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The Enemy Within: Power Behind the Throne – Traitor Unmasked (S3E12)

Captain's Log: 28th of Vorgeheim, 2513.

Going to gain an audience with Graf Boris himself. A proper audience this time. I swear to Sigmar, we all better get rewards for this like a new ship or something... I'm getting ahead of myself.

Rhea proved to be very self-congratulating. She was very adamant that her role in the rescue plot was more important than ours. She's just a kid though. Little things like that seem much bigger when you have such a small worldview. So we grinned and bore it all the way to the Law Lord Ehrlich's home. The door was locked tight with all manner of bolts and devices. Understandable in these uneasy times. We saw a slit in the door open and two eyes behold the child, sob openly with joy, and then he opened the door. It took him a few minutes to regain his composure and stop hugging Rhea. I would have preferred to question him sooner but I'm happy that he has his loved ones. Sigmar knows I miss mine.

He decreed that we shall confront his fellow Law Lord Hoflich, who he knew was at the palace. Werner claimed to have always known that Hoflich "looked like a little rat bastard". Before we could have a say in the matter, all manner of guard was summoned by his call. He has actual importance in Middenheim so we were relegated to being slightly behind him in our march towards the Graf's palace. The crowds slowed us down a fair bit. I shouted, along with our doctor atop of Werner's shoulders, for them to stand aside as Chaos needed to be smote. I think I went overboard with the theatricality and flamboyance but it got the job done. Ha, I think the midsummer knight and Seville barbarians are starting to rub off on me.

We were given an official seal of Middenheim to let people know of the importance of our mission. It was at this point that I became confused and asked Ehrlich what was happening exactly:

"Wait, what is going on?"

"Hoflich kidnapped my niece and employed those cultists to hold her ransom so that I would agree to vote for the new taxes."

"Sure... who's Hoflich again?"

"A fellow Law Lord in a plot against the Graf Boris."

"..."

"He can manipulate and persuade the other Law Lord to sway the vote towards instituting the new excise laws immediately and permanently."

"Eh?"

"The taxes will happen if he gets his way."

"Ah."

We marched into the Graf's palace, past the ladies, knights and other toffs present, and Ehrlich opened the door to the Graf's chamber. He froze in absolute terror, his mouth agape in wonder and shock. Harbull looked inside and was rendered speechless along with many others. I looked inside and saw the Graf Boris being strangled by the Graf Boris. Two of them, like his reflection jumped from a mirror and possessed massive self loathing! I was outraged at Graf Boris, our respected city leader, choking to death at the hands of, eh, also Graf Boris. Everyone stared and held their weapons carefully, knowing that one wrong strike could kill the proper Graf. I cracked my knuckles and rushed forward without a second thought. My fist connected cleanly with the impostor's chin and his neck snapped back like the crack of a whip. He was instantly slain. The true form emerged as something horrid: a man with no skin and pure, white eyes. That'll learn the bastard.

We were graciously thanked by all present. The Graf began to recover and we made our way to Hoflich's room. Dead, hidden inside a chest. Sigmar bless us, that thing must have killed and impersonated him. We found among its notes a web of the conspiracy. Pavarotti, Dieter and the hypnosis, Ar-Ulric and the letters, all of it. No, I mean it was literally drawn as a web. I guess even they had some sick sense of humour about it. Another note was an order to replicate the diagram and leave it by Hoflich's body. We asked around to see if anyone recognized the writing. It was the writing of the Law Lord Wasmeier himself! Our marine claimed that he always knew that Wasmeier was "a little rat bastard". His room had a strange bottled potion and an open window. The One declared that it was wizardly alchemy used to escape the palace. Finally, the Graf had fully recovered and requested our presence.

He wasn't too pleased about the whole situation. He did thank us but seemed more disgusted at the fact that random adventurers like ourselves knew more than his entire court. He tasked us with hunting down Wasmeier and bringing him to justice. Gladly we accepted this task. We were given the address of his town house. We couldn't receive extra soldiers as aid due to the crowds and not wishing to drum up hysteria in the streets. We thought we wouldn't need it.

It was a nice place. Two floors, a lovely garden, and a well made home. We were thinking of just setting it alight with a fireball and fleeing but we were worried that there might be innocents inside. After sneaking around the gardens for a bit and looking inside, Werner broke a window and opened the back door. I was half way through the window as he opened the door. He looked at me oddly, rightfully so, but I still hopped in regardless. Through the dining room lead us to the hallway and the way upstairs, near the northern kitchen. We realized that the cook, who had been working away before, suddenly was silent.

Our marine tried to parley with the man but got hot coals thrown at him instead. Not that it did anything, of course. Our marine has taken many a worse wound and fought on. The cook whistled for his hound, a large and bloodthirsty creature, and Werner was forced to contend with both a cleaver and the dog's ravenous teeth. I went up the stairs with Harbull. Werner was more than able to handle it. It's the small but vicious dogs I'd be more worried about. Upstairs, I opened the nearest door I could see. No Wasmeier but a lovely expensive mirror in the guest room. I heard someone running down the stairs and a whip crack behind me. The One was struck by a lean little son of a bitch servant with a lash! Harbull cut their weapon hand with the reliable fine blade and I, wanting to take the situation into my own hands, beat the hell out of this varlet of a valet. My punches winded the bastard to the point where he couldn't muster a strike, and The One's sorcery put him to sleep. Harbull dealt the finishing blow.

I could hear a door being slammed shut, a dog barking and scratching said door, chairs being pushed over, running and Werner cursing about Wasmeier. The One told us to give chase and that she would wait up in the study. She was too wounded to carry on fighting. Harbull rushed towards the garden and its stable. I could now hear blades clashing, a hawk screeching and flapping its wings, and horses heralding their stampeding gallop. A crashing sound came from the back of the stable. I ran out of the front door to see our doctor pursuing a large raised carriage, a reinforced machine of war the likes I have never seen before. Spikes on the wheels, rivets of studs, it resembled a black hull of a ship. This wheeled fortress was pulled by two fearsome creatures that I hesitate to call horses. We would not tire in following its wake of destruction through the city streets. Eventually, Harbull, Werner and I reached the south city gate.

It was a massacre. Many corpses littered this side of the bridge and the gate was nearly in a state of ruin. A survivor told us that Wasmeier's machine had exploded. Bastard filled it with gunpowder. We thought him dead but there he stood, in the middle of the bridge to Middenheim. Waiting. I drew my boarding axe and my charge was joined by Harbull and Werner. The man was a wizard. I remembered The One telling me this the moment he raised his arms and began to spoke. A high ranking wizard that had access to many secret words of power. Cracks emerged in the bridge and this streak of ruin was rapidly heading towards us. We couldn't stop there. The entire city could be devastated by such frightfully powerful magic. I barely made it to the other side of the crumbling bridge. Harbull stood joined me on my right.

"JOHANN!"

I turned to the gaping hole in the bridge and the valley below. Werner was gone. He had plummeted down onto the rocks below. I felt like screaming at fate and this foul servant of Chaos. Until I felt something grab my shoe. It was our marine, bleeding and weak but still having the strength to climb up the side of the broken bridge. Fate planned something greater for him. We were weary but still were three against one. Wasmeier knew this as he stared at us. I should have thrown my axe then but my rage desired his butchering, not a mercifully quick death. The wizard finally lowered his arms and turned. Before I could put my axe in his back, he flung himself into the darkness of the valley. Damn.

The rescue wasn't too difficult. Dwarf ingenuity mixed with an entire squad of wizards made getting three fellows to the other side of a broken bridge not much of a problem. The One made it out of Wasmeier's estate alive as it went up in flames. She claimed that it wasn't her doing. I believe her. Normally she'd be much more pleased about it.

