“Let Me Buy You a Drink” – 4th Edition WFRP, Episode 0

Inns and taverns are a distraction from the misery of existence for many citizens of the Empire, and an entertaining diversion for many more. They can often be places where political agitators do their work to whip up sentiment against the authorities, or where witch hunters prowl for rumours of the unnatural. Con artists and robbers also ply their trade amongst the inebriated unwary, although there is also some honest respite to be had, and the scribe is right about the pickled trotter.WFRP, 4th edition Core Rulebook

Today marks the two-year anniversary of what very well could be, if Sigmar allows, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign that I play for the rest of my life.

As mentioned in previous posts, I got back into the ttrpg hobby after decades on ice, and, after an ill-fated trio of 3rd-edition WFRP sessions, news broke of Cubicle 7’s fourth edition. Plans were hatched, long-lost first-edition tomes were reacquired on eBay, and I promised my fledgling gang of adventurers that, even if this new publisher didn’t release an adaptation, I was going to run them through the greatest rpg campaign ever written.

The Enemy Within.

The first book in The Enemy Within campaign, from WFRP first edition

We’re still going, with our 22nd session scheduled for tomorrow night, and the gang has almost arrived in Bögenhafen. The lengthy delay will make more sense as I recap two years’ worth of introductory scenarios, side-quests, and an unnecessarily complicated master timeline (that I have since become wise enough to rein in). Game summaries and narrative interludes in black text; behind-the-GM-screen commentary and context in the green boxes.

Let’s start with those session zero character-creation meetings, and the narrative hooks that were crafted alongside my players.

Beau Baphett
Human Male Bounty Hunter
Played by rengstorff

You grew up in a small town just outside Altdorf, but your life began when you apprenticed for a master bounty hunter, Jango Klon, in the capital. Within a few years you were accepting contracts on your own, but due to relative inexperience, jobs were a bit tough to come by.

Your recent gig has you chasing a horse-thief up the Teufel from Altdorf. A noble family is paying you triple what the horse is worth to ensure that the miscreant, a poor stable boy who had fathered a child by the family’s youngest daughter, and is getting the fuck out of town before he is beaten to death, comes back alive to answer for his transgressions.

Beau’s freshly painted mini. Mace in one hand; turkey leg in the other.

You track the kid all the way to Auersbad, and when you confront him outside a Temple to Verena, where he was headed to pray, he takes off running. In a twist of tragic luck, the kid slips on some slick cobblestones and tumbles over a stone guardrail onto the dock frontage below, impaling himself on a pie merchant’s tent pole. You send word back to your employer, along with the corpse, but you’re fairly confident that the disappointed patriarch will barely compensate you for your travel expenses.

At a tavern late that night, while contemplating whether or not you should stick to the smaller river towns for potential work, you’re approached by a muscular, grizzled fellow with a perpetual smirk and a poor excuse for a beard. He’s in his late 30’s or early 40’s, and while he looks like his prime battling days may be behind him, you get the sense that he can still handle his own.

“Mr. Phett, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Name’s Jekel, Jekel Schroeder.

“I’m a… friend of Jango’s. We go way back. When I heard that one of his proteges was in town, I praised Myrmidia for the good fortune. I’m putting a team together, Mr. Phett, and I could use your help leading a group on a little retrieval assignment for me.”

He slides three silver across the bar and motions to the bartender as if to say he’s covering your drinks (and meal, really… show off). And turns to leave the tavern.

“Pay is quite good. I need to engage your compatriots, but assuming all goes according to plan, we’ll be ready to talk business tomorrow. Meet me at the coaching inn in Sprinthof, yeah? Sundown. If you don’t like my offer, I’ll pay your fare back to Altdorf. And the meal’s on me. Best smoked cheese in the Reikland.”

With that he trots out of the bar, followed closely by a short, burly dwarf and an impossibly tall one-eared human.

