Annihilation! (Prequel to a Battle)
South of Campogrotta, Summer 2404
First out had been the scouts, scurrying off in all directions to ascertain if it was safe for the rest of the army to emerge. They learned that the land immediately south of the river was only partially forested, with curving valleys through grassy sloped hills in between the scattered copses and larger woods. The forest proper began to the south, a little way off, which was where, they hoped, any sylvan elves would stay. Not that they were really scouting for elven forces, but rather to ensure the Campogrottan manthings were not present on this side of the river in any strength. They had also been ordered to slaughter any and all patrols they encountered, the ensure that word of the army’s presence did not pass back to Campogrotta too soon.
When enough scouts had returned to report no sightings – apart from a band of soldiers at the bridge leading to the city, several miles off, Seer-Lord Urlak Ashoscrochor himself, with some chieftains, clawleaders and his bodyguard regiment, had been the first of the army proper to leave the tunnel mouth. The scouts had already picked a route for the army, and what scouts had not returned were concealed at intervals along it, the better to spot any enemy approach and to carry the news back before an enemy got too close to the army.
Normally, when above ground, skaven would be expected to take the most concealed route, which would mean favouring the wooded stretches, but this was not to be the case on this occasion. Urlak had observed the annihilation bombard’s progress and knew that not only was its passage best facilitated by even ground and open spaces, but that it would likely prove catastrophically disastrous to move it through any other terrain. The engine’s attendants scurried ahead to remove rocks and fallen branches, fill holes and test the firmness of the ground, having become skilled in the art. But it would be impossible for them to clear away the tangled mass of undergrowth in the woods, never mind clearing roots and branches, in anything like sufficient time to allow the bombard’s continuous progress. It could never be allowed to stop for more than a few moments at a time, otherwise everything around it, even its protectively-gowned attendants, would wither and die. Nor could it be allowed to topple or crash, or even just jolt too hard, for then the grenado carried within might prematurely detonate. And so, despite all usual practice and the strong desire to lurk in the shadows, the bombard had to travel in the open, with the army moving necessarily ahead of it (for nothing could survive very long in its wake). That said, their route would at least favour the valley bottoms, with the hills providing at least some cover from prying eyes.
At Urlak’s request, the scouts led him to a hillside from which he would be able to watch the army embark upon the short journey. He had some decisions to make and had it in his head that it would be easier to make them if he could have a good look at the component parts of the large force at his disposal.
First to heave into view were the warriors of Clan Fiddlash’s ‘Red Jullgak’ Regiment. Armed with barbed spears and bearing round, iron-rimmed shields, they marched in good order, the sound of their hissing and snarling mingled with the clattering of their armour and gear, both louder than the noise their footfalls made upon the soft ground.
These warriors had already marched through the underpass far to the south of here, only to return without joining in battle, too late to join in the assault on Ravola. Unbloodied as they were, nevertheless, they seemed keen for a fight, and it was hard to imagine that any foe could withstand the charge of such a swarm of warriors.
Urlak’s chief scout was pointing at the regiment’s rear.
“Great and most noble lord,” hissed the scout, “See, see? How they push and shove? How even those at the back strain and strive to march on. They are eager-keen for the battle-fight, yes?”
And well they might be, thought Urlak. Fiddlash’s warriors had missed the looting of Ravola, instead marching almost non-stop in the underpass for many a week (on his orders). He had taken measures to ensure that few in his army knew just how dangerous the annihilation bombard was – especially to their own army, so the warriors must be assuming they would be ordered into battle soon. Their pent-up desire to fight could well be reaching fever-pitch. Or … perhaps the bombard’s potentially disastrous deadliness was no secret at all, and those at the regiment’s rear were pushing due to a desire to keep as far as possible from it. Everyone knew it poisoned the ground wherever it passed, but he had been hoping the otherwise ignorant masses had yet to realise just how much damage it would do if it were to miscarry in some way.
Urlak watched the warriors intently, for he had to decide which parts of his army to send ahead with the annihilation bombard. When it fired, hopefully bringing about the death of every single creature in Campogrotta, it had to be close enough to lob the grenade into the city. It would need guards to ensure it attained the required proximity, and not an insubstantial number, otherwise it could fail simply because an enemy patrol intercepted it.
He did not intend, however, to have his entire force, or even the greater part of it, close to the weapon when it fired, for if anything went wrong, he could lose quite literally everything. He had lived long enough to know that when it came to such experimental novelties, they should never be relied upon. Even the army’s tried and tested engines, used for many a century, were prone to catastrophic malfunctions, and indeed there was barely a warpstone weapon of any size, even as small as the jezzails, that could be fully trusted, such was the chaotic nature of the magically powerful, supralunary stone. Furthermore, the instability of the stone waxed in direct proportion to its potency. From what he had been told of the bombard, the grenado housed within its massive barrel contained possibly the most substantial and dense concentrations of powdered warpstone ever fashioned. If it was to misfire, then every living thing within a mile (or more) would likely become a fatality – which is exactly what it was supposed to do when it worked successfully, too, but at a location more conducive to harming the enemy.
While he had been pondering, the plague monks had passed, and then the lesser war machines had trundled by – some propelled by their own engines, others hauled by slaves. Bundles of jezzails and pavaises were strapped to several of them, a practise permitted by the engineers provided the jezzailers assisted, as required, to facilitate the engines’ passage. Such activity was rare enough that that jezzailers were happy to oblige in return for not having to lug their heavy weapons and shields on the march. Urlak knew some of the army’s lighter troops, such as the globadiers and giant rat swarms, were not moving in the line of march, but travelling on a parallel course, like outriders might in a manthings’ army, as a further precautionary measure against ambush.
By the time the slaves began to pass, he knew the bombard would be close. His commanders had planned the army’s order of march according to the importance of its regiments. The most valuable, the clan warriors, were at in the vanguard, whilst towards the rear, where the bombard was, were the more expendable regiments, including the slaves. This way, if the bombard were to be toppled by holes in the ground, strike a fallen tree, be struck itself by a tumbling boulder, or the ever-broiling grenade within it were simply to grow catastrophically hot, any of which could catalyse its premature explosion, then it would be the slaves who suffered most from the ensuing blast.
Even if the bombard suffered no fault, then mere proximity to its peculiarly poisonous ammunition was enough to sap the life from all forms of flora and fauna, and any unprotected skaven. It was therefore considered best, by all who had a say in the matter, that the slaves ought to be the ones to suffer the consequences of its deadly caress rather than anyone other part of the army. Of course, the protectively clothed warriors, the bombard’s attendants and guards, had to be close to it, but then they breathed filtered air and shielded their eyes with thick, tinted lenses.
Clan Fiddlash boasted a great many slaves, most of which were mustered as a fighting force. They passed by in ranks and files, escorted by whip wielding overseers to encourage the steadiness of their pace and the maintenance of their dressing.
It now occurred to Urlak that the overseers were unprotected, a notion that had not previously crossed his mind. He reassured himself with the thought that should the slaves’ masters succumb to the bombard’s poisonous proximity, then the slaves would surely be suffering exactly similarly, and thus unable to take advantage of their guards’ incapacity.
