Friday, April 26, 2013

The Enemy Within - Campaign Log, Part 4 - (Session 3, continued) - (Day 3, plus bits of days 5 and 9)

SPOILER ALERT: This is the campaign log for the new The Enemy Within for Warhammer 3rd Ed. These events are from our third session. For the most part they are events from the 3rd in-character day of the campaign, except for one big event that normally wouldn't happen till at least Day 9 of the scenario as written, and a part of a conversation that by default happens on Day 5 instead. Proceed with caution if you think you're ever going to play this campaign, as events discussed here include MAJOR SPOILERS.

This post picks up after my previous one, and details the other events of the 3rd session. We ran over by an hour, and nobody noticed (or wanted to quit) at the point I finally said "fade to black".

PC List/Reminder:
    •    Burgolt the Nobleman Pistolier
    •    Hrulgar the Dwarven Runesmith
    •    Ninewise the Initiate of Ranald
    •    Lina the Bright Wizard

Let's see, we where on Day 3, and the PCs were attending to a number of tasks in various parts of town. Is there anything I still needed to say about that?  **Consults notes, realizes there certainly is.** Well, then...

Backing Up to the Captain-Dwarf talk. In my last post, I forgot to mention one very important fact that came up when Hrulgar was talking with Captain Baerfaust. Bischoff, the enforcer and faceman of the Black Cowl's organization down on the docks, was mentioned by name to the Captain. Baerfaust responded with a bit of shock at this. He knew Bischoff. He's ex-military, a former NCO of the Averheim Greatswords. When the Templeman Expedition was being put together by Johann Templeman and Graf Friederich von Kaufman, they knew they'd need some guards and men-at-arms. So they approached the Captain about hiring some of the soldiers under his command. The Captain was happy to oblige them. With no Elector-Count in the County, the Greatswords and their garrison and both running on shoestring budgets. So Baerfaust loaned to them a unit of soldiers who's contracts would be running out during the time the Expedition expected to be gone. Kaufman would cover their pay during that time, and Baerfaust hoped there'd be a new Elector before they returned. There isn't an Elector, things are just as dire as when they left, and some of the returning men (including Bischoff) did not re-up. 

Or at least I hope I got those points across. My notes are real clear about what I planned to say, but less precise about what actually did get said by the end of the scene. It's now been several weeks since that session, so it's hard to recall.

Time marches on. The PCs go about their business, as mentioned in my last post. **Looks at his notes again.**

That bit about the Witch-hunter.  So much happened in this session, that I missed a few things when writing up the first half of it. I mentioned in my last post that Burgolt earlier went to collect his daily stipend from his father's money-keeper. What I neglected to mention in that post is a small detail I told Burgolt he noticed on his trip there. A witch-hunter was walking down his street. Female, with a hook (like a pirate), and the obvious witch-hunter hat. They didn't interact at all, but clearly the sight of a witch-hunter in a wealthy neighborhood is noteworthy, especially when you suspect your father of witchcraft.

The PCs meet up back down at the docks, have lunch and compare notes. Ninewise hopes to talk to Ute again, but the info-broker isn't at her usual post just outside the White Horse tavern. They'll have to catch up with her later. **Evil GM giggle.**

As they are leaving, they pass by a large crowd at the entrance to an alleyway, with some great light shining or reflecting beyond it. Elbowing their way through the crowd, they see a Light Wizard. Specifically, Luminary Konrad Mauer. (My players mishear me at first, and think the middle word part of his title instead of his name, Luminary-Comrade Mauer. Oops. Though I must admit that would be cool.)

Lina and the Light Wizard Sidebar:  Lina, being both a Wizard and having the Academic Background, has pretty strong ties to Mauer.

Mauer is one of the heads of The Sun Society, a group of intellectuals that meet at the Journey's End Coaching Inn for dinner and a speech once a fortnight. A few times a year they publish a journal on topics esoteric, arcane, intellectual and verbose. The answers to the questions on the Academic Background card established that Lina is a member of the society and has previously published a paper on magical cauterization.

When we reached the end of the first day of the campaign,  I asked the players what they figured their housing situation was. The answer I was given for Lina was that she stayed in some sort of dormitory for apprentice wizards. Averheim isn't exactly the intellectual center of the Empire, so there's not really a College or University there, but it seemed likely that there might reasonably be a single multi-Order boarding house. A place where wizards can be with their own, and not have to worry about angry mobs or social prejudice. Since the adventure already includes Luminary Mauer as an important wizardy NPC, it seemed only natural that he be the Dorm Coordinator.

Eyes glowing like lanterns, a gleaming aura shining around him, Mauer is anything but subtle. I chose to play Mauer for fun. He's an older fellow, terribly powerful but also quite eccentric. I basically broke out more or less the same persona I use for Dworkin in Amber campaigns. Crazy inspired genius meets dottering old man,  prone to both flights of fancy and taking figurative statements literally. It's an easy persona for me to improvise, and I haven't had much opportunity to use it these past few years. Never fails to amuse the players.

Mauer was investigating another body found on the docks. Since Lina knows him, it's not hard for a couple PCs to get behind the cordon of city guard. Ninewise quickly recognizes this body to be that of Herman Hallheimer, another local racketeer. The wounds show the same signs of poison/magic as Klaus Keller's body did. "Don't touch that! It's evil!" says Mauer to Lina, before covering his own finger with a glowing nimbus and then using it to probe the depth of the wounds. The two wizards share what they know about the bodies. Wounds are shallow, but corrupted. Bodies left as a message. Likely suspects, etc.

The most important bit of info conveyed, perhaps, is one that has nothing to do with the body. Mauer says that he and the various apprentices at Chromatahaus were very worried when Lina didn't come home last night. The reason her roomies were so concerned was because there were some unsavory types at the end of the block who seemed to be watching the dorm.  Mauer didn't like the looks of them, so he spent most of the night on the stoop making sure they didn't try anything. He chides Lina a bit about staying away from the dorm. In trying to explain that she crashed at Burgolt's place, Lina inadvertently gives Mauer the impression she was staying with a beau. "I was young once. Say no more. Given the skullduggery and murder that seems to be afoot, though, perhaps you could send discrete word if you aren't going to be coming home to the dorms at night. Then we wouldn't have to worry about you." We yammer on in-character for some time.

As the wizards ham it up, Ninewise watches the crowd. She notices that her old friend Frederick Grosz is there. He seems quite worried, so when he leaves, she follows him.

Per the Criminal Background, Grosz is responsible for Ninewise escaping the law. She was arrested by the Captain himself some time ago, and Grosz' testimony lead to her surprising acquittal. In the players answers to this, she established that Grosz honestly thought her innocent… at least of this. So rather than being a hardened criminal, our Grosz is at least a little more innocent than the default assumption for the story. He has at least a veneer of respectability, a reputation to maintain.

Grosz heads back past the piers in the same route that the PCs just came from. He looks over his shoulder, but fails to notice Ninewise as he's actually looking for someone specific. He waits at the porch to the White Horse for a few stress-laden minutes, dotting at his sweaty brow with a kerchief. 
Ninewise approaches and asks for a minute of his time. They step inside for a drink, and Grosz glances about the room as if he's still looking for someone. They take a table in the corner and start to converse.

With a charm roll and a bit of talking, Ninewise gets him to spill the beans about what's on his mind. Bischoff and the Black Cowl. This new criminal boss has been leaning on all the businessmen in the Wharf District, legitimate or otherwise. A lot of people have knuckled under, but not Grosz. Not yet, any way. He and a few others had been talking about standing up to this Bischoff fellow. Keller and Halheimer were going to be their strongmen for doing so, and now they're both dead. That leaves just him and Ute as the backbone of this resistance. Where the hell is Ute anyway? She was supposed to meet Grosz and Halheimer here this afternoon.

At this point, Ninewise breaks out her trusty map and lucky coin. She says a prayer to Ranald, and pictures that off-tune hurdy-gurdy that Ute is always playing. The coin flips in the air, and lands so as to be partly covering the intersection of sepia and blue inks that marks the end of a pier. Ninewise rushes up from her seat and out on to the dock (leaving her map behind with Grosz, just in case she falls in like yesterday).  She can't see the hurdy-gurdy, but standing on the end of that dock, she's sure it's out there somewhere beneath the waves. Does that mean foul play, or just someone got sick of her playing foul tunes?

