With the success of my longer running Necromunda – Only War series, I wanted to take some time to dive into its fantasy cousin known as Mordheim. For those of you who do not already know, Mordheim: City of the Damned was a Games Workshop Specialist Game originally released in 1999. Much like Necormunda, Mordheim centers around the creation and upkeep of a personal warband to fight its way to glory and riches. Unlike Necromunda, this game has truly diverse warbands with different play styles, along with the addition of Wyrdstone (aka Warpstone), a magical stone infused with powerful arcane energy.
The city of Mordheim is one of danger, chaos and terror. Simply put, a meteor made up of wyrdstone struck the city, killed damn near everyone, and twisted it’s ruinous remains into a place suited for only the bravest of adventurers. What remains of the once prosperous merchant city is continually fought over by roving warbands, and the creatures of Chaos who dwell within. All sides fight for the right to plunder the highly prized wyrdstone along with any valuable items.
For many years since it’s release I have tried to devise a way to make a Mordheim TTRPG appealing to my players. It wasn’t until the launch of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition (WFRP) that I finally took the leap into establishing something viable. Since WFRP centers heavily on the Old World Empire, and Mordheim was a city within (set 519 years before the End Times), it seemed natural that everything would mesh well together. You will need a copy of WFRP to run this game, so please purchase one here.
Mordheim is a dangerous city where an insane amount of gold and loot can be earned. The characters have formed together as a new warband (or mercenary company), and are backed by a wealthy patron of the Empire. Using the favor of their Patron, the warband has traveled to the outskirts of Mordheim to set up Camp and begin their exploration of the City. Use the following guideline in order to help setup for the game:
- Character Creation – There are going to be no restrictions during character creation, but I would advise one of two things, either create a diverse group that will cover a wide array of specializations, or create a group with a heavy emphasis on marital prowess. Additionally, players will start with a +200xp bonus to spend on advancement!
- The Warband – The players will now form an official warband. Additionally, the players will need to decide on two things before play:
- The Name of the Warband – Players should (ideally) choose a fitting name for their warband. Think of a name that sounds awesome, fierce, or intimidating, and perhaps less funny. Think of names like The Black Talon, the Golden Blades, etc.
- The Banner – This should be something that is related back to either the name of the Warband or the Patron. In the examples above you could have a banner of a black bird foot/talon on a white backing, or crossed golden swords against a red backing, etc. If the warband cannot think of a Banner, the GM should decide what the Patron’s banner looks like, and they will fly those colors. Remember to keep the design simple but striking.
- The Captain – One of the player’s will become the captain. They are the de facto leader of the warband and responsible for its operation. Additionally, the Captain will act as the deciding vote on any mission. Should the Captain fall, another must be chosen immediately.
- The Patron – The GM should decide on the name of the Patron. This is the Empire Noble who has sponsored/patronized the players and got them to the city of Mordheim. Naming conventions of Imperial citizens are largely Pesudo-Germainc, but you can go with whatever sounds good.
- Starting Money – Since the warband is backed by a Patron, they will begin the game with an additional 100gc (gold crowns) per player to be used up immediately! It should be noted that during character creation there should be no restriction on arms or equipment. For instance, if a player wants to buy a long rifle for 100gc, they should be able to get it. Whatever money isn’t used is considered gone by the start of the game.
- Additional Equipment/Gear – In addition to the money, the players will have access to:
- A large cart (pulled by some sort of domesticated animal),
- A secured chest – Either on the cart or in the camp
- The Banner – Located on the Cart
- Camp Gear – This includes tents, provisions, etc.
- Servants – Cooks, squires, and other specialists who are paid for by the Patron. They will never go into the city, and their only purpose is to handle the needs of the camp and the warband.
- Guardsmen – There are a few low level guards who protect the camp from looters and the like. Also, like the servants, they will only stay at the camp and never venture into the city.
