Friday, February 24, 2006

Fresh from my FLGS

So, inspired after my game Sunday last, I headed into town the other day to visit Static Games, my FLGS, with the thought that I might get myself a copy of Doom the Boardgame. In the end I was distracted by some other stuff, so my own copy of DtB will have to wait.

Forges of Nuln
I knew this was due out in February so had a notion that it might be in stock, although thoughts of Doom the Boardgame had pushed it from my mind. But the cry of "the new WFRP book is in" as I walked into Static soon reminded me of this latest book from Black Industries. Forges of Nuln is the third and concluding part of BI's 'Paths of the Damned' campaign. As regular readers will know I am currently GM'ing Ashes of Middenheim, the first part of this trilogy. As such I just had to get my hands on this volume: the more time I have to get it ready the better I figured.

I've only had time to skim the book so far so I can't comment in detail. But it is certainly up to BI/Green Ronin's usual standards for the WFRP line (will that include the notorious typos I wonder?). The format follows that of Ashes of Middenheim and Spires of Altdorf, namely a short introduction to the city itself followed by the adventure.

In FoN this first section includes a couple of new careers, one of which is the illustrious Dung Collector, whose trappings include the instantly memorable 'Bag of Maggots' and 'Dung'. Some dozen or so pages are devoted to describing Nuln itself. This might not seem much, but I do have to say that, in my experience of running AoM it is adequate for a GM's purposes: there's enough there to give you something to work with, while the text's brevity means that it's easy to review material and scan sections for reminders. I guess a lengthier and more detailed account might be nice, but there's always the chance that it might become too unwieldy I feel.

One thing I like about this section is that- unlike AoM and SoA- it includes adventure hooks for all the specific locations mentioned in each district. Opinions on plot hooks vary, but mine is that a GM can never have too many plot ideas to hand. One nice touch is the listing of Otto Jaeger's house, in the Kaufmann district. Otto is of course the brother of Felix Jaeger, from the Gotrek and Felix novels by Bill King. The entry includes an adventure hook referring to the events in Skavenslayer, the novel set in Nuln in which readers were introduced to Otto. I suspect that more than a few players might want to walk in the footsteps of their favourite psychotic dwarf, and end up paying Mr. Otto Jaeger a visit.

There's not a lot I can add on the subject of the adventure itself. But I can say that it includes some nicely mapped locations, as well what looks to me like shedloads of NPC's. This leads me to expect that the adventure will be less linear than AoM has been, and a bit harder to run as a result. Still, it should prove entertaining if the high points of AoM have been anything to go by.

Memoir'44 Terrain Pack
So, I finally got my hands on the first of the long-awaited M44 expansion sets; and I do mean long-awaited: they were first announced last July, were expected to be available in August, and finally hit the shelves in December. The M44 Terrain Pack delivers exactly what it says on the box: a host of new terrain tiles and counters for use in games of M44, plus 4 new scenarios featuring the new elements of the game.

The new terrain tiles fall into 3 types: desert tiles; new terrain types for the regular boards; and what are called 'landmarks'.

The desert tiles include new towns/villages and forest tiles with artwork appropriate to the desert setting. There are 2 completely new terrain types introduced for the desert: the oasis and the wadi. The new tiles expanding the temperate terrain set are: high ground and flooded fields; marshes; mountains; railroad tracks, including a station; roads; and lakes and river forks.

In contrast to the generic and typical geographical features represented by standard terrain tiles, the landmarks provide special locations of the sort that might feature as an objective in a scenario. With 12 different landmark types there really are too many to list, but they include dams, airfields, cemeteries, factory complexes, lighthouses(?!) and prison camps.

All of the tiles are as attractive as fans of the original M44 would expect, with the landmarks looking particularly neat to my eye. The desert tiles are also on a sandy background which would look nice on the new winter/desert board.

The rules for the new terrain tiles are straightforward and logical modulations of the terrain effects on movement and combat rules from the basic set, with nice additions to reflect the unique characteristics of the new terrain features represented. Oases, for example, allow ordered units to recover lost figures after the fashion of the Medics and Mechanics tactics card. Dams can be sabotaged (although the rules don't mention players getting a bonus if they hum the 'Dambusters March' while rolling their dice). Lighthouses and churches provide spotting locations for calling in artillery barrages or airstrikes. Airfields can be used to bring in reinforcements. These kinds of rules should bring a lot of flavour to scenarios in which they feature.

The new counters include more obstacles, information markers for new rules, and more unit ID badges.

The unit ID badges cover a wide variety of new nationalties- eg. British Commonwealth troops- which are largely decorative, but they include badges for combat engineers. Combat engineers are a new special unit type with abilities that tabletop generals will prize. The obstacles are: field bunkers- bunkers that both sides can use; river fords, pontoon and railroad bridges; road blocks; and a train. All of these are nice, but the train looks really neat: it is 2 counters long, and can be a supply train- carrying reinforcements, or an armoured train- carrying artillery. Either of these look like being a lot of fun in play.

The remaining counters are largely associated with new rules. We now have rules for minefields. These are represented by counters laid unseen by the owning player which can represent anything from 0 to 4 attack dice. There are targetting markers for the new big guns rules. Big guns have a longer range than regular artillery, and enjoy the ability to bring down heavier fire on a target they have already zeroed-in on. I suspect that these will bring a new dimension of teeth-grinding frustration to your enemy's long range harassing fire.

The final new addition are the battle star tokens. These are generic tokens used to represent special rules. These are only limited by scenario writers' imaginations, but the examples given in the rules are interesting enough: blowing up bridges, collapsible rafts and boats, and heroic leaders, to name just a few examples.

And that's it for the contents of the M44 Terrain Pack. All in all I have to say that it looks like a great expansion to the basic game. A few desert terrain tiles and the nationality counters aside, everything in the box should add exciting and entertaining new dimensions to an already great game. With dozens and dozens of official and unofficial new scenarios featuring elements from the M44 Terrain Pack already available online I hope to be trying out some of this new stuff as soon as possible. I just have to get hold of a certain Badger again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Not my little Old World
Well, the cursed cloud of gloom was upon me again last week, and I wasn't able to get the WFRP ready for last Sunday. So we just played some boardgames instead.

We started off with a game of this gem. It's been a long time since I've had a multiplayer game of Roborally, so to get a 6-player game was cool. Better still: Martin wasn't playing, so I felt I was in with a chance...

Anyhoo, I chose a couple of easy boards without too many different elements and decided to go for a simple 3-flag race. I explained the basic principles of safe and dangerous flag location, and then we had a quick bit of random selection to decide who'd be placing the start and the 3 flags. Blow me, but did Tony not immediately get into the spirit of things by placing the 1st flag so that there were pits on 2 adjacent sides. That flag was going to be a real killer, and no mistake!

Sure enough: yours truly was first to the flag, and first into the pit, when Andy's bot sneaked in and pushed my Twonky off the flag just before I was going to vacate it with the aid of my Retro Rockets. I really, really should've known better I guess, but Martin's absence (and my nifty Retro Rockets) had lulled me into a false sense of security, and I charged in hoping for the best, as is my wont. Sheesh. At least I wasn't the only bot so to suffer, though I can't remember who was next.

