This will be better than Abandon All Hope, at least
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
This will be better than Abandon All Hope, at least
I first got the idea to do this a couple months ago, when the original Abandon All Hope review was in progress and we were all following the wonderful (not in the least) adventures of G-Unit as they took advantage of broken stat-blocks and shotgunned and shived their way through nonsensical torture dungeons and weird nazi grindhouse dogshit. Warhams has its own big Campaign, the Paths of the Damned, told in 3 separate books. They're actually a fair bit better (on average) than the poor stand alone adventures, and even have a few clever or fun ideas in among all their flaws and troubles. To highlight those troubles, I thought, I'd randomly roll up a party of 5 adventurers, one from Bretonnia, one from Kislev, one Imperial, one Dwarf, and one Elf, and then use them as the personality and statistical baseline for showing off the big campaign. It's also important to note that the three books serve as a big part of the Empire's fluff. They cover Middenheim post-war, Altdorf and its wizarding colleges (along with Realm of Sorcery), and the major industrial city of Nuln. Stripping out all the detailed description of the major urban centers to put in campaign and adventure books is one of the reasons the Empire Setting Book can come off as so sparse.
That said, I'd like to begin by introducing our soon-to-be-intrepid heroes. All five were produced with a random spread of 3 careers and the normal '2d10, roll down the line, choose one low stat to raise to average' method. A few characters who were very, very below average were rerolled. I chose to do this rather than selecting, say, a Priest, a Wizard, a Fighter, a Rogue, and a Peasant because I wanted to show that you do actually get surprisingly viable parties by random generation, and the books are written with the assumption of a random PC party. The PCs are also assumed to have the EXP from going through the terrible Through the Drakwald starting adventure from the back of the book, meaning each PC has 2 advances purchased. The Bretonnian and Kislevite both used the 'you can spend 100 EXP to learn Reikspiel for a career in the Empire' optional rule so that they know the local language. Characters could also 'sell' their starting items that they didn't want for crowns to spend on starting equipment.
First up is Liniel of Caledor, Elven Noble.
Name: Liniel of Caledor
WS 34, +BS 53, S 31 (Shallyaed from 27), T 33, Agi 44, Int 35, WP 33, +Fel 35
Money: 45 GC
Elf Picks: Coolheaded, Longbow
Common Knowledge (Elves)
Speak Language (Elatharin+10, Reikspiel)
Common Knowledge (The Empire)
Special Weapons (Longbow)
Hand Weapon (Elven Sword)
Foil (Sold for 18 GC)
Maine Gauche (Sold for 4 GC)
5 Gold (70 spent on Elfbow)
Elfbow and 10 Arrows
Liniel is the daughter of a disgraced elven noble from Ulthuan, her father having been outed for Slaanesh worship and cast into the sea as is customary for those deemed not suited to live in Ulthuan. With the rest of the family social circle pondering calling in any markers and descending on her house's property, she instead declared she would take a long overseas vacation and grabbed her bow, whatever jewelry she could, and a decent horse to set off for the Empire. There, merely being an 'elven princess' is a status symbol, and she hopes to use what funds she has to lose herself in the post-war huff and maybe found her own mercenary company. Once she has a few heroic deeds against Chaos, that should clear up any lingering suspicions she was anything like her father. She finds herself in Middenland looking for freebooters and soldiers who might join her scheme, and opportunities to test her bow against the (smaller, more easily beaten) remnants of Archaon's horde.
Liniel is a very solid social character, as Noble tends to be, and has the hilarious option to become a Pistolier later to become a surprisingly good ranged fighter, especially coupled with her good elven BS and the fact that all elves have Longbow proficiency.
Next is Pierre Rohne, Bretonnian
Tomb Robber ARCHEOLOGIST
Name: Pierre Rhone
WS 31 (Shallyaed from 26), BS 35, S 32, T 30, Agi 40, Int 40, WP 28, Fel 33
Human Abilities: Savvy, Lightning Reflexes
Common Knowledge (Empire, Bretonnia)
Speak Language (Classical, Elatharin, Bretonnian, Reikspiel)
Scale Sheer Surface
Leather Jack, Leggings (AV1 Arms, Body, Legs)
Crowbar (for archeology)
10 yards of rope
Hand Weapon (Pick)
1 Gold (10 spent on Leather Leggings)
The son of a noted Grail Knight of Carcassone, Pierre was drilled in chivalry from the time he could first speak. The young man was always more at home wandering the mountains, looking for old barrows and hill-forts to explore, rather than practicing his swordplay. He told his father he wished to go to university in the Empire, rather than proceed to his normal Errantry, so that he could study history and how one explores the past. He found himself bundled in armor and cursed for his womanly cowardice, and lectured on why he should take after his sister (herself a highly successful, if well disguised knight of the realm), take his errantry, and like it. Instead, he sold his armor and horse, made his way to Nuln, and enrolled in enough university courses to pick up a few ancient languages, learn his letters, and learn a little about engineering and trap mechanisms. Now he seeks to adventure to finance the rest of his education, and to ensure the protection of fine antiquities in the hands of trusted private collectors.
Tomb Robber is a surprisingly awesome starting class. They're educated, they can do roguish stuff, they can pick locks quietly (a very rare skill), they're lucky, and they're not that bad in a fight. There's even an actual tomb to explore in Chapter 1 of the campaign. Pierre will be very helpful and can become an educated gentleman-thief over time. He's clever and quick on his feet, exactly as a Tomb Robber needs to be.
Next is Katiya Ivanovna Demechev, Kislevite Peasant.
Name: Katiya Ivanovna Demechev
WS 35, BS 28, S 35, T 28, Agi 41, Int 30, WP 31 (Shallya from 23), Fel 40
Human Traits: Fleet of Foot, Lightning Reflexes
Speak Language (Reikspiel, Kislevite)
Common Knowledge (Kislev)
Special Weapons (Sling)
Hand Weapon (Kislevite Sword)
Shield (Spent 10 starting gold)
Katiya expected to spend her entire life farming in southern Kislev, near the great river. Instead, she decided to flee her home ahead of the massive Spring Driving that came with Archaon's host, becoming one of the many displaced refugees streaming into the northern Empire. She got as far as Middenheim before deciding she could run no further, and found herself given a sword and pressed into defending the walls as the siege got desperate. After killing a beastman and two mutants during the fighting, she's convinced that maybe she could become a great swordswoman and mercenary after all. She's taken the sword and her old hunting sling and set off looking for any groups of freebooters who are hiring, happy to tell them she's already a veteran of the Siege of Middenheim. Maybe some day she can join the great Gryphon Legion and become a famed warrior against the powers that drove her from her home. Whatever's the case, one day, people will know Katiya's name.
Katiya is a Peasant. You'd expect this to suck, but look at her skills. She can deal with people, she can do stealth, she's quick on her feet (with Flee!, which gives +1 Movement when you're trying to escape danger, and the rolled Fleet of Foot, she can actually outrun a vampire in a foot chase), and she's not a bad woodswoman, either. As should be obvious from her backstory, she's headed right for Winged Lancer after Peasant. Also note her exceptional Fellowship. Katiya stands out.
Next is Otto Blucher, Imperial Protagonist (person who picks fights/duelist, not Main Character)
Name: Otto Blucher
WS 36, BS 31 (Shallyaed from 23), +S 40, T 31, Agi 30, Int 35, WP 38, Fel 35
Human Traits: Excellent Vision, Mimic
Common Knowledge (Empire)
Speak Language (Reikspiel)
Strike Mighty Blow
Strike to Injure
Strike to Stun
Full Leather and Mail Shirt (AV 3 Body, 1 elsewhere)
Hand Weapon (Broadsword)
3 Gold (13 spent on Skullcap and Leggings)
A young man from Carroburg in Middenland, Otto was supposed to be a university student. However, he quickly got involved in Affairs Of Honor and found himself expelled from school for seriously injuring another boy in a duel before he could even acquire literacy. He is very, very handy with a broadsword, though, and in these times that's a more marketable skill than his university education would've been. He's been successful as a minor mercenary and second in various noble duels, successful enough to acquire himself a horse and some other kit, but he seeks to do more. Otto wants to be known as a great warrior, and that doesn't come from escorting coaches or trying to teach other young men to fence. Thus, he's set out to find rumors of some elven princess starting up a mercenary company, in hopes of getting in on the ground floor of a grant venture. Maybe one day he'll be known as a hero, not just a protagonist.
Otto is the only 'primary' fighter in the team, and Protagonist is a real winner of a starting fighting career. He comes with 2 attacks, all three of the Strike talents, a shield to go with his sword, some mail to cover his leathers, and his own horse. He knows how to haggle, how to fight, and how to scare people. He's also quite brave, with a 38 base WP. The party will be leaning on Otto's sword arm a lot in the early advantages, and he should be more than a match for the average beastman or bandit.
Finally, we have Fearghus Grimminson, Dwarf Apprentice Runesmith
Name: Fearghus Grimminson
Class: Apprentice Runesmith
WS 48, BS 31, S 35, T 43, Agi 20, Int 36, WP 32, Fel 21 (Shallyaed from 12)
Academic Knowledge (Runes)
Common Knowledge (Dwarfs)
Speak Language (Khazalid, Reikspiel, Arcane Khazalid)
Resistant to Magic
Rune of Striking
Rune of Stone
Leather Jack, Skullcap and Mail Shirt (AV1 Arms, AV1 Head, AV3 Body)
Trade Tools (Runesmith)
Hand Weapon (Hammer)
3 Gold (3 spent on Skullcap)
A young Runesmith who should still be back in the shop, learning his trade for another decade or four, Fearghus had the bad luck to lose his master marching with the Throng of High King Thorgrimm Grudgebearer, in support of the siege at Middenheim. His dying master bequeathed his notes and work to his most promising apprentice, telling Fearghus to travel and learn for a decade or two before returning to the mountainhomes. Unwilling to fail his master's last wishes, even if he questions their wisdom, Fearghus is seeking a company of good, solid companions to sell his services while he studies. The young smith may be a little soft and a little more used to gem-work and delicate inscription than weapon forging, but he's got a natural hand with a hammer and a dexterous, deft quality to him that should stand him in good stead as a craftsman and a warrior. Whatever happens, he won't let his dead master down; he'll hone his craft, and defend the lands of his peoples' human allies in the process.
Fearghus is really unusual; a Runesmith. He can make permanent magic items...with a huge amount of time and effort. More likely, he's going to spend a lot of time making temporary items in crazy forging montages just before major campaign battles. His natural WS means he'll never be useless in a fight, though, and he's quite clever, not to mention having solid Strength and Toughness. Runesmiths eventually become pretty good fighters, too, and he's also a good academic. He and Pierre should be able to puzzle out a lot as learned characters.
Next: The city these people will be saving.
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned: Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
One really nice thing is that this is the first book where they put down how they were going to handle the big urban areas full of plot-hooks and possible NPCs. The entire Paths of the Damned campaign expects your PCs will take breaks from the main quest to go side-questing or run into trouble while they travel, and the books are also the setting-books for the great cities. Thus, they include the detailed history and places for the big cities, much like the Praag, Erengard, and Kislev writeups in Realm of the Ice Queen. Post-War Middenheim is actually a really good base for a campaign or adventuring arc, too. It's got enough going on, and enough people who can still pay you, and enough safe spots to serve as a home base; it's also surrounded by areas that might be infested by enemy remnants and the army is busy trying to chase Archaon down and beat him silly. Thus, you've got a lot of demand for resourceful groups of 4-6 people with a poor sense of self-preservation.
According to local legend, Middenheim was founded by Ulric himself when he first manifested into the Old World. His divine fist punched a mountain and created a vast, livable plateau, with the dictate that this should be the place where his faith would dwell after his brother Taal gifted it to him. The great plateau is sometimes known as the Fauschlag, the Fist Strike, after the time their God punched a mountain because that's kinda metal. 2500-some years ago, the powerful raiding tribe of the Teutogens took a break from bullying the other tribes and got some help from local dwarfs to tunnel up through and around the Fauschlag and create a good path to the flat space on top, settling it as their new capital. They originally probably intended to use this as the fortified base from which they would try to conquer, rather than raid, but that got upset by a young Unberogen tribal chief named Sigmar. Sigmar killed the chief of the Teutogens in open single combat after Artur refused to join his confederation, and since then the people of Middenheim have grudgingly bowed to the Empire.
The coming of Sigmar was originally a blessing for the cult of Ulric. He was a known follower of Ulric himself, and a great warrior; it was easy to say they had bowed to the chosen champion of their God. He also invested heavily in building roads and infrastructure during his 50 year reign, and set aside funds to build temples and begin building the forts and settlements of the tribes into cities. With this wave of urbanization, Middenheim grew in size and importance, as one of the best fortified and safest locations outside of Talabheim (which is a pretty amazing place, too, being built into a giant impact crater to give it natural walls). In 63 IC, after Sigmar had set aside his crown and wandered off to the east without giving a reason, the Ulricans began their great temple and its sacred eternal flame in Middenheim. The flame of Ulric has never gone out since, not once, nor has the city ever fallen to an outside enemy. As a stable power base and one of the largest urban centers in the north, as well as the center of what is traditionally the second-most-powerful cult in the Empire, Middenheim has more than once served as the anchor for civil wars and strife. It is not a coincidence that the Time of Three Emperors began when the rulers of Talabheim and Middenheim both refused to accept that they had not been elected Emperor or Empress; both commanded positions that would be very hard for even a unified Imperial army to take.
Middenheim was also instrumental in ending the Time of Three Emperors in 2303 IC, though not by choice. When Magnus the Pious began to rally the Empire to Kislev's defense against Asuvar Kul, Middenheim refused to support him. The Ar-Ulric, the high priest of the cult and master of the Wolf's faith, denounced him as a fraud and a pretender who would bring Sigmarite dominion and crush the cult of Ulric if he could. It was only when Magnus entered the temple disguised as a common man, revealed himself, and then walked unharmed through the eternal flame of Ulric that the stubborn priests realized their God was quietly trying to say 'Yo, lads, fuck Chaos.' and joined up. It seems to be a bit of a theme with Ulric, where he's much more chill than his often crazy followers, but doesn't bother correcting them unless it gets desperate. Ever since that happened, the priests have put barriers around the eternal flame, ostensibly to stop any other madmen from trying to walk through the fire to prove the God's favor.
Middenheim was ravaged in the Storm of Chaos, but it held. Archaon attacked the city with everything he had, and did not bother trying to surround it or starve out the garrison. He simply ordered assault after assault on the walls, losing thousands of men a day for fifteen days and nights of hard fighting and failed attacks. Beastmen were activated to come swarming from the city and harry armies coming to the city's aid. Every cult in Middenheim received orders to sabotage the defenses as best they could, or open gates or create breaches. This has led to an impression the city was absolutely riddled with cults, when in fact the Imperial forces got almost all of them when they put down the more overt sabotage attempts. This paranoia is going to be important to the upcoming adventure and helps explain a lot of the more extreme reactions and suspicions that are coming up. Without a solid plan to deal with attacking a fortified mountaintop with huge walls reinforced by runic magic and narrow causeways, Archaon's forces simply couldn't make headway. The cult activations, occasional breaches, and Hellcannon fire caused serious damage, though, and the followers of Nurgle (along with Skaven saboteurs) still managed to kill thousands within the city. There are damaged buildings, cracked walls to repair, and abandoned neighborhoods all over Middenheim right now, and the rebuilding is every bit as busy as it is in Erengard.
More importantly to the adventure, with the enemy driven off by the arrival of the Grand Alliance of men, dwarfs, and elfs (and the additional arrival of Manfred von Carstein, who then looked at Middenheim's still-intact walls, the still-intact Imperial army, and their allies and muttered something about 'I had hoped he'd do more damage' before running away as is custom) the Graf of Middenheim and the Ar-Ulric left with their most elite surviving troops to join the pursuit. They could not let Reiklanders and foreigners claim credit for the victory, and wanted Middenheim and Middenland banners to be part of the destruction of the Chaos remnants. This means the city is down to only its small-ish garrison and the local Watch, commanded by Ulrich Schutzman, who is also currently the commander of all military forces within the city. The Ar-Ulric left his trusted right-hand, Deputy High Priest Claus Liebnitz, in control of the temple of Ulric and religious matters while he is gone. Both of these people will be important NPCs in the coming adventure. Still, Middenheim is vulnerable while its best soldiers seek vengeance, and it's also currently full of disbanding mercenaries, refugees, mustered-out soldiers, and people who were pressed into the fighting and dismissed now that the crisis is passed, not to mention foreign warriors, mercenaries, and camp followers from the armies. The perfect place to put together a group of eclectic PCs!
Next Time: The Government of the City.
So much city
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Ashes of Middenheim: Paths of the Damned, Part 1
So much city
Middenheim, like most major cities, is independent of the province it exists in. It is certainly the capital of Middenland, and it is ruled by the Middenland Graf who is also elector of Middenland, but technically it is its own entity. Graf Toddbringer is an old man who 'should've' been elected Emperor 20 years ago, but he was outmaneuvered and defeated by Karl Franz, particularly Karl Franz's ability to persuade the Sigmarite church's electors to vote for him. If you want a more recent reason for the tensions between Sigmarite and Ulrican, I'd point to the electoral upset. Toddbringer is very popular, given his active pursuit of the beastmen who plague the province, and Middenland was really expecting the Imperial court to move out of Reikland and back north.
