31 March 2007

Splitting Heirs: Session Two

Session Two played out on Tuesday.


A week or so has passed, during which Pou and Reinhardt were busy organising the locals in the building of some defenses for the larger settlements on Brunnenhing's estates. Whilst there they were able to pick up on a number of things. First, the sign they'd seen on one of the ork's armour was replicated here and there, marking buildings; the locals did not know what it signified, nor had they seen people (or things) making it. Hearsay amongst the peasants suggested that Lord Brunnenhing himself has not been seen on his lands for a year or so. In his stead mercenaries are holed up in his manor house, and the rumour was that they are the ones drawing the signs as signifying which properties should be paying higher taxes. Time spent in the province did not engender much warmth from these stewards of Brunnenhing's lands as they proved tight lipped and frosty, only showing any openness or presence when Pou forked out on a banquet for those building the palisades; at that point the reclusive mercenaries invited themselves and availed themselves of the feast provided. At this event it became clear they were, indeed, a group of very unpleasant - but not outright lawless - souls, taking Brunnenhing's coin to "look after" his estate and his affairs in his absence. The locals clearly don't like or trust them, the feeling reciprocated by the would-be stewards, but an uneasy peace lies over the land when the time comes for the Captain, his men and de Burns to head back to Himmelfeuer, leaving instructions with some of the copper ring-wearing musket men to continue the stockade-building process, and attempt to somewhat organise the populace in case a similar raid happened again.

Back in Himmelfeuer, and not all is well. Josephine has sought out Lady FitzCarstein to ask for tuition in affairs of state, sparking concerns that she is worried her father's death is imminent. The Baron still hasn't been seen outside the Chapel, but his family - and Gottfrid - all maintain that he is well, and merely praying for guidance in matters of inheritance. Moreover word has filtered through in the last few days that there have been a spate of burglaries in the usually quiet town of Himmelfeuer, and indeed in the mining camp, too. Twelve different properties had been hit over three to five nights, with not a lead for the investigators (Scharf's men, pressed into law enforcement) and the worry for the councilors that should things get more tense the merchants might start to question the safety of Himmelfeuer as a trade point and stopover.

Pou and Reinhardt arrived back late one evening, to be met with a welcome. A council meeting was immediately scheduled for the following morning to go over what they found. Lady F sought out Brunnenhing to personally inform him of the meeting, giving him no excuse not to be present, and then retired to her chambers where, no long after, she was called on by Captain Scharf. During this meeting - which was all but attended by Jarla, the Lady's handmaiden - Lady F made Scarf aware of her unease with Pou's "men", and quizzed him on the significance of the copper rings. Scharf made light of her fears, and then began to speak of the mark that he and Pou had found on the ork's armour. He showed the lady a rough sketch made in the field and it was enough - along with the other conversation, which had turned to metals and jewelry in light of the copper rings - to jog the young woman's memory: she had seen the same mark on rings worn by Brunnenhing at dinner one night the week before.

Pou, meanwhile, had headed off to find his wayward son and catch up with events in town since he had been away. Wherever he went, it delayed him, for he was late to the council meeting the following morning - albeit looking very happy with himself. By the time he arrived Felix Brunnenhing had already been subject to a grilling, pressed heavily from all sides about events on his lands and his knowledge - or lack thereof - of events. Backed into a corner by his fellow councilors the clueless noble was forced to give up his knowledge of the symbol, concede his absence from his lands and reveal how the mercenaries came to be in his employ. He claimed they had barged into his manor and presented him - at sword point - with an arrangement he couldn't refuse: take their mark, be their "boss" in name, but leave the lands and stay in court (where he had long been attempting to work towards Josephine's hand). Pressured by the inquisition Brunnenhing resolved to pay for the palisade-building work undertaken by the locals under Pou and Reinhardt's oversight and, more pertinently, to head back to his lands directly and re-assume some sort of control. However, lacking in men, it might turn out to prove a difficult task for him, given Captain Scharf was not keen on releasing any of his men to the task. Thoroughly embarrassed and defeated, Brunnenhing excused himself to "see about making preparations" shortly after Pou belatedly arrived at the meeting.

After the foppish, foolish, lord had left the others speculated a little on Brunnenhing's motives: was he just stupid, was he being played the fool? Or was he involved in something more sinister? Speculation that Brunnenhing himself - or the mercenaries acting in his name - had colluded with, or commanded, the orkish raid was rife. Matters then switched to Pou and his copper rings - Lady F raising to table her concerns about the nature of his copper-ringed network, alerting Werner to the brotherhood operating under his nose, but Pou, Herbert and Captain Scharf all playing it down, and laying it at at the door of Pou himself, the merchant who cares for the Barony passing out cheap trinket jewelery to those he meets and learns to trust. This was just a stepping-stone conversation, however, as turning back to Brunnenhing in subject Werner raised the matter of the inheritance.

Werner's urgency came from both the fact that no-one had seen the Baron in a week or more, and his obvious disdain and distaste for Brunnenhing - the natural successor as things stood (and assuming that the Barony survived the transition); a determination to prevent such a handover coming to pass was audible in his voice. The treasurer raised a number of scenarios of varying degrees of practicality or sanity; it served, however, to bring the situation to the front of everyone's minds again and resolved the council to seek an audience with the Baron in order to press for some direction on determining what might happen when the time does come.

The final point of order was brief discussion of the spate of thefts; worse, a body had turned up overnight - the sort of discovery that made investigation and resolution of the events a priority, before more dead appeared and spooked the merchants from which Himmelfeuer makes its money. With this in mind, three of the council prepared immediately to depart for the mining colony to investigate it themselves; Pou, Reinhardt and Lady FitzCarstein all saddled up and left for the mining colony where a homeowner had been strangled by an intruder during a suspected theft.