That wasn't the only carnage in the game. Andy got himself the Buzz Bomb- a neat little option that allows you to fire a flying missile that you guide around the board by programing it with its own hand of 5 cards. This can be a lot of fun, but only having 5 program cards means that Buzz Bombs aren't very manoeuvrable, and they can sometimes be more dangerous to their owner than anyone else. This was what happened this time I seem to recall, as Andy's bot and his Buzz Bomb ended up having a rather explosive encounter soon after. Heh.

At least Andy could take consolation from also having the Mine Layer. He promptly laid a mine on the 1st flag before heading off for the next checkpoint, so that the next person to land on the flag was guaranteed a warm welcome.

Meanwhile, Tony had got his hands on the Drone Launcher. This option allows you to fire a flying drone instead of firing your laser. You mark the target's square with a targeting marker, and the drone flies there at full speed (3/phase). If it doesn't hit anything before reaching the square, it hovers on the spot, rotating each phase until it picks up a new target, and off it goes again.

I've never seen a drone laucher do very much before, but in this game Tony fired off all 3, and each and every one hit. They don't do a huge amount of damage (only 2 points explosive), but they do push the target bot back 1 square. So yes, you've guessed it, Tony was able to fire a drone at a bot beside a pit and bingo, down it went. Three shots, 3 hits, and 1 kill: quite simply the most effective use of a Drone Launcher I've ever seen. But that's what happens on a crowded factory floor.

Donald was doing his bit for the robot repair industry too. His bot had the High Power Laser. This cutie can shoot through walls, or even other bots, with the added bonus that if you shoot through a bot, it takes damage as well as the target beyond. Two for the price of one was a bargain that Donald couldn't resist.

Antony too was getting in on the demolition derby. As I made my escape from the chaos surrounding the 1st flag I took several points of damage. Time for a quick power down to repair it all I decided. So I headed for what I hoped would be a safe spot. No such freakin' luck though. In a fit of sheer malice, Antony just ran up and pushed me off the side of the board as my bot sat there inert. I know he enjoyed this, because he reminded me of his evil deed several times after the game.

Meanwhile Brian too had lost a life and had been sent right back to the start, which turned out to be fortunate, but futile. Fortunate because it meant that his was the only bot in any position to do anything to hinder Andy as he made his run for the final flag. Futile because his efforts failed, and Andy cruised to a comfortable victory.

Everyone enjoyed this game, and there is an appetite for more, which is just great, because Roborally is one of those multiplayer games where the rule of 'the more the merrier' definitely applies. Twonky will have his revenge, just you wait!

Doom the Boardgame
Andy brought his copy of Fantasy Flight Games' boardgame version of the original 1st-person shooter for us to try out. I've never played this before, but I've been keen to give it a go ever since I first got to look inside the box just after it was released. Doom the Boardgame is simply one of the most awesome boxes of gaming goodness I have ever seen. The box is big, heavy, and stuffed to bursting with plastic miniatures, jig-cut board sections, counters, cards, and more. Quite frankly, even GW at their most generous have never filled a big box with such goodies- yes, in terms of components, Doom the Boardgame even puts my beloved Space Hulk in the shade.

So, does the actual gameplay live up to the quite astonishing impact of this droolworthy box of delights? On the face of it, yes.

Andy has the Expansion Set, which is just as well, because the basic game only supports 4 players. With the Expansion Set we were able to play a Deathmatch. This had the advantage of letting us all play, and of getting us easily into a quick and simple game. Unfortunately it had the disadvantage of not letting us play with all the lovely monsters, because a Deathmatch is a straight shootout between marines. Still, we did get a good taste of the core mechanics of the game.

We played Deathmatch 2: Reactor Core (click through and head for page 10), with a 3-kill victory condition.

I won't review the rules or the gameplay in detail: the rules are all there online if you'd like to check them out, and the review at The Wargamer gives a good account of how the game works. What I will say is that the rules are logical and provide for fraught decision-making and tense gameplay. There are a lot of fiddly details to get used to, but they all make sense, and I certainly fancy playing the game often enough to master the detail and develop some serious tactics.

I got the first kill in our game: Andy decided to head for the reactor core- the red area on the map- to get the BFG; so I promptly headed for an encounter location and opened the reactor shield. Heh.

The game then devolved into a tense duel of manoeuvre, as people rushed to arm themselves with the most effective weapons and sneaked about trying to get the drop on each other. I quickly discovered the joy of grenades, which can be thrown round corners and can prove satisfyingly deadly. They can also bounce around unpredictably, with unfortunately catastrophic results, as I discovered to my cost (yep, more spectacular self-destruction!).

Among all the rules, I found the attack rules particularly interesting.

The attack rules use 6 special coloured dice: 1 red, 1 yellow, 2 blue, and 2 green. Each weapon/attack uses a fixed number of dice of set colours, from 1 red dice for a fist up to all 6 for the BFG. The faces of the dice show 2 basic symbols: a number, and damage pips. When you attack, you roll the appropriate dice. The total of the numbers gives you the range of the attack (this doesn't apply for close combat naturally enough). If this range is greater than or equal to the range to the target, then you've hit, and you apply the total number of damage pips to the target.

Some dice faces also have bullets on them. If a bullet comes up, then you're out of ammo. In addition, the red and yellow dice both have a miss symbol: if this comes up, then the attack misses no matter what.

This mechanic has some interesting effects. The simplest is based on the distribution of numbers and damage pips on the different colours of dice. According to Andy, the overall effect is that if you get good range you're going to do less damage, and vice versa. More subtle perhaps is the effect of abandoning traditional fixed ranges and to hit rolls: uncertain and variable ranges make long-range sniping a much iffier tactic than closing in and blazing away at short range. I'm not much of a computer gamer, let alone a player of FPS, but it seems to me that the overall effect of these attack rules is to enforce a style of play that has more in common with Doom the FPS than with more traditional tactical skirmish games. I like this.

Anyhoo, even with just the marines on the table, I really enjoyed Doom the Boardgame. I'm looking forward to seeing how things go when the marines are facing all the monsters that hell can throw at them.

Oh, and by the way: Tony won our game.

And finally: Memoir'44 less than perfect? Shock! Horror!
The games of Memoir'44 I played with Martin recently gave rise to a lengthy discussion about the vagaries of cardplay in which Martin and I didn't see eye-to-eye. Musing on this recently I was struck by a thought about how the deck works in M44. I found myself wondering if this feature of the game might prove to be something of a limitation.

In M44 your route through the deck is essentially quite fixed. That is to say: because you play one card and draw one card, the cards you will get in your hand are largely fixed by the shuffle. There are only 2 ways to change this: the 6 'Recon' cards- which allow you to draw 2 cards and choose which you keep; and the 'Their Finest Hour' card- which causes the deck to be reshuffled.

There are various ways- in respect of both authenticity and of gameplay- that this can be rationalised. All the same, this tightly structured access to the deck contrasts strongly with my other favourite cardgames. In Up Front you have the discard capacity that you don't have in M44, plus the deck is used for random number generation too- both of these will affect your route through the deck. In Ivanhoe the decision whether or not to withdraw from a tournament is crucial in this respect, and can be of great tactical importance. Settlers Cards and Fluxx too both offer different ways to run through the deck.

All of which leads to the big question: is this very limited ability to change the way that you run through the deck (it is the exception rather than the rule) a problem? Would M44 benefit from rules allowing players to vary their card cycle by, say, discarding and drawing 2 cards if they don't issue any orders? I'm torn here.

