Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ars Mortalitas Campaign, pt. 1: Pretty as a Picture.

I have previously provided some explanation of my adaptation of old Warhammer Fantasy RPG for WH40K Dark Heresy, here

Those rules were first used in my Ars Mortalitas campaign, which was based on a Glen Cook novel, "Old Tin Sorrows," part of his Garett Files series. If you haven't read it, it's a detective series set in a fantasy world. Fun stuff.

Here's the background of the adventure. Play-through explanations will follow in later posts.

Pretty as a Picture: An Adventure for Dark Heresy
(based loosely on the novel "Old Tin Sorrows," by Glen Cook)


The acolytes are to be dispatched to Bilani III, an agriworld in the Malfian Subsector of Calixis, just "east" of the Halo Stars.

They are sent there because of the disappearance of another acolyte, the Imperial Psyker Andreius Arildsen, just over a year ago. While Arildsen had let his Inquisitor know where he was going, and she knows some details of the case he was working on, Bilani III seems to be an odd place to go looking for clues.

She says that he may have gone there to follow up on some information about a potential lead in a case involving the Ars Mortalitas cult.

If questioned, she will make a vox call to her assistant, Adept Gloria Lux Imperator (Schola-educated), who does some digging. She will reveal an odd coincidence: Andreius Arildsen served alongside Guard Commander Werner Gunthrop, and others known to be in his company. The commander is a war hero (Battle of the Black Horde on Tygress V, part of a campaign against an Orkoid incursion the Drusus Marches, some 50 years ago)

The Ars Mortalitas cult emerged among the debauched hive nobility of Scintilla, and involves the production, collection, and exhibition of "art pieces" depicting the taking of life in various ways. The ultimate expression of such is the production of live performance art pieces, where the actors are among the most terrifying murderers in the sector, doing their work for an appreciative audience. The results of these performances are left in-situ, on display for whoever finds them. Other, more mundane forms of the "art" produced by the cult are human and xenos forms depicting the many means of death available to the human race, the more lifelike the better.

The acolytes will eventually be led to Gunthrop Manor and Schloss von Fürstenburg, where they will discover what happened to Arilsen. He is currently an "art installation," in the last throes of death.

The Backstory

Werner Gunthrop is the scion of a family militant of Bilani III. He is descended from a long line of military heroes, but the family has a dark past of heinous abuse. Over the generations, scores of Gunthrop children have been killed by their own parents for failing to meet the family's standards for excellence. Usually these deaths were the end of a long and tragic tale of abuse, neglect and, finally, termination at the hands of their fathers. Their bodies always find a place in the marshlands surrounding the manor.

In truth, there's nothing the family can do to avoid this. They are subject to a curse, one visited upon them by their rivals, the sorcerous von Fürstenburgs, many centuries in the past. Each father is doomed to kill all but one of his children. This happens with every generation.

Hera von Fürstenburg (nee Arildsen), the sister of Andreius, was, at one time, the fiancée of Werner Gunthrop. However, she was not in love with him, and was quite frightened by the prospect of marrying into the Gunthrop family. She tried to break off the marriage, but her family wouldn't support her, as they needed the money and had many daughters. It was a marriage made to cement their standing on Bilani III, as the Gunthrops were a very wealthy and influential family. She appealed directly to Werner, who actually was deeply in love with her, and had been since he was young. On learning of her distaste for the match, for him and his family, he flew into a rage, beat her viciously and raped her on the floor of the barn. She fled into the night, and never set foot on the manor grounds again.

Later, Hera would marry Frederick von Fürstenburg, a widower with a teenaged daughter, Lys. The von Fürstenburgs are a family with an even darker reputation than the Gunthrops. Hera, having broken off relations with Gunthrop, was disowned, and had no real choice. She was also pregnant with her rapist's children. When the twins (Marie and Alice) were born, von Furstenberg sent them back to their father, Werner. Hera never saw them again, and her heart was broken.

In truth, Frederick von Fürstenburg did not love his wife, and only planned to keep her for so long as she was amusing to him. Most likely she would have been sold into prostitution at some point through his good friend, Korg DeVine, or used her for one of his "art projects." Fate intervened, and badly, at least for Hera. Shortly after she married von Fürstenburg, he was able to purchase a tome of ancient lore, detailing a variety of spells and rituals, including one for creating a daemonhost. This, ultimately, was the fate of Hera. She is now imprisoned in the bowels of Castle von Fürstenburg, a thrice-bound daemonhost for the daemon, Gruul.

