1879: Actual Play: Boss Fight!
We last saw our heroes in the laboratory of Eduard Egon, Graf von Fürstenberg-Weitra, who’s quite annoyed at them for breaking into his schloss and showing up unannounced as he was putting the finishing touches on his Essence Transfer system, but who is rather more put out with Otto von Schmerz, the Prussian he hired to obtain the Zener tubes required and who has exceeded his remit by a considerable margin. It matters not that the party brought no evidence of von Schmerz’s actions in the Graf’s name, as the Prussian freely admitted to having had a French nobleman shot in the process of stealing the tubes. The Graf, whose work has been intended to hopefully produce a new life (with the cooperation of a charming Austrian noblewoman who will swear that she and the Graf conceived the child naturally), has rebuked von Schmerz, and ordered his guards to seize the Prussian and his henchmen. They disagree with this course of action.
The players and the GM roll Initiative. The players each roll the Dexterity step of their characters, minus any penalty for wearing heavy armor. Bethelie is the only character taking such a penalty, as after the Paris debacle she started wearing a Crimean-era military leather greatcoat left to her by her uncle. It equates to Hardened Leather armor, which gives her 5 points of Physical Armor, but 1 point of Initiative penalty. When she comes into a bit of cash, she’ll gladly trade it out for a silk ballistic jacket, which would give her better protection without slowing her down. To simplify combat tracking and speed things along, the GM rolls a D12 for the Graf and his guards and technicians, and another D12 for Otto and his henchmen, using an Initiative Step of 7 as the average among both groups, and will take care of the actions of all members of each group in one go at their group Initiative. Eike, being a party GMC, gets her own Initiative, also on a D12.
On 13, Bethelie takes cover behind a rolling tool cart, and snaps off a shot at von Schmerz, the first being a Simple Action and the second a Standard Action, and so within the boundaries for activity within a combat round. Her player rolls a 13 on D12+D10 for the Firearms (8) Test, which beats von Schmerz’s Physical Defense by 5 points, sending an extra success to the Damage Test. That rolls an 8 on D8+D6 (Base Damage of 6 for a Medium Revolver, plus the weapon’s Success Bonus of 3 per extra success, for a Step 9). Von Schmerz’s silk ballistic jacket absorbs 6 points of that, so he only takes 2 points of damage. First blood has, however, gone to Bethelie.
On 9, Thierry does something completely unanticipated, and charges one of von Schmerz’s henchmen, the dwarf with the fancy sigils embroidered on his jacket, who has raised empty hands. Figuring that someone who doesn’t pull a weapon probably doesn’t need one, Thierry puts his weight behind the wooden shield he purloined, and Attacks to Knockdown. His player makes a Melee Weapons (7) Test on 2D8, one of which explodes, for a total of 11. That hits, and Thierry’s player makes a STR Test at +4 steps, the GM ruling that using the shield as a weapon equates to the same damage as a quarterstaff or mace. (There’s no improvised weapon penalty, as the shield was designed to be used in combat, and the Shield Charge is a well known tactic.) That comes up an 8. The dwarf Mage makes a Knockdown (8) Test on D10 (he’s a Mage, his STR Step is only a 6), and rolls a 6. The Mage goes down, looking very surprised. He’s not the only one.
On 7, Eike tosses a Bind spell at the woman next to von Schmerz that pulled a pair of trench knives. She doesn’t have tusks, so she’s not a snark, but she’s big enough to be one. Eike makes a Spellcasting (8) Test on D12+2D6 and gets a 10, which beats the woman’s Mystic Defense. Eike then rolls her Willforce at +4 Steps, a total of Step 17 for D12+2D8, for the Effect of the spell, and gets a 9. That’s probably not going to hold, so Eike spends a point of karma on her Willforce, it being a Core Skill for Mages, and tosses in another D8. She gets a 3, and so the woman has to get a 12 or better with a Strength Test to escape the ribbons of crimson light that have pinned her arms to her sides and wrapped around her legs.
Also on 7, the Graf, his technicians, and his guards all move. (In a tie, player characters move first, then party GMCs, then friendly GMCs, then enemy GMCs.) The Graf scoops up a device off his workbench, points it at Otto, and lets loose a stream of technobabble. He makes an Arcane Mutterings (13) Test, against von Schmerz’s Social Defense (the highest in his party) plus 1 for each of the four henchmen, and gets an 11 on D12+2D6. Otto shakes his head. “I’ve seen you use that to calibrate the power systems,” he says. The Graf shrugs. “I had to try,” he replies, and ducks under the nearest surgical table.
