Cut it off!

Cut it off!

This weekend with our group numbers severely depleted by extra-curricular activities we ran a Warhammer 3 (WFRP3) one-shot, with me GMing. I dug up the Warhammer 2 supplement, Children of the Horned Rat, which is a truly excellent piece of work and contains a neat little adventure at the end, Slaves of Destiny. Of course I ran it in WFRP3, because the Warhammer 2 system, though atmospheric, sucks. My players generated a pair of Dwarven heroes, with 5xp each, who were:

  • Raknar, a pit fighter, armed with a two-handed flail and clad in piecemeal chain-and-breastplate
  • Dvumir Brick-hearted,  an Ironbreaker, of course indistinguishable from all other Ironbreakers on account of his suit of Gromril armour

These two were marching west to Nuln late in the summer, having spent the summer fighting Orc nests in the Razkar mountains. They had acquitted themselves heroically and as a consequence were due to collect a prize and be honoured in Nuln. With no particularly pressing need to be anywhere, they were marching at a comfortable Dwarven pace (12 hours a day without stopping) from settlement to settlement, mostly following the main west road but, at the time the adventure starts, detouring on a narrower local road to the south due to flooding of the main road.

They were just passing around a small embankment when they stumbled on two beastmen munching on the body of a dying man. One beastman was a wargor, one a gor. It was a scene of horror, with the smaller gor chewing on a severed hand, and the larger wargor crouched above the still-twitching body, loops of the man’s guts hanging from its snarling lips. They both turned to look at Raknar and Dvumir at the same time, and with yells and snarls battle was joined.

The larger gor charged forward but didn’t engage immediately, instead stopping to let rip a terrifying roar. Raknar and Dvumir, though shaken, were not broken by the 3m tall beast’s frenzied snarling, and fell into a pattern of battle they were well used to. Dvumir presented shield and armour to the fore, taking the blows that the beast would rain down upon them, and Raknar, partially protected by his heavier friend, unleashed furious blows with his flail[1]. He broke the smaller Gor with two swings of that mighty chain, but even with Dvumir fending off and disrupting the heavier wargor’s attacks, Raknar still took a heavy beating before he finally managed to find a weak point and smash the wargor’s thigh, bringing it down. He then smashed the thing’s head in like a huge, overripe melon, and the battle was done.

Two dwarves beating a beastman Wargor adn Gor on a country road – alone! Very impressive![2]

They searched the bodies, and found only a most repulsive bejewelled necklace festooning the Wargor’s privates; this they carefully removed and sacked, to be cleansed by a priest at a nearby town. They then searched the body of the now-dead human, finding nothing except a few supplies, a few coins, and a letter. Of course they read the letter:

Dear A,

I had plans to pay you back but my last instalment is delayed. Dotterbach is sore beset by chaos and trade nigh impossible these last days. My payments being dead, I beg of you a small extension. Pray take no harsh measures against me ’till Chaos be vanquished! Help being hard to find, I pray you show respect to a town in dire need of mortal kindness.



A town in need of aid from Chaos! What more could our pair of glory hounds want on a sunny late summer’s day than to find such a missive? (Except perhaps that the letter itself be slightly less blood-splattered).

Our heroes set off to the town of Dotterbach, which was three days’ easy march from the scene of the killing. By the time they reached Dotterbach Raknar was fully recovered, and three days later they stood on the hill near the town, looking over a pleasant hamlet bathed in late afternoon sunlight, a stream running through the middle of extensive sheep fields and a small cluster of houses. As idyllic a place as any might expect in these dark days of the Late Imperium – but what horrors lurked within?

Revolting slaves

Find-find, quick-quick!

Find-find, quick-quick!

Entering the town, they noticed that even though the sun had not yet set all the residents were indoors, doors shut despite the pleasant late evening warmth, and some peering uncomfortably out from behind their blinds and curtains. The town was silent where it should have been buzzing with the bleating of sheep returning to the fold, the streets empty of children at play or the sounds of people returning from work. Something was obviously amiss. They stopped at the tavern, The Naked Sheep, to find lodgings and a meal, and here fell quickly into conversation with the tavern owner, Abelhard. They were his sole guests, and he was forced to unlock the front door to let them in, but was welcoming enough when he realized that they were adventurers in town with a purpose. He told them the sorry tale of Dottenbach’s recent woes.

