Friday, July 20, 2012

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Once Upon a Time in Marienburg Part 1

Session report from 14th July session at East Midlands Roleplaying Gaming Group, Brunswick Inn, Derby

Dramatus Personae:

Darok the Almost All-Seeing: A tall Kislevite expatriate with a gift for augury and divination. Little is known about Darok, but he hails from the north-east of Kislev, where the winds of Chaos blow strong. (Human Kislevite Male Seer)

Zhazhicl Dizmad Hirn (Zhlak): A hardy and itinerant dwarf who makes his living fighting for coin in the pits of manlings. As with so many of his kin he does not suffer fools and has a long memory for grudges. (Dwarf Male Pit Fighter)

Mellissandra: A high elven archer fresh off the boat from Ulthuan, seeking the sights of the city that now stands upon the elven outpost of Sith Rionnasc'namishathir. (High Elf Female Hunter)

 "An act of violence is never solitary. Its ripples affect all around it and nothing is as it was before."

As the sun rose over the canals of Marienburg the local fishermen waved, as was their habit, to the crew of The White Dove as it gently approached the Suiddock docks, its hold overflowing with cargo. On board the man once known as Marius Steinfield, looked at a city he did not remember. Little did he realise his return would set wheels in motion. Woe betide those poor fools crushed under those wheels.

Day 1

The dwarf Zhlak was taking his ease at a cafe by a small unnamed square in Marienburg's Winkelmarkt, while Darok hawked his divinations to unheeding passersby. The two fell into conversation and over ales Darok decided he woudl jump into the nearby fountain to retrieve a brass penny - the only coin his toils so far had brought them. Mellissandra, a young high-elf archer newly arrived from Ulthuan, seeking the sights of the Elf District, observed the unusual pair.
As Darok emerged with his prize an out of control wagon nearly smashed into the fountain. He had to dive out the way to avoid being crushed. The driver fled from the wagon, driven off by men on the back of the wagon in common garb. A second wagon drew up beside and the men proceeded, at the behest of their leader, to rummage through all the wagon's crates, discarding all the mundane trade goods contained within.
Curious Darok attuned his gift to sense magic on the wagon and the leader, Ostav, asked what he was doing. When Darok finally explained Ostav told him to redouble his efforts, but the Kislevite seer could sense no dweomers eminating from the wagon. Zhlak in the meantime helped himself to a bottle of ale from the discarded goods, but his timing could not be worse as it was then that a score of Marieburg's watch, the Black Caps, descended upon the square. Ostav's men fled, but Ostav was too determined to make certain that Darok detected no magic on the wagon that he was left flat-footed.
The three were arrested, with the hapless Kislevite and dwarf assumed to be Ostav's men. They argued for a while before the Black Caps Captain ordered them forcibly manacled. The elf, when questioned, stated she had witnessed little of use. This was enough for the leader of the Black Caps to order her arrest as well.  It then became apparent the Black Caps would tolerate no mischief and were using an excessive amount of force and amount of manpower to bring Ostav to heel.
The four were taken by wagon to the Winkelmarkt watch station and then placed in a cell, still manacled. Zhlak continued to berate the watchmen, which earned both him and the silent Ostav a beating. After they were gone the strangely serene Ostav tried to reassure the fellows that all would be well, but Zhlak was not convinced.
The next day, still manacled, the quartet were taken by river to the Central Court in Paleisbuurt (Palace District). They were led to the courtroom by the Black Caps and sat while other trivial cases were dealt with by the attending magistrate, one Kai der Kwick. When it came to their turn the group Zhlak insisted on defending himself, until he learned that by quirk of Marienburg's law all those who defend themselves automatically lose their case (a law which Marienburg's legal profession approve of). However their lawyer seemed strangely passive, and as they learned the charges against Ostav and his band included assault and robbery upon numerous major houses of Marienburg Zhlak began to suspect why the wheels of Marienburg's justice were turning so quickly on this morning.
The trio availed themselves of the opportunity to speak in their own defence (though the Black Cap captain weighed in at every turn to counter their statements), with Melissandra's status as an elf being recognised by the magistrate. As her alleged crimes had not occured in Elftown she was subject to Marienburg's secular law but the magistrate agreed to postpone sentencing for her. For the others though he began to pronounce sentence until a court clerk entered and handed him a letter. After a moment the litigant declared the group not guilty, that it had been a terrible mixup. This enraged the Black Caps but they were removed from court. The group, Ostav included left the court room free men.
Ostav apologised for recent events, though it was clear this was not enough for most of the group, Zhlak most of all. When his belongings were returned he gave the company 3 guilders as recompense. After promising to make it up to them later the group let the mysterious fellow leave and moved to a nearby expensive inn to dine at Ostav's expense. Later they went to a boarding house recommended by Ostav and found the rates quite agreeable.
Darok later went out to a nearby alehouse by himself. Speaking to a trader from the Suiddock's Import-Export Exchange he learned the rumour that Ostav and his men had been found innocent at their trial because Ostav was either the son or nephew of Director van Haagen, the Haagens being of Marienburg's Ten Families.