My instinct is that M44 wouldn't benefit from a change of this kind. This is because I feel that the game's card cycle is carefully balanced with the structure of the Command deck and of the fire and movement rules. M44's slower card cycle compared to, say, UF, strikes me as being designed to pose specific hand-building problems for the sake of generating a definite psychological tension as you balance your capacity to react to your opponent against your efforts to develop your own attack plans.

At the same time I have to confess that the idea of a card-driven game with such limited ways to change your route through the deck sits uncomfortably with me. At the very least this might be because knowing how to work your way through the deck is a cardplay skill that you'd surely prefer to let players bring to bear.

Like I said, I'm torn here. But then, perhaps it is precisely the absence of this level of cardplay that makes Borg's design such a winner. Why do I say this? Because I'm thinking that this very absence is a great equaliser in a contest between a veteran card player and someone who comes to a game like M44 with little or no experience of card games and the associated skills of navigating through a deck of cards.

Well, I guess I'm reassured at least. ;)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My little Old World: Conspiracies and Consequences

Once out of the Temple of Ulric, the party's immediate objective was to get Hoffer to the Temple of Sigmar. Close as the 2 temples are, the PC's soon became aware of the din of a mob ahead. Leaving the area of the Temple of Ulric the party bumped into Grundi, who was returning to the temple in the hope of making a rendezvous with his companions [player back again]. Meanwhile, Alane explained that she had to go to the Guild of Wizards and Alchemists, and would rejoin everyone later [player absent].

Coming round the edge of the Freiburg district into the square in which the Temple of Sigmar is located, the party beheld a mob besieging the Temple, baying for the blood of a heretic. A stake and pyre were being prepared nearby and people were looting nearby houses and shops to build the pyre ever higher. Small groups of watchmen lurked here and there, but they were powerless to control the mob.

The PC's didn't pause to ask anyone what was going on; they just asked Hoffer if there was a back door to the temple that might be unknown to the mob. Fortunately there was and, skirting the mob, the party reached the back of the temple in a few minutes. There, it was easy to persuade the nervous guards to let them in.

Once inside the temple the PC's found themselves waiting around for a while while Hoffer was taken off to have his wounds tended to. Soon enough though they received a summons to the office of High Capitular Werner Stolz, the High Priest of Sigmar in Middenheim. There they found Hoffer- looking much healthier, and his Witch Hunter companion Ulrich Fischer, who they all remembered from the Drakwald a few days ago.

The High Capitular cast a searching glance across the PC's and spoke about their adventures showing that their reputation had preceded them again. He then initiated a discussion of the turn of events which had led to Witch Hunter Fischer seeking sanctuary in the Temple of Sigmar. Stolz had barely started speaking on the subject before Siegfried blurted out an announcement that Deputy High Priest Liebnitz was an agent of chaos.

Stolz, Hoffer and Ulrich all looked shocked at this suggestion. The PC's grounds for this suspicion were explained. Stolz's reply to this was strangely cautious. He explained that the tensions of the aftermath of the Storm of Chaos were bringing the longstanding rivalry between the Imperial cults of Ulric and Sigmar to the fore. In this context, if Deputy High Priest Liebnitz was able to prove that a Sigmarite Witch Hunter was a servant of chaos, then it would be a tremendous embarrasment for the cult of Sigmar, one capable of destroying the Temple of Sigmar in the city of Middenheim and thus unleashing another civil war in which the followers of Ulric and Sigmar turned on each other.

As Stolz outlined the situation the PC's began to consider that Liebnitz just might not be a chaos cultist after all. The fact that he had betrayed them and threw them into his dungeons wasn't proof of that much. The man might just be trying to exploit a bad situation to his own advantage, and they had somehow or other become some kind of threat to his scheme. Either way, if there was to be a reckoning, our heroes wanted to be a part of it.

In other words, reiterated Stolz, the situation emerging around Bauer's arrest was so delicate and so explosive that, even if the PC's suspicions about Liebnitz were true, wildly making such an accusation public would rebound against the cult of Sigmar and probably provoke the outbreak Stolz was committed to avoiding. Evidence, above all evidence, would be needed before any action could be taken. To emphasise this he explained that his own and Commander Schutzmann's hands were tied in this situation. They both had to go through with the trial- Schutzmann would in fact be one of the judges- and make sure that Bauer was found innocent. Otherwise, Hoffer and Fischer would have to be handed over for trial, and they would probably share Bauer's fate.

As Stolz reached his conclusion, the PC's quickly became aware of what was coming: they had the reputation of doing what needed to be done; the experience to get it done; and the anonymity to do it without been seen as obvious agents of the Temple of Sigmar, and so perhaps inflaming the tense situation beyond control. Hoffer might have been frustrated at being prohibited from coming to the aid of his companion Bauer, but High Capitular Stolz was gratified that the party was willing to help.

The party's assent to his request granted, Stolz reminded them once more of the magnitude of what was at stake, and that they only had a day and a half in which to find the evidence that would prove Bauer's innocence. Then he asked if any of the PC's were injured. For those who were the High Capitular invoked the Grace of Sigmar and laid his Healing Hands upon them. Then he bid the party good fortune.

Our heroes left the Temple of Sigmar by the back door. They were still carrying all their travelling gear. So they decided to return to the Untergard party's warehouse to leave that safely behind. Mordrin said that he had to make an important visit to the Chapel of Grungni, and that he would catch up with everyone else at the warehouse.

At the warehouse in the Southgate the PC's were met by a worried looking Captain Schiller. Schiller told them that Hans Baumer had been murdered. The PC's remembered Baumer as the woodsman who had accompanied them from Untergard. Schiller explained that Baumer's death was doubly peculiar. The man had hated the city and refused to enter it at all, preferring to pass messages through Otwin of the Watch if he needed to communicate with the Untergard party for any reason. And yet Baumer's body had been found inside the city- in the Grunpark, at the edge of the Sudgarten district just north of the Ostwald. Schiller found this incomprehensible.

The party's return to the warehouse had also forced an unpleasant duty on the aging leader of the survivors of Untergard. The warehouse was put aside for the refugees of Untergard he explained. The PC's had been able to lodge with the Untergard party in their capacity as guards. Now that they'd all found jobs in the city, the ordinances regarding the refugee influx meant that the PC's were no longer eligible to lodge with the Untergard refugees.

Schiller was embarrassed to have to tell this to people who had been so helpful to his charges, and was apologetic as he explained that this was a course that had been forced upon him by the city's ordinances. He told the PC's that there was no question of them simply being turfed out onto the streets, but that they would have to act soon. The PC's largely understood the difficulties of Schiller's situation, although Grundi grumbled a bit, feeling that this was a fine show of gratitude for what they had done for the people of Untergard.

Meanwhile Mordrin had made his way to the Chapel of Grungi, were he met with Chief Priest Hargund. He explained to Hargund the news about the threat of conflict between the Sigmarites and the Ulricians. The dwarfs of the Empire, Mordrin told the old priest, would do well to prepare to look after themselves should the worst happen. Hargund thanked the young runebearer for his news and his concerns, adding that the dwarfs of the Empire would play their part as loyal citizens of the Empire in the event of any such crisis. Feeling that perhaps the old priest hadn't grasped the full import of his words, Mordrin reiterated his warning, but Hargund reassured him that the dwarfs would do what was right by themselves and by the Empire.