When they arrived they discovered that, the death aside, the pattern did indeed follow that of the other thefts: houses not trashed, but seemingly known, and picked for the odd item of value rather than being the holdings of richer members of the communities. It appeared the dweller had been up when the intruder broke in, unlike the other cases where the thefts had been whilst home-owners slept. The confrontation cost the miner his life, strangled with a piece of rope. Lady F was concerned for the proper treatment of the body (her family being steeped in devotion to Morr, despite her own devotion to Verena), whilst Pou and Reinhardt were set to visit the mine and talk to the dead man's colleagues and neighbours. As they turned to leave they spotted a clue as to what was missing from the room: a framed hand-drawn picture on the wall depicted the dead man receiving a gilded commemorative plaque - an item conspicuously missing from his abode; a single item of value, which fit with the profiles of the previous crimes.

As they set off to the mine itself they heard a rider approaching. One of Scharf's men had ridden hard from the castle with news: the stolen items were beginning to turn up. In the castle. Who amongst the staff might be thieving? Who might have the chance to set someone in the castle up as the culprit?


I enjoyed this session a lot; better than the opener from my point of view for sure. It began stickily however, as the between sessions communications had not resolved as much as I'd hoped - with me being very culpable here - and so the start I was gearing up for was too far on from the end of the first session. Justifiably the players had questions to ask and answer about the intervening time and I was mentally somewhere else and slow to answer. Still, things clicked in when everything caught up to the starting point I had in mind. Scenes formed well, with the centrepiece being the council showdown with Brunnenhing, but I perhaps enjoyed the scene between Lady F and Captain Scharf in her rooms the most - sitting back and appreciating the quality of play is one of my biggest pleasures in GMing.

Everything I'm doing is aimed at setting up a continual turnover of conflicts - between NPCs, between PCs, and between PCs and NPCs - in order to provide some spark; one resolves and another kicks off, or changes shape because of it. Certainly there is plenty of opportunity for this given the PCs themselves and the base situation; not everything is out in the open yet, of course, and the nature of the conflicts is not always clear right off the bat. My strength is in the people and knowing how they interact; my biggest weakness is my description - I'm not really doing a good job in setting scenes, at least from my perspective. I'm trying to personalise every interaction - compel the characters' interests and motives to come to the fore but I don't think this has been overly successful yet. This might be because I've quickly come to the conclusion that an episodic structure won't work - sessions are too short and when the group are often split it makes resolving issues in the time a tough ask. Perhaps once rustiness wears off I might be up to it but for now it will have to go (as good as) serial, and I'll look for other ways to work the personal angles into play.

24 March 2007

The 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, and the Tragic Events That Overshadow It

I must admit that my interest in this year's World Cup has not been maintained. I was very excited by the prospects heading into the tournament when Australia's status as runaway favourites was knocked by events in the CB series loss to England, and the subsequent 3-0 thrashing they received from the Kiwis. But whilst individual games have lightened up this tournament (Bangladesh beating India soundly, Ireland pulling out a thrilling tie off the last ball against Zimbabwe) the general feeling for me has been one of apathy. I suspect a large part of this is the time zone difference and the lack of significant TV coverage on free-to-air stations. I have been following live scorecards for every match on Cricinfo every afternoon whilst at work (if only to break the tedium of playing about with XML in Wordpad all day; publishing is very dull!), and when I get home I will, depending on the match, hook up to the BBC's radio commentary - either via their webfeed or by tuning to Sports Extra through digital TV but I don't feel excited by the competition. I understand why the TV highlights are so late - the games have to finish first and the package be put together - but now that I'm working again I'm often too tired to sit and watch highlights that stretch past midnight. Besides which, I've never been that enamoured of TV highlights packages for cricket - its not the individual shots or wickets that intrigue me about the game but the whole passages of play, which is never adequately conveyed by cramming a whole day's play into 30 minutes of "key moments". It all means the competition just isn't leaving much of an impression. I hope, from the sporting side of things, that will change, either today with England's crunch match against Kenya or with the progression to the second phase - the super eights - where finally the big teams will play each other. Oh, and Ireland and Bangladesh who produced the shocks to scrape through (assuming the latter overturn Bermuda tomorrow, which they really should).

However, since the news of Bob Woolmer's death (now known or believed to be murder) my interest has gone through the floor; the competition goes on but it all seems very hollow now. Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, was a much loved figure, an innovator in coaching and was even being touted as one potential candidate to replace Duncan Fletcher coaching the England side after the World Cup (his contract was up with Pakistan after the tournament). There are all kinds of rumours flying around regarding the events that lead to his death but I'm not about to dip into them. I cheered Ireland's victory over Pakistan last week as the unbelievable result it was, but the St Patrick's day magic washed away when news broke the next day first that Woolmer had been hospitalised, then that he had died. His loss is a tragedy for the sport he gave his life to; the folks that knew Bob Woolmer are convinced he would have wanted the World Cup to continue - and continue it shall, by all signs - but despite that (and I think continuing is the right thing to do, anyway - at least until more of what really happened is firmly established) I doubt I am alone in having all enthusiasm for the event swept from me by this dark and saddening surprise.

Whomever wins, it will be overshadowed by Bob Woolmer's loss; I just hope that one of the two sides still in it that Woolmer had strong ties to - South Africa, whom he coached, or England, whom he played for - can win it, and pay him fitting tribute.

18 March 2007


Just a little plug for something that could possibly grow into a useful tool for roleplayers (and potentially other gamer-types, too) should enough people sign up.

Nearby Gamers is a free online resource that sorts people by interests and location. Right now it seems to be in an embryonic stage but should more people start using it it might just reach critical (useful) mass. OK, so their map feed couldn't get my pin in the right part of Oxford, but it's close enough, although I'm the only one there so far...

Splitting Heirs: Session One

The game proper began this week, and with it a title: Splitting Heirs. Actually, the title came with the actual play thread, but that's just splitting hairs.


It is early spring, the winter snows having recently melted and the Barony is waking into warmer life: the farmers in the less mountainous regions have started to think about working the land in earnest again and the quieter months are drawing to a close - Greenskins don't venture down in the snows.

