Cog 11 is the gnome rogue I am playing in my new 13th Age campaign, the Eroding Empire.

Cog 11 (“Cog”) is a cold-hearted, selfish and anti-social wretch. Orphaned (or abandoned) on the edge of the Wild Wood when he was very small, Cog grew up as a wildling, a member of a small group of children who roam wild in the woods. No one knows why, but the Wild Wood seems to attract such hapless children, and they are somehow able to survive on its fringes. They wander the forest in small bands, eating what they can find and sleeping where they will. They often sneak into outlying towns and villages, stealing anything that is not nailed down and generally getting into trouble. Usually multi-racial and multi-national, these bands evolve their own language from the mix of whatever is in their group. They are rumoured to sometimes steal civilized children to join their gang, but this is unlikely. Some are rumoured to be cannibalistic, but this is also likely a lie. Certainly they live hard, desperate lives and very few become old enough to leave their group behind for better days: most fall prey to the vicious beasts of the forest, or are abducted by the vicious beasts of the human world.

Cog 11 was treated well when he was a child by a wood elf resident of a temple complex on the outskirts of the Wild Wood, and subsequently met this wood elf, Lithvar, again, joining his adventuring group. This early memory of being well-treated made Cog 11 (foolishly) over-inclined to trust priests. When he was still a child, but one of the oldest members of his wildling band, he was offered shelter and succour by a priest from a mysterious organization called the Watch. Trusting this priest too much, he left the wildling band to become a Disciple of the Watch. He spent the rest of his childhood in the Watch.

The Watch is a vile and sick cult that believes the world is empty of gods, and runs as a machine of clockwork, its mechanisms hidden from the eyes of mortals. The Disciples of the Watch believe that free will prevents humans from understanding the full glory of the machine, and aims to destroy free will in all mortals, cast down false idols, and restore the machine of the universe to perfection. They believe that humans can be programmed, and that only a very small and elite number of humans should have any free will – these people would then guide the machine and “operate” all other humans. They have a monastery in an obscure place near the Wild Wood, and abduct sentient creatures of all race to conduct “reprogramming” experiments. Disciples of the Watch do not have names, only functions and numbers: this is the basis of Cog’s name.  For 5 years Cog 11 was a devoted Disciple of the Watch, but he slowly uncovered their darker secrets, lost faith, and fled. Usually people who attempt to leave the Watch are treated as defective parts, captured and subject to hideous reprogramming before being discarded, but Cog 11 was able to escape from the Watch – he is probably the only person ever to do this.

Lost and alone, Cog 11 joined a mercenary company called the Black Company, which is famous for its cruelty and deceptions. He worked as a scout and spy, learning to fight and all the tools of spycraft. He was with the Black Company for several years before abandoning it on a whim to join Lithvar’s group.

Cog 11 lost all his faith in humanity while he was a Disciple of the Watch. Although he has shaken off the Watch’s teachings about the evil of magic and the non-existence of other Gods, he cannot relinquish the idea that mortals are mere machines without souls, capable of being reprogrammed and to be viewed only in terms of their usefulness. He takes joy only in his work as a scout, and in killing living things. Although he could perhaps be mistaken for handsome, this complete absence of empathy coupled with his rough manner and lack of social graces makes him almost completely unlovable and without charm. He has no sense of humour and his language skills are one-dimensional and functional, the consequence of growing up as a wildling. The only kindness he has ever experienced was a few precious weeks with Lithvar when he was a child; he has never experienced the bond between family members except when he watched people grieve over relatives he had killed; he has never experienced a woman who was not forced or paid; and his only experience of comradeship has been in battle with paid killers. He is thoroughly isolated from the normal emotional life of ordinary mortals.

Cog 11 wears worn and cheap black leather armour, is festooned with wicked-looking knives, and carries a small shortbow. He has few possessions, and no distinguishing features. He is lean, thin and wiry, with no facial hair, very pale blue eyes completely lacking in humanity, and blond hair. But for his height and the clear signs of sociopathy, he is non-descript.

Some 13th age details are below.

One unique thing

Cog 11 is the only person ever to escape from the Watch alive, and he knows all their secrets

Icon relationships

The archmage (Negative, 1): The archmage is implacably opposed to the Watch, and anyone who was ever a member of the organization is a potential enemy of this icon. However, the Watch is a tiny and largely irrelevant organization, so a negative relationship with the archmage is unlikely to be strong

The High Druid (Conflicted, 1): Although the Wild Wood seems to somehow support wildling bands, the denizens of the wood also prey on them, and the High Druid does not seem to approve of them. Those who grew up in wildling bands see the High Druid as a kind of intolerant, capricious and violent father: loving, but not to be trusted and perhaps not fully aware of its own mind on the matter of their continued existence.

The Dwarf King (Negative, 1): The Dwarf King has a tenuous relationship with the Watch, though no one really understands why or how close they are. Escaping from the Watch with its secrets would not have endeared Cog 11 to the Dwarf King, though again the inconsequential nature of the Watch precludes any negative relationship with its patrons from being very strong.

Backgrounds

Burglar (5): years of sneaking around breaking into settlements in the Wild Woods has made Cog 11 excellent at breaking and entering buildings, and the Watch further honed these skills to its own purposes

Wildling (5): years of staying alive in the wilderness has taught Cog 11 how to survive in the wild, how to sneak and climb and a little bit about how to identify and avoid animals.

Black Company (3): Cog 11 never got involved in old-fashioned ground combat, but his time in the Black Company taught him how the military works, and his role as a scout and spy meant he often was involved in formulating attack plans – he thus has a good military sense

The Watch (2): Cog 11 was taught about machinery by the Watch, so he understands how even quite complex mechanisms work, is able to make basic clockwork machinery, and so on. This time also gave him a corrupted understanding of theology and humanity, though, so it might serve as a penalty on his attempts to understand how human interaction works …

A smear of grey across the sky
A warning in the distance
An indecipherable alarm

And there you stood, your mouths agape
Your minds adrift and far from harm

Smoke on the horizon …

- Black Company mantra

The boy and the wildling

Lithvar was just finishing shelving the day’s manuscripts when he heard the noise; when he was shelving Lithvar  had a tendency to be distracted by every creaking and cracking sound in the temple compound, and especially by any sound or smell from the kitchen. So when he heard the rustling and banging in the kitchen, he immediately thought of someone was preparing something for tomorrow, something he could cadge a little of. Even though he spent all day sitting down in the library, Lithvar was at that age of boyhood where he was constantly hungry, and he had long since become a familiar fixture in the kitchen. Strict rules of asceticism were supposed to apply in this temple, but Lithvar was no trainee – just a library assistant – and all the serving staff liked him. Seeing his chance, he hastily stuffed the last manuscript into its slot – some pointless document about the coming End of Times – and dashed swiftly and quietly down to the kitchen. He was given a lot of leeway, but disturbing the monks in their interminable evening prayers was not part of it, so he had to move silently. No trouble for a light-footed wood boy on the cusp of adolescence …

… he reached the kitchen to find it abandoned and silent. It was dark, but he could hear a scrabbling noise from inside. He slipped through the doorway and found himself staring at a bizarre scene of theft and rapture. To one side of the kitchen the smaller scrap bin had been overturned, and something was digging around inside, scratching hungrily for food. At first he thought it an animal, but after a moment it seemed to sense him and stuck its head over the bin’s edge: it was a wild-eyed elf-child of some kind, its hair ragged and matted, its face covered in filth. In its mouth was the messy remnants of a fish head, and in one hand it held stale bread. They didn’t have a chance to lock eyes though before Lithvar noticed the other thing on the kitchen bench. The bench was a great stone thing, that ran along half the length of the middle of the room. It had been cleaned down after dinner but Lithvar had left a single illuminated manuscript here after dinner, when he had sneaked down to steal some apple pie and eaten it while reading the book. Moonlight streamed down from a window high on the south wall of the room, and the book lay in a pool of silver radiance like some holy text that the gods wanted to be found. And indeed someone had found it: squatting on the bench staring down at the book was a tiny creature, a gnome child no more than maybe half a metre tall. In one hand it held a leg of rotten chicken; a chunk of the festering meat hung half-chewed out of the side of the little beast’s mouth. But it wasn’t eating, or looking around, or anything: it was staring in wonderment at the gleaming letter “D” that took up the top half of the page, and with one grubby finger it was tracing the outline of the silver dragon that traced the outline of the “D”, a dragon that shone like a real living thing in this mystical moonlight. The little beast was so wrapt in the lettering of the book that it didn’t notice Lithvar at all – it was captured in the joy of letters, just as Lithvar had been two years ago when he was first brought here.

Lithvar knew of these things: they were wildlings, children abandoned on the edge of the Wildwood by slavers, bandits or reckless families and left to fend for themselves. Most died, but the smarter ones formed together into wild gangs, moving from town to town and living by their wits, mostly by theft and sometimes a little prostitution. They were lost to the wilderness, mostly they didn’t speak or they shared a language their own band had created, forged together out of all the tongues of the members. They didn’t usually make it to adulthood, but those few who did would end up at New Port or Santa Cora, living as thieves, or would be inducted into a bandit gang and used as savage scouts till they died. But these two were too young for that, still wandering the wilds stealing food. Lithvar found himself not at all scared of them, just moved by a desire to help them. He stepped forward into the edge of the moon’s glow and whispered a greeting to the tiny thing. As he moved the other wildling dissolved into shadow and was gone with that supernal grace and speed that only wild wood elves can master. The gnome-child, however, was not so fast – it leapt back from the book but, still part entranced, didn’t leave the bench; instead it crept slowly away from this giant boy striding into the light, but it kept one eye on that book.