Then Mordrin showed Hargund the broken stone hammer that he had found in Kazron Gorespite's tomb deep in the Drakwald. He asked the priest if he could identify it. Hargund told Mordrin that it was an ancestral treasure belonging to the Dwarf-Kings of the Black Mountains, to the very south of the Empire. Mordrin asked if there were any representatives of the Black Mountains' dwarfs in Middenheim to whom he could return the relic. Hargund told him that there were none, and asked Mordrin if he would not prefer to return it himself. Mordrin replied that at the moment he preferred to leave the relic in the care of the chapel. He thanked Hargund for his time, and left to rejoin his companions.

With Mordrin's arrival the party completed their preparations for their mission and left the Untergard party's warehouse to head northwards to the Sword and Flail. Siegfried was sure he knew where it was. He certainly knew it by reputation, as a rough place popular with mercenaries, the sort of place where a misplaced glance could provoke a fight.

It was early afternoon by the time the PC's headed out to make their way to the Neumarket to find the Sword and Flail. The streets were still tense and edgy, but the everyday activities of a thriving city had settled across the city like a blanket, muffling the underlying sense of incipient panic somewhat. Hopes were of an uneventful journey, but those hopes were dashed.

A small crowd was spotted ahead, thronging around someone whose ranting voice became clear as the party got nearer. They heard someone declaiming about the revelations following upon the death of Valten, then a gap in the crowd revealed to them the bedraggled and crazed looking figure responsible for these ravings.

At just that moment the figure shouted out that there is one of them, and the party realised that the zealot was none other than Karl, the librarian at the Collegium Theologica who they had questioned while investigating the Morten murder not long after arriving in Middenheim many months ago. Everyone in the party knew that something strange and disturbing had happened between young Karl and Grundi that day, but only Grundi and Alane knew the truth about the dwarf's vicious and unprovoked attack.

Yes, there is one of them the febrile voice repeated, going up a notch or two in pitch. The party stood gaping at the untoward sight. Karl's rant against the Sigmarite cult's laxity on the matter of dwarfs continued: the time has come to lift the veil from our eyes, to see these monsters for the chaos-deformed horrors that they are, and to drive them from our lands. Otherwise the taste of ashes that we know today will be as nothing to the bitterness the future will visit upon us.

As Karl continued in this vein the crowd listening to him began to get restless, and started casting angry glances towards Grundi and Mordrin. Siegfried chose this moment to intervene. His precise words weren't important. All he had to do was to instill in Karl's audience a sense of the danger inherent in taking heed of the young zealot's words, to break his spell over them so as to defuse their desire to find- in the young man's chosen objects of hatred- suitable scapegoats for their own fears and frustrations. Fortunately he managed, and the party was able quietly to leave unmolested.

None of our heroes felt comfortable after this unexpected encounter, although Mordrin felt somewhat vindicated in his fears for the future of the dwarfs in the event of the civil war the chances of which so exercised High Capitular Stolz. Grundi felt a cold hand clutch his heart. But only young Berthold realised the dizzying depths of the heart of darkness the former librarian's zealous rantings represented. Only Berthold, because as the sole follower of Sigmar in the party only he fully understood that Karl's call for a 'return' to the 'pure faith' at the expense of dwarfs represented a heresy that struck at the very foundations of the Empire as laid by Sigmar himself.

Soon thereafter our heroes arrived at the Sword and Flail, a small 2-storeyed building tucked away in a seedy corner of east Neumarket. The silence that fell and the understated hostility of the stares cast at strangers as the PC's entered the taproom confirmed the place's reputation. Perhaps Alane's absence was fortuitous, because she might've encouraged a more threatening curiosity on the part of the off-duty watchmen and other hardened-looking types congregated in the half-empty tavern that afternoon.

A heavy-set man presided over the bar. His face was covered with scars, some relatively fresh, and his missing teeth confirmed the impression that he was a man familiar with violence. He served the PC's without making any small talk. Mordrin looked round for tables, selecting one with a view of both the entrance and the only other door in the place, which was located behind the bar. The party sat down. They sipped at their drunks and began to wonder what they were going to do.

- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Monday, February 13, 2006

My little Old World: The Poisoners' Trail #2

Where lurks evil in the hearts of men?
The warehouse showed some signs of damage from the siege earlier in the year, and was abandoned, just like some of the other buildings nearby. As some of the PC's examined the nailed-shut doors of the warehouse, others looked for a way round the back. There they found a small door standing ajar, and tracks in the dirt revealed that people had passed through the door in recent days. Peering through the door showed an empty warehouse with nothing inside but scraps of wood and the odd scuttling rat.

The party gathered round the door and prepared themselves. They crashed through the door ready for trouble and succeeded only in scaring off a few rats. As they looked around, someone heard a scuffling noise in a corner, from behind a stack of barrels. Investigating, the party found a rough wooden panel under which was a hole in the ground with a rope dangling down into the darkness.

Mordrin led the way as the party climbed down to find themselves in a cramped rough-hewn passage. He advanced for a short while then started as 2 crossbow bolts clattered off the stone walls. Ahead the dwarf could just make out 2 figures hunkered down behind some kind of barricade. He ran ahead to find the barricade was too wide to strike across. Meanwhile the cloaked men behind the barricade had had enough time to reload, and 2 more crossbow bolts shot out at the dwarf, fortunately to no ill effect. Mordrin began to clamber over the barricade.

Siegfreid was at the barricade too by this point, and managed to leap across to land inside the small cavern on the other side. There he was quickly engaged by 1 of the crossbowmen. The 2nd crossbowman pulled back into the centre of the cavern hotly pursued by Mordrin. Berthold began to clamber across the barricade while Alane followed up.

As Seigfried and Mordrin's experience began to tell against their opponents, 3 more men appeared from the passage to the left of the cavern, fanning out into a line ready for combat. Suddenly Mordrin felt a strange numbness passing through his body and he lost his grip on his axe and shield, so that they clattered to the cave floor. Meanwhile the newcomers to the cavern charged into melee, splitting up 1 against the now disarmed Mordrin and 2 against Seigfried.

Fortunately Mordrin's opponents were unable to exploit their opponent's vulnerability and Mordrin was able to grab hold of his axe and shield again with little difficulty. As the melee continued Mordrin was again and again to feel the strange sensation grip his body, but thankfully each time his dwarfish constitution came to his aid and the sensation passed before it could again benumb his fingers.

Experienced and ruthless fighters both, Mordrin and Siegfried were soon able to take down the first of their opponents, each with crushing blows to the arm. Berthold meanwhile ran out into the middle of the cavern to see what was down the side passage from which the other attackers had come, and from which came the glow that lit the bloody combat taking place around him. There he beheld, standing in the middle of the passage, a 6th robed figure. Alane was by this time sprawled across the barricade- having failed in her own attempt to leap across it- and was adding her magic darts to the melee unfolding in front of her.

As ever, events moved quickly as the melee reached its climax. Siegfried was wearing down his foes, despatching another with a vicious strike to the leg. Mordrin finished off his final foe with a blow that clove his head wide open spraying blood and brain matter through the air. Berthold charged the cloaked figure in the passage, soon to be followed up by Mordrin. As the pair launched their attacks, they soon got the impression that he was ignoring their attacks completely. In any event, he was certainly unharmed by their early blows.

