Thursday, April 17, 2014

M is for Marienburg Secretariat for Trade Equity

If the Black Caps are Marienburg's equivalent to a police force, then the Marienburg Secretariat for Trade Equity is its FBI. They are cold, calculating, and hell-bent on enforcing free flowing trade throughout the city.

The Secretariat, more commonly called the Excise, are a coalition of three important branches of Marienburg's vital law enforcement. Firstly, they contain the members of the River Watch - the water-borne guardsmen of the city who hold jurisdiction over crimes committed in relation to or within 100 yards of the harbour or canals. The River Watch and the Black Caps have often come to blows over disputes relating to jurisdiction, with some crafty River Watchmen claiming that the sewer system counts as the canals.

Second among the Excise's duties is that of Tax Collection. Whilst they are not the sole tax collectors, they are used to audit and enforce larger cases of tax evasion, smuggling and matters of that nature, and as such are often called in to forcefully impound property. In conjunction with this duty, the Secretariat hold weekly auctions where impounded goods are sold for revenue.

Third and final of the duties of the Marienburg Secretariat for Trade Equity is that of espionage and investigation - above and beyond all other facets of secular law in Marienburg. The Secretariat's higher officers are tasked with intelligence gathering on foreign dignitaries, wealthy merchants, and really anyone of interest in the city. Whilst they are less ruthless than the infamous Chekist of Kislev, they are indeed capable and willing to kill for the Directorate at the drop of a pin.

One can always tell the first two branches from the throng of people in Marienburg. The first of their kind have orange and blue striped boats hung about with lanterns, each manned by up to seven officers and one pilot, and the second wear garish half-coats of orange and blue, trimmed in ermine, with suits of chain mail underneath.

As for the secret service of the Secretariat, there is nothing that distinguishes them from anyone else - and that is just the way they like it. Indeed, few enough among their number know the identities of any other member, except their personal handler. In truth, it is hard to say if anyone really knows who is and isn't in the service - nor indeed which of them are loyal or even sanctioned...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

L is for Lea-Jan Cobbius

Sorry for the lateness of this post. Nurgle's Rot has well and truly dug its Chaotic claws into me, and as such I am finding myself unable to do near anything... But, the show must go on, so I've decided to bump back this week's posts by two days, and will skip the Sunday breaks, so that I will still finish on schedule.

They say that whoever controls the flow of goods in and out of Marienburg, controls the city itself. Whilst this is certainly true, trade goods aren't worth squat if they're stuck on board a ship, or lashed into a cart. That is where the Stevedores & Teamsters Guild comes into play.

Perhaps the most powerful unified guild in Marienburg, the Guild is headed by one Lea-Jan Cobbius, a battle-axe of some sixty years who has held the position for the last thirty. Today, he controls all the unskilled labour of Suiddock - which accounts for nearly 90% of the population of the Ward. He maintains control over this throng with a strong but nurturing hand.

The Stevedores & Teamsters Guild boasts perhaps the greatest perks of any organisation in the Old World: the payment of medical bills, widows' and orphans' pensions, and even short-term unemployment benefits for those labourers unable to work. Furthermore, the guild house - outwardly an unimpressive building - is stocked full of creature comforts. One can always find at least twenty guild members within its walls gambling, drinking, and lounging about between shifts.

How did Lea-Jan manage to create a guild of this quality, you ask? He was fortunate in two ways - the first is the declaration of 2482, which decreed that only guilds officially recognised by the Stadsraad would be given dues, and the Guild was the only one of its category. The second, is that Cobbius cunningly holds onto records of everything he and his men load and unload. Now, as with all organisations in Marienburg, the Guild is involved in a measure of crime (even Adalbert Henschmann is forced to use official stevedores and teamsters when unloading illicit goods) but due to their charter they are technically blameless in this trafficking. All it would take is one word from Cobbius, and the Excise would be bearing down on the offenders.

Despite this constant state of threat, Cobbius has nurtured close relations to many figures throughout Marienburg, including the aforementioned "Casanova", agents of the Black Caps, and several others besides. All who meet the man know him to be a harsh and uncompromising man who is deeply in love with Suiddock, and would do anything in his power to protect it.

And it would seem his protection is becoming more and more necessary. Recent escalations between the Stevedores & Teamsters Guild and the labourers of Elftown (which is the one Ward where others are legally allowed to perform docker duties) have resulted in beatings and arson on both sides of the canal. Lea-Jan urges his followers to peace, and has declared that he is personally looking into a solution to this problem. What this solution is, is unknown, however many believe it will involve unknown agents, cold steel, black clothes and a great deal of fire.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Marienburg Starter Kit

As it is Sunday, and we're not to post the A-to-Z on Sundays, I thought I would do a regular post today... This one is just for something I've been cooking up recently.

