Another “Year in Gaming” post! This time it’s the RPG Retrospective 2014! Almost as traditional as turkey, but possibly not as dry. This is my annual look at my gaming experiences over the year. As always, these views are my own and may be the result of my own warped perceptions. This year was very much one of highs and lows for me, both in gaming and in my personal life. I’m not going Emo, so I’ll focus on the gaming 🙂
Edinburgh Gaming in General
In general, gaming in Edinburgh is going from strength to strength. We have a lot going on in this city. Where possible I try and keep my Edinburgh Gaming page up to date. Conpulsion is still running although I’ve heard that there’s fewer of the local RPGers going there each year. Hopefully, when I’m there (see below) I can rekindle some interest.
6s2Hit moved out of the Games Hub basement to their own premises on Bread Street nearby. Although there’s no RPGs, they’ve a substantial number of gaming tables in the venue. They’re also selling miniatures and scenery etc. which I know was always hard to find when I used to play WH40K. I’ve not been there yet though.
The Games Hub continues to be popular among many ORC GMs and for boardgames like X-Wing and Star Trek: Attack Wing. 6s2Hit‘s departure meant they’ve got their own shop now which also stocks RPGs and boardgames. The place has also been refurbished to a certain extent, and the place looks better for it.
Black Lion continues to provide a quality service to gamers, and hopefully the distribution problems that have plagued Europe and the UK will cease to be an issue for them. As always they’re happy to help RPGers and still remain one of the friendliest shops I know.
Edinburgh’s Open Roleplaying Community (ORC Edinburgh) had something of a turbulent year. We used to run games in the Meadow Bar, but we discovered in the New Year it was closed indefinitely. It also came as a bit of a surprise to us that we accounted for most of their custom on the Saturday afternoons. It does go to show that having gamers in does not hurt your profits, especially if you’re serving food!
This was a bit of a blow to those of us running games there (and also the FAQ Boardgame society, who are now at the Southsider pub, I believe). Fortunately the wonderful staff at Peartree House gave us a new venue (big thanks to both Marc F and George F for this) and made us welcome. We also began gaming at the Kilderkin pub in the Royal Mile, which is also a good thing. Since then we’ve asked the Meadow Bar if we could use the room, but apparently they decided to show football there instead. Their loss.
We also had a large number of GMs step up and begin their own games. Some fell by the wayside, some are still going. My own games are still going strong, although I’ve hit a few hiccups with the D&D 5e game (see below!). I’m given to understand that a few more new games will be starting soon. Pathfinder is still popular, as is the new D&D 5th Ed, and the games are often over-subscribed as a result.
We also held a few more successful pub meets, and I’m pretty sure that people enjoyed themselves. Pub meets can be tricky to organise but I think they do encourage us gamers to be more sociable. A couple of my players are now in a relationship after meeting during one of my games.
As well as the obvious issues with venues, managing the ORC website itself was something of trial (and continues to be), although this is no one’s fault. I’ve managed to update and patch nearly the entire site. I’ve decided to make use of a system template rather than a generated one for when we have to move to Joomla 3 (the CMS). There’s also going to be an issue with Mediawiki when we move to the next version. There’s a software Bridge needed to link the Joomla user database to allow authentication, but it’s now outdated. I’ll deal with those issues later in 2015!
Over the years, ORC has attracted a lot of interest locally. Although we had a large number of old accounts I’ve since cleaned out, the site now has 300+ members, although it seems that a handful (maybe 50 or more folk) check the site regularly. This is no bad thing, but it sometimes feels like herding cats…
I’ve had a pretty busy year, all things considered.
I’ve actually managed to get to a couple of conventions this year. I actually managed to run three different RPG sessions at Q-CON on the same day (three 3-hour sessions), so I think I’ve passed the “Iron Man” GM test. You can read of my convention experiences of Q-CON and Dragonmeet. At both conventions I ran my Achtung! Cthulhu scenario, “A Prayer for St. Nazaire”. Looking back on it, if I run the game again, I’ll use Savage Worlds next time as a rule-set. It’s more accessible. Certainly it’s the impression I got from the games I ran – Call of Cthulhu is better for slow-burn (or creeping sense of menace) games. Plus the whole A!C world inspires PCs to sock Hitler on the jaw, very much in keeping with pulp – or Captain America/Agents of SHIELD! 🙂
Speaking of demo games, I ran two very fun sessions at Black Lion to demo the new 5th Ed. D&D game, using the “Lost Mines of Phandelver“. It may have brought a couple of new people into the hobby, but I suspect there were more people interested in the 5e ruleset! Unfortunately, the European distributors had underestimated the demand for D&D (seriously? They must be the same team that cancelled Babylon 5: Crusade and Firefly) so there still aren’t enough Player’s Handbook available to FLGS.
“Lost Mines of Phandelver” is actually a pretty good module in itself and worth getting. Not only is it an introduction to D&D 5e, but the adventure is actually pretty good. It’s non-linear and allows both GM and players a certain amount of freedom. You also get some decent characters, dice and a few handouts. Pretty much all you need to play. For less than twenty quid, it’s pretty good value. I actually rate it better than “Tyranny of Dragons“.
I’m also a Modiphius Silvershield, a gaming “evangelist” for their products. This has allowed me to run games for credit in their store. Achtung! Cthulhu is the game I’ve focussed on for now, and The Mutant Chronicles may be next. I’m not sure if this scheme will work out as I got in on both Kickstarters! Either way, it was good to meet the Modiphius team (briefly!) and volunteers at Dragonmeet. I do have a spiffy Modiphius T-shirt as a result. And I’m grateful 🙂
Flowing seamlessly from one topic to the next, here comes the Kickstarter bit. For various reason, I cut back on my Kickstarter backings over the year, but that didn’t stop the previous KS stuff coming in. Deadzone from Mantic Games delivered, as did Adventure-a-Week‘s Rise of the Drow. Modiphius consistently delivered on the Acthung! Cthulhu Line, as did Evil Hat with FATE Core. Hopefully I’ll be getting Chaosium‘s “Horror on the Orient Express” and Frontier‘s “Elite: Dangerous” soon as well.
