Monday, March 26, 2012

Stuff I Would Like to Run

The Student Nationals are coming up in a few weeks time and I am hastily prepping my scenario, Vessels. It's a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition scenario, and I will not say anymore about it for now, though I've some vague notion of publishing it on my site for posterity after the Nationals, along with some of the amusing PCs I created.

I ran a playtest of it this weekend in lieu of our regular WFRP 3E game and it was a lot of fun despite the fact only 1/2 the scenario was statted and written (though I was using monsters out the books, except in one case).

It overran dangerously, but our group is prone to much faffing and silliness. This session was no different, but there was significant character development for every PC, which is difficult to do in a one-off, as well as 3-4 combats - including one very memorable one where the missus managed to mind-control a very, very powerful monster in such a way as the other PCs made mince-meat of it.

The only real rub was we only had 5 players, and I had designed the scenario for 6-7, including hastily genning one of the PCs the night before.

This means I've been bitten by the DMing bug, and there are a couple of WFRP campaigns I've got real interested in running. Sadly my only outlet is our WFRP3E game, which is a lot fun, but lately I seem to count down the days til our next game. I do plan to do a review of the system here (it is a bizarre experimental hybrid of board/card game and RPG) but the following factors have prevented me:-

a) It'd be -very- long.
b) It'd be fairly negative, though I've thought of some positive things to say - most of the 3 WFRP3E scenarios I've played or read have seemed pretty good. The only real let-down was, ironically, the major campaign boxed set we played through, though it's not the first WFRP scenario to have those flaws.
c) I worry my DM might hit me with a stick as he has probably invested £200+ (seriously, this is not a cheap game) in buying most of Fantasy Flight Games's shiny but shallow boxed sets and has every right to feel defencive of the system.
d) I don't own it, beyond some pdfs I've pulled off the web.

In the mean time I've become quite keen on WFRP2E. In addition to my playtest I ran an old converted scenario, Night of Blood at one of the Derby meetups I actually managed to make. The system holds up quite well, and I've a hankering to run a proper campaign, though that may wait until I finally get a bigger place to live with a games room. But here they are:-

The Dying of the Light

Mine! Mine I say!
I won this module at the Student Nationals in the late 90s when it was held in Glasgow for being the team leader and for us coming 2nd/3rd/4th or something I've long since forgotten. I presume Hogshead provided the prize support. Since no-one else claimed it, it sat on my shelf for years until I started buying the WFRP2E line. It seems to have accumulated significant value on Ebay.

Tangent 1: Not that I plan to part with it - it's mine, MINE, and was probably the only thing I ever got, in lieu of actual gratitude for being DURPS president and organising the society's nationals trip at a time when I had no car, much less a sat-nav and the only driver in the club who'd give me a lift didn't know where Glasgow was. One fellow even wanted an impromptu election at the Nationals to take the post of president off me when it looked like we might actually win, which was gratitude for ya and cemented my "take a hike you ingrates" attitude towards any overtures to get me back on the committee. Anyway, rant over. I didn't feel bad about keeping the module.

This is actually a set of linked adventures by different authors set in Marienburg and the Wasteland, Warhammer's answer to Amsterdam and the Netherlands. It's an interesting scenario as it gives the DM a lot of free-reign in running the scenario. A lot of the text is very conversational, "You might want to do this... if they do this, consider having maguffin behave like X, Y or Z, depending on which you think is more interesting"

It's fairly short (probably it would take 3-4 months of weekly play), but relatively epic in scope. There's some weird goings on in Marienburg, some talk of an eclipse of the sun by the Chaos moon and the city being destroyed. The heroes are drafted in through a rather long prologue that tries to leave the "you meet a man in a bar and he hires you to do the scenario" cliche behind, but instead assumes you've given the PCs a hook to go look up an NPC... who begs them to do the scenario. I'd probably tinker with this - there's some good Marienburg stuff in Warpstone to kick off this campaign with.

