The bell tolls
Yes, this was the session when it finally happened. And they should have seen it coming, they felt, but they didn't since the gun-powder plot was all they could think of. Just as the black cowl had intended, I guess.
Aftermath of the explosion
Picking up the narrative, our heroes were standing around the smoldering ruins in Tempelgarten. Soldiers and watchmen and the fire brigade tried to keep things orderly, but with half a thousand bystanders and pieces of people and burning wreckage all over, there was not much order to be had.
Reinhardt joined the others, having left the inn since he had no-one to watch over (Grosz being rather dead). A heated discussion erupted, where von Stangel and Gerber (the witch hunter) argued about the best course of action. Gerber wanted to somehow search the Cathedral for further barrel-bombs since it was such an obvious target. Joseph wanted to kill all the bastards they could find at the Holy Hammer, and von Stangel tended to agree. In the end, Joseph found a higher ranking sigmarite and told him about their suspicions. “Don't you think we've thought about that”, was the scolding response. But as it later turned out, hundreds were saved by that act alone.
Gerber, needing to cool of, went to see if he could spot Adele in the area and he did find her, surreptitiously watching the carnage. She was edgy and wanted the pc:s to try to sort out what the College of Light was doing with Luminary Mauer (and the professor they had arrested as well) since they stonewalled her. She wasn't very forthcoming about her own plans.
Upon Gerbers return the heroes got hold of some horses and rode to the Holy Hammer to deal some damage and to get some answers.
At this point, I felt that it was necessary to get some things out in the open. Since we quickly approached end-game and the players hadn't tried to get to either Bauerfaust, Kaufman or Mauer for some plot-enhanching chats. I did mention to Gerber's player, using Adele, that Curd Weiss was in town with Kaufman, and that made the players somewhat suspicious. Wasn't he supposed to manage things back in Avernheim? But perhaps he simply had been sent for, they thought.
Anyway, this meant that I pulled out some clues (not cards, just clues) and put them in the Holy Hammer.
The Holy Hammer
The pc:s knew about the labyrinthine layout of the “tavern” and were prepared for a fight as they entered through the door from the stable yard. Reinhardt knew how to quickly pick even the locks that paranoid assassins use, now being in his 40th game session. Inside, they found the place completely deserted, no staff, no nothing. All evidence – had there ever been any – was gone, burnt.
Obviously some of the 30 rooms had been used for more than dining and drinking, there were ink quills, desks, shelves and even bunk beds in some of them. In two of the rooms they found things. On one shelf, there was a wooden figurine like the ones in Kaufman's exhibition. In one bucket, were papers had been burnt, they found parts of a wax sigil from the College of Light. Not enough to explain anything, but enough to cast some additional suspicions.
The figurine was Curd Weiss' of course, the letter had really been used by Mauer's sister Katarina to issue false documents. By the way, did I mention how Mauer was taken by the College of Light? He and Katarina went in there and she showed her true allegiances as she took the bell-clapper and knocked the Luminary out cold to be found by the other wizards. Awkward. She didn't kill him because she could not, not everything is completely black and white. Although it had been better, especially if the pc:s had gotten round to finding out what happened.
Our heroes then quickly left the place, because the Prayer Service was about to begin and they had a lot of suspicions about gun-powder being put in play there and von Stangel still had a “date” with Clothilde (and the gm told the players in no uncertain terms that they were not to split up this session).
The Prayer Service
You know how this is supposed to go by the book. The big difference was that the heroes were not trying to find anyone, or, they looked for Kaufman but didn't see him as they chatted with Clothilde and watched all the important people dressed in all their splendor. They met an old acquaintance, Aschaffenberg from Eye for an Eye, but didn't make any other moves.
After a while, Gerber and Joseph started for the bell tower since they wanted to get on the stairs to have somewhere to watch the crowd from. That's when Gerber saw a figure in a black hood disappearing up into the tower. With still hundreds of people between them and the tower, they started to push their way through as the bell started to toll... and carnage broke out.
Again, you know what the book says, but here I simply left the changeling out of it and had some “larger, quicker ever-changing demon” attack the heads of the cult. Other than that, there were pillars of fire of smoke from which a flaming tower of twisted flesh, bone and beaks rose and screeching horrors emerged.
The heroes battled their way through one group of demons and some mutating onlookers, a rather though fight since every round had the bell tolling again, but they prevailed (through liberal use of comet-rolls to take out an opponent by having them eating someone else or being hacked down by some knight).
Please note, although it has been said before, that one must make the effects of the bell-clapper less serious. I went with terror 2 checks all the way, for every successful roll the pc gained a fortune die and with three successes in a row the pc had to roll no more. That took it's toll, still, but all the pc:s managed to enter the stairs still standing.
