Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Beastly Behaviour

In the last session of The Enemy Within II: Freddy's Revenge the player-characters resolved to meet up with the witch hunter Adele Ketzenblum after pursuing her for weeks. The two dwarves Thorek and Magnar also resolved to not get into any more unnecessary drinking competitions -- although they'd argue over the proper definition of "unnecessary" -- before the important meeting, so that they'd be at their best if things went wrong. Alas for the party, the meeting with Ketzenblum did go a bit wrong as they let the less-than-charming Magnar do the talking. Again. I'm not sure what Magnar's exact Fellowship score is but it only just scrapes into double figures and both Rudiger and Aelric are much better speakers, although I can understand why the latter, a skull-faced mutant elf wizard, was reluctant to talk to Ketzenblum, given her profession. On the plus side, the meeting didn't turn violent, but it was clear that the party did not make a friend.

The party returned to Professor von Oppenheim to tell him about their success at the temple of Ulric, and the somewhat addled academic revealed that the ritual he expected to perform -- and that Aelric expected to result in the complete destruction of Middenheim -- was a bit more complicated than the party thought and that there was list of requirements for success, including acquiring a number of fresh wolf pelts and a quantity of powdered minotaur horn.

While this discussion was going on in von Oppenheim's study, the two dwarves headed to the college canteen for an eating competition, since they were banned from drinking while on the job. After a good few rounds of thick bread and hearty stew Magnar ended up with a stomach ache and Thorek ended up with vomit in his beard -- and across the canteen -- but also with the respect of the student body, if not the caretakers.

Rudiger knew that according to Middenheim custom the party would have to kill and skin the wolves themselves but Magnar and Aelric thought they might be able to get away with buying the powdered minotaur horn. They found a halfling market trader who claimed to have some for sale but her ruse was discovered and after some persuasion from Magnar -- it says "Intimidate" on his sheet -- she agreed to crush the horn for them if they brought one to her. This did leave the player-characters with the small problem of finding a minotaur and convincing him to give up part of his head.

Ranald seemed to smile on them -- as he would later on -- as they not only found a trader who spoke of a woodsman he'd met outside Middenheim who said he'd seen a minotaur accompanied by a tribe of beastmen, but they also found a hunter named Jost who agreed to both help them find a wolf pack and take them to the woodsman's hut.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay doesn't have a simple metric for determining the strength of an encounter -- there is something of a vague and half-hearted attempt in the monster book for the second edition -- but you can sort of guess and wolves shouldn't be much of a challenge to a group of characters as experienced as this party, and so it proved to be. Sort of. Killing the wolves wasn't a problem but making sure that everyone -- including a reluctant von Oppenheim -- each killed one was more difficult. As a result the last of the pack was chased around the forest as the two dwarves sprinted on their stubby little legs in an attempt to tackle it; given that both are former Blood Bowl players, one would think they'd be better at such activities.

The beastmen were more of a challenge. The party found the woodsman's hut burned to the ground and the woodsman himself eviscerated and hanging from a tree -- this was my little bit of Christmas cheer -- so Jost refused to go any further and returned to the city with von Oppenheim. The beastmen had shown no attempts to be stealthy so even the untrained party had no trouble following their trail to what seemed to be an ancient elven temple deep in the woods. The creatures of Chaos had defiled the place in the name of their dark gods by erecting some sort of altar or shrine made from offal and bones and were camping nearby; the minotaur was chained to the temple itself for some reason.

Rather than ponder the religious significance of the beastmen's odd living arrangements the party assaulted them. Or rather Thorek did. Regular readers will remember that the trollslayer also blundered into the undead-infested tomb and the skaven lair; the other members of the party are considering investing in some heavy chains for the impulsive dwarf.

Thorek was of course spotted and the rest of the party rushed to his aid. Rudiger dived into cover and Aelric held back as a voice only he could hear seemed to be urging him to stay away from the temple; the language was unknown even to him but the meaning was clear and the elf thought it might have something to do with the iron ring he'd found in the aforementioned tomb. Perhaps Thorek should get one.

