Monday 10 December 2018

Echoes and Reverberations part 2: the WFRP 3rd edition adventures

So, um, yeah. A huge pile-up of work wiped out all my evenings for a couple of weeks and meant that this took a lot longer than anticipated. But it's finished now. Many thanks to the anonymous benefactor who provided me with copies of all of these for review purposes.

Following on from my last post, I'm going to briefly discuss the various adventures that FFG released for WFRP 3, with a focus on which of them might be worth borrowing for use in games run using the WFRP 1 or WFRP 2 settings and rules. They're all full of nonsense about progress trackers and whatnot, but their 'clever' mechanics can almost always be stripped out with no real loss, which highlights how superfluous most of the mechanical innovations of WFRP 3 really were. Run them as traditional adventure scenarios and you should be fine.

Tl;dr version: The best ones here are 'An Eye For An Eye', The Witch's Song, and The Art of Waaagh!, although I'd run the third one in D&D rather than WFRP. The rest can be skipped.

Image result for the enemy within wfrp 3

A Day Late and a Shilling Short (demo adventure): This isn't really an adventure at all, just a demonstration of the game mechanics. The PCs fight some beastmen in order to learn the combat rules, persuade a merchant to give them a package in order to learn the social rules, and then that's the end. Skip.

An Eye For An Eye (from the core set): This is a rather good investigation scenario, set in a hunting lodge whose staff have been infiltrated by chaos cultists. I'm not fond of 'suddenly, beastmen attack!' as the opening to a WFRP adventure, but aside from that this looks like it could be a good, creepy adventure to play through, with plenty of scope for the PCs to unravel the lodge's mysteries in different ways. It's a bit 'WFRP by numbers', but I think that's forgivable in an introductory scenario. The climactic scene, in which beastmen storm the lodge from all sides while the cultists try to summon a demon in the basement, looks like it could make for an especially memorable episode. Worth a look.

The Gathering Storm: I'd describe this adventure as (1) basic, (2) solid, and (3) probably better-suited to D&D than WFRP. It's set in a little town with big problems: there are beastmen in the marshes, goblins in the hills, a wizard looking for the fragments of a magic item from a nearby ruin, and a local necromancer who isn't nearly as dead as the townsfolk think he is. Each problem comes with a twist that makes it more than just a straightforward stab-fest: the beastman shaman is actually trying to restrain his herd out of sympathy for his human mother, the necromancer's spirit is not entirely in control of the corpse he's hijacked, the goblins have a captive troll which is itching for a chance to break out and eat them, and so on. There's nothing bad here, either in terms of content or scenario design, and it would probably be fun to play. But there's also nothing very conceptually interesting, and I suspect that any GM who has internalised the relevant design philosophies could probably come up with something just as good on their own if given a few hours of planning time.

Winds of Change (from Liber Mutatis): This is a very lazily-written scenario. An apprentice at one of the colleges of magic has gone missing during a visit to a run-down area of Altdorf - so, naturally, rather than looking for him themselves or calling in the authorities, the college hires the PCs to find him, the only clue being the square he was in when he went missing. Fortunately, he's been kidnapped by the world's laziest chaos cultists, who have sold his wizardly regalia to a pawn shop in the very same square they abducted him in, thus allowing their whole diabolical plan to be unravelled in an afternoon. He turns out to be only one of eight apprentices, one from each college, whom they've abducted for sacrifice in a ritual that can only be performed once per year, the dreadful result of which will be to... um... turn eight mutants into eight slightly more powerful mutants. Honestly, it all hardly seems worth the effort, and no explanation is ever provided as to why the PCs have to handle the whole situation themselves even after it turns out that eight apprentice wizards are being held captive by chaos cultists just down the road from the Colleges of Magic. That's not worth the Colleges sending a single wizard out for? Not even worth involving the city watch?

There's some good local colour here, and the square and its inhabitants are worthy of a better adventure, but this scenario feels too slight to be worth bothering with. Either skip it, or write your own mystery and use the location and NPCs as a ready-made supporting cast.

Journey to Black Fire Pass: This is another introductory adventure, designed for a party of dwarf PCs. The PCs are sent to find a ceremonial shield and bring it to a dwarf king. It's much more of an actual adventure than 'A Day Late and a Shilling Short', featuring battles with greenskins, negotiations with other dwarves, and a rather nice bit in which the PCs have a chance to work out that the town they're staying in is built over an old dwarven ruin, and descend into the vaults to protect it from being looted by humans. (Normally the PCs would be the looters!) So as an introductory adventure it's a fairly good one, although it's obviously not a very representative example of what most WFRP adventures tend to be like...