The reason for the cultist's attitude soon became clear to Siegfried and Alane. Putting paid to his 3rd and final foe with a brutal stab through the gut, Siegfried turned at the sound of a stange noise from behind. He beheld a sight which froze the blood in his veins: a hideous winged creature shimmering through twisted air before solidifying before his eyes. Alane too was shocked at the sight, but the pair soon recovered their nerve and gave battle.

The finish wasn't long in coming. Siegfried found that he was more of a match for the daemon than he'd expected, and he'd soon chopped off one of its clawed hands. The creature was finally despatched when its arm was severed. And although the cultist leader was possessed of powerful magicks, he was no match in combat for 2 experienced adventurers, especially when one of them was a hardened fighter.

The melee over, the party turned their attention to their surroundings. They found little of interest save bedrolls in the entrance chamber. In the other main chamber they found an altar which Mordrin promptly destroyed. In a small side-chamber they found a few rusting old Skaven weapons and a small barrel, which was quickly revealed to be full of Warpstone. Meanwhile, searching the bodies of the dead cultists had revealed a leather-bound book on the corpse of the cult leader. Berthold quickly identified the title as The Liber Mutandis. Without a second thought and in an immediate and unanimous consensus the book was put to the flames and burnt.

Having looted the corpses and helped themselves to whatever they fancied, the party made the barrel of Warpstone secure and hauled it with them back to the surface. Once they got back into the abandoned warehouse the trials of the past day began to tell on them.

They had reached Middenheim after a long day's forced march only to be thrown immediately into the turmoil of the poisoning of the well at the Temple of Ulric. No sooner was that over but they had been sent out on their mission to foil the plot to poison the wells. It had been a long and very trying day, and everyone was tired. No one fancied trying to dodge the Watch patrols through the streets of Middenheim while lugging a barrel of Warpstone with them. In fact, no one fancied lugging a barrel of Warpstone through the city streets at all. So the party decided to bed down in the warehouse for the rest of the night, and to report back to Liebnitz in the morning.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. When morning came it was quickly decided that Alane, Berthold and Mordrin would stay in the warehouse to guard the barrel of Warpstone, while Seigfreid would head off to inform the Deputy High Priest of their find. Siegfried set off.

Heading through the city streets Seigfried noticed that the city was simmering on the verge of major disorder. Watch and militia patrols were out in great number, and knots of people lurked here and there as if waiting for the slightest excuse to break out into mob violence. Clearly the poisoners' plot had enjoyed a measure of success before the party had tracked them to their lair.

It wasn't long before Seigfreid came across a mob who had found just the excuse they had been looking for. He found a house being burnt down while several men held a bound and badly beaten prisoner who was soon to join the house in flames on the charge of being a beastman. With his recent experience it didn't take Seigfreid long to notice that the 'beastman's' horns were crude forgeries tied on with string.

Taking all this in with a glance, Siegfried burst through the crowd before they were even properly aware of his presence, cut the string with his sword, and, telling the startled crowd to go off and look for a more suitable target for their anger, strode off to continue his journey to the Temple of Ulric.

It wasn't long before Seigfried encountered another diversion, and this time he was waylaid by the better nature he preferred to conceal if not actually deny. He spotted a Watch patrol pursuing a young girl through the streets. The girl was patently a mutant- the extra hand sprouting from an arm was a dead giveaway; but as she ran past Seigfried and up an alleyway her looks reminded the man of young Bianca, who he and his companions had rescued from goblins so many months ago.

Even as his rational prejudices bemoaned his sentimental stupidity, Seigfried acted instinctively and followed the pursuing watchmen up the alleyway. He found the 4 men, swords drawn, advancing on the cornered girl. The watchmen didn't take kindly to Seigfried's intervention on behalf of a mutant, and none of them were known to him, so he was unable to talk his way out of the situation when they ordered him to surrender. Disarmed, Siegfried was put under guard, and marched back the way he had come, towards the Watch headquarters.

Seigfried was confident that Commander Schutzmann would clear him when he got a message to the Commander, but he was still annoyed at the delay. It turned out that he didn't have that long to wait though. He and his guards hadn't been going for very long before they encountered Deputy High Priest Liebnitz accompanied by a party of his personal guard- the elite Teutogen Guard.

Spotting Seigfreid, Liebnitz enquired of the Watch patrol leader what was going on. Hearing of Siegfried's arrest, the Deputy High Priest overrode all of the patrol leader's objections, and ordered Siegfried's release. The Watch leader was clearly very unhappy about this, and was no happier when Seigfried couldn't resist a very visible gloat.

Released from his arrest, Seigfried quickly explained to Liebnitz what the party had achieved. The Deputy High Priest instructed Seigfried to lead himself and his guards to the warehouse, which Seigfried did with alacrity. Arriving at the scene of the cultists' lair, Liebnitz quickly took command. He ordered 2 of his Teutogen Guard to stay behind to guard the Warpstone while everyone else returned to the Temple of Ulric.

And so the party headed north through the still tense city streets escorted by the Deputy High Priest of Ulric and some of the toughest warriors in the city. Unsurprisingly the journey back to the Temple passed without difficulty. Entering the Temple, Liebnitz led everyone through the Great Hall towards the block where his private office was located. Once out of sight of the Great Hall, the Deputy High Priest barked an order and his Teutogen Guard drew their weapons and the PC's were forced to surrender and disarm while Liebnitz told them that they had outlived their usefulness.

The Teutogen Guard led the PC's towards the dungeons. There they were stripped of their equipment and locked in a cell. The last sight they had after the cell door clanged shut was the sight of Liebnitz's gloating face as the Deputy High Priest promised to return to deal with them later, when he wasn't quite so busy.

Angered as they were by Liebnitz's treachery, the PC's didn't spend much time bemoaning their fate. Instead they turned their attentions to their surroundings and the matter of escape. They were in a small cell carved out of the solid rock of the Ulricsberg. All they could see out of their cell was the cell across the way, in which they were surprised to see none other than Matthias Hoffer, looking in a terrible state. Hearing and recognising the party's voices, Hoffer told them that, while tracking the poisoners, his companion Bauer had uncovered a chaos cult in the basement of a tavern called the Sword and Flail, had found some kind of book, and had been arrested by the Watch. Then the Witch Hunter passed out.

In the end, escape proved easier than everyone had imagined. As a one-time thief, Siegfried naturally had a set of lock picks. He had tried to secrete these in his boot while Liebnitz's Teutogens were stripping the party of their equipment, but had been spotted. Unexpectedly though, one of the lock picks had broken inside his boot, something Siegfried discovered when he experienced a piercing pain in his foot. It wasn't easy, but eventually Seigfried was able to unlock the cell door.

Freed from their cell, everyone now turned their attention to escaping the dungeons. In the end the party succeeded in a simple plan cooked up by Berthold. Everyone could sneak up the corridor to the door of the guard room. There, Alane could cast a spell to create the illusion of noise coming down the stairs from outside. The jailer so diverted, the party could then pile in and overpower him.

The plan worked like a charm and our 4 heroes soon found themselves once more in possession of their equipment which had been piled up in the guard room. With the cell keys in hand, some PC's went back to rescue Hoffer. The Witch Hunter was so severely wounded though that even the short journey to the guard room was enough to reopen his wounds. There was no way that Hoffer could move in his current condition. So Berthold poured his own healing potion down the Witch Hunter's throat, hoping that this would do enough to keep the man alive while they made their escape.

