Better Than Any Man: Karlstadt

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

Having gained favour with the smuggler Gabi Tabbecker the Black Dogs find themselves sleeping in a farmhouse not far from Karlstadt with access to a tunnel they can follow into the town itself. They are rudely awoken by Gabi who gives them advice; avoid The Seven and their creatures and remember weapons of any kind are outlawed. Walking around looking like adventurers will get you in trouble.

The tunnel leads to the basement of a house at the northern edge of the town; last time it was used the building was empty but now it seems a family have moved in. Deciding they don’t want to be discovered the Black Dogs narrowly escape detection when Magdalyn, the wife of Gawinus and mother of Ruben (or so they believe having listened in on their conversations) comes into the basement for food supplies. A while later with various chores pressing the family leave the house, securing it on their way out.

Tough decisions are made about what gear to take onto the streets of Karlstadt and those with chainmail armour leave it behind along with all of their weapons. Even Maldron reluctantly leaves his two handed sword behind. Hemming takes his quarterstaff believing he can convince any who question him that it he needs it to walk. Because that would be rational, and there is an abundance of rationality in Karlstadt right now.

1407152925_peste-di-londraHemming unlocks a padlock on the back door of the house and Balock unlocks the door itself and within no time the party are out on the streets of Karlstadt.  The many buildings of the town are overflowing with refugees, and many are living on the overcrowded streets; all seeking safety from the Swedish army.

The air still thick with insects, the stench of effluent and human misery, our adventurers spend some time exploring the burgeoning town and as part of their investigations learn:

  • The locations of the homes of The Seven
  • To avoid Plague Alley
  • The Bauer House (cue sad attempts at singing “She’s in parties”), home of the 8th Sorcerer is in ruins
  • People like to make music and dance when the world is going to shit
  • The Catholic Church has been sequestered by the Burgerfriedensmiliz
  • The Joy spends her time in Zum Erleuchteten Hurenbrock and is a mine of information
  • The Provider feeds the populace of the town every day at 3
  • The Watcher can be found at the church or her home and just before midday every day heads from her home to the town gates to determine who may enter
  • The Reminder is handing out books; Hemming grabs a sample which contains a Read Magic spell
  • The Defiler visits the cemetery every night where she can be seen ranting
  • The Defender has a nice house to herself
  • The Mother hasn’t been seen in town for a while. This reminds Miklos of the mad woman he talked to last week who had a dim view of the Mother and ranted about the Insect God
  • 5_cyptids-320x320The creatures of The Seven are hideous things (at least those that have been seen so far)

With tentative plans for next session of a visit to The Joy (that is going to be fun!) and checking out the Bauer House plus with Gustavus Adolphus and his boys likely not too far away now, getting the heads of The Seven is looking like a tall order.

Advanced Fighting Fantasy: Hellwinter Keep

The howling wind whipped the snow into flurries but did little to mask the roars of bears beyond the camp, one of a fully grown specimen, the other on the far side a cub. Aethed Elindan and Mithrielye watched and waited as bear paws thumped on the ground, big bear paws… Aethed stacked the fire high hoping to scare the creature away; a plan which may have worked had the party not started arguing about the nature of bears. Mithrielye believed it to be a noble guardian of the forest that would cause them no harm, while Aethed strongly argued a hungry bear was likely to try and eat them. Their conviction clear in their beliefs was inspirational, but the bear just heard noise, the kind of noise food makes.

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Aethed was proven right as the full grown bear came charging into camp. The warrior and Pyram the Priest closed in on the beast while Mithrielye singed it with a fire bolt. Who’d have thought moving to close combat with an 8″ tall bear could be so bad for your health? It took a couple of swipes at Pyram, tearing into his flesh while Aethed tried to lure the creature nearer the fire, hoping it would fall in. Although this tactic failed a combination of force bolts and a coating of lamp oil saw the poor animal enveloped in flames, running a short distance from the camp before collapsing – dead.

A+ for a proper old school ingenuity and bear stakes for breakfast saw their spirits lifted, and after a decent rest and a smattering of healing for Pyram, they set off on the final leg of their journey to Hellwinter Keep.

