Better Than Any Man: The Traschelman Mystery

With just two players I decided to try a bit of adlib GMing, and so with a few random tables and a bit of brain storming I had a few notes and a starting point – I didn’t really know where it would end up though. Although I had previously said that I wouldn’t come up with narrative reasons certain characters were missing on some sessions, as they were conveniently stopping in the Sword and Flagon inn on Wagner Strass it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Noticeboard

Not wanting to waste time Balock and Miklos headed off to the town square, while Hemming, Maldron and The Captain were confined to their rooms, suffering the effects of dodgy food and ale.  Scraps of paper on the notice board offered rewards for the heads of The Seven of Karlstadt, pleas for help by the despairing folk of Thungen, news of brigands on the road to the north and a rant about a giant cat made of glass(!?!), but it was Mathilda, a young girl from Werneck who grabbed their attention. She told of vampires in the village, her mother had lost her life to them and her dad was always angry. No one in the village would talk about it or ask for help, so she stowed away on a wagon bound for Wurzburg to look for assistance.

Balock and Miklos were approached by Hermann, a guard from the watch who asked if they were interested in earning some coin; 500 silvers could be theirs if they could find the killer of Emil Traschelman, a young nobleman from a wealthy family. Realising that Werneck was too far away and they couldn’t help Mathilda at this time, they took up Hermann’s offer and started by talking to members of the Traschelman household.

With the information provided by Hermann and after interviewing Girnot the butler, Emil’s mother Lucinda and his sister Berlinda they discover:

  • Emil was the last of four bodies found down at the Fisherman’s Wharf on the river Main; each was found early in the morning by the night guard
  • Little was left of the bodies, no more than their skeletons, their clothes turned to mush. Emil was identified by a dagger he carried bearing the family crest.
  • Emil was only 19 and had no known friends. He was cruel to many of the younger servants, they feared him.
  • Many nights recently Emil would leave the house late and night and not return until early the next morning. He was known to frequent the Dog’s Head tavern down by Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • A tortured soul, Emil fancied himself and artist and had an attic studio. While checking this out Berlinda showed them Emil’s hidden paintings – scenes of dismemberment and torture.

Cobbles outside the The Dog’s Head are covered in a putrid slime, but the trail is disturbed and broken by passing feet and can’t be followed. The grimy inn is closed, but never ones to let that deter them Balock picks the lock and they explore the run down and decidedly seedy inn. An empty corridor with curtained doors to either side is discovered in the basement through a trapdoor behind the bar.

srroh3xPulling back the curtains to each room reveals scenes of torture, terror and violence and it is while checking the last of these that they find a terror lurking in the basement; a huge mass of crawling slime with body parts of children visible within, still animated by some macabre energy… taking a sensible course of action they flee and decide to return with the rest of the party. Just before leaving the basement a severed head briefly breaks the surface of the slime and in a desperate voice from beyond the veil begs ‘Help us…’

Lunchtime Lairs 9a: The Death of Blegrim

Andromeda and Blegrim find themselves in the court of King Lorkay Longtoes, ruler of the Varks, a race of lesser dwarves who despite being marginally degenerate are still excellent miners with vast underground quarries. Gold seems to be a readily available commodity in the underground city of Varkon.

dwarfs

However, the Varks have a problem. Zinjo the troll has recently invaded their caverns, killing many of their kinfolk and has asked for two gold bars to be delivered each day, otherwise it will go on another rampage. Unlike regular dwarves the Varks are not a warlike people and ask Andromeda and Blegrim to kill the troll; if they succeed they will be given three gold bars and an escort to the above.

Our adventurers agree and after resting are taken to the cavern where the gold offering takes place. Hiding at the back of the cave they watch the troll and see that he appears subdued by a collar. Suspicions already raised after Andromeda recalls that trolls do not value gold, they follow Zinjo and discover that he is controlled by a group of humans; in some way iron collar allows them to overcome the Zinjo’s free will. While deciding how to handle the situation Blegrim charges in, Leroy Jenkins style (again) and soon finds himself in too deep. The leader of the group, a conjurer, casts a Web spell to stop Blegrim moving then blasts him with a series of Magic Missiles. Despite decapitating one of the other humans, he is taken out of action*.87006a4c0c953b82abadba868e5faa26

Wisely Andromeda hangs back during this encounter, but before Blegrim is dispatched permanently, approaches the group who she discovers are explorers from the Guardians of Antiquity, an organisation sworn to recover and protect ancient relics, but not averse to acquiring wealth through devious means to fund it’s expeditions. Andromeda tells their tale to the leader, Jens Abram (with small amendments to the truth). Blegrim awakes, it turns out he was only knocked out, and now the leader of the Guardians needs to decide what to do with them.

