Flussgeschichten: Setting up the penultimate(ish) Situation

Sunday night’s Flussgeschichten (“River Stories”) game (in the WFRP setting) reached session 124.

We started back in early December 2019, and have played weekly since then, moving to online since the pandemic hit.

However, we’re now approaching the end-run of the campaign.

We’re not ending immediately, but we’ve moved from them fleeing the capital in a barge in session 1, to setting up their own trading empire.

Their power level is Quite Significant these days, and I want to wrap this up before it fizzles out (and whilst challenges remain fun and appropriate).

Unlike my previous Burning-WFRP campaign, there is no “end of the world” / “daemon invasion” impending climax.

Instead, they’re changing some major parts of the setting.

The group as eliminated von Drachfels, the immortal vampire, who Christopher Lee-like would keep coming back. Not now. This group put a permanent end to him through hard work and tough decisions.

One of their number, a Halfling, has become an apostle to the Skaven (Roden), and has had a lot of success in turning communities of them to his new philosophy.

The current end-game for that player is to make the Skaven accepted as part of the Empire at large (provided they follow their new philosophy/religion). In an intolerant empire, that’s going to be Big Stakes.

For now, our session saw the group reach the free-city of Kemperbad, and get stuck in on a whole range of new Beliefs, following their successes in Nuln.

I had… some ideas going in (vague sketches, really).

However, with that many new Beliefs, and a new place to be, I was going to be very responsive to what direction the players were going in.

So, as the characters fan out, Circle up some unexpected people, succeed/fail at some rolls, and ask some unanticipated questions, I’ve got a lot of answers to give.

  • Yes, the Wood Elves* are here because of a gathering of 30ish Beastmen that look set to strike at the city (for no discernible reason).

  • There are, maybe, 20 Skaven in the city, but you’ve not tracked down where they are as yet.

  • There’s also a small shack (or similar) that has already been set up as an (unrelated to the above) Skaven underground railroad, courtesy of what you’ve been driving for.

  • You finally get to meet the Halfling mystic, and they have a Dire Prophecy/Vision of the future of Skaven and Gifted Halflings.

  • The priesthood of Ranald caters for the rich merchants, rather than the poor and downtrodden.

  • Merging the theologies of the Empire’s Pantheon and the Skaven’s Horned Rat is an epic doctrinal / religious / philosophical undertaking. Good luck!

  • You can, indeed, find a Dwarven Master Craftsman. However, they are exiled from their clan (for murder), they’ve been in indentured servitude for 30 years, they’re a she (which in the patriarchal setting of these dwarves, is a problem), and that’ll be a Resources Ob 10, please.

(* quick aside: the player called back to something from about session 10 to build a rapport with the elves. Lovely history and reincorporation. Also, they saw through the Elves’ Grey Cloaks, much to the latter’s consternation and embarrassment.)

Phew! A lovely session, lots of new problems bursting forth, and a whole bunch of answers I’ve given that I’d now like to start tying together.

Pretty much all of the above was me reacting in session.

Now I’ve got to make good on it all, and integrate this into something resembling a Situation that I can work on (and adapt, as the PCs do their thing).

Monday, I wrote down the main headings (Wood Elves, Beastmen, Skaven, poor Ranaldians, etc. etc.), and then bashed in some quick notes to remind me of what I’d said / hinted at.

Then, more notes and bullet points as I go through, drawing connections (where appropriate), sketching ideas of what may complicate things, why this issue now, etc.

And then it all snaps together, as it feels like it always does.

A bit more mad scribbling, and I’ve got something that links some of the threads together, and I’ve got the space to add in some names, and bury some puns and Real World references in there (always a pleasure in WFRP!).

So, we’ve got a lovely looking penultimate(-ish) situation in Kemperbad (replete with interesting decisions), and I get to see whether my references to an 80s synth-pop duo are spotted by the players.

(being able to translate some of those references into German might be cheating a bit, but it keeps me amused!)