In case you're using Middenheim for other adventures, or for sidequests during the campaign (something the campaign heartily encourages), it's important to know that Boris Toddbringer is currently suffering serious family problems. His one legitimate son died years ago, supposedly poisoned by cultists taking advantage of his sickly constitution. His wife is long dead and he cannot bring himself to remarry. His daughter Katarina is competent and able, and stands to inherit his lands, but while the Empire isn't nearly as insane about it as Bretonnia, there's still considerable obstacles to a woman holding on to her family's titles after marriage, and everyone in the Empire would very much like to have a shot at Katarina's inheritance. He has one other son, a bastard named Heinrich, who is widely recognized as something of a strategic and administrative genius, but despite being recognized and permitted the family name, the nobility draws the line at putting him in line to inherit. Either the intriguing over Katarina's inheritance and her desire to maintain control of her own home and titles, or Heinrich the ingenious but illegitimate heir could both be good ground for adventures.
Middenheim isn't just important to Ulric, though it is the absolute most important city to Ulrich in all of the world. The second largest Sigmarite temple is in Middenheim, built specifically to remind them of their Imperial obligations. The High Capitular of Middenheim, Werner Stolz, is considered a possible candidate for Grand Theogenist some day, and will be figuring in the incoming adventure as a reasonable authority figure and possible ally to PCs. He is one of the most important Sigmarite High Priests in the Empire, charged with balancing the duty to remind Middenheim it is part of the Empire with the duty to keep the peace and diffuse tensions with the wolf-god's followers. The Ar-Ulric never gets a name and is assumed to be gone the whole time. There's also quite a bit on the various sorts of soldier and knight that defend the city, but the pertinent detail is that almost all of them are gone right now and keeping the peace is unusually difficult in the wake of the siege.
Middenheim also has its own smaller school for wizards, an offshoot of not wanting to let the Reiklanders in Altdorf have all of anything. The Guild of Wizards and Alchemists is run by the High Wizard of Middenheim, and it instructs apprentices and journeymen who are off on tasks or who have local business. It is a far cry from the 8 Orders in Altdorf, but like all wizards, the students and instructors there are charged with the duty to defend the Empire from magical threats. Like the rest of Middenheim's forces, only a few wizards remain behind, as all the best are off with the army in hopes of gaining glory by fireballing the Everfailure while he runs. This place is quite helpful if you have a PC who wants to promote out of Apprentice Wizard while far from Altdorf.
We start examining the city itself with the Palast District, near the actual palace, in the north of the city. The Middenpalaz is the main law court, the Graf's residence, and the complex also contains the headquarters of the Knights Panther, who you might recognize from Tome of Corruption as the staunch 'We help out the Hunters whenever they need a knight' anti-Chaos knights. Chaos did its best to break through the north wall and damage or destroy the administrative center of the city, but the ancient stone held and the palace was too close to the wall to suffer any plunging fire. There was no serious damage from the siege, here.
The Konigsgarten was the Graf's personal garden, and it has suffered terribly. Not because of Chaos, no; Imperial regiments used the large open space as a staging and mustering ground, and between the digging of latrines, the trampling of boots, and the picking of flowers to give to local girls, the ducal arborist wails that the garden won't be itself for a generation. The garden is usually open to the public at all times, but with the damage and with a damaged section of wall nearby, it's currently closed to let workmen try to restore both.
The Great Square of Martials is a big, cleared, paved area south of the palace that the elite soldiers of the city use for drill, hence the name. Similarly, the large square is used for public executions and trials, and anything else that the Graf wants made clear and open to the public. People like to come and watch the knights spar, march, and drill; it instills a sense of civic pride and martial duty, especially in a city dedicated to Ulric. During festival season, the great square can be sealed off and flooded with water to provide water-shows, and recently they've begun to magically freeze it over and use it as a public ice-skating rink. The Square is open to all of Middenheim's people and is an important meeting point and social crossroads.
The Great Park at the center of the city is so large that it doubles as a small district of its own. The Ducal Arborist and his mighty (heh) force of groundskeepers also watch over the park, protecting the groves and hothouses that grow exotic fruits and herbs for the city. Some are for food, some are for magical researches, and the latter have to be watched constantly to keep the bloody cultists off them. Currently, the Great Park is home to a shanty-town of refugees who are using the open space to construct lean-tos and temporary housing. They've also planted crops, which is enraging the poor Arborist (I need to use this guy as an NPC at some point). The Shallyans warn that the decorative lake in the center of the park was never meant to be used as a major water source, and that if a sanitation solution isn't found soon the city may face a public health crisis in the park.
Within the park stands the Bernabau Stadium, a great amphitheater that can house over 5000 people. Recently, it was doing just that, as the stands were used to rest troops and whole regiments camped in the open space at the center. It suffered no damage in the siege, but took a little bit of scorching due to an argument between a dwarven throng and an elven detachment from Ulthuan. The city has yet to return to the normalcy necessary, but there are already plans to return to the military displays, gladiatorial fights, and theater productions that used the stadium.
The Show Boat used to be the most fashionable place to eat and take in a night's dinner theater under the the stars. A cabaret, theater, and public house that catered to the upper classes, while it didn't suffer any damage it is struggling to stay in business. The club scene has been hurt by the fact that so much of the clientele isn't in Middenheim right now; nobles either fled, died leading troops on the walls, or are off with the army. The Show Boat's business has suffered, but it tries to stay in business as though nothing was wrong, ignoring the huge camp of refugees just off to the left of its delicate decorations. Anyone who can afford the food will be greeted like long lost family, and prices have dropped. The owners would be glad for any news of their regular customers, and PCs might be able to find work defusing tensions between the upper class business and its new, desperate neighbors.
Next Time: More of The City.
Mund, mund, ja, ja.
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Ashes of Middenheim: Paths of the Damned Part 1
Mund, mund, ja, ja.
The Grafsmund-Nordgarten District is west of the palace, nearer to the west gate. Like other wealthier parts of the city, it isn't suffering from damage from the siege so much as the loss of economic activity and clientele. Grafsmund is full of the ostentatious townhouses of the lesser nobility, wanting to stay close to the seat of government. Nordgarten is a little further away, and a little less exclusive, and so it's the home of wealthy businessmen and 'new' nobility.
One thing you'll notice all over the Empire as we get into it is that the barrier between Noble and Merchant, especially, is beginning to crumble. The Empire doesn't have anywhere near as strict of rules about who can be which as Bretonnia, and it is very possible to simply buy a title of nobility, especially with the Empire in heavy debt from the war effort and rebuilding. Keeping up appearances by keeping to one's accustomed lifestyle isn't just a matter of fat merchants being unable to live without their fresh goose, either. A wealthy merchant who no longer spends on parties, gifts for others, or the finest tutors for their children is admitting they can't afford it, which hurts their reputation and their business. Thus, despite the loss of trade from the war, the loss of population from so many being away in safer climes or off fighting with the army, and the damage to the city, the nobles and merchants of Grafsmund-Nordgarten and other wealthy spots continue to spend as best they can, determined to pretend nothing is out of order.
The Prospect and Graf's Repose are birds of a feather; they're the better sort of inn, for nobles and merchants rather than scruffy adventurers. They normally deal in expensive home-away-from-home private rooms for individuals or traveling families, an unheard of luxury to the average traveler, but they're packed to the rafters with minor provincial nobles who fled the countryside to find safety behind the walls, and suddenly the fancy rooms are stuffed like a common room all the time. If the PCs need to find a minor count or lord from the countryside, it's good odds that they're stuffed into a room with several other margraves and freiherrs in the Prospect or the Graf's Repose.
The Harvest Goose has an actual adventure seed, being the best restaurant in all of Middenheim. You'd expect it to be run by a halfling, but it's actually tended by an exiled elven chef who arrived with an entire wagon full of gold that he used to start his business, sixty years ago. Fanamiss Shassarn is a master of pastry and confection, but his signature goose (which costs a full 20 gc for a single meal for 8!) is said to be to die for. During the war, Elven officers used the Goose as their headquarters, and the refined tastes of High Elf nobles vastly depleted the chef's stock, leading him to have to serve cheaper, humbler fare that he passes off as traditional Wood Elf cuisine instead. He's concerned, though, and looking to hire adventurers to go out into the currently-very-dangerous Drakwald to hunt, collect herbs, and pick up the things he needs to get his signature food back on the menu. He'll be especially happy to employ any elven PCs, Wood Elf, High Elf, it doesn't matter to him.
Ulricsmund is a very important district, both to the city and to the adventure that's coming up. It's a middle-class burgher district, as far as its residents, but it contains the Great Temple of Ulric, one of the most important buildings in the city (honestly, in the Empire. I might kid about Ulric being on the outs, but he's still the second most important God in the Empire). The siege would have left this district untouched, except that a Chaos Dragon was shot down above the residential district and managed to cause a pretty serious fire before pikemen surrounded it and stabbed it to death.
Ulricsmund contains a great memorial to the Black Plague of 1111, where Manfred Skavenslayer dealt with The Rat Issue and saved the Empire, assisted by Graf Gunther of Middenheim, who made the decision to seal the gates and ensure Middenheim stayed plague free. Despite ratmen being officially passed off as yet another minor variety of Beastman, the monument depicts a well-built man holding a child on either shoulder as he crushes the neck of a vile rat beneath his boot. There's been talk of adding a second statue to commemorate the Middenheimers who died fighting off Archaon, and some dishonest folk have already taken to taking up collections 'for the siege memorial' before an official subscription has been called, keeping the money themselves.
The Temple of Ulric is the center of the entire Ulrican faith, built on top of the mountain he punched for them. Supposedly, Ulric himself appeared before the priest Wulcan and the son of Artur, the chief of the Teutogen tribe (Artur couldn't be there, being dead after losing a duel with Sigmar). He then smote the hell out of the rock (Ulric's signs almost always involve him smiting something) and caused a blazing silver flame to rise from the ground on that very spot, a flame that is still burning nearly 2500 years later. As long as the flame burns, according to Ulric, humankind will never die out and his city will never be taken. The Great Temple was constructed on that spot, because if Ulric actually takes the time to show up to point something out it's serious business. Ever since Magnus showed his piety by testing himself in the sacred flame, the priests have had to try to keep others out so they don't do the same. The Temple is heavily fortified, able to hold well over a thousand worshipers in its main hall, and a stunning achievement of architecture, having a 120 foot high vaulted ceiling without any magical assistance.
The local Temple of Verena isn't far from the Temple of Ulric. It contains either the best, or the second best, library in all of the city (depending on if you ask a Verenan or a professor at the Collegium Theologica) and is the preferred place of worship for the lawyers, scholars, and wizards of the city. I've always found the wizardly acceptance of Verena interesting; wizards often like to talk about the possibility that the Gods are just the better ideals of man made physical in the Aether (this comes up a lot in Realms of Sorcery) yet they almost all seem to worship Verena, even if they disdain the other Gods a bit. Similarly, the Verenans don't have the prejudice or suspicion towards wizards that's common among other priesthoods.
The Guild of Physicians stands opposite the temple, handling the licensing, compensation, and training of physicians and barber-surgeons within the city. As in most places, they have a bit of a long-standing grudge against the Shallyans for undercutting them and stealing business.
The Commission for Elven, Dwarven, and Halfling Interests is an interesting government office. It provides a place for the city's non-human population to lobby for their interests to the government, making sure that the voices of all of Middenheim's residents are heard. I wonder if the Middenheimer propensity for rabble-rousing riots and mass protest rubs off on its elves, dwarfs, and halflings?
Finally, there's the Bierbaden, a natural hot-spring that some scholars claim is heated by the same phenomena that causes the great sacred flame over in the temple. Whether that claim is heretical or not hinges on if the scholar in question is claiming it's a natural phenomena, or piously pointing out that the lovely bathing springs are obviously also a gift from Ulric to His favored people. The baths here are warm year round, and it's a popular gathering place to relax and get clean in the cold, cold winters.
Next: More City. There's a lot of city.
This is why you don't trust cultists with anything important.
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Ashes of Middenheim: Paths of the Damned, Part 1
This is why you don't trust cultists with anything important.
The Altmarket-Altquartier districts are where we start to see real damage from the siege. The Altquartier was right next to the east gate and saw heavy fighting, and stray artillery fire and cultist uprisings damaged the neighboring altmarket. Neither are particularly prosperous areas; the Altmarket is more of a set of warehouses and storage spaces than a market, and the Altquartier is a slum for poor daytalers and laborers who load and unload traffic from the east gate. Worse, the northeastern part of the Empire is the most damaged, and the East Gate suffered some of the worse fighting, so the whole districts' normal economic activity has been devastated by the interruption of trade as much as the damage, since the roads it services aren't in much use for anything but refugees and military patrols right now.
Despite the relative poverty of the area, there's one very important building: The Worshipful Guild of Legalists. The big three story building was untouched in the siege, blessedly, since it contains many of the city's records and houses the most important lawyers and legal officials in the city. Anyone who gets in trouble with the law and has the means to hire someone to speak in their defense (hint for adventurers) is going to find their way to the Guild eventually. The Guild also employs investigators, another way adventurers could get involved.
Fleischer's Slaughterhouse took a direct hit from a Hellcannon, a demonically bound energy cannon run by Chaos Dwarfs and the main siege weapon of the Chaos forces, and simply doesn't exist anymore. What exists in its place is a blackened scar on the land where strange flowers with screaming human faces grow from time to time. Locals also swear they've seen mutated rats of unusual size appear from the ruins of the slaughterhouse. For now, the authorities have the whole thing cordoned off until they either get enough people to properly cleanse the site or find some adventurers that have a wizard or something.
The Blazing Hearth is the center of an ethnic halfling neighborhood called Little Moot in the Old Market. The whole of the Little Moot survived, mostly, and it's a welcoming and open place but for the fact that the buildings (including the Blazing Hearth) tend to have 5-6 foot high ceilings. The food is so good, though, and so cheap compared to high-class joints like the Harvest Goose, that many swear the back-pains are completely worth it. If you need a place for the party's halfling to feel at home, or a comic interlude of the PCs braving tiny homes to get excellent food, the Blazing Hearth and the Little Moot are there.
The Southgate district is where most of the lower classes and poorer Burghers have their homes, especially with the damage to the Altquartier. It and the Ostwald district that neighbors it on the west (odd considering it's called Ostwald, you'd expect it to be in the east) didn't suffer as much damage in the siege as other gate-districts, since Archaon's army came from the north and east for the most part. There's still damage from the siege, but for now the area is pretty safe. Safe enough that many of the crime bosses and criminal rings from the Altquartier have decided to relocate to new slums and dives in the Ostwald.
We get a couple shady taverns and pawnbrokers here but they're not really interesting enough to describe in detail.
The Laborer's Hospice is an interesting enough place. It was built as a charitable place for seasonal laborers to stay while working in the city. It was also built to provide a place to recruit the more able-bodied and sharp-witted among the destitute as enforcers and racketeers for the criminals who built it. The funny thing is, though, it really does serve as a charitable hostlery every bit as much as it does a recruiting ground, and the original builder intended it to be both; a way to pay the city back for what he'd taken from it while also enabling him to take more later. The fact that it is also a legitimate charity and is doing good work serving uninvolved refugees has made the Hospice a neutral ground where the city's gangs can meet to work out their problems peacefully; there's been too much damage already for them to fight among themselves too openly, even with the Watch away. A nice place to drop plot hooks for criminal PCs.
There's also a deserted Brewery, the Dragon Ales Brewery, that served as a front for a secret halfling drug manufacturing lab. The city's crime lords don't actually know how to get into the lab, and the chemist/brewer halfling died in the siege. Now they're stuck without a way to access the valuable equipment, notes, and stock he built up, and the place has gained a reputation as being haunted. The perfect little sidequest for a less-than-legal party.
At the Neumarket-Eastgate district, the damage is most severe closest to the East Gate. This isn't because of more Hellcannon fire (though that didn't help) but rather because of one of the many failed cult uprisings in the city. The Eastgate is a middle class district, with things becoming increasingly gentrified the further north one gets.
Near the actual east gate was the Templar's Downfall, an infamous and controversial cabaret and nightclub that secretly housed a Slaaneshi cult. The Jade Scepter was able to conceal itself for quite some time because it had no designs on destroying the city originally, not even during the siege. The members just wanted a quiet, hidden place to indulge in crazy cocaine parties, experimental music, and the occasional orgy. They simply did their thing without any real design on larger ambitions until they were contacted by one of the besiegers, who promised such endless delight that they couldn't help but try to help out. So they tried to summon demons for the first time in the cult's history and messed it up completely. Demonettes aren't especially formidable already, and when the people who summoned them have no idea how to control them and they just run out to have 'fun', and in doing run directly into a huge concentration of Battle Wizards and Warrior Priests...well, the damage they did was as much from overzealous bright wizard fire as the demons. That was the end of the Templar's Downfall and the Jade Scepter Cult, and a prime example of why Archaon activating all the cults in the city didn't get him an open gate to charge through. The locals have fanciful tales about the place burning down in a dramatic battle with Hunters, but in reality the building burned because someone accidentally dropped a torch into a holed brandy cask while trying to loot any leftover drink or valuables from the ruins.
This district also houses the Royal College of Music, which runs the local opera (Imperials love opera) and trains cantors for the churches and singers or musicians for the city's many cabarets. With the Graf and many of their patrons away, the College's season is open, and they've taken to staging free concerts for the children of refugees to try to comfort them in these dark times and stay in practice. They also have the occasional benefit concert to raise money to help resettle people or rebuild parts of the city. It's adorable.
I'm leaving out a few of the smaller places or places that don't have solid plot hooks or anything to catch my eye, because if I don't I'm gonna be describing Middenheim all week.