As for Marie and Alice… Marie will soon be quite dead, having been strangled to death by their father, whose fragile grasp on sanity is slipping quickly. Her body will be disposed of by Gruna, who took it into the marshes around the manor, and dumps it there. Alice will flee to Castle von Furstenburg, hoping to appeal to her mother, but will be taken prisoner, there.

None of the others know a thing. While the rest of Werner Gunthrop's staff still wonder what happened to them, the story they will be told is that the girls were sent off-planet for training and education. Anyone actually from Bilani III would know that only one Gunthrop child ever leaves, and never two. The only other person who knows the fate of the twins is Samara Jaxx who literally saw the truth in a dream.

Dramatis Personae

Inquisitrix Steffi Krueger, Ordo Hereticus (Xanthanite);
An Inquisition-trained assassin and younger peer of Inquisitrix Dorothea Senjak.

Andreius Arildsen, Imperial Psyker, Acolyte to Steffi Krueger—missing on Bilani III. The Inquistrix, Steffi Krueger, believes that he may be searching for the Ars Mortalitas cult. In fact, his is looking for his sister, Hera, having received a message from her. It is only coincidence that the cult is also on the planet.

Mercius Keller, Adeptus Arbites Commander, Bilani III.
He remembers Arildsen arriving on-world, but isn't sure where he went. He suggests checking the local inns. If questioned further, he may mention that there is an Arildsen family on Bilani III, but they are of little account these days, fallen from their former wealth, though still nobility, for what it's worth. A check of municipal records, however, demonstrates that Hera von Fürstenburg is actually Hera Arildsen von Fürstenburg, Andreius Arildsen's sister, and wife to Frederick von Fürstenburg.

Dalen Schramm, Keller's deputy. If questioned, he will reveal something like the following. Arildsen arrived on planet and hired a ground vehicle, he headed north. If they investigate the place where he rented the vehicle, they will find the vehicle has a tracker which places it at Gunthrop Manor.

Korg DeVine, a local crime lord. He runs a variety of operations in the Bilani Hive City, but specializes in human trafficking of various sorts. People who cross him tend to end up as servitors, or worse, Ars Mortalitas exhibits. He has ties to the von Fürstenburgs, but would like a way to break those ties. While he fears very little, Frederick von Fürstenburg terrifies him. Could provide both manpower and information to the PCs if they can convince him to turn coats.

The Gunthrops

Werner Gunthrop, Retired Guard Commander. An honored guardsman, Werner has returned home from active duty to retire. While the Empire counts him among its heroes, the truth about him is far, far darker.

Alice Gunthrop, his daughter
Fled, held in captivity by Frederick von Furstenberg.

Marie Gunthrop, his daughter
Deceased, strangled to death by her father.

Armininus, his Aide de Camp, another retired guardsman. He is loyal to Werner, but is growing suspicious of the circumstances of the Marie's death. He was also as close to Samara Jaxx as anyone could be, given her reclusive nature. Upon her death, he will become more and more agitated, and might be persuaded to reveal his suspicions. He knows that Werner Gunthrop has filed adoption documents for Samara Jaxx. He also has figured out the nature of the Gunthrop Curse. He thinks that perhaps Werner killed Jaxx, though he is wrong. That was done by a sending from Lys von Furstenberg. If questioned by the PCs, he may be convinced to share what he knows.

Cleon Grossklaus, his steward. He is a native of Bilani III, and has served Commander Gunthrop for a decade. In reality, he is also a spy for the von Fürstenburgs. It was he who revealed the arrival of the acolytes to Frederick von Fürstenburg, and he also sent Andreius Arildsen to his doom. He also knows about Samara Jaxx's talents, and shared his concerns with von Fürstenburg (which led, indirectly, to her death). He may coordinate an attack on the acolytes with Lys von Fürstenburg, or he might flee if things get too dicey.

Samara Jaxx, Guard Sniper, the insane painter.
She is a former guard sniper, whose time in the field has driven her insane (72 IP). She lives alone in one of the estate's outbuildings, and sometimes can be seen at dinner, but not often. No one speaks of her penchant for art. She suffers from Horrific Nightmares and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She is also a weak psychic power, able to receive psychic impressions from those around her.

