Friday, June 30, 2006

My little Old World: Terror Roams in Front, Treachery Stalks Behind #2

Long days hard on the party's nerves
Clues to Liebnitz's intentions began to emerge over the next few days, which were otherwise uneventful. As the loyalist forces continued mopping up the last pockets of insurrectionist resistance, the PC's began by making a trip to the warehouse in which they had found the Purple Hand poisoners. When they had left the place under arrest at the hands of Liebnitz and his Brothers of the Axe, the barrel of warpstone the PC's had found in the warehouse had been left behind under the guard of 2 of the Ulrican warriors. Sure enough, on the PC's return, there was no barrel to be found. So Liebnitz had perhaps the Brass Skull, the defiled icon of Sigmar, the mutant plants, and a barrel of warpstone.

Meanwhile Magisters from the Guild of Wizards and Alchemists were studying the omens to discover what the fates had in store. Alane was told that a long conjunction of Morrslieb was very likely in the next few days. She was warned to be careful with spellcasting during this time because Morrlieb's effect on the Winds of Magic would be quite unpredictable.

In the background during this time Father Greimold was in discussion with the loyal Brothers of the Axe. He provided the party with a letter of introduction to the loyal Ulrican warriors. The PC's met with a Brother Matthias, who was able to tell them about a Balthasar Ehrhard. Liebnitz and the rest had been normal until this man had arrived in the city. Afterwards an inner circle had slowly and subtly emerged within the Brothers of the Axe. Ehrhard had left some months ago the PC's were told.

Since the party's visit Professor Zweistein had been working to uncover information that might help understand the nature of the Brass Skull. Eventually he was able to give them 'good news' when they came to ask him how he was progressing. Based on his researches he was able to tell the PC's that the Brass Skull was probably used to bind a daemon. He was also pretty sure that the strange plants from the crater would have some sort of magical properties.

At long last the PC's knew what Liebnitz was up to: he was planning some kind of ritual under Morrslieb to summon a daemon. Relief at finally penetrating the man's schemes was tinged with horror and grim determination at the thought of what they might face. The idea of just leaving the city authorities to deal with Liebnitz's evil scheme was unthinkable: whatever the man was up to, this was still personal as far as the PC's were concerned.

The party set out to wait. Siegfried would spend his days pretending to be a devout Ulrican deep in prayer in the Great Hall. The rest of the party would hang out in the Scholar's in the Freiburg, and be ready for quick action. A couple of days passed in this way.

The weather had been closing in as these events unfolded. Snow was falling thick and heavy enough to lie by the time that Morrslieb could be seen for the first time, licking at Mannslieb from behind. The PC's were ready but the night proved uneventful.

The next day was the last of Kaldezeit, so that the night crossed into the first day of Ulriczeit. Morrslieb hung in plain view in the sky that night, purple hues flowing across its disc like oil on water while orange flames still licked around its rim. When Siegfried headed for his regular watch in the Temple of Ulric he was intercepted just inside the main doors by 2 Brothers of the Axe who told him he couldn't come in. They evaded any questions and firmly insisted that Siegfried leave. Siegfried didn't recognise them as any of the loyalist Brothers he'd met.

Siegfried took up a watch outside to wait for his friends. A couple of street urchins happened past, and he gave them some coin to take a message to the Scholar's. This didn't get through, so Seigfried's wait was longer than he'd've liked, especially given the harsh weather.

The party arrived eventually. The front door was quickly tested and found to be barred from the inside. Siegfried knew the back way in though. Sneaking through the accomodation block into the main tower the PC's realised that the temple was unnaturally quiet. Something was clearly afoot. These suspicions were confirmed when Siegfried nearly tripped over a foot sticking out of a doorway. The foot belonged to a member of the temple staff who had been murdered.

Soon enough the PC's were peeking through the archway between the main tower and the Great Hall. Two fullly armed and armoured Brothers of the Axe stood before them, ready and waiting. Beyond the 2 warriors could be seen 10 robed and chanting cultists arrayed in a arc around the Sacred Flame. And also Liebnitz, the Brass Skull in one hand and a dagger in the other.

As the PC's watched, one of the cultists put his hands to his mouth. He could be seen to eat something that looked like plant matter tinged with glints of green. Then he held his hand out for Liebnitz to slice his palm open with the dagger, leaving the blood to drip onto the Brass Skull.

(Sadly once again the vagaries of memory mean that my account of this climactic battle will be sketchier than normal.)

The 2 Brothers of the Axe moved forward to cut off any attacks on Liebnitz. Grundi, Mordrin and Seigfried stepped up to engage the 2 warriors in a brutal exchange of blows. Berthold darted forward to try to get at Liebnitz. Meanwhile Alane reached out with her Witchsense to assess the Winds of Magic. She found that they were blowing stronger under Morrslieb, and felt uncommon power flow around and through her.

Liebnitz stepped up to the next cultist to repeat the blood ritual. The rest of the cultists continued to chant, oblivious to all around them as if entranced.

Mordrin, Grundi and Seigfried continued to trade blows with the Brothers of the Axe. The PC's had the advantage of numbers, but the Ulrican warriors were much more experienced and deadly. All it would take was one solid blow and any of them would be lying on the floor in a growing puddle of their own blood.

Liebnitz tried to continue with the blood ritual but Berthold landed a blow sufficient to distract him. Howling with rage the evil servant of Chaos turned his attention on the young scribe. Unfortunately for Berthold so did several cultists who'd snapped out of their trance. He was in trouble. Alane launched a bolt of fire at Liebnitz to little effect.

The Brothers of the Axe landed blows solid enough to put more than one PC in fear of their lives. Then the first turning point came: a PC cleaved the side of one of the warrior's heads off. As his brains and blood filled the air the dying Brother turned a baleful eye on his killer, then fell to the ground.

More cultists awoke from their inactivity and turned their attentions to the hapless Berthold. Telling blows were landed and the scribe felt his life pass before his eyes, only to realise in amazement that he had only lost the sleeves of his leather jerkin and not his arms themselves. Still, one more blow like that and he would be a goner.

Then Alane blew Liebnitz's foot off with a single deadly magic missile. The former Deputy High Priest screamed and fell to the floor, where his body thrashed and writhed before falling still.

With one Brother of the Axe down, one PC was free to come to Berthold's assistance, so the scribe was able safely to fall back towards his companion, then to make a dash for safety by the doors to the Grand Gallery. Outside he could hear the gratifying solid thump of a battering ram on the doors.

As Grundi, Mordrin, Seigfried and Alane continued to suffer the attentions of the cultists and the remaining Brother of the Axe, Berthold noticed that the blood from Liebnitz's shattered leg was pooling unnaturally and flowing towards the Brass Skull, whose eyes were beginning to glow crimson. He dashed over and grabbed the Skull. The fight continuing around him and the sound of the battering ram continuing to resound throughout the Great Hall, the red glow of the Brass Skull's eyes began to flow out and coalesce into a daemonic form. Hazy at first, the form was rapidly becoming ever more solid as it flowed out from within the skull.