Meanwhile, Siegfried had discovered that the original Purple Hand cultist who they had captured the previous night was still locked up in a cell of his own. Telling his 3 companions to wait for him, he let himself into the cultist's cell and locked the door behind him. Then he applied some simple violence to persuade the man to answer his questions. Alone and locked in a cell the cultist's loyalty to himself was greater than his loyalty to Tzeentch, and he persuaded Siegfried that he knew no more of the Purple Hand than did the PC's themselves.

Thus satisfied, Siegfried rejoined the rest of the party, and they made their way out of the dungeons. The final phase of the party's escape plan relied on 2 assumptions. First: because no one apart from Liebnitz knew that they had been in the cells in the first place, no one else would know that they were escaping. And second: anyone they did meet on their way out might remember their help when the well was poisoned the other day and so wouldn't be hostile to them in any case. And so it proved: the party were able to make their way through the temple's Great Hall and out into the city streets without any difficulty.

The Poisoners' Trail
- #1 Advice and assistance from friends old and new
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Got game

Clash of the titans(?!)
I was graced for a couple of days earlier this week with a visit from my old gaming buddy "Uncle" Martin Lumsden, a man who fears nothing in gaming save dying in the Warhammer Old World... :p

Martin was one of the band with whom I whiled away my student days playing games when I really should've been studying. His timely arrival gave us our usual feast of gaming and raised my spirits immensely.

Our mammoth session began with Roborally, Richard Garfield of M:tG fame's wacky boardgame of robot racing. Rereleased last year by Avalon Hill in a shiny new edition, we were playing the 1994 WotC 2nd edition. I don't have the new edition myself, but in any case, Martin and I prefer the old edition because I do have 2 expansions: Armed and Dangerous- which brought in new options giving a host of new ways to cause damage and other goodies; and Grand Prix- which provides new board elements to torment players, including Martin's favourite, the Chop Shop.

Roborally is a game that has had something of a mixed reception, by which I mean some people really like it, others just don't take to it (well surprise, surprise!). The basic concept is brilliant: a bunch of control computers in a vast automated factory get bored with their lot, and decide to liven things up by running races across the factory floor with the factory's service bots.

The basic mechanics are great too. The factory floor is littered with a variety of elements that can help or hinder your bot's advance. There are a host of option cards which give your bots all sorts of special abilities, from more powerful lasers with which to damage rival bots, to gyroscopic stabilisers making it easier for a bot to negotiate the maze of conveyor belts and gears that litter the typical factory layout. And then there are the program cards.

The program cards are Roborally's most interesting design feature. Each turn you are dealt a hand of 9 program cards with which to program your bot's movement. The cards are 4 movement cards- backup 1, and forward 1, 2 and 3; and 3 rotates- left, right, and u-turn. You have to program 5 cards, which will be revealed and executed one-by-one during the turn. It is, of course, the unpredictability of the cards that is the true source of Roborally's fun: no matter how simple the move you need to make, you can never be 100% sure of making it. In fact, you can be sure that the cards will screw you over frequently.

The randomness of the cards might be one of the reasons for Roborally's mixed reception, since some people just don't like that kind of gameplay. Another reason is likely to be the vagaries of board design. In Roborally you see, race layouts are designed by placing checkpoints around the board(s) which have been selected as the racecourse. The placing of checkpoints can be of tremendous consequence, especially in a game with many players. Checkpoints placed in inaccessible and/or dangerous locations can result in carnage as several bots rush towards them all at once. This can give rise to a game in which the outcome is more or less decided after the 1st or 2nd checkpoint, which is obviously not much fun for those who are bringing up the rear.

These caveats aside, one thing that has to be said about Roborally is that it has some of the best written rulebooks I have seen. The interaction of the wide variety of elements in the game can give rise to all sorts of weird effects. In all the games I have played, nothing has ever come up that couldn't be resolved by reference to the rulebooks; there has always been a qualification of or exception to the general case noted somewhere or other. This is pretty impressive for rules that only cover some 60 A5 pages of large, well-spaced print with lots of diagrams (and that's including an expansion too).

All the same, no matter how much I like Roborally, my heart always sinks when Martin suggests a game. Why? For the simple reason that he always wins. I like a challenge as much as the next guy, but there seems to be a hideous inevitability to my defeat at Martin's hands in games of Roborally: I don't think I've ever beaten him, although we did have a draw once.

So, having felt that there was nothing for it but to accept the challenge Martin had put down, how did I fare?

I began our 1st game well: I declined the chance to begin the game with an option called 'The Big One'. The single most dangerous device in the game, The Big One a bomb that can do damage up to 8 squares away, and which can total an intact bot up to 2 squares away. The Big One has long been my favourite option because I can always have fun causing a huge explosion no matter what is happening in the actual race. The problem is that this fun is usually at the expense of my own bot. So this time I decided not to tempt fate by loading my bot up with this massive instrument of (self-)destruction.

This decision surprised Martin. It didn't help me win the game though: I was pipped at the post when Martin's bot sneaked into the final flag right in front of me. Still, it was close, perhaps as close as we've ever been (apart from that draw, but more of that anon).

Thus encouraged, I accepted Martin's challenge to another game. Oh the folly of optimistic self-deception! Although a titanic tussle, this game followed an all-too-familiar pattern: I fell so far behind after just 1 flag that I had no chance whatsoever to win the race. So I had to resort to interception tactics.

I first tried interception tactics a few years ago, when I was again too far behind in a game to catch up. Unwilling simply to give in I realised that my only chance of winning was to lurk near the final flag, tooling up with options as I did so, in the hopes of getting some useful instruments of destruction with which to destroy Martin's bot before he got to the flag. I almost did it that first time too: I actually took Martin's bot's 3rd and last life as he made his final run for victory. Unfortunately Martin's bot had pushed my own by a measly single square, which resulted in its destruction mere moments after Martin's. That was our draw.

With only 2 avenues of approach to the last 2 flags I was in a very strong position to use interception tactics, able easily to move to the appropiate side once Martin was commited to an approach. Once I almost took 1 of the bot's lives as I treated it to a barrage of laser fire and rams. Two other times I caught him with an option which forced him to draw his next program card at random instead of playing the one he had programed at the start of the turn, and each time a bad draw would've sent his bot plunging to its doom. These efforts were to no avail. Fortune was with Martin each time and he escaped.

The game ground on and on for several hours. By this time I had laid goo and mines to cover one of Martin's approach routes. Then I tried an audacious plan to sneak the 2nd flag and return before Martin could react. Unfortunately I made one of my classic stupid mistakes: I set off all the options (4 of them at once!) that were utterly crucial to my plan a phase too early, meaning that the key options- the ones intended to delay Martin long enough for me to get back across the board before he nipped in and reached the final 2 checkpoints- proved to be quite useless. And of course, this just happened to be the very turn in which Martin chose to make a break for a flag instead of trundling around biding his time in a search for options himself.


Much later, after we had chilled out over a few other games, we had a 3rd game of Roborally. I lost that one too, without touching a single flag, and to a bot that hadn't even taken a single point of damage. At least this one was mercifully quick: it was essentially all over after I made 2 classic stupid mistakes approaching the 1st flag, the 2nd of which cost my bot its life and sent me back to the start. My attempt at interception tactics proved futile and Martin's bot cruised in to an easy victory.