Yesterday was the first full council meeting of the season, Lady FitzCarstein having been holed up in Drachenmalstein over the winter. This morning, a rude awakening. The quiet morning air of Himmelfeuer castle was disturbed by the arrival of a horse-borne messenger bearing ill news. Lady F and Captain Reinhardt Scharf were well placed to observe the arrival - both being up, about and with views over the courtyard. The boy was grubby, limping and almost hysterical and they watched as Gottfrid brought the boy from his horse and into the castle proper. Messengers were immediately sent around for, it appeared, the boy had important news that warranted an emergency council meet. Pou de Burns and Herbert Reichessbergmann had been at the latter's inn and were sent for, whilst Werner Bohnekosten was somewhere within the castle and Felix Brunnenhing was nowhere to be found.

Lady F made haste to reach the chamber first in the hopes of some time alone with the messenger before the rest assembled. She managed thus, but her attempts to calm the boy only seemed to make him more edgy. His nervousness turned to blurting exclamations when Captain Scharf turned up, happy to see a military figure and forgetful of his place. Pou, Herbert and Werner all soon arrived and in Brunnenhing's absence they listened as the boy spun his frightened tale: his village, Kleine Wolfenburg, away to the West of the Barony had - he claimed - been razed by armoured figures. Of course the boy himself - Roderick - had not actually seen the razing, just the smoke rising from the village as he sped away; being the stable-boy at the inn with knowledge of and access to the horses he had been sent away with word before the slaughter began. Kleine Wolfenburg was on Brunnenhing's lands, making his absence all the stranger, but there was doubt - or rather, caution - in Lady F's tones as she played devil's advocate against sending a retribution force. The rest of the council - even miserly Werner - were of one mind: it must be investigated at least. Pou, particularly, defended the boy when Lady F suggested he might have been sent as a ruse to divert forces away from a real forthcoming attack. His certainty seemed based on the boy's production of a copper ring and he and Herbert retreated briefly from the chamber before returning to partake of the decision making. Werner dealt with the boy, calling for Gottfrid to find him somewhere to stay, and then a decision was made: Scharf, Pou, and a few of the former's men would head out west to investigate the happenings whilst Herbert, Lady F and Werner would remain in Himmelfeuer to deal with anything else that came up.

The reconnaissance party were to be fast moving and primarily scouting, whilst the majority of available forces were held back in case of trouble from the south (Mörder's lands). They covered the ground fast and with minimal rest, Pou briefly stopping in each village to speak to the locals then catching up (he being the only one with a horse). They reached Kleine Wolfenburg after a quick march and a short night's rest. They hadn't seen it the night before but from the morning onwards they could see the smoke still billowing into the air from the razed buildings - smouldering on despite the rain. As they approached they stopped about a mile or so from the ruin, and Scharf sent his best scout in to see what was what. A short while later the scout came back with a report: no signs of life, and remarkably few signs of death. There had been fighting - a few broken weapons and severed limbs were testament to that - but no (complete) bodies to be found. Pou circled the village looking for signs of "his men", finding a frightened group of 10 or so musket-armed peasants hiding some way off from the village who had assembled, on instruction, from other nearby villages. Scharf and his men examined the scene at the village more closely, finding more copper rings and tracks leading in from the north west. A mixture of booted and bare feet of roughly human size had made the journey into the village, but going out there was nothing but a rutted scrape leading away. Closer inspection suggested orcs made the barefoot impressions, and the suggestion was that a laden cart had been dragged away, explaining the scrape-like track leading off.

Amongst the meagre leavings - cleft weapons and limbs - was a musket stock, emblazoned with the mark of Sigmar: Pou's chosen maker's mark. A decision was made to follow the prospective cart-track as the lack of bodies was potentially a sign of survivors and, in planning to protect against further attacks, knowing the enemy would be valuable. Through driving rain and muddy fields the two councillors, 4 army men and the handful of makeshift musketeers followed the track until they crested a rise and saw an unladen cart at the base of the hill - axle broken, and sodden piles of ripped cloth sunk in the mud around it. Now footprints were visible in the mud, heading up towards rockier ground. They followed up, and as the winds died and the rain abated they came across signs of their quarry - first a corpse, beaten and scraped as if dragged over the rocks and with a frayed (and cut) rope around its waist, naked but for smallclothes, then as they pressed on, guttural language. Scharf and his men caught up first, spying orcs arguing amongst each other, and a bedraggled line of roped captives, stripped to the bare minimum of clothing; amongst the chain, several corpses and injured, but a few who looked in good condition (given their trials). Of their captors, two were larger than the rest: Black Orcs, armoured enough to explain the messenger boy's rantings. Using guerrilla tactics the soldiers managed to skirt the point where the raiders argued, getting ahead, whilst Pou and his militia got into position behind the orcs. One ambush later and the greenskins were either routed or dead, and the living villagers freed from bonds to be carried back to relative safety; of note was the strange signet mark on the largest orc's armour - it was vaguely familiar (though not recalled in the moment).

Meanwhile back in Himmelfeuer Lady FitzCarstein was not idle, mixing as she was with the castle denizens. Interactions with Herbert Reichessbergmann indicated that the mayor is very wary and suspicious of Werner's motives, and thought that Lady F's suspicious and questioning manner with the messenger had been unhelpful. But that was small fry; who isn't wary of a treasurer's motives, and Herbert had had to agree that the Lady's motives had been correct. It was with Werner that most interaction was had. First Lady F happened over Werner giving Gottfrid a locked wooden box for safe keeping. Her arrival seemed to have prematurely terminated a conversation between the old treasurer and older steward, but after politely requesting Gottfrid to leave them Lady F struck up conversation with the money-man. During their conversation she hinted at matters of lineage, even putting the bold idea that Werner should court Josephine in the man's mind, but managed to take him aback by asking about a planned trip to Tilea - the question leaving him flapping for words and snappish, retreating from her as Gottfrid returned.

