Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf by Night10194
The Heroes(?)Original SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
Name: Liniel of Caledor
Class: Ex-Noble, Pistolier
++WS 44, +BS 53, S 31 (Shallyaed from 27), T 33, +Agi 49, +Int 40, +WP 38, ++Fel 50
Money: 138 GC, 2 S, 11 P
Elf Picks: Coolheaded, Longbow
Common Knowledge (Elves)
Speak Language (Eltharin+10, Reikspiel)
Common Knowledge (The Empire)
Special Weapons (Longbow)
Hand Weapon (Elven Sword)
Noble’s Garb (Repurposed into fancy mercenary uniform)
Full set of Studded Armor (Incorporated into fancy mercenary uniform)
Extremely large plumed hat (Very Important, ear holes included)
Twin Pistols and 20 shots
Elfbow and 10 Arrows
Captain Liniel, brave warrior-princess of Caledor, has come a long way since she arrived in these dreary human lands only a year ago. For one, she calls herself a captain now, and for two, look at her sweet new hat! During some of the team's side adventures, they ended up aiding a Captain Lydia of the Imperial Pistolkorps, and Liniel found herself deeply impressed with the dashing ex-Highwaywoman and her stylish, engraved pistols. Seeing what a handgun can do to a Gor or Minotaur sealed the deal, and Liniel the elf has decided to supplement her bow with a pair of handguns just as soon as she learns to use them. The hat is another affectation taken from studying humans; they seem to respect hat size and plumage, and as she's still a shrewd businesswoman she knows she needs to impress employers and dress the part of the dashing mercenary princess. She also just like the peacock feather and the way the hat shows off her ears.
Liniel has gone into Pistolier rather than Courtier for three reasons. One, the idea of an elf princess in a jaunty Imperial hat with a pair of wheellock pistols and fancy 17th century german uniform clothing amuses me. Two, there's some specific brain-worms in this upcoming adventure where it's intensely socially based but social skills are almost never actually used (we'll fucking get to that). Three, she can do Courtier out of Pistolier. Pistolier will give her all her Ranged talents, which also has the side effect of making her bow fucking lethal. It's a good career in general.
Name: Pierre Rhone
Ex-Tomb Robber, Dilletante
++WS 41 (Shallyaed from 26), BS 35, S 32, T 30, ++Agi 50, ++Int 50, ++WP 38, +Fel 38
Human Abilities: Savvy, Lightning Reflexes
Common Knowledge (Empire, Bretonnia)
Speak Language (Classical, Elatharin, Bretonnian, Reikspiel)
Scale Sheer Surface
Full Studded Armor (AV2)
Crowbar (for archeology)
10 yards of rope
Hand Weapon (Pick)
Crossbow and 10 bolts
Pierre has discovered a lot about himself in the company of the Brute Squad. For one, he's realized how little he really knows about history, despite his desire to unlock the secrets of the past. He's also learned a lot about Verena while abroad in the Empire, and has taken to spending whatever money he can get from the group's purse on buying any books he can and reading voraciously between adventure, trying to fill the gaps in his incomplete education and stopping at shrines and temples to the Goddess of Knowledge to pray she blesses his endeavors. In truth, he's found he believes in the Goddess of Justice and Wisdom as a far higher Lady than some weird woman living in a pond and telling him to hit people with a pointed stick from horseback. While his self-taught nature makes his growing education eclectic and full of weird gaps, Pierre is determined to learn.
Dilletante will let Pierre fill in his knowledge skills a little and won't take him long. It's another 1st tier career, available to anyone who can read. It's also notable for its huge number of Exits. He can actually become a wizard out of it, but the Career he's aiming for after it is Verenan Investigator, as it's a good fit for a genius rogue and adventuring scholar. Pierre is here to learn, but also to swing from the occasional chandelier, punch out reactionary lunatics (Investigator learns Streetfighter for proper fash punching in the name of Justice!) and have roguish adventures!
Name: Katiya Ivanovna Demechev
Class: Ex-Peasant, Winged Lancer
+WS 40, +BS 33, +S 40, ++T 38, +Agi 46, Int 30, +WP 36 (Shallya from 23), Fel 40
Human Traits: Fleet of Foot, Lightning Reflexes
Speak Language (Reikspiel, Kislevite)
Common Knowledge (Kislev)
Special Weapons (Sling)
Hand Weapon (Kislevite Sword)
Shield (Spent 10 starting gold)
Full Mail (AV 3 All Areas)
Warhorse (Andre is a good horse)
Katiya Demechev has seen her saber victorious over the forces of darkness more than once, proving herself against the traditional foes of her people. Where once she was a peasant refugee taking up the sword on the walls of Middenheim, now she is a proper warrior of Kislev. She seeks to follow the way of Mount and Blade, becoming a Sister of the Sword and learning the ways of the Winged Lancer in hopes of joining the glorious Gryphon Legion one day. Until that time, she will continue to put her strong right arm and bold saber to use with her new friends, fighting against the forces of evil just as soon as she figures out how not to fall off of Andre, her new warhorse. And gets a lance. And learns to use it. Also needs to find a neat winged back banner. For now, she's got the mail and cool uniform, at least?
Katiya was always going to be a Winged Lancer because c'mon, Peasant can go into goddamn Winged Hussar? Hell yeah! She's got the stats for it anyway, and her old Peasant skills still leave her good with people, stealth, and the out of doors even as she becomes equivalent to an Imperial Knight. Heck, Winged Lancers are already more outdoorsy Knights, and that fits her old skills perfectly. Katiya is a great example of how a seemingly purely 'civilian' starting career can still produce a cool hero.
Name: Otto Blucher
Class: Ex-Protagonist, Duelist
++WS 46, BS 31 (Shallyaed from 23), ++S 45, T 31, ++Agi 40, Int 35, ++WP 48, Fel 35
Human Traits: Excellent Vision, Mimic
Common Knowledge (Empire)
Speak Language (Reikspiel)
Strike Mighty Blow
Strike to Injure
Strike to Stun
Full Plate Armor (AV 5 All)
Hand Weapon (Broadsword)
Crossbow and 10 bolts
Otto has proven his sword in real combat against far more than some prissy noble as a second in a duel. Now armored in the plate of a long-dead Chaos Champion but with the spikes and awful shit filed off, he cuts an imposing and striking figure as the main muscle of the group. He is no longer a glorified thug who beats people for money; now he's a proper Duelist who will learn the ways of the fencing sword and the gun to further his ambitions to be an Imperial Hero. Being blessed directly by his God, Ulric, has also given him a renewed sense of purpose. He'll follow the Brute Squad through anything, reasoning it's blessed by the Lord of Winter, and hopes that the deeds they do will see the name of Otto Blucher enter the annuls of Imperial History.
Making some more gold while he's at it wouldn't be bad.
Otto is as Otto was. He's just what he was before but better. Duelist will let him branch out and learn some social skills and even more combat styles, and it leads to Champion. Otto isn't a complicated character in mechanics or fiction, but damn if he isn't extremely effective. The +20 Toughness in Duelist will also make him endgame level tough. He doesn't get the same jump in combat effectiveness that Liniel and Katiya, but Duelist is a damned solid 2nd tier fighter and when he becomes a Champion later, watch the fuck out.
Name: Solveig Miller
Careers: Ex-Initiate, Priestess of Ulric
+WS 43, +BS 30, S 43, +T 44, Agi 38, ++Int 46, ++WP 38, ++Fel 44
Academic Knowledge (History, Theology)
Common Lore (Empire)
Speak Language (Reikspiel+10, Classical)
Strike Mighty Blow (Ulric)
Hand Weapon (Axe)
Full Light Armor (AV 1 BUT NO HAT)
Magnificently Cared For Hair
Wolf Book about Wolfs And Also Fighting
Solvieg has always been a huge woman. When it came time to decide what to do with her life, she told her parents she was going to be the Ar-Ulric. They laughed at her, because everyone knows women don't become Ar-Ulric, and told her to get back to plowing the fields at their home in the western Reikland. Instead, she ran away from home to join the temple at Nordland, one of the only Temples of Ulric still admitting female Initiates, and began her journey towards a life of wolves, winter, and axes. Her size helped her to make it through her Initiate period, and to survive being assigned to help defend the Grand Temple in Middenheim during the Siege; she is one of the many Priestesses newly minted in the wake of the war, during the mass ordination of surviving Initiates deemed worthy after the great battle.
Solvieg was immensely proud to be made a full Priestess and managed to secure a transfer to service in the Grand Temple, but soon found herself shut out from any Temple business by the chauvanistic asshole that was Medium Priest Klaus Liebnitz. She had already been collecting dirt on him in hopes of one day seeing the prick toppled from his position, only to both witness a group of Adventurers killing the hell out of him in the Temple and the holy fire of Ulric blessing their company with her own two eyes. When they began their campaign to discredit and slander the Medium Priest to undo his villainy, she was only too happy to approach a group chosen by Ulric and offer her help, with her already-collected dirt making their job much easier. In return, she asked for a place among them. Solvieg is a surprisingly shy woman, despite being well over six feet in height and built like a steam tank, but she is quietly determined that somehow, some way, she is going to be a High Priestess of Ulric; following a direct sign of the Lord of Battle and joining the Brute Squad in place of their Runesmith seems like a possible route to the God's favor and blessing on her own task.
Solvieg rolled insanely good Str and T and when she becomes a Warrior Priestess, she's going to be a hell of a tank and secondary fighter. That's a long way off, but for now, she's another decent social character, a decent second-line fighter who can hold her own, and most importantly, she provides the team with a medic. They really needed one. Besides, there's a really good reason for an ambitious Ulrican woman who has been locked out of conventional advancement in the ranks to join a group of freebooters directly blessed with her God's favor, and what mercenary company would turn away a Priestess of the Lord of Battle?
Next Time: Altdorf and Intro
Welcome to the Talk ShowOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
Welcome to the Talk Show
While I find a lot of the main thrust of Spires of Altdorf exceedingly dull and it has a serious lack of a 'real' antagonist (among other things), it is at least going to try to do some interesting things. Some of them work, many don't, but I appreciate the effort. Overall, I think this is one of the weakest books David Chart wrote for WHFRP, though. He is up-front that the book is balanced for the PCs to win in the end, and it does try to mitigate some of the 'roll X at -10 to continue plot' stuff from book 1 and railroad the players less heavily. At the same time, it kicks you hard in the dick if you played a character who actually put points into being mechanically good at social things, despite the main plot of the adventure mostly revolving around social matters, because I'm sorry, Chart. I like your writing, a lot. But you've got some brain worms with the 'Never roll social skills, just base it entirely on what the players say in RP' stuff. This showed up in Renegade Crowns, too; there's a bit in there about how good roleplaying can carry a character with 22% Fel just as well as one with 70% Fel, Charm+20, and Schemer. The entire social aspect of the main conflict of the adventure, which is the primary part of the adventure, explicitly says to never actually test Social Skills or Fellowship while running it.
Before I go into the colorful history and stuff on Altdorf, I want to to talk about why that kind of stuff pisses me off as a GM and a designer. Firstly, players often play characters who are better at something than they are. Let's take me as an example: I like martial arts. I used to do martial arts. I developed arthritis at 25 that makes doing martial arts very difficult. So I like playing martial artists in RPGs, where I don't have to worry about my joints. Similarly, you can get a player who is shy or quiet who wants to play a character who is charming and eloquent. That's what their character's Fel is meant to represent. Liniel in the Brute Squad is a phenomenal social character, and had the option to be way better at it; she promoted into combat stuff because A: An elf with a big hat and two pistols is funny and B: I knew the adventure coming up would give her absolutely no reason to use her excellent Fellowship and talents and skills if she went Courtier. Say Liniel's player is a quiet person who really likes imagining playing the charming elf noble who always seems to know what to say; this adventure is completely set up to zone that player out of playing that role and punish them for not being as eloquent as their PC. And that aspect is the actual, full main conflict and thrust of Spires of Altdorf. This also effectively punishes a player for putting character resources into Fellowship or social skills, and it's a problem throughout WHFRP2e. The weird part is, with the game being heavily investigation focused (at least part of every adventure usually revolves around finding the right ass to kick) and incentivizing avoiding unneeded combat, social skills should be very useful and Fel tends to be a favorite stat when I GM or play. But in official published stuff, you're expected to 'roleplay, not rollplay' through almost every social encounter.
I wonder how many of this line's designers would accept 'Sure I have a 22% WS, but I know what halfswording is so I'm gonna describe my character being great at fighting and win the combat challenge.' I'd guess the answer is 0.
The other issue with the book is it's the setting book for Altdorf, but we don't get a solid places of interest overview like in Middenheim. Chart instead opted for more of a general 'here's what a rich estate in the city is like' or 'here's what poor neighborhoods are like' thing, talking about the various difficulties for fights, sneaking, and adventure in the various kinds of environments that can pop up in the city. So you don't get nearly as firm of a sense of place or a filled in city as you do with places like Erengard or Middenheim. A lot of the history and flavor of the city is good, and I don't mind them trying to change things up, but a lack of a good, solid overview of Altdorf is a little disappointing. The main issue with this approach is that while you get a lot of good 'how to have a good fight scene in an opera box' material, you're missing a lot of the grounding and story hooks that really shined in the other detailed city descriptions. You do get story hooks in sidebars, but they're much more general and less useful overall.
This story also lacks a general antagonist like Liebnitz, who was probably the highlight of Ashes even as his character needed some more work. There is a pretty great comic relief antagonist (A cultist who survived the shakedown at Heller's bar in Middenheim, now frantically trying various wild attempts to kill the PCs for revenge to inject some excitement into the plot) but they also have to add a totally unrelated evil wizard to disguise the fact that Xath is a really shitty main villain. A Khorne Demon just isn't the kind of enemy that can carry multiple adventures as your main bad guy. This isn't really the author's fault, but you're going to see an increasing number of subplots, side-villains, and other distractions from the main plot as the Paths of the Damned go on, to try to disguise how bad of an idea the actual main villain was. Paths of the Damned just can't sustain interest because a vague evil demon you never interact with (ideally you actually never see Xath and win the campaign without ever fighting him, talking to him, or really learning much about him) whose only motive is 'BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD' was just a bad, bad choice for Main Villain for an entire campaign.
For this game, the Brute Squad will be finding out that there's another artifact like the Skull, and that they kind of need to actually ace this one instead of letting Khornates make a tiny bit of Xath's power come out and get stabbed in the face. You see, Xath pissed off Khorne so bad that Khorne split him into three and stuffed him in MacGuffins and now the heroes will have to go to 3 different cities of adventure and deal with them all in turn. Also, when you kill a demon you just send it back to hell, so 1/3 of Xath is 'free' now (but in hell, and it was a really shitty third). The next artifact, an evil knife of knifing, is located in Altdorf and under lock and key by the Light College of Magic. You might think this is safe, but with a third of himself out Xath is starting to get his beastmen and cultists moving a little and you know no macguffin is ever safe until the PCs throw it in a fire themselves. If the PCs do everything right, they will talk endlessly to NPCs for several sessions in between exciting side adventures and eventually just figure out how to easily destroy the dagger after getting it handed over by reasonable wizards. Yes, it's entirely possible to have only a couple easy combats and mostly have this adventure consist of shuttling between NPCs playing a political/conversational minigame (with no dice rolls). There are also various other ways this adventure can go that will still put the PCs on the path to succeeding enough to go to adventure 3, but they're various levels of fucked, up to and including 'one PC dies to let you win' if things are going really badly.
But before we get into Brute Squad's longwinded adventure in Altdorf, we have to handle the city. I'm pretty sure that's the part everyone's looking forward to anyway! So join me next time for a story about sewage, wizards, and a city full of exaggerated disdain!
Next Time: Altdorf's History
When one has tired of Altdorf, they have tired of life.Original SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
When one has tired of Altdorf, they have tired of life.
Altdorf is the biggest and most important city in all of the Old World (which is one of the reasons the official population of 105,000 residents in Sigmar's Heirs is hilariously wrong). It is a major international trade hub, connected to the port of Marienburg by the fast-flowing and busy Reik river and situated near some of the least forested and most fertile and safe land in the Empire. One of the issues with this book and its overview of Altdorf is how indistinct it is; remember how Middenheim's write-up was full of excellent local color? How it was a tourist's guide to the city and its businesses, officials, politics, and famous places? Yeah, we don't get that here. I think Chart just doesn't really like doing detailed places (there were none done in Bretonnia, after all, unlike Kislev's cities); we instead get a bunch of stuff on what kind of special effects and stunts would be appropriate in a bar fight in a lower class bar, or what sorts of things could spice up sneaking around a rich mansion. I really miss the proper tour of the city; it's one of my biggest problems with the book.
