As we had taken on a couple of new players, one only having played D&D and the other a neophyte, I decided to keep things simple from a system persepctive. I've always been a fan of Simon Washbourne's approach to rules-light RPGs and the system that underpins his best known effort Barbarians of Lemuria in particular lends itself to easy modification, accommodating just about any setting. For reference the original version of those rules is still available for free download here. If you like what you read please consider investing in the later, more refined edition.
Brunnen - 1795
A star fell from the sky in the east in 1792. Over the long winter that has followed, the nations of Europe have descended into turmoil. Spies are hunted, noble families cling to power and guard their walls against starving proles, religious orders either ally with corrupt governments or monarchs whilst others rally the peasantry in a move towards conflict, blaming generations of greed and wealth in church and state for the blight and misery of the long winter. Mud mingles with blood, ancient forces are massing, old gods awakening from long slumber to emerge into the dim light and challenge the new.
In 1794, the second year of winter and with famine ravaging the land, The Pogrom of Westphalia saw the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire (the bishops) declare heresy the source of the blight on the land and Lutherans and Calvinists became the targets of the ire of the angry mobs. Tens of thousands were burned, executed, or beaten in the streets of the region's towns and cities.
It is now 1795, the killings have largely subsided and the bishops hold spiritual sway, if not total control of the population centres.
You are artists, poets, actors, musicians, writers in the Westphalian city of Brunnen.
Since the Pogrom and the investiture of the guardian of the city walls (the infant Baroness Amelie von Gottschalk) into the fold of the Holy Synod of St Ekaterina, your creative arts have been declared a proscribed activity unless specifically sanctioned by the Baroness's steward, Bishop Josef Furcht.
The city guard and watch, under the command of Oberbürgermeister Max Valdemeier, has generally been fairly tolerant of the arts (in fact a couple of sergeants of watch have been known to frequent the Moon and Pfennig, but not so much recently). However the recent death of the Baron (consumption) has left the young Baroness Amelie Von Gottschalk in the thrall of Bishop Josef Furcht, the senior cleric in the city. His grip is tightening and he is becoming more involved in the day to day civil affairs of Brunnen, using the staves and maces of the martial order of the Silent Sisters of St Ekaterina. The Silent Sisters are flagellants that (rumour has it) remove their own tongues to show solidarity with, and devotion to, their patron Saint.
What you hear
What you hear
The star fell in the east in 1792, ushering in a week long night and, three years later, spring has yet to arrive. The sky is... lower. When the sun does break through it is ill hued. Due to the collapse of many nation states and the closing and barring of city gates against ravening mobs (seeking solace from starvation, murder and worse in the open country) news is parochial and oft contaminated by false rumour and misinformation pedalled by the church in order to maintain control. This allowed for the minds of ordinary city folk to be more susceptible to the twin poisons of fear and hatred. The previously sickly and weakened Holy Roman Empire tacitly allowed, then actively encouraged, the violence that became the Pogrom. Rumours from the east suggest that the peoples of Central Europe may be less lucky. Tales of mass burnings in Warszawa, Odessa an icy wasteland with people frozen in place where they stood, the second and third defenestrations of Prague, scores of children walking into the Oder River in Silesia with hundreds more vanishing in the night.
Voices in the inns and taverns whisper that the great revolutionary army of France, that headed east in the year of the falling star, mostly froze or starved in the wastes. But the remnants, still numbering many tens of thousands, are returning westwards after falling upon their dead comrades for food and now they scourge the lands before them like a pestilence in search of warmer meats.
Only last week a rider came from Magdeburg to deliver messages to the Baroness from her cousin. Once laid low by absinthe in the Moon and Pfennig he told tales of glows on the horizon from the razing of the villages along the Elbe. A detachment of mounted jägers sent to reconnoitre failed to return, although one rider did make it back to the gate dead in his saddle, a mess of cuts and with his gizzards tangled in his tack and harness.
All good fodder for the arts.
The rider from Magdeburg, at breakfast and once again in his cups, told of groups of children on the roads always bearing east. Oftimes unaccompanied, but one time following a Gaunt Woman with a red beak and pale eyes, the infants mocked the rider for lacking spirit, or showing compassion when offering them some meagre rations even as their ribs pressed against their skin most apparently and flies fed upon the scurvy sores on their mouths. The Gaunt Woman never spoke, only dragged one foot in front of another in spite of the heavy stones bound to her torn, claw like feet.