A while back (7 months, ago, I believe) I wrote a little article about Player Starter Packs so that you could get everyone at the table up to speed, and involved in the campaign from before character creation. Now, as many of you may know, I've been planning a new WFRP campaign called Marienburg: Sold Down the River recently, and in many ways, this campaign diverts from my lasts campaign.

As such, I decided it would be best to create a Starter Kit for my players so that they would be able to jump in and get used to the new Old World quickly. It's not finished yet, but thus far I have the following items ready:

I'm also planning on adding in a few more things, like quick rules, and prices for common items and services, etc. All of these will be printed out on parchment paper and made into a handy folio for my players.

Anyway, that's it for today. Hope you're all enjoying your Sunday!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Koos, the Mutant King

Marienburg is an island, at the mouth of the River Reik in more ways than mere geography. It is an island of civilisation among the endless, stinking, foetid, disease-ridden, monster-infested Grootscher Marsh which makes up the vast majority of the land mass of the Wasteland. Whilst the city is itself fed humans via the two raised causeways to Middenheim and Gisoreux respectively, the Marsh has a tendency for swallowing whole hapless travellers foolish enough to stumble from the road.

What in the swamp devours them, you ask? Mainly sucking bogs and giant leeches; perhaps even the occasional beaked, Cyclopean monster, if you believe such rumours. But otherwise it is the Fen Loonies, a band of madmen, outcasts, vagabonds and mutants deemed too far gone for even the cesspool of Doodkanal. Here, in the centre of the Cursed Marsh sits Koos Jaapszoon, the Mutant King.

Koos, like many of the Loonies, started out life as a lowly Marienburger - making his way thanks to his greater size and stubbornness; threatening, beating and stabbing his way to food and shelter each evening. He ran at the centre of a small group of cronies - already a King of sorts.

It was one such evening, some thirty-odd years ago, that Koos attempted to knife his way to a hot meal. He approached his mark in the middle of the night - a hunched, weak-looking man all covered in rags. He punched the knife forward, low on the back right where the kidneys should be for a quick and silent death. When the knife connected, however, he felt the blade turn, and heard the soft tearing of scales breaking free under the onslaught.

The Mutant spun and seized Koos round the throat, raking its black, weeping claws along his face as it did so. Koos was no stranger to brawls (especially not those involving knives), and centred a few upward stabs under the man's rib cage. The Mutant died with a soft lizard tick in his throat.

Koos carried on - bought himself a bagel and some bratwurst, and a pint or two to settle the throbbing in his head. He awoke with one hell of a hang-over, and three lines of scales down his cheek where the scars were forming.

It wasn't long before Koos found himself in the Marsh - a common enough place to flee when the heat gets up for smugglers and the less savoury. He strolled through the endless cat tails and reeds until he was fallen upon by a band of ne'er-do-wells not unlike himself. Now, this isn't to say that all Mutants are evil beings - not by a long shot. What is being said is that the Fen Loonies are evil.

Cannibals (though they don't consider Humans to be their kin anymore), cut throats, raving lunatics and failed daemonologists - the band didn't take long to elect Koos as their leader (that is, Koos killed the previous leader and wore his testicles as a neck-tie). Now, he manages them - telling them when they can and cannot raid the causeways, or venture into the city they all hate and bring back a Black Cap's head as sport. He's horrid but he is also wise.

To add to his increasing list of mutations (which thus far includes a generous covering of scales, an orange crest upon his crown, and unnaturally corded muscles along his upper arms) is a new phenomenon - he hasn't seemed to age in the thirty years since he fled the city. Apparently immortal and now worshipped as a God by his followers, Koos has all the time in the world to plan his revenge upon the city that spat him out.

(I would just like to say 'Thank you!' to Sean O'Connell for editing this post for me after I had already published it - apparently writing whilst inflicted with Nurgle's Rot isn't exactly the best idea in the Old World.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jaan van de Kuypers

The following article revolves around - in my opinion - perhaps the greatest oversight contained within the pages of Marienburg: Sold Down the River. Countless times are we told about Jaan van de Kuypers, and countless times we see his treachery, cunning, conniving and underhanded ways, and yet never once do we receive so much as a description of the man who would rule the world of commerce... As such, the following is largely scraped together from various sources, and added to with my own impressions of the man.