They've known each other for a while, so Ninewise heads off to Ute's tenement flat. No answer when she knocks. Ninewise breaks in, and looks for signs of a fight. Nothing. She tears through the closet, to figure out if there's any chance Ute is wearing something memorable. She's brass tier, so it seems reasonable that she only owns one pair of shoes. 

Back to the White Horse to get her map from Grosz. Elsewhere, the Initiates of Morr have taken away the body, so Mauer left and the other PCs returned to the bar to see if that's where Ninewise wandered off.  They meet up, and talk about Grosz's revelations.

Ninewise shares with them her concerns about Ute.  By this point, the players are also worried that Lina might be on Bischoff's list, given her interactions with him re: the arson. Tension is high.

The coin sails and lands again, this time directly on the part of the map that represents this very block. Ninewise's player gets a lot of successes and a chaos star. She gets a very clear sense of where those shoes are, very close and underground. They ask to check the bar's pantry and cellar, but there's no sign of Ute or her shoes. Ninewise is stressed, and can't get her mind off of it. She's got to find that shoe. NOW. What else is under that coin? It covers most of the block on the map. There's the gong-farmer / nightsoil merchant's place, and a couple tanneries.

Burgolt, didn't you say something yesterday about a tannery being closed? As it turns out, the two temporarily-retired tanners are drinking just across the room. The PCs give them a bogus story about there being squatters in their property, and I invert the intoxication condition to boost their guile roll (so +2 Fortune, +1 Misfortune). Yes, once they've finished this drink, they'll go show you that their tanneries are still locked and boarded up per the city council's orders. 

SPOILERS! That's Day 9 stuff: As GM this worries me a bit, as the PCs aren't expected to connect the dots to the tannery for a couple more days. I'd been warned about that "X marks the spot" blessing. But I've GM'd Amber, Continuum and Gumshoe, so I'm no stranger to systems where the PCs have the ability to trivially shortcut the plot. Knowing the plot and stopping the plot are two very different things.

Expecting things to go pear-shaped at the tannery, Lina steps outside to start channeling power and preparing beneficial buffs. Hrulgar follows close behind, since there's some concern that Lina may have made Bischoff's list. A well-dressed man (clearly out of his element) is approaching from the street and steps up to Lina, and seems to know her, though she does not know him. The "stranger" (who really shouldn't be, but I forgot that there was a more direct connection between Lina and this NPC) is flanked by two soldiers wearing the livery of the von Kaufman family. The man introduces himself as Curd Weiss. He says that Lina's room-mate (a Celestial Wizard) directed him to look for her here at the bar, because she (the room-mate) was unable to accept his business proposal.

As much as they'd like to make some money, they don't have time for this. Ninewise gets a little snippy. That chaos star earlier means she's' got a Misfortune die on anything that doesn't get her closer to those shoes.  They can't get rid of him fast enough. Party Tension Meter steps up to 5. Undaunted, Curd Weiss proposes that he and Lina meet at the Journey's End Coaching Inn in the morning, as he really does have a business opportunity for a wizard with a bit of courage.

The drunk tanners stumble out. One of them has to step off the road and onto the crumbling retaining wall to "fill the Aver"… or rather, piss in the flooded mudflats that border the River Aver. This serves a few related purposes. It reminds the PCs that it rained horribly yesterday and the tanneries are closed because of flooding. They know they're about to get into a mess. I also get to drop a bit of trivia about how tanneries work in this era, and how if it was in business there'd probably be large pots outside for people to piss into, since uric acid is an important ingredient in the leather-treating process. It just keeps getting worse.

They finally get the tanners on-track and willing to unlock the doors.  Inside they find… that the time has run out on this rather packed session, and we're going to have to wait till next week to find out what's going on inside.  End of Session 3. Tension 5, Agenda 5, Stability 7.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Enemy Within - Campaign Log, Part 3, (Session 3) (Day 2, and bits of Day 5)

SPOILER ALERT: This is the campaign log for the new The Enemy Within for Warhammer 3rd Ed. These events are from our third session. For the most part they are events from the 2nd in-character day of the campaign, except for one conversation that normally wouldn't happen till at least Day 5 of the scenario as written. By the end of Day 3, my PCs had actually done parts of Day 9 as well, though I may not get to that in this post. Proceed with caution if you think you're ever going to play this campaign, as events discussed here include MAJOR SPOILERS.

This could easily be a long post. I was really on-fire this session, and packed a lot in. The players were very much on their game as well, and gathered some info I'd planned to hold back till much later. We ran over our time slot by at least an hour. In fact, we hit so much in session 3 that I'm only going to cover half of this session in this post, for time and space reasons.

PC List/Reminder:
  • Burgolt the Nobleman Pistolier
  • Hrulgar the Dwarven Runesmith
  • Ninewise the Initiate of Ranald (Priestess of the God of Thieves)
  • Lina the Bright Wizard (Pyromancer)

Early Evening of Day 2: When last we saw our heroes, they had just saved the family of a merchant, Adolphus Starke, from arson (and probably attempted murder).  The PCs killed one arsonist, captured the other and delivered him to the city watch, and did it all in very direct defiance of a man named Bischoff. Bischoff is the main enforcer for The Black Cowl. The Cowl's organization (using the Criminal Empire nemesis card) was dealt it's first set-backs by these developments.

The PCs spent a little time talking with Starke. His boat was almost entirely ruined by the fire (the fire got to the 8th space of a 9-space progress tracker that would have ended in 3 deaths and a sinking) and will need major repairs before it can leave town. The whole point of him being here was that he's awaiting a delivery of exotic Cathayan silks to arrive, a shipment that is now overdue. He's in very dire straits, and deeply ashamed at his own responsibility for what has happened.

A few days ago, upon arriving in Averheim, he was approached on the docks by a gang of racketeers and thugs. They demanded protection money, by Starke refused. Not on principle, nor even because of any amount of personal courage. He refusal was simply because he had a previously standing arrangement with another racketeer. A man named Klaus Keller had been accepting Starke's protection moneys for years, and Starke had credit to spare. "Go talk to Keller," he told them. Klaus Keller was, of course, the very same racketeer whose body the PCs had found in an alleyway the previous day.  Bad news for the merchant.

Our heroes are heroes indeed, though, and they weren't about to leave Starke and his family vulnerable on the docks where Bischoff and crew might do them in. Burgolt offered that they could use one of the guest rooms in one of his family's smaller properties for a few nights. This was a very generous offer from a nobleman of Burgolt's standing, and Starke took him up on it at once. 

The party heads to Burgolt's house, has some dinner and debates their next options. The rain that started earlier in the day (while they were trudging about the riverbanks looking for Jurgen's hat) continues and gets quite nasty, so they decide to stay the night in the property. There's not actually enough beds since Starke's family is there as well. The dwarf is short enough to sleep on the fainting couch in the foyer, so they make do.

Off-Camera Sidebar: The decision to stay at Burgolt's to avoid the worst of the rain causes the players to miss on several events, but none of them were vital for PCs to attend, and most could be learned later from witnesses (or bodies). Those who have read the adventure will know most of them, but I had also prepared a few special events as reactions to the confrontation with Bischoff.

Chromatahaus, the multi-Order dorm where Lina usually bunks, is surveilled by two of Bischoff's thugs. More on that below, and again in Session 4.

Meanwhile, Bischoff and Gerd Knakk (the docker foreman that Ninewise accidentally caused to join the Cowl's group) organize a mob of Fish to go to the guard house and demand the release of the "wrongly accused" arsonist. More on that in a future post, as well. 
Morning of Day 3

Breakfast is quite nice. Burgolt's servants whip up something special… but after the meal,  the cook and butler take him aside. They let the young nobleman know that with all these extra houseguests, the pantry is all but depleted. Burgolt dips into his piggy bank and forks over several coins to restock the larder.

The PCs have a variety of tasks they wish to accomplish this morning, so they scatter a bit. Burgolt goes to his father's house to collect his daily allowance (he gets a stipend of 3 silver per day from his father's money-keeper). Ninewyse goes shopping for a detailed map of Averheim, as her previous map had spent rather a lot of time in the river yesterday. Lina kills time in some way that completely escapes me now, but does not involve going to the dorm at all.

