Imaginary places

Posted by  | Wednesday, June 17, 2020  at 1:35 AM  

Imaginary panoramas with imaginary people on a journey without end. The Empire is a wilderness place of stark, cruel beauty, measured in its bewildering complexities.

Exploring of our own imagination seeking solace or escaping strained lives by entering imaginary worlds of wizards learning magic, noble knights battling monsters, acting out the parts of witch hunters and sorcerous maidens.

The latest lockdown binge of reading Warhammer story books has somewhat surprisingly introduced me to a number of unfamiliar locations in otherwise mostly familiar environments. Much of my meditation down-time for reading was spent exploring, then ruminating and I suppose researching the Ostermark province. Authors Jonathan Green and Neil McIntosh both favour the region in their storytelling. What appeals to us about this is that the ruins of Mordheim happen to be in the Ostermark province! There was no warband for Ostermarkers featured in the original Mordheim game rules. Local brigands can be perfectly well represented through the Outlaws of Stirwood warband even though Stirwood Forest itself is based much further to the south. Kislev mercenaries form the ideal basis for representing Ostermark mercenaries since many warriors fighting in the Empire's frontier land hail from further north. The League of Ostermark article by Nick Kyme provided tangible variations on a theme if you enjoy playing vanilla mercenaries from the core rules.

Band of mercenaries from Ostermark & Kislev hare around the northern province in eight thick chapters of adventure. The Slaughtered Troll tavern is the central location in The Dead and the Damned by Jonathan Green. This is an instant classic loaded with short stories perfect for Mordheim fans! There are Witch Hunters, Priests, Chaos Cults, a lot of talk about Sigmar and instances where two Saints of the holy Heldenhammer form part of the dialogue. Eowen and Ephrael.

"It it our holy duty to the God-Emperor Sigmar to recover the relics of his most beloved Saint Eowen."
— Brother Tobias, Warrior-Priest of Sigmar

The latter Lady's name already being familiar to some devout followers of the Sigmarite faith. The former appearing in the recovery of a holy reliquary, holding the mortal remains of the Lady Eowen. The appearance of Sister Ephrael von Stern was originally inspired by an amazing parallel observation based on the other big Warhammer property.

"During that incident with the Nagenhof Bell, Burgomeister Audric wasn't even in town. Rumour has it he'd had a thing going with Abbess Rilka, and he'd been up to the Priory of Saint Ephrael to ask for absolution, if you know what I mean."
— Lisbet, Ostermark Maidservant

Jonathan's solid pitch was enough to insert a fascinating character into the cult history of Mordheim, sub-world skirmish game set in a doomed city of Ostermark province, set five hundred years in the past of the Warhammer World timeline. Canonising his adaptation in the Old World mythology in the form of a Saint in the Church of Sigmar really is a story weaving masterstroke.
It's worth noting that there are two further short stories for Badenov's band published in compilations elsewhere. One is an origins story called 'Mark of the Beast' (compiled in 'Way of the Dead') and the other is the Nagenhof Bell (compiled in 'Swords of the Empire') detailing events that were mentioned as preceding one of the stories in the Dead and the Damned.
Saints of Sigmar
There is not a ton of lore on Saints. They don't even get a mention in army books made available to Warhammer Fantasy Battle military enthusiasts but neither do most gods of the Empire, like Taal and Ranald. Saints are likened to minor gods or lesser deities. The roleplay supplement for Marienburg was indeed the first tome published to apply purpose to these deities. Author of Sold Down the River, Anthony Ragan talks about the origins of Saints in an old Warpstone interview here.

It makes sense that Sigmar as the most recognisably worshipped and deified god would have Saints. Due to their being a rich history of religious personalities, some of the best holy men and women would have earned their title through acts of devotion involving heroic deeds done in the name of the holy Heldenhammer. A popular notion with Warhammer authors who are fans of the roleplaying aesthetic.
Following the events of the Nagenhof Bell short story, curiously absent from this collection of eight tales, Torben Badenov's band travel from the market town of Nagenhof, through the wooded gorge of Bruchenbach Woods on to Wollustig Castle. This is my favourite chapter from their adventures. I wish there was more like it!
The Slaughtered Troll
Ostermark's premier drinking establishment and night-spot, unofficial home of the town's equally unofficial adventurers' and mercenaries' guild; avoided by all honest, Sigmar-fearing citizens and city watch. Humans, dwarfs and even the occasional pot-bellied halfling crowd the tables filling the drinking den.

