The coming storm

Our heroes are in Mumbai seeking the notorious womanizer and drunkard Mark Bond, who they have been told has “gone native”. It is 1857, hot, tense, and it is obvious to them after just a day in Mumbai that there is trouble on the streets of the city: the local population is not happy with the state of things, and after their time in the Anglo-Persian war they have an instinct for the trouble that is coming. They also think, after visiting his house, that Bond did not go native, but has been abducted by the same group that attacked them on the streets of Muscat. They have identified a likely place to look for him, but they need transport to get them there quickly, and so they cut a deal with Ashkarpreet Singh, hero of the Punjab and captain of the former British corvette the Gurmukh: they will raid the home of the Collector, a notorious artifact dealer, and steal back a diamond that belonged to the Sikhs. In return he will take them to the place they have identified, a hillfort in Rajasthan. They have also befriended the mysterious Maori warrior-captain Manawa, and discovered that the Collector holds an ancient cape of her people that confers immortality on its wearer. She told them that the only weapon that can penetrate this cloak is silver, and so after dividing the few silver bullets they own between their two marksmen, they head to the Collector’s residence in the rural fringe of Mumbai.

They arrived at dusk, taking a carriage to a nearby turnpike and then walking past fields and orchards to a small rural compound surrounded by a high wall. Rather than march straight in, they decided to first send a scout over the wall. William Oxbridge took on this task, slipping into the bushes on the far side of the wall and creeping through the garden to examine the compound. He saw a small estate house surrounded by gardens. A horseless carriage stood empty in front of the main entrance, and to the rear of the house he saw a small, unguarded entrance. Between the entrance and the cover of the bushes, however, was a small oriental-styled garden with some strange statues in it that William suspected would be dangerous. A path led from the back yard through the garden to a gazebo, from which he could hear voices. He crept closer to listen.

The death of Flashman

A man and a woman were engaged in breathless whispered love talk in the gazebo. The man, called Flashman, was desperately trying to escape from the garden before the girl Lucy’s father caught him en tryste with her. Lucy was trying to convince him – breathlessly, and with some disputation, since he kept grabbing her in the Flashman Crossgrip – to meet her father so that he could ask for her hand in marriage, but Flashman was having none of it. He departed from the gazebo to a final plaintiff whispered “Don’t you want to be the 8th Earl of Elgin!?”, and with a final “All in good time my love!” sidled off toward the main gate. As he departed, Lucy assured him she would leave the back door open for him to creep back in. William Oxbridge III sneaked back to the wall and crept over it to warn the others: Flashman knew a way into the house that would not trigger the statues.


They ambushed Flashman as he flopped over the wall. He was a big, ruddy-faced and pugnacious looking British man, a classic boarding school bully, the kind of man it is a pleasure to beat down. When they surprised them he eyed them up with a nasty, piggish look and demanded to know “Are you from the Maoris?!” and then “Did the Sikhs send you?!” and then “It was that devilish MacArthur wasn’t it? Gods, and his girl was a flat-chested hussy, barely worth the trouble!”

With that they laid into him. He was a hard man, wearing good quality infernal webbing and carrying a couple of useful and vicious little magic items that he deployed to his benefit. Unfortunately he was not the equal of Abdul’s shadow step, and caught without a sword on his devil’s mission to deflower a British lady, he was no match for the four of them. Finally they killed him, and the flower of British colonialism lay dying in the dust of a byway in old Mumbai. They looted him for all his gear, dumped his body in a drainage ditch, and scaled the wall.

The 7th Earl of Elgin

Having killed Flashman they decided to sneak into the house through two routes. First William Oxbridge would use his resurrectionist power to steal Flashman’s form and enter the house through the back door. He would open a side door for them so that they could all creep in, and then go upstairs to Lucy’s room. Disguised as Flashman, he would trick her into revealing the location of the room where her father kept the artifacts, and then come and tell the others. This plan went just as well as they had all expected, and William was forced to bed the girl in order to maintain his disguise. Disgusted with himself and the sad contingencies the universe sometimes forced a man to deal with in the course of his service to the nation, William left the girl dozing and slipped downstairs to open the window of a cloakroom. The PCs crept in here and William crept back upstairs to recover his belongings.

Unfortunately at this point things went wrong. As the PCs were preparing to leave the cloakroom the earl of Elgin emerged in a dressing gown, saw them, and called in his guards. The group were attacked by an animated suit of samurai armour, and as they were forced to defend themselves William was upstairs, unable to help, trying to learn from Lucy where the artifacts were. The Earl of Elgin then reappeared dressed in the Maori cloak of invulnerability, and in joining the battle revealed himself to be a powerful wizard. Fergus shot him with silver bullets, but even with three shots he could not kill the old man. William came downstairs to help but missed with the first shot of his silver bullet, and was then attacked by a second animated armour that hurt him so badly he had to flee upstairs to Lucy’s room. Bursting into the room, he failed to warn her and she shot him with a shotgun. With William hors de combat, the battle raging and Fergus out of bullets, the Scottish madman had to charge across the hallway to grab the pistol William had dropped, while Abdul tried to distract the earl of Elgin. Fortunately the man was by now so wounded that he teleported away, and the PCs had a chance to kill the remaining animated armour, heal William and regroup. As they did this Markus levitated himself out of a window and onto the roof of the house, to look for the Earl. He saw him loading a box of artifacts onto the back of the horseless carriage and beginning to ride away as the others emerged from the house in pursuit. Markus levitated the case off of the carriage and up to the roof, hiding it out of sight, as the rest of the group chased the carriage and finally killed the Earl. They took his cape and wand and dumped his body with Flashman’s. Up close they discovered that the cape was made from the huge feathers of some ancient giant bird.

In the box they found some money, the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and a few other small magic items. They retired to the docks, where they returned the cape to Manawa. In return for this gift she bound our Maori warriors to their eternal service. They parted on the best of terms, climbed into the Gurmukh, and set off for the hill fort where they expected to find Mark Bond.

The Mughal’s Tomb

The flight to the hillfort was uneventful and fast, and when they arrived the fort’s few defenders abandoned it in terror of the approaching corvette. They searched the fort and found Mark Bond in a tower room, his whole body flayed and nailed to a cross, insects crawling in his left eye. He was still alive after two weeks of torture, but only barely. He had not revealed what he knew, but he revealed the full facts to the group: a gang of Hindu extremists planned to desecrate the tomb of an ancient Mughal princess, and through an abominable ritual they would raise a god of death that would destroy every Muslim and Sikh in all the sub-continent and drive the British out. Already they were planning an uprising, that would break out just the next day. Soon after the uprising began the god of death would manifest, and destroy everything in her path. Furthermore – and this was Bond’s secret knowledge – the current viceroy, Earl Canning, knew of the plan for the abominable ritual and was planning nothing to stop it, because he was a virulent racist who wanted to destroy all the Sikhs in the land, and did not know (or did not believe) the reports that the god of death would be part of a plan to destroy British rule. He believed he controlled the Hindu nationalists and saw the extermination plan as a cunning part of the British strategy of empowering local leaders to rule on their behalf. This foolish man had kept the plan secret, helped the nationalists to stay unimpeded by the British army, and was ignoring reports of preparations for violence among the Sepoys as merely the necessary preparations for communal violence against Muslims and Sikhs. He had no idea the powers that were arrayed against him, or the extent of the violence they had in mind.

The PCs thanked Bond, cut him down from his crucifixion, and left him to die with a last sunset as his final view. They climbed back into the Gurmukh and made haste for the Taj Mahal. Even as they arrived they knew the uprising would be beginning all across the country, and they must stop the ritual now or they would face a far, far worse enemy than a horde of Indian Sepoys. They disembarked into the garden of the Taj Mahal, and raced past its serene reflecting pool towards the main gate, accompanied by their Maori warriors. As they attacked the Gurmukh rose up behind them, firing its light cannon at Sepoy soldiers who were attempting to move forward from the river’s edge and driving them back to the water.