With the party already hard pressed by the cultists and the remaining Brother of the Axe the situation was desperate and in danger of becoming terminal. So Berthold did the only thing he could think of- he threw the Brass Skull into the Sacred Flame of Ulric. No sooner had the skull hit the Flame than a blinding white flame filled the Great Hall, bathing all present in its holy fire.

The 5 PC's felt a voice resounding deep in their bones- none other than Ulric himself praising them for their heroic efforts, and marking them as his own. Each PC felt a searing cold on their right hand. The doors finally crashed open under the impact of the battering ram. Ulrich Schutzmann's voice was heard taking control of the situation.

When the PC's had recovered from their shock, they found that the cleansing holy flame had removed all trace of Liebnitz and his followers. And it had left the PC's marked with the symbol of a white wolf rampant bearing a great hammer in its forepaws- a holy symbol of the unity of the Empire.

Middenheim was saved. The Empire was secure for a while longer. And the PC's had been marked out as the bearers of a great destiny. Would they prove adequate to it?

Terror Roams in Front, Treachery Stalks Behind
- #1 A long day hard on Liebnitz's heels
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Thursday, June 29, 2006

My little Old World: Terror Roams in Front, Treachery Stalks Behind #1

A long day hard on Liebnitz's heels
Confronted with a city in the throes of open insurrection, and driven by suspicions they themselves no longer quite believed to follow a trail that seemed to lead nowhere, our PC's were at their wits' end. A simple desire for revenge was all that motivated the party at this point, and even that dish looked likely to be served very cold, since charging blindly through the strife-torn streets of Middenheim did not look like a wise course to even the rashest PC.

It wasn't long before someone came up with the bright idea that the party might as well head for the Collegium Theologica to see Professor Zweistein. With no better suggestions, everyone agreed that it was better late than never. It took a mere few minutes to reach the Collegium through the deserted streets of the prosperous northern districts of Middenheim.

At the Collegium the PC's were able to talk their way past the beadle on duty, and they soon found their way to Professor Zweistein's room. To the party's relief the Professor turned out to be friendly and helpful. He listened to the PC's tale and examined with interest the chest they had brought along. Unfortunately he could tell the PC's nothing of the Brass Skull, other than that he was sure that Father Ranulf's faith in his ability to find some way of dealing with the cursed icon wouldn't've proved misplaced. Asked if he knew the whereabouts of Father Ranulf, the Professor suggested the Temple of Shallya, in the Northern Westgate.

While the Professor busied himself examining the chest, Berthold stared around his room in a degree of awe at the impressive amount of books Zweistein had at his disposal. The young scribe spied a small pamphlet entitled 'The Innovator, 2521' lying inconspicuously near a pile of books. Berthold couldn't resist the tempation- he furtively grabbed the pamphlet and stuffed it into his backpack.

Soon thereafter the party's business with the Professor was done. Zweistein agreed to research the chest and the Brass Skull on the PC's behalf. Satisfied, the party decided to head off to the Temple of Shallya.

On their way they encountered a company of battle-weary watchmen resting around the Black Plague Memorial. Their old companion Otwin from Untergard- now a member of the Middenheim Watch- was there. Unfortunately so also was Captain Bart Gebauer against whom Siegfried had formed a grudge he longed to exercise. This put paid to any idea of getting some serious information from Gebauer about events in the city. In fact, it was all the party could do to drag Siegfreid away from the scene before he started a fight with Gebauer. The young protagonist was still able to make sure that the Captain was well aware of his hostility.

Reaching the Temple of Shallya the PC's were taken to see Father Ranulf. The priest was resting in a spartan monastic cell too small for everyone to enter. Alane, Berthold and Seigfried went in to talk to him. The unfortunate Ranulf was plainly very disturbed, if not quite mad, but he was able to reassure the PC's that the rune-covered chest was a relic. Realising that the priest could offer them no more useful information, the party left him to his tormented thoughts.

With no information on Liebnitz and still pretty clueless, the party decided to head to the Wolf's Teeth tavern in the Southgate to see Siegfried's mum Ingrid. They managed to make their way through the streets without getting into trouble, but to no avail- Ingrid could no more offer them news of Liebnitz than those who had hitherto been close to him.

So the dwarfs decided it was time to visit the Chapel of Grungni, which wasn't far away. Arriving in the vicinity, the PC's found that the dwarfs had barricaded the area. The party was ordered to halt and were held under the aim of loaded crossbows until their intentions were made clear. Grundi and Mordrin were allowed to proceed into the dwarfen neighbourhood of the Wynd. Berthold, Siegfried and Alane had to wait under guard in an alleyway behind the dwarfs' barricades. Alane felt uncomfortably conspicuous.

Meeting with Chief Priest Hargund in the Chapel of Grungni, the 2 dwarfs explained their fears about Liebnitz. The old dwarf was also ignorant of the rebellious Deputy High Priest's whereabouts. But something in Grundi and Mordrin's tale struck a chord in the dwarfen Priest. He told the PC's about the heavy fighting that was going on at the former site of Fleischer's Slaughterhouse in the Altmarket. The slaughterhouse had been hit by a Chaos Dwarf Hellcannon during the siege and nothing remained but a crater, in which strange plants were known to grow. For some reason, this corner of the city was the one to which the insurrectionists seemed to be clinging the most tenaciously.

His tale told, before Mordrin and Grundi left the Chapel, High Priest Hargund cautioned the pair not to talk about the Chaos dwarfs because their very existence- not to mention their presence among Archaon's forces during the terrible siege of Middenheim- was a slur on dwarfen honour. The 2 PC's didn't need to be told twice. They rejoined their friends, and the party was escorted safely on their way.

Shortly thereafter our intrepid PC's found themselves amid several companies of loyalist troops who were preparing to launch an assault on the insurrectionists holding out across the street. Brazenly taking advantage of a nearby building the party found themselves a vantage point overlooking the crater that had been Fleischer's Slaughterhouse. In the crater, behind the insurrrectionists preparing to meet the impending attack, they could see strange, unnatural looking plants that swayed as if alive in the still air, and which emitted an eerie keening.

A couple of men in hooded cloaks were harvesting the plants and collecting them in a sack. Nobody could tell the PC's why this was happening. As the PC's watched the 2 men finished their task and disappeared out of sight into the alleyways of the Altmarket. Sensing that they had had their foe in their sights for the first time that day, our intrepid party realised that they had to risk crossing the road under cover of the imminent assault if they were to catch up with the harvesters of the strange plants.

Mere minutes later the loyalist troops opened their attack with a thunder of gunfire and a hail of arrows and crossbow bolts. After a few fusilades of fire, the assault went in. The PC's waited until they could see a gap opening up in the insurrectionists' barricades, and began their dash. The bitter clash of full battle was much more shocking than the bloodiest melee the PC's had yet encountered, but, momentary confusion here and there notwithstanding, the party made it safely through the insurrectionists' lines and sought cover in the alleyways of the Altmarket district.

Pausing to wonder what next, the party soon realised that they weren't far south of the Sword and Flail, known to be a lair of the Crimson Skull cult of which Liebnitz was a presumed member. The Sword and Flail would also make a decent hideout, since it would be presumed to be empty after the party's recent exploits. Pressing on the PC's soon found themselves near the Blazing Hearth, a famous halfling hostelry at the heart of the Little Moot in the Altmarket district. They could see insurrectionist troops ahead, still holding the northern perimeter of their stronghold.

