Last night was the 4th session of our WFRP 3rd Edition campaign, Rats in the Ranks, which is meant to be an urban semi-sandbox but has run into a little bit of trouble: a player strike. Specifically, one of my players, Mr. K, who is responsible for the Soldier (Heinze), has run into a bit of difficulty in his study schedule and can’t play this month. The remaining players refuse to continue with investigations of the main story if he isn’t there, so we have had to switch from a semi-sandbox to a sandbox. Fortunately I have a few adventures ready, and the players are happy to do bit-part sessions for a few sessions while we wait for Mr. K to educate himself. Our justification for this is as follows:

  • In session 3 the players converted a member of the Secret Rat-Catchers Guild to being a spy, and so now they don’t really want to do further investigations until he delivers his first report
  • Heinze has received a request from an old regiment he belonged to, to help them fight a Greenskin incursion in the Southern Grey Mountains, a short journey from Ubersreik, so has headed south for a bit of old-fashioned monster slaying
  • In exchange for Heinze’s time, the regiment have dispatched a newly-minted roadwarden, Birgitta, to help the characters. She’s a 0-Rank NPC road warden, so weaker than Heinze, but will work as a nice meat shield in the adventures to come

So, with the Roadwarden working alongside them, our characters decided in this session to head off to the wizard’s tomb that they had heard about, for a basic dungeon crawl. They have also come very close to their first career transition, which will probably happen for 2 of them at the beginning of next session, and will happen for the Thief in the following session (he is doing a non-career advance first).

The Orphan’s Graveyard

Birgitta had learnt of the location of the tomb, so the PCs headed out of Ubersreik’s Mountain Gate and North into the foothills of the Grey Mountains. After a day’s journey, as sun was setting, they came to the location of the tomb, in an old and long-abandoned cemetery set in a clearing inside a forest. This cemetery was clearly a graveyard for children – all the headstones were tiny, and occasionally carved in forms that suit children. A lot of them were also clearly pauper’s graves, having often nothing more than a birthdate carved on them. After checking the environs for monsters, the PCs entered the graveyard and approached its centre. Being now late Autumn, it was snowing slightly, and with the sun sinking behind the mountains the world was rapidly plunging into shadow lit only by a weak and distant half-moon. The PCs stepped gingerly through the haphazardly-scattered graves, saddened by the spectre of so much senseless death, until they reached the centre of the cemetery, where a large Crypt stood ominously amongst the otherwise innocent graves.

This crypt was clearly the entry to the wizard’s tomb. The size of a small hovel, it was built of solid stone with a heavy metal door, above which was set a large brass plate. On this plate, the following inscription was written:

Born of neglect, killed by neglect, they will forever be watchful against neglect. Unloved, never having loved, children of a cold life have a cold fate.

Entry prohibited!

I think we all know what’s going to happen in here… nonetheless, the PCs dusted the snow off the door and pushed it inward to reveal a flight of stairs leading down into the unkonwn. They formed up with Birgitta in the lead, and headed down the steps, lanterns lit, as outside the sun disappeared beyond the mountains, and the world plunged into darkness.

The Orphans

The stairs ended in a corridor, which ran straight off into the darkness. The walls and floor of the tomb were slightly colder than expected, and in the distance strange, muted sounds could be heard – not unlike the desolate cries of an abandoned child, though faint and soft. The PCs lit a lantern and proceeded carefully, until after a few metres they encountered a corridor branching left. Just ahead, they could see another corridor to the right, and then the main corridor disappeared into the darkness. Following the initiate’s suggestion, they headed left and followed the corridor a short distance to its conclusion at a small, square room. This room was wide enough for 5 or 6 humans to stand in a line inside it, and was old and trashed. On the left hand side of the room were piles of rubbish, and on the right three beds. From amongst the rubbish emerged a tall boy, and from the beds to their right three smaller children stood. All were zombified, ruined and dessicated bodies that bore the marks of their deaths. The three children had died, separately, from animal attack, starvation and being shaken; the taller boy had clearly been stabbed to death, for the weapon that killed him was still embedded in his rotting ribs, and as he charged into the fray he tore it out to attack the characters with.