At the gate they were attacked by Hindu warriors, wearing light armour and carrying Urumi swords. These swords were like whirling whips of steel, a flexible blade that curled around any parrying weapon and could not be stopped. They beat these men down quickly and charged into the tomb itself, down stairs into the cool dark of the basement. Here they found a scene of demonic terror: a wizard stood on one side of an ancient tomb, which had been hacked and smashed apart and dragged out of the ground, the bones of its occupant dragged out and desecrated with various vile fluids. In each corner of the room stood a terrified acolyte, holding a sacred knife and a cow, that most sacred of symbols in the Hindu pantheon. Near each a single soldier stood, uncertain of himself in the sight of the obvious evil about to be deployed. The ritual was near its zenith, a strange thick mist rising from the ground. The soldiers attacked, and battle was joined. Abdul used his shadowstep power to move behind the priest and stab him, but was unable to kill him. In turn the priest pointed at one of the acolytes, who killed the cow next to him with one smooth sweep of his knife. The priest unleashed the power that the cow’s death gave him, and a strange creeping horror overwhelmed Abdul – a magic of instant, irrevocable death. He resisted it and fought hard to kill the priest. At the sight of the cow’s death, and under the force of Fergus’s chaos bagpipes, the remaining soldiers fled, and the PCs were able to kill the priest before he could kill another cow and attempt to destroy them all. The acolytes gave up and begged for mercy they would not receive, and the ritual ended.

The PCs emerged into the sun leading the remaining cows, sickened and disturbed by the dark shadows of the ritual they had prevented. They released the cows and climbed into the Gurmukh, sailing over the burning towns of the sub-continent as they returned to Mumbai to report the success of their mission and much more besides: the defense of Britain’s only remaining significant colony, against dark powers from beyond this world.


As a result of their actions the PCs prevented the Indian Mutiny of 1857 from becoming something much darker and more terrible: the combined genocide of all the Sikhs and Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, and the ascendancy of a Hindu Empire powered by the dark magics of an evil cult. The mutiny proceeded as in the Earth’s real history, without much magical support, and was put down by the British forces. Earl Canning was forced to retire in disgrace when the group’s reports were relayed to London, and the East India Company lost its grip on India, and power was transferred to the British Raj. British colonial rule over India was strengthened and formalized, and while things for the crown were going badly in the antipodes and in Africa, for the next decades they could at least point to India as a sign of the possibility of success in their colonial project.

But would it last? And what other anti-colonial movements would arise in the future, in the ashes of the death cult the PCs destroyed. What does the future hold for the Raj, in a world of growing magic and colonial revolt?


Our heroes have rescued three women from an uprising on the Chagos Islands, and now stand atop a small hill in the lazy afternoon heat, looking around at a field of dead Islanders as they ask the three ladies about the events that led to the uprising. As they might perhaps have expected, the entire uprising was triggered by Alan Marshall, the man they had been sent to the archipelago to find. Spurned by one of the ladies at tea, he had raged down to the hovels where the islanders dwell and tried to assert his overseers’ privilege over one of the local women, but this time his advances were not only rebuffed, but violently put down. He now hung from a tree a short distance from his own house, stripped to his smalls and flayed to the waist. The ladies led the PCs down to the tree, and from that hideous splayed corpse along a small path to the overseers house. This wood cabin held a prized view over the atoll, with cool sea breezes to ease the afternoon heat and a small garden of island flowers that had been tended by an old native lady until the uprising. The islanders had left Marshall’s house untouched, perhaps seeing no point in burning it down when its owner was not alive to see the conflagration, so the PCs entered the cabin to search for evidence of their erstwhile contact’s history.

In the house they found a small box holding 6 silver bullets, a stock of gin, and a collection of letters and documents that they hastily gathered together. Satisfied they had all they could get, they retreated hastily to the ravaged docks, deciding against taking on the bulk of the island population. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and sometimes bad men get what is coming to them. They took the skiff back to the Nostromo, and instructed their captain to make haste out of the bay before the natives returned to the port and decided to deploy the remaining cannon in their direction. At sea they dug through the notes, and were able to learn a depressing fact about Alan Marshall: he was a fraud. He had never been to Rugby school, and all his credentials had been faked in the service of winning a colonial commission. No doubt after a few years of leadership on the Chagos Islands he aimed to step up to a more prestigious post, and make that all-too-common jump from petty bourgeois ne’er do well to colonial boss. His faked letters of introduction and claims to Rugby education had been sufficient to impress some functionary in the Colonial Office and get him on the first step of the ladder of opportunity that the exploitation of colonial properties offer; but his appetites showed him to be manifestly unsuited to the job, and had been his downfall. Now he had perhaps lost the Chagos Islands for the British crown: now that the natives were free they would no doubt strengthen their defenses, and if they had a second wizard capable of conjuring, perhaps they would raise some monster of the deep to defend their new realm. Whatever, it was of no matter to the group: they sailed on to Mumbai.

The Mumbai docks

They arrived in Mumbai five days later, drifting at midday into the busy and hectic ports of the city. In 1857 Mumbai was not the great city it would later be, but under rate pressure of Her Majesty’s continued colonial investment of the sub-continent it was continually developing. Their ship sailed in past a motley collection of Dhows and local freighters to the end of the docks where the foreign ships rested, and immediately their attention was caught by two strange newcomers. At the end of the docks a British corvette floated in the air, tethered to an old cannon tower in place of its usual pylon. This ship would usually be seen floating above a British military corps, giving the Imperial army military superiority over all but the most well-armed of opponents. But here it hung alone in the dusty Mumbai air, bereft of its ground forces, repainted with bizarre markings and flying the flag of a foreign nation. Nearby a large ocean-going ship floated, built of bundles of reeds lashed together around beams of rich dark wood. Two long, narrow canoes hung on divots from this ship’s raised stern, and a hard-faced warrior stood at the gangplank, stock still and carrying a two-handed club. This ship was not of any design they had seen before, and though as large as a galleon it came from no European tradition. Truly, Mumbai was another world.

They docked smoothly and found an agent of the East India Company waiting for them. On his advice they took accommodation at a guesthouse slightly inland and uphill from the docks, and accompanied by a small group of porters they passed through the bustling dock and up the hill to the guesthouse. The three ladies they had rescued, for want of better things to do, accompanied them and offered to help them in their endeavors in Mumbai. “It’s the least we can do for you fine fellows after your valiant efforts to save us from those brutes!” They would go about town gathering information – who would suspect a newly-arrived British lady of being an agent of the crown?

Once their things were settled in they decided on their afternoon’s investigation. First they would go to the docks to find out about the two mysterious ships, because they all had a feeling that their presence was not a coincidence. Then they would go to Mr. Bond’s house and find out what he had been up to, and who his cream-breasted, kohl-eyed temptation had been.

The Gurmukh

The interlopers

They approached the floating ship first, the corvette that had once been a British military unit. It hung above a cluster of men and animals, porters busily loading and unloading equipment from a mid-sized skiff that hung just off the ground, swaying slightly in the heat. As they approached one of the men broke away and strode over to them, clasping his hands and calling to them in greeting. He wore a long golden robe, had his hair tied up in a perfectly-pointed red turban, and wore a wicked-looking ornate dagger at his hip. He was tall, broad-shouldered, scarred but genial-looking. He greeted them warmly and introduced himself. “Akashpreet Singh, captain of the Gurmukh, valiant warship of the Punjab navy!”