Hellwinter TowerThe rain now turned to snow, the heroes struggled on towards Hellwinter, climbing ever higher along treacherously steep and narrow mountain paths. Despite taking great care Mithrielye lost her footing and tumbled from the path dropping 20 feet to a ledge below; her luck held as she landed on tough mountain grass, softening the fall. Many hours later the tower of Hellwinter Keep came into view, their journey close to an end.

Aethed nimbly scaled the courtyard wall and opened the gates. Within the desolate area with it’s drifts of snow and unswept paving stones are hints of neglect, not the warm welcome from Sir Gallaharn Kairn they were expecting. A graveyard to one side has many worn gravestones, and of those one with readable engravings stands out – Sir Deckar Kairn, an ancestor of Sir Gallaharn. No attention had been paid to this grave for some time; why has Sir Gallaharn completely neglected his ancestors resting place?

There is little else to explore in the courtyard, a well of no obvious consequence which our heroes chose to ignore and a stable door. Mithrielye ventured into the stable out of the snow, trying to pierce the depth of the shadows when the torn and bloody remains of a warhorse comes charging out. Shreds of flesh cling to bone and part of the poor creatures jaw is missing; there is no life in it’s eyes yet it charges at the adventurers. Blocking the door into the courtyard Aethed and Pyram take mighty swings at the undead nightmare, bringing it to halt in short order. The mystery of this place grows. Where is Sir Gallaharn and why the hell is there an undead horse?

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A broken door leads from the courtyard into the tower itself and the heroes proceed onwards through it with due caution. Beyond is a common room, cold and damp with a large fireplace, engraved with a heraldic device of a Black Dragon belonging to a long forgotten order of knights. A ruined oak table fills the room while cutlery and dishes are scattered about. Two doors lead from this room while a staircase leads up to the next level.

Before the party can decide on their next step we have to call it a night. I wasn’t expecting to run a second session of this adventure just yet, but was pleased to give Advanced Fighting Fantasy an extended trial run. I’m really warming to the system, it’s very simple and does everything you’d need, plus the magic system is interesting – wizards and sorcerers are powerful even as beginning characters.

 

Better Than Any Man: Adred’s head

As we’re getting into the thick of BTAM, here’s the standard spoiler alert; this post has spoilers, if you think you might play BTAM at some point go and read something else (like my Advanced Fighting Fantasy: Gallows End to Hellwinter session report).

Surrounded by the misery and suffering of the refugee camp outside Karlstadt the adventurers consider how they might gain access to the town (their mission being to kill The Seven and take their heads to Wurzburg). Like the thousands of people in the camp who are fleeing the advancing Swedish Army and desperately seeking shelter in Karlstadt and protection from The Seven, there only seems to be one way in. Present yourself before the gates before the one known as The Watcher.

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The party spilts to enquire around the camp and pick up some further rumours while avoiding the Burgerfriendensmiliz, the town militia who take a dim view of armed travellers. Miklos’ attention is drawn to a woman who is preaching portents of doom (like anyone around here needs reminding), who with her eyes rolling in her head shouts “the Insect God will devour humanity!” Miklos approaches and learns the woman, Solla Zurzen, once resided in Karlstadt and curses the one known as The Mother. “She killed my cat and has taken children, Ulrike Lamprecht is evil!” Unfortunately Solla is able to recall little about her Insect God prophecies as she made them in a trance like state. She does point out the swarms of insects that seem to be everywhere…

Meanwhile Maldron is approached by a worn and world weary thug who asks if he and his friends are looking for work. He tells the fighter that his boss has observed the group and believes they could help each other out. If so, Maldron should find his companions and meet him under a nearby tree in one hour.

Desperate MotherNot far away a despairing woman asks Hemming for help. Through her tears she introduces herself as Clora Machholter and asks will Hemming and his accomplices to save her daughter Lena who has been kidnapped. She found a note at the place she had left Lena for a short and shows the parchment with the demand for 1000 pieces of silver to be dropped at the Braasch farm a few miles away. The money was to be in bags on a mule, the deliverer then leave the farm and a couple of hours later the child would be on the mule. Despite pleading and making offers that showed the extent of her misery and desperation Hemming and the Black Dogs remained focused on their task – finding a way into Karlstadt.