Urlak was pleased to see that none appeared to be in any way affected by the poison. He knew how useful such a horde of slaves could prove, and he would much rather they died serving his purpose in battle than perished simply moving from one place to another. They were not armed with spears, only short swords, giving the advantage to their whip-armed overseers. Any who had shown a hint of intransigence were chained, which would make their journey considerably more difficult. He noticed few were so chained, which boded well regarding their usefulness in battle. Of course, they did not possess shields, for that would make the whips a much less effective encouragement.
Studying the slaves, he pondered. Could they be trusted to form part of the bombard’s escort when it advanced to do its cruel work upon the city? Certainly, any force attempting to reach the war engine would struggle to make headway through such a mass of blade-wielding desperadoes.
But no – he had other tasks in mind for them. Should the bombard be successful in launching its deadly burden, the slaves would be the perfect choice to enter the city afterwards and ensure nothing had survived, as well as to fetch from it whatever treasures and goods could be salvaged. The warpstone poison harmed only living things, not precious metals and the like, and so there could well be good plunder to be had. Better to employ his more dispensable soldiers for such a task.
His musings were disturbed by the chief scout hissing, “Slave scum-filth!”
Urlak glanced at the scout.
“Forgive-forget, please-please, great lord. My words were unnecessary-unedifying.”
Urlak was not really listening and instead returned his attention to the slaves. They were led by what looked like a standard, and in a sense it was, but not one to show allegiance or to symbolize their honour or bravery, but rather solely to guide them – to indicate the direction and speed of their march and where exactly to form up whenever the command was given. Failure to do either resulted in the usual punishment.
On the hill behind Urlak were his best soldiers, his bodyguard regiment, the Yellow Hoods, who accompanied him at all times.
This regiment’s officers provided a useful source of intelligence for him, especially regarding the mood and disposition of the army. Despite the fact they almost always disagreed over some details, the very nature of their disagreement could itself assist Urlak in ascertaining the truth.
His bodyguard had fought very well at Ravola, never once leaving his side even when suffering heavy casualties from the enemy’s arrows and hurled rocks. He now wondered whether, as it had so proven its obedient loyalty, this was the regiment he should send ahead with the bombard?
Of all the regiments he commanded, this was the one he could trust most to follow the letter of his commands, and not to allow fear or caution to dilute their obedience. Yet, if he were to order them upon that task, they would not then be under his eyes, and who knew what weaknesses might manifest when they were bereft of his stern gaze? More importantly, if he did send them away, he himself would have no bodyguard, and that would not do at all.
Put simply, he did not trust either Clan Fiddlash or Clan Skravell anywhere near enough to risk being separated from his guards.
He turned to the nearest Yellow Hood clawleader …
… and asked,
“Where is the bombard? It ought and should be here now. Is it delayed? Is it stalled? What and why?”
“Noble leader, it comes. I feel and smell it, in the ground and on the wind-breeze.”
Moments later Urlak sensed it too. The clawleader had sharp senses, better than his own. Urlak would remember this, for it could prove useful in future.
“There, there, most high commander,” said the chief scout, pointing down the valley.
Before long the Clan Skryre warriors of the bombard’s guard regiment were below, the swish of their waxed linen and leather robes adding an extra sheen to the rattling sound of their passage. The bombard rolled behind, pushed by the mechanical wheel in which a new driver had to be placed almost every week, despite the several protective layers he wore!
Urlak could see the most senior ranking Skryre commander upon the guard regiment’s other flank, a warlock-engineer named Golchramik. He wore a mask about his upper face, and his eyes were covered by glass, but, unlike all the others, he had no muzzle-mask.
This intrigued Urlak. Was the engineer just careful, always staying ahead of the bombard? Or was he impervious to its poisonous aura, perhaps due to long exposure to similar warpstone effects? If the latter, then it did not bode well for the bombard’s effectiveness, for if this fellow could develop sufficient immunity to forego the wearing of a full mask, then could the grenado really be as deadly as Clan Skryre had promised? Perhaps the engineer was employing some other trick? It was not inconceivable that the substantial tank upon his back was plumbed into his throat or lungs, or that he employed subtle magics to counteract the poison. Urlak knew he was guessing, so decided not to consider the issue further. It mattered not.
(Note: Thanks Damian for the gift of this figure! It’s very generous of you to assist in the growth of your enemy’s army!!)
The rest of those close to the bombard were much more comprehensively covered. Every warrior in the guard regiment wore a full mask, from the snout of which stretched a flexible, filter tube leading to an arrangement of tanks on their backs. There were several different kinds of mask, and an equally varied selection of tanks. Urlak wondered whether, after the engine’s firing, the proportioning of the survivors would reveal which combination was the most effective?
The warriors’ visibility must be restricted, he thought, for they saw the world through bulbous lenses of smoked glass fixed tightly in their leather masks. Whether this part-blindness would prove a perilous impediment was debatable, for if they were fighting near the bombard, whoever they faced would no doubt be seriously suffering (as did any unprotected creature) from its poisonous aura, which would surely more than even the odds. It seemed to Urlak that a more likely source of trouble was the proximity of their bared blades to the long filter tubes, especially when employed in the swish-swash of frenzied combat.
Squinting, he wondered whether this was the reason the tubes were so thick? It looked like the Skryre warriors had bound coarse cloth about them, perhaps hoping that a blade would cut only as deep as the binding and not all the way through to the tube within? Or perhaps, and this seemed more likely, the cloths were intended to seal (if only partially) any gashes and allow sufficient continued breathing until the tube could be properly patched?
Again, however, what did any of this matter? Right now, he needed to think like a warlord and not a tinkering engineer.
The obvious choices regarding to send ahead with the bombard where those warriors garbed in protective gear. Of course, the bombard’s attendants and crew must go, and its guard regiment should obviously accompany it, for they were the only substantial body of troops who could fight in close proximity to it without suffering.
But who and what else to send? The globadiers were similarly protected, and so they would be a sensible choice. As for the rest, he might send those he considered expendable, and if not the slaves, as he had already considered, then perhaps the Plague Monks, their numbers having been sorely diminished by the assault on Ravola? What was left of them could prove useful instead of simply perishing in amongst the multiple melees of a large battle?
Or should he send those that might prove useful to the bombard’s efficiency, such as the warlock engineers? They could assist in its movement and firing should its crew and assistants become casualties. And if he were to send the engineers, then why not send one or more of his army’s lesser engines of war? It could be a cunning ploy to order several machines ahead, for then the bombard would be less conspicuous, hidden ‘like among like’, and whatever enemies were encountered might be distracted by the other engines, no less massive than the bombard and indeed some of them more so. The enemy might thus attack entirely the wrong machines and waste what little time they had stop the bombard.
The bombard itself was chugging by below, three attendants on ether side of it. He chuckled for it looked almost comical, like a massive clockwork toy. Clatter-clatter, clunk-clunk it went. But then he saw how the grass behind it visibly withered then crumbled into powder moments after its passage, and the sight pushed all ideas that it was a toy from his mind.
Could it really destroy a city, and the army within? If so, how best to ensure it got close enough to do so?
He had until the evening to decide.
Twice, Thrice and More Shall I Kill-Slaughter, and Never Look Upon Thy Face.
A Battle Report
Just south of the city of Campogrotta
The first of the ratto uomo to arrive within sight of the river were the gunners of one of the jezzail companies. They hefted their burdensome barrels and pavaises to the top of a little hill from where they could see the bridge, the toll keeper’s cottage and the body of mercenary crossbowmen guarding the place.
