Last night was the 6th session of the Rats in the Ranks campaign, so about my 9th session of Warhammer 3rd Edition. This time, we again were missing one of our players (Mr. Camphor) so we again decided to put off the main plot of the campaign for a random side adventure, which is fine because the PCs are waiting to get a report from their dutiful spy, and so side adventures are all the rage. I could have seeded the town with rumours and let them do whatever they want, but in truth I haven’t had a lot of preparation time and (as I think will be obvious in a moment) I’m not yet confident making up encounters on the fly in WFRP3. It’s a bastard of a system if you get it wrong.
So, instead, I used an old Warhammer 1st Edition adventure, Fear the Worst, converted it to WFRP3, and assumed everything would come out in the wash. And it almost did.
If you’re planning on running this adventure, in any system, then it probably would suit you to read this. If you’re going to play it or at risk of playing it, then don’t read on. But if you are planning on playing it, you should note that my general preference is to avoid TPKs, and this one came damn close.
A standard mercenary advert and a sausage festival
The PCs having just returned from a near-death experience and spent most of their money on healing, they were naturally in need of a new adventure and a new chance to get themselves all killed, so when they stumbled on the following handbill posted up in some dubious corner of Ubersreik, they naturally responded immediately:
Men and women of a brave and adventurous bent needed for work of a sensitive nature. Seeking wide range of skills, from strong-armed warriors to learned scholars. Excellent opportunity for neophytes. Ask for Karl Taunenbaum at the famous Dancing Dragon Inn, Heideldorf
So, being in need of money and lacking their main meat-shield, off they went to investigate this simple Heideldorf job. When they arrived they found themselves in the midst of a sausage festival, thronging with nobles from the Reikland and full to overflowing with delicious sausage. Viewed with suspicion by these nobles, and having already had a rather unpleasant roadside encounter with some approaching nobles, they went straight to the Dancing Dragon Inn and asked for Taunenbaum. Taunenbaum in turn served them some sausage and sent a runner for the head of the village, Heinz Schiller, who turned up about 10 minutes later. Before speaking to the PCs he deigned to spend 5 minutes scolding Taunenbaum in front of his guests, complaining about the speed of service and the slovenliness of Taunenbaum’s staff, before joining the PCs. Schiller himself was an overdressed fop, noble in bearing but done up in a slightly tawdry version of last season’s fashions… in short, an overpuffed rural dandy. Not that this stopped him looking down his nose at the PCs as he explained their job to them…
[Slight cultural note here: most cafes and bars in Japan worth their coin have on the menu “sosseji moriawase,” a sausage mixed plate, and most Japanese know a little about German culinary and festive culture, so a mid-winter sausage festival where you get served a mixed plate of delicious sausage is exactly the kind of environment that makes the players feel like they’re part of a German-themed but chaotic world]
So, Shiller set about explaining the job to them, though first he needed to assure himself that the PCs were, in fact, capable adventurers. Since the group contained two girls (one just 15 years old!) and an elf, this probably isn’t surprising, but after a bit of poking and prodding and some judicious questions he was satisfied, and proceeded to tell them that this sausage festival was his own exclusive idea, built up over 10 years, and he couldn’t afford anything to destroy it. But this year,some bandits had gathered in a ruined castle near the keep and were attacking visiting nobles. If even some nobles left Heideldorf with the impression it was unsafe, he would be ruined. So he needed the PCs to visit the ruins and … deal with… the bandits.
He initially offered the PCs 10 silver coins each to do this. Given they had entered their first adventure on a 20 silver coin payment, and bargained up from there, they were kind of shocked. So they bargained, and secured a 2 gold coin payment each.
Having done this, he told the characters to head off in the morning, and then left the pub.
Investigating the Job
As we will see, the PCs are nothing if not thorough in their preparations, and promptly set about finding out more about Shiller and the town. They started, of course, by drinking with the locals. From various locals they found out the following:
- The nearby keep has been deserted for a long time and is called Black Rock Keep
- Black Rock Keep is so called because it was destroyed in war about 400 years ago
- Black Rock Keep is so called because it was originally made of white rock, but a dragon came from the mountains and attacked it. The dragon’s breath weapon was acid, and turned the keep from white to black. After the attack, a bunch of elves turned up to help the village (this was a long time ago) and shot at the dragon with their bows, killing it. The current inn is named in honour of the dragon’s death throes.
