In my few years among the Aristocracy of the Night I have endured more than my due share of rude awakenings, it’s true, but this one took the proverbial cake, not to mention the proverbial biscuit – in fact, it made off with the whole proverbial bakery. For this, dear readers, is the day I awoke with an arrow in my gut, another in my knee, shielded from the noonday sun by a pile of corpses until a timorous priest raised up his hand to bless me and all but fainted dead away when he realised I was neither away, nor dead. I suppose I should count my blessings; a moment later and he might have completed his prayer and inadvertently finished me off. To find myself deceased by accident a mere day from journey’s end would be such a humiliating way to go.
The priest’s companions were made of sterner stuff. Apparently they were a refugee caravan from the freistadt of Untergard, somewhere down the river Delb; like so many others they were making their way to Middenheim, the Storm of Chaos having broken upon their homes before dashing itself against the Fauschlag. The witch among them, an old lady named Moeschler, must surely have had me at her mercy – warm hands on cold skin and a wound that cuts without bleeding are such telltale signs – but distracted by her own grief she turned her eyes from me and toward, apparently, a terrible revenge.
I heard all this second hand, of course, having spent a day among the walking wounded (loaded on a wagon with the children of Untergard chirruping in my ears). Much of it was solved for me by the halfling in their company – an unsubtle and salacious sort named Leni, not an unpleasant fellow in a nudge-nudge wink-wink sort of way. Apparently he is an exile of sorts from the Mootland, by choice and inclination – a small man with a large past. He had his suspicions, and at the close of the day I saw fit to confirm them – but ah, I run ahead of myself again.
The other players in this drama – Siluvain of Laurelorn Forest, a self-confessed thief, and Okri of Karak Hirn, a practical fellow who I’m sure is on the make somehow – raced off just after sundown, in pursuit of the runaway Moeschler. It seems the old baggage was more than she seemed – more even than the witch-sight might have told me, since she traded her life for that of the Graf von Sternhaus. I realised the moment the daemon of her vengeance shrieked over our camp (and set that twittering priest on his rump in a faint – hilarious!) that the game was up, and when it descended in fire and fury on Sternhause hill I was sure my journey would be wasted.
It was not to be so. When Siluvain and Okri returned from their pursuit, they had the body of the unfortunate gammer – burned out as her vengeance consumed her at the last – and crucially, not only her journeyman’s grimoire but the very text of the rite she had wrought! The fourth and last of their little party – a surly, surely somehow damaged peasant girl named Jarla who reminded me a little too much of my own humble origins – was all for burning the lot, witch and book and scroll all together. Cooler heads prevailed, and the prospect of investigating how she came by the rite edged out simply destroying it for safety’s sake.
While I had to vouch for my true nature – confronted with a direct question by the halfling Leni, who is not so much a fool as he acts – they have seen fit to trust me nonetheless, even so far as to grant me custody of the grimoire. They overestimate my abilities somewhat, but only somewhat, and I have learned from my master that one takes one’s lore where one finds it. I’m sure a delicate touch with the Fifth Wind will serve me well in some capacity, some day.
For the time being, with my journey curtailed, I elected to join the refugees and return with them to the City of the White Wolf. I confess myself curious about this ritual and its origins, not to mention Middenheim, a city I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing from the outside (and then only from a distance, with half the armies of the Conqueror between me and the gates). Provided the yokels of Untergard don’t see fit to bury me with a stake of hawthorn through my heart or some such rubbish, that is. We are two days out from Middenheim, and provided that the girl Jarla can keep her mouth shut around the priest, all should be well.
And now, an explanation of sorts. In an attempt to blow the dust off my dormant “actually running games” skills and recover some of the joy that has dribbled out of my ears in recent months, I sat down with some friends and colleagues from le Twitch community (and Hark) and played through the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play second edition starter adventure, Through the Drakwald.
Now, Through The Drakwald sucks. It’s a collection of plot hooks thrown together without any hint of payoff – teasers that go nowhere, arbitrary scripted NPC deaths, and a heavy dependence on “roll to do anything” gamesmastery and “the party is together because the party is together” playstyle to actually have anything happen at all. The Oldenhaller Contract it is not. But I ran it anyway, because I could see how something good might be made of it with the little towns that all hate each other and the post-Storm-of-Chaos setting if it was made into something that just talked to itself a little better.
Also, everything is better with vampires, and Ariette von Carstein is one of the better NPCs from Night’s Dark Masters, so I swapped a badly injured Ariette (claiming to have been stabbed up by the Beastmen who replaced the arbitrary they-don’t-even-show-up-what-is-this-dead-end-shit Goblins) for the arbitrarily dead Father Dietrich and started grooming Dietrich as an antagonist. There were other changes – better foreshadowing around the gathering of the Beastman’s horn for the ritual, facilitated by putting a proper Beastman into the mutant attack at the start, and a general anti authoritarian streak derived from first edition WFRP, a party with three criminals in it, and the free town nature of Untergard itself. Perhaps having Granny Moeschler actually own a journeyman’s book of Amber magic was a bit much, but I wanted to get some decent loot in there to replace the icon of Sigmar, and it did prove to be a talking point at the end of the (long, too long) session.
It seemed to go well. Three out of four players will be back next time; the fourth enjoyed the roleplaying but found WFRP a counter-intuitive headache, which it is, and graciously permitted me to turn their character into a semi-sympathetic antagonist, which will make a fine B-plot once we arrive in Middenheim and I can settle into my preferred “intrigue and investigation in an urban sandbox” mode. I always like having a GMPC in WFRP – for some reason the concept seems to suit the mode – and Ariette might as well be tailor made for me. And since the players decided that Obviously the Bad Graf who did Granny wrong a century ago was another vampire and that made the timescale of the stupid adventure make sense, and the First Law at my table is “if the players come up with something better just fucking roll with it”, we have a burned-out daemon-haunted vampire lair to explore if the players get bored of being in town and decide to head back into the woods at some point.
So yeah, I’m running a WFRP campaign again. It’s good to be back.
This isn’t the only thing I’m doing, but there’ll be more on that later.