Fame & Fortune is running this month’s blog carnival on the theme of preparation, which has inspired me to do something I had been thinking about for a while but never got around to – posting up the contents of one of my session preparation documents, in order to show what I do to prepare for a session. Unfortunately most are too long or involve too much knowledge about prior events in the campaign, but I have managed to find one from late in the Compromise and Conceit campaign which provides a reasonable example. I may put up some other background material too, for the players of that campaign to see how I planned the final stages of the campaign, and also to share some ideas I had that I’m quite fond of.

My preparation typically consists of writing a single document that covers the main goals of the adventure, with an introduction linking it to any campaign arcs, and sometimes some material on key scenes I want to describe. I plan adventures from 3 main starting points:

  • A simple cog in a campaign that needs to be turned
  • A set of scenes that I’ve had in my mind and want to play out
  • An idea for an adventure setting that occurred to me and that I want to run

and usually a bit of all 3. The adventure given here is purely a cog in the campaign, but easily worked up into some quite frightening and ferocious scenes. Here is the essential background:

The setting is a magical colonial America, in about 1770. The characters have previously established that there is a sinister fourth force at work in America, and that it employs Irish mercenaries to help it fight. Following the trail of a dragon bone they stole from this group, they learnt from a Dragon in Greenland that the bone came from a Dragon in Ireland. Since dragon slayers tend to be unforgettable, they travelled to the Irish village to find out what people there knew of the dragon slayer, and discovered upon arrival that the village had been enslaved and all the men-folk turned into mercenaries; the womenfolk were trapped there and doomed never to die. This magic was invoked using a powerful ritual based on a dragon’s corpse, the dragon having been killed nearby and dragged to the town. The characters also happen to have a special summoning book that enables them to summon a powerful demon of Lore, and that Demon can tell them what to do to reverse the dragon ritual and free the Irish mercenaries. This will significantly weaken the mysterious fourth force, and they can then travel to its hideout and learn what its goals are. They know where its hideout is because they caught a wizard who works for this organisation, and it just so happens that a wizard “not yet in the fullest of his powers” is a good sacrifice for the Demon of Lore ritual. The players have decided that they’re going to go through with the ritual (and boy aren’t they well placed to do it!) so the adventure is about the ritual, its consequences, and their subsequent journey to Bodmin to infiltrate the fourth force (called The Iron House).

The preparation document follows, and constitutes the background material for the adventure written up here. I think some of the information had been shared over email ahead of time (my players could be a little bit dithery, so I got them to discuss some decisions in between sessions).

Introduction

In this adventure the characters enact a reversal of the ritual of the dragon, to free the men of Killarney from service to the Iron House; in order to do this they enact a ritual of Lore Demon Summoning, which will involve killing the mage they hold captive. First they may want to question him, to find out what he is doing. They will then travel to Bodmin to infiltrate the newly-weakened base of the Iron House and learn more about its purpose. By the time they arrive the land around Bodmin will be in uproar, as the newly-freed men of Killarney go crazy trying to find their way home. The characters can perhaps lead the way.

Summoning the Lore Demon

First the characters will have to summon their lore demon, using the book they obtained from the lich and the mage they captured. The Lore Demon will be able to tell them what to do to complete the ritual, and they can choose to use the existing magic circle (though they will need to refresh it). The characters can decide the content of the ritual, the key points being:

  • The mage must die, preferably horribly (Dave Black’s responsibility – base DC 22)
  • A priest must conduct the ritual

The base DC is 30, with every point above the target giving a +1 to the roll in the subsequent dragon ritual. Dave Black’s success grants a +1 on the priests’s roll for every point above the killing target (to a maximum equal to his level)

The Dragon ritual

For the dragon ritual:

  • A part of the dragon must be used (they need to remove a rib from Anna’s corset, -1 DR on her gear)
  • A priest and a mage need to conduct the ritual together (Anna and David – the better each of their DCs the more powerful the effect)
  • The circle needs to be imbued with infernal essence (Ganymede – base DC 17)
  • It is better if the ritual is conducted in a storm (+5); perhaps Brian can conjure this

Every point of success on Russell’s roll increases Cantrus’s roll by 1 (to a maximum equal to his level). The information gained from the lore demon gives a bonus to Anna’s roll (+1 per point of success, maximum equal to her level). Anna’s roll determines what proportion of the soldiery is affected; Cantrus’s roll determines the means by which they are freed and their degree of lucidity:

DC Anna’s effect Cantrus’s effect*
20 Failure Death
25 25% Frenzy: 2 days/pt below
30 50% Confusion/lethargy: 1 day/pt below
35 75% Suggestibility: 1 day / pt below (contest against Cantrus’ roll)
40 100% Clear

*Cantrus’s effect only applies if Anna is successful

The effects are cumulative, so after frenzy comes suggestibility, etc.

[editor’s note: I actually meant by this that the soldiers have to step their way through the success grades, so if Cantrus rolled a 36, they would be frenzied for a day, then confused for a day, then suggestible for 4 days, then clear. In the event I think that’s what happened. But Death doesn’t step through anything – the mercenaries just die – and “clear” doesn’t step through anything. So really the DC for this roll is 40, and lower results are partial success. Also, I think that Anna’s player wasn’t here this night, and whoever rolled for her rolled up a fumble. We – the players and I – consulted extensively about this and decided that since this was a really important roll for her and she wasn’t there, it was unreasonable to keep her roll. The campaign could go on without her success (this was just a side adventure to weaken the Iron House) but they thought it was a bit cruel for her PC to screw up so badly the one time she wasn’t there. So I called her (she was studying) and got her to reroll the result].

What the mage can tell them

The mage can tell them that he was asked to keep an eye out for people journeying to Killarney on suspicious grounds, and paid with a piece of dragon bone which he has fashioned into an amulet, which he will one day use to make a powerful magic item (when he has more power – this day, obviously, will never come!) The man who told him to do this was called William de Bouverie, 1st Earl of Radnor, the seat of Bodmin. He pays the mage an annual retainer for the service, which he is saving to help him go back into training.

Bodmin

Having conducted their two rituals, the characters can travel to Bodmin, Cornwall, to find the home of the earl of Radnor, a stately home called Lanhydrock. Here they can enter the building and hope to find the truth of the mission of the Iron House. It takes about 3 days to sail to Newquay, and then another day to travel overland to Bodmin by fast horse, through Bodmin moor. On the outskirts of Bodmin the characters will find evidence of the movements of the soldiers of Killarney, depending on the results of Cantrus’s spell.

Death: the soldiers will be scattered in the lands around lanhydrock, in concentric rings, dead but peaceful, and strangely untouched by animals.

Frenzy: the soldiers will be scattered about the land in small uncontrolled bands, looting and destroying anything they find, in battle with the local constabulary or other soldiers of the Iron House (who are better, but in the minority). Signs of this battle will be clearly visible on the horizon as smoke.

Confusion/lethargy: the characters will find groups of the soldiers wandering confused through the area around Lanhydrock or on the moors. They can be gathered together, fed and watered but will not be open to any kind of orders or commands.

Suggestibility: Similar to confusion/lethargy, but slightly more active and they can be directed to, for example, travel overland to the boat at Newquay. They can also be suggested into becoming troops for the PCs. Suggestion is a social attack at -1 per target, lasting initially for 1 day per point of success (or 1 week per point of success if done magically). Note that other people can do this and the characters may meet groups of soldiers subject to the same effect.

