Farmers near Separation City, before the plague

Farmers near Separation City, before the plague

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

The doctor’s hidden horrors

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

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

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

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

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

The doctor’s secret schemes

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

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

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

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

The circus comes to town

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

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

The plagubearers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fn4: two chaos stars on an unsuccessful magical sight check

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

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

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

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

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

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

The healers and the bandits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Separation City: von Jungfreud’s declaration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

行ってきます!

This is my first attempt at mapping the Steamlands, the kingdom in which I am now running WFRP 3 adventures. The map was created in Hexographer (the free version) because I’m a terrible artist, designer or drawer. The geography of this kingdom is based loosely on Kyushu, Southern Japan, taking the names and some of the features of parts of Japan for inspiration. I’ve also chucked in a bit of Germany for good measure (the World Forest on the west coast, and the river system lined with towers, is essentially a geographical feature copied from the Black Forest and the Rhine).

At the moment I have no ideas for this world except the names of towns (translated from the Japanese) and a couple of general features. Although the geography is modeled loosely on Kyushu and the city names a translation of Kyushu names, the vegetation and weather is roughly similar to south east Australia – so the World Forest, for example, is a vast wilderness of eucalyptus forest, and the flat areas can be imagined to be rolling pasture dotted with cows. I haven’t decided if it has marsupials (probably not) but it will have a bird that resembles a kookaburra, and the forest will preserve Australian features – quiet, pleasantly fragrant, dry and kind of spooky. Some particular features of the landscape (and the names they’re translated from) are given below.

  • The Spear Capes (Nagasaki): a land of inlets and bays, rich swamps and wild rivers, I imagine this is dotted with independent cities of pirates and traders, and is quite primitive and barbaric in many ways. I imagine the swamps will be mangroves, and crocodiles will be common. I also imagine that the inland areas will have plantain and sugar farms, and possibly large plantations owned by strongmen from the other kingdoms (particularly from Twinluck)
  • Twinluck (Fukuoka): Twinluck is the largest city in the Steamlands, and is connected by a railway line to the city of Store. I imagine Twinluck as a chaotic melting pot, with an ancient history and lots of steampunk technology. I also think that the current ruler has styled himself “The Emperor of Infinity” and is attempting to build a great empire, the Empire of the Manifold Path, which is slowly expanding East and Southwest (through the land that in real life is called Saga but in this map is simply farmland and forest that is open to exploitation by the most aggressive settlers). I also imagine that the people of the Manifold Empire (as it is often referred to) are of a different race to those in the Spear Capes, and there is much conflict on the edges of the Empire
  • Store (Kitakyushu/Kokura): I know nothing about Store except that it is at the other end of the railway line from Twinluck, and it constitutes the Easternmost boundary of the Manifold Empire. It is so-called because the coastline is riddled with old caves that connect into a deep dungeon, in which can be found lost artifacts and ancient technology – as well as ancient evils
  • Heavenbalm (Usa): Heavenbalm is the temple-fortress at the centre of a religious kingdom, about which I know nothing. I guess there is human sacrifice and witch burning, and possibly magic is forbidden.
  • Steamline Spa (Yufuin): This town is the centre of a network of hot springs and spas, scattered through the mountains in this area. This is the area where the campaign began
  • Separation City (Beppu): The adventurers are heading here as I make the map. I’m not sure why it’s called “Separation City” or what’s there, but I think it will be a smallish town with a large entertainment industry, and a large port for Eastward travel to the Four Kingdoms and the Summerlands (two other continents not shown on this map)
  • Greathalf (Oita): A large industrial and agricultural city, the last significant town before one heads down the wild east coast
  • The Beastlands (Kumamoto): Kumamoto means “origin of bears,” so for this area I figured it must be full of beastmen. These beastmen regularly spread to the east coast or northeast towards the civilized lands of Greathalf, and the line of towers has something to do with them. The southernmost island of the Beastlands is the Isle of Pan, and it may be the home of some kind of god of the beastmen, though no one has returned to tell the tale of its contents. This island corresponds with the province of Kagoshima (Island of Fauns), and the islands which inspired the mythical forest of Princess Mononoke, which seems apt
  • The World Forest: the home of the elves, especially away from the coast, and continually being contested between elves, beastmen and humans

Besides these rough outlines, I have no other ideas for the world. I know there is another kingdom on the east coast, not yet described, which corresponds with Miyazaki, but I can’t think of a good translation of Miyazaki (“Palace” plus “Promontory” or “Peninsular”). Maybe the “Bay of Palaces”? Sounds rich and powerful! Or maybe it once was, and now is crumbling under the beastman threat.

Because there is a dwarf in the party I need to find a place to fit dwarves in all of this – they might, however, come from over the sea, in the Four Kingdoms.

The PCs are heading to Separation City to get a lawyer to sign a deed transferring property to them, so that they can take ownership of an onsen in the mountains. After that they have adventure options in Twinluck, and they can return and explore the land around their property, or they can head elsewhere to explore the Steamlands. At this stage it’s all pretty open, basically a sandbox to enable me to see how far I can push the WFRP 3 rules before I get bored of them and/or they break. Shall I have a beastman empire? What is buried beneath Store? And does the Emperor of Infinity know something we don’t? Only time will tell…

Today I ran a follow-up session of Warhammer 3 (WFRP 3) based in the world where I previously ran a Pathfinder Onsen Adventure. In the first session the players safely completed the first adventure, and now they are ready to explore their world and do a bit of adventuring. I’m running this as a kind of sandbox in a steam-powered world of below-Victorian-level tech, set in a world that corresponds geographically with Kyushu, Japan but is not intended to be anything except a cultural mish-mash. The characters in this session were an elven scout, a human wizard (of the jade order) and a human roadwarden. Our group changes a little from fortnight to fortnight, so the group won’t be constant.

