The night before, my dears, was a night and a half. Imagine, if you will, my delight at discovering Middenheim’s soul not yet fully crushed by the siege, and the poor souls thronging the streets; imagine my joy that the Red Moon’s doors were still open and the enchanting voice of its hostess still set the night ablaze. Eva is every bit as lovely as I’d been led to believe, and her companion, Magistrix Eberhauer, an utter charmer.
But needs must, on mission and revenge, and I made my way back to the Untergardners’ enclave in Grunpark. My companions on the road had been busy; I could tell from the lightness of their purses and the burdens in their arms that something was afoot. Woe and alas, they greeted me with more suspicion than I feel I deserved; they pressed me for the rhyme and reason behind my wanting to trace an expatriate dwarf with every reason to hate me and all my kin.
In the end I bartered with them; gave them a little titbit or two from the Red Moon’s tables. The grimoire their old witch had carried with them? Genuine. A magician of the Amber College had been in hiding in Untergard for I don’t even know how long, for reasons I’d like to know but simply lack the time to plumb. The scrip tucked in the back? Also genuine. Dark Magic – the other kind – and apparently likely obtained through the old Wyndward Haulage, a front for a cult even my Lord remembers. In return, they let me know Stormwarden is alive and living in Middenheim, and agreed to represent him on my behalf – purely to recover an heirloom of my house. They can’t know how important this is; I’m sure they think I’ve given away too much, but a book I can learn from and a scrap of paper that could kill me are mere trifles compared to… it.
While I was changing, I bore witness to a scuffle outside; some local toughs throwing their weight around, demanding to see and no doubt put the fear into Captain Schiller, who I gather has been reinstated to the Watch and not before time. Leni, the Mootlander, took a whack to the head, but the others saw the ruffians off quite nicely, and when done… changing… I set out in pursuit. Can’t hurt to keep an eye on the Untergardners, and besides, after three days I was feeling a little peckish. I hadn’t dined, after all, since the caravan was attacked.
My little gaggle of mortal friends, I heard later, were off to see Stormwarden. I wonder if he told them?
Those of us not limited to Ariette’s perspective would probably like to know that he did not. Far from it. The phrase he used was something along the lines of “tell her if she comes near me I’ll split her pretty face in two and see if it grows back.”
I had a lot of fun with this one. The Racketeers who showed up were another Random Encounter from Warhammer City (and a Beggar also showed up on the way back from Stormwarden’s place, while the players were discussing what to do about Ariette, her ‘heirloom’, and their promise to Stormwarden that they’d keep the one very very far away from the other), but all the random encounters so far have led to some fun emergent subplotting with the Margraf, his specific choice of hostelry, his obviously-former-thief-bodyguard, and the Man who Comes Around and more or less runs the district they’ve ended up in. If this vampire deal runs dry, we have a run of other threads leading to the Man and the criminal underclass behind him, the Purple Hand, and now the Graf of Middenheim since the players are determined to out Ariette to him. Which will be interesting. So I have some statting to do for the next session, because it’s about time some of this stuff became concrete.
Item: that at two hours before noon a Caravan of Refugees on the Southern Road caused numerous Delays to Traffic while a Halfling among their number strongly disputed the validity of the Graf’s one-shilling-per-leg toll policy.
Item: that enquiries were made to the Elven and Halfling secretaries of the Kommission for Elf, Dwarf and Halfling Interests regarding the person of Kallad Stormwarden, signatory of the KEHDI Articles of Incorporation, donor to the city coffers and living ancestor to the Middenheim dwarf community.
Item: that the personage enquiring at the office of the Halfling Secretary bears passing resemblance to a known Public Nuisance and Exile from the Mootland Electorate.
Item: that similar enquiries are reported to have been made within the Wynd District’s dwarf quarter.
Item: that at around noon a Disturbance was seen in and about Grunpark when operatives of the Citizens’ Vigilance Committee were turned away from an Refugee Camp on the Park’s south-eastern corner, while within the Park proper a drunk did accost a dishevelled Elf of no fixed abode and accuse the City’s water supply of “turning honest women into lovely trees.”