Hrulgar heads to a meeting at the Averburg Palace. He'd sent word at some point the previous day (a message carried by a soldier from the arson arrest, if I'm not mistaken) requesting an audience with his old war-buddy Marcus Baerfaust. Since the poor dwarf had to sit around waiting for other people the previous session, I was all too happy to give him some spotlight time.

Baerfaust and Hrulgar Sidebar: Marcus Baerfaust is the Captain of the Averheim Garrison. He is of low birth, but was granted a very minor title (Edler) for his command of the troops at the Third Battle of Blackfire Pass. His immediate superior (the Elector, Marius "The Mad Count" von Leitdorf) died in the battle, and Baerfaust managed to keep the lines from collapsing when it happened.

Hrulgar was also present at that battle. The dwarf was actually part of the impromptu militia unit that was emergency deployed to the center of the fighting in an attempt to reinforced the Mad Count's overwhelmed guard. Hrulgar took a bad head-wound in that fight, and passed out from it. He remembers awakening in the Shallyan hospice, his wounds being tended by a charitable noblewoman (Gravin Clothilde von Alptraum).

Those details are all content generated by the player's responses to the "Battle-Scarred" background card for The Enemy Within. As part of character generation, the player is given the opportunity to color Baerfaust as hero, coward, traitor, etc. Our player decided that (from his perspective, at least) Baerfaust was a hero and capable commander who did what he could to save the Count, but was unable to do so because of the harrowing realities of battle. He also indicated they were friends and comrades, which was a particularly potent decision.

These questions and answers are also where Ingo Baerfaust (see my previous posts, and below) came from.

Captain Marcus Baerfaust is very busy and somewhat stressed, but he's able to find a little time this morning for his old friend. When Hrulgar arrives, Baerfaust sets aside his paperwork and pours them a few drinks. The Dwarf fills in the Captain about the arson on the docks, and the new crime boss. Baerfaust listens intently, but says that his hands are largely tied. His authority as commander of the garrison comes directly from the Elector of Averland, but in the two years since Marius von Leitdorf died in battle, that position has lain vacant. Money is tight, and the squabbling nobles and burghers rarely back his plays.  What if this new crime boss turns out to work for some nobleman, who demands his servant be set free? Baerfaust's political situation is precarious.

Criminal Background Sidebar: One of the PCs, Ninewise the Initiate of Ranald, was created with the Criminal Background card. Her answers to the questions on that card made it clear that she was arrested by Captain Baerfaust himself within the past few years. The Captain was forced to acquit and release her due to sworn testimony of a businessman named Friederich Grosz who honestly believed Ninewise to be innocent of the crime (though in truth she wasn't). Ninewise is a bit of a local hero amongst the underclass because of it, as acquittals by any means short of trial by combat are extremely rare in the Empire. Being unable to successfully prosecute a criminal of relatively low stature definitely undermined his position within the city. That said criminal is, perhaps unknown to him, a friend of a friend, just makes it more complicated.

Talk turns to Ingo, who is Captain Baerfaust's nephew, gone missing these past two weeks. Hrulgar was friends with Ingo, and noticed his absence almost immediately because they'd had plans for dinner or some such the day after he was last seen. He'd checked with a few other war buddies since then, and no one knew where Ingo had gone. The Captain doesn't know either, but suspects foul play.

Ingo Baerfaust had been aware of the rumblings about the changes in the criminal landscape of the wharf district. He was doing some "unofficial" investigating around the docks, and had promised to report his findings back to his uncle. On the night he was last seen, he'd left a note for Marcus in the Captain's office. Unfortunately, Ingo's handwriting was notoriously bad, he'd barely learned his letters within the past few years. The note was almost entirely illegible, except for one word that seemed to be written with great deliberation. "Jade". It meant nothing to the Captain. He planned to harangue his nephew about it the next day, but had not seen him since.

Hrulgar asks if the note is available for him to look at. Alas as parchment is expensive, and Marcus thought for certain he would see his nephew again soon, the letter was thrown in the palimpsest bin.

Palimpsest Sidebar: Palimpsest is the common middle-ages practice of bleaching the ink off of a parchment so that it can be used again. The document had no doubt already been recycled before its was ever known that it might well contain Ingo's last words.

At that moment, there is a rap at the door and a female Lieutenant in full-plate enters. "The powder count, sir," she says, handing a document to the Captain.  Baerfaust frowns at whatever it says, but doesn't go into the details. It's called foreshadowing.

The woman is introduced as Arta Schaeffer, and she is the Captain's right hand this past year or more. Marcus introduces Hrulgar, and when he does so, Arta's eyes light up. "You're Skullsplitter!? THE Skullsplitter?" she asks. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you! The Captain has told me all about you, and you were truly a sight to behold at Blackfire…"

Hrulgar corrects her, his last name is Steelheart, not Skullsplitter, but she won't hear it. There's discussion for a bit about how Hrulgar's performance at Third Blackfire was so impressive. Hrulgar has barely any memory of it, and modestly replies that "Skullsplit" would be more accurate given that he got near as well as he gave.

Marcus Baerfaust intervenes now to reign in Arta's fanboyish enthusiasm. When Skullsplitter - I mean Steelheart - was convalescing after the battle, he was clearly embarrassed whenever the troops called him by that name, so Baerfaust had ordered them not to do so. Arta's just really pleased to meet him. The scene gets intentionally awkward (the GM is up to something), and Baerfaust stops Arta short. Pulling rank and being quite curt with her, the Captain insists Lt Schaeffer has more important duties than to attempt to seduce her commanding officer's friends.  (Yep, the GM is definitely up to no good here. I wonder what it means.)

And with that, the blushing Dwarf decides it's time to go. He promises to report back to Baerfaust anything important he learns about Ingo or the Black Cowl.

Wow, I really packed a lot into this session. This was just the tip of the iceberg. There's still another 3 or 4 really good scenes left to describe, including my favorite of the campaign so far, but I've run out of writing time today.  I'll have to finish this session report in another post later this week.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Kickstarter for Infinite Space

One of my favorite video games ever is a game called Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space. Weird Worlds was a sequel to game called Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, which I also liked, but WW:RTIS was the one that really hooked me. I played it to death over the course of several years, crafted and published multiple mods for it, and I still dust it off from time to time when I need to kill 30 minutes or an evening. Great game, and pretty much the best thing you could ever do on a lunch break.

There is currently a Kickstarter going for the upcoming third game in the series. Infinite Space 3: Sea of Stars. They've got two weeks left to go on the Kickstarter and are over 80% funded. If you pledge just $10, you'll get a copy of the game. Totally worth it. I got several hundreds of hours of play out of the previous titles in the series, and this one looks to be even better. Check it out.

Sensible and Comparatively-Elegant Healing Rules

Update: It has come to my attention that there is an official errata to the broken healing rules in the game. These errata are not in the official online FAQ and Errata Document. They are, instead in the Player's Guide reprint.  So my rules below are essentially wasted effort. The official errata is that healing cannot be spammed; Each healing action can only be applied to each character once per day. So the seemingly-broken Soothing Touch blessing that looked to be unlimited free healing is actually not broken at all, and you can't actually apply First Aid rolls in scene after scene.

For those interested, the errata is on page 89 of the Player's Guide.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, the healing rules for Warhammer 3rd are certainly the most confusing and ill-considered set of rules in the game. The mechanics as written are very exploitable and easily abused. They basically amount to "players can have unlimited healing, but require dozens of rolls to do it."  Unlimited healing undermines the "grim and perilous" elements of the setting. Even if you're going for a high-powered cinematic game where rapid healing would be okay, the average amount of healing (just over 1 point at Rank 1) per die roll makes for a lot of tedium. Repetitive low-tension die rolls between each fight does not sound like fun to me.

I don't necessarily want to throw those rules out entirely as all sorts of character abilities reference them, but I certainly want to pare down the clunkiness, and shore up any loopholes or weak spots that might undermine the grittiness of the setting. I would like the lion's share of healing to be accomplished by the passage of in-character time, not via spamming actions. I also really want the rules to be easy to understand. I don't mind having to look them up from time to time, as long as they're easy to read off of a chart or summary.

