Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Gathering Storm part III: The Hills have Hooves

"The mountains that ring three sids of the natural lands of the Empire are like walls of a stout castle.  These days, however, those walls are so thinly manned that the castle looks set to fall."
- Albert Kornhammer, Priest of Sigmar

This week, our exhausted team of adventurers journeyed further into the dangerous Oberslecht swamplands...

After the harrowing battle last week, fighting off Beastmen at the burnt-down Eigel farm, our band of two stout dwarves and one shaken human journeyed toward the lone standing farm in this part of the Oberslecht swamp.  [We had our first no-show this game for the Warhammer campaign, which resulted in the dwarven thief character skulking off into the swamp to investigate on his own, along with a nasty red mark next to his name in the Book of Grudges.]

Background thus far:
- The party was hired by the Ubersreik Merchant Guild to seek out a disappeared merchant (and his precious guild ring) who was trading his goods in Stromdorf when he disappeared.
- After much questioning of the locals, they found out that one of the local inbred farmers was seen driving the merchant's cart and iconic white pony out of Stromdorf around the time he disappeared.
- While traveling to the farmhouse through the swamps, they saw a burning farm in the distance.  They rushed to help but were too late to save anyone, but fought off some of the remaining beastmen who had clearly set the fires.
- The characters this game:
    -- Drogar Hammerhand, Dwarven Surgeon/Barber
    -- Fignor Rafflefrank, Dwarven Huntsman
    -- Gunter Von Graf, Human Agent

Finally arriving at the Holtz farm, the players came upon two men screaming at eachother outside in the rain, with many farmhands gathered around pretending to work but watching the men argue.  All of the people at the farm were incredibly ugly, and gave off that unsettling feeling that is the trademark of looking upon hillfolk who have no qualms about the practice of incest.  Nevertheless, the players tried to put their best foot forward and talk to them rather than slaughter the farm populace wholesale (plus there were a LOT more of them than there were players).

Quickly the players realized that the argument was taking place between a member of the Holtz family and one of the surviving farmers from the burnt Eigel farm nearby.  Evidentally, the Eigel farmer, Tristan, was blaming the Holtz family for "settin' the hooved ones upon us!"  The Holtz family quickly denied such a claim and curiously yelled back to Tristan that the blame lay with his family stopping the sacrifices!  Suddenly, Tristan drew a knife and the player's realized they could no longer stand by and watch the argument unfold.  Drogar and Gunter quickly jumped into action, trying to calm the two sides of the disagreement with charm, wit, and guile.  Drogar the proud dwarf used all his dwarfish good sense and booming voice to convince the Holtz's not to attack Tristan for pulling a knife, and that they must clearly administer to this clearly upset young neighbor of theirs.

Gunter's player made an attempt to appeal to Tristan's sense of justice, and told him the beastmen needed to be culled, not the Holtz clan.  With that, Gunter threw the greatest die roll his character has ever seen! [However, Gunter's player, Steve, had to leave the room for an important phone call right before this, and had Mary, my wife, roll his dice in the interim!  Which explains why there is no chaos star.]

Gunter's heroic speech swayed Tristan's rage at the Holtz's and he lowered his knife and allowed himself to be taken away and comforted by the womenfolk of the Holtz family.

However, the players now knew that something was up with the Holtzes, and went about questioning them fiercely.  The inbred hillbillies were wowed by the dwarves, and a heartbreakingly ugly and hair-lipped girl of somewhere between twelve and fourteen years old was quite taken with Fignor. Her pathetic attentions to the gruff and rustic dwarf made the whole scene rather unpleasant for everybody.  Meanwhile Drogar and Gunter pumped the Holtz clan patriarch for information.  After a number of rolls and a few menacing glares by the rather large crowd of oversized hillbillies that was gathering, the Holtz finally told the players that the Eigel family used to make the Holtz's join them in making sacrifices of food, animals, beer, and occasionally people to the Beastmen, and in exchange the Beastmen would not attack the town or the surrounding farms.  But recently Old Man Eigel died, and his kids didn't keep the ceremonies going, so the Beastmen must've attacked the Eigel farm out of spite.  