They introduced themselves, and with a short conversation learnt that indeed this ship had been a corvette of the British Navy, the HMFS Eagle, which had been captured some months ago in battle with the kingdom of Punjab, and now saw service in the honor of the Sikh people. Akashpreet was not a free-booter, but a soldier in the service of the noble military of the Punjab. He had traveled to Mumbai some two weeks ago, on a mission to recover a stolen artifact of value to his people. On that topic he would say no more, but he did take the time to assure them that he was not at all concerned by the possibility that the resident British soldiers might take offense at his ship and try to recapture it. “They can take offense all they like!” He declaimed. “But they’ll not try to take it if they value their pale hides!”

Intrigued but satisfied, they moved on down the docks to the strange reed galleon. As they approached they gained a closer look at the soldier guarding the vessel. His skin was not the color of Indian locals, paler but not white, and his face was covered in complex whorls of tattoos. He watched them warily as they approached, standing calm and readying with his spear by his side. As they came near they heard a strong voice from the ship itself, raised in greeting. “Hoi, greetings Pakeha! You stare as if you have never seen a ship before!” A tall, solid-looking middle-aged woman came marching down the gang plank, dressed in simple sailor’s clothes and walking with an assured swagger. She strode past her guard with a nod and introduced herself to the staring group. “Manawa, captain of the Manawapou, at your service.” They clasped hands and she explained that she came from the distant land of Aotearoa, which their nations might have introduced to them as New Zealand. Her ship was one of 14 galleons of the Aotearoa navy. They talked a little, and she offered to host them in for dinner. Over dinner she revealed that she was in Mumbai chasing a stolen artifact, which she had planned to send her warriors to recover as soon as she arrived. Unfortunately an old adversary of hers, a man called Harry Flashman, was in town and had stumbled upon her in the markets. She had reason to believe that he was in cahoots with the rich white man who had stolen her artifact – or, more particularly, as was his wont, that he was in cahoots with the white man’s daughter – and had likely told the thief about Manawa’s presence. She was thus waiting in port for a chance to strike, but had not yet devised a plan. The old man she was pursuing was known as the Collector, and had taken a priceless feathered cape of her tribe, which would render the wearer invulnerable to almost any form of damage. The only weapon that could be guaranteed to pierce its blessing was silver, and it was a potent cloak for war.

Manawa also told them a little of her ship. The Aotearoa fleet had been built recently when the first of the Queen’s vessels had sailed into Maori waters, and they had realized they needed to compete with these newcomers. The elders had enacted a ritual, sacrificing 7 white sailors to the tribes’ ancestors in order to draw forth from their distant past the lost maritime secrets by which the people had reached Aotearoa over the oceans some 10 centuries earlier. They had built 14 ships on the basis of that knowledge, and when each ship was commissioned it was blessed with the flayed skin of one of the sailors they had sacrificed to learn the ancient lore. She took them below to her hold and showed them the shrine that lay at the heart of the ship; on one wall was the flayed skin of a white sailor, just his back half, with strange sigils and symbols tattooed over it in disconcerting patterns. She explained to them that the front half – and the face – were hung on another ship in the fleet, and that each of the ships carried one such terrible charm in the hold, to protect it from inclement weather and keep it sailing strong and true over even the most treacherous of waters. This ship and her sisters would serve to protect Aotearoa from the incursions of the white man, which had wreaked such terrible havoc in neighboring Australia, where the land was ravaged by war and the stalking spirits of the native clans’ ancient demons. But while the other ships patrolled the waters of her homeland, Manawa was here, trying to find a way to recover her tribe’s stolen cloak.

They thanked her and asked her what boon she might give if they were to return the cloak, since they somehow suspected that the Collector was entangled with Bond’s disappearance. Satisfied that they had met someone they might be able to turn to for help if they could return that cloak, they bade their farewells and returned to their residence.

Bond’s lodgings

They found Bond’s lodgings easily enough from a local grog smuggler, and visited in the morning. They learnt from the smuggler that the woman they had been supposed to think was his deceiver had disappeared, and he himself had not been seen for several weeks. His house was a small townhouse a little distance removed from the bustle of the port, in a leafy and wealthy neighborhood criss-crossed by small canals lined with fragrant bushes. They pushed their way through the gate and into the garden, approaching the house with a little caution. William Oxbridge crept ahead, carefully checking for enemies, but finding none called the group forward. They entered the house, and began their search.

The house had been turned upside down by intruders, but not in a search for secrets or money; there had been a battle, and it had been titanic. A single corpse lay against one wall, rotten and disgusting and long dead. It was one of the same kind of assassin that had waylaid them in Muscat, and it had fared worse than those who attacked the PCs. There was a knife stuck in its ribs, and its head had been blown apart by a pistol placed right under its jaws, the bloody remains now dried in a huge fountain of crusted brown all over the room’s delicate wallpaper. There was blood scattered liberally across other parts of the room too, and signs that the battle had been vicious and extended. Ultimately though it appeared that Bond had been beaten and captured, and dragged out of the house. Nothing else had been taken, though a lot of material had been disturbed. In particular they found notes scattered around his desk, and a map that had been torn down in the battle but was still largely intact.

It appeared their employer in Muscat had been wrong. Mr. Bond had not gone native, but had been kidnapped by the same people who attacked them in Muscat. Presumably whatever information he carried had been of great value, and they planned to get it from him, and whatever plot they had hatched stretched as far as Muscat. Given that they had been told Mr. Bond was magically bound to be unable to reveal any information under torture, it seemed likely that though he had been taken three weeks ago, it was still possible that he could be alive, and they could rescue him and perhaps help find out what plot was being run here.

For the rescuing they turned to the notes and the map. The notes were not clear, but suggested some plan to unleash communal violence between the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities, though no details were written down. The map was a map of the entire northern region of the sub-continent, with 11 sites marked with simple red crosses, and one site marked with a big red tick in a circle. They guessed that whatever the site was, that was the place of interest, and perhaps that was where he had been taken. But they could not be sure – they needed a local guide. They decided to take the map to Akashpreet of the GUrmukh, and see what he knew of the locations marked on it.

Akashpreet was happy to see them and invited them onto his ship, taking them on a tour of its defenses and carefully avoiding showing them the central room where its strange infernal magic kept it afloat – rumour has it that the workings of a corvette are based on magic that requires child sacrifice, and can be unsettling for the uninitiated when they see it. He then took them to his navigation room, called the navigator, and examined their map. The navigator told them that the 11 crosses likely marked sites of religious significance to the Muslim population of the region, and the ticked place was a fort in Rajasthan, infamous as a centre of Hindu resistance to the white invaders.

No doubt then – that was where he had been taken. He must have uncovered some nefarious plot and had been planning to do something at the base where that plot was conceived, the fort in Rajasthan, when he was betrayed and attacked. Presumably now he was held in that same fort, being tortured for whatever information he held. They must rescue him!

But how to get there? Would Akashpreet fly them there in his corvette? Sadly he could not, because he had come to Mumbai to recover a stolen artifact, a diamond called the Koh-i-Noor that was of great significance to his people. It had been stolen by a man called the Collector, and Akashpreet had been planning to liberate it from the collector and could not leave town until he had it. Unfortunately an old adversary of his, one Harry Flashman, had seen him in town, and the cad had no doubt informed the Collector, whose wife he was likely secretly tupping. Now AKashpreet could not mount a raid on the Collector’s home, but could not leave Mumbai until he had the diamond. He would help if he could, but …

So it was decided. The PCs would raid the collector’s home and recover the diamond (and Manawa’s cloak). Akashpreet would then fly them to the fort in Rajasthan, to rescue Bond and find out what plot was in train. Their mission was set! They thanked the Sikh captain for his help, descended from his stolen sky ship, and prepared for battle.

