Friday, 16 October 2020

Renegade Crowns

Apologies for the delay in posting. Being back at work has drained some of my painting motivation, and current events have been having a limiting effect on my gaming.

However, our locked down reality has encouraged a group of my friends to begin roleplaying online. We've been roleplaying together, on and off, for about twenty years, using a variety of systems. For this, however, we've returned to the tried, tested and trusted Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2and Edition.

I'm in the hot seat as GM, and I've wanted to run a campaign in the lawless Border Princes for a long time, and so, in the wake of the Storm of Chaos, that's where the group is heading.

The motley (and randomly generated) party consists of:
  • Garil Ragnarsson - a Dwarf Jailer
  • Heinz Castel - a Noble from Talabecland
  • Wolfgang Braun - a Camp Follower from Nordland
  • Rudiger Reich - a Zealot from Middenland
As other gaming is curtailed, I've decided to start writing up the party's adventures. It's not quite an actual play, as I'm not keeping a transcript, it's more 'based on' what happened.

And so what follows is the events of the first session, which primarily focused on the learning the combat rules and lots of exposition.

Episode 1

The rain pattered dismally through the light tree canopy that partially obscured the pitch black sky and onto the broad head and ran down the nose of Garil Ragnarsson as he sullenly tended his small fire. He looked about at the ragged collection of humans he had fallen in with since leaving Delberz.

Most of them were little more than refugees, fleeing the horrors of the war in the north, clinging to each other to survive the journey across the mountains. Some families, some loners, all aware that as a group they were less likely to fall prey to bandits, orcs or worse.

However, Garil had to admit that amongst this flotsam and jetsam of humanity, there were some stout folk that he had begun to think of as friends.

Take young Wolfgang Braun, the Nordlander, who was currently prowling the edge of the camp peering into the darkness, always alert. He'd voluntarily joined his Elector Count's army and served as an attendant and smith to the Knights Panther, who famously rode to their doom in a vain attempt to hold back the gibbering hordes of Chaos. Now the war was over, Wolfgang was seeking his brother's family who'd fled south when the war came.

Then there was Rudiger Reich. He'd survived the sacking of Untergard and had undergone some sort of religious conversion during the siege of Middenheim, where he'd also met Wolfgang when the Nordlanders retreated there.

Garil didn't pretend to understand the humans' fiery approach to faith, but the fire burned bright in Rudi, who was now driven by a zeal to follow the last journey of Sigmar and found a new, purer Empire. He was currently engaging three of the simple folk, Mattias, Klaus and Karl-Heinz, in a theological debate that Rudi was clearly winning...possibly because of the way he gestured with his fearsome looking flail so vehemently.

Finally, there was Heinz Castel, clearly of noble blood, who was fooling nobody with his tattered cloak and muddy boots. The rapier at his hip, education in his voice and the quality of the gems in his rings were all telltale signs of having come from wealth. And then there was the bloody great thoroughbred horse he rode, as if born in the saddle.

Garil wasn't sure what drove the nobleman over the mountains, and Heinz wasn't telling yet, but he knew someone on the run when he saw them.

Garil glanced about and realised that he couldn't see Heinz anywhere in the camp, but assumed the lad was probably off with that serving wench, Greta, who was too free with her favours. Mind you, they were both probably warmer than he was right now.

As for Garil, he had found himself surplus to requirements for his former employer when the jails of Delberz were emptied to fill the Emperor's armies. A chance encounter with his three new friends over a game of chance in an inn had convinced him to join them and head back towards his homeland in the World's Edge Mountains.

So here they were, on the southern slopes of the Black Mountains, having officially left the Empire two days ago. A ragged band of refugees looking for new beginnings in the Border Princes.

"And that," exclaimed Rudi, gesticulating wildly with his flail, causing the chains to clank and rattle, "is why we must not despair! We must look to the example of our Lord Sigmar, who showed us the way. We must leave behind the corrupt and divided Empire and forge a new land in Sigmar's footsteps."

"I must say, master Rudiger," responded Mattias, "your unswerving faith is a blessed reassurance in these trying times.

"And your certainty of purpose," continued Klaus, "does help calm my own doubt about the rightness of bringing my family on this dangerous journey."