“Would you like me to read it to you?” Lithvar asked gently, but this scared the thing even more; it slipped further back into the shadows, and out of the spell of the book.

“Oh, okay … how about some food…?” Lithvar stepped slowly away from the table and turned to the pantry, unlocking it and opening it as quietly as he could. When he turned back bearing bread and cheese the gnome-child was gone, lost in the shadows. He sighed, not unsurprised, and placed the food on the table between the book and the shadows, just on the edge of the moonlight. A few moments later he saw two wide, pale blue eyes staring from the edge of the bench. Slowly the child moved back onto the bench, looking for the food but staring at the book.

“Would you like to know what it says?” He asked gently. The gnome child obviously couldn’t understand him much, but it understood his tone; it seemed to relax a little as it reached for the food.

They shared a few moments more before some noise in the upper levels of the cloisters disturbed the gnome. Lithvar heard someone coming, and moments later the gnome was gone, properly this time, carrying a chunk of bread with it into the wild night. Lithvar hastily cleared the food away, sighing in disappointment as he did so. His moment of connection was over, and it was back to the books for him …

… but over the next nights the gnome-child returned, and for a few weeks he had a strange and savage friend. He taught the gnome-child a few of the rudimentary letters in the book, and helped it to eat and rest. But eventually they were caught; he was caned and the gnome-child fled, moving on with its band to the next village, probably to forget him and his kindnesses forever …

The prisoner and the knave

In the years after he met the gnome child Lithvar grew into an awkward, shy teenager. He still loved books, he still spent his days in the library, and he still had no patience for prayers and asceticism, though he had begun to learn a little of the secrets of the temple where he lived. He had also become more comfortable with the grounds of the temple, and especially liked to take the air in the Southern garden, which had a pretty fountain and pool that he liked to relax by in the cool of the early morning. He felt very lucky here in this temple. Though he knew nothing of the religion that had found and sheltered him – and indeed, knew nothing about why he was here or where his family were – he trusted the priests implicitly. They were sometimes strict and often distant, but he been treated well here and although he knew little of the outside world, he knew enough to guess that life would have been much harder in the outside world for a seemingly orphaned boy of his age.

So it was that one morning he descended the marble stairs from the library into the cool of the garden, to sprawl on the bench beside the pool and have his faith in his elders shattered.

When he emerged into the garden he found it already occupied, by a sobbing boy no older than himself. The boy was staring at himself in the pond, his reflection disturbed only by occasional teardrops. His sobs were almost silent, but it was enough for Lithvar to know that this boy was upset about something. He coughed gently, always shy of speech even now, and the crouched boy spun around. For a moment Lithvar was reminded of that strange evening years ago in the moonlight, but that child could not have grown so much, this must be some other interloper. This boy was obviously injured in some way: his head was bandaged, blood and something else seeping through the bandages that were clearly freshly applied. His tear-stained face appeared to be bruised, and he wore ragged clothes that, in the places where they were ripped away revealed fresh scars and bruises. Was this what Lithvar had looked like when he was taken in by his nameless temple?

The boy backed away from him in obvious fear. “It’s okay,” he said, slightly helplessly, holding out one arm cautiously. “I’m not here to hurt you, I just want to sit on this bench.” He sat down carefully. The boy stared at him for a moment longer, then with an outraged howl he tore the bandages off and thrust his entire head into the pool, shaking it under the water. Lithvar, shocked, rushed forward to pull the boy from the pool. “Don’t!” he gasped. “You should keep the …” his voice trailed off as the boy turned to face him, dripping water from … two horribly disfigured stumps growing out of his skull. They looked for all the world like the stumps of horns, as Lithvar was used to seeing on the strange beast head hanging preserved over the fireplace in the library. Blood and clear liquid oozed from the base of the stumps where the damage had been done. It looked incredibly painful! The boy was sobbing again, and collapsed with a howl at Lithvar’s feet.

“What has happened to you!” Lithvar asked in horror. And then, remembering to always be reassuring with strange interlopers … “Don’t worry, our priests will make it better.”

The boy’s head snapped up from its huddle, and he stared furiously at Lithvar through stunning eyes, one violet and one black. “Your priests did this!” he snarled.

“What?” Lithvar took a step back, shocked at the accusation. “No! They are kind!”

“Kind?” The boy spat. “They want to drive my demons out. They had me locked in a room, they cut me and beat me.”

“No! They must be trying to heal you!”

The boy rocked forward a little, head tilting to one side, eyes widening. “You don’t … believe they would do this?” He asked softly.

“No! They are kind. They have always been kind …” His voice trailed off. He remembered the night they found him with the gnome child, and the boy’s cries and screams after they dragged him away. Where was that child now? They would never tell him what they did …

The boy rose up onto his knees, grabbed Lithvar’s hand before he could recoil. Was it Lithvar’s imagination, or was the boy’s skin slightly dry and … scaly?

“Please, help me!” The boy gasped urgently. “You know this place. You can help me leave!”

“Nothing is stopping you! Just go to the gates! Here, I’ll show you!” Lithvar drew the boy up, but then paused. “But wait, if you’re leaving, I should get some food for the road. You can’t go off without food!”

The boy looked around urgently. “There’s no time! We should go. You can’t …”

His protests trailed off, eyes wide, looking over Lithvar’s shoulder. Lithvar turned slowly. The temple Elder was standing there, flanked by two men in steel armour. They carried some kind of chains, strung with wicked-looking barbs and ending in a nasty blunt hook-thing. They both looked levelly at Lithvar with cold, expressionless faces. One twitched his left hand, making the chain rattle. The boy stepped away from Lithvar and started moving towards the stairs he had come down, but stopped as another one of the guards emerged from the shadows of the stairwell.

“Lithvar,” the elder said, not unkindly. “Please, what are you doing here?”

“Um …” Lithvar stumbled. “This boy … I found … he wants to leave. Um, I was just going to get him food and show him the gates.”

“No Lithvar, you weren’t,” the elder said gently. “He can’t leave. Tyhalt is sick, and he needs to stay here until he is better.”

“NOT SICK!” The boy wailed. “Don’t hurt me more! Lithvar, help me!” He stumbled forward and fell to his knees behind Lithvar, wrapping his arms around Lithvar’s waist. “Don’t let them hurt me again!”

The men stepped forward smoothly and swiftly. One grabbed Lithvar by the shoulders and arms, and before he could even think to move the other had the boy Tyhalt in a strong grip. Lithvar heard the chain rattling but noticed a swift glance from the elder, and the chain stopped. He couldn’t look around but he heard the sound of Tyhalt kicking the guard’s armour, followed by a thumping sound and cries. The elder nodded at Lithvar’s guard, and he began to be dragged in towards the stairs.

“We will talk later, Lithvar,” the elder told him. “Tyhalt needs to be returned to treatment.”

As he was dragged into the hallway Lithvar heard the boy crying and howling, then go suddenly silent as the chains rattled. Before the guard kicked a door closed he thought he heard muffled voices, the elder speaking loudly maybe, and then cries. But then the door shut and he was dragged into the cool darkness and merciful silence of the inner cloisters.

Later that day he spoke with the elder, but he learnt nothing of the boy, nor did he see him again. That day something changed in the happy silence of Lithvar’s life. Soon he was gone, taking a bundle of books and food and setting off into the world to find a new way…

The nightmare and the warden

Syrion was really still a boy when his father cast him out. Still a boy, but old enough to be caught atop his father’s third consort, and that was too flagrant an error for even his own long-suffering father to tolerate. Whether it was the shame of being cuckolded by his own son – and with his new favourite, no less! – or the realization that this child would only bring his royal house down, it cannot be said. Certainly as Syrion left the town incognito the next morning, bearing what little he could steal or beg from family retainers, head bowed in shame, the rumours he heard of that consort’s ill-omened end were not pretty. Still, he had got what he wanted, and what fault of his that her high-pitched warblings were fit to wake the dead (and his father’s guards)? Besides, the argument had been waiting to be had, and now he was free he could really show his father how great he was. He would make his own noble future, and return a powerful man to rival his own father. Then they would see who was an embarrassment to who!

… Syrion was still really only a boy a few months later when, down on his luck and too childish to manage his money, he found himself drinking his last gold piece away in a seedy tavern in some pointless town on the edge of the Wild Wood. It was hardly his fault – again, a woman had brought trouble down upon him because she couldn’t keep her ecstasy to herself. This time it was the daughter of the merchant whose caravan he had been guarding, and now here he was, unceremoniously dumped from his work and lucky not to have copped a stupendous beating – a good thing for him that the merchant’s retainers lacked any military prowess, and had been scared to touch him. Still, he had already handed over his deposit to a loan shark in Newport, and had been depending on the payment on delivery for food, clothes and lodging. So here he was, in a nowhere town with nowhere to go and no money. So it was that he found himself nursing bad ale and a bad heart, wondering if he would have to go slinking back to his father in shame, because there was surely no work to be had hereabouts, when a little group of men sidled up to him and offered him a paltry sum of money to beat up a local troublemaker.