Eh? Oh, of course. We have to go see the Graf. Wherever will I end up next?

  • Johann Dasbuut.
  •  
 

Water Margins & Dragons

 

Being an exploration of why D&D is surprisingly good for playing games in the setting of The Water Margin, and how you can do some specific, quite simple things to do so. 

Above: your D&D party, yesterday. 

 

The Water Margin 水滸傳 is a classic adventure novel almost certainly mostly written, in vernacular rather than classical Chinse, almost certainly mostly by 施耐庵 in the 14th century. It tells the tales of 108 outlaws who get involved in various escapades, duels, jailbreaks, robberies, rebellions against the Song dynasty (on both sides) and so on. They eventually congregate in a stronghold on Liangshan, a mountain surrounded by a large marsh that was largely beyond the reach of government control: the ‘water margin’ of the title. 

It’s an ancestor of wuxia, which is a 20th-century genre, but it’s not the same thing. One way you can tell is because I like The Water Margin, whereas wuxia is, to me, what happens when The Water Margin is ruined by nerds. It’s the D&D 5e of Chinese adventure fiction: things get over-systematised. The jianghu becomes a set of formalized secret societies and martial artists rather than the more diverse ‘soft counterculture’ it traditionally represented. Categorising things and making lists is, to be fair, a longstanding Chinese cultural tradition, but wuxia creates order where The Water Margin depicts... well, kind of a mess. Except in the later, universally acknowledged as less good, chapters. 

Backstory: setting a Hearts of Wulin episode in the AtCotRG village, it occurred to me that much of the D&D material wasn’t that useful for HoW (although quick side note: you can benchmark NPCs’ tier by comparing their level/HD to the recommended levels on the module cover, and that works pretty well). And I found myself reminded of the bit in The Water Margin where two of the heroes run a Sweeney Todd-style inn where visitors sometimes end up in the dishes. 

The village temple became, to my mind, the same temple from which the idiot official releases the 108 spirits in The Water Margin (spoiler alert for chapter 1 of a novel written in the 14th century).  


The why: 

The Water Margin heroes are, in many cases, murderhobos. Frequently accompanied by comrades who despair of their impulsive, destructive antics as they kind of forget to do the adventure. In other words, they are D&D PCs.  

They’re also generally able to recognize other members of the jianghu, often after a short brawl. In other words, they know who the PCs are. 

Once I decided to run Reptile God in Song-era China, things started to fall into place - as I started reskinning things, more things proved to be apt for the Water Margin. 

D&D clerics aren’t much like anything in Arthuriana or LotR - but what do Taoist priests legendarily do? Disable the undead with talismans and banish demons with peach-wood swords. 

It is abundantly clear that D&D spells just sound cooler when you talk about them as if they’re mystical martial arts things. 

Rolling up magic items for the pre-gens, I got a pair of boots that let the wearer travel 100 leagues in a day or whatever. Strikingly similar to the novel’s “Heavenly Traveller” Dai Zong, who has magic boots that etc. and so on. 

 

 

 

The how: 

Fighters, thieves and clerics stay basically the same. 

Magic users are like no user of magic in The Water Margin, much as their lack of Tolkien or Western folkloric parallels has historically anguished D&D enthusiasts of a certain stripe. But once you rename them “Martial artists” it falls into place again. Fighters are your big, bruiser types, always ready for a fight, while the martial artists are not so physically tough but dedicate long practice sessions to esoteric techniques. It also explains why they only ever seem to do their most impressive moves once per fight. 

Finally, when creating pre-gens, I gave each character an appropriate nickname from the less well-known Water Margin heroes, but left the name itself blank for players to decide on. 

 

 

 

 

Cards for players' special abilities, equipment and agendas

Link to Google Docs version for easy printing 

Priestly blessings

 

Healing Benediction (1) 

Place your hands on a living, wounded creature to restore 1d6+1 points of damage. 

 

Detect Evil (1) 

Detect evil thought or intent in any creature or evilly enchanted object. Note that poison is neither good nor evil. 

Duration: 6 turns. Range: 120'.

 

Spirit Light (1) 

 

Cast light in a circle 30' in diameter, not equal to full daylight. Duration: 12 turns plus your level.

 

Protection from Evil (1)

This spell serves as an armour protecting you from various evil attacks, adding a +1 to all saving throws and AC versus evil opponents. Duration: 12 turns.

 

Ritual of Purification (1) 

This spell will make spoiled or poisoned food and water safe. The quantity subject to a single ritual is approximately that which would serve 12 people.

 


Mystic Techniques

For martial artists, who replace magic users.  
 

Burning Palm Technique 波動掌 (1)

 

A blast of flame shoots from your hands, 30’ long and 15’ wide at the end. Any creature caught in it takes 1 point of damage per level of the caster. Flammable materials catch fire; they may be put out in 1 round by dousing, beating, etc. 

Bewitching Melody 魔笛 (1) 

Range: 120’

When you play a whimsical tune on your flute, erhu or pipa, you can bring a single human or humanlike creature entirely under your sway. The victim may make a saving throw to throw off the enchantment at regular intervals determined by its Intelligence score. 

Body Lightness 輕功 (1)

 

Range: caster         

Duration: caster level in turns

Negates damage from falling. 

Cloud-Ascending Ladder 梯雲縱 (1) 

 

Range: touch    Duration: 1 turn 

Subject gains the ability to leap 30’ in any direction, including horizontally to essentially run at super speed. One jump may be made per level and must be done within the duration. 

Tempest Pear Blossom Darts 暴雨梨花针 (1)

 

A casket of magical needles that fly unerringly true, striking for 1d6+1 damage. Range is anywhere within the caster’s vision, but at 70’ or further the target may save for half damage. 


 

Lightning Palm Strike 閃電 (1) 

 

The mystic’s touch deals 1d8 points of electricity damage plus 1 point per character level. 

Melody of Tranquility 安静魔曲 (1)

 

Range: hearing     Duration: 4d4 turns

When you play an eerie but soothing tune on your flute, pipa or erhu, it causes any creature of 4HD or less in a 10’ radius to fall irresistibly into a magical slumber. 

Pierce the Barriers of Thought 檢測思想  (2) 

 

Range 60’     Duration 12 turns 

When you brew a special potion and inhale its steam, you can detect and understand the thoughts of any intelligent creature within range. 

Mystic Veil 隱形 (2)

 

You turn invisible! The effect ends when you attack someone or something, take damage or decide to stop being invisible. 



 

Friend of Night 創造黑暗(2)

 

Range: 120’    Duration: level x 2

By performing mystical gestures, you cause a point or object to radiate total darkness to a 15’s radius. Non-magical light cannot illuminate the area. 

 

Equipment packages 

(1 per PC) 
 

Priest

Peach-wood sword (for driving away demons) 

Almanac

Incense & burner 

Fighter

Sword (1d6) 

Knapsack 

Lamellar armour (AC 7) 

Scholar

Writing brush and paper

Tea set 

Book of poetry 

Bandit

Spear (1d6) 

Lantern 

Just enough rope 

Thief 

Dagger (lowest of 2d6) 

Lockpicks 

Grappling hook 

Merchant 

Horse

Sack of trade goods 

Wine jug 

Priest

Peach-wood sword (for driving away demons) 

Almanac

Incense & burner 

Scholar

Writing brush and paper

Tea set 

Book of poetry 

 

Reasons for being in the village 

Players: Choose 1 and pass the rest on 

GM: Give secret signs for informants to the thief, bandit, evil sect member. 

 

Imperial envoy: sent to summon the temple’s Grand Master to stop a plague in Kaifeng. 


