Friday, November 1, 2013

Half-Dead

I recently returned to running my Warhammer Fantasy campaign after a long break.  (My wife was in an accident a few months back, so gaming was out of the picture for a few months during the worst of her recovery.) I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to pick back up, despite the overall complexity of the system.

In last week's session, my players headed somewhere a little off the map. I'm running The Enemy Within (a published campaign from FFG), but with some extra subplots generated by the PCs during character creation. The father of one of the PCs has been added as an extra villain, and the PCs had an opportunity last week to break into his property while he was away. I had done some prep for such an eventuality, but that prep was done over 6 months ago and wasn't terribly fresh in my mind. I had to improvise a bit.

The evil father had dabbled in necromancy, tragically raising his dead wife from the grave as a bound ghoul. Now the PCs were breaking in while the father was away, and the undead mother was home. The PCs, of course, didn't know she was no longer dead.

I grabbed the bound ghoul card/sheet, but it's really more intended as a sidekick than a stand-alone fight. It's the necromancer's equivalent of the Ratcatcher's Small But Vicious Dog. I needed to dial it up a notch, and in a hurry, so I grabbed some extra cards while the PCs were plotting the break-in. I also boosted the ghouls Fear rating to Terror 2 on the basis that undead you knew in life are more traumatic and horrifying than just generic monsters.

The most important card I added (and the only one that got used) was "Half-Dead". It's from the Dreadfleet Print On Demand set. That set wasn't particularly well-received by the Warhammer community. For one thing, it was basically a marketing gimmick, being a cross-over product between a very expensive RPG and a very expensive board game. For another, it had power balance issues. This POD had 3 types of cards in it: Ridiculously high-level NPCs, ridiculously high-powered actions intended for use by those NPCs, and terrain cards which included 1 ridiculously high-powered captain's quarters. Assuming that you're aware the power level is through the roof, and willing to accept whatever ripple effects that has, it's got some interesting material.

Half-Dead is an attack card that can only be played when the attacker is dead or KO'd. It's your clich├ęd monster-movie ender, where the badguy they just killed suddenly lurches up for one or two more quick attacks. The villain recovers wounds, stress, and fatigue when they make the attack. The action doesn't recharge until the end of the encounter.... but that means the villain is technically unkillable.

My players broke in, failed some Terror checks and loaded up on Stress and Fatigue. The PC whose mother it was actually got to the point of the next Stress would make him pass out and the next Fatigue would give him an Insanity.  Party Tension went up every time the others attacked his mom. They got to Tension space #9, and on space #10 everyone would have suffered 1 Stress and Fatigue. That was deliciously intense, and fit the scene rather well. If not for the PC Priest using a blessing that reduced Stress and Fatigue in the middle of the fight, things would have ended poorly.

They killed the undead mother. The son grabbed her lifeless body and sobbed uncontrollably.

That's when I broke out the Half-Dead card, which the players didn't even not existed. At this point, the son had critical wounds and a disease from a previous scene, plus was right on the edge of insanity. It would have been a perfectly fine decision to have his undead mom take a bite out of him right then and there... but I've picked on this particular PC for several sessions in a row (as evidenced by the Crits and Diseases), so it was about time I be nice... well, as nice as you can be in the scene where you reveal that the character's father turned his mother into an unholy creature of the night.

So instead of ripping out his throat, momma protects him. "I won't let you hurt my baby boy!" she howls as she claws the face of his axe-wielding dwarven buddy standing right next to them.

Half-Dead doesn't restore a lot of Wounds, so she went down to the next hit. Then they beheaded the corpse. All this struggling was enough noise to wake the servants, so the PCs flee into the night.

A few minutes later, they realize they left damning evidence at the scene, so half the party sneaks back onto the property. The encounter had officially ended, so the headless corpse could use Half-Dead again... and since it was undead, being headless was at most a minor inconvenience. 

They had to kill her a third time. Then they burned her, and the building, to the ground. No more evidence. 

Technically the Half-Dead card as phrased would let the pile of ash attack them in the next scene (I said the Dreadfleet POD had power-balance issues), but felt like it had done enough already.

Good game all around. Very memorable and tense.

Later that same session, our Dwarven Runesmith was dishonored and became a TrollSlayer, but I'll save that story for another time.