[editor’s note: I think Anna Labrousse used the suggestibility effect on the first 4 soldiers they met to enlist them as assistants in an assault on Lanhydrock].

Those soldiers from Killarney not affected by the spell will fight their affected friends. They will be distributed evenly between Bodmin and the Americas.

Once the characters reach Lanhydrock they can try and invade the house, since they will find it largely empty and/or partially burnt. They should still have to deal with roving bands of Iron House soldiers.

I am presenting a Special Lecture on Global Crime and Public Health this semester, which is really the culmination of my work on international drug cartels, prohibition and harm reduction. In preparation for the lecture on harm reduction, at the end of the lecture on sex work and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) I thought I should give an overview of the “changing” attitudes towards public health and sex work and STIs in the medical literature. I remembered a few years ago reading an archived letter to the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in which a doctor advocates not treating syphilis because syphilis serves as a moral warning to society of the dangers of promiscuous sex (this was before Tuskegee, by which time we were so enlightened that only black people got no treatment). The BMJ now has all its issues since 1840 online, so I went trawling through back issues looking for admonitions against sleeping with “loose women” and ways of preventing said women from returning to their “vicious life,” and although I didn’t find that original letter I found a lot of other fun stuff. However, in the process I stumbled upon a doozy of a letter from a certain Surgeon-Lieutenant-General E.M.Wrench, MVO, FRCSEng (and if ever anyone deserved a medal this man did!) describing his experiences as a military surgeon in the Crimean War. It was published in 1908, so by that time he must have been quite old, but it presents a crystal clear image of his experiences in the war. Reading this I was both impressed by how primitive British war-making was in the mid-19th century, and reminded of why I really enjoy working with medical  doctors. Their sense of humour, their writing style, and their earthy view of the world is truly a rewarding combination to work alongside.

I’ve put in a few bold elements to indicate the bits I find truly disturbing, and a series of footnotes (of course) with cynical/salutary (take your pick) lessons for the modern NHS. But please don’t let them distract you from the horror that is a Doctor’s cynical report on life in the Crimean war. Incidentally, this report was entitled “Lessons from the past.”

The surgeon begins with discussion of the nature of his arrival, but we’ll skip that…

I will not, however, talk of these generalities, but describe my experience when in charge of a ward of what might be called the base hospital at Balaclava in November, 1854, shortly after the battle of Inkerman, some of the wounded from which were under my care, together with cases of cholera, scorbutic dysentery, and fever. It was situated in what had been the military school of St.Nicholas, which contained several rooms about 30 feet square. There were no bedsteads or proper bedding; the patients lay in their clothes on the floor, which from the rain blown through the damaged windows and the traffic to and from the open-air latrines was as muddy as a country lane. There were no nurses, no washing conveniences, either personal or for clothing. Two old soldiers, called orderlies, did their ignorant best to attend to the wants of the patients, but were chiefly occupied in rude cooking and burying the dead. There was no bread, of course no milk, and if I remember rightly, no tea, only the famous green coffee. There was certainly no beef tea – Liebig’s extract and similar substitutes had not been invented, and tinned meats were almost unknown. About midday a large iron witch’s-cauldron was carried into the middle of the ward; the patients crowded round to dip in their tin canteens, those bedridden dependent on the generosity of their comrades for a share of the contents of the pot – a mixture of lean mutton and fat salt pork[1], floating in the weakest of oily broth. Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the commissariat each surgeon had to make out a daily diet role, showing what each patient should have – full, half, or spoon diet – to satisfy the red tape system and prevent the purveyor being surcharged for the cost of the scanty food he was able to supply. We were practically without medicines. The supply landed at the capture of Balaclava was exhausted, and the reserve gone to the bottom of the Black Sea with the winter clothing and several surgeons in the Prince-steamer, so that in November, 1854, the base hospital was without opium, quinine, and ammonia. Sanitary science was in its infancy, and sanitary precautions were not capable of being carried out when the living were so hard pressed to live and dead men were for days floating about amongst the ships in the harbour.

You will not be surprised to hear that many of our patients died, but, probably owing to our unglazed windows, we were free from what was then aptly called ” hospital gangrene,” which carried off, I believe, every one of the thirty wounded Russians in the Town Hall not many yards away[2]. The stench of that building I shall never forget. You may ask why, with so many ships in the harbour, we were not able to obtain bedding and medical comforts. The reply is: The medical department was, in those days, powerless to incur expense[4], and the purveyors’ department was likewise in such a subordinate condition that they were afraid of responsibility. It was to Miss Nightingale’s bravery in setting all red tape at defiance that the success in reforming the great hospital at Scutari was due, and if there is one lesson more than another to be learnt from the breakdown of the medical department in the Crimea, it is that if the department is to be held responsible for the cure of the sick and wounded, it must have the power not only to administer pills and potions, but to secure at all costs the quite as – nay, more – important food, shelter, and equipment of the hospitals. The initial breakdown in the Crimea was the result of the military – monopolizing all the transports, and hence the landing of the army devoid of hospital equipment and the absence of hospital ships, so that the only apology for bedding in a ship full of sick and wounded, of which my brother-in-law, Mr. Swinhoe, had charge from Balaclava to Scutari, were the mats previously provided in the ship when conveying horses to the seat of war[6].

The condition of the base hospital being such as I have described, that of the field hospital, seven miles away on an exposed plateau under canvas, was, if possible worse; hence it was the object of most regimental surgeons to send away their sick and wounded, as often as the French could lend their mule litters, for embarkation at Balaclava; though their chance of arriving alive at Scutari was not good, for 10 per cent during the winter were cast overboard as corpses during a voyage of 160 miles, none of the ships being fitted for the purpose, and some, as I have already described, intended for the conveyance of horses.

Much was said in days gone by of the advantages of the system of regimental surgeons, and as one who spent eight years in that capacity I can endorse it as very pleasant for the surgeon, and possibly, in those days of long service, of some advantage to the regiment, from the knowledge acquired of the history of the men, but in time of war no system could be worse. To give an example: During the month of June, 1855, my regiment, the 34th (now the Border[7]), in addition to their share of the fifty daily wounded[8] in the trenches suffered heavily at the assaults of the quarries on the 12th and 18th. On the latter date I marched down to the trenches with twelve officers, and back to camp with two, the other ten being killed or wounded. The men suffered nearly as heavily, and there being no division hospital we had to convert three regimental barrack huts into hospitals, and staff them with men from the ranks entirely ignorant of ambulance duties. Two of the three regimental assistant surgeons soon knocked up, and were temporarily invalided. The surgeon was very shaky; he died of delirium tremens shortly afterwards, and I had to work single handed. As a consequence some of the slightly wounded were not properly attended to for several days, the wounds became infected by maggots, and operations were performed under the greatest difficulties. I remember a case of amputation at the shoulder-joint, when I had to administer the chloroform, compress the subelavian and pick up the axillary artery, whilst the surgeon, with trembling hands, tied it; yet possibly in the same brigade there were several regimental surgeons almost unemployed.