 

Army deserter: coming to stay with your aunt to hide from a vengeful superior officer. Your aunt is the wife of (choose one): a famer (house 22), the constable (2), a tavern keeper (6)  

Student of the esoteric arts: You have come to study with the Grand Master of the temple here. 

Bandit: you’re scouting the village in preparation for a raid for supplies and treasure. 

Thief: word is that the legendary Cloudbringer Sword 载云剑 is hidden somewhere near the village. 

Filial child: you are coming home to visit your beloved family. Your father is (choose one): a famer (house 22), the constable (2), a tavern keeper (6)  

Evil sect member: you are bringing a message from your superior in the Lizard Sect, which can only be delivered into the hands of the Reptile Cult Master. 

Lawful sect member: you are bringing a message from your superior in the Wudang Clan, which can only be delivered into the hands of the Purity Sect Master. 

 

The Enemy Within: Power Behind the Throne – The Cultists' Den (S3E11)

Captain's Log: Still the 27th of Vorgeheim I think? I'm honestly losing both sleep and track of all this. Hunting evil so frequently does that to you, I suppose. Need to keep my head together... 2513. Right? Right.

Werner, The One and I shuffled our way into the important people's section of the Blackpool Illumination Show. We had all worn a rat-catcher's musk and grime and this drew several hateful stares. Managed to ward off all the guards and frustrated nobles with Ar-Ulric's letter, much like a priest of Sigmar repelling the unliving. Harbull seemed at first shocked but then happy to see us. He probably thought we were beggars. Drinks were grabbed and I explained the situation to our doctor. His relationship with Petra was going well but he had heard nothing interesting in the court besides useless gossip. After explaining to Harbull that I did not actually, erm, let's say "plug up Goebbels with hot wax", we decided to finally bring Chancellor Sparsam the good news.

The man wasn't really the sort for parties. Very, very nervous and could only laugh reluctantly. I can't help but relate. Too many nobles these days are obsessed with underhanded plots, power struggles and Chaos. Unlike the noble sea captain, who holds a high regard for his fellow crew and does not shirk naval code or law. Nobility of the sea far exceeds those on land. Except for pirate captains... never mind. Sparsam was shocked by Natasha Sinnlich's involvement in the plot. He considered her a right thinking lady who would never do such a thing. Sadly, we believed otherwise. He refused to confront her personally. I can't blame him. His exclamation of surprise had caught her attention. She stared at us for a good few minutes. We couldn't decide whether to confront her now or later so we maneuvered ourselves deeper into the partying crowd.

Kirsten Jung reported back to Werner and told our marine that she couldn't get a confession out of Sinnlich. I sent Harbull to ask Petra if she had seen Sinnlich act strangely lately. As soon as he was off, Natasha made her way over to us. She was furious and asked what was going on while regarding The One. The One told her the plot and her involvement, and we were all very proud of our investigation. She paused for a moment, and then asked us how we knew that she is actually involved.

"We were told your name by the drug dealer you hired to blackmail Sparsam!"

"You believed a name from a drugged up criminal? Did you let her go?"

"Yes well ah, you see it's erm, quite, possibly, eh, ah, damn."

She called us morons, fools, boorish reprobates and other things that I had never even heard before. She was kind enough to tell us Kraglick's address when we gave her the name though. Natasha told us that she had met the woman before, that her own name was just plucked out of thin air as a diversion, and that the only plan she had was to marry a Law Lord and live her life in peace. Our marine tried to explain further but she threw a cup of wine in his face and told us to piss off. Fair enough. I was quite disappointed, to be honest. We drank our wine in humiliation. Harbull returned with the news that Sinnlich had been acting perfectly normal. Damn damn.

So we made our way north to the "middle-class", as Sinnlich would put it, area and the little house itself. Made the perilous slums of Nuln look inviting. There were holes in the roof, the windows were barely hanging on and the rest were boarded up. There was a cart nearby full of furniture and belongings. Right shady stuff. Well, barely anyone was around and the door seemed ripe for kicking. Took us an embarrassing number of tries but we eventually got it open. Timed it with the crackling of the show's fireballs and illusions to avoid drawing attention. It was Harbull's idea and it worked like a charm.

Inside was dust and nothing. Werner stared at the floor for a minute or so but I had no idea why. Then something started to pound the floor from beneath us and it became clear. There was a hidden trap door and it sounded like it was barred from the inside. Well, no time to lose. I took my iron-shod club and broke it open with a mighty blow. Below was a stairway leading to what appeared to a cellar lit by oil lamps. At the bottom of the stairs were doors to the left and right as well as a passage forward. Our marine and I looked down the passage and heard something running. Sigmar please let it not be rat men. I hate those things. The right room was simply furnished with a bed and wardrobe. Nothing out of the ordinary. The left room was furnished with a bed, wardrobe, and an axe wielding lunatic. We caught him by surprise and tried to quickly slay him. He was too agile and well trained to go down easily. His chain armour saved his hide a few times as well.

From the northern door of that chamber joined Kraglick herself! She was armed with chain mail, a shield, a headband and a gleaming blade. She gave Werner the battle of his life but his courage and strength served him well. Harbull had brought his sword to the skirmish and struck the axe man on the helmet. It gave me the perfect chance to strike and his innards were pulped by my blow. I tried to thank Harbull but the words could not come out. Nothing could be heard at all! Startled, I searched around for the source of this sudden silence. It was then I saw near the stairway The One being pursued by some sort of goblin. No, a man! A small and weak looking creature, barely an adult, wielding a stick. I was furious not only with this wizardry but how our chosen divine champion was being threatened by a bloody youth. I rushed towards him and he ducked under my backhand swing. The fool did not expect the second strike, however! His arm bones were crushed into his rib cage and I sent the fart of a man flying about two yards. The first sound to return to the world was his mangled body hitting the floor.

Harbull had been underestimated and it cost Kraglick her life! A heroic swing from our halfling caught her off balance and our marine sliced a deep cut into her head. She was alive but refused to surrender, in the name of "the lords of Chaos". Swift justice was brought to her immediately. The rest of the den yielded a bag of gold crowns and their weaponry. We also found a stash of love letters. Some were read out loud by The One but proved too sickeningly sweet to properly finish. They were addressed to an "Em" from "The Big Bad Wolf". Hrm. I should ask Ar-Ulric about this. I get a feeling that he will be grateful. The look on his face should prove very amusing as well.

I'm utterly delighted to say that we found a mercenary woman in one room and that, this time, she dropped her sword. She explained that her name was Dagmar and that she was protecting a little girl nearby from Kraglick. The child's name was Rhea and she was indeed the same girl who left that note in the doll back in the Templar's Arms! She was a bit of a little shite about how clever she was, to be honest. Demanded to be brought back to her uncle, the Law Lord Reiner Ehrlich. I couldn't help but laugh though. I'll take a smug brat over a murdered child anytime.

I think this is going to work out. If we get Ehrlich to vote against the taxes, then the laws are effectively done for.

I'm now feeling strangely optimistic about all this.

  • Johann Dasbuut.

The Enemy Within: Power Behind the Throne – Pit Stop (S3E10)

 

Captain's Log: 27th of Vorgeheim, 2513.

I don't know where Harbull and Petra are so I'm going to have to ask you to write this entry down for me... you already are? We're starting now? Right, thank you The One.

After Frau Kenner!