Next Time: The Temple of Sigmar, and The Art of Glaring, But Diplomatically.
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Ashes of Middenheim: Paths of the Damned Part 1
The Freiburg is part of the inner city, and it's the most bohemian district in Middenheim (the book's own words). Rife with cafes, nice homes, and institutes of higher learning, it's like a college town within the city. It's also the home of the Temple of Sigmar, the largest outside of Altdorf. The Temple in Middenheim is considered to be critical to the cult, because without it the Ulricans might forget they're part of the Empire. It takes a firm hand and a keen mind to be High Capitular of the Temple, and the position is often used to groom someone for the cat-herding job of Grand Theoganist. The current High Capitular is going to be important in the adventure to come. Werner Stolz is known for his experience, his prior service as a warrior-priest, and his good balance of firmness and diplomacy. He understands that his purpose here is to make sure the Temple is respected, but to do so without being bullish or aggressive and provoking more conflict. A sturdy old Nordlander (neighboring province), he's been doing this job for years, and there's rumors he will be the next Grand Theoganist.
Speaking of Grand Theoganists, there's a lot of confusion in this time period over who is Grand Theoganist and I feel I ought to mention it as background since we won't be getting to Sigmar's Heirs/Tome of Salvation for quite awhile. You see, as came up in Tome of Corruption, Volkmar the Grim was an excellent and well-regarded Theoganist who helped set the Hunters on a more professional and reforming path. The problem is, he got beheaded during the Storm of Chaos. Then somehow brought back to life by a Demon Prince, then fought his way off the altar he was chained to as a trophy and power-metaled his way home. While people thought Volkmar was dead for good, a shitty political climber named Johan Esmer became Theoganist and began undoing Volkmar's reforms in the interest of making the Hunters his private secret police for his personal power. With Volkmar back, Esmer is (not entirely unreasonably) saying to people 'So, uh, you know he was raised by a demon, right? Probably some traps in there. I should remain Theoganist' and no-one quite knows who's in charge of the church right now. What this all amounts to is the real possibility Stolz *might* become Theoganist in a couple years, and this adventure could see him owing your PCs quite a bit; that could be good times in the future!
The Red Moon Cabaret is probably a Lahmian front. It's a racy dinner and drinking club owned by a beautiful woman who never seems to age despite having been here as long as anyone can remember, and it's implied both she and her bodyguards joined in the fight during the siege. Aside from that, it's a lovely little place with an exclusive casino on the upper floor and another little example of how much night-life Middenheim's got.
The Guild of Wizards and Alchemists is new. It exists to issue licenses to wizards, to check wizard licenses, and to ensure wizards are respected and not set on fire within Middenheim. It also helps train apprentices and journeymen who have been sent outside of Altdorf by their masters, meaning it's a good excuse for PCs to promote to Journeyman during a stay in Middenheim. While it lacks the incredible magical conductivity of the great college in Altdorf, the wizards have a fair number of Master Wizard instructors and they've proven themselves to the populace, especially during the last siege. The locals are also encouraged to leave the wizards alone by telling them 'Hey, you want those damned Altdorfers to have the only wizard college? We'll have a wizard college too, and it'll have wolves in or something and that'll make it Ulrican and better!' Oh, Middenlanders.
The Collegium Theologica was founded 800 years ago to train Ulrican theologians (I genuinely want to know what that's like; do they discuss the proper ratio of wolf furs to exposure to the cleansing cold of winter and the merits of various axes?) but has since expanded into a general college and university. It has never been officially licensed as an Imperial University, something the locals blame on the rivalry with Altdorf (they're probably right, this time). It's a fine school where your PCs can go to research strange lore or look for experts to translate something for them, and it's a good source of Students, Physicians, and Engineers for joining an adventuring party. The locals love the College, and the local businesses love the students' spending.
The Wynd is an artisan's district in the southwest of the city, home to many of the city's dwarfs. While it suffered terrible damage in the siege, they consider it a point of pride to get it fixed up faster and better than any human craftsman, and so the walls have already been patched and the buildings are going back up as we speak.
The Wynd houses the city's big chapel of Grungi, the Ancestor God of mining and metallurgy who first taught the dwarfs how to work. As a very important God, this is a major spiritual center for the city's dwarfs, and unless one is a trusted dwarf-friend, non-dwarfs won't be allowed into any of the inner parts of the temple. Part of the reason for this is the great bronze statue of Grungi is covered in precious stones, and the local underworld has been trying to steal them for years. Which seems like a good path to a grudgin'.
The Guild of Architects and Stonemasons represents the non-dorf craftmen of the city. There's a friendly rivalry with the dwarven Engineer's Guild, but nothing violent. The two also differ a lot in style; dwarfs think that function speaks to a beauty all on its own, while the Guild prefers to embellish a little more when designing the form of a building. The two are currently racing to see who can rebuild what faster and better than the other. The dwarfs have very, very high standards for membership in the Engineer's Guild, and most of the city's dwarfs would not try to join the other, even if they failed the tests for the Engineer's; the Guild of Architects admits elves, so their standards must be incredibly low in dwarven eyes.
Next Time: I finish the city so we can get on to the party being waylaid by jackassery.
Let's finish off the city so we can get to getting the party in trouble
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
Let's finish off the city so we can get to getting the party in trouble
The Westgate-Sudgarten District saw a fair bit of fighting, but it wasn't subject to artillery bombardment. It saw attacks from flying foes and the determined attention of Chaos's favorite eternal midboss, Be'lakor, but mostly this just resulted in a few charred roofs and some dead soldiers. As the main cemetery of Morrspark is right in the district, the latter wasn't so hard to deal with.
Morrspark is overcrowded and full of elaborate tombs for noble families. The rock of the Falschlag doesn't leave much room for burial, so the locals have begun to resort to cremation and burying the ashes, with plans to build large memorials in Reikspiel, Kislevite, Bretonnian, Khazalid, and Eltharin to salute the fallen and memorialize their sacrifice. The cemetery is also a favorite roost of the city's ravens, who have been seen flying out to clean up the rotting corpses of hook-handed chain-bearer monsters that Archaon tried to use to get into the city. The devout see this as a sign that Morr is triumphing over Chaos. The practical just comment that it's making cleanup easier, and thank Morr for that.
The Grunpark is another public park, since Middenheim seems to love them, and it's become a refugee camp like the other open spaces in the city. It is near the Temple of Shallya, though, and that makes it a more desirable spot. It's also near Ostwald, the Crime Sector if you recall, and thus the gangs both prey on and recruit the refugees into their turf battles. The Shallyans are still busy as ever, now fighting matters of public health crisis and emergency relief rather than a torrent of combat-wounded and actual Nurglite champions. The temple here managed to directly thwart a plot by a Champion of Nurgle to spread plague throughout the city during the siege, Nurglites being the one foe Shallyans are allowed to fight (If you'll recall, their only direct combat spell will only harm Nurglite demons and followers).
There's also a small temple of Myrmidia, strange as that might seem, right next to the Shallyans. The two are sisters in some myths, and the temple is favored by a few highly placed officers in the city's army (despite being unpopular with Ulricans) as well as Tilean and Estalian mercenaries, who often work for the Empire when it needs to bolster its regional patrols.
The Merchant's District is naturally full of places of business and warehouses. The merchants have been hit as hard as everyone else by the siege, but they're willing to go into debt to keep spending and pretend it isn't so. Partly as a source of civic pride (SPEND TO STOP CHAOS FROM WINNING) and partly because a merchant who admits they have to cut back is a merchant who is now vulnerable to a buyout. Everyone in the Merchant's Guild is busily trying to look busy, despite there being little to do until the all-clear sounds and the army is back to regular patrols. Middenheim also suffers from lacking a river route, compared to other cities in the Empire, and thus it relies much more on open roads to actually trade and do business.
Finally, we get to the Undercity. The Undercity is both the city's sewers (with an attendant middling 1st tier fighter class who specializes in tunnel fighting and who is pretty bad overall) and the original dwarven tunnels beneath the city. It's a large set of built-in dungeons and adventure hooks for PCs, including rumors of a half-detonated Skaven superweapon known as Project Supremacy that no-one has been able to penetrate for your PCs to deal with. It isn't an especially exciting place, except for the large dwarf community that still lives down there and jokingly calls the portions under their quarters of town a proper Dwarf Hold. If you ever want to send your players into dark tunnels to root out Skaven, Beastmen, Chaos Remnants, and maybe hidden Undead, the Undercity of Middenheim is the place to go.
Finally, after all that, next time we begin The Ashes of Middenheim, wherein our intrepid Bretonnian Tomb Robber, Imperial Protagonist, Kislevite Peasant, Dwarf Runesmith, and Elven Pampered Noble begin their quest to get waylaid by jackassery. At least they get paid, first!
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
Our intrepid heroes have finally arrived in Middenheim after going through the dogshit starting adventure from the back of the main book, which you can find in the original review towards the end. After meeting in a coaching inn near Untergard, the company has formed a freebooter band, originally funded by Liniel the elf selling her fancy jewelry to help herself and others fill in any gear they lacked. She's convinced the other 4 that they'll make a good mercenary company, Otto is definitely into defending the Empire, Katiya wants to get famous, Fearghus needs experience, and Pierre wants to make sure the others don't just smash and grab any tombs they encounter in their adventures. They had a very boring trip through the Drakwald escorting refugees who never got attacked, then they stopped a crazy old witch from murdering an unrelated asshole on the principle of 'She's using a demon for it, this is almost certainly a bad idea'.
Along the way, the only important part of the starter adventure from the main book was the local priest falling in a pit trap and then handing the PCs an artifact of Sigmar, an ancient icon drawn by dwarven artists. Pierre, being the local expert, insists that the party must follow through with the Father's last wishes and bring it to the temple in Middenheim for preservation. Fearghus, being a dwarf, notes the craftmanship on the gold frame for the icon and concurs. The others assume the Temple will probably pay them for it and that it'd be less trouble to just return it. The party on board with the first plot hook, we begin the actual adventure proper.
The adventure starts off with the players coming to meet Father Morten at the Collegium Theologica, an expert on old iconography and a respected church scholar. He's amazed by the piece and instantly promises any PC party a 25 gold crown apiece reward; enough for a starter party to fill in any missing light armor, pick up other gear they might need, and stay in the city/feed themselves for weeks. 25 crowns is a lot of money unless you're buying really high ticket items like upgraded armor, and it's a great way to ensure the players will be immediately friendly to the good Father. The cheerful, knowledgeable priest also gives each PC a silver hammer pendent, worth an additional 5 GC, with the understanding they're likely to sell them for money but his insistence that that's fine; the find is truly incredible and he wants to reward the PCs for bringing it to him.
Fearghus decides to keep the little pendent to maybe work on as a talisman in the future, since it's good quality silverwork and he needs good jewelry to make Talismanic Runes later on. Pierre chats with Morten and talks shop for awhile while the others make small talk and plans for their reward. Everyone eventually leaves on good terms, glad to have a start to their business in the city. While they're drinking and having dinner that evening, the party is then approached by a small unit of Watchmen, who ask them if they can spare some time to report to the local Watch Captain, Ulrich Schutzmann, about what they encountered on the way to Middenheim; he needs all the information he can get about the roads. The book notes the Watchmen are polite and it's clear the PCs are in no danger or trouble.
The party not being dicks, they go along in hopes of making some good contacts. Liniel, being politically savvy, notes that the Watch Commander is currently in charge of the security and legal matters for the entire city; he might be a great employer and a chance to take his measure is good for a young mercenary company. Schutzmann is a stern, reasonable man as described in the book, and players are going to have plenty of dealings with him. He spends an hour or so getting a thorough scouting report out of the PCs and then thanks them for their time. Liniel likely mentions the company name and offers their services for the future, should he have manpower problems, backed by Katiya. As they're in the middle of this, a clerk barges in to inform the Captain; there's been a murder at the Collegium! Someone broke in and killed an expert on iconography, some Father Morten, and the PCs were the last people seen with him when he was last seen alive. Schutzmann asks them to answer a few questions, but as the book notes, he has no reason to suspect the PCs; he's thinking of them as a possible source of clues, since they wouldn't have walked right into Watch HQ to answer friendly questions if they had just committed a high profile murder.
The book suggests a Gossip or Charm test, which someone in the party could certainly make, to prove they're not suspicious. At the same time, it suggests going on as if nothing happened (They get imprisoned for a couple hours before questioning by a Verenan cleric proves them innocent) if they don't, so...why bother rolling? We're going to see a lot of this in this adventure. The adventure has some bits of good design, but one of its persistent problems is a lot of 'Roll X at -10 to continue plot' rolling, as they couldn't really figure out ways to do fail forward stuff in this adventure without making rolls irrelevant. Regardless, the party has two good social characters, and Katiya gets a 16 on her Charm test. She tells the Watch Captain she recognizes him from when she was helping to defend the walls during the Siege, he recognizes her, and she vouches for the party's good character and lack of involvement. After that formality is out of the way, Schutzmann brings up Liniel's offer of help; he's short-handed, they seem capable, and he's willing to deputize them to investigate the death. The party is happy to take on the case, Pierre to avenge the murder of a fellow scholar of antiquity, the rest because it looks like honest work and a good way to make headway on getting settled in the city.
At the crime scene, we get a lot of skill rolls. A lot. Morten was killed in his room at the college, and inspection of the body reveals a small dart lodged in his neck as his only injury. Being the most dexterous, Liniel tries to pull the dart out without damaging it, which the game says is an Agi+10 roll. Continuing the party's hot streak on my die roller, she gets a 04 and pulls it out without smearing the residual poison off or disturbing the scene. No-one in the party has Prepare Poison or Academic Knowledge (Magic), so they can't possibly identify the poison themselves (Very, very few classes have Prepare Poison and the Magic test is at -20) but they can take it to someone who can; they're in the middle of the city's main gathering of scholars. Pierre has to burn a Fortune point to do it, but he manages to make a Search test to find an odd, triangular mark scratched into the windowsill. No-one has Follow Trail, but if I was DMing, I'd let Outdoor Survival give them a shot at a penalty, so Katiya tries to follow the killer's trail from the window. She, too, has to burn a Fortune point to do it, but manages the Int-10 test with an 18 (needed 20) on her second try, following odd, rodent-like paws into the muddy cobblestones. Fearghus is a dwarf, so he has much more chance of being familiar with RAT PEOPLE; He declares this is bloody thaggoraki (dorf for Skaven, meaning backstabber) or his cousin's a halfling. The entire party gamely fails the Per-10 test to figure out how to read Morten's last words from impressions on blank paper below it, but it isn't a very important check.
Taking the dart to get it IDed, they find the Watch already has other samples of this same poison, used in 3 other seemingly unrelated and unsolved murders. Note that this happens regardless of what other clues you find, and is the only clue actually needed to continue on. You don't even need to make the Agi test, just bring the dart back. Dick move, game; I just wrote an entire paragraph and the PCs expended multiple rerolls making sure they got as much as they could in the last scene (before they all failed to spot the last words). The last words would've just been a little handout about how the frame is surprisingly easily removed, but the age and brush technique makes him suspect the icon may be old enough to have been drawn from life. With this murder now linked to three others, the PCs are off to investigate the other three murders and try to put together why Skaven might be doing this, and how many Skaven they might be dealing with. Otto is loath to believe rat beastmen would ever be that subtle or stealthy, but he'll go along with the others while the dwarf and elf stare at him a bit for not believing Rat People are real.
Next Time: Three Murders And A Sewer Level, Plus Ninja
Variable Tedium Sewer Levels
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
Variable Tedium Sewer Levels
Note that after showing the evidence to Schutzman, the party continues their search in the morning. This means their Fortune points regenerate. You're clearly meant to use your rerolls liberally and often, as well as the extra actions or extra defenses they give you in combat, because they make a big edge for PCs at every stage in a campaign and they regenerate per game-day rather than per-session. Don't be shy about using Fortune and if your players are, remind them that it's a renewable resource!
I'll also note here that the 'canon' party from the back of the book is a Kislevite vagabond, an Imperial militiaman, a Dwarf shieldbreaker (THRUNBOR GRIMGNSON! I love Thrunbor's name), and an apprentice Grey Wizard. The various mission headers all feature art of the 'canon' party, except for some reason they always leave Joclyn the wizard out and only have the men. I don't know why this happens, but it's weird enough that I felt I should point it out.
The other murdered men were a watchman who was found dead outside the College, a dwarf guarding the city's sewer maps, and an unknown man who may've just been an adventurer. Searches of the Father's home show that the Icon was stolen; players will be able to tell the Watch that it was extremely valuable even if they don't make the Per test to puzzle out Morton's supposition that it might be an actual portrait of Sigmar. The party decides to investigate the dead, hoping to find out more about what the ratmen are trying to do and why they'd want to murder a church scholar to steal religious art. There's an Easy (+10) Search test at the site of the Watchman's death that lets Pierre confirm something with a 38; the man's normal route would've taken him near the killer's ingress to Morton's room. The watchman was likely killed to get him out of the assassin's way, so that no-one would patrol that area in the future since the watch is short-handed. The dwarfs are willing to admit to a fellow dwarf (especially a Runesmith, even an apprentice) that a map of the city's sewers was stolen at the same time as the doorman was murdered, confirming their enemy probably knows the sewers well. Fearghus is able to warn the party not to interrupt any funeral rites by asking to see the dead dwarf (non-dorfs get an Int+20 test to figure this out if they're about to anger the city's dwarfs).