Rengstorff took advantage of most of the bonuses afforded him during character creation, tinkering only slightly to shuffle around characteristic rolls to be more in line with an aspiring bounty hunter. He also named his hand weapon, a mace, Windu. Mace Windu

Kristoff Krowe
Human Male Seaman
Played by lebronald

You grew up in a fishing village in the mudflats outside Altdorf and, when your parents died, you were raised by an aunt who moved back to the village after having spent most of her life in Marienburg. From a young age, she told you countless tales about the Sea of Claws, the great port, and the multitudes of sailors, merchants, and explorers who filled the great city.

You longed for a life on the sea, but, to make ends meet, you worked on river barges and the like. Instead of moving to Marienburg when you were old and strong enough, you headed south to Grunberg, looking for ready work and more experience in the boat trade. You had heard that the Empire was looking to build a new Naval mission along the Teufel, and wanted to be where the action was.

Lebronald described his character as looking like a chubby, younger Russell Crowe. And, yes, Master & Commander was a big influence on this decision.

You had been working in the city for the last year and a half, looking for work on the docks wherever and whenever you could find it. Grunberg is well known for its boatbuilding shops and, as such, business for someone adept at cleaning and loading ferries and cargo ships has been generally pretty good.

But your aspirations are for something more. You’re a smooth talker, and generally have an ability to ingratiate yourself with a variety of social groups, whether they be merchant traders, artisan craftsmen, or landlocked sailors. From a variety of sources, and over a number of pints of ale, you keep hearing that there’s a good deal of work in Auerswald, rebuilding the dock area in the wake of a recent (mysterious) fire that destroyed buildings, boats, and took the lives of a number of the poorer citizens. This takes you even farther from the sea, but, eventually, you figure your life will flow downriver, more prepared for the kinds of jobs available to hard-working landsmen like yourself.

So you’ve been in Auerswald for two weeks now and, despite your charm, and ability to brandish your trusty mop, it’s been tough to find work. You join the Boatmens Guild, under the advice of the locals. All construction work on and around the docks has to come from guild labor. But thus far all that amulet of crossed oars has amounted to has been a few complimentary tankards of watery ale.

One morning you wake up in the common room of a dockside inn with a massive hangover and a vague recollection of having held court with a number of enraptured ladies and, possibly, a few gents who like a good story. Breakfast, then you’ll stumble down to the docks to see if there are any cargo boats that need a stevedore, or any ferries from Ubersreik that need swabbing.

You sit down for a sausage, and are surprised when a grizzled, burly gentleman, probably in his late-30’s crowds you at the bar. Last night starts to come back to you… This guy was definitely in your audience.

A quick assessment confirms that he’s clearly Warrior class, and armed with, at least, a sword on his belt. He tosses a shilling on the bar and motions to the barmaid. “I’ll have the same.” He gestures towards your plate. “And his breakfast is on me.”

He turns towards you and doesn’t wait for a thank you or any kind of acknowledgement.

“You’re quite a raconteur, aren’t you Kristoff? Mind you, I don’t believe half the stories you told last night, but I do trust that you know your way around the docks. Any docks. I can use someone with your… skill set.

“Assuming you’re tired of looking for work mopping decks of barges and pork skiffs, I’d like to make you a proposition. I’m putting a team together for a job upriver. Pays well.”

The barmaid slides him a plate of sausage and greyish pickled things. He takes a swig of his beer, and, never looking down at his food, edges the plate towards you.

“Go ahead and finish that for me. But let’s talk more tonight, yeah? The coaching inn in Sprinthof. Sundown. Best smoked cheese in the Reikland. See you there.”

He stands up smiles at the barmaid, and walks slowly and confidently out of the tavern…

Lebronald likewise kept most of his random rolls during character creation for that sweet xp bump. We had a conversation about the possibility that it might be a really long time before his character ever saw the ocean, but agreed that there was something charmingly comical about a river-bound seaman.

Godabert Tougan
Human Male Mystic
Played by AH

Your first impressions of Auerswald seem favorable, and its reputation as a haven for artists, merchants, and travelers seems advantageous for someone like yourself, trying to make a few pennies here and there by telling fortunes.