Here I may allude to the dread of the use of chloroform (then recently invented) by the older surgeons, and to the famous memorandum issued by the Director-General condemning its too frequent use, and adding that the cries of the patient undergoing an operation were satisfactory to the surgeon as indicating the absence of syncope, and that pain was a stimulant that aided recovery. Surgery was then little advanced from classical times; antisepsis was unthought of, and the resection of a wounded joint so novel, that Fergusson invented the term “conservative surgery ” to describe it.

The duties, as well as the practice, of the regimental surgeon differed from those of the present day; one of his most unpleasant, was his enforced attendance alongside of the prisoner, at what was called “punishment parade,” when his duty was to watch the man being flogged lest he die under the lash of the cat-o’-nine-tails or faint from loss of blood, which usually flowed freely after the first few strokes. The parade over, the man was removed to the hospital for the surgeon to cure him and render him fit for duty as speedily as possible.

Wars always have been, and always will be, cruel. It is, however, the pride of our profession that, while sharing the fatigues and dangers of the campaign, our sole duty will be the protection of the soldiers from what, after all, is his most deadly enemy – disease[9] – and the alleviation of the sufferings of the wounded. The report of the Royal Commission on the Crimean War reported that the medical breakdown was the result of the system, and not of the surgeons – a lesson that I trust will not be forgotten by the nation. The medical department, unless made efficient and given proper authority[10] during peace, cannot be expected to do its duty satisfactorily during war.

Of course, in a Compromise and Conceit-style campaign, this would all be different, since there would be magical healing, the healer’s guild would have “a long, low-roofed white building” set up to receive the injured, and all would be peaceful sage candles and tender moments between red-headed chicks and their injured lovers. When, oh when will the NHS find faith healing?[11]

fn1: So, the hotel services in the NHS haven’t changed…

fn2: Hospital Acquired Infections were novel even then… and, the Daily Mail was right, it was all the foreigners’ fault[3]

fn3: You may laugh at this silly joke, but I have actually read newspapers in the UK trying to blame hospital infections on foreigners… more than once!

fn4: Whereas, under the current straitened conditions, the NHS is “quarantined” from cuts, and able to purchase such luxuries[5]

fn5: I have worked in an organisation subject to hiring freezes and budgetary constraints, so I understand exactly this man’s feelings

fn6: I think it’s worth noting that, while modern armies are well capable of providing hospital services, in certain recent wars their administrative organs certainly seemed to forget other aspects of planning for the post-invasion situation, with similar consequences (for the Iraqis, at least)

fn7: That’s right, the same regiment as George McDonald Fraser, of Flashman fame. Do they teach writing classes in that regiment, perchance?

fn8: It’s quite well-remarked (as we’ll see below) that compared to subsequent wars casualties in the Crimea were remarkably low, and in fact military engagements of the time were remarkable for their low casualty rates compared to modern wars between mechanized armies. The main killer in the Crimea was disease, which makes the war all the more tragically pointless.

fn9: In fact, the Crimean war had a role to play in the development of epidemiology, since the aforementioned “Miss Florence Nightingale” led a campaign to change conditions in military hospitals, and did so using some very cunning graphical devices, which presaged later methods for the comparison of disease. As I discovered in my trawling through the annals of Britain’s response to sexually transmitted infections, the military and their fighting fitness have played an important role in the development of modern public health practice, not just through direct intervention in their health problems, but through the peacetime health policy implemented in support of the health of soldiers.

fn10: And out of tragedy… a doctor demands more institutional authority!!! Who could have guessed it would end this way?

fn11: when some quack gets Prince Charles’s ear, obviously.

In this post I will use some basic probability theory to show that, in essence, the Warhammer 2nd edition combat system is not deadly, as I think is often claimed, but is actually really slow and boring, and inherently survivable.

This assumption of deadliness arises, I think, from the fact that PCs at low levels are poor at doing anything, and the assumption is that if you’re bad at stuff then you’ll die quickly doing that stuff if it’s also dangerous stuff. I think this assumption also lies beneath claims that early D&D was deadly, an assumption which I don’t test here (due to lack of familiarity with early D&D rules) but which is probably somewhat better placed than any assumptions about Warhammer’s relative riskiness.

I came to this comparison because on Friday and Sunday last week I role-played respectively in Pathfinder and Warhammer 2nd edition, and I was struck in both instances by the length and inevitable dreariness of the combat, and by the fact that both combats had to be ended by a non-combat act of the GM’s. This post, about the probability of survival in each of three systems, will serve to show how this comes about and also I think reveals some obvious conclusions about tactical combat rules in role-playing. I aim to expand on this post in future with a proper simulation and statistical analysis, complete with survival curves, but that will take a bit of time.

Introduction

The probability of surviving a single round, and the cumulative probability of surviving multiple rounds, are calculated here based on the underlying combat mechanic of three systems – Warhammer 2nd edition, D&D 3.5, and my own Compromise and Conceit modifications of the d20 system. All three are compared with a putative “control” system in which the mechanics are not specified, but are assumed to result in a 50% probability of a hit in any given round, and death after 3 successful hits. The chief conclusion for each system is the number of rounds required to fight before reaching a 50% chance of death, referred to hereafter as the “median survival time,” though strictly speaking this is not a median survival time. In practice of course time to death varies according to the good or bad luck of the player, and how much they lie about their rolls to the GM, so survival time should here be assumed to be roughly representative of a long-run probability. The methods presented here also use various simplifications and approximations, specifically ignoring the role of criticals, fate points, and the death spiral in the Compromise and Conceit system, which makes the order of hits important for survivability.

In all cases, the survival probability is calculated for a fighter-type PC attacking an NPC with exactly the same skills as themselves.

The fundamental mechanics assumed are set out below. The fundamental problem with Warhammer can be seen to derive from the number of defensive manoeuvres available to a fighter in a standard combat round. Once a successful hit has been scored, the defender can then roll a defensive roll using their own combat skill, and then (if a fighter-type character) can roll a damage reduction check against their constitution. For a typical fighter we will see that this reduces a fighter’s successful hit chance to just 15%, and in a series of binomial trials requiring 3 successes, this can significantly extend the run of rolls required.

Method

For each system, a typical build of first level fighter was generated, using average statistics that might be expected for such a system, and pitted against exactly the same fighter character. No special feats were assumed in D&D or Compromise and Conceit (C&C), and the special feat of “Damage Reduction” was assumed for the Warhammer fighter (though as we shall see, it is not an enormously important feat). Other assumptions are outlined in detail below.

The combat method for each of the systems was summarised as a single probability of successfully scoring damage against an opponent. Damage was assumed to be the average for the type of character, and the number of hits required to kill the PC for the given average damage was used as the number of hits required before the PC or their opponent was killed. In each round, the cumulative probability of death was calculated as the probability that the given number of hits occur by that round, which is practically given as 1-P(less than that number of hits occurred). Formally, given a requirement of x hits to achieve death, the probability that a character survived to round k is the probability that they have received at most x-1 hits in k trials. The adjusted probability is the probability that they have survived to round k, or that they killed their opponent in round k-1. This probability in turn is given as the probability that they survived to round k-1 and they delivered 3 or more hits by round k-1.

This problem reduces to a simple binomial distribution for a given probability of a hit. Note that inclusion of critical hits, special moves, fate points, or death spiral effects renders this calculation completely different, and will be handled subsequently in a simulation.

Assumptions for each system are set out below.

