Grim … and Grimmer
You wake feeling something cold pressed against your neck. A deep voice whispers “Try not too move too much, this is a very sharp knife.” Freeze and open your eyes slowly. A bearded face is staring down at you, pressing a blade against your jugular. There’s something vaguely familiar about the psychotic glare from under thunderous brows, the jaw clenched in constant anger, the barely controlled rage. As if reading your thoughts, the voice continues. “That was Grim, my brother. My dead brother” The face moves closer, almost touching you. “I’m Grimmer. Tell me how he died.”
I have a nice, intellectually stimulating scenario waiting to be explored by my players. Obscure facts to be winnowed from fiction, alibi’s to be inspected and destroyed, support from the major citizens in the town to be gained, hunches to be followed, perhaps even a scene in a court room. My re-incarnated players appear on the scene, and, well, I’ll leave you to discover what happened. Suffice it to say they were still really pissed about the previous session, and have been … planning.
Petra is bedfast for a week, recovering from her wounds and a nasty infection (I just got Signs of Faith – love the diseases!). At one point Conrad the Roadwarden makes a very tense visit, explaining that his horse fell on the way to the town and he was knocked unconscious, lying in the woods for half a day before coming to. By the time he reached Lachenbad, Petra had staggered into the arms of a farmer and been carried into the Green Bottle Inn. He’d roused the rest of the wardens, and they’d scouted out to the Old Mine, but though there were lots of signs, the goblins were gone.
Of course this was a lot of tosh, but Petra, realizing how precarious her position was (wounded, a stranger in town, possibly accusing a well-respected member of the community), decides to play along with Conrad. A fellowship test, and Conrad appears satisfied (a concealed test), leaving much relieved.
Meanwhile the other two have made up two new characters in the downtime between games. Phil, who was the dwarven Troll Slayer, Grim, is now a mercenary soldier with links to the underworld. He gets an extra advance for a heroic death (house rule), and makes his fighter wealthy, spending his extra wealth on front and back plate armour – no more bare chests for him! Our Ratcatcher morphs into a scout, with good bow skills (at last, some rural expertise!). I asked them to give me some motivation for their new personas, and Phil, still smarting over his death, becomes Grim’s older brother, and the reason for him becoming a Troll Slayer (refused to take over the family holdings, so the younger brother became a Slayer; something to do about familial contracts – dwarf stuff, go figure). The intention is bloody revenge, of course, and the recovery of his brothers body, so Phil becomes Grim’s angry older brother … Grimmer! Motivation for the scout, Wesley, is much less personal, he being an old friend of the dwarf, serving in the same mercenary company.
After polite introductions have been made (see handout for Petra, above), the three heroes swear vengeance against Grim’s slayers. and the recovery of Grim’s body. Conrad Balck is their first target, and the three visit the bar downstairs, quickly discovering that Conrad is on a sweep, and will be returning from the area of the old mine tomorrow afternoon. They retire to their rooms, sleep the sleep of the, not exactly just, more the just pissed off, then get up before dawn and sneak out of the Inn. A quick jump from the wall once the guard has gone by (opposed test plus various bonus’s for it being dark) and they’re away, sneaking westwards through the half light.
Grimmer and co. set up past the deserted Mill, hunkering down in the bushes, Wesley positioned near the road, the other two a little further back, and wait for the Roadwarden to appear. He duly does, riding up completely unsuspecting, and Wesley uses his longbow to shoot the horse from under him. Grimmer and Petra charge out, punching and kicking the dazed Conrad into submission, before dragging him from the roadway and gagging him. Wesley delays to removes his arrow from the horses neck (‘leave no evidence,’ he says), then joins the others.
The terrified man is dragged some distance from the road, and dumped next to the mill stream before the gag is removed. Now, I expected some kind of menacing behaviour here, perhaps a beating, some vague torture, but Grimmer has Petra and Wes secure the roadwarden by binding his wrists to stakes, then he builds a fire on his chest. He sits whilst the man is half burnt, screaming in agony before dragging the fire off him and questioning him harshly (I am a little uncomfortable with this whole thing. Grimmer is, well, nasty. I rule the roadwarden has little chance of resisting questioning, but has taken so much damage he can only answer a limited number of questions before passing out – toughness test each round, adding an extra misfortune dice each time). The dwarf questions the man, gaining a confession of collusion with the goblins (‘not admissible in court’ quips Wes), and claiming Josef Karlsberg had asked him to arrange the stage attack (some surprise here from the PC’s) as well as the news that Josef’s wife was having an affair – the reason for the attack. Conrad then passes out from the pain, and Grimmer cuts his throat before kicking the body into the river.
