It has been a significant time since I last wrote a narrative battle report based on a wargame I have played, so here is one. As I mentioned in my recent article on “Forging the Narrative” in wargames, Wyrd Miniatures’ Malifaux is an excellent game for marrying narrative and mechanics, meaning that even a fairly straightforward game suggests an exciting story.
For reference, the forces used in this game were:
Mei Feng (Imbued Protection, Price of Progress, Seismic Claws)
Kang (Imbued Protection, People’s Challenge)
2x Rail Worker
2x Metal Gamin
Rasputina (Child of December, December’s Pawn, The Philosopher’s Stone)
Ice Golem (Imbued Protection)
3x Ice Gamin
The schemes and strategy were Turf War, Bodyguard, Breakthrough, Protect Territory and Vendetta. The final score was 7-4 to Mei Feng (4 points from Turf War + 3 from Protect Territory vs 2 points from Turf War + 2 points from Bodyguard). The game was played at Iron Forest Games in Benfleet, with scenery provided by the club.
Attention All Workers
By order of
DR RAMOS OF THE MINERS & STEAMFITTERS UNION
MISS MEI FENG OF THE UNION OF RAIL-WORKERS
WORK IN THIS FACTORY IS TO CEASE UNTIL THE GUILD ACCEDE TO FAIR PAY FOR FAIR WORK
Black-legging, strike-breaking &c will be PUNISHABLE
BY A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH
signed this day in their own hand under witness
mei feng this her mark X
The posters had appeared around the ironworks, and the machine–shops, and the the tool–workers, and on the mines, with unusual co-ordination. The bars, and the saloons, and the card-parlours sat empty. Lights burned behind factory-windows as the strikers prepared for the inevitable siege, barricades being prepared and machines dismantled for parts to form them. At the centre of it all was the great Pumping Station, which still functioned, in a fashion, thanks to the ministrations of machines too entrenched in duty to disable and too mindless to comprehend strikes or unions. There had been debates about whether they should be broken, but intercession from Dr Ramos had put a rapid end to it.
It was a matter of time, the workers felt, until the Guild responded to this. The Great Strike of 1903 would go down in history, for sure, and at this point those instigating it still felt potential infamy outweighed survival instinct. A few patrolmen had already tried raiding the Charlotte Mine, and been seen off by a hail of missiles and pistol-shots. One of the miners now wore a fine stetson, taken from a Guildman. Of course this insult would not go unnoticed, but with the heavy firepower being brought up by train by the Ten Thunders, the scene was going to be set for a gunfight to remember. Rumour had it the mad Fuhatsu was waiting for a Guild attack on the railhead at Edgeport, eager to fill something with bullets. Apparently the Leyte Mine was wired with enough dynamite to bring down the whole mountain, and Crazy Willie was still setting charges. Change was in the air.
“This will not do, will it?” The city preparing for war. The workers preparing themselves to die dearly at the hands of the Guild. Everyone had lost their minds, and it would not do. Killing the scum of the city was a useful pursuit, but this surfeit of slaughter would pall far too quickly and leave the factories that made life profitable empty and silent. “Find… her.” The message was passed down through gilded corridors until it reached rougher ears, and from there it travelled into the wilderness. And she heard.
Deep below the pumping-station, the detritus of a city’s sewers flowed thickly towards the great machines that dealt with it. Pipes, of brass and painted iron, lined the walls. The distant sounds of steam-engines echoed through brick sewers, and little moved save the slow sludge until, with a sound like a wine glass tapped with an elegant nail, everything froze. Ice, not neat white crystals but the treacherous black glass that lined half-frozen streets, filled the tunnel floors. Pipes rimed with infinitesmal patterns in mere seconds. And then footsteps, the crunching tap of boots on frosty ground.
Above, a near-mindless spider of tarnished metal noticed the irregularity in the pumps’ action and shut them down, before folding itself neatly up into a ball. An unpleasant, unseasonal chill began to fill the great machine-hall, and that did not go unnoticed.