About three weeks ago sheep and goats from the town began to go missing, and about two weeks ago the miller and his family all disappeared. The people of the town bore up under this threat and fear for another week or so but the sheep kept going missing, and then strange sounds began to be heard at night – scratchings and the sounds of creatures moving around, sniffing at doors and windows. Now the townsfolk are trapped inside until the sun is high in the sky, and much of the work on preparing the summer’s shearings for market has been interrupted, leaving the townsfolk worried about their winter stores. No one is willing to work in the mill – or even knows how – so the fancy wool carding machine in the basement of the mill sits idle and the flour stores are beginning to run low. Then, about three nights ago, the head of the militia, sergeant Dilmar, was killed while patrolling some fields at the edge of town. Now the militia are in disarray and the townsfolk terrified. They need heroes to rescue them from some force of chaos that stalks their lands!

A good thing our stunty team were on hand. They offered to fix everything right in the morning, and sidled off to bed. During the night Raknar had a terrifying nightmare of crows eating sheep, and in the morning he woke convinced that the evil afoot was, in fact, a-wing, and the problem lay with crows[3]. Dvumir, in contrast, slept like a log and woke none the wiser to any events that might have unfolded during the hours of darkness. Still ignorant of the true cause of the towns troubles, they set off to meet Kaspar, the merchant whose letter they held.

They met Kaspar in his small manor house, which would be considered tatty and drafty in the towns of the north but here was no doubt prized as a genuine palace. He was warm and welcoming, and explained the situation with the letter very simply: he took a debt from a shady person, Mr A, a while back, and is unable to make his final repayment due to the troubles besetting the town. He expects now that, his man having not got through to Vinsilles, Mr A will be sending some men to have a chat with Kaspar. Kaspar made clear that he would appreciate any help in dealing with those men that the PCs might be willing to offer, and also told them to go and speak with the dubious Friar Eckel if they wished to help the town. Friar Eckel was a mendicant priest of Sigmar who had moved into the house of the mayor, Hofstetter, after he died, and was now making free with the mayor’s belongings, and possibly enjoying other privileges bestowed by the mayor’s wife, as well as increasingly acting like the de facto town leader. Kaspar explained this to them in obvious distaste.

They visited Eckel, and soon confirmed that he was both a coward and a lying scoundrel, making free with the town’s wealth and probably having his wicked, lascivious, very non-Sigmarite way with the mayor’s widow. Fortunately, however, a coward and his money are easily parted when a dwarven pit fighter raises his voice, and they left the mayor’s house with the information they needed, and 40 gold coins’ advance payment on the task of saving the town.

Their first stop was the mill, which was empty as expected. A quick search of mill and stable confirmed their suspicions, that the miller and his family had fled, taking their wagon and most of their most precious possessions with them. But why? Searching the grounds they found a clue soon enough – in a goat paddock behind the mill they found a metre-wide hole that opened into a tunnel leading into the moist earth. Being dwarves, they entered it without fear, and headed down this narrow and cramped tunnel into darkness. It stank like a charnel house, and they had to wrap cloths around their faces to keep out the stench, as well as lighting a candle against the inky black.

After about 10 metres’ descent they entered a low cave, perhaps 10m in diameter, with a muddy and filth-encrusted floor that was scattered with half-devoured corpses of sheep and bones. The stench came from here, and here too were the cause of the lost sheep. Six wretched, horribly disfigured and mutated men charged out of the shadows to attack our heroes. These pathetic men bore terrible scars and hideous warpings of flesh and bone, and they keened in rage as they attacked.

Moments later they were dead.

Raknar and Dvumir were searching the few scattered possessions of this motley band when they pulled back a filthy rug to reveal a seventh man, cowering amongst bags and sacks. He sprang back at their approach and yelled “Don’t I beg you! I am a man not a monster!” Since he was speaking Reikspiel with a reasonable accent they assented to give him a few moments of life to explain himself – and thus did they hear his terrible story.