The question of how the party were to get through to the Sword and Flail in the Neumarket was soon answered: the sewers. Siegfried led everyone to a sewer grating near the Blazing Hearth. Grundi gave a heave at the rusty bars, and they were in. Nobody bothered trying to stay out of the ordure this time, and the PC's soon emerged not far from the Sword and Flail.

With the layout of the tavern known to them, the PC's acted fast. Siegfried quickly climbed his rope up to the window to the junk room he'd broken into before. As he levered away at the shutters, the wood unexpectedly gave way with a resounding creak. Hoping for the best, he climbed through the window into the tavern. Grundi began to follow up the rope while the others waited down below.

Upstairs Seigfried snuck forward and peeked carefully out of the door. The coast seemed clear. Grundi was had joined the protagonist by now. The next thing the PC's knew, combat was joined with cultists ready and waiting having been alerted by Siegfried's breaking open of the shutters.

As ever, events became confusing at this point, and my account isn't helped by the fact that I've forgotten what some of the PC's got up to. The upshot of it all was that Siegfried got involved in a wrestling match to get past a cultist holding the top of the stairs down into the bar. Meanwhile the sound of an axe hacking through wood and plaster could be heard from the stairwell at the back of the building.

Down below, Alane could hear footsteps approaching from round the front of the building. Aware of the threat, and unable to join in the fight for the door to the stairs, Grundi considered jumping out of the 1st story window because Mordrin (or was it Berthold?) was busy climbing up the rope, thus leaving the dwarf effectively stranded upstairs as the melee developed.

The next thing, 2 cultists appeared round the corner. A manic gleam flashed across Grundi's eyes and, nothing daunted he jumped. The plummeting dwarf took the advancing cultists completely by surprise and he landed fair and square on top of one of them, leaving the cultist utterly flattened, and himself quite unscathed. This gave the PC's on the ground an upper hand they never lost, and they soon had the situation completely under their control.

At about this moment the sounds of the axe from the back of the building ceased. Mordrin promptly set off to see what was happening. He arrived round the back just in time to see Liebnitz disappearing off up an alleyway with the sack of mutant plants over his shoulder. One of Liebnitz's Brothers of the Axe in full plate armour stood ready to cut off any pursuit. On the first floor Siegfried (and Berthold?) finally cleared the stairs. Running down the stairs Seigfried was able to get out of the hole in the stairwell to see Mordrin standing watching as the mighty looking warrior casually hefted his 2-handed axe as if daring the dwarf to attack.

The stand-off continued for long moments. Eventually, grinning maliciously, the traitorous Ulrican warrior started to back off up the alleyway down which Liebnitz had made his escape. As soon as the warrior was in the narrow alley Siegfried charged. Sure enough, the confines of the alley prevented the Brother of the Axe from making proper use of his great axe, and he was forced to swing it with a short grip. All the same, he might well have been able to lay Siegfreid low had it not been for Mordrin's quick thinking.

The dwarf ran off up another alleyway and had soon worked his way round behind the Ulrican warrior. Intent on the foe to his front, the Brother of the Axe didn't hear the dwarf coming. Mordrin's first blow split the man's skull in two.

Round the front, one of the cultists had survived to be taken prisoner. The melee over, Siegfried and Mordrin promptly fell into gleefully gruesome descriptions of the sufferings they would inflict on the man if he was to refuse to answer their questions. So convincing were the pair in their adopted roles that their friends were shocked at the thought of the horrors they were about to behold.

The prisoner, on the other hand, decided that he was a dead man anyway. So he piped up to ask why it was worth his while saying anything given the fate he could expect. The offer of a quicker and more painless death hardly loosened his tounge. A gentler approach did elicit from the prisoner his ignorance of Liebnitz's larger plans, and the claim that he didn't know that the Crimson Skull was a chaos cult. He said he was just a baker who had joined a secret society when his stock of flour had been ruined. He was just in it to save his business he said. Eventually the other PC's realised that Siegfried and Mordrin's little act had proved largely counter-productive.

By this time the combination of the haphazard- even half-hearted- nature of the insurrection, coupled with Liebnitz's peculiar actions, had led the PC's to begin wondering what purpose the uprising served. They began to get the idea that it might some kind of diversion. But to what end they still didn't know.

Terror Roams in Front, Treachery Stalks Behind
- #2 Long days hard on the party's nerves
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Curse you RPGpundit, curse you! (A fairy tale in 3 parts, #3)

Part 3. ...But a champion nonetheless
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

So, gentle reader, by now you will know how the RPGpundit's rants at TheUruguayanGamer led to our aging gamer shouldering the burden of his own blog, and of providing a more subtle critique of the 'swine' than the pundit's own pungent denunciations. And you might remember that, even as he felt that the pundit was losing his touch, JMcL63 began to appreciate just how much easier it is simply to denounce the roleplaying theorists as a bunch of wankers than it is actually to subject their thinking to a thorough-going refutation. Moreover JMcL63 was only too aware of how the whole issue was a storm in a teacup's teacup, of surpassing little interest outside a tiny circle of gamers, and of even less consequence than that. In short, our aging gamer felt that his own self-appointed quest was quixotic, to say the very least.

Our noble aging gamer pondered this dilemma long and hard even as he remained a regular reader of the infamous pundit's pithy column. And then, in a twist of fate of the sort beloved of storytellers everywhere, the pundit himself unwittingly retrieved the situation that bedevilled our scrivener.

The self-appointed 'Wielder of the Flaming Keystrokes of Truth' made one of his occasional forays into a new gaming ecommunity where he thought he might be able to find a new home. The place was Nutkinland: The RPG Site. A revival of an old forum, the RPGpundit himself called the place "The Last Best Hope of the RPG Community Online".

It wasn't long before the RPGpundit- with the help of his new 'proxy army'- was waxing scatological about his by now familiar betes noires, and demonstrating his ever unerring ability to get right up some people's noses. And it wasn't long before the owners of Nutkinland saw- in the pundit's self-appointed mission- the makings of a ruse which they could use to generate interest in and traffic through their newly revived old haunt. And so they co-opted the RPGpundit and his most vocal antagonist into 2 opposing camps, hoping that setting them against each other like cocks in a fighting pit would lead to a prodigious flamefest the memory of which would live long in the annals of the gaming ecommunity.

The Nutkins' ploy proved a damp squib and would've been long forgotten, save for one lasting consequence: the thread Pistols at dawn, in which the RPGpundit engaged in a lengthy debate with one Levi Kornelsen. Here, surprise, surprise, the pundit proved that he could indeed engage in a prolonged exchange of opinion without resorting to cheap shots and ad hominem abuse (although good old Anglo-Saxon scatology was another matter!).

And so dear reader, our little tale approaches its conclusion.