Our morale was boosted by the chance to not only win the Chancellor's support but also gain further insight into the conspiracy. If we could figure out who was blackmailing Sparsam, perhaps we'd be able to help Ar-Ulric with his similar predicament. Sometimes I wonder how in Heldenhammer's name Chaos cult schemes can be so well planned and orderly? Then I remember what would be the result. The sickening realm of tyranny and mutation that would appear, shrieking and all-consuming. Anyway, no more day dreaming... day nightmaring? Regardless, I rid my mind of these fears and we agreed to continue our pursuit. Werner had befriended that incredibly powerful dwarf fellow. The one with the bulging veins, that appeared to be near the point of bursting with every step. He had tried to offer Werner some outlawed "medicine" to fill his body with strength. Sigmar would disapprove of attempting to emulate his form with no hard work or virtue, I imagine. Werner, our righteous marine, refused but did learn of the location of The Pit. The Pit where Frau Kenner would hopefully reside. We held our weapons and coin purses close as we ventured inside.

It was a hideous place. A ramshackle tavern with scum on the walls and, erm, scum on the seats. Thank the heavens most of them were senseless from the drugs. I haven't seen things so sluggish and ugly since we were under that observatory. A gruff tavern keeper, bald, burly and missing his right eye, asked us what we wanted. Couldn't get an answer about Frau Kenner right away and he continued to ask about drinks. I answered him with five gold crowns. His eye bulged so much that I swore that the other would somehow grow back and emerge from the socket. We took a seat and was given the finest. The finest smelled and tasted like skunk piss. We started talking about Frau Kenner and he still wouldn't give us all the damn information. Bloody hell, five coins was usually enough! Two more did the trick, and we were brought upstairs to meet "Bruno".

Bruno was a strange fellow. Patches of powder on the face, a blue streak through the hair, tattered finery and a manner that gave the impression that he thought this was all a dream. He clearly dabbled in what he sold. Absolute fool. That's like gauging the efficiency of a sword by stabbing yourself! I refused to speak with the man and let Werner handle the talking. We reached an agreement: We would not hinder his business and would simply stop Frau Kenner's blackmailing scheme. In return, he wanted seventy gold crowns for revealing her real name. I thought this was a bit much, which I feel says a lot. Brought it down to fifty in the end, thankfully. The girl beside him kept batting eyelashes and Werner and myself. She was Bretonnian, I guessed from the accent, and looked barely nineteen years old. That age, in this place. That's horrible. We got the name Brunhilda Klaglick and were told that she would be here tomorrow to collect Sparsam's drugs. Excellent. I asked the girl if she knew a Charlotte but she didn't know any in Middenheim. It was admittedly a long shot but I had to try it.

We needed to somehow pass the time and make sure it didn't involve getting smashed. An opera, The Nibbleungenlied Part 1, had nearly began according to the schedule. We decided that the theatre was our best option and that we could speak with any Law Lords if they appeared. Proving to them the faults of the new tax laws was key to our quest. We could not let Chaos slip through the cracks of petty politics. The opera was about six or so hours in length. It had no breaks but you could easily slip out during the boring bits and have a drink. From what I understood, the plot was that some hero fought a dragon over a magic ring and some sort of cake recipe. The dragon had a Bretonnian accent and was what I assumed to be some sort of joke at the expense of their fondness for fancy desserts. It was all very peculiar. The hero argued with a dwarf over the ring, people murdered each other and warrior maidens sang about it. Good stuff overall. Better than the other nonsense. Two of the Law Lords were in the audience, so we snuck out after Wasmeier as soon as there was a lull.

Karl-Heinz Wasmeier was a very kind and understanding man. I thought as a Law Lord he would be a bit more cold and callous but I was thankfully wrong. We introduced ourselves and he was delighted to meet Werner after our marine had battled in the arena. Soon the conversation turned to that old familiar tune of asking about the taxes. He agreed that the taxes were harsh but if they were explained better to the citizens of Middenheim, there would be no problem. I asked him to explain it to me. Wasmeier unfortunately told a fair few fibs regarding the viability of these taxes and the wealth of the dwarfs, wizards, and the rest. It wasn't intentional, I believe he was just misinformed. The One soon put a stop to this and explained the Chaos plot, how it involved the merchants, and that Gotthard Goebbels was recently arrested as a heretic. The Law Lord was terribly shocked and assured us that he would speak to the other Law Lords right away about this. Good man. I hope that's enough to make them all reconsider.

The next morning we decided to follow Brunhilda until we had the perfect chance to interrogate her. This was the second last day of the festival so you can imagine the sea of colourful clothes and giddy folk we had to wade through. Jugglers, acrobats and jesters, and even a Smyte and Mutie show. Smyte and Mutie is a childhood favourite of mine. I saw a travelling entertainer perform it when I was very young. It's two puppets: the ugly and fearsome witch hunter Smyte and her husband Mutie. Smyte would find out that Mutie has a hideous mutation and would beat him repeatedly with a hammer. Children adore their antics. At the end of the show, the Mutie puppet is set on fire and thrown on the ground as a good reminder to what happens to heretics and mutants. We hired street urchins as early as we could to never lose track of her. It worked like a charm. Actually, along the way we saw Harbull and Petra through the window of a high class restaurant. They were having a good laugh inside, thankfully. We followed Brunhilda from The Pit to a nearby tavern and finally into the streets of Middenheim. It was dark at this point and time to act.

Werner and I grabbed her by each arm and The One touched her with a sleeping charm. Her head fell and she drifted off into a slumber... for about a second before waking up and yelling. Damn! The spell was weaved again. Head went down. Head went up. Then finally down. We brought her into an alley as quickly as possible. She struggled like mad as soon as she woke up, and tried to bite Werner's hand. I thwacked her with the pommel of my dagger and she was properly unconscious then. We made sure she would be quiet and told her to give us her employer's name and to stop all this blackmail shite with Sparsam. She twitched and began to choke. Her eyes darted frantically and she started to shake uncontrollably. Thankfully it was not a mutation. Just withdrawal taking its toll. She needed her medicine. I needed information. We had a good transaction on our hands. We got a name.

Natasha Sinnlich.

We let her go and gave her the drug. She stumbled happily into the night. I have heard that Sinnlich was evil and I'm surprised that I didn't suspect Chaos earlier. Werner spoke to Kirsten Jung privately after that. She has agreed to help us stop Natasha and her wicked plan.

We need to get the news to Sparsam. Then we can expose Sinnlich and her blackmailing. I really hope that she isn't working for someone else. I think I'm getting tired of following people around.

  • Johann Dasbuut.

The Enemy Within: Power Behind the Throne – Ball, Ball, Ball... Snotball! (S3E08 & 09)

Captain's Log: 25th of Vorgeheim, 2513.

I cannot completely forget what I saw in Castle Wittgenstein. Couldn't rest properly for nearly the entire night in the Templar's Arms. As soon as I got a wink of sleep the screaming started downstairs. At about five o' clock in the morning, mind you. This was definitely no rowdy dwarf brawl. This didn't completely hit me until I stepped into the corridor with Werner and caught sight of two of those bloody beast men. Armed with a spear and sword respectively were a monkey-faced loon and a skittish goat.

Quickly ducked into our room, took my trusty boarding axe, and charged. Damn monkey wasn't even smart enough to raise his spear. Wouldn't have been able to after I chopped his arm off anyway! The goat bleated its final words pathetically in a pool of blood. Our marine had quickly and efficiently made us some chevon. He rushed to the stairway without a second thought. I couldn't catch up immediately: I wanted to at least put on a chain shirt and helmet before dealing with the rest. It may have looked absurd with a sleeping cap and clothes but I'd look sillier with my bowels cut out, I'm sure. Werner waited for me at the top of the stairs with The One. We were ready for the small band of beast men downstairs. Three... two... one... CHARGE!

We didn't expect so many rat and beast men to be waiting for us.