“We have a guest.” The voice, commanding and venerable, rang out from the observation-level of the machine-hall. “Someone is skulking about in my cellar, and I will not have it. Perhaps they are Guild spies. Little prying eyes trying to learn our secrets. Perhaps they are our doubting brothers who wish to return to work. Whoever they are, I wish for them to be removed from the premises.” Ramos turned around from the balcony and looked into the foreman’s room, where a thickset man with scarred, greying skin and an Asian woman who perhaps once would have been the picture of elegance stood. “Go, both of you, and do something about the intrusion. Marshal a defence. Make yourselves useful.”
“Who is it? From the way you speak, they are known to you.”
“Someone who… bothers me. Their motivations are as yet unknown but I am certain they mean to undermine us. Go. Take these, place them in the tunnels, but ask no more questions.”
Frozen, the sewer was oddly still. Even the machines gleamed with a grey-white patina of frost, and the ground cracked and crunched underfoot. A pair of darting, smouldering spirits led the way, with a couple of the strongest, most likely-looking thugs of the union behind. Safely behind them, the leaders advanced.
“Kang, take that passage. I will advance this way. And place these devices that the master has given us.” Away from Ramos’ ears, the woman had slipped back into Chinese, speaking with practiced speed. As the union-men hurried forwards, she tied her hair back with a long red ribbon, the armband of revolution, and began a whispered mantra. Wind rushed around her as each bound carried her the length of a corridor, and in mere seconds she was in the open area of the main valve room. The great pipe-controls, the confluence of effluent, loomed before her, now a city of crystal.
A crossbow-bolt shattered a frozen pipe by her ear, and she leapt forward again to close the distance as two more whined through the half-light. From somewhere else, behind a knot of machines, a stream of icicles sliced through the sky, and she pressed herself into cover against a great valve-system and watched them shatter against a wall.
Back in the office, Ramos watched as the first device was placed, a faint, flickering magical image projecting from one of his spiders to show the view below. The big man was advancing carelessly. Good. He would draw the enemy out. More devices flickered to life, and it became clear there was a brawl beginning in the pipe-room. Good.
Waiting for a gap in the barrage, Mei leapt from her hiding-place to where the crossbowman waited atop the machines. A vicious kick knocked him off-balance, sending him grasping for a valve-wheel, and a second blow forced him further down the edifice. The myriad gauges and handles of the machine were foothold enough for Mei, practiced toes finding the places to grip the mechanisms and find balance as the assassin climbed frantically for safer ground. Razor-sharp gauntlets sliced at his wrist as he tried for her ankle, and, unbalanced and recoiling in pain, he fell with a breaking-bone crunch to the ground. Multiple problems now faced her. Something small was capering about atop the machine, trying to break its mechanism, while far below a hulking shape surrounded by infernal cold lumbered towards the accessway to the station itself.
She began easing her way down the side of the machine, hoping the construct before her wa too single-minded to notice a distraction. Such hopes were dashed almost instanteously as a thick arm of animate ice swung for her head.
Jumping up, using the slight give in a half-closed valve for a little more of a push, she landed on its dumbly held fist and pushed forward again, a second step launching her from its flat head towards the rushing-closer ground. She landed, rolled, and all of a sudden was staring down dead, white eyes above a fur coat’s collar. Instinctively, she swung a punch at the doll-like, porcelain face. Metal claws raked grotesquely deeply across a pristene cheek, leaving dark, immediately-congealing ribbons of blood and revealing the flesh of a jawline, but at the same time Mei’s arm was beginning to turn blue from the cold, muscles seizing up. The combatants stepped apart, circling slowly, Mei trying to return sensation to her arm and the other woman trying to react to the section of her cheek shearing away.
The giant was still out there somewhere. She shouted a command to one of the metal-sprites following her, and it ran forward, pinning the thing with unusual magic such that ice-crystals began to flake from its back and legs.
“Your little strike does not suit the great plan.” The woman in furs spat the words in a froth of blood towards Mei. “End it now, save the lives of your workers.” Confident on the ice, she turned to walk away, expecting her opponent to be unsteady and slow-to-react.