His guards each fire a shot, keeping their rifles in single-shot mode for better control when firing into a melee. They’re not expert marksmen, they’re household guards who haven’t seen live fire in years, and so they’re all three making their Firearms Tests on D10+D8. The first, targeting von Schmerz, gets a 14, and (Base Damage 9 plus Success Bonus +4) rolls a 4 for damage. The Prussian’s ballistic coat takes the impact. The second, targeting the human guy with the heavy revolver, gets a 19 on the Attack Test, and 17 on the Damage Test, of which 12 gets through, doing a Wound. Revolver Guy must make a STR Test against the difference between the damage he took and his Wound Threshold to avoid being Knocked Down. He makes his Knockdown Test and remains standing. The third guard gets an 8 against the elven woman with the rapier and buckler, just missing her as she takes a stance and advances. The noise and the echoes from the volley in the enclosed space make verbal communication difficult for the rest of the combat round, as everyone’s ears are still ringing.
Sam Ridley, the party Airship Pilot, fires his medium revolver at von Schmerz. He makes a Firearms (8) Test on D12+D10 and gets a 14, following up with a Damage Test result of 6. Given the lack of effect, Sam opts to take cover rather than fire a second shot.
Now it’s von Schmerz’s turn. He makes a Firearms Test against Bethelie’s Physical Defense of 9 (it went up when she raised her Dexterity at her last Tier advance), +2 for Partial Cover, on D12+2D6 and rolls a 13. His Damage Test only gets a 4, which does not punch through Uncle Silvest’s Crimean War coat. “Out the back!” he roars to his henchmen, and takes partial cover behind a stack of electrical equipment.
The Mage could cast from his prone position, but he’d be at -3 Steps for doing so, and being down is also cutting severely into his Physical Defense. Besides, Thierry looks like he’s about to throw that shield down on top of the Mage and sit on it, which would be terrifically inconvenient. He chooses to spend his Action getting up, and scrambles away to take partial cover behind the inevitable packing crate.
Knife woman makes a Strength Test, but only gets a 5 on 2D6, and so Eike’s Bind holds for this round.
Heavy revolver guy returns fire, totally ignoring von Schmerz’s order, getting a 22 on D12+2D6 with an exploding D6, and 11 on D12+D8+D6 for the Damage Test, putting 6 points through the guard’s leather cuirass. That doesn’t beat the guard’s Wound Threshold, but it hurts. Revolver Guy takes a -1 Step penalty to throw another round, and gets a 16 on 2D12, and 15 on 2D10 for the Damage, putting 10 through the armor, this time doing a wound. The guard makes a 6 on her Knockdown Test, and remains standing, although she’s taken a Wound and 16 points of damage this round.
Elven woman also ignores Otto’s instruction and goes after the party Mage, as you do. She gets a 16 on her Melee Weapons Test, but only a 3 on her Damage Test, and her rapier skitters off Eike’s leather coat. The two women lock eyes for a moment. “You’re as bad with a blade as you are in bed,” Eike sneers. Apparently Vienna is a small community when it comes to mercenaries. The GM points out that Eike has already taken her Action for the round, so her insult only counts as a brief communication and not as a Taunt. That’s okay, the player characters should be doing most of the work anyway, not the GMC hireling.
That’s everyone, so Initiative is rolled for the next combat round.
“Was ist?” Eduard demands of von Schmerz. “There is no back way out!” He chucks a spanner at elven woman’s ankle, taking a Called Shot penalty, and rolls an 8, which hits. She makes a Knockdown Test and likewise rolls an 8, recovering her fighting stance, albeit somewhat gracelessly.
Guard 1 fires again at von Schmerz, gets a 14, and a 9 on damage, doing 9 points of damage, 3 of which get through von Schmerz’s armor. Guard 2 fires again at Revolver Guy. Both dice come up with a 1, invoking the Rule of One and causing a Bad Thing to happen. Her rifle misfires and jams. It’s useless until someone spends 15 minutes clearing it. Guard 3 steps forward and uses his rifle to sweep knife woman’s legs. The GM doesn’t bother rolling the guard’s Melee Weapons Skill. Given the Bind spell, knife woman is an easy target. She’s Knocked Down, and takes 1 point of damage from falling without being able to catch herself. Guard 3 crouches, and aims his rifle at her head, making sure she can see it.