The men they had killed were skavenslaves, the mutated and warpstone-afflicted toilers of the skaven under-empire. The man had been abducted perhaps 3 months ago from the streets of Nuln by a gang of skaven clanrats, and through trade, conflict and theft he had passed through many hands until he ended up in a warren near Dotternbach. Here he had been intended as a future mutant, to be put to fighting in the slave pits or working in some hideous mine, but while he waited he was kept near these six skavenslaves. They had found a way to escape, and when they fled he came with them. At first they threatened to kill him (skavenslaves become as warped as their masters, and have no mercy for each other), but they decided to keep him alive as a bargaining chip. He now lay in fear of his life again, because recently they had seen giant rats skulking amongst the hamlet, sure proof that a skaven slave-hunting gang was nearby looking for them – had the dwarves not found him he would surely have been offered as tribute or bait by the skavenslaves. The skavenslaves had not killed anyone in the town, though – they had taken only sheep, because they were desperately hungry. Their captive suspected that the skaven slave-hunters had killed Dilmar, and worse was to come – now that the slaves were dead they would no doubt attack the town to capture replacements.

Raknar and Dvumir looked at each other in the foul, dank gloom. The town stood in great threat – and they two were all that stood between humanity and a tidal wave of chittering, ravenous rat-horror.

The time had come to act!

[And here ended the session …]

fn1: basically Dvumir is incredibly hard to hit but can’t do much damage, while Raknar is more vulnerable. So the pattern is for Dvumir to act first with Improved Guarded Position, which makes Raknar harder to hit, and then Raknar to use Thunderous Blow. With this strategy Dvumir is almost impossible to hurt – he has soak 10 and defense 3, and anyone attempting to hit him will do so against 3 challenge dice and 5 misfortune dice (once defense and specializations are taken into account). But even attempting to attack Raknar they then face an extra challenge die on all attacks. It worked quite well.

fn2: Actually indicative of a problem in WFRP3, that the monster action cards are underpowered compared to the PC cards. I should have given the Wargor the Reckless Cleave card, but I didn’t do any preparation for this session and haven’t played WFRP3 for a year, so I forgot about this problem. And anyway if Raknar had been hit once more he’d have been unconscious, which would have left Dvumir in big, big trouble …

fn3: Chaos star on the observation check!

A coward and a traitor!

A coward and a traitor!

On the weekend I ran a one-shot set in my Compromise and Conceit world, using my improvised high-speed Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3 (WFRP3) rules. This adventure was set in North America in 1865, in the Red Empire. This setting is 100 years after the death of George Washington at the hands of my London group, and the subsequent collapse of the British colonial effort in America. In the aftermath the British controlled a narrow line of territories on the East coast, and over the subsequent 100 years repeated attempts to regain colonial ground had come largely to nothing. In 1865 the great land mass of North America now consisted of a huge native American Empire covering the centre of the land, and smaller nations on the eastern and south-western corners. Our group consisted of a mixed band of native Americans from these disparate nations, all gathered on a mission of revenge in a remote northern area of the Red Empire, some days’ ride south of the border with New France (Canada). Our party consists of:

  • Wachiwi: a Sioux scout, blessed with special powers to dance in shadows and summon the aid of her tribe’s ancient spirits
  • Weayaya: a Sioux skinwalker, capable of taking the form of other humans and animals, but also quite a strong fighter with a spear
  • Atha’halwe: a Navajo wiseman from the Empire of the Sun, the large empire in the south-west that was founded by the Navajo; this wiseman called on powers of sun and moon, and fought with a semi-magical curved sword he obtained from a demon-faced warrior from beyond the seas
  • Wickaninnish: an Iroquois brave (fighter) bristling with strange spiritual artifacts, whose name means “No one sits before him in the canoe.” The group’s warrior but also able to call on healing and support powers from his tribe’s gods

For these characters I introduced some new ideas to make the system more redolent of the type of adventuring I am most fond of in wild west epics, which I always imagine as being based on the movie version of Last of the Mohicans. This type of adventuring requires individual bravery and recklessness, with feats of physical prowess that are obviously magically based, and leavened with a heavy dose of purposeful savagery. I also, of course, needed to infuse it with magic (since this is the fundamental basis of the Compromise and Conceit alternative history), and include some famous people. To achieve this style of adventuring, I made some small additions to the fortune point rules:

  • I changed their name to “coup points”, and made them more powerful: in my hyper-lite version of WFRP 3 coup points can be used to reroll all dice of one colour in a dice pool. They can also be used to add an expertise die to a dice pool – not just two fortune dice as in standard WFRP
  • Coup points are regained through scalping! Each PC has a form of “counting coup” that they can use on an enemy they have killed themselves. This enemy must be killed in melee, and a PC can only count coup on their own victim. Each PC establishes their own specific style of counting coup – it doesn’t have to be scalping, but it has to be something that humiliates a dying enemy. When the PC delivers the killing blow their player declares that they will spend the next round counting coup: this means they lose their action for a full round, and spend it doing something horrible to their victim. They make a fellowship check, and if successful they gain a coup point – plus they may also recover damage, fatigue or stress. This mechanism ensured that the players would privilege melee combat over missile and stealth, and would have a powerful reason based in the rules for engaging in the kind of savagery that every western movie about native Americans naturally makes a centerpiece of the narrative.

I am aware that scalping was probably imported by the white colonists, and that this depiction of the “noble savage” is extremely contentious amongst modern native American activists (though I get the impression that Last of the Mohicans was well-received, and included a major role for a major native American activist), but I wanted to make this campaign fit the dramatic style of movies like Last of the Mohicans. Also, the Compromise and Conceit world is all about myths and ideological caricatures from western literature made real – Catholics in this world are demon-summoning hypocrites and everything in Dr. Faustus came true. Compromise and Conceit also involves confronting the colonial powers with their own stereotypes and mythical notions about the “uncivilized” lands they are colonizing – but making these myths and stereotypes real, and seeing how the colonial powers handle their enemies if even half the things they said about them were actually true. As a result of this, for example, the British lost any chance at colonizing New Zealand, and are trapped on the fringes of a hostile and inhospitable Australia where the land itself rises up against them. It seems natural that when trying to colonize America they should meet magical larger-than-life versions of all the fears they have about native Americans!

I also introduced a system of totems. Totems are objects that the PCs carry that they can deploy for blessings in battle: only one per battle, and totems are largely the province of non-magical characters – they are charms carried into battle by those who lack magic. The party have to make a decision when they enter battle as to what they will deploy, and this is the only benefit they obtain through the whole battle. They cannot be deployed outside of battle, but everyone benefits from them. These totems are a unique magic item for native American characters – there is no equivalent thing for the British, for example.

On this basis we prepared a one-shot set in the Red Empire. Stay tuned for the record of battle …

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


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)

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.

Continuing my thoughts on developing a simplified version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3 based on the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars system, in this post I will present some suggestions for simplifying the magic system. It is likely that my suggestions for magic will tend to over-power magicians, because that’s exactly what I like in a system…


Magic in the simplified WFRP system should be based on strain, rather than magic points, and will use a simplified spell system in which wizards choose three or four ladders of spell types. Each ladder has a first, second and third rank spell, approximately equivalent to the spells in the cards currently available through the WFRP3 set. Spells are cast using a spellcraft skill check, with  difficulty determined by the rank of the spell and the attribute of a target. Spells will have a strain cost, and will incur additional strain from rolling banes. Spell casters also have a talent tree (as in the case of the rogue) but will have to purchase spells using development and experience points.

Spell-casting and strain

All PCs will start with a strain score equal to 8+WP. Strain is incurred through failed combat actions, and can be recovered after battles through discipline checks, and then through rest. When a spell is cast it costs 2+Rank strain; so a rank 1 spell costs 3 strain. Each additional bane rolled on the spell check incurs an additional point of strain; chaos stars incur an additional point of strain + a miscast card. Thus the average level 1 wizard with strain of 12 can safely expect to cast 3 spells in one battle; the 4th spell will carry a risk of being rendered incapable of further action.

If a spell takes a human target, the difficulty of casting the spell is set by the target attribute (usually WP, but this can vary); the spell incurs an additional misfortune die per rank above 1. If the spell has no human target, the difficulty is set by the rank: one misfortune die at rank 1, and then an additional challenge die for every rank above 1.

