A note on advancement, multiclassing, and the career of the Brute Squad
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
A note on advancement, multiclassing, and the career of the Brute Squad
Name: Liniel of Caledor
Class: Ex-Noble, Pistolier
++++WS 54, ++++BS 68, +S 36, ++T 43, +++Agi 59, +Int 40, +++WP 48, +++Fel 55
Money: 58 GC
Elf Picks: Coolheaded, Longbow
Common Knowledge (Elves)
Speak Language (Eltharin+10, Reikspiel)
Common Knowledge (The Empire)
Special Weapons (Longbow, Gun)
Hand Weapon (Elven Sword)
Noble’s Garb (Repurposed into fancy mercenary uniform)
Full set of Studded Armor (Incorporated into fancy mercenary uniform)
Extremely large plumed hat (Very Important, ear holes included)
Twin Pistols and 20 shots
Elfbow and 10 Arrows
Liniel has been beyond satisfied with the performance of the human weapons she acquired; paired with the quickness of an elf's hands and the keenness of an elf's eye, these 'pistols' have been the antidote to much mischief. She's resolved that even after the Chaos mess blows over back home and her name is cleared completely she'll sign on as an Envoy and remain in the human lands awhile, to see where they go with these 'gun' things in a couple centuries. She's come to find the pace of life in the Empire amusing, rather than exhausting, and living among a party of them has shown her she is one of the rare elves who actually enjoys dealing with humans. Not something she ever expected when first fleeing to the Empire to let things back home blow over.
Besides, they have nice hats. She would never admit it to a fellow elf, but this wide-brimmed, plumed hat is way cooler than the stupid giant cone helmets they wear back home.
You might notice that even with about 2000 EXP after promoting from Noble, Liniel is still in Pistolier. This is because she's effectively multiclassing, going from a social career to a combat one. You might ALSO notice she has basically every Ranged talent in the game, can handle a gun about as well as you can in WHFRP2e, still knows how to use a longbow for long range work, and has become a formidable ranged combatant and a competent melee one. While still being an excellent social character. Multiclassing can make your 2nd career take a very long time, yes, but the whole time you're there, you're acquiring new stats and abilities. Now, instead of just a good talker, Liniel is also excellent at putting two Damage 5 AP1 Impact shots on a target at close range, or firing Damage 4 AP2 volleys with a longbow at BS 68. One of the points of the Career system is that if a Career is taking a long time, it's doing it because you had a lot to learn.
Name: Pierre Rhone
Ex-Tomb Robber, Ex-Dilletante, Verenan Investigator
++WS 41 (Shallyaed from 26), +BS 40, +S 37, +T 35, ++++Agi 60, ++++++Int 70, ++++WP 48, +Fel 38
Human Abilities: Savvy, Lightning Reflexes
Academic Knowledge (Magic, History, Law)
Common Knowledge (Empire, Bretonnia)
Speak Language (Classical, Elatharin, Bretonnian, Reikspiel, Dark Tongue)
Scale Sheer Surface
Secret Language (Thief Tongue)
Full Studded Armor (AV2)
Crowbar (for archeology)
10 yards of rope
Hand Weapon (Pick)
Crossbow and 10 bolts
Pierre has taken the time during their stay in Altdorf to visit the Temple of Verena and petition to be named a lay worshiper of the Goddess of Knowledge, officially converting to the cult. He cannot return to the worship of the Lady of the Lake after all he has learned and done, and harbors a deep and secret fear that perhaps his former Goddess is an inherent enemy of Justice. While he is torn about what to do once his 'errantry' ends (Join the Herrimaults? Return home and pretend to be a normal knight to try to rule his father's fiefs justly?), for now, his course is clear. He must learn all he can while he has the chance, to understand how to serve the cause of Justice and Knowledge, and his friends will need a scholar and expert to help them deal with the third relic of Xathrowhatever.
There are always three relics, after all. You learn that kind of thing studying archeology.
Pierre is the weakest combatant in the group, and even then he's not terrible at it. His talents lie elsewhere, though; look at that Int score! And with Keen Senses, he's effectively rolling against base TN 90% for most detective skills. Add that to a full suite of rogue skills, his excellent Agi, and enough academics to help the team, and he's covering both the Rogue and Academic role at the same time while being a very effective detective. Sure, he'll be in Investigator for thousands of EXP yet, but again: He's learning useful stuff the entire time, and he's really, really good at his jobs on the team. Nothing will get past Pierre. 3000 EXP or so is where you start to reach 'the PCs are an eclectic group of very competent people'.
Name: Otto Blucher
Class: Ex-Protagonist, Duelist
++++WS 56 (66), ++++BS 51, ++S 45 (55), ++++T 51, ++++Agi 50, Int 35, +++WP 53, +Fel 40
Human Traits: Excellent Vision, Mimic
Common Knowledge (Empire)
Speak Language (Reikspiel)
Strike Mighty Blow
Strike to Injure
Strike to Stun
Special Weapons (Fencing, Parrying, Gun)
Full Plate Armor (AV 5 All)
Twin Pistols with 10 shots
Crossbow and 10 bolts
Gloves of Jarfeit (Magic Item, +10 Str and WS)
Otto is more than satisfied with his career so far. The others might disdain Frederick a bit, but for him, a medal awarded by an Imperial Grandee is the first step on the road to having his name known to all Imperial heroes. Seeing Liniel's skill with a pistol, Otto has trained himself hard to use both hands equally well, and taken advantage of their contacts with Frederick (who does not understand that ammunition is expensive) to learn to shoot. He seeks to develop his own dueling style, and to one day learn to read and write in hopes of making his own manual of arms on the use of fencing techniques in full plate armor. People in the Empire are beginning to hear the name of Otto Blucher, and that is precisely what he wants in life.
Hopefully, the next adventure will bring him to the attention of an Elector Count, or Ulric willing, Karl Franz himself!
Otto is still in Duelist because Duelist is an extremely long career; it learns both melee and ranged combat while becoming very mobile with Swashbuckler (Otto can jump as a half-action, jump further, and generally use that to slip out of combat without AoOs, despite his full plate), and it also picks up social skills as well. But again, he's still learning useful things the whole time he's here. He's not as good with a gun as Liniel by a long shot, but he's good enough, and adding two more pistols to the team's close range opening volley (especially as Otto also has a good Agi and thus good Init) certainly won't hurt anything. The Glove of Jarfeit also make him even better; even with an SB-1 Fast Rapier, he's still Damage 5 while breaking through enemy active defenses better. Ambidextrous is something that doesn't seem too useful until you realize he can now freely strike to stun with his off-hand whenever he wants (and his Buckler has Pummel for +10 to the check), use two guns at once without having to use up his Quickdraw like Liniel, and operate just fine if his right hand gets broken.
Name: Katiya Ivanovna Demechev
Class: Ex-Peasant, Winged Lancer
+++++WS 60, +++BS 43, +++S 50, +++T 48, +++Agi 56, Int 30, +++WP 46 (Shallya from 23), +++Fel 55
Human Traits: Fleet of Foot, Lightning Reflexes
Speak Language (Reikspiel, Kislevite)
Common Knowledge (Kislev)
Strike Mighty Blow
Special Weapons (Sling, Cavalry)
Hand Weapon (Kislevite Sword)
Full Mail w/Plate Helmet and Breastplate (AV 5 Chest and Head, AV 3 Limbs)
Warhorse (Andre is a good horse)
Hussar’s Lance (SB+1 Impact Fast Tiring when Mounted)
Katiya plans to ask her friends if they will accompany her to Kislev when this is all over. Their adventures in the south have taught her a great deal about the sword and lance, and made the mild-mannered peasant woman into a hero, but these skills mean nothing if they are not put to the service of the Tzarina or witnessed by the Gryphon Legion. She has been talking to Liniel about how Katarin and her officials are known for being just and fair with those they hire, and how she can guarantee the party will actually be paid for their work if they fight in service of the Tzarina. She thinks the elf has been listening, but convincing the Bretonnian will be a little harder. Still, for now, she is content to stay here in the south until the Xath business is dealt with; even if it has not been a grave threat so far, all forces of Chaos must be exterminated. Every son and daughter of Kislev knows as much, and how would these people get this done without their brave Gospodar sword-sister?
Katiya is a multiclass, like Liniel, which is why she's still in Winged Lancer. However, look at her melee stats. She's honestly just as good as Otto is with the Gloves, almost. Her cavalry specialty is kind of a cruel joke, though, because almost the entire campaign takes place in places where you can't ride a horse. Still, shield, saber, and Damage 6 WS 60 2 Attacks will serve. And she still has her social and ranger skills from being a Peasant. Shame the party doesn't really need a ranger because again, the entire adventure path takes place in cities. And if she IS on her horse, a Damage 7 Fast Impact Charge is something nothing in the game can ignore. Especially with something Solveig can do.
Name: Solveig Miller
Careers: Ex-Initiate, Ex-Priestess of Ulric, Warrior Priestess of Ulric
++WS 48, +BS 25, +S 53, ++T 49, +Agi 43, ++Int 46, ++++WP 48, +++Fel 49
Academic Knowledge (History, Theology)
Common Lore (Empire, Kislev)
Speak Language (Reikspiel+10, Classical, Magic)
Divine Lore (Ulric Blood-Hand)
Special Weapons (Two Handed)
Strike Mighty Blow (Ulric)
Strike to Stun
Strike to Injure
Petty Magic (Divine)
Hand Weapon (Axe)
Full Mail Armor (AV 3)
Great Weapon (Bigger Axe)
Wolf Book about Wolfs And Also Fighting
Claws (Gain Natural Weapons, -5 BS)
Ulric’s Mien (Grow 4 inches taller, 16 pounds heavier, +5 Str)
Solveig has not found the glorious battles she was expecting with people marked by Ulric, but she assumes that is more a function of being in Altdorf, a land far from the front lines of battle and the wintery north. It is not their fault, and this Khornate threat has to be eliminated; as long as she combats the forces of Khorne, she is still doing Ulric's work. During her adventures with the company after the mess in Altdorf, she has even found herself increasingly marked by her God as she learns to channel his miracles. She was already big. Now she finds herself even taller, stronger, and with the feral claws of a wolf. Obviously a righteous mark of Ulric, Lord of Battles (and also wolves) and not at all any kind of mutation. The other priests signed off on it. She will take the Kislevite's side and suggest the team travel north after this duty is complete, though; battle awaits, and scouring the remnants of evil from the Empire and its faithful allies in Kislev are worthy causes for the Lord of Battles and his servants.
Solveig takes a HUGE jump in power as she moves into Warrior Priest. She's now a full 2nd tier fighter in addition to a divine caster. I went by my normal house rule that gaining Mag gains a Divine Mark (or Arcane Mark) because Marks are cool, and she got pretty lucky with them. Ulric's Lore will let her do things like 'All Allies attack 2 times on the Charge, regardless of their Attacks' or let her buff herself into a battle-fury where she gets 3 attacks. Combined with Frenzy if she's feeling crazy, she can get up to doing 3 Damage 7 Impact attacks in a single round, albeit at poor WS due to Frenzy. Priest can be a very frustrating Career path; it takes much too long to actually get your Divine Lore. But once you do, watch out. Ulric's Lore is very strong, too, and she took the buffing/battle path with it.
One of the things that's weird about Paths of the Damned as a campaign is that the campaign itself never acknowledges how much better the PCs get. It still treats you like a bunch of ragged errand boys even in Forges of Nuln. Look at the party's abilities. They are in no way humble errand boys anymore; this party can and will take down any combat challenge in Forges, and they're well suited to the diplomatic, roguish, and academic challenges, too. Mid-late second career/early 3rd career characters genuinely shift the tone of the game just by their mechanical power alone. Characters are, by that point, either extremely good at their chosen thing (Otto, Pierre), or have become multi-talented and competent at a variety of abilities (Everyone else). Heck, every single one of the party's primary fighters has a good shot of outright killing the 'unstoppable' serial killer villain in the upcoming adventure in a duel if it came to it. But the books will never really acknowledge this shift.
Part of that is them assuming that you'll have ragged and partial equipment, except that if you're using the Trappings system RAW, PCs actually have to have found stuff like Mail or Guns to actually promote. I strongly suspect very few people used Trappings exactly as written, because otherwise you'd never promote into Veteran or Knight if the GM is giving you as little treasure as these books seem to assume they do. Even getting Full Mail is a chore with the sparse rewards and inconsistent payment in these books.
This is basically Brute Squad's final form. Forges only really awards its EXP at the end, and sure it's 1200 EXP if they do everything right, but there's no good breakpoints to fill it in like with Altdorf. Even with all this, the group can defeat any of the bosses presented in Forges of Nuln, while handling pretty much all the non-combat challenges. You'll see; the greatest risk in Forges isn't actually anything mechanical, but rather several ways to end up in a fail state by just not predicting the adventure's Adventure Game logic. It will also feature grinding random encounters (there's a part where you're expected to repeat 10 minor, boring encounters to achieve something!), inexplicable outbreaks of Goatman Prime, and an elaborate setup the PCs are canonically not allowed to do anything to change outside of very minor editing. This is going to make writing it up frustrating, because I think that part will not survive contact with any actual PC group or gaming group. Thus, I will be writing up what is supposed to happen, then what actually happens when these situations are exposed to a highly competent team of experienced protagonists.
Next Time: The Jewel of the Empire
The Greatest City In The World
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
The Greatest City In The World
Nuln likes to claim it's the real capital of the Empire, and this has been true as often as it hasn't. Nuln is actually the oldest continual human settlement in the Old World, having been inhabited for ages after it was settled by proto-Tilean traders who found an underground river passage through the mountains to establish a city on the bones of an old Elven colony in what would become modern Wissenland. Nuln sits on the Reik, only a few days' sailing up-river from Altdorf, and while it was originally established as a trading site, its proximity to Black Fire Pass and the great mountains south and west of Wissenland meant it was constantly under threat by orcs. Nuln itself became a bastion for refugees when the orc problem became worse and worse, settling both humans and dwarfs fleeing the rampaging mobs while Sigmar was off uniting the tribes. It's odd that this description of Sigmar speaks of him forging an empire 'by strength of will and sword' alone, while every other description emphasizes that he convinced most tribes to join him rather than conquering them. I note this word choice because it's going to come up later with this book's description of Magnus the Pious, too, and it feels a bit off.