Now that he could do! And what an easy troublemaker to find – some kind of demon that could be found in a barn nearby, a real demon with horns and a tail! They would only pay him a couple of silvers to do the job, but everyone knew that demons had treasure and besides! Think of the fame! And they bought him another drink! Which he downed ceremoniously, before staggering out to find this demon and collect his money…

… At the barn he staggered through the door, yelling bravely, and drew his sword with a yell. Standing there in the half-light was a full demon! It had red skin and fiery eyes, stood maybe 3m tall at the shoulder, and had huge horns and a long, whip-like tail. Was it scaled or furry? He couldn’t quite tell because of his blurred vision – some evil demon magic no doubt. This demon was standing over a supine figure, someone who was twitching and yelling in fear but transfixed before the demon, perhaps even semi-conscious with terror. A desperate tableau! Even though this demon, on closer inspection, appeared to be vague and barely material, in fact almost see-through – a seeming, perhaps? – it was still clearly a life-and-death moment for this poor traveller sleeping in the wrong barn! Syrion charged forward and with a couple of flourishes of his mighty sword arm was able to destroy the beast. It fled to its own plane, disappearing in a puff of sulphur, and leaving behind a little nick of horn. Syrion took the horn as proof of his job done, and sagged down beside the terrified traveller, who seemed to have returned to sleep. Now Syrion too was very tired. He needed to sleep off his drunken state. He would collect his reward in the morning …

… and so it was that he slept beside the warlock boy, Tyhalt, and while he slept there for the first time in a long time Tyhalt’s nightmares did not come – no demons manifested in his sleep, no infernal sendings or seemings troubled him. In the morning he and Syrion set out together, and it was only later in the day that Syrion realized Tyhalt was the demon he was supposed to have given a beating. By then Tyhalt had already proposed a money-making scheme to him: Tyhalt would appear in villages to terrorize them, and then Syrion would arrive fortuitously, collecting money to drive Tyhalt out. A lucrative venture! And one Syrion could hardly turn down. Thus it was that they became friends in crime, and wanderers on the fringe of the Wild Wood, as Syrion established his reputation as a paladin and demon-slayer…

 The doomed and the saved

Smoke on the horizon
Can the flames be far behind?
You run for cover, but it’s too late
You are engulfed, you are
The smoke on the horizon

- Black Company mantra

The cult found Ayn bound and dying in the sacrificial pit of one of their sacred ruins. She had been dumped there by her tribe – some kind of honour killing – doused in acid and left to die, or to be eaten while she died by one of the many ruthless scavengers of the wastes. Of course they only learnt later that her fate had been of such mundane savagery – at first, finding her in that venerated and holy hollow, they assumed she was a message from their crazed doomsday gods, so they saved her as best they could. From that day forth she was their slavish devotee, but scarred beyond recognition and shamed by the accusations of her tribe, she insisted on always being swathed head to toe in layers of impenetrable black cloth. Her face was so disfigured that she could never show it: instead she had a blank black mask, lacking even eyes (for who needs eyes when one’s mysterious gods of the End will give one all the sight one needs?) She became their living shadow, perfect adherent of their teachings, servant of their unholy and morbid gods.

Life passed that way for a few years. Ayn came of age, though no one could tell what changes might be happening inside those shrouds, and the cult too grew a little, found a wealthy patron, set up a little stockade in the edge of the wild woods. Things were going well, perhaps so well that their dreams of the 13th Age’s catastrophic end in fire and acid began to fade. Doomsday became a faint echo of their gods’ purpose, they went through the prayers and the motions but they did not, perhaps, care as much as once they did, living this comfortable life here in their little holy stockade. Except for Ayn. This cult had healed her, and its gods gave her sight – if her faith in their dread purpose ever waned or faded, so did her sight, and so every day she was perfect in her devotions to them, and in truth all she ever really dreamt of was the end of the earth – and especially of her old tribe, washed away in a tide of acid hate. When the Tiefling and the Paladin came, originally planning some scam but then deciding to stay for a few days so that the paladin could try and find what was beneath the strange girl’s robes, Ayn did not notice his attentions. She had thoughts only for the signs of the End Times, for that time when the world would be judged in fire and acid, and she would ascend to the heavens to become whole again. If she noticed the Paladin watching her impatiently, she ignored him. But she probably did not notice.

And noone noticed, either, the shadowy figure on the hillside watching them. The cultists were too comfortable in their easy life; Syrion the Paladin was too focused on Ayn and the mystery beneath her robes; Ayn was too rapt in her religious observances, praying to the dark ones so that she could keep the sight that failed to see the gnome scout hidden in the hills. So it was that he came, he watched, and he slipped away easily to his mercenary band, and he gave them detailed information on how to attack the stockade.

They came the next day: the Black Company, famed for its bravery and cunning, ill-famed for its brutality. The Priestess had paid someone to pay someone to hire someone to find someone to buy a squad to go and slaughter a doomsday cult. The Black Company were the squad, and Cog 11 was their gnome scout. He had come a long way since a library assistant taught him a few words in a glowing book; now he was a murderous adult with no heart, drifting purposeless through life with no greater goal than to fill his empty soul with a lake of blood. The Black Company was his company, but not his place, he had no place. So he watched as they fell on the stockade, but he noted that once again they had failed to follow the plan he had sketched out. They would win, of course – they always did – but it would take longer and be more difficult than needed. Angry at their stupidity, Cog 11 slipped into the stockade through the postern gate he had so carefully opened for them the day before, and prowled the streets looking for men to kill. He cut down a few, the savage pleasure of it muted by his disappointment at being ignored again. They always ignored him.

Then he found them. Syrion, Tyhalt and Ayn, trapped in a barn, fighting. He crept in above them, thinking to set some ambush, but he came to a slow halt as he crawled along the rafters to a good spot for the drop. These people did not seem lost. The big human, Syrion, was fighting with gleeful abandon, but he was brave, not a skulking backstabber like Cog 11. The tiefling and the paladin were obviously allied to each other – not by bonds of military discipline, but by some fierce joy they found in fighting alongside each other. And the black-robed girl, though she could barely muster a prayer, was deep in ecstatic service to her sick gods, flinging weak and pathetic spells about in the vain hope that she could serve some higher purpose than her own shriveled skin.

Cog 11 was amazed. His amazement soon turned to a surprising resolution: he would help them. These people had hope. He had nothing. Perhaps there was an alternative to drowning his sorrows in blood – perhaps he could find a place with people. Not the false companionship of the Company, hard men paid to like each other, but something real. He had never really even sought it out – perhaps there was a way?

With this brief irrational moment of hope eclipsing his usual cynical emptiness, Cog 11 dropped to the floor of the barn and shouldered into the door – which of course didn’t move under his tiny weight. “I have a way out,” he told the surprised paladin. But as they all looked down at him, he heard the creaking boom of a Company trebuchet. Moments later the roof of the barn crashed inward in a torrent of broken wood and flames, and the barn collapsed on them…

… By the time Lithvald stumbled on the stockade the main force of the Black Company had pulled back, leaving a ruined and blackened shell. Ash was falling from the sky with a gentle rain, and the whole area stank of smoke and death. He pushed his way through the wrecked gates into the courtyard, and picked past piles of dead and dying, looking for someone he could help. The ash drifted, settled and formed a thin skein of filthy mud in the rain, and the fires dimmed as the rain intensified. Everywhere horses and men twitched out their last breath. It seemed hopeless.

Lithvald was just considering leaving and returning to his forest when he heard a moan from a low pile of smouldering wood. He dived in and began heaving the wood aside, and after a few moments found the tiefling, who he helped out from under the timbers. As the rain washed away the grime coating the tiefling’s horn and slanted features they stared at each other in amazement. They remembered! Was this the boy Lithvald had tried to help years before? As he hauled the half-demon out from the wood they collapsed into each other, laughing with joy. Such a coincidence!

They helped the mysterious priest girl out, and then Syrion, who was battered from the battle and the ruins. Finally they spied a small crossbow focused on the group from amidst the ruins – Cog 11 returned to his old suspicions. But when he saw his teacher from all those years ago, he too crawled out of the shadows, amazed and awed by the power of fate.

This could not be just luck. This had to be fate. This was a group whom fate had conspired to draw together, to some obscure purpose. They could not separate now. They each had their own goals – of vengeance, lost loved ones to find, fame to make. But they had been drawn into the tangled web of each others’ lives by more than just luck. As Cog 11 urged them to leave the stockade before the Company’s camp followers came to murder and loot the injured, they spoke in amazement of their good luck and their future.

There was something in this. Where would it take them?

Note: this is how our new 13th Age party met. The Black Company Mantra is a slightly edited excerpt from the Assemblage 23 song, Smoke.