The third dead man was unidentified, and following up on his burial leads the players to an odd situation. The local priests of Morr were going to take the man to a pyre and a nameless burial like so many of the other dead when a chap in full plate and his two buddies showed up to pay for a full Sigmarite funeral and a headstone with a symbol of a comet, a sword, a hammer, and the letters OF. They also identified the man as Gerhard Kroen, an associate, but would explain nothing else but that the deceased had been a devout Sigmarite like them. PCs are allowed a check they're not supposed to succeed here, at Int-30, meaning even very intelligent characters have a tiny chance of making it, to ID the symbol. Knowing Players, our intrepid group will each toss one Fortune at the roll if they fail, except they don't need to as Liniel of all people succeeds it at a 03. "Oh. This is the Ordo Fidelus. The dead man is a Witch Hunter, and not a normal, fully licensed one at that." The book describes the Ordo Fidelus as a group that doesn't receive official support the way the Order of the Silver Hammer does, and describes them as, I quote, 'A barely restrained order of zealots and sadists'. Charming. Considering how negative the initial description is, and that the players may well meet Kroen's associates later, you'd think it would make some accommodation for the fact that players who hit this extremely hard test aren't going to be too trusting towards a bunch of sadistic lunatics. It does not.
Investigating the scene of Kroen's death, the party is treated to a Perception test (which Fearghus makes immediately) to find the old, dried blood trail that suggests he wounded his attacker. He was killed in a back alley in the Old Quarter, and after finding the blood, they must make a Follow Trail test (Note that Follow Trail is an advanced skill. You cannot attempt it if you don't have the skill) at +20 to get anywhere. There is no provision for the party *not* having this skill, and no alternate way given to find where the attacker went. Also note: No-one in the canon pre-made party has this skill. This seems like an oversight, Ashes of Middenheim! Using the same method as before, Katiya uses Outdoor Survival but at a 10% penalty. She then fails the roll, and then fails the Fortune reroll, and...there's no other options given for tracking the killer. I guess she just rolls until she succeeds, making the roll pointless. This is what I mean by 'roll to continue plot' checks, and they're a blight on this whole adventure. Naturally, the ratman came from the sewers. The party realizes they have to go down after them to keep tracking the killer.
The sewers have a bunch of optional encounters as you track, and also an annoying 'Anyone who isn't a dorf or skaven suffers -10 (-20 if they're 'over 6 feet tall') to all combat rolls down here'. This sucks! You've got players who will already be averaging like 30-35% to-hit this early and you want to give them a -10, and their enemies no equivalent penalty? There's also a hefty penalty to Int based checks down here unless you make a hard Toughness test to resist the smell, with an exemption for any PC who used to be a Rat Catcher (rivers of shit are normal for them). Players can, depending on how annoying the DM wants to make this place, run into random battles with Ghouls, Skaven, Mutants, Beastmen, or Skaven Giant Rats before they find their way through, with no real treasure or reward for fighting. Fighting at this stage in the game is really dangerous, since everyone has fairly threadbare armor and gear and the party only has one genuinely dedicated fighter (though Fearghus, Liniel, and Katiya are pretty good for rookies). For purposes of the game, we'll say each character who didn't have a ranged weapon used their 25 GC from Morten to buy a crossbow; crossbows are really good for non-combat-oriented characters. Katiya also spent her 25 on a nice suit of full leather armor. And we'll say they run into one group of Clanrats in the darkness. The encounter says 'one rat per PC'. I won't give the blow-by-blow, but I will list how badly wounded the PCs are at the end of this fight and who killed what.
Katiya and Pierre bring down a single Clanrat with ranged fire after they spot them in the darkness and the party opens up with a volley.
Clanrats attack, hit Otto, miss others, Otto's armor deflects the blow.
Fearghus, knowing the ways of Ratfight and not burdened by the stupid penalties, gets the campaign's first Fury and crushes a rat's chest in. Others miss due to sewer penalties.
Katiya takes a serious hit despite spending Fortune to try to stop it with her shield, suffering 6 Wounds.
Otto kills a rat with two solid hits in one turn. Party now Outnumbers the rats. This makes up for the Sewer penalty, and they kill another between the other four characters.
'The Skaven Will Try To Flee If The Fight Goes Against Them'. Remaining rat squeaks wildly, tries to run, dies to AoOs.
So there, a fight that went quite well for the party still knocked almost half the HP off one of them. And they got lucky. No-one in the party knows Heal, so there's no healing Katiya until they get back to the surface and can find help.
Now imagine I'd thrown Ghouls at them. Ghouls have 2 attacks each and poisoned claws, AND cause Fear (must make a WP test, one try a round, before being able to attack back). Or that they had to fight more than this one encounter. You can get hurt really bad really fast in early campaign combat. These kinds of fights need ways for the players to avoid them; pointless random combat should be a consequence of a failed roll or something, not something left up to 'Oh, have as many encounters as you feel like them having'. Oh, also, you have to make another Follow Trail test to actually track the skaven down here. That Advanced Skill the party isn't guaranteed to have. We'll just assume Katiya manages to find the trail, and the party reloads and backtracks from the patrol they killed.
Down in the tunnels, they find a single clanrat standing guard in a tunnel of worked stone that branches off from the sewers. Katiya and Pierre are both good at stealth, and so try to sneak up on the dumb rat sentry. The rat and Pierre have an amusingly long game of both of them failing their contested roll before Pierre finally beats it on the first check where either of them roll a success, after 6 attempts (Things get awkward with the low skills of early characters and enemies having contested rolls). Katiya makes it her first try, and the rat fails with a 50. Both surprise the rat and attack, trying to kill it before it raises the alarm. Katiya hits, Pierre fails due to Sewer Penalty, Fortunes, and narrowly hits due to Surprise. They kill the rat silently with a sword to the belly and a pick to the face. The party will now be able to surprise the upcoming fight. If the party doesn't have stealth specialists and loses Init, the rat calls for help, and 2 rats a round arrive to back him up until 6 rats have arrived in total (counting the sentry). The game does this often, where mook enemies fill in X number per round so the players initially outnumber them, giving the players an edge and avoiding overwhelming them while still tossing a lot of mooks out there. I like this idea.
Anyway, the heroes surprise the rats in the larger common area, giving them a free round in combat and +20% WS and BS against the enemy during that round. Combat will be as before, with 5 Clanrats, except the actual miniboss (the Eshin Gutter Runner who killed Morten) will show up from the shadows after two turns. He's a tough customer, but definitely beatable if the players have the normal rats under control. He'll also show up after all the other Clanrats fill in if the players mess up stealth-killing the sentry.
The heroes mostly screw up their surprise round, except Liniel and Pierre, who get a bowshot and a crossbow shot into the enemy, respectively, before the melee characters attack. Pierre gets his third kill-steal.
Rats rally, then roll terribly on initiative and end up after the party. Pierre and Liniel spend Fortune to have time to swap weapons and charge in. Fittingly for fighting a rat, Otto kills one in one round by hitting him on two rolls of 13. Horned Rat says get fucked, ratman. Others don't accomplish anything in round 2. Remaining rats can't hit the PCs.
Round 3 sees SNIKKIT BLACKBLADE, Experienced Ninja arrive. Unfortunately for Snikkit, Liniel's Excellent Eyesight manages to beat his Concealment+20 and he's spotted right away. She shouts something about 'ninja!' which the others don't understand, but which prevents him surprising them. He still goes before them and still opens up with throwing stars, because that's what the book says he'll do. Note that he has poison, but no Prepare Poison skill, so his weapons aren't poisoned due to writing oversight. He still hits Liniel with 2 stars for 4 Wounds and 7 Wounds, rolling a 7 and a 10 on damage, and taking her immediately to 0 HP! She's in serious danger.
The party rallies hard, Liniel getting her first kill of the campaign as she and Katiya team up to bring down another Clanrat. Otto gets another two hits, aided now by the Outnumber penalty, the rat he's fighting fails to block, and while he fails to confirm his Fury, he still guts it single-handed. Fearghus hits due to not having to deal with sewer bullshit. Pierre gets a 01 and delivers another pick to the face. All the Clanrats are down!
There is no provision for Snikkit to run, so he flings another two stars at the party. He hits Liniel again, inflicting a +2 Critical on her body! She's lucky it's a Body hit; the result she got would've crippled a limb long-term, but as it is, she's knocked back, stunned for 10 Rounds. Katiya takes a throwing star for 5 Wounds, almost putting her down, too. This rat is dynamite; they should have known better than to reduce a fight to a lone ninja.
Then the entire still-up party Charges and outnumbers him 3 to 1. All four get hits. He Dodges Fearghus, but takes 5 Wounds from Katiya, 5 from Pierre, and a whopping 9 from Otto. This reduces him to Crit +5. Crit+6, since Otto Strikes to Injure. Otto smashes the rat's face in with a brilliant mordhau from his pommel and the thing falls to the ground, bleeding out and dying.
Did I mention combat is really dangerous early on? Snikkit is very nasty for a first tier party, having a high to-hit (54 WS, 50 BS, 2 Attacks), good Strength and Toughness (41 of each), high Agi (54), and 14 Wounds. He's only got light armor, but he's also got a 54% chance to Dodge and if he has time to draw his swords, a 54% Parry as well. Imagine if he'd managed to surprise them, which he had a good chance of doing with his 74% Concealment. Now, normally, I probably wouldn't have him focus fire like he did, and he got absurdly lucky with damage (Throwing Stars are Damage SB-3, he was only doing d10+1 damage, he just got great damage rolls) but the party is pretty beat up after slaying the rats. After making sure Liniel is okay and helping her to her feet, they search around to see if they can find the Icon and/or treasure. They avoid the scummy piles of refuge the Skaven left, which would give a Toughness test or get a serious week-long disease in return for like 3 coins, and instead find Snikkit's nest. While searching for it, Pierre's Tomb Robber instincts let him find and disarm a crossbow trap, giving the crossbow to Katiya to replace her sling. Inside the nest, they find the frame of the icon, but no icon itself. Curious! They also find an odd Crimson Skull logo drawn in human blood next to a bunch of Skaven clan symbols; maybe sealing some kind of pact?
Returning to the surface, they tell the Watch they got the rats, all of them, and thus get the optional 10 GC per character reward. Bringing the frame to the Temple of Sigmar also gets them a listed reward of a full heal, including magical healing if anyone is seriously hurt, free of charge! They really needed that, and the book passes out free heals from priests as rewards for plenty of the missions. This is good, as it prevents them needing to spend days finding a doctor and healing up. The party is left a little richer, a little better equipped, but with no answer as to where the icon went and why the damn ratmen wanted it in the first place. They might have given it to human allies or something. There's obviously still work for the heroes to do here! They also get their first set of EXP and advances. 100 for playing the session, 60 for finding clues and killing the rats as suggested by the book. They put the 60 away for now and get to buffing themselves up, more experienced.
Which is why the next mission is a semi-red-herring thrown out by the eventual main villain in hopes of killing them off. On the plus side, it includes an actual, no-shit tomb with traps and stuff for Pierre. He'll be so happy.
Also, what should The Party name their company?
E: Also, I just noticed that if you skip the intro adventure, characters are supposed to start with 200 EXP from it, not 100, so everyone should've been a little better for this fight. Everyone's been updated; a surprising amount of the party has a 4 Strength Bonus now, and Fearghus may only have 1 attack, but the dude has a 53% WS and 40 Str already. The dwarf might be mostly a craftsman, but the guy's quite the fighter. Overall, while the party got fucked up, the fight is a pretty good example of how 'dramatic' or necessary combats tend to go early on in a campaign. A serious foe surrounded by a couple mooks and a few ways for the party to get an edge and make it more manageable. Overall, the fight with Snikkit is pretty reasonable and a good way to make an early party feel competent if they've got at least a couple competent fighters.
My personal group was able to handle that sequence fine with two apprentice wizards, a Thug elf, and their own Runesmith, for instance, despite having 1 fewer character. It's not a badly balanced first boss at all.
Next Time: The Indomitable Father Odo and the Dick Klaus Liebnitz.
Waylaid By Jackassery, Part the First
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
Waylaid By Jackassery, Part the First
First things first: The party counts up their loot from the first adventure, and finds two doses of rare Manticore poison among Snikkit's stuff. The party actually has someone with Haggle, so Otto goes out to shady crime-town and tries to find a buyer. He gets a whopping 02 on his Haggle roll and he's able to sell the goods to another adventuring party with considerably edgier members and more money for more than its listed price of 65 GC a dose. He instead gets 70 or so. He throws in Snikkit's unique little curved sword for an extra 10 so the other party's assassin can look like a real ninja, then returns back to his friends with 150 GC. Selling everything you're not going to use is an expected part of WHFRP; you're supposed to scrabble for money and loot early on, especially. Pierre is refusing to allow the party to just take the gold they've made and move on to the next adventure; he's going to find that icon and put it in a museum as if his life depended on it. During their downtime, Liniel and Katiya both agree with Pierre, because they could get in really good with the Temple of Sigmar if they find the Icon for them. Fearghus shrugs and agrees that finding a fine dwarven painting IS a worthy task, since thaggoraki wouldn't want it for anything good. Otto, being an Ulrican, is a little less concerned but he's willing to go along with the group.
They gear up a little more, spending 100 of the gold on buying an exceptionally fine (Best) longsword for Fearghus to work on and Otto to wield; the dorf needs to make a permanent item to finish his apprenticeship. Thus, during the downtime between adventures, he's going to show off Runesmithing for the audience. To make a 'real' permanent item, Fearghus needs a Best quality item as a base; only the finest craftsmanship will do for true rune magic. Next, Fearghus spends a week trying to inscribe the base rune, rolling his d10 Magic die against a TN of 8 for the Rune of Striking. Fearghus can't miscast or explode, so Runesmiths use their full Mag every time they inscribe. A temporary rune would be much faster (2d10 minutes to Inscribe) and suitable for adding as a montage; this one will take the whole adventure and maybe beyond. Fearghus fails the first roll, but Fortunes it because why the hell not, this is a week of downtime anyway. He gets a 9 on the second try, and after a week or so of work while the others party and look for gossip and stuff about the Icon, Fearghus has Inscribed the Rune of Striking! Next he'll need to keep working on the sword off-screen when they make camp, chanting and empowering it, making one Runecraft skill check a month until he's succeeded 3 of them and permanently empowered the weapon. Then he'll perform a binding and naming ceremony and make it truly magic. When it's done, the sword will give its +5 WS for being Best to all tests, but an extra +10% WS when attacking, while counting as magical. As you can imagine, a weapon that gives +15% to-hit and +5% to parry checks or Maneuver checks is a pretty goddamn huge boost. Runesmiths are awkward but they can do some big stuff.
The party's investigations don't turn anything up while Fearghus is working, because the party isn't going to find the Icon for some time. Instead, it attracts the attention of our Main Villain. Klaus Liebnitz is a dick. He is also the Deputy High Priest of Ulric. He is also the head of the Crimson Skull cult. Remember them from Tome of Corruption? They were the Khornates smart enough to fight against Archaon, reasoning that Khorne Cares Not From Whence the Blood Flows, and that being on the winning side would place them really highly in the Empire. They were right! Liebnitz was a hero in the war, and he's long run a crazy warrior-brotherhood within the Teutogen Guard called the Brothers of the Axe. They're all of 'pure' Teutogen ancestory (a big deal among the more racist/dickish Ulricans and Middenlanders) and they're all anti-Sigmarite zealots who are then slowly seduced to Khornate worship, dedicated to bringing about a new time of Three Emperors both to weaken the Empire and to cause enormous war and killing. They pretty much think the only problem with the Thirty Years War would've been that it was only thirty years, if you get me. Liebnitz had his Skaven buddy steal the Icon, and he's got plans for it. However, the PCs killing Snikkit and beginning to poke around might cause him some trouble. To that end, he does something pretty smart: He hires them to deal with something far from the city that will probably kill them on the promise of legitimate pay and using his position as Deputy High priest. My group took to calling him the Medium Priest because they hated this man.
Anyway, while the party is working and drinking, they're contacted by an initiate from the Temple of Ulric and asked to come see the Deputy High Priest's secretary and second-in-command, Father Ranulf, about an urgent matter. He's heard of them from Schutzmann and Liebnitz both, and Liniel is really happy that networking is expanding the Brute Squad's business opportunities. One of the older priests, a blind man named Odo, has been having terrible nightmares of a dark shrine out in the Drakwald, and a terrible brass skull that contains some kind of demon essence. It is struggling to break free and the Deputy High Priest has ordered the temple to find some solid freebooters to get Odo out to the site he sees in his dreams and see if anything's there. The party is promised a rich reward, and Liniel takes the job before Pierre can object and say they need to keep searching for the Icon. They're to go to the dark shrine, get the skull, bring it back, and the Ulricans will figure out how to break it. Liebnitz has planned this as a win-win: Either it distracts the PCs awhile and he gets the skull at the end (since no-one suspects him) or the PCs die and no-one investigates the Icon (woo!). The party also gets Father Odo for this adventure, who seems useless when you look at his pathetic old blind man stats until you realize he's Mag 2 and has the Lore of Ulric. Odo can buff the hell out of people in combat. My personal group loved Odo because he doesn't steal any spotlights but instead just follows you around and buffs you. If you're going to have an escort quest, giving the escort the ability to cast 'And now you have +1 Attacks' isn't a bad way to do it. There's also some pointless stuff where you're supposed to roll to see if Odo gains IP from his nightmares every night but eh.
