So there the PC's were, poised at a cliffhanger ending to a penultimate episode only to have to wait some 6 weeks or more before we returned to the game. If I'd run the next session straight away then it'd've been nothing more than a quick jaunt across town and back before the climactic encounter with the villain and his minions.
As it was I decided that I had to pad the thing out for at least one more session. This posed the immediate problem of why the villain wouldn't be trying to stage his ritual that very night. My answer to this was a resort to the hoary old macguffin of waiting for the appropraite conjunction- of the Chaos moon Morrslieb in this case. Everything else flowed from there. Most importantly, I decided that the potential civil war presaged by Liebnitz's actions at the trial and in the Middenpalaz thereafter had become an actual insurrection in the streets of Middenheim.
But I'm getting ahead of myself again. Here's what happened way back on the last Sunday in April, the day after my overly sanguine post about my preparations for resuming the campaign after the long lay-off.
As the PC's wondered about what to do to get the Brass Skull to Albrecht Zweistein as they had promised Father Ranulf, they heard voices out in the corridor. Before they could react, the door burst open, and a dwarf came through the door with a gun. He was at least as surprised to see the PC's as they were to see him, but he quickly recovered his wits. Levelling his pistol at the PC's, he told them not to move.
Another surprise was in store. The dwarf had a companion who soon appeared through the doorway. A second dwarf, this newcomer turned out to be none other than Mordrin's young brother Snorri. Mordrin was surprised to see Snorri, who he had believed was busy running a local smuggling ring.
Explanations began. The mysterious dwarf- to whom Snorri clearly deferred- was introduced as Gottri Hammerfist. It turned out that open insurrection had broken out across Middenheim. The Middenpalaz was being locked down and all unnecessary personnel had been evacuated. The 2 dwarfs had been sent out to double-check that the palace was indeed empty. The PC's had obviously been forgotten about in the confusion of events. The question of what to do arose. Hammerfist decided that he should take the party to see Commander Schutzmann.
The surprises were still coming. For reasons best known only to himself (hmm, where have I heard that before about one of Brian's PC's?) Siegfried decided that he didn't want to see Schutzmann. So he drifted over to the still open window and promptly rolled out. Unfortunately for Seigfreid, Gottri Hammerfist was something of a crack shot with the pistol with which he had the PC's covered- a shot rang out and Seigfried took a wound in the shoulder.
The rest of the party chose not to act against the 2 dwarfs. Faced with the choice of trying to pursue Siegfried- and thus perhaps losing control of the party, or of leaving Seigfreid to the guards, Hammerfist chose the latter. And so the party were taken out into the grounds of the Middenpalaz where they awaited their audience with Commander Schutzmann outside one of the palace outbuildings. The sounds of battle could be heard from the south of Middenheim. Sounding as if the entire population of the south city had come out onto the streets, the din created the impression that the Fauschlag was a fist being furiously shaken at the night sky.
Siegfried meanwhile soon ran into guards just as Hammerfist had expected. This time the rash young protagonist decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and he let the guards lead him to Commander Schutzmann to decide his fate.
Commander Schutzmann was accompanied by Ordo Fidelis Witch Hunter Matthias Hoffer when he eventually appeared to speak to the PC's. The 2 men looked weary but satisfied. Hoffer in particular had an exalted gleam in his eyes- clearly, whatever was going down across Middenheim that night, the Witch Hunter was enjoying his part in it. Schutzmann soon learned the party's mission. He asked to see the contents of the chest. Siegfried suggested that this might not be such a good idea. Schutzmann insisted. Seigfreid came up with another excuse. Patience plainly exhausted, Schutzmann tore a strip off the young protagonist before restating his insistence.
Siegfried reluctantly opened the chest. To his and the rest of the party's amazement (and secret relief perhaps?), they beheld not the Brass Skull they feared so much, but a severed human head everyone there present recognised- it was Johann Opfer. Commander Schutzmann decided that the PC's were plainly raving, and stalked off to continue organising the defence of the city.
Spending a quiet night out in the grounds of the Middenpalaz, the PC's again had a taste of feeling extraneous to events which simply dwarfed them. The din of battle surged and roared across the south city like a living thing. Throughout the night small groups of hard looking men came and went from Commander Schutzmann's impromptu command post. By the time the new day had dawned and nobody had sent for them the PC's realised that they truly were superfluous to requirements. So they decided to head off.
Making their way past the guards at the gates of the Middenpalaz they found themselves moving through the streets of the Palast and then the Ulricsmund districts. Small knots of watchmen stood guard at key locations here and there in the otherwise deserted streets. They were content to let the PC's pass unmolested.
Still intent on their self-appointed mission to track down Deputy High Priest Liebnitz, the party made for the temple of Ulric. Sneaking in the back door they found the temple too was strangely empty. Eventually they found one of the Brothers of the Axe on guard at the main doors. Though not talkative he was willing to answer the party's questions. No, he didn't know where Liebnitz was. Nobody did- Liebnitz hadn't been seen since he left the Middenpalaz the night before. He wasn't willing to follow Liebnitz into provoking a civil war that could bring down the Empire and had taken it upon himself to ensure the safety of the temple of Ulric. He knew of 2 of his fellow Brothers of the Axe who were actively assisting the loyalist forces in crushing the insurrection.
And that was that. The party found themselves standing outside the temple of Ulric in the Ulricsmund. Sporadic and localised noises of battle could be heard. Sounding dim and distant compared to the previous night's uproar they gave Middenheim the air of a city holding its breath. Liebnitz was nowhere to be found and the outbreak of the insurrection had convinced everyone that his motives were in any case purely political. Beginning to doubt the wisdom of their own conclusions, the PC's were wondering if this might not be true after all.
It was at this point that I realised that I hadn't, after all, done sufficient preparation to drive the plot forward. Sure, I had set the stage properly with an outbreak of open insurrection (and I confess to being quite pleased with the way I handled the atmosphere of that night). I had rationalised how the insurrection served the ends of the villain, and why those ends required the climactic ritual to be delayed. And I had given thought to how the insurrection would impact on the various groups and factions caught up in the events, with the intention of creating guidelines for what the PC's could find out from whom as they encountered different NPC's as they pursued the villain across the city.
Unfortunately my preparations hadn't been quite thorough enough, so I had set out with the intention of winging things, thinking that I could make key decisions about the plot in reaction to the PC's actions. In the event though I kept telling myself that the time wasn't quite right to make those decisions, with the result that my players became more confused as events unfolded, not less.
The upshot of all this was that, when the PC's found themselves standing outside the temple of Ulric, I realised that I simply wasn't equipped to give the players the hooks they needed to advance towards the long-awaited denouement. So I drew that day's session to a premature close- hardly satisfactory, but a wise decision in the situation.
Ah well, live and learn as they say (and I did!).
Mounting Tensions and Precipitous Anticlimaxes
- My little Old World: words better forgotten?
- #1 Famous last words...
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim