Wow,

It’s been a while since I updated my blog (WARNING – This will be a very, very, long post). As you will see there have been some pretty big changes on the site. Rather than being a separate general hobby blog, I have added “A Study in Green” to my website, where I have a selection of 15mm miniatures for sale.

Anyway, A few of weeks ago, a good friend of mine suggested that a couple of us get together and play a session of Hackmaster one weekend (I cleared it with TLC and readily agreed). Some of you may recall that I ran a couple of Hackmaster 5e games a while ago, which were great fun. I really like Hackmaster 5e, it’s a very intuitive system and, once you get the hang of using the count up system, makes an awful lot more sense than most of RPG’s I have played over the many, many, many years I’ve been doing this.

Now, in my last games I set the adventure in GW’s “Old World”, not only because it’s a setting that I remember fondly from my first forays into the RPG world, but also that it provides the level of “grittiness” that I wanted – I have had enough of the high magic settings favoured in most D&D games (Forgotten Realms, in particular), I wasn’t really looking for “Grimdark”, but maybe a sort of Grimy Dusk would do very nicely indeed……..

Now, because I was using this setting, and because I have always loved the “Old World” (as it was portrayed in WHFR 1e in particular), I really wanted to get as much of that across as possible. One aspect of WHFR that I have always liked is the Careers system – not so much as a way of progressing the character, but as a source of immediate inspiration for a PC’s background and a method of providing diversity to the characters. By way of contrast, look at fighters or rangers in D&D (or even to some extent in Hackmaster) – they are all the same, they all start with the same benefits/penalties based on their class, and whilst there is often some scope for personalisation in terms of bonuses, talents or skills, anyone playing one of these classes tends towards the same, rather limited, selection.

That’s not what I wanted, I wanted a variety; I wanted talents, proficiencies and skills that real people may have had; but which adventurers would not necessarily be queuing up to buy, I wanted these to be real people, to have grown fed up with their hum-drum lives as watchmen or rat-catchers and decided to embark on the open road to seek fame and fortune …….. So, to this end, I transposed the skills and proficiencies from the WHFR 1e starting careers into Hackmaster (choosing things that were generally equivalent between the two systems, made sense, or that I just plain liked the look of). I removed all the starting bonuses from the Hackmaster Fighter and Ranger classes (for these were the only two classes that we were going to be using, other than a Cleric) and replaced them with the transposed bonuses from the starting careers (the characters would still progress as their chosen class, and things like weapon specialisation costs etc would remain unchanged).  In terms of points cost, I calculated a cost for the new careers and simply applied the differential to the starting cost provided in the Hackmaster 5e PHB.

Now, as there were only going to be two players for the session, I requested that they each take a pair of characters – whilst this would add a slight layer of complexity, it did mean that they may survive more than five minutes into the game.

Having rolled their stats and picked their races, I had the players roll randomly to determine their starting class, we ended up with:

An Elven Muleskinner (Ranger) – cost of minus thirteen points (i.e. the payer received thirteen more points to spend)

A Human Bodyguard (Fighter) – cost of an additional nine points

A human Cleric of Sigmar (Hackmaster standard rules for a cleric of the Truth)

An Elf Marine (Fighter) – cost of an additional ten points

Each character started with the equipment appropriate for their career and the usual starting cash – i.e. the marine started with a hand-weapon, ring-mail, rope, and grapple whereas the muleskinner started with just a waterproof hat and coat.

I also started them with an NPC cart driver and pony, Bernold “the Brave”, rather slow and stupid, this weaselly little man who would do his best to stay out of combat and generally stay alive and unharmed – they were currently paying him 4cp a day to accompany them on their way to Altdoft, in search of the aforementioned fame and fortune.

In terms of the actual game, because I hope that we will be able to run a few more sessions, I decided to convert the rather excellent “Restless Dead” campaign into the Hackmaster rules, and have a crack at that. To that end, I built a converter in MS Excel to help get the appropriate character scores from the old WHFR stat blocks and set to work drawing some maps.

SPOILER ALERT: DETAILS OF THE WHFR CAMPAIGN “RESTLESS DEAD” ARE DISCUSSED BELOW – IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THESE DETAILS, STOP READING HERE……

ACT 1 – A NIGHT OF BLOOD.

Summary:

This part of the campaign is a simple introduction to the rules, this would prove useful as it had been a while since any of us had played and Hackmaster combat can be slightly tricky, especially if using manoeuvres or movement in combat etc . It is included to give the setting some character, as well as soften the players up for when they make their way to the Hooded Man tavern in Act 2.

Back to the Game:

The scene opens on a dark and stormy night, it has been raining heavily for several hours and our brave heroes are struggling through a thick quagmire of mud on the Talebec Road, the river is in full flood and everyone is cold, wet and miserable (with the exception of the rather smug Elven Muleskinner, with his waterproof hat and coat) – everyone is in a high state of alert, as the cleric casts the guttering torch around (his shield is on the back of the cart), to light the way, as strange noises have been emanating from the forest for the last half hour or so, and it sounds like they are coming closer……..

With a crash of thunder a dark shape leaps from the forest onto the path ahead. The adventurers see the torch light reflected in the eyes of a magnificent stag as it looks in panic back at the forest, then to the adventurers before it leaps into the foaming, roiling waters of the river Talebec, from whence it is soon carried out of view.

This does not bode well……

Not more than a minute later, six grotesquely warped figures rush from the undergrowth, three to the front of the cart, and three to the rear, the party have been attacked by a group of Beastmen and chaos mutants. The hunting, turned ambush party consists of:

Two Beastmen, one with a Bulls Head and thick scaly skin (armed with a battle axe and medium shield), and one with long claws and the face and long legs of a dog

Four Chaos Mutants, two wearing nothing but a loin cloth and covered in thick fur (a lot like one of my players, if you’re ever unlucky enough to catch him in just his pants…..), wielding clubs and each carrying a small shield; the other two armed only with daggers (one with eyes on stalks and the other with tentacles instead of fingers)

Below is a quick sketch of the initial ambush

Things started well for the PC’s, as the mutants left flank advanced cautiously through the mud, the dog headed Beastman on the right flank (with his increased speed provided by his long dog legs) ran forward and took a swing at the Cleric – unfortunately for me, the Beastman missed….. badly, the Cleric however performed a near perfect defence (and rolled very well for damage) and with a swift kick to the happy sack (and a failed TOP Save), “Dog Face” went down.

Back over on the left, the PC’s had advanced, with the Bodyguard hacking down one of the “Furries” (another failed TOP save put him out of action) – this was just starting to look like nothing but a warm up session (which, after all was what it was meant to be), when things started to go wrong …..

The Muleskinner on the Right was TOPPED by the remaining “Furry” and the Cleric was getting badly mauled by “Eye Stalks”. On the left, the Bodyguard was Topped by “Bull Head” and whilst the Marine was able to temporarily take down “Fingers”, he too quickly fell (albeit only briefly – he just failed his TOP roll) to the Beastman’s mighty axe.

With nowhere else to run and the forces of Chaos closing in, even Bernold had to step into the fray, jumping forwards to help the Cleric (who was now being double teamed by “Eye Stalks” and one of the “Furries”), all the while grumbling about the need for a pay-rise.

Before “Bull Head” could chop the Marine into little bite-size pieces, the Bodyguard regained his footing and delivered a killing blow to his TOPPED “Furry”. Bull head rushed in, acting at the same time as the Bodyguard, the two combatants managed to TOP each other, with “Bull Head” being down until the end of the fight.

In the meantime, over on the right, things had gone from bad to worse, the Cleric was down (in minus HP) and poor Bernold was unconscious, having been hit on the head one time to many with a very large club, luckily the Muleskinner had recovered, killed “Dog Face” and managed to TOP “Eye Stalks”, leaving just the remaining “Furry” to deal with on that flank. He was quickly joined by the Marine (when he regained consciousness) and, between them,  they swiftly put the remaining “Furry” to the sword.

Whilst the two Elves set about dispatching the chaos survivors on the right, both the Bodyguard and “Fingers” recovered from their failed TOP saves, and whilst the mutant was able to dodge the subsequent blow, the Bodyguard was not so lucky on the return flurry – a series of penetrating dice later he was suffering a 22HP wound and was well into minus HP.

Finally, “Fingers” was dispatched and any remaining chaos survivors quickly dealt with.

Well, that had been a lot more painful than I had hoped, with two players and their NPC were either unconscious or dying. To make matters worse their only healing was in the form of the badly mauled Cleric and only the dying Bodyguard had points in First Aid (although, both did pass the subsequent stabilisation tests).

This put me at a bit of a dilemma, there was no way that they could go on to the Hooded Man in this condition. Not be rerouted, I had them load the bodies (gently) onto the cart and lead it to the next coaching inn along the river (I moved the Hooded Man a little further downstream), where they could stay and recover from their wounds……..

ACT 1(b) – SEVENTEEN DAYS AND A WHOLE LOT OF CASH LATER

That’s right, seventeen days – that’s how long it took just to get the worst injured party members back up to around half health, that time includes the magical healing that the cleric was able to provide when he finally came round. There were some very nasty blows in that fight and healing in Hackmaster can take a very, very long time.

I wasn’t too harsh on them in terms of cost, but I did require that they purchase two rooms at the inn for the duration of their stay (at one silver per room per night plus two copper pieces for stabling for the pony). This, plus paying Bernold’s daily wage, and allowing them to pay to have their armour repaired in the inn’s smithy, pretty much wiped out any cash that they had left, but at least they were up and running again (albeit still with some pretty nasty wounds) and ready for Act 2 – The Hooded Man.

ACT 2 – THE HOODED MAN

Summary:

The PC’s stop at a riverside inn, the staff have been slain by  a group of cultists led by a man called Hans Jinkerst. The Cultists pose as the owner and staff of the Hooded Man and try to poison the PC’s to keep them out of the way while they enact a ceremony of Daemon summoning in the Shrine.

Back to the Game:

It’s day eighteen and our heroes are, again, making their way along the Talabec Road towards Altdorf in pursuit of that elusive fame and fortune. Many of them are still bearing wounds from their previous encounter so I decided to be nice to them and not throw in any random encounters along the route. It’s getting late in the day and it’s raining hard (again), ahead they see a palisade wall of a fortified coaching inn, the sign outside identifies it as “The Hooded Man”. However, before they can settle into a nice warm bed for the night, they must cross a tributary of the river Talabec. There is a ferry wharf a short distance ahead and a bell on a pole which is used alert the ferryman in the hut opposite. As they approach they notice that the ferry is already on their side, but there is no sign of the hired help.

Quite rightly, this strikes them as strange, surely the ferryman should be in his hut on a night like this….. Not to be distracted from the thought of a warm fire and plentiful ale, the heroes pull themselves across and approach the palisade wall (for some reason they do not search the ferryman’s hut, so miss out on the chance to partly replenish their dwindling cash reserves – there was the sum of twelve silver pieces in small change in the cash box stowed in the desk drawer). They approach the palisade from the side entrance and find it unlocked, as they do so, they can hear the sounds of merriment coming from within the bar, but also, over the rain, the sounds of distressed horses coming from the stables.

Remembering that they also have a pony to accommodate, they decide to investigate the stables. As they lift the bar from the door, four horses bolt out (knocking several characters over and giving Bernold a slight wound – he failed his dodge save, but his leather armour stopped most of the damage), they circle the courtyard a single time before they away at a gallop into into the night, via the side door that the PC’s have inadvertently left wide open (the Altdorf coaching line will not be happy – for it is they who own both the horses and the carriage that is stored in the coach house).  With the horses gone, the PC’s look around the lower floor of the stables, but can see nothing that would cause the horses such alarm.