Special mention goes to the Shadows of Esteren team. Not only did they go above and beyond for their Kickstarters, they’re great to chat to at conventions like Dragonmeet. Their latest KS, for SoE is here. The art is great, and I’ve even been able to play a few games. It’s really worth a look.
On a campaign note, I finished my AD&D “Temple of Elemental Evil” game. Sadly, illness meant I could give folks the proper send-off they deserved. Ahem. I had some fun times and so did the players…
What’s the one thing we know about bugbears? They’re dicks! – Euan R
It also lead to some PCs being nibbled to death by rats (sorry, Max!). The only reason I ended it was because of the fact that I realised I was running old systems and it wasn’t really engaging folk new to the hobby.
My WFRP (Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay) game has been a huge amount of fun to run (despite the system feeling a bit antiquated on occasion). We’ve managed to move from Death on the Reik to Power Behind the Throne and I hope my players are enjoying it as much as I am. I think it’s safe to say that both my players and I will remember a lot of scenes from this game – whether it’s the Merry Bande, or the bat-crap crazy stuff players come out with that I, as GM, choose to act upon. There’s a fair bit of improv required but it is fun!
Oh, and I started my novel as part of NaNoWriMo. It didn’t go well. I looked at the 3,000 words I’d written and thought it was drivel. So I’m my own worst critic. Still, I’ve got the ideas…
Plans for next year
I’ve a fair bit planned for 2014.
At some point in the new year I’d like to run the “Knights in Shining Armani” RPG, Corporia – I’ve been lax in getting around to it and I need to apologise for it.
I REALLY want to get this novel started, as well as the Cthulhu-based short stories. I’ve also got plans to try and get into the Black Library as a writer. I’ve a lot of ideas, and I’m somewhat hopeful that I can bring some personality to the often one-dimensional Space Marines of WH40K. It’s a challenge!
In a similar vein, I’m also looking at creating (or possibly revising) a Cthulhutech-inspired Battletech game pitting mechs against the forces of the Cthulhu mythos. If there’s one KS I regret missing out on, it’s the Cthulhu Wars one, which has some great miniatures. I’m personally starting to develop an antipathy towards miniature-based games, as they’re usually expensive. If all else fails, I should be able to use counters.
As a result of this, I’m also looking at trying to get more involved in the wargaming side of things. [elg] is just around the corner from me when it is on, so I may be considering that. As well as Battletech, I may also look at playing Deadzone, although I don’t like the miniatures (they do remind me of the old Airfix soldiers!). I know I said this last year but: Hey! Time is a commodity!
I’ve also decided that as a Modiphius Silvershield and local “Z-list gaming personality” (said ironically!) that I’m going to try and get to more conventions. I’ve not been to Conpulsion yet (seriously!), despite it being hosted in Edinburgh. I plan to remedy that this year. I had a great time playing Marc Farrimond’s Cliché RPG where I had a huge amount of fun as a deranged psychopath known as the Artist. This should probably worry me.
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Let’s find out… <snik> – The Artist
Either way, I’ll be back at Q-CON this year. It was an amazing experience, although social anxiety on my part didn’t help. I’ve since beaten that as a result, and all I can say is this – if you were there, you’ll know what I mean! I’m also planning to go to Dragonmeet again, although I hope to play in some games this time, and maybe actually go to the pub meet this time! I’m also considering going to the UK Games Expo as well. And I’m planning on maybe going to Gaelcon as well.
Games-wise, I plan to try and finish the WFRP: Enemy Within Campaign and also start Achtung Cthulhu’s Shadows of Atlantis when it comes out. I’m also running a 5th Ed. Dungeons & Dragons game using the Tyranny of Dragons storyline. I’ve never run a game in the Forgotten Realms before so it should be interesting. There’s also Horror on the Orient Express for Call of Cthulhu…
So that’s my year. It’s been busy and I don’t think I’ve achieved anything close to what I’d planned last year. I’ll be at those conventions I reckon, as a GM or player. I definitely should try and get a few games in as a player at the Cons. Ultimately, though, I need to get better at either the writing or the proof-reading. I’m not the Jedi I could be…
Games referenced in this post.
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The Other Guys. The followers. The sidekicks. Red shirts #1-5. The science guys. The servants/followers who carry the adventurers loot. Sometimes they have names, more often than not, they won’t. We all have them in RPGs.
The Stargate SG-1 TV series once had an episode called The Other Guys. It focussed on a group of scientists who were largely, em, well, inexperienced. It was from this that I got the idea about running spin-off games featuring “The Other Guys”, normally NPCs that the players could run in one-off games.
Recently I’d planned to begin the WFRP adventure Power Behind the Throne, after completing Death on the Reik (see here for a description as to how that went). However, come the day of play only half the group can make it. I could have run the session and spent most of the next session catching the missing players up. However, in Death on the Reik, the party encountered a mercenary group, the Merry Bande. I had a problem: half the group could make it. So instead I ran a one-off adventure featuring The Other Guys, members of the Merry Bande.
The Merry Bande – The Other Guys Example
They were initially a generic band that the PCs could use for training or advancement (e.g. to Mercenary/Sergeant/Captain etc.). They’re normally just supporting NPCs that weren’t fully fleshed out, just a capsule description. They sort of existed as generic red-shirts (or a specialist like Chief O’Brien before he came a regular cast member in Star Trek: The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine). They consisted of:
- Captain Kowalkski, tough guy. Hard-bitten, bit like Clint Eastwood. Usually chomping a cigar.
- Klaus Schmidt, Sergeant. Think Jason Statham and his character in the movie Snatch.