The enemy had obviously been forewarned of their approach, as they were formed up in an orderly manner, and sheltered behind their own pavaises, some of which were painted with their company’s emblem, also visible on the little ensign fluttering in the breeze above them.
Lord Urlak had sent the jezzails with exactly such a target in mind. His orders were clear – they were to kill any enemies who might threaten the annihilation bombard with missiles, and do so as quickly as possible. Of all the forces available to him, Lord Urlak must have thought them best able to do so due to the range of their long pieces and the potency of their warpstone bullets. Annoyingly, however, the two companies of jezzails had been ordered to advance separately, to cover a wider area. This first company, five in number, saw immediately that the enemy crossbowmen were numerous enough that it would take considerable time to drive them off, time in which they could possibly shoot their own weapons at the engine.
Their concerns were not that different from those of the other jezzailers, far to the right of them, who had similarly crested a hill. From there they descried a body of horsemen.
The riders were one of the several companies of light horse that had been continuously circumnavigating the city of Campogrotta, presumably because the enemy commander suspected an attack was imminent. Of practical necessity, the horsemen carried lighter crossbows than their foot counterparts, but their mobility meant they could move quicker and closer to bring them to bear. So it was that the leader of the second company of jezzailers was also cursing the decision to divide the two.
Nevertheless, knowing what else was approaching to guard the engine, the jezzailers had to admit that the situation was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. They faced only thirty or so light troops, nothing like an army. Campogrotta possessed considerable forces, of both men and dwarfs, and if even half its strength was brought to bear here, the annihilation bombard could not possibly get close enough to launch its deadly burden.
Perhaps Lord Urlak’s plan to draw the enemy’s attention northwards to Buldio had worked? Despite the recent death of the underworld emissary he had lodged in Campogrotta, the remaining ratto uomo’s spies and assassins (who had assisted the emissary) still had considerable influence on the criminal fraternities of Campogrotta, most importantly debts they could call in to command the menthings to commit arson and stir up riots in Buldio. Once the town was burning, then whether the enemy mistakenly believed Urlak’s assault had begun there or recognised the truth that violent unrest and fiery rebellion had broken out mattered not, as either way they would surely be distracted, and forced to take their eyes off the southern approach. Considering Lord Urlak’s army was last known to have captured Ravola in the north, then it was doubtful that many eyes were looking south in the first place.
Below the first company of jezzailers the horde of slaves now marched towards the bridge.
Just like the rest of the army, the slaves had marched ahead of the engine throughout the long journey here. If the engine had moved in the vanguard through the underpass, then its poisonous passage in such an enclosed space would so have corrupted the tunnel that it was unlikely even one warrior would have emerged. Here, however, even above ground, there was more to the slaves’ advance positioning – their sheer weight of numbers was expected to block and hold off any enemy attempting to reach the engine.
Lord Urlak had given considerable thought to the matter of who exactly to send ahead with the engine. No-one had been surprised when he included the slaves in the escort. This was exactly the sort of task such despised, disposable and desperate troops were best suited for. As they approached the river the chains had been removed from their wrist shackles and blades had been distributed liberally amongst them. They were told the enemy was weak and easy to kill, unworthy of the attention of the rest of the army, and that once defeated they would be freely permitted to feast on the enemies’ flesh as a reward. The half-starved slaves now moved with an alacrity never before witnessed, chattering and salivating in equal measure, and in so large a mob that it was difficult to imagine anything could get through them.
On the right of the line, although not as far out as the second jezzail company, the remnant of the once large plague monk regiment advanced between two clumps of trees, the sun behind them. Despite having been badly mauled when taking the walls at Ravola, rather than perturbing them, the experience seemed only to make them more keen for battle.
The bells on their standard and born by their musician clanged, interspersed with cymbal crashes as and when the musician thought fit. Lord Urlak had apparently decided that at less than half their original strength they were no longer particularly useful to his main army, and so ordered them to join the dangerously unstable engine’s escort. If they perished, he had been heard to say, then it would be like finishing off an already wounded beast of burden and so no great loss. He simply intended to get some use out of them before they died.
At the centre of the ragged line trundled the annihilation bombard, accompanied as ever by half a dozen mask wearing attendants, scuttling busily around it to ensure its smooth progress.
They were a little less active now, for they were approaching the moment it would finally fire, as well as drawing close to the enemy. Clutching bared blades, they understood that on this last stretch of their journey, defending their ward from attackers should be their priority. And then, when the engine reached the river side – which the engineers had deemed was just close enough to the city to launch the grenado – they would be needed to assist in its firing. The city killing bomb it contained was as unstable as it had ever been, for with every broiling moment that passed it only ever became more so. Indeed, in the dark tunnel and even last night under the light of the moon, the attendants noticed the huge iron barrel enclosing the grenado had begun glow with the etheric heat of its burden. The engine itself looked as new as the day it was built, however, for such was the poison and heat it gave off that neither mould nor rust were able to find a foothold. For a week now the driver, the last of a succession of such, had not left the seat at the heart of the wheel that pushed the bombard. Not only was there no-one left to replace him, or just work a shift, but most of his bones had become almost wholly fused in place. Besides, he had long since realised he was effectively already dead – he just hadn’t quite crossed the seam into the afterlife.
The bright light of the sun seemed to spur the engine on. One of the front-most attendants bore a sharp-edged shovel, which as well as being necessary to smooth the ground, would now, if required, be utilised as a weapon; while the other bore a staff tipped with an ancient, once almost completely sapped, warpstone shard, which in the mysteriously sympathetic manner of magical attraction, was able to draw off some of the stray energies emanating from the engine so that the attendants might survive that little bit longer. And it had apparently worked, for it now glowed brightly like a shard of sky stone fallen fresh from the heavens, brimming with the arcane energy it had leeched over the last months. Its bearer was, in his own increasingly addled way, fascinated to see what it would do if employed as a weapon!
Inevitably, the engine’s guard regiment marched close by, every warrior garbed similarly to the attendants, though bristling with many more blades.
This was their moment, of course, and they had to be here. Thanks to their waxed robes and copper filtration tanks, they alone could march close to the engine without succumbing to its deadly aura – without blood pouring from blinded eyes, without their bones fusing or their muscles withering to nought, without their lungs crumbling into dust or their hearts shrivelling into dry husks.
As they approached the river, their commander, the warlock engineer Golchramik, strode in the front rank, clutching his novel firework and bent under the weight of the massive copper contraption upon his back, part of which powered his experimental weapon while the rest fed cleansed air to his lungs.
He glanced about him: at the engine, at the regiments in the line and at the enemy up ahead. This fight was to be the culmination of all that he had worked for, for many a month, so he wanted to get it right. It now dawned on him, despite the safety any skaven naturally felt when part of a mob, that he was not in the right spot.
He had to be able to move nimbly, to spot, target and launch his rocket at anything that threatened the engine, wherever they came from, whilst directing both the guard and the engine as changing circumstances required. So, he made his way to the regiment’s flank, then stepped out alone. The huge mob of slaves and the deadly jezzails on the hill would surely prove sufficient to guard the engine’s left …
… but here on the right, with woods up ahead where anything could be hidden in the trees, and a cottage which might also harbour some unseen foe, he would have to be ready himself to react quickly.