Sometimes my regular RPG group runs a thing called “downtime,” which I think might be a well-established concept in role-playing methods, though I’d never encountered it before. Basically this is meant to be in-between time, where you interact with the GM electronically and handle irrelevant stuff like shopping, sorting out a few personal plans etc. Unfortunately our downtimes tend to be potentially fatal, high risk adventures in their own right. They happen on facebook and I really don’t know where our GM finds the time for them – he runs downtimes for 4 or 5 players, and sometimes they come together to form a group downtime with several solo downtimes intersecting. Up until now my most memorable downtime was a sudden explosion of chaos, in which we were all attacked by assassination squads simultaneously, and the first I knew of it was a text from another player (arriving in my facebook chat while I was at work): “Been shot, bleeding out, they’re coming for all of us, get out now”. This situation is tough because you’re on your own, so when they come for you you can’t consult and you suddenly realize how much role-playing depends on consultation with your colleagues. That downtime lasted 3 hours (broken up by work – I had to rush home and come up with a plan, then spend an hour or two getting out of the assassination situation). It’s really gripping, tense stuff.

That downtime was surpassed by an epic effort this week, a downtime so stunning it took role-playing to a new level.

Our group had just killed a vampire, who we knew was a Nazi in world war 2, and we had a couple of days’ grace before the next stage in the adventure. We’d secured a funky loft apartment in Berlin, we thought we’d escaped the attention of most of our enemies, we knew roughly what we were aiming at, though a lot was still shrouded in mystery, we had money and time. Great opportunity to consolidate! So we all did our downtimes with quiet confidence. My character, John Micksen, called on some political allies to investigate the associates of the vampire he killed. He figured that a WW2 Nazi would be using modern neo-nazis as muscle, but neo-nazis being dumber than a bag of hammers, they might by their activities give away some information. He soon discovered that the neo-Nazis had been active in violent street activities, including abducting children, and had contacts with companies and politicians that were … dodgy … to say the least. He decided to use some magic to hack their communications, but he could not speak German. So he set up a ritual, bought a parrot, and imprinted the comms on the parrot so that it could repeat all the conversations for someone else in the party (Helga) who speaks German. Feeling super clever, and looking forward to stunning everyone with his cunning parrot idea, he returned to the apartment.

All this is happening in Facebook chat.

He returned to the apartment, and was just relaxing and getting ready to reveal his super clever parrot trick to the amazement of his colleagues, when everyone smelt burning and hurt strange noises from Jade’s room. He came charging out a moment later, and chaos started.

The characters are:

  • John Micksen (me)
  • Jade, I’m not sure what he is, a Brazilian dude who can’t die, but who had to give up his child to the Faerie because some arsehole stole his memories and the faerie could give them back but it was me who gave away his child
  • Helga, a violinist. No, I don’t know why we’re adventuring with a violinist either
  • Jason, a werewolf. Useful. Not yet clued up to the full enormity of the trouble we’re in
  • Andrew, a mage, who works for the company we thought was trying to kill us (but apparently isn’t)

This motley crew was all we had when this happened (all of it in Facebook chat):

 

Jade   
Jade comes into view, walking slowly into the room. He is talking nonsense to himself, in a language you don’t understand and giggling like a little girl. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes.[Like saying “ah, kids today, eh?”]. He steps into the common room, and stops. He notices you all gathered, looking at him. He cocks his head to the side with questioning eyes, then is like he realized something and he smiles broadly. He starts laughing, LOUD “HAHAHAHAHAHA HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HAHAHA” pointing at you. You feel like you are the butt of some psychotic inner joke. He doubles up roaring in laugher, holding his stomach, his eyes going wide and tear coming down his cheeks. His head goes down, he bangs the side of the doorway with his fist laughing. You swear.. you swear his skin color changes a bit, but it’s too quick for your eyes. Then you notice something behind him. Ambers…. fire… the smell of smoke, coming from the hallway. Jade laughs a bit, coughs and lets out a breath. “Ha…Aah…”. Suddenly he grows very quite. He trembles a bit and raises his head in quick jerk. He looks up at you, his face the mask of absolute fear. “RUN!” he says.
Jason   
Jason comes in, with one hand holding a deep, brutal looking wound in his chest and in the other a bag full of bananas
“you GOT to be kidding me”
GM
Actually jades room is on fire primarily and part of the hallway as it is spreading
Jason      
i run outside
John Micksen
“Andrew, can you do something about that?” says John, as he steps out to the stairwell to get a fire extinguisher.
He is very calm.
“Helga, can you pick up the box on the table? We may want it.”
Andrew    
In that case, Andrew is not following Jade entirely to the room, but he indeed tries to put out the fire. Though he’ll keep an eye on what’s happening in the room.
John Micksen    
He walks back into the room with a fire extinguisher. “Andrew, are you dealing with this or are we doing it the old-fashioned way?”
Jason   
jason rushes in again, obviously really angry
John Micksen 
“Jason, grab a blanket and get it wet. We need this out before the fire brigade get here.”
Andrew   
Andrew is looking at the flames quite intensely.
John Micksen   
“Go check in the stairwell for a fire blanket”
Andrew  
“I’m working on it”
Jason  
“what paranoid asshole did this!” he shouts more to himself than you
John Micksen      
John decides this is no time for patience, and lets rip with the extinguisher as well
Jason  
and looks for someway to help you
John Micksen    
“GET A FIRE BLANKET”
John Micksen  
“IN THE STAIRWELL”
Jason    
“A BLANKET? ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I M NOT GETTING THAT CLOSE!!”
Helga  
Helga has the.box and she screams “forget the fire! GET OUT NOW!”
GM    
Okay please everyone tell me what you are doing.
Jade  
Jade looks at them, he steps towards john slapping the fire extinguisher off his hands. “They are here. RUN.” He runs for the door.
John Micksen
I am helping Andrew with the fire, and telling Helga to get the box down to the street and ordering Jason to get a fire blanket
Helga
Helga has the box and she is RUNNING.
John Micksen    
oh ffs
Helga    
SHE SCREAMS  ANGEL!
John Micksen
John joins the panic. He thinks to grab any bags of documents that are close by.
Andrew      
Andrew looks slightly frightened “John, this is supernatural shit. I can’t put them out…”
John Micksen
“FUCKING RUN OLD MAN”
Jason  
Jason takes a few deep breaths, sings a silent song,
John Micksen
ooc  why the fucking fuck do our downtimes do this?
Jason      
graps the extiguisher and some blankets
and goes near the flames
Andrew  
Slightly confused, Andrew moves away from the flames, back to the common room where the others are. On the way he tries to stop Jason.
Helga 
“JOHN FORGET THE DOCUMENTS!”
Jade    
Jade goes through the door. Bursting it to pieces, laughing.
John Micksen 
John gives Helga a brief, cold, hard look
Jason      
When they first touch he screams in pain and rushes back, obviously surprised and angry
“AAARG WHAT THE FUCK”
John Micksen  
Then he grabs the nearest laptop (his, probably) in one hand and Jason’s shoulder in the other,
GM   
Out of the doorway you see a figure coming out. It seems to be the warped shape of a girl, her hair flowing around her, blood streaming down her face while her tattered wings fold to fit through the door. Her eyes are the darkest black, and the flames emanate from her. As she sees you all she smiles, her teeth sharp like needles.
John Micksen  
ooc  Oh FFS
GM  
Her eyes are the darkest black
John Micksen      
John is now running
Jason
Jason follows
Jade   
“Look john!! Is my only pride! Hahaha” He is crying, running.
John Micksen   
Hurtle down the stairs, yelling
Jason    
jumps into his car, starting engine
John Micksen 
WHAT DID YOU DO JADE?
Helga
Helga thinks, Oh Jade…
Jason
“GET IN YOU BASTARDS” “
Helga  
Jumps in.
John Micksen    
Jump in the car as soon as I am out the door
GM    
She is followed by another, who seems to bring a searing light into the room. It’s skin is almost translucent and it’s face holds no features except for the hollow eyes that follow you as you run. It’s fingers end in long narrow needles and it’s feet are claws that grip the ground. It’s wings of serrated blades wrap around it as it walks through the door

So you’re trying to work, and suddenly you’re being attacked by two angels. Your apartment is being burnt down and everyone is in a state of panic. We managed to get out of this situation, but we had nowhere to go. John made some phone calls, burnt some more political favours, and found a dodgy warehouse squat in a dodgy part of town. They drove there in Jason’s dodgy car, not being followed yet. The squat was dodgy – home to the black bloc, and a bunch of radical vegan activists, the people who met them were unwelcoming and rough looking, there was no running water and they were given just one night in a dodgy room. But still, it was something. A new chat opened: “At the vegans.”

At the vegans

Make yourself at home ...

Make yourself at home …

They now started talking about what to do next. During this conversation John’s patron – the Faerie Queen of Winter – came up a lot, and not all positively. John had mistakenly given away Jade’s child to the faerie and Jade wanted that child back. He had essential information about how the angels had exploded into our apartment, but he dug his heels in: he wouldn’t tell anyone anything until John could secure Jade’s child, and in order to get that child back John could make no bargains involving Jade. Any sacrifices would have to be made by John. John agreed. Furthermore, John was getting really sick of the way all the greater powers in their world would appear, insult them, give them no information, but then expect them to do something to prevent these great and mighty powers from destroying the universe.

As if by coincidence, the Faerie Queen appeared in the room. Of course she knows just when to arrive, but did she arrive when they were being attacked by two angels? No. Yet she wants our help!