There's some crazy stuff in this module. Very little of it is set in the city, it is mainly a wilderness trek with a few rural encounters and sinister apocolyptic tones. One long-banished Warhammer/Heroquest monster makes a welcome entry in a particularly apocolyptic chapter of the scenario that I'm amazed made it past Games Workshop's sanctioning nazis as not only does it feature these creatures but it references Malal, a chaos god that Games Workshop technically do not own copyright on.

Some of Dying of the Light's maguffins are a bit suspect. There's a NPC that certain more psychotic players will want to murder (and only vague suggested consequences for doing so). There's the old magic compass maguffin, basically leading the PCs by the nose. Aside from the fact the writers forgot the PCs might try to triangulate their intended destination it suffers from the old RPG trope of being told "this trail/map/ is the safest route to your destination" and discovering it leads you through a series of suspiciously planned encounters and ambushes. It's pretty easy to fix that plothole in the scenario though.

Another downside is that it is a WFRP1E supplement (although 1E and 2E are pretty easy to convert on the fly. Don't get me started about 3E though!). Perhaps the last disappointment is this is for 2nd career characters. In WFRP you often start with a random and often pretty lame career - such as Rat Catcher or Servant (though WFRP2E wittled this away by making most careers fairly combat-orientated, nobles were no longer fops but deadly fencers, and WFRP3E starting characters are all superpowered gurus). Your 2nd career is typically chosen by you and is a more "adventurer" career. It's also typically when you finally get spells if you are a priest, or decent spells if you are a wizard.

The Thousand Thrones

The rather spiffy cover is actually a pretty major spoiler.
The Thousand Thrones is an epic, sprawling beast of a campaign taking PCs from Marienburg into the Empire, and eventually into the distant north. It was designed to use a lot of the WFRP 2nd Edition sourcebooks, such as the Kislev sourcebook. In many ways it is the WFRP 2nd Edition to the Enemy Within - although this is one book with numerous web-enhancements, rather than a series of books.

Set shortly after the Storm of Chaos (a large wargame event that saw Chaos overwhelm the north of the Empire and a possible reincarnation of the Emperor-God Sigmar managed to defeat its leader at the cost of his own life) this is one of the few Warhammer 2nd Edition scenarios that actively builds upon the events of that campaign rather than generically paying lip-service as part of Games Workshop's edicts at the time.

Tangent: It's worth noting the designers of WFRP suggested they make the rulebook setting neutral (i.e. pre-Storm of Chaos) and release books and adventures to handle the Storm of Chaos. Lead designer Chris Pramas suggested options for letting you play before the Storm, one during and one in the Age of the Three Emperors, but no, Games Workshop knows best. Incidentally the new WFRP is set before the Storm of Chaos.

A possible new incarnation of Sigmar has come to prominence, and has been blessed by the exiled Grand Theogonist Esmer. The PCs must chase after this charismatic avatar, leading to all sorts of interesting scenarios. It's a complete 256-page campaign crammed with information (the font size is criminally small) that could easily take a year or so to play through (though the campaign could end earlier depending on player decisions). I mananged to get it for about £15 on Ebay so I'm giggling.

In many ways it calls back to Dying of the Light. It is written by several authors and each chapter is a mini-scenario in itself. It begins in Marienburg but sends the PCs away chasing a maguffin fairly early on. It is probably best not played by ultra-lawful characters (no zealots, witch hunters and fire-brand wielding priests of Sigmar) as some of the maguffins involve working with Chaos infected characters.

There is a good mix of investigation and combat, though I'm only really familiar with the first half of the campaign. The ending of the campaign is notoriously rotten, resembling a player-killer dungeon crawl. Also like Dying of the Light the beginning scenario assumes the PCs are somehow already involved in events and does not provide more than basic hooks to get the PCs involved in the scenario - it is largely left up to the Dungeon Master and the player to play ball.