Warhammer

A fighter-type character (for example, mercenary or watchman) is assumed to have rolled an average attack and constitution value on 2d10, giving values of 30 in each. The character is further assumed to have added 5 to the attack score, giving a value of 35. The chance of a successful attack is thus 35%, the chance of a successful defence is also 35%, and the chance of a successful damage reduction is 30%. The character is assumed to absorb 3 points of damage (30/10), and does 1d10+3 damage, and so final average damage is the average damage on a d10, or 5.5. The character is assumed to have 13 hit points, and be wearing leather armour (AP 1), so overall average damage is 4.5. Probability of doing any damage in one round is given as the Probability of a successful attack AND a failed defense AND a failed damage reduction. Since the opponent is exactly the same, this gives us the following results vis a vis the PC:

  • Chance of being damaged by the opponent in one round=0.16
  • Number of hits required to die: 3

D&D3.5

The D&D fighter is assumed to have a +2 strength bonus, BAB of 1, and weapon focus, for a total attack bonus of 4. Armour is chain with a shield, +2 dexterity bonus, and +1 dodge bonus, for a total AC of 19. The fighter is assumed to have maximum hit points, the Toughness feat and a +1 constitution bonus, giving 14 HP. Damage is from a longsword with +2 strength bonus, giving average damage of 6.5, so 3 hits are assumed to be required to kill the fighter. No other feats are assumed. This means that the chance of a successful hit is 25%, because the PC needs to roll over 15 on a d20, giving a 25% chance of success. This gives the following results:

  • Chance of being damaged by the opponent in one round=0.25
  • Number of hits required to die: 3

Compromise and Conceit

The Compromise and Conceit (C&C) fighter is assumed to have 4 ranks in attack, with a +3 strength bonus, and 4 ranks in defense, with a +3 agility bonus. The fighter is assumed to be wearing armour with Damage Reduction 3, and to have a maximum damage of 5 wounds. The fighter is also assumed to have 4 ranks in fortitude, with a total of 7 wounds. When fighting against himself, this means the fighter would need to roll a 10 to hit, but a 14 to do damage. Calculating average damage is tricky because the probability distribution is truncated between 1 and 5 with uneven probabilities, so for now we assume it is weighted towards the lower boundary of the damage distribution (due to the nature of the 2d10 roll), so assign an average damage of 2. Recall that this system uses a 2d10 attack roll, so we have a final result of:

  • Probability of successfully doing damage = 0.34
  • 4 hits required to kill the PC

Control system

This system assumes a 50% chance of doing damage, and 3 hits required to kill.

With these results we construct the probability distributions.

Results

The median unadjusted survival time for each system is:

  • Warhammer: 17 rounds
  • D&D: 11 rounds
  • C&C: 11 rounds
  • Control: 5 rounds

Figure 1 shows the unadjusted survival times (D&D has been misnamed AD&D).

Figure 1: Unadjusted survival times

The adjusted times were:

  • Warhammer: 23 rounds
  • D&D: 15 rounds
  • C&C: 14 rounds
  • Control: 7 rounds

and the probability curves are plotted in figure 2.

Figure 2: Adjusted survival curves

Recall that these are not true survival curves, but simply cumulative probability distributions.

Conclusion

It actually takes a long time to die in Warhammer, with a concomitant number of die rolls. At the unadjusted median survival time, if the player wins, he or she will have rolled 17 attack rolls and 3 damage rolls (on average); he or she will also have suffered an average of 6 attacks that required defensive rolls, giving a total number of defensive rolls of between 6 and 12, for a total of 26 – 32 rolls. The D&D player will have rolled 11 attacks and 3 damage rolls, for a total of 14 rolls. The C&C player will have rolled just the 11 attack rolls, and the control player will have rolled 5 attacks and 3 damage rolls for a total of 8 rolls.

It’s worth noting that, fiddling with the underlying parameters of the game assumptions for warhammer shows that damage reduction is a significant factor in the slowness – losing this feat increases the base hit chance to 23%, similar to D&D. However, the relative ability scores of the enemy are not that important. If the enemy has only a defense score of 15, half that of the PC, hit probability increases to 20% and the survival time drops (for the person with the higher skills) to 13 rounds, only shaving off 4 rounds. Also, if both fighters have an attack ability of 55%, the overall chance to hit remains roughly similar, at 17%, so gaining levels doesn’t significantly speed up combat.

Even if we assume that the warhammer system represents reality in its long drawn-out slugfests, we have to ask if this is a system that we want to actually play – fights this long are very boring. Also we note that a player has fate points to spend, and that in the “low power” world of warhammer these are one of the player’s main advantages over NPCs. But the average player will have 3 fate points, which can be used to reroll a single roll. Given they have to roll 26 – 32 times to win, it seems that these fate points aren’t going to make a significant difference to the battle’s progress. Also, unlike in D&D and C&C, the absence of other powers and magic means that the player has little else to do in combat but roll to hit, making these 26 rolls considerably less interesting than in other systems.

We also can note that there is no particular reason for a given number of rolls to be made for one attack. Combat systems abstract combat, so we could in essence reduce combat for the Warhammer case to a single roll against a 15% hit chance, and have the same result as described here, at the cost of 6-12 rolls less. Players want a certain amount of argy-bargy in combat, but I think most people would argue (and I think certainly the people I’ve played Warhammer with have agreed) that a little less argy bargy and a bit more fun could be had from a different system.

In a subsequent post, I will consider a full simulation for a set of sample fights, include criticals and death spirals, and give a statistical analysis.

Over at tenletter, there are some example abilities for Fighters to take when they have leader training. This reminded me of some of the more fun feats that my players chose for their characters in the Compromise and Conceit campaign, and which I thought I would reproduce here. These feats are sometimes overpowered, either because they were given at first level or because I like people to have feats which add to the character, even if they’re nasty. Each feat described below also includes the name and “class” of the character who used it.

Powerful Voice (Anna Labrousse, enchantress)

Can be used 3 times / day, using a presence vs. will challenged skill check. The target suffers a suggestion-like effect for 1 round per point of failure (Max. duration=Anna’s level).

Infernal Tango (Lord Merton St. Helier, sybarite)

Lord Merton and Russell Ganymede, his batman, have an almost supernatural understanding of each others’ moves in combat. Whenever Merton is able to use his ranged weapon, he gains an attack of opportunity against a single target in melee combat with Russell Ganymede.

Infernal Synergy (Lord Merton St. Helier, sybarite; and Russell Ganymede, his faithful batman)

This feat must be taken by both Merton and Russell; it extends their innate understanding of each others’ combat style, and enables each of them to gain a +2 attack bonus when fighting attacking someone who is engaged in melee combat with their ally. This also applies to ranged attacks.

Horrid Death (Dave Black, King’s Torturer)

If Dave delivers a killing blow, he can choose to kill his opponent in such a horrid and gruesome fashion that all allies of the target who witness his/her/its death must immediately suffer a will vs. presence challenged skill attack. If they fail, they are shaken and suffer a -2 to all actions for 1 round per point of failure.

Torturer’s Tale (Dave Black, King’s Torturer)

Once per day, Dave can touch one target and, on a successful will vs. presence check, learn the truthful answer to 1 question.