Being a party of nonlocals, and mostly dwarves, the Matriarch of the Holtz clan decided to take a chance and revealed to them that she knew someone who could help them stop the beastman attacks.  She confirmed that they had taken the merchant and delivered him to a man, who she was willing to bring them to meet.  After some consideration and private discussion, and realization that without more melee-dwarves they wouldn't stand a chance against the entire Holtz clan, they reluctantly agreed.  But Fignor was sure to keep an eye on the old Holtz woman.

She led Gunter, Fignor and Drogar deeper into the swamp, were they came upon a rather large and twisted tree.  Around them were scattered animal and other bones, and various crates and boxes were lying about, empty and molded.  Gunter's vulnerable human senses picked up an amber-colored fog about and the acrid taste of chaos on the air, and he knew this place was immersed in magical energies.  

The Holtz woman called out into the fog, and soon a dark robed figure stood near the evil tree.  He carried a staff topped with animal skulls and had long claws for fingernails where it held the staff.  His tattered but voluminous robes covered his face and body, such that they could not make out his face.  But soon enough they came to their own conclusions about who, or what, they were speaking to.

The mysterious figure told them in a halting, eerie voice (occasionally interrupted by sudden and loud *bleating*) that they and all of their kind were in great danger.  He explained that the "Cloven Ones" had come to follow a new leader, Izka Madtooth, as the gods were showing favor to the ancient stone that Izka had tied to the tribe's herdstone.  This "lightning stone," as the creature called it, gathered the storms around it and gave the beastman chief a dark vigor, and a desire to tear the flesh of manlings!  The figure ordered the manlings to steal the lightning stone before Izka decided to attack the weak, and poorly-walled town!  

Not used to being ordered around, the dwarves and Gunter initially balked at such audacity from what is clearly some kind of mutant heretic beast-person.  However, they soon realized that they didn't actually want the town to be slaughtered, as they had grown to like some of the folk there.  However, they questioned the figure's motives, and asked for aid if he was so dead set on them doing his bidding.  He informed them that he was the mighty Foaldeath! Commander of Beasts!  Lord of the Swamplands!  The Ever-Knowing and All-Seeing!  To question him was to question the dark shadows of nature themselves!  Plus he really, really hated Izka Madtooth and with that magic stone gone the tribe would turn against Izka Madtooth and Foaldeath could challenge him for power.  

However, high rolls on the player's Insight checks revealed to them that Foaldeath had a more secret motive than just obtaining power.  Watching Foaldeath's body language showed there was some kind of concern for the well-being of the Holtz woman, and his actions may be in fact to protect her somehow.  Careful study of the Holtz woman at the same time confirmed that she too showed some kind of worry and affection for the Beastman Priest-Shaman creature that called himself "Foaldeath."  Not wanting to even know any more about what that relationship could possibly be about the players agreed to head toward the Herd's sacred ruins and steal the Lightning stone.  To assist them, Foaldeath gave the raccoon-skull charm atop his staff to Gunter and scratched out a rough map in the dirt of the swamp and where they needed to go.  Gunter accepted it to maintain the creature's trust (also, he suddenly remembered about the page from his book he saw back in the guard's tower, and thought it might refer to this creature).

Heading further into the swamp, I called upon each of them to make a check based on what they were doing. Drogar was pushing the cart to carry the stone through the swamp, so was required to make an athletics check.  His stout dwarven muscles served him well and he passed easily.  Gunter (sitting in the cart) used his guile and great experience fighting and speaking with Beastmen to anticipate where the beastmen would lay ambushes based on his copy of Foaldeath's map, and the party successfully avoided the beastmen patrols.  [However, I made Gunter roll a corruption check for trying to think like a beastman, which he subsequently failed and took on another corruption point. Yay!]  Fignor was leading the party through the swamp and trying to find the safest and quickest way to the herdstone, and with the help of some of his talents and fortune he rolled incredibly well...

That incredible success and Sigmar's comet meant that they had arrived completely unseen by the beastmen, and arrived just in time to see the huge Izka Madtooth dancing around the lightning stone with his tribe, reveling in its power!  Every few minutes lightning struck the stone, and the beastmen would roar with approval.  The number of beastmen, however, was far more than the party could possibly take on, and they though that maybe Foaldeath hadn't told them everything about what they were supposed to face...

... which we'll find out next time on... THE GATHERING STORM!

[End of Session]

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