John decided to rebel. And this is how it played out:

GM
The temperature in the room drops noticeably. “MY Knight is correct and has made me curious. Why is the man of sand a catalyst for such destruction?” She is standing in a corner, her clothing closely resembling that of the others around, yet she stands out from them in such an alien way, whilst fitting in almost perfectly. Her eyes stare at you all, draining the colour from your cheeks and fingertips.
John Miksen
“My Queen. Well met!”
GM
She inclines her head briefly, letting John know he has been acknowledged. “My knight, it bodes ill that you are hiding in such a place unfitting of your status.” She looks back at Jade “However the man of sand is yet to answer my question.”
John Miksen
“My Queen, I feel I’ve been reduced to a vagabond. And the man of sand has been reduced to silence”
GM
She turns her gaze to Helga “You are here? Why? You put much at risk and risk bringing the wrought of those who wish to destroy upon these people.”
John Miksen
Jade
Jade turns slowly to meet to eye to eye with Andrew. He looks at him intensely for a second. He shakes his head from side to side(only by a small fraction) a few times very slowly. Then Jade turns to face the Queen again, rising his chin and striking the same pose.
ooc: you can see like his eyes are saying SHUT . THE . HELL . UP xD
Andrew
Andrew frowns, but his eyes widen slightly as he meets Jade’s gaze. You see a minimal apologetic shrug, then he turns back to look at Helga, who currently seems to have her attention.
GM
The winter queens gaze is quite piercing. She waits patiently for Helga to show the appropriate manners and respond.
Helga
Helga is looking at the Queen wondering, but Jade hasn’t answered her question! does that mean I can ignore her too? But she says, “Azazel had asked me to assist them.”
GM
The winter queen turns her head slightly studying you. “So you follow the fallen one along with the man of sand? You are interesting…. But the man of sand is yet to answer my question.”
Her gaze is incredibly unnerving.
John Miksen
The man of sand is oathbound to silence
Andrew
You see Andrew start to speak, but he closes his mouth again.
John Miksen
He has reached that place from which mortals fix to make their last stand
Is this passion not the reason you are drawn to us?
Helga
ooc: i have sinister music playing in the background right now
Jade
Jade steps towards John and places a hand on his shoulder. He nods and looks at the queen. He starts speaking in tongues, a language noone understands.
GM
She watches him impassively waiting for his reply.
Jade
“Ich nack dook al matih. Isnastella arkik.” He goes on speaking some language you don’t understand.
GM
She nods in understanding and replys in a similar manner.
John Miksen
To secure a word from the man of sand, you will have to make an oath with me
GM
The room drops several degrees. She shifts her gaze directly to her Knight. “Explain.” Is all she says.
John Miksen
Our man of sand is at his limit
He lost his child to a deal he believes breaks the laws of contract
GM
She raises an eyebrow “Explain”
Andrew
Andrew is following this exchange with clear interest.
John Miksen
He had no memories. He was offered a bargain for his nemories.
GM
She raises an eyebrow “His memories have returned.”
John Miksen
But how can a man with no past make a contract
Twere as if you bargained with a slave for his freedom? He has nothing to give.
The man of sand believes he was robbed, not traded with
Ooc: john pauses
Sighs
Andrew
ooc: is he now saying that giving a slave freedom with nothing in return is a bad thing? I don’t understand?
GM
“The contract is made and the words were spoken. They are binding. It is binding.”
John Miksen
Says:i agree with him
Helga
ooc: bart I think it means, you asked a slave to give you his freedom, when he had none to give you
Andrew
ooc; good point! got it :)
GM
“That is irrelevant. The words were spoken and the contract was made.”
GM
Jason comes into the room.
John Miksen
Now the man of sand will not give any further succour to our mission while you stand on a bargain made in bad faith

[at this point the werewolf returns from outside, just walking through the window]
Jason
Jason steps in and has no idea what’s going on. He comes in dangling a pair of keys in is fingers “Got us a new ride boys, better not mess this one up as well” than notice the hot chic in the corner, looks at her, lights his cigarette, smiles at her and says “wow, and who might you be?”
John Miksen
Ooc:awesome
Helga
ooc: awesomeness
Andrew
ooc: win ^^
Jason
he notice the icy silens
Jason
“…”
Helga
“…..”
Jason
looks at you all
Jason
“What …?”
GM
The temperature drops again. “Then the life is forfeit.”
Andrew
Andrew is actually trying to stifle a laugh now.
John Miksen
John has a hint of a smile
Jason
” guys whats going on?”
GM
She turns to John “do you concur?”
Helga
ooc: are we all like hypothermic by now?
Jason
Jason starts to grasp the weight of this conversation turns to Andrew and whispers “wait, dont tell me thats …”
GM
It is visibly cold. The walls and floor have turn white with frost and ice.
Jason
whispers “oh shit!”
Andrew
“Jup”
Jade
Jade sighs. He takes a long breath like deciding something then looks at the queen again. And speaks in tongues.
Jason
“I , I am sorry. I wasn told of your coming … your highness?! . I m not used to the presence of royalty”
Jason
” I , I will shut up now!”
GM
She points to Jason and he freezes.
Jason
arkwardly by trying to make a bow he holds in a weird position
Jason  
ooc: damn
Helga
Helga’s eyes are darting around among each person in the room, but the rest of her face is unreadable.
Andrew
Andrew moves towards Jason to see whether anything can be done.
Andrew
ooc: about unfreezing him, I don’t think he’s frozen solid?
GM
He is literally frozen solid.
Jason 
ooc: never felt cooler ;)
GM
The Queen responds to Jade in a language you are not familiar with.
Jade
Jade is unconcerned with the wolf, full attention on the queen.
Andrew 
Andrew is staring daggers at the queen.
Jason
ooc: I’m tough. All focus on queen!!
Helga
ooc: so THIS is a fairy
Jade
ooc: wait for it…
ooc: shitting bricks here…
Helga
Helga watches the queen and Jade, concentrating on memorizing what they are saying. She burns the sounds onto her mind though she has no idea of the meaning.
GM
They stop talking and Jade takes a step back.
John Miksen
John Micksen ignores the frozen werewolf
Jade
Jade steps back doing a very slight nod of recognition. Then looks at john and shakes his head negatively. [at this point Jade and I had a conversation in which he advised me against further negotiation]

John Micksen
John gets off of one knee and walks over to the window of the squat
As he does so he is slowly unbuttoning his shirt
oblivious to the cold
“You know, we had quite a party here,”
he says
“Organic vegan beer, vegan punk chicks, furries …”
“It was all happening.”
He pulls his shirt off, revealing a huge tattoo on his back
it’s some kind of snowflake, constructed out of a fine filigree of pale blue that stretches across his whole back
Jade
Jade raises an eyebrow.
John Miksen
if you look closer in the half light you can see it isn’t so much a tattoo as a network of veins and capillaries, filled with some sort of icy blue fluid
Helga
Helga takes one step back, ready to bolt in any direction
John Miksen
He turns back from the window
“Unfortunately, you turned up.”
He looks at the queen
“Fashionably late, of course, but making threats and demands like you always do”
Andrew
Andrew looks at John
John Miksen
“I offer you advice, freely given.”
“You should get an MBA at one of the better institutions”
“Because your management style sucks”
He reaches behind him and touches his neck, just above the shoulders, where the network of snowflake pattenrs converges
Helga
Helga closes her eyes and sighs. Then she immediately reopens them
John Miksen
Slowly he draws his hand away and the tattoo comes with it, drawn slowly out of the skin. He hisses in pain as he does it, and you can see it takes all his effort to draw it out
After an excruciating couple of seconds the whole thing is out, hanging like a limp sack of anti-freeze from his frozen fingers.
Andrew
“That’s going to be trouble…”
John Miksen
He throws it on the floor in front of the queen, where it shatters into a million pieces of ice that start to steam
“You are lost and confused, up against a god you don’t understand.”
“we are your only hope but you lie and trick us, rob us when we are desperate, cheat us.”
“You won’t tell us anything, you abandon us to the enemy you depend on us to fight.”
“You are senile, useless, empty, and now you have no winter knight.”
“go find someone who enjoys pointless service to the demented.”
“I’m off to find a beer.”
Helga
ooc: awesome!
John Miksen
“Made with meat”
And with that he walks out of the door
Jason
ooc: BAMM
John Miksen
ooc: if you want servants, don’t employ washed up anarchists
Andrew
Andrew glances at Jason, then mutters under his breath “Not having a knight must be utterly horrible to her…”
Jade
Jade shakes his head slowly, sad look on his face. He nods to the Queen, and starts sinking in the ground.
Helga
Helga follows John out the door but once outside she goes off in a different direction from him
John Miksen
ooc: wise move!
Jason
ooc: sooo, is there gonna be a next session? Lol
Helga
ooc: it’s dark now right? believe it was night
GM
The Queen laughs as John attempts to walk away to find himself caught in the doorway. The rooms temperature has dropped below zero. She ignores Jade as he sinks into the ground but turns towards Helga as she tries to move away, trapping her where she stands. She looks upon the werewolf and simply blows upon him and watches him fade out of sight. The she lifts John by the back of the neck and casts him back into the room.
Andrew
Andrew tries to catch Jason, which obviously fails.
Jason
ooc: I’ve got the best instincts and I didn’t run lol. … Well couldn’t
John Miksen
ooc: I feel now is the time to observe that I am an ex anarchist with a composure of 4, who has watched everything he believes in dissolve into ruin, and child-fucking.
ooc: not the kind of person with much to lose, or much fear
Helga
ooc: sigh it’s hard when your allies have no survival instinct
Andrew
ooc: wait, aren’t anarchists the people who like to have no rules?
GM
Andrew fades out of view, appearing beside Jason
Jason
ooc: i m a freacking wolf and actually have a score for instinct :) didn t help much ;)
Can jason move?
ooc: our scene goes on somewhere else
Andrew
ooc: the afterlife :P
John Miksen
ooc: this is seventy seven shades of fucked up
Andrew
ooc: always was :P
ooc: don’t try to deal with gods, they’ll always bite you in your ass
John Miksen
ooc: she’s not a god
Andrew 
ooc: possibly not, but as close to one as Andrew saw so far
John Miksen
ooc: well hang around for just a few more seconds …