Locking eyes with the Damned (Father David Cantrus, Jesuit)

Cantrus catches the eye of another spellcaster in order that both parties can appreciate the inevitable damnation of their souls, reflected in the eyes of another destined for the same flames. If Cantrus succeeds in a challenged will vs. will skill check, he and the target are unable to cast any magic until Cantrus deliberately breaks eye contact. The effect can work around corners/through walls if there is a mirror or other reflection by which they can be seen. The target takes 1 fatal wound every round that they fail a will vs. will challenged skill check, thus hastening their descent into hell. The target may yell for aid from fellows, but cannot cast spells or attack Cantrus, though they can attempt to move to escape Cantrus. Cantrus can move, but cannot attack or cast spells.

Because some of these feats were chosen at quite high level, I didn’t put any particular pre-requisites on them. Had I been writing them from the very first, I would obviously make some of them have attack bonus and feat pre-requisites. They were also intended, obviously, to personalise the PCs and make the player’s vision more personalised. In fact, some of these feats – particularly Locking Eyes with the Damned and Powerful Voice – were not used as much as expected. After Cantrus took Locking Eyes with the Damned, I chose battle with the final enemy to depend on it.
The remaining PC, Brian the Woodsman, didn’t have many specialist feats but he did have to regrow one of his arms, which was reformed in a dark ritual of faerie magic so that he had a massive, thick-thewed limb of wood and moss, wreathed in shadow. With this limb he could cast a spell, The Long Arm of the Lore, which I also describe here.

The Long Arm of the Lore

Range: Touch

DC: 25

Challenged: vs. Spellcraft

Effect: Brian’s shadow-wreathed arm grips the target and wraps them in a flickering halo of shadowy force drawn straight from the depths of the Faerie kingdom. For 1 rd + 1 rd per point of success, the targeted spell-user loses the ability to use their spellcraft skill in casting spells, but must instead rely on will.

As an example of this spell in action, Anna Labrousse finished the campaign with a spellcraft skill total of 21, and a will of 2. This significantly reduces her ability to successfully cast higher level spells. In future iterations of my system, it is likely that all secondary skills will be closer to primary skills, so an equivalent Anna Labrousse would have a will of about 10-12. This would still vastly reduce her power to cast more serious enchantments, like her infamous Grendel’s Demise. Sadly, the campaign finished before Brian got a good chance to use this spell.

Greg at Synapse RPG makes the claim that “we dont really have a good grasp of what goes on at other people’s tables and our community is not too great at sharing techniques or playstyles.” I don’t know if this is true or not, but it occurred to me that it would be fun anyway to try and describe the style by which I DM. So here goes…

Campaign style

Most of my campaigns are a kind of “story-based” campaign, in which I have a rough idea of a general goal I want the PCs to reach, a definite idea of a starting point and a few hooks in the middle to get them to the end; the rest I fill in as I go, and it can change a lot (including the final goal) depending on what happens in the campaign. The goal might be, for example, finding out who caused the apocalypse; but by the end of the campaign it may have morphed into a trip into hell to sacrifice a baby in order to stop a sinister Papist plot.

Often my campaign ideas will start as little more than an idea for a world, and a few vague visions of big scenes I want to enact, or a couple of key NPCs who appeal, and the rest I fill out as I go. But I always have something in mind when I start, and I usually look for a way to include the fun things I want to do no matter what direction the story takes. I also usually pursue a kind of three stage approach to the campaign development, which goes along the lines of: initial unconnected adventures to flesh out the world and get the players interested, during which I usually drop a few useful plot hooks and tricks for later; then an intensive stage of story development in the middle during which the PCs learn a bunch of stuff, identify key allies and enemies, and cause a shitload of trouble; then a kind of final confrontation and/or denouement, in which everything comes to a head. The middle part can be pretty free-flowing with a lot of different ways of getting to the end; and the end may not be fixed at this stage. For example, in the beginning of the middle stage of the most recent Compromise and Conceit campaign, I gave the players a choice of 3 or 4 sides to take: Colonials, Britain, Native Americans, or purely independent. Exactly what they did after that and where the campaign ended up would depend entirely on their choice and how they pursued it, though regardless of the side they took there were certain key facts about the world which I wanted them to discover.

Adventure development and presentation

At the beginning of the campaign I sometimes use published modules, but mostly I design everything from scratch. My style of campaigning means that adventures tend to be outdoor/city adventures, often involving small bases, houses, taverns or warehouses, and very rarely involving significant dungeoneering. I like dungeons and I appreciate their classical feeling, but I find they involve a lot of preparation, a lot of artistic skills I don’t have, and a lot of feeling of same-sameness that I like to avoid. For my players, dungeons are a treat and usually exceptionally dangerous.

I often design my adventures, like my campaigns, as a series of interconnected scenes or fragments of vision, often quite self-contained even though they’re part of the whole. Often an adventure springs purely from a vision of a single moment – for example, an adventure set on Lundy Isle in Devon arose from a vision of my PCs fighting a battle in rock pools, against superior forces, using the pools for cover. I designed the whole island for an anti-smuggler adventure, included this scene as key (the dragon skull they were seeking was hidden at this beach) and we ended up having 4 memorable scenes, only one of them planned. My adventure plans usually contain:

  • an outline of what needs to be achieved, what optional activities are obvious, and any pie-in-the-sky stuff I think might be possible
  • Description of key antagonists and places
  • Long-term consequences for the campaign and the PCs of different decisions
  • Spare monsters in case of likely side adventures or digressions
  • Key maps

I rely on my ability to improvise the details to run through anything that arises from left field.

I don’t write descriptions, but if there are key images I need in descriptions I put pointers to them in my text. I also put reminders about key things the PCs have to learn. Sometimes I forget these and have to tell the players afterwards about something they discovered that I didn’t tell them. A pointer to a description might be something like “Make sure the PCs are impressed by the scope of the castle and its impregnability, and arrange for them to arrive at moonlight so its mana-rock glistens for them” (I have never actually done this description, but you see the point).

Interactions and play style

Usually, we play in the evening after work, we order home-delivered pizza or curry, we have a 30 minute to 1 hour get-together first to debrief from our days and rant about life, and we start sober and end up (often very) drunk. Lots of gamers seem not to drink when they play – my groups usually haven’t been like that. On occasion in the past, some of my group have been stoners, and both of these behaviours have led me to develop a strong style for dealing with what some people euphemistically call “deliberation” but which I call faffing. I like my players to plan, and I enjoy that they are always trying to triple-guess me because I’m “a bastard,” but I don’t like deliberation to take up the whole night, so at some point I come (drunkenly) wading in with my combat boots on, forcing people to decide a plan.

Usually deliberation gets out of hand because a) one player (and only one) won’t let go of their own idea, or b) the players have missed an important point which will crystalise their planning, or c) all the plans are equally good. In this case when it’s gone on long enough, I either a) overrule the whinger, or b) point out to the players what should be perfectly obvious, or c) step in and give them a strict time limit on their planning before I decide their plan for them. I do this because we only usually play for 3-4 hours once a week, and I like us to spend that time playing, not planning, so I think it’s the job of the DM to keep that play happening. If any players really object to the intervention I do, of course, leave them to it.

Also, because I’m “a bastard,” I have been known on the odd occasion or fifty to throw in misleading or outright untruthful suggestions, or to confuse things deliberately. If the players, for example, all turn to me with a knowing suggestion that I would have loaded the warehouse with traps, I do my best to ensure that I confirm their fears. I occasionally lie about what the enemy is capable of or might be doing. Sometimes I do the opposite, to try and make them think barging in will be sufficient. This sort of misinformation ensures that they don’t get too cozy with their player knowledge of rules and monsters, and I find it helps to keep the feeling of the game “real” (as in, aware of the risks being taken) even once the PCs become deadly.

