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The Matter of the Cheese Meteors

Page history last edited by Michael 2 years, 6 months ago

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    An introductory scenario for Castle Falkenstein. The heroes must travel to the middle of the Sahara, to thwart an evil plan threatening Britain (and eventually other nations) with destruction.


Scenario Structure


     This was written for, and run at, DunDraCon in 2018, in an 8 hour time slot.

     It's pretty basic:  the group of characters are sent to find and thwart a madman shooting cheese at Britain.


  • describe the setting

  • choose characters

  • rules demonstration

  • characters brought together to be briefed by the Foreign Secretary

  • a half-day to prepare for the journey

  • travel via aerial ship

    • with a short (couple of hours) stop in Paris, especially if the French officer is to be played ... he may be picked up there

  • across the Mediterranean, and over the Sahara

  • ship crew (all un-named Host Characters) say it's unwise to fly into, or even within daytime sight of, the valley

  • night-time walk to the mountains, and up to the pass

    • the wall, with "Roman" guards, is seen

    • decision on how to proceed

      • persuasion -- the guards only speak Latin, but are all unhappy with Schreck's invasion

      • guns blazing -- the guards will run off if any firearms or offensive spells are employed; they probably will reach the city only a bit before the players (if the players are on foot)

      • sneaking -- which may include invisibility, changing shape, etc. by sorcery

      • climbing -- going around the wall would require everyone using their Climb ability

  • down into the valley; the group may meet some random slaves or messengers. If the group looks and sounds "European", the Novostians will assume they're part of Schreck's occupation force.

    • if they head to the city, and they left their aerial vessel around sunset, on foot, they should arrive around dawn.

      • Schreck is waiting for news of the British government agreeing to meet his demands (or not) -- this information would come through a magical link to Count Chazamboni. In the meantime, Schreck's men have been loading the Cheese Cannon for another shot.

      • looking at the town from the walls, or by careful recon:

        • the morning markets are opening, people are buying bread at bakeries. No Europeans are seen on the streets "casually", and none are guarding anywhere except in their particular set of buildings

        • before dawn, the city gates are normally closed, although the guards will let people in or out if they've got ; after dawn, the gates are open, and travelers can freely pass through without questions.

        • in the segregated part of the city where Schreck's men are at, the Steam Titan can be seen looming over everything, with a bit of smoke and steam wafting from its stack. A few European mercenaries are on a few of the building roofs (the buildings with flat roofs, in fact).

    • if they head to the Cheese Cannon, directly, they should (again) arrive around dawn

      • a couple of armed soldiers can be seen standing atop the three-story masonry building at the bottom (breech end) of the cannon.

      • various wagons, and plebian laborers, are moving curds and whey from the wagons into the building

      • again, there's a steam engine at work -- it's inside the building, forcing curds and whey into the cannon barrel. A bit of smoke and steam is coming from a black iron smokestack, and a whuffing, thudding sound comes from the cheese-forcing pumps.

    • if they visit a villa or military post, they will probably arrive before dawn, and there'll be some hesitation -- Novostians will initially think the group are part of Schreck's forces. Presuming that the characters who speak with an equestrian or patrician Novostian know Latin:

      • if the best speaker has Average Charisma or Leadership, or less, the Novostians won't really be willing to commit to anything, and won't tell them anything "secret" or likely to get themselves in trouble. An ability check will be required to avoid having the Novostians inform Schreck about the players' presence.

      • If the best speaker has Good Charisma or Leadership, the Novostians will tell the characters useful information (where the mercenaries are, what they know about Count Chazamboni, etc.)

      • if the best speaker has Great Charisma or Leadership, the Novostians will tell them the useful information (as above) and will send messages to gather the Novostian "resistance", after the Steam Titan is destroyed or captured (if that's what the characters want).

      • if the best speaker has Exceptional Charisma or Leadership, the Novostians will provide information, and gather their forces to help in the overthrow of Schreck's tyranny! They will still point out that they have no method of stopping the Steam Titan, however.

      • if the best speaker has Extraordinary Charisma or Leadership, the Novostians will do everything they can! Some of them might swear loyalty (or undying love) for the speaker(s) or the group, and some touching scenes of sacrifice might be expected during the battle with Schreck's men.

