Promises, promises…

Last Wednesday was the second session of the urban semi-sandbox campaign I am running in warhammer 3rd edition. It was held, as usual, in the upstairs gaming room of the local gaming store, Ringtail, which is currently in the midst of being refurbished to look more like a mediaeval tavern.

I had expected this session to run as a complex series of investigations, but my players proved very swift, and got to the heart of matters pretty quickly, and got quite a bit done in a short session. Today’s session started a little late because the Ringtail shop owner wanted to discuss a new game, Mallifaux, that he wants me to translate so we can play it together. One of our players, Mr. K, was running late so he was replaced by a nameless schoolboy who happened to be in the shop and is friends with the owner. For the first two hours or so while we waited for Mr. K to come, this chap watched; but when Mr. K confirmed it was too late for him to come, the schoolboy took over Heinze, the soldier. As we’ll see, the soldier is a really important character to have around…

Visiting the Temple of Sigmar

The PCs remembered that they are carrying a rather nasty Chaos artifact, the Unseeing Eye, that they can’t destroy, so they took it immediately to the Temple of Sigmar to entrust to the High Priest. The Temple itself is unusually large for a town of the size of Ubersreik, which fact the PCs put down to the fortress-like nature of the town, and inside they received a calming aura that, had they been actually stressed (rather than just wounded) would have been very helpful. The High Priest, a middle-aged woman with gentle eyes, took them into a side room where 4 rather scary-looking soldiers of Sigmar and two initiates stood guard while she inspected the picture. She told the PCs that a comet will appear in the sky in a month, and at that time she will be well able to destroy the artifact, and asked them if they would entrust it to her. The movement of the soldiers behind them suggested that at this point they had a choice to request its return, but that they wouldn’t be leaving the room alive with their prize. Fortunately for all concerned, they had no desire to keep it and handed it over without a hint of regret. No-one in the world of warhammer doubts the church of Sigmar’s willingness to commit cold-blooded murder in its sanctuaries to preserve the world from chaos, but in this case it was far from necessary.

In exchange for the picture the High Priestess revealed some history to the characters:

The Cult of the Unseeing Eye was driven out of Altdorf by a large assembly of soldiers and priests of Sigmar some years ago, but we never captured its leader or its most sacred paraphernalia. We never even really learnt how organized it was or what its purpose was. They must have fled to the forests where you found them, and in such a weakened state were ripe for infiltration and destruction. This picture is undoubtedly at the core of their religious enterprise, and without it and the enterprising servant of Chaos who set up that outpost, they are surely done for.

In exchange for the picture she gave each character a letter granting them a single free visit to the Shrine of Shallya (for healing), and a magic item called “Sigmar’s Promise,” a necklace of a platinum hammer that can be worn by any initiate of any religious church, and which grants the initiate +1 Willpower for the purposes of calculating their equilibrium state of favour while worn. Obviously Suzette took this item.

The characters then immediately set about their main purpose in Ubersreik – they went to the Temple of Shallya for some free healing.

Finding the “Wife of the Remains”

That evening the PCs started trying to locate the relatives of the dead man they found on the road to Ubersreik. They had a locket with a picture of a woman in it, and a game token with “The Sad Shield” written on one side. They soon discovered that the Sad Shield is a pub in the Labourer’s section of town, so they took the token and the locket and headed across the river to the labourer’s section. This section, on the poorer south side of the river, is a mixture of factories and workshops, interspersed with cheap houses and occasional slum areas. It is not the cheapest part of town to live – that sad distinction belongs to the Southbank Slums – but it is still quite poor, and on many street corners were suspicious looking men, loitering and spitting.

In the pub they soon found out what they needed to know, though not cheaply. The man was called Manegold Stolzer, a Ratcatcher, and he lived with his wife and child in the Northern River Quarter. The PCs didn’t learn this cheaply though – the tavern keeper was unforthcoming and they had to spend a lot of money on alcohol for the Ratcatcher he directed them to before they learnt what they needed to know. Having determined this they went home, and the next night they went to the Northern River Quarter to visit the wife.