Day 2

Before breakfast the company received a message, delivered to their lodgings by a young boy, inviting them to a house in Goudberg. Upon arriving there and being shown in they realised the man before them was Kai der Kwick, the magistrate from the day before. The magistrate said he had been impressed by the way the company had handled themselves in the trial and that he wished them to deliver a message to a person in the Suiddock. He impressed on them that this was a matter requiring both discretion (hence the seer and elf) and forcefulness (hence the dwarf) on the part of the deliverers - and paid them 10 guilders each. The message was a bag containing 50 guilders, and a strong assurance this was the last such payment.Following Kwick's instructions the company returned to Suiddock to an abandoned shop. A pair of thugs opened the door to them and they met Leon Reno and delivered the money and message. Reno told the fellows his response was, "The details are elsewhere" though he was clearly shaken by Zhlak's attempts to intimidate him.
Returning the group stopped by the Bruenwaser Kanal as Darok spotted a striking woman weeping by the canalside. Her brown tress of hair and facial features resembled their elven companion, Mellissandra, though the elf claimed she could see no such likeness. She gifted the elf a necklace made of shells, a good luck token she claimed, before departing. Darok could sense minor magics of life and death in the necklace.
Arriving once more at der Kwick's townhouse the trio saw a window on the third floor was opened, and heard a loud smash. When no-one came to answer the door the three of them forced their way in and ran up to the third floor. The bedroom where the window was on was deserted, save for part of a smashed vase.
Going downstairs the three found one room locked and forced the door open to reveal a small library with a dead woman lying upon the floor. Mellissandra noted an acrid sweet smell. Searching the room the trio noted books on the New World and Lustria, and on the desk papers containing poetry to the Goddess of Mercy, Shallya. An empty snuff box and an unopened box of sweetmeats also lay on the desk, and by the panels of the desk the fellows found a green cylindrical pod-like item. Mellissandra secured it upon her person just in time, for a group of Black Caps burst into the house with the magistrate.
Seemingly devastated by the death of his wife, Hanna, the magistrate acknowledged the trio as his men and that he had been expecting their return. He mentioned he had just returned from errands and had seen a dark figure sneaking about the upper floor through the open bedroom window. He had run to get help, little realising his wife was in the house. Finding no marks on the body, and after a lengthy interview with the fellows the Black Caps believed she had locked herself in the library and proceeded to die of fright as the looters ransacked the townhouse.
Bemused the trio returned to their lodgings to let their employer grieve. 

Day 3

The companions spent the day performing basic chores and making purchases with their new-found wealth. Darok identified the mysterious pod they had found at the magistrate's room as a cocoon. The companions decided to avail themselves of the library of the Temple of Verena in Templewjik. However Zhlak and Darok could not read and soon grew impatient. As Ostav had promised to contact them at their boarding house Zhlak sent a messenger to the Haagens.Mellisandra's efforts proved fruitful - she identified the cocoon as belonging to the Lustrian Tiger Spider. The description was, however, rather incomplete, and the other tomes in the library were written in the ancient Classical of Tilea.