The idea in the book is that Altdorf is just too big, but also that the presence of the 8 Colleges makes mapping the city unreliable. You gave me a map of Praag, the cursed city razed to the ground after Chaos turned the buildings into flesh and that even now has huge no-go zones of lingering magical corruption. Warhams don't tell me shit having lots of magic in it doesn't let you give me a map and a tour; I can sense a cop-out to cover for personal taste. Some of the adventure hooks in sidebars are still good, and the city writing is still focused on how to have adventures in the city, but I find it misses a lot of the sense of place and the 'lived in' quality that Middenheim had by focusing on the generic. We will get descriptions of some of the most important and singular places (like some of the Colleges, the Imperial Palace, Watch Headquarters, the main Court, etc) but for the most part it's just 'Here's a Bar, here's what can happen in Bars, here's some ideas for a Bar' rather than Ashes' 'Here's the Harvest Goose, a specific restaurant owned by an NPC who potentially has a quest for PCs related to his business and its history in the city'. So my writeup of the city is going to be a lot shorter; I'm not going to spend much (or maybe any) time on the generic Here's a Bar stuff.
Altdorf's history starts early, as one of the settlements of the Unberogen Tribe. It's located in a fertile area on a river with good fishing that is easy to transport boats on and the valley it's in is unforested, meaning fewer Beastmen. As you've seen from other books, geography dictates the locations of the great cities of Warhams; they're generally on rivers, or coasts, or in a very important strategic location. While Sigmar was born in what would become Ubersreik, Siggy made his capital in Reikdorf because it had high walls, plenty of food, and access to water. By the time he left for the east, Reikdorf was the largest town in the burgeoning Empire. Reikdorf's farmland began to falter by 300 IC, depleted by hard use and repeated poisoning by goblin raids, but the walls and the river remained. It became a trading hub rather than an agricultural one, importing food and people who found the high walls and developed town attractive. By 557, the Imperial Court moved to Nuln out of disgust for the quickly-and-shoddily built expansions to the city after renaming it Altdorf, the Old Town.
From 600 onward (lotta round numbers in this history) the Cult of Sigmar became a bigger and bigger deal among Altdorfers, trying to replace the Imperial Court and make the city their own. Altdorf being a major trading hub along one of the most important rivers in an Empire built on rivers, this worked out great for the cult, and provided them huge amounts of money that allowed them to bribe Emperor Ludwig the Fat in 990 and get an Electoral Vote. By 1100, when the Empire was about to fall off a cliff labeled 'Skaven', Altdorf had already become one of the great international cities of the setting and completed the grand Cathedral of Sigmar. Altdorf has always been one of the most diverse and eclectic cities in the world, full of foreign diplomats, businesses, adventurers, entrepreneurs, thieves, and sewage. Trust me, we'll get to the sewage. You can't have this many people living in close quarters and not have issues, even with a Dwarf built sewer system.
Boris Goldgather, our old buddy the most corrupt and long-serving Emperor in history, caused a great deal of scandal in the city of Altdorf. His taxes were very, very high and the money very obviously went directly to Boris 'It's In The Goddamn Name' Goldgather and his cronies. The Cult of Sigmar also suffered major embarrassments, with repeated public corruption scandals and fire-breathing priests being revealed with their various harems and other depredations as hypocrites and heretics. Martial Law had to be imposed as the people of Altdorf were beginning to riot against Imperial control, and a genuine civil war might have struck if the Skaven hadn't attacked with the Black Plague. Even worse than the plague, the Imperial Household moved back out of Altdorf in 1124, because Manfred Ratslayer (later books change his name to Ratslayer so it becomes less ridiculous that the Empire had an Emperor named Skavenslayer while pretending Skaven aren't real) was a Middenheimer and wanted to move the capital to Middenheim. The nobility fled with the court, wanting to remain close and influence things; I imagine it was a lot easier for them to stay in Altdorf when the Empire was run out of Nuln because Nuln is a short river trip away, but Middenheim is landlocked and far to the north.
The Sigmarites tried to take control of the city's politics again as economic hardship fell on Altdorf, and they did it in a cynical and stupid way. 'Bread for Believers' was the mantra, with public aid only given out to those who wore public signs of loyalty to the Cult and who took oaths of relatively exclusive loyalty to Sigmar. The citizenry cheerfully and enormously defrauded the system so badly that it ruined the Cult of Sigmar's central branch financially for nearly 300 years, robbing the cult and its gullible attempt to rule the city as something approaching monodominants and using the money and lack of nobles to begin funding the guild system that would define Altdorf politics for over a millennium. You see, the plague had also left a lot of empty real estate in the city, and thus many peasants saw this as the chance to get some free real estate, the best kind of real estate, which triggered a massive influx of migrants to the city. The sudden onrush of peasants leaving their farms ruined the Elector Count of Reikland, and he was forced to approach the city and negotiate with them for the creation of the title of Prince of Altdorf, which would hold the Electoral vote for Reikland. Since then, most Counts of Reikland also hold the title of Grand Prince of Altdorf.
It is in the 1500s that a more recognizable 'modern' Altdorf starts to emerge, where the Burgomeisters bribed the nobility to return to the city so that the city could benefit from being a major center of government and diplomacy as well as religion and trade. With the Time of Three Emperors beginning, Altdorf remained important as the bastion of the Sigmarite Emperors. Also not like the Reik went anywhere. Reikland's princes and counts always seemed to be poor, while the merchants who bribed them to come back always seemed to be rich, because the normal nobility still relied primarily on feudal agriculture while all the best money in the Reikland was coming through Altdorf. This enabled the city to always bribe the supposed 'masters' of local politics. It's in the 1700s and the first Siege of Altdorf by Gorbad Ironclaw and his orcs that the famous Altdorf attitude makes its first appearance. Altdorfers are famous for responding to hardship with snobbery, treating existential threats as beneath them and worthy of nothing but contempt to deal with the terror of being besieged by orcs or attacked by draculas or dark wizards. At the same time as they're writing plays making fun of the people besieging them this century, the local temples will always see a huge rise in offerings as people quietly pray to the Gods for deliverance despite the outward attitude of contempt, and planning sessions go on late into the night as they plot how to actually destroy their enemies. The affectation of disdain is always followed by plenty of actual action to try to deal with the threat, but one wouldn't know it to simply talk to Altdorfers.
The next 400 years were rough on Altdorf, between the repeated sieges, the centuries of civil strife, and the dracula invasion. Once the Wars of the Vampire Counts were done, though, and the civil wars had fallen back to a minor boil, Altdorf began to recover in earnest. Every time the city falls on hard times, after a little while the city is reminded 'wait we live in an incredibly important geographical location and huge amounts of money and trade have to pass through here to get to the sea' and then recovers. The War Against Chaos mostly benefited the Reikland in 2302-2303, because nothing really hit Altdorf (unlike Nuln and its demon street-fighting war that raised up Magnus the Pious) and it was able to sell food, weapons, and industry to the rest of the combatants. In 2304, though, the entire city changed, because a couple elves waltzed in with Imperial permission and Teclis cast 'Summon Fanciful Wizard Colleges'. The rioting and terror was exceptional, even for a city as raucous as Altdorf.
One of the other worries for the city was how quickly the wizards moved in and began participating in politics. The wizards moved like they'd been planning something all along, and the Grand Prince quickly created the idea of the Magister to keep the wizards from becoming impossibly rich and powerful and possibly threatening the nobility. There is an entire set of complex Wizard Law designed to keep wizards from running away with too much money, while allowing them to participate fully in Imperial politics, which is covered more in Realms of Sorcery. All this paled next to the collapse of Altdorf's water system in 2324, which nearly ruined the city. Sewage backflowed into the streets and wells, ruining the city's drinking water and necessitating an emergency meeting of all the guilds to handle the Summer of Cess. While emergency drinking water was handled quickly and efficiently so that the entire city didn't die of thirst and filth, the captains of industry then got together to form a Clean Water Company to prevent further incidents. With all the efficiency one would expect of private industry as opposed to cumbersome government, they then spent 100 years defrauding the shit out of this supposedly neutral 'company' and pushing paper around, taking over a century to actually build any real bulwark against another Summer of Cess and letting a great deal of plague, water-borne illness, and public health crisis happen in the meantime while the guilds competed to see who would get rich and who would be stuck with the bill.
Still, a century later, when things were finally complete, Altdorf entered its modern form in 2429. After the deposing of Emperor Dieter for allowing Marienburg independence (done partly to prevent tariffs and things being levied on newly independent Marienburg, to protect Altdorf's status as a tax haven), Altdorf was once again the center of the Empire. Every Emperor since 2429 has been a Reiklander, up to our current Imperial Majesty, His Grace, Prince of Reikland, Grand Prince of Altdorf, Heir of Sigmar and Emperor of His Empire Karl Franz. Ever since the throne moved back to Reikland, the Reikland Emperors have made great progress in making huge piles of money by auctioning off privileges and titles to the grandees of Altdorf. Unlike Boris, they then use the money to engage in wide-spread statecraft and international diplomacy, putting it back into the Empire rather than into the Emperor's personal pockets. 2430 also saw Emperor Wilhelm try to gain control of Altdorf's broadsheets by recognizing and creating an official newspaper, but this went nowhere; they still print whatever the hell they want and Emperor be damned. 2431 also saw many of the city's buildings in need of repair and a huge check on the power of the Bright Order after they caused the Great Fire of Altdorf and blew up their first college building. This is the beginning of Altdorf looking almost as chaotic as Erengard, and if you remember Erengard, City Where Insane Urban Planning Meant a Bank Hip Checked A Castle, that's saying something.
By 2522, Altdorf is rich, multicultural, and full of wizards. The aftermath of the Storm has left the city feeling like there was supposed to be some grand climax that never happened, and with the Emperor and many others away to pursue Archy and the northeast Empire still a little bit on fire (not as on fire as before, but still) and the Cult of Sigmar in flux after the death/not death of Volkmar and the entire mess with Huss and Valten, no-one is quite sure what happens now. Cults plot, burgomeisters scheme, and guilds have fistfights in the streets while the Cult of Sigmar stays uncharacteristically quiet. Tides of refugees from less fortunate regions bring stories of horror that still have some people of Altdorf convinced the end might be nigh, even though the worst danger has passed. The city isn't quite sure how to handle an apocalypse that ended in anticlimax.
Into that confused but extremely rich and vibrant city wanders the Brute Squad. Or rather, they will, later.
Next Time: The Character of Altdorf
The citizenry is responding to an overabundance of rioting by riotingOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
The citizenry is responding to an overabundance of rioting by rioting
I'm going to be real with you: The Altdorf writeup is dull. Yes, the most important city in the Empire is honestly kind of boring, despite having magic colleges, regular riots, and being a huge hub of international diplomacy and trade. Something is just missing from it all, and more importantly the upcoming adventure isn't actually going to use hardly any material that requires the adventure be in Altdorf besides the wizard colleges. I've had some trouble getting this writeup ready because there's just not much to get excited about; with Middenheim I was reading a lot of neat stuff that I wanted to share like the poor Ducal Arborist's trials and trevails. Here? It feels like a generic big city with a few extra traits thrown in.
And that's a huge disappointment. Chart really fumbled the city writeup, much as I like his other work on WHFRP. Yes, there's a complex system of guilds and local citzenship laws, but Talabheim has the same kind of stuff, so it hardly feels unique. The locals riot at the drop of a hat and are constantly protesting some new tax or outrage (up to and including an excess of riots, which they respond to by rioting more) and are heavily involved in the politics of the city, but Middenheim and Middenland had the same thing. The Colleges are the only part of the city that really stands out as unique, and I would have liked to have seen more writing about how the extremely diverse population of the city get along with one another and what having so many foreign embassies and businesses and neighborhoods does for the city's character.
The two biggest aspects of the city's character that stands out from others are that Altdorfers have weaponized snobbishness as a defense against existential terror, and that the gap between the rich and poor is much more heavily emphasized in Altdorf's writing than anywhere else in the Empire. Wealth stands out more than nobility in Altdorf, especially as the wealthy have access to just buying nobility. People come to Altdorf full of dreams of getting rich, and the local culture encourages them to throw everything at trying. Almost none succeed, because as much as the locals love telling stories of how someone came to the Old Town with just 5 pennies to their name and ended up a massive magnate, for every one of those there are thousands who ended up living in crowded tenements and dying of the flux. Altdorf is billed as a land of opportunity, and this is partly a way to get people in the door; the city relies on immigration. The gap between those who have and those who do not is immense, and while the havers get to live in a beautiful estate walled off from the smell of the city and the constant crowds, the others are bound to wait hand and foot on the lucky few who 'made it'. The 'middle class' is mostly a lie in Altdorf, as living here is so expensive that a reasonably successful Burgher is still struggling to meet their rent and probably in debt. Moreover, that reasonably successful Burgher is being pushed by local culture to throw it all into risky ventures in hopes they'll end up in a townhouse one day, but more likely they'll just end up in the poorhouse after enriching someone else who was already rich.
The disdain of Altdorfers comes from several places. For one, they live in Altdorf. Even the poorest Altdorfer will proudly proclaim they're from the best city in the world and that they wouldn't live anywhere else; this is the greatest city in the greatest nation in the Old World! For two, they did beat Vlad von Carstein and a few other pretty serious threats, and their city really is defended by some of the Empire's best soldiers, swarms of Battle Wizards, and the grand Temple of Sigmar. They have some reason to be confident that if trouble comes knocking, they'll be able to kick it in the teeth. For three, they were completely scared out of their wits of the Colleges when they were first established 200 years ago but similarly completely determined not to show it; who knows, maybe wizards can smell fear. What started as a coping mechanism has become somewhat more genuine after 200 years of wizards walking the streets openly. The average Altdorfer probably has seen someone draw forth a brilliant sword of pure fire to fend off muggers before, and might have witnessed minor demonic incursions or seen other spells or rituals being cast. You really can just go to a shop to buy spell ingredients and potion components in Altdorf; there's a market, and where there's a market, someone in Altdorf will be trying to get rich off it. This doesn't mean the locals are actually blase about wizards, but it's become a sort of local tradition that you have to pretend to be. When a crowd sees magic happening, they rush to talk about how much better of magic they've seen in the past. Even if they end up running for cover as adventurers battle a demon unleashed by yet another idiot warlock, they'll stop to say the demon that was banished last year was bigger.
Another thing that stands out a bit is that in among all the various upper class estates and lower class tenements, privacy is a huge luxury of the upper class. Again, this is more of a general Imperial City thing; most people in cities live in very packed conditions, which is one of the reasons the plague can get so out of hand so quickly. Another is that like most cities in the Empire and beyond, Altdorf has a large number of taverns, theaters, and entertainment venues. More uniquely (compared to Middenheim) is how much Altdorfers enjoy organized pit fighting. People in Altdorf are far from the front lines of violence and war, usually. So they like to go to a fighting pit and watch some lads beat each other bloody, or fence to the first blood, or watch dog fights or cockfights. The upper classes officially disapprove and stick to their cultured operas and plays, but secretly most will hire a bawd and ask them where the best punching is to be found when they get bored. Most person on person fights aren't to the death. At least, not the legal ones.
Altdorf is always crowded, always noisy, and always smells awful. The city constantly struggles with its cesspools and sewers, partly from all the privatization and the lack of an overarching sewer authority. Karl Franz's first major success as a politician was actually partly addressing this problem, though there's simply no way to solve it completely. He got the Stench Act of 2508 passed when he was newly crowned Emperor, playing the guilds against one another in a rush for each guild to accept penalties and taxes on pollution and filth that they assumed would ruin their rivals but be bearable for them. The money then went to trying to fix the sewer system, but even with the sewers functioning reasonably well the city is simply so packed (and so many people still throw their chamberpot's contents out the window of the tenement) that there's no avoiding the smell.
The various place-type writeups are full of 'Here's how to fluff a PC burning a Fate Point in a fight in this kind of location' or 'here's where you can get an improvised weapon' but this information is relatively useless, to be quite honest. I can run a fight scene or a stealth mission in a noble manor just fine. I don't really care about a couple cursory paragraphs on that. I want more about the distinct character of the city, not what a generic tenement looks like. I would like a colorful cast of minor NPCs who need the PCs' help (or who the PCs intend to knock off). But instead, did you know that sometimes there will be ornamental weapons on the walls of a manor house and PCs might use them in a fight scene? Or that taverns are a good place to meet people?