This was how the engine and its escort approached the river upon the southern outskirts of Campogrotta. If the annihilation bombard successfully reached the river’s edge and launched its burden without mishap, then the entire population of Campogrotta, as well as the army within, would be destroyed.
What a glorious way to defeat the foe!
This is for those among you who like this sort of thing. I can’t imagine there are many of you!
This was a ‘play-by-email’ battle (due to distances and pandemics!) Put very simply, the scenario was as follows:
The skaven player must get the annihilation mortar to the river’s edge to be in range of the city. If he achieved this then the engine could attempt to fire, which might actually kill just about everyone in the city.
In truth, the situation was much more complicated, as the annihilation mortar was a very unreliable contraption, and the grenade it was to fire entirely untested and unstable. (See the rules below.) Indeed, should it be damaged, destroyed or misfire, it was potentially deadly to everyone on the tabletop! This means that the skaven player, as described in the prologue story (link) had to choose the escort/guard force carefully – getting the balance between effectiveness and disposability just right!
The skaven had several 1000 points of forces in the tunnels (other forces were acting as garrisons), plus the annihilation mortar. Their scouts reported there were likely 3500+ pts of men and dwarfs in the city, being the Compagnia del Sole mercenary army and a brigade of Karak Borgo dwarfs, with plenty of guards posted and regular light-horse patrols. Also present in the city was the fire wizard Perette, commander of the last remnant of the Bretonnian ‘Brabanzon’ company.
The men and dwarfs were NPC factions, or at least, the dwarf king PC wasn’t present in the city and so couldn’t technically be involved. They knew a lot about the skaven assault on Ravola as Perette was there, and were also aware of the existence of some sort of new and incredibly poisonous contraption which arrived at Ravola after its capture. Despite not having seen it with their own eyes, the brigand ‘Arrabiatti’ riders had reported the dead and deadly ground left behind it wherever it travelled.
In order to make success more likely, Lord Urlak (well, the campaign player playing him) ordered a distraction involving arson, riot (etc) at the settlement of Buldio to the north of the city, in order to draw out as many of the enemy’s forces as possible, so that they would have less available to send against the engine. Annoyingly, however, the emissary he had previously sent to create a secret, underworld faction of servants had recently died. Such work is inherently dangerous! Obviously, the emissary would have been the best by far at organising such distraction – not only was this area of expertise, but it was he who had fashioned the bonds, cemented the allegiances, and created a secret, petty ‘empire’ of criminal scum he could manipulate (see the story – link). Now only a spy and assassin remained operational within the city, both of whom excelled in other skills!
I would have given the emissary a 6+ (on 2D6) chance of getting a ‘good’ result at Buldio, but as it was the spy and assassin attempting to employ the ‘network’ the emissary had already built, I stipulated an 8+ (on 2D6) chance of getting a properly noticeable result. A poor result (7 or less) would mean perhaps one fire, or some bar brawling, etc, which would most likely only cause a small force to be sent to investigate, if even that. A good result, 8+, would achieve something more impressive – several fires spreading, joining, and some frantic activity in the form of panic, plundering and rioting, which could even appear like a skaven attack. This would mean the GM (me) determining what % of the available forces were sent to deal with the trouble &/or threat, with the exact choices of units being rolled for. Importantly, whoever and whatever went to Buldio would NOT be able to ‘support-move’ south onto the tabletop of the game.
Do you follow me so far?
Myself and the Skaven player had a great time hatching all this. Boy did we feel foolish near the end of the game when it dawned on both of is that there was a massive error of logic in Urlak’s thinking!
His aim was to destroy the enemy army. He intended to use Clan Skryre’s deadly invention to do so. Worried that the enemy might send out enough of a force to prevent the engine from approaching close enough, he orders the distraction.
Sounds great, eh? But can you spot the flaw?
It is this: Suppose everything works. The distraction draws a substantial, enemy force northwards out of the city, while the engine manages, despite the force sent southwards from the city to stop it, to shoot. The city is destroyed! Hurr …. Wait! How much of the enemy army is now in the city, if several regiments were lured north?
All this effort and it is possible the enemy army is still substantially intact!
Still, Lord Urlak’s player could console himself that if the engine failed spectacularly, then at least (at the cost of him losing whatever he sent with the engine) the enemy forces sent south would all most likely perish!
Further scenario details …
The skaven player had to decide exactly what units would enter the field (i.e. table) with the mortar, and what unit(s) he wanted near enough to the field to have the option of a support move onto the table from his own edge. These latter units would be affected by a table-wide miscast blast result, but at a reduced effect as they are that bit further away – 1 T test per model instead of D3?
The mortar must cross the field to the river’s edge (near the far side of the table) to be in range to shoot at the city. The river would be about 28 or 30″ from the edge of the skaven deployment zone, and as the engine moves 2D6″ a turn, i.e. an estimated 7″ per turn, it would take (on average) 4 turns to get there.
The game, being neither a set battle (6 turns) or a siege (8 turns), but somehow in between, would last 7 turns. If the mortar was not in range by the end of turn 7, it could fire for a 50/50 chance of reaching the city, which after all the misfire possibilities, etc, would not leave it with much chance of success. Indeed, if it had not reached the river by the end of tit’s last move it would really have to fire, because by then it would have been clattering around faster than ever done before leaving the crew terrified not to fire the grenado for fear of it almost certainly blowing up in the barrel. Up until now, the engine had been ‘steady as she goes’ with attendants clearing a path. Not so careening around a tabletop!
The enemy was to have one randomly chosen light horse unit (possibly with a character) on the table. As one of three such units on regular patrols they would be the one that spotted the engine’s approach. They would also have whatever unit (plus character(s)?) were guarding the bridge, again randomly chosen from a list of the sort of units that might be assigned such a duty.
The enemy’s other two light horse units would be able to attempt a support-move onto the table, on turn 2 with a 4+ roll, then by rolling 3+ on any subsequent turn. The GM to roll a D8 to determine where exactly they arrived: 1-4 via the bridge, 5-6 left-flank table edge, 7-8 right-flank table edge.
The rest of the men/dwarf army, whatever remains left in the after the GM has rolled for whatever goes north, can begin support moves onto the table from T2. Each turn it can allowed to support move one unit (with a 5+ chance of a character) on from its own table edge, being the far side of the river. The GM is to roll to determine which exact unit, using a list of what is in the city. This would represent whatever happened to be close enough!
(Note: If a player had been in charge of the men/dwarfs, I would have allowed them to choose the unit they wanted to support move, then roll to see if the unit did so. If it failed, they could choose another and try again, and so on until a unit arrived.)
The annihilation mortar
This is meant to be the current culmination of Clan Skryre’s warpstone weaponry. Not high fantasy, I don’t think, but very ‘low fantasy’, due to all the difficulties it presents, even to its users. Even just moving it – or more accurately, not moving it – is difficult due to its poisonous aura! And it has all innate unreliability and instability such an experimental skaven weapon should have.
It was a fun modelling project, has inspired three stories so far, and is a challenge even for the Skaven player to employ. It was meant to make the skaven a suitably challenging campaign threat as the Ogres are gone, the Undead are fading fast, and the Sartosan pirates are somewhat limited in the threat they present (certainly in terms of their likely longevity). Oh, and the skaven have been part of the campaign from the start, from before the start, sneaking about, manipulating, spying, etc. They were even mentioned in the second campaign story! (Unresolved as yet.) Also, it is a case of: “Have army, will get it into the campaign!”