So battle was joined, with the three smaller children attacking Suzette the Initiate and the larger boy attacking Birgitta. These children were very weak though, and despite the horror they felt, the PCs killed them all quickly. Unfortunately the children’s unearthly wails and the retort of Birgitta’s blackpowder pistol were sufficient to draw more zombie children from the other room, and the PCs found themselves given barely a moment’s rest (a rally turn!) before the next horde of children was upon them. Trapped now inside the room by the fresh wave of child zombies, the PCs had no choice but to fight to the death, and in this wave there were 9 zombie children.

I described these children in 3 groups:

  • An older boy who had clearly died of starvation, and was the leader of the group
  • A group of 4 girls, who must have died in an orphanage, who came into the room in a crocodile formation, holding hands in a line and singing a children’s song, their eyes black pits and their faces contorted with hatred
  • A group of 2 boys and 2 girls, all naked and horribly burnt, who must have died in a house fire

This battle proceeded quickly too, with the leader cut down in a round and Suzette using a wicked spell, Defy Undeath, that made all the children’s actions much more likely to fail. Unfortunately, the one action that didn’t fail was a team attack on Suzette by the burnt orphans, that didn’t do damage but attempted to drag her down and terrify her. The result of this was a huge increase in her stress and fatigue levels, so she became officially strained, all her physical and mental actions became virtually impossible to complete, and incurring even one more point of fatigue or stress would cause her to draw an insanity. Happy days! She tried casting a spell to reduce the fatigue and stress but this failed due to her stressed state (we interpreted this as Morr’s anger at her failure), and basically the remainder of the battle proceeded as if she were hors de combat. Other PCs quickly eliminated the zombie children, though, and they were able to survive the battle relatively undamaged. Suzette then tried first aid on Birgitta, who was injured, but to no avail. At this point the party had explored one room and were already in a sorry state – Birgitta on half hit points, Suzette and Aruson slightly injured, and Suzette desperately wearied and panicky. A decision was made to retreat to the outdoors and camp the night so that Suzette could recover her equilibrium and heal Birgitta.

Camping and Random Encounters

I pointed out to the players that camping would involve a risk of random encounters, and came up with a mechanic for handling them (there are no rules for random encounters in the books, and no numbered dice for simple tables). While the players had a quick smoke, I cobbled together two actions:

  • Camp finding, in which the PCs locate a good location for a camp; success in this action improves the establishment of the camp
  • Camp setting, in which the PCs attempt to set up a camp that is invisible to wandering monsters. Success indicates no encounters; big success indicates that the PCs sleep well enough to recover some wounds; failure indicates an encounter with nearby monsters, in this case either a group of zombie children or a giant spider. Banes rolled in this check would improve the wandering monster’s initiative check or even give them a surprise attack (due to the PCs setting up the camp in such a way as to make it easy for the monster to sneak up on the person on watch)

Fortunately the group contains a wood elf, who not only gets bonuses on nature lore rolls, but also can see in the dark, so these rolls both proceeded well, and in the morning the PCs awoke slightly refreshed. Suzette failed a first aid check on Birgitta, who took a healing draft, and they ventured back into the dungeon.

Exploration

The remainder of the session was spent exploring the dungeon and mapping the rooms, preparatory to conflict. Most of the rest of the rooms were either empty or trapped, and all the rooms radiated off of a central corridor running in a square-shaped loop. At the “south” end of the loop was a large room with double entrance doors that they studiously avoided entering; at the north end are stairs going up to some kind of larger room they also avoided; and at the “west” end was an area of rougher tunnels occupied by giant rats. These rats weren’t interested in fighting, and the PCs were able to scare them off while investigating the body of a dead adventurer, on which they found some magic items (that they can’t identify!) and some holy water. There were no other significant monsters in the dungeon and only a total of about 12 rooms. The PCs also found a mysterious silver key, and are now preparing to enter the remaining two larger rooms, where they expect to meet the main denizens of the dungeon – presumably the wizard himself, and some of his nastier servants.

Conclusion

Even simple tasks in this dungeon proved challenging for the group, so my prior fears that they have become too powerful were unfounded. The weakest creatures in the dungeon drove them outside for a night of rest, and it’s not clear whether they will actually survive the final two rooms – in fact it might be worth their while to go back into town and try to get the magic items they have identified. However, they probably won’t do this, but will go back in fully healed. Next session at least one of them will be able to start a new career, but this will make little difference to their practical skills at this stage. They’re going to need to be very careful about their adventuring style if they want to return to Ubersreik whole and sane!