The actual sidebar plot hooks are okay, but again, nothing that really makes Altdorf stand out. The material here mostly just makes Altdorf feel like the generic big city, rather than giving it a character all its own, and that's a disappointment for a city that should be teeming with flavor.
Next Time: Specific Places in Altdorf
No fighting in the wizard's collegeOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
No fighting in the wizard's college
One of the weird things about the Specific Places of Altdorf is that there's no notes on the Grey College, despite one of the 'canon' heroes among the premades being a Grey Wizard who is intended to use the time in Altdorf to promote into Journeyman and actually has a little note on how her master is deeply proud of her. The majority of our Specific Places are already going to be wizard colleges, why not include the one that one of the expected protagonists is going to interact with?
Anyway, our first place of note is the Amethyst College, because it can definitely come up; a Death Mage is a really important character in the coming adventure. Curiously, the doors of the College are always open, and the building is built in plain sight, near the city's main temple of Morr. Anyone can enter the spooky, seemingly abandoned building at any point. Most who do find nothing; cobwebs, dust, and a constant and oppressive silence. Some find wizards. Those who find a couple confused, surprised wizards are taken in as Apprentices the very next day; they pierced the 'shell college' that defends the real college and crossed over into the realm of Death Magic, proving they have magical talent. Yes, the dead, abandoned building is a weird sub-dimension shell-college that the wizards use to keep anyone unauthorized from bothering them.
If you were invited, there is a bell to ring to summon the College's stewards, who can guide a visitor through the shadows of death and past the dead illusion college and into the real one. The real one isn't that much different than the dead one; a quiet, contemplative place covered in shrines to Morr (Amethyst Wizards are some of the most devout wizards), but it also has actual wizards in it. Moreover, most wizards keep pets or plants in their private rooms, because a Death mage needs to see life from time to time to avoid thinking death is everything. Thus, many cats to pet and wizards carefully trying to tend to plants such that they don't die in a cold temple full of death magic.
The next place is the Bright College, which is located and hidden in the flaming no-go zone made out of the wreckage of the first Bright College. The Bright College is mostly populated with Apprentices and their instructors; the actual Journeymen and above are all off with the Imperial army, merrily fireballing beastmen and burning down evil forests. Locals know the fire ruins are haunted somehow, because even though no-one would go to a burned out and magic-touched part of the city, people catch glimpses of figures moving in the smoke. The area IS actually quite haunted, but no-one is sure how; visitors sometimes claim they see the whole block burst into flames again as it relives the fire that killed it in the first place. The reputation for haunting suits the wizards just fine, as it keeps most people away and seems to be harmless to magi.
If you walk through the haze of smoke and destruction enough, you will pierce the veil and discover the Bright College itself. Alternately, you can visit on a hot enough summer day; a heat haze will actually break the illusion and the wizards have never managed to correct this flaw. I like to imagine every time they get together to figure out how to stop heat hazes from revealing their college every year they get distracted by how hot it is and run outside to throw fire around and gambol merrily. Since the College is only sometimes there, locals like to tell outsiders that the Bright College actually flies around the Empire on blazing wings of flame, descending to rest in Altdorf in summer but spending the rest of the year landing on evil in a tide of explosions, flaming swords, and wizards screaming 'JUSTICE!' and rocking out. The main thing that tells you such a thing is impossible is that if it was, the Bright Wizards would absolutely be doing it; that is definitely something they would be into.
The actual College structure is a huge bastion of stone, metal, and fire, with 21 great towers and an extremely fireproofed interior. PCs trying to enter will be confronted by a polite gatekeeper who asks them what wizard they're here to visit, unless one of the PCs is a Bright Wizard, in which case they're simply all allowed in. They note that you can sneak around the Bright College surprisingly easy by being brazen enough and telling people you're there to meet someone. Wizards are supposed to show their visitors out after meetings but in practice, Bright Wizards are very distractable people and telling them you'll see yourself out usually works.
The Celestial College is similarly shielded from mortal sight. People can see it; it isn't covered by an illusion. It's simply enchanted such that people don't bother looking at it, despite being a huge fairytale palace covered in shiney telescopes and astrolabes. Something about the enchantment of the College just prevents anyone without Magical Sense from looking up when they're around it, so even people who know where to look usually only see the doors. Characters with Magical Sense can point the College out to friends, who will temporarily be able to perceive it.
Because this is a College of diviners, they tend to know when someone is coming and visitors are rarely kept waiting. It would be against the school's reputation if they didn't know to expect company! Wizards make a game of inviting PCs in at the exact moment the PC is about to knock on the wizard's door. They have to make sure they remind everyone they seem to know everything; this is only really true within the grounds and bounds of their own College, but they want to give people the impression it extends to all fate and knowledge in the world.
Empire House is the first non-wizard place, and it is the Watch and security headquarters for the city of Altdorf. As it is also where bounties are paid on beastmen, monsters, and criminals, it is clearly a place Adventurers will have lots of business. It's famed for the complete nonchalance of the Watch Sergeants on desk duty. They have seen everything, and the only thing that would surprise them about a group of Adventurers plopping down the head of a dragon and asking for the bounty on it would be that there's no fixed bounty on dragons (not to mention wondering how the hell the party carried that huge head in without being noticed). Empire House itself is a huge stone building, designed as a defensive keep in case of riots or sieges, and it has had to hold off angry rioters more than once. The lobby (where the bounty collecting and crime reporting happens) is as far into the House as most people ever get. In the back are private rooms for officers and officials, which are invitation only. The only real way to sneak in (if PCs have some cause to do so) is a guarded fire escape door, designed to allow high officials to evacuate in case of emergency. It has instead ended up being used as a convenience so that people can slip out and avoid crowds waiting at the front gate.
The Jade College is one of the more pleasant Colleges. It looks like a huge brick wall from the outside, surrounding an in-city nature preserve. At all times, the gate is guarded by 4 warriors, one young, one in their prime, one middle aged, and one old. All four are serious fighters and should be a match for any PCs who think to start trouble. Inside the College itself is a huge walled garden, larger on the inside than it could ever be from what one sees on the outside. Inside the College, the sounds and smells of the city are replaced with clean air and the sound of flowing water, and the paths spiral gently to a center. Wizards are allowed in on principal and may bring visitors with them, while other sorts of PCs have to demonstrate they have some business before they're let in to walk the gardens with whatever mage they're there to meet.
The actual rooms of the College are all grown from the trees, with libraries where each book is nestled and protected from the rainwater by its own little grown nook and gentle sleeping quarters sheltered from the rain and constant flowing of water. Very few Jade Wizards live in the College itself; most go out into the world to aid the Empire's agriculture, clear blights, and experience the natural world. Those who live here are students and instructors.
The Light College is actually a giant spatially distorted Nehekaran pyramid of light hidden within the city. You have to do some weird Diagone Ally bullshit to actually get in, revolving around turning to 6 different corners while making a WP test that gets easier every time you succeed at it. New students are often locked out of the College by its magic and have to work at it for several hours or until an instructor comes and gets them. Weirdly, Chaos worshipers have a much easier time piercing these defenses and make the WP test at +30. I suspect this is a lingering legacy of Van Horstmann and his bullshit. People who live nearby get used to finding their way around the weird spatial distortion and avoiding the College, and those who think hard about it 'tend to become madmen or wizards'.
The College itself is a massive beacon of magical power, giving huge spellcasting bonuses to anyone with Light magic that aren't mentioned for the other Colleges and thus are probably unique to this one. Inside, everything is lit as though there is bright sunlight at all times. Gold, silver, and white seem to be the main colors permitted for any decoration. The magic in the Light College is so strong that even characters without magical senses can feel it, and there is always a faint sound of ritual singing and chanting coming through the corridors. The College of Light is one of the most isolated places in Altdorf, despite its brightness; I've always found that curious about Light Magic. They're always said to be so wise and powerful, but there's always something weirdly cold and distant about them. Not to mention how they somehow missed that their Patriarch was a Chaos Sorcerer for decades.
The Palaces of Retribution get only a very cursory writeup; they're just the central courthouses of Altdorf. They're known for harsh sentences and massive public trials that often break into street brawls when the judge is unusually harsh or an unexpected verdict outrages the public. Public beheadings and hangings are also held in the square.
The Temple of Sigmar is one of the central draws of Altdorf, being the center of the Empire's state religion. The temple is a huge, sprawling complex, with new buildings added over time to hold new records or train new priests. The art within can be breathtaking, or it can be surprisingly amateurish; one example is a poorly made carving of Sigmar that has great pride of place because the Warrior Priest who made it was a great hero of the Empire, known for his battles against Chaos and his comfort to the people of the Empire. But not really for his artistic talent. At the same time, the statue is clearly blessed by its creator's piety, and so the Grand Theoganists have refused to move it or replace it with a nicer one.
24 arches hold the 24 latest heroes of the Sigmarite Faith, with great statues constructed and used to line the path to the Temple's main altar. Every time a new hero is coined, a new statue is commissioned and placed, and an old one is moved elsewhere in the Temple. The current debate is on whether or not there should be a statue of Valten at all; he was clearly not Sigmar reborn (according to this book) but some say he was a hero of the faith anyway. While others claim he was a heretic or fraud, and that the entire mess was a distraction to the Empire by its enemies. It's really hilarious to me how absolutely no-one gives a shit about Valten; the canon version of him had all the problems of Archy but since he isn't a Chaos character, no-one has to pretend to care about him. I think this is the first book to outright move towards 'it was obvious he was never Siggy', though.
Many of the best statues and works in the Temple are actually gifts of the dwarves, who still carve artistic representations of Sigmar and other Sigmarite heroes in honor of their friendship. I like to imagine a bunch of these are done in the style of Dwarf Ancestor God statues, because hey, the Dwarfs would absolutely understand Siggy as a manling Ancestor God. It would even be plausible if contact with the dwarfs and their traditions is what inspired Helstrum to claim Sigmar was a God in the first place.
As a cute detail, the Temple's cooks are the best in all of Altdorf, but the serving staff at the refectories are also the most vigilante guards in the city. You'll never get in without being a priest, a friend of a priest, or a guest of some Sigmarite official.
And that's all we get on Altdorf. No University, no Gold College, no Grey College, no Imperial Palace, no Imperial Zoo (This is a huge tragedy. I demand catbirds!), no Asur Embassies, no foreign quarters, nothing. Just the aforementioned lists of generic ideas about what various building types may be, then this small selection of places. It's uninspiring.
Next Time: No-one Offers To Pay
Some things never changeOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
Some things never change
So, Spires is a much more open campaign, and while it railroads the players to overall campaign success (there are no endings where they do NOT destroy the Dagger one way or another, because they have to be able to move on to book 3) they can still seriously fuck up and end up in situations where the book expects them to pay heavy costs for success. Now, the Brute Squad are obviously winners and the 'canon' route will be one where they guess the GM's intentions, don't roll many dice, and generally succeed on the adventure. However, I will also be writing up some of the failure setpieces; imagine these are Mirror Universe Brute Squad, who are both more malicious and less capable than their Prime Universe counterparts, as well as possessed of enormous mustaches. Except Mirror Otto, who replaces his normal waxed handlebar with being cleanshaven to reveal his bizarro nature.
The party has also acquired Solveig and lost Fearghus; having both run a campaign with a Runesmith PC myself and also having had to write around his abilities in this review, I've come to the overall conclusion that as written in Realms of Sorcery Runesmiths do not make great PCs. Their abilities just don't slot into a WHFRP campaign very well; either they stop the party for months and then overpower it immensely, or they never actually get to use their powers. Keep in mind what Otto could be doing if he had a +10% WS magic sword (Really, +15%; it stacks with Best Quality) when seeing the combats, after all. And that would be the most minor of Fearghus's stuff. Runesmiths either produce way more and better magic items than PCs normally get, or they just end up a poor second line fighter with some fancy powers they never actually get to pull out. We'll say they sent Fearghus off with a proper celebration of their work together and that he's off to unlock the mysteries of the runes, while they've picked up their new giant Ulrican priestess during the smear campaign against Liebnitz as per her background.
So as Liebnitz was dying or they were beating on Xath's butler, it somehow got out to the PCs that there are actually more Xath bits in the world. Two more. Xath would really like to be free so he can kill people, as is the way of Khornates. He is not a complicated character. The book assumes PCs will immediately rush to the library or ask Professor Zweinstein from last book to help them find more Xath Facts. I am not sure why it assumes they will do this. Nobody is paying them for Xath duty and the manifestation of Xath they beat the shit out of probably isn't going to put much fear in PCs. We'll say the party ignores this for now, adventuring around while the Professor does his frantic reading. One day they're sitting down at the inn, going over how the new girl has been doing (Another Damage 5 melee fighter who also has Heal is very welcome) while getting smashed, when the old scholar comes racing in. "ALTDORF!" He yells. "The Dagger of Yul K'Chaum is in Altdorf!" "We'll catch who?" replies Katiya. Because it's our old friend, dumb Warhams names that make a silly phrase when said aloud (Much like the famed Von Sapponatheims). The excited scholar explains that one of the other pieces of Xathroduz the Red Flayer is in Altdorf most likely, because a bit of an old journal said as much, and also there's a third artifact called the Chalice of Wrath.
You may note at this point no-one is offering the PCs any kind of payment or reward. This is going to continue. At no point in all of this adventure are the PCs ever offered money for anything they do, and there is very little treasure. In most worlds, the party probably shrugs and goes 'Not our problem' and continues looking for work in Middenheim. A lack of real urgency, stakes, or incentive is a serious problem in Spires. It just kinda...assumes you'll immediately go 'OH NO!' and scamper off for Altdorf immediately, maybe yelling about daggers.
However, we'll say for the sake of convenience the party had actually been planning a trip to Altdorf anyway; Liniel wants to check in with the elf embassies there and there's probably lots more paying work in a city that wasn't recently on fire. They agree to keep an eye out for the dagger of whatever on the way. Maybe they can bill someone for dagger finding duty. Zweinstein presses a letter into the elf's hands, addressed to Dieter Klemperer. Dieter is a Master Wizard of the Celestial College and a correspondent and friend of the Professor. Liniel's ears go straight up as she realizes: This is a man who probably has money and is a Contact. This is networking. Pierre mentions that this is still an ancient evil relic, so it's probably got some interesting history to it. Otto is up for destroying an ancient evil, and Katiya hates Chaos. Solveig needs the rep if she's ever going to become Ar Ulric, and this demon messed with the Temple of Ulric as it is, so she's able to talk herself into coming along once the party warms to the idea of dealing with the dagger as something of a sidequest. They set out for Altdorf with the next caravan.
You are expected, even demanded to go with a caravan with 2 Roadwardens and a couple families traveling to the safer south. There is also a wealthy scholar with the group, who is actually Wolfgang Schuenacht, who is one of the closest things to an actual villain this adventure has. He's an evil Bright Wizard who is extremely arrogant and all, but plays it off as being a normal Master Wizard. Incidentally, Spires thinks 2e Wizards are way, way more powerful mechanically than they are. This is going to be hilarious in the eventual boss fight. He was coming to Middenheim to get the Skull, because he has an evil ritual that will superpower him into a chaos monster if he could just eat theSskull. He actually doesn't know the PCs have smashed the skull, and is angling to get close to them to get it from them. He wants to be a powerful Chaos Sorcerer and master of Chaos because he's an arrogant, evil prick. He doesn't really have much motive beyond that, but it does the job. He's intelligent, fairly well hidden, but he'll make a few mistakes that can let the PCs realize he's planning to trick them and use them (and then literally sacrifice them).
Anyway, they have another problem: The comic relief villain is also trying to kill them. Carlott the Thug is the standout part of this adventure for me. She's a dumb thug who survived the purge of the Crimson Skull cult as its highest ranking member, granted a magic coin that means Beastmen, Demons, etc will always hear her out. She has a lot of money from the cult coffers, but she was just muscle. She has no idea how to start a new cult, or properly hide from the authorities, but she fucking hates the Brute Squad and will be trying to use the money, magic coin, and her own extreme enthusiasm to kill them in increasingly blunt manners throughout the adventure. Her first attempts will be on the road, with Beastmen. When you're trying to Chaos at someone, always start with the Beastmen. They're expendable anyway.