The book says to have the party maybe encounter a couple mutants, beastmen, or maybe a Chaos remnant group while they walk to the shrine, but between Odo having Heal and the long walk, they'd likely heal any damage they take on the way, so it seems kinda pointless. We'll say they cut through a couple minor Beastman encounters that don't do much but remind them that Goatman is a far cry from his badass cousin Goatman Prime, but they don't merit any real dice throwing. Then they encounter the next setpiece at the Shrine, Katiya and Pierre (being the stealth specialists, and Katiya having Rover, making her have a fantastic-for-her-level 51% Stealth in the woods) scouting ahead. She and Pierre both succeed at Concealment when they come to the ancient clearing and the thirty-foot altar/herdstone the Beastmen worship, then both fail Fear for awhile and stare for a bit as they realize the shrine is guarded by a Minotaur. Once they recover their wits, they see he's got an alarm horn around his neck, and he's alone.
The setpiece here is that the minotaur is dangerous enough on his own (2 attacks, 24 Wounds, Damage 5 Impact hits, 42% WS, 5 DR) for a younger party, having Fear (Need to make a WP test before you can start acting) and hitting like a train if he gets you, but if you don't find a way to deal with the horn he calls for help. If he does, every 10 rounds (2 minutes or so) the party is around here there's a 10% chance that reinforcements arrive to attack them or help the minotaur if he's still fighting. These reinforcements can be anything from a few Beastman mooks to a *second Minotaur* or a bunch of pissed off drunken centaurs, and these are pretty serious threats to a young party. If you don't have a stealth specialist you better take out Gazk Redhorn (the minotaur gets a name) as fast as possible and get to your business around the herdstone right quick. The party HAS a stealth specialist, though, so Katiya is going to try to sneak up and cut the horn off his neck, then run like hell with it. She gets a 01. Then a 15 on the targeted WS test to dramatically cut off the horn. She then uses her Flee! talent and fleet feet to leggit back to the party with a bellowing minotaur in tow. They then ambush him.
Fearghus freezes up, but Pierre already made Fear and Otto and Liniel can hack it. Otto does terribly attacking. Liniel, Katiya, and Pierre all hit with pick and sword. Redhorn takes 8 Wounds before he even knows he's fighting.
Fearghus recovers and can act normally on Round 1. Much of the party is faster than the Minotaur. They also Outnumber it. Otto gets a hit in, as does Liniel, before he acts. Katiya and Pierre miss. Liniel bounces off. Otto inflicts another 8 Wounds.
Redhorn *hits twice*, Otto blocks the axe, Liniel fortunes her missed block (god, the dice are trying to kill the elf) and then parries at the last second. Fearghus then Furies the hell out of him. Hitting for 18 Wounds and smashing the minotaur's leg so hard he tears it clean off. Good job, Dorf.
So, as you can see, having Stealth characters is really helpful, as is trying to ambush stuff. Most of the campaign's setpiece battles will either have pretty good odds or have ways you can even the odds like taking Redhorn by surprise and stealing his horn. Surprise is extremely powerful, and the whole 'enemies filter in slowly from reinforcements' trick means that if you can isolate a few, you can use rules like outnumbering to make that 46% WS like Otto's surprisingly high. The final encounter of the book stands out not just because it's crazy, but because there's no way to tilt the odds like this one. Even in a straight fight, too, the party could've taken Redhorn; he's actually weakened a fair bit from the Minotaur statline in Old World Bestiary because he's there to look really scary and make PCs feel good for killing a hulking minotaur of Chaos, but to be doable by an early party. I like this; players get to take on a big, scary monster, they have room to plan things out, and even if they fuck things up and end up in a straight fight, it's more of a running fight while they explore than a 'you failed everyone dies' sort of situation.
There isn't a lot to the Herdstone area; no treasure, no nothing, until the party finds a great burial mound beneath the stone. This is the actual Champion's Tomb that contains the skull, and Pierre's It's a Tomb sense goes off immediately. There's search checks to find the tomb and clear the debris, but those only matter if you have Beastman reinforcements on you (and admittedly, this is the one situation where 'keep rolling until you succeed' actually does make sense, since it's possible it will matter how long finding it takes). There's also a very heavy Str-30 door to open to get into the temple complex, but again, they have no time pressure so everyone assists Pierre working the crowbar and they make their way in.
The Tomb fucks with magic because it's consecrated to Khorne and it makes it harder to resist anger-based Insanity effects if you have any. Aside from Odo, who wasn't needed for Redhorn, the party has no spellcasters using magic right now, so this won't matter too much. The tomb is pretty small and a standard dungeon crawl, with the cute detail that the map is a symbol of Khorne. Using Trapfinder, Pierre points out and critiques the one small, sad spear trap placed as a paean to old D&D Traps Everywhere design as the party explores the first T intersection, and Fearghus finds a 'secret' door you have to find to continue (more Search until you make it, I guess). There's an identical door on either side of the intersection, the left side just also has the sad little Damage 3 spear trap Pierre clowned. As the PCs meet a crosspoint in the passages, two horrible spider-skeletons made of living, screaming blood appear on either side and prepare to rush the party! The Bloodcursed are the unique enemy for this tomb, and this is the only time they appear. They're pretty nasty, at 17 Wounds, DR 5, Damage 5, and their attacks can't be Parried, but only WS 35. They're also fast, and only the elf and Katiya go before them.
It costs Katiya, Otto, and Liniel Fortune (Liniel only has her Lucky Fortune Point left!) but everyone manages to make the Fear test. Liniel and Katiya shoot one of the things for 9 Wounds, total. Both monsters miss their charge. Otto's sword hits the wounded one for 7. No-one else gets a hit. Bloodcursed hit Pierre and Otto. Otto can Dodge, Pierre doesn't have Dodge and can't parry with hand-weapon-and-dagger like usual. Pierre eats 9 Wounds in one blow. Otto cuts one of the things apart, the entire rest of the party can't hit the other, it misses, and then it gets torn apart by focus fire. Odo uses 2 dice to cast Blessing of Healing, succeeding despite Khorne, healing Pierre to 3 Wounds, then uses Heal to bandage him for 5 more. Pierre should be okay.
Next is a big triangle room with a Blood Fountain. Of course it sprays blood. Magic, poison blood. Pierre points out it will take time to spin up and spray the whole room (It will do so on round 3 of being in here, doing 1 Wound per round and if you're using Insanity, causing WP+10 or gain an IP every round you're getting sprayed) and that the obvious solution is to twat it with a hammer. As the party has 3 rounds to do 10 Wounds to an immobile DR 5 fountain, this is a pretty pathetic trap. They just smash the BLOOD FOUNTAIN'S spray system and break the pipes and some Chaos Dwarf engineer is getting twitchy and annoyed elsewhere in the world about savages destroying his elegant blood fountain before it could even cause a metal album cover. There's another Roll Until You Find It door in the back of the room, and the party proceeds.
They find a big room full of bones next, blessed and laid as tribute to Khorne, and then the bones get mad that there are skulls in the area that are not in the bone pile. They then begin to animate. If you guessed this was another 'enemies fill in until they equal the PCs in number' fight, there you have it. The Skeletons kinda suck, they're identical to Necromancy skeletons and only really have the fact that they cause Fear going for them.
Pierre is the only one to succeed Fear on round one, but he Pick to the Face's a skeleton for his first ever Fury chance! He fails to confirm, but the 10 Wounds still smashes the undead. A SINGULAR STRIKE! He then parries the other Skeleton's hit.
Two more skeletons rise, and only Liniel stays scared. Odo buffs Otto with Battle Fury, and Otto attacks each Skeleton once with his new 3 Attacks. In a supreme display of praise for Ulric, Otto gets 2 Fury Chances and a 10 Wound hit, and Confirms both Furies even though it doesn't matter. Otto now has the party record for wounds dealt in a single turn as he cleaves through the skeletons like they weren't there, sword smashing skulls and ribs in a display of martial prowess that makes the old, blind priest wish he could see. He still gives the faithful youngster a holy fistbump. The other skeletons rise right into the waiting pick, sword, and hammer of the others.
For the last combat of the dungeon crawl, this was pretty unimpressive. You can get unlucky with Fear, or not have someone go crazy on the enemy like that, but still.
They reach the tomb of KHAZRAN GORESPITE, sitting in state surrounded by blood. The party must devise a way to get to the sarcophagus through the poison blood (the fountain fed from this lake of blood) and they do so by busting up the altar from the skull and bone room and using the spare stone to improvise stepping stones. Defilement of a Dark Shrine AND resourcefulness! Then they make a pointless (if you found a way to not get poisoned) Str-30 roll to open the tomb. Inside is the skull, a dead as hell Chaos champion, his non-magic, non-Chaos Armor suit of FULL PLATE ARMOR, his greatsword, and a shield. Fearghus confirms the armor is actually safe and will just need refitting. The party takes the armor, because fuck, a suit of full plate! and then also maybe grabs the skull. Past here, they also find a treasure room full of trophies and broken weapons from the Champion's foes. Pierre searches around and finds a couple treasures to take back with them: A battle standard of the Knights of the White Wolf and an old dwarven hammer, an ancestral stonework treasure. He insists they be returned to the rightful owners. He could've found more, but he flubbed his third Search test. Each item can be sold for 50 GC or given back to its rightful owner for +30% Fellowship when dealing with them in the future, an interesting choice to make with treasure. He remarks this tomb wasn't very impressive, and the party leaves.
The Tomb really isn't a very impressive dungeon or setpiece. It's just a couple minor encounters, some secret doors because you gotta have secret doors, a couple very minor traps because you gotta, and then the Macguffin. I don't especially like it; it feels really empty and boring. Most dungeons in WHFRP do. It's really not a setting that likes classic dungeon-crawling for the most part, and as I have a terrible spatial sense and suck at map-based dungeons, I've never minded. Still, the half-hearted attempt here just isn't very good.
Next Time: Fuck you, skull.
Returning to you with Waylaid By Jackassery, Part the Second
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
Returning to you with Waylaid By Jackassery, Part the Second
Holy shit, this is back? I abandoned this in a ditch a year and a half ago! But in the face of the desperate Hams Shortage, it's time to bring it back. For those who don't remember, this is the story of the Brute Squad. They are Liniel of Caledor, an elf noble who left her home to get ahead of the elven Murdoch press and accusations of Slaaneshi worship, Pierre Rhone, a young Bretonnian knight turned
archeologist who refuses to follow in his sister's chivalrous footsteps, Otto Blucher, an Imperial Protagonist and professional duelist/mercenary, Katiya Demechev, a Kislevite refugee and peasant who wants to become a famed warrior and mercenary, and Feargus Grimminson, a talented young Runesmith and dwarf grad student. Together, they exist to face the bullshit of the Paths of the Damned grand narrative campaign. Inspired by Hostile V's Abandon All Hope campaign writeup and the exploits of G-Unit, I created them for an analytical runthrough of the campaign before giving up in 2017 to go back to writing up the sourcebooks.
However, I still have all my notes, all the past writing is in the archive, and we were just about to get to one of the hilarious parts anyway. So, join me, as our bold heroes return to getting waylaid by jackassery.
When last the intrepid party met, they'd explored the underwhelming low-level tomb of KHAZARAN GORESPITE, a Chaos Champion and the owner of an evil skull. They did this on orders of Medium Priest Klaus Liebnitz, who was trying to get them out of Middenheim to prevent them from continuing to investigate a missing icon of Sigmar that he's got eeeeeeevil plans for. The tomb contained mostly low level combats and a few sad traps that made Pierre disappointed; this was his first on-camera tomb and it sucked! And there won't be any more tombs in this campaign! Sorry, Pierre. At least your Basic Career is still great. With them is also the blind but no less intrepid Father Odo, an Ulrican Escort Quest NPC who knows buffing magic and isn't afraid to use it. When I ran this campaign, my party really liked Odo.
We get a long sidebar about THE SKULL: It contains the essence of the terrible demon XATHRODOX, who will be our absentee antagonist for the entire campaign. He sucks, but c'mon, what did you expect? He annoyed Khorne somehow at some point, then got stuffed in a skull where he can gather neither blood nor skulls, which is TOTAL BULLSHIT and Khorne totally overreacted (I like to imagine him whining in the skull, it's more character than he gets in the adventure). If you are stupid and wear the evil demon skull necklace, you gain Frenzy and Resistance to Magic but must test at WP vs. WP with XATHRODOX (I think I got his name wrong in everything I used him in) vs. his WP of 58. If you lose, you go Khorney for a day. Do not put on the skull. You get a bunch of SFX and spooky things that happen while carrying the skull. Do not put on the skull!
Xathrodox is upset about being found by the forces of
relatively decent people who want to make a lot of money, and so he is planning to kill them with mind powers and beastmen. As the party rests for the night and Feargus refits KHAZARAN GORESPITE'S armor to Otto (no reason why not; who the fuck turns down an untained suit of full plate? It's explicitly safe to take!) and files off the spikes and skulls, they are waylaid by jackassery as per the title. Xathy (I'm calling him Xath or Xathy from here out, Xathrodox is a dumb name) tries to grab anyone who has touched the skull and make them pick him up and take him out to the woods to meet the Beastmen. He can only attempt this WP vs. WP with people who have touched him and Odo, and only Pierre has touched him. He gets one attempt per character. My rolls for this? Failure for Xathy, Success for Odo. Failure for Xathy, Success for Pierre. The same thing happened in my home game; I think this just short-circuits the entire subplot. You're supposed to have weird dreams where the skull tricks you into grabbing it and then there's a scene where everyone struggles to hear you trying to walk out with it and stop you from sleepwalking off, but for our party, Pierre resists the strange dreams of lovely women trying to hand him swords out of a pond and Odo ain't having any of that shit.
The real issue with this is that even if the PC who is entranced gets away with the skull, you just...wake up and go into the woods and find them. There's actually no stakes here and success doesn't prevent any of the other upcoming bullshit. It's just a weird little interlude. There's no extra fight if you fail, nothing; you just go grab the entranced character before the Beastmen get them and then proceed as normal. Similarly, succeeding won't prevent any future Beastman encounters. This is just a weird little 'look how powerful and evil the skull is' moment. There's also no planning in the book for the above scenario where Pierre fights it off, and given this happened both here and in my home game there should've been: 58% WP is not an unbeatable or sure thing even if it has the edge!
Up next, our heroes are making their way through the wood when the skull just starts screaming and won't stop. So much screaming. As you might imagine, this calls on Goatman Prime, who has been dutifully waiting in the bushes with his mates. This starts one of the most difficult to run and annoying things in any RPG: The Hopeless Boss Fight. There is NO guidance on running this, either. "There should be enough Beastmen that in time, the PCs will be wiped out but not enough to kill them quickly." the book says. Oh? How many would that be, on average? Any advice on what units to use? No advice, eh? Just 'enough that they know they're fucked' but 'not enough to fuck them quick', huh? That's pretty hard to work out, book. When I did this, I had them surrounded by Beastmen but had the Beast Champion challenge their party, sending some of his boys to get blooded while they had the fight under control. So I gave them a winnable fight while surrounded by too many enemies to win forever.
The reason you're not able to win is because this is a cutscene. Our heroes are going to assume they fought off a couple Gors and are now surrounded by more Gors, a Minotaur, and a Beast Champion, and they're starting to realize they're fucked. When out of the blue comes some HIGH LEVEL NPCS! Remember those Ordo Fidelus guys our heroes heard about a long time ago? The buddies of the guy who got killed investigating Skaven? They're high tier Witch Hunters and they've been tracking the PCs, too, curious about all this skull nonsense and the way the PCs were investigating their dead buddy. These guys are, in fact, here as a preview of how powerful your PCs will be late campaign. It says as much in the book; they're here to show off to a 400-500 EXP 1st tier party what 3rd tiers look like. They're a Soldier to Initiate to Priest to Annointed Priest to Witch Hunter in full plate and a Roadwarden to Sergeant to Judicial Champion in the same, plus their fat little torturer/medic buddy. They're here to kick the everloving shit out of the Beastmen to 'put players in awe, aspiring to develop their PCs to the same level of ability.'
I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, I'm not very fond of 'And then the awesome NPCs showed up and saved you' for obvious reasons. On the other, I kind of don't mind a brief 'Hey, look what happens at high levels.' It's the first time I've seen one of these scenes where the intent is 'Hey, this is where you're going to be in a few more adventures.' I think if I wanted to get that across better, instead of having them be NPCs, I'd shift control of the Witch Hunter team to the players and use this as a chance to let them briefly play the high level characters rescuing their party. I think actually letting them run through Gors with heavy blows bouncing off their plate armor as they hack down the stuff that had just been giving their main party trouble could be fun; it's better than a cutscene of the Super Badasses saving you. The other nice part is these guys aren't here to take over the plot; they're actually going to mostly go about their own role in things with tremendous arrogance and self-confidence that ends up making everything worse for everyone.
They are Matthias Hoffer, Jakob Bauer, and Ulrich Fischer. There is no real accommodation for 'what if your players made the Knowledge check to know that the Ordo Fidelus is a thing, and also that they're kind of lunatics'. You will recall our party made that check, so Liniel is instantly suspicious as soon as she realizes the party's rescuers are wearing the same OF Comet badge as the dead guy back in Middenheim. Remember, the description you get if you make that check includes 'They are a barely restrained order of sadists and zealots'. Hoffer is meant to be very close-mouthed, barely explaining anything to the players while asking them what they're doing and why, and the book mentions he'll use his high Fel and Charm or Intimidate on the PCs if they won't answer. C'mon, book, we all know those skills don't (or shouldn't) work on players. Hoffer won't really answer any questions and has already decided the PCs aren't Chaos tainted, so this scene is just pointlessly stand-offish. If he just introduced himself and said the PCs seemed to be in trouble and asked why Beastmen were on them, he'd get further, but Hoffer is kind of an idiot as we'll see in the rest of the adventure. At the end, he agrees to help the PCs get back to Middenheim and they'll make it back to the city without further encounters.