She has painted a picture (Painting #1) that is in the old man's study, still on the wall but covered. The painting depicts the Gunthrop Twins, Alice and Marie. A closer look by someone psychically attuned reveals black claws reaching forth from a dark background as if to grab them.

If the PCs check, Gunthrop's desk, they will find adoption paperwork, documents making Samara Jaxx his newest daughter. It seems that Werner Gunthrop had planned on killing Marie and Alice all along, and having Jaxx for his heir.

[In the actual playthrough, Samara Jax was killed by a bog ghoul, sent by Lys von Fürstenburg at the behest of her father].

Gruna, Ogryn Cook (female): A devoted creature. She was Werner Gunthrop's nanny, and his father's. When Werner joined the guard, she went along with him. She went everywhere he did and did everything he did. She will do anything to preserve his life, up to and including killing the PCs.

[Gruna knows that Werner has killed Marie. She's not worried about it, though, as all Ogryn know that it's good to kill off the weakest child, else all the world would be filled with weaklings. It's right and proper that Herr Gunthrop should cull his offspring, thus. She doesn't understand, though, why he didn't just find another mate after Hera fled, and have more children with her. She thought that might be the case with Samara Jaxx, who clearly had what it took to be a war chief's mate. She's caught Jaxx and Werner mating once or twice, you see. And a war chief like Werner von Gunthrop clearly needed a warrior for his mate. Gruna was sure that it was only a matter of time until he took Samara Jaxx formally. With Jaxx dead, she worries for his future, and that of the war clan.]

Guardsmen (see generic guardsman sheets)

The von Fürstenburgs

Frederick von Fürstenburg, a nobleman whose property borders that of The Gunthrops. He is, in reality, a sorcerer of great power, skilled in Daemonology and Dark Lore. He is also the local cult leader for the Ars Mortalitas cult, which is comprised of nobles from many of the planet's oldest families.

Lys von Fürstenburg, his daughter and apprentice, a necromancer of some little skill.

Hera von Fürstenburg, his former wife, now a thrice-bound Daemonhost (Gruul), locked in the bowels of Castle von Fürstenburg, in a warded cell. Will the PCs open it up? She was the daughter of Kaius Arildsen, and the missing Imperial Psyker is her brother.

Various NPC classes (dissolute nobles, enforcers, skulkers, body guards, cultists) associated with the von Fürstenburgs.

Other People They've Met

Korg DeVine: Bartender and Crime Lord: The PCs did a snatch 'n' grab for him. It may be that he will provide info or do them a favor, later. However, he also relies upon the von Fürstenburgs (and other members of Ars Mortalitas) for a decent portion of his income. He will have to be persuaded to change sides, but could prove to be a valuable ally with a variety of resources at hand.

He's got a couple of enforcers close to hand, and a bodyguard. Take five points off the enforcers and they'll be good for goons.


Gunthrop Manor

Gunthrop Manor is the homestead of the Gunthrop family-militant, and was established over five centuries ago. The manor house is located on a rocky outcrop in one of the areas large marshes. The area provides ideal habitat for a variety of freshwater aquatic lifeforms, as well as avian and other forms of life. It is, on the other hand, a poor environment for grazing animals, though the Gunthrops have kept horses at various times. The manor consists of a large house, with good fortification, a barracks with a connected barn/stable, and small stone jetty and boathouse. Across the bridge from the manor is an agricultural village, where peasants toil long hours for little pay. They are ignorant, superstitious, and all-in-all subservient to their betters. Those who show promise often are selected for military training by the Gunthrops, and placed into the house guard or made part of the Imperial Tithe at times where new guard units are being raised.

Bilani III is an odd world, in that it has two parallel "noble" classes. One is a class of traditional aristocratic nobles (e.g., the von Fürstenburgs), but there is a separate, influential, and roughly equal class embodied by the planet's families-militant. For all that it is an agri world, Bilani III is also the source of many, many of the Empire's guardsmen, some of whom mustered out at the ends of their hitches and made warlords of themselves, surrounding their families with retainers, and claiming and fortifying large tracts of unsettled land In the northern and southern hemispheres. The Gunthrops were such a family-militant.