Her first attempt is a probing attack by 2 Beastmen. Yeah, you read that right. 2 Beastmen. The party, uh...kind of killed them in a single turn of melee, then got the wagons moving again. You're supposed to keep track of how long they delay after each attack, because the idea of the Beastmen is to stick them on the road at night far from a Coaching Inn and then ambush them there in force. The next wave tries to shoot the party from ambush, then charge with swords, but, uh...it's still 2 Beastmen. Otto takes an arrow during the surprise round and a couple wounds, but Solveig bandages them easily after the party again one-rounds the Beastmen in melee. Also note the PCs have the two Roadwardens and their guns and swords backing them up. Sure, these are meant to be nuisance attacks, but, uh. Seriously?
Finally, they meet a more serious attack. 3 Beastmen firing bows from behind a little barricade built out of a burned out coach on the road, while a fourth waits to smash the wheels of some of the wagons with the refugees' possessions. The enemy has also set up a couple of corpses to pretend there are more of them behind the barricade than there are, but Liniel's Excellent Vision tells her those are fake. Not being idiots, and having a large mounted component (2 Roadwardens, Otto, and Liniel are all on horses), the party sends Otto, Katiya, and the Roadwardens to go kill the 3 Beastmen while the others guard the refugees. Seriously, these attacks really obviously telegraph that the enemy is trying to draw you off; committing hard would be stupid. As a result, when Fourthy (that's his name now) the Wheel Smasher comes out, he takes an arrow in the face from an elf before getting his head smashed in by a mining pick and an Ulrican axe before he can do any damage.
This is because him doing any damage is sort of irrelevant. See, all this has automatically delayed the party enough to get caught out at night, even if they sensed Fourthy the Wheel Smasher and stopped him. There's a false dilemma about leaving the refugees' stuff if the Wheels Is Smashed or spending an hour to fix them, but you get caught out at night either way sooooo succeeding or not at that encounter was pointless. This happens a lot in this entire adventure path, where success or failure doesn't mean anything! I hate it.
Next, Carlott has gathered a unit of 12 Beastmen with bows who all have Night Vision. The idea is that they'll shoot at the players from long range at night until the PCs put out any lights, then they'll charge and attack the blinded PCs. There are several issues here. One: Why doesn't someone just light a lantern after melee is joined, then? Two: The party's elf and Solveig both actually have Night Vision and can fight just fine in the dark. Three: This encounter is designed solely to show off Wolfgang and let him introduce himself as maybe an ally. I'm still not really fond of gameplay challenges designed to be solved by an NPC stepping forth to save the PCs, especially as it happens often enough that they're likely to start expecting it whenever overmatched. The Beastmen are only after the PCs. Trying to flee and leave the refugees behind will not help, not that the Brute Squad are the kind of dicks that would do that.
The original salvo of arrows also gets really lucky (maybe allowing 12 shots on the PCs isn't a good starting move and you should follow your own advice from Renegade Crowns, Chart) and gets 6 hits, despite the Long Range penalty. So the party starts with Otto down 3 Wounds, Solveig down 8 (two lucky arrows, light armor), and Liniel hit for 4. They douse the lights as the game demands, and in the dark Liniel shoots one of the Beastmen through the throat as Solveig gets to work on injuries. She heals herself for 8 before the Beastmen charge in, and suddenly Wolfgang appears, casting magic fire crown and lighting up the area, letting the party fight the 11 Beastmen without penalty. The Beastmen still get in their Charge attacks, though, getting 4 hits on Otto, 3 on Katiya, and 2 on Liniel. Dang! It's almost like them having Outnumber and Charge Bonuses hurts. They bounce off Otto completely, though. Katiya takes a max damage hit for 7, then another for 4, then the last bounces, but man, she gets messed up a lot. The elf gets lucky, the attacks mostly scratching her for 2 and 3. She's still pretty banged up! Good thing they got a medic. Wolfgang steps it up; he even gets off a Fiery Blast to really show off on Round 3, though he also shits himself from a miscast (77 on a doubles, Intestinal Rebellion. The books do not make much provision for the dignified, arrogant Bright Wizard having miscast issues). Still, 9 Damage 5 hits in addition to the party's melee attacks goes a long way to showing off why Bright Wizards are as they are and pretty much instantly put the beastmen to flight, given he just incinerated 4 of them. Otto and Katiya take out two more, and that's definitely enough to break the enemy.
A short, brutal fight that leaves the field full of burning goatmen and hacked apart bodies. A wonderful way to meet a new acquaintence. Solveig stops to spend time patching up allies as Wolfgang introduces himself, hoping the smell of burning goatman will cover his shame as he keeps a straight face and tries to pretend he didn't shit himself. He goes briefly into the forest to 'finish off' the last beastmen (change his underwear) and the party heads to the nearest coaching inn to take cover and fix their stuff, getting the refugees to safety.
Once at the inn, they can actually talk to Wolfgang. Not being idiots, they don't tell him all their business (the book goes over this; people don't usually tell strange wizards everything on meeting them for the first time) but do mention they're a mercenary company heading to Altdorf to find work. He offers them a job as his bodyguards, but doesn't mention pay, just lodging. Liniel is wise to that being shit, and tells him no; the book expects you to refuse him as it is. Accepting actually makes investigating him harder, because he doesn't have to try to have a burglar steal the skull from you and without that crime to track, it's much harder to realize he's evil. He is to be played as supremely arrogant, but he tries to force himself to be complimentary and to give the appearance of respecting the PCs even as he condescends them.
Having set all of Carlott's beastmen on fire and/or arrowed them, the party is not harassed further. They'll make it to Altdorf without incident, parting ways with the grateful caravan (who think they're brave heroes) and leaving the refugees to start new lives. In the meantime, they head off to find a drink, then Dieter Klemperer.
It's time to begin the networking and explain the Main Plot Thread and why it was so boring that my personal group said 'You know, let's just...let's just wrap the Xath plot quick and go do something else, this sucks.'
Next Time: Talkies
Notice me, Frederick-Senpai!Original SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
Notice me, Frederick-Senpai!
I've been thinking a lot about this section. It's the bugbear of this entire book, the Critical Path of the adventure, the bit you have to succeed at to get the 'good' ending and properly move on to book 3. In fact, it's actually possible to screw yourself out of any possibility of a good ending for the entire campaign during this section. That's not actually Chart's fault, that's Robert Schwalb and book 3; Chart's intent is that no matter how Book 2 goes you're supposed to finish in a place where the Dagger is destroyed somehow and you can move on to Book 3, but if you fail at this section of Book 2 you'll actually never learn the ritual necessary to get a good ending for the overall campaign. So it's possible to come out of this part with a doomed Sierra Adventure Game state. This section of the book is completely, totally critical to the progress of a 3 book adventure path.
And it's a dating sim.
I've been thinking about how to define it for several weeks, and that's really the best way I can; this entire Critical Path (Remember, Wolfgang and Carlott are sidequests, and actually totally optional) mechanically plays out like a dating sim. You have a collection of NPCs. You go among them and make contacts and flatter them and say what they want to hear, and if you're playing 'properly' you don't roll dice but rather just pick the right dialogue options. That gets you enough approval tokens (along with sufficient recommendations from a character's friends and associates) to get them to introduce you to others, etc. You do this until you find out where the Dagger is held, get a wizard to give you the Dagger, and find another, different wizard who can destroy it in a magic ritual. If you fail, you will eventually have to fight for the Dagger, then use a ritual that instead kills one of your PCs and turns them into a boss fight that houses the Dagger's essence, then kill them. No Fate Pointing out of that, according to the author. But given where the Dagger is, I strongly doubt most groups would really care to bother at that point. Also: No-one ever offers to pay you for anything you're doing, there are no actual material rewards on the critical path, and every NPC you deal with is treated as untouchable; the only way to interact with them is winning their approval.
This section fucking sucks. Everything about it is bad, from the 'oh, just use the right dialogue options' stuff (you can use Social Skills if you 'aren't as eloquent as your PC'. A success gets you 1 approval point, +1 per DoS up to 3, the max you could get by dialogue, while failure loses you 1 point, +1 per DoF) to wandering around talking to a bunch of boring characters for the entire critical path to the way you have no other actual options. And remember, if you fail here, the entire campaign is rendered unwinnable, though you won't know until book 3. When I tried running this myself, we got about 2 sessions into it before we agreed we'd just wrap the Xath plot and call it for Paths rather than finishing the Adventure Path. It's that fucking tedious to run and to play. You only really have a few options to interact with any of it, and more importantly, the characters are dull as dishwater or supremely annoying. Your entire goal is to get enough Leverages and Introductions to people to get enough points for your negotiation to push things to 6 Approval Points so they'll tell you their secrets and do stuff for you. There are no options to get information by having adventures, or do sidequests to gain approval, or anything. It's just dating sim mechanics all the way.
Also, two of the characters are just fucking dire. I'll get to Lord 'Thanks For Your Service' Frederick and Maximillian 'Sex Pest' Saer. Let's introduce our cast a bit, then next post will be how Brute Squad deals with any of this; I think that will give you some of a sense of the sheer tedium of this adventure.
First up is Dieter Klemperer, a Celestial Mage who is completely unable to be offended no matter what the PCs do because he's so insufferably arrogant that he expects 'common adventurers' to be filthy and rude anyway. He's unoffendable because he's your start point; Zweinstein gives you a recommendation to him as a pen pal and Klemperer in turn will introduce the PCs to Konrad Messner (Critical NPC, Light Wizard Lord) and Guillaume Dechamp (Life Mage, can do the 'kill a PC to win' ritual). Guillaume is basically useless to the adventure unless you've failed, so I'm not going to waste too many words on him; he's just kind of a general adventuring wizard with twigs in his hair. Klemperer is kind of amusing in that he's sort of a fraud; he likes to pretend he knows everything in advance by just adding 'OF COURSE' after anyone says anything and his office is deliberately trying to look really impressive but comes off as over-busy and tacky. The introduction to Messner is what really matters.
Konrad Messner is a general no-nonsense Wizard Lord and opponent of Chaos who is extremely wise and intelligent and 'one of the most powerful individuals the PCs will ever meet'. He's a Light Mage, and if they make him happy, they'll eventually learn from him that the Dagger is held in the Light College, safely warded by a shitload of wizards and powerful wards. At which point an unpaid party probably goes 'Whew, guess it's safe then' and moves on to paying work, I'm just sayin'. Seriously, if you want a dramatic race against time for the Dagger why did you put it locked away in the safest place in the Empire? Sure, it gets stolen eventually if you don't befriend Messner but there's no imminent plot for the PCs to even be worried about. Just a vague sense of 'well the GM sent us to get the dagger so we probably need to.' Messner has no 'leverages' because 'he has no desires, insecurities, or secrets' and seriously? Really? Even if fully friended, he won't give the PCs the Dagger until they deal with an insane Witch Hunter who believes that all Light Wizards are still Chaos Sorcerers (probably due to Van Horstmann). Friending Messner is critical path.
Theodora Pferig is a retired Witch Hunter who used to work with Messner. She likes to talk about past adventures, but also likes them to stay in the past; she's not interested in getting involved in anything anymore after doing her part and settling down on a pile of treasure. Still, she has a lot of friends in the Chaos Fighting community she can introduce the PCs to, and she's happy to meet and talk with and give advice to active Adventurers. If they tell her everything about Middenheim, she remembers she fought a Xath cult with Messner 20 years ago, which can get the players an extra friend point with Messner if they tell him. Listening to her talk at length about her old adventures also gets PCs a bonus friend point, and her advice is generally pretty good; she's a real veteran, after all.
Elizabeth Baern is an annoying and arrogant noblewoman who somehow accidentally exposed and destroyed a Chaos Cult and basks in the reputation among the nobility of being a great heroine, so long as she doesn't find herself in any real danger ever again. She hates Messner because the wizard likes to mention she didn't really do anything of value and it was all luck, and so she's sponsoring the crazy Witch Hunter who is trying to kill him out of spite. There's nothing to her but arrogance and spite, and the PCs will have to grit their teeth and indulge her because they need to get her to stop sponsoring the Hunter. IF the PCs can convince Messner to apologize and humor her, she'll actually immediately withdraw her support and solve that part of the adventure, while also introducing them to the important hidden Death Wizard Gabrielle Marsner, who is also one of the critical path points of the adventure. So she's completely insufferable, but very important as one of the possible paths to winning. No alternate ways to do this, besides flattering her enough yourselves to get her off Messner and get her to tell you about Gabrielle.
The other path to Gabrielle is through Johan Schmidt (no relation to the heroic Johan Schmidt of Old World Bestiary), a young Imperial Noble who wants to be an Adventurer. He's available as a 'just-finishing-Noble' PC if you have a new player or want another character, but he's also the easiest to befriend of all characters: Let him join your party for 3 points, then let him leave for 3 points after a single unrelated encounter or so. Yep, getting him into adventure and then letting him leave the 'exciting life of terrible dangers and peril' quickly and while saving face is how you friend Johan. Which is actually funny! If the whole adventure was like that it wouldn't suck so hard. He's personal friends with Gabrielle (from whining to try to get her to take him on her adventures) and will introduce PCs, with the advice that they should talk up how they heard about her.
The path to meeting Johan flows through Lord Frederick, who is terrible specifically because they try so incredibly hard to make him cool. Frederick is a major introduction machine who is very easy to please. He's a fat, out of shape Imperial noble who thinks fighting Chaos is very important but thinks he doesn't have the courage to do it himself and maybe he'll get his chance to show he's braver than he thinks he is in this very gamebook!!! He is also better than your PCs by design, being a 5th career character who, despite being 'soft and out of shape' is a better fighter than Otto (with a 5 SB) and has a 69% Int and extremely high WP. He gets to be the actual main character of the eventual denouement with Wolfgang, you see, and it'll be about his personal journey to realizing he always had the strength to fight Chaos and what do you mean, he's an NPC? So what? He's Lord Frederick! He's so great and cool and your PCs will love him, I'm sure. He is relatively friendly and helpful, and his hobby is making up medals to give to people who fight Chaos. I'm sure the party will enjoy being given a ribbon and 'thanked for their service' when they tell him about Middenheim. I bet they'll love that. He's super easy to friend, at least, and who doesn't want to befriend Frederick-Senpai?
Gottri Hammerfist is the only character don't actually need to befriend. A mad dwarf Witch Hunter, he just hates Light Wizards so much because he's seen too much shit and snapped. PCs dealing with him do so wholly to discover he's snapped so they can tell his sponsors he's actually accusing every single Light Wizard he can find so that they quietly withdraw support and have him committed.
Maximillian Saer is the worst character in the lot. He's a super rich merchant and aesthete who has 'amazing taste' and who is sleeping with every one of his servants and makes passes at any female PCs. So yeah. Rich sex pest. And you need to be buddies with him potentially. Sex Pest aesthete rich magnate is not really an archetype that flies in 2019, unless they're flying out a window, from being defenestrated. He's mostly only important because he had an affair with Klara Roban, a Sigmarite Priestess who is Gottri's main sponsor, which she's doing because she's so guilty about falling for Max's charms and she doesn't blame him, really, only herself, it was so passionate! God, I hate everything about this guy. He's not even that important; you don't actually need his recommendations for anything. You can win the critical path without him. He's just there to have fucked Klara and made her guilty and crazy, which also feels slimy and wrong.
Speaking of Klara, that's, uh, kind of her whole character. She's guilty she fucked a rich merchant and hates herself for it, so she's constantly driving herself to be a harsher priestess because it's all her fault. PCs can get her off Messner's back by convincing her that Gottri is wrong, by bringing in evidence from Theodora and pointing out Gottri wants to kill all Light Wizards, which is nuts. They can also find out she had the affair and show her her suspicions are based primarily on guilt. At no point can they, like, maybe help her see that Sigmar has no vow of chastity and that having an affair wasn't really that awful a thing or anything.
Finally, we get Gabrielle Marsner, the main character PCs need to find in this whole web through either Johan or Elizabeth. She is a mysterious Death Wizard who dresses all in voluminous robes...to hide that she's 21. She's a 21 year old prodigy and thinks no-one will take a Master Wizard that age seriously, so she tries to pretend she's older, weirder, and wiser, which is actually a really endearing character quirk. She desperately wants to be known as a great and powerful wizard, but also doesn't want to be murdered by cultists, so she keeps the fact that she knows a ritual to destroy demons bound in objects secret unless she can trust the PCs. Getting her to 6 is one of the other critical win points. Her ritual will destroy the Dagger with no real trouble, though the GM can invent trouble if they want to because if the players win this whole section, they just...get the dagger and then Gabby kills it with magic. There are multiple suggestions for adding additional final bosses and things if that seems too dull. She is the only path to actually beat Xath. If players don't meet Gabby they actually can't win Book 3, either. She's also capable of being killed hilariously randomly later on in book 3, also causing an unavoidable fail state. Hurrah for the Sierra Adventure Special!