Seeking answers, the Muleskinner climbed quickly into the hayloft (by which time, unbeknownst to the players,  Grat the Spider mutant has climbed out of the trapdoor and is hiding on the roof, using his feet suckers to ensure that he doesn’t slip off onto the floor below), wherein he sees the body of a young boy, his head clearly smashed by a heavy blow – not wishing to disturb the body (or put himself at risk of attack) he climbs back down and passes the news to the rest of the party.

After a brief discussion, they elect the Cleric (as the most respectable looking member of the party) to go to the bar and let those within know that someone has murdered the stable-boy.

With the knocking on the door, the sound of merriment stops abruptly (very “Slaughtered Lamb” sort of atmosphere), the sounds of hushed and hurried conversation can be heard (although the words themselves not discerned) – in due course, a small slot opens in the door, from which a humongously fat man abruptly tells the Cleric, in no uncertain terms, to “push off” and that the inn is full to capacity. However when news of the stable-boy’s death is relayed, the slot closes, more hushed and hurried conversation can be heard and the door finally swings open……

Now joined by the rest of the party, they Cleric enters the welcoming warmth of the bar room, for a fully booked inn it strikes the players as odd that there is but a single customer present – seated at a table by the fire (the fat landlord has by now retired behind the bar and is nervously polishing glasses, whilst an odd looking bug-eyed boy mops the floor). The seated man introduces himself as “Hans Jinkerst”, a Road Warden and long term patron of the Hooded Man Inn, he orders some drinks for the players and begs them tell him what business they have abroad on a dreadful night such as this.

General chit chat ensues with Hans goes to the bar several times to order more drinks (each time I give some of the characters a chance to see the large blood stain on his back, and each time they fail their Observation roll – they do spot it much later on in the night, which is lucky as it will prove important in later parts of the campaign), this continues until Otto (for he is the fat Landlord) approaches, grumbling that expects that the players want feeding as well, whereon he heads to the kitchen to prepare some suitably nourishing gruel. Hans states that he too is a little peckish and will place his order as well.

Again, this strikes the players as odd, amidst much scrabbling through character sheets, they determine that the Muleskinner does indeed have the best Sneaking score, and he successfully follows Hans to the Kitchen – on the way he notices that a carpet have been recently removed from the hallway (again odd). Now at the, slightly ajar, door to the kitchen he hears Hans talking with Otto….

“Don’t Panic Otto, they are only travellers. Tzeentch will be pleased to have their souls as well.  Put the Kurts in their food and we’ll deal with them later…..”

Well, that’s put a slightly different spin on things doesn’t it, from thinking that maybe they had disturbed a gang of outlaws, the characters now find themselves dealing with a murderous den of chaos cultists……

Arriving back at his chair just as Otto brings out the gruel, the Muleskinner quickly tells the other players not to touch the food, unfortunately the ravenous Bernold manages to get a couple of mouthfuls down before anyone can stop him. Otto leaves the less than appetising meal and heads back out to the kitchen to clean up. With Otto gone and Hans not yet returned, the Muleskinner relays what he heard and the Cleric, who (with the aid his Botany skill) tells the others that Kurts is a derivative of a common enough plant, but when prepared correctly it will cause drowsiness or, if consumed in large enough quantity, will cause the imbiber to enter a death like trance for around 24 hours – As you would expect, Bernold is not happy and is, again, voicing the opinion that perhaps he needs to be charging danger money on top of his currently miniscule wage……

Thinking quickly, before Hans can return, the Bodyguard grabs all of the bowls (and what remains of Bernold’s meal) and empties it into a coal scuttle next to the fire, getting back to his seat just as the devious Road Warden re-enters the room. Seeing the empty bowls he seems pleased and announces that he will head to bed as he will be leaving at first light on his Road warden patrol (in reality, he is heading down to the secret shrine, below the cellar, to check on  the preparations for the forthcoming summoning).

Otto then comes back into the bar, and announces that he wants to close up, so will escort the players to their rooms. “Their rooms” being a cramped and dirty dormitory, upstairs at the side of the house which can sleep up to six (clearly not very valued) customers, as the door closes the payers hear the distinctive ”Clunk” on a key turning in the lock….