0-3 :(

We managed 4 games of this little gem in the day and a half of Martin's visit. The first 2 followed on from the epic tragedy that was the 2nd game of Roborally, the remainder were the following day, in a quick bash before Martin had to make his departure.

These games reminded me of one of Ivanhoe's abiding merits: it is a great filler game, ideal for those times when you're too fragged to play anything else- eg. you've just lost a brain-numbingly intense game of Roborally lasting 3 hours or more (sheesh); or you've only got a wee while at your disposal and you fancy a genuinely challenging game that you can pick up an play in a minute or two.

The honours across these 4 games were even although- surprise, surprise!- I lost the first two we played.

2-5 :(

As inevitable as Martin's desire for to play Roborally was my own to play Memoir'44. Random selection of scenario and sides gave me playing the Germans against Martin's Yanks in Operation Spring.

The 1st game began with Martin probing on each flank for a bit, then launching a big assault up the centre. Meanwhile I had pulled my armour facing Tilly-la-Campagne into the centre. When Martin's attack stalled on and around Verrieres Ridge, I was able to launch a counter-attack which included a rolling armoured assault which crashed all the way through to the US deployment zone beyond Verrieres Ridge in a series of deadly overruns.

As ever, Martin was game for another go, convinced that he could win next time. The game followed a similar pattern to the 1st. The main difference was that I launched an all-out counter-attack almost immediately, and crashed into the American advance with everything I had in the centre (again including all my armour IIRC). My troops seemed to have forgotten how to shoot: at one point I had fired off some 30 dice in 2 turns with little more effect than Martin had achieved with a small fraction of that total! Sheer weight of numbers told in the end though, although the result was much closer than in the previous game.

Undaunted, Martin was determined to try again. The game played out pretty much as before IIRC, with the significant difference that I won by a mere single victory medal. And that was that.

5-5 :)

The Settlers of Catan Card Game
A 2-player variant of the classic boardgame by Klaus Teuber, Settlers cards is another of my favourite games. I can still remember how, the very first time I played it, I felt that it lacked the qualities giving the boardgame its endless replay value. It was later that same evening, somewhere on about game 4 or 5 of the session, that I realised just how wrong I was.

Settlers cards is a fabulous and engrossing game of colony-building and resource management. The card deck is beautiful to look at and the gameplay is simple and rich. The basic game is enough in and of itself, but there are expansion decks that ring the changes and bring new character to the familiarity of the basic game. In addition, the expansion set includes the Tournament Game, in which you can design your own decks, which can be great fun. The link above renders any more words on my part superfluous right now, including as it does pictures, and an interactive online tutorial which will give you an idea of the gameplay. Check it out for yourself!

Meanwhile, Martin and I played 2 games of Settlers cards this time round. It was well into the wee small hours by that time, and I was still reeling a bit from the strain of that grinding game of Roborally (sheesh), so we stuck with the easy familiarity of the basic game. This didn't do me any good though: I lost both games.

I lost the 1st game in the opening game. There are certain cards that are crucial to this stage of the game, 2 particular ones being the Abbey and the Scout. The Abbey increases your hand capacity by 1, expanding your planning options. The Scout, well, without explaining the rules, the important point is that the Scout gives you the chance to make sure that a new settlement offers you exactly the expanded resource base you want. So searching for and getting hold of both these cards (there are 2 of each in the basic game) is typically a significant part of the opening of our games of Settlers cards.

Anyhoo, I quickly came to the conclusion that Martin had grabbed both of the Scouts. It was at this point I made my mistake. What I should've done was press ahead full speed with my road and settlement building. This would've increased my chance of getting hold of some of the choice region cards (these are the cards that generate your resources, a concept with which you'll be familiar if you know the boardgame; otherwise, you'll learn about this if you check out the interactive tutorial linked to above). What I did instead was spend my time building other things, with the result that Martin's resource base was much greater than mine very quickly.

This enabled Martin to build 4 of the 5 expansion settlements in the game, giving him a resource base twice as big as mine. On top of watching Martin build things turn after turn while I eked out a precarious existence saving up for just one build, I was well and truly screwed when it came to bonus and stolen resources. At one point I calculated that, adding up the bonus resources Martin had gained and those he had stolen from me by various means, the result was approximately equal to some 15 turns of my puny average resource stream. And that was before taking into account the impact of Martin's much greater resource base!

The 2nd game was much closer. In fact at one moment I thought I had it in bag, but Martin just pipped me at the post. Really: barring a 1/6 chance on the Event dice, I was guaranteed my winning builds on the very next turn after Martin completed his own multiple game-winning builds. Talk about being robbed!

5-7 :(

We rounded our marathon gaming bash off with a few games of this all-time classic, which is probably the single game I've played more than any other. The final score was 4-4, which made our backgammon session a draw. And that included a game doubled to 4 in which Martin only just escaped a gammon, thus saving himself from losing 8-2. Sheesh yet again.

Final score:

But I take a certain crumb of comfort from 2 facts. First: I recovered from being 7-3 down after the first night. And second: enough of my defeats were sufficiently narrow that the final result could very easily have been 8-5 in my favour. So what about could've beens you might say, but you've got to find crumbs of comfort where you can when you need them I say. ;)

Friday, February 10, 2006

My little Old World: The Poisoners' Trail #1

Advice and assistance from friends old and new
Commander Ulrich Schutzmann, Midden Marshal of the Middenheim City Watch pondered the matter of consequences and responsibility. The very last thing he'd've expected, when he'd brought those adventurers in to investigate Morten's murder, was for them to end up becoming full time watchmen, let alone freebooters moving with such apparent ease through some of the highest circles of the city. Their persistence, not to mention their sheer good fortune, could not be denied.

Greimold had chuckled when Schutzmann had expressed his concerns about so much resting on such shoulders, but the Commander hadn't responded, knowing that that was exactly the desired reaction to his friend's teasing. Schutzmann knew that humour was Greimold's way of coping with the horrors he had confronted. He knew too that the priest considered him too unbending in his exercise of authority. But Greimold knew little or nothing of high responsibility, always having had someone to turn to for instructions, a superior to tell him what to do.

His old friend's insouciance wasn't the issue though. It was the unpredictability of these adventurers that was plaguing Schutzmann. Far from disappearing back into the woodwork after solving the Morten case, they'd gone on to perform a vital- and still irritatingly vague- service for Liebnitz, only to return just in time for the outbreak of the events now threatening the peace of an already tense city. As the Midden Marshal of the Middenheim City Watch, Schutzmann didn't like unpredictability. He liked order. When he shouted jump, he wanted to know in advance in which direction and how far people would go.

These musings reminded Schutzmann of Matthais Hoffer's judgement on these people: that whatever else they were, they were loyal to the cause of righteousness. Schutzmann was amused to find himself taking comfort in that Witch Hunter's words. Hoffer had confirmed that they hadn't violated the trust he and Greimold had placed in them all those months ago. And anyone who could get anything past Hoffer and still remain untainted in the eyes of that Ordo Fidelis fanatic just had to be trustworthy in the end.

Schutzmann certainly hoped so. The fate of his city might well depend upon them.


