Sunday, 28 October 2012

Morrslieb's Shadow (Session 1)

Last Thursday night (10/25) I GM'd my first WFRP game in 3 years and online to boot. We kicked off the campaign with two players, Clay and Thomas, and dived right into the sandbox.

Before getting to deep into the sandbox, let me recap with the pitch:

Set in the grim and perilous world of Warhammer, your characters come from diverse careers and live in Helmgart, a heavily traveled and fortified town at Axe Bite Pass on the border of Bretonnia.

A violent distemper has paralyzed travel, trade and labor. Around you, Helmgart withers; east and west seem willing to starve the infected pass.

Then, a call for heroes. It may be a way out or, at the very least, a way to be otherwise remembered, or possibly get rich.

The Online Toolset

The game was organized in Google+ Events and an open invite sent to my RPG circle. The great thing about Google+ Events is its  integration with wider tool set such as Google+ Hangouts and the Google+ Apps API. This 1-2-3 mix is proving to be a powerful one for the online gaming community with a two Google+ App vendors leading the way, TableTop Forge and Roll20.net.

I chose Roll20.net after some evaluation of both. While lacking the rich platform of native clients like MapTools, Roll20.net is a strong contender.

The Sandbox

Sandbox gaming has a number of definitions, but most settle on at least one aspect: player agency, or character free-will, drives the story, immediate encounters, and wider world outcomes.

This kind of play can be quite difficult for a GM to grasp, especially one coming to sandbox gaming with an idea of a story with an almost preset outcome, e.g., Big Bad needs to get MacGuffin to become immortal; players must prevent and become heroes.

Sandboxes do not eliminate the MacGuffin or the Big Bad's motivations. Instead, player agency might be "I don't give two turds about the Big Bad, I have a black market business to run." Typically, this might mean to the GM: "Ok, let's run with the business." But because the Big Bad is free to pursue the MacGuffin, Big Bad's immortality may adversely affect the player's black market pie sales. Add that the other players may also have conflicting intentions. The GM's hooks may get ignored and the GM may need to plan accordingly. Seeding the sandbox can introduce a hook and drive other motivations that the GM must consider to provide depth to the sandbox. 

This is an obvious hook for a sandbox, but also noted the sandbox is being seeded. While, in hindsight, I felt I may have forced it, I hope the players forgive me.

The Play

Clay and Thomas introduced their characters, Udo Hengkfish, a Halfling Rogue, and Tibalt DesRochers, a Knight Errant, respectively, and set down to business.

Around the characters the setting is introduced in more detail1. Helmgart is withering. Nigh 30% of the population is dead from a virulent cough plaguing the border town that spans the pass. Helmgart is a big place and its major trade is stone to Bretonnia, quarried by business savvy men employing dwarf craftsmen. The stone is prized in Bretonnia and the Empire by noblemen and elites alike for the craftsmanship on both sides of the border.

A year following the Storm of Chaos, the pass is normally choked with rising trade by merchants freed from the fear of war, refugees passing east and west, and often Knight Errants and their retinues returning from the battles far north. Then the cough settles on Helmgart.

The Empire takes a harsh position and quarantines the town. In Helmgart, all but martial law is imposed with the garrison enjoying what may be the only clean well in the town, everyone else, depending on station or foresight, gets drunk on ale and forcing meals of horsemeat, supplied from the wagon yokes of sparse supply wagons allowed pass the gates (and then often the most sickly animals liveries outside Helmgart are willing to part with). Amidst this misery, the handbill begins to appear around common areas, outside taverns, and carried by barkers throughout Helmgart.

Udo and Tibalt are aware of each other at the pour house they are frequenting (and as is often the case now in Helmgart where others feel most safe and closest to ale). Taverns have become something of clubs, regulars trusting each other not to spread the cough.

Udo begins asking around and learns that the Markgraf recently welcomed a caravan of coaches flying under the flag of Sigmar to his residence. Rumor has long suspected that the Markgraf left town and is running the outpost from Osburg, safe from the cough and free of the quarantine. However, this may have always been false.

Within hours, late comers to the tavern begin telling of the garrison rounding up wretches as labor for a erecting a large tent on the common. Udo, Tibalt and others leave the Brown Tankard2 to look into this odd rumor.

The common is found covered in canvas, surrounded by torches and a watch of the garrison supervisies activity as the center pole is being placed.

Udo approaches a member of the garrison he knows, Frederic, and begins to ask him what is going on. Tibalt, seeing someone he's acquainted with speaking to the watchman, approaches. Frederic insults the Bretonnian3 and Tibalt first grabs him, a short scuffle ensues4 and then punches him. Frederic goes down and Udo backs off, but not before calling out "Fight!"

The nearest two men-at-arms, bearing halberds, box Tibalt and Frederic, while Udo, now almost running is pursued by two other men-at-arms. Tibalt pushes through the two soldiers, but not without taking a biting cut to his leg from a halberd5 then dives under the slack canvas of the tent.