Poor Bernold quickly dropped into a deep, deep, deep, sleep……

This put my players at a bit of a dilemma, what should they do next???? After a brief comflab, they decided that they would be best to hold up in the room and wait for the inevitable rush from the forces of chaos in one final assault…………. What you see here dear reader, is the typical thought process of a PC, they often believe that the entire story revolves around them, rather than them just being, as they were in this instance, simply an unexpected nuisance to the bad guys’ existing plans. Anyway, I needed a way to get them out of the room and back to investigating the Inn if they were ever going to stop the ritual. I thought I had got lucky when one of the characters was posted as lookout at the window, this allowed them to see Hans walking out to the stables and returning with Grat, the spider mutant (who had been busy finishing off his feast of fresh stable-boy, but, luckily, was too full to make a start on Bernold’s pony). Unfortunately, even with his Elf ears, the Muleskinner was unable to hear them discussing “the Ritual” over the sound of the rain, neither could he make out the words forming on Han’s lips (he failed, miserably, both his Listening and Lip Reading rolls). So, as Hans and Grat headed down to the temple to start the summoning with the characters none the wiser to what was going on.

Second chance, I had Fangor (the Bug eyed fellow who had been mopping behind the bar then the PC’s arrived) head up to the room and listen at the door (I had thought that the players may try to jump him) – Thankfully, the players passed their listen rolls to hear his approach, but rather than take the bait, they decided to stay quiet – thus Fangor headed back downstairs with the impression that he drugged food had taken effect.

Third and final chance (it was time to bring things to a crisis), Fangor returned to the door half an hour later, by which time the ritual had started. Perhaps he was happy in the knowledge that they characters were all I a death like trance and so was not being a careful as perhaps he should have been. He was intending to bring down the drugged PC’s and make them a sacrifice to the Lord of Change. At his approach the PC’s decided to hide in the beds and surprise the bug eyed freak (their words, not mine – seemed a little hurtful to me – mutants have feelings too).

As he turned the key, they waited……..

As he opened the door, they waited……..

As he put the lantern down on the floor, they waited……..

As he reached under the covers to grab the ankle of the nearest occupant, they waited………

As he started to pull, they leapt out to attack (about bloody time!!!!!!!!!!), with outraged cries of “Haha, now we have you foul fiend!!” amongst other such heroic and manly mutterings)

Unfortunately, being in bed, covered in think blankets, in armour with a variety of swords, axes and other pointy implements of death does not make this sort of outlandish flourish a simple matter (I imagine it’s a lot like when I try to change the duvet on my king size bed – I can be lost in there for days). As such, I imposed a time penalty to any actions that they wanted to make, meaning that Fangor (who scored really low on his initiative roll) was able to bolt away down the corridor, with the PC’s following in hot pursuit. As he headed down the stairs and into the bar, the PC’s slowed, fearing an ambush, but consequently this gave Fangor plenty of time to vault the bar and disappear down the trap door to the cellar, and from there to the shrine to warn the other cultists – The PC’s searched the bar, discovering the open trap door into the cellar, wherein they found a blood trail leading them to the secret entrance to the shrine, along with a large roll of bloodstained carpet.

Of course, by this time, Fangor has had a chance to warn the other cultists that the characters are approaching. Whilst Hans continued with the incarnations, with the aid of Otto and Grat; Fangor and a hideous skull faced mutant called Wilhelm attempted to slow the players at the foot of the temple stairs.

As the players rush down the staircase, the Bodyguard leading the way, the can make out a large shrine, upon which is a statue – the statue appears to move and twist (was this for real, or just some kind of hell?) as three characters around it chant in an unknown language (that’s right, dear reader, they are actually reciting Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” – albeit in Dark Tongue), on the alter is an unconscious human woman, with her hands bound above her head (a passenger from the coach, who just happened to be staying at the inn)

The Bodyguard gets things rolling with a rush at Wilhelm, TOPPING him instantly. The two elves both follow up, one of them wounding Fangor, but not enough to take him down.

