Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim by Night10194
Brought to you by plague anxiety!Original SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
Brought to you by plague anxiety!
I was done with Hams a long while ago, but I write when I'm anxious and so here we go. As an added bonus, I've actually run this adventure, or rather a very modified version using the general outline presented here. It's what we decided to try after we abandoned Paths of the Damned halfway through the dating sim portion in Altdorf since it was just too dull to complete. Instead of a gimmick like Brute Squad, I'll instead be talking about what we changed and why, and I'll still give you the party I ran this for.
Terror in Talabheim is an adventure intended for late 1st to mid 2nd tier characters, though if you start in late 1st tier you're going to struggle mightily with some of it. It's also the main Talabheim sourcebook, but I actually feel that's the weakest part of the book. It's a story about rat nazis; no Chaos involved, though there is an evil necromancer that's made common cause with the rats since they can get her a lot of bodies and they don't mind her helping them out. It is, by hearsay, originally meant to be a story where the Empire discovers beyond a doubt the Skaven exist, and the ending had to be rewritten at the last moment to drop that element since it would be too much of a setting change. I'm willing to buy that because the ending in this book is a sharp, sharp swerve in quality from what was otherwise a decent enough (if railroady and sort of awkward) war/disaster story. The general gist is that the rats have come up with a way to conquer Talabheim, which is normally thought to be completely impregnable because it's situated in an immense impact crater. Seriously: No-one in history has ever actually managed to seize Talabheim by force by just storming the 'walls'. It has fresh water, its own farmland, and the ability to sustain itself through years of being besieged. The Grey Seer in charge has the brilliant-genius plan that he will poison the city's water with an interesting new plague: One that actually stems from a poison. The fact that the poison/pollution remains in the system and re-infects the victim makes conventional Shallyan magic ineffective, unless they learn they need to cast Cure Poison and THEN Cure Disease. That will actually stop the Grey Ague.
The problem is, this was invented by a Plague Priest of Pestilens, who wanted to make it very, very slow and careful in its killing. He wanted it to spread widely through the city before anyone started showing serious symptoms or dying. The Grey Seer, on the other hand, wants it to be extremely violent but also easily cured (which is heresy to the Pestilens) if you know how to deactivate it; he has plans to control the city's population and make them slaves by keeping them dependent on regular doses of a 'cure' that deactivates the pollution and lets the sickness die briefly. He also plans to build a giant fuckoff Nazi railway gun that fires poison and infected shells, so that when the Empire comes to rescue Talabheim from his conquest he can bombard the relief army and send plague and death throughout the remnants of the Empire (and hopefully kill Karl Franz himself). As rat plans go, this is a really good rat plan! The only problem is the guy who made the plague in the first place hates it because it isn't proper for
Seriously, though, his plan is actually quite good and Steeleye is a pretty good villain. He's a very standard Grey Seer, though a little more clever and foresightful than usual (making plans to control the human population and enslave them more easily is actually a little ahead of the curve, and this is a pretty interesting use of biowarfare), but a Very Standard Grey Seer is a fun villain and everyone should get a chance to fuck with an arrogant squeaking rat wizard at some point in their Hams career. He doesn't want to just destroy Talabheim, he wants to take it, make it his, and turn the best fortification in the Empire into his own slave fiefdom/doom fortress from whence he can supervillain his way across the northern Empire. To that end, he's also made good friends with Skryre, promising them the industrial wealth and plenty of slaves to work on their doomsday devices (which he will then buy, for his supervillain plans).
There are some serious issues with this adventure, as there are with most Hams pre-mades; it doesn't really know how to balance combat, it assumes some enemies are much stronger than they are and others aren't, it's very railroaded (but honestly, I think this is just the norm for the line's pre-mades), and it features both the best use of Fate Points I've seen in the line but also the worst. In the same book! It also has tons of sidebars on punishing your players if they don't do the adventure; when everything goes to shit, if they just escape the city, it says they'll be assumed to be deserters and hung if caught. I'm not sure how anyone would know. It also features several portions where the PCs are just straight press-ganged into the adventure; a lot of that kind of stuff could be better handled by just talking to your players and making sure they actually want to play Ratfight: The RPG Adventure Where You Fight Rats. The actual writing is mostly quite good; the principal author is the same one as the Realms of Sorcery, and T. S. Luikart is still writing fluff for 4e WHFRP to this day. In that I wish him well; he's genuinely quite good with it. He's not quite as 'light' as Chart, but he still focuses a lot on the comedic aspects of the game amidst all the perilous battles with perfidious, preening rat nazis, and to fairly good effect.
I had to alter the adventure some as my player characters were a bit above the expected level for it: I was running for people beginning third tier or so, and I had a very unusual party. So I had to adjust the adventure a fair bit and they picked up a doctor NPC to help them out with the early plague bits. The characters I actually ran for were:
Albert Magnus, a Grey Wizard from Hochland who sidetracked into Hunter and learned about traps and forests and bows. Well intentioned, generally kind, purposefully let everyone around him think he was significantly more awkward and bumbling than he was because Grey Wizard. Also prone to strangling enemy wizards. An unintentional effect of the Throttling spell: It's hard to cast spells when you're being force-choked.
Gretchen Hildekrum, a Bright Wizard who wanted to make the world a better place (with fire). Passionate and supportive of her friends, extremely dangerous to her enemies, and a prized pupil of a very bored-as-an-instructor Battle Wizard. She is exhibit A in how much ranged damage a Master Bright Wizard does. Normal light rats had no chance against Fireballs, let alone Fiery Blast.
Vinthariel (Vinny to his friends), an elven Thug who had dropped out of the armies that supported Marienburg against the Empire a century ago and bullshitted that he was an elite Special Forces Elf for decades in the criminal underworld. This would eventually catch up via the Elf CIA. The party's only main physical fighter for most of the campaign.
Dvalin, a Dwarf Runesmith of unusually young age. A prodigy and apprentice to an unorthodox Runelord who didn't care, who made the Longbeards vibrate with annoyance at his age. Obsessed with rediscovering the secrets of making runic robits and industrial equipment. Dvalin's place in the party was hard to pin down, since Runesmith is an awkward class, but he did a side gig in Shieldbreaker and did fine as a secondary warrior who made a few magic items while being the party's third scholarly character (along with the wizards).
So some of my alterations to the adventure will have been because I had a weird as hell party (random PC rolls can cause that sometimes). Others will be matters of taste. Others are a matter of restoring what I've heard was original ending; an entire city publically falling to ratmen with guns is the kind of thing that is a little difficult to cover up. But we'll get into all that later: For now, it's time to talk about Talabheim itself.
Next Time: The Jewel of the Forest
Taalahim to TalabheimOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
Taalahim to Talabheim
So, Talabheim is built into an immense impact crater, forming a huge mountain range around the city and the surrounding countryside. According to myth, this happened because Taal was having an enormous wrestling match with a giant serpent after giving his little brother Ulric that lame flat mountain that Middenheim's built on (This is the Taalite version of things, obviously). Eventually, Taal threw the thing around enough to create the Talabec River, then powerslammed it into the ground so hard the impact crater looks like something that should have caused an extinction event. He decided this was an appropriately great way to produce a sheltered land where his worship could flourish, so he hid it all in the woods and waited for people to find it. He bored a tunnel into the crater walls and called the region 'Taalahim', Taal's Victory. Several hundred years later, humans from the Taleuten tribe found the tunnel, and discovered the land on the other side was fertile, well defended, and good to live in. They thanked their God and eventually got around to building a city within the great crater; what we'll know as Talabheim was founded in 40 IC, during the latter part of Sigmar's reign. Sigmar himself is said to have stopped in Taalahim to visit and inspect the new city during his final journey to the east, and it's said he was mightily impressed and proclaimed that this city could not fall as long as it stayed true to Taal.
The history presented in this book is naturally all from a Talabheimer/Taalite perspective, and it's interesting to see it talk about the spread of Sigmarism almost like a plague. If you'll recall from Tome of Salvation, it was the Countess of Talabheim that refused to legitimize the election of a Stirlander anti-Ulrican/Taalite zealot in 1359/1360. Empress Otillia as she called herself claimed that the Electoral system had lost legitimacy, that the prior Drakwald Emperors had caused the crisis of 1111, and that recent scandals (of which there had been many) and religious aggression proved that Johan Helstrum had been a fraud and Sigmar was not a God. What I find interesting and that's elaborated here is that under no circumstances did she claim Sigmar's faith was a Chaotic plant or that the cult had anything to do with Chaos. Her entire grievance was that the Sigmarite faith was being used as a shield for major political corruption, and had been for centuries. In this, she was not at all incorrect (she was wrong about him not being a God; he's pretty definitely a God). Similarly, she's never portrayed as having been influenced to this by Chaos. This incident was entirely human, and entirely a reaction to repeated scandals and attempts to wipe out the old faiths, as well as the new bevy of Electoral Votes the Sigmarites enjoyed that had enabled them to control the Imperial Election. No evil slime from the northern hellgate needed.
While Talabheim never came to be the center of a great Empire of its own during the Time of Three Emperors, it was also basically unconquerable with current technology. Getting over the crater mountains rather than going through the tunnel is impossible to do in the numbers you need to do it and with the heavy equipment necessary to mount a major offensive. The people of Talabheim can't man every inch of the crater walls; they're much too big. But they can patrol the entire area and watch for scattered crossings, and holding the actual entrance tunnels is easy. Add to that the fresh water from the local lake (which is magically, unusually clean at all times) and the verdant fertility of the crater's bottom, and the city has its own sustainable food and water. Attempts to besiege it can last for years without ever significantly bothering the residents. Middenheim was defensible; Talabheim is impregnable. During the mess of the Three Emperors, Talabheim declared itself an independent city state in 1750. It had everything it needed to survive, and anyone besieging it had no chance, so who could enforce making it into a fief? The crazy law codes of Talabheim come out of the confusion of these days, a symbolic rejection of anarchy and a statement that the city wanted its own form of order so it could stand out among the chaos.
Unfortunately, the law and tax codes are so complex by 2522 that they may as well be anarchy, with everyone in the city vying to get out of as many of their taxes as possible (leading to more taxes being passed, on the hopes that they'll get a few people), and the book of laws being so immense and potentially contradictory as to sustain entire tribes of squabbling lawyers within the Jewel of the Forest (Who it's said love the extremely complex laws of the city and try to prevent them being simplified lest it threaten their livelihood. Same for the excisemen. The Tax Preparation Lobby is a real thing in Talabheim) . But it's the thought that counts.
Talabheim's full independence came to an end in 2302-2304, at the hands of our old friend Magnus the Pious. While it was less dramatic than stepping into the Flame of Ulric at Middenheim, it's said that when Magnus arrived in Talabheim to ask for their help, a stag with a hammer mark appeared to pose majestically in the Temple of Taal while every wolf in the Taalbastion took up a howl that echoed through the entire crater. Sensibly, the priests immediately took that as a sign to advise the city's parliament of nobles to send the army with Magnus. Talabheim's Emperor surrendered the Otillian crown in return for being named an Elector, and Talabheim slid back into the normal Empire surprisingly smoothly. It helps that Magnus took that army and saved the world, and then ruled justly for 50 years. Foreshadowing the events of this adventure, though, the Skaven managed to sneak into the Taalbastion while the army was away with Magnus, and spread plague and suffering throughout the city. Talabheim survived it, but it did pay a price for sending its soldiers and trackers off to help save the world. A price that's going to be paid again after the Storm.
Talabheim came through the Storm just fine. The bulk of Archy's forces went to Middenheim, and what few warbands made attempts got slaughtered pretty easily. The greater problem came from cultists hidden within the swarms of refugees from Hochland (and within the city itself), and from demagogues and agitators who sought to gain power by turning these incidents (and others) into an anti-immigrant fervor and encouraged people to turn away refugees and those seeking shelter. Note many of these people had nothing to do with Chaos, and were just the normal opportunistic shitbird demagogues that show up whenever people are frightened. Count Ludenhof of Hochland was forced to seek refuge along with many of his people in Talabheim, and now that things have calmed down the city's government has promised to help him rebuild Hochland. They figure it's the best way to deal with the refugee problem: Build them new homes, clear out remaining infestations, and resettle Hochland. Which is pretty reasonable; they'd get a friend in Count Ludenhof and Hochland, deal with the overcrowding problem, and generally do it in a way that isn't 'send them all away and tell them to burn' like the crazy demagogues want. Unfortunately, this adventure is going to interrupt that process pretty severely.
Which sort of gets to my issue with the Talabheim writeup: It's actually quite good, and about on par with the Middenheim one. But the adventure isn't going to use a lot of it. You don't spend much time in the Talabheim that's about to be described; things go to hell pretty much from the word go and only get worse until you're playing Resistance members in a city occupied by Rat Nazis asking for your papers and swinging from the rafters as they try out Imperial beer. Which is entertaining in its own way, but it's a bit sad that it's a waste of good plot hooks like the insidious anti-immigration demagogues. Now, this makes the book very useful if you want to write adventures in Talabheim without the actual adventure happening, and for that it's certainly valuable. And Talabheim is a fun place! Just I wish the adventure integrated some of this material a little more.
Next Time: The Powers of Talabheim
Countess CompetentOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
The People of Talabheim don't matter to the coming adventure for the most part. Only Countess Elise is actually important. Thankfully, she's also a pretty good character. So Talabheim and Talabecland were ruled by a man named Helmut Feuerbach. He was kind of a dick. Nobody liked Helmut; he was known for his arbitrary decision making, his short temper, and his tendency to appoint his hunting/drinking buddies to most of the important roles in the city. He was not only whimsical and arbitrary, but extremely heavy-handed. Dude made enemies everywhere he went. When the Storm of Chaos came, however? He grabbed Talabecland's army and immediately reported for duty, fighting on the front lines to defend the Empire. Guy was a total jerk, but it's kind of interesting that when the actual emergency happened he came without hesitation. Unfortunately for him, he was a man with many, many enemies who was now in a situation where there were all kinds of plausible ways to make him disappear. No-one has seen the Count since the fighting ended, with all kinds of rumors as to what happened to him and dozens of aggrieved suspects who would stand to benefit from him dying. No-one's even certain he's dead, which has delayed picking a new Elector.