It dawned on JMcL63 that the RPGpundit had largely succeeded in his self-appointed mission to rally opposition to the swine- our aging gamer's determination to scratch his own itch in his own way in his own good time was sufficient proof of that. Our noble aging gamer soon even accepted that, however quixotic his personal quest might seem, and no matter how surpassingly irrelevant the entire debate might be to the wider world of roleplaying; that these simple facts aside, the paradoxical truth was that the RPGpundit had largely picked the right targets, and had dealt with them appropriately. Strange to relate, foul-mouthed abuse had been precisely the order of the day, and the world of roleplaying did indeed seem to be a better place for the pundit's scatological tirades.

So, for getting in there first to set out your stall with the 'f**k you, you wankers' tirades; and for leaving those who come after you with the more complicated (and far drearier) task of rational refutation, I say, "Curse you, RPGpundit, curse you!" ;)

- Part 1. There came a questing knight
- Part 2. A flawed champion...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Roll dice and kick ass!" as a graph

Reading my friend gnome's Gnome's Lair I came across this post. Intrigued by the images, I promptly headed across to the Websites as Graphs page and plugged-in RD/KA!'s URL. The results are below.

Here is the graph of my blogger URL.

This is what all the colours mean.

Here is the dynamic version, where it all takes shape, which is neat to watch. I haven't a clue what- if anything- this all means, but it is peculiarly lovely. Try it and see for yourself! ;)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Curse you RPGpundit, curse you! (A fairy tale in 3 parts, #2)

Part 2. A flawed champion...
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

The months passed and JMcL63 read more of the RPGpundit's rants. Our aging gamer began to perceive that this guardian of all that is pure and good in roleplaying was not without his flaws.

JMcL63 was struck first by the pundit's foul-mouthed vitriol. No lily-liver himself, our aging gamer just wondered if what the internet really needed was yet more of the abuse of strangers for which ecommunities were already well known. Moreover, our aging gamer reasoned that it is one thing to announce over and over that someone is shit- hoping thereby perhaps to convince people by dint of repetition; but that it is quite another actually to prove the point by virtue of reasoned argument.

If JMcL63 felt that the RPGpundit suffered from the fact that scatological polemic instead of reasoned argument was his weapon of choice in his self-appointed quest against swinedom, our aging gamer also eventually came to doubt the validity of the pundit's defintion of the term 'swine' itself.

At first JMcL63 (and no doubt many others) thought that by 'swine' the RPGpundit was referring to the pseudo-intellectuals of the artsy roleplaying school. As time went on however, the pundit came out with a defintion of 'swine' that included anyone for whom roleplaying was too important in their lives. Our aging gamer was unimpressed with this because it seemed altogether too self-serving.

In the first instance it let the RPGpundit off the hook for his own swinism. Yes, the internet's most famous scourge of roleplaying swine was not above a touch of narrativist idiocy himself. In the pundit's case, this was his insistence on solving the problems of all hitherto existing superhero rpg's via the introduction of 'protagonism', which for the pundit represented a superhero's ability to win against impossible odds so long as they were in their own comic, and were therefore the coolest character of all.

Beyond that, our aging gamer felt that- all appearances of an ex post facto construction aside- the RPGpundit's definition of 'swinism' would just allow the pundit to tar with the 'swine' label anyone whose attitude to roleplaying was different from his own. This is, in fact, what JMcL63 thought happened when the RPGpundit chose to add Green Ronin to his hate list, a decision that always seemed to our aging gamer to have little to do with their being anything like the genuine swine against whom the pundit had railed so venomously.

By a strange irony it was at just about this period when JMcL63 believed that the RPGpundit was losing his touch that the second of the enduring consequences of the pundit's blog was visited upon our aging gamer. Deciding to complement the pundit's scathing polemic with rational analysis and detailed refutation, our aging gamer started to investigate the very games theoretical culture against which the RPGpundit had railed so long and hard.

Irony compounding irony, one of the places JMcL63 visited as part of this investigation was the Forge, domain of the dark lord Ron Edwards and his GNS school of roleplaying theory. Our aging gamer had visited this site the previous year after hearing about the GNS theory at Worldcon 2005, something he wrote about in his very first post to RD/KA!. A quick scan of this site rapidly convinced JMcL63 that it was well worth ignoring until, in a final layer of irony, RPGpundit's rants at Edwards' expense drove our aging gamer to investigate the site the better to refute its ideas.

Entering the world of roleplaying theory JMcL63 soon found himself in a miasma of cod academicism and grandiose restatements of old nostrums and of the blindingly obvious. Digging deeper our aging gamer felt himself losing his grip on the sound precepts of good clean fun. Worse still, he realised that this material had got under his skin, and he would never be quite free of it until he had subjected it to a thorough dissection and detailed refutation, a task he shrank from even as he raged against the would-be reinventors of roleplaying.

So, for making roleplaying theory into an itch I'd rather ignore, but still must scratch, I say, "Curse you RPGpundit, curse you!"

- Part 1. There came a questing knight
- Part 3. ...But a champion nonetheless

Sunday, June 25, 2006

My little Old World: Mounting Tensions and Precipitous Anticlimaxes #2

Back to the drawing board...
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

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Curse you RPGpundit, curse you! (A fairy tale in 3 parts, #1)

Part 1. There came a questing knight
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Once upon a time there was an aging gamer. Of all the constants in his life, gaming was one of the most important. From his childhood days onwards playing games had been the source of some of his most cherished memories and most enduring friendships. This hadn't changed even after the first sight of greying hairs and the onset of creaking bones, although now our aging gamer had the wonders of the internet- where he went by the name of JMcL63- to add to the pleasures that games had long provided.

Our aging gamer JMcL63 might've continued for many years in this vein- playing his favourite boardgames, running his roleplaying campaigns, and pottering about on the internet gaming community- were it not for a fateful missive sent him by an old friend. The letter contained a link to an article entitled The Generation of Swine is Alive and Well in Online Forums, written by one RPGpundit. Little did JMcL63 realise, as he chuckled over the RPGpundit's words, what a fateful moment this was. Little did JMcL63 realise, as RPGpundit's TheUruguayanGamer blog became a regular read, that this introduction to the gaming blogsphere would prove to have lasting consequences for our aging gamer.

For the RPGpundit was a man with a past and a man with a mission. Finding himself exiled from several corners of the gaming ecommunity the RPGpundit had decided to set up his own corner of cyberspace in which he could rant and rave to his heart's content without being subject to the stern hand of forum staff. That was the RPGpundit's past. To lay low rpg swine everywhere- that was his self-appointed mission.

JMcL63 could identify with the RPGpundit's desire for his own platform from which to give vent to his own opinions, albeit for different reasons than those of the RPGpundit. And our aging gamer shared the pundit's disdain for the pseudo-intellectual posturing of artsy roleplayers, the RPGpundit's 'swine'.

The first enduring consequence making the RPGpundit a regular read was not long in coming: a mere 12 days after first reading the pundit's vituperant words our aging gamer made his own entry into the blogsphere with his own "Roll dice and kick ass!". Little did JMcL63 realise what he was getting himself into when he posted his first words all those months ago.

Gone were the carefree days when our aging gamer could simply browse his favourite gaming forums, adding comments here and there when the fancy took him. Now he was faced with the burden of generating regular comment to keep his blog alive and kicking. Worse: it wasn't long before he was faced with the horrors of the same old front page appearing day after day when even just popping in to say hello to remind his readers that he was still alive; when even something that simple was too much effort.