The next day was not without incident either; whilst Pou and Reinhardt were off chasing orcs Lady F was again working the powers that be. Revelations that the Baron had not been seen outside the family chapel for two days and dealings with the Ravenmeister took the morning up, and resolved Lady F to arrange for the castle inhabitants to have a communal meal in the evening. To this end she managed to track down Brunnenhing, personally visiting his chambers in order to do so. Standing outside the door she heard the lord screaming and ranting at someone and politely knocked before the argument went any further. Brunnenhing answered and was suddenly all sweetness with her, welcoming her in. It turned out that the target of the Lord's vitriol was none other than the messenger boy. Brunnenhing did not recognise the boy, having not visited his lands in some time and not having been at the council meeting, and thought him a thief, despite the messenger's protestations that he had been sent to these chambers to rest. Sending the boy out, Brunnenhing quickly reverted to slimy type, making cackhanded attempts at flirting and reacting with delight at the dinner invitation, yet distaste when he found out others would be there too. Nevertheless he acceded and the dinner date was set. In addition to Brunnenhing and Lady F, Gottfrid, Magda, Josephine and Werner were all present at the meal which was quickly turned by the younger women into a bawdy joke at Brunnenhing's expense, whilst Magda shrank with every line. More than just mocking the rather foppish lord, the examination extended to why he hadn't been at the council meeting and did not know anything about his lands being attacked - or show any real interest in the situation. The grilling got so bad - even Werner joined in - that the target of the inquisition jumped up, made his excuses and left, showing off a wide variety of artistically engraved rings as he bowed and made his escape. Conversation briefly continued, with Werner revealing he had had the messenger placed in Brunnenhing's quarters and that he was far from convinced of Felix's loyalties, competence and suitability as heir. The treasurer made no obvious statements of intent regarding Josephine, and shortly thereafter the courses wound up and those present went their own ways.


What was learnt?

Pou and Reinhardt got to know each other better still, garnering insight into each others practical skills as well as their planning and decision making skills. Reinhardt now sports a copper ring, a symbol worn by the peasants making up "Pou's Men" - normal folk whom Pou has been training in musketry to help them defend their homes. They also found the marked armour, and have the words of the villagers to inform them, too.

Lady FitzCarstein garnered yet more insight into internal politics in Himmelfeuer, of specific note the way Werner was winding up Brunnenhing, the box he handed to Gottfrid and the Baron's non-emergence from the private family chapel.

We ended with Pou and Reinhardt sending word back that they wouldn't make the planned council meeting (four days after the messenger had arrived) as they would be setting about getting some rudimentary defenses built in the provinces, and with Lady F sending for her priest in an acknowledgment that she would be in Himmelfeuer for longer than anticipated. Hopefully a fair bit of this can be tidied up over email before the next session, along with what the rescued peasants have to say about the attack.

The game went alright, but I wasn't overly happy with it. Rustiness was showing, I feel, and hopefully things will improve as I get back into the swing of GMing and people get used to my approach - and to the game itself. Not so much system-wise (dice rolls were minimal), but in situation, aims and style it differs from what we have been doing previously. I'm still optimistic for the run as a whole, although the next few weeks will be disjointed as people are away here or there.

09 March 2007

New Gaming Vices

Football Manager 2007, and its many predecessors before it, would not qualify as a new vice. However of late I have found myself playing it anew and from a different perspective: network multiplayer. This came about when an acquaintance over on RPGnet posted a poll to find out what other people think of sports management games. I responded, as I am wont to do: the footy management sims released by Sports Interactive over the years have been a major factor in years of computer gaming. I remember the first one I owned was Championship Manager 2 more than 10 years ago. That initial version was the only one I had ever played multiplayer (and then with a schoolfriend on the same computer, which really slowed the game down). Until now.

When I responded to the poll I made mention that I'd never actually tried a network game, and hinted that I'd be up for it. And so it happened. We're about halfway through the first season now, having taken teams in the Scottish Premier League (me my adopted Dundee United, my co-player and server host having taking Hearts). Its good fun and reigns in some of my more wild shouty-ness and disappointment with the game because, frankly, the best part about network play is having someone on IM to bitch with about progress (or rather the lack of it) and mock some of the more comical moments. Games against another player mean more, too - sharing perspectives on something that otherwise is a very one-sided viewpoint are a huge part of this, but so is the direct competition. Yes, in the latter case the competition is more readily felt with two bodies at one machine, but on the plus side in network games the opposition is unlikely to know exactly what you've said, done and planned. That and game progression away from matches is in parallel, not in series. I eagerly await our next evening of database-manipulating fun, screaming at refs and bemoaning sleeping donkeys in our respective defenses.

Formula De is a board game that revolves around formula 1 motor racing. I'd only ever played it once or twice but kinda enjoyed the calculated gambles and resource management of the corners and built around the (seemingly) utter randomness of whether or not a given car takes fallout from over-extending the engine or getting too close to a rival driver. It's never something I would go out and buy in its original form - for one I don't know enough people who would find the game fun - but after being pointed to a free downloadable java-based version I've been ploughing a fair bit of time into computerised races (using photos of the original game's boards to create the tracks). Fun and frustrating in equal measure. Satisfying when you pull back from half a lap down to win, and infuriating when someone else bunts you off, bad luck screws you over or your engine blows on a whim! I've not tried it agianst other people, rather than the AI, as yet and to be honest I'm not sure I will. This game is something I'll play here and there when looking to fill time rather than a go-to game, however fun it is (or the deceptively long time it can take).

(Incidentally, the reason I have more posts this week than during the whole of February is that I've not been working; I finished one assignment last Friday and the next one starts on Monday, over at Blackwell Publishing.)

08 March 2007

An Introduction to the Barony

As I mentioned earlier I shall be trying to keep an up-to-date actual play of my WFRP game which, in name if not in deed, began last night. Updates will hopefully be posted both here and on the actual play thread I've started over on RPGnet.

Yesterday evening's session was very much an introduction: we did character generation (building a character starting in a second career is a complicated process for those not familiar with WFRP as a system) and gently introduced the lie of the land - more politically than geographically, but we did that too. The aim was to introduce the legion of NPCs and to establish some relationships between them and the PCs in advance of the first "proper" session.