Which is pretty much the only thing that's kept Countess Elise Krieglitz-Untern from being declared Elector of Talabecland so far. The Countess was recently appointed lord of the city by the parliament of nobles, and she seems to have begun her bid almost as soon as Count Feuerbach left for the war. Which means she's suspect number 1 for having gotten him killed somehow, but he was an incompetent asshole that most people hated; the objection among the other nobles is more that she was better positioned to take over rather than that she committed some kind of outrage if she killed him. Plenty of other people wanted to rule Talabheim and eventually Talabecland, dangit! Countess Elise is a portly, homely woman in her thirties, and used to be the butt of jokes about her looks; jokes that never bothered her but instead told her who she could and couldn't trust. Similarly, she developed a keen eye for flattery. Her scheme to secure her control of Talabheim has been to replace most of Feuerbach's hunting buddies with competent and popular officials who help run the city better. She has decided that gaining the respect and trust of the common people and the middle classes is much easier than making the nobles love her (since she was always going to be competing directly with them and planned to replace plenty of them). Much of the nobility is annoyed, but the commoners of Talabheim cheer their Countess when they see her in the streets, and her name is toasted among the merchants and laborers for 'cleaning up' the city's officials. Sensible policies and an eye for management have put her in a position where it's very likely she will be the next Elector.
Which is interesting; this means 2 of the Empire's 4 biggest cities are run by women. Countess Emannuelle is a much more ambiguous figure (being generous) and the writing struggles with her a lot more, but as you might remember from Nuln it's possible to make the case that she's a surprisingly good ruler, as well. Elise isn't ambiguous; she's a capable intriguer who got where she is by being organized, intelligent, and having an eye for actually trying to govern. She's also quite important to the upcoming adventure, and forms one of the most prominent secondary objectives; if the player characters rescue the Countess during one of the most dangerous parts of the story, it will benefit them significantly because she's a good leader and will help organize some of their allies much more effectively. Also notable is that no-one seems bothered by her gender in this writeup, unlike all the weird gendered criticism in Forges of Nuln for the other prominent Countess.
Talabheim has a parliament, but it's made up entirely of nobles. The Parliament of Nobles are known for being corrupt, lazy, and built entirely on nepotism and cronyism. Most of the nobility find excuses to barely ever show up to vote or debate, and 'keeping a noble's hours' is a way to say someone's a terrible worker who can't even be asked to do the bare minimum. Hams remains a fantasy setting deeply ambivalent about the landed gentry. You'll get the occasional competent administrator like Countess Elise, yes, but the parliament is more the norm for the Empire's nobility.
There's a lot about the Hunter Lords (the city's generals) but none of them really factor into the adventure much and they aren't particularly interesting. Talabheim's army is busy hunting down what's left of Archy's forces within the northern Empire, like every army, so the city is more reliant on the watch and militia in this time. Talabeclanders have a strong militia tradition. The woodsmen and charcoal burners are all expected to be ready to pick up their axes and answer the city's call if things go badly, and the many hunters and bowmen around the crater and the lands just outside it mean that Talabheim's army is unusual for fielding axemen, spearmen, and archers as much as it does crossbowmen and handgunners. Strangely, the 'people of Talabheim' section has a whole section on the knightly orders of the city but doesn't mention the one so important to the adventure that it gets its own new 2nd tier Career. I'll just put them and their Career here for my own sake.
The Knights of the Verdant Field are one of the symbols of Myrmidia's doctrines: They were formed as an offshoot of the Knights of the Blazing Sun when they noted their campaigns in the heavily forested northern Empire encountered problems. Deploying conventional heavy cavalry in the Drakwald, the Forest of Shadows, or the edges of the Laurelorn just wasn't working. Being Myrmidians, the Knights gathered volunteers to study local strategies and tactics, trying to learn from both the Talabeclanders and the Wood Elves to determine how to effectively fight in a forest. They're an interesting cross between a Blazing Sun Knight and a Scout, mechanically: You really want to have been a class with Rapid Reload before you enter Knight of the Verdant Field, since they don't get it, but in return they're notably better at melee than a Scout (they get Strike Mighty), and they get access to both Fleet of Foot (+1 Mv, rare and valuable) and Keen Senses (Crazy +20% to Perception tests talent), plus Strength and Toughness on par with a full Knight. They have a wide variety of entries, too; if you want a great spot for your Militiaman to advance into, this is a winner. Same for Hunters or Initiates of Myrmidia, or Mercenaries or Soldiers. Their main weakness is not having any 3rd tier Exits; they can go into Scout, Veteran, or Priest of Myrmidia, and that last one is probably the most interesting. Still, it says a lot about Myrmidians that their response to setbacks in fighting in a region was 'study how the locals do it since they have more experience, fit it into Myrmidian doctrine', up to and including trying to learn from elfs. They're quite good at it, too. They'll be a major ally of the PCs later on in the adventure.
The city is also home to some Knights of the White Wolf, like everywhere in the north. Like everywhere in the North, the White Wolves are well liked, even if most of the people are Taalite and Ulric's faith is fairly weak in the city. They're also extremely bored: While it's important to leave some knights behind to show the flag and protect the city, Talabheim is so well defended that the White Wolves stationed here have nothing to do but paperwork. I imagine it's seen as something of a punishment detail, with no real opportunity to gain glory or serve Ulric in battle. That's going to change thanks to Rat Nazis!
The Knights Panther and Knights of the Stag are less important; the Panthers aren't well liked because they're seen as a Middenheimer plant to spy on the city (not like the honest White Wolves), and the Knights of the Stag are Talabheim's homegrown heavy cavalry. They're mostly caught up in deciding if they should declare the Count dead and throw in with the new Countess. Taal's Chosen are the actual Templars of Taal, and they're effectively Scouts, not Knights. Their leader is said to be having a love affair with Countess Elise. As Hunter Lord Hafner is on good terms with the Stags and is a well-respected Templar of the city's chief God, if this is true an eventual wedding would effectively secure Elise as Elector Countess.
Talabhiem is full of priests, like everywhere in the Empire. The joke among Talabheimers is that priests are so common partly because priests are exempt from taxes on their beer and have full legal license to make and distribute spirits; when we get to the taxes this will make more sense. Suffice to say Talabheim has a tax for everything, because they assume people will evade as many taxes as they can figure out a way to evade, so if they tax everything in at least some circumstance the city treasury will limp on and muddle through. The two most popular gods are Taal (obviously) and Verena (laws). I'm surprised there isn't much mention of Rhya's cult in Talabheim. You'd think Taal's wife and counterpart would be a major part of the city's worship. But perhaps she's much more a goddess of the hinterlands. It makes sense for Taal himself to be the main object of worship; he made the crater (according to legend) to be a safe place for his people specifically, so the entire city is an act of worship in a way. But I'd still expect more Rhya. Sigmar is actually one of the least popular Gods in Talabheim, which means the Sigmarites that do exist are insanely devout. Given the way insanely devout and angry Sigmarites can be, I imagine they tend to send the cult into further disrepute. The southern realms send missionaries, but they never seem to find a lot of purchase for Sigmar in Talabheim; he's respected, but not influential the way he is in other parts of the Empire.
Unusually, Talabheim is welcoming to wizards. At least, wizards of the Jade and Amber orders. A Magister Lord is part of Elise's council, and the Jade Wizards have especial influence in the city. Because Talabheim is much more friendly to Taal's cult than Sigmar's, the Jade Order is free to work closely with the local priesthood to aid the city. Amber Magi tend to scamper around the wildlands outside the city, keeping them free from Beastman infestation, but both Orders have a strong presence in the city's army and both will even report to help the militia or city watch. Or they would, if most weren't away fighting in the Emperor's armies right now. Still, the nature-magic Colleges are welcome and an important part of the city.
Talabheim is also a little unusual for having Roving Judges wandering the streets of the city. There are simply so many laws and so much legal wrangling that normal court-houses won't hold all the arguing and lawsuits, and so it spills over into the streets. This would have been a good time to add a Roving Judge career, I think, given this book put in the Litigant as a new 1st tier Basic. You can just be wandering the streets and suddenly a man will pull out his gavel and big wig and demand that this part of the street is now in session and yell at you that you're on jury duty. This happens regularly in Talabheim. It can be a silly place.
As I said before, most of this won't come up too much in the adventure; one of the flaws of Terror in Talabheim is that it sets up an interesting and fun Talabheim, but then you don't spend any time in the city as 'normal'. Everything is riven with plague once you get to the city and then quickly turns into a Vermintide adventure. This material is very useful if you want to ignore the adventure and just use the book as a Talabheim sourcebook, at least. You could get a lot of fun out of Elise's attempts to tighten her grip on the Electoral position; she's the sort whose agents would recruit competent (or lucky) people like PCs. Another thing I like: All this struggle is kept in purely human terms for the most part. Helmut wasn't a Chaos Cultist or something, he was just kind of a loudmouthed dick who wasn't a very good leader. Lots of the fuckups in Talabheim are fuckups because they're spoiled noble brats or greedy bastards, not because they got some goo on them and decided to go nuts. Keeping much of the city's conflict human gives it more room to breathe.
Next Time: The Infinite Laws of Talabheim
Hat TaxOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
So Talabheim was super into making laws during the Time of Three Emperors. Talabheim is also super into never striking laws from the books. The same goes for their taxes. This is in part due to the influence of the guilds of legalists and excisemen. There will always, always be work for a lawyer or a tax collector (or an accountant) in Talabheim, hence them getting classes in this book. The Exciseman is effectively a more hands-on 1st tier merchant, and their exits reflect that. They're smart, quick, know the law, and aren't that bad in a fight because lord knows people try to kill taxmen. Their main issue is their only 2nd tier exit is Merchant, and while having a business character around can be very useful, it's a little disappointing not to have more options. Their other exits are fine; stuff like Militiaman, or Roadwarden, or Thief. Still 1st tier, but 1st tier in different tracks, and something like Militia is surprisingly good as a 'transitional' career anyway. The Litigant is a social and scholarly character who knows the law better than the Exciseman but is totally useless in a fight. They also have the bizarre ability to just plain skip 2nd tier and go right into Guildmaster, which is a pretty damn good commercial third tier but is also going to take forever if you just jumped right in.
Anyway, the city's taxes are famous for being bizarre and wide-reaching. The Hat Tax, for instance, is not actually a tax on fabulous hats. If such a thing were passed, the riots in any Imperial city would be beyond belief. No, it's a tax on busking; charging a portion of what you collect in your hat. In practice, it's a tax on any charitable income, which I imagine annoys the Shallyans and other charity organizations, even though it was initially intended to attack street performers for 'not contributing anything of worth' by designating their income a charity (and thus refusing to recognize that they provide value by their entertainment). Meanwhile, to help upkeep orphanages and others hit by this unintended (but widely followed) tax, they have an orphanage tax, which is not a tax on the orphanages (they're already semi-accidentally taxed under the Hat Tax) but rather to provide for them by taxing poultry trade in the port outside the crater. There is also the Short Shrift, a protective tariff designed to harass halflings and their imports (and outrageously, passed during the Pie Week of 2504, probably so the halflings would be too hopped up on pies to notice the city was preparing to screw them) because Talabheim really despises halfings for some reason. It charged a larger tariff on small-sized clothing and other items designed for use by halflings. Most halflings have decided they aren't wanted (because items that are sized for them are charged a high tariff) and have left the city, and the city is apparently happier for it. Don't know what they have against the halflings, I guess they had one too many gut-exploding pies.
You get the general gist. There are more crazy, interlocking taxes, but almost every tax has an exemption and nothing is ever really struck from the books, so you have to know the city and its culture to avoid having to overpay. Outright tax evasion as opposed to claiming legal exemptions is also harshly prosecuted and the local culture despises it; it's seen as denying your part in the city's society. The exception is the Cup Duty, the most widespread and least paid tax in the city, and the only one people will actually evade outright; asking people to pay taxes on every drink in a society that likes to drink as much as the Empire is difficult. Evading the Cup Duty is one of the most shared cultural experiences of Talabheimers, and takes many forms. Either you have a priest claiming that the distribution of alcohol is a ceremony (and thus exempt), you drink with the lawyers (who know how to get out of it), or you build a speakeasy. The speakeasies and illicit taverns are such a well-honed part of the city that even surprise inspections will arrive to find three dozen drunk patrons but not a single drop of actual illicit alcohol, at which point nothing has technically been done illegally. And again: As long as you can get a priest to sign off on your drinking if anyone asks, you can always claim the moonshine was part of a sacred ritual to Taal. Taal loves people getting drunk in the woods, so this usually has the benefit of being true.
The tax code is detailed in the book primarily to give players a flavor for the laws of Talabheim and the local culture; the laws are every bit as convoluted and every bit as subject to interpretation and evasion. There's a very good chance a party is actually going to have need of an accountant or a lawyer if they operate in Talabhim at a time when it is not imminently blasted with rats.
Next Time: The City.