So: in memory of those long gone simpler days; and for being the person singularly most responsible for this aging gamer's inviting the blogging monkey to take up residence on his back; I say, "Curse you RPGpundit, curse you!" ;)

- Part 2. A flawed champion...
- Part 3. ...But a champion nonetheless

Friday, June 23, 2006

My little Old World: Mounting Tensions and Precipitous Anticlimaxes #1

Famous last words...
So, in my last post about my WFRP campaign, I remember writing the immortal words "so I'm not sweating plot." Hah! Silly twisted boy!

Y'see, the thing is, I'd come up with a basic idea of how I was going to spin out the plot between the point I'd reached in Ashes of Middenheim as written, and the finale as written. I'd tweaked the background events to give what I thought (and what I believe turned out to be) an interesting escalation both of the scope of the events themselves and of the main villain's nefarious evil-doing. I'd given existing NPC's a place in the scheme of things I was pretty satisfied with, and I'd introduced some new NPC's that I expected would serve my purposes rather nicely.

I even took a page out of Raymond Chandler's book, and had a man come through the door with a gun (actually, he was a dwarf, but lah de bloody dah if you're complaining!). So there the PC's were, sitting in a room at the back of the Middenpalaz, with the dread Brass Skull back in their care, wondering what the hell to do, when a dwarf comes through the door with a gun...

But no, I'm getting ahead of myself. When last seen, our intrepid party had just completed a successful assault on the Sword and Flail tavern as part of their efforts to find evidence to refute the charges of consorting with Chaos which Deputy High Priest Liebnitz had levelled against the Witch Hunter Bauer. So how did the PC's get from a seedy tavern in a sleazy corner of the Neumarket district to a room in Graf Todbringer's palace?

Events went something like this...


For some reason the barkeep started trying to play on the fears of his two companions, hinting broadly that the PC's would have to do them in to silence them, seeing as they were witnesses to the party's assault on the Sword and Flail. Meanwhile the beggar Alane had found upstairs came to. He immediately leapt to his feet and started belabouring the barkeep with invective and a few swift kicks, accusing the man of dastardly treatment of someone who had done him a favour (which was not untrue, if a bit exaggerated).

The upshot of all this was that the PC's were left with the notion that Liebnitz had sent the beggar to warn the barkeep about them. They were also persuaded that the other 2 captives were innocent watchmen helping a pal defend his tavern against what they assumed was just going to be a regular bit of breaking and entering. This hapless pair were palpably shocked at the thought that the barkeep was in fact a Chaos cultist.

Somewhere in among all this the PC's also investigated the trapdoor hidden beneath some barrels in the cellar. Sure enough, once they (ie. mostly Siegfried) had disposed of a couple of mutants with red skulls painted on their faces, they found an crude temple of skulls, and one Johann Opfer, a prisoner of the cultists who had witnessed Bauer's attack on the cultists. Delighted at regaining his freedom, Opfer was happy to vouch for Bauer at the upcoming trial.

Thus it was that the party headed for the temple of Sigmar with a presumed Crimson Skull cultist and 4 possible witnesses in tow. The cultist was 'lost' on the way through the city streets however, when Alane cracked his skull open with her quarterstaff to prevent him from creating a stramash with a Watch patrol. Alane was as surprised as anyone else at this, although it has to be said that she had more time to savour her bemusement than did the barkeep his own.

The party were escorted to the trial in the Square of Martials as part of the Sigmarite party the next day. The players were happy to try roleplaying the trail as per the suggestions in AoM. The part of Liebnitz went to Brian; Stolz to Andy; Bauer to Donald; and Opfer to Tony (all casting carefully considered by yours truly). That left Grundi to act as the party's spokesman when it came to their part in the trial.

This little change of roles proved a great success, with much fine speechifying on all sides, and some subtle legal points-scoring between Liebnitz and Stolz. Stolz revealed Opfer as a surprise witness backing up Bauer's story, then Liebnitz played his secret: the lost icon of Sigmar that Berthold had carried all the way from the Drakwald so many months ago. It had a symbol of Khorne on its reverse. Liebnitz just had enough time to suggest that the cult of Sigmar was riddled with Chaos before the Square of Martials erupted into an all-out riot.

Schutzmann and the Watch had to escort the members of the trail, including the PC's and a few notable bystanders to the safety of the Middenpalaz. Once there, Liebnitz and Stolz got involved in a blazing row that had to be broken up by the Midden Marshal before the 2 priests came to blows. Schutzmann then turned his attention to the matter of restoring order and preventing that day's events in Middenheim from sparking an all-out religious civil war between the Ulrican and Sigmarite cults- something which many observers there present feared was Liebnitz's determined objective.

The PC's hung around for a while, feeling a bit superfluous to requirements as some of the most powerful and influential citizens of Middenheim discussed the implications of events and considered courses of action. Eventually they were shown to a room at the back of the palace where they could spend the night.

Some hours later, in the dead of night, they received a visit from Father Ranulf of the temple of Ulric, who brought with him the chest into which he had put the Brass Skull when the PC's had brought it back from the Drakwald only a few days before.

Father Ranulf was a worried man. He explained to the PC's that Deputy High Priest Liebnitz had never really put much stock in Father Odo's dreams. Nor had he held out much hope of seeing the party return from their mission into the Drakwald. Still, he had been content to see the party sent off with the blind priest. Since the party's return though, Ranulf had been growing increasingly worried about Liebnitz's attitude towards the skull, and he was beginning to have serious doubts about the Deputy High Priest's intentions regarding the evil artefact.

So Father Ranulf had taken it upon himself to sneak off with the chest. He implored the PC's to take the chest from him and to take it to a certain Albrecht Zweistein of the Collegium Theologica, a man Ranulf was sure could be relied upon to do the right thing and destroy the Brass Skull. The party were sensibly highly reluctant to have anything to do with the Skull again, and suggested that Ranulf could handle such a simple mission himself. Ranulf made some excuse about having to keep an eye on Liebnitz in the current highly explosive situation. The priest's pleadings had the desired effect, and he was able to depart leaving the chest in the care of the PC's.

Lumbered with the damnable Brass Skull yet again, the party's natural instinct was to dispose of the cursed thing as quickly as possible. The Collegium Theologica wasn't far away, but Commander Schutzmann had already upgraded the rather slack curfew across the city to a state of martial law. So everyone's first instinct was just to let Siegfried leave via the window and sneak off to deliver the chest. But as Siegfried opened the window, the sound of the strife-torn streets drifted in. Suddenly that first instinct didn't seem like such a good idea after all. What was to be done everyone wondered.


And that seemed like a convenient place to draw that day's session to a close. Then, of course, the series fell into unexpected publishing difficulties, and it was some 6 weeks before we were able to return to the game. But more of that another time.

Mounting Tensions and Precipitous Anticlimaxes
- My little Old World: words better forgotten?
- #2 Back to the drawing board...
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Looking back at the Midnight game

Introducing some of my regular group to an old gaming buddy aside, last Sunday's Midnight game was noteworthy for 2 things: the Midnight setting itself, and the True20 system that Bill used to run the game.