I have a few friends from my old Compromise and Conceit campaign visiting Japan for a few weeks so I am running a three session revival of my compromise and conceit world, this time set in 1857 just after the Anglo-Persian war and the creation of Afghanistan from the rump of the Persian Empire. The PCs are a group of agents returning from active service on behalf of the crown in the Anglo-Persian war, and the adventure starts in the city of Muscat. The PCs are:

  • Duke Markus, an Austrian Hermetic wizard specializing in fireballs and arrogant nobility
  • William Oxford III, a ruffian from London with a dubious past as a resurrectionist
  • Fergus, a Scottish fusilier with bagpipes that can strike terror into the hearts of men and monsters, and a huge claymore
  • Talita Tumani, a Lakota warrior traveling the world to export the Red Empire’s special brand of democracy
  • Abdul Hassan, a Hashashin exiled from the court of the Persian Empire and on a vengeance spree

The system is based on Coriolis, but with a corruption mechanic that I first trialed in my short neolithic campaign and have modified following the excellent stress mechanism introduced by Fria Ligan in the new Alien RPG[1].

Henry’s Hamam

The PCs have gathered at Henry’s Hamam, a complex of massage parlours, saunas and tea houses near the port of Muscat, and the only Hamam in the entire peninsula run by a British man. At this time in history the Sultanate of Oman had just broken into two parts in a disagreement over Zanzibar, but the Sultanate of Oman remained a powerful naval force in the Indian Ocean and the British were their honoured guests and allies, rather than a colonial power. With the secession of the southern portion of the Sultanate, however, brokered by the British, and with debts mounting, Oman’s attitude towards the British had turned from one of trusting equals to resentful junior power, and British potentates in the region were viewed with both awe and contempt. Henry’s Haman was thus an oasis of calm British rectitude, where only the most wealthy and trusted Arab locals were allowed, and where British officials often conducted underhand affairs of state.

So it was that the PCs found themselves in a large drawing room, seated on sofas around a table set with sweets and teas, as the local agent of Her Majesty, Sir Ian Markels, swaggered drunkenly in to do business with them. At 3 in the afternoon he was already tipsy, and dragged a bottle of gin from a countertop as soon as he entered the room. He wasted no time in telling them their task, crashing rumpled and slovenly onto a wicker chair and informing that “One of our spies in Mumbai has gone native!”

Their job, it appeared, was to get this spy back. Sir Markels told them that the spy was bound by magic not to spill secrets if he was tortured, but no such authority prevented him from telling someone voluntarily if he switched sides – and Sir Markels suspected he had fallen for “some creamy-breasted, kohl-eyed wonder of the Orient, all scented and soft-skinned glory”. In between his reverie at the thought of the spy spending lazy Indian afternoons in this imagined sylph’s boudouir, Sir Markels let them know that this spy possessed important information that they were worried he might spill, and they needed him back. They also needed to know who he had told any information to – and those people needed to be “dealt with, whether man, woman or child!” A spark lit up in his eye at the thought of slaughtering the colonials, his warm feelings for his imagined creamy-breasted paramour extinguished in a rush of typical British bloodlust.

Going native, it appeared, was a common problem on the sub-continent, due, Sir Markels informed them, to “a surfeit of heat and creamy-breasted women, and a decided insufficiency of suitable gins!” It constantly threatened harm to the interests of Her Majesty’s Empire, and Something Needed to Be Done. To this end, they were to travel to Mumbai forthwith on the spindrift clipper the Nostromo, find this spy and bring him back. First, however, they were to travel to the Chagos Islands to collect a man called Alan Marshall, who is said to have studied in the same year as the spy at Rugby School, and also to be an expert on Mumbai. As sometime classmates with shared interests, it was likely that this Mr. Marshall – currently working as overseer of the mining works on Chagos – would be able to help them find their spy and convince him to come back. Were they and Mr. Marshall to prove unable to bring the spy back, they were to ensure his secrets were buried, and all people who knew them buried with them.

The spy’s name was Bond. Mark Bond. He was a known womanizer, philanderer and alcoholic, with a fondness for these newfangled mixed spirits, which he drank on ice, stirred and not shaken. He was rumoured to have Scottish heritage, which might explain the ease with which he turned on the empire, and though once a dangerous agent had no doubt gone to seed living the soft life of the Indian colonies. “Those Hindis,” Sir Markels informed them in his increasingly drunken drawl, “ain’t savage heroes like your Redskins – no offence, young lady – nor are they fanatical lunatics like their Mohammedan neighbours – no offence to you either, my good man – and are in fact weak, with little magic to speak of and more interest in bickering amongst themselves and praying to their million fantastical gods than fighting back against our superior race!” With this dissertation on the ills of an entire continent Sir Markels staggered to his feet, told them to be at the Nostromo at dawn, and weaved out of the room, still clutching his bottle of half-finished gin.

As they were talking, some of the group had noticed a curious shift in manner among the servants of the Hamam. Their room was graced with two muscly local men in breeches, whose job was to pump two large ceiling fans that kept the room cool. Soon after Markels entered, a sleazy looking young Arab had slipped in and whispered something to one of these fan-wallahs, who had ducked out a moment later and been replaced by a much less proficient fan-wallah, who seemed much more interested in their conversation than in his half-hearted flailings at the fan. Once Markels left this man left too, replaced by the earlier, much more expert fan-wallah. Something seemed suspicious, so they decided to set out immediately before whatever plot was enacted. Once they reached the outer door of the Hamam they noticed that sleazy chap sidling around the walls, and decided to lay a small trap. Two of the group returned to their apartments to begin preparations for departure, but Abdul, Fergus and William lingered behind. Fergus stayed in the Hamam and left a little late, while Abdul hid behind some spice baskets on the far side of the road outside the Hamam, and William lounged against a wall near the entrance, yelling at the servants that they had been skimping on gin.

Fergus soon saw someone slipping over the outer wall of the Hamam, and set off to follow them. At the same time someone crept up on Abdul and tried to stab him from behind, and battle was joined. Their assailants were armed with poisoned weapons and had supernatural powers of leaping and acrobatics, but eventually they managed to kill both of them, though they weren’t able to keep either alive to talk to. Both wore lose assassin’s outfits, had dreadlocks and a strange pattern of white marks on their chest, a kind of dust that may have been powdered onto their chests in some ritual. They also carried kris, wave-bladed daggers, and poisoned darts.

None the wiser as to who was after them, the PCs dumped the bodies and returned to their apartments. They decided to move to their ship immediately, since their mission appeared to be known about after Markels’s poor choice of venue to hire them. On their journey to the ship they were attacked by six more of the assassins, in a vicious rooftop ambush that would have been their end if they had not noticed it before it started. Two of their assailants fled under the influence of Fergus’s bagpipe music but the rest were cut down in a vicious battle in the darkened alleys near the port. They retreated to the ship, battened down the hatches and waited to depart.

The Chagos Islands

Their journey to the Chagos islands was uneventful, with their spindrift clipper skipping fast and light over calm and clear seas until a week later it arrived at the northern tip of the main island of the archipelago. Here, as they approached Eclipse Point and prepared to enter the inlet to the coral atoll where the British base was located, they saw smoke rising in ominous spires from the island. Their ship skipped over the rough seas at the edge of the atoll and rounded the point towards the British port, and their worst fears were confirmed as it hoved into view – it had been destroyed, with only smouldering ruins left along the seafront. A single small sailing ship floundered in the port, and a skiff had been wrecked on the shore. One of the port’s two cannon had been destroyed, and the other – at the opposite end of the seafront – pointed inland towards the port itself and not out to sea. It looked as if there had been a rebellion, and the island had been thrown into chaos.

As they approached the port they saw a worrying harbinger of their coming troubles. On the beach lay a huge, severed crab pincer, a pincer large enough to crush a man and probably blown off of a crab so large that it would be the size of the wrecked skiff on the shore. Such a beast was clearly not natural – someone had summoned that from the angry deeps, and unleashed its wrath on the people of the island. There was trouble here, and the Nostromo‘s captain refused to sail his ship closer to shore. Until they cleaned up the crab and found out what dangers lurked in this tropical idyll, they would only be allowed to use the ship’s rowboat. They tried arguing but he would not budge, and so finally they all decamped onto the rowboat and pushed hastily for the shore.