Crowded and DirtyOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
Crowded and Dirty
Talabheim is crowded and has poor sanitation. This isn't news, every Imperial city is like that. Talabheim has much more of a premium on space than places like Altdorf or Nuln, however. You'd think the city could expand to fill the entire impact crater, but it really can't; the land within the crater is some of the most fertile and productive in the entire Empire (considering it's supposedly blessed by Taal, and I'd imagine Rhya as well) and the city is currently able to mostly feed itself from the farms and orchards within the crater. Add to that having a huge, supernaturally pure lake to get drinking water from (and the Talabec River, though that lies outside the crater) and the city's in the enviable position of currently being able to feed and water itself entirely within its main defenses. This is how you get stories of ten year attempted sieges of Talabheim that the locals barely noticed; the economy crashes a little, times get tougher, people can't import things, but they can survive. They also need to leave some of the land undeveloped, because the sacred forests of Taal are necessary to keep his blessing (and are also their own economic boon, providing hunting, valuable plant life, and timber). All these competing concerns mean the city can't physically grow much larger than it is, so people cram in harder and more tightly than ever before as the city's population continues to grow. Which then affects public health, naturally; the close quarters of Talabheim cause congestion and plague. But that's normal for an Imperial city.
This leads to Talabheim having a natural tension with immigration. The city literally has limited physical space, and with the refugee crisis caused by Chaos hordes sweeping through Kislev and the North (and the legendary reputation of Talabheim as a fortress-city) tens of thousands of refugees have come to try to find protection in recent days. This means the city is more crowded than ever, and opportunistic shitbirds have taken this as a chance to stir up the population against the refugees and immigrants, causing crime and infighting. Once again, much of the trouble in Talabheim has nothing to do with Chaos; these people aren't portrayed as Chaos Cultists trying to cause murder and death (though I'm sure some are) but rather the usual asshole demagogues who want followers, money, and fame. The actual official policy on the refugees is that Talabheim's government is throwing its support behind Count Ludenhof of Hochland, trying to help rebuild and clean out Hochland so that people can go home to ease the pressure on the city. Talabheim hopes the reconstruction will solve the refugee crisis and maybe make allies for the future if Middenland gets any ideas.
One of the oddities of Talabheim is how impossible the entry requirements would be. As in, if they had these requirements to enter the city they'd actually completely choke their trade and travel; they require you to be literate, for one. The only legal way into the city is a tunnel through the crater walls called the Wizarding Way, which has a 3-10 day waiting period even if you have the proper paperwork and is on an incline going up 200 feet. A standard pass only lets a person into the city for 3 days. Everyone must carry and present their papers at any challenge, with various more expensive passes giving someone more time in the city or the right to own property. This feels like it assumes a far more widely literate society than the Empire currently is, as well as much more hassle and centralization than the Empire can usually handle. It also feels like it would keep Talabheim from being much of a destination for trade, and like it would probably be impossible for it to be a major hub the way it is if it takes this long to get into the city just on the paperwork, never mind the physical traffic. Talabheim's whole 'law' gimmick has always felt a little tacked on in how it's implemented; stuff like the crazy array of taxes or silly random laws are fine, but I just can't see the Empire carefully requiring every single non-citizen carry papers at every moment, that every watchman be literate enough to spot forgeries and check records, etc etc. I'd probably like this point more if this was all the 'official' way things worked but in practice nothing was really enforced unless someone didn't pay a 'tip' to the guards or the guy rubber-stamping the passport none of them can read. As it is, some of this stuff feels like it's mostly here to give the PCs some trouble during the adventure rather than to make Talabheim feel like a place.
Don't get me wrong, early modern Germans should be litigious as fuck. Everyone suing each other all the time and having a crazy tax code full of holes that doesn't actually collect tax that well is early modern working as intended. It's more the much more centralized tracking of people that doesn't quite work for me.
I'd expect more stuff like the Hollows, the city's prisons and punishment center. Which is run by a devout Sigmarite who spends all his time yelling at his prisoners that they have to accept Sigmar as their personal savior and accept that they're sinners who have broken the holy laws of the Empire, but who still never met a bribe he didn't take. Herr Hadschieff sees nothing wrong with people making donations to the cause of Sigmar or monetary restitution for their crimes, after all. And as one of the few beacons of Sigmar's light in this god-frosaken Taalite city, he deserves to benefit from it. The city has an entire Law Quarter, which you probably guessed, and it's marked by a huge obelisk craved with the city's law code. As there is no more room on the obelisk to carve anything, new rulings are nailed to it in paper, which covers up the old laws. In practice, nobody can read the damn thing. At the same time, the Obelisk is considered sacred to both the city and Verena, and anyone who tries to put up a false law or tear down or deface anything will face severe consequences. Which is a nice analogy for Talabheim's law code in general: They'll be damned if they can make heads or tails of it, but if you mess with it in the slightest way the locals will raise hell.
The Temple of Verena stands in the law quarter, and it is one of the largest places of worship in all of Talabheim. The local priests of Verena aren't as happy about the situation in Talabheim as you'd think; they recognize that the over-abundance of law is actually making justice much harder. They like the codified laws, but they despair of the fact that there are so many that a corrupt lawyer or judge can selectively city what they want to take what they want; law enabling corruption is a great blasphemy to Verenans. The head of the temple, Mother Astrid Oehler, constantly calls for legal reforms but is mostly ignored by the city. It's an amusing irony that the goddess the city loves so much is completely ignored the moment her followers try to change anything.
Next Time: More of Talabheim. There's going to be a lot of Talabheim.
Rich and PoorOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
Rich and Poor
So, I'm not going to go into all of Talabheim; we'd be here for ages. Following will be a selection of the places and people I find interesting, but there's plenty more. The general Talabheim writeup (and its thorough city map) are about on par with the Middenheim one in Ashes, making this one of the better city books compared to Nuln and Altdorf. Again, my issue is less that Talabheim isn't good or interesting but rather that the adventure doesn't really use this good material. If you want adventures other than Blasted With Rats for Talabheim, this book will do you. It's even got a nice central theme to it. Talabheim is a legalistic culture that is convinced that the legalism makes it much more equitable and fair, but in reality produces a situation where the rich and powerful can hire the best lawyers and get around inconvenient laws and taxes while the poor and the burghers live in a situation where they live under the full brunt. Similarly, the sheer number of laws and taxes enable corruption; you can find something illegal in almost anything anyone does. Officials can find all kinds of excuses to demand bribes, property can be seized and confiscated, and the general cultural acceptance of 'well it's just the law' keeps people compliant with this state of affairs. Talabheim would be a great place to play a Verenan or Ranaldan (or both, they're practically made for buddy cop adventures), a lawyer, a swindler, or anyone else navigating this weird legalistic city.
Also notable: Ranald is despised in Talabheim. They might honor Verena (and then ignore her priesthood if they say anything's wrong) but Ranald is outright forbidden places of worship or a priesthood. Not that this ever stops Ranaldans, they're used to it. If anything, it probably encourages them. Being legal would be boring.
Talabheim is written with an eye towards the injustice of the divide between its rich and its poor, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the city's Shallyan Sanitarium. Unlike most Shallyan facilities, the Sanitarium is cordial with the Guild of Physicians and works closely with them. In the upper levels of the Sanitarium, the best doctors in the city work with blessed priests to ensure anyone who comes in is healed. The administrator of the facility, however, demands that such priority treatment should cost money. A lot of money. Money that ostensibly goes to support other charitable works in the city, but much of it goes instead to the physicians. Henrich Saltzmann is known as a talented businessman and administrator, but also a man lacking in empathy; the poor are directed to await free treatment by medical students and junior initiates in the crowded public clinic, where the simple fact of crowded conditions and the inexperienced doctors lead to issues of infection or medical error. The Charity Wing is good enough for minor ailments or simple injuries, and does offer its services free to all citizens, but all the resources supposedly being gathered by the upper levels never seem to find their way down to the poor charity patients.
I'm sure every American in my audience can empathize.
Meanwhile, the actual Temple of Shallya is what you'd expect, standing out for its attempts to serve the lower classes of the city. They are famous for their missionaries, who go into the worst and most crime-ridden parts of the city to offer food, comfort, healing, and charity. These men and women are led by an ex-prostitute named Karin Weber, who knows the streets and the people well enough to keep her brothers and sisters out of trouble and to get needed relief where it can do the most good. Her work has brought in so many new Initiates and converts that she's considered a strong candidate to become the city's next High Priestess. Maybe she can fix Saltzmann's cruel mess over in the Sanitarium; you could have a fun game about missionarying and running relief supplies in the worst parts of town as a Shallyan and their buddies.
Notably, while Talabheim has temples of all the Gods, it's fairly cool on Sigmar. Most of the Sigmarite clergy in Talabheim are from the Order of the Torch, the parish/preaching order. The Silver Hammers and other, more militant sects aren't as welcome in the city unless they're specifically keeping to watching over Sigmarite ranks. The Sigmarite temple and the quarters of the higher clergy are opulent and expensive as hell, in hopes that the wealth and grandeur will win over converts (and because the local High Priest comes off as something of a Sigmarite prosperity gospel asshole, happily enjoying the 'needed' purchases that let him live the high life while claiming it's a work expense).
Rhya doesn't have grand temples here. Her worship is centered over in nearby Hochland, or out in the villages farming and lumbering the crater. Rhya takes a back seat in Taal's city, letting her husband be honored in the crater he powerslammed a giant dragon into. Which is just how a healthy relationship works sometimes; you need to let your partner be proud of any mythic wrestling feats they may have achieved. Taal naturally has the largest temple in the city, seemingly built of the trees and park that surround it, with only a few menhirs standing to Rhya behind the place around a natural spring. Taal's (and Rhya's) temple is one of the most sacred places in the city, and one of the most obviously magical. The 'carpets' are entirely grass and flowers, which seem to thrive no matter the season. Rumors persist that the doors and structures of the temple simply grow at the God's will out of the living trees surrounding it.
Another notable bit about the city are the extensive gardens and lodges. The Sea of Roses is the city's main conservatory, open to the public and full of every flowering thing that can possibly be made to grow within. It is alternately tended by Magisters of the Jade Order and Priests of Taal and Rhya, and it has become a 500 year tradition and one of the prides of the city. It's only one of several large public parks, which flourish despite the dirty city around them. Talabheimers are also fond of sweat lodges and saunas, because these are used in the rites of Taal. This means they're exempt from taxes, especially taxes on alcohol, since powerful drink is often a part of Taalite celebratory rites. An entire sacred entertainment industry exists around these lodges, letting people come in, sweat until they have visions of God, and then celebrate and get hammered together while a priest stands by to make sure it's all tax-free.
Also amusing is the Knoll of Doctrines, where Talabheim's street preachers and agitators go to yell at the clouds and each other. Religious agitators are preferred, because they make for the most passionate theater. The Sigmarites are very fond of trying to control the Knoll, bullying and abusing other speakers and practicing shouting them down, and fights aren't uncommon. Talabheimers like to bet on the performance of the street preachers, both in proselytizing and in the inevitable fistfights.
A curious thing is Talabheim's poor reputation for education. The Royal Academy in Talabheim is considered the worst major university in the Empire. Unlike other major cities, if you move outside of obscure legal procedure, accounting, and agricultural science, Talabheim is not noted for its scholars or educational facilities.
I also like the one blacksmith shop run by a wood elf. Yavandir is a little unusual: He's replaced elven arrogance with traditional blacksmith's gruffness and bulging biceps, because he's earnestly trying to learn non-elven techniques and culture to add to his repertoire. So he's an elf that acts more like a dwarf, because he's trying to figure out how dwarfs and humans do so well with blacksmithing. He's known to be a skilled smith and his weapons command good prices, and he has a little adventure seed where he pays high prices for PCs to go out and get him some of the meteoric iron that can be found in parts of the crater. It takes enchantment well and makes excellent swords if you treat it properly; I wonder if the elf is trying to figure out dwarven Gromril? That could be a fun story.
The whole city is full of little adventure seeds and personalities like that, much like Middenheim, Erengard, Kislev, and Praag. I really enjoy the range of stuff you get in the better done city write-ups. There's stuff for adventurers of all experience levels (and campaigns of all scopes) to do, lots of it feels lived in, and I adore that many of the writeups take the time to talk about things like public parks, theaters, local entertainment, etc. It's always helped the Old World that you have some sense of what people do for fun, or how Yon Peasant actually lives. Hams is a setting that gives a shit about Yon Peasant; what happens to Yon Peasant matters, and Yon Peasant can always be the next PC. The city is full of pawn shops, potential patrons, diversions, taverns, resorts, businesses, temples, and all manner of bureaucrats and quirks of government. Talabheim's writeup manages to feel like a place people live, and that's my standard for Hams city writing.
Outside the city and the crater lies the city's main river port on the Talabec, Taalagad. It's completely essential to the city (remember that the rivers are by far the most important transit and freight shipment system in the Empire) but it's a dirty, neglected place. You know how 'down by the docks' is usually a crime-filled and dirty place in most settings? Taalagad is an entire town of Down By The Docks. The place is full of refugees trying to get into the city, which isn't helping, but even in the best of times Taalagad seems overcrowded and under served. Also home to a considerable Kislevite population. Taalagad is important to the adventure since it starts there, but its writeup doesn't matter at all if you're playing Terror in Talabheim; it'll shortly be annihilated by a mixture of plague and rat nazis, and will need to be rebuilt entirely.
Next Time: The Adventure, and a look at its default party, begins!
Our HeroesOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
So, surprisingly, the pre-gens for this adventure are both a good guideline on where it expects you to be EXP wise and are actually all mechanically well suited to the adventure. Two of them are first tier to first tier promotions, but both of those are in actually decent directions. The other two are both in pretty strong 2nd tiers. All but one of them can fight well enough to contribute in a combat situation, and most of them know something about subtlety and stealth. All they're really missing is something like an academic, doctor, wizard, or priest, and they'd have pretty much every role covered. You could definitely ask for worse and the focus on a mixture of combat and skullduggery is really well set up for Terror in Talabheim's primary gameplay challenges. I very much appreciate the team actually being suited to the adventure. It is a little dull that they're all humans, though.