- The Debt – It should be obvious that the Patron wants something in return. For this reason, the Patron will demand that the players hand over a continual monthly tithe of wyrdstone. This should be a small tithe at first, but will increase over time. Perhaps a starting tithe of 20lbs per month. It should also be noted that the players will not have to deliver this back to the Patron in person, but rather give it to a trusted merchant/servant who will deliver it on their behalf. The minimum amount of wyrdstone they will need to deliver is enough to cover the debt of 250gc x the number of players (not NPCs) in the warband, or they will suffer the wrath of the Patron. So, for example, four players would equate to 1000gc or 50lbs of wyrdstone.
Now that you have your warband together, you just need to decide on a place to set up camp. On the map below there are two options; the Black Pit settlement (nearest the South Gatehouse) or Cutthroat’s Den (nearest the West Gatehouse). Depending on where the player’s choose to operate this will determine how long it will take in travel time to certain areas of the map. Players must choose one of those options, and it is permanent!
Additionally, these settlements will provide the players not only a place of respite, but will grant access to merchants, specialists, and hired swords:
Merchants – The settlements outside of Mordheim are bustling with activity, and will provide a wide array of services and items. Consult p.290 in the core book to use the Availability listed under City, with one addition. If players are looking for something Exotic, they have a 25% chance of finding it. Players will only be able to roll this check once, and must wait until after another outing into the city before they can try again.
Hired Swords – There are always those willing to go into Mordheim… for the right price. Consider the following prices for certain hired swords. They are paid in gold (upfront and unrecoverable should they fall in battle) per outing into the city. It can be assumed that if they survived, the NPC will be hirable again. To make random statistics for the Warlock and Warrior would advise using this handy NPC generator:
- Warlock – Spellcaster [randomize] (50gc per outing)
- Warrior – Armed with a one handed weapon, shield and armor (30gc per outing)
- Ogre Mercenary – See stats on p. 312. Usually armed with a large club or two handed weapon. (50gc per outing)
Hired Swords can become a permanent part of the warband if paid a one time sum of 3x the outing cost. So a Warrior can be permanently hired for 90gc. Regardless if they are temporary or permanent, all NPCs should be controlled by the warband during exploration.
Specialists – Sometimes the players need help. This could be a surgeon, healer or any other type of help not already provided in the camp. Should the players need a service, consider that it will cost 20gc per service.
As noted from the map above there are many locations in Mordheim. Noble districts, temples, arenas, and a river running down the middle of the city. When players decide to venture into the city, they should have a destination in mind. To make things a little more interesting the warband cannot venture to the same location twice in a row. Mordheim is ever changing, so no location will ever be the same twice. Here is how to handle setup:
Choose a Location – The warband will look at the map and choose a destination to explore. If no one can decide, the players will automatically choose the nearest destination (if not already explored in the last outing).
Determine the Adversaries – The GM will secretly roll to see what threats they may encounter. Here is a chart to help randomize the results:
- Rival Warband – Randomize some Warlocks and Warriors – Match the number of mercs to the number of players and NPCs in the warband. If there is an Ogre in the warband, include an Ogre in the rival warband, or add two additional Warlocks and/or Warriors.
- Undead p.327-329 – Include one vampire, and a number of zombies and skeletons equal to the number of players +2. If there is an ogre in the warband, include a Crypt Ghoul.
- Creatures – p.314-318 – Include a number of giant spiders or rats equal to the party +2
- Scaven – p.337 – Include a mix of scaven equal to the party +1
- Chaos Warband p.333-334, include a mix of Cultists and Mutants equal to the party. If there is an ogre in the warband, include a Chaos Warrior.
- Daemons of Chaos p.335-336 – Choose one per 4 members of the warband.
- Orcs – p.325-326. – Choose a number equal to the warband.
- Beastmen – p.331-332 – Choose a number equal to the warband.
Determine Wyrdstone – The GM will determine how much wyrdstone (in pounds/lbs) will be currently available at that location. The GM will roll a D20 and add +15lbs or +25lbs depending on what side of the river they are venturing to from camp.
- From Black Pit Settlement – +15lbs on the East Side of the River, +25lbs on the West Side.
- From Cutthroat’s Den – +15lbs on the West Side of the river, +25lbs on the East Side.
So for the following example, the warband is going to a location on the West Side of the River from Black Pitt. the GM rolls a D20 and gets 10. This means there is 35lbs of Wyrdstone at that location. Other factors can increase this number (see Rumors under Rest and Recovery).