Bill has been signing the praises of Green Ronin's True20 system ever since he got himself a copy of their Blue Rose a while back. The system's core innovation- the use of the Toughness save to dispose of tracking hit points- was an idea whose time I felt had come, and I was impressed with the look of the system in its revamp of the original superhero iteration in GR's Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Edition when I got finally got hold of M&M 2e last year. So I was really looking forward to getting a chance to try out the slimmed-down True20 system.

The first thing that struck me was the ease of character creation: Bill plumped for Midnight while we were chatting about his GM'ing plans, dug out his Midnight and True20 books, and with much less than half-an-hour's work I had the core of my fire-mage PC written up. All it took was some consideration of his background and a bit of tweaking of the character's various feats and I was good to go. After many years of working my way through points-build character creation I was suitably impressed. Here, I felt, was character creation like it was in the good old days: just come up with a basic idea, fill out the attributes, sketch out a basic background, et voila, you're off. A bit of old fart's nostalgia I know, but it was a nice feeling!

The combat system was quite remarkable. OK, we only had 3 encounters, and 2 of them were quite small. But all the same, they really were blindingly fast. This proved decisive in maintaining the tension of our flight through the village to the docks, because the combat system didn't bog us down in the game's mechanics. And that hardy last goblin, then the disabling of Tony's Barak and my own Erik were fine examples of the inherent uncertainties of the Toughness save: all it takes is one or two good saves from the puniest minion, or one or two bad saves from the PC's, and suddenly what seemed like a walkover can swing wildly out of control.

The True20 system more than lived up to its advance billing in this first brief taste then. I have to say that I'm looking forward to playing under it again, and to learning more about its wrinkles and its potentialities. You can be sure I'll be picking up a copy just as soon as I can.

Like I said the other day, FFG's Midnight is a classic fantasy setting with the twist that the Dark Lord's world-dominating schemes have proved successful, so that many of the familiar monsters and villains represent the forces of 'law and order' instead of the more typical threats to the status quo of the cheerier settings.

This premise is not a new one to me: it's that of the Shadowkings Trilogy, by Glaswegian author Mike Cobley, volume 3 of which- Shadowmasque- has just been nominated for a British Fantasy Award. However Midnight is the first time I've seen this idea carried through in an RPG with all the classic trappings (the world of Midnight is quite different from Mike Cobley's, which lacks many of the staple features of the fantasy roleplaying genre that appear in the game, eg. orcs and goblins).

I really rather like the effect of the 'Dark Lord victorious' theme in an rpg. As Bill pointed out to me, some of what is present in Midnight has already been seen in Call of Cthulhu, where the sheer implausibility of the horrors that the PC's confront mean that they are set on a path of subterfuge and likely conflict with unsympathetic authorites. Likewise, the Star Wars RPG's foreshadowed Midnight's theme of sedition and rebellion. Midnight is marked out, I guess, by rebellion being the utterly inevitable consequence of the very act of being a PC; by the breadth and depth of the oppressive powers of the evil overlords (which strike me as being more widespread and more completely in control than the Empire in Star Wars); and by the very plausible reality that the oppressors' inevitable acts of retribution against innocents mean that PC's will win few friends through their heroics.

All together these features of the setting have some interesting effects, some of which were seen immediately in Sunday's game. The first is to make a real landmark of that moment when the PC's step out of line and make their stand against the evil overlords- in other words, to provide a natural framework for dramatising PC's origins as PC's. I mean to say, I know that I at least experienced a real tension between my desire to get my character moving- on the one hand, and, well, fear of the consequences- on the other. Sure, I was milking this for roleplaying opportunties, but my disbelief was all-too-willingly suspended as my PC clung to his last hopes of what passes for normal life as a cringing subject of Lord Izrador in Ayrth. I certainly didn't feel anywhere near as cavalier about plunging heedless and headlong into the plot as has been my wont down the years I can tell you!

Whether it was our decisions not to investigate the fight that broke out in the middle of the night- a classic moment for PC's to step up and get stuck into some good thwacking if ever there was one; or our discussions of the implications of Aldric's killing of the orc, and then of our chosen course of action in response to this event:- these were all moments in the game when we confronted the nature of being and becoming a heroic character in a way that I found interesting and enjoyable. What was noteworthy about all this too was that it wasn't forced by some preconceived agenda. Sure, I had made up my own PC a few days before the other players, and so had had time to think about how I was going to play out the moment I knew had to come. But that was the point: this moment was an inevitable consequence of the nature of the setting, which made everything flow logically from embarking on a game of Midnight.

Another feature of Midnight that appeals to me is that it seems to render mostly meaningless traditional goals of power and glory in fantasy rpgs. Or, to be more precise: power and glory become more means to an end than ends in their own right. This seems to me to raise the bar on setting definitive character goals. And again this seems to flow nicely from the very logic of making the most of playing a game of Midnight.

I mean, I can imagine it would be easy just to run around engaging in acts of petty rebellion until the inevitable happens, and the innumerable forces of the Dark Lord finally catch up with you. And I guess you could just aim for high levels and as big a share of the swag as you can get away with without completely alienating the rebels behind whom you would be hiding. Or you can set out to define a meaningful goal- in the context of being caught up in a war that you essentially can't win within the framework of playing a Midnight campaign- and give it all you've got.

I certainly know what I have in mind! More anon, I trust. ;)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Under the Yoke of Izrador- No Time for Fond Farewells #2

Misadventures, surprises and an unexpected boat trip

The next day started abruptly for Erik. The door to his small smithy crashed open and a wounded and unconscious human was dragged in by a couple of orcs. Erik was called to attend to the Legates outside. He complied with alacrity, where he found Legate Morgos barking orders in orcish as he organised an expedition to pursue the rebels who had made off with several wagonloads of booty in the night.

Morgos explained to Erik that the wounded human was a rebel prisoner and that Erik had to shackle the man. Erik set to work, with Laetitia poking around his smithy as he did so. The hot iron of the shackles added their burns to the wounds the captive had already suffered. The stench of the searing flesh prompted Laetitia to warn Erik that he'd be held personally responsible for the man's survival. Lacking any healing skills, Erik could only stare at her in dumbfounded fear. Eventually Laetitia realised that the prisoner's survival was at least as important to her as was the opportunity to turn the screws on this blacksmith to whom she had taken an instant dislike. She bent down and, bemoaning the waste of her powers on a rebel, magically healed the man's wounds. The sight chilled Erik as he realised exactly how dangerous Laetitia could be to him.

Meanwhile, Otto and Barak were having doubts about the wisdom of lingering in Grimholt, whose people might very well pay with their lives for the rebels' attack. They made their way down to the riverside docks in the hope of getting away on their boat. There they encountered a band of orc guards, who gruffly told them that no boats were leaving the village.

Elsewhere, Aldric was getting nervous about his young brother-Tarrin, and sister-Tara. For reasons best known only to himself, the woodsman had decided not to present his siblings at the tax parade the previous day. Aldric had instead hidden them in the ruins of the old town. The youngsters were gone when he had returned to their hiding place, and Aldric hadn't seen them since.

