Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gathering Storm: A Time to Mourn

Necromancers? Diseased townsfolk?  Myserious Mages?  Drunk Dwarves?

It must be Warhammer night!

In our last few sessions (not posted) the PCs attended the trial of the Holtz family and Kiela Cobblepot, nefarious kidnappers and murderers of Stromdorf. After being attacked that night by the newly-risen undead corpses of the convicted (and hung) defendants, Burgomeister Alder finally requested an audience with the party.

Seems there must be a Necromancer about, what with zombies marching right into town and all.  So the burgomeister asked the party to go get Brother Grabbe, the nearby graveyard caretaker and local Priest of Morr.

Since the last update, we've had a few players join the crew.  One pulled a Grey Wizard during random character creation and the other pulled a Servant.  They, along with the gang of dwarves and gangly Gunter have been fighting beastmen and solving mysteries ever since.  

The gang of adventurers decided to walk to the graveyard which was only about a mile away, across the river Teufel.  They came to the ferry river crossing, but the ferryman wasn't there, and with the wooden raft on the other side.  However they did catch a young waif following them, Waltrout Grabtree, who said he wanted to visit the Priest of Morr but was afraid to go alone. The most gregarious of dwarves, Rustyguts McSnarf, decided the best way to get the ferry from the far side of the river and bring it back was to give the waif two silvers and throw him in the river.  After getting bitten by a number of Reik eels, the bleeding NPC orphan made it to the other end.  It took some waving of more silver by the Grey Wizard and friendly smiling by the Servant girl to convince the quivering orphan to return with the ferry.

It reminded me as a DM: if you want your players to think their way through a spacial "gotta get to the other side" puzzle, never give them an NPC to throw across it.

Arriving at the graveyard they were blocked by the huge gate and 15-ft wall around the yard.  Without the dwarf thief to pick the lock or climb the wall (he had to miss the session) they again relied on the sad little soaked orphan to lead them to a broken part of the wall they could pass through into the graveyard proper.

Soon after wandering to the center of the graveyard they were beset on all sides by freshly risen zombies.   For this battle, I didn't use miniatures or battlemats, I just had a 5-piece tracking chart and figured they'd be attacked by full henchman groups every round.  For every group they slaughtered in a single turn they'd be opening up a pathway toward whatever direction they wanted to go (one track further on the chart, from space 1 to space 5, or so I thought).  As the zombies were thinner near the crypt, and they needed to find the Priest, they headed that direction.

Here's where the magic of Warhammer along with some stout dwarven fighting prowess beguiles the best of plans of the DM.  Basically, after the dwarves obliterated the first group of zombies, the Grey Mage and his Servant ran to the tomb and powered up his spells.  As the second wave of zombies came, he cast a spell to summon Shadows all over the graveyard, rolling a Sigmar's comet in the process.  The darkness resulted in a four Black [B] dice penalty to all sight based actions for everyone!  However Dwarves can see in the dark and, with some discussion about the chances of hitting a gravestone with your shin while running in the dark (ouch!), they easily side-stepped the zombies and ran to the tomb (bypassing the whole battle-to-the-door tracking chart idea).  The whole party scurried inside and closed and barred the crypt door just as the huge mass of zombies reached the portal.

This is where I told my players to actually pack up all their cards and character sheet and stuff and go downstairs to my basement, where I had set up a table covered in skulls and various leftover Halloween bric-a-brac the night before.  I put a strobe-light/thunderstorm noisemaker thing in the closet next to the stairs, so it sounded like thunder outside with flashes of lightning barely coming through the cracks in the door.

I described the crypt as extra-dark (4 [B] penalty dice), but that there were lit candles in various alcoves all over the bone-covered walls, which they could take.  This I represented by using those flickering battery-operated tea lights you can get at Michaels or off Amazon.  I said they could move those around however they wanted, but it was still really dark in the basement.  To represent Dwarf's improved vision down there I gave each dwarf player a green lightstick. (Dwarf eyes get 2 less [B] penalty dice).  I had a separate shielded box I set up off to the side with a glowing skull in it that the players could go over to to roll their dice (so they could see them fully and read the dice pool, but wouldn't ruin the nightvision of everyone else in the room).

In the center of the table I had a terrain board I made of cracked flagstones and rubble, and used the dungeon pieces from the Castle Ravenloft board game to track their progress through the dungeon.  It became a true crawl since everything was so dark anyway, and as they moved I put pieces down in front of them.  However, unlike most games where maps are drawn/built/etc, as they left a piece of the dungeon map I removed the piece behind them (it was "lost in the darkness").  Meaning the characters could only see a couple of "map squares" in any direction, so they could easily get lost, a la the original Dragon Warrior for the NES (at least until you got the Radiant spell in that game).  The players took the hint and one of the dwarves immediately started drawing the map as they went.

They wandered through the crypt for a while, finding some hidden potions and a scroll in the embalming workshop.  The party found a font of holy water with iconography around it of the water being poured on weapons and clothing in priestly rituals.  The Wizard stuck his Staff-sling into the water, which promptly blessed the weapon to be extra-bashy against undead, but used up all the water.  I of course expected one of the, say, melee fighters to bless their weapon, but instead we now have a Wizard with a magic staff-sling that he can hold onto while he casts spells from the back line.

Eventually the players came to a huge Ossuary in the crypt, which is a room filled with skull piles and the walls are covered in artfully-placed old bones (the priest has to empty the old graves to make way for the newly dead, so he decorates the crypt with bone art all over the walls).  As the players (as well as Waltrout, the bleeding terrified NPC orphan) cautiously entered the huge room the doors slammed shut behind them and the bones on the walls started moving, with complete skeletons dropping from all sides (I described it like in Aliens where the Aliens are camouflaged against the tunnel walls and start dropping down around the marines).

Skeleton Surprise Attack!

Sadly, due to the lateness of the hour and the fact that we are all adults now who have to work in the morning, this is where I stopped the session.  Next time we'll be starting in media res, in the middle of a deadly skeleton-filled crypt, which is of course any DM's favorite place to start a session.
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