The Guntrop Estate is right in the middle of some of the richest agricultural land in the Vorkant Region, north of Bilani Hive City, and is the source of a variety of grains, exotic fruits, and other agricultural goods.  It also (and this is important to the campaign) shares a border with the von Fürstenburgs, whose domain is only a few kilometers to the south. This border has been desputed in past centuries, and the Gunthrop curse Is a direct result of von Fürstenburg resentment. It has been in effect for nearly 400 years. The Gunthrop lands comprise much of the rich eastern side of the Blue River Valley that stretches to the south of the manor. To the north are marshes, a string of small lakes, and some timberlands.

·         Night attack by  Bog Ghouls
·         If PCs attempt to attack Werner, Gruna will attack them.
·         6 Generic Guards will protect Werner

Schloss von Fürstenburg

The von Fürstenburgs established their domain many centuries before the Gunthrops, and their seat can be found atop a cliff overlooking the Blue River Valley. The castle itself is in ill repair, but large. It's fortifications are still intact, but fewer men guard them than in centuries past. The von Fürstenburgs are a decadent noble family, and many of their offspring have gone south to the hive city to seek their fortunes. By tradition, though no one knows why, the third offspring always inherits the castle and surrounding vineyards.

The purposes of fortification are somewhat thwarted by the large wine house and wine cellar complex at the south end of the complex. Von Fürstenburg wines and amasec are among the most highly regarded in the sector, and merchants and other persons of note flock to the estate at pressing time.

There are rumors among the simple folk who tend the vines, harvest and press the grapes, and do other work on the estate (and also heard from those in the village below) of vile debauchery and worse during these weeks. The von Fürstenburgs have a reputation for vanity, avarice, and cruelty.

There have been many peasant rebellions of the centuries of their rule, brutally suppressed. There are even rumors of darker practices, though the peasants fear to speak much about them.

The main of the von Fürstenburg lands stretch along the slopes of the hills above the Blue River Valley, toward the sound for many miles, and to the west, where they meet rich and extensive timberlands. Though they estate itself is a bit rundown, there is no reason It should be. The von Fürstenburgs are very, very rich, and even have some influence in Bilani Hive City.

Areas of Schloss von Fürstenburg

1. Gatehouses (1a and 1b)
These are located at the only entrance to the castle walls, astride the gate and portcullis, gate is usually closed, portcullis is usually open. There are 4 guards on duty at any given time, two in each gatehouse.
Note: There is 1 Combat Shotgun and 1 Autorifle available in each gatehouse.
·         Autogun Basic 90m S/3/10 1d10+3 I 0 30 Full
·         Shotgun - Combat Basic 30m S/3/- 1d10+4 I 0 18 Full (Scatter)
·         4 Enforcers
2. Caretaker's House
The caretaker and his wife live here. They have one son who is one of the estate's enforcers. He is a secret mutant.
Encounter: None
Thick, tough outer door (10 AP) made of metal with wood core. Locked, with view port.
·         2 Enforcers.
4. Grand Hall/Small Wing
·         2 Dissolute Nobles
·         4 Goons
5. (a) Keep (above) / (b) Old Shrine (below, accessible via wine cellars)
(a) Keep
The keep consists of four levels, reached via a stone staircase winding up along the walls, widdershins. At each level above the bottom one, there is a landing with one or more doors.

1.      The bottom level is double-high, and contains a large, stone staircase along the walls, winding up, counter-clockwise.
2.      Second level contains a library and sitting room with a large fireplace (it does not contain the "good stuff")
3.      Third level is Lys von Fürstenburg 's. It's like an apartment flat, minus kitchen facilities. It is surprisingly current in its décor, and has a variety of touches that suggest a dark and brooding, spoiled, and secretive Heiress.
4.      Forth level is Frederick von Fürstenburg 's. It's a more elaborate version of the third level. There is a secret passage in the South+ wall of his bed chamber, behind the armoire.

·         Lys and Frederick von Fürstenburg will be in their chambers.
·         4 Bodyguards
·         2 Bog Ghouls
(b) Old Shrine
The Old Shrine is built in the basement of the Keep, but is only accessible via the Wine Cellar. A secret door is in the north wall, but is requires a Search Test to find. It is here that the acolytes will find out the fate of Andreius Arildsen. He is on display in the area outside of the warded cell containing the daemon host.