Anyway, Siggy showed up with an actual army and relieved the city of Nuln, then recruited whoever could hold a sword or axe from among the refugees and citizens. The Battle of Black Fire Pass is well known at this point, so there was the founding of the Empire. With the Empire founded, Nuln was a trading post, still, sending goods between the southern realms in what would be modern Tilea and Estalia and the new Empire. Sigmar patronized and supported Nuln, and decided to make it another hub of internal trade and communication, ordering the construction of great roads between Middenheim, Altdorf, and Nuln. Since merchants from outside of the new Empire could enter it through Nuln, Nuln being connected by patrolled and protected routes to both Altdorf (river and road both) and Middenheim let it leverage its central location to become one of the Empire's primary commercial hubs. Nuln has been vastly rich ever since, quite possibly the wealthiest city in all of the Empire.
The presence of dwarf refugees among the population of Nuln actually gave it a head-start over places like Altdorf in establishing Imperial engineering. By welcoming those who had fled danger, the city gained a core of excellent architects, builders, and workers. Nuln was the first city in all of the Empire to construct a dwarf-engineered sewer system, and has a reputation for maintaining it very well, which only aided the population growth of the city by greatly improving its sanitation even in ancient times. Wissenland's first counts are described as men who welcomed people from all over the world into their new city and profited greatly by doing so.
25 years after Sigmar vanished, a man of Nuln appeared. A man named Johan Helstrum, who would change the character of Sigmar's Empire forever. You remember Helstrum from Tome of Salvation; he's the guy who first began to preach that Sigmar had gone off to become a God. Nuln has always been a city eager to embrace new and exciting things, and Sigmar had supported the city immensely and helped it build up from a trading post and fortified refugee camp to one of the burgeoning great cities of the world in his 50 year reign. The aristocracy of the city was happy to accept the idea of a new God who wasn't Ulric, especially when Helstrum went into why they had the divine right to wealth and privilege (that part isn't in this particular description, but I feel it's important to keep in mind). In 100 IC, Emperor Fulk showed support for the cult of Sigmar and its first Grand Theoganist, Johan Helstrum, by moving the capital from Altdorf to Nuln to reflect that he wished the office to be inherently Sigmarite. Ulrican partisans departed for Talabecland and Middenland, and Sigmarism's dominance over the southern regions of the Empire became assured. Fulk then ordered the old elf ruins the city had been built into torn down and repurposed, trying to build the city to be explicitly Sigmarite in honor of the new religion. By the time the Empire was fully established 400 years later, Nuln was the first city to begin building great public libraries and establishing universities. The University of Nuln is the first actual University established in all the Empire and has remained an important center of Imperial academics ever since. Nuln was considered a vanguard city in all areas, the city of progress that was always pushing the Empire forward.
Then, during the reign of Emperor Boris 'Goldgather' Hoenbach, the Sigmarite faith was rocked with a much worse scandal than the normal corruption. In 1110, the High Priest of Nuln was not just revealed as corrupt (everyone knew he was, everyone in a high office in the Goldgather days was), but an actual direct agent of Slaanesh. Slaaneshi had completely infiltrated and seized the major hierarchy of the Sigmarite church, not just Nuln; he was just the first of many to be revealed. It's always interesting to me; if you pay attention to Hams history, Slaanesh is probably the single most successful Chaos God at actually infiltrating the Empire. Tzeentch gives it a try, but they just lack for the sheer number of Slaanesh cults. At the same time, most Slaanesh cults don't actually seem all that interested in destroying the Empire; they often seem to aim for getting to some high place, hiding there, and just enjoying the power and privilege that comes with it. The Imperial Court left Nuln, and people began to abandon the faith of Sigmar after the revelations about its high up priests. Add to that the Black Plague, the Skaven war, and the general insane misery of the next generation and the death of roughly half the Imperial population, and you can see why people were a little less into Siggy for awhile.
The Empire wouldn't fall until 200 years later, though, when the Count of Stirland was elected Emperor in Nuln with the heavy support of the Sigmarites and immediately responded by declaring ruinous taxes on all Ulrican orders and shrines. That led Countess Ottilia of Talabecland to declare the election illegitimate, and the Empire would become several states for roughly the next thousand years. During this time, Sigmarism had come back into vogue in Nuln, almost to the point of monodominism. People took the plague as an act of divine wrath, rather than a biological weapon spread by evil rat nazis. Sigmar's church was happy to go on the offensive and embrace this wave of religious conservativism, because of course they were. Politicians turned to Sigmar to bless and justify brutal edicts and unjust laws, claiming the war with the 'heretical' other two Emperors justified these abuses. This in turn once again destroyed the legitimacy of Sigmarism with the Nulner population, and saw them turning away from his worship. Even with Magnus the Pious, Sigmarism has never fully recovered in Nuln. The modern city has a reputation for venerating Verena above him, though they naturally still pay homage to the state religion of the Empire.
As for Magnus, the description of him in this book is...odd. And kind of conflicts with some of the others. This book calls him a 'genius fanatic' with 'new ideas about Nationalism and the divinity of Sigmar' who was sent to Nuln's secular university to try to temper his fanaticism. There's no mention of his stepping out of the seminary to lead and rally the defenders of the city against an actual demonic rebellion in the streets, as there is in other books; instead he's portrayed as a zealot who went around making fiery speeches and whipped up bands of fellow zealots, took over the city, and then went to Middenheim, stepped into the flame, led an army against Kul, and became 'Strong Emperor' who would return the Empire's 'golden age'. Uh...that phrasing sets off a couple alarms for me. And like I said, the contours of the story conflict with what I know of Magnus the Pious from other sources within WHFRP2e.
I also like them talking about how they had to spin up wartime production in Nuln and the merchants and forges of the city made millions of crowns when they 'finally' defeated Archaon. This is funny to me, because the war lasted less than a year. There was hardly time for any of that to happen. Hell, the 'siege' of Middenheim is written as like 15 days long. The entire Imperial part of the war lasted only a couple months. Which is completely insane and impossible, but you know. Hams war.
Nuln in 2522 is a wealthy, powerful city that is completely central to the Empire's military education and production. It still considers itself the Empire's most important city, no matter how much Altdorf contests the role. Like everywhere in the Empire, the gap between the wealthy and the common is huge, and the city is built on the contrast between the stately universities and glittering arts districts and the black smoke pouring from the forges and factories as they forge munition plate and cannon barrels. Nuln will always be an exciting and important place for the Empire.
It's a shame the adventure set in it is going to suck so much.
Next Time: People of Nuln
The Eternally Maligned Countess Liebwitz
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Book 3: Forges of Nuln
The Eternally Maligned Countess Liebwitz
The single most important person in Nuln is the bafflingly-dealt with Emmanuelle von Liebwitz, Elector Countess of Nuln. I have talked before about how Countess Emmanuelle is dealt with in Hams; she has been accused of essentially every form of iniquity and corruption in the entire setting, from being a Lahmian agent or dupe to being a Chaos cultist to being Elizabeth Bathory because she heard the Dark Elves bathe in blood to stay young. The depiction here settles instead on 'she is an empty-headed ditz who slept her way into her position as Elector Countess and who greatly neglects and mismanages the city to spend all her time on fancy balls and nice dresses.'
Now, here's a lot to unpack here. I'd honestly forgotten the bit about 'she fucked Karl Franz to get her claim honored as Elector Countess'. That adds some extra dimensions.
See, my suspicion is that this is more lazy writing without thinking through the implications of the only female Elector in the current crop being portrayed as the hot girl who slept with people until she got all her pretty dresses and parties forever (the implications are bad, much as the implications of the whole Hung thing in Tome of Corruption were bad, and much as the Lahmian writeup in Night's Dark Masters was not well handled). One of the enduring tropes of Hams is that nobility doesn't matter, you see. People think it does, but an ancient bloodline is as likely to be inbred as anything else, and when nobles do prove able or capable it's because they had the money and time to go to a university and actually paid attention, not because of their noble blood. Nobles are neither better nor worse than normal people, but are much more likely to tend towards some kind of petty, spoiled corruption because they're a person born to tremendous, unearned power and privilege. I'm guessing that's partly the intent with Liebwitz here, but I am really not on board for the only Elector Countess being written this way. Especially not when everything negative about her is very 'this is bad because it's a thing for girls' coded, so to speak. The book has a lot of investment in talking about how empty-headed and vain Liebwitz is, and some of the unstoppable plot threads are specifically written around making sure she gets shamed and embarrassed during the course of the story.
Take her trying to split Nuln off from Wissenland and get it its own Electoral Vote. Wissenland is a provincial backwater and mining country for the most part, that takes a great deal of management and doesn't produce much money. There are many reasons someone might seek to rule Nuln rather than Nuln and Wissenland, and to create another new Electoral position that one can hand out to a political ally. Naturally, here it is solely so she can be comfortable and rich in Nuln and never have to actually run anything. Similarly, she's a childhood friend of Karl Franz who intrigued her way into getting her claim to the Elector Countess position recognized despite it being a weak claim. You'd think 'I took a weak claim to one of the most important political positions in the Empire and managed to become Elector' would speak of at least some political ability, but naw, she got it by fucking the right guy. It's just uncomfortable. There's a weird vehemence to how much some of the writers hate this one specific character that stands out to me.
Naturally, she is also highly irreligious and lacking in matters of faith, too. That's about the long and short of the section on important religious people in the city. Just 'The High Priests of Nuln don't like the dumb Countess' and also 'there are a lot of High Priests in Nuln'.
There are names thrown around for some of the other officials who rule Nuln in this section, but no actual details on their personalities, backgrounds, or plot-hooks given, so I'm not going to bother.
The Guilds similarly get no real writeup beyond 'Boy, that Countess sure is corrupt, and it sure is easy to bribe her to lower taxes for the wealthy'.
Nuln's universities remain important, and call to people from all over the world, but the author suddenly decides that despite Nuln generally being depicted as one of the more experimental places in the Empire, its universities are decaying (despite opulent funding) because they are too conservative, contradicting earlier stuff from the setting/history portion. Nuln is described as the intellectual center of the Empire earlier, and I believe later, as well. Then here, Nuln was once the intellectual center of the Empire, but its universities stick to outmoded classical education, and on we go.
Nuln also has a mafia, naturally imported from not-Italy, Tilea. No actual detail given on them besides 'there are a dozen important crime families'.
You might notice this section on 'important people of Nuln' is actually extremely short, and that the most substantial part of it is 'that Countess sure is awful and stupid'. Get ready for more of that; there's a mostly-superfluous but very 'important' part of the entire backdrop of this adventure that only exists for that point, and that will reach real far to ensure things go according to plan to remind the reader that Countess Liebwitz is, in fact, v. dumb.
It should be clear at this point I do not care for Forges of Nuln, as a book. I think it is, in fact, one of the worst books I'll be covering for this line. Once we get to the structure of the city it's mostly fine, but stuff like this section leaves an unpleasant taste. More importantly, the actual adventure is really, really bad, both as a climax to a three adventure campaign and on its own merits, so my distaste for the actual plotting and adventuring writing bleeds through into my assessment of the rest of the book. Still, there's a weird sort of inconsistency to the writing, too, like how Nuln is at once a city of learning known for its radical ideas and at the same time its institutions of learning are (aside from the Gunnery School) mostly depicted as decaying and failing due to their conservatism.
Next Time: The City of Nuln begins
An inconstant people
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
An inconstant people
Nuln is every bit as dirty and crowded as Altdorf. The difference is that where Altdorf's filth comes from the hand of private enterprise managing the sewer system poorly, Nuln's comes from industrial pollution. Their sewer system is actually the envy of the world and their water is clean and fairly reliable. The problems come from the constant fires of the forges in the industrial districts and the haze of black smoke that settles over the city, especially in the brutal winters of Wissenland when everyone is also burning charcoal for heat. Despite all the filth in the streets and the choking smog, Nuln is held up as one of the most developed and beautiful cities in the Old World, and like most Imperial cities it doesn't have a single consistent architectural style. Being as much of an international city as Altdorf, you can find almost any sort of building somewhere in Nuln; someone will have thought it was fashionable or cool to try to copy Brionnian white spires from the fairytale province of Bretonnia, or Kislevite onion domes, or Tilean classical columns.
Half the population of Nuln is non-Imperial, or made up of immigrants to the Empire. More than anywhere else in the country, in Nuln you will find Tileans, Bretonnians, Estalians, Kislevites, Elves, Dwarfs, Halflings, even Norse and Arabyans or the occasional merchant or diplomat from even further away. Nulners are also known for their love of commerce, almost to the same degree as Marienburgers; the cost of living in Nuln is very high if you aren't adept at bargaining for better prices. The book advises doubling all costs for PCs who don't have Haggle, which is kind of a dick move given these same books never give PCs any goddamn money. Nuln's military academies are considered some of the best in the Empire, to the extent that they attract young nobles from all over the world to come and study military theory, artillery, and engineering. The secular universities are, depending on the paragraph, either forward-thinking and the best in the Empire or decaying and losing their edge because the descriptions in this book are highly inconstant.
Seriously, we'll see Nulners described as tight-fisted skinflints who will bargain you under the table here, but a few paragraphs later it will be about how they always give fair prices and are known for their even-handedness. It's one of the reasons I don't like this city write-up very much! Make up your goddamn mind about the city!
I also get a few warnings going off when I get to the bit where the old nobles of the city are described as dour and severe, and looking down on the 'soft, decadent, and effete' younger nobles who support Countess Emmanuelle and enjoy art and culture. I am always suspicious of the word decadent, unless it's being used to describe a rich chocolate cake. It's also a little odd to see the last generation of nobles described such, given that we've earlier been told that Nuln's nobility are all hedonists and you know the drill. There's a lot of internal contradiction in this book. Division has also come to the workers of the city, because the increasing industrialization of the city's economy is leading to a larger pool of skilled common laborers and the city has such a need of educated engineers that they even sponsor aid programs to get orphaned children into training for the foundries. We heard about these 'Sons (and daughters) of the Guns' in WHFRP Companion; orphan children in Nuln are put to work in the cannon foundries and supported from a common city fund, which also goes to teach some of the more promising ones to read and write and enrolls them in training as engineers while the others simply get a trade as cannon-makers.