Adalham 'Chuckles' Niederlitz is an Ex-Rogue, now a Thief. A poor boy who lost his single mother at 5 and grew up in the worst parts of Talabheim, he's always run with one gang or another; his one talent in life seems to be making people like and trust him. His Fel is actually quite average (32 base) but he has a ton of diplomatic and conniving skills from being a Rogue, and he's very lucky (Fate 3, plus the Luck talent; Ranald is with him). His old gang was wiped out recently and now he needs a new bunch of tough people to run with to search for his fortune. His only really bad stat is his Agi (and base 27 isn't *terrible), but his skills as a Thief have given him enough advances there that he's still competent. Plus the kid is ready-made to go into Fence as soon as he finishes Thief, which isn't too far off. It'd really compliment his criminal and business skills while making him okay in a fight; he doesn't have terrible natural talents (WS 30 base, S 31, T 36) he's just never been in classes that develop them much. Still, between being able to broker a deal, lie his ass off, sneak, pick locks, and do rogue stuff while being lucky as hell, Adalham's a solid roguish character for the team.
Mienholf Liess is the kind of bigger boy Adalham always liked to run with. He grew up poor, with no siblings and a mother who died in childbirth, but his Stevedore father tried to take care of him and set him straight in the port of Taalgad. Mienholf was having none of that, dreaming of a bigger life and getting into organized crime as a Thug and footsoldier for a local boss. When he was caught, he was abandoned and thrown into a career of pitfighting to make up his debt to the city's underworld. Two years of brutal violence made him kind of a badass but also knocked some compassion and empathy back into him; he wants to do more than be some brutal killer or thug and hopes to start a family and live an honest life. As you might guess, Mienholf is the party's primary fighter. Thug isn't a great first career, but sometimes it's what the dice get you, and honestly Pit Fighter isn't a bad exit for it; together the two classes teach a character everything they need to know to be a solid warrior. Plus Pit Fighter has exits like Veteran, and like Adalham, Mienholf isn't that far off promoting. He comes with a great spread of stat talents from his classes and human Talents, but he also has the painful bad luck to have a 29 base Toughness; that 1% is one of the cruelest 1%s to miss out on in all of Hams (and pretty much confirms to me these characters are actually randomly rolled). Still, he's got an excellent-for-level WS (48% ain't bad), he's SB 4, and most critically, he has a base WP of 40 and two advances for 50; Mienholf is brave as hell and likely to resist fear, magic, and compulsion. He's also pretty smart and quite quick on his feet, and generally he's pretty decent. I like his backstory, too.
Lavinia Neumann thought of herself as an archeologist. A Stirlander, she loved the fanciful stories of the Von Carsteins and used to spend her time with pick and shovel, looking for loot and history as a Tomb Robber. Until she accidentally woke up an actual Vampire, slumbering in an ancient tomb, which ended up decimating her town and easily driving her off when she tried to do the right thing and stake the bastard. She's gone to travel and study, becoming a real Vampire Hunter until the day she can go home and get revenge. I'd have probably used her early EXP a little differently, but as it is, she's only 200 away from getting Dodge and Strike Mighty and being about as good a fighter as Mienholf. She definitely rolled the best of any of the PCs, having stuff like a massive 44 base BS (and her Career can get Mighty Shot and Rapid Reload; that'll let her put in some real work even if she's stuck with a shortbow or repeater crossbow) and in general all her stats are average or above average except for a 29 base Fel. As a former Tomb Robber, she can do thief/rogue stuff and is surprisingly the best educated member of the team (and the only one who's literate). She also comes with a full suit of Chain armor thanks to the Trappings system, as well as a repeating crossbow (they might be bad, but it's better than nothing). While there are no vampires in the adventure, there IS a Necromancer, and her knowledge skills and training will probably come in handy in assassinating the bastard. Outside that, she's like any other Vampire Hunter: Basically an assassin, plus her Tomb Robber base class is a real winner of a first career. Lavinia is here to kick ass and read books.
Igor Scherer was a simple charcoal burner from Talabecland. He was recruited into the army to go forth and fight in the Storm of Chaos, and he went, leaving his family behind to do his duty to the Empire. He wasn't a great soldier, and was put to work doing woodworking and scouting duties instead of fighting on the front lines, eventually becoming a Scout. During one of the battles against the Kurgan, he realized he was near his home again, and slipped away for a short time to visit his wife and two children. He found his home razed and his family missing, and could not bear to return to the army. He's spent the last few months looking for them, despite knowing in his heart they must be dead. He's come to Taalgad and signed up with the others in hopes of hearing anything about the fate of his family, and making a little money so he can keep looking for them and dodge anyone looking for deserters. Igor is odd; he's got relatively poor stats (though not terrible) except that he's got fantastic base Str (43% with Very Strong) and decent WS (33 base). Everything else is average or slightly below. He's in Scout, which is mostly a ranger/Ranged class, but his 28 base BS hurts a little. Except he can get +20 BS in Scout, and every ranged talent, and the best ranged weapon in the game (Longbow). He's also no slouch with his shield and axe, meaning 3 of the 4 PCs have 2 attacks and actual decent WS and gear. He's also able to do stealth, like 3 of the 4 PCs. He'll grow into a formidable commando and still be able to pitch in well at range, and his significant wilderness skills will be really helpful during the latter half of the campaign.
So yeah, all four of the characters are actually useful, decently built, and they're all balanced against one another by their number of advances/spent EXP, not their number of Careers. All of the premades are actually tailored to the adventure at hand, and they would probably have little trouble completing it. TiT is unusual in that it doesn't actually dictate how much EXP you should earn during it, but depending on some of the variable length parts of the game it should be 1000 to 2000, especially if you give out bonus EXP at major milestones like a lot of campaign books normally tell you to do. If they live, these 4 will be very capable heroes by the end of the adventure, and they have enough Fate and talent that they probably could survive. They even all have decent enough backstories; Lavania's is a little odd but I appreciate that she at least gave it a shot before realizing you need to be damned serious to take out a vamp. A sad deserter, a regretful bruiser trying to find a moral use for his talents and a new life, a hardscrabble but social little rogue, and a vampire hunteress who is trying to learn to be the kind of badass that can actually ash vamps makes for a good WFRP party.
But they really missed out by not making ONE of them a Rat Catcher. For the Ratfight adventure. Seriously.
Next Time: The Path To Ratfight
A (not actually) treasureful sidequestOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
A (not actually) treasureful sidequest
The adventure begins in scenic Taalagad. The adventure also begins predicated on the PCs wanting to get the hell out of Taalagad and into Talabheim ASAP, because Taalagad is a shithole. Thankfully for them, there's an easy bit of employment offered for a rough looking little mercenary company: The city is trying to clear the refugees from Taalagad and get them back to villages so they can rebuild Hochland. Asking around will tell the PCs the cover story ('Thugs stole a shipment of furs intended for the Countess herself and she's had enough of this!') while an actual Gossip test tells them the truth: There's rumors of a new disease that might be spreading in Taalagad and the city is trying to step up refugee repatriation to reduce the overcrowding and make a full scale plague less likely. Another indication of why the Empire can struggle with Nurgle and Pestilens; if the plague is already here, sending refugees everywhere might just spread it further rather than halting it. The Empire generally thinks crowding is what causes plague to spread (which is a reasonable assessment with what they can observe, and with how often it hits cities) and thinks spreading people out before it gets bad will help avoid a need for a full quarantine.
The plague itself is said to be a slow killer, where the sufferer develops a severe cough and terrible shivers that get worse and worse until they become fatal. The slow pace of the disease was a deliberate choice by its creator, who apparently has some understanding of epidemiology. Nelrich the Supperator planned for the disease to stay asymptomatic but infectious for long periods, originally hoping he could infect considerable amounts of traffic from Talabheim before it was detected, but our main villain Asorak Steeleye (Grey Seer Extraordinaire, which is how every Grey Seer would describe themselves) decided he had a better plan and fucked with the disease to make it more apparent and more easily cured or re-introduced, as I mentioned in the adventure summary at the beginning.
Still, the rumors of plague are also meant to give the PCs even more reason to want to get into Talabheim. The city has sent an expert lawyer and assessor named Magistrate Hohenlohe to recruit PC types to escort refugees; the city doesn't want them to all die on their way home and actually does intend to repatriate them to Hochland. Hohenlohe was picked for the job because he's a big guy who's good at blustering at mercenaries and looking impressive, but he's also quietly known among his colleagues for being kind, devoted to his duty, good at picking up on lies, and only very mildly corrupt. The old lawyer isn't actually happy with the decision to send refugees off into the woods with random groups of 3-5 murder-hobos, and his bosses know that, because it will make him much more likely to pick out actual good murder-hobos since he wants to minimize the chances he hands people over to slavers, chaos cultists, or brigands. Hohenlohe can be bribed in the PCs' dealing with him, but it takes a Charm test and in general, you want to do the peasant escort sidequest. The game allows for you to skip it if you have money to bribe your way into the city, but for reasons that will come up, it's not a good idea and is honestly kind of unfair. This campaign's first chapters are significantly more railroaded than the later ones, because the players are reacting to events long-since underway while the second half puts them in the driver's seat.
Once they talk through things with Hohenlohe, the old magistrate sees the PCs as trustworthy and offers 2 GC in advance, 8 GC on completion, paid to each man and woman of the party, for a short trip to a village on the border. It's only a three and a half day walk, a week to go there and back, and that's not bad pay at all. Plus the magistrate implies doing the city a service will speed entry into Talabheim, maybe even make it free, as well; this would save time and money while making some decent pay when you consider a GC is a month's living expenses in most places.
The little side-adventure is quite a bit more eventful than you'd expect, and it's all side-quest stuff. There's a bit of decent flavor about the Hochlander refugees and their scars from losing their homes, enough to make kinder-hearted PCs try to lend a hand or to get across how devastating the war has been to people in its path. Sure, the Empire won and much of the Empire's south and west are fine, but that doesn't really help the Hochlanders, Ostlanders, and others whose homes were razed to the ground by random Chaos Lords and Champions and their warbands. Most of this group of refugees are actually Talabeclanders, but there are some Hochlanders mixed in, and perceptive PCs can note that the two groups are staying apart. The books suggests each PC doing a short montage of how they behave while guiding the villagers, to establish the tone of the PCs' escort; are they playing friendly guides and escorts, or are they an armed band making sure these people don't flee back to Taalagad? It's a good chance to see what kind of PCs people feel like playing. Another note: The Hochlanders have seen enough shit that any attempt to Intimidate them is at -20%, because the PCs sure as hell aren't a swarm of 8 foot hellvikings backed up by demons.
The most significant event is noticing that (if you've separated who is Hochlander and who is Talabeclander) the Talabeclanders have a high incidence of coughs of various severity. Luckily for these people, the version of the plague they have is actually pretty survivable and less spreadable; they haven't been given the 'boosters' yet and since one of the main vectors is the water supply in Taalagad and Talabheim (though it will transmit person to person) they aren't being continually re-exposed and will actually get better in about 10 days (less with treatment). The Hochlanders' social isolation has kept any of them from catching the disease. The Grey Ague causes nothing but a cough for 3 days, then subtracts -5% from all stats from the shivering. Every day, the character rolls Toughness or suffers an extra -5% to Toughness, and if Toughness hits 0 they die. The average Imperial adult has poor-ish odds of surviving by disease standards (They'll be at 26 T when they start making checks, and every failed check makes it worse, and they need to make 2 of the 7 checks or they'll die), much better ones with any sort of treatment (remember, Heal can reduce disease duration), and this thing is just plain going to slaughter the elderly and children. But the mild form is stoppable with mundane treatment and the characters who have it outside of the Talabheim area won't be continually re-exposed, and once the body defeats this stupid thing it won't come back, ever.
But to distract the PCs from the possibility of plague, the group is set upon by 3 demobbed Ogre mercenaries in outrageous hats and slashed sleeves, since they were recently fighting for Imperial regiments. Their leader (he has the biggest hat) implies the PCs don't really need to get ALL the refugees to safety, right? His lads are hungry, there's no food around here, etc etc. He wants to be bribed, and figures a group of 4 like the premade party can't fight him and his boys off and is likely to talk. He's affable and happy to prattle for a bit, and a +10% Charm test will convince him to accept one of the draft animals and cheerfully wave the PCs on. Any other reasonable idea that will result in the ogres getting a lot of food will skip the upcoming fight. The PCs could also hand over some of the refugees, but the game seems kind of disgusted to account for this and points out that word will get out that the PCs forced a couple helpless people or their children to get eaten by ogres to avoid a fight, and the authorities will not be happy. The ogres have no interest in money, since they have plenty of that and they're interested in food. If things break down, it's a fight; 3 standard Ogres with great weapons against the PCs, though the ogres will try to break past them into the peasants to make a few kills and drag the bodies away. The fight stops after the PCs kill an ogre (at which point the other two take their buddy's corpse for breakfast and back off) or they manage to kill six people (peasants included) and have enough for breakfast. The ogres are tough bastards, 3 attacks each, 24 wounds, but poor WS and 'only' SB 4 and TB 4, plus a mishmash of light and medium armor. The real danger is Fear; if the PCs freeze up they can break through to the peasants easily. Focusing fire and taking one of them out is quite possible for the pre-mades, though.
Whatever happens, if the PCs fought, they're regarded as heroes by the refugees, even if they lost and six people died. The fact that the mercs escorting them took on ogres they didn't really outnumber still convinces people that they're brave and honest folk. If the PCs talked out of the fight by giving away an animal or some other clever plan, the peasants are equally impressed and relieved. If the PCs actually won they can do no wrong for the rest of the journey and people talk about the 'heroes' they were lucky enough to be escorted by, which might spread beyond this adventure. I might toss in the dead ogre's purse or something as a bonus reward.