The Edge of Night: I have very mixed feelings about this adventure. The key scene it's built around, in which a bunch of feuding nobles make fools of themselves at a masquerade ball while skaven infiltrators make increasingly unsubtle attempts to spike the food and drink with warpstone dust, is great. The trouble is that virtually everything else is hugely bloated and, frankly, a bit rubbish. (Everything before the masquerade could easily have been cut by 75% without meaningful losses.) The write-up of the ball itself has a detailed timetable for what's supposed to happen when, clearly inspired by the one in 'Rough Night at the Three Feathers', but the number of NPCs involved looks overwhelming: I'm a pretty experienced GM, and I'm not at all sure I could run a complex scene involving twenty-seven different named NPCs all bouncing off the PCs and each other in the middle of a crisis situation. The final battle also expects the PCs to be able to take on eight skaven, a grey seer, and a rat ogre in a straight fight, which seems a bit heavy for WFRP. (Presumably WFRP 3 PCs are tougher than those in earlier editions?) The basic 'skaven at a masquerade' set-up might be worth stealing, though.

Horror of Hugeldal (from Liber Infectus): This is a decent investigation set in a small, plague-ridden village: the kind of miserable, isolated settings that WFRP tends to shine in. It's very slight, though: the investigation leads to some travelling Nurgle cultists whose entire plan amounts to 'drop a disease bomb down the village well and run away', which feels more like an entry on a WFRP-themed random encounter table than the climax of an entire adventure. Skippable.

The Witch's Song: I liked this adventure a lot, and I felt that it really played to WFRP's strengths. It's set in an isolated run-down fishing village in the swamp, where the locals hunt bog octopi for food and whisper stories about the one-eyed demons in the marshes. The central conflict revolves around a witch hiding in the swamps and a witch hunter determined to track him down, but the real situation is much more complicated than it first appears. (I especially appreciated the fact that neither the witch nor the witch hunter is straightforwardly 'good' or 'evil' - they're just two damaged individuals who happen to be set on a collision course.) Everyone in the village has secrets, and for once the secret isn't just 'we're all chaos cultists': instead they stem from much more human motivations of remorse, resentment, and grief. It's all very vivid and atmospheric, and the PCs are permitted a lot of freedom in who they side with and how they deal with the situations that arise. The later sections of the adventure are a bit heavy-handed in their attempts to force the PCs to arrive just in time for various climactic events, but it would be easy to ignore them and run the whole thing as a genuine sandbox / powderkeg instead.

My one concern is with the finale, in which all this dense, character-driven tragedy suddenly gives way to a climactic action sequence in which the PCs have to blow up a tunnel in order to stop a Dark Elf fleet sailing through it. I found the sudden shift of tone and scale a bit jarring, especially as it only works if the GM rigs events to ensure that the PCs arrive at just the right time. Scaling it down a bit - replacing the looming invasion fleet with a single Dark Elf slaving vessel that's been moving back and forth through the tunnel, for example - might help to mitigate this.

Crimson Rain (from Liber Carnagia): I thought this adventure was interesting, if not entirely successful. It revolves around the PCs pursuing a band of chaos-worshipping Norscans, who have stolen a spear which has a demon of Khorne bound within it: the twist is that the demon is now reaching out and seeking a new host, and the more blood the PCs shed while in pursuit of it, the more likely they are to be targeted for possession. This kind of material is under-explored territory in WFRP, which usually assumes that the lure of chaos is something that happens to other people rather than the PCs; but the way in which it's handled here is rather clumsy, with the PCs racking up arbitrary bloodthirstiness points for the kind of random violence that would otherwise be ordinary PC behaviour. Still, there's probably enough here to form a salvageable adventure if one was willing to put in a bit of work.

Harrower of Thrones (from Black Fire Pass): A wilderness- and dungeon-based scenario in which the PCs must return a sacred dwarf hammer to its proper resting place in a ruined dwarf hold, which is currently being occupied by a band of goblins and has an ancient Dragon Ogre sleeping at the bottom of it. There are some nice touches, here - the guides who turn out to be bandits, for example, or the giant monster that emerges after the main objective is fulfilled to block the way out - but I always feel that this sort of straightforward 'dwarves and goblins in dungeons' set-up is the sort of thing that D&D does much better than any edition of WFRP.