        • Afterwards, if Schreck is overthrown and the city is freed, there's a chance (based on a Leadership ability test) that the Novostians will ask the character to become prefectus. Note that if the characters just "snuck in and busted up Schreck's plan" without consulting the Novostians, this offer will not be made.

          • they'll ask the person with the highest Charisma, Leadership, Comeliness and Courage abilities

          • each ability must be a least a Good rating

          • the character must have a knowledge of Latin

          • the character didn't act like a total dunce during the overthrow of Schreck) to become prefectus.









A Sudden Bombardment!


   On Thursday, April 21st of 1876, a burning mass of cheese, several tons in weight, crashed down into the Gladwish Wood, near Burwash in Sussex. While extraordinary, no real harm was caused; however the Foreign Office re-read a telegram received a few days before.










     Note that the "meteor" landed 130 miles ESE of Bristol ... or 40 miles southeast of London.


A Team Is Formed


    Realizing that the telegram was not just the ravings of a lunatic, the government sought out the advice of the one man who might know where this cheese came from -- Dr. Stillberry, the famous veterinarian and explorer. He had returned from Africa some weeks before with a wild story of a Birmanian lunatic attempting to create a cheese cannon in central Africa. 

    The players may choose one of these characters, or their own basic-level characters; probably 5 or 6 at most:


  • Dr. Stillberry:  explorer, and expert on bovine and human diseases

    • if chosen as a character, his presence is obvious, as the man who led an expedition to Novostia already

  • Gustav Driesel:  Swiss cheese maker, with knowledge of Schreck's mad plan

    • if chosen, he's along as the closest thing to an expert on ordnance cheese 

  • John Gadberry:  a British inventor and specialist in odd machinery

    • if chosen, he's along to provide transport, and to operate/sabotage the Steam Titan or the Kasein Kanone

  • Randolf Otterling:  a charismatic English gentleman

    • if chosen, it's because this expedition obviously needs a leader from among the upper class

  • Dr. John Pratt:   a defrocked Masonic sorcerer

    • if chosen, it's because the expedition clearly needs someone who can use magic

  • Capitaine Claude Garrabrant:  aristocratic French military officer

    • if chosen, it's because the location of Novostia is within the sphere of French military/political influence

  •  Antonia Silva:  crusading Brazilian journalist

    • if chosen, it's because she already has realized or learned of the connection between the cheese meteor and Novostia.

  • Lloyd:   a Welsh water-leaper, and a "reformed" wild faerie

    • if chosen, it's because he's a large and capable monster


    By that evening, five or six of these possible Heroes had been briefed by the Foreign Secretary (the Earl of Derby), who signed passports and "instructing letters" for the British subjects among them. Their mission:  locate and frustrate Dr. Mattias Schreck (the man behind the Steimnutz pseudonym) and his mad plan to bombard England with cheese!


What is Known


     From statements by Marcus Ordolius (a native of Novostia, in central Africa), Dr. Stillberry and Gustav Driesel, the Birmanian conspirators are in central Africa, north of the tropics, west of the Sudan. For the last two years they have used an enormous iron Steam Titan to force the Roman citizens of Novostia into slavery, assembling a huge iron gun-barrel pointed at Europe. When Ordolius and Driesel escaped from Novostia, the gun hadn't been fired yet.

     A European mage, named Count Chazamboni, is working with Schreck, along with a few dozen German-speaking soldiers and mechanics. The military men are led by Baron Kusseltraub, who was cashiered from the Austro-Hungarian army a decade ago. 




    A backwards and isolated province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, situated along a spur of the Carpathian Alps. The natives speak a Slavic language, but the aristocracy are Germanic. The only person with knowledge of Birmania in London (besides the Austro-Hungarian embassy) is Ivan Taborov, who is a performer at the Pavilion Theatre.

     If approached, Taborov can say that Schreck led a rebellion against the Austro-Hungarian Empire a couple of years ago, and his Steam Titan was present. He had several dozen German-speaking mercenaries besides, but no visible magical assistance. After less than a week of ill-attended rallies and arbitrary executions of postmasters and other government officials, the Austrian military showed up and chased him off. His goal was independence for Birmania, with himself as Retter und Diktator ("Saviour and Dictator").

     Taborov can describe Schreck:  bald-headed, monocle-wearing, with a ghastly dueling scar that runs across the bridge of his nose and down to the left edge of his mouth. The would-be dictator wore a gaudy uniform of his own design.