The interview with Liebnitz complete, the party lingered in his office to await confirmation that the green glow from the poisoned water had in fact been caused by the vile substance Warpstone.

Meanwhile Mordrin was making haste to the Watch headquarters through the quiet streets of a late night Middenheim under curfew. The young Runebearer kept his eyes open for patrols to inform of the threat to the city's wells. In the event he only encountered 1 patrol, of militiamen. Mordrin decided against passing on the news to these irregulars.

Arriving at the Watch headquarters Mordrin didn't have to wait too long before he was admitted to Commander Schutzmann's office, where he found the Midden Marshal in the company of Father Greimold of the Temple of Sigmar. Schutzmann was a bit grumpy at the interruption and he didn't offer the dwarf a glass of the port that he and Greimold had been sharing. Invited to explain the reason for his arrival at this late hour, Mordrin glanced over at Father Greimold. Schutzmann told the dwarf he could speak freely in front of the priest.

The Watch Commander's attitude changed quickly on hearing Mordrin's report. Schutzmann asked the young dwarf a few questions to clarify some details, then commended Mordrin on his decision to bring this news to his attention. Reminding the dwarf of the oath of secrecy he'd sworn in front of himself and Father Greimold a few months ago, the Commander expressed his conviction that the green glow of the poisoned water had been caused by Warpstone, and explained the evil substance's importance to the Skaven. Then he told Mordrin to get something to eat and have a rest- he had to make plans.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party headed to the Temple of Sigmar to see how Berthold was doing. The young scribe was sufficiently recovered from his attack of the Galloping Trots, so he joined his companions, and they all headed off southwards, thinking to look for an entrance into the undercity sewer system to begin a search for Skaven. Soon enough, they were met by a Watch patrol. The patrol informed the PC's that they had orders from Commander Schutzmann to bring the party to Watch headquarters.

The PC's had to wait outside Commander Schutzmann's office when they arrived at the Watch headquarters. Mordrin joined them while they waited. The wait continued after their admission to Schutzmann's office. After a few minutes Father Greimold arrived, in the company of Matthais Hoffer of the Ordo Fidelis, and the briefing began.

Commander Schutzmann's first concern was to find out what Deputy High Priest Liebnitz's intentions were. The PC's explained their mission to save the wells from the poisoners. The discussion turned to the nature of the plot. Grundi suggested that they should look for the underground sources of the city wells, since Skaven might have poisoned the wells at source. Schutzmann and Greimold were impressed at this suggestion, but had to point out that no one knew where the city wells found their source.

After a while, it became obvious that there was nothing for it but to mount a watch on the city's wells. Commander Schutzmann shared Deputy High Priest Liebnitz's concern about panicking the city's populace, and didn't want the threat to be made public. So, he explained, Hoffer and his companions would share the mission with the PC's.

Eventually the plan was formed to focus attention on those wells used by the most people, since those wells would give the poisoners' vile plan the greatest impact. Schutzmann noted that the PC's had arrived in the city as part of the Untergard refugee party, which meant that they were most familiar with the south city. So they could keep watch there, while Hoffer and his Witch Hunters would work in the north city. The decision was reached that the PC's should head for the Southgate/Ostwald, where the influx of refugees after the Storm of Chaos meant that several wells were used by more people than any other in the city.

All this decided, Schutzmann noted that several noses had been put out of joint when Graf Todbringer had appointed a follower of Sigmar to the post of Midden Marshal of the City Watch, and that the party were acting on behalf of Deputy High Priest Liebnitz in any case. Also, he noted, if the poisoners' evil scheme couldn't be nipped in the bud, then it would be better if the Watch's authority wasn't undermined by association with failed efforts to undermine the scheme in the first place. For this reason Schutzmann instructed the PC's that they must continue to operate independently of the Watch, so that they shouldn't take their uniforms with them.

As the party took this on board, Commander Schutzmann concluded by telling the PC's that this mission might keep them busy for some time to come, so it would be for the best if they took time to get something to eat and to have a brief rest. Then he reminded the party of their oaths of secrecy and sent them on their way.

So it was then that, some time later, the party found themselves secreted around a small square in the Ostwald district. They hadn't been there for long before a hooded figure of human size and gait appeared and began to cross the square. Berthold decided to play a drunk, and staggered out into the square after the figure had passed his own hiding place. Hearing the noise, the figure looked round. He ignored the disturbance, and continued across the square and into an alleyway.

Siegfried was hiding on the rooftop above that alleyway. He jumped across to the other side and climbed down to confront the hooded figure before it disappeared. The figure turned and ran back the way it had come, at which point the rest of the PC's moved in and quickly overpowered the man.

A quick search of the man revealed that he had a purple hand tattooed on the back of one hand and a strange symbol identified to be the mark of Tzeentch on the back of the other. He was also carrying a small sack which Alane's magical sense quickly told her was full of Warpstone. Content that they had their poisoner, the party decided to deliver him to Deputy High Priest Liebnitz at the Temple of Ulric.

As they dragged the man off, a small scrap of paper fell from under his cloak, and one of the PC's collected it. Scrutinising this, the PC's soon realised that it was a map. Eventually they agreed that it showed the well they had been watching, so that the route marked on the map surely led back to the poisoners' lair. Something else for the pot they thought.

The party returned to the Temple of Ulric without falling foul of the Watch patrols. There they explained to the guards on the door who their captive was, and the man was promptly marched off to the cells. The PC's then showed the guards the sack of Warpstone, explaining that it contained something dangerous that had to be taken straight to Deputy High Priest Liebnitz, but that they weren't at liberty to say anything more about it.

Confronted with the PC's insistence on danger and on maintaining an air of mystery, the guards were less willing this time to follow the PC's wishes. Protestations that this was the substance that had poisoned the temple's well, and that all the guards had to do was to see it safely delivered to Deputy High Priest Liebnitz were to no avail: the guards certainly didn't want anything to do with something that could cause mutations, and they were quite happy to tell the PC's to deliver it to Liebnitz themselves when the Deputy High Priest returned.

Thus stymied, the party decided to pursue the poisoners to their lair themselves. Grundi was left behind to take care of the sack of Warpstone while the others headed southwards again [his player was absent]. Siegfried's local knowledge meant that they had no difficulty in reaching the location marked on the rough map, again successfully avoiding contact with the Watch patrols enforcing the night-time curfew. The location turned out to be a warehouse in the Southgate district, not far from the Watch headquarters.

The Poisoners' Trail
- #2 Where lurks evil in the hearts of men?
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Once more into the breach, etc.

So, it's back again after another long hiatus, and for the same old reason. It's funny how time passes when you're... erm, 'distracted'. I mean, it's been over 3 weeks since my last post, and it certainly doesn't feel like that long in retrospect. It strikes me that there is a paradox in there somewhere, about the way in which different experiences make the perception of the flow of time vary, but I really can't unravel it right now.

Meanwhile, a few friends have commented about the long bloglag, encouraging me to get moving again. It's gratifying to know that some people, however few they are, appreciate RK/KA! enough to actually miss it. Doing a blog is more like sending out messages in a bottle than any other form of writing to the internet I know of. This is OK when you're feeling fine, but when you're depressed you turn it into a stick with which to beat up on yourself so that you don't presume to forget your utter insignificance. So thanks guys.

That's it regarding my 'holiday', so without further ado, here's something else... ;)