(Oh My God! Savage but humorous Grim has morphed into a cold blooded psychotic killer. I think I’m going to have to change the party card from ‘Defiant Scoundrels’ to ‘Rampaging Face-Eating Lunatics’. I have a horrible suspicion that they are planning to simply murder whoever they suspect was the cause of Grim’s death. There goes two weeks worth of scenario planning).
Back to town, and the three loiter just out of view near the gates, before slipping in with a farmer and his boy, assisting with a small flock of sheep. Heads down, they aim to be inconspicuous(!), and make their way back to the Inn for lunch. (Concealed stealth checks each – Grimmer, being a dwarf and heavily armoured is noticed, of course. Nice to realize the party still retains a modicum of incompetence).
Fresh from murder and torture, the three not-so-heroic characters settle down to discuss their next step. Grimmer is all for finding Josef’s house, slaughtering all the inhabitants and torching the place. Wes seems to think thats ok too, but Petra points out that just because Josef ordered the attack on the stagecoach, doesn’t mean that he caused Grim’s later death. It would have been nice to talk to the roadwarden a bit more, she says with a glare at Grimmer.She’s also of the opinion that there’s more to this whole thing than meets the eye. The others are unconvinced until Petra points out that as Josef is up to no good, if they find evidence, they could blackmail him for lots of money. “And then we can slaughter everyone and torch the place!” says Grimmer. Ho hum.
So the three separate, searching for evidence of malfeasance, arranging to meet later at the merchants house to try and extort some money. Petra goes back to the high class eatery, the Golden Scales, and meets Jan Vermeer, the merchant factotum for Altmark Traders again. He is properly sympathetic, and lets slip that Josef Karlsberg seems to be doing quite well, despite his losses. He also tries to implicate his friend, Totlev Gutz in nebulous illegal activities. Business rivals, concludes Petra.
Grimmer visits the Bad Boy Bridge, a hangout for crims he’s heard about at the edge of town. After some not-so-subtle threats and a bit of posturing with the local rich bad-boys (he chops someones finger off!) everyone’s psychopath alarms go off, and they deny all knowledge of anything to do with Josef Karlsberg, and remember dinner dates elsewhere. Interestingly, he also gets to meet a much less impressed, leather-clad shady type (‘call me Petal’) whom the locals treat with even more respect/fear than Grimmer. After a bit of alpha dog type posturing, they get on like a house on fire, and Petal confirms that Josef is not known to the wider ‘alternative trading community’, but if he might wish to become so, something could be arranged.
Wes, in keeping with his rural background, strolls into the local watch/roadwarden house. He quickly picks up that the roadwardens and the local watchmen don’t get on, and in fact despise each other. He strikes up a conversation with one of the off-duty wardens, and gets confirmation that the goblins are no longer at the old mine. When he asks about Conrad, the wardens get tight-lipped, and make excuses to leave. As they exit, one of the watchmen, listening in, mutters something about Balck being a traitor, and almost causes a fight. Wesley slips out in the confusion.
The three rendezvous outside Josef Karlsberg’s house, where Petra knocks and asks for Josef. She and her friends are taken to Josef’s study, accompanied by a burly footman/guard. Josef is properly solicitous of her health; he even offers her five shillings and his deepest condolences with regards to her companions (I force Grimmer to make a will power check to prevent him striking the merchant). When Petra suggests that he may wish to give her a little more than that, say twenty crowns, on account of his darling wife’s, um, habits (‘she’s been on the stage, hasn’t she?’), he falls silent. After a little bluster, he explains that he is almost bankrupt, but asks them to return in the morning, when something can be arranged.
Feeling a little smug, the three return to the Green Bottle to listen to gossip and plan over a beer or four. The goblins are still the main topic for conversation, though Josef Karlsberg’s wife, Frieda is also on everyone’s lips. It seems that, as well as throwing herself on top of Benny Bengston’s coffin at the funeral last week (whilst Petra was still in bed, recovering), she has taken to leaving flowers and poems that are well … rude, on his grave. There is a lot of nose tapping about this. Also Conrad Balck is missing, though some think he may have run off, after the happenings at the mine (a nod towards Petra here), not that he’ll be missed.