The size of the territory is measured in days travel, 3 days from north to south at the longest point and 4 days east to west at its widest, it nestles on the southern face of the Black Mountains on the lead up to a pass which crosses into the Empire near the source of the Upper Reik which flows north towards Nuln. The river, whilst not strictly navigable to the source, is a route of travel all the same as the banks offer a guide and signs of settlement right to the mountains’ edge on the northern side. Even past the point of navigation the flow of the river guides a passable route from the Empire into the Border Princes. Yes, it is one fraught with danger: Greenskins and worse make home in the caves of the mountains, and many a caravan has fallen prey to their attentions, but by and large the roads are open. After all when the commodity is saltpetre – a crucial ingredient of black powder – then the caravans are well guarded, and the caves near the roads often scoured. The rest of the small territory is made up of the mountain foothills, small forests and rolling plains, though the borders are always fluid – such is life in the Border Princes, where everyone fancies their chances of taking, and holding, land. However it is quieter here than most places; active trade across the mountains and the resources of this particular region has meant that the Empire has interests in keeping things (relatively) stable. The lower slopes are littered with a number of small villages and hamlets, woodsmen and farmers more interested in their cabbages or charcoal than the pettiness of their lords. Higher up, amidst the ravines that lead ultimately to the pass is the town of Himmelfeuer, so named for the fiery night skies that have, on occasion, been seen above the town – for Himmelfeuer is a mining town, and it mines saltpetre. The Baron’s castle is built not far outside the town, a little higher up the pass. It is small by Imperial standards but then so is everything out here. It rains a lot too, but then even in mighty Altdorf that is so.

So to the north the Black Mountains, full of greenskins and worse, and the Empire - from whence the ruling family came some century or more back. To the other points of the compass other, less lawful, lands and territories, most of which seem to have caved, and given in to a self-styled Duke: Schlatten Mörder's influence is growing.

The PCs make up three of six members of Baron Hubst von Feuerwaffen's ruling council. Each has earned their place fro a different reason and have different backgrounds, interests and expertise. The council is completed by the Barony's treasurer, Werner Bohnekosten, the civic mayor of Himmelfeuer Herbert Reichessbergmann (who by extension speaks for all the peasantry in the Barony) and its heir by default, a moronic womanising Lord by the name of Brunnenhing. The baron himself is aged and physically unwell, trusting the six councillors to make decisions in his stead. The issue of who will take over when he does pass away is at the forefront of everyone's minds: Hubst von Feuerwaffen fathered no sons.

The full dramatis personae to date is:


Reinhardt Scharf: a former imperial soldier now tasked with the job of being the Barony’s military adviser and the officer in command of its meagre troops. He has been around for about a year. Contrary to expectations and type, Scharf is less enamoured of firearms and more so of crossbows and guerilla tactics; his constant requests for more funds - the forces he commands are hopelessly outmanned and in need of better armourments, though they are all hardened men - have been met with stony glares by the treasurer Werner Bohnekosten. He is also a lot younger than his reputation would suggest. Excelling with both bow and sword, he is quick, relatively bright and personable, so much so that the Baron's daughther, Josephine, has taken rather a shine to him.

Lady (Helena Natalia) FitzCarstein: the 18 year old widow of Hans Bodendreck who was a noble knight in the Barony. An outsider, she hails from rural Stirland in the Empire, Lady FitzCarstein has taken on her husband’s council seat since the news of his passing some 4 years ago or so. A social and political animal (she was raised in a noble family, and was married to Hans Bodendreck for politics) she is at home and suited to life in court but is training under the personal guidance of Father Cantati in the priesthood of Verena. Her family liberated themselves from servitude to the von Carstein vampires of Sylvania several generations ago and to a one they maintain a strong interest in combatting and defeating undeath in all its forms. Helena is no different, though for the time being at least she has deigned to remain in her role in the Border Princes.

Pou De Burns: a pious Sigmarite firearms manufacturer and merchant with an established manufacturing operation and the eye for an adventure Pou has risen from a peasant's birth to a position of power and wealth on the back of his manufacturing skill. His firearms are sold locally in small numbers, but chiefly to the Empire in much larger quantities. Large, strong, and a crack shot with his crafted weapons de Burns is also intelligent and astute on the council where he gets on particularly well with the Mayor, Reichessbergmann. His bastard son Gunter is Himmelfeuer's enfant terrible but a skilled craftsman and integral part of Pou's staff.


Baron Hubst von Feuerwaffen is 80-odd years old, likeable and in command of his faculties; but whilst the mind is willing, the body is no longer able. Devout, he spends his days in the castle chapel praying and listening/commanding his trusted few. His remaining family consists of a younger (45 yr old) wife – Magda - and a daughter – Josephine - just turned 20; neither of these two are fit rulers in his (Sigmar’s) eyes, or the eyes of neighbouring Lords. He also has a younger brother – a mere 75, but Gerhardt is sicker of mind than body, and lacks the faculties to rule (and, likewise, has no male heir).

Gerhardt von Feuerwaffen has gone senile – chiefly in the form of forgetfulness – and yet is physically able (despite failing eyes) and quick for his age. Gerhardt does not share his brothers pious views, nor his love for the Empire. He is snappish with others and keeps himself to himself – wandering the lower catacombs and spouting rants to himself about every possible aspect of life in this “Hölle Bohrung" (hell hole).

Magda is a timid woman who hides herself away whenever possible, surfacing only to pray with her husband twice a day, and for meals. Small and mousy she will only respond if spoken to directly and would not ever deign to approach anyone other than her husband, daughter or servants.

Josephine is the opposite of her mother, indeed of her father too. If Magda weren’t so timid word would be all over the barony that Josephine was not the Baron’s daughter. She is feisty, abrasive and tomboy-ish, preferring to drink with the household guard than sit in the council chamber and pursue more womanly goals. She is not a pretty maid, and homely would fit as a descriptor. She feels that she should be the heir and has said as much. Hubst is constantly trying to find a good pseudo-heir to marry her to, but so far she has resisted.