I listened to this being played on the RPGMP3 website. This is run by an exasparated Brit expatriate and played by a group dominated by Texans who sound like Yosemite Sam and really, really struggle with the more intellectual and investigative aspects of the scenario. Worryingly they remind me of when I was 17 and 'trying' to play Call of Cthulhu. It also highlights to me why the DM must have razor sharp adamantium hooks to ensure the PCs remain motivated to investigate the maguffin of the scenario.

This is not a ready to run campaign on its own, unlike earlier WFRP 2nd Edition scenarios. The Thousand Thrones as provided is a reasonably interesting campaign but significant tinkering is required to keep it on track, particularly if the characters go off track.

There is substantial online support and advice on tinkering. One of the authors, Jude Hornburg, has released several online supplements for it and it's nice to see as some WFRP 2nd Edition felt a bit 'churned out' by freelancers (like the ubiquitous Robert J. Schwalb, who wrote many of the more so-so supplements as well as the much criticised end to this scenario. Though to be fair he is credited with also coming up with the interesting central concept). Jude's latest effort will include an introductory scenario that actually gives the PCs hooks to follow the rest of the campaign.

Own Stuff

For a while I've been tossing around a WFRP2E campaign idea I came up with called "The Ruinous Powers That Be" when overdosing on George RR Martin stuff. I've actually written most of the first scenario up as a full PDF, with the second scenario being . At once point I considered making the 2nd scenario my Nationals scenario, but as the category I'm running in is "Action" chasing drug-dealers and phantoms around the hills didn't really seem classically action enough.

The other campaign idea I've been tossing around is a Bretonnian campaign where the PCs all play downtrodden peasants, based on Graeme MacNeill's story, Freedom’s Home or Glory’s Grave with a smattering of Robin of Sherwood, Edgar Allen Poe and the French revolution thrown in.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Knights of Bretonnia: A Review

Bretonnia is a controversial Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay topic. Originally setup as a thinly veiled plagiarism of Dumas's France with decadent nobility, downtrodden/starving peasants and gun-totting musketeers the entire nation was wholly retconned in the wargames to an Arthurian setting, with chivalry, castles, knights and even a grail-totting Lady of the Lake.

Personally I don't mind the resultant change (I do like my knights as you can tell from some of my old RPG work), though I do hate such a clumsy large-scale retconning in an established world (a reason I do not read superhero comics, particularly DC and Marvel). There are even printed stories set in the old Bretonnia that are now no longer part of the established continuity, and a lot of the older Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay sourcebooks make mention of decadent Bretonnia and its uncaring king Charles de la TĂȘte d'Or. The new king is Louen Leoncour, a valiant warrior (probably more conveniently marketable in a wargame than a man with a wig telling people to eat cake).

The last Warhammer supplement I bought before my long RPG vacation was Knights of the Grail. I was pretty psyched when I bought it. I liked the dark Warhammer feel, and I also loved Arthurian games like Pendragon so this was a must-buy. What it turned out to be was a strange book, lacking any detail or direction (a problem with a lot of WFRP2e supplements, doubtless to avoid conflict with the wargame campaigns), seemingly portraying the knights as noble and valiant but also showing the peasants rising up against the nobility. There was also an annoyingly apologistic sexist attitude in the book, with women being 2nd class citizens and effectively barred from entry to most careers (like say knight) but every 2nd ed Bretonnian adventure featuring a pre-generated female character disguising herself as a man. It just bored me as a plothook and made me think of the stoning scene in Life of Brian. There was no real cohesion or indication as to what threats Bretonnia faced, other than internal bickering between peasants, nobility and women with fake beards.

So this was my motivation for reading Knights of Bretonnia and from that point of view I was not disappointed. The book is actually an omnibus of 2 novels, 1 short story and 2 novellas written to close out the sequence.

Knight Errant is the first title in the series. A knight errant is basically a young nobleman riding around Bretonnia looking for trouble. Basically imagine a young David Cameron on a horse 'righting wrongs' for the residents of Chipping Norton. Young Calard and his younger half-brother Bertelis, both sons of the ailing Castellan of Castle Garamont, end up riding with a force of knights to hunt down some orcs, expecting more wine and women than battle.