The battle at the temple was the biggest fight we've had in WFRP2 so far but it was smooth and uncomplicated, even with a shaman, a chieftain, two squads of beastmen -- one of which arrived part of the way through the battle -- running around, and the minotaur too, although he wasn't doing as much running. We're not playing with the alternate initiative system any more as the players didn't like it but it would have been interesting to see how it would have worked on such a scale. After the game, the players all said that they felt genuine peril during the battle but as Ranald smiled on them again and I rolled a 90 or above for almost every attack their characters were never in much danger; the minotaur turned out to be a mutant with a magical third eye that inflicted a crippling malaise on a few of the party members and Thorek was mauled by the beastman chief -- almost losing his arm -- but they made it through the fight without too much trouble.

Poddo Bayleaf, the party's loyal barber-surgeon, was not so lucky and was spotted hanging around at the back unguarded, so a couple of beastman skirmishers started chopping him into pieces until he ran off in a panic. After the battle the party found him cowering under a bush and he soon lost himself in the cheerful work of slicing and sewing. Aelric and Magnar destroyed the altar of bones and Rudiger discovered a secret compartment in the temple pool; it contained a number of scrolls but the water got in and ruined them before Aelric could examine them.

Next time, the party returns to Middenheim for the all-important ritual -- assuming they are not waylaid before then -- and we see if Aelric's doom-mongering proves to be accurate. The death clock is ticking for Thorek at least, as the trollslayer is now out of Fate Points.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Battle-Axes and Bureaucracy

The previous session of The Enemy Within II: Money Never Sleeps ended in a cliffhanger as a band of marauders led by a HeroQuest Chaos warrior ambushed the party on their way to Middenheim. The group had heard stories of a vast Chaos horde rampaging through the northern half of the Empire and had seen Averheim's preparations for the war, but this was the first time they'd seen the face of the enemy. It wasn't long before they were kicking in the face of the enemy too.

Some very poor rolling on my part led to the marauders being somewhat less than effective as the dwarves soaked up the few attacks that did land and Rudiger and the elves danced about causing damage to the unwashed savages. Aside from a brief panic when the warrior spotted Aelric alone and unguarded at the edge of the fight and charged him, the most nerve-wracking aspect of the battle for the party was that the warrior's helmet was ruined by one of the wizard's lightning bolts and so wasn't able to be looted.

If you've read any Mark Millar comics it was akin to the limp resolution to one of his cliffhangers, except at least I wasn't doing it on purpose.

After that, the group arrived in Middenheim and were more upset about paying the one crown gate toll -- despite having the marauders' horses to sell for forty crowns each -- than anything else they'd run into so far in the campaign. Capitalist dogs, every one of them.

Once within the fortified city the party split up. Rudiger began investigating less-than-legal job opportunities in the city, while the dwarves rented a forge and spent a couple of days modifying the warrior's armour to fit Magnar, and Aelric headed off to the academic district to see if the not-at-all mysterious iron ring he'd found in the undead-infested barrow had any unusual properties. Rudiger made contact with a one-eyed fellow called Olaf, who promised to keep him in mind if anything lucrative came up, while the elf wizard played a series of chess games against the barman of a student pub -- his victories netting the party a one-off group Fortune Point -- and wandered about the Collegium Theologica, after a while bumping into Robertus von Oppenheim.

Von Oppenheim was the academic that they'd been sent to meet regarding the skaven bell clapper but before they discussed such unimportant matters Aelric asked the professor to examine the iron ring. In return von Oppenheim asked the party to organise a meeting with the priests of Ulric so that he could get access to the sacred flame of their temple in order to conduct his experiment on the clapper. The professor -- not much of a people person -- had been writing letters to the clergy but had not received any response to his requests; upon arriving at the temple and having to convince a corpulent clerk to arrange an interview with a young priest in order to arrange an appointment to access the flame, the party could see why, suspecting that Ulric was perhaps also the god of needless bureaucracy and that the letters were probably stacked on a desk somewhere in the depths of the building.

The group had some other business in the city. Back in Averheim, Aelric had been forced to sell an ancient elven heirloom and had heard it had made its way to Middenheim in the hands of one Johann Scheune, a name that seemed familiar to Magnar for some reason he couldn't quite place; they decided to not bother with that tantalising plot hook and instead went looking for the witch hunter Adele Ketzenblum, last spotted outside Talabheim, and a possible source of information on the party's apparent nemesis, the Black Hood. Ketzenblum herself proved as elusive as ever but the group did discover that she was presiding over a trial at the temple of Verena the next morning and made plans to return the following day, assuming the two dwarves didn't get too hammered -- ho ho -- in the meantime.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

It Shouldn't Be a Surprise; The Game Is Called Warhammer After All

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has a reputation for favouring investigation over combat so it felt a bit odd when my group's most recent session of The Enemy Within II: The Quickening was more or less fighting from start to finish. Part of this was the result of unlucky dice rolls but part of it was because these players seem to go out of their way to get into fights sometimes. Too much Pathfinder, I suspect.