Goddamn do I hate this section. It's dull as all get out, and the characters don't help; they're too thin and you can only interact with them in approved ways or you lose the campaign. There's a lot of busywork, but no actual adventure and no real intrigue, just talking to people more powerful than you and flattering them until you get what you want. Fuck this dating sim nonsense.
Next Time: The Brute Squad Wins a Dating Sim
The Gang Wins a Dating SimOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
The Gang Wins a Dating Sim
So, this is my perfect chance to show off some of Old World Armory's fashion as well as give more of a sense of just how many steps are involved even when you can reasonably assume the players are doing everything right. I also want to show off what an anticlimax the 'winning path' can feel like, narratively. So today's going to be Brute Squad's 'canon' run through the entire main plot of Spires in one update! Also a shopping trip! And fashion! They'll get to the actually interesting side content after they win their boring dating sim. Assume the stuff with Carlott and Wolfgang happens off screen for the most part (besides Wolfgang's offer to destroy the artifact for them, if he learns of it) and I'll get to them in subsequent updates. Yes, they're meant to be woven into the main plot to make it less boring, but I would also contend that there's value in blasting through it right here and right now to show off what a weak concept for a main plot it is. If you need not one, but two random side villains and a bunch of other stuff thrown in to season the plot to the point that it's at all fun to play, you have perhaps made a weak plot.
So first, our heroes go to see Dieter Klemperer the Celestial Wizard. The team has no wizards of their own, but Solveig does have Magical Sense from Priestess, so she can actually see the Celestial College which makes this a bit easier on them. Klemperer lays out the rules of the minigame to them, and Liniel's ears immediately stick straight up in her hat as the party has it laid out for them: It is time for her favorite thing, networking. Otto points out that no-one is putting up any money yet, but the elf shushes him for now. She'll regret that later. Solveig looks a little uncomfortable with the idea of running all around town talking at people instead of finding something that needs punching and then punching it as Ulric intended, but goes along. They can tell Klemperer is extremely condescending but they don't care, and we'll show off why they don't want you to just use dice, now. See, let's look at Liniel's social abilities. She has a 50% Fellowship, which is pretty good. She also has Schemer, which applies a +10% to her social skills when she's doin' intrigues and politics. There's a reason they set her ears twitching. She also has Etiquette, which gives +10 to dealing with the upper class. Also, a bunch of the people in this adventure as devout followers of Sigmar, and she's got that sweet wolf with a hammer mark from Ulric. So for any of the social tests here, she'd be testing at 70-80%, with 4 Fortune a day (2 base Fate, +1 Ulric given Fate, plus Lucky from Noble). Remember she only needs 2 DoS over TN. Also note Lord Frederick has a little note that any tests to influence him are at +20 because he's so eager to help. So for most contacts she needs a 50-60 to achieve the best possible negotiation success, and an 80 for the central contact who routes the party through everything.
And that's her with only a 1st tier Social Career. If she was a Courtier she'd already have Charm+10 and would be hammering +Fel like mad. A properly built social character with a good starting Fel can absolutely just roll some dice and easily crush this adventure's central plot, at least a significant part of it. Which I'm actually fine with. A highly specialized social hero smashing the social adventure's main point of mechanical difficulty shouldn't be any different from a well built warrior kicking the shit out of a boss fight. But you know, we'll do it the book's way and dating sim it up. First, the team is going to go get some proper clothes, Liniel singing a happy elf song about shopping for business dress as Otto does the actual negotiating, being the only one with Haggle. Katiya stops to point out, again, that they don't have infinite money and no-one has put up funds for this, but they have 134 crowns and all of Altdorf's clothing business at their disposal. Katiya's objections are shortly silenced by an offering of a Best Quality Hat for 5 crowns, with real fur and a lovely feather. Soon, everyone is in the equivalent of a Best outfit, though they sadly couldn't justify the extravagant 40 GC necessary to get Otto a Best Codpiece. He will remember this, glaring at Katiya's hat, but at least he has a proper heroic cape now. Pierre is struck with decision paralysis between the exotic appeal of a southern Estalian fez or a wide brimmed hat, but in the end his archeologist's blood calls to him and he goes with the wide brim. Solveig denies all hats, as is proper for Ulric, and instead spends the time making sure her long hair is brushed and clean, unsure why Pierre keeps blushing and staring occasionally while she does so. Liniel was already the height of fashion and needs no modification. Otto also takes the time to get his mustache waxed, and everyone gets a bath. They are now properly exotic, clean, presentable, professional, and ready to rub elbows with every goddamn upper class twit in Altdorf, at the cost of about 50 crowns. Liniel tells them it's an investment, and they hit the town, starting with Konrad Messner.
Now, they have an Introduction from an Acquaintance, so they start off at 2 points with Messner. They have a pleasant talk with the wizard, telling him some about their adventures in Middenheim and politely asking for help, listening to him and treating him with respect, so we'll assume they get the full 3 points there. This is, sadly, not 6 points yet. They'll need another recommendation from a friend or acquaintance (further recs give +1 each) to max his Friendgauge. He does, however, write them recs to his own allies and acquaintances, because you get an unlimited number of those if you have 4+Friendpoints. So they now have recs to Klemperer (Which will max him at 6), Max 'Sex Pest' Saer, and Frederick-Senpai. They decide to head to the majestic Lord Frederick next.
They meet Frederick at the Gorgon Club, a snooty club that requires the PCs to wait around the back despite the elf insisting she's a noble of Caledor. He talks to them at length about their struggles with Chaos, thrilled to hear about exciting adventures as they humor him for an extra Friend Point by telling him about the screaming skull and curbstomping a Bloodletter. They also listen politely as he talks about the many medals he's given out and shakes their hands and thanks them for their service against evil. Liniel tries to mention they're for hire if he ever hears of dark forces that need stomping, but he chortles and assumes she's joking; the heroes in the operas and broadsheets never ask for reward, after all! Her ears twitch and go sideways, but they stay polite and get the 3 points for Negotiating properly. They have now FRIENDED FREDERICK SENPAI! This is a powerful event that gives them great recommendations to everyone important, but also maxes out their friend gauge with Klemperer and Messner. They go back to talk to the wizards, and Messner tells them about his mess with Gottri Hammerfist even as he apologizes for not being able to give them the Dagger. However, the party now knows where the Dagger is, and for some reason still thinks they need to get and destroy it? I guess they figure that someone will pay for this and that if they can destroy rather than seal a Chaos Artifact that's for the better. Still, objective 1 complete!
They're also approached by Wolfgang, who suggests he knows how to destroy evil daggers, but remember, he's meant to be condescending in the extreme, and our elf is from Caledor; she knows condescending dicks. The party stalls him, especially when he threatens them; he implies he'll go to the Hunters and that if they won't take his offer they must be trying to use, rather than destroy the artifact. This puts him on The List and they give him a runaround, now officially suspicious of a wizard threatening to go to the Hunters.
They go and see Johan next, and allow him to join their party for a bit until one of the encounters with Clara's hilarious assassination attempts (A demon pops out of a letter!) shows him that adventurers have to deal with that sort of bullshit ALL THE TIME. He wisely nopes back to his mansion but the team agrees they'll tell everyone he bravely fought a demon with them and thus he saves face. They immediately Friend Johan. This means he tells them about his friend, Gabrielle Marsner. And asks her to help them, for 3 friend points. They go meet the young wizard, and they tell her they came to her because of her vast reputation for magical power, giving them +1 Friend Points immediately. She's happy to chat, and after talking at length about their adventures (and after it turning out that Liniel knows her ex-companion Ulthuani elf; it's a cousin of hers!) they're going out to get a drink together and she's admitting to them about her ritual. Now they just need to handle the Gottri question. Success!
They go see Gottri and learn of his suspicions, though not their breadth, and go see Konrad's friend Maximillian 'Sex Pest' Saer to get a character witness for him. In between disparaging the Hunters and the PCs' taste in clothing, they still get +1 Friend Points for 'making the effort' with their fancy new clothes and cleanliness. However, they decide they hate Maximillian, as he keeps staring at Liniel's ears and hitting on Solveig and Katiya. Solveig wants to knee him in the dick, but the others persuade her that while that would be what Ulric would do, they can do something far more hilarious when Maximillian keeps dropping hints that he wants in to Frederick's Gorgon Club. They resolve to later go to Frederick and ask him as a favor to keep Maximillian's applications to the club from ever being considered. He's also irrelevant to actually solving the adventure, but they still manage to get all his information and find out about the affair with Klara before they ever meet her.
They see Elizabeth next, and Liniel immediately recognizes a Caledoran in spirit (much of her success as a diplomat is to think of what a Caledoran Princess was taught to do, then doing the opposite) when Elizabeth is a condescending ass to them at every turn. They grin and bear it, flattering her, telling her she can be a key part of them destroying a terrible artifact of Chaos and that she can take partial credit if she wants, and generally convince her to withdraw support for Gottri easily. She might be an annoying person, but she's a very transparent and easily manipulated one. At this point, Solveig and Otto both are complaining loudly about a lack of action, and Pierre is annoyed that no-one has any ancient tombs or artifacts. Katiya points out they still have no pay in the works. They soldier on to Klara.
Convincing Klara is easy. They have recommendations and bonuses from that, but more importantly, they're marked as favored of Sigmar, even if two of them are Ulrican. Chart never actually considers the effect of the divine mark on Klara but c'mon. They end up talking to her about the affair with Maximillian Saer, and Solveig listens to her talk about her guilt in the matter and tries to counsel her, as is one of the ways of Ulrican priests confronted with inner turmoil. Solveig using psychotherapy helps her fellow Priestess realize that she's punishing others because she's guilty about something that Saer talked her into, and with that and Elizabeth withdrawing support and the party's insistence that they are merely trying to destroy an artifact, she realizes Gottri is insane and goes to get him help. They have now won the main plot of Spires of Altdorf!
What about the ritual? Oh, it goes off without a hitch, unless the GM wants to add in a fight or something, I dunno. But as we're going for maximum anticlimax for comedy's sake, they get the Dagger with Messner's blessing, hand it to Marsner, and she kills it within the day. One third of Xath down! The party trades hi fives and handshakes all around, and gets back to their more interesting subplots. Yes, it really can end that way. Win the dating sim without rolling any dice, grab the dagger, hand it to the sane wizard who just kills it with no real costs. There's a lot of SFX and screaming and visions of hell, but no real danger. Good work, Brute Squad!
Also, no-one pays for it. They do get 400 EXP, though, which will be very nice. Also note they never actually needed to meet Theodora or Guillaume. They just kind of forgot them.
Next Time: Fire Dick
At last, a boss fight.Original SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
At last, a boss fight.
Last time, I did my best to give you an impression of how dull the dating sim portion of this adventure is. To be fair, it does say 'if your players hate this, make it easier and faster' but that's kind of a bad thing to have to be saying about the main plot thread of your adventure! Now, let's look at how the gang deals with Wolfgang Schuenacht, Basic Evil Wizard. There are many events set up to tip you off he's evil. For one, him threatening to go to the Hunters is a sign that something's up; wizards don't willingly involve Witch Hunters. Wolfgang is legitimately one of the better structured parts of the adventure, because he doesn't really have a dead giveaway, but he has enough weird little issues that they give a group a good chance of realizing he's evil. Even if you fail and get caught in his ritual to destroy the Dagger, it still turns into a scene where you can disrupt the ritual and stop him; we'll be seeing that with Team Mustache in the Mirror Dimension. You get a lot of chances to stop him, and even his ritual going off doesn't actually lose you the adventure since he eats the Xath shard to become a superdemon and then flies away, never to be seen again. Unfortunately, he also inflicts (if you're using IP) 6 IP on every PC, takes d10 points off every stat they have permanently, and causes 2 permanent wounds so, uh, if you got into that you should make new PCs and seriously that's character ruining.
Anyway, there's another event that can start to tip players off to Wolfgang. While Brute Squad is out and about doing their networking dance, their rooms are robbed. Wolfgang assumed they'd kept the skull, you see, and he wanted it. So he hired a fuckup of a thief and two Protagonists to be a distraction and then rob the heroes' rooms. The thief is, confusingly, named Solveig, which is likely to get her punched by the real, Ulrican Solveig later. Any cash stored in the PCs' rooms is taken, but no equipment unless it looks like it might be a Chaos relic. We'll say they lose about 20 GC to this. Bear in mind that's actually a lot of money; half a Best Codpiece. Anyway, Brute Squad returns from a hearty day of being talked at by upper class twits to find the robbery happened and no inn staff saw a thing, because there was a big brawl going on as a distraction. A brawl between a huge human and a dwarf. Being a former Protagonist himself, Otto knows the marks of a staged brawl and gets descriptions, setting the team on the trail.
They find the two fighters at a bar called the Broken Barrel, having a drink. Otto approaches them, because this is his old trade before he became a more respectable hero and he knows how the business goes. The two Protagonists are a bit drunk and a little belligerent, but Otto disarms it by offering to buy them a drink and assuring them he knows it's all just business, and he just wants to know why they were hired. No need for a brawl unless they're up for one for fun, and who works for free? This actually works; this is absolutely what you're supposed to do here. As long as you buy them a drink, they don't care about spilling their client because Thief Solveig is a dick who annoys her contacts and so they don't care about giving her up. Thief Solveig often works for the very wrong sort of people, they imply, and she isn't popular in the underworld. Lot of people don't care if she gets what's coming to her.
The Brute Squad now has her description, and she's got a very distinctive scar that seems to move a little. They also know she goes to the Cock Pit, a cockfighting ring. They go to find the distinctive scarred thief, which isn't very hard. Also amusingly, Lord Frederick also loves the cockfights, as does Wolfgang. Everybody loves watching chicken attack. Pierre takes the lead as they enter, because roguishiness is his thing, much as he'd prefer to be known as a scholar. Finding a person with a deeply distinctive scar (that also stands out to Our Solveig's Heal skill as unnatural; there's no puckering of the skin. It's a Chaos Mark of some kind) isn't that hard, even in a den of scoundrels. Pierre lures her in by offering to hire her for a surveillance job. He eventually gets around to offering her a gold crown for information on who hired her for the job against them. Again, this is the good way to do the quest. You can also chase her down and capture her in a foot chase, etc, but if you pay her, she's as eager to give up her employer as her Protagonist distractions were to give her up.
She tells Pierre she was hired by a fat guy under a false name called Dieter, and that she's sure the fat was faked. Weirdly, he asked to meet to discuss the job in the ruins of the Bright College's original building, and since they paid her a crown, she'll show them where it was. See, Dieter didn't pay the extra optional money for secrecy, and she's the kind of stupid that regularly betrays employers over that kind of thing (this is why people were so willing to give her up in the first place). As soon as they reach the ruins and Solveig Thief tries to leave, Liniel pulls a gun on her and tells her she's staying. They're going to march her to Empire House and turn her in after this. She stole 20 crowns from them. That's On The List worthy. There's no rules for what happens if you do this, but I imagine a lot of groups that lost any money to the thief aren't going to just let her walk away. The party still lacks for Follow Trail, but they have a lot of Search, and so Pierre manages to find some important clues. Namely, that they find Pierre's notebook about the Chaos Tomb discarded behind a building (you find small items stolen from your room as potential Chaos Items but thrown away by Wolfgang) and a scrap of grey fabric and red and orange fabric under it. Confirming Dieter was wearing a grey cloak over what looks to be the robes of a Bright Wizard...
The entire party collectively narrows their eyes and moves Wolfgang up The List. They go to ask around about him, talking to their dating sim contacts about him and his ritual to destroy a Chaos Artifact. And they find another curious thing: The wizards have heard of Wolfgang Schuenacht since he's supposedly about to become a Wizard Lord in the Bright College, but none of them have heard of him as a major Chaos fighter or heard about him having any special ritual. Lord Frederick has seen him at the Cock Pit. No-one at the Cock Pit actually saw them get Solveig arrested since they waited to be in a lonely corner of the city before doing it, so they don't take the -30 to Gossip tests to ask around about Wolfgang at the Cock Pit that they normally would if they used violence with her. They find a laborer who has done some work for a man matching Wolfgang's description who called himself Master Helsig. 'Master Helsig' seemed to be moving stuff from a shady warehouse into Empire House itself, under an assumed name, with plenty of secrecy. He's able to tell them it went to a weird, secret-ish place within Empire House, though he didn't go inside.