[there follows a separate scene in another room, in which John is thrown around a lot and argues a lot; meanwhile Jade is outside running from angels. Wolf and mage are also transported somwhere else by the Queen, and have their own confrontation]
John reappears in the room
he is bleeding from several deep cuts, and looks haggard and drawn
He is also obviously using some kind of magic to warm the room
He yells “Where is the CHILD!?” as he does this
Helga
Helga yells, “Jason! Andrew!”
John Miksen
ooc: I should say “try and warm the room”
Helga
and in a softer tone, “…Jade!”
John Miksen
“Where is the CHILD!?”
John is looking around the room in a measured but angry way
His entire upper body is covered with goose pimples nad he is shivering
GM
The room remains empty, but it is warming up considerably.
John Miksen
but he looks ferocious and full of joy
“Jade!”
Helga
ooc: Jason and Andrew not here yet right?
John Miksen
ooc: furry stupid has come back insde [I am referring to my cat here, but at this point ...]
GM
You see a giant wolf smash through the window, tumbling along the ground.
Jason
ooc: hahahahaha
John Miksen
ooc: well that’s alright then
Jason
ooc: best timing ever
John Miksen
ooc: win!
Helga
“Andrew?”
ooc: Bart… this is your cue!
Jason
a big redbrown wolf
turns around and growls in ferious rage at the entrance door
you know something terrible must be outside this doors
John Miksen
ooc: I think a lot of punks must be dead
ooc: though the remaining punks probably will rally and attack
ooc: but it’s a shame the black bloc are out of town …
Helga
“Jason. What is outside?”
John Miksen
“where is the CHILD!?”
Andrew
You see a blur in the air suddenly hurtling through the same window that was just broken by the wolf.
Andrew
As the blur comes to rest, it seems to stabilize and fade into the background. You hear Andrew from there though “Fucking Angels again!”
John Miksen
“Where is the CHILD!?”
GM
You hear a door smashing nearby followed by a sweltering heat that rushes down the corridor
Helga
“Outside?”
John Miksen
John is on his knees in the middle of the room, tears running down his face
Helga
ooc: great… it’s extreme temperature day
Andrew
ooc: any other escape routes other than the door that now is hot and the window?
John Miksen
“I WILL join the god machine!”
Helga
“JOHN!!!!’
John Miksen
“I swear I will you wear you as a WATCH if you cheat me now ice queen!”
Jade
You all receive a text message. “Angels. I have the child.”
Helga
None of you have ever heard her speak so sharply
John Miksen
John stands up
Jason
fuck this: the wolf starts to grow
GM
There are screams that turns quickly to gurgling sounds of pure agony. People run past you screaming and the room warms up more and more.
Helga
“Jason — the car?”
Andrew
” No fucking shit. Which way did you have in mind?”
John Miksen
“We have done all we can”
Jason
jason is now in shape of a huge direwolf
Andrew
“Fight through the angel with blade wings outside, or the fiery one inside?”
Helga
“The same ones? Sariel and the other one?”
Andrew
“The same”
Helga
“Is anyone here able to open a portal to another plane or something???
Andrew
Andrew moves towards the window. Still an angel standing outside?
John Miksen
John steps up to a space in the wall
It holds an ancient, grimy picture
the “belle dame sans merci” by waterhouse
or whatever
he pulls the picture back, there is a brief shimmer
and a hole opens in the wall
beyond it you see a land of ice and snow
Andrew
“The fuck?”
John Miksen
it looks cold, windy, frozen
“Go.”
“Go now.”
Helga
“um… don’t tell me that’s the winter queen’s realm”
Jason
the wolf jumps in
John Miksen
“Do you care? Just get the fuck out of here, violinist”
ooc: WE ARE MADE OF WIN!
Helga
She stares at you
Looking very reluctant
John Miksen
“I can’t hold this open forever you know”
He is visibly wilting in front of you
Andrew
Andrew jumps through the portal “We’re going to have words about this… A great many.”
John Miksen
also, he is distracted becaues he is texting Jade
Helga
“Jade would never come again to Faerie would he”
Jason
ooc: again?
John Miksen
“JUST FUCKING GO”
Helga
ooc: i really really really don’t want to but Helga mutters something under her breath and finally jumps in.
John Miksen
ooc: is that everyone?
Helga
ooc: yeah except jade
John Miksen
ooc: ’cause my precious little toosh is getting warm
GM 
OOC: Yep The angels hand reaches around the frame and it pulls itself through, its sightless sockets turning towards you. It hisses, the razors that comprise of its teeth glint in the light, its wings unfurl….
John Miksen
I’m out
I jump through and close the hedge behind me
if i can make the barbs of the hedge score that angels face I will consider myself to be a winner
GM
It gives a roar and dives at the entrance as it closes behind John. The door slams shut and you find yourselves in a deep freezing snow, the wind howls and the snow comes down heavily. John stands before you, armoured in beautifully wrought plates of pure white, his appearance having changed considerably.
Helga
“John. you’re still the Winter Knight? HER Winter Knight?”
John Miksen
John looks at you all with frozen eyes
“We are in her realm. Do not stray from the path I cut for you.” [at this point I received a separate message from the GM: "You are now in faerie, you are changed. You will abandon anyone who cannot keep up. They are nothing to you]
Helga
“Then again, she did call you “my knight” as she disappeared… even though you had pulled out the mark from your body..”
John Miksen
“Speak to no one.”
“Give nothing, take nothing.”
He turns and begins to walk away
After a few steps he turns back to look at you
“This realm saps the will of the living. Too long here and you will… dissipate”
“We must leave as soon as we can. I know a way”
Andrew
Andrew is visible again, apparently comfortable despite the cold. “I guess I should’ve taken my chances with the angels…”
John Miksen
John gives Andrew a look cold enough to freeze gin.
Jason
“grrrr”
John Miksen [At this point I got word from the GM that in the land of faerie I am cruel, hard and cold - alien]
He turns away and walks through the snow
You notice that he does not struggle with the snow
He is cutting a wake
now he is ignoring you
Jason
the huge direwolf is following him
John Miksen
the wake closes behind him quite quickly
Shadows are gathering in the trees
the shadows move
Andrew  
“Well, there’s little more to it but to follow no?”
Jason
ooc: if i change im barefeet and shirtless, so ill be a doggie as long as we re in the cold

We emerged from Winter at Berlin station, on the platform for the train to Dachau, to find Jade standing on the platform with this son. Success! We had escaped the Angels and won an argument with the faerie queen … now we just had to work out what to do next …

All in one Thursday night on Facebook …

Another failed revolution, another night on Victory Gin

Another failed revolution, another night on Victory Gin

John Micksen is a washed-up eco-activist, a hippy and an anarcho-syndicalist who spent too long submerged in the circles of alternative politics long after the world around him had slid into a far darker, nastier place than mere authoritarianism. He committed all of his twenties and half of this thirties to a series of movements, committees, campaigns and struggles, only to see the world slipping away from him and becoming ever crueler and more degraded … as if some greater power were guiding the whole thing to ruin. By his mid-thirties he was alone, poor, cynical and sick of his political world but so committed to it that he had nowhere to go and no way out. He had become an activist lifer in a world that was rapidly closing in on his colleagues, with extreme prejudice.

Operatives of Aesir found him at this low ebb, in a sleazy bar after another fruitless meeting, and offered him an unexpected way out. They were looking for operatives, and for some reason something about John had caught their attention. Yet unaware of the chaos and demons tearing at the fabric of his reality, John could not understand what they might want him for, but they were offering him more money than he could ever earn doing cash-in-hand labouring in between activism, and he saw suddenly a chance to do something about his life – a way to jump out of the hole he could see himself slowly sliding into. [John also had other reasons, based around pride and envy, for wanting to leave his old class war days behind ... but these he keeps secret from everyone].