The party finds these people really annoying, and moreover they know they're not really super-official 'Witch Hunters' at all. They agree to go with them, but are watching them carefully the whole way back to Middenheim. Feeling defeated by the death of its Goatmen, the skull shuts up to brood morosely.
Herein waits more jackassery.
Next Time: The Tragedy of Father Odo, Buffbot
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
So, I've also taken the liberty of advancing the heroes a bit. The books do not give you a good sense of how much EXP you get; are you getting it on a session/chapter basis? They get some EXP per objective, but is that in addition to the 100 per session you normally get or not? Because if the latter, you actually advance significantly slower in this adventure. You'd earn about 500 EXP for the whole thing going by the back of the book. I'm instead just giving out EXP per chapter, plus an award at the end, since I want to keep the party's mechanics up but there's no way I could judge their 'roleplaying award' EXP or whatever. Lord knows it would be through the roof, these being such well realized and fully fleshed out characters.
I despise roleplaying EXP, by the way. Completely and utterly. I don't like deciding 'who acted better' to hand out in-game rewards, especially if it risks leading to uneven advancement. I'd rather players just roleplay because they feel comfortable with it rather than trying to ham it up for bonus points. Our heroes are now at a total of 5 earned advances and their free advance each. They're slowly working their way through their first careers.
Having gotten the evil skull back to the city and the temple, the Hunter-wannabes skedaddle because this is Ulric turf and they're the kinds of hardcore Sigmarites who dislike Ulric. Liniel is delighted not to have to share any pay or rewards with the unpleasant men and their weird, fat little torturer guy, so she gladly agrees not to mention them. Otto is happy to see the Sigmarites go, and eager to get Odo to safety and hand over the skull. Father Ranulf meets them and sends for wine as an acolyte sets the Skull in a Do Not Fuck With This magic crate and takes it off to Top Men. Pierre does NOT protest that this should be in a museum. This is Chaos. That would be ridiculous. The party takes the wine, but Odo is watching his alcohol intake and asks for water. Very few PCs in this setting will turn down free drinks, which is lucky for the party.
You see, a completely unrelated Tzeentch cult has spiked the temple's water with warpstone. They are the Purple Hand, who you will remember from Tome of Corruption as the Big Example Tzeentch Cult, whose entire writeup was more concerned with jacking off over how unbeatable and diffuse they are than giving you things like 'objectives' or 'plot hooks'. In my home game, with 2 wizards, they noticed magic in the water (they used Magic Sense a lot) and stopped Odo from drinking; there's no provision for doing such in the book even if you have wizards, it just seemed to make sense to me. Our heroes on the Brute Squad lack this, so Odo drinks the water and falls prey to the oldest cult trick in the book, throwing warpstone in random shit. If a PC drinks the water, they have a Tough save or take -20 to everything
for d10-TB hours and then a -10 WP save or gain 1-3 mutations unless they Burn Fate. The book talks about 'hiding your mutations until you can cure them' if you don't Burn Fate; as far as I know there's never really been provisions for curing mutation. Has the line just been assuming you can do that all this time? While not sharing?
Anyway, this sudden, coincidental, and totally unrelated terrorism attack by the main villains of Hams 1e disrupts proceedings, to say the least. Odo screams and turns into a mini-boss, with WS 30, but 3 attacks, Damage 5, and DR 6. Only 11 Wounds, but still, he's a big pink and blue ball of mouths and tentacles. Our heroes have to swing into action as Ranulf cries and grabs up a chair to hit the monster with. Excepting Katiya, every single one of them failed Fear. They are convinced this is the worst shit they've ever seen. Katiya and Ranulf (with the folding chair!) go after the monster while the others freeze. She's lucky enough not to take any concentrated return fire, and with the Charge and the outnumber she whacks it good on round 1. Everyone else stays frozen, but Katiya and Ranulf both whack him, Katiya for 6 wounds, Ranulf for 1, but that 1 is Crit 1 after the whacking she gave him earlier. Everyone else recovers from fear while the monster is stunned, but before they can steal her kill Katiya skewers the stunned beast on her saber. So yeah, the peasant near soloed that thing. Good work, Katiya! The rest of you, stop failing Fear.
Buffbot, my players saved you and also liked you. I do love that you get done escorting him through a dangerous tomb and shit and then he instantly dies to a random, unrelated event.
More screaming is going on elsewhere in the temple, so the heroes rush down to see what they can do. It turns out some more kitchen staff have turned mutant, and no-one knows what's going on. Katiya takes charge, trying to calm the situation down with the Charm-10 test allowed in the book. She is not listened to in the least, even after using Fortune, because she only had a 40% chance to begin with. Remember, that's with an exceptional Fel! Maybe go a little lighter on the Test-10 shit, Ashes. When she fails, Otto steps up with the other option, Intimidate-10, and gets a 13, restoring order and getting the people to stop running around. Ranulf wants to kill all the mutants immediately, but Liniel manages to calm him down with Fellowship vs. WP (as the book directs) so they can question them.
The mutants are, as you imagine, all people who drank from the same pitcher of tainted water. Realizing all this, they realize the temple's water has been tainted and seal it off before anyone else can get wizard plutonium dust in their water. The Deputy High Priest (Medium Priest) Liebnitz is summoned, and the temple locked down for now. Liebnitz is, of course, a pure Teutogen of purest Teutogen blood. Otto, being an Ulrican, is actually able to identify the Medium Priest's amulet as a sign that he is an Axe-Brother, from an extremist sect of Teutogen purists. The man would hate our brown-haired Carroburger Protagonist. Liebnitz sits down to chat with and meet the PCs, and Liniel is very careful to be diplomatic with him; this is a high ranking official with potentially deep pockets and they need patrons and employers.
This scene is the chance to develop Liebnitz and his character, and it is also a place where he commits a cardinal sin that instantly put him on my players' shit-list. You remember the team did that whole job in the forest, right? With the minotaur, the bloodcursed, the shitty skull, etc? That was supposed to be paid work
. Rich rewards were promised. Liebnitz uses the chaos and some other matters to weasel out of paying
. Liebnitz is also distracted by trying to figure out what the fuck other cult attacked his temple. He's worried investigations will find his OWN evil Khornate shit and get him in trouble if this incident becomes more public, so he demands the PCs not talk to the cops and instead handle this quietly. And again, he doesn't pay them. For our heroes, Liniel tries to bring up the matter of what they're owed politely several times during the talk and is brushed off. When the medium priest gives them another job without actually paying for job one, her ears start to twitch. The Brute Squad likes networking, yeah, but this is some piece of shit demanding they work for exposure
and she is having none of it.
Seriously, this was the moment my players decided they hated the Medium Priest. They also went straight to the cops because they liked and trusted Schutzmann, the Reasonable Watch Captain Who Pays On Time. There is no provision made for what happens if you go to the cops and the entire next plotline assumes that some terrorists get through because your PCs and the OF guys (who pop up and offer to help watch some of the wells) aren't enough to actually stop the plot. Liniel wants to turn down the job entirely and leave Middenheim, but Pierre reminds her about the Icon. Moreover, skipping town due to a bad boss won't get them any contacts or money, Feargus points out. Katiya suggests they go to Schutzmann, but Liniel decides (for the sake of keeping this relatively on track) that making a direct enemy of the Medium Priest might be impolitic in a region dominated by Ulric.
The Hunters approach and ask the PCs what the haps be, and 'use their considerable Charm and Gossip stats to learn if the PCs are closed-mouthed'. Luckily for them, Liniel is angry about Ulricans and so happily tells the Sigmarite zealots about the embarrassing incident in hopes it will cause Liebnitz headaches. Katiya sighs at the elf spite-stirring religious disorder but this is actually what the adventure requires you to do, apparently. The Hunters agree there should be no cops, because it's okay to risk the wells getting poisoned to ensure the team gets the poisoners, because Hoffer is a HARD MAN who makes HARD CHOICES. The two parties set off for a long night.
Next Time: FEAR THE COMPLETELY COINCIDENTAL SIDE VILLAINS!
Shoulda gone to the cops
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
Shoulda gone to the cops
So, our heroes are left to patrol the entire southern half of a huge city by themselves to find the cultists planning to poison a well. By supreme good fortune, they automatically happen on the well poisoning in progress. The cultists have hit on the idea that if they poison a highly trafficked well relied upon by a poorly patrolled slum district in the south, the mutations will spread further before being discovered and they can spark a riot. Note the cultists don't really have a plan beyond 'commit terrorism, try to get people killed'. That will come up in a bit. Anyway, the PCs will find a Burgher trying to pour a sack of something that's glowing and green into a poor district's well. PCs have the option to let him do this and 'warn the authorities later' (thought we wanted NO COPS) but our heroes aren't big enough dicks for that. If he spots the PCs, he tries to run. If he spots them following him, he tries to run. Any tests to catch or follow him are at a +10 bonus, but the book is weirdly confident the PCs will succeed at it. There's no provision made for if the PCs somehow fail to capture or tail the cultist.
Now, our heroes have an edge on this guy, and that edge is Katiya's Fleet of Foot and Liniel's Being An Elf. As soon as the group sees an 'inconspicuous' asshole in a dark robe with a big sack going for a well, the two Movement 5 characters intercept him. Given he's a shitty Burgher with totally average non-combatant stats and Katiya and Liniel are, while not front-line fighters, both reasonably good adventurers, they just run him down and Blood Bowl tackle him to the ground. Then they have to make him talk, but Otto is able to handle that with his Intimidate skill and a Fortune point. The team's Fortune sure gets a workout. The extremely subtle follower of Tzeentch has the fucking mark of Tzeentch tattooed on his hand, and a big purple hand on the other, so it doesn't take that much effort for our heroes to figure out what his dealio is. Had they killed him or failed interrogating him, he just...has a map. In fact, we'll say that's what happened when they Intimidated him, he just gave them the map designed to let you continue the plot if you don't take him alive because seriously? So Otto wasted that Fortune point and I hate it.
After getting the Extremely Subtle And Cunning Tzeentch lackey to talk, he takes them to a grain warehouse. They tie the cultist up outside to deliver to the cops later, then enter to adventure and encounter a really tiny setpiece. They all fail to spot the cultist guard waiting in the dark (It's a -20 to see him, you'll probably fail) and so the cultists within the tunnels hidden beneath the grain silo are activated, pulling up a barricade of barrels down in what seem to be more skaven tunnels and pulling out their little crossbows. Once again, the game decides to impose -10 to WS and -1 Movement to all human and elf PCs fighting in this area because it was designed by Skaven and is too short, but the cultists will have the same problem. Still, 3 guys with crossbows who know they're coming and are behind a barricade/cover is a danger to the PCs.
Or it would be if the cultists weren't slow on the draw. I keep forgetting the RAW is 'Agi+d10 for Init' rather than 'd10+Agi Bonus' because that's the houserule my group has always used to make initiative variable, so I'm just going to keep running combats that way; RAW the cultists would be even more fucked, anyway. Liniel nails one with her longbow as the others charge in, except for Feargus, who is slow. They have to hack through the formidable barricade to get at the enemy, but, uh, it's Wounds 5, TB 2. Pierre just smashes it with a pick. They skirmish with the cultists for a bit, and Otto takes a few hits, but his armor deflects everything (hello, new Full Plate), but as they're killing those three the miniboss and his 3 buddies rush into the room. Now, the miniboss Cult Leader Guy has a full backstory and everything, but, uh, good luck having it come up. He is, however, a Mag 2 wizard with Lore of Chaos. This could be a problem as he sits behind his men and orders the 3 new arrivals to fire back at Liniel in the back line. Miraculously, all 3 miss the elf, but the wizard himself picks out what he thinks is a heroic knight among the melee fighters (Otto) and nails him with an attack spell. Otto's armor kind of saves his life here; Burning Blood is 2 Damage 4 hits, and without his full armor, Otto would've taken an extra 10 Wounds from it and probably gone down; as it is, he takes 5 and 0 instead of 10 and 5. Liniel opens up on the wizard in return and teaches him why he should've put up a barrier before going after Otto with a nasty 8 Wound arrow.
The party breaks through the melee fighters before the crossbowmen can switch and wade in, and Katiya takes down the wizard with her saber, knocking him out with a Crit. She may not be a primary fighter, but she's SB 4 and WS 40; for a 1st tier Peasant Katiya Demechev is not to be fucked with. The remaining cultists fight to the death, inflicting a couple wounds on Katiya and Pierre but not putting up real resistance. Now, this encounter is actually pretty dangerous; it almost killed one of my PCs the time I ran it because that Burning Blood spell hurts, not to mention a bunch of crossbows and enemies who have some modicum of cover. A bunch of Damage 4 shooting is really dangerous to characters who aren't out of light armor yet and you can't active-defend shooting. Cultists might be idiots, but 6 cultists with crossbows and swords backed up by a Mag 2 wizard with the Lore of Chaos is actually quite dangerous to a newbie party. They'd have had a much easier time if they'd been able to spot and kill the sentry.
So, since they took the leader alive, I guess they get his backstory via him making elaborate wizard threats and telling them he has Tzeentch's favor in his ranting. These chucklefuck terrorists are part of the Purple Hand, who were apparently big time enemy guys in Hams 1e's Enemy Within campaign. There's even a sidebar about 'players who have played that may fear they've found the main villain of the adventure! But no questioning will get them anywhere because this is one small cell of the defeated huge cult.' instead of 'Hey if they meta-know that the Purple Hand are a big deal elsewhere, meta-let them know this is just a sidestory'. These guys were hiding out here to not get murdered by Hunters and to keep a magic book out of the hands of the Hunters, and they happened to discover a bunch of hidden and abandoned Skaven supplies, including powdered Warpstone. So they just assumed it was a subtle sign from Tzeentch to take them and go dump them in the water supply and then somehow this would lead to great and subtle victory for the master planner.
Cultists: Not too bright.
As recommended in the book, the PCs find the evil book and take it to bring to the authorities, and also find a huge barrel of Warpstone. They put the sack from earlier with it and seal up the cult base rather than carry a whole cask of that shit through the streets, planning to get some help from the Collegium Theologica later, after they get Otto's burn wounds treated. Still, they wasted a major cult hideout and took the leader captive. Surely rich rewards await them and the cult plot is foiled?
Next Time: The Return of Jackassery and its Waylaying
The Ordo Fidelus Can't Stop Falling Down Those Stairs
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
The Ordo Fidelus Can't Stop Falling Down Those Stairs
This is probably the part where most gaming groups are going to get really cross with this game, because it punishes them for going along with it and doing what they were assumed to do up to this point. When last our heroes did their business, the Brute Squad had taken out a cell of Purple Hand cultists (and have no idea why that's supposed to be super scary) and won a pretty balanced combat for their level, taking some dangerous relics and two captives off to be turned in, hopefully for rewards. Liniel is pretty excited about that possibility. The problem is, the game is going to decide right now that you get fucked because of NO COPS.
You see, while the PCs did their business and beat the Purple Hand, the Ordo Fidelus was busy falling down the stairs. And that isn't even the worst of it. Jakob Bauer, the big ex-Roadwarden single-class fighter of the OF team, stumbled on a secret temple to Khorne while patrolling for the warpstone plot and decided to attack it by himself. He killed a bunch of cultists, but then grabbed the dark book of the cult after smashing their altar and walked out before the rest of them could swarm and kill him. Then the dumb fucker tried to walk through the streets, in plate, covered in blood, carrying a Khorne book, and remember the OF guys aren't official and don't have licenses or paperwork. If you guessed he got arrested on suspicion of being a Khornate, you get a prize for being smarter than Jakob Bauer. Meanwhile, Hoffer (the leader and Sigmarite warrior-priest type) got himself captured while fucking around investigating the temple of Ulric. Only Fischer the creepy torture guy is still free and he's hiding in the Sigmarite temple in town. Also, they didn't stop any poisonings because they fucked off to do random other quests after splitting up and generally going about the investigation in the dumbest possible way. Meanwhile, Liebnitz, the actual villain, is rubbing his hands together with glee that he can prosecute a Sigmarite zealot as a Khornate because it will help him in his quest to cause a civil war in Middenheim. Good job, OF! You massively aided every single Chaos villain in this adventure by being dumbfuck amateurs!
I kind of suspect this is deliberate: For one, the OF fucking up is a good reason the PCs are still the heroes despite these high level guys running around. For two, it's honestly kind of a good warning: If you start acting invincible because you have a couple 50s and 60s in your stats and do things as stupidly as they did, yeah, you're gonna eat shit. Considering they were originally set up to show PCs what they'll be when they're 3rd tier, them getting their asses kicked for being idiots is also a good warning of the same.