Determine Valuables – The GM will determine any other loot that may be in this location and use it as a potential lure for exploration. It doesn’t just have to be standard equipment. It could also be something like a pricey nobleman’s heirloom (good to trade for gc), or some arcane wonder. It’s up to the GM.
Determine X-Factors – The GM should roll to determine if there are any hazards at play:
- Rain – There is a small penalty for ranged attacks (-10 modifier), black powder weapons have a 25% chance to not fire after a reload.
- Nothing – Normal conditions
- Mild Fog – Visibility is reduced by 50%, (-10 Modifier for ranged combat)
- Night Time – Warband will require torches and only be able to see as far as the light source. Roll 1D6, if a 1 or a 6 add a Daemon of Chaos to the board. It will attack the warband on a 1 or the other threat on a 6.
- Luminescence – The area is aglow with arcane energy, both indoors and out. Hiding and sneaking has a -20 modifier. Spotting anything hidden has a +20 modifier.
- Chaos Vapor – Pockets of a mysterious glowing vapor have sprung up in the area. The GM will label them 1 through 6 and place them randomly throughout on the encounter map (on a grid map they each take up a 3×3 grid). If a player or NPC enters the vapor, roll a D6 and they are teleported to just outside the corresponding (numbered) vapor.
Get Exploring! – It can be assumed that the player’s navigate to the location successfully, unless the GM wants to make a table of hazards. Once there the GM should prepare a map of scattered homes and ruins for the warband to explore. Here are some options for how to handle encounters:
- Straight Fight – The warband goes into a straight engagement and fights it out. If the warband wins they will walk away with all of the wyrdstone and loot!
- Sneaking in – The warband determines a stealthy approach and decides to discreetly salvage what they can from the area. This section can be rolled out until the players get caught and are forced to fight, or until they get enough and decide to retreat.
- Roleplay it out! – Perhaps the players have another idea in mind. If it is a rival warband, perhaps a deal can be worked out, or a creative solution found. There could even be a high stakes duel where the winner takes all.
Regardless of the approach chosen, it’s up to the warband to see it out, and there can only be one exploration at a time. No warband would risk a second exploration in the same day.
Character Death – Should a character die while in Mordheim the body must be left where it is. No looting of the corpse either. There is a strong stigma attached to the recently deceased in the City of the Damned. Everyone believes that the very interaction could lead to the spread of corruption or terrible disease.
Rest and Recovery
When the warband returns home they must tend to their wounds, count the money, etc. It is assumed that any grievously injured party member is carted back to the camp, unless they need to be stabilized on the spot. This is order of events when returning to camp:
- Determine Critical Wounds (if any) – Roll on the chart (see p.172 for Injuries)
- Seeking Medical Treatment – Have the warband hire a healer or treat the wounded themselves.
- Determine Corruption – Have every surviving player who went exploring roll 1d100 (if they returned with wyrdstone) on a 1-3, the player gains a corruption point.
- Paying the Tithe – If it is the end of the month (GM needs to keep track of the date), the player needs to hand over the tithe. If they cannot pay the entire monthly balance, that extra is added to next month’s tithe. If the failure to pay happens three times, the Patron will pull the camp and support. Technically the game should be over at this time, but it could also be the start of something new (see Endgame).
- Selling the Wyrdstone – It’s always 20gc per pound of wyrdstone.
- Buying/Finding Items – Players will roll for rare items (if applicable) and/or purchase items.
- Rumors – Players can spend a day trying to hear about any big scores. They are rewarded with an additional +15lbs of wyrdstone at the next encounter. Effects cannot stack.
- Hiring Mercenaries – Players can go out looking for hired swords, or simply rehire the same one from before.
- Leveling Up Mercenaries – If a mercenary survives, the GM will give them advance in skills, or attributes, as they deem appropriate.
- Choosing another mission – Once everyone is healed, they can venture out again.