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Dope! We need more AP’s, people!

I’d love to hear more about that Skaven conversion project, or the vampire!

@DaveHiggins plays in the game, so will be a good source on that front.

He’s also been writing AP summaries in the form of an in-world biography written years later. He’ll have Thoughts on what he wishes to do with those.

The vampire… I had a lot of fun. The main events went down in the Moot (aka WFRP’s version of Tolkien’s the Shire), but I leaned in on the (human-centric) Empire’s dismissal / poor treatment of Others.

As such, there’s a whole vibe of “oh those funny little Halflings, with their tall tales, and delightful imagination”, rather than, you know, “Oh gosh! An undead army!”

Still, the PC’s had managed to cause enough chaos that the vampire was Annoyed, and brought an army to war.

As an undead army rises out of the swamp, and moves to attack the walled village, the PC’s are out doing appropriate heroics. Having realised that dropping the necromancer is a good idea in these circumstances, they’d rushed in to engage said individual and squared off in a Fight! with the necromancer and his bodyguards.

Dieter Fuchs, our doctor/church investigator/moral(ish) compass pulls his trademark knives and lunges for the necromancer, whilst the rest of the team tackles the bodyguards. Dieter’s plan is “take this idiot out / hold him up until my buddies dispatch the guards and help me out”.

The bodyguards are tough, and the fight is going to be drawn out. Meanwhile, Dieter is realising that his knives vs. full-on plate mail is… quite a rough proposition to undertake.

The player is also seeing the vast hill of dice that are coming in and, being a vampire with grey Reflexes, the vampire is acting twice on every action they get. Our vampire is being cautious, but that means that they can do a Strike and a simultaneous Block (best of both worlds) whilst sizing up their victim.

The player is (quite rightly) wondering what the heck I’m playing at, with these stupid-sized dice pools, and then it’s revealed who they are fighting.

“It’s von Drachenfels!?

A tone of disbelief and anger/frustration/fear, from the player.

As a player, I know that feeling when you realise just how big a misstep / miscalculation / misaligned understanding you now find yourself in.

This is Dracula, and you’re a peasant boy territory,

There is silence from the player for 5 minutes. We’re playing online, and I think that they (rightly) take a breather away from the situation for a few minutes.

RIGHT.” They announce, grimly determined.

We’re still mid-first exchange, so there’s no script changes possible. They throw everything into anything defensive, looking apprehensively ahead at the scripts to what’s coming down the pipeline. It’s going to be… tight, especially for that Action where they don’t have anything scripted and their vampiric opponent does.

The vampire hits, and Dieter’s armour… holds. Barely, but it does.

Our priest is in Eye of the Storm and asks to perform a miracle.

Sure! This feels cinematically great. A miracle of Hindrance? Go for it! They pull it off, and the vampire collapses for a few beats.

And then it gets juicy.

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The vampire was a vastly fun… if intense… chunk for my character, who is (among other things) a Faithful priest of Ranald, God of Tricksters, Outcasts, Luck, and Fate.

As part of the Skaven project, our halfling character wants to go to the Moot (for those not familiar with WFRP, almost exactly the Shire from LotR). We end up on the border with Sylvania (Hammer Horror land) and discover the town we are in is run by a vampire-worshipping cult who are preparing the way for an invasion by von Drachenfels, the vampire noble who rules Sylvania. Unfortunately, warring between areas of the Empire is acceptable providing the victor can provide the flimsiest excuse and the official line is that the stories of Sylvania being run by vampires are peasant superstition that certainly doesn’t justify questioning the actions of the nobles who run it.