Meanwhile, though, more directly relevant to the Brute Squad, you remember how I mentioned the OF didn't stop any poisonings? Yeah, the PCs stopped the main thrust of the plot in the poor district, but without the cops watching the wells there was no way to stop the whole thing, and so a bunch of people have mutated throughout the city. Due to the secrecy of the PCs, the Watch and others have no idea what has happened and it's started a general riot, with the Watch hunting down suspected Chaos cultists on paranoid alert and mobs of citizens murdering 'deviant' mutants in the street. So effectively, the Purple Hand got most of what it wanted because the PCs did what the book told them to do. Remember, there was no consideration as to what happens if the PCs don't
stay quiet. This is the intended outcome, that they mostly failed their last mission entirely by playing along with what's in the book. There's a couple encounters in the riot, one where you find people beating a moneylender to death after faking he's a mutant so they can murder him and clear his debts. Liniel makes the Per test to notice the man is rich- er, that he doesn't actually have horns (they're held on by string) and orders the Brute Squad in to save what might be a customer. There's a very easy fight possible here, but I'd kind of assume two local thugs will step aside when a team with an elven archer, a dude in plate, a dwarf, and two other obviously armed humans shows up and tells them to step off. You never actually get a reward for saving this guy and the encounter is pointless, but it'd have been in character for Networking Elf and her nose for potential paying customers for her merc team.
The real encounter comes when the PCs see 4 Watchmen with drawn swords cornering a crying ten year old girl. She's grown a second hand on her left wrist, but otherwise looks fine. The men are clearly intending to kill her. The entire encounter is designed to bait the PCs into stepping in to save the child (which, you know, reasonable enough assumption that most will) and get them arrested. The thing is, you still get arrested if you don't, because someone in the crowd yells that 'THEY WERE WITH HER' even if you tried to walk away. And you know, Otto being a wannabe hero, he steps in between the guardsmen and the kid, still in his plate armor, and tells her to get going. After all, the party still has a license to be aiding the Watch and handling matters and investigating signed by Schutzmann. And heck, Katiya steps in next to him before he can start trouble and tries to spin it as 'Oh, actually, Guardsmen, we need your help. We have two dangerous prisoners who need to go to the Watch taken from a cult and-' And the game makes no provisions for trying to do something reasonable like that. It specifically says if players show their credentials the Watch ignores them.
Remember, the Party in this case is dragging two Tzeentch marked, bloodied prisoners with them to back up their story. They have official sanction, in writing, signed by the captain of the city Watch and overall military commander of the city in the Graf's absence. The book assumes all of this will lead to them not fighting back when the Watchmen arrest them, because 'they can clear it up with Schutzmann', but it makes no real provisions for what happens if the players refuse to go quietly or whatever, just endless waves of Watchmen until you're arrested. There's no room for, say, Katiya using Charm to try to talk her way through this, or for the party to fight free and escape, and the book makes no provisions for if you have prisoners or whatever with you. This is because this encounter is super important to keeping you on the direct plot railroad and showing you Liebnitz is the bad guy.
So we'll assume the heroes do agree to go with the Watch to get their papers checked (letting the girl escape while they do). On their way, they're intercepted by a squad of Teutogen Guard Knights in plate, led by Liebnitz, who offers to take them off the Watch's hands and handle their imprisonment so the Watchmen can get back to hunting mutants. The Watchmen agree as soon as he promises to make sure they receive credit for arresting the 'cultists'. The Teuotgen Guard are way more significant than Watchmen, being full Knights in plate and outnumbering the PCs by 2. Fighting out of this encounter (especially as you already lost your stuff earlier) is impossible. They're taken to the temple of Ulric and imprisoned, and this is where the book reveals Liebnitz is evil. He has the PCs locked up for later questioning and disposal (He wants to know how much they learned about the Icon and other matters before he gets rid of them) but he needs to lock down the temple against further investigation after capturing Hoffer. So he leaves them alone in a cell with a single inept guard.
The cell door can be broken down with enough effort (it's rusty) but our team is blessed with someone with Pick Locks. Pierre, swearing copiously in Bretonnian, steals Liniel's hairpin and picks the lock. No word on what happens if he fails, so I guess he can just try until he succeeds. He and Katiya slip out and take the Single Inept Guard by surprise (The Guard's checks to hear people sneaking up are Hard, because he's drunk) and swiftly subdue him. Conveniently, all the PCs' gear is in a pile on his desk. He was sorting through it for valuables to steal that wouldn't be noticed, I guess. The heroes get free quick and arm and armor up, then hear moaning from another cell. Within, they find Hoffer the Witch Hunter at 0 wounds, beaten almost beyond recognition. The PCs run into another problem, now: No-one on this team has Heal, and Hoffer needs to be brought back to 1 Wound before he can move under his own power. They decide to rescue him, but have to bundle him up in a sack and pretend he's grain or corn or something on their way out of the temple. The temple escape is 'a Silent Move or Bluff (there is no Bluff skill, only Charm) test at +20%' and meant to be pretty easy, just there to build tension. Hoffer desperately begs to get to the Temple of Sigmar, and Fearghus points out that with Ulric apparently after them, Siggy probably IS their best chance.
Soon enough, the PCs make it to the Temple of Sigmar, ask for a doctor for Hoffer, and Katiya quips that this is probably why Liebnitz stiffed them earlier. Instead of a mere doctor, though, they're brought to see the High Capitular himself, Werner Stolz. The situation is extremely serious and merits his direct attention. Remember, this man is a very, VERY high official in the Sigmarite church, who has been assigned to keep the peace between his cult and Ulric here in Middenheim for many years. He's actually a genuinely reasonable and helpful character this entire story. He tells the PCs the OF have caused a huge shitstorm; Bauer's arrest means that Liebnitz is now claiming this entire 'Ordo Fidelus' thing is a Khornate front and that the Sigmarite temple is sheltering Chaos cultists. It's a known thing that Liebnitz is an anti-Sigmarite crusader, so at this point no-one assumes he's a Khornate; they just think he's an asshole demagogue who has finally found his opportunity to embarrass a rival cult. There's going to be a public trial for Jakob Bauer in 2 days, and the PCs have to find some kind of evidence to back up his story or for the sake of politics, Stolz is going to hand the would-be Hunters (though not the PCs) over as Chaos cultists to prevent a wider civil war. Those OF NPCs really fucked everything up, and the actual protagonists have to clean up after it to prevent a crisis. Stolz also personally heals the PCs to full before they go, because Sigmarite magic has a reasonably good slow heal and he's a High Priest. This is a huge honor for any main follower of Sigmar. None of the PCs are, but they still appreciate the moment.
That plot point is fine, but the massive railroading (and the extremely hard to handle 'PCs get captured' scene; PCs hate surrendering almost as much as they hate running, usually) really shows. The heroes don't really get any choices in any of these matters, and they basically fail the whole poisoning plot-line by fiat specifically because they did what the game constantly told them to do (with, again, no planning for what happens if they don't). Still, if they hated Liebnitz for stiffing them before, NOW he's on the absolute top of The List and
they're pretty sure a High Capitular of the Cult of Sigmar will reward them for fucking the guy over. It's nice when you can mix business and pleasure. It also kind of sucks that most of the worst of this happens because some high level NPCs were dumbasses off screen.
Next Time: Hunger for Burgher
Getting paid, one way or another
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
Getting paid, one way or another
So, from Hoffer's testimony and Bauer's claims, the party knows they need to check out the 'sword and flail' tavern to see if they can find anything to back up his story. Helpfully, they still have their credentials from the Watch and two good social characters (Katiya and Liniel are both well above average on Fel and have decent social skills) so Gossiping to find the place is an easy part. Really, all humans having Gossip natively is a deceptively good power for humans; you use this skill a huge amount in almost every game. 'I'm okay at asking around town and chatting with people and getting directions' is a great thing to have in a game where you're often investigating mysteries in communities. Liniel just has it from being a Noble, plus her 50
Fel in Career 1. This is going to be hilarious in the second adventure path, which is full of social mechanics, yet will be doing everything it can to kick Liniel in the dick for investing in social skills. I digress.
Find the tavern is easy, and with their good gossiping skills they also find out it caters to soldiers and mercenaries and that the owner seems eager to encourage bar-fights. Hmm! I wonder if he's a Khorne cultist? The Sword and Flail is a rough place, but it's also the only drinking house still standing within a couple blocks of where the Templar's Downfall used to be. Remember them? The place where the Jade Scepter Slaaneshi tried to raise a couple daemonettes to open the gates for the besiegers and got ruined by wizards? It still does good business, and with the suspicions about the place, the party decides to go in just before it opens to try to catch it when it's less populated. There's no option for this (normally if you cause trouble the patrons come at you until you kill or knock out a couple) but c'mon, it's sensible enough. The party also hits on a way to distract Heller, the bartender; Liniel's wearing the clothing of an elf noble. She poses as a potentially really wealthy customer and throws a gold crown on the bartop to get his attention while talking about renting the place out for her mercenary company a couple nights hence. Now, the book assumes you're going to create a distraction or fight the patrons and possibly barkeep anyway, so this is just the Brute Squad doing as they're assumed.
While Liniel keeps the bartender busy with false business negotiations (Making a Charm test to do so, we'll say), Pierre and Katiya slip upstairs to look for evidence of him or his establishment being cultists, while Otto and Fearghus search the back rooms for the cult temple Bauer supposedly found. Meanwhile, Liniel notices Heller has a bunch of very fresh scars, which look ritually inflicted; the big bit of evidence that he's a cultist, gained by making a Per test aided by her excellent elven eyesight. Pierre slips into Heller's room and picks his chest (Pick Locks-20, but Pierre has a 30% chance with his 50 Agi) and while he has to use Fortune to do it, he gets it open. You might notice throughout this review just how completely essential Fortune Points are to adventurers. You are expected to be pretty liberal with your Fortune points! They're an important part of the game and the party tosses them around an awful lot. Inside is no evidence of treason, but rather a veritable fortune: 153 Crowns, 2 Shillings, and 11 Pence. Pierre thinks a moment, reasons the man is almost certainly going to turn out to be a cultist, and pockets the money. In true 17th century fashion, if their employers don't pay them the Brute Squad is going to loot.
Meanwhile, Fearghus and Otto make the 'Perception Test to Continue Plot' in the cellar and move some barrels aside to find a secret passage into a dark, bloodstained cult temple. Well! The dwarf and human head on down to a surprisingly dangerous but small mandatory combat encounter with two mutated Khorne Cultists. Claws and Teeth are defined by their claws and their teeth. Neither would be especially dangerous, except for one weird thing. Claws' claws inflict a bleed effect that slowly deals wounds every round until your wounds are treated if you take any wounds from his claws. Remember the weakness of this team? No healer? Otto moves up in front so his plate can protect his dwarf bud, and the two engage the mutants. Luckily for them, Fearghus parries aside Claws' strike and then double-furies him, beating him to death with a hammer before he can cause problems. Teeth lasts a little longer due to Otto rolling poorly, but neither mutant actually lands a blow before the skillful Runesmith kills Teeth as well, leaving Otto with 0 kills this fight. Fearghus does a little dwarf strut and indulges in a brief 'Thanks fer yer help, manling, couldn't have done it without ya' before they search the temple.
First of all, the temple matches Bauer's description perfectly, except it's relatively empty because he killed the majority of this cult cell before they drove him off. But hidden in a small side chamber, they discover the MacGuffin they need: A terrified baker named Johan Opfer. He was supposed to be the cult's sacrifice, and they were going to kill him to 'reconsecrate' the temple after Bauer desecrated it by, uh, killing a bunch of dudes in it. You'd think Khorne would be cool with that. With their lockpicker busy, they're forced to resort to a Str-30 test to try to break Johan out before they'll have to go get Pierre and have him try. With Fearghus assisting, though, Otto hits a 20 and gets it exactly as he needed it, the two heroes wrenching the poor Burgher's cell door open and helping him out. The team helps him out and up as they reconvene in the taproom, Liniel thanking Heller for his time and promising to be back with the money later to cover her friends sneaking a terrified Burgher and all of Heller's money out the back door before they all leggit. It's a bit of a breather setpiece, but I kind of like this part? It's not hard, but it actually had room for the characters to do stuff like distract people or avoid part of the combat they could get into, and they actually made money!
Liniel is real happy with the take, especially as she intends to turn Heller in later and see if there's a reward on him. For now, though, the team heads back to the Temple of Sigmar, only to find the trial is already starting and they have to deal with an annoying setpiece where they have to secretly get Johan through a huge crowd and deliver him to Stolz during the trial. Thankfully, one of the options for getting in is to just talk to the Watch, and waving your paperwork makes it a Fel+20 check. Liniel waves her paperwork and talks past the guards in a hurry, getting the team a police escort and moving them through the crowd easily. The book calls for another 6-8 random Intimidate, Charm, Dodge, etc checks to get the rest of the way through the crowd, with failure being...try again? Okay, so what's the goddamn point? We'll just say the team pushes, chats, and bulls their way through until they get Stolz's attention up on the square and deliver Johan. Liniel wraps a note in a stone (one of the suggested capstone checks) and flings it with her mighty elven Ballistic Skill, and if she didn't have Fortune that 97 she rolled might have brained the High Capitular. Instead she Fortunes and gets a 19, landing it at his feet and getting Johan where he needs to go.
The trial is a full setpiece where the players are actually handed different characters to play, playing as Stolz, Liebnitz (which is a little hard, as the player playing him isn't told his full character because secret Chaos cultist), Bauer, etc. It's sort of an interesting idea, but it's also all entirely pointless, because what will eventually happen is that the PCs will testify, corroborating Bauer's story about the cult temple, then Johan will be revealed and will also perfectly back up the story in a way that convinced the judges. But then Liebnitz pulls out his own personal bullshit: You remember the Icon? He pulls out the Icon. And claims it's direct evidence Sigmar was a follower of Khorne, because now it's got Khorne's sigil painted on the back, and thus Bauer must also be a Khornate
Yep, that's his plan. Publicly claim the founder of the Empire was a Khornate and that his entire cult is corrupted by Chaos, and that Sigmar was never a God. So whatever you did during the trial? Pointless, it always ends with this. Rioting immediately breaks out, as enough people are outraged and believe his claim to start general trouble all through the crowd. The Sigmarites are forced to withdraw to and barricade their temple, along with the PCs. Pierre has to be bodily held back from trying to kill Klaus Liebnitz, screaming that that was a 2500 year old relic and that this prick must have defaced it himself. Stolz
tries to choke the man out when Liebnitz smugs it up about how the cult of Ulric will take over the Empire now and does a little victory lap, before being stopped by his younger priests. That's right, Werner Stolz will absolutely choke an asshole, despite being an older man. Now, I think Liebnitz is celebrating a little early here; he thinks he's just restarted the Time of Three Emperors by causing a simple riot. But he is still winning at his overall plans of causing strife in the Empire. I want you to remember that up to this point, his plans have been working. I want you to remember that his cult has been this successful because they were clever and audacious enough to bet against Archaon and fight hard for the Empire, reasoning they could worm their way into real positions of authority and cause strife that way. Just keep in mind how successful the Crimson Skulls have been with their relatively measured approach when we get to the climax, because I will have words about it.
In all this bullshit and furor, Father Ranulf (the original guy who hired the PCs to get the Skull) appears at the temple of Sigmar, in secret, and asks for the PCs. He's carrying the magic box they hid the skull in when it was delivered. He's brought it out of the temple because with the Trial, he no longer trusts Liebnitz and he wants to beg the PCs to take this thing far away, to the Collegium Theologica, to be hidden among wizards. They agree, because I think by now it will have started to really sink in that Liebnitz may not just be an Ulrican monodominant asshole, but might
be with Khorne. It should also be noted that Stolz actually does put the PCs up in dignitary's rooms in the temple and takes the time to personally thank them for their efforts despite all this horseshit going on. They'd like money, too, but honestly, for now? He's probably got enough on his mind to let it slide. Liniel is writing up a bill to deliver later, anyway, once things calm down.
The entire city is under curfew to stop the rioting, and the PCs will have to make some stealth, charm, etc tests to make their way across town to the Collegium. While there are a bunch of optional encounters here, the team is goal oriented and just focuses on slipping past Watch patrols and making their way through the patches of rioting, reaching the Collegium and going to find Ranulf's contact, Professor Zweinstein. Of course. When they do reach Professor Albrecht Zweinstein and open the box to deliver things to him, they find there is no magic skull inside. No, there is instead a human head. It's Johan, their witness. Liebnitz was infuriated at that wrinkle in his plans and had the man killed in the chaos. When I ran this, amusingly, my players actually dodged this by accident; as soon as shit went down at the trial, one of them yelled 'I grab Johan, he's probably in danger, and we take him with us!' and I had to improvise whose head was in the box instead (I picked Heller, the barkeep, saying Liebnitz decided he had failed him). As a result, while in Middenheim my PC party could always get a free loaf of bread at Johan Opfer's bakery for saving his life. Still, they now have actual proof Liebnitz is Khorney; he definitely stole the skull and also murdered this witness. They head off to tell Schutzmann and Stolz, and the grandees start arguing over who will get together the men to go investigate the Temple of Ulric (where Liebnitz has withdrawn); it's going to take too long, so Liniel suggests the party just go do it themselves. They have some fucking business with Liebnitz anyway; he's gonna pay up, one way or another. All four of her friends agree, and the team slips out to confront the Medium Priest themselves.
Next Time: Terrible Balancing
BASTARD TOOK MY SKULL
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
BASTARD TOOK MY SKULL
The team begins the normal dance of evading Watchmen, though this time there's a more sinister reason: Liebnitz has told the Watch he's fleeing an attempted assassination by radical Sigmarites, and the Watch near the Temple of Ulric are specifically loyal Ulrican fanatics (not Khornates) who believe him and think they're looking out for the priest's safety. They, uh, somehow don't notice the brilliant red light spilling out of the Temple of Ulric that the PCs are treated to in a little scene-setting. The PCs 'must use good timing to evade the Watch patrols in front of the building, about 25 seconds apart' and I would love to know how you time it like slipping past MGS guards in a game system based around abstract declarations of action. We'll just say that they hide under a nearby crate and use it to slowly walk closer between guard patrols until they reach the building, thanks to the transcendent power of The Box. Guards on regular patrols cannot defeat The Box.