The chanting intensifies…………

Fangor strikes back, wounding the Marine, but not enough to force a TOP roll.

The chanting intensifies…………

Another strike pushes Fangor back five feet, but, again, he makes his TOP save (he’s running low of HP by this point)

The chanting intensifies…………

The Cleric moves down the steps and destroys the Wilhelm’s head with a well-placed blow of his war-hammer

The chanting is reaching a crescendo…………

A well placed crit by the Bodyguard leaves Fangor without his head, and as the players move up to disrupt the ritual, Hans plunges the dagger down into the heart of his unconscious victim. There is an audible shudder as the statue begins to pulsate, and as everyone looks on (the players in horror, the cultists in awe), the statue takes on a pink hue and transforms into a cackling daemon, long spindly arms tipped in claws and its head set deep within its round chest.

The Pink Horror (for that is what now stands before the characters) laughs manically and projects a wall of flame across Otto, the Bodyguard and the Muleskinner – whilst Otto makes his roll, both players fail their TOP saves (the Bodyguard taking the full 12HP following a failed Dodge save, the Muleskinner only taking 6, having passed his), meaning that they will be out of action for around 20 seconds each, meanwhile the Marine engages Grat, and Hans, now realising that he cannot control the daemon without a binding spell, desperately seeks a way out of the shrine (he knows about the secret door, but in his haste cannot find it) – it is at this point, that several of the characters notice the large blood stain on the back of his coat (finally!!!!).

After what seems like an age, Hans locates the lever, the secret door opens and he scurries away (he will be important later, so I really needed to keep him alive), the Marine kills Grat with a critical hit that near severs his arm, but he cannot get to the secret door before it closes. The Pink Horror finally kills Otto (but it’s actually pretty close).

The Marine and the Cleric now engage the last remaining enemy in the shrine, after a flurry of misses from both sides the Marine lands another critical hit and as the Horror lunges for him he plants the sword deep into its torso, leaning back he kicks out with his feet and launches the body of the horror back a full ten feet onto the back wall of the shrine, just in time for both the Muleskinner and the Bodyguard to make their recovery from the failed TOP saves.

As they survey the wreckage and check their wounds, the Marine notices that the body of the Horror has started to writhe; in the flickering torch light it appears to be changing colour,

From pink to red,

From red to purple,

From purple to blue,

The body splits in two, now standing before them are two Blue Horrors, slightly smaller than their pink skinned kin, they laugh the same manic laugh and make to attack. Thankfully for the players, these daemons are pretty easy to kill and in short order they lay, nothing but pools of demonic ectoplasm, on the shrine floor.

Having had enough of fighting and not getting paid, the players decide to ransack the shrine, looking for anything that they can swipe. Alas, each one fails their Scrutiny check, meaning that they fail to find the loose stone and the box of assorted coins (around 240sp in coins and jewellery) – they really could have done with that.

Tired, wounded and frustrated the make camp in the bar, determined to at least get a good nights sleep.

The next morning they are awoken by shouts from outside, calls for them to unlock the door and come out with the weapons down and their hands up. A patrol of Road wardens has come across the Inn and, seeing no signs of life, but having spied the a group of heavily armed ner’ do wells asleep in the bar-room, assumed them to be bandits who had robbed and murdered the inn keeper and any patrons.

Finally, after much discussion, accusation and calls for a “good old hangin’”, the bodies of the cultists are presented, which is not only enough to satisfy the Road wardens that there need be no summary justice dispensed today, it is also enough for the leader to write the characters a deed of payment for services rendered, this letter need only be presented to the town treasurer in the nearby town of Volgen and the PC’s will receive a bounty for the four mutants they killed in the shrine (10sp for each mutant).

And that dear reader is that, we leave our brave heroes heading off in the direction of Volgen to collect their well-earned bounty – surely nothing untoward will happen to them on the way…….

‘til next time

FC