Petra finally talks to the barman, Fat Olaf, about Josef, and piling on the charm (and money and fate points) uncovers a goldmine of information. Benny’s affair with Josef’s wife is confirmed, as well as the weapons shipments. What’s more, Olaf claims that the weapons were going to a holding warehouse in Ubersreik, but with no named customer, nudge, nudge. (Seeing their blank faces, Olaf explains that this is often the way that less respectable customers who wish to maintain their anonymity buy goods). There’s a pause as the three translate what’s been said. “But Josef has no links with the underworld!” claims Grimmer.
“Then who,” muses Olaf, “were they meant for?”
There is a little pause before the penny finally drops. Not only did Josef arrange for the stagecoach to be attacked, he’d been selling out his own wagons (duh!). What’s more, they’d just told him that they were on to him!
Wasting no time, the three almost-heroes dash out of the Inn, sprinting towards the Karlsberg house. All is in darkness. “Feck it!” shouts Grimmer, and smashes in a window with his sword before throwing himself through it. The other two follow quickly. Coming across a maid, he grabs her and threatens her with his sword. “Where’s the master bedroom!” he screams, and dragging her up the stairs to the room she’s pointed out, kicks the door in and flings her in (‘Possible ambushes’ is Phil’s cold-blooded explanation. Who is this man I’m playing with?). More, even louder screams, and the maid emerges with her hands covered in blood. A quick glance, and they see Frieda Karlsberg lying on the bed with her throat cut.
“Guess who’s going to get the blame for this?” mutters Petra, thinking how much easier life was when all she had to do was cheat people at cards and run away.
Wesley, quicker on the uptake than the rest, grabs a second screaming maid, and demands to know the masters whereabouts. “The warehouse. He said to leave the mistress to sleep, but he had to take a coach to Ubersreik urgently!”
Another hasty exit, this time dodging a patrol of the watch, and the heroes dash across town to the Karlsberg shipping warehouse, only getting lost once. There they find the doors of the stable wide open, and, investigating with drawn swords, find no-one inside, except a ransacked safe box, several horses and a half eaten meat pie. Grimmer stuffs what’s left of the pie in his mouth, then tells the others to grab a horse each.
Er, only problem is that he’s the only one with the ride skill, in fact he’s the only one who’s been within spitting distance of a horse in his life, other than in dodgy meat pies. Cursing, he saddles three horses and assists Petra and Wesley into the saddle, whereupon Petra promptly falls off. (I call for a standard test the first time Wes and Petra get on a horse, then no tests for a gentle walk). The rapid chase scene is turning into a debacle.
More cursing, and Grim manages to get his incompetent fellows heading towards the Bad Boy gate – how they miss being noticed by the watch is a miracle (they pass a hard test to sneak through the streets. Also the watchmen are stunningly inept).
Not that inept, though. When they reach the gates they are barred, and two watchmen stand guard, armed with halberds. “No-one h’is h’allowed to pass without h’orders from a higher h’authority!” declares the corporal on guard, rather pompously.
A brief stand-off while Grimmer fingers his sword, and Wes surreptitiously frees his bow, when suddenly Petra pulls a letter from her pocket and waves it under the watchman’s nose. “Do you recognize this seal?” she asks in a bored voice. (It’s the coded Imperial message from the first episode. Love it!).
The man looks hard. “H’er, h’its h’Imperial, ma’am.”
Petra sneers. “Look closer. What sort of Imperial seal?”
The man peers closer and gulps. “H’it looks to be his majesties personal seal, h’my lady.”
“It is in fact an Imperial carte blanche.” She opens the letter and waves it under the watchman’s nose, praying he can’t read (he can’t). “In it, his Imperial Majesty demands that all assistance from all servants of the crown be offered to the bearer.” (A standard test using fellowship, but modified by the guards stupidity, the seal and Petra’s bare-faced cheek. Easy success).
The man salutes and stands at attention. “H’and what can h’I do for his h’Imperial Majesty?”
Grimmer leans over and, spraying spittle, screams into the man’s face “Open the bloody gate!”