Lord Felix Brunnenhing is the highest born noble in the Barony. He has constantly petitioned for Josephine’s hand but is being knocked back by Baron and daughter both. With no heirs, the barony would fall to him anyway (in the unlikely event that the neighbouring Princes don’t deign to rip his territory to split between them), but would like to marry to cement his claim. He’s a womanising cad with the political mind of a cabbage, so it is unsurprising that neither Baron nor daughter want to see the marriage go ahead.

Herbert Reichessbergmann is the mayor of Himmelfeuer. Lowborn but raised to office as a popular figure. His family were some of the first to work in the saltpetre mines with distinction. He is a kindly man and one of the few miners to have learnt to read and write, thus making him well suited to civic office. Large and ruddy-faced he now runs an inn in Himmelfeuer when not sitting on the council.

Georg Bodendreck is the younger brother of the deceased Hans. A small, weasel-y man but a fine duellist, his low station is of constant annoyance to him. Feels it is not only his right but his duty to marry his Brother’s widow (thus securing the status his being second-born denied him) but has so far not got anywhere. Commonly thought to be stupid, Georg’s lands are to the south, a small manor and estate on the lowland hills bordering Mörder’s territory.

Helmut von Schicksal is a recent arrival in the Barony. He claims to be a lord in another territory in the Border Princes. Tall, well dressed and with a deliberate and precise diction that suggests his birth might even be higher than he claims. He seems to be in Himmelfeuer primarily to court Josephine but has not had much luck on that score. He is lodging at Reicheßbergmann’s inn.

Werner Bohnekosten, the Baron’s treasurer, is a rotund bespectacled man in his early 50s. Hubst speaks fondly of him, as if Werner was the closest thing to a son the Baron ever had. Werner is a prickly character and reacts badly to almost every request for funds. He tends to keep himself to himself when not acting in his official capacity but is known to spend large amounts of time in the small library researching and learning of Tilea and its language.

Gottfrid is the Baron’s elderly housekeeper, of age with his employer, possibly the only one alive aside from Hubst (and Gerhardt, but his mind has since gone) with complete knowledge of the castle. Stuffy and reserved of personality, slow of feet but hale, hearty and live of mind Gottfrid is a career bulter.

Doktor Blutegel is the Baron’s physician, and Gerhardt’s psychiatrist. His name derives from his over-fondness of leeches and, being sexagenarian, stuck in his ways he sees them as a cure for just about everything. Blutegel has no delusions of surgery and only tends to the two lordly charges, refusing to treat commoners. He has been known to dish out potions and poultices to other dignitaries at court.

Ravenmeister Fedem is Master of the Birds – a key position that puts under his remit all speedy communication with distant locales. He is aged, too, and resembling the birds he cares for in features and, lately, in mannerisms. Cackles, broken speech and a glint-y glare in his eye characterise this solitary soul.

Gunter De Birgsmann is Pau De Burns’ bastard son. Resentful of his low birth, he is none-the-less an integral and skilled part of De Burns’ manufacturing operation. Smart and conniving he has a wicked temper when he’s been drinking and has rubbed almost everyone in Himmelfeuer up the wrong way at some point with his abrasive attitudes and delusions of grandeur.

Duke Schlatten Mörder is a self-styled Emperor of the Border Princes; holder of one territory himself he has managed to create a minor mirror image of the Empire by uniting several lesser Princes to a federal state in all but name. Mörder’s personal territory borders the von Feuerwaffen Barony to the south and while his mini-Empire spreads away from Himmelfeuer rather than towards it his eyes have turned greedily northwards as Hubst has aged. Recently his envoy, Wolfgang Heibmann, was called from the castle outside Himmelfeuer, sparking gossip amongst the smallfolk of impending hostilities.

Wolfgang Heibmann was Mörder’s envoy to Himmelfeuer. Tall, dark and pale he only rarely appeared in court, preferring to wile away the evenings in the local brothel (where he is known to have met and, strangely, struck up a friendship with Gunter. He has now returned southward to his the lands of his liege when a summons came. He left without fanfare late one evening, and immediately the mood in court improved. Heibmann had always been decidedly frosty and distant with Lady FitzCarstein.

Fritz Großewaffe is Mörder’s general – or at least the commander of the faux-imperial forces. Wholly self-taught through countless skirmishes between petty lordlings he is a big man in girth and height but has never been able to shake off sniggers generated by his name (literally Big Weapon) and his reputed lack of genital stature. He is a fighting man first and foremost but, unusually for men of the Princes, Fritz is also a devout Sigmarite and looks up to the Empire.

Additional Minor Cast

Jarla is Lady FitzCarstein’s handmaiden, a suspicious and superstitious (thus watchful) yet loyal friend. She is versed in song, dance and herbs and, some might claim, curses and has been with the Lady for most of her years, acting as everything from extra eyes and ears, to sometime apothecary and, if needed, surely even her bodyguard.

Helga Hauptdirne is the Madam at the Himmelfeuer brothel. A ruddy-cheeked and jolly lady who has outgrown the actual “work” and is content simply to run the place, she is motherly to her charges and a professional charmer to their clients.

Franck Gewehrläufer is the wheeler-dealer of Pou’s business, responsible for dealing with the Imperial traffickers and getting them their shipments to haul back across the Black Mountains.

Espanõla Del Diota and Ivan Ruskievich are a bizarre pairing of travelling merchants, one from Estalia, one from Kislev. They did not arrive together but both decided to stay for various, unknown reasons. Chalk and cheese, they have nevertheless struck up a firm friendship not hindered in the least by lack of a (well-spoken) common language. Del Diota is short, exuberant mouthy and colourful whilst Ruskievich is larger, severe and alcoholic and a man of few words.

Father Cantati is a priest of Verena tutoring Lady FitzCarstein in the ways of her goddess. Truthful, clever, yet beaten by a life of failure and a sexual shame he is also the librarian at Drachenmalstein, the Lady's castle.

