Sunday, November 24, 2013

Random Skull Face

Last time on The Enemy Within 2: The Enemy Within Takes Manhattan the player-characters solved the mystery of the missing people of Averheim but were too beaten and bruised to deal with the apparent culprits, a trio of skaven, so the rat men escaped into the sewers beneath the city. As Aelric the wizard-in-training recovered under the watchful -- and expensive -- eyes of the sisters of Shallya he researched possible sources of the tome of magic he needed to progress in his studies; he identified a handful of other wizards in the city but the party decided against trying to rob them and instead focussed on rumours of an abandoned wizard's tower a day's travel from the city walls.

When Aelric and Thorek the trollslayer had both recovered from their injuries the party searched for traces of the Black Hood, the new crime boss in town; it had not escaped their notice that the skaven they faced had been wearing black cloaks. They started by trying to get retired racketeer Frederick Grosz's gang on side, only to discover that the Hood had already recruited the ruffians and had given them instructions to kill the party. Grosz'z former gang of lowly street thugs were no match for the player-characters but in the confusion of the fight the leader of the group -- and the only link back to the Black Hood -- was decapitated by Aelric's wild magic.

Frustrated, the party decided to head to the abandoned tower of the wizard Johannes Pappenheimer. There they ran into a group of bandits using the ruin as a hideout but made as short work of them as they did the gangsters back in Averheim, although the bandit leader got a lucky hit in on the otherwise near-invulnerable Magnar -- an invocation of Ulric's Fury for about twenty points of damage -- and the idea of searching the cellars of the tower for the wizard's belongings with the dwarf so weakened had them all spooked, so they chose to return to Averheim and resume the search when rested and better prepared.

A day later they arrived at the gates of Averheim to hear the sound of bells and streets thronged with people. While they were away news had reached the city that raiders from the northern wastes had swept through Kislev -- Warhammer Russia, more or less -- and had broken into the northern part of the Empire. The Emperor was raising an army to fight the barbarians and there was great excitement in Averheim with many young men signing up for the front; with no desire to fight, the player-characters decided to lie low and hope that no one noticed them. A letter on Aelric's doormat from captain of the Averheim garrison Marcus Baerfaust requesting their presence suggested that such subterfuge was already too late.

The party rested and the next morning Aelric woke up feeling quite unwell, his face feeling prickly and hot. Looking in the mirror he discovered that all the flesh had fallen from his face leaving a hideous skeletal visage; his scream brought the rest of the group upstairs and insanity points were handed out to one and all.

Back when they were running around the sewers looking for rat men Aelric had picked up a tainted throwing star with his bare hands and failed the Toughness roll to resist corruption; his body had been warping ever since but only that morning had his mutation blossomed. In the spirit of fairness I had Ben roll his own mutation for Aelric and he could have spent a Fate point to avoid his, er, fate, but he was quite sporting and decided to keep his new face.

After that shock and the subsequent discomfort of watching Aelric trying to eat breakfast, the party went shopping. They bought a decorative mask for the wizard -- they think they can pass it off either as an odd elven custom, noble fashion, or weird wizard stuff -- and secured the ongoing services of Poddo Bayleaf, a halfling barber-surgeon with perhaps more enthusiasm than experience, but also cheap, keen, and oblivious to the inherent dangers of hanging around with the player-characters. With their plucky new assistant in tow they then returned to the tower for the most underwhelming battle ever. The cellar of the tower was swamped in magical energy, clear to Aelric's witchsight but palpable even to the less aethyrically attuned members of the party, the source a secret room emanating a dull pink glow. The room seemed to be Pappenheimer's secret study, complete with a workbench covered in magical paraphernalia and a bookshelf of musty tomes. Oh, and a magic circle holding some sort of daemon.

Aelric sneaked into the room to grab one of the books but before he could say "don't disturb the magic circle lest you release the daemon within" Magnar disturbed the circle and released the daemon within. The brief panic that ensued was somewhat unnecessary as the daemon failed to slap Aelric to death then was smashed into a pulpy pink goo by one blow from the trollslayer. There was a chance that the thing would either explode or multiply upon death but neither happened, to my great disappointment.

With a grimoire of celestial magic in their possession the party returned to Averheim and went to see both Baerfaust and the wizard Konrad Mauer to ask them for help in tracking down the Black Hood. To their surprise Baerfaust asked them to help him find the mysterious villain, sending them to talk to the witch hunter Adele Ketzenblum, while Mauer knew next to nothing but did give them the job of taking the corrupted bell clapper the skaven had fashioned to Middenheim for cleansing or destruction. By a curious coincidence -- and nothing to do with soft railroading -- it turned out that Ketzenblum had left Averheim and was heading for Talabheim, which just so happened to be on the way to Middenheim.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chainmail Burqas and Sewer Elves

(For a suitably comedic look at the campaign so far from a player's perspective have a look at Stuart's blog.)

After a brief break for a bit of Savage Worlds we returned to The Enemy Within II: The Wrath of The Enemy Within last week, picking up in the aftermath of the worst garden party ever. Both dwarves had been dragged off to the temple of Shallya for emergency treatment, leaving the thief Rudiger Adler and the elves Aelric Shadowstar and Drandruel to investigate the scene of the crime. Some good and clever investigation turned up a number of clues including a possible connection between the wound that enraged the rampaging griffon and the bodies found at the docks, and an unusual throwing star that gave Aelric a sickly feeling deep in his stomach when he touched it.

There was an interesting clash between player and character knowledge at this point as a couple of the players suspected the involvement of skaven but in the setting most people consider the rat men to be an urban legend; to the considerable credit of my players they kept to what their characters would have known and it was made a bit easier for them by having two dwarves in the party -- dwarves being well aware of the existence of the skaven, Magnar describing them to an incredulous Aelric as "light and agile, like elves, but living in sewers" -- and by the wizard Konrad Mauer identifying the throwing star as a weapon used by the creatures.