Spell types and effects

The basic role of spells in WFRP3 is to apply conditions to targets, or to damage them. This is easily represented through revised spell descriptions in simplified warhammer. A simple approach is to set the damage done by a spell at 2+Spell Rank+ Int. Conditions can be more diverse than those described by the cards in WFRP3. For example, a rank 1 spell can apply one misfortune die to checks with one attribute; a rank 2 spell can apply this misfortune die to all physical or all mental actions; a rank 2 spell could alternatively apply one challenge die; and rank 3 spells could apply two challenge dice or a combination of effects. Duration can be the caster’s intelligence, with modifications available from the talent tree. Other enhancement options could be damage modifiers in combat (e.g. +1 dmg per rank), stance dice enhancements, soak and defense modifiers, and other aspects of conditions (manoeuvre restrictions, changes in critical states). These effects will vary according to the ladder down which the spell steps, and don’t necessarily even need to have spell names – every player could make up their own spell names for their particular set of effects.

Table 1 shows an example of the key spell ladders and the effects that might be contained in differing ranks of one ladder.


Table 1: Example spell ladders

Class Order Equivalent Effects
Elemental Fury Aqshy Elemental damage attacks
Elemental Body Aqshy Elemental melee enhancements (defenses, damage)
Elemental Mind Aqshy Enhancements to social checks, reckless stance dice, bravery
Celestial luck Celestial Force target rerolls, improve luck, regain fortune points
Celestial movement Celestial Fast movement, flight, teleportation
Illusion Stealth Grey Order Shadows, Hide in plain sight, Invisibility
Shadow Damage Grey Order Conditions affecting int, willpower, control enemy
Shadow Transformation Grey order Fear, disguise, doppelganger
Shadow Body Grey order Defence effects, become insubstantial
Alchemy Gold order Damage machines, transform items, enchant items
Alchemical Enhancement Gold order Improve soak, improve int based checks, improve defence
Necromantic Protection Amethyst Prevent damage; prevent criticals; prevent death
Necromantic Perception Amethyst Detect living/dead; enhance int-based checks; speak with dead
Necromantic Attack Amethyst Cause fear; cause damage
Transformation Amber Change shape (wolf, crow, bear)
Wild Combat Amber Enhance damage; cause damage


Each ladder should have its own general spell effects, determined using a willpower check, that last WP in rounds during combat, or WP in minutes out of combat. Spell effects out of combat should last WP in minutes, with an extension to hours by increasing the challenge.

Wizard talent tree

The Wizard talent tree is shown in Figure 1. The extra strain talent can be taken multiple times. This talent tree doesn’t allow any option to increase duration of spells, which may be something that could be changed.

Figure 1: Wizard talent tree

Figure 1: Wizard talent tree

Alternative: spell-less magic

It would be fairly easy to categorize most magical effects in terms of conditions, damage and their equivalents, and to use an entirely spell-free magic system in which magic has a difficulty value and causes strain as the total of number of failures + number of banes. In this case magic would be equivalent to just a different and more interesting range of ways of doing skill checks. It would probably require a simple table of difficulties (comparing, e.g. applying one misfortune die to a single ability score vs. all ability scores vs. granting a target one additional reckless die, or a training die, and so on). This would lead to a very flexible and interesting magic system that gave magicians the ability to directly affect dice pools and character traits in complex and interesting ways. It could be worth a session to try out…

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 …

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


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!)

I had my third near-total party kill (TPK) in yesterday’s Warhammer 3rd Edition session. This one was so savage that I had to drop a hidden thief from the monster roster, because it was clear that I’d overpowered the opposition. This is an adventure I’d previously run using Pathfinder, and the difference in deadliness of the setup was obvious, though I don’t think it was a difference due to the system per se. This change in lethality also affected the flow of the adventure and forced very different decisions on the players. Since this is the first time I have ever run exactly the same adventure twice, it was interesting to see how the adventure changed the second time.

The basic setting of the adventure was a fairy stolen from an onsen (hot spring) that the PCs had been sent to chase. They were following the gnomes who stole it down a steamy volcanic valley, but what they didn’t know was that the onsen fairy – which gives the onsen its healing powers – had been sold off months before by the owner, and the pot that the fairy was imprisoned in, that the gnomes had stolen, was empty. The adventure resolves when they find this out and go back to confront the onsen owner, but to find it out they have to somehow deal with the gang of gnomes who stole it. In this world, gnomes are criminal thugs, a kind of race of East London grafters, with little honour or regard for each other and no respect for non-gnomes.