The next event is a murder mystery: Someone has murdered one of the Hochlander families, and it's too clean to be the work of a beast, despite fake wolf tracks leading into the woods. The PCs get the option to play detective here, and if they do, they discover the Hochlander's distinct and excellent longbow is missing. The killer, a crazy Talabeclander racist who hates Hochlanders because his deadbeat dad was from Hochland, couldn't bear to throw away the valuable high-quality bow. If he's detected, the PCs can prove it's him by finding the bow, at which point he fights to the death rather than go to the gallows but a single Woodsman-to-Hunter human with poor gear is no match for a PC party, especially after the goddamn ogres. Catching him again raises the PCs' estimation with the refugees. Failing to investigate or not finding the killer has no consequences for the PCs, but the guy will go on to become a Khornate eventually as his racism and murder-lust are preyed on by the Blood God. Not their problem, but still better if they catch him. I'd throw in the high craftsmanship bow as an extra reward if they catch him; the whole family that owned it is dead, I don't think too many would object to the PCs taking it.
The respect from the peasants comes into play now, if the PCs have been heroes. The peasants will fess up about the plague infections and one family will beg the PCs if there's anything they can do for their son. If the PCs have Heal, despite it not being an option here, they could probably actually save the boy's life by the normal mechanics with a good enough check. Either way, this is here to show what a near-terminal case looks like, and that this plague means business. The PCs will also note that it's a new plague, if they succeed a Science check. Science and Heal come up a fair bit in the early adventure and are the main place the premades are lacking. My own party was lacking in them too, so we repurposed a flavor NPC into a hireling later on and got them someone to help with the medical side of the adventure. Once they get the peasants to their new town, there's a brief celebration (if the PCs aren't hated) and then the heroes head on home.
Not realizing some of them have the plague already. Who has the plague is up to the GM, as is how many of them, and really the whole 'the PCs have the plague' part of this adventure is handled fairly arbitrarily. Also, because they catch it before it becomes apparent (and don't know about the 10 day duration) they're very likely to be back in Taalagad and drinking tainted water (and getting reinfected) rather than recovering. Effectively, it puts a time-limit on the early parts of the adventure as you try to find a way around the plague. The bit where who has it is completely GM fiat just feels a bit off. Also on the way home, the PCs potentially find evidence upriver of Taalagad, where they find rat-like footprints and evidence something was dropped into the Talabec to flow down towards the port. Collecting the odd residue and powder found in some of the discarded parcels will really help later on if the PCs find them.
If the PCs skip all this and stay in Taalagad while trying to get into the city, they all get the plague, and they get the worse version, which doubles the Toughness and stat loss, and will very likely kill PCs in a few days after symptoms start to show. If they can bribe into the city quickly, they may actually enter without catching the plague; they don't know how badly they want to spend as little time as possible in Taalagad, but they really don't want to be sticking around.
Aside from the PCs getting the railroading plague, the intro is actually a pretty decent little mini-adventure. It'd be kind of funny if the PCs hang around a few extra days or look for sidequests and accidentally short-circuit part of the adventure by getting over their sniffles, though. The game doesn't really account for the possibility of the PCs riding out the 10 day course of the disease at this juncture (the 3 day journey back is designed to get them into Taalagad before major symptoms arrive, where the infection can become continuous and indefinite.)
Next Time: Taalagad Gets Fucked
I discuss matter-thing with Commander-thing. Mention-say can put-put family on priority-list, yes-yes. So willing, is pathetic man-thing.Original SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
I discuss matter-thing with Commander-thing. Mention-say can put-put family on priority-list, yes-yes. So willing, is pathetic man-thing.
Look, I know I did the Deus Ex joke before, but the exact Grey Death stuff happens in this bit. The disease is even called the Grey Ague. I had to.
So, on returning to Tallagad, the PCs find things have gotten a little nuts. The port town isn't infested by zombies or something, but portions of it are on fire thanks to insane Sigmarite zealots who are blaming the sudden and extremely perilous plague on the sins and iniquities of the populace. Other parts are on fire because people are rioting to try to steal food and hole up in their homes. Shivering plague victims line the streets, coughing and slowly dying, and the Shallyan missionaries seem to be unable to do anything about it, even the Blessed ones with actual magic. No-one but the insane flagellants is coming into the town any longer, and any ships in port have left or are leaving, and they aren't taking passengers. The PCs could flee on foot if they want, but they have the milder form of the plague themselves. They need treatment and Talabheim itself seems to be the only place close enough to get it.
So yes, that's the reason for the 'PCs get the plague themselves' bit. To get them to keep trying to get into Talabheim, the thing they did that sidequest to do.
Thankfully, if they go to see the Magistrate, while he has evacuated the intense bureaucracy of Talabheim and its environs is a powerful thing: The clerks will have the PCs' names on their roster and will still find and pay them the 8 GC each they're owed for completing the refugee mission. They'll also potentially give the PCs paperwork for a 2 week stay in Talabheim, except there's no legal entry to Talabheim right now because of the plague. So yes, they get everything they were promised, and they get it on time, they just can't actually use it at moment (though the money will certainly be helpful). I appreciate that Taalagad falling apart isn't used as an excuse to stiff them like it normally would be.
The Taalagad section has a bunch of optional flavor encounters: Saving a peasant boy from being attacked by rats the size of dogs (which will tell any player this is a Skaven adventure), being attacked by the insane flagellants screaming that the players are sinful and weird and need to be purged by fire, seeing people try to force aboard one of the last ships leaving the city and getting shot for their troubles, or watching a bunch of Hochlander refugees try to force their way into Talabheim and get hit by a cannon. The city is enforcing its quarantine with cannon.
Naturally, the PCs are sick and one of the first places to go is the Shallyans. It's the logical place to look for a doctor, but this is where the PCs discover magic and prayer aren't working on this plague for some reason. While visiting the Shallyan shrine, the PCs see a weeping woman who keeps insisting the disease is some kind of curse, and can't be a normal disease. Her name is Kristine, a young annointed priestess whose father is a commander in the watch up the Wizarding Way. She's been untouched by the plague, but none of her magic works and for some reason, she's taken it much harder than her sisters. That's with good reason. My PCs wanted a doctor and someone with Science around since they didn't have one when I was running, so instead of Kristine being a bit of sad flavor and foreshadowing for another plot point, they managed to talk her down and convince her to join them in investigating the plague so she could try to do something about it all. Surely an elf, a dwarf scholar, and two wizards might be able to figure out this puzzle, after all.
The Shallyans can't help the PCs beyond some comfort for their symptoms, and they're both busy and extremely frustrated (and a little frightened). But if the PCs offer to help them or say they're investigating the disease themselves, the Shallyans will ask them to get help from an expert apothecary and doctor within Taalagad. This is really important: PCs only hear about Widenhoft the Healer if they make a Gossip +20 test, Common Knowledge (Empire)-10 to know of his rep, or actually offer to help the Shallyans. Being a decent person here is the easiest way to find him. The problem is, the Skaven also knew of Widenhoft's scientific and medical achievements, and they have real reason to fear someone figuring this disease out. When the PCs go to visit his home in Taalagad, he's already gotten a subtle ninja shuriken in the back. However, the Skaven weren't smart enough to burn his notes or ransack his home. They just assumed killing him was enough. His notes can be deciphered with a Science test, but even if the PCs can't understand the technicalities just taking them with them will help a lot down the line. And some parts can be understood anyway: He has a bit of a small blue vial of fluid with notes 'not an inoculant, an antidote?' and notes on the quality of the water (which will match up with the silvery substance PCs saw being dumped if they spotted the drinking water being toyed with). He also has notes comparing the disease to one that hit Tilea centuries ago, but noting it's much more powerful. Remembering the name of the reference book he used is important! Knowing that will save the PCs a lot of trouble later when they meet his colleague in Talabheim.
Most important, though, there's a note in his home from a Rudolf Nierhaus. Father of Kristine Nierhaus. The commander of the High Watch at the Wizarding Way. He sent the little bit of antidote, to be analyzed. And was dearly afraid he and Widenhoft were being watched. The PCs clearly have a talk to be had with the Captain.
There's no simple way to get to the Captain; the adventure expects your PCs to come up with their own way, but any mention of Widenhoft will get his men's attention and get them roughly shown in to see the Captain. Before they do, a +10 Gossip test will also tell them Kristine was recently very ill, but miraculously recovered, which was attributed to Shallya. Considering the tiny bit of 'antidote', the PCs may suspect that is far from the case. Rudolf Nierhaus has betrayed his city to the ratmen. They infected his wife and daughter, and then promised a cure if he helped them. The cure works, but it only temporarily shuts down the disease; this is part of Steeleye's plan to control Talabheim once he takes it, by controlling access to a periodic pause in plague symptoms among the humans so long as they obey him. So yeah, this is literally that scene from the opening of Deus Ex with the Ambrosia priority vaccine list and everything. It's honestly a pretty good plan for rats, and suggests that Steeleye actually understands humans a bit better than usual since he's figured out how to fairly easily manipulate familial love. The Seer wanted the huge quarantine and heavy-handed reaction to spread fear and panic, and to cut Talabheim off. Kristine is going nuts because she thinks her father made a deal with Nurgle, not ratmen, and fears her health comes at the expense of everyone around her.
Nierhaus is very angry the PCs know what's going on at all, until they tell him Widenhoft is dead. Then he panics and despairs, because it means the Skaven know he screwed them and tried to send the antidote for analysis. If they have Widenhoft's notes, he'll tell them to go see 'Eladio the Estalian' to get into the city illegally and will tell them to find Widenhoft's colleague, Dr. Daubler. If they don't, he'll tell them the same but add 'go get his notes immediately before they destroy them.' Telling him what's going on will immediately get him to help, no tests involved, because this is critical path stuff. They never really learn the extent of why any of this happened with Nierhaus, just that he was panicking. Going to the Estalian gets them in contact with a smuggler who likes to hide behind being a fiery and extremely stereotypical Diestro, who will tell them (once he's leading them through dark passages into the city) that the captain shot himself after their meeting. Eladio also knows what Skaven are and is quite aware they're real, like most non-Imperials. He knows what's going down, knows what's at stake, and will do everything he can to help the PCs on their mission.
And they'll need him, because deep in the tunnels, they run into a terrifying boss fight! At least, the book seems to think so. It's three Plague Monks, Pestilens mooks, all Frenzied and crazy, running from something down another tunnel and running smack into the PCs. These are troops of Nelrich the Plague Priest, fleeing the purge by Steeleye's Skryre minions and their machine guns. This is meant to be a serious encounter. They're basically slightly tougher Clanrats. 'The fight should be vicious and memorable, but the PCs should be victorious', says the book. The PCs are 2nd tier characters, with an additional highly skilled 2nd tier NPC as backup. The Plague Monks will probably last one, maybe two rounds depending on luck and defense rolls, and aren't likely to do damage. The default party would completely body this encounter, and it's meant to be scary. It's a bit weird. Then, the PCs make it into the city and on to the next chapter.
If the PCs never found out about Widenhoft, things get rougher. They have to get passage into the city just to escape starving and dying outside or being attacked by more zealots, but without a recommendation to the charming Estalian smuggler, they have to use shittier ones who intend to murder them for their possessions, which are worth money. This eventually leads to a much rougher fight than the Plague Priests, because the smugglers have a crazy-ass giant Norseman sociopath with them as their champion, and he's pretty nasty; WS 56, SB 4, TB 5, some mail (though unarmored on his arms and legs), and a great weapon, who is a fucking Khainite. Not Khornate. Khainite. He likes murder in all ways, not just 'skulls and blood'. Add in an ex-Protagonist turned Thug as backup and 3 basic thugs, and that's a pretty mean fight. Though the normal thugs and the protagonist will run once one or two dies, and the Norseman won't. After taking them out and realizing they're lost in the tunnels, the PCs find a guy the Khainite had planned to sacrifice later, a little halfling militiaman, who can lead them into the city. However, this route lacks Widenhoft's notes or mention of Dr. Daubler, and so effectively cuts the PCs off from the rest of the 'curing the Grey Ague' sideplot. They'll have to just survive the disease on their own. If they got the enhanced version of the plague and missed Widenhoft's notes, they're probably all dead. It's much more likely PCs will have the light version and will have gone the route with Captain Nierhaus, though, if they've engaged with the adventure at all.
The mechanical challenges are fine, and I'm glad there are alternate ways into the city, but the whole first half of TiT is weaker than the back half. At least if you go the Nierhaus route you actually have some idea what you're trying to do, and some route to doing it. The other route is a little more suspect, because on some level PCs don't really have a lot of reason to go into the city. This also reflects our usual 'the published adventures have no idea what makes an easy or hard combat' problem; the plague monks are a complete joke for PCs of this tier and would have been doable with 1st tier rookies, especially with Eladio and his 48 WS, Strike Mighty, 2 attacks, etc Diestro self around. In general, TiT errs on the side of easier combats, but I understand that. It has a lot of mandatory combats, so it has to account for the possibility the PCs aren't great at fighting. The default party has more than enough firepower to beat the game's mandatory combats. I had to up the rats some for mine, because my PCs were higher level and included a Master Bright Wizard, but thankfully Skaven are easy to scale up or down. Next we get to what I think is the weakest part of the campaign, the bits in Talabheim itself before things go Vermintide.