Risky as it was with edgy and doubtless vengeful orcs patrolling the streets, Aldric nonetheless went out in search of his missing siblings. Slipping through the ruins, the woodsman was startled by a girlish shriek of terror nearby. Aldric raced to the site of the ongoing cries. To his horror he could see an orc starting to violate Tara while Tarrin futilely pummelled the orc's back with his puny fists. Without pausing for thought, Aldric grabbed the biggest hunk of rubble he could lift, and crushed the orc's skull with a single blow.

Aldric's mind raced as he tried to calm his siblings. He had killed an orc. If anyone, absolutely anyone, found out about this then he, his siblings, and likely all of Grimholt were doomed. So he buried the corpse in the ruins. Then he swore his brother and sister to secrecy, assuring them that everything would be fine just so long as they never, ever, told anyone what had happened. Tarrin and Tara duly promised to keep quiet, although Tarrin was already thrilling to his own part in his big brother's mighty feat.

It was later, at home, that everything started to unravel. Otto and Barak, and then Erik turned up. It might've been a routine drinking session that people had in mind, it might've been business. Whatever it actually had been that had drawn those 3 friends to Aldric's little house that afternoon was soon forgotten when, in a fit of enthusiasm, Tarrin blurted out that his brother had killed an orc.

Horrified, Aldric tried to pass the young lad's remark off as sheer fancy, but it was too late. Aldric dragged Tarrin to another room there to impress upon him yet again the importance of secrecy. Erik confronted the woodsman there. Meanwhile Tara confirmed her brother's words to Barak and Otto.

The story was out, and our PC's faced a stark choice, whose brutal realities Erik wasted no time in pointing out. They could immediately hand Aldric, Tarrin and Tara over to the authorities, and hope to live; or they could flee, dooming the people of Grimholt to a terrible fate. The discussion wavered back and forth as everyone grappled with the enormity of the decision they faced, and sought perhaps for one last crumb of comfort, one last hope that the pattern of everyday life could somehow be resumed.

Otto had his own motives for a hasty departure: he knew the rebel prisoner, and had a terrible certainty that his own name would be one of the first to come to man's lips under torture. Erik too was worried that the prisoner could identify him. He was also feeling very nervous about the new Legate's interest in him, but he'd spent so long hiding his powers and generally keeping his head down that he stubbornly resisted the very notion of running.

It was Barak's intervention that proved decisive in the end, unwilling as he was to see his 3 cousins just handed over to the authorities. The decision made, Otto insisted on rescuing the rebel prisoner. When asked why the prisoner was worth the risk, Otto simply pointed out that the PC's had nowhere else to run except to the rebels, so that the prisoner should prove very helpful.

The fate of the prisoner decided, the PC's had to confront the fate of Grimholt itself. That the Legates would wreak a terrible vengance for the PC's own deeds was taken for granted. Nobody felt comfortable with the idea of just leaving their fellows to their fate. The idea of alerting the villagers so that they could flee themselves was considered. In the end though, 2 tragic and brutal truths asserted themselves: tragic- that time was of the essence, for a variety of reasons; and brutal- that, should our PC's alert the villagers to their impending fate, someone would no doubt inform the Legate Laetitia, and the jig would be up in any case. Only 7 humans were going to escape Grimholt that day, and only if they took rapid action.

And so it was that our PC's, with Tarrin and Tara in tow, made a beeline for Erik's smithy. Erik entered the smithy while the others waited out of sight round a corner. There were no orc guards inside, and the prisoner had regained consciousness. Shushing the prisoner into silence, Erik grabbed his leather apron and smith's hammer, and set to breaking the prisoner's shackles. The sound of shearing iron inevitably alerted the orc guards outside, and so Erik and the prisoner had to fight their way back out of the smithy.

Outside the other PC's ran up against one of the reasons why a hasty departure had been so important- the orc that Aldric had killed. Its corpse hadn't been burned in the appointed fashion, so it had risen from the dead and was seeking out its killer. The fights were short and bloody and the PC's were quickly triumphant.

The alarm raised, all thoughts of last visits home to pick up belongings were dropped, as was the plan for Barak to steal the boat and then to meet the rest of the party downriver at the edge of the town ruins. There was nothing for it but to take the dock by storm. Pausing only for Otto, Barak and the prisoner- who went by the name of Ralph- to scoop up the orcs' scimitars, everyone set off towards the docks.

Running through the narrow streets of Grimholt, the party's path was soon cut off by 4 advancing orcs. These were again swiftly dealt with, though not without the PC's suffering a few minor wounds.

Everyone had hoped that those last orcs had been those guarding the docks, so that the last dash to the boat would be unimpeded. It was not to be. When the pier came into sight, the party's hearts sank when they beheld an orc and 10 goblin archers barring the way to the boat. There was nothing for it but to charge, trusting to luck against the hail of arrows the goblins unleashed.

A few arrows hit home, though to no deadly effect. Then the PC's were on the goblins. Aldric's woodsman's axe did for one of the goblins, at which point Barak stepped up. In a display of hitherto unsuspected martial prowess he swung his orcish scimitar back and forth, leaving a trail of goblin blood behind him as he strode down the pier. By the time he had finished only the orc and 1 goblin still stood. Escape no longer seemed too much to hope for.

The last goblin proved surprisingly tough, and wounded Barak before the orc took the heroic boatman down with a blow from its scimitar. While Otto closed in on the orc, Erik raised his hammer and began to chant. Flames licked around his hammer and spat out towards the orc. At that moment a hideous ululating howl rang out from back in the village. Then the orc's clothes smouldered and burst into flames, and the brute promptly jumped into the river. The way to the boat was clear.

What with the children, the wounded Ralph, and the unconscious Barak it took a wee while to load up the boat and prepare to cast off. At the last moment the sound of howling closing in alerted the PC's to the approach of Laetitia's evil hound. Erik and Aldric prepared themselves to meet it. Before they could react, the black beast leapt into the boat and fixed its fangs around Erik's throat. The smith went down without even time to cry out. Trying to fight with this vicious beast in a crowded boat was a recipie for disaster, so Aldric acted quickly. He grabbed hold of the hound and, with all his might, heaved the evil creature into the river.

More and more orcs were arriving at the docks as Otto steered out into midstream and the current began to catch the boat. The orcs piled into boats themselves but, no boatsmen, were unable to close down the party's ever-increasing lead. The last sight the PC's had before they were carried out of sight was of a soggy-looking big black hound dragging itself out of the water then slinking off to stand beside its furious mistress.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Under the Yoke of Izrador- No Time for Fond Farewells #1

I really wish I could just have stayed home...

So with the WFRP in hiatus for the holiday season, my old friend Bill took to the GM's chair Sunday last.With a wide selection of d20 products to choose from, Bill eventually decided to run FFG's Midnight.

The Midnight RPG is set in a world best described as Middle Earth after the victory of Sauron. This is a setting which takes all the familiar themes of fantasy roleplaying and turns them upside down. Pretty much everything which defines PC's in a regular fantasy RPG are grounds for summary execution in Midnight's land of Aryth: magical powers, weapons, armour, unusual abilities, literacy, knowledge; you name it, if you've got it in Ayrth, it marks you out from the multitude, and that's a Very Bad Thing.