"Shhh! There are many here who would not understand or appreciate what I intend to do. It is best that they do not know at all. That which they do not know cannot trouble them."
— Luthor Harlock, Witch Hunter

Wollustig Castle
Travelling from Nagenhof, traversing a bridged waterway, twice ambushed by bandits of Bruchenbach Woods, before finally reaching Wollustig. The castle is portrayed larger than life. Without meaning to spoil things any more than I already am. Oh this report is full of spoilers peeled from the story books! The events unfolding within the castle walls are nothing short of diabolical. This is one of many favourite new locations is an underexplored province. It seems a shame that too much favour is being laboured on the City of the White Wolf when this other northerly province has such potential.
Neil McIntosh wrote a trilogy of books about the adventures of the mercenary Stefan Kumansky. Star of Erengrad was published 2002, Taint of Evil in 2003 and Keepers of the Flame finished the adventure in 2005. To say that the author takes us on an epic campaign through the Empire's wilderness doesn't sell the affair short. I wish I could read this collection again for the first time. There are some outstanding depictions of places never before seen and I have picked some excerpts out to share below in case you are struggling to get around to reading the legendary tales of Stefan Kumansky and his comrade in arms Bruno.

Forgotten City
An honourable name and a memorable one. I haven’t come across this settlement or their livery before. Beyond the plains of Ostermark is a place that does no honour to its sacred name.

Sigmarsgeist, the city upon the plain, its spreading mass lit by a phosphor glow that came not from any natural source, but from the tide of elemental energy that raged like a boiling sea below.

The key, was a place known in legend as Tal Dur. The fathomless waters of the lake held magical powers that would surpass any imagining, power enough to take the strength of a man and multiply it tenfold.

Doom came to Sigmarsgeist. It was brought by its Guides. Their desire and naked greed for power had consequences. With its gates cut off by their own endeavour, the city had been laid to waste by the floods.

Only by breaching the walls could the waters of a raging flood that came from nowhere be dispersed. As the prophecy of Tal Dur became fulfilled, grotesque troops of warp-touched prisoners, Norscans, cultists, mutants and inhumans bore down on the soldiers of Sigmar. The Chaos horde tore into the city’s Red Guard as they had tried to salvage the wreckage of their citadel from a rising tide.

It had become like a drowned world with only crests of stonework left poking through the churning waters like islands in the sea. The first springs channelled elsewhere, converging near the bottom of the Well of Sadness, where the locus of Tal Dur may be found.

Buildings wrecked and submerged, collapsed into the swirling waters. A chapel of humble worship to the healing goddess Shallya, a ruined shelter in the dark, watery wasteland.

For those strong enough to survive the deluge, its maelstrom that replaced domes and gilded towers with a drowned wasteland of rubble, draining away all sign of the lake’s existence without trace except the ravages left behind.

"I'm not surprised that our citadel is unfamiliar to you. As yet, the name of Sigmarsgeist is known to few beyond the walls. But that will change. Believe me, friend, the time will come when all the Old World will know and bless that name."
— Hans Baecker, Ostermark Mercenary

"A long time ago, before I knew I had a gift, I was a Sister. A Sister of Shallya, a priestess. Then I discovered that I had other powers, powers to heal that came from magic, as well as from the divine will of the goddess. What I took as a gift, others saw as witchcraft. I had to renounce my calling, and leave the Sisterhood. Here I can start afresh, and use my gifts as they were always meant to be used. The goddess knows, there’s work enough to be done."
— Beatrice de Lucht, Sister of Shallya

"But you must remain with us a while yet, draw strength and such provisions as we can offer. Then you can ride on with full belly and good heart. Will you consent to rest with us at least until the halving of the moons?"
— Konstantin von Augen, Father of Sigmarsgeist

"You have been brought to Sigmarsgeist and here you will be judged and your sins will be accounted for. What do you have to offer us, that might possibly postpone your miserable end? You are an abomination of Chaos. A creature of darkness. You will die here in Sigmarsgeist, and your death will purge a blight from the world."
— Anaise von Augen, Guide of Sigmarsgeist

"Behold the Mines of Sigmar. Behold them, and despair. For those of you who work hard — Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some food and rest as your reward at the end of the day. For those who don’t, take a good look about as you climb down the shaft. Because they’ll be your tomb."
— Ostermark Prison Guard

"The rulers of Sigmarsgeist were not the first to build here. As the foundations were dug, they came upon the ruins of another city, long since abandoned or destroyed. Perhaps they too had dreams of a great citadel, a bastion to protect them against evil."
— Rilke, Keeper of the Flame

Stahlfort Prison
Two weeks journey from Altdorf, through lands forsaken by man and god is a prison island in the western Reikland. Stahlfort is a human warehouse; its rows of cells arranged in layers, floor upon floor. Each has its own guardhouse, a squat, heavily fortified cage from where the warders keep watch over the prisoners in their charge.