- The keep was always called Black Rock, but 400 years ago it was destroyed by an earthquake. At that time the inn was called the Black Dragon, but after the earthquake the locals changed its name to the Dancing Dragon
- Shiller always works his staff very hard, especially his mercenaries
- Some mercenaries came through last year
- Some mercenaries came through two years ago, possibly including a dwarf
- They couldn’t possibly have come through during the sausage festival, because everyone knows mercenaries investigate keeps in summer, not winter…
So… Delicious sausage… regular adventurers… the characters were becoming suspicious. Still, with no definite cause for their suspicion they could hardly refuse to do their work. And what could possibly go wrong if they went into their adventure aware of the possibility of a trap…?
Entering Black Rock Keep
The following morning the PCs headed off to Black Rock Keep. When they reached the surrounding area they entered with typical caution, surveying carefully and checking for guards, etc., but found no evidence of bandits of any kind, so entered the grounds proper. They were just about to enter the main wooden double doors of the ruined keep when a crossbow bolt thudded into the doors in front of them. This bolt had a note of some kind wrapped around it.
Unwrapping the note, they found a map, with the following note written on it:
From a concerned friend. Heinz Schiller is more than he appears. Beware the cellars!
The map itself appeared to be a detailed map of the cellars, complete with secret doors marked, and several traps detailed on the map. Unfortunately, none of my 3 players paid any attention to the map. They didn’t really even look at it.
They explored the ground floor of the keep, finding some evidence of habitation but no living things, and then entered the aforementioned cellars. The thief moved ahead to investigate rooms as they found them, and so within a few minutes he encountered the first trap – a 10′ deep pit filled with spikes, which he managed to avoid through a feat of dexterity that left him clinging to the floor under a door while the remainder of the party threw out ropes for him to grab onto.
After they had overcome this trap, rather than checking their map or checking for traps, they moved on, soon stumbling onto two more. Both of these traps were hammer traps, huge warhammers falling from the side of doors, and one delivered a nasty blow to the thief, knocking off quite a few wounds.
Having sprung all the traps and ignored their map, the PCs finally managed to discover a secret door and loot some sarcophagi of about 4Gps worth of gems and jewellery (this is a lot of money in WFRP3). However, they hadn’t found any outlaws, just evidence of an ancient, well-looted tomb. So they decided to leave, and returned to the entryway.
The Mutant Ambush
When they reached the stairs the PCs were ambushed by a grotesque pair of misshapen mutants, who dashed out of the stairs to lay waste to the thief and the roadwarden. These mutants were vaguely human, with huge bodies, massively strong arms, and tiny tiny heads, inset with vacant, staring eyes showing no intellect of any kind. Perhaps one was a woman; perhaps they were a couple. The thief and the roadwarden didn’t have time to tell, as a single blow from their huge arms was sufficient to cripple normal people.
Battle was joined, at which point another five mutants burst from the secret door in the stairwell, to attack the PCs from behind. These mutants were:
- A wizard with eyes floating on tentacles
- A normal-sized man, with a St Bernard Dog’s head that constantly drooled as it fought
- A completely normal man, carrying a pistol
- A human with a normal-sized body, but very long arms and legs, who could use his arms to punch as if they were missile weapons
- A horrific, bloated man whose entire lower body had shrivelled and atrophied to become a mere bulbous waste of flesh, so that the man had to flop and flip about like a seal in order to move
The battle that followed was evil, bitter and desperate. The PCs realized they had only one hope of survival, which was to block the stairs so they only had to fight two mutants at a time; but even then they still had to face two ranged fighters and a wizard, though fortunately the wizard was a Tzeentch Wizard, and Tzeentch’s magic is disgusting but weak. Nonetheless, the PCs found themselves in a desperate situation, with the Cleric falling unconscious and recovering (through her own magic, mostly) three times; the Roadwarden fallign unconscious and recovering once, and the thief being knocked out just once (and staying there). The battle ended with all the PCs except the wizard unconscious, and all the mutants except their wizard; the final three rounds were an old-fashioned magical duel, which the party’s wizard won by perhaps one round – at the end the mutant wizard was so low on power and so desperate that he was forced to charge into melee with a knife. This didn’t end well for him, and the session ended with the party down to its last 6 hit points – all of them belonging to the wizard – while a pile of mutant bodies slicked the floor with blood, and the players all cursed their stupidity for not using the serendipitous message they had been sent.
Next session, we will find out why they met mutants not bandits, and what exactly was happening in this remote outpost…
fn1: I actually messed up here, giving the thief an agility check instead of doing an attack roll. The thief’s agility is impeccable, so nothing touches him when he gets to do a save. An attack roll, though, would have left him in a sorry state indeed. I realized during this session that in addition to WFRP 3’s many other flaws of incompleteness, it has no rules for traps and no suggestions about how to do traps.