Day 4

At breakfast the companions received a letter, stating:-My friends,
Please meet me at Deedesvald Graveyard this morning at ten. It is of the utmost urgency.
Yours in hope,

Going to the cemetery the companions witnessed Hanna's funeral attended by many of the good and great of Marienburg, including numerous priests and priestesses of Shallya. They also saw Kai der Kwick, his maid Celeste and by her side the odious Luc Reno they had delivered the message to.
After the funeral Gretta made herself known. She was an initiate of Shallya and in hushed tones, concealed by the morning mists she told the company of Hanna's unhappy marriage to Kai, of how he beat her and how she had only found happiness in her work with the Church of Shallya. She was certain Kai had arranged for her murder, despite the lack of evidence. She implored the company to investigate. They agreed, though they were uncertain how they could help.
Going to the Elftown the trio made the acquaintance of Fiaroth, one of the apprentices that worked in the chaotic emporium. There they enquired about the tiger spider, including offering to sell it to the apprentice. The apprentice knew little about the spider (referring them to the Southlands Expedition Company, who had acquired the spider for the shop). Their attempts to sell the spider back were rebuffed when he said it was a niche market and that there was little demand for one – the last one had been ordered over a year ago and had just arrived from Lustria a few weeks ago. He, and a nearby dogsbody called Antonio, described the buyer as an Estalian called Heraldo Garcia.
In Messtag, the violent Estalian district of Marienburg, the trio learned Garcia could be found later than night in a brothel. To pass the time they returned to the Magistrate's mansion ostensibly for their pay. Mellisandra excused herself and was escorted to the facilities by the maid, Celeste. She noted the maid was wearing a set of expensive pearls. After she left the room she returned to the library. Searching it quickly she found nothing of import, but this time the books on the New World struck a chord with Mellissandra and she quickly found a reference to the Tiger Spider.
After receiving their pay and being told by Kai der Kwick their services would not be needed any further the group the group returned to the brothel. There they quickly found Garcia and cornered him. A sailor approached Mellissandra and accosted her, calling her Ella. Apologising the drunken sailor left with his comrades but not before Garcia tried to make a run for it. Darok restrained the Estalian and after renting a side-room they interrogated the Estalian, learning he had acquired the spider from the shop on behalf of an anonymous benefactor who had arranged for some ‘business trouble’ to disappear without charges. Through one of Messtag’s numerous local crime gangs, the Ramones, he had delivered the spiders through a series of anonymous contacts.
The group returned to the Suiddock and while returning to their lodgings were approached by a one-legged man with a monkey on his shoulder. He persuaded the group to join him on his barge, saying he had orders to take them to someone who had information for them. Zhlak had his reservations but they agreed. As he gently rowed the barge up the canal the man lit his pipe with a piece of paper and handed the burning paper to his monkey companion. The monkey ran below the barge. Then as they passed under the bridge a rope was lowered to the one-legged man and he clambered up it swiftly, pulled up by shadowy figures on the bridge. Mellisandra was the first to hear the hiss of a fuse and as Zhlak tried to push the barge a voice yelled for them to jump.
Mellisandra vaulted effortlessly into the canal water but began to flounder, while Darok leapt after her. Zhlak barely cleared the barge as it blew, but his armour protected him from the debris. Darok however was not so lucky and took some scrapes and cuts. The dwarf and elf struggled to swim but Darok used the debris that had buffeted him to get to shore and threw a rope to them.
All three were wet and miserable by the time they returned to their lodgings, but they spied a mob of black caps ostensibly searching the boarding house for three Chaos worshippers. The three decided to decant to a different hostelry, choosing the Perched Pelican, a nearby tavern. There they quickly made the acquaintance of the titular pelican, Beaky, and decided to drink to warm themselves and drive the taste of the filthy Suiddock away with copious amounts of alcohol.
As they were recovering from their ordeal a man approached them in a black cloak, introducing himself as Max. He stated he was the one who had warned them on the bridge. He told them that they had made powerful enemies in Marienburg, forces he wished to help them oppose. He told them that he knew they were a friend of the whaler Whitey and wanted to silence all of them. If they wanted to be safe they had either better travel to the New World or look into Whitey. After some questions he left the companions to their new lodgings.
The company discussed what to be done. They assumed it was Kai der Kwick who had tried to have them killed. He would have to be dealt with.