Wyrdstone (Aka Warpstone)
The primary use of wyrdstone for most is currency, treated with the same reverence as a precious gem or chunk of gold. However, the uses of the stone do not end there. This glowing green stone is a raw chunk of pure chaotic magic and for those connected to arcana this stone can provide the means to achieve great and terrible things. There is a large downside, as continual exposure to the stone can cause eventual psychosis or even mutations. Here are some ideas on in game uses of wyrdstone:
- Mutations – If the GM determines that a character is overusing wyrdstone, or has frequent interactions (uses it three times or more in the manners noted below) with it, that character must succeed on either a Toughness or Willpower check (whichever is higher). On a failure, the character is “gifted” a random mutation (see p.184). This also includes drinking three potions that were imbued with wyrdstone.
- Casting Spells – If an arcane based character is physically holding a chunk of wyrdstone (equivalent of 1lb) they can use it up for a single effect. The stone crumbles to dust after this use:
- Re-reoll – They may re-roll a failed spell check.
- Double Damage – Any damaging spell doubles in effectiveness
- Increased range/radius – The range or radius (choose one if both apply) for the spell being cast is doubled. The stone is used up while the spell is being cast.
- Ignore Miscast – You can ignore the effects of a miscast
- Ingredient Analog – You can use the stone in place of the ingredient required for the spell.
- Potions – If a character utilizes wyrdstone (1lb) while making potions or poisons, apply one of the following effects:
- Double effectiveness – The effectiveness of the potion/poison/drugs is doubled. This means that it heals or harms 2x as much. The GM may need to decide how that works with certain poisons.
- Ingredient Analog – You can replace any missing ingredient for a potion, poison or drug with wyrdstone.
It should be noted that a character who is too visibly mutated will eventually not be able to interact with the people of the settlement. Surgeons will refuse to heal them, and merchants will refuse to do business with them. This means that the other members of the warband will have to pick up the slack.
Patron Favor Missions
Once in a while, the warband’s patron will come asking for a favor. This will often be something very specific and will require the warband to put their best foot forward. If successful the Patron will reward the warband with something of use. Here are some ideas for potential missions (full disclosure, I did take some inspiration from the Mordheim video game):
- Destroy Skaven tunnels (using black powder barrels)
- Find a particular ancient book in the Great Library of Mordheim
- Find certain heraldic papers in The Palace
- Take down a rampaging Wyvern
- Destroy a mercenary company that has been corrupted by Chaos.
- Plunder some holy relics from the temple of Sigmar
The rewards for such endeavors should always be worth the risk, but unknown to the players. A substantial XP reward is absolutely given in addition to the monetary rewards. Here are some ideas:
- A magical weapon or armor
- A black powder weapon or several of them!
- A permanent NPC Hired Sword… like an Ogre
- A chest of gold crowns (like 100gc or 200gc)
- Specialists added to the camp (surgeon, apothecary, craftsman, etc.)
- A 50% reduction in next month’s tithe (in conjunction with another reward)
- A large addition of other needed supplies or gear (weapons, armor, etc)
- Additional Status
- Random amount of wyrdstone found in the area: 1D20+30lbs (they will always receive this one)
Regardless of what reward is chosen, it should always be something meaningful and useful to the party. Don’t reward the warband with black powder weapons if no one is able to use them.
From what you can see above a RPG about Mordheim is about exploration, combat and loot! As the GM, be certain to have the short, medium, and long game in mind at all times. Here is how I envision a game of Mordheim:
- Short Game – If nothing else, the City of Mordheim provides the means for continual exploration, looting and combat. The warband will be continually earning money, getting better items, and leveling up.
- Medium Game (aka Story Missions) – While exploring the ruins, the Warband will also be taking on larger favors of the Patron, as well as working towards the long game or endgame scenario. This could be finding information about the location of a particular item, or even hampering a rival. These sorts of missions should be paced out to break up the short game, and build towards the endgame.
- The Long Game – The long game (aka Goal) could be determined by either the players or the GM at the beginning of the game (See Example Campaign). The Story Missions should build towards this final confrontation, and the finale itself should be the greatest challenge of all, and likely the finale of the campaign.