Part of the reason the people of Nuln love the Countess (despite her being terrible, the book assures us) is that she spends a huge amount of the city's tax money on improving the city. Yes, it's at the whims of whatever she's interested in at the moment, but huge public works of art, public parks, new schools, new programs to take care of the poor (as long as they are named after her), and all manner of other niceties are built throughout Nuln, and the arts will never lack for funding. As we've seen elsewhere, Imperials love theater and public music, and having easy access to opera and performance art makes life in Nuln much more attractive, even to the poorest citizens. Nulners in general prefer much more upbeat plays and operas. The nobles like comedies and satires, and the commoners love a mixture of holy morality plays and low-bro slapstick full of sex and ridiculous misunderstandings. The people of Nuln will happily attend a ribald play full of as much lewd material as the playwrights can get away with, then immediately after go and see a solemn story about how Sigmar hates it when you do that thing they just did.
There's an odd undercurrent of disdain for Nuln's love of the arts in the writing about it, though. It's hard to describe exactly why (perhaps it has to do with already being on alert after Soft, Decadent, and Effete showed up a couple paragraphs back) but there's a sort of underlying implication this is all a waste of time and money. All more nobles wasting time on art and the Countess's parties, art they are portrayed as also being unable to appreciate; there's a fair bit about how the nobility can't tell the differences between hackery and actual art, or how no-one really cares about the excellent turn of phrase 'a wandering poet has employed in his ode to the color blue'. Nuln's love of art isn't really depicted as bringing it anything of value, unlike the guns and industry. Which is a shame to me, because one of the things I liked in the Middenheim write-up (or Erengard, or Praag) was the way they went into what people do for fun in the city and why.
Many of Nuln's unique traditions center around celebrating the guns and the foundries. They have brought a huge amount of money and fame to the city, after all, and completing a real Imperial Great Cannon can be an event. Also actually important to the adventure, since it will be taking place during the Blackpowder Week festival. To advertise their mastery of gunpowder, the Gunnery School started to set off fire-works and make displays of their work. The people loved it, and in time, it became an important tradition and a part of the city's culture. Now, everyone looks forward to buying noise-makers and colorful fireworks and making a week of displays and festivals once a year.
The Feast of Verena is also a much-looked-forward to event, instituted by Countess Emanuelle. Once a year, she allows the common people of Nuln into the palace, inviting the workers and laborers of the city to a grand public festival and feast, where she spends extravagantly on giving them a taste of the best food and drink they get all year in thanks for their efforts to keep the city working. That hardly sounds like a bad thing, and it does keep her very popular with the city's workers.
Large siege weapons are all named, and the Countess generally has the honor of naming them after people who are in her favor at the moment. Nulners anthropomorphize their guns, developing superstitions about their personalities and developing legends of guns used in particularly important military campaigns. 'Every Nulner male' (book's words) enjoys arguing about the cannons and their legends the way people argue about sports and competitions in other cities. The people of Nuln know guns, both personal scale and siege, and almost everyone in the city has an opinion on which workshop makes the best musket design or who builds a Hellblaster Volley Gun that won't eventually explode and kill its crew. The regions around the foundries will go silent when a truly great cannon is cast, because there's a persistent superstition that too much noise will warp the metal while it cools. And everyone in the city lines up to see off the Nuln Siege Trains when they leave to deliver guns (and, at considerably higher velocity, ammunition) elsewhere. The city celebrates large orders of new firearms, because it means more money for the city.
Nuln's taxation is mostly normal, but they maintain their enormous bridge across the River Reik by charging a 'leg tax'. 1 penny per leg to go across the bridge. This is likely much to the consternation of rat-catchers who have live catches, because there are no exceptions.
Nuln has an excellent military, armed with the latest firearms and staffed by well-trained officers, but this doesn't make the city Watch any better. The Watch are volunteers rather than soldiers, and are generally outmatched by the private armies of the city's nobility, which leaves them struggling to enforce order. Nuln originally had a secret police a few years ago, run by a nutty zealot named Von Halstadt, who tried to keep in power by collecting blackmail on everyone in the city like a 17th century German J. Edgar Hoover. He was murdered by Skaven, or possibly by the people saving Nuln from Skaven, during what I believe are the events of the novel Skavenslayer. The Countess's secretary, Hieronymous Ostwald, took over the office but it is unclear if he actually has any secret police any more, or if he is simply busy burning all the blackmail material Von Halstadt accumulated. Mostly he seems to use the position to recruit people to kill Skaven. In secret, of course.
Next Time: The City Itself
City on a Hill
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
City on a Hill
Something to remember about Nuln's layout is that the city was originally designed by dwarfs who were helping to fortify and build it during the Actual Age of Actual Sigmar, and that the city has continued to rebuild new walls as it moves outwards and grows. Nuln is exceptionally well defended, despite lacking anything as impressive as the huge impact crater walls of Talabheim or the Falschlag plateau in Middenheim. It is situated at the last point where one can easily cross the River Reik, and one can only cross the river because of the enormous bridge the dwarfs of old helped the humans to build and engineer. A bridge that can even open up in order to let taller ships pass under it. All of Nuln is able to be locked down in case there's another invasion of orcs (or anything else) and the guns that are usually sent to defend the rest of the Empire can instead be trained on the attackers.
Nuln is not self-sufficient; no city is. It relies on the produce of Wissenland to feed the city, but it also needs a constant flow of raw materials to feed the forges, too. Much of this comes from the mines and mountains to the south, and with the underground river route going under the Vault mountains and all the way into Tilea and the great roads originally laid down by Sigmar himself, Nuln has many ways to get what it needs. More importantly, most of the other cities and large towns rely on Nuln for finished goods. Its hinterlands and outlying communities have decent farming on the banks of the Reik, not to mention fishing, and I'd imagine the water being a bit cleaner and safer than Altdorf is very helpful to both endeavors. Nuln is as important to large scale commerce as Marienburg, and for similar reasons most people in the Empire want to keep Nuln happy and doing business with them.
Nuln's south gate is where most large-scale commercial traffic happens, while the west gate leads into the poorer parts of town and sees a majority of foot traffic; it can take a few hours to get into the city because the gate is constantly busy. The east gate and its grand griffon statues is known as the Magnus Gate, because Magnus goddamn loved catbirds, we've been over this. Getting in and out of Nuln can take a PC a long time, especially with the need to levy that Leg Tax on everyone doing so. It can actually be faster to come into the city by boat; the piers don't actually charge the leg tax and so there's less need to watch over people coming in and out. The Emperor Wilhelm, a prestigious river liner, is going to feature prominently in the early parts of the actual adventure and be the site of an insufferable murder mystery.
The Altstadt up on Nuln Hill is the wealthy district of the city, clean, prosperous, and built around the city's grand palace at its highest point. The closer you are to the palace, the better you are; the nobles and wealthy merchants like the way the hill literally places some people above others. Aldig Quarter is situated in the ruins of the original elven outpost Nuln was built around, and holds the palace and the renamed Emannuelesplatz thoroughfare. This is where the absolute wealthiest and most powerful people in Nuln live, as denoted by their proximity to the actual palace and the Countess. While the Countess has happily gotten to beautifying the interior, there is no mistaking that the Palace of Nuln was originally designed as a final fallback point and placed on a commanding hill primarily as a fortress. Over the centuries, the formerly pragmatic keep has had more and more wings and buildings added until it is a sprawling and confusing palace complex, with new art galleries and ballrooms to hold the Countess's 'all too frequent' social events. There's a little plot hook here about how the maids are the only people who actually know their way around the many secret passages of the Palace, which they use for 'naughty trysts' but also theft. Sometimes a maid goes missing, and the Palace staff worry that someone sinister may know ways into the Palace as a result. They never bother to look for or try to rescue 'silly girls' who go missing, though. For reasons. So, uh, is the plot hook rescuing a maid or paying one to tell you how to rob the Palace? Who knows.
There's also a major memorial to the people who died fighting the Skaven a few years ago, though it's in a walled garden no commoners can actually get to. The Versammlung is another feature of the Aldig Quarter, the actual center of government for Nuln, known for its huge murals painted by famous artists in each age as the city and the city's government buildings have expanded. Some of the people who work there swear the paintings depicting the Skaven attacks in 1111 are haunted, with staff swearing the scenes of murderous ratmen move on their own.
The Kaufmann District is a little ways down the hill, marking people whose fortunes are either currently rising (as they move to new homes uphill) or falling (as they're kicked out of Aldig). It is also home to the finest restaurants and theaters in the city, frequented by the entire Altstadt and even the Countess herself. The City Mint and most of the important financial houses are also in Kaufman. Every year, either some PCs try to rob one of the financial houses or some PCs try to stop people from robbing one of the financial houses; either works as a plot hook. This region also has the home of Otto Jaeger, relative to the famous author Felix Jaeger, of Gotrek and Felix. He's become a famous citizen of the city by donating huge amounts of material and money to fix the damage done during the
Beastmen, But Like, Rat Beastmen attack a few years ago. In appreciation for his efforts, the Countess helped him to move his family up here, to the wealthy district, and her favor could put him on the city's governing council. The problem is, the rats hate him. Your PCs might get involved in protecting Otto from angry ninjas.
While Nuln has a reputation as somewhat irreligious, it is still the birth-city of Sigmarism. Thus, there is a grand Cathedral of Sigmar where Johan Helstrum supposedly first preached to the people about the Lord's ascension. There's also a very old temple to Ulric, which mostly serves as a chapter house of the White Wolves, and a recently constructed and very grand temple of Myrmidia, due to the dedicated efforts of Myrmidian missionaries and the city's large Tilean and Estalian population. The true patron of the city, though, and the most honored temple is the Temple of Verena. Nuln has considered the Goddess of Wisdom and Justice the city's real defender ever since the Time of Three Emperors and the original collapse of the Empire of Sigmar (as pushed along, partly, by the aggressive religious persecution promoted by the Sigmarite church). The Temple of Verena is an impressive structure that also serves as an additional courthouse, and their judgements are considered to have the same weight as secular courts in Nuln. The Countess reserves the right to pardon any she sees fit, but otherwise leaves them to their business in respect of Verena. The adventure hook here is weird; it has a person acquitted of charges by the Temple of Verena and this causing a great scandal (since the charges were Chaos Worship) with the implication this is a sign that cults have infiltrated the Temple. Given it's Verena, though, wouldn't it be perfectly possible they just...kind of found the guy not guilty after looking at the evidence? That's perfectly normal for Verenans. Pierre will be very excited to see the grand temple.
Next Time: Nuestadt
The New City
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
The New City
Neuestadt is the most populous part of Nuln, with 2/3 of the population of the city crammed into 1/3 of its area. There is no generalizing about Neuestadt; you'll find everything from the squalor of shantytowns and tenements to busy government buildings and places of learning and business. Like most early modern cities, it is an extremely crowded place where privacy is rare. Actual privacy and personal space are something for the rich up in Altestadt. Still, even in the crowded Neuestadt you'll find some very nice neighborhoods, like the Handelbezirk, where the city's merchants do most of their business that doesn't involve the Altestadt. Coffee is becoming a fashionable import here, an exotic (if extremely bitter) drink imported from Araby and drunk in the Handelbezirk's cafes to show off that a merchant can afford it. The neighborhood also houses the city's hall of records, and if your adventurers have a literate PC in among them this is a great place to do investigative work. Someone who is able to get into the archives and who has the patience to deal with the filing systems can find all sorts of information, from extensive maps of the city's sewers to receipts for the city's gun sales (thus telling you who is building their army, where, and when).
Actually a bit of an interesting thing when you look at it. Everything about the city's arsenal and arms manufacture is state-owned. There's a lot of private business in Nuln, but the gun sales go directly to the city's coffers and the majority of arms manufacture is state directed. I've always suspected the reason guns are so expensive for Adventurers is partly that the majority of firearms production in the Empire seems to be done on contract and directly for the army.
Handelbezrik also contains the Reikplatz, a large public square with a massive elm tree that has become a local message board for hiring and the posting of notices. Lots of little adventure hooks should be posted, looking for lost property, pets, or children, as well as other sorts of job notices and legal postings. Since most people in Nuln are illiterate, employers often come by to contact those looking for work directly, picking from among the day-workers and laborers who wait beneath the elm, staring at notes they can't read. I'd have just employed a public reader, myself; goodness knows there are enough broke students in the city who might do the job. The Town Hall also sits near the center of the city, a boring place full of bureaucrats who delight in helping people select the correct forms for everything (because then they have to fill out the forms! They love watching people do paperwork!). Most people think there is only one clerk at the Town Hall. In reality, there are several, they all just have the exact same look and character so no-one ever notices the differences.
The Universtat district is the pride of Nuln, containing not only the Grand University itself, but also the College of Engineering, the famed Imperial Gunnery School, a fledgling academy of magic, a halfling culinary school, the college of Barristers and legalists, and all sorts of other institutions of higher learning. Often stereotyped as a place of serious scholarship, it contains many, many bars that speak to the proclivities of excitable young students as soon as classes are done for the day; this can be a very wild place.
The College of Engineering is weird, given Nuln's Engineering schools are written of as being the best in the Empire in other books. Here, it's a small and new school that was lavishly funded by the Countess to lure staff away from Altdorf's supposedly superior civil engineering colleges, but it had the misfortune of being burned down by rat nazis (Or Bretonnians? I'm not sure why the book blames Bretonnians for this). The Countess 'half-heartedly funded a reconstruction before getting distracted by another party'. Still, the school has been rebuilt enough to still maintain classes and students, and is hard at work improving the engines in Imperial Steam Tanks in hopes that such a high profile success will return the Countess's eye and get them more funding.
The Imperial Gunnery School is 'Far more successful than the ill-conceived College of Engineering', which might have more to do with being an essential part of the city's economy and also being a much older school that has not, to date, exploded. Seriously, some of the writing doesn't seem to take into account that anything Countess Emmanuelle has built or funded can't be more than a few years old, as she became Elector Countess in 2503 and it's 2522. The Gunnery School was covered in detail in the WHFRP Companion, but it is both where the city casts the best of its cannons and trains the men and women who will fire them. The Gunnery School is completely essential to both the economy and prestige of Nuln, as well as strategically vital to the entire Empire. Remember: The best solution to a Bloodthirster is a Great Cannon, and this is where those Great Cannons come from. The city loves the Gunnery School, as you might notice from the various public holidays connected to it, and it is the pride of Nuln.