Mirror of Desire (from Liber Ecstatica): Like Edge of Night, this scenario is built around a promising set-up, in which a mirror containing a demon of Slaanesh makes its owner so desirable that her four aristocratic suitors start behaving in crazier and crazier ways in order to win her affections. The gradual ramp-up of weirdness looks as though it could be a lot of fun: so the athletic suitor starts off just showing off his muscles and ends up grabbing and bench pressing passing PCs right in front of her, the rich suitor starts off buying her jewellery and ends up buying random houses so he can tie giant bows around them and present them to her as gifts, and so on. The rest of the scenario, however, is very contrived: it's all supposed to end up with the PCs getting trapped inside the mirror and having to find their way out, but it looks to me as though even moderately proactive players would find this very easy to derail. I'd suggest just borrowing the whole 'girl with demon-mirror and four enchanted suitors' set-up as a comedy B-plot for use with some other scenario.

The Art of Waaagh! (from Hero's Call): I love this adventure. An orc army is marching down the valley, and a dilapidated castle is all that stands in its way. They're much more tactically acute than orcs normally are, though, because they're being secretly guided by a vampire trapped under the castle, who wants them to tear it down so that they can free him from his tomb. (He's also got a minion on the castle staff, whose manipulations have ensured that the current commanders are totally unequal to the task of holding off the orcs.) So first the PCs have to sort out the castle itself; then they have to roam around the valley, recruiting the assorted misfits who live there - knights, dwarves, ogres, killer schoolgirls - into a force capable of holding the castle against the greenskins; and then they have to endure the siege itself, fighting off various orc stratagems (rock lobbers, goblin infiltrators, etc) while trying to work out what the deal is with these unusually-clever orcs, hopefully ultimately discovering and destroying the vampire before the castle falls. It's written as an adventure for very powerful characters, but I don't think it needs to be: what the PCs really need to succeed here is intelligence and charisma, not the ability to personally sally forth and bash the heads off black orcs. It's also a rare example of an adventure where the 'progress tracker' is actually doing something useful, because given the set-up of course you need a way to measure how close the orcs are to the castle, and then of course you need a way to measure how close the castle is to falling. It's all rather more heroic and cinematic than the default WFRP norm, but I'd happily run it as written in D&D.

The Enemy Within: This is much the biggest of the WFRP3 adventures, though it's still tiny compared to such behemoths as The Thousand Thrones or the original Enemy Within campaign. Its gimmick is that the main villain, the Black Cowl, could be any one of three different NPCs. The GM can either play fair and pick who it is right from the start, or go all Quantum Ogre and leave it undefined until much later, thus ensuring that the true villain is whomever the PCs least (or most) expect. Not that it makes much difference, honestly. Power Behind the Throne this is not.

Anyway. The Black Cowl has learned about a recently-discovered warpstone idol, and has come up with a simple plan. Step one: help the skaven to steal it, in exchange for them making half of it into a cursed bell clapper like the ones they use in screaming bells. (Why the skaven don't just run off with it, I've no idea. I guess they view the Black Cowl as a valued customer.) Step two: swap the cursed clapper with the one in the bell of the Temple of Sigmar at Altdorf just before a state service, thus hopefully taking out the Emperor and a large chunk of the Imperial elite. Unfortunately, he's also come down with a bad case of Evil Mastermind syndrome, so he's massively over-complicated it with all kinds of nonsense about elf-murder, gunpowder smuggling, fake purification rituals, exploding theatres, and manipulating cultists into manipulating beastmen into attacking the Empire, thus providing plenty of opportunities for the PCs to discover and thwart his unnecessarily convoluted plans.