This is not the most cerebral of reads - it is unashamedly a hackfest of a Warhammer novel with the knights beating up some orcs, and only then realising the orcs were running away from a far superior force of beastmen. Along the way they face intrigue from their own rivals within the Bretonnian forces, as well as a small faction who want Calard dead so that Bertelis can inherit the castle. Which might include Bertelis's mother.

The other character we follow is Chlod, a wretched peasant outlaw who spends much of the book scheming against Calard and generally trying to stay alive. Something not very easy to do when you are a masterless peasant. The life of a peasant is horrible in Bretonnia, with practically anything other than digging your ditch and charging the enemy with a rusty spoon when your liege asks resulting in a sentence of death.

It's worth noting Chlod almost gets a free pass on this kind of behaviour. The nobles, including our heroes, clearly care little for the peasants in their charge - the knights have their men-at-arms toss the peasants off the battlements when they've died in battle, when they see a village that has been raided by beastmen they toss all the peasants in a mass grave and leave the survivors to cope on their own. The knights canter around on fine horses and expect their men-at-arms to keep pace, often not allowing them time to rest. Worshipping the state goddess the Lady of the Lake (Bretonnia's answer to Sigmar) is punishable by the death if you are a peasant. Peasant men-at-arms keep roughly 5% of their pay. And so on.

Sometimes it beggars my belief how rotten the noble characters are to peasants (especially Bertelis) and why the peasants do not rise up (though I believe there is some mention of peasant rebellions and how they typically fail, and one short story, Glory's Grave or Freedom's Hope does tell the tale of a settlement mentioned in Knights of the Grail that has declared itself a republic). Given the lack of gunpowder in Bretonnia all the peasants would need to do is somehow steal some guns from the Empire or Marienburg and they would have a sizable tactical advantage if they dug in against the nobility in some foresty or hilly terrain. Of course that relies on them getting enough cash to obtain such items...

Sadly some of the above violates the "show, do not tell" rule. The most prominent example in Knight Errant of this is that we are briefly given the backstory of a man-at-arms in the final parts of the novel - about how he was groomed by his peasant father to be a man-at-arms, how he passed the stringent physical checks (unlike the other deformed peasants), how he had to pay for his equipment and expenses and was left with a pittance, and how hard is life was. It felt a bit preachy, that perhaps such a character should have been introduced more subtly if he had appeared earlier in the narrative. He is also killed off a mere heartbeat later, reminding me of a similar character in the last episode of Stephen Moffat's Jekyll.

Errant does however portray Calard as just one lance in a sea of similar Knight Errants (albeit one from whom the plot is more personal). He is often shadowing higher-ranking superiors, such as his trainer Gunther, his commander Baron Montcadas, the Imperial ambassador Dieter Weschler (a character I felt the novels probably could do without), the Grail Knight Reolus and his own sister who at childhood was taken away by the Fay to be a Grail Damsel, a sorceress. I often call this 'Harry Potter syndrome' where the lead character is subservient to, and often bailed out by, more powerful characters and rarely gets a chance to prove himself. It ends with some all-too predictable revelations that you could guess from the prelude about Calard's bloodline, as well as the promise that his life (and avoiding assassination by his own kin) is not going to get any easier.

Knight of the Realm is a more solid affair with witchery, devilry, demon-impregnation and Norse raiders being the threats in the second book. Calard is now a drunkard, plagued by visions. Former drunkard Bertelis is now obsessively trying to master the sword. The novel deals with their various plights and gives them a reasonable amount of development, along with a large protracted siege of a city. The Norse want the knights to surrender a demon-child they impregnated Elisabet, one of the characters from the first book with. The resolution for this is particularly mind-boggling. The Norse propose a one-on-one match between their Jarl and Grail Knight Reolus. Grail Knight Reolus loses and Calard gives the Norse their demon-kid, vowing vengeance as he does so (and not losing his head in the process of posturing). The Norse all naff off in their longships, vowing to come back when the child comes of age and kill everyone. I personally didn't buy that. The Jarl seemed like an honourable-evil chappie, but the rest of the force were bloodthirsty beserkers. The Bretonnians were helpless!