The University of Nuln is the oldest University in the Empire, one of the first great schools ever to be founded in Imperial history. While it is 'being outdone by the progressive learning techniques of Altdorf', it is still one of the most respected institutions in the Empire and part of Nuln's cosmopolitan character comes from the fact that nobles and wealthy individuals from other lands send their children to study here. It is not at all uncommon to find Arabyan, Kislevite, Bretonnian, Tilean, and Estalian students here. The school is still primarily focused on a broad classical education in mathematics, statesmanship, history, philosophy, and theology, which partly explains the popularity with nobles of other lands; a student of the University of Nuln learns almost everything that would be of use to a governor or noble.
There's also a weird bit on the College of Barristers that talks of Rosalia Schultz, the 'first female Barrister' of Nuln. She is considered a walking scandal, for being a woman doing man's work, and has become a professor and successful legal scholar despite this. Most assume she is a Slaaneshi or something, because how else could she ever have succeeded? This is weird primarily because the Empire's degree of sexism has always varied a lot from writer to writer; it isn't a firmly established thing like it is with Kislev (where women are fully culturally and legally equal and their full equal participation in society is seen as normal) or Bretonnia (where women being second class citizens is deeply embedded in law and function). Schwalb seems to prefer it turned way, way up. Which, combined with the depiction of the Countess, and some other elements of this adventure to come, and him being the one who approved of putting the first stuff that made me sound the Turbo Racism alarm in Tome of Corruption (the material on the Hung), I'm going to leave you to draw your own conclusions.
This is a good chance to digress a moment to talk about that kind of stuff, because I think this is something the fluff in the 4th edition of the game improved on significantly. The Empire's sexism grey zone isn't well handled in 2e, because it's so highly variable. It's the kind of thing that ends up giving cover to shitlords, because then they're free to go into weird sexist shit while going 'well I'm just playing the setting as written!' Now, I think there's a place for the Empire to be the middle-point between Bretonnia's gender politics (which are genuinely well handled) and Kislev's (which are interesting for being genuinely equal). The Empire has a lot of room to be the place where a woman in the Regiments is unusual, but not unheard of or forbidden, to make both Bretonnia and Kislev stand out, and to allow for plot hooks about being the first female Grandmaster of a Knightly Order or whatever. But that's the key; it's got to be put at a level where it's a plot hook
. As in, if you don't want to deal with that shit, you won't have to. Where it's normal enough
for a woman to be an engineer, or a soldier, or a knight, or an adventurer that your group can decide it passes without comment and you get on with it unless you actively want to bring that into your game as something to struggle against (and overcome).
This is why I keep coming back to the fact that Countess von Liebwitz is the only female Elector right now, and why that's a problem with her being depicted as a ditzy airhead who is so incompetent because she loves parties and dresses. 4e did a good thing by adding in more important female Imperials so that you had room for Imperial noblewomen to be a variety of characters without having to worry about 'oh, wow, the only woman at this level of political power is depicted as being an idiot because she's too womanly'. 2e's general handling of the Imperial sexism grey zone leaves room for it to come up in really uncomfortable and badly done ways like it does in basically all of Forges of Nuln. Throughout this adventure, there are 3 (4 if you count the Countess) women of any importance. One of them is an evil schemer who has no real reasons given beyond just being a seductive evil wizard lady. One of them is Gabrielle Marsner the Death Wizard, who wasn't written for this book, and who can get fridged if you don't do things right. Another is a positively portrayed politician who cares deeply for Nuln and who will get fridged off screen if Gabrielle doesn't, or who can be given over to a dubious ally for purposes of implied sexual menace and obsession to provide a false winning track. This shit is a problem
in this adventure. This book implies, by its general character and writing, that someone like Katiya should be viewed suspiciously through the Empire, despite the fact that most of the rest of the line doesn't. And that kind of thing is opened up by never firmly establishing and carefully handling the issue of gender relations in the Empire. This is something that needed improvement, and that I'm happy to say was improved in the latest edition of the fluff.
And so that's how you get stuff like 'the first female barrister is obviously a Slaaneshi and everyone thinks she's "'licentious' in her spare time" and it's the kind of stuff that needed improvement, to guard against books like this one showing up. I love this game line, but don't think I'm not going to point out the places where it needed to be better.
Next Time: Shantytown and the Docks
The Rest of Nuln
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
The Rest of Nuln
Reading Nuln's description over and over, something I'm struck by is how badly the adventure seeds are done in this book. They have them; after each significant area there's an 'adventure seed', but they lack the character of stuff like the seeds in the Kislevite cities or Middenheim. For instance, in the poorest district of the Shantytown, there's just 'Well there might be a hidden swarm of evil mutants living underneath here! And your PCs might get recruited to fight the evil mutants!' Meanwhile, over in Middenheim, there's stuff like 'This famed restaurant might hire your PCs to go into the woods to get ingredients despite the danger of beastmen' complete with an NPC quest giver and a little backstory. Or in Kislev you'd get a short snippet of a character's dilemma and then the implication of how the PCs could take them down or help them out. The city-writing is just sort of there; there's none of the energy of Erengard or the gloom of Praag. It's still more detailed than whatever the heck Spires was trying to do, and Nuln has at least a little more character than the relatively lifeless writing for Altdorf, but it feels lacking. Which is part of why I seem less enthusiastic in writing it up.
Some of this is down to the lack of actual characters in most of the descriptions, and when they do show up, they tend to be written as evil or incompetent. It's missing stuff like the officials that understood that they had a line for exactly how corrupt they could be to get away with it, or the occasional decent people PCs might befriend, or even any memorable bastards the PCs might end up in conflict with. It's also missing something that was really present in Middenheim, Kislev, Praag, and Erengard: Culture and, well, fun
. There's descriptions of how Nulners like theater and art, sure, but where are the many and flavorful cabarets and nightclubs of Middenheim? Or the grand opera halls of Praag? The other books gave you a sense of what people in the city actually did for fun and how the city's culture flowed. This is a problem because one of the elements that makes Warhams stand out as a fantasy setting is its lived-in feel. The feeling that that Imperial State Trooper has a home to go to and someplace they came from is one of the defining characteristics of Hams. Taking fantasy cliches and then adding a couple twists that make them feel like a cohesive part of a messy world is why Hams is fun.
Thus, I'll be skipping a lot more than usual so we can get to the awful adventure. I'll be pointing out some important features as we go, but past a certain point, do you really want to hear about yet another filthy, rough dive bar?
Shantytown is a nasty part of town, where people who can't find property anywhere else end up. The people here are constantly threatened by things from beneath the city, particularly Skaven, and have often found themselves on the forefront of an undeclared war with rat nazis. Most Nulners would rather avoid this part of town and pretend it's not there. One of the reasons this place is so awful to live is that it's outside the reach of the dwarven sewers, and so the sewer lines are human-built and much less reliable, making the water much less safe. People regularly fall prey to epidemics of cholera or sicken from industrial runoff. I should also note this book assumes Nuln still has a tiny population of 85,000. While describing it as a huge, crowded city. Always remember the Empire is meant to be one of the most populous states in the world, too. There should be at least 400-500 thousand people in Nuln. Possibly more, given that there's fantasy elements that make the city a hell of a lot more livable than an actual Early Modern metropolis.
Shantytown is also home to The Maze, which is a terrible dark set of alleys and trash infested by seething, insane mutants. What's weird to me is, Schwalb wrote Tome of Corruption. The book that most firmly established the idea that mutation is a lure by the Dark Gods rather than necessarily an immediate mark of the mutant being a Chaos Cultist. Yet this book is going to assume every mutant joins the Ruinous Powers and plots in secret to destroy the normals and hand the world to Chaos. The Night Market of Nuln, a legendary hideout of mutants that supposedly lives under the city (which could be a cool plot hook!) is instead converted into a simple Slaaneshi cult of evil, twisted 'corrupt' mutants who all plan to rise up and kill as many people as possible later in the adventure. Which is a weird goal for Slaaneshi
. You're writing an adventure with a Khornate main villain, guy! Either make that a Khorne plan from the get-go or like, put in a Slaanesh cult that wants to stop the Khorne cult because Slaaneshi kind of like the city existing how it is and have them be a possible dubious ally for the PCs or something. Making Slaaneshi just want to rise up and hack down as many people as they can until they die is a weird choice.
The most notable things about the middle-class neighborhood of Westen are that it's a nice place to live with several public parks and crowded but mostly well-kept tenements, but that it also holds the city's granaries and public food stocks. During lean years or economic downturns, the city uses these to parcel out public food aid to the poor to prevent starvation and crime. Once again, Nuln has an unusual number of public services by Imperial standards.
Faulestadt is another neighborhood and large region across the river from Altestadt, because the Countess decreed all major polluting industry besides the Gunnery School and other particularly important factories with particularly skilled craftsmen should be moved as far from her palace as possible and focused in one area. Dyers, slaughterhouses, tanners, and heavy industry all combine to make the area a foul-smelling and polluted place, where the Watch doesn't bother to go unless they have to. All that business and little police presence has also made it popular with the city's criminals. This area also contains the great Industrielplatz, which produces the alloys and refined ores that go to feed the Imperial Gunnery School's foundries. It also does much of the 'lesser' manufacturing, making less advanced cannons and personal firearms, munitions armor (mass-produced, cheaper metal armor components for State Troops), tools, and all sorts of less celebrated but very important industrial wares.
Aver Island is a small island where the Reik and Aver rivers meet and branch, and it contains the city's gloomy Iron Tower. The Iron Tower is a place of torture and imprisonment, established by the Witch Hunters about 50 years ago to question high profile captives and provide a grim reminder that they're always there. Emanuelle has been 'lax' in hunting down mutants and traitors, and so under her rule the tower is more of an implied threat and very few people are brought here to be questioned and brutalized. Again, that, uh, doesn't sound that bad, book.
Der Habinsel is the eastmost community in Nuln, and is mostly given to being a large-scale mustering and training ground for the city's standing army and State Troops. There isn't much else to note about it.
Finally, the Under-Nuln is the city's massive sewer network. It's actually a surprisingly beautiful place, because it was originally set down by dwarfs who were pining for their lost holds. Even though they were digging tunnels to carry wastewater, they still adorned them with statues of the Ancestors, tributes to lost friends and family, markings of grudges incurred and settled, and all sorts of other decorations. The central flow-point for the sewers is so large and decorated that the local sewer-jacks even call it The Cathedral. Naturally, beneath all of this is a small Skaven outpost. Much smaller than before, the Skaven aren't seriously interested in Nuln at the moment, not since Grey Seer Thanquol's attempt to take the city ended in utter disaster and presumably, a lot of rats on fire. Thus, the outpost down here is much smaller than people suspect, and a single adventuring party might be able to destroy it and finish driving the rat-nazis out of Nuln for now.
And that's Nuln. Now, for the actual adventure, I'm not going to be doing my normal gimmick for the main runthrough. This is because there is nothing for the PCs to actually do
for the vast majority of the adventure. Most of the Forges of Nuln adventure is spent ensuring a strict timetable of events plays out, with every lead turning out to be false and every investigation mostly pointless until the PCs eventually get to 'solve' some of the mysteries in a cutscene. Most of the stuff the PCs can try to do is pointless and will never actually change anything or affect the adventure. The GM is encouraged to regularly hand out false leads, have successfully followed villains turn out to be body doubles, etc. Which makes the few consequential moments feel oddly out of nowhere. At no point can you actually really disrupt the time-table, despite this being billed as an open adventure where PCs will have a lot of freedom to handle it as they choose. So what I'll be doing instead is showing you the full adventure as written, then we'll be doing a 'how to fix this fucking mess' with Brute Squad wrapup afterwards. Because trust me, I'm going to need the pallet cleanser when this fucking nonsense is done with.
Ashes was a decent-enough adventure with a really badly balanced finale, a villain who was okay (he had the usual Chaos problem of 'why are your Chaos' and 'what do you actually want' but he had a decent plan and a personality and PCs interacted with him) and a lot of railroading. But at least it railroaded you as the main characters. Spires had a very weak main plot, then an okay subplot and an actually pretty fun one, and while the Dating Sim Portion was a bad idea I can at least appreciate what it tried to do. This? There are no real redeeming values for Forges of Nuln. None.
And we'll get to play misogyny bingo!
Next Time: Forges Begins
This is a complex adventure with many paths!
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
This is a complex adventure with many paths!
The above is a total lie, by the way. This adventure is absolutely as linear as Ashes of Middenheim, no matter what it insists. The reason I hate it so goddamn much is because, well, Ashes achieved that linearity mostly by having a firm main plot. This adventure does so by having everything players do be futile until they're allowed to actually act. Even then, entire subplots are completely unresolvable for extremely stupid reasons. It wants to be a timed adventure with a simple hook: You arrive in Nuln right as Gunpowder Week starts and a new cannon is going to be shown off at the festivities. You then notice a string of noble disappearances that may have something to do with the third artifact, the Chalice of Wrath. The PCs then hunt the serial killer, who is trying to awaken the third shard of our good buddy, actual main antagonist who ideally never makes any sort of appearance, Xathrodox the Red Flayer. Meanwhile, they also potentially discover the cannon has been sabotaged to explode by its jealous designer and also stop an unrelated Chaos terrorist attack.
The basic idea of a race-against-time adventure as you start to realize you only have a week to stop the killer, discover the plot with the gun, and stop multiple Chaos terrorist attacks while finding and destroying the Relic could work great. The issue is this: You cannot win early
. There's no provision for, say, actually catching the killer early. Even if you never catch the killer
or figure out who it is, it's mostly irrelevant because he'll tip his hand on Day 7 and you couldn't have saved any of his victims at any point anyway. The book actively encourages the GM to throw out red-herrings or extra, random combat encounters that have nothing to do with the plot to wound PCs and 'slow them down' if they're making progress ahead of the timetable. Your investigations are literally meaningless to the adventure, and days 1-5 only have a handful of actually relevant moments, most of which have very little warning. Also, even if you discover the new cannon is sabotaged, there is no way to prevent it exploding
and killing hundreds of people. Even if you present convincing proof that it was sabotaged, the engineers will only check the Magnus cannon itself, not the highly experimental and volatile exploding ammunition
, which is obviously the point that was actually sabotaged. That entire subplot is unwinnable and takes up considerable time and effort, and exists because the Countess will lose a huge amount of face when the cannon explodes. That entire plot is there only to add a gratuitous amount of bodycount to the ending and to make sure to remind you the Countess is dumb and bad. The only points where anything you do matters come down to having a long series of extremely easy and tedious random encounters in the sewers to stop one terrorist attack, happening to make the decision to protect one NPC on one specific night (or else you lose the entire adventure path), and maybe
catching the killer when you have the chance on Day 6, though that won't stop any of the events of Day 7.