Each day, a medicae servitor removes another piece of him. It started with toes and fingers, and moved inward from there. Each piece is removed, carefully, to ensure no damage to the bones, then stripped of flesh and cleaned by an odd, scavenger insect native to Bilani III. This cleaning process is completed in a well-lit, glass and metal chamber, to make it viewable. The bones are then removed and scrimshawed by another servitor (quite skillfully and beautifully, actually), and then reassembled on the other side of the "art space," The skeleton has been made whole with a combination of wire and filigreed caps and brackets of a beautiful silvery alloy (done by a local artisan in the employ of von Fürstenburg), and stands atop a low platform of black stone, with a neat nameplate of the same alloy, reading "Perfect Union of Mind and Body."

When the PCs arrive, the servitor will be in the midst of removing the remaining bones of his torso from the chamber with the insects. His head, miraculously, is still alive, hooked up to various medicae machinery, the face bent into a rictus of such suffering and misery that each person who views it must make a normal Willpower test or take 1d10 Insanity Points. Arildsen cannot be saved, but even if he could, his sanity has long since rounded the bend, never to return. He probably wouldn't even make a decent servitor at this point.

·         6 Cult Fanatics outside of warded chamber
·         Daemonhost within locked, warded chamber.
6. Long Wing
·         2 Enforcers and 2 Goons and 3 Cult Fanatics in Dining Room
·         2 Cult Fanatics, 2 Enforcers and 2 Goons on 2nd Floor, sleeping.
7. Kitchens
8.Servants' Quarters
9. (a) Winehouse (fermenting vats, open area at front where shipments go out; door to Cellars is in the East Wall) and (b)Cellars (vast racks of wine tuns; entrance to Old Shrine in East Wall; entrance to Wine House in West Wall)
·         2 Enforcers and 2 Cult Fanatics guarding area. The enforcers are in the Wine House and the Cult Fanatics are in the Cellar
10. Distillery (in a building outside of the Wine House)
This is where they distill the amasec. It's a relatively small, stone building with a slate roof. The double door is stout and made of metal-reinforced timbers. It is locked when no one is in there.

Encounters: During the day, two Cult Fanatics who work there, making the amasec.

11. Abandoned Guard Tower
Encounters: None

The Vorkant Region of Belani III

The Vorkant Region is near the coast of the main continent of Belani III, just north of its equator. It consists of low mountains, interspersed with rivers, marshes, and small but fertile flatlands. The Blue River is the main river in the region, and follows the course of the largest river valleys, emptying into the largest ocean. This region's climate resembles the Western Oregonian region of the Pacific Northwest of the American continent of Terra, though the weather is slightly cooler. The climate of the region features substantial rainfall in the fall and winter, with occasional heavy snows. From about October to April or May, the skies are overcast approximately 75% of the time, with some sort of precipitation falling from them. Temperatures are relatively mild, but get cold enough to produce winter weather, usually in January and February. The summers, on the other hand, are relatively dry, and can occasionally have a week or so of hot weather. Overall, they are relatively mild and pleasant. Fall and Spring are fairly brief periods with some combination of rainy and sunny periods in about equal parts.

The region is largely devoted to cultivation of various grain and seed crops, but also boasts rich timber lands and superior vineyards and orchards. It is the source of some of the most notable wines in the Empire, and what is arguably the best small-batch amasec in the Calixis Sector.

The wildlife in the area is prolific but largely benign, the larger predators having been hunted to extinction in the distant past. It is a popular destination for nobility, and many of the planets noble houses have hunting lodges in the region. The fishing is especially good along the Blue River and its tributaries.

Aerial Map of Vorkant Region of Bilani III

This is an overview of the Vorkant Region. You will notice the combination of marshlands and fields. Like the Willamette Valley, but just a little warmer during the rainy season, and just a bit drier in the Summer.

Bilani Hive City and Space Elevator

Balani Hive City is relatively small as hive cities go (population 250 million), and its main attraction is the large grain elevator, which can be seen for many miles. It reaches up to a large, geosynchronous space transport station. The hive city itself is on the planet's equator, about 120 km south of the Vorkant Region.

Aside from the grain elevator, this city is home to a large spaceport and the offices of many large merchant cartels dealing in agricultural products, as well as a large Imperial Guard administration facility. It is the only hive city on Balani III, which is quite sparsely populated and primitive compared to a planet like Scintilla.

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