The novel continued to derail at the end with the 'murderous family' plotline petering out. Calard and Bertelis have a major falling out over a maiden Bertelis accidentally killed (fair enough). Calard then catches and deals with the man who has been sending assassins after him, and turning his own kin against him... between the last chapter and the epilogue. This beggared belief for me, as this was one of the more interesting plots of the novels and could have been held in reserve for a later story.

The novels end here and we are left with short tales of Calard as he renounces his title and seeks to become a grail knight to replace his fallen mentor Reolus. He also takes with him Chlod, who has been bumbling around in and out of trouble for most of the two novels. The first short story, Eternal Rest, is a reasonably interesting and solid affair involving the pair of them encountering a wyvern and the knight who seeks to kill it.

The first novella, Questing Knight, sees Calard return home after 5 years to find his home in ruins, and all within dead. His old rival Maloric is now married to his sweetheart. At first he accueses Malorc but it turns out the trail leads to the cursed Duchy of Mousillon. Overall things are fine again until the climax. It's clear Reynolds probably needed a largish novel to wrap things up to my satisfaction. The start of this novella sees a lot of the established cast killed off in a relatively meaningless way, stripping away a lot of interesting potential for Calard's development.

It does resolve Bertelis's fate. Bertelis had taken up with a knight he had met in a tourney at the beginning of Knight of the Realm. This knight turned out to be the reincarnated vampire duke of Mousillon, who was five years ago visiting random tourneys and is only now raising an army of undead (all for these actions and the generous timescale are never explained). This means the shock reveal is that Bertelis was behind the razing of Garamont. Sadly he is reduced from a complex character, torn between conflicting family loyalties, to a chuckle-head vampire minion who Calard dispatches with help from a rogue knight in the climax of the novella. Chlod is given a little bit of development as well, as we learned earlier in the sequence he was from Mousillon. However Calard just ups and leaves Mousillon, the evil duke and its army at the end of the novella, having a vision from the author sorry... the lady of the lake.

To say that Questing Knight felt rushed is an understatement. I would like to have seen this developed into a novel with Castle Garamont still standing (at least for a while) and more intrigue. This is the last we ever see of Malorc, Calard's old rival, who was an interesting foil for Calard, being a knight of equal standing and despite his prejudices and hatred willing to fight alongside Calard.

Grail Knight sees Calard having ditched Chlod and gone solo, leaving them to go warn Bretonnia there is an undead army coming over the hill while he deals with this story's maguffin. This involves him tooling around wood elf country and eventually helping them. There's enough tedious misunderstandings between the elves and the human which make the elves look like douches (yes, the knight swam into a river, bound your wounds and took you to a cave - obviously your elven superiority says you should steal his sword and try to kill him). Eventually it is revealed that he is being guided by his sister to find and participate in some sort of elven-forest-god rebirth ceremony (I must admit a lot of the high-level wood elf pantheon stuff that goes on in this story went over my head). They are so happy with that they can ride out and help the Bretonnian's fight the Duke of Mousillon. Oh, and Calard finds and drinks from the Grail, making him a Grail Knight. Sadly this dorsn't feel particularly integral to the story.

There is a suitably epic ending to the fight in which Calard, now infused with powers from drinking the grail, kills the vampire Duke, saves the king and the day. There is even an additional epilogue where many years in the future he prepares to face off against the returning Nords and their demon child. This gives us a brief mention of the fates of our supporting characters, but it is very brief. For example we do not really find out what happened to Chlod other than he "did better than anyone expected". We find more concrete information about Dieter the Imperial Ambassador's fate and he hasn't appeared for 3 stories!

Again I feel these two novellas could have made a more interesting conclusion if they had been a longer novel, particularly if the second novella did not feel so divorced from the previous one at times. By the end of the book I did care about Calard, Bertelis, Elisabet, Chlod, Montcadas and even Malorc. I did not really care about xenophobic wood elves introduced at the 11th hour.