The heroes can't actually get into Empire House, but they know a true hero who can help them. That's right, it's Frederick. They bring him their evidence, and the nobleman realizes this might be his chance to investigate a Chaos incident without really being in danger! He gets his dashingest cape and his fine rapier and asks to come along, saying he'll get them into the Watch Headquarters. On getting inside (fully armed and armored, they're expecting trouble) they find that the laborer's directions go to a broom closet. Then they make Search tests at -20 until someone succeeds and proceeds with the plot. If they fail enough, Frederick will save them and instantly find the door. Yay for Frederick. If they didn't find out where the laborer was taking the crates, searching is much harder and takes longer, and they can actually fail and completely miss Wolfgang and lose this part of the adventure. It takes the Brute Squad about half an hour of looking before Liniel's sharp elf eyes spot the door despite being unskilled in Search, thanks to the +10 to vision checks elfs get even after her Int is halved for being a Basic unskilled check. Down the party goes into Wolfgang's secret Chaos Shrine, which he for some insane reason hid in City Watch HQ. I don't know how he hasn't been caught yet.
As soon as they arrive in the dark shrine, everything lights up and a horrible acid-dripping 12 foot tall demon pops out of the dark shrine, screaming in rage and sending a signal to Wolfgang that someone found his lair. Using Fortune liberally (Solveig and Liniel both needed it), the entire Brute Squad succeeds on Fear. This isn't their first demon! This Demon was also written before they added Demonic Aura to the game, so it isn't actually that dangerous. Because they succeeded at Fear, Frederick automatically fails; he auto-succeeds if they fail so that he can defend them if they're cowering. The demon is, uh, weaker than the final boss demon in book 1. WS 50, SB 4, TB 4, AV 1, Strike Mighty, 2 attacks, 15 Wounds and if it somehow hits you twice it inflicts an additional SB+2 hit automatically. Liniel unslings her bow and shoots it, but misses both shots. The rest of the party charges, and four characters attacking it with Charge and Outnumber gets them 4 hits. Most of them roll poorly, but it doesn't have much DR. Taking 2, 3, 1, and then a Fury from Katiya. For 14 Wounds. Which just beheads it in one blow of her Kislevite saber. Kislevites know how to deal with Chaos Bullshit.
As Frederick is getting his breath and the heroes are wiping their weapons, Wolfgang arrives on the scene. Alone. He's meant to be a boss fight. I should remind you he is completely unarmored. He is also slower than Liniel. Who has two pistols and Quickdraw so she can cycle-fire both of them in one Swift Attack with her good hand. Also with her EXP she has 2 attacks and Mighty Shot. Also you can't Dodge bullets or arrows, and even if you could Wolfgang is a pure wizard and doesn't have Dodge. Or the means to Free Parry. He's meant to start the fight with a ranged spell, then draw his Flaming Sword of Rhuin spell and go, unarmored, with WS 40 (50 with his gloves) into melee with the entire party. If 'pressed sorely' he'll use Summon Lesser Demon, but that has a casting time of 2 full actions. He won't live that long. Whatever happens, the fight with Wolfgang is sure to be short; it's mostly a matter of if he gets off a Fiery Blast and fucks up the party before he drops. I don't think Chart really understands the overall frailty of a Hams Wizard as a party-fighting boss; the book frames this fight as one where the PCs will just barely triumph by dint of numbers.
Instead, Wolfgang arrives, and begins a short speech while gesturing to cast spells. Yelling at the PCs for uncovering his secrets and promising their doom will be slow and tortuous in the shadow of fire as Liniel's ears twitch and her hand moves over her holster like a gunfighter. Two gunshots ring out in rapid succession as she uses Fortune to make sure both hit. She gets 8 and 10 on the damage dice for one, then 2 and 10 on the other; don't fuck with Impact. One Fury confirms, one doesn't. Either way, 15 Wounds from one bullet and 11 from the other leaves Wolfgang at Crit 9. He rolls a 91 for Crit and actually survives the shot, but with a pulverised spine, helpless and unable to act, and likely paralyzed from the waist down. Liniel twirls her gun and holsters it as the spirit of Harrison Ford and the hero stunt-man who improvised that scene in Raiders of the Lost Arc smiles down on her from above.
Conveniently, Wolfgang is alive but helpless and they are in Empire House. The party takes the prone wizard and goes to see if anyone will pay them for an evil Chaos Mage shot down like a dog before he could even have a boss fight.
Now, if you lose to the demon (the book, at least, understands this is unlikely), Lord Frederick surges forward and heroically kills it instantly, then heals the PCs. And if they're losing to Wolfgang, Frederick smashes his altar and completely shuts down his magic, forcing him to only use 1 casting die for the rest of the fight. Hurrah for Frederick. Even in our case, where Frederick did nothing, the PCs have 'helped him gain confidence' and now he'll act against Chaos directly, which has 'far reaching implications' because now there's a real hero in town, Lord Frederick!
Nobody actually pays the PCs for any of this by the normal adventure. Frederick is now their close friend, though, and lets them stay in his mansion so they save on room and board. He also gives them 2 additional friend points with all his contacts by excitedly talking about the battle. Frederick is a humble hero, though, and makes sure the PCs get more credit than they deserve even if he saved them. They also get 300 EXP. Addendum: They also get his magic gloves (Consequence free +10% WS and Str! They go on Otto immediately and never leave! He even withdraws his demand for a Best Codpiece in return) and his excellent magic amulet (+1 to Arcane casting rolls, can sacrifice it to succeed an Arcane spell automatically). They can't use the Amulet, but surely they can find a buyer in a city of wizards.
Wolfgang's plot is okay, if a bit bare bones. He's not a great villain because he's very bog-standard; he's an evil wizard who is a dick and wants endless evil wizard power. It's a bit cliche, but it works. The ways to find him out are well handled and you get a lot of hints before you walk into the Bad End, and honestly the 'disrupt the ritual' action scene is pretty cool and Team Mustache is going to have fun with it. It's more exciting than the main plot, because there's actually an antagonist, but it's also honestly a bit of a disappointing boss fight. Wizards are hard to use as major bosses because as you just saw, guns are an effective counter to wizards. You need to give them cover and mooks and probably have them have used Aethyric Armor before they show up, not that that would've saved him from double 10s from Impact. Wolfgang AND the demon would've been a less depressingly easy fight than Demon THEN Wolfgang. Though it's still hilarious to see him get Indied.
Next Time: Brute Squad and The Many Murders of Carlott
Finally, the good villainOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
Finally, the good villain
So this adventure has kind of sucked so far. Wolfgang was serviceable but not great. The main plot was a boring dating sim. Brute Squad has not been paid, and Katiya is enjoying pointing that out to Liniel and noting that this seems to happen every time they 'network'. Because the next section can be set any time in the adventure, and because I've already distributed the 900 EXP they've earned so far, we'll be saying the sections with Carlott the surviving thug cultist's increasingly ridiculous attempts to kill the heroes happen after they've already destroyed Wolfgang and the Dagger and are hanging around trying to figure out who they can get to foot the bill. Besides, Frederick has told them he has something for them but needs a couple weeks for it, and they hope it's money.
The bits with Carlott trying to kill your PCs are legitimately the best part of the adventure. For one, Carlott is a unique character with a good hook. It's fun to see an evil cultist with a ton of money and a powerful magical treasure (the coin that makes sure other Chaos people will hear her out) who has no goddamn idea how to use them. Her attempts range from the laughable to very serious threats, and she's a good mixture of incompetent comic relief while reminding you that an idiot with a shotgun is still dangerous so to speak. Also, generally, Chart is best at the humorous part of Warhammer, and Carlott is allowed to just be funny. We're going to get hardened action movie sniper with a crossbow. We're going to have the littlest Khornate who believed in himself. There's a mirror match with a leveled up party of mutant adventurers! You can fight a guy's flesh and skeleton separately! This is the actually fun part of the adventure.
Things kick off while the party is off getting drunk and staying away from Frederick. They're staying at his estate because hey, it's free room and board, but they still kind of find him annoying and they've had more than enough of Altdorf's 'high society'. They did have to drag Liniel away from the elven embassies and her desire to Be Elf for awhile (Something not mechanically supported until 4e, sadly), but once they get a couple beers in her she's carousing like the rest of them. As they're out drinking, a little boy scampers up to their table and asks if they're 'the Brute Squad'. A big lady paid him a whole crown to deliver a letter, and he's really excited about that. Someone who throws a crown at a delivery boy has money, and Brute Squad would like to be hired by people with money, so they accept the letter and open it.
Out pops the best Khornate demon ever. The Letter Demon is a sad little monster, who isn't intended to be a real challenge for the heroes. But his backstory is great! He's a three foot, tentacled Khornate squire. His job back at the great brass and iron fortresses of the dark lord is polishing better Khornate's weapons. Carlott was able to get his help easily by telling him she believed in him and that he could totally kill the PCs, and he's so excited to actually fight something instead of taking care of weapons all day! He's...he's not very good at fighting (WS 33, SB 4, TB 3, 12 Wounds, 1 Attack). Most of the party is surprised enough to be afraid for a moment, though, and he's really excited about that! He starts a speech about how he'll challenge their greatest champion and can't help but chatter excitedly about how happy he is to be here before Otto yells and stabs him in the head. And nearly puts him down in one blow. He does actually manage to hit Otto back, and we'll say Otto isn't in full armor because hey, they're out drinking, so he even inflicts 3 Wounds! He's drawn blood, for the first time in his life! You go, little Letter Demon. Dream big. He gets completely curbstomped by the Imperial duelist in round 2 as everyone else recovers, but dangit, he tried.
The Letter Demon is obviously meant to be an easy opponent to warn you someone is trying to kill you. The whole tavern is in an uproar, with people trying to protect their beer or their friends or running for the door, but they shortly notice the heroes have already killed the demon and are detaining the little boy who delivered the letter to ask a couple more questions. He has no idea what the heck happened, and the letter itself just bears the mark of the Crimson Skull cult. So, they know it's a survivor from Middenheim. They let the boy go before he ends up in trouble with the Hunters and the innkeeper approaches, asking if he can buy Otto's sword for triple the going rate. Otto shrugs and sells it to him, reasoning he can use the money to buy a proper fencing rapier. If you sell a weapon 'used to kill a demon' to the innkeeper, he makes the tale of the time Adventurers fought back a demon in his tavern a big part of his advertising. The number of demons and the heroism of the Adventurers grows every year, until a couple years later Brute Squad will come through and hear excited stories from regulars about how Adventurers and patrons sealed a portal to the Chaos Wastes in this very bar and saved the whole city.
I really like this little encounter because as mechanically simple as it is, it's A: Good form to warn the players they have a mysterious Khornate cultist out to kill them and B: It's a fun way to do it. Little details like the innkeeper trying to make an advertisement out of the battle are the kind of thing that make Warhammer fun. Warhammer has always been partly a comedy setting, much as I've played and run a lot of dramatic adventures in it. This is the same setting where it logically followed that my apprentice Witch Hunter PC had to debate a magical witch's familiar cat on existentialism for an hour to distract him enough to get Monsieur Fluffles to the wizard vet without getting his face clawed off. This is the setting that has squigs, for God's sake. The most excited little Khornate Intern getting crubstomped and turned into a tourist attraction is a great example of how Hams can be really funny while still being in-character for the setting and not throwing itself off.
Leaving the bar, now with an unarmed Otto, the party is then jumped by 6 lads with clubs for attempt number 2. The Per test not to be surprised is -10, but Pierre has entered Verenan Investigator and picked up Keen Senses. Using his clever french detective powers, he deduces that the demon must have been a distraction and not a serious attempt on their lives, and there must be a second group. Again, we'll assume everyone is only in Light armor of some kind because they were out drinking, not out fighting, and wearing chainmail and plate everywhere is heavy as fuck and kind of rude for the city. Unsurprised, they now face 6 extremely outmatched basic thugs, none of whom want to die. Otto slips on his knuckle dusters and shows off what Street Fighter does. He also actually uses Strike to Stun, punching two of the assailants with his suddenly effectively 76% WS. He has to use a little Fortune to hit the 65% Str checks (Pummeling, 55% Str), but he knocks two of the six men out in round one with Stun. Solveig, not wanting to be outdone, does the same and similarly manages to Strike to Stun a third thug with her bare hands. Given the thugs are supposed to flee the second they're losing, and seemingly unarmed people just beat the shit out of three of them in less than ten seconds before they could attack, and the others are drawing swords and guns, the thugs flee or surrender at that point.
Like a lot of the criminals in this adventure, they don't want to die (and they were paid in advance, with a huge bonus if they brought the PCs' heads) and are pretty miffed about being pointed at apparently expert badasses. So they tell the PCs everything about who hired them. The description matches the description from the messenger boy. They also get the name of the bar the Protagonists were hired at: The Three Beards. With nobody dead or really seriously injured once the three recover, the Brute Squad sends the men on their way. No harm, no foul. If you turn them over to the Watch, they get flogged publicly and then released.
But the night isn't done yet. Because up above, a hard man with a five o'clock shadow, a dramatic backstory, and a crossbow is tracking the heroes after their fight with disposable action movie mooks. This is Adelbert Greft, a hardened killer and professional crossbow sniper hired by Carlott. You only spot him with a -30 Perception check 'if the players are, for some reason, looking for a sniper', so he's going to get off his first shot. He's actually pretty terrible at everything but shooting, but his entire thing is shooting, so you know. The interesting thing with Adelbert comes if the PCs capture him. His first shot hits the 'least armored' character, so we'll say he goes for Solveig, trying to hit her unarmored head but missing and hitting her in the back for 6 Wounds. She winces, the party turns, and Pierre easily makes the now Per+0 test to spot the sniper. Liniel draws her bow and yells 'SUPPRESSING FIRE!' in Eltharin, so the others assume it's some kind of cool elven battle cry except for Pierre, who understands her. She also shoots Adelbert twice, despite his cover and range, rolling 02 on d100 twice. Doing 12 Wounds. Realizing he's picked the wrong target, he tries to flee the second story building he's in, but remember: Katiya is extremely fast in a foot chase. Players still have to make Agility tests to chase him through the crowd, and Adelbert has to do the same. After a fairly long chase, he stumbles and smashes through a cart full of cabbages and the heroes corner him.
Now, Adelbert is just a hired gun (crossbow), and if he's turned over to the Watch as an assassin, he hangs. But the party has noticed something thanks to their brilliant Bretonnian archeology detective: These thugs and servants don't seem to realize they have anything to do with Chaos. He can tell them where he was supposed to meet his employer, how much he was paid (10 gc, 2 gc per dead PC; kind of cheap for the level of trouble he was walking into) and generally tries to claim it was all just business. He knows nothing about any cult stuff. Until Pierre shows him the letter and cult mark and explains. Adelbert, you see, hates Chaos. A lot. His father was killed by a Beastman and he originally got into sniping to get revenge. He believes the PCs immediately if they have any evidence, after all. He tells them he's going to get revenge on his evil employer, because an action movie character hired by a wicked employer always does. They decide to send the assassin back at Carlott while they resolve to hunt her down themselves.
If this happens, Adelbert becomes a GM's resource. He won't just find and kill Carlott for the PCs without their input, but at GM's option he can show up at the final battle with her, or future battles with her minions, provide a single, highly accurate crossbow shot from the shadows, and then fade away mysteriously, probably while monologuing. This is another fun touch to this part of the adventure: Almost everyone from the criminal underworld Carlott works with turns on her immediately if they find out she's a Chaos Cultist, because they aren't idiots and fuck Chaos. Similarly, the various thugs and hirelings being willing to talk because they're just here for the money and Carlott's an out of towner anyway is a nice touch that gives the PCs some clues.
Next Time: It Gets Weird
Well, that was a bit bullshitOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
Well, that was a bit bullshit
This update contains both the most fun, and the worst designed, encounters in all the Carlott arc. You remember Chart's advice in Renegade Crowns to make sure that if players don't have a chance of detecting something, its first attack misses? Yeah, he's going to forget about that (to be fair, Renegade Crowns was written after this so it might be a reaction to a mistake here) and that's going to partly spoil what is otherwise a genuinely interesting encounter.