     The pig-headed woman is a native of London, with a cockney accent; the pig head is apparently not a spell -- possibly some faerie curse?




    The following information is available from the Foreign Office, or from Dr. Stillberry or Gustav Driesel:

     In 12 A.D. (765 AUC) the 41st (XLI) Legion was marching south into Nubia, pursuing the remnants of a pirate army. Lost in a sandstorm, the legion took refuge in a series of caves. These caves, home to some manner of jinn or peri, soon proved almost as perilous as the storm without.

     Roman magic and martial prowess proved equal to the challenge posed by the wicked spirits of the desert. However, upon emerging from the caves, the legion found itself in unfamiliar terrain.

     A degenerate tribe of cattle and sheep herders lived nearby, the last descendants of the guards of King Solomon's Lost Dairy. The legion set up camp here, and named the ruined city around the dairy "Novostia".

     Since then, the city was ruled by generals descended from the original commander of the Roman expedition. A few hundred years ago, the Novostians discovered their actual location, but did not see any point in revealing themselves to the world. Their only contact was with Arab trading caravans every few years. 

     Two years ago, a small force of mercenaries appeared; they had some small cannons, and a large metal man. The Steam Titan carried a tree as big as a tree or small bridge, and has feet that each weigh several tons. The Steam Titan quick dispersed the Novostian army, and Schreck enslaved the residents of the city. While resistance has been widespread, the "primitive" magic of the Romans, and their swords and spears, cannot defeat modern European magic and technology.

    Dr. Schreck has forced the inhabitants to begin a strange construction project, bolting together more than two miles of iron pipe, about a yard in diameter, pointing north along a mountainside.

     From London to Novostia is about 2300 miles distance; it's located south of Libya, west of the Sudan.


The Foreign Secretary's Request


    The characters are located by various government clerks, and asked to meet with the Earl of Derby at his London home (23 St. James Square). As a note, the Earl is one of the world's richest men; his foreign policy goals are basically, "Friends with all, allies with none."

     He will brief the group, and let them know they leave in the morning. If Mr. Gadberry is part of the group, his Aeronaut can be used for the voyage to the Sahara; if he's not part of the group, the Barclay will have been hired to make the journey.


Onwards to Africa


      Either aboard the Aeronaut or the Barclay, the voyage will take a couple of days. A Masonic sorcerer, such as Dr. Pratt, can create water for the ship's boiler -- that will reduce the number of stops for fresh water.

     From Britain, it's a 4-hour flight to Paris. Onwards from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea takes another 8 hours; over the sea another 9 hours; and then another day (roughly) flying about over North Africa.

     The temperatures over the Sahara in April are not excessively high during the day, and get somewhat cool at night. The main weather phenomenon to be concerned about are sandstorms.


The Terrain Around Novostia


not to scale; the cheese cannon points roughly north


     The city sits on a low hill roughly in the middle of a deep, forested depression, which is in turn surrounded by steep, rocky mountains -- it has some resemblance to a crater on the moon. The depression, or valley, is about 40 miles across, and nearly 2000 feet lower than the surrounding Sahara Desert. The outer slopes of the encircling mountains, and the upper slopes on the inside, are very dry and rocky.


Think "Ancient Roman City Found By Pulp-Era Hero".


     Several roads, carefully built by the Novostians, lead through the mountains. Each road has, at the highest point, a wall and gatehouse (rather like those constructed by Hadrian in the north of Britain). Each gatehouse has a few "Roman" guards. As the roads enter the valley, they zig-zag back and forth along the steep inner slopes of the mountains, and give a good view of the valley.

     The valley floor is well-watered and lush with greenery -- there are forests where the Romans haven't cut down the trees for fields and villas. A network of paved roads converge on the city; fields, worked by the client-vassals, break up the dense foliage. A few dozen villas, some almost palaces, dot the landscape.

      Water generally flows out of the surrounding mountains (but far lower than the ground level of the Sahara Desert), towards the city; the lake around the city apparently drains into some deep aquifer, or caverns. An aqueduct also runs from the mountains to the city.