The shock almost caused me to stumble over one of the tavern's tables. I tried, in vain, to convince them that we had no rocks. One especially filthy rat man, missing a single eye, made sure to evenly divide his forces between Werner and I. It did him no good in the end. I struck down at least three of his "men" as my will to live kicked in. Our marine kept a cool head and cut a bloody swath through their ranks. Bastards fled as soon as possible once we turned the place into a butcher's. Not surprising for such a sorry lot! Their leader must have ordered them through the window at the back of the kitchen. Rat men are definitely the most cunning and foul beast men I've ever met. I pray to Sigmar that there isn't anything worse.

Once the patrons gained their composure their thanks made us feel like heroes. A lovely difference from that village that shall not be named. Chillingly, we found a doll and a note saying that they were kidnapped by beast men. The One managed to capture and interrogate one of the rats. Basically they work from the sewers and sold the child to a human. Which human? It genuinely didn't know. We killed the dumb sod and got rid of the body. In the morning we just enjoyed the festival, confirmed Goebbels' daily routine, and rested. We needed it after what happened the night before. In a way, I can't believe I got comfortable and let my guard down. I guess this is how the nobility must feel? Ah well, Sigmar himself gave us this duty and I shall not shirk it!

The ice dancing the next morning was... interesting. Very graceful and definitely very elfin. Druids, much like our friend Corobreth, froze over the Champion's Arena for the event. Rallane played his part in the competition, dressed like a swan from one of those romantic Bretonnian paintings. It made me think back to my childhood, seeing bitter hunters grumble while wearing their wolf cloaks. I wonder how hard they would laugh at this costume? Our minstrel friend spoke to us afterwards. We told him everything that we've done and how we intended to speak with the Judges (Law Lords, not Judges. Please excuse him. - Harbull). He was delighted with our progress but was worried about who could be pulling the strings to influence the Graf. We said we'd look into it and bid him farewell. I couldn't lie and say we had everything solved. Sigmar only knows how deep this well goes. The time had finally come for me to lure Gotthard Goebbels back to the inn. We figured out he was at the snotball arena.

Snotball is an interesting sport. Two teams kick the shite out of each other to get a ball into a goal. No magic or swords but plenty of spite and arbitrary referee decisions. Gotthard was in the upper class seats near the top, focused intently on the game. It was the Wolfhounders against the Eastlanders, I think. If it doesn't involve boats I don't really have an interest in it. I managed to feign randomly spotting him well enough to get a seat to his right. I apologized for my vomiting when I was at his office, and offered him a fine vintage and an invitation back to the inn. He was delighted with the idea but seemed even more fond of the game. Not in a perverted way towards the players but rather he was incredibly enthusiastic about the snotball. I needed to bring his attention back to the invitation and, unfortunately, to me.

Mentioning it wasn't enough. Someone would kick the ball wrong or something and he would stand briefly and shout. Damn, I thought, I need a good idea or... the hand on leg move, of course! I raised my hand slowly, held it high over his knee and... quickly brought it up to salute the players as soon as Gotthard gave me a look. The knee wasn't a good enough place. I couldn't go for the inner thigh either, as that was a perilous place to stick a hand. I took a deep breath, covered my eyes, looked away and gingerly placed my hand onto the middle of his right leg. He let out a loud, surprised gasp of pleasure. I still feel very unclean. He wanted to get back to my room as quickly as possible after that. Along the way, I spotted our crew's doctor putting his coat down on a puddle to let Petra step across. Hope that went well for you, Harbull. We grabbed the heretic and tied him to a chair as soon as he put a foot in the door. I called him by his true name, Gotthard Wittgenstein, and he was visibly shocked.

We got confirmation that he was a follower of a cult of Slaanesh. The Order of the Jade Sceptre, to be exact. He gave us a name of the cult leader but we knew it was a complete lie. A few good punches from Werner later we learned that they planned to hold a large orgy at the end of the festival, on the upper floor of an inn... what was the name? Ah, The One will hopefully remember. The tortures started to feel like pleasures to him, and every damn thing we said became some form of twisted blasphemy from his warped mouth. Sigmar is NOT a "big man with a hammer" to ogle, filthy pleasure zealot! We discovered his cult tattoos and brought him to Ar-Ulric. Bringing Gotthard to the watch would risk him finding a way out through power or bribery. Killing him through autoerotic asphyxiation was briefly discussed. Although it is true that others would see it as him dying while "doing the thing he loved", I thought it was too horrible an idea to consider.

Ar-Ulric was not too surprised with the news of Wittgenstein's heresy. He oddly accused him of being behind... something. Soon after Gotthard was arrested and taken away, I pressed Ar-Ulric on this further. He eventually confided in us that he was being blackmailed by someone. A Frau Br- Ba- something or other told him that he needed to advocate for the taxes or else very personal letters would be released. We gave him our word that we would help him investigate this as quickly as possible. He advised us on speaking to the Chancellor Sparson... wait it's Sparsam? So Sparsam was possibly behind it, according to Ar-Ulric. He spoke of an "enemy within", like a few others I've met. Still don't know what in Sigmar's name that means.

We made our way to the Graf's palace, showed the guards Ar-Ulric's letter, and spoke to Sparsam in the garden. Werner handled it beautifully. Used all the fancy words to convince him that the taxes were utter shite and how the civil unrest would damage the city. Sparsam, after a moment, admitted that he didn't approve of the taxes and wept into our marine's shoulder. Eventually his blubbering gave way to an explanation: he needs a special medicine and his provider is a lady named Frau Kenner. She, however, won't let him have the medicine without continuing to support the tax laws. We agreed to speak to her and would convince her to change her mind. Sparsam has no idea what this medicine looks like but we have a name and that's usually good enough.

The Blackpool Illumination show is a wonder of illusions and fireworks. Dragons in flight in the night sky, shooting stars, that sort of thing. Not enough to take the day's events off my mind, however. Tomorrow we will pay Frau Kenner a visit and get Sparsam his medicine.

Wait, Harbull, you're saying that the medicine is actually drugs?!

  • Johann Dasbuut.

OH, WAIT, THE FINAL CHAMPION FIGHT! So it was Werner against a grizzled old war veteran and boatman, both armed with huge double headed axes. A proper match for both contestants as each blow was bone shattering and their dodges had the grace of butterflies. Danced like butterflies, stung like a zweihander... no, hang on...

They were perfectly matched, neck and neck. Both raised their axes to strike and

Oh, I do apologize. The One urgently wishes to talk to me. I'll tell you the rest next time!

 

 

The Enemy Within: Power Behind the Throne – Too Close for Comfort (S3E07)

Captain's Log, 23rd of Vorgeheim, 2513.

Seventy two gold crowns are in my possession. Haven't had so much money since... Bogenhafen, perhaps? I would pay much more than that to forget what I was subjected to yesterday. Ah, it's all for Sigmar in the end and perhaps the heavens will recognize that. So at least I've got that going for me. So we were still at the garden party. Harbull had prepared himself to apologize to Petra and further pursue a sweet romance. I was greatly supportive of this and wished him the best. However, there was another fellow who began to hunt the lady... our marine and local champion, Werner Murmann! I hold him in high regard but it was a complete bastard move to seduce her first.

He doesn't even really fancy her! Pure spiteful c

Harbull, I just took a swig, what were you writing down just now? Embellishments? Excellent. Harbull resigned himself to following our plan: speaking with the oily merchant Gotthard Goebbels. I myself was trying to gain an audience with Katrina Todbringer, the Graf's beloved daughter, and braced myself for wading through her entourage of templars. I planned to learn who was closest to the Graf and work on investigating the hypnotist plot from there. The creature that stopped me was no mere knight in shining armour, however. A small being stood in front of the princess, hunched over and warding me away with its bony hands. It turned its face towards me, a wrinkly thing of horror forged by age and bitterness, and began its questioning. It was her chaperone, Hildegard Zimperlich, and I was in for it now.