To help illustrate the long game idea of a Mordheim Campaign, I will give two examples of different warbands:
Example 1 – The Black Talon [Banner consists of a Black Talon on a white backing]
- The Goal – The warband decided early on that they want to obtain a legendary item in the city. It’s a sword of renown known as The Leaping Blade. It was rumored to have been used by a famous gladiator who was rumored to have perished on the day of the comet.
- Story Mission 1 – The warband decides to venture to the coliseum on Mordheim’s Eastern Riverside. The mission is of exploration where they will combat a series of mutated gladiatorial beasts. They are rewarded with information towards their next objective. In this case it’s a rumor that a particular merchant (one who used to supply arms to the city) may know of the sword’s location (this merchant is in their settlement)
- Story Mission 2 – During their downtime, the warband encounters the merchant and negotiates a deal. They will clear out a section of the docks that have been overrun by Skaven in order to free up a ferry that is loaded with wares. Success grants them a lead on another location, a large mansion in the Noble District rumored to be the home of the gladiator’s main Patron.
- Story Mission 3 – The warband makes way to this estate to find that it is overrun with Beastmen. They battle their way through to discover proof that the gladiator is alive (Corrupted by Chaos), and still in possession of the blade. This also leads to the rumor that this gladiator is controlling his own group of Chaos cultists and corrupted mercenaries in the ruins of a once famous fortification.
- Story Mission 4 – The warband knows that they cannot take this on alone, and decide to gather allies (another warband) or enough mercenaries to make the job easier. Additionally, they must venture to the location in order to scout it out.
- Finale – The warband must now face the gladiator and his warband in the ruins of the old fort. They succeed in defeating the threat and now possess The Leaping Blade.
Example 2 – The Golden Blades [Banner consists of crossed golden swords on a black backing]
- The Goal – The GM decides that the Undead are planning a massive ritual to reanimate every dead creature in the entire city to create a massive army. This army would march relentlessly through the Empire.
- Story Mission 1 – While on a routine exploration the warband finds proof of this ritual and the undead leader (vampire) behind it. They send this information to their Patron.
- Story Mission 2 – The Patron has the warband enter the Great Library of Mordheim in order to find a magic tome pertaining to this spell. The library is guarded by a chaos mage known as The Curator. He commands several Deamons of Chaos who patrol the various stacks. Successful retrieval leads to another name, an infamous mage known as Abdhul Alhazred: The Mad Sorcerer. He alone will be able to decipher the counterspell, and help the party overcome this enemy.
- Story Mission 3 – The warband finds the mage and he only agrees to help them if they provide him 100lbs of wyrdstone. He takes the tome to begin translation. The warband now must work towards the additional payoff. Once paid, the mage becomes a permanent NPC (until the finale), and he knows of both the location of the ritual and how to stop it.
- Story Mission 4 – The warband, along with the mage, must find a holy relic in the Temple of Sigmar, but must either defeat or negotiate with the Sisters of Sigmar. This is tough as they hold this relic most dear, and fear that helping the warband will expose the temple to corruption or raids.
- Finale – With the relic, mage, and potential other allies (Sisters of Sigmar), the Warband ventures to the outskirts of the Pit (the impact site of the meteor). It is here that the vampire, his necromancers, and undead warband have begun their ritual using a massive amount of collected wyrdstone. The ritual causes more undead to come into the area as the warband battles it out. Together the allies defeat the threat using the relic to cleans the site. Now the warband have gained a massive status bonus as heroes to the Empire and have gained enough wyrdstone to pay off their debt entirely.
Sometimes the player’s may just want to leave the city. This is okay as well. You do not have to center a campaign around it, but I would advise that the players at least stay long enough to pay off the debt. Here are a smattering of ideas in case the players want to leave:
- Didn’t pay off the debt – The warband is disbanded and the group now ventures out into the Empire. The game could now focus around the players being hunted by agents of the Patron.
- Did pay off the Debt – The warband is still intact and under their command. Now the entire camp goes where they go! A new campaign could focus on the reputation of this established mercenary company.
Let me know what you think of this Warhammer Fantasy Campaign Setting. If there is enough interest, I could expand on other warband types like the Sisters of Sigmar or the Witch Hunters, etc.