* The Black Hack rules state if a character is reduced to 0 hit points in combat they are ‘Out of Action’ and not yet dead. After the combat they roll on the Out of Action table with results ranging from ‘Just knocked out’ to ‘Not alive anymore’.

Find out how the other Lunchtime Lairs adventurers got on.

 

Better Than Any Man: She turned me into a Newt!

The usual Better Than Any Man spoilers warning goes with this.

With A Stranger Storm drawing to an end and their changeling woes behind them (for now) our 17th Century adventurers head onto the Ochsenfurt to meet their contact Nicklaus Stein. Upon arrival at The Charming Pilgrim, a rundown roadside tavern they discover that Nicklaus has moved on to Wurzburg to gather information. Portents of war can be seen with occasional refugees fleeing south, their carts loaded with all their belongings, fear and sorrow on their faces. The Swedish army is on the way. Spending the night in the Flagon and Bear inn inevitably leads to conversations with the locals and the PC’s learning that there seems to be an annoying infestation of insects that have been bothering people since the summer (it is now October).

coolclips_even0275Fully rested the group set off for Wurzburg, a journey they hope to complete in half a day. All is well until they encounter a group of itinerant armed peasants lead by a fanatical priest who has fuelled the ire of these good catholic folk against protestants, witches, foreigners and enemies of the empire. He asks if the characters if they will swear an oath of allegiance to the Emperor Ferdinand II and to Pope Urban VIII. While Miklos makes an attempt to reason with the priest it is clear his fervour is too great and rational thought is beyond him. He asks Balock to kiss his crucifix, but not being one to take this kind of manipulation readily, Balock attempts to stab the priest. Combat is about to break out with the peasants readying pitch forks for the attack when Miklos cracks the priest on the temple, knocking him out. The peasants morale breaks and they back off, ready to run. The encounter ends with the peasants fleeing, the bruised and battered priest on their tails.

Wurzburg 1642

The delights of Wurzburg await, it’s crenellated walls overshadowed by the magnificent Marienburg Fortress on the other side of the Main. Approaching the town they encounter witch trails, a common occurrence in these desperate times with women held in pens like common animals. Overseen the Prince Bishop Franz von Hatzfeld, these unjust and brutal procedures see victimised women doomed with no route out – admit your guilt or face a trial by ordeal: dunking in the nearby pond. Drowning proves your innocence, if you survive it is by witchcraft. Those determined guilty of witchcraft, either through their own admission or surviving the trial by ordeal are hanged.

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The adventurers observe these horrific trials, but are unable to intervene with a crowd desperate for entertainment and the Prince Bishop’s guard keeping an eye out for trouble. When the guard start turning their attention to these armed adventurers they move on and find their way to the Flask and Sword inn on Wagner Strauss, the new meeting place with Stein.

Making contact with Stein, he asks them to meet in his room where he tells them of The Seven, the Sorcerers of Karlstadt who are accompanied by their own creatures. It is only recently that these Sorcerers have come to power and their creatures have appeared. Stein wants the adventurers to deal with The Seven and suggests they check the noticeboard in the town square as there is a notice there from the Prince Bishop about the same matter. The party determine to rest the night before further exploring Wurzburg and checking out the noticeboard.

 

Lunchtime Lairs 8a: Dead Gretch caverns

Following last weeks session Clarky had masterfully split the party and between sessions we discussed how it would work out. After the tree came crashing to the ground, and before anyone could react the ground opened up beneath Blegrim and Andromeda who were both on the same side of the tree. Faqual and Hector continued their adventure to get the Dragon’s treasure horde.

They plummeted deep down into the ground and after an indeterminate time plunged into an underground lake in a cavern faintly lit by some kind of fungus. It didn’t take long for them to clamber to the visible shoreline and determine that they were in a vast underground cavern with two passageways heading off in the same direction. Andromeda could faintly hear a very faint repetitive tinking sound far in the distance.500px-gollum27s_cave_view

After a brief rest the adventurers picked a passage and moved on, before too long entering another cave, not as big with a fairly narrow chasm across the top end. The discovered a Cavern Crawler, an unpleasant insect like creature, which following a failed backstab attempt by Andromeda resulted in them legging it for the chasm. Andromeda deftly leapt across the gap, but Blegrim failed and was tumbling into the chasm when the thief grabbed his arm and helped him clamber to safety.  The Cavern Crawler tried to climb the walls next to the chasm, but Blegrim acted quickly and knocked it into the unknown depths.