Next Time: The PCs Get Drafted
Please StayOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
The section in Talabheim before everything really goes to hell is easily the weakest part of the adventure. It's more than a little directionless, and the main part of the plot (curing the plague) is both optional and won't really do anything for either the PCs or the city. The first thing you have to do on arriving is deal with any PCs with plague symptoms. However, it you have the lighter infection there's a good chance you're fairly close to getting better, and the game even suggests just holing up away from the cops (so you don't get arrested/sequestered) and toughing out the infection. If you're struggling and need help, there's Dr. Daubler. The PCs either know of him from dealing with Widenhoft and Nierhaus, or they can find out about him with a Gossip +20. The Shallyans are around, but they're insanely busy. Not only are they besieged by Talabheimers asking for help (which they're doing their best to give), but a PC who knows anything about their religion will recognize that they've done their own equivalent of gearing up for war. A Charm test tells PCs that the Shallyans have decided this is the work of Nurgle (considering Pestilens, probably correct) and are gathering everything they can for the fight against the plague. Still, they're too busy to help easily.
Oh, and one of the big signs of how scared the city is? The Countess has lowered the Cup Duty to try to keep the public from panicking. Taxes are being lowered or intentionally not collected. In Talabheim.
Once the PCs find Dr. Daubler, he's actually a genuinely good guy. An intelligent, learned physician and devoted follower of Shallya, he lives a comfortable life but does his best for his patients, even at risk to his own health. The good doctor is learned, good humored, and actually good at healing people rather than being a quack or con-man. He's not only got an excellent Heal skill, but he actually has devised something of a treatment regimen for the Ague. It won't cure a PC, but it will let them reroll the Toughness tests not to lose further Toughness. At 12 silver per daily dose, it's expensive, but it greatly enhances someone's chances of surviving the 10 day course of illness. More importantly, if the PCs mention Widenhoft's notes or Captain Nierhaus, they immediately get his full attention. Giving him the notes and remembering the book Widenhoft was referencing will make things easy on Daubler; within 5 days he'll finish Widenhoft's work and come up with an even better treatment, and he'll discover the whole 'cast cure poison, THEN cure disease' thing and share it with the Shallyans, too. This won't stop what's coming (the epidemic is too widely spread and it's only one part of the evil rat plan) but it will probably save a lot of lives. I appreciate that while it doesn't prevent the adventure from proceeding or anything, the book goes to lengths to point out that coming up with this cure will stop the same plague from working elsewhere and will still save hundreds of lives in Talabheim.
The one issue is it probably comes too late to be very important to the PCs. It is possible they got a worse case of the Ague (you roll Toughness when first afflicted with a disease to modify its length, so they might have it longer than 10 days) but most of the time PCs will almost be better by the time Daubler comes up with a better treatment/tells the Shallyans what they're missing. His improved treatment isn't a cure, but it lets the character taking it not only reroll their Toughness save, but make it at +40. Also, as this comes after 5 days, if the PCs had the advanced form of the disease there's a pretty good chance one or more of them die of it before then. Which leads us to the single worst part of this adventure. The adventure says 'if PCs think they can just Burn Fate to survive the disease, this scenario (which already suggested maybe just waiting a few days) loses much of its impact. So if they do, have them 'die', be put in the corpse piles, and then wake up on a slab, naked, with no gear, surrounded by reanimating zombies'
Now on one hand, the PC is not tied down, and this will give away the Necromancer who is working with the Skaven to be fed plague victims early. But punishing burning Fate with 'you wake up in a situation extremely likely to make you burn more Fate' is completely counter to what burning a Fate point is about in my view. Losing a Fate point is also a seriously painful blow to a character. As my players could tell you from our side game last night, having a stock of rerolls when some crazy lich motherfucker tries to steal your life from you or you really need to make sure an attack hits to finish the guy off or make this skill check RIGHT NOW is one of the biggest advantages PCs have. Going from 3 to 2 Fate is a serious, measurable blow to a character's capabilities. The general spirit of trying to punish a PC for 'giving the game away' that Fate is literally a stock of extra lives during a plague plotline isn't great. What's fucked up is this adventure also contains the single best use of the Fate burn mechanic I've seen, so I think this is just a one time oversight by the author.
Anyway, after dealing with (or not dealing with, but surviving) the plague, the PCs get drafted into the militia. Everyone who isn't currently sick as hell does. They can try to hide from this, but if they do, patriotic crime bosses instead recruit them to do militia things in the Tallow, the crime-ridden area the militia doesn't go. They recognize that the city itself is in peril and are making sure their 'boys' suspend being thugs and criminals until the city isn't dying anymore, because they would like to continue to steal from it and can't do that if Talabheim is taken over by rat people. Speaking of, despite rat people not being 'real', most characters in this section will absolutely recognize they're fighting rat people, and Daubler will outright tell the PCs that's what's what.
Militia duty is mostly a bunch of boring little sidequests and tension building exercises, but it's a little too slow paced. Nothing really happens with the Militia, until you discover a lone, wounded Plague Monk and the remains of a goddamn machine gun massacre, the players' first hint the rat people have guns (and apparently, machine guns). This is just a little foreshadowing. What's funny is they still use the stats for Ratling Guns from Children of the Horned Rat, where a Ratling Gun is just a shittier Blunderbuss, so there's a lot of ado made about nothing about the Skaven MGs. The real threats will come from Jezzails, Warplock Pistols, and goddamn Warpfire Throwers (though with the added fun rule that a called shot to the tank will make the weapon and both rats carrying it explode). But that comes later.
The Militia bits do get exciting, but not in Chapter 3. So I'll instead take a moment to talk about something I appreciate in both Chart and Luikart's writing for the setting. See Daubler and the Shallyans up there? It's genuinely good to have stuff like that tossed in with the setting. It makes it stand out more when people betray you or try to use you when there are also actual decent people out there who show it doesn't have to be that way. It adds variety and keeps things from being just a morass of assholes. It reminds me of the bit in Realm of Sorcery (same author as Terror in Talabheim) where failed wizards aren't killed or something, they're taught enough to keep themselves safe and then either given a mundane job by their College or a license to go back to the normal world and make their living. Because the wizards aren't just dicks all the time. Having some decency, compassion, or even simple competence mixed in there among the jerks and the idiots goes a long way to making the setting feel fuller and more fleshed out, and helps make PCs want to engage with NPCs and adventures.
But next time, things get Ratfight. Extremely Ratfight. To the point that I'd wonder if Terror in Talabheim wasn't one of the main inspirations behind Vermintide 1.
Next Time: Ratfight! RATFIGHT!
And They Lose EverythingOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
And They Lose Everything
I should preface this by saying this bit is avoidable, but incidents like what's coming up are kind of why PCs might try to run away from main plots as soon as they see signs of them. The PCs should spend about 2 weeks or so wasting time with Militia work and not really doing much, getting a chance to watch the disease spread (and take care of their own cases) as they get paid a tiny wage and fight a mixture of corpse cart duty and boredom. There's an interesting bit of foreshadowing in the rumors flying around the city: A legal precedent has been found saying that any noble who does not act to defend the city in a crisis like this forfeits their claims and titles within the city, and it's true enough that while the rich have thrown thousands of GC into trying to change or argue down that law, old family patriarchs are dusting off their swords and considering reporting for 'militia duty' (as lightly as possible).
Believe me, this will be important later.
The city has actually discovered enough signs to expect a Skaven attack of some kind, though they're wrong about the type and scale of the threat. This is part of the reason for calling up so many militia, and for bringing the city's army into the richer districts to hole up and prepare to protect the city's centers of government (and to be close to the Countess for orders if things go down). Things are tense, but still proceeding like the slow motion disaster that is a plague. At some point, the PCs are taking a rest, and depending on how much they've shelled out for lodgings they're going to get completely turbofucked. If they're in the Tallow poor district, this is going to hurt real bad. If they're outside of it, they'll be fine. Because now is the time when the Skyre machine gunners and flamethrowers finally drive the Pestilens forces into the open, flushing them out of the tunnels to force them to invade the poor district as part of Steeleye fucking over Nelrich. To the people on the ground (and the city's army) this seems like the main attack: Thousands of rats. It is not. If the PCs were slumming it in the Tallow, they're awakened (or their character on watch notices) a strange noise from the streets, and then realizes there are thousands of rats, and they are about to get positively blasted with rats. The PCs have about twenty seconds to wake their fellows, grab one hand weapon or their weapon and shield, and run like hell. Losing all their armor and any other possessions. You can't have been sleeping in armor, which makes enough sense, but this is a situation where the PCs are likely to lose hundreds of GC worth of expensive, difficult to replace gear right before the campaign's pace of combat ramps up.
So you'd better hope you paid for a nicer bed.
This isn't really a combat scene, it's a chase. There are too many rats for the PCs to do a damn thing, so they need to run for it, only occasionally having smaller combats or simple WS tests to try to force their way through any rats that threaten to cut them off. PCs can get to the roofs with Scale Sheer Surface +20 and make their way over a safer route that way, or they can run with the fleeing crowd of citizens and risk getting trampled. The safest route is to go via the back alleys, occasionally fighting off rats. As they run, they should get a look at Nelrich himself in the back of the swarm to introduce them to one of the main villains, as well as see plenty of scenes of overwhelmed militia trying to fight or locals doing their best to get away. When they reach the barricades leading into better parts of town, they need to hide or they'll risk getting shot down by friendly fire as the militia and army try to contain the mess to the Tallows. It's possible to pick a building and make a stand; the arrows from the barricades keep the ratmen from overrunning the PCs and they can finally fight some of them off. Otherwise they need a way to slip past the barricades to safety.
They're still kind of fucked, though, considering their gear (and potentially, their money) all get left behind. If you stayed in a nicer part of town, you instead get drafted to man the barricades and aside from a WP test or gain 1 IP for brutally enforcing a quarantine, the PCs don't have to do shit and don't get in any danger, and also keep all their stuff. It's really clear they want you to have the scene where you're running for your life from rat people, but having it can potentially totally derail your party's material situation in a way that's really hard to recover from in a city under siege. I'd probably just have the PCs on night patrol with the militia in the Tallows when the ratfight gets started, so they have the whole exciting escape scene but don't get fucked over sideways.
At the end of the mess, rats now own the poorer part of Talabheim, but they've been completely contained. The attack is designed to both kill Nelrich's people (and hopefully Nelrich), but also to get Talabheim to finally send for help. This is one of the important steps in Steeleye's overall plan to get the Empire to attack a rat-man held Talabheim and let him take advantage of its legendary defenses to destroy some of their armies and open up more places for conquest. To do that, he needs an incoming Imperial army. And he needed Nelrich's people bottled up and wrecked anyway, so why not shoot them in the back and drive them into making his sacrificial feint for him? This will absolutely not go wrong for him later in any way!
As if things weren't bad enough, with the city jittery about the contained ratmen and the plague, next things get kinda weird on the PCs. They start having encounters with zombies trying to maul and infect random citizens, giving them chances to rescue people but also to investigate why the hell zombies are attacking people and where they're coming from. This is the Vampire Hunter's time to shine among the default PCs; she actually has Knowledge (Necromancy) and can identify some of the weird modifications made to these undead and that whoever's doing it likely has a copy of the famous Liber Mortis, penned by the Necromancer Van Hel himself. You might recall Van Hel as the first Sylvannian that Vlad taught Necromancy to back during the plagues of 1111, specifically to make sure Sylvannia would be able to survive rat people troubles. Unfortunately for the PCs, the Necromancer in this scenario is not following in those distinguished footsteps.
Dr. Gugula Skell considers herself an academic, and an open-minded scholar. This is why she's had no problem allying with Steeleye and his ratmen. Their plan will give her plenty of corpses, and all she has to do is modify the zombies to carry the Grey Ague and ensure they spread both plague and terror more widely in the city. In return, more corpses and free reign to work. It wouldn't be Nazis without their evil necromancer who calls herself a Doctor. Skell's mistake is that she's very artistic, and can't resist flourishes on her work. Flourishes that help the PCs to find her manor, and realize the eccentric doctor that lives within is a Necromancer. You see, she does the same work with statuery and amateur art, and her general art style carries over to the zombies, letting her be identified as a rich eccentric who lives in a spooky mansion. There's a bunch of spooky mansion stuff, but Skell isn't in when the PCs go to wreck up her house. The closest thing to a major confrontation waiting for them is a surprisingly lucid Wight who still loves his city. Christopher cannot actually resist the order to fight the PCs for intruding, but while introducing himself as a warrior, if they promise to kill him and put him to rest, he'll happily tell the PCs all about who hired Skell and who is helping her. Christopher is tough as hell, but he's only one enemy; a PC party should defeat him. But anyone with decent DR, 18 Wounds, 50% WS, and doing Damage 6 with every attack is a threat in combat.
Unfortunately for the PCs, learning who Skell is and that she's working with the ratmen is too late. This is one of the triggers (the other is ignoring the zombie subplot) that leads to the main attack, probably right as the PCs are going to warn someone important about Skell and that there's definitely a bigger rat making all the rules who isn't with the ones bottled up in the poor districts. This leads to the biggest setpiece in the campaign, the actual battle of Talabheim.
I don't quite like this section, myself. The escape can really fuck the players, and the Skell stuff is okay (you need to introduce some of your villains, and Skell and a Skyre Engineer are there to be sub-villains and additional boss fights later in the campaign) but I'd like to see it benefit the players at least a little to have uncovered her. Maybe let them burn her mansion down or something so she'll be less of a problem later, or get some significant treasure off of defeating Christopher like a famous sword or something. As it is, ignoring her is actually a safer trigger for the next event, as the PCs don't really gain anything by engaging and looking into her besides an introduction to their villains. If you're worried players will try to weasel out of main plots, put some benefits in the main plot!
Next Time: Blasted With Rats
Now THAT'S a good rat-stick!Original SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
Now THAT'S a good rat-stick!