Yeah, I'm getting ahead of myself, but fuck it. I hate
this adventure and I've been reading and re-reading it for a week to prepare.
Anyway, so the setup is this. First, we finally get a backstory for Xathy, who still doesn't really have much of a character! He was a Khornate general who fought his way all the way to the grand stair up to Khorne's chair. His men got bored with that because hey, they'd rather go besiege the Marcher Fortress and fight Slaaneshi. Being Khornates, they all argued about it and killed each other, and as he was dying, Khorne made him a Demon Prince. Then he pissed off Khorne by strutting too much and Khorne broke him in 3 and stuffed him in some random junk. That's it. That's our guy. That's the dude who is supposed to carry this entire adventure path as main villain, who I will remind you the players never speak to, meet, or interact with unless they're on a Bad End track here in book 3.
Our actual main adventure villain comes from Rolf Vogt, an Imperial officer and pistolier from Nuln who fought in the Storm. On his way to fight at Middenheim, he and his unit came across a Sigmarite monastery slaughtered by Beastmen. Being a bit of a hero, he had at them and kicked their asses. He didn't know it, but the monastery was the resting place of 'The Chalice of Wrath', which had been accidentally taken as spoils by a young Warrior Priest from the battles in Kislev in 2302 during the Great War. Rolf was drawn to the chalice, touched it, got pricked by it, and went Khorny. Yep, no actual reason for him to be a bad guy, just touched the wrong cup and now he's an evil serial killer who beat his whole unit to death. With the cup. Welcome to Chaos, we don't need motives or anything. It just happens to you. He went on to Middenheim, where fighting in the Storm sealed his transformation into a servant of Khorne. He still thinks Khorne is Sigmar or something, but that will literally never be relevant to the adventure since he'll be scrawling Khornate symbols in blood on every surface and glorying in slaughter so you know.
The Chalice gets a bunch of powers (SB+2 weapon, +20 to WS when wielding, +10 S and T, makes you Frenzy, heals you when you get kills with it) but the main moment you can actually fight Rolf he doesn't have it. It only comes up if you lose him that time. So they're mostly irrelevant to the adventure. Rolf himself is a middlingly powerful second tier fighter. He will be treated like he was Chaos Michael goddamn Meyers and an unstoppable slasher villain this entire story, when Otto or Katiya could take him solo if he lacks his magic cup. Also note he will be treated as a stealthy master of intrigue as well as combat, and a secret assassin. Note he has no stealth or intrigue skills at all. He's WS 50, BS 57, SB 4, TB 4, with 18 Wounds and 2 attacks, a Pistolier himself, and a reasonably dangerous fighter/noble and that's about it.
Rolf's intriguing is partly supported by the sharp tongued tiny waif of a woman he recruited as a spy, who is described as very nasty and wicked 'despite her attractive features'. She will, one way or another, die in a corner 'quivering in fear and madness' before this story is over. He also has an evil butcher who is helping him. You see, he's trying to build a horrible flesh-golem to be the body of the essence of Xath, and he wants the best pieces from a bunch of other nobles to make the face and finish the thingy. This will be your final boss later. It's disappointingly easy for a team like Brute Squad.
His dad is a huge asshole. Randolf Vogt used to be marshal of the city, and came up with a huge, explosive super-cannon to build for the war. However, the war kind of ended faster than anyone expected and before the Magnus Cannon could be finished. It was going to be a super-bombard that would fire explosive shot! It was going to be awesome. Randolf spent a lot of the city's money building it, and it took a lot of time. The Countess is depicted as getting 'bored' with it and removing him to replace him with a sycophant, but Wolfhart von Liebwitz (distant relative of hers) actually did get the gun finished after being appointed Marshal. Randolf is determined to show that ONLY HE could design the cannon safely, and so has sabotaged the ammunition in hopes it will explode, kill a ton of people, and show that terrible woman she was wrong to wrong him!
Note: The gun would work absolutely fine if he hadn't done this. The adventure treats Randolf being removed from the project as a huge dick move, but he was over budget and so late the war ended! And the only reason the gun has 'flaws' is because this prick is actively trying to sabotage it! Hundreds of people will die at the cannon test firing because of this, and remember, your PCs cannot stop this
. He is also Rolf's father, and unrelated to the Khorne plot besides trying to protect his son's reputation and thus making looking into the family harder. You're meant to investigate, you have multiple ways to discover the cannon is flawed, and the ending is supposed to be about how the dumb dumb Countess ordered it fired and ignored the warnings, but really. They fucking refuse to check the explosive shot
no matter what warning you give? And the Engineers give the gun a clean bill of health! This is crazy! You can literally find his schematics of the gun and shot and exactly where they say he's tampered and they'll be ignored because 'you could only have gotten them illegally' by breaking into his house. What the hell?
Next up is Jonas Lang, who is actually host to a little mutant cyst that is our old friend THE MEDIUM PRIEST. Yep, Liebnitz was rezzed by the dark powers and stuck on his shitty dissolute student as a tumor that yells at him and tries to direct him to attack the PCs. Considering Lang is a completely pathetic 1st tier character, this is not going to go well. He doesn't actually do much in the adventure besides accidentally provide one of the hardest fights in the book because Lord knows these people can always find a swarm of beastmen who'll do whatever the Chaos character says.
There's also Erasmus Teuber, a fat artist and son of the head of the Engineering College. He is a Slaaneshi entirely because he likes art, and it made him mutate and get super fat. He is the secret leader of the Night Market terrorist plot. Again, doesn't really have much role in the adventure besides that, and that's the plot the players can avert by fighting 10 (yes, 10) easy random encounters in a row in the sewers. They're all identical. It's awful. But you know, at least you can actually do something about that unlike the gun.
There's also Katarine, an evil seductive Tzeentch sorceress who exists to backstab the PCs at some point. She wants the Khorne relic despite being a Sorcerer for...reasons. She mostly only exists to invite the PCs to Nuln and then to attack them later. She has no actual role in the plot beyond that, though she can also be a part of a shitty murder mystery that again, the PCs aren't actually allowed to solve.
Gabrielle shows up from Spires, going to Nuln to investigate the Shard of Xath with you. If this happens, and you do not
put guards in her room on Day 4, you lose the campaign because Rolf murders her. Yep! Literal Sierra Adventure Game dead game walking. No warning. You'll know about the murders but not necessarily that she's being targeted on that specific night. She doesn't do anything in the plot besides win it for you if she's alive at the end. Hilariously, if you never met her
in book 2, she'll show up out of nowhere right at the end to win book 3 for you, never having been in danger.
The final main NPC is the only new female NPC who isn't described as stupid, sexually promiscuous, useless, evil, or corrupt. Elsbeth Becker is a Nulner patriot and noblewoman who tries her best to help the PCs navigate Nuln society, helping roundhouse them around in their useless Days 1-5 investigations. If Gabrielle is protected on Day 4, Elsbeth will be murdered along with her entire household to show the stakes are high as Rolf kills her entire mansion by himself undetected. If Gabrielle is not protected, the book will present an alternate path to win via a necromancer in the sewers who has a magic rod that can separate magic essences from items. He actually thinks this will win the game in sincerity; it will not, Xath will later attack the PCs in a future adventure or something. His price for it and the ritual to use it is for the PCs to lure Elsbeth into his clutches
because he has long leered at the noblewoman and wishes to possess her as 'his'. So yeah, an alternate path to 'win' (which doesn't win, but is presented as such) is to lure a helpful female NPC into the sexual menaces of a sewer necromancer. Yes, this turns out badly, but why the fuck is this in the adventure!? The author chose to put 'lure the beautiful, helpful noblewoman, because of fucking course she's described by her 'still beautiful' appearance, into the sexual menace clutches of a leering necromancer' as a path PCs can take and to devote wordcount to it. What the fuck, Forges of Nuln.
We're not even done with misogyny bingo yet! The rest of that will have to wait until we finish the two accidentally hardest fights in the book and the path to Nuln!
Next Time: Action Economy, you idiot
The hardest fight in the campaign besides those knights
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
The hardest fight in the campaign besides those knights
So, we start out with the PC party trying to find the third shard of Xathy, because you might as well finish the bastard off. The idea is meant to be they realize they have to finish the job or else if he gets free he'll come right after them, but you'd still think someone might be willing to pay for 'kill a demon. Not scatter him back to hell or anything, actually kill for good a Daemon Prince of Khorne'. Such is life in the Warhams premade adventures that no-one will. These books always talk about making 'valuable contacts' but how valuable are they when you never actually get anything concrete out of them? They're meant to get a little time to do whatever they wish off the path in Altdorf to take a break from this plot until they get a lead.
As the PCs hang out in Altdorf, they get Perception checks to realize a weird, fat, feverish looking man has been following them. Pursuing him is, of course, fruitless by fiat. Not like players who just finished Spires won't be looking out for cult assassins, especially if you let Carlott burn her Fate Point to escape. This is Lang/Liebnitz, and he is plotting ill for the PCs. He's going to be treated as a serious foe with real power. He is an unleveled 1st tier character with average stats. Somehow he slays Beastman champions off screen and shit, I kid you not. He should 'keep showing up' but not enough to make the PCs hell-bent on catching him. Especially as they aren't to be allowed to do so yet. Lang is honestly mostly irrelevant to the adventure besides causing one really annoying encounter later, and the advice with him is to use him to slow down and sidetrack PCs, or have him fiat kill a friend or contact if they're moving too fast. That's terrible GMing advice, but that's going to be all of Forges; I'm writing this adventure up partly as a concrete example of how not
to write or run Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.
Meanwhile, the highest social class PC will get invited to a fancy banquet with Katarine Braun, our evil Tzeentch wizard lady. She does this to try to befriend the character so she can learn more about the party and beat them to the magic cup. Under no circumstances in the adventure is there ever really a risk she beats them to the magic cup, and again, she doesn't really have much role in the story beyond maybe popping up after the villain is destroyed in the end to be a second, short wizard boss fight (you saw how unsupported wizard fights go in Spires). So she's about as pointless as Lang. At least Chart's side villains had a point and actual subplots. She exists mostly to invite the PCs to Nuln, offering 20 gold crowns per PC to serve as her escorts aboard a fancy passenger liner. Asking around about her will reveal she's just a noblewoman, though there are rumors she studied with a powerful wizard in Praag that might get PCs suspicious. If the PCs refuse, Gabrielle the Death Wizard will invite them onto the boat anyway, going to Nuln to look into the last artifact herself. Either way, once this event starts a one week countdown to the boat leaving and kicks off the plot.
Finding the shard is a simple matter of either rolling Knowledge (Magic) three times (6 game hours per attempt) or if no-one in the party has the skill, a helpful NPC scholar will just find the clue for them, thus punishing the players for actually having a scholar and thus needing to roll and spend time on it. You'll see that happen a lot in how these pre-mades deploy research and knowledge skills. You get a description of the cup being found and where it was taken for storage, and the PCs either need a successful History test or again, an NPC just automatically tells them if no-one has the skill, again effectively punishing them for having the relevant skill. St. Abelhardt's monastery is only 30 miles away, so the PCs can take a two day trip out to check it out and look for the cup.
Unfortunately for them, the monastery is infested with a squad of Turbo Beastmen, led by a mighty Goatman Prime. There's a bunch of stuff on avoiding them hearing you and all, but you need to search the main building that they're searching to find the clues you actually need for the plot, so whatever you do you're fighting them. Like there's a ton of '15% chance per minute cumulative the Beastmen hear the PCs and rush out to attack!!' stuff but you're going to end up fighting them to actually progress anyway. They are also no shit the hardest fight in the campaign that isn't the insane knight stuff from book 1. Their champion is WS 65%, SB 6, TB 6, is wearing full mail armor, has a Great Weapon, has Strike Mighty Blow, and has 3 attacks and 23 wounds. Each individual Gor, and there are 4 of them, has WS 51%, SB 4, TB 4, Strike Mighty, 2 attacks, a sword and shield (and you've seen how dangerous shielded foes can be), and mail on their arms and body with 14 wounds. Remember that an average WHFRP party only has 1-2 'primary' fighter PCs. Each individual Gor is about on par with a mid 2nd tier PC fighter, stat wise. The actual pre-made party of a Veteran, a Sergeant, a Scout, and a Journeyman Wizard is no slouch, but they absolutely cannot handle this fight. Even Brute Squad, which is made of guns, murder, and heavy armor, struggles a bit with this kind of encounter.
Let's go over why this encounter is so dangerous, because it's treated as fairly easy in the text. What makes an enemy dangerous? Accuracy, number of attacks, damage, and staying power. All these Beasts have Dodge Blow, the mooks all have a 61% base parry, the boss has a DR of 9, 45% Dodge, 23 Wounds, and hits like a truck. All of them are fairly accurate, being on par with a 2nd tier PC or in the boss's case, a 3rd tier PC. They also come in equal numbers to a PC party, and every single one of them is combat specced, while I guarantee you the average PC party won't be. If your PCs aren't well equipped (and with no pay on any of these missions, they might not be), their DR won't be able to handle taking a Damage 7 Impact hit from the boss. Hell, even if they are, that's the kind of thing you really want to avoid; even Otto would be taking 0-7 Wounds per swing and remember: This is Impact. So the enemy has more fighters than you, who are each individually on par with an average 2nd tier fighter, while also having a guy who is way more powerful individually than any of your PCs. This is literally how you make an extremely difficult encounter in Warhammer Fantasy; accurate enemies who come in numbers, have good active defenses, and decent armor. The 'sanity blasting' super-bosses in the last part of the adventure are actually easier to deal with since you Outnumber them and out-action economy them. This fight is basically unavoidable and is extremely murderous, because the writer was not thinking about action economy and decided that the Gors needed super-upgrades.
Searching around, PCs can find a journal that makes it much easier to find where the cup was, or they can just find the cup's hiding place. They also find Rolf's sword, discarded where he set it aside to pick up the cup, and bodies with Nuln heraldry on them. The sword has a maker's mark that is the important clue that they need to go to Nuln and find its owner, because somebody got the cup before they did.