In case you think I'm exaggerating how bad life is in the land of Midnight, I phoned round last week to rustle up the usual suspects for the game. Brian and I got to talking about what we were to be playing. Brian expressed his delight at getting another chance to play in Midnight. I told him that I'd already got my PC made up. Brian asked what I was playing. A mage I said. Good luck then was his immediate reply!


And so there our 4 PC's were
  • Erik the blacksmith (me): whose terrible secret isthat he's a fire mage
  • Barak (Tony): a local boatman, cousin to Aldric
  • Otto (Andy): another boatman, who works with Barak, and who just happens to be a member of the local rebel network
  • Aldric (Brian): a woodsman with 2 young siblings to take care of.

On the fateful day that would change their lives forever our 4 PC's were lined up with their fellow villagers in the main street of Grimholt, a riverside village nestling amid the ruins of what had once been a town in Erenland. It was taxday, and everyone was waiting for the local Legate. Legate Morgos duly arrived, accompanied by his entourage of orcs, goblin wolfriders, and a wagon-train, with a slave-train to boot.

Legate Morgos- known to be benevolent by the standards of Ayrth under the rule of the Lord Izrador- had a surprise for the people of Grimholt that day: he was moving on to a new appointment, and there was to be a new Legate. Morgos' successor was promptly introduced, and turned out to be a strikingly beautiful woman with pale skin and long black hair. She went by the name of Laetitia, and was accompanied by a vicious looking big black dog.

Introductions over, Morgos went down the lines collecting taxes and asking everyone the kind of blandly double-edged questions all too easy to imagine. Everyone gave the stammering replies with vouchsafes of loyalty to be expected of the oppressed when they can feel their overlord's breath on their cheek.

Laetitia was keeping herself busy throughout this, walking up and down the assembled lines inspecting her new charges, pausing now and then to sniff at them (peculiar, I'll warrant, but none of the PC's felt like cracking a smile at this I can assure you!). A particularly tense moment came when Laetitia stopped to sniff at Erik. Her evil looking hound joined in, fixing Erik with a glare that spoke of a strange intelligence. There followed another brief exchange of question and answer, which ended with Laetitia ominously noting that she'd have to keep an eye on Erik. Exempt from taxes by virtue of being blacksmith and confident- after more than 10 years of subterfuge- in his ability to hide his magical powers, Erik was suddenly not feeling so sanguine about his future.

The leving of taxes over, confession followed. Morgos and Laetitia installed themselves in the local inn, and one by one the entire village had to present themselves for interview. There they were invited to confess their sins over the past year, and to offer up any information of disloyal doings that had come to their notice.

Otto had a particularly fraught time as Morgos and Laetitia pressed him for information about any strangers seen on his river travels. They were particularly interested in anything Otto could tell them about 'The Mark of Four'. The nervous Otto briefly considered informing at random on some hapless stranger from faraway. In any event, somehow or other Otto managed to pass muster during confession, and escaped to face another day.

Confession passed in a similar vein for the other PC's, except for Erik. He again attracted special attention from Laetitia and her hound, and his bad feelings about the creature being more than a mere animal grew ever stronger.

And so, with the worst over for another year, our PC's retired to spend a nervous night at home. Their fitful sleep was broken in the middle of the night by the sounds of battle from the direction of the orc camp. The sound of human voices could be heard above the din of the clash of arms, and they were voices raised in anger, not the anguish of mere suffering. A rebel attack! The uproar continued for some time. Our PC's wisely decided that this was no time to venture out into the streets of Grimholt.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Games a go-go

So I managed to get a fair bit of gaming in over the past weeks.

Donald ran some of the Serenity RPG during the WFRP hiatus. I ended up with the PC shipowner, a guy whose backstory included stealing the ship from his former partner- it was the only way to survive the treachery of said former partner. We ended up being unwitting patsies of an assassination plot. I'm a big fan of the Serenity TV series, but I must confess to having mixed feelings about the RPG- about the system itself, and about roleplaying in the setting. More on that anon.

On the Memoir'44 front I've managed to get a taste of both the Eastern Front and the imminent Pacific Theatre expansions, thanks to the rules downloads available from the Days of Wonder website. The new rules for the different nationalities proved to be very colourful and entertaining, with the Japanese human waves proving especially thrilling. At first sight these expansions seem to have passed the key test of giving the new nationalities a distinctive feel. More on these when I get hold of the expansions (next month I'm hoping, fingers crossed...).

While on the topic of Richard Borg's Command and Colours system, I've also got myself a copy of his Command and Colours: Ancients, by GMT Games. I'd read about this on the net, so it was a cinch that I'd pick up a copy on sight. First impressions are simply splendid. The rules changes compared to M44 are relatively few and simple, but they give C&C:A a feel that is quite distinct from that of M44 and- to my mind at least- very authentic. I can remember, as I was looking at my cards for my second turn in my first ever game, that I could feel in my bones that I was in a epoch of war utterly different from my beloved M44. I was impressed, and delighted. Again, more on this anon.

Another game I picked up was Fantasy Flight Games' Arkham Horror. I've been a fan of the Cthulhu mythos for many years, and a victim of its horrors often, so a boardgame about a group of investigators working to prevent one of the Ancient Ones from rising to destroy the earth, well that is a concept that has instant appeal to me. So Arkham Horror has been lingering in the corner of my eye during visits to my FLGS for many months now. And my verdict, now that I've finally got my hands on it? A bit mixed to be honest. As ever, more anon.

Finally for now, we also managed to complete the first arc of my WFRP campaign, completing Ashes of Middenheim in a marathon double session. The finale took place a year and a day after the first session, and the buzz we shared at the climax made all the effort and frustrations of my longest ever stint as GM well worthwhile. More, as before...

The WFRP is going on the back burner for a wee while now, what with the traditional summer escapades of my players, but we plan on being back in the early autumn. No doubt other adventures await in the meantime.

And that's it for now in my quick roundup. ;)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Another day, another dolour

No prizes for guessing where I've been during my recent long (and longest) absence from the pages of RD/KA!. Thank goodness then for games and old friends, which between them have brought cheer to this would-be scrivener. I'll get to all that later but first, I must return to my self-appointed mission to cast some illumination into the little understood dark corners of clinical depression.

I've already talked about the difference between clinical depression and the bouts of the blues with which everyone is familiar. Another dimension of this difference in scale is that being profoundly clinically depressed isn't just about feeling much worse for much longer than a bout of the blues.

What I mean to say is that being clinically depressed is as much about behaviour as it is about moods. That is to say: the cocktail of despair, self-loathing and so on that characterises profound clinical depression typically undermines all the familiar habits of everyday life. Self-care falls apart, sleep cycles are disturbed, to name but two examples of the bad habits into which you descend as your mood implodes.

A peculiar consequence of this aspect of depression is that these habits can persist when your mood lifts. So you can actually be feeling quite chipper in many ways, but remain trapped in bad habits that keep you down in the dumps even when you're no longer profoundly clincally depressed. Healed but limping you might say, to over-extend the metaphor I used previously to convey the difference between clincal depression and the blues.

Anyhoo, I'll aim to be back tomorrow with some recent gaming updates- I've got another 2 episodes of Serenity to watch tonight, a delight worth savouring. ;)