Alright, so everything before this has been 'told you that story so I could tell you this one'. The plague, the militia duty, all of it is mostly to ensure the players are in place and somewhat aware this is coming. To be fair to Terror in Talabheim, the upcoming section is one of the strongest parts of the adventure, so the payoff is actually pretty worth it. This section also features one of my favorite uses of the Fate mechanic, which is why I think the prior weirdness with the plague death Fate burn was probably an aberration.
So the PCs come out of Skell's house knowing shit is about to go down, but they neither have time to warn anyone nor does anyone they do manage to warn really believe them when their only evidence is the word of a wight who claimed to be a patriot. However, they have just enough time to grab their own weapons, ammo, do some last minute healing draught shopping, etc to get ready. If they didn't do the Skell subquest, they get caught off guard, though they should be in their full gear when the true ratfight begins. It's time to get your best rat-stick and get ready to bash some rats, because the upcoming section is all action all the time.
Once the PCs finish their last day's preparations post Skell (and hopefully get to full health somehow, they're in for a long night), they both notice more and more of the city's soldiers are symptomatic of the Grey Ague and that they smell something odd on the wind. Then a significant portion of the Taalbastion and some of the street of the Old Market district simply collapses and out come a shitload of rats. Stormvermin lead the charge, backed up by a massive swarm of gun-wielding Skryre troops, which is a hell of a shock to the Empire. The Imperial soldiers, even the ones who knew about Skaven, really weren't expecting to be outgunned. The Empire is usually the one doing the outgunning. This is the protagonists' first look at one of the other sub-villains, too: Eckmorkast Sparker. Sparker is a crazy little Skryre Engineer who had a weak spine and who thought sleeping and eating were bullshit that wasted doomsday device designing time. So he replaced his entire spine with a giant warp coil. Then he decided being scared of things got in the way of science. So he engineered the coil that keeps him from needing to eat or sleep to destroy his ability to feel fear. Then he decided to rip out his own scent glands. Other Skaven find him immensely disturbing. He's in on this plan because it involves building a fuckhuge railway cannon, it involves getting piles of Pestilens killed (Skryre is foremost in wanting the plague rats all fucking dead-dead), and he thinks it can work. The PCs don't fight Sparker here most likely; he's surrounded by his troops and this first scene is mostly holding on for a little bit against Stormvermin and Clanrats and then falling back as the defenses buckle. This main force is ordered to drive through and seize the city's temples as they're both a centrally located objective and the Skaven believe it will break human morale.
There's no set encounters given here, just a 'what troops are present' and some suggestions for things PCs could accomplish or areas they could retreat to in each section. This is to allow you to tailor the level of combat to the players' actual abilities and tastes. What matters in most of these sections is that the PCs represent a 'tipping point' for certain objectives. The PCs deciding to fight for awhile in an area means that that area does a little better. You might only be a few characters, but a few more warm bodies in the right place might be what's needed to prevent a total rout and let people retreat, etc. It doesn't matter if they're super hardened badasses.
Thus, the PCs falling back from the main fight to the Manor District (which even more cowardly PCs are likely to do, remembering that's where the knights and the best armed soldiers are) find themselves with a choice. If they jump in and attack Stormvermin in the palatial gardens of the city's rich district, Countess Elise and some of her officials and officers will get the time to get away. This will actually measurably help the PCs later, as she's capable enough to keep people organized in exile outside of the city and provide them some support. Also, saving a likely-soon-to-be-Elector's life is a good thing for an ambitious PC to do. Note that Stormvermin are badasses in this, for some insane reason. While they lack the armor, they're otherwise tougher than Chaos Warriors, having WS 65, SB 5, TB 5, Agi 45 and Dodge, 17 Wounds and Strike Mighty. Only one attack, but when it hits for Damage 6 Impact, uh...
I just want to look at those numbers. One of the characters in a little side thing I'm running right now is basically a peasant soldier who had the stats to be a legendary swordsmaster. He has less WS than that Stormvermin as a 2200 EXP character (63 vs. 65), the same SB and offensive power, less Agi, and less TB and less Wounds. The guy is a huge badass. What I'm saying here is the Stormvermin are a little overtuned and I don't really know why. I guess it's because of Children of the Horned Rat and how it made them into insane supersoldiers, as this book is a companion piece to it (heck, it even suggests if you own it it might be fun to run this story from the rat perspective). For reference, a tabletop Stormvermin is like...as good as an Imperial Swordsman while being faster. That's the lofty height of rat jackboots.
Anyway, they don't actually have to win, just fight and buy time for a bit. If they don't, Elise is captured and will be forced to read propaganda statements on live rat cabalvision about how grateful she is that the wonderful new overlords have taken the city. That is not a joke. That is Steeleye's plan for capturing the city's nobles, forcing them to read statements about how awesome he is and how he totally deserves to rule Talabheim while using magic to broadcast it to the whole city. Oh, Rats.
Fighting in the heavy buildings of the Law Quarter offers the PCs some places to hole up and defend, though they need to be careful. Skryre Warpfire Throwers are going house to house, trying to burn out resistance. Another nice thing is that the game wants you to play out one small section of these fights, but provides lots of friendly forces that can show up to give beleaguered PCs some space to retreat once they've held long enough at a certain point. The game really wants PCs to notice you can shoot the tank on a fire thrower to kill it, and to start doing that themselves. Wouldn't be Skaven if there wasn't lots of exploding that takes out dozens of their own guys. Warpfire Throwers are insanely nasty weapons, as you might remember from Children of the Horned Rat. Getting hit by one gives you an Agi to avoid it, but then does a bunch of armor-ignoring damage and sets you on fire if you fail another Agi test, while also potentially mutating you because fuck you. Remember being on fire is d10 Wounds, no reduction, every turn until you make an Agi test to go out. Remember an average 2nd tier had 15 Wounds or so. Another fun thing to remember in all this fighting is that if PCs have Gunpowder prof they can use Skaven guns perfectly fine. It might be fun to let the players take out a sniper, capture a Jezzail nest, and start popping flamethrower teams until they have to fall back.
The heaviest fighting happens at God's Row, as the PCs keep falling back. The PCs should be informed by one of the city's messengers that everyone who can still fight is falling back to God's Row to make a stand in the temple district with what's left of the knights, the city's Priests, and a bunch of Magisters. God's Row is an absolutely chaotic battle, with Jade Magisters throwing vines and geysers around, priests calling down lightning and wielding flaming hammers and shining spears, Knights charging down the streets to try to rout rat machine gun teams, Imperial State Troops and Militia fighting for their lives, and a huge Amber Magister wrestling rat ogres with his bare claws. PCs should fight at least one rat ogre and its handlers while trying to hold on, slowly getting pushed back to one of the most defensible temples: Sigmar's. At this point, ask the PCs if they wish to make a last stand. If they say yes, every PC gets a Fate Point to use in fighting to the death at the Temple of Sigmar, rallying the troops as best they can and getting a genuine heroic last stand with the guarantee they can continue the campaign after (plus an extra reroll while doing it). I love that. It's a great use of metacurrency to give the PCs a scene that is genuinely brave and heroic for the characters, without the players feeling like they're being chided into throwing away their characters. Plus, if you want a drag-out fight where you stop running and kill as many goddamn rat nazis as you can, this is where to do it.
As an added bonus, the rats can't actually breach the walls until Sparker himself deploys a crazy warpstone device to blow the temple door open, and he's completely fearless, so he leads the assault. Not only do you make a last stand, you get a genuine and decent chance to kill one of Steeleye's major allies here. Sparker is a badass little rat, but he's mostly unarmored and doesn't actually have Dodge so his 70 Agi doesn't help him avoid damage much. He's got a heck of a nasty sniper rifle, all the ranged talents, BS 65, and the ability to throw lightning out of his spine (since it counts as the Engineer's little Warp-Lightning generator trick) and everything about him is designed to be a memorably crazy but ultimately beatable rat, like all the best rats. The reason the PCs survive being left for dead after doing all they can in the temple is the fighting is so fierce the Skaven actually fall back, even after taking it, and give the temple of Sigmar something of a wide berth later on. They think it's somehow ill-omened.
Note they also get the 'fighting to the death' Fate Point if they declare they're done running at any other point in the battle. If the PCs want a brave last stand at any point or over any objective, they will not be punished for taking it. This is a great way to deal with how hard it can sometimes be to convince PCs to flee, too.
As the Row of Gods is lost, if the PCs didn't fight to the death they end up back in the Law Quarter, the last place that's undecided. Here, Steeleye finally makes his triumphant entrance, backed up by a shitton more rats and the esteemed Dr. Skell. His plan is to use her to start raising bodies to really finish off the morale of the defenders, and it works. Seeing corpses standing back up all over the place is enough to finally route the defenders, especially when it's accompanied by a powerful rat mage calling down storms of warp lightning and his fresh troops. Steeleye is too far back to take a shot at, but the book does note PCs with ranged weapons might manage to get a few shots off at Skell if they know about her and realize she's among the rat's entourage from the rising corpses. It's not likely, but it is possible someone is going to roll a Fury and put an arrow in her throat. The battle is officially lost at this point; even if the PCs want to hold out, nobody else does, and most of Talabheim's forces are fleeing for cover. Now's the time to either find a quiet spot to hide and figure out what to do now, or flee into the woods in the Crater. There's no way out of Talabheim, the rats own the joint, and the PCs are trapped.
Now is the time to start the Resistance, and start shanking rat nazis in the kidneys.
Overall, the Fall of Talabheim is really well done. It's full of exciting scenes and neat action, it lets the PCs actually accomplish things that will help them in the next section (as well as establishing their rep; if they fought bravely more people will recognize them and want to help The Resistance in the next bit), and generally feels like a good climax to the first half of the adventure. The Resistance section is quite strong, too. Basically, Terror in Talabheim doesn't start great, but once you actually get into ratfight it picks up speed quick and the two biggest setpiece (this, and the eventual final battle for Talabheim) both land quite well. I really love the 'PCs making a heroic stand get a Fate Point to use for it' mechanic. It's a great use of Fate for one of its intended purposes: Lots of these kinds of stories have scenes where the heroes are knocked out or captured or something, so having your stock of Fate Points to spend to be left for dead by your enemies after a ferocious last stand is both in-genre and allows for a really cool scene for the heroes.
Next Time: Lotta things you can do with a hatchet and a rat nazi.
Shootin', stabbin', and stranglin' rat nazisOriginal SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
Shootin', stabbin', and stranglin' rat nazis
So, your city has been seized by ratmen. There's an Imperial relief army on the way, but it will probably be months; they need to muster a force that can potentially seize Talabheim, the famously invincible fortress-city. You don't really have an easy way out, and the crater will be swarming with rats as they bully the farms and forests into feeding them and let the Rat Ogres out for exercise murdering the wildlife (and peasants). We get a long sidebar on why trying to run away is a bad idea, that ends with the very silly 'you may well be hanged for desertion if and when Imperial forces find you', when the simple situation is already reason enough not to run.
But we also get to see Steeleye make his first public address. He brings out the highest ranking noble he's managed to capture (Elise, one of the Hunter Lords, a Knightly Grandmaster, etc etc) and has them chained to the obelisk of laws at the center of the city. He then broadcasts his image to everyone in Talabheim as he makes his declaration of conquest, starting it off by leveling the obelisk with a huge bolt of warp lightning and badly wounding the captured noble. He tells the people their laws, their city, their forest are all now inherit-inherited by the Skaven. He forces the noble to agree with his speech, striking them several times if they show any defiance, until they tell him they hear and obey, and recommend everyone in Talabheim do the same. I'd take advantage of this scene to set up that Steeleye does this kind of thing regularly, broadcasting himself to the city. It's a nice way to give your main villain presence in the story and update the players on their progress through what he's telling his minions and his slaves. Having the Grey Seer's propaganda hours have him furiously denying the Resistance's progress or trying to tout every victory his forces win against their allies would be a great way to show the effects they're having on their adversary.
Meanwhile, the rats hold out a cure for the Grey Ague, promising they'll save obedient slaves, informers, and willing allies so they can work for the glory of the Skaven. Everyone else is forced at gunpoint to get about their tasks. Steeleye realizes humans actually care about their children, unlike Skaven, so he starts instituting a policy whereby families found to be defiant see their children sacrificed to the Horned Rat. Work begins on converting the city into slave camps and Skaven nests. The rats are in charge. Except for all the places they aren't. They never actually managed to break the Temple of Myrmidia, and the Knights of the Verdant Field and Blazing Sun are holed up inside with supplies and defenses. The local dwarven embassy turned out to be too tough for the rats, too; it's been converted into a full (if small) hold and is sheltering citizens and shooting rats, who pretend they didn't really want it anyway and just keep it under siege. The rats struggle a lot more outside the city, and are still getting ambushed by both Taal's Chosen and the Horned Hunters, a bunch of crazy Taalite flagellant-adjacent fanatics who run around shirtless with giant axes and antlers.
So why are the PCs going to do something about all this? The book actually goes into a bunch of possible motives, not just for them, but for the other people they could convince to take the risks necessary to fight the rats. They might be motivated by religion; even non-Taalites would be furious to see a bunch of murderous ratmen defying one of the great holy cities of the Empire. Even Shallyans could justify fighting the rats; they're close enough to Nurglites for the strictures, they're using plague as a major weapon and means of controlling the city. It is, in fact, within the strictures for a priestess to bash a rat (the book points this out to make it easier for a Shallyan PC to participate in the incoming political violence and freedom fighting). They might have an actual sense of duty and patriotism. The Empire itself will suffer significantly if it genuinely loses Talabheim. They may have friends and family who are still enslaved who they want to rescue or protect. Nobody wants to raise their kids in a world ruled by goddamn rat nazis. They might want to get paid. I mean, if they win, imagine the rewards that might await. Not to mention the looting opportunities; the rats don't give a fuck about gold or silver or jewels, so they haven't even bothered fully looting the noble mansions! Finally, they might just realize they don't have much of a choice. The rats control the main safe way in and out of the crater. Getting out another way means strong odds of falling off a mountain and dying. Staying and letting the rats enslave everything without resisting will probably kill or ruin everyone eventually.