John returning from his awakening in the land of the Faerie

John returning from his awakening in the land of the Faerie

Why would Aesir seek the services of a washed-up anti-corporate activist, who had little better to offer them than an extensive collection of anarchist magazines and a rudimentary knowledge of martial arts? Sure, he could talk, but his talk had never achieved anything. He could sometimes inspire others to great efforts, but he was avowedly no leader, and had none of the skills at organization or management that would make him a useful manager … what skills could they have sought? They of course saw something in him that he was not aware of himself – his coming Awakening. After his first mission for Aesir, John was taken into the confidence of the Faerie Queen of Winter, and offered ascension into the powers of a mage if he would agree to be her Winter Knight. Having spent years with no temporal power of any kind, the offer was too good to refuse, and John’s powers were awakened.

John had spent years as an eco-activist and friend of the wilds; it was only natural that upon awakening he was drawn to the path of Thyrsus, and the order of the Free Council. His powers are primarily in manipulation of life and fate, with lesser focus on the other forces of the natural and spirit worlds. In returning from Faerie he found himself stronger, more vigorous and with an enchanted kind of grace that others now noticed – something about him was oddly changed, more feral and wild even as his physical demeanour was tamed by corporate servitude. His eyes had become an icy blue, his skin had lost the worn, leathery cast of a man who has spent years in forests and boats; now he was pale, always cold, and imperious in manner where before he had been rough, warm and careworn. He was stronger, and fought more like an expert than a dilettante – and his blows were hard, cold and lethal, as if his body were no longer mere flesh.

The Awakened activist, ready to fight

The Awakened activist, ready to fight

The awakened John had little time to put his talents to use for Aesir, however, because a team of assassins came for him in his apartment, and he had to flee. He managed to rejoin his team and, mistakenly thinking Aesir had tried to kill them, they set off to find a ay to fix their own problems. His only alliance now is to his Winter Queen, and to his friends … John has been cast even further away from humanity than before Aesir found him, but now he is desperate and Awakened. He has traded dialectical materialism and solidarity for esotericism and desperation, and he no longer cares where his road takes him, provided he can find vengeance along the way…

 

A few months ago I participated in a short World of Darkness campaign. This campaign went pear-shaped from the very beginning, when we failed to stop some kind of evil spirit from exterminating a native American tribe so completely that they were wiped from history as well as existence. We ended up in a battle with some kind of fallen angel with bronze for skin, and half of our group died or were rendered comatose by their injuries. Conveniently those players also simultaneously moved on, and the campaign was put on hold. Recently it restarted with three new players, who spent the entire first session staring agog at us and mouthing “WTF” as we tried to give them some kind of perspective. Finally one of the players drew a diagram of the main forces involved. Here it is.

I want tactical database assimilation by 0800 hours

I want tactical database assimilation by 0800 hours

Things are … more complicated than I realized. This might explain why my character, John Micksen, is extremely flippant with powers that can eat him for breakfast – because he is out of his depth and he knows it [this might also be explained by his Composure attribute of 4].

The basic flow of the first campaign goes something like this:

  • A dodgy company called Aesir hires a bunch of no-hoper humans for a dead end job
  • The no-hoper humans (us) end up in a pocket dimension created by a demon called the Judge
  • The Judge was planning to turn a single human, Danny into a genocide machine
  • Someone (probably the company Strauss) stole Danny, just as the pocket universe disappeared, taking an entire native American tribe (Danny’s tribe) with it
  • Our company sent us to a psychiatric hospital to get Danny, who was pumped up on magic and ready to destroy the world
  • We killed Danny, but while we were on our way to kill him we disturbed something called the “God Machine”, a vast and empty wilderness of cogs and clockwork that may or may not be a god, and is definitely out to destroy the universe
  • Somewhere in all of that I met the Faerie Queen of Winter, awakened, and became the Winter Knight
  • Oops
  • For most of the campaign I was useless (we were using the Faerie books for my character)
  • Some guy called Azazel turned up and started offering to help us. He was dodgy. Definitely a fallen angel
  • Some assassins tried to kill us all and we had to go on the run. We (erroneously, it turns out) thought they were sent by Aesir; they weren’t
  • Azazel told us about a girl who could hide us from the God Machine, but to get her we had to cut a deal with a vampire in Chicago and sell out some communists
  • No big deal, we got the girl, but then we discovered there were others, in fact a whole industry of abducting children and using them for something
  • We traced the abductions to a warehouse outside Chicago, and discovered that mundane management of the children was handled by a paedophile ring, who were paid for their services in … access rights
  • We flame-grilled the paedophiles [see Figure, top left]
  • We discovered they were working for an Angel called D’Angelo
  • We killed him too
  • Most of us died; campaign stopped

Now we are in Berlin looking for more information about the German companies, Strauss and Orpheus, that were involved in the child abductions. We also now think they were the ones who tried to kill us, and we are very vengeful, very angry and very committed. We know that the God Machine is trying to destroy the world and we have to stop it, and we know that the German companies are engaged in some sort of unholy and necromantic experiments involving half-angelic children. We have a very long list of people we are going to kill, and our preferred method is to do it slowly and horribly. We’re on the wrong side of the red line, and we aren’t concerned with crossing back any time soon. The three new members of our group look at us like we’re monsters – probably because we are – but we look at them and think “give it a week, they’ll come around.” This is World of Darkness, we survived a battle with an Angel, we’re living on borrowed time and we know it: we are going to use that borrowed time to destroy everyone who crossed us, and anyone who gets in the way is not likely to fare well.

The second section of the campaign began on this footing. I don’t think it is going to end well …

Breaker reflects on sacrifice and vengeance

Breaker reflects on sacrifice and vengeance

In (my) final session of the Iron Kingdoms campaign, our heroes find themselves captive in the very underground complex they had come to explore. In this report I will describe the events leading up to Carlass’s death and final sacrifice. This isn’t the last session of the Iron Kingdoms campaign – I think there were two more – but I’m travelling and haven’t been able to join them, so I don’t know how the story resolved in the end.

Alyvia’s effort to elude capture by unleashing a surprise grenade attack had failed, but ensured the entire group a solid and effective beating for her troubles. They woke from their enforced unconsciousness in a prison cell designed for adventurers: shackled hand and foot with special silver-imbued manacles that electrified them whenever they attempted even the tiniest of magics, chained to the wall with similarly enchanted loops of tempered steel, and all their equipment taken from them. Carlass immediately released a booming signal call to Hrif the Younger, to warn him of her predicament; within minutes this earned her a beating from a huge Ogrun guard, followed by a steel gag that prevented her from fell-calling. They were entirely at their captors’ mercy, reduced to the status of mere mortals.

After an untold period of time their employer Catrina was taken away from them. She returned beaten and cowed, and told them that their captors had demanded all the information she had on the cave complex where they were being held; apparently the Ogrun were looking for something, and her mission was connected with it. They all assumed the same thing – that the Ogrun sought the steamspire. They would have to refuse to bargain.

The Ogrun, they discovered, were merely slave-wranglers for some darker and more sinister figure. This was some kind of monstrous or demonic wizard-creature, which was accompanied by a slim, lethal-looking hunter-demon that none of them could identify. They only saw these higher powers from afar when they were dragged out of their cave prison after a few days, and paraded in front of the leader of the slave-wranglers. They were dragged out of their hole into a huge, open cave that was a hive of mining activity. Gangs of wretched-looking slaves were being forced to-and-fro in the caves, and Ogrun wranglers treated them terribly as they were forced through the caves. Most were carrying mining equipment or pushing cars full of stone that was being dragged up from underground, but from the activity and the contents of the cars it was soon clear that no one here was looking for ore. They were digging for something.

The characters were pushed roughly before the lead wranglers and offered the same choice as Catrina. Since they knew nothing about her maps and workings, they could only refuse to assist with the slave-wrangler, who offered them freedom in exchange for knowledge of the maps. When they refused they were broken into two groups and driven off in chains to the mines. Carlass and Sharajin were put into one group, with Catrina, Alyvia and Captain Breaker forced into the other. Somewhere deep in the mines the groups separated, and they lost contact with each other. Their last message to each other was simple: escape, and find each other.

It was clear that no mercy would be shown to anyone in these deep tunnels. The slaves were being worked mercilessly to death, and when they collapsed were beaten savagely until finally they could work no more. Judging by the states of decay of the slaves, very little time was available to the characters to escape. Seeing this, and noting that in their chain gang there was a dwarf who was obviously a warrior of some kind, Carlass and Sharajin chose to act immediately. Their plan was simple: Carlass committed a minor infraction sufficient to attract an Ogrun with a whip, and Sharajin would grab the whip once it was uncoiled, using it to drag the Ogrun in and kill him. By engaging with him in this way she would ensure that the other Ogrun could not use his pistols. While she did this Carlass would use her pickaxe to free herself or Sharajin from their bonds.

The plan worked, but Sharajin was not strong enough to draw the massive Ogrun into the kill. However, as they began their plan the dwarf saw their efforts and attacked the other Ogrun guard, attempting to capture him in the chains. Carlass managed to free Sharajin, but they were outnumbered and she could not take on the Ogrun alone. In an act of desperation, Carlass put her face on the rock of the cavern wall and ordered Sharajin to break off her steel gag using the pick axe. Sharajin failed to smash the mask, but she also destroyed Carlass’s face, smashing in her cheeks and shattering her jaw into tiny pieces. Of course this was no trouble for Carlass: as Sharajin charged into battle, still manacled at her wrists and unable to use magic, Carlass hauled the intact mask over her now pliable face. She then set about her other manacles, as her face forced itself to heal. Screaming in pain, Carlass smashed her ankle chains apart as her face reformed to perfection. She turned from her efforts, free but still chained at the wrists, to find herself facing an Ogrun with a pistol. She screamed her fell call at him, but it had no effect. In response he shot her twice in the chest, and she was forced to regenerate again – the second time is always more painful than the first, and again she howled in rage as her broken body restored itself. By now however the tide had turned, and the last Ogrun broke and ran for the surface. They quickly freed the other slaves and the dwarf, who had killed her own Ogrun guard, and ran towards the fork in the tunnels where Breaker and Alyvia had been separated from them.