Rudiger had just graduated from thief to tomb robber so on their way to Middenheim on a mission for Luminary Mauer -- to destroy the tainted bell clapper they found in the skaven lair -- the party decided to stop off in a part of western Stirland known to be scattered with the burial mounds of the ancient Styrigen tribal kings. This expedition went much as expected; traps sent piles of rocks bouncing off Magnar's tough skull to no effect and Thorek went around smashing burial urns and sending clouds of corpse dust into the air and into everyone's lungs, so now everyone is worried that they've contracted some kind of tomb rot.

Ho ho. As if.

The barrow was of course infested with the undead. The party faced only wights and skeletons but most large or supernatural monsters cause fear in WFRP, which can be quite dangerous as a character affected is paralysed and unable to flee or defend themselves, let alone attack. The griffon at the garden party and the large skaven mutant both proved to be tough opponents for this very reason but the risen inhabitants of the barrow didn't make much of an impression on the party and didn't last long. Alas for the tomb raiders, bashing skeletons wasn't as lucrative as they'd hoped and so with only minor loot to show for their troubles -- some old swords, a bag of Reman coins, a couple of bits of not-mysterious-at-all jewellery -- they returned to the road and headed for Middenheim.

They stopped off at a coaching inn and while most of the group retired to bed the two dwarves decided to have a drinking competition in which the loser would be the first one to fall unconscious. It was something of a draw and as such, the two toughest fighters in the party were out of action when a skaven assassin sneaked into the player-characters' room during the night to steal the artefact. Drandruel leaped through the small bedroom window and across a few metres of open space, to land on the narrow top of the inn's surrounding wall right next to the fleeing thief, a feat so implausible that the other player-characters were as surprised as the skaven. With Rudiger and Aelric in support, the rat man did not get far -- by "not get far" I mean "was blasted into atoms by Aelric's magic" -- and the bell clapper was recovered. Meanwhile, the dwarves dreamed of gold under the mountains as they snored in sticky puddles of their own vomit.

The rest of the session was made up of random encounters along the road to Middenheim. The Enemy Within II: Havana Nights is written for the third edition of WFRP but I've been running it in the second edition of the game and it's been easy to convert as there isn't a great deal of rules material in the adventures. The main exceptions are the little bits about travelling between cities; there's all sorts of stuff about building dice pools and counting symbols and the like but I simplified it into:

On the Road Again: Half-Arsed Travel Encounters in WFRP2

For each leg of the journey the party should make a single roll against a value chosen based on their method of travel. If the party are travelling by foot, then they should use Toughness or Navigate; Ride or Drive if travelling by coach or wagon; Ride if on horseback; Row if using a boat; or Navigate or Outdoor Survival if avoiding the roads and going cross-country. It's not an exhaustive list and I tend to let them use any skill they like if they can make a good argument for it being appropriate in the context. The difficulty of the roll should be modified by conditions so for example if the road is in poor repair there may be a -10 penalty.

The key bit is that one roll is made for the entire party so the player-characters should choose the highest value among the lot of them if they want to succeed. My group missed out on a sub-quest that would have given them a carriage and a professional driver for the trip so had to rely on their own resources and skills.

If the roll succeeds then that leg of the journey goes without a hitch but if it fails then the trip has been rough and tiring and each member of the party is at -10 to all rolls until they have rested. If the roll succeeds by 10 or more -- we call this a "raise" because Savage Worlds has corrupted us -- then the party has a friendly encounter but if it's failed by 10 or more then there is a less friendly encounter.

My players fumbled every travelling roll except for one -- meeting a group of Strigoni travellers -- and even that turned a bit ugly when they started bullying an old lady for being a stereotype. At another point, they were assaulted by a giant spider -- and this time the fear effect was more, er, effective -- but managed to get rid of it before it could harm anyone except for their plucky halfing surgeon, Poddo Bayleaf, who got poisoned and was rigid with paralysis for hours.

The last roll of the evening was one more travelling test to cover the last stretch of road before Middenheim and relative safety. Of course they fluffed this roll too and we ended the session with a band of mounted marauders bursting from the trees, led by a platemail-clad warrior of Chaos.
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