Udo plays the chase for what it is and quickly redirects the attention to the Bretonnian crawling beneath the canvas. Frederic, feigning injury, retires from the chase and Udo returns to the Brown Tankard.

Under the canvas, Tibalt finds himself near the center where numerous wretches, acting as laborers, set the center pole of the tent. Two men-at-arms, reluctantly watching them, see Tibalt emerge from the canvas. Tibalt lies about the threat behind him, working the laborers into a quick panic, and bolts beneath the canvas again, eluding the chase, and returning to the Brown Tankard.

Back at the Brown Tankard, Udo, now in a card game, sees Frederic enter the tavern. He learns most of the story of the caravan and the reasons for the tent. Tomorrow, the call for heroes will take place, and a muster conducted along with a health inspection.

Tibalt returns to the tavern and all retire for the night.

The morning has many curious about the muste,r and after a morning ale and whatever food is available for those with coin, many are curious. Udo and Tibalt follow suit and find a crowd, more often congregated with other cough-free friends from taverns or hostels, watching the activity around the now standing tent.

Outside the tent, Shallyan acolytes in pure white robes and habits wearing long fragrant masks, unlike distorted beaks from a large bird, silently direct both brave or curious into the tent entrance.

Tibalt, head held high, enters the tent. Outside Udo examines the circumference of the tent, looking for ways to get a peek inside.

Tibalt finds himself in a canvas walled hall stopping midway for a Shallyan acolyte. Ahead of him another acolyte admits another brave citizen behind a curtain. Once admitted himself, Tibalt enters a large room with canvas walls and a dias. On the dias, a large, stern faced, priest of Sigmar sits. His robes pulled above his left knee exposing a weeping, and faintly stinking, sore. Beside him a Shallyan priestess quietly waves Tibalt to the right and two acolytes escort him to another walled section of the larger tent where three others sat on benches.

Meanwhile Udo sneaks under the tent wall to find himself in a large section with benches. 10 or more men sit on benches. Most town wretches. Four men-at-arms, unhappy of the posting, spot Udo and immediately move to intercept him. Udo ducks back under the tent wall and disappears into the crowds. Wandering about town, curiousity gets the better of Udo and he enters the tent as a volunteer.

Udo soon experiences the same treatment as Tibalt, finding himself sitting in tent section with Tibalt and others, including what appears to be a beardless dwarf. After several hours, Shallyans enter with clean water, fresh bread and cheeses, something not found in Helmgart for weeks.

Still more hours later, those with Udo and Tibalt are escorted to the diased section. The Sigmar priest gone, but the Shallyan priestess, bird mask removed thanks the brave from the tent room then leads them to waiting coaches beyond the outside tent walls. The coaches take them to the Markgraf's residence where they are told a dinner will be provided and all will be explained.

At dinner, Tibalt, Udo and the anonymous others, are served a dinner of roasted bird, starches and good wine or beer, depending on request. The Markgraf and his adjutant welcome them and introduce the priestess, Sigmar priest, and two Dwarf women, "Ella" and "Granny Ella," both Valaya preistess of the Clan Kargins from the Grey Mountains. An outburst from the matriarch about Blood Magic spooks two of the mustered members, but the Markgraf sits them all back down. The beardless dwarf quietly tells Tibalt why he is beardless: not of shame, but of necessity, or at least coin. In the dwarf quarter, hawkers of all sort pay for the beards of dwarfs. A superstition is rampant that if one burns the hair of dwarf beard the smoke wards off the miasmal air carrying the plague. Besides beards grow back, right.

Dinner continus in quiet discussion. Soon the Markgraf will tell of the mission for the mustered heroes Heltgart.

Wrap Up

I'm pretty sure the mission was told, however, I hope that the players might comment here or on Google+ what they remember. I also hope that new players might join, taking the anonymously filled seats at the Markgraf's table to both learn more and possibly save Helmgart.




  1. [1] Wherein the GM provides some exposition for the sandbox and the players settle into their character motivations.

  2. [2] Some NPCs bring the handbill spreading more rumors and getting drunk, staying alive another night. The tavern is named using my Inns of the Empire tool after the game, http://www.anothercaffeinatedday.com/resources/default/inns.html.

  3. [3] Tibalt fails to grapple Frederic and instead punches him.

  4. [4] The punch is enough for Frederic to retire and allow the garrison to back him up.

  5. [5] Wherein I forget to reduce Tibalt's damage by his Toughness, but Tibalt took it like a Knight Errant.

Posted by caffeinated at 11:19 PM in d10

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Backend upgrades underway

I'm going to be updating my WFRP wiki engine today. I'll have to take down the blog to do so for a short period. I'll be back though. Watch this for updates.

I really should look at an Apache caching solution so that I can prime it with say the blog and that way the blog would not have to come down. Oh well, another time.

Why a wiki upgrade? For bug and security fixes as well as prep it for an online campaign I planning. Dying to play again.
Posted by caffeinated at 3:17 PM in kaffehaus
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