Two days out from Balzen, travelling through a desolate landscape of marshlands. After the marshes recede into undulating swathes of open grassland, come the lakes. A web of raised strips cross this drowned land until there is no more land to path. Empty expanses of water several miles across. Unlike the greenery all around, one landmass is visibly devoid of shrubs. A featureless island, aside from the skirt of cliffs surrounding it.

Prison boats ferry arrivals between the towering cliffs of an island, through a channel cut in the cliff. The narrow fissure opens out to reveal a horseshoe-shaped harbour with wooden jetties. A flight of steps hewn from the rock lead up the cliff-top. A dark fortress of high towers and heavy walls forms the slate grey outline of the monolith like garrison.

Hundreds of prisoners, jammed inside the close confines of the cells. Life is hard here but mercifully short. Starved of air and light, with only the rats for company. Inmates leave "the pit" when their time’s up, when it's time to "stretch their necks".

Chaos prisoners are held on the other side in the belly of the prison. The area holding them is joined to the main block by a tunnel of steel, a metal cage with locked gates at either end. A prison within a prison. The Chaos cells are the dark heart of Stahlfort.

"These are the enemies of the Empire. Men who have committed abominable crimes."
— Stefan Kumansky, Kislev Mercenary

"It's true: the villain was picked up in a sweep of cultists, but that was more by coincidence than design. We were only going to have him hung. If you want him, you can take him, I suppose."
— Friedrich Krieger, Chief Security Officer of the Sekurheitszicke

"Who are we to argue the will of our Imperial masters? Or the wisdom of the glorious witch hunters? Very well. Take them through to the gates."
— Guard Commander of Stahlfort Prison

The Reikshalle Falls
A daring river escape presents Stefan Kumansky with no possibility to escape. Faced as ever with difficult and impossible choices, the heroes encounter a perilous waterfall on the river network. The waterway drop is not the only dead encounter that the party has to face.

"The falls. The right leads straight over the Reikshalle Falls! We’ll be cut off! Once we hit the falls your only chance will be to jump."
— Ernst Nagel, Former Guard of Stahlfort Prison

"Maybe they managed to get a message from the island to the garrison at Marienburg. They could be moving to cut us off from the west, while troops from the island follow our trail in from the north."
— Karl Maier, Reikland Mercenary

The Keepers of the Flame
A secret society of adversaries to Chaos. Several of the larger sects of zealots in Altdorf stir up trouble. The Apostles of Morr, the Black Confessors and the True Path. Measures being taken by the Keepers of the Flame to defy the schemes of Chaos cults is the ongoing plot for this fantastic series. The endless tide of adversaries and the machinations of the enemy within culminates into the final battle to save one the Empire's great cities.

"The Blessing of the Souls. The whole town's been building up to it for weeks. By noon today, every zealot, doom-merchant and penny-prophet in the city will be on the streets."
— Franz Sterkel, Altdorf Cutthroat

"What makes a young man throw away a good career in the Guard for the uncertain life of a hired sword?"
— Otto Brandauer, Imperial Courtier and Keeper of the Flame

"I shall summon a gathering of the Keepers of the Flame. I will gather together our brothers from across the Empire. Together we have access to powers - powers of persuasion greater than anything the Imperial gaolers can muster."
— Marcus Albrecht, Keeper of the Flame

There are too many memorable characters to discuss or describe them all. Instead some choice dialogue has been quoted throughout this narrative round up which helps to give the impression of how these strangely familiar landscapes are populated. I hope you get to read some of these enlightening stories for yourselves and I hope to make further explorations in the cult exploits of the followers of Chaos they encountered. I was rather taken with the Scarandar changelings and feathered chameleons, Tzeentchian cultists and daemonkin of the avian variety. We should definitely hope to see more of them in the future!

"The Scarandar are the servants of evil. They are human - at least, I think they are - but they have set their face against mankind and all its works. They worship a daemon, a terrible master pledged to deliver first Erengrad, then all Kislev to the Lord of Change."
— Elena Yevschenko, Kislev Noblewoman