Sunday 17 July 2022

Black Death Walking - a Guest Post!

A guest post by Curatrix Ribston, who can be found here on twitter, and also makes various very cool games. And is very lovely.

She played the other side in the game described here, and made her own writeup of the game from her own perspective.

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 “Notes on a Patch of Skin”: Diary of the Painted Lady

"Sometimes you just gotta shake down some demons on the side of a road without a name."

That's what Sally said to me as she rallied her "Scallopards".

I do not understand this woman.

I suspect she fancies herself some kind of philosopher queen of the lost. I asked her if she was planning to mayhaps elaborate on that aphorism.



Still, I must reluctantly admit that she has a point in that today, we had to ransom people for food and some of these people turned out to be demons. How small the waking world has become that we encounter the denizens of hell on the forgotten roads of this dying country?

How in god’s name did I even end up here?

It seems surreal that only a week ago I was alone in my shack away from the troubles of the world. 

And then these villains showed up. 

Cutpurses all of them, rag and bones shambling about the scorched earth, trying to make sense of a dying world.

I would have not given them the time of day if it were not for the ones at the head of their cohort.

Clearly, the rabble deserved little attention, just wariness, but Sally, John and Mira carried themselves with poise, determination and purpose. 

Not like nobles, not like distinguished scholars or heroes, but like beasts backed into a corner.

They politely asked if I was the one known as the Painted Lady.

I said that it was one of the names people gave to me.

They asked for my help.

They started with an introduction.

I play as a band of Flagellants, the Dirty Scallops, a melee-focused warband of refreshing simplicity. It has:

Sally Scallop, a Preacher with Horrible Trophies, Heraldry and a Flail

Shanks, a Pilgrim with a Knife, a Horse and a Disguise

Jab Nelly, a Pilgrim with a Knife, a Grappling Hook and a Disguise

Mira Ro and Honest John, Prophets with Banners and Relics

Ginny the Skull, a Penitent with a Shield

Crush and Smash, Flagellants with Heavy Weapons

Butcher Nick and Slasher Amy, Flagellants with Paired Weapons

Annie Mad-Eye and Twirly Jo, Flagellants with Flails

The Painted Lady, an Oracle with a Disguise, a Horse and Heraldry

Flagellants are simple as they come, they’re good at one thing and it’s getting in the face of their enemy to drown them in numbers. They’re not very smart or brave and they have absolutely no ranged ability, but they’re decent in a fight and it’s all they need to be. My angle in any fight is to try and get my Preacher and Flagellants stuck in as fast as possible while the Pilgrims grab objectives and the Prophets support them by allowing them to activate multiple times. The Oracle is kind of just there. Although she can help with objectives she is mostly useful as she allows me to roll for two events after a match and keep the one I prefer.

I will admit, I only recently recalled these names. At the time, I was simply stumped by the strange cohort in front of me, too stumped to comment. I was expecting to get mugged, but instead, the leader showed me a map, and insisted that I inspect it.

It was quite compelling nonsense. Strange symbols, a treasure beneath the tides, a grand reward, the usual. I would have dismissed it entirely if it had not been for how Mira spoke. 

There was purpose, but also despair.

Her sleep and John’s were plagued by dreams of this place deep within a lake, a forgotten place, a moment shattered and encased in the turquoise depths.

These dreams, I’d been having them too. 

But then came the question, and I asked Sally: why do you care?

And she looked behind her shoulder, and I followed her gaze to her strange cohort. I saw their faces full of loss and grief.

“We all need to care about something.”

Is what she said.

My Destiny for this campaign is to find the Treasure of the Tides. The Scallops have nothing left but this dream of untold riches, and it’s all they need to keep hanging onto life. Is it worth it, to be the richest fools in the graveyard? Maybe not, but what else is worth anything?

A Battle against “The Masque of Blue Delight”

And from that point on, I’ve been following this… Interesting band.

We’ve been surviving for a few days together, and today, we realised we were short on supplies, and so Sally decided to ambush some passers by. 

I adamantly refused to take part in this. I was surprised to find Sally agreeable to that. 

I decided not to watch.

I heard a lot of swearing and some fighting, it was short and to the point, but to hear them tell it, this wasn’t the slice and grab they’d hoped for. 

Their marks ended up being a strange group of drug-slinging demons and their human followers, who tried to give them some weird drugs, hypnotizing some of them into accepting their offers, and stabbing those who would not.

