The City of the Damned
During the year of madness before Mordbeim's destruction, Ostermark fell into ever greater ruin as all matters of governance were neglected. Farmlands were abandoned as people flocked to the city, smiths deserted their forges, and even merchants and money lenders gave up all attempt at commerce. Thus even before the devastation, the land of Ostermark had fallen into anarchy and its ruler, Count Steinhardt, had long since embraced the unhealthy pleasures so prevalent in those final days. He, together with most of the nobility of the land, perished in the cleansing fires of Sigmar and sorrowfully there were few who mourned the passing of the ancient and honourable line of Steinbardt.
They flock to mordheim
Today the land of Ostermark exists in name only. Wild reavers roam freely over lands that are now neglected and ruinous. Foreign armies march through its territory without heed and such honest men who remain, a pitiful few, must endure the constant marauding of thieves and bandits. Yet men still come to Ostermark, indeed they flock there from all over the Empire like carrion to a corpse. They are drawn by the mysterious lure of wyrdstone, for the magical powers of this stone have made it valuable beyond its weight in gold. Though the rewards for their endeavours may be great, and many a fortune has been earned in a day, the dangers are greater still.
When treasure seekers first entered Mordheim they did so without care and often singly or in pairs, for little did they imagine the terrors that lurked in the grim ruins of the city. Many vanished without trace. Others returned maimed in body or unseated in mind, babbling uncontrollably of outlandish and bestial creatures. Some talked endlessly of Daemons and creatures from the pit. A few emerged emptyhanded from the ruins to laugh insanely and unceasingly to this very day. Soon it was only the most foolhardy who ventured alone into the City of the Damned. Fortune seekers chose instead to gather into armed groups or warbands: all the better for their mutual protection.
Nor was it only monstrous things that were to take the lives of fortune hunters. For the very air of Mordheim was found to be poisonous to those who lingered there too long. Even the wyrdstone they sought was to prove the death of many – for its raw magical power proved capable of burning flesh and wreaking horrific changes of mind and form. Many who entered Mordheim as comrades were soon driven to discord and murder by the vapours of the air and sorcerous energies of the wyrdstone. Others needed no magical influence before they set upon their fellows, the very discovery of the valuable stone was enough to make them turn upon each other like savages who dispute a glittering trinket whilst all around them lie even greater treasures. Many more were to emerge from their sorties apparently unharmed, yet they soon sickened and died, or else developed such monstrous deformities of the flesh that their comrades abandoned them to die or else slew them outright to spare their shame.
To enter the gargoyle-guarded gates of that place is to pass through the very gates of death!
Last Words of an Unknown Adventurer
They make their encampment
Because of the pestilence within the city there have grown up beyond its tumbled walls numerous shabby settlements of tents and such rude encampments as parties of hunters build to pass a week in the mountains. Needless to say the great rivalry of men from different lands of the Empire has meant that these are set apart from each other and fortified with crude earthworks against their neighbour’s attack. Some, such as Sigmarhaven, are safe enough for all their disorder, mounting paid watchmen to keep the peace and providing a market place for the arms sellers, sutlers and many victuallers whose shoddy wares fetch inflated prices in the treasure-fever camps that gird the ruins. Others, like Cutthroat's Den, are little more than nests of murderers where mutants walk freely and hooded men barter corpses to Necromancers in return for tainted gold.
These refuges, vile as they are, are safe compared with the ruins of Mordheim itself where even to tarry for an idle hour can spell death or worse. The bands of men that dare to venture within are brave indeed or else filled with a desperate kind of madness. Mercenary adventurers find employment quickly in the warbands that sally through the gates of Mordheim each day. Once through that gate, though, all common laws of human conduct cease to have any meaning. One may injure and murder at will and every rival becomes a deadly enemy. Men that might dice and drink together of an evening may find themselves at each others’ throats with daggers and swords the next morning. Such is the law of Mordheim where there are no rules but the natural rule of kill or be killed, for only the strongest are destined to win the greatest prize of all.
The Count of Middenland offers this much gold! The Count of Reikland offers that much more! The Grand Theogonist offers the blessing of Sigmar — though I’d sooner have his gold! Every power in the Empire wants wyrdstone and will do anything to get it... anything except come here and take it for themselves! So — drink up my lads for tomorrow we do their dirty work for ’em and then... we’ll make ’em pay!