Rudiger smiled, the tattoo of the twin-tailed comet on his forehead seeming to shine in the firelight, "nothing worthy is ever built without cost, brothers." He patted Karl-Heinz on the shoulder as he said this, almost sending the small man tumbling forwards.

Meanwhile, Heinz Castel was fastening his doublet as Greta adjusted her skirts and smiled at him in the darkness. Flickers of firelight lit up the bad teeth that marred an otherwise plain face.

"Any port in a storm," thought Heinz, smiling ruefully. Still, she was willing, and had proved an ample distraction whilst he was unable to get closer to Esther, the pretty daughter of the wealthy burgher with the cart, a man who looked at Heinz like a shepherd would look at a wolf. Heinz might have been offended if he himself didn't look at Esther like a wolf looks at a spring lamb.

Having made himself 'decent' Heinz made his way back to the circle of firelight, not waiting to see if Greta was with him.

Wolfgang was tense. He'd been uneasy all day, certain that he could see shapes moving in the trees alongside the road that the small caravan of refugees had been moving along. Maybe it was just his nerves, still traumatised by his experiences in the forests of the north, but a shadow under threat had been growing in his mind.

He had just about convinced himself that he was imagining things and was about to go back to the fire, when he heard the distinct, ominous crunch of something treading on the undergrowth just beyond his sight.

Wolfgang was not some burgher, easily spooked by the night noises of the forest. He'd grown up in a small hamlet outside Frote, which was now a smoking ruin, and could recognise the scamper of rabbits, the scurrying of rats or the light steps of a deer. No, this noise he heard was the deliberately placed step of something heavy.

"Garil," he whispered, hoarsely, "come here!"

The Dwarf looked up from his fire, and saw that Wolfgang was more tense than usual. Grabbing his hammer, the dwarf strode over to where the man was staring into the dark.

"There's something in there. Your eyes are better for this, what can you see?"

Garil strained to look into the dark woodland, but saw little that he could distinguish from the surrounding trees and was about to say so when the quiet night suddenly erupted in guttural shrieking and braying that chilled the souls of all who heard it and froze the hearts of those who had heard the same cries echo through the woods in the north.

A volley of crude spears came arcing from the tree line, some thudding into the earth, some embedding into the sides of the carts and some finding their mark amongst the stricken humans. A cry behind Heinz made him spin round in time to see Greta pitch forwards into the ground, impaled by a primitive spear. With a wry smile, he hefted his heavy cane and quickly drew his trust main gauche, and prepared to meet whatever emerged from the tree line.

Meanwhile, Rudiger had seen the effect that the impending assault was having on the panicked people about him. Mattias and Klaus were edging backwards and Karl-Heinz was ready to run.

"Stand with me, brothers," he urged, "if we scatter, they will hunt us down and tear us apart like prey. But if we hold together, they will meet an unbreakable line of vengeance filled with the righteous fury of Sigmar. Stand with me!"

A fire lit in the eyes of the men as they drew daggers and grabbed any potential weapon that was at hand: a burning brand, a heavy branch, an iron tent peg. They braced themselves for what was to come.

Garil and Wolfgang had also braced themselves, but didn't have long to wait as a shadow crashed through the bushes and coalesced into a shaped that towered of both Dwarf and Man, a goat-headed monstrosity that walked on cloven hooves and wielded a crude, but deadly, axe in one hand, and a shield that looked to be covered in the flayed skins of its enemies in the other. It charged towards Garil, who managed to duck under its swinging axe and sidestep to cause the beast to tumble into an exposed tree root, throwing it off balance.

Wolfgang ran into the side of the creature, swinging his smithy hammer, aiming to catch the creature across its back, but found his blow suddenly blocked by the dreadful shield. Before he could press his attack, Wolfgang found himself attacked by another assailant bursting through the trees, a smaller creature, still with cloven hooves, but with a snarling, bestial face, and clutching a vicious looking club. Wolfgang ruefully turned to face this new foe, leaving Garil to confront the larger beast alone.

More of the smaller beasts leapt from the bushes all over the camp, sending shrieks up from those who could not defend themselves. Heinz was confronted with one armed with a wickedly serrated spear, that was jabbed towards his midriff. The nobleman calmly arched his body to avoid the thrust and brought his heavy cane sweeping round to thump heavily into the creature's chest, clearly winding it.