However, I and my plucky crew have a long history of saving people while turning a tidy profit (it’s very Ranaldian) so obviously decide to stop this. The cult have sent the mayor’s daughter to work as a “servant” in von Drachenfel’s castle so the mayor does what he’s told; so we decide first stage is a rescue. Cue creepy barge journey through misty forests and looming mountains, fighting werewolves with incendaries, and other fun to reach von Drachenfel’s castle. We sneak in and rescue the mayor’s daughter without being noticed, so risk staying there a bit longer to investigate the room she’s never been allowed in; and discover a war room with plans to invade the town very soon. The mayor’s daughter is showing signs of having been bitten enough that she might turn eventually but we don’t have resources or time to fix that right now and curing disease is far enough outside Ranald’s domain that miracle-ing it away isn’t really an option even if I wanted to risk a massive Ob roll to call world-changing powers in the middle of a font of dark energy. So, we slip out again and race (for a barge) back.

Unfortunately, the vampires notice something is up and, because the daughter is bitten, they can find her. So we end up fighting off a vampire attack that has magically slipped into my cabin. Narrow spaces are super fun for fighting in.

We get back, manage to put together a strategy based on the plans we copied and sell it to the town, and organise the defence. Massive army arrives to siege the town. Von Drachenfels emerges from the forest to call for our surrender. And backs it up with a prayer to Ranald to cloak the town in darkness.

I manage to pray harder than him, so we don’t end up facing vampires under cover of darkness; but I am now facing the conundrum that this ancient vampire noble, almost a stereotype of oppressor, is somehow Faithful to the God of the Oppressed.

After a couple of vignettes for key moments, we get an opportunity to sally out against von Drachenfels to decisively tip the battle to one side or the other. We cut away his bodyguards and two of us wrestle him down with enough successes on Locks that his vampire wonkery isn’t quite enough to manage physical actions. So, he attempts to turn into a bat. I attempt a minor miracle to foil the transformation.

And fail, so end up with my soul taken to face Ranald himself who chastises me for fighting a fellow priest, explains that von Drachenfels, as a vampire, is an eternal priest so is a symbol of Fate, and informs me that he won’t answer me until I resolve the dispute without violence. I come out of the trance quite shaken.

Unfortunately, while I was off be-godded, the others have killed the vampire. So, I am now stuck in the situation that I didn’t use violence but I haven’t resolved the situation either. So, I decide to hold off on Faith until I’ve had a think.

And to add shenanigans, the vampire has a resurrection necklace full of blood so could just come back. We research destroying the necklace and discover it is not only enchanted to turn things toward completing it’s purpose (so breaking it has a chance of freakishly resulting in the blood spattering something that ends up accidentally being dropped on the vampire’s body) but it has been blessed by Ranald to protect von Drachenfels as the eternal priest representing the aspect of Fate.

Some of the others want to break it anyway with precautions but I really don’t want to act against my god’s wishes. So, we have a passionate discussion which ends with us agreeing we’ll try to find an offering of equal value to an eternal priest.

The obvious answer is a massive monument but even if we could find somewhere to put it, that would be a chunky focal point for any of von Drachenfel’s supporters who want to bring him back to do magical stuff. So, I suggest we commission a play for the ages so a tale of Ranald is performed for all time.

That was many lots sessions ago as getting a play written and made famous is tricky even without three other character’s worth of personal plot (including my loyal boatman’s fiancee being seduced by one of von Drachenfel’s lieutenants because he has been cursed by evil gods to share a face with multiple people, all of whom seem to be evil). But we finally managed it in session 123 and as the last action of the session, I declared I would use a miracle to remove the protections from the necklace. I spend Deeds (because this is finding out if my solution is acceptable to a god) and pass the roll.

The gold on the necklace flows away and reforms in a symbol of Ranald on my personal altar. I am now Faith 7, so we end with me turning from the altar and the others realising my eyes are now permanently cat’s eyes that glow with a divine light.

And that’s the story of how we thespianed an ancient evil into oblivion.

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There’s no break.

The PC’s have (just about) dealt with the bodyguards and all lunge onto the vampire in the next Exchange.

