanes as one moves away from the centre, leading to a decay in both physical and intellectual strength. Other, more practical minds care not about the nature of the Machine’s motile force, but note that the borders of the Palace Cape are dangerous, and those who go to trade with the Machines should go well armed. The Machines themselves show little care for these degenerate brethren, seeming to treat them as animal cousins, best avoided but to be dealt with if they cause trouble. Of course, for the Machines these brethren are no burden, since the Machine folk do not leave the Cape.

The Machines also seem to maintain a cohort of slave machines, which they control remotely through their strange magic and which behave as machines are traditionally understood to operate. Often these slaves are accompanied by a sentient Machine, which guides and manages them. This is also how the Machines fight, not engaging directly with their enemies but instead fighting through slave soldiers. Machine soldiers are rarely seen, because the Machines do not make war, but those who fight Beastmen, or who have patrolled the western reaches of the Cape, report fighting spiders of steel and glass, and floating wagons heavily armed with cannon. Sometimes individual Machines will fight alongside these beasts, seeking fame and fortune amongst their kind; but it is known that Machines can die, though they seem quite tough, and usually the Machines are happy to let their automatons wage war for them.

The Machines trade with all the kingdoms of the Steamlands and elsewhere, and welcome human guests, though sometimes in a cold and remote way that can be confused with rudeness. Some of their number seem to understand or even appreciate humans, and there are a few small human settlements in the Cape which often hold a kind of ambassadorial status. It is known that the Machines have a way to enable a select few of their number to travel outside the Cape, but they seem not to like to do this, and reserve this expediency only for the most dire of situations. They do maintain a Tower near their border with Greathalf, however, and here a few Machines and humans live alongside each other in a mixed town that is renowned for its wonders and mysteries, though dangerous to reach. Here humans can trade raw materials and art for fine steel, gems, and occasionally technological items of rare power. The Machines are strangely unable to create art, though they can appreciate it, and their fondness for certain kinds of human art leads them to trade. But in general the Machines have little need for congress with humans, and keep to themselves. This can make the leaders of other nations uncomfortable, and occasionally rumour and confusion have led these rulers to ill-fated missions against the Cape. The Machines seem not to hold grudges, though they remain an inscrutable and poorly understood people. They are yet another mystery of the Steamlands, a strange amalgam of magic and metal that remains beyond the understanding of mortals. Were a group of intrepid adventurers to uncover the secret of their origins and their power source, great wealth and power could come their way … along with great danger …

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The Four Kingdoms are a group of four dwarven nations, located on an island to the east of the Steamlands, which I have previously mapped. Being a dwarven holding, they are not well understood by the humans of the other lands, but more is understood of the history and geography of the Four Kingdoms than, for example, the homes of the dwarves of the Shadowlands in the far north, because the Four Kingdoms were once a human land. Unlike other dwarven kingdoms, it is sometimes possible to find maps or even histories in the great libraries of the Steamlands  – though even then the history of the ancient humans who lost this land to the dwarves is not well understood. The presence of a network of ancient and sinister shrines across the surface of the Four Kingdoms suggests, however, that the ancient human residents were worshippers of chaos, and this was their undoing.

In addition to the strange historical accident by which their kingdom was revealed to them, the dwarves of the Four Kingdoms have another unusual trait: they are masters of both the earth and the heavens. They build their cities beneath the mountains, just as do dwarves of every land, but above the ruins of the old human settlements they have constructed mighty towers, from which they send forth airships of astounding size and beauty, to ply the trade routes of the nearby islands, and to defend their kingdom against incursion. These airships are filled with helium, which the dwarves of the Four Kingdoms mine deep beneath the earth using secrets only they know. The airships are their prize possession, and have given the Four Kingdoms great wealth and power. Many is the foolish human lord who has staked their future popularity on a campaign to reclaim the lost human birthright of the Four Kingdoms, only to be brought to ruin by the massed cannon and bombs of the dwarves’ inassailable airships; and no sight is more feared on the battlefields of the Steamlands than a mercenary dwarven aerostat as it hoves into view above the battlefield, its bomb bays open and ready to rain fire on the hapless footsoldiers below.

Rumours abound regarding the lost human settlements of the Four Kingdoms. Some say that the dwarves destroyed the humans utterly and usurped their claim to the land; others say that even to this day the descendants of its original inhabitants are enslaved to the will of the dwarves, and toil in their fields while the dwarves live lives of luxury and corruption in their gilded halls. Some scholars note the network of sinister and ruined shrines above ground, and observe that sometimes in their deep delvings the dwarves waken dark powers from their slumber. These scholars suggest that the humans of the Four Kingdoms worshipped chaos, and their evil religion was their undoing. Dwarves are renowned for their hatred of chaos, and whether the dwarves destroyed these humans out of duty, or arrived too late to save them from their own doom, or simply inherited a devastated and empty land, no one knows. To learn the truth of this secret past would require the unravelling of secrets long buried deep in dwarven halls, and it is clear the dwarves do not care to reveal what – if anything – they know of the land’s ancient secrets. So, if humans are to learn of the folly – and the doom – of their ancient brethren on this island, it will fall to a team of dedicated adventurers to pierce to the heart of the dwarven strongholds, there to learn the truth of the dark powers that stalk the island and its subterranean depths …

fn1: the picture is from this NZ site on all things dwarven (oddly appropriate, given the season!)

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