The near-TPK occurred when the group of three PCs were approaching a jumble of rocks in the middle of the valley, just on the far side of a muddy stream of hot water and shrouded in steam. Behind the rocks were three gnome minions with steam rifles, a half-orc sorcerer and a gnome fighter. Because the party scout had failed his observation check the gnomes got a free surprise attack with their steam rifles, and firing as a group with the Rapid Fire action card they managed to seriously mangle the group in the first round – they hit the insane dwarf troll slayer and nearly killed the elven scout, and only narrowly missed the wizard all in their first action. The party were already carrying critical wounds from the previous session (an encounter with some steam mephits) and the results were devastating. The dwarf charged into battle but he spent the ensuing couple of rounds incapable of hitting anything due to the gradually accumulating effects of his wounds; the wizard spent half of the following rounds casting healing spells; and the scout took a mortal wound the following round. I decided to give the wizard one chance to pull off a heal spell to prevent death on this scout, which he managed (though he couldn’t bring the scout back to consciousness) and it was at this point that the fourth gnome thief should, in the original plan, have backstabbed the wizard. This would surely have killed the entire party, because by this point the dwarf was really labouring and his enemy still undamaged. So I let the gnome thief idea slide, and even then their main foe managed to run away – the dwarf was literally too exhausted to run after him, and just let him go[1]. At the end of the battle the tally was: dwarf and wizard on half hit points, dwarf carrying three critical wounds, wizard and scout carrying two critical wounds (one away from death!) and the scout on 1 hit point. This from a battle with a single fighter, a single wizard and three minions. I guess I overpowered the fighter slightly. Also in this session I was using a house rule I conceived of after the previous adventure: the wizard can only attempt to heal any one set of wounds on one person once, and so needs to wait for a PC to become injured again before attempting another healing spell. This is because the rechargeable spells could be used infinitely often outside of combat were this rule not to apply, and adventuring would become trivial.

From this ambush the PCs’ goal was to head down the valley to its mouth, where they would attack the gnome camp and recover the onsen fairy. But with such a heavy accumulation of wounds and no idea whether they were going to be ambushed again, they changed tactics. They retreated and set an ambush of their own, on the assumption that gnome soldiers would come up the valley to finish them off. So instead of stumbling on the camp and overhearing the gnome crime boss complaining about the missing onsen fairy, they waited and were rewarded in the morning with hearing him walking up the valley, ranting to his underlings about what he was going to do when he found the fairy. At this point the players didn’t know the onsen fairy was missing – had the gnomes already got possession of the fairy the adventure would have been over at this point, since they would have left without coming back to kill off the PCs. Gnomes don’t bother with vengeance when they can settle for money! So actually, had the adventure been a straight “rescue the stolen goods” operation they’d have failed at this point, and would have either lost the fairy or would have had to track the crime boss for days, suffering a regular series of ambushes on the way (and the initial risk of losing him altogether). They basically only completed the adventure because of the twist of the missing fairy.

In this case the players almost “lost” the adventure without actually dying, because they basically had to give up on their original plan. I think this is yet another example of how even when the party has healing magic available to it, WFRP3 has the same atmosphere of extreme danger and weakness that imbued WFRP2, but without the associated constant frustration of not being able to do anything successfully. In WFRP2, adventuring was dangerous because the PCs were useless at it. In WFRP3 it is very dangerous even though the PCs are good at it, with a range of magical abilities and skills they can use. For me this is the perfect combination: adventurers who feel like adventurers rather than cowherders with a gun, but who are under the constant very real threat of death. I think in their next adventure the players are going to be very, very careful …

fn1: This arose because the dwarf had a critical wound that prevented him using a free manoeuvre, and another critical wound that meant every melee action cost him a fatigue. Getting into battle and then hitting people and changing stance thus accrued fatigue rapidly, and had he chased the gnome he would have been so fatigued by the time combat resumed that he wouldn’t be able to move. He literally just lowered his axe and slid down it into the mud once the gnome started running! I really like the fatigue rules in WFRP3, they put a huge extra dimension of risk-taking into combat.

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