Having dealt with Adelbert and given Solveig time to treat herself and Otto's minor injuries, the team has spent a couple days starting to look for their mystery assailant. They've also picked up a Rapier for Otto, because as funny (and surprisingly effective, they're currently Damage 4 and 76% WS, he could probably punch out a Chaos Warrior) as his fists are an actual weapon plus his shield gives him his free parry back. They're meeting up at their quarters in Frederick's manor (the encounter normally assumes an inn, but anywhere that inexplicably has a big mirror will work) when Carlott's most serious assailant hits. She's hired a dark wizard to conjure a special, specific invisible Chaos Demon into the world. He's lured it by promising it with his spell that for every PC it kills, it gets 1 day in reality to do whatever it wants and enjoy all the realness. Chaos Demons love being in reality, even as they also love trying to destroy reality. Like a moth to a flame if the moth was also a fire-fighter. That's an awful metaphor.
Anyway, this horror is completely silent and unseen, unless it and its victim are both reflected in a mirror together. In that case, it manifests and PCs can fight it by the reflection of themselves and the monster in the mirror. They won't take any penalties for this; it's the only way to kill the thing so giving them -20 or -30 would be in bad form. Its profile is unclear; it says it attacks with psuedopods and causes SB damage, but not SB Damage, necessarily; I ran the fight as it doing d10+5 (It's SB 5, it's a pretty significant monster) but if it actually just does 5 damage an attack that would make it much easier. It's going to jump the party by fiat, and more annoyingly, the wizard has 'a magic spy' that just tells him when the PCs are asleep or when as many of them as are going to sleep have gone to bed. This is poor form, especially as it doesn't anticipate that the PCs might have someone with Magical Sense like Solveig. The critter will then automatically hit a sleeping character (remember, if you're asleep you take +d10 damage, too) and start the fight, with no chance to spot it prior. This is a dick move, especially as IF it does d10+5 this is now 2d10+5 vs. an unarmored PC who can't dodge. 7-25 wounds, with no defense and a big component of your DR off. If this killed someone (or made them Burn Fate) they'd be pretty within their rights to be pissed at the GM for hitting them with something they have literally no way to avoid. If the demon hits someone and inflicts any Wounds, it also causes a blood drain; the character keeps taking 1 wound a round for every wounding hit they've suffered until the mirror demon is dead.
This is, outside of one fight on the failure route, the hardest fight in the book. The demon is WS 50, SB 5, and has 25 wounds and 2 attacks, but it has an Achilles' heel: It has no DR at all, just TB 1. Even unarmed characters can punch the heck outta this thing once they realize what's going on. It also doesn't have any defense abilities like Dodge. The real issue is that backstab, and the possibility that between needing someone to hit a Per test to realize it has a reflection and becomes real when reflected and everyone needing to make Fear tests when it appears, the team might lose multiple turns. Also, they aren't in their armor. For our purposes, it picks a target randomly, going after Katiya. She's very lucky on the damage roll and 'only' takes 8 out of her 15 Wounds on the first blow, screaming bloody murder and waking everyone immediately. The Per test part is easy, since the whole party tries and Pierre has a 70% chance anyway. He spots the thing and fails his Fear test immediately, even after using Fortune, but Solveig uses one of her minor spells to break him out of Fear immediately on her turn and he's able to warn everyone. Everyone but Liniel is able to (with Fortune) make their Fear tests as most characters spend round 1 grabbing weapons and positioning themselves with the mirror, while the beast keeps trying to kill Katiya. She also takes a -10 to everything with it wrapped around her. Thankfully for her, she's got Dodge and a good Agi and manages to dodge the next hit, then...well, they pile in. Katiya burns some more Fortune to ensure two hits, recognizing an emergency, and if there's one thing this write-up's segments should suggest it's USE FORTUNE whenever you're in an emergency. It's a huge part of what keeps PCs alive. DR 1 doesn't do well against a Damage 6 Kislevite, and Solveig's punch finishes the thing off after Katiya slices it up.
It's a short, brutal fight if the team makes the Per and Fear tests, but that initial backstab is just a huge dick move. Which is a shame, because the basic idea of the fight is cool. It could be a neat, tense scene if the monster was stalking them individually or something, but instead it just ambushes the team, then dies. Once again, I'm convinced the low DR and huge damage demons take in these early Paths of the Damned books are why they invented Daemonic Aura for Old World Bestiary and onward.
Katiya gets fully healed by Solveig, but she's still a bit shaken. The party goes out the next day to continue their hunt, and then Liniel takes a leg of mutton to the face as a shopper flies into an insane frenzy. Soon, people all over the crowd are just going berserk with Frenzy and coming right at the PCs as they find themselves assailed by hausfraus and bargain hunters. While Solveig and Otto hold off the frenzied shoppers (that's their profile title!) with Strike to Stun and improvised weaponry (they're trying not to kill innocent people, the book assumes you'll feel the same) the others try to figure out what the hell is suddenly driving people insane. Liniel spots a single young man running through the crowd with a Per-10, touching people in the crowd and driving them mad. Anyone stunned or reduced to 1 or less Wounds also recovers from the frenzy immediately, which is making Otto and Solveig's job easier. The three other characters try to grab the hooded boy driving people mad, and get a nasty surprise when it turns out to be a worm-headed Chaos creature. And also when it drives Pierre into a mad frenzy and sends him at the other two. He was not up for WP-20, even with Fortune. While Katiya takes a pick to the face from Pierre for 7 Wounds (she's having a really bad update) Liniel sees little other option and double-taps the creature. Her pistols come through again, dropping the insane monster and immediately ending the Frenzy in all around.
I don't especially like this encounter primarily because the normal book encounter makes it clear the creature doing this is a child. Monster or not, not really big on a part of an adventure that expects the heroes to shoot a ten year old kid, and there are no options besides killing it. It hates everyone and wants you dead. The basic idea of the PCs being surprised by frenzied shoppers and then possibly one of their own once they grab the villain is fine, just I'd prefer an actual villain to an insane child.
Carlott's attacks have been getting more dangerous, as you might notice. The last one is her capstone, designed to prod a group into trying to put a stop to her, not actually knowing she's out of tricks at this point. She's found five heavily mutated and Chaos-following Adventurers and gotten them together for a mirror match with the PC party, and the mutant party has an edge: Their Spy is a terrible fighter but her mutation makes people untouched by Chaos prone to overlooking her. She's been watching two of the fights and knows a bit about the team's strengths and weaknesses, but by now the heroes have had enough bullshit that they're going about their business fully armed and armored. Beatrix the Spy will be used to lure the heroes in by shooting at them ineffectively with a bow, then the three mutant Pit Fighters (High WS, good S and T, decent armor, but only one attack) and the corrupted Journeyman Wizard they've got with them will ambush them.
Now, unfortunately for the Mirror Match party, the Brute Squad is an unusually combat heavy party. The joke is they almost all picked combat promotions because of the Knight Bullshit at the end of Ashes. By this stage, only Pierre and Solveig lack for a second attack, and Solveig still hits like a truck and Pierre is about to get his second attack soon. Most of the team is in decent armor, and has full armor coverage, unlike the mutant fighters (They have AV3 Body, AV 1 arms, 0 elsewhere, because they all have mutations stopping them easily wearing head or leg armor). The mutants are honestly quite outmatched in terms of combat ability. Their one equalizer is they have a wizard and the heroes do not, and the mutants both picked the battleground and actually manage to surprise the Brute Squad, despite Pierre existing (He picked a bad time to fail at things).
Thankfully for the heroes, Beatrix the Spy stays out of the fight (She's a terrible fighter and is waiting to run away), so when they're set upon by a woman with a two foot neck , her lamprey-eyed sister, and their masked axe-murder sister (the three Pit Fighters are sisters) they only have to deal with 3 hits. Surprise doesn't stop Reactions, though, so Katiya and Otto stop their attackers and only Solveig takes a hit. Unfortunately for her, it's a max damage two-handed axe hit for 9 Wounds. And then she gets followed up on by Burning Blood. One of the projectiles from the wizard bounces off, the other nails her for another 9, inflicting Critical 4 on the poor Ulrican. She nearly loses her left arm, and has our first instance of Blood Loss. Every round, there is now a 20% chance she bleeds to death until she stops the bleeding, and she has a chance to lose the arm after the fight. That's not good. Solveig uses Heal on herself, gritting her teeth and trying to stop herself bleeding to death, and is thankfully successful. Rolling Tough, she'll also keep the arm, but damn is she going to be messed up for a bit. Crits ramp up in lethality extremely quickly.
As an aside, one of the suggestions for the fight is if the wizard is kicking your players in the dick, you can feel free to have his magic go wrong at any point. If it does, his normally fluid skin (his mutation) decides to leave for good and leaves his screaming skeleton standing in the street. At that point, the skeleton's screaming draws the guilty gooey flesh back to him and skeleton and blob of flesh tag team your PCs, but are much less of a problem than the wizard. I just thought I'd point out that's metal as hell.
Liniel decides she's got to support the Ulrican and double-taps the wizard, as is her way. Those guns are really doing work. Sadly, this deprives us of screaming flesh/skeleton tag-team but she adds yet another unprotected wizard to her kill count. Otto Maneuvers the axewoman out of combat with the Ulrican and steps into her place. From there, the fight proceeds much more normally, lasting a few more rounds as the heroes trade blows with the mutants, but their larger number of attacks and much better gear show. While Otto takes a few hits, nothing as awful as what happened to Solveig comes up again, and soon enough they've put the mutants into crits. At which point they surrender. More importantly, the mutants can tell the PCs directly where Carlott's base is, at a warehouse in the slums. Normally, you only get the mutant fight if you fail to find her sooner, but I couldn't deprive this writeup of all the Carlott arc encounters and had to show off the possibility of screaming skeleton tag team.
Curiously, there's actually no long-term need to keep a broken/mangled limb in a sling for weeks like in 4e; if the character doesn't lose the limb, they'll be fine as soon as they're stitched up. Solveig blesses herself with healing, healing one more wound with magic, but she'll still need to wait a day before she can recover any further; Heal goes by encounters and by days. You can Heal once per encounter where you're injured, and then Heal again every day. Heal is absolutely critical to getting back on your feet quickly, though the team sadly lacks a Surgery character. Surgery would give +20 to 'don't actually lose the limb' tests, too. Now knowing where Carlott is, and that her name is Carlott, the team goes to get Solveig some rest while they add another name to The List.
Next Time: The End of Altdorf and the Rise of Team Mustache
Roll to discover your enemy is lairing in a trap-laden fortress like a spiderOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
Roll to discover your enemy is lairing in a trap-laden fortress like a spider
One of the bits I appreciate about the whole Carlott arc is that Carlott absolutely knows she can't take the PCs on in a fair fight. Even if they weren't as dangerous as Brute Squad, or were earlier in the adventure and so hundreds of EXP back, they'd still outnumber her enough that she really doesn't want to fight them woman to PC Party because she's aware of the existence of action economy. She's not a joke in a fight, either, but she's really no match for Otto or Katiya in a duel; she's about equivalent in strength, toughness, but they're both better equipped since she only ever wears medium armor on her chest and nowhere else. An awful lot of enemies don't wear full armor. They're also more skilled than she is.
Another thing I appreciate is that while I showed off all her murder attempts against Brute Squad because I think they're fun encounters, there are many points in her arc where you can find her early and stop the attacks. It gets increasingly easy to find her as the attacks go on, culminating in the mutant Adventurers telling you basically everything about her, but you can actually get at her as far back as the first thug attack conceivably; as soon as you hear about the Three Beards bar the path to finding her is open. The Three Beards is a shitty bar and brothel in a bad part of town, inhabited by thugs and sellswords. Staking out the bar and finding Carlott from her description is a matter of some stealth and investigation, then requires carefully following her through the maze of tenements around the area. One of the notes in the book is that Carlott isn't very smart. She has a 27% Int and is terrible at perception. Even an unskilled PC can follow her through the crowds if she doesn't think she's being followed, in case you don't have a rogue. I like that Carlott being kind of out of her depth trying to be a cult mastermind is also used as a gameplay mechanic to help parties without a stealth specialist track her. Following her like this would be extremely easy for a skilled rogue/investigator like Pierre, or even someone with basic stealth skills like Katiya. Heck, even Liniel could do it with her great elven Agi. So while Brute Squad went through all 6 murder attempts, it's not only possible but pretty likely you'll get her before the mirror match finale if you really try.
Which is good! In general, the Carlott arc is like looking at this adventure if the whole thing was well done. The actual confrontation with her has some nice wrinkles and space for multiple PC types and ways to handle it, too.
Still, Brute Squad knows exactly where she is, and knows she's set up a trap-filled lair in an old warehouse she's bought. They give themselves a day and get Solveig a poultice (which lets her Heal as if she was lightly wounded, healing 8 Wounds and telling the others she'll be fine despite the fact that her arm was hanging by a thread yesterday). She also takes up the greataxe that the mutant almost killed her with; Ulricans get Two-Handed and Solveig is not the kind to care about her own safety. They know the warehouse will be dangerous, but they also know Carlott's actual Chaos Shrine is there. They're also feeling a little more cautious after Solveig's injuries and send Pierre in first to scout.
You really want to do this. If you send a scout, there's a bunch of easy Stealth stuff to do inside and around. If you just charge in, the front door is set up to slam shut behind you and lock you in a murder-hole where Carlott's minions fire bows down at you from cover above until someone makes a Str-20 test to break down the door or the party hits on playing dead and then attacking the thugs when they come to loot the bodies. Even if you don't scout, you get Per tests to realize this trap is here; it's a nasty ambush and just letting PCs walk right into it would be bad form. Getting into the warehouse without alerting the thugs that they should slam the door is an Easy (+20) Silent Move test, so Katiya and Pierre go in first to look for a way to disable the rigging. Looking around inside, they find something even better: A window whose boards they can pull up that will let the rest of the party in. Simple Agi tests will get you in through the window without alerting Carlott and her backup, and in general the test difficulties are set to make it possible that a party of non-specialists find the windows and get in without alerting the enemy.
Also, if a fight starts, it's 6 thugs with shortbows (using the Bandit statistics, so mooks) against a party of 5, plus Carlott will be alerted and come running. The party can absolutely win that battle if they're past the main trap. If you surprise Carlott, though, you can kick down her flimsy door to her office and find her staring blankly into space, trying to think of something more inventive and effective for killing the PCs as she sits in bed. Also, if players have noticed a pattern from Adelbert and the other thugs she's hired, if you rip away her curtain and reveal her severed head Chaos Shrine in her bedroom, when the thugs come to back her up they suddenly start backpedaling and going 'Whoa! Whoa, we didn't know about no Chaos shit, good sirs! Don't call the Hunters, we'll help you with this cultist!' I really, really love the way Carlott has had no luck finding actual Chaos Cultists because all she knows is criming, but the criminals in the city are too smart to want to work with Chaos once they see it.
As for Brute Squad, they have two stealth characters who can get the drop on Carlott pretty easily, and they know where the shrine is. As the others wait in the shadows to provide backup near the window, Katiya and Pierre successfully slip into Carlott's room. As Katiya confronts her and challenges her with her saber, Pierre pulls aside the curtain to smash whatever's in the shrine with his pick, reasoning that might stop the probably-a-powerful-cult-magus from summoning demons; they don't actually know Carlott's sort of in over her head. The other three move in behind the thugs as they come to help Carlott, her axe and dagger clashing with Katiya's saber and shield as neither can seem to hit the other. The thugs are astonished to see the Chaos Shrine and immediately join in, yelling that they ain't workin' with no Chaos Cultist, at which point all of Brute Squad comes together to curbstomp Carlott and the annoying part of the denouement triggers.
You see, Chart is pretty convinced Carlott will make a great recurring villain, and I can certainly see some groups enjoying having Chaos Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius) taking the occasional hilarious swing at them. But for this encounter, it's fiat that Carlott will escape when defeated, because she has a secret escape tunnel (she'll get knocked into her bookshelves and scramble out in the chaos) and a Fate Point. Now, I like the OPTION of Carlott getting away; she's a fun villain and could continue to be one down the line. But I'd rather gauge if my players were enjoying dealing with her before deciding whether or not they can capture/kill her here. Heck, if you want her Fate Point to go off still, you could have her captured here and turned in for a reward with the option to have her escape before her execution. Still, it's a minor complaint and something a GM can easily fix.