Day 5:

At breakfast the companions decided to leave the spider cocoon and a letter to the watch explaining how Hanna der Kwick had died with the barkeep, with instructions to take it to the Black Caps if they did not return. When they confronted the magistrate and mentioned that proof would find its way to the watch he first of all tried to blow-off their allegations. Finally he admitted to the murder, but stated no-one would believe them, and that he had not tried to kill them. He brought the companions the contents of his safe, 150 golden guilders and made the dwarf swear that they were finally done with each other.Flushed with success the companions returned to the Perched Pelican and decided that they would take their evidence to Getta at the Temple of Shallya. However if Kai der Kwick was telling the truth and was not behind the attempted murder, who was?
To be continued in August

Quote of the session
Naomi/Mellisandra: (looks bemused) “I don’t know how I feel about monkeys carrying fire.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Some Radio Links

Dreadtime Stories are a series of horror audio dramas by Fangoria magazine that they make for free over the web for one month, and sell the back catalog for a pittance (~£1 for a download). They're very much in the vein of an anthology horror movie (like my dear beloved Creepshow, a cheesy horror movie I used to while away evenings watching) crossed with classic American old time radio. They feature Malcolm McDowell, an actor with a sci-fi career so distinguished that his characters have killed William Shatner (Star Trek Generations) and Mark Hamill (Wing Commander IV, if you lose) as the narrator at times putting on a bit of an American drawl, though perhaps that's because he's been over there so long.
The current one for streaming as of July, 'Mercy' isn't exactly typical of the stories but is fairly ghoulish if a bit obvious in its execution. Probably my favourite one is "A Fungus Among Us", which is a very nihilistic classic horror-thriller in audio format.

The acting is a little hokey (people don't speak naturally, perhaps it's because I'm a Brit, and seem awfully ghoulish) and there is quite a bit of gore for audio, but it's well worth a look. I've listened to all 10 of them now via the stream and Audible.

Also by the same repertory company is the Twilight Zone Radio Show. I was a little disappointed with this in the sense that the website said it was a reimagining of the Twilight Zone for audio, with modernised stories. Most of the stories are retellings of original Twilight Zone episodes and are not updated. They feel amusingly like 1960s period pieces.

Mind you it does seem a bit of a shame there isn't a Twilight Zone/Horror Short anthology show on television these days.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

A Discussion of Doctors

Every day I get literally thousands of emails asking me who my favourite doctor is. Sadly due to the fact that I am far too busy riding a flying pig to work I am unable to answer them. (Some of this may be a lie). Probably my favourite Doctor is Paul McGann, or if you want someone who actually got some screentime Tom Baker. Eccleston was probably the best nu-Who Doctor, but with the most dodgy scripts. Smith on the other hand is excellent but is served by some really good scripts.

1. Paul McGann. The Doctor who never was, I remember considering his outing decidedly watchable compared to much of the 80s Doctor Who panto that I'd lost interest in as a kid. It's a tragedy he never got a series as he had an amazing costume (and it is unbelievable he just found it lying around), was an excellent actor (with much more range than say Tennant) and the more modern sensibilities of the current Doctors with a posh veneer resorting to the blatant common-denominator-pop-culture-remarking of Tennant or (less so) Eccleston and Smith.

McGann has had a pretty good run on audios. His radio plays are the Rolls Royce of the Big Finish range and his only rival in terms of output is Colin Baker. However with the coming of Tom Baker to Big Finish I can't help but feel he is being slightly sidelined with only 3 audios and a boxed set this year.

Sure the TV Movie isn't brilliant, but it is miles better than Time and the Rani, The Twin Dilemma, and is at least comparable with Robot and Castrovalva in terms of quality. Also bear in mind it's a pilot, and try judging Star Trek The Next Generation, Babylon 5 or numerous other US shows solely on their pilot. It is basically a clip show of things to excite the attention-deficit Fox Network executives (see we can do car chases, see we can do medical drama, see we can do fighting) as opposed to dropping the Doctor in a well-defined universe like say, Firefly.