The bell tower
As our heroes ran up the stairs (not Gerber, he didn't have the two fatigue to spend which I ruled it took and thus took his time), Waldenfrau mutated. She was last in line, no-one saw it then, but her body grew and her clothes started to bulge as she turned into... something else. Perhaps not even Waldenfrau herself understood what was happening right then.
Reaching the top of the tower, seeing the bell hanging over a railed causeway over the open stairwell, they finally met their enemy. Or enemies. Two Black Cowls where there, next to the bell, one of them pulling the rope which made it toll. They were guarded by three swordsmen and three men with guns. As von Stangel spoke up, one of the men in black pulled back his hood. Kaufman.
Much was said, and I'll relate the geist of it. Von Stangel accused Kaufman of pure madness, didn't her realize what he had let lose down there? As a matter of fact, he didn't know but he deemed it to be a necessary thing, since the empire had to change, the nobility was to fall and new men rise by merit of their actions and ability.
At this point von Stangel's player realised that Bauerfaust was the prime Black Cowl, because what Kaufman was saying sounded to much like what Bauerfaust used to say in less bloody terms.
As the other Black Cowl pulled the rope again, Reinhardt shot him and Waldenfrau unleashed her magic. He fell, hood thrown back, and was revealed as Curd Weiss as the bell tolled again, for the final time. Kaufman halted his men and the heroes from unleashing the fury by yelling “stop”, since von Stangel just had shouted to him that he'd found Anna.
More talk followed. Von Stangel skillfully tried to get Kaufman to tell who had forced him to do what he does by taking Anna (as he correctly surmised had happened) but Kaufman said that he'd damned himself and that he'd have to pay for that. Kaufman wanted to know where Anna was. Von Stangel told him, basically, that she was very damaged and that she was safe with Shallyans. Kaufman tried to negotiate his way out, to get her... but that's when Reinhardt shot him too...
Now, that was a bad move. Otherwise I'd let Weiss knife Kaufman and everything would have been so much better for the players...
The shot hit Kaufman in the chest and he staggered. At the same time, everyone charged at each other. Joseph made short work of the men with pistols, as he bashed in skulls and threw men over the railings. Von Stangel entered the melee and fought the swordsmen, trying to hold them back. Kaufman righted himself and pointed at Reinhardt, a swirling vortex of chaotic energies building up around him. Blood vessels broke across Reinhardt's skull and he fell (actually mutating as well, but the tail remains hidden for now).
As von Stangel and now also Gerber who comes up the stairs, exhausted, and Waldenfrau fought the swordsmen, Joseph ran around the tower and came at Curd Weiss and von Kaufman from behind. In a few quick blows, they both fell. Kaufman screamed as a rift in reality tore open in his chest and imploded him, leaving the shimmering rift hanging in the air. The last swordsman still standing threw himself from the tower as the heroes closed in on him...
As the heroes gather, Waldenfrau stands off to one side and Gerber backs up so that he has the stairs. Gerber looks at the sorceress. She has turned into... an abomination (we think she-hulk, without the colour). Reinhardt is downed, but lives, it's pretty much just exhaustion (8 fatigue), Joseph decides. Just then, steel-clad boots stomp up the stairs and Marcus Bauerfaust, Artha Schaffer and six grizzled Avernheimer Greatswords enter the scene as a rally phase hits the pc:s.
Bauerfaust takes a look at the scene, lingering perhaps on the mutaded woman before he sees the slumped form of the Black Cowl. “It can't have been him, can it?” he says, “Where's Kaufman?”. Von Stangel quickly replies: “In there...”. “Well, damn.” says Bauerfaust. “We'll need to sort this out, in addition to the mess downstairs. For now, you are all under arrest. Drop those weapons, all of you”. Gerber protests but Bauerfaust says “There is no authority you have which supersedes mine”. He and his men advance up into the tower, past Gerber, who then quickly slips away (down the stairs).
“Kaufman is dead, but not before he told us about his master”, von Stangel tells Bauerfasut. At that Bauerfaust grimly says: “He was always the weaker of us”. He shifts his hands along the grip of his greatsword. “You two, after the witch-hunter. Don't let him get away”.
He had to admit it, had he not?
As everyone backs up, or advances a step or two, von Stangel acts. Perhaps believing that true evil stands in front of him, leans under the bell and grasps the bell-clapper, lifting it of its hook, and as its corrupting influences tear at him, mutating his arm into gross, fleshy proportions, he holds out his other hand to Joseph who hands him his dwarven rune-hammer. Schaffer takes a few steps forward and seems horrified. Von Stangel raises the hammer, and strikes the clapper which shatters, throwing everyone to the ground.
Von Stangel, surprised, lives.
I threw a daunting corruption check followed by a daunting resilience check at von Stangel. The former he failed and mutated. Failure at the later check meant instant death and lots of damage to everyone around him. Now, with success, he absorbed the explosion himself. And lived. It rings true with what we've decided can be done about corrupt artifacts and why it simply isn't done.
End of session