The City of Novostia


the red tinted district has been taken over by the invaders for their barracks and workshop


     A few thousand persons live in this miniature Roman city; important buildings are made from stone, while workshops and plebian housing are made from brick. The roofs are mostly red tile, with a few expensive roofs of lead sheets. On the highest point in the middle is the forum, with the Congregatio court and the temple to Jupiter facing each other from opposite ends; other temples are dedicated to Mithras (deity of soldiers and the administration), Bacchus, Apollo, Diana, the city's guardian patrons, etc..

     A sort of moat, or narrow lake, surrounds most of the city; it's between 50 and 200 feet wide. The town has a wall around it, but it's low and rarely manned.

     The forum is a couple hundred feet on a side, with red-tiled roofs on the buildings around it; a market is held there most days, and a speaking-rostrum is used both to make announcements, and for public political events.

     There's a small amphitheatre, some bathhouses, markets, etc. The architecture seems well-maintained, and quite ambitious for a few thousand people (but of course much of it was created with magic).


Society of Novostia


     The city was ruled by a prefectus (governor), elected for 2-year terms from among the patrician class -- of course, currently the invaders are in charge. Each patrician clan has a representative on the Congregatio, which elects and advises the prefectus. A very few other non-patrician individuals are also promoted to the Congregatio, typically for highly advanced military or magical accomplishments.

     There are ten small patrician clans (who often marry equestrians); less-prestigious equestrian families (who often marry plebians); and about 1200 plebians, which include some "independent" city dwellers, and the mass of client-vassals. The military had dwindled down over the centuries to only a couple of hundred members; foot soldiers are plebians and equestrians, century commanders are mostly equestrians promoted from the ranks. Senior officers are from the patrician families, and do not serve in the ranks. The senior military officer is the dux, appointed for a 2 year term at the same time as the prefectus.

     Latin is the primary local language, though with an accent (they've had hundreds of years to drift away from Roman pronunciation). Everyone of the patrician and equestrian families is literate, and more than half of the plebians.

     Slavery is legal, but not common -- nobody descended from the founding legion can be enslaved. The few slaves were purchased from traders, or descended from them; some of them know "barbaric" languages:   Derja (aka Maghrebi Arabic), or Tamaceq (the Tuareg dialect of Berber). Some notable locals:


  • The last prefectusKaeso Atilius Agaptus. He's living in sort-of "house arrest" at his home in the city.

  • Pontifex Maximus of the temple of Jupiter:  Publius Sennius Decmus. Very conservative.

  • Sacerdos (high priest) of the temple of Mithras: Cossus Minicius Gordio. Open to new ideas.

  • Sacerdotem of the temple of Diana:  Memmia Matho. Required to be unmarried maiden; her temple is especially important for women and women's matters, such as fertility, pregnancy, childbirth and birth control.

    • There's also a male sacerdos of Diana:  Badis, a former Berber slave. This position is only open to male slaves; they kill the current male sacerdos to gain the title (and their freedom). He is required to live in the woods. 

  • The senior syndic of the Collegium MagicaQuintus Gavius Lupis.


     In general, it's a sort-of-Hollywood version of Roman culture.


Magic in Novostia


     There are two types of magic practiced in Novostia:  sacred and scholarly.


  • Ritus Sacrorum ("sacred rites") is an oral, non-scholarly tradition distributed among the various temples and strongly-observant believers. For our purposes, we can use the traditions of the Asante culture. Anyone who is a devout follower of one of the city's gods can learn these "primitive" magics -- although you also need to have at least a Good Sorcery ability to usefully cast spells. A particular deity's followers will usually specialize in either the "regular" spells, or the "witch" spells. The most skilled users of sacred magics are the priests (titled pontifex, vates, antista, augur, sacerdos, etc. per each cult's tradition) and other senior members of the various temples. Note that cantrips are not available through this version of sorcery.

  • Praecantationes ("enchantments") is the general term for more scholarly, text-based magic (both the local type, and the stuff that foreigners mostly use). Only one "magical order" exists in Novostia, the Collegium Magica, which reports to the Congregatio. They use cantrips (fascinum), and the Lore from Osman's Scroll of Creation (although they call it the Libro Architecturae Elargiri). This body of magic is largely responsible for the roads, aqueducts, temples, etc. ... two thousand people would have trouble building and maintaining a city of this size by making cement, cutting stone, etc. Ordinary sorcerers of the Collegium are called magus (pl. magi); the masters  are known as syndics.