Because I see it as the DM’s responsibility to keep the group happy, I also step in to make sure people get equal say, that really suicidal ideas get killed off, or that an idea someone is really unhappy with (e.g. “let’s raid the village and take some women slaves”) get vetoed.

Also, when I’m DMing, I’m happy for my decisions to be disputed but if the same player is doing so over and over I will refuse further disputes, or just adjudicate secretly. Or give in and vindictively at a +2 to my rolls later, or somesuch.

Managing combat

My systems are usually death-spiral, simulationist (?) combat systems, which require description on my part, and I try to do this as much as possible[2]. I encourage players to describe their own actions, I try to describe monster’s actions as vividly as possible, and I also like to get players to describe their spells. I have a standing rule that summoned monsters take a form suited to the environment of the battle, and I or the player describe them. I try to keep combat fast-paced, particularly if it’s important for the adventure, so I sometimes do 5-4-3-2-1 countdowns to encourage rapid player decisions, and this occasionally does mean players miss a go. I fudge dice if it suits the mood/flow/intent of the battle, or if I want to spice up an encounter, or because I designed a monster too tough or too weak (I design most of my monsters myself). I allow rules about spells and effects to be broken occasionally if it suits the flow of the game, and I try as much as possible at all times to maintain a bubble of action in which the players feel they’re there – I use PC names as much as possible, I reiterate descriptive points, and I keep a fast narrative to maintain a sense of action. I also tell people if what they’re about to do is going to be really ineffective under the rules, or suicidal, unless I think they know it and are doing it anyway for some reason[1]; but sometimes I lie or dissemble to encourage a sense of fear, for example if everyone thinks that the wizard is resisting a powerful spell because he has a counter-spell, but actually it’s just from good rolls, I’ll give the impression that the players are right so that they desist from the powerful spell and waste time on breaking his non-existent defences. Also, even with monsters the players know well, I try to keep an air of mystery about them so the players don’t know for sure whether an action succeeded or failed on its own merits, or because this incarnation of this monster is special. Conversely, if their enemy has powerful save-or-die magic, I try to engineer it so they have a chance to stop the enemy using that magic first, or some kind of ability to take defensive steps. For example, ambushing a party of much-loved characters with a powerful wizard stocked up with save-or-die spells is just mean. It might be realistic in some sense, but what about the phrase “powerful wizard stocked up with save-or-die spells” invokes any sense of realism?

A few other points

I usually do dramatic scenes in the voices and manner of the NPCs, though I don’t expect players to do the same (some do, some don’t). I can get angry with players when they refuse to engage with the system and scheme of the world we’re in, since we’re there to role-play; though I don’t object at all to players going role-play light and waiting for the next battle/puzzle. I sometimes veto character development plans if I think they will unbalance one player or make them a super hero; I sometimes design monsters specifically to attack a PC (or party) weakness. At all times I try to maintain an atmosphere of immersive fun, and imminent danger.  And finally, I think I do expect my players to understand that the fun for me is not in adjudicating the rules, but feeling like I’ve created a rich and intense world that they are enjoying playing in. So I expect them to get in and have a go and take my efforts seriously, and in exchange I try to look out for dissatisfaction or boredom on their part, and change things accordingly.
At the very least, this is fun for me – for my players, too, I hope, and I hope it’s at least vaguely interesting to anyone reading it…

fn1 : punishing people for not bothering to learn the rules or not knowing them all properly is, in my opinion, really juvenile

fn2: I think I actually found in later years of Rolemaster, where all this stuff has been taken care of in critical tables, that the combat got same-same, because everyone had heard the major criticals and their effects before, and I prefer to leave the descriptions to me and/or the player. So now I envisage an improvement to RM (which I don’t play anymore) as being a critical table which lists the rules-mechanical effects but leaves the description to the DM.

No keel-hauling for these sea dogs...The only significant enhancement on the tall ship in 200 years, the Spindrift Clipper represents a considerable performance improvement over standard seaborne vessels for a limited additional cost. Behaving in every way like a normal vessel, the Spindrift Clipper has had low-power levitation magic added to its hull so that it can become airborne when needed. This has considerable advantages, enabling the ship to move much faster in fine weather and to avoid the risk of running aground or being damaged by reefs or wrecks. It also enables the ship to avoid being swamped in storms, though in instances it may be driven significantly off course. Many advanced Spindrift Clippers come with a special “storm anchor”, an emergency flight device which forces the ship to ride against strong winds, keeping it from being blown off course. Most Clipper pilots prefer to use their levitation to their advantage, rising from the water and riding ahead of stormclouds in the hope of regaining their course when the clouds have gone – better to survive at sea than to risk all for a few days lost journeying, after all. The Spindrift Clipper has made long-distance trading and exploration much easier and cheaper due to faster trips with lower risks of shipwreck or mutiny. Spindrift Clippers do not fly high, however, as their levitation magic is always weak and the ship is not designed to survive the stresses of such heights.

The characters themselves stole a small spindrift clipper, the Unfortunate Lapse of Discipline, from the Iron House, and renamed it the Inappropriate Response. It took them to Greenland and Ireland and back to America during the final stages of adventuring to date, and although it did not protect them from some of the less pleasant monsters of the Atlantic, it at least gave them some advantage in battle against the forces laying siege to New York. The Inappropriate Response relies for its levitation magic on a weak antipathic magic, cheap to install but requiring large bodies of water to move over. Later models of the Spindrift Clipper, particularly those designed for river travel, would have true levitation magic built in, so that they could act essentially as hovercraft or helicopters. These innovations would be another 100 years in development, however.

Being the report of Bishop Julius Morninghope, emissary to the Pope for the New World, on the mysterious events in the American plains of winter, 1755. This report was sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints by Morninghope on the request of a small group of catholic colonial (white) residents of the New Red Empire, who believed the events of that fateful day should be better broadcast through the old world, which was at that time locked in debate over the spiritual rightness of what they called the “Renouncers”, that is, people who renounced English sway over the Americas and turned to the New Red Empire for protection. The Holy See was believed to be taking a position against the Renouncers, with the threat of mass excommunication, and the canonization of Father David Cantrus would serve to make such an excommunication extremely difficult.

The New Red Empire, having freedom of conscience as one of its central principles, was happy to allow Bishop Morninghope into Albany to investigate in more detail, and to send this missive to Rome.

Your Holiness

Please find below the full report on the matters which occurred on the Great Plains in winter, 1755, in support of the case for canonization of the priest Father David Cantrus. This information was gathered in Albany in early 1756 on the request of the local parish of Albany, who constitute the Actor Causae pursuant to this case. Investigation was performed by myself and a single Inquisitor, Hendrick Heim from Bern.

Initially, gathering information on the events proved difficult, but eventually I persuaded the survivors of the battle to speak to me. I was uncertain as to the veracity of their account; however, a survivor, one Dave Black, agreed eventually to submit himself to a mental Inquisition by Hendrick Heim. Heim was somewhat unusually affected by this mental Inquisition, but his sanity survived long enough to give a mostly lucid account of the events as they were witnessed by Dave Black. Although the unfortunate consequences of intruding on Dave Black’s mind have rendered the details a little hazy, I assure your holiness that the account is correct in all significant particulars (and especially Father Cantrus’ end).