After meeting the thug under the tree the Black Dogs are taken to meet Adred Jaeger, the leader of the self-styled Jaegerstruppe. Jaeger’s criminal business is prostitution, taking advantage of desperate women in the camp and the adventurers take an immediate dislike to him. However, an interesting offer is put on the table; if the party can kill Gabi Tabbecker, the leader of another gang in the camp that deals in smuggling and protection, he will show them a way into Karlstadt. With little to lose at this time the party approach the Tabbecker tent accompanied by one of Jaeger’s thugs Paolo.

It becomes apparent that Tabbecker is just as unpleasant as Jaeger, taking advantage of the refugees, however she is the lesser evil and because they talk to her first she makes a counter offer. Bring her the head of Jaeger and she will give them a safe route into Karlstadt. With the adventurers having taken such a dislike to Jaeger they take this offer and stealthily return to the Jaegerstruppe camp.

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Sniping from the outskirts of the camp Miklos and Balock kill Adred Jaeger with their crossbows and it doesn’t take much for Hemming with his magic missiles to take down and scare away the remaining Jaegerstruppe. They plunder the camp and take Jaeger’s head back to Tabbecker.

True to her word she rewards the PC’s by taking them to a farmstead half a mile north of Karlstadt which gives entrance to one of the old smuggling tunnels into the town…

 

Advanced Fighting Fantasy: Gallows End to Hellwinter

For the past 12 months or so Monday evenings have been split between Flashing Blades and more recently a monthly session of Pulp Cthulhu. This week the regular Monday group was scheduled to start a modern day Call of Cthulhu adventure, however with one of our players out of action that was postponed. We were looking for something else to play and I had been looking for an opportunity to try out Arion Games’ Advanced Fighting Fantasy (AFF) – a game under consideration for Grogfight!

wpbb2109b7_06AFF is the most recent incarnation of the RPG based on the Fighting Fantasy series of game books; I’d eat my hat if you haven’t at least heard of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain; most likely you played it in your youth. The system has no classes or levels and is very simple with three core stats – Skill, Stamina and Luck, and the additional Magic and Magic Points for wizardly types, then special skills which allow characters to do cool stuff, and a few different types of magic. The system uses 2d6 for all actions; roll under stat+skill for unopposed skill tests and add 2d6+stat+skill for combat and opposed skill tests. These two different skill tests caused some confusion and in future I’ll use the optional rule of 2d6+stat+skill vs target number for unopposed skills – then all rolls will use the same mechanism.

The adventure started in Gallows End, a small frontier village on the edge of the Bron forest. Our heroes are tasked by the Baron of Tytern with discovering the fate of Sir Gallaharn Kairn, a knight sent to the frontier fortress of Hellwinter. After a few questions to the local peasants they pick up a couple of rumours: undead are gathering to the north and there are druids in the forest. Winter furs are purchased for the journey ahead the group set off through the forest.

The Gates of Hellwinter Cover

Torrential rain, grey skies and a biting wind make their journey through the forest a thoroughly unpleasant one, made all the worse by a goblin ambush (is there a starter adventure for any fantasy game that doesn’t feature goblins or kobolds?) Daggers flying out from the shadows of the trees injure the wizard and priest and before too long the party are toe to toe scrapping with their scrawny assailants.

This gave me a great opportunity to get a feel for combat, and I liked how it played. Each combatant rolls 2d6+stat+weapon skill and whoever gets the highest damages their opponent – armour can further reduce the damage. We had some spells firing off as well; a starting wizard feels much more powerful than a level 1 D&D/OSR Magic-User and the spells were used to fry some of the goblins.

The fight over and wounds healed the party continued to the foothills of the mountains on which the Tower of Hellwinter was perched, cold, wet and miserable. It seems it’s not going to be a peaceful night as roars from two directions bring them to attention…

The session was fairly short – no more than an hour and half, but the PC’s made decent progress. We may get to complete the adventure at some point, but I’m looking forward to starting Call of Cthulhu and the sessions served it’s purpose of giving me some insights into how the system plays at the table. While I’m still undecided on which system to use for Grogfight, AFF is starting to edge ahead of DCC…

 

Better Than Any Man: Karlstadt… finally!