     The valley provides sorcerers a "full deck" of thaums -- there aren't a lot of spells being cast day-to-day, nor any large amounts of iron (except the new cannon). There are no Extraordinary sorcerers among the Novostians; a couple of the high priests , and a couple of senior members of the Collegium Magica, are at the Excellent level of ability.


King Solomon's Lost Dairy


     One reason the lost 41st Legion settled at (and survived in) Novostia was the presence of an ancient, magically-preserved supply of food. The attribution of the dairy to "King Solomon" is largely due to some inscriptions in Semitic letters on the structure -- the legion certainly wasn't filled with historians. A modern linguist would classify the writing as an extinct form of Ethiopian Semitic.

    In any case, when the Roman legion arrived, there were only a few dozen barbaric descendants of the dairy's founders living in the valley. They claimed to be protecting and maintaining the dairy, but the Romans were of the opinion that the barbarians were ignorant of the dairy's true function and history.

     The dairy is a branching set of tunnels, dug into the slope of the mountains on the eastern side, just slightly above the valley floor. Ancient sorcery has stopped any deterioration or vermin destruction of milk-based products within the tunnels.

     Various types of butter, cheese, curds and whey are kept in huge stone vats in the dairy. Sources seem to be sheep, cattle and goats. It seems likely, even to the Romans, that the dairy products were either created magically, or were transported magically from far away. The cheeses, etc. don't look like "individual serving" objects, so the theory of magical creation would seem more likely -- but they can't be dispelled.

     In the centuries since the Romans founded Novostia, they have consumed only one-fifth of the dairy's contents. There are still tens of  thousands of tons of dairy products remaining.


The Occupiers



     The usual dispositions of the occupiers on typical days:  Dr. Schreck, 6 soldiers, 8 mechanics, and 20 Novostian laborers at the Cheese Cannon; Count Chazamboni, Baron Kusseltraub, 6 mechanics, and 12 soldiers in the city. 2 of the mechanics in Novostia would be tending the Steam Titan, keeping steam up and making repairs; 1 soldier would be guarding the entrance ladder, and another would be on duty in the "head", with both cannons loaded.

     During the week or so before firing the cannon, 4 soldiers from the city would be overseeing a hundred or so plebian laborers, loading and driving wagons of "ammunition" from the dairy to the cannon.


The Cheese Cannon


      Originally invented by the Swiss ordnance expert Werner Gulenspiel, Dr. Schreck realized the guns potential when he discovered the Lost Dairy of King Solomon. He sent Baron Kusseltraub to steal a copy of the plans (and to kidnap a cheese expert), and for about a year and a half he's been bolting together sections of the gun.

     This infernal weapon fires an "incendiary" shell -- a glob of molten, flaming cheese -- from an enormous gun-barrel hundreds of yards long. The gun is built of sections of steel, held together with rivets; at the breech end is a sturdy building with bubbling vats of curds and whey, boilers and gauges; some odd horn-shaped objects are bolted onto the gun-barrel at intervals. Banks of levers, large iron crank-handles, and a few dangerous electrical switches control the cannon (3 points). With a range of thousands of miles (12 points), it causes Fearsome damage (4 points) over an area the size of a large house (x4). It took 76 weeks to build, once all the components were gathered in Novostia.

     The cannon is built along the slope of the mountains encircling Novostia, and is pointing slightly west of north ... Paris and London are the intended targets.

     A sturdy masonry building at the base of the gun hoses the breech, controls, command catwalk, etc.; in a locked cabinet there are two important texts, both in German:


  • Bauanleitung für die Käsekanone:  the blueprints and instructions for making the cheese cannon.

  • Eigenschaften von Ordnance Käse:   a survey of various cheeses, in regards to their suitability for artillery purposes. Written by Dr. W. Gulenspiel and Herr G. Driesel.


    Maps, and various documents filled with mathematical tables and calculations, make it clear (to people with a Good Education or better) that the Cheese Cannon is only able (in its current form) to aim at places roughly to the north:  Paris and London are two possible targets. Also, accuracy is poor -- partly due to an utter lack of any test firing.


Thanks to the players at DunDraCon 2018

Steven (Capt. Garrabrant), Tammy (Silva), John (Gadberry), Maxwell (Dr. Pratt), and Leon (Dr. Stillberry).

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