First, we needed rules for the now well (story) established poisonous area around the engine.
The grenado has been brewing for some time. This is why the attendants and the engine’s guards wear lots of protective gear. Units coming close to the mortar should suffer from its now famous poisonous aura, presenting an interesting challenge in tabletop battles. It leaves a trail of withered vegetation and dead animals wherever it passes!
It could be damaged (admittedly at great risk to everyone on the table) by a war engine. BUT it is likely that skaven advance scouts would spot any war-engines ahead and that therefore there could be a game when the skaven try to knock out said engines. If an entire army was with the engine, or any substantial force, then skaven advance troops would fail, or just not attempt an attack, but the enemy force would be in great danger if it ends up on the tabletop with the engine. Besides, the skaven advance guard could forewarn the mortar’s attendants and it could then travel a different path to close in on its target.
All of this means that it is likely (though not guaranteed) that it would be some speedy, mobile enemy force that tries to take on the engine. It could be deployed with an army, and fighting against an army, obviously, but this is not what its designers intended, and if such a situation was about to happen, the engine might just lob its very long-range globe at the enemy army anyway! Probably, while it was a safe distance from the skaven main army! Which again leads to a tabletop scenario in which enemy scout types take it on, or some other form of outlying force, even a defensive force!
Whatever sort of tabletop scuffle it became involved in, it is an engine which kills the very land over which it passes, and requires suitably protected attendants, and thus will harm any who get too close. We needed rules!
There was potentially useful information in the existing Skaven rules:
Skaven Book, p. 46 Censer Bearers, Plague Censer rule
This is useful as it shows the effect of being close to the gaseous mixture (described as a ‘fog’) of warpstone and poisons.
Skaven Book, p. 49: Plague furnace “Enshrouded by fog” rule
There is also similar T test (etc) when the furnace uses the Billowing Death effect (template based) in Shooting phase.
Also from the Skaven Book …
p. 47 “Fume addled crew” – Plague-claw catapult crew’s senses dulled by the toxic fumes.
p. 59 Poisoned Wind globes.
p. 63 Poisoned Wind Mortar.
So, I came up with a first draft set of rules, passed it to the skaven player, tweaked quite a lot, then got the other campaign players to ‘ok’ them.
The rules …
Proximity to the Mortar
At start of each of its own side’s turns, roll D6 on following table. Effects apply until the next turn, then roll again.
1 Everyone feels queasy near the engine. No game effect.
2 Everyone within 12″ of the engine’s muzzle is at -1 S & -1 Init (being dizzy & disorientated).
3 As 2. Also any unit within 6″ of the engine’s muzzle during the skaven shooting phase takes D3 hits, each affected model rolls a T test, with no armour saves, & if fails, takes a wound.
4 As 2. Also any unit within 12″ of the engine’s muzzle during the skaven shooting phase D3 hits, each affected model rolls a T test, with no armour saves, & if fails, takes a wound.
5 As 2. Also any model within 6” of the engine’s muzzle during the skaven shooting phase, takes a Toughness test, with no armour saves, & if fails, takes a wound.
6 As 2. Also any model within 12” of the engine’s muzzle during the skaven shooting phase, takes a Toughness test, no armour saves, & if fails, takes a wound.
Note: The engine attendants & suited guards do not take these tests unless they are currently engaged in combat, when they are not quite as sealed up and protected (what with flailing around etc), in which case in each combat phase they are fighting the above rules apply, but they do get a 5+ ‘protective gear’ save (which works just like an armour save).
The mortar’s crew/attendants
If all the mortar’s attendants are killed (like a war engine’s crew) the engine cannot fire! 5 attendants, not 6, as the model in the wheel part cannot fire it. Kill him too (6th wound) and it cannot move. The crew should fight as per the normal war engine in combat rules. This vulnerability is why the protective gear wearing guard regiment travels with the engine.
Also, the attendants are required to nurse the engine continually, to regulate it and vent it’s emissions as required. As soon as the 5 attendants are dead, roll an artillery dice per Skaven shooting phase. A misfire counts as a misfire as if it was shooting. This is another reason the engine has an assigned guard regiment.
Firing the engine
Size-wise it is a bit like a plague claw catapult; in terms of mobility, it is like a doomwheel; while its armament is akin to a poisoned wind mortar in weapon – but much bigger and very much more powerful. One firing only.
A ranged shot into a settlement or an army
Range: Several table lengths (Effectively 3 or 4)
Strength and damage: It can kill a settlement, even a city, leaving only a handful of survivors, weak and ill. Each character in the city has to pass D3 Toughness tests to escape, with no character recovery roll if they die. (Most characters should, I think, get out alive.) Each unit within the city must pass D3 Toughness tests for every model to escape, with no casualty recovery rolls. (This should more than decimate the units.)
If it goes off anywhere on the tabletop
Use the same rules as above to escape the tabletop. Already received wounds might have weakened characters already, making it less likely that they escape alive. All deaths are counted as ‘overkills’ for casualty purposes, so there is no recovery roll. The attendants etc, do not get to count their special armour – this blast is way more than a mere poisonous leak!
To fire the mortar
Roll TWO numbered artillery dice. If either one is a misfire, it has misfired …
Misfire Chart, D6
1-2 Foomph! Explodes in the tube. The tabletop explosion rules apply. Anyone within 8″ of the engine is drained of all life and becomes a dried husk (like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark!).
3-5 Wildly off target. Roll D6, on 1-4 it misses the target city/army/camp/settlement and poisons a large swathe of ground nearby. GM to determine if anyone is hurt by the blast. 0n 5 or 6 it lands somewhere on the table, and then the tabletop explosion rules are applied.
6 Clogged. The super-grenade is stuck on the barrel. It can attempt to fire again, but next time must roll 3 artillery dice. Additionally, on any subsequent turn it does not fire, it has to roll a single artillery dice in the shooting phase to see if it misfires just sitting inside the barrel. If it does, roll on this modified chart …
1-2 Foomph! Explodes in the tube. The tabletop explosion rules apply. Anyone within 8″ of the engine is drained of all life and becomes a dried husk (like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark!).
3-5 Shoots. Roll D6, on a 1 it hits its originally intended target, on 2-4 it misses the target city/army/camp/settlement and poisons a large swathe of ground nearby. GM to determine if anyone is hurt by the blast. 0n 5 or 6 it lands somewhere on the table, and then the tabletop explosion rules are applied.
6 Clogged. The super-grenade is stuck on the barrel. It can attempt to fire again, but next time must roll 3 artillery dice. Additionally, any subsequent turn it does not fire, it has to roll an artillery dice in the shooting phase to see if it misfires just sitting inside the barrel. If it does, roll on this same chart again.
If it is destroyed (before firing) by either a war engine or a unit/character/monster
When it is destroyed, and every Skaven turn afterwards (unless it has already exploded), roll D6
1-2 Foomph! Grenado Explodes. The tabletop explosion rules apply. Anyone within 8″ of the engine is drained of all life and becomes a dried husk (like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark!).
3-6 Roll on the “Proximity to the Mortar” table.
The rest of the rules
* The mortar moves like a doomwheel, but due to its extra burden only goes 2D6 inches per move, not the usual 3D6. Due to the fact that the engine has made it this far there must be some sort of ‘release the pressure’ deceleration or brake, so the player always has the option, after rolling the 2D6 for movement, of rolling 1D6 to reduce said movement.