Tech problems seem to be quite prevalent right now and our new player @doc_griffiths  was only able to join us briefly before broadband issues kept him away for the evening. Still, Karlstadt won’t save itself, and so our four stalwart adventurers continued bravely on (beware BTAM spoilers from here on in)

BTAM Insect BiteBeaten and bruised from their fight with the bandits they decided to rest for a couple of days in Thungen, and were most put out to learn that the locals were not as appreciative of them getting rid of the bandits as they’d hoped. Perhaps it was the avoidable murder by the bandits of one of the children that left them a bit cold… The lack of a heroes welcome was made all the worse when Balock was bitten by a rather unpleasant insect which had quickly injected something into his knee – something was moving around in there. It was only through some careful and well timed application of healing magic by Miklos that his knee was saved… it could have been very nasty!

Wilricus Elbinger, a transient Alchemist and his family fleeing from Gemunden (a village in the path of the Swedish Army) stopped at Thungen and after some haggling with the Black Dogs offers to sell them a batch of healing unguents. A fairly chipper fellow, he didn’t budge too much on the original cost of his wares and was somewhat put out by the direct and unsubtle threats levelled at him by Hemming: “There are bandits in the forest and you want your family to be safe…”. The tight-fisted group let some essential healing ointments slip through their fingers as Wilricus quickly fled Thungen.

wagon_backFeeling their time could perhaps have been better spent but somewhat rested the adventurers decide to get back to their main mission. Rumours that The Seven do not allow any implements of violence into the town of Karlstadt lead to the group spending some of their cash having a false bottom installed in their wagon. They hide their main weapons and proceed on an uneventful journey to the town armed only with side weapons.

Approaching from the east they see the thousands of refugees desperate to find a way into Karlstadt crowded on the bank across the River Main. A sorry sight indeed, the camp consists of makeshift tents and hovels, a large part of the population crowded into this small area with no sanitation, little food and even less hope. Maldron barters with the ferry man and gets some information about Karlstadt… the laws of The Seven, their mysterious creatures and the control they place on entry into the town itself.

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Unsure how they may find their way into Karlstadt they PC’s form a plan – to speak to those who may have left the town and discover what they can.  Taking the ferry across the river, the adventurers are surrounded by desperate souls as soon as they touch land and have to force their way through the crowd. They have been warned to avoid the Burgerfriedensmiliz, the local militia under the control of The Seven, and so keeping their heads down gather some rumours about Karlstadt and the surrounding area.

  • The Seven have headquarters in Goblin Hill, southeast of Hammelburg…
  • There’s a giant cat seen near the swamp…
  • The Seven were once eight…

With the Swedish Army bearing down, how are the party ever going to be able to complete their mission?

Better Than Any Man: An abject lesson in OSR reality or how to nearly get your asses handed to you on a plate

We were so close to a full house of players this week, unfortunately The Captain was unable to join us. Still, the four PC’s should be able to handle the handful of remaining bandits after their encounter last session, right? Right?

The situation they are in is this: having been hired by Adelbert Klepzig, a villager from Thungen to hurry to said village and dispose of the bandits that were keeping the town hostage (by keeping their children incarcerated in a nearby barn and threatening murder on them), Balock (), Hemming () and Maldron () had headed to Thungen. They hired a wagon ride from the reticent local hunter Fridericus, having traded their horses for his wagon. A plan was formulated to take the wagon into Thungen posing as merchants to draw the bandits out (rather than, say, liberate the children first); of course this plan, like many PC conceived plans (including many of my own) went to crap, with combat breaking out and a number of bandits finding themselves taking an express coach to meet their maker.

Seeing his compadres being hacked down this way one of the bandits (we’ll call him Krugar), maybe following orders, stops half way between the inn and the barn holding a small head, clearly that of a child. The threat is clear – stop what you’re doing or more kids will end up like this.

Fucked up for sure. So what to do? This is how it went down.