Just as in the Pathfinder version, at the end of the first adventure the PCs got a document granting them ownership of a small onsen resort near the town of Steamline Spa. They need to head down to the coast, to Separation City, to find a lawyer who can ratify their ownership of the onsen. The PCs planned to do this in this adventure, but they ran into a small hitch…

The Disgruntled Guards

The PCs arrived at the onsen resort as bodyguards to a rich old man who needed healing, but the resort itself actually had some guards already. After these guards found out that the PCs had taken ownership of the onsen resort they got a little uppity, and all five of them visited the PCs’ office to demand a renegotiation of the situation: specifically, that the PCs relinquish the deed of ownership to the guards and leave immediately. The guards consisted of:

  • Carsk: a massive, hulking barbarian-type from an undisclosed region, kind of swarthy with a face so heavily scarred that forming complex sentences is a challenge
  • The Spitting Woman: one of those lightly-armed cut-and-run types, obviously the brains of the group, this woman is probably from the far South and speaks a language so heavily punctuated by spitting and hacking sounds that the PCs never really learned her name, and just refer to her as “the spitting woman.”
  • The Triplets: A trio of fighters, inseparable, probably born at the same time, of indeterminate gender, who may not speak common and come from some barbaric place in the far west, beyond the World Forest.

The Roadwarden, Chrestia, decided to use her leadership skills to try and convince the mob that instead of taking over the shop they should work as the PCs loyal servants. The PCs had been digging through documents and so discovered some evidence that Carsk was deep in debt to some gambling parlours in Steamline Spa, and they offered to help him work out his debts if he stayed loyal. However, none of these incentives worked, and after a couple of minutes of debate things turned sour. Combat ensued, and would have gone very badly if Chrestia hadn’t had the good idea of upturning their huge mahogany desk for cover. This gave them a small defensive bonus in the first round – not enough to stop the scout copping a third critical hit on top of the two he already had – but things were clearly looking dire. In fact the scout at this point was only alive because he had previously got healing sufficient to ignore one critical hit for a day – one more critical hit and he was dead, and if he didn’t get some decent healing in 24 hours he would die.

Fortunately the room backed onto a verandah and then a garden, and so the PCs decided to make a run for it into the garden. The garden was surrounded by a wall with a gate, and they figured if they could make it to the gate one of them could hold the gate against the whole horde. The upturned desk gave them the chance, so they ran for it and made it to the gate. Here, Chrestia blocked the gate while the wizard fired magic darts over her shoulders and the scout dropped into the shadows. He used his ambush skills to deal with the triplets when they tried climbing over the wall, and Chrestia dealt with the spitting woman, who was first to the gate. Carsk, seeing no way through the gate, tried to climb the wall. The scout used a trick shot that enables him to shoot round corners, but it didn’t work; however, after Chrestia killed the Spitting Woman, the wizard was able to cast an entangle spell on Carsk as he was halfway up the wall.

This had an unfortunate effect. The garden was already full of topiary that had been carved into sexually suggestive shapes, and Carsk was climbing the wall next to a topiary figure of a rabbit pleasuring herself on a rhinoceros’s horn. This topiary expanded to engulf Carsk, so that he was pinned to the wall with vines twined around his sweetmeats and his greatsword embedded in a sensitive part of the rhinoceros. Carsk was probably too tough for the PCs to kill in an open fight, but finding himself compromised by a rhinoceros-shaped shrub, and with vines slowly crawling around his balls, he changed his tune. He blamed the whole thing on the Spitting Woman, and agreed to work for the PCs as a loyal and faithful companion.

The gnome wagons and the Beastmen

The following day the PCs explored the valley near their onsen, finding the caravans that belonged to the gnome crime-boss they killed in the previous session. These caravans are luridly painted with famous stories in the history of the gnome race: in this case, scenes from the story of Grimsby’s contest with Casanova, in which Grimsby attempts to deflower every virgin Casanova is pursuing before Casanova can get to her. This story is known to have ended badly for everyone involved except Casanova, and the wagon decorations were really not suitable for display in a civilized city, but the wagons were pulled by wargoats and the PCs figured they could repaint them or sell them, so they took them back to their onsen. They then realized that the scout was in dire need of healing, and since they had to travel to Separation City anyway they headed off for Steamline Spa. A night at the healer’s later, and the scout was good as new. With a new day dawning, they headed to Separation City …

Unfortunately, they were ambushed by Beastmen on the way. Four ungors and a wargor charged from the bushes to attack them as they were heading through a forested valley, with almost hilarious consequences. The wizard cast another entanglement spell, trapping the ungors in the scrub, but the wargor – a great 12′ tall monster of a screaming bull-headed bastard – hit their wagon at a full run, and did some serious damage to the roadwarden, who was driving the wagon. Unfortunately, to do this the wargor had charged through the side of the wagon, and got his head stuck in the wagon wall, and the roadwarden got a free hit on the beast’s head[1]. Having used her free attack, the roadwarden then pulled a classic stunt: she stabbed the arse of the wargoat dragging their wagon, forcing it into a blind run, and leapt out the back of the wagon. The wagon hurtled off down the road with the wargor still trapped by its head, desperately stumbling and struggling as it tried not to be trampled or run over and still with its head stuck in the side of the wagon. This left the PCs free, at least for a round or two, to deal with the entangled weaker beastmen. And this is where the session ended …

fn1: the card “Fearsome charge” includes an effect when you roll 2 banes, in which the target gets a free strike. I figured this was because the wargor got stuck in the wagon’s boards.