* The attendants and engineer fight like the ‘crew’ of a normal doomwheel, 2D6 Attacks, but at S3 not 2. (They are not rats, but rat-men!)
* Rolling Doom rules apply. (p.67) but at 2D6.
* Loss of control rules apply – including the ‘Out of Control’ rules
* Grinding down the foe rules: Impact hits apply, but there is no ‘grinding down’ as the big gun is in the way of the wheel.
* There are NO ‘Zzzap’ rules.
Part 2, The Fighting Begins
Being the nimblest body upon the field, it was the enemy’s horsemen who first came up, unsurprisingly making directly for the engine, a motion which revealed that they must surely possess more than an inkling of the engine’s terrible potential.
(Game note: I forgot to vanguard move them. Doh! If I had they probably could have shot this first turn.)
The trees, however, still concealed the engine from the riders and so it was only the foot-crossbowmen by the bridge who let loose their quarrels. These reached the engine, but with no noticeable effect, other than to clatter off this and that part, and to stud the ground around with fletched shafts. Not one had struck an attendant. The engineer on the rear platform, whose job in directing the engine in battle had become incrementally more important as the driver’s miserable condition further deteriorated, was much encouraged by this turn of events, and now wondered whether his engine might simply roll straight up to the bridge, where the paved surface would provide a reassuringly firm footing for its firing.
Glancing left he saw the slaves and his mind was made up. Despite their many deficiencies, their numbers alone would surely make them capable of thwarting any aggressive moves by the crossbowmen. And so, he ensured the engine maintained its current bearing, which was achieved so neatly that it remained perfectly in line with the rest of the advancing army.
Due to the trees, the engineer knew nothing of the enemy horse galloping obliquely across the field, but Golchramik could see them plainly.
It was obvious they were making for the engine, and he knew that could not be allowed. Even if they were unable to reach it, or harm it with their shots, simply forcing it to change course, or merely to jolt or shudder, could have catastrophic results. Hefting his rocket launcher, he knew this was his moment. He had one chance, and he would not let it slip by. As a single rider fell to what was presumably a shot from the second company of jezzails, Golchramik turned to aim at a spot just ahead of the horsemen’s current path, while his clawed fingers curled tightly around the release lever. Raising the muzzle to what felt like the correct height, he yanked hard and whoosh!
As the rocket arced away at a most satisfactory angle, Golchramik noticed several horsemen look upwards in fear, pulling hard on their reins. They were too late, however, for the rocket thumped into the ground almost in their midst and exploded in a great ball of fire.
The three surviving riders could do little more but cling to their panicked horses as they fled towards, then over, the river. One was swept away by the waters so that only two gained the far side, from where both raced away towards the city.
As they departed several other enemies arrived. Both of the other light horse companies had received word of the force approaching the river and had galloped post-haste to the bridge. The second company of mounted Compagnia crossbowmen were already upon the southern side of the river, and so came from the ratmen’s left …
… while Perette and her Brabanzon riders arrived along the road leading from the city directly to the bridge.
Another, considerably slower, component of the Campogrottan forces also arrived upon the northern bank of the river, being one of the two dwarven artillery pieces. The dwarven crew had already been making their way to the bridge, ordered to assist in the guarding of that approach, and would have arrived at that moment anyway.
The fiery wizard, enchanted staff in hand, boldly led her riders onto the bridge, intending to waste not one moment of time in assaulting the engine, howsoever she could. The clattering of horses’ hooves off the stone was louder even than the grinding clunk, clunk of the engine.
The Compagnia’s riders were somewhat more cautious, arriving as they had closer to the enemy, and came up looking for some way to shoot past the slaves at the engine.
Despite the slaves’ presence, the hulking engine was clearly visible to them and so they slowed to span their light crossbows and load their quarrels.
The dwarfen cannon crew cursed as they could not see the engine to target it. All the riders, however, were closing as best they could upon it.
As those at the front of the Brabanzon pulled arrows from the quivers attached to their saddles, Perette could sense the arcane power of the engine, perceiving how the winds of magic were perturbed by it, coiling chaotically in contrary eddies. She also knew what the huge barrel, its muzzle steeply elevated, must mean. This was some sort of mortar, and whatever it fired would surely be much more deadly than any ordinary grenado.
And so, she hastily conjured a fireball to hurl at it. Then, as she watched its strength wane to wash ineffectually over the foe, she discovered the cost of her impetuousness. A small part of the magic she had summoned had slipped from her control, and now rushed back, burning, at her. She gasped as the pain seared into her, and might well have fallen from her mount had not one of her companions reached out to steady her, asking, “My lady, what ails thee?”
Still, the Compagnia’s riders loosed their quarrels at the engine …
… as the frontmost of the Brabanzon did likewise with their arrows.
All to no effect.
The foot crossbow, however, had been taking their time, now that the engine was closer and they had a better measure of it. When they shot again, half the engine’s attendants fell, pierced deep with steel tipped bolts, while several quarrels tore into the machine there to be crunched apart by the spin of its workings.
The engineer at the rear felt one quarrel speed within a hair’s breadth of his ear, then another clang from his filter tank. This, the dead attendants, and the sudden arrival of several more enemy companies, one of which was thundering across the bridge straight at him, quickly changed his mind about his present course. Screeching so loud that the even the dismally distracted driver would hear, he pulled as hard as he could on the rudder wheel’s auxillary whipstaff, so that the engine turned sharply to the right and began moving beside the trees. The turn was so sharp that rather like a ship changing tack which missed its stays its speed was reduced almost to nought, so that it only barely managed to gain the concealment of the trees.
The engineer still intended to reach the river, but would now aim for the grassy ground further along bereft of enemies to hinder his mechanical ward’s progress. It would take longer, but he had no real choice in the matter. To continue his previous tack would have meant another heavy shower of arrows and bolts, which he knew that would be the certain end of the engine.
Golchramik, meanwhile, was also screeching and signalling with his now rocketless tube, ordering the guard regiment towards the bridge. If the machine was to reach the river’s edge, then the riders could not be allowed to reach it.
The slaves also moved on, surging like a tide towards the crossbowmen.
Golchramik cursed, for their continued advance had left a way through behind them for the mounted crossbowmen. Glancing at the jezzails on the hill he doubted they could deliver sufficient punishment to stop the riders, and so he spun around to shout towards the plague monks. They would have to turn and head this way, the better to block the enemy horse if they did get around the slaves. Reforming as quickly as they could, they now moved as he commanded.
Satisfied, Golchramik took a breath, and tasted the acrid smoke still curling from the muzzle of his rocket tube. Then something caught his eye, something shiny, over by the cottage. Squinting as his eyes adjusted from looking into the sun, he could see an armoured manthing had stepped out of the building’s rear doorway, with a great sword in his hands.
“No, no!” he hissed, as he realised this was a new threat to the engine, then stepped forwards through the trees knowing that only he was left to thwart this particular enemy. Not for the first time he cursed the fact that despite asking for two rockets, he had been given but one.
Distracted and angry as he was, he did not know that the jezzails on the right of the line had simply moved down from the hill, being no longer able to see any enemies, whilst the jezzails on the left had missed the crossbow horsemen completely.