They mention this makes an excellent way for the PCs to accidentally or intentionally recruit local Chaos Cults and other hostiles; they don't want their city ruled by rats, either. A local cult that planned to take over the city later probably already has stocks of hidden arms and experience at covert action. They might be really useful, and genuinely motivated to deal with the rats. Same for other evils like vampires. You can leave killing them for later, depending on how hard up you are for help. At the same time you probably want to be careful that your Resistance doesn't end up enabling crazy ass cults to take over the movement or something.
PCs might also join the Resistance solely because they're heroes, trying to do what's right with little expectation of reward. This is included mostly for completeness' sake, but I'd say there's a nice joke to be made with it: considering how often PCs don't get paid as it is, a 'hero' who expects no actual reward at the end of a WHFRP campaign may well just have a sense of pattern recognition!
The Resistance section is intentionally open ended. The author is aware some groups are not excited about a long-term secondary campaign of terror and mayhem from the shadows against rat nazis. If that's the case, you can hurry this part along to the denouement and have the Imperial army nearby already and Steeleye's plan move much faster. Likewise, if your players are really enjoying making allies and strangling rat stormtroopers, this can become its own major campaign arc, lasting months as they slowly win back parts of the city and make the rats afraid to go to some parts of the city. Skell and Sparker (if they're alive, Skell probably will be, Sparker might not) are there specifically to provide big objectives for the Resistance to take out. Lots of Resistance characters are suggested, from a 'model slave' who is keeping the smile on her face because she's imagining poisoning every goddamn ratman in her restaurant (while passing information to the rebels) to hardened criminals who are just here for the violence to an enslaved Engineer the PCs can help induce flaws in Skaven buildings and kill dozens of them with collapses. If you want to play the long-term or medium-term Resistance arc, there's plenty of information, objectives, characters, and ideas for it, though you'll be doing a fair bit of legwork. I like this sort of approach much better than a pre-defined, narrow narrative in a pre-made.
The tools it gives are quite good, too. The author is careful to go over the cracks in the Skaven's power, and if you think about it, Skaven don't handle political violence well and haven't usually put themselves in a position where they have to deal with actual insurgency. Note that Steeleye doesn't have a large contingent of Eshin, either, so he's lacking some in his own spies and assassins. Also note Clan Eshin's general success at influencing rat politics by making the rat politicians aware they can be murdered; your PCs will need to mirror this. Steeleye also has the problem that he's succeeded, a lot. His lieutenants (except Sparker and Skell) are now dragging their feet, trying to make him look bad so he doesn't get all the credit for this incredible victory. There may even be other Skaven who think they can 'use' the Resistance to kill their rivals or interfere in the Grey Seer's plans. A spiteful rat nazi who only cares about his rival losing can be a valuable source. If the PCs rescued Elise, the nobles and some of the city's army in the forests are much better organized to provide a fallback point and supply the Resistance with arms and food. Skaven also just don't think about their slaves that much. They assume slaves are easily cowed, already defeated, and they don't bother to tell them apart. If PCs can mess around with scents and a little acting, they should be able to move surprisingly freely among the slave gangs to coordinate their allies.
Heck, they even mention if you saved Elise she's actually genuinely respectful and treats the PCs as trusted advisors, letting them take the lead in the Resistance effort. It's kind of rare for an Imperial noble to actually be that grateful.
The main thing keeping the nobles a secondary source of support (besides the PCs being the main characters) is that they know the army is coming. They think things will get better, soon, without taking major risks personally. But the army would have a much easier time if there's a force within the walls that can seize the Taalbastion and let them in. Elise (or if she was captured, her lover Hafner, one of the Hunter Lords) will eventually quietly promise the PCs as much backup as they can muster (which will be more if it's Elise) if they can help ensure the Taalbastion will open for the army. And of course, the PCs will eventually learn Steeleye's actual plans and that he absolutely wants an Imperial army to arrive and besiege him here.
Skell is also an amusing point of weakness. She's happy with how things have gone, and Steeleye is too. She has a lot of corpses to work with, he doesn't care as long as she obeys him, and she's happy to keep doing so because hey, more corpses. The other rats complain about her playing with the food, but whenever someone complains too loudly, they remember they are insanely terrified of her. This means that while she's important and powerful, she doesn't have Stormvermin bodyguards or anything. They're also afraid to try to kill her, because necromancer. Again, a major and relatively doable target for the PCs.
Similarly, if they didn't save the Countess before, she's still alive and a major feature of Steeleye's conquest show. Rescuing her would be a good move for the Resistance. There's lots of stuff to do, and I could see a group getting really in to building alliances and stabbing rats before it all comes to a head later.
Next Time: MY PLAN IS A GIANT GUN, YES-YES!
We are gonna find Steeleye, and shoot him in the head.Original SA post Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim
We are gonna find Steeleye, and shoot him in the head.
Things come to a head after the PCs rescue a former slave who had escaped from Skavenblight itself. That, plus reports from Resistance operatives that tell them the Skaven stopped work on everything and tried out what appear to be ranging-shots from some huge cannon in the old Merchant's quarter. Questioning rats tells them the rats have big-big plans for the next time Morrslieb waxes on the thirteenth of the month. A lucky day for rat people. Steeleye has built his Man-Thing-Army-Breaker (he is not good at naming stuff) and is preparing to fire explosive, over-sized poison wind globes that should cause hideous damage to the Imperial army besieging Talabheim. He has them right where he wants them.
Unfortunately he hasn't cleaned up his insurgent problem. Nor did he bother to kill Nelrich the Supperator. If the PCs have learned enough about the guy, they may try to seek the terrible poison rat's assistance against the lightning rat. This actually works. If the PCs go to Nelrich, one way or another they'll get some benefit out of it. Nelrich is insanely, incredibly pissed off at Steeleye for jacking his plague AND trying to use him as sacrificial bait. To the point that he won't even betray the PCs, or try to take over the city himself, or anything. He knows Steeleye's been having trouble with these people and that they're his best shot to completely ruin (or kill) his rival. Nelrich also wants to live, and the PCs starting a major uprising is the perfect time for him and his awful little plague rats to book it back to Skavendom. Depending on how their meeting goes and how creeped out/angry they get when he wants to know all about how they enjoyed his plague when they were infected, either he'll agree to actually help (sending his troops to kill their way through Steeleye's rats in the Taalbastion and fleeing back into the shadows), or if the PCs piss him off, he infects them with something. The thing is, the something they're infected with doesn't do shit to humans. Only Skaven. And it's an even more hyper-charged version of the Grey Ague, which spreads like wildfire through the rat ranks and makes it so most of the rats the PCs are fighting are down 15% from all stats when the actual battle starts in a few days. Nelrich doesn't really care about killing man-things at this point, only every rat-bastard who tried to screw him. You've got to admire his dedication to pure spite.
The next day or so, the PCs should start their rising. Everything they've done to convince people to help comes home, and suddenly slaves are strangling ratmen with their chains, soldiers are emerging from hiding in the sewers to attack surprised Skaven patrols (lol, not so fun when it's humans doing it, is it, rat nazis!?), Knights emerge from the forest or the Temple of Myrmidia to charge the Skaven, and the surprised rats are caught off guard and trying to marshal their forces away from the Grey Seer's planned victory parades/celebrations and into fighting off a concerted rebellion. The rats will win eventually, but this isn't about destroying the rats conventionally. This is about seizing the Taalbastion to let the Imperial Army in while the PCs destroy the Man-Thing-Army-Breaker!
Which is mostly a stealth section to get the PCs past the few remaining guards (turning to a fight with some Skryre if they fail) and into the merchant's quarter. Once they find the cannon, they have a problem. The thing is made entirely of Warpstone. Getting close to hit it with a wrench is a bad idea (It's TB 6, Wounds 30, so not hard to break, just every round causes a Tough+10 or mutate) so rolling some lit gunpowder at it or finding something in the Skaven factory that explodes is a better plan. The ammunition facility is also nearby, where somehow human corpses are being refined into extra-powerful raw poison gas. Destroying this is a BAD IDEA as it will flood the entire district with gas, killing hundreds of slaves, imperiling the PCs, etc. As soon as the Man-Thing-Army-Breaker is attacked, Steeleye knows. He knows, and he is beyond pissed. To the point that he outruns his bodyguard, using Skitterleap to teleport himself onto buildings above the PCs so he can rant at them and throw lightning from there. Also, if you haven't killed Sparker by now, he'll join in to defend his kickass giant gun.
The issue for Steeleye is he's a wizard. TB 4, no armor (can cast Armor for +3 Armor, at least), with no support. His Stormvermin might arrive eventually (and start the fight with him if the PCs instead assault him in his home to try to assassinate him instead of going for the cannon) but if he's on his own he's going to get fucked up. You see, he's only Mag 3. He can't easily cast the most bullshit spells of his Lore (which are kind of badly designed anyway, see Children of the Horned Rat review for full details on the horseshit that is Flensing Ruin) so he's mostly stuck with Warp Lightning Storm. Damage 5 AoE sounds bad, but PCs in Chain with TB 4 can handle some Damage 5 hits. And every 1 he rolls hits him. And the default party has good shooters, so his being on the roof won't protect him. Plus, to stay ahead of them if they climb up after him, he Skitterleaps more, which uses his spellcasting/action. He's a kinda cool boss, but he's very vulnerable and will die like any other unsupported wizard. If he takes a crit or really feels he's losing, he runs away squeaking about revenge, instead. Assuming he's able.
He's extremely dangerous if you fight him with his six Stormvermin guards, though that's more likely in the assassination mission where you might get a surprise round and just shoot him to death before he can react. Either way, there's a bit of a mercy-rule in all this if the players are really struggling. If they're fighting and losing against a Skaven group, say Steeleye's bodyguards? During this section, once and only once, a strange pack of wolves will burst out of nowhere, their mouths full of tongues of silver fire. They kill the hell out of some of the Skaven fighting the PCs to take the pressure off. Taal will only step in for them once, but he really appreciates the PCs defending his city.
The most important thing is that if the cannon is destroyed, Steeleye has already lost and doesn't know it. And if he's forced to flee or dies, the word soon spreads among the Skaven. His defeat gets more graphic with each telling, as the Skaven panic about the surprise uprising and the incoming Imperial army and the destroyed cannon. The Musk of Fear fills Talabheim as the rats begin to chain-rout, and soon, even the Resistance is enough to drive them squeaking from the city. The heroes have saved Talabheim thanks to the amazing cowardice and arrogance of rat nazis!
Unless the PCs fail. If they do, there's a side-bar saying talk to the players, see what they want. If they're done with ratfight for now, the cannon explodes. That's just how Skaven do. Steeleye is apparently killed, but will come back as a warpstone-powered monstrosity to swear revenge on them. If they like ratfight, Steeleye succeeds, and now they have to continue resistance battles against the rats until they can retake not just Talabheim, but Talabecland entire.
Then the worst part of the book happens: The ending. So from what I've heard, the original ending was 'This is the moment the Empire realizes the Skaven exist, but also that the Skaven can take a number because God knows they have enough problems'. The joke being that the Empire officially acknowledging them doesn't really change anything. That was deemed too much of a change to the setting and got axed, so there's a very hurried 'people start to make up stories about how it was just rat Beastmen and nothing changes' ending. Talabheim gets rebuilt, but the PCs are suddenly liable for immense property damage. More importantly, by that old law of Talabheim, they own the entire mansion district and downtown. See, they stayed and fought, while the nobles ran. This means they're prone to being assassinated to resolve this, so some of their allies quickly hand them a couple chests of gold and rush them out of the city (Hey, it's more than Brute Squad got). They can never go back to Talabheim or they'll be locked in insane legal battles forever. I hate that part, too. I went with that for my group, but just had them 'sell' the city back for enormous-to-them-but-not-to-the-buyers sums and call it settled, with that being the point the PCs mostly retired from adventuring or moved on to new phases of their lives.
The whole 'nothing can ever actually happen' really dooms most of the pre-mades. I think part of why TiT stands out is things were actually supposed to happen! The ending is a huge swerve in quality and pretty obviously a last-minute replacement job. Otherwise, TiT is a genuinely pretty cool adventure where the PCs get to shank rat nazis and terrify and infuriate fun Skaven villains. It's a great example of how to do Skaven villains: They're 'standard', but each has a little twist to them that makes them more fun and makes them stand out. The beginning is slow, but the big setpieces of the fall and rise of Talabheim both land, both have significant roles for the PCs to actually matter in, and the Resistance section is a fun and more open-ended idea for an adventure. With the payoff coming in the final battle as you get to see all the people you recruited shooting, stabbing, and strangling nazis. That's a good payoff.
Overall I'd say TiT, like Lure of the Liche Lord, is one of the stronger WHFRP pre-mades. I still much prefer to write my own adventures, but my not-so-great experience running it was partly because I didn't really give it the chance it deserved. I was fresh off cancelling Paths of the Damned halfway through and pretty mad at pre-made games, so I didn't read it through thoroughly enough or take it on its own terms when I was running it. I think if you really engage with it, and maybe spice up the beginning a bit, you'll have a good time fighting terrible ratmen in the heart of the forest. Plus the actual city book section is about on par with Middenheim's, which is a welcome change from Nuln's meh writeup and Altdorf's actively poor one.
Join me next time as being locked in my apartment due to plague leads to me writing about the actually terrible WHFRP adventure books like I promised I wouldn't!