- Ostermann, Corporal. Sarcastic wise-cracker – forever a corporal. Dead-pan. Younger version of Dad’s Army’s Sergeant Wilson.
- The Norsican – only the band understand him. Easy going, speaks like the chef from The Muppets.
- Maus, the sharpshooter. Small but tough. Ferrety-looking, usually up a tree or on a roof.
- Aristmann, cold killer. The kind of person that speaks (and listens) to sock puppets. Skips among opponents, stabbing them while humming the Smurfs theme.
- Jaegerhalten, sneaky git. Check behind you and then check your pockets. Now you see him, now you don’t.
- Dizeigeler, AKA Die Scheissehaus. The group’s siege weapon, usually carrying a (excessively large) firearm…
- Hans Schup, Artillerist. Plays golf – with bombs. Makes the PCs very nervous.
- Brother Bada Boom, Dwarven Gunner. Crazed dwarf with a love of big guns, and disproportionate responses. Shock and awe!
Yes, I know some of these are pandering to stereotypes! WFRP has a long history of humorous NPCs (racially stereotyped and otherwise). The cover of WFRP 1e alone features GW owner at the time, Bryan Ansell, twice; and artist John Sibbick’s head on spike. Even some of the book’s internal illustrations are based upon then Games Workshop staff members. But I digress.
The Merry Bande are the Other Guys. They’re nowhere near as experienced as the PCs, but they are there to support them in some way as NPCs.
Why run an adventure with The Other Guys?
There’s a huge variety of advantages to running games featuring The Other Guys – even if it’s not the same group of players.
- They’re expendable. If you’re feeling particularly cruel as a GM.
- You can run adventures that your PCs would never get the chance to play. The PC group may never go to Lustria and the New World, but the Merry Bande might.
- They’re not likely to have the same experience levels as the PCs so you can still go back to earlier more basic adventures.
- They exist in the campaign timeline, but can be inserted anywhere. For instance Power Behind the Throne follows a strict timetable, which may lead to the PCs being tied up elsewhere. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Middenheim…
- They can further the plot, without a GM having to rail-road the PCs. Perhaps running an adventure will encourage the PC to investigate further.
- They can help “mop up” after the PCs. And blame them. Even better is when the PCs turn up, or have just left.
- It’s a change of pace and different, especially if your PCs have had a hard time, and everything is a bit too “Grim-dark”.
- It can help when the group has insufficient numbers, or as an introduction. Want to introduce someone to the system but don’t want to clobber them with an existing campaign or a highly advanced character? Then run a game like this – it’ll also give them a window on the game setting too.
- It goes the other way, too. Want the PCs to play their mentors or similar in a one-off? Use them as The Other Guys. A specific example of this is the Circle of the Eight (Greyhawk’s most powerful Mages) as used in the Greyhawk WGA4 Module Vecna Lives!.
Ultimately, running NPCs as PCs adds a lot to the game world as well. Yes, you do have to stat them up completely but as a GM, it’s no big deal. In my case, the Merry Bande took on a new dimensions. Whether they’re side-kicks in a superhero game, the PCs mentors, or mercs in WFRP; it’s well worth running games featuring The Other Guys.
Death on the Reik is possibly one of the best adventures for a GM to run in WFRP. It covers almost the entire length of the Reik. It has a wealth of background for players to get their teeth into. Not to mention a plot line that slowly draws the PC towards the courtly intrigue in Middenheim (and Power Behind the Throne). For me its has provided several months of GMing fun, and has given our group a whole number of fantastic memories – and nightmares. Like the article I did on running Shadows over Bogenhafen, I thought it might be a good idea to write something similar for Death on the Reik (sometimes abbreviated to DotR).
Also I heartily recommend creating a campaign journal for your players like I did. In it are session summaries, the handouts, and maps.
Be warned, spoilers are ahead! If you’re planning to participate in it as a player, look away now!
Death on the Reik – Tone
For my players, their boat became their home, very much like the Serenity. Named the Queen of the Reik (captained by the Elf, Priscilla). Yeah, I know – I kinda encouraged them to name it!. Essentially it became about the group staying ahead of things – the authorities, the cults, and the “game” (or plot). I tried to convey a sense of history and time to the group. Much of the plot relies on historical events.
When they come to Wittgendorf, it became one of brooding horror and corruption. Wittgendorf is the best part in Death on The Reik. I’d already implied some sort of inbreeding, with possible incest between Lady Magritte and her brother. In Nuln the PCs learned both were thrown out of a Nuln university. The whole village is corrupt and the players freaked out.
Wanted in both Altdorf and Bogenhafen (for murder and arson – possibly robbery, too) the group were understandably chary about revisiting those locations, so I tried to keep the game away from those areas.
Because of the scale of Death on the Reik, you easily break down the main plot into small pieces, and even insert some side quests or other adventures. For example I was able to insert the adventure “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers” adventure from the Restless Dead. This also gave the PCs a chance to make friends with a Nuln noble, Gravin Maria-Ulrike von Liebovitz, the niece of the Countess of Nuln. These little trips helped to make the adventure go from A to B a little better, plus it didn’t feel like the players were being rail-roaded.
It might also pay for you to have some ready-made cargo and prices for each adventure location – it’ll save you some time. My players bothered with cargo for a while. There’s an in-game joke that the “Bretonnian Brandy” sold in Nuln as a result of the PCs re-labelling and selling on some Marienburger brandy. However, they didn’t bother with cargo much, but you may want to use it to add some flavour – particularly if the group wants to make some cash.
Plot breakdown & “Modding” Death on the Reik
Death on the Reik is very much a free-wheeling adventure. It took several months of play. I added in some side-quests, and it paid to plan ahead. However, there are some parts that I’d change. Note – spoilers!