Now, the PCs make it inside over a low wall and they can hear the immediate ominous Dark Tongue chanting from near the Flame of Ulric. Liebnitz is definitely here, and definitely up to some shit, and he's definitely posted the most bullshit encounter in the adventure to watch his back. Two Axe Brothers have been posted at the entrance, and you know, I'm just gonna give you their stats before we get into this encounter. Also note: The PCs can see 5 more of these guys and an armored Liebnitz beyond the gallery they're guarding, so they know a shitload more of these are in the wings along with the Medium Priest.
WS 62 (!), BS 45, S 52, T 46, Agi 51, Int 36, WP 48, Fel 36, Attacks 2, Wounds 14, have Dodge +10, have FULL PLATE ARMOR on all locations, have Strike Mighty, have Frenzy, use two-handed greataxes.
They are Ex Squire, Ex Knight, and Knight of the Inner Circle. I want to remind you: The PCs are on their starting careers
. Now, our heroes are pretty well geared and reasonably good at fighting. Most encounters in combat up to this point has been doable. Let's just compare that combat array directly to Otto, the best fighter in the party. Each + is where he's spent an advance.
++WS 46, BS 31, +S 40, T 31, ++Agi 40, Int 35, ++WP 48, Fel 35, Dodge Blow, Strike Mighty, Strike to Injure, Strike to Stun, Best Hand Weapon and Shield, Full Plate, +Attacks 2, Wounds 11
Remember: Otto is both a really good first tier fighter, and extremely well geared for his level. I want you to look at those stats and see how much they have on him, on an individual basis. And you have to fight two of them, with a party with only one dedicated fighter most likely. Note that when frenzying, the enemy hits for Damage 7 Impact. Even Otto takes 0-9 Wounds per swing. A single blow from these guys can put Liniel or Pierre on crits, and with Impact they're way more likely to land telling blows. Meanwhile, on average, our heroes are doing Damage 3. Katiya does Damage 4, Liniel's bow effectively
does Damage 4 due to AP, and Otto is a whopping Damage 5. Vs. DR 9 and the enemy having a 51% chance to Dodge the first swing a turn. You may've worked out the math of this encounter is not exactly in the team's favor here.
The biggest fuck you, too, is this isn't even the full encounter. Say our heroes get lucky with Fury and put these two lunatics down, Liebnitz will be busily and slowly sacrificing the other Knights to Khorne in the center as they go (one per 2 rounds). Any knights still alive when they break through will attack them
and those knights are all fully armored and armed, and have the same stats. And Liebnitz will join in, also in full plate armor
and heavily equipped for battle. If they wait, he'll eventually kill all the knights, then himself, and summon the actual end boss demon. But that's not the hilarious part: If they WIN, somehow, Liebnitz will choke out the last words of the demon summoning as his blood soaks into the stones and guess what, it summons the end boss demon
. You are actually mechanically better off
letting the bad guy complete his ritual, with absolutely no ill consequences. The exact same thing happens either way.
But wait, there's more! The End Boss Demon is a Bloodletter of Khorne, and I am 100% convinced this pathetic piece of shit is why they invented the Demonic Aura talent. Lemme just hit you with his combat array:
The Demon of the Skull:
WS 55, BS 45, S 50, T 50, Agi 55, Int 45, WP 50, Fel 15, 2 Attacks, Wounds 17, Frenzy, Strike Mighty, Natural Weapons only.
The astute among you may notice that compared to a single Axe Brother the demon is a goddamn chump. Yes, it causes Fear, yes it comes after the unending tide of Knightfight horseshit so the party is probably pretty drained, but that thing is not tough for the heroes to outnumber and beat to death. It's at THIS point that the book says to have Schutzmann and backup show up so the party aren't overwhelmed by the tide of demonic power if they're struggling. You know, THIS point, not the Knights. There is this completely insane tendency to totally oversell anything that says 'demon' on it in the fiction for this line. This is a single chump demon the party can kick in the dick. He hits hard, yeah, and he's not a total joke, but he's alone. The issue with the knights is numbers, DR, and defenses. I ran the knight fight completely as written several times for the team and they TPKed three times before they managed to struggle through with both Liniel and Otto Burning Fate. So you know what, I'm just gonna do what I did with my home game and adjust this encounter.
First: These knights and Liebnitz are Ulricans (turned Khornate). You know what that means? No helmets. Second, put Liebnitz in Mail, not plate. Third, have the team arrive to find the one fully armored knight ready for combat and Liebnitz with him, but the others busy cutting themselves for the ritual and out of their gear, rapturous and ignoring the combat. Now these are still tough odds: The Knight and Liebnitz are both badasses, but the party outnumbers them and there's a solid chance the heroes hit an unarmored head sometimes (plus Otto can Strike to Stun with a gauntleted fist to hail mary take guys out of the fight instantly). The Knight makes a good boss on his own, after all. The party trades banter with Liebnitz as they fight his knight, and it's at this time the GM realizes something: What is Liebnitz's actual motive and why is he doing this? Like yes, he obviously hates Sigmarites. Yes, he likes fighting. He's a crazy Teutogen racial purist. But like, he was winning already. Why fall back to the Temple and pull this bullshit and reveal himself? The PCs only get a chance to stop him because the dumb fuck goes full Khornate right as he's winning.
Anyway, combat opens auspiciously, with Liniel shooting the Knight in the head after Fating a miss. She gives him a nasty arrow to the face for 3 Wounds before he goes and spends Round 1 going into a Frenzy, as does Liebnitz. The others rush the knight while Liniel yells that Liebnitz is an idiot who should've just paid up and encouraged the PCs to move on, none the wiser. Outnumbering and Charging lets all 4 of the melee characters hit, though the Knight dodges Otto and no-one hits his open head. He still takes 3 wounds from Katiya and is now looking pretty rough. Then takes 3 from Pierre, and then another from Fearghus. A great start! They already wiped 10 wounds off of him. Round two starts with Liniel shooting Liebnitz, since he isn't engaged yet, but bouncing off. The Frenzied knight gets a swing in on Otto, doing 4 Wounds even through all his armor, before hitting Katiya, too. Katiya's 14 Wounds save her, as she takes 10 in one swing, but the Kislevite brushes off the massive axe blow and keeps fighting. Liebnitz is unlucky and misses his swings, and between Outnumber and Aim and Otto's two attacks, the Axe Brother eats another 6 Wounds, the last blow being a Strike to Injure from Otto as the heroic Imperial stabs him straight in the heart and kills him. Now it's just them and the Medium Priest. Who gets Furied in the face by an arrow from Liniel. He actually survives that, albeit with 2 Wounds, and Katiya narrowly parries his attempt to finish her off. 3-1 Outnumber and Aim is too much for him, though, and the Medium Priest eats 3 hits (two from Otto, one from Pierre) and goes down to a Tomb Robber pick to the face. Pierre spits on the body and yells how that was for defacing an ancient relic.
As you can see, even with the heroes being a bit lucky, fighting two guys who are doing Damage 7 when most of your team is in leather is uh, dicey. Those attacks could easily have taken them out, and there's one more Damage 7 piece of shit coming at them as the demon manifests. The party gasps that Xarthrodux the Red Flayer himself is here, and the demon sheepishly corrects them that no, he isn't Xath. He's just like, his butler or someshit. Seriously, they never explain what this demon is. All of them besides Katiya (who is bleeding. A lot) make their Fear saves, and combat resumes. Liniel narrowly wins Init, using her last Fortune to hit Xath's Butler, and...bounces off. C'mon, Lin. Xath's B makes his own attacks and takes Otto to 0 and Katiya to Crit 2. Luckily, he just destroys her leathers on her body. The party strikes back, and, uh, Xath's B goes down in one round. Have I mentioned he had no armor and no Daemonic Aura? And that they have 3-1 Outnumber for +20 to hit? They, uh, they had those. They got pretty messed up, but they won! Hooray! It only took rewriting the encounter to be marginally less horseshit (though still extremely dangerous; if I was fully redoing it I'd have Liebnitz as boss with some corrupted basic cultists instead of badass knights backing him up) and some serious luck!
After Liebnitz, his Knight, and the demon drop, the party is exhausted and wondering what further jackassery is going to waylay them when the Flame of Ulric begins to spill out of its enclosure and engulfs the entire room. The flames do nothing to the PCs, but utterly destroy the bodies of any of the cultists, sacrifices, or traces of demonic blood; not a scrap of ash or blood remains as Ulric kicks Khorne the fuck outta his house. Schutzmann and Stolz and the others arrive just in time to see the heroes surrounded by the White Flame of Ulric, completely unharmed. If you remember Magnus the Pious, this is pretty goddamn meaningful; it's a direct sign that Ulric the God is divinely pleased with the heroes and showing his favor in an actual miracle as they pose for the cover-shot, surrounded by white fire and bloody and battered but unbowed.
This has an actual mechanical effect! Every surviving PC (all of them, in this case) gets +1 Fate and a tattoo on their hand of a bitching wolf holding a grand hammer. It's a symbol of Ulric yelling "HEY YOU LITTLE SHITS, GET IT THROUGH YOUR SKULLS. ALL THIS ULRIC SIGMAR SLAPFIGHT SHIT LET A KHORNATE DO A BLOOD RITE ON MY FLAME. CUT IT OUT YOU IDIOTS." Yes, the Elf and Dwarf get this, too. It grants a permanent +10% to Fel with devout followers of Ulric and Sigmar, and +30% to Fel tests to argue for or promote religious unity. While that's a little odd for the Elf and Dwarf, and the two foreigners, it's still a pretty great reward.
The book then treats Liebnitz's accusations as discredited, but, uh, they never announce he was a Khornate. They make up a story about him suffering a nervous breakdown due to all this and Ranulf (now Medium Priest) issues a joint public statement with Stolz that the mark on the Icon was fake and put there by Khornate saboteurs. An option is offered for the PCs to spend an adventure shitting all over the dead Medium Priest's legacy to discredit his accusations and then claim he eventually hung himself, and the Brute Squad is all over that shit. They are absolutely gleeful in trying to ensure everything he spent his life working for is ruined and that his legacy is ashes in Middenheim (haha title drop). Bauer is quietly released and the OF flees into the night, probably to fall down some stairs elsewhere. By the book, no-one remembers to pay the PCs anything for any of this.
They are not going to let that stand. Stolz finds a bill on his desk, helpfully itemizing each act of heroism, with a copy delivered to Ranulf stating the Temple of Ulric still owes the Brute Squad for delivery of one (1) skull. At standard labor rates for mercenaries of their caliber, they have reckoned they are due 100 GC for labor and time, 100 GC for demonic combat, and a 100 GC bonus for city-saving and civil-war preventing. Ranulf and Stolz being reasonable people, and this being a pittance for how much work the heroes did and against the wealth of great temples, the party finds it delivered in a chest with a wolf and hammer the next day. Liniel quietly takes them off the debtor list, and the Brute Squad goes to get plastered.
Next Time: Wrapping Up Ashes and final thoughts
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim
Well, two things to do for the wrapup of Ashes of Middenheim. First, we'll talk about what worked and what didn't work in the adventure. Then, an update on the party and their new member. Sorry, Fearghus, your class is cool in theory but awkwardly and poorly implemented and none of the materials here are ready for what happens if you have a couple months between adventures. Also the party desperately needs a medic. So Fearghus will be taking his Journeyman piece and heading off on his own journey, glad to have helped his allies do something great but not wanting to be mucked around further by umgi Gods. In his place will be a young Ulrican Priestess who sees her path to a higher position in the cult in helping a bunch of heroes directly favored by Ulric, weird as they might be.
First off, let's look at the adventure structure. Note the PCs never actually had any kind of choices to make. They just kinda proceed forward, with the assumption they succeed at every point and success or failure being determined entirely by the pre-determined narrative. There's no attempt to make any provision for PCs to step off the path, so to speak. What would have happened if they'd listened to Pierre and continued to investigate the missing Icon instead of taking the Skull-shaped red herring bait? Could they have stopped Liebnitz early, on their own initiative, as he feared? It was clearly a possibility, otherwise why go to all the trouble to send them off to die in the forest like that? The PCs don't actually have a reason to take the mission from Ranulf besides it sounding important and promising pay (that they never get). Similar, what happens if they go to the cops? Or don't trust the Ordo Fidelus after learning a little about them and absolutely don't let them in on the adventure (the book says they just follow you and find out anyway, BTW). What if they go after Liebnitz immediately instead of bothering with the trial because fucker put them in jail and stiffed them and they don't care about the wider plot? There's a lot of assumptions baked into the critical path and it makes absolutely 0 plans around if you step off it at any point.
That also means there's no provisions made for the PCs to do anything clever or be more successful. As dull as the next adventure can be, this is something that will get remedied in Spires of Altdorf; there are provisions made for if the PCs are fucking up badly, or if they succeed tremendously well and with surprisingly little actual combat or danger. Spires tries to be way more open ended and just place the PCs in Altdorf with a problem to solve, just its main plot is dull as dishwater and how you try to solve that problem isn't much better. But I suspect that's a general problem with the adventure path. Xath is a really shit antagonist who has no presence at all in any of the three stories. Khornate Chaos, especially, just can't sustain a 3 mini-campaign adventure path and you'll see that in the sheer number of side villains and random other plots they have to throw in just to have something resembling actual antagonists in the games.
Let's take a moment to also talk about Liebnitz. He's sort of the highlight of this adventure, because he actually does do his job narratively and give the PCs someone they want to smash in the face. He's a total prick, but for most of the adventure he's surprisingly clever for a Khornate and his smugging it up does a lot to conceal one of several fundamental problems with his character. The first is this: What's his motive? Why's he doing any of this? It's obviously partly that he hates Sigmar, but how did he go from Ulric to Khorne? Why does he essentially throw away everything he's done so far in the adventure to pull off the fucking stupid ritual in the Temple, which kills him if he completes it? All to summon a single shitty Bloodletter? He doesn't actually have a motive beyond Well He's Kahyoss, They're Crazy And Evil. This is a problem Chaos always seems to have. It tries to pretend its cults are everywhere but the writers just lean on 'well they're so evil and goddamn crazy' so hard that they don't end up bothering with motives. Similarly, it kind of sucks that the PCs never actually counter anything he does; they just sort of get the chance to kick him in the dick because he pretty much decides to stop winning and go full stupid. There's no possibility to expose the Icon's Chaos symbol on the back as fresh paint, or steal it back so that when he tries to dramatically pull it out at the trial he's left sputtering in rage. The PCs don't get to defeat Liebnitz so much as he just becomes a Chaos Idiot suddenly.
Which makes his defeat really unsatisfying, despite all the buildup of giving players reasons to fight him. Even if the final encounter wasn't unbalanced horseshit, just killing him when he intentionally exposes himself doesn't feel earned. Brute Squad didn't have a chance to show off anything but their ability to pull a trigger and swing a sword in the climax, despite having a lot of other skills and characters who would have other routes to dealing with and exposing a shitty Medium Priest. I also wonder if the story wouldn't have been genuinely stronger if Liebnitz wasn't a Son of Ulric fanatic who was merely working with
a Chaos Cult, blinded by his fanaticism such that he doesn't notice he's letting madmen near the sacred flame (and you'll remember, destroying the Flame of Ulric was one of Archaon's primary war goals) so long as he thinks he's still on the path to becoming Ar-Ulric and also destroying the hated Cult of Sigmar. Making him go generic Chaos Villain in the end just spoils the story; when I was running it, I had to come up with an entire motive for him where he believed that the Teutogen way was mastering Khorne with the power of Ulric, and his big final move was intended to summon demons that he'd then 'heroically' destroy and claim the Sigmarites had sent to kill him (which went awry). Because that would at least make his final move make some
Also, never paying the PCs is going to quickly lead to them finding other work or wandering off. That's just RPG science. The encounters are mostly balanced until the last one, but the way the plot just bulls forward no matter what happens makes it feel very arbitrary at times. The adventure is also weirdly confused about what a PC party's motivation is. Take the Brute Squad: They're decent people, they have things they believe in or want to do, and they're definitely out to fight Chaos, but they're also still a small mercenary company. They're here to make contacts, get paying work, and make a name for themselves. This is not an unreasonable set of motives for a PC party in this setting. The adventure then never pays them, hides their role in saving the city, etc. Some of this is wrongheaded but intentional; the designers want you to feel like you're often scrabbling to get by. But you can't keep assuming PCs are going to invest in risking their necks for nothing wholly out of the goodness of their hearts while also talking up how this is a setting where that isn't usually the whole dealio. Yet the adventure is written as if the PCs will keep doing what they do (and continue on into the next plot line) solely because, uh, they're nice heroes. Brute Squad certainly are heroes, but they've got bills to pay.
Speaking of Brute Squad, we'll assume they had a few adventures in and around Middenheim to finish their first careers and promote. You'll notice they don't have all the Trappings of their new Careers yet, only some. They A: Only had so much money and B: I just don't use the Trappings system that way and C: Fiating them everything they'd have to promote would kinda overgear them. All armor upgrades were purchased with the money they had from robbing Heller and getting paid at the end. A few weapons will be treated as things they found in adventures in between. I'll put their update in a separate update because this one would run massively long with it attached and damnit, I'm sticking with this dumb gimmick. Character progression is one of the best parts of this system and an opportunity to actually show it off is golden.
Next Time: The Brute Squad, V2