Next, the PCs board the Emperor Wilhelm, the luxury passenger liner to Nuln. You can avoid boarding it but c'mon, someone offered you better-than-free passage on a nice ship with free drinks. Who the hell turns that down out of obstinance? Even if you didn't go with Katarine, you probably went with Gabrielle. This leads to the other most dangerous encounter in the game, and again, it's one treated as trivial. When on board, you're expected to hand over all weapons besides a dagger, rapier, or sword (anyone who picked a different Hand Weapon for flavor gets fucked, I guess) and all armor
. There's going to be a fight where all PCs are down to bare TB later. As you might imagine, say, Otto going from DR 10 to DR 5 is really dangerous for Otto! No magic use is permitted aboard the ship, though I imagine they make an exception during the mandatory fight later. PCs do get to enjoy some luxury and plenty of food and drink aboard the ship, and there's a host of mostly inconsequential NPCs, as well as the badass captain and his creepy boatswain who 'leers at the ladies and disdains the men' because he's been driven to cruelty and sinister wickedness by his experiences as a veteran of Middenheim. There's also a halfling chef who served her husband in a pie to the woman he was sleeping with on the side and her whole family, for some reason. It's really important you know that backstory despite there being no reason it will come up. Also a snooty elf, a scholar from the Averland Leitdorf family, and an outlaw/agitator of the Averland Alptraums. There will be issues between them; the Leitdorfs and Alptraums are fighting over who will be Elector of Averland. There's also a forgettable lady entertainer who is fleeing after a noble got bored of keeping her as his mistress.
It's definitely a case that this book treats anyone who came back from the Storm suspiciously, as if contact with violence in a terrible war inherently made them more dangerous and suspect. I'm noticing that now and thank you to Precambrian for pointing it out.
Anyway, Liebnitz/Lang somehow kill a Beastman Champion and seize his herd, and send them at the boat to give him a distraction that will let him climb aboard. The PCs will need to beat a 75% Stealth test by the Beastman 'Gor Sneaks' to not be surprised at dinner on the second day. Remember: The PCs are currently unarmored and only have their most basic weapons. The Gors are WS 50, SB 4, TB 5, have 2 attacks each, there are 6 of them, and they have 13 Wounds and partial Leather armor. No Strike Mighty, at least. Meanwhile, a group of leveled up BS 45% Ungors fire bows at the boat from the shore, with the PCs having no ranged weapons to answer them. They're at -20 for shooting at long range, but they get 4
uncontested rounds of shooting. Any PC who is not in melee for an extra -20 to the Ungors' shooting may be in real danger if they're on the deck where they can be shot at. The saving grace is meant to be that the Boatswain, Captain, and others rush to help and the Beastmen also attack randomly, but this is still a really
nasty fight when you have 0 armor and none of your specialized gear. And when some PCs may be down to nothing but their knife since they just happened to pick an axe or mace for their hand weapon. You can also hide from the attack, in which case the Beastmen kill '2d10' passengers and then lose to the captain off screen. Note a particularly dickish GM could kill Gabrielle here, since she's a passenger, which loses the adventure, though PCs won't know that yet. This is treated as a trivial side encounter where the Beastmen 'have no chance against the Adventurers, let alone the crew'.
If you were brave and helped out, you get a 10% discount on future trips on this boat! Gee. Thanks. Meanwhile, after the attack, the Alptraum and Leitdorf get to arguing and have to be separated after coming to blows. Then the PCs find a ruined coach on the side of the river and go along to take a look, along with the captain. Searching it will get you an invitation to the Countess's masquerade in celebration of the cannon Magnus, which won't be relevant for awhile, and generally reveals a bunch of gore and rot. You also find d100 Gold Crowns, which is a nice score, but the captain gets pissy if you keep it instead of leaving it for the crows and suggests you give it to charity when you arrive. Hey, if nobody is going to pay 17th century mercenaries, they'll loot to make up for it.
Finally, in Event D, Leitdorf is found murdered. It's our first event where the PCs are ordered to solve a mystery they aren't allowed to solve! The scholar either stumbled on Lang and had his face eaten off, or if the PCs somehow found Lang climbing aboard and killed him or drove him off, he stumbled instead on Katarine doing some Tzeentch worship and she killed him with hideous acid blood. Agreeing to help investigate the murder will eventually get you 75 Gold Crowns (nice!) and a letter of introduction to Elsbeth Becker in Nuln from the captain. If PCs didn't help out in the Beastman fight earlier, the captain suspects them until they make some social rolls but doesn't do anything about it. You can't actually solve the mystery. If Lang did it, you can find a blood trail showing the culprit fled the boat into the river afterwards, which clears Alptraum of suspicion. If Katarine did it, she hid a Tzeentch symbol in Alptraum's room that gets him hung, and 'she has covered her tracks well' and the PCs have no chance to discover it was her. If the PCs don't find the blood trail and Lang did it, Alptraum still gets blamed and hung. The GM is advised to make up lots of false leads and ensure the PCs get to do a full investigation that can't possibly succeed. Fuck you, Forges of Nuln. Don't give PCs a task they aren't allowed to at least try to win at. This entire scene is pointless because nothing you do can actually make progress on finding the killer, and if the Tzeentch sorcerer did it there's literally no way to find out or even suspect her according to the book. She's just too clever, I guess. Seriously, if your GM pulls this kind of stuff, you should have a talk with them about GMing technique because this is the road to miserable gaming groups.
Next Time: Arriving in Nuln, more pointless investigation PCs can't succeed at.
It's important to stick to these events
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nulne
It's important to stick to these events
There's a bunch of stuff on 'evoking the city' by five senses but I'll just cut to the chase of what it's getting at: Early modern cities are crowded and dirty.
No, what we're here for is the timetable. So the entire billing of this adventure is 'you'll have 7 days to race against time to stop an evil plot!!!'. You are not, in fact, racing against time. Your players will not actually have any kind of indication there is a 7 day time-limit, though events will certainly escalate over 7 days. They don't even have any initial indication the serial killer incidents are linked to their case about the magic evil cup. In fact, until day 2 or so, the PCs probably don't even know there IS a serial killer incident going on. Nobody else in the city does. The book is very clear: You are to keep the players from actually altering the timetable at all. They cannot catch Rolf early, they cannot find out about the cup early, they cannot stop any of the killings, they cannot stop the sabotage of the Magnus cannon, and if they're getting close to any of these things, you are advised to throw in a sudden red herring subplot, a false lead, or just have random thugs attack them to reduce their wounds so they need to rest for a bit. Alternately you can just say one of the villains kills one of their NPC contacts off-screen to slow them down. Under no circumstances should the players' investigations actually mean anything or achieve anything; Rolf is only catchable on Day 6.
When the players arrive on Day 0, Rolf has already murdered a few people but he's been taking his time and being quiet up until now. Xath tells him to hurry the fuck up, so he hurries the fuck up, and stops being as careful in picking targets. On Day 1, he kills the son of the city's finance minister, and the disappearance is noticed but the watch assumes the lad is just getting laid because it's Black Powder Week and everyone is celebrating. On Day 2, we hit Misogyny Bingo! Rolf goes after his ex-girlfriend, who he left because she is a 'fornicator' who sleeps with many men. It's advised the PCs meet Magdalena before she dies, and that she be described as breathtakingly beautiful and eagerly hitting on any attractive male PC. Rolf slips over her wall, gets into her room, and kills her and the man she's cheating on her fiance with so he can steal her scalp for the flesh golem he's making. Yep, it's the old slasher movie sexhaver girl dies for having sex trope. And that's bingo. Fuck this adventure. It is specifically a thing that he decided to murder her because he'd originally planned to propose to marry her when he got back from the war, but heard she liked having sex with guys, so he decided she was impure and her scalp would be perfect on his hell-golem.
Again, if this was an isolated thing I'd be like 'this is a clumsy writer trying to pull the old, stupid tricks to show how awful his villain is and while he should know better it's not a pattern', but this kind of shit is everywhere in this adventure and it's formed enough of a pattern that I'm comfortable saying this is a consistent problem. Also, I'm not going into huge detail on all the 'how to investigate this part' bits because frankly, none of them matter
. Remember: You cannot actually solve the mystery early. In any case where you have any kind of a lead on Rolf, he will turn out to be a body double or vanish into the crowd. So all the asking around and stuff is wasting time. The stuff about Magdalena talks about how her family was unaware of her 'low morals' but all the servants were ashamed and disgusted with her because it wants to keep emphasizing, apparently, that she was a shameful woman who fornicates. Despite some evidence in this section that all points to Rolf, his father will back up his lies about being out with his dad when Magdalena died because his dad will back him up on anything. Any attempts to stake him out or follow him after this killing lead to failure.
On Day 3, Rolf kind of fucks up, which a better adventure would make your opportunity to make some progress. For one, he's now killed 2 people in 2 days, so people are starting to get suspicious and notice a pattern. Our next victim is Harmann Oztlowe, a beautiful man with a beautiful face whose wife doesn't trust him because he could have any woman he wants, so he often goes out to escape 'the shrill sound of his wife's voice, having long sickened of her face and accusations'. Shrill harpies next, huh? We already got bingo, thanks. Oztlowe, though, realizes he's being followed and slips into a public bar to get a drink and try to figure out who's following him, before he's killed. He actually sees Rolf, buys a drink with him (they know one another), and leaves with him; there are a shitton of witnesses to this. Then he goes missing. Given that there's a bunch of witnesses to 'Rolf Vogt was the last man seen with Oztlowe' and there was evidence pointing to Rolf on Day 2, a reasonable party is probably already planning how to tail or deal with Rolf at this point. But remember, if you do that! Body double, false leads, red herring, random encounter.
Day 4 is when Rolf just decides to kill Gabrielle if the PCs aren't watching her. Despite being a powerful Death Wizard, she's no match for him and is killed easily and spirited off in the night, losing the PCs the adventure. If they have thought to put guards on her room THIS SPECIFIC NIGHT ONLY, Rolf instead kills Elsbeth Becker and her entire household to punish her for helping the PCs. He draws fucking Khorne runes all over the mansion after slaughtering *the entire staff* by himself, easily. He stopped to draw the runes using her own severed hand! 'Reporting this to the authorities will prove fruitless', the book says. So what happens if the players are guarding both their allies? Remember, someone like Otto or Katiya could take Rolf. Hell, Katiya can even outrun him in a chase, easily. No provision is made for the possibility. Nothing really comes of the mass slaughter, either, besides the locals starting to get nervous about a serial killer exactly the same way they do if a single wizard goes missing instead. There are no clues and no additional leads for finding Rolf in this section, despite the massive pile of evidence he just left.
On Day 5, a madman turns himself in for the murders and is executed as a scapegoat, reviving the city's celebrations. There's enough evidence to tell PCs the guy probably isn't the killer, not that they don't already have plenty of reason to hunt down Rolf instead at this point. Meanwhile, Rolf just kinda stumbles on a guy whose ears he likes and stabs him in an alley then runs away with them, with no real leads dropped, because this leads to Day 6.
Day 6 has the Grand Masquerade at the Countess's palace. PCs are expected to go there because it's a huge gathering of nobles, and the killer has been killing nobles. They are now allowed to catch Rolf. There's a bunch of NPCs to meet, all of them corrupt or wicked or cultists in their own right for the most part, and the PCs attend a masked ball and all, but their investigations don't do anything to let them stop Rolf killing his last victim: He goes after the man who replaced his father, stabbing him to death on an upper balcony and stealing his nose, then running off. For the first time in the adventure, if the PCs manage to follow Rolf, they'll corner and catch him, and reveal that it's Rolf. The guy they probably suspected 3 days ago. Maybe 4. He will fight to the death if cornered. Killing him here won't actually prevent anything, though; the cannon is still sabotaged by his dad, nothing you can do will prevent that. Plus, the golem is already ready, and Liebnitz/Lang or the fat butcher that works with Rolf will kill Gretyl the spy tomorrow where Rolf would've if you miss him on day 6 and complete the golem. If Rolf gets away, Randolf actually tries to warn the PCs (obliquely) about the sabotage, realizing his rival is dead anyway and he doesn't need to kill everyone. Nothing will happen. They also could've investigated his house to find detailed 'sabotagin' this cannon' shit, or talked to him and gotten suspicious, but no-one will listen to any of that. There's even a percentage table for how much of his time he spends sabotagin' that cannon. PCs cannot stake him out or catch him in his cannon sabotagin', no matter what.
On Day 7, the cannon explodes and kills hundreds of people and imperils a bunch of NPCs, up to and including the Countess depending on what the GM wants. The PCs make some agi tests to save named characters. That's...that's it. That's the bit that's so important that the cannon plot had to be un-solvable. That's the payoff. Just a shitload of dead random people and some Agi tests. Then, if the PCs didn't grind the sewers (we'll get into the sewers and other events later) the unrelated mutant uprising happens and the PCs fight a pretty easy encounter with chaff enemies and one Daemonette while more people die off-screen. As this is one of the only terrorist/shitty things you can stop in the entire adventure, I suppose this counts as a bad end. You could've stopped this by exploring the sewers for hours and fighting ten identical random encounters with 5 WS 31, SB 3, TB 3 unarmored cultists and a single Daemonette. Yes, ten. 'Or more, if you feel it's too easy'. Nothing like grinding trash mobs for the good end!
Anyway, after that, the final boss shows up: The Abomination. It's...considerably easier than the Beastman fight. Yes, it's WS 55, Attacks 4, SB 6, TB 5, Daemonic, and has 38 Wounds. You know what it doesn't have? Armor. It also has Instability, so if it takes any wounds in melee on a round where it whiffs or deals none, it tests WP or dies instantly. In my test fight with Brute Squad, they killed it in a single round of melee when they dodged its counters and it peaced out from Instability. That's the sanity-blasting final boss who is meant to be the climax of the campaign. If it kills onlookers or PCs equal to the number of PCs in the party, it dies and summons Xath, the ritual complete.