I tried my best to be pleasant. Honestly, nothing would work and she wouldn't even let me say hello. Apparently the title of captain means nothing. She was as unshakable in her stance as Magnus in his faith. I tried to prove that I knew her brother through the court physician, Luigi Pavarotti. Calling him over was a big mistake. She regarded him as a libertine and me as a cad. The knights huddled closer to their princess and Pavarotti and I were forced to retreat. He warned me against the old prune and recommended someone of a higher status. It was sort of strange to say, but Pavarotti had great advice and I kept it in mind.

I wandered over to Harbull, drink in hand, and felt that my attempts at charming people would constantly go badly. I was proven dreadfully, dreadfully wrong. So I was reminding Harbull of how we were invited, the champion's invitation, and Goebbels took an interest in my title of captain. Finally, I thought, another who loved the sea and rivers as well as I! He asked if I had been all over the ocean "sailing to many ports". I replied that I haven't and asked if he was well traveled. He claimed that he absolutely was without a doubt. I was very impressed by his adventurous nature. A friend of his named Raffael was delighted by our conversation and looked at me with considerable interest. I guess she too had a love of seamen. Harbull, are you okay? Oh, you just remembered a funny joke? Be sure to tell me it sometime...

Gotthard also asked about how much the crew and I, assuming us as strong types doffing our shirts, would sweat as they worked and I enjoyed the sun. I told him truthfully that I worked as hard as my crew, overseeing that we don't crash into rocks, and that indeed our crew would work in conditions such as the blazing sun. He seemed extremely pleased, I assumed by our great work ethic, and asked me my thoughts on plays involving musclebound pit fighters. That lead to a discussion of the barbarian opera and I agreed to see him there.

I knew at that point that something was off about that conversation. As our doctor and I walked away, I asked Harbull and he informed me that Goebbels was clearly interested in "a shag". A shag, of course! My plan was to, eh, get him back to his office, Harbull could sneak in while he's distracted, find any incriminating letters, and then we'd find a way to bring him to justice. It was unfortunate that the only way I could find out if he was a Chaos practitioner was through erm, "exciting him", but it was for the good of the crew.

Rallane approached us and said that he had been told of the hypnotism. He wanted to discuss our theories on who could be the culprit. We went towards this strange sculpture of the moon to get some privacy as it was considered too eerie for most. Damn thing reminded me too much of that deviltry in Bogenhafen. Anyway, we came to the conclusion that we should convince the military officials, wizards, Law Lords and Todbringer why the news taxes are a terrible idea. Rallane had no real power as a court minstrel, so he turned to us instead.

An excellent scheme was proposed by Harbull: get Werner, the new champion, and the former champion Dieter to speak to the princess. We could learn who was the most influential to the Graf and perhaps gain a lead on finding Charlotte. It was the perfect scheme. According to Katrina, the Law Lords would have the most influence so we should speak to them. Their conversation was quick and to the point. Well, except for when Harbull and I had to remind him to ask about the Bretonnian. Had to signal to him about the hair by pointing at my crimson doublet and hair repeatedly. Someone asked if it was a new Tilean dance trend. Werner thanked me aloud, confusing the princess, and I quickly melted back into the crowd.

The opera was, much like the knight story, utter bilge. We had to share the carriage on the way there with Marshal von Genscher. Man was about seven feet tall and easily took up most of the seats. Harbull did convince him that the taxes would cause riots. Riots that would primarily target the military as a force of oppression. Genscher was concerned by this and would speak to the other military officials as soon as possible.

So I couldn't understand the play at all. Not just because it was in Tilean, mind you. The man couldn't win the love of a beautiful maiden, so he gets a fearsome barbarian to advise him. I think? There were a few fights and the barbarian won every single one with clean slaying. No arms flying. Not very true to real battles. Every stage show gets that wrong. It all ended with everyone being married somehow. Goebbels and Raffael each sat at my side. I think he enjoyed the opera, he kept gripping my leg during some of the more passionate moments. I suggested returning to his office afterwards and they were thrilled by the idea of "after hours entertainment". Sigmar help me I was frightened. This was not the sort of attention that a captain wanted.

The merchants had a fine guild. Three floors tall, done in a Tilean style. That's what he told me in the carriage anyway. I quietly prayed to Sigmar that Harbull was not far behind. His office was well furnished but he was more eager to show me the nearby lounge area. It was much more of the luxury I expected him to indulge in. There was a long couch, a chair close to its right and one farther away to the left. I sat down gingerly on the left chair. He pulled across a red veil to cover the room. It was at this moment that I forgot to come up with an excuse for leaving.

He removed a Bretonnian wine bottle from a globe case and offered me a glass. Gotthard insisted that I enjoy it and sit on the couch as he claimed that it was more comfortable. As soon as I did, he sat uncomfortably close to my left. Raffael suddenly appeared in a dress that would bring great shame to her mother, and sat uncomfortably close to my right. I needed to buy time for Harbull and myself. I began to try my hardest to discuss the opera.

"So the music really, ah, helped when it was the middle point of it and all the confusion started with the three maids that claimed that the prince's brother was actually the baker's daughter in disguise. Even though..."

It bought me several minutes but not enough. Gotthard brought over an etching book with a "nautical theme" that I apparently would enjoy. Oh good, I thought, I could just tell them stories of my experiences on the tributaries of the Reik and maybe they... as each page turned sheer horror made it harder to tell my tales. Bodies shouldn't even do that and I mean how could you even put your... it was all very wrong. Perverted isn't strong enough a word for it. Forms became contorted and flesh mingled and merged in a sea of bodies. I was truly thankful for not falling into the wine's trance. If they got any ideas from that hideous woodcut book... I'm not talking about it further. What an awful book and artist. A waste of good wood... why is that so funny, Harbull? Nevermind. The wine proved to be my savior as I claimed to be getting sick and fled clumsily into the street.

Harbull got a letter from his desk. Addressing Lady Magritte von Wittgenstein as his sister. I was thankful that I didn't narrowly avoid a Chaos shag for nothing. Now we had what we needed. All we had to do after that was to get him back to the Templar's Arms and let The One make him talk. Most of today was spent following Goebbels. Nothing out of the ordinary really. He went to the horse show, had dinner and worked in his office. I had hoped to see him discuss cult business with his associates but I guess last night put him off it for a bit.

Werner was challenged in the arena. It was a local member of the Knights Panther. I bet all I had won from last time on this match. The fight was incredibly close. Both seemed to be evenly matched and consistently tried to break the legs of the other. Eventually, Werner knocked him down with a blow to the forehead. Our marine had to be restrained before he could hurt the poor fellow further. Harbull had seemed fairly certain of this result beforehand and quietly regretted not neglecting Werner's previous treatment.

So that's how I now have this sack of gold crowns and a painful memory. I look forward to bringing that Wittgenstein cultist and his unholy pleasures to light soon.

Alive or dead, it matters not.

  • Johann Dasbuut.

ItO-inspired injuries for games in the style of The Water Margin

Here follows a 'heroic injuries' system for when a Player Character hits 0HP in OSR games. It was designed for use in my Water Margin game of Blueholme. It creates situations more akin to those that befall the heroes of the novel and, as Chris McDowall has noted, a wounded party member is dramatically more interesting than a dead one anyway.

Also, if you find it problematic that attributes in Blueholme don't do 'enough' – and in the case of Strength, only have an effect in the long term due to XP adjustments – this may be something of a fix for that. 