In accordance with the players' wishes information is being held close to the chest and so in summarising I shall only give what is common knowledge in case they stumble over the records. At this point, then, suffice to say that each NPC has their skeleton(s) in the closet, and each PC likewise. I have sent each player their own list of knowledges and information pertaining to other characters (PC and NPC alike) that they would reasonably expect to have at the starting point for the game. Doubtless the shared information will flesh out a lot more once some of the cards in hand are played and become visible to all, but for now those summaries give a decent enough overview of the situation in the Barony, its central political players and the main perceived threats it faces.

Character creation is done. Relationships and knowledge of NPCs are mapped. The state, location and rough layout of the Barony have been discussed and people been introduced.

Welcome, then, to the Barony von Feuerwaffen; welcome to the Border Princes.

06 March 2007


As I alluded to below I am about to run an RPG game for the first time in a good 18 months to two years or so. This is not something that causes me trepidation, as such, in itself - I have GMed before and been well received before - and I am looking forward to it, but as I am wont to do I am submitting to self doubt about how well I can communicate my ideas and whether it will live up to the billing it has in my head.

Specifically I wonder if the pitch is right for the players and whether I am attempting too much - a common problem, as there's a lot that I would like to try. Thankfully tomorrow's session, the first, will be primarily taken up by Character Generation, a process which will take some time but should also give me a touch more insight into what the players are expecting from the game. I will, again, be hoping to conduct actual play reports for the sessions - both here and over on RPGnet, and with that in mind I shall leave the writing of premise, pitch, situation and cast until I am ready to put the first post up there - save typing twice, or having to excise stuff from this entry.

What I will say is this: I shall be running Warhammer, in all its fantasy renaissance glory. WFRP won out because I love the setting, not because the system is great. On the plus side most of v.2 comes down to simple percentile rolls so its not as arduous as all that (despite the piles and piles of tables in the book!) and it is of course up to me to decide what will and will not be thrown out as we go. So far, so confident.

I also have my major NPCs in hand, notes on personalities, wants, weaknesses and so forth and a full conflict web (to date) so I'm well prepared on that score. Furthermore I have bookmarked a number of discussion threads, tips, tricks and so forth that are applicable to running intrigue and politics so I'm covered in advice. I'm not sure I can carry it forward convincingly though and this would be a major failing in the game as conceived. Not that that matters - if the concept fails it will be tweaked to something easier and more suited.

As things stand I have everything but a full cast and an opening situation. The reasons for this are twofold: characters are not completely created as yet and the game - whatever else it will be - is not designed or lined up as a plot-driven game. The idea, which may be abandoned, is for a series of individual scenarios, each resolvable in a single session, that knit into order to produce an over-arching series of events. I would also like to introduce some elements from less "standard" or "traditional" RPGs - such as distinct player-set scenes. I have already thrown out the idea of asking for a Primetime Adventures-style screen presence arc; though I would be very keen to try it, I suspect it would be trying to push too many boundaries at once. I am hoping each player character will have something approaching an Issue in the PTA sense, or at least things I can exploit in return for interesting plot or narrative advancement. I would also like to try to have thematic episodes, where the situation and events are all consistent with an identifiable theme but these are niceties, not necessities.

It is likely, given the short sessions, that episodic, resolvable plots may well not work. In that case I shall have to fiddle with my ideas some to even come close to making the game work, but I'm prepared to do that. I have a rough arc in mind and it could easily become sequential and continuous, but this would finally kill any talk of themes. I have hopes to keep the game about individuals, power, and what they do with it rather than letting it become a "we three together" traditional "party" situation, and to that end I will specifically stipulate that IC conflict is a good thing. Of course, this too leads to pressure GMing: it is hard enough to keep things moving without having to keep 3 separate things moving for three separate people! I hope that each can become invested in the other's affairs - both in and out of character - by virtue of interest in events, standpoints and how they knit into one another and how they fit with the bigger picture.

In any case, it feels good and energising to be in the GM's chair again. I hope I can communicate that and use it to my advantage. I hope, too, that I will be able to keep things moving and engaging without resorting to a tight "plot" and rails. But most of all I'd like to nail intrigue right. Political machinations and the wheels within wheels have always been staples of my interest. Active minds need active pursuits and everyone is up to something in the cold, damp castles. The key will be control of information: hold back enough to drive interest in discovering it and yet provide enough that there is ample of directional clues on how to find it.

I just need to figure out how to start!

Theft, Thorgrim, Time Travel and Tights

I've been a bit remiss of late with my actual play summaries, having missed out 3 sessions. These three sessions wrapped up the present game, and as of tomorrow's prospective session I shall be running a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game in its place. As the sessions are now several weeks back I shall not attempt to address my failures by now writing full summaries for all of them; I couldn't do them justice. Therefore I shall just briefly summarise and give an overall feeling of how the game turned out.

Unfortunately the heights of the last session I described weren't met again for various reasons. One member has had to drop out of the group for the time being and there was a two-week break due to difficulties with scheduling which both threw it off course to some degree. The theft of the skyship didn't quite go as planned - others were already trying to steal it. After facing off at first it soon became clear that our faction and theirs needed to work together as incredibly powerful forces from elsewhere in time arrived to hinder the theft(s). After a showdown they were seen off through the instruments of Kelvin's ingenuity and the craft was eventually mobile. It appeared to be powered by a 10' tall figure bounded in a lead coffin. When he woke, the ship lifted off and headed toward Skygarden. This figure was Thorgrim, who claimed to be human. He spun the tale of being one of 26 heroes fighting at the fall of a previous civilization and, amidst much confusion, it was told by the speaking stone that he had been asleep for 84000 years. Skygarden, it turned out, was the location of a fabled city at which these heroes had made their last stand. Something they had done had frozen them, locked in standing stones at Skygarden until the creation of the 13 flying cities (for which 13 of the "Gods" were appropriated).