In the first Chapter, I’d replace the mutants with Beastmen. They are more of a challenge. I also added the fact that they wore a red crown sigil. They appeared to be looking for Kastor Lieberung and Ernst Heidlman. This info was obtained from Renata. The boat’s crew had been tortured while she hid. Later she recognises Heidelmann when he passes the group on a coach leaving Altdorf. If the players don’t choose to take the boat, there’s always the Emperor Luitpold.
In Weissbruck, there’s a part where the PCs may or may not want to visit Elvyra Kleinestun. She’s the Pharmacist they met in Shadows Over Bogenhafen. Let the PCs make their own decision about whether to rescue her. If the PCs do find the Red Barn, add some armed mercs (possibly sent by Hollzauber) arriving to collect Elvyra. It’ll be more of a challenge. You could also have a side-quest as they PCs hunt down Hollzauber, the Demonologist. I also did a follow-up to Legacy of Praag.
Altdorf was largely avoided by the group, accused as they were of murder there. Aside from Renata spotting Heidelmann there, not much of note happened. Adolphus Kuftos put in a brief appearance but the group didn’t face him directly.
Dagmar’s Tower and the signalling device was a bit of a cockup on my part. The Ghoul should be killing the dwarves, not making them ill. Also, the zombies in the laboratory weren’t much of a challenge (why hasn’t the Ghoul eaten them?). I’d replace them with a wraith, more ghouls, or some kind of clockwork horror (perhaps a simulcra of some kind). Also, let your Players find the hidden room – otherwise they’ll traipse back and forth to the Devil’s Bowl. It’s an unnecessary plot device.
Delberz was where the players felt safest. They stayed with Heironymus Blitzen and met The Merry Band (see below). They pretty much started the Enemy Within campaign there originally, so it made sense. They also left their horses stabled there, so they could take the boat up and down the Reik. Remember, horses on a boat will make a mess! 🙂
Nuln is mentioned nowhere in Death on the Reik, but the PCs may want to do some research there. I played Nuln as very much a sort of Oxford-like town. Lots of university buildings, drunken students, silly traditions, factions/fraternities etc. It also became a safe place for the PCs, and gave them a chance to hobnob with the Nuln Nobility (like Gravin Maria Ulrike). I threw in a party or two hosted by the Countess Emmanuelle. I ran the adventure Eureka to add some extra craziness – The Restless Dead book has some good incidental adventures.
Grissenwald was very much a run-down mining town. It also provided a huge amount of entertainment when the Dwarves of Khazid Slumbol decide to regain their pride (with the PCs help) and kick Goblin arse. It pretty much became a grudge match between the two races and the PCs got caught up in the middle! Don’t forget to overplay the cross-dressing goblin Chieftain too.
Kemperbad was very much a town the group passed through. Not much happened there although Kuftos, now a witch-hunter, caught up with the PCs. This led to a dockside confrontation between the PCs and a large group of goons, plus Kuftos. In their journey along the Reik, the PCs learned of a Sigmarite “Inquisition”, known as the Hammers of Sigmar. Kuftos was a member but had gone rogue.
Unterbaum, for some reason, spooked my players. Everyone was smiling and happy and willing to answer any questions. Perhaps too friendly. Corrobeth the Druid was quite happy to lead the PCs to the Devil’s Bowl (along with the Merry Band). When the group left Unterbaum, and tried to descend the lock gates, both lock-keepers had been killed by Etelka Herzen and her followers. She attacked the group with fireball and smash spells leading to a decision by the Captain of the Queen of the Reik to ram their way down. Cue screaming mercenaries and very much a Pirates of the Caribbean style sequence… all the way down.
The Barren Hills was very much about raising the level of suspense. The PCs knew they were being followed by the Skaven at this point. They still managed to trap themselves in the cave though. Let Crot make his threats from outside, possibly letting the group watch him torture Corrobeth. Don’t let on how many Skaven there are, just emphasis their eyes glittering in the dark… To really freak the PCs out, the skeletons attack them when they least expect it. You could even have a Skaven wizard turn up to really inconvenience them.
Wittgendorf needs no improvement. Its a place of filth, corruption, and cannibalism. For me it was the highlight of Death on the Reik. The PCs got into a fight in the pub, naturally. I’d increase the W score of the guards, as well as their numbers. Rousseaux really scared the PCs, especially when he invited the group to join he and Lady Magritte for dinner. The group decided “It’s a trap!” and legged it before the guards and Pale Lady turned up. They killed Rousseaux, and discovered the cellar and its contents. Try and keep Magritte out of bow range ‘cos you know what PCs are like. If I’d thought about it, I’d have had the group besieged in the Inn as the starved Ghoulish Villagers attack. If the players aren’t keeping a low profile, they’ll be noticed so a bunch of guards may turn up. Either way, the boat needs to be seized for the PCs to have a reason to get inside. After a confrontation with the guards, Hilda can appear to lead them through the woods to the outlaws.
Storming the Castle
The caves beneath the Castle are possibly a waste of time if your PCs are planning on Storming the Castle (see below). They may decide a frontal assault is the best. Let them try. Remember Castle Wittgenstein is a bloody CASTLE. With lots of guards. Unless they come up with a really clever plan, their best option is to sneak in, possibly with the outlaws help.
Scouting the caves
Death on the Reik doesn’t go into much detail about why the Outlaws haven’t killed Brutagh and reconnoitred the caves already. I’d make sure that its made clear that the caves are in Beastman territory, so the Outlaws have avoided it after losing some of their number. A small group of capable warriors could sneak past the Beastmen, however. You could easily have the PCs sneak commando-style through Beastman territory, taking out sentries. That could be a session in itself.