Enough preamble, here's the thing: 

  • When you hit 0HP, further damage comes off your CON score. 
  • Whenever an attack takes you to 0HP or below, save against your class's prime requisite to avoid being Gravely Wounded.
    • 'Save' means roll equal to or less than the ability score on 3d6 (or 1d20 if you want things to be more swingy)
  • At 0 CON, you die.
  • If harmed again when Gravely Wounded, you die.
  • If you remain Gravely Wounded for 1d6 hours without care, you die.

 

One possible issue here is that this rule maybe over-values Constitution. Because it functions as a kind of reserve bank of not-dying as well as modifying total HP, it's arguably being applied twice.

There's also the question of whether you want this free second chance for the PCs. I think it's about right for the level of 'hero' in The Water Margin – they survive, often improbably, but they're not superhuman. But it's not gritty realism, that's for sure. 

/

The Enemy Within: Power Behind the Throne – The Graf's Champion (S3E06)

Captain's Log, 22nd of Vorgeheim, 2513.

I'm currently leaning against our loyal steed Dennis. There's a bit of a lull in the garden party so I'm taking the chance to record this. Harbull has decided to try to win the affections of Petra so The One will be writing this down instead. Dennis is a funny looking creature called an elephant. I've never seen one before so I'll give you a quick description. Think like a bear that's... no, that's terrible. Four legged, grey skinned, tough like thick leather. It has tusks like a boar but a big nose that... Okay. So a big grey mutant boar with leathery skin, giant ears and a nose like a long rope that is flexible like a tail. It's not from the Chaos wastes up north but it sounds like it. I do like Dennis a lot though. He's been dressed like one of those roaming bounty hunters: wide brimmed hat, poncho, the whole set. Surprised that they haven't given him a mock pistol.

You know how the start of every festival day goes. We tracked down the tavern where Dieter was hypnotized. Can't remember the name for the life of me. Let's call it "The Angry Halfling". It was a place for nobles and very wealthy merchants. It soon hit us like a hammer when we learned of the prices. Emmanuelle Schlagen and Petra were engaging in gossip at a table near the back. I let The One and Harbull speak with them. Harbull has a good way with words when drunk and The One... always brings an interesting topic to the table. Rolf, the owner of the place, was a good fellow and straight to the point. He hadn't really noticed or seen Charlotte after that fateful day. She had made herself very inconspicuous. Worse, we couldn't even figure out the exact date, as Dieter frequently booked a private table. At least Rolf brought us some fine wine to enjoy.

That briefly lifted my spirits. I returned to tell the crew of my findings and both Petra and Emmanuelle had left disgusted. Our best leads at this point seemed to be either Sparson or Goebbels. I had discussed the latter with The One and she speculated that he could be one of the Wittgensteins. Part of me hopes so, most of that wretched clan deserves swift and brutal justice. I was offered a chance to partake in the archery tourney but they had confused me with a bowman, not a boatman. We continued to drink heavily and met Luigi along the way. He was delighted with life and shared his joy with two local women. Told us that the Chancellor was heavily repressed nowadays. Acted very strangely. Interesting. I'm starting to think he might just be very odd rather than aligned with Chaos.

Schlagen mentioned that Gotthard was a weird sex person, which sounds exactly like the carnal worship we discovered back in Castle Wittgenstein. Werner finally appeared from a crowd like it was a mist. Along with two exhausted heralds. They asked for his name and explained that they had run all over Middenheim after him. He was needed at the Champion's Arena in about ten minutes. Werner took it well but immediately caught on to my prior deed of signing him up for battle. My job there was done, and my confidence in his fighting ability was high.

In the mad rush to the arena, I advised him on being careful of Dieter's defense and to aim for the joints and limbs. Man was hardier than Werner but not as strong. Both contestants arrived, long swords were chosen, greetings were exchanged, and a small nervous man quickly struck a bell. I bet 18 crowns on Werner with Harbull. Dieter forced a heavy strike towards our marine but it was evaded with a swift roll towards the champion's flank. The second blow of Dieter's failed to connect and Werner gave two quick blows to his sword arm and ribs. The champion was winded briefly and shocked. Disaster nearly struck when the champion retaliated with strikes to the stomach and head. Lesser warriors would have fallen but Werner's helmet and scarred form weathered them well. Finally, after several close calls, Werner swung his blade in a cruciform pattern and sundered the champion's shield. Dieter was lain low and a new champion had emerged! Harbull was greatly displeased.

It was a blur of celebrations after that. He was given a silver medallion, a golden cup and a chance to defend the title. Werner was also quietly invited to the garden party. It was at this point that we remembered that there was going to be an elephant show, courtesy of "Barnumble". We decided to rent an elephant to make an impression at the party. Barnumble turned out to be that fellow with the three legged goblin back in Bogenhafen. I can't blame him for switching attractions, mutant goblins would get witch hunters knocking on your door in no time. That's how we got our good friend Dennis here. Werner and I guided him to the party while Harbull and The One rode the mighty beast above. I think everyone politely ran out of the way. That was nice. We had to stable Dennis at the party but we had definitely made our entrance. We got masks but it wasn't much of a disguise. Ar-Ulric could be spotted a mile away, Al the elf stuck out like a sore thumb, and so on. So far, we've only talked shite about taxes.

I'm going to return to the party soon and speak to Gotthard. I've just got to confirm that he's a Wittgenstein and pleasure cultist, and then we can find and destroy his damn order.

Blessed Sigmar, guide me towards the evil so I may remove it from this land.

  • Johann Dasbuut.

The Enemy Within: Power Behind the Throne – You Are Feeling Sleepy (S3E05)

 

Captain's Log, 21st of Vorgeheim, 2513.

Our drinking had returned us to the morning warmth of the Templar's Arms. Al had brought his good friend Rallane Laffarel, the court musician, to join us in our usual quaffing. From my conversations along the Reik, I had been taught to believe that elves were a bunch of snooty taffers with, at most, a barely concealed disdain for others. Rallane thankfully proved me wrong with his good humour. That's what made his sudden worries so frightful to me. Seeing an amiable man's face turn still and haunted like a grotesque statue always catches me off guard. Told me gravely to talk to Dieter and ask him about "the taxes and the feckin' dwarves".

The Graf's champion, like clockwork, told me that he thought the taxes were a good idea. The temples had too many gold crowns and the taxes would help this gross inequality, according to him. Oh and he spoke very fondly of the dwarves. Rallane also told me that said dwarves were giving him constant hassle as he, as a elf and minstrel of the Graf's court, MUST be responsible for the dwarf tax. Given our experiences, that sort of conspiracy sounded about right.

We were done with talking and went back to drinking. We moved to the park to continue getting thoroughly senseless. No funny business with actors, dwarves or minotaurs this time. We could finally drink in peace. Then, we realized, it would be hilarious if we went to see Dieter fighting after he got absolutely ruined by the ale last night. We eagerly yet unsteadily waltzed over to the champion's arena. Man could put up an excellent fight while hungover. He brought down a heavy mace on his opponent's shield and the fellow just gave up. Fair play. He was very happy to see us and it was a shame Werner wasn't there to evaluate his prowess. I think he went off drinking with that tattooed dwarf? Anyway, Dieter told us that he was happy to be champion but would like to retire soon and settle down with Jung. Again, I'm sure Werner would have had a nice word or two about that.

I asked him about the taxes. Same exact response. Better rehearsed than that Midsummer Knight swill. It was chilling, to say the least, as his eyes began more and more to resemble those of a fish. Glazed and unfocused. I asked him again, same response.

"But why?"
"Well I think the taxes are a great idea, look at all the money put towards the temples!"
"Surely though, a place of supplication for Sigmar deserves our gold crowns?"
"Well I think the taxes are a great idea..."