Father Cantrus is most certainly not the only hero of this process, though he is the only one to have performed a miracle, so I refer to the group of actors as “the Heroes” for the duration of this report. They arrived in Albany in possession of significant information concerning the intentions of an organisation called The Iron House, which had invaded the Americas with the intention of finding and opening an ancient gate to hell, which the Heroes refer to as “The Red Gate”. The characters had a message from an Indian Sorcerer begging them to come to his aid and, being important figures in the New Red Empire, had decided to do so.

They were met at Albany by two old Indian witches referred to colloquially as “Coyote’s women”, presumably due to their manners and odour. They led the heroes to the Prophet, who was staying near Albany, and he informed them of the salient particulars of the matter: that a powerful wizard of the Iron House, one Alastair Crow, had landed in the Great Lakes region with a band of enslaved Irish soldiers and some British mercenaries, and was raiding the inland in pursuit of the Red Gate. The Prophet’s war chief, a heinous traitor and murderer known only as “Magua”, had led a warband to the scene of the Iron House’s arrival, but superior European magic prevented the savages from finding the intruder. As always happens at these times, the weak Indian Sorcerer turned to white folk for help. They told him that they knew what the Iron House sought, though not where it was, and upon discovering that the Iron House had the Thorntree as its objective, he offered to send the characters there quickly. He opened a gate to what he knew as the Spirit World, undoubtedly some outer part of hell, and they agreed to journey through it to the location of the Thorntree, shaving many weeks off the journey should they survive. Coyote’s women would aid them as guides in this spirit world, which sounds from their account like a greater and even emptier version of the real world of the Indians.

Within this spirit world all humans take an alternate form, and those of the heroes were (by their own account):

  • Father Cantrus: An angelic figure comprised only of sharp angles and flat planes wearing a formerly alabaster robe that’s now filthy with all manner of foul things. The being’s left arm is translucent and leaves shadows in the wake of its movements. Wings made of a combination of feathers and blades sprout from its back in an array of white glow and steely reflections that are marred by the blood that they have been dipped in
  • Dave Black: a great black badger
  • Anna Labrousse: a beautiful woman being slowly constricted to death by a dragon coiled around her
  • Merton St. Helier: a powerful centaur, bow in one hand, wine glass in the other, and very well hung
  • Brian the Hunter: A roughly human shape, but made of thorns… the longest nastiest thorns you’ve seen… the between the fronds of thorns light just disappears and the result is unnaturally deep shadows between the branches of thorns.  Out of the shadows thick, half-congealed blood slowly seeps, leaving constant blood trails behind him that after about 10m of walking seem to evaporate into thin air.  On close inspection, and with the aid of bright light, you can see that all Brians human organs are underneath the thorns in their relevant places, including his oversized heart!
  • Russell Ganymede: eleven foot tall, naked, super-short legs (stumps!), massive belly and arms; bleached, oozing skin (translucent!), and a stench of rotten eggs: like an ogre had been lying in sulphuric acid for too long. Recessed chin, chiselled forehead, “walks” using much of its arms, and exhales sulphuric vapour; drooling problem.

Coyote’s women took the form of coyotes in this spirit world. This world has many strange properties which make it difficult for the living (let alone the pious!) to travel through. By the account of our heroes, the spirit world is a strange land, indescribably vast, with some of the features of the real world massively exaggerated, and others strangely subdued. It doesn’t seem to have temperature or weather, but in the distance there are always storms. The heroes occasionally saw distant creatures, including:

  • Rolling rock (an Indian superstition, undoubtedly a demon)
  • Vast herds of buffalo, but strange and horrific and seemingly shrouded in shadow
  • Ancient battlefields, over which haggard coyotes pick, and through which ghosts and undead wander
  • Occasional great animal spirits – a huge boar, or a massive eagle
  • Forests of ancient, vast trees

The journey seems to take a long time, but simultaneously everything seems to have flicked by quickly, so that when they look back on things past they are already far away, and the detail not remembered clearly as if not much time was spent in them. Even the number of nights that has passed doesn’t seem to be clearly recalled or understood.

However, the heroes survived this land and emerged at the far side into a canyon, just after dusk. They emerged into a narrow culvert, and could see into a wider canyon which sloped down to enter an even wider, deeper canyon. In front of them they could see that the smaller canyon was blocked by a ring of wagons in a circle, which they would have to pass. Wandering about in dazed confusion between them and the wagon circle was a sick, weak-looking Indian brave, and in the distance they could see another figure wandering about in front of another part of the wagon circle. Beyond the circle at the juncture of the smaller and the larger canyon they could hear screams, and see a distant shadow.

The heroes attacked the wagons, but as they approached someone inside threw a bundle out of the circle. This manifested itself as a large and nasty Autonomous Sentinel Cannon, which immediately attached itself to the confused brave, and began shooting at them. They were also attacked by three riflemen hidden behind the wagons. Anna Labrousse summoned a monster in the form of a small version of Rolling Rock; this overwhelmed the cannon while Cantrus healed the Indian Brave which was feeding it, and the remainder of the party attacked the hidden riflemen. Merton opened fire on them with a pair of barrage pistols, which missed; then Ganymede, Dave Black and Brian’s dog Matilda took apart the remaining three.

They approached the other dazed figure and found him to be an Irish soldier, one of the soldiers they had freed from a curse about a month earlier, and this soldier told them the full details of the Iron House’s journey to America. He told them that the force that arrived had successfully fought all Indian attackers with powerful magic and military might, but when the Heroes enacted the ritual to free the Irish Mercenaries of their curse, the remaining Iron House soldiers turned on them. Their remaining Irish soldier had been sick with dysentery at the time, and so was not killed; when he recovered he had entered the stage of being suggestible, and had been brought along as food for the Autonomous Sentinel Cannon. In the battle between the Irish and non-Irish mercenaries much of the force had been killed, and they evidently had no healer; after that they had to rush through enemy lands, and had lost the remainder of their force. Only Alastair Crow and the 3 riflemen remained. The Irish mercenary knew they had set out in possession of 5 Myrmidons, but he did not know how many remained.

The heroes took this information and headed into the canyon. At the point where it entered the larger canyon they found the Thorntree, and with it Alastair Crow in the midst of enacting a great and powerful ritual. The Thorntree itself was a great, twisted monolith of wood and bark, so large it blotted out some of the stars of the early winter sky. It was dotted with thorns, the ones at its base as large as trees and the higher thorns only the size of elephants tusks or pillars in a small church. Hanging from the larger thorns and impaled on the smaller ones were Indians – women, braves and shamen impaled on the higher thorns, and children hanging, bleeding and tortured, from the lower ones. At the base of the tree, surrounded by a magic circle drawn in the sand of the canyon floor, was Alastair Crow, his back turned to the party of heroes. He was engaged in a ritual, and had open before him a small box.

The characters attacked. Brian the Hunter called forth walls of entangling thorns linking the walls of the canyon to the thorntree, in order to prevent attacks from within the canyon. Anna Labrousse summoned another monster, this one made of thorns and shadow; and they all charged forward. However, they were attacked immediately by two Myrmidons, one each side, which leapt over the thorn barriers and charged to attack. These were larger than previous Myrmidons they had fought – 12 feet tall, and much faster and fluid in their movements. Flying down from the canyon wall there also came two fly demons, the same sort that the heroes had fought at the Iron House’s headquarters in Bodmin. Battle was joined.