Once inside the caves, expand them out. There’s lot of creepy stuff you can pull on players – slimy walls, sucker marks on the wall, mould, spores that send the character mad, weird mushrooms that squelch unpleasantly underfoot. Brutagh himself should be more of a scuttling horror than a mutant, and barely seen. You could turn him into a Chaos Spawn if you’ve got Realm of Chaos. He’s the one that tries to kill a party member when they wander off or get split from the group, or tries to quietly remove the last PC in line. For added horror, let the PCs find his “feeding ground” full of half-eaten corpses (maybe just the livers have been eaten). Run riot.
Staging the attack
Try and keep the attack narrative. There’s a temptation as GM to describe every single facet of the battle. The outlaws are there largely to provide a distraction to allow the PCs to get inside, so make it clear that the outlaws will only be able to keep the guards busy for a while. The outlaws can’t sustain a siege. All the while the storm is building up. You may want to stress the strange tension in the air, as if the world is holding its breath as the players attack. At the very least it’ll get ’em moving.
I marked on a copy of the castle map where each guard was in the event of an alert, or on active duty. You may also want to make a copy and split the map up into sections so players can see where they are. It’s a lot more difficult to run than a dungeon bash on this scale, so your players may need some sort of visual guide.
The Inner Keep
Oh, my. What wonders or horrors lie within? Your PCs may be old school in that they check every SINGLE. DAMN. CUPBOARD. Not a problem. Death on the Reik has some truly weird rooms in Castle Wittgenstein. The Chapel (and its mighty organ!), aviary, and the charnel pit are great to freak out your PCs. It’s important to remember that in WFRP, players may not stop to search each single room. It’s up to you as GM – if you’re enjoying it, let them carry on. If you want to get them going, point out to the most observant PC that lightning is repeatedly striking kites flying above the main tower. In regards to Krakatz and Ulfhednar, they’re more likely to be with Lady Magritte than in their rooms (see below). If they fight the Daemonette, make sure you stress her weird appearance and allure, and give her a snake-like grace to her attacks and defences, e.g contorting backwards to avoid a strike.
As a GM, I messed up the confrontation between the PCs and Lady Magritte (and her monster). It’s far too easy, especially given it is the epic final battle such as it is. First of all, beef up the opposition. Ulfhednar and Crakatz will be present along with a small horde of undead zombies or skeletons (two per PC). Make Lady Magritte a Level 3 Necromancer, if you’re keeping Ulfhednar as the original NPC stats list. Give her a few more Battle Magic spells too. The Monster should regenerate non-magical wounds, which should be something of a surprise (or worse if the party don’ t have any magical weaponry! Not uncommon in WFRP), but it is subject to fear of fire-wielding PCs.
The Skaven have got the Warpstone, and you players are probably calling them “Rat Bastards!”. Perfectly okay for the PCs to follow them of course, deeper into the rock.If the PCs have waltzed through the last battle, the’ll face a number of Skaven (4-6, plus a L2 Wizard). Just as the PCs win the explosions start. At this point pull out your whole “collapsing building” action movie bag of tricks to get the PCs moving. Leaping across a crevasse, dodging falling rocks, cave-ins etc. Getting the boat out through the gate as huge rocks slam down in to the water soaking the PCs, the huge boulder that crashes down inches above the PCs only to stop. If you’ve had enough of the PCs messing about on boats they have to jump into the river from a great height as Castle Wittgenstein collapses upon itself (burying their boat).
NPCs in Death on the Reik
Have an NPC for every eventuality. Sooner or later, the groups are going to want to change careers or find a tutor. Or a doctor. I’ve given nearly all my NPCs their own voices as such, often humorously describing them too. There were some NPCs I came up with that only featured in one game, others that featured more – the majority are listed here. I tried deliberately to make them stand out and have some quirks, as the WFRP setting is definitely one that has odd characters. If you can definitely try and give them distinctive voices or mannerisms – perhaps basing it upon actual people or characters.
The Skaven featuring in the adventure are best played as creepy sneaks. They’re out there, but you don’t know where. They should always be at the back of the PCs minds. They appeared briefly in the Heart of Chaos too. There they set an ambush for the PCs but they failed to take the bait. In the wilds the PCs are followed by a Clan Eshin scout. They never see them though until the Barren Hills and the finale. Throughout the campaign they are “urban legend”.
Etelka didn’t feature much in my game. She and Heidelmann attacked the group while they are descending the locks at Unterbaum. She nearly destroyed the Queen of the Reik with a smash spell. I decided that the players would often encounter her scent or evidence of her passing through in some locations like Grissenwald or Kemperbad. I plan to use her as an NPC in Power Behind the Throne.
Lady Magritte should creep the players out. She has an unhealthy relationship with her brother, and is possibly a necrophiliac. At least that’s the way to play her. She’s cold, calculating and should ideally fall from a high place in the final battle 😉 – keep her out of bow range until then!
There’s two notable cults of Tzeentch that feature in Death on the Reik, the Purple Hand and the Red Crown. The Purple Hand are far more insidious and prefer to keep a low profile while infiltrating the higher levels of power. The PC who’d originally resembled Kastor Lieberung (from Mistaken Identity) had since left the group, but that didn’t stop the PCs being threatened by cult members as known associates (and were often believed to be cult members themselves, leading to some very funny moments where the cultists couldn’t figure out why they weren’t being responded to in kind). Aside from the brief mention in the adventure the Red Crown has little to do, with the exception of Herzen and Heidelmann. I changed them to be actively recruiting Beastmen and mutants to their cause. When you know how the Enemy Within continues it makes sense. A lot of the Beastmen were wearing the “red crown” mark making my players very nervous.
Mercenary Companies are often a fun idea as many career exits lead towards mercenaries or their officers. With this in mind I created The Merry Band, based out of Delberz. Essentially it gave my players some NPCs to interact with, plus some possible training avenues. As well as this it provided some comic relief during the lock gate episode and talking about ” Ze Skaven”. I’d based the Sergeant’s character (and voice) on Jason Statham in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Hieronymous Blitzen, wizard of Delberz was based upon Carl Jung, along with a terrible Austrian accent on my part. His apprentice, Hans-Peter Schiller I played as a creepy guy who Blitzen keeps an eye on. Blitzen was very much a mentor of the PCs, despite none of them being wizards or apprentices.