5092bc62d6b359ca1194c8e34d6934abBalock cut one of the horses free and began chasing down Krugar, hoping to beat him to the barn. I had everything worked out beforehand… it was 600 yards to the barn, the bandit was half way at 300 yards. Krugar could cover 40 yards per round and Balock on horse could cover 80. If he had just ridden like that he would have just arrived at the barn before the bandit. However, I didn’t tell him that and offered the option to push his horse… with some justification from @Benelio Balock had some riding skill so pushing his horse worked like this:

  • Success of 1-3 on 1d6 means the horse covers 120 yards instead of 80
  • Failure of 4-5 on 1d6 means the horse pushes back, is pissed off and only covers 40 yards
  • Failure of 6 on 1d6 means the rider falls of the horse taking 1d4 damage

Balock had some luck catching up with the bandit, but unfortunately fell off a couple of times meaning the bandit reached the barn before him.  Battered and bruised Balock reaches the barn after the bandit has joined his friend inside (along with all the children!)

kick-in-doorAs Balock sets off after the bandit Hemming and Maldron, along with Captain Hermann, decide to tackle Dittmar and his remaining thugs who are hiding in the inn, while Fridericus starts reloading his musket to take another shot at the bandit. The Fighter and Magic-User storm inside the inn to find the common room deserted excepting the barman who pops his head over the counter and tells them that Dittmar is upstairs. Hemming screams threats into the inn in an attempt to weaken the resolve of any bandits laying in wait. They kick open another door…

Meanwhile Miklos (), who has been absent while trying to help the distraught Mathilda, arrives at the edge of the village on horseback. He sees Balock speeding off after the bandit and Maldron and Hemming entering the inn. Clearly something is going on… making a snap decision Miklos heads off after Balock, but after taking a tumble from his horse decides to head for the inn where he can see a man loading a musket looking in Balock’s direction. He regains his horse and charges at the man, not realising it is their ally Fridericus and with a strong blow smashes his skull with his sabre. He is about to head off after Balock when he notices Dittmar on the balcony of the inn.

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Back inside the inn Maldron, Hemming and Captain Hermann explore the rest of the ground floor rooms with Hemming entering into a desperate melee with one of the bandits. Unable to help Maldron runs up the stairs and finds the room Dittmar occupies. Dittmar shouts a challenge – the first person through the door will get their head blown off!

0c9d44b244436193a29c278202a85364Hemming finishes off his opponent, running his rapier through the bandits throat… blood spurts from the wound for a few seconds as the man’s eyes lose focus and are still. Hemming then joins Maldron and Captain Hermann.

Then a load of crazy things happen at the same time. Maldron grabs the body of the dead bandit from the ground floor, intending to use it as a meatshield, while outside Miklos, having spotted Dittmar on the balcony with a pistol pointed into the room, rides carefully underneath the balcony. However Dittmar hears him and takes a shot – but misses! On cue Maldron and Hemming barrel into the room and Maldron throws the body at Dittmar. This is enough to put him off balance as he pulls out his second pistol.

The body crashes to the floor, just missing Miklos who is getting ready to prepare a spell. Charging at Dittmar, Maldron tries to wrestle him to the ground but loses his balance and Dittmar defly sidesteps causing Maldron to tumble over the balcony, the sound of a crunching bone coinciding with him hitting the packed earth below. Dittmar turns on Hemming, points his pistol at his chest and pulls the trigger. However the shot only lightly wounds Hemming who strikes back at Dittmar with his rapier, missing the cunning rogue.

Miklos then puts his plan into action and casts the Command spell, telling Dittmar to sleep. A powerful adversary, nevertheless Dittmar is unable to resist Miklos’s righteous, god given power and collapses to the floor, momentarily asleep. Hemming takes the opportunity to plunge his rapier into Dittmar’s eye, bringing his reign of terror to a satisfactory end.