Their captain had been right in his suspicions. No sooner had they set foot on the shore than a huge crab emerged from the water and charged towards them, obviously intending to tear them apart on the orders of its summoner. The thing scuttled towards them on hideous legs so large that they could hear them drumming on the sand, and clicked and clacked its pincers with flesh-rending intent. Fergus and Abdul ran up the beach toward the distant cannon, hoping to turn it around and bring it to bear on the beast, while the rest of the party prepared for battle. They need not have bothered, however: William Oxford III took a careful bead with his pistol, fired once, and struck the crab right between its eyestalks, blowing its tiny brain apart with a single well-placed shot. It skidded and crashed to a shuddering halt in the sand, dead[2].

They began to explore the town, looking for survivors, and soon were alerted to action up the hill, in the thick woods of Eclipse point. They heard a rifle shot, and the unmistakable sound of a British woman in distress, as she yelled “Not on your breeches, you fiend!”

They dropped everything and charged up the hill into the trees beyond the burning port, sprinting uphill until they burst into a small clearing and tumbled to a halt. Here they found a squad of rough and ugly native men, wearing just breeches and carrying bows, crouched down and facing an old ruined British fort that stood atop a rocky outcrop facing the sea. They could hear the distant boom of surf far below and beyond the fort, a tumultuous backdrop to the clarion voice of a woman hidden among the rocks of the ruin, as she yelled, “I’ll never accede to your demands, you murderous thug!” and fired another wild shot down the hill.

As they burst into the clearing all the men turned to look at them, murder in their eyes, and battle was joined. The battle was short and ended poorly for the islanders, as the PCs shot down the islander leader – their wizard – in a blaze of missile fire, and Fergus used his evil bagpipes to drive the men away from battle. They soon mopped up the rest with fireballs, claymore and axe, and soon the clearing was silent but for the panting of their pugilist.

They called the lady down, and when she heard European voices she emerged in a rush, accompanied by two other women, carrying rifles and dressed in sweaty, soot-stained traveling gear. They introduced themselves as Elizabeth Bennett, Nancy Drew and Oddeia Landry, young women traveling to India who had been driven off their course by a storm and forced to take shelter here. Unfortunately just days after they took shelter the island’s natives – “sore hard done-by folk, if the story must be told” according to bleeding heart Miss Drew – rose up against their overseer and wreaked havoc on the island. Abandoned by their menfolk, the three ladies had shown good British grit, stolen some rifles and fled to the fort. It transpired that Nancy Drew had been a dab hand at shooting and horse riding as a youngster, miss Bennett had spent long hours on tedious hunting parties with her rich first husband, and Oddeia’s father was a well-decorated hero of Afghanistan, so they had been able to muster a spirited defense for a few days while they tried to find a way to safety.

Sadly, however, the island’s overseer – Alan Marshall – was dead. Flayed, in fact, and hanged alive from a tree just down the hillside. He would not be going to India with the party. But the three ladies were on a mission to find husbands in the colonies, and would their valiant rescuers happen to be heading to Mumbai?

They sighed, helped the ladies down the hill and stood at the edge of the clearing, staring at the smouldering wreckage of the first stage of their mission. They could only hope things would improve when they reached Mumbai …

fn1: I have the quickstart pdf for this and it does look legendary. The stress mechanic seems perfectly poised for space horror role-playing, but I’m not convinced it works so well when translated to corruption for Compromise and Conceit. But who cares, for a three session adventure?

fn2: A 65 on the critical table, instant death.

picture credit: The first picture is a watercolour by David Bellamy, taken from his website. The second is out of copyright, and I took it from the National Gallery of Australia.

The advent of Infernal materials, lighter and stronger than even the most advanced enlightenment metals, and Infernal magic capable of levitation and propulsion, opened the skies to humans for the first time. From the first experiments in balloons, to the massive and stately airships, and on to more advanced military technology, by the end of the Victorian era the peoples of Europe had developed a wide variety of airborne conveyances. This post provides examples of some of those more suited to adventurers. Most of these were developed after the period of the Compromise and Conceit campaign chronicled in this blog, being technology of the mid- to late-Victorian era.

The Cupola

One could hang a large insect from this...

The Cupola is a small and effective military observation and guard post developed and used extensively in the Crimean war. They are used heavily by the military as spying, forward-observing and aerial attack bases, and are generally designed to be invulnerable to small arms fire from below.  This flying machine is invested with powerful but simple magics inside its ponderous shell, which can carry up to 3 adult humans and a reasonable amount of equipment, both levitating and propelling them at a pace roughly equal to a horse’s canter. The cupola can operate for periods of up to 12 hours before needing to stop and rest for an equal period of time, during which it recharges. Most Cupolae also need to be returned to a major recharge point once every 360 – 720 hours, or the maximum duration of their operating periods begins to reduce considerably. Details as to how they are recharged and what their internal power source is are carefully guarded, and although most Cupolae are capable of operating even if large portions of their shell has been obliterated, they are designed to rapidly become inert and often to self-destruct if their operator is killed and they are shot down. Rumours abound that the power mechanism is somehow related to that of the Autonomous Sentinel Cannon, one of the more abhorrent developments of the modern infernal industry, so it is understandable that the secret of its power source is jealously guarded from outsiders.

Cupolae are currently only used in military and a few surveying tasks, and are always magically linked to their pilot, so that stealing them is extremely difficult. The simple magic involved in the Cupola’s flying mechanism prevents it from being scaled up, though occasionally one sees smaller, slightly faster cupolae in mountainous regions.

The Corvette

Treading only lightly on the laws of physics

The Corvette was originally designed as a small hermetically sealed flying vehicle, but has since grown into the most audacious and expensive Victorian project. The corvette is essentially a self-contained flying hull, varying in size from a 5 man reconaissance vessel to a massive troopship. The first vessels were used as transporters and heavy lifters for the initial actions in the Crimean war, and remained quite humble in design and scope. Subsequent developments in materials technology and the growing wealth of the Infernalist nations led to experimentation with the design, and by 1870 these ships had become much larger. They are powered by a combination of levitation magic, flight magic and various conjured creatures, and incorporate all of the various technologies available to the people of the time. The larger ones also incorporate a gas store for lamps, and possibly a steam engine (usually elemental-powered) to maintain atmospheric pressure or to move various objects (such as lifts) inside the ship. Almost nothing in a large Corvette is powered by anything mundane, however, and the vastly complex magic involved in their operation makes Corvettes ridiculously expensive. The English airforce possess only 3 Corvettes of appreciable size, and almost never field them in any but the most desperate situations. Most of the largest trading companies (such as the East India) possess one or two very small Corvettes, and most colonial administrations in the later Victorian era also possessed one or two light corvettes designed exclusively for the purposes of airborne terror. Although corvettes can be licensed for private use their purchase is always at the whim of the Queen, sold on only under extremely restrictive contractual obligations, and all Corvettes have built in self-destruction systems to prevent them being used by the wrong people, or investigated by their private owners.

Despite its possession of a small fleet of Corvettes of varying size, the mainstay of British Imperial power – such as it is – in the Victorian era remains the surface navy, with corvettes used primarily as support craft and advanced strike vehicles. Some scientists have claimed that a much cheaper and more effective airfleet could be built if infernal power were reserved only for propulsion, and more natural means – similar to the wings of birds – were used to obtain lift, but it is clear to all learned folk of the Victorian era that non-magical flight is purely the province of the birds, and cannot be achieved by men without magical aid.

Teleconveyancer Glyphs

One small step for man...