Within a few days, however, you make notice of a reclusive stranger, a human of strong build, probably in his late-30’s or early-40’s, who seems to have had his eyes on you. His grizzled appearance and battle-worn leather preclude any thoughts that he was sent by Baron Hector. But, after spying him for the fourth time, you begin to fear that he works for one of the many whispered-about criminal organizations in Auerswald, and was alerted that a newcomer might be running a confidence circuit without protection/permission. So you keep moving around. Sometimes you post up on the docks, sometimes in the marketplace, other times near the temples. But he is always around… lurking.

AH’s artistic interpretation of young Godabert. As you can plainly see, God is possessed of the “attractive” talent…

On the morning that you finally decide that things are maybe a little too hot in Auerswald, and are calculating how long it would take you to hoof it to Grunberg, the stranger makes his introduction. He appears seemingly out of nowhere, blocking your way as you make your way out of an alley behind a dockfront inn (the alley where you had slept the night before; the fourth different spot in as many days).

“Whoa there friend! No need to be alarmed.”

A quick assessment confirms that he’s clearly Warrior class, and armed with, at least, a sword on his belt. Your instincts are to make use of those fabled strong legs and start running in the opposite direction, but something in his honest approach gives you pause.

“Godabert, is that right? Name’s Jekel. Jekel Schroeder. I have an interesting proposition for you, if you’re willing to listen.”

You lower your defenses slightly. He’s using your assumed name, which means he definitely wasn’t sent by Hector. His hands are out, palms open, but you’re aware that his center of balance has shifted slightly in your direction. If you do decide to take off running, it seems like he’d be willing to give chase. And you certainly don’t know this town as well as he seems to…

“I’m putting a team together, and have need of someone with your… um, skill set. Pays well.”

Before you can ask him what exactly he thinks your skills might be, he puts his arms down and takes a step away. 

“Just hear me out. Let me buy you a drink, something to eat, and I’ll explain further.”

You open your mouth to respond, but your stomach growls a reply instead.

“The coaching inn in Sprinthof, tonight at sundown. Best smoked cheese in the Reikland. See you there.”

He turns his back and walks slowly and confidently away from the rivers and in the direction of the market center…

AH spent the most time on his character’s background, even going so far as to take on an assumed name to facilitate his undercover exodus from a farming community outside Stimmigen. From his notes:

Basically, he’s always looking for the easy way out. He cuts corners, takes shortcuts (literal and metaphorical) — anything to save some time or make a bit less work for himself. He tries to use his mental abilities (talking someone else into doing something for him; not bothering to read the instructions if he thinks it’s easy enough to figure out; putting out a really big bucket of water for a pet rather than filling a small bowl multiple times a day; stealing an apple rather than paying for one with money he had to work to earn, etc.) whenever possible if it will save him physical effort or time.

He had a little bit of a gift with the second sight and decided to start telling fortunes, as that was much easier than working in the fields or doing any of the other menial jobs peasants are stuck with. He’s actually a bit of a con artist — sometimes he’s able to tell a legitimate fortune, but most of the time he’s just making it up in order to milk as much money as he can from the marks.

Godabert has fled his peasant responsibilities and aspires to one day enact revenge on his former lord.

His lord, Baron Rupert Hector, under allegiance to Graf Falkenhayn, wasn’t the worst — he didn’t sadistically torture his peasants for fun — but he was pretty bad. He treated his peasants as property, not people. He didn’t pay them wages, and took all the goods and crops they produced, leaving them just enough to feed themselves. They were basically just slave labor, and they certainly weren’t allowed to leave his lands.

I survived mainly by being inoffensive and paying almost all my earnings to the lord. In addition, I told fortunes for free (and they were always good) to the bailiffs who came to collect taxes for the lord. With all the other peasants being very poor, I didn’t bring in much money, but I’d get lucky every now and then when a traveler would stop by, or a peasant who had been saving up for a while would come for a fortune.

Karl Hungus
Human Male Spy
Played by BMc

You grew up in the free city of Kemperbad and, from a young age, have always been adept at talking a good game, telling a good story, and understanding the value of information.