At the other end of the village Balock’s horse comes to a halt outside the barn and Krugar orders him to throw down his weapons and dismount the horse otherwise another child will be killed. Balock’s brain goes into overdrive as he tries to incite the distant villagers to rise up and save their children, all the while stalling for time as he can now see the others riding towards him, but still some distance away. Eventually he concedes to the bandits and drops his sword, kneeling on the ground. Feeling the cold hand of death touching his shoulder as Krugar steps up behind him, no doubt planning on slashing his throat he tries to trick the bandit by looking to one side and shouting “the villagers!” (or something like that). Krugar, caught of guard falls for it and quickly turns to look while Balock pulls out his dagger, intent on backstabbing the scoundrel. Unfortunately he is too exhausted to use stealth and enters a grim combat with Krugar. As the second bandit approaches to help kill Balock, the cunning thief takes the opportunity to run into the barn and bars the doors shut.

Seeing the rest of the party bearing down on them the two remaining bandits flee for the nearby woods, reaching them before Miklos can strike them down cavalry style.

And so the session draws to a close. The children are saved, the bandits dead or fleeing and Thungen is once more free (until the Swedish army arrive of course…) The Black Dogs are able to heal a little and decide to wait a day or two before carrying on. They talk now to the locals and find a little more of the events in Karlstadt and the names of the Seven.

This was another session taken up entirely with a big combat encounter – I hadn’t really expected that to happen, but even with things moving on at a fast past it took some time to resolve. It also showed quite clearly how deadly combat in this game can be, just a few bad dice rolls can bring a PC to only a handful of hit points and close to death.

Better Than Any Man: Save the Children!

Disclaimer: may contain BTAM spoilers

After a couple of sessions struggling on as a desperate duo, Maldron and Balock are joined by a recovered Hemming, his magical aura intact after a disturbance in the ether. Resting overnight in the village of Zellingen, Maldron and Balock are pleased to see Hemming catch up with them, sure they will need some extra muscle with a side helping of sorcerous power (people loved sorcerous power in 1630’s Europe).

feasting-peasants-in-a-tavernThe next morning was spent debating their strategy and questioning the hapless barman about Thungen and Karlstadt.  They consider the Thungen situation – a small village taken over by a band of ruthless bandits who are able to force the locals to assist them in waylaying travellers because they have taken all of the village children hostage and are holding them in a barn. Or take on The Seven, the Sorcerers in control of Karlstadt and the cause of much concern in the area.

The Black Dogs decide to head onto Thungen. An observer might be tempted to think they are putting off the Karlstadt situation despite being instructed to deal with The Seven by Nicklaus Stein, their Black Dogs contact, and a potential reward of 10000 silvers from the Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg for the heads of The Seven.

A plan is formed; hire a wagon and head into Thungen with Balock and their NPC assistant Captain Hermann of the Wurzburg watch hidden by straw, and Maldron and Hemming acting as vulnerable merchants. Draw out the bandits, kill them all and save the children. What could go wrong?

After trading a wagon for two horses with the local hunter Fridericus, they persuade him to drive the wagon to Thungen as part of their ruse. With some other small preparation they head out to the small village, and within a few hours are approaching the place. Bird noises are heard and scouts spotted, so the Black Dogs know they have been seen and the bandits will be preparing a warm reception for them.  Shortly they see the village ahead; a tavern, the blacksmith and a few houses with the barn a couple of hundred yards beyond. Two men can be seen standing outside the barn.

mr-n-t-hicks-as-claude-duval-1850-lithographBelieving the Blacksmith Trubald to be a potential ally they approach his workshop, but two brigands come out of the tavern and walk alongside the wagon. Sensing imminent hostilities Hemming takes the initiative and fries the pair with screaming skull death magic attacks. All hell breaks lose, other brigands run out of the building and engage in combat and their leader Dittmar leans of the tavern door and takes a shot at Hemming.  The Swedish Sorcerer responds by hitting Dittmar with more screaming death skulls – for the minimum amount of damage, lousy dice! Maldron, Balock and Captain Hermann all join the fray with heads rolling and brigands dying.

A voice halts their action and they look up to see Dittmar on a small balcony at the front of the tavern. He draws their attention to one of his men who stands half way between the village and the barn, holding up what looks to be a small severed head… Dittmar’s vicious reputation is well deserved it seems.

Is it possible for The Black Dogs to stop Dittmar’s henchmen from killing more of the children in the barn? We’ll find out next time…