Probably the most expensive way to travel, Teleconveyancer Glyphs immediately transport anyone who steps on them to a distant location without crossing the intervening space. A simple magical glyph, they can be bought from the appropriate magical college at exorbitant cost. The cost of such Glyphs becomes even greater if their buyer intends for them to be reusable – in such a case they must be embedded in a specially designed plinth (usually referred to as a Ghost Step) which contains the energy for the Glyph’s repeated use. This can be a lump in the ground barely bigger than the glyph itself for a rune which teleports its target across the street, to a plinth taking up the entire floor of a church for a glyph which transports someone to Rome (such a glyph is rumoured to exist in Avignon).

Teleconveyancer glyphs are sometimes installed in the airships of the rich and famous, as single-use emergency escape devices, and are also rumoured to be used by certain spies and assassins. The infamous assassins of Araby are said to have their own, more esoteric methods of achieving the same effect, and of course it is known that some practitioners of dark arts can turn any pool of shadow into a teleconveyancer glyph of sorts. The military is rumoured to be developing a kind of rope or cord which behaves like a teleconveyancer glyph for anyone crossing it, and which throws its user a fixed distance forward in space. Some magical colleges are rumoured to be playing with movement through time as well, but such rumours are undoubtedly the mad ravings of heretics.

Nonetheless, the teleconveyancer glyph remains the ultimate escape mechanism, which every evil villain should invest in.

After yesterday’s post on reconfiguring Warhammer 3 for playing high fantasy, I thought about configuring it for Compromise and Conceit, and I realized not much would have to change, because there are many things in the Warhammer milieu that suit my Compromise and Conceit world. The encroaching chaos, the concepts of corruption and the European setting are very familiar to my campaign; and the way magic works in Warhammer 3, where mages can use their powers almost continually and have only a small selection to play with, is also quite familiar. I also didn’t use classes per se in my campaign, instead going on a skill-based system; a good alternative to not using classes is the career structure of Warhammer, with regular changes possible to create a varied and interesting set of characters.

So really, all I would need to do is adopt most of the Warhammer 3 rules, adjust the spell lists to suit the Orders of 18th Century Europe, and import a few new spells. So having thought about this, here are some basic ideas for how to make Warhammer 3 work for Compromise and Conceit.

Basic Rule Adjustments: Character Development

The main change to existing character classes is to change the development rules for stances. All PCs start the game with a single slot of their choice on the stance meter (i.e. one conservative or one reckless). They can only add the others through advancement. Everything else at character creation is the same.

For advancement, I would adjust the advancement rules to allow each character class 7 open career advances, instead of 6. This allows them to buy an extra stance, and in their second career to advance a character’s prime attribute to 7 instead of the current limit of 6. I think this makes for more heroic characters at higher levels, which is quite important for Compromise and Conceit. These are the only rules I can think of for character development.

New Talents, Actions, Magic

Obviously there would be general sets of actions and talents to suit the infernal world. There would also be a new skill, Infernalism, which would be specific to the world, and a set of Summoning/Invoking actions which would match it. These would be limited, and would involve working with Infernal essence or summoning demons. I would make these actions rather than spells, so there is no equivalent to favour or magic points in the world.

Character classes

I don’t know what the list of advanced careers is for Warhammer 3 (I hope to find out soon) but in the meantime I would use all the basic classes, but drop commoner and gambler, and probably rat catcher. The new classes specific to the campaign would be:

  • Infernalist (a manipulator of infernal essences and, later, conjuror of demons)
  • Investigator (particularly important when the campaign is set in the 19th century)
  • Inquisitor (an interrogator for the church, possibly quite similar to an investigator)
  • Clergyman (a non-spell-using priest, I think)
  • Grenadier (a kind of mixture of military engineer and soldier)
  • Engineer (for the non-magical steampunk element)
  • Scientist (for the non-magical steampunk element)

Amongst the advanced classes, I would include:

  • Demonologist (this being essentially stage 2 of an Infernalist’s path)
  • Technomancer (a semi-magical version of an engineer, possibly using infernalism)
  • Assassin
  • Remaker (someone who combines animals and machines, to make the Remade)

I think for some of the basic classes (e.g. nobleman, clergyman) some kind of additional wealth or other benefit would be needed to distinguish them from priests and wizards. Traditionally in my campaigns people choose their PCs, and I would like to keep that option, but no-one would choose a nobleman without a good reason. This means that some of the commoner “best” classes like Wizard and Priest would need to have more limited ranges of skills, or some kind of entry requirements. Alternatively I could relent on this tradition and allow random selection of characters.

Possibly there could be some amusing French character classes: Jacobin and Musketeer spring to mind…

Essentially the game then proceeds as Compromise and Conceit with Warhammer rules. Worth a try, I think!


I really like the Warhammer 3 system, though I don’t know if it will work at higher levels, but I’m interested in adjusting it to work in a High Fantasy campaign style, rather than the “grim and perilous world” of Warhammer. To the extent that changes would need to be made, it seems that the main ones would be in character generation and advancement. I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently, and some of my ideas on how such a change might work are described below.

Characterizing High Fantasy

The High Fantasy ideas I’m used to basically seem to consist of the following:

  • PCs start at quite a weak and low-powered level, but progress to extremely high powers
  • Character classes follow quite a long development path, and career transitions are few and far between
  • Career transitions can be quite radical: from fighter to magic user, for example
  • Secondary spell users (like Bard, Paladin, etc.) exist

To incorporate these into Warhammer 3 would require a change in the base classes, and an extension of the duration of a single career (perhaps a doubling) so that a single career in the High Fantasy world is roughly equal to 2 or 3 careers in the Warhammer 3 rules. This would in turn lead to more dependence on Rank as a signifier of power.

Revising careers

I envisage 4 basic careers: Soldier, Initiate, Apprentice Wizard and Rogue. If one wants to include semi-spell users then one would also include the Paladin, Bard and maybe a Fighter/Magic User type (Warlock?).

There would then be a series of advanced careers, that represent improvements on the basic careers: Warrior, Cleric, Wizard, Thief. The additional careers of Ranger, Assassin and Druid could be introduced at this point, and maybe one would want to include Paladin and Bard at this stage rather than the previous stage.

Advancement would be simpler than in Warhammer 3. Any basic career can advance to any other basic career, but for the advanced careers the progression types are limited: Fighters can become Warriors, Rangers or Assassins; Rogues can become Assassins, Thieves or Rangers; Initiates can become Clerics, Rangers or Druids; Apprentice Wizards can become Wizards, Assassins or Rangers. Bards, Paladins and Warlocks(?) could fit into this scheme in the obvious ways.

There could then (perhaps) be a single additional class specific to each basic class: Barbarian for the Warrior, ? for the Cleric, Sorcerer for the Wizard, ? for the Thief.

Class distinction would be primarily through the use of talents, available skills, and maybe some specific action cards. I imagine that pre-requisites would be more complex than in Warhammer 3, and there would be spells for the different classes. Alternatively, semi-spell-users could be set to use lower-level versions of the other classes’ spells (this makes life easier for the designer) and can only be obtained by non-spell-using basic classes. So then we have the following progression rules:

  • Soldier: any other Basic class; Warrior; Paladin; Warlock; Ranger; Barbarian
  • Initiate: Any other basic class; Cleric
  • Apprentice Wizard: Any other basic class; wizard; Sorcerer
  • Rogue: Any other basic class; thief; Assassin; Ranger; Bard

I think I like this scheme since it gives a wider range of options for the initial non-spell-using classes. Alternatively you could put strict conditions on ability scores for the Initiate and Apprentice Wizard, and introduce the Bard or Paladin as more flexible versions of the same with access to weaker magic.

To get the effect of weaker magic, I imagine defining “petty magic” as 0 level, and allowing pure magic using classes to use spells equal to or less than their rank; semi-spell users can use Rank-1. Then, the number of xps required to gain a rank can be adjusted to match the demands of a weak starting point and a powerful ending point. Ranks of spell can also be exponentially more powerful (in this system, rank 4 or 5 would surely be the limit!)