While Russell, Dave Black and Brian the Hunter took on the Myrmidons the Fly Demons swooped low, spewing vomit on the party. Merton fired on the Myrmidon fighting Russell, and Anna Labrousse attempted to rip off its limbs, while Cantrus healed those near death and banished the demons alternately. The Demons had soon been torn back to hell by giant angelic chains, but the battle against the Myrmidons was much harder. Brian the Hunter conjured another entangling patch of thorns, which held one of the Myrmidons long enough for Dave Black to kill it, though not before it had slain Brian, its captor. At this point a wizard hidden nearby cast a spell on Russell, forcing him to attack his party members; Anna Labrousse was then occupied casting magic to undo this spell while Merton and Cantrus attempted to kill Alastair Crow. Unfortunately, Crow was immune to all their attacks, magical or otherwise – even appeals to his chivalric nature to make him consider a duel against Merton failed.

This was a dangerous situation, for while the battle with the Myrmidon raged Alastair Crow had partly opened the gate to hell, and the heroes could hear the coming hordes of darkness. Father Cantrus realised that there was only one solution remaining to the party – he ran forward, grabbed Crow by the shoulder, and attempted to lock him in a soulgaze. He realised as he did the reason for Alastair Crow’s immunity – he wore around his neck a pebble the characters had used once to kill him, which he had turned into a charm against all their attacks! However, Cantrus’s soulgaze is no magical or physical attack, merely a revelation of the fate which awaits all sinners, and no mage is immune to it. Alastair crow, trapped in the vision of his own inevitable fate, screamed hollowly, but the gate remained open. In desperation, Cantrus pushed him in; but as he did so the remaining Myrmidon teleported over to his side and cut him in twain with its massive blade, before any could stop it.

In his death, Cantrus fell into the gate with the wizard, and with his dying wish invoked the miracle by which his supporters request his canonisation: He sealed the gate shut, forever, with his soul. The gate slammed shut, sealing wizard and Priest’s soul inside hell but protecting the mortal world forever from any infernal incursion through this ancient gate.

I should note that objectors might point out the local Indian tale which says the gate was opened with the bones of a priest, and can be closed the same way; I do not credit this story as anything but native American ramblings, probably peyote- inspired, and instead I argue that this was a miracle, invoked directly by Cantrus through his faith. It is rendered all the greater in its power by the sacrifice he made – taking a place in hell to prevent hell coming to us – and the nature of his own faith, which in previous confidential reports to the Inquisition has been described as “shaky” and “flexible, to say the least”. I present this miracle as evidence that the Lord has judged Cantrus’ faith to be sound.

On this basis I recommend that Cantrus be considered for canonization.

On this basis, and with the full support of the Inquisition, I also should like to point out that the remainder of the Heroes are a dangerous and unstable group, with few morals, fewer links to the New World, no loyalty to divinely appointed laws or rulers, and great power. I have seen what happened to Inquisitor Heim after he attempted to read the mind of Dave Black, even though Black had submitted willingly, and I have heard tales of all their deeds.

On this basis I recommend that Cantrus’ allies be considered for liquidation.

Finally, I note that traditionally a soul becomes a Saint by being reborn in a new, more powerful form, in service to the Church, on this mortal plane. This is impossible for Cantrus, since his soul is trapped in hell. He can only be canonised if his soul is rescued from hell to be returned to the service of the church. In the place of his death we should also be able to find the pebble which the wizard Alastair Crow wore, and which completely protects the wearer from Cantrus’s allies.

On this basis I recommend that a team of Inquisitors enter hell as soon as possible, to recover the pebble and Cantrus’s soul, the latter to enter into service to the church as a Saint, and the former to be used in completing the destruction of Cantrus’s allies.

Yours in holy observance

Bishop Julius Morninghope

This found in a glass case in Alastair Crow’s study, written in blood on a scroll made of the skin of an angel. It is obviously very old and very evil…

They fell

Weakened by battle and His Betrayal

Weakened, they could not hold their form

It must pass

Down down down

Into the Underworld

Such passion has no equal

It must return

With it they placed gates

It must return

It must return

Here here here

In this world

They will return

They will return

Their return they willed

Their return they willed

For when their power is greater

Their form permanent

They placed gates

Like falling stars they hit this world

They placed gates

Like rising shadows they will consume this world

Oh Servants, Find the Gates!!!!

Oh Servants, Find the Gates!!!

Oh Servants, Open the Gates!!!

Being the lost verse from Dr. Faustus, with no credit to Marlowe…

 

Satan
How am I glutted with conceit of this?
Shall I make mortals fetch me what I please,
Resolve me of all infirmities,
Perform what desperate enterprise I will?
I’ll have them seek in India for it,
Ransack the Ocean for a watery gate,
And search all corners of the new found world
For obscure lore and forgotten secrets;
I’ll have them read me strange philosophy,
And tell the secrets of all foreign kings;
I’ll have them wall all Germany with tears,
And make swift Rhine circle run Vermillion;
I’ll have them fill the public schools with death,
Wherewith my students shall be bravely clad;
I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,
And seek the Gates of Hell in every land,
And reign sole king of all their provinces;
Yea, stranger servants for the ancient quest,
Than crows and bats in the mortal night,
I’ll make my servile mortals to invent.
Come, German Valdes and Cornelius,
And find my ancient door to your mortal world.
Valdes, sweet Valdes, and Cornelius,

 

Enter Valdes and Cornelius.
Know that your words have won me at the last,
To practice magic and concealed arts:
Not for my gain only, but your own intention,
That will deceive my object and my deed,
And infiltrates my necromantic skill.

 

 

 

Also found in a glass case, obviously very old, and perhaps written in blood…

George Washington

8 Albany Place

Albany

America

 

Alastair Crow

Court Mage

Lanhydnock

Bodmin

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

 

1st August 1755

 

 

Dear Mr. Crow

 

Regarding your letter of the 17th July, I am of course delighted to assure you that, should my various projects in the Americas come to fruition, you and yours will be granted full diplomatic immunity and unimpeded access to all regions under the immediate control of my forces; as well as the right to move your own forces outside of these regions for your own purposes. Your help has already proven invaluable, and I understand the nature and extent of assistance you offer in the event that the main part of my plans should fail.

 

Regarding the eventual consequences of, as you call them, my “core strategic objectives”, I can assure you that if I fail to move “with all due haste” to “neutralise unnecessary sentient obstacles” among the Native population, you will be free to act in whatever way you see fit to assure your own “demographic goals”. I can, however, assure you that my main associates – Colonels Williamson and White – are eager to enact their principles regarding the Noble Savage, and I am confident that you will find your own “strategic resources” will remain “untapped” while both of our organisations “progress [sic] mutually agreed project outcomes”.

 

I would also humbly request that you find a less intrusive means of delivering your messages. Not only is the smell of sulfur difficult to remove from my draperies, but it took me some hours to find my scullery maid after she fled in terror from your messenger. I trust that you understand my situation, and remain in this as in all matters,

 

Yours Sincerely etc.

 

 

 

George Washington