The Golden Kugel
By the tannery on Altstrasse is a coaching inn called the Golden Kugel. The landlord, Wolf Ledbetter (cousin to Dirk), has been cultivating mushrooms in his cellars. According to Dirk the cellars reach far down into the foundations of that part of town and Wolf has been spending inordinate lengths of time below ground; far more than would be warranted in the harvesting of fungi. Whilst no one is particularly bronzed these days, Wolf has taken on a particularly sickly pallor, although his girth doesn't seem to be suffering. His forearms are like hams and those infamous knuckles, as walnut-like as ever, remain firmly affixed to hands the span of Michaelmas trenchers.
The Brothel on Rosenstrasse
Connelly, the Englander, hasn't been seen at the Moon and Pfennig for weeks. He came second best to Didier Alencon in a debate regarding the most preeminent schools of poetry in London. After championing the cavalier poets over the metaphysicals he was humiliated by Alencon when challenged to a recitation and found to be unable to enunciate anything at all without sounding like a talentless, monotone mule. Alencon loudly likened him to a simpleton phonetically reading random Latin without a shred of comprehension. Connelly, bested by words and ridiculed roundly by the patronage, sallied forth with fists a-flying yelling his occasional and enigmatic riesling-fuelled war cry 'Victoria Imperatrix'. He succeeded only in stumbling into some candles and igniting his sideburns. He has since retreated to his attic suite at the Brothel on Rosenstrasse where, in between indulging in earthly pleasures, he can be heard hammering and sawing at his latest project.
The (second to) Last House on the Left
It is said that the locals have become to shun the south end of Konigstrasse, particularly the penultimate house, said to be the residence of failed artist Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz. Rumours are abound that the smell of sulphur seeps out of the windows at night and that diabolical mutterings can be heard if close enough to the basement.
In the Chapel of St. Januarius, just off Augustusplatz, it is said that housed in the statue of the Holy mother is one of the original silver shekels given to Judas for his betrayal of our Lord. The legend states that it was found in the fields of Akeldama, during the first crusades in 1099 following the siege of Jerusalem. The shekel was found by Benedict of Peterborough, who following the crusades was found wandering near Brunnen, suffering from an unexplained malady that was rotting him from the insides out. Following his death it was said that the flesh fell off him like liquid, leaving bones as black as tar.
Hans Krankel, a well-known thief in Brunnen was overheard in the Golden Kugel last week that he had found something of value in the ruins of the old synagogue in the eastern quarter. As well as a few items of real silver he went on to say that he found something in the basement - a full size clay statue with the name of emet hanging upon its neck. In relation to this revelation, it has been suggested that Loew ben Bezalel, the late 16th century rabbi of Prague, reportedly smuggled his infamous golem out of the city and into Germany to defend the Jews from the onslaught of antisemitic attacks and pogroms.
The poem, 'The Malignancy of Crows' by the late Heinrich von Kleist was said to be based on the strange flight patterns of the birds as they flew over Brunnen. Kleist believed that the shapes they formed could be interpreted and decoded, and indeed he kept several sketch books full of the shapes and patterns. Kleist slowly lost his mind, and was often seen shouting at our avian friends, imploring them to share what they knew. Hans Krankel, the well-known fence, is said to have the books in his possession and will sell if the price is right.
Burnings are back and they’re bigger than ever
The people of Weißhafen do not appear satisfied with the relative lull in carnage since the pogrom. They loathe the people of neighbouring town mill-town Arbeitstadt so much they have reported them to the Emperor's papal inquisition several times, swearing that their town leaders are engaged in dark practices with their cousins and in-laws, the remaining woodspeople that cling to survival in the Teutoburgerwald. They came a-cropper this time. Malachai Essendarmer, the infamous Westphalian Witch Burner, is himself from Arbeitstadt. He tortured and burned 173 Weißhafeners including their Bürgermeister and his entire family.
The Moon and Pfennig
Three key questions:
· This weekend marks three years since the week-long night. Where were you when the star fell?
· What have you lost during the long winter that followed?
· On Samstag night, at the Moon and Pfennig, in the shadow of the glassworks, you will debut your composition/creation. What will you perform/display?
Also on Saturday at the Moon and Pfennig:
· Klaus Engel's Progressive Oompah Collective perform their sophomore composition: State of Putrefaction
· Didier Alencon unveils his latest painting, Gustav Contemplates Redemption in direct riposte to Connelly's watercolour, Satan's Mute Flute. Conflict must ensue.
· Hirsute Gustav has created some more woodcuts. He really likes woodcuts.