2. Tom Baker. My favourite classic Doctor, this chap was the first doctor to really make the show fun. City of Death (and indeed all of that season) and the Pirate Planet are both firm favourites of mine. The later episodes of his era are more representative of the more serious Peter Davison stories, but pre-JNT his doctor is a lot of fun. I also like his gothic era, with stories like the Brain of Morbius, the Pyramids of Mars and Seeds of Death.

It's worth noting his audios with BBC are hit and miss and sadly not designed to be devoured piece-meal. He is in the middle of making a gazillion CDs with Big Finish suddenly and they're bleeding brilliant.

3. Eccleston. I was a fan of Eccleston before the series began. I loved Shallow Grave, Cracker, 28 Days Later and even Elizabeth. He played a very dark, damaged and emotional doctor - when he was happy you really felt it was genuine, and yet he managed to be angry or dark without seeming over the top. His relationship with Rose was much more interesting and believable than Tennant's creepy obsessive behaviour. It's a real tragedy he left the show so early, especially as later seasons gave the Doctor more to do, and that he seems so distant from the show. Mind you the people at the top seemed to be on a bit of an ego-trip so perhaps he was smart to leave.

4. Matt Smith. I really like Matt Smith and overall the Smith-Moffat era has been the most even-quality era of the new show. Sure you still get some stinkers like Victory of the Daleks but I can tune in to the Xmas special or the season finale with a reasonable certainty it will have a solid cohesive plot. The show is also more sci-fi than soap opera and the companions seem a bit more rounded.

As an actor Matt Smith does occassionally seem to be playing the same kind of character as Tennant, but there are much darker moments and overall the writing is much more subtle, allowing the acting to seem a little more palatable.

5. Sylvester McCoy. McCoy was the doctor I watched as a kid and was Scottish which automatically makes him awesome. Even more awesome is that he's allowed to sound Scottish, rather than like Mr. Bean.

He had some real clunkers (notably when Mel was still on the show), but some of his later episodes actually hold up really well. Rememberance of the Daleks is good, the Curse of Fenric actually makes sense if you watch the director's cut, and Survival is actually close to the new series in that it hangs around a chav-infested council estate. If he'd dressed how he appeared in the McGann movie it would have been a substantial improvement to the silly question marks.

In terms of audios, McCoy actually performs really well. I'm not so sure about poor Sophie Aldred, but some of his later audios with Hex form a cohesive season that takes place after his last episodes and before the McGann movie.

6. Jon Pertwee. The elder statesman of Doctor Who it's a real shame he didn't live to take part in Big Finish. This was the first Doctor to really become the action hero that we now see in the later doctors. Excellently portrayed - though perhaps to authoratitive for my tastes.

7. David Tennant. Only appearing in the second half of my list but doubtless at the top of every fangirl's this is because while Tennant's a pretty good actor unfortunately some of the writing is incredibly wonky and can make him and other characters totally unlikable at times, though certainly not to Torchwood Season 1 levels of unlikability.

I really didn't like his first season as I felt the episodes were written for Eccleston, who I hope would've toned everything down. The relationship he had with Rose was nauseating at best, and disturbing at worst. For example here's a rough synopsis of The Idiot's Lantern:-

Doctor (gurning): "Wow, people are losing their faces. This is fun and interesting."
Rose (gurning): "I'm awesome, so I am going to threaten this old man with my awesomeness."
Old man is working for the face-eating bad guy. Rose loses her face.
Doctor: "Now I'm upset enough to actually investigate this episode. How dare someone ever do something bad to Rose Tyler!"

Tennant's second season is much better, despite nearly episode referencing Rose's departure and starting with Donna Noble on full comedy sidekick duty. Human Nature and Blink are seminal episodes, followed by Utopia. It was also a RTD-lite season (though he alleges he secretly rewrote most of the good bits). Sadly after that it falls into the kitchen-sink finales to disguise the fact RTD has no plot left in him, as the Doctor gets an army of sidekicks led by Captain Jack.