Rumour: At this tavern they also heard a rumour that a long forgotten wizard’s tomb has been discovered outside of town, with rough directions on how to find it.

Visiting the bereaved

Things immediately struck them as suspicious as soon as they got to the Quarter. The Northern River Quarter is a suburban area on the north side of the river, populated with a mixture of classic Germanic courtyard-style apartments, English-style terraces, and stereotypical fantasy-world garden houses. These were clean, well-established and quiet, in a civilised, upmarket suburb.

What was a Ratcatcher doing living here? In every other town of the Empire, Ratcatchers live in rough shacks near the sewage outlets. They don’t live in quaint, trimmed-hedge garden houses in the most expensive non-noble part of town.

So, by the time they reached Mrs. Stolzer’s little house they were very suspicious. After they had informed her of her loss, and she had cried a little, she offered them a ring as payment for their work – they declined but she pointed out to them that they had ensured his soul’s rest by burying him like a civilized man.

This was also suspicious. Mrs. Stolzer, just-widowed, was offering them a platinum ring[1] as payment for something as abstract as a soul’s rest, when she was looking at a future of potential destitution.

What manner of Ratcatcher was she married to?

Sadly they didn’t get to find out because Suzette the Initiate asked a few too many probing questions, causing Mrs. Stolzer to get angry and take back the offer of the ring.

Spying on the bereaved

Naturally, they took the next best option to direct investigation, and stationed the elf on watch at Mrs. Stolzer’s window to find out who she really was. Sure enough, within a few hours of their departure, three men turned up at her door. She let them in, and the following conversation ensued:

  • Men: Mrs. Stolzer, we’ve just heard of your loss and we’ve come to give our condolences. Manegold was a good man and a fine colleague, and we all hurt for his departure
  • Mrs. Stolzer: Thank you, thank you. I am very saddened by his loss
  • Men: And we are aware that now you think your future must be very grim. So we have been sent by The Organization to give you this bereavement money in thanks for his work and effort [sound of much money clinking, some crying]
  • Mrs. Stolzer: Thank you, thank you. I appreciate the efforts that The Organization has made to look after us through these years of his service. I am told that he died in the forests outside of town – is it possible for you to tell me what he was doing out there?
  • Men: As ever, Mrs. Stolzer, we are unable to tell you anything about his work, even at this sad time. Suffice it to say that what he was doing was dangerous and important to us, and he lost his life in service to The Organization. We offer him our respect and thanks.
  • Mrs. Stolzer: Thank you, then, and I’m sorry for asking
  • Men: It’s perfectly okay Mrs. Stolzer, we understand that you wish to know more about your husband’s sad death. What did the adventurers who came here tell you? Please tell us everything they knew
  • Mrs. Stolzer: Only that they found him being disposed of by orcs, and buried him like a man deserves.
  • Men: Ah, so then. Mrs. Stolzer, we trust that you told them nothing of The Organization, and it pains us to have this conversation at the time of your new grief, but our seniors direct us to it. We must remind you that, just as you were sworn to secrecy about your husband’s involvement with us during his life, now even after his sad death you are bound to secrecy about his membership of The Organization, about its existence and about anything you have noticed of it during your life with Manegold. We have been asked to remind you that your responsibilities to us do not end with your husband’s tragic passing, even though our connection does, and it hurts me to say this but I must remind you that any breach of our secret is punished swiftly, cruelly and fatally. From now there is no further reason for you to have any entanglement with The Organization, and we will have no more such visits, but we must remind you that your responsibility to maintain our secret carries with you to your grave. I’m sorry to have to burden you with threats and dire warnings at this time, but it is our way, but I must ask you to forget that we ever existed in your life, or that your husband was anything but an ordinary Ratcatcher.
  • Mrs. Stolzer: I understand the need for this warning, and I don’t begrudge you your cold words at this time. I can only thank you for your assistance, and I hope that I will respect your secrets forever.
  • Men: Then we will take our leave of you, Mrs. Stolzer, and again offer our condolences on your loss and our hopes that this small offering will see you well into your dotage. We’re ever your servants

And with this they took their leave…

The PCs were naturally very interested to hear about this “Organization,” so decided to go back to the Sad Shield and see if they could rustle up a Ratcatcher to answer some questions.