Thorgrim powered the ship to Skygarden and those onboard dismounted and headed to the site of the standing stones. Thorgrim lost his temper seeing his friends "imprisoned" as they were and started to smash the stone prisons, whereupon things went weird. The first shock was that the figures he was releasing looked like 10' tall doppelgangers of those who had arrived with Thorgrim, but that was minor indeed compared with what happened next: time shattered and the whole contingent minus their 10' tall companion were catapulted violently backwards through time to a point when there had been life and civilization on Skygarden. They arrived just before the "last stand" that Thorgrim had spoken of: the city was all that was left of the former civilized world and it was under siege from beast-like monsters of the ilk our heroes had met under Surtur's throne back in the "present." After much discussion it was decreed that the way to save the world would be to send a small group forward in time - further even than the present - to battle those responsible for temporal incursions in their own place and time. These things, known as Githyanki (stolen from DnD, as were a number of tropes that turned up in the campaign), were responsible for the assaults on civilizations both past and present and the destruction of the time stream and the world.

Naturally the PCs were part of the group sent forward. This involved another trip throughb time which also radically altered the PCs themselves: to put it simply they went from fantasy characters to superheroes. There was then a final showdown with the Githyanki - also known as the Smiths, whom the group had encountered before in their own time and forms - which, when won, signalled the end of the campaign (a little rushed for the session itself was running overtime).

That's a very rushed summary, but the fact I can squeeze (what I consider to be) the major points into the same, or less, space than I used to summarise single sessions earlier on is telling. For me the game fell apart a bit after the planning session in terms of its delivery as well as the issues mentioned up top. Once we got onto the ship it all felt a little railroad-y and given that I thought it could have moved on faster. We spent a whole session trapped on a ship we couldn't control heading to Skygarden and then being taken backwards through time and whilst the reveals were interesting enough there was no engagement for me as a player (though I think the others may have enjoyed it more).

I'll say at this point that I liked aspects of the plot and thought the ideas were good; the riffing off established fantasy properties produced enough knowing chuckles and groans to ensure it did its job. The ending didn't work for me in practice but the idea was fascinating and appropriate. In the end though it felt like a letdown, and one that didn't work at that. We'd spent 10 games or so developing characters mechanically and dramatically to varying degrees only to essentially rip up those sheets and make new ones for the last hour of the campaign. While this suited the resolution planned it was a suckerpunch too and denied a chance for the characters in final concept to shine. Moreover I don't think a climactic session is a good place to mess about with rules and systems; the game came to a stop for half an hour to the detriment of the conclusion (it also contributed to overrunning and the rushed ending). At least the system switched to was nice and simple - that was a plus; if you're going to do it, do it with something intuitive!

I also felt that, as interesting and surprising as the twists were, it divorced the characters from any real sense of investment and I was thrown entirely off kilter for what it meant to Zeff. A large part of this may have been down to the enforced break and Adenaar's player having to drop out but I think the main culprit was the combination of long passages of travelling, removal of the established set and waiting whilst plot-related happenings we couldn't affect unfurled. I will not deny that part, too, might be down to my looking ahead to the game I shall be running.

All in all, this was a game with definite highs and lows, the dragon kill and planning the theft of the Trebizond stand out as really fun sessions, whilst the final three were disappointing given the strength of the lead in and I feel that the system and character switch for the finale was an interesting but badly judged move.

Afterthoughts on A Feast for Crows [ASoIaF book 4]

Cross-posted from here.

I've just finished reading this last night. All in all book four has managed to solidify my thoughts about Martin some more and formulate some thoughts I'd been carrying around for a while with regards to his works. First off - I've said before that this book would make or break whether I read on and to answer that: I shall. Why? Because I love the pitch. I love the subject matter and there are enough interesting set-ups to make me want to keep going.

However I have come to realise that whilst I love Martin's subject, schemes and ideas, I really don't rate him as a writer and I feel he has an overblown sense of his own wordliness. There is an awful lot of chaff that could, IMO, be cut from the books and find him to be dull when delivering the Big Reveal and, frankly, chose some awful viewpoint characters for this book.

Most notable on these fronts was the whole Brienne tract. It was largely dull, told us basically nothing we didn't know already, and ended up with her (apparently, at least) being put to death having advanced nothing apart from delivering the reader news that minor character #574 (a random number; Beric Dondarrion) was actually dead for good this time. In his place... it had been obvious since before this book began that Catelyn Stark was alive (for want of a better word) so that wasn't a shock.

Cersei was also just... dull. I find stupid people who think they're really clever to be tedious in life, and so in fiction. Yes, there was interest in how the twins drifted apart into enmity but all of that interest came from Jaime's viewpoint, not Cersei's and I really don't think it was written all that well. I was a little surprised at how Cersei ended up gaoled though, I'll grant Martin that, but after all the scheming it felt like a let down to me: some guy we have no insight into made a move that has little rationale and no background. Sure, it'll almost certainly become clearer come future books but frankly a couple of years wait for that means it'll be cold by the time its brought forward.

The better stuff: Dorne was good. I liked the powerplays there and it really established a sense of what might happen next time out. Ditto, to an extent, the Ironmen - though from Martin's map their whole conquest makes little sense in terms of the numbers of people they could marshall [come one, they're just a few small islands!]. Dramatic license, though, so that's cool.

Jaime was interesting. I hated his chapters in previous works but he has become a character with depth and interest, though the writing hasn't really borne out why too well. The culmination at Riverrun was a highlight - and, perhaps, Martin's best reveal. I didn't see Jaime keeping his vow, but he managed it in a believable way, and Martin managed to have the Blackfish escape as a possible setup for bigger and better things in future.

Petyr Baelish is an interesting character too, and this seems to be the key point of interest for me now - someone who not only thinks he is clever but actually appears to be so. To no small part the fact we only see him through others' eyes is an advantage; I wish Cersei had been the same, then her obvious stupidity would have been bearable. Petyr is the only reason Sansa/Alayne is a tolerable viewpoint - she's been dull from book one and continues to be.

Anyhow, I think that's that for now. Feel free to tear my thoughts apart if you've read it.