The Ars Moralitas campaign began after a foray into Rogue Trader. The Rogue Trader campaign was one I was pretty proud of. It had a lot of new and interesting NPC creatures (My favorite was a construct known as a Ticktock Man--Thanks, Harlan Ellison), and brought back the Stunties (Dwarves) long presumed dead. It also brought back Warpstone (a.k.a. Wyrdstone) as a concern.
But that campaign more or less collapsed under the weight of the game's assumptions. It assumes a crew of a large ship, one which includes the PCs, one of whom is the Rogue Trader Lord Captain. Unfortunately, I got too elaborate with it, and people had a hard time keeping up with which of the various characters they were playing was which, and what their jobs were, and so forth. The fact that my players' attendance was uneven in some cases certainly didn't help this.
In any case, we ran about three sessions. During the last session, when only two players showed up, I simply said, "This isn't working. I have a lot of good stuff here, but this game is not fun for me to run. Let's go back to Dark Heresy." or something of that nature. They all agreed, almost immediately. So, it ended up being an expensive diversion, fun but ultimately not the game of choice. I'll post my plans for that campaign in a later post. Maybe people can scavenge the good parts from it.
The next thing I did was to establish the Ars Mortalitas Campaign, and start the first chapter, "Pretty as a Picture," which was based on a tale by Glen Cook (discussed in my last post). This started a campaign arc involving arcane sorcery that is still running, and in its third chapter.
Ars Moralitas Campaign: Session One (Nov. 26, 2011)
The PCs were briefed by their new inquisitrix, Steffi Krueger (from the Xanthanite radical faction) and her Adept, Gloria Lux Imperator [This is perhaps one of my favorite NPC names I've come up with].
The acolytes are to be dispatched to Balani 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, Balani 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.
After the players and Gloria do some digging, they discover 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 into the Drusus Marches, some 50 years ago)
Andreius Arildsen was probably investigating something related o the Ars Mortalitas cult, which 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 PCs went to Balani III on a rogue trader vessel called Light of the Emperor, captained by a scar-faced and quiet man by the name of Ezekiel Helkan [This was actually a PC turned NPC, from a few sessions of Rogue Trader we ran]. The trip went by without incident, and they soon reached the Balani system. They took a shuttle down to the main city (also called Balani). The planet is famous for its geosynchronous grain elevator, which sends load after load of foodstuff (packed in shipping containers) up to an orbital station, for transport to other parts of the Empire.
Acolytes found their way to a nearby bar and casino. Jason went for "wicked street cred" by doing a snatch job for a local crime lord (Korg DeVine) on a man who owed people more money than was healthy, and was more or less successful. Jason and one other player helped in the pursuit of the target while two others were involved in checking out their target's crib. The target got shot in the leg and was captured, trussed, and taken back to the (front) door of the bar. The bartender (owner? Boss?) was a bit perturbed by this, but was grateful for the safe return of the property he will now sell to get his money back. This is one bad man, whoever he is.
Later the acolytes learned about the Gunthrops and the von Fürstenburgs from local law enforcement (Arbites Commander Mercius Keller). Eventually they end up out the Gunthrop estate. Werner Gunthrop (aka The Old Man) is a retired guardsman, with a lot of hangers-on from his unit, Including one really screwed up sniper named Samara Jaxx, and an ogryn nursemaid/cook. He lives with them, his daughters, and some guardsmen, and they're all one big, happy family. The players talk to the Old Man, who fingers Frederick von Fürstenburg for the disappearance of Andreius Arildsen. He says Arildsen came by, but continued on, and that he hasn't been seen since. He seems to be telling the truth, or at least there's no sense that he's lying.
The players adjourn to talk to the Old Man in his study. While there, the psyker notices a painting of Gunthrop's twin daughters, Marie and Alice. A moment after gazing at the painting, the psyker sees that clawed hands seem to be reaching for the girls out of a profound darkness. They look very real and he is profoundly frightened. No one else can see it. When he checks, there may be a psychic residue but he's not sure. Perhaps it requires his energy to work?
It turns out that Guthrop's scout-sniper, Samara Jaxx, was the painter of the disturbing painting, and the players need to talk to her. She lives out in the barn, which abuts onto the "barracks," another stone building next door. To the left is Jaxx's studio and some other rooms, and to the right are horse stalls and an open space with doors at both ends. The players go to find her studio, and presumably Jaxx herself, but they find her strangled, her neck broken. How could that have happened? After some investigation reveals slimy hand and footprints, all signs point to walking dead coming from the lake.
Jason's character goes to check out the hay loft. Mark's character climbs a ladder up to the hayloft, finding himself inside a stack of hay full of Jaxx's paintings. Then Jason sees a Molotov cocktail fly in through the window, crashing into the interior of the roof, and dripping onto the hay bales, quickly catching them on fire. Mark's character frantically tries to get the paintings. With some really nifty rolls, he manages to save them all. There are 10 of them.
Jason noticed something odd. The only place the Molotov cocktail could have come from betrays no obvious source of the projectile. The only other place it could have come from is a window In the barracks, and is probably a bit too far over, though someone could probably stretch. Unfortunately, that means that the angle at which it entered the building was all wrong. What the hell is this?
[In fact, there was someone there, but that person successfully used an invisibility spell.]
But there's no time to worry at this point. The barn is burning merrily, and starts to spread to the other building. The Gunthrop retinue is trying to start a buck brigade to stop the fire, but it seems a lost cause, at least for the barn.
And that's pretty much where we ended.