Towards that end I've worked out some rules that are far more sensible, and elegant (at least in comparison to the original rules). They may possibly still be more fiddly than I want them to be, but Warhammer is definitely several levels crunchier than most games I run. I figure we'll give them a try for a few sessions, and figure out if they need further tweaking once we've how well they work. 

Summary of Revised Healing Rules:

  • Heal Toughness in Wounds per full night's rest.
  • One Resilience check per full night's rest to recover additional wounds, or recover from crits or diseases.
  • Long-Term Care uses the exact same rules as natural healing, and simply gets bonus dice.
  • Limit one critical wound or disease symptom healed per day by non-magical means.
  • First Aid and Immediate Care no longer takes a die roll, and cannot be spammed.
  • Magical healing cannot be spammed.

Full details follow, along with sidebar observations about what these changes accomplish.

Natural Healing and Long-Term Care

Resting over night recovers a number of normal Wounds equal to your Toughness.

In addition, it allows for one Resilience (Toughness) check.  The dice pool for that check is modified as follows:

  • +1 Fortune Die:  For being tended to by a healer, doctor, friend or servant, regardless of skill. This is the base reward for someone other than yourself taking care of you.
  • +X additional Fortune Dice: Where X equals the number of Ranks that healer (etc) has in First Aid.
  • +Y Expertise Dice: Where Y equals the number of Ranks that healer (etc) has in Medicine.
  • +1 Challenge Die: The basic difficulty these checks will usually have.
  • +1 more Challenge Die: If you have any Critical Wounds or are suffering from a Disease.
  • -1 Challenge Die: If your healer (etc) has Medicine trained, the overall difficulty is reduced by 1 die.

Those dice are rolled with on the following results chart:
  • Success: You may convert 1 critical wound into a normal wound, or overcome one symptom of a disease.  The crate or symptom in question must have a severity equal to or less than the total number of successes rolled.
  • Boon: Heal an additional number of wounds equal to the number of Boons rolled.

In addition, if the healer has Medicine Trained, you may choose to instead count any number of Successes as Boons instead before resolving the effects. So a roll of 2 successes and 3 boons can instead be resolved as if it were a roll of 0 successes and 5 boons, or 1 success and 4 boons.

What this has accomplished: The number of die rolls has greatly been reduced, while total healing has only been minimally reduced. Confusing and redundant instructions have been removed, especially in regards to long-term care, which doesn't really have special rules at all in this version. Medicine rank is one of the strongest factors in long-term wound recovery, whereas before there was only minimal difference between having a Rank 1 or Rank 3 expert in Medicine. Disease recovery has been integrated into wound recovery, so being critically injured and diseased at the same time is more dangerous (as it logically should be). Without magical healing, characters will only be able to heal either 1 critical wound or 1 disease per day. 

Immediate Care:

At the end of every fight, it is assumed the PCs bandage up their wounds and conduct whatever other first aid is necessary. They may all immediately recover X normal wounds, where X equals the lesser of:
  • the highest number of First Aid ranks any PC or friendly NPC has, or
  • the total wounds they suffered in that fight.
This effect cannot be stacked or spammed, it represents the total amount of assistance First Aid can provide on the spot. Care provided after the effect is relegated to the natural healing roll at the start of the next day.

In addition, anyone who has First Aid trained may tend to 1 patient per Rally step. That patient recovers X normal wounds, as above.

The action "Splints & Bandages" is an exception to the above rules, as it is already kept in check by the restriction (printed on the action card) of not recharging till the encounter is over.

What this has accomplished: The frequency of First Aid checks has been strictly limited, and the number of die rolls significantly reduced. There's no longer any question of whether or not you can spam heal. Healing rates are no longer near-infinite, and maximizing your healing doesn't put the rest of the table to sleep. As a side note, actually training First Aid has a bit more value than it did in the original rules.

Splints & Bandages is no longer a redundant action, it is now a powerful option for the dedicated healer. You can use it back-to-back (once during the fight, and a second time when the fight is over) but the opportunity cost to do so is pretty high: you'd be losing one round's attack during this fight, as well as your ability to use this action it at all during your next encounter
Caveat: These revised Immediate Care rules have greatly reduced the amount of healing the PCs have at their disposal. I believe this is a good thing for the game, as the Warhammer setting is supposed to be very gritty and a bit "low fantasy" compared to the average D&D world. These revised rules have not yet seen extensive playtesting, so I do not yet know for certain if I trimmed things back to the correct and intended levels. It's possible I may have been too aggressive, and may have to revise later to some degree of compromise. We'll see how it goes, and I'll report back if anything starts to prove problematic.

Magical Healing:

Each individual form of magical healing may only successfully treat any given person once in any single day.

This means that if you drink a Healing Draught and it rolls all blanks, you may choose to drink another one later. You can repeat this as many times as you want until you roll at least 1 success.

For spells and blessings, only the first instance of healing is allowed. Many such actions feature healing as more of a side-effect than the main point of the spell, so there's nothing to stop you from casting them repeatedly. Once a given spell has healed you however, the healing portion (and only the healing portion) of future castings the same day is ignored.  In the event where no one at the table can remember whether or not a given source has healed a player already, we'll assume it hasn't. Also, if a spell has more than 1 healing line in it's results, the total healing generated from one casting is allowed. We aren't trying to shut down healing entirely, just prevent abuse stemming from repeatable free healing spells.

The same thing applies to spells or blessings that cure diseases or heal/convert critical wounds. The first disease or crit recovered is all that any given target gets from that spell per day.

What this has accomplished: Various loopholes and spammable exploits have been sealed off. A side effect of this is that there is now more reason for any given caster to take more than 1 action that can heal. As a result, high-level healers will actually be functionally better at healing the injured than starting characters.

With the overall reduced healing options,  Healing Draughts are actually worth picking up. Instead of being an expensive and redundant option of little value, they are now a way to accelerate your daily ability to heal.

Fatigue & Stress

Just a clarification. The various limits applied to Wound recovery in no way imply any limit to Fatigue or Stress mitigation. Fatigue and Stress are intended to constantly adjust up and down within and between scenes. Many healing spells can eliminate Fatigue or Stress, and so could be used repeatedly to do so even if that same spell had already healed wounds on the same target.

Per the rules, at the end of any major Encounter (and again at the end of a full night's rest) every PC recovers Fatigue equal to their Toughness and Stress equal to their Willpower. The new limits on healing do not interfere with that in any way.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Flood Gates of Healing

When I first decided to run a Warhammer 3rd Campaign, I was planning to avoid House-Rules as much as possible.

I'd run several one-shot scenarios of the game, and everything seemed to run just fine with the rules as written. Indeed, for one-shot play, the only complaint I have about the game is that it's so much stuff to haul with you to the sorts of venues where one-shot games get played (such as gaming conventions).

As I toy around with it in the context of a long-term campaign, I am finding that certain dynamics within the game rules that run just fine in one-shots have hidden problems that emerge in the longer play mode. The first one that made me speak up was the interesting exploit involving career-swapping. (The house-rule I landed on for that was to limit abandoning careers to once per character Rank.) That opened the flood gates, however, and once I decided I was willing to house-rule, a high-pressure stream of house-rule-able topics and loopholes poured over me. Time to dive in.

The first thing that's gotta be fixed is First Aid and Healing. Beyond a doubt, it's the worst part of the rulebook. The "Healing and Recuperation" section on pages 64 to 65 of the Warhammer 3rd Rules are two of the densest, most confusing rules pages I have read in my 30+ years of gaming. Those two pages are full of elements that seem contradictory and/or redundant, and the mechanics they describe have rules- and logic- holes big enough to charge a warhorse through.

WARNING: The rest of this post is just bitching about the Healing rules. I'd planned to detail my proposed house-rule to fix this broken mechanic, but the problems with it are so complicated that I used up all my time just dissecting it and grousing. I'll have to share my house-rule in another post tomorrow. If reading some nerd rage about illogical mechanics doesn't sound like your idea of fun, come back some other day.

Like many other fantasy roleplaying games, Warhammer 3rd has a hit point system (by another name) and allows for natural healing, first aid checks, and magical healing. So far, so good. But things get a little weird once you start trying to figure out just how many wounds a typical starting character can recover from in a day.