I decided to alter Ulfhednar and Krakatz from their original stats. Instead of a boring Chaos Warrior, Ulfhednar became the Champion of Chaos he was supposed to be. He had wings and acquired a Daemon weapon since the PCs saw him in Heart of Chaos. Although he wasn’t involved in the big fight at the end, the PCs were polite and respectful and he left them alone, possibly as a courtesy. If you intend to use him as an opponent in Death on the Reik, give him a Chaos weapon instead, see Realm of Chaos for info. Krakatz should probably have minor hero stats for a Beastman. At some points I’ll put his stats up 🙂
Summary – Death on The Reik
Death on the Reik will provide you with a lot of enjoyment as GM, and should easily propel your PCs into Advanced careers. If you’ve run multiple side adventures you may want to reduce the XPs given at the end of DotR.
RPG retrospective 2013 is the latest in what has become something of an annual tradition for me. I’ve let the GMs and players over at ORC speak for themselves on the ORC website, but its been quite a year for me.
I’ve not written so much on this blog this year, as to be quite honest I’ve not had time. What content I have put up has hopefully been of some use to anyone using the site. I hope to try and blog more over the next year, but will try to include more quality content, both specific gaming content, and otherwise.
Games I’ve been running this year included Pathfinder, AD&D and WFRP, and Wildfire’s new RPG, The Void (part of the Cthulhu Saga, a review of the game can be found here). The Pathfinder game I ran was part of the Ronin GM idea I had. I used the Sands of Time setting I made up (some of the places are detailed on the ORC wiki here), an Egypt-meets-Cthulhu, style setting. I only ran it for five or six sessions and although it proved a lot of fun to run, I didn’t really achieve aims I had for my role as “Ronin GM”, although a few people that had never played RPGs or Pathfinder got the experience! I’ve described the Void RPG elsewhere, but it has potential.
AD&D has been something of a cathartic experience. It’s nice to have a simple dungeon bash that doesn’t challenge GM and players yet remains considerable. I’ve run it using AD&D before and its surprising how easy it came back to me, and even new players find it fairly intuitive over 3.5/4e. It also had the first PC fatality I’ve had in a game for quite a while. The group has finally got a full complement after a few folk dropped out during the year, and the new mage seems to even the score a bit. Expect a more detailed description on how I’m running the mega-scenario “The Temple of Elemental Evil” in a future post, or posts.
WFRP has gone from being bleakly grimdark (and po-faced) to something that hopefully has been fun to play and run – after my mistakes running Shadows over Bogenhafen (detailed here), Death on the Reik has been a joy to run. A number of fantastic experiences have been had by the players and the Queen of the Reik (under Captain Priscilla) now feels like home to the party. Heart of Chaos and Legacy of Praag were two of the encounters I came up with to spice up the adventure. I’ve chosen to skip “Something Rotten in Kislev” after Power Behind the Throne, choosing to run Drachenfels instead. SRiK isn’t a good module, and I got bored just reading it.
EDIT: I also ran Fires of Perdition, and, although it ran for a short time, was immense fun to both run and play. This was a mash-up of the Only War rules with the PCs as members of the Adeptus Arbites. Set in the Hive city of Perdition, on the world of Crucible, it was pretty much a knock-off Judge Dredd setting (more info on the setting here). If I ran it again, I’d definitely try to be little less epic – the players said they enjoyed playing a “street level” judge without the whole Chaos-warp-doom that pervades so much wh40k.
Other achievements? My freelance work on demons (and the artist’s interpretation) finally appeared in the supplement: Fragment 1: The Way of Tree Sword, & Flame, working alongside designers such as: George Strayton, Logan Bonner, Tony Reyes, Thomas Reid, Bill Smith, Ptolemy Slocum, Ron Corn, Ed Greenwood, Mike Curtis, John Adamus, Steve Winter, and Jim Ward. I recently appeared on Hazard Gaming’s Penny Red podcast, as part of their “Inside the Roleplayers Studio” series. I was recently interviewed by playbymail.net about my part in the Nova Games PBM partnership, for Issue 2 of the new PBM magazine “Suspense And Decision” (yet to be published).
I’ve backed a lot of RPG Kickstarters over the year (and other games). I’m especially looking forward to getting Deadzone setup and running (although I’ve a few gripes about the mini construction). Also the “Horror on the Orient Express” boxed set for Call of Cthulhu and “Rise of the Drow” Pathfinder campaign are due for release next year.
RPG plans for 2014
As well as running WFRP and AD&D, I’d like to get cracking on my novel idea. I’m not having troubles with ideas of the plot, it’s the actual linking them together and getting the words out of my head 🙂 .I’ve also decided to run a game session on Sunday evening called Survival Sunday; where we play Shadows of Esteren, The Void (the Stygian Cycle in all likelihood), CthulhuTech, and of course, Call of Cthulhu. Once “Horror on the Orient Express” arrives I’ll be running that.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!
The Heart of Chaos was a straightforward WFRP game I ran earlier in the year. The concept of the Chaos Heart, and their Minotaur Champion, was originally published in Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned. Minotaurs in WFRP are pretty tough with a few changes, and the Players were unsurprisingly cautious as result (especially as many of them had also played Legacy of Praag!). A Minotaur Chaos Champion is also a force to be reckoned with. The Heart of Chaos was originally supposed to be a single session adventure, but it quickly grew into a couple of sessions (in the same way Legacy of Praag did). It became a journey into a sort of “Heart of Darkness”. I’d use it with a group of PCs well into their second careers with someone used to living in the wild (Ranger class).