You graduated from assisting in minor smuggling operations for Guido Fumetti, a relatively minor player in the Belladonna crime syndicate, to working exclusively for one of the major merchant families in Kemperbad, gathering intel and brokering secrets. This arrangement worked well for several years, and you began to develop a convincing cover story that you were a merchant yourself, dealing in brandy exports, all the while continuing to profit as your employers climbed the social and financial ladder.

A few months ago, however, things took an unfortunate turn when the merchant family you were working for began experiencing a series of unfortunate accidents: warehouse fires, shipwrecks, and random stabbings. You had been in Grunberg at the time, ostensibly negotiating the purchase of a new river barge (while really working to learn how one of your competitors had managed to secure exclusive contracts with one of the major coaching lines in the Reikland), when word reached you that your employer, the head of the merchant family, had been found murdered outside his villa. Adept at gathering and filtering information as you are, you learn that members of the Belladonna family, working with a very prominent merchant family in Kemperbad (one of the 13 ruling families, in fact), are behind the attacks.

BMc pulled up this photo of a younger Phil Collins and, very specifically, explained that this is exactly what Karl looks like. Looks like Kastor Lieberung, if you ask me…

It goes without saying that your career in Kemperbad is probably over and, more importantly, your life may be in danger.

You made a decision to journey south, perhaps setting yourself up in Ubersreik, using your knowledge of the brandy business to find gainful employ with one of the many importers (or smugglers) of fine Bretonnian brandy. You made it as far as Auerswald, all the while selling yourself as a merchant, and slowly attempting to gather information on both the situation back home, as well as the prospects in Ubersreik.

Pretending to be something, of course, doesn’t pay the bills. You’re down to your last few shillings, enjoying an evening meal in a well-appointed public house in the merchant quarter, contemplating whether the current political upheaval in Ubersreik is either good or bad for business. You are startled when a figure you recognize sits down at the bar across from you, and orders an ale.

The grizzled warrior is now in his late-30’s, but his reputation and infamy speak of a man with twice the years of experience. This is Jekel Jungfreud, once a mercenary in the Sons of Steel, and, if you remember correctly, also once a hired sword for the Belladonna family. He receives his tankard, looks you right in the eye, and smiles.

I explained to Karl that only he knows Jekel’s real name and identity. Jekel will be introducing himself to the party later under a different name and possibly false pretenses. Information is valuable, so Karl can decide how he wants to play this.

You try to leave the tavern without showing any kind of alarm or concern, as casually as possible, and, once on the street, you start immediately mentally counting your pennies and calculating fleeing to, if not Ubersreik, perhaps Stimmigen. And… what do you know about pork farming? Apple orchards? And…?

“Whoa there friend! Just relax for a minute, yeah?”

Jekel appears out of nowhere, blocking your path. You smell, before you see, his two associates sidle up behind you: a dwarf as wide as he is tall, with a braided beard down to his belt, and a towering human with a scar where one of his ears used to be. They’re all armed, but no weapons are drawn.

“Karl, long time. You may not remember me, but the name’s Jekel. Jekel Schroeder. I have an interesting proposition for you, if you’re willing to listen.”

You lower your defenses slightly. He’s using an assumed name, which means he maybe wasn’t sent by the Belladonnas. His hands are out, palms open, but you’re aware that his center of balance has shifted slightly in your direction.

“I’m putting a team together, and have need of someone with your… um, skill set. Pays well.”

Before you can ask him what exactly he thinks your skills might be, he puts his arms down and takes a step away. 

“Just hear me out. Let me buy you a drink, something to eat, and I’ll explain further.”

You open your mouth to respond, but he — and his associates — are already turning to walk away.

“The coaching inn in Sprinthof, tonight at sundown. Best smoked cheese in the Reikland. See you there.”

The particulars of using an elaborate NPC backstory just to get this party of adventurers to Ubersreik will be explained in future posts. For now, suffice to say that with no definitive release date on the new Enemy Within, I was in the process of weaving together a troublesome narrative by which these four players would find and be introduced to a fifth player… who wasn’t available for our first few sessions. Her fate, and the interesting details of a renegade scion of the deposed Jungfreud family, to come…

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