For the sake of the argument, let's assume a character with Toughness 3, who doesn't have Resilience trained. That's pretty close to average for any character that's not especially focused for combat. When they get treatment, we'll assume the healer is a bit better focused, maybe Intelligence 4 and 1 rank of either First Aid or Medicine (whichever is appropriate to the roll).

If the character gets a good night's rest, they recover wounds equal to their Toughness. Before getting out any dice, they can already recover 3 wounds per day.

They also get to roll their Toughness (and if they had Resilience trained, it would add a skill die), and they will recover 1 more wound for every Boon they get on the roll.  Assuming the default 1 Challenge die on the roll, that's on average about 0.2 additional wounds. Not much of a boost.

If the roll is successful, they may also convert one of the Critical Wounds into a Normal Wound (provided the critical's Severity rating is equal to or less than the number of successes generated). It's hard to count that towards the numerical amount of wound recovery per day, as it's sort of an apples-vs-oranges comparison. But it's gonna matter later in the Long-Term Care section, so I can't skip it.

At this point, a friendly healer could make a First Aid roll to help them recover. Each success they get on the First Aid roll adds an extra Fortune Die to the previously mentioned Resilience Check. So does 2 Boons on First Aid. For the character stats we're using, that's gonna average about 1.4 successes. So, they'll add 1 or 2 white dice to the Resilience check. 2 Die rolls have been made, and we've bumped the average healing up from 3 to about 3.5 wounds.

If the healer has Medicine trained, they can roll that. I think the rules intend for both First Aid and Medicine to be used on the same patient, but honestly they could be clearer. Since it works in the PC's favor, let's assume this doubling up is indeed what's intended. A successful Medicine check (regardless of the number of successes) adds an Expertise die to the resilience check. If you get 2 boons, that's another Expertise die. Having run the numbers, this seems to be pushing the average amount of healing up to about 3.8 wounds. The reason the jump is so small is because it's the Boons on the Resilience check that do the healing, not the (generally more numerous) Successes.  So we've made 3 rolls so far, to increase our total healing an average of less than 1 point. This is not encouraging.

From there the rules get weird. There's a section on Long-Term Care, such as granted if you convalesce at a Shallyan Hospice. This implies, but doesn't really state clearly, that such Long-Term Care can't be done by a PC. You could easily argue either way.  What are the benefits of Long-Term care? Well, they let the patient make a Resilience check, with one fewer Challenge die than the normal natural healing rate. It's unclear if this is a second Resilience roll, or if they just meant that the difficulty has been reduced of the roll described in the previous section. If it is a second roll, it's also unclear whether or not the bonus dice gained from the previous First Aid and/or Medicine checks apply to it, but since they aren't mentioned I guess I'd assume they aren't.  Instead of (or possibly in addition to?) those dice, you gain exactly 1 Expertise Die if the person providing the long-term care has Medicine Trained.

This roll (whether it's the original roll or an extra one, I still don't know) has an extra effect tacked on to it. It can heal "additional wounds" equal to the number of successes rolled, or convert a critical wound (into a normal wound) of severity equal to or less than the number of successes rolled. The later, as I already mentioned above, is already something that the roll could already do. Do they mean you can trade in the ability to convert a critical to instead recover extra wounds? Or do they really mean that you get a free bonus which is your choice of extra wound recovery or converting a critical? Also, it's unclear when you choose, if that's intended as a thing you do upon seeing the results of the roll, or if it represents two different types of treatment that must be chosen before rolling? It's really a hard paragraph to parse with confidence. So far though, we've been mainly worrying about Wound Recovery, not the conversion of Critical Wounds, so let's assume the PC in question mostly wants to recover from normal wounds. To keep from making my head hurt too much, I'm going to just assume this adds ~+2 wounds to the recovery total. In reality it's either slightly more or slightly less than 2, depending on whether or not this is an additional roll or a modification to the original Resilience check.

So now we've made either 3 or 4 rolls depending on how you interpret it, and are healing on average 5.8 wounds instead of the 3 we would have healed automatically if we'd just said screw it and not rolled at all. As specific one of those rolls contributed over twice the healing of the rest of them.

We're not done, but at least the confusing parts are almost over. Everything from here on out is easy to understand, though it seems to be lacking any breaks to keep it from running over the cliff.

Now we head into the "Immediate Care" section. The previous rolls were all predicated on getting a full night's rest and/or long-term care, and thus could each only be done once per day. Immediate Care can be done once per Act or Scene. Acts are a strange unit of time in Warhammer 3rd. Any given fight scene will consist of 1 to 3 Acts. There's no specific limit to how many Scenes or Acts can happen in a day (or session). How many times you can perform Immediate Care in a day is going to vary significantly depending on the pacing of your game, but it's probably safe to assume that it is a minimum of three times per day (given that it could be as many as 3 times in a single fight).

Immediate Care is a First Aid check, and every Success recovers a wound. With the stats we've been using, that's around 1.3 wounds per check.  There's more to it than that, as you can also use Immediate Care to temporarily suppress Critical Wounds (a reduced version of the daily checks to convert them). A bad roll on Immediate Care can generate stress and fatigue, but those are most irrelevant unless it's in the middle of a fight. Given that it's called Immediate Care, you might think it has to be performed immediately after the injury, but actually, per the rules as written, nothing stops you from using it hours or days after the initial injury. Also, nothing but your GM stops you from spamming the test repeatedly. It's pretty stupid.

So, we're now looking at 6 to 7 (or more) rolls, to heal on average 10 (or more) wounds. As the healer levels up, the output of the rolls will go up, so eventually you'll reach a point where you don't need nearly as many rolls before it stops being relevant.

There's also an Action you can buy, called Splints & Bandages. It's an action that pretty much completely overlaps with the Immediate Care rules. Instead of normal recharge tokens, it only recharges at the end end of an Act or Encounter. It's affects are almost identical to Immediate Care, except it recovers 2 more wounds than Immediate Care would if you manage to roll 3 or more successes. It's so similar, it seems redundant. As written, though, it's one more healing opportunity per Act, and generates on average about 1.7 wounds recovered at the skill levels we're examining.

Our running tally is up to 7 or more rolls, and heals over 12 wounds per day on average?  In case you were wondering, 12 wounds just happens to be the maximum amount of damage that the 3-toughness human character in question can survive. That's some pretty impressive healing (full recovery in a day), but boy does it take a lot of die-rolling. Any options for healing beyond this are starting to look redundant.

And that's just natural healing and first aid. We haven't even talked about magic yet. There are a number of spells or blessing actions that have the ability to recover 1 or more wounds. Unlike D&D, Warhammer spell casters don't have any "per day" spell limits. Wait a few turns (or take a Channel Power action) and you'll have all the power you need to cast your spell infinitely. Like immediate care, nothing in the rules stop you from having infinite healing out of the weakest first-level healing spell. If the GM has read the Tome of Adventure thoroughly, there's actually something to reign this in a bit. Turns in Warhammer aren't just seconds long, they're however long the narrative needs them to be. So a clever GM could use turn length and recharge rate to limit healing spell spam.... but if you do so, then magic healing is actually more restricted than First Aid. *sigh*

So basically, if you've got time to waste, and the GM doesn't mind you spam-rolling all your healing methods, you can recover far more hit points in a day then you are likely to have. At this point, I'd almost be happier with a rule that says "If anyone in the party has any healing method, all PCs are assumed to start every encounter fully healed." It would at least save us a half dozen die rolls per PC per day. When I say "any healing method", I should clarify that "at least 1 character with an Intelligence of 4 or 5, healing skills optionally" would certainly qualify. Immediate Care is the most broken part of the healing rules, and anyone can do it since First Aid can be used by an untrained character.

Oops, I forgot to mention the Healing Draughts! These are mundane medicines that can be purchased all over the Empire. Though mundane, they work quickly and are effectively a Magical Healing Potion. You're limited to drinking only 1 per day, but they instantly heal an average of 1.33 wounds when you do. They're also really expensive, at least compared to the spell and first-aid based healing methods that cost nothing more than an action. Healing Draughts may see use in a fight when your healer is busy helping someone else, but consuming them between battles is just wasting money if anyone in the party has First Aid or a healing spell. Of course, if your situation is dire enough to consider breaking out a Healing Draught instead of attacking or waiting till the fight is over, then you'll probably be needing a lot more than 1.33 points of healing. It's a little silly.

