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.

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