The Rat’s Tail

The elf tailed the PCs back to the pub, and outside the pub he noticed someone else tailing them. A short and nasty scuffle later they had him under control, and dragged him out of sight for a bit of a beating and some intimidation. They soon discovered he, too had exactly the same rat tattoo as the body they found in the woods, but he refused to speak of any organization, and when pressed claimed he was just an ordinary ratcatcher. They dragged him to the Labourer’s Quarter, sought out a suitably dodgy rooming house, and locked him in a room obviously well-used for similar purposes by various criminals, before heading back to town. They then went back into the Sad Shield, and located two more ratcatchers with the intention of offering a hostage-for-information swap. Unfortunately these two tried to flee, so another short fight followed. For some of this fight the Soldier was on guard at the door, and things were looking unlikely to resolve themselves until he came charging inside and flattened one of the ratcatchers. They allowed the other to flee, and the elf followed him under cover of stealth.

The night ended here, with the PCs in possession of two hostages from “The Organization,” and the elf watching the doorway of one of “The Organization”‘s safehouses. Next time: finding out what this organization of ratcatchers is. The players aren’t yet convinced that it is even a bad group, though it certainly has been behaving in a shadowy way.

Conclusion

Again despite a bit of faffing and a late start things went smoothly and  a lot was covered. As usual I dropped any role-playing of shopping etc (I find this sooo boring). This was the only chance the PCs will get for healing – in fact, they don’t have enough money for much healing from now on, so they’re going to be slowly getting in trouble. They discovered a lot more than I expected, largely through quick decision-making, but there’s still much for them to do.

I invented a new rule for this session, enabling the PCs to do submission damage at increased difficulty, to avoid the situation they were in last time where they had to knock someone out with lethal damage and then heal them in order to talk to them. This isn’t a good way to do things in town! So now they can club people into submission before they talk to them. I also made up some grappling rules on the fly, which everyone seemed satisfied with. I need to investigate that a little…

Rules notes and comparisons

Finally, I should add that many decisions made in this adventure would have been impossible in Warhammer 2nd Edition, because the PCs would have had such low chances of success that they wouldn’t have done them. Particularly, anything involving stealth or information gathering is impossible for first level PCs in 2nd edition, even for a thief character. Hiding under Mrs. Stolzer’s window, following the tail, would have been impossible. Also, the battle in the inn – between two relatively weak ratcatchers and 3 PCs who are also weak in melee and penalized for submission damage – would have lasted about 2 hours of real time (I’ve experienced this phenomenon before). In 3rd edition this was the slowest and most frustrating battle we have had yet, and couldn’t have lasted more than half an hour. It probably would have stretched for an hour without the Soldier’s intervention, whereas in warhammer 2 it probably would have taken an hour with the soldier’s help. This sort of thing was really frustrating in 2nd edition and makes a big difference to how enjoyable the game is. I want my players to make decisions about what they will do within their core competencies on the fairly safe knowledge that they can succeed if they plan well and are better than their opponents. It doesn’t work that way in 2nd edition!

I think some of the spells in 3rd edition are a bit strange. The spell Shooting Star, for example, is completely useless compared to Magic Dart. Shooting star is higher level than Magic Dart, so it’s a bit weird. I removed Shooting Star from the Wizard’s list and offered him a choice of a new spell or an increase in attribute by one point (this spell was chosen at character creation) and he chose to increase willpower, which was a wise decision for the battle.

Also, I screwed up the progress tracker a bit today, so I need to review that rule a little and think about how to handle it. Otherwise, things are going more smoothly

fn1: In fact, Schultz cocked up his appraisal check –  he got successes, but also a chaos star. This was sufficient for him to identify that the ring was worth more than a standard ratcatcher’s wife should own, but also put a bit of confusion into the mix. The ring is really silver, not platinum, and worth 10% of what Heinze believed it to be worth.

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