Starting weak and ending strong

To achieve this effect I envisage the system putting stricter limits on the  starting attributes for a PC (maybe a maximum of 5) but weaker limits on how many advances can be expended on attributes, enabling characters to develop to a maximum of 7 or 8 by the end of their second career. This would mean that careers would span twice the XP range, and allow more advances. Typically, I imagine a set of advances for one career being something like:

  • 1 Talent
  • 1 Action
  • 2 Wound Threshold
  • 1 Fortune
  • 1 Skill or specialization
  • 1 Specialization
  • 8-10 Open Career Advances
  • 2 Trait Advances to Maximum Rank 5

So by the time a character has reached the end of this they have spent a maximum of about 25 points (not including non-career advances, which could also be more flexible). The open career advances would be handled the same way as now (on the career card) but would obviously allow more advances, i.e. more skill advances or action cards. I would introduce more scope by reforming the stances a little and giving more flexibility to assign points to them.

Reforming stances

Stances are a powerful effect in the game (though I think the Reckless Stance can be a little bit pointless at times). At low levels I think high fantasy characters shouldn’t have much flexibility to adjust them, so I would suggest changing the stances to give all PCs at first level 1 stance step in one direction (of their choice). They then buy additional stance dice as they proceed. They might even start off neutral-only, and be able to buy 1 stance per career. This prevents them from having lots of stance dice early on and gives monsters a huge advantage. It also means players have more incentive to buy up attributes – with stance dice being limited, increasing attributes is important.

It would also be a good idea, I think, to make some actions – and especially some types of spell – benefit more from specific stances. Pyromancy and necromancy should benefit from reckless stances, as should anything a thief or barbarian does, while Paladins and Conjurors should benefit from conservatism (taking your time about summoning demons is a good idea). Fighters should be able to adopt very different styles by changing stance options, and I like the idea that early decisions a PC makes really limit their future development. So if a PC has bought two steps on a conservative stance, that basically means that becoming a thief is a bad idea.

I also pondered linking stances to alignment (Law/Chaos) and I’m interested in the fact that the original Warhammer rules don’t do this.


I’m still thinking about whether any changes to WFRP 3 would be necessary to make it into a high fantasy game, or whether they’re mainly about play style. But if one did choose to change the game, the image I have is of keeping the same basic resolution system for actions, keeping fatigue/stress and action cooldowns, and changing character advancement so that it reflects the classic D&D-style classes. Along with a bit of tinkering with stances and some adjustments to the pre-requisites for the basic classes, this could be sufficient to make the game into a high fantasy system with an excellent (I think) skill resolution system, and some cool ideas for handling resources. I’ll be looking into this more over the next few months, and possibly also considering ways to convert the system directly to Compromise and Conceit.

This is a speculative post, since what I’m suggesting would require a lot of effort and probably be a huge waste of time. My experience so far (in 3 or 4 sessions) of Warhammer 3 suggests that the system is something I really like, and I’m interested in whether it could be converted to use in non-warhammer settings. The rules themselves are very simple and easy to understand; but there are huge elements of it that make it very specific to the setting, but these elements are kind of modular and can probably be used to make the flavour of a new setting quite easily. So I’m wondering if I could convert the system to suit my Compromise and Conceit campaign world (or any other!)

Why I like warhammer 3

There are several aspects of the warhammer 3 system that I really like. The dice and skill resolution system contain a lot of role-playing hooks that enable a GM to very easily create interesting outcomes for actions, including success-with-cost, failure-but-some-minor-benefit, extreme success and failure, and unusual outcomes. The combat system is fast and deadly, and the rules for Actions give non-magic users a lot of options for things to do, as well as applying costs to non-magical manoeuvres. The system for handling fatigue/stress and other side-effects of actions is quite straightforward, and the easy way that cool-down effects are worked into the system is very clever. I also like the method for having continuous access to spells – no 1-a-day magic-users here – but limiting the frequency of use by the simultaneous mechanism of rechargable power points and rechargable actions. None of this would be possible without the simple counter-based tracking systems, of course.

I think all of this is very innovative, and very suitable to the style of game that I like to run, which is roughly like this:

  • combat is realistic and deadly, but handled quickly and simply
  • death spirals make multiple combats risky
  • magic is powerful and almost unlimited, but magic-users don’t have many spells
  • i.e. essentially fighters’ or thieves’ actions, and magic-users spells, are broadly similar in number
  • spell-use and other special actions are limited by a cost
  • skill use applies to non-combat, non-mechanical actions and can be stunted to get benefits from role-playing or good planning
  • partial success is possible in skill use, and simple to manage
  • PCs are slightly more heroic than the average person, and become quite powerful with time, but are always vulnerable

Rolemaster had almost all of these components, but was hideous to run. The simple mechanisms of the Warhammer 3 system seem to balance the kind of details this type of system requires with the kind of playability that stops a single action from taking forever.

Basic adaptation of the Warhammer 3 system

Basically, to adapt the Warhammer 3 system to a new setting, you need to change the careers (and associated advancement system), and the actions and talents. I don’t think it would be necessary to change the skills even if you were switching to a completely different setting (such as cyberpunk or space opera) though a wider range of advanced skills might be necessary. So the key thing is the careers, actions and talents. Of course you would also need to adjust equipment.

Changing the careers and advancement system

In the current warhammer 3 setting, there are a (fairly) large number of careers, and PCs are expected to progress through several over a long adventuring career. Essentially you pick up a number of advances – like experience points – that you spend on acquiring new actions, improving ability scores, or gaining skill slots over one career. Once you’ve spent about 15 (I don’t know the exact number) you can advance to a new career, retaining (most) of what you collected in the old career. You can’t advance an ability score past 6, and typically when you’re in one career you can only pick up 3 new actions; and in one career you can only train any one skill once.

The obvious way to make a more heroic and classically fantasy-centred game is to reduce the number of basic careers, and increase the length you can be in them. By requiring, say, 30 advances rather than 15, and allowing PCs to increase ability scores up to, say, 8, (or, say, 5 for non-career scores) you would basically turn a career into a longer-lived, more heroic style of “character class.” You could then allow PCs to progress to a set of prestige classes with new and better abilities. So, I would probably consider restricting the initial careers to Fighter, Specialist, Wizard or Cleric. Then subsequent advanced careers might be things like Paladin, Guildmaster, Archmage, High Priest, Necromancer, etc. I would probably also produce a dabbler-type basic career which allows a mixture of thieving or fighting and magic, but with more restricted access to spells (only level 1, for instance).

Allowing ability scores to advance to 8 is particularly important for magic-using PCs, since it enables them to cast more spells before they have to draw more power, and reduces the risk of stress from carrying power above their usual limits. Because skill checks depend on abilities it also gives fighters solid combat powers to take on the types of monsters you don’t see in a standard warhammer campaign.

Changing actions and talents

I already have a set of spells for Compromise and Conceit, some of which I tried to represent as actions for a D&D-style game. It wouldn’t be difficult to rewrite these (and some new, demonically-influenced talents) as actions for warhammer 3. Most of the combat actions could stay as they are. There would be a new set of Infernal-style actions which would be semi-spell-like and available for all characters, wizard or not, but quite basic. There might also be some interesting technology-related ones, particularly to do with building stuff; for example a “grenade” action which requires that you previously spent some time in a lab creating grenades using your advanced tech skills.

Basically, however, the system would retain a bunch of core actions, and only the spells and infernal talents/actions would change.

The downside

The challenge of doing this is that it would be a huge amount of work, and a lot of the results would probably be unbalanced. The warhammer setting as it stands is almost translatable to Compromise and Conceit without much change, so it might not even be worth the effort. I’m also not sure if the warhammer system breaks at higher power levels or not. But it could be worth finding out…

In a recent skype conversation, one of my players from London accused my GMing style of being “very sandbox,” and even went so far as to imply that there is little difference between me and the OSR. This has me a little confused as to what sandboxing is, since I don’t do any of the following:

  • Random terrain generation
  • Random monster encounters
  • Random adventure generation
  • Morale checks, or any kind of non-deliberative decisions about monster behaviour

and, as far as I know, most of my campaigns have a strong plot element (though I tend to allow the players to decide what direction to go, including which side to pick).