IF you end up fighting Xath somehow, you've already 'lost'; he'll be 'freed' even if you kill him. He's WS 70, SB 4, TB 4, has 2 Armor and Demonic, has 66 WP and Instability like the Abomination, 5 attacks, and 46 Wounds. His axe has a special rule where if he's Frenzying, his axe *also* hits for a Damage 2 Ignores Armor hit as well as its basic physical hit, which has a next-round DoT repeat unless you make an Agi test. He's...manageable. I ran out Brute Squad vs. Xath, and he had one critical flaw that let them kill him pretty easily. Well, two of them. Three, actually. One, he doesn't have Instant Frenzy the way the shitty Bloodletter did in book 1, so he has to spend round 1 working himself up. Two, he still has Instability, so if he takes any melee wounds on that first free round, there's a 34% chance he dies immediately. Three, he's alone and has only mediocre DR for how high level this all is. The team teaming up with each other still gives them +10 or +20 to hit him if 2 or 3 or more engage. Now, a weakened party that lost members to the Abomination will struggle with this a lot more, obviously. But Xathy is still beatable. This is also the only possible point a PC party ever actually interacts with the fucking main villain of a 3 arc adventure path and you're not supposed to do it. Remember also: This chump is supposed to threaten entire armies or burn Nuln himself.
When it's all over, the cannon's explosion is described in detail as making the Countess lose any credibility she had with the Electors and life goes back to normal. You find the chalice by following the Abomination's path of destruction, and either fight Katarine over it or kill Lang as an afterthought over it, and then if Gabrielle is still alive you win and the campaign is over. No moral, no rewards. Third fate point, 1200 EXP.
There are other clues you can find and all, but again: They don't matter. The sword you found in the monastery ruin is Rolf's sword, but he stole another of the same make to cover up losing his so that lead dead ends. None of the things you do in the adventure will alter any part of this ending except saving Gabrielle by guessing Day 4 is the fatal day and grinding the mutant fights. If Gabrielle is dead, time to go find another way to kill the last bit of Xath. Unless you went with the sewer necromancer I mentioned, in which case Xath at the above stats will show up 'several adventures in the future' to attack you. The main villain is a fucking afterthought and the weakness of the whole 'three shards' plot can be seen in how none of the three adventures really bothered with it.
So yeah, that's the canon Forges of Nuln. You spend 5 days investigating shit that won't matter or change things, maybe grind mutant fights in the sewers until you're bored, maybe catch the killer day 6 but it doesn't change anything if you do (Randolf gets blamed as an accomplice and hung if you catch Rolf, otherwise he tries to warn you about the cannon but nothing comes of it), the cannon always explodes, hundreds of people and part of the Great Bridge are always destroyed, then you fight a disappointing and boring final boss and win. Hooray for the thrilling conclusion!
This one is so bad, so instructively bad, that I want to devote time to going over how to fix this adventure. Thus, we won't be leaving it here. Join me next time, as Brute Squad goes over a better way this pile of shit could have gone.
Next Time: Timed Adventures
Fixing the Story
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
Fixing the Story
I normally wouldn't do this part, as it's a little outside the scope of 'review', but going over how something was terrible is only half of analyzing it when you could also go over ways to make it better. Given Forges is the first of the 3 books that I'd return covered completely in red ink spelling out SEE ME if I was grading them, I think it's worth examining and discussing ways to fix the plotting and mechanical issues in Forges of Nuln.
Plus, you know, I put a lot of effort into writing the past stuff and my dumb take on the example party going through it, so I'm moderately invested in giving them a conclusion that isn't dripping with misogyny, futility, and the kind of atmosphere you'd get in something that describes itself as 'grindhouse' to cover up how badly written it is. Consider this my pallet cleanser after having to write up Forges' canon version in the first place.
One of the constant issues with the Paths of the Damned is that there's no coherent structure to the overarching story. It's too late to fix that; Xath is a sailed ship that's been bad since book 1. This is also partly a function of having 3 different authors who all have wildly different takes on the Warhammer setting. Graeme Davis in Ashes of Middenheim is very conventional, with a structure where there are some decent and reasonable people who the PCs can turn to (and who turn to the PCs) while there's also treachery, prejudice, and anxiety waiting to erupt into violence if it's fanned by the right demagogue, which works just fine. The PCs are also definitely the heroes of Ashes and the whole action hinges on their involvement, but they're also kind of in over their heads (which I think the Knight Fight tried to portray but was seriously over-tuned).
Chart plays up the humorous side of the story in book 2, but also writes the setting 'lighter' than any of the other authors on the line. Many of the people you deal with in book 2 are actually reasonable and intelligent, just they need the PCs to do some diplomacy to get them working towards the end goal. Similarly, little touches like every criminal in Altdorf immediately turning on Chaos allies the minute they realize they're Chaos is both a neat bit of setting building (Chart generally writes on the assumption that non-Cultists understand Chaos is bad news and that even people with few or no principles will understand practically that Chaos never leads anywhere good) and a good way to reward stealth and investigative PCs. Combats are generally quite easy if you're on the 'winning' path, because difficult combat is a gameplay punishment. The real meat of the plot comes not from the Xath side-story (really, the main plot of all the Paths of the Damned books is more a side-story and an excuse to get the PCs to new cities) but from the antics of an out-of-her-depth REVENGE CULTIST and a smug asshole the players get to turn the tables on. It also generally assumes the PCs are well-intentioned if a little gritty and its railroading is in the direction of making sure the PCs succeed and get some kind of resolution at the end.
Book 3 is written with the idea that everyone is a corrupt, evil asshole, no-one will ever help the PCs in any way, and the world is a grimy and unpleasant place at all times. Also, by employing literal Sierra Adventure Dead Man Walking shit and lying to PCs with false moral dillemmas (Why, if they DON'T hand over their friend to Sewer Necromancer's leering clutches, the whole city could be destroyed!) as well as lots of subplots you can't actually succeed at, it clearly thinks the PCs should have a high chance of failing at everything, all the time. This is the grimdark version of the setting where everyone is a cultist, the world is decaying, mutants are all monsters, and everyone is just deeply unpleasant all the time. That is not only at odds with a fair amount of the sourcebook writing, but the climax of the entire adventure path, where the PCs are going to hopefully get some payoff and resolution to this big adventure they've been playing for a long while, is not the place to suddenly get a hard-on for fucking them over at every turn. Also, seriously, the misogyny is really, really noticeable and uncomfortable.
Book 3's general plotting problem, though, is that Rolf just isn't a great main villain for the 'epic climax' of this adventure series. The villains started with the deputy High Priest of an extremely powerful cult, who was politically difficult to touch and quite clever. And end with an obvious serial killer who gets away with it because the book says he does, no matter what you suspect. Plus, by having this single villain be the crux of the entire plot, they're left with a plot that can't handle the PCs actually catching the killer. Instead, I'd propose making Rolf one facet of a much larger plot against the city. Have him building the vessel of Xathrodox, but have a wider cult behind him that's planning a larger and more cohesive coup. Rolf can be shifted to a fringe asset, something the PCs identify to draw them deeper into a larger mystery with bigger stakes. They're high level characters at this point; one guy trying to play Michael Meyers really isn't grand enough to be a finale.
I'd also recommend cutting out the Tzeentch Sorcerer subplot, and the Lang/Liebnitz subplot. Lang doesn't really do anything all story. I would replace him with Carlott, since they automatically survives book 2 as written. You still get a callback villain, but now it's one with a clear objective: She wants the PCs dead, whether they got her in book 2 or not. After all, she still attacked them even if they never found her in book 2. And if they did find and attack her, now she double wants revenge. I would leave Katarine in the story, but shift what she's up to.
See, one of the issues with the Slaanesh Cult aspect in Forges is they don't act anything like Slaaneshi; they act exactly like Khornates, mindlessly planning to kill dozens of people with no goal solely to kill people. Having a Slaanesh Cult around in Nuln, the extremely rich city full of art and desire, is pretty much a no brainer. But there's a much better way to use them: As a group that is trying to use the PCs to stop the Khornates. Slaanesh and Khorne hate each other, and having the Slaaneshi have an interest in preserving the city so their own cult isn't uprooted and trying to use the PCs to do it by backing them from the shadows of high society is a much better way to get dubious allies into the story than Sexual Menace Sewer Necromancer. This adds a second mystery that the PCs can actually miss while getting a good resolution to the Khorne plot: They might not discover their backers and friends and contacts include some dark servants of the Prince of Pleasure. But if they do, it gives the opportunity to figure out what to do about it; do they keep accepting their help, trying to use them like the Slaaneshi are trying to use the PCs? Do they make plans to turn them in later? Do they just watch out more carefully for betrayal? I'd also add that the Slaaneshi are definitely planning to get rid of Gabrielle after she deals with Xath for them; that ritual is a huge threat to Chaos and they don't want her to live long enough to teach it to anyone. So there's a sinister plot from the PCs' mysterious allies that they have good reason to want to discover and stop. Katarine can be one of them and their means of getting the PCs to the city without changing her character hardly at all. She can even have the same crazy ambition.
As for the Khornates, I'd make Randolf the main villain and the Magus of the Khorne cult. The engineer dad sabotaging the cannon. I'd also have him behind the planned 'uprising'. He is overall one of the worst people in the original story anyway, given he kills hundreds of people (and covers for his serial killer son), and I'd make him a Khornate who believes he's found a new thing more pleasing to Khorne than simple axes and skulls. He has a vision of a world of metal and wheels, where destruction is more wide-spread than ever before and great machines kill hundreds of people in impersonal, endless slaughter. In short, a Khornate Magus dreaming of the industrialization of killing and warfare. He intended the Magnus Cannon to be his grand offering to the dark God, an example of his vision fulfilled that would be turned on the forces of the Empire when the time was right and he used his position as Marshal of Nuln to take the city...but then the Countess kicked him off the project and removed him from his powerful position as Marshal. He has no idea if she did that because she suspected something was wrong, or because it was a random whim, and it drives him fucking crazy
, so he's altered a ton of plans to ensure the cannon will destroy itself, hopefully her, and that her big 'unveiling' will be ruined as much as possible by insane terrorist activity and hopefully the destruction of her city.
Thus, the whole 'sabotage the cannon' plot and the Uprising (which the Khornates would be behind, instead) are all designed to help summon this Xathrodox his son has brought him, through the chalice he accidentally discovered. He's nurtured the darkness it started in his son when Rolf came to him for help, and has intentionally taken the pain in his son's mind and made it into a weapon because he's a Khornate son of a bitch. The cult still has members among the watch and military from Randolf's time as Marshal, and they are actively protecting Rolf in his serial killing until the unpredictable element of PCs shows up and starts following that plot thread. Randolf's insane plan to bring down the city for the Countess's insult to him (instead of his original, longer term plot to take over, which is now no longer possible anyway since he was fired) would be a hastily altered and violent thing, giving it the cracks necessary for PCs already investigating Xath to find all this out as they race against time, with the conspiracy growing far beyond the serial killer they started out investigating and spiraling into something that threatens the whole city.
I would also keep the Countess's character deeply ambiguous; is she a vain, self-centered woman whose vanity and impulses just keep happening to be for the better for Nuln and keep her popular? Or is all that a front and she's much smarter than people assume? Leaving that to an individual group gives them a lot of space to adjust the sort of official support PCs might be able to gain by finding evidence and making contacts. It would also let a group adjust the tone; it's really funny if the careful plans of an evil genius were undone solely because he neglected court politics and a lucky whim saw him randomly removed from the position he needed for his grand schemes. It also works well if people are consistently underestimating someone who managed to take a weak claim and somehow 'luck' her way into being in one of the most powerful offices in the Empire. By making it something you could take either way, you either give the PCs a potential very powerful patron or just a really funny way to watch a Khornate genius sputter helplessly in rage that gives the PCs a chance to kick his ass.
Next Time: Restructuring The Timetable and Adjusting for PC Involvement
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
So, part of this is my personal preferences. I feel the need to preface this with that. And I'm also well aware that a pre-made adventure writer has a pagecount limit, and only so much space to include reactivity and alterations to their plot. The issue with Forges is that it spends a lot of that pagecount advising how to lie to your players, throw in random fights, etc to ensure they stay on the planned timetable and track, and that they see the right cutscenes at the right time, without their intervention or interaction. It would be better for Forges to have told its story like Ashes of Middenheim if it wanted to do this, rather than billing it as an exciting race against time where the PCs have 7 days to solve the mystery that solves itself for them on Day 6 and where very little changes whether they catch the villain or not, since he'll die on Day 7 anyway and everything he was planning to do gets done by his assistants or another NPC if he's beaten on Day 6. The only real optional objective that can measurably change the ending (I don't count saving Gabrielle as optional, since that's critical path) is stopping the uprising, and again; that's 10 separate encounters with d10 shitty WS 31 SB 3 TB 3 mutants and one Daemonette. Ten.
Part of why the mystery has to be framed this way in Forges is because if the player characters could achieve anything, the actual mystery in Forges doesn't have enough layers to let them. It's just one serial killer. If Rolf was stopped on Day 4, after the players have reasonable suspicions of him and start following him and catch him in the act or something, the Abomination wouldn't happen and there would be no 'finale', so to speak. Which is an understandable concern when the mission is the finale of a 3 part adventure path people have been playing for months at this point. This is because the entire main plot hinges entirely on Rolf and the chalice, and only has one 'critical component', so to speak. If the players found the chalice or arrested or killed Rolf in the act, that's that. The other plot bits about the Magnus Cannon and the Uprising are unconnected to the campaign's arc and the mystery at the center only goes one layer deep.
Thus, if you're going to have a finale with the plot as it existed, you end up with this book's issue of spending a lot of its limited pagecount protecting Rolf from the players actually succeeding at their task and ensuring their investigations are pointless. My proposed plot redesign isn't just designed to make the plot more compelling or more fitting to a grand finale of a campaign (a more entrenched Khorne Cult with a mad genius leading it seems more appropriate than one serial killer, scale-wise) but to give it more layers that are interconnected. It also provides more gradations of success or failure, which I think is essential if you're going to do a 'race against time' plot. Part of the disappointment of the original is that the timetable is all about keeping the timetable, and there's really only one ending. All of that pagecount could be better put to reactivity.