In terms of learning more about Bretonnia this story fills in a lot of gaps missing from the sourcebook. We learn how downtrodden the peasantry are (and some reasons why they don't or can't rebel), we learn the Norse are the primary Chaos threat to the nation and we also learn the nobility themselves have their fair share of corrupted bloodlines and interesting interpretations of what chivalry and honour are.

There's little discussion as to the nature of the Grail in either these novels or the Bretonnia sourcebooks. The sourcebook outright states the Fay and the Lady of the Lake are elves. This perhaps means the Grail itself is an elvish artifact, or at least an artifact they have appropriated. The society of Bretonnia is kept deliberately stagnant (resembling feudal England and France while other societies have a renaissance feel to them). There is clearly something pretty interesting going on in this area - the grail has an uncomfortably cultish and brainwashing effect on those who come in contact with it. For example I was chilled by one of Calard's first remarks about how on drinking from the grail his life, like his sister's is "no longer his own". I was also intrigued by Grail Damsels, though I would rather take a more down-to-earth approach to them in the setting as they are meant to be quite common in the cities of Bretonnia. I would imagine a rather bitchy coven of these powerful women would make an interesting tale!

Overall, a good relaxing read, but sadly some story-threads are just dropped in the cycle. I suspect this might appeal more to a younger readership who prefer sieges, elves and pixies over solid intrigue, treachery and character development. There is quite a lot of interesting stuff to be done with Bretonnia though.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Matthias Thulmann: Witch Hunter Review

Fresh after finishing Marks of Chaos, as part of my inevitable putting off of reading a Feast for Crows I read the Warhammer: Matthias Thumlann, Witch Hunter trilogy...

Way back in the dawn of time when I bought my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition book I was offered the first part for free. As it was the most WFRP-like novel on offer as part of this deal I accepted.

Matthias Thulmann could be taken out of the Witch Finder General movie with Vincent Price. His description certainly matches that of Price's Matthew Hopkins, and his often cruel mercenary sidekick Streng is a Warhammer version of Hopkin's sidekick Stearne. Werner, the author, is a big Robert E. Howard fan and in many ways he is also emulating Solomon Kane, a zealous Christian puritan swordsman hero, with his Thulmann stories. He has another character, Brunner, who sounds an awful lot like Robert E. Howard's Conan during his mercenary era.

The omnibus book has three short stories. The first of these is a run in with Chaos cultists that sets the scene nicely, the second is a medieval zombie survival horror story and the third is a witch hunt that links to the start of the first book. It seems a bit cheeky to make the last story interconnect with the first book - I read the book first and was confused by references to a seemingly non-existant set of adventures. This is how the character was first introduced and a continuity-freak like myself should not really complain.

The main story in the three volumes concerns Thulmann's search for an evil scientist (though the trail only picks up in Book 2) and various shennanigans pertaining to a sorcerer's spellbook. The book was stolen from a vampire and used by witch hunters for their own interesting purposes, but now a whole host of characters want the book back. One character, a villianous necromancer, is always in the background throughout the trilogy, but is never seen by the heroes.

Books 2 and 3 concern the book falling into the hands of the scientist and his skaven buddies. The skaven are written fairly menacingly, though I often feel they are overused in Warhammer. (Mind you this probably stems from when I started roleplaying with Advanced Heroquest. Skaven were the only monster you got in the box). I'd love to see a story or even a Warhammer adventure with fimir behind the nefarious goings on.

My problem with the continuance of the "get the book" arc throughout the novels is it starts to feel a bit old. Enemies are seemingly killed and come back with worrying regularity. At times it feels like watching a season of "Whacky Races" or "Stop the Pigeon". With Carrandini the Necromancer in the role of Dick Dastardly, usually ending the episode driving off a cliff and his car exploding yet emerging next week unscathed. Book 2 in particular does not stand on its own as a read - the ending is abrupt and a sizable amount of the third book is spent rounding off the second book and getting our heroes out of Wurtbad.