When one speaks of the Sultan of Araby, or the Tzarina of Kislev, or the King of Bretonnia, or even Emperor Karl-Franz, one can think of but two things they all have in common - money and power. Whilst they may have plenty of the latter, the former doesn't actually belong to them. It belongs to Jaan van de Kuypers, or at least a large amount of it does.

Jaan, head of House van de Kuypers, leader of the Directorate, richest of the Ten (and indeed the world) sits in his lofty mansion in the heart of Marienburg calmly sipping tea, all day, every day, entertaining the latest vassal-come-client of the rulers of the world. He nods, sips, nods again, and then apologises to the man who himself represents thousands of swords, pikes, rifles and steam tanks that unfortunately he needs to start coughing up the money, otherwise all of that military might will be defaulted.

Because the world is in debt to Jaan van de Kuypers, and that's just the way he likes it.

Very early on in life, Jaan discovered one secret about money. That is, it doesn't actually exist. People only accept that money equals power because they let it have power. Why would a man exchange a chicken for a disk of copper? You can't eat copper. You certainly can't get another disk of copper, rub them together, and make more copper. And, left to its own devises, when called, copper will do no more than sit on a shelf staring at you blankly whilst another man runs you through with a blade so that he himself can get his hands on the copper disk.

This discovery, in another man, might lead him to forsake money, take to the mountains, and live the rest of his life in quiet poverty. In Jaan, however, it lead him to world domination. If people would kill for these disks, then he would save them the trouble and just give them away. That is, away with a promise of return some day. But he would give and give and give. He would lend a man the value of a thousand chickens when that man only had the breeding capacity for a dozen. He would lend a man money enough to pay for a million suits of armour, even though he had but a hundred Men-at-Arms.

At first, the merchants of Marienburg scoffed at Jaan's obviously foolish expenses. That is, until the debtors arrived. It was suddenly time to pay that money back, but so squandered it all was, that no one could afford the incredible fees he charged, which themselves were enforced by highly-over-paid debt collectors. His clients made ready to run for the hills until Jaan van de Kuypers said the most cunning thing ever uttered in the Old World.

"It's no matter. No matter at all. You don't have to pay back the money. You'll just owe me a favour."

Every client left smiling from ear to ear. Until the notes of favour started coming in. Ever increasing in scope, Jaan amassed such power to his name that it was easy enough to amass more wealth. And with more wealth, he had enough to lend more and more, and to bail out those who had lent money off others to pay their fees to Jaan and before anyone noticed, the Old World had a ruler...

It's such a shame that Jaan's early years were so terrible for him, however. He suffered a great tragedy in his 20th year, when his Brother, Bertold van de Kuypers brutally dismembered his father, mother and sister, leaving himself, Jaan and their grand-mother the sole survivors of the family. Naturally, Bertold was dragged away to Rijker's Isle, so rich he was that he 'escaped' execution. To this day, Jaan searches for his missing grand-mother with an eerie and hungry gleam in his eye - anxious to find the last living witness... Pardon... Family member of his alive.

Until that day, this balding, grey, over weight 57-year-old will continue to take tea in his office, smiling over at the crying face of the Tzarina's retainer as she sobbingly details how her Lady-Majesty is defaulting once again. War is so expensive, don't you know? But it's no matter.

No matter at all.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Insurance & Arkat Fooger's Counting House

It is said by many Marienburgers (usually those who are already rich) that you have to 'spend money to make money'. Whilst this is not entirely true - according to figures like Adalbert Henschmann - it does have a certain truth to it. Those in Marienburg willing to take a risk are often rewarded far more than those who play it safe. That was, until Arkat Fooger had his brain storm...

At the eastern end of Guilderveld, fronting onto a large plaza, and backing onto Baron Frederik's Folly (more commonly known as Usurer's Row) is De Oud Foogershuis, or the Fooger Counting House. Clan Fooger, lead by the venerable Grey-Beard Arkat Fooger is the only landed Dwarf clan in the city of Marienburg, and as such it makes a veritable mint - in fact, they own a mint, but that's a whole other story.

The Counting House is huge, and is constantly busy, all through the day and night, never truly sleeping. Inside its massive oak doors, past the four axe-wielding Shieldbreakers that guard them, visitors will be confronted with a hall filled with clerks and scribes, running back and forth, surrounded by expensive teak railings which separate them from the benched clerks who sit behind, tallying and writing all the movements of money in and out of the House.