I think the sanest thing to do is throw out all the existing healing rules. Sometime soon I'll post the streamlined, stripped-down, and most importantly limited-by-logic version of them that I plan to use in my campaign.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Enemy Within - Campaign Log, Part 2 (Days 1 to 2)

Spoiler Alert: Campaign log for Session 2 / Day 2 of the new The Enemy Within for Warhammer. Major spoilers for anyone who hasn't played to at least Day 3 of the adventure yet.

PC List/Reminder:
  • Ninewise the Initiate of Ranald (Priest of the God of Thieves)
  • Lina the Bright Wizard (Pyromancer)
  • Burgolt the Nobleman Pistolier
  • Hrulgar the Dwarven Runesmith

Between sessions, the player of Ninewise told me she was planning to spend her first XP on "X marks the spot", a Ranald blessing that allows you to track or find an item. This obviously has some issues for a mystery campaign, especially if the GM isn't prepared for it.  I'd been warned about that particular blessing by other GMs at the Warhammer forums.

A sidebar about good players: I consider myself quite lucky to have players considerate enough to give the GM a heads-up when they're planning to do something very unexpected. It takes a certain amount of trust and faith to do that (as a bad GM could potentially be a dick and ruin your plans), but it makes for a much better narrative and game than if the GM suddenly has to pause mid-session to figure out where the hell this crazy new action is going to take the story. My players are awesome.

Her plan was either a) find Jurgen Klinski's hat, or b) use the body of Klaus Keller to find the the weapon that killed him. I had most of a week to read and reread the card, think about what it did and how it logically should or shouldn't work, and then prep some scenes based on what it will reveal. I came to the conclusion that the spell will only be a problem if Ninewise gets a good look at the Black Cowl's trademark headgear. All the other possible targets for the spell that I could imagine are either things I'm pretty much okay with the players being able to head straight towards, or things she'd really regret establishing a psychic link to.

Klaus who? Klaus Keller is the ring-wearing racketeer whose body the PCs discovered in the first session. I didn't mention his name in my previous post, as it wasn't relevant. I also didn't mention his very suspicious and alarming wounds in that post, but I definitely mentioned them to players. Lina the Bright Wizard made a few Magic Sight rolls and so knew the wounds weren't merely poisoned, but somehow magically polluted or corrupted. 
His body had been taken to the Garden of Morr already, and the players planned to sneak in after dark and exhume him to reverse-engineer a description of the murder weapon. I was a bit doubtful on whether or not that would work, given the career cards for the game don't actually include a Forensic Pathologist card.  Jurgen's hat sure seemed like the better lead, but just in case they were really dedicated to this course of action I dug up some appropriate location and monster cards.  I was totally prepared for our first fight scene being against some minor undead feasting on shallow graves, but in the end it didn't happen.

The second session started with PCs still in the Upright Pig tavern. Lina the Bright Wizard was waiting at a table adjacent to the one where Bischoff was gambling, as he'd said he had a job for her the next day. Anyone who's read or played the adventure can imagine why a Bright Wizard might be of use to the Black Cowl's enforcer on Day 2 of the campaign… but let's be honest. It seemed really unlikely that the PCs were going to commit arson and murder on behalf of the villain's lieutenant, even if it might give them an inside track on the investigation.

So instead, I planned for Bischoff to offer her a couple silver schillings to just not be in the Wharf District tomorrow after noon. A bright wizard might be able to put out fires as well as start them, after all. He had just met her, so it's not like he's going to take her into his confidence immediately. I'd be giving the PCs a heads-up that something bad and fire-related would be happening at the docks on Day 2, but they'd have to either stay away, or openly declare war on the new crime boss who had till this point been unaware they even existed. I was all too happy to provide them with that dilemma.

The moment the session started though, the PCs all bailed out of the bar as fast as they could. Guess they didn't like the idea of dining in a tavern now (thanks to Ninewise's reckless actions at the end of the previous session) filled with dozens of Cowl-aligned thugs. Can't blame them.

So I figured they'd be off to the graveyard. Nope, not that either.  Instead they went to Burgolt's family home to spy on the late-night comings and goings. After a bit of a stake out, they deduced that the Baron (Burgolt's father) was entertaining an amorous lady-friend. At that, they decided that discretion is the better part of being a peeping tom, and scattered each to their homes. End of Day 1.

Balcony Sidebar: At some point it was revealed that there were lingering traces of dark magic on and near the balcony where Burgolt saw the Black Cowl ascend the previous night. Lina used Magic Sight to note them. I neglected to put it in my notes, so now I'm not sure if it happened in session 1 when they stopped in to pick up Burgolt's allowance and were treated to Brandy, or if it was in session 2 while staking the place out.

I know this was revealed though, because I remember the players cracking some jokes about how terribly frightening the dark magic must have been. "He used his terribly terribly evil levitation spell". That prompted a short discussion of the setting and the Winds of Magic. Yep, there really is an evil version of levitation. I also went on record as saying the wounds on Klaus Keller's body are NOT the same "flavor" of evil magic as seen on the balcony.

Thinking about it though from my current perspective of just pas session 4, I think I might want to retouch those subjects and restress those points to the players. What killed the racketeer etc is definitely NOT the same sort of magic as levitated the cowled figure up to the balcony.  Mystery scenarios, especially complicated ones, can go wrong in many ways. The PCs might randomly jump to the correct answer way ahead of schedule, but just as easily the players might miss your clues entirely and stall out.  In this case, I'm worried that they found the clues but could jump to the wrong conclusion. A red herring now and again may sometimes be useful if the players are getting ahead of themselves, but herring always needs to be handled with care and respect befitting the toxic weapon they are. When you have more than one mystery going on, you have to be extra careful to compartmentalize your clues so that the players know what is or is not connected.

Day 2 starts with the players meeting up for breakfast briefly before splitting the party.

Hrulgar has plans to open up a shop for importing fine Dwarven wares and weaponry from the mountains. This makes perfect sense in-character, and yet it somehow blind-sided me. The player has indicated he's a Runesmith only till I can disgrace him into becoming a Troll-Slayer, so I didn't expect him to go hunting for a lease on a storefront instead of hunting for clues. It's mundane enough, and completely in character, so the player didn't think to give me any advance notice. That's fine, though it did mean I had nothing prepped for him.

Left to improvise, I asked for a Tradecraft roll, which he bombed, and then things stalled a bit.   I did manage to reinforce the plot by having one of the potential landlords indicate that they weren't ready to sign a lease until Klaus Keller's replacement came around to set their new protection rates. This was the first scene to fall flat, and my least favorite of the campaign so far.

To make it worse, the other players went off in search of the body of Jurgen Klinski. Jurgen was a dockside regular, so I was okay with Ninewise being familiar enough with his distinctive red felt hat to use "X marks the spot" at it. She got a map of the city, said a prayer to Ranald, and flipped her lucky coin into the air. The coin landed on the edge of the map, and made a mysterious damp spot on the line representing the river bank just down river from the Wharfs. They bought a boat hook for a few shillings in case they needed to poke around in the muddy water, and headed downstream.

"And, because this is Warhammer, it starts to rain," I said with a smile.

Ranald led her straight to the hat… but no body. The hat was out in the muck, tangled in some roots at the surface of the muddy water. Could have easily washed down here from any part of the riverfront. They fetched it out with the hook, washed it off a bit, and examined it.  There was a cut on the side, perhaps caused by a blow to the back of the head. The fibers an inch on either side of the cut seemed more deteriorated then you'd expect for simply being in the water for a week. This reminded them of the weird magical deterioration of the wounds on the body of Klaus Keller. One Magical Sight roll later they know that the same weapon killed both Klaus and Jurgen, but no clue to motive.

They pay some fishermen to go dredge and poke the water around where Jurgen's hat was found.

Back to town. They stop in at the White Horse again, seeking info from Ute Herz the busker / information broker. As with the day before, she's very friendly and eager to help, but doesn't know of any connections between these two men. Jurgen's a nice guy, keeps his nose clean. Klaus was a hardened criminal.