The campaign has four parts:
  • In part one, the PCs have to investigate a bunch of disappearances and other bizarre events in Averheim, as the skaven carry out the thefts and murders needed to create the clapper. This is well-handled, with plenty of colourful NPCs, and lots of apparently disconnected events that should effectively communicate to the PCs the sense that they are brushing against the edges of something large and complicated and dangerous. (It also has a much more credible take on 'skaven denialism' than most WFRP books.) 
  • In part two, they have to take the clapper to Middenheim to be purged in a ritual. This section is much weaker than the first one, with little for the PCs to do except follow the trail of breadcrumbs through the plot and occasionally butcher some very stupid chaos cultists. (If you were a Witch Hunter / Slaanesh cultist double agent, would you leave your chaos cult books and robes in the room you just hired at the local inn? And then wander off and leave them there unattended?) 
  • Things look up again in part three, a 'Rough Night at the Three Feathers' style tangle in which a whole bunch of events, each individually trivial, are made much more compelling by all happening at the same time. This section looks like it could be challenging to run, but potentially rewarding if you could get it right. Nothing the PCs do actually matters, though, because at the end the clapper gets stolen, the bell gets rung, and the PCs have to help save the Emperor from demons while the Black Cowl jumps through a portal to the Realm of Chaos. I'll take genuine player agency over a 'cinematic climax' any day.
  • In part four, the PCs have to pursue the Black Cowl by jumping through the portal. This is new territory for WFRP, which has never used the Realm of Chaos as an actual adventure location before, but it gets handled in a very tokenistic fashion here: fight some Khornites, get tempted by some daemonettes, chat with a Great Unclean One, navigate a Tzeenchian castle full of traps, and then have a big battle with a Changer of Ways. The clever bit comes afterwards, when the PCs think they've returned home to Altdorf, only to discover that they're actually in a Tzeenchian illusion... and then a Slaaneshi illusion... and then a Nurgle illusion... and then, just at the point when they think they've got this all figured out, they find themselves back in the real Altdorf being attacked by real demons of Khorne, who they'll probably assume are yet more illusions until halfway through the fight. Then they kill all the demons and get rewarded, except for any of them who picked up mutations in the Realm of Chaos, who get handed over for execution instead. Sucks to be them! 
Overall, it's not that great, especially compared to the original Enemy Within campaign. I'd suggest using a slightly-expanded version of part 1 as a stand-alone scenario, and stealing the twist at the end of part 4 for use in another adventure.

Coming next: Shadow of the Demon Lord!


  1. "The basic 'skaven at a masquerade' set-up might be worth stealing, though"

    Of course it is. They stole it from Skavenslayer, the second Gotrek and Felix novel which was originally published 1999(!).

    Of course, in that novel, it's just one Skaven who is supposed to be looking for Countess Emanuelle so the invading Skaven army knows who to kidnap, but gets distracted by orderves.

    1. Huh. Interesting. Maybe one could be charitable and call it an homage?

  2. Well done for reading all those adventures! I have some comments:
    (i) An Eye for an Eye would be a cliche ridden affair if it were not an introductory adventure. It does contain the absurdity of notes falling out of pockets revealing key plot points: why don't cultists just whisper to each other?
    (ii) The Gathering Storm. A curate's egg. The first adventure makes little sense due to "the curious incident of the bodyguards in the night time". Why did they not protect the merchant, and even more puzzlingly, why did they not try to find him the next morning? They are the obvious suspects. The undead in the graveyard adventure is either cliche or a familiar trope for beginners to grasp, according to taste. Yet the assault on the greenskins occupying the farm is great, with creative solutions encouraged. The framing adventure suffers from being too obvious.
    In play, I killed off the bodyguards before the merchant reached Stromdorf: one died in floods, the other in a drunken duel. The merchant was going to hire the Diestro before finding out he was also a drunk; in short he arrived at the other inn with no protection, an obvious vulnerable potential victim. Town gossip foreshadowed the undead adventure, so it was a bit better than "let's go off and kill that guy we only heard of five minutes ago". The farm sequence was very enjoyable in play.

    1. On 'An Eye for an Eye': Well, you're supposed to be playing using the progress tracker, so the investigation is meant to pretty much unravel itself. But I liked the NPCs and setting, which I felt were good and vivid, and put it a cut above the generic 'chaos cultists summon a demon' fare.

      On 'The Gathering Storm': Good catch! I didn't even notice the bodyguards, but you're right that would be suspicious as hell in actual play. It looks as though the author just forgot about them.

      I'll admit I paid little attention to the various hooks, as it seemed so obvious to me that the whole thing would benefit from being run as an open sandbox, with all the adventures open at once, rather than as a linear sequence of mini-scenarios...

  3. The Witch's Song does seem well regarded, and it certainly isn't bad. However I felt that just when the party were about to have to make an independent decision they were channelled into a given action. And the Witch Hunter turning up with a lit brazier on his head provoked mirth (feeling a bit cold?) rather than awe. Good atmosphere though.
    Of the "ruinous power" adventures, the Nurgle "Horror of Hugeldal" was simple but effective, the Slaaneshi and Khorne adventures more interesting, and I agree that the Tzeentch one didn't work.