Moving on they followed the passageway for some distance before clambering onto a ledge high above the floor of another cavern.  Both of them could see at least two dangerous looking lizard creatures with two tails each. While pondering on what to do next, two sets of eyes were spotted in a recess next to the ledge and the adventurers ended up bargaining with to two small goblin like creatures known as Gretches. The Gretches, Danzig and Potrig, offered to help them get past the lizards if they could get the ‘crawlies’ gold for them. Oh, how they love gold!

With a significant drain on their brainpower the adventurous duo realised they needed to go back to the cave of the Cavern Crawler and see if it had any gold in it’s nest. They headed back and found themselves in a desperate fight with two of the creatures, however, they were victorious and returned to the Gretches with the gold and some other nice items, giving Danzig and Potrig half the gold now and promising the other half when they were safely past the lizards.

Good to their word the Gretches showed the adventurers a route past the lizards. By now the tinking sound was much louder; Danzig said this was as far as he would take them and asked for the rest of the gold. However, Blegrim was in a nasty mood and killed the two poor creatures, taking all the gold for himself. Andromeda now started to worry a bit – honesty seems to be a trait Blegrim is lacking, and she is also starting to doubt his loyalty. Would he betray her for gold?

2d51dab73355dfcb509c74c05567e393The session ended with the PC’s entering a huge cavern, an underground quarry being mined by small, dwarven creatures. As they approach the cavern floor a squadron of poorly trained lesser dwarven soldiers comes to challenge them… surely these intruders are up to no good.

Better Than Any Man: Save the Kids!

This week we had a full contingent of players, with Graham joining us as The Captain. Once more there are spoilers if you intend to play A Stranger Storm or Better Than Any Man.

Last weeks session ended with a pile of five dead changelings stacked in the kitchen of The Incontinent Vicar and a common room full of survivors. While still preventing any of the entertainers, merchants and locals from leaving the inn, in order to determine if there were any more mimics Miklos the Cleric rested and regained his spells including Detect Evil, which the party had been lead to believe would identify the tricky creatures (as well as magic-users, who are chaotic by nature).

the2bheroes2bof2boakvale2b-2bcarriage2band2bhorsesNow late afternoon of the second day of their adventure, the PC’s marched the other guests out into yard by the stable because they also suspected that the horses may be changelings (although now there were only 8 of them left). The Detect Evil spell revealed no mimics, and so everyone was left to go on their way – the entertainers heading back the way they came, and the locals returning to their village. The two remaining merchants were continuing on to Wurzburg via Ochsenfurt in their coach and the party ‘encouraged’ the merchants to offer them a lift. Now many hours late for their meeting with Nicklaus Stein and with no sign of the storm letting up, they are at least moving in the right direction.

The muddy road makes travel slow and as light starts to fade they encounter four mounted knights heading in the opposite direction. Their leader, Sir Boris Corsica, asks the PC’s where they are headed and informs them that he is from the Order Medical and seeking shelter for the night having dropped 20 orphans of at the nearby orphanage of St Petra’s. They part ways, the knights riding off in the direction of the Incontinent Vicar and the grim scene that was left there.

Continuing on towards Ochsenfurt through the evening, a short while later they encounter another traveller, Sister Bärbel Zimmerman from the nearby orphanage of St Petra’s. Sister Zimmerman asks if the party have seen knights on the road; they only left paperwork for 20 children, yet there were 21 dropped off earlier in the day. Getting a sense of what was going on, the party left her to find the knights, but with it getting darker and no sign of the rain letting up, a decision is made to stop over at the orphanage.

The PC’s are not allowed into the orphanage as understandably the nuns are nervous about a group of armed travellers, but they offered sleeping space in the stables, where they are able to dry off at least and eat some of the food the nicked acquired from the inn. Watches are set and as the rain starts to ease off the German countryside grows quiet…. until shouting is heard from the front of the orphanage.

This is where it gets chaotic:

  • Sir Boris is incensed that two of his men have been killed by mimics. Believing the +1 child to be a mimic, in his mind an unholy demon (to be fair, he’s not wrong) – he forces his way through into the orphanage, intent on some kind of revenge. Clearly he has lost his mind because it looks like he is going to kill all of the children!
  • The Captain stealthily moves around to the front of the orphanage and follows Sir Boris inside – he finds the nuns trying to stop him killing the children.Sir Boris Corsica
  • The nuns unable to restrain him, Sir Boris breaks free and is about to murder a child when BalockMaldron and Miklos join The Captain to try and grapple the deranged knight – however he is too strong and ends two tiny lives before they drag him to the floor.
  • Hemming takes a more cautions approach and speaks to the remaining knight who is guarding the horses outside. He is on his way to help his companions when the Mother Superior, Sister Magda, grabs the paperwork for the children and throws it into the fire.
  • Suspecting Sister Magda of being a changeling (what other reason could she have for destroying the papers?), Hemming knocks her to the floor, just as the remaining Knight comes in. The knight moves to strike, but before any damage can be done, Hemming fries him with a Magic Missile.
  • Finally Hemming joins the others and knocks Sir Boris unconscious. When asked Sister Magda reveals that she has holy water from the holy land, and the party use it to identify the baby changeling. Clearly a creature of evil, Maldron runs it through.
  • There is a degree of calm, but the nuns are distraught at the deaths of the children. The Captain, sensing there is a need for justice sentences Sir Boris to death by hanging for the murder of two innocent children. The group drag him outside, make an impromptu gallows and hang him. Sir Boris meets an unpleasant, although undoubtedly deserved end.

The session ended in the orphanage – will the group now move on to Ochsenfurt, or is there still more evil to be uncovered here?

Better Than Any Man: Balocks!

The usual Spoiler Alert applies here, don’t read this if you expect to be a player in A Stranger Storm or Better Than Any Man.

Quick recap: PC’s at an inn, storm raging outside, entertainers, merchants, innkeeper, kitchen staff and horses. Plus dopplegangers and murder.

Unsure how to proceed (technically dithering), our adventurers couldn’t settle on an approach. Options discussed range from sending one of the entertainers to Simmershofen alone to the party forcefully dragging everyone with them, and burning the place to the ground with everyone in it was still on the table. What to do, what to do….

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At the height of their indecision and just to reinforce what a dire situation they were in Maldron and Miklos returned to the stables to check there were still twice as many horses as there should be. A closer (but not too close) inspection reveals that one set of horses are exact duplicates of the others including brands – with no obvious way to tell which is which.

Meanwhile back at the inn the remaining Dieter and the entertainers encourage the party to fetch Father Drucker from Simmershofen. Dieter won’t leave his inn, the entertainers want their horses checked by the priest before moving on, and the two Ursula Gottlieb‘s want to return to Simmershofen because they want their family. The merchants, lead by Guntram Schneller are being stubborn and are insisting they are allowed to get on their way as they have business to attend to.

In the end Hemming Kristofferson offers to fetch the priest accompanied by Adelgis Schottel, one of the entertainers, and the pair of them are tied with rope at the waist. Before they leave the Ursula Gottlieb’s start screaming and have to be restrained by Maldron.

8c7802f9abbfcc08ee7613f191c1d3d4Hemming travels to the village and is met by relatively unfriendly locals who direct him to the church and it isn’t too long before he returns from the village with Adelgis, Father Drucker and some handy information about the creatures that the priest refers to as Mimics – things like Detect Evil will detect a mimic and that they will avoid copying magic users or characters with magic items as they cannot mimic anything magical. On the way back to the Incontinent Vicar they were passed by Guntram and another of the merchants on horses.

Of course everything was quiet and nothing happened until Hemming, Adelgis and Father Drucker returned. Apart from absolute chaos!

In convenient easily digestible bullet point format, things that happened were:

  • The merchants decided they had had enough and ran for the door. Miklos tried to dissuade them by throwing his spear but they escaped. Unbeknownst to the party at that time, the four merchants ran around the back of the inn to get their horses and flee. Only two of them made it out…
  • Balock tried to attack Balock with moderate success.
  • One of the Ursula’s ran over to Dieter for comfort, then changed shape into… Dieter.
  • The Dieter’s started whacking each other with whatever came to hand; a wooden pale, a metal tray. Despite Maldron and Miklos trying to separate them one of the Dieters had his brains bashed out (turns out it was the real Dieter, poor fellow). Ursula, who we can assume is now genuinely Ursula screamed…
  • Maldron and Miklos managed to grabbed both Balock’s (we had lots of childish wordplay with that name) and pulled them through to the kitchen.
  • In the meantime the entertainers, not knowing what to do ran to their room and grabbed their swords and rapiers.
  • Hemming and company ran around the back of the inn to see two pairs of identical merchants fighting each other. Before Hemming could intervene one had just finished strangling the other, and of the other pair, one had grabbed a horseshoe and smashed his counterparts’ face in with it.
  • Things briefly settled down as everyone was corralled into the common room. We now had the party (including a pair of Balock’s, guffaw), Dieter, Ursula, the entertainers and Father Drucker (who had left his back of tricks on the counter), with a dead Dieter on the floor. A decision was made to cut open the dead Dieter to find out if he was a doppleganger.
  • Hemming ordered Dieter to help Father Drucker lift the dead Dieter into the kitchen, and before you could say ‘sneaky doppleganger bastards’, Dieter had transformed into another Father Drucker.
  • Father Drucker had previously left a glass vial on the counter and now one of the Father Druckers made a grab for it and smashed it on the floor. The adventurers had a fraction of a second to act while it was still clear in their mind who the changeling was and killed the doppleganger Drucker.