Rudi saw the devastation and panic all around him, the foul beasts were everywhere. One had grabbed an old man and was dragging him towards the tree line, another was bearing down on a mother and child, whilst a third leapt over tents into the middle of the camp.

Uttering a ferocious war cry in praise of Sigmar, Rudi surged forwards, furiously swinging his great flail above his head and bringing the twin chains thumping down into the back of the head of the creature menacing the woman and child, caving in the beast's skull and splattering all nearby in gore and bone.

Looking up from his bloody work, Rudi saw Mattais, Kurt and Karl-Heinz had stood with him and were wrestling with a beast with their bare hands. Again, the flail chains sang their song of death and again bloody ruin rained down on the unaware beast, ending its foul existence quickly, and from Rudi's perspective, far too mercifully.

As Rudi turned to look for next abomination to purge, he was almost knocked over by a cart being driven quickly past him. A panicked burgher had managed to hitch up his horse and was trying to flee, with his wife and daughter in the back of the cart. Rudi cursed the man's cowardice and stupidity. Did he not know that separating from the herd was what the wolves wanted the sheep to do? Rudi spat in disgust and returned to his bloody work.

Heinz continued to ride his luck and calmly dance with death, as the crude spear leapt time and again towards him, and time and again he blocked, parried and jabbed back inflicting a light blow to the shoulder or a scathing hit to the legs. Finally, tiring of this charade, Heinz sidestepped quickly, lunged forwards and brought his main gauche up under the creatures chin and into the the skull, ending its miserable existence. Withdrawing his blade with a flourish, he turned on his heel to survey the camp.

Despite the ferocity of the beasts attack, they had met more resistance than they clearly expected and were beginning to waver. They looked to their leader, who was locked in combat with the Dwarf.

Garil feared he was over-matched but had used his height to manoeuver his opponent under low hanging branches, impeding the swing of its deadly axe. He kept his swing low and brought his warhammer in a wide arc that caught the beast's thigh, bringing it briefly to its knees. The creature bellowed in rage and pain.

Nearby, Wolfgang and his opponent had both continued swing wildly at each other, wary of getting in each others reach. Suddenly, the beast stepped in, and for a moment it seemed that its club would make a bloody mess of Wolfgang's face, but in an instant the smith's dagger was brought up to block the blow, and, taking his opportunity, Wolfgang smashed his hammer into the side of the creature's head, pitching it sideways to die in the dirt.

With its underlings falling around it, and a grim and implacable dwarf advancing on it, the bestial leader let out a more plaintive bleat and began to back away from its assailant. All over the camp, beastial creatures broke from combat and made for the safety of the dark forest.

Not willing to let his foe flee, Garil sprang forward to unleash one last mighty blow, but perhaps because he was more exhausted that he cared to admit, his blow fell short and he watched in fury followed by grim satisfaction as the monstrosity turned tailed to run for safety but within feet of the tree line it was caught unawares by Wolfgang barrelling into it from the side, knocking it to the floor, where, with a sickening squelch, its head met with a jagged tree stump and was impaled by the force of the impact.

With that, the few remaining beasts broke and openly fled.

The camp was in total disarray, its inhabitants in disbelief. Numbers were injured, several were dead and some were just missing. Nobody talked about those who were gone as contemplating the terrible fate that might await those poor souls seemed too much to fathom.

Garil moved among the injured, using the skills he had learned keeping prisoners alive for another round of questioning. Rudi led efforts to dig shallow graves for the fallen, and as the closest thing to a cleric that the camp had, said a few words of righteous vengeance over the dead. Wolfgang looked to the mules and horses, checking them for injuries sustained in the panic. Heinz and a few others hacked the heads off the dead beasts and impaled them on stakes.

The night passed without further alarm, in fact the rain slackened and subsided, but nobody slept well. When the grey light of morning arrived, it brought with it a seeping mist that curled its tendrils through the woods.

The sluggish camp stirred and began to pack. Even though they had travelled far from the Empire together, there was now a greater sense of community to be observed. Children and the frail were helped on to the carts which had been jealously guarded by their owners. Men folk shared each other's loads to ease the burden. Those who had lost loved ones were comforted and accompanied.