Nelly, Shanks and Crush (or was it Smash?) got badly wounded in the scuffle.

Sally is fuming. Mira is rambling about the strange horrors that accompanied them, formless blobs of… something twitching about the battlefield. They seem satisfied with their “swag”, but grudging anger fills the air.

One would almost feel bad for spending the duration of that scuffle engrossed in conversation with one of the rakish archers of that cohort, a waifish woman trying to get away from the fight.


We played the Procession, with the other warband being a Decadent Cabal. The Flagellents could rob a model defeated in combat rather than injuring it, and the Decadent Cabal could use hypnosis to compel the other side to drink if they were near somebody to offer it: these were our main objectives for the fight.The low Mind score of my Flagellants meant their Disguises efficiently broke up my charges just enough for them not to get bogged down and they got a few good hits in, but in the end my superior fighting skills allowed me to position myself in such a way that their Grotesques were not too much of a problem, so I got the money I wanted even though in the end the fight was starting to look sour for me.

A Strange new Power

I made it up to them, in the end, as my eyes guide us ever towards that strange lake we often stumble upon interesting things.

In this case, it was a corpse. I felt a pull. I felt black smoke. I felt sulphur.

This pulled me towards a wretched creature giving its last breath on the side of the road on a murky night. It looked pathetic, retching and trying to breathe with an arrow deep within its deformed chest. Sally had followed me out of camp. She was taken aback by the sight. She reached out to the dying imp, but before I could even ask why she seemed to want to show compassion to such a disgusting thing, the corpse burst into a thick black mist that poured directly into Sally’s eyes and mouth.

When she woke up, she’d been changed, able to command a black fog to gather around herself seemingly from nowhere. 

I would have been livid, but the woman’s takeaway was that now, she could serve as cover for the band’s advance.

I do not understand this woman.

Yet, with time, I’ve come to respect her.

After the battle, we roll for scars and wounds. Most of my warband got even better at fighting and getting in people’s face, despite the injuries.

I rolled for events after the battle, and thanks to my Oracle got a choice between a Stranger (a Missionary from the Plague Bearers warband) or a Gift of Fumes of Hell allowing my Preacher to cast a spell which would wrap her in dark smoke serving as cover.

Being a sucker for Wyrd Magicks, I, of course, opted for the latter.

Black Death Walking - A playtest!

 Being the Scandalous Diary the Succubus of L'Shan in the year 1466.

It has been three years since I deserted hell. My protégé, a human libertine calling herself Molly, has a vision of the future. One of ecstatic transcendence through the pleasures of the flesh. That, in a moment of perfect beauty, our sins will be cast away, and we will be called to heaven.

I confess, it intrigues me. Could one such as I - cast down from paradise millennia ago - escape the fires of torment? Could we escape this hell on earth? Could Molly be onto something? I don't know, but as I watch the mortals suffer and sicken and starve - as I see the torment I endured for so long inflicted on the daughters of Eve - I long to find out.

Molly numbers ten among her followers. Four are mere mortals, rakes drawn in by her mesmerising charm and stores of absinth. Two are grotesque things twisted by the plague, that shamble and gibber. Two claim to be mortals, but I have my doubts; I suspect spirits of hell like myself, walking abroad as the world comes to an end. And lastly, there is myself and my beloved L'Vor, refugees from hell, wanting something better.

For now, we merely roam the plague-stricken wasteland, in search of alchemical ingredients to further our work.

I'm playing as a Decadent Cabal, a warband that focusses on manipulating the opponent with disguises and hypnosis. My warband consists of:
Molly the Blue (leader) - a Libertine, with a Bow, Knife, Disguise and the ability Hypnosis.
Azure and Turquoise - two Mimics, with Disguises, Spears and the ability Hypnosis.
Agnes, Betty, Vera and Nancy - four Rakes, with Disguises and either Bows or Spears.
L'Vor and L'Shan - two Succubi, with Disguises, Healing Kits and the ability Hypnosis.
The Porter and The Footstool - two Grotesques with Paired Weapons, Horrible Trophies and the ability Unease.

It works like this: my enemies need to take a Test of Nerve to target disguised models, charge models with Horrible Trophies or resist Hypnosis when it's used on them. Every time they fail a Test of Nerve, they risk being hurt if they're around a Grotesque. So my warband is all about disrupting the enemy, and capitalising on that disruption.

My warband's Destiny, in the campaign, is a sort of drug fuelled transcendence. Of the six steps towards it, they've only taken one.