You get the gist. Eventually I felt a small tugging at my sleeve. I didn't hire that street urchin for anything so I rightfully assumed it was our doctor. It was a joke, Harbull! Please keep writing. Thanks. So he told me that it looked like Dieter had been hypnoticized? Hypnotized. Right. I tried clicking my fingers and clapping but Dieter just looked at me funny. Out of ideas, I asked Harbull what we should do. The idea became to invite him back to the inn, get him drunk, bring him to a private room and then let The One "fix" him. After that we could enjoy the barbarian show. Barbarian of Seville, that's the one! Tilean? Probably. We invited him and he agreed to appear at the inn later. We would have kidna- saved him sooner but that Knight Immortal graced us with his presence.

He took a liking to The One immediately. She took a disliking to him immediately. I wasn't ready for another Knight Unlimited lecture so I took a walk over to the arena heralds. Lied and said my name was Werner "Minotaur Slayer" Murmann and got him a slot for tomorrow afternoon. He would have done the same. Got back just in time to hear about how his presence prevented Middenheim's destruction. So I asked the Knight Ceaseless what could destroy Middenheim. Chaos, of course. He told me they always try to get in through the tunnels and sewers but valiant men at arms prevent their invasions.

The One eventually warded him off by planting the idea in his head that researching how to stop Chaos could make him a great intellectual. That'll buy us some time. Luigi Pavarotti was the next fellow we bumped into. Large, delightful Tilean man. Very charming if a little too forward with women. I personally envy his love of life. Harbull got to know him pretty well, as a fellow doctor. He had been tending to the Graf's son, a slow but well meaning kid. I can relate pretty well. Luigi told us that he required medication due to constant, repeating nightmares. Nightmares not caused by trauma but yet very disturbing and vivid. Now I could relate too much. No one should have to suffer visions of Chaos if they haven't delved into the abyss and seen such horrible truths.

He knew a fair bit about the art of hypnotism. Put The One in a right bad mood when she realized her art wasn't needed. We struck a deal: he would come over to the Templar's Arms and help Dieter get out of his trance. With our words we promised to keep it ethical and let the patient know, with our minds we conjured up ways to persuade Dieter that it was a doctor fixing a problem with his eyes. The plan actually went without any real problems. A nice change, to be honest. The excuse worked, Luigi believed us until the end... the hypnotism worked so well that even I was falling asleep! The One slapped me out of it pretty well. Maybe we should have just got her to slap Dieter instead...

Asked Dieter a few questions while he was in a trance. He was put under a spell, eh, a not magic one, two months ago on a show boat. It was by a young woman with red hair, a very beautiful Bretonnian named Charlotte. Why would you want the Graf's champion to, ha, champion the idea of these new taxes? Then it hit me. The Chancellor Sparson has been rumored to take a cut of the taxes. Perhaps he had hired Charlotte to do the deed to secure the new taxes? Luigi then removed the accursed trickery from his mind. Dieter was obviously furious with the kidnapping but that soon gave way to tremendous gratitude. Luigi gave us a look as soon as he figured out that Dieter didn't know. It worked out well in the end, right? Dieter told us that if anyone was up to no good, it was Gotthard Goebbels. I've seen him before, he's the head of the merchants. The One claims that she has seen him somewhere before Middenheim. I've seen a lot of sleazy bastards so I don't think I can be of great help singling him out.

I know that the Merchant's Guild greatly supports the taxes. I think Goebbels and Sparson might be in cahoots. What could you really gain from a small cut of the taxes though when you are ultimately going to end up causing mass migration, riots and chaos in the streets...

Chaos? Right, Chaos! Of course, they can't fight us with swords so they've resorted to coin instead! Those clever sons of bitches!

Forget the opera, we need t-

What, we missed it?

  • Johann Dasbuut

BLOCK BY BLOCK, Design Diary 3

One of the useful things about playtesting online is that it can bring into sharp relief a friction that is easy to paper over at a face-to-face table. The reverse can also be true. 

I ran the first session of a four-part BLOCK BY BLOCK playtest over Google Hangouts last night. I'm still pondering and processing what we learnt but one thing stood out right away. As written currently, there's a turn-taking element to the flow of play. "It's the 5th of May, what do you do?" We play out that scene, go to the next detective. "What's your action today?" And so on. Then it's the 6th of May. The pace feels slow and at the same time, it's not slow enough: PCs are doing all their actions within a few days rather than getting through weeks at a time in rapid succession. Ideally, I'd like it to be possible to get through a year of detective work in one session. 

In the face-to-face playtest, we quickly got into a more boardgamey setup where a player would quickly go "I'm rolling Hit the Streets", do so and if the results didn't hit a significant threshold, we'd just note the result and move on. Online, that doesn't happen, because handing over between players is a more laboured process. You can't just switch your gaze from person to person. You have to say someone's name, announce the shift in focus and so on. 

And the fact that the daily turn-taking doesn't work online reveals to me that it also doesn't work face-to-face. In person we could handle it. But that doesn't mean it was actually good. 

It's possible this is a function of starting at the lowest character level: detectives begin at level 2, so they're rolling 2d6 plus modifiers for Legwork. The longer-term arc is supposed to be that you get frustrated at first, but as you get better at being a cop, that changes. So in session 2, I'll begin with the same method as I have now, but switch to something more radical for handling time in the second half of the session, so that I have a control for comparison. More on which in a moment. 

There's also, I have realised, an issue with the "you start bad but you get good" arc. Because another part of the system is attributes as depletable resources. In theory, as you play your detective and level up, your stats will inevitably deteriorate. You get older and slower and dumber and less charming, but while your modifiers from those attributes atrophy, your general ability to just be a cop, represented by your level, goes up. So in that sense, the dice pools maybe ought to be hovering around the same size all the time, and this talk of "it's bad now but it will get better" is a poor fig-leaf for this problem. The solution may simply be to be more generous with positive attribute modifiers in character generation. 

As for the more radical time handling. The issue is (as I see it right now) that going "OK, what do you do today? And today? And what about now?" is basically boring. The passage of time is important – cases get harder to solve the older they get – but this isn't the way to do it. 

So my thoroughly untested idea to try is this: 

Currently, Legwork is a skill roll. You roll a number of d6es equal to your level plus your attribute modifier. E.g. if you're a level 3 detective with INT 13 going through an autopsy report, you'll roll 3d6 for your level, +1 for Intelligence of 13, for a total of 4d6. 

Every 6 is Progress. 

If you roll one or more 1s, that's a hunch: you can follow up on your hunch, which means that you reroll any dice showing 2 to 5. You get 1 point of Progress for every 1 or 6 showing, but each 1 also costs you a point of Stress. 

Here's where the proposed change comes. If you get nothing on a Legwork roll, you can buy Progress with Stress on a 1 for 1 basis. Every point of Stress you take equals 1 Progress on the case and you advance the clock by a day – for the whole squad. You don't need to ask their permission. You can just do it. But it's probably a good idea to talk to the other players so they can do that SWAT raid they were planning for this afternoon before you push them into next week. 

This keeps the PCs all synced up in terms of timelines, causes potential friction within the squad – and eliminates the very granular "How about today? And today? And today?" sequence, while keeping the focus on time elapsed and clearance rates. 

Issues: It's clear what the player is doing that affects the squad but what is the character doing that makes time pass for the other detectives? It may just be, in the fiction, a coincidental lull in generating new leads, other duties that distract from the active caseload, etc. Which is... okay, but means that you may have a change in group dynamics between players that isn't reflected in-character. Maybe this represents 'burying yourself in the case'. You're not available for family and fellow cops; you don't show up to help. Each day advanced is something you could have done to be there for the squad but you weren't. 

This feels unsatisfactory somehow. To be continued.

 

 

 

 

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