Tangent: Authors sometimes sign their work by the naming of their characters. For instance Jeffrey Sinclair/John Sheridan, along with the Michael in Michael Garabaldi gives you JMS in Babylon 5. Rose Tyler Doctor gives you RTD. No wonder he never shut up about her!

8. Patrick Troughton. I really think I'd like this doctor if there was more material available. He does seem somewhat underwritten as a character. I like the banter between him and Jamie, possibly the last decent male companion the show ever had.

9. William Hartnell. If Hartnell was bad it would have been the end of the show. However his portrayal is jarringly different from where the character now evolved to.

10. Peter Davison. Peter's appearance so low on this list doesn't mean I consider him rubbish (unlike #11 on this list) but rather he never made much of an impression on me. As an aside his characterization in Time Crash is quite different (read: a clone of 10, complete with planet-sized ego evidenced by him assuming, "You're a fan!"). He's quite a long way from the quiet intellectual doctor in the episodes I've seen. His stories tended to be quite dry, subdued and almost hard sci-fi, with concepts like hydrogen inrush, a recursive universe and so forth.

11. Colin Baker. Worst Doctor ever.

Apparently Colin got the gig by guest-starring in an episode of Peter Davison's final season, hamming it up and being invited to a member of the production team's wedding where he impressed the producer with his jovial behaviour. I think it really shows the lack of regard that Doctor Who had at that time that an actor could walk into the role by going to the same party as the producer. I cannot imagine Smith, Tennant or Eccleston getting the job purely by dint of being the karaoke whizz down the pub with the producer.

Sadly this leads me to believe Baker really lucked into a job that normally would be beyond his acting chops. He's not a bad actor but I don't think he's a leading man, rather someone who should play a loud bombastic guest role when Brian Blessed is too expensive. It is rather telling that his career post-Who has been non-existent in terms of leading roles and he is a firm fixture on the convention circuit (I think I narrowly avoided him at the Leicester Space Centre once).

It's true Baker didn't have much of a chance - his era was marred with uniformly awful scripts, the worst costume imaginable chosen by a man who thought the hawaiian shirt was the height of elegance, a writing staff who decided that having the Doctor behave like an unlikable coward/maniac at the drop of a hat and the worst companion imaginable (Mel). However I think a better actor could have weathered 3-4 seasons and lifted the show from the turgid mess it had become. Tom Baker made even the most boring story watchable. Colin Baker's obonxious doctor gives you another reason to turn off.

His audios are often very good but they feel like an apology from the man performed and written with years of hindsight. It does seem there is also an awful lot of them - again not surprising given how much free time as an actor he has. He's guest started as Maxil and the Sixth Doctor in spin-offs Gallifrey, Jago & Litefoot (and dear lor' do I think they've overdone it by having him and Leela in it) and also appears in Big Finish's Dark Shadows and Sapphire and Steel. I assume he's cheap to bring in.

Ultimately, I don't follow the apologists who make excuses for Colin's short era. He wasn't a good actor. It also wasn't a good era. I remember my housemate and I sitting through episodes from the Twin Dilemma to the Trial of a Time Lord yelling for someone to shoot him so he could regenerate into a better actor.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Pimp My Advanced Heroquest Part 7: Heroquest

I managed to pick up a copy of Heroquest, which means I now have a decent selection of HQ monsters, and the rather nice furnite. I also managed to acquire some rather reasonably painted minis of the main 4 heroes, who as we know are playable options in AHQ.
Our four heroes, the Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf and Wizard
The Barbarian miniature
Something about the Barbarian always confused me in AHQ. His character sheet shows the following mini:-
Rogar's picture on his Advanced Heroquest Character Sheet
I thought this was a specially painted mini or some such but it turns out Games Workshop made metal versions of the four heroes. These were not widely distributed - in fact one metal barbarian went for $405!! Needless to say I doubt I'll be getting one soon.
The Elf also has an expensive metal figure I won't be buying in this lifetime
The Dwarf is my favourite piece
The wizard - personally I always thought this was a Light Wizard model.