A Battle against 'the Dirty Scallops'

Today fills me with grief to see how the mortals are fallen. Our little band was following a road through the forest, a procession we'd made many times before.

Out of the trees, we saw a handful of pilgrims emerge, pushing a battered cart, asking us for alms. As we went to oblige, producing holy absinthe to share with them, their treachery was revealed, as more emerged from ambush around us! It seems they'd taken to banditry, and intended to rob us blind!

if they want our goods, they could have them. We resolved that before we drove them away, we'd show them a glimpse of heaven from our bottles. Considering the mesmerising charms of so many of us, bending them to our will would not be hard. Perhaps we would inspire them to be better.

The fight was quick and ugly. They fell upon us with chains and knives, ignoring our outward appearance as harmless travellers. Up close, we were able to compel many to drink, but this seemed only to infuriate them, and they fell upon us with great fury, shrugging off our gifts. Before long, a single swirling melee resulted in the centre of the road, as they attempted to surround us, beating us into submission and robbing us of our material wealth. 

One of our grotesques, the Porter, met with their particular displeasure. He was beaten to the floor, twitching and whimpering, and as I attempted to come to his aid, I saw one of their number step forward and bring her boot down on his neck, killing him. I weep to remember the cold hatred in their eyes.

Upon our poor grotesque's death, a tranquil fury came over us. Even as we were surrounded by more chain-wielding robbers emerging from the woods, we gave up on our generous gifts, cutting them down before we were forced to pull back. They recovered their injured, we recovered our dead.

I weep for humanity, that they should turn so far from beauty and pleasure. What hope remains for the world, when even the supposedly holy resort to such things?

We played the scenario The Procession, with the other warband being Flagellants, called the Dirty Scallops. The Flagellants could rob a model defeated in combat rather than injuring it, and the Decadent Cabal could use hypnosis to compel the other side to drink if they were near somebody to offer it: these were our main objectives for the fight. My grotesques didn't manage to achieve much, but hypnosis proved pretty useful. And having models with lots of spears, and enough disguises to prevent the enemy always being able to charge successfully, eventually let me turn the tide of the ensuing melee.

Our Mourning Interrupted

As we prepared to bury our beloved Porter, something unexpected happened. The poor wretch's carcass twitched, writhed and drew breath once more. It seems the touch of the plague refuses to let him die and reach his final reward, and he's condemned to remain among the damned on earth. Sorrowfully, we welcomed him back among our number. L'Var and I have set about mending his shattered neck.

It seems our recent tragedy has taught us hard truths. We grow cold, hard-eyed, cynical. Our mental scars make us ruthless fighters, but at what cost to our souls? Still, we were, at least, able to make a little money selling our gifts to the local peasants. Not all is lost.

Among those peasants, we seem to have made a friend. A local wise-woman, calling herself Black Peg. The Inquisitors of the Beast call her a witch, but we know better. She has herbs and potions, and we welcome her among our number.

After the battle, the one casualty returns, now undead. The survivors rolled for what they learned, mostly improving their speed, accuracy, and mental accuity.

I rolled for events after the battle, and got a Stranger - a Witch willing to be recruited to my warband. I had enough money saved up to hire her, and spent the rest on some more bows for my rakes.

* * * 

This isn't the first playtest of Black Death Walking, but it's my first using the campaign system. Suffice to say, I like it.

The game was on roll20. Here are some of the tokens I used! (art by wendy ribston).

Molly the Blue, my leader.

Nancy, a Rake armed with a bow.

Azure, a Mimic armed with a spear.

The Porter, a Grotesque who died ;__;

L'Shan, a Succubus and our narrator.

So, what is Black Death Walking?

In short, a skirmish wargame taking inspiration mostly from games like Mordheim. The setting is the mid 15th century, in a world devastated by the black death, then a zombie outbreak caused by that same plague, and then heaven deciding to kick off the apocalypse and smiting the world with four horsemen. It's bleak and grubby and inspired by black metal and grimdark wargames like turnip 28.
Each model is a character in its own right, and the warband as a whole has a destiny that calls to it. over the course of the campaign, your models will evolve as they learn and suffer injuries, and your warband will draw closer to their eventual destiny and end. The focus is much more on building a narrative than competitive play: while nothing is too unfair, the expectation is that balance is less important than being interesting.
Anyway, I'm pretty pleased with it so far. More updates soon, starting with this guest post from the other player!