Eike goes for the jugular, verbally speaking. “Any man waving his tool at you can still catch you on the hop!” she snarls, getting a double roll-up on her Taunt for a total of 32. That puts elven woman at -4 to her Action Tests and -4 to her Social Defense for 5 rounds. The GM doesn’t even bother trying to roll Resist Taunt for the swordswoman. Eike follows this up with a Push spell, giving elven woman an arcane shove, and rolls a 32 on her Spellcasting Test. The GM tosses in Karma for the one point needed for a fifth extra success, as a player character would, and rolls a 4 on the D8. Eike gets to make her Effect Test at a total Step of 18 (her Spellcasting Rank of 6 plus her WIL Step of 7 plus a Step Bonus of +5 from the Spellcasting extra successes), and rolls a 17. Elven woman is already off balance from the spanner, and is taking a -4 Step penalty to Action Tests from the Taunt, and rolls a 1 on the D4 that remains of her STR Step to resist the Push. With the Rule of One invoked, elven woman is shoved back hard, hits the packing crate the Mage is hiding behind, and falls into it in a spray of straw and curses.
Revolver guy falls back, glances behind him, and heaves at one of the shelves of canned goods. It goes over with a crash, scattering jars of ancient preserved foodstuffs across the laboratory, a few of which shatter, releasing contents that have become, shall we say, aromatic. Revolver guy ignores this and begins searching the floor where the shelves had been standing.
Knife woman makes another STR Test, but only rolls a 5, and remains bound up in crimson bands, on the floor, under guard.
“Amazing what you find when you bribe the right archive clerk,” von Schmerz replies to Eduard. He fires a round at Bethelie, still being somewhat out of sorts with her. He had rather liked Ulrich, as much as one can like a hired thug one picked up in a disreputable riverside bar for a night’s muscle. He only gets a 9 this time, and his bullet goes past her. There’s nobody in the line of fire past Bethelie, so the bullet spends itself against the far wall. Gunfire in a close-quarters fight is always risky.
The Mage tosses a Bolt spell at Bethelie, giving his employer some fire support. With a 14, he beats Bethelie’s Mystic Defense of 9 with an extra success for the Effect Test. That rolls a 9, and Bethelie has no Mystic Armor other than her natural Willpower bonus. She takes 6 points of damage, which does not beat her Wound Threshold. She’s now got two people firing at her, though. One more opponent and she will be Harried, and take some rather nasty penalties.
Elven woman uses her Action to roll out of the packing crate and land behind it, nearly shoving the Mage out of its cover. He thinks about objecting, but then realizes that discretion in the presence of a woman with three feet of steel in her hand and blood in her eye is probably the better part of survival.
On 6, Bethelie and Thierry both go. Thierry’s player says “Ladies first” with an after-you gesture. Bethelie throws Karma into her Taunt, gets a 17 on the roll, and snaps off, “Ich habe vielleicht meine persönliche Ehre gegen die meiner Familie eingetauscht, aber Sie haben Ihr ‘von’ für eine Handvoll Marken verkauft!” Oh, that hits home. Otto takes -2 Steps to his Action Tests and -2 to his Social Defense for 5 rounds, and his face goes beet-red. Bethelie follows up with a shot at the Mage, and hits with a 10 for 8 points, putting 3 through the Mage’s ballistic jacket (sadly, a cheaper cotton one). She’s used a Standard Action to fire, and a Simple Action to Taunt, and just doesn’t have enough left to let off a second round, even at a penalty.
That’s okay. The Mage has taken his eyes off Thierry to focus on Bethelie. His mistake. Thierry only has a Step 10 on his Melee Weapons. He takes a -3 Step penalty to the Test because he’s going for a Called Shot. It’s a Free Skill so he can’t throw in Karma. The Mage takes a -2 penalty to his Physical Defense because Thierry’s blindsided him, bringing it down to 6. Thierry’s player gets a roll-up on 1D12 for a total of 22, and Thierry smashes the wooden shield over the Mage’s head. Thierry’s got his STR Step of 5, +4 steps for the shield, and +3 for the extra successes on the to-hit for a total of Step 12, 2D10, on the Damage Test. One of the D10s rolls up, and Thierry gets a 15. The Mage has a Wound Threshold of 9. He tries to make a Knockdown Test using his STR Step of 6 (D10) against a 6 (the difference between his Wound Threshold and the damage taken), and rolls a 2. Down goes the Mage for the second time. Thierry tosses aside the splintered wreckage of the shield, and uses a Simple Action to fling himself down gracelessly atop the Mage. There’s no Test involved, but the two are now committed to Unarmed Combat for the next round.