While Ninewise chats with Ute, Burgolt eyes the local merchants and burghers sitting at the inn. There's an out-of-town merchant at one table, but she wants to connect with locals.  Burgolt would like to rally the community leaders against this fiendish Black Cowl fellow. The only locals of any prominence are a couple of old Tanners. They explain how their shops got flooded by the damaged retaining wall and sluice gate, and when they threatened to sue the city they were given a very nice compensation. The tanneries will get fixed eventually, but for now they're content to celebrate their good fortune. Not exactly what the player was after.

As they talk, a breathless, panicked man bursts into the tavern. "Adolphus Starke! Your boat is on fire!"

Everyone rushes outside, with the previously-anonymous out-of-town merchant crying out "My wife and children are on my boat!" Initiative check.

There's 3 PCs on the scene. The Bright Wizard nails an Observation check and spots the fleeing arsonists. The Pistolier, jumps on his horse and gives chase.  The Initiate of Ranald heads down the pier to the burning barge to try to put out the fire.

Two Ride checks, an Intimidate Check, and a 16-damage Bright Order Spell later, and the lone surviving arsonist is standing with his hands in the air.  The roll that got him to stop moving also scored a Chaos Star, so I narrate that Bischoff walks out of the Upright Pig at just that moment. The arsonist looks at him, and is clearly at least as afraid of Bischoff as he is of the Pistolier and Wizard that chased him down.

I'm more than half-expecting the PCs to start shooting at Bischoff now, so I let the Dwarf just happen to return to this part of town from his failed lease-hunt so he doesn't have to miss out on any more action. Despite their reinforcements, the players don't take the first shot.

There's a long tense stand-off. Bischoff offers an obviously false alibi for the arsonist, and suggests that the PCs have already killed the only true criminal here.  The PCs say that the flask on the arsonist's belt must be full of the accelerant used to ignite the barge in the rain. Bischoff says it's just a flask of booze, and orders his man to drink it. Evidence destroyed right in front of the players, though much of it is thrown back up moments later. The PCs say their perp needs to go to jail. Bischoff tells the arsonist his family will be taken care of. 

I consider having him offer a bribe to the PCs, but Lina had walked out on his money the night before. I figured he'd have to know his odds of bribing her, a nobleman and dwarf with whatever he had in his pockets was unlikely.

In the background, the barge burns ferociously. Ninewise has been trying to put the fire out, but manages to roll Chaos Stars in three back-to-back unfortunate rolls, so she and the other members of the bucket brigade blunder into each other and end up in the water. Clearly, she needs help. The tracker gets to space 8, and if it moves to space 9 the boat and Starke's family will all be destroyed.

The Bright Wizard and the Pistolier rush off to magically suppress the fire and better-organize the bucket brigade, respectively. Given how far they'd chased the criminals, this took 3 or 4 Fatigue to get back to the docks, but once there they quickly turn things around.  Ninewise actually boards the burning boat and helps Starke's family out of the cabin. The fire is extinguished without fatalities. 

They leave Hrulgar guarding their suspect. All alone. With Bischoff.

I'm just about to have Bischoff attack the lone dwarf, when it occurs to me that there's actually a better play for my villain. He lets them City Watch take the arsonist, as there's actually a way he can spring the man later, to great effect.

That will have to happen in a later session, as we've reached our time for this week. Late afternoon, Day 2. End of Session 2.

Since the PCs saved Starke's family, the Criminal Empire's agenda does not advance. Further, as they have stood up to Bischoff in a semi-public fashion, the Stability rating of the Criminal Empire goes down by 1 to 7.

Party Tension is at 4. The players have a (burning) boatload of Fatigue and Stress, but only 1 wound (on the Wizard, I think it was the bane effect of one of her spells). I meticulously note how much Fatigue and Stress per player just in case they start the next session by attacking Bischoff. 

I also make myself a note that I need to give the Dwarf some spotlight time next week, as this session he mostly waited around while other people did things.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Enemy Within - Actual Play, Part 1

SPOILER ALERT: This is a campaign log for the new The Enemy Within for Warhammer 3rd Ed. It's safe for players in my campaign to read as they've already done this stuff. If you're playing in somebody else's campaign of TEW, you probably shouldn't read this because it may ruin parts of the plot that you haven't encountered yet.

The Enemy Within is an epic campaign with a huge cast of NPCs and some very interesting mysteries and plot developments.

Our player characters are:
  • Edler Burgolt von Engler, a Gently-Born nobleman, Pistolier, and third son of Frieherr Peczold von Engler, a local Baron.
  • Ninewise Gyre, an Initiate of Ranald who is also an acquitted Criminal.
  • Lina, Ninewise's sister, recently returned to Averheim from the distant university where she studied Bright Order Wizardry and other Academic topics.
  • Hrulgar Steelheart, a Dwarven Runesmith and businessman. He is Battle-Scarred from his time at the Third Battle of Blackfire Pass.
When the game opens up, the players are about to have a breakfast meeting at a Tavern called the White Horse to discuss an unpleasant piece of previous business.

Hrulgar, being a professional businessman and the only member of the party likely to use Conservative stance, shows up early. The rest of the party Recklessly show up late or at the last minute, as usual, so he has a few minutes before they arrive to shop from the waterfront stalls. He meets Olga Klinski, who tells him the sob story about her husband who went missing a week ago. He buys a fish from her as an act of charity, and then heads to the tavern for the meeting.

Sidebar about the previous unpleasant business:
 For some time they have been aware that Burgolt's father the Baron is engaged in political underhandedness and assorted unpleasant dealings that may even include witchcraft. The party has for sometime been Oathbound to figure out a way to undermine his ambitions (and evils) without bringing down Burgolt's entire family. This is of course a sensitive task, which is part of why they are conducting the conversation in the Wharf District slums where the Baron and his social equals would never set foot. It's also worth noting that Burgolt's older brother was all but disowned (and sent off on some fool's errand) and that Burgolt's mother has been dead less than 2 years but father is already courting other women.

Burgolt starts with his latest scoop on dad. Last night, after tying one on (which he does quite often) Burgolt stormed home to tell off his wicked father and renounce his familial ties once and for all, but was unable to get in. The butler and valet refused him entry to his father's Library, where dear old dad was entertaining some unknown visitor. While waiting in the courtyard and being given the run-around, Burgolt saw a dark, cowled figure (hereafter known as The Black Cowl) scale the walls and enter via the balcony attached to his father's study. Normally, Burgolt might have shot this intruder, but not only was he drunk tonight, but he'd actually earlier in the day pawned his family heirloom Superior Pistol to one Mathilda Durbein. Burgolt reported the prowler to the Butler, but either the servants were expecting it or they imagined it merely a drunken hallucination. Either way, Burgolt was again not allowed entry, and so left in a huff.

Ninewise asks about The Black Cowl. She's heard that name or description as a possible new crime boss moving in on the Wharfs. There's speculation and discussion of whether the Black Cowl works for Burgolt's father, or the other way around, or if perhaps the Black Cowl was merely spying on Burgolt's meeting.

They also begin to discuss whether or not this new crime boss is involved in any of the handful of disappearances they've recently caught wind of.

Ninewise had heard that a dockworker named Rolf Haller has recently gone missing. She has a meeting later this very day with Rolf's boss at the Wharf-Rats (one of the Pauper's Guilds in the Wharf District), who wants Ranald's assistance in finding out whether or not their rival guild the Fish were behind the dockworkers disappearance.

Hrulgar mentions that an old war buddy of his named Ingo Baerfaust didn't show to a get-together they had planned a few days ago, and wasn't at home the next day either. When he inquired about his friend, he was told that no one had seen him in a week.

Are these three missing persons in any way related? Jurgen and Rolf worked in the same area, but Ingo had no obvious connections to the docks or either of them.