I would like to have seen Thulmann investigate a few new cases, perhaps some Chaos cultists in Altdorf or Marienburg. There is actually quite a lot of backstory of old cases hinted at in the story for Thulmann that I think would make for an interesting collection of short stories - and certainly more interesting than some parts of Book 2, which really dragged in places and yet also felt too short.

My favourite book is definitely the first one, though the third one picks up once our heroes leave Wurtbad, the setting of the 2nd novel. In Book 1 and the short stories our main characters are quite dark anti-heroes - Streng is an expert in torture and seems to enjoy his trade, Thulmann is happy to threaten his innkeeper to ensure he gets the best room in the tavern and the best food. He gets little help from the local lord, an ex-witch hunter, and there are conspiracies with conspiracies, including a nice little twist I didn't see coming.

In the second and third books the two main characters become more 'good'. Thulmann's high-handed and haughty manner to peasantry is explained (or dare I say retconned) as being an act - a necessary evil, as a witch hunter must be feared by the populace in order for him to function properly. Even Streng has some redeeming moments as he shows he might actually care about his employer and goes beyond what I would consider reasonable for a hired thug. Personally I was happy for the characters to stay very grey. They still do questionable acts, but compared to their peers it is pretty clear they are saints who go by the book.

This comes across a bit odd in the third book when they are teamed up with more zealous and self-interested members of the Church of Sigmar. There is the inevitable clash between the zealots and a group of peasants hiding a mutant child. Thulmann intercedes on the mutant's behalf, trying to stop the zealots from having a good old burning (almost a 180 from how I felt the character was initially portrayed) by saying they have more important things to do. Then later on in the book the villagers are revealed to be in league with the bad guys... making the zealots right in hindsight to want to burn the mutant. I personally thought that was a bit odd - but that's life I suppose. If they zealots have already gone to the bother of arranging a lynching why not just go through with it? (Mutants in Warhammer are a brilliant storytelling mechanism as ultimately there is something sympathetic about someone shunned in society through no real fault of their own).

As to the church there is some interesting politicking in the Church of Sigmar. Events from Marks of Chaos get a mention, as Gamow, the Lord Protector of the Templars of Sigmar (i.e. the head witch hunter) died in suspicious circumstances during the events of that novel. In this trilogy we learn that the Grand Theogonist Volkmar has decided to replace him with three new Witch Finder Generals, rather than give one man all the power. However the third book has Volkmar replaced as Grand Theogonist by Johann Esmer and Lord Bede about to be is installed as his Lord Protector. Apparently in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay books when Volkmar returns from the Storm of Chaos he brings back the three Witch Finder generals! Confusing!

The Grand Theogonist thread is part of the Storm of Chaos metaplot, and a bit jarring in this book as it doesn't really lead anywhere. This is probably the downside of a shared universe where the Storm of Chaos was intended to be a massive crossover event that affected even the novels. The new Lord Protector is to make the stories consistent with Marks of Chaos. The author goes to some pains - even Sister Karin from Marks of Chaos gets a brief mention in the third book, so extra marks for that.

Silja Markoff, a character introduced in the second book, is not a character I am keen on as she becomes the mascot for the "softening" our protagonists in the later books. She seems to be the quintessential 'generic adventurer' who is employed as an agent for her father, the Lord Justice of Wurtbad. This is a job that seems to leave her completely free of responsibilities (especially given what happens to Wurtbad in Books 2 & 3) and able to up sticks and follow our hero. She serves as the romantic interest, something that I find somewhat jarring when our main character should be a cold religious zealot. However if Werner kills her off in later books I'll give him a free pass on this - that would be an interesting twist and could send the character to a really dark place.

It's also worth noting the story ends on a cliffhanger after 3 books. The last book was published in 2007 and the author does plan to return to the series but says that we should not expect anything new for Thulmann imminently.

Overall it might seem I'm being critical of these books but they are a decent read. I hope to see more Thulmann.