Fernando Pavaroti, Mercenary Captain
They seek to gain great power
No one emperor reigns over the Empire and none has done so undisputed for four hundred years or more. Amongst the counts of the Empire there are many who would wear the crown had they but the strength to impose their will upon their neighbours. By ancient tradition the Emperor is elected from amongst the rulers of the land, who are known as Electors, so that the aspirant must seek the support of his fellows to obtain the majority. In addition there are other authorities who, whilst not eligible for the crown are also Electors, and these must be courted too for their influence is very great. Most notable is the Grand Theogonist of Sigmar, the leader in spirit of the people of Sigmar, whose temples stand in cach town in every part of the Empire.
The discovery of wyrdstone in Mordheim has thrown all into confusion — for it offers an opportunity to break the deadlock between rival claimants. Each count has sponsored mercenary adventurers to recover what wyrdstone they can, Of these the rulers of Reikland, Middenland and Sylvania press hardest for the throne whilst Lady Magritta, the common choice amongst the lesser states and champion of the merchant guilds, has been disqualified by the Grand Theogonist of Sigmar according to the doctrine of male ascent by which no woman may wear Sigmar’s crown. Thus it is that the eyes of these great rivals turn towards Mordheim and its uncanny wyrdstone that has the power to turn base metals to gold.
Who is lord in Ostermark? Who is not lord nor Emperor beside for every villain is prince in a land where power lies as eagerly at the foot of rogue, noble & beast.
The Chronicler of Ostermark - entry for Midsummer's Day 2000
The counts are not alone in their greed for power. The Empire has suffered disarray for many hundreds of years and during that time the influence of the merchants and temples has grown greatly. In the city of Marienburg, the largest and most prosperous port in the Old World, merchants have flourished as nowhere else, and today the Burgomeisters of that city wield powers of patronage greater than that of many noble born men. Most influential of all are the Freetraders, a secret circle of the most wealthy guildsmen whose ambition is to raise the Lady Magritta of Marienburg to the throne of the Empire. The citizens of Marienburg are so well known for their richness of dress, love of jewellery and preening ways that there are many who make fun of them and call them ‘popinjays’. In truth, there are many more who envy the wealth and security of Marienburg in a time of unrest. As the power of the counts has declined so the power of the merchant guilds has grown apace. Now there are plenty of rich commoners who would like to see an end to the old ways and a new ruling assembly that would give the mercantile classes political authority to match their wealth.
Such is the general discontent that there are some amongst the wealthy who seek to gain power by means most foul! They turn to sorcery, that darkest of arts, recognised by all right-thinking folk as the very embodiment of evil, and whose practice has long since been punished with torture and death. Though few dare say so it is common knowledge that wizards walk abroad in the Empire, meeting secretly to worship dark gods, and creeping amongst the charnel houses to steal the dead. In hidden cellars these agents of corruption summon Demons to do their bidding whilst Necromancers send undead agents into the night to murder and steal. Now it is believed sorcerers walk openly in the City of the Damned, seeking that same wyrdstone whose powers may multiply the vitality of their own dark arts many times over. In consequence the Templars of Sigmar gather to Mordheim, their carts laden with cages, braziers, irons and ingenious instruments of torture, to do the work of Sigmar where it is most sorely needed. Witch Hunters are they called, most commonly by those that fear them and those that hate them, and by themselves too, for they take pride in their persecution of heretics.
The stumps and greasy ashes of the pyres covered the common field as far as the eye could see and the smoke from the witch-fires drifted through the streets. Its stench filled our mouths for days afterwards.
Diary of Selestian Bran
Behind the Witch Hunters stands the greatest spiritual authority in the Empire, the Grand Theogonist of Sigmar. He too dreams of temporal power, having denied the crown to Magritta of Marienburg, he is said to secretly covet it for himself. The destruction of Mordheim has created an atmosphere of religious terror, for who can deny that Sigmar's judgement has come to pass and his people have been found wanting? Since the new year thousands have gathered to the holy places to make peace with their god and accept his punishment. Many supplicants have pledged their goods to the temples and taken to the roads as penance. Great crowds of beggars travel the lands, scourging themselves and each other to atone for the sins of all men. Now the Grand Theogonist has sent his Witch Hunters into Mordheim, ostensibly to cleanse it of the evil that undoubtedly dwells there, but also, it is said, to gather up wyrdstone for his own purposes.
Crow the black Daemon’s brother,
As carrion to corpses gather.
Greed, ambition, guile and hate,
All crowd through fiery gate.
Who now wears Sigmar’s crown,
Save be who would be overthrown.
Prophesy of Cassandora – Seeress of the Sisters of Sigmar