I would still maintain a 'default' timetable of what happens if the PCs weren't there. Thinking about how your story would go without the PCs getting involved, where everything goes exactly how the villains want, is hardly a bad idea for structuring your story. Setting down the stakes of how Nuln might face (using my rewrite as a base) an uprising of Khornate cultists armed with Nuln steel and guns at the same time as the cannon explodes and the uprising tries to kill every one of the city's leaders, while a horrible monster animated by the essence of Xath kills enough people to free him and let him lead the cult in trying to conquer Nuln? That would set out what the PCs need to stop, and helps a inform a GM of the moving parts they can break. I would devote time to what happens when they achieve partial success, complete success, or near complete failure, with those things adjusting how hard the actual finale is and what it looks like. I'd also leave the option that the players fight a weakened Xath if they succeed at everything and Gabrielle is mid-ritual; you could have some cool shots of the Nulners celebrating their new cannon and having a happy conclusion to what had been a fraught Black Powder Week with cutting back to the heroes in a dark corner locked in desperate combat with a demon to ensure it's banished/killed forever. It just seems like a shame to never actually interact with Xath, and having him pop out to frantically try to stop them breaking him while shaking his fist at them for how much trouble they've already caused is about the best you can do with such a weak main villain.
By actually connecting Rolf, the Uprising, and the Cannon Sabotage, you could then devote time to talking about how investigating one could lead into the others. You obviously wouldn't have the space to account for every variation on how the PCs could approach the situation, but some stuff about what 'catching Rolf first' or 'Discovering the Uprising first' or 'Discovering the Sabotage first' look like and how they give hints for the other objectives (or even warn the PCs there are
other objectives) would be worthwhile. Several proposed climaxes and endings based on what the players stopped or failed to stop would help, too. If you really wanted a comedy golden ending if they succeeded at everything, you could even propose that when they do the ritual to destroy the cup and Xath pops out, instead of the PCs fighting him he appears in the cannon test range.
Similarly, say they stop the cannon sabotage but don't catch Rolf; they're still going to have to fight off not only the Abomination, but stop the uprising killing the Countess and other leaders of the city in a bloody and dramatic battle where they probably end up facing Rolf and Magus Randolf. And that's a great opportunity to make use of the excellent Cultist tracks from Tome of Corruption. It's a little frustrating this book was written before that one, because I adore the Cultist class tracks for popping onto a 'normal' character and giving them hidden depths of surprising power. Imagine when the players face the mad genius behind this and suddenly oh dear he's a Magus of Khorne so he's not just a frail old Engineer, he's a 3rd tier fighter. That's still an extremely difficult finale that you could adjust based on the party's abilities; if they're not really fighters you could put in other ways to handle these lethal cultists and flesh golems. Like rallying Nuln's soldiers or leading them into a factory and using the machinery and forges of Nuln against them.
The entire plot needed a rewrite, it's true, and it definitely needed the rampant misogyny stripped out completely. But it also wasted a ton of pagecount on undermining its own structure, because fundamentally Forges of Nuln is a completely linear and non-interactive narrative where except for the cult uprising, there's almost nothing you can achieve until the timetable says you can achieve it. Instead of being an outline of what happens if the PCs don't act, the Timetable is a straitjacket. A plot with more layers would be necessary to allow the plot to bend; as it is, there are more elements
than Rolf, but they're all unconnected side-plots instead of being deeper mysteries and extra objectives for the players. Similarly, don't put huge amounts of page space and investigation and stuff towards an objective players cannot succeed at
. If you pay attention, the cannon exploding is actually completely tangential to the main plot in the original story; it exists primarily to have another big 'oh that dumb Countess' moment and to spray blood around by the bucketload, but it could be removed completely and the end of the main plot would proceed unhindered. It also just seems like something Khornates would do! Attaching it to the main plot, and making the very Khornate-style uprising part of it, would give you space to give the players more to do than just hunting down Rolf and thus give you space to let them catch Rolf. Or miss him and investigate these seemingly more pressing matters!
Thus, this style of adventure is better served by its timetable being an outline of events, and then spending the time this one spent on telling you to stymie your players on telling you how to let them fuck up that timetable, instead. And on what happens depending on which parts they messed with.
Also, in final analysis of Forges, one thing that a player in my group brought up last week: It's weird but I think the entire Paths of the Damned campaign is written backwards. You could have much more easily started in Nuln with a low-stakes adventure about a single serial killer for rookie PCs, then gone to Altdorf, then to Middenheim where Liebnitz the Medium Priest turns out to be the overall mastermind and you can bring in stuff like Chaos Warriors outside the city to give players a break from the constant Cultists And Beastmen even if you're sticking to the Chaos Plot. Because fighting nothing but cultists and beastmen gets fucking old. The Grand Campaign for 2e, the game where it assures you a major plot hook is sweeping up Archy's remnants, never has you fight one of the iconic Chaos Warriors. Think about that. Similarly, the Flame of Ulric washing over everyone as Ulric high-fives you would have been a great campaign finale ending shot!
Next Time: Wrapup on Paths and the Fates of Brute Squad
So, that's it
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 3: Forges of Nuln
So, that's it for Paths of the Damned. It was miserable. The decision to cut up the Empire Setting Book to put all the important cities in these campaign books was a disaster, because it led to the city quality being really, really uneven. Spires barely has a write-up on Altdorf, despite it being one of the most important places in the setting and potentially one of the most characterful. The Nuln writeup is okay-ish, better than the Altdorf one, but it's still lacking in character and energy. Only Middenheim really got a good one, and to be fair, the Middenheim writeup is good enough to base an entire campaign in Middenheim and made a great model for the Kislevite cities in Realm of the Ice Queen. The Empire can honestly be one of the harder countries to write campaigns in, because its information is spread across a ton of books and you generally learn more about it in every book other than Sigmar's Heirs, the actual Empire book. This campaign and Terror in Talabheim contributed to that, and I think that was bad for the game line as a whole.
What stands out most to me is how aimless Paths of the Damned feels. Why is it called Paths of the Damned? I dunno. Something I've noticed as I've worked on these adventure books is that the authors don't really know how to 'ramp up' a story. There's no sense in Forges that the PCs are people who have seen some shit and who may be in very respectable Careers by now; you're still treated as mostly tramps and vagabonds, and a campaign that started
with unveiling corruption at a high level in the Temple of Ulric, saving Middenheim from religious civil war, and being marked by a God ends with...a serial killer and some terrorism you can't prevent. You feel like more of a hero in the first adventure than the finale. This is partly down to the books having three different authors and the finale being written by the one who likes the grimdark the most, but that's also kind of nuts to me: The campaign having 3 different authors who all view the setting very differently gives it a very scattered feeling.
Not helping anything is the way Xath is barely there. He's a side-story from book 1; book 1 is about Liebnitz. The Skull was something he sent you to fetch to get you killed as a distraction
. It wasn't actually that important to the story; the Icon was a bigger macguffin. Xath is a bog-standard Khorne Demon with nothing to make him at all interesting. The reason they keep having to toss in side-villains like Wolfgang and Carlott is because their actual antagonist is boring as dishwater and intentionally set up to never be interacted with. The Artifacts are an excuse plot to get you hopping from city to city, fighting Yet Another Shitty Cult each time. The cults also lack for any real character, and really, the total reliance on Yet Another Shitty Cult in WHFRP is one of the laziest and dullest parts of the adventure writing for the series. Yes, investigating stuff is an important part of WHFRP's gameplay compared to games like D&D; you're meant to look into hidden cults, corruption, treacherous employers, etc more than you crawl dungeons. Adventures often center on solving dark plots or stopping sabotage or finding dangerous things before evil gets its hands on them. You're often expected to try to avoid fighting when unnecessary and to trick and talk your way out of as much as you can. That's why there are a bunch of classes that are good at that. But when it's a constant parade of cults who are evil because ??? and who want ??? but they love Chaos because it's Chaos...well, the mysteries you're solving get pretty samey and boring. Also, having a cult in every goddamn story makes it lose its impact when you discover some important NPC is a cultist, because of course they are, fucking everyone is.
Paths of the Damned starts okay (even if there's stuff you have to adjust), becomes a bit dull but Spires at least tried
to do an open-ended campaign and had a few good moments, and then craters because Forges is fucking miserable. In the end, it's absolutely not worth playing, and only the Middenheim book is really particularly worthwhile as a setting book. Coincidentally, the Middenheim book has probably the best adventure, and makes a decent intro for a party; you can just cut out the other two and cut out Xath while you're adjusting the Knight Fight and now you've got an okay (if rather railroaded) intro to a WHFRP game set in the northern Empire. In general, Paths of the Damned is a disappointment. The value of a pre-made adventure path is how much time it saves a GM, and you'll need to fix and adjust things and probably rewrite the entire third adventure to a degree that I cannot recommend it overall as something to play in WHFRP.
I could go into stuff like Thousand Thrones next, but I'm not really feeling spending hours and hours reading and re-reading it then writing twenty pages about how it's railroaded trash. So instead we're going to talk about the Adventure Books for WHFRP on general: On the whole, they're quite negative. The setting books are great, and the writers for this line are great at starting stories
, but surprisingly terrible at ending them
. Some of this is apparently a mandate from above, that most of the adventures should end in failure or anticlimax or generally fail to affect the setting. I can understand trying to avoid metaplot (laudable), but it leads to a feeling that your adventures aren't especially consequential. And everything tends to treat you like a bunch of ragged tramps, when actual 3rd tier PCs are things like Knights of the Inner Circle of a knightly order, or Anointed Priests of a cult, or Champion warriors or Crime Bosses. There's never really a good sense of escalation, or even good chances to show off how far you've progressed. Adventures are also generally confused as to what a PC party looks like, and I can't blame them on that count; Careers make it so there really isn't a standard PC party like in D&D. If you balance for Brute Squad and how insanely good at killing people they ended up being, you will stomp all over The Team of Scam Artists And Scholars. Similarly, balance for Scam Artists and Scholars and...Brute Squad will probably be fine since they still have decent social and scholarship skills but a much more purely fight/rogue party might get stomped. That's part of why Chart has the whole 'oh you can just talk it all out if no-one's good at Fel' in Spires; he can't predict the players will have a Social PC and also probably doesn't want that entire plotline to be the Liniel Show. This is one reason Liche Lord's 'toolkit' approach, where it gave a setting and did the heavy lifting designing a big dungeon but mostly left how it fits together to you (and had openings for lots of ways to solve each challenge) worked well.
And now, because I put hours working into all of this, I'm going to indulge myself with an epilogue for the heroes of Brute Squad, fresh off completing the re-written version of Forges where they stopped a mad Engineer from trying to make the city into a bastion of eternal industrial war, stopped the cannon going boom, and cut down Xath's last ditch effort to stop Gabrielle dispersing his essence and killing him. And no-one paid them for it.
Liniel of Caledor
remained firm in her decision not to return to Ulthuan after all. After a few more adventures with her friends in Kislev and beyond, she parted ways and used her credit with Nuln's upper crust to enroll in the Gunnery School, the first elf to ever take a stab at learning gunsmithing and Engineering. Having found a new trade that she quite enjoyed, she has a profitable business making hand-made, elegant, and 'highly authentic' elven pistols and muskets for Imperial rakes and grandees who want something distinctive. She is a little miffed to note how much more money she makes making fancy guns with a lion on the barrel than she ever did saving the Empire from demons, but it pays the bills and she hopes to introduce other elves to the wonders of firearms some day. Perhaps in the centuries to come, as the rifle and revolver take over from the musket and flintlock pistol, she'll manage to do just that.
She keeps up contact with the others from her estate in Nuln, writing and receiving letters to stay in touch with the people who helped her get a new start in life. She also keeps her fantastic array of ear-flattering hats, and single-handedly keeps an elven haberdasher in business.
never actually became Ar-Ulric. Ulric had a different and equally glorious path in store for her. Using her credibility from beating the shit out of demons and monsters alongside Brute Squad, she settled down as High Priestess of the Nordlander Temple of Ulric, writing a series of celebrated theological texts about wolves, punching, sometimes punching wolves, and axes. One of her greatest achievements was convincing the Ar Ulric to renounce the Oath of Celibacy, on the basis of 'What the hell, we all hate it, why are we whining about it instead of punching that oath in the face? Ulric wouldn't sit around and whine about it!' The cult celebrates her as a great reformer, and her work is directly cited in the new Ulrican marriage vows. While she would not become Ar Ulric, her work in undoing the ancient Oath of Celibacy would help the cult recover its balance, and a century or so later would see the first female Ar Ulric chosen for the position as one of her legacies.
managed to sell the rights to the Paths of the Damned to an Imperial opera-writer and playwright, Dietlef Sierck, when the man was in one of his 'goddamnit I gotta stop writing about vampires' periods. With a celebrated and extremely embarrassing opera produced about the adventures of Brute Squad (it included a gratuitous romance between him and Liniel, something that annoys them both), he finally enjoyed the fame and widespread recognition he sought as a fencer and champion. He would use that fame to secure a minor title of nobility, and retire to his home city of Carroburg to found a fencing academy and wed an old sweetheart. Now old and starting to lose his step, Otto spends his days telling stories about his adventures to excited young would-be-heroes-of-the-Empire while critiquing their footwork.
Katiya Ivanovna Demechev
finally left the Brute Squad when she joined the Gryphon Legion at long last, after several adventures in Kislev with her friends. She would eventually win an appointment as first a Lifetime Druzhina from the Tsarina (making her a knight, but unable to pass on her title), before being elected Ataman of a Stanitsa down in southern Kislev. After years of riding at Chaos Warriors in the Winged Lancers, the brave peasant woman was finally able to settle down near the river, back where she first fled Archaon's hordes what seemed like a lifetime ago. She lives in peace, knowing she did her part to secure her homeland by fire and sword, a respected village leader who is happy to tell young peasant girls that they, too, could one day be a sister of the sword and lance like she was.
eventually earned enough to buy a suit of armor and a horse to replace the ones he sold, and went home to 'finish' his Errantry. While his father was annoyed with how long he took, on hearing of his son's actual deeds (without the bits about swearing to Verena) he welcomed him back and ensured he would find enough renown to gain a fief of his own. Taking the oath of the Virtue of Empathy, Pierre the Wise became known as a just and honest leader whose peasants weren't afraid to come to him with matters of justice. Also known for his many quests into ancient ruins, which are considered quite the eccentricity by his peers.
That is, of course, only what he does during the day. By night, the 'knight' puts on his mask, renews his oath to Verena, and goes to give his orders to his Merry Men as Renard the Faceless, working towards the day when the Lady of the Lake will be overthrown and all men (and maybe even women) will be equal in liberty, equality, and fraternity. As the Goddess Verena demands.