Mei was not. A hand whipped out and caught the end of a stylish scarf, a flick of the wrist tightening it until the woman was struggling to breathe. “What does the Cult of December want?”
“To save you from Ramos.”
“What do you really want… Rasputina?” She was trying to leave again, but again Mei’s grip found her and the pair were pulled close.
“You do not need to know.”
At the room’s door, Kang was laying into one of the small goblin-things Rasputina had brought with her, dashing it against the wall with a swing of a shovel. They were running in all directions, pouring from the icy tunnels, and Mei did not notice a second one slam into her and sink teeth and claws into the small of her back. Reeling in sudden pain, she spun round, letting Rasputina’s coat go, and barely dodged a third Gamin lunging at her shins.
Reaching back with an acrobat’s flexibility, she grabbed the creature latched onto her and threw it to the ground, stamping its head to shards and nimbly avoiding the magical explosion as its remains joined the floor’s thick frost. The new arrival, unsteady from its missed lunge, was similarly easy prey. She could see her metal-sprite was climbing the ice-golem, vomiting flame onto it so ice fell from its body in great liquid sheets, and returned her attention to Rasputina. A low kick knocked the woman’s legs from beneath her and she skidded against the ice, the unnatural, agonising cold around her forcing Mei back from a second blow.
Then the throbbing pain of the Gamin’s bite was replaced with something far worse. A club of ice smashed Mei to the ground and the world swam. Despite the metal-sprite digging talons into the golem’s eye-sockets, it was striking out with surprising accuracy and she hurt. Shards of ice flung from Rasputina’s hand bit into Mei’s shoulder, and the witch escaped the melee before yet more freezing missiles tore through thin overalls and the skin below.
Blood from a head injury sustained somewhere in the melee clouded Mei’s eyes. Her bones felt almost all broken, her body not wanting to move even as she awkwardly dodged the golem’s swings. She scrambled away from it, trying to gain some distance, and caught on a deceptively slanted ledge. An abyss, a frozen lake of vile sludge, was rushing forward. Her shoulder, smashed and near-limp, screamed as her talons dug into the ice.
The golem, meanwhile, launched its tormentor at her. The sprite arced through the air and Mei realised that, short of a miracle, it would slam into her and they would be sent tumbling down.
She felt like her arm would be torn from its socket as she wrenched metal nails into the ice to arrest her fall, watching the sprite sail past her. Inch by agonising inch her crippled arms pulled her up the slick fall, and she hoped she was not simply climbing back to a waiting knife.
Convinced that Mei was dead, Rasputina concealed herself in an alcove until the golem had finished its rampage. It had killed the little sprite bothering it, and was rounding on the corridor ahead. Composing herself, trying to ignore the fact much of her face had been sliced off by the evil little witch rapidly falling to her doom right now, she strode round the corner and barely had a moment to take in what awaited her before a shovel-blow knocked her out cold. Kang kicked the unconscious sorceress down the corridor, towards the waiting union-men, and barked an order that she should be taken back to Ramos.
Its mistress vanished, the golem rounded on Kang. The shovel was discarded as the engineer took a sledgehammer from his back, and a dull hammerhead met an icy fist. The golem’s arm shattered, and it reeled back, towards the abyss. A second hammer-blow sent cracks spiderwebbing through its torso, and it wobbled on the edge, stepped away, and fell.
Mei’s strength was gone. She reached for the ice again and her gauntlet simply buckled and bent, and the slow descent began – just momentarily, for at that point Kang was there, grasping her failing arm and pulling her up in a harsh, last burst of pain.
“You will be healed, Mistress. And Ramos… he will not do it. I saw what he did to the native man Joss, and the headsman Langston, and it will not happen to you.”
“What of the witch?”
“She is with Ramos. I hope he does to her what I do not want him to do to you.”
The strike-breakers had been punished, as the pamphlets and posters had said. Tools remained downed. The machines could be fixed later.