(End of Turn 2)
Part 3, The Fighting Ends
(Game Note: The annihilation mortar took 3 wounds from the crossbowmen in turn 2, and so was now reduced to a mere 2 wounds. This explains David’s attempt to move it to the river’s edge by another, safer route. The trouble is, whichever enemy unit arrives per turn from now on, they can deploy anywhere on the table edge behind the river (having come from that side of the river), and so most likely will be close to the engine &/or facing its intended destination. Luckily for David, as the enemy is an NPC force, so the particular units which arrived were being randomly rolled for from a list of those still in the city (i.e. those not already having been lured away by the skaven-created distraction in Buldio.) David also knew a last desperate course of action could simply be to attempt fire the engine anyway, for a 50% reduced likelihood of reaching the city.)
Now back to the story account of the game’s events …
Upon the far side of the river, entering the field with a flamboyant fluttering of flags, the largest regiment of the Compagnia del Sole, the halberdiers, marched on. They bore their enchanted banner, blessed by the goddess Myrmidia. Apart from their armour, both leather and steel, they were clothed in the company’s maroon and blue, some sporting the Myrmidian white baton and yellow half-sun emblem that was also emblazoned upon their standard.
Leading them, and carrying an older, smaller, but more precious banner (the oldest in the company and the army standard) was Marshal Luigi Esposito, General Mazallini’s second in command. He had been left to govern the city while the general led the relief force to Buldio, and so it was he was the first to hear from the scouting riders of the enemy’s approach from the south. A small man, he had proved himself in battle on many an occasion, a reputation encouraged if not solely enabled by his famously magical armour. Time and time again, blows that ought to have severed his arm or even decapitated him, had proved jarringly ineffective. On this occasion, however, his urge to reach the river quickly had been so pressing he had forgone the buckling of his leg armour and left his helmet lying in his chamber.
Not so Captain Venusto – the fully steel-carapaced fellow who had stepped boldly from the bridge-keeper’s cottage. The captain raised his visor momentarily to look at Marshal Esposito, waved and then slammed it shut again, before charging headlong at the warlock engineer striding purposefully towards him. The overgrown rodent was much taller than the captain and made to appear even more massive by his swirling yellow robes and the hulking brass apparatus strapped to his back.
Wholly inured to the weight of his armour, Venusto arrived in front of the ratman and immediately stepped, nimbly, to one side. Golchramik was bewildered, still clutching the smoking, now useless rocket tube. When Venusto’s vicious cut was made, it sliced deeply, through fur, flesh and ribs. Golchramik fell heavily to the ground, the great weight of his many burdens speeding his collapse, then breathed his last as Venusto hauled the blade up and thrust it through his chest to scrape past the copper contraptions and plunge into the grassy ground underneath.
The captain took a deep breath, yanked the blade free, then shouted “Next!” before running into the trees which lay between him and the engine.
From over the river, the marshal watched, peering through the trees Venusto had penetrated at the dark shape moving noisily on the other side. He immediately realised two things: first, the captain would have to be lucky indeed to reach the engine, as fully armoured fellows rarely fared well in a sprint through the woods; and secondly, he and his halberdiers could not cross by the bridge, not if they were to have any real chance of reaching the engine.
On the Campogrottans’ far right the mounted crossbowmen made their way as best they could between the trees and the huge mob of slaves, hoping to find a way to catch the engine.
(Game Note: Their failed Ld test meant they could not march within 8” of the enemy.)
Those upon the front-left of the body who could see the engine had high hopes of reaching it, for it lurched and careened most ungainly as it moved over the rougher ground malformed by the trees’ roots, like a badly-trimmed ship might sail in choppy waters, crankily heeling over for too long and too far.
Indeed, it looked like it might itself be the author of its own demise, for if it were to keel over it certainly would not be firing anything that day!
Perette and the Brabanzon crossed the bridge, but then she raised her hand to halt them.
She knew if they rode any further they would put themselves between the crossbowmen and the engine, preventing another shot, which would be a shame considering their volley had done so much to discourage it previously! Besides, from here her riders could shoot and she could conjure more magic. There was no need to move on, especially when that would almost certainly mean she and her companions were hit from two sides by a veritable horde of ratto uomo. She did not know it, but her caution caused the dwarven cannoneers’ cursing to redouble, for now the Brabanzon blocked any glimpse of the engine they might otherwise have had.
Kissing the ruby ring she wore on her right hand, she released its magic and sent several fireballs curling towards the engine. But the etheric winds were weakened by the enemy’s will, and all dissipated before reaching their target.
Annoyed by the sight, she allowed her anger to add a sharp edge to her own incantation and conjured more fireballs, this time of her own volition. One alone reached the engine, bursting to send sparks washing over it. An attendant fell, squealing in agony, his waxen robes ablaze, his squeals ceasing suddenly when the copper tank on his back popped.
(Game Note: The engine was, at this moment, down to its last wound!)
Perette cursed, for the engine was still moving. Worse still, she was horrified to see that the paths of several stray fireballs and the volley of quarrels from the crossbowmen had crossed, diverting most of the missiles to spin over and into the ground. Their third shot had thus failed completely.
Neither she, her riders nor the Compagnia’s crossbowmen had managed to stop the engine. Nor could Captain Venusto, for as he emerged from the trees the engine was picking up pace, and just before he could reach it to land a blow he was tumbled by a tree root.
(Game Note: Venusto’s overrun, directly towards the engine, after defeating the warlock engineer, had proven a little bit more than 1 inch too short!)
The engineer at the wheel’s rear knew his mechanical ward was closer to catastrophe than ever before. Barely any attendants were left to assist its passage, and the driver at the heart of the wheel seemed to have finally perished during the shower of fireballs that had washed over and through the engine. He alone remained to steer the engine, which would take all his strength, perhaps requiring more than he had to give. And if the engine was to fire, then he could only hope that he and those attendants who survived were up to the task.
The regiments here to guard the engine, however, had little understanding of its precarious state, and now launched charges intended to ensure its continued progress. They could not allow the Brabanzon and the fire-wizard to continue their pursuit, nor could they risk another shot from the crossbowmen. And so, as the slaves hurtled into the footsoldiers behind the painted pavaises, the guard regiment began its charge against the riders.
Several slaves perished from the crossbowmen’s countershot, but such was the size of the mob that their demise went entirely unnoticed by either friend or foe. Like the arrival of a heavy wave upon a beach, they crashed against the pavaises; then they set about the bloody work of blades, claws and teeth.
So busy were they in slaughter, that not one slave noticed the Brabanzon riders’ flight across the bridge.
Of course, the guard regiment were fully aware, for barely had they taken two steps before the enemy was off, away and out of reach.
In truth, Perette had had little say in the matter. Weakened as she was by her conjurings and wounded by the magical flames she had earlier failed to master fully, she simply went along with the riders as a jumble of instructions tumbled at her:
“This way, my Lady”, “Come, now!” and, “We must flee!”
The riders had not come here to sacrifice themselves as martyrs to Campogrotta’s cause. Nor, after all they had been through, not least witnessing the slaughter of almost every other Brabanzon soldier at Ravola, did they intend to throw their lives away for the sake of pride or honour. Most of all, perhaps, they could not allow their beloved lady to die. Instead, they would ride away, regroup, and when the enemy was far enough behind that they could think, they would then decide what was for the best.