    1. I agree that the brazier hat is very, very silly. Probably looks OK on a miniature, but totally absurd in reality. Imagine walking in and out of thatched cottages with a lit brazier on your head...

      It's a shame, because he's probably the best-written witch hunter I've seen in a WFRP adventure so far. And I liked the description of his followers as 'grim and perilous individuals'...

  4. Edge of Night could have done with another edit. It seemed to have an introduction, then chapters 1 and 2, before stopping for another introduction. However I liked the political aspects of this adventure, and it was a shame they weren't developed further. The Ball is the best part, with the PCs trying to gain favour for their patron: the cards that came in the boxed set were useful here, with pictures of various NPCs helping to keep track of who is who. Whilst one of the possible patrons is an obvious crook, there is a welcome lack of railroading, the PCs get a free choice (assuming they have made a good impression).

    1. Edge of Night is being redone for 4e as part of the Rough Nights campaign book (also including Rough Night At Three Feathers and possibly Natasha's Wedding). I suspect the NPCs and non-masquerade parts of the scenario will be revised/edited to fit into a campaign with the other adventures.

    2. The cards must have been a godsend. There's no way I could keep track of that many NPCs in my head!

  5. Well, there are some adventures here that grab my atention... I'll look for them.

    1. If you only read one, I'd recommend 'The Witch's Song'. Aside from the ending, I feel it's the closest in spirit to classic WFRP.

  6. I realize none of them will compare to the original Enemy Within, but any feelings as to which ones are better/worse than the Doomstones Campaign?

    1. I've actually not read Doomstones. Wasn't it just someone's AD&D 2nd edition adventure hastily converted into WFRP?

      Anyway, as mentioned, my top picks would be 'The Witch's Song' and 'The Art of Waaagh!'.

    2. The Complete Dungeon Master Series were listed as 1E AD+D compatible, I believe. "The Feathered Priests", which became WFRP adventure "Death Rock", is a good one.

    3. Yeah, they were originally AD&D adventures. So was Power Behind The Throne, according to Graeme Davis.

      I was asking mostly because I have more of Doomstones than Enemy Within (I have the first three of Doomstones, but I only have Bogenhafen and Kislev for Enemy Within).

    4. As long as you are happy with pdfs, there is a Bundle of Holding offer on 1E WFRP materials, which includes Death on the Reik and Power Behind the Throne. Both deserve their status as classics. As a bonus, you also get the Marienburg and Middenheim books.
      I would put the best 3E adventures on a par with Death Rock, but superior to other Doomstones materials.

  7. Not played The Enemy Within, but I think it is the 3E adventure with the most promise; I agree it is not of the same quality as the first three books of the 1E classic (up to and including Power Behind the Throne) but then, what is? I like the element of choice for the Black Cowl; my preferred candidate is Captain Baerfaust. I see him as a soldier disillusioned by slaughter, initially seeking more devolved power, then destruction of the current order, before declining into ruinous power worshipping madness. Gravin Clothilde is a political enemy, so she has to die; the ambush of the army goes better than expected, so the plan becomes more ambitious.
    Building certain elements into PC backgrounds helps tie them into the adventure without requiring pregenerated characters. And I like the reports filtering back from the battle front during Part 2, giving a sense of time passing and events unfolding. The emphasis is on investigation rather than combat until the ceremony at the Holy Temple in Part 3. A weakness of Part 1 is that it has one of these mysteries (find the skaven hideout) that needs to be solved at exactly the right time: key information needs to be withheld, then all dumped into the PCs laps at a certain juncture.

  8. Well done. Interesting topic and huge work you did reading all that stuff!
    I agree with quite everything you wrote except for Horror of Hugeldal: to me it's a blast! First scene: shallyan priestesses butchered on the streets by bandits! The NPC behind the conspiracy were quite interesting, investigation is simple but entertaining.The whole circus band is worth a horror movie and I think it's the first time I read about characterized minor demons (3 nurglings and the plaguebearer). They even became ricurrent NPCs in my aftermath.

    TEW. It's not genial but it's bad. 1st chapter is the best one, hands down but I think the whole story lives in the 1st chapter light!

    I haven't had the chance to read Art of waagh though, it's nowhere to be found anymore :(