Finally, at 2, Sam takes another shot at von Schmerz. He rolls a 3. Sam has yet to learn to leave gunplay to Bethelie.
Third round. Initiative.
Bethelie and the Graf both go on 8, and so Bethelie goes first as she’s a player character. She’s had quite enough of this, and lets off two shots at von Schmerz. The first shot has a 9 on the Firearms Test and a 3 on the Damage Test, and just leaves a new scuff on the Prussian’s ballistic jacket. The second, though, has a rollup on the Firearms Test for a total of 27, which sends 3 extra successes to the Damage Test. Bethelie’s player grumbles about not being able to spend Karma on Optional Skills, as one more point on the Test would have made a fourth extra success. Base Damage of 6, Success Bonus of 3 times 3 extra successes, total Step of 15 on the Damage Test. To add insult to injury, Bethelie’s player rolls a 1 on both the D12 and one of the D6, for a total of 7. Only 1 point gets through von Schmerz’s ballistic coat. The Prussian sneers, and tells Bethelie, “Vous pouvez vous porter comme une femme, mais vous vous battez comme une petite fille!” It’s not his turn, though, so there’s no Taunt Test invoked.
Graf Eduard pulls on a pair of insulated gloves, grabs another spanner, pulls a cable off the equipment near him and starts wrapping the loose wires around the spanner. He’s got an idea but it’s going to take a round. The GM makes a Craft Device Test for the Graf, and holds it in reserve.
Guard 1, being the only one of the three with an Action, fires at von Schmerz again, but gets a 3 on his Firearms Test. The only good news is that while Bethelie is also in the line of fire, a 3 does not beat her Physical Defense either, so the stray round misses her and hits the far wall. Guard 2 takes cover, but does not have a Craft Firearms Skill to be able to try to unjam her weapon in combat. Guard 3 holds position.
Everyone else rolled terribly on their Initiative. Thierry is the next to go, at 3. He does not have an Unarmed Combat Skill, so his player defaults to a straight DEX Test. He rolls a 4 attempting to grapple the Mage, and fails. The Mage, also on 3, rolls a 7 on his DEX Test (not having the training for this either), and fails to get out from under Thierry. They flail about for the round, neither accomplishing anything. This is in its own way productive, as it does keep the Mage from getting off another spell.
Also on 3, Revolver Guy has made his Perception (6) Test, and found the pull-ring buried in several generations of accumulated grunge on the floor. He heaves, and a trap door opens. “Got it!” he announces.
Otto smirks. “Right there under your nose the entire time,” he tells the Graf. “A little insurance and we’ll be on our way. This should make a better shield than that scrap of wood!” He reaches for a Zener tube —
“Nein!” the Graf shouts —
— and there’s a brilliant green flash, a crack of thunder that momentarily stuns everyone, and a stink of charred flesh. When the combatants can see again, one of the tubes is blackened, with a smear of burnt skin across it, and the smoking remains of Otto von Schmerz lie on the floor.
The GM rules that combat is over. Everyone gets one quick action. Bethelie steps out of cover and puts a gun to the elven woman’s head. Elven woman drops her rapier. Revolver Guy jumps down the secret passage and gets away. The Mage surrenders, if Thierry will only be so kind as to take his knee out of the Mage’s ribs. The guards find a rope and tie up knife woman as the spell sputters out.
“Maketh thou certain that all energized equipment is properly tagged as such, and handle it not without grounding and proper safety garments, that thy days in this Earthly vale of tears might be long,” the Graf intones, adding, “Book of Heron, Chapter One, the Engineer’s Commandments.”
“My apologies if this is inappropriate at such a moment,” Sam says, raising a hand, “but we’re still under an obligation to return le Comte’s property to him.”
The Graf shrugs. “Let me power these down and you may have them. Too much blood has been spilled already. This experiment was supposed to create life, not take it.” He gives orders, the surviving henchmen are disarmed and taken away by his guards, and the technicians work on getting von Schmerz’s remains wrapped up in canvas and onto a stretcher. “But let me ask you this?” He pauses.
“Yes?” Sam prompts.
“You were able to obtain these three without violence, am I correct?”
“We were,” Sam assents.
“What would it cost me for you to obtain a new set to these specifications under similar circumstances?”
And so as one story ends, another begins. Tune in next time to see what troubles Our Heroes encounter as they embark on their next mission in Actual Play!