With that, the Carlott arc is over, as is the canon route of Brute Squad's adventures in Altdorf. They knock her through the shelves, she scarpers, they decide that's enough on this matter and go to get drunk and work out how to get paid. As they sit around a table bandying about ideas, I'm left to explain why I keep hammering this point so much. You need gear in Hams. If Solveig had been in full mail armor, she would've been knocked to 0 but not Critted at all. She almost died (well, Burned Fate) back in the Mutant Mirror Match because she's been stuck in light armor, not wanting to upgrade to Studded because then she couldn't upgrade that set to mail and she wants to top out at mail with Armored Caster. A company of adventurers in WHRP needs some money at some point, especially as in the setting you're usually intended to care about it quite a bit. There's lots of implication you should care about having nice clothes, or getting a good drink every now and then; your PCs have a rough life and deserve a break. But if you go entire plot arcs and adventures without pay, PCs will be scrambling just to buy ammunition and essentials. I don't know where this blind spot on monetary rewards comes from but it's everywhere in WHFRP's premades.
However, the team has made contacts in the Colleges and has a powerful magical amulet that they can't use. I'll rule they're able to gift it back to the Bright College as well as handing over Wolfgang for pacification (enjoy that, asshole) rather than giving him to the Hunters. In return the Bright College gives them what was to be Wolfgang's yearly salary for 1 year on his promotion to Wizard Lord, because the core book lists the yearly income of an average Wizard Lord. 500 GC goes a long way to making the team happy with their adventures in Altdorf. Liniel also presents Lord Frederick with a bill for the destruction of one (1) Chaos Artifact, which he agrees is fair, and he promptly pays the wizard Gabrielle Marsner for her services rather than Brute Squad, misunderstanding her intentions and assuming, still, that real heroes don't ask for rewards. Liniel's ears twitch, but she bites her tongue on the matter when he presents the party with some of his made-up awards, but also a Best Quality Rapier for Otto as a personal gift. It seems a nice way to make up for him losing his Best Hand Weapon from Ashes due to losing their runesmith. The team also sells the dumb medals for another fifty crowns, and with that, they've made a little more money than they did in Middenheim. But only a little.
With bills to pay and gear to pick up, but with no urgent matters to handle in the meantime, they collect their EXP (50 for each assassination attempt, 200 for defeating Carlott, for 500), their Fate Point for defeating Wolfgang, and declare they've beaten Spires of Altdorf. It's time for the team to take in a couple operas, get drunk, let Liniel loose among the elven embassies, and generally wait for the Chalice of Wrath to show up because they're pretty convinced they can't get off this dumb main plot even if they tried. The book also suggests sending them at a few other select pre-mades to grind for more EXP, and we'll assume they do that off-screen; they're hideously overleveled for the adventures suggested in Spires (Most of which are for PCs in mid-to-late 1st career) and I don't feel like covering them. So we'll assume they face-stomp two haunted houses and some other intrigues to level grind in the meantime. Good work, Brute Squad.
You may also notice with no-one dying so far, they're getting kind of crazy on Fate. The official position seems to be to give Fate at the end of successful major story arcs, with the assumption someone is likely to use up a Fate Point in the process, but I like to award it more rarely but balance encounters such that PCs are less likely to Burn it. I find that the official approach can lead to a situation where Fate starts to snowball. Even their goddamn Elf has 4 Fate (with +1 Fortune a day from Lucky) now. With so many rerolls per day, it's getting increasingly hard to put them in a situation where they might need to Burn any.
Next Time: The Mustache Dimension
Team Mustache Plays By Their Own RulesOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 2: Spires of Altdorf
Team Mustache Plays By Their Own Rules
So, what would have happened if the party had been bored stiff and refused to play along with the adventure at all? What would have happened if Solveig had done as Ulric wished and punched out Maximilliam Saer when he was being a creep? In another dimension, a mirror world where the PCs are having none of this shit, we will find out.
Physically assaulting any of the contacts leads to an infinite swarm of guards who arrest you, though not before Solveig gives Saer a shiner and a broken nose. It also leads to prison and after allies get you released (Klemperer will always do so for some reason) any social tests you roll during the rest of the Dating Sim portion are at -10. Weirdly, it does not actually lose you any points with them directly.
We'll say that's enough to make sure the team never actually meets Gabrielle Marsner. But more importantly, in the Mustache Dimension, they never discover Klara's affair (because Max was punched in his stupid, smug face. The book even says to have him regularly try to rub it in to PCs that they can't do anything but try to win his favor.) and so never get rid of Gottri. What happens if they don't find the Dagger?
Somehow, an entire army of beastmen get into Altdorf and assault the Light College, that's what. Huh? How? Why not use a cult attack or something? How did hundreds of Beastmen slip into Altdorf unnoticed and attack a secret wizard college? Who knows, it's Chaos, they can just do whatevs whenevs. Even with the Colleges depleted of many of their combat wizards since they're away with the army, by the time the PCs arrive the Beastman army is broken and the wizards are lasering the remnants. The issue is that one of those remnants has the Dagger. And the PCs are the main thing standing in its way. This is by far the hardest fight in the book. Even Brute Squad is potentially at risk here. You see, the Dagger's wielder has all its giant artifact bonuses: +2 AV to all locations, SB+4 base damage, a point of Armor Piercing, and +20 to hit. So his profile comes out to WS 80, 2 Attacks, Damage 10 (effectively 11, since he pierces armor), with 8 DR on his head and legs, 9 on his arms, and 11 on his chest. And for every 2 PCs, there are 3 other normal mook Beastmen.
The main thing that can let you win is these Beastmen have been fighting quite a lot already. The mooks only have 5 HP each, so they'll probably go down in a single blow from advanced characters. The Wielder only has 9 HP. He'd recover 4 (his max his 18) per kill he gets, except Brute Squad (Mustachioed) has Fate. This fight is meant to look impossible, but be fully winnable due to the state of the enemy, which is a good GMing move. Still, the damage rating on the Champion is probably a bit overkill; I'm not all that fond of throwing massive +Damage around after the game intentionally limited S and T advances and scaling to try to prevent one-shots. Also remember this version of Brute Squad hasn't been succeeding objectives and so is significantly behind on EXP. Still, as usual, starts off with the Elf Double Tap, one Damage 4 bullet (she doesn't have Mighty Shot or Sure Shot in this time) hitting the head, one a lightly armored arm. And...the second bullet Furies. 5 Wounds on the headshot, 9 Wounds on the arm shot, and while the Crit doesn't kill him, it does almost blow off his right hand and shoot the Dagger right out of it.
It turns out starting most fights with a high initiative, high BS character at fairly close range double-tapping someone with twin pistols is effective. The team is still facing a ton of Beastmen, though, and the wielder isn't dead. Otto bounces off his mail shirt, even without the Dagger bonus to DR, and the Beastmen have shields and parry pretty well when the melee guys charge to keep them from charging Liniel. It turns into a chaotic fight where the Beastman Champion, with his hand mostly blown off, almost takes Otto out with his horns alone as he fights the Imperial for the Dagger. By the end of it, even with that seemingly curbstompy beginning, Solveig is at 4 Wounds, Otto at 3, and Katiya at 6. Pierre took a Crit that required putting his leg back together a bit. Enemies with shields who have a decent WS can be a bastard when they get lucky on defenses, and the Champion just refused to die despite starting off getting blown away. If he'd had the Dagger the whole fight he would have definitely taken out Otto if everything else went the same. Not to mention Liniel had to spend time moving around to the sides to get around the mook Beastman shields and still ended with a -20 to shooting since she was firing into a melee, but that was actually still better to-hit odds than everyone else needing to get past 50% Parry rolls. They also made the mistake of spreading their attacks to try to win quickly instead of focusing down people actually out of active defenses, and 8 foes (and one champion) with good WS can still be dangerous even when they're Damage 3 if you don't take them seriously enough.
If they'd lost, Messner and other wizards would've arrived to laser the villain and save them to represent them burning Fate. As it is, the near robbery makes Messner declare the PCs should safeguard the relic for now until it can be destroyed. Okay, sure, we've established the Light College is not fully safe storage for this in case somehow an army of hundreds of Beastmen make it into Altdorf. And that boss fight is an interesting concept, plus an indicator of how Chart sees serious combats: Mandatory combats in Spires are all pretty easy. Dangerous combats happen if you dally too long on a plotline or fail a part of the storyline. It's specifically in the book that this fight is one that may take a Fate Point off a couple PCs because they failed the Dating Sim and had to resort to the exciting action sequence. I do like the design choice of weakening the Beastmen's HP to represent combat fatigue, though; that lets you throw an impressive number of bodyguard mooks at the PCs while still giving them a fighting chance.
Team Mustache remembers another wizard offered to destroy the Dagger for them and gets to it, because they figure they're on the plot railroad now. They are, it's true; you're railroaded to success in this adventure one way or another, and I'll talk about some of that when we get to their final encounter. For now, let's see what happens if you trust Wolfgang.
First, you get a bunch more warnings this is a bad idea. Like when he sends you out to fetch the last ritual component, a rod and bell made of human bone. The second sign they really shouldn't be doing this is when Wolfgang explains the ritual requires chaining them up in his wizard basement. He says he'll be chained up too and it's all very magical, and because they haven't gained enough EXP at this point, Team Mustache's Pierre may have a fabulous mustache, but he lacks Academic Knowledge (Magic). He cannot see why these are bad ideas yet. Even once they're chained up in his wizard basement, he only needs them to be willing sacrifices at the START of the ritual. He'll let himself loose as soon as it's begun because at that point the PCs' consent no longer magically matters.
This is a critical error on Wolfgang's part. You get more tests to realize he's pulling some fuckery but only if you have Knowledge (Magic) or Speak Language (Magic), but Solveig does. She manages to make the inexplicably difficulty -30 test to realize the language he's using is Daemonic. Even without that, most groups probably get suspicious when Wolfy frees himself and starts cackling wizardly. The ritual takes hours, and the chained up PCs have a bunch of ways to stop him. See, Wolfgang is too busy with the ritual to stop the PCs trying to escape or fuck with him. Disrupting the ritual is Very Bad for Wolfgang. Any PC can, at any point, spend 1 Fate permanently to have their chain turn out to be improperly anchored, heroically break free, and punch the helpless wizard in the face, saving everyone. A -30 Str test will just shatter the chains, but you only get 1 attempt per PC. Getting to a loose object and hitting the magic bell by throwing it at -10 will stop the ritual. Hitting and extinguishing a candle at -30 will do the same. As will throwing a rock at Wolfgang at -20; he has to make a Channeling test with DoS equal to any Wounds received or he's fucked. 'Limit the PCs' tries at this or it will turn into a farce of them flinging rocks at the wizard and annoying him', the book says. Wolfgang has also forgotten the party has a
If they fail all of this and the ritual goes off, Wolfgang becomes a turbo-demon prince who never shows up again and they take -1d10 to every single stat, -2 Wounds, and gain 6 Insanity. They technically win the adventure. It's terrible. Don't let him finish.
Hilariously, when Team Mustache plays out the Rituals, Otto heroically breaks free of his chains at the exact moment that Pierre picks his lock and Liniel domes Wolfgang with a rock. And Wolfgang rolls a 100 on his Channeling test. So as the other two are about to confront him, he turns around to yell at the party to be quiet in a spare moment, gets whacked in the face with a rock, fumbles klaatu barada niktu, and the Dagger eats him alive. Like, he turns into a swarm of insects and is sucked, screaming, into the eye of the Dagger. It is now more powerful. Good job, Team Mustache! You...made Xath stronger. Oh well.
Next they discover that they have to sacrifice a PC with Guillame's shitty knock-off ritual to put the demon in them so they can kill it physically. Being sensible people, they instead give the Dagger to the Temple of Sigmar to put in the don't fuck with it vault. Okay, okay, they go along with it to show off the encounter. And in fairness, it is treated as a huge heroic act by the PC doing it, and their replacement PC will get +2 Fate and the same EXP they had as a reward for the player to make up for their PC dying a hero. Except Team Mustache does their own thing: They return to, and recruit, Johann Schmidt, saying a very important position has opened up. This adventure has been a bastard and they're not sacrificing one of their own for it!
Dick move, I know, but dick moves engender dick moves.
The manifest demon is actually very powerful if it's eaten Wolfgang, and less so if it hasn't. Eating Wolfy gets it +15 WS, +15 S and T, and +10 Agi, and +1 Attacks and +5 Wounds over its normal profile of WS 60, S 45, T 45, Agi 50 and 2 attacks. But Chart does something I'm not very excited about here. He tells the GM to make sure they cheat to ensure the PCs will win this fight, no matter how powerful the demon is. 'Fudge rolls to ensure the last PC standing takes the demon out if everyone has fallen'. He actually talks about when you should be cheating your dice rolls to ensure PCs succeed a fair bit in this book, and while I'm not averse to sometimes doctoring things a little myself if it makes for a better story when I'm GMing, the extent of it is a little more than I'm comfortable with. Especially when it combines with the way pre-mades have a hard-on for 'the Players did everything right and succeeded, but then we declare they fail'. The whole Paths of the Damned campaign is full of 'Let the players roll dice to follow or catch this guy, then declare they failed' style stuff as it is. There's too much leaning on GM fiat sometimes. This case, I understand; the author is worried that a TPK after the players already picked a heroic sacrifice would sour them on the game entirely, and that's fairly reasonable. But this line's Pre-Mades do have an issue with the idea that the GM fiats/runs the game very firmly, more firmly than I'd prefer.
It's academic, though, as while the Demon has DR 9, it's outnumbered by a party with multiple decent fighters, several guns they aren't afraid to use, etc. They manage to bring it down without needing any GM fiat. In general, single, powerful enemies need active defenses, a lot of Wounds, and/or high DR to be a problem. Single, big monsters are more about looking impressive and feeling impressive than actually being the hardest sorts of fights; squads of elite mooks or guys with heavy armor and good active defenses are much more dangerous.
Guess what we'll be seeing in Forges of Nuln? But like, only for the very beginning. Then all the combat turns extremely easy. It's weird.
Thus, Team Mustache has a much more annoying adventure and resolves to stop fucking around with the dumb Xath plot, wandering off to get drunk and do something else. This has been your look at what happens if you 'fail' every major arc in Spires, and to be fair, they're decent enough failsafe plotlines. The sacrifice is a thing I'm pretty leery of as a mechanic, but at least it's treated as a heroic thing that a PC volunteers for to protect the world from evil and they get huge mechanical benefits for their new PC as congratulations for their participation, plus it happens in a place where it's easy to introduce a new PC. Wolfgang gives enough hints and enough flexibility, and even has a pretty fun emergency action scene if you do fuck up; I'm fond of the Ritual Disruption event. And the Dagger fight is hard, and I'd have probably slanted the Champion more towards durability than hitting as hard as a light cannon, but it's definitely doable and designed as such. All in all, the Fail State path isn't badly done.
In the end, Spires doesn't do it for me. The Dating Sim portion is such a weak, weak idea for a main adventure, and it's the critical path. The other two components are both significantly better, and should have had top billing. The adventure is best when it actually has antagonists and steps away from the weak Xath plot line. The lack of reward, or even mention of reward, is weird. Chart generally assumes PCs are, despite all the mud and blood, genuinely heroic people who are doing as they do to save the world. This is true of Brute Squad, but they also have bills, and when you're dealing with tons of rich people who want you to do things, expecting payment seems reasonable. The really disappointing part of this book is the Altdorf writeup, which just doesn't bring in anything that makes Altdorf feel unique or lived in the way Middenheim did. There isn't the kind of hooks and ideas that can let you make Altdorf a base for a campaign easily like the writeup in Ashes did for Middenheim. The book not working great as a city-book for Altdorf really hurts. I'd have also really liked some guidance for how much the PCs can get for selling Wolfgang's treasures; every group ever will keep those amazing gloves, but a group with no Wizard will surely want to get money for the amulet; I had to make a most reasonable guess.
I still appreciate the attempt to make Spires more open, and it has its moments. Carlott is a good idea and she's well executed for the most part. Wolfgang is boring and pretty standard, but the unmasking and his offer are handled well and players are given ample warning and ways to beat the arrogant bastard. The Dating Sim characters mostly suck, and the section wouldn't be as bad as it is if they had more texture and players had more options for interacting with them. It's a fairly easily solved section since the right move every time is 'be friendly'. It's a dull adventure with a couple decent moments, and combat can be a bit too easy off the losing path.
And hilariously, never meeting Gabrielle and being on the losing path can actually be really helpful in the next adventure! You'll see. You'll all see. Forges of Nuln is awful.
Next Time: Brute Squad After Level Grinding