Things had gone better for Breaker and Alyvia during their escape, but in desperation one of their slave-wranglers had dragged down a portion of the roof before he died, and now water was beginning to flood the tunnel. This act of vindictive and petty destruction had served the Ogrun not at all, but revealed a spike of silver that Catrina begged them to take out of the wall. By the time they had dug it out the walls were collapsing, and they barely made it out alive. They reached the fork in the tunnel ahead of the rapidly-rising tide of frozen subterranean water. Everyone now rejoined, they fled up the tunnels away from the encroaching water. Once they were sure they were safe, they hid themselves in side tunnels to recuperate.

Over the next few days they hunted Ogrun slavers, killing them to take their gear and supplies. Only Carlass was able to eat, though – they could find no food, and none of the others were willing to feast on the bodies of their dead. They also could not find a way to break the manacles on their wrists, so could not use magic. After a few days of this, and getting increasingly desperate, they decided to get back to their equipment, and try to find a way to escape. Reconnaissance showed them a large cavern where their gear was kept, which could only be reached through a smaller cavern with Ogrun guards. They decided to act.

They lured the guards in groups into a tunnel, and killed them in this tunnel. Unfortunately, killing the Ogrun was tough and they forgot about the demonic hunter and its wizard-demon master; they thoroughly exhausted themselves killing the Ogrun, and so were standing, spent and desperate atop a pile of Ogrun corpses, when the demonic hunter arrived. After a moment to gloat over their predicament, it attacked. They were unready, and could barely fight for exhaustion. First it hit Carlass, gutting her with a single blow, before moving across to strike Catrina. Catrina was torn to shreds immediately, her body cast around the cave like so much meat. The beast then turned its attention on Breaker, but couldn’t kill him with a blow. The dwarf attacked it then from behind, but it knocked her back and nearly killed her with a single blow before returning its attention to Breaker. Now Carlass hauled herself upright, despite her massive injuries, as only a trollkin can do, and called down a desperate curse on the beast – a curse that channeled all her rage and all the desperate futility of her ancestors and her extinct tribe. Her curse reinvigorated Alyvia and Breaker[1], who were able to make a final desperate attack. Alyvia’s attack missed, but it distracted the hunter long enough to give Breaker the opening he needed. Even though all he had was a pathetic Ogrun scimitar, he managed to eviscerate the demon[2], and tossed its broken body aside to run to Carlass.

Carlass was done for. The remains of the group were staring helplessly at her body when a new force emerged into the hallway: the leader of the slave-wranglers and another squad of Ogrun. Our heroes gathered together and prepared to sell their lives dearly in a final hopeless battle.

Carlass and Hrif as they were

Carlass and Hrif as they were

The two squads were facing off against each other when they were interrupted by a huge howl of inchoate rage. The party recognized this howl – it was Hrif. He smashed his way through to them and grabbed Carlass’s body, lifting her pitiful corpse tenderly to his face, as if he thought it might not be her, or that his sobs and howls would bring her back. They did not, and it was her, and deep in his chest a kind of rumbling steam-engine sound began to stir. Our heroes knew this sound – it was the sound of Hrif’s rage. They began to back away. But the slave-wrangler didn’t know or care, and he sent his men to destroy the trollkin axer.

Our heroes took this moment of distraction as an opportunity to escape. They knew what Hrif would do once he was angry, and they knew there was no place for them here. They dashed past the battle as it began, heading for their equipment in the main cage. Behind them they heard screams, horrible meaty rending sounds, and the deepening cadence of a trollkin’s final rage.

When they returned from the cave, bearing all their gear, the Ogrun and their leader had been reduced to a black and red mess, but an even worse sight greeted them. The demon-wizard had returned, accompanied by strange spider-like guardians, and was taking great pleasure in slowly murdering the trollkin, piercing him with long, delicate spears that obviously caused supernatural pain. The trollkin was fighting back, screaming with rage and trying to strike at his tormentors, regenerating whenever they struck him, but the spider-like creatures moved too fast and would cut him without being touched. He was obviously doomed, and clearly didn’t care: he stood over Carlass body, tears streaming down his bloody face, huge axe dripping ichor, chest and arms splattered with his own and others’ blood, screaming his dying rage to the world. Our heroes saw their chance, and fled the cave carrying the silver spike while the wizard-demon was distracted. It took some time for Hrif to die, and they fled far along the tunnels to the sound of his slowly-weakening cries.

Finally they were able to escape into the sunlight, but they didn’t stop there. They kept running until they were too exhausted to go further, and then ran some more. Finally they reached their ship, only to find it under attack by pirates of the Scharde coast. They leapt aboard to command the defense, but now their spirit was only for flight. As fast as they could they lighted out of there, bearing the silver spike with them. Dawn of the following day found them making all haste over the seas towards civilization, tears streaming down their faces as they looked back at the island whose caves had nearly consumed them all. They had left behind two of their loved ones, and a deep and dark secret.

They vowed vengeance and, turning their backs to the island, sailed back towards the five fingers. The next time they visited the Scharde islands, it would be with a plan and an invincible force. From now they were steeled for vengeance…

Fn1: In consultation with the GM and the other players, we agreed that my curse restored one feat point to all the PCs who were still alive. We also – after some argument with the player responsible – identified that Breaker still had one feat point left, because he had miscounted a feat point he didn’t actually use earlier in the battle. This mean that all the PCs had one feat point to boost a single final attack, and Breaker’s player had two. The monster we were fighting was so thoroughly ferocious that these feat points were our only hope: if the attacks boosted with these points didn’t work, a TPK would follow.

Fn2: Against all the odds indeed, because killing this demon with a single blow would be almost impossible given its armour. But Breaker’s player rolled an 18 on 3d6, followed by a 17 on 3d6 (I think – anyway, two huge rolls). We all saw it happen!

Image credit: these pictures, again, by Breaker’s player Eddie.

 

Clare and her Gyrfalcon

Clare and her Gyrfalcon

Clare de Lune is one of the characters I generated for the Compromise and Conceit one-shot. She is an ex-exotic dancer for the French troop known as the Cirque de Lune, probably kicked out for some kind of crime against the circus’s managers. Her magic uses nature, perception and deception. She has some combat skills, though she is a little fragile, and she also uses a large bird of prey as a familiar/battle ally, to make missile attacks and distract foes in combat.

This character description shows how simple and easy a character is to generate if you strip all the details out of the WFRP 3 system and just use the very basic dice, attribute and fatigue ideas. Note there are no skills – Clare de Lune is trained in four areas, and that is all. Also the spells I just made up – I didn’t aim for any sense of balance or usefulness, just designed spells to suit the character concept. I think this method works quite well, provide players are happy with a character that may have no use in some circumstances.

Character name:      Clare de Lune

Archetype-thingy:    Cirque du Lune bird dancer                        Feat Points: 3

Attributes

Strength 3 Intelligence 4
Toughness 3 Willpower 3
Agility 5 Fellowship 5

Trained in:

  1. Casting spells
  2. Animal handling
  3. Perception
  4. Spotting lies and tricks

Combat stuff

Defense Wounds Max/ Current
Melee 5 Fatigue       3 /
Missile 5 Stress       3 /
Surprised 5 Criticals (max:   )       3  /
Armour (  warm weather stuff ) 1 (4) Wounds       13 /

Weapons

Weapon Damage Critical Notes
Long knives 4+Str=7 2 Fast (+1 Initiative)
Crossbow 5+Ag=10 2  
Bird 3+Fellowship=8 3 Ranged Fellowship attack

Clare de Lune’s bird

Clare’s bird can be used to perform three tricks:

  • Attack (fellowship-based attack against opponents missile defense)
  • Hover over hidden targets (Clare de Lune can make missile attacks even if she can’t see the enemy, at +2 defense)
  • Distract (fellowship-based attack against opponent’s intelligence; success adds difficulty to enemy’s actions)

The bird can take 5 points of fatigue before it flies away; every failed attempt to do any trick causes 1 point of fatigue, as does any successful hit on the bird (defense 6). It recovers fatigue at 1 point per hour.

Clare de Lune’s spells

Name Difficulty Effect
Grace of Ages 4 Swap 1 blue die for green per success. Lasts WP rounds
Scarlet Pimpernel Highest Fellowship Assume a disguise, lasts 1 min/success (+1 hr/comet)
Riverdance 4 Walk on water for 1 rd/success.
Opium dream 4 Take opium, get a chance to do an overview perception check of all land within 1km / success. Boons/comets enhance the check
Soar with the eagles 4 Can see through the eyes of her bird for 1 min/success. Gain +1 training in perception

 

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