So I’m wondering – if I don’t do any of these things, and I like “story,” is it possible to be a sandbox-GM? Jesus, these days I don’t really even make maps.

Here are a couple of examples of “actions” based on the skill-based d20 system I developed a while ago, combined with the Actions framework discussed yesterday. One is a spell, one a “supernatural ability” and one a “mundane” (and hideous) special ability. The Cost line in each description gives the attribute against which damage is done if the action fails. The cost is always 1 wound. In my conception of magic, arcane magic incurs a physical cost (it is exhausting) while divine magic incurs a mental cost (it drives you a little bit.. irrational and loopy). So failed arcane spells incur a wound against strength, while failed divine spells incur a wound against intelligence. In this system, a critical is achieved by a roll of a 20, at which point 2d10 are re-rolled and added to the previous roll to get a new total. On rolling a critical, all maximum effects (damage, rounds of duration of effect, etc.) are increased by some amount.

Grendel’s Demise

Type: Spell

Level: 7

Cost: Strength

Conditions: Must have one hand free and be unencumbered, not wearing metal armour. Target must be within sight, and have at least one arm or other limb.

Skill check: Intelligence (Offense) vs. Target Strength (Defense)

Critical: Yes (Double)

Effect: This spell attempts to tear off the target’s arm. It does maximum damage 7, and the target is stunned for one round plus one round per point of success (maximum 7, double on a critical). The target is also bleeding (1 wound/rd) until healing is administered. The target loses all use of one arm, either temporarily (due to massive injury) or permanently (due to amputation) at the GM’s discretion.

Hideous death

Type: attack, reaction

Level: 1

Cost: Charisma

Conditions: Attacker must be visible to the targets of the action, who must be allies of the target. Target must have been reduced to 0 hps in this round, by the PC or one of his/her allies.

Skill check: Charisma (Offense) vs. Charisma (Defense)

Effect: The character turns an opponent’s death into a lurid display of horror and gore. Any ally of the dying enemy who witnesses his/her/its death is shaken for 1 rd plus 1 rd/point of success. The target experiences a -2 penalty on all actions and will attempt to avoid combat with the character if possible. If the target is already shaken due to witnessing a hideous death in this engagement by this character, they move from shaken to terrified, and will immediately attempt to flee the battle.

If this action is being used on an enemy the character did not kill, apply a -2 penalty to the skill check.

The GM may choose to allow the player to describe the type of hideous death for an attempt at a bonus on the skill check. This is strongly advised! Note that failure to successfully terrify the target merely makes the PC look like a bloodthirsty maniac (charisma damage).

Infernal Essence

Type: Ability

Level: 1

Cost: None

Skill check: Wisdom (Use) vs. DC 20

Effect: The PC conjures an infernal essence to enhance their weapon or armour, giving a +1 to maximum damage or damage reduction for 1 min + 1 min/pt of success (maximum=character level). This is an infernal effect, so can be dispelled by demon-binding or abjuration effects, but not by magic-dispelling effects. It is usually visible as a faint glow and/or feeling of discomfort or unpleasantness surrounding the PC.

Higher-level versions of this effect are possible, and give an effect equal to the level of the action.

At the end of the campaign described here, the characters destroyed a sinister force known as The Iron House. However, a previous group (run in Australia) played in a campaign set in 1872 where they worked for an organization known as The Iron House, in the interests of the Queen. In an early session, they were dispatched to the 1872 Manchester Cornucopia of Arms and Armour, where the latest battlefield technology would be on display and one of the inventors was planning on defecting from Prussia to Great Britain. The characters’ task was to identify agents who might interfere with the defection, and if necessary kill them. This meant spending two days in the grounds of the Cornucopia posing as merchants, and so they were able to witness displays of a couple of the latest developments in infernal weaponry. Here are three examples of the kinds of things they saw.

The Steam Tank: In the age of the Essential Compromise, steam engines can be rendered very small through infernal summoning and materials, though the process is very expensive. A steam engine consists of two chambers separated by a turbine; in one chamber an imp boils water to impossibly high temperatures, which then passes through to a turbine before entering the second chamber, where it is condensed back to water and pressurized by a second imp. This imp forces it back through another turbine to the first imp. Thus a perpetual motion machine is produced based entirely on steam and the ceaseless labours of two very unhappy imps. The latest infernal materials prevent heat or cold leaking between the chambers or from the engine into its environment, so the small engine can be mounted in the middle of a small room or vehicle – though heaven help the occupants in the rare occasions that the engine bursts and the imps escape their confinement.

This engine has been put to its ultimate use in the development of the Steam Tank, a wheeled armoured vehicle crewed by two intrepid soldiers, one who directs its movement and one who fires a small cannon mounted atop the vehicle. In early models the cannon was a static mortar, and the vehicle little more than mobile artillery; but realizing the cost of the engine was such a great part of the whole, the Prussian Steamworks expanded its power and used it to drive a mobile turret, which now contains the latest in heavy infernal weaponry – an infernal cannon, or a nest of field rods of some kind. Rumour has it that a larger version is in development, that carries prisoners of war (or just prisoners) who feed an autonomous sentinel cannon from within cramped cells on one side of the vehicle, though the experimental version is said to have been simply a tumbrel dragged behind the tank itself.

This tank is being used only by the Prussian military but – perhaps as a political symbol of Prussia’s growing military might – one and one only has been sent to the Manchester Cornucopia for demonstration purposes[1]. Invulnerable to infantry weapons and too mobile for artillery, it forebodes a revolution in cavalry warfare.

The Reanimator Field Rod: The ultimate in infernal field rods, the Reanimator Field Rod carries this line of weapons to its ultimate conclusion. Usually carried into battle by a priest or wizard, the rod fires a cone-shaped blast of dimly visible grey-green light, which animates any fresh corpse in its area of effect. This corpse is then under the control of the Rod’s wielder, who must himself be attuned to the rod through a specialist ritual. The French army is said to have established a few squads of their infamous battle-priests armed exclusively with these rods, and will send them to the rear of the first wave of soldiers to enter the fray. Though these soldiers may be cut down or horribly decimated, their opponents will find themselves then facing the dread prospect of fighting again not only those they just killed, but those of their friends and allies who were also sacrificed in the melee. Every defeat of the enemy is redoubled by these priests, and every loss partially reversed. Who can doubt the terrible effect of this on the morale of those who fight, and on the judgment of those who lead[2]?

Persian Anti-personnel bombs: aka Turkish Delights, are a nasty little invention of the Ottoman Empire, which has been developing considerable skills in pacifying aggressive populations during the food riots of the past two years. These bombs are barely large enough to significantly injure an armoured man, being roughly marble sized. Presented by the handful in a special magical bag, they are completely inert in the bag, so a Turkish soldier has no risk of blowing his chest out when he dives for cover from an Anatolian death-archer. However, once out of the bag they are immediately primed, and explode after three sharp impacts, such as occur when they are thrown down steps into a basement, bounced along a corridor, or skipped across the surface of a fountain. The resulting explosion is concussive, but will easily kill or seriously injure an unarmoured rebel (or his family, if they are sheltering in the basement with him). Such devices have obvious uses in England, given the recent riots over corn laws and the other unrest being fomented by capricious foreign powers. They are also useful in ship-to-ship warfare.

fn1: During the adventure this tank was stolen by the defector’s Chinese lover, and they finished the adventure chasing it through the streets of Manchester while Prussian agents attacked them and tried to capture it and the defector it held. Much of central Manchester was laid waste in the process.

fn2: Not to mention the judgment that will be placed upon those who use such a weapon…