Following all this the party learned that the holy water Father Drucker was carrying burned the skin of dopplegangers and they just scraped enough off the floor to use against the Balocks and determine which one was the mimic.  The mimic was quickly dispatched and so they worked out that the two dead merchants were mimics also.

The session ended with a sigh of relief from Balock as his doppleganger was dead. In fact it seems all of the changelings have been killed – apart from the horses in the stables. Assuming they’re still there…

This session was amazing fun, but with lots of moving parts was tricky to keep track of. Lets hope next week we have some simple stuff to kill!

 

Expo 2018

It’s would be difficult to understate how stupidly excited I was in the last few days leading up to UK Games Expo. Hotels and games were booked well in advance, plans had been made and yet I had that small twinge of anxiety that something may go wrong. No worries though, it was fantastic.

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DCC GM Brendan LeSalle properly dealing excitement and death in equal measure

My first point of call was Loughborough, having been invited by Dungeon Crawl Classics afficionado Bruce Cunnington to join in a DCC session with DCC extraordinaire Brendan LeSalle. Had a great evening with the DCC regulars at Weekend Warlords, thanks to all for making me feel so welcome and of course to Bruce for the invitation and Brendan for running a top game.

001After parking and queuing at a rather busy Expo on the Friday morning I hit the trade hall with Rick Knott and Steve Ray, top blokes who I regularly game with on Roll20. I was blown away by the scale and variety on offer in the trade halls, and so tried to stay focused on games I had planned to buy.  I grabbed some DCC stuff from FSide Games and a couple of Lamentations of the Flame Princess books to fill out my collection and was chuffed to get the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls hardback [this is a closing the circle thing for me as T&T was the first ever RPG I bought back in ’83, quickly traded in for Basic D&D because I couldn’t figure out how to play it. I know I’ll have better luck this time around].

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My UKGE haul

Most of my Expo was spent in the Hilton where RPG’s were played – it’s one of the few posh places I’ve been to with appropriately extortionate prices for the essentials, £3 for a small bottle of water anyone? Still, it is a good setup with room for lots of games and this year was well organised. The games I played were:

Friday 3-7, Symbaroum with Matt Broome

I picked this session because I know Matt is a great GM and I’ve read good things about Symbaroum and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Matt did a great job of quickly explaining the rules and key aspects of the setting and we were soon off adventuring. The system was very impressive, simple and evocative, a huge contrast to the other big Scandinavian game Trudvang Chronicles which has (IMHO) overly crunchy rules. I was so impressed that I nearly bought the game the next day (and may still do).

Friday 8-midnight, Feng Shui 2 with CJ Romer

This was a wildcard for me – at the time there was nothing else that appealed on the UKGE schedule for this slot, and FS2 sounds like an interesting game although not usually what I would go for. The session had lots of laughs, was chaotic (in a good way) with an interesting story, but if I’m honest I didn’t like the rules. While they are simple (which appeals to me) my character felt fairly ineffective, bumbling and fumbling along. Glad to have tried it (as someone wiser than me recently said, Cons are a great place to try something different), but I don’t think I’d rush to play it again.

Saturday 9-1, HeroQuest Glorantha with Ian Cooper

IMG_20180602_100249I was lucky to grab a place in this session after I was unable to get onto my first choice of DCC with Bruce Cunnington. I’ve struggled with story/narrative games in the past: Dungeon World is beyond my comprehension and despite really wanting to I just couldn’t understand Monsters & Magic. This was an opportunity to try one out and the Glorantha element chimed with my slowly coming to terms with RuneQuest. This was a great session with lots of colour and detail set in the richly realised southern continent Fonrit, an intriguing murder mystery scenario and a great set of characters.

Saturday 3-7, Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I’ve run The Greater Share of Honour, my homebrew LotFP adventure a few times now so felt relaxed about running it. Hoping to get a great group of players I was not disappointed and was joined by Steven, Odyssey, Ewan (beer spiller!), Mark, Thelma and Eugene. It’s great to see players really engaging with the adventure and giving it their full attention – I really enjoyed running it.

Another enjoyable element of Expo is catching up with quite a few of the gamers (mostly old Grognards) I have got to know through Twitter and from other cons over the last year or so, as well as be introduced to a few new faces – fantastic stuff.  Looking forward to the next one already!