Despite this burgeoning community spirit, there was still one who stood aloof. Heinz mounted his chestnut mare and trotted out to the head of the column, ostensibly to check the road ahead, but Wolfgang chuckled at the nobleman's obvious discomfort around the common folk. He, meanwhile, stayed with the mules, leading and guiding them along the road. Rudi stayed amongst the people offering words of guidance, encouraging the unpopular view that the attack had been a test from Sigmar and that all who had survived should rejoice. Garil stumped along slowly at the rear of the column.

After only a short time walking, Heinz came trotting back warning that there was something coming along the road ahead.

"More beasts?" asked Rudi, pushing forwards, struggling to conceal his eagerness.

"No," replied Heinz, "I think it's horses."

"Bandits?" asked Wolfgang, wearily.

"Unlikely," announced Garil coming forward, "not if we've heard them before they've seen us." He then added, with a smile, "unless they're really stupid bandits, but I don't think we're that lucky."

"I suppose we'd better just wait, then," said Wolfgang, "there's no way we can hide now."

And wait they did. Huddled together in the road, pensive and tense.

Shortly a small company of about a dozen mounted men emerged from the mist. They rode with an air of casual confidence, but the keen eye could discern their caution: crossbows were in hand and loaded; swords had clearly been loosed in their sheaths; and eyes were fixed, hawklike, on the bedraggled collection of individuals in front of them.

Wolfgang knew enough about warfare to know that despite their unkempt and travel worn garb, the riders were skilled and dangerous. The only indication that they were anything other than the bandits they appeared to be was a tattered blue and red guidon held firmly by a rider just behind what appeared to be the leader.

The leader himself was an imposing figure. His helm was of imperial design and from beneath this flowered long blonde, almost white, hair. He wore a great white animal pelt as a cloak, in the style of the birther marauders or kilevites. Across his back was sheathed a bastard sword and his powerfully built frame was protected by a muscled breastplate, which looked like it might have been sculpted on him. He smiled easily as he trotted a little forward of the others, his steely gaze taking in each and every figure in front of him, as if assessing them as potential threats.

"Greetings!" he called, "I am Markus of the northern Outriders, and I bid you welcome to this land. Where are you from and where are your headed?"

As Markus spoke the Imperial refugees almost sagged in relief as they took the man's lack of hostile intent at face value.

"We're travellers from the Empire," responded Wolfgang, "looking to build new lives for ourselves."

"And rebuild our land anew," added Rudi. At this Markus seemed to momentarily twitch.

"Some of us just want to pass through on our way home," threw in Garil, to move the conversation on.

"Mainly," said Heinz, dryly, "we want to get out of these accursed woods before we get attacked again."

Markus' eyes widened, "you've had trouble with the beastkin and lived? If you can wield a blade and will bend the knee, Dieter can find plenty of work for you keeping the land clean of monsters.

"If you're looking to settle and work," continued Markus, "you'll still be welcome, but don't expect any villages to be opening their gates willingly to a large party like yours. Perhaps you could try the Sweetwater Mines in the hills to the northwest, as they're short of labour. Short of that you could make your way to Masserschloss itself.

"But be under no doubt, all the land between this forest, the marshland to the west and east, right to the Barrens in the south is the domain of Dieter von Masserschloss, so there'll be no new lands built here. If that's what you seek, you could try to the west, out towards Pendor Hill and Quaterain, but you'll be tangling with greenskins if you do.

"If you're passing through, well, so be it. You'll not meet many tolls or taxes here, Masserschloss prefers to take coin in trade for goods for your onward travels. Fair warning though, there are bandit princes to the south who'll not be so accommodating.

"Now, given what you've said, we need to press on and see if any more of the beastkin are abroad. Not all travellers are as capable as you."

Markus immediately spurred his horse forwards and his mean followed him slowly. As they passed the little caravan they scanned the ragged travellers, seeming to appraise them, or their goods.

As the riders disappeared back into the mist, the tired travellers began to move again. The mist began to clear and the early morning sun slowly lit up an unknown landscape of possibility and dangers.

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