The vampire is nearly coming around. One of them is desperately wrenching up the visor of von Drachenfels, another of them is Locking him out. Dieter is there with his daggers.

@DaveHiggins goes for a Miracle and… as you can see from the above, that goes less well.

As @DaveHiggins’s character is reeling, the rest of the party get the faceplate up, and the Lock holds just long enough for Dieter to be there with his daggers.

A slow, desperate, absolutely bloody vicious and viceral “I corner him and stab him in the face” occurs.

It’s brutal. There’s no sweet “honourable duel” here. It’s 3 desperate people slowly forcing a knife into a vampire’s brain.

I loved it.

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That’s great stuff, guys! Thanks for sharing!

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The Skaven Conversion Process

This actually starts about 6-8 months before our campaign started.

Here’s me receiving some excellent advice on setting the campaign up.

@RobH pointed out to me that you could make the argument that Halflings = Roden, and that set the ball rolling for me, as puzzle pieces clicked into place, and opened up a new way of looking at the setting (mixed metaphors ahoy!).

The basic change for our setting is that Halfling and Skaven come from the same Stock, and might each view themselves as the “original” Stock.

Partly old secret, partly 2 Peoples “separated at birth”. One lot look like Halflings, one lot look like Halfling-sized rats. There’s a connection, but nothing is certain or official.

So, we set up our campaign, and one of the players decides to play a Halfling, using the Roden lifepaths, and we end up with:

Sluice
(24 year old Halfling Cutpurse turned magical Albino)
Lifepaths: Born Below, The Gauntlet, Fingers, (Exile) Albino

The backstory part is that whilst scouting / hiding in the sewers, he comes across a secret ritual space used by the Society (= Skaven = “evil” Roden), and the place / warpstone (“magic B-movie-style glowing radiation rock”) makes him an albino, and makes him Gifted.

So, a Gifted Halfling, whose powers derive from running right into the dealings of their (Stock-) “cousins”. The first Gifted Halfling in the Empire (and not officially recognised - good thing one of the party members can forge an impressive looking Wizard’s Licence).

Pretty early on, the party encounters Skaven, with all of in their conniving, scheming, backstabbing, mad-scientist vibes.

Sluice (and Sluice’s player) leans into the “familial connection”, and sees them as people pretty early on.

The whole party is big on disguises and false identities (the only game I’ve had where I’ve repeatedly needed to check with each player “so, who are you right now… and who knows about this identity?”), so there’s definitely some disguising themselves as Skaven to get close and… do something.

Sluice pulls off some high-risk plans, and starts proclaiming himself as an apostle to the Skaven.

Does he believe it? No. Not yet.

Is he going to use this charlatan religious-con-man approach to sway various Skaven they meet? Yes. Absolutely.

Over time, he grows this into a philosophy / religious movement, and starts to see the potential to turn some of them away from some of their exploitative / backstabby / abusive society towards something with hope, and a different more integrating / accepting approach.

Sluice also starts to believe that he can (and should) make a difference, and that this is not “just a con”, but a mission.

The other characters? Not so much.

Indeed, Dieter Fuchs (our doctor/church investigator type) is all for a “lure them in together and then wipe them all out” kind of approach.

The players are really pushing into this beautifully, enjoying seeing their characters at loggerheads, and not rushing to force-resolve the issues between them (even in the face of lots of antagonism between them all).

We’re now something like 100-and-something sessions further down this road, and little / not-so-little communities of Skaven are being converted to Sluice’s philosophy.

One of their initial main reasons for going to the (Halfling) Moot was to set up a Skaven enclave there, and look to integrate them into Halfling society in a sleepy safe environment away from the glare and threat of the Empire at large.

Now to see if Sluice and Co can reconcile the Empire’s pantheon / doctrine, and Sluice’s “I made it up as I went along” / “I’m tweaking with aspects of the Skaven Horned Rat religion” into a coherent philosophy / doctrine… and then getting the Empire to accept it. Good luck, folks!

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