The three trot out of the gate (a standard test for Wes and Petra), and the gambler only just stays in the saddle (using her professional gambler re-roll skill – urgent note from Petra; learn riding soonest). They then head over the Bad Boy Bridge towards Ubersreik, in hot (-ish) pursuit of the stage.
After an hours gentle trotting under a bright moon, the stagecoach comes into view. Unwilling to push the horses (or take more ride tests!), the three grim cabelleros continue on at their unhurried pace, slowly closing on the fleeing stage. Suddenly there is a shout, and the stage speeds up – they have been sighted!
Nothing for it now but to gallop (initially a hard test, then a standard test for Wes and Petra), and, after a few wobbles, all three start to close the gap rapidly. Remarkably, the two riding novices stay on their mounts (three successive standard ride tests), and are soon level with the coach. Grimmer throws himself at the back of the coach (visions of his brother similar leap in everyones minds eye) and … succeeds!
The dwarf pulls himself up onto the roof of the stage and, after threats and some yelling, persuades the the coach driver to stop. Wesley and Petra draw their weapons and Grimmer waits on the roof of the carriage, ready to throw himself on whoever exits the coach. A cloaked male figure emerges, clutching a small case in his arms. Petra orders him to remove his hood, and sees … Josef’s bodyguard. “Where is he!” screams Grimmer, and throws himself into the stage. There is the sound of incoherent yelling and the smashing of fixtures. There is no-one in the cabin, and Grimmer is a little angry.
The bodyguard pales and speaks quickly. “If you mean the master, he’s heading for Nuln on a horse. He sent me to take these valuable documents on to Ubersreik for him.” He thrusts the box at Wesley. “He said he’d meet me there!”
Wes opens the box, but, containing no valuables and unable to read, he passes the contents to Petra. She reads quickly; a few shipping dockets, an order for a new wheel and several sheets of blank paper. “I think we (she glares at Grimmer again) have been set up. Again.”
Wes grabs the blank pages. “Invisible ink? Magical scripts? We need to get them tested.” He stuffs them into his pocket. (No Wes, just blank paper).
Petra disarms the bodyguard, then orders him and the driver to sit on the floor with their hands on their heads. She gestures the others over. “You do realize that we’ve just robbed a stagecoach? And we may well be accused of the murder of Frau Karlsberg? All hanging offenses.”
“And you claimed to be an Imperial Agent. That’s treason. Drawing and quartering, as well as hanging,” adds Wesley, helpfully.
“Let’s just kill ‘em!” suggests Grimmer “and they’ll blame the goblins.” Wesley is undecided, but Petra, realizing they are on a downward spiral of violence as the solution to everything, demurs. There is a heated argument, during which the bodyguard reaches for his dropped sword, but is dissuaded by Wesley’s drawn bow. Eventually they decide to steal everything worth having, on the grounds that they are going to be accused of robbery anyway, and then head off.
There follows another brief argument, while they debate their destination; Petra’s vote is for ‘far, far way’, whilst Grimmer’s is for the old mine, to search for his brothers body. Wesley, as usual is no too bothered, though somewhere with ale is preferred. Grimmer, fingering his axe, reminds Petra of the oath she swore to recover Grim’s body – an oath to a dwarf is no small thing he points out. “But I didn’t say when I’d look for the body,” remarks the gambler. Wesley agrees (again), nodding repeatedly.
Eventually Grimmer compromises. The authorities will be looking for them he agrees, so spend the next three days looking for his brother’s body, then he would consider Petra’s oath discharged. They shake upon the deal, then steal all the fittings from the wagons and load them on the stage’s horses; Wesley insists upon taking the prisoners boots and trousers (just because, he says – there is something definitely odd about this scout), and the three strike off westwards towards the hills and the old mine.
Well, again that was interesting. It seems the three players had been chatting before the game, and decided to prosecute their vendetta against the killers of Grim and Detlev with extreme prejudice. It was actually a bit difficult to GM when the players were so certain of what they wanted to do – luckily it all fell apart later and they returned to their normal bumbling ineptitude! Highlights were falling off horses and their faces when they realized that Josef was not on the coach – how I laughed.
So, to recap, the players are (or soon will be) outlaws. They have possession of a secret message from the Emperor, whose agents may well be on the way to recover it. They are on their way to a mine that may well be infested with a tribe of goblins to recover a dead body. Lastly (I’ll spring this on them next game) they have no food. Ah, such a grim and perilous world, you’ve got to laugh.