Item: that at one hour past noon a dishevelled Elf of no fixed abode entered the Merchant’s Guild of the City and demanded directions to a repository of Cake whilst befouling numerous expensive fixtures and causing no small distress to the good burghers within.
Item: that at one and one half hour past noon a dishevelled Elf of no fixed abode passed along Morrsweg behaving in a manner most intimidating to residents and refugees alike, before becoming involved in an Fracas with an employee of the Margraf von Totenbar which did lead to the breaking of the Margraf’s Nose and much Anarchic Mirth among the Occupants of the Prospect hostelry.
Item: that at two hours past noon a dishevelled Elf of no fixed abode was seen at the kitchen door of the Harvest Goose hostelry engaging the proprietor in spirited conversation regarding Cake, Mushrooms, and theGräfin Katarina.
We continue to prosper. More funny voices and less rolling in this one, as I start to get my mojo back and remember how to improvise. It is coarse acting, to say the least, but the frightened members of the Merchants’ Guild (reminiscent of that “cake and fine wine” bit from Withnail & I) and the absowutewy wudicwous Mawgwaf got a few laughs and that’s what counts.
The Cake, in case you’re wondering, is a classic example of players escalating things. They’re going to see a living ancestor. They should bring him a present. Wait, he used to be a king? They should all bring him a present. Wait, he’s big into interspecies cooperation? They should bring him a present from their own people! And that’s why Siluvain spent her first afternoon in Middenheim trying to find a decent bakery that hadn’t been flattened in the siege… Because for some reason, fancy elven pastry came to mind.
The mushrooms are just a side quest.
It’s the first time I’ve run a campaign where all the characters have been what in a more rigid class-defined RPG would be called “Rogues”, and that’s unusual for me. I’m learning/making up some thieves’ cant for this in preparation for their inevitable encounter with “The Man” or the clientele of the Prospect.
Ariette von Carstein, incidentally, remains at large.
In my few years among the Aristocracy of the Night I have endured more than my due share of rude awakenings, it’s true, but this one took the proverbial cake, not to mention the proverbial biscuit – in fact, it made off with the whole proverbial bakery. For this, dear readers, is the day I awoke with an arrow in my gut, another in my knee, shielded from the noonday sun by a pile of corpses until a timorous priest raised up his hand to bless me and all but fainted dead away when he realised I was neither away, nor dead. I suppose I should count my blessings; a moment later and he might have completed his prayer and inadvertently finished me off. To find myself deceased by accident a mere day from journey’s end would be such a humiliating way to go.
The priest’s companions were made of sterner stuff. Apparently they were a refugee caravan from the freistadt of Untergard, somewhere down the river Delb; like so many others they were making their way to Middenheim, the Storm of Chaos having broken upon their homes before dashing itself against the Fauschlag. The witch among them, an old lady named Moeschler, must surely have had me at her mercy – warm hands on cold skin and a wound that cuts without bleeding are such telltale signs – but distracted by her own grief she turned her eyes from me and toward, apparently, a terrible revenge.
I heard all this second hand, of course, having spent a day among the walking wounded (loaded on a wagon with the children of Untergard chirruping in my ears). Much of it was solved for me by the halfling in their company – an unsubtle and salacious sort named Leni, not an unpleasant fellow in a nudge-nudge wink-wink sort of way. Apparently he is an exile of sorts from the Mootland, by choice and inclination – a small man with a large past. He had his suspicions, and at the close of the day I saw fit to confirm them – but ah, I run ahead of myself again.
The other players in this drama – Siluvain of Laurelorn Forest, a self-confessed thief, and Okri of Karak Hirn, a practical fellow who I’m sure is on the make somehow – raced off just after sundown, in pursuit of the runaway Moeschler. It seems the old baggage was more than she seemed – more even than the witch-sight might have told me, since she traded her life for that of the Graf von Sternhaus. I realised the moment the daemon of her vengeance shrieked over our camp (and set that twittering priest on his rump in a faint – hilarious!) that the game was up, and when it descended in fire and fury on Sternhause hill I was sure my journey would be wasted.