Things moved fast after that. With Thorek and Magnar out of immediate danger the party put their clues together and decided that there was something fishy going on at the docks. Ho ho. Their investigations brought them to a certain building on the waterfront and that is where things started to go wrong. Thorek blundered into a trap and set off an alarm, forcing the party to think fast and abandon a more stealthy approach, then he decided to run off and circle around to assault the building from the other direction. By himself.

This may seem like a rather stupid thing to do and perhaps it is, but Thorek is a trollslayer, dedicated to dying in glorious combat with some fearsome beast, so it is also rather in character.

Inside the building the party found a skaven sorcerer who waved his little claws in elaborate patterns in the air and vanished in a puff of green smoke. They also found a seven foot tall skaven mutant who -- alas for them -- did not vanish.

The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay rules on fear are quite brutal and both dwarves found themselves frozen to the spot as the frenzied giant bipedal rat launched itself at them. Everything went a bit chaotic -- small "c" -- as the trollslayer was smashed into a pulp for the second time in as many days, Aelric got his ribs crushed by the mutant and then punctured a lung when trying to clamber over a wall to safety, and Rudiger had a brief rooftop battle with a third skaven before diving off the roof wuxia-style and nipping inside the building -- while the mutant was busy trying to eat Aelric -- to loot the skaven lair. Magnar, clad almost head to toe in heavy mail as he is, walked out of the fight without a scratch.

The player-characters' assault occurred in the morning so a crowd soon gathered and the skaven fled into the docks' dense tangle of twittens and ginnels. Inside the rats' lair the player-characters found the remains of most of the missing people -- although Rudiger's brother was not among the bodies -- the gold plaque stolen from the aforementioned garden party, and an odd silver bell clapper that gave off the same eerie vibes as the jade mask from the party; when later presented to Mauer, the wizard suggested that the two artefacts may somehow have been the same object.

That's where we left it, at the end of the first book of the campaign. It has gone quite fast, with three chapters being completed in four sessions but the structure of the campaign changes in the next book so it's difficult to predict if that will be just as swift. Before we get to that there are some loose ends to tie up and once again there are two members of the party in serious need of healing; in Pathfinder what happens is we kick the door down, kill all the monsters inside, then steal their stuff. In WFRP what happens is the door gets kicked down, the monsters kick the player-characters down, the player-characters steal the monsters' stuff, then they run away. I love it.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Zombie Titan

I have been meaning to mention both of these snippets for a while but I'm rubbish at promoting myself, so that's why I'm only now announcing that I was asked to get involved in Nerd Titan's Halloween gaming article. The request came as a bit of a surprise and I suspect I missed the point a little with my contribution but the rest of the article is good stuff and well worth reading.

The other bit of news isn't late because the book isn't out yet, so I can still tell you that the Borderline Press anthology Zombre is available for order right now. My contribution to the book is a single page so I feel like I can promote it without the embarrassment of promoting myself. I haven't seen any of the stories from the anthology but I know some of the names of the writers and artists involved and they're a talented bunch so I'm sure it'll be a good book and a bargain at £12.95.

Friday, November 01, 2013


The best thing about the first Thor film was the relationship between Thor and Loki. Everyone knows now how good Tom Hiddleston was as the trickster god but I think Chris Hemsworth's performance in the lead role was rather overlooked; Thor's love for his brother and anguish over his betrayal seemed genuine and that was what made the emotional core of the film work for me. The rest of the film, all the fighting and the swooshy cosmic stuff and the shiny Asgard gubbins was all good, but it played second fiddle to the central family dynamic and the strong performances that made the characters seem real, despite being spangly space gods.

Thor: The Dark World is even better than the first film because that core relationship between Thor and Loki is still there and is still as convincing as before, but all the other bits and pieces are much improved. For some reason -- probably the UK filming, if I'm honest, as it's been a long time since we were the first choice location for blockbuster movies -- I was concerned that this movie would seem cheap in comparison to Marvel Avengers Assemble An Unecessarily Long Title For No Explicable Reason or the first Thor but the new film looks spectacular. Everything looks bigger, better, more colourful and more, er, well it's difficult to explain. Thor 2: Thor Harder doesn't look like Jack Kirby's Thor or Walt Simonson's Thor, but it has that same sort of feel to it, of wild invention and big ideas thrown at the screen; it's the best bits of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Hellboy 2 shoved in a blender and made into a delicious visual smoothie. Some boring old fuddie-duddies might quibble over the scifi dark elves and how they're not much like Simonson's but I rather liked them with their funky cloaked B-Wings, Krull-esque laser guns, and impassive porcelain masks.

The Jane Foster Gang is as fluffy and unimportant as it was the first time around but the light comedy moments the group of dysfunctional scientists provide are a good contrast to the more earnest Asgardian drama elsewhere; sometimes that contrast is a bit jarring but it's a film about a big space Viking hitting cyber-elves in the face with a magic hammer so I can forgive some inconsistency in tone and it's easier to forgive when the jokes are in fact funny. I was a bit disappointed that early hints of an impending confrontation between Jane and Sif fizzle away to nothing, and despite some initial promise, Christopher Eccleston is little more than a bloke in a rubber suit for most of the film; it's so disheartening to see him being mediocre in all these post-Doctor Who genre productions when he was so good as the Doctor.

Anyway, weak villain aside, Thor II: The Final Thursday is not only much better than I thought it would be, but is quite a bit better than the first film too. I wasn't grinning like an idiot or jumping in my chair like I was while watching Whatever The Avengers Film Is Called This Week but I was not only entertained but often impressed. I give the film four lightning-licked Mjolnirs out of five.