From here a number of smaller scenes transpired.
  • Ninewise met with the Wharf-Rats boss for more details.
  • She also talked with Ute, a knowledgeable local information-broker, who had some more clues to the way the underworld power structure was being shaken up by the Black Cowl. I made Ute very helpful and friendly. She explained that The Cowl's enforcer or underboss is a tattooed bruiser named Bischoff who recently returned from the Templeman Expedition to the Southlands.
  • Hrulgar scheduled an appointment for the following day with Captain Marcus Baerfaust, the uncle of his missing friend Ingo.
  • Burgolt got into an argument with a street agitator that was disparaging the noble-class. While he was distracted, he was nearly robbed by a pickpocket. Lina's sharp eyes foiled the attempt, but clearly made her an NPC enemy (the first of several, it would turn out) and the scene dished out some Stress and Tension.
  • Cutting through an alleyway, the PCs discovered a body, it's ringed hand sticking out of a shipping crate. The dead man was a local racketeer and enforcer. His distinctive ring was left on the corpse, which they figured might have been done to send a message. Worried that this show of brazen force might further consolidate the Black Cowl's power, Ninewise pocketed the ring before they called the city watch.
  • Burgolt swallowed his pride and returned to his father's manor for his daily allowance. Dad wasn't present, but his Valet was and did the old man's dirty work. He plied Burgolt and company with fine Brandy. He apologized for the previous night, and said that the Baron would be quite busy the next several nights so please be a good boy and stay away. Here's an extra Silver in case you need a place to crash for the night. Bribe mostly accepted.
After the various shorter scenes, the players met up again at another tavern, the Upright Pig.
A sidebar about Noblemen and their money: 
Burgolt has Noble Rank 1, which per the rules means a stipend of 1 Gold (100 Silver) per month. Since the Campaign involves a detailed day-by-day timeline, I decided to break this up into a daily instead of monthly payment.  Most months in the Imperial Calendar have 32 to 33 days, so Burgolt will be given 3 Silver per day. Since his father is a wicked and controlling man, Burgolt is required to visit the family manor-home each morning to receive this allowance from his father's money-keeper. 

Back to the Upright Pig: Ninewise was looking for Gerd Knakk, the leader of The Fish gang, who frequented the tavern. Before finding him, however, she found Bischoff.

Bischoff was gambling at a table with some other people they knew. He kinda blew off Ninewise, but told her sister Lina (an obvious Bright Wizard) that he might have a job for her tomorrow, and that if she grabbed a table he'd join her after this round of the gambling was over. 

Gerd Knakk, the leader of the Fish, came in just then, and Ninewise pulled him aside for a talk. She mentioned Rolf Haller, but Gerd swore he and his workmen had nothing to do with it. She mentioned the Black Cowl, and was told Gerd was uncomfortable talking about that with the Cowl's enforcer just across the bar. She pressed him on it, and found out that the Fish were being leaned on to bend a knee to this new Criminal Empire.  At this point, Ninewise took a risk, and it backfired. She pulled out the ring from the body of the racketeer and showed it to the leader of the Fish. He got very tense and quiet, thanked her for the information, and excused himself from the table.

Lina was still sitting at the other table adjacent to where Bischoff was gambling, so she couldn't help but notice when Gerd walked over, looked Bischoff in the eyes, and said "You win. We're in."

That elicited a lot of face-palming by the players, so it was a good place to call it a night. I adjusted the Criminal Empire's Agenda to 5 and Party Tension to 3.   End of session 1.

(We just completed session 4, so hopefully I'll find the time to put together more logs like this in the next couple days.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mandatory Career Completion

I'm running a Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay 3rd Ed campaign, and I've just hit my first real need for a major House Rule. (There's been a couple little things that have come up previously, but most could all be handled by what could be termed an "interpretation" rather than a deliberate rule change.)

The rule I'm likely to adopt is "Career Completion is Mandatory. You must finish your current career before swapping to a new one. You may have an exception to this rule only once in the lifetime of any given character."

The point of the exception, is to allow for storylines and character development situations such as:
  • A dwarf is terribly dishonored and feels he has no choice but to seek glorious death as a Troll-Slayer.
  • A character saves the life of a major noble and is immediately Knighted for their valiant heroism.
  • War breaks out and the players volunteer as soldiers to head to the front lines.
  • A previously law-abiding character turns to crime to avenge a misdeed or defeat a bitter rival.
  • A wizard dabbles in forbidden magicks and ends up cast out by their order.
  • A character marries into a noble family, and has to start living up to Gold Tier expectations.
  • A player grows tired or dissatisfied with their character, and thinks a major change of focus will refresh their flagging interest in playing that character.

The reason for the rule itself, and for limiting the exception to once-per-character, is because there's a glaring rules exploit possible if you're willing to swap careers willy-nilly to cherry-pick specific advancements. Especially for humans.

The most notable such exploit would be piling up Fortune Dice on your Characteristics. In and of themselves, Fortune Dice are not that amazing. On any given roll, each one has a better than 50% chance of being useless (by either rolling a blank side, or rolling a symbol you already had more than enough of). Compared to the Expertise Dice that come with Skills, Fortune Dice are very weak. One Yellow Expertise Die is a little better than 2 White Fortune dice. However, Fortune Dice are cheap and the only thing restricting their purchase is tied to your career. Skill dice, on the other hand, are restricted by both your career and your rank.

The default assumption of the system is that in most cases you'll complete your career before moving on. If that's what you do, in about 12 XP you'll add roughly 1 Yellow Die and 2 to 3 White Dice to the dice pool of your best action.

The cherry-picking approach where you never complete a career, and just continuously cycle to (and abandon) compatible careers that allow for Fortune Die accumulation could result in anywhere from 7 to 12 White dice in those same 12 XP.

This could quickly break the game. After 2 ranks of this, a PC using such an exploit would be rolling 20 to 30 dice per action in their area of focus, with success rates over 99% on their most likely actions. This would lead to a ridiculous "arms race" with the GM and their fellow players.

And it's not the Fortune Dice that are truly the problem, they're just the most likely manifestation of the problem.  The rest of this post details other things that get broken by the cherrypicking and career-swapping approach.

If a character decided to just max out Wounds, they'd have even more freedom in terms of which careers to cherry-pick from.  It would be like a D&D character deciding that instead of leveling up, they were just going to accumulate hit points at 4 to 6 times the rate of any other PC. That'd be a little bit broken, but mostly just really boring.

Actions, Talents, Skills and Stance Pieces have other things that keep them in check, but at the very least being able to swap careers temporarily undoes whatever soft limits are imposed by the "Advances" box on your career sheet.  It doesn't matter that my current career focuses on Skills and Talents instead of Actions, if I can play at being some other career for two or three sessions and cherrypick the Actions.

The Adaptable special ability for being a Human of the Reikland quickly breaks under this rampant career swapping. At character creation, non-humans come out slightly ahead of humans. Humans are basically built with 26 points worth of stuff, whereas Dwarves and Elves are built with 29 points of stuff (though 9 of those points are automatically invested in very specific racial abilities). This is roughly balanced by humans having more careers to choose from, and humans getting a 1 point break each time they change careers. A typical campaign lasts for 3 to 5 ranks. If you're completing careers at the rate of one per rank, means that by campaign end humans have broke even, or maybe come out a couple XP ahead.  If instead you're using the swap-and-cherrypick technique, your XP saving breaks even in Rank 1, and surpasses the demihumans at the start of Rank 2. Even worse, this XP break is what makes the cherrypicking even viable in the first place. Humans can accumulate White Dice (or whatever) at ridiculous rates, but non-humans would struggle to get any significant advantage out of the exploit.

Aside from all the game-breaking mechanical impacts, the worst part of this exploit is what it means for the setting.

If anything, one of the flaws of the default career system (even with my house rule in place to shore up the exploit) is that it really pushes character advancement and progression along at a breakneck speed. You're basically guaranteed to "get a promotion at work" every 10th session. When sessions involve long passages of time, that's reasonable. I'm currently running The Enemy Within, which is a lengthy investigative scenario. Because of all the time spent chasing down plot leads, we're basically advancing 1 day of the in-character calendar per session. Most of the logical career "paths" are only 3 or 4 steps (20 to 40 sessions) long. So you could go from squire to knight to head of your knightly order in as little as 30 days. That's already kinda pushing at the believability envelope.

Now imagine what those career transitions look like if you're cherrypicking. (Each day spent is a Fortune Die gained, or an XP spent on career transition.) I spend three days as an Apprentice Wizard. Then I become a Gypsy Mystic fortuneteller for four days. Then I pull teeth as a Barber-Surgeon for two days. Finally, I take a job defending the King's highway as a Road Warden for one day. That's not a character arc, so much as a manic episode. I thought changing careers every 10 days was weird enough. That character, having cherrypicked fortune dice for their Intelligence stat, would actually be much better at spellcasting than their colleague who stayed in the dorm studying as an Apprentice Wizard for 10 days.