It was not to be so. When Siluvain and Okri returned from their pursuit, they had the body of the unfortunate gammer – burned out as her vengeance consumed her at the last – and crucially, not only her journeyman’s grimoire but the very text of the rite she had wrought! The fourth and last of their little party – a surly, surely somehow damaged peasant girl named Jarla who reminded me a little too much of my own humble origins – was all for burning the lot, witch and book and scroll all together. Cooler heads prevailed, and the prospect of investigating how she came by the rite edged out simply destroying it for safety’s sake.
While I had to vouch for my true nature – confronted with a direct question by the halfling Leni, who is not so much a fool as he acts – they have seen fit to trust me nonetheless, even so far as to grant me custody of the grimoire. They overestimate my abilities somewhat, but only somewhat, and I have learned from my master that one takes one’s lore where one finds it. I’m sure a delicate touch with the Fifth Wind will serve me well in some capacity, some day.
For the time being, with my journey curtailed, I elected to join the refugees and return with them to the City of the White Wolf. I confess myself curious about this ritual and its origins, not to mention Middenheim, a city I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing from the outside (and then only from a distance, with half the armies of the Conqueror between me and the gates). Provided the yokels of Untergard don’t see fit to bury me with a stake of hawthorn through my heart or some such rubbish, that is. We are two days out from Middenheim, and provided that the girl Jarla can keep her mouth shut around the priest, all should be well.
And now, an explanation of sorts. In an attempt to blow the dust off my dormant “actually running games” skills and recover some of the joy that has dribbled out of my ears in recent months, I sat down with some friends and colleagues from le Twitch community (and Hark) and played through the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play second edition starter adventure, Through the Drakwald.
Now, Through The Drakwald sucks. It’s a collection of plot hooks thrown together without any hint of payoff – teasers that go nowhere, arbitrary scripted NPC deaths, and a heavy dependence on “roll to do anything” gamesmastery and “the party is together because the party is together” playstyle to actually have anything happen at all. The Oldenhaller Contract it is not. But I ran it anyway, because I could see how something good might be made of it with the little towns that all hate each other and the post-Storm-of-Chaos setting if it was made into something that just talked to itself a little better.
Also, everything is better with vampires, and Ariette von Carstein is one of the better NPCs from Night’s Dark Masters, so I swapped a badly injured Ariette (claiming to have been stabbed up by the Beastmen who replaced the arbitrary they-don’t-even-show-up-what-is-this-dead-end-shit Goblins) for the arbitrarily dead Father Dietrich and started grooming Dietrich as an antagonist. There were other changes – better foreshadowing around the gathering of the Beastman’s horn for the ritual, facilitated by putting a proper Beastman into the mutant attack at the start, and a general anti authoritarian streak derived from first edition WFRP, a party with three criminals in it, and the free town nature of Untergard itself. Perhaps having Granny Moeschler actually own a journeyman’s book of Amber magic was a bit much, but I wanted to get some decent loot in there to replace the icon of Sigmar, and it did prove to be a talking point at the end of the (long, too long) session.
It seemed to go well. Three out of four players will be back next time; the fourth enjoyed the roleplaying but found WFRP a counter-intuitive headache, which it is, and graciously permitted me to turn their character into a semi-sympathetic antagonist, which will make a fine B-plot once we arrive in Middenheim and I can settle into my preferred “intrigue and investigation in an urban sandbox” mode. I always like having a GMPC in WFRP – for some reason the concept seems to suit the mode – and Ariette might as well be tailor made for me. And since the players decided that Obviously the Bad Graf who did Granny wrong a century ago was another vampire and that made the timescale of the stupid adventure make sense, and the First Law at my table is “if the players come up with something better just fucking roll with it”, we have a burned-out daemon-haunted vampire lair to explore if the players get bored of being in town and decide to head back into the woods at some point.
So yeah, I’m running a WFRP campaign again. It’s good to be back.
This isn’t the only thing I’m doing, but there’ll be more on that later.