As the engine rolled on between the two woods, the engineer, despite his mask, could suddenly taste the poisonous vapours leaking from the grenado even through his mask, and feel the sting of the etheric heat as it wormed its way into the material world to become sharp tendrils of real heat. The last of the attendants stumbled in pain as they tried to keep up, while two of the plague monks and two more of the jezzailers close by succumbed to the surging toxicity of the unstable orb within the bombard’s barrel.
Captain Venusto also stumbled as he raised himself from his fall, having to clutch at a branch with his steel-gauntleted hand to prevent himself from falling again. There he hung for a moment, wheezing, as his head swam, his great sword trailing on the ground.
The engineer’s throat was burning, his eyes pouring tears that misted up the tinted glass of his mask’s lenses. Suddenly, he realised the pained screeching he could hear close by was emanating from between his own clenched teeth. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of his fevered mind a quiet voice declared, “So this is the end?”
The slaves brutally mauled the crossbowmen, so that only a handful escaped the rusted blades to perish instead in the river water. The jezzails on the hill first cheered when at last their bullets hit home and tore two riders from their saddles, while a third was thrown hard onto the ground when another bullet shattered his mount’s head, but then they cursed as the remaining riders simply rode on after the engine.
Meawhile, a newly arrived regiment of Karak Borgo quarrellers were marching up the river’s edge (being part of Narhak, the Thane of Dravaz’s Campogrottan contingent) to further threaten the engine’s demise.
Desperate, yet also glad he had left off most of his armour, the Compagnia’s marshal led his men into the rushing waters, where a dozen sank to their deaths.
Somehow, he knew he must reach the engine. Whatever it was, whatever it did, the enemy were obviously deadly determined to do it. He could see even the ratmen were dropping around it, and he could feel the awful aura it exuded. If the engine merely reached the river, there to plunge to its ruin, the waters would likely run poisonous for many a league, perhaps even to the sea, and a vast throng could die as a consequence. The city of Campogrotta itself would most likely be poisoned too.
(Game note: Dangerous Terrain tests seem a bit too ‘weak’ at times. This was not a stream, but a large river which carried river traffic, deep enough to require a bridge. So, not wishing to rule the river impassable as I have in past games, and thus deny a dramatic attempt to cross, I ruled that the 41 models would take two Dangerous Terrain tests each. It is summer, when the rivers are lower than Spring, and this is quite some distance from the sea, so it wouldn’t be at its deepest. 82D were rolled, 12D came up 1. I think the halberdiers did well. The sad thing is that they were still in the river at the end of their turn, being unable to march move, and so would have to take the double tests again! I did say the marshal was desperate!)
As the dwarf quarrellers prepared their crossbows for a shot …
… the engine was decelerating, its warpstone-heated tanks leaking spark-laced steam out of several ruptures. Again, the wheel lurched wildly to one side, which the engineer only just managed to correct using all his remaining strength.
It was now obvious to him that the engine would not reach the river’s edge, from where all the engineers had agreed it should definitely be within range of the city. Worse still, if the dwarven quarrellers were to shoot, or the horsemen caught up from behind, it might never shoot at all!
He managed to transform his screeching into a shouted command. And very simple it was too, being just, “Now!”
“Now! Now! Now!”
Yanking the brake handle to full lock, he slowed the engine to a stop, then jumped from the platform. He hit the ground hard, his legs buckling beneath him, and as his body thumped down, his mask slipped. One, involuntarily gasp of the foully metallic air, was all it took to end his life in that moment.
Only two engine attendants remained, of which one retained the wit and strength necessary to make his way to the bombard’s rear, where its carriage was connected to the driving wheel. He scrambled up onto the carriage so that he could reach the firing hammer. The other surviving attendant was reeling about, utterly lost in confusion, attempting to recite some rhyming instructions on how to fire that he had rote-learned. The words were wrong, he finally decided, because they had melted in such a way that they no longer rhymed!
The first attendant, however, had a better idea concerning what to do. He now yanked at a little chain to release the preventer pin, then tore off the cracked-leather stall covering the flint-shard. Some part of his mind was complaining about the procedure, particularly the order in which he was supposed to do things, but with most of his brain screaming about the pain he was experiencing, he couldn’t sift out what was nagging at him. Fumbling in his apron’s pouch, he pulled out an iron tool. It was not the tool he wanted, but one of its edges would suffice for scraping, which is what he now began to do, clearing away the sticky gobbet of wax protecting the touch hole from damp. One of his eyes wouldn’t open, so nothing was quite as near or far as he thought it was, but he managed to break the wax off. His finger tips fizzled as he scraped so close to the barrel.
Thrusting his hands back into the pouch he began pulling things out and discarding them. The fourth thing he dropped was a powder flask, which clattered down between the carriage parts to the ground below. Whilst grabbing at the fifth item he realised it was the flask he needed, so he stretched to reach down between the timber and iron parts, his feet clutching as tight as his hand to keep a hold while he strained down with the other. As the tip of his middle finger claw scratched at the flask, his head was swimming and the flask apparently spinning, so he stopped for a moment, to steady himself.
As he hung there, he sensed that the bombard’s carriage was, almost imperceptibly, tipping sideways. Painfully, he twisted to peer back and saw the wheel behind was careening precariously to one side. As it was still linked to the bombard, it was in the process of capsizing that too. Straining his one good eye, he could see the wheel’s starboard rim-tread was still, albeit very slowly as it strained to grind through the mud below, rotating, and so causing it to lean over. That wheel could be his doom!
“Never stop,” they had told him and the others. ” Never, ever stop,” they had repeated, ad nauseam. Then, he remembered that amongst some confusingly contrary instructions concerning what to do if the engine did stop, someone said: “And whatever you do, never stop on soft ground.”
Blinking the one eye he could (it felt like the other was dissolving and dribbling into his cheek-fur) he squinted down to locate the flask. It was lying in the mud. He stretched out his arm again.
The wheel was now leaning over more than seemed possible, but the great weight of the attached bombard was apparently sufficient, momentarily at least, to delay its full fall. Nevertheless, the bombard was tipping ever so slightly more with each passing moment.
Using his claw he hooked the flask’s leather strap and lifted it. Hauling himself back up to the pan beneath the touch hole he commenced pouring the black powder. It spilled in and immediately began to spill out. The bombard must be leaning over much further than he thought!
“More then,” he muttered, and poured the entire contents of the flask onto the pan.
Suddenly, the carriage lurched, one side now lifting right up off the ground as a great groaning sound came from the fatal connection joining the wheel to the carriage.
The bombard was going over. Right now.
“Never stop,” they had said. More than any other instruction. “Never stop.”
As the ground began to rush towards him, he pulled the hammer’s release …
… and the entire field of battle was instantly engulfed in flames!
Very few survived the fight at the bridge. One of the crossbow horsemen was found later, without his horse, sobbing on the southern bank of the river more than a league from the bridge. The marshal, soaking wet, red-faced and wheezing, with no armour about him whatsoever, was helped to the city’s southern gate by two of the halberdiers. No other halberdiers returned. Only four dwarfen crossbowmen returned, each one with the same crazed expression, but none of the cannoneers.
Perette and her riders had been far enough away to survive, although all needed tending by the city’s chirurgeons to rebalance their badly skewed bodily humors.
And this was just the start of the city’s new misery.