If you can convince the surly Shieldbreakers at the next row of doors, you will be admitted upstairs - escorted by a Fooger page - to a warren of offices, and meeting rooms, taken over by the various merchants employed by the clan. Next level up, and you will see the inner workings of the revolutionary Insurance System which Arkat himself devised (more on this in a moment).

Then, on the top floor, you will come to Arkat Fooger's personal office, where the Dwarf himself meets with the most important (or secretive) clients, other Directors, and foreign dignitaries. The room is Spartan in aesthetic, yet every inch of the perfect craftsmanship and conservation speaks volumes of Arkat Fooger's power, wealth and character. No one who meets the man has any doubt when they leave the building - if they cross this man, they will never ever be safe again.

Finally, below it all sits the Vaults - only accessible through secret passage after secret passage, guarded by the most diabolical and cunning traps ever devised by the Dwarves. No Dwarf - except Arkat himself - knows every trap in the warren, with each knowing a few, and it requiring multiple Dwarves to access safely. Once through this labyrinth, the riches of Clan Fooger and those customers rich enough to afford the high vault rentals can be found.

The Vaults are so secure that, once when a thief foolishly attempted to break in, they were apprehended and imprisoned within four seconds of entering the atrium of the Vaults. Ironically, they got further into the Vaults because that was the most secure place the hold the criminal until the Black Caps arrived to take the prisoner to Rijker's Island. Funnier still, the Black Caps couldn't figure out how to get to the prisoner and he spent the rest of his short life within the vault walls - achingly close to the treasure he came to steal.

Dwarf humour - what can I say?

However, we're properly here to talk about Insurance. The brilliance of the system is that merchants pay Clan Fooger 5% of the estimated value of the goods they're having ensured, and then, if something goes wrong and the cargo is lost, then the Counting House will pay the full worth of the goods back to the merchant, minus the original 5%. Merchants would be crazy not to take up this offer - if they sell their cargo, they can simply sell it for slightly more and make up the loss on the policy, and if they lose the cargo then they only lost 5% of its worth, instead of a full 100%.

Business was obviously booming for Arkat Fooger up until recently when a series of suspicious shipwrecks have caused several large Insurance policies to be called in. Arkat, shrewd and calculating as usual, suspects foul play, and is looking for someone to settle this matter for him.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Haendryk

The merchants of Marienburg, and indeed all its citizens, take matter of commerce so seriously that it might as well be a religion. And here, by "might as well", I of coarse mean "it has already been made a religion, and it is the second biggest in the city".

The Lord of Commerce and Prosperity, Haendryk (known as Handrich in the Empire) stands as the second most powerful god reigning over Marienburg. His temples are huge and resplendent with the gifts of his dominion, and he boasts throngs upon throngs of priests (for every reputable merchant is, in actuality, a lay-priest at some level).

Whilst he cares not for healing the sick, or even really his most ardent worshippers, he sees the world as a series of business transactions: his priests pray to him and in trade, he grants them sufficient boons. However, like all good Marienburg merchants, each transaction is always made with Haendryk winning the upper hand. Whether the god is real or not is subject to the latest debates ranging through the Altdorf Universities - all that we do know is that his mortal subjects are very good at exacting His tolls.

The Cult is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to the traditional religions of the Old World, for it openly announces that prosperity is the symbol of a virtuous life, and destitution is punishment for the weak of spirit. It claims that alms should be withheld at all cost, as assisting those less fortunate will only condemn their souls and yours for going against the natural order. Essentially, if someone is poor, then there is a good reason for it.

This standing has even gone so far in recent years to the selling of powerful positions within the Cult itself. Simon Goudenkruin, High Priest of Haendryk theorised that if prosperity was the symbol of a virtuous life, then the richest would have to be the most virtuous. He then made the conclusion that the Cult would benefit from having such a virtuous member join their ranks - but to do so without charge would be a sin against Haendryk, so he charges inordinate amounts for the pleasure. This has the added double bonus of not only making the Cult richer, but making Goudenkruin himself richer, and therefore, more virtuous.

Cyclic logic aside - this act has caused outrage with many of the other Cults of the Old World, themselves decrying the so called "heresy of Simony". Simon Goudenkruin, all the while, smiles down on these nay-sayers thinking that they're only upset because they didn't think of it first.

In truth, the entire practice holds a darker and grander secret... Rumours and folk stories have always abounded that Haendryk was born a mortal and managed to amass so many riches that he purchased his divinity from the other gods. Whilst the whole of this isn't true, there is a kernel of fact hidden in the myths - a kernel that Simon himself is privy to...