The Chaos Heart is essentially a chunk of warpstone acting as a conduit to a Chaos god, in the same way as an idol within a temple. Minotaurs are the appointed guardians of these holy items and jealously protect them from harm or theft (one becomes a Champion as a result). It did start off as a simple “Kill the Monster, steal its treasure”, but took on a life of its own. In my game Hieronymus Blitzen (Shadows over Bogenhafen/Death on the Reik) sent the PCs to fetch Minotaur horns he would use in a magic item’s construction.
Setting for the Heart of Chaos
A day’s journey from Delberz lies Whiterock valley (approximately 15 miles from Delberz), a particularly nasty marshy area that ends at Corpsecandle Tarn. Home to One-Eye, the Minotaur Champion and his warband, there are two places of note in Heart of Chaos: Corpsecandle Tarn, and the Chaos Champion’s Tomb.
The hand of the Chaos God Nurgle lies heavily on the tarn where a hidden cave conceals the Chaos Heart. Pestigors (Beastmen dedicated to Nurgle) are left to rot in the Tarn when they die, their dissolution and corruption an offering to Grandfather Nurgle, near a holy of holies as such.
The Tarn’s water is slimy and weed-choked and noxious mists rise from the waters. A unhealthy lambent glow comes from the depths where the bodies of the Beastmen float. The results of drinking the water are probably best left to how evil a GM is feeling: for instance, wounds become infected wounds, the belly flux, even Nurgle’s Rot is an option if you’re that way inclined (see the main WFRP rulebook). You’d have to be a very stupid PC to drink the water, but there’s always one.
What the players don’t know is that the lake is actually capable of raising the dead of the lake as zombies to defend the shrine. They didn’t find that out until later (more on this shortly). The Tarn is surrounded by diseased-looking vegetation, it’s cold and damp, and the sun is merely a watery blur in the sky. It’s pretty dreary. Arriving at night, there’s a phosphorescence over the lake; during the day it is eerily quiet. Two paths lead to the Tarn: one the PCs have followed, the other leads deeper into the woods, towards the tomb of a Champion of Nurgle.
Eventually this other path emerges into a clearing, where the sunken ruin of a tomb festers. Dwarves recognise the stonework as being that of the “Dark Brothers” (Chaos Dwarves) on a successful Int test. I didn’t get a chance to go any further with this, due to time constraints, but it is the resting place of a Champion of Chaos, interred within a stone crypt – a carving on the crypt’s lid shows Nurgle’s symbol (PCs with Religion get an Int test to know this) and bas-relief of the Champion’s face, resembling a giant fly.
Enterprising or old-school GMs could probably use the Tomb to create a dungeon bash of sorts, and make it a bit more challenging. If you want you can throw in some undead, followers who are “faithful” beyond the grave. As it’s a Nurgle-esque dungeon, feel free to inflict infected wounds on PCs when they impale themselves on spikes in pit traps, rusty blades that spring out at groin level etc. After all, Nurgle loves a show – and don’t make it too easy for them.
Opening the crypt means the the PCs find the corpse holding a weapon of some sort, and greedy PCs will likely want to take it. GMs have a few options here. One: it’s a magic weapon, that the PCs can use (make them earn it though – traps or undead etc.). Rare enough in WFRP! Two: it’s a chaos weapon. And is obviously so. PCs wielding it may also attract attention from both Chaos minions and Witch-hunters. Three: it’s a Daemon weapon (for the really evil GM). The PCs are in serious trouble, as one of them will have willingly picked it up. In all likelihood the blade’s bound daemon will try and turn the bearer to Chaos, or force the bearer to attack his companions. Options two and three are campaign seeds in themselves – the PCs are cursed with it, may turn on each other, and have to find a way to dispose of it without falling to Chaos.
Below is a map of Corpsecandle Tarn as used in Heart of Chaos.
It was very much the encounters that made this game so much fun. The journey through Whiterock Valley was definitely unpleasant. Two of the PCs fell into a rattlesnake pit (a la True Grit), and had to climb out while the rattlers began to stir. Giant leeches nastily wounded the Halfling when he ripped the critters from himself. Will o’Wisps nearly claimed the Elf one night, as she walked into the same quicksand that the party had only just managed to negotiate earlier that day. Giant Rats are used as “hunting dogs” by One-Eye’s warband, and all wear collars with Nurgle’s fly rune. You could also have the group attacked by a bog octopus or amphisbaena as they slog through the deeper parts of the marsh (all these monsters are in the WFRP rulebook). Basically, you turn a simple walk into an exhausting slog as a GM – by the time they reach Corpsecandle tarn, the PCs are filthy, tired, and sore.
At one point, the group see One-Eye Kazgul, the Minotaur Champion, in the distance bellowing to the moon – he’s too far away, but he’s patrolling the edges of his territory. There’s also signs that he’s not alone: his warband is with him (which includes two normal Minotaurs). They’re hunting Ulfhednar’s group. This is designed to make the PCs nervous, and a bit more circumspect rather than rushing in.
I also had a raiding party of Skaven (Chaos Ratmen) in the area, drawn to the warpstone. The PCs will likely find their tracks, and in my game the Skaven set an ambush when they realised they were being followed. The PCs recognised the trap for what it was, and as a result avoided combat with the Skaven entirely, although it could turn out differently in your game. If your PCs have breezed through the game so far, then this is your chance to give them a few knocks before they get to the “Picnic” encounter (see below). This was my way of foreshadowing events in Death on the Reik.
When the group arrive at Corpsecandle Tarn, they’re offered some “help” in the form of Ulfhednar, Chaos Champion of Tzeentch. He’s been watching the group since they entered the valley. He’s there to steal the Heart of Chaos from the shrine, but his divinations have shown that he needs the PCs help in some form. Ulfhednar approaches the group openly and in a civil fashion to parley. The PCs are acutely aware that they are surrounded by a band of homicidally-inclined Beastmen. Krakatz, Ulfhendar’s Bovigor Lieutenant is less than pleased at not being able to torture and eventually kill the PCs. Instead, Ulfhednar offers the group food and wine and makes polite conversation, while his followers lurk nearby. It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever seen: a hulking chaos champion sitting at a picnic, discussing the weather.
He also made some comments regarding the Red Crown (a Chaos Cult in the Enemy Within), Etelka Herzen( if anyone asks about her) is “that bitch” (see Death on the Reik). He offers to pay the PCs for their help, but makes veiled threats as to what could happen if the PCs refuse to work with him; the large party of Beastmen (enough to provide a serious challenge to the PCs, maybe three each) being a more overt one.
Ulfhednar’s plan is for the PCs to attack One Eye, while his warband engage their Nurgle-worshipping counterparts. The PCs may or may not accept this. If they refuse Ulfhednar will sigh, and then pack away – despite protestations from Krakatz he lets the PCs live, and they fade into the woods. The PCs will have to face One Eye’s warband alone. If they accept his offer, he tells them to attack the shrine (a cave at the side of the lake), and when One-Eye’s warband appears, Ulfhendar’s forces will engage them.
Whether or not the PCs have accepted Ulfhednar’s offer, they’re going to be facing an angry Minotaur and his minions. There’s a good chance that your players will come up with a lot of ideas before putting their plan into action. If Ulfhendar is part of their plans, he can point out obvious flaws – as far as he is concerned though, the PCs are the bait. It is up to them to draw One-Eye out. If they ask him to attack One-Eye on their behalf, Ulfhendar will say he’s not allowed – he has been forbidden from melee combat with One-Eye by Tzeentch. This amuses him greatly as a result. If they’re on their own, then they’re going to have to deal with One-Eye and his two Minotaur bodyguards PLUS a beastman retinue. At this point hit-and-run tactic may be their best option – if they decide to spend days wearing them down though, remind the players that their PCs food and water are limited (unless they fancy drinking the local water).
Either way it works, One-Eye will spot the PCs as they make their way alongside the lake. Bellowing in anger, he and his Pestigor retinue will charge towards the PCs (use the Beastman and Minotaur stats from the rulebook – One Eye’s stats are below). If the PCs run away, remember that One-Eye knows the locale; while the PCs don’t. Uflhednar waits till the last moment before thundering into melee – the Minotaurs will have outdistanced their smaller brethren when this happens. No quarter is asked or given – this battle is one of total annihilation between two enemies. If you really want to mix it up, the Skaven turn up halfway through and try to steal the Chaos Heart while everyone else battles (see below).
If the PCs are on their own, you may be wondering what they’ll do with the Chaos Heart. That’s when the PCs discover that it has gone missing – the Skaven have stolen it already. If they chose to work with Ulfhednar, he’ll seize the Heart and fire the shrine within with Pink Fire of Tzeentch, after his forces withdraw to a safe distance (and with good reason). He’ll emerge whistling cheerfully, then screw the PCs over big time – he’ll chuck the bag of money for the PCs into the lake. Almost immediately the water seems to froth and bubble as the beastmen corpses rise to avenge the desecration of their shrine. We’re talking zombie horde here (use the Zombie stats from the WFRP rulebook). Wise PCs will get moving – Ulfhednar and his band are already nowhere to be seen.
The PCs are tired and wounded in all likelihood, and there’s a lot of zombies. They don’t need to sleep or rest and will follow the group unerringly – if you’re feeling unkind, throw in natural hazards like quicksand or bogs, or other things to test the PCs endurance. The horde will follow the PCs to the edge of Whiterock valley, but won’t enter the Tomb (see above). However, the Zombies can still surround it… or their presence wakes a powerful undead spirit within 🙂
NPCs for the Heart of Chaos
One-Eye is pretty much typical of any Minotaur. Prone to outbursts of violence, he’s not the brightest of Nurgle’s champions. He is fanatically protective of the shrine at Corpsecandle Tarn, and will stop at nothing to avenge its desecration should he survive. Despite his lack of intellectual gifts, he is cunning enough to let his Minotaur bodyguards weaken opponents before he steps to finish them, or to target obvious magic users. His name comes for a singular (ha!) “blessing” from Nurgle: both his eyes have fused into one, similar to a Plaguebearer (BS x 1/2). A cloud of flies surrounds him permanently making it hard to see (-10 to hit), and his toughened hide is matted, covered in sores, and cracked. This gives him +1AP to all locations. He carries a wicked-looking axe, stained and rusty (I -10, D+2, 30% of Infected wounds). He has no skills to speak of.
Ulfhednar & Krakatz
Ulfhendar & Krakatz’s stats will appear at a later date, but you can always use the Chaos Warrior and Beastman stats from the WFRP rulebook if they are needed.
The Heart of Chaos is a seriously challenging adventure if it is done correctly (although GMs may run it very differently from me) and you have some time to spend plotting it out further. The journey through the Valley is a tough slog for the PCs, especially if you have an imaginative GM. It is quite possible that PCs could lose Fate Points in the adventure, particularly if they refuse to deal with Ulfhednar and have to face One-Eye’s forces on their own! Like Legacy of Praag, your PCs may need some downtime to rest as a result.
Ulfhednar appears in Death on the Reik, but I’ve “reimagined” him for Heart of Chaos. He makes a fine NPC.
There’s not a huge amount of treasure in the Heart of Chaos (with the exception of the Tomb), but done correctly the players won’t mind – they’ll be happy their PCs have survived. XP-wise, I’d give:
- 100-200xp per PC for the adventure (award more if you expand the Tomb into a dungeon bash)
- 30-50XP when dealing with Ulfhednar
- 30-50XP for their